Thursday 22nd of August 2019

hypocritical self-authoritarianization before we start...


Robert Kagan warns us about global authoritarianism:

Of all the geopolitical transformations confronting the liberal democratic world these days, the one for which we are least prepared is the ideological and strategic resurgence of authoritarianism. We are not used to thinking of authoritarianism as a distinct worldview that offers a real alternative to liberalism.

We are not used to thinking of authoritarianism as a distinct worldview because it isn’t one. All authoritarian states share certain things in common, and they may see some of the same things as threats, but there isn’t a single worldview that all authoritarian governments subscribe to. There is no one ideology that binds them together. Most of them are nationalistic to one degree or another, but because of that they usually have competing and opposing goals. Treating all authoritarian regimes as part of the same global threat lumps illiberal and majoritarian democracies together with kleptocracies, communist dictatorships, and absolute monarchies. That exaggerates the danger that these regimes pose, and it tries to invent a Cold War-like division between rival camps that doesn’t really exist. If the U.S. treats these states as if they are all in league with one another, it will tend to drive together states that would otherwise remain at odds and keep each other at arm’s length. 

Kagan’s preferred foreign policy requires that there is some global “ideological confrontation” for the U.S. to be engaged in. If there isn’t one, it has to be invented. His account of the history of the 20th century shows how determined he is to see international politics in terms of grand ideological battles even when there wasn’t one. He takes seriously the idea that WWI is one of these struggles: “But for those who fought it, on both sides, it was very much a war between liberalism and authoritarianism.” Kagan makes the mistake of treating wartime propaganda descriptions of the war as the real motivation for the war, and he relies on stereotypes of the nations on the other side of the war as well. The world’s largest colonial empires were not fighting for “the liberties of Europe” and they certainly weren’t fighting for the rights of small nations, as wartime British propaganda would have it, and that became abundantly clear in the post-war settlement. It was primarily a war among empires for supremacy in Europe, and the surviving Allied empires consolidated their hold on their own colonial possessions and gained more. To the extent that Americans genuinely believed that joining the war had something to do with vindicating the cause of democracy, they were quickly disabused of that notion when they saw the fruits of the vindictive settlement that their allies imposed on the losing side.


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the liars in the dirty house on the potomac sewer...

Whether it’s President Clinton’s emphatic proclamation, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” or Richard Nixon’s Watergate defense, “I am not a crook,” the lesson is the same: politicians lie.

The sad reality is that voters expect no better. 

Since 1976, Gallup has been polling Americans to rank various professions from least to most ethical. Nurses are nearly always perceived to be the most honest. Politicians are consistently ranked on the opposite end of the spectrum. That means most Americans think members of Congress are more unethical than car salesmen and telemarketers. It’s worth noting that politicians were ranked lowest on this list decades before Donald Trump entered the political arena.

Yet it’s President Trump, not his predecessors, who has ignited the greatest outrage over dishonesty in politics. To be sure, the sheer number of times that Trump has stretched or distorted the truth can be hard to keep up with, but a liar is still a liar whether he lies seven times a day or once a week.

What it comes down to is that Americans either want honest politicians or we do not. One thing’s for certain: we’ve done a terrible job demanding that of our presidents so far.

Just pick up any biography about any former president. Nearly every one I’ve read exposes its subject as having had a measurable propensity to exaggerate, mislead, and lie.

President Lyndon B. Johnson promulgated a myriad of falsehoods and cover-ups surrounding Vietnam and so much more. Distinguished historian Robert Dallek, in Lyndon B. Johnson, summed things up by repeating a popular joke from the time: “How do you know when Lyndon Johnson is telling the truth? When he pulls his ear lobe or scratches his chin, he’s telling the truth. When he begins to move his lips, you know he’s lying.”  

And if infidelity equals a lack of integrity, then I’d argue that Johnson’s predecessor, John F. Kennedy, was one of the most dishonest presidents to have ever lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. JFK’s numerous affairs are fair game when assessing his character because, as historian Doris Kearns Goodwin put it, “Someone who refuses to deal honestly with his private life may well distort the reality he confronts in public office.”

In An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, Dallek provides details of six affairs that Kennedy juggled while he was president. Among his alleged mistresses were three White House secretaries (one was his wife Jackie’s press secretary) and a 19-year-old college sophomore and White House intern. There were also reportedly numerous Hollywood stars and starlets and call girls who were paid by Dave Powers, described as “the court jester and facilitator of Kennedy’s indulgences.”  

JFK’s most shameful lie, though, concerned the Bay of Pigs fiasco when he promised the American people that there would be “no military intervention in Cuba.” Just five days later on April 17, 1961, the CIA-led and Kennedy approved covert invasion of the island not only cost the lives of many, but resulted in a breakdown of trust and communication with Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Russia’s Nikita Khrushchev—conditions that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later.

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