Donald Trump, Tony Judt, and the Future of American Democracy


April 22, 2018

Donald Trump, Tony Judt, and the Future of American Democracy

Is Trump’s election a step on the road to authoritarianism, or is he an anomaly? That depends—on us.

 

Are we on the road to authoritarianism? Donald Trump’s first year in office has prompted many observers to draw analogies to autocrats who have risen to power elsewhere, such as Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey or Viktor Orbán in Hungary. Commentators across the spectrum have raised the alarm, including David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush; the Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen; and Harvard political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of How Democracies Die.

Trump certainly talks like an authoritarian and walks like an authoritarian. But at least thus far, he has not been able to rule like an authoritarian. That’s because his initiatives have met with resistance from the people, the states, and the courts—though, conspicuously, not from the Republican Party. Despite enjoying single-party control of both houses of Congress, Trump has succeeded in passing only one major piece of legislation, his tax reform bill, following multiple failures to repeal Obamacare. His administration is most often consumed by its own infighting and scandals. Much of what he has implemented has been via unilateral executive action, and can be reversed if and when a new president takes office. All in all, he has been a most incompetent authoritarian.

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in the Oval Office of the White House. | Photo: Rueters

Still, as we enter the second year of the Trump administration and look toward the midterms in November, a critical question remains: Is Donald Trump’s election a step on the road to authoritarianism, or is he an anomaly, likely to be remembered as a failed leader who unwittingly catalyzed a new progressive majority? Which narrative is the right one will ultimately be determined as much by us as by Trump himself.

The significance of Trump’s election should not be lightly discounted, as it reflects an emerging and troubling trend in democracies across the world. Populism—defined by Princeton Professor of Politics Jan-Werner Müller in What Is Populism? as anti-elitist, anti-pluralist, and asserting an exclusive claim to speak for “the people” while dismissing as enemies those who disagree—is on the rise. In the United States and Europe alike, we have seen increasing support for a politics that defines itself by what it is against: elites, racial minorities, immigrants, and, often, government itself. Trump’s populist authoritarian tendencies share disturbing parallels with those of Orbán in Hungary, the Alternative for Germany party, Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, and the Five Star Movement in Italy, which gained a troubling one-third of the votes cast in the March 4 elections.

Like his European counterparts, Trump treats his base as the “real people” and dismisses people who disagree as enemies or traitors. He rails against checks and balances, including the courts and the press. He foments scapegoating, xenophobia, and racial and religious hatred—from the Muslim ban to his reluctance to condemn white supremacists. He evinces reckless disregard for truth; The Washington Post has counted more than 2,000 false statements in just his first year in office. And Trump has shown antipathy toward the rule of law—interfering with an ongoing criminal investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the presidential election.

These are actions we associate with despots, not democrats. If unchecked, such attitudes pose an existential threat to democracy. The fact that similar trajectories are evident in any number of European nations means that Trump cannot be dismissed as an outlier.

But there is a second, and perhaps equally plausible, account of Trump’s rise. Trump’s victory was extraordinarily unlikely. All the pollsters predicted Hillary Clinton would win. She actually did win the popular count, by nearly 3 million votes. Trump prevailed only because of the perverse Electoral College system, which gives disproportionate weight to the less populous states and to rural areas. Trump was not the recipient of a vast new wave of conservative votes. He received a smaller proportion of the popular vote than Mitt Romney four years earlier, and only 0.4 percent more than John McCain received in 2008. But Hillary Clinton received only 48.2 percent of the popular vote, compared to Obama’s 52.9 percent in 2008 and 51.1 percent in 2012.

The Republicans did not so much win the election as the Democrats, by not turning out, lost it—at least in part because, believing that Clinton would win, too many of them did not vote. Moreover, it’s possible that had FBI director James Comey not publicly reopened the criminal investigation of Clinton’s e-mail server days before the election, just when the Access Hollywood tape seemed to have killed Trump’s campaign, Trump would have lost. Trump quite likely could not have won before the e-mail investigation was reopened, and almost certainly would have lost any day after November 8, as those who stayed home out of confidence that Clinton would win without their votes would have shown up if they knew it might make a difference—as so many have shown up at countless protests ever since. In retrospect, there appears to have been about one week in 2016 when Trump could have won. Unluckily for us, we held the election that week. But his victory is more windfall than mandate.

Trump entered office with the lowest approval rating in history. And his approval rating has fallen since. Far larger crowds came out for the Women’s March, to protest his election, than showed up for his inauguration. Trump has shown little aptitude for the job, spending much of his time golfing, tweeting, and watching cable news shows, while the White House, embroiled in scandal, has had the highest staff turnover ratio in recorded memory. He and his campaign remain the subjects of a major criminal investigation that, despite his protestations that it’s a witch hunt, has already led to indictments and convictions of high-level campaign officials and aides.

So, should we be deathly afraid that our President shows troubling parallels to Viktor Orbán or Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK Independence Party, or should we be confident that this, too, shall pass? The proper response is neither panic nor denial. We are witnessing a significant and disturbing phenomenon, across the United States and Europe—but at the same time, Trump’s governance is chaotic, and his hold on authority is tenuous. Most important, we have the resources to resist, and if we choose to deploy them, we can succeed not just in forestalling the forces of populist authoritarianism but in reinforcing constitutional democracy and building a progressive majority.

Framing an appropriate response requires first that we understand not only the mechanisms by which populist authoritarians wrest and maintain control, but also the sources of their appeal. Although he died in 2010, before the full force of today’s populism had emerged, Tony Judt, the eminent public intellectual and historian of Europe, offers valuable guidance on both questions. In one of his last books, Ill Fares the Land, he gave as good a summary of the causes of the current politics as I have found anywhere:

We have entered an age of fear. Insecurity is once again an active ingredient of political life in Western democracies. Insecurity born of terrorism, of course; but also, and more insidiously, fear of the uncontrollable speed of change, fear of the loss of employment, fear of losing ground to others in an increasingly unequal distribution of resources, fear of losing control of the circumstances and routines of our daily life.

Globalization, automation, rapid technological advances, climate change, the prevalence and easy availability of increasingly powerful weapons, the surveillance state—all of these forces can seem beyond our control and deeply unsettling. But of all these causes of insecurity, the resentment born of widening class inequality is perhaps the most corrosive. The United States and Britain, two of the Western democracies where populist causes have actually won elections, also happen to be the two democracies with the largest gaps between the rich and poor. Deregulation and tax “reform” in both countries have led to wealth gaps unseen since the late 19th-century’s Gilded Age. In 1982, the average member of the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans had a net worth of $230 million. In 2016, the average member was worth $6 billion, over 10 times the 1982 average after adjusting for inflation. Today, the 20 richest Americans have more wealth between them than the bottom half of the national population—some 152 million people.

According to Judt, with this degree of inequality come multiple pathologies. He argued that infant mortality, life expectancy, criminality, incarceration rates, mental illness, unemployment, obesity, malnutrition, teen pregnancy, illegal drug use, personal indebtedness, and anxiety are “more marked” in Britain and the United States than in continental Europe. The biggest cost is in trust, an essential component of a healthy body politic. If people don’t trust their fellow citizens, it will be extraordinarily difficult to convince them to support the public good over private self-interest.

The wealth gap lends fuel to other divides: between black and white, rural and urban, citizen and immigrant, educated and uneducated, Democrat and Republican. In 1960, 4 percent of Democrats and 5 percent of Republicans said they would be displeased if their child married someone from the other party. In 2010, 33 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Republicans felt that way. The media often make it worse. According to former Mississippi Senator Trent Lott, “If you stray the slightest from the far right, you get hit by the conservative media.” And as Richard Hofstadter argued in The Paranoid Style in American Politics, when citizens grow anxious about their social status, identity, and sense of belonging, it leads to “overheated, over-suspicious, overaggressive, grandiose, and apocalyptic” political styles. Which pretty much describes Donald Trump.

Yet we are also increasingly interconnected, and the problems we face, probably more than ever before, demand collective solutions. What is needed, as Judt recognized in 2010, is an ethics and politics that rejects untrammeled private interest and affirms the critical importance of concern for one another. Judt argued that social democracy—the notion that the state bears an obligation to protect its citizens from hunger, homelessness, and poverty—was the necessary corrective to a world otherwise devoted to free markets. But social democracy is not sufficient. A commitment to human rights is also essential, as these, too, are tools by which authoritarianism can be resisted. Both of these ideals, one born of the progressive response to the industrial era and the other rising from the ashes of World War II, identify basic commitments owed to all human beings by virtue of their being human. As such, they are the antithesis of populism’s division of society into “real people” and “enemies”—and the antidote to authoritarian abuse.

If social democracy is the ideal we must uphold, and human rights the legal and moral obligation we must fulfill, bipartisanship and multilateralism are the methods we must pursue. We need bridges, not walls; constructive engagement, not Brexit; global dialogue, not isolationism; efforts to unite, not divide. Europe and the United States both learned this lesson in the wake of World War II. In an essay Judt wrote near the end of his life, he quoted Jean-Marie Guéhenno, a former French diplomat and UN official, who wrote, “Having lost the comfort of our geographical boundaries, we must in effect rediscover what creates the bond between humans that constitute[s] a community.” Judt argued that European nations had begun to do just that. He conceded that “they don’t always do it very well.… But something is better than nothing; and nothing is just what we shall be left with if the fragile international accords, treaties, agencies, laws, and institutions that we have erected since 1945 are allowed to rot and decline.”

Skeptics might ask whether it is possible to revive a commitment to such public-regarding virtues in a world in which anxiety, division, and hate seem to be ascendant. Doesn’t Trump’s election illustrate that these values lack currency in today’s political arena?

The fate of Europe in the wake of World War II, a subject about which Judt wrote in his magisterial history, Postwar, offers at least some reason for hope. In the first half of the 20th century, some 60 million Europeans were killed in war or at the hands of states. Yet in the second half of the century, Europe developed a common market, a political union, a rough consensus in support of social democracy, and a supranational court of human rights. And most of Eastern Europe eventually saw a peaceful transition to democracy. There has been backsliding in the 21st century, to be sure, but the larger point is that the politics of division and hate can themselves spark a reaction that underscores the need for unity and the pursuit of common ends.

Disasters, in short, sometimes bring people together. And as disastrous as Trump’s election was, it has also prompted citizens to stand together in defense of the very public-regarding values to which Trump is so blind. The Women’s Marches, the town-hall meetings to defend Obamacare, the countless protests on behalf of Dreamers, the #MeToo movement, and the high-school students demanding gun control after the Parkland shooting all reflect renewed civic engagement—driven by concern for the rights and welfare of others. They show that we can do better.

The response to Trump’s Muslim ban is illustrative. In targeting Muslim foreign nationals in the name of our security, Trump followed a tried and true path. Inroads on foreigners’ rights don’t generally provoke widespread protest from citizens, as shown by the limited public opposition when George W. Bush rounded up thousands of Arab and Muslim immigrants in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. But this time was different: Americans responded to Trump’s ban by streaming to airports across the country to demonstrate—not in defense of their own rights, but to advance the rights of others. Lawyers filed suit in courts across the country on behalf of people held at the border. University presidents, the leading science organizations, the most successful corporations in Silicon Valley, and a legion of former national-security officials all signed petitions, letters, and amicus briefs opposing the ban. Among the ban’s critics were former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden, former vice president Dick Cheney, and former torture lawyer John Yoo. By targeting Muslim foreigners, Trump had succeeded in uniting America—against himself.

The courts thus far have invalidated all three versions of the ban that Trump has issued. The third version, struck down by two federal appellate courts, will be heard by the Supreme Court in April, with a decision expected by June. Whether or not the latest iteration is ultimately struck down, Americans showed the president that they would stand up to his unconstitutional actions.

In Ill Fares the Land, Judt singled out the naked pursuit of self-interest as the root of what ails us. If Donald Trump stands for anything, it is that. But Trump’s election has provoked a response that rejects that ethic for a commitment to the common good, akin to what Judt saw in the best of Europe’s postwar developments. Like Europeans responding to World War II, many Americans reacting to Trump have placed unity over division and the public good over pure private interest. If political candidates can tap into that spirit, we can emerge from this period a stronger nation.

Judt identified the United States with the pursuit of private interest, Europe with an effort to serve the public good. He opened a 2005 essay with a discussion of coffee on the two continents:

Consider a mug of American coffee. It is found everywhere. It can be made by anyone. It is cheap—and refills are free. Being largely without flavor, it can be diluted to taste. What it lacks in allure it makes up in size. It is the most democratic method ever devised for introducing caffeine into human beings. Now take a cup of Italian espresso. It requires expensive equipment. Price-to-volume ratio is outrageous, suggesting indifference to the consumer and ignorance of the market. The aesthetic satisfaction accessory to the beverage far outweighs its metabolic impact. It is not a drink; it is an artifact.

In this account, the United States is about efficiency, consumption, and profitable mass production—the market rules. Aesthetic and other qualities not subject to quantification or franchising agreements are discounted or ignored. Europe, by contrast, is focused on human interaction, the aesthetic, the good, perhaps even to the point of ignoring basic economics. What Judt celebrated in the Italian tradition was coffee as an everyday ritual that brings people together, that emphasizes their common interest, not just a drug imbibed in large quantities by individuals pushing ever onward to advance their private interests.

But note that in this description Italian coffee is not a drink but an “artifact.” An artifact, of course, is an item of historical interest. If we are to extricate ourselves from the populist moment, we need to ensure that human rights, social democracy, and cooperation—three key features of postwar Europe—do not become artifacts, of merely historical interest, but remain living, collective ends.

As Starbucks Grande Macchiato has infiltrated the world, so, too, the American pursuit of private markets and self-interest has also spread. If Judt is right, it may be just the American glorification of the market, and the growing wealth gap it has spawned, that has sown the virulent populism so prevalent on both sides of the Atlantic today. But at the same time, millions of Americans have chosen to act in defense of liberty and equality. If we continue to stand together for justice, we may well look back upon Trump himself as an artifact, a historical object lesson in how not to govern.

*David Cole, national legal director of the ACLU, is legal affairs correspondent for The Nation and a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. He is the author, most recently, of Engines of Liberty: How Citizen Movements Succeed (April 2016).

As UMNO-Baru says, ‘Depa Aku Pantang'(DAP) dan Kami Takut Diri Sendiri


April 21, 2018

As UMNO-Baru says, ‘Depa Aku Pantang'(DAP) dan Kami Takut Diri Sendiri

by Mariam Mokhtar @www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | Do you fear flying? You shouldn’t. You have a greater chance of being flattened by a lori balak (timber lorry), or be run over by a bus Some people claim that the most dangerous part of flying is the journey to the airport; negotiating bumpy roads and dicey corners. Others claim that one should not fear flying, but crashing.

On some airlines, some people are afraid of sitting beside a passenger who removes his clothes to watch porn. Or be comforted inappropriately, by a steward. Or having to eat a miserable looking nasi lemak, with limp cucumber garnish.

These are rational fears, aren’t they? Do you recall when you were a child and your mother tried to get you back inside the house, at senja (dusk), to have dinner, a wash and then, to bed. Remember her clarion call? “Cepat masuk, takut hantu datang” (quickly come inside, before the ghosts appear).

These fears worked. Now, some of you also use the same ruse to make your children come into the house at dusk, because the trick is effective.

My relatives in the kampung, who lived in houses on stilts, used to have big earthenware urns filled with water, at the bottom of the stairs. Anyone who returned home late at night, used a cebok (water scoop) to wash one’s feet. Children who refused to follow orders were told that it was necessary, so that the hantu would not follow them into the house.

Naturally, parents used to say this so that children would not bring muddy feet into the house, but the “takut hantu” ploy worked. Human primitive instincts prevail, and for the past 61 years the same tactic has been used in politics.

Tried and tested methods are used

The bogeyman is not the unseen hantu but the very active and visible Democratic Action Party (DAP). UMNO-Baru strategists are not very creative. They use tried and tested methods, like the “Takut hantu” trick to scare Malay voters into thinking that the DAP will annihilate the Malay race and destroy Islam.

UMNO-Baru leaders use the tactics used by the best cults. They have an authoritarian leader who demands absolute commitment from his followers. They go through many rituals, just like religious worshippers. They don’t call it brainwashing. It is called party policies (dasar parti).

Cult followers are isolated from mainstream society. This tactic is also used by UMNO-Baru and PAS leaders. Malays are, in reality, isolated from other communities through religious indoctrination and education. Even our schools practise segregation. Malay students attend agama classes, but non-Malays have moral civic classes. The cult of UMNO-Baru does not want integration.

The Malay child’s indoctrination is reinforced at home and in society by JAKIM (Islamic Development Department Malaysia) and the various state religious authorities. The behaviour and dress of Malays girls are strictly controlled. Yoga or dancing the poca-poca are prohibited. Enlightening books are banned. Muftis will issue fatwas to mop up Malays who refuse to toe the line.

Then they wonder why many Malays, especially the women, find new-found mental, vocal and physical liberation when they go overseas to study. Perhaps, not in the Middle East, but certainly in the West.

The UMNO-Baru leaders, who claim that DAP is the enemy, are indirectly saying that they, and UMNO-Baru, have failed. After 61 years, UMNO-Baru’s language is still couched in talks of tribalism and tribal politics, despite Malaysians having moved beyond this.

Malays hold key positions in government, the GLCs and also very senior positions in educational establishments, the Armed Forces, the Police and diplomatic missions. Most scholarship holders are Malays. What has the Malay to be scared of? Maybe, their own shadows.

The population is composed of 69 percent Malays/bumiputeras, and 23 percent Chinese. The DAP and the Christians constitute only a small percentage of the populace.

One makcik from Kelantan said, “The conservative Malay states have serious problems with their youth who indulge in drugs, middle aged men who are involved in incestuous relationships or marry young brides, and then leave many single mothers with their children in the lurch.

“The East Coast states have the largest number of viewers of online pornography. More married middle-aged women are infected with HIV-AIDS, not because they are promiscuous, but because they have unprotected sex with their husbands, who are infected.”

The leaders who have abused the rakyat’s trust, and stolen taxpayer’s money, are Malay: The National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) scandal. The Arab prince’s RM2.6 billion “donation”. The Mindef (Ministry of Defence) land allegation. The sale of Felda land. The Mara scandal. The Felda, KWSP, KWAP, Petronas, Proton, MAS and Tabung Haji fund scandals.

Using the DAP to scare the Malays is a “takut hantu” tactic. The real ‘hantu‘ can be found among the Malay leadership.


MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO). Blog, Twitter.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

 

Malaysia’s ‘Fake News’ Crackdown Begins


April 21, 2018

Malaysia’s ‘Fake News’ Crackdown Begins

 

By John Berthelsen

http://www.asiasentinel.com

Image result for malaysia's fake news commander-in-chief najib razak

If there was any doubt what the draconian “fake news” bill passed by Malaysia’s Parliament was about, it has been pretty much put to rest by a statement by Mazlan Ismail, the Chief Operating Officer of the country’s Communications and Multimedia Commission that 1,500 news stories are being investigated by the authorities.

On April 4, the Parliament passed the controversial law over objections from civil society groups and international rights bodies including Amnesty International, which called it an “assault on freedom of expression.” The measure mandates up to six years in prison and a maximum fine of RM500,000 (US$129,300) and is aimed at not only domestic critics but international ones as well such as Asia Sentinel and the Sarawak Report, both of which have been banned from internet circulation in the country.

Image result for mazlan ismail mcmc

Critics complain that there are no criteria for determining what constitutes “fake news” other than what the government deems to be fake news.

Although the bill was passed to “promote national security,” according to government officials, opponents said its real purpose is to protect the government in advance of the 14th general election, which is scheduled to be held May 9. The government is struggling to protect itself from criticism over allegations of the misuse of at least US$4.5 billion from the state-backed 1 Malaysia Development Bhd. The US Justice Department has sequestered an estimated US$1.2 billion of assets owned by members of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s family and close friends.

The government faces an insurrection led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is leading a seemingly energized opposition in the effort to bring down Najib and UMNO. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, called prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, functions as a conspicuous martyr due to be freed from more than three years in prison in early June.

Virtually all criticism has been stilled, with the mainstream media in the hands of political parties aligned with the government.  However, Malaysia has one of the most energetic social media in Southeast Asia, with dozens of websites criticizing the government and alluding to a long list of scandals perpetrated by the Barisan Nasional and its leading political party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO).

The communications ministry’s Mazlan Ismail said 99 per cent of the false news originated from locals staying in Malaysia.

“The remaining one per cent are from Malaysians who have migrated in countries such as Sweden and Australia,” he told reporters at the launch of MCMC’s Malaysian ICT Volunteer with Institutes of Higher Education.  He charged that critics ae using “fake social media accounts” to spread criticism, according to an April 18 story in the Straits Times, which is owned by the UMNO.

“A majority of these false news came from fake accounts or anonymous accounts,” he said. “Once the false news has become viral shared through various platforms like Facebook, they will immediately shut down the accounts. It is like a guerilla warfare. At least 30 percent of the fake news is being disseminated in such manner.”

The Communications Ministry on April 17 accused “certain movements” of using the social media or Internet, “to actively spread propaganda of contempt against the government,” saying the certain movements were “like `factories’ churning false news with its primary aim to dispute the integrity and efficiency of the government, as well as targeting the Malays and Islam.”

Mazlan told reporters it is difficult to identify the “mastermind to the offence since false news could be disseminated by anyone with internet access. In the past, such `factories’ will have offices. Now, these factories can be in someone’s bedroom or at any place.”

One blogger, in an email to Asia Sentinel, suggested that the Communications Ministry investigate Najib himself since he has delivered several demonstrably false statements including threatening to sue the Wall Street Journal in 2015, said the US$681 million that appeared in his personal bank account came from Saudi Royalty, and many others.

Action has been taken against more than 40 people for improper use of network facilities or network service and 10 have been charged in court, according to the Communications Ministry.

“We are in the process to remove 4,618 fake social media accounts which spread false news, based on the respective social media platform’s terms and conditions.,” a ministry official told the Straits Times.  “A small number of false news, however, were originally spread in foreign countries, but have been translated and adapted to Malaysian context by irresponsible parties.”

 

Snatch The Match From That Monkey Najib Before He Burns Down The Village


April 19, 2018

Snatch The Match From That Monkey Najib Before He Burns Down The Village

M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com
It would take more than just a monkey with a match to burn down a village, despite the dwellings being made of wood and having flammable thatched roofs. Those homes have withstood generations of indoor wood-burning stoves and nightly mosquito-repelling ambers underneath their floors. There would have to be more, as with a long spell of dry hot weather and mountains of ignitable garbage strewn around.
      Yet when the kampung does get burned down, everyone would be shocked. The immediate reaction would be to blame the idiot with the match, and the fury heaped upon that poor soul would then be merciless.
      Consumed with vengeance and with little inclination or intelligence for reflection, the necessary probing questions would never get raised. As with who gave the idiot the match or why was he not supervised. Few would notice much less ponder why the strewn garbage was allowed to accumulate and thus pose a fire as well as health and other hazards.
      The kampung that is Malaysia has not burnt down, at least not yet. Malaysians are still smug and remain blissfully unaware of the long dry spell and the tinder dried debris that has been stacking up. Nor do they realize the danger posed by the idiot running around with a match in his hand and threatening more mischief. God knows he has wrecked enough damage already.
Being in the tropics, Malaysians are used to hot weather but the current hot political climate is very recent. The 1969 “incident” excepted, political riots and turmoils are not yet the norm. Malaysia has been thankfully spared such scourges as the assassinations of leaders and politicians, the staple of Third World politics.
Image result for Chimps of Malaysia
The BERUKs of Malusia
If Najib and his Barisan coalition were to prevail in the upcoming general election on May 9, 2018, however slim their victory, that would be akin to giving the village idiot a match, and then encouraging him to continue playing with it amidst the flammable debris and the high-voltage political atmosphere.
     The flammable debris are our failing institutions. Malaysias are also now deeply polarized, lending to the current highly-charged political climate. The last time Malaysians were stridently divided was during the 1969 election. Then the ruling coalition’s defeat in a few states and its loss of a supra majority at the federal level triggered a horrific race riot that killed thousands and maimed many more. Parliament had to be suspended and the nation ruled by decree. The scar of that national tragedy has now thankfully been sealed with a thick scab. It is unlikely that it would be rubbed open again despite the mischievous attempts by many.
     The polarization then was interracial, between Malays and Chinese to be specific, and the outbreak of violence was localized only to Kuala Lumpur. Today the schisms and polarizations are widespread but not interracial despite crude attempts by many to make it so, rather intra-racial, among Malays. Only East Malaysia is spared. As such Malaysians, in particular Malays, do not or refuse to recognize or even acknowledge this new threat to the nation. Therein lies the danger.
     Yet the evidence is glaring. I have never seen more ugly or blatant displays of vicious and visceral hatred directed at Najib and Mahathir. The two leaders themselves have set the pace and tone. Others too like their HRHS The Sultans and ulamas have taken sides. Their revulsion, as well as that of their followers, is so open. Such gross and uncouth displays are so un-Malay. I fear that should something untoward were to happen to Najib or Mahathir, that would trigger a vicious civil war among their fanatic followers, meaning, Malays.
Image result for Chimps of Malaysia
     Throughout history the most savage conflicts are intra rather than interracial. Witness the ongoing carnage in the Middle East. I am referring not to the Arab-Israeli dispute but the continuing savageries among the Arabs. The Korean Peninsula is still a tinderbox, ready to explode and taking the world with it. Then there was the earlier Chinese civil war. It would be a futile exercise to venture whether the Chinese suffered more under the Japanese or during their own civil war. It would not be an exaggeration to assert that the Japanese Occupation at least interrupted the brutalities the Chinese inflicted upon each other.
Image result for chief of malaysian armed forces
They are partial to UMNO Malays, thanks to Najib’s “cash is king” lure.
What is so volatile about the current threat facing Malaysia is the absence of any restraining element to buffer or dampen this intra-Malay schism. Our institutions–from the sultans and the Election Commission to the Armed Services and the police–have failed us. The Sultans and Agung are not the “protectors” of Islam and Malay customs as they claim, or as tradition and the constitution would have it. They are partial to UMNO Malays, thanks to Najib’s “cash is king” lure.
Image result for Clown Prince ofJohor
     The Chief of the Armed Forces had to retract his earlier statement proclaiming his troops’ and officers’ loyalty to Najib. That General forgot his oath of office, to serve King and country. Likewise the Registrar of Societies; she did her “job” in a single blow (pardon the pornographic pun) by denying the registration of Mahathir’s new party, a powerful opposition force. Meanwhile that clown Prince and Sultan wannabe in the southern tip of the Peninsula thinks he can titah (command) his fantasized “Bangsa Johor” as to which party to vote for! His father the sultan had gone even further.I would have expected Malaysian minorities to buffer or dampen this dangerous intra-Malay rift if nothing else for their (non-Malay) own self-interest. Instead they are sucked in by their own miscalculations into this perilous undertow.
Image result for Free People of Sabah and Sarawak reject racist Malaysia
A sliver of hope is Sabah and Sarawak. Perhaps because everyone there is a minority, Malaysians there are inclusive and tolerant. They have gone beyond; they have not let their ethnic and cultural identities define or limit them. It is sad that their exemplary collective stance is lost on their fellow Malaysians in the peninsula.
Image result for The late Chief Minister of Sarawak for Sarawak
 Sarawakians must honour Tan Adenan Satem
The fact that UMNO, a national party otherwise, does not have a beachhead in Sarawak, explains why the particularly virulent racist virus that has infected UMNO’s body and mind in the Peninsula has not spread east across the South China Sea. I hope East Malaysians will keep it that way.

Malaysians have a crucial task in this upcoming May 9 General Election. They must snatch that dangerous match away from that idiot Najib and his band of mischievous UMNO monkeys. He and they have done enough damage to Malaysia. Stop them before they burn the whole country down.

 

The Reagan revolution is officially over


April 18, 2018

The Reagan revolution is officially over

by Fareed Zakaria

Image result for fareed zakaria and Henry Kissinger

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s decision to retire from Congress is being interpreted as a sign by many that Republicans will do poorly in the midterm elections. That may be true, but the exit of the Wisconsin Republican also symbolizes a broad shift that has taken place within the party. It marks the end of the Reagan revolution.

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The GOP of the 1950s and ’60s was the party of American business, drawing broad support from white-collar professionals and country-club businessmen. It had a straightforward chamber of commerce orientation, arguing for low taxes, few regulations and fiscal responsibility. But it was a minority party, willing to go along with the basic contours of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

To understand the extent of Roosevelt’s imprint on American politics in the mid-20th century, consider this fact: From 1933 to 1969, the only men who occupied the Oval Office were FDR, fervent disciples of FDR or, in the case of Dwight D. Eisenhower, a general handpicked and promoted by FDR. It is said that when Richard Nixon entered the White House in 1969, his already healthy paranoia grew, because he believed, not without reason, that he was a lonely Republican in a federal government that had been stacked with liberals for almost half a century.

In foreign affairs, the Republican Party in the 1950s had only recently shrugged off its isolationist posture but was still cautious about international engagement. On civil rights, the party was progressive and activist. Chief Justice Earl Warren, a former Republican governor, issued the Supreme Court’s landmark decision outlawing school segregation, and Eisenhower dispatched federal troops to Arkansas to enforce the ruling.

Nixon ushered in the beginnings of the party’s first transformation. It had long had a nationalist and nativist side, but Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson’s embrace of the civil rights movement created the circumstances for one of the great flips of U.S. history. The Democrats, heretofore the party of the Jim Crow South, became the party of civil rights, while the Republicans, the party of Lincoln, began to mirror the resentments of Southern whites against the federal government and civil rights legislation. But in other areas of domestic policy, Nixon governed as a liberal. He created the Environmental Protection Agency and managed the economy much like any Democrat would have. “We are all Keynesians now,” he is famously quoted as saying.

President Ronald Reagan finished what Nixon started, turning the GOP into an ideologically oriented party, staunchly advocating free markets, free trade, limited government and an enthusiastic internationalism that promoted democracy abroad. The old country-club Republicans were never true believers, but they accepted Reagan’s redefinition after its electoral success, as demonstrated by the alliance between the Gipper and his vice president, George H.W. Bush.

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The Reagan redefinition of the party, as a quasi-libertarian organization, persisted through the Clinton years, though the GOP continued to bring along its socially conservative base. The party leaders and its official ideology were Reaganite.

Then came Donald Trump. Early on, Trump seemed to recognize that the Republican Party had changed and that the core ideological appeal was no longer about economics but nationalism, race and religion. His first major political cause was birtherism, the noxious and false claim that President Barack Obama was secretly a Muslim born in Kenya.

When Trump ran for the Republican nomination in 2016, he was virtually alone on the podium in rejecting the Reagan formula. He dismissed any prospect of entitlement reform, while criticizing foreign interventions and democracy promotion. Even on free-market economics, he flirted with all kinds of liberal ideas, including big infrastructure spending and universal health care.

But he was consistently hard line on a few core issues — immigration, trade, race and religion. On all these, he stuck to a tough nationalist, protectionist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and pro-police line. And, as a rank outsider, he defeated 16 talented Republicans. Libertarianism, it turned out, was an ideology with many leaders — Republican senators, governors, think-tankers — but very few followers.

A month before the November 2016 election, when everyone expected Trump to lose, Ryan got on a call with other Republican congressmen and told them to feel free to distance themselves from Trump. After the call, the speaker’s approval rating among Republican voters dropped almost 20 points. The base of the party — now older, whiter, and less educated — was with Trump, not Ryan.

Ryan had his faults. He embodied the hypocrisy of Reaganism, advocating fiscal probity while exploding the deficit. He was a bad legislative strategist, unable to repeal Obamacare after years to prepare for it. But he was a genuine and ardent Reaganite. His successors will not be. The second transformation of the Republican Party is now complete.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Book Review: Thinking without a Banister


April 13, 2018

The Philosopher in Dark Times

THINKING WITHOUT A BANISTER
Essays in Understanding, 1953-1975
By Hannah Arendt
Edited by Jerome Kohn
569 pp. Schocken Books. $40.

What is the relationship between thinking, acting and historical consciousness? How do we preserve a spirited intellectual autonomy that yet includes enough sense of the past to contextualize and resist those power-grabbers who would bamboozle the public with their own fun house versions of truth? Hannah Arendt, the philosopher and political theorist, was always acutely concerned with questions of how to make thought and knowledge matter in the struggle against injustice, never more so than in the last two decades of her life, when the rich medley of the material collected in “Thinking Without a Banister” was created. “What really makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other kind of dictatorship to rule is that the people are not informed,” she remarked in a 1973 interview. “If everyone always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but that no one believes anything at all anymore — and rightly so, because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, to be ‘re-lied,’ so to speak.” A lying government pursuing shifting goals has to ceaselessly rewrite its own history, leaving people not only dispossessed of their ability to act, “but also of their capacity to think and to judge,” she declared. “And with such a people you can then do what you please.”

 

 

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She’d seen this process firsthand. Born in Germany in 1906, a Jew by birth and an iconoclast by temperament, she fled her native country after Hitler became chancellor in 1933, first for Czechoslovakia, then Switzerland, then Paris, where she was living in 1937 when the Nazis officially eradicated her citizenship so that she became stateless. Some of her most potent work reflects on the consequences of eliminating people’s national identity. Deprivation of citizenship should be classified as a crime against humanity, Arendt argued, because most legal protections are now conferred through functioning state governments. “Some of the worst recognized crimes in this category have … not incidentally, been preceded by mass expatriations,” she wrote, adding that the state’s ability to sentence someone to death was minor compared with its right to denaturalization, since the second could put the subject entirely beyond the pale of the law. Such passages make for particularly chilling reading at a moment when America has begun rescinding the temporary protected status of thousands of longtime residents, threatening to deport them to their countries of origin, some of which labor under severe economic disadvantages and sociopolitical strains, where their rights and safety cannot be assured.

A year after the fall of France, in the spring of 1941, Arendt emigrated to the United States. Through her prolific essays, she began building a reputation as a penetrating thinker with an urbane and unceremonious style that she would attribute to her zest for “pearl diving” in history. Tradition having been shattered by the calamitous events of the 20th century, she saw her task as plucking the precious bits from time’s waves and subjecting them to her critical thinking, without pretending they could be melded back into any grand, systemic whole. She warned her audience that if they attempted to practice her “technique of dismantling,” they had to be “careful not to destroy the ‘rich and strange,’ the ‘coral’ and the ‘pearls,’ which can probably be saved only as fragments.”

In New York, Arendt’s intellectual acuity and conversational punch swiftly translated into social cachet. After meeting her at a dinner party in the mid-1940s, the literary critic Alfred Kazin was smitten: “Darkly handsome, bountifully interested in everything, this 40-year-old German refugee with a strong accent and such intelligence — thinking positively cascades out of her in waves,” he wrote in his diary.

 

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Arendt’s sheer delight in intellectual speculation counterpoints her intense ethical commitment to thinking as a form of political engagement.

 

Though she would only fully embrace the principle of amor mundi, love of the world, after contending philosophically with the cataclysm of World War II, the insatiable curiosity was there early on. “I believe it is very likely that men, if they ever should lose their ability to wonder and thus cease to ask unanswerable questions, also will lose the faculty of asking the answerable questions upon which every civilization is founded,” she declared in one address. Arendt’s sheer delight in intellectual speculation counterpoints her intense ethical commitment to thinking as a form of political engagement.

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The relationship was sometimes uneasy and often controversial, most famously in the case of her account of Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem, in which she coined the term “the banality of evil.” Watching Eichmann testify in his glass booth, Arendt became convinced that he was, above all, an inarticulate buffoon whose wicked deeds resulted from his participation in a bureaucratic structure that dissipated the sense of personal responsibility, and deadened the capacity for cognition. Gershom Scholem, the pioneering scholar of kabbalah, was one of many public intellectuals who felt that Arendt had lost track of the human reality of the Holocaust amid the scintillating twists of her argument. She had failed to reckon with the raw pleasure that playing God over others could afford, and so had overemphasized the role of systemically enforced thoughtlessness in preparing individuals to execute enormous crimes. Recent historical scholarship suggests that Arendt did, indeed, underestimate Eichmann’s ideological passion for National Socialism: Much of his clownish bumbling in Jerusalem may have been a conscious, self-exculpating performance. But her core insight into how even mediocrities can be institutionally benumbed and conscripted into heinous projects remains fertile.

 

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Some of the work anthologized in this volume, edited by Jerome Kohn, comprises Arendt’s responses to current events, like her analysis of the televised 1960 national conventions, in which Kennedy and Nixon were the principal rivals, offering a rather surprising defense of the onscreen experience as a revealing format for viewing those “imponderables of character and personality which make us decide, not whether we agree or disagree with somebody, but whether we can trust him.” Other essays provide deep conceptual etymologies of historical events, key figures and schools of thought. These include her profoundly enlightening study of how Karl Marx fits into the long Western political tradition and her detailed analysis of the challenge that the 1956 Hungarian revolution posed to the Russian military and propagandistic juggernaut. The most dynamic pieces here are Arendt’s interviews, in which the sweep and depth of her ruminations are layered with the caustic wit and engagé appeal of her voice. For all Arendt’s opposition to totalitarianism — and her willingness to implicate Marx in the development of certain totalitarian movements — Arendt remained unabashedly enamored of Marx’s proposition that “the philosophers have only interpreted the world. … The point, however, is to change it.” She relished his determination to wrest higher thought from the supine realm of the Greek symposium and thrust it into the ring of political activism, challenging, as she wrote, “the philosophers’ resignation to do no more than find a place for themselves in the world, instead of changing the world and making it ‘philosophical.’” For Arendt, thinking that helped advance the cause of human freedom entailed a form of relentlessly critical examination that imperiled “all creeds, convictions and opinions.” There could be no dangerous thoughts simply because thinking itself constituted so dangerous an enterprise.

Almost every essay in this book contains “pearls” of Arendt’s tonically subversive thinking, and many of her observations push readers to think harder about the language in which political activity is conducted. Reflecting on the numerous allusions to “reason of state” that crept into White House discourse after Watergate, she notes how the term became synonymous with national security. “National security now covers everything,” she commented, including “all kinds of crime. For instance, ‘the president has a right’ is now read in the light of ‘the king can do no wrong.’” This is no longer a matter of justifying particular crimes, she warns, but rather concerns “a style of politics which in itself is criminal.” The indictment chimes with her taxonomy of the tyrant in an essay titled “The Great Tradition”: “He pretends to be able to act completely alone; he isolates men from each other by sowing fear and mistrust between them, thereby destroying equality together with man’s capacity to act; and he cannot permit anybody to distinguish himself, and therefore starts his rule with the establishment of uniformity, which is the perversion of equality.”

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Such observations should give pause to those who would prop up a tyrant for personal ends, and must redouble the opposition’s will to depose that ruler before the public’s capacity for thought and action alike is confounded.