Ever since Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart admitted that he couldn’t define pornography, but that “I know it when I see it,” the line has become something of a joke–trotted out to underscore the less-than-coherent nature of an observation or complaint.
What isn’t a joke, however, is the increasing divide between people who recognize the complexities and realities of the world we live in and those who are increasingly at sea. The latter group– grasping for bright lines and responding to slogans in lieu of analysis–are easy pickings for politicians willing to pander to their fears and incomprehension.
A recent commentary posted at Talking Points Memo provides a graphic example of the phenomenon. The writer attended the Trump/Palin/Cruz rally against the Iran agreement, and noted the reaction to Trump’s bombastic, non-specific attack, which boiled down to “I could have done it better” and “America needs to win again, and I’ll make America a winner.”
“We’re going to build up our military. We’re going to have such a strong military, that nobody—nobody!—is going to mess with us. We’re not going to have to use it,” said Trump.
This is American Exceptionalism re-imagined by Charles Atlas. Trump wants to prove that he can make America so huge and so strong—the strongest!—that no terrorist would dare kick sand in our faces again. Thinking this way is more than a little silly, but it is exactly how the people who went to the Stop Iran Deal Rally felt.
The pity of this all is that the Iran deal shows how America can lead (and win!) in an increasingly disorganized world. We negotiated with Iran from a position of strength. We had support from our European allies. We had Iran’s billions in our banks. Behind door number one was Iran giving up their nuclear weapons program. Behind door number two was Iran becoming the next destination for Drone Airlines. The United States gave up nothing in this deal. In exchange for their own money, Iran gave us what we wanted: an Iran without The Bomb.
This is what winning looks like. This is our enemy surrendering their weapons without a fight not because they love us but because they know they would not survive the fight. After our embassies getting bombed, 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia invading Georgia, the red line in Syria, Benghazi, Russia invading Ukraine, Boko Haram, and ISIS, stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons was change we need to believe in.
One of the most frustrating aspects of the dispute over the Iranian agreement was the absolute lack of alternatives (other than war) offered by its opponents. Watching proponents and opponents debate the issue was like watching an adult argue with a two-year-old having a meltdown.
If people who don’t know it when they see it, people looking instead for simple, non-specific messages, bombast and empty rhetoric, end up outnumbering thoughtful Americans at the polls next year, we’re all in trouble.