How Trump is destroying American power

by John MacBeath Watkins

One of the more surreal moments in the presidential campaign was when Donald Trump, at a rally in Tampa, Florida, June 11, 2016, walked across the stage and literally hugged an American flag -- even though his campaign is now being investigated for colluding with the Russian government and its minions to win the campaign.

In retrospect, it might be more accurate to say he molested the American flag while working with the Russians to subvert what it stands for. He campaigned on a promise to make America great again, but he's been hollowing out the State Department in a way that reduces American power abroad.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, recently tweeted, "The purposeful gutting of American power abroad is mystifying. If you didn't know better, you'd think some rival government was running our foreign policy."

And Rod Dreher, a staff member for The American Conservative, recounts this quote from an interview with Northwestern University Prof. William Reno about an exchange with the former foreign minister of an East African country:
"We spoke several months ago while I was in his country to meet with army officers for my research on civil – military relations. Well read and well informed, he expressed distress over what he saw as the Trump Administration’s attack on the foundations of American power in the world. He compared Trump to Gorbachev... 
"He explained that Russians know Gorbachev as the man who destroyed a superpower. He said that “Trump is your Gorbachev” because he is also destroying his country’s global power. He noted that Trump was systematically undermining the architecture of American power, such as NATO and all sorts of other arenas of cooperation that make America essential in the calculations of other countries. He pointed to people like Sebastian Gorka and took the time to find out who he and some of the other advisors actually are. His country, he explained, prefers to get advice from “reality-based professionals” and wondered how others in the American political establishment could tolerate people who are so harmful to American power."*
The full interview is worth your time, I recommend clicking on the quote and going to the interview. When a publication like The American Conservative is worried about a Republican president destroying American power, you know things are getting bad.

The Hill reports that:

“These people either do not believe the U.S. should be a world leader, or they’re utterly incompetent,” Dana Shell Smith told The New York Times. Smith was the ambassador to Qatar until she resigned in June.

Aides for Tillerson have also reportedly depleted much of the department's diversity by firing most of the department's leading African-American and Latino diplomats.

Having a diplomatic corps that looks like the world could only help deal with the world, but the Trump administration doesn't want that.

Very few Republicans (Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is an exception) have raised an alarm about this, and that may be related to the fact that they see as their greatest enemies not foreign powers, but their fellow citizens of the opposition party.

In late 2014, I wrote about the role of the liberum veto in the decline of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a topic that might seem remote until you consider how the paralysis of government that plagued that empire resembled what happened when Republicans became the 'party of no' during the Obama administration.

One aspect that I did not emphasize at the time was that part of the reason for the paralysis was that foreign governments were bribing legislators to use their liberum veto to serve the interests of the commonwealth's enemies.

This has become more relevant as the story of Russian interference in the most recent presidential election unfolds.

Certainly much of what happened in the Polish-Lithuanian Sjem, the commonwealth's legislative body, had to do with divisions within the polity, but part of the problem was the willingness of legislators to advance the interests of other countries with the exercise of their veto.

It showed a lack of patriotism. And part of what we are now experiencing is a lack of patriotism.

This is hardly our first rodeo. Prescott Bush, father of George H.W. Bush and grandfather of George W. Bush, was a director and shareholder of Brown Brothers Harriman, an investment bank set up for German industrialist and Hitler ally Fritz Thyssen, who helped finance Hitler's rise to power. (Thyssen was big in coal and steel, and benefited financially from Hitler's rearmament of Germany, and Brown Brothers Harriman helped him set up front companies to move money around the globe.) BBH was seized under the Trading with the Enemy Act, but strangely was not dissolved to benefit the taxpayers but returned to its stockholders after the war. Far from being prosecuted, Prescott Bush was able to sell his stock for a fortune after the war and used this wealth as a base for his election to the U.S. Senate.

And we all remember that Charles Lindbergh, who was widely praised in Nazi Germany for his efforts to keep America from aiding Britain in its war with Germany and advising America negotiate a neutrality treaty with Germany. When President Roosevelt criticized his position, he resigned his commission as a colonel the the U.S. Army Air Corps. He even considered moving to Germany as late as 1939, but German friends advised against the home he wished to lease because it had been owned by Jews.

Lucky Lindy also had some pretty racist views, but seems to have been motivated more by anticommunism than antisemitism. He was active in a group called America First, a term which has cropped up again in the Trump administration.

The thing is, we had a House Un-American Activities Committee to investigate people suspected of being fellow travelers with Communists, but we never had such an agency to help deal with Quislings.

Those on the right have never felt they had to answer questions about their patriotism, even when they have aided hostile foreign powers. Those on the right seem to get a pass on the issue of patriotism from pretty much everybody. The right was happy to accuse President Barack Obama of deliberately reducing American power, but it now appears those accusations were aspirational, and they were really voicing what they intended to do.

One definition of a political gaffe is "accidentally telling the truth." When Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) said about tax cuts, "My donors are basically saying, 'Get it done or don’t ever call me again,'" he was doing just that. His donors are very rich people who care more about money than about their country. They don't care if the deficit explodes, they don't care if the foreign service is so decimated that foreign ministers don't even know who to talk to at the local embassy.

Because they don't care about their country, they care more about whether a president will sign a tax cut than whether he is destroying American power.

And it's not just the Republican donor class. Many of the votes that put Trump in office were supplied by Americans who hate their fellow Americans so much that they elected Trump to battle against "liberals" with the aid of Russia.

Anyone who talks to conservatives on line has run into people who don't care that Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee's emails, as long as it nobbled Hillary Clinton. I've run across some who didn't care that many of the things said during the campaign were lies, because "it worked, didn't it?"

These are people who feel stronger ties to Vladimir Putin's Russia than to Americans in San Francisco. They are more conservative than they are American. The American flag represents something that was new in the world when this country was founded, a nation based on ideals rather than on ethnicity and religion. From the first we imperfectly embodied our ideals, proclaiming that all men are created equal, yet enshrining slavery in the Constitution, but we've made progress over the years, and during the Cold War America came to be seen as a beacon of freedom.

We've come to represent an international order that seeks consensus rather than conquest. Our military adventures have often been either futile or have boomeranged against us, but our soft power has been consistently important and beneficial to the nation.

Trump's treatment of the diplomatic corps shows that he does not understand American power, does not understand why we are seen as the essential nation -- or worse, that he sees this and rejects it, seeking to reduce us to the sort of gangster state Russia has become, a state that prefers conquest to consensus.