The Washington Post was first published in 1877 and is a fine newspaper in spite of its sometimes swivel-eyed intolerance of all things Russian. Its admirable motto is ‘Democracy Dies in Darkness’ and it often succeeds in throwing light on domestic and international affairs that might otherwise remain shrouded in veils of official secrecy. Democracy is generally defined as “a system of government by the whole population… typically through elected representatives” and its wider effects are that national and international policies are accepted by foreign countries as reflecting the voice of the people.
At the moment, however, the Post and other responsible media are having difficulty in coming to terms with the fact that in the United States both sagacious judgement and democracy are under severe threat, no matter what rays the media may be directing on the machinations and spine-chilling utterances of President Trump and his disciples. It is all too evident — and deplorable — that the U.S. is splitting apart. The country is unable to cope with the combined effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, nation-wide protests against police brutality and systematic racism, and, in the latest drama, political immaturity and hypocrisy in appointment of a Justice to the Supreme Court.
It is fair to say that all nations are facing an array of unprecedented problems, but given the status and power of the U.S. it might be expected that Trump would be charting a way ahead, setting an example to the rest of the world as to how to cope with and overcome the crises that beset us all. Some hope.
The executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government in Washington are in lockdown. Not an anti-virus lockdown, but an ideological and practical paralysis caused in the main by presidential posturing, malevolence and ignorance. This would not be of great importance to the rest of the world were it not for the fact that the U.S. is a mighty power whose policies are felt in the farthest corners of the globe and affect billions of lives. This has long been the case, but rarely has there been such a high degree of sensitivity to Washington’s decisions and actions. The international community is apprehensive concerning what might happen next, and wonders what ripples, waves or tsunamis of Trump-engendered disruption may crash against their shores.
In the past there has generally been realisation in Washington that cooperation with other nations is beneficial and that unilateral action is usually counterproductive. This has not stopped administrations from taking such action, with catastrophic consequences, as in Operation Iraqi Freedom which resulted in destabilisation of the entire Middle East, with resulting alienation of allies which is a most undesirable outcome.
A new book, ‘JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917-1956’ by Fredrik Logevall (an excellent work of research, analysis and perceptive judgment) quotes a 1951 speech by then Congressman John Kennedy in which he said “I should have hoped that with our traditional concern for other peoples, our generosity, our desire to relieve poverty and inequality, we would — whatever else happened — have made friends throughout this world. It is tragic that not only have we made no new friends but have lost old ones.” But in the Trump years such regrets are a dim memory, because his venomous arrogance is such that “friends”, be they people or nations, are regarded as ephemeral accessories, mere lackeys tasked to do his bidding before being discarded when of no further use.
The most recent example of ally estrangement stems from Washington’s relentlessly belligerent stance on Iran. While Iran’s government is headed by bigoted ignoramuses whose attitude is curiously similar to that of their major opponent, they did take note of an international curb on their activities known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which was initiated by China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States and confirmed by UN Security Council Resolution 2231 of 2015. It is designed to curb movement by Iran to develop nuclear weapons, and in April 2019 it was stated by the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency that “Iran is implementing its nuclear commitments.”
In spite of this, President Trump unilaterally broke the terms of the agreement and reintroduced sanctions on Iran, whose leaders are now confirmed in their belief that the West is obstinately deceitful. Then on 20 September France, Germany and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement saying that as the U.S. had ceased participation in the JCPOA it followed that its rejection of the treaty “is incapable of having legal effect.” Reluctantly but firmly, these three longtime allies of the United States vetoed one of its major policy decisions.
The tripartite position was summed up in President Macron’s statement to the UN General Assembly on September 22, when he made it clear that acceptance of the Trump stance “would undermine the unity of the Security Council and the integrity of its decisions, and it would run the risk of further aggravating tensions in the region.” Trump has succeeded in driving away his nation’s chief allies, but it is apparent he considers this unimportant.
Trump has treated Germany as an inferior for years, and recently ramped up his insulting intolerance by declaring the Nord Stream pipeline to be in some fashion anti-U.S. and asked “Why is Germany spending billions and billions of dollars to Russia to get their energy from Russia, and then we’re supposed to protect Germany from Russia? What’s that all about?”
It’s all about judgement and international cooperation which will make the world a better place to live in.
His statement to the UN General Assembly on 22 September was not as incoherent as his press briefings, but he savaged China which he blames for “unleashing” Covid-19, which he calls the “China virus”. His announcement that “The Chinese government and the World Health Organization, which is virtually controlled by China, falsely declared that there was no evidence of human to human transmission,” is bizarre, as is his intention to withdraw all support from the WHO at the very time that international health cooperation is so important. Prime Minister Johnson of Britain is another erratic character on the world stage, but displayed good judgement by announcing a vast increase in the UK’s financial contribution to the WHO because “After nine months of fighting Covid, the very notion of the international community looks tattered. We know that we cannot continue in this way. Unless we unite and turn our fire against our common foe, we know that everyone will lose.”
Indeed we will, and it seems this state of affairs will continue until the world is rid of Trump as president. Domestically, he is destroying democracy through his support of armed action against protestors and his cynical approach to appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice (amongst many other things) and internationally he is destroying judgment, that sane, calm, considered process that is so vital to international cooperation and development. They are dying in the light, the appalling deathly rays, of the Trump administration.