Unveiling Donald J. Trump – the Revolt against the Establishment


February 25, 2017

The HUFFINGTON POST.

 

Unveiling Donald J. Trump – the Revolt against the Establishment

Joergen Oerstroem Moeller, Visiting Senior Fellow, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/unveiling-trump-the-revolt-against-the-establishment_us_58accad3e4b0598627a55e1a

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Why are people turning their backs on the ‘Western’ model? The Reason: Donald J Trump making America Great Again

Why are people turning their back on the ‘Western’ model? How could it happen and even more so in such a short time span? While most of us associate the recent string of events to failed regimes or fictional story plots, it now haunts the U.S. – playing out like a reality show except the consequences are real and cannot be tuned out by a press on the remote control – however tempting that might be[1].

The elite has cut the link to the people, who retaliate by turning against the elite. A revolt!

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Conceptually industrialization was anchored in enlightenment, science, rationality, and logic. Ethically a higher degree of decency followed. The nexus was check and balances, which not only framed economic prosperity, rising equality and fairness, but also opened the door for the majority of people to influence political decision making.

Now, negative side-effects start to overrule the positive side of the model. Polls show that a majority of people in industrialized countries feel that their children will NOT live in a better world. Consensus and coalition building – the mainstay of the check and balances system – is no longer the plinth of our world order – world view, weltanschaung. Political correctness emphasizing tolerance and respect and crafted to block a repetition of 1914 to 1945 is now rejected yes ridiculed and cast aside. It is legitimate, in some places even laudable to vilify other people and advocate discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and religion.

Subjectivity has replaced objectivity blurring the difference between truth and non-truth. Between facts and made up figures. Today any viewpoint is legitimate. ‘My point of view is as good as yours!’ No insistence on evidence.

Industrialization.

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Adam Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations’ gave birth to economic theory explaining capital formation conducive to growth. The market – economic thinking and behavior – precipitated change and dynamics after centuries of near stagnation. Concomitantly economic policy started to guide the political system (liberal representative democracy) in its endeavors to control the economy and distribute wealth between capitalists and non-capitalists.

It was not a global model, but build around the notion of rich (insiders) and poor (outsiders). Countries could be ‘relegated’ (as was the case for Argentina one hundred years ago), but not promoted. Sometimes around 1975 the outsiders challenged the insiders. Promotion, incompatible with the model, started. The result quickly became competition for jobs, welfare, and resources on a global scale. The industrial age edifice began to crack.

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Philosopher  of the Enlightenment– John Locke

http://www.sparknotes.com/history/european/enlightenment/terms.html

Capitalism is a marvelous growth machine especially combined with globalization, but aberrations, distortions and negative side-effects must be kept under control. The challenge from the socialist/communist model did precisely that. When that challenge disappeared in 1991, the self-imposed barriers for egoistic behavior melted away. The dominating perspective became short-term profit defined by pure market economy disregarding potential or real negative societal side-effects – what an economist would label external diseconomies on a societal level/scale.

Globalization introduced economies of scale which:

– Generated enormous profits for multinational companies.

– Opened the door for minimizing tax by shuffling revenue and profits around among countries.

– Suppressed the wage share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in rich countries destabilizing and impoverishing their middle class.

– Dislocated manufacturing in rich countries; small-scale plants in local communities disappeared and people felt abandoned, desperate, and without hope.

The upside – enormously important – was that hundreds of millions of people in poor countries were lifted out of poverty.

The political problem gradually suffusing the agenda was that the negative side-effects were mainly, almost exclusively felt in rich and industrialized countries with the upside blessing Emerging Markets and Developing Economies (EMDE). Suddenly the dichotomy between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ changed dramatically – a complete reversal of roles.

Technology introduced the skills factor to determine distribution of income. Three groups of “workers” emerged. Those having the skills in demand asked for and got a premium. A thin layer. Those doing repetitive functions, the middle class, were squeezed. Those in lower paid service jobs were forced to accept lower wages under pressure from the middle class above them in the social strata now competing for their jobs and immigrants in social strata below them. In the U.S. wage differentials and inequality was falling 1920 to 1940, stable until the 1970s where after inequality started to explode – almost exactly at the time when Information and Communication Technology (ICT) plus globalization began to put its mark on the economy.

Social losers tried to be heard by voting for the opposition, but the opposition fared no better than the government because there was no answer. In reality government and opposition was the same side of two coins!

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University of Manchester Economics students aim to tear up free-market syllabus

And who are the losers? They are broadly speaking people unable or unwilling to cope with change – not necessarily unemployed or poor. In Europe and the U.S. many of them are found among the middle class being eradicated, disappearing as the stabilizing factor. Year 2000 US, Europe, and Japan accounted for 2/3 of global middle class. prognosis tells that year 2020 it will be about half and year 2050 about 15%. The privileged status built up over the industrial as skilled workers – the hero of industrialization and its main beneficiary – was suddenly taken away from them; other social groups or ethnicities fare better. Since 2007 close to ten million new jobs have been created in the U.S., but whites have lost one million jobs. This discloses the losers as white Anglo-Saxon protestant males powerful during the industrial age fighting almost literally to maintain their privileges.

They constitute a large segment of the population, but they are not the ‘people’. Did the British people vote for Brexit? No. Figuring in the turn out 38% of the electorate did. We read that the American people elected Donald Trump. Wrong. Hillary Clinton got almost 3 million more votes. Figuring in the turn out approx. 26% of the Americans voted for Trump. The depressing interpretation is that a large and growing share of the population does not find it worthwhile to operate inside the system. The system is not theirs! They vote against the system or stay away. The silver lining is that if the system – the establishment – can get the act together and deliver, those people may return. The game is not lost.

The future.

It is fascinating to reflect on how things will turn out, but foolhardy to put forward a picture of the world order to come. Mankind might cut the link to nature and live in a totally artificial environment – mankind may choose the opposite and opt for a return to stronger human relations while respecting the cycle of nature, as our ancestors actually did – or be so confused and bemused under the onslaught of globalization and technology that we end up with some kind of superstition like in the middle ages.

What we can do is to search for some fundamental trends controlling the future development; intercept them to build a system/model strong enough to keep the ship steady until the fog has cleared and a better view of where we are going beckons.

If civilization is a work in progress, we should mobilize discipline and self-discipline to rally people to a common purpose aiming at:

– Societies as a whole instead of egoistic behavior.

– Long term thinking/behavior instead of short-term effects.

– Sustainability instead of throw away consumption.

– A new kind of self-esteem among human beings with people feeling they are a spoke in the wheel contributing to society and receiving something in return.

– Mutual respects leaders – people instead of mutual disrespect and distrust.

The future main thread is common and shared values gradually crowding out economics as the main motivating force. The objective is a new social contract. The vehicle is communication via social networks. The playing field for communication becomes level instead of top/down or down/top or passive only (radio/TV). The social networks should belong to the people and used by the people. Neither commercialized nor allow concentration of knowledge opening for abuse of power.

Political system.

Power distance separates politicians’ values from voters’ values. In many countries, barely 2/3 of the electorate turns up signaling indifference. Membership of political parties tells the same story.

A lower power distance can be sought through roll back of centralization and concentration to lower power distance. Turn local communities into yes LOCAL and small communities; reject increasing returns borrowed from economics for public services. Look for solutions to combine social networks with human contacts. The service provider – welfare, education, and health – must be close to people to cater for their basic needs and not perceived as business.

There are innumerable challenges and opportunities embedded in social networks. In principle, they ‘should rally people to a common purpose’. In reality the opposite happens: Segmentation of public opinion through vociferous and importunate persons/groups hijacking the agenda. Social networks become divisive, disruptive, and increase power distance. Human contacts so vital a glue for unity and coherence fade away.

Segmentation/fragmentation comes into play as people communicate more, but with like-minded people. Those who contact us have analogous opinions. We search, maybe unconsciously, for opinions & views similar to our own ones. A closed-circuit network appears with people reinforcing one another in already held opinions eschewing contradictory information. It is no wonder that extremists’ views have established themselves and got a grip on the political agenda simultaneously with the explosion of social networks.

Using social networks anybody can try to set the agenda. If the message resonates with the public the cascade effect guarantees success irrespective of facts, objectivity, and merit. The ‘newcomers’ are proactive, offensive, snippy, aggressive, using rude/disparaging vocabulary, and dispense with objectivity, facts, and the truth. The establishment appears as reactive, defensive, even boring with politically correct vocabulary which does not strike a chord with the public – and do care about objectivity, facts, and the truth. Studies show that many, maybe most people decide in the split of a second based on instinct, intuition, own experiences and background. We live in a world dominated by a pressure of impression: Catch attention every day and use simple language. The attention span is short so select your audience and appear to be like them. Our ‘self’ is the template for judging others. This opens the door for tailor-made interference in people’s decision making. Recently Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica was quoted saying ‘we have a massive database of 4-5,000 data points on every adult in America’. Allegedly the company helped Trump to win.

The establishment can also use this model! And doesn’t because it has severed the links to the people.

Economic model.

Economics has always loved the idea of general equilibrium, but for the economic system only. Now a kind of societal equilibrium could be the objective.

Short term profits from a purely economic point of view distort the social fabric. Many people look – in vain – for stability and security – human security, economic security, and social security. After disruptive and explosive change over the preceding half century – a burst of activity rarely seen in history – there is a growing preference for calm down, digest, and find out how to use technology and globalization – instead of letting these two big forces, disruptive at that, steer where we go.

Relative prices reflect market perspectives rewarding short-term profit regardless of potentially negative societal effects (inequality, unfairness, and low social mobility), pollution, and depletion of resources. Incorporating societal effects other than economics the scoreboard in its entirety may not be profitable for economic operators – business. So it is not done.

Therefore, they should be changed to reflect these societal aspects. Making it expensive to use resources, punish pollution, and put a price on activities beneficial for society for example care for the elderly and couching children. The immediate objection is that such policies interfere in the market mechanism – the reply is: Yes, that is also the purpose. The market mechanism may have served us well, but can it continue to do so under different conditions? Can the market handle ‘less’ in a socially acceptable way? Doubtful.

Relative factor prices favor technology and robotics. Economically that makes sense. But not for those people losing their jobs. We cannot and should not stop technology and robotics, but provide jobs in labor intensive areas – among other things societal purposes – by remunerating such work.

The theory of the firm dating back to the 1930s explains why it is profitable – short term market economy profitability – to organize production within the firm (concentration and standardization/ uniformization) rather than relying on a multitude of contracts (de-concentration and diversification). Transaction costs become lower. Main advantage is to have the workforce inside the company – figuratively under one roof.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has shot that theory down. Now transaction costs outside the firm is cheaper than inside the firm mainly because of savings in overhead costs. Part time work and one person companies are going up – in some cases selling the product to firms instead of doing it inside the firm. It’s odd to read every month about employment and unemployment not taking into account how many people have left companies to do the same work outside companies.

The paradox is that the number of people employed by firms in rich countries goes down while at the same time concentration of finance and knowledge goes up not only shaking the established relationship between workforce and the company, but cutting the bond between firm and workforce, which was the core of the industrial age social contract. They are no longer indispensable for each other.

Conclusion.

The golden days of economic growth and distribution of wealth will not return. The creeping dehumanization and denaturalization is being questioned – is this really what we want? The shift to non-economic values cannot be integrated in the existing political system and economic model.

The challenge now is to keep societies together under burden sharing and adapt to stability and human security. Groups as an alternative framework for organization of societies enter the picture. The risk is that values and social networking break societies into a small number of groups with limited inter-group mobility – are you with us or against us? A kind of social immobility. The group serves as service provider – you cannot live outside the group. ISIL is an illustration of this as was the communist party. You belong to us forever.

The key is a social contract embodying

– The shift in preferences from economics as the dominant element to reflect societal values.

– A reinstatement of confidence and trust between politicians and voters.

– Building a bridge over the rising gap between interests of firms (owners and management) and interests of the workforce.

– Make the service provider visible in daily life, close to the people and increasingly delivering stability, security and peace at mind.

Joergen Oerstroem Moeller is Visiting Senior Fellow, ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore and Adjunct Professor Singapore Management University & Copenhagen Business School. Honorary Alumni, University of Copenhagen.

[1] ‘The Veil of Circumstance’ [ISEAS PUBLISHING, November 2016] offers a deeper analysis of the transformation our societies is undergoing.

(2). ISEAS –Yusof Ishak Institute. PERSPECTIVE. ISSUE: 2017 No. 11 ISSN 335 667

SINGAPORE 21. FEBRUARY 2017.

 “Trump and Brexit:  Some Lessons for Southeast Asia” by Joergen Oerstroem Moeller @ https://www.iseas.edu.sg/images/pdf/ISEAS_Perspective_2017_11.pdf.

Executive Summary

  • Donald Trump’s victory and Brexit illustrate that a considerable share of the population in the U.S. and Britain feel left behind, side-lined and neglected by recent globalising trends.
  • Despite their revolt, the establishment and the existing political systems have a chance to stage a comeback, especially if President Trump fails to live up to expectations of those who voted for him.
  • A surge in migration over the last 15 years in the US and Britain has also put the question of identity on the agenda. Although most countries can assimilate migrants over the longer term, a huge inflow of migrants in a short time span tends to generate serious negative opposition.
  • Rising unemployment in small towns in these countries has reinforced the identity problem, and initiated emigration to cities, undermining what were once stable societies and dilapidating their towns.

    Southeast Asian countries have lessons to learn from this development and should be aware of the risks involved as urbanisation in the region continues unabated.

End of summary.

 

 

Let Malaysia remain a secular and inclusive state for All


February 16, 2017

Let Malaysia remain a secular and inclusive state for All

by Dr Kua Kia Soong@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT:  There is an attempt by some ‘eminent persons’ to install the Rukunegara as the preamble to the Malaysian constitution. If there is indeed a need for such a preamble, it ought to reaffirm the principles of secularism and inclusiveness in the constitution.

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God Bless Malaysia with these guys

In my humble opinion, any attempt to have a preamble to our constitution needs first to be discussed by all the communities in the country including the Orang Asli, debated and passed through Parliament; secondly, it has to be inclusive.

This ‘national philosophy’ of Rukunegara was proclaimed on Merdeka Day, 1970 as a response to the racial riots of May 13, 1969 when the country was still under a state of Emergency. Like the National Culture Policy, it was drafted by selected ‘eminent persons’ rather than involving representation from all Malaysian communities and it did not go through a democratic process of debate, nor was it passed by the Federal Parliament.

While most of its aspirations are noble and acceptable, namely, “achieving a more perfect unity…; preserving a democratic way of life; creating a just society…; guaranteeing a liberal approach towards her rich and varied cultural traditions; and building a progressive society…”; nevertheless, its principle of ‘Belief in God’ is not inclusive of all Malaysian faiths.

Any preamble should include all peoples and stress social justice and democracy

The preamble to the US constitution, for example is short and concise, stressing that their nation is defined and formed by its people and what it stands for:

“We the People… in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution…”

Although peopled largely by Christians, the preamble to the US constitution makes no reference to a God or monarch. Apart from serving as an executive summary, it merely sets the stage for how the new government defined by the constitution will establish justice and secure the blessings of Liberty. Thus, their preamble is absolutely secular and the first three words are perhaps the most important: “We the People…”

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Malaysian Muslims idolize this Guy

Perhaps India is a better comparison since it was a former colony like ours. The preamble to the constitution of India actually makes its secularism explicit:

“We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens: Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation…”

Thus the main purposes of having a preamble of the Indian constitution are again, first, to refer to the source that is responsible for the authority of the constitution (We, the People…), and to spell out the objectives of the Indian constitution, namely, Equality, Justice, Fraternity and Liberty. Like the US constitution, there is no insistence on ‘Belief in God’.

The importance of being secular

So what is the significance of including ‘Belief in (the monotheistic) God’ in the hypothetical preamble to our constitution?

Since the prevalence of Islamic populism in the Eighties, there have been attempts by politicians including one or two Prime ministers (one of them is none other than Tun Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohamad) to claim that Malaysia is an Islamic state. Nonetheless, this attempt has been rightfully frustrated by among others, Bapa Malaysia and the Judiciary in the country.

For example, on his 80th birthday on February 8, 1983, Tunku’s main message to the Barisan Nasional leaders was not to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state, stressing that Malaysia was set up as a secular state with Islam as the official religion and this is enshrined in the Constitution. This was echoed a few days later by the Third Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Hussein Onn on his 61st Birthday on February 12, 1983.

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Commander-in-Chief, Ketuanan Melayu (Malay Hegemony) and Partner of PAS’ Hadi Awang on Hudud
The Alliance Memorandum submitted to the Reid Constitution Commission on Sept 27, 1956 clearly stated that “the religion of Malaya shall be Islam… and shall not imply that the state is not a secular state.” Thus, both the Reid Commission in 1957 and the Cobbold Commission in 1962 characterised Malaysia as a “secular state”.

Most importantly, former Lord President of the Malaysian Judiciary, Mohamed Salleh Abas in Che Omar bin Che Soh vs Public Prosecutor (1988), stated that the term “Islam” in Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution meant “only such acts as relate to rituals and ceremonies… the law in this country is… secular law.”

The Late Lord President Mohamed Suffian Hashim similarly wrote that Islam was made the official religion primarily for ceremonial purposes, to enable prayers to be offered in the Islamic way on official public occasions, such as the installation or birthday of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Independence Day and similar occasions.

Against the background of confounding populist politicians, one would think that it is even more crucial – if there is a need for a preamble to our constitution – for such a preamble to reaffirm the secular and inclusive character of our constitution.

In a secular state, the state is officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor atheism. It treats all its citizens equally regardless of religion. Secularism is not merely desirable but essential for the healthy existence of a pluralist society such as ours. It implies a separation that exists between the state and religion.

This does not detract from the fact that the right to religion is a fundamental right and the denial of this freedom is a violation of the basic principles of democracy.

Monotheism is not the only religion in this world

Secularism is also important in regulating the relation between the state and various religious groups on the principle of equality. When the Rukunegara espouses only ‘Belief in (Monotheistic) God’, it forgets that there are Malaysians of other faiths based on polytheism or animism and ancestor worship.

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To conclude, the concept of secularism is derived from the principle of democracy and secularism becomes meaningful only when it refers to democratic equality and includes diverse peoples of all faiths, beliefs and practices.

DR KUA KIA SOONG is Suaram adviser.

Malaysians are a tolerant and docile lot


February 15, 2017

Malaysians are a tolerant and docile lot over Najib Razak, bigotry, racism, corruption

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

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“The difference between fundamentalists and moderates – and certainly the difference between all ‘extremists’ and moderates – is the degree to which they see political and military action to be intrinsic to the practice of their faith. In any case, people who believe that Islam must inform every dimension of human existence, including politics and law, are now generally called not ‘fundamentalists’ or ‘extremists’ but, rather, ‘Islamists’.” – Sam Harris

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak described (an example of) the beauty of Malaysia as the Chinese waiting (uncomplaining) for Muslim potentates while they prayed when an official function was about to begin. This really sums up the concept of “moderation” in this country. The non-Muslims do not complain and indeed make pacts with Islamists, and life carries on as usual as long as there is money to be made.

In this country, “tolerance” is a one-way street. It is a street only used by the non-Malay population. The claim that the constitution guarantees certain rights is a complete sham. Mind you, the word “tolerance” is in itself a loathsome word. It is a word lacking empathy, simpatico, goodwill or camaraderie. The word implies, “enduring” instead of “accepting” and “understanding” – all those sentiments that denote a sense of belonging.

When it comes to race and specifically religion, I wrote – “…The reality is that the only people who find themselves disturbed by another religion are the non-Muslims. If there is a disparity in treatment, a lack of fairness, outright persecution or double standards, it is faced by non-Muslim communities.”

The post-69 history of Malaysia is the history of non-Malays non-complaining, as we allowed our country and our politics to be hijacked by charlatans who promised security, stability and prosperity if we continued tolerating everything that deep down inside we knew was destroying this country.

Image result for Najib Razak QuotesThat’s a lot bull, Prime Minister Najib, you betrayed our Trust, and one day you are going to pay the price for doing so.–Din Merican

When the Prime Minister of this country claims that “The Federal Constitution stresses that we must respect our difference in diversity in terms of culture, language and religion”, I double up in laughter because the constitution is meaningless without people who actually believe in discovering and enforcing the intent of the constitution.

Honestly, this is the same regime where a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department wanted to crack down on religious pluralism (amongst others) because “They are trying to do this by putting pressure on our country to surrender and adhere to what they said as ‘international standards and laws’ to allow total freedom of human rights, which contravenes the principles and teachings of Islam, the cultures of our multiracial people, and the spirit of the Federal Constitution.”

This has never been about a government of equals. This has always been about creating a monolithic community under the yoke of UMNO. Always remember what the Pahang mufti said after he backtracked form his genocide comment – “We are not forcing but I urge non-Muslims to convert to Islam to be safe in the afterlife and for unity in Malaysia. There will be no more chaos and we can focus on development” – which is the canard that Muslims shove down one another’s throats in attempt at solidarity.

So yes, we are a “tolerant” people. And if you are Malay and feel the same way about what non-Malays have tolerated, then perhaps you understand the situation deeper than the average establishment supporter.

Unilateral conversions

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The man who destroyed our institutions–Can Malaysians think?

We tolerated a great many things. Here are some of things I think we tolerate.We are tolerant that a specific race is defined in our constitution. We are tolerant that race determines privileges. We are tolerant that a religion is deemed superior and this is codified in our laws and constitution. We are tolerant that the security apparatus in our country determines which laws to follow. We are tolerant when our religions are mocked and we are branded traitors because we defend our rights which are supposedly enshrined in our constitution.

We are tolerant when religious personalities imply that oppositional political parties are the enemies of Islam and thus open to war-like retribution. We are tolerant when our public spaces are invaded by a state-sanctioned religion. We are tolerant when we are warned not to interfere in the state-sponsored religion even though it has been objectively proven that the same religion interferes in our rights.

We are tolerant when our children are indoctrinated in our public schools. We are tolerant when our politicians play the race-and-religion card at every opportunity. We are tolerant when men convert to the state’s religion to vindictively attack their wives and children. We are tolerant when public spaces are raided by religious officials and our fellow countrymen and women are dragged out and humiliated. We are tolerant when the propaganda organs of the state lie and disseminate fake news vilifying Malaysians as “racist”, “chauvinist” and “anti-Islam”.

We are tolerant when members of the so-called opposition claim that they have to use the same tactics as UMNO to remove the current grand poohbah. We are tolerant when voices tell us that we should be grateful for being allowed to live here. We are tolerant when our history is distorted.

We are tolerant when foreign Islamists came to this country and mock our religions. We are tolerant when we are warned by the mainstream political establishment that we can never assume to lead this country because this would hurt the sensitivities of the majority. We are tolerant when the natives of this land are abused and expelled from their ancestral homes.

We are tolerant of unilateral conversions. We are tolerant of attacks against the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. We are tolerant of attacks against liberalism and progressive ideas. We are tolerant when our education system is used as a petri dish. We are tolerant of quotas in our education system. We are tolerant of quotas in our civil and security services. We are tolerant of deaths in custody. We are tolerant when laws are created that would give the executive unlimited powers. So yes, we tolerate a great many things.

Image result for Najib Razak Docile and Tolerant Malaysians

The UMNO racists

The UMNO state understands that the non-Muslims would not do anything about it. Sure, a majority of non-Muslims would like to see Najib go and they would be joined by Muslims with the same cause, but ultimately the UMNO state knows when the chips are down, the opposition will not do anything to challenge UMNO hegemony on race and religion.

Indeed, the regime is extremely confident that the Malaysian non-Malays will tolerate this, too.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

Steve Bannon: An Unusual Conservative


February 13, 2017

Steve Bannon: An Unusual Conservative

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria@The Washington Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Historian, Civil Rights Activist and Public Intellectual, Howard Zinn

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

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

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

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

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

 

Time on Steve Bannon–The Great Manipulator@ The White House


February 4, 2017

Is Steve Bannon the Second Most Powerful Man in the World?

Most modern Presidents chart their opening moves with the help of a friendly think tank or a set of long-held beliefs.

Donald Trump’s first steps had the feel of a documentary film made by his chief strategist and alter ego Stephen K. Bannon, a director who deploys ravenous sharks, shrieking tornadoes and mushroom clouds as reliably as John Ford shot Monument Valley.

Act I of the Trump presidency has been filled with disruption, as promised by Trump and programmed by Bannon, with plenty of resistance in reply, from both inside and outside the government. Perhaps this should not be surprising. Trump told America many times in 2016 that his would be no ordinary Administration. Having launched his campaign as a can-do chief executive, he came to see himself as the leader of a movement–and no movement is complete without its commissar. Bannon is the one who keeps the doctrine pure, the true believer, who is in it not for money or position, but to change history. “What we are witnessing now is the birth of a new political order,” Bannon wrote in an email to the Washington Post.

This forceful presence has already opened cracks in West Wing. The Administration was barely a week old when, on the evening of Jan. 27–with little or no explanation to agency heads, congressional leaders or the press–Trump shut down America’s refugee program for 120 days (indefinitely in the case of Syrian refugees), while barring travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries. Almost immediately, U.S. customs and border agents began collaring airline passengers covered by the order, including more than 100 people whose green cards or valid visas would have been sufficient for entry if only they had taken an earlier flight. Protesters grabbed markers and cardboard scraps and raced to airports from coast to coast, where television cameras found them by the thousands.

As the storm reached the gates of the White House on Saturday, many of the West Wing’s senior staff had departed to attend the secretive Alfalfa Club annual dinner, an off-the-record black-tie soiree where politicos drink and tell jokes with billionaires. But Bannon avoided this gathering of the elites he believes to be doomed, and remained at the White House to continue the shock and awe.

Having already helped draft the dark and scathing Inaugural Address and impose the refugee ban, Bannon proceeded to light the national-security apparatus on fire by negotiating a standing invitation for himself to the National Security Council. His fingerprints were suddenly everywhere: when Trump tweeted on January, 30 that the national media was his “opposition party,” he was echoing Bannon’s comment a few days earlier to the New York Times.

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There is only one President at a time, and Donald Trump is not one to cede authority. But in the early days at 1600 Pennsylvania, the portly and rumpled Bannon (the only male aide who dared to visit Trump’s office without a suit and tie) has the tools to become as influential as any staffer in memory. Colleagues have dubbed him “the Encyclopedia” for the range of information he carries in his head; but more than any of that, Bannon has a mind-meld with Trump. “They are both really great storytellers,” says Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the President, of their bond. “The President and Steve share an important trait of absorbing information and weighing consequences.”

They share the experience of being talkative and brash, pugnacious money magnets who never quite fit among the elite. A Democrat by heritage and Republican by choice, Bannon has come to see both parties as deeply corrupt, a belief that has shaped his recent career as a polemical filmmaker and Internet bomb thrower. A party guest recalled meeting him as a private citizen and Bannon telling him that he was like Lenin, eager to “bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s Establishment.”

And by different paths, he and Trump have found themselves at the same philosophical destinations on issues of trade, immigration, public safety, the environment, political decay and much more.

Yet Bannon’s prominence in the first 10 days of the Administration–and the scenes of confusion and disorder that are his disruptive hallmark–has rattled the West Wing and perhaps even dismayed the President. According to senior Administration officials, Trump hauled in some half-dozen of his key advisers for a brisk dressing-down. Everything goes through chief of staff Reince Priebus, he directed. Nothing flows that hasn’t been scheduled by his deputy Katie Walsh. “You’re going to see probably a slower, more deliberative process,” one official told TIME.

Still, Bannon possesses that dearest of Washington currencies: walk-in privileges for the Oval Office. And he is the one who has been most successful in focusing Trump on a winning message. While other advisers have tried to change Trump, Bannon has urged him to step on the gas.

Both of these images, the orderly office and the glorious crusade, have genuine appeal for the President. And they will likely continue to pull him in opposite directions. By marking Trump’s first days so vividly, Bannon has put the accent on Trump the disrupter. In that sense, as one veteran Republican said, “It’s already over, and Bannon won.”

White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon listens to President Donald Trump at the beginning of a meeting with government cyber security experts in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, on Jan. 31, 2017.
White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon listens to President Donald Trump at the beginning of a meeting with government cyber security experts in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, on Jan. 31, 2017. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images 

People who have studied one of Donald Trump’s favorite books, The Art of the Deal, are aware that he sees grandstanding, trash-talking, boasting and conflict as useful ingredients in the quest for success. “My style of dealmaking is quite simple and straightforward,” he declares in his opus. “I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.”

Perhaps no place in the U.S. is more adamantly resistant to pushing than Washington. But Trump won the election in part by understanding that this is no ordinary time. Technology has placed a communications revolution in nearly every American palm. When mixed with the economic frustrations of a globalized economy, this power unleashed a new populism. In the history of human beings, it has never been easier to organize groups, for good or ill, or to communicate both truth and lies, to question authority and to undermine the answers that authority gives. Trump leveraged this growing power to bypass the traditional gatekeepers of power–the media, the political parties, the elected and unelected bosses.

Bannon’s background at Breitbart taught him the same lessons. Founded as an alternative to mainstream media by the late Andrew Breitbart, the website was an immediate disruptive force in U.S. politics. Ask Anthony Weiner. In 2011, the New York Congressman was a darling of the Democratic grassroots with sky-high ambitions. Then Breitbart published a screen grab from Weiner’s Twitter feed that opened a door on his late-night sexting habits. Social media did the rest. The sudden death of the founder in 2012 placed his friend Bannon in command. As the site ramped up its video, radio and merchandising and opened several bureaus overseas, Breitbart honed the art of the inflammatory headline and offered a home to the bullyboys of the so-called alt right, including those determined to elevate the abhorrent ideals of white nationalism.

The essence of the place could be found in a viral video that made its debut around the time of Bannon’s takeover of Breitbart. Over a piece of old nature footage, a clever narrator commented on a single-minded beast known as a honey badger. Through bee stings, snakebites and other degradations, the animal never stops killing and eating. “Honey Badger don’t give a shit,” the narrator summed up. Bannon adopted the phrase as a motto.

Official Washington and its counterparts around the globe are struggling to understand just how much the honey badgers are now running the show. There is no doubt the badgers are starving for change and don’t care if they get stung by swarms of pundits, incumbents, lobbyists and donors–not to mention foreign leaders and denizens of Davos. In fact, they seem to like it.

The capital was in a lather over the immigration order, with denunciations pouring in from Republicans and Democrats alike. Rumors swirled of resignations from the Trump White House, when Trump’s policy badger, Stephen Miller, a Bannon ally, calmly stepped before the cameras. “Anytime you do anything hugely successful that challenges a failed orthodoxy, you’re going to see protests,” he told CBS News. “In fact, if nobody is disagreeing with what you’re doing, then you’re probably not doing anything that really matters in the scheme of things.”

The withering fire Trump has drawn from nearly every direction would normally have a President backpedaling. Not the badgers. In Trump country, the vast red sea of Middle America where the President won the election, many people welcomed the squeals of the outraged elites. As one delighted Kansas City businessman put it, “He’s upsetting all the right people.”

Bannon helps Trump remember that he never made a priority of being a uniter, as George W. Bush did, nor did he offer to heal our divisions in the manner of Barack Obama. The new President has crafted himself as a defender of the “forgotten people,” which places in his sight those with powerful names you already know. With new goals came new thinking. “People tell us that things have always been done a certain way,” said one trusted Trump aide. “We say, Yes, but look at the results. It hasn’t worked. We’re trying a new way.”

On this Trump and Bannon agree. What happens next is the mystery. Trump, in his long past as a businessman, has always aimed his disruptions at the goal of an eventual handshake: the deal. Bannon, in his films and radio shows, has shown a more apocalyptic bent.

Sometime in the early 2000s, Bannon was captivated by a book called The Fourth Turning by generational theorists William Strauss and Neil Howe. The book argues that American history can be described in a four-phase cycle, repeated again and again, in which successive generations have fallen into crisis, embraced institutions, rebelled against those institutions and forgotten the lessons of the past–which invites the next crisis. These cycles of roughly 80 years each took us from the revolution to the Civil War, and then to World War II, which Bannon might point out was taking shape 80 years ago. During the fourth turning of the phase, institutions are destroyed and rebuilt.

In an interview with TIME, author Howe recalled that Bannon contacted him more than a decade ago about making a film based on the book. That eventually led to Generation Zero, released in 2010, in which Bannon cast the 2008 financial crisis as a sign that the turning was upon us. Howe agrees with the analysis, in part. In each cycle, the postcrisis generation, in this case the baby boomers, eventually rises to “become the senior leaders who have no memory of the last crisis, and they are always the ones who push us into the next one,” Howe said.

But Bannon, who once called himself the “patron saint of commoners,” seemed to relish the opportunity to clean out the old order and build a new one in its place, casting the political events of the nation as moments of extreme historical urgency, pivot points for the world. Historian David Kaiser played a featured role in Generation Zero, and he recalls his filmed interview with Bannon as an engrossing and enjoyable experience.

And yet, he told TIME, he was taken aback when Bannon began to argue that the current phase of history foreshadowed a massive new war. “I remember him saying, ‘Well, look, you have the American revolution, and then you have the Civil War, which was bigger than the revolution. And you have the Second World War, which was bigger than the Civil War,'” Kaiser said. “He even wanted me to say that on camera, and I was not willing.”

Howe, too, was struck by what he calls Bannon’s “rather severe outlook on what our nation is going through.” Bannon noted repeatedly on his radio show that “we’re at war” with radical jihadis in places around the world. This is “a global existential war” that likely will become “a major shooting war in the Middle East again.” War with China may also be looming, he has said. This conviction is central to the Breitbart mission, he explained in November 2015: “Our big belief, one of our central organizing principles at the site, is that we’re at war.”

To understand Steve Bannon, you have to understand what happened to his father. “I come from a blue collar, Irish-Catholic, pro-Kennedy, pro-union family of Democrats,” he once told Bloomberg Businessweek. Martin Bannon began his career as an assistant splicer for a telephone company and toiled as a lineman. Rising into management, the elder Bannon carved out a comfortable middle-class life for his wife and five kids on his working man’s salary. Friends say Steve pays frequent visits to his father, now 95 and widowed, at the old family home in Richmond’s Ginter Park neighborhood.

The last financial crisis put a huge dent in Martin’s life savings, according to two people close to the family. Steve watched with fury as his former Wall Street colleagues emerged virtually unscathed and scot-free–while America’s once great middle class, the people like his father, absorbed the weight of the damage.

“The sharp change came, I think, in 2008,” says Patrick McSweeney, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia and longtime family friend. Bannon saw it as a matter of “fundamental unfairness”: the hardworking folks like his father got stiffed. And the bankers got bailed out.

Until then, Bannon had been, as he later put it, “as hard-nosed a capitalist as you get.” Born in 1953, Bannon was Student Government Association president at Virginia Tech, but as he explained in the 2015 interview with Bloomberg’s Joshua Green, he wasn’t particularly interested in politics until he enlisted in the Navy. “I wasn’t political until I got into the service and saw how badly Jimmy Carter f-cked things up. I became a huge Reagan admirer,” he said. “But what turned me against the whole Establishment was coming back from running companies in Asia in 2008 and seeing that Bush had f-cked up as badly as Carter. The whole country was a disaster.”

After seven years as a Navy officer, Bannon had earned a master’s degree in national-security studies from Georgetown, followed by an M.B.A. from Harvard. From there he went to Goldman Sachs, where he says he watched as the staid culture of a risk-averse partnership was transformed into a publicly traded casino, with the gamblers risking other people’s money. He left the bank to form his own boutique firm in Beverly Hills, specializing in entertainment deals. At one point, he even dabbled in trading virtual goods for players of the video game World of Warcraft. His partner Scot Vorse told TIME that he was the nuts-and-bolts guy, while Bannon was the big outside-the-box thinker and the driving force. “It’s all about aggressiveness,” Vorse says. “Steve’s not willing to take no for an answer. He’s a sponge. He’s very bright. He listens. And he’s a strategic thinker, about three or four steps down the road.”

The little firm won major clients, including Samsung, MGM and Italy’s answer to Trump, the billionaire and future Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Bannon’s biggest score, though, was not immediately apparent. In 1993, cable-television mogul Ted Turner bought Castle Rock Entertainment in a deal that Bannon helped deliver, and as Bannon has told the tale, at the last moment Turner insisted that the banker put some skin in the game. Instead of cash only, Bannon & Co. received a piece of five Castle Rock television shows–including a struggling sitcom called Seinfeld.

Meanwhile, Bannon was gradually evolving from dealmaker to filmmaker, with an unusual detour to manage a troubled experiment in the Arizona desert called Biosphere 2. In 1999, he served as co–executive producer of Titus, a star-studded adaptation of a Shakespeare play that went nowhere. Turning to documentaries that he wrote and directed himself, Bannon became a sort of Michael Moore of the right, with films celebrating Ronald Reagan, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.

Bachmann, a former member of Congress from Minnesota, says Bannon was able to see what the mainstream media either could not or would not. There was a rising tide of disgust in America, which the coastal elites dismissed in “a grotesque caricature of what Donald Trump has called the forgotten man,” Bachmann says. “He was simply trying to give voice, I think, and give a platform to people who were not only being ignored but who were being lied about in the mainstream media.”

Bannon’s life became a crusade against political, financial and cultural elites of all stripes. Bannon’s philosophical transformation showed in his clothes: no one could look at his preferred uniform of T-shirts, cargo shorts and stubble and think Goldman Sachs.

At Breitbart, Bannon was a volcanic figure, according to a number of former staff members who found themselves crossways with the boss. Republican consultant John Pudner, a Bannon friend who briefly worked at Breitbart as the editor of a sports section, recalls the time Bannon “reamed me out”–just hours before he turned around and connected his friend with a plum new job. “He could hit you with that level of intensity and at the same time be singing your praises,” he said.

Not everyone is charitable. “He is legitimately one of the worst people I’ve ever dealt with,” former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro told TIME last year. “He regularly abuses people. He sees everything as a war. Every time he feels crossed, he makes it his business to destroy his opponent.” The sentiment was echoed by conservative commentator Dana Loesch, a former Breitbart employee. “One of the worst people on God’s green earth,” she said on her radio show last year. Bannon was charged with domestic violence after a dispute with his ex-wife in 1996, though she declined to testify against him and the case was dropped. She later claimed in legal papers that Bannon had objected to a private school for their daughters because there were a lot of Jewish students attending and he didn’t like the way they are raised to be “whiny brats.” Bannon denied those claims, and declined through a White House spokesperson a request from TIME to comment for this story.

In Trump, Bannon found his ultimate outsider. He frequently had the candidate on his radio show, and former staffers say he ordered a steady stream of pro-Trump stories. Now Bannon’s imprint can be seen on presidential decisions ranging from the hiring of former Breitbart staffers to key White House positions to the choice of Andrew Jackson’s portrait–a Bannon idol–for display near the President’s desk.

“Where Bannon is really having his instinct is on the policy front,” says a longtime Trump ally. Which policies? “All of them. He’s Trump’s facilitator.” In a Trump White House, this adviser says, you can only get–and keep–as much power as the President wants you to have. But Trump and Bannon “sat down before the election and made a list of things they wanted to do in office right away,” says this adviser. Trump is the one deciding which items to tick off. “Bannon’s just smart enough to give him the list.”

However much the disruptive Trump may have welcomed the outrage of the ruling elites, the slash-and-burn style has caused real internal tension at the White House. Senior staff say Trump has instructed chief of staff Priebus to enforce more orderly lines of authority and communication from now on. Presidential counselor Conway has agreed to take an increased role in planning White House messaging with the policy and legal shops.

The internal tribulations of the past few weeks are a clear cause for worry. The decision to rush the refugee order through a relatively secret process came after Bannon and Miller noticed that documents circulated through the National Security Council’s professional staff were leaking to the press, according to Administration sources. Bannon and Miller moved to curtail access to forthcoming memos and drafts. Members of Congress, and even some Cabinet members, were cut out of the loop or had their access sharply limited.

As a result, the sources said, after the controversial order was signed, confusion reigned. An unknown number of holders of green cards and valid visas were en route to the U.S. The initial White House guidance was that they should all be turned back. But as immigration and civil-liberties lawyers rushed to federal court to challenge the order, the White House reversed itself, saying green-card holders would be granted waivers. Reporters had difficulty finding out even basic facts, like the names of the countries from which travel was banned. Days later, the President even intervened to amend the order that appointed Bannon to a regular spot on the National Security Council. Trump wanted his CIA director, Mike Pompeo, there too.

By Tuesday night, four days after the order was issued, the White House was trying to project a normal tableau. Trump orchestrated a prime-time announcement of his first Supreme Court pick, conservative Colorado judge Neil Gorsuch. But if the Administration had finally struck a note of steadiness, it surely didn’t mean that Bannon had been banished.

The President had, once again, provided a course correction. But his central populist message and methods, the one brought to life in conversations with Bannon, remained. In the fight for the forgotten people, disruption was not a bad thing–it just needed to be done with more forethought and follow-through.

That push and pull between demolishing the Establishment and leading it is likely to continue as long as Trump is in office. It’s the contradiction facing every outsider who wakes up inside. The entire presidential campaign had been narrated by Trump as a clash between David and Goliath, notes one senior Administration official. But now David has become king. “David shot Goliath with a slingshot but didn’t hold a press conference or sign an Executive Order. Not everything we do here has to move so quickly or be released so spectacularly.”

–With reporting by ALEX ALTMAN, ELIZABETH DIAS, MICHAEL DUFFY, PHILIP ELLIOTT, ZEKE J. MILLER and MICHAEL SCHERER/WASHINGTON

Hoping for the Best Against Trump


January 30, 2017

Hoping for the Best Against Trump

By Ian Buruma

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/hoping-against-trump-by-ian-buruma-2017-01

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Is there any reason for liberals to feel optimistic after a year of political disasters? Is there even a shred of silver lining to be found in the tatters of Brexit, Donald Trump’s election, and European disunity? Christians believe that despair is a mortal sin, so one might as well try to find a glimmer of hope.

In the United States, many liberals console themselves with the belief that the obvious dangers of being governed by an ignorant, narcissistic, authoritarian loudmouth backed by billionaires, ex-generals, peddlers of malicious fake news, and neophytes with extreme views will help to galvanize a strong political opposition. Trump, it is hoped, will concentrate the minds of all who still believe in liberal democracy, be they left or even right of center.

In this scenario, civil-rights groups, NGOs, students, human-rights activists, Democratic members of Congress, and even some Republicans, will do everything in their power to push back against Trump’s worst impulses. Long-dormant political activism will erupt into mass protest, with resurgent liberal idealism breaking the wave of right-wing populism. Well, perhaps.

Others seek comfort in the expectation that Trump’s wildly contradictory plans – lower taxes, while raising infrastructure spending; helping the neglected working class, while slashing welfare and repealing the Affordable Care Act – will suck his administration into a swamp of infighting, incoherence, and incompetence.

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All these things might happen. But protest alone won’t be of much help. Anti-Trump demonstrations in big cities will no doubt annoy the self-loving new president, and the moral glow of joining the resistance will warm the protesters. But without real political organization, mere protest will go the way of Occupy Wall Street in 2011; it will peter out into ineffectual gestures.

One of the most dangerous ideas of contemporary populism is that political parties are obsolete, and should be replaced by movements led by charismatic leaders who act as the voice of “the people.” By implication, all dissenters are enemies of the people. That way lies dictatorship.

Liberal democracy can be saved only if mainstream parties can regain voters’ trust. The Democratic Party must get its act together. “Feeling the Bern” (the mantra of Bernie Sanders’ leftist campaign) will not suffice to stop Trump from inflicting great harm to institutions that were carefully constructed more than two centuries ago to protect American democracy from demagogues like him.

The same thing is true of international arrangements and institutions, whose survival depends on the willingness to defend them. Trump has expressed his indifference to NATO, and US security commitments in East Asia. His election will further erode Pax Americana, already battered by a succession of foolish wars. Without the US guarantee to protect its democratic allies, institutions built after World War II to provide that protection would not survive for very long.

Perhaps there is a tiny ray of hope in this gloomy prospect. Europe and Japan, not to mention South Korea, have become too dependent on US military protection. The Japanese have fairly large armed forces, but are hampered by a pacifist constitution written by Americans in 1946. Europeans are completely unprepared to defend themselves, owing to inertia, complacency, and lassitude.

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It is just possible that Trump’s blustering “America first” rhetoric will galvanize Europeans and East Asians into changing the status quo and doing more for their own security. Ideally, European countries should build an integrated defense force that would be less dependent on the US. And the countries of Southeast and East Asia could construct a Japanese-led variant of NATO to balance the domineering might of China.

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But even if these arrangements came to pass (a huge if), it would not happen soon. Europeans are unwilling to pay higher taxes for their own defense. Germany has neither the wherewithal, nor the will to lead a military alliance. And most Asians, including many Japanese, would not trust Japan to lead such a coalition in Asia. The current Japanese government, under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, would like to revise the pacifist constitution, as a necessary first step toward weaning the country off its total dependence on the US. But Abe’s revisionism is rooted in a nationalist ideology, which is prone to justifying historical atrocities instead of drawing lessons from them. This alone disqualifies Japan from leading others in a military pact.

So, while it might be time to rethink the world order built by the US on the ruins of WWII, the Trump presidency is unlikely to bring this about in a careful and orderly manner. His election is more like an earthquake, unleashing forces no one can control. Instead of encouraging the Japanese to think about collective security in a responsible way, Trump’s indifference is more likely to play to the worst instincts of panicky Japanese nationalists.

Europe is in no shape to rise to the challenge of Pax Americana’s erosion, either. Without a greater sense of pan-national European solidarity, European institutions will soon become hollow, and perhaps even cease to exist. But this sense is precisely what the demagogues are now undermining with such conspicuous success.

If there is reason for confidence, it is not in the liberal democratic world, but in the capitals of its most powerful adversaries: Moscow and Beijing. Trump, at least in the short term, seems to be good news for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Without credible American leadership, or a strong alliance of democracies, there won’t be much left to restrain Russian or Chinese ambitions.

This might not lead to catastrophe in the next few years. Russia and China are more likely to test the limits of their power slowly, bit by bit: Ukraine today, perhaps the Baltics tomorrow; the South China Sea islands now, Taiwan later. They will push, and push, until they push too far. Then anything may happen. Great powers often blunder into great wars. This is no reason for despair, as we begin the New Year, but no reason to be optimistic, either.