The old internet of niche interests and experimental news outreach has given way to a mob of braying basics all hoping for reinforcement of their pre-existing beliefs. The old media such as cable news strives for relevance by salacious fearmongering, as it has since the dawn of Fox News in the late 90s. Conspiracy theorists, scolding virtue signalers, racist movements, and religious fanatics flourish as never before. Meanwhile, the people whose failures have largely created these problems, the complacent defenders of the status quo, squeal for ‘nuance’ and a return of the experts to save them from the populist menace.
But as has often been remarked upon both by me and by others is that the great defenders of expertise are often rubes and faith based prognosticators themselves. In a kind of ‘trident theory’, the center, as much or perhaps even more than the far left and far right, has debased discourse and knowledge in order to prop up a faltering ideological project. They have done this by making a mockery of the term ‘nuance’ by equating it with assuming the present ruling classes and objectives are empirical, non-ideological, and fundamentally sensible. Meanwhile, growing wealth gaps increase global instability, the neoliberal order contracts along with the influence of its primary patron powers, and the planet cooks.
But none of this is to justify the shrieking palace of wokescold moralists and reflexive contrarians on the left or the pathology-driven zenophobic revanchism of the right. No movement of any stripe can possibly provide workable solutions if it rejects nuance. It is therefore imperative to rescue nuance and expertise from its hostage takers in the center as well as its detractors on the various wings. An intellectual campaign against The Trident of Ignorance is necessary.
Even only focusing on the main theme of this blog, that of foreign policy, we see a media climate where to be questioning of Democrats is to be pro-Putin, where to be against Trump is to be pro-Clinton, where a person is not allowed to be both against the Taliban’s return to power and against the United States permanently occupying Afghanistan. People on the left who (rightly) critique the mainstream of American foreign policy degenerate into lazy anti-Americanism and even pro-Russian narratives. People on the right (and increasingly, center) who castigate nations like Russia and China give a free pass towards western nations who engage in the same behavior. No one seems to get the realist position that in an anarchic international world there is no morality but only successful and unsuccessful strategy (my default position).
Liberals say they are pro-refugee but also often support the very policies that create refugees in the first place. Conservatives are against more refugees coming to their country but blame the people migrating rather than their own country’s actions. Centrists, the most heinous on this issue, seem to directly support both creating refugees abroad through sanctions and bombings, taking the migrants in, and then turning against them once the issue starts empowering the right. See Macron’s dismal present performance in France for what an alternate history Clinton administration would look like in America right now. Meeting people with non-nuanced views halfway neither holds off the worst or mitigates the sides, it exacerbates the problem for everyone. True nuance is to think outside The Trident of Ignorance for a workable but also comprehensive changes to overhaul failed policies. It has no time for tepid band aid solutions.
The nuanced thinkers of the left, such as Angela Nagle, Amber A’Lee Frost, and others are castigated for putting results and big picture issues above moralistic showmanship. It is heresy for leftists to make a case against blanket open borders despite very real structural concerns that could cause. The nuanced thinkers of the conservatives, Andrew Bacevich, John Gray, etc, are effectively exiled from their anti-intellectual dominated home bases and have gone rogue. People of all sides scream at those who dare to appear on ideologically non-adjacent media outlets as if getting ones message across to those of different persuasions was a bad thing and some kind of betrayal of purity. If a thoughtful writing of someone is posted the first reaction from a purist as criticism will almost never be substantive but rather this person is for/against [unrelated issue], as if not being part of an insular monoculture is an ideal to be strived for and gives one credibility. This is cult behavior. But when so much of discourse is held hostage by various cults how do you deprogram so many?
This anti-intellectual culture cries out to be corrected by experts. And not the tired neoliberal consensus experts who are so dangerously mired in out of date groupthink. One’s analysis of the war in the Ukraine needs to be neither pro or anti American, Russian, Ukranian, or whoever. To recognize one countries’ policy failures need not be assumed to be support of a rival nation. To be opposed to the puritanism of the Pence right does not make one a supporter of the Cancelkin left, nor the inverse of being opposed to wokescolds should mean sympathy with their psychological equivalents in the evangelical movement. And to be opposed to both does not mean that one is in the center, where all critical thought apparently goes to die in the Twenty First Century.
On issues of policy, just as in issues of day to day social interaction, ones world view should first come from a synthesis of case studies rather than trying to shoe horn everything into one grand universal theory. We all make decisions based on experience and inclination. We all can’t get along because invariably many people have divergent interests from each other. This seems obvious, but I think cultures in the Anglosphere, Scandinavia, and the Middle East particularly struggle with this. These are the regions which have been afflicted in (relatively) recent history with virulent religious reformist movements who elevated blind faith over reason and a nebulous concept of righteous salvation over civic duty. The political became performance and thus performance was the height of the political in the minds of the ignorant go-getters. The most dangerous people became not the entirely ignorant and apathetic, but those with just enough engagement with the world to pretend authority but who lacked the critical faculties for actual complexity of thought. From the Wahhabist movement and the Reformation on through the racial purity and social justice circles of today, much of discourse remains hijacked by what is in effect Alt-Protestants. If current trends continue I would not be surprised if it becomes increasingly difficult to have intelligent conversations with anyone in these parts of the world.
Nowhere is this attitude of complacent privilege more obvious than in ‘no platforming’ speakers you disagree with. I will uphold anyone’s right to protest those they do not like, but not their right to remove them from public speaking in the first place. The fact that so much of this occurs in universities is of no surprise. As the university has moved more and more to privatized cash-for-diploma neoliberal models, the only way for young people to assert their vanishing modicum of power is to be aggrieved consumers who, like a suburban mom in a retail store, ‘need to speak to the manager.’ This culture also dominates as a form of memetic brainrot in much of social media.
Perhaps in the age of mass information-and disinformation-Ibn Khaldun’s theory of the rise and fall of ruling elites also applied to intellectual discourse. The solution to a decadent and complacent dominant elite is not to abolish elites (and up with Twitter call out culture mobs), but rather replace them by ones with new vigor forged on the periphery away from the sapping group think of the core-but that are still able to not be so niche or exclusive as to prevent them from taking and influencing that core. In an age where technology ensures the mass democratization of discourse, its time for a new set of experts to assert themselves. These will be the people who truly understand nuance and the only ones who can rescue it from its currently moribund state. It becomes necessary for us to create a culture where more people who meet this criteria will thrive. I am increasingly certain this cannot happen under neoliberalism, and know that it certainly never will happen through the endless screeching of the Alt-Protestant mob that dominates discourse today.
Short Answer: No.
There is a common stereotype in American academia that foreign policy realists are conservatives. In a purely philosophical sense this is true. Conservatives are supposed to disavow schemes to artificially socially engineer society to create a utopia. Of course, it could also be said that by this philosophical definition American conservatism hardly applies, being a radical project tied up inextricably with religious and theoretical economic faith and little in the way of accepting reality as it truly is. That and clearly psychological projecting one’s desire for a stern father figure to lay down the rules.
One thing I found in my graduate studies abroad was that this stereotype of realist-as-conservative, which applied to me little in the past and even less now, basically did not exist. At least among other realists. If anything, a realist in the UK academia was far more likely to be significantly left of the mainstream. Conservatives, much as in the US, were the ones more likely to gravitate towards liberalism and even constructivism, as the first prioritizes the interests of the present ruling class’ mythology of individualism and the second centers culture above all else. I got along best with Marxists, who, if for different reasons, had a similar material understanding of power relationships and the brutal truths of reality. If one separates foreign and domestic policy into distinct spheres, one could certainly be both a Realist and a Marxist at once. Plenty of historical figures actually meet this criteria. If one does not, however, there are certainly issues that prevent a full convergence. Since I personally do share the historically verifiable view of human civilization as cyclic, non-universal, and non-teleological, with all gains being temporary and all ‘golden ages’ occurring at different times and places for different societies, I myself cannot be a Marxist. But I certainly can take a view critical of capitalism as well as the historical position that we should not judge Marxist governments on base with more or less of a critical eye than we judge our own…something most in the west are conditioned to do early on by a selective reading of history.
Personally, I don’t believe a universal economic system should ever exist, as different societies find themselves in different places at varying times, with attendant issues such as divergent population density, ecologies, and the like. What communism stated it could do-create a universal system-it never did nor really could ever have done. But this is what neoliberalism has done. While a few countries hold out, it is the neoliberal order which has come the closest to global domination.
While I heavily suspect that we would be living in the Anthropocene no matter what the present economic system was, the fact remains that the more powerful and entrenched the system, the harder it is to change. And it has to change. So long as it pays to pollute by cutting corners on the profit motive or to manufacture far out of proportion to what is needed, our home planet, the only one we have, will continue to become a worse place on which to live. Speaking a realist language specifically, this is both the power and the threat that we must balance against. With greens, with leftists, with the communities most effected, and with enemies of the present economic order that will not change itself so long as the chimera of eternal economic growth and profits remains its driving purpose. Fight for the Earth now no matter the odds or live under the occupation of an aristocracy out of touch with the consequences of their own actions.
A vibrant discourse of varying strategies could be proposed, some at odds with each other, and that is fine. But to begin the common threat needs to be addressed directly-there will be more mass extinctions, more loss of biodiversity, more unpredictable weather and natural calamity, more refugees, and a greater divergence between the rich and poor as a form of capitalist-neofeudalism begins to emerge under various (and often unhinged) billionaire personalities who are all that is left since they continued to defund the state and civil society. And then, when that created a less functional society, used this breakdown as an excuse to defund it even more. This is already a measurable problem as gigantic private companies as well as the upper classes disproportionately contribute to the problems of pollution and climate change. For the first time since World War II, a genuine global threat exists. And this one is not to be fought by fighting merely a few states, but rather as a fight both internal and external in almost all of them.
We, as realists of history, diplomacy, policy, and war, cannot promise a golden ideal of a bright new future. Its neither in our nature nor in the issues we deal with when we engage public policy to do so. We are not purists and can put our skills in the service of many different from ourselves for the love of strategy and the calculation of what hay can be made from a new or old balance of power. We cannot and do not pretend to predict specifics of the future outside of general trends. But this isn’t about any of that. This is about taking steps right here and right now to make the future less terrible. To understand that a systemic approach to reforming or replacing our present drive towards growth and production at all costs is necessary to prevent an enormous downgrade in the quality of life for most people and resulting conflicts and disease outbreaks that will ensue. It is therefore contingent upon political realists of all stripes to join with those who looking at systemic structural reform in economics and ecology and contribute what we can. Analyzing strategy is our forte, so why not apply it here and now on the very issues of combating a Sixth Mass Extinction and the rising seas?
There surely can be no strategic problem more worthy. And there won’t be enough court monkey positions in the scattered few palaces of Vampire Billionaire fiefdoms for the vast majority of us. And those will likely only take those whose main talent is flattery rather than critical thought.
A proper meritocracy should eliminate ethnic, sectarian, and gender discrimination in order to increase the mobility of its talent pool. In an anarchic inter-state system it should be obvious that states that follow such a reasoning will probably have a more intellectually robust policy class capable of more challenging internal discussions and thus more creative policies than its competition. This is a strong argument based not on morality but on strategic performance for the utility of what could be deemed an ‘intersectional’ approach to governing. One which I would support and could think of numerous examples in history where inclusivity in the policy classes paid real dividends. Amy Chua-of all people-even wrote a historically simplistic, if single-issue-convincing, book about this very subject called ‘Day of Empire’.
But acknowledging this should not make us blind to the usage of such policies in service of propaganda or an establishment which opens some doors while shutting others. Such is increasingly the case with the Woke Warrior Woman.
The Woke Warrior Women, or Wymynne if one is feeling extra spicy, are effectively the same lanyarded defense-nerds that have existed among the bipartisan consensus guys in American foreign policy circles. Support for military expansion and interventionism is always a net good, opposition to it is always at least misguided. American Exceptionalism is assumed to be at least somewhat true, and the agency or reasoning of foreign actors is often viewed on a scale of morality play vis-a-vis American norms and objectives. But now these types are more strongly identified as Democrats with solidly progressive chops on domestic (social) issues. Newly ‘radicalized’ by Trump and flush with the relative successes of the Obama years (fittingly, an administration that only truly succeeded on domestic social policy and reverted to Bushism on everything else), the WWW (W3?)’s believe themselves to be edgy and successful boundary pushers.
The actual effect of what they are largely doing in the present context, however, is to simply increase the size of the tent for the policies that are long since established as unchangeable and establishment-defended without actually changing any of those policies themselves. In many ways this is the cultural signifier for how the Democratic Party mainstream continues to drift to the neoconservative right. It is, in its own internal logic, a rational response in a way. If the international liberal order is no longer and inevitable end-destination of a humanity moving clearly on a linear and progressive path than perhaps this sinking ship can only be righted by taking it into battle and sinking all the other ships first. In this particular way the neocons were actually smarter than the traditional liberals-at least they recognized that their pie in the sky teleology was not reachable without hard power behind it.
Of course, rather than learn the lesson that perhaps the view of history as a universal and progressive process leading to a unified conclusion is far more faith than science (or even really humanities), it becomes easier for such people not to intellectually challenge themselves but rather just advocate more strident methods to keep their illusions going. The slipping of mainstream liberalism into neoconservative territory as reflected by the dominant wing of the Democratic Party is really a natural result of this type of flailing. They have to maintain that Iraq was bad-it is now entrenched as a partisan issue-but Syria and Libya were different because…reasons. Never mind both states were significantly better governed than Iraq ever was under Saddam or that Syria’s sectarian divisions are even more convoluted and dangerous than that of Iraq. Here come the Samantha Powers, and they know what is best! They aren’t some knuckledragging brutes, and so they can bring a different perspective!
Except that so far, they really don’t. Women, like men, are only allowed into the Beltway Consensus Club’s highest echelons if they tow that very consensus. In building a new government from scratch this may be necessary, but in an old and well established institution this can often be intellectual death. If growing the tent means the same ideological uniformity, then the tent’s actual potential for adaptability and new thinking is utterly squandered.
Madeline Albright’s enforcement of the sanctions regime on Iraq in the 90s was every bit as brutal in its effect and lack of results as the actual invasion was. Samantha Power’s complicity in aiding the Saudi intervention in Yemen is every bit of the policies she once criticized others for doing, and Gina Haspel’s running of an ‘enhanced interrogation’ black site was on the same level of support for bad policy that the once derided John Yoo used to give. Maybe Yoo wishes he once could have played the woman card. It certainly will be used by much of the media and political classes to dismiss criticism of Trump’s new appointee to head the CIA.
What most of this, of course, is that the defense establishment has smelled the winds of change. They tried to hold the line on being somewhat conservative until the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell showed them that, given shifting norms and the youthful demographic they seek to recruit, not only could they survive by adopting social liberalism but also that they could *thrive* with it.
This is not an unwise choice. The military was in fact throwing away endless amounts of talent before. It is perfectly reasonable for them to adopt this line as they move into a world where young people with socially reactionary views on gender and sexuality become smaller and smaller…But make no mistake, the goals of this type of marketing is just as much about getting on the good graces of the public and commentariat classes as it is expanding the recruit pool. If people nod their heads in agreement at the ‘wokeness’ (performative or otherwise) in the Pentagon or among defense contractors, they might be more willing to overlook the blatant financial malfeasance that goes on in such places, the mercenary like costliness of many private allied organizations, and the normalization of endless and unnecessary warfare.
If much of the establishment continued to hold on to the socially conservative front, it might be overextended when it also tried to hold on to its more bottom line fiscal and foreign policy fronts. You can only save so many dinosaurs at one time, and social issues represent by far the least amount of sacrifice for the old guard to dispense with. The military only looks better in the public sphere when ViceVox can write up an article about how Totally Tubular it is that These Women Drone Pilots are Spreading Wokeness over the Skies of Yemen!
One the other hand, though, at least their messaging has improved from the old ‘join the marines and slay green screen dragons’ days:
Outside of self-imposed social media bubbles, history is not progressive like technology. While the march of technology changes how societies evolve in ways that no two eras are ever really the same, the cycle of the rise and fall of governments, regions, and classes continues with a somewhat random yet patterned process not dissimilar to biological evolution-itself not a progressive process in any demonstrable way. When I first reached adulthood and began to study history at the college level this was a harsh lesson to learn. In America and other countries like it we are fed a steady diet of individualism and liberal idealism from an early age. We want to believe, as the Puritans once did before they consumed themselves and burned out as a culture, that we are at the forefront of a new era. We want to think history can be guided in such a way as to be manageable for everyone. This ignores that politics would not exist if convergent interests greatly outnumbered divergent interests. Most importantly, it ignores Ibn Khaldun‘s most prescient observation: that complacency breeds decline, that the losers of history often deserve to lose, and that the winners of today are the losers of tomorrow. It is the very act of winning that can be the most dangerous thing of all.
The Democratic Party at the national level became this complacent ruling elite, even while they kept losing house seats and state governorships. They had a bland faith in demographics and this restricted their campaigning only to certain swing state’s suburban enclaves. This strategy cost them an election they probably should have won. Women were assumed to be a safe bet, but white women ended up favoring Trump. Minorities were expected to just show up out of a sense of obligation and duty to a party that does not overtly hate them, Bill’s mass incarceration and drug wars and Hill’s ‘superpredators’ aside. The threat of Trump was supposed to keep the Obama coalition together. But the Obama coalition was first forged in a democratic primary against the Clintonian status quo. Even eight years later, it could not so easily flip to supporting that. Clinton did worse with all minority groups than Obama did, Trump did better than Romney with them. This is a massive failure on behalf of the Democratic Party.
The seeds of this failure were sown by Clinton. Not Hillary, but Bill. When Ronald Reagan became the first partially neoliberal president and Thatcher rose to power in the UK the mantra to their deregulation and free trade deals was ‘There Is No Alternative’ (TINA). The defeated left of center parties took heed and decided two could play this game. This led to Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Clinton would soon outstrip Reagan in his zeal to adopt the newest faddish ideas of governance of the post-Cold War era. The new Democratic Party was a party of globalized cities, and while big coastal regions thrived due to a complex combination of factors not necessarily related to these policies (Chinese growth, the arrival of the internet, etc) the rural areas of the country were written off as irrelevant to the future. Abandoned, left to rot, and with the government slashing domestic budgets for infrastructure and welfare, places like Appalachia withered on the vine. They were sacrificed on the altar of neoliberalism by a two party system in thrall to it. And nowhere was the betrayal bigger than Bill Clinton’s policy record. If you need proof, look at electoral maps from 92 and 96 then compare to 2000. So many states that backed Clinton against the Reagan-Bush consensus went to Bush Junior once Bill’s terms were up. Meanwhile, people took ‘thinkers’ such as Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman seriously despite the blatantly historically ignorant Kantianism they peddled about the end of history. History, however, has a nasty habit of never ending. This ideology was remarkably self-congratulating to the ruling class and their middle class henchmen in large cities, most of whom were liberals. It told them that the values they had been raised with were fundamentally correct, and that by living those values they were making a positive difference in the world, and that by merely thinking the right thoughts and using the right language they could make the world a better place. It may only now be becoming apparent to most of those people that this was delusion, but I have to say, I always saw this as delusion. So did others, but those others were shouted down consistently as being ‘unreasonable’ or ‘not serious’ or ‘not with the times.’
Had Dubya not had the good fortune to be president during the most massive terrorist attack in American history he likely would have been a single term president. He was able to use security issues to further ramp up the neoliberal drive which was now securitized. When asked during the surge of patriotism after 9/11 what the average American should do, the Bush administration responded with ‘go shopping.’ Civic responsibility was sought by the people only to be met with more market fundamentalism. The vagaries of a supposedly logical global market was not only now in charge of domestic policy-it ran foreign policy as well. Here the strains and cracks in the edifice really began to show. The blithe predictions for Iraq bore bitter and contradictory fruit. The war itself became so toxic it cost Hillary Clinton the democratic nomination, rightfully, and the Republicans the general election, also rightfully.
Obama ended the most odious influence of the evangelicals on domestic policy and reigned in (though did not significantly reduce) the neoliberal/neoconservative drive on foreign affairs, but while he did not accelerate the objectives of neoliberalism at home, he did absolutely nothing to stop them. He failed to undo enough of the odious Bush legacy but ironically was able to scale back many worst excesses of Clinton era policies such as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, The Defense of Marriage Act, the fever pitch of the War on Drugs, and the massive deregulation of speculating financiers. Even the affordable care act, which I admit I have directly benefited from, was really a gift to insurance companies and further entrenched the for profit civics model this country has adopted since the 80s.
Appalachia, non-farming rural enclaves of the midwest and south, and significant chunks of remote regions continued to suffer and be neglected. Rather than appeal to these people who obviously have nothing to gain from Republican theories of governance, the Democrats wrote them off as irrelevant and cast blame on them for supporting many of the policies the democratic party itself once espoused. Obama won by getting people in Florida and Ohio to recognize the horror of Bushism, but all the while the Democratic Party did nothing to substantively address many of those concerns. And yet it expected, if not demanded, people vote for them anyway. Worse still was their liberal minions outside of the party who assumed that what was good for New York City (where both campaigns and most mainline media were headquartered, it should be noted) was good for the country. They also assumed that the neoliberal consensus and the bland liberal language it used for legitimacy was not the problem-just who managed this consensus was. For a decade I have tried to convince people this was not so, and I and many people far more famous than I failed utterly in the face of this delusional alternate reality by the 21st Century bourgeoisie. We warned, correctly, that if a smart alternative to this hegemony was not presented than a dumb reactionary one would be. Trump is a new Obama, electorally speaking. He built a coalition of those dissatisfied and in so doing showed the fragility and unpopularity of the status quo.
Is this to discount the role racism and possibly sexism plays in these regions? No. And it is precisely those factors that made it important to control the backlash against the bipartisan financial interests in America. Having failed to take heed from the more observant people on the left and even the occasional clever paleocon, the liberals and centrists sowed the seeds of their own destruction. The best they could hope for was meliorist Clintonite ‘triangulation’, and this became increasingly unappealing to everyone. As it is, identity politics has clearly failed. The world is not a safe space, and a bunch of liberal theorists ignoring actual material and structural issues, writing off class or in fact actively being classist (especially towards people who do not live in cities) is an ideology for the complacent and lazy and nothing more. This is further shown by the fact that these people only get fired up about the presidency and never really bother with midterms. It is a testament to the intellectual bankruptcy and irrelevancy of 21st century liberalism that people sharing JK Rowling quotes and suggesting *all* opposition to them must be rooted in prejudice of some personal identity is assumed to be ‘woke’ and that the solution to this is some sort of vague ‘awareness’ and moralistic posturing. The fact is, liberals are not intellectually superior to conservatives and they never really were. I may find them personally somewhat more palatable largely due to social issues, but I see both of them as deeply complacent ideologies that avoid critical thinking in favor of sounding righteous and upholding some form of doctrinal status quo. People arguing for political discourse on college campuses to be made as safe as their parents suburban mcmansion are not people talking about real issues that impact people in real physical space. People who do not have the privilege of being perpetually outraged by the casting of movies or a dumb joke because they struggle to survive are not won over by this middle class fatuousness. Navel-gazing is for those who prioritize their personal feelings and the liberal concept of individualism and virtue signaling becomes a form of self-branding regarded as superior to civic responsibility. Worst of all, and as I once warned, this tip to identity politics was inevitably going to picked up by the other side, the side who deals in overt race baiting. This has been my fear ever since I first learned of politics via identity back in college. Liberals cannot castigate rural whites for being identity voters when they so clearly opened that door of political acceptability for them. Like imitates like, and under neoliberalism they both spiral down together in a race for the basest form to turn out the largest amount of famously ignorant undecided voters. It is, after all, the logic of free market capitalism that one’s civic duty exists for purposes of self-fulfillment. This is an ideological point no other successful society has ever engaged in, probably because it is blatantly untrue.
What is most insufferable is the liberal pretense to great wisdom merely by *not* being conservative. It is a low standard, and when you set such low standards it drags both sides down. Much in the same way that Clintonism made the Democratic Party abandon the working class and its union core for faddish ideology and therefore lost much of its traditional support. The SensibleSerious™ consensus creates a large swath of disaffected voters with nothing to lose. Both parties, working together, made this happen. Both parties, in their own way, will suffer for it. So will the country at-large, who had much less say the implementation of these policies.
And that brings us to the centrists, a group of people who I have previously made my feelings of intense disdain quite clear. Since Bill Clinton, the liberals have basically meshed with the center with the partial exception of immediately after 9/11. But the center is a place of laziness which always represents the current status quo-and these days that status quo is an ecological and regional destroying neoliberalism. Now, back in Bill’s day this was a new thing worth giving a shot, but no longer. It is dead. Even if you support it, you must acknowledge that. Brexit and Greece were merely the precursors. Want electoral proof? In all the post-Bill presidential elections the candidate who was a less doctrinaire neoliberal won over the one who was more. Or to be more specific, centrists always lose in the 21st Century. Gore, Kerry, McCain, Romney, Clinton (II): all the more traditionally centrist candidates. Centrism isn’t just intellectually sloppy, its a recipe for losing as well. No one likes centrists, and given their record in this century, no one should. In primaries this was especially obvious. Hillary Clinton’s perpetual running on the presidency and career as a milquetoast senator striking unsustainable bargains with a loathed two party system smacks of Henry Clay, a historical figure no one admires any more nor wishes to emulate. The democratic party itself reminds me of the Whigs-an unstable coalition that devours opposition movements with actual ideas in order to present a bland front against the party that holds the initiative.
There is a final key to Trump’s victory people might talk about later but haven’t so far that I have seen: endorsements hurt and castigation helps, *especially* from the media. The late night comedians which were so entertaining and good at poking holes in the paranoid post-9/11 consensus did not keep their credit as those who speak truth to power, but rather became establishment cheerleaders. They sacrificed their vital role as the opposition for one of a deeply partisan cheerleader. As these various talk show hosts and actors lined up to condescendingly urge people to vote for the democrats they unintentionally aided the narrative that the media was all for Clinton, that the ruling classes controlled everything to get the result they wanted. It is B.S. of course, plenty of the ruling class supports Trump and he has no trouble attracting upper income voters. But the comedian/actor axis made it an obnoxious reality that people in affluent cities wanted something, and considering their previous track record on what they want and how those policies effect other parts of the country. If one wanted to, say, ‘Make Comedy Great Again’ it should go after the entire system, not just one half of its Janus-face.
America does not deserve Trump as a whole, but liberals and conservatives do, and neoliberals especially. They made him by creating the conditions for his rise. If history is a guide however I do not expect them to learn this lesson as they never have before. Instead, they will lash out at everyone they can to avoid taking personal responsibility. They will fail to recognize that it was their candidate’s record, not her gender (though it likely played a subsidiary role), that was the primary reason for her loss. They will probably blame minorities for not showing up to vote, rather than themselves for not giving much of a reason for said minorities to vote as they had before. The smug condescension of Manhattan and Los Angeles returns to its traditional role as reflexive defense mechanism. People like me who saw the dangers lurking in this neoliberal system will be the ones they will blame for their own failures. I cannot count the amount of times that I personally got talked down to on issues involving minorities by people who are entirely white, affluent, and straight. I am none of those things. I fear what might happen in a Trump presidency as much if not more than these people-but this did not happen in a vacuum and it was the liberals who were at least half of the enablers.
But this potential for at least intellectual and grassroots organizational upheaval will be surrendered and sacrificed to the right alone if major changes are not made to the dark and desperate future of having Henry Clay liberals be the primary opposition. Ironically it is the America-First candidate who has destroyed the myths of American Exceptionalism once and for all by making our right wing so blatantly European. That honesty could at least free up all sides to be more intellectually rigorous, not just one. But that requires looking beyond the consensus of the SensibleSerious™.
American elections are important to everyone, so it was worth talking about on this blog. But this is a primarily foreign policy blog and so we should now deal specifically with foreign policy issues. This is no mean task given the many contradictory statements Trump has made.
The most important and concerning thing is the cavalier attitude Trump has regarding Asia-Pacific relations. The most important countries in the world for U.S. interests are in that region and the second and third largest economies also dwell there. Hyper-nationalism and territorial disputes are legion. And no matter what the British say, the U.S.-Japan Security Agreement is the world’s most important and stable alliance. It comes closer to the bedrock of global stability than any other bilateral relationship. It is also unique in modern history for bringing together two countries which are so globally powerful for so long. Trump has been openly dismissive of this alliance, asking why the Japanese do not pay for themselves, when in fact they have been quite good at doing so. In fact, Japan payed most of the expenses of the first Persian Gulf War.
The status of this alliance is the most concerning foreign policy issue of a Trump presidency. Coupled with a trade-tariff war with China it could be a recipe for disaster. One fear I can at least tone down, however, is that of Japan acquiring a stronger and more autonomous defense. This has been in the workings for almost a decade. A great power can only be governed like a banana republic for so long. For obvious historical reasons Japan may prove more reticent to acquire a nuclear deterrent, but I do not believe it would be inherently destabilizing if it did so. Still, the alliance should be maintained.
In China, Xi Jinping is a far more intelligent leader than either Clinton or Trump, but especially Trump. It remains to be seen what opportunities this might open up to to the PRC, if any.
Europe represents opportunity in equal parts to danger. A vast over-estimation of Russia’s conventional capabilities due to a few flashy brushfire victories over smaller armies in remote theaters often guides American grand strategy, but Russia probably could be contained so long as Germany, France, and Poland stick together. Especially so if the UK stays with them, but that is less certain as we see how Brexit shapes up. The most likely reason Putin wants Trump is not some childish liberal conspiracy theory of Manchurian candidacy but rather because he expects he can run circles around him at the negotiating table. It is ever so slightly possible that some kind of mutual bargain could be struck between the two Bros-in-Chief.
The one decided potential benefit here is that Trump will probably be better than Clinton in the Middle East and possibly Africa as well. Gone will be the tone of the preaching humanitarian racist that has bungled US policy towards Africa for decades and driven important countries into the arms of the Chinese. The expansion of AFRICOM might get a more critical eye-though that remains a big maybe. Most importantly, the odds we will attack the government of Syria have gone from somewhere around say 70% under Clinton to about nil now. This is the only true demonstrable gain I can see from this election in either foreign or domestic policy for the average person-but it is (potentially) a gain. One of the few issues that Trump was consistently right on was the need to go after ISIS alone and not fight 3 sided conflicts where our intervention is not needed. Considering how utterly disastrous, deadly, and expensive 21st Century regime change policies from Iraq to Libya have been, with unintended consequences of causing surges in terrorist attacks (which in turn fuel the far right) this could be a truly concrete benefit not only for foreign policy people like me of the realist persuasion but in breaking up the neocon establishment in DC proper.
So us geostrategists have to be even more wary than usual in the near future. Uncertainty is high. But there is hope for some new ideas and a re-orientation of a neoliberal hegemony quite long in the tooth to keep representing U.S. (and others) strategic interests. That vague hope does not, however, allay my fears for various minority communities in this new era. But as there was a big backlash to Bushism on social issues that ended up winning the argument far more effectively than Democratic meliorism would have, so too that fight should never be given up. Let this be the shock to renew it with vigor rather than simply wait for the mythical liberal fairy tale of ‘inevitable progress’ to happen. Those of us against the rising global tide of reactionary identity politics can have a bright future indeed if they reject neoliberalism, complacent cosmopolitanism, ‘woke’ classisism, and the other faith based homilies that got them in this mess in the first place.