Cart Before the Horse
Misdiagnosing the Western Crisis

Trump, fake news, and Russian belligerence are symptoms of the West’s disease, not its causes.

Published on: April 16, 2018
Dalibor Rohac is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a regular columnist at The American Interest. Follow him on Twitter: @DaliborRohac.
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  • CheckYourself

    HRC and the DNC have made clear two things: 1. They have no faith in the US public school and university system which they so often claim to love. 2. HRC and disgraced former DNC chairs Debbie W.-S. and Brazile are all cheaters, and they haven’t the grace to apologize.

    Number 2 has been known by all for some time except, perhaps, in the most ignorant of quarters. However, number 1 is most interesting to me. So let’s get it straight. The government takes charge of kids from age 5 to 18, and possibly through their 20s, yet after 13+ years of government education we can’t trust people to reason what’s what and who’s who to do something as elementary in a democracy as voting? Wow. An astonishing admission and indictment of public education, yet they scream foul if you talk about private schools, to be sure. Basically these people are schizophrenics and they literally don’t know what they’re talking about or what they’re doing.

  • Micah718

    What Trump attacks? The fact that Trump is some kind of ogre is taken as a fact in this article. This is a classic begging the question logical fallacy. Is Barack Obama and his “Pen and Phone” rule of governing not a crisis given separation of legislative and executive? Why all the think pieces on decline of the West right now? We are doing much better than when we were when The Smartest Man to ever be President led us.

  • D4x

    Does it never occur to the “elites” like Rohac that too many “shelf-ready ideas” packaged as “policy agendas” since the 1990’s created many of the “resulting problems” the elites persist in “solving”? Give President Trump a chance to roll back to the 1992 “regulatory state” while all you mis-educated elites learn a useful skill, e.g., welding, masonry, bookbinding, or how to build a WABAC machine:
    […] a central element of the “Peabody’s Improbable History” cartoon segment [The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show],
    The machine was invented by Mr. Peabody, a genius, polymath, and bow tie-wearing beagle, as a birthday gift for his
    adopted pet boy, Sherman. By allowing them to visit famous historical people or
    events, the WABAC provided educational adventures for Sherman.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WABAC_machine

    Was anyone writing stuff like this before 1996? “But an equally important part of the problem is an intellectual one, namely the inability of elites to propose policy agendas that could simultaneously address the resulting problems—economic stagnation, perceived double standards for elites and everyone else, the opaqueness of “global governance”—and also command popular support.”

  • FriendlyGoat

    The root cause is that Evangelical Church people have become accustomed to a lot of falsehood on nearly all subjects and approve of it in both church and politics. Two decades of Fox News, talk radio, chain e-mail, and wingnut websites have left the ministers just following along behind—-basically repackaging Sean, Rush and Drudge in a Sabbath ribbon. Their church and ministry business models do not permit them to do anything else, so the flock never hears anything else. Then, we find that all the folks can “hear” now is Trump.

    • Tom

      FG, will you PLEASE get over this weird obsession you have with the supposed moral failings of your co-religionists? Somehow I doubt that the voters who supported Obama in 2008 and 2012, then failed to vote for your girl Clinton in 2016, are devoted watchers of Fox News or listeners to talk radio.
      Also, I’m rather exasperated with your utter refusal to admit that the left as often as the right, if not more so. See, as an example, Hillary Clinton, who has most of Donald Trump’s vices and few of his virtues, as well as some vices and fewer virtues of her own.

      • Fred

        Tom, you might as well ask a dog to get over its obsession with chasing cats. It’s not a rational response. FG will never listen to reason on the subject of Evangelical support for Trump. That idee fixe is too tied up in his emotions and who and what he is and, as Frank Zappa said, even what he thinks he sorta oughta be.

        • FriendlyGoat

          You’re right that I won’t listen to Tom, because I blocked him a long time ago due to his comments to me. If you have some “reason” on Evangelical support for Trump that doesn’t amount to “we approve of an A$$hole leading our country because he scratches our back”, what is it?

          As for Evangelical Church itself and truth in issues, it had seven years before Trump to redeem itself on “repeal and replace” by actually acknowledging facts about health care financing to its members and to everyone else. Ditto guns. Ditto environmentalism. Ditto collective bargaining. Ditto gay people. Ditto corporate regulation. Ditto net neutrality. Ditto wealth divide. Ditto gerrymandering. Ditto voter suppression ostensibly to eliminate that pesky half dozen “illegal votes”. Ditto federal debt. It’s a long list of junk peddled and bought inside Big Religion and it has been going on for decades.

          • Tom

            Yes, I know I ticked you off because I called you out on your nonsense and wouldn’t just let you get away with saying whatever you wanted, and because I’m one of those people who didn’t vote for either candidate but still understands why people did. Messes with your worldview.
            And I can come up with at least one other reason: because Trump doesn’t hate conservative evangelicals’ guts.

          • Fred

            I’ve told you before that the Evangelical community was divided on Trump in the primaries and came together for him in the general because he was their least bad choice. They were not irrational or stupid; they were not duped, and they did not suddenly become “mean.” As I said then, they acted perfectly rationally in voting for a candidate whose indifference to them and their interests at least beat his opponent’s hostility to them; who, if only for their votes, is more likely to protect, or at least not attack, their freedom of religion when his opponent was a clear and present danger to that freedom; and whose personal morality, while leaving much to be desired, was at least no worse than his opponent’s. Yet despite having had all this explained to you numerous times by numerous people, you insist that Evangelicals were and remain stupid, irrational dupes. Clearly FG you are the irrational one here. But hey, chase all the cats you want. Other than minor annoyance your stubborn irrationality has no effect on me.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Yes, yes, of course I have heard all that from you and others before. The reason I think the Trump Evangelicals (distinguished from ALL Evangelicals—-only 81% of the white ones went for Trump after all, and a MARKEDLY smaller percentage of black and brown ones) is that the Trump Evangelicals do not understand that there is no freedom OF good religion without freedom FROM bad religion. Those in Church who think as you do have had to deny a LOT of truth on dozens of subjects in order to stay in sync with that new guy who is now the de facto head of American Conservative Religion. When you have to fib all the time to justify both the man and his actions which you enable, you ain’t in “freedom of religion” at all. I’ll stick with “duped” as the kinder explanation—–or, there is always “went mean”. It’s one or the other, but capture is capture.

        • D4x

          Watch out where the huskies go, and don’t you eat that yellow snow
          Best advice Zappa ever gave.

      • Everett Brunson

        Though late to the party I wish to offer a Very Well Said. Great observation Tom.

  • WigWag

    It occurs to me that “the West,” consisting of the United States and the founding nations of the EU is a lot like the Austro-Hungarian Empire as it entered its dotage; elites continued their efforts to centralize power while the periphery became increasingly rebellious. We see precisely the same thing in the EU; the citizens of nation after nation insist on reasserting their own identity and regaining control over their lives, while Brussels-worshiping elites resist with all of their ever-declining might. In the United States, those residing in the Northeast and the West Coast insist on their God-given right to call the shots (with the loyal assistance of the Uniparty in DC) while the citizens residing in flyover country become increasingly alienated and agitated.

    Mr. Rohac says, “the West’s key problem lies in the erosion of faith in principles that bind Western societies together and impose structure on policy choices.” Actually that’s not the West’s problem at all. The West’s decline has little to do with an erosion of faith in secular principals and everything to do with the erosion in faith in the religious principles which were the bedrock upon which European and later American power were constructed.

    That decline in religiosity, responsible for the collapse of European fecundity, has already doomed Europe to irrelevancy and a slow and painful death. It is entirely possible that the same fate awaits the United States unless it rediscovers its roots. The signs are not encouraging, but unlike Europe, the United States still has time to pull itself out of its tailspin. To accomplish that, most of what passes as progressivism today will need to be eradicated.

    If that doesn’t happen, like Europe, we’re toast.

    • D4x

      Trump’s behavior is indeed raising questions about the future of existing international norms and platforms for cooperation, from the World Trade Organization to the Paris Accord. Those aren’t ‘norms’. Those are ‘rules police’ for perceived global problems. Leave aside my next question: Who perceives the ‘problem’ needing rules and a policing mechanism? Rohac reveals a big blind spot: global currency and stock markets, and foreign direct investment, and how to impact them. Apparently, TeamTrump excels at understanding all three. Trump’s tweets are dog whistles to markets, never heard by the drafters of policy packages, evermore transnational organizations and declarations.

      POTUS’ secret weapon: Department of Commerce: so much good news: https://twitter.com/CommerceGov I’ve been wondering why Sec Wilbur Ross is in every foreign bilateral working lunch, and why some US Embassies have become nodes for energy security projects, FDI, and trade boosts.
      Trump inspires confidence in the issues that mean the most – the economy. Commerce’s Select USA program was created by EO in 2011. Who knew? It become a powerhouse program in 2017, crosslinked with US Embassies.

      This from Bloomberg, is a fascinating read:
      “Putin Still Wants Deal With Trump, Even After Sanctions, Syria Attack:
      Russian president orders officials to curb anti-U.S. rhetoric;
      Lawmakers pull draft law that would have penalized U.S. firms”
      by Ilya Arkhipov and Evgenia Pismennaya ‎April‎ ‎17‎, ‎2018‎ ‎10‎:‎00‎ ‎PM Updated on ‎April‎ ‎18‎, ‎2018‎ ‎5‎:‎53‎ ‎AM
      “[…] Treasury called payback for Putin’s “malign activity” in general, hit one of the country’s most powerful businessmen, billionaire Oleg Deripaska, the hardest.
      Shares of Deripaska’s aluminum giant Rusal have plunged about 70 percent in Hong Kong since the U.S. basically banned the
      company from the dollar economy April 6, erasing about $6 billion of value and threatening 100,000 jobs

      Finally, a sanction that pierced through and accomplished something in real time.

      The USA and Japan have had teams working on trade issues for weeks, at Mar-a-Lago.
      Nice norm, to those of us ungrounded in political theory and philosophy.

  • QET

    The fact that Putin has gone this far and will likely only double down on his belligerence in his current term reflects not his strategic genius but rather the West’s decisions to do nothing.

    This is the dictionary definition of 1939.

    But I wish Rohac had not used the passive voice so much or assimilated Western infirmity to natural phenomena. Faith in Western civilization, in its classical liberal order and principles, has not “eroded.” It has been actively and purposefully undermined and attacked non-stop for a half century by the progressive Left. There is no reason Rohac need shy away from accurately describing history. The enemies of political liberalism are quite open and proud of their #resistance, their “deconstruction,” their propaganda that anything and everything Western is just a code word for white supremacy and colonialism.

    All of this has been going on continuously for 50 years, in good economic times and bad. These are the causes, not the failure of center effetes to come up with “shelf-ready ideas.” The problem goes beyond politics. This is where Rohac goes wrong. I suppose it is understandable that, like the drunk looking for his keys under the streetlight because the light is better there, professional paid policy analysts and scribblers would convince themselves that a political struggle can be made to go away by some non-political means, some policies or “shelf-ready ideas” that are the specific field of practice of said paid professionals.

    Rohac gets closer to the truth when he is being pessimistic and ruminating whether the order we are lamenting was after all only one order of many in history; i.e., that we are no less subject to history than were the Romans or the Han or the Bourbons. Every order is the product of certain people’s wills, and the lesson Nietzsche taught is that no matter how objectively good any order might seem, it is more important to people that they will their own order even if worse.

  • Tom Scharf

    It’s not a crisis, it’s a correction. Just like the stock market corrects itself when it goes too far, so will the political order. This correction could have been self imposed by the political elites without much pain but they were too enamored with themselves to bother. So the correction has been forced upon them by a democracy operating just as it was intended.

    The definition of democracy is not your side winning, nor is it a crisis when your side loses. The longer the elites fail to recognize this, the longer this “crisis” is going to last. It is striking how so many think a lack of faith in their governance should represent a national crisis to others.

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