Is America just ‘an idea’?
The debate centers on whether American values, however they may be defined, are a legacy of the Western heritage or whether America is “an idea,” as Fallows puts it, that transcends any concept of civilization or the people who created it. Indeed, in the Beinart-Fallows view, merely an overly abundant mention of “the West”’ or “our civilization” constitutes a kind of white nationalism or tribalism.
.. Fallows assaults Trump for giving a speech “that minimized the role of ideals in American identity, and maximized the importance of what he called ‘civilization’ but which boils down to ties of ethnicity and blood.”
.. Trump then identified two other threats to the West—first, “the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people”; and second, “powers that seek to test our will, undermine our confidence, and challenge our interests”—a veiled reference to Russia.
.. What’s missing is any recognition of—or certainly any manifest appreciation for—the fundamental elements of the Western heritage: the theology of Christianity; Western artistic painting, employing light and shadow to burst throughs space and time; the soaring Baroque music; the Gothic cathedrals with their relentless drive toward space; the penetrating sense of tragedy in literature; the regard for the individual, for freedom, for carefully crafted government, free expression, and free markets.
.. Samuel Huntington of Harvard, hardly an alt-right provocateur, once wrote, “Some Westerners…have argued that the West does not have problems with Islam but only with violent Islamist extremists. Fourteen hundred years of history demonstrate otherwise.”
.. It was only recently that commentators such as Beinart and Fallows attacked the Western heritage as an impediment to new arrivals being who they want to be, retaining their own cultural sensibilities and impulses while diminishing America’s through numbers and defiance.
.. There are elements within the West bent on destroying any civilizational consciousness because they don’t consider their civilization to be particularly hallowed.
.. I haven’t looked at Fukuyama’s piece since it appeared but if memory serves, he pretty much nailed it. He didn’t say that with Communism defeated, the world was to be conflict-free, just that liberal democracy no longer faced any serious ideological rivals. Islamic fundamentalism, as an ideology, is not a credible challenger to liberal democracy, not in the industrial world or even in the Islamic world. I’m not saying it doesn’t have followers or isn’t a security threat. But it offers nothing to people who aren’t already Muslims or from that part of the world.
Fukuyama was making a more narrow argument than he’s been credited. That end of history business really threw people off.
.. No one in this debate has claimed that American values are not a legacy of Western heritage. But Jefferson didn’t write “all Western men are created equal.” The Declaration is a universalist statement, even though it comes from a specific culture.
The difference between America and pretty much every other nation on Earth, as American presidents used to say on a regular basis, is that America is the only nation on Earth founded on an idea. France, and Germany, and England, and China, and Poland weren’t founded on ideas; they were founded on the basis of ethnic and linguistic ties. The point that Fallows and Beinart were making is that Trump gave no recognition to that at all.
.. Many Americans, perhaps most, hate to see their national and civilizational heritage coming under attack…
As do I. Trump is an attack on our founding ideals. He holds the values and ethics of Western culture in contempt, as a long lifetime of bad conduct and vicious speech make abundantly clear.
Is it really still necessary, some 80 years later, to forswear any use of the word “will” in discussing politics or geopolitics because of this German film? And, if someone uses the term, is that prima facie evidence of fascistic tendencies?
When a speech contains a (completely false) statement that “the fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive” and ends with “and our civilization will triumph,” it’s entirely legitimate to suspect that dog whistles are being used. Someone as loved by the alt-right as is Trump can’t directly quote from a Nazi propaganda film and be considered innocent of having made a deliberate shout-out to the blut-und-boden crowd.
.. The fundamental flaw of the Fukuyama viewpoint, which has been the Bush/Clinton consensus of “globalization” for the last quarter century, is the fictional belief that Western liberal democracy and free market capitalism can exist and spread, divorced from their cultural and civilizational foundations.
And the primary foundation is Christianity. The ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence would never have come into being, or been taken seriously, without the cultural context of Christian teaching. It was not Thomas Jefferson, but Jesus Christ, who first stated that “all men are created equal”.
In Warsaw, America’s president barely mentions democracyEarlier American administrations defined “the West” with reference to values such as democracy, liberty and respect for human rights. Mr Trump and many of his advisers, including the speech’s authors, Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller, apparently see it as rooted in ethnicity, culture and religion... When George W. Bush visited Poland for his first presidential visit, in 2001, he referred to democracy 13 times. When Barack Obama spoke in Warsaw in 2014, he mentioned democracy nine times. For Mr Trump, once sufficed... Mr Trump invoked the “blood of patriots”, and the ties of family and God. The rhetoric sounded strikingly similar to that used by the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party that governs Poland, and its leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski...The crowd hurled insults at opposition politicians, booing when Lech Walesa, the anti-communist hero and a critic of the current government, left the square... According to polling by Pew, just 23% have confidence in America’s president to do the right thing, down from 58% under Mr Obama... At a news conference, he insisted that no one knows for sure whether Russia interfered with America’s presidential election (contradicting the conclusions of his own intelligence agencies)... Still, Mr Trump did unambiguously endorse NATO’s Article 5.. But the greatest reason for Poland’s government to be delighted with Mr Trump was what he did not mention: PiS’s undermining of democratic institutions to entrench its own power. The party has stuffed the civil service and the diplomatic corps with loyalists and has weakened the independence of the judiciary. It has transformed the national broadcaster into a mouthpiece of the state. Independent journalists face new restrictions. The European Commission has warned the government that its reforms pose “a systemic risk to the rule of law.”
Highly educated professionals tend to lean Democratic, even though Republican tax policies would probably leave more money in their pockets.
Why do people vote against their economic interests?
.. “Partisan identification is bigger than anything the party does,”
.. it stems from something much more fundamental: people’s idea of who they are.
.. “It more or less boils down to how you see the conflicts in American society, and which groups you see as representing you,”
.. “That often means race, and religion, and ethnicity — those are the social groups that underlie party identification.”
.. That often leads people to say that they are independent, she said, but in fact most voters consistently lean toward one of the parties.
.. “Older voters who scored high on racial resentment were much more likely to switch from Obama to Trump,”
.. She believes that he successfully made a pitch to what she calls “white male identity politics,” convincing older, less-educated white voters that he would represent their interests.
.. Economic status, it turns out, is not so important in partisanship.
.. Mr. Trump was able to win the G.O.P. nomination even though he broke with Republican ideology on economic matters like trade protectionism. His arguments played to white working-class voter identity
.. while those multiple identities might once have pushed people in different partisan directions .. today it’s more common to line up behind one party.
.. people now feel that they are fighting for many elements of who they are: their racial identity, professional identity, religious identity, even geographical identity.
.. he as a politician, kind of for the first time, said ‘we’re losers.’ ” Social psychology research has shown that the best way to get people to defend their identity is to threaten it. By saying “we don’t win anymore — we’re losers — and I’m going to make us win again,”
.. Mr. Trump’s pitch to voters both created the sense of threat and promised a defense: a winning political strategy for the age of identity politics.
.. people responded much more strongly to threats or support to their party than to particular issues.
.. He has been careful to recast every potential scandal and policy struggle as a battle against the Democrats and other outside groups.
.. Mr. Trump has insisted, for instance, that the F.B.I. investigation into his campaign staffers’ contacts with Russia is meaningless “fake news,” and that the real issue is whether President Obama wiretapped him before the election.
.. Abandoning him would mean betraying tribal allegiance, and all of the identities that underlie it.