Brooks and Cohen

Bobo still can’t quite find it in himself to admit what’s happening in the Alt-White House…  Today he presented us with “Where History Is Being Made,” in which he gurgles that Washington will either preserve the world order or destroy it.  And “gemli” from Boston will have a few things to say.  Mr. Cohen, in “The Queen for a Free Trade Deal,” says Theresa May’s Brexit-buffeted Britain offers a bridge to Trump, but Europe mulls a rampart.  Theresa May has lost her mind, and Parliament has declined to hear from Mein Fubar.  Here’s Bobo:

James and Deborah Fallows have always moved to where history is being made. In the 1980s, when the Japanese economic model seemed like the wave of the future, the husband and wife team moved to Japan with their school-age children. Then, after 9/11, they were back in Washington, with James writing a series of essays for The Atlantic about what might go wrong if the U.S. invaded Iraq.

In 2006, they moved to China and both wrote books about China’s re-emergence. Over the past few years they have been flying around the U.S. (James is a pilot), writing about the American social fabric — where it’s in tatters and where it’s in renewal. That was pretty prescient in the lead-up to the age of Trump.

James and Deb have an excellent sense of where world-shaping events are taking place at any moment — and a fervent commitment to be there to see it happen.

Their example has prompted what I call the Fallows Question, which I unfurl at dinner parties: If you could move to the place on earth where history is most importantly being made right now, where would you go?

Let’s start with a little historical perspective.

If you had responded to the Fallows Question in 1968 you would have moved to California, both to the Bay Area and to Orange County. That would have put you at the epicenter of the ’60s counterculture, and also at the center of the Reaganite conservatism that arose in response.

By 1974, the most important place to be was the offices of the magazine Ms. For all its excesses, feminism has been the most important and the most salutary change of our lifetimes.

By the 1980s, the big historical changes had to do with capitalism and finance, so either Japan or Wall Street was the place to be. In the early 1990s, Europe was the place to witness the end of communism and the false dawn of global peace. By the ’90s, Silicon Valley was the most important driver of world historical change.

The Fallows were clearly right to go witness the rise of China, but by 2006 I could also argue that equally important events were happening in Baghdad, Tehran and Damascus, with the crumbling of the modern Middle East.

By 2010, the Fallows Question would have taken you to the neuroscience departments at universities like N.Y.U., Harvard and U.S.C., where cognitive scientists were rewriting our understanding of the human mind. By 2015, it would have taken you to working-class Ohio to witness the populist upheaval that is driving current global politics.

Today, I’d say the most pivotal spot on earth is Washington, D.C. The crucial questions will be settled there: Can Donald Trump be induced to govern in some rational manner or will he blow up the world? Does he represent a populist tide that will only grow or is some other set of ideas building for his overthrow? Are the leading institutions — everything from the Civil Service to the news media to the political parties — resilient enough to correct for the Trumpian chaos?

Washington will either preserve the world order or destroy it.

I sent the Fallows Question to the Fallows themselves, and they agreed in part with my Washington answer. But they also said that the most important place to be now might be places like Erie, Pa.; Fresno, Ca.; and Columbus, Ohio.

Trump’s presence in the White House may push change to the local levels. In these cities, the Fallows argue, citizen participants are coping with declining industries, creating new civic cultures, assimilating waves of immigration, collaborating across party lines to revive everything from arts programs to tech seedbeds.

If you want to “observe” history, the Fallows say, go to Washington. If you want to “participate,” go elsewhere.

That’s a good argument, but I suppose I should close by widening the possibilities. After all, few knew about Martin Luther in 1517 or what Deng Xiaoping would unleash in 1977. So maybe the most important spot on earth right now is to be found at:

An evangelical church in Brooklyn that has come up with a style of faith that satisfies the spiritual needs of blue America.

A National Front office in Paris where a French Stephen Bannon is plotting the final destruction of the European Union.

A bio lab somewhere where researchers are finding ways to tailor cancer treatment to each patient’s particular genetic makeup, thus lengthening lives and restructuring the phases of the typical human life.

A set of universities, headquartered in Mauritius and spread throughout Africa, that will unleash the human potential of that continent at exactly the moment when the African future, in many places, is most promising.

Most people can’t up and move in search of history. They’re tied down by work, family and spiritual commitments. But you only go around once in life, so if you can swing it, you might as well be where the action is.

Gawd…  Here’s what “gemli” had to say about this:

“The most important spot on earth right now is Vienna, where teams of psychiatrists trying to find out what’s wrong with our president.

There is no safe place we can move to as long as he is in charge. His personality is dissociating before our eyes. Either he can’t tell truth from fiction, which indicates mental disease, or he intentionally lies about self-evident truths, which indicates mental disease. At official gatherings he wallows in personal aggrandizement, followed by disparagement of some irrelevant critic.

The swirl and turmoil of being thrust inept and unprepared into the presidency have caused him to issue inconsistent, contradictory and irrational orders. As long as he’s president his missives will have the force of his office behind them, and will set courts and countries into disarray.

Republicans in Congress must recognize by now that the promise of his presidency will not advance their interests. There is no way to carry on business as usual. Democrats are rebelling, people are marching in the streets, foreign leaders are mystified and Putin is laughing.

There is no church, no bio-lab, and no university that will matter if things continue to destabilize.

So if I were the Fallows, I might head for a 1960s-era fallout shelter. Il Doofus hasn’t been president for three weeks, and already the world going to hell in a handbasket.”

Now here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Sunderland, England:

From this northeastern town that has lost its shipyard, its coal industry and its glass manufacturers in recent decades emerged the first signal that Britain was to change course. After the Sunderland Brexit vote came in — 61.3 percent in favor of leaving the European Union — there was little doubt how last June’s referendum would go.

Nissan, the Japanese automaker, had warned against a vote to leave. It is now the largest private-sector employer in the area, with 6,700 people working at its plant and tens of thousands more in the supply chain. Workers didn’t care. Like tens of millions of people across Britain and the United States, they were ready for disruption: to heck with the tired advice of politicians, multinational corporations and bankers.

Prime Minister Theresa May has since intervened with Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn, and the company recommitted to the plant last year. Still, Ghosn has said Nissan will “re-evaluate the situation” once the terms of Britain’s exit from a single market of a half-billion people are agreed. Those negotiations will take years.

That’s Britain’s situation in a nutshell: uncertain, unfamiliar and unsteady. The country has cut loose from its European ties; nobody is sure where it’s drifting, although May’s coddling of President Donald Trump has been insistent.

“None of us saw this coming,” Charlie Nettle, the head of marketing and business development at AV Dawson, a logistics company, told me. Behind him, in a vast warehouse, I could see some 30 tons of rolled steel, much of it destined for Nissan. “There was a massive divide between management and the work force across the board. We told workers management was voting to stay in and a lot of important international relationships were at stake. But they felt overlooked by politicians. This was their chance to be heard.”

Nettle said that after the vote, three companies that had been in negotiations on investments in the region that would have involved Dawson pulled out. Since then things have settled down somewhat, but, “We are still in this period where people are nervous about making investment decisions. That’s a bad thing.”

It will go on for a while. May has been trying to reposition Britain. It’s a tough exercise in that geography is immovable. Europe, rejected, sits next door. Sometimes it seems that she’s intent on turning Britain from a leading European power into America’s malleable little Euro-appendage. Well, she might say, that’s what the people wanted.

In fact, it’s unclear what the people voted for. Some 48 percent wanted to remain. The “Brexiters” were a motley band driven mainly by anti-immigration anger, sentimental nationalism, resentment of globalized elites, economic fears, phobias about Germany and Brussels — all whipped up by post-truth politicians. The European Union was little more than a convenient scapegoat for a host of anxieties. Now May is casting around for faraway friends to offset the damage.

Her first stop and priority was Washington. With unseemly and unprecedented haste she invited Trump for a state visit: the queen for a Europe-offsetting free trade deal. It was enough to make Britons squirm, especially with talk of Churchill thrown in.

This clumsy move has prompted a petition against the visit signed by more than 1.8 million people, a statement from the speaker of the House of Commons that Trump is unfit to address Parliament, and musings as to whether Prince Charles and Trump will get into a fist fight over global warming. May has been on the defensive about Trump’s pointless anti-Muslim immigration and refugee ban.

At the same time, siding with a president who wants to break up the European Union has not done May any favors as Brexit negotiations loom. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is unimpressed. “Our sucking-up to Trump when Trump is anti-E.U. is making our relationship with Europe more difficult,” Hugo Dixon, the editor of InFacts, a pro-European publication, said.

The May government has tried to portray Britain as Europe’s bridge to Trump. Bridge, schmidge: That did not wash. “I don’t think there is a necessity for a bridge. We communicate with the Americans on Twitter,” the Lithuanian president, Dalia Grybauskaitė, observed. In Europe there is serious questioning about what kind of ally Trump’s America is and whether a bridge — or a rampart — is needed.

As May shifts to a more pro-Israel stance, in apparent deference to Trump, and hurries to Turkey to conclude a fighter jet deal (going light on Turkey’s human rights record), a new post-Brexit British foreign policy takes shape. For now, it does not look edifying.

Brexit is the rift that will keep on giving.

Back in Sunderland, Ross Smith, the director of policy at the Chamber of Commerce, told me: “Hopefully, the negotiations will take years. We don’t want to fall off a cliff.”

Harry Trueman, the deputy leader of the Sunderland City Council, was wearing a Trump tie he bought in New York. “It’s the only thing Trump can produce,” Trueman told me. Then he showed me the label: “Handmade in China.”

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