BREXIT– A Reminder to ASEAN


August 28, 2016

BREXIT– A Reminder to ASEAN

by Dr. Munir Majid

http://www.thestar.com.my

Image result for ASEAN and BREXIT

WHILE the close British decision to get out of the European Union (EU) – BREXIT – was made in a referendum over two months ago, there is still the feeling in the country: “What have we done?”

Where do we go? How do we get there? Questions that should have been asked at the referendum, rather than after it. But there you are. When raw emotions and shallow arguments reign, profound decisions are made without proper reflection or preparation.

Since then the question has also been raised in our neck of the woods, whether or not such a thing could occur in ASEAN. It won’t, but then again it may.

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Good Luck to Cameron’s Successor

First of all, let’s be clear. It is not likely there will ever be such a surplus of democracy in ASEAN, whether among individual member states or as a group, that there could be an “In or Out” referendum, such as on the EU, that has resulted in BREXIT.

Such democracy as there is in ASEAN is a pale reflection of the European model. Perhaps five ASEAN states, at a pinch, could be called democracies. They are, at most, mixed democracies, with varying control-freak tendencies. In one of them, there is new leadership, with Trump-like populism, perhaps a precursor of what a President Donald Trump would be like in America – a loose cannon.

Perhaps in that member state – the Philippines – there could be a Phixit referendum in a state of pique although, as shown in the handling of the July 12 arbitral tribunal award on the South China Sea dispute against China, there can be underlying realism after hyperbolic madness, like riding a water scooter into the Chinese navy.

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Then again, President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent threat to leave the United Nations after heavy criticism of extrajudicial killings in the drug war, points to some uncertainty over what the Philippines under Duterte might do.

One ASEAN state is an absolute monarchy (founded on Sharia Law–DM). Two are communist states and another a dictatorial democracy, if that is not a contradiction in terms. Making an imperfect ten is a state – through a referendum no less – which is set to become a militarily managed democracy, as the referendum indeed was.

The upshot is that there will not be in ASEAN a “In or Out” referendum of the British kind – free, open and all too easy.

With none of the regimes in ASEAN is there likely be such a reckless gamble as to leave an existential decision with the people. Not that there is everywhere in ASEAN always a high degree of leadership responsibility.

It is just that the people are not invited to make too many decisions once Governments are in power. So, from very different starting points, ASEAN will not be so people-centric as to give its citizens such a choice.

Britain – specifically David Cameron – screwed up. There was a rather careless Oxford Union debate approach by him in the referendum campaign. This was quite irresponsible when BREXIT is a highly complicated matter. Even Brexiteers – like Boris Johnson (now Foreign Secretary) – looked numb on the morning after the night before, like theirs was a Pyrrhic victory.

Some experts are now saying divorcing the EU may take 10 years. Britain will have to negotiate at least six major deals to re-establish its place in the world after BREXIT. For instance, among the six deals, Britain has to regain full membership of the WTO, not necessarily a straightforward thing, where the EU is the representative body.

While ASEAN  is no way as close and intricate as the EU’s and, in the instance of the WTO, ASEAN countries are individual members of the trade organisation, the important point is the need to think through any decision to break away from any association or organisation.

It is not a simple in or out matter to be decided on the basis of emotions alone. There are a lot of knotty issues, especially relating to the economy, trade and free trade agreements (FTAs). There can be unintended consequences.

With respect to ASEAN, it will not be lost on member states that there is no need to make any grand gesture of walking out, or threatening to do so, especially as commitment to ASEAN’s so-called rules-based regime is not so onerous anyway. So why rock the boat when there is promise of great potential benefit and any present problems can be treated in a let sleeping dogs lie fashion?

We have noted also the wide divergence in the political models in the EU and ASEAN. Indeed ASEAN may think its democratic deficit is a blessing in disguise.

Such parsimony however should not be represented as wisdom among ASEAN leaders. Cynicism and realism are two different things that might yet come out of the ASEAN bag. If leadership and wisdom are required, for instance, to hold the association together against present and future challenges, ASEAN leaders could equally blunder.

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The most critical test of ASEAN unity today is over what position to take on Beijing’s South China Sea claims and assertive behaviour. Again and again ASEAN – including its four South China Sea claimant states – fails to take a collective stand as China, through land reclamation and militarisation, as well as naval support of its fishing fleets, achieves de facto control over almost all of the disputed atolls and waters.

The arbitral tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ruling on July 12, that there is no basis in international law for most of China’s assertions and actions, has only accentuated the division rather than help form a common front. The cracks have become clearer.

Yet China is able to entice ASEAN Member States with possibilities, over which it would be up to ASEAN to keep united or not. On August 17, China Daily reported there is agreement to negotiate the code of conduct in the South China Sea by mid-2017. There is also a deal in the making on a code of unplanned encounters at sea (CUES).

All this to go to the ASEAN-China summit just two weeks away. All very good news indeed.

On the other hand, Singapore – the ASEAN coordinator of relations with China until 2018 when the island republic takes the chair of ASEAN – has been receiving some stick on Chinese social media, with Global Times castigating it as the “little red dot.”

Like with all ASEAN countries, but more so with Singapore, the tricky test is how to navigate the Sino-US rivalry in South-East Asia. China can blow hot and cold, and keep ASEAN states responding every which way.

At the heart of this lack of unity is not just that not all ASEAN members are claimant states in the South Chine Sea, but rather more so their economic dependence on China. All ASEAN states have significant interest in the economic relationship with the rising giant that has grown tremendously in the last couple of decades which, to a greater or lesser extent, they do not wish to disturb. Indeed which they wish, with many Chinese blandishments, to see grow.

A couple of ASEAN member states depend on China for their economic life. They will never cross Beijing. There is a soft middle who are careful not to antagonise China even if they feel they are being dragged to the limit. Only one among them appears to have drawn a line in the sand and is clear on the equal sovereign rights of all states big or small. And then there is a sharp and hard outer edge comprising two Asean members although the hardest, now with new leadership, is softening its stand.

ASEAN, in other words, is totally disunited over the South China Sea and China’s absolute claim to it. It needs to show unity to negotiate effectively with China but different economic and national interests are pulling it apart.

On a more general plane, while the EU has been wedded to principles – like the free movement of people – ASEAN has always been flexible and diverse about these things.

With immigration and the deluge of refugees caused by principled commitment being identified as the prime reason leading to Brexit,

ASEAN may feel it has bragging rights with its flexible and realistic approach to integration and human rights issues. But there is no cause for celebration in ASEAN. Certainly, in respect of not taking a principled stand on China’s assertive sovereign – and suzerain – claims in the South China Sea, the future could come to haunt ASEAN in some unintended ways.

Even if the calculation is that China’s regional dominance is inevitable, the nature of ASEAN state relationship with Beijing is still something that can be fashioned short of total subservience. Full capitulation now will guarantee a future as vassal states.

There is value in principles. There are options that can be exercised. In the very first year of the so-called ASEAN community, the path to greater integration, including in the Asianholic economic field, could get even slower as divergence on the South China Sea issue sours political relationships among member states.

There are also dangers of total dependence on economic expansion without sufficient attention being given to the social issues of growth.

Social services, equitable distribution of income and wealth are critical if ASEAN countries are not to be confronted by the ferment and discord of economic denial – which could then so easily be attributed to ASEAN integration rather than to bad and unjust national governance.

More than immigration, which was the symptom, the underlying cause of the Brexit vote was the anger of the social underclass denied economic justice, who attributed their condition to foreigners. Narrow and nationalistic jingoism is something politically easy to whip up when there is such anger. It is not something ASEAN should not anticipate.

So beneath the tranquillity of the ASEAN way, the smiles and linking of arms are many issues that cannot always be kept there. They should be addressed. They could cause discord, disunity and tumult. If not exactly the break-up of Asean, they could make Asean meaningless and lead to the regional organisation not being taken seriously.

Tan Sri Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.

 

The Right to Protest


August 28, 2016

The Right to Protest: that’s Merdeka

 by Amb (rtd) Dennis Ignatius
 Image result for Merdeka Malaysia

While Malaysians tend towards political apathy, many now feel that enough is enough, that it is not the Malaysian way to sit idly by while our beloved nation slips into the abyss of corruption, extremism and misgovernance.

Malaysia is wonderful but the Leadership is incompetent, dishonest. greedy, irresponsible and incorrigibly corrupt

When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty ~ John Basil Barnhill

Ever since Bersih (now more than just a movement for clean and fair elections) announced its intention to organize a rally to protest the embezzlement and laundering of billions of ringgit of public funds linked to the 1MDB scandal, the government appears to be going out of its way to hinder it. The TangkapMO1 rally is being similarly chastised.

For all the wrong reasons

A whole array of reasons have been conjured up to explain why these demonstrations should not be allowed – its against the national interest, it’s disruptive, it will harm the economy, it could lead to violence, it leaves a mess, etc.

This being Malaysia, it won’t be long before religious officials also get in on the act with edicts, injunctions and warnings against joining such demonstrations on pain of losing one’s soul.

In the meantime, one minister, in urging would-be demonstrators to respect DBKL (City Hall), argued that DBKL is the “owner” of Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) and that it has “exclusive rights” to it.

This is part of the problem with politicians who remain in office for too long; they think that everything belongs to them, that only they have exclusive rights to public property.

The Minister should know that Dataran Merdeka belongs to the nation and all citizens have a right to access it. DBKL’s task is simply to manage it for and on behalf of the people. If the people wish to peacefully gather there, DBKL should facilitate it.

Our Prime Minister, for his part, insists that protest and demonstrations are “not the Malaysian way.” Obviously, he has forgotten that the party he now leads was itself born out of a protest movement ( against the Malayan Union). He also asked the electorate to bring their grievances to him, promising that he would listen and learn from them; if only he had, citizens would not need to demonstrate (this a big lie, promises, promises, empty promises–DM).

And then there are the phony democrats who pretend to uphold the rights of the people by suggesting alternative venues for demonstrations and even offering to pay for the them. People are not so foolish to see such moves as anything but an orchestrated ploy to marginalize the demonstrators by pushing them to more discreet locations.

Of course, whenever there is talk about demonstrations the bully boys in red – that rent-a-band of rowdies with nothing better to do than to hurl insults, act provocatively and play racist games – invariably spring into action. By insisting on the right to hold counter-demonstrations at the same time and at the same place, they provide the police with the perfect excuse to worry about public order.

Few doubt, though, that they are anything more that bullies allied to people in high places with a licence to disrupt, sow fear and scare off concerned citizens who wish to exercise their democratic right to protest.

Surprisingly, even Suhakam, once seen as a small ray of light in an otherwise dark human rights environment, now appears to be taking the government line that such demonstrations are counterproductive. Its new chief dismissed protestors as little more than unwashed and unprincipled agitators who accomplish little at great inconvenience to the rest of society.

He also went on to draw parallels with the Arab Spring, now a by-word for chaos and instability, implying that the same thing could happen here if we are not careful.

Those who use the Arab Spring to discredit all popular protests often tend to ignore the real lessons from those seminal events.

Rather than blaming autocratic governments that oppressed the people for decades, they blame the victims of oppression, corruption and tyranny for rising up to protest. The real lesson from the Arab Spring, which autocratic governments should take to heart, is the one that John F Kennedy warned about decades earlier – that those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.

The run around

Given the government’s views, it comes as no surprise that the authorities are trying to give the organizers of upcoming demonstrations the run around. The Inspector-General of Police says the police have no objections provided City Hall agrees. City Hall, of course, will find every excuse not to agree.

It is clear that neither of these agencies are independent of political influence. Their actions suggest that their primary objective is to find administrative reasons to stymie demonstrations at Dataran Merdeka.

This kind of thinking was also evident in the government’s decision to institute a claim for damages against the organizers of the 2012 Bersih 3 rally. They were hoping to make it too prohibitive financially for demonstrators to use the square. Kudos to the courts for rejecting it.

The government must also not hide behind the controversial Peaceful Assembly Act. When it was introduced in 2012, the prime minister dismissed the concerns of human rights groups and insisted that it was a democratic measure designed “to give room for the people to express themselves.” Contrary to his assurances, it has been used to harass, intimidate and prosecute demonstrators. It might as well be renamed the ‘prohibition of assembly act.’

The government must do the right thing

Clearly, while Malaysians tend towards political apathy, many now feel that enough is enough, that it is not the Malaysian way to sit idly by while our beloved nation slips into the abyss of corruption, extremism and misgovernance.

Street demonstrations may or may not be the best way to press for change but it is the citizens who must make that call. In any case, it is one of the few options left to concerned citizens in our nation today to express their unhappiness over the direction the nation is taking.

The government needs to understand that the protestors are not the enemy. They are not looking for trouble, not looking to violently overthrow the government. They too love their country, value peace and stability. In insisting on the right to gather at Dataran Merdeka to make their views known, they are acting responsibly and in accordance with their rights under the constitution.

If there are security concerns, our police should be on hand – to protect the protestors rather than attack them. If City Hall is concerned about orderliness and cleanliness, it should work with the organizers to make this the cleanest, most orderly, most organized demonstration thus far.

The government can war against its own citizens or let them roar. They can try to silence the voices of dissent or hear the cries for justice, democracy and good governance.

Its not the people who are on trial here; it is the government!

Dennis Ignatius is a former Malaysian Ambassador.

 

Your Weekend Dig


August 27, 2016

Guys,

Image result for Miss Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman

Here is Miss Peggy Lee with her sultry voice to entertain you all this weekend. It has been a demanding week for most of us and Merdeka Anniversary is just around the corner. But let us ask ourselves seriously, what is there to celebrate given the state of our politics today. –Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

 

Mahathir: Climate Change and The End of Man


August 27, 2016

Mahathir: Climate Change and The End of Man

chedet.cc

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We now admit that the climate is changing. But we must also be aware that the so-called natural disasters are happening more frequently, and are more violent. And these cataclysms are happening in more places than before.

We see floods in New York, tsunamis in Sumatera and Fukushima, non-active volcanoes erupting, repeated volcanic eruptions in the same location, prolonged winters, high temperatures for months in many countries, tornadoes which wreck whole countries, typhoons of unprecedented strength and huge forest fires which consume parts of towns.

Is it just climate change which we hope will come to an end. Can we expect to go back to the years when the weather behaves in predictable cycles, i.e in the regularity of the seasons, the levels of the seas, the rise and fall of the tides, and the habitability of this planet we call Earth.

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We now accept that the Earth is much older than we use to think. We also know that it was not always like what it is now. We know that the human race appeared probably only a few hundred thousand years ago.

We know that there was a time when dinosaurs inhabited the earth. They disappeared but they left their skeletons so that we cannot deny that they existed even though they were strange creatures unlike the animals we see today. Perhaps the crocodile is the only surviving species from the age of the dinosaurs.

We know that there were at least two ice ages, when the whole world was covered with a thick layer of ice. Life as we know today could not have survived the cold. Nothing could grow on the ground covered with the thick layer of ice. Even dinosaurs could not have survived, as there was no vegetation for them to feed on.

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The ice melted to form oceans. The oceans and the seas receded and land masses appeared. We know the land masses grow and sundered, drifting apart to form continents. We are told the Himalaya is still growing taller. The process is very slow, but it is growing if we compare heights over the years.

The land masses too change in shape so that the shorelines change even during our times. We have found sea-shells on land very far from the sea, on mountains even.

We know all these had happened in the past. It cannot be that all these changes and processes stopped because civilised man now occupy this earth.

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The process of change on this earth must be continuous. It must be continuing.Men have always believed in the end of the world. Almost every religion talks of the Last Day of the earth. But we really do not know when it will happen. Could it be that we are progressing towards it even now.

It may take a hundred thousand years. But can we expect the changes to cease. Can we expect the volcanoes and the quakes, the violent storms, tsunamis and tornadoes, the floods and landslides etc to remain mild or benign as they used to be. I should think not.

Instead we must expect increasing frequency and violence of the natural cataclysms. The world may become so hot that living things cannot survive. The world may become so cold, the third Ice Age, that living things cannot thrive either.

For humanity it can mean the end of their world.So it is true, what the religions warn us about. For Muslims there has never been any doubt. There will be kiamat. Perhaps the scientists too will finally admit that for men the world has come to an end.But  whether they do or not the end will come.

 

Scorpene Subs here and there in murky military deals


August 27, 2016

Scorpene Subs here and there in murky military deals

by John Berthelsen

http://www.asiasentinel.com

The massive leak of secret documents on Scorpene military submarines purchased by Australia and India recently from French shipbuilder DCNS, possibly by a competitor, once again calls up the murky world of military procurement and the enormous bribes that are often paid.

Nobody knows who leaked the documents, which give detailed technical information about the combat capability of the Scorpene vessels, which are currently in use in Malaysia, Chile, Pakistan and other countries that were the focus of massive scandals.

Some defense analysts are conjecturing that the hacking was at the hands of one of DCNS’s rivals. According to news reports in international publications, such sensitive information in the wrong hands would have huge ramifications for national security in at least four countries that have purchased the submarines.

India signed a US$3.43 billion contract for six of the vessels in 2005, to be built in conjunction with an Indian government-owned Mumbai shipbuilder. Brazil is due to deploy the vessels in 2018. Australia earlier this year signed a contract with DCNS for A$50 billion to build an entire new submarine fleet, picking the French defense giant over Germany’s ThyssenKrupp AG and a Japanese consortium of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries.

Image result for Scorpene and suicides

India has ordered six Scorpene-class submarines in a deal worth $3 billion. The first of the submarines built at the Mazagon Docks in Mumbai began sea trials in May.–Hindustan Times

DCNS is hardly a stranger to such shenanigans. In January, two officials of Thales, a DCNS subsidiary, were indicted in France on charges of bribing Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. The case awaits prosecution.

Image result for Mahathir Mohamad and Scorpene deal

The C-4ed Mongolian Model, Altantuya–Not Forgotten

According to documents made available to Asia Sentinel in 2013, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and then-French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe were both aware of the situation, in which €114.96 million (US$129.8 million at current exchange rates) was steered through a private company whose principal officers were Abdul Razak Baginda, then Najib’s best friend, and Razak Baginda’s wife, into the coffers of the United Malays National Organization in violation of the OECD Convention on Bribery.

Other documents made public by Asia Sentinel show that at least €36 million flowed from the DCNS subsidiary to Terasasi Hong Kong Ltd., whose principal officers were listed as Razak Baginda and his father. Najib was Defense Minister from 1991 through the time when the submarines were delivered in 2002. Terasasi only existed as a name on the wall of a Wanchai district accounting firm in Hong Kong.

Questions also have arisen over the purchase of submarines from DCNS in Chile, where “gifts” were made to the former security chief of onetime Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet for the sale of two submarines.  India’s defense procurement officials have been notorious for taking bribes, although no charges have arisen over the current sale.

Policemen Azilah Hadri and Sirul Azhar Umar, found guilty of her murder, arrive at court  in 2009

The  Malaysian Policemen convicted of the brutal murder of a Mongolian Model, one languishing in jail in Australia

In all, at least 16 suicides or other questionable deaths have been linked to DCNS’s campaign to sell submarines across the world. Perhaps the most spectacular – and questionable – was that of Thierry Imbot, who was said to have committed suicide in 2000 by falling or throwing himself down a stairwell at his Paris flat.

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Imbot was the head of French intelligence in Taiwan at the time six French frigates built by what was then Thompson Thales, a DCN subsidiary, were sold to Taiwan, a US$3 billion (in 1991 dollars) sale that generated “commissions” of US$550 million, or nearly 20 percent. Imbot’s father said his son’s body landed too far from the building to have been a suicide or to have fallen, and that Imbot had spoken of massive graft surrounding the case.

At least five other people connected with the Taiwan case died under suspicious circumstances, including a Taiwan naval captain, Yin Ching-feng, who was found floating off the country’s coast. Although it was first claimed that Yin had also committed suicide, his family hired a pathologist who said he had been beaten to death and dumped. His nephew, who was also pursuing the case, also died under suspicious circumstances, as did a former Taiwan-based Thomson employee named Jacques Morrison who also fell to his death from a high window after telling friends he feared for his life because he was the last witness to talks over the contract.

French judges have been investigating corruption allegations arising from the Taiwan contract over a number of years but have made no arrests, notably because documents are protected by defense secrecy laws, which the government refuses to lift. Nonetheless, it is widely believed that at least some of the alleged kickbacks were used as political campaign funds in the French 1995 elections.

Also, in what has come to be known as “L’Affaire Karachi,” 11 French engineers employed by DCN, were blown up in a bus bombing in 2002 which was first thought to have been perpetrated by Islamic militants. The 11 were in Karachi to work on three Agosta 90 B submarines that the Pakistani military had bought in 1994, with payment to be spread over a decade. News reports said commissions were promised to middlemen including Pakistani and Saudi Arabian nationals. Agosta is a subsidiary of DCN.

Two French magistrates, Marc Trevidic and Yves Jannier, who were looking into the case on behalf of the victims, said kickbacks ended up in the campaign funds of Edouard Balladur, then the French prime minister and a rival of Jacques Chirac in the 1995 presidential election. Nicolas Sarkozy was Balladur’s campaign manager as well as budget minister when the contract for the subs was signed.

Although Sarcozy and Balladur have both denied any wrongdoing, a top-secret memo turned up in October 2008 from DCN, copies of which were shown on French television. The memo reportedly said France had stopped paying the bribes after Chirac won the 1995 elections despite requests by Pakistani officials for several years afterwards. Eventually, according to the story, the Pakistanis lost patience and orchestrated the bus attack on the Agosta engineers in retaliation. It is widely believed that at least some of the alleged kickbacks were used as political campaign funds in the French 1995 elections.

READ: http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/scorpene-leak-story-of-indias-submarine-acquisition-explained-2994911

In Books on Donald Trump, Consistent Portraits of a High-Decibel Narcissist


August 27, 2017

by Michiko Kakutani

http://www.nytimes.com

Image result for  dystopian Donald Trump

Over the last year, we’ve been plunged into the alternate reality of Trumpland, as though we were caught in the maze of his old board game, “Trump: The Game,” with no exit in sight. It’s a Darwinian, dog-eat-dog, zero-sum world where greed is good, insults are the lingua franca, and winning is everything (or, in tangled Trumpian syntax, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but whether you win!”).

To read a stack of new and reissued books about Mr. Trump, as well as a bunch of his own works, is to be plunged into a kind of Bizarro World version of Dante’s “Inferno,” where arrogance, acquisitiveness and the sowing of discord are not sins, but attributes of leadership; a place where lies, contradictions and outrageous remarks spring up in such thickets that the sort of moral exhaustion associated with bad soap operas quickly threatens to ensue.

That the subject of these books is not a fictional character but the Republican nominee for president can only remind the reader of Philip Roth’s observation, made more than 50 years ago, that American reality is so stupefying, “so weird and astonishing,” that it poses an embarrassment to the novelist’s “meager imagination.”

Books about Mr. Trump tend to fall into two categories. There are funny ones that focus on Trump the Celebrity of the 1980s and ’90s — a cartoony avatar of greed and wretched excess and what Garry Trudeau (“Yuge! 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump”) calls “big, honking hubris.” And there are serious biographies that try to shed light on Mr. Trump’s life and complex, highly opaque business dealings as a real estate magnate, which are vital to understanding the judgment, decision-making abilities and financial entanglements he would bring to the Oval Office.

Because of Mr. Trump’s lack of transparency surrounding his business interests (he has even declined to disclose his tax returns) and because of his loose handling of facts and love of hyperbole, serious books are obligated to spend a lot of time sifting through business and court documents. (USA Today recently reported that there are “about 3,500 legal actions involving Trump, including 1,900 where he or his companies were a plaintiff and about 1,300 in which he was the defendant.”) And they must also fact-check his assertions (PolitiFact rates 35 percent of his statements False, and 18 percent “Pants on Fire” Lies).

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Perhaps because they were written rapidly as Mr. Trump’s presidential candidacy gained traction, the latest of these books rarely step back to analyze in detail the larger implications and repercussions of the Trump phenomenon. Nor do they really map the landscape in which he has risen to popularity and is himself reshaping through his carelessness with facts, polarizing remarks and disregard for political rules.

For that matter, these books shed little new light on controversial stands taken by Mr. Trump which, many legal scholars and historians note, threaten constitutional guarantees and American democratic traditions. Those include his call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and the “extreme vetting” of immigrants; his talk of revising libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations over critical coverage; an ethnic-tinged attack on a federal judge that raises questions about his commitment to an independent judiciary; and his incendiary use of nativist and bigoted language that is fueling racial tensions and helping to mainstream far-right views on race.

Some of these books touch fleetingly on Mr. Trump’s use of inflammatory language and emotional appeal to feelings of fear and anger, but they do not delve deeply into the consequences of his nativist rhetoric or his contempt for the rules of civil discourse. They do, however, provide some sense of history, reminding us that while Mr. Trump’s craving for attention and use of controversy as an instrument of publicity have remained the same over the years, the surreal switch of venues — from the New York tabloid universe and the world of reality TV to the real-life arena of national and global politics — has turned formerly “small-potatoes stakes,” as one writer put it, into something profoundly more troubling. From WrestleMania-like insults aimed at fellow celebrities, Mr. Trump now denigrates whole racial and religious groups and questions the legitimacy of the electoral system.

A “semi-harmless buffoon” in Manhattan in the waning decades of the 20th century — as the editor of The New Yorker, David Remnick, terms the businessman in a foreword to Mark Singer’s book “Trump and Me” — has metamorphosed into a political candidate whom 50 senior Republican national security officials recently said “would be the most reckless president in American history,” putting “at risk our country’s national security and well being.”

Two new books provide useful, vigorously reported overviews of Mr. Trump’s life and career. “Trump Revealed,” by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher of The Washington Post, draws heavily on work by reporters of The Post and more than 20 hours of interviews with the candidate. Much of its material will be familiar to readers — thanks to newspaper articles and Michael D’Antonio’s 2015 biography (“Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success”) — but “Trump Revealed” deftly charts his single-minded building of his gaudy brand and his often masterful manipulation of the media.

It provides a succinct account of Mr. Trump’s childhood, when he says he punched a teacher, giving him a black eye. It also recounts his apprenticeship to a demanding father, who told him he needed to become a “killer” in anything he did, and how he learned the art of the counterattack from Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy’s former right-hand man, whom Mr. Trump hired to countersue the federal government after the Justice Department brought a case against the Trump family firm in 1973 for violating the Fair Housing Act.

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Donald is not Ronald Reagan

“The Making of Donald Trump” by David Cay Johnston — a former reporter for The New York Times who has written extensively about Mr. Trump — zeros in on Mr. Trump’s business practices, arguing that while he presents himself as “a modern Midas,” much “of what he touches” has often turned “to dross.” Mr. Johnston, who has followed the real estate impresario for nearly three decades, offers a searing indictment of his business practices and creative accounting. He examines Mr. Trump’s taste for debt, what associates have described as his startling capacity for recklessness, multiple corporate bankruptcies, dealings with reputed mobsters and accusations of fraud.

The portrait of Mr. Trump that emerges from these books, old or new, serious or satirical, is remarkably consistent: a high-decibel narcissist, almost comically self-obsessed; a “hyperbole addict who prevaricates for fun and profit,” as Mr. Singer wrote in The New Yorker in 1997.

Mr. Singer also describes Mr. Trump as an “insatiable publicity hound who courts the press on a daily basis and, when he doesn’t like what he reads, attacks the messengers as ‘human garbage,’” “a fellow both slippery and naïve, artfully calculating and recklessly heedless of consequences.”

At the same time, Mr. Singer and other writers discern an emptiness underneath the gold-plated armor. In “Trump and Me,” Mr. Singer describes his subject as a man “who had aspired to and achieved the ultimate luxury, an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.” Mr. Kranish and Mr. Fisher likewise suggest that Mr. Trump “had walled off” any pain he experienced growing up and “hid it behind a never-ending show about himself.” When they ask him about friends, they write, he gives them — off the record — the names of three men “he had had business dealings with two or more decades before, men he had only rarely seen in recent years.”

Mr. Trump likes to boast about going it alone — an impulse that helps explain the rapid turnover among advisers in his campaign, and that has raised serious concerns among national security experts and foreign policy observers, who note that his extreme self-reliance and certainty (“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain”) come coupled with a startling ignorance about global affairs and an impatience with policy and details.

Passages in his books help illuminate Mr. Trump’s admiration for the strongman style of autocratic leaders like Russia’s Vladimir V. Putin, and his own astonishing “I alone can fix it” moment during his Republican convention speech. In his 2004 book, “Think Like a Billionaire,” Mr. Trump wrote: “You must plan and execute your plan alone.”

He also advised: “Have a short attention span,” adding “quite often, I’ll be talking to someone and I’ll know what they’re going to say before they say it. After the first three words are out of their mouth, I can tell what the next 40 are going to be, so I try to pick up the pace and move it along. You can get more done faster that way.”

In many respects, Mr. Trump’s own quotes and writings provide the most vivid and alarming picture of his values, modus operandi and relentlessly dark outlook focused on revenge. “Be paranoid,” he advises in one book. And in another: “When somebody screws you, screw them back in spades.”

The grim, dystopian view of America, articulated in Mr. Trump’s Republican convention speech, is previewed in his 2015 book, “Crippled America” (republished with the cheerier title of “Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America”), in which he contends that “everyone is eating” America’s lunch. And a similarly nihilistic vision surfaces in other remarks he’s made over the years: “I always get even”; “For the most part, you can’t respect people because most people aren’t worthy of respect”; and: “The world is a horrible place. Lions kill for food, but people kill for sport.”

Once upon a time, such remarks made Mr. Trump perfect fodder for comedians. Though some writers noted that he was already a caricature of a caricature — difficult to parody or satirize — Mr. Trudeau recalled that he provided cartoonists with “an embarrassment of follies.” And the businessman, who seems to live by the conviction that any publicity is good publicity, apparently embraced this celebrity, writing: “My cartoon is real. I am the creator of my own comic book.”

In a 1990 cartoon, Doonesbury characters argued over what they disliked more about Mr. Trump: “the boasting, the piggish consumption” or “the hideous décor of his casinos.” Sadly, the stakes today are infinitely so much huger.

A version of this article appears in print on August 26, 2016, on page C19 of the New York edition with the headline: A Tower of Trump Books, at High Volume