Bear with me … I will get around to education.
Tuesday night I walked over to a neighborhood sports bar that was taken over by a local Young Democrats group. I listened to President Obama’s Farewell Address in a room filled with twenty-somethings – a wonderful speech greeted with applause, cheers and occasional tears. I loved the references to Washington’s Farewell Address and to Atticus Finch (“To Kill a Mockingbird.” It was classy speech that emphasized the foundations of our nation – the orderly transition from administration to administration with nary a jab at his successor.
Wednesday morning I listened to the Trump press conference, nasty, highly critical of our intelligence agencies. and, a comment sharply criticizing the pharmaceutical industries pricing policies, a policy that the Republican side of the aisle has supported. Odd.
In spite of mounting evidence of Russian interference in our presidential election the President-elect has waffled, swinging from mild criticism to bashing our own intelligence services.
Clearly Trump sees Putin as a role model, a highly effective leader with an 80% approval rating by the Russian people, extremely wealthy (his net worth is estimated at $200 billion); a major player on the world stage, a leader who uses his power to attempt to return Russia to a preeminent position among the world powers. Putin has used a combination of threat, economic and military power clawing back Crimea from the Ukraine, eyeing the Baltic states and allying with the Assad in Syria.
Although elected as leader under the Russian constitution Putin has suppressed opposition: the press has been silenced, journalists mysteriously killed, the independent voices few; his tentacles reach around the world: from the Middle East (Russia borders Iran), to Europe (Russia is a major supplier of oil and gas to Europe), a nuclear power second only to the USA with a massive and nimble military.
Does Trump actually think he can become a Putin-like leader in the USA as well as on the world stage? I believe the answer is “yes.”
A little Russian history:
Russia is by far the largest nation in the world – it covers eleven time zones!! Our histories are both dramatically different and strangely similar.
Mongol and Tatar hordes enveloped Russia, our aboriginal ancestors crossed the Aleutian bridge, we may be distantly, very distantly related to Russians.
Medieval Russia was ruled by Boyars, essentially war lords who ruled limited geographic domains, once again similar to the European princes who ruled limited areas across Europe. In Europe lesser lords swore oaths of homage and fealty, and the masses were peasants tied to the land; while Russia ended slavery in the 18th century, serfdom, tying of peasants to the land did not end until Alexander I ended serfdom in 1861.
Massive Russian estates were in many ways similar to the plantations in our Southern colonies/states.
Tsar Peter the Great westernized Russia, Catherine the Great expanded Russian boundaries; similarly through treaty, purchase and war we increased our boundaries.
2017 is the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution.
A hundred years that has seen many tens millions of Russians killed in the two World Wars as well as the purges of Stalin. Russia moved from a nation ruled by Tsars and an aristocracy to a totalitarian nation ruled by dictators and the Communist bureaucracy, to a flirtation with democracy under Gorbachev and the return to a classic Russian leader, a faux tsar and oligarchs, the billionaires riding the Putin wave.
Trump foresees a new alliance – the two most powerful leaders, Trump and Putin – American and Russia – leading an assault on radical Islam and the Chinese hordes.
To Trump Europe is weak and decaying: The Common Market, the Euro and integration of Europe has seen the weaker states dragging down the few stronger economies. Greece, Italy and Spain with very high unemployment rates, staggering deficits and chaotic banking systems. The right wing parties growing, the Brixit vote, and an uncertain future. The right-wing xenophobic political parties are challenging a century of progressive, socially conscious democratic governments.
Will Trump continue to lead NATO, defending Europe against an aggressive Russia, or, abandon NATO? Will Trump demand that Europe provide the primary support for NATO, and, tacitly accept that Europe is a Russian sphere of influence? The right wing insurgencies across Europe will look Trump as a model.
The Mongol and Tatar invasions from the East and Germans invasions from the West, tens of millions of Russians have died over the centuries due to foreign incursions. Under Putin Russia has taken a leap backwards, away from democratic values, Putin sees western democracy as an enemy not a partner.
The post World War 2 Cold War resulted in the creation of buffer states “protecting” Russia from incursions from the West. The crumbling of the Iron Curtain, for some was the beginning of Russia entering the democratized West, for others a disaster opening Russia to values that threatened Mother Russia.
We are living in an era of asymmetric warfare, modern armies versus insurgencies, i. e., Afghanistan and Iraq. Hopefully we have learned from Afghanistan and Iraq, while we can train and support the Afghans and the Iraqi we cannot fight their wars. I fear that the Trump bluster will create increasing radicalism in the Islamic world. I fear that Putin will use his friendship with Trump to rebuild further barriers/buffers along its borders.
Have we learned from Vietnam? A bitter enemy, 50,000 Americans died in the war, fears that communism will roll over Asia; now, decades later, an iteration of communism that has created a thriving economy and frequent American tourist destination.
Economic prosperity is the most effective enemy of radical Islam and other totalitarian regimes; and, economic prosperity means education.
The education level of voters had a stunning impact on the recent presidential election.
Nate Silver in the fivethirtyeight blog wrote,
I took a list of all 981 U.S. counties1 with 50,000 or more people2 and sorted it by the share of the population3 that had completed at least a four-year college degree. Hillary Clinton improved on President Obama’s 2012 performance in 48 of the country’s 50 most-well-educated counties. And on average, she improved on Obama’s margin of victory in these countries by almost 9 percentage points, even though Obama had done pretty well in them to begin with.
Now here’s the opposite list: The 50 counties (minimum population of 50,000) where the smallest share of the population has bachelor’s degrees:
These results are every bit as striking: Clinton lost ground relative to Obama in 47 of the 50 counties — she did an average of 11 percentage points worse, in fact. These are really the places that won Donald Trump the presidency,
The crowd in the bar, young, well-educated, engaged in local politics were enthusiastic and avid supporters of President Obama, the poorly educated are frequently “birthers,” refused to believe that the President was born in this country, believed he was a Muslim, and on and on.
The radical Islamic fighters are poor and uneducated with no future, they succumb to the propaganda that their leaders use to create armies willing to sacrifice their lives.
Armies will not defeat Islamic radicalism or North Korea, or rebut Chinese expansionism. Yes, we must maintain a nimble military able to respond to threats from asymmetric warfare. “Winning” the war means responding to an ideology, means creating avenues to economic prosperity
My “plan” to winning the war in Vietnam was dropping Sears catalogs with $100 gift certificates.
I fear that the President-elect is ill-suited to lead the nation, I fear that Putin will use Trump to further entrench himself and expand his boundaries and I fear China will continue to encroach across Asia.
These are perilous times.
I find solace in the wisdom of our founding fathers, Washington’s Farewell Address (1796) is amazingly prescient.
While the Obama Farewell Address was deeply personal Washington’s Farewell Address contained warnings that resonate today, warning us against “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men.”
… combinations or associations … may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.
Washington foresaw the bitter enmities of partisanship and fearing that a “spirit of revenge” will lead to a “frightful despotism.”
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.
Washington, cogently, warned against the “illusion of an imaginary common interest,” and especially “by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate.”
… a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.
As the confirmation hearings for the cabinet nominees continue the spirit of Washington is hovering over the Congress, reminding us ” … a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.”
Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.
The Farewell Address was primarily written by Alexander Hamilton, interred in the cemetery of Trinity Church; hopefully Washington and Hamilton and Jefferson are still whispering into the minds of our current leaders.