Human society has always seemed to mirror the biology of natural selection and the survival of the fittest. For Millennia, humanity’s city-states, nations, and empires have ceaselessly invaded, pillaged, and destroyed each other for resources or just because a tyrant wanted to have slightly more land. Yet throughout history, most civilizational conflicts have followed a predictable pattern.
Save for some choice, epic upsets such as Marathon, Agincourt, etc., the result of most civilizational conflicts could ultimately have been determined before they began simply by comparing the belligerents’ economies and production capabilities. Empires and nations able to centralize and coordinate power or organize their societies the best were typically able to collect the most taxes or public funding, which could then be used to fund aggressive military power. Military power throughout history has tended to correlate directly with increased war making capability.
As such war is an ultimate broken-windows moral fallacy. Just like economy is wasted when a window installer goes around breaking windows to sell new ones, economy is wasted on war blowing up many proverbial windows.
The American Civil War was a fine example: the Union undeniably had more factories, railroads, soldiers, and money than the Confederacy from the first shots at Fort Sumter until Grant exhausted the Confederate army and Sherman razed its economy. Another example was WWII: Japan was obviously never going to hold off the superior industrial and military might of the US. And another example was the Cold War: the Soviet Union was never going to match the US economy or military spending, and it collapsed trying.
The Cold War was the last great ideological struggle, and, ironically, the fall of the Soviet Union prompted political scientist Francis Fukuyama to famously propose that humanity was at the “end of history,” meaning that Western liberal democracy had proven victorious in the battle of ideologies. With the dissolution of the USSR and establishment of the US as the lone hyper-power, the 21st Century promised an ascending, united globalism made in the image of the United States.
However, a quarter of a century later, the fault lines of international instability are quaking again, and Donald Trump’s coming Presidential Administration is poised to throw the world back into the chaos of history with reckless machismo and the pursuit of power merely for power’s sake. Trump doesn’t mind America giving up authority around the world to Russia, at the expense of obvious American national interest and security. The Pax Americana of liberal democracy is ending with Trump’s inauguration, and the United States is suffering constitutional, as well as existential, crisis as Trump is unable to shake off allegations that his budding administration has been compromised by indirect Russian collaboration, direct conflicts of financial interests, or both.
Donald Trump’s press conference yesterday was an awful reminder that he is emotionally unfit and arguably intellectually ineligible to have the authority and weight of the Presidency of the United States. There is hope that maybe our disparate political parties might band together in realization that Trump should not be president, perhaps with a Congressional maneuver to oust Trump with impeachment trials over his obvious financial conflicts of interest as well as the salacious Dossier Scandal continuing to unfold at terrible cost to the legitimacy and apparent patriotism of his presidency.
Trump has denied the veracity of the dossier vehemently, but the nature of the allegations make it impossible for Trump to definitively prove his innocence, and his newly invigorated war against journalism with defamations of “fake news” is a troubling reminder that the parallels between Trump and other dictators of history are not ceasing, including his ends-justify-the-means sense of morality and business success; his sociopathic aversion to truth-telling and accuracy in his rambling speeches of 5th grade syntax and synonym mastery—Great! Amazing! Best! Sad; and his compulsive obsession with overpowering and silencing critics and political opponents to the great detriment of America’s institutional integrity and public professionalism.
Donald Trump is an historic democratic calamity, and his views on the First Amendment, presidential conflicts of interest, NATO, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia suggest his presidency is a rejection of the idea that America ought to pursue domestic and international stability.
While most inter-state warring, as well as the threat of another world war, are still insured against with the presence of proliferated nuclear weapons and America’s wide security umbrella, third world civil wars have risen dramatically. Terrorist groups are fruitfully funded and active throughout the world. The Arab Spring has cracked the dictatorial foundations of last century’s post-WWII power structures in the Middle East and inspired forceful rebellion against foreign intervention as well as sectarian compromise. An increasing number of countries are run by dictators, and new countries are flirting with fascism. Populations in the Philippines, Russia, and even our United States are succumbing to delusions that bigoted populism incited by opportunistic iconoclasts will help alleviate the pressures and growing pains of the globalized and digitized 21st Century.
Meanwhile, the overwhelmingly negative effects of climate change are beginning to exacerbate existing problems, and create new ones. Resources, particularly food and water, are beginning to become scarce, and will only grow more scarce as arable land and fresh water sources dry out. For Trump’s tough guy attitude on immigration, populational migration will be speeding up, not slowing down. There are epic and existential challenges ahead for humanity, and now is not the time for America to alienate NATO, the EU, the UN, or to divide domestic populations by race and religion. The pessimist in me recognizes that Trump’s personality offers no suggestion that he is psychologically capable of leading or even encouraging international deescalation.
In contrast, the Obama Administration’s leadership for the last eight years has focused not on coercion through force, which appears to be all that President-Elect Trump thinks about both politically and personally, but soft power, or the ability to shape others’ preferences with appeal, attraction, and persuasion. And it has been successful in willing the world to be a more stable place on issues ranging from climate change, to Iranian nuclear ambitions, to ending going-nowhere American occupations of faraway foreign nations. History has many lessons waiting for Trump’s bellicose machismo and his pathological fear of being perceived as a failure, and the cyclical echoes of civilizations are warning us that humanity is about to be thrown head first into the march of history once again. Don’t go, Obama.
When I think about Trump’s inauguration, I worry because I recognize the unmistakable cycle of history and its great empires’ tendency to self-destruct. Vain leaders for millennia have obtained power and competed without sympathy for collateral damage in order to tyrannically exploit any and every geo-political advantage for the pursuit of power for power’s sake. Great nations have yielded to imperial corruptions and inevitably overextended their capacity to physically defend their oppressive selfishness until they have collapsed into smaller nation-fragments competing in the aftermath’s power vacuum. The United States is not immune to the inevitability of imperial decline, but it sure seems as if Trump is a rollercoaster kind of tyrant.
When future historians analyze this contemporary era of relative Pax Americana, Trump’s coming inauguration very well may be the end of it.