One of Bill Buckley’s favorite postprandial games during the winter skiing season in Gstaad was asking his guests whom they considered to be the worst American president. I emphasize the location because Gstaad, like its sweatier counterpart resort Palm Beach, is known more for the billionaires who live in $100 million chalets than for the high IQ of its visitors.
When in the Big Bagel, as I call the city, Buckley had a wider choice where brains were concerned: Tom Wolfe, Henry Kissinger, Conrad Black, you get my drift. No use playing games after dinner, exchange of ideas trumping distraction each and every time. Back in the Alps, however, I remember one American know-nothing anointing Calvin Coolidge as the worst, which led me to spill a glass of red wine on him while apologizing falsely but profusely. (Coolidge continues to be my favorite, along with Richard Nixon, because he left things alone and did not interfere in other countries.)
When my turn would come, and Buckley always kept me for last during countless dinner parties, I always answered either Woodrow Wilson or Abraham Lincoln, although the former was a far bigger hypocrite. (And unlike Abe, he did not pay for his crime of going to war and misleading the nation.) But what can one expect from a Princeton professor, or any professor for that matter. Dishonesty and hypocrisy are academic traits as popular as patched elbows on tweeds and polka dotted bow ties.
America entered the arena of world politics in 1917 by interfering in a European war, and by inadvertently helping to upset the applecart in Russia. 70 years later, the collapse of communism marked the intellectual vindication of American ideals, handing Uncle Sam a moral authority that is deserved but hardly adhered to by other nations. (I spent my youth travelling in countries that hate America with a passion, places like the Middle East, South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Germany and Britain are the two European countries that like Uncle Sam).
So, how can the hysterical New York Times work itself into a frenzy with that recent phony headline about “the loss of U.S. moral authority?” What universe is the Times living in? Uncle Sam, however unfairly, is among the most hated symbols on earth, which brings me to the point of my story: What has the good uncle done to deserve this? Envy is obviously one reason, or where the French—among the most anti-Yankee people I know despite two trips overseas by American boys to save French bacon—are concerned, American anti-intellectualism as illustrated by Mac Donald’s. Basically, however, these are petty points more suited to a high school debate. The main reason for the lack of moral authority of the U.S. is interference, no ifs or buts about it.
As Henry Kissinger wrote in Diplomacy: “For as long as Americans have ascribed Europe’s travails to the balance of a power system, its leaders have looked askance at America’s self-appointed mission of global reform.” Like petulant children, European nations were not best pleased to be lectured by Woodrow Wilson and his 14 Points in Versailles. 40 years later, Vietnamese were just as displeased to be told by Americans to practice democracy and stop hiring family members for civil posts. 20 years earlier, Guatemalans, among other South Americans, saw their elected leaders overthrown by people financed by the CIA, and, in 1961, the butcher that was Fidel Castro, became a hero overnight by repelling a CIA financed and badly organized attack by anti-Castro Cubans living in the good old U.S. of A. I could go on.
The 45th American president has only been in power since couple of months, yet the media are howling about losing Uncle Sam’s moral authority. Well, a president should not stoop to answer—which he does and should not—but all he has to do about this one is to ask: Who gave George W. Bush the moral authority to cause the death of more than one million Iraqis, including close to 200,000 children? (And on a phony charge of W.M.D.s provided by the neo-cons). Who gave LBJ the moral authority to kill more than three million Vietnamese? Who gave FDR the moral authority to economically strangle Japan in order to force the island nation to attack the mighty uncle, who then dropped couple of A-bombs to seal the deal?
Let’s face it. The media is furious because the people are on to them. Phony stories like the loss of moral authority because of Trump’s election do not hold water. Moral authority is an amorphous and idealistic situation that can be ascribed to anyone by interested parties. Americans have always felt they were on the side of the angels because most of the time they were. Americans are good people who mean well, but that doesn’t mean others think like them. I am always surprised when Greeks blame Uncle Sam for their self-induced disasters; when the French blame the cultural disasters of McDonald’s and Coca Cola; when Mexicans use gringo as a swear word; or when Muslims call the good uncle the Great Satan.
Mind you, Donald Trump needs my advice as much as America needs to read the Times. “How can we get rid of him?” was an extremely plebeian columnist named Kristof’s idea of helping the nation. An even worse one called Richard Cohen wrote that Trump knows nothing about Europe, hence he should quit. Well, Wilson knew a lot and look what happened—another world war. A really scary-looking scarecrow, Paul Krugman, complains weekly about the pro-Trump coverage of Trump by the media. (Krugman needs to be
Here’s my unsolicited advice to The Donald: Listen to Steve Bannon, stop answering your critics, follow Calvin Coolidge’s example of non-interference in foreign affairs, and see “allies” like the Saudis and Qataris as what they really are: fifth columnists.