While we wait for the results in Georgia’s by-election, with high hopes but a cold-eyed awareness of the unlikelihood of an upset, I thought I would take a few moments to reflect on what has been going on in the world. A very great deal that is really bad is happening both domestically and abroad, and though there is precious little any of us can do about it, in the words of Willy Loman’s wife, attention must be paid.
The current confrontation with North Korea has quite naturally elicited comparison with the Cuban Missile Crisis fifty-five years ago, but they are quite different. The Cuban Missile Crisis was much more serious, simply because Russia as well as America was armed with megaton-grade intercontinental ballistic missiles. The crisis was created by a series of American actions – first attempting unsuccessfully to overthrow the revolutionary Cuban government of Fidel Castro, then situating intermediate range nuclear armed ballistic missiles on the Turkish border of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev responded to both of these actions by agreeing to place Soviet medium range ballistic missiles in Cuba “ninety miles from America,” John Kennedy, stung by the ignominious failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion and determined to demonstrate that, though young, he was tough, set up a naval blockade around Cuba to intercept the Soviet ships bringing the missiles. This was, unless I am mistaken, the only time the world has come to the brink of world-wide annihilation. Fortunately, Khrushchev was considerably more rational than Kennedy and the collection of Cold War liberals around him, and disaster was averted.
The present confrontation has less scope for disaster, because North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is quite small and its delivery systems undeveloped. But it is also, it seems to me, inherently a more unstable situation because the American president is demonstrably irrational and the North Korean ruler gives every appearance of being so also. The chance of miscalculation on either side is enormous. In addition, I can see no evidence whatsoever that the American President has the slightest concern for the loss of millions of lives, so long as he is made to appear strong on television and likes how he is received by public opinion. It is as yet undetermined whether those around him are prepared to exercise any restraint on him.
I cannot see anything that even an aroused public can do in the short run to diminish the probability of disaster. We must simply hope.
The domestic situation is, I believe, a good deal worse than is generally recognized. Trump’s failures with regard to the Muslim ban and the repeal of the ACA are very good indeed, and I celebrate them. It also seems now that he and the Republicans will fail to restructure the tax code so as to benefit the super-rich, including of course the President himself. But quietly, off camera, the appalling collection of people he selected for cabinet positions are quickly doing things that endanger the freedom, the health, the very lives of millions of Americans, while hastening the environmental disasters that now loom. I weary of cataloguing the ugliness being perpetrated by the Attorney General, the Secretary of Education, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and many more. For all that he is despicable, Steve Bannon has not yet been able to do nearly as much damage as these other deplorable men and women.
What offers the most hope, at least to me, is the continuing energy of resistance at the grassroots level. Everything we can do to support that and participate in it is to be encouraged, applauded, and imitated.
Our only recourse, aside from the courts, which may provide some relief, is the ballot box, today, in months to come, and then in 2018. I do not have anything clever or deep to offer, just my acknowledgement here of the harm being done.