Saturday, January 21, 2017

Donald Trump’s inauguration: a declaration of political war / Jonathan Freedland: Divisive, ungracious, unrepentant: this was Trump unbound / New From Trump University:Election Rigging 101

NB: The unresolvable tension between a global economic order and a nation-statist political system produces regular political convulsions, of which the latest ultra-nationalist turn is the newest example. The ideologues of capitalism espouse complete freedom for Market Forces (Peace Be Unto Them) as the panacea for all ills, and insist that the state ought never to intervene in the economy. (What was demonetisation, by the way?!) They cannot see the irony of their demand for state intervention to 'commoditize those parts of human culture that should have remained outside the jurisdiction of the market - in particular, land, labor, and money' (see the article on Polanyi below). 

Nor do they seem to notice that protectionist policies go against the grain of their own ideological utopia of total freedom for Market Forces (Peace Be Unto Them). In the late 19th century imperial Great Britain led the charge on behalf of free trade, and even the colonial government in India was obliged to contest this (ever so mildly, given that it was under British suzerainty) with demands for protectionist tarriff duties. Today the US government is propelled toward protectionism by its newly elected leader, whilst the People's Republic of China demands free trade! 

Meanwhile revolutionary socialists have abandoned worker's internationalism, and gravitate towards autarkic solutions - which in political terms are led more effectively by the ultra-nationalist Right. The glaring truth is that we have an international capitalist order. The economic, ecological and political problems that this order generates can only be dealt with by international co-operation - co-operation not of the Davos elite, but of those working people who pay the heaviest price for it. Not autarky and militarism. Turning inwards as in Brexit and 'America First' etc will only compound the problems. As an American friend, who is also a senior academic, wrote to me: "What can it possibly mean in this radically interconnected times to talk about having America come out first in everything? It staggers the mind."  We learn our lessons the hard way, if we learn at all.. 

But these are theoretical ruminations. What is on the immediate horizon is Trump's wilful and self-serving view of the world - contestation of which from any quarter earns his hatred. His inaugural speech contained words like 'blood' and 'carnage' and in a clear sign of megalomania, he thanked "the people of the world" for his election - as if any of us had anything to do with it. Trump's favourite target continues to be the media - by which is implied anyone who thinks differently. He is a dangerous man to have in the seat of US power and American citizens - and the rest of us - should beware. The man is a hooligan, and the sooner you realise this the better for all of us. He spoke of violent retribution during his campaign, and you should not be surprised if this administration - aided and abetted by the deep state and shadowy characters launches a vicious campaign of intimidation within and outside the USA. The American election was not democratic; and the price the rest of the world has to pay for what American does is neither just nor fair. DS
America - No President - the view from n+1 ...
Women's March on Washington, London and global anti-Trump protests
Angela Mitropoulos - 'Post-factual' readings of neo-liberalism, before and after Trump
Sheldon Wolin - Can capitalism and democracy co-exist?
End of nations: Is there an alternative to countries?
Karl Polanyi: What the Austro Hungarian economic theorist tells us about the upheavals of our age

Guardian Editorial: Trump’s inauguration: a declaration of political war
In its outward details, the orderly transfer of American presidential power accomplished in the inauguration-day scene on Capitol Hill today felt time-honoured. The ceremonial essentials of the occasion – the stars and stripes banners, the dignitaries and the prescribed rituals of the swearings-in – were familiar and traditional. Political rivals took their places on the podium as they do every four years, shook hands and applauded one another, offering gracious compliments and providing a show of national dignity. Yet all this was in fact a sham. Donald Trump’s inaugural address was a declaration of war on everything represented by these choreographed civilities. President Trump – it’s time to begin to get used to those jarringly ill-fitting words – did not conjure a deathless phrase for the day. His words will not lodge in the brain in any of the various uplifting ways that the likes of Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy or Reagan once achieved. But the new president’s message could not have been clearer. He came to shatter the veneer of unity and continuity represented by the peaceful handover. And he may have succeeded. In 1933, Roosevelt challenged the world to overcome fear. In 2017, Mr Trump told the world to be very afraid.

Mr Trump’s speech was by turns bitter, blowhard and banal. It boiled with resentment and contempt for politics, and the checks and balances of the US system. It was aimed at those who voted for him, not at those, the majority, who did not. It said barely a word about race. Its America First nationalism was crude and shameless. The speech seethed with scorn for everything about the capital city that he now seeks to bend to his will. It was, though, almost wholly empty of detail or of clarity about how its goals would be achieved. Even before he opened his mouth, Washington was on edge about what a Trump presidency might mean and the world was on edge about what is happening to America. Everything Mr Trump said confirmed that those instincts were correct. Presidents have often come into office promising to take the nation on a new path. But if Mr Trump can be believed, his election and his speech signal the biggest shake-up in Washington in living memory.

The vital question for the future is whether Mr Trump can be believed. In his speech he mocked those who have been all talk and no action. But there is a risk he could be a victim of that too. He raised the bar for his own presidency to a very high level by insisting that everything would change “right here, right now”. But will it? The power of the presidency has grown over the decades, and the 2016 election has now put the Republicans in charge of all the arms of government. But Mr Trump is not, at least not yet, a dictator. He has to govern with a Congress that does not share all his priorities – in some cases, Mr Trump’s priorities may even be preferable – and according to law that is interpreted by the courts. The states have a lot of power to defy him, as California seems determined to do in the case of the planned wall with Mexico.

It has been argued that voters chose Mr Trump knowing that he would challenge the system, but confident that the system would protect the voters from the worst consequences. That may prove right. But Mr Trump should not be underestimated. He is a proud disrupter not a diffident conformist. He is – and intends to be – different from the presidents of the past: in his personality, his working style, his ways of communicating and, most important of all, in his political aims. Those who support him and those who fear him are agreed on that. Yet he has arrived in the White House with low ratings and amid a deep sense of division. His inauguration was boycotted by several leaders and will be protested against by tens of thousands. His attempts to overturn America’s political hierarchy and culture will enthuse some – the stock market is thrumming – but terrify others.

The realities of Mr Trump’s disruptive intentions will be revealed in the weeks and months ahead. The first downpayments on his turbulent agenda can be found on the White House website. Domestically, the biggest programme will be the infrastructure projects that formed the only detailed pledge of the inaugural address. Beyond America’s shores, much is still guesswork: the probable clash with China poses the biggest threat of all; whether Mr Trump gets his way on Russia may depend on his more sceptical cabinet. “The time for empty talk is over,” said President Trump today. “Now arrives the hour of action.” At home and abroad, and in the light of today’s speech, that is a truly terrifying prospect.

Donald Trump was right. The election was rigged. What Trump got wrong (and, boy, does he get things wrong) is that the rigging worked in his favor. The manipulations took three monumental forms: Russian cyber-sabotage; FBI meddling; and systematic Republican efforts, especially in swing states, to prevent minority citizens from casting votes. The cumulative effect was more than sufficient to shift the outcome in Trump’s favor and put the least qualified major-party candidate in the history of the republic into the White House. Trumpist internet trolls and Trump himself dismiss such concerns as sour grapes, but for anyone who takes seriously the importance of operating a democracy these assaults on the nation’s core political process constitute threats to the country’s very being. Let’s look at each of these areas of electoral interference in detail.,, read more:

Jonathan Freedland / Divisive, ungracious, unrepentant: this was Trump unbound 

Listen to the advice of the Italian scholar Luigi Zingales, who recalls the long battles against Silvio Berlusconi – like Trump, a master player of the media, orange-hued and coated in a Teflon that meant no scandal ever stuck. Berlusconi was in the end defeated only by those who “focused on the issues, not on his character”.
Well, what were you expecting? Did you somehow think that the Donald Trump of the long, bitter campaign of 2016 would be miraculously transformed in the Washington rain, emerging as a kinder, gentler man, ready to serve as healer of the nation and humble steward of the free world? Because if you did, you were sorely disappointed. Of course he didn’t change. The naive thought he might shift a year ago, when he became the Republican frontrunner, or in the summer, when he became that party’s nominee, or in November, when he won the election. And some, finally, clung to the hope that he would “pivot”, undergoing a metamorphosis as he placed his hand on the Bible and took the oath to become America’s 45th president. But they were wrong. The Trump on the steps of the Capitol was the same Trump the world has come to know and fear. As he did at his party convention in Cleveland, he came with a message full of anger and foreboding, slamming the record of his predecessor and depicting a bleak American dystopia. He spoke of “American carnage”, of gangs and drugs, crime and decay.

And he was unafraid of the darkest historical echoes. “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first,” he said, “America first” – embracing once again the slogan of the 1930s nativist movement of appeasers and antisemites who sought to keep the US out of the war against Nazism. Elsewhere, in rhetoric that sounded chilling coming from a would-be strongman who allegedly used to keep a volume of Hitler’s speeches at his bedside, he declared, “We are one nation … We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.”

For a listening world, there was little of comfort. He announced a new age of protectionism, not hiding from the word. “Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength,” he said, in defiance of the historical experience that says protection leads, in fact, to crisis and world war. There was no mention of Nato or anything that might smack of multilateral cooperation. Instead Trump used his inauguration to usher in a new, Darwinian era in international relations. From now on, “all nations [will] put their own interests first”. That’s how Moscow and Beijing see the world, but it’ll be a shock for those smaller nations who have long looked to the US to maintain something close to a rules-based international system.

In other words, Trump did what he always does: he shredded the rule book. Inaugural speeches are meant to be exercises in national unity, binding the wounds of a divided people and sending a message that might hearten the rest of the world. Not for Trump. There was no gracious nod to his defeated opponent, Hillary Clinton, no hand outstretched to those who didn’t vote for him. 

But one move could help. Journalists might need to break the competitive habits of a lifetime and, every now and then, work as a team. That need was illustrated in last week’s press conference, when Trump turned on, and refused to take a question from, a CNN reporter, branding the network purveyors of “fake news.” Had the other journalists present refused to ask questions of their own until their CNN colleague was allowed his moment, Trump would have had to give way. In a similar vein, reporters should get into the habit of following up their colleagues’ inquiries. It may not force Trump or his spokespersons to answer awkward questions, but at least it’ll make it a tad harder for them to ignore them.

But there’s also a question of focus, for the press and for opponents alike. It’ll be tempting to go after Trump for his late-night tweets, for the insults he will surely keep firing off – whether at Meryl Streep or the cast of Hamilton – and for the general boorishness that has made him so repellent to so many millions. Tempting, but if it’s allowed to dominate the way we speak about this president, wrong.

Listen to the advice of the Italian scholar Luigi Zingales, who recalls the long battles against Silvio Berlusconi – like Trump, a master player of the media, orange-hued and coated in a Teflon that meant no scandal ever stuck. Berlusconi was in the end defeated only by those who “focused on the issues, not on his character”. Attacking Trump as a douchebag might be cathartic, but it’s unlikely to be effective. Too many Americans knew that about him but voted for him anyway. Better to attack Trump as a president.

Which is not to say that there’ll be no room for mockery. Lord knows, laughter will be a crucial weapon against Trump, as it is against all authoritarian strongmen.(Indeed, humour seems alien to Trump: comedy director Judd Apatow this week noted that he had never seen the new president laugh properly.) Alec Baldwin and Saturday Night Live, along with Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee and others are the bearers of a solemn, quasi-constitutional duty: to point a jeering finger at the emperor with no clothes.

But that will count for nothing if there is not a popular movement of dissent, one that exists in the real world beyond social media. Some believe the mass rally is about to matter more than ever. Trump, remember, is a man who gets his knowledge of the world from television, and who is obsessed by ratings. How better to convey to him the public mood of disapproval than by forcing him to see huge crowds on TV, comprised of people who reject him?

And this will have to be backed by serious, organised activism. The left can learn from the success of the Tea Party movement, which did so much to obstruct Barack Obama. That will force congressional Democrats to consider whether they too should learn from their Republican counterparts, thwarting Trump rather than enabling him.

And opponents should keep their eyes on the prize. Yesterday’s most poignant image was of the Obamas leaving the White House for the last time. Eight years ago, that was Bush and Cheney. One day, it will be Donald Trump. That moment will come. The task now is to ensure it comes sooner rather than later.

see also
Angela Mitropoulos - 'Post-factual' readings of neo-liberalism, before and after Trump
Sheldon Wolin - Can capitalism and democracy co-exist?

Women's March on Washington, London and global anti-Trump protests
Angela Mitropoulos - 'Post-factual' readings of neo-liberalism, before and after Trump
Sheldon Wolin - Can capitalism and democracy co-exist?
End of nations: Is there an alternative to countries?