Friday, March 17, 2017

Hard Power in an Age of Fear


Many of us who grew up in church learned the story of David and Goliath in Sunday School. In that story the Philistine army featured a very strong and very large warrior named Goliath. He is described as being six cubits and a span in height. In other words, very tall! He was so tall that he instilled fear in the army of Israel. No one was willing to go up against him, until a young shepherd arrived. That shepherd was named David, and he volunteered to meet the enemy. He did so, not armed with conventional armament but with a sling and a few stones. He prevailed. (1 Samuel 17).


I tell the story of David and Goliath as a prelude to some comments about the initial budget proposed by President Trump and his staff. In this budget, the Defense budget, which is already the largest component of the budget outside Social Security and Medicare, will get a 10% increase. At the same time the State Department, the diplomatic wing of the government will see its budget chopped by 29%. Much of that decrease in budget is the elimination of foreign aid. The rationale is that this is a "Hard Power" budget, not a "Soft Power" budget. That is, rather than engaging the world through diplomacy we will engage the world through a projection of strength. Instead of sending Peace Corp volunteers to Africa, we'll send air craft carriers to the far corners of the earth. Back in the day they called this "gun boat diplomacy." The idea here is not to get the nations of the world to like us or even respect us. The goal is to make the world afraid of us.  

There is I believe a connection between this new age of "gun boat diplomacy" that is related to the anti-immigration agenda that is also sweeping the nation.  While the talk of building a wall, along with ICE raids on couirt houses is supposedly addressing the problem of "illegal immigration," this effort is connected with a desire to reduce even legal immigration.  a rationale here that is encompassed in the idea of "America First."

The current Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has been fairly forthright in his opposition to the affects of immigration on the US. In a 2015 interview with Steve Bannon, now Donald Trumps chief political strategist, Sessions praised the 1924 immigration law that significantly limited immigration from southern Europe and Asia. 
 In seven years we'll have the highest percentage of Americans, non-native born, since the founding of the Republic. Some people think we've always had these numbers, and it's not so, it's very unusual, it's a radical change. When the numbers reached about this high in 1924, the president and congress changed the policy, and it slowed down immigration significantly, we then assimilated through the 1965 and created really the solid middle class of America, with assimilated immigrants, and it was good for America. (quoted in Atlantic article).  
In order to protect this "solid middle class America," which is white and predominantly Christian, we will need to discourage immigration. You can do that in several ways, and one of those ways is to instill fear. You can discourage people from coming here by creating a hostile environment. Soft power, that is diplomacy and good works, won't do this. 

I am an American. My ancestors came here from Europe at different points in time. My maternal grandfather immigrated here from Holland. During World War II he oversaw the Port of Embarcation in San Pedro, California. That means, he, as an immigrant, oversaw the location from which American troops headed out to war. Now, he was a European and not an Asian. He was from Holland not Spain. 

We have choice as a country. We can try to live in isolation, building walls, physical or otherwise, to keep people out. But such a vision is not rooted in strength. It is rooted in fear. Now, it is appropriate to take certain precautions. Border security is important. But, to build your nation on the premise of fear will not in the end work  That is what Goliath and the Philistines discovered when a boy with a sling came forward to meet them.  

So, perhaps there is a better way, the way of love. For perfect love casts out all fear. (1 John 4:18).

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