I must grow old. Jerry Brown is starting to make sense. Arnold Schwarzenegger looks like a statesman. And heeding the advice of California’s governors seems to be humanity’s best hope.
It’s unlikely that two ex-governors – one known for his puzzling aphorisms, the other for his silly talk – are now the global voices of reason. But it is also logical. As the world blazes wildly, where better to turn to wisdom than crazy, flammable California?
Brown and Schwarzenegger’s rises to sage status reflect how California, the world’s fifth-largest economy, functions as its own country, with its governors constituting a fourth branch of government – employing the powers of the state to control the president, Congress and the courts.
And when California governors leave office, they retain high profile but carry less political baggage than presidents, whose shortcomings are obsessively covered by our polarized media. Brown and Schwarzengger use this notoriety in a very Californian way, mixing visions of a more peaceful future with uncompromising calls to cooperate with rivals and enemies.
Schwarzenegger went viral recently with a short video urging Putin to stop the war in Ukraine. But the former governor also rejected today’s banal American condemnation of all things Russian. Instead, speaking in English with Russian subtitles, he drew on his personal story of making friends and making films in Russia to express his affection for the country – and to penetrate Russian propaganda. on the war.
The most powerful moment in the video came when Schwarzenegger spoke directly to Russian soldiers about his father, an Austrian who fought with the Nazis in World War II.
“The Russian government lied not only to its citizens but also to its soldiers,” he said. “When my father arrived in Leningrad, he was excited by the lies of his government. When he left Leningrad he was broken, physically and mentally.
“To the Russian soldiers listening to this broadcast…I don’t want you to be broken like my father.”
As Schwarzenegger shot hearts, Brown hammered heads.
Writing in The New York Review of Books, Brown warned of US policymakers seeking greater confrontation with China. He began by defining the last 20 years as a period of global suffering triggered by the United States, killing more than 900,000 people, displacing tens of millions and costing US$8 trillion.
“One would assume that such disastrous results, and the ignominious end to the war in Afghanistan last year, would lead to a period of reflection and introspection,” Brown wrote. “Yet no such investigation has taken place – at least not one that fully addresses the shocking self-deception, pervasive misinterpretation of events and powerful groupthink that led to the longest war in American history.”
Brown said books written by “think tank scholars and Defense Department insiders,” like Elbridge Colby’s The Strategy of Denial (which calls for “selective nuclear proliferation”), repeat the same mistakes. , creating an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic war with China.
“To portray the Chinese threat as irredeemably antagonistic, as many ‘political realists’ currently do, misses the reality that the two countries – to prosper and even to survive – must cooperate and compete,” he wrote. .
Brown instead argued for engaging China to avert disaster. Such “planetary realism,” he wrote, “addresses unprecedented global dangers from carbon emissions, nuclear weapons, viruses, and disruptive new technologies, all of which cannot be addressed by a single country “.
This argument should have added weight coming from a former governor of California, a state notorious for its disasters.
The world needs Brown and Schwarzenegger to continue advising us all. It’s a role past presidents used to fill – before Bill Clinton was sidelined by his foundation’s lack of transparency, before George W. Bush became a painter, before Barack Obama embarks on a narcissistic affair with Bruce Springsteen and before Donald Trump attempts a coup. .
So, maybe it’s time for these rulers – the Philosopher-Nerd and the Muscleman-Movie Star – to team up and save the world from itself.
Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square.