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Published on: August 7, 2017
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A Teachable Moment

The Trump presidency is giving Americans a crash course in civics. Are we capable of sharing the lessons with the world?

Martha Bayles teaches humanities at Boston College, is author of Through a Screen Darkly: Popular Culture, Public Diplomacy, and America's Image Abroad (Yale 2014), and is a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute.
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  • Boritz

    If there was a teachable moment it was squandered to demonstrate that a harbor of negative emotions is not a starting point for good analysis.
    To those who seek such Victor tor Davis Hanson’s recent story about Mattis and McMaster is recommended.

  • Observe&Report

    Elliott Abrams, it should be remembered, is a neoconservative. In other words, one of those people who thinks that a “just and democratic world” is best achieved through regime change, no matter how much blood and treasure is spent to achieve it.

  • Jeff77450

    If POTUS disrespects the State Department I’m sorry to hear that. They have an important job. If the State Department and the intelligence agencies are competently doing their job then the armed forces may not have to do the active part of there’s. (The passive part, deterrence, is always there).

    I agree with the change to the State Department’s mission statement. Trying to make the world more just & democratic can result in the hemorrhaging of blood & treasure to no good end, e.g. Vietnam, Somolia in ’93 and Afghanistan. Plus faux pas like our meddling in Latin America and Iran in the 1950s. 9/11 required a robust response in Afghanistan but the fact that we’re still there seventeen years later, and trillions of dollars poorer, very strongly suggests that we did it wrong. We should’ve done as much damage as we could in ninety days and then withdrew. That would’ve adequately demonstrated to the world what happens when you harbor terrorists.

    I’m genuinely distressed to read that young diplomats might be in need of remedial civics in order to do their jobs. You can be a U.S. diplomat and not understand how our government works?? (While we’re at it, do they understand why the temperate zones have four seasons)?

  • Anthony

    The presumed basis of Liberal Democracy are unalienable rights, separation of powers, judicial independence, and, rule of law. The teachable moment (or one of them) from essay is that the idea of liberal democracy does not represent a universal order; and may just be specific to Western Civilization. However, the teachable moment must include why this idea (rule of law, unalienable rights, separation of powers, etc.) appears to be operable primarily in the West. The crash course (remedial civics) recommended by way of this presidency must also keep in mind the deep structural forces (as essay infers) within societies when diplomats, NGOs, etc. seek to export liberal democracy or its parameters.

  • Curious Mayhem

    A worthwhile, if troubling, article. Bayles makes one very important point that’s worth expanding on.

    The rise of the insane, post-modern left and its insatiable identity politics really has had a very corrosive effect on American political culture, from multiple directions. It’s put pressure on the more conventional liberal politicians to toe a certain line and identify “freedom” or the rule of law with increasingly crazy and ill-founded demands, and illiberal agendas, promoted by small minorities on everyone else. That in turn has created a growing mistrust and disbelief among everyone else, who rightly see this kind of politics displacing the older civic culture of liberal democracy, both at home and in America’s foreign policy. Obama and Hillary’s affected air of superiority and pseudo-intellectual theories that they fancied made them experts in foreign policy didn’t help.

    How else, for example, can you explain the effect of the multi-month lunacy surrounding an obvious and sinister fraud like Linda Sarsour? The gradual disintegration of the center-left’s grip on reality seems to be in its final stages. Meanwhile, everyone else gets a very clear and actionable message, like vote for Trump if you don’t want to be a chump. (See, it even rhymes.)

  • Gary Hemminger

    Wait just a second. Democracy building has been a total failure. In what country can you claim in the last 30 years that we successfully built a democracy where one would not have sprung out without us anyway? I cannot think of a single one. So is it really so bad that the new strategy be a safer and more prosperous world? I mean talk to Thomas Friedman who talks all the time about how great the authoritarian government of China is at making progress on reduced CO2 emissions (as if). I think Rex Tillerson is a hell of lot better than John Kerry going around the world making agreements for the sake of agreements. Or Hillary Clinton going around the world doing nothing but lining her pockets. You can smell the elites like Martha from a mile away. I mean I think Trump is a complete idiot, but it is those like Martha that ended up putting him in the big seat. Thanks Martha!

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