Rogue nations thrive when the good lose all conviction.
Most of human history has been marked by war. Between 1500 and 1945, scarcely a year went by without some great power fighting another great power. Then, in 1945 that stopped. The number of battlefield deaths has plummeted to the lowest levels in history. The world has experienced the greatest reduction in poverty in history, as well as the greatest spread of democracy and freedom.
Why did this happen? Mostly it was because the United States decided to lead a community of nations to create a democratic world order. That order consisted of institutions like NATO, the U.N. and the World Bank. But it was also enforced by the pervasive presence of American power — military, economic and cultural power as well as the magnetic power of the democratic idea, which inspired dissidents worldwide.
Building any community requires exercising power. America’s leaders made some terrible mistakes (Vietnam, Iraq). The nation never got to enjoy the self-righteous sense of innocence that the powerless and reclusive enjoy.
But the U.S. having been dragged into two world wars, leaders from Truman to Obama felt they had no choice but to widen America’s circle of concern across the whole world. This was abnormal. As Robert Kagan writes in “The Jungle Grows Back,”“Very few nations in history have ever felt any responsibility for anything but themselves.”
The American leader is deliberately presiding over a retreat from global leadership by the United States. Mr. Macron wants to be a global leader but is painfully aware that France, despite its status as a nuclear power with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, cannot compete. So he is enlisting Europe in his ambition. In President Trump’s view, America will become great again by withdrawing from the world. In President Macron’s view, France can be great again only by making Europe a global actor.
Compare the two leaders’ visits to China: In November, Mr. Trump, flattered and treated to a lavish banquet in the Great Hall of the People by a very determined Chinese president, forgot to talk about trade — supposedly his biggest issue with China. In January, Mr. Macron proclaimed in Beijing that “France is back, Europe is back” and proceeded to demand from the same leader, Xi Jinping, reciprocity in access to Chinese and European markets — a constant theme of his three-day visit. Whether the Chinese will give in is another story, but presumably they spotted the difference.
.. Now, they represent two camps within the Western world:
- a camp of nationalist leaders, which include a handful of Trump followers inside the European Union, and
- a camp of internationalists, gathering most of Europe’s heavyweights around President Macron and Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel. Thanks to Donald Trump’s clumsiness, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain has joined the latter camp, even while negotiating Brexit.
.. Why similar domestic political dynamics produced such different effects is very much a question of electoral mechanics. Under America’s Electoral College system, Donald Trump could beat a candidate who won the popular vote by a majority of three million, while France’s two-round system never gave Ms. Le Pen a chance.
.. Mr. Trump’s erratic debut at the White House, coupled with the shock of the Brexit referendum, also made French voters think twice before taking the nationalist direction.
.. The two men may pretend to enjoy a warm relationship. They may even think they do, based on their common imperative of fighting terrorism. Yet the way they exercise power and the policies they promote keeps them apart.
.. Mr. Trump, who campaigned as a populist and rules as one, is accused of diminishing the American presidency. His compulsive tweeting habits, betraying a limited vocabulary, aim to bypass the mainstream media that he loathes; he watches TV, doesn’t read books, takes a lot of time off.
Mr. Macron, as soon as he was elected, reverted to a quasi-monarchical presidential role. His goal, he explained, was to restore authority and dignity to an office that had been weakened by his predecessors Nicolas Sarkozy and Mr. Hollande. His Twitter line is kept strictly to official announcements. He communicates through 90-minute speeches and lengthy interviews studded with references to philosophers, archaic words and refined grammar.
.. He is a true workaholic and makes it known that his nights are short.
The two leaders do have a few things in common. They are both lucky — and in politics, luck matters. The American president enjoys buoyant economic conditions, part of a global economic surge; similarly, his French counterpart has benefited from an upswing in the eurozone. They both managed to pass, in their first year, a tax reform criticized by their opponents for mostly benefiting the wealthy and intended to convince the corporate world that they are on its side. But neither conforms to a classic ideological line; pundits in their respective countries struggle to define Macronism or Trumpism.
.. The approval ratings of President Macron, unlike those of President Trump, are on the rise.
.. Much of the future of the liberal democratic West will depend on these two mavericks’ fortunes.
he denounced the “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”
..McCain and Bannon are the antipodes of the Republican Party.
- The institutionalist versus the insurgent.
- The internationalist versus the America Firster.
- The maverick versus the ideologue.
- Above all, the hedgehog versus the honey badger.
The hedgehog, said the Greek poet Archilochus, knows one big thing.
.. On Monday McCain called America “the land of the immigrant’s dream,” and said: “We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil.”
To a large and growing segment of the G.O.P., which thinks magnanimity is for losers, these statements amount to a form of treason.
.. The honey badger, by contrast, will do anything to get what it wants. It is wily, nasty and has as much use for honor as a pornographer has for dress.
.. For the honey badger, it’s whatever works: anti-Semite one day; Israel’s make-believe champion the next. Bannon is the most revolting operator in American political life since Roy Cohn.
.. The goal isn’t to win elections but to purge the party and remake it in Bannon’s image. He wasn’t kidding when he told historian Ronald Radosh in 2013 that he’s a “Leninist.”
.. serve as a rallying point for a Republican Party that can save itself from dishonor, win its share of elections, and stand up to the honey badgers who mean to pillage it.
Mr. Trump is specifically evaluating whether to keep his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, in their current positions.