America First or America Isolated


September 24, 2018

By: Ramesh Thakor

https://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/america-first-or-america-isolated/

America’s Gangster in Trump’s White House

In a major policy speech on September 10, the United States National Security Advisor John Bolton (above) launched a virulent attack on the International Criminal Court (ICC). In his idiosyncratic view, “the largely unspoken, but always central, aim of its most vigorous supporters was to constrain the United States.”

The US will not join the ICC, will not cooperate with it, and will not provide it with any assistance. Instead, the US will “use any means necessary to protect” its citizens: “If the court comes after us” or Israel, Washington will ban ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the US, impose sanctions on ICC funds held in the US, and prosecute ICC personnel in US criminal courts. Countries that cooperate with the ICC in the investigation of Americans will risk losing access to US economic and military assistance and intelligence.

In other words, the US is now ready to deploy sanctions to coerce other countries into acting illegally. Remarkable.

“Strangle the ICC in Its Cradle”

Last November, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda a preliminary investigation had established that “there is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed” in Afghanistan since July 2002 (when the ICC became operational) by Taliban, Afghan, and US forces. This paved the way for a formal investigation that can be launched only by the ICC judges. In a sign of nervousness and preemptive self-censorship, the ICC took over a decade to conduct the preliminary investigation into allegations of extrajudicial executions and intentional attacks against civilians.

The response from Bolton, then a private citizen who had never concealed his deep hostility to the U.N.-centric global multilateral order, was blunt. Any investigation of Americans by the ICC would be “a direct assault” on US national sovereignty. Having “done more than any other nation to instill in its civilian-controlled military a respect for human rights and the laws of war,” the US “should welcome the opportunity … to strangle the ICC in its cradle.” He added, “Even merely contesting its jurisdiction” would risk acknowledging “the ICC’s legitimacy.”

Unfortunately for Bolton, the ICC’s legitimacy has indeed been serially acknowledged and affirmed in several U.N. Security Council deliberations and decisions, with full US participation, regarding ICC cases.

Serious Problems with the ICC

The landscape of international criminal justice has changed dramatically at astonishing speed. In 1990, a tyrant could confidently commit atrocities inside sovereign borders with impunity. Today, there is still no guarantee of prosecution and accountability; but no brutish ruler can be confident of permanently escaping international justice. The certainty of impunity is gone. The ICC, activated only if national authorities are unable or unwilling to prosecute, functions as a court of last resort for ending impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.

But Bolton’s criticisms cannot be dismissed totally, for there are serious problems with the ICC. Created in 1998, it has 123 members. The extensive membership is misleading. Several major powers and populous countries have not joined. The 70-plus non-members represent two-thirds of the world’s population and armed forces. Former US President Bill Clinton signed on in 2002 but did not submit the document for Senate ratification. In May 2002 President George W. Bush “un-signed” the US from the ICC.

The number of convictions to date has been very few, and the court’s processes have proven time-consuming and inordinately expensive. There have been repeated charges of the court disproportionately targeting Africans, dismissing African views, and jeopardizing delicate peace negotiations.

Although the threatened mass exodus as called for by the African Union on January 31, 2017, has not occurred, several countries have refused cooperation. For years Kenya has refused to hand over suspects to the ICC In October 2017, Burundi became the first country to withdraw from the court following a parliamentary vote a year earlier, and South Africa immediately announced it would follow suit—only for its High Court to rule the withdrawal unconstitutional and invalid. In October 2016, Russia withdrew its signature from the ICC statute.

The list of non-cooperating states includes India. At the third India–Africa Forum in New Delhi in October 2015, the 41 African heads of government and heads of state attending included Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was under ICC indictment at the time. When he accepted India’s invitation, Bensouda’s office pointed to Security Council Resolution 1593 (2005), calling on all states to cooperate fully with the ICC.

“By arresting and surrendering ICC suspects,” the statement added, “India can contribute to the important goal of ending impunity for the world’s worst crimes.” India’s official response was that Resolution 1593 is not binding on ICC non-signatories. India was happy to comply with its “statutory international legal obligations” but not necessarily other directives. There is thus substance to Bolton’s charge: “We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”

Powers given to the UN Security Council, to refer cases to the ICC and to defer cases already before the court, cross-infect judicial processes with the high politics of major powers. Giving a vote on these decisions to countries that are not ICC members is a violation of the principle of natural justice. And the absence of a democratically chosen and accountable world legislature and executive does raise valid questions about the legitimacy and viability of the ICC.

In no society in human history has a criminal justice system functioned without legislative and executive branches of government as essential prior props.

The ICC can also be faulted for institutional integrity. As documented by the respected Africa experts Julie Flint and Alex de Waal, its first prosecutor was morally compromised. The ICC did not distinguish itself in its handling of the allegations of sexual misconduct by him against a South African journalist trying to interview him in his hotel room in 2005. Rather surprisingly, the case has not attracted fresh attention in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

Image result for trump--the godfather of tribalismThe Donald Foreign Policy Doctrine

 

The US Is Cherry-Picking Global Norms

A year ago, citizen Bolton advised Trump to send Bensouda “a terse note: ‘Dear Madame Prosecutor: You are dead to us. Sincerely, the United States.’” On September 10, National Security Advisor Bolton in effect implemented his own advice. Parts of his speech (e.g. the ICC is a “European neocolonial enterprise”) descended into the theater of the absurd. But the thrust of his thesis is deeply sinister:

“The only deterrent to evil and atrocity is …‘the righteous might’ of the United States and its allies – a power that, perversely, could be threatened by the ICC’s vague definition of aggression crimes.” Coming from a senior official of the righteousness-free Trump administration, this merely proves this administration does irony without knowing it.

Intoxicated by the arrogance of power, neoconservative warriors seem to believe that vast US military superiority confers a matching moral superiority. Furthermore, the same combination of might and virtue empowers and entitles them to construct a world in which all others have to obey universal norms and rules, but Washington can opt out whenever, as often, and for as long, as it likes on cherry-picked global norms with respect to nuclear weapons, landmines, international criminal prosecution, climate change, and international trade regimes. In a world of inexorable power shifts, this equation just does not compute.

Ramesh Thakor is a former United Nations Assistant Secretary General. He wrote this article  for AsiaGlobal Online, a digital journal published by the Asia Global Institute (AGI) at The University of Hong Kong.  Reprinted by request.

The Threat of Tribalism


September 23, 2018

The Threat of Tribalism

The Constitution once united a diverse country under a banner of ideas. But partisanship has turned Americans against one another—and against the principles enshrined in our founding document.

 by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld

  • October 2018 Issue
  • Is Democracy Dying?

 

 

 

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series that attempts to answer the question: Is democracy dying?

The U.S. Constitution was and is imperfect. It took a civil war to establish that the principles enumerated in its Bill of Rights extended to all Americans, and the struggle to live up to those principles continues today. But focusing on the Constitution’s flaws can overshadow what it did achieve. Its revolutionary ambition was to forge, out of a diverse population, a new national identity, uniting Americans under a banner of ideas. To a remarkable extent, it succeeded.

Even at the country’s founding, Americans were a multiethnic, polyglot mix of English, Dutch, Scots, Irish, French, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Greeks, and others. They tended to identify far more strongly as Virginians or New Yorkers than as Americans, complicating any effort to bind the new nation together with common beliefs. Early America was also an unprecedented amalgam of religious denominations, including a variety of dissenters who had been hounded from their Old World homes.

The Constitution managed to overcome these divisions. The way it dealt with religion is illustrative. Colonial America had not embraced tolerance; on the contrary, the dissenters had become persecutors. Virginia imprisoned Quakers. Massachusetts whipped Baptists. Government-established churches were common, and nonbelievers were denied basic civil and political rights. But in a radical act, the Constitution not only guaranteed religious freedom; it also declared that the United States would have no national church and no religious tests for national office. These foundational guarantees helped America avoid the religious wars that for centuries had torn apart the nations of Europe.

“Living in a society that was already diverse and pluralistic,” Gordon Wood wrote in The Radicalism of the American Revolution, the founding generation realized that the attachments uniting Americans “could not be the traditional ethnic, religious, and tribal loyalties of the Old World.” Instead, as Abraham Lincoln put it, reverence for the “Constitution and Laws” was to be America’s “political religion.” Americans were to be united through a new kind of patriotism—constitutional patriotism—based on ideals enshrined in their founding document.

“Americans have come to view the Constitution not as a statement of shared principles but as a cudgel with which to attack their enemies.”

The dark underside of that document, of course, was racism. Alone among modern Western democracies, the United States maintained extensive race-based slavery within its borders, and the Constitution protected that institution. Only after the cataclysm of the Civil War was the Constitution amended to establish that America’s national identity was as neutral racially and ethnically as it was religiously. With the postwar amendments, the Constitution abolished slavery, established birthright citizenship, guaranteed equal protection under the law, and barred racial discrimination in voting.

The significance of birthright citizenship cannot be overstated. We forget how rare it is: No European or Asian country grants this right. It means that being American is not the preserve of any particular racial, ethnic, or religious subgroup. The United States took another century to begin dismantling the legalized racism that continued unabated after the Civil War. Nonetheless, the core constitutional aspiration—in the 1780s, the 1860s, the 1960s, and the present—has been to create a tribe-transcending national identity.

When we think of tribalism, we tend to focus on the primal pull of race, religion, or ethnicity. But partisan political loyalties can become tribal too. When they do, they can be as destructive as any other allegiance. The Founders understood this. In 1780, John Adams wrote that the “greatest political evil” to be feared under a democratic constitution was the emergence of “two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.” George Washington, in his farewell address, described the “spirit of party” as democracy’s “worst enemy.” It “agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.”

For all their fears of partisanship, the Founders failed to prevent the rise of parties, and indeed, it’s hard to imagine modern representative democracy without multiparty electoral competition. They were right to be apprehensive, as is all too clear when you look at the current state of America’s political institutions, which are breaking down under the strain of partisan divisions.

The causes of America’s resurgent tribalism are many. They include seismic demographic change, which has led to predictions that whites will lose their majority status within a few decades; declining social mobility and a growing class divide; and media that reward expressions of outrage. All of this has contributed to a climate in which every group in America—minorities and whites; conservatives and liberals; the working class and elites—feels under attack, pitted against the others not just for jobs and spoils, but for the right to define the nation’s identity. In these conditions, democracy devolves into a zero-sum competition, one in which parties succeed by stoking voters’ fears and appealing to their ugliest us-versus-them instincts.

Americans on both the left and the right now view their political opponents not as fellow Americans with differing views, but as enemies to be vanquished. And they have come to view the Constitution not as an aspirational statement of shared principles and a bulwark against tribalism, but as a cudgel with which to attack those enemies.

Of course, Americans throughout history have criticized the Constitution. Progressives have tarred it as plutocratic and antidemocratic for more than a century. In 1913, in An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, Charles A. Beard argued that the “direct, impelling motive” behind the Constitution was not “some abstraction known as ‘justice,’ ” but the “economic advantages” of the propertied elite.

In recent years, however, the American left has become more and more influenced by identity politics, a force that has changed the way many progressives view the Constitution. For some on the left, the document is irredeemably stained by the sins of the Founding Fathers, who preached liberty while holding people in chains. Days after the 2016 election, the president of the University of Virginia quoted Thomas Jefferson, the school’s founder, in an email to students. In response, 469 students and faculty signed an open letter declaring that they were “deeply offended” at the use of Jefferson as a “moral compass.” Speaking to students at the University of Missouri in 2016, a Black Lives Matter co-founder went further: “The people vowing to protect the Constitution are vowing to protect white supremacy and genocide.”

Just a few decades ago, the cause of racial justice in America was articulated in constitutional language. “Black activists from Martin Luther King, Jr., to the Black Panthers,” wrote the law professor Dorothy E. Roberts in 1997, “framed their demands in terms of constitutional rights.” Today, the Constitution itself is in the crosshairs.

Many progressives, particularly young ones, have turned against what were once sacrosanct American principles. Freedom of speech is an instrument of the dehumanization of women and minorities. Religious liberty is an engine of discrimination. Property rights are a shield for structural injustice and white supremacy. In a recent poll, two-thirds of college-age Democrats said that “a diverse and inclusive society” is more important than “protecting free speech rights.” Only 30 percent of Americans born in the 1980s believe that living in a democracy is “essential,” compared with 72 percent of Americans born in the 1930s.

Several progressive organizations, including the ACLU, remain staunch defenders of the Constitution. At Yale Law School, where we teach, students working in our clinics have won important courtroom victories vindicating constitutional rights. But a significant generational shift appears to be in progress. One of our students told us: “I don’t know any lefty people my age who aren’t seriously questioning whether the First Amendment is still on balance a good thing.

On the right, open hostility to the Constitution is less common; most mainstream conservatives see themselves as proud defenders of the document. But majorities on the right today are nonetheless beginning to reject core constitutional principles.

Image result for Trump--The Godfather of Tribalism

President Donald Trump routinely calls the media “the enemy of the American people,” and his view seems to have currency in his party. In a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center, less than half of Republicans said that the freedom of the press “to criticize politicians” was “very important” to maintaining a strong democracy in the United States. In other 2017 surveys, more than half of Trump supporters said the president “should be able to overturn decisions by judges that he disagrees with,” and more than half of Republicans said they would support postponing the 2020 presidential election if Trump proposed delaying it “until the country can make sure that only eligible American citizens can vote.” If these views became became reality, that would be the end of constitutional democracy as we know it.

The problem runs deeper still. Since the 2004 publication of Samuel P. Huntington’s Who Are We?—which argued that America’s “Anglo-Protestant” identity and culture are threatened by large-scale Hispanic immigration—there have been calls on the mainstream right to define America’s national identity in racial, ethnic, or religious terms, whether as white, European, or Judeo-Christian. According to a 2016 survey commissioned by the bipartisan Democracy Fund, 30 percent of Trump voters think European ancestry is “important” to “being American”; 56 percent of Republicans and a full 63 percent of Trump supporters said the same of being Christian. This trend runs counter to the Constitution’s foundational ideal: an America where citizens are citizens, regardless of race or religion; an America whose national identity belongs to no one tribe.

As professors specializing in constitutional law and comparative politics, we’re often asked whether there’s another country that could serve as a model for the United States as it attempts to overcome its divisions. We always respond no—America is the best model.

For all its flaws, the United States is uniquely equipped to unite a diverse and divided society. Alone among the world powers, America has succeeded in forging a strong group-transcending national identity without requiring its citizens to shed or suppress their subgroup identities. In the United States, you can be Irish American, Syrian American, or Japanese American, and be intensely patriotic at the same time. We take this for granted, but consider how strange it would be to call someone “Irish French” or “Japanese Chinese.”

Most European and all East Asian countries originated as, and continue to be, ethnic nations, whose citizens are overwhelmingly composed of a particular ethnic group supplying the country’s name as well as its national language and dominant culture. Strongly ethnic nations, such as China and Hungary, tend to be less embracing of minority cultures. But even a diverse, multiethnic democracy like France differs markedly from the United States. France has a powerful national identity but insists that its ethnic and religious minorities thoroughly assimilate, at least publicly. (Many believe that France’s attempts to force assimilation, including its infamous “burkini” ban, have backfired with the country’s Muslims, contributing to social unrest and radicalization.) As former French President Nicolas Sarkozy put it in 2016, “If you want to become French, you speak French, you live like the French, and you don’t try and change a way of life that has been ours for so many years.”

America is not an ethnic nation. Its citizens don’t have to choose between a national identity and multiculturalism. Americans can have both. But the key is constitutional patriotism. We have to remain united by and through the Constitution, regardless of our ideological disagreements.

There are lessons here for both the left and the right. The right needs to recognize that making good on the Constitution’s promises requires much more than flag-waving. If millions of people believe that, because of their skin color or religion, they are not treated equally, how can they be expected to see the Constitution’s resounding principles as anything but hollow?

For its part, the left needs to rethink its scorched-earth approach to American history and ideals. Exposing injustice, past and present, is important, but there’s a world of difference between saying that America has repeatedly failed to live up to its constitutional principles and saying that those principles are lies or smoke screens for oppression. Washington and Jefferson were slave owners. They were also political visionaries who helped give birth to what would become the most inclusive form of governance in world history.

This article appears in the October 2018 print edition with the headline “The Threat of Tribalism.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/10/the-threat-of-tribalism/568342/

The Threat to Democracy — from the Left


September 17, 2018

The Threat to Democracy — from the Left

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

It has become commonplace to hear cries on the left to deny controversial figures on the right a platform to express their views. Colleges have disinvited speakers such as Condoleezza Rice and Charles Murray. Other campuses were unwilling or unable to allow conservative guests to actually speak, with protests overwhelming the events.

For several years now, scholars have argued that the world is experiencing a “democratic recession.” They have noted that the movement of countries toward democracy has slowed or stopped and even, in some places, reversed. They also note a general hollowing out of democracy in the advanced, industrial world. When we think about this problem, inevitably and rightly we worry about President Trump, his attacks on judges, the free press and his own Justice Department. But there is also a worrying erosion of a core democratic norm taking place on the left.

Image result for condoleezza condi rice

It has become commonplace to hear cries on the left to deny controversial figures on the right a platform to express their views. Colleges have disinvited speakers such as Condoleezza Rice and Charles Murray. Other campuses were unwilling or unable to allow conservative guests to actually speak, with protests overwhelming the events.

A similar controversy now involves Stephen K. Bannon, who, in recent months, has been making the rounds on the airwaves and in print — including an interview I did with him on CNN. Some have claimed that Bannon, since leaving the administration, is simply unimportant and irrelevant and thus shouldn’t be given a microphone. But if that were the case, surely the media, which after all is a for-profit industry, would notice the lack of public interest and stop inviting him.

The reality is that the people running the Economist, the Financial Times, “60 Minutes,” the New Yorker and many other organizations that have recently sought to feature Bannon know he is an intelligent and influential ideologist, a man who built the largest media platform for the new right, ran Trump’s successful campaign before serving in the White House, and continues to articulate and energize the populism that’s been on the rise throughout the Western world. He might be getting his 15 minutes of fame that will peter out, but, for now, he remains a compelling figure.

The real fear that many on the left have is not that Bannon is dull and uninteresting, but the opposite — that his ideas, some of which can reasonably be described as evoking white nationalism, will prove seductive and persuasive to too many people. Hence his detractors’ solution: Don’t give him a platform, and hope that this will make his ideas go away. But they won’t. In fact, by trying to suppress Bannon and others on the right, liberals are likely making their ideas seem more potent. Did the efforts of communist countries to muzzle capitalist ideas work?

Liberals need to be reminded of the origins of their ideology. In 1859, when governments around the world were still deeply repressive — banning books, censoring commentary and throwing people in jail for their beliefs — John Stuart Mill explained in his seminal work, “On Liberty,” that protection against governments was not enough: “There needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose . . . its own ideas and practices . . . on those who dissent from them.” This classic defense of free speech, which Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes later called the “freedom for the thought that we hate,” is under pressure in the United States — and from the left.

Image result for steve bannon white house in a crisis
Bannon says Trump is facing a ‘coup’. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon called the anonymous op-ed in the New York Times “a crisis” for the Trump administration.

 

We’ve been here before. Half a century ago, students were also shutting down speakers whose views they found deeply offensive. In 1974, William Shockley, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who in many ways was the father of the computer revolution, was invited by Yale University students to defend his abhorrent view that blacks were a genetically inferior race who should be voluntarily sterilized. He was to debate Roy Innis, the African American leader of the Congress of Racial Equality. (The debate was Innis’s idea.) A campus uproar ensued, and the event was canceled. A later, rescheduled debate with another opponent was disrupted.

The difference from today is that Yale recognized that it had failed in not ensuring that Shockley could speak. It commissioned a report on free speech that remains a landmark declaration of the duty of universities to encourage debate and dissent. The report flatly states that a college “cannot make its primary and dominant value the fostering of friendship, solidarity, harmony, civility or mutual respect. . . . it will never let these values . . . override its central purpose. We value freedom of expression precisely because it provides a forum for the new, the provocative, the disturbing, and the unorthodox.”

Image result for fareed zakaria

The report added: “We take a chance, as the First Amendment takes a chance, when we commit ourselves to the idea that the results of free expression are to the general benefit in the long run, however unpleasant they may appear at the time.” It is on this bet for the long run, a bet on freedom — of thought, belief, expression and action — that liberal democracy rests.

US Foreign Policy: Look Beyond CrazyTown, says Fareed


September 9, 2018

US Foreign Policy: Look Beyond CrazyTown, says Fareed

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/9/6/we-have-to-look-beyond-the-madness

Image result for Bob Woodward's latest book

For those few people who still believe that President Trump is unconventional but canny, that there is a method to the madness, the revelations of this week should clarify. Bob Woodward’s new book and the New York Times op-ed written by an anonymous official make plain that behind Trump’s ranting, impulsive, incoherent and narcissistic facade lies a ranting, impulsive, incoherent and narcissistic man. But while the great presidential psychodrama captivates us, let’s remember that there are real things in the real world that continue — trends that will prove important and consequential, whether or not they get talked about on television.

Perhaps the main reason we are not peering too far behind the curtain is that, in general, things look good. Broadly speaking, the world is experiencing peace and prosperity. The U.S. economy in particular is robust, with strong growth and low unemployment. Why is this? No one is quite sure. But it’s worth keeping in mind that since World War II, growth has been the norm. Martin Wolf of the Financial Times points out that since the early 1950s, the world economy has grown every year and, other than a few exceptions, always at 2 percent or higher. Political issues (short of major war) rarely have much impact on the economy. The U.S. economy is a vast, complex $19 trillion beast that is shaped more by large, structural trends than by a few policy changes in Washington.

The U.S. economy is growing a bit faster than expected. Trump tries to take credit for this nearly every day. And some credit is justified. The widespread deregulation taking place under his administration has probably eased constraints on business activity. The sweeping tax cut freed up cash for businesses. The infusion of money, however, is likely to produce only a temporary bump for the country, a sugar high that comes at the cost of a massive increase in deficits and deepening inequality.

Image result for CrazyTown

CrazyTown’s Commander-in-Chief and Fearmonger

The three broader trends shaping the world are peace, globalization and technology. Peace among the major powers allows for the continued surge of economic activity in most of the world. The “rise of the rest,” the growth of once-poor countries outside the West, remains the largest force powering world economics. This globalization and an ongoing technological revolution have allowed growth to persist without the one economic factor that has almost always stopped it in the past — inflation. It is hard for prices to rise when goods and services can be supplied cheaply by a person in some developing country or through automation. The absence of inflation over the past 25 years is still the most remarkable trend that keeps the global growth engine chugging.

But look below the surface, and the forces producing these benign circumstances all seem to be increasingly under pressure. The United States, the world’s leading architect of the international order and stability, seems determined to disrupt it. Trump is at heart an isolationist who constantly questions the value of the alliance structure that has kept the world peaceful and stable since 1945. He seems to want the United States to either withdraw from the world or turn its international role into a profitable, quasi-colonial enterprise, such as by extracting payments from Europe, Japan and the Gulf States and confiscating the oil resources of Iraq. His administration has been in major trade disputes with the United States’ top trading partners — the European Union, China, Canada and Mexico.

That leaves the technological revolution that has transformed the world. But here also the trends are not entirely promising for the United States. First, the country is living off seed capital. Investments in basic science and research that were made in the 1960s and 1970s continue to undergird U.S. technology companies today. Could Amazon, Facebook and Apple have dominated the world without the Internet and GPS, both technologies developed by the U.S. government? The next wave of massive investment in science and technology is indeed taking place — but in China.

Image result for Fareed Zakaria talks to John Kerry

And then there is the rising backlash to technology. We are in a very different world than just five years ago. Technology companies are increasingly seen as having monopoly or oligopoly power, crushing competition, ransacking consumer data and then profiting from it, intruding on privacy and being part of an elite that is utterly divorced from the rest of society. The best evidence for this is that Trump, who does have good instincts for where and when to pander, has taken to tweeting against the tech giants with regularity.

Despite the Trump freak show, we are living in peaceful and prosperous times. But beneath the surface, there are currents that could disrupt the calm, especially for the United States.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Crazytown: A Bob Woodward Book, an Anonymous New York Times Op-Ed


September 8,2018

Crazytown: A Bob Woodward Book, an Anonymous New York Times Op-Ed, and a Growing Crisis for the Trump Presidency

The Republican “resistance” goes public (sort of), and everyone freaks out.

On Wednesday morning, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, walked out to address the cameras stationed in front of the West Wing and offered one of the week’s most unintentionally revealing comments. The first reports were out about the contents of Bob Woodward’s damning new account of the Trump Administration, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” and she was trying, not all that successfully, to downplay and deny the book’s sorry chronicle of internal chaos, dissension, and dismay within the White House over the President’s behavior. “I haven’t read a lot of his books,” she said, of Woodward, before going on to dismiss his latest as fiction.

Image result for sarah huckabee sanders

Trump is the eighth President of the United States to have been subjected to the Woodward treatment, and, had Sanders read his previous works, she would have known exactly what to expect: a devastating reported account of the Trump Presidency that will be consulted as a first draft of the grim history it portrays long after the best-sellers by Michael Wolff and Omarosa Manigault Newman have been forgotten. Merely dismissing it as fiction was never going to work. The book begins with what Woodward calls “an administrative coup d’etat”—Trump’s former chief economic adviser deciding to steal key papers off the President’s Oval Office desk in order to stop him from pulling out of a South Korean free-trade deal as tensions escalated with North Korea last summer. The book ends with the President’s lawyer John Dowd quitting his legal team, concluding that he could no longer represent someone he believed to be “a fucking liar.”

As Sanders spoke to reporters on Wednesday, her White House colleagues told journalists that they had only just managed to obtain a copy of the book, which does not go on sale to the public until next week. Up until then, they were left with the excerpts in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and CNN, which mostly emphasized, as Dwight Garner put it, in the Times, that “if this book has a single point to drive home, it is that the president of the United States is a congenital liar.” Trump’s lies, of course, have been thoroughly covered territory throughout his Presidency, especially because so many of them occur in public. Amazingly, it is no longer big news when the occupant of the Oval Office is shown to be callous, ignorant, nasty, and untruthful.

Reading through a copy of the book obtained by The New Yorker, however, I was struck by a different theme: what Woodward has written is not just the story of a deeply flawed President but also, finally, an account of what those surrounding him have chosen to do about it. Throughout much of Trump’s first year in office, the shorthand had it that, while Trump was an inexperienced, and possibly even dangerous, newcomer to politics, he could be managed by the grownups he had invited into his government. Many of those grownups are now gone, fired by Trump or pushed out by scandal, and for months they have been telling people how bad it was, or how much they did to stop the President, or how much worse it could have been. Here, then, are some of the details of what they claim to have done to control Trump: Gary Cohn, who was the economic adviser until he resigned, early this year, swiped that order to withdraw from a free-trade agreement with South Korea, and another one to unilaterally withdraw from NAFTA. H. R. McMaster, the soon-to-be-fired national-security adviser, pondered quitting after the President ranted against U.S. allies and threatened to pull troops out of Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, but he remained in the job and convinced Trump, at least temporarily, not to go through with it. James Mattis, the generally unflappable Defense Secretary, told the President, “We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III here,” during a contentious meeting that exasperated him so much, according to Woodward, that he later complained Trump behaved like a “fifth- or sixth-grader.” Another session in the Pentagon with the national-security team and Trump went so famously badly that, afterward, the Secretary of State at the time, Rex Tillerson, called Trump a “fucking moron,” a detail that Woodward confirms here for posterity.

This is hardly a flattering picture of what the internal pushback to Trump looks like. Many of Woodward’s sources come across as caricatures of Washington power brokers, scheming against one another as they jockey for Trump’s favor, shamelessly flattering the President, fuming about insults and threatening to quit but never actually doing so. I was about halfway through the book on Wednesday afternoon when the news cycle interrupted my reading: an anonymous Op-Ed by a “senior official in the Trump administration” had just been published by the Times, praising the “unsung heroes” inside the White House who have secretly been members of the same clandestine “resistance” chronicled in the Woodward book. “It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era,” Anonymous wrote, “but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.”

It was as if one of Woodward’s sources had chosen to publish a real-time epilogue in the pages of the Times. Reading the Op-Ed, I immediately thought of an amazing passage in the book, which quoted a summary of a national-security meeting written by a White House official (and which never even made it into the news accounts about the book). It said, “The president proceeded to lecture and insult the entire group about how they didn’t know anything when it came to defense or national security. It seems clear that many of the president’s senior advisers, especially those in the national security realm, are extremely concerned with his erratic nature, his relative ignorance, his inability to learn, as well as what they consider his dangerous views.”

Both the Op-Ed and the book convey the laments of conservatives who, in many respects, are fine with the Trump agenda but not with the man. That is, for now, what passes for the Republican wing of the resistance. So far, it is mostly underground, or perhaps still largely nonexistent; we don’t really know. The Republicans who control Capitol Hill have not joined, or even made token moves toward addressing these significant concerns raised by members of their own party. Instead, the silence from the congressional G.O.P., awaiting its fate in the November midterm elections and still wary of crossing the President who remains popular with the Republican base, has been deafening.

Meanwhile, the anonymous article and the nameless accounts in Woodward’s book have already infuriated those who have publicly struggled against Trump. For instance, The Atlantic’s David Frum, a former Bush Administration speechwriter, called the Op-Ed “a cowardly coup from within the administration” and said it “threatens to inflame the president’s paranoia and further endanger American security.” Such objections to the nascent Republican resistance are understandable; this is not the principled public combat of a democratic system as envisaged by the Founders. It is secretive and uncomfortable, the stuff of office backstabbing and private betrayals. It is not enough for those who have staked out public opposition to Trump, and it likely never will be. It is about ego and vanity as much as patriotism and principle. Most of all, it is a reminder of the terrible dilemma that Trump has posed for Republicans since the moment he announced his campaign for President, and will pose as long as he is in office.

 

A few minutes after the Post published the first story about the Woodward book, I met with a foreign-policy expert who is well connected in the Trump national-security world. The news seemed very much consistent with what both of us had been hearing since the beginning of the Administration. His friends who have been on the inside, he told me, have invariably told him stories like those now turning up in the news: “As bad as you think it is, it’s actually worse.” Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, who is one of Trump’s most open critics on Capitol Hill, made a similar point to an interviewer on Thursday. “It’s just so similar to what so many of us hear from senior people around the White House, you know, three times a week,” Sasse said. “So it’s really troubling, and yet, in a way, not surprising.”

As Thomas Wright, a Brookings scholar who has emerged as one of the most insightful analysts of Trump’s foreign policy, told me, “It’s the first time, maybe in history, key advisers have gone into the Administration to stop the President, not to enable him”—and that was back in January. The call has always been coming from inside the building.

By Thursday morning, Chris Cillizza had posted on CNN’s Web site a list of thirteen Trump insiders who could have written the article: Don McGahn, the departing White House counsel (Trump kicked him out, via Twitter, just last week); Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, who was publicly humiliated by Trump in the aftermath of Trump’s summit with Vladimir Putin; Kellyanne Conway, the White House counsellor whose own husband has emerged as a Trump-bashing tweeter; John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, reported by Woodward and others to have called Trump an “idiot”; Kirstjen Nielsen, the Kelly ally who heads the Department of Homeland Security and has been repeatedly dressed down by Trump in front of her colleagues; Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has come under withering, near-daily attack by Trump; Mattis, the Secretary of Defense and the most respected member of the President’s Cabinet; Fiona Hill, the top Russia expert on the National Security Council; Vice-President Mike Pence; Nikki Haley, the Ambassador to the United Nations, who has publicly expressed differences with Trump on Russia; and even “Javanka”—Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner—and Trump’s own wife, the long-suffering Melania Trump.

Others I spoke with suggested less well-known names in the senior ranks of various foreign-policy and national-security jobs, or in top economic posts. Could it have been Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, a former Democrat who has been humiliated by Trump from the start, according to the Woodward book? Or Larry Kudlow, the free-trader heading his National Economic Council? One prominent Washingtonian sent me a long e-mail laying out the case for John Bolton, the national-security adviser whose hawkish views on such subjects as North Korea and Russia have been repeatedly undercut by Trump. National Review published a case for Jon Huntsman, the 2012 Republican Presidential candidate now serving as Trump’s Ambassador to Moscow.

Just as quickly as the speculation about who did it, the denials started rolling in. The Vice-President, the director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Defense Secretary, the Treasury Secretary, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Ambassador to the United Nations, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and several others I’m sure I’m missing felt compelled to put out statements on Thursday morning denying that they wrote the Op-Ed calling Trump “impetuous, adversarial, petty, and ineffective.” Even Ben Carson, the wacky former surgeon and 2016 Presidential candidate now serving as Trump’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, put out a statement saying he wasn’t the Op-Ed author, though no one, at least that I am aware of, had speculated that he was. And that was a day after the Woodward denials: the White House chief of staff denied calling Trump an “idiot”; the Secretary of Defense denied calling him a middle-schooler; and his former lawyer denied calling him a “fucking liar.”

The denials seemed like some of those pointless, if required, Washington rituals. After all, Mark Felt, the deputy director of the F.B.I. during the Nixon Administration, who had been Woodward’s original secret source about the Watergate scandal, denied publicly for years that he was “Deep Throat,” a fact pointed out on Twitter on Wednesday, as journalists circulated a copy of an old Wall Street Journal story with Felt’s denial as the lede. Felt revealed himself as Woodward’s source before he died, and Woodward later published a book all about their dealings, “The Secret Man,” another book that Sarah Huckabee Sanders presumably did not read but should have: at the center of the tale is the story of how the F.B.I., outraged by the flagrant lawlessness of the President, decided to use its powers to take Nixon on.

At 6:58 A.M. on Thursday, as Washington obsessed over the identity of this latest Anonymous and I read the last few pages of Woodward’s damaging account, Trump tweeted about one person he had worked closely with who had “unwavering faith” in him: the dictator of North Korea. “Thank you Chairman Kim,” he enthused. “We will get it done together!” It was plaintive and pathetic and, yes, more than a little bit crazy.

It’s mornings like these that Trump’s beleaguered staff must dread more than anything. Reince Priebus, Trump’s fired first chief of staff, called the White House bedroom where Trump did most of his tweeting “the devil’s workshop,” Woodward reported. But Priebus’s successor, John Kelly, came up with the phrase that probably best sums up the situation. At one point in “Fear,” Woodward quotes Kelly calling his post as Trump’s chief of staff “the worst job I’ve ever had,” and describing the Trump White House as “crazytown.” It would have been the perfect title for the book, and I suspect that Kelly’s memorable description of the Trump Presidency may well outlive Kelly’s accomplishments in the job.

For twenty months, Washington has been asking, Is this the crisis? Is this finally the constitutional confrontation we have been waiting for? The Trump Presidency, to those closely watching it, and to many of those participating in it, has always seemed unsustainable. And yet it has gone on, and will keep going on, until and unless something seismic happens in our politics—and our Congress—to change it. We don’t need to wonder when the crisis will hit; it already has. Every day since January 20, 2017, has been the crisis.

 

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  • Susan B. Glasser is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where she writes a weekly column on life in Trump’s Washington.

  • https://www.newyorker.com

Protectionism for Liberals


August 21, 2018

Protectionism for Liberals

The ability of companies to allocate jobs globally changes the nature of the discussion about the “gains from trade.” In fact, there are no longer guaranteed “gains,” even in the long run, to those countries that export technology and jobs.

 

LONDON – Liberal revulsion at US President Donald Trump’s mendacious and uncouth politics has spilled over into a rigid defense of market-led globalization. To the liberal, free trade in goods and services and free movement of capital and labor are integrally linked to liberal politics. Trump’s “America First” protectionism is inseparable from his diseased politics.

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But this is a dangerous misconception. In fact, nothing is more likely to destroy liberal politics than inflexible hostility to trade protection. The upsurge of “illiberal democracy” in the West is, after all, the direct result of the losses suffered by Western workers (absolutely and relatively) as a result of the relentless pursuit of globalization.

Liberal opinion on these matters is based on two widespread beliefs: that free trade is good for all partners (so that countries that embrace it outperform those that restrict imports and limit contact with the rest of the world), and that freedom to trade goods and export capital is part of the constitution of liberty. Liberals typically ignore the shaky intellectual and historical evidence for the first belief and the damage to governments’ political legitimacy wrought by their commitment to the second.

Countries have always traded with each other, because natural resources are not equally distributed round the world. “Would it be a reasonable law,” asked Adam Smith, “to prohibit the importation of all foreign wines, merely to encourage the making of claret and burgundy in Scotland?” Historically, absolute advantage – a country importing what it cannot produce itself, or can only produce at inordinate cost – has always been the main motive for trade.

But the scientific case for free trade rests on David Ricardo’s far more subtle, counter-intuitive doctrine of comparative advantage. Countries with no coal deposits obviously cannot produce coal. But assuming that some production of a naturally disadvantaged good (like wine in Scotland) is possible, Ricardo demonstrated that total welfare is increased if countries with absolute disadvantages specialize in producing goods in which they are least disadvantaged.

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Rejection of neo-liberalism as the ideology of market fundamentalism fails to grasp its social validity. 

http://logosjournal.com/2017/authoritarian-liberalism-class-and-rackets/

The theory of comparative advantage greatly widened the potential scope of beneficial trade. But it also increased the likelihood that less efficient domestic production would be destroyed by imports. This loss to a country’s production was brushed aside by the assumption that free trade would allocate resources more efficiently and raise productivity, and thus the growth rate, “in the long run.”

But this is not the whole story. Ricardo also believed that land, capital, and labor – what economists call the “factors of production” – were intrinsic to a country and could not be moved round the world like actual commodities. “Experience … shows,” Ricardo wrote,

“that the fancied or real insecurity of capital, when not under the immediate control of its owner, together with the natural disinclination which every man has to quit the country of his birth and connexions, and intrust himself, with all his habits fixed, to a strange government and new laws, check the emigration of capital. These feelings, which I should be sorry to see weakened, induce most men of property to be satisfied with a low rate of profits in their own country, rather than seek a more advantageous employment for their wealth in foreign nations.”

This prudential barrier to capital export fell as secure conditions emerged in more parts of the world. In our own time, the emigration of capital has led to the emigration of jobs, as technology transfer has made possible the reallocation of domestic production to foreign locations – thus compounding the potential for job losses.

The economist Thomas Palley sees the reallocation of production abroad as the distinguishing feature of the current phase of globalization. He calls it “barge economics.” Factories float between countries to take advantage of lower costs. A legal and policy infrastructure has been built to support offshore production that is then imported to the capital-exporting country. Palley rightly sees offshoring as a deliberate policy of multinational corporations to weaken domestic labor and boost profits.

The ability of companies to allocate jobs globally changes the nature of the discussion about the “gains from trade.” In fact, there are no longer guaranteed “gains,” even in the long run, to those countries that export technology and jobs.

At the end of his life, Paul Samuelson, the doyen of American economists and co-author of the famous Stolper-Samuelson theorem of trade, admitted that if countries like China combine Western technology with lower labor costs, trade with them will depress Western wages. True, citizens of the West will have cheaper goods, but being able to purchase groceries 20% cheaper at Wal-Mart does not necessarily make up for wage losses. There is no assured “pot of gold” at the end of the free-trade tunnel. Samuelson even wondered whether “a little inefficiency” was worth suffering to protect things which were “worth doing.”

In 2016, The Economist conceded that “short-term costs and benefits” from globalization are “more finely balanced than textbooks assume.” Between 1991 and 2013, China’s share of global manufacturing exports increased from 2.3% to 18.8%. Some categories of American manufacturing production were wiped out. The United States, the authors averred, would gain “eventually.” But the gains might take “decades” to be realized, and would not be equally shared.

Even economists who concede the losses that come with globalization reject protectionism as an answer. But what is their alternative? The favored remedies are somehow to slow down globalization, giving labor time to re-skill or move to more productive activities. But this is scant comfort to those stuck in the rust belts or decanted into low-productivity, low-paid jobs.

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Liberals should certainly exercise their right to attack Trumpian politics. But they should refrain from criticizing Trumpian protectionism until they have something better to offer.