The Myth that Refuses to Die

A long essay from The Washington Post The strongmen strike back:
Authoritarianism has reemerged as the greatest threat to the liberal democratic world — a profound ideological, as well as strategic, challenge. And we have no idea how to confront it,
by Robert Kagan.

And, of course, the United States has been experiencing its own anti-liberal backlash. Indeed, these days the anti-liberal critique is so pervasive, at both ends of the political spectrum and in the most energetic segments of both political parties, that there is scarcely an old-style American liberal to be found.

The left always cries wolf about “democracy being in decline” when they don’t have full power, and or when they encounter push-back. Every four years, democracy is declared dead, yet democracy survives nonetheless. They said the same thing during the presidencies of George W. Bush, Reagan, and Nixon.

From No Coming Realignment:

Every four years, pundits and intellectuals tell us that the political landscape is under upheaval and assault, whether it’s a “new paradigm,” “a new order”, “a realignment,” or “a status quo shift,” because something is manifestly different, whether it’s the skin color of a major candidate (Obama) or the fiery rhetoric and lack of credentials of another (Trump). They tell us Western democracy “is dying,” “under assault,” “hangs in the balance,” and that “extremism is at all-time highs.” And then four years later, in retrospect, not much has changed in spite of the promise of change by all these pundits. Democracy does not go anywhere despite being declared dead every four years. What happened to the upheaval they promised us and were so certain about? The American cultural, militaristic, and economic hegemony remains intact.

The country has always been divided along these party lines, at least as far back as post-WW2. Issues such as abortion, guns, and immigration will always be controversial and divisive, and that being pro-choice or pro-immigration is not as ‘self evident’ as the left wishes it were.

But regarding the authoritarian resurgence that is altering the world today, the most significant developments are occurring among the United States’ conservatives. Just as the American left once admired international communism as an opponent of the capitalist system it deplored, a growing number of American conservatives, including those in charge of U.S. foreign policy, find themselves in sympathy with the resurgent authoritarians and proponents of illiberalism.

This narrative or myth that Trump is cozy with dictators and authoritarians (or more so than earlier Republican administrations), refuses to die.

There’s a tendency of pundits to make broad-stroke assertions unsupported by or that run counter to reality, due to confirmation biases and other factors. I cannot find evidence that “American conservatives, including those in charge of U.S. foreign policy, find themselves in sympathy with the resurgent authoritarians and proponents of illiberalism.” As discussed in Is Trump too Cozy with Dictators? The evidence shows otherwise, it’s been the opposite. Trump has given a bunch of Nato countries ultimatums to stop using Iran oil. Trump put sanctions on Turkey in 2018 and sanctions on Russia. Trump recently signed a bill blocking transfer of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey due to connections with Russia. One could argue that Trump is too close to the Saudis, but the Bush clan was/is even closer. Trump’s cabinet is full of foreign policy hawks: Pompeo, Bolton, etc. The US increased its involvement in Yemen. The Trump administration has gotten involved In Venezuela too, with an ultimatum to the Venezuelan military: abandon Maduro or else. Also, the trade war with China.

It’s helpful to compare Trump to the administration of George W. Bush, the latter which is considered to be the exemplar of bad, over-interventionist foreign policy. Hell, in 2004 the creators of South Park made a satirical movie about America’s tendency to over-police the world. However, when one reads the wiki page of George W. Bush’s foreign policy, it’s somewhat sparse, and when one excludes Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush, in all his eight years, didn’t really do all that much, and his approach was pretty much hands-off, save for expanded sanctions on Syria, as direct consequence of the war on terror, and also sanctions on Sudan; but, he removed sanctions on India. However, if 911 never happened, one could argue that the foreign policy of George W. Bush could have been a non-interventionist one.

By comparison, the wiki page of the foreign policy of Trump is huge, and although some of this is due to the topicality of the Trump administration, he has done much more. It’s only been a little over two years into Trump’s first term and he has already surpassed Bush, in all his eight years, in terms of intervention and the number of individual countries America has policed. Now, of course, Bush’s ‘death count’ is higher, which is why he’s considered disgraced by many, but on an individual country basis, it seems the Trump administration is casting a much wider net through the use of sanctions, threats, tariffs, and other policy. Ironically, for all the talk by the left of Trump being a dictator, I cannot think of a worse time to be a dictator (or a country that trades with an authoritarian regime) than under this administration.