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Books become classics because they contain ageless truths.  Of such, perhaps none is more a classic than Il Principe (The Prince) by Niccolò Machiavelli.  Though written for Giuliano di` Medici in early 16th century Florence, it nonetheless survives five centuries later for the insights into the uses and misuses of power it contains even today.

A true leader must be both lion and fox.  A fox to detect and avoid the snares and a lion to overawe his opponents.

The final chapter, XXVI, is entitled: “Exhortation to Liberate Italy from the Barbarians”.  Up to this point, Machiavelli has only occasionally referred to barbarians.  But he also does so in a much-neglected work (unlike The Prince, not meant as a job application) Discourses on Livy.  These references disclose that he viewed barbarians singularly and as entities.

The hordes of barbarians are generally foreign, that is outside Florentine Italy, attacking the much better educated and cultivated ruling classes of Italian republics of the day.  Similarly, the singular barbarian is uncultured, uncouth, lacking in civic virtue, having little sense of the commonwealth, and certainly corrupt and corrupting.

For Machiavelli, the Roman Empire offered the enduring example of barbarian hordes, capped off by the invading Vandals bearing swords and lances, unlike their Russian counterparts some sixteen centuries later trolling voter lists with their computers.

What are 21st century citizens of the American Republic to make of warnings being heard to liberate America from the barbarians?

Circumstances today require noting, once again, Machiavelli’s exhortation against a foreign barbarian horde and individual barbarians in our midst.

Let’s consider state-sponsored Russian hackers blatantly and systematically seeking to disrupt our democratic elections, described by the President as the “Russian hoax” but by his administration’s top security officials as an existential threat.

It seems pretty obvious to those with eyes to see that the present-day Russian Government represents barbarians every bit as much as those political powers threatening Florentine Italy in Machiavelli’s day.  The new weapons of invasion are computers, not arrows and lances, and are aimed at our political structures more than our economic ones, though the latter, made up of corporate owners of critical infrastructure, are soon to feel the cross-hairs on them.

Perhaps a modern-day Machiavelli might wish to direct an “Exhortation to Liberate America from the Barbarians” to our President.  If he were to read it, that would be a first.

But any objective viewer, and particularly a patriotic one, would also have to conclude that there are home-grown barbarians amongst us.  Some are racists of varying stripes.  Almost all have been taught to hate the First Amendment free press, with one or two propaganda exceptions, many have been encouraged to violent action by top “leaders”, and all are united against the “other” in the form of refugees and asylum seeker.

Machiavelli favored a quasi-republican principality, at least when seeking appointment by the Medici, but he also revived the largely forgotten notion of the classic republic based on civic virtue, participation, the notion of a commonwealth, and resistance to corruption.  It is that classic republic now threatened in America by domestic barbarians opposed to all these qualities.

When we finally find a leader who appreciates the threat from foreign barbarians, we will have both the means and the will to defeat them.  Of much more immediate and long-term concern, however, are the barbarians in our midst who wish to dismantle the structures of humanism, progress, civility, and community formed with many struggles over more than two centuries.

All men and women of good will, and that includes the vast majority of Americans, will not permit this Republic, to which so many have dedicated their lives, to be lost to posterity.  That is a tragedy that must be avoided at all cost.

The Elite

Author: Gary Hart

Trump supporters, we are told, forgive his many indiscretions so long as he pokes the eyes of the “elite”.  Often used, but seldom defined, what does it mean to be elite and who are they?

We each have our own image.  Mine is a corporate executive with an Ivy League education earning high six or usually seven figures annual income with kids in prep schools, membership in one or more exclusive country clubs, whose social circle is composed of similar types, and with high end cars in the garage.

But that individual, man or woman, voted for Trump.  And he or she ain’t me.  By not voting for Trump, did that make me one of the hated “elite”?

By any definition, no cohort in our society has benefited financial under Trump more than that kind of elite.

Let’s compare profiles.  The author grew up in a working-class household in a small Kansas farming town, attended public schools, graduated from a small church college, married his college sweetheart (and is now celebrating his and hers 60th wedding anniversary), lived frugally, and resides in a Colorado town of 800.

The author had some good fortune along the way.  I was accepted by and graduated from the Yale Divinity School and Law School.  That may have been on merit, but it also may have been a whimsical experiment by the admissions officers.  I was elected twice and served 12 years in the United States Senate.  That alone is pretty elite, but far be it from me to question the wisdom of Colorado voters.  And, yes, there was a strong, but unsuccessful, campaign for the presidency.

My deepest convictions are diametrically opposed to those of Mr. Trump.  He is far more elite, in large part thanks to inheritance, than I am.  Yet, for his supporters, people like me are “the elite” who deserve his thumb in the eye.

People like me deserve a better description than “elite”.  How about (1) those with a social conscience; (2) those who believe society’s wealth should be used in part to undergird the elderly, children in poverty, and the involuntarily unemployed; (3) those who think America should stand for principles, lead by example, accept a fair share of refugees, and cooperate with allies; (4) those who believe we are stewards of nature with a moral obligation to clean the air and water and preserve our more valuable spaces for future generations; (5) and those who believe a growing economy should benefit all, not just those, like Mr. Trump, who are at the top.

If that is what he calls “elite”, then I qualify.  But those who forgive him his transgressions and betrayal of the public trust as long as he uses us as punching bags to justify his betrayal of the best instincts of most Americans should find a better description.

How about loyal, conscientious, concerned, and humane Americans?

The Lion and His Fate

Author: Gary Hart

It must have been in a very early visit to the Carnegie Free Library in Ottawa, Kansas, when I first encountered an essay and pictures of African lions, probably in National Geographic.  I immediately knew the leader.  He was magnificent and he was indeed the king of the jungle.

Since then, and throughout a complex life, I’ve identified with this lion and to a certain degree with his avian counterpart the bald eagle as avatars of the creatures of nature whom God has created.

Since the dawn of wildlife conservation beginning with the age of the great Republican Theodore Roosevelt and much beyond, most of us who revere nature have assumed nature’s most magnificent creatures, and in more recent years, smaller, less charismatic species, are worthy of decent respect and preservation from man’s predatory expansionist instincts.

That was then, the heyday of conservation and preservation.  But we have entered a new, a more revanchist, throwback.  The incumbent American administration has just ruled that bans on importation of lion remains are to be lifted and may now enter the United States.

There are more instances of revision to pre-humane policies that would distract attention from the plight of the king of the jungle.  But attention must be paid.  In the not too distant future, one of the president’s progeny, already known for the prowess against unprotected foreign wildlife, will arrive on our shores from Kenya or Tanzania, with a prize African lion head and skin and will clear customs, thanks to his father, free to mount his trophy on his Park Avenue luxury apartment wall, or God forbid as a rug on the floor for all his elite, wealthy friends to admire.

They will, no doubt, praise him for his prowess as a hunter and marvel at his bravery, not knowing that his kill was made with a high powered 30/06 or even 50 caliber rifle at a range of 800 yards surrounded by armed guides and protectors to make sure the distant lion had no chance to retaliate or even contemplate the fate to which cruel politics had committed him.

If any symbol of Trumpism is ever erected, I nominate this scene as illustrative.

What chance did the lion have.  What chance do any of us have.

A Contrast

Author: Gary Hart

The first week of December 1986, I met with Mikhail Gorbachev in the Kremlin for almost four hours.  It was toward the end of his first full year in office and less then 60 days from his Reykjavic summit with Ronald Reagan.  He had yet to become acquainted with members of the Democratic party and especially those representing a new generation of leadership.  In 1984, I had been runner-up for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, and the Russian Embassy in Washington believed I would be a candidate again, and possibly a successful one, in 1988.

Mr. Gorbachev was congenial, relaxed, but curious.  He graciously invited my daughter Andrea, then studying U.S.-Russian relations at the University of Denver, to join our conversation.  Former Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Dobrynen, whom I knew well joined the conversation as did Doug Wilson, my foreign policy advisor and former State Department official.

Much of the conversation revolved around Mr. Gorbachev’s confusion at Reykjavic and thereafter.  The summit was not considered a success as much as anything because of a pattern by President Reagan of seeming to agree to bold nuclear arms reductions and confidence building measures and then, after consultation with his staff, reversing himself.

As he was headed to a final press conference, President Gorbachev turned to his Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and said: “It is a disaster.”  Shevardnadze responded: “But you cannot say that”.  Gorbachev turned the huge disappointment into the theme that “much work remains to be done”.

Poignantly, toward the end of this long session, Mr. Gorbachev asked me who I thought they should deal with in the U.S. Administration.  Without saying as much, he clearly was searching for a back channel with whom they could communicate to overcome our president’s vagueness and forgetfulness.

Having disqualified myself as a member of the opposition party, I did say that Secretary of State George Schultz struck me and others as being steady, reasonable, and diplomatic.  I have been led to believe that arrangement may have been made.  At no point did I denigrate our president.  And upon return we delivered Doug’s copious notes to our State Department.

Aside from Reykjavic, President Gorbachev went into great detail about his plans for perestroika and reforms of Russia’s economic system and the loosening of the political system under glasnost.  He was extraordinarily candid about the hurdles he faced and why good relations and arms control with the U.S. was crucial to his sweeping agenda.

At shorter length, I tried to summarize the reforms I hoped to bring about in America in making the revolutions in globalization and information lift those left out of our economy and reiterated my life-long commitment to nuclear arms reduction.

To the outsider, tone, mood, and atmosphere in high level international meetings seem overrated.  But they are not.  They are important to the formation of trust and friendship.  Even if he considered my challenge for the presidency a long shot, he nevertheless treated me seriously.  By this time I had experienced enough high level diplomacy in the Middle East and elsewhere to know how to behave, to treat national leaders with dignity and respect, and, at the same time, defend my country’s interests forthrightly.

Based upon his performance in Helsinki, others must judge whether Donald Trump met that standard.  As stunningly off key as it was, it will never enter the history books as successful diplomacy.  At the very least, it is powerful evidence that we should never send amateurs into the international diplomatic arena.  Buying and selling real estate is insufficient training for the diplomatic amphitheater.  High level international diplomacy requires special talents which in this case seem to be missing.

Since, in the long run, there are no secrets in these matters, the real mystery of Helsinki is in the two-hour unrecorded Putin-Trump meeting.  Behind a smoke screen of “fake news”, that is where the truth of Helsinki and perhaps Trump himself is revealed.

Mr. Trump may or may not have been taking care of his own interests, but manifestly he was not taking care of the interests of the United States.

The only time I had a secret meeting with a head of state, was previously in the summer of 1986 in the upstairs study of His Majesty King Hussein’s summer palace in Aqaba.  He revealed to me that he had been having secret meetings with Israel’s then Prime Minister Shimon Perez to explore a peace agreement.  He asked for my help.  Upon return a few days later to the U.S. I went immediately to the Department of State to brief Secretary Schultz.  Alas, the Reagan Administration did nothing to support those negotiations.

U.S. Presidents can do great damage to our nation’s interests, as well as global stability, if they don’t know what they are doing.  We received ample evidence of that this week.

Abdication of Courage

Author: Gary Hart

It has been apparent for some time that virtually all Republican members of the House and Senate who are clinging to their positions have chosen to place career and party over courage in the national interest.

By doing so they have undermined our Founders’ reliance on checks and balances to prevent the danger of autocracy in the executive branch and the requirement of independence of the legislative branch.

Rarely if ever has a Congressional majority abdicated its Constitutional responsibility in the face of an unhinged executive.

But other senior Republicans are equally culpable.  When was the last time you heard a critical word against President Trump, as he systematically seeks to undermine the G7, NATO and collective security, the European Union, the World Trade Organizations and multiple trade agreements under it, and virtually any and all of the pillars of the Western democratic alliance, from the following list of Republicans often labeled “statesmen”:

George Schultz, former Secretary of State

James Baker, former Secretary of State

Colin Powell, former Secretary of State

Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House

Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor

Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense

Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense

Richard Cheney, former Vice President

George W. Bush, former President

And a host of others, cabinet members, Senators, Congresspersons, Governors.  All silent in the face of the destruction of the economic, political, and security structures they wholeheartedly supported during their time in office and well beyond…until the last number of months.

The oath they each took to protect and defend the United States of America was not revoked when they left office.  What is it?  Embarrassment?  Shock?  Loathing?  The issue is one of patriotism, the interests of the nation which they served, and country over party.

What a stark contrast their collective silence is with the startling words of a true patriot, Senator John McCain, clinging to a life well worth living, made today in condemning the actions of Trump as “shameful”.

We have only to imagine, if Barack Obama or any Democratic president had undercut the international order of the past seven decades in an effort to appease autocratic Russia, that Republican impeachment proceedings would be underway well before now.

Having achieved their tax cuts and deregulations, is that all they care about?

[in partial response to Neil McCarthy’s comment in the previous post]

 

 

Catastrophe Ahead

Author: Gary Hart

Sooner rather than later we will experience a major cyberattack on one or more parts of our critical infrastructure.  We will not know, at least immediately, where it has originated from because it will be redirected through a number of cut outs.  It could come from a major national power or from renegade cyber pirates.  Its target will most certainly be either our transportation, communications, financial, or energy networks.

Whatever the target system, the result will be catastrophic.

We actually entered the international cyber era with the Russian disruption of our 2016 elections representing an attack on the fundamental aspect of our democracy.  That is just the beginning.

In 1999, I was co-chair of the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century, the most far-reaching analysis of our national security challenges since a series of similar assessments following World War II.  We concluded that “America will be attacked by terrorists using weapons of mass destruction and Americans will die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.”  That language was repeated in our final report on 31 January 2011, eight months before 9/11.

A similar study undertaken today by experienced security experts would surely contain similar language: “America will be attacked by terrorists using cyber technology and one or more of America’s critical infrastructure systems will massively disrupt American lives.”

This is going to happen soon.  As we were not prepared for 9/11, we are not prepared for this kind of warfare.

Though Senator John McCain, among a few others, has sought to pass legislation requiring national protection of our critical infrastructure, Congress seems unconcerned.  Equally unconcerned is the Executive branch.  Unlike many other countries, virtually all our financial, transportation, energy, and communications systems are in private corporate ownership.  Through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbies, these corporate structures resist any attempt to mandate cyber security systems.

If your political philosophy is “leave me alone” regarding government mandates, this fits that pattern.  But this is not just “play fair” regulation.  This is “our nation is in danger and you must help protect our nation.”

This is one of those times where the laissez faire philosophy must give way to national security.

In 1940, Pearl Harbor was required to wake Americans up.  In 2001, 9/11 was required to wake Americans up.

If a cyber attack shuts down our telephone and computer systems, or our air traffic control systems with thousands of planes in the air, or our entire electrical grid, or our complex banking system, it will be disastrous, but Americans will wake up too late once again.

The cry will be: Why weren’t we warned?  For eight months before 9/11, I was one of a very few that continued to warn about terrorist attacks on America.

Consider this a warning.

Nero in the Coliseum

Author: Gary Hart

“Rome was robust enough…to survive terrifyingly bad rulers.”  This is Professor John Lewis Gaddis in his new book On Grand Strategy commenting on Caesar Augustus’ failure to train a successor before his death and the subsequent decline in the caliber and quality of Rome’s rulers, including the notorious Nero forty years later.

The book is a graduate seminar in 313 pages, covering not only Caesar Augustus but also Xerxes, Pericles, Thucydides, Augustine, Machiavelli, Lincoln, and Isaiah Berlin, among many others.  It represents true joy in learning.  Had he more interest in learning, in books, in history, I can think of a current president who should read it.

Very few bad leaders have these interests, or to put it another way, without those interests bad leadership is guaranteed.  It was Jefferson himself who said he could not live without books.  The man now occupying his presidential office cannot live with them.

If that man suddenly chose to read, he might find out about the Marshall Plan, the subsequent North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the emergence of the European Union, the World Trade Organization, and the United Nations itself.  Then regional trade agreements such as NAFTA, the G7, and security agreements such as the Iran nuclear agreement.

Almost all of these were opposed by the isolationist wing of the Republican party at the time, at least until it understood this network of institutions was the democratic world’s bulwark against the Soviet Union and the spread of communism.  And it worked.

Without the communist threat to require cooperation for collective security, sure enough the isolationist wing, once lead in the 1930s by Charles Lindberg and Henry Ford, has now re-emerged from its cave and wants to undue the network of international organizations that prevented a world war for 75 years.

One of many lessons offered by our current detour from history is the danger of one party government, abetted by its several captive media conglomerates. No checks.  No balances.  All power concentrated in one political party with its own great megaphone guarantees excess and ultimately “terrifyingly bad rulers” whose central organizing principle is to destroy any evidence a previous president existed and to tear down brick by brick the international institutions favored by at least eleven of his predecessors.

For all practical purposes the Republican Congress is this president’s rubber stamp.  If a Democratic president had tried to disrupt NATO in previous years you could have heard the outraged cries of Republicans from one end of this country to the other.

Great leaders throughout history have almost always trained their successors or at least mentored them into positions of leadership.  Not so of recent presidents, including the two Bush presidents, which produces vacuums for Neros to fill.

Like Rome at the height of its power, America is robust enough to survive bad rulers, that is at least until they begin to succeed one another.  But that survival must overcome the wreckage of abandoned international networks for security, trade, the environment, world health, and much else.  And it will require the patient restructuring of reasonable and necessary regulations for energy and the environment, public education, health care, worker safety, safe food and drugs, and very much else currently being thrown away domestically.

We have had too few presidents who were strategic thinkers, alas.  If leaders do not anticipate the future and its new realities, they are consigned to reaction.  Reactive options are almost always flawed one way or another and by definition defensive.

There is always the possibility that the current president is operating according to a plan.  If so, it is not one that he seems willing to share with his fellow countrymen whose lives and whose children’s lives will be jeopardized by wholesale withdrawal from a well-established international order that has served the world reasonably well for seven decades.

This president not only is willing for the United States to retreat from the world but seems hell-bent on destroying existing structures for others whom most of us consider our friends and allies.

The whole world is his Coliseum.

A Hinge of History

Author: Gary Hart

There has been an assumption that once Donald Trump leaves office, American politics will return to its traditional patterns.  There is an increasing likelihood, however, that he is disrupting standard political norms and practices for years to come if not permanently.

The probability increases daily that American politics is in the midst of historical, irreversible changes.  Patterns are emerging in the Trump era that reflect little if any similarity to anything previously experienced in the nation’s history.  These include ideological restructuring of the judicial system, denigration of the role of the free press, concentration of greater power in the executive branch and shrinking the role of the legislative branch, rejection of America’s role as leader of the democratic world, alignment of American politics with nationalistic movements elsewhere, rejection of science and facts, and steady presidential reliance on falsehoods.

The strongest evidence for the assertion that all this and more is establishing a permanent pattern is this administration’s ability to trample on tradition, custom, and established practice and get away with it.  A clear pattern of behavior has emerged for a long enough time that it is a fundamental altering of the American character and not merely the antics of a foolish and misguided executive.

For the first time in a long lifetime, little attention is given to our history, no obligation is felt to heed the lessons of former leaders, leaders read no books, ignorance has become our standard, critical public offices are left vacant, childish rants have replaced thoughtful dialogue, democratic allies are demeaned and tyrants praised.

The nation is divided between two cultures, one blue and one red.  The red culture rewards the president’s behavior at every turn and encourages even greater excesses and aberrations.  The blue culture fails to produce statesmen of stature and is increasingly represented by public figures drawn into the vortex of vulgarity.

The era of Trump witnesses the destruction of the traditional Republican party and the isolation of the Democratic party into coastal red enclaves with little opportunity for expansion.  What we are witnessing is not merely a recurring cycle in American politics.  We are witnessing a fundamental altering of traditional structures, ideologies, and norms into forms unfamiliar in our history.

There have been recurring cycles in American political history and reemergence of the paranoid style in American politics.  Absent serious depression or war, however, the current dismantling of reasonably stable traditional structures is assuming the caste of permanence.

The era of Trump is undertaking a wholesale restructuring of the executive branch of government that will make its ultimate dismantling and shrinkage easier.  Being repealed by executive order are not simply regulations and practices constructed by the previous president but by presidents of both parties over many decades.

The president’s party in Congress shifted massive wealth upward to the already unseemly wealthy, and resistance was slight and momentary.  It will be a long time, if ever, that a fair tax code is reenacted.  Reorganization of government is to be the smokescreen behind which a system of public assistance to those in need will be dismantled.  If so, it will take decades to put it back together if that can ever be done.  Care for the needy is the very center of civility.

Already programs for alternative energy, climate protection, public education, expanded health care, and nature preservation are being dismantled.  The dream of conservatives to eliminate social assistance since the age of Franklin Roosevelt is now underway.  Soon the national government’s role will be defense and reallocation of wealth upward.

And the good times roll on.  The era of Trump seems permanently buoyed by an expanding economy, one that had already substantially recovered from its 2008 market deregulation disaster well before the era of Trump began.  As uneven and unfair as it is, a strong market is preferable to its alternative, even if it raises mostly the gilded yachts.  Few will be successful in challenging the Trump deconstruction of American politics during this rising tide.

The emerging new political order will be one of vulgarity, American against American, false information, propaganda replacing debate, smallness of stature, diplomacy by assault, every man for himself and devil take the hindmost.

What are we leaving our children and future generations?  In a word, a different country than the one we inherited.  It will be more callous and less caring, a meaner, cut-throat, take-no-prisoners politics, political power in the hands of money thanks to Citizens United, scorn poured on idealism, red and blue ideological media, politics in the hands of the children of Trump, symbolically if not literally, crude, boastful, tasteless rhetoric, American leaders embarrassed and embarrassing on the world stage, and little if any sense of the greatness of our history.

If we have entered another dimension in American politics, even semi-permanently, who among the next generation and beyond will seek public office, to face the demagoguery of political opponents and the media as well, to constantly beg for money, to risk character assassination at every turn, to rely on media advisors and “strategists” for a message benign enough not to offend anyone but not visionary enough to excite anyone either.

If economic growth, or the appearance of it, is sufficient to enable the destructive Trump era for a few more years, we will be well enough down the road of deconstruction of political life as we have known it.  It will have changed unalterably.  Those who might welcome that outcome have no idea of what they are inviting.  All current indications suggest it will not be pretty.

Every hour and every day the seeds of a different country are being sown.

It is not too late to stop this runaway political train whose ultimate destination is yet to be known.  It will take statesmen and women who care deeply about our country.  It will take parents who care about their children’s public legacy.  It will take genuine American patriots who know our country is great already and must preserve, not destroy, what made it great.

In a mass democracy such as ours. there are no magic wands to turn the entire political process around.  It takes articulate candidates who know history and who understand the complex issues we face.  It requires civility, the ability to communicate in language everyday Americans can understand.  It means spending time organizing, first local neighborhoods, then communities, then whole States, then the country.  It requires restraint from hostility to those who disagree.  Most of all, it requires moral authority, the strength of leaders and followers to follow their consciences, to do what is right, to stand for the nation’s best principles, to exercise passive resistance and peaceful protest against that which is wrong.

These are the practices methods that finally brought civil rights, ended the war in Vietnam, let to women’s rights, and encouraged the environmental movement.

After a lifetime as a reformer, this is not an argument against changing political structures and policies to address new realities.  It is an argument against willful trashing of national ideals, principles, agreements, equity, fairness, and justice to serve the undemocratic interests of nationalism, racism, bigotry, and concentrated wealth.

Great nations have a soul.  That soul can be lost or destroyed.  We have entered an era where America’s soul is in the balance.  Language is losing its meaning.  Truth is squandered every day.  Conscious efforts are being made to drive permanent wedges between segments of our society, to turn Americans against Americans.  For what purpose, we are not told.

Consider an American politics without a conscience or a moral center.  Consider our politics without mutual respect, empathy, or common decency.  Consider leaders chosen for their rudeness, deceitfulness, and vulgarity.

We have a sacred trust.  We are stewards of the values of truth and justice.  We have a solemn duty to preserve these values for those who will follow.  If we fail, America fails.

Assuming that Mr. Trump continues his project to dismantle what is usually referred to as the liberal world order, the security, trade, environment, and a range of international agreements to encourage international cooperation on matters of common concern, at least two options will emerge for his presidential successor.  One is restoration of the multi-national agreements that Mr. Trump has abandoned or sought to destroy.  The other is the invention of a new approach to common problems that lie ahead.

The first approach may be as straightforward, although not simple, as rejoining agreements and arrangements from which he seeks to withdraw the United States.  The Group of Seven, whose La Malbaie meeting he unaccountably and petulantly disrupted, is an instance of a new, more rational president simply saying “sorry, folks, we’re back in the club and looking for ways to work together.”

Although candidate Trump disparaged NATO, though seeming not to grasp what it has been about for almost eight decades, he seems to have been persuaded by U.S. senior military leadership that it is the backbone of U.S. national security, a bulwark against terrorism, and a much more effective security approach to his preferred go-it-alone strategy.

Also, as Mr. Trump is finding out, his simplistic unilateralism concerning trade in Asia, Europe, and the North American continent and belief that trade wars “are easy to win” is slightly more complicated than early 21st century Smoot-Hawleyism.  His self-vaunted negotiating skills seem not to be working in this arena either.

After a current binge of nationalism, xenophobia, and wall building, reality must set in and saner leaders will conclude that there is more to be gained in security, trade, environment, and much else by cooperation and international agreement.

The real issue is whether Americans can find a new generation of statesmen of the caliber of George Marshall, Dean Acheson, and Harry Truman who can convince our democratic allies and others such as China and Russia that maturity has returned to the United States, that we wish to return to an intricate system of international institutions, and even more search for new cooperative ways to address new common problems.

Statesmanship flourishes only in rational eras.

The reality is this.  Globalization is here to stay.  New rules must be devised to make it work fairly.  Nuclear weapons must be constrained.  It is easy to condemn the Iran nuclear agreement for what it did not achieve.  We have yet to see how the Great Negotiator comes up with something better.  The climate is changing.  Polar ice is melting.  Sea levels are rising and will do so more rapidly.  Mass migrations will result.  It is a race between the Trumpian term of office ending and seriousness in limiting carbon emissions returning in time.

The drama of the next few decades resides in the clash of nationalism against these realities, none of which can be resolved by unilateralism in single nations.

The saddest lesson of politics is that those responsible for chaos, catastrophe, and ignorance rarely have to pay the price for their mistakes.  When the wave of unaddressed new realities crash down upon us, Mr. Trump and those who empower him or protect their careers by preserving their silence will be ending their days at a golf course in Mar a Lago or perhaps a few miles outside of Moscow.

Idealism in Hiding

Author: Gary Hart

“I am an idealist, without illusions.”  John Kennedy

The era of the assassin, at least those who use bullets, came to a close, praise God, fifty years ago.  To say that much has changed since is a massive understatement.  Whether the rise of the petty tyrant and the destruction of governing norms and behavior is here to stay or is a detour and frolic remains to be seen.  At the least it is safe to say that the idealistic tendency to see government as an instrument of fairness and justice is in hiding.

During the very brief Kennedy days the ideal of public service as a means to right society’s injustices (“ask what you can do..”) opened the way to the era of civil rights, women’s rights, environmental protection, worker safety, a war on poverty, and much else.  Today, priests of the right dismiss all this as “liberal big government” and applaud around the bonfire of its destruction.

This period of social progress, a better society, was less liberal than it was idealistic.  Now, idealism is being crushed everywhere it may be found.  The closest we have come to its return is tragically the cause of high school students appealing to their parents and the politicians they elect to save them from being killed in their schools.

The paleological media’s demented effort to crush any semblance of liberalism silently carries with it the deeper effort to crush idealism.  Any appeal to social justice is derided as a sinister cover for internationalism, world government, collectivism, and a plot against America.

Even as idealism, the struggle for a better society, is forced to hide, conservatism itself is being reinterpreted.  In its post-Rooseveltian period, that is much of the 20th century, it relied on a simple, bumper-strip doctrine: less government, lower taxes, and a big military.  This reliance on simplicity all the way through Reagan has given way to a much denser, and more dangerous mantra: nationalism, racism, consolidated wealth and power, unilateralism, and isolationism.

Conservatives of yesteryear find this theft of conservative doctrine bewildering.  They are at least as confused by the highjacking of their dogma as the rest of us are.  For they, at least as much as liberals, helped to create the post-World War II international order by which Western democracy would defend itself against any doctrine that would threaten it.

All this is brought to mind by the 50th anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s death.  By most accounts he came to his idealism later in life, shortly before his tragic death.  It was seen as both an inheritance of his brother’s slowly expanding torch and his own pilgrimage towards social justice.

On this occasion we are witnessing a nostalgic longing for those days again, especially under current political conditions where any hint of idealism becomes grounds for denunciation.

Even the most serious students of American political history find it difficult to identify a similar conundrum, one in which the executive is at war with its own government’s legal systems, unilaterally abandons international security and trade agreements, and obsessively seeks to dismantle any legacy of his immediate predecessor.

Even as conservatism seeks to redefine itself by recapturing its commitment to international order and respect for law and order at home, liberalism is largely seeking redefinition through progressivism.  But, even during the Clinton and Obama years there was little appeal to the sense of idealism and civic duty that the Kennedy brothers resurrected from ancient republicanism.

Regardless of the nonsensical effort to make America great again by making it smaller, it may be that the means by which we restore our republican form of government is through appeal to citizen duty, civic virtue, and citizen participation.

Woodrow Wilson said that he knew he was an American because of his idealism.  And Justice Louis Brandeis said that “There is in most Americans some spark of idealism, which can be fanned into a flame.”

In short, the idealism hidden in the hearts of many Americans and most young people must be restored to American political life.  That was the belief of our Founders: we are a great Republic if we can keep it.