Thursday, June 23, 2022

Andrew Bacevich: The Age of Illusions

 Andrew Bacevich is a contemporary of Donald Trump, although they have never met they lived in what the Chinese like to call "interesting times."  Bacevich feels we have all been too obsessed with Trump, so much so that we have failed to understand the forces that made him possible.  

The Cold War ended between 1989 and 1991.  It was supposed to be about Capitalism and Communism and when the Soviet Union collapsed it was hailed as a victory for the freedom loving Capitalists.  Bacevich disagrees asserting that underneath all the ideological rhetoric the real dynamic was for power.

For many it meant a loss of a defined enemy.  The Military became voluntary which attracted high school grads at the poorer end of society.  University graduates and the better off declined to join the armed forces.  The American president became the most powerful man in the world as he can trigger a nuclear war.  There is a vetting process for presidential candidates and to be successful one must undergo scrutiny by Wall Street, the National Rifle Association, the Israel lobby, Koch Brothers, Evangelical churches among others.

During the Vietnam War, many either fought or resisted (by protests and draft dodging), but another group avoided it.  That included Donald Trump with more than one deferment.  Andrew Bacevich served in Vietnam and stayed in the military for 23 years and eventually became professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

George W. H. Bush was the first post Cold War president and one of his accomplishments was a successful limited war.  

Bill Clinton was very astute and charismatic.  Amongst other things he broke up restrictions for banks that later led to problems.  Pushed globalization which meant expanding U.S. trade with many American jobs being taken over by lower wage countries.  Considered risk averse he did authorize military actions in Somalia and the Balkans.

George W. Bush surrounded himself with "experienced" politicians who helped drag him into the Iraq War.  At one time he answered the rhetorical question, "Why do they hate us?' with the answer "They hate our freedom." 

Barack Obama seemed he would be a peacemaker, but got involved in mid East conflicts and Libya.  Infuriated some by negotiating the Iranian Peace Agreement and the Paris  Climate Change agreement.  Obamacare got off to a rocky start with much resistance.  Gay marriage became legal nationwide in 2015 with large parts of the country stunned by this new freedom.  Of course anything done by a black man would be resented by segments of the population.

As we approach the 2016 election, Bacevich draws our attention to the state of the nation.  Poverty on the increase, retirement savings diminished for many, homelessness on the upswing, opioid deaths at new record, 24.7 million fatherless children, 40% divorce rate, highest incarceration rate in the world, 40 million regular visitors to porn sites, 33,000 killed by firearms.  In short a lot of despair.

A lot of candidates offered to run the gauntlet.  Hillary Clinton expected an easy nomination, but ran up against Bernie Sanders who put up a strong fight.  He believed that without economic democracy there could be no political democracy.  Hillary with a slick presentation was able to finally win the Democratic nomination, over the man labeled a socialist.

On the Republican side, tv. celebrity Donald Trump assessed the situation better than his opposition.  Despite his libertine reputation he was able to garner evangelical support as unlike his rival for their support, Ted Cruz because he was more credible to bring about an abortion ban.   Michael Cohen had another perspective on this angle (and others).   Although easily criticized Trump was loved by the media who gave him a free platform for his message. 

Donald Trump is criticized for dividing the country, but Bacevich claims it was already divided and Trump not only recognized it, but was able to exploit it.

The book was published in 2019 and Bacevich was well aware of many flawed policies of Trump as well as his behavior and he was uncertain about the 2020 election.  He felt "...American politics will almost surely remain a forum for hyperbolic promises."  He would like to see stewardship replace the notion of increasing consumption.  He also feels freedom should have obligations as well as rights.

American technology has boosted speed, efficiency and precision, but has tended to convenience and relief from boredom which has allowed corporations to gain greater control of our lives.  We are close to the limit of how much we can tame nature and some acknowledge climate change is only one risk, with others including pollution, littering of plastic, deforestation, etc.  America is losing its political and cultural domination of the world.

In conclusion Bacevich maintains real necessary change will not come from the top down.  In the past Americans have rallied around causes that forced government action, such as abolition and the Depression.  He suggests a worthy and necessary cause is climate change which could lead to "a conception of citizenship that seeks to harmonize individual freedom with the common good."  His last sentence, "For Americans to shirk that responsibility will almost surely pave the way for more Trumps--or someone worse-to come."

Not sure how he would react to the January 6th insurrection, except as proof there are more factors involved than worship of Trump and that some elites will go to great lengths for power.  One hopes that Americans will wake up and realize there are higher priorities than hating others and overcome an egocentric view that they are "exceptional."  It will be difficult for Americans to accept they are only part of huge world.

No comments:

Post a Comment