Michael Holmans

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.

 

Great British Breakfast

 

For reasons I shan’t go into, I spent most of Friday trying to undo the damage caused by a piece of software going haywire at work and am really not of a mind to spend a lot of time preparing breakfast this week. A quick skim round a number of outlets reveals that they’re just about all featuring just one story — Trump’s press conference — and they all have just about the same reaction — WTF???!?

So here’s a few English-language bits I’ve managed to throw together.

I’ll start with something boringly sensible, the opinion of the ever-reliable Patrick Cockburn:

Self-absorbed and irrational Donald Trump may well be, but on Thursday he held what was probably the most interesting and entertaining White House press conference ever. These are usually grimly ritualistic events in which select members of the media establishment, who have often come to see themselves as part of the permanent government of the US, ask predictable questions and get equally predictable replies.

For now, Trump reminds one more of a theatrical populist like Silvio Berlusconi than anything resembling a proto-fascist or authoritarian demagogue like Benito Mussolini. This perception may change as he secures his grip on the levers of power as he promises to do, blaming leaks from the US intelligence services on holdovers from the Obama administration.

Sound advice on this was given 300 years ago in Dr John Arbuthnot’s wonderful treatise on “the Art of Political Lying”, published in 1712, which warns that once a false fact or lie is lodged in the public mind, it may be impossible to persuade people that it is untrue except by another lie. He says, as an example, that if there is a rumour that the pretender to the British throne in exile in France has come to London, do not contradict it by saying he was never in England. Rather “you must prove by eyewitnesses that he came no farther than Greenwich, but then went back again.” He warns against spreading lies about a political leader which are directly contrary to their known character and previous behaviour. Better to give credibility to a lie by keeping within realms of credibility, by blackening the name of a prince known to be merciful “that he has pardoned a criminal who did not deserve it.”

Arbuthnot assumes that political parties lie as a matter of course, and that the only way for the public to limit the power of governments is to lie as much as they do. He says that, just as ministers use political lying to support their power, “it is but reasonable that the people should employ the same weapon to defend themselves, and pull them down.”

Could this be the fate of Trump? He became president because false facts fatally damaged Hillary Clinton – and now the same thing is happening to him.

In the Irish Independent, Dan O’Brien also plays down the comparisons with 1930s fascists:

Although history can always provide context and sometimes sounds warnings, its lessons can also be mislearnt. Badly learnt lessons often result in bad analysis. Bad analysis usually leads to bad decisions, something other countries need to consider when weighing up how to respond to the very considerable threats and challenges Trump poses.

To see why the Nazi parallel is ill-judged, consider what Trump would have to do in the short term to match Hitler.

Among the first things he would have to do is to convince Congress to enact laws allowing for the closing down of media organisations he claims propagate ‘fake news’, such as the ‘New York Times’ and CNN. He would have to use parts of the police and security apparatus to imprison, torture and ‘disappear’ political opponents. He would have to fire or intimidate not one but thousands of federal and state-level judges so that the US’s independent judiciary cannot check illegal and/or unconstitutional executive orders and legislation. He would even have to cancel next year’s congressional elections. These are exactly the sorts of measures Hitler implemented within a short period of coming to power.

But because the US today is not Germany of the 1930s in many profound and important ways, such outcomes are unlikely. Perhaps the most important difference is the strength and durability of democracy in America.

How the American people respond to Trump is one thing. How countries like Ireland respond is another matter. For long-time allies of the US to start acting towards it as if it were Nazi Germany would push the world in a more dangerous direction than it is already going, playing into the hands of those around Trump who seek escalation, conflict and permanent crisis.

The time to act against the Trump administration will be if it takes measures which go against the interests of Ireland and other friendly countries and if he continues down the path of actions which do not chime with democratic values.

Trump poses very real threats and challenges to his own country and the rest of the world, but at this juncture drawing parallels with Hitler are at best a distraction and at worst counter-productive.

Robert Fisk is a very erratic pundit — he’s wonderful if you want a wholly incorrect analysis of events in the Middle East, for instance — but here’s a piece which makes the odd useful point:

That’s what disqualifies all the Hitler parallels, even the Mussolini comparisons, although the comical side of Italian fascist imperium is clearly there. It’s not that Trump is no longer terrifying. He should be. Nor that he is mentally unstable – he clearly is. It’s that his performances are so rivetingly zany, so absolutely inside the prison of the absurd that I swear some of the human race will commit suicide when he’s gone.

I’m still not sure why the Trump shows have such depth. Maybe it’s because of the revolting seriousness of all around him. This thing, after all, has a cast of thousands. While the Chief Clown froths in the East Wing, his Attendant Lords blather away at immensely important conferences in Europe, desperately trying to assure the EU, Nato, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the World Bank, Isis, al-Qaeda, you name it, that nothing has changed. Everyone, both the American panjandrums and the European leaders and the Nato generals, even poor Sergei Lavrov, all pretend that this is quite normal. They act the part.

One of them, only slightly less insane than Trump since she is leading her own country over the Brexit cliff, has even told the Chief Lunatic that Her Majesty the Queen is inviting him for a state visit. There has been nothing like this since Alice in Wonderland. Across the globe, they all shake hands and curtsy and grovel and fawn just as they did when Good King Obama ruled the world.

For none of these creatures must give the slightest clue that they know. That’s why the whole thing is so addictive. Everyone – Mad Dog Mattis, Rex Exxon Tillerson, Angela We-Can-Do-This Merkel, Theresa Goodbye May – all have to pretend that absolutely nothing unusual is taking place.

They must not for a moment even hint that they know what we all know: that back at the White House, the President of the United States of America has dressed up in a green smock, stood on his head, smoked a joint in front of CNN and proclaimed that his hutch of performing rabbits are capable of playing Beethoven on three pianos at the same time.

And that’s why the whole thing is so addictive. This is not the ultimate reality show – and it’s not Adolf in the West Wing or Benito in the Rose Garden. It’s Punch and Judy set to Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.

For how much longer can our colleagues stand in front of the White House or freeze in front of Nato conferences, parroting to us about what “officials say” (the most overused clause in US media history) with their usual self-assurance and self-regard when we all know that the game is up? For they, too, are still pretending that everything is normal.

But now we know they know nothing – because the President of the United States of America is completely bonkers, crackers, insane, out-of-kilter-in-the-brain and certifiably over the top. He’s not only a disgrace to the nation. Far worse, he’s a disgrace to the press. So it’s obviously in the national interest that he goes.

Sean O’Grady has a mildly different view:

Amateur psychology, maybe, but one can easily detect the same sort of inner fragility in Nixon than in the outwardly bombastic and ever-boastful Trump. The current President, too, over-estimates the power of his office (Nixon went so far as to try to develop a doctrine that “if the president does it, it’s legal” when he was in power).

Why else, other than some deep-seated insecurity, does Trump keep wanting to remind everyone about how he won the campaign, despite the media? Why does he feel the need, long after the campaign proper is over, to carry on appearing at rallies to adoring, chanting crowds? Like his poring over his media coverage, or getting wound up about Alec Baldwin’s hilarious renditions of him on Saturday Night Live, President Trump should have better things to do. He seems to be forgetting to get on with his sometimes tedious day job, and, as a result, making the sort of elementary errors that Nixon did, albeit in a different sphere.

Nixon was an experienced figure who had met and learned much from most of the world’s leaders, from Winston Churchill to the Shah of Iran, before he was elected President, who had served as Vice President, Congressman and Senator, who was a gifted lawyer and debated with Nikita Khrushchev on TV, and had a much surer touch about his cabinet appointments – Henry Kissinger, for example. Trump doesn’t have quite the same experience, skill or credentials. Both men would keep a faculty of psychologists busy, but essentially Trump is Nixon without the brains. That’s not so smart, as Trump himself might say.

Brian Klaas in the conservative Telegraph has another slightly different angle (you can tell I’m scraping around, can’t you?):

Thursday’s press conference was a remarkable moment in American history. It showcased something new: the White House of one. Trump made a series of false claims, berated the press for doing their jobs, and returned to the boisterous and combative back-and-forth that delighted his base on the campaign trail. He amped up his labeling of legitimate media outlets from “fake news” to “very fake news.” He trumpeted his electoral victory. And all along, the only thing that seemed to matter to him was Donald Trump. There was no talk of policy solutions to help a single mum raising three kids on two jobs. There was no talk of the downtrodden middle class, robbed of their American Dream by festering inequality. Instead, Trump’s overriding theme was that he was a winner, unfairly victimized by the losers in the press.

This arena – jousting with the press – is Trump’s comfort zone. Unfortunately, his return to his comfort zone pushed everyone else – Republicans, Democrats, foreign leaders – out of theirs. Republicans are panicking behind closed doors. World leaders are panicking in the open. President Trump looked way out of his league for the hardest job on Earth.

Of course, partisanship is a hell of a drug. Trump’s combative authoritarian approach to attacking the press will play exceedingly well in Rust Belt Ohio and Deep South Alabama. There is no question that his hardcore supporters will cheer the attacks on the mainstream media as long overdue. But the problem for Trump, and the world, is that economies don’t thrive, national security isn’t achieved, and justice is not served based on galvanizing a political base.

The campaign is over. He won. And yet Thursday’s press conference showed that Trump is not yet ready to govern. For anyone who understands the complexity of running the most powerful government on the planet, it was a 77 minute advertisement of Trump’s woeful unpreparedness. But as Trump sets off to Florida today for a campaign-style rally on Saturday, he will trade a tough crowd in the press room for an adoring one outside Washington. And the crowd noise he is sure to encounter, the chants, the cheering – those are the lifeblood that sustains the White House of one.

In the Herald Scotland, Kevin McKenna is concerned that exposing Trump’s lies will do no good:

Mr Trump knows that his claim about his margin of victory in the electoral college even now is being accepted as fact in a bar-room debate somewhere in Indiana in a community where sales and online subscriptions to The Washington Post and the New York Times are not high. Ah, we liberals are wont to point out, Mr Trump’s approval figures in the first month of his presidency are the lowest since Richard Nixon’s.

I doubt these will cause The Donald to have many sleepless nights. Despite his claims of vote-rigging, he rests secure in the knowledge that he accessed the White House with around three million votes fewer than his opponent and contrary to the predictions of opinion polls right up until his moment of triumph.

If he lasts the full stretch of even one term it’s the fond belief of the liberal elites that the Republican party will have sustained such grievous damage in the process that it will be virtually unelectable for a generation.

Yet, what if it’s the reputation of the American press that suffers most damage, to the extent that it is simply dismissed by that section of the American electorate that opted for Mr Trump?

Such an outcome will give succour to every reactionary right-wing Republican demagogue who fancies a shot at running the country. “To hell with the facts,” will be the strategy. “Facts are for the Post and the Times that will twist them to suit their liberal agendas. We deal in the truth, and the truth is what we say it is, thanks to Donald J.”

This would be the real tragedy of Mr Trump’s alt-right adventure. The independence and authority of the American press helped bring an end to the Vietnam War. During Watergate, the Post withstood a barrage of officially-sanctioned threats to its future and to the lives of its ace reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein before finally bringing down a crooked president.

Yet, without the scrutiny of its robust press, it would be more tempestuous still. This is where Mr Trump wants to take us and why he is constantly chipping away at the one estate that might yet arrest him on that wretched journey.

Again in Herald Scotland, Catriona Stewart looks forward to Trump’s planned UK visit:

Dear Donald,

I have a confession to make. I signed the petition calling for your invitation to come to the UK on a state visit to be rescinded.

It was a big mistake. The bigliest. On reflection, we don’t like bans. Maybe the other 1,857,847 signatories feel it was a tremendous mistake too. Such a mistake.

In fact, I speak for all of us when I say that we are looking forward to greeting you. There will be lots of greeting during your visit. The most.

Just this month, thousands of people, millions of them, came out across Scotland with special banners hailing your presidency. Around 1.5 million, the same as your inauguration. They came out in the rain. It was a hurricane.

They’ll definitely do it again. Thousands, I didn’t say millions.

You might see people carrying signs calling you a roaster. A roaster is a real compliment in Scotland. The highest compliment, actually. It means that you’re so hot you’re nuclear. And Donald, if I may, you sure are a nuclear option. You may also hear yourself called a rocket, a zoomer, a screamer, a nugget and a bam. These are all terms of respect, particularly President Bawbag. Or, for short, SCROTUS.

You don’t have to worry about FAKE NEWS in Scotland. We’re already alert to it. We have a dedicated consortium of patriots who attack the media and uncover conspiracy theories. They too would like to build a wall along the country south of the border.

Please, Donald, come to Scotland. We’ll all be waiting with a Glasgow kiss.

David McWilliams thinks that the economy will prove to be what really puts the skids under Trump:

Mr Trump’s team believes that the economy can grow to 3pc or 4pc and therefore believe that the Fed shouldn’t raise rates too soon. But if the Fed goes along with Mr Trump and is seen to be captured by his will and is seen to be soft on inflation, the US bond market will sell off, driving up long-term rates.

But here is the dilemma.

This conflict between the Federal Reserve and the Treasury in the US is one of the oldest in the book. In 1981/82, Paul Volcker hiked interest rates in response to Ronald Reagan’s tax-cutting start. Mr Volcker said he had to beat inflation and the ensuing recession blighted Reagan’s first three years.

Reagan backed down.

In 1992/3, Bill Clinton was pitted against Fed chairman Alan Greenspan. Mr Clinton fought the election on the promise of tax cuts for the middle classes.

Mr Greenspan took Mr Clinton’s economic guru, Robert Rubin, aside and told him firmly that if Mr Clinton cut taxes, he’d raise rates in retaliation. If, on the other hand, Mr Clinton reneged on his electoral promise, Mr Greenspan would do nothing and long-term interest rates would fall, driving up stock and house prices and driving the Clinton boom via higher asset prices.

Mr Clinton backed down.

Now will Mr Trump back down, or will he see this as yet more technocratic, unelected insiders – the central bankers – frustrating the people’s president?

What would this mean?

It would mean Mr Trump interfering in the appointment of future Fed governors and ultimately Ms Yellen’s successor. If he is happy to go after the spooks in the CIA, I’m sure he will not be scared of a few economists in the Fed. After all, they represent to him the ultimate insiders – civil servants who are unelected. He may well make them his next target.

If that happens, all hell will break loose on Wall Street because, after all, the near 30-year boom in American asset prices has been driven on the understanding that the Fed always wins.

What if that no longer holds true?

Then all bets are off.

In the Scotsman, Thomas Smart reflects on life as an expat:

I’m an American. I now live in the United Kingdom. Eleven years ago, I left the baking red heat of the Arizona desert for the soggy green hills of Scotland. The reason for my emigration was an excuse as old as humanity: love. I’d met a girl from Scotland. We got married in a cross-Atlantic swirl of confused accents and too much whisky. We bought a house. I got a job. We now have two young children.I like living in the UK. I like the people and I like the place. Yes, February is bleak and my tan has long since faded, but Great Britain has offered me opportunities which I would have never had in the United States. I can see a doctor – for free. I was able to pursue a postgraduate degree for a very reasonable price – free. When I went to get a prescription for an infection the pharmacist told me the cost, “Free”. I still remember when my first employer told me my holiday entitlement was 30 days. I was baffled. I wondered, do these people realise they’re giving me over a month off, paid? Beyond the constant drizzle, I began to understand that there was a cultural divide I would need to work hard to bridge.


The America I left didn’t feel xenophobic and isolationist. Admittedly, racism is a part of American history and still very much exists. However, I never thought the American people would vote to literally wall themselves in. The America I thought I knew wasn’t misogynistic and mean. Yes, equality was a long way off but I never believed a politician could openly bragg about abusing women and still win power. In short, America has always had its flaws, but the radical now seems to have become mainstream – it’s as if those on the fringe have somehow gotten hold of the microphone.I’ve not been back to the United States for four years. Between the cost of flights and the kids, it’s been too difficult to make the journey. The election of Trump has made me wonder, if I do ever go back to the US, will it be anything like the country I remember? It’s very easy to view the past through rose tinted spectacles, and perhaps, over the years, I’ve created a sanitised view of the America I want to remember. But I do remember it as a happy place, as a place which was, for lack of a better word, good. It seems like, somewhere between the mass shootings, violent police officers, and a megalomaniac in the White House, everything has changed. I wonder where all the kindness went? While I’m sure that the earth is the same size it was eleven years, ago, it just feels like home is much further away.

I’ll finish with an important piece from the Southend News Network, one of Britain’s premier news sites:

A spokesperson for Donald Trump’s administration has confirmed that the CIA’s list of approved methods of torture has been replaced by an executive order that authorises the use of Stacey Solomon voice recordings.

According to the new ruling, this means that all levels of suspects will be subjected to 60-second audio files of the Essex TV personality’s many appearances.

the President decided that it was time to look for a new mental or emotional method that would be just as effective, and at that point somebody handed him a tape of an episode of The Xtra Factor.’

‘He noticed that her vocal delivery of ending one thought and beginning a new thought simultaneously at varying speeds was ‘giving him the motherf*cker of all headaches,’ and just 20 seconds later he was crying on the floor and getting ready to email our nuclear missile launch codes to The Kremlin.’

‘Thankfully someone was there to turn off the recording and intercept him.’

‘We carried out a test interrogation on a registered terror suspect last night, and within three cycles he had denounced Allah, shaved off his beard and was preparing for a new career selling bicycles and spreading the word of The Good Book.’

Although Washington is delighted at the success of the trial, there may be some difficult times ahead after the United Nations confirmed that the move may be violating a number of clauses in the Geneva Convention.

You may find it interesting to peruse some more of SNN’s stories, which often give an interesting new angle to current events. It’ll be one way to occupy your Sunday.

Great British Breakfast and Euro-punditry

This is an experiment. Since June last year, I’ve been doing a weekly dive into the European press on DKos, originally to cover the US election, but since then to try and cover European views of America, plus keeping an eye on elections taking place in Europe – my view being that following elections is the simplest way of getting some kind of insight into how a country’s politics work.

I’m only fluent in German, but I have a moderate knowledge of French and can just about parse the other Western European languages. So the excerpts which follow have had at least some human attention, though the links to non-English language sources take you to GoogleTranslate’s version, which is sometimes gobbledegook, but is usually good enough for you to get the gist of it.

This being my first diary here, I have little idea if I’m doing it right, but I’ve simply copied my DK post as is. So I’ll be interested both in how it looks and what you think of it.