Tags: doug schoen | book | collapse | world | leadership

Doug Schoen: Only US Leadership Can Stave Off Global 'Collapse'

kim jong un and president donald trump meet during a denuclearization summit
North Korea's Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump (Kevin Lim/AP)

By    |   Thursday, 18 April 2019 06:22 PM

"Well, Doctor, what have we got – a republic or a monarchy?"

That question, posed to Benjamin Franklin as he departed Independence Hall in 1787 after the Founders finished drafting the Constitution, drew a sharp response from the canny inventor.

"A republic," he replied, "if you can keep it."

How best to protect, preserve, and promote the unique American experiment has been Douglas E. Schoen's singular focus throughout his storied career as a pollster, pundit, and writer.

His new book "Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership" elevates his calling to a new level, offering a convincing case the political, cultural, and social pillars of American life are crumbling faster than anyone could have imagined.

Schoen begins with the premise that governing elites, both in the United States and abroad, have advanced their own interests at the expense of the Great Unwashed.

"Failed leadership seems to be the common denominator everywhere," he writes. "It's no wonder then, that we're seeing such anti-systemic, anti-elite motivation in country after country."

The most obvious manifestation of this disconnect between the governing classes and the hoi-polloi now resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, in the person of President Trump.

Schoen maintains "the problems and trends that led to Trump's shock emergence have been festering for years, in the United States and around the world."

At times Schoen, a centrist Democrat who served as one of President Bill Clinton's pollsters in the mid-90s, pins some of the blame for the downward spiral on former President Obama.

He was especially critical of Obama's "ruinous nuclear deal with Iran," which he says "has all but guaranteed Tehran will become a nuclear power."

But, at other times, Schoen turns his critical eye on Trump, particularly his penchant for Twitter storms that tend to undermine allies and staffers trying to promote his agenda. The author suggests the jury's still out on whether Trump can provide the leadership that America and the West so sorely need.

"For now at least," Schoen writes, "it comes down to Donald Trump. Is he up to it? Does he want to be? The answers to those questions will tell us much."

His roster of the crises plaguing the West includes unfettered migration by those who refuse to assimilate into their new societies; growing income inequality; failing schools; stagnant economies outside of the United States; the continual low-probability, high-impact threat of terrorism; and the rise of illiberal, authoritarian governments – Russia, China, and Iran – that increasingly challenge the U.S.-dominated global order.

He also addresses the West's well-documented "crisis of faith," including the sharp spike in Americans who claim no religious affiliation.

Says Schoen:

"That the decline of religious faith would transpire roughly in tandem with a loss of faith in Western ideals, history, and culture, I believe, is no accident."

The most obvious fallout from the failure of Western politicos to advance the interests of their citizens, he says, is the collapse in the perceived legitimacy of institutions once assumed to be reliable fixtures in public life. He cites the example of the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey that measures public faith in institutions like government, law, business, media, non-profits, etc. In 2017, it registered the sharpest decline in trust in major institutions in the survey's history.

"The public has grown increasingly disgusted with elite institutions," Schoen writes, "especially government, but also business and the media."

The loss of trust in established institutions has consequences. Indeed, Schoen insists, "Trump's rise would not have been possible without the loss of trust in government and institutions."

And he goes on to show the rise of populism is growing abroad as well, noting "Europe's little Trumps" in Germany, France, the U.K., and The Netherlands have been gaining influence for some time.

But it remains to be seen whether Trump-ism can cure what ails America.

"What worried me about candidates Trump," he writes, "was that he seemed to see America First to the exclusion of an American role in the world."

Any book aiming to be more than just another Jeremiad regarding the many dilemmas besetting Western Civilization faces a major hurdle, namely, prescribing realistic alternatives that illuminate a brighter alternative future.

Fortunately, Schoen has the keen intellect and vast experience the job requires. He bases his approach on what he terms "assertive democratic idealism." He reasons, because there is no substitute for global American leadership, Obama's "leading from behind" mantra "meant in practice not leading at all," he says – it is critical to assert U.S. power and influence in the most effective way possible.

"America must lead," the author declares, "and its leadership depends not only on the revival of its institutions and the faith and confidence of its people but also on an approach and a vision that, put into practice, will deliver constructive results for the country, its allies and the world at large. I call it assertive democratic idealism."

Schoen seems equally willing to criticize Democrats or Republicans. But his larger goal in "Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership" is one that transcends mere politics.

History, he warns, is pretty clear about one thing: The United States still stands as the world's indispensable nation. And unless its commander in chief and its people are prepared to lead on the global stage, the middle will not hold, and collapse is sure to follow.

"It is my fervent hope," he concludes, "that the United States will get the leaders it needs to steer a course of American leadership that, in my view, remains the last, best hope for the world."

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Douglas E. Schoen's singular focus throughout his storied career as a pollster, pundit, and writer has been how best to protect, preserve, and promote the unique American experiment.
doug schoen, book, collapse, world, leadership
Thursday, 18 April 2019 06:22 PM
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