Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Since Election Day 2016, one story has dominated our attention––the person and rhetoric of Donald Trump. No amount of achievements by Trump and the Republican Congress at home or abroad can distract the bipartisan NeverTrump chorus from shrieking over tabloid trivia ranging from mysterious nudie selfies, to the president’s fifty-year-old draft deferments.
Expect 2019 to be even more all Trump, all the time. For Democrats, Trump has become their Moby Dick, the hated monster they’ll destroy themselves to kill. For the media, Trump has been a ratings gold-mine. As now disgraced CBS honcho Les Moonves said two years ago, Trump is “damn good for CBS.” This year promises to be no different. The progressive media will likely keep its long-running series, “The Mueller Show,” and the start this year of the 2020 presidential primary season will see “The Primary Follies” improve its ratings with numerous Dem guest-stars for the intergenerational war between the rich, old white establishment, and the “woke” young guns “of color.” And don’t forget the long-running show “Family Feud,” featuring pouting NeverTrump Republicans with their snarky patter and virtue-signaling verbal tics.
All very entertaining, no doubt. But while we gorge on this high-carb junk TV fare, serious issues confront the Republic. We need to make a collective New Year’s resolution to pull the plug, and focus on these looming challenges.
On the foreign policy front, our continued clinging to the old narrative of moralizing internationalism needs to end. The idea that, as Woodrow Wilson expressed this faith in 1917, “National purposes have fallen more and more into the background; and the common purpose of enlightened mankind has taken their place,” began to be exposed as a pipe-dream long before Trump came on the scene. The populist and nationalist revolts across the West have shown that the bulk of ordinary citizens are tired of pampered, patronizing global elites presuming to know what’s best for them, and demanding ever more power in order to effect the improving changes they claim will usher in utopia.
That dream of world governance, moreover, is contrary to the conditions of most peoples’ existence. A critical mass of citizens still finds their identities in the particular traditions, histories, faiths, mores, landscapes, customs, cultures, and languages among which they live. Their revolt is against an imperial cosmopolitanism which demonizes that rich diversity as retrograde and bigoted, a troublesome poltergeist from our benighted past. But there is no “common purpose of enlightened mankind,” for there are no “citizens of the world” or “global community,” apart from the tiny elite of credentialed and privileged managers of the “new world order.” Ordinary people are loath to cede their national identities, freedom, and sovereignty to such haughty, self-selected overseers.
Much of our postwar foreign policy has been predicated on this illusion of the inevitable homogenization of the world’s peoples and beliefs, and the need for nations to cede sovereignty and responsibility for their defense to transnational organizations and their self-interested principles. This Wilsonian dream most recently fueled our failed attempts at “democracy promotion” in the Middle East, which has shipwrecked on the deep-seated religious imperatives, cultures, and traditions that suit the people living there just fine. So too in Europe, where faith and national identities are reasserting themselves against their EU overlords, as we have seen with Brexit, the French Yellow Vest protests, and the growing political success of nationalist and populist parties.
Trump has made a good start at returning our foreign policy to a realist recognition that all nations in the end must make their security and interests their highest priority. He grasps that multinational covenants and agreements exist not because of shared values or principles, but because the rulers of those countries believe such agreements will serve and maximize their interest and security.
Armed with this common sense, he has pulled out of the suicidal Iran nuclear weapons deal and the preposterous and hypocritical Paris Climate Accords, put China on notice that its abuse of trade agreements must end, rewritten NAFTA to make it more equitable, taken the gloves off in the battle to exterminate ISIS, withheld selected funds from the corrupt UN, scolded NATO members for free-riding on American taxpayers, and publicly announced that America will put its citizens’ interests and security above those of the internationalist technocratic cartel.
That’s a good start, but we must resolve to go further. Renegotiate the NATO treaty to punish freeloaders and expel illiberal governments like Turkey’s. Defund the corrupt UN entirely. Stop playing “two countries living side-by-side in peace” charades with the Arab Palestinians, and stop every dime of US aid to terrorist murderers and their inciters. Make it clear to Hezbollah and Iran that an attack on Israel will be met with the full force of America’s military might. Toughen up with deeds the Carter Doctrine in the Persian Gulf that promises American punishment for any nation attempting to interfere with or block shipping, and show we mean it by taking the first opportunity to blast out of the water any Iranian vessel that harasses our or any country’s ships. And finally, return defense spending priorities to research and development of new weapons systems, and replenish our dangerously low levels of matériel like fighter-jets and ships.
Our next resolution should focus on the greatest threat to our way of life: the relentlessly metastasizing debt, deficit, entitlement, and unfunded liabilities crises. The data are grim: more than $21 trillion in national debt; budget-busting deficits back to $1 trillion; 70% of the budget spent on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, and unemployment insurance; and national unfunded liabilities estimated by Boston University Professor Lawrence Kotlikoff at $210 trillion. The ancient tyrants redistributed the wealth of the rich. We also redistribute the wealth of the unborn.
All these numbers are subject to future adjustments from factors like demographic pressure from Baby Boomers, 10,000 of whom retire every day; currently low interest rates costs estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to quadruple over the next 30 years; another recession like that of 2008, which spurred massive increases in borrowing and spending; accelerating demographic decline that will reduce the number of works contributing payroll taxes; and unforeseen events like armed conflict or natural disasters. And don’t forget increasing life expectancy, which means more old people requiring more subsidized health care––by 2050, the number of people living into their 90s and 100s will quadruple, meaning many more years of expensive medical treatment.
This slow-motion catastrophe cannot be fixed by increasing taxes or stimulating economic growth, as Trump has done. Only reforming entitlement programs––raising the retirement age, or means-testing benefits–– can slow down this looming disaster. Currently, entitlement spending and any cost-of-living increases are on auto pilot, letting Congress off the hook for their budgets. Other dodges like continuing resolutions or other “fixes” Congress can roll-back later, likewise help Congressmen to avoid having to legislate annual spending levels, and thus to be held accountable by voters. Reforming the budget process in Congress to make members publicly vote on specific annual budget appropriations for entitlements or increases could at least make them more transparently responsible for this reckless spending.
These are the New Year’s resolutions we the people should make. Unfortunately, even if we committed ourselves to such resolutions, they would probably end up where all such promises do––forgotten as fast as gym-memberships and weight-loss programs. Democracies are notoriously short-sighted, averse to long-term strategic thinking and planning, and citizens are too often focused on their own interests at the expense of those of the whole nation. We dislike long military deployments abroad, preferring a Jacksonian foreign policy that punishes swiftly and brutally affronts to our security and interests, then quickly disengages. And democracies typically prefer butter to guns. When the 2011 Budget Control Act made defense spending bear half the burden of the $1.2 trillion second round of cuts while exempting Social Security, there was little outcry from the voting public.
As for our fiscal crises, we cling tight to our “earned” entitlements like Social Security, even as we decry the benefits redistributed to others. Federal entitlements are managed by big federal bureaucracies, which suffer from the group-think and self-interest of most large-scale organizations guaranteed funding despite performance, are unaccountable to the voters and tax-payers, and are protected by civil-service and union rules, and enjoy Cadillac salaries and benefits that are 12%-34% greater than private sector workers’ compensation, depending on the analyst. They also are dominated by employees who support overwhelmingly the redistributionist Democrats who demonize even the slightest suggestion that entitlement programs should be reformed. But let’s be honest, most Republicans, not all, are not eager to draw down the wrath of AARP’s lobbyists. Nor can we rely on the president. Remember his campaign promises, kept so far, to “leave Social Security and Medicare alone”?
In both our foreign and domestic policies, then, we prefer the Mr. Micawber policy that “something will turn up,” and the Alfred E. Neuman philosophy “What, me worry?” So we might as well kick back and enjoy the all Trump, all the time channel we call the media, and hope that when the crisis comes to a head, we can resolve it with laws rather than with civil violence.