There is a fundamental disconnect between the American ruling class and the rest of us who actually live in the country. This is partly due to the mechanics of generational wealth, but the true difference lies in the pursuit of power. This is something that Henry Kissinger, one of the world’s most notorious war criminals, knew perfectly well.

Spencer Ackerman wrote a comprehensive takedown of Kissinger’s image as a leader of Washington’s foreign policy, and his work is superb. I recommend reading it if you want to understand why the United States is in the incredibly precarious state it is today.

The rise of Trump is not an ideological problem demarcated by a line of red and blue. If we want to understand why authoritarianism is surging like gangrene through our political systems, if we want to actually locate a cure, we have to understand the true nature of the disease.

Power.

When Kissinger slipped national security secrets to the Nixon presidential campaign, hedging his bet that whomever entered the office would find him indispensable, he proved the danger of power. When concentrated in the hands of a few, power becomes malignant.

Of course, there are many reasons for seeking power. Someone who emerged from the genocides of the Nazi regimes might seek power in order to prevent such horrors from occurring again. This background easily corrupts those who gain power, because anything becomes acceptable in the pursuit of self-defense (including the perpetration of similar crimes on other groups of people).

Another type of power-seeker might be simply: the manifest-destineer. This is the person who earnestly believes in the rightness of the ideological position they were fomented within. This is a perspective many American presidents have shared: not a matter of hurt people hurting people, but a matter of “I know what’s right for everyone, because my way is the right way.” Circular, self-reinforcing logic.

Whatever the reason for seeking power, it is the centralization of power that causes the worst offenses to nature and humanity.

We are quick to blame people who support authoritarians and oligarchs, without paying sufficient attention to the underlying causes. Hillary stated it perfectly in her support for Kissinger: that he believed in “the indispensability of continued American leadership in service of a just and liberal order” (Ackerman, 2023). "

Just what is a “just and liberal order?” It’s a simple phrase that belies the complexity of meaning. After all, what does a “just and liberal order” look like? So-far, it looks like coups, mass bombings, global destabilization, and the rise of oligarchic-authoritarianism beneath the umbrella of late-stage capitalism. When the phrase is unpacked along side its real-world consequences, it looks a little less palatable. But that’s now how it gets framed.

The same problem of framing arises when we consider the current problems in the United States. It’s easy to point to someone like Trump and place upon him all the evils of the world, but Trump is a byproduct of a deeper problem. The same liberal order that the American hereditary class of states-people gleefully support is a concentration of power that allows for the rise of demagoguery. This is the same with every concentration of power, be it Elon Musk’s corporate empire, or China’s ruling party. Wherever power coalesces, the fetid stink of corruption and self-reinforcing belief begins to rise.

References

Ackerman, S. (2023, November 30). Henry Kissinger, War Criminal Beloved by America’s Ruling Class, Finally Dies. Rolling Stone. https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/henry-kissinger-war-criminal-dead-1234804748/

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