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Foreign Affairs

A sobering estimate from the Economist regarding Trump's impact on the global order and what other nations must due to weather the storm.  An excerpt:

Mr Trump also needs to be persuaded that alliances are America’s greatest source of power. Its unique network plays as large a role as its economy and its military might in making it the global superpower. Alliances help raise it above its regional rivals—China in East Asia, Russia in eastern Europe, Iran in the Middle East. If Mr Trump truly wants to put America First, his priority should be strengthening ties, not treating allies with contempt.

The Dangerous Order

Columnist Matt Hansen writes in today's Omaha World-Herald that the consensus of national security experts is that the immigration and refugee executive order actually makes the national less safe.

For example:

“This ban gives unprecedented life to the worst jihadist narrative — the idea that the West has declared war on Muslims,” wrote Robert Pape, a leading expert on terrorism, who as director of the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Threats has analyzed each of the 5,000 suicide terrorist attacks worldwide since 1980. “This narrative is not just talk. It is the principal catalyst for ISIS and other radical Islamic terrorist groups’ ability to carry out attacks that kill Americans.”

Putin's influence

A new essay in the Atlantic discusses Putin's growing geopolitical influence as a defender of Christian civilization and traditional values.  An important read.  And another reason why we Americans must recover the moral langu.age and spiritual practices that gave birth to liberal democracy, which is my priority project at the moment.  Pluralism is deeply wedded to traditional Christian principles, as Amy Kittelstrom demonstrates in The Religion of Democracy, which book only gains in importance it seems.

The End of the American Century?

According to Richard Stengel, former Time editor, the American Century, originally announced by Time's founder Henry Luce, came to an end this week with Trump's America First administration. This is a piece worth your read no matter your ideology.  

For instance, these revealing sentences:

The inaugural address of Donald Trump did not contain the word justice or cooperation or ideals or morals or truth or charity. It has only one reference to freedom. It did mention carnage and crime and tombstones and a variety of words never uttered before in a presidential inaugural.


Beinart on Trump Foreign Policy

In the Atlantic Peter Beinart discusses how Trump breaks with America's foreign policy orthodoxy that it is our missionary duty to defend freedom around the world.

The discussion then goes to what will be the Democratic response.  Will they become the party of orthodoxy or will their left wing become dominant?  

I liked the contrast drawn in this final paragraph:

Trump wants America to be a “normal country” like China, which focuses on its own economic and civilizational interests. Liberal Democrats want America to be a “normal country” like Sweden, which helps solve common problems, but without telling the rest of the world what to do.

A Wider, International Morality


"Democracy like any other of the living faiths of men is so essentially mystical that it continually demands new formulation," said Jane Addams, the final focal character in Amy Kittelstrom's The Religion of Democracy.  She writes that Addams is "the most exemplary product of the American Reformation to shape the twentieth century."  Reading this chapter I realize I have underestimated Addams' importance as a political and ethical thinker and that I should add her works to the list of reading I need to accomplish.

Addams advocated a "social morality" that "emerges through real, daily, lived contact with 'diversified human experience.'"  Addams believed that modern cities, which mixed people together of diverse national, racial, and religious backgrounds taught citizens how to live together and offered lessons for the rest of the world.  

She offered "a conception of Democracy not merely as a sentiment which desires the well-being of all men, nor yet as a creed which believes in the essential dignity and equality of all men, but as that which affords a rule of living as well as a test of faith."

All of us forget how very early we are in the experiment of founding self-government and that we are making the experiment in the most materialistic period of all history, having as our court of last appeal against that materialism only the wonderful and inexplicable instinct for justice which resides in the hearts of men.

She was deeply concerned by the corporate commercialism of her day and the threat it posed to the development of democracy.  This wasn't just an issue of systems, but the way the commercialization of pleasures would lead citizens away from the cultivation of the democratic virtues.  Kittelstrom writes:

Addams saw that the only modern force catering to the primitive human needs of pleasure, stimulation, and communal joy was the commercial force driven by the motive of profit and therefore unbound by any sense of duty or conscience beyond the dollar.

One imagines what she would have thought of a reality TV star winning the presidency.

She believed that government, "the collective will of the people," must counter the iniquitous influence of commercialism by cultivating, especially among the young, the wholesome and adventurous drive for justice and progress.  

The ethic which should be promoted was that which had developed out of American religion in the 18th century:

a practical idealism that holds as its supreme ethic the living out of natural human equality, a progressive goal involving the use of reason as a common denominator of human thought that is secular, as in inclusive of all perspectives, including those informed by supernatural beliefs.

Addams was raised by her widowed father in Illinois.  He was a founding member of the Republican Party.  "He harbored a fugitive slave en route to Canada, sponsored a combat unit of the Union army, funded a subscription library, and worked to reform prisons, asylums, and schools while steadily serving their village church."  And he taught Addams to think for herself.

Kittelstrom writes that Addams was no ideological purist.  She was an admirer of Tolstoy, but when she met him, he criticized her for her lack of ethical purity in that she was dressed too well.  Addams immediately knew that impulse was false.  She needed to dress well to interact with the well-to-do and powerful in order to fundraise and lobby them for change.  Tolstoy also told her that she should spend time every day baking bread in the Hull House kitchen.  She rejected that advise as well, for her time was better spent in "the demand of actual and pressing human wants."    According to Kittelstrom, "The search for personal righteousness, she had discovered in her agonized twenties, was ineffectual and even selfish in a suffering world that needed saving even by the impure."

Her moderation and pragmatism are good witnesses for our own time.  One aspect of last year's Democratic primary which greatly annoyed me was the insistence of some on ideological purity, which has little hope of accomplishing anything in a pluralistic democracy.

Addams not only worked to alleviate poverty, but for the rights of women, immigrants, Native Americans, and African-Americans.  Kittelstrom writes, "Addams thought the concept of Americanism made sense only insofar as it referred to a commitment to universal human moral agency, which made racial prejudice 'the gravest situation in our American life.'  Discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity or any other involuntary circumstance corrupted the instincts essential to democracy."  Yes, this is the essential language of virtue which we must continue to use in defending the progressive civil rights agenda.

Addams greatest innovation to the tradition of the religion of democracy was to globalize it.  What had begun in the 18th century defense of liberty against ne0-Calvinism in the church and British tyranny became in the 20th century advocacy on behalf of international peace.  Addams worked to develop international organizations that would end war and meet the needs the people around the world.  She was not concerned with the abstractions of international law but the practical solving of global problems.  He work helped to lay the groundwork for the League of Nations and later the United Nations.  Addams believed in a "wider, international morality."

Here is the previous post in this series.

Ferguson on a new Trump world order

Historian Niall Ferguson has written a provocative piece for American Interest on what we imagines could be a new world order led by the Trump administration developing some ideas of Henry Kissinger's.  Central to this new order would be America developing closer ties with Russia and China.  What Ferguson presents is a plausible idea of how the country and the globe could move forward with a new international policy and order.  It is, in some ways, less frightening than what one imagines could come from a Trump administration.  But even Ferguson's possible future repulses me.  I am deeply shaped by a perspective of the international order developed in the first Bush administration by George H. W. Bush and his closest advisors James Baker and Brent Scowcroft.  Ferguson's proposal is a repudiation of that worldview.  However, I also know that maybe my worldview is dates and that there is merit to this proposal?