With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility?
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Americans find unity in a set of ideals rather than a connection to some ancestral homeland. It is the United States Constitution rather than an attachment to blood and soil that allows the U.S.’s ethnically, culturally, racially, and religiously diverse country to remain cohesive. Being a blend of people from every corner of the planet, combined with Americas newfound responsibility to maintain the global structure creates a unique political environment. It is hard to find unity in a nation so diverse, ridden with such a dark past and yet such heroic moments. America, in short, is caught in a state of cognitive dissonance about who they are. Somehow, this extremely young Republic, which was seen as a mere experiment not too long ago, has global hegemony.
In 2002, shortly after 9/11, the first Spiderman movie came out. For whatever reason, the movie was healing for the entire nation. One scene stood out to most Americans and entered into our collective psyche. The phrase shortly thereafter became iconic, one that everyone knows to this day. A young kid, having such great power thrust onto him, it was moving and the last time he’d ever see his Uncle before he was murdered.
Peter’s Uncle looks at him, scolding him for not doing his chores and acting out at school. Uncle Ben says to Peter, “your aunt and I don’t even know who you are anymore, you ignore your chores … you start fights at schools…” Peter scoffs, but Uncle Ben continues, “Peter, these are the years where a man changes into the man he is going to become for the rest of his life. Just be careful who you turn into.” Peter scoffs again but Uncle Ben keeps speaking “This guy Flash Thompson probably got what he deserved but just because you can beat him up doesn’t give you the right to. Remember, with great power comes great responsibility”
In the end, Americans figured out the scene stood out for a reason, the writers came clean and told the press. The phrase had first been used by the French National Convention, but more famously by Churchill in 1906 when he proclaimed “Where there is great power there is a great responsibility,”
After World War II, American hegemony was largely solidified. The Yalta Conference of 1945 set into motion a bipolar world wherein the United States had its sphere of influence, and the Soviet Union had its own. In 1991, though, this all abruptly ended as the Soviet Union, to everyone’s surprise, collapsed.
Suddenly, in this new unipolar world, the responsibility fell to this very young Republic to maintain the international neoliberal order. The backbone of these mechanisms of state cohesiveness remains, to a great extent, funded by the so-called American “working class.” Not only do they largely finance institutions like NATO, but it is also their sons and daughters on the front lines. Manning ship-lines, on bases, fighting in conflicts in the forgotten corners of the world and the like.
The success of bodies like the United Nations—especially after the disaster that was the League of Nations—was, however, by no means a given success. Through the United State’s naval might, American leadership secured global free trade, a millennia-old tradition of warring between European states withered away, the nuclear holocaust was avoided, Marxist interpretations became a thing of the past after killing hundreds of millions, large swaths of Asia opened up to the world markets and Western colonialism came to an abrupt end.
These International bodies have proven to be strong, but technology and the resulting modern-day wave of populism poses a direct threat to the Pax Americana.
Online political communities formed, citizens began coalescing, forming movements, and finally meeting in person. Suddenly, what began with Sarah Palin 8 years, right-wing America—what John McCain ironically used to refer to as “the crazies” in the GOP—found a grenade to throw into Washington D.C.. An imperfect instrument, as they know, to speak for them.Against all odds, a right-wing populist insurgency, largely spearheaded by the political tactician Steve Bannon, had the Washington Establishment and even Fox News on their knees. Donald J. Trump was no longer a real estate mogul and reality TV star host. He had been elected the next president of the United States.
Standing under the Lincoln Memorial, with President Obama listening to the now President-Elect who had brought the birther movement mainstream 7 years earlier, began speaking. After being sworn in, Trump began his commencement speech. After speaking at length about the decimation of the American middle-class due to forces of globalization and “the great American Carnage” brought about by all modern presidents, Trump Proclaimed:
“We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital and in every hall of power, from the day forward a new vision will guide our land, from this day forward it’s going to only be American first.”
After only attending one commencement day gathering, Mr. Bannon rushed back to his office in the Whitehouse, or as he called it, his “war room.” Within the first week of his administration, the American press was hit by executive order after executive order, causing a mass uproar around the country. All strategic, all orchestrated, by Steve Bannon. The protests in the airports following the travel restrictions were music to his ears.
A return to the Westphalian model of statehood was looking increasingly enticing to voters not only in the U.S., but around the world. The so-called “American working class,” had grown wary of this great American responsibility to other nations.
Some of the arguments are along these lines, “the Cold War is over, the Iron Curtain has fallen, yet the United States contributed 3.42% of its’ GDP, or $730,149,000, to NATO in 2019.” Meanwhile, the second-largest contributor, the United Kingdom, provided a mere $60,751,000 in U.S. dollars. Yet the former Soviet Union’s economy can barely compete with that of New York State and, by the way, many say, “this specific problem exists on the other side of the Atlantic.”
With establishment officials being disregarded and fired one after the other, in the White House the ideology of Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller and Jeff Sessions started to take root in the mind of President Trump, there was never going to be a pivot. To name some of the steps that have been implemented since, America has withdrawn from the TPP, instituted a travel ban on primarily Muslim majority countries, fired the FBI director during an investigation into Trump, threatened to destroy NAFTA if it wasn’t changed, proclaimed in front of President Putin in Russia that he saw no reason why the former Soviet Union would launch an attack on American elections, changed bilateral trade agreements with a plethora of countries to better favor the United States, passed “Trump’s tax cuts,” put more conservative judges on the courts than any other prior administration thus far, got two supreme court justices, left the Paris Agreement, tore up the Iran Deal, weakened our previously strengthening relationship with Cuba, recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, started a trade war with China, President Trump became the first sitting president to meet with a North Korean Dictator, the administration instituted a “zero tolerance” policy on the Mexican boarder, withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council, declared a national emergency to build a wall on the Mexican border, abandoned the Kurds, America’s closest allies in the region besides Israel, President Trump was caught getting dirt on a political opponent by threatening American military support to an ally fighting off Russian invasion, President Trump was impeached, is in the process all pulling all soldiers out of Afghanistan after negotiating with the Taliban—a terrorist organization—and much more. Not to mention all of the rhetoric and tweets.
In sum, the populist war against the entire establishment and international order is not mere hyperbole as many of the pundits believed it would be, it is real. It has also been a call to action to populist leaders around the world. Most importantly, this was a message from Trump to the GOP—I am the Republican Party and the Republican Party is me.
The demise of globalization as we know it is certainly not dead, yet. It is time to introduce a new force that may soon sweep the American psyche, the likely Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden. In a campaign speech about Biden’s vision of what U.S. foreign policy ought to be, he insisted that American domestic and foreign policy are inseparable.
He went further in saying that “the overarching purpose of [American] foreign policy must be to defend and advance our security, prosperity, and democratic values.”
Moreover, Vice President Biden stated that “We must once again harness that power and rally the free world to meet the challenges facing us today, it it falls on the United States to lead the way” he proclaimed with conviction in his eyes, “we have an obligation to champion liberty.”
After having the privilege of speaking with Mr. Ross Feingold, a senior adviser at the DC Internal Advisory and frequent contributor Al-Jazeera, BBC, Channel News Asia, CCTV, CNBC, Guardian, The New York Times, and more, I had the opportunity to get his take on the matter. Mr. Feingold believes that the “Biden’s Administration will largely be a return to that of Obama’s love of multilateral institutions, bilateral and multilateral dialogues, framework and agreement treaties.”
I am not so sure Biden’s foreign policy will not be a return to his former bosses though. First, Biden was and remains a Liberal Internationalist, in other words, he feels it is America’s obligation of liberal states to intervene in other sovereign states in order to push liberal ideals. Secondly, Trump has changed the game regarding bilateral and multilateral treaties, trade agreements, etc. not only with China but internationally. I believe America will utilize its political clout significantly more.
Trump has proven that it can really work, namely against our adversaries. Mr. Biden did not graduate near the top of his class at Harvard—he’s no scholar—he wasn’t given the name “middle-class Joe” by happenstance. Mr. Feingold acknowledges that “Biden cannot avoid some responsibility for the now-discredited Obama Administration trade and security policies.”
As Martin Indyk, though, a former Obama Administration official and foreign relations analyst said, “personal relationships are not his [Obama’s] style.” As best selling author geopolitical strategist, Peter Zeihan, notes “no American president met with his cabinet officials a few times, went to congress fewer times, met with his circle fewer times, met with his party allies fewer times.” This is all with the exception of William Harrison who died day 30 of his presidency. Zehian goes as far as to say that The United States, under President Obama, essentially didn’t have a foreign policy.
As is well-noted, Obama was an introvert. Biden, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. He knows how to bridge political divides and he builds relationships and actually enjoys it. Moreover, rather than spending less than a full term in the Senate before running for the presidency, Biden is deeply embedded in the Senate, spending 36 years serving in the prestigious body.
Moreover, he was re-elected six times before accepting the Vice Presidency where he served for 8 years. He has chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as, co-chaired the NATO Observer Group. Many scholars argue that Obama’s Foreign policy was the most disastrous aspect of his presidency, namely because he simply did not like meeting with world leaders.
As Aaron David Miller, an expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and an adviser to six former secretaries of state; “I find it an anomaly in Obama’s personality, he is not wooden; he has tremendous intelligence and emotional intelligence. But the connector in chief, he is not.”
Biden, on the other hand, is known for his ability to connect with voters and world leaders alike. Under his administration, the United States would once again become that beacon of neoliberal values. This is why the Vice President unabashedly tweets statements like “The brave people of Hong Kong deserve the full support of the United States as they demand the civil liberties and autonomy promised to them. Violent suppression is unacceptable…” The world is watching.” Perhaps this is what is needed to prop up liberalism in this so-called “age of the strongman.”
The stark differences between Trump and Biden are clear, in fact, the antithesis definitionally of liberal internationalists is an isolationist. Surprisingly, however, in a 2019 Pew poll, it showed that only 59% of Americans disapproved of the war in Afghanistan. The poll also showed that Americans care much more about the financial burden of the war, not the war itself.
Lastly, while polling about military intervention in other countries has taken a pretty significant hit, dipping quite drastically since the now politically infamous Iraq War, according to PEW, “US engagement abroad as a policy generally remains highly popular.
With COVID-19 shutting down the entire world, the DOW falling below the 20,000 line, unemployment rising, wages being cut, and tests still not being widely available—a real race for the presidency is coming America’s way. With all of that being said, according to Newsweek, Trump’s approval ratings have been “unaffected by the Coronavirus.”
Biden’s support amongst minorities, his being a white male, his pledge to make a woman his VP, having such resounding victories in the Midwest and South and his being moderate, touting his ability to work with Republicans, maybe the diverse coalition Americans are desperate for. After all, America is a great experiment to see if humans are able to overcome their tribal nature all living under one roof.
Chris Panagakis, Founder & Executive Editor of Curiosity Shots
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