This week I’m spreading the net a little wider to take in some pieces which aren’t as directly topical as usual, because a lot of the directly-relevant stuff is merely rehashing what has already been published by the WaPo and NYT and offers nothing much else.
Debate over the violent protests at the G20 in Hamburg continues. Jakob Augstein considers the issues:
In any other place at any other time, setting a car on fire would have been an insignificant act of vandalism. In connection with the summit, this is a political act – accepted by a small minority, rejected by a large majority, but seen in the right context by all. Anyone can put the burning cars at the G20 summit in the context of the militant rejection of this summit. Nobody would understand if they burn at a church meeting. But no one has ever heard of plundering Protestants.
How does this politically motivated violence work? Once accepted, the violators of Hamburg have won. It is assumed that in the foreseeable future such a summit will no longer take place in a German city. Would that be the capitulation of the legal state? Or is democracy a legitimate place for non-state violence?
These questions arise from the monopoly of power of the state – and therefore to the state itself.
Carolin Emcke, the peace laureate, twittered to Hamburg: “Every TV minute devoted to the violence of the Hooligans was a minute in which the decisions of the # G20 could not be criticized.” The question arises whether peaceful protests against the summit would have received just as much attention as the violent clashes. This is the essence of political protest in democratic capitalism: if it adheres to the rules, its effect remains weak. If it breaks the rules, it puts its acceptance at risk.
Now a nice bipartisan piece in La Stampa by Gianni Rotta:
Fate now seeks the break point of McCain, senator of Arizona, and in 2008 the Republican party candidate for the White House, inflicting on him a brain cancer, GBM glioblastoma, which will consume him in a few months. A nemesis of the legends, because the GBM felled, August 25, 2009, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy: moving, re-reading biographies, discover McCain and Kennedy as twins, even before the hard diagnosis. Both born in the tragic Thirties of the twentieth century, ’32 for Ted, ’36 for John, scattered by historical dynasties.
Both for McCain and Kennedy the White House remained a mirage, Kennedy lost the nomination against Carter in 1980, with the legendary comment “The dream will never die,” McCain, nominated by Republicans 2008 against Obama, advancing to the Lehmann crisis, is then beaten by the young rival. Both of them gain on the field the unmistakable brand of maverick, a loose cannon. McCain has given a twist to President Trump, who hates him (privately calls him “ambushed” for not fighting in Vietnam), Kennedy had been a thorn in Carter’s side.
They both knew the bitter titles of scandals, deaths in a secret incident by secretary Mary Jo Kopechne, after a party for Kennedy in 1969, the case of “Keating Five”, the corruption of the 1989 Savings Cases for McCain. They have emerged, wounded, defeated, for their values, social solidarity for Kennedy, free personal spirit for McCain, rebellious rebels, children of an America who fought for politics-as in the World Tour in 80 days of Verne – but then went to drink a beer together, under the flag. An America that, as Ted and John feared, can now perish because nations as well as men have their point of breaking.
Linking McCain and Kennedy reminds us of when the Senate was a fairly useful deliberative body – before Turtle McTurtleface became leader of the Republican caucus – and politics was relatively sane. There are already 8752 theories about what caused the deterioration, but Nick Bryant has come up with an 8753rd:
It seems entirely fitting that OJ Simpson should reappear at this surreal juncture in American life because many of the trends that culminated in the election of Donald J Trump can be traced back to his arrest and trial.
Consider first of all the impact on the US media of that slow-motion car chase, as “The Juice” headed down the 405 freeway in the back of his white Ford Bronco pursued by a small armada of police cars and a squadron of news helicopters. With viewers glued to their televisions that day, Domino’s recorded a record spike in pizza deliveries.
It was the moment arguably that real-time, rolling news truly came of age.
That chase and the gavel-to-gavel coverage of the 1995 trial on CNN and Court TV demonstrated a voracious appetite for cable news. The OJ “trial of the century”, with its blend of tabloid sensationalism and serious analysis, established the formula for ratings success. In last year’s presidential election, the media fixation with Donald Trump demonstrated how that recipe still works now. His candidacy could almost have been tailor made to fit the requirements of real-time cable news and Twitter, its digital equivalent.
Here again there are parallels with the election of Donald Trump, when voters were presented with the same evidence, the same televised spectacle, and reached diametrically opposed opinions. Again America was riven, although the roots of that polarisation were different. With OJ, it was race. With Trump, it was class, education, gender and geography. Yet he, too, tapped into a shared sense of victimhood. He portrayed himself as the victim of the Washington political establishment and East Coast liberal media, essentially telling his supporters that the same elites sneering at him were the same elites sneering at them. Whereas Cochran played the race card, Trump deployed the rage card.
What struck me about last year’s election was how many voters were prepared to overlook Donald Trump’s truth-stretching and falsehoods because of their determination to exact revenge and send a message. Trump’s relied on slogans – Make America Great Again, Build the Wall, Lock Her Up – knowing they had more resonance than detailed policies. Feelings were more important than facts. Hillary Clinton became the perfect bogey woman. Someone who personified all that was wrong with the American body politic. Someone who used the “d” word, deplorables, to describe them.
Many of those who voted for Trump felt the political system was rigged against the white working class, just as some of the black jurors in the OJ trial felt the political system was rigged against them.
Getting even more abstract, Andy Martin discusses how POUTS causes good crime fiction:
There was once a cartoon in the New Yorker which featured a 19th-century editor, very Victorian, with long sideburns, and poring over a manuscript on his desk, giving a hard time to a young wannabe writer. “Come, come, Mr Dickens,” he is saying, “it can’t be both the “best of times” and the “worst of times”, can it now? Make your mind up!” It occurred to me at ThrillerFest in New York this week that this could be another of those times, both best and worst.
Worst because of rampant Brexitism and Trumpery. Best on account of the raft of forthcoming thrillers and mysteries in the new season.
The question is: could there be a connection? The worse the state of the world, the better the literature emerging out of our orgy of uncertainty and self-destruction? There is a case for saying that all great works reflect death, horror, murder, crime. Think War and Peace or Crime and Punishment. The Brothers Karamazov just naturally assumes that most sons will want to bump off their father. Turning it around, Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” is predicated on the belief that guys (and perhaps specifically Ted Hughes) have got it in for her.
They’re all Nazis at heart. Al Alvarez used to make the case that all the best poetry was written on the verge of nervous breakdown. Maybe that’s where we are now.
We have been programmed, in evolutionary terms, to find consolation and reassurance in these narratives that provide both an epistemological and moral pay-off: a puzzle is solved and justice is served. We wander the earth in a moral maze in which mysteries have a habit of remaining mysterious. We rely on the crime novel to bring us clarity and enlightenment where before there was only darkness. Maybe it is all we have left of the sublime.
Which I think explains why these narratives are so popular in the age of Brexit and Trumpery. The novel is more myth than mimesis, an “escape” in that it offers an imaginary solution of the ills that beset us and remains intractable in the real world. It is closer to religion than to nature because it insinuates that there is always Someone On Our Side. But they also suggest why, in turn, Brexiteers and Trump have of late been so insanely successful. It is because their penny-dreadful gospel claims to “save” us from a host of hazy crimes and misdemeanours, “carnage” and apocalypse.
In the Herald Scotland, Alison Rowat also looks at fiction and the current administration:
WHEN it comes time to make a movie about the Trump presidency, some unfortunate screenwriter is going to find all the best titles have been taken. Creative tinkering will be required, particularly if the filmmaker wants to home in on the true tale of the president’s eldest son, Donald Jr, and his meeting with a Russian lawyer.
Would one plump, for example, for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Numbskull? Eternal Sunshine of the Clueless Mind? Indiana Jones and the Temple of Dumb?
But the Russia story is different, is it not? With several congressional committees already investigating, this matter above all others has the potential to do momentous harm to President Trump. To be accused of accepting foreign help is shocking enough. If such accusations were proven it would amount to a scandal worse than Watergate, a shame that was at least home-grown. It is a delicate situation, therefore. The mother of all fine china shops, the kind of establishment that would bar entry to passing bulls and children. Enter, then, number one Trump son and 39-year-old political toddler, Donald Trump Jr.
America seems to be suffering from a condition best described as Trump outrage fatigue. It reached a certain plateau after the election, and it spikes now and again, but essentially it continues on the same level. The patient seems unwilling or unable to shrug it off, to find some way to break the fever and move on.
But what does it matter? America has been divided for so long on so many issues the Trump presidency would hardly seem to make much difference. Yet it does. Leaving aside the wider, global harm that could follow from having a distracted and weakened America turning in on itself, there is the damage being done to democracy. Mr Trump was swept into office on a wave of disillusionment with the status quo. That same disenchantment, far from being reversed, is being fuelled further by the Russia claims. How this democratic disaster movie ends no-one, not even Hollywood’s most imaginative minds, knows.
POUTS has been in office for six months now, and a number of outlets have produced reports on what he’s done so far. Here’s the one from the Frankfurter Allgemeine:
Donald Trump has been in the White House for six months. That means a lot of noise, countless Twitter messages, chest-beating everywhere. His popularity is, according to surveys, as low as any other president at this time. Less than 40 percent of Americans say they are satisfied with their president. But politics were also made in the first term of office of the new president.
Thus, Trump withdrew the United States from the Transpacific trade agreement TPP, surprisingly, and tried to re-negotiate with Mexico and Canada the existing North American agreement (Nafta). With other countries, including Germany, he is at war with trade policy.
But the biggest failure of Donald Trump in his first six months in office was administered by his own party. He has not been able to comply with his electoral promise to abolish “Obamacare”, which has been hated by republicans and their voters because of high contributions . It was not because the Democrats had resisted or the constraints had been too great, but rather because his own party, despite their majority in both congress chambers, could not reach a consensus.
The American president also shows repeatedly that he has no experience in political life. In May, he met the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov at the White House and told him that the United States had access to a spy within the “Islamic state”. This has put both the life of the agent at risk, as well as betraying important state secrets, which in the view of the American secret services has taken massive influence on the presidential election.
But along with all these negative things, positive things also happen, at least from the perspective of Trump and his supporters. Thus the White House is boasting that in the first six months of office, more than 860 regulations have been abolished. Most of them came from the Obama Administration and were about, for example, environmental protection. Trump sees these regulations as an obstacle to the economy and wants to reduce the influence of the state on the economy in a major deregulation campaign.
Elaborating on the failure (so far) of Deathcare, Peter Winkler looks at the fallout.
In essence, however, the drama about the health reform has exposed only the old trenches that keep the Republican Party holding its breath. Unlike in Europe, the major American parties are not bound by any program that would discipline their members and leaders. Rather, each deputy and senator herself defines what republican politics mean to her or him.
Radical anti-socialists, security-political hawks against libertarian statesmen, and the a business-friendly establishment against the tea-party movement’s leaders. These and other schisms also make the party difficult to manage despite controlling all areas of the government. In addition to this, the iron political law for social works: once built, they turn into kryptonite, which is better not touched, because it even robbed Superman of his powers.
The reform of health was supposed to be the legislative project that the Republicans could quickly push through, then turn to other topics. There was, for example, the big tax reform, whose prospects are by no means better after the failure of the reform of the health system, or the law on the renewal of the infrastructure of a trillion dollars, which, as the blog “Politico” aptly describes – shows no signs of life.
Instead, the US once again looks into the abyss of a self-made insolvency if the statutory debt ceiling can not be increased in time. Such scenarios had marked several totally unnecessary power struggles between the Republicans in Congress and Obama at the White House. The diplomatic world then followed with astonishment how, in Washington, the creditworthiness of the United States itself was treated as a political football.
James Kirchik has a long article in the FAZ about how the Republican Party has become the pro-Russia party. It’s not too difficult a read despite its length.
How is it possible that the party which had moral clarity of a Ronald Reagan has turned into that of the moral emptiness that is Donald Trump? Russian intelligence is among the best in the world. I think they have carefully studied America’s political scene, and in the course of the Obama years realized that the conservative movement was ready for manipulation. Their basic counterpart to the “axis of evil” was long past. There only remains an intellectually and morally dried carcass, populated by high-rollers, opportunists, entertainers andcon-men, who operated extremely profitable publishers, radio empires, websites and television stations, and did not spread ideas there, but resentment.
If a political official from the Russian Embassy in Washington had visited the zoo which is the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, he would have seen a “movement” that lauded a ridiculous performance artist like Milo Yiannopoulos as if he were an intellectual heavyweight. When conservative bloggers are ready to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars from the authoritarian government of Malaysia to launch a dirt campaign against a democratic opposition leader, which they do not know the least about, it’s but a small step to the support and defense of an action of a brain dead Dauphin like Donald Trump jr., who is at least attempting collusion?
Why, in the face of this miserable picture, should not Russia try to “reverse” American rights, whose ethical rot is the necessary condition for her repulsive unscrupulousness? It is precisely this ethical decay that makes it possible for Dennis Prager, one of the more flexible professional moralists of the Right, to assert with an straight face: “The new media in the West is a far greater danger to Western civilization than Russia.” Why should a “religious right” celebrating a miserably immoral charlatan like Donald Trump, not close their eyes to the oppressive regime that prevails in Russia – or even expressly approve it like Franklin Graham?
Another long read is provided by Bettina Gaus in taz. I’ll warn you that it’s another examination of POUTS supporters, but it’s written out of curiosity rather than trying to advance an agenda and mercifully doesn’t attempt to come up with a Unified Theory.
Change of location. West Virgina, one of the poorest states in the USA. In addition to some income from tourism, this is mainly due to coal. Not surprisingly, Hillary Clinton did not score with her campaign for renewable energies.
Conrad Lucas is chairman of the Republicans in that state. A year ago he said, “I am 34 and the great hope of my party in West Virginia. If Hillary Clinton moves into the White House and possibly stays there for eight years, then I am 42 and someone else is 34 years old and the great hope of the Republicans. ”
Hillary Clinton has not become president. Lucas is now 35 years old and is considering to stand for congressional elections in the coming year. His family settled here a few hundred years ago. He is – or seems to be – evangelical, homophobic, reactionary. So has good prospects in his party.
A small problem: He is also funny, sarcastic, intelligent. And he is not allowed to use any of these skills against Donald Trump, who is supported so far by so many Republicans that no candidacy could be successful against his political course. Conrad Lucas does not say a word against the US president. But he can not always resist the temptation to deliver a differentiated analysis. “The transition from a business man to a politician is always particularly difficult,” says Lucas, a graduate of Harvard University. “There is a wealth of possibilities for action in business life, but only a few goals. There is also a wealth of possibilities for action in politics, and the number of goals is unbelievable. ”
A wise definition of politics, especially of foreign policy. This contains a sharp criticism of Donald Trump. Lucas formulates here the counterposition to the viewpoint of the dignitaries of East Aurora, according to which audacity is enough to achieve what one wants. He calls for a clear prioritization of political goals – that is, the opposite of the uneasy leverage, for which Donald Trump stands.
But does anyone notice this? Who is already interested in foreign policy? The longer and the more frequently you talk to Trump’s followers, the more it becomes clear that the US president is looking inside – and so he is understood. Whether he travels to Saudi Arabia or to the G20 summit to Hamburg, ultimately it is all about domestic politics.
There’s little that seems to unite the people Gaus interviews beyond being fed up. Some are now fed up with POUTS as well.
The Norwegian ambassador also has some thoughts, as Jostein Matre reports:
Aas believes it is essential to understand that the United States is a divided society, where it is almost impossible for the Republicans and Democrats to reach compromises on the important issues. Thee ambassador points out that this is not new with Donald Trump as president. This was also the case under Barack Obama.
“Congress did not get anything done at all. They sat on each side of the aisle.”
“It was crucial even though other countries might criticize, from the start, we were clearly willing to cooperate with them, and we were clear why Norway is an important partner for the United States,” said Aas.
He refers to things like security and defense with cooperation in countries like Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, as well as the United States Navy Corps on Værnes. But also for work on peace processes, such as Colombia and Afghanistan, trade, the Arctic, our relationship with Russia, and Norway actually contributing to creating jobs in the United States
…It’s just not easy yet. There are still a lot of posts in the various ministries Donald Trump has not been filled up with people. For the Norwegian Embassy, the consequence is that they often simply do not have anyone to address, such as in the Foreign Ministry, the Pentagon and the National Security Council.
– We notice that the political people are not there. That’s how the communication between the political leadership and the career people who now work in political positions often breaks up. It will be a bit more choppy, “explains Aas.
Norway isn’t the only country which has noticed the lack of senior appointments by the administration. Ansgar Graw considers the recent announcements of ambassadors to Germany and Russia:
… many administrators in Washington are skeptical about the unpredictable president and do not want to work in his government. On the other hand, Trump is very suspicious and so he prefers to be with close confidants, if not relatives.
Trump does not have more than 500 confidants and relatives. It is true that the White House has submitted proposals for further 145 top-ranking officials, which now await confirmation by the Senate. But the gaps remain immense.
But that there is so far no regular ambassador among the US representation in Berlin, hardly anyone has registered. Because both countries cooperate closely, contacts have emerged at all levels that work without diplomatic action.
There are direct channels between the Bundestag and Congress, as well as between the Federal Ministry of Defense and the Pentagon , between the Foreign Office and the State Department, between the other Ministry of Defense, between the secret services and, of course, between the Chancellery and the White House.
Ambassadors are much more important in countries that are important to the world, but have less close contacts with Washington. Russia is one of them. Despite the obvious efforts in the Trump environment to establish confidential channels to Moscow, the contacts between the individual ministries or the military are still at the top level, but they are totally underdeveloped at the crucial work stages.
At a second glance, there is much evidence that the President desperately needed to get Huntsman out of DC. For the popular ex-governor of Utah had been considering to stand next year against the 83-year-old Senator Orrin Hatch. Hatch, who belonged to the Senate since 1977, promised in 2012 that the current legislative period was his last. At Trump’s request, however, the influential chairman of the Finance Committee announced another candidature in spring. The 57-year-old Huntsman would have been dangerous to him.
According to a survey conducted by the local newspaper in January, Huntsman led his opponent Hatch by 62 percent to 21 percent. In the Senate, an independent and clever head like Huntsman might have become an offense for Trump. In Moscow, on the other hand, the president can use him.
And that’s your lot for this week. Happy Sunday.