The Other News of December

December 20, 2019 Updated: December 22, 2019


One is always in danger of being wrong when thinking that any contemporary event will end up having much historic importance.

Our times always seem more momentous and challenging than those that came before. Still, I think the first few weeks of December 2019 will go down in history as momentous and a time that will demand reflection.

And, most of that history being made was lost in the American media by one big story that sucked all the oxygen out of the room.

Yes, it’s momentous that the House of Representatives marched down the road toward the impeachment of President Donald Trump. Trump is now the third president to have been impeached. That’s history in the making, and momentous history it is. It will set precedents, and those precedents will cast a shadow over our future presidents and Congresses. But, he’ll also not be removed from office by the Senate, and so we’ll return to the status quo early in the new year.

However, while the media was obsessing over the drama of members of the House reading their scripts (no, not “debating”), some other momentous things were happening that got too little attention.

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A welcome sign at the base of the steps to the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, on Dec. 16, 2019. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

The Economy and Judges

The U.S. stock market continued its astronomical rise toward 30,000. As of this writing, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up more than 10,000 points during the Trump presidency—almost one-third of its total value. The economy on the ground continued to roll with the creation of more than 260,000 jobs last month, a record almost no one expected.

Under the leadership of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the U.S. Senate has confirmed its 50th appeals court judge under the presidency of Donald Trump. This blistering pace of confirming judges outstrips almost all historical precedent and has changed the judiciary in America for decades to come.

The British Elections

In Britain, the Conservative Party of Boris Johnson won a massive victory over Labour. The victory was so large that in order to see such a historic defeat for the Labour Party, one would have to search voting records all the way back to the 1930s. Like what’s happening in the United States, rural and traditional blue-collar workers are turning against left-leaning candidates, and doing so decisively.

Brexit is now, finally, an inevitability as the people of Great Britain reach out to claw back some of the traditional sovereignty that had been taken by the bureaucrats of the European Union. What people will decide next that they have had enough?

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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a stop in his General Election Campaign trail at Jimmy Egan’s Boxing Academy in Manchester, England, on Nov. 19, 2019. (Frank Augstein/Getty Images)

For generations, observers have marveled at the parallels between the politics of Great Britain and that of the United States. Margaret Thatcher’s victory as prime minister came just before the rise of Ronald Reagan, and the two conservatives worked together to help defeat the Soviet Union and break the back of economic stagnation.

In the 1990s, Tony Blair rose to rebuild Labour shortly after Bill Clinton took over the Democratic Party and rebuilt it along more moderate lines. The Brexit victory in June 2016 seemed like a foretaste of Trump’s win a few months later.

What does Johnson’s crushing victory mean for U.S. politics going into 2020? One will have to wait to tell for sure, but it does seem to possibly point to good things ahead for Trump, who shares more than just a style and hair color with the prime minister.

And, it should be a strong warning to Democrats who are trying to decide whether to move the party as far left as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Jeremy Corbyn moved his party considerably to the left, promising more government, more regulation, and higher taxes, and saw his party wiped out for his efforts.

The ‘Afghanistan Papers’

What should be of even more long-term concern to the American people, the so-called “Afghanistan Papers” were revealed earlier this month.

In those papers, a kind of secret history of the war in Afghanistan, the true beliefs of American decision-makers, has been laid bare. I have been working with U.S. soldiers for the better part of the past decade, and what those papers expose at the highest level of U.S. government is what those on the ground seemed to have known all along—the United States wasn’t winning the war because decision-makers didn’t understand the country or know what was actually possible in it.

That’s not to diminish the heroism and good work done by members of all our armed forces who were put on the ground and in the air in that country. They did what they were asked to do and did it well. The problem, as in Vietnam, was a political problem, not a military one.

The parallels between the war in Afghanistan and the war in Southeast Asia 50 years ago demonstrate our frightful lack of ability to learn from our mistakes. Our military and civilian leaders are again telling our politicians and presidents what they want to hear. We continue to fail to realize that we can’t govern a country and transform a culture half a world away (and a half a millennia away, culturally).

Similar to the “domino theory” of the 1960s, our Afghanistan strategy was based on the idea that we could deprive terrorists of their “safe haven” without anyone observing the simple fact that terrorists just go to other locations when one place is shut off to them. We burned their poppy fields and expected them to thank us and become good American corn farmers.

We failed to appreciate that no one governs Afghanistan from the center, because it’s not one place, but hundreds of traditional tribal cultures separated by rugged mountains, traditions, egos, and economies.

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(L-R) Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley hold an end of year press conference at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., on Dec. 20, 2019. Esper and Milley fielded questions on a wide range of topics, including the situation in North Korea and a recent Washington Post story that disclosed the “Afghanistan Papers.” (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

While our media was obsessing over the impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives and giving their script-reading nearly wall-to-wall coverage as if it all wasn’t a foregone conclusion, big things were happening in the world that we need to consider and learn from.

What’s the key to America’s rising economic prosperity? What will all these new judges mean for the Constitution and the rule of law? What does the landslide election in Great Britain foretell for U.S. politics and for the decentralization of power around the globe? Why are Americans continuing to bleed treasure and lives in Afghanistan, and what’s our strategy in being there now, almost two decades after the attacks of 9/11?

December has already been a month of historic news and developments. Impeachment is only one of those, and, ultimately, probably not the most important.

Gary L. Gregg is director of the McConnell Center and host of the great books podcast Vital Remnants.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.