American Conservatives, Fearing National Decline, Want A President With Swagger Again. What Could Go Wrong?

American conservatives only react so furiously when President Obama shows a little diplomatic humility and self-deprecation while abroad because it touches a raw nerve – they are consumed by worry about American decline, and project their anger onto minor, intangible issues like bowing protocol, Air Force One tarmac snubs and presidential behaviour which falls short of obnoxious boorishness on the world stage

Many American conservatives have reacted with outrage to this video of President Obama addressing an audience during a recent trip to Laos, holding it up as yet more evidence that the president they so love to hate actually hates America himself.

Addressing a townhall-style meeting while in Laos, Obama is heard to say:

I believe that the United States is and can be a great force for good in the world. But because we are such a big country, we haven’t always had to know about other parts of the world. If you are in Laos, you need to know about Thailand and China and Cambodia because you’re a small country and they’re right next door, and you need to know who they are.

If you’re the United States sometimes you can feel lazy and think, you know, we’re so big we don’t have to really know anything about other people, and that’s part of what I’m trying to change, because this is actually the region that’s going to grow faster than any place else in the world. It has the youngest population and the economy is growing faster any place, and if we aren’t here interacting and learning from you and understanding the culture of the region, then we’ll be left behind, we’ll miss an opportunity, and I don’t want that to happen.

Cue lots of conservatives running around in a tizzy as though Obama had been propping up the bar at some Laotian tavern, regaling the regulars with an endless reel of hilarious anecdotes about how backward and stupid Americans are, while TV cameras recorded every shameful moment.

Here’s Ace of Spades, getting unnecessarily worked up:

It’s almost as if this pampered, do-nothing, unqualified malcontent actively hates America or something.

Someone out there there’s a Yourself in desperate need of a f*cking.

You gotta listen to this. It’s the International Version of his famous Bitter Clingers Song.

Look, this is silly. I know it is inexplicably popular in American conservative circles to rant and rage about how the Evil Muslim Marxist in the White House secretly – or not so secretly – hates America. And to be fair, President Obama hasn’t always done himself many favours in this regard, particularly with that unbearably condescending “bitter clingers” speech which genuinely made it seem that he holds a significant proportion of the country in something between pity and contempt.

But do these pro salt-of-the-earth conservatives think that the likes of Donald Trump or the Republican Party establishment “love America” so much that they are ever going to sit down and break bread with ordinary folk on a regular basis (apart from when seeking their vote)? Do they really think the man who eats his pizza with a knife and fork has any great love for the Common Man? Or that Newt Gingrich or Paul Ryan or Ben Carson spend their time away from Washington D.C. slumming it, eating at Waffle House and watching Nascar?

Besides, what point is Ace trying to make here – that when on foreign soil, the American president must always be belligerently boastful about the United States, even (or especially) to the point where it enrages his hosts? This is like that American exceptionalism argument all over again. It’s perfectly fine to consider America a truly exceptional nation – heck, I certainly do, and I’m not even a citizen yet – but in what possible way does it make good diplomatic sense to stomp around the world lecturing other nations about how inferior they are?

What do conservatives think that Obama should have said in Laos? That the United States of America, to the very last trailer park dweller, is full of the wisest and most sagacious citizens on the face of the earth? That every American, from the richest penthouse-dweller in New York to the poorest cabin owner in Appalachia, is a natural foreign policy expert? That the people of a nation where 54 per cent of citizens do not own a valid passport are nonetheless deeply knowledgeable about the world beyond their own borders?

Is there not some truth to the perfectly benign and logical statement that as a large and powerful country, there is much less incentive for average American citizens to concern themselves with world affairs until they threaten an imminent impact on the homeland? Might it not possibly be the case that the country whose top-rated cable news channel (Fox News) has a segment entitled “Around The World in 80 Seconds” – that’s seconds, not minutes, and typically seconds filled with lightweight fluff about bull-running festivals or cheese-rolling competitions – is more domestically focused than other, smaller and more interconnected countries?

Worrying that the president of the United States is not swaggering around boorishly enough on the world stage is actually evidence of a deeper malaise, a suggestion that those who criticise Obama so hysterically actually realise that America is in some ways a troubled country, and desperately want their leader to kick ass at every diplomatic summit as a way of papering over the cracks.

And that’s what this hissy fit from the American Right is really all about: the gnawing fear of American decline. In some ways this is a legitimate fear – no, America is not going anywhere just yet, despite the best efforts of enemies without and “reformers” within to undo all that is good about the United States. But we are certainly entering an indisputable period of relative American decline, as other countries develop and become wealthier, and new regional powers assert themselves. This is understandably concerning to many people, particularly those of the baby boomer who came of age at a time of unparalleled American power and prosperity, as well as those younger Americans who came of age (as I did) between the shadow of the Cold War receding and the incredible national shock that was 9/11.

It will be harder now for America to pursue her global interests unchallenged. American influence will be questioned and undermined by assertive regional powers and two-bit mischief-makers alike. America will have to become accustomed to harmless but superficially humiliating slights from jumped-up, distasteful regimes looking to impress their domestic audience by standing up to the United States, much as Britain had to endure a reduced standing on the world stage after the Second World War and loss of empire.

But America is not Britain, and her decline will be neither as swift nor as steep. America’s fundamentals remain broadly sound. The economy remains large and dynamic, while America’s military power and reach eclipses that of all other nations several times over. Financial and social problems, though pressing, are surmountable – or at least the damage can be contained for now. America will remain the sole superpower for the foreseeable future, and all those countries who American conservatives see posing a threat in their fevered dreams face internal and external challenges of their own.

And yet the gnawing fear persists, and leads otherwise sensible conservatives to say and demand very silly things in a desperate and unnecessary attempt to prove continued American national virility. But now is the time for smarter American diplomacy, not for the unsubtle sledgehammer approach. Of course America should take pride in the exceptionalism of her founding and history, but this should not translate into a boorish tendency to lecture other countries when leading by example can be far more effective.

That doesn’t mean the United States should stop calling out human rights abuses or democratic infringements in other countries – far from it. But conservatives should stop demanding that the US president, while standing at a lectern at a joint press conference next to a foreign head of state, opens his remarks by detailing all the many ways in which the United States is a far superior country. Is that really too much to ask?

After all, it is less than eight years since we last enjoyed the service of an American president brimming with natural swagger, and the foreign policy consequences were…mixed.

Do we really want to go down that road again?

 

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Neutrality Is Not An Option For Conservative Pundits Against Trump

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Failing to support Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee effectively means advocating a Hillary Clinton presidency as the least-worst option in 2016. And #NeverTrump conservative pundits should find the courage to do so.

The veteran US conservative blog Ace of Spades has nothing but derision for those conservative pundits, commentators and other associated “thought leaders” who denigrate Donald Trump at every opportunity while lacking the courage to state the obvious inference from their criticism – that they would rather see Hillary Clinton as president.

Ace thunders:

Hardest hit: The #NeverTrumper Pundit Class, who are depending on a blowout to maintain that their constant anti-Trump agitations cannot possibly affect the election.

Oddly enough, none of these people claim to have zero influence on the conservative population except when they agitate against Trump. I’ve asked several people to provide past resumes and book proposals to demonstrate they have previously claimed to have absolutely no readership or influence over other conservatives; none of them have come forward with such book proposals stating, “I vow to you that I have barely any readers at all and that my book, should you publish it, will make nary the faintest ripple in the national debate.”

It’s only now, during 2016 (specifically from May of 2016 to November 2016), that this obviously highly-self-regarding group of Thought Leaders is making this claim of having no importance and no following.

I imagine these claims will evaporate ’round the second week of November.

Then they’ll all be back in Highly Influential Thought Leaders of the Conservative Movement mode again.

Sorry, I consider these claims to be cowardly, dishonest, and utterly chickenshit. People who have been cashing checks for decades based on their very value as magnets for conservative eyes can’t suddenly claim that, at least for a six month period from May to November 2016, they haveno influence whatsoever and are doing nothing at all to advance Hillary Clinton’s election prospects.

It’s cowardice, pure and simple. If you consider Trump so terrible that you feel obligated to support Hillary, then at least have the guts to say that, instead of putting on this childishly dishonest and evasive act of claiming that words people care enough about to pay you cash money for suddenly have no impact on anyone, anywhere, ever.

This bullshit that obviously-influential people who get paid advances to write books on conservative politics don’t have influence is unworthy. If you want a defense, then say, “I’m doing what I always do: I’m arguing for what I believe to be for the best for America.” (And that just happens to be arguing for the One True Conservative in the race, Hillary Clinton.)

He’s not wrong. There is no characteristic more despicable in people who claim to be part of the political and media elite than political cowardice and the craven unwillingness to boldly state inconvenient truths. Nor is there a spectacle more corrosive to the public trust in journalism and politics in general than those plump, oily fence-sitters who hedge their bets at every opportunity while still demanding that the rest of us sit and hang on their every word.

This blog took the plunge back at the time of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Though the words “I’m with her” had to be choked out together with no small quantity of bile, I uttered them nonetheless and this blog nailed its colours to the mast. Now Trump fanatics and those who fantasise about a Trump administration “dream team” involving the likes of Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin can damn me if they wish, and never set digital foot here again.

A Hillary Clinton presidency gives the Republican Party four more years to come up with a more palatable option than John McCain, Mitt Romney and Donald Trump. In those four years, precious little will happen to fill conservative hearts with glee. But it is also highly unlikely that anything cataclysmicly, unfixably awful will happen either. That, to this blog, seems like a much better deal than letting Donald Trump loose on the Oval Office and potentially having him tarnishing the conservative and Republican brands even more than he has been able to as a presidential candidate.

Many of Trump’s desperate apologists try to trip up the #NeverTrump brigade by pouring scorn on the idea that Hillary Clinton is more conservative than Trump (see Ace of Spades’ sarcastic description of Clinton as “the One True Conservative in the race”). This misses the point. Many of us see Hillary Clinton exactly for what she is – namely a very calculating centrist with no core political convictions whatsoever. She was never the swivel-eyed leftist that Newt Gingrich tried to suggest – witness her glacial movement on gay marriage, only cautiously signalling her support once she was sure that Joe Biden and Barack Obama had not done themselves any political damage.

So the question is not one of whether Hillary Clinton is “more” of a conservative than Trump (though Donald Trump certainly is no conservative). The question is one of temperament and basic competence to execute the job. And while Hillary Clinton may be dogged by many legitimate ethical questions, few doubt that she could handle the levers of government, if only to maintain America on its present course.

Donald Trump, by contrast, is a complete unknown quantity, and a hugely volatile one at that. When he goes off-script he is liable to say or do anything (insulting the most sympathetic of characters or getting into Twitter wars with D-list celebrities) which comes to mind, and when he is on-script (as at his recent summit with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto) he sounds like he has been lobotomised. I have about as much confidence that Donald Trump has read, understood and respects the US Constitution as I believe his claim that “nobody reads the bible more than me“.

The choice, then, is not between a leftist ideologue and an honest, hard-workin’ conservative whose only crime is to be a bit politically incorrect sometimes, as Trump’s loyal cheerleader Sean Hannity loves to put it. The choice is between an ideologically rootless centrist who will likely maintain the status quo because she and her family have too much vested in it to see it fail, or a madman.

There are some occasions when the plucky, anti-establishment, populist insurgency is wrong. Shocking, I know, coming from an ardent Brexiteer, but true nonetheless. The cherished goal of Brexit – reasserting nation state democracy and reclaiming power from distant, unaccountable, technocratic elites – is pure and noble, at its best. Trumpism is not. Even if many of the complaints of Donald Trump supporters are valid – and they certainly are, and have been ignored by mainstream politicians for too long – Trump’s solutions are not equal to the difficulties he identifies.

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present”, Abraham Lincoln once remarked in an address to Congress. True – and nothing represents the dogmas of the past better than Hillary Clinton. But still it is better to sit in the harbour and make scant progress for four years than to unfurl the Trump sail and set a course right for the centre of the storm.

 

Donald Trump Hosts Nevada Caucus Night Watch Party In Las Vegas

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