Intrepid, stubborn children do not heed the sensible warnings from their well-meaning parents. When approaching a hot stove, for example, a child’s curiosity overpowers and nullifies anything but the sound of its own desire. Don’t go near there, a mother might say; don’t touch that, a father might chime in. But the child will not listen, and as he approaches closer and closer to the object of his desire, he undergoes a transformation, a devolution, from Sméagol, to Gollum. That is, until he is shocked back into Sméagol by the hot surface. John Bolton is Gollum. And unlike the Gollum found in Tolkien’s universe, the Gollum in our universe doesn’t have a Frodo to bring him back into sanity and temporary humanity—there is no hot stove, to tie together the metaphors. Instead, rather than Frodo, our universe has Donald Trump. And what role does Donald Trump play? Donald Trump is the ring.
To further elaborate on this Lord of the Rings metaphor, Sauron is John Bolton’s ideology: realism. Bolton’s black speech whispers to the ring—aye, whispers—that the United States is being cheated; our burden is too much to bear; we are better off alone. It’s not just trade agreements that Bolton reviles. If he had his way, he would use the repeal of our nuclear non-proliferation agreement with Russia to send a tactical nuke to gently knock on the doors of the United Nations. He would send our troops to the steps of the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice to thoughtfully disassemble and then reassemble those buildings into family-friendly park structures. Anyone who advocates in mutual trust and cooperation would quickly find that, when dealing with Bolton, neither is possible. Why is that? Because Bolton is against anything that cedes power away from the United States. We should have all the power, he schemes, all of the time because there is no way for us to look after own interests otherwise.
Indeed, there is no way at all. It’s only the liberal Hollywood elites who would have you think otherwise. Well, there’s also Emmanuel Kant, whose theory of liberalism provided the intellectual backing for a liberal world order, which is diametrically opposed to Bolton’s conclusion—that is, mutual trust and cooperation is the best way to look after your own interests. Liberalism invites us to recognize the universality of the human experience. Be it a Sudanese child or a Vietnamese one, there are certain rights that he or she are entitled to, which provide and protect. For the greater part of the last century, we built and participated in international structures like the UN, ushered in and sophisticated the concept of international law, and tried integrating ourselves with each other more and more. This process hasn’t always been perfect—it’s at times entirely political; sometimes completely ineffectual—but it has provided another venue for problem solving before the need to pick up arms.
And then there’s constructivism which is like when you present a person with two choices, realism and liberalism, ask them which they like best, and they annoyingly answer, “I like a little of both.”
Bolton, through his influence, has chipped away at the progress that took place under the liberal world order. He took us out of the Paris Agreement and the Iran nuclear agreement; he tore up our nuclear non-proliferation agreement with Russia, the only other world power with as many nuclear bombs as us; and it’s because of his machinations that isolationism has once again taken hold as a seemingly viable alternative.
So why do I like John Bolton? I like him just as he is, believing what he does, and undoing the alliances, cooperation, and progress advanced under the previous administration because now that we don’t have nice things, maybe we’ll realize that we can’t have nice things unless we recommit to the principles of liberalism. The market cannot solely correct for global warming when global warming is thought not to exist. Mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent but a guarantee of what will happen if we don’t stop pursuing our own interests, as if we were an island on another planet. Frodo could not make it to Mount Doom unless the Fellowship of the Ring was formed. Frodo did not keep the ring for himself, even though he could. Sméagol did that, and by doing so, degenerated into the sinewy creature we know as Gollum. Bolton’s proximity to the ring guarantees his descent into madness. And if we all make it out alive by the end of it, we will have been assured that we were better off with the ring cast into the volcano, with Gollum caring for nothing else but continuing to hold it while he bathed in lava.