Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



Seven months ago America was a happy place. The economy was booming, with two percent growth rate, unemployment reached historic lows, including for blacks, we had pleasure eating in restaurants, attending churches, going to movies and concerts, and watching baseball games. Now the country is in near shutdown and we're scared to travel by air.

When a friend asked if we'd ever see the good times again. I replied "not likely, but we'll get used to it."

This pandemic profoundly changes our lives. Some call it a "tectonic shift" in the entire way we live. Young people adapt faster than their parents, and take more risks because they give higher priority to their freedom than to staying home. Many parents think that getting their kids back in school is more important than teachers' concerns about Covid-19.

The economic, political, and foreign policy impact on our country is so great that many conclude America is falling behind other countries. The economic costs are huge. The optimism displayed by investors in the stock market is offset by continuing major unemployment, closing of restaurants and small businesses, and bankruptcies or downsizing of major retail stores.

As Congress grapples with yet another stimulus package that balloons the budget deficit to nearly four trillion dollars, many ask: Who will pay for this massive debt? It puts the economy at risk if Congress fails to raise taxes or drastically cuts federal programs. In reality, America now approaches a financial precipice, and courageous leadership is needed to avoid disaster.

On the political side, the country is more sharply divided between conservatives and liberals than at any time since the 1930s when it faced the Great Depression. Our current political divide began, I suggest, in the 1990s after the Cold War ended and was reignited by the unending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The trend accelerated during Donald Trump's presidency.

Many Americans, liberals and conservatives, are frustrated with their national leaders and demand change. Yet, both political parties grapple with powerful dissenting constituencies that demand their congressional leaders be more radical.

Optimists think presidential elections push the president and Congress to negotiate solutions to major issues. Realists argue that we live in a new era where congressional leaders can't agree on major issues, with the result that presidents employ executive orders, and some are challenged in court. Failure by Congress to enact immigration reform, for example, gave Trump an excuse to go around it and build a barrier wall on the US/Mexico border. As a reslt, America is moving steadily toward a model of presidential power that we haven't seen since the administration of Franklin Roosevelt.

The impact on foreign policy of our economic troubles and growing political impasse has led to the loss of U.S. influence abroad. Europe began distancing its relations with Washington during George W. Bush's administration, largely over his launching war on Iraq. Good relations were partially restored during Barack Obama's presidency but they remained contentious because he too chided Europeans for not carrying their economic weight in NATO.

This trend accelerated when President Trump declared "America First" as his new foreign policy. He pulled the U.S. out of several international agreements that Europeans supported, including a nuclear arms agreement with Iran.

The United States no longer has the ability to persuade others to accept its policies on major international issues. A prime example is Turkey which had been a staunch ally during the Cold War and now works with Moscow to expand its influence in the Middle East. Another is the Philippines, a firm U.S. ally in Asia that now supports Beijing's claims in South China Sea, largely because of its large trade with China. Turkey and Philippines elected nationalist leaders who don't accept Washington's view of their world.

Columnist George Will and many scholars conclude that America is in decline and will continue to look inward. However, one should recall that many held similar views in 1968-1971 when the Vietnam War produced domestic turmoil and radical counter-culture zealots who threatened internal security. It was exacerbated by the Watergate scandal that caused President Nixon's resignation. Public confidence was only partially restored by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

America has at least one major advantage over China, Russia, and other authoritarian states: We vote every four years for president and every two years for members of Congress.

In 2018, voters decided to give Democrats control of the House of Representatives because of dissatisfaction with Trump's first two years in the White House. In November, we will decide if Donald Trump should get another four years. or replace him with former vice-president, Joe Biden. Neither Russia nor China provides that opportunity; their leaders are there for life.

File last modified on Monday, 03-AUG-2020 04:15 PM EST

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