Bobo has surpassed himself this time… He’s extruded a thing called “A Return to National Greatness” in which he moans that the true American myth is dynamic and universal, yet the countermyth of Trump and Bannon is winning, and he also has the unmitigated gall to inform his readers that people on the left aren’t patriotic. Maybe he should consider the differences between patriotism and jingoism… There will be a response from a reader. Mr. Cohen, in “United States to Australia: Get Lost,” says it is grotesque for Trump to dismiss Australia’s stranded refugees as the next “Boston bombers.” Prof. Krugman, in “Donald the Menace,” says this isn’t a strategy; it’s a syndrome. Here, FSM help us all, is Bobo:
The Library of Congress’s main building is one of the most magnificent buildings in Washington, or in the country. It was built in a pivotal, tumultuous time. During the 23 years in the late 19th century that it took to design and build the structure, industrialization transformed America. More people immigrated to America than in the previous 250 years combined.
The building articulates the central animating idea that held this bursting, turbulent country together. That idea is best encapsulated in the mural under the dome of the main reading room. A series of monumental figures are depicted, each representing a great civilization in human history and what that civilization contributed to the human story.
It starts with a figure representing Egypt (written records) and then continues through Judea (religion), Greece (philosophy), Islam (physics), Italy (the fine arts), Germany (printing), Spain (discovery), England (literature), France (emancipation) and it culminates with America (science).
In that story, America is placed at the vanguard of the great human march of progress. America is the grateful inheritor of other people’s gifts. It has a spiritual connection to all people in all places, but also an exceptional role. America culminates history. It advances a way of life and a democratic model that will provide people everywhere with dignity. The things Americans do are not for themselves only, but for all mankind.
This historical story was America’s true myth. When we are children, and also when we are adults, we learn our deepest truths through myth.
Myths don’t make a point or propose an argument. They inhabit us deeply and explain to us who we are. They capture how our own lives are connected to the universal sacred realities. In myth, the physical stuff in front of us is also a manifestation of something eternal, and our lives are seen in the context of some illimitable horizon.
That American myth was embraced and lived out by everybody from Washington to Lincoln to Roosevelt to Reagan. It was wrestled with by John Winthrop and Walt Whitman. It gave America a mission in the world — to spread democracy and freedom. It gave us an attitude of welcome and graciousness, to embrace the huddled masses yearning to breathe free and to give them the scope by which to realize their powers.
But now the myth has been battered. It’s been bruised by an educational system that doesn’t teach civilizational history or real American history but instead a shapeless multiculturalism. It’s been bruised by an intellectual culture that can’t imagine providence. It’s been bruised by people on the left who are uncomfortable with patriotism and people on the right who are uncomfortable with the federal government that is necessary to lead our project.
The myth has been bruised, too, by the humiliations of Iraq and the financial crisis. By a cultural elite that ignored the plight of the working class and thus broke faith with the basic solidarity that binds a nation.
And so along come men like Donald Trump and Stephen Bannon with a countermyth. Their myth is an alien myth, frankly a Russian myth. It holds, as Russian reactionaries hold, that deep in the heartland are the pure folk who embody the pure soul of the country — who endure the suffering and make the bread. But the pure peasant soul is threatened. It is threatened by the cosmopolitan elites and by the corruption of foreign influence.
The true American myth is dynamic and universal — embracing strangers and seizing possibilities. The Russian myth that Trump and Bannon have injected into the national bloodstream is static and insular. It is about building walls, staying put. Their country is bound by its nostalgia, not its common future.
The odd thing is that the Trump-Bannon myth is winning. The policies that emanate from it are surprisingly popular. The refugee ban has a lot of support. Closing off trade is popular. Building the wall is a winning issue.
The Trump and Bannon anschluss has exposed the hollowness of our patriotism. It has exposed how attenuated our vision of national greatness has become and how easy it was for Trump and Bannon to replace a youthful vision of American greatness with a reactionary, alien one.
We are in the midst of a great war of national identity. We thought we were in an ideological battle against radical Islam, but we are really fighting the national myths spread by Trump, Bannon, Putin, Le Pen and Farage.
We can argue about immigration and trade and foreign policy, but nothing will be right until we restore and revive the meaning of America. Are we still the purpose-driven experiment Lincoln described and Emma Lazarus wrote about: assigned by providence to spread democracy and prosperity; to welcome the stranger; to be brother and sister to the whole human race; and to look after one another because we are all important in this common project?
Or are we just another nation, hunkered down in a fearful world?
He’s become a national disgrace. Here’s what “chickenlover” from Massachusetts had to say to him:
“”The odd thing is that the Trump-Bannon myth is winning.”
And do you know why this myth is winning? It is the result of relentless, non-stop barrage of anti-science, anti-intellectualism, anti-immigrants, anti-common sense that has been spewing from Fox News for the past two decades. It is the result of pundits like you who have been pushing the GOP agenda over the same period. It is the result of the GOP which has been unwilling to challenge this downward trend. Where were you when Obama was delegitimized from day one by Mitch McConnell and his pals? No wonder the Trump-Bannon myth is winning.
Unfortunately, even though you helped make it, we all own it now. Why, for that matter, even in this column you write, “That American myth was embraced and lived out by everybody from Washington to Lincoln to Roosevelt to Reagan.” Why do you stop at Reagan? You are still unwilling to include Obama as part of that rich American tradition. Why? Obama saved the American economy that was ravaged and savaged by his predecessor. He saved the auto industry. Don’t you remember?
If you as a scholar and a pundit do not see the need to include Obama in that list, why do you expect the average American will? Little wonder the Trump-Bannon myth is winning.”
Net up we have Mr. Cohen:
Let’s imagine for a moment Rex Tillerson, the newly installed secretary of state, awakening to this tweet from President Trump about an important American ally:
“Do you believe it? The Obama administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”
First, the “illegal immigrants” are in fact desperate people fleeing conflict whose status as refugees has in most cases been officially recognized. Second, as refugees, they have the right, under the Geneva Conventions, of which the United States is a signatory, to be treated “without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin.” Third, the “thousands” are in fact about 1,250 of the 2,500 men, women and children who, for more than three years now, have been marooned on two remote South Pacific islands, Manus and Nauru, in appalling conditions that have seen suicide, deaths through negligence, a killing, and relentless mental abuse. Fourth, this “dumb deal” reflects the pressing Australian interest in finding a way out of its predicament with the refugees and the American interest in strengthening its Australian alliance at a time when United States Marines are rotating through Darwin and China is flexing its muscles in the South China Sea. Fifth, diplomacy is about identifying shared interests; it stands no chance when the tweeted tantrums of a tempestuous president constitute Washington’s highest-level communications with a world held in America-first contempt.
The notion must cross Tillerson’s mind that Trump’s inaccurate tweet is needless provocation of a friend; that simultaneously infuriating Asian and European allies may not be smart; and that his task will be a thankless one as Trump’s White House coterie hatches seat-of-the-pants policy and leaves his already restive State Department to deal with weighty issues in Luxembourg and the Solomon Islands.
Let’s further imagine that all this passes through Tillerson’s head before he grabs the Washington Post and discovers that Trump has taken his Australia bashing further. He has hung up on Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after telling him it’s his “worst call by far” with world leaders (behind Vladimir Putin, of course), and accused Turnbull of preparing to send the next “Boston bombers” America’s way.
At which point Tillerson must really be wondering — as is the rest of the world after two weeks of fast-tracked chaos from Trump. The president wants to run the United States like his business, with scant accountability and contempt for rules. Fine, except that bankruptcy is the worst conceivable outcome for a business whereas nuclear war is the worst conceivable outcome for America and all of humanity. Trump is in way over his skis.
From the pointless, counterproductive, prejudice-reeking temporary ban on immigration from seven mainly Muslim countries to a botched Navy SEAL raid on Al Qaeda in Yemen, the same traits of haste and imprudence have been apparent. Trump is a propagator of mayhem at the head of a TV- and Twitter-driven movement whose goal is to circumvent democratic institutions through the exercise of hypnotic and disorienting power. He is only incidentally the president.
That is already clear, as is the fact that Trump’s embrace of Putin was not some weird whim but reflected a fundamental alignment of values around bigotry, racism, homophobia, anti-intellectualism, calculated religious absolutism, 21st-century big-data autocracy and hatred of the media. The president therefore feels more “allied” with Russia than with America’s European allies, whose values run counter to his.
“The worst deal ever” — as Trump put it according to the Washington Post — was signed in September in New York by Anne C. Richard, the former U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, and Rachel Noble, deputy secretary of Australia’s department of immigration. It was kept secret, however, until Nov. 12, four days after the election, because refugees, particularly Muslims from the Middle East, were such a sensitive issue in the campaign.
“We really want to mothball these places,” Richard recalls Australian officials telling her, referring to Manus and Nauru. They have become an acute embarrassment to Australia. The United States got help with some national security issues in return, as well as Australian commitments to take more refugees from Central America.
Poor Turnbull who’s white and conservative and might therefore have thought he could get on the right side of Trump. No way! Many of the refugees are Iranians persecuted by the Islamic Republic. There’s no surer way to drive the president to paroxysms than to suggest he extend a hand to Muslims, signed accords between allies notwithstanding.
I went to Manus last year with the photographer Ashley Gilbertson to see the suffering. It’s not easy to get in; Australia does not want prying eyes. I met a young Iranian, Benham Satah, who has a college degree in English and has languished there since Aug. 27, 2013. His roommate, another Iranian called Reza Barati, was killed by a local mob in 2014.
“Sometimes I cut myself,” Satah told me, “so that I can see my blood and remember, oh yes! I am alive.”
It is grotesque and offensive for Trump to dismiss these stranded, mistreated human beings as “Boston bombers.” Muslim equals terrorist is an idea that sullies America.
What refugees like Satah want by an overwhelming majority is not more violence but the dignity that comes with a job, a roof over their heads and decent schooling for their children. Vetting to enter the United States takes at least 18 to 24 months — one reason nobody from Manus or Nauru has moved yet despite Australian hopes they’d all be scooped up by a C-130. The vetting is already “extreme” — Trump’s word.
For Australia, Trump’s insults should be an incentive to do the right thing. The refugee deal now looks near worthless. Shut down the foul Manus and Nauru operations. Bring these people, who have suffered and been bounced around enough, to Australia. Close this chapter that recalls the darkest moments of Australian history. Cut loose from Trump’s doomsday prejudice and give Tillerson inspiration to be brave.
And now we get to Prof. Krugman:
For the past couple of months, thoughtful people have been quietly worrying that the Trump administration might get us into a foreign policy crisis, maybe even a war.
Partly this worry reflected Donald Trump’s addiction to bombast and swagger, which plays fine in Breitbart and on Fox News but doesn’t go down well with foreign governments. But it also reflected a cold view of the incentives the new administration would face: as working-class voters began to realize that candidate Trump’s promises about jobs and health care were insincere, foreign distractions would look increasingly attractive.
The most likely flash point seemed to be China, the subject of much Trumpist tough talk, where disputes over islands in the South China Sea could easily turn into shooting incidents.
But the war with China will, it seems, have to wait. First comes Australia. And Mexico. And Iran. And the European Union. (But never Russia.)
And while there may be an element of cynical calculation in some of the administration’s crisismongering, this is looking less and less like a political strategy and more and more like a psychological syndrome.
The Australian confrontation has gotten the most press, probably because it’s so weirdly gratuitous. Australia is, after all, arguably America’s most faithful friend in the whole world, a nation that has fought by our side again and again. We will, of course, have disputes, as any two nations will, but nothing that should disturb the strength of our alliance — especially because Australia is one of the countries we will need to rely on if there is a confrontation with China.
But this is the age of Trump: In a call with Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister, the U.S. president boasted about his election victory and complained about an existing agreement to take some of the refugees Australia has been holding, accusing Mr. Turnbull of sending us the “next Boston bombers.” Then he abruptly ended the conversation after only 25 minutes.
Well, at least Mr. Trump didn’t threaten to invade Australia. In his conversation with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, however, he did just that. According to The Associated Press, he told our neighbor’s democratically elected leader: “You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”
White House sources are now claiming that this threat — remember, the U.S. has in fact invaded Mexico in the past, and the Mexicans have not forgotten — was a lighthearted joke. If you believe that, I have a Mexico-paid-for border wall to sell you.
The blowups with Mexico and Australia have overshadowed a more conventional war of words with Iran, which tested a missile on Sunday. This was definitely a provocation. But the White House warning that it was “putting Iran on notice” raises the question, notice of what? Given the way the administration has been alienating our allies, tighter sanctions aren’t going to happen. Are we ready for a war?
There was also a curious contrast between the response to Iran and the response to another, more serious provocation: Russia’s escalation of its proxy war in Ukraine. Senator John McCain called on the president to help Ukraine. Strangely, however, the White House has said nothing at all about Russia’s actions. This is getting a bit obvious, isn’t it?
Oh, and one more thing: Peter Navarro, head of Mr. Trump’s new National Trade Council, accused Germany of exploiting the United States with an undervalued currency. There’s an interesting economics discussion to be had here, but government officials aren’t supposed to make that sort of accusation unless they’re prepared to fight a trade war. Are they?
I doubt it. In fact, this administration doesn’t seem prepared on any front. Mr. Trump’s confrontational phone calls, in particular, don’t sound like the working out of an economic or even political strategy — cunning schemers don’t waste time boasting about their election victories and whining about media reports on crowd sizes.
No, what we’re hearing sounds like a man who is out of his depth and out of control, who can’t even pretend to master his feelings of personal insecurity. His first two weeks in office have been utter chaos, and things just keep getting worse — perhaps because he responds to each debacle with a desperate attempt to change the subject that only leads to a fresh debacle.
America and the world can’t take much more of this. Think about it: If you had an employee behaving this way, you’d immediately remove him from any position of responsibility and strongly suggest that he seek counseling. And this guy is commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military.