Another week, in which POTUS* managed to sound sane for an hour or so. This is sufficiently remarkable for him to have received some modest praise from the Euro-press, though it’s hardly gushing.
Christoph von Marschall in Tagesspiegel is a typical example:
First the positive. The tone that Donald Trump used in his first speech before the Congress was presidential most of the time and not as divisive and aggressive as in his press conferences. He condemned hatred, anti-Semitism, the assassination of an Indian immigrant.
And he seems now to have internalized that he can not carry out his promises as a group executive by order from above, but he needs Congress for his reforms . The US is a democracy with separation of powers, not an authoritarian presidential system. He wooed the Republicans, he wooed the Democrats. He appealed to the responsibility of all parties for the welfare of the nation. This was a clear improvement over the first weeks in office. And the very fact that you have to emphasize this says something about what has hitherto been at stake.
Of course the public had expected something more from this speech. Trump is no longer in the election campaign. It is not enough to affirm that in his presidency he would like to implement a reform of health, a tax reform, an immigration reform. And that he wants to modernize America’s infrastructure. He has been the head of government for almost six weeks. Now would it be time for him to give the details of how he could achieve his goals. What exactly is the content of the reforms announced? And how will he pay for them? This is the benchmark that America’s public is addressing.
The biggest deficit in his speech was the cloudy promise to renew the infrastructure. Trump wants to spend a trillion dollars on this. He says, in any case. Where does the money come from? He does not say that. The dimension: The State budget for 2016 was 3.54 trillion dollars. How is this sum, which is between a quarter and a third of the national budget, to be financed in addition? He does not know. As he had already before the speech no answer to the question, where he announced $54 billion more to come for the military. Simply increase the debt – the Republicans do not go along with that.
This deficit of explanation is symptomatic of where Trump is in his presidency. The “New York Times” describes his speech as “Visions of Trumptopia” . Donald Trump has not yet fully arrived at the White House. He is still mainly an election campaigner. And not for a long time yet, the President who actually governs.
A number of commentators have blamed the change of tone on Ivanka Trump. In my opinion, The Independent’s Rupert Cornwell tends to do his reporting by watching TV and talking to the White House press corps, but this isn’t a bad piece:
Remember that moment during the three bitter presidential debates last autumn when each candidate was asked to say something nice about the other? Quick as a flash, Hillary Clinton responded, neatly dodging the essence of the question: “His children, they’re incredibly able and devoted.”
In fact, at least in the light of what’s happening right now, she could have been referring to just one of them. Donald Jr and Eric are running the Trump Organisation, in a feeble attempt to show the 45th President has entirely divorced himself from the management of his property and branding empire. Tiffany, aged 23, doesn’t really feature, and 10-year-old Barron is far too young to be the object of Hillary’s lavish praise. Which leaves Ivanka.
Judging by what you read these days in the US media, Ivanka – who unlike her husband Jared Kushner is not even a listed adviser of her father – has become a liberal beacon in the White House, counterweight to the Breitbart school of hard-right revolutionaries led by Steve Bannon.
So here we are in the age of Ivanka. Maybe it won’t last long, and sceptics will claim that for all the nice fuzzy feelings she may inspire in the rest of us, what the White House actually decides reflects the views of Bannon – or worse, that the daughter’s appointed role is merely to win over independents to the Trump cause.
But maybe not. Family and family loyalty have always been the glue that binds Trumpworld. The Trump Organisation is a private company, subject to minimum disclosure rules. Deferring to a troublesome board, long formal conferring with appointed senior executives is not the Trump way. If he trusts anything, it’s family – which is why Ivanka could yet prove the most powerful first daughter in US history.
Let’s move on from the speech. Le Monde’s Berlin correspondent Thomas Wieder considers Angela Merkel’s forthcoming visit to Washington:
Mrs Merkel has never been so direct. But the substance of her thought is known. On November 9, 2016, the day after Mr. Trump’s victory, she could have been satisfied with simple congratulations. On the contrary, she took the opportunity to recall the “common values” of Germany and the United States, citing democracy, freedom, respect for human rights and dignity, Origin, skin color, religion, sex, sexual orientation or political opinion “ . So many values - of which she would probably not have drawn up a list if she had been convinced that Mr Trump shared them.
On 18 February, in Munich, Merkel went further. In a very subtle speech, in which she did not quote Mr Trump’s name once, the Chancellor made a clear distinction with the latter, whether by extolling “multilateralism” , condemning protectionism by admitting “regret” about Brexit or by asserting that ” freedom of the press is a pillar of democracy “- and this, twenty-four hours after the publication of a raging Tweet from the US president accusing several major media of being “the enemies of the American people” .
Evident, unprecedented, explicit, the gap that opened between Berlin and Washington with the election of Donald Trump marks the end of the very special relationship that was established between the two countries after 1945 and which Makes Germany the most loyal ally of the United States on the European continent for seventy years?
“ Basically , we do not know, and that’s what’s new,” Daniela Schwarzer observes . Merkel does not want to break up with Trump, but she fears it may happen. More than a manifest disagreement, it is the fear of a disagreement that preoccupies the Germans because with Trump, nothing is sure. One day, he described NATO as “obsolete,” and now he swears he is very attached to it. Same for Russia , towards which he made a turn 180 degrees since his election. “
For his part, Olaf Boehnke believes that “with Bush, the Germans did not agree, but at least it gave the impression of acting rationally. With Trump, it is the leap into the unknown , And this is probably the focal point for Merkel: she is used to dealing with leaders with whom she disagrees. But there is one thing she hates more than anything: these are totally unpredictable people. Now, under Trump, their main ally has become totally unpredictable.
The whole article is well worth a read.
Now for something happier. Austria’s Der Standard has a piece by Frank Herrmann about a visit to Georgia:
Peter Ward has come, because, he says, he simply wants to hear words of reason. He wants to listen to an old man, who was once President of the United States, to assure himself that the world has not yet gone completely mad. From the old man, whose Sunday school hour is about to start , Ward, he says, promises himself a hour of teaching about sound human understanding.
Before Carter enters the church, an assistant warns the assembly: “Please remain seated, please do not applaud!” President Carter does not want a great fuss. And before the 92-year-old begins his lesson, he asks where people come from. “Florida!” “Ohio!” “Utah!” For a few minutes, it is so, half the country seems to be geographically represented. “Washington, DC”, calls a woman at some point. “Oh, I used to live there,” Carter says, smiling as broadly as before, with bleached teeth, the typical peanut-farmer grin.
Shortly before his 91st birthday it was known that Carter was suffering from a tumor. Months later he said he had defeated the cancer. However, Sunday after Sunday, he appears with iron discipline in the small Baptist church in Plains to devote himself to a biblical theme. This time it will be about Noah’s Ark.
The Bible Hour has been a long historical lecture, the old man threads a very fine needle, he speaks of the past while meaning the present. Whoever is sitting in the Oval Office, he must understand, must be able to put himself in the shoes of the other. “America first”, with that slogan one does not get far, because America is also only a part of this planet, Carter says. “What I’m trying to explain: It’s about serious things when you’re President in the White House.”
From the sublime to the ridiculous. I introduced you last week to the extraordinary Giampaolo Rossi, whose piece this week is equally surprising.
She’s called Tulsi Gabbard and is an American Democratic congresswoman, member of the House of Representatives for the State of Hawaii.
Elected for the first time in 2002 (aged just 21 years) she left her office to go voluntarily to Iraq, where she returned for a second mission in 2009: a Catholic and conservative dad Fagatogo (American Samoa) and the Hindu mom European origins.
Gabbard is the first parliamentary “Samoan”, the first of the Hindu religion and the first woman veteran of war in the history of Congress.
A few weeks ago she became the focus of violent attacks by the big American media; very strange, when you consider that Gabbard belongs to the same party as Hillary Clinton, which is the same party Soros, which is the same party to which the media mainstream kneel in a systematic way.
But what has the American deputy done to deserve such hostility? Simple: a month ago she flew to Syria to see what was really going on there, and met with President Assad, the man who, for the Party of War in Washington, is the new “absolute evil”; they are not happy she visited Aleppo and Damascus, spoke with religious leaders (Muslims and Christians), aid workers (the real ones not the friends of the jihadists who gives Hollywood Oscar awards ), members of the opposition, civil society representatives. … In short Tulsi Gabbard is a piece of America, whether left or right does not matter that defends to the teeth the truth of what is actually happening around us; and she fought bravely against the virus of the manipulation of consciences that the media system and the globalist power are injecting into the freedom of the West. Europe also needs some more Tulsi.
More sensible things are happening in Europe, though. The Dutch general election is imminent, and I have been frustrated trying to access Dutch coverage of it: the leading Dutch newspaper websites seem to do popups for first-time visitors which won’t go away until you click them, but GoogleTranslate’s version of the popup doesn’t let you click it so it won’t go away.
The Netherlands are home to one of the more disgusting Deplorables, one Geert Wilders, whose PVV party has been leading in the polls until very recently. The Dutch parliament has 150 members elected on a proportional basis, and Wilders had been predicting that he and his lot would get about 30 of them. But, reports Claus Hecking in Der Spiegel, his perceived closeness to Trump has damaged him:
The right-wing populist Geert Wilders has to worry two weeks before the election in the Netherlands about his confidently believed victory. In the “Peilingwijzer” published by the University of Leiden, which compiles the surveys of the six largest opinion research institutes, Wilders and his right-wing party voor de Vrijheid (PVV) are now ranked second for the first time in months.
According to “Peilingwijzer”, the PVV can currently count on just under 16 percent of the votes, which would be 22 to 26 seats in the 150-seat Chamber of Deputies. It falls just behind the party of the incumbent Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, whose liberal-conservative VVD comes to 23 to 27 seats.
Wilders wanted to make a connection to Donald Trump, tweeting “#MakeTheNetherlandsGreatAgain”after Trump’s election victory in November – and announced: “We Dutch will also recapture our country.” But most of the Dutch are not so enthusiastic about the new US president. Trumps radical, chaotic politics, his lies and his attacks on the judiciary and the media put them off.
“Perhaps Wilders has set himself a trap by hanging strongly on Trump,” says Tom van der Meer, professor of political science at the University of Amsterdam, in conversation with SPIEGEL. “We have been watching for a few weeks that Trump is going too far for Dutch voters.”
In a survey by the GfK institute for the public television broadcaster NPO, 60 percent of Wilders’ voters since December have declared that they reject Trumps presidency. And also of the remaining Wilders supporters, 43 per cent expressed reservations about Trump’s policy.
That Wilders would take power in The Hague was unlikely even before his collapse. To become Prime Minister, he would need at least one, probably even two, coalition partners. And all the other big parties have categorically excluded an alliance with the hate-speaker.
Fanatical poll-watchers can have great fun with the Peilingwijzer site, which I commend for its excellent presentation of margins of error.
In France, Marine LePen still leads the polls for President with about 29%, but Emmanuel Macron has now emerged as the nearest challenger. Polls then suggest that in the run-off, Macron would beat LePen 60-40. Macron is about a hairsbreadth to the left of center in France, though he has only very recently released his policy program. Libération analyses it:
Is Emmanuel Macron the “candidate of the oligarchy”, what he defends himself, or the “middle class and populist” as he claims? Unveiled for the first time on Thursday in its entirety, the presidential program of the founder of En marche is so multifaceted that there is matter to support one or the other of the two theses. The first will find in the will of the candidate to remove productive capital from the base of the ISF (wealth tax) or to reduce the taxation of income from capital, a clear bias in favor of the rich and the powerful. The second will read as a hand out to ordinary people his promise to exempt from tax on housing 80% of households, to deter companies from using short contracts, to give more resources to schools in deprived neighborhoods or eradicate conflicts of interest in public life.
But the entire 300-page project evades the Manichean verdict. There is no trace of Thatcher’s “purge” of public finances or of taxation of the popular classes advocated by Fillon; But also no desire to protect the most vulnerable against a lack of work, the leitmotiv of Hamon [who proposes universal basic income]. It is a mile from the break with capitalism sought by Mélenchon, and still further from the promise of closure of the country – economic, migratory and cultural – on which Le Pen campaigns.
If you click through to the main article, it’s a little difficult to follow because of references to things which French people know about and we don’t, but it’s a pretty good summary of what European centrism looks like: a tad to the left of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 platform. I therefore invite you to drool over what passes for middle-of-the-road normality over here.
Earlier in the year, I was quoting lots of Irish columnists, but they’re not talking about Trump any more. A scandal involving the police and the government has come to a head, and Fine Gael Prime Minister Enda Kenny is under huge pressure to resign. Ireland is governed at present by a grand coalition of both main parties because neither Fine Gael (right-ish) nor Fianna Fail (left-ish) got a majority at last year’s election, after which Kenny became PM because FG did slightly better than FF. It’s being taken as read that Kenny will step down in the not too distant future, and Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney are maneuvering frantically to succeed him as FG leader and therefore Taioseach until the next election; the likelihood of an immediate election seems to have receded because polling suggests that it would again result in a stalemate.
Exactly when Kenny will go is up in the air, as Gerard O’Regan explains:
Mr Kenny has come to another fateful pass. He is faced with the reality that all good sense and logic would suggest his political career is at journey’s end.
But it is also understandable why the old St Augustine exclamation “Not yet Lord, not yet” is thumping inside his brain, as the instinct to fight, primal, forceful and so well practiced, resurrects itself. He believes he can put off the day of reckoning – for just a little while longer.
And it was this powerfully imbued sense of self-belief that kept his detractors at bay during the fateful Fine Gael party meeting on Wednesday.
Reports speak of a timbre of emotion in his voice; the seething, unsaid challenge to those who would dare take him down.
Try it, he silently taunted them, but only if you have the nerve. As things transpired, he won the moment by his sheer force of will.
We were left with some cloying inanities from his opponents when it was all over. But the truth is they again had no option but to bide their time, until the mood of the moment changes.
One reason Kenny wants to stay on is that he has an engagement in the White House for St Patrick’s Day, which is not without its hazards, as Gene Kerrigan explains:
These are strange times.
On a very serious level, Trump’s regime comprises people so far to the right that even Dick Cheney has reservations about them. They range from Alt Reich posers to actual Nazis who think Hitler’s only fault was a weakness in his communication skills.
At the same time, on a juvenile level, the president insists in engaging in manly jerking and thrusting with every male he meets.
This is the psychological quagmire awaiting the Taoiseach – who is quite fit, but he’s no Trudeau.
Even those of us who have issues with Enda don’t want him humiliated or physically hurt by President Grope. This, absurdly, is a real problem but I doubt if it’s one that any of the Taoiseach’s highly paid advisers has thought about.
We see three possibilities: A) Enda could wear his arm in a sling; B) He could bring Conor McGregor along as his Designated Handshaker; C) He could just suck it up and get jerked around like a fish on the end of a line.
These are the problems that heads of government face today, as they pay ritual obeisance in the Age of Trump.
Eoghan Harris measures up the contenders to succeed Kenny:
Simon Coveney’s main strength is normally summed up in saying he has a safe pair of hands.
But the downside is that it implies that he’ll just hold the ball safely, being by temperament a defensive player; a full-back.
Leo Varadkar’s critics would say his big weakness is that he is more likely fumble a catch or a pass.
But the upside is that when he connects, he will try to score, being by temperament an offensive player; a striker.
Fine Gael has also to consider the public perception of the two candidates. At first sight, Simon Coveney is by far the safer bet, being what in Cork is called ” a sound man”.
But Simon’s soundness can also come across as boring, which is not a plus with a young population, and especially not a plus given the endless scrutiny of television cameras searching for charisma.
Conversely, Leo could have too much charisma for some of the more conservative members of Fine Gael, a few of whom might find a gay man of mixed race a somewhat testing proposition.
I’ve been giving this globally-insignificant teacup-storm a lot of play this week mainly so that I can finish with this lovely piece by Shane Coleman:
Whose bright idea was it to propose a televised Fine Gael leadership debate?
Apparently, both RTÉ and TV3 are keen as mustard to have a televised head-to-head featuring Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney. Has nobody told either station that 99.5pc-plus of the population don’t have a vote in the contest or that we don’t live in a one-party state?
What could possibly be the point of such an exercise? There is just about a case for televised debates at general election time. With an electorate of millions, a TV debate between the would-be Taoisigh can arguably help inform those about to cast their vote.
We’ve had debates as Gaeilge, debates between would-be Tánaistí (the political equivalent of bald men fighting over a comb), debates between presidential candidates and debates involving politicians who had as much chance of becoming Taoiseach as, well, Richard Boyd Barrett.
The nadir was surely that debate last year involving seven participants, two of whom weren’t even leaders and one of whom not only didn’t become Taoiseach, but actually lost their seat in the election.
It says everything about the relevance of those debates that the party of the man the media pronounced as the star performer (Stephen Donnelly) ended up with 3pc of the national vote. If the debates mattered, the Social Democrats would have ended up with at least seven or eight seats, instead of merely holding its three.
The only thing we ever remember from these debates are the soundbites or the gaffes – Michael McDowell’s ‘Northern Bank’ rebuff to Gerry Adams in 2007 or Lloyd Bentsen’s “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” putdown of Dan Quayle in the 1988 US vice-presidential debate. And, memorable as both lines were, they had no impact whatsoever on the election result.
Remember also, we’re not talking about ideological adversaries here. It’ll be two (possibly three) members of the same political party who’ll be at pains not to alienate the Fine Gael grass roots or make life difficult in the next cabinet by rubbishing the rival candidate(s).
Every argument will be prefaced by “I have great respect for Leo’s achievements” or “Simon and I agree on most things but…”. It’ll be the most polite polemic in the global history of TV debates. Or to put it another way, a complete snorefest.
And the top o’the morning to all of you.