Putin to Democratic Party: You lost, get over it


December 23, 2016

Note: We have enough from CNN and US mainstream media about Russian attempts to interfere in the recent US Presidential elections which saw Donald J. Trump beating Hillary Clinton to be the 45th POTUS. American administrations of the past too are not free from trying to shore up governments in nations which are of strategic importance to US interests. Putin has answered his critics (read below).

To me, the whole shebang is what nations do to each other and spend billions of dollars on national security, The Russians are just as guilty as their counterparts elsewhere in the rest of world for snooping. That is why I find Putin’s response is intriguing and cheeky. The message from Putin to Obama, Hillary and the Democrats is “Don’t be sore losers”.–Din Merican

Putin to Democratic Party: You lost, get over it

Russia’s President Vladi­mir Putin has a message for the White House and Democratic leaders who accuse him of stealing their victory: Don’t be sore losers.

That was how Putin answered a question Friday about whether Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election in favor of Donald Trump at the Russian leader’s nationally televised annual press conference,

“Democrats are losing on every front and looking for people to blame everywhere,” Putin said in answer to a Russian TV host, one of 1,400 journalists accredited to the marathon session. “They need to learn to lose with dignity.”

The Kremlin leader pointed out Republicans had won the House and Senate, remarking “Did we do that, too?”

[The CIA has concluded that Russia worked to help Trump]

“Trump understood the mood of the people and kept going until the end, when nobody believed in him,” Putin said, adding with a grin. “Except for you and me.”

Putin has repeatedly denied involvement despite the accusations coming from the White House, and the Kremlin has repeatedly questioned the evidence for the U.S. claims. On Friday he borrowed from Trump’s dismissal of the accusations, remarking “Maybe it was someone lying on the couch who did it”.

“And it’s not important who did the hacking, it’s important that the information that was revealed was true, that is important,” Putin said, referring to the emails that showed that party leaders had favored Hillary Clinton.

Putin has given one press conference a year at the end of December for the 12 years he’s been president (taking a break for the four years he was prime minister). He deflected a question from an American reporter about whether he will move up 2018 elections. Some have speculated that the Kremlin leader might want to hold the elections earlier while his popularity soars above 80 percent. Putin has not made it clear whether he will run, though any suggestion that he might retire also seems premature.

Putin restated his interest in improved relations with the United States after the inauguration of Trump, who has promised work closely with Russia in the fight against terrorism.

In the wake of the assassination of Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey this week, Moscow and Ankara have made a show of their willingness to work together and, along with regional power Iran, bring a settlement to Syria.

Putin moved back the press conference a day to attend the funeral of his slain Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, who was assassinated in a brazen public shooting by a man shouting slogans about the war in Syria.

Putin deflected a question about Trump’s promise to upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal, saying Russia was also upgrading its nuclear deterrent, “so that it will be stronger than any aggressor.” He blamed U.S. efforts to develop anti-missile technology for creating “conditions for a new arms race.”

“Preconditions for the new arms race were created when the U.S. withdrew from the anti-missile treaty. We are not violating any agreements,” Putin said.“Representatives of the current U.S. administration started to say that they are the strongest and most powerful in the world. Yes, indeed, they have more rockets, submarines, and aircraft carriers. We can’t argue with it.”

Putin, always concerned about his high popularity rating, touted a few good-news items about the Russian economy, hailing what he called record-low inflation of 5.5 percent, and congratulating villagers on this year’s harvest.

In recent poll by the Yuri Levada Analytical Center that gave Russians an opportunity to select which events they consider most important, 30 percent mentioned inflation, 28 percent mentioned the election of Trump, and 22 percent mentioned Syria. Russia’s efforts to mediate the civil war are at the top of nightly news.

Farewell, America–A Requiem on The Media


November 14, 2016

Farewell, America–A Requiem on The Media

No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on November 7, they will now look at us differently.

 

America died on November 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.

Whatever place we now live in is not the same place it was on November 7. No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on November 7, they will now look at us differently. We are likely to be a pariah country. And we are lost for it. As I surveyed the ruin of that country this gray Wednesday morning, I found weary consolation in W.H. Auden’s poem, September 1, 1939, which concludes:

“Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.”

I hunt for that affirming flame.

This generally has been called the “hate election” because everyone professed to hate both candidates. It turned out to be the hate election because, and let’s not mince words, of the hatefulness of the electorate. In the years to come, we will brace for the violence, the anger, the racism, the misogyny, the xenophobia, the nativism, the white sense of grievance that will undoubtedly be unleashed now that we have destroyed the values that have bound us.

We all knew these hatreds lurked under the thinnest veneer of civility. That civility finally is gone.

We all knew these hatreds lurked under the thinnest veneer of civility. That civility finally is gone.

We all knew these hatreds lurked under the thinnest veneer of civility. That civility finally is gone. In its absence, we may realize just how imperative that politesse was. It is the way we managed to coexist.

If there is a single sentence that characterizes the election, it is this: “He says the things I’m thinking.” That may be what is so terrifying. Who knew that so many tens of millions of white Americans were thinking unconscionable things about their fellow Americans? Who knew that tens of millions of white men felt so emasculated by women and challenged by minorities? Who knew that after years of seeming progress on race and gender, tens of millions of white Americans lived in seething resentment, waiting for a demagogue to arrive who would legitimize their worst selves and channel them into political power? Perhaps we had been living in a fool’s paradise. Now we aren’t.

This country has survived a civil war, two world wars, and a great depression. There are many who say we will survive this, too. Maybe we will, but we won’t survive unscathed. We know too much about each other to heal. No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things. Nor can we pretend that democracy works and that elections have more or less happy endings. Democracy only functions when its participants abide by certain conventions, certain codes of conduct and a respect for the process.

No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things.

No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things.

The virus that kills democracy is extremism because extremism disables those codes. Republicans have disrespected the process for decades. They have regarded any Democratic president as illegitimate. They have proudly boasted of preventing popularly elected Democrats from effecting policy and have asserted that only Republicans have the right to determine the nation’s course. They have worked tirelessly to make sure that the government cannot govern and to redefine the purpose of government as prevention rather than effectuation. In short, they haven’t believed in democracy for a long time, and the media never called them out on it.

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The sun sets behind the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC

Democracy can’t cope with extremism. Only violence and time can defeat it. The first is unacceptable, the second takes too long. Though Trump is an extremist, I have a feeling that he will be a very popular president and one likely to be re-elected by a substantial margin, no matter what he does or fails to do. That’s because ever since the days of Ronald Reagan, rhetoric has obviated action, speechifying has superseded governing.

Trump was absolutely correct when he bragged that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and his supporters wouldn’t care. It was a dictator’s ugly vaunt, but one that recognized this election never was about policy or economics or the “right path/wrong path,” or even values. It was about venting. So long as Trump vented their grievances, his all-white supporters didn’t care about anything else. He is smart enough to know that won’t change in the presidency. In fact, it is only likely to intensify. White America, Trump’s America, just wants to hear its anger bellowed. This is one time when the Bully Pulpit will be literal.

The media can’t be let off the hook for enabling an authoritarian to get to the White House. Long before he considered a presidential run, he was a media creation — a regular in the gossip pages, a photo on magazine covers, the bankrupt (morally and otherwise) mogul who hired and fired on The Apprentice. When he ran, the media treated him not as a candidate, but as a celebrity, and so treated him differently from ordinary pols. The media gave him free publicity, trumpeted his shenanigans, blasted out his tweets, allowed him to phone in his interviews, fell into his traps and generally kowtowed until they suddenly discovered that this joke could actually become president.

The media can’t be let off the hook for enabling an authoritarian to get to the White House. Long before he considered a presidential run, he was a media creation — a regular in the gossip pages, a photo on magazine covers, the bankrupt (morally and otherwise) mogul who hired and fired on The Apprentice. When he ran, the media treated him not as a candidate, but as a celebrity, and so treated him differently from ordinary pols. The media gave him free publicity, trumpeted his shenanigans, blasted out his tweets, allowed him to phone in his interviews, fell into his traps and generally kowtowed until they suddenly discovered that this joke could actually become president.

Just as Trump has shredded our values, our nation and our democracy, he has shredded the media. In this, as in his politics, he is only the latest avatar of a process that began long before his candidacy. Just as the sainted Ronald Reagan created an unbridgeable chasm between rich and poor that the Republicans would later exploit against Democrats, conservatives delegitimized mainstream journalism so that they could fill the vacuum.

With Trump’s election, I think that the ideal of an objective, truthful journalism is dead, never to be revived

With Trump’s election, I think that the ideal of an objective, truthful journalism is dead, never to be revived.

Retiring conservative talk show host Charlie Sykes complained that after years of bashing from the right wing, the mainstream media no longer could perform their function as reporters, observers, fact dispensers, and even truth tellers, and he said we needed them. Like Goebbels before them, conservatives understood that they had to create their own facts, their own truths, their own reality. They have done so, and in so doing effectively destroyed the very idea of objectivity. Trump can lie constantly only because white America has accepted an Orwellian sense of truth — the truth pulled inside out.

With Trump’s election, I think that the ideal of an objective, truthful journalism is dead, never to be revived.

With Trump’s election, I think that the ideal of an objective, truthful journalism is dead, never to be revived. Like Nixon and Sarah Palin before him, Trump ran against the media, boomeranging off the public’s contempt for the press. He ran against what he regarded as media elitism and bias, and he ran on the idea that the press disdained working-class white America. Among the many now-widening divides in the country, this is a big one, the divide between the media and working-class whites, because it creates a Wild West of information – a media ecology in which nothing can be believed except what you already believe.

With the mainstream media so delegitimized — a delegitimization for which they bear a good deal of blame, not having had the courage to take on lies and expose false equivalencies — they have very little role to play going forward in our politics. I suspect most of them will surrender to Trumpism — if they were able to normalize Trump as a candidate, they will no doubt normalize him as president. Cable news may even welcome him as a continuous entertainment and ratings booster. And in any case, like Reagan, he is bulletproof. The media cannot touch him, even if they wanted to. Presumably, there will be some courageous guerillas in the mainstream press, a kind of Resistance, who will try to fact-check him. But there will be few of them, and they will be whistling in the wind. Trump, like all dictators, is his own truth.

What’s more, Trump already has promised to take his war on the press into courtrooms and the halls of Congress. He wants to loosen libel protections, and he has threatened Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos of Amazon with an antitrust suit. Individual journalists have reason to fear him as well. He has already singled out NBC’s Katy Tur, perhaps the best of the television reporters, so that she needed the Secret Service to escort her from one of his rallies. Jewish journalists who have criticized Trump have been subjected to vicious anti-Semitism and intimidation from the alt-right. For the press, this is likely to be the new normal in an America in which white supremacists, neo-Nazi militias, racists, sexists, homophobes and anti-Semites have been legitimized by a new president who “says what I’m thinking.” It will be open season.

This converts the media from reporters to targets, and they have little recourse. Still, if anyone points the way forward, it may be New York Times columnist David Brooks. Brooks is no paragon. He always had seemed to willfully neglect modern Republicanism’s incipient fascism (now no longer incipient), and he was an apologist for conservative self-enrichment and bigotry. But this campaign season, Brooks pretty much dispensed with politics. He seemed to have arrived at the conclusion that no good could possibly come of any of this and retreated into spirituality. What Brooks promoted were values of mutual respect, a bolder sense of civic engagement, an emphasis on community and neighborhood, and overall a belief in trickle-up decency rather than trickle-down economics. He is not hopeful, but he hasn’t lost all hope.

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Hillary, Thank You for the Good Fight–Din Merican

For those of us now languishing in despair, this may be a prescription for rejuvenation. We have lost the country, but by refocusing, we may have gained our own little patch of the world and, more granularly, our own family. For journalists, Brooks may show how political reporting, which, as I said, is likely to be irrelevant in the Trump age, might yield to a broader moral context in which one considers the effect that policy, strategy and governance have not only on our physical and economic well-being but also on our spiritual well-being. In a society that is likely to be fractious and odious, we need a national conversation on values. The media could help start it.

But the disempowered media may have one more role to fill: They must bear witness. Many years from now, future generations will need to know what happened to us and how it happened. They will need to know how disgruntled white Americans, full of self-righteous indignation, found a way to take back a country they felt they were entitled to and which they believed had been lost. They will need to know about the ugliness and evil that destroyed us as a nation after great men like Lincoln and Roosevelt guided us through previous crises and kept our values intact. They will need to know, and they will need a vigorous, engaged, moral media to tell them. They will also need us.

We are not living for ourselves anymore in this country. Now we are living for history.

Farewell, America

Why Hillary Clinton lost the election


November 12, 2016

Why Hillary Clinton lost the election

by Dan Roberts

http://www.theguardian.com

Dan Roberts is the Guardian’s Washington Bureau chief, covering politics and US national affairs. Previously, he worked as the national editor in London and was head of business. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram

Contact
dan.roberts@theguardian.com

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As Democrats grapple with their loss to such an unpopular and divisive rival, persistent problems with Clinton’s campaign offer some explanation.

How Hillary Clinton managed to lose an election to a candidate as divisive and unpopular as Donald Trump will baffle observers and agonise Democrats for years to come. Once the shockwave passes, some glimpses of rational explanation may become visible.

Incumbent parties rarely hold on to power after eight years in office. George HW Bush, following Reagan, was an exception, but politics has become steadily more polarised since and pendulums have a habit of swinging.

Trump’s defiance of expectations has itself also become somewhat of a golden rule in American politics in 2016. Written off repeatedly during the Republican primary, and only rarely taken seriously during the general election, he nonetheless epitomises the same anti-establishment mood that led Britain to vote to leave the European Union and Democrats in 22 US states to nominate Bernie Sanders. Fairly or not, it is an establishment with which Clinton could not have been more closely aligned in the minds of many voters if she tried.

The economy

“It’s the economy, stupid” was a phrase coined by her husband’s adviser James Carville in the 1992 election and, in many ways, it ought to have helped Democrats again in 2016. Barack Obama helped rescue the US from the financial crash and presided over a record series of consecutive quarters of job growth.

Unfortunately for Clinton, many Americans simply did not feel as positive. Stagnant wage levels and soaring inequality were symptoms of the malaise felt by many voters. Trump successfully convinced them to believe this was caused by bad trade deals and a rigged economy.

Despite being pushed in this direction by Sanders in the Democratic primary, Clinton never really found a satisfactory response. Her volte-face on trade sounded – and was later proved by leaked emails – unconvincing at best; deeply cynical at worst.

Neither socialism nor the proto-fascist homilies of Trump offered much in the way of coherent alternatives either, but the bottom line was that Clinton simply failed to articulate a convincing defence of modern American capitalism.

Neither socialism nor the proto-fascist homilies of Trump offered much in the way of coherent alternatives either, but the bottom line was that Clinton simply failed to articulate a convincing defence of modern American capitalism.

Trust

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Henry A. Kissinger–America’s Foremost Flipflopper with Hillary Clinton

One big problem which undermined many otherwise plausible policy positions was a lack of trust. Paid speeches to Goldman Sachs and a murky web of business connections to the family charity left many Americans doubting Clinton’s sincerity on matters of money and much else.

That the Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating the Democratic candidate until just two days before voting with a view to bring possible criminal charges for her flouting of data security laws was just the most extreme manifestation of the issue.

It was damaging not just that the FBI bungled its timing of what ultimately proved to be a dead-end investigation but because it played into the notion that the Clintons behaved as if the law did not apply to them.

Message vacuum

It also did not help that what Clinton was selling was mainly herself. The campaign’s strongest message was that she was uniquely qualified to become president. This was largely true, especially when compared with the grotesquely inexperienced Donald Trump, but big ideas took a backstage role.

There was a cast of a thousand policy prescriptions, from tweaks to the healthcare system to a watered-down version of the Sanders college debt proposals. Few were memorable, even among supporters.

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Bernie a better Candidate?

Campaign slogans are notoriously vacuous. Obama’s “hope and change” turned out to be more of the former than the latter. Yet Clinton’s “stronger together” only really began to take shape in response to Trump’s divisiveness. It was attractive to many Democrats as a symbol of what they felt the campaign was about but it ensured the battle was fought on Trump’s terms.

Broken polls

Amid the recriminations, special attention is likely to be reserved for the pollsters, who showed Clinton clinging to a comfortable three- or four-point lead in national opinion polls going into the election. Granted, some, such as Nate Silver’s 538 website, flagged up the risk of an upset in key swing states, but even he had downgraded expectations of a Trump win to less than 30% on the eve of polling.

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The failure partly reflects a broken industry. Reaching a vast audience no longer using landlines, or even mobile voice calls much, with a 20th-century modeling of statistical sampling has produced dangerously misleading results in elections around the world of late.

But the US fortune tellers were particularly confused by the scrambled demographics of the 2016 election. Trump in many ways ran to Clinton’s left on some economic issues, with a populist appeal to a growing group of unaffiliated independent-minded voters, and yet analysts continued to assume that if registered Democrats were voting early, or telling pollsters they were going to vote, it meant a vote for Clinton.

That all changed in 2016, a ground zero for a political bombshell that will mean the US electoral map never looks the same again.

The Guardian view on President-elect Donald Trump: a dark day for the world


November 11, 2016

The Guardian view on President-elect Donald Trump: a dark day for the world

Editorial–The Guardian

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This is a political and cultural cataclysm that few believed would really happen. It’s a bleak day for America, and for the pluralism and diversity the country has come to stand for

The unthinkable is only unthinkable until it happens. Then, like the sack of Rome, it can seem historically inevitable. So it is with the global political earthquake that is the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States. If he is true to his campaign pledges, which were many and reckless, Mr Trump’s win will herald America’s most stunning reversal of political and economic orthodoxy since the New Deal in the 1930s, but with the opposite intention and effect. It halts the ailing progressive narrative about modern America and the 21st-century world in its tracks. It signals a seismic rupture in the American-dominated global liberal economic and political order that had seemed to command the 21st century after communism collapsed and China’s economy soared.

In that sense, the Trump triumph has echoes of the increasingly alarming general rightward shift in the politics of other post-industrial western democracies, to which progressives have again produced inadequate responses. The parallel with Britain’s Brexit vote is obvious and real. So, perhaps, is the further boost that the Trump triumph may hand to nationalists in many parts of Europe – Marine Le Pen jumped quickly on that bandwagon. The result will be lamented by liberals across America and beyond. But it will be cheered in Moscow and Damascus, which will feel emboldened. This is not a good week to be a Latvian or a Ukrainian, and another dire one to be a Syrian oppositionist. The result is also a generational challenge to progressive politics to find the radical and credible message that eludes them in so many countries, not just in America.

But this is primarily an American catastrophe that America has brought upon itself. When it came to it, the US was unable to find a credible way of rallying against Mr Trump and what he represents. Hillary Clinton failed that crucial test both in herself and in what she offered; for her this is the end. But she was the symptom, not the cause. Mr Trump was not taken seriously and was widely not expected to beat Mrs Clinton throughout the long, bitter campaign. At each stage, his candidacy was deemed certain to crash and burn. The opinion polls and the vaunted probability calculus rarely trended in his direction; both are now discredited. Only after the FBI director’s intervention, less than two weeks before the election, was it widely imagined that the tables might turn in Mr Trump’s favour. Nevertheless by the eve of poll Mr Trump was again the outsider.

Yet Mr Trump won big in an election where, if the exit polls were right, most people made up their minds long before the James Comey furore. Mr Trump’s victory was total. It was built, more than anything else, on the white vote; irrespective of gender, age or education, white people mostly voted for him. It was the most stunning upset in modern US history; not even a squeaker. He won most of the battleground states into which the Clinton campaign had poured money – Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin – en route to a decisive Republican electoral college total exceeding 300. That majority is centred on the so-called flyover states, which inhabitants of the big Democratic bastions on the coasts often only see from 35,000 feet. But the red tide pushed north too, deep into the rustbelt, and consolidated in the south – although the electoral college system amplified Mr Trump’s victory: Mrs Clinton is set to win the popular vote, as Democrats have in every election bar one since 1988.

Democrats shattered

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Meanwhile, Republican congressional candidates who had scrabbled to put distance between themselves and their nominee after the ugly TV debates found themselves riding to victory on Mr Trump’s coattails. Republicans held most of their seats in the Senate races, and will be savouring the chance to extend their majority in 2018, when the beneficiaries of the Obama re-election wave of 2012 face the voters. More predictably, the House remained firmly in Republican hands too; Speaker Paul Ryan and his lieutenants have more to fear from their own party grassroots and from a perhaps vengeful new man in the White House than they do from the shattered Democrats, for whom this outcome is the sum of all fears.

President Trump is the shock heard round the world. Now that he has won, the instant explanations have already started to flood in: that the mobilisation (or not) of this or that demographic was decisive; that he tapped the angry anti-establishment mood; that he spoke for millions who felt abandoned by the prosperous and progressive; that American nativism was always far stronger than liberals wanted to think; that he was a celebrity candidate for the celebrity-obsessed age; that he rode the tiger of post-truth politics; that making America great again was a cut-through message in a militaristic and imperial nation; that white men (and many white women) had had it with political correctness; that misogyny swung it; that the mainstream media failed to call him out; that it is a verdict on the Barack Obama years; that Mrs Clinton was always the wrong candidate; that there was racist dirty work in the voting system; that it was the Russians who won it for him.

None of these explanations are irrelevant. All of them have something to say. But beware of instant certainties. As with Brexit, in the immediate aftermath of a huge upset, a period of careful evidence-gathering and reflection is in order. This is not to diminish the immense seriousness of what happened on Tuesday. Nor is it to understate the anxieties about what lies ahead as Mr Obama steps back and Mr Trump takes over.

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Donald J. Trump conquers Washington DC and The Republics controls Congress

Four particular fears now stand out. The first is the unleashing of an unbridled conservative agenda in Washington, now that the Republicans control the White House and Capitol Hill together, a rare thing in the past hundred years. In her dignified concession speech Mrs Clinton rightly emphasised the need to defend democratic values; she might have drawn attention to President Obama’s legacy on healthcare and climate change too. Mr Trump and the congressional Republicans have differences; he is more prepared to use the power of government than many of them are. But they have a clear path now towards reshaping the supreme court and dozens of lower-tier judicial benches in their own image. The effect on race, gender and sexual-equality issues is likely to outlast Mr Trump’s period in office. The culture wars will reopen. Abortion rights are threatened.

Racial impact

The second is the impact of this result on race in America more widely. Mr Trump campaigned against migrants and against Muslims, insulted black and Latino Americans, launched ads that some saw as covertly antisemitic, and was cheered to victory by every white racist in the land. His voters – a Brexit echo again – will want him to deliver. Every action he takes in this area threatens to divide and inflame. After a half-century of uneven but undeniable racial progress in America, the consequences of every attempt to turn back the clock could be dire.

The third fear is whether Mr Trump has any economic plan that will deliver for some of the poor communities that gave him their votes so solidly. Mr Trump connected with the anger that many poor and white voters feel. But what can he really do about it? What do most congressional Republicans care about it? He can try to put up all the protectionist walls he likes. That will please his supporters. But it is difficult to see how he can bring old mines, mills and factories back to life. A lot of Americans feel left behind and let down. However, Mr Trump is playing with fire if, in the end, it becomes clear that he has used their anxieties to again advance himself and the urban rich class to which he belongs.

The final and overarching fear, though, is for the world. Mr Trump’s win means uncertainty about America’s future strategy in a world that has long relied on the United States for stability. But Mr Trump’s capacity to destabilise is almost limitless. His military, diplomatic, security, environmental and trade policies all have the capacity to change the world for the worse. Americans have done a very dangerous thing this week. Because of what they have done we all face dark, uncertain and fearful times.

Donald J. Trump–An American Tragedy


November 11, 2016

An American Tragedy

 

The electorate has, in its plurality, decided to live in Trump’s world.

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.

There are, inevitably, miseries to come: an increasingly reactionary Supreme Court; an emboldened right-wing Congress; a President whose disdain for women and minorities, civil liberties and scientific fact, to say nothing of simple decency, has been repeatedly demonstrated. Trump is vulgarity unbounded, a knowledge-free national leader who will not only set markets tumbling but will strike fear into the hearts of the vulnerable, the weak, and, above all, the many varieties of Other whom he has so deeply insulted. The African-American Other. The Hispanic Other. The female Other. The Jewish and Muslim Other. The most hopeful way to look at this grievous event—and it’s a stretch—is that this election and the years to follow will be a test of the strength, or the fragility, of American institutions. It will be a test of our seriousness and resolve.

Early on Election Day, the polls held out cause for concern, but they provided sufficiently promising news for Democrats in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, and even Florida that there was every reason to think about celebrating the fulfillment of Seneca Falls, the election of the first woman to the White House. Potential victories in states like Georgia disappeared, little more than a week ago, with the F.B.I. director’s heedless and damaging letter to Congress about reopening his investigation and the reappearance of damaging buzzwords like “e-mails,” “Anthony Weiner,” and “fifteen-year-old girl.” But the odds were still with Hillary Clinton.

All along, Trump seemed like a twisted caricature of every rotten reflex of the radical right. That he has prevailed, that he has won this election, is a crushing blow to the spirit; it is an event that will likely cast the country into a period of economic, political, and social uncertainty that we cannot yet imagine. That the electorate has, in its plurality, decided to live in Trump’s world of vanity, hate, arrogance, untruth, and recklessness, his disdain for democratic norms, is a fact that will lead, inevitably, to all manner of national decline and suffering.

In the coming days, commentators will attempt to normalize this event. They will try to soothe their readers and viewers with thoughts about the “innate wisdom” and “essential decency” of the American people. They will downplay the virulence of the nationalism displayed, the cruel decision to elevate a man who rides in a gold-plated airliner but who has staked his claim with the populist rhetoric of blood and soil. George Orwell, the most fearless of commentators, was right to point out that public opinion is no more innately wise than humans are innately kind. People can behave foolishly, recklessly, self-destructively in the aggregate just as they can individually. Sometimes all they require is a leader of cunning, a demagogue who reads the waves of resentment and rides them to a popular victory. “The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public opinion,” Orwell wrote in his essay “Freedom of the Park.” “The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”

Trump ran his campaign sensing the feeling of dispossession and anxiety among millions of voters—white voters, in the main. And many of those voters—not all, but many—followed Trump because they saw that this slick performer, once a relative cipher when it came to politics, a marginal self-promoting buffoon in the jokescape of eighties and nineties New York, was more than willing to assume their resentments, their fury, their sense of a new world that conspired against their interests. That he was a billionaire of low repute did not dissuade them any more than pro-Brexit voters in Britain were dissuaded by the cynicism of Boris Johnson and so many others. The Democratic electorate might have taken comfort in the fact that the nation had recovered substantially, if unevenly, from the Great Recession in many ways—unemployment is down to 4.9 per cent—but it led them, it led us, to grossly underestimate reality. The Democratic electorate also believed that, with the election of an African-American President and the rise of marriage equality and other such markers, the culture wars were coming to a close. Trump began his campaign declaring Mexican immigrants to be “rapists”; he closed it with an anti-Semitic ad evoking “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”; his own behavior made a mockery of the dignity of women and women’s bodies. And, when criticized for any of it, he batted it all away as “political correctness.” Surely such a cruel and retrograde figure could succeed among some voters, but how could he win? Surely, Breitbart News, a site of vile conspiracies, could not become for millions a source of news and mainstream opinion. And yet Trump, who may have set out on his campaign merely as a branding exercise, sooner or later recognized that he could embody and manipulate these dark forces. The fact that “traditional” Republicans, from George H. W. Bush to Mitt Romney, announced their distaste for Trump only seemed to deepen his emotional support.

The commentators, in their attempt to normalize this tragedy, will also find ways to discount the bumbling and destructive behavior of the F.B.I., the malign interference of Russian intelligence, the free pass—the hours of uninterrupted, unmediated coverage of his rallies—provided to Trump by cable television, particularly in the early months of his campaign. We will be asked to count on the stability of American institutions, the tendency of even the most radical politicians to rein themselves in when admitted to office. Liberals will be admonished as smug, disconnected from suffering, as if so many Democratic voters were unacquainted with poverty, struggle, and misfortune. There is no reason to believe this palaver. There is no reason to believe that Trump and his band of associates—Chris Christie, Rudolph Giuliani, Mike Pence, and, yes, Paul Ryan—are in any mood to govern as Republicans within the traditional boundaries of decency. Trump was not elected on a platform of decency, fairness, moderation, compromise, and the rule of law; he was elected, in the main, on a platform of resentment. Fascism is not our future—it cannot be; we cannot allow it to be so—but this is surely the way fascism can begin.

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Hillary Clinton was a flawed candidate but a resilient, intelligent, and competent leader, who never overcame her image among millions of voters as untrustworthy and entitled. Some of this was the result of her ingrown instinct for suspicion, developed over the years after one bogus “scandal” after another. And yet, somehow, no matter how long and committed her earnest public service, she was less trusted than Trump, a flim-flam man who cheated his customers, investors, and contractors; a hollow man whose countless statements and behavior reflect a human being of dismal qualities—greedy, mendacious, and bigoted. His level of egotism is rarely exhibited outside of a clinical environment.

For eight years, the country has lived with Barack Obama as its President. Too often, we tried to diminish the racism and resentment that bubbled under the cyber-surface. But the information loop had been shattered. On Facebook, articles in the traditional, fact-based press look the same as articles from the conspiratorial alt-right media. Spokesmen for the unspeakable now have access to huge audiences. This was the cauldron, with so much misogynistic language, that helped to demean and destroy Clinton. The alt-right press was the purveyor of constant lies, propaganda, and conspiracy theories that Trump used as the oxygen of his campaign. Steve Bannon, a pivotal figure at Breitbart, was his propagandist and campaign manager.

It is all a dismal picture. Late last night, as the results were coming in from the last states, a friend called me full of sadness, full of anxiety about conflict, about war. Why not leave the country? But despair is no answer. To combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals—that is what is left to do. That is all there is to do.

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Source: http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/an-american-tragedy-donald-trump

 

President Barack Obama’s legacy: What happens now?


November 11, 2016

President Barack Obama’s legacy: What happens now?

By Sam Clench

The biggest loser of the US election wasn’t even on the ballot.

I’m not talking about Hillary Clinton, even though her political career has been crushed for good. No, the ultimate victim of Donald Trump’s stunning triumph is the man he will replace as president, Barack Obama.

“My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot,” Obama said before the election, urging his supporters to vote for Ms Clinton. “Tolerance is on the ballot. Democracy is on the ballot. Justice is on the ballot. Good schools are on the ballot. Hope is on the ballot.”

The president said he would consider it “a personal insult, an insult to my legacy” if Trump won. Well, here we are.

President-elect Donald Trump. Photo / AP
President-elect Donald Trump. Photo / AP

It’s a bizarre situation. Eight years ago, Obama was swept into power by America’s fury with his predecessor. This time, Trump won despite Obama’s remarkable popularity.

The president’s approval rating has risen steadily this year, and is now at its highest point since the heady days of his political honeymoon in late 2009.

“There’s a contrast with George W. Bush, who exited with very low favourability ratings,” Dr Gorana Grgic, a lecturer in US politics and foreign policy at the United States Studies Centre, tells news.com.au. “If you look at it from a historical perspective, Obama is up there.”

To give you some of that historical perspective, Obama’s ratings are comparable to those of Ronald Reagan, who often tops polls asking people to name the nation’s greatest president. But while Reagan’s legacy has shaped American politics for decades, Obama’s could vanish within months.

President Barack Obama on the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton. Photo / AP
President Barack Obama on the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton. Photo / AP

When Trump takes office, the Republican Party will control all three levers of power in Washington: the White House, Senate and House of Representatives. That means he will have free rein to pursue his agenda – and systematically dismantle Obama’s achievements.

The most obvious threat is to the president’s signature domestic policy, the health care law known as Obamacare. It’s already in trouble, with rising premiums and too few young, healthy people signing up to subsidise the nation’s older, sicker health insurance customers.

Obviously, Donald Trump has said that he would push for the repeal of Obamacare. The Republicans have already tried almost 50 times,” Dr Grgic says. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has confirmed that repealing the law is a “pretty high item on our agenda”.

Dr Grgic argues the next president should focus on “getting more people into Obamacare, increasing competition and seeing whether something can be done about rising drug prices”. That is probably what Ms Clinton would have done.

Instead, Trump plans to scrap the whole thing and start again. Obama’s foreign policy record is flawed, but he has overseen a dramatic recovery in America’s reputation, which suffered badly during Bush’s second term.

“Obama has been pretty clear on what his outlook is for the way that the US engages with the world. It’s a very multilateral approach. and it’s principled on ‘don’t do stupid stuff’,” Dr Grgic says. “It was very much a reaction to what was perceived to be the overreach of the Bush administration.”

The world is somewhat less enthusiastic about a Trump presidency. A global poll taken shortly before the election showed people in every overseas country surveyed, with the exception of Russia, overwhelmingly preferred Ms Clinton.

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Trump’s victory will clearly cause a seismic shift in America’s image – and its approach to the rest of the world.

The President-elect has been a scathing critic of Obama’s foreign policy doctrine. During the campaign, he called the much-hyped agreement with Iran, which aimed to curb the country’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons, “the worst deal ever negotiated”. Trump has promised to tear it up. He will also consider reversing Obama’s landmark decision to normalise relations with Cuba.

If those achievements are wiped away, Obama’s record will pretty much be reduced to the messes in Libya, Ukraine and Syria, which developed into a cataclysmic civil war on his watch.

“Obviously we have the nonintervention in Syria. Whether this was a mistake or not, we know Hillary Clinton was very vocal in support of a more assertive response,” Dr Grgic says.

“Obama had a very principled approach to foreign policy, and that involved mutual efforts and burden-sharing, and that simply wasn’t there in the early days of Syria.

“What you see in Syria now is a complete asymmetry of power, where you have the Assad regime being supported by Russia.”

President Barack Obama making Thanksgiving Day phone calls to U.S. troops, from the Oval Office in 2014. Photo / Pete Souza
President Barack Obama making Thanksgiving Day phone calls to U.S. troops, from the Oval Office in 2014. Photo / Pete Souza

Speaking of Russia, Obama’s efforts to rein in Vladimir Putin could be ditched completely when Trump takes control.

“There has been a complete breakdown basically of the relations between Russia and the US,” Dr Grgic says. That breakdown “started with the 2011 intervention in Libya,” which Putin opposed, and “spiralled” from there.

“It takes two to tango, right? I don’t think it’s just Obama’s fault for this one. It’s very clear that Putin has been very skilful in using this window of opportunity to assert Russia’s power,” she says. “When you are dealing with an autocratic leader, it’s very difficult to make a case for co-operation, when Putin is not constrained by the same factors as Obama.”

Trump repeatedly praised Putin during the campaign, calling him a “stronger leader” than Obama and suggesting he could work alongside the Russian dictator as an ally. That would mean a drastic reorientation of Obama’s foreign policy.

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But put aside the policy implications of a future Trump administration for a moment, because part of the legacy Obama wanted to leave is in tatters already.

Back in 2008, Obama energised his voters with a promise to revolutionise politics in the United States. Sarah Palin infamously referred to this as the “hopey-changey stuff”, and perhaps she was right to mock it, because the bipartisan dream Obama spoke of so eloquently never materialised. That was partly his own fault.

“Obama is simply not the kind of politician that likes to get down and dirty with the kind of everyday politicking, and the horsetrading. He was simply not willing to engage in politics as it is usually done on Capitol Hill,” Dr Grgic says. That hindered the president’s ability to negotiate with Congress.

“A lot of people have said that it’s a kind of product of his personality and who he was previously. An academic, someone who’s very aloof maybe. He’d rather debate things, he’d rather try to show that his argument is plausible or he has more evidence to support his course of action than make those compromises.”

With the Republican Party pulled to the right by its base and Obama unable to break the gridlock in Washington, we’re now witnessing “the most polarising environment ever” in the US, she says.

That environment led directly to the rise of Donald Trump. It decimated the Democrats, whose numbers in Congress have plummeted, and who now face an utterly dominant Republican Party at both federal and state level.

Obama’s one great talent was getting himself elected. His party has crumbled around him over the last eight years, with most of its rising stars turfed from office, and now there is no obvious leader ready to pick up the pieces when he’s gone.

Obama isn’t the only one to blame for this – not even close – but it’s an undeniable fact that he failed to bring the country together. White people and minorities are bitterly divided. Urban elites and rural voters openly sneer at each other. And now, in a sickening dose of irony, America’s first black president will hand over the White House to the man who spent years hounding him with a racist birther conspiracy theory.

“We want to do everything we can to help you succeed. Because if you succeed, the country succeeds,” Obama told Trump when they met today. Those were the right words, and they sounded sincere.

But inside, even if he doesn’t show it, Obama must fear for his legacy. His proudest achievement, health care reform, is in mortal danger, his foreign policy doctrine is about to be reversed, and the nation he hoped to unite is seething with resentment.

Hillary Clinton lost an election, and I’m sure it hurts badly. But Barack Obama could lose everything his presidency stood for, and that is far worse.

– news.com.au