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The World Is Burning. And America Is AWOL.

From Belarus to Hong Kong to Beirut, the world is falling apart. And no one even thinks to look to America for leadership.
August 12, 2020
The World Is Burning. And America Is AWOL.
Shutterstock)

1. The World Is Not Doing Great

I realize that no one in America cares about foreign affairs anymore, but perhaps you’ll indulge me.

Right now, things are very bad in Belarus.

In case you’d lost track of the former Soviet satellite, Belarus has been ruled by an authoritarian since 1994, when Aleksandr Lukashenko won a free and fair election to become the country’s first democratically-elected president.

He was also the last democratically-elected president, as he immediately began using the tools of government against the democratic system. On Sunday, he was “elected” to his sixth term with “80 percent” of the vote.

I know what you’re thinking. 80 percent! He must be doing an incredible job!

Here is how election day went in Belarus:

  • Lukashenko’s primary opponent was the wife of one of the guys who had been running against him, until he had the fellow arrested and jailed.
  • The state does not allow pre-election polling.
  • On the day of voting, security forces raided the challenger’s campaign headquarters.
  • The government shut down the internet and disabled most of the country’s cellular networks.
  • And the state security forces blanketed the capital riding Chinese-made armored vehicles.

Authoritarianism can happen in lots of different ways. Coups, putches, monarchical traditions.

But it can also arise from democracy. One man, one vote. One time.

As soon as Lukashenko announced his landslide victory—many people are saying it’s the biggest election win ever!—Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin called to congratulate him.

The world’s democratic leaders having been moving . . . a good bit more slowly.

As of Monday, the people of Belarus had taken to the streets in protest and were being fought by state security. Not good.

Speaking of President Xi, he’s been a busy beaver, too. Also on Monday, Hong Kong’s newly established secret police rolled up on Jimmy Lai, the pro-democracy media mogul who owns the liberal paper Apple Daily. Lai was arrested and the offices of Apple Daily were raided, with a great deal of equipment confiscated.

This raid was the most recent expression of the state security law which China forced on Hong Kong six weeks ago. If anyone doubted that the ChicComs meant business, well, here we are.

And then there’s Lebanon.

Last week Beirut saw what might have been the largest non-nuclear detonation in the history of man. It occurred because a warehouse in the capital’s port had been storing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate for six years.

The very fact of this kind of boggles the mind. I realize that not every country runs with the precision of German bureaucracy. But I did some back-of-the-envelope math and this is roughly equivalent to someone saying,

Hey, I’ve got 2 million sticks of dynamite. Where should we put these? Over there, in that building on Pier 40? By the West Village? Cool.

The Lebanese capital is nearly uninhabitable. The Lebanese government has fallen. The country was already deeply in debt and now threatens to become a failed state.

This is in a neighborhood that was already in turmoil.

Now I ask you: Where is America?

The hyperpower cannot be in all places at all times. We are not responsible for cleaning up every tragedy that happens anywhere on the globe. But in Belarus and Hong Kong our strategic adversaries are pushing ahead and we are not even inconveniencing them. In Lebanon we risk the region becoming even more destabilized.

We have interests in all three of these crises.

And yet not only is America utterly absent from the stage, but the world isn’t even bothering to look to us.

Why?

Because we are weak. We insult our allies and curry favor with dictators. Our friends no longer trust us and our adversaries no longer even bother to account for us.

This country has been hobbled.

2. Q

The QAnon—I’m not sure what to call it, cult? conspiracy? movement?—has been a punchline pretty much since the beginning, but I suspect that people are going to be forced to take it seriously over the next six months as its—adherents? members? believers—start showing up in Congress.

Reporters at NBC have gotten access to an internal investigation by Facebook and the results should convince pretty much everyone that QAnon isn’t a joke:

An internal investigation by Facebook has uncovered thousands of groups and pages, with millions of members and followers, that support the QAnon conspiracy theory, according to internal company documents reviewed by NBC News.The investigation’s preliminary results, which were provided to NBC News by a Facebook employee, shed new light on the scope of activity and content from the QAnon community on Facebook, a scale previously undisclosed by Facebook and unreported by the news media, because most of the groups are private.

The top 10 groups identified in the investigation collectively contain more than 1 million members, with totals from more top groups and pages pushing the number of members and followers past 3 million. It is not clear how much overlap there is among the groups.

In my darker moments I wonder if QAnon will be the most important legacy of Trumpism because it manages to marry the white nationalists, the conspiracy-minded, and the movement conservatives all under a quasi-religious framework that is unfalsifiable.

You should take these people seriously.


3. Sportsball

Two things today. First, a Philly-centric story about the rise and fall of Comcast SportsNet, as told by a guy who worked there. (Think of this as the Deadspin story, but for Philly cable sports.)

If Philadelphia sports fans have a reputation for being most comfortable in misery, the truth is that no city’s fans more adore the ongoing act of being one. They are passionate in a way that places like Phoenix and Charlotte and Orlando cannot fathom.

All they ask is that the athletes and the writers and the talk show hosts and telecast talent are all in with them. You don’t always have to win for them. You don’t have to root with them. But you’d better not mail in a performance. You just need to care as much as they do.

And everyone at SportsNet cared about the product. Everybody from the videotape crunchers to the assignment editors to the show producers to the on-air suits were given the freedom to be themselves, the room to create and the budget to execute fresh ideas.

Read the whole thing.

Now look: I understand that unless you’re part of the Philadelphia diaspora, this will not appeal to you.

So I have something else for you. Just a small thing: Incontrovertible proof that God exists.

The other day the Houston Astros were visiting the division-leading Oakland A’s. Carlos Correa stepped into the box and the God of Infinite Justice suspended the laws of physics inside a 3-foot sphere so that this happened:

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.