The current administration gives every appearance of being incapable of discriminating between what is Strong, and what is merely the posturing of Power. Further, the appearances are, indeed, posturing because real power rests on moral authority, legal standards, and ethical integrity. Strong words? Perhaps, but there’s a case to be made for this.
Consider, for a moment, those things which are considered “accomplishments” by this administration. Getting “tough” with Mexico (one of our top three trade partners) is included; and, getting “tough” on regulations (including those for clean air and water), and getting “tough” on national security. Tough is a bargaining position, strong is a well considered philosophy for achieving intended outcomes beneficial to the country at large, having the force of moral, legal, and ethical support. We may have a “tough” administration, but we don’t have a strong one.
Our first case in point should be the morass into which the administration has fallen concerning immigration and national security. A strong immigration policy should consider the moral, legal, and ethical facets of maintaining sovereignty while cooperating with allies and trade partners for mutually beneficial results. Instead, what we are witnessing is “toughiness” which doesn’t appear to be serving anyone’s interests very well.
Example One: The administration issued a flawed Muslim travel ban pertaining to individuals from seven predominantly Muslim nations, purportedly to Keep America Safe. Except — no one from any of these nations has ever engaged in a lethal attack inside the United States and there is no evidence that citizenship is an indicator of lethal potential. [NYDN]
If one were truly interested in the personal physical safety of Americans, then there are several subjects of importance which far outweigh the issuance of a legally questionable travel ban. Sticking to the safety from extremists alone argument we find that since 9/11 48 people have died at the hands of white supremacist/nationalists (not including the recent attack on Indian-Americans in a Kansas bar) while 26 have been killed by heretical Muslim terrorists. However, these statistics didn’t stop the administration from directing the Department of Justice to drop its emphasis on domestic terrorism to focus instead on foreign radicals. By contrast, approximately 27 individuals per day are the victims of gun related homicides. [NYT] Also in contrast, about 3,000 Americans will die each year from food borne illnesses [CDC] but this doesn’t prevent the administration from desiring to “eliminate burdensome regulations.”
However, the administration’s actions (and talk) aren’t really about the physical safety of Americans, the “toughiness” is all about playing to emotional fears of The Other.
Example Two: The issuance of the travel ban puts the enforcement of the restrictions at variance with the verbiage of the administration. The bluster from the White House would have us believe that they are keeping us safe from “bad dudes, drug dealers, gang members” and so on. No one would object to the deportation of hardened criminals being deported, but when the guidance is essentially emotional rather than legal instances of misapplication can multiply, undermining the message.
Agents ask for “papers” from everyone on a domestic flight, not the sort of thing to make Americans feel better about their civil rights; a brain tumor patient was detained by ICE in Texas, and faces an examination by a specialist on February 27th to determine her future course of treatment, hardly an action designed to make Americans proud of their humane treatment of fellow humans; nor would Americans feel much more at ease to know that ICE agents may have violated the rights of a young man whose statement may have been altered to suggest his association with gangs. Strength encourages moderation; “toughiness” invites bravado instead of bravery, excess instead of enforcement.
Our second case in point concerns trade relations and toughiness. The Build A Wall mentality related to the demonization of Mexican immigrants also informs the toughiness of our trade relations. The Wall issue threatens some $531 Billion in two way trade with our third largest trading partner. One of the problems with spouting slogans is that at some point the Chicken Comes Home To Roost. And, roost it has. The Mexican government has categorically refused to pay for the wall sending, the administration and Republican allies in Congress into fantasy land in which either the Mexicans can be made to pay outright, or some manipulation of finance or funding can be skewered into the appearance of making the Mexicans pay.
Strength builds trade relations between major partners, toughiness is more likely to send partners to other sources of commerce. Is there anyone who believes that no other commercial, industrial, and financial power wouldn’t be only too pleased to fill the gaps left by American bluster? Strength leads to solid and reliable trade relationships, “toughiness” engenders illusions.
Enough “Toughiness” and the annals of Trump could be written by Henry of Huntingdon, in 21st and not 12th century form:
Imperio igitur tibi, ne in terram meam ascendas, nec vestes nec membra dominatoris tui madefacere praesumas. Mare vero de more conscendens pedes regis & crura, since reverentia madefecit.
Canute could seat himself at the shore and command the tides — not that the tides were paying any attention.