Love Quora

Why? Because of the original, smashing answers to the Quora questions that I’m always getting when I go to the Quora site. For example:

Original question:  I am filled with pride because Trump is the president. What do liberals think about this?

First answer from Douglas Dea:

Can’t speak for others, but this liberal thinks you have very low standards for pride. What next? Pride that you can tie your own shoes? Pride you can wash a dish by hand? Pride you can use the bathroom by yourself?

For the most part we don’t think about it. We know there is a minority population within the US that likes Trump and thinks, beyond all evidence, that he is doing a good job. There will always be fan boys who will rave over something awful no matter how awful it is. The majority of us will sit back and sneer and laugh and pity.

I would implore you to learn more about the man, the things he has done and said. I implore you to use the library to its fullest extent. But by this time if you still feel this way about Trump I know you will not.

Then a second “smashing” answer from Cynthia Decker;

 Cynthia Decker

Roger Cohen on Trump

 

Tethered to a Raging Buffoon Called Trump

Roger Cohen, The NYTimes, April 13, 2018

President Trump at the White House on Thursday.CreditJim Lo Scalzo/EPA, via Shutterstock


We are tethered to a buffoon. He rages and veers, spreading ugliness, like an oil slick smothering everyone thing in its viscous mantle. He’s about to bomb Syria. He’s not about to bomb Syria. His attention span is nonexistent. He attacks the foundations of our Republic: an independent judiciary, a free press, truth itself. His cabinet looks terrorized, the way Saddam Hussein’s once did.

President Donald Trump is dangerous. The main things mitigating the danger are his incompetence and cowardice. We live in a time that teaches how outrage can turn to a shrug, how the unthinkable repeated over and over can induce moral numbness, how a madman’s manic certainties can overwhelm reason. He is very busy; people resist; he opens another front; people shake their heads. It’s hard to remember on Friday what happened on Monday. Trump’s is the unbearable lightness of the charlatan.

Disorientation spreads. Trump’s main war, beyond all the military bluster, is on truth. This reflects his instinct for the jugular: Once the distinction between truth and falsehood disappears, anything is possible. There are plenty of examples these days, from Moscow to Budapest, of how “democracies” can be manipulated to the point where they can yield only one result. This is Trump’s objective, and for it he needs a weakened Justice Department, a weakened press and an American public that will believe anything. He has had setbacks but is stubborn.

In the mid-1930s, when the world was hurtling toward disaster, Robert Musil, the Austrian author of “The Man Without Qualities,” wrote this on the nature of civilization: “That which we call culture presumably does not directly have the concept of truth as a criterion, but no culture can rest on a crooked relationship to truth.” 

This passage is cited by Olaf Peters, the curator of a wonderful exhibitioncalled “Before the Fall: German and Austrian Art of the 1930’s” at New York’s Neue Galerie. Peters writes of Hitler and the Nazis that they “ultimately came to power above all because they were against something and wanted to make Germany great again at the expense of others; they were against liberal democracy, against cultural modernism,” and hated both Marxism and Judaism, which they blamed for German humiliation.

So, Hitler wanted to make Germany great again. Sure worked out. Trump, of course, also hates “cultural modernism.” He is about a Restoration he equates with restored greatness. Once upon a time the United States won wars, white men ruled, a factory worker in Michigan could afford a couple of quad bikes, and marriage was between a man and a woman. President Trump is about resisting economic, cultural, technological, gender and demographic change. He can’t think, read or reflect; he compensates with urges.

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as tweet. No, the United States is not Weimar, but then Weimar was not the Austro-Hungarian Empire of 1914, nor the French monarchy of 1789. It is not quite true that, as Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa observed, if we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change. Sometimes one gunshot ushers in the obliteration of empire and sumptuous palaces are left to attend to memories.

In the best case, it will take a long time to recover from Trump. America’s word is near worthless today. It’s on America’s word that global security has rested since 1945.

All the dumb noise Trump makes should not mask the fact that he is a symptom, not a cause. He reflects, and reinforces, a global counterrevolutionary moment, a reaction to the cry of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany that she was “alternativlos” without alternative.

The resurgent nationalists and nativists insist there are alternatives — alternatives to openness, to mass migration, to free trade, to secularism, to Europe’s ever closer union, to the legalization of same-sex marriage, to gender as a spectrum, to diversity, to human rights. They seek the homogeneous, a quest that exacted a terrible 20th century price.

This is no time for bystanders. “Before the Fall” reminds us to be vigilant. On April 11, 1939, the future historian Fritz Stern, then age 13, wrote to Fiorello La Guardia, the mayor of New York, who had been outspoken in denouncing Hitler:

“When I heard a few minutes ago over the radio that you, Honorable Mayor, don’t want to run once more as Mayor, I was deeply depressed. Although I am a refugee, coming from Germany only months ago, and only a schoolboy, I beseech you to run again. I am quite sure that 80% of all New Yorkers will elect you (and this without concentration camps and Gestapo!). You must stay in City Hall for the sake of this wonderful city and country. If you are no longer Mayor that ‘international gangster in the brown shirt’ will be all too glad.”

I am grateful to Elisabeth Sifton, the editor and publisher, for passing along her late husband’s letter. The indignant voices of 13-year-olds are needed today on Trump. Stern would go on to write: “The fragility of freedom is the simplest and deepest lesson of my life and work.” RC

Thomas Edsall on Trump’s Core Supporters

Trump’s core supporters are the Americans, including Trump himself, who are the most resistant to the racial and ethnic changes taking place around them. These Americans, many of them white supremacists, have not been taken in, subsumed as it were, and as many of us had hoped, by a dominant liberal culture.

 

See the The Queens of Trump’s childhood, by Thomas Edsall in the NYT of April 12. 2018

Trump Wants America to Revert to the Queens of His Childhood

Donald J. Trump’s childhood home in the Jamaica Estates section of Queens.
CreditHilary Swift for The New York Times


Queens (that’s one of the five New York City boroughs, the others being Manhattan, Brooklyn,  the Bronx and Staten Island) when Trump  was living there the 1950 census found that 96.5 percent of the 1.55 million Queens residents were white. In 1960, when Trump turned 14, there were so few Hispanics that the census did not keep count; by 1970, when Trump turned 24, 153,691, or one out of 13, Queens residents were Latino. From 1960 to 1970, the black population of Queens grew from 145,885 to 258,006.

By July 2016, when Trump had defied the odds and wrestled the presidential nomination away from 16 mainstream Republicans, Queens had become one of the most diverse counties in the country. The white share of the Queens population had fallen to 25.3 percent; almost half of the residents, 47.5 percent, were foreign-born; Hispanics, at 28 percent of the population, outnumbered whites; Asian-Americans made up 26.7 percent; and African-Americans made up 20.7 percent.

And by 2016, Queens was no longer Trump turf. He won 21.8 percent of the borough’s voters while Hillary Clinton swept it with 75.4 percent.

Donald Trump “grew up in white America,” a former neighbor of the Trumps, told The Times in 2015. “It’s the way of the world; white America is a thing of the past. The white man’s gone.”


The home of Trump’s boyhood, in regard to its racial makeup, is no more, and in his old neighborhoods there are people he doesn’t recognize, speaking a hundred different languages, showing Trump,  when and if he does go to his boyhood home, their hugely different cultures and ways of life.

And Trump, as well as the millions of his base, his die hard supporters, is not comfortable with the changes. Trump is an ordinary man, nothing grand about him, and the changes from the Queens of his youth make him want to bring back the past. When he says make America great again, he is really saying bring my America, the Queens of my youth back. And our problem is that he now wants to bring not just Queens back to an earlier time, but the whole country which is  is also undergoing the same racial and ethnic changes, back to what it was, when it was majority white.

Hence Trump’s support for the white supremacists. Is he a racist? Well yes in the sense that he speaks about people in regard to what we call mistakingly racial characteristics, the color of the skin, the shape and look of the eyes, the facial characteristics etc.

Trump doesn’t at all realize that he can’t change what is happening. It’s stronger than he is. In fact history is stronger than all of us, is taking all of us along with it, and in order not to fall off we have to get on board and make ourselves heard and comfortable. It is the nature of the past, even at the end of the day, to be gone forever. And Trump, and all of us, would do better to live in the present, and for example live with the new immigrants to our shores, and try to get along with them.

Trump is not only is not interested in doing that, but he even wants to put up walls and erect other barriers to the waves of immigrants who are still coming to our shores. He’s wrong of course, and walls won’t protect him or us from the presence of the immigrants always among us. What’s important, that which Trump never learned, is how we treat one another, all of us, the newcomers and those of us who are already here.

Thomas Edsall asks,  What’s a non-racist way to appeal to working-class whites? And he can’t think of any.

Saving Paul Ryan (from himself)

by The New York Times Editorial Board, April 11, 2018

Well, Paul Ryan, you’re a free man now — at least, much freer than you were

before you announced on Wednesday that you’d be stepping down as House speaker and departing Congress in January. What an opportunity you have to serve the country and to demonstrate, despite all the ground you’ve created for eye-rolling, that you care about something more than short-term partisan advantage.

Have you truly been offended, as you suggested in 2016, by the bigotry and bullying of Donald Trump? Would you like to see the White House, and the Republican Party, set a higher standard? Now you have the chance to go far beyond milquetoast observations, like “he could have done better,”your less-than-withering reaction to President Trump’s claim that there were “very fine people” among the white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., who chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”

You say you’ve been given assurances that the president doesn’t intend to fire law-enforcement officials who are investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. So you’re clearly worried about that possibility. Why not take steps to ensure your fellow citizens won’t have to suffer the constitutional crisis that a step like that would precipitate?

You don’t have to worry anymore about weathering a primary challenger from the far right. You don’t have to truckle before a blast of presidential tweets. You can use your remaining authority and credibility with your colleagues to pass legislation to make it harder for the president to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel, and other officials at the Department of Justice. On your way out the door, on that crucial question, you still have a chance to put yourself on the right side of history.

Unfortunately, the reputation you hoped to build for yourself across your nearly 20 years in Congress, as an earnest policy wonk in anguish over the federal deficit, vanished long ago beneath a flood of red ink. You talked a lot about making government more effective and efficient, but actually pushed a conventional hard-line agenda of huge tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy and steep cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and other government programs that benefit low-income and middle-class families. The tax law you rammed through last year will blow up the deficit by more than $1.85 trillion over the next decade. All that debt is part of your legacy. Too late to fix that.

We’re also not trying to persuade you to redeem yourself by embracing Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act. Much as we disagree with you, it seems more than possible that you actually believe it’s right to strip fundsfrom the former and destroy the latter. Whether you were being cynical or naïve, your insistence that an unregulated market will rush to the aid of society’s most vulnerable members — in defiance of so much hard human experience to the contrary — has been consistent.

But setting aside those lost causes, we know you’ve also talked about good government and transparency, about the critical role of Congress as a check on the executive. So step up. Exercise Congress’s constitutional responsibility to authorize the use of force in places like Syria. Have House committees hold hearings on the conflicts of interests that pervade the Trump administration. Demand that the president release his tax returns. Get outraged when Mr. Trump tosses aside ethical practices like releasing the logs of the visitors to the White House until the administration was sued. And speak out forcefully when the president insults or attacks minorities, women and anybody else less privileged than him.

You’re only 48 years old, and you have a long career ahead of you, but how you handle Donald Trump will surely decide how history sees you. So go out in style, Mr. Ryan. You will be doing the country — and your party a service.



 

Faut-il toujours recommencer?

“Toutes choses sont dites déjà; mais comme personne n’écoute, il faut toujours recommencer.”

André Gide De André Gide / Traité du Narcisse

Now wouldn’t that mean that like the Red Queen we are always running in place, never going anywhere? Not listening? While that is clearly true of President Donald Trump, and it was true of Paul Ryan until he finally did something and resigned. And while it’s still true, by the way, of Mitch McConnell, although he never runs and at best is only walking in place, it’s not at all true of America, the country, nor of much of the developed world.

Why our ancestors did listen to those to led them into the new world, and once there continued to listen to those among them who came from afar where they weren’t free and settled the land here and knew freedom for the first time, and set out to protect their new freedoms. And we listened to those who began the fight for the human rights of the former slaves, for the native Americans and other minorities, for the rights of women and now for the rights of the LGBTQs.

So was André Gide mistaken? In a literal sense, yes. For we are beginning to listen to one another and are beginning make progress. And yes, especially in respect to our defense of human and civil rights. But up until modern times humanity’s, our progress has been a slow walking or at best a running in place. We really haven’t moved all that much. Why for tens of thousands of years homo sapiens, while walking our of Africa to the other continents, brought along with him pretty much the same way of life, the sameness and closedness of views, the same limitations and prejudices, and evidently only rarely listened to the wisest among them, to those who probably always knew, and perhaps even said, that things could be done better but were not listened to.

I would like to think now that the 18th. century Enlightenment is not dead, that we are learning new things almost daily about ourselves from evolutionary science, and that today, unlike during earlier times il ne faut pas toujours recommencer. And in fact aren’t we, some of us anyway (although not the Republicans in the House and Senate) more and more aware of where we have come from, and of just how much we are standing on the shoulders of the giants who have come before.

What separates us? Open and Closed Minds, according to Thomas B Edsall

How open or closed is your mind? The political divide in the United States now separates people by how open or closed are their minds.

(As an example, closed minds are: the leaders of the Senate and House, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.

IMG_1630.pngAs for open minds I’ll leave that to you.)

“Trump has purposefully exacerbated the “many especially acrimonious political debates” now dominating public discourse, deepening not only the authoritarian divide, but the divide between open and closed mindedness, between acceptance and racial resentment, and between toleration of and aversion to change. He evidently believes that this is the best political strategy for presiding in the White House and winning re-election, but it is an extraordinarily destructive strategy for governing the country and for safeguarding America’s interests in the world.”

The contract with authoritarianism.  by THOMAS B. EDSALL, NYTimes, 4/5//2018

Snapdragon seed pod, Neanderthals & Humans

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When the snapdragon flowers die, the dried seed pods, which look like tiny, brown, shrunken skulls, prove just how beautiful and strange nature can be. Watch for the seed …

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Korábban hagyta el az ember Afrikát?

(Hungarian) —Why did they not leave Africa before?  Good Question!

Dátum | 2017. 07. 09.
Szerző | Jools
Csoport | EGYÉB

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Úgy tűnik, hogy a modern ember kialakulásának története minden újabb lelettel és minden újabb elemzéssel tovább bonyolódik. A szakértők között nagyjából egyetértés van abban, hogy a Homo sapienslegalább 300 ezer évvel ezelőtt, Afrikában fejlődött ki, és csak durván 70 ezer évvel ezelőtt kezdte kisebb csoportokban elhagyni a kontinenst, és megtelepedni a világ más tájain. „De miért nem hagyták el az emberek korábban Afrikát?” – teszi fel a kérdést Johannes Krause, a Max Planck Embertörténeti Intézet kutatója, aki számára mindig is furcsának tűnt az óriási hiátus fajunk kialakulása és kirajzása között.
It seems that the history of modern man’s development is further complicated by new developments and newer analyzes. Among the experts, there is broad consensus that Homo sapiens developed more than 300,000 years ago in Africa and started roughly 70,000 years ago to leave the continent in smaller groups and to settle in other parts of the world. “Why did not people leave Africa before,” says Johannes Krause, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human History, to whom it has always seemed strange the formation and outlining of the huge hiatus.

Team Trump vs. Team Merkel

The leaders of the world seem to be acting right now, as kids in the playground, choosing up teams and the team leaders for the next generation or two. Those making the choices seem to be in one of two camps. The one being what I will call the camp of Real News, the leaders here being the Washington Post, the New York Times, and their friends. The other, the camp of Fake News, these led by Fox & Friends, the Breibart and Sinclair groups.

The Times/Post group right away chose Germany’s Angela Merkel, and France’s Emmanuel Macron, and how nice it was, given their histories, to see the two of them, now together on the same team in the new century.

The other group led by Fox & Friends chose first of all Donald Trump, the president of the most powerful country of the world. Then they picked Victor Orban of Hungary, Jarosław Kaczyński of Poland, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Xi Jinping of China, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Ali Khamenei of Iran, Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, and Rodrigo Duterte of  the Philippines.

Right away it was obvious that the Times/Post camp was outnumbered, would have few if any chances to win an all out war, or even a battle with their opponents. This unequal struggle is what’s taking place right now.  And given their respective military strengths alone the Fox and Breibart group would win hands down.

Rather than opening up to the world from their strengths these Fake News countries are not opening up at all, but are withdrawing into themselves, engaged most of all in protecting what they have. They are as it were battening the hatches, circling their wagons, building walls between themselves and others, and, while refusing entry to the thousands of immigrants and refugees trying to get in, are more and more preoccupied by a brutal promotion of their own, in their eyes superior traditions and culture.

This illiberal agenda is shared by all of them, by Trump, Orban, Kaczvnski, Erdogan and the others. Victor Orban proudly styles himself an “illiberal democrat,” a majoritarian populist standing up for his nation’s interests, traditions and culture. Yes, Hungary first, America first! Russia first! Their agenda is really a renewal of past populist and nationalist movements and, as in the past, is gaining electoral support from their peoples who see them, not as bigots, but as their best source of jobs and security.

What are the principal strengths of the Merkel and Macron camp? Truth telling? Tolerance? Willingness to find places for immigrants within their countries? Readiness to reform out of date traditions such as the unequal treatment of women and minorities? A heartfelt desire to modify and eventually change for the better the (bad) inferior cultural habits of their peoples, the long in-grained habits of racism, coal burning, and homophobia?

In an all out war between these forces with these attributes who wins? The bigotry of the ones, the tolerance and liberalism of the others? The closed nature of the ones, the openness of the others?

It was only a few hundred years ago that tolerance, and liberalism, and openness got their start and right away at the start these qualities did seem to be the wave of the future. Openness and tolerance would mean the coming of the 17th. c. scientific revolution and in the following century the Enlightenment. And these two movements have continued right up almost to now. The ideas of the Enlightenment and the discoveries of science, in particular evolutionary science, have gifted all of us with a new and better understanding of the world and ourselves.

And now, absurdity of absurdities we are confronted in what we hold most dear by team Trump, Putin, Orban, Erdogan and the others, who together in their ignorance are threatening to undo it all, and in fact are already beginning in that regard to remove our rights and freedoms, all of which were obtained over hundreds of years at great cost.

 

 

 

 

Words of wisdom? Words of the past?

Will We Stop Trump Before It’s Too Late?

By Madeleine Albright  (Dr. Albright was United States secretary of state from 1997 to 2001)  April 6, 2018

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President Trump. Stephen Crowley NYT

On April 28, 1945 — 73 years ago — Italians hung the corpse of their former dictator Benito Mussolini upside down next to a gas station in Milan. Two days later, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker beneath the streets of war-ravaged Berlin. Fascism, it appeared, was dead.

To guard against a recurrence, the survivors of war and the Holocaust joined forces to create the United Nations, forge global financial institutions and — through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — strengthen the rule of law. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down and the honor roll of elected governments swelled not only in Central Europe, but also Latin America, Africa and Asia. Almost everywhere, it seemed, dictators were out and democrats were in. Freedom was ascendant.

Today, we are in a new era, testing whether the democratic banner can remain aloft amid terrorism, sectarian conflicts, vulnerable borders, rogue social media and the cynical schemes of ambitious men. The answer is not self-evident. We may be encouraged that most people in most countries still want to live freely and in peace, but there is no ignoring the storm clouds that have gathered. In fact, fascism — and the tendencies that lead toward fascism — pose a more serious threat now than at any time since the end of World War II.

Warning signs include the relentless grab for more authority by governing parties in Hungary, the Philippines, Poland and Turkey — all United States allies. The raw anger that feeds fascism is evident across the Atlantic in the growth of nativist movements opposed to the idea of a united Europe, including in Germany, where the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland has emerged as the principal opposition party. The danger of despotism is on display in the Russia of Vladimir Putin — invader of Ukraine, meddler in foreign democracies, accused political assassin, brazen liar and proud son of the K.G.B. Putin has just been re-elected to a new six-year term, while in Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, a ruthless ideologue, is poised to triumph in sham balloting next month. In China, Xi Jinping has persuaded a docile National People’s Congress to lift the constitutional limit on his tenure in power.

Around the Mediterranean, the once bright promise of the Arab Spring has been betrayed by autocratic leaders, such as Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt (also just re-elected), who use security to justify the jailing of reporters and political opponents. Thanks to allies in Moscow and Tehran, the tyrant Bashar al-Assad retains his stranglehold over much of Syria. In Africa, the presidents who serve longest are often the most corrupt, multiplying the harm they inflict with each passing year. Meanwhile, the possibility that fascism will be accorded a fresh chance to strut around the world stage is enhanced by the volatile presidency of Donald Trump.

If freedom is to prevail over the many challenges to it, American leadership is urgently required. This was among the indelible lessons of the 20th century. But by what he has said, done and failed to do, Mr. Trump has steadily diminished America’s positive clout in global councils.

Instead of mobilizing international coalitions to take on world problems, he touts the doctrine of “every nation for itself” and has led America into isolated positions on trade, climate change and Middle East peace. Instead of engaging in creative diplomacy, he has insulted United States neighbors and allies, walked away from key international agreements, mocked multilateral organizations and stripped the State Department of its resources and role. Instead of standing up for the values of a free society, his oft-vented scorn for democracy’s building blocks has strengthened the hands of dictators. No longer need they fear United States criticism regarding human rights or civil liberties. On the contrary, they can and do point to Trump’s own words to justify their repressive actions.

At one time or another, Trump has attacked the judiciary, ridiculed the media, defended torture, condoned police brutality, urged supporters to rough up hecklers and — jokingly or not — equated mere policy disagreements with treason. He tried to undermine faith in America’s electoral process through a bogus advisory commission on voter integrity. He routinely vilifies federal law enforcement institutions. He libels immigrants and the countries from which they come. His words are so often at odds with the truth that they can appear ignorant, yet are in fact calculated to exacerbate religious, social and racial divisions. Overseas, rather than stand up to bullies, Mr. Trump appears to like bullies, and they are delighted to have him represent the American brand. If one were to draft a script chronicling fascism’s resurrection, the abdication of America’s moral leadership would make a credible first scene.

Equally alarming is the chance that Mr. Trump will set in motion events that neither he nor anyone else can control. His policy toward North Korea changes by the day and might quickly return to saber-rattling should Pyongyang prove stubborn before or during talks. His threat to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement could unravel a pact that has made the world safer and could undermine America’s reputation for trustworthiness at a critical moment. His support of protectionist tariffs invites retaliation from major trading partners — creating unnecessary conflicts and putting at risk millions of export-dependent jobs. The recent purge of his national security team raises new questions about the quality of advice he will receive. John Bolton starts work in the White House on Monday.

What is to be done? First, defend the truth. A free press, for example, is not the enemy of the American people; it is the protector of the American people. Second, we must reinforce the principle that no one, not even the president, is above the law. Third, we should each do our part to energize the democratic process by registering new voters, listening respectfully to those with whom we disagree, knocking on doors for favored candidates, and ignoring the cynical counsel: “There’s nothing to be done.”

I’m 80 years old, but I can still be inspired when I see young people coming together to demand the right to study without having to wear a flak jacket.

We should also reflect on the definition of greatness. Can a nation merit that label by aligning itself with dictators and autocrats, ignoring human rights, declaring open season on the environment, and disdaining the use of diplomacy at a time when virtually every serious problem requires international cooperation?

To me, greatness goes a little deeper than how much marble we put in our hotel lobbies and whether we have a Soviet-style military parade. America at its best is a place where people from a multitude of backgrounds work together to safeguard the rights and enrich the lives of all. That’s the example we have always aspired to set and the model people around the world hunger to see. And no politician, not even one in the Oval Office, should be allowed to tarnish that dream.

Madeleine Albright, the author of “Fascism: A Warning,” served as United States secretary of state from 1997 to 2001.

Bret Stephens: The Rise of Dictatorship Incorporated

Photo

A member of the Russian military police stood guard between portraits of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, right, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia outside a post on the outskirts of Damascus.CreditLouai Beshara/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

It really is an axis of evil.

This week, The Times reported that United Nations investigators have compiled a more-than-200-page dossier containing extensive evidence of North Korea’s supply of potential chemical weapons components and ballistic missile parts to Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Pyongyang had previously tried to furnish Assad with a nuclear reactor, until the Israelis destroyed it in a 2007 airstrike.

Pyongyang isn’t Damascus’s only helper. Last November, Moscow — which supplies Assad with an air force to bombard his own people — wielded its 10th and 11th vetoes in defense of the Syrian government at the U.N. Security Council to scupper a separate panel of experts charged with investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Beijing has used its own veto to help Assad on six occasions.

Then there’s Iran, which has been invested in Assad’s survival from the beginning of the uprising against him in 2011. Through Hezbollah, its Lebanese proxy, Tehran has provided Assad with his most effective and merciless ground troops.

Why should a Shiite theocrat, a Russian kleptocrat, a Korean gourmand and a Chinese son of heaven unite so openly to rescue a foul and feeble Baathist dictatorship?

The question isn’t asked often enough. None of them shares a border, a language, a religion, or a political ideology with Assad. And each has paid a price for meddling.

Iran has lost some 500 troops, including at least 16 generals, fighting in Syria since 2012, according to the Atlantic Council’s Ali Alfoneh, while suffering a popular backlash back home against its Syria policy. Russia may have lost dozens of its mercenaries in a humiliating recent encounter with American forces near the Euphrates. And whatever else Kim Jong-un is doing in Syria, he probably isn’t getting rich from the trade.

Then again, there are interests that go beyond lives and money. Some of these are relatively narrow. Iran wants to maintain the so-called Shiite crescent. Russia hopes to use its position in Syria to bargain for concessions over Ukraine. China wants to rebuild Syria when it’s all over. North Korea is just sinister.

But there is also the collective interest of Dictatorship Inc.

Interest No. 1: To see a popular rebellion against tyranny fail spectacularly.

This is fundamental. Syria isn’t so much a country as it is an exhibit for Dictatorship Inc., the main purpose of which is to show that resistance really is futile. That’s why Russia doesn’t shrink from bombing civilian hospitals, or Hezbollah from starving entire cities into submission, or Assad from using chemical weapons. They are showing their respective publics the lengths to which they are prepared to go to maintain their own grip on power.

Interest No. 2: To underscore America’s unreliability as a credible ally and serious enforcer of global norms.

Whatever their differences, Iran, North Korea, Russia and China are all so-called revisionist powers. What they want to revise, or erase, is Pax Americana. In Syria, they had an ally, a cause and a plausible outcome. America, by contrast, only had the bonfire of its ambivalence. The result, beyond the humanitarian catastrophe, has been a reputational catastrophe, as the U.S. demonstrated that it would not back its local allies, or seriously enforce norms against the use of chemical weapons, or devise and implement a strategy compatible with our stated policy.

Whatever else one might say about American regional interests or moral obligations when it comes to Syria, we have a vital national interest in foiling Dictatorship Inc.’s ambitions for the country.

We could do something to reverse our reputation for unreliability by doing more to protect our Kurdish allies against their enemies — including the Turks — much as we did after the 1991 Persian Gulf war. We could erase the stain of the breached red line by striking Assad’s military installations every time Syria uses chemical weapons. We could find covert ways to dramatically increase the military price Russia is paying for its intervention.

And we could do all this, without burdening ourselves as we did in Iraq, with the task of sorting out Syria’s future.

That requires an administration capable of devising, coordinating and executing a consistent military and diplomatic strategy. We don’t have one.

It requires a president who understands the benefits of Pax Americana, doesn’t think of foreign policy as a series of gimmes, is capable of rallying allies to a common cause, and understands that our liberal values are the great prerequisite for our global leadership. We don’t have one.

Above all, it requires a belief in what used to be called the free world: of its shared moral principles, broad interests, and long-term aspirations. We don’t have that, either.

The axis of evil is back, not that it ever really went away. The cause of freedom awaits a resurrection.

 

  • Stephens begins with the observation that four countries are supporting, with arms and fighters,  Bashar al-Assad’s totalitarian Syria. And he asks why? “Why should a Shiite theocrat, a Russian kleptocrat, a Korean gourmand and a Chinese son of heaven unite so openly to rescue a foul and feeble Baathist dictatorship?”
  • And his answers, at least to me, are convincing. For one, the four dictators want to see a popular rebellion against tyranny fail spectacularly. Why? Because they are all most afraid of a popular rebellion. And for two, they want no less to see America fail in its efforts to support a popular rebellion.
  • America’s interest for Syria ought to be “foiling Dictatorship Inc.’s ambitions for the country.” But America is quite without an administration capable of devising, coordinating and executing a consistent military and diplomatic strategy. Above all, it would require what we no longer have, the belief in what used to be called the free world, a world with shared moral principles, broad interests, and long-term aspirations.
  • Trump himself seems to have wanted his presidency to be all about having Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping and their ilk as friends and dinner guests at Mar-a-Lago and then his playing golf with celebrities at his West Palm Beach International Club. This presidency, being entirely a product of his own pipe dream, never came about of course. Instead his presidency is something else, perhaps best described as his not being up to the task of being president, his first year or two in office being colored by a constant and growing frustration with his own failure to achieve his unrealistic goals for the country, these stemming most of all from his nearly complete ignorance of the country’s history.
  • Without his yet jettisoning our democratic principals entirely, our individual freedoms, human rights, the rule of law,… Trump has revealed himself to be entirely without the Enlightenment values on which these principals are based, and on which the country was founded, values emphasizing tolerance, acceptance of differences, equality, human dignity, reason and the scientific outlook, and most important the healthy skepticism of the humanist who challenges conventional religious views, in particular superstition, intolerance, and bigotry, the very views that have characterized in large part Trump’s own presidency up until now. Trump’s sympathies for authoritarianism, for intolerance of differences, for bigotry, have prevented him from opposing the Putin, Xi, and Erdogan, as well as the other dictatorships of the Dictatorship Inc. of which Stephens is writing.

 

Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité