I have long believed that the historic tragedy that resulted in the United States becoming the eight hundred pound gorilla stomping its way around the world, telling other countries what to do and how to do it was neither good for the American people nor, more often than not, for the countries we were confronting or demanding obeisance from. Our historically anomalous world economic dominance, nuclear weapons and confrontation with Stalin following the second world war slid us into a world role that neither American history nor the American culture fitted us to undertake or be comfortable in.
As we moved into the twenty first century, the world economic structure was well on the road to reducing American dominance as the Japanese and Chinese economies grew and the European Union strengthened its power in the world economy. The American economy remained the largest and strongest in the world, but our dominance was no longer so complete that other countries felt compelled to follow our lead and in fact were willing to challenge our actions. For some Americans this transition back to a more balanced world economy was seen as some kind of American failing, ingratitude on the part of countries we had supported for years, or, for the more paranoid, some great conspiracy lead by the Chinese, or Russia, or the Vatican, or whoever, to dis the US.
The current Presidential administration’s efforts to leverage this long wave change in our role in the world to try to do some remarkably interesting things provides added examples of its tendency to attack issues and problems with a sledge hammer. Our withdrawal from the Paris accords on dealing with global warming has generated the most noise, but it is just the largest example of the swing of the sledge hammer.
The examples of this slash and burn policy are multitudinous. Withdrawal from NAFTA -subsequently dialed back to renegotiate NAFTA. Just walking away from the Asian free trade discussions. A large tariff on imported steel when there are not enough steel mills and trained steel workers to manufacture the steel we need. Repeal existing regulations associated with the Clean Water Act. Turn National Park land over to development and economic exploitation. Essentially eliminate Medicaid. The list goes on.
While this Presidential administration cannot get much of anything passed in the Congress, it is more than willing to use expanded Executive powers and bureaucratic leverage to confound and dismay our international friends and rip up and throw away programs Americans have supported and utilized for generations. There was a joke that went around when Barry Goldwater was running for President that he wanted to take us back to 1910. This Administration wants to go back to the 1890s.
It seems as if Mr. Trump is what long ago was called a Berserker. Berserkers were fighters who scared even the men they fought beside because once they got into battle they lost all control, striking out to kill or destroy anything or anyone who came within their range. Mr. Trump seems to be in constant battle with friends, foes and innocent by-standers. In these often strange and occasionally made up fights Mr Trump demonstrates no concern for anything but something he can call a short term “win”. He has no concern for any broader possible outcomes of his actions or the harm he may do to his country, his country’s friends or to our global relations. He goes into battle mode and he swings his sledge hammer as hard and fast as he can. He goes berserk.
We need to deal with Donald Trump as President the way in which George F. Kennan suggested we deal with the Soviet Union after World War II: containment. Containment is a long term strategy designed to limit harm. There is no way to eliminate all the harm that the Trump administration will do, short of impeachment and conviction and that is a very unlikely occurrence. Thus, for the next three years we must work to contain the thrashing and bludgeoning generated by Mr. Trump, just as Mr. Kennan’s strategy for the Soviet Union was to contain Stalin’s need to create a new Russian empire.
Containment is a tiring process. Each new action, each new proposal, each new spitball idea that is hurled at the wall, must be challenged. Each new lie must be corrected. If something cannot be eliminated, delay it. If a proposal moves toward being put in place work to ameliorate its worst elements.
Frustration is an almost constant companion in a policy of containment, as bad things are put in place despite hard work in opposition. Keeping up three years of action to contain the Trump administration demands a political stamina that very few if any of us have been called upon to exercise.
Many of the outcomes will be disheartening, but keep in mind the alternative. A Donald Trump run wild with no containment will drag our country into fields of pain and harm that truly boggle the mind. We must assert pressure on all the elements of American government, from city councils to Governors, members of Congress, judges and ourselves, to contain the actions of a President who creates battles to fight so he can give way to his innate personality as a berserker.