In his last interview with a journalist the late Shimon Peres gave a wide-ranging impression of his life and times. In it was a sketch of the current Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, who he described in an illustrative anecdote.
I am very good friends with Putin. And I shall give you, in brief, the content of one of our recent discussions.
I told him, “You’re 63 years old, I’m 93 years old. Tell me, what do you want to achieve in the coming 30 years? What are you fighting for? Are you hoping to piss off America?”
He says, “No.”
“America wants a piece of Russia? No. You have trouble discussing things with Obama?”
He says, “Why do you ask?
I said, “Look, I am not a spy, whatever, tell me.”
He says, “What do you think?”
And I said, “America will win no matter what you do.”
“Why?” he asked.
“Because they are lucky, and you are not.”
Peres’ argument “America will win no matter what you do,” however many concessions Obama might grant — “because they are lucky, and you are not” is a gentle rebuke of authoritarianism. From this and his earlier views on China the Israeli evidently believed it was the character of nations rather than the edicts of leaders which determined the course of events. While Putin might get everything he wanted out of Obama, America would win every competition with Russia. While Putin had the personal skills and the land area: “20 million square kilometers. My God. But what you don’t have are people.”
“But what you don’t have is the people”, as in ‘We the People’ is a crucial point. The last eight years have been one unending liberal search for the Great Man of history, the belief that “history can be largely explained by the impact of ‘great men’, or heroes … who, due to either their personal charisma, intelligence, wisdom, or political skill utilized their power in a way that had a decisive historical impact.”
Liberals thought they had it in Obama 2008. They think they have it in the historic First Woman, Hillary in 2016. They may even think they have it in Kerry. Steve Clemons of the Atlantic asked America’s top diplomat in the context of his diplomatic record: what exactly is the “John Kerry secret sauce?” And Kerry patiently explained that it was coming to an agreement with rival negotiators. “You have to figure out whether you can find in the adversaries a meeting of the minds on any of the interests and/or values.”
The ‘giving away the store’ approach was echoed by another Great Man, Barack Obama at Peres’ own funeral: he asserted that “the Zionist idea would be best protected when Palestinians, too, had a state of their own”. You need chutzpah to think that way. But only a Titan can boldly make secret concessions to Iran without wondering whether he was doing the right thing just as only a man sure of his place in the pantheon can declare that the near-unanimous override of his veto of a bill allowing Americans to sue Saudi Arabia for supporting the 9/11 attacker was a “mistake”.
What may seems obviously wrong to you or I might be blindingly obvious to great men. When administration officials confided to journalists that they could not understand why Obama would not stand up to Putin the only answer was that he had reasons lesser minds could not fathom. How do the great men know the truth? Well they just do. Moreover, the great can recognize each other so they can trade notes. Recently Hillary declared her favorite foreign leader was Angela Merkel.
Robert Draper seems to argue in the New York Times that the problem with conservatives is that they currently lack Great Men and have no Talking Points. They must therefore be helpless. Unlike the progressives who have Titans in abundance conservatives are led by men not notably better than themselves and possibly a good deal worse. The lack of a clear winner has pitted “voter against voter, congressman against congressman, Bob Dole against the Bushes” and divided conservative punditry to the point where actual arguments break out among them proving that the conservatives had neither Party nor a Party Line; no mastermind nor manifesto, certainly fatal defects. “Trump … simply fulfills the ineffable urge many have to, as Michael Needham, the chief executive of the conservative policy group Heritage Action for America, puts it, ‘punch Washington in the face.'”
And that can’t be good. Or can it? In retrospect the unforeseen weakness of Ted Cruz’ and Marco Rubio’s ill-fated presidential campaigns were they did not come across as destructive enough at a time when voters precisely wanted to “punch Washington in the face”. Though each promised reform, even radical reform — it was within the Washington system — when a critical percentage of the electorate wanted subconsciously wanted revolution. What Trump supplied, perhaps by accident, was the missing step of an incipient preference cascade. He made it OK to vent the anger many voters didn’t even realize they felt.
Like everybody else Trump is now trapped in a revolution he may never have intended to lead nor know how. He’s riding a tiger that neither he nor anybody else knows how to dismount. By rights the conservatives should be doomed. Yet with the possible exception of the British Brexiteers the American electorate alone of the Western voting public is broadly aware that it is Blue Model which is desperately racing for harbor before the onset of a Perfect Storm. The financial system is trembling on the edge, bad news is seething just under the surface and there is but dubious haven in an “Third Obama term” supplied Hillary Clinton. Kerry’s frantic ceasefire efforts, the offers of bailouts to domestic constituencies and bribes to foreign enemies only serve to emphasize how the system is just living from moment to moment, with no other plan but to hang on.
The Great Men are more worried than the Deplorables. This confounding state of affairs cannot be understood without returning to Peres’ conversation with Putin. Why is America “lucky”? If one substitutes for “lucky” for the phrase “willing to take a risk” the rewritten exchange with the Russian president much more sense.
Peres: “America will win no matter what you do.”
Peres: “Because their people are willing to take a risk while your hidebound kleptocracy cannot.”
That is the gist of it and it applies to the Blue Model and the EU just as much as to the USSR. It is this propensity to go off without the sanction of Great men and even oppose them that baffles historians and still makes America a most dangerous nation. In 1774 the average American colonist had a far higher income than the average Briton where “even its slaves had higher living standards than did the poorest in England.” Why couldn’t they leave well enough alone? Yet as John Adams noted they gave the crown the heave-ho “when they saw those powers renouncing all the principles of authority, and bent upon the destruction of all the securities of their lives, liberties, and properties.”
Maybe they did it because they were crazy. After all revolutions are by definition acts of momentary insanity defined by a recklessness, rudeness and willful assertion that is hard to justify except on the grounds that it sometimes — but not always — works. Now, with the walls falling in there is concern all over the world that America might do something crazy again. Only a few days ago an official United Nations’ news site exhorted the world to DEFEAT Trump and pushed a pro Clinton website before deleting its Tweet. How can you blame them for worrying? Their nails must be bitten down to the quick.
Both sides of the political debate, including the international community are now hostage to the unfortunate propensity of America to be a “lucky” nation. Or is the better phrase “willing to take a risk”?
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