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Military Analyst On 'The Great Hysteria' Surrounding Trump's Presidency11:01Download

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President Trump pauses as he speaks to members of the media regarding the situation in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminister, N.J. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
President Trump pauses as he speaks to members of the media regarding the situation in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminister, N.J. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Military analyst Andrew Bacevich says people should spend less time worrying about President Trump and more time thinking about the context of his election: how and why he was elected. Bacevich calls the reaction to the election "the Great Hysteria."

The president, Bacevich writes on TomDispatch.com, is not cause "but consequence." Here & Now's Robin Young speaks with Bacevich about his latest essay.

Interview Highlights

On the Trump presidency and the political climate in the U.S.

"Racism pre-exists the Trump administration. We had horrific episodes, manifestations of hatred when President Obama was in the White House. I think there's no question that this president has helped to create an environment which is more conducive, which brings these people out of the woodwork, helps their cause. But he did not create the problem, and the burden of the argument that I'm trying to make in that essay that you cited is that I think we err when we obsess about the president, about President Trump, because in doing that, we lose sight of the factors that created the conditions that allowed him to become president in the first place."

On why he believes the issues of the country go deeper than Trump

"I would endorse all of the criticisms that have been made that are made of President Trump on a daily basis. That he's a dissembler, that he's a narcissist, that he's uneducated, that he's uninterested in becoming educated, that he's temperamental, that he lacks judgment, and it's a travesty that he has become the president of the United States. But one gets a sense, as I try to monitor the debate, one gets a sense that the people who oppose Trump think that if we could just goad Trump into resigning tomorrow that, you know, by the day after tomorrow, everything would be hunky-dory. And I think that's not the case. As Trump supporters view the direction of the country, I think particularly since the end of the Cold War, and assess the ideas, the principles that seem to be guiding the direction of the country, they said, 'Hey, these aren't working for me.'

"And his genius, if you want to call it that, was being able, by 2016, be able to tap that collective animosity and to bring these people into the voting booth to cast votes for him. But my point here is that what deserves more attention than I believe it's getting is, what the heck are those ideas? What course did we follow — we the country in the wake of the Cold War, this moment of great victory, this moment when in a famous article Francis Fukuyama said we had reached the end of history when all the basic problems of humankind had supposedly been resolved? What happened after that? And I think what happened after that is the country went deeply wrong. And in some senses the election of Donald Trump is a reflection of a growing awareness that the country had gone wrong. So that's not an endorsement of Donald Trump, really it's simply an appeal to say, 'The conditions that created him deserve far more attention than they have been getting.'"

"I think we err when we obsess about the president, about President Trump, because in doing that, we lose sight of the factors that created the conditions that allowed him to become president in the first place."

Andrew Bacevich

On those conditions

"My hypothesis is that idea No. 1 is that globalization was going to bring us to some kind of a collective utopia — that globalization, given its capacity, globalization, really shorthand for corporate capitalism, American-style corporate capitalism on a planetary scale, that that was going to create so much wealth that it was going to be a problem solver. Well it turned out that it did create great wealth and left a whole lot of people behind and hurting and disenchanted. So globalization didn't live up to its promises. Second idea, I think, was the notion that the United States was going to continue to be the great leader of the world and that the availability of superior American military power was the instrument whereby we would maintain peace harmony and our preeminence. And that has led us, in my judgment, to a series of pretty stupid wars, unsuccessful wars, costly wars, with no end in sight. Of course, Trump promised that there would be an end. But, of course, now that he's president, there's still no end.

"The third idea, and this is the one that, candidly, I have the hardest time articulating, is the conception of individual freedom that we collectively have embraced. And I'll say it in blunt terms that many people will disagree with, but it seems to me that increasingly, and I think the end of the Cold War is sort of a rough date for when this tendency matures, and that is that we've abandoned sort of the traditional Judeo-Christian rooted notions of how we are to behave. And we, collectively, many of us, have embraced the notion that there should be no limits on the exercise of personal freedom.

"I think that the example is particularly evident in the whole realm of sexuality and gender relations, and I don't want to sound like I'm sort of, somehow against all this. What I do argue is that the expectations of those who have promoted this broader conception of freedom have not yielded happiness, solidarity, a collective sense of being engaged as people, as Americans, in some kind of an enterprise that we are all committed to. I mean, when I look at our country — opioid addictions, epidemics of obesity, epidemic of porn — these are not indications of a healthy society. So we have more freedom today as individuals than we ever have had. But something ain't right."

On his ideas for America's next steps

"I don't have a recipe for how to fix it. I believe that — I see myself as a conservative, I think principled conservatives have things to say in this, with regard to this issue. I strongly believe that principled progressives have things to say, and we need to have a debate. You know, the core question of the debate is: What is the definition of the common good in America in the 21st century? We need an answer to that question."

This segment aired on August 14, 2017.

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