Last week, Frank-Walter Steinmeier made his last visit to Paris as Germany’s foreign minister (he is about to become president) in order to issue a plea to the French people: “Please do not surrender to the siren song of populism.” His meaning was plain: Do not elect Marine Le Pen, leader of the nativist National Front, in the presidential election this spring. If France falls, Germany, which votes in September, could be next.
The darkest fears (and silver lining) of a Trump presidency
Perhaps I shouldn’t be sitting down to write this at midnight. I am, I admit, in a bad state. I can’t help feeling that America has committed the most calamitous mistake of my lifetime. There will be a time to be reasonable and to think what one what must do to prevent Donald J. Trump from inflicting terrible damage to the United States and to the world. But this is a moment for the rending of garments.
When I was in Poland this year, I asked everyone how a nation that exemplified the commitment to liberal democracy had elected a party, called Law and Justice, which openly appealed to nationalism, xenophobia, and religious traditionalism. Quite a few people responded with a question of their own: “What about Donald Trump?” Wasn’t the United States, that is, heading in the same direction? Yes, I came back, but since liberal principles are more deeply embedded in American voters and institutions, Trump won’t win.
I was born in 1954, and until now I would have said that the late 1960s was the greatest period of political convulsion I have lived through. Yet for all that the Vietnam War and the civil rights struggle changed American culture and reshaped political parties, in retrospect those wild storms look like the normal oscillations of a relatively stable political system. The present moment is different. Today’s citizen revolt — in the United States, Britain, and Europe — may upend politics as nothing else has in my lifetime.
A strange thing happened in the Aegean Sea last month: No refugees drowned. This modest piece of good news was, however, overwhelmed by the calamity in the Mediterranean, where 1,083 refugees drowned in the last week of May. Those poor souls, almost all African, left from Libya, a country unable to exercise control over its borders. But passage across the Aegean is controlled by Turkey, which has clamped down on trafficking in the wake of a deal it reached with the European Union in March. In 2015, 800,000 refugees crossed from Turkey to Greece.
Iran is working with the Taliban to set up a buffer zone along its border with Afghanistan to keep out the Islamic State, the latest sign of how the rise of the Syrian-based terror group is turning longtime rivals into uneasy allies.
The Founding Fathers studied history a good deal more seriously than we do. Every day when he was 7 years old, John Quincy Adams read to his mother, Abigail, from Charles Rollin’s Ancient History of the Egyptians, Carthaginians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Macedonians, and Grecians, a best-seller of the day. Adams’s father, John Adams, and mother assigned their son passages from the great Latin historians and essayists — Cicero, Sallust, Tacitus, Plutarch.