Belmont Club


Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP

What does the recent Davos event say about the balance of power between the global elite and the populist insurgency? A Time article thinks it was a victory lap for the globalists.  “America no longer matters,” it proclaimed.

“The phenomenon of Trump is no longer interesting to people,” said Timothy Snyder, a Yale historian whose book about tyranny Trump helped send shooting up the best-seller list. Over his shoulder, I spotted former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry entering the reception we were attending. “A year ago, everyone thought Trump was just fascinating,” Snyder added. “I spend a lot of my life in Europe, and what I see is that the Europeans have moved on. America no longer matters.” …

“We know what he’s probably going to say,” [Steven] Pinker mused with the air of a man who could hardly care less. “‘Davos Man, screw you.’”

But that dismissal was belied by several indicators. “Theresa May was left red-faced after she gave her speech to a half-empty room in Davos as the crowds rushed out to see Donald Trump.” The Daily Beast concurs. “Forget the Boos—Trump Didn’t Bomb at Davos. European leaders Merkel and Macron made a show of filling the leadership vacuum, but Trump spoke to Davos billionaires in the only language that matters to them—tax cuts.” Emmanuel Macron, belying the Time claim that America has ceased to matter is ironically marketing himself as the man best able to wrangle the Trumpian bull through the globalist china shop.

It “may not be immediately apparent to the American President,” Andelman wrote, but “Macron is bidding for France to become the central pillar of a resurgent Europe. And if becoming Europe’s Trump whisperer has to be a part of it, he seems willing to grit his teeth, smile winningly, and pitch right in.” …

The United States is France’s partner in some key areas, like the fight against terrorism and policy on Syria, Macron pointed out. “If we get angry with [the U.S.], we cannot act anymore. France has never built a real strategy to change the world without the United States,” Macron said.

The French leader has no choice but accede to the power realities. Merkel’s fall has pulled the rug out from under Macron. Even the New York Times is reconciling itself to the possibility that Merkel may soon be gone. “As Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and her party prepare to negotiate another coalition government, her silence adds to a sense that she is steadily losing power.”

Besides as it turns out Trump really isn’t so bad.  Time grudgingly admits that “a year has passed, and the world has not fallen apart. Trump hasn’t started a trade war or a nuclear war; the world economy is booming, and America’s corporations just got an enormous tax cut.”

“‘I think we have stopped the threat of populism in Europe,’ a Scandinavian CEO told me, pointing to recent elections in France, the Netherlands and Germany.” In fact European elites have stopped populism so cold they are thinking of imitating it. “After months of negotiations … Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and a grudging Social Democratic Party (SPD) … fiscal policies that Germany’s emerging government is discussing bear a remarkable resemblance to those of US President Donald Trump, whose tax plan, most economists agree, will bring limited short-term benefits to a few, but huge long-term costs to many more. Indeed, the incipient German government is discussing cutting taxes for corporations and the rich, while raising spending on public consumption, especially public pensions.”

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery a lot was in evidence at Merkel’s coalition policy talks. “Merkel’s allies seek cuts to tax and migrant benefits.  Berlin: Germany’s Bavarian conservatives are pressing for corporate tax cuts and cuts to welfare payments for asylum seekers, further complicating talks to form a new government.”

Taken as a whole recent events in Davos suggest the globalists, far from exulting in triumph and declaring America dead, have settled into a kind of uneasy truce with the populist rebels.  Internationally at least they have failed to strangle it in the crib and though unwilling to forego they own internationalist agenda, are prepared to engage in a modus vivendi with the forces that have rocked their world. (Though they may still hope the American special prosecutor will remove Trump for them)

Interesting but imperfect parallels can be drawn between the populist revolt of 2016 and the republican revolutions of the 18th century.  When news of the American rebellion first broke out, European rulers feared that republicans would be the mortal foes of aristocracy.  But it proved not to be the case.  The two systems were able to coexist.  When Edward VII was buried in 20th century London, panoplied royalty and great commoners alike marched in procession, as Barbara Tuchman memorably related.

So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens – four dowager and three regnant – and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again. …

A regiment of minor German royalty followed: rulers of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Waldeck-Pyrmont, Saxe-Coburg Gotha, of Saxony, Hesse, Württemberg, Baden, and Bavaria, of whom the last, Crown Prince Rupprecht, was soon to lead a German army in battle. There were a Prince of Siam, a Prince of Persia, five princes of the former French royal house of Orléans, a brother of the Khedive of Egypt wearing a gold-tasseled fez, Prince Tsia-tao of China in an embroidered light-blue gown whose ancient dynasty had two more years to run, and the Kaiser’s brother, Prince Henry of Prussia, representing the German Navy, of which he was Commander in Chief.

Amid all this magnificence were three civilian-coated gentlemen, M. Gaston-Carlin of Switzerland, M. Pichon, Foreign Minister of France, and former President Theodore Roosevelt, special envoy of the United States.

It sounds, oddly enough, like Davos.

In a few decades after that gorgeous cavalcade nearly all the crowned heads of 1910 would fall, not to their republican foes, but to threats as yet unimagined.  Such is the way of history.  In the same way the men at Davos might have finally realized they can survive Trump though they will have to compete with the forces he represents.

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The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam, In this book, bestselling historian Max Boot chronicles the life of legendary CIA operative Edward Lansdale and reframes our understanding of the Vietnam War. Lansdale pioneered a “hearts and minds” diplomacy, first in the Philippines, then in Vietnam, a visionary policy that was ultimately crushed by America’s giant military bureaucracy. With interviews and newly available documents, Boot rescues Lansdale from historical ignominy and suggests that Vietnam could have been different had we only listened.

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The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
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The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
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Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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