Category Archives: Donald Trump

Albright Warns of Rising Authoritarians

The first female secretary of state Madeleine Albright recently released a book with the alarming title: Fascism: A Warning (2018; HarperCollins). Though President Donald Trump is a looming specter throughout the book, the former secretary claims that she was already writing this book, and would have published it even if Hillary Clinton would have won the U.S. presidency in 2016. She does, however, declare in the first chapter that one reason that Americans are asking themselves existential questions such as  “Why have such dangerous splits been allowed to develop between rich and poor, urban and rural, those with a higher education and those without?,” and “why, this far into the twenty-first century, are we once again talking about Fascism?” is Donald Trump. Further, she adds, that “we have not had a chief executive in the modern era whose statements and actions are so at odds with democratic ideals.”

The opening chapter also attempts at defining fascism but does not do so in an very specific way. She sets the scene by relaying to the reader a discussion session that she and her Georgetown graduate students had attempting to answer the question(s) what is fascism? or what makes a fascist…well…a fascist? Albright ends up describing the characteristics of a fascist as “someone who claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is utterly unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use violence to achieve the goals he or she has.” I like the historian Robert O. Paxton’s description of fascism better. He writes that fascism is “a compound, a powerful amalgam of different but marriageable conservative, national-socialist and radical Right ingredients, bonded together by common enemies and common passions for a regenerated, energized, and purified nation at whatever cost to free institutions and the rule of law” (2004, 207) However you define it, the important part of getting a reader to really understand something is to give them concrete examples of a phenomenon.

Albright spends a good third of the book giving a sort of biography and history of the birth of twentieth-century fascism, and various pivotal characters and events leading up to, and during, World War II (WWII). She does this first in a chapter on Benito Mussolini. Mussolini rose to power in a post-World War I (WWI) Italy, a country that was part of the winning coalition yet one that felt cheated out of unheeded promises given to them by Britain and France. Socialists had power in the parliament, and Mussolini tapped into discontent and the urge, desire, and belief that Italy needed to become powerful. As Albright puts it, Mussolini “promised all things,” in a time of desperation, depression, and in the very alive memory of the last great calamity, WWI, which claimed 1.2 million Italian deaths. Next, she profiles Adolf Hitler. After being appointed chancellor Hitler convinced the parliament to pass the Enabling Law, which began the Third Reich, and, as they say, the rest is some of the darkest history in the modern era. Most of the details she offers regarding fascist Italy and Germany are common knowledge, at least for people most likely to read her book. I do love it when I come across quotes that are chilling. For Mussolini: “It is better to break the bones of the democrats…and the sooner the better;” “Often, I would like to be wrong, but so far it has never happened.” For Hitler: ” “There are . . .only two possibilities: either the victory of the Aryan side or its annihilation and the victory of the Jews.” Such narcissism and binary, black and white thinking is a devastating combination. And, to this day, we keep electing such leaders because of their charisma, and unconcern in over-promising.

She later profiles modern despots such as Chávez/Maduro in Venezuela, Erdogan in Turkey, Putin in Russia, and the recent rise of far-right illiberal parties in Hungary (under Victor Orbán) and Poland (under Jarosław Kaczyński). She also profiles North Korea; the one state that she considers truly fascist. Readers of political science and history know much of what Albright writes about, but it is a decent book for a refresher on some of the most important people, countries, and pivotal moments and events. She adds anecdotes and personal stories from her experience meeting several of the men she profiled. She calls Putin “small, and pale, and so cold as to be almost reptilian,” for example (2018, 158). She also was the first secretary of state to visit and speak with the North Korean leader, who was Kim Jung-il at the time. She mentions that President Bill Clinton, with only months to go in his second term, was planning on meeting up with the North Korean president, but instead chose to attempt to make headway regarding the Israel-Palestine situation. The former president has expressed regret that he chose the latter instead of the former.

The final section of the book is the part that she was asked about in interviews during her speaking tour: the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S.  It is interesting that Albright mentions a few policies of President Trump in supportive terms. “He deserves credit for preserving Crimea-related sanctions against Russia, sending arms to a beleaguered Ukraine, and managing an effective military campaign against ISIS. In December 2017, he implemented a law, the Global Magnitsky Act, that imposes penalties on individuals and entities accused of corruption and human rights violations,” writes the former secretary (2018, 220).

President Trump has continued the Middle East policies of his predecessor Barack Obama, who’s administration championed the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, a 75 country organization with multiple goals, including degrading and defeating ISIS in Syria, and Iraq. While the military campaign might be effectively campaigned, ISIS is still alive, Iran has gained an operating base in Syria, and rebuilding efforts will take trillions of dollars and nearly a decade; and that is if efforts are enacted with earnest, little graft, and if the frail peace actually becomes a sturdy peace. It is hard to give Trump credit for simply continuing what was already in motion; and the specific changes that Trump has made, such as “looser rules of engagement,” has contributed to a more than 200% increase in civilian deaths, according to AirWars. It is not surprising that Albright does not mention the serious problems with U.S. strategy; but it was disappointing nonetheless.

Albright warns Americans, and her global readers alike, up this new era, one of encroaching authoritarianism. However, there is no action plan, or concrete steps offered. Instead she offers questions we can ask ourselves regarding future leaders. I find myself asking who exactly is this book written for? And I also am reminded of better books that cover the same terrain such as How Democracies Die (2018). Young readers just getting into international affairs and American politics would find this book a helpful primer, as Albright hops around the world and provides decent profiles of important countries right now. However, more educated readers could completely ignore this release. Read The Anatomy of Fascism instead for a deep dive into the ideological and historical contingencies that produce such monstrous regimes.

References not hyperlinked:
Albright, Madeleine. 2018. Fascism: A Warning. HarperCollins: New York.
Paxton, Robert O. 2004. The Anatomy of Fascism. Alfred A. Knopf: New York.

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No One Has Read Huntington

The more I read people reference The Clash of Civilizations, the more I continue to believe that no one has read the actual book. In a recent New York Times article, journalists Scott Shane, Matthew Rosenberg, and Eric Lipton write that:

Mr. Trump was echoing a strain of anti-Islamic theorizing familiar to anyone who has been immersed in security and counterterrorism debates over the last 20 years. He has embraced a deeply suspicious view of Islam that several of his aides have promoted, notably retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, now his national security adviser, and Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s top strategist.

This worldview borrows from the “clash of civilizations” thesis of the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, and combines straightforward warnings about extremist violence with broad-brush critiques of Islam.” [ NYT: “A Sinister Perception of Islam Steers the White House.”]

The article was about how President Trump and his team of Culture Warriors at the helm of his administration believe in a far-right notion of radical Islam and have an outsized fear of it. Yeah. Ok. I know.

To say that this worldview borrows from Huntington is akin to saying that because my co-worker said the words “I am Genghis Khan,” means he is Genghis Khan. I’m bad at comparisons, I know.

My point is that just because there is a cultural element to Trump’ grand strategy and that his chief strategist Steve Bannon believes in a clash of civilizations means that it is borrowing anything from a thesis that was trying to predict how conflicts in the future might look like. Huntington wasn’t endorsing clashes of civilization, he was simply arguing that culture – shared values, customs, language, and belief-systems – are likely to spark conflict in the future as opposed to any other possible reason for war, such as trade or land.

All three reporters are fantastic. Scott Shane’s book from two years ago about Anwar al-Awlaki was probably my favorite of 2015. This to me is sloppy, lazy and I don’t know what purpose it serves, to be honest.

Tim Kaine Will be Clinton’s VP

Making predictions helps one become better at making predictions if you meet four conditions: 1) Go public; 2) Delineate why you are predicting what you are predicting; 3) Understand why your prediction was right or wrong. 4) Reflect and repeat.

The last big prediction I made was regarding the presidential election. I thought that Secretary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee – that was easy and I was simply going with the grain. I thought Florida Senator Marco Rubio would be the Republican nominee – I was going with the grain here, too. I was 1/2. (I never wrote anything about “Brexit” but I definitely thought that Remain would win, so I would have been wrong here.)

I’m trying again.

I am 75% certain that Secretary of State, and presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton (HRC), will chose Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, from Virginia, as her vice president (VP) for a couple of simple reasons.

First, Tim Kaine is boring and right about now this is exactly what HRC is looking for. Kaine even admitted that he was boring in on one of the Sunday punditfests last week. “I am boring,” said the former Governor of Virginia. Translation: I am politically not a liability. My past is nearly without blemish and I won’t scare away any center-right people who might cross the aisle to vote for me since Trump is a disaster. Interesting strategy here; I’m not sure it is a smart one but it definitely is strategic at least. Boring doesn’t appeal to me but safe does, in some ways.

Second, and finally, this is all about demographics or identity politics. White working-class males are who the Democratic party has been reaching out to win for the past 25 years with little success. Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, according to election results and polls galore, will certainly vote for Hillary Clinton.

I know it’s only anecdotal but my brother who is a lifelong Midwestern Republican admitted that he won’t vote for a Republican ever again as he feels they have abandoned working people. As a union member, you can see why he now has come to this conclusion. He also dislikes Clinton. If Clinton’s VP pick is someone who looks like my brother (WASPY with no emphasis on the P), my brother will be more likely to hold his nose and vote for the Democratic ticket. A Clinton/Kaine pick is a safe pick. Is this the year for safe bets? Not exactly but I continue.

If Clinton chooses Elizabeth Warren – forget about it. Two female Northeastern elites on one ticket is too much for folks like my brother. I’m not saying this is morally right I’m saying it’s literally true. Thomas Perez? There is no need here to pick Perez, again due to demographics. Does all of this come down to cold political calculus? Yeah, I think so. (Go read or watch Game Change.) Corey Booker? Way too risky and this pick would certainly not gain any border-line votes like my brother.

“Insiders” (whatever that means) are now saying that Clinton has winnowed her list to 3 possible VPs (Kaine, Perez, Warren). I am fairly confident Kaine will be the choice.

So, I have went public  and I explained why.

Time will tell if I was correct or if I was wrong.

Trumpism is Global

In a previous blog post, I laid down some thoughts regarding the phenomenon of Trump and how I feel like you can look at it through the lens of identity politics. Well, today I was reading an excellent interview by Foreign Affairs with the French ambassador Gérard Araud and he expressed a similar understanding regarding Europe when he was asked about the far-right party in France known as Front National:

It’s the same thing as Trump. Of course, Trump has his personal genius, but it’s basically the same crisis. The lower middle class feels frightened by globalization, frightened for the future of its children, frightened for its moral and social values. They have the impression that the elite are cut off from them. So they want to try something new. So it’s the Front National in France, or the extreme right in the Netherlands, or Mr. Trump. It’s the same solution: building walls, closing borders. And it’s the same scapegoat: the immigrant. It’s sad.”

Identity politics needs a scapegoat; an Other. As countries become more and more unequal as the share of income gains and wealth goes to a smaller and smaller slither of people you will see un-channeled rage that, demagogues like Trump, exploit for their own good to the continued detriment of almost everyone.

Trump and Identity Politics

I argue that you can explain Trump’s rise through the lens of white identity politics, for one. It’s not what he is saying or even the individual himself; it’s that his base – white suburban disaffected ‘victims’ of globalization who are struggling – see themselves in him. It is projection against what they see as an elite harvard-educated political class who is waaaay too literate for their own good and who says things with nuance that they don’t understand. They want someone who is an outsider (like them) who isn’t P.C. (like them) and who thinks in black and white categories of good and evil; of up and down; of right and wrong (like they do.)

Imagine if you are a former factory worker employed during a time of rising incomes; pensions; good health care; and seeming security. Now imagine that this in fact was reality for millions upon millions of workers. Starting in the 1980s and continuing through the present day, tens of thousands of factories have been closed. In fact, over 42,000 factories have been closed JUST since 2001. Look at Trump through the lends of globalization.

If you are a laid off employee who is being pushed further and further down the income and skills ladder, who do you blame?
Everyone.
Everything.

The political class (Yep; and they would be correct here).
Corporations and their need for maximizing profits (Yep).
Minorities and immigrants (Yep; well, ‘yep’ as in many Americans do blame these fellow under-served people; they would be wrong here however and are blaming the symptom and not the cause).

[Now there is truth to the claim that corporations are benefiting from illegal and even legal immigration by capitalizing on unskilled and/or people without franchise or much legal reprieve; this does hurt working class Americans of all color; however, the fault of this goes to the government.]

The perceived and real impacts of globalization are at work here. Basically anyone with ANY government experience at all is considered an “insider” to Trump’ supporters. Any candidate with prestigious degrees from schools they have only tangentially heard of? Too qualified and self-interested and disconnected from the needs of the working class and the shrinking middle class. This is why occasionally war hungry conservatives do in fact accept anti-war arguments. Why? Because it doesn’t matter what the person says; what matters is the answer to the internal question people are asking themselves: is this person like me? Do I see myself in this person? If the answer is yes, then we are open to their opinion even if it is not one we are, theoretically, likely to support. If we consider them the Other; then it doesn’t matter what they say.

Politics are identity politics. I am of the mind that identity politics of all types are disastrous for any future left movement because, to generalize, they are built on a foundation of separateness and focus heavily on the individual. But I can unpack that later. [I want to write a short book on that actually.]

However, the most dangerous type of identity politics is white identity politics. Why? Because white Americans had an investment in this system that, for a long time, worked for them. People who never had wealth or prosperity can sometimes not have that impetus of hope to fight for change. They don’t see a world that works for them because it largely never has. People who had a middle class life but now see it slipping away? Oh, man. These people are dangerous and angry and look for demagogues that border on fascism. They know what its like to have abundant leisure; income and wealth; and self-actualization.

This phenomenon is not going away anytime soon because it is a product of worsening economic inequality. Political Scientist Inglehart, in the recently released Jan/Feb 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs makes this point while discussing the lack of support for redistribution:

Globalization and deindustrialization undermined the strength of unions. And the information revolution helped establish a winner-take-all economy. Together these eroded the political base for redistributive policies.” [Link]

What will the Trump of 2020 or 2024 look like if whoever wins the 2016 election doesn’t address worsening inequality?

On Bernie – and Trump- as Third Party Candidates

People who want Bernie Sanders to run as an Independent do not understand political dynamics and even the fundamental and intrinsic qualities of our first-past-the-post electoral system. If Bernie ran as an Independent he would certainly take votes away from the Democrat – Hillary Clinton, let’s be honest – and this would increase the chances that a Republican would win. For this same reason, I certainly hope Donald Trump runs as an Independent because he would strictly take votes away from the Republican – Scott Walker/Jeb Bush, let’s be frank. Chris Hedges, who I read and who I admire, is one prominent voice calling for Sanders to run as an independent. Hedges says to vote for the Green party candidate, Jill Stein. This is why the left loses. Jill Stein literally has no chance of winning as a third party candidate and “protest votes” are basically votes for the candidate that ends up winning the election.

You aren’t “pure” or staying above the mud when you vote for a third party; you are throwing away your vote and allowing everyone else to play politics for you. We are all complicit in the laws and elected officials we get. Even if you do not believe in voting, since voting happens, neglecting this responsibility is a bad move. In Sanders’ own words: “I won’t be a spoiler.” Sanders is running to win and he also is running because we “need a political revolution;” again his words. Before I go, a brief paragraph or two about the last time a third party candidate had a shot

In 1992, Ross Perot received 19% of the vote (by the way: only 55% of registered voters came to the polls) and many blamed him for the George H. W. Bush loss. Perot definitely took more votes from the Republican than the Democrat. This scared the two major parties. What happened afterwards? The Federal Election Commission (F.E.C.), created in 1975 (as a response to Watergate) to formalize campaign procedures, and staffed by Democrats and Republicans “raised ballot access requirements” which effectively shut third party candidates out of debates. The current chair commissioner, Ann M. Ravel, has even called the F.E.C. “worse than dysfunctional,” in an recent interview. She came to the F.E.C. with hopes of reform; she has now publicly given that up for 2016.

I voted for Jill Stein in 2012 because I live in Missouri and I knew that Mitt Romney was going to win. At that time I told myself that I couldn’t vote for someone who uses drones to kill people halfway across the world. I don’t feel good for that vote because symbolic gestures are simply that; ephemeral, and basically impotent. If Missouri would have been a swing state I would have voted for Barack Obama, regardless. Practicing purity politics has never been and will never be good politics. Those willing to get dirty win; the Right has built their entire apparatus on mud-slinging. The Tea Party decided to run candidates – not as a third party mind you – and Occupiers decided to…well…use the people’s mic and form consensus-circles. We see how that worked out.

Changing the Democratic party from within might be fruitless; changing the party from outside will be an abject failure. Politics don’t work as many think they should; they work as they always have. A third party effort will never succeed unless our political system is completely transformed. That is not happening any time soon.

Bernie Sanders should remain a Democratic candidate and lets all hope that Trump does run as an independent and acts as a spoiler to the Republican  party – because we cannot afford another Republican president. There is a difference and lives are literally at stake.