Michael Holmans

British Breakfast and Euro-punditry

 

POUTS* has gone abroad to terrorise some other people and won’t be able to play much golf for a bit. Sad!

The places he’s visiting are liable to offer him varying welcomes now that his loose tongue has compromised intelligence-gathering, particularly in the fight against ISIS.

But he will be warmly welcomed at least in his first port of call, as Patrick Cockburn lugubriously observes:

Trump badly needs a success. His three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, before going on to Israel, gives him just such an opportunity. He will probably be able to announce a $110bn weapons sale to the Saudis and emphasise that this means more jobs back in the US. He will be given a welcome of imperial splendour in Riyadh, where there is to be an “Arab Islamic American Summit” and two other summits attended by dozens of Muslim leaders. The message is that the US and Saudi Arabia are at one in confronting the evil Iranians.

Events planned for the multiple summits in Riyadh are pretentious and reek of hypocrisy. One of the most distasteful, called “Tweeps 2017” and to be held in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh, is designed to appeal to Trump’s addiction to Twitter. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and King Abdullah of Jordan will be there, and there is to be a series of panels on the social media.

This is happening in a country notorious for jailing anybody tweeting the mildest criticism of the government. Amnesty International reports that “the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) in the capital, Riyadh, sentenced journalist Alaa Brinji to five years in prison and a fine, followed by an eight-year travel ban, for comments he posted on Twitter”. In Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, critical tweets lead to draconian sentences, ensuring that Twitter is no longer the public forum it was in 2011.

The phoneyness and extravagance of the events in Riyadh are strongly reminiscent of the infamous celebration of 2,500 years of the Iranian monarchy held by the Shah in Persepolis in 1971. The aim was to put on display the achievements and power of Iran under the Shah, whose officials assembled even more royals, presidents and prime ministers in Persepolis than the 55 leaders and representatives gathered in Riyadh this weekend. It did not do him a lot of good when seven years later, after his overthrow, almost all his ungrateful guests rejected his pleas for a place of refuge.

Christoph Scheuermann also looks at some of his other stops:

Donald Trump really hates traveling. The many people, the unfamiliar food, the foreign culture. He likes to stay in familiar surroundings, his daughter Ivanka once said, in Trump hotels and Trump golf clubs, and watches football in the evening. His journey, beginning today in the Middle East, is the journey of a man who has never been interested in the world.

On his journey, Trump will give two major speeches, in Riyadh and Jerusalem. He wants to show that he can be presidential, that he has the world under control, that he can leave the Russia affair behind him. In Riyadh, he will talk about Islam, which is awaited with great tension. The speech is being prepared by Trump hardliner Stephen Miller, who has already choreographed the ban on immigration by citizens from Muslim countries. Trump had also claimed in the election campaign: “Islam hates America.”

In Israel , a mixture of skepticism and hope awaits him. For months Trump has been talking about creating peace in the region – a deal that has failed generations of diplomats. The problem is that nobody knows what Trump wants and what he stands for. On the one hand, he has appointed as US ambassador to Israel a man who has supported the radical settler movement in the past. On the other hand, he is surprisingly positive about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The best explanation is: Trump is not interested in how peace comes about, which gift he thinks he will definitely present to the people.

Trump’s staff will sell the trip as a success if he does not make a blunder, does not deviate too often from the script and does not have too many new enemies at the end. Expectations are already lower than for any previous president.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, the above piece in a German newspaper suggests that the G7 summit Trump is due to attend is in Sicily. Since the G7 summit is actually in Hamburg, this piece of disinformation may be designed to confuse Trump about his sleeping arrangements even further. Adrian Arab explains the current mystery surrounding them:

For some time there were speculations about where Donald Trump will be staying in Hamburg during the G-20 summit on July 7th and 8th. Already in April it was clear that Hamburg is going to be difficult. For the luxury hotel “Vier Jahreszeiten”, which was favored by Trump, had already refused his booking, the “Hamburger Abendblatt” reported .

Supposedly Trump had found an alternative: according to “Abendblatt” information should be noted that the Berlin “InterContinental”  will accommodate Trump. But from the hotel near the Berlin Zoo came a denial. “Usually, we do not comment on our guests – in this case we say clearly: No, he does not staying with us,” said a spokeswoman.

If Trump stays in Berlin, he automatically decreases the chances of informal talks between him and other leaders at the hotel bar. Almost all of them stay in Hamburg – 9000 rooms will be booked from 6th to 9th July. Chancellor Angela Merkel will check in with her delegation at the hotel “Atlantic Kempinski”, the Chinese in the “Grand Elysée” at the Rothenbaumchaussee and the Saudis at the “Westin” in the Elbphilharmonie.

However, the same fate as Donald Trump has come to another state leader. Vladimir Putin also tried to book a room in the “Vier Jahreszeiten”, according to Abendblatt’s information. He was not successful and was still looking for a hotel.

Before he goes to the G7, there’s also a visit to NATO. It’s already been reported that people have been briefed to keep their speeches short so that Trump doesn’t get bored, but here’s a piece from Martyn McLaughlin about the fallout from Trump’s intelligence indiscretions and what will come of them there:

If you close your eyes and catch a strong northwesterly breeze, you might just be able to hear the grinding sound emanating from Vauxhall Cross. While outbreaks of bruxism have been sporadic at the headquarters of M16 over the years, a full-blown epidemic has developed since last November’s US election, as security operatives gnash their molars following the latest catastrophe across the Atlantic.Even by President Donald Trump’s meagre standards, his decision to shoot his mouth off about highly classified intelligence in the presence of Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US, plumbs new depths.

The inglorious episode makes two things abundantly clear. Firstly, it offers resounding proof that Trump’s uniquely toxic blend of carelessness, impulsiveness, and vanity renders him the gravest danger to his own country. He may have the power to declassify whatever information he wants, yet lacks the responsibility to make the necessary judgments. Secondly, after just four months of his presidency, the historic alliance of Britain, the US, and their three fellow members of the Five Eyes intelligence network is in serious danger of collapsing.In hindsight, it seems optimistic, if not hopelessly naive, to think of how we searched in vain for a label to anticipate the hallmarks of the Trump administration. It would, many posited, herald an unprecedented merger of state and corporate power; others thought it would pursue a populist economic nationalism. Neither prediction was rash or misguided, yet neither were they true. Both made the mistake of assuming Trump has a plan of any kind. They were expressions of hope rather than expectation.
All of which should make Trump’s itinerary over the next week particularly interesting. In what will be his first foreign foray, he is due in Saudi Arabia this weekend, travelling on to Israel before meetings with Nato leaders and the G7 summit. There will be stern words exchanged behind closed doors.You can be sure that everyone in attendance, with the notable exception of Trump, will choose them wisely.

He’s also visiting the Pope, but perhaps more significant for US-Vatican relations is the new US Ambassador, Callista Gingrich. Die Welt reports:

The story is more than a footnote in fast-paced Washington. It begins on 18 August 2000. Callista, born Bisek, married Newt Gingrich at that time. The prominent Republican is a typical Southern baptist, she is a convinced Catholic. He is known as the former spokesman for the US Congress (1995-1999). The woman by his side is, until then, an untitled page. But she has influence. Especially on Gingrich’s faith. Nine years later the prominent Republican entered the Catholic Church.

Callista’s sense of sentiment may be a reason why the Trump government was considering early the 51-year-old for the coveted post of the US Ambassador to the Holy See . On Friday evening, just a few days before Trumps’ visit to Franziskus , it became official: the White House confirmed the nomination of Gingrich.

The musical Callista, who also plays on the French horn, in addition to singing and piano, went into politics after graduation as an intern. Until 2007 she worked in the Committee on Agriculture. Not exactly the resume for an ambassador to the Vatican.

But ultimately it is about the contacts. And those the diplomatically inexperienced can certainly bring to the Holy See.

Winters tells an anecdote about how a former Vatican ambassador was summoned by the Cardinal Secretary to an emergency meeting. If she could use the phone on his desk, she asked. Two minutes later she had the then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on the line. This is what the Vatican expects from an ambassador, concludes Winters. And for this, the well-connected Callista is likely to be fully equipped.

While he’s away, of course, investigations continue into Trump, much of which we’ve already seen reported in the WaPo and other American organs. But here’s a report of something which hasn’t appeared in the US media (at the time of writing, anyway) by Luca Ciarroca:

The impeachment of Donald Trump is approaching apace. After the midterm elections of 2018, the worst US president of all time will hand over to his deputy Michael Pence . An easy prediction? Yes, given that, although slowly, the truth is coming to light : Trump’s affiliate partners are convicted Russian and Mafia-style oligarchs. This could put the former casino operator back in a guilty position for a series of serious allegations.

The first episode of this series of investigative reports , produced by Zembla [a Dutch documentarty-maker], succeeds in doing what no US television network has yet done: to undertake an in-depth analysis of ties with organized crime between Trump and his partners in the management of various properties . The links between Trump, Generous Kushner, Netanyahu, Putin , Chabad Sect , Diamond King Leviev, and many other similar characters are documented with impressive accuracy, with a set of charts, interviews, court documents.

The video highlights another remarkable detail: Trump’s former political mayor, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani , has helped create an ad hoc bank account for the purpose of recycling money through a company in the United States Netherlands. The figure: $ 250 million , coming from Bayrock. Everything documented.

Is it the beginning of the end for the American superpower and its out of control capitalism without restraint? We’ll see. Certainly one like Trump was not to be elected to the White House. Now everything is going wrong and complicating global geopolitics.

That last paragraph alludes to an anti-Americanism which is often found in Italy. Some Italians take this so far that they see Trump as an ally. I’ve already introduced you to the extraordinary Giampaolo Rossi, but now you should read his stablemate Marcello Foa:

Trump appears normalized, swallowed by the establishment. And suddenly Russiagate disappears from the front pages, loses intensity and importance. The president announces the withdrawal of the Nafta Free Trade Agreement, but after a few hours everything remains, confirming his acceptance. The revocation of  Sacramento is reversed with the assent of the Republican Party.

Then, however, something happens. Trump is thinking about it, or at least proves to be taking some space, especially diplomatic. After meeting with the Chinese leader XI with whom he establishes a great personal relationship, he actually overrules the State Department, deciding on his visit to the Pope on May 24 alone and, above all, starting a dialogue with Moscow, talks on the phone with Putin and receives the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov at the White House.

The establishment does not like it and starts to shake. Internal polemics resurface, the newspapers begin to describe a split and chaotic White House. When the president decides to dismiss FBI Comey’s head, the Deep State declares a new and probably definitive, war on  Trump. Following the dictates illustrated by Obama’s former advisor, Kupchan, who called for media and public opinion, the friendly press, or the New York Times and the Washington Post, faded on indiscretions and revelations that were heavy, insinuating and, as always, anonymous, but of secure source: secret services, members of the Administration. The other media amplify. And hysteria mounts.

And now? A long-running critic of US policy, unsuspected because he represents the American Left, Dennis Kucinich, reads the situation with great clarity. Remember he has nothing in common with Trump, but in an interview with Fox News, he thinks this campaign is pretext.

“If the information was so sensitive because it was passed to the Washington Post?”

He asks. It’s still:

“” Something is out of control. There is an attempt to break the relationship with Russia. (…) We need to ask: why is intelligence trying to subvert the US president with these leaks? (…) Look, I’m in disagreement with Trump on many issues but there can be only one president on this and someone in the world of secret services is trying to overthrow this president in pursuit of a political line that puts us in conflict with the Russia. The point is: why? And who? We need to find out. “

Kucinich is almost certainly right. Any pretext is useful to pursue the ultimate goal: overruling the will of the people, hunting Trump and maintaining power in the hands of the establishment, within which the political differences between the right and left are annulled, and which governs the US from the Kennedy era.

Foa believes that it’s all a plot to install Pence. Oliver Georgi doesn’t necessarily believe that, but thinks that if he does succeed to the Presidency, he’ll have a huge task:

On Thursday evening, Donald Trump for once said something very true: “The United States is a “divided, confused, non-united country,” he said at a joint press conference with Colombian President Santos in Washington.
Trump (once again) could not be more wrong: it is not the establishment of a special investigator in the Russia affair that “hurts America”, but Trumps unprecedented, chaotic presidency. Above all, however, it is the uproarious “witch hunt” rhetoric of Trump and his “movement”, whose divisive power each new defense attempt only increases.

Should Trump fail or even fall early, he will become a martyr for many of his followers; another victim of the “swamp” in Washington, who successfully resisted his “draining”. Worse still, Trump will have bathed in dragon blood for his fans – and with him, perhaps, will also disappear his view of politics as a big business, where a good deal is more important than morality and righteousness.

The greatest test for America may not be Donald Trump – but the skill of his successor in the Herculean task of reuniting the nation. 63 million Americans voted for Trump in November, and most of them are not radical right-wingers, but  representatives of a deeply insecure stratum that feels disconnected and ignored by the elites. Giving back the lost confidence in the “system” is a challenge that is not measured in weeks and months, but in years.  Who could lead America after Trump? Not only many Republicans have long hoped for Vice-President Mike Pence , who also enjoys a partly hymnic worship in many Trump supporters…. Pence has been remarkably quiet in these chaotic days. An increasing number of Americans, not only in Washington, are hoping that he is getting ready to hit the ground running.

Le Monde has a bit more on the Trump supporters’ views of the scandals:

But in the opposite camp, that of the conservative press or pro-Trump who carried the billionaire to power , it is a completely different story. President Trump can “find shelter on the right, ” summarizes the New York Times , where the “collective judgment” of the Conservative media, the Republican Party and the voters of Mr. Trump is trying to sweep away the suspicions weighing on the president. For this, they use several tactics, according to the liberal daily: the Pavlovian reflex to shout “fake news” , as Mr. Trump himself so often on Twitter , designate another culprit or simply change the subject.

The media are obviously the first accomplices of this conspiracy against the president. Sean Hannity, a star presenter of Fox News, spent the entire week devoted to Donald Trump’s business. But by systematically turning the situation around, with great help from pro-Trump guests. He described on Wednesday an “alliance to destroy Trump” . The day before, he was interviewing a former editor of Breitbart News, a site close to the far right and founded by Steve Bannon. Sebastian Gorka then asked: “When will all this stop? (…) When will we stop endangering national security and doing real journalism?

A Republican strategist interviewed by the New York Times , Alex Castellanos, explains that Mr. Trump’s voters, who wanted to see the ” system” reversed , do not see  the allegations against Trump as evidence that they were wrong — quite the opposite. “When he is attacked, it validates the idea to his supporters that he is the only one who can protect us from the media elite, ” he explains. For most Loyalists, the question is not whether the Trump Presidency is chaotic or not, but whether anyone else could change things as drastically as he promised.

One of the other shady characters active on Trump’s behalf is the odious Richard Spencer, who is well known to Martin Gelin:

In March last year, Richard Spencer arranged a conference for American nationalists in an office building in Washington DC, a stone’s throw from the White House. Trumps face shone from a big screen in the corner of one room, but it was still far from clear that Trump would become the Republican presidential candidate, even less the next president.

Interest in Spencer’s right-wing business was then quite limited. I was one of half a dozen journalists on site and in total there were almost 100 people who went there for the event. In an interview, Spencer told me that he most viewed Trump as a megaphone for ideas that have long been accepted by the outermost right. Spencer described Trump as a rather banal figure, who did not really seem to understand the ideological depth of the right-wing nationalism he flirted during the election campaign. But for Spencer and his comrades in the so-called alternative world, the informal movement of young right-wing extremists whom Spencer turned out to be unofficial leaders, did not deny that Trump was an unusual asset. With Trump as president, you could begin a long-term project to spread nationalistic ideas all over the world. The real goal was, according to Spencer, to save the white race from a safe fall.

“Trump is the first presidential candidate specifically for the interests of white Americans,” Spencer said.

In the interviews I’ve done with Richard Spencer since 2014, he has consistently described himself as an intellectual creator who sits above the trivial jaws of daily politics. Since he started a debate site called Alternative Right, he has become a self-appointed leader for this loosely defined collection of mostly younger right-wing activists who call themselves all right. The movement includes everything from radical system-critical libertarians to neo-Nazis and teens who most consider it a fun hobby to harass the left-wing people on social media.

Ideologically, Spencer has long been more inspired by European philosophers and political thinkers than politicians at home in the United States. The high-extensional nationalism that Spencer promotes led a peripheral existence in the United States before Trump’s election campaign. Several of Spencer’s colleagues in America’s organized alternative world, like Jared Taylor, long described the United States as a hopeless market for their openly xenophobic ideas. In an interview I did with Taylor 2014, he spoke that a nationalist party in the US could get one-fourth of the votes in a national election. But two years later, Donald Trump succeeded in winning a presidential election with an outdated nationalist agenda. Spencer now feels he has the wind at his back for nationalist and often openly racist ideas. It is with this political energy that he arrives in Sweden to launch a new phase in the right-wing internationalism of right-wing extremism.

Spencer has long talked about Putin’s Russia as a model. He describes Russia as the only country that advocates white nationalism right now. His goal is long-term idea creation, rather than engaging in political campaigns. In our previous interview, Spencer said:

“I do not really care much about political choices. I’m not looking for political office, but I want to gain influence first and foremost. The goal … is to change the culture itself. And it takes time. It always takes time. But my goal is that in ten or twenty years, all that I say to you here, whatever media in the United States thinks is controversial or extreme, are such obviousities that people almost get angry when they hear a politician say that.

I’m finishing this week with another interview with a Trump supporter — Nigel Farage. I intend to devote most of next week’s diary to the British election, in which Farage isn’t standing, but he recently gave an interview to Die Zeit which is a) hilarious and b) already translated into English by the paper:

ZEIT ONLINE: Mr. Farage, parliamentary elections are to be held in your homeland in just a few weeks. Why are you sitting here in Brussels in your British socks instead of helping out with the Brexit negotiations back home?

Nigel Farage: If the British government had asked me to help them in any way with Brexit, I would have done that. But of course, they wouldn’t. They will always hate me. They will always see me as an outsider. They will never forgive me for being successful. I don’t mind.

ZEIT ONLINE: Why did you meet with Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London?Farage stops for a moment to think. Following his visit to the Ecuadorian Embassy not long ago, he told reporters directly after his meeting with Assange that he could no longer remember what he had done in the embassy.

Farage: Oh, for journalistic reasons.

ZEIT ONLINE: What? Because you want to write a story about the WikiLeaks founder?

Farage: For journalistic reasons. I will not say anything more about that. But I did it for journalistic reasons, not for political reasons.

ZEIT ONLINE: What do you mean when you say, “journalistic reasons?”

Farage: I will not say anything more about that. If you look at what I do today, I used to do politics 100 hours a week. But now I do politics for 40 hours a week, so I have got a lot of time to do other things. I am a Fox News contributor. I am an LBC presenter. I write.

Farage’s press spokesman interrupts the interview. He says that the interview had actually been arranged to discuss trade relations between the EU and the UK. Neither he nor Farage, the spokesman says, want to talk about Farage’s connections to the WikiLeaks founder or to Russia.

ZEIT ONLINE: You once said you admire Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Farage: In 2013, as a political operator, he was the best in the world. Yes, this is what I said. But I wouldn’t like to live in his country. I didn’t like a lot of things he did. But as a political operator, he is to be admired.

ZEIT ONLINE: One of Russia’s foreign policy goals is dividing and weakening the EU. Could it be that in the case of Brexit, you were directly or indirectly used for this Russian goal?

Farage: It is obvious that the EU wants to expand to the east and threatens Russia. That’s completely mad.

ZEIT ONLINE: What you say isn’t true. It wasn’t the EU that triggered the revolution in Ukraine, but the Ukrainians who wanted better relations with the EU.

Farage: I want the EU to be destroyed and it doesn’t matter if God or the Dalai Lama wants it as well. The EU is an anti-democratic, failing structure. You know, you are the first person who has asked me if Russia supported me. Maybe you have a special German mindset. No other journalist in the world has asked these questions.

ZEIT ONLINE: I just want to understand your role.

Farage: We have no links to Russia.

ZEIT ONLINE: You didn’t meet with the Russian Embassy’s deputy chief-of-mission in London?

Farage: Nope.

ZEIT ONLINE: Not in 2013, before the Brexit campaign was conceived?

Farage: Ah, hang on. He came to the EP office. Or I met with him in London. So what?

ZEIT ONLINE: Why did you meet with him?

Farage: I think you are a nutcase! You are really a nutcase! Brexit is the best thing to happen: for Russia, for America, for Germany and for democracy. And that’s the key point.

Farage’s press spokesman again interrupts the interview. He says that the interview should focus more on trade relations between Germany and the UK. Farage nods.

The whole thing is a scream. Compared to Spencer, who really is a sinister and dangerous man, Farage is almost as clownish as Trump.

But there are a lot of dangerous people around these days. Trump appears to me to be holed below the waterline, and I’m not at all sure that he’s going to be able to do very much of what he wants to do. But he may well be strongarmed into doing things other people want him to do, and those other people are not at all pleasant, since a lot of them are Republicans.

The priority for non-Congressional Democrats is to organize, register people to vote, and build up the campaigns to oust the Republicans. Those in Congress have to resist Trump as well as the awful bills the other side are putting forward, but those outside need to be putting in the work to swell their ranks come November 2018.

 

British breakfast and Euro-punditry

It’s been an, er, interesting week, to be sure. European views of what’s happening in America are, I’m afraid, not what you might call particularly varied. Despite Herr Drumpf’s Germano-British ancestry, there seems to be a remarkable lack of trust being shown in the US President pro tem. (Although, to be fair, most of the comment from Britain’s serious Right is paywalled, so I haven’t read it.) Indeed, some even go as far as to say that America’s elected President is a teensy bit odd. I realize that this may well be quite shocking to some of you, but you should perhaps be aware that we don’t have much access to the excellent Fox News Channel over here, and are thus somewhat handicapped in the search for knowledge and understanding.

Laboring under this ignorance, people are liable to come up with strange pieces like this one from Nash Riggins:

We live on a planet bound by resolute, scientific principles and concrete facts. Up is up, down is down and blatant lies are blatant lies. It’s all pretty straightforward, actually. But as the days and weeks slowly wither to ash, it’s become increasingly clear that Donald Trump doesn’t live on the same planet that you and I have been occupying all this time.

You see, in Donald Trump’s dystopian and suspiciously orange world, all truths are totally subjective – and everybody is a pathological liar with the memory of a haggard old goldfish. It’s the only possible explanation left after this week’s anomalous FBI pantomime performance.

In fact, our benevolent alien overlord only gave Comey the heave-ho because the US Attorney General made him do it. If Trump had gotten his way, things could have worked out a lot better for everybody.

Or that was the narrative for about half a day, anyway.

By Thursday night, Donald Trump appeared on the ultra-fake NBC News to tell us “this Russian thing” actually played a huge role in his decision to send Comey packing. But then again, maybe it didn’t – because several minutes into the exact same interview, Trump sternly declared the FBI hadn’t even been investigating him in the first place.

Every time Donald Trump utters a single syllable, he tarnishes the integrity of his sacred station that much more. He treats voters like mindless meat bags incapable of independent thought, and whimsically wields his presidential powers like a toddler might curiously pull a cat’s tail. He’s got no clue how the world is supposed to work – and if nothing else, the repulsive duplicity he’s demonstrated over the past four months has proven he doesn’t very much care how it’s supposed to work, either.

In the Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole says something rather similar:

What do you do if you’re a reality TV star and your show is flagging?

Easy: you generate conflict. Get people up in arms, keep them talking about you.

So what if some of them are apoplectic? – apoplectic is good. But what if you’ve already started lots of fires and they’re spluttering out? You do what everyone in Hollywood or TV land does when things are not going well – you revive an old idea that worked before. If it grabbed the ratings last time, why not roll it out again? This is what Donald Trump has done with the dramatic sacking of the FBI director James Comey. He is trying to keep his fans happy by reviving his catchphrase from the Apprentice: “You’re fired!”

To suggest that there is some method in Trump’s madness is not to deny that the firing of Comey is indeed mad. The chaotic implementation of the move – with Comey learning of his sacking from breaking news stories on TV and Trump’s surrogates utterly unprepared for the task of defending his latest outrage – suggests that it was largely impulsive. The impulse in question is the narcissist’s rage that the world is refusing to conform to his desires.

Trump’s instinctive gamble has always been that his fans would be happy to live vicariously through him. His self-gratification gratifies their own desires. He is for them a kind of wish-fulfillment, a figure of untrammeled power who doesn’t have to abide by rules, who can grope anyone he wants and fire anyone he wants.

It’s an absurd gamble but of course it paid off with the presidency of the US. It ceases to pay off, however, the moment he begins to look like a man who acknowledges ordinary limits and common laws.

Decorum would destroy him.

There may be many reasons why Trump fired Comey but two of them loom largest: he wanted to and he could.

He is entirely incapable of doing his job, but it happens to be a job that allows him to fire missiles and fire people.

For as long as he survives, he will never be able to resist the gesture for which his fans learned to adore him: pointing his stubby finger and saying “You’re fired!”

Or this, from Simon Riesche:

It is no secret that Donald Trump is greatly concerned with the results of  research into his person. “I get very good marks for foreign policy”, he was pleased to say this week in an interview with the magazine “Time” . That his general popularity continues to be very bad, the President did not say. About the unflattering result of a recent survey – according to which the top three concepts Americans have of Donald Trump, “idiot” (1st place), “incompetent” (2nd place) and “liar” (3rd place) — he unsurprisingly uttered not a  syllable.

It is always the same pattern, the author and blogger Paul Waldman analyzed a few weeks ago. First, the President said “something ridiculous”. Then his helpers would come together to assure either that what Trump was saying was true, or at least had a true core. Subsequently, most media would then deconstruct Trump’s alleged truths and even some Republicans would distance themselves from the president. At the same time, right-wing commentators would rush to help Trump and hastily spread conspiracy theories. “When it’s over, we all feel disoriented, as if someone has just awakened us from a deep sleep and tells us that we have two minutes to come up with support for 20 lies and solve a crossword puzzle.” And then comes the next tweet.

Waldman also has a name for Trumps alleged Masterplan: “Bombardment of baloney”.

Der Spiegel’s Veit Medick has this to say:

Trump’s Putsch from above is a sign of how serious the situation is for him. The Russia affair is not only still there, it has now become a rather unpleasant problem. Ex-Justice Minister Sally Yates put the question on Monday on the issue of why the president held his first security adviser Mike Flynn in office, even though there were warnings that he had misrepresented talks with the Russian ambassador. In addition, it became known that the FBI has now also taken action specifically against Flynn’s associates. That now needs to be stopped – Trump’s decision was  driven by this desire.

We should be careful with historical comparisons, but at this point it is difficult not to think of Richard Nixon. In October 1973, Nixon, then himself under pressure, fired Archibald Cox, the special investigator in the Watergate scandal in which the president was so deeply involved. The dismissal was the beginning of Nixon’s end. Trump hopes that he will come through by making his decision. And so the matter becomes a great test for the US.

Trump and his rhetoric have long been a burden on the independence of the institutions. If the Republican majority now nods through a successor to Comey, the president will not only erode this independence, but also the confidence in the rule of law in the United States.

However, if a person who is supported by Republicans and Democrats and is beyond any doubt is found, the system of “checks and balances” endangered under Trump may experience a certain revitalization. This also includes the use of a non-partisan special investigator, who investigates the Russian affair to the last detail.

In the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Marie-Astrid Langer says all this is endangering the Trump project:

In the past few days, Trump has not only shown how impulsive and thoughtless he is, but also how much he is ignoring the influence of his advisors. He has demonstrated above all his low opinion against the independence of the FBI. His behavior feeds a well-known narrative. Earlier, he had compared CIA’s foreign secret service with the Nazis and threatened uncooperative judges. Those who still needed proof of how Trump stands on the separation of powers and the independence of the institutions received him this week.

This behavior may shock Washington, partly also disgust, and harms America’s reputation as a democracy. But the fact is: it hardly changes the minds of Trump’s base. None of what the President has revealed in the past few days is new, but follows his pattern. A majority of the electoral districts voted for him nonetheless. What interests Trump’s voters are perceptible reforms, especially economic. That is why they carried him to the White House, and they will measure him or the Republicans in the mid-term 2018 elections.

But Trump could stumble here: the Russia affair with its ever-new episodes threatens his reform agenda. Firstly, scandals such as the recent ones soak up resources in Washington and delay the implementation of electoral promises, specifically health reform or new tax legislation. Both Trump and the Republicans want to whip the Congress as soon as possible, as long as they have the majority there. Secondly, Trump risks his backing among Republican Congressmen. So far, many of them have shut their eyes, but the president is likely to overstretch loyalty, especially when it comes to a red flag like Russia. Only a few Republicans would have to turn their backs on him, and the majorities in Congress would be destroyed.

And there’s a lot more in a similar vein.

But the NZZ in particular has some other articles less focused on the immediate problems of the Trump administration.

Ivo Mijnssen has an article about the crisis of democracy:

Presidential candidates generally praise the virtues of their country. Donald Trump is different. His America is so degenerate that it is no longer a model for anyone. Asked whether he would stand like his predecessors for the promotion of democracy, he simply said: “We have no right to give lessons. We must go to our own door. “ The statement is symptomatic of the crisis of the promotion of democracy, especially in the country which for decades, with messianic self-assurance, stood for freedom and human rights worldwide.

Trump meets the Zeitgeist. The one-time hopes for the unstoppable global advance of democracy and market economy have given way to a skepticism that often slips into cynicism. At best, it derives from legitimate criticism of the trench between Western realpolitik and humanitarian ideals. In the worst, rulers in Russia or China abuse this temporising to pursue their goals. More and more populists in Europe are joining the choir. The democratic promise has become a concept of struggle.

The Copenhagen Criteria of 1993 for EU candidate countries provided clear legal and market-based standards. This gave the Union a strong leverage in the democratization and opening up of the post-communist states in the 1990s. In return for the costs, Western companies opened up new markets. Democratization in the course of the EU eastward enlargement was a success.

However, the EU did not welcome the movement of democracy on its eastern edge with open arms. The Europeans supported many citizens’ initiatives and , at the beginning of the millennium, spent almost ten percent of their development aid on democracy projects – about the same as the US . They did not open up a prospect of accession to the poor and politically unstable states.

The cost, lack of consensus, and the consideration for the reviving Russia, they held back. The non-committal neighborhood policy, without any prospect of EU membership, which offered Brussels, for example, to Ukraine, was not enough to democratically sustain them.

The US under George W. Bush also contributed strongly to the crisis of democratic promotion. They discovered this as a means against terror , which they applied independently of whether the prerequisites for a liberal order were given in a country. The disastrous armed democracy campaign in the Middle East and the excesses of the war on terror damaged the credibility and led to quarrel with the Europeans. This played into the hands of the enemies of democracy in Eastern Europe.

These conspiracy theories and merging strategies are still valid today – even with a Western audience. They serve the Putins and Orbans of the world as a general purpose weapon to deprecate criticism. The discussion is hardly ever about the difficult to justify promotion of democracy with weapons. Rather, the autocrats attack civil society, the free media and the independent judiciary. Cynically, they do not argue openly against a free society. They merely undermine the credibility of their bearers by branding them as artificial, imported, and unpatriotic.

Expanding particularly on Putin, Andreas Rüesch discusses the new Russian offensives:

A sigh of relief went through Europe, when Emmanuel Macron won the election to the top of France last weekend. The horror of a seizure of power by the authoritarian nationalist party of Marine Le Pen seems to be defeated; the second largest economy in the euro zone remains on a predictable course However, the feeling of being able to sit back and rest easy is wrong. This is not only due to Macron, who will hardly be able to fulfill his hopes. It is also a matter of concern that France – like before the US – was the victim of an externally-driven campaign to influence the elections. The pattern was the same as in the previous year with the American Democrats: hackers got themselves using fraudulent emails access to computers of the Macron camp, captured internal documents and revealed these shortly before the election with the goal of putting the favorites in a bad light.

Unlike in the USA, the trick did not work this time. The publication was far too near the election to have an effect. But this is only a weak consolation, because the leaders of the disinformation campaign will not be beaten, but will draw from this error the necessary lessons for their next action. Interferences such as these threaten to become a permanent companion of Western election campaigns.

Disinformation is now one of Putin’s favorite occupations. The modern communications society offers resources, of which he could only dream as a young agent. Geographic distances have become irrelevant thanks to the Internet, online platforms such as Wikileaks help uncover discrediting documents, and robot programs ensure that propaganda is automated and spread over social networks. It is no longer enough for the Kremlin to stifle democracy in its own country, but it also wants to manipulate it abroad. This fits into Russia’s goal of weakening the West and causing fear on the world stage as a great power. Putin has billions of dollars in his hacking brigades and propaganda budgets; However, it is a cost-effective instrument, much cheaper than a conventional military deployment

….
Trump would probably have been elected without Putin’s help. But the goal of weakening America from within has reached Moscow. The dispute over the Russian interference in the election campaign is like a long-term poison, which paralyzes American politics. The de facto dubious dismissal of the FBI chief, who wanted to track Trumps Russia’s intertwines, was another omen this week that Washington could slip into a real state crisis.

Against this background, it is tragic that the traditional preeminence of the free world is governed by a president who has no sensitivity to the danger from Moscow and who constantly lies to his people. Nevertheless, it is necessary to put Putin within limits. It is not enough to equip the western cyber defense system technically and with personnel. It also needs a new concept of deterrence. Russia must be credibly aware that further manipulation campaigns would result in painful retaliation. Finally, the West also has a rich arsenal of nonmilitary resources. It is conceivable to strengthen the persecution of Russian hackers, who are often confused with the criminal underworld, as well as the freezing of assets of the Putin regime in the West. A discussion is needed before the Kremlin continues to intensify its unstoppable attacks on the foundations of Western democracy.

But it’s fair to say that neither combatting Putin nor ousting Trump is going to be accomplished within the next few days. Trump is about to do some real Presidenting, taking a tour of various countries which host the headquarters of major religions other than Trumpism. So if you aren’t worried enough yet, read the redoubtable Patrick Cockburn:

Many people view Donald Trump as the most dangerous man on the planet, but next week he flies to Saudi Arabia for a three-day visit during which he will meet a man who surely runs him a close second as a source of instability. This is deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, 31 – the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia since his father King Salman, 81, is incapacitated by old age – who has won a reputation for impulsiveness, aggression and poor judgement in the two-and-half years he has held power. Early on he escalated the Saudi role in Syria, thereby helping to precipitate Russian military intervention, and initiated a war in Yemen that is still going on and has reduced 17 million people to the brink of famine. Combine his failings with those of Trump, a man equally careless or ignorant about the consequence of his actions, and you have an explosive mixture threatening the most volatile region on earth.

Prince Mohammed, who is also defence minister, is not a man who learns from his mistakes or even notices that he has made them. Less than a year after his father became king in January 2015, the BND German intelligence agency issued a warning that Saudi Arabia had adopted “an impulsive policy of intervention” abroad and blamed this on the deputy crown prince whom it portrayed as a naïve political gambler. The degree of alarm within the BND about his impact on the region must have been high for them to release such a document which was swiftly withdrawn at the insistence of the German foreign ministry, but its predictions have been fulfilled disastrously in the following eighteen months.

Trump has already ordered greater US support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen, but the deputy crown prince will be primarily bidding for US backing for his confrontation with Iran. Words are already turning into action with reports of the US and Saudi Arabia being at one in planning to stir up an anti-government insurgency among minorities in Iran such as the Baluchis in the south east, something that has been done before but with limited impact.

Saudi leaders were overjoyed by the election of Trump whom they see as sympathetic to them and the Gulf leaders whom he will meet after he arrives in Saudi Arabia on 19 May, before going on to Israel. It is a chilling tribute to the authoritarian instincts of Trump that his first foreign visit as President should be to the last arbitrary monarchies left on earth and to a state where women are not even allowed to drive. On the question of confronting Iran, he is unlikely to be restrained by his Defence Secretary, James Mattis, and his National Security Adviser, HR McMaster, both former generals scarred by America’s war in Iraq, where they see Iran as the main enemy.

The White House is doubtless conscious that the one-time Trump has won universal plaudits in the US was when he fired missiles in Syria and dropped a big bomb in Afghanistan. Trump and Prince Mohammed may be very different in some respects, but both know that fighting foreign foes and waving the flag shores up crumbling support at home.

So there we are. If the weather is even halfway decent where you are, I strongly advise going outdoors and seeing something uplifting.

Petit Déjeuner and other European stuff

Having spent last weekend campaigning, I expected to produce a decent diary this week. However, as I sit down to compile this, I have a streaming cold, so it’s going to be rather less substantial than I’d hoped.

Anyway, today is election day in France, the Presidential run-off between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. The polls all expect Macron to win handsomely; Mme Le Pen is naturally saying she can still win, but her campaign staff are saying that they will regard it as a victory if she gets 35%. That may well be pitching expectations so that they can appear jubilant if she hits 40%, but it will take abstentions on a massive scale for her to win. The purity-obsessed Left are encouraging abstention because Macron isn’t sufficiently progressive for their delicate sensibilities, but it would be astounding if that happened. Apart from the far Left and Le Pen’s own party, political figures from the entire political spectrum are urging people to vote for Macron.

Easter Breakfast

I’m writing on Saturday, so let’s hope we’re all still here to read it on Sunday.

As is becoming almost usual, I’m leading off with Patrick Cockburn:

War-whoops and loud applause from foreign policy establishments and their media supporters have greeted President Trump’s missile strike in Syria, the dropping of the world’s largest non-nuclear bomb on Afghanistan and the dispatch of a naval task force in the direction of North Korea.

This spurt in belligerence over the last week has as much to do with domestic American politics as any fundamental new development in the rest of the world. Trump needed to defuse the accusation that he was too close to President Putin and too tolerant of a Russian ally like Bashar al-Assad. The resort to military action was largely in keeping with the old Pentagon saying that “defence policy ends at the water’s edge”, meaning that it is politics inside, not outside the US, which is the real decision-maker.

Simple-minded though some of Trump’s declarations might appear, others were more realistic than anything said by Hillary Clinton or Senator John McCain.

In Syria, for instance, the main problem for the US and its allies is and has long been that, though they would very much like to get rid of Assad, the only alternative appears to be anarchy or the empowerment of Isis and al-Qaeda clones. Clinton’s policy, insofar as she had one, was to pretend that there already existed, or could be created, a “third force” in Syria that would fight and ultimately replace both Isis and Assad. This is the sort of fantasy that is frequently common currency among think tanks and dedicated experts, often retired generals or diplomats working as TV commentators.

Trump’s summary of what was happening in Syria expressed during the presidential campaign was far more realistic. He said that his attitude was that “you are fighting Syria, Syria is fighting Isis, and you have to get rid of Isis. Russia is now totally aligned with Syria, and now you have Iran, which is becoming powerful because of us, aligned with Syria… Now we’re backing rebels against Syria, and we have no idea who these people are.”

Obama could see what was going wrong, though he generally responded with stoic resignation rather than attempting to change the course of events. But his analysis of the weaknesses of the US foreign policy establishment and its policies is full of fascinating insights relevant to the more conventional policy on which Donald Trump is now apparently embarking. Goldberg says that Obama “questioned, often harshly, the role that America’s Sunni Arab allies play in fomenting anti-American terrorism. He is clearly irritated that foreign policy orthodoxy compels him to treat Saudi Arabia as an ally.” He had similar misgivings about US links to Pakistan.

One thing I very much like about Cockburn is his skepticism about politicians of all stripes. I’ve not been able to detect him pushing any particular line while writing about the ME conflicts beyond a slight sympathy for the Kurds’ wish to have a safe space where they can be left alone.

I don’t mind his criticism of HRC in the slightest: I was a strong supporter of her candidacy, but I was never under the illusion that I’d be entirely comfortable with her military stance (although I never bought the idiot Left’s lurid depictions of her as a bloodthirsty warmonger).

It’s been pretty clear to me for some time that there are no good guys in the Syria/ISIS conflict: Assad is a monstrous butcher, but the Syrian opposition aren’t exactly models of upright decency either. So I’ll continue to let Cockburn explain to me what’s going on.

One thing is evident, though. POTUS* is changing his little mind. Mark Steel comments:

What a relief to discover that after all our worries, Donald Trump is full of heart. Now many people who suggested he was a narcissistic, bigoted maniac have realised they misunderstood him and he’s a tender emotional sort, because his order to bomb Syria proves he was moved by the pictures of children attacked by President Assad.

There’s no real indication of whether the bombing had any military impact or what it was designed to do, but that doesn’t matter. It was a symbolic gesture and Assad now knows if he uses any more chemical weapons, he’ll be dealt another one. Trump might poison his fish or even unfollow him on Twitter, because he’s motivated by his heart.

It may be true that other bombing sessions out there, such as the ones in Iraq or Libya, didn’t go entirely to plan, but this is a much simpler situation, and carried out by a President known for carefully nuanced subtlety, so it’s hard to see a problem.

This time the bombing is simple. So if you don’t support it, you’re helping Assad. This is different from a couple of years ago when we were asked to support the bombing of Isis, who were fighting against Assad. At that point anyone not supporting the bombing was told they were helping Isis, and not backing Assad enough. Sometimes we might change sides during a bombing campaign, but then we simply shout down to everyone and ask them to move around so the bombs land on the right people.

As proof of his careful planning, Trump now claims Nato is not obsolete after all, which some journalists who follow him closely suggest could indicate a possible change from his earlier claims that Nato was an utterly obsolete useless turd.

Mention of NATO leads naturally to some coverage of POTUS*’s meeting with its Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Frithjof Jacobsen has some thoughts:

The same day that Jens Stoltenberg spent an entire afternoon in the White House – he was there much longer than the time it took to meet Trump – the Washington Post published an article about how difficult it is for leaders to get something concrete out of meetings with Trump. Several sources in Washington’s diplomatic corps have said that the meetings with Trump created uncertainty and doubt, because the president just sat there, seemingly without a plan for what was to come out of them.

An unnamed source said it was like getting into a bar and just ending up talking to a stranger on the stool beside. In and of itself one of the nicest things to happen in a bar, but not so fine for creating order in international politics. Had it been the Irish prime minister could perhaps live with it, but everyone who comes into the Oval Office does so with a deep need for direction, leadership and oversight. That is not what they get from Trump

As far as I understand, Stoltenberg’s most important meeting happened before he met the president. The meeting also took place in the White House, but not in the Oval Office. It was the office of the National Security Advisor HR McMaster, at which  Defense Minister James Mattis was also present. The two former generals, along with Secretary of Rex Tillerson, seem now to be those that in practice create and execute US foreign and security policy.

This is in a way good news for NATO and Europe, since they both have a safe and traditional approach to the things NATO cares about. But it also shows how confusing and person-based power relations are in Trump’s administration. And a little disturbing is to see how apparently quickly Trump can park counselor Steve Bannon and his wing, which barely one hundred days ago seemed to be the central political power around Trump. If they can be sidelined so quickly, we have no guarantee that the generals will not be sent to the doghouse at short notice.

Now let’s move on to something else, such as the special election in GA. Annett Meiritz has a clear-eyed report for Der Spiegel:

Since Donald Trump entered the White House, the Democrats have had an identity crisis. In Ossoff, the party sees the first opportunity for revenge against Trump – although the candidate is only competing in a district election in the state of Georgia.
Ossoff is trying to win a congressional district in the north of Atlanta, which has been won by Republicans for almost 40 years, for the Democrats. His chances are not bad.

Outside Georgia, Ossoff has supporters all across the party, but on the ground it is almost exclusively women who are active for him. One of the largest on-site groups, Pave it Blue, has more than a thousand members and comes from a Facebook group for mothers from the neighborhood.

“Up until recently I had nothing to do with politics, I sat on the couch and screamed at the TV,” says supporter Sheila Leby. Now she knocks on doors, starts telephone chains, distributes stickers in shopping centers and pubs.

Elsewhere in the US the protest against Trump is also driven by women, as the movement around the Women’s March showed. Nevertheless, one ought not to conclude too much from Ossoff’s home district on the mobilization potential of an entire nation. Many women who live here can afford to wave posters on a weekday morning. The area – white, prosperous, high SUV density – hardly represents the average.

Should Ossoff finally turn the district from red to blue, this may be due to a desire for feel-good politics. Ossoff, who wants to make Atlanta the “Silicon Valley of the South” and wants to defend “democratic values”, has a polite and smart effect on people. He wears a suit, is well-groomed, and grips the hands of his visitors often a second longer than necessary.

Moving quickly on again, Davin O’Dwyer has some views about Jared Kushner’s new role.

Trump isn’t the first leader to add the word innovation to the name of a government department, of course – Canada, Australia and, yes, Ireland also have departments nominally dedicated to innovation. Indeed, we currently have two Ministers with innovation in their job titles – Mary Mitchell O’Connor and John Halligan are tasked with keeping Ireland at the cutting edge.

However, in these cases, innovation is being tacked on to add a veneer of modernity to the same government apparatus that has always overseen industrial policy. The rebranding is a swift, cheap way of giving the impression that the old departments of industry are all over the burgeoning technology sector.

In the case of the Kushner Office for American Innovation, however, the goal is far more pernicious. Discussing the new department, President Donald Trump told the Post: “I promised the American people I would produce results, and apply my ‘ahead of schedule, under budget’ mentality to the government.”

Here we have the purest distillation of that persistent canard – that government must be run more like business. It is the logical conclusion of a sort of radical free-market ideology that sees a “business” approach as the only solution to whatever problem faces society. It is certainly not a new idea, with versions of it gaining popularity at various stages over the past few centuries, but its most ardent devotees seem resistant to all contrary evidence.

That’s not to say that government can’t learn anything from the world of business, but rather that the lessons are not universally transferable.

Sascha Lobo has some thoughts about the world of business occasioned by Dr Dao being dragged off United’s plane:

The unbelievable handling of the passenger by United Airlines and its vicarious agents is a direct result of the lack of choice of the customers, which can also be seen in the fact that in a crowded aircraft not a single passenger was willing to leave for 800 dollars. The ugly face of a monopoly is the fact that you can treat your customers like crap. They have no immediate alternative.

This is where social media and their power comes into play, which is amplified by billions of electronic eyes and ears on smartphones. Digital social networking can have a regulating effect – for fear. Because every single customer could theoretically put precisely the video, exactly the photo, exactly the posting into the world which will damage a company as much as the United video.

Social media can drive the price of bad customer care to astronomical heights. Economically, one could say that lack of consumer protection or lack of competition is a counter-force: a regulation gap is filled with the foaming indignation of the public….

The bloody doctor has become a symbol of the miserable treatment of customers by corporations. And together with the tangle of rage in social media, it also symbolizes the fact that customers will not be able to afford everything, even if they do not have a real market choice due to a lack of competition.

Unfortunately, the emphasis here is on “symbol”, because social media are too discontinuous, too fast and too volatile to be able to counteract a market that is dysfunctional by monopolies or oligopolies in the long term.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it’s the Spanish media which is keeping the closest eye on El Muro. Here’s a piece from ABC:

Trump is behind the times: the famous wall already exists. And in some parts there is even a double barrier. When a passenger leaves the terminal of the Tijuana airport, the first thing he sees on the other side of the road is the approximately six meters of fence that divides both countries. And immediately afterwards there is a second wall to reinforce the entrance to the United States. But not all the border is walled. They are more than 3,000 kilometers of dividing line and about 1,000 kilometers have already been entrenched with barbed wire, steel rods and cement. However, illegal immigration has continued to flow into the world’s first economy .

“Right now it takes migrants 20 seconds to jump the current wall. With Trump’s it will be 40 seconds, it will not stop them “, says Enrique Morones, founder of the NGO Ángeles de la Frontera, dedicated to the support of undocumented immigrants in the United States. The current barrier – which was begun in 1994 – was created to curb drug trafficking and Latin American immigrants to the United States. But both have kept coming.

“The only thing that this wall has done is to cause the death of 11,000 people,” a figure they calculate in Angeles de la Frontera, but it is difficult to know because there are no data for many of the dead in the desert. They are three days walking, carrying very limited reserves of water in an area where it is very hot by the day and very cold at night. Many die from hypothermia and dehydration to achieve their dream of treading on American soil.

President Trump now seeks funds to surround the 2,000 kilometers that are missing from the border (almost from Madrid to Berlin by road), a project estimated by Congress to cost around $ 21.6 billion (the Madrid-Barcelona high-speed rail link cost approximately 9,000 million). Enrique touches a rudimentary forged iron staircase in his office. “I found it near the wall. You know what’s going to happen if Trump builds a 13-meter wall? There will be stairs of 13 meters, “he said.

I present this next piece with some trepidation, because I know a number of people are already sick to death of NYT pieces explaining how Trump voters are the salt of the earth who need particular attention (not to mention various supposedly liberal politicians touting a similar line), but this article by Franziska Bulban is a thoughtful attempt to make Trump supporters comprehensible to bemused Europeans:

Anyone who wants to know what the main table thinks must get up early in Yadkin County. Between six and eight o’clock, while the sun is shining over the hilly foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the family restaurant “Mount Olympus” is a lively place to visit. 25 to 30 farmers are sitting around a long table, ordering Hashbrowns and Bacon, drinking iced tea and coffee, talking about the surprising cold weather in March, about new tobacco regulations, cars, family and politics. Almost eighty percent of voters in Yadkin County – roughly two hours in a car from North Carolina’s capital, Raleigh – voted for Donald Trump in November, one of his strongest constituencies in the competitive “swing state”.

Many Europeans may be inclined to ask what Trump could do for a conservative Baptist like Chief Parks to consider it inappropriate. However, on the journey through Yadkin County conversations reveal: people do not even believe that Trump can implement all his plans. As soon as one moves away from the election campaign, some sentences that come up can also be said by Democrats. In the end almost everyone wants the same: an affordable health system. To feel safe. Economic success

….Lee Zachary – 70 years old, Republican, Representative for Yadkin County in the House of North Carolina – looks thoughtfully through his rimless glasses. “I have a friend, he’s from an old Democratic family, and perhaps, if we take away the political labels, we would be amazingly similar.”

Zachary is a lawyer in Yadkinville, but when the House is in session, he is at least three days a week in the capital, Raleigh. Here in the House of the Legislature he has an unadorned office with gray painted masonry stones and a desk that is overflowing with requests. Zachary has long been involved in local politics in order to “swing the pendulum in both directions,” as he puts it. Trump has not been in office long enough to allow himself a verdict.

That the president had announced, for example, the “draining of the swamp”, but now depends on employees of Wall Street, he does not necessarily find to be a contradiction – on the stock exchange one can find people with the view of the big picture. “You know what many people do not understand: people accept the weaknesses of The Donald as long as he does something about professional politics. And the media, “says Zachary. He was afraid some voters were simply disgusted by compromises. “As a lawyer, I know: If after some negotiations only one is happy, this is a bad result, because the other side will always doubt and challenge. A good result is when both sides are a bit dissatisfied – but can live with it. “It is an interesting comparison that Zachary makes. When looking at elections as a negotiation about the representation of a society, then perhaps one side was too happy under Obama. And maybe now the other side is too happy under Trump. True success would be to celebrate the compromise more than the victory of one’s own side.

Could there be something the President could do wrong for Yadkin County? “Hardly,” says Zachary. “He could drive us into a war or a depression, but not much else. If Trump manages to bring back a few jobs – great. If not, we have lost nothing. “

Now, that wasn’t so painful, was it? Some of what some Trump supporters say is reminiscent of Patrick Cockburn’s evident frustration with an establishment which is entirely comfortable with the conventional wisdom, whether or not the conventional wisdom makes sense or gets us anywhere.

I don’t think there is much bad in the idea that the conventional wisdom needs to be challenged. It’s honestly appalling that it takes someone as bonkers as Trump to do it: it’s what sensible people ought to be doing a lot more of. The conventional wisdom may well be right in a lot of cases, but even that needs to be checked every so often to see whether it’s still right.

Which is a way of segueing over to the French election. From my admittedly superficial knowledge of Emmanuel Macron’s program, there are some bits I like and some I dislike, but he is a centrist with imagination who doesn’t believe in the conventional wisdom or the traditional totems of left or right. Being a centrist doesn’t necessarily mean that you want more of the same or that you’re comfortable with where things are — it just means that you’re not on one extreme or another.

Predictably, the ideological left are going around saying that Macron isn’t progressive enough to deserve their vote assuming he gets to the run-off. In this piece,  Jérôme Perrier replies to such a case being made by the political scientist Thomas Guénolé and offers this progressive argument for a Macron run-off vote:

Thomas Guénolé continues his pretended demonstration by explaining why Emmanuel Macron can not be considered a left-wing man when he defends, he says, the uberization of the economy, intends to “suppress the allowances of a Unemployed person who would refuse two offers paid 25% less than his previous job “, while proposing to ” lower the taxes of the shareholders “ and increase the CSG.

Clearly, the spirit of our political scientist has never been touched by the hypothesis that a man of the left, while remaining true to his values, may want to reform the labor market by putting an end to a certain number of rigidities, As the Social Democrat Schröder did in Germany some fifteen years ago; With the aim of finally putting an end to this insidious and catastrophic French preference for the unemployment which has plagued our society for some forty years (and that the “social treatment” engaged by all governments, right and left, Has never managed to defeat). After all, taking a model on our neighbor across the Rhine, where the unemployment rate has fallen to around 5%, is perhaps a way of defending labor value that is otherwise more relevant than the universal income of Benoît Hamon Or the 32 hours advocated by a left ensconced in the fallacious ideology of the end of work.

A Cold War Manicheism

On the other hand, in the matter of taxation, rather than opposing the rich and the poor in a cold-war manicheism, it must be possible for a left-leaning man with a minimum of common sense to admit that when one beats At the same time, all the records of taxation and public deficits, there is something rotten in the kingdom of France, and that it is not by eternally repeating the old antiphon of the “let’s pay the rich” Will lead to a solution that benefits everyone. Finally, even if Thomas Guénolé does not mention it, it can be argued that being a leftist is to defend Europe against the populists of all kinds, as – alone and courageously – Emmanuel Macron, rather than Seeking his models in the ruinous Bolivarianism of Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela or in Putin’s authoritarianism that seduces Jean-Luc Mélenchon – for whom the only devil that is worth is in Washington.

Regardless of Thomas Guénolé, one can indeed be liberal, European, Atlanticist, progressive and leftist.

I make no apology for supporting Macron: we saw last November what preciousness about one’s progressive principles can lead to.

Those who know of Les Événements of May 1968 may remember Danny the Red, who now prefers to be called Daniel Cohn-Bendit. He too has weighed in:

How do you judge the tone of this campaign?

I think a lot of people are derailed. I do not understand the options some want to take. Take for example Thomas Piketty, a great world-renowned economist who advises Benoît Hamon but says today that in the second round he will vote Mélenchon and not Macron. This amounts to saying that the useful vote on the left is Mélenchon. Even Hamon said the same thing. It is a desertion in open country, a suicide in full flight. For there will never be a run-off between Mélenchon and Macron!

To find you with Bayrou, Villepin or Perben, it does not make you feel weird?

But stop. If I were with the PS or Mélenchon, I would also find myself with strange people. I am simply saying that today the coalition to repel Marine Le Pen and Francois Fillon is there. Let us not forget that the ultrathatcherian right, reactionary and catholic, is still standing. She’s prepared to fuck businessmen as much as the far right supports Le Pen. Today, the candidate to get out of this slump is rather Emmanuel Macron. But I frankly admit, to decide for him is to take a risk.

Which ?

The risk is that Emmanuel Macron has a liberal-social or social-liberal program with an ecological platform that defends itself, even if Hamon goes further. I am a demanding supporter, not a blessed-yes-yes. Is he in favor of reducing the share of nuclear power to 50% in electricity in 2030? That means you have to close more than a nuclear power plant. Not just Fessenheim. When he says he is going to hand over an ecological taxation to relieve that of labor, it will have to be done. I will be demanding.

Will he not end up with a much more right-wing majority or be condemned to a standstill at the center?

Yes, there is a risk. But again, who will have a majority? None elected on May 7 will have an absolute majority in the legislative elections. There will likely be a strong representation of Launching the Assembly if Macron is elected, but he will not have the majority on his own. His ability to act will thus depend on the political intelligence of the Reformers on the left and on the right to find a compromise to govern. This is interesting and new in the current political period.

Lastly, here’s a piece surveying all the leading candidates by reference to the countries they have been visiting, of which I’m only excerpting a little:

Marine Le Pen, in search of credit and accustomed to misfires

Not obvious, for the president of the FN, as formerly for her father, to be received abroad. On the list of misses, recently: Canada, where the “officials” fled Marine Le Pen and England, where the candidate wanted to be seen hobnobbing with the pro-Brexit camp. The trip was eventually canceled.

In New York , in January, it was not quite that bad. Sold to the press as a private trip and not an official stay, the trip will still have been the occasion to see Marine Le Pen drinking a coffee at the bottom of the Trump Tower while the entourage of the American president hammered that no meeting was planned. But this move had perhaps another objective: money. As Libération had raised , the president of the FN was accompanied by Pierre Ceyrac, a former French representative of the Moon sect, who had organized the handshake between Reagan and [Jean-Marie] Le Pen.

François Fillon, the staging of the warlord

In June, the images were seen on almost all TV channels: François Fillon in Erbil , on the front line, with peshmergas. And beware, Daesh is only “a few kilometers away,” said a Kurdish fighter. A good comms operation, as evidenced by Paris Match , embedded in the suitcases of the candidate : “This passionate racing and mountaineering is never as comfortable as in dangerous situations.” If someone had doubts about Francois Fillon’s ability to wear the costume of a warlord, that is what is settled. And for the most skeptical, there was another trip, in Niger and Mali this time, for a visit to the French soldiers engaged in Operation Barkhane. Note that defense is just one of the only items of expenditure that the candidate wants to increase.

Benoît Hamon, moving as a political marker

For his first visit, Benoît Hamon chose Portugal . Random? Surely not. There, socialists, communists and the radical left have ignored their differences to govern together. A signal sent to the French left when the candidate still hoped for a large gathering, even irritating some socialists, not really delighted at the idea of ​​topping with Mélenchon. He will also meet with the Director of the Institute of Drugs and Drug Addiction, while the country has decriminalized the use of all drugs. Accident? Always not. The candidate promises to legalize cannabis. In short, through this displacement, it is a “look, it is possible” that launched the candidate.

It’s a good read, although the odd paragraph emerges badly damaged from GoogleTranslate. Next Sunday is polling day.

And this Sunday is Easter Sunday. Whatever that means to you, have a good one.

 

British Breakfast

We’ll start this week’s collection with the thoughts of Patrick Cockburn on Syria, since he knows more about what’s going on there than virtually any other journalist:

President Donald Trump had little option but to order a missile strike against a Syrian airbase after holding Syria responsible for that poison gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed 80 civilians. He had criticised President Obama for being weak, slow and indecisive when facing similar challenges, so he could scarcely do nothing when President Bashar al-Assad appeared to breach the agreement in 2013 to hand over all his chemical weapons to be destroyed.

The fact that the US has taken its first direct military action against Assad is significant, not so much because it has done much damage to the Syrian armed forces, but because it may be repeated. Senior politicians and generals in the US have been calling for air strikes to take out or at last “ground” the whole Syrian air force. This option is now more on the table than it was previously, but that does not mean that it is going to happen.

The launching of 59 Tomahawk missiles that killed six people and did an unknown amount of damage at al-Shayrat airbase in Homs province in central Syria is symbolic. But it is a warning that is likely to be taken seriously in both Moscow and Damascus, because full-scale American intervention against Assad is the one thing that would deny them victory in the war.

Those who argue that the Syrian armed forces would not have done anything quite so foolish and against their own interests as to launch the strikes, probably underestimate the extent of the stupidity present in all armies. There is an old Israeli military saying, employed about a number of their commanders, which is apposite and says that the general “was so stupid that even the other generals noticed”.

As for the Russians, their military intervention in Syria has hitherto been highly successful because it has re-established them, at least in the Middle East, as a superpower. If they conclude that Assad was indeed behind the chemical attack – something they currently deny – then they will be infuriated that he has risked so much for so little. The Kremlin will be eager to continue to pursue parallel policies with Washington, something that dates back to 2015 when Obama decided not to oppose Putin’s military intervention on the side of Assad. This was a critical moment in the outcome of the war.

From Trump’s point of view there is a great advantage in any cross words coming from Moscow because they will counter accusations in the US that he is too close to the Russians. Democratic Party and media criticism, based on conspiracy theories claiming that Russian hackers determined the course of the election, will be deflated and Trump will have his first foreign policy success. The missile strike could do more change to the political landscape than in Syria.

Cockburn’s piece is strangely comforting, in that it says that what’s been done is roughly what any rational successor to President Obama would have done to advance US strategy in the region. HRC has basically agreed with the action, which suggests that she would have done something very similar, although she would probably now be in the process of gaining agreement from Congress. I’m somewhat less outraged than some others about not asking Congress before taking this retaliatory action: there’s a very strong argument that any President would have had to act quickly.

The coalition which is strongly critical of the action consists of Putin, Iran, Breitbart, Ann Coulter, most of Europe’s leading deplorables and Bozo Bernie, and he’s certainly lost the support of Max Benwell:

I first began to support Donald Trump when he forced Barack Obama to release his birth certificate in 2011. It was groundbreaking – no other sitting president had ever been made to do it. But then again, Obama was like no other president.

But with the air strikes in Syria, everything has changed. Trump isn’t the president I thought he was. I just wish I had the chance to realise my mistake sooner.

Before he entered the White House, Trump had been accused of ripping off business partners, discriminating against ethnic minorities, and defrauding students. He had also declared corporate bankruptcy several times, and oversaw the financial collapse of multiple casinos. So you can imagine my excitement five years later when he launched his presidential campaign and, in his first mesmerising speech, called Mexican people rapists.

When Trump became president, my loyal support only grew. I didn’t mind when he lied about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. He had my full support when he falsely claimed Obama wiretapped him. And when he recently defended Bill O’Reilly, who has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, I saw no wrong at all.

Everyone has their own personal principles. Your “red lines”, so to speak. Mine are as follows: you can do whatever you want. You can ban all refugees coming to America. You can try to cut healthcare benefits that keep millions of Americans alive, and roll back the regulations designed to protect millions from climate change. You can be sexist, racist and brag about sexually assaulting women. But don’t bomb an airfield used by a dictator for attacks on his own people. How can you support someone after that?

I thought he was going to be great. But in the end, he disappointed us all, and after showing so much promise. He crossed a line. And that’s why I can no longer support Donald Trump.

Ann Coulter herself could hardly have expressed it better.

Mention of Iran, though, brings up an issue which didn’t hit the banner headlines this week. Stéphane Lauer looks at the dilemma which Boeing have presented:

The US aerospace company Boeing, announcing a deal on the sale of sixty 737 MAX aircraft to Iran Aseman Airlines on Tuesday (April 4th), poses a major problem for the White House, which has the final say on this type of agreement. Will US President Donald Trump ‘s hostility towards Iran, and in particular the Iranian nuclear agreement signed in 2015 by his predecessor, fade in the face of The opportunity to trade with this country, and thus create jobs in the United States?

This is the first time this has happened since Mr. Trump took office on January 20. Boeing had already announced the sale of eighty aircraft worth 16.6 billion dollars (15.55 billion euros) to Iran Air in December 2016. But at the time, Obama, who had been one of the main architects of the nuclear agreement with Iran, still occupied the White House.

One of the counterparts to the compromise reached in 2015 between Iran, the United States, Russia , China , France , the United Kingdom and Germany consisted of lifting the economic sanctions imposed on Tehran, which agreed to limit its ability to acquire nuclear weapons and to accept international inspections to verify their application. Mr. Trump has repeatedly denounced this compromise, which he says leaves a free hand to a state that sponsors terrorism and destabilizes the Middle East. The US president has hinted that he could reverse this deal.

The problem is that, at the same time, Mr. Trump also promised that he would do everything in his power to create employment in American industry. This is indeed the subject of the announcement made by Boeing, the sale of sixty 737 MAX would be likely to create 18,000 jobs in the United States.

But the main obstacle is likely to be political . Part of the Republican majority in Congress does not hide its hostility to trade with Iran. On Tuesday, Illinois Republican Representative Peter Roskam described the agreement announced by Boeing as “outrageous” , saying it coincided with the revelation that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Tehran, is accused of carrying out a toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun , a town held by opponents of his regime. Mr. Roskam called on Mr. Trump to do everything in his power” to stop the sale of the Boeing.

Poor Donnie. To fulfil one campaign promise, he has to break another. Who knew that governing could be so complicated?

Another thing which didn’t get all that much attention was the visit of the Egyptian President. Dorothea Hahn comments:

According to the rules of the late 18th century which determine the course of presidential elections in the USA, Donald Trump has been validly elected to the White House. But his admiration does not extend to other duly elected government officials. When with Theresa May from Great Britain, Justin Trudeau from Canada and Angela Merkel, he seems like a flail that is not interested in foreign policy and, above all, seems to hope that the encounter will pass quickly. On the other hand, he glows in the company of tyrants. With them he smiles, distributes compliments and speaks of cooperation.

The most recent example of this authoritarian preference is the meeting with Abdel Fatah al-Sisi on Monday at the White House. The man, who led the coup in 2013 against the first democratically elected government in Cairo, and since then threw thousands of oppositionists into the Egyptian prisons, was the first foreign state leader to congratulate Trump on the electoral victory last November. On Monday, he sat next to him in front of a fireplace in the White House and beamed, while Trump praised him for his “fantastic work”.

Trump’s argument for the demonstrative kindness to the autocrats is the fight against terrorism – especially against IS. In a region that has many other problems, antiterrorism is a modest common denominator. But even this reduced co-operation has narrow borders, which also shows itself in conflicting interests in Syria: Saudi Arabia wants the fall of Assad, Turkey wants Washington (and in Iraq) to give up its privileged relationship with Kurdish forces . And Egypt is constantly producing new supplies of jihadists through political repression and economic hardship in its own country.

The authoritarian preference produces images that show Trump with a certain long overdue foreign policy interest. But it does not provide a political strategy for one of the most complex regions of the planet.

 Moving quickly on, Per Olav Ødegård has some thoughts on a couple of meetings involving China’s President Xi:

Directly from Donald Trump to Erna Solberg. No one can deny the president Xi Jinping in the Chinese century.

In the most important US-China summit in decades, it’s mostly about North Korea and trade. Behind closed doors in Trumps country Mar-a-Lago in Florida expected a day of tough conditions and harsh demands.

There will be more harmonious in the People’s Great Hall in Beijing in a few days, during the first Norwegian-Chinese summit since the Ice Age began in 2010. There is no time to take up the difficult topic, read human rights.

An inexperienced president who formulates policy with big letters on twitter meets an extremely experienced executive with high global ambitions.

The Chinese have had problems with getting a handle on Trump. Is he just a paper tiger or is he serious? Does he want cooperation or seek confrontation?

Mao Zedong launched the concept paper tiger in 1946 to describe the reactionary forces at home and abroad. A paper tiger, whether a leader or a nation, gives the impression of being big and powerful. In reality, the paper tiger is weak and nothing to be afraid of.

As part of the Trumps standard repertoire in the campaign, he was hostile about China. They had for years exploited the US and caused the US factory gates were closed.

– When Donald Trump becomes president will China know that America is again in the lead for global business and that there will be an end to currency-fixing and cheating, it was said at Trumps website.

Trump appeared like a tiger. It scared Beijing that  after the election victory Trump broke a 37-year long American practice by talking to Taiwan’s president on the phone , and then question the one-China-policy. That there is only one China PRC credo.

In February Trump’s tone was differwnt. He called Xi and said that the one-China policy remained unchanged. Now the pressure was on to strengthen cooperation. In Chinese eyes resembled Trump, with contradictions and retreat, a paper tiger.

With Prime Minister Solberg’s mission to the Middle Kingdom is a delegation of 230 participants, including leading Norwegian business leaders who will be meeting a thousand Chinese counterparts. There are contracts on the table. It’s time for “business as usual”.

However, there was never any break in trade. Norwegian exports to China have increased sharply in recent years. But political normalization provides greater flexibility and at last negotiations on a free trade agreement can be finalized.

China pushed Norway out in the cold because the Nobel Committee in 2010 gave the Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo . He is still in prison for his dissenting opinions. In Xi’s presidency there is even less room for dissent. It makes it even more important than before to talk about human rights in China.

Norway defends happily loud and clear universal human rights. It is apparently just not doing it now. It’ll have to wait for another time, when dialogue is well underway.

With the risks it entails for Norway when emerging as a paper tiger.

 Now some history. Enrique Feás notices some similarities between Trump and President Hoover:

In 1928 a large part of the population of the United States felt dissatisfied. Technology and globalization had put farmers in a precarious situation: motor vehicles had displaced beasts of burden and generated an agricultural surplus that exerted downward pressure on prices and salaries, exacerbated by the competitive price of imports, which were perceived as a threat.

In parallel, Mexican immigration was considered a problem. To the many Mexicans who decided to stay in the territories incorporated to the United States after the war of 1848 were added the exiled and displaced by the Mexican revolution of 1910-1920. Many worked in mining, industry or railways and favored American expansion, but with the crisis of 1920-21 began an aggressive anti-immigration campaign that resulted in the creation of a Customs Patrol on the border with the neighbor country in 1924 (the wall would not begin to be built until seventy years later).

Protectionism and the curbing of immigration were therefore hot topics in the 1928 election campaign. Herbert Hoover, a wealthy, politically-minded, somewhat arrogant mining entrepreneur (“who at forty has not made a million dollars is nobody”) He was able to interpret the discontent of Protestant white farmers and workers: during his electoral campaign he promised first to raise tariffs, second to stop immigration and guaranteed all their jobs and wages. Its electoral slogan was very simple: “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage”. And it worked.

Neither the expulsion of the Mexicans nor the protectionism helped the economic recovery, but rather they harmed it, delaying it. Between 1929 and 1933, US imports fell 66% and exports 61%, and unemployment rose to 25%. Herbert Hoover was swept in the following elections against Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who pioneered the New Deal and recovery, reduced tariffs and, after World War II, helped lay the foundations of a new world order based on economic and Trade and multilateralism.

Hoover left the presidency amid the hostility of the press and the resentment of the population, but over time he would be able to rehabilitate his image, doing advisory work for the Truman administration. Retired from public life, he died in New York in 1964, probably mired in remorse. Who was going to tell him that in the second decade of the following century another businessman turned president, faced with similar problems, would be willing to repeat the same mistakes.

I guess most of us are a bit young to remember all that, although it probably made a big impression on a then middle-aged future Senator from VT who will no doubt see himself as the new FDR to save America.

I learned this week that Mar-a-Lago was actually left to the USA by its original owner for use as a winter White House, but that the government sold it off because it was too expensive to run. So I’m going to finish with this fascinating piece from Mark S Smith:

DONALD Trump seems to be exacting some kind of sweet revenge on the genteel folk of Palm Beach, Florida – and they’re not happy. If you’ve never heard of this place, that’s exactly how the people who live here like it. Three drawbridges, which rise for passing yachts, isolate the town from the rest of the world and keep the riff-raff at bay – as one observer once put it, in case of insurrection on the mainland.

Welcome to America’s most exclusive community – “the island”, as locals call it. This balmy, sun-drenched 13-mile spit of sand, 90 minutes’ drive north from Miami, is a village of the privacy-obsessed and gaga rich. Around 30 of the 400 wealthiest people in the world own property in here, as do celebrities including Rod Stewart, Jimmy Buffet, Celine Dion, and tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams.

Each weekend the president spends here – five out of 10 so far – security protocols have closed bridges, clogged thoroughfares and blocked roads, essentially cutting the south of the town off from the north.

On top of that, small armies of protesters often show up when the president is in residence, as well as supporter groups wearing “Make America Great Again” caps and media crews. Not only has this added to the traffic congestion, but it has also been blamed for lost sales to businesses, dozens of restaurant cancellations and widespread frustration.

However, the most destabilising effect is the sudden abundance of unwelcome attention from the outside world.

These disruptions cap a private, 30-year war that Trump and the blue-bloods here, who dominate Palm Beach, have waged on one another. Now that he is the president, some here say Trump is relishing their current displeasure.

Most people here will tell you – even Trump supporters – that the brash, loud-mouthed, self-aggrandising New York property tycoon has never fitted in. He may be a billionaire, own Mar-a-Lago and even be the leader of the free world, but Trump has a bellboy’s hope in hell of ever garnering the kind of pedigree required here.

His response back in 1990, when asked in a Vanity Fair article if he was bothered at not being invited to join the exclusive Bath and Tennis Club (lovingly known as the B&T): “They kiss my ass in Palm Beach. Those phonies.”

The deeper you dig, the more ironic it seems that most Palm Beachers voted for him.

To better understand the often-unfathomable mindset of Trump, his strange relationship with Palm Beach offers fascinating insights.

Another resident, a former banker from Manhattan, is waiting for his wife outside the Chanel store. He says he has played golf at Mar-a-Lago and has also eaten there.

“It was very nice,” he says. “Trump likes to work the crowd at dinnertime and greet people. My wife thought he was like a glorified maitre d’ who imagined himself bigger than he really is – but I found him polite and very gracious.”

Clarke says she’s heard that one too from a few people here, the likening of Trump to a jumped-up maître d’. And there it is, the perfect encapsulation of a class barrier never to be breached by Trump, and by extension the nearly 500 members of Mar-a-Lago, who may not be welcome at the Everglades or the B&T.

In many ways, Palm Beach is Trump’s ideal playground. He doesn’t simply seek attention, he craves confrontation and this subtropical barrier island off the Florida coast uniquely fits the bill.

Survive Sunday. If you can, enjoy it too.

British Brexit

My name is Michael and I’m a Remoaner.

So the news this week that the UK government has informed the President of the European Council of Ministers that they wish to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and leave the European Union was something of a disappointment.

Not that they really had much choice in the matter. Last year’s referendum came up with the result that a majority of British voters want to Leave, which rather means that the government is obliged to go through the process of negotiating Brexit. If the government had not initiated the process, they would have been guilty of defying the verdict of the majority, which is a little contrary to ideals of democracy.

British Breakfast

Hi everybody, and welcome to another miscellany of European sense and nonsense. I’m focusing this week on how POTUS*’s various foreign policy initiatives are being perceived, and the verdicts are decidely mixed.

As is becoming usual, Patrick Cockburn has words of wisdom.

Donald Trump is often compared to Vladimir Putin by the media which detects ominous parallels between the two men as populist nationalist leaders. The message is that Trump with his furious attacks on the media would like to emulate Putin’s authoritarianism. There is some truth in this, but when it comes to the effect on US status and power in the world, the similarities are greater between Trump and Yeltsin than between Trump and Putin.

Trump does not drink alcohol, but his incoherent verbal onslaughts on Australia, Mexico and Sweden since he became President are strongly reminiscent of Yeltsin’s embarrassing antics. Both men won power as demagogic anti-establishment leaders who won elections by promising to reform and clear out corruption in the existing system. The result in Russia was calamitous national decline and the same thing could now happen in America.

It will be difficult for the US to remain a super-power under a leader who is an international figure of fun and is often visibly detached from reality. His battle cry of “Fake News” simply means an inability to cope with criticism or accept facts or views that contradict his own. World leaders who have met him say they are astonished by his ignorance of events at home and abroad.

This cannot go on very long without sizeably diminishing American global influence as its judgement and actions become so unpredictable. Over the last three quarters of a century, countries of all political hues – dictatorships and democracies, republics and monarchies – have wanted to be an ally of the US because it was the most powerful player in world affairs.

The election of Trump brings with it another negative but less tangible outcome that is already eating away at American primacy: the US will be not only divided but unable to focus on for the foreseeable future on anything other than the consequences of Trumpism. When US politicians, officials and media look at Russia, China, Ukraine, Iran, Israel or anywhere else in the world from Sweden to Australia, they will view them through a prism distorted by his preconceptions and fantasies.

Once it was smaller European countries like Ireland and Poland that were derided for an exaggerated and unhealthy preoccupation with their own problems. A Polish joke from the 1920s relates how an Englishman, a Frenchman and a Pole competed to write the best essay on the elephant. The Englishman described “elephant hunting in India”, the French wrote about “the elephant in love” and the Pole produced a lengthy paper on “the elephant and the Polish Question”. These days the Englishman would undoubtedly write about “the elephant and Brexit” and an American, if he was allowed to enter the competition, would write interminably about “the elephant and Donald Trump”.

In Switzerland’s NZZ, Eric Gujer considers how Trump’s confusing rhetoric about foreign affairs may run into difficulty because America’s long-term strategic interests don’t actually change all that much whover is in the White House:

The new American government considers NATO to be a useful thing, it keeps its distance from Russia, and it conforms to the status quo in Asia. While the administration is pursuing an ideologically impregnated agenda in domestic policy, it appears to have less fixed views on diplomatic and military matters. This gives the ministerial bureaucracy the opportunity to play out their experience and to continue proven traditions.

The presidential advisors to the Interior are on a crusade that has just begun. The foreign policy team consists of pragmatists who think in the pathways of Orthodox politics.

The attraction of election campaigns is that everyone can demand everything. Once in the government offices, the actors then quickly notice that some wishes are mutually exclusive. Someone who supports aggression towards Iran will find a deep friendship with Russia difficult. After all, Moscow and Tehran are allied combatants in Syria, and the Iranian military would like to intensify this cooperation, for example, through armaments deals.

Anyone who perceives North Korea and its missile tests as a threat cannot be completely aggressive with Beijing. After all, the Chinese are the only ones who can influence the Korean regime. And someone wanting to form an alliance with the Arab-Sunni states against the Islamic state does not do itself many favors by being Netanyahu’s poodle in the Palestine issue.

The new government has not yet formulated its priorities. Surprises can not be ruled out. But the expectation seems justified, that many answers will be rather conventional. Especially since an apparatus which is constantly busy dealing with its boss’s mental flashes develops only little impact.

Having no idea is not a sufficient prerequisite for a successful foreign policy. And even those who have an idea, still have to implement it. The Obama administration developed the concept of a turn to Asia with a lot of noise, but it remained largely at the level of announcements. There are enough pitfalls for ambitious strategists. Therefore, the probability of Trump’s team changing very little is not small. In foreign policy this would be an orderly result.

Not everyone thinks that would be a good idea. Giampaolo Rossi thinks that would just show how the military-industrial complex runs everything anyway. (Warning: this is a very odd piece.)

When politics (ie the Government and Parliament) is strong, legitimate and sovereign, the Deep State is kept at bay, under control and may even have a positive function of stability…
When politics is weak, the Deep State prevails over it, the conditions and blackmails becoming a sort of “shadow government” .. and it may even happen that the Deep State becomes itself the government.

When we complain of why governments change but never change anything in a country, it is because we do not perceive the immense power of the Deep State.

The Michael Flynn political elimination, the man that Donald Trump had put in charge of the National Security Council the right to reshape American foreign policy, is proof of the violent offensive that the Deep State is mounting against the US President.

The Deep State is the true Donald Trump enemy; the axis of the corrupt media system and the Soros-funded activist violence to scare the public, keeps America in the hands of ruthless elite.

We’ll see if Donald Trump will be able to resist the offensive that the Deep State has unleashed against him and against American democracy or whether he capitulates. If he can go down in history as a President or will become a mere puppet in the hands of the War Party as was Obama and Clinton would have been. Whether thanks to him America will again be a model of democracy for the world or the nation will remain the hostage of a criminal elite that in these nine years has produced humanitarian chaos and wars all over the Middle East to feed the geopolitical games and financial economic interests of Washington lobbies.

Gabriel Elefteriu thinks that the new National Security Adviser will have a significant effect:

Towards the end of his speech, the General also mentioned the need to “think in competitive terms again”, citing a recent essay by Nadia Schadlow that warned of the “serious political competitions underway for regional and strategic dominance”. This may turn out to be the most significant indicator of the change in American grand strategy which is likely to follow. A wider problem with Western strategic thinking has been at play: put simply, after the Cold War we stopped thinking about our adversaries in competitive terms, and switched to a “risk” or “threat-based” model; they did not.

Great power competition never stopped. We just chose to ignore it as the “unipolar moment” dawned and as the West – America especially – basked in its “peerless” status. We mothballed the sophisticated ability we had acquired during the Cold War for calculating military balances – or, as the Soviets called it, the “correlation of forces” – and for understanding the true “power” of our adversaries, in all its manifestations.

In conjunction with other fallacies of the kind enumerated by General McMaster, this has proven highly detrimental to America and the West’s strategic “performance” over the past fifteen years. Any risk-based formula is by definition un-strategic: among other drawbacks, such  neat categories of risk oversimplify a complex landscape; it takes a passive, short-term approach rather than dealing with underlying causes; and it struggles to consider threats in their full context. It is not difficult to see why such a way of looking at the world would blind Western strategists to the emergence of things like: “hybrid warfare”; the resurgence of Russian conventional military capability; or the expansion of Iran’s military footprint across the Middle East.

Most importantly, a risk-based approach makes it difficult to see the whole picture of an integrated enemy strategy which uses propaganda campaigns, proxies and other forms of power  alongside conventional forces. It is therefore of limited use in proposing effective counter-measures or preventing unwelcome surprises.

Dan O’Brien in the Irish Independent worries a lot about trade:

With the solitary exception of a period around the Iraq invasion, when elements within the first George W Bush administration contemplated a divide-and-conquer strategy vis-a-vis Europe, the US has encouraged European integration since its inceptions. It has done so because it believed a strong, coherent Europe was in its best interests – whether as a bulwark against the Soviets in the past or as a natural supporter of most US positions in global affairs today.

Trump is very different. His ‘America First’ vision of relations with other countries is based on one-to-one dealing, rather than on messier multilateral arrangements. His logic appears to be that because the US is more powerful than any other country, conducting relations bilaterally will mean he always has the upper hand. There is certainly a logic to this, but most scholars of international relations argue that exclusive bilateralism, even for a superpower, won’t work in a world as complex and interconnected as ours.

That Donald Tusk, the pro-American Pole who is president of the European Council, has publicly listed the Trump administration as a threat to Europe as great as Russia and terrorism speaks volumes about the concerns that exist. But it is not just multilateral-type structures that Trump has railed against. In speeches and tweets, he has aggressively lashed out against how the international economy functions, despite the US being one of the greatest beneficiaries of it over decades. Rather than believing that freely flowing trade and investment can result in gains for all, he takes a zero-sum game view of economic relations – what one country gains another must necessarily lose.

The longer term damage to the rules-based global trading system could be even more serious. For those who believe that the world needs global institutions and global governance structures to deal with global issues, the World Trade Organisation is pivotal. Unlike many other toothless international organisations, the WTO has a full-scale court structure whose rulings members accept. That includes the US, which is a regular litigant and complainant at the WTO in Geneva.

If the US were to reject an adverse finding by the WTO against a border tax or signal early in the process that it did not accept the jurisdiction of the body (Trump last summer described it as a “disaster”), then the linchpin of the entire international trading system would be in question.

One month into the Trump presidency, there is almost as much reason to believe that Ireland, Europe and the rest of the world will suffer negative consequences as there was on the day of his election. Hopes of a Trump-lite presidency have all but evaporated. Tumultuous times are ahead.

We are led to believe that Trump’s foreign policy is largely driven by the exciting Steve Bannon, so this piece from the Frankfurter Allgemeine by James Kirchick is particularly interesting. Helpfully, it’s in English already:

The defining ideological battle of our present moment can best be understood as a competition between two individuals: White House Senior Counselor Stephen Bannon and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The fate of the Western world as we know it may very well depend on whose worldview succeeds.

Bannon, President Donald Trump’s most influential and powerful advisor, sees Western civilization locked in an eternal struggle with Islam. “We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict,” he told a conference of conservative religious leaders assembled at the Vatican in 2014. “If you look back at the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam, I believe that our forefathers kept their stance, and I think they did the right thing.” Bannon is obsessed with war; references to battle a constant refrain of nearly every speech he’s delivered and interview he’s granted. “There is a major war brewing, a war that’s already global,” he said in 2014, “we’re in a war of immense proportions,” a “global war against Islamic fascism.”

Unlike Bannon, who casually conflates the religion of 1.7 billion practicing Muslims with a radical variety of that faith bent on violence and subjugation, Merkel believes that Islam is compatible with Western democracy. In 2015, at the height of protests organized by the Dresden-based People Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA), the Chancellor expressed her conviction that “Islam belongs to Germany” and that those joining the weekly demonstrations had “hatred in their hearts.” Later that year, in a move that would earn her the undying enmity of Bannon and the right-wing nationalist website he used to run, Breitbart.com, Merkel opened Germany’s doors to some 1 million mostly Muslim migrants. Whatever one thinks of that decision (and for what it’s worth, I believe it was misguided), it sprung from the best of intentions, namely, a belief that the democratic West has a duty to help those in need regardless of their religious affiliation.

Ironically, many Europeans would find much to like in Bannon’s economic philosophy, characterized as it is by a reverence for “enlightened capitalism” over “crony capitalism.” In his Vatican address, Bannon criticized the “state-sponsored capitalism” of Russia and China as well as the “Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism”, both of which, he argued, have enriched “the party of Davos” while leaving the majority of “working men and women” behind. Though his protectionism is anathema to devotees of the world’s greatest free trade zone, the European Union, Bannon otherwise advocates the sort of system embraced by the broad consensus of German politicians, business leaders, and regular citizens, the “social market economy”.

If Bannon is basically a Christian (or Social) Democrat on economics and an anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist like Frank Gaffney on the question of Islam, he’s a Pat Buchanan-esque paleoconservative when it comes to national identity.

In the wake of Trump’s election, much has been said and written about how Germany in general, and Merkel in particular, are now the last remaining guardians of the liberal world order, a sentiment that Senator John McCain appeared to endorse over the weekend at the Munich Security Conference when he praised “the absolutely vital role that Germany and its honorable Chancellor, Chancellor Merkel, are playing in defense of the idea and the conscience of the West” and not so subtly chastised his own president for “flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent.” Talk of Merkel being “leader of the free world” is rather simplistic and self-flattering; Germany does not possess anything near the military means necessary to assume such responsibility and the scandalous prosecution of a comedian for insulting Turkey’s authoritarian president undermines its commitment to free speech. But in the emerging confrontation between Bannonism and Merkelism that characterizes the struggle for the soul and direction of the Western world, there can be no question of which Weltanschauung must prevail.

And that’s all I’ve got about POTUS*. I’ve been much more interested in the two by-elections in Britain this week, in which the main opposition party lost a seat to the governing party — the first time that has happened since 1982 — and Labour held off the challenge from UKIP in the constituency said to have voted most heavily for Brexit, the UKIP candidate being the newish leader of the party Paul Nuttall.

Both by-elections are held, amongst the commentariat at least, to have been catastrophic for the parties coming second. Labour losing Copeland means that Corbyn’s got to go, and UKIP failing to gain Stoke shows that they are completely irrelevant now that we’ve had the referendum (and of course Corbyn and the Corbynistas regard their holding the seat as evidence that Corbyn should stay).

My take is that Corbyn may be completely useless, but that ditching him won’t do Labour much good because they have no idea what to do. British politics is now Brexit, Brexit, Brexit and fuck all else. Big city Labour were Remainers, small town and rural Labour Leavers. Big city Labour is pro-immigration, small town and rural Labour massively anti. Labour face annihilation outside the big cities, and there aren’t enough seats in big cities for them to get anywhere near a majority. In fact, there aren’t enough seats in big cities for them to maintain even their present position. Prime Minister May keeps making speeches about the awfulness of corporate fat cats and how the economy has to be made to work a lot better for the people who make just about enough to get along: one may doubt the sincerity (although, actually, I don’t), but the problem there is that Brexit is so all-consuming that the government haven’t got time to actually do anything about her rhetoric. But while she is saying that sort of thing, what do the Labour Party say which isn’t the same, given that in order to reconnect with voters, they need to offer proposals which make the economy work better for the people who are just about getting along?

Which is also UKIP’s problem. They’ve achieved the Brexit vote they wanted, but since that was the only thing uniting them in the first place, they have no idea at all. And repellent though Farage is, he at least has a personality. Without him, UKIP are a pretty uninteresting bunch. Such policy as they have on non-Brexit matters is a ragbag of unconnected proposals on a range of issues: one can easily imagine that it was drawn up by a conference at which various obsessives each got up and talked convincingly about their one issue and nobody else knew enough to argue against them and so that’s what they all went along with. So they want rainbows but not unicorns (which give you cancer anyway) and to cut welfare spending overall but spend more on each component of welfare spending.

The Lib Dems are virtuous Remoaners and are getting no traction, and the SNP are psyching themselves up to fight another independence referendum on the interesting argument that because Scotland’s major trading partner is about to leave the EU, it will benefit the Scottish economy to join the EU and put up tariff barriers with England and Wales, and leave the sterling area for the eurozone, when the euro is still a weaker currency than the pound.

Which means there’s no coherent opposition to the Conservative government, which is waking up to the horrible realities of how incredibly difficult Brexit is going to be and the fact that if you divert half the Civil Service to sorting Brexit out, that leaves half the government’s other work not getting done.

And pics of Mother Theresa holding Donald’s tiny hand because he’s afraid of stairs aren’t really a substitute.

Heigh-ho.