The Lesser of Two Evils?

I voted in my first U.S. presidential election in 1972. Ironically, given the pundit-defying rise of Bernie Sanders, who is a Senator from Vermont, I was attending college in The Green Mountain State at the time and I voted for George McGovern. McGovern, however, lost in a landslide to Richard Nixon, who later resigned from office in disgrace over the Watergate affair.

My issue at the time, of course, was the Vietnam War. I was 18 and had drawn a draft lottery number that gave me a high probability of being sent to the jungle if the war had continued. To be clear, however, I was not and am not against the military and I certainly didn’t hold the men who fought there accountable for the events that ultimately unfolded.

Perhaps I was influenced by a pair of young African Americans I had met on a U.S. Army base somewhere in the western United States. I was fourteen years old at the time and traveling with a group of Boy Scouts by bus from the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in New York to the Philmont Scout Ranch in northern New Mexico. Along the way we often slept at military bases where they allowed us to bivouac, as it were, in the base gymnasium.

On the way to the base bowling alley that night, a couple of friends and I came upon two young African Americans, not much older than we were, in full combat dress, complete with M-16’s, on guard duty on a street corner within the base. I honestly don’t remember who started the conversation but in the course of it I learned that they had just been drafted and were on their way to Vietnam. And they were scared.

Now, if you are an eighteen or nineteen year-old American male carrying a M-16 and you openly admit to a group of Boy Scouts that you are truly scared, you clearly don’t want to be where you are and are probably wondering how you got involved in this to begin with. (It was their poverty, I’m sure they knew. College deferments had not been eliminated yet.)

Or maybe it was being told by my parents, both WWII veterans, that a young man who lived down the street, who was older than me but who I nonetheless knew as one of the better softball players in the neighborhood, would someday have his name carved in granite in Washington D.C., but would never again be part of our neighborhood games.

Like a lot of my classmates in college, however, I went on to a successful career, accumulated a respectable amount of wealth, and voted Republican. Ronald Reagan remains one of my most respected presidents not because of his policies or because he was the sharpest tool in the shed but because he gave us hope. He was, by nature, an optimistic man and I’ve always believed that true leadership, above all else, requires humility and optimism, both of which, Reagan, whatever else he was, exuded in abundance.

But then there is the presidential election of 2016.

Frankly, I never thought I’d write about it. I honestly wouldn’t know what to say. My mouth is agape at what the American political process has become. I didn’t begin to understand.

But then I read a brilliant blog by John Michael Greer (I would post the link but I’m not sure that’s legal or not and I’m still one of those law-abiding types.) entitled, “The Decline and Fall of Hilary Clinton.” It might have been called The Rise and Fall of Post-Reagan American Politics.

Greer argues that American politics have come to be dominated by the ‘lesser of two evils campaign theme.’ To paraphrase, don’t pay too much attention to what I may or may not do, because I won’t do it anyway, but focus on what evil the other guy might undertake if he is elected.

America has clearly had enough, which is why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are turning the political establishment on its head and Jeb Bush is already out of the race. As I’ve noted in a previous blog, the pitchforks have been out for some time now. The problem was no one knew who to point them at so people just lashed out at each other, or immigrants and racial minorities when no other target was readily available.

But Bernie and the Donald gave us a different explanation. To paraphrase another presidential campaign with bloodlines to the current one, “It’s the Washington/Wall Street Axis, stupid.”

That’s certainly part of the story. As Greer noted in his blog, referencing Oswald Spengler and his book, The Decline of the West, the great curse of democracy is that it can be bought. It has no defense against the influence of money and, I would add, the advancement of technology has only exacerbated that fundamental flaw. The little man may now have a voice but it is a voice seldom heard amid the shouting of the rich and powerful.

So what does this all have to do with China?

For the lesser of two evils model of politics to work, there must be a bogeyman to distract the electorate’s attention and to cast change in the likeness of the Apocalypse.

During my own youth the bogeyman was the Soviet Union, who, we were told as schoolchildren, was ready to exile all Americans to a nuclear wasteland, emphasizing the point with the ridiculous idea that we would be safe huddling under our desks at school. We actually practiced the concept with some frequency, although the kindergarteners were too unruly, so they had them huddle under a blanket instead.

Then, of course, there was Vietnam. And why were we there? To prevent the further spread of Communism, of course. China was in the grips of the Cultural Revolution and most people, including the Chinese, could see the excesses of that idea.

But that principle, of course, denies the potential for change. The current reality is that the quality of life for the average Chinese is advancing faster today than that of the average American. I can vouch for that from first hand experience.

Vietnam, of course, ultimately became a Communist country but has subsequently posed no threat to anyone. If anything it has become a land of opportunity for U.S. multi-national business interests.

There is, of course, Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Syria. But these places and the cultures they represent are too far afield from the American field of vision to be an effective bogeyman. If they attack us, that’s one thing. Barring that, however, it smells of Vietnam. We’re sending young people to die in a far off place and we don’t really know why.

But now, in the nick of time, there is China and the South China Sea. China is moving fighter planes, radar, and ground to air missiles there, great imagery for the threatening idea that China is militarizing the South China Sea and putting the world at risk in the process. In fact, the missiles have a confirmed range of 125 miles, the jets could not conceivably take the skies from the American Air Force, and the U.S. has already militarized the Pacific with massive military bases in Hawaii, Guam, and elsewhere.

Yet, on Tuesday of this past week, Admiral Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Command, told the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, as reported by Reuters, that when it came to the U.S. naval and air operations which have so offended the Chinese in recent months, “We will be doing them more, and we’ll be doing them with greater complexity in the future…” When pressed as to what the U.S. might do, short of stationing a full carrier strike group nearby, Harris went on to say, “We could consider putting another (attack) submarine out there, we could put additional destroyers forward…”

And how does sending an attack submarine into the area stabilize the region or protect a right (i.e. free navigation in the area) that has never been threatened by China or anyone else?

I believe the bigger issue is that the ‘lesser of two evils’ political model is ultimately built on the notion that an American-centric world is in everyone’s best interests. And, I believe, in the wake of WW II that was indeed true, a truth that most of the world accepted as fact.

With the rise of China, India, Eastern Europe and the rest of the developing world, however, and the concurrent collapse of the U.S. political system under the weight of insatiable greed and elitism, that truth no longer holds. The 1.3 billion people of China, representing one-fifth of the world’s population, and the force behind the world’s second largest economy, do not want a U.S.-centric world

Frankly, when it comes to gun violence, racism, elitism, the polarization of wealth, and, most importantly, the loss of hope that has fueled the campaigns of both Trump and Sanders, we offer little they really want.


Some early praise for the author’s latest book, “Understanding China – There is reason for the difference”

“An insightful, compelling introduction to the intricacies of Chinese business and life.” – Kirkus Review

To see the full review from this prestigious literary company, please click on this direct link:

“Understanding China is a “must-read” for anyone interested in culture, working with Asian businesses, visiting China or simply if you enjoy a well-written book! I worked in China in the 90’s and while I eventually understood the differences, I never understood “why” until now. Moreau does a great job explaining the “why”. Well done!!”

(Not a relative!)

“Having done business and gone on personal journeys through the Asia Pacific region, I wish I’d read a book like this first. The premise is that being happy and effective in China requires more than just learning how things operate and working within the established system. This will bring frustration and leave you ineffective because you, the Westerner, will still be looking at these cultural differences as irrational. Mr. Moreau contends that only by understanding why things are the way they are in China and in the West can a Westerner actually influence outcome in China.

The author proceeds to explain the differences with very engaging writing that made me say, “Of, of course! It all makes sense now.”

(Also not a relative!)

Copyright © 2016 Gary Moreau

Note: The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity.

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