America and China, 1776 to the Present
The year was 1776, and the American colonies were seized with revolutionary fervor. But in New Hampshire, a twenty-five-year-old student studying to be a missionary dropped out of Dartmouth College and shipped out with the Royal Navy on Captain James Cook’s third and final voyage. Six years later, after Cook was killed in Hawaii, the sailor, John Ledyard, returned to America’s shores to proselytize not for God but for trade—with China. John Ledyard was fired up by a scheme to dispatch Yankee ships around the tip of South America to the Pacific Northwest to collect the pelts of the northwest sea otter for the China market. Coastal Indians would barter a pelt for “only a hatchet or a saw,” Ledyard wrote. But the Chinese would pay one hundred Mexican silver dollars for a single fur, a markup that his contemporary Adam Smith could love. A Connecticut Yankee with a hooked […]
Trump Loves to Do It, But American Generals Have Forgotten How
President-elect Donald Trump’s message for the nation’s senior military leadership is ambiguously unambiguous. Here is he on 60 Minutes just days after winning the election. Trump: “We have some great generals. We have great generals.” Lesley Stahl: “You said you knew more than the generals about ISIS.” Trump: “Well, I’ll be honest with you, I probably do because look at the job they’ve done. OK, look at the job they’ve done. They haven’t done the job.” In reality, Trump, the former reality show host, knows next to nothing about ISIS, one of many gaps in his education that his impending encounter with actual reality is likely to fill. Yet when it comes to America’s generals, our president-to-be is onto something. No doubt our three- and four-star officers qualify as “great” in the sense that they mean well, work hard, and are altogether fine men and women. That they have not […]
A Journey to the President-Elect’s Private “Public” Park
High above, somewhere behind the black glass façade, President-elect Donald J. Trump was huddled with his inner circle, plotting just how they would “drain the swamp” and remake Washington, perhaps the world. On the street far below, inside a warren of metal fencing surrounded by hefty concrete barriers with “NYPD” emblazoned on them, two middle-aged women were engaged in a signage skirmish. One held aloft a battered poster that read “Love Trumps Hate”; just a few feet away, the other brandished a smaller slice of cardboard that said “Get Over It.” I was somewhere in between… and the Secret Service seemed a little unnerved. Trump Tower is many things — the crown jewel skyscraper in Donald Trump’s real-estate empire, the site of the Trump Organization’s corporate offices, a long-time setting for his reality television show, The Apprentice, and now, as the New York Times describes it, “a 58-story White House […]
Rebirth of a Nation?
“So is he going to win?” The question washed over me as I slumped in my hard plastic chair. I had passed the day walking through a town where most homes lay in ruins and human remains were strewn across a field, a day spent looking over my shoulder for soldiers and melting in the 110-degree heat. My mind was as spent as my body. Under an inky sky ablaze with stars, the type of night you see only in the rural world, I looked toward the man who asked the question and half-shrugged. Everyone including me, I said, thought Donald Trump was going to flame out long ago. And he hadn’t. So what did I know? At that point, I couldn’t bear to talk about it anymore, so the two of us sat speechless for a time. Finally, my companion looked back at me and broke his silence. “It can’t happen, can it?” […]
With President Trump, Is the American Experiment Over?
The one thing you could say about empires is that, at or near their height, they have always represented a principle of order as well as domination. So here’s the confounding thing about the American version of empire in the years when this country was often referred to as “the sole superpower,” when it was putting more money into its military than the next 10 nations combined: it’s been an empire of chaos. Back in September 2002, Amr Moussa, then head of the Arab League, offered a warning I’ve never forgotten. The Bush administration’s intention to invade Iraq and topple its ruler, Saddam Hussein, was already obvious. Were they to take such a step, Moussa insisted, it would “open the gates of hell.” His prediction turned out to be anything but hyperbole — and those gates have never again closed. The Wars Come Home From the moment of the invasion of Afghanistan in October […]
Playing a Game of Chicken with Nuclear Strategy
Once upon a time, when choosing a new president, a factor for many voters was the perennial question: “Whose finger do you want on the nuclear button?” Of all the responsibilities of America’s top executive, none may be more momentous than deciding whether, and under what circumstances, to activate the “nuclear codes” — the secret alphanumeric messages that would inform missile officers in silos and submarines that the fearful moment had finally arrived to launch their intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) toward a foreign adversary, igniting a thermonuclear war. Until recently in the post-Cold War world, however, nuclear weapons seemed to drop from sight, and that question along with it. Not any longer. In 2016, the nuclear issue is back big time, thanks both to the rise of Donald Trump (including various unsettling comments he’s made about nuclear weapons) and actual changes in the global nuclear landscape. With passions running high […]
Or How the American Political System Changed and No One Noticed
To say that this is the election from hell is to insult hell. There’s been nothing like this since Washington forded the Rubicon or Trump crossed the Delaware or delivered the Gettysburg Address (you know, the one that began “Four score and eleven women ago…”) — or pick your own seminal moment in American history. Billions of words, that face, those gestures, the endless insults, the abused women and the emails, the 24/7 spectacle of it all… Whatever happens on Election Day, let’s accept one reality: we’re in a new political era in this country. We just haven’t quite taken it in. Not really. Forget Donald Trump. Doh! Why did I write that? Who could possibly forget the first presidential candidate in our history preemptively unwilling to accept election results? (Even the South in 1860 accepted the election of Abraham Lincoln before trying to wave goodbye to the Union.) Who […]
Donald Trump, the Greatest Victim in the History of the World
Donald Trump grabbed a new lifeline. Speaking at a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, on October 15th, he raised a hand as if to take an oath and declared: “I am a victim!” The great business tycoon, the one and only man who could fix America and make the place great again (trust me, folks), was laying claim to martyrdom — and spinning another news cycle. “I am a victim,” he declared, “of one of the great political smear campaigns in the history of our country. They are coming after me to try and destroy what is considered by even them the greatest movement in the history of our country.” “I am a victim.” That pathetic line echoed in my head, which is why I’m writing this. In my long life, I had seen a large white man stand up in a public arena and proclaim those words — the […]