America's Next Referendumb Is For Keeps

ORACLE, Arizona - Okay, I stopped in this old settlement near Tucson just for the dateline. I wanted to reflect on some accidental Delphic prescience.  Back in May 2016, I thought Hillary would be a shoo-in, but reporting out in the real world had me worried.

Here is what I wrote then:

“PARIS After five months back in America, I can't imagine any day in human history more fraught with peril than next November 8. Elections will weigh how much we have lost of our values and our good sense: a national referendumb.

“The world is scared witless. Wars flare. Climate chaos worsens. Desperate migrants are on the move. Youthful nihilism feeds a clash of civilizations. This is no time for America to retreat into hateful, us-first ignorance.

“Whatever Donald Trump isn't, he is good at selling snake oil. And far too many angry, confused Americans can't, or won't, separate fact from flimflam. Let's make no mistake here. He could win.

“When I left in November (2015), Europeans were laughing off our multibillion-dollar campaign spectacle. Now it seems about as funny as the Black Death.”

Back then, a worldly Parisian told me, “Of course, he can't win,” then added, “Or can he?” Pondering that, he shuddered. His disbelief has since evolved to contempt for the society that chose him. That pretty much typifies the wider world.

Lots of Americans get that. John Brennan, CIA director until 2017, is among the more articulate. He served under six presidents, silently watching bad decisions made in good faith. He is no longer silent. Russia, he says, seems to have something on Trump.

After Trump fired Andrew McCabe with vindictive glee hours before his retirement, Brennan tweeted: “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history.”

That rings true. But what happens in the meantime? Many domestic depredations can be undone by regime change. The real dangers, largely unseen and little understood, are beyond our borders. Already, America is the incredible shrinking superpower.

Brennan compares Trump to an animal that lashes out when cornered. He could trigger a diversionary Wag-the-Dog war. Timothy Snyder at Yale, author of “On Tyranny,” fears he might magnify some perceived threat from abroad to attempt postponing elections.

Global war is unlikely. Neither Russia nor China want Armageddon. Instead, they watch happily as America tears itself apart, ready to remake the world in their own image: few human rights, a muzzled press, no pressure to save resources for the future.

Tyrants in Africa and Asia can now plunder in peace. A Middle Eastern despot bombs and gases his own people with impunity. As America slams its doors, European neo-fascists exploit fear of hordes at their borders fleeing conflict and climate calamity.

Germany was rescued and rebuilt thanks largely to America. Its chancellor, born behind an Iron Curtain, now upholds free-world values. But Europeans need a wise NATO ally. Taught in school to think, they've read Yeats: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”

As I pack up after my yearly Arizona teaching gig, the rest of that stanza worries me: “The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

The Irish Nobel laureate died in 1939 in Menton, on the France-Italian border, just as two world-class despots set Europe ablaze. “The Second Coming” ends: “And what rough beast, its hour come around at last, Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”

Today, a hypocritical faux-Christian American “president” is slouching toward Jerusalem to build an embassy. Sheldon Adelson, his Zionist pal in Las Vegas, offers to pay for it. In today's Animal Farm America, the porcine class rules deluded beasts of burden.

This alone is enough to chuck our “president” into that dustbin of history. In the unholy land, opposing people have been arguing for millennia over who is David and who is Goliath. Today, however, the weapon of choice is no longer a slingshot.

Step back for the big picture.

China now eats our lunch and an hour later is hungry again. Xin Jinping, now Great Helmsman for life, doesn't fear musclebound U.S. military power. No one wins a nuclear war. He responds to deft diplomacy, not some real-estate shark's one-sided “deals.” Those tariffs will backfire.

Xi relies on a Harvard-trained vice premier to streamline clunky systems of economic management. China plunders ocean fisheries and global mineral wealth. Authoritarian control can achieve wonders if unhindered by messy democracy. Look at Singapore.

Trump's sniveling subservience to Russia amounts to a sort of treason America has not seen in 200 years. That his partisans reject out of hand the Christopher Steele report signals to the world that America is controlled by a plurality of deluded fools.

This is Putin's wet dream: Russia redux. He left his fingerprints all over that poisoning in Britain. He corrupts American politics with a clear message: Deal with it, losers. And then Trump congratulates him on a sham election, failing to mention his crimes against humanity.

Anyone can keep up with the world if they find actual reporters who cover it. Too much “news” is fragmented third-hand bits relayed by like-minded friends. Without broad context and detailed focus from credible sources, the overall picture is lost.

Newsfeed algorithms that decide what interests us mean we miss crucial stories simmering toward a boiling point. And some of our old stalwarts now let us down, driven by profit rather than public responsibility.

I like dogs. Odious Beast, my Congo-born Belgian shepherd flew with me around the world for 17 years, But Russia's support for Bashar al-Assad's genocide, say, deserves more air time than a bulldog pup suffocating in a United Airlines overhead bin.

Take CBS, which once gave us Murrow and Cronkite. Today, focus is on American inside baseball, inspiring features and isolated snow storms with little mention of the climate collapse is making freak weather our new normal.  

In Norah O'Donnell's admiring “60 Minutes” interview with Mohammed bin Salman, she asked only one question on Yemen. That let the crown prince dismiss eyewitness accounts of U.S.-backed atrocities as Yemeni lies to make Saudi Arabia look bad.

Then there is North Korea, the Wall, and so many other impetuous, dumbass policies designed with a single purpose: Trump's deluded sense of personal glory. His sleazy liaisons titillate and define his character. His assaults on the world matter more.

Our self-focus is hardly new. George Washington warned of “foreign entanglements.” That, however, was an age of slow ships and muskets, even before Mitch McConnell.  Today, “America First,” telling the world that no one else matters, is fatal thinking.

Those Florida kids offer hope, yet this goes way beyond gun laws and 17 victims of a homegrown deviate. Leaders at every level must take into account the other 95 percent on our overheating planet. If not, we don't need a Delphic oracle to see the future.