I recommend taking occasional breaks from studying whatever it is one studies. If one does not, then it is far too easy to miss the forest for the trees. That might be a cliche, but it is not an idle one.
Therefore, on vacation this past week I stopped following the news play by play and poll by poll. I didn’t look for days. In part I wanted to see how much changed, but I also just wanted out for a bit.
Election seasons can always try a few relationships. This season set the goal of trying all of them. I cannot speak for leftists, but the Right has been in-fighting behind the scenes since last summer. The stubborn deafness and free-flowing insults are not limited to anon comments on Twitter. Even among friends, debate has gotten vicious, and I’ve only witnessed two apologies. It depresses me to think how much goodwill has crumbled and how much mutual respect has been irretrievably lost.
Checking back in with the political news now is like catching up with a soap opera. No matter how long of a break you took it only takes an episode to catch up and figure out which characters have moved into the same old intrigues. Nothing but details have changed on the stage. Each side has the same cheerleaders and distractors. Hillary Clinton still hides from unscripted press events, and the Donald J. Trump-consummate-master-of-business pivot to presidential seriousness instead of Twitter compulsive reaction — we are still waiting for. Any day now. Perhaps that will be the October Surprise. Trump the Statesman will show up with the Great Pumpkin in Linus’s sincere pumpkin patch.
This vacation also took me off the mainland, which I find useful when watching Americans. One can learn much by looking in from the outside on occasion. (Plus, if one can’t find inspirational recharge in the Virgin Islands, then one needs to get out of any sort of creative business.)
Thus, I found myself last week straining to hear the heated but still cordial argument between my husband and our taxi driver on St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. What in the heck was going on up there on the mainland, he wanted to know. My husband defended that the islanders were just as responsible for the candidates as they could vote in the primaries. (US territories aren’t like the Commonwealth. Even though the native residents are US citizens or nationals, States elect the President through delegates in the Electoral College, and thus, territories like the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have no vote in the presidential election.) Yes, he answered but they only got 11 delegates. But then he made the comment that cut. “We like being a part of the United States, but because we trust you not to do anything ridiculously stupid.”
Donald Trump v. Hillary Clinton counted as ridiculously stupid, but lots of people think Trump v. Clinton is ridiculously stupid. It was the bit about trust that struck true. They trusted us once. Now they don’t. What foolish country would?
How much damage has fickle American foreign policy inflicted on the world by betraying trust? Sure, many countries are still dependent upon us and will go along with us as if they trust us, but the trust itself is gone.
Our faith breaking reaches back for a while. Perhaps we could date it to the Bay of Pigs or the last helicopter leaving Saigon. Gulf War I is another faithless milestone and the eight years of the Obama administration made a habit of faithlessness. Polish defences? Operation Odyssey Dawn? And how many French terror attacks have gone without French invocation of the collective attack clause of NATO because they know we will refuse and prove the alliance’s impotence?
My husband is counsel for the Oil Ministry in Iraq, so he travels to the Middle East often. He’s fielded many comments about how they miss George W. Bush, not because they particularly liked him or because they liked his policies. Some liked those things, but mostly they miss relying on his statements. If he said the US would act or refrain, they did not doubt. Some president in the future might inspire some trust but only temporarily. One election can give foreign diplomats whiplash.
For decades we’ve taught that it is foolish to trust American power. It would take decades of constancy to gain it back, and Clinton or Trump, that isn’t on offer.
(Image: Daniel Borman)