Dear Partners in Thought,
Today the world sees great geopolitical rivalries developing, notably pitting Russia, China and their partners against the US and the West in ways not seen since the heights of the Cold War. The invasion of Ukraine and the latent threats to Taiwan are vivid examples of such a new geopolitical landscape. The West always stood for democracy and the liberal order, naturally led by America which unequivocally assumed its clear and natural role since WW2. However, today something does not feel completely right, in that the leader of the aptly-named Free World has gradually changed its essence, at times without noticing it – this with an impact on itself and its key leadership of the West. America today may be its own worst enemy as well as a key concern for the West in what it (the West) projects and stands for, bringing to the fore personal experiences and an assessment of what is not right and should be fixed for the benefits of all.
Born in July 1960 in Paris, I grew up thinking that, without question, America was the world’s savior. I grew up remembering this young and inspiring President whose life was cut short (indeed my first memory as a child was when I heard the Dallas news at the dinner table) and who, in my mind, represented so well this huge country with limitless means and ambitions, whose sons had landed in Normandy to free us in June 1944. My father once took me to our “cinéma” in Paris to see a rerun of “The Alamo” by and with John Wayne-Davy Crockett assisted by Richard Widmark-Jim Bowie and Laurence Harvey-William Barrett Travis. This movie and its story of courage, abnegation and sacrifice shaped the young man I was to be. When finding the otherwise great France too much of a “closed shop” in my early twenties, I decided to go for the “American Dream” where anything was possible as long as you worked hard and wanted to succeed. I met extraordinary people of all ages there, graduated from a great school (having borrowed left and right and becoming a teaching assistant on campus – in the American way) and secured my first job in New York. Based on this unusual route for a young Frenchman, I was then able to go back to Europe, joining the leading investment bank in the City of London, something my American Dream had made possible. I had been driven by those natural American values that were hard at times to define, and carried an Hollywoodian flavor of old, but which you felt what they were. They made you strong, they made you proud. They made you good. America then was defined by its “exceptional” idealism. Today I try searching for “my” America and cannot find it at times.
So, what happened to America? And why should we all worry? America is showing signs of inner decay at many levels today, especially identity – which is awful for Americans, but also for the West and the world at large, as we all need a stronger America at its core. The examples of decline will reflect many of the themes I already stressed for us all in general, like the negative aspects of tech and social media and the slippery slopes taken at times by the business and finance sectors (gambling cryptocurrency, senseless tech valuations of profitless companies at listing, oversized pay packages of CEOs feeling left out when seeing Musk, Bezos and Zuckerberg – all areas actually experiencing a backlash recently). These negative issues were often born in America and quickly globalized, but they were not hitting at the core of the country itself with all the related damage we see today. There are three core US features of decay that need to be stressed, as they are eating at the democratic nature of the indispensable country, and because we need a strong democratic America in the global context – as we see with both Russia and China, not to mention tactical sideliners and rogue actors globally.
The three deep American issues today are: mass shootings and gun control – clearly at the forefront of all issues today, an unrepresentative supreme court and the irrational electoral system, all of which destroy the democratic tissue of America, and thus its standing as a leader of a democratic free world. All three problems are connected by the misuse of the American constitution in order to defend the indefensible, protect vested interests and eventually lethally harm America and thus the West.
When thinking about Alamo it is not hard for me not to compare it with Uvalde, given the mass shooting tragedy that happened in Texas where local law enforcement should be ashamed of its mismanagement of the crisis. However, and while knowing the tragedy could have resulted in fewer deaths of children and teachers, and there are many unbelievable features to it (like listening to the mother’s shooter asking for forgiveness for her son but adding that he “must have had his reasons” being a top one), the real issue going forward is with the misuse of the second amendment of the constitution and its projected holy flavor. Using the right to bear arms that the Founding Fathers thought to be right to protect freedom should never be used to sell arms without mental health and background checks or even selling military type assault rifles to civilians (how could an 18-year old buy two “ARs” without raising concerns?). Guns are now – incredibly – the first cause of death for Americans under 19. Gun control today is only a bipartisan issue in Washington while most Americans are clearly for sensible gun control regulations, as if the country was experiencing a strange parallel world and democracy was denied on the altar of business interests hiding behind perceived fundamental rights. This Uvalde tragedy should once again drive legislators to action, but some on the NRA side hope for collective memory to be short as in the past. Chris Murphy, Senator of Connecticut, was right in taking the floor and stressing loudly that this was enough, something the NRA did not acknowledge by keeping to its annual conference in…Texas. America today is the only country where these mass shootings in malls and schools take place almost making a bad joke of “American exceptionalism.” We have reached a point where the Republican Party will pay a very deep electoral price as Americans, be they parents or grocery shoppers, will have had enough.
There may also be deep economic consequences for those who benefit from the sale of arms we see today, from manufacturers to retailers. It was amazing to listen to comments about the Buffalo mass shooting two weeks before and seeing the only media focus rightly put on the African-American targeted victims, though with literally zero mention of how this deranged 19-year old white supremacist had been able to secure his weapon. A former Philadelphia Police Commissioner made the point following Uvalde, that it was clear that the Founding Fathers would not support selling assault rifles indiscriminately, so that America would have more mass shootings than days in the year to May end 2022. On a related note, the role of extremist social media, as with the Sandy Hook Connecticut school massacre (still holding the lead event position with 20 children killed), was shown in Uvalde like with the fake message (later deleted) from some Republican congressman that the shooter was a transvestite– as if to make the act understandable (some corrupt social media showed him with the LGBT flag in background again preying on strangely-used unacceptable discrimination). The solution is not with arming teachers – a great NRA and Trump way forward – but preventing the sale of arms to unqualified individuals, while banning assault weapons as in the past. It is time for genuine bipartisanship, however hard it may be for some politicians relying on the NRA’s political contributions, unless they wish to keep their self-benefiting contribution to the American decline going and – if I may be jokingly bold – their children learning Russian or Chinese mandatorily one or two generations from now. There is a need for common sense in the US Congress and especially on the Senate floor. Maybe there is hope as even actor Jon Voight, a well-known Republican and former Trump supporter, has now emotionally called for gun control. Governor Abbott should make a trip to the Alamo in San Antonio, not far from Uvalde, and reflect on what Texas should be, this also for the standing of America as a true democracy and the benefit of the West.
The likely US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) reversal of 1973 Roe v. Wade decision can be discussed in detail (for instance, addressing the number of weeks before an abortion is legally allowed), but the crucial matter is that of “SCOTUS v. America” today. When more than 70% of the American population wants Roe v. Wade to be preserved, how is it possible for a court, whatever its status, to reverse it? It is, again, a key matter for American democracy ¬– and thus the West – where politics and the set-up of a court, be it the highest in the land, collide with common sense. Three of the judges, appointed by President Trump, seem to be willing to vote for a reversal, this on mainly political grounds, hidden behind so-called human and likely religious values; this in spite of their having stated they did not believe in a reversal at their Senate confirmation hearings. SCOTUS should not be a politically-motivated game of who appoints whom and when. It is actually inconceivable for conservatives to support a Roe v. Wade reversal while forgetting they go against individual freedom, which is a major tenet of their core beliefs. Similarly, minority religious beliefs should not lead to a reversal, as if America were a theocracy of the Taliban kind. Once again, the Republican party and elected officials may pay dearly at some point for their mistaken fight, which combined with NRA support in the wake of all the mass shootings on schools and grocery stores, is unacceptable. It would be far better if SCOTUS actually looked more closely at gun control.
The American constitution led the way for the country to be a federation of states which today number 50. The problem that America lives with now is that some states are vastly underpopulated (compare California to Wyoming) but all benefit from two Senators in the US Congress. This set-up, which made sense at some point on political-philosophical grounds and history, over-represents small states, while potentially giving the victory to presidential candidates based on more numerous electors even if not benefitting from a majority of the backing of voters nationally. While small states, usually heavily rural ones, with decreasing populations as some of their residents move to urban centers, at times to other states, will naturally fight to preserve their rights, the future of America cannot be decided by a minority – all the more so if unrepresentative of the national mood. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that these small states are heavily Republican, making the party take irrational positions on purely political grounds, and indeed hurting the democratic essence of their country. The issue goes well beyond the traditional American sport of gerrymandering or legal manipulations of electoral constituencies’ boundaries and goes to the core of American democracy. It is, of course, a sensitive subject that even Democrats are afraid of tackling – even if it would make sense for the ultimate well-being of their country, and indeed the West.
I hate criticizing America, as I still love it and know its capacity to evolve for the better, as shown in its history. My points are also not meant to be anti-GOP. I always felt like a Reagan Republican at heart, and am not at all impressed with the extremism we see with the peripheral wings of the Democratic party with its Woke movement and the throwing down of statues– even if I realize the historical, racial and social problems that America knows and which need to be addressed. I am worried about the American decline (which even the new Top Gun movie would appear to indirectly refer to if comparing its 1986 version when America was flying high) that also has an impact on the West as we all need, as the situation in Ukraine and elsewhere shows, a strong leader of what we still want to call the Free World. The American decline in values and standing started when George W Bush launched the invasion of Iraq in 2003 on groundless weapons-of-mass-destruction reasons, even if Saddam Hussein was clearly a regional evil incarnate, and the memory of 9-11 was raw. Donald Trump was culpable – even if his administration also pursued sensible policies, and many of his senior staff were responsible and honorable individuals – for an America less concerned with its founding values, given his appalling presidential style and modus operandi. Even Joe Biden was surprisingly led to an unconscionable exit from Afghanistan on practical grounds, leaving its women and girls at the mercy of backward extremists in spite of the West’s earlier promises of a better world (even if the challenges of this were many). Today America is divided like at no other time since the Civil War, which should drive people of good will from across the aisle to get together and finally realize the deep damage to America and the Western world. One clear lesson for Europe of the Ukraine war, and the American societal struggles, is that it needs to develop an autonomous defense capability long-heralded by President Macron. Such a European move would strengthen the West as we started seeing with Finland and Sweden applying to join NATO, and Germany finally confronting its past and realizing the need to step up militarily. However, we also need a clear and strong leader with the values that make us truly different and indeed great.
At a time of our support for Ukraine and with a major indirect conflict with Russia, if not yet and hopefully never a war for the West, it is key not to forget the values that separate us – and thus the US as our leader – from countries like Russia and others. As many now say, America needs to live up to its ideas – or we will all pay the price. The disconnect we see must stop as the future of the Free World is simply at stake.