Donald Trump would be a better president if he was meaner.
Not louder; not CAPS-LOCK obsessed; not frivolous. “Meaner” in this context means what it would mean if we were to say that Abraham Lincoln was mean to the Confederacy. Or if we were to say that Harry Truman was mean to Japan.
What those two superior presidents have in common is that their backbone became America’s backbone. They were, on some fundamental level, in touch with the character of the nation they led, and knew it required their courage and sacrifice against a serious threat. They understood to the core of their being that their nation, however imperfect, was in something akin to what Hindus might call a “Dharma Yudha” – a righteous conflict. And while no one can say they were perfect or that their attempted expansions of government weren’t deeply regrettable, the world we live in today is a better and improved one thanks in part to what those presidents accomplished.
What all three have in common is that they were wartime presidents.
I don’t just mean that in the sense that Donald Trump inherited a quagmire in the Middle East that was initiated by President George W. Bush and expanded by President Barack Obama. Trump is currently presiding over a nation that is embroiled in at least two wars that have not officially begun. One of them is the partisan civil war with increasing heat and derangement, and the other is the reignited Cold War with China. No declarations have sounded and no opening salvo has launched, but the clock is ticking and the test has already started. Maybe they will be averted or deterred. Maybe they will be preempted by something else. Maybe they are already lost. Time will tell.
Seventy-five days remain until the election. There are no good options, just as there weren’t in 2016. This is not an argument about voting for or against him. Do what you will.
But I sincerely hope that before you do, you will take a look around and appreciate what you have, where it came from, what went into it, and how easily it could vanish or run out. I hope you will check yourself on how much you’ve taken it all for granted. If your Thanksgiving speech is a full minute longer than usual this time around, you can consider 2020 a year where, if nothing else, at least you learned something.
The most striking lesson for me is that this should be the year of Donald Trump. We have in 2020 a convergence of events and circumstances that almost seem calculated to vindicate and justify his candidacy and presidency. They should, by all accounts, have led him to his finest hour and defining moments of saviorhood for the nation. Instead they reveal him as the spongy coward I always knew him to be. After all the bluster – all the tweeting, flailing, taunting, and capital lettering – the backbone was never there. Despite his prescience on some of the key issues of the day, Trump wasn’t “mean” enough to mean it.
Ahead of Time
One of our most overused compliments we shower upon people is that they were “ahead of their time.” The idiom is usually just a substitute for the hipster notion that they liked something “before it was cool.” In today’s society it usually means that a person is accepting of some kind of taboo doctrine of equality or “liberation.” The implication is that what was radical early that became mainstream was good.
A stupid superlative; NAMBLA probably convinces itself every generation that its members are ahead of their time. Beneath the idiom is the myth that our society and values are improving and progressing on a steady arc that defines the course of history. A fluffy bedtime story we tell ourselves; as if all the wealth, technology, luxury, services, options, and medication we have today can somehow enable us to overcome or escape our primal DNA built and folded like steel over hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution. As if our kindness, our acceptance and tolerance of people, and our respect of culture simply didn’t occur to anyone who lived before us.
We’re not getting better. We’re getting richer. And a pessimist who understands this can be ahead of his time too.
My favorite modern example of this was Samuel Huntington in 1993. At that time, childish dreamers in academia like Francis Fukuyama were writing hogwash like The End of History and the Last Man – about how with the end of the Cold War mankind has at last reached the peak of its growth and development throughout history. That western liberal democracy would ensure that global affairs would be open and accountable, governed by diplomacy and reason, and that but for an occasional hiccup or two, peace through consensus and therapeutic understanding would prevail. In response, Huntington stamped a big fat F grade on his former student’s work with a devastating and prophetic essay in Foreign Affairs magazine called The Clash of Civilizations? Drawing upon centuries of history and understanding of human nature to explain why not only was Fukuyama (and his Athenian flights of fancy) wrong, but that if anything we would become nostalgic for the ideological simplicity of the Cold War; Huntington showed how the coming global conflicts were going to be cultural. They would arise from small, previously overlooked differences between nations and regions that would awaken from the binary dormancy to find that they are upset and alienated. New conflicts would emerge or old ones would re-emerge as countries with deep religious or ethnic identities clan up or clash, either with one another in local theaters or on a greater scale as alliances grow and identitarian bonds tighten. And the differences between our cultures, our economies, and interests would only heighten and intensify as the world grows smaller and faster.
While not entirely precise, in a single essay Huntington successfully predicted, among other things, 9/11, the Serbian wars, the rise of China (more on that later), the continued India/Pakistan border wars, Vladimir Putin, the vulnerability of Israel, and even what the debate would generally look like over Turkey as a potential new addition to the European Union. He also predicted a rise of culturally-insular reaction by nations as identity politics festers within them. Japan, India, Russia, Hungary, Poland, France, Great Britain, and even Brazil have all slowly retreated into some version of nationalism, very much in line with how civilizational differences, as Huntington defined them, turn into boundaries and eventual conflict.
I remember in college how stacked the curriculum was against him. I remember the lectures, papers, and books that endlessly droned on about why it was terrible that people still thought like him, how globalization and interconnectivity were going to fix everything and nurture us all into an improved society, and how we’re just too darn good and sophisticated as a single people of the Earth to let ourselves tumble back into the pit of militant conflict. Most of that noise belongs in the trash because Huntington knew what Chancellor Otto von Bismarck knew a century before him: human nature is an unbreakable constant. Geopolitical reality is a playground and prison yard: what happens to the global order when one of two competing duopolistic powers is dissolved and removed from its previous position on the stage is the same thing that happens when a fractured, disempowered Republic reunites into a great power. It doesn’t turn into a war overnight, but turmoil is inevitable.
Samuel Huntington was a pessimist unlike nearly all of his contemporaries, yet he turned out to be nearly 30 years (maybe more) ahead of his time.
Against the backdrop of what Huntington predicted in 1993, you need only look back 4-5 years ago to see that, despite his form and appearance, Donald Trump was also marginally ahead of his time.
It was Donald Trump and no other figure – certainly no other candidate – who saw (1) the downside of globalization, (2) the coming radical domestic fever from jacobin wannabes and their academic enablers, and (3) the numerous threats posed by China. However grotesque, inane, confused, and racially charged his rhetoric was, so much of Trump’s candidacy for office and his post-election platform was built upon these major precepts. They are by no means all of what he has been about, but they are the three most relevant and enduring today.
Trump was the only candidate in the 2016 presidential race to campaign against globalization.
He staked his bid on an appeal to what Sean Trende observed had been a missing white voter base in the Midwest, and spoke their language about how free trade, open borders, illegal immigration, and job outsourcing were the harbingers of death for America as a great and unique nation. This voting base is a collection of people who had never truly seen the ostensible Obama recovery, nor had any use for Obama’s healthcare, nor were moved by traditional Republican anti-secular or small-government platitudes. And Trump, despite having hired illegal aliens and benefited from foreign money throughout his entire checkered and crooked business life, was a strangely “qualified” voice against these things. Protectionism is perhaps the only major position on which he had been consistent his whole life, as evident by his interviews first with Larry King in 1987, and then with Oprah in 1988, talking about the unjust exploitation of American trade by “richer” foreign nations (at that time Japan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia). He is oddly well versed in the mercantile way. And he sang it to the people who had been left behind by the new multinational corporate/consumer order – casualties of it that were written off years ago. The Right called them drug-addled dead enders with broken bootstraps, and the Left called them “deplorables,” and “bitter clingers” with white privilege. But Trump visited them, seemingly conveyed empathy for them, and offered them a chance to use him as a populist vehicle against globalization.
Then a few years later the coronavirus happened.
I hate populism and I have considerable disagreements with Trump on these broader issues. But I can think of no bigger stake plunged into the heart of globalization than the outbreak of a global pandemic that sinks it. It is, of course, an inevitable result of such an interconnected, borderless world with instantaneous travel, brain draining, and unfettered immigration, often among countries with unscrupulous regimes. It’s the natural risk of an economy built off of cheap foreign labor and importation that saves the American consumer a buck for a bundle.
It’s a brave new world for George Carlin’s modern man, no longer round, but flat and built upon interdependence, credit, and servicing through uniform interconnectivity of application. Now we’re all sick together and collectively disconnected, not just from the virus, but from the realization that we are alone and without community. That all the material benefits have come at a cost of separation, superficiality, and numbness as people around the world attempt to cope with their house arrest by watching increasingly stupid Netflix documentaries and pointing fingers at each other on social media; we retreat into tribes and cliques that feed our need to belong and give us catharsis through identity.
Covid-19 will likely bend but not break the globalized economy. It is certainly not the first major pandemic our species has survived. But its impact will be far more than simply economic. It will also be cultural, even civilizational. Globalization is here to stay, but it is incompatible with the clash of civilizations. The post-Cold War era from 1989 to the present day onwards has been defined by that paradox. Even if you support globalization, do not assume it will save you from human nature.
Yet however you feel about the issue, and however you feel about how he’s handled things, 2020 *should* be the year Trump wears out his soapbox on vindication. “This is why I build walls, deport the illegals, ban travel, impose sanctions, tax imports, reinvest in jobs here, punish outsourcing, crack down on NATO, and call it a China virus!” he can say.
These would be the boasts of someone who was ahead of his time.
Property Over People
For a guy who named buildings after himself, you’d think that Donald Trump would have done more to protect American property. This is a country worth standing up to defend. And he doesn’t.
Another thoughtlessly used term in public discourse is “overrated.” Usually a shorthand for “bad” or “mediocre,” or that something is overly celebrated. But I prefer using “overrated” as a descriptive for something to which society attributes too much attention and significance. Something deemed to be important, but isn’t. It has more “ratings” than deserved.
With that understanding of the term in mind, racism is overrated.
It has a demand that far exceeds supply. We are taught that it is everywhere, informative and indicative of everything in modern life, inescapable, and yet to be confronted. We are lectured and commanded by our supposed intellectual betters, and their enforcer mobs on the streets and the cyberspaces, not to simply “not be racist,” but to be an activist against it – “antiracist.” Anything less is an act of complicity, we are told. “We must dismantle white supremacy.” “We must uproot systemic racism.” They shower us with these platitudes like hammers and sickles, and then hypnotize us to see a world of nothing but nails and forage. It’s a miserable way to live but it gives brats the illusion of purpose.
I would never claim our country perfect, but America is not a racist nation. It is a good and prosperous nation with unequal wealth and opportunity, yet more of both than anywhere else. It is a nation of good but imperfect people. It is a beacon of hope in a gloomy world and a destination for so many people born into worse conditions who risk everything to get here. Its people have flawed attitudes based on flawed perspectives yet good values and a good spirit. It is not a country soaked in “systemic racism.” Such phrases are empty bottles, to be filled with the outrage of the moment by divisive hustlers. They imply an order with intelligent design, which certainly did exist during the shameful Jim Crow era. That era is thankfully behind us now, and today’s differences are better informed by class than race. Civil Rights and Voting Rights were necessary, hard-won fights that speak to the American character. While today’s race relations have nothing to inspire, we don’t have anything close to the pillars of order that oppressed black people, and we trivialize the memory and sacrifice of our civil rights heroes when we say we do. What we do have is widespread individual prejudice, often more partisan than racial. We have taken to labeling that “institutionalized white supremacy.” Those terms, along with “patriarchy” and even “America” (usually meaning red America, referring to longstanding policy that can’t be solely tied to a Republican administration, or describing cities or states whose governments, judiciaries, and departments have been controlled by Democrats for the better part of a century) allude to oppressive leviathans as imposing and overwhelming as your imagination desires. They supposedly draw from history (and fantasy) to describe the present-day existential.
But the squirts who repeat these chants do not know history. If they did, they would understand that the original sins inherent to the founding of America are not unique to the world. Slavery, colonialism, torture, and ethnic cleansing are human habits, not American habits. Using race as the central pretext was unique to American slavery, but Assyrians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Persians, Ottomans, Arabs, Mongols, Russians, and many of the very indigenous kingdoms or tribes later so subjugated did at least any three of the above four, and many indeed did all four. What none of them did, however, was force an end to at least one of those horrible practices through an arduous civil war that killed over 600,000 of its own people. None of the others designed an engine of liberty by writing down core principles and precepts of the Enlightenment into a cohesive form, imbued with self-evident truths and checks against tyranny that modern republics still struggle to comprehend. While that made American slavery all the more contemptible due to its unique hypocrisy, it was also the very engine that ensured its eventual end. Yet it did not come as preordained. It was fought over and won hard by the Union in places like Shiloh, Sharpsburg, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Atlanta, and so much of the ravaged Virginia countryside from Manassas to Appomattox. We owe the Union everything.
But there would be nothing at all worth celebrating on ID4 if our “real” birthday is August 20, 1619. It would mean that all that happened on July 4, 1776, was that one evil subsidiary of a slave empire split from its slave imperial parent. It would mean that the Confederacy was correct when it falsely framed its secession as equivalent to the Declaration of Independence. Progress amounts to nothing, for it is all tainted, rigged, and unequal. Yet that is more or less the conclusion of The 1619 Project – a Pulitzer Prize-winning canvas of historical graffiti. Ahistorical hogwash disguised as “the real history” – it is the sequel to Howard Zinn and Saul Alinsky.
Human nature tells us the real history. Ours is a tragic and inhumane one on endless repeat. We do not require a leviathan to be architects of our misery. We do not need the pretense of nationhood, race, religion, or any superficial category of separation to kill, maim, plunder, and exploit. We do not become kinder, virtuous, or less greedy and vindictive when supposedly freed from the systems we built to escape, check, deter, overcome, and compartmentalize nature. We evolve backwards. We retreat into our tribal, primal past. And when our leviathans erode and evaporate, we do not advance into the superior, liberated or more equitable future. We return to the state of nature. And the vacuum gets filled by another leviathan. If we didn’t exist, something worse would.
So when America is condemned and cursed – when its history is besmirched, its Founders are rendered one dimensional, and its role in the world today is lambasted by the Left as little more than imperial and exploitative – it is done to normalize hating your country (and by extension yourself for all the comforts and affluence you’ve enjoyed for having lived in it). And it assumes a benevolent innocence to human nature, as though America is an unnatural imposition upon it.
The truth is the exact opposite.
It’s easy to paint America as the big bad wolf. It’s difficult to establish a benevolent alternative. It takes a lot of deliberate work to build a civilization, and very little to destroy it. The rule of law is a delicate framework applying and enforcing shared values. It took a lot to instill that. When it erodes, as all things do when its walls are clawed at by frustrated people eager to get theirs, adults turn back into children and humans turn back into monkeys.
A central question one asks when tasked with difficult challenges in law is “what do I want to incentivize and/or what do I want to deter?” A speed limit is set at 35 mph in order to deter people driving over 50. And even outside the law, we frighten children with stories of detention and damnation to deter them from becoming droogs.
So when laws loosen or enforcement ends, deterrence shifts. The vandals and Antifa jacobins, acting out the wish fulfillment of the professors and self-esteem nurturers who taught them, are targeting statues because it’s easy to make excuses. “Statues aren’t people! Just property!” “Statues are monuments to American evil!” “This land is stolen!” All of these arguments are silly, but they conceal the other key reason. Statues can’t fight back. Neither can books, flags, buildings, windows, unoccupied cars, and mailboxes. They do, of course, also attack people. And you may have noticed by now that almost everyone who caves to the mob, pleads for mercy, and humiliates themselves to avoid its wrath, only finds themselves under greater fire.
I have written before about how to deal with these people if you find yourself in their crosshairs. But while I describe the ideological fervor with which these riots proceed, do not mistake them as principled.
Talk to any left-of-center person one on one and most will tell you earnestly that they agree that the riot activity and canceling has gone too far, and doesn’t really have anything to do with the regrettable killing of George Floyd. But most will dare not raise a finger to slow it down. It was easy, for example, to dismiss or defend the destruction of Confederate monuments. I’ve said often to my peers that I hate the Confederacy and don’t care to honor it, but I would sooner see a statue on every street corner, and the stars and bars on the flagpoles of every state capitol before a single monument to the Founding Fathers is interfered with. That’s called a limiting principle – the immovable object that stops the previously unstoppable force. And when Trump predicted that the Founders were next, and maybe even Mount Rushmore, he should not have been right. He was incessantly mocked for his apparent failure to see the obvious logical difference between the two. But his point was that the kids going after these statues are not actually differentiating them. To them it’s all one big top-down systemic, structural racist, imperialist, colonialist, white supremacist, fascist, sexist, misogynistic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, homophobic, transphobic, greedy-capitalist, culturally-appropriating, and Christian-patriarchal dystopia. Just as The 1619 Project drew no serious distinction between the Founding and the Confederacy, its little carnival crusaders don’t do it either. They lack the limiting principle.
Trump’s perceptions and predictions about them are a product of the other side of the domestic coin that was his 2016 candidacy. He was the only person that year, Democrat or Republican, who mounted a culture war campaign. No one before him managed to weaponize the reactionary pockets and energies of Twitter the way he did. No other candidate drew the media to him like gadflies, dragged them to the places they usually fly over oblivious, and then mocked their attempts to relate. No one else so consistently articulated a gut-level outrage at the hijacking of culture and perpetual ingratitude against this country. It was an appeal evocative of blood-and-soil nationalism and in some ways also a classist attack upon the virtue-signaling elites and their censorial, incestuous peers. Trump ran on exposing them and their veneer of “social justice,” as well as also against the mainstream Republican Party that, to so many people, either had no answer to them at all or were their own equally culpable co-participants. His effectiveness against them is explained in part by how he perfected a Bill Clinton tactic that George Carlin explained this way (paraphrasing): “when a politician says ‘I’m a plain and honest man!’ everyone says ‘bullshit.’ But when Clinton said ‘I’m full of shit!’ everyone said, ‘at least he’s honest!’” It was a campaign of unapologetic shamelessness. And if you’d been waiting to hear someone finally bring that level of vigor to a defense of this country’s honor, you might be forgiven for having believed him.
In the years since his victory, all of the things he railed against have been proven so much worse than previously imagined. The climate of censorship that could previously be dismissed as merely a quirk of college campuses have spread to the entire country. The hatred the insurgent Left has for America and its existence has only grown more vicious and totalitarian. Socialism is popular again even on Capitol Hill. There are very few grievances in the manifesto of Osama bin Laden over American foreign policy that you will not find endlessly repeated by the media. And the sanctioning of violence in cities in the wake of racial outrage is no longer one idiotic mayor in Baltimore talking about how “we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that.” That speech is now the unsung mantra of every big-city Democratic politician in absolute lockstep with the jacobin activity.
Against all of that, you would think that Trump has more clout than most to tire out his Twitter soapbox and lecture these Democrats for the baby gloves they wear. But as it turns out, by limiting his response to being almost solely rhetorical, he reveals to us that he was just as weak as they were.
It is understandable, somewhat, why the President took so long to send in the troops. One of the more amusing characteristics of modern protests is how so many people try (and fail) to paint themselves as the next victims of Tiananmen Square. After members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former defense secretaries denounced him after the Lafayette Square incident, and virtue signaled against him, and with the sudden surge of popularity in the Black Lives Matter slogan, Trump might have reasonably thought that he simply didn’t have the support to stop the riot activity with force. And although that incident itself looked worse than it was, the enduring photograph from it is embarrassing and cringe-inducing even by Trump standards. To see Trump standing in front of the St. John’s Cathedral holding the Holy Bible evokes the past mockeries of Michael Dukakis sitting in an M1 Abrams tank, Mikhail Gorbachev on the Reagan ranch with his cowboy hat on backwards, or the failed German by President John F. Kennedy at the Berlin Wall in 1962.
The most ironic thing about that photo is how great a betrayal it is of the ostensible authenticity he had in 2016. The Clintonian shamelessness made him appealing in an era where other politicians like Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, and Barack Obama changed their outfits and accents everywhere they went. They faked a twang for the South, adopted blaccents for the cities, and spoke jacketless with rolled-up sleeves in the Midwest. In contrast to them, Trump showed up everywhere in the same suit and red runway tie, and spoke as the uncouth New York businessman with the same obnoxious Queens accent no matter where he went. And although we’ve seen him talk about how much he loves big beautiful coal or post a picture of a Mexican dish in his office, it was tempting to see them as the endearingly clumsy efforts of a man who doesn’t play by anyone else’s rules. So when Trump, who is not a serious Christian, took that photo, it was an offensively inauthentic moment where he also gained nothing.
From there, Trump’s attempts at combating the riot activity (and their condoning by every Democratic urban regime that not only fails to stop them, but promises to shield them from him) rhetorically have failed. It is little different from his habit of tweeting aggressively at anything in any given moment. And it was itself a show of weakness, much like when he tweeted out “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” during the anti-lockdown protests. They’re just words from a bunker behind several layers of White House fencing.
Yet the solution was actually staring at him in the face from the depths of his own tweets.
What I’m about to argue is audacious and theatrical. But I know a thing or two about General George S. Patton, and not just from having analyzed the movie.
The key to understanding Patton is not simply his image and theatricality, but the audacity of his advance. Patton’s Third Army chased the Nazis across the south of France with an unrelenting vigor and unprecedented speed. It traveled 40 miles a day and 400 miles in the first week of September, 1944. Even when stripped of incoming supplies, and prevented from closing the Falaise Pocket and cutting off the retreat at the Seine, it kept going. Then it pivoted north and drove over a hundred miles through the Ardennes in a brutal winter to rescue the 101st Airborne at Bastogne. Then it rolled across western Germany going 300 miles in two weeks.
Just like it had done in the terrible terrain of Sicily, when Patton’s army moved, it moved the way a hurricane might move if you could power it with hundreds of thousands of gallons of gasoline. It moved the way an entire country might move if logistically coordinated with every engine lifting it off the ground. And Patton did not simply give the order. He moved with it and tightly orbited it at a pace that would exhaust a normal military hotshot. Patton raced across the edges and perimeters of his army’s advance in a convertible jeep like a screwball horse cavalryman. It often exposed him to enemy artillery and strafing, but he moved anyway, and he let his men see him with them. Everywhere he went, he gave rallies and fired up the soldiers, checked in on their supplies, ensured they had dry socks to prevent trench foot, coordinated with officers, and occasionally solved problems for them.
This was not always in keeping with the letter of regulations, but Patton bent the rules to keep the fire underneath his army roaring, and its morale and momentum alive. There’s a reason his men would’ve done anything for him, and that the men in the First Army lied about being in the Third to get dates with the nurses. Patton gave them the image of fearlessness and an indomitable spirit that inspired their feats. And they did the impossible when needed most.
If Trump actually understood his revered idol, he would have done something like that in Washington, D.C. during the near 2-week period of rioting. He had the MPD, Capitol Police, Park Police, National Guard, Marshal Service, DEA, and even units from Montgomery and Arlington Counties for backup. And he had the Secret Service. All he needed to do was have them coordinate an open, defensive posture in protecting property. Then risk some moderate exposure to the milkshakes and be seen with all of them out in the open. Trump should have put the red tie back on, ridden from park to park, historic site to historic square, neighborhoods bustling with commerce, and major federal buildings, and rallied law enforcement with assurances to every badge that he is with them, that his administration is with them, and that the American people are with them. And lest you think this is just a fantasy movie script, you need only study up on the personalities and presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and George H.W. Bush to see that any of them had this in them. Teddy would’ve stampeded the riots on a horse by himself like it was another Friday. Ike would’ve been seen in his helicopter over the city as the troops came in.
Trump didn’t need to mount a horse, put on a helmet, or photograph with the Bible. He just needed to adapt the tactics of his 2016 culture war campaign to the urgent present.
If he had done this, and then dropped the Airborne into the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (“CHAZ”), invoked the Insurrection Act to deploy the military or DHS forces to New York City, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, St. Paul, St. Louis, Atlanta, and Portland, the morale and momentum would be on the side of law and order. Trump could have restored such with not simply a show of force but a show. That was the Patton way.
As Senator Tom Cotton pointed out in his now-canceled op/ed that sent a tornado through the addled nervous systems of the New York Times, a long line of precedent exists for this, from presidents using the Airborne and the Guard to integrate southern schools to quelling the L.A. Riots (which lasted only one week). Some of them did so against states and their governors who embraced their backwards fads and refused to enforce the law. But now our present-day reign of terror has lasted nearly three months in some places, and the police and affiliated law enforcement agencies have not been this demoralized in generations.
America needs law and order, not just a president who can tweet those words in all caps. Instead of leading with courage, he relies on the imperfect yet admirable examples of citizens. That Trump eventually did send DHS forces into Portland after several attempts at malicious wounding of officers and arson on the federal courthouse is no excuse for his failure to send them earlier. I can understand waiting a week; even two. But his Rushmore speech came over a month after the rioting began. Then he waited over three more weeks after that to deploy them. Meanwhile, the month-long “Summer of Love” in CHAZ saw two people killed, several others shot, and several more businesses looted and extorted. Most, if not all, of these victims are black. Their lives didn’t matter to anyone. Now the Seattle PD is no longer seriously funded, and its chief resigned. It will not be the last violent eruption from that city. And more lives that are said to matter will not.
If Trump truly loved this country, respected Western civilization, understood its greatness, and cared about anything other than himself and his image, he had a chance to be at its vanguard. His appeal was (as a friend put it) based on the idea that in defense of America, he stands at the tip of the spear, not because he is ahead of his countrymen but because his countrymen are behind him. This was needed more than ever today, and Patton was as good an exemplar of it as anyone. Instead Trump retreated and folded as the fires across the country grew and spread. Not just incompetence, but cowardice; the ravaged neighborhoods and destroyed property, along with the lives destroyed by the undeterred miscreants and unquenched fires are his legacy.
The other reason to put on a show? China is always watching.
Big Trouble From Little China
All of this is about China.
The damage done to the character, reputation, and memory of this country wouldn’t matter so much if it was an unimportant global power. But in the zero-sum game of geopolitics, our loss is another’s gain. And no matter how bad you think you an existing regime might be, there is always something just as bad, or even worse, eagerly awaiting to take its place.
In 1917, Germany secretly sent Vladimir Lenin on a train to St. Petersburg so that he would hijack the sparks of revolution in Russia rising from Tsar Nicholas II’s abdication, turn the Bolsheviks into his own cult, and do to Germany’s eastern enemy from within what years of stalemate fighting in the frozen trenches could not – destroy it. Six months later, a proud and mighty civilization that had stood for 700 years was in utter shambles, and reborn from it was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
In the 74 years of the Soviet Union, anywhere from 25 to 50 million people were killed. When it became our “ally” in World War II, Lenin’s successor Joseph Stalin had already killed more people than any single dictator in history. But the greatest mass-murdering regime in the history of human civilization was not the Soviets. It was the regime of Mao Zedong. After his successful overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949, Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” killed 45 million people in four years. And the Chinese Communist Party, directly descended from Chairman Mao, remains the ruling regime of China today.
Mao turned the Republic of China into the “People’s Republic of China” just one year after Kim Il-sung and the Soviets turned North Korea into the “Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea.” This was the new Axis, emerging just four years after the destruction of the old one. And although they have been mostly militarily dormant for sixty years since the end of the Korean War, they are primed for a rematch today. I call it an Axis not because David Frum and President Bush assigned that label to part of it, but because it shares certain characteristics in common with the old one. Like the original, it is a pact of partnership between two neighboring nations that share a gruesome and radical ideology, resource interests, and a military culture. Like the original, it is outwardly territorial yet ruthless to its people from within. And like the original, it includes a third foreign power from a distant part of the world (Iran) in an alliance of mostly political convenience against their common Western enemies.
But there are important differences between today’s Axis and the old one too. President Xi Jimping is not prone to making rash gambits the way Adolf Hitler and Hideki Tojo were. China practices a culturally-instilled discipline of strategic patience with a long and deep historical and institutional memory. China’s strength comes from years of passive observation, intelligence gathering, and accruing incremental advantage. It doesn’t puff out its chest like its North Korean counterpart. It will surreptitiously surround its enemies and slowly strangle them like a snake. It salami slices enemy territory and closes its fingers one by one until it has made a fist. If the first Cold War was a staring contest between a bull and a bear, the second is closer to a poker series or a chess match. And while our eyes are on the pieces and cards, its real movements are under the table.
Even if you ignore the communist roots and solely invoke evidence from the actions of its present-day government, China is, in nearly every way, what the Left likes to label America. It has unleashed a virus upon the entire globe and repeatedly lied about both its origins and its effects. It has manipulated data and spread disinformation about the virus through the World Health Organization serving as its sock puppet propagandist. During the lockdowns and distractions, it has breached the sovereignty of Hong Kong and swallowed it out of existence. It killed nearly two-dozen Indian soldiers while encroaching upon the Sino-Indian border in a campaign building upon their oppression of Tibet a decade before. And, of course, it has continued to displace, detain, shear, sterilize, and commit infanticide against a million Uighur Muslim minorities in “re-education” camps. Most of these initiatives build upon its longstanding practices of stealing technology, patent and copyright violations, inflating its trade surpluses, poison-pilling the export market with subsidized goods, and currency manipulation. On top of that, China is a censorial pit for its citizens and its assets abroad including social media, the NBA – now a corporate subsidiary of that country, and Bloomberg News – now an unofficial propaganda outlet.
Despite everything communism destroyed and all the history it rewrote, China’s political, colonial, and economic strategy is one that is in touch with its core civilizational character. It is tempting to look at this pattern with a Western understanding and see simple imperialistic Fire Nation-style aggression. While some of that is certainly present, the real pattern is its long-term breeding of debt and dependence. China’s debt-trap diplomacy puts its neighbors – particularly those in central Asia – at its mercy, like the mafia creditor who flexes like a mogul.
I don’t even need to tell you about all the ways Trump saw this one coming. It was connected to every single thing he said about globalization and the loss of culture, American sovereignty, and livelihood to it. It was the nation he singled out above all others in a way no other candidate truly had. And four years later, the entire world at last sees China as exactly the menace that Trump did.
We are cursed with the reality that China has us right where it wants us, yet denied the blessing of Donald Trump being right where we need him to be.
I want to be careful in how I criticize Trump here. For the untrained eye it will be tempting to look at his foreign policy and see nothing but needless aggression, bellicosity, and vindictive excoriation of President Obama. The cult worshiper, meanwhile, looks at his foreign policy and sees pragmatic isolationism. Neither is true, but that doesn’t mean it is unintelligible.
Trump’s foreign policy is something closer to an imperfect and imprecise mix of re-ordering the post-1945 world into one that chiefly protects western and Israeli interests rather than Chinese ones, yet doing so in a mostly isolated, yet non-isolationist manner. The benefit is the end to established diplomatic traditions that he argues (whether you agree or not) don’t help us, as well as the perception of unpredictability. But it takes more than a bull rampaging through the china shop to create an effective mechanism for deterrence. Trump has Step One down; but without a cohesive Step Two, we will not see profit at Step Three.
But Trump’s “Step Two” is little more than roughly sketched. The Abraham Accords is a clear indication of intelligent direction, if not a well charted-out path. It would not have happened without his simultaneous embrace of Israel through his moving the embassy to Jerusalem and emasculation of Iran through sanctions and the retaliatory strike on General Soleimani. It also would not have happened without an increase in domestic fracking and drilling that, along with Covid-19, crashed the oil prices and stalled Iran’s recovery – and its ability to continue to sponsor Hezbollah and Hamas. The result is two-fold; Israel gets a new likely ally among one of the moderate Gulf monarchies (with the prospect of at least two more on the horizon), and Iran is all the more isolated for it. There’s a reason its strongest ally in 2020 has turned out to be China.
So what exactly do these steps look like for China itself?
Applying the logic here, China’s aggression needs immediate and decisive counter-action that stuns and blinds it like a flashbang. Then, as it sobers up, the West must maneuver to isolate it by empowering its neighbors to place both it and its nuclear pit bull North Korea in check. This is done chiefly by reducing debt and dependence on China, and strengthening ties with all of the powers that would terrify it.
Trump shows signs of occasionally understanding fragments of this big picture, but he cannot understand the whole. As a result he has failed at doing all of the above, and here committed some of the worst sins of his presidency. He took no action with India, NATO, or even Russia when China’s aggression turned into blood and fire on its borders and neighbors, or when amassed in the South China Sea. Worse, he stood up for China and condoned its attack on Hong Kong, and did nothing to try to help its people escape it. He gave that conflict the actual equivalence people mistakenly think he gave the white nationalists at Charlottesville. Then he embraced Jinping and even sung his praises on how he handled the coronavirus.
Beyond that, Trump stupidly broke the olive branch that the leaders of at least one of China’s most hostile neighbors – Japan – went out on a limb to reach. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is one of the only aspects of Obama’s foreign policy that I am inclined to defend and stick up for. The basic idea of it was to spread the incurable American trade deficit and dependency to China’s neighbors rather than China itself, and create a structure of economic advantage that made the central destination of consumer demand “anywhere but China.” It would have set the terms of global trade in the Pacific theater, and created a launch pad for the strengthening of military and political relationships with China’s neighbors that can counteract its mercantilism and steal its thunder. While Trump can pretend that he’ll bring all the jobs back, to the extent that any of them can’t, it’s better for them to land in Vietnam than in China. There was possible talk of Trump rejoining it in 2018, but it went nowhere. Now America is the isolated party.
He should be on global stage thundering against China with the outrage and vengeance he so successfully employed in 2016. Not just on Twitter, or in scattered press conferences, but in serious and continuous solidarity with every allied country that finds itself shaken and hollowed out from the destruction of Covid-19. He should leverage the threat of retaliation and reparations to slow down China’s continuous encroachment. He is right to help South Korea build its own nukes, but he should also be working with Prime Minister Abe and his successors to further marginally re-arm Japan. And if he were truly courageous, he’d tease on Twitter the possibility of recognizing Taiwan as the true China.
These are just a few base ideas. The point is that competing civilizations must be united against China.
Bismarck’s realpolitik, as understood by Samuel Huntington and his intellectual successors, remains the mode of global politics. We awaken today from the wet consumer dream of globalization to find it incompatible and irreconcilable with the clash of civilizations. And we unmask globalization to see that it is little more than a monopolistic profit engine for China. We are in a civilizational struggle against them for global hegemony, and we have decades of historical horror to know that China will not do the globe any favors. And Covid-19 was just its test firing. Against this, the supposed strongman realism we’re supposed to cheer from Trump entailed the idea that America will be no better friend and no worse enemy. But aside from the tariffs and travel bans, Trump has been no better friend to China itself.
On this, admittedly his opponent Joe Biden will be an even better friend. Little else can be expected of a wet blanket who aims to turn the White House into his own senior living facility, right before he opens the doors to his running mate’s coalition who will all but burn it down for being old white American property.
There are many things I liked about Trump’s era. I like the judges. I like Space Force. I like the tax cuts and deregulation. I like the success with Israel. I liked the fact that black employment, black wages, and black median household income all increased more under Trump than they ever did under Obama. I liked his Education Department’s Title IX reforms. I like the rollback of the individual healthcare mandate. I like his VA reforms and criminal sentencing reforms. I like his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords. And I like the proposal to create a National Garden of American Heroes.
But these things do not wash out his show of weakness. His animalistic understanding of tragic human nature did not result in a presidency that conserved the country, its institutions, and the rule of law. He did not take today’s righteous conflicts seriously. His tough talk and prescient predictions did not translate into strategically advantageous action. He could not show a backbone to the riots and the bespectacled shrills in academic, the media, and the Democratic administrations that empower them. Thus he could not show an American backbone against the People’s Republic of China. He has failed to rally the nation in defense of itself from within, and use that morale and momentum to rally the world against its greatest adversary. He is a craven squish and a Twitter crier; a false patriot and a weakling.
So what is 2020? It’s the year Donald Trump won the argument, and maybe another election too. But it’s also a year of waste. A year of missed opportunities, armchair tweeting, inaction against insurrection, and unimaginative weakness against China; a year of incompetent leadership that built upon three before it. And instead of feeling relief that the man who got right the reality of what we face is in a good position to stand up to it, 2020 is the year I understand with pessimistic dread that he will not.
America needs its President to be mean enough to mean what he says. Donald Trump is not.