I’m going to begin this week with an entire article from Der Spiegel which nails what’s going on with laser accuracy. Take it away, Roland Nelles:
It is the big stars of the American sport that Donald Trump has got involved with this time: Stephen Curry and LeBron James , the basketball players, football aces like Von Miller (Denver Broncos) and over 200 of his colleagues are outraged by the president. With a few tweets , Trump has triggered a dispute that divides the country – once again -. The crazy thing is: it’s not about sports or the national anthem. At least not for Trump.
Trumps hateful comments against sportsmen kneeling at the national anthem to protest against racism and police violence have only one simple purpose: he wants to divert his political failure in concrete government work with a booming debate. And you have to say unfortunately, it works. Again, everyone falls in line behind the President .
The whole country argues about the old wounds of racism, about freedom of expression, about emotional issues with a high symbolic content, on which everyone has an opinion. This is exactly what he meant to happen: hardly anyone is talking about the president being threatened by a whole series of bitter political defeats.
He will probably not be able to build his wall to Mexico, the big project and election promises, as soon as he actually promised. The last, desperate attempt by the Republicans to implement Trump’s electoral promises and abolish the “Obamacare” health reform is also as good as dead. Last Friday, Senator John McCain declared that he would vote against. His voice could be decisive. Shortly after, Trump started his Twitter storm against the athletes. Any coincidence?
On Tuesday in Alabama a candidate for a vacant senate post is elected. Trump supports the establishment man Luther Strange. But his favorite has hardly any chances to win. A radical right-wing outsider, supported by Trumps former chief strategist Stephen Bannon, will presumably make the race. Trump threatens another disgrace, which he apparently wants to drown.He did the same. Trump dictates to the media, including Twitter and Facebook, the football agenda. Everyone followed him with special announcements and live interviews from the stadia of the nation.
The beautiful side effect for Trump: With his hate commentaries against the (usually black) sportsman, he can at the same time demonstrate his base that he is still the old nationalist riot brother they have chosen. Some people had already the fear that Trump could have come off the “right” path because of his cooperation with the Democrats. Now the Republican base in Texas and Tennessee is likely to be happy again.
Once again, this case shows Trump’s complete cynicism, its ice-cold calculation. He breaks his election promises, he fails as president, he splits the country. But that does not matter to him. Main thing, he wins.
That was obviously written before the tweets lying about his administration’s response to the disaster in Puerto Rico and unloading on the mayor of San Juan for pointing out his uselessness — but they too have had the desired effect. People are talking about him.
And people dance obediently to his tune. Everyone who spent last Sunday gleefully cataloging instances of sports teams taking knees during the anthem was doing POUTS’s bidding.
But even though it’s deflection, the NFL controversy is also about stoking racial conflict, as Suzanne Lynch reports:
Earlier this week I found myself in the departure lounge of a Philadelphia airport waiting for a connecting flight. It was the time of the evening when the daily airport bustle was beginning to die down, tired passengers were sipping coffee from polystyrene cups, and the cleaning staff were busy preparing for the next day.
As in many public spaces in America, TV screens beamed from every corner of the room. Most people paid little attention. But shortly after 8.30pm there was a subtle shift in atmosphere.
People paused, looked up, and turned to the TV with an air of expectation. The Dallas Cowboys were taking on the Arizona Cardinals, in Arizona’s first home game of the NFL season. But it wasn’t the football that was on people’s minds. All eyes were on the teams as they lined up.
The uncomfortable reality underpinning the controversy is race – most NFL footballers are black, while team-owners are white.
The result of Trump’s comments at the rally was to light a match to a row that had been relatively dormant for months.
While most US presidents throughout history have strived to create unity, Trump is a president who thrives on divisiveness.
His incendiary comments served to reopen controversies about race, patriotism and national identity that underpin America’s national sport.
While in reality the issue is highly complex – Trump was correct in saying that many people booed the players at the games on Sunday and Monday and oppose Kaepernick’s actions– Trump succeeded in pushing the debate into the open, forcing people across the US to take sides and accentuating the divides that characterise this increasingly polarised country.
…Although Trump’s intervention may ultimately have done more for Kaepernick’s cause, as players across the board backed the right to protest, the president once again showed his talent for stoking conflict and bringing to the surface the racial tensions in American society.
David Usborne takes a different road, wondering whether the distraction technique will run out of steam:
Donald Trump has demonstrated a special skill for diverting our attention from pesky news that threatens his agenda. Even his missile attack on Syria in April was seen by some as an attempt to distract us from a first rush of allegations about contacts between his campaign and Russia. “The distractor-in-chief has struck again,” blared one headline in the Washington Post.
As he enters month nine of his presidency, Trump is discovering that his powers of distraction only take him so far. And can even get him into serious trouble (we shall get to Puerto Rico in a moment). Worse is the inevitable reality that other matters have an annoying habit of popping up to distract him. Two cases in point right now: members of his cabinet indulging in unnecessary private-jet travel at mighty cost to the taxpayer and West Wing advisors using private email accounts for government business.
Price’s goof matters because it is easy for voters to understand. That’s their dime paying for the hot towels. The problem Kushner created for himself isn’t too hard to grasp either even if the legal questions it raises are murkier. Why did he and, reportedly, four other West Wing aides, think it was OK to use a private email when it wasn’t OK for Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State? Her private server was the main cudgel Trump used to beat her. Yet there it is. Kushner, who is married to the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, is accused of setting up a private email account in December so he could communicate with other top Trump officials, including ex-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. There are statutes that demand that all White House communications become part of the public record. They can’t be private.
Trump might be wondering this weekend what distraction he can conjure up to distract us from these distractions. But he should be careful with that. His other big problem last week was Puerto Rico and how, when the full impact of Hurricane Maria was coming into view a week ago, he was tweeting endlessly about athletes kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice instead of that. He was distracting the nation and himself from what it should have been focusing on, namely the desperate plight of the 3.4 million US citizens on the island.
It’s tricky this distracting business. He’d be better off leaving it alone.
These diaries too are instances of dancing to POUTS’s tune, since I devote so much time to articles which talk about the bum. In mitigation, I can say that the foreign writers usually have less of an axe to grind and sometimes say something insightful, but it’s still all about him. The country he purportedly leads and the office he holds are of no particular interest to him beyond the opportunities they offer him for self-aggrandizement; without having thought about this for hours, you probably have to look at people like Emperor Bokassa or Idi Amin to find anyone so stunningly indifferent to the people he allegedly governs. Which offers the possibility that it will be easier to shake him off when the time comes because he hasn’t taken enough interest in the country’s institutions to permanently damage them.
If he hasn’t managed to sleepwalk the world to destruction, that is.
Kim Sengupta looks at a report issued by the Royal United Services Institute, a British think-tank which devotes itself to international security issues:
The title of the report is “Preparing for War in Korea” and it presents a vivid montage of apocalypse now, or in the imminent future. We are about to experience, it warns, the worst conflict since the Second World War, with “large-scale US-led air and cyber offensives and massive North Korean retaliation using conventional, chemical and possibly nuclear weapons”. This would be followed by an invasion of North Korea with “casualties likely to reach hundreds of thousands” of people.
All very worrying: but are we really inexorably sliding down this abyss? Speaking about the report, its author, Professor Malcolm Chalmers, was much more cautious. He stressed that “we are not saying that war is probable” and the “policy of containment through sanctions and political pressure may well work”. He wanted to point out that Kim Jong-un is not really suicidal as Donald Trump says, and may well agree to freezing his nuclear programme under the right conditions.
Hyperbole, as we know, has had a major impact on this confrontation. At the start of this current episode, Donald Trump surprised and alarmed members of his administration and allies abroad by threatening the annihilation of North Korea with “fire and fury, the likes of which the world has never seen”. Since then he has promised “devastating military action” and has declared that the US “will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea”, as well as, “Kim Jong-un will not be around much longer”. The North Korean dictator, in turn, has called Trump “deranged”, “a lunatic” and a “dotard”, amongst other things.
Amid all this noise, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and others have been forcefully pointing out that the only solution lies in diplomacy; that was also the message of the head of the British military, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, this week.
The Rusi report gives the impression that a cataclysmic war is almost inevitable. That is not the case. The reality is that although North Korea’s nuclear programme will continue to be a source of grave concern, the current crisis will be contained, thankfully, through a process of sanctions and negotiations rather than massive land wars, the use of battlefield nuclear weapons and industrial scale massacres.
Matthias Nass looks at the wider nuclear issues and is less sanguine:
There is currently a double nuclear crisis that threatens peace and international security.
There is on the one hand the further escalation of the North Korean conflict . Not only did US President Donald Trump threaten “total destruction” before the UN General Assembly against North Korea, and Kim Jong Un called a “rocket man on suicide mission,” and Kim, on his side, abused Trump as a “mentally disturbed senile fool.” The North Korean Foreign Minister also announced the “strongest hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean”. And there it is really fire-hazardous.
This would be the first atomic test in the atmosphere for 37 years.
The US has also become a security risk. Donald Trump not only attacked North Korea last week before the United Nations. He also attacked the “degenerate villain” of Iran. Trump had already announced in the election campaign, that the 2015 Iranian nuclear treaty was “miserable”. Now he is about to torpedo the agreement. By October 15th, as with every 90 days, he has to confirm to Congress that Iran adheres to its agreements. But Trump does not seem to be ready. And this, despite the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency has just reaffirmed that Iran fulfills its obligations.
If the Congress agrees with the President, it reintroduces the US sanctions against Iran that were lifted by signing the agreement. If this is the case, the regime in Tehran is likely to terminate the treaty itself, even if the other signatory states (China, Russia, Great Britain, France and Germany) want to hold on to it.
America would have been breaching the treaty – with serious consequences for the Korean conflict. After all, why should Kim Jong Un enter into negotiations with Washington if Trump breaks an agreement, even though the contracting party complies with all regulations? “The credibility of the US would be lost,” says Wendy S. Sherman, who negotiated the Iran deal.
Back to the USA, the Rethug primary in AL was touted in some quarters as a defeat for POUTS. I’m not so sure, myself. He may have appeared at a rally for Large Luther Strange, but his speech was stumping, as always, for himself. Andreas Ross proclaims a victory for Trumpism:
This week Trumpism has triumphed over Trump. Most Republican voters in Alabama ignored all the President’s calls to support the incumbent Senator Luther Strange. Strange had for the time being inherited the seat of Jeff Sessions, when this became Minister of Justice. Precisely because the enthusiasm for Trump in Alabama seems unbroken, the hearts flew to another candidate. Much more ardent than Strange, Judge Roy Moore praised that he would be faithful to Trump and “make America great again.” After his victory in the inner party selection, he only has to conquer a Democrat in December. Which is a formality in Alabama.
In the election campaign, Moore warned that America would be drowned in a wave of “crime, corruption, immorality, abortion, sodomy and sexual perversion.” At a rally on Monday, he pulled a pistol out of the holster to reaffirm his commitment to unrestricted weapon possession. Moore rode on Tuesday to the fire station of his place of residence to cast his vote. In the evening, he explained what his victory meant: that Washington would again revert to its foundation, that is, to the God of Christians. And that the days of majority leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican leadership were numbered.
But real enthusiasm was sparked only the 70-year-old Moore – with a seventh of the money Strange spent. Not only the former Vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin or the celebrated reality TV star Phil Robertson promoted Moore. Steve Bannon, Trump’s recently dismissed chief strategist, also appeared with the judge. He brought Nigel Farage, Trump’s friend from the UK Independence Party. Thus the voters realized who was the true Trumpist.
Some moderate Republicans may hope on Wednesday that the defeat in Alabama will teach the president that he can not always whip the hard core of his base. But Trump is likely to draw the opposite teaching from Roy Moore’s success – and the concerns at the McConnell camp are bigger than ever.
Throughout the country, radicals are now feeling encouraged to challenge Republican officials. Luther Strange commented on his defeat quite openly: “The political seas, the political winds in this country are difficult to navigate, difficult to understand,” the loser thought. Bannon sounded quite different. “Who is the sovereign – the people or the money?” Asked the multimillionaire on Moore’s election party. The voters in Alabama had answered: “The people!”
James Moore (no relation) reflects on who these people are and why they must be challenged:
“Putting the Caliphate first may mean eliminating the US and UK from the map. If it comes down to the Caliphate or them, I vote the Caliphate all the way!”
Just imagine if that had been tweeted out by a Muslim cleric here or in America.
Such an incitement to genocide would spark outrage. There might be calls for the arrest of the person responsible, and for their deportation, depending upon their immigration status.
Donald Trump would be all over Twitter baying for blood, talking about his travel ban, and attacking Muslims. The British tabloid press would be apoplectic and their favourite rent-a-gob MPs would be queuing up to vent their ire. Lots of ordinary Muslims, unfairly tarred with extremist brush amidst the furore, would be thinking, sigh, here we go again.
Now at this point I should come clean. What I quoted is a doctored version of an actual cleric’s tweet.
What it actually said was this: Putting America first may mean eliminating N Korea or Iran from the map. If it comes down to the US or them, I vote US all the way.
You’ve probably guessed by now that it wasn’t written by an Isis apologist. It was, in point of fact, penned by a preacher claiming to follow Christianity.
This is not an exercise in what about-ery, an attempt to justify the horrible things that the Islamist hard right says because the Christian hard right says much the same sort of things.
No, the point I’m leading up to is this: What unites my hate spitting preacher, and his friends, and his fellow travellers in closely related denominations, is their uncritical adoration for the aforementioned President Donald J Trump.
Hate preachers. The Muslim kind do a lot of damage, of that there can be no question.
The Christian kind? They influence a President with his finger on the nuclear button. Men who urge the obliteration of Iran and North Korea in nuclear fire while calling those who have been brutalised by perverts “psychos”.
I’ve maintained a scholarly interest in these preachers, and the religion they pay adherence to for a number of years. Perhaps that’s in part because, having stumbled across their creed, I can’t help but contrast it with what I was taught at a Church of England school in a village on the edge of Sheffield when I was young. It doesn’t really matter that my early lessons in religion didn’t take (I’m an agnostic).
But, given the political situation in America, I’m moved to share some of what I’ve discovered about the extreme end of America’s religious right and, in so doing, to raise a question: Are we afraid of the right people?
This is getting very depressing. So I’m going to do some distraction and deflection of my own by finishing with Brendan O’Connor:
I don’t know if Butlers coffee is especially nice. I’m not a coffee connoisseur. Nowadays I take one espresso a day, for the jolt mainly. And for me it tastes as good out of the Nespresso as it does anywhere else. Sometimes, depending on my circumstances, coffee tastes nicer. Like in a sunny square somewhere in Italy.
I think it’s me that varies rather than the coffee. It’s like how I also imagine that every pot of Happy Pear pesto is different. Sometimes it appears to have a different consistency, or a sharper, fresher, more basily tang. But that must be me too. I’m in a different mood every time I eat some, so it is a different me that comes to each pot.
Anyway. Back to the coffee. One thing that does make my espresso nicer is something a little sweet with it. Which is why, on the rare occasions when I am going to have a coffee in town, I will favour a Butlers, because they nearly always let you choose a chocolate with your coffee. And I like Butlers chocolates. I am particularly partial to the dark coconut one, which is essentially a posh Bounty bar, and also to the dark salted caramel. Not caramel mind you, salted caramel. Is there unsalted caramel anymore?
Recently my wife and I were in town together without children, so we were feeling a bit reckless. When she suggested we get a coffee, even though I had already had my allocated one coffee for that day, I said, “Hell, why not?”
Because I don’t particularly like coffee, I ordered an espresso macchiato. And then I went to pick my sweet. Imagine my surprise to find that Butlers still have in force this ridiculous rule I had forgotten, which is that if you order a small coffee – which is €2 if I’m not mistaken – you don’t get to pick your chocolate. They give you a standard pre-wrapped one instead. It’s discrimination is what it is. Discrimination against people having the small coffees.
The truth is that if I hadn’t been expecting a chocolate at all I would have been OK. But having forgotten the stupid rule, I had built myself up to wanting a dark chocolate coconut, and then this guy was actively going out of his way to say no to me. To tell me I couldn’t have what everyone else was having. Why would you set up a system like that?
I say all this by way of reminding you that Curb Your Enthusiasm is back, and all of us who encounter lots of ridiculousness and First World problems in our charmed lives, are glad to welcome Larry David back into our lives.
Yes, I know this week’s diary has been a bit short. I was busy yesterday.
But the reconciliation deadline has passed and the ACA is safe for now. Have some covfefe and a chocolate of your choice.