When it comes to this blog I admit to being in my worst funk since I launched it in 2013. It’s not that I have anything less to say or any less passion to say it. It’s more like, what’s the point?
They say that globalism is dead in the US. What’s really died, however, is any form of civil public dialogue. It’s engagement that’s dead. And it’s not the people who voted Trump into office that killed it. It’s the people who should know better. It’s exactly the people with the skills and the experience to facilitate an informed and open public discourse that have apparently abandoned any responsibility to do so.
If you are like me you paid scant attention to Trump’s first overseas trip this past week. There was nothing to pay attention to. All of the coverage had to do with Trump feeling at home in the golden palaces of the Middle East; the “I don’t want to hold your hand” incident; Melania’s wardrobe; the “shove”; the handshake; the turned back; the whatever. Who cares? Or, more to the point, why should anyone care?
And the Russians?
I grew up at the height of the Cold War within twenty miles of a US Air Force Strategic Air Command base that kept B-52s laden with nuclear weapons in the air 24/7. They flew over our house every day on approach and take off.
My grade school held frequent drills in which we were required to practice huddling under our desks with our hands cupped behind our heads. Except for the kindergarteners. They weren’t disciplined enough for that so they huddled together under a large blanket in the middle of the room and made a game of it.
Our next-door neighbor built an elaborate underground bomb shelter stocked with a warehouse worth of provisions and a dry chemical toilet. The neighborhood kids used to play hide and seek there. But even to the children – perhaps only the children – it was a bleak place indeed. It felt more like a haunted house than a monument to American grit and perseverance.
And as a boy of eight I remember observing my parents watching the Cuban Missile Crisis unfold on television. They were both veterans of WW II and, as was their custom when it came to such matters, didn’t say much about it. Even a young boy, however, knew the stakes were high.
I don’t believe, in other words, I need to be told much of anything about the Russians. I certainly don’t need to watch the endless political posturing about who talked to whom (I certainly hope someone is talking out of public view.) and whether or not anyone tried to influence the election. (Of course they did. The US has been doing it for decades.)
And what about China? As I had hoped, Trump did back down on Taiwan. And he hasn’t started a trade war. Nor has he done much to dissuade China out of its ambitions in the South China Sea. (And he won’t.)
Trump does take some credit for getting China to take a firmer hand with North Korea although there are few visible signs of that and, in the end, to the extent China has done anything it has done exactly what it believes is in its best interests. That’s okay. That’s the way the world works. The US doesn’t have a monopoly on self-interest. As Freud said, all of life is personal.
Diplomacy, in the end, is not a matter of negotiation. It is a matter of engagement. As an American businessman working in China I learned that firsthand. I dealt with government officials nearly every day. And, yes, there may come a time for negotiation. But you can’t negotiate with someone who is not engaged with you or your issues.
I am not a Chinese apologist any more than I am a Russian apologist. I am, however, someone who has seen and experienced much of the world and who believes that, like it or not, we are all in this together. Hiding in our shell and closing our borders is like grade school children hiding under their desks.
There is no first or second in this race. There is only win or lose – for all of us. We have to start thinking less about bending others to our will and focus more of our efforts on defining and implementing our collective global will.
To be honest, I don’t care, as is pointed out to us daily, how much the US government is spending on protection for the Trump family. It’s chump change and it goes with the job. How much are we spending on Congressional pensions and healthcare?
And I could not care less what coat Melania Trump wore outside the Chierici Palace in the town of Catania, Italy, when posing with the G7 entourage. (Have you seen the pictures coming out of Cannes?) There is not a US politician who can throw a ‘tone deaf’ rock at that glass house. (A twenty-minute speech at a big investment bank could easily pay for a coat like that.)
I don’t, in fact, care so much about the debate over ‘globalism.’ It’s a debate of little meaning in today’s world. That horse is long out of the barn.
I do, however, care about the polarization of wealth in America today. It will bring the country down. It always has.
Mostly, though, I care about engagement. I want to engage with my children. I want to engage with my wife. I want to engage my neighbors of every background and ethnicity. And I want to see our leaders engage with China, Russia, Mexico, and the rest of the world. There may come a time for blame. There may come a time for negotiation. There may even come a time to be forceful. How on God’s green earth, however, will we know when that is if we don’t engage first?
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