“Liberalism itself has failed, and for a pretty good reason. It has been too often compromised by the people who represented it.”
― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72
So, is Donald Trump just the tip of the iceberg? Elections coming up in Europe might help tell us whether the age of Western liberal democracy is heading towards the exit.
While we rightly pay a lot of attention to the national disaster known as Trump it may be that he is only the first among many. The first clue that the West was heading into stormy weather was the UK’s Brexit vote – a vote that forced the Prime Minister out of office, replaced him with a pale imitation of Margaret Thatcher and has proven to be a first crack in the European Union. Then came Trump’s surprise win which has produced the beginnings of a major make-over of America’s economic and social reality, and not for the best.
But obsessing on Trump allows us to ignore a trend that has been developing for some time. Recent or upcoming elections in France, Hungary, Turkey, the Netherlands, and Poland have all indicated that Western liberalism is in decline. Poland now has a nationalist government with a shaky relationship to the EU; NATO member Turkey has effectively eliminated a free press while it heads toward a major policy conflict with the U.S. over Turkey’s unwillingness to accept American collaboration with Kurdish fighters in Syria; France is looking at a national election in which the National Front’s right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen is almost surely going to be one of the two finalists for President with a serious opportunity to win; The Netherlands’ parliamentary election this month is very possibly going to hand a victory to Geert Wilders’ extreme right-wing Freedom Party; and Hungary has already elected a Prime Minister who has turned the country against much of what have been Western values. Add to these, the strong arm tactics of Netanyahu in Israel, the rise of Russian influence in Serbia, and the rising risk to Merkel’s reign in Germany and we have the approach of a new world order.
There has been considerable press discussion of the role of Russia in all of this but the press might better put its efforts into exploring the failures of the West to develop and maintain working economies that provide jobs and benefits to restless, discouraged populations. There are exceptions – notably Germany and Canada – but by and large the West has produced an environment in which the gap between the rich and everyone else is growing, the opportunities for high quality lives have diminished for most people and economic growth is almost non-existent.
While Trump’s electoral victory no doubt hinged on many issues, in the states where it was decided, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan and Wisconsin – the economy rose to the top. Whether Trump has the solution is highly questionable but a moot point. Probably he does not, but the Clinton campaign managed to largely ignore the issue and the people who felt it the most. This issue may also be playing out in France, the Netherlands, the UK and the rest of Western Europe. “It’s the economy, stupid” was the mantra that Bill Clinton ran on successfully in the 90’s; it may still reflect the dominant issue that affects the most people throughout the world and that determines the winners and losers of elections. So investment in defense grows while investment in production declines and the quality of the lives of the people our defenses protect remain in the background. Go figure.No Comments
Don’t blame Trump – He’s just doing what he said he would, and he’s doing it with the class you expectedPosted February 1, 2017 on 10:11 pm | In the category Election, TRUMP, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Mackenzie Brothers
Now let’s wait a second. All of the decisions of Donald Trump in the last two weeks that are now being met with anger and derision by hundreds of thousands of marchers in the USA, many of whom didn’t feel like voting, were long public and cannot be a surprise. These proposals were thumped home in raucous fashion by the new President all across the country for months before the election. There is certainly good reason to be outraged by them, and that is at least also partly because of the brutality and the amateurishness in which they have now been delivered. The apparently spontaneous and unorganized travel restrictions placed on Moslems of seven countries that the president doesn’t like, and the way it was announced and commented upon by a neanderthalean Press Secretary may be beyond any pale. And the treatment of the President of neighbour Mexico also takes some kind of cake for arrogant boorishness and non-neighbourliness. But the actual contents were made clear long ago.
So didn’t anybody vote for that programme? Well, yes, it turns out somewhere around 60 million Americans did vote for that, even if you don’t know any of them. That’s a lot of Yanks who are not protesting. That’s democracy for you and as the greatest troubadour of our times, Leonard Cohen, now safely buried on the peaceful north side of the border, wrote and sang not so long ago – “Democracy is coming to theUSA”. So get used to it and now get your act together and make sure it can”t happen again in four years time.
I take a grave view of the plight of the press. It is the weak slat under the bed of democracy.
With the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President, the United States is now faced with the rather considerable task of making him appear to be the new normal. The press, in particular, will struggle with the task of being fair to him while not ignoring his past behaviors and the ongoing and emerging truths about his personal ethical background, business behaviors, and tendencies toward self-serving grandiose rhetoric in support of his own ego. And then, there are the lies. The traditional press tends to avoid calling politicians – especially presidents – liars but we seem to have entered a non traditional situation in which the President is not shading the facts but is rather ignoring them in order to manufacture new, “alternative facts”. This has led our two major newspapers – The NY Times and the Washington Post – to begin ongoing logs of Trump’s lies. There is no need to regurgitate the list of lies to date here – any sentient human can follow those in the daily press and even on major TV network news programs.
Of course there will always be outliers – Fox News, which is to be expected, and the NY Post which seems to be Trump’s personal choice as newspaper of record. And it has been disturbing to note the overly cautious approach of the PBS Newshour which so far has avoided calling out the Fabricator in Chief. But CNN has made an obvious commitment to fight back from Trump’s lies about its coverage of the U.S. intelligence agencies’ investigation of reports of Trump-Putin conspiracies. As for the Alt Right news outlets like Breitbart News, there is no reason to expect them to become honest now that their use of fake news has helped elect their man. And the White House news operation is for now led by Sean Spicer who almost immediately made a fool of himself while embarrassing an office that, under past Presidents has at least made a pretense of honesty and commitment to facts.
So, with a daily dose of bizarre tweets from Trump, a threat to close the White House to working press, a press spokesman committed to ignoring facts and manufacturing fantasies designed to protect his boss, a freeze on information flow from government agencies, a cast of lieutenants organized purposely to mislead and a public not always inclined to do the work of separating fact from fiction, the press has a major challenge.
If the past can be trusted as a clue to the future we can expect the Washington Post to continue to provide leadership in providing tough, fact-based journalism that has been their hallmark during the campaign. The NY Times can be predicted to be tough but possibly somewhat less inclined to do the kind of hard reporting that has characterized the Post under Managing Editor Marty Baron. Several other papers can be counted on for solid work, among them the LA Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe and the McCatchy papers.
Editorials and op ed pieces will continue to cover a range of opinion which is appropriate. But it is up to the reader(s) to assess these pieces with an eye to the background of the authors. For an obvious example, if Newt Gingrich offers his wisdom it is safe to assume that it will be self-serving, pompous blather. We are all left with the need to remember, “reader beware” and to actually think about what it is we are reading, from whence it comes and whether it has a basis in fact. This is not always easy, but newspapers have a record and while all have made mistakes in the past (see Judith Miller on Iraq War in the Times) all have an historic record that provides a basis on which to form a judgment. So fasten your seat belts and get ready for one scary ride.No Comments
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago and the always somewhat fragile agreement between Northern Ireland, part of th eUK and the independent Irish Republic there is only one place left in Europe where a dividing line separates parts of what had once been a united country: Cyprus. A Nomansstrip runs through the capital city of Nicosia, and beyond, that divides the country into a northern part, with an ethnic Turkish population, occupied by Turkish troops from the mainland, and an independent southern part populated by ethnic Greeks. Previous attempts to unite the two parts have failed but once again discussions are going on. Much depends on the approval of the Turkish government in Ankara, which is by no means a certainty, as well as agreement on land exchanges, and a method for organizing a single government for the entire island, built on two somewhat autonomous provinces. There are many problems to be resolved, but also much to be gained if agreement can be reached. It would in particular be a very welcome development for the European Union, to which the southern part belongs – and the newly united one would presumably enter – as it would be a demonstration of trust in the future of the EU despite the unwitting British effort to demolish it. Stay tuned!No Comments
“The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.”
― Edward R. Murrow
In March of 2014 this blog published a lengthy post about Russia’s growing and America’s shrinking public diplomacy efforts, specifically international broadcasting. So here we are now with a population beginning a flirtation with Russia and its president – a man with an easy solution to his troublesome media – jail them, kill them, or both. Some of this new American infatuation with Russia and Putin is certainly due to the full force gale of Trump and his Breitbart accomplices, but there is considerable evidence that Russia Today TV has made successful inroads throughout the West. It has done this with a well supported, worldwide broadcasting effort with enough real news to gain a degree of credibility while slipping in the news that is not real when it suits them.
On a recent trip to Italy we had access to three government supported English language TV stations: BBC occasionally, Russia Today regularly throughout the day and an English language station operated by China. CNN International – a private organization of mixed quality – was also available. On a trip to Germany a few years ago we had access to CNN which was having a Wolf Blitzer extravaganza about the balloon boy and Al Jazeera English which was by far the better of the two.
International broadcasting, as a part of public diplomacy is cheap, has in the past been effective, and can reach millions of people – as the Russian program does. But in the great competition for American taxpayers’ money, U.S. armament companies win, with the help of job hungry Congresspeople. So we are spending over $500 billion on defense, including billions on costly and frequently failed weapons systems and can barely squeeze out $750M for international broadcasting. To put it in a different perspective, Russia, with a broken economy, currently spends in excess of $1.4B on international broadcasting, the U.S.spends ca. $750M. China spends an estimated $7B.
Looking to the future, the Congress recently provided a clue by passing the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that includes an amendment that would “permanently establish the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) position as head of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency that oversees all U.S.-funded non-military international broadcasting, while removing the nine-member bipartisan Board that currently heads the agency.” The philosophy behind the historic role of the Board has been that it serve as a firewall between broadcasters charged with providing honest, fact-based reporting and the ideological whims of politicians. It served the interests of the country through the years of the House Un-American Activities Committee, the presidencies of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, both George Bushes, and Barack Obama.
Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and the Voice of America made major contributions to ending the Cold War by providing honest journalism to countries behind the iron Curtain, but any lesson from this seems lost. The likely emasculation of the Broadcasting Board of Governors indicates that it will likely not survive the presidency of Donald Trump who may instead finally get his very own TV and Radio Networks to do with as he wishes. Under the new law the CEO who will take over the responsibilities formerly belonging to the bipartisan Board will be appointed by the President. What could possibly go wrong? Well, how about Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon for CEO?No Comments
If the President elect of the U.S. has a world view it is a mystery. Similarly, if he has a strategic foreign policy strategy for the U.S. it too is a mystery. But there are clues that lead to thoughts of possible threats to world stability and, by extension, to American security.
Trump’s recent break from U.S.-China policy by accepting a call from the President of Taiwan was initially presented by much of the press as a faux pas. It was subsequently presented by the Trump camp as a clever, thought-out strategy to put pressure on China to bend to the will of the President elect. This theory is as realistic as his plan to have Mexico pay for America’s Great Wall. U.S. policy toward China was transformed in the Nixon years and clearly both countries have benefited from what was seen then as a seismic shift. Trump risks changing the nature of the relationship at a time when the U.S. has been focusing on developing stronger economic ties throughout Asia – the continent with the fastest growing economy.
During his campaign, Trump provided his view that NATO had become a too costly commitment for the U.S. and one that was unnecessarily confrontational to Russia. He has threatened to weaken America’s commitment to the NATO treaty that has served American and European vital interests for over 50 years, unless the European members step up their financial stake in NATO. While there may be a reasonable argument that Europe has not shouldered its share of the costs, (arguably true for some countries, not so for others) reducing America’s commitment to NATO would give a message to Russia that an invasion of the Baltic states could be a risk worth taking. As it did when invading Eastern Ukraine, Russia could argue that they are assisting ethnic Russians gain their freedom. It is curious that Turkey’s President Erdogan is the one NATO leader that Trump has reached out to with praise. He is the one NATO leader who is turning his country into a near dictatorship, with thousands summarily jailed, including hundreds of journalists who have been critical of him.
Trump has been highly critical of the Iran nuclear deal which has been supported by the members of the UN Security Council (incl. Russia and China), as well as America’s European allies. In criticizing the agreement Trump joins Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, several Republican Senators, right wing ideologues like John Bolton, and several major funders of GOP candidates, notably casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. While Trump has said he would walk away from the deal it is easier said than done, since our European allies and other treaty signatories would refuse to follow suit and American economic interests would likely suffer as other countries’ businesses take advantage of the U.S. reneging on the deal.
Trump has reached out with praise to the new President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who has become a human rights nightmare as he exhorts his countrymen to summarily execute anyone in the country suspected of being involved in drugs. This has led to thousands of killings – many simply murders – with no reference to a system of justice. In this case Trump is making a mockery of the U.S.’s historic commitment to human rights and systems of law. His behavior shrinks our stance in the world and begins to provide a nasty model for the application of quasi fascist behavior. See this NY Times piece for a taste of Duterte’s world: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/12/07/world/asia/rodrigo-duterte-philippines-drugs-killings.html?action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&module=RelatedCoverage®ion=EndOfArticle&pgtype=article
Trump has not said much about Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East in general other than to criticize Obama for failing in everything he has done in that part of the world and claiming that he will defeat ISIS almost as soon as he is in office. The decisions his administration make in that region will affect millions long into the future and we are largely left to guess as to what he would actually do.
Trump has made it clear that he believes he has a special relationship with Russian President Putin and indeed he may. They share a capacity for bullying, a disregard for human rights, a sensitivity to criticism, a willingness to harass the press (in Putin’s case including murder and imprisonment) and an attraction to kleptocracy. He does not seem to worry about what Putin has done in the world – e.g. Syria, Ukraine, Georgia, Chechnya, etc. – and has been eager and able to participate in the Russian economy, an economy that could teach Wall Street a thing or two about cronyism.
There is currently much talk of giving Trump a chance before judging him. Since he was elected we have no choice but to give him his chance, but judging can begin anon. Look at his appointments, listen to his words, read his tweets and form a judgment. If he fools us and turns out to be realistic, thoughtful and intelligent then we can adapt our judgment. Looking at his appointments to date, his short list for Secretary of State, and his statements during and after the campaign, it seems unlikely we will find that necessary.3 Comments
It has been an awful week for Canadians. On the day before their US neighbours made a mysterious and potentially threatening choice of a leader, Leonard Cohen died in Los Angeles, and on the next day, as he had requested, a plane flew the body of the crown jewel of post-war literature and song, back to his home city of Montréal, and on the day after that he was buried there in the family plot after a private traditional Jewish ceremony. It was almost twenty years ago that the best German writer of his generation, the very cerebral Durs Grünbein, told me that he really only knew only knew of one Canadian writer, Leonard Cohen, as he had become the splendid troubadour of the post-war world. At that time Cohen had written two novels, one of which received Canada’s highest literary honour, and about ten books of poetry, all of which contained some poems that had become as well known as any lyrics written by anybody else in this period. What set him apart from other writers was that he had set a number of his published poems to music, and had made a very successful career singing them. Space here is far too limited to begin listing the several dozen of these songs which have become part of the repertoire of the twenty-first century’s gathered memory. No other author comes close to matching them.
But the most extraordinary part of Cohen’s career was still to come. Instead of moving at seventy into a well-endowed retirement, he began anew his travels around the world as a true troubadour would do, presenting these and many newly-conceived poem-songs in almost 400 concerts over six years, most of them sold out, while expanding the themes of his new songs into a celebration of the broadness of life’s possibilities and the inevitability of the ending of it all. And he had widened their scope by powerfully adding a foundation of spiritual satisfaction with the whole process that had been missing in his earlier years. And what a group of songs they were (according to his son Adam he was writing on the day he died), culminating in several new disks that were as unexpected as they were triumphant. His last one , “You want it darker” begins with a title song accompanied by the choir from his childhood synagogue in Montreal, and with a Hebrew solo by its cantor. It appeared a couple of weeks before Cohen’s death. When you look carefully at the full implications of his extraordinary poems about Auschwitz, Hitler and the fate of Jews including his family and that of his Montréal friend, the Rumanian-born Canadian poet Irving Layton, for whom he served as pallbearer, we can certainly add Leonard Cohen’s name to the small list of the foremost Jewish writers of the post-war period. In the end he completed the circle, returning in full force to his beginnings in the Jewish section of Montréal. Cohen begins Harry Rasky’s film, “The Song of Leonard Cohen”, the best presentation of his life, by singing in French the wonderful French-Canadian song “Un Canadién errant” (“A wandering Canadian”) and admitting on questioning that he feels it pretty much also applies to him. May the force be with him.2 Comments
Picture this scene. You are sitting in the splendid bier garden in front of the splendid Jagdschloss on Rotkreuzplatz in splendid Munich on a splendid June afternoon, minding your own business while meditating on the Augustiner situated in front of you, when someone comes along and staples a poster on one of the trees affording you shade. Oh no, the political junkies have dared to come into an area off limits to them. One of the Lederhosen or Dindl servers will soon remove this poster but what is it all about? Why, it says STOPP CETA!
What is that? Never heard of it. Read on and you find out it is the proposed Canada-European Free Trade Pact. They never pay any attention here to Canada, unless the hockey team is pummelling the German one, so what do they care about a free trade pact? As it turns out, by mid-October this is the headline event in the papers. On October 27 Prime Minister Trudeau, his photo once again prominently displayed (Journalists just eat up his good looks and youth on a continent where politics is dominated by unappealing old men – Merkel is an exception but not on the youth side), is supposed to sign the CETA agreement, already approved by the EU representatives. But now that the UK has bizarrely left (or so it seems) the European club, the fractures in the among unity of the rest of Europe are becoming more and more evident.
It turns out that CETA, and any foreign agreement approved by the EU must after that be approved by the parliaments of each country. BREXIT has changed the rules on this. If the Brits can just take their ball and go home, so can anybody else on the supposed team. And anybody else includes some real wild cards these days; Hungary, Austria, Poland, Slovakia, even Denmark and the Nethelands, have very different views about immigration and globalization, for instance, than do Germany and Sweden.
But experts are willing to bet that all of these countries will sign the document when it is on the table in Brussels on October 27.After all, as has been pointed out by many leaders, if you can’t make a free-trade deal with Canada, the non-European land that is closest in its laws and general views to those of Europe, who could they make a deal with?
But they had all forgotten Belgium, the least governable country in the EU. It turns out, as they now all know, that the Belgian constitution says that each of the three main parts of Belgium – the French-speaking Walloons in the south, multilingual Brusselians in the centre and the Dutch-speaking Flems of the north – must agree unanimously or the government in Brussels cannot give Belgian approval. And now it is the Walloons who seem to be leaning to saying no, thus scuttling the whole deal, which took 7 years of negotiate. No doubt they we will be facing tremendous pressure in the next two weeks – the French President is there as we speak – but it may be that this CETA Non-Pact will signal the end of a functioning united Europe – and of the Euro, if it does not get signed on that table on October 27.
On October 9, 2008 the day of the second US presidential (so-called) debate in Missouri, Angela Merkel was in Mali, making the very difficult trip to a country torn in half by east/west political and religious disputes that have turned it into a battleground for a brutal civil war. It is clearly one of the most dangerous parts of Africa or for that matter anywhere, and it is widely expected that Canada will soon send special forces troops to join the French contingent there in attempting to help restore order to a battered land, once better known for its splendid music. And that seems to be the only reason that Kanzlerin Merkel was also there.
It was exactly sixteen years earlier to the day that Angela Merkel became the Kanzlerin of the recently reunited Federal Republic of Germany. The daughter of a Lutheran pastor in the old East German Peoples Republic, she was relatively young and not very experienced at 50, and it’s fair to say, in retrospect, that no-one imagined at the time that she was potentially a long-term Powerfrau in the tricky world of German politics, and that within a decade she would enjoy a reputation as the most powerful and respected government leader anywhere nor that she would soon become the most honoured politician in the world. But in the sixteen years during which she became the longest-ruling leader on a floundering continent where, after a catastrophic war that had ended little more than a half-century before her inauguration, Germany has under her leadership become the uncontested economic and arguably even moral centre of Europe.
And yet there she was on a day when she could have enjoyed a bright spotlight in Berlin, offering help to a country in great need of it, far from home and very far from a place that could bring her political gains. At home in this last year she has made decisions declaring Germany’s willingness to accept virtually all refugees (almost a million at this point) from a terrible war zone, and that has cost her some popularity. But she still says “Wir schaffen es” (“We’ll make it work”) and she still enjoys the support of more than 50% of the German population. Most experts believe her party will win the upcoming German election if she decides to run again.
Hard to imagine that on that same day, the two candidates running for Head of State of the United States, still the most powerful military presence in the world, could put on such an embarrassing and demeaning piece of sordid entertainment as the so-called debate. One can forgive the female candidate, Hillary Clinton, for gradually starting to look like a smiling robot, since that must have been because the overwhelming thuggery of her opponent Mr. Trump, often lurking threateningly just behind her, was something she could not have been prepared for. But what does it say about the political system that allowed such a spectacle to take place after it slowly simmered into a boil in the course of more than a year? My advice for Mme Clinton is to take a break after she wins (which she will) and go over to Berlin and have a long talk with the woman who has walked the walk rather than just talk the talk.No Comments
Last Wednesday night NBC’s Matt Lauer hosted what was to be the first serious discussion of security issues by candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. By all counts the evening was a disaster for Lauer. With each candidate appearing – separately – for 25 minutes Lauer managed to spend almost half of Clinton’s time on repeated questions about her email server while Secretary of State. It was as if Reince Priebus had written the script. Lauer then got to some of the real issues but, having wasted half the allotted time on the email nonissue, was constantly interrupting Clinton and telling her to hurry it along while she attempted to provide rational, specific answers. It was embarrassingly unprofessional, useless to potential voters and an insult to the viewers.
Lauer followed with a series of questions to Trump that included no followup, no corrections of obvious lies, and no attempts to get him to actually address issues on which Clinton had provided detailed answers. Whether you agreed with Clinton you at least knew where she stood. Trump was even allowed to get away with the old “secret plan” trick that Nixon used to avoid saying what he intended in Vietnam (a plan that turned out to cost an additional 20,000 American lives and hundreds of thousands of Asian lives – in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia).
Lauer’s gift to America arrived the next day. It began with an editorial in the Washington Post that ridiculed Lauer’s performances and called out the Post’s rivals in the press for their weak, even cowardly, coverage of the Trump campaign as well as their mindless focus on the nonissue of Clinton’s email server. As Charles Pierce has pointed out on his Daily Politics Blog for Esquire, while the Post’s editorial did not mention names, certainly the New York Times comes to mind. The Times’ editorial stance against Trump has been solid while its reporting has harped on the same litany of non- and phony issues that has kept cable news and talk radio twisting reality to its listeners’ interests.
Others have followed. Andrew Bacevich in an op ed in the Boston Globe, late night TV hosts joking about it, social media full of viewers’ rants, NBC executives reported by CNN to have said his performance was “a disaster” and the Chairman of NBC News felt compelled to defend Lauer in an internal memo released to the LA times
The Washington Post was singled out by Trump during the primaries and its reporters were no longer allowed access to the campaign. In response, the Post did what it does best: continued to report the news as it sees it, much as it did during Watergate. The Managing Editor of the Post is Marty Baron who came to the Boston Globe and took on the Catholic Church over its record of child abuse, against the advice of some who feared reprisals by the Church. We know how that worked out
So, Lauer’s gift has been to force some part of the press to look at itself and consider its own performance. Whether it is a gift that keeps on giving remains to be seen, but the evidence will be there for all to see. Will the mainstream press give priority to major issues and stop harping on fundamentally meaningless issues like Clinton’s personal emails? Will it not be bullied by Trump’s arrogant behavior and demand actual answers to questions about meaningful policy issues? Will it push back on Trump’s comments about Vladimir Putin and report the reality of Putin’s behavior and its risk to the U.S. and its allies? And will the press stop catering to the American fringe by regurgitating right wing fantasies on Vince Foster’s death, Whitewater, Clinton’s personal emails and President Obama’s birthplace?
Hillary Clinton is by no means a perfect candidate. But the press owes us its best efforts to treat her fairly by seeking from both candidates answers to the serious questions we face. Anything short of that is a dereliction of duty,6 Comments