Monday, February 15, 2016

Fear and Respect

I managed to watch a bit of the Republican Presidential debate in New Hampshire last week, and I was struck by the theme of leadership as portrayed by the participants.  Of course, I understand that all avoidance of weakness must be maintained, especially in light of their unified attacks on President Obama as having created a global perception of America as weak on terrorism. 

But what percentage of our perception of "strong leadership" is inspired by fear, and what portion derives from respect?

As defined when you Google it, a bully is "a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker."  Additionally, when used as a verb, to bully is to "use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants."

I consider Donald Trump to be the classic bully.  The way he stands, his facial reactions to what he hears, his pattern of interrupting others as they speak, all signs that he is used to getting his way, that he does not do anything he does not want to do, and that his idea of a compromise is getting others to do what he wants.  In some way, this is a trait that many Americans admire, and, assuming they think we have been weak in dealing with our enemies, yearn for in a future president.  And, if he were to act forcefully in dealing with groups like ISIS, they may fear him as well as the prospect of being killed by the American military. 

And Trump is not the only Republican candidate to emphasize their belief that a strong hand is the only way to deal with terrorists.  Almost to a man, increased bombings, boots on the ground, and more arming of those actively fighting ISIS was the consensus.  There was even talk of expanding registration for the draft to include women, in addition to reversing the recent "gutting" of the American military by Obama. 

Notwithstanding the microscope that so many GOP elected officials train on every federal dollar spent, it seems hard to marry the idea that $600 billion a year (as much as $9 trillion dollars since the attacks of 911) represents a gutting of our military, especially in the context of the facts that we spend more on "defense" every year than the next 15 highest spending countries.

Yet that seems the very definition, at least by those on the stage that night, of how America can regain our respect in the world.  How to stop those laughing at, and taking advantage of us!  In short, it seems that our best answer to the perceived lack of respect is to use our military strength and power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.  In other words, act like a bully.

OK, so it is easy to say that we shouldn't act like bullies.  That we should look for ways to talk to our enemies, to find common ground, to ease tensions rather than escalate them.  But what do we do when our enemies don't want to talk to us?   Are determined to use violence against us?  

Certainly, there is precedent as to how to act in these situations.  Look how our elected officials have behaved, GOP and DEM alike, since Obama's 2008 election  Always talking, always negotiating, always keeping the country's best interests at heart.  Or, even more locally, how Pennsylvania Governor Wolf and the GOP dominated House and Senate have worked closely to fashion a spending budget.

Oh, that's right.  These are examples of how NOT to act.

Hmm.  So, perhaps killing is the only option, force the only mode of action, military presence the only solution. Perhaps the only way to gain respect in the world is the be the holder of the biggest stick, and to use that stick as often as possible.  After all, look how it has worked for us so far.  We have had the biggest, baddest, strongest military on the planet for at least 30 years, we have engaged in armed conflict in other countries at least 9 times since the collapse of the Russian empire (El Salvador, Beirut, Grenada, Panama, Gulf War, Panama, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq), and have military bases in over 100 other countries. 

But wait a minute.  Despite these facts, and the big one, the elephant in the room nobody likes to acknowledge, the fact that we are the ONLY country ever to use a nuclear weapon yet the most adamant as to who should get one, despite all this our enemies DO NOT fear us, according to the gentlemen debating in New Hampshire that night, and our friends ARE NOT glad to be our allies. 

Perhaps then, it is their fear we have, but their respect we lack. 

It is our fear of our enemies that drives us towards bankruptcy as we spend our selves silly, but  worse, our fear of those on the other side of the political aisle, that has polarized debate, and created a morass in Washington where the good of the party far outweighs the good of the country. 

I respect those last 6 GOP presidential candidates for believing in themselves, and ultimately, believing in America.  I respect them for their willingness to stand on the stage and face the dissection of their every word, and the ridicule of those who disagree.  But I fear that their solutions are tired, and useless.  That more war, more wagging of a big stick, more telling others nations, other cultures, what to do and using violence to back up those words rather than compassion, understanding and tolerance will only lead America further down a path where her precious resources, material as well as human, are wasted in even more fruitless attempts to be the bully of the world, even in the name of good intentions.  



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