Everything Is Not Alright

I was determined to either find another topic than Tuesday’s elections here in the U.S., else not write a post for this morning.  I’m sure you’re all tired of hearing about the elections, especially those of you who live outside the U.S. as nearly half of my readers do, and frankly I’m tired of talking/writing about them.  So, I was going to write about … oh, maybe the COP27 taking place this week, or the ignominious Kanye West, or … something!  But then … as I was attempting to reduce the clutter in my email inbox, I came across a piece by Thomas Friedman that … well, it just begs to be shared.  And so, once again, I’d like to talk about this election … and things to come.  Some of what Mr. Friedman says is frightening, much of it is not what we hoped to hear, but I believe he is right and that his words carry a great deal of wisdom for what happens in the future, not only here in the U.S., but elsewhere.

Thomas Friedman knows of what he speaks.  A three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and author of seven books ranging from topics such as foreign affairs, global trade, the Middle East, globalization, and environmental issues, he is currently a weekly columnist for the New York Times.

America Dodged an Arrow

By Thomas Friedman

09 November 2022

You can hold off moving to Canada. You can forgo the call to the New Zealand Embassy on how to become a citizen there. Tuesday’s election really was the most important test since the Civil War of whether the engine of our constitutional system — our ability to peacefully and legitimately transfer power — remains intact. And it looks to have come through — a little dinged up, but OK.

I am still not even close to ready to sound the all-clear, to declare that running on a platform of election denialism will never tempt another American politician. But given the unprecedented degree to which election denialism was elevated in this midterm and the way several big-name Trump-imitating knuckleheads who made denialism central to their campaigns got their clocks cleaned —- we may have just dodged one of the biggest arrows ever aimed at the heart of our democracy.

To be sure, another arrow could target us at any moment, but the whole U.S. electoral system — in red states and blue — seemed to perform admirably, almost shrugging off the last two years of controversy, diminishing it to what it always was: the shameful fabrication of one man and his most shameless sycophants and imitators. Given the threat posed by Trump denialists to the acceptance and legitimacy of our elections, that is a big deal (and hopefully it will last through the Arizona count).

It could not come at a better time as the leaders of both Russia and China have manipulated their systems to entrench themselves in power beyond their previously established terms of office.

One of their arguments to their own people in doing so was to point to things like the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection in America and the seeming chaos of our elections to tell their citizens: “That’s what democracy looks like. Is that what you want here?”

Indeed, in May, during his commencement address to the U.S. Naval Academy’s graduating class, President Biden recalled when President Xi Jinping of China congratulated him in 2020 on his election: “He said democracies cannot be sustained in the 21st century; autocracies will run the world. Why? Things are changing so rapidly. Democracies require consensus, and it takes time, and you don’t have the time.”

For that reason, both Xi and Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin — and the supreme leader in Iran now facing an uprising led by Iranian women — lost on Tuesday night, too. Because the more wild and unstable our politics, the less able we become to peacefully transfer power, the easier it is for them to justify never doing so.

But while election denialism took a thumping this week as a winning message, none of the things that are still eating away at the foundations of American democracy — and preventing us from actually getting big hard things done — have gone away.

I am talking about the way in which our primary system, gerrymandering and social networks have coalesced to steadily poison our national dialogue, steadily polarize our society into political tribes and steadily erode the twin pillars of our democracy: truth and trust.

Without being able to agree on what is true, we don’t know which way to go. And without being able to trust one another, we can’t head there together. And everything big and hard needs to be done together.

So, our enemies would be wise not to leave us for dead, but we would be even wiser not to conclude that, because we avoided the worst, we’ve locked in the best going forward.

Everything is not all right.

We are as divided coming out of this election as we were going into it. But to the extent that the red wave did not manifest itself — particularly in swing states like Pennsylvania, where John Fetterman won a Senate seat over the Trump-endorsed Dr. Oz, and in swing districts like one in central Virginia where Democratic Representative Abigail Spanberger was re-elected by defeating another Trump-backed candidate — it was because enough independents and moderate Republicans and Democrats showed up to put Fetterman and Spanberger over the top.

“There is still a viable group of centrist voters out there, who, when given a valid choice — not everywhere, and not always, but in some key districts — asserted themselves,” Don Baer, who was a communications director in the Clinton White House, told me. “I think there are still a lot of voters saying: ‘We want a viable center, where we can figure out how to make things happen that can really help people, even if it isn’t perfect or all at once. We don’t want every election to be existential.’”

The challenge, added Baer, “is, how do you take that sentiment to scale and make it work in Washington on a regular basis?”

I don’t know, but, if this election is a sign that we are at least edging back from the brink, it’s because enough Americans still fall into this independent or centrist camp and do not want to keep dwelling on the grievances, lies and fantasies of Donald Trump, which they can see are making the G.O.P. crazy and roiling the whole country. They also don’t want to be shackled by the woke enforcers of the far left, and they are terrified by the spread of the kind of sick political violence that was just visited on Nancy Pelosi’s husband.

We owe a huge debt for keeping this center alive to Republican Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and Democratic Representative Elaine Luria. The three of them helped to spearhead the Jan. 6 investigation in Congress and ended up being forced out of office as a result. But the message that committee sent to enough voters — that we must never, ever, ever let something like this happen again — surely also contributed to the absence of a pro-Trump wave in this midterm election.

In sum, we did not get a clean bill of health. We got a diagnosis that our political white blood cells did OK in beating back the metastasizing infection that threatened to kill our whole electoral system. But that infection is still here, which is why the doctor advised, “Behave in healthy ways, build back your strength and return in 24 months for another scan.”

America’s New Ambassador – Part III

The Headline that turned a two-part post into a three-parter was:


On December 4th I wrote a post titled Diplomacy?  Who needs it, right? about Trump’s ill-conceived telephone conversation with Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, which was a diplomatic faux pas on every level.  The U.S. does not recognize Taiwan and it was the first time since 1979 that a sitting or elected president has had direct contact with the Taiwan government.  The Taiwan president called Trump, but sources on either side have indicated that the call had been planned several months prior, even before Trump won the electoral vote.

Last Friday, 13 January 2017, Trump did an interview with the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).  (I cannot provide you with the transcript, as I am not a subscriber … to the tune of $199 per year!  Other outlets charge from $1 to $8 monthly for unlimited access, and I do subscribe to a couple, including the New York Times, International Business Times, and Guardian, but I draw the line at $199 per annum.  So, here is a link in case any of my readers are subscribers to the WSJ  )  

From the snippets I have been able to pick up from alternate sources, when asked if he supported the One-China policy Trump said, “Everything is under negotiation including One China.” In 1979, under President Jimmy Carter, the U.S.-P.R.C. (People’s Republic of China) Joint Communique agreed that the United States recognizes the communist leadership in Beijing as the sole legal government of China, acknowledging the Chinese position that there is one China and Taiwan is a breakaway province that is part of China.

According to Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, “The Taiwan question bears on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and touches our core interests. Adherence to the One China principle serves as the political foundation for the development of China-U.S. ties. If this foundation is wobbled and weakened, then there is no possibility for the two countries to grow their relations in a sound and steady way and cooperate on key areas.” 

Officially, the U.S. government does not support independence for Taiwan, now a democracy that elects its own president and parliament. Despite this, U.S. relations with the island are governed by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which outlines the U.S. commitment to help Taiwan maintain its military defense. Last year, the U.S. approved $1.8 billion in arms sales to Taipei. And the U.S. is Taiwan’s second-largest trading partner and Taiwan ranks as the ninth-largest trading partner for the U.S.

While the relations between the U.S., China and Taiwan are complex and seem awkward, it is a relationship that has worked to the advantage of all for nearly four decades.  Chinese President Xi Jinping met last week with Vice-President Joe Biden, saying:

“In the 38 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations, relations between the two countries have weathered wind and rain, but generally have continued to forge ahead. The basic interests of the people of both countries and the world need China and the United States to work hard, to form a long-term, stable cooperative relationship.”

An excellent article  in The Diplomat assesses recent diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China, and the benefits of an ongoing relationship for both countries. While the relationship has never been easy and is often coloured by mistrust, we do share certain common interests and goals:  a better environment, trade and economic benefits, and global peace.  While the U.S. and China have different political systems, different ideologies, and very different cultures and histories, we have been able to work in key areas to the benefit of both. It is in the interest of neither country, nor the world, for the relationship, which is already tense, to deteriorate further.

To China, the One China policy is non-negotiable.  It is fairly simple:  we can have an ongoing, mutually beneficial relationship with China, but not if Trump officially recognizes Taiwan as an independent nation.  Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush (both Sr. and W.), Clinton and Obama have worked within the boundaries of the One China policy.  The advantages of doing so far outweigh the disadvantages, not only for China and the U.S., but for the world.  It is to be hoped that Trump’s advisors are intelligent enough to realize this, and that they can convince Trump of the wisdom of working with China rather than further antagonizing them.

It is hard to know exactly what is meant by the expression “taking the gloves off”.  I suspect that each person who uses this phrase has their own definition.  The broad definition: “to express the notion that something will be done in an uncompromising or brutal way, without compunction or hesitation.”  Sound ominous?  It should.

Also during the WSJ interview, Trump commented that the U.S. dollar was already “too strong” in part because China holds down its currency, the yuan. “Our companies can’t compete with them now because our currency is too strong. And it’s killing us,” he said. No worries, Mr. Trump … based in part on your comments, the dollar dropped 1.2% against 16 other currencies earlier this week!

In short, Donald Trump must learn to think before engaging either his mouth or his twitter finger, else the U.S. is likely to enter a recession that will make the recession of 2008 look like a day at the beach.  He must learn to let the experts and people who understand foreign nations and policies take the lead, as he obviously does not understand them.  Trump has business experience, he is a marketer, a wheeler-dealer, but this is not how relationships between nations work.  Somebody please get this ‘man’ under control and educate him!