Beirut’s Blast Is a Warning for America

“The United States is becoming like Lebanon and other Middle East countries in two respects. First, our political differences are becoming so deep that our two parties now resemble religious sects in a zero-sum contest for power. They call theirs “Shiites and Sunnis and Maronites” or “Israelis and Palestinians.” We call ours “Democrats and Republicans,” but ours now behave just like rival tribes who believe they must rule or die.

And second, as in the Middle East, so increasingly in America: Everything is now politics — even the climate, even energy, even face masks in a pandemic.”

“But a society, and certainly a democracy, eventually dies when everything becomes politics. Governance gets strangled by it. Indeed, it was reportedly the failure of the corrupt Lebanese courts to act as guardians of the common good and order the removal of the explosives from the port — as the port authorities had requested years ago — that paved the way for the explosion.
“For a healthy politics to flourish it needs reference points outside itself — reference points of truth and a conception of the common good,” explained the Hebrew University religious philosopher Moshe Halbertal. “When everything becomes political, that is the end of politics.”

To put it differently, when everything is politics, it means that everything is just about power. There is no center, there are only sides; there’s no truth, there are only versions; there are no facts, there’s only a contest of wills.

If you believe that climate change is real, it must be because someone paid you off with a research grant. If you believe the president committed an impeachable offense trying to enlist the president of Ukraine to undermine Joe Biden, it’s only because you want power for your party.

Illiberal populists like Trump — or Bibi Netanyahu in Israel, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and Vladimir Putin in Russia — deliberately try to undermine the guardians of facts and the common good. Their message to their people is: “Don’t believe the courts, the independent civil servants or the fake news generators — only trust me, my words and my decisions. It’s a jungle out there. My critics are killers (which is what Trump called his press corps on Friday), and only I can protect our tribe from theirs. It’s rule or die.””

In Pushing Back against China, U.S. Finds Few Allies

“That Merkel is simply misguided on the threat China poses, as Fulda believes, is certainly possible. However, given the political climate, there is likely a graver impulse behind Merkel’s placating remarks: fear of retribution. After all, Merkel is far from the only prominent politician to skirt the issue of the CCP’s atrocious human-rights record — far from the only politician to pretend that the Chinese government is a fair party on which one can count to honor its agreements and to act with benevolence.

Last month, representatives of Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Poland, and the Czech Republic on the U.N. Human Rights Council, among others, refused to condemn China for its encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy — a serious blow to a unified Western countermovement against the CCP’s actions. In all, just 27 governments expressed criticism of China’s oppression law, with 53 in favor and the rest staying silent. Just as it is hard to believe that Angela Merkel is oblivious to the crimes China is committing, it is hard to believe that only 27 governments actually found fault with an effective ban on free expression and self-determination for Hong Kongers. (Granted, fewer governments around the world are democratic than one accustomed to Western laws might believe.) Rather, history has likely taught many nations that it is more expedient to keep their mouth shut than to take a firm stance on the global superpower with the world’s second-largest economy.”

“It is difficult to summon the moral courage to openly condemn a global superpower such as China, especially when large GDP growth and stable diplomatic relations are on the line. In any case, it would appear that the United States, in enacting sanctions against Chinese officials for abusing Uighur Muslims, terminating trade benefits for now-CCP-controlled Hong Kong, closing the Chinese consulate in Houston, and imposing export controls on corporations enabling China’s activity, stands virtually alone on China.

To be sure, there is an occasional discontinuity between the Trump administration’s official policy and the president’s rhetoric. As Trump himself has admitted, he had little desire to press China on its treatment of Uighur Muslims in the middle of trade negotiations with the nation in late 2018, even though top White House officials were already viewing the situation with concern. And as late as February 29, weeks after the CIA had already warned that China had vastly underreported its coronavirus infections and that its information was unreliable, Trump stated in a COVID-19 briefing: “China seems to be making tremendous progress. Their numbers are way down. . . . I think our relationship with China is very good. We just did a big trade deal. We’re starting on another trade deal with China — a very big one. And we’ve been working very closely. They’ve been talking to our people, we’ve been talking to their people, having to do with the virus.” But despite occasional confusion, the commitment to a solidly anti-Beijing foreign policy has been perhaps clearer in the Trump administration than in the government of any other country besides India and Taiwan. This is reflected not only in the U.S.’s recent policies but in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s denunciation of Xi, last week, as a “true believer in a bankrupt, totalitarian ideology” and in his insistence that the United States “induce China to change” lest Communist China “surely change us.””

“barring a massive change in European attitudes and in the fragile economic positions of nations such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the United States will not have many reliable allies in the fight against China’s most egregious abuses. The courageous pro-democracy residents of Hong Kong, as well as a few nations including Taiwan, India, and Israel, are notable but rare exceptions.”

The Federal Budget Deficit in June Was Bigger Than the Entire Federal Budget Deficit for 2018

“The annual budget deficit—the gap between government spending and tax revenues—would run about $900 billion in 2019, and it would push beyond $1 trillion every year starting in 2022. Debt as a percentage of the country’s total economy would rise steadily, reaching 93 percent of GDP by 2029, the highest level since the years directly following World War II.

Automatic spending on major entitlements would keep government spending high and make reductions difficult. Interest payments on the nation’s rising debt would become one of the country’s largest spending categories. The persistently high levels of debt and deficits, meanwhile, would serve as a drag on economic growth. Overall debt levels were on track to reach the highest levels in the nation’s history.

All of this was reason to worry. “Such high and rising debt would have significant negative consequences, both for the economy and for the federal budget,” the report warned, with reduced national productivity and total wages plus an increased likelihood of a fiscal crisis. In an emergency scenario, policymakers might be more constrained from responding in the most effective way. Debt and deficits were a modest burden on the economy in good times. And the higher they ran, the more economic risk accumulated.

Again, this was the outlook in 2019, when the unemployment rate was below five percent, when the deficit was projected to run about $900 billion over a 12-month span, when daily viral death tolls and case-count heat maps weren’t posted on major news sites like especially grisly weather reports.

In June of this year, the federal deficit was $864 billion.”

“the United States is in uncharted waters in terms of both public finances and their effect on the economy. And no one really knows where we’ll go from here.”

The Fall of the Roman Republic and the Fall of the American Republic: Sources

Donald Trump On Paying Supporter’s Legal Fees Meet The Press. 3 14 2016. NBC News. A look back at Trump comments perceived by some as inciting violence Libby Cathey and Meghan Keneally. 5 30 2020. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/back-trump-comments-perceived-encouraging-violence/story?id=48415766 Presidents Have Declared Dozens

FREEDOM IN THE WORLD 2020: United States

“The United States is a federal republic whose people benefit from a vibrant political system, a strong rule-of-law tradition, robust freedoms of expression and religious belief, and a wide array of other civil liberties. However, in recent years its democratic institutions have suffered erosion, as reflected in partisan manipulation of the electoral process, bias and dysfunction in the criminal justice system, flawed new policies on immigration and asylum seekers, and growing disparities in wealth, economic opportunity, and political influence.”

Our Caesar Can the country come back from Trump? The Republic already looks like Rome in ruins.

“in so many ways, ancient Rome is profoundly different from the modern U.S. It had no written constitution; it barely had a functioning state or a unified professional military insulated from politics. Many leaders were absent from Rome for long stretches of time as they waged military campaigns abroad. There was no established international order, no advanced technology, and only the barest of welfare safety nets.
But there is a reason the Founding Fathers thought it was worth deep study. They saw the destabilizing consequences of a slaveholding republic expanding its territory and becoming a vast, regional hegemon. And they were acutely aware of how, in its final century and a half, an astonishing republican success story unraveled into a profoundly polarized polity, increasingly beset by violence, shedding one established republican norm after another, its elites fighting among themselves in a zero-sum struggle for power. And they saw how the weakening of those norms and the inability to compromise and mounting inequalities slowly corroded republican institutions. And saw, too, with the benefit of hindsight, where that ultimately led: to strongman rule, a dictatorship.”