This coming Thursday is Britain’s general election. The polls are variable enough that anything from a hung parliament to a 100-seat Conservative majority is possible (the SNP would have to disappear for Labour toget an overall majority), but one thing is certain: the prime minister who will lead the country while the Brexit negotiations proceed will be a fourth-rate incompetent. Jeremy Corbyn is a nicer guy and has been more relaxed and confident on the campaign trail, but would be a hopeless PM, while Theresa May is currently PM and is hopeless at it. Nor can we look round the rest of their parties’ leadership teams for any comfort, since they have both surrounded themselves with talentless morons.
This week, I had planned to feature a lot of stuff relating to the UK Election, but it’s proved very difficult to find any useful or enlightening comment, so you’re going to have to put up with my take on where things are.
The weekly Fighting Back post is also an Open News Thread. Feel free to share other news stories in the comments.
Found on the Internets …
The Weekly Democratic Party Address was delivered by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware. He spoke about the Republican Party’s healthcare plan, a plan that will take healthcare away from 23 million Americans and make health insurance essentially unaffordable for older Americans and for people with pre-existing conditions.
Senator Carper reminds us about the meaning of Memorial Day (not just barbecues and the beginning of summer) and speaks about veterans and their health care needs:
“Nearly two million veterans—that’s one in 10—rely on Medicaid for their health care. That includes some 6,000 veterans who are living in Delaware. The Republican plan to dismantle the Affordable Care Act cuts more than $800 billion from Medicaid. This plan combined with President Trump’s budget proposal would bump that cut to $1 trillion. At best, this would significantly scale back our veterans’ Medicaid benefits and, at worst, cause them to lose their benefits altogether.”
-U.S. Senator Tom Carper (DE), a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and Naval Reserves.
(A transcript will be added if one becomes available)
Former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic Party presidential candidate (and popular vote winner!) Hillary Clinton spoke at the 2017 Wellesley College graduation ceremony. In her address, she exhorts the graduating class – and all of us – to engage and be active, to dream big and “above all, keep going”.
(Secretary Clinton is introduced at about 50 minutes in by Wellesley President Paula A. Johnson)
Here’s what I want you to know. We got through that tumultuous time [of the 60s and 70s], and once again began to thrive as our society changed laws and opened the circle of opportunity and rights wider and wider for more Americans. We revved up the engines of innovation and imagination. We turned back a tide of intolerance and embraced inclusion. The “we” who did those things were more than those in power who wanted to change course. It was millions of ordinary citizens, especially young people, who voted, marched, and organized. […]
You are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason. […]
I believe with all my heart that the future of America—indeed, the future of the world—depends on brave, thoughtful people like you insisting on truth and integrity, right now, every day. You didn’t create these circumstances, but you have the power to change them. […]
Don’t let anyone tell you your voice doesn’t matter. In the years to come, there will be trolls galore—online and in person—eager to tell you that you don’t have anything worthwhile to say or anything meaningful to contribute. They may even call you a Nasty Woman. Some may take a slightly more sophisticated approach and say your elite education means you are out of touch with real people. In other words, “sit down and shut up.” Now, in my experience, that’s the last thing you should ever tell a Wellesley graduate. […]
Not long ago, I got a note from a group of Wellesley alums and students who had supported me in the campaign. They worked their hearts out. And, like a lot of people, they’re wondering: What do we do now?
Well I think there’s only one answer, to keep going. Don’t be afraid of your ambition, of your dreams, or even your anger – those are powerful forces. But harness them to make a difference in the world. Stand up for truth and reason. Do it in private — in conversations with your family, your friends, your workplace, your neighborhoods. And do it in public—in Medium posts, on social media, or grab a sign and head to a protest. Make defending truth and a free society a core value of your life every single day. […]
The day after the election, I did want to speak particularly to women and girls everywhere, especially young women, because you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world. Not just your future, but our future depends on you believing that. We need your smarts, of course, but we also need your compassion, your curiosity, your stubbornness. And remember, you are even more powerful because you have so many people supporting you, cheering you on, standing with you through good times and bad.
Our culture often celebrates people who appear to go it alone. But the truth is, that’s not how life works. Anything worth doing takes a village.
[Over the last 48 years], doors that once seemed sealed to women are now opened. They’re ready for you to walk through or charge through, to advance the struggle for equality, justice, and freedom.
So whatever your dreams are today, dream even bigger. Wherever you have set your sights, raise them even higher. And above all, keep going. Don’t do it because I asked you so. Do it for yourselves. Do it for truth and reason. Do it because the history of Wellesley and this country tells us it’s often during the darkest times when you can do the most good. Double down on your passions. Be bold. Try, fail, try again, and lean on each other. Hold on to your values. Never give up on those dreams.
I’m very optimistic about the future, because I think, after we’ve tried a lot of other things, we get back to the business of America. I believe in you. With all my heart, I want you to believe in yourselves. So go forth, be great.
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.
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,” summarizesthe 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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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!”
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At Winter Solstice, the light begins to return – gradually, the memory of the long nights fades until the light and dark are equal on Spring Equinox. From that point on, the light returns more rapidly and on May 1st we arrive at the midpoint between equinox and Summer Solstice.
Morning meese…I’m subbing for Michael this morning as he’s canvassing in England for the elections they are getting ready to have. Sorry to say this won’t be a Euro edition this morning as I know as much about European politics as Trump knows about governing…In other words,nothing.