Trump & Teddy Roosevelt-A Phony Populist vs. a Real One

Our friend Jeff from On the Fence Voters has a new venue … he’s a contributing writer for Politically Speaking, a publication at Medium.com. Today, he has written his first piece, and it is both thoughtful and thought-provoking … I hope you’ll take a look and follow him on Medium! Thanks, Jeff, for all your hard work! We’ll speak soon!

On The Fence Voters

Hello everyone. Recently I became a contributing writer for Politically Speaking, a publication at Medium.com. I wanted to share my first post with you and will do so in the future as well. I apologize in advance for using the former guy’s name-as well as writing anything about him. My pledge is to minimize the crazy man as much as possible. But this post really goes to the overall concept of populism, and how it can be used in a good way-and a despicable and dangerous way as well. Anyway, here is an excerpt. I’d greatly appreciate it if you click the link at the end and finish reading over at Medium. Thank you everybody!

Imagine a scenario where an ex-president broke away from his political party to form a new and exciting one based on reforming democracy as we know it. Things like standing up to corporations, providing health…

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A Conservative Talks Sense

Today I am sharing a column by Ross Douthat of the New York Times.  The thing I find most interesting about this piece is that Mr. Douthat is a conservative, a Republican, and yet he is arguing in favour of Trump’s defeat in November.  It is encouraging to see that not all republicans have partaken of the toxic Kool-Aid.

The Only Way to Remove Trump

To eject the president, you need to beat him.

ross-douthat-thumbLargeBy Ross Douthat, Opinion Columnist

All you have to do is beat him.

Donald Trump is not a Caesar; he does not bestride our narrow world like a colossus, undefeatable save by desperate or underhanded means. He is an instinct-driven chancer who has exploited the decadence of his party and the larger system to grasp and hold a certain kind of power.

But he is also a reckless and distracted figure, a serial squanderer of opportunities, who barely won the presidency and whose coalition is united only in partisan solidarity and fear of liberalism. He may not be removable by the impeachment process, but is not a king; he is a widely hated, legislatively constrained president facing a difficult re-election.

All you have to do is beat him.

For a long time during Trump’s ascent I wrote columns demanding that the leaders of the Republican Party do something to keep this obviously unfit, chaotic, cruel man from becoming their nominee for president. Those columns were morally correct but structurally naïve, based on theories of party decision-making that no longer obtain in our era of institutional decay.

But Trump could have been stopped in the Republican primaries the old-fashioned way — by being beaten at the polls. His base was limited, his popularity fluctuated, and if his rivals had recognized the threat earlier, campaigned against him consistently, strategized with one another more effectively, and avoided their own meltdowns and missteps, there was no reason he could not have been defeated.

All you have to do is beat him.

After Trump’s administration began and immediately descended into chaos, I had one last flare of institutionalism, one last moment of outrage and 25th Amendment fantasy. But since then I have left the outrage to my liberal friends, watching them put their hopes in Robert Mueller’s investigation, in law-enforcement and intelligence-agency leaks and whistle-blowing, and finally — though with less real hope, and more grim resignation — in the House’s articles of impeachment.

Now that last effort is ending, as everyone with eyes could see it would, with the Republicans who failed to beat Trump when it counted declining to turn on him now that partisan consolidation and improving national conditions have sealed their base to him. The mix of expedience and cravenness with which the institutional G.O.P. approached impeachment is no different than the way the institutional G.O.P. behaved during Trump’s initial ascent, and it leaves Trump’s opposition no worse off than before. A failed impeachment doesn’t give him new powers or new popularity; it just shows that the normal way to be rid of an unpopular president is the way that Democrats must take.

All you have to do is beat him.

Of course, in trying to beat him they have to cope with the fact that he is chronically unscrupulous, as the Biden-Ukraine foray shows. And they have to overcome the advantage that his particular coalition enjoys in the Electoral College.

But in other ways the Democrats are lucky to have Trump to run against, as they were lucky in 2016. In a year when the fundamentals mildly favored Republicans, Hillary Clinton got to face off against the most-disliked G.O.P. nominee of modern times. And she would have beaten him — even with Russia, even with Comey — had her campaign taken just a few more steps to counter his team’s long-shot strategy to flip the Midwest.

All you have to do is beat him.

As with 2016, so with politics since. Liberal hand-wringing about their structural disadvantages ignores the advantages that Trump keeps giving them — the fact that in the best economy in 20 years he can’t stop making people hate him, can’t stop missing opportunities to expand his base, can’t stop forcing vulnerable Republicans to kiss his ring and thereby weaken their own prospects.

Impeachment has only extended this pattern, with Republicans voting to shorten the trial even when it makes them look like lackeys, and too cowed in many cases to even take the acquit-but-still-condemn approach that Democrats took with Bill Clinton. So now most of the country thinks the president did something wrong, most of the country thinks Republicans are protecting him, and most of the country is open, entirely open, to voting Trump and the most vulnerable Republican senators out in nine short months.

All you have to do is beat him.

It’s worth remembering, too, that liberalism is not just struggling in America, with our Electoral College and right-tilting Senate; it is struggling all around the world. Which, again, suggests that American liberals are fortunate to have Trump as their Great Foe. If he were merely as disciplined and competent as Boris Johnson or Viktor Orban, to choose leaders with whom he has a few things in common, he would be coasting to re-election.

Instead it is very likely that he will lose. But it was likely that he would lose in 2016 as well. One essential lesson of the Trump era is that likelihoods are not enough; if you want to end the Trump era only one thing will suffice.

You have to beat him.

We’re Not Laughing Anymore …

George Monbiot is a columnist for the British newspaper The Guardian, known for his political and environmental activism. I’ve often found his column insightful, and in today’s column he makes some very astute observations about what we’ve been calling the “populist” movement, how and why the world seems to have suddenly turned upside down on its axis.


From Trump to Johnson, nationalists are on the rise – backed by billionaire oligarchs

The ultra-rich are benefitting from disaster capitalism as institutions, rules and democratic oversight implode

George-Monbiot @GeorgeMonbiot

Fri 26 Jul 2019 06.00 BST

 

Seven years ago the impressionist Rory Bremner complained that politicians had become so boring that few of them were worth mimicking: “They’re quite homogenous and dull these days … It’s as if character is seen as a liability.” Today his profession has the opposite problem: however extreme satire becomes, it struggles to keep pace with reality. The political sphere, so dull and grey a few years ago, is now populated by preposterous exhibitionists.

bolsinaro-trump

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro at the White House with Donald Trump. ‘A host of ludicrous strongmen dominate nations that would once have laughed them off stage.’ Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

This trend is not confined to the UK – everywhere the killer clowns are taking over. Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, Jair Bolsonaro, Scott Morrison, Rodrigo Duterte, Matteo Salvini, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Viktor Orbán and a host of other ludicrous strongmen – or weakmen, as they so often turn out to be – dominate nations that would once have laughed them off stage. The question is why? Why are the technocrats who held sway almost everywhere a few years ago giving way to extravagant buffoons?

Social media, an incubator of absurdity, is certainly part of the story. But while there has been plenty of good work investigating the means, there has been surprisingly little thinking about the ends. Why are the ultra-rich, who until recently used their money and newspapers to promote charisma-free politicians, now funding this circus? Why would capital wish to be represented by middle managers one moment and jesters the next?

The reason, I believe, is that the nature of capitalism has changed. The dominant force of the 1990s and early 2000s – corporate power – demanded technocratic government. It wanted people who could simultaneously run a competent, secure state and protect profits from democratic change. In 2012, when Bremner made his complaint, power was already shifting to a different place, but politics had not caught up.

The policies that were supposed to promote enterprise – slashing taxes for the rich, ripping down public protections, destroying trade unions – instead stimulated a powerful spiral of patrimonial wealth accumulation. The largest fortunes are now made not through entrepreneurial brilliance but through inheritance, monopoly and rent-seeking: securing exclusive control of crucial assets such as land and buildings privatised utilities and intellectual property, and assembling service monopolies such as trading hubs, software and social media platforms, then charging user fees far higher than the costs of production and delivery. In Russia, people who enrich themselves this way are called oligarchs. But this is a global phenomenon. Today corporate power is overlain by – and mutating into – oligarchic power.

What the oligarchs want is not the same as what the old corporations wanted. In the words of their favoured theorist, Steve Bannon, they seek the “deconstruction of the administrative state”. Chaos is the profit multiplier for the disaster capitalism on which the new billionaires thrive. Every rupture is used to seize more of the assets on which our lives depend. The chaos of an undeliverable Brexit, the repeated meltdowns and shutdowns of government under Trump: these are the kind of deconstructions Bannon foresaw. As institutions, rules and democratic oversight implode, the oligarchs extend their wealth and power at our expense.

The killer clowns offer the oligarchs something else too: distraction and deflection. While the kleptocrats fleece us, we are urged to look elsewhere. We are mesmerised by buffoons who encourage us to channel the anger that should be reserved for billionaires towards immigrants, women, Jews, Muslims, people of colour and other imaginary enemies and customary scapegoats. Just as it was in the 1930s, the new demagoguery is a con, a revolt against the impacts of capital, financed by capitalists.

The oligarch’s interests always lie offshore: in tax havens and secrecy regimes. Paradoxically, these interests are best promoted by nationalists and nativists. The politicians who most loudly proclaim their patriotism and defence of sovereignty are always the first to sell their nations down the river. It is no coincidence that most of the newspapers promoting the nativist agenda, whipping up hatred against immigrants and thundering about sovereignty, are owned by billionaire tax exiles, living offshore.

As economic life has been offshored, so has political life. The political rules that are supposed to prevent foreign money from funding domestic politics have collapsed. The main beneficiaries are the self-proclaimed defenders of sovereignty who rise to power with the help of social media ads bought by persons unknown, and thinktanks and lobbyists that refuse to reveal their funders. A recent essay by the academics Reijer Hendrikse and Rodrigo Fernandez argues that offshore finance involves “the rampant unbundling and commercialisation of state sovereignty” and the shifting of power into a secretive, extraterritorial legal space, beyond the control of any state. In this offshore world, they contend, “financialised and hypermobile global capital effectively is the state”.

Today’s billionaires are the real citizens of nowhere. They fantasise, like the plutocrats in Ayn Rand’s terrible novel Atlas Shrugged, about further escape. Look at the “seasteading” venture funded by PayPal’s founder, Peter Thiel, that sought to build artificial islands in the middle of the ocean, whose citizens could enact a libertarian fantasy of escape from the state, its laws, regulations and taxes, and from organised labour. Scarcely a month goes by without a billionaire raising the prospect of leaving the Earth altogether, and colonising space pods or other planets.

Those whose identity is offshore seek only to travel farther offshore. To them, the nation state is both facilitator and encumbrance, source of wealth and imposer of tax, pool of cheap labour and seething mass of ungrateful plebs, from whom they must flee, leaving the wretched earthlings to their well-deserved fate.

Defending ourselves from oligarchy means taxing it to oblivion. It’s easy to get hooked up on discussions about what tax level maximises the generation of revenue. There are endless arguments about the Laffer curve, which purports to show where this level lies. But these discussions overlook something crucial: raising revenue is only one of the purposes of tax. Another is breaking the spiral of patrimonial wealth accumulation.

Breaking this spiral is a democratic necessity: otherwise the oligarchs, as we have seen, come to dominate national and international life. The spiral does not stop by itself: only government action can do it. This is one of the reasons why, during the 1940s, the top rate of income tax in the US rose to 94%, and in the UK to 98%. A fair society requires periodic corrections on this scale. But these days the steepest taxes would be better aimed at accumulated unearned wealth.

Of course, the offshore world the billionaires have created makes such bold policies extremely difficult: this, after all, is one of its purposes. But at least we know what the aim should be, and can begin to see the scale of the challenge. To fight something, first we need to understand it.

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It Can’t Happen Here …

sinclair lewis.jpgA few days ago, Robert Vella commented on one of my posts that those who think I am over-dramatizing my take on Trump & Co., might be well-advised to read Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here.  Why hadn’t I thought of that comparison?  It has been around 50 years since I read the book, although I do remember the general premise.  Still, I went to Wikipedia for a brief synopsis, and I thought it apropos to share with you what I found:

“It Can’t Happen Here is a semi-satirical 1935 political novel by American author Sinclair Lewis, and a 1936 play adapted from the novel by Lewis and John C. Moffitt.  Published during the rise of fascism in Europe, the novel describes the rise of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a demagogue who is elected President of the United States, after fomenting fear and promising drastic economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and “traditional” values.”

Anything in that paragraph sound familiar?

“In 1936 Senator Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a charismatic and power-hungry politician, wins the election as President of the United States on a populist platform, promising to restore the country to prosperity and greatness …”

Power-hungry … populist platform … promising prosperity … greatness …

“Though having previously foreshadowed some authoritarian measures in order to reorganize the United States government, Windrip rapidly outlaws dissent, incarcerates political enemies in concentration camps, and trains and arms a paramilitary force called the Minute Men, who terrorize citizens and enforce the policies of Windrip and his “corporatist” regime. One of his first acts as president is to eliminate the influence of the United States Congress, which draws the ire of many citizens as well as the legislators themselves. The Minute Men respond to protests against Windrip’s decisions harshly, attacking demonstrators with bayonets. In addition to these actions, Windrip’s administration, known as the “Corpo” government, curtails women’s and minority rights, and eliminates individual states by subdividing the country into administrative sectors. The government of these sectors is managed by “Corpo” authorities, usually prominent businessmen or Minute Men officers.”

Want to know more?  Read the book.  But here’s my thought.  All of us have at least one or two friends who are still supporting Trump, whether because they truly believe in his lies, honestly think something he’s doing is right, or are just too ashamed to admit they were wrong about him.  The book isn’t expensive, so I say we should each buy one in paperback to give to each of our wayward friends or family members.  And if you really need a lot of copies, you can download it for free from the Project Gutenberg, or you can download the .pdf file, also free, then email it to your friends and relatives.

I just wish I had come up with this idea a week or two before Christmas, and we could have given a copy to those ‘in need’ of reading it for Christmas!

 

And We Thought Trump Was Horrible?

On Sunday, October 7th, Brazilians elected a new president, Jair Bolsonaro.  Until this man was elected, I thought that the U.S. was alone in having lost its collective mind, as evidenced by the election of Donald Trump.  Bolsonaro is every abominable thing Trump is … and much more.  I have to question the sanity of the 55% of Brazilians who voted for this demagogue.  But then, I have long questioned the sanity of those in the U.S. who voted for Donald Trump, also.  Oh, and guess who worked on Bolsonaro’s campaign?  None other than Trump’s former campaign advisor, Steve Bannon!!!Bolsonaro-TrumpFirst let’s look at some similarities …

  • Opposes most all forms of gun control
  • Strongly opposed to same-sex marriage
  • Opposes environmental regulations
  • Opposes women’s right of choice
  • Opposes affirmative action
  • Opposes land reforms
  • Opposes secularism
  • Plans to pull out of Paris climate accord
  • Plans to move Brazil’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem
  • Is on his third marriage (yes, it’s irrelevant, but still says something, I think)

But then there are those ideas and rhetoric that take him beyond even what Trump dares to say …

He has made statements in defense of the former Brazilian military regime (a dictatorship known for constant human rights violations). He claims that torture is a “legitimate practice” and says that he would try to pass new legislation regarding the introduction of life imprisonment to the Brazilian penal code.

Bolsonaro said that “the error of the dictatorship was that it tortured but did not kill”.

Brazil has the world’s largest tropical rainforest in the Amazon basin. Bolsonaro has chafed at foreign pressure to safeguard the rainforest, and he served notice to international nonprofit groups such as the World Wildlife Fund that he will not tolerate their agendas in Brazil. He has also come out strongly against lands reserved for indigenous tribes. Bolsonaro advisers additionally say that he plans to expand nuclear and hydroelectric power into the Amazon.

In a 2017 speech, Bolsonaro stated, “God above everything. There is no such thing as this secular state. The state is Christian, and the minority will have to change, if they can.”

Bolsonaro argued that men and women should not receive the same salaries, because women get pregnant; adding that he believes federal law mandating paid maternity leave harms work productivity.  Bolsonaro said that he had five children, that the first four were male and that for the fifth he produced a daughter out of “a moment of weakness”.

Bolsonaro said that “I would be incapable of loving a gay son,” and added that he would prefer any gay son of his “to die in an accident…”  Seriously???  Wow, what a dad, huh?  He went on to say that if a gay couple moved in next door to him, it would lower the market value of his house. Bolsonaro linked homosexuality to pedophilia, claiming that “many of the children who are adopted by gay couples will be abused by these couples.”  I have to ask … what rock did this pos slither out from under???  “If I see two men kissing in the street, I will beat them.” He then publicly defended beating gay children by saying: “If your child starts to become like that, a little gay, you take a whip and you change their behavior.”

On October 4, 2018, Bolsonaro said: “A father does not want to come home and see his son playing with a doll by the influence of school. Homosexuals will be happy if I become president”

trump-jr-eduardo-bolsonaro

Don Trump, Jr. (center) with Eduardo Bolsonaro (second from left)

Trump and Bolsonaro both indicate they plan to work together to improve relations between the U.S. and Brazil, and their sons have already met.  Eduardo Bolsonaro, Bolsonaro’s eldest son, met with Don Trump Jr. in Las Vegas. “They went to a shooting range together—not a major meeting but they got to know each other a bit,” according to a member of Bolsonaro’s party.  Following Bolsonaro’s victory, Trump tweeted …

“Had a very good conversation with the newly elected President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who won the race by a substantial margin. We agreed that Brazil and the United States will work closely together on Trade, Military and everything else!”

Bolsonaro-2Bolsonaro’s election is another feather in the cap of the populist movement.  He won by tapping into a deep well of resentment at the status quo in Brazil — a country whiplashed by rising crime and two years of political and economic turmoil — and by presenting himself as the alternative.  Unlike Donald Trump in 2016, Bolsonaro actually won the popular vote by 55%, but one thing they both said that is striking is that “I alone can fix this”.  And they have in common their loudness, their crassness, their utter contempt for such things as respect, common courtesy and quiet dignity.  They are both loud, ‘in your face’ sorts.  Both countries have a large women’s protest movement … in the U.S. it is “Never Trump” and in Brazil it is “Ele Nao” (Not Him).

Like Trump, Bolsonaro has been a divisive figure in Brazil and those who love him seem to do so mainly for his tough talk.  Having seen what nearly two years of Trump has wrought upon this nation, I can only empathize with the people of Brazil.  Is this, then, the face of things to come, the type of ‘leader’ that people around the world will choose in the future?  Let us hope not.

Guest Blog Post

As those of you who have followed this blog throughout the ‘Reign of Trump’ know, one of my biggest frustrations has been a failure to understand the reason Trump has been given free rein, despite the fact that his values are in complete opposition to those who support him. Our friend Hugh has hosted a guest post by Jerry Stark that goes a long way toward answering the question: WHY??? It has given me much food for thought, and I will yet need to do some pondering on his words, but today I wanted to share them with you, for I think they have tremendous value. Only when we understand the forces we are fighting, do we stand much chance of bringing about a return to a kinder, saner world. Many thanks both Hugh and Jerry for permission to share this worthy post.

hughcurtler

The following comment by Jerry Stark expanded and improved upon my attempt to explain the notion of ressentment. It is extremely well done and helps us understand the mind-set of those who follow our sitting president and worship at his shrine. I post it here with Jerry’s permission.

The concept of ressentiment is intriguing, especially when applied to our current circumstance.

Nietzsche’s (pre-postmodern) claim was that morality is defined and established by the powerful and inflicted upon those whom they dominate. He further argues that new moral regimes can emerge out of a process of ressentiment, wherein those who are viewed as social inferiors by the powerful, and who have come to view themselves as socially inferior, develop a resentful hatred against those they view as elites — their “betters”. Ressentiment is not about class consciousness; it is about the revenge of the unworthy.

Ressentiment is characterized, in part, by…

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Who Values Diversity?

I found these survey results, reported in an article by Brookings Institute, to be interesting … and depressing.  Not necessarily surprising, for they support what I have believed to be the case for some time now.  Take a look for yourself …

According to a Gallup survey released on July 18, the American people now regard immigration as the single most important problem facing the country, and the share of the population expressing this view stands at the highest level ever recorded. This surge of concern crosses partisan lines: the share of Republicans and Independents who name immigration as the top issue has more than tripled during the past year, and it has more than doubled among Democrats.

Although immigration is an issue trifecta, raising economic, security, and cultural concerns, recent surveys have underscored the centrality of culture, in the United States and throughout the West. Since the 1965 enactment of the momentous Hart-Cellar immigration reform bill, the share of first-generation immigrants in the U.S. population has tripled from less than five percent to about 14 percent. By 2050 at the latest, non-Hispanic whites will be a minority.

Unlike most demographic projections, this one has received wide publicity and has evoked diverse reactions. A Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) survey released earlier this week found that while 64 percent of Americans regard increasing demographic diversity as mostly positive, there are deep partisan divisions: Democrats believe that it’s mostly positive by an overwhelming margin of 85 to 13 percent, as do Independents by 59 to 34 percent, but 50 percent of Republicans regard it as mostly negative, compared to only 43 percent who favor it.

A closer look at the data reveals the sources of this cleavage. There are no gender differences, and age differences are much smaller than expected, with 57 percent of Americans 65 and older taking a positive view of rising diversity. Racial and ethnic differences are significant but not dispositive: 78 percent of both African-Americans as Hispanics see diversity as a plus, but so do 56 percent of white Americans. Much the same holds for regional differences: although 72 percent of respondents from the West and Northeast approve of increasing diversity, so do 60 percent of Midwesterners and 57 percent of Southerners.

The key drivers of partisan division are educational and religious differences among white Americans. Sixty-nine percent of whites with a BA or more have a mostly positive view of demographic diversity, compared to just 50 percent of whites without college degrees. As for religion, 52 percent of white Catholics and 56 percent of white mainline Protestants think rising diversity is mostly positive. By contrast, just 42 percent of white evangelical Protestants favor these changes, while 52 percent think they’re mostly negative. Two-thirds of whites without college degrees supported Republicans in the 2016 elections, as did eight in 10 white evangelicals.

The bottom line: the core of the Republican base is deeply uncomfortable with the central demographic trend of our time, which public policy is powerless to resist. Even if the U.S. slammed shut the doors of immigration, differences in birth rates between native-born citizens and newer arrivals would ensure the steady erosion of the population’s white majority, albeit at a slower pace.

Across the Atlantic, the rising tide of immigration has triggered similar fears, expressed in the language of national identity. A Pew Research Center analysis released on July 19 under the heading “It’s not just the economy” shows that supporters of the populist surge throughout Europe are far more likely than others to believe that only those who are born in their respective European countries and have family ties in these countries are truly “one of us.” In Italy, Germany, and France, about three-quarters of the League, the AfD, and the National Front party members espouse these views, as do 55 percent of Dutch populists and 40 percent of Swedish populists. Similarly large shares of European populists believe that their culture is superior to others and that Islam is incompatible with their values.

In both the United States and Europe, these changes feed a shared sense of national decline. In every European country Pew surveyed, supporters of populist parties are far more likely to say that life in their country is worse than it was 50 years ago for people like them. Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” brilliantly targeted these feeling of decline among Americans who feel displaced in the land of their birth. Suitably adjusted, this slogan would be equally effective in Europe—even in Germany, where many populists believe that their country has apologized more than enough for its past misdeeds.

I do not understand why it matters what colour skin a person has.  I don’t at all understand why it matters what group is a ‘minority’ or a ‘majority’.  And I damn sure don’t understand why anybody thinks a person with pale skin has more value than one with darker skin.  Why does there have to be “us” and “them”? The people in this nation have more important concerns, more important things to waste their time worrying about.  The environment, health care, poverty, global trade, our damaged foreign relations.  But apparently there are some groups that believe they are better than the rest of us, always have been and always will be, and that, folks, does not bode well for the future of the one race we all belong to — the human race.

Sound Advice?

If we are to correct the situation in Congress, if we seek either a democratic majority in one or both houses, or at least a better balance, if we seek to throw out the members of Congress who are in the pockets of big business and lobbyists such as the NRA, then democrats are going to need to get busy now.  It is easy, and I have engaged in it myself, to denigrate Trump based on his outrageous behaviours, but is that the most effective way to ensure our success in the November mid-term elections?  Perhaps not.  Can we learn from the lessons of a similar situation in another country?

Yesterday, I read New York Times writer David Leonhardt’s January 30th column titled, How Trump’s Critics Should Respond  in which he posits that the best way to counteract Trumpmania is to treat him like a normal politician who’s failing to deliver. Rather than focus on the circus aspect of this presidency, Leonhardt opines, we need to address facts to counter his many failures. If you think about it, it makes sense.  Trump’s many odious qualities are, after all, what won him the election (along with some help from the Russians, voter apathy, gerrymandering, and James Comey’s ‘October surprise’).

“The trouble with constantly disparaging him — as a person and as the Worst President Ever — is that it doesn’t win over very many Americans.”

There seems to be truth in this, though those of us who have engaged in such disparaging are hard-pressed to understand why his supporters are not appalled at his many, many blunders.

Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi

In his column, Leonhardt references an essay written shortly after Trump’s election by Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago.  Leonhardt refers to Zingales’ essay as ‘the smartest essay’ written on the topic, and while I cannot claim to know whether it is the smartest, I would certainly say it provides food for thought.  Zingales is from Italy, where a wealthy, businessman demagogue, Silvio Berlusconi, served as Prime Minister during 1994–1995; 2001–2006; and 2008–2011. Berlusconi is famous for his populist political style and brash, overbearing personality. In his long-time tenure he was often accused of being an authoritarian leader and a strongman. Sound familiar?

Here are a few excerpts from Zingales’ essay, though I encourage you to read it in its entirety.

“Now that Mr. Trump has been elected president, the Berlusconi parallel could offer an important lesson in how to avoid transforming a razor-thin victory into a two-decade affair. If you think presidential term limits and Mr. Trump’s age could save the country from that fate, think again. His tenure could easily turn into a Trump dynasty.

Mr. Berlusconi was able to govern Italy for as long as he did mostly thanks to the incompetence of his opposition. It was so rabidly obsessed with his personality that any substantive political debate disappeared; it focused only on personal attacks, the effect of which was to increase Mr. Berlusconi’s popularity. His secret was an ability to set off a Pavlovian reaction among his leftist opponents, which engendered instantaneous sympathy in most moderate voters. Mr. Trump is no different.

We saw this dynamic during the presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton was so focused on explaining how bad Mr. Trump was that she too often didn’t promote her own ideas, to make the positive case for voting for her. The news media was so intent on ridiculing Mr. Trump’s behavior that it ended up providing him with free advertising.

The Italian experience provides a blueprint for how to defeat Mr. Trump. Only two men in Italy have won an electoral competition against Mr. Berlusconi … Both of them treated Mr. Berlusconi as an ordinary opponent. They focused on the issues, not on his character.

And an opposition focused on personality would crown Mr. Trump as the people’s leader of the fight against the Washington caste. It would also weaken the opposition voice on the issues, where it is important to conduct a battle of principles.

Finally, the Democratic Party should also find a credible candidate among young leaders, one outside the party’s Brahmins.”

This is likely the soundest advice we could get, yet it may be the most difficult to heed.  The temptation is strong to focus on Trump’s affairs, his belligerence, his name-calling morning tweets, where his policy failures fade into the background.

Leonhardt, in his column, points out one such failure that we have largely ignored:  the loss of jobs at the Carrier plant in Indianapolis a few weeks ago.  The same Carrier plant that became an icon in Trump’s campaign after he visited it and announced that he had worked a deal to save jobs at the plant.  Two other plants in the area are also laying off employees.  But did we hear about this?  No, instead we heard about Trump paying a porn star to remain silent about an affair.

It makes sense, when you think about it, that the only way the democrats are going to see victory in November is to find good candidates who are above scandal, and who run based on facts and issues, with a solid platform that serves the nation and its people.  While I am a realist, and I know that the temptation is too great to resist calling out Trump’s clownish actions and speech, we need to also remember that this only plays into his hands, as it mobilizes his base to come to his defense.  Every single race in November is going to take hard work, patience, common sense, and restraint.  But this we must do, for the stakes are too high not to.

The Real Meaning of Populism …

France did not want Marine LePen and the Netherlands didn’t want Geert Wilders, so they have teamed up and taken their act to the Czech Republic.  The event is the meeting of the rightwing Europe of Nations and Freedom group and is being hosted by the anti-Islam Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD). The conference is largely symbolic for the Czech SPD party, a means of raising awareness for the populist movement, justifying the movement by showing that the populist movement has a voice in Western Europe, and an attempt to legitimize populism in the Czech Republic.

It is not my intent, nor is it in my ability, to analyze politics in the Czech Republic.  It is, rather, my intent to briefly take a look at the populist movement itself, as it spreads its tentacles ever outward.

By definition, populism is, briefly, “support for the concerns of ordinary people”.  Sounds okay, looks good on paper, but the reality is something altogether different, as we have seen in the U.S.

Donald Trump rode the waves of populism all the way to the Oval Office, but as we have seen, by the above definition of populism, not one single thing he has done fits the definition.  Granted, Trump is a case-study in and of himself in the art of lying.  But other populist politicians are equally unconcerned with the ‘ordinary’ person, yet call themselves populist.  So, what does populism really mean? Consider these examples:

  • Donald Trump in the U.S., wants to deport undocumented immigrants and ban all Muslims from the Middle East.
  • Podemos, the populist Spanish party, wants to give immigrants voting rights.

  • Geert Wilders, the populist Dutch politician, wants to eliminate hate-speech laws.
  • Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the populist Polish politician, pushed for a law making it illegal to use the phrase “Polish death camps”.

  • Evo Morales, Bolivia’s populist president, has expanded indigenous farmers’ rights to grow coca.
  • Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’ populist president, has ordered his police to execute suspected drug dealers.

A study in contrasts, yes? It is not a term that is easy to pin down, as evidenced by the many books that have been written in the attempt:

  • What is Populism by Jan-Werner Müller
  • The Populist Persuasion: An American History by Michael Kazin
  • The Populist Explosion by John B. Judis
  • The Global Rise of Populism by Benjamin Moffett
  • The Populist Moment by Lawrence Goodwyn

And the list is seemingly endless.

Müller’s book, published September 2016, is highly rated, and claims that populism is not just antiliberal, it is antidemocratic—the permanent shadow of representative politics.  It seems to me that, in its purest form, strictly applied by the definition at the start of this post, it would be a highly democratic and humanitarian ideology.  But, in the world of today, populism is primarily, I believe defined by a single word: plutocracy.

All a leader needs to do is find that which his people fear, play on those fears, expand them, then promise to keep them safe from said fears.  In the case of the U.S., as in a number of European nations, that fear was terrorism. Ever since the Arab Spring began in 2010 and many in the Middle East were forced to flee their homes with little more than the clothes on their back, the West has been taking on these refugees.  But, leaders and politicians quickly learned that if they equated these refugees with the word “terrorism”, or in some cases, “radical Islamic terrorism”, they could instill fear into the hearts of their populace and people would gladly follow any leader who promised to end immigration from the Middle East.

But really, that is all these leaders, such as Trump, need to do, and they can then proceed with their own agendas, just so long as they keep doing their best to “protect” their citizenry from “those terrorist Muslims”.  And so, we are left with a Donald Trump who has attempted to rob tens of millions of their ability to afford healthcare in order to further enrich the big insurance companies; who has set the wheels in motion to destroy the environment in order to further enrich the coal and oil barons; and who has promoted tax reform to cost each of us “ordinary people” hard-earned money in order to further enrich the nation’s mega-corporations. And as long as he promises his travel ban to keep Muslims out, and keeps on promising to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to keep those “murderin’, rapin’ Mexicans” out, even though he knows the wall will never be built, he can keep on being Robbing Hood. This then, defines the populist movement as well as any.  It could be called, more aptly, the plutocratic movement, or a move toward governance by a handful of the wealthiest.

Oh sure, Trump throws out an extra bone to his followers every now and then, like a promise to pad the courts with uber-conservatives in order to eventually overturn Roe v Wade.  Or a reduction in food stamps and social services that are unpopular with many in the middle income brackets. Promise them whatever they scream the loudest for, then get back to the business of crafting legislation to make the top 1% happy, for those are the ones who truly matter, those are the ones who line his own pockets.  It is no different in the rest of the  Western world.

Today in the U.S., we have the wealthiest Congress in recent history, and thus it is in their personal best interest, rather than to serve as a check on the president’s power, to speak out of both sides of their mouths, promising their constituents one thing, while licking Trump’s boots from the other side.

France, Austria and the Netherlands, I firmly believe, looked at what was happening in the U.S. and came to understand that this populist thing was not all it was cracked up to be.  However, there is still a large contingent in those nations, as well as other European nations, and even Canada I recently discovered, that are supportive of the populist ideology, and have not yet realized that it is a veneer for a deeper, more destructive platform. As my old friend Shafer used to say to me, “Be careful what you wish for, as you just might get it”.

Vive La France!!!

Tonight I am pleased … almost giddy, as it were!  The French exhibited great common sense and showed Ms. Marine LePen the door, electing Emmanuel Macron by a decisive margin … 66% to 34%, according to the Guardian.  This despite Putin’s efforts to rig the election in favour of LePen, as he did for Trump in the U.S. election last year.

French elections-2Macron’s victory speech was somber and gracious.  He said he accepted that many had voted for him even though they disagreed with his programme to “defend the republic against extremism”. When he mentioned those who had voted for Marine Le Pen, there were boos and whistles from the crowd. “No, don’t whistle them. They have expressed today their anger and dismay – and sometimes convictions. I respect that. But I will do everything I can in the next five years so there is no reason to vote for extremes. Tonight, there is only the reunited people of France. The world is watching us. Europe and the world. I will serve you with love.”

macron-3The man has class.  Mssr. Macron understands the divide the populist movement has wrought upon his nation and I believe he plans to do everything in his power to help heal that divide.  He said he was speaking to all of France’s citizens, not just those who had voted for him. His primary task over the coming five years, he added, was to “calm people’s fears, restore France’s confidence, and gather all its people together to face the immense challenges that face us”.

Unfortunately, on the other side of the channel, they were not so gracious about Macron’s win.  Had LePen won, it was likely that she would have advocated for France leaving the European Union, a Frexit, if you will.  Britain’s own Nigel Farage had set up a group to advocate for just such an eventuality, and that group was more than a little put out, apparently, by the results of yesterday’s election.  A tweet from the group read that that the French people had once again “rolled over” just as they had done in 1940 – except this time they saved Germany “the bullets and the fuel”.  Farage himself got in on the act, tweeting: “A giant deceit has been voted for today. Macron will be Juncker’s puppet.” 

Hillary Clinton, having herself been the victim of Putin’s election interference, tweeted this:

“Victory for Macron, for France, the EU, & the world. Defeat to those interfering w/democracy. (But the media says I can’t talk about that) 4:32 PM – 7 May 2017”

Donald Trump, who had supported LePen, saying she was “strongest on borders, and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France”, congratulated Macron and said he looks forward to working with him.  Theresa May of the UK said, “we look forward to working with the new president on a wide range of shared priorities”.  The aforementioned Nigel Farage tweeted, “@EmmanuelMacron offers 5 more years of failure, power to the EU and open borders. If @MLP_officiel sticks in there, she can win in 2022.”

Reactions from other world leaders:

  • “Your victory is a victory for a strong united Europe and for the Franco-German friendship.” – Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

  • Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, said the result made him “… happy that the ideas that you defended of a strong and progressive Europe that protects all its citizens will be those that France will cherish under your presidency”.

  • Guy Verhofstadt, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said: “We supported him from the very start. I am relieved by his defeat of demagoguery and populism. I am also proud of his commitment to a social, liberal European project.”

  • “The citizens of France entrusted you to lead the country in a difficult period for Europe and for the entire world community. The growing threat of terrorism and violent extremism is accompanied by an escalation of local conflicts and the destabilisation of entire regions. In these condition it is especially important to overcome mutual distrust and join forces to ensure international stability and security.” – Vladimir Putin, Russian President

Predictably, there were the naysayers, primarily in the ranks of LePen’s supporters, some responding with vitriol, mocking Macron’s wife, his platform, and whatever else they could think of, but that, I am coming to realize, is the mentality of the masses and exists in every venue.  Overall, I think the western world had been holding its collective breath, and yesterday breathed a sigh of profound relief.  I know I did.  Vive la France!

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