An all-star panel identifies enemies from within and without at Restoration Weekend.
Editor's note: Below are the video and transcript to the panel discussion "Threat Levels Abroad," which took place at the David Horowitz Freedom Center's 2017 Restoration Weekend. The event was held Nov. 16th-19th at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida.
Mark Tapson (Moderator): Gentlemen, let's begin with the big picture, the topic title. What are the threats abroad to America and American allies and interests? And even though the word "threats" may suggest military threats, I think it's fair to include cultural and economic threats as well if you want to get into that. So let's go down the line, shall we, and give an overview of what everyone considers those threats to be and why. We'll begin with Daniel.
Daniel Greenfield: Well, I'm going to actually speak, not so much about threats to America as a country but threats to our civilization, by which I mean Western civilization. So civilizations have two types of threats. One is rival powers, for example in the case of China, and I think we have somebody on this panel who's quite an expert on that. I don't need to go into that any further. But the other threat is the threat of barbarism, the threat of barbarians overrunning a civilization, and we do have a barbarian threat here that everybody is quite aware of, I'm sure, and that is Islam. Now barbarians can overrun civilizations when civilizations become decadent, when they're weakened, when they allow barbarians to actually start invading their borders because the barbarians are useful. The barbarians do useful things; they handy for chores, and they're handy to fight the wars that you don't want to fight. So the Romans armed the barbarians and turned them into their soldiers. We do the same thing. We're arming jihadists in Syria. We armed jihadists in Libya because we thought they would be useful for advancing our foreign policy, and then those jihadists turn around and they kill us because you know, that is what barbarians do. So the biggest threat to our civilization, and it's important that we think of ourselves as a civilization rather than just a country, is our own decline. When we start to decline, when we start to doubt ourselves, when we stop believing in our own exceptionalism, then we let the barbarians take over, we let the barbarians invade, and then we say that the barbarians are our strength. Because what could possibly make us stronger than having some barbarians in our country, running us over, blowing us up, stabbing us and shooting us, while peacefully shouting "Allahu Akbar" for reasons, of course, that have nothing to do with Islam.
So, you know I am going to quote, this is a cliché, but we have met the threat, we have met the enemy, and it is us. It's our own decline. It's our own lack of conviction in ourselves that is our greatest threat to us. Now we've seen the election of President Trump. We've seen the rise of a conviction that America should be great, that America is the greatest country in the world, and that is really our best possible weapon, because civilizations don't fall because right now, we have the strongest army in the world. Our economy has incredible potential, and even in its weakened state, it's an incredible super-power. Our greatest threat to us is morale. The greatest threat to us is that we lose conviction in ourselves, and when that happens, the barbarians can overrun us, or we can face up to powers that would ordinarily not be a match for us, but that can actually pose a threat to us because we are no longer sure that we deserve to exist. We're no longer sure that we are a great nation. We no longer believe in ourselves, and so, we do face real threats. We face threats from the outside, but we also face threats from the inside, and it's the threat within that is the ultimate determining threat.
Bruce Thornton: Yes, I think Daniel hit the nail on the head and an ancillary question to this is, where does that morale come from in the first place, that we are absolutely losing, and however we see that as morale, or as we see it as just intellectual laziness, or whatever. And I think the real issue that we seldom talk about enough is secularization. And since the early 19th century, Western civilization has been secularizing at an increasingly accelerating pace. Now we all know about the situation in Europe. Most of the great cathedrals in Europe will always have more tourists, just about, than they'll have people of faith. And when they do, we see that they are not of our generation, but of a previous generation, and there's very few young people. So that tells us that those few that still exist, in another generation, another two generations aren't going to exist. Now we're used to hearing that America's a really religious country. And I've always wondered in the last few years, do you watch cable television? Would a religious country have -- you can see what kids can see on television, on the internet.
Church attendance is not religiosity. People go to church, attend church for a whole lot of reasons, but that deep abiding faith that those before us had, and not that long ago, the generation we like to call the Greatest Generation – most of them were observant, religiously. And those few remnants, by the way are now in our volunteer military, and that's one of the last redoubts of this. So why is that important? That's important because, I'll leave aside the fact that God exists, so that makes it important, but just looking at it from a different perspective, any community, any culture, any society has to have a bonding agent. There has to be something that creates solidarity among citizens. There's got to be something that they think is worth dying for, and worth killing for, and even again, like the World War II generation, killing people you wouldn't otherwise want to kill, but you have to, and facing that tragic choice, what Abraham Lincoln called the "awful arithmetic." For him, it was knowing that the North could lose two soldiers for every soldier the South lost, and still win. And that's a terrible burden, but you have to have faith in order to give you the strength to do that. Once faith begins to leach away from a culture, and you can see this, really early on in the 19th century, particularly in Europe, particularly in England, then everything becomes negotiable. Nothing's worth killing and dying for. Everything is negotiable. People stop having children. The average in the EU now is around 1.5 or less. We can't get too cocky, because we're down to 1.8, which is a historical low for modern times. You begin to live for pleasure. You begin to think about the self, and about comfort, and we become a trivial people.
And becoming trivial is one of the sort of early warning signs of decline, and I think Petronius, the great Roman writer, 1st century A.D., wrote a novel called The Satyricon, in which all of the vulgarity of Ancient Rome was laid out, and he could see that as a symptom of political, in the Roman's case, political decline under the Empire. I think we're in the same situation now. And this is – and I'd like to upbeat, but I'm not – and this is what we're seeing around us today. And let me finish. We all know what the big issues are we should be talking about in this country. We know that we have a huge debt deficit and exploding entitlement problem that are going to hit this country in as few as 20 years, and it's going to be a huge disruption. We know, as you just heard from the previous speaker, our military is in terrible shape. We are still the premier world power, but we are reducing our capabilities, and we are deciding, collectively – some of us are exceptions, obviously – that we'd rather have more butter than more guns, and that's where the money's going. And we know that our foreign policy is in shambles right now in the Middle East. And obviously this is the fault of the previous two administrations. George W. Bush, I liked in a lot of ways, well, until he said he voted for Hilary – no, that was his dad, huh? Yeah. We have created a Middle East in which the dominant players are who? Iran and Russia and soon to be still in power, Syria. So we're facing domestic threats. We're facing foreign policy threats, and what are we talking about? Al Franken pulling a prank. Donald Trump, on a private conversation that was really not about sexual assault – it was about the privileges of celebrity, wasn't it? Which we then had Harvey Weinstein come along and prove. Right? So we're talking really about trivial things here, and this is another symptom of decay.
When we, collectively, start finding more important such trivial phenomena, I mean, my God, there are how many genders now? I can't keep up with them. Well, you and I know – I'm going to finish, but first, this is a little obsession I have. It's not gender, it's sex. All right? In the Oxford English Dictionary, appearance of sex is male, female, period. The reason why -- and I was watching this in graduate school, and it came from feminism. No, no, no – it's gender. Why? Because you can have 20 genders in a language. And some languages do. They have five genders, they have twenty genders. Anything can be a gender. We make it up. That's why they picked that. The implication was, we can make it up. This is what we're talking about? The world's greatest power ever? The whole foundation of global order, global trade, global prosperity, and we're talking about how many genders there are? This is the sign of an un-serious people, and un-serious people don't stay great powers for long. And that's what I think we're facing.
Alan Mendoza: Well, I think it has been a very-interesting discussion so far. Here we are gathered to talk about external threat, but two colleagues to my left have started on internal ones. Now, they're linked, and I think it's interesting that we started along the line of looking at ourselves, and maybe this is the time we will broach out into talking about the external threats. But I'm going to be a bit-more positive because I think our societies are not finished just yet. We've had an example recently in Britain, we have this little thing called the Brexit referendum, where we asked our countrymen and women what they wanted to do in relation to their future. Rather surprisingly to some, to the leaderships of the country in particular, they decided to take control – take back control as they said – and make a decision for themselves that was a massive difference in terms of where our country will be in 2, 3, 10, 20, 50 years' time.
Actually, in a sentence, I look at that and say we can trust the people and we can get the results if we ask the people what it is that they would like the countries to become and where we can manage that process. Now I take your point, Bruce, that we have become a less-religious set of societies, and particularly in Europe that's true. Though in a sense that's the fault of religion for not making itself accessible to people. If you look at, for example, the religion that is working in America, the evangelical Christianity, which has proven that it stands for something and something that can embrace people, and people as a result are flocking to it. The old line mainline Protestantism has declined because it doesn't seem to address what people actually want in today's society. Now, there are certain, of course, immutable truths in religion. We understand that, but I think it's also about religion moving with the times and making itself accessible to the people so the people respond and actually become adherent once again, and that's the only way you're going to address that challenge.
Now, if we look at it as well, we have this issue which I'll put on the table of political leadership. There's been a lot of discussion here already about value of political leadership, about President Trump, for example, about what we're seeing in other places. You know, I think it does matter who our leaders are. I think who our leaders are makes a difference in terms of what we can achieve as countries, and I'll give you two examples from the not-so-recent past. If you look at the difference that Margaret Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan made at the end of the 1970s, beginning in the 1980s, we could have had this meeting in 1978, and we'd have spoken about the decline in American power. America being humiliated around the world, the Arab oil price shock, what was about to happen in the Iranian revolution, the spread of worldwide communism.
In Britain we were called the sick man of Europe. We had rubbish not being taken off the streets, the IMF were called in to come and actually deal with things. People thought, in both countries, we couldn't recover, and two individuals came forward and said not only can we recover but we will recover, we'll do it by force of will. We'll remind ourselves of how great our societies are and what progress we can do and what we can make. So I see parallels then to conversations we're having now. Yes, the world's a different place, but internally it's about finding the resolve in terms of political leadership, whether that is in making America great again, whether that's in taking back control in Britain and many other similar examples. I'll throw an unusual one out to you, and I'd welcome some ideas on this.
Look at President Macron in France. Now, he's a curiosity because he takes bits and pieces from all kinds of political ideology and beyond, and I wouldn't necessarily agree with some of what he says. But he's got one thing right. He understands that you need to create a notion of sacrificing politics and the political heroism. Now, obviously he sees himself as the hero. He's the sort of hero in the Napoleonic world in this, but if you read a great interview he did a few weeks ago, about a month ago, look it up, because he says in there the great failure of our societies in the West is that we have deconstructed the grand narrative. We have gone around saying there is no grand narrative, there is no big story about our societies and about our civilizations, and once you start doing that, you open the doors for everything the gentlemen to my left have already said, in terms of questioning ourselves. We need to recover that grand narrative.
We need to look at the story of what we have brought to the world in terms of liberal democracy, in terms of values, in terms of freedom, in terms of helping to shape the world as it is today, and move it forward into the next generation as well. And of course there are challenges. Very quickly look internationally for a second. I'm sure Gordon will move into this as well. The general in the previous panel listed them quite clearly. He divided them into short-term, medium-term and long-term threats abroad, and obviously you have, at the short-term, North Korea with its nuclear capabilities. You have in the medium-term Russia, which continues to throw its weight around and is not an ally of ours. It seeks to expand its own dominance in its region and beyond, and finally, of course, you have what's coming down the road in the form of China.
An ally to that is of course the notion that we have that threat in terms of terrorism and beyond. We haven't even looked at the possibilities, for example, of the radicals taking control of a country like Pakistan with nuclear capabilities. What would that mean for us in societies in that way? And linked to radical Islam is what Iran is doing as well. I'm sure we'll get into all these topics, but there is no shortage of external threats for us to deal with, but we have to have the competence and the leadership in our societies in order to make the difference and to ensure that we can meet them.
Gordon Chang: As we all look around the world, I think we share the perception that the world is far more dangerous than it's been in a long time. It's certainly far-more dangerous than it was after the end of the Cold War, and in many ways it is more threatening than the Cold War itself. As we look at this, there are the threats that people have said; Iran, ISIS, Al Qaeda, North Korea, Russia, but when you look at those various bad actors, they're given strength by one of them, and that I think is the People's Republic of China. Just to sort of narrow the discussion a bit, North Korea's been in the news so let's talk about this relationship between China and North Korea, because I think the American public and publics around the world misunderstand the relationship.
Many people say, "Oh, you know, the Chinese are trying to help us disarm the North Koreans, and that would be good." The Chinese have every reason to do so, but unfortunately, there's a lot of evidence, disturbing evidence, that the Chinese are in fact arming the North Koreans. We see this with, for instance, the continual supply of components, equipment, materials from China to North Korea for their nuclear weapons program, including uranium hexafluoride, which is a fissile material. In the ballistic missile program, all of those North Korean missiles are extremely dangerous not because they have long range but because they're mobile, and they're mobile because the Chinese have given them the mobile launchers. So, for instance, in April 2015, we saw for the first time a three-stage missile, the KN-08, but what was fascinating was that it was riding through Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, on a Chinese launcher. The Obama administration, according to the New York Times, asked the Chinese how come you sold these vehicles to North Korea, and the Chinese said, "Oh no, we didn't sell, we just sold the chassis," and the North Koreans told us they wanted the chassis only for logging vehicles. Well, that explanation doesn't make sense on many levels, but one of them is that the chassis that the Chinese sold are actually wider than the roads leading to North Korea's logging areas.
If you talk to people in the U.S. intelligence community, they will privately say that the story is much worse than the New York Times reported, that the Obama administration went to the Chinese before they sold the chassis to the North Koreans and asked them to not do it. Then Beijing said – well, you know what they said – they sold them anyway and we did nothing about it. So there's this whole question about failure of leadership, and that's a tangible example of it but the point is, that the Chinese are arming the North Koreans, to make them a real threat to the United States and we're not recognizing that possibility.
It's not just that China is arming the North Koreans. You have, through North Korea and directly, China supporting the Iranian nuclear weapons program. The Iranians pay the North Koreans somewhere between 2 and $3 billion a year according to the most-recent estimates, for their various forms of cooperation such as ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons technology, all the rest of it. When we see pictures of gassed Syrian children, we should be thinking that that's North Korean chemical weapons that have been sold to Syria, probably paid for by Iran because Bashar Al Assad does not have the money for all of this. So we have the People's Republic of China actually enabling bad actors around the world, and until we deal with this issue, until we sort of get across from this notion that we need to integrate China into the international system, until we start to really look at Beijing in a more-realistic light, we're not going to get there.
Just to close up, for 4 decades we've had American presidents, as one of their highest priorities, was to integrate Beijing into the international system. The one thing about President Trump is, he says no, no, that's not on my list. What's on my list is protecting the American people from the North Korean threat because within 9 months, maybe a year, the North Koreans will be able to put a nuke on top of a missile that will be able to reach the American homeland, and President Trump says this is unacceptable. This is something we need to support our President on because this is something that threatens all of us across the political spectrum, across whatever else we may believe, and fortunately we've got a President who has identified that as his goal. He may not succeed, but at least we now have a President who is trying.
Mark Tapson: Well along those lines, I think I know what the answer to this one will be, but for 8 years, Barack Obama's approach to establishing world peace was to alienate our allies and embolden our enemies and diminish our role in the world. Donald Trump obviously has a much-bolder, more-aggressive, even taunting style that critics would say is dangerous in its own way. For example, is he pushing North Korea too far with this rhetoric? Do you think Trump's style is reasserting American power or is it in a way putting it at risk?
Gordon Chang: Yeah, I think that there's this whole issue about the insults and the threats. I do believe that it's important to delegitimize totalitarian leaders. Ronald Reagan did that and Trump is doing that with Kim Jong-un, but the most-important thing that Trump is doing is, his September 21 executive order, which is a giant step forward, which basically tells the world, if you do business with North Korea, you're not doing business with the United States, and we needed to hear that. Fortunately, we have that declaration, that is our policy. The issue is going to be whether he has the political will to enforce it, and unfortunately there are many in this country and many in his administration who have this notion that we should go easy on those who have been supporting the North Koreans. So, for instance, there's this fellow, he was this secretary of state and the national security advisor to Nixon. I sometimes forget his name but I think it starts with a K. What we need to do is, we need to let Trump be Trump. If we do that, we probably will solve this.
Daniel Greenfield: So what is it about Trump's foreign policy style, insulting the North Koreans, that so infuriates people? What Trump is doing gets right at the heart of what's been wrong with our foreign policy all along. What have previous Presidents, Republicans and Democrats, been really striving for? They've been striving for stability. The whole objective, especially after the Cold War, has been about maintaining stability. We've basically been acting as the United Nations. We want everybody to basically get along. When somebody steps out of line, we go to the UN, we ask them to stop, we ask them to stop destabilizing the situation. That also means that we, for example, turn to allies like Israel, and we pressure them to make deals. We appease terrorists, we appease enemies because we want stability.
But President Trump's goal isn't stability. It's American greatness, and that's a very fundamental difference and frankly, it's what the foreign policy of every American administration, Democrat or Republican, should have been. Countries are supposed to look out for their own interests, for their own power, for their own greatness, and this doesn't have to be in a mean way, it doesn't have to be in a bad way, but that should be the ultimate goal.
Frankly, even with this administration, there are people in foreign policy who are still pursuing the old stability game. So keep things stable. If China acts out, if Iran acts out, we're going to try to negotiate with them, we're going to pursue every option. We're going to occasionally make some threats, but the threats are going to be unreal. Why? Is it because we're cowards? It's not so much because we're cowards, because we're afraid of rocking the boat, because our whole agenda is stability, and President Trump is actually willing to throw stability out the door. He's willing to say I don't care about stability, I don't care about anything except America, and that is very threatening. It's very threatening to North Korea obviously, but it's also very threatening to the American foreign policy establishment.
So all this talk about how Trump is going to bring on a nuclear war, this is nonsense. Is North Korea going to be more likely to destroy itself and fire off nukes because Trump insults their leader? No, he's not actually a madman. He's a very calculating guy who enjoys the power and privilege that he has, as every other dictator. The reality is, that when Trump actually sends the message that I am capable of anything, anything could happen, that scares them quite badly. It actually gives them a reason to be afraid of us and not to step out of line.
When we pursue stability, then nobody's intimidated by us, nobody's impressed by us. The Europeans like us, but the moment we actually pursue our interests, the moment we actually step out of line, then the Europeans get very frightened and they want their League of Nations back, they want the United Nations back. President Trump is making American foreign policy great again and frankly, the more he insults the bad guys, the better it is.
Bruce Thornton: Yeah, and let me just add and widen the scope a little bit. What Daniel's talking about has been foreign policy orthodoxy for going on over 100 years. Our State Department is utterly and completely enslaved to this received wisdom, despite the fact that I mentioned the League of Nations, the uselessness of the League of Nations in the '20s and '30s should have been the definitive lesson. But what do we do? After World War II we build the United Nations, which has done exactly the same thing. This is an assumption, we can call it idealistic internationalism, that everybody really wants to get along and everybody wants to be like us and have our same TV shows and healthcare and all of that and not take religion too seriously.
With the collapse of the Cold War, then everybody thought, you remember, the end of history, it's done, see, they all want to be like us. Of course, they've forgotten about a little something called Islam, one of the world's greatest -- 14 centuries' worth of occupation, invasion, enslaving, etc., and they were just all going to throw their Korans away and start watching MTV? We knew that wasn't going to happen. Anybody who knew anything about history knew that wasn't going to happen, and I agree with Daniel. I think what Trump is doing is actually what's been called Jacksonianism.
Jacksonianism says, as John Quincy Adams said, we do not go in search of monsters to destroy. Jackson said we don't do that, but if you F with us, then we are going to unleash the full force of our resources and put our boot on your neck until your face turns purple and you decide you want to say Uncle Sam.
So I think that Donald Trump, you know, it's always an endless question, is he acting out of instinct, is he acting out of a plan? I don't know, I don't care, all right? He has sent a message that the old protocols, the old State Department diplomatic niceties and the whole diplo-speak that we hear every time there's a meeting abroad and there's a photo-op and everybody says all of these polite things. He's just blasted through that and actually is getting closer to our rivals in how they think than obviously Barack Obama, who bought into this sort of internationalism hook, line and sinker. So I agree, I think he's very effective. Is it a little bit more risky? Of course, but avoiding risk means that you get the world that Obama left us, so nothing we do in the world with all of these other powers is going to be risk free.
Alan Mendoza: You see, I think we're actually looking at this the wrong way. I don't think that President Trump is about creating instability. I think, if you look at what the Obama administration did, it was the Obama administration that created instability. It did, and I'll tell you why. It created instability because it refused to enforce the existing international system and the existing process when it came to redline threats. So when you have Russian expansionism, Obama fell over and said, "Okay, off you go, do what you want, we won't do anything with you in that kind of respect." What's the lesson you draw from that? We'll expand more. When President Assad of Syria launched his chemical weapons attack and Obama said there'd be a red line, and then he didn't enforce that red line, what's the message you take from that? It's simply do it again, do it more, promoting instability.
The biggest one which we're going to see is Iran. You have Iran, a regime, on its knees economically, begging to be brought out of economic misery. We could have asked them for anything at that point in time. What did President Obama ask them? He said, just suspend your nuclear program for 10 years. We'll give you tons of money, you can use it how you want, build up your military, and what has Iran done since then? It has expanded instability in the Middle East, taking over Iraq, taking over Syria and forcing its will in Lebanon as well.
So I look at President Trump slightly differently. I don't think he's a force for instability. I think he wants to restore international stability and restore the redline principle, as he's already done in terms of Afghanistan, as he's done in Syria, and he has done, as we heard just earlier, in the South China Seas. His message is, keep the peace. Keep the peace because if you don't keep the peace and it threatens us, we will respond. And you can be sure you respond because as has been pointed out, I'm going to adopt what's called Nixon's madman theory. I'm going to go forth and I'm going to make pronouncements that are so unusual that you're not going to know what I'm going to do if you dare cross the line. And in a sense it worked for Nixon. It brought the Vietnamese war to an end because of how he persuaded them he was going to act in that way, and I do believe that it's yielding responses already.
Now, I think in some cases, it can be entertaining, shall we say, to see the to and fro between, for example, Kim and President Trump on Twitter or in other places there. But I think if you were the North Korean dictator, you would think twice about your next move. You wouldn't think President Obama's in, I can push him around as I've seen time and time again. I'll go, I quite like my position where I am, and by the way, I think we should be moving at removing him. I don't believe it's safe to have someone developing nuclear capacities there. We should be looking at a way of doing that, but I think I'd think twice, very much so, before I would do something that threatens to bring the wrath of the United States down upon me. So I again think it's a force for stability, not instability, and we should welcome a return to a time when red lines are enforced internationally.
Mark Tapson: I'm going to get to some audience questions in just a moment, but let me ask one last question of you all, because as Alan pointed out, the panel seems to have gone from threat levels abroad to the deeper threat of our own cultural decadence. How do we elevate ourselves out of that state of decadence? How do we reconstruct the grand narrative, which you mentioned a moment ago, of Western civilization, or is it possible? I mean, once you're in decline, are you doomed to stay in decline or can we turn this around and reconstruct that grand narrative?
Daniel Greenfield: Well, to begin, we actually have to ask what is decline in the first place. What have we declined from? And looking back at our history, it isn't hard to see. Bruce has talked about that quite ably, and we all know this. Whatever our age is, we can look back at a time and see a different America, a different West, a different culture. When we look back at history, we can see stronger, more-confident and better societies so the answer has always been obvious. We have these values, we did have these values, we decided to toss aside these values for something that seemed better, for something that seemed smoother, more progressive that would lead to a better world. There's a good deal of overlap with our foreign policy. We believed that we could abandon nations and nationalism and nationhood for something better, for something grander, for something global.
You know Obama's slogan, "forward"? Where are we going forward to? Where have we gone forward to? As we heard earlier today, most Americans think that America is headed the wrong way, and you see this universally across the West. People lack confidence in their current societies. They lack confidence in their current leaders, so what's the answer? According to the left, the answer is just to keep going forward. More identity politics, more secularism, more deconstruction. We have to deconstruct absolutely everything until we fully properly deconstruct absolutely everything. When we have 4 billion genders and when we are not sure who we are anymore and when the family's been completely torn apart, then we're going to be at utopia.
You know, in the Soviet Union, that wasn't actually a communist society. They were on the road to communism. One day, the Soviets told their citizens we will be living under communism, and they never actually got there. They just got poorer and more miserable and more oppressed because their communist utopia never arrived. All the things that their leaders said they had to do to actually make it to communism, to make it to the red promised land, just made things worse. You can see that today, right now, in Venezuela. You can actually go to Cuba and see that. The only thing that these societies do is create more misery.
The only thing that the left does is create more misery, so we can actually look at where the left has led us. Has the left led us to greater racial tolerance? Has it led us to greater harmony? Has it led us to greater happiness between the sexes, between races, between any groups of people? Is anybody actually happier under the rule of the left? Is anybody happier?
The left has not brought us to a better way of living, and once we can actually concede that, then we can actually look at the way back. We can look back to a time when America was greater, when America was stronger, when people were happier together, when children and parents, when wives and husbands, when families were closer together. We can look back at a time when we were better as a nation, as a civilization, as a people and as individuals. In a way, that's what Trump's campaign has harkened back to. What does make "make America great again" really mean? It means there was a time when we were great and we are not great now. What has made us not so great? The left has made us not so great. The left's ideas, the left's deconstruction of our society has made us less than great. It's made us less than great at home, it's made us less than great abroad, and that is why other powers, other civilizations, other cultures think that they can take advantage of us. It's why North Korea of all people think that he can actually push us around. That's why Islamic terrorists are advancing on us. That's why they predict that we're going to be destroyed and overthrown, that we're a decadent civilization, because we have abandoned the things that make us strong. And now I'll turn it over to Bruce, who I think will talk quite ably about what it is that makes us strong.
Bruce Thornton: Again, I'm just a pessimist, and I've fought against it, believe me, but I can't. Maybe it's because I've spent 4 decades in the university, which will really make you jaded. Daniel said leftism hasn't offended anybody except university professors. They've done quite well out of leftism, at the expense of everybody else. Our problems I think run so deep in the culture, I'm not sure there's a program that we could all undertake to roll back the changes that have happened. I think it's so deep that we're in the third generation since this began to happen, in the late '50s and in the '60s it accelerated. We've had three generations of students going through the system from kindergarten to university in which they are saturated in all of the things that we're decrying now.
The Romans had a saying, experience is the teacher of fools. Sometimes it takes a really, really bad experience in order for people to right themselves, to get their minds right and to cast off the childish things that they think they can afford. I remember when Victor and I, after 9/11, said, "Well this changes everything." How long did it last? How long did that big burst of patriotism, people putting flags on their houses, all of that last? Maybe a year. Soon as the Iraq war started and we saw the left, the Democrats, go back to their old ways.
It didn't wake us up. You would have thought that was the wake-up call. It didn't, and it's troubling to think that it's going to have to be something worse than that to finally wake people up. One thing I can see in history pretty consistently, most civilizations that face this crisis either disappear or they have to undergo a very-severe dislocation that's very painful before they then get back on the right track. Now, I am not advocating quietism or defeatism or just saying, "Okay, might as well go down having fun." Each one of us in our own way, and Daniel I think touched on this when he talked about family and faith and relationships with our children and our engagement in our community such as the Freedom Center, that even though we might feel like we're not going to see the transformation, we still work for it. I think that's what all you do and what we're trying to do here, and that's something but in terms of saying give me a research paper that lays it all out, how it's going to happen, I don't think that's possible.
Alan Mendoza: Well I'm going to be good news again. They're bad news, I'm good news. You know what ladies and gentlemen, in the last 100 years, we've faced down greater threats than the ones we have today. It is true the world is incredibly complicated today. It is indeed far more complicated than probably at any other time in human history. However, was it as dangerous as 1939, 1941, when the entire world was about to be engulfed between the forces of Nazism and Japanese imperialism? Is it really that bad? Of course it isn't.
At that moment in time, the very struggle for the future of the world was taking place, and after a lot of fighting in both our societies, we got to the position where we did come together, Britain and the USA and of course other allies, to roll that back. It wasn't easy. It didn't **** in Britain because of a policy appeasement in here because of isolationism, that we were going to do it, but we got there in the end. And after that, what did we then face? A second imperial threat, the threat of the Soviet Union, a nuclear proliferation that could have happened at any time in that period. And what did we do? Together again we faced it down despite people saying let's deal with them, let's normalize them, let's bring them into society and do that. In the end we didn't and we faced them down and we won again.
The threats we face can be faced down, but it requires leadership. It requires political leadership to unlock the potential of the people. The people have the potential, they've shown it before, they've shown it again. Even recently they show it in the way they vote and the way they express themselves. We've got to be more trusting of the people in that regard and not believe that we're finished, but of course work towards a better future, but harnessing that with the right leadership to take it forward.
Gordon Chang: Mark, you asked a great question about what we can do and yes, the issue is leadership, and I do share a lot of Alan's optimism. There're many things that we can do, and what we've seen in the past is, if we have been able to be successful in one endeavor abroad, then success follows it. Nothing succeeds like success, and in this case, it really means defanging one of our adversaries. We defang one of them, the rest of them will shrink back, and the issue is, where do we start? You can start with the Iranians of the world or the North Koreas, or you can actually take on Russia or China because, as big as they are, as fearsome as they look, they're not really as strong as they appear.
So, for instance, if you take what everyone believes to be the strongest of them, which is People's Republic of China, it is a country in trouble. It's producing growth widget claims at 6.8 percent in its most-recent calendar quarter. Probably a lot less than that because those numbers don't make sense, but also because we know that they're increasing their debt at an enormous pace, unprecedented in world history, as we saw in 2016. China's a country heading to a systemic debt crisis and it is not a country that can take us on, except for the issue of leadership, because they don't view us as strong for the reasons that we've just heard.
But we shouldn't be afraid to take them on. So, for instance, people say, "Oh, we'll start a trade war." Well, it's impossible for President Trump to start a trade war for the reasons that Steve Bannon says. That is, we're already in a trade war, and in this trade war last year, we suffered a $309.3 billion goods-and-services trade deficit. In that sense, that's a source of strength for us because in trade wars and trade frictions, trade deficit countries don't worry about it. We know that because we were the trade surplus country in the Great Depression and no country got hurt more than we did, so we have the tools to push China around. Also, our economy last year was $18.57 trillion of gross domestic product. China, although it exaggerated its numbers, by their own account produced only $11.39 trillion and as I mentioned, it's probably smaller than that, and it's certainly an economy that is not stable, and we can push them around because we've got a much bigger economy.
But also because we have an economy that's actually starting to do very well. It's on the upswing, as we heard. The last two calendar quarters were 3.1 and 3.0 percent GDP growth. With a little bit of tax reform and with a little-bit-less regulation, we're going to be growing at a 4 and perhaps 5 percent rate, and that's legitimate numbers versus China's fake numbers of 6.7, 6.8. But also, ultimately when we look at China, we can push them around because we don't have an economy that is geared to selling things to the Chinese, but the Chinese have an economy geared to selling things to us.
So we have all the tools, and we've just got to think back in the 1970s when you had Nixon and Kissinger and everybody else saying that we had to have detente because the Soviet Union was so strong. And of course you had Reagan come along and say, "No, the Soviet Union is not a given," and the narrative and the situation today are basically the same, where it is an issue of being able to do something if you have the political will to do it. We do have a President, whether you agree with him or not on any particular issue, who does have political will. So this is important for us, that we can actually solve this. This is something that we can do ourselves because we're facing adversaries that are not as strong as we are, and I think that Alan is absolutely right. We have met challenges in the past. You know, we Americans have done great things, and now we face a troubled world and history calls us, but we can do this again and I'm sure that we will.
Mark Tapson: I'm not sure we actually have any more time left. Are we out of time? Okay, thank you Gordon Chang, Alan Mendoza, Bruce Thornton and Daniel Greenfield.