If there is any “consensus” for America in the world, it is that the differences between “authoritarian” societies (Kings, Emperors, dictators, Fascists, Communists, etc.) and “democracies” (U.S., UK, France, etc.) are so vast and apparent that to “convert” the first into the second has always been, and remains today, as the chief purpose of America on political earth.
Quite a purpose, but it remains timeless and consistent, as important today as it was in 1630 when Paster John Winthrop labeled America as a “City Upon a Hill.” Or when Thomas Jefferson first articulated the American theory of an “Empire of Liberty” (1780). The most famous expression of this came in 1918 when Woodrow Wilson first articulated war as an event to make “the world safe for democracy.” The most recent expression may have occurred when, in July 2023, typically, President Biden defined U.S. military aid to Ukraine as necessary for democracy and order all over the world, then, now, and forever:
“We must never forget how much this matters and never, never give up on a better tomorrow. The defense of freedom is not the work of a day or a year. It’s the calling of our lifetime, of all time.”
This is not a critique but a reminder. No matter when, what, or where the occasion occurs, be it a war for our independence, between ourselves, Spain, Germany, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, China, Cuba, or Ukraine, the cause and effect are the same, eternally, defiantly, and non-stop. It may be called different names, war “to end” war, for “liberty,” “democracy,” “hearts and minds,” “nation building,” and “endless,” but both justification and endurance are “eternal.”
At the risk of overstatement, we are all “Wilsonians,” like it or not (what was Ronald Reagan’s middle name?).
This is the “background” for an emerging impression that this “consensus” has disappeared, never to reappear again. I must admit the same temptation, as the domination of domestic “isms” and ideological, sectional, racial, and income divisions continue to haunt and divide what was once a fairly stable and prosperous social order (minus a few momentary “setbacks” typical of social orders, like civil war and depression).
The idea of an “American Century,” the reflection of winning the greatest wars in human memory, the notion of the most prosperous society in history seems to have surrendered to a determination to forget or “remake” the whole society and its several virtues against other societies on earth. The notion of “kneeling” when the National Anthem is played is symbolic of this frustration, a disturbing “climax” to what seemed to be a unified whole. Symbolic as well is what amounts to a reversal of Kennedy’s call to “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” (1961).
The whole entity appears to be “in reverse,” against even Lincoln’s call for “malice toward none, charity for all” (1865), now “malice toward all, charity for none.”
In a recent essay in The Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria defined this American consensus (described above) as “dead.” Normally thoughtful, Zakaria blames conservatives and Republicans as the reason “The Republican Party might be returning to its roots. … many conservatives are not interested in an engaged foreign policy. They’re focused on building tariffs and walls, subsidizing domestic industry.”
He also brought up history as an example. In the 1952 campaign, the Republicans had two candidates, General Dwight Eisenhower and Senator Robert Taft, Ohio, an isolationist. At one point, IKE (as he was known) offered not to run if Taft would support NATO. Taft refused, and the rest is history: a stable U.S. foreign policy and the end of the Soviet Union.
Zakaria’s analysis, if true, is worth considering. If true.
I would label the cause more “sociological” than “political.” More from the “Bottom Up” than “Top Down.” That, to me, describes “consensus” and its origins.
Reminder: The 1952 Republican Platform, under Ike, was intended to revive a national consensus in American foreign policies, as follows:
“The policies we espouse will revive the contagious, liberating influences which are inherent in freedom. They will inevitably set up strains and stresses within the captive world which will make the rulers impotent to continue in their monstrous ways and mark the beginning of their end.”
These words were precisely (and I mean “precisely”) the guidelines that led both the Goldwater campaign of 1964 (defeated) and the successful Reagan policies of the 1980s that led to the final and absolute end of the Soviet Union and the Communist World as a threat to freedom.
Need to remind? Both were Republican.
Final word: if Zakaria is right, we need Biden again. If he’s wrong: where the hell is Ike?