Enough is enough.  Or is it?  I live 13 hours ahead of Washington, D.C., so when I wake up in the morning I am hit with the full force of the day’s news versus the usual sporadic updating of headlines I would normally be subject to if I was still living in the U.S.  Reading about the absurdity that is American politics in such a concentrated form means my morning coffee is usually punctuated with quite a bit of head shaking, the occasional expletive, and calls and texts back home filled with words like “ridiculous”, “crazy”, “nightmare”, “horrible”, and “insane”.  I often feel like I have run out superlatives to describe what’s going on and we’re only a month into what is supposed to be four years of a Trump presidency.

Just when I am about to write about how the latest tweet or actual utterance is going to ruin the republic, something else happens that’s even worse than what preceded it.  The upside to not writing about what’s been going in real-time is that I have had a month to let things sink in for a bit of perspective, though I am not sure what good perspective is when facts are lies and lies are facts and when we have double-speak coming from within the same administration, whether it’s about our commitment to Europe or relations with Russia.  What’s missing from all this activity are actual policies, which to some may be a good thing, but it also means Trump can perpetuate the lies he needs to solidify support from his base.

I think it’s important to meet with and record interviews with his supporters to understand why they stand behind this man.  The Washington Post, part of the cabal of fake news, had an article with quotes rom Trump supporters.  Forget about the actual article and it’s macro point about a real divide in the country and focus on the words of his supporters.  They believe Trump and his attacks on the media and feel as if he is not getting a fair shake at things.  Trump’s PR plan is masterful in that his supporters believe him hook, line, and sinker.  When he says he saved thousands of jobs with the signing of an executive order or that Sweden suffered a terrorist attack, his supporters only look at the his tweets or the headlines that support his point of view and make up their minds.  This blind following begs the question – when do they lose faith?

That question is one that vexes me to no end.  What will break this almost spell-like enchantment with Trump?  Will it be when Republicans actually do something to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and people realize that when they next go to the doctor, they have no insurance?  Will it be when people who thought Trump was bringing back their jobs are still unemployed two years later?  Will it be when he gets us embroiled in another global conflict and American troops are being sent into battle?  Will it be when he launches a trade war and inflation skyrockets as the cost of imports soars?  I worry that given where we are as a country, none of these things will matter because Trump has these people hooked on the twin beliefs that all news that runs counter to his narrative is fake and any problems that arise will be deemed to have been handed to him by his predecessor, even a year or two on from when Obama was last in office.  Perhaps the better question is this one – what happens if his supporters, in spite of bad things continuing to happen, do not lose faith in him?

Then the answer depends on what the so far feckless Republicans decide to do about Trump and his lies.  I won’t even begin to discuss the Democrats because they’re still out in the wilderness trying to figure out the best way to make themselves heard.  It’s the Republicans, the part y of the majority, that have the power and moral imperative to ensure that Trump does not destroy the republic.  Yet, what we’ve seen from Republicans is more of the same that they pulled when Obama was president, except now they are in power and actually have to do something to ensure that our country continues moving forward.  House Republicans led by the increasingly unprincipled Paul Ryan are still talking about Hillary Clinton’s emails when it’s possible we may have a president and his administration colluding with what should be the true enemy, Russia.    Thank goodness for Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham, who while perhaps not aligned with my politics, speak about protecting the same country that am proud to call mine.  But other Republicans have not shown the same respect and concern for our country, blinded more by advancing a specific agenda that would be meaningless if what made America truly great was no longer.  Yet these Republicans are unable to see what could be the unraveling of America as a beacon of freedom, liberty, and democracy.  Rather they continue to operate in an environment that is increasingly looking like a quaint anachronism, where Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal, left and right, were all we had to worry about when governing.  Unfortunately, it’s bigger than that.  It should not matter what side of aisle or political debate we are on.  Rather this is about America and the future of our country, what is stands for at home and abroad, as well ensuring we have something we’re proud off to hand off to future generations.

Today we face a president and his inner circle of truth-bending loyalists who boast of non-existent policy achievements and disavow themselves of any mistakes or errors in the first month of this administration.  Yet we have others hanging out in the other branches of government, namely Congress, willing to look away while he chips away at the foundations of our country in the hopes that they can get some policy concessions out of him.  Such behavior is not only short-sighted, but increasingly so partisan as to be nearly non-American.

 

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Much has made of Trump’s shake-up of foreign policy norms even before he’s officially taken office, whether it’s connecting with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, having his daughter sit in on meetings with both Japanese PM Abe and Turkish President Edrogran, or launching misspelled Twitter rants in China’s direction.  I’ll be the first to admit that after Trump’s call with Tsai, I was somewhat elated that someone had recognized how impressive Taiwan’s efforts had been to create an open and democratic society in a little over 20 years.  For someone who has been an amateur Sinologist his entire life, I was also startled that I liked that the two had spoken.  I was startled because I, like many in the foreign policy establishment, had taken the official “One China” policy as a given for maintaining regional stability and had never contemplated challenging it in any sort of way for fear of what the consequences may be. Yet, with his phone call, Trump called China’s bluff and the world did not end.  However, I cannot give him credit for being any sort of visionary possessing a coherent world view or adherent to any discernible tenets of foreign policy.  I think it was purely accidental that this phone call started a dialogue about what the “One China” policy means and to what ends both sides will go to maintain a fiction that has served everyone well for nearly 30 years.  One only has to look at Trump’s subsequent actions to see that this seeming stroke of brilliance was not pre-meditated on his part (his staffers may be a different story) and does not reflect a President-elect with a strategy or plan for advancing U.S. interests abroad.  His follow-up tweets and interview on Fox News that he could use Taiwan as a bargaining chip to extract concessions on trade from China demonstrate that he understands nothing about U.S. – China relations and Taiwan’s place in the middle of that power dynamic, but merely took a phone call from someone congratulating him on and inflating his ego for winning the election.

Where does that leave U.S. – China relations when Trump assumes office next month?  If we try to extrapolate the type of foreign policy he and his team are going to conduct once in office, it might be instructive to examine his reaction to China’s seizure of an underwater drone off the coast of the Philippines.  Upon hearing about the incident, he blasted out a tweet calling the act “unpresidented” and once it had been settled that China would return the drone, he then tweeted to “[l]et them keep it!”  While there is seemingly not much to go on here, the worrisome takeaway from all of Trump’s commentary on U.S. – China relations, commentary being a generous word to use to describe his tweeting, is that the man does not have a clue as to what he’s doing and the people surrounding him are encouraging this no-nothing behavior.  At worst, Trump and his team believe unpredictably poking China like a third-grader to provoke a reaction is the best approach to calibrating U.S. – China relations and advancing his “America First” agenda.  This approach completely ignores the nuances of U.S. – China relations and the search for common ground on issues like climate change and North Korea that the Obama administration worked so hard to achieve.  While U.S. – China relations are anything but easy or predictable, it is one of the most important bilateral relationships in the global order and will only continue to become more so as China continues to rise and the U.S. seeks to maintain its influence in the Asia-Pacific.

I have argued here before and perhaps now believe it even more, but the U.S. needs a new grand strategy when it comes to the Asia-Pacific region.  Recent history shows us to be reactionary throughout the region, whether it’s stationing more U.S. troops in Darwin or carrying out more multilateral military exercises to respond to a rising China or slapping even more punishing sanctions on North Korea after their latest missile test.  Rather than reacting, we need to be proactive to create a regional architecture that promotes peace and prosperity in the region for everyone, including China.  Even the TPP, which would have gone a long way towards laying one part of the foundation for such an architecture, was flawed in that it kept China outside.  The U.S. decision to remain outside of the AIIB was another such decision that was more a reaction to China having created the institution rather than actually thinking about what the U.S. could do to shape it as a founding member.  Unfortunately, we now have a President and his attendant team taking power that barely knows the meaning of the word strategy when it comes to foreign affairs, let alone something that requires more forethought and nuance like a grand strategy for the Asia-Pacific region.