I’ve just read in the opinion pages of the WSJ a laudatory review of President Trump’s first 18 months in office by the former (2013-15) Australian prime minister Tony Abbott. And I’ve also just read a good number of the more than 500 accompanying reader comments. Now I’m always overwhelmed, and no less so on this particular occasion, by how differently the readers will read any one opinion piece.
There is absolutely no general reader agreement about little or anything, although here, and as a rule, there are the two opposing sides, in this instance those who agree with Abbott’s favorable review of Trump’s tenure, and does who do not.
And furthermore, as usual, the agreements and disagreements among the readers are sharp, and reflect just as sharp country and world wide divisions out there, at least among those whose lives hold a place for ideas (not everyone, Helas!).
In any case it has seemed apparent to me during a lifetime of reading such pieces and comments that we, you and I, and anyone else, are not about to agree to anything, let alone the record of our President during his first 18 months in the Oval Office.
Ask yourself, does he lie? And if so why? To fool people, or to get to the truth, his truth and only in that his manner, seeming to us to lie? Without taking issue with the various things that Abbott says, I readily admit that the former PM does make some not negligible debating points. In what follows below I have excerpted some passages from his WSJ article, while liberally cutting but not editing, not changing I hope the meaning of his text.
Mr. Trump has been remarkably true to his word… On the evidence so far, when he says something, he means it—and when he says something consistently, it will happen. He said he’d cut taxes and regulation. He did. He said he’d pull out of the Paris climate-change agreement and he did. He said he’d scrap the Iranian deal, and he did. He said he’d move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and he did, without catastrophe. He said he’d boost defense spending. That’s happening too…
So far, though, Mr. Trump’s strong rhetoric and tough action haven’t triggered a full-scale trade war, but have forced other countries to address America’s concerns about technology theft and predatory pricing. Then there’s the nuclear diplomacy with North Korea. Maybe a hitherto brutal dictator is looking for the survival strategy that Mr. Trump has offered.
For Australia, Mr. Trump has so far been a good president. He seems to appreciate that Australia is the only ally that has been with America, side by side, in every conflict since World War I. He has exempted our steel and aluminum from the tariffs slapped on many others. As a country that’s paid its dues, so to speak, on the American alliance, we have been treated with courtesy and respect.
As weightier allies found at the NATO summit this week, Mr. Trump is reluctant to help those who don’t pull their weight, and who can blame him? America has been the world’s policeman, the guarantor of a modicum of restraint from the world’s despots and fanatics. No other country has had both the strength and the goodwill for this essential task….
The truth is that the rest of the world needs America much more than America needs us. The U.S. has no threatening neighbors. It’s about as remote from the globe’s trouble spots as is possible to be. It’s richly endowed with resources, including energy and an almost boundless agricultural capacity. Its technology is second to none. Its manufacturing base is vast. Its people are entrepreneurial in their bones. From diversity, it has built unity and an enviable pride in country.
In many respects, America is the world in one country, only a better world than the one outside. If it decided to live in splendid isolation from troubles across the sea, it would lose little and perhaps gain much, at least in the beginning. A fortress America would be as impregnable as any country could be.
A new age is coming. The legions are going home. American values can be relied upon but American help less so. This need not presage a darker time, like Rome’s withdrawal from Britain, but more will be required of the world’s other free countries. Will they step up? That’s the test.
America spends more than 3% of the world’s biggest GDP on its armed forces, and the rest of the Western world scarcely breaks 2%. It’s hard to dispute Mr. Trump’s view that most of us have been keeping safe on the cheap. The U.S. can’t be expected to fight harder for Australia than we are prepared to fight for ourselves. What Mr. Trump is making clear—to us and to others—is what should always have been screamingly obvious: that each nation’s safety now rests in its own hands far more than in anyone else’s.
Trump has 2½ more years in the world’s biggest job and every chance of being re-elected. He is the reality we have to work with.
Now what might all this have to do with the “bloody battles” of ideas of the present? We differ over the issues, over global warming, the use of the word global, over the deep state, the administrative state, over the reliance on religious dogma to help us with the thorniest issues, such as same sex marriage and abortion, we differ greatly over legal and illegal immigration, on whether we should always accept those coming to us for asylum with open arms. There is of course no end to our differences, to things we differ about, many of them being battle ready, and all the more so when the Presidency, the Congress, and the Supreme Court are all themselves struggling for their own survival. In all these battles our general, and perhaps universal ignorance of the future, something we all share, even about global warming, ought to bring us together, not make it that as now our differences are pulling us apart.