Steve Bannon: An Unusual Conservative


February 13, 2017

Steve Bannon: An Unusual Conservative

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria@The Washington Post

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Dr Fareed Zakara and America’s Foreign Policy Enfant Terrible Dr. Henry Kissinger

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/stephen-bannons-words-and-actions-dont-add-up/2017/02/09/33010a94-ef19-11e6-9973-c5efb7ccfb0d_story.html?utm_term=.14e5d7218424

Perhaps it’s just me, but a few weeks into the Trump presidency, between the tweets, executive orders, attacks and counterattacks, I feel dizzy. So I’ve decided to take a break from the daily barrage and try to find the signal amid the noise: What is the underlying philosophy of this administration?

The chief ideologist of the Trump era is surely Stephen K. Bannon, by many accounts now the second-most powerful man in the government. Bannon is intelligent and broadly read, and has a command of U.S. history. I’ve waded through his many movies and speeches, and in these, he does not come across as a racist or white supremacist, as some people have charged. But he is an unusual conservative. We have gotten used to conservatives who are really economic libertarians, but Bannon represents an older school of European thought that is distrustful of free markets, determined to preserve traditional culture and religion, and unabashedly celebrates nationalism and martial values.

In a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2012, Bannon explained his disgust for Mitt Romney and his admiration for Sarah Palin, whose elder son, Bannon noted, had served in Iraq. The rich and successful Romney, by contrast, “will not be my commander in chief,” Bannon said, because, although the candidate had five sons who “look like good all-American guys . . . not one has served a day in the military.”

Image result for steve bannon donald trumpPresident Trump’s Chief Ideologue Stephen Bannon–The Powerafter President Trump in 1600, Pennslyvania Avenue, Washington DC

The core of Bannon’s worldview can be found in his movie “Generation Zero.” It centers on the financial crisis of 2008, and the opening scenes — in their fury against bankers — could have been written by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). But then it moves on to its real point: The financial crisis happened because of a larger moral crisis. The film blames the 1960s and the baby boomers who tore down traditional structures of society and created a “culture of narcissism.”

How did Woodstock trigger a financial crisis four decades later? According to Bannon, the breakdown of old-fashioned values resulted in a culture of self-centeredness that measured everything and everyone in one way: money. The movie goes on to accuse the political and financial establishments of betraying their country by enacting free trade deals that benefited them but hollowed out Middle America.

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Historian, Civil Rights Activist and Public Intellectual, Howard Zinn

In a strange way, Bannon’s dark, dystopian view of U.S. history is closest to that of Howard Zinn, a popular far-left scholar whose “A People’s History of the United States” is a tale of the many ways in which 99 percent of Americans were crushed by the country’s all-powerful elites. In the Zinn/Bannon worldview, everyday people are simply pawns manipulated by their evil overlords.

A more accurate version of recent American history would show that the cultural shift that began in the 1960s was fueled by a powerful, deeply American force: individualism. The United States had always been highly individualistic. Both Bannon and Trump seem nostalgic for an age — the 1930s to 1950s — that was an aberration for the nation. The Great Depression, the New Deal and World War II created a collectivist impulse that transformed the country. But after a while, Americans began to reassert their age-old desire for personal freedom, fulfillment and advancement. The world of the 1950s sounds great, unless you were a woman who wanted to work, an African-American who wanted to vote, an immigrant who wanted to move up or an aspiring entrepreneur stuck in a large, faceless corporation.

The United States that allowed individuals to flourish in the 1980s and 1990s, of course, was where the young and enterprising Bannon left a large bank to set up his own shop, do his own deals and make a small fortune. It then allowed him to produce and distribute movies outside of the Hollywood establishment, build a media start-up into a powerhouse and become a political entrepreneur entirely outside the Republican hierarchy. This United States allowed Bannon’s brash new boss to get out of Queens into Manhattan, build skyscrapers and also his celebrity, all while horrifying the establishment. Donald Trump is surely the poster child for the culture of narcissism.

Image result for president donald j trumpMaking America Great Again in a Messy World

In the course of building their careers, Trump and Bannon discarded traditionalism in every way. Both men are divorced — Bannon three times, Trump twice. They have achieved their dreams precisely because society was wide open to outsiders, breaking traditional morality did not carry a stigma and American elites were actually not that powerful. Their stories are the stories of modern America. But their message to the country seems to be an old, familiar one: Do as I say, not as I do.

 

FDR started the Long Peace. Under Trump, it may be coming to an end.


January 29, 2017

FDR started the Long Peace. Under Trump, it may be coming to an end.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/fdr-started-the-long-peace-under-trump-it-may-be-coming-to-an-end/2017/01/26/2f0835e2-e402-11e6-ba11-63c4b4fb5a63_story.html?utm_term=.748842165167

In his first days in office, President Trump has begun to reverse the domestic policies of the previous eight years. But with regard to the United States’ relations with the world, Trump seems far more radical. In word and deed, he appears to be walking away from the idea of America at the center of an open, rule-based international order. This would be a reversal of more than 70 years of U.S. foreign policy.

In an essay in the New York Review of Books, Jessica T. Mathews points out that since 1945, Americans of both political parties have accepted three principles. First, that America’s security is enhanced by its broad and deep alliances around the world. Second, that an open global economy is not a zero-sum game but rather allows the United States to prosper and others to grow. And finally, though there was debate about whether dictatorships were to be “tolerated, managed, or confronted,” in the end there was a faith in democracy and its advantages. Mathews notes that for 30 years, Trump has attacked these views as costly naivete that has allowed the world to rip off America.

Given the magnitude of the policy shift, it is worth recalling why the United States adopted this outward-looking approach in the first place. It started with Franklin D. Roosevelt, as Nigel Hamilton explains in his superb book “Commander-in-Chief.” By 1943, while victory was still a distant prospect, Roosevelt began to imagine a postwar international system. Hamilton brilliantly sets out Roosevelt’s foresight, determination and skill in establishing a new world order.

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Neither of FDR’s key wartime allies was much interested in his approach. Joseph Stalin, a communist autocrat, would resist many of his ideas, and Winston Churchill was stubbornly committed to continuing Britain’s rule over its vast empire. Roosevelt wanted something different: to establish an enduring peace in which freedom could flourish. That meant the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan, to wipe the slate clean of fascism and militarism. And it meant that Britain and France would have to decolonize Asia and Africa. Roosevelt despised the system of colonial exploitation and believed that it created the conditions that led to revolution and war. He also wanted open trade, rather than the ruinous protectionism of the 1930s. To secure all this, FDR understood that the United States would need to be permanently engaged with the world in a way it had never been before.

Hamilton vividly describes how, in the midst of directing military strategy in the largest conflict in human history, Roosevelt always kept his eye on postwar planning. With Congress and the public still suspicious of American involvement, he juggled various plans and proposals to make sure that this time, unlike after World War I, America would help keep the peace. He needed Churchill’s and Stalin’s support, which is why he kept trekking around the globe to meet them at summits. (To understand the strain on FDR, keep in mind that Roosevelt’s trip to meet Churchill at Casablanca in 1943 entailed a long train ride to Miami, a 10-hour flight to Trinidad, a nine-hour flight to Brazil, a 19-hour flight to Gambia and finally another nine-hour flight to Casablanca. All this for a man who was paralyzed, had a failing heart and had not taken a plane ride since 1932.)

Roosevelt’s vision for a global system did not work exactly as he had hoped, chiefly because of the Soviet Union and its postwar behavior. But much of it did happen, from the United Nations to an open global trading system to the decolonization of Europe’s empires. And the great holdout to America’s vision, the Soviet Union, itself collapsed in 1991.

The results have been astonishing. Many historians have pointed out that we live in unprecedented times. The period since 1945 has been marked by the absence of war between the world’s major powers. Most of prior human history is a tale of economic mercantilism, political conflict and repeated war. Since 1945, we have lived in what John Lewis Gaddis dubbed the “Long Peace.” Through the Long Peace we have also had decades of rising incomes, living standards and health throughout the world, especially in the United States.

When Roosevelt was beginning to design his system, he was the dissenter. The dominant foreign policy ideas in America at the time were represented by a movement called “America First.” Nativist, isolationist and anti-Semitic, the movement held that an outward-oriented America was a policy for suckers. It took Hitler and World War II to make Americans recognize that, for a country of America’s size and scale, isolation and narrow self-interest would lead to global insecurity and disaster. One wonders what it will take to make today’s America Firsters relearn that same lesson.

 


 

A Britisher in Philadelphia: Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to the Republicans


January 27, 2017

A Britisher in Philadelphia: Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to the Republicans

The first foreign leader to visit Donald Trump, Prime Minister Theresa May spoke to Republicans on her country’s special relationship with the United States, bringing back memories of Ronald Reagan and Dame Margaret Thatcher.  Listen to this eloquent leader who is a “conservative”, not a populist. We are not sure about political leanings of President Donald Trump except to note that the 45th President of the United States is all about America First and Making America Great Again.–Din Merican

Unity in Diversity


January 9,2017

Unity in Diversity

By Dennis Ignatius

Unleashing our uniqueness as a multicultural nation

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You can tell, I suppose, that elections are near when UMNO politicians start heaping praise upon our otherwise much-maligned citizens of Chinese origin.

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No less than Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, in a speech delivered on his behalf on the occasion of the Kuala Lumpur Chinese Assembly Hall’s Anniversary Dinner recently, praised Malaysian Chinese for their “bravery, hard work and true grit” and their ability to turn things around with minimum resources. He also expressed admiration for their “spirit to never say no to challenges” and opined that “the Chinese community will continue to be the group that will carry the nation forward.”

Flattery & Brickbats 

Zahid’s lavish praise, however, passed without much comment from Malaysian Chinese themselves with many simply dismissing it as little more than lip service. The obvious, if unspoken message, is that mere flattery cannot undo the years of vilification and racial intimidation that has become the hallmark of UMNO politics.

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UMNO’s Extremists in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur

It was not so long ago, for example, that UMNO-aligned red shirted bullies threatened to rain down mayhem upon Petaling Street. It was even more telling, for many Malaysian Chinese, that the red shirt leader was subsequently welcomed as something of a hero at the recent UMNO General Assembly. It only confirmed the perception of UMNO’s malice and hostility towards minority communities.

At the same assembly, UMNO stalwarts also demanded that the some of the miserably few positions that Chinese have in government and government-linked companies be taken away and given to UMNO members.

Worse still, the idea was posited that the Chinese pose an existential threat to the Malays. It might be just politics to UMNO but it demonizes a significant part of our populations simply on the basis of their race. It is not only dangerous but it goes against the very foundational principles of our nation. It is precisely this kind of mentality that is behind much of the chastisement of Malaysia’s minority communities as “pendatangs,” and as just so many unpatriotic and ungrateful interlopers.

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The response that shook UMNO–China’s subtle response to the treatment of their diaspora

It is simply mind-boggling that a dominant political party like UMNO would think that it can treat minority communities with such utter contempt and then expect to earn their allegiance and support at the polls with but a few blandishments.

A blessing to be appreciated

But, whether sincere or not, whether it was given grudgingly or otherwise, Zahid’s praise for the Malaysian Chinese community was well-deserved and long overdue. It may not be music to the ears of racists and bigots but the fact remains that Malaysia would be but a pale shadow of itself if not for the contributions of our citizens of Chinese origin.

They have been a huge blessing to us all and it is about time that they were respected and honoured for it.

If given half the chance to serve, if treated with genuine respect as fellow citizens rather than as interlopers and adversaries, the Chinese community, alongside Malaysia’s other communities, could well lift our nation to unparalleled greatness.

Instead of looking further afield to countries like China to boost our growth, we would do better to tap the acres of diamonds that our own minority communities represent.

Actions rather than words

If Zahid and UMNO want to genuinely show their appreciation for the contributions that Malaysian Chinese have made, they can start by being more supportive of the Chinese schools system.

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Najib depends on Malay support via a Pact with PAS–Hudud

After all, more than any other single factor, it is education that has transformed the Chinese community from a rag-tag bunch of indentured laborers, vegetable gardeners, petty traders, dulang-washers, rickshaw-pullers, nigh-soil carriers and terempoh-makers into a community that can now “carry the nation forward” as Zahid himself put it.

Besides, Chinese schools today are about the only bright spot in our otherwise dismal education system. Unsurprisingly, Chinese schools are the preferred choice of many Malaysian parents no matter their ethnic or religious background.

Those who make the argument that Chinese schools fail to foster racial unity and promote the national identity forget that Chinese schools are today far more multiracial than the so-called national type schools or, for that matter, religious schools.

Would that more Malaysians kids, particularly those from our floundering Indian community, enroll in Chinese schools.

It is a shame, therefore, that the Education Ministry remains so unsupportive of the Chinese schools system withholding even the meager RM50 million in maintenance that was allocated to Chinese schools last year, as was reported in the last few weeks.

As well, the Education Ministry’s refusal to recognize the Unified Examinations Certificate (UEC), something which Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem called “stupid,” makes no sense given that it is already accepted by Australia, Britain, Canada, China, Taiwan, Singapore, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States.

It is hard not to conclude, and certainly the perception persists, that the government’s whole approach to Chinese education is mired in racial prejudice more than anything else.

A museum of living history

Ways must also be found to breakdown the racism and prejudice that has become so ingrained in our society and correct the biased and jaundiced ethnic narratives that have been allowed to take root. Too little attention has been given to the contributions and the stories of heroism and hard work of earlier generations of Malaysians of all ethnicities.

To this end, consideration should be given to the establishment of a multicultural history museum, similar to the Canadian Museum of Immigration (Pier 21), that would record for posterity the history and the stories of all of Malaysia’s ethnic communities – Malay, Chinese, Indian, Iban, Kadazan, Bugis, Javanese, Arab, Thai and others – their origins, their culture, how they came to call Malaysia their home, their struggles, their hopes and dreams and their contributions to making Malaysia the remarkable nation it now is.

It could also be a living museum with digital boards for the descendants to trace their roots, remember their pioneering forefathers and add their own stories of life and citizenship in Malaysia.

It would certainly help all Malaysians to take pride in their history, culture and contributions while remembering that it took all our ethnic communities many long years of hard work, cooperation and sacrifice to make us what we are today, that we all have a stake in this nation for better or worse, and that if we stand together, we can make our nation the envy of all.

Unleashing our greatness as a nation

Instead of hollow gestures given grudgingly when elections are near, UMNO must decide, once and for all, which road it will take when it comes to dealing with Malaysia’s ethnic minorities – the high road to tolerance and respect for diversity that will allow all our ethnic communities to flower or the low road to bigotry that will drive them away and deprive the nation of the wealth, talent and experience that they have to offer.

UMNO can help to truly unleash the power, the strength and the uniqueness of our multiethnic polity or it can try to stifle it at every turn and rule over a diminished nation, a mockery of all that it could be.

The Trump Matrix–Countdown to January 20, 2017


December 29, 2016

The Trump Matrix-Countdown to January 20, 2017

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Making America an Imperial Nation

Anyone who tells you, with perfect confidence, what a Trump administration will do is either bluffing or being a fool ( he makes policy pronouncements via the twitter). We have a prospective Cabinet and a White House staff, but we haven’t got the first idea how the two will fit together or how the man at the top (he is t will preside over it all.

What we can do is set up a matrix to help assess the Trump era it proceeds, in which each appointment and development gets plotted along two axes. The first axis, the X-axis, represents possibilities for Trumpist policy, the second, the Y-axis, scenarios for Donald Trump’s approach to governance.

The policy axis runs from full populism at one end to predictable conservative orthodoxy on the other. A full populist presidency would give us tariffs and trade wars, an infrastructure bill that would have Robert Moses doing back flips, a huge wall and E-Verify and untouched entitlements and big tax cuts for the middle class. On foreign policy it would be Henry Kissinger meets Andrew Jackson: Détente with Russia, no nation-building anywhere, and a counterterrorism strategy that shoots, bombs and drones first and asks questions later.

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Emperor Donald J. Trump

In an orthodox-conservative Trump presidency, on the other hand, congressional Republicans would run domestic policy and Trump would simply sign their legislation: A repeal of Obamacare without an obvious replacement, big tax cuts for the rich, and the Medicare reform of Paul Ryan’s fondest dreams. On foreign policy, it would offer hawkishness with a dose of idealistic rhetoric — meaning brinkmanship with Vladimir Putin plus military escalation everywhere.

The second axis, the possibilities for how Trump governs, runs from ruthless authoritarianism at one end to utter chaos at the other. Under the authoritarian scenario, Trump would act on all his worst impulses with malign efficiency. The media would be intimidated, Congress would be gelded, the Trump family would enrich itself fantastically — and then, come a major terrorist attack, Trump would jail or intern anyone he deemed a domestic enemy.

At the other end of this axis, Trump and his team would be too stumbling and hapless to effectively oppress anyone, and the Trump era would just be a rolling disaster — with the deep state in revolt, the media circling greedily and any serious damage done by accident rather than design.

Trump’s transition can be charted along both axes. On policy, much of his Cabinet falls closer to the conventional conservative end, with appointees like Tom Price and Betsy DeVos, who would be at home in a Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio or even Jeb! administration.

Image result for The Trump Presidency teamDonald Trump’s Political Generals

On the other hand, his inner circle will have its share of truer Trumpists. Stephen Bannon is intent on remaking the GOP along nationalist lines, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump seem eager for their paterfamilias to negotiate with Democrats, Peter Navarro is girding for a trade war with China. And Trump’s foreign policy choices — especially Rex Tillerson at State — seem closer to full-Trumpist realpolitik than to Reaganism-as-usual.

On the governance axis, the President-Elect’s strong-arming of the private sector, his media-bashing tweets and his feud with the intelligence community all suggest an authoritarian timeline ahead.

But anyone who fears incompetence more than tyranny has plenty of evidence as well. Trump’s tweets might be a sign not of an incipient autocrat but of an unstable president who will undermine himself at every step. He has no cushion in popular opinion: If things go even somewhat badly, his political capital will go very fast indeed. He has plenty of hacks, wild cards and misfit toys occupying positions of real responsibility — and his White House has already had its first sex scandal!

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What are their roles?

Then, finally, there is the question of how the axes interact. A populist-authoritarian combination might seem natural, with Trump using high-profile deviations from conservative orthodoxy to boost his popularity even as he runs roughshod over republican norms.

But you could also imagine an authoritarian-orthodox conservative combination, in which congressional Republicans accept the most imperial of presidencies because it’s granting them tax rates and entitlement reforms they have long desired.

Or you could imagine a totally incompetent populism, in which Trump flies around the country holding rallies while absolutely nothing in Washington gets done … or a totally incompetent populism that ultimately empowers conventional conservatism, because Trump decides that governing isn’t worth it and just lets Paul Ryan run the country.

As for what we should actually hope for — well, the center of the matrix seems like the sweet spot for the country: A Trump presidency that is competent-enough without being dictatorial and that provides a populist corrective to conservatism without taking us all the way to mercantilism or a debt crisis.

But this is Donald Trump we’re talking about, so a happy medium seems unlikely. Along one axis or the other, bet on the extremes. — The New York Times/www.themalaymailonline.com.my

 

What’s really pushing politics to the right? Immigration.


December 12, 2016

What’s really pushing politics to the right? Immigration.

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Dr. Fareed Zakaria

A joke among journalists is that we are taught to count: “one, two, trend.” But at this point, I think it’s fair to say that we are witnessing a populist trend around the world. The real question is, what is fueling its extraordinary rise?

Almost a month after Donald Trump’s election, Europeans went to the polls, with mixed results. Italians voted against everything — the establishment, the European Union and, by extension, their centrist, reform-minded prime minister, Matteo Renzi. Austrian voters, by contrast, rejected far-right candidate Norbert Hofer. But it was still startling that his Freedom Party — whose first leader was a former Nazi minister and SS member — received 46 percent of the national vote. Over the past few years, almost everywhere in Europe — including France, the Netherlands and Germany — right-wing populist parties have gained ground.

In most of the continent, populists still seem unlikely to take power because they cannot replicate Trump’s success in getting control of a mainstream political party. European parties are internally strong and have mechanisms to block such a hostile takeover. U.S. political parties, on the other hand, since the advent of primaries, have become nothing more than vessels for popular politicians. Once it was clear that Trump would win the Republican nomination, the party structure folded and became his executive arm.

Supporters of Trump and other populist movements often point to economics as the key to their success — the slow recovery, wage stagnation, the erosion of manufacturing jobs, rising inequality. These are clearly powerful contributing factors. But it is striking that we see right-wing populism in Sweden, which is doing well economically; in Germany, where manufacturing remains robust; and in France, where workers have many protections. Here in the United States, exit polls showed that the majority of voters who were most concerned about the economy cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton.

The one common factor present everywhere, however, is immigration. In fact, one statistical analysis of European Union countries found that more immigrants invariably means more populists. According to the study, if you extrapolate from current trends, “as the percentage of immigrants approaches approximately 22 percent, the percentage of right-wing populist voters exceeds 50 percent.” Hostility to immigration has been a core theme of every one of these populist parties.

One way to test this theory is to note that countries without large-scale immigration, such as Japan, have not seen the same rise of right-wing populism. Another interesting case is Spain, a country that has taken in many immigrants, but mostly Spanish-speaking Latinos, who are easier to assimilate. While you see traditional left-wing economic populism in Spain, you do not see right-wing nationalist movements.

The backlash against immigration is rooted in fact. As I pointed out in a Foreign Affairs essay (written in September, before Trump’s victory), we are living in an age of mass migration. In the past three or four decades, Western societies have seen large influxes of people from different lands and cultures. In 1970, foreign-born people made up less than 5 percent of the U.S. population; today they are about 14 percent. The rise is even sharper in most European countries, home to 76 million international migrants, recently coming mostly from Africa and the Middle East. Austria, for example, took in almost 100,000 immigrants last year — adding 1 percent to its population in 2015 alone.

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This much change can be unsettling. For most of human history, people have lived, worked and died within a few miles of the place they were born. But in recent decades, hundreds of millions of people from poorer countries have moved to wealthier ones. This reflects an economic reality. Rich countries have declining birthrates and need labor; poor countries have millions who seek better lives. But this produces anxiety, unease and a cultural backlash that we are witnessing across the Western world.

What does this mean for the future? Western societies will have to better manage immigration. They should also place much greater emphasis on assimilation. Canada should be a role model. It has devised smart policies on both fronts, with high levels of (skilled) immigration, strong assimilation and no major recoil.

Eventually, Western societies will be able to adjust to this new feature of globalization. Look at young people in Europe and the United States, most of whom deeply value the benefits of diversity and seek to live in an open and connected world. That’s the future. We just have to ensure that we don’t wreck the world before we get there.