Michael KreponWho’ll Stop the Rain?

Quote of the week:

“Good men through the ages, trying to find the sun;
And I wonder, still I wonder, who’ll stop the rain.” — John Fogerty

In 1978, Nick Nolte was a dynamic young actor with a breakthrough lead in Who’ll Stop the Rain? How often is a movie named after a great song? In this instance a Creedence Clearwater Revival tune perfectly matched the relentlessly downbeat story about a returning veteran down on his luck. It’s a mood more prevalent now that at any time I can recall.

A majority of Americans feel they are falling behind, with little hope of getting ahead. Hope and opportunity are in short supply. U.S. society is highly stratified by neighborhood, school system and supermarket. Princeton’s Stephen Kotkin, writing in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, nails it:

“Globalization creates wealth by enticing dynamic urban centers in richer countries to invest abroad rather than in hinterlands at home. This increases economic efficiency and absolute returns, more or less as conventional economic theory suggests. And it has reduced inequality at the global level, by enabling hundreds of millions of people to rise out of grinding poverty.

“But at the same time, such redirected economic activity increases domestic inequality of opportunity and feelings of political betrayal inside rich countries. And for some of the losers, the injury is compounded by what feels like cultural insult, as their societies become less familiar. Western elites concentrated on harvesting globalization’s benefits rather than minimizing its costs, and as a result, they turbocharged the process and exacerbated its divisive consequences.”

My beloved country probably hasn’t been this divided since the onset of World War II. Then, unification was forged through the shared sacrifices of defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Now, war is no longer a unifying construct. The post-Cold War equivalent of Pearl Harbor — the 9/11 attacks on US soil — had only transient unifying effects, shattered by the re-direction of a vengeful, martial spirit against Saddam Hussein, based on his presumed nuclear weapon capabilities. This and other military campaigns in what was once called the Global War on Terror were not about shared sacrifice. These burdens were borne by volunteers, while the rest of us went about our business, or tried to make ends meet. War and unshared sacrifice have deepened national divisions. The American heartland and the coasts are worlds apart.

The chief beneficiary of turbocharged alienation in the United States is Donald Trump. His counterparts abroad are riding the same wave. A deeply divided America stumbles abroad. A world that the United States restored after World War II is now either stunned by or reveling in Washington’s misfortunes.

The business that brings us together in these dispatches — reducing nuclear dangers and weapons — is no less stymied by domestic divisions. Absent near consensual support, treaties are off the table. Absent bipartisan support, political compacts like the Iran nuclear deal have insufficient allegiance. Amidst dizzying change, there is less alteration in the global nuclear order than in the tidal shifts of alliance and major power politics. The shape of the nuclear order congealed during the Cold War and remains resistant to change.

The Nonproliferation Treaty, whose 50th anniversary approaches, limps along. The Ban Treaty is a distant point of light that attracts believers but has no other gravitational pull. US and Russian strategic arms reductions may henceforth be achieved by economic practicality and common sense rather than by treaty. Proliferation might well proceed at a slow pace, as has been the historical standard. The next class of interested parties will depend on how the Iranian and North Korean programs are dealt with, and what remains of Washington’s ties with regional allies.

In a time of backsliding, there’s a strong logic to a strategy of holding the line as best as possible. And to be ready, when the sun comes out again, to pick up the pieces.

Comments

  1. J_kies (History)

    Holding fast to common sense and economics are not ‘sexy’ but they are likely the only achievable goals until and unless we attain political leadership more traditional than the last couple of generations. We can note that Eisenhower is in the news and some level of emulation of that deliberate style of seeking expertise and consensus in decision-making is called for in the future. At the moment I fear the demagogues that murdered the Party of Lincoln and Eisenhower and replaced it with the resurgent party of Jefferson Davis.

  2. Jonah Speaks (History)

    The problem with nuclear weapons (and the way we handle them) is that a single flawed decision could mean the sun never shines again. By that standard, the sun is still shining brightly, with only a few clouds to hint of a possible storm to come. That sun can quickly darken with less than 15 minutes warning, culminating in a global catastrophe far beyond what any mere hurricane could produce.

    If we must have these weapons, at least make it quite a bit harder for national leaders actually to use them. Require significant delays before nuclear retaliation (to prevent mistaken nuclear war), and require that multiple persons must sign off before initiating any first nuclear use (to prevent unwise nuclear war). These are common-sense restraints on nuclear-armed leaders for even the true believers in nuclear deterrence.

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