The storms are not yet over, but it seems that Biden may eventually be able to restore calm to a divided nation, Brian Cloughley writes.
The English expression “the calm before the storm” is defined as “a period of quiet that comes before a time of activity, excitement, violence, etc” but in Washington there was no calm before the violent storm that swept through it on January 6, after the president of the United States had declared to a crowd of demonstrators near the White House that “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol. And we’re gonna cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women. And we’re probably not going to be cheering, so much for some of them, because you’ll never take back our country with weakness, you have to show strength and you have to be strong.”
Before Trump delivered his rabble-rousing tirade his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had whipped up the crowd’s fervour and incited them to violence by shouting “Let’s have trial by combat” and his sentiments were unashamedly endorsed by Trump, who told the incipient rioters that “We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore. So we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue . . . and we’re going to the Capitol.”
But of course Trump didn’t walk down the Avenue to the Capitol with the mob that broke into the place : he chickened out. The draft dodger who avoided service in the military at the time of the Vietnam war was then a coward, and there is no reason to believe he has changed in later years. But now the world is hoping that Biden will demonstrate courage enough to change Trump Washington’s policies, both domestically and internationally.
After chicken-hawk Trump fled to the safety of the White House there were scenes of mayhem and threats of further armed insurrection in all states of the Union, so the authorities filled the Capitol with hundreds of soldiers who had to sleep on the marble floors without sleeping bags, blankets, camp beds or lilos, which is a telling snapshot of where America stands in the world at the moment.
The Washington system — the “Establishment” elite consisting of highly intelligent (and highly paid) experts and intellectuals — couldn’t even manage to organise a simple but essential administrative requirement in its own backyard. And over the past several years they haven’t been able to control a great many other things, domestically and internationally, that have grievously affected the United States and its world standing. Even worse, many efforts to direct or influence affairs relevant to foreign countries have resulted in alienation or worse. There was international distancing before social distancing became essential.
In mid-2020 the Pew Research Center wrote that “Since Donald Trump took office as president, the image of the United States has suffered across many regions of the globe. As a new 13-nation Pew Research Center survey illustrates, America’s reputation has declined further over the past year among many key allies and partners. In several countries, the share of the public with a favourable view of the U.S. is as low as it has been at any point since the Center began polling on this topic nearly two decades ago.”
On January 8, two days after the violent invasion of the Capitol, “the seat of the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government,” while soldiers were trying to rest on its marble floors, Secretary of State Pompeo tweeted arrogantly that “Being the greatest country on earth is not just about our incredible economy & our strong military; it’s about the values we project out into the world. I believe in America, and American goodness.” Well, basically, so do very many of us out here — but not as currently exemplified by such as Pompeo, Trump, and the venomous regime that over the past four years has thrust the United States into deep confrontation with so much of the international community.
It is difficult to agree that the “values” spoken of by Pompeo equate with the Washington Post report on January 14 that the National Mall in Washington will have to be closed on the day of Mr Biden’s inauguration as 46th President of his nation. The Post noted with dismay that “The extraordinary closure is the latest in a series of security measures to harden the city against the type of violence that rocked the Capitol on January 6. Local and federal officials had already established a downtown security zone and called up more than 20,000 National Guard troops to protect the presidential swearing in on January 20. The move is significant because the Mall has been the traditional site where much of the general public has gathered to view the inauguration at the Capitol in person.”
It would not be surprising if a similar paragraph had appeared in the media concerning such cities as Baghdad, Tripoli or Kabul, which have suffered grievously from U.S. attacks, simply because these places are unstable to the point of collapse. But for this sort of military action to be necessary in the national capital of “the greatest country on earth” is a sad indication of the depth to which Trump has taken America. The Trump storms have caused turmoil, and it is essential for the U.S. that there now be reorganisation, regrouping and calmness.
Most reorganisation involves appointment of competent individuals to positions in the fifteen federal executive departments, from the State Department and the Treasury to Housing and Energy which have either been totally mismanaged or deliberately weakened to the point of being ineffectual. Some of the appointments proposed thus far have been reassuring, but others have caused concern both domestically and overseas.
The proposal to have career diplomat Willian Burns as head of the CIA seems reassuring but nomination of retired General Lloyd Austin to head the Pentagon is most unwise. Not only has he been on the generously-paid board of the military industrialist Raytheon, it is highly undesirable that a military person should be Defence Secretary. It’s not potentially disastrous, but Biden should have another think and come up with a civilian appointee, in order to keep the camouflaged mind out of overall policy planning.
The Secretary of State is probably to be Antony Blinken, which should work out well, as he had a reasonable record in the Obama administration and is head and shoulders above Secretary Pompeo, the repulsive moron he succeeds. In the words of a New York Times commentator, in his final days as Secretary, Pompeo “unleashed a series of actions whose only real purpose appears to be to make life as difficult as possible for his successor at the State Department.” In these actions he has typified the entire Trump administration : a poisonously vindictive and spiteful regime that has had no purpose other than to build-up the standing of Trump himself. All efforts failed, of course — but the resultant shambles will take Biden a long time to sort out.
The storms are not yet over, but it seems that Biden may eventually be able to restore calm to a divided nation whose citizens have been dangerously polarised by a psychotic president who should never have been allowed near the White House. Many people disagree with Biden’s policies, both domestic and international, but it is essential for America and the world that he is encouraged in his efforts to re-establish domestic stability and international understanding.