From republic to empire. The historical precedents aren’t encouraging. From Justin Raimondo at antiwar.org:
“May you live in interesting times” – that old (supposedly Chinese) curse seems to define the world today. “Interesting” is meant in the snarkish sense: it is a euphemism for unpleasant, or even intolerable, although in the present context I think a more appropriate term is baffling.
The political elites are baffled by the rise of Donald Trump: how is it that the celebrity equivalent of a circus clown could be number one in the GOP presidential race? Here, after all, is someone who wants to deport upward of some 11 million people – kick down their doors, put them on a train, and send them off to Mexico, in spite of the fact that many of them were born here. Asked by Hugh Hewitt if he’s an authoritarian, Trump didn’t deny it: instead he answered: “Everyone is weak. We need someone strong.”
At the considerable risk of sounding like an old fogy, I must confess to waking up some mornings and thinking: Where in the hell am I? No, it’s not the onrush of senility, although that day may not be far: it’s the indisputable reality that things that wouldn’t have been tolerated, or even taken seriously, as little as fifteen or twenty years ago are now utterly commonplace, and even the norm. Trump is only a symptom of the normalization of the bizarre, and, for lack of a better word, the debased.
I was struck, the other day, by this piece in The National Interest, which discusses the odd changes we have experienced in terms of the foreign policy discourse. Too often, Richard Burt and Dmitri Simes complain, the debate takes the form of a battle of the bumperstickers: what we see are competing slogans rather than rival policies being bruited about. Or, as they put it:
“[T]he debate over international affairs is now badly debased, particularly in Congress. The media, meanwhile, lacks the interest and the expertise (particularly in the digital space) to present vital issues to the American people. At the same time, despite a number of national-security setbacks – including in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya – voters appear ready to delegate authority to political elites with few questions or constraints, perhaps because ordinary Americans see no direct negative impacts on their daily lives.”
A disengaged citizenry, a political class imbued with hubris and the spirit of Caesarism: where have we seen this before? It is late imperial Rome, perhaps at the height of its power – or, perhaps, at the moment before its long descent. There is indeed a certain Romanesque quality to the triumphalist tone of the foreign policy discourse in this country, as Burt and Simes go on to relate:
“With victory in the Cold War and absent a rival superpower to limit and shape U.S. choices, America’s new foreign-policy establishment has adopted a simplistic, moralistic and triumphalist mindset: foreign policy by bumper sticker. This mindset abandons traditional foreign-policy analysis, which emphasizes establishing a hierarchy of priorities, making difficult decisions over tradeoffs and considering the unintended consequences of US actions. It also ignores the fact that America’s political system has consistently failed to sustain costly international interventions when vital national interests are not at stake. Prominent voices dismiss those raising such concerns as cynical realists, isolationists or, more recently, unpatriotic Putin apologists. Many tacitly accept this form of intimidation by interventionists who substitute chest-thumping for coherent and serious, historically grounded arguments.”
To continue reading: Imperial America