Tuesday, May 30, 2017


The suddenly consequential rift between Europe and the US continues to grow, with melancholy echoes of the past we were supposed to learn from and never repeat.

Our dictator apprentice continued his petulant verbal sniping at Germany on Tuesday, "perplexing" this key ally.   Meanwhile the new president of France followed his symbolic handshake refusal to be dominated by our feckless grandstander with a blistering critique of Russian iniquities presented to Putin in person.  As Slate reporter Elliot Hannon observed:

Two weeks into his term, the 39-year-old Macron struck an assertive, principled tone that you would have expected from an American president meeting with an increasingly assertive adversary. Macron met with his Russian counterpart privately, and then stood at a podium next to Putin and accused Russian state news organizations of an intentional disinformation campaign.

Apart from emphasizing the stakes in the Russian Connection to the White House, this moment is even more powerful in the context of Germany PM Merkel's suggestion that Europe can no longer count on its US partner.

But stronger leadership from veteran Merkel in Germany and the surprising young Macron in France may not be enough to maintain the peace.  For instance the New York Times reports on the continuing US neglect of Italy--we don't even have an ambassador there--while the Russians are aggressively courting the country and its government.

This is a profound echo of that dangerous period just after World War II, when Italy and its loyalty were up for grabs.  In the face of rampant unemployment and terrible shortages, facing a winter when widespread starvation looked likely, the Italian communist party grew powerful.  It may well have been only the timely and material attention of the US that prevented the country from becoming a Soviet ally.  This was the key turning point moment leading eventually to NATO and the EU.

A different sort of echo is found in the New Republic piece on how swiftly the Nazi Germany regime changed that country's culture and arguably European culture as well, to reflect fascist ideology.  It concludes:

Martin’s fine study of cultural diplomacy reminds us that ideas are mercenary creatures, always available to serve new masters. In the 1930s and 1940s, the extreme right borrowed the prestige of artistic genius and the internationalist spirit to smash the idea of a free, tolerant Europe. The example is a chilling one. And as authoritarian nativists reach once again for the reins of the international system, we will need to remember, perhaps desperately, that the trappings of civilization are not the thing itself.

The tragedy in Portland and its continuing aftermath ("You call it terrorism, I call it patriotism!" and especially the shocking suggestion by an Oregon Republican leader that hate group militias be officially deputized to protect his fellow Rs), as well as the spectacle in the Texas legislature that included a mortal threat of gun violence, suggest the depths and volatility of our current internal conflicts.  Despite its blundering, the current White House regime is always just a few steps away from dictatorship.  We need to keep learning from European history, in all kinds of ways.

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