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Mar 04

The State of the World is on My Mind

For many years, most of my blogging was about politics. In the period from early 2005 until late in 2008, I devoted my energies to political organizing, and I wrote nearly every day about opportunities for people in my region (the western four counties of Massachusetts) to participate in activities in support of causes and candidates I believed in.

In recent times, following my newly-acquired awareness (about ten years ago) that I am autistic, I have devoted my energies more to autism advocacy, and a lot of what I’ve written here has to do with disability rights and my understanding of the hidden role that autism has played in my life.

These topics, of course, are not mutually exclusive, and I have been involved in legislative advocacy to further the cause of state-supported programs to aid autistic people and their families and caregivers.

And I’ve also written about my pets, my hiking, my friends, and any other topic that seemed worth sharing. And I certainly will be doing much more writing about all of those things.

Today, though, I want to comment on an article I read, called to my attention by my friend Steve Silberman, about a deeply troubling look into the current state of affairs in just one important federal agency: the Department of State.

The article is

The State of Trump’s State Department
Anxiety and listless days as a foreign-policy bureaucracy confronts the possibility of radical change
by Julia Ioffe, March 1, 2017
on theatlantic.com

I don’t need to comment on the distressing anecdotes in the story; you can read the article for yourself. What I want to add to the account of this agency adrift is my impression that, I’m guessing, this represents what is also going on elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy. The EPA seems to be in disarray; NOAA is under attack in terms of budget cuts; this list goes on.

I’m not exactly sure what the current misadministration in Washington means by “America First!” but it is probable that history can provide some guidance here. There have been other isolationist movements in this country, and, for the most part, they have not gained the upper hand. The pattern revealed in Ioffe’s article is one of disengagement from the world, which would be consistent with an isolationist philosophy, as I understand it.

I’m not sure how this puts “America First” since it seems to me that the career diplomats in State have devoted their energies to doing just that. By developing and maintaining networks of communication with their counterparts around the world, this cadre of civil servants has kept America’s interests at the forefront of awareness in every diplomatic capital on the globe.

It is disheartening to read that these networks are now not being supported. Again, I don’t need to go into detail; the article is clear about the current lack of communication and support being given to the employees of State. As an example:

According to the other people I spoke to, though, Tillerson seems cut off not just from the White House, but from the State Department. “The guidance from Tillerson has been, the less paper the better,” said the State Department staffer. “Voluntary papers are not exactly encouraged, so not much information is coming up to him. And nothing is flowing down from him to us. That, plus the absence of undersecretaries and assistant secretaries means there’s no guidance to the troops so we’re just marking time and responding.”

Also, it’s hard to dismiss this disarray as being symptomatic of a new Administration trying to learn the ropes. This, in, my understanding, has never happened before. Each time, in recent memory, there has been a transfer of power, the functions of State have gone on without interruption. This time, in one example often cited, the daily press briefings have stopped. This has not happened before, at least in my lifetime. And I’m old.

The basic outlines of the federal budget to be proposed have been revealed. More spending on an already-bloated military budget, less spending on just about everything else. It’s not clear to me how buying more bombs is going to help resolve the inherently political conflicts that are going on around the world. More diplomacy might be a good thing, not less.

Also, I thought about how easy it is to destroy things; how hard to create. All the networks/relationships that took years to cultivate will go out the window if people are made redundant, and it would take many more years to return to the same level of trust and communication. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men…

Those of us who have been predicting the end of the American Empire probably did not think it would end this way. I know I didn’t. Wearing my economist’s hat, I envisioned us being gradually overtaken by other economies that have been spending less of their money on the hardware of destruction and more on basic scientific research and economic infrastructure. It seems now that the process will not be so gradual, but will be hastened by the intentional actions of a cabal of “America First”ers who will undermine the very institutions that made this country great.

I fear that America will no longer be a desirable tourist destination, nor will it be the place to receive a world-class education. It will become an unwelcoming place, an unnecessary detour on the path to success. I hope I’m wrong, and I hope thing turn around. Soon. At the moment, I am not optimistic. Ah, but it could be I’m not the only one who feels this way! Perhaps the people will rise up! That, my friends, is a topic for another essay.

Meanwhile, I leave you with this sobering thought from the Atlantic article about the current state of affairs. A situation we hope to change, of course, but for the moment

“This is probably what it felt like to be a British foreign service officer after World War II, when you realize, no, the sun actually does set on your empire.”

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