When last we observed the President, he was offering the responsible hitman’s credo – “Kill Without Joy” – but finding no client’s adequately lethal rage to proxy. With skeptics on one side fearing he was asking too much, skeptics on the other side fearing he was asking too little, his just-right coalition seemed to be both outflanked and far outweighed in Congress and public opinion. ((Though America has never been known for a Daoist approach to policy, the nation found itself on the pathless path to stillness, grasping for the strategy of ever lesser means to ever greater effects, whose ever-nearing/ever-receding absolute is no means/all effects, or do-nothing/be-all.))
Tuesday night, from the East Room of the White House, he invoked the magic words of American world-historical exceptionality, but almost as though to confirm that the spell has been broken. Read a few days later, the speech suggests an elegy more than a call to arms:
My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements — it has meant enforcing them. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world is a better place because we have borne them.
A contradictory metaphor from a man urging action, even the least action or a mere conditional promise of action: An “anchor”‘s action is to resist action. An anchor does not bear weight. It supplies weight. It does not forge or move to enforce. It was forged. It sits still.
Earlier, back on the other side of a series of Frequently Asked Questions, the President had reminded us that “The Nazis used gas to inflict the horror of the Holocaust.” Yet, from us, at this sub-surface nadir in self-confidence, of a polity defaulting to “no” on every uncertain binary, the cry of “never again!” returns no audible echo. ((Prepared remarks from UN Ambassador Samantha Power, delivered at the end of the G20, were also on historical point:
If we cannot summon the courage to act when the evidence is clear, and when the action being contemplated is limited, then our ability to lead in the world is compromised. The alternative is to give a green light to outrages that will threaten our security and haunt our conscience, outrages that will eventually compel us to use force anyway down the line, at far greater risk and cost to our own citizens. If the last century teaches us anything, it is this.
)) The President seems to know, but cannot seem to explain persuasively, in a way that matters to his Fellow Americans, why we cannot or cannot yet afford to let the reasons for being what we have been “for nearly seven decades” slip into the past, along with the last living witnesses of the creation. If at this moment the President appears less than he was, he is the image of our own self-diminution reflected back at us: His state is our state.