In a geopolitical earthquake, Finland officially joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization yesterday, even as the United States found itself consumed by its own lurid domestic drama. So, even as America’s already enviable position in the world continues to expand and consolidate, primarily as a result of Vladimir Putin’s botched invasion of Ukraine, our domestic travails continue to distract and disorient us, even as they threaten to unravel America from within.
This strange dynamic of simultaneous global dominance and domestic unraveling was on stark display in the split-screen of downtown Manhattan and NATO headquarters in Brussels, where Finland’s national flag was raised to signal its place in the American-led alliance even as the first American president was arraigned on criminal charges in New York City.
In any case, it’s clear the radical homegrown authoritarianism embedded in the Republican Party, and personified by Donald Trump, are far more dangerous to us than even our most potent global adversaries in Beijing and Moscow. Of course, those threats also feed off one another, as in the case of Putin and Trump’s long and fruitful political alliance, which continues to this day.
As prosecutors attempt to hold Trump accountable, in the run-up to 2024, the gravest danger to our democracy will continue to threaten us from within. It’s a threat that will crystallize as we approach our next national election, one in which Trump may be both a criminal defendant and the Republican nominee, as Beijing and Moscow do what they can to stir up dysfunction in our fragile democracy.
Prosecuting a president
Indeed, Americans were intently focused on the spectacle in New York, as Donald Trump was indicted for making hush money payments to silence a pornstar before the 2016 election, resulting in 34 criminal charges against the former president and current Republican frontrunner. Trump was indicted, arrested, and arraigned yesterday in a Manhattan courtroom, amid a deafening media circus, becoming the first American president, current or former, to be indicted on felony charges.
However, the indictment seemed to be based on something of a novel legal theory, amid serious questions about whether or not it would stand up in a court of law. Regardless, the indictment has allowed Donald Trump to rapidly consolidate his control over the Republican Party, galvanizing his followers, and raising an extraordinary amount of money.
In the short term, it seems the dominance of his authoritarian movement in the GOP is all but assured, with few Republicans willing to take him on as he’s facing criminal charges, particularly with those charges seeming weak.
Indeed, there’s been nearly universal concern from lawyers and political analysts about the weakness of the case, and anxiety that a failed prosecution would be “rocket fuel” for Trump’s third bid for the presidency, in the words of John Bolton, his former national security adviser turned conservative critic.
In any case, all eyes were on New York yesterday, and will remain trained on the Trump reality television saga for the foreseeable future, even as at least three other simmering criminal investigations threaten to produce their own indictments against the former president.
Thus, there was little reporting about the earth-shaking international developments affecting America’s position in Europe, despite the fact that Finland’s accession to full NATO membership carries with it profound implications for European and American security, with Washington and a newly belligerent Russia on opposing sides of a brutal war of aggression in Ukraine.
Indeed, it was a reminder that America’s own domestic dysfunction, and Washington’s tendency toward self-absorption, can overtake even the most advantageous strategic situation. In an increasingly tense and multipolar world, we may not have that luxury for long.
Finland joins NATO
Indeed, NATO’s border with Russia has just doubled in length. NATO gained 832 miles of border along the Russian-Finland frontier, and a new ally with one of the strongest militaries in Europe, and extensive historic experience in the art of resisting its massive Russian neighbor. Neutral throughout the Cold War, Finland is now officially under Washington’s nuclear umbrella, and if the country is attacked, can expect NATO’s Article 5 protection.
Likewise, Sweden looks set to join sometime before the next NATO summit convenes in Vilnius, Lithuania in July 2023.
It amounts to a major strategic headache for Russia, and a black eye for the Kremlin on the international stage. Finland is deep in the heart of what the Kremlin considers its natural sphere of influence, and the fact that it’s joined NATO after decades of neutrality is a humiliating strategic reversal for Russia, and Vladimir Putin personally.
After all, Putin launched his vicious war of aggression in Ukraine partly because of his fears of NATO enlargement choking off Russia’s geo-strategic position; the idea that his botched invasion has now led NATO onto much of his border, and has effectively reduced the Baltic Sea to a NATO lake, must have been beyond his imagination.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was a “violation of our security and our national interests.” He said the Kremlin would be “watching closely,” even as Putin indicates that he’ll soon be placing tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, a reminder of the global stakes of these developments.
A showdown over Taiwan
Meanwhile, a newly assertive China is protesting the meeting between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing Wen. China has declared meetings between Taiwan and the U.S. verboten, a breach of the One China policy that America sometimes adheres to, and sometimes does not. With President Biden having issued numerous solemn promises to come to Taiwan’s defense in the event of a Chinese invasion, the issue is a live ball, and a perilous one for all involved.
However, it seems somewhat unlikely that Beijing will launch another fearsome show of military force, as it did when Nancy Pelosi visited the Taiwanese leadership, sparking a major showdown between China and the United States that continues to claw at the superpower relationship.
In any case, with Xi Jinping clearly eyeing Taiwan, and Vladimir Putin continuing to pursue his catastrophic invasion of Ukraine, it’s an increasingly dangerous world, particularly as Beijing and Moscow seal their somewhat shaky alliance. Still, this tense geopolitical climate does nothing to negate the fact that America’s biggest problem is here at home.
The Republican Party is still caught in a destructive whirling cult of personality, led by a sociopathic madman who’s already shown he’s more than willing to use political violence to get what he wants. As he’s prosecuted for his crimes, Trump can be expected to do as much as damage as possible, at the head of the Republican Party that he dominates.
Thus, it feels as though international and domestic tensions are rising together, inextricably linked by personalities, politics, and passions. It’s enough to make even the most jaded analysts somewhat nervous, as powerful forces converge, and potentially erupt, with unknown consequences.
Read the author’s personal blog at https://alexziperovich.substack.com