Malaysia: UMNO chipping away at the opposition

September 22, 2016

Malaysia: UMNO chipping away at the opposition 

by Peter Douglas

Image result for Najib vs Lim Guan Eng

On  June 29 this year, Lim Guan Eng, the Chief Minister of Penang state and Secretary General of the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP), was arrested and charged with two counts of corruption and abuse of public office. The case at hand was Lim’s 2015 purchase of a house from businesswoman Phang Li Koon for below the estimated market value of the property. Members from the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party first made public allegations about impropriety in the deal in March and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) quickly opened an investigation.

The minute details of the transaction and Lim and Phang’s links have played out extensively across government-aligned newspapers, websites, and television stations, as well as in alternative media. But the strength of the publicly available evidence remains murky at best. The government’s case will rest on the ability of the prosecutor to prove allegations that the house’s low price was tied to a separate sale of state government land in Penang to a company called KLIDC. For their part,the DAP, Lim, and Phang have denied the allegations, stating there was no connection between the house purchase and the land sale and no business relationship between Lim and Phang.

The government’s handling of the case suggests it will be played out for maximum effect. It was quickly announced that the lead prosecutor for Lim’s case will be the Attorney General (AG) of Malaysia, Apandi Ali. Critics have raised questions about Apandi’s independence from government pressure, pointing to his close links with the ruling government. Apandi was picked by Prime Minister Najib Razak to replace the former AG Abdul Gani Patali, who was investigating the 1MDB corruption scandal. Upon taking office, Apandi closed the investigation on 1MDB and cleared Najib of all wrongdoing. Apandi even ran as an UMNO candidate in the 1990 elections.

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With Judiciary, Executive Branch and Legislature and Media under his total control, Prime Minister Najib Razak is able to act with impunity

There are several implications for the DAP and Malaysia’s other opposition parties in the near future.

First, the Lim case provides an opportunity to portray Penang’s DAP-led government in a negative light. The opposition has sought to use state-level power, particularly in Penang and Selangor states, to showcase an image of clean and efficient administration. Opposition politicians have complained that the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition has put their activities under particular scrutiny. It is unlikely that Lim’s case (or other recent cases spotlighted in the media) will do much to dislodge the DAP’s power in Penang state in the coming election. But these cases serve to tarnish the opposition’s image.

The DAP also faces a delicate balancing act: fighting against what it sees as politically motivated charges, while still being seen to take seriously its own campaign messages of anti-corruption and transparency. Lim and his supporters have pointed out the irony that the MACC has vigorously pursued the house purchase case while the 1MDB corruption scandal has been largely untouched by domestic investigators.

Yet this defence does not exonerate Lim from contesting the charges and the government’s case in court. The DAP also faced criticism for its call for snap elections in the wake of the charges. Snap elections in Penang, Lim argued, would consolidate the opposition’s position and obtain a ’fresh mandate’ for the state’s coalition government. But DAP’s opposition allies in the Pakatan Harapan coalition strongly objected, since opposition unity to guarantee straight fights against Barisan Nasional is currently lacking. The idea was eventually abandoned.

Perhaps the biggest implication is that Lim, facing conviction and possible prison time, may be unable to contest in the next general elections, coming as soon as the first quarter of next year. For his part, Lim says he ‘cannot be saved politically’. Jailing opposition politicians to neutralise threats has been a predictable choice in the government’s ‘menu of manipulation’. Lim himself spent a year in jail after being sentenced under the Sedition Act; his father Lim Kit Siang was previously detained for 17 months. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was handed a five-year jail sentence in time to circumvent his party’s attempt to put him in office, and remains imprisoned today. Rafizi Ramli, Secretary General of Anwar’s party, PKR, was recently charged under the Official Secrets Act; like Lim, he may be unable to contest in the next general election.

Malaysia’s UMNO-dominated government is facing one of the most challenging elections of its long political hegemony. But its handling of Lim Guan Eng’s case suggests it still has a formidable set of tools to obstruct and defuse threats from its main opposition.

Peter Douglas is the pseudonym of a Kuala Lumpur-based researcher studying opposition politics in Malaysia.

Najib’s Handmaiden of Electoral Fraud

September 21, 2016

Malaysian Election Commission — Najib’s Handmaiden of Electoral Fraud

The final nail was knocked in the coffin of a fair, independent and non-partisan commission a long time ago. But that does not mean the Malaysian electorate should be made perennial pall bearers of that coffin.

by  Lim Teck Ghee

The public and opposition parties should be very concerned with the latest round of electoral boundary changes in the country’s parliamentary constituencies. This is yet another effort to rig the electoral system to ensure UMNO and BN dominance and political hegemony.

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Scholarly studies by local and foreign academicians of similar exercises in the past have shown a clear pattern of the manipulation of electoral boundaries at both national and state levels. This together with the great disparity of voter numbers among the constituencies, use of the governmental machinery in support of UMNO and BN candidates; the incidence of phantom, postal and absentee voters; and various other irregularities and unethical practices have debased the credibility and legitimacy of the electoral process.

That these frauds against the opposition have strengthened UMNO’s and BN’s standing in Parliament and state assemblies by distorting electoral outcomes is beyond a shadow of a doubt.

In the last election, the BN polled 5,237,699 votes, or 47.4% of the vote. The opposition PR polled 5,623,984 votes, or 50.9% of the vote. However, the BN won the election with 133 seats against the opposition’s 89. The PR increased their vote by 2.9%, while the BN vote fell by 3.9%, yet the PR made a net gain of only 7 seats.

This outcome did not happen by accident but by deliberate design and manipulation. If the proposed changes go unchallenged, we can expect more skewed outcomes in the coming GE that will make a greater mockery of the “one person, one vote” principle.

Electoral Commission: Handmaiden of BN Hegemony

Malaysians are well aware that the Electoral Commission is the key stake player in ensuring free and fair elections. However, the EC has become another of the vital institutions established to safeguard and support our system of parliamentary democracy which have been coopted by the ruling establishment to maintain its monopoly of the government.

The framers of our original Constitution must be turning in their graves to see what has happened to the EC.

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The beginning of the end of the Electoral Commission’s independence took place in 1962 with the Constitution (Amendment) Act. According to Professor H. E. Groves, who edited the first major commentary on the Malayan Constitution, and was also dean, and president of various academic institutions, cited by Lim Hong Hai in his article, Electoral Politics in Malaysia: ‘Managing’ Elections in a Plural Society ( see

It is apparent that the new amendments as to elections converted a formerly independent Election Commission, whose decisions became law and whose members enjoyed permanent tenure, into an advisory body of men of no certain tenure whose terms of office, except for remuneration, are subject to the whims of parliament. The vital power of determining the size of constituencies as well as their boundaries is now taken from a Commission, which the constitution-makers had apparently wished, by tenure and status, to make independent and disinterested, and has been made completely political by giving this power to a transient majority of parliament, whose temptations to gerrymander districts and manipulate the varying numerical possibilities between “rural” and “urban” constituencies for political advantage is manifest.

Professor Groves wrote this critique in 1962. But even he must shocked at how the system of elections in Malaysia has been manipulated during the last 50 years to keep BN in power.

He would also probably agree with this latest critique of how UMNO-BN has been able to win the last GE:

The key fact about the Malaysian electoral system is that it is designed to preserve the power of the Malay Muslim population over all other racial and religious groups, and within that population, to ensure the dominance of the main Malay party, UMNO. Since only 54% of the population are Malay Muslims, and since not all of them vote for UMNO, this requires rigging the electoral system to ensure UMNO’s continued dominance. UMNO supremacy is also safeguarded by an alliance with small parties representing the Chinese and Indian communities (MCA and MIC respectively) in the National Front (BN) coalition. (Adam Carr, How They Stole the Malaysian Election)

Preventing Another Stolen GE

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Don’t let Najib and his 1mdb fraudsters get away–G0 and Register in full force and vote for a Better Malaysia. Remember you can make a difference. Otherwise you deserve Najib and UMNO-BN Government and Crooked Rosmah Mansor.–Din Merican

There are several short-term recourses that Malaysians have to check the EC’s latest attempt at gerrymandering.The first is that a group of no less than 100 registered voters of an affected constituency can protest. This, however, is on an individual and ad hoc basis when in fact the entire system of delineation needs to be put under scrutiny and reformed.

The second is for the public and civil society organizations to insist that the Commission provides a full explanation of the rationale for each change and also why changes have not been made in other constituencies. “No changes unless it is on a full, transparent, justifiable and accountable basis” should be the demand.

Meanwhile, leading members of the new party, PPBM, under whose watch similar electoral manipulation has taken place in the past, and who presumably harbour many secrets of previous electoral fiddling – especially Dr. Mahathir, Muhyiddin and Mukhriz – need to speak out and rally the opposition on this important development.

The final nail was knocked in the coffin of a fair, independent and non-partisan commission a long time ago. But that does not mean the Malaysian electorate should be made perennial pall bearers of that coffin.



The Destiny of Malaysia

September 1, 2016

Spoken like a Malaysian: The Destiny of Malaysia

By Dharm Navaratnam

I am Malaysian. I cannot be anything else. After all, my paternal grandfather and grandmother were both born in the very early 1900’s in what would then have been the Federated Malay States…the destiny of Malaysia lies in our hands. The future of our beloved nation is our responsibility.–Dharm Navaratnam

I was born 10 years after Merdeka so I wasn’t privy to the feelings that my parents or the older generation would have felt when the country gained independence from the British. It must have been an amazing feeling to witness the birth of a new nation.

For those of my generation and after, we have always belonged to an independent nation, a nation called Malaysia. I am Malaysian. I cannot be anything else. After all, my paternal grandfather and grandmother were both born in the very early 1900’s in what would then have been the Federated Malay States.

Some stories have it that my great-grandfather was born in this land as well but I can’t verify that. At the very least, I am thus a third generation inhabitant of this country. My roots certainly go very deep in this land.

I have not only watched this nation grow but I have grown with it. I have seen how the country has evolved and how things have changed. Some for the better and some for the worse.

In terms of development, we seem to have made huge strides but at the same time the developments seem to be centred around the urban areas of the country. There are still many areas, especially in the East Coast and East Malaysia that are still far from developed.

Image result for Poverty in the background of Malaysia's Twin Towers

Petronas Twin Towers–A Mahathirian edifice–in the distant background. Poverty amidst urban affluence is not sustainable. The NEP should be about fostering Unity, achieving economic and social justice and building national resilience, not Malay kleptocracy. Why can’t we work toward a Vision of a United and harmonious nation. Of course, we can if we care enough for the future of our grandchildren. It then becomes a question of individual and collective wills.

Diversity is our strength. Ethnicity is our road to perdition. We  must never forget this, if we are to avoid being manipulated by our irresponsible politicians in UMNO and our political opposition.–Din Merican

We have the tallest Twin Towers in the world, huge shopping malls, large airports and we even host Formula 1 races. At the same time however, we have fellow Malaysians living in rundown houses, some with no access to clean water, barely making ends meet and worried where their next meal is coming from.

This is the reality of the situation. There is somehow a wide imbalance in the socio-economic structure of our country.

As far as education goes, there never seems to be anyone satisfied with our education system. So much so, we have so many different types of schools. The list includes national schools, vernacular schools, religious schools, technical schools and residential schools. Then you have schools that get more funding depending on whether they are classified as high-performance schools or cluster schools of excellence. Throw in private schools and international schools and you have an even more complicated system. What about home schooling then?

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National Unity: A Farce

In terms of unity there seems to be two schools of thought. Many of the general public feel that we are united. However, if you read the newspapers there seems to be someone or the other spewing racial vitriol almost every week, if not every day.

Why is there so much emphasis on race when we are all one people? Why are we so fearful of our fellow Malaysians just because they look different?

Surely we have spent enough time together to understand and accept each other. We are, after all, supposed to be Malaysian.So, enough of playing this race card. Kind of makes a mockery of the National Day theme Sehati Sejiwa.

Olympic medals

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They are Malaysians (without Race)

In sports, where we were once a superpower in Asian football and world hockey, we seem to struggle greatly in those sports now.

Fortunately we still seem to perform at badminton and have made inroads in diving and cycling. From the days where we only dreamt of taking part in the Olympics, we now are able to count how many medals we have won, notwithstanding the elusive gold medal that has yet to be achieved.

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Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, Bapak Malaysia

While many of us complain about the state of the country and how much better it could be, I am inspired by the words of Tunku Abdul Rahman (above) in his Merdeka Speech at Stadium Merdeka 59 years ago.

“But while we think of the past, we look forward in faith and hope to the future; from henceforth we are masters of our destiny, and the welfare of this beloved land is our own responsibility. Let no one think we have reached the end of the road. Independence is indeed a milestone, but it is only the threshold to high endeavour – the creation of a new and sovereign state. At this solemn moment therefore I call upon you all to dedicate yourselves to the service of the new Malaya. To work and strive with hand and brain to create a new nation, inspired by the ideals of justice and liberty – a beacon of light in a disturbed and distracted world.”

There are many things that we can find fault with but at the same time there is plenty to be thankful for. Let’s not forget that. So complain about the country all you want but don’t just complain. Do something, however small it may be. Make a difference.

Ultimately it is not the government that decides the future of this country. In truth, the destiny of Malaysia lies in our hands. The future of our beloved nation is our responsibility.

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

August 27, 2017

by Michiko Kakutani

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 

There is something very wrong with Donald Trump

August 3, 2016

There is something very wrong with Donald Trump

by Robert Kagan, August 1 at 3:51 PM

Robert Kagan is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a contributing columnist for The Post.

One wonders if Republican leaders have begun to realize that they may have hitched their fate and the fate of their party to a man with a disordered personality. We can leave it to the professionals to determine exactly what to call it. Suffice to say that Donald Trump’s response to the assorted speakers at the Democratic National Convention has not been rational.

Why denigrate the parents of a soldier who died serving his country in Iraq? And why keep it going for four days? Why assail the record of a decorated general who commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan? Why make fun of the stature of a popular former mayor of New York? Surely Trump must know that at any convention, including his own, people get up and criticize the opposition party’s nominee. They get their shots in, just as your party got its shots in. And then you move on to the next phase of the campaign. You don’t take a crack at every single person who criticized you. And you especially don’t pick fights that you can’t possibly win, such as against a grieving Gold Star mother or a general. It’s simply not in your interest to do so.

The fact that Trump could not help himself, that he clearly did, as he said, want to “hit” everyone who spoke against him at the Democratic convention, suggests that there really is something wrong with the man. It is not just that he is incapable of empathy. It is not just that he feels he must respond to every criticism he receives by attacking and denigrating the critic, no matter how small or inconsequential. If you are a Republican, the real problem, and the thing that ought to keep you up nights as we head into the final 100 days of this campaign, is that the man cannot control himself. He cannot hold back even when it is manifestly in his interest to do so. What’s more, his psychological pathologies are ultimately self-destructive. (Disclosure: I was a guest speaker at a fundraiser for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton last month; I have no role with her campaign.)

[Robert Kagan: This is how fascism comes to America]

Trump is, in this respect, unlike a normal politician. A normal politician knows that no matter how much criticism gets under the skin, the thing to do is to smile and wave it off. You don’t have to mean it. You don’t even have to appear to mean it. But it is what you do, if only to avoid compounding the damage. Trump cannot make this simple self-serving calculation. He must attack everyone who opposes him, even after he has defeated them. He must continue talking about Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s father, even after Cruz has thrown in the towel. He must humiliate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, even after Christie has lain down before him.

Many of Trump’s supporters admire him for his bold challenge to political correctness. But his political incorrectness may be only an unintended side effect of his malady. Some of the insults he fires back at his critics are politically incorrect: the racist and misogynist taunts. But others are just childish: making fun of someone’s height, or suggesting that someone’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination. It’s not really politically incorrect to say that a prisoner of war is not a hero because he got captured. It’s just a way of saying, I don’t care if you’re a war hero. You criticized me and now I’ve got to hit you. Trump’s insults are scattershot — only sometimes touching the raw racist and xenophobic nerves in society. The most important fact is that he is unable to control his responses to criticism. He must double down every time, even if it means digging himself deeper and deeper into the hole.

Imagine such a person as President. What we have seen in the Trump campaign is not only a clever method of stirring up the anger in people. It is also a personality defect that has had the effect of stirring up anger. And because it is a defect and not a tactic, it would continue to affect Trump’s behavior in the White House. It would determine how he dealt with other nations. It would determine how he dealt with critics at home. It would determine how he governed, how he executed the laws, how he instructed the law-enforcement and intelligence agencies under his command, how he dealt with the press, how he dealt with the opposition party and how he handled dissent within his own party.

His personality defect would be the dominating factor in his Presidency, just as it has been the dominating factor in his campaign. His ultimately self-destructive tendencies would play out on the biggest stage in the world, with consequences at home and abroad that one can barely begin to imagine. It would make him the closest thing the United States has ever had to a dictator, but a dictator with a dangerously unstable temperament that neither he nor anyone else can control.

One can hope it does not come to that. In all likelihood, his defects will destroy him before he reaches the White House. He will bring himself down, and he will bring the Republican Party and its leaders down with him. This would be a tragedy were it not that the party and its leaders, who chose him as their nominee and who now cover and shill for this troubled man, so richly deserve their fate.

Presidential Elections 2016– Should Hillary Fear Optimism

August 1, 2016

Presidential Elections 2016– Should Hillary Fear Optimism

If the last two weeks of our political life have seemed extra long, it is because we have gone through not two but four political conventions.

Cleveland had two conventions. One featured Republicans who have decided to voice support for Donald Trump’s candidacy without echoing any of his distinctive themes. That’s the convention where Chris Christie made the standard Republican case that the Obama-Clinton foreign policy has been too timid and too unsettling to our allies, where Paul Ryan spoke once again about his party’s commitment to limited government and where the typical speaker praised Mr. Trump as though he were a normal Republican nominee.

The second convention in Cleveland featured Mr. Trump himself. Unlike the speakers at that first convention, he promised to spend money on infrastructure, shred trade agreements, cut back on immigration and get our allies to pay more for defense.

The Democrats put on two shows in Philadelphia as well. Half of the convention was devoted to keeping Bernie Sanders’s voters inside the tent. Some of these voters are hard to please. (“They’re both center-right candidates,” I overheard one protester saying outside the convention hall, and others held signs denouncing “Clintrump.”) Senator Elizabeth Warren, former President Bill Clinton and Senator Sanders himself were among the politicians deployed to protect Hillary Clinton’s left flank. Their message was neatly summarized by Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio: “She’s a progressive who gets things done.”

When the convention focused on party unification, it dwelt on abortion, immigration and gun control — in each case without a great deal of nuance to appeal to those who are moderate or conservative on these questions. But the later in the night and the later in the week it got, the more the convention shifted toward the bigger task of courting a broader audience.

This was the convention of generals, of invocations of Ronald Reagan, of chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” The old liberal fear of lapsing into jingoism appeared to have disappeared. Substitute country musicians for pop stars, and you would have thought you were at a Republican convention of old. The parties had in several respects traded places. Mr. Trump, more than Mrs. Clinton, portrayed American workers as victims of a rigged system. The Democrats, more than the Republicans, talked about faith, American history and national unity. Mrs. Clinton warned that besides Trump and Clinton, e pluribus unum is on the ballot.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. (above), President Obama and the nominee herself all welcomed conservatives and moderates with misgivings about Mr. Trump to find a new home in the Democratic Party — or at least, as Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, urged, to stay long enough to vote for Mrs. Clinton. Michelle Obama’s fine speech implicitly made the same argument.

That argument was, inevitably, characterological rather than ideological. “He loses his cool at the slightest provocation,” Mrs. Clinton said of Mr. Trump in what deserves to be the most quoted passage of her speech. “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” Democrats characterized previous Republican nominees as too right-wing; not this time.

Both parties had split personalities at their conventions because neither party has been enthusiastic about its candidate, to an unusual degree. That lack of enthusiasm manifested in different ways in each city. Republicans gamely ignored a party division they fervently hope is temporary. Democrats tried to portray Mrs. Clinton simultaneously as a true progressive and a nonpartisan unifier.

Because each nominee has intraparty opponents, each nominee sees a chance to court the people who lost the other side’s primary. While accepting the Republican nomination, Mr. Trump said that he would attract Sanders voters because of their shared opposition to decades of American trade policy. Democrats, whose politicians are more unified than the Republicans, pursued a more systematic strategy of peeling off anti-Trump Republicans.

Part of what makes Mr. Trump’s conquest of the Republican Party so impressive is that it came at the expense of several of its factions. But that also means that voters in several parts of the usual Republican coalition might be tempted to defect this year, or at least to sit this election out.

Economic conservatives are unhappy about Mr. Trump’s indifference to shrinking the size of the government and alarmed by his offhand reference to withdrawing from the World Trade Organization. Jennifer Pierotti Lim, a founder of Republican Women for Hillary who spoke on the last night in Philadelphia, works for the United States Chamber of Commerce.

Many Republican foreign-policy intellectuals have come out against Mr. Trump, too, appalled by his stance on NATO, his friendliness to Vladimir V. Putin, his willingness to alienate Muslim allies and his ignorance of the world. Mr. Trump has worked hardest at cultivating his relationships with religious conservatives, and he has been fairly successful. Yet many of them still don’t trust him to expend political capital for their causes, which do not engage him. He said nothing about abortion in his acceptance speech, breaking decades of precedent.

As much as the Democrats of Philadelphia invited Republicans to join them, though, they did little to make themselves attractive to them. The Democrats insist on hurtling to the left on issue after issue.

Pro-lifers are less welcome than ever in the party, which is now more firmly committed not to the maintenance of the status quo on abortion but to the elimination of restrictions on taxpayer funding for abortion that have been in place for decades.

At the Democratic convention four years ago in Charlotte, N.C., Bill Clinton spoke about the federal government’s long-term debt problem. That candor was absent in Philadelphia, where speakers, including Hillary Clinton, talked about expanding Social Security instead of fixing the shortfall it is already projected to have.

The retreat from free trade, meanwhile, is a bipartisan one. Republicans who are concerned about their party’s drift toward protectionism will not be drawn toward Mrs. Clinton and her running mate, Tim Kaine, who have repudiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership. President Obama hasn’t, but at the convention he didn’t speak up for it or for trade generally — even though there is some evidence much of the public remains favorable to trade.

Some middle-of-the-road voters who find Mr. Trump alarming nonetheless share some of his stated concerns about crime, the Islamic State and immigration. Democrats did little to reassure them that they shared those concerns. They ignored the preliminary evidence that the violent crime rate, while still well below its peak rates, has started to increase again. Mrs. Clinton affirmed our existing strategy against the Islamic State, but her remarks stood out at the convention, where the topic was rarely mentioned, especially by progressive favorites. The Democrats also made it clear that they viewed illegal immigration almost exclusively through the eyes of illegal immigrants themselves: If it has costs, or enforcement of the laws against it has benefits, they weren’t mentioned. You don’t have to think it wise to “deport them all” to find this treatment of the issue cavalier.

Mrs. Clinton said that she loved talking about her plans for public policy. But she did less of it than Democrats usually do, perhaps because the convention’s dual political imperatives — reassuring both the left end of the party and the general public — made it impossible to make a coherent case for an agenda. One might have expected the Democrats to use center-left policies to attract white working-class voters who are unhappy with their lot and considering Mr. Trump. They didn’t make this pitch very prominently, except for when Bill Clinton promised vaguely to take coal miners on a ride to the economy of the future.

Making college free for the middle class was a repeated applause line in Philadelphia: “Bernie Sanders and I will work together to make college tuition-free for the middle class and debt-free for all!” said Mrs. Clinton. But not all people are going to get a college degree. They got two sentences from her, and less from her allies.

Instead of reasons for hope, the Democrats offered these voters bromides about optimism: America’s best days are always ahead of it, etc., etc. These bromides came with a liberal spin, the genius of America being defined as its closer and closer approximation of egalitarian ideals. The idea that American patriotism consists of loyalty to a future country clearly speaks to many of our citizens. Will it be enough in an anxious era, when Americans are deeply dissatisfied with their politicians? And when Mr. Trump is offering a more pointed explanation of that dissatisfaction than the Democrats are?

The Democrats’ optimism about the country is tightly related to their optimism about their own political fortunes, which is based on demography. They represent growing demographic groups — including nonwhites and the unchurched — rather than shrinking groups like the white working class. But that optimism is unlikely to prove contagious among that group.

And the Democrats’ rhetorical optimism is vulnerable to events in a way Mr. Trump’s is not. Terrorist attacks and high-profile crimes may not make Americans find new virtues in Mr. Trump, but they will validate his campaign message and make the Democrats’ look naïve or worse. Mrs. Clinton said in her speech: “There is no other Donald Trump. This is it.” That’s right: We know his campaign will focus on her alleged incompetence and crookedness. What we don’t know is how well she will be able to adapt to Mr. Trump’s unusual pursuit of the presidency.

The fall campaign will feature two candidates whose parties have little faith in them and who in turn are to varying degrees uncomfortable with their parties’ platforms. A more detailed discussion of the policy choices facing the country will have to wait for another presidential campaign, with more serious candidates than Mr. Trump and stronger candidates than either him or Mrs. Clinton.

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love,” Broadway stars sang at the convention. The Hillary Clinton Democrats showcased an impressively broad coalition, stretching from those who have won military honors to those who have won Tony awards. But what the world doesn’t need now — what won’t prove sufficient to stave off Donald Trump — is a forced optimism.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor at National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on July 31, 2016, on page SR1 of the New York edition with the headline: Why Hillary Should Fear Optimism.

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