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 […] Continue Reading…

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 […] Continue Reading…

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 […] Continue Reading…

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 […] Continue Reading…

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 […] Continue Reading…

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 […] Continue Reading…

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 […] Continue Reading…

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 […] Continue Reading…

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 […] Continue Reading…

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 […] Continue Reading…