Tag Archives: Hillary Clinton

An Open Letter to Myself

30 Dec

An Open Letter to Myself on New Year’s Day 2017

 

Forebodings

Trump 

I have a politically active liberal friend who in the aftermath of the Trump victory believes rather fervently that ‘clarity,’ not ‘hope,’ is the opposite of ‘despair.’ To be awake to unpleasant, even dire, realities and resist the temptations of denial demands increasing resolve in the face of the mounting evidence that the human species is facing a biopolitical moment threatening civilizational collapse and species decline and fall as never before. Wakefulness can give rise to mindfulness, encouraging radical choices of right action individually, and even possibly collectively. My friend’s clarity was more narrowly focused—limited to recovering and carrying on in America after the unexpected electoral victory of Trump. For those of us living here, the fear of what Trump will do ‘to make America great again’ is overwhelming and deeply depressing without taking the slightest account of the biopolitical crisis threatening the future of the human habitat as well as already producing the extinction of many species that are being swept away by forces beyond their, and more often, our control.

 

The wonderful Euromed Team that lends valuable civil society support to the Palestinian people and their prolonged struggle, counsels a different spirit in their holiday message: “Keep Calm, Stay Human.” I will do my best to heed this advice. Calmness rather than hysteria, human as profiled by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially in the often neglected, yet aptly visionary, language of its Preamble. Treat others, near and far, with the dignity they and you deserve, and do your utmost to protect those vulnerable within your reach whether family, community, country, world.

 

Another source of insight relevant to this moment comes from the brilliantly progressive Jean Bricmont, a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Louvain and author of Humanitarian Intervention: Using Human Rights to Sell War (2006) and other books, who insists that all positive political action rests on a foundation of ‘hope and indignation.’(p.7) I view ‘hope’ as a matter of informed will as contrasted with optimism, which is often an escapist refusal to acknowledge surrounding risks, harms, and dangers. Optimists too often greet the future with a vacuous benign smile as if there is nothing to worry about so long as you meditate twice a day. To be authentically hopeful under current conditions presents a difficult essentially spiritual challenge, which depends on some form of faith, given the depth of the multiple crises that imperil human and non-human futures. ‘Indignation’ is an appropriate response to the pervasive wrongs associated with corruption, exploitation, patriarchy, and unjustifiable discrimination, and serves as a necessary foundation for raising political consciousness, making mobilization feasible and transformation possible.

 

 

Right-wing Populism: A Vehicle for 21st Century Fascism?

 

Others are sounding various alarms in anxious response to the rise of right-wing populism in a series of countries around the world, warning us that a 21st century fascist virus is viciously attacking hearts, bodies, and minds, often with a democratic mandate, giving rise to a new generation of popular autocrats. This virus is dangerously contagious imperiling the body politic of an increasing number of societies. It appeals especially, even if unconsciously, to those escaping from the discontents of and alienation brought about by the predatory effects of neoliberal globalization. In Europe and North America, especially, these discontents are being dangerously aggravated by anti-immigration nativism, hysteria, demagoguery, libertarian gun policies, and monetized politics. Some perceive fascism in different guises emerging in a variety of societies, capturing and magnifying state power, scapegoating minorities, reversing feminist gains, encouraging a science-defying consumerism, and diverting attention from the menaces posed by the possession, development, and deployment of nuclear weaponry, as well as by a planetary temperature that is pushing against thresholds of irreversibility.

 

I found the following cautionary list composed by the eminent Yale historian, Timothy D. Snyder, author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010) and Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning (2015), perceptive, instructive, and above all, a stimulus of further thought. Pondering Snyder’s list of 20 lessons is to be forewarned. The intended audience seems to those of us living in the West, either Europe or North America.

 

 

Snyder List of 20 Lessons (dated Dec. 1, 2016)

 

“Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

 

  1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

 

  1. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

 

  1. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

 

  1. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

 

  1. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

 

  1. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps “The Power of the Powerless” by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

 

  1. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.
  2. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

 

  1. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

 

  1. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

 

  1. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

 

  1. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

 

  1. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

 

  1. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

 

  1. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

 

  1. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

 

  1. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

 

  1. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

 

  1. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

 

  1. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.”

 

[Snyder suggests that if this list seems useful, print it out and pass it around!

 

I find this list of concerns to be suggestive and useful, despite not perceiving quite the same trajectory of political threat. In some respects, the vigilance proposed by Snyder is summarized by Pastor Martin Niemoller’s extraordinary poem written beneath the crushing weight of Nazi Germany:

thFirst They Came

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.

 

**************************************

 

 

What seems beyond questioning in the present context within the United States is the political imperative to become maximally engaged. It is crucial that there be many highly visible citizens of conscience and that we all remain on high alert with respect to the dangers posed by a governing process dominated by a media oriented demagogue that has mobilized right-wing populism in the US as never before and is surrounding himself with dedicated reactionary ideologues.

 

Although this last commentary narrows concerns to American forebodings, the intended and unintended consequences are certain to be much broader. The United States acts as a global state. When Washington makes mistakes they tend to reverberate around the world. This is most obvious with regard to the economic, environmental, and security policy agendas, and also there are likely to be various negative impacts on geopolitical behavior raising risks of international warfare, although this is not entirely clear at this stage. If Trump’s opening to Russia is not thwarted by the American national security establishment, which is how I mainly interpret the Obama move to sanction Russia in retaliation for the recent hacking episode. The American reaction of outraged innocence seems wildly overblown considering our own cyber attacks on Iran and the many flagrant interferences over the years under CIA auspices with foreign elections and even elected governments. Thankfully Putin is so far repudiating the tit-for-tat game, and would deserve credit, along possibly with Trump, for halting this disastrous push by the deep state in the United States to revive the cold war, this time with high hot war risks.

 

 

The Calmer Liberal Option

For still others, for whom political activism in a largely liberal mode is the key to avoiding a deeper descent into a planetary inferno the call is: ‘don’t despair, organize and resist.’ The brilliantly attuned filmmaker and cultural critic, Michael Moore, offers Americans a five-point plan for resistance worth reflecting upon: 1) visit local congress representatives to express concerns; 2) insist on the drastic reorganization of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) taking the form of progressive leadership; 3) form local rapid response teams of 5-10, consisting of friends, neighbors, family that can protest adverse developments as they occur; 4) Participate in the protest events in Washington relating to the inauguration of Donald Trump as the next American president, as well as protests elsewhere; 5) Devise a Plan B because as bad as you think things will be, they will actually will be worse. Moore’s proposal is very much responsive to the peculiarities of the current American political landscape, essentially relying on liberal values and associated procedures for energizing constructive forms of participation in this type of constitutional democracy. Whether it goes nearly far enough to counteract the Trump surge is a question not likely to be answered by the end of 2017 at the earliest, but I have my strong doubts. Without addressing the roots of the malaise, which are shaped by neoliberal capitalism, militarism, nuclearism, and patriarchy, we are, at best, in my view, playing for time. At worst, fiddling while the planet burns.

 

 

The Progressive Case for Trump: Abstractions Lost in the Ruins

I have several admirable overseas progressive friends that continue to rejoice in the defeat of Hillary Clinton, equating the rejection of her candidacy with a major defeat for the US national security establishment. It is important not to dismiss these views. It is well to remember that during the electoral campaign most Republican defense stalwarts and high profile neocons denounced Trump and threw their support to Clinton. Added to this were several substantive issues. Trump’s campaign calls for an end to regime-changing interventions and state-building ventures throughout the Middle East. If implemented, this seems to presage a kind of welcome geopolitical retreat from the region. And, of course, Trump’s much publicized support for a cooperative relationship with Russia, despite the crimes of Vladimir Putin, angered and worried the establishment consensus. It should be appreciated that Trump seems to be stepping back from Obama’s irresponsible diplomacy with respect to Russia, a dynamic that Clinton would certainly have accelerated against a background of Beltway applause.

 

The most telling opposition of security insiders to Trump’s candidacy arose in my view because he seemed to be proposing an abandonment of what I have in the past called the ‘Global Domination Project,’ which was the grand strategy associated with American ambitions to play a hegemonic security role associated that was to be expected of the first global state in human history. Anti-Trump militarists should not be too discouraged as Trump promises ‘to rebuild the American military’ and has appointed a series of notorious militarists to the most critical security positions, making his ‘America First’ rhetoric unlikely to be translated into policies associated with lowering the American security profile around the world. There are likely to be ambiguous and questionable responses to Trump’s encouragement of foreign governments to invest more in their own defense and his seeming complacency about the further proliferation of nuclear weaponry.

 

Despite these weighty considerations I feel strongly to that Trump’s ascendancy to power is posing apocalyptic risks that all sane persons should act to avoid. Also Trump’s victory overlooks the likely impact of his domestic policies on the vulnerable (immigrants, minorities, women, especially African Americans, Muslims, Hispanics) and poor, a prospect given frightening potency by an irresponsibly right-wing Congress and a supportive Supreme Court. It also fails to take account of Trump’s counter-terrorist extremism (‘crush ISIS,’ revive waterboarding, and authorizing even worse forms of torture) and seeming casual embrace of nuclearism, both by seeming to tell allies to consider developing their own nuclear weapons arsenal and promising to retain a position on top of nuclear weapons pyramid even if means unleashing an expensive and dangerous arms race.

 

There is bound to be uncertainty and confusion associated with the early stages of the Trump’s presidency. Despite trembling at the prospect, no one knows exactly what to expect. For one thing, Trump contradicts himself frequently, or restates his most provocative proposals with decidedly more moderate ideas about implementation. For another, there is a tension between his primary persona as an exemplary entertainer of the digital age and his hard line cabinet and staff appointees who seem primed to actualize a reactionary agenda. Whether the president as commander-in-chief will turn out this time to be the entertainer-in-chief is at this point anyone’s best guess. And just maybe, given the alternatives, the world will be better off with an entertainer, especially if the political class steps back to let the show go on! What might be most toxic would be a kind of collaborative governing process that provides media performances as spectacular distractions (bread and circuses of our time) while an unfolding assortment of regressive programs, policies, and practices were being enacted.

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Anticipating the Trump Presidency

13 Nov

 

 

[Prefatory Note: The post below was commissioned by the global-e journal ( http://www.21global.ucsb.edu/global-e ) and appears there as Volume 9, No. 3, November 2016.]

 

 

In the weeks prior to the American presidential election I received a large number of independent messages from progressive friends abroad who were either expats or citizens of other countries. I was not too surprised that almost every message expressed hostility to Hillary Clinton, but I was shocked that so many were opting for Trump to win the election or advocating a stay-at-home boycott or third party vote believing that neither Trump nor Clinton deserved support, and there was no basis for making one preferable to the other. I shared some of these sentiments, but overcame my doubts about the better option as the campaign wore on, becoming increasingly definite about supporting Clinton, initially as the lesser of evils and later more affirmatively, as she had become a woman unduly victimized by the nasty virulence of Trump’s hurtful misogynist slurs. I increasingly felt that my overseas friends were out of touch with the internal dynamics of American society, specifically, not appreciating that Trump’s election, in view of his campaign, would be a dark day of foreboding, hurt, rejection, and despair for African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, women, and supporters of progressive causes.

 

The views of my pro-Trump foreign friends have over the years been consistently humane and congenial. Their various reasons for being anti-Clinton or pro-Trump resulted from adopting predominantly structural outlooks or reflect preoccupations with specific substantive concerns. The structural arguments were two-fold: first, that both political parties in the US were equally subservient to the logic of neoliberal globalization (‘the Washington consensus’) that they believed was the source of many of the worst evils in the world, making Trump seem almost like a third party candidate who was challenging the core elements of economic globalization. For them, the only moral response was either to boycott the election altogether, as it made no difference which side won; or alternatively, take a chance with Trump, as he at least seemed likely to repudiate NAFTA and kill the TPP.

 

A second structural argument, often overlapping with the first, was that the military industrial corporate complex was embraced by the mainstream of both parties, making American global militarism bipartisan. Such a view was reinforced by the degree to which the Washington national security establishment and neocon think tanks overwhelmingly stepped forward to support Clinton, including many prominent Republicans, fearing that Trump would choose a security path that was adventurously dangerous or, worse, might even pursue an anti-militarist neo-isolationist foreign policy. Trump so threatened the Republican national security establishment that Washington’s political elite generally agreed he would make an unreliable and irresponsible leader of the American ‘global state.’ Trump’s repeated calls to rebuild America’s allegedly broken military capabilities were almost irrelevant, given his disorienting comments about alliances, nonproliferation, and regime-changing interventions. Although Trump’s challenge to political correctness in the security domain was anathema to Washington’s political class, it was music to the ears of my foreign friends.

There is a third version of structural analysis, ignored by my friends abroad, that seems helpful in explaining what happened in the American election. It is the extent to which various forms of ultra-nationalist populism are succeeding in electing leaders throughout the world by large margins, including Russia, India, Japan, Turkey, Egypt, Philippines, and now the United States. The Brexit vote in Britain, along with the rise of right wing political parties in Europe, exhibit a similar backlash against globalizing tendencies and foreign interventions that have in turn engendered menacing transnational migrations of desperate people fleeing war torn zones and escaping from extreme poverty. These migrations fuel chauvinism in the West that toxically interacts with economic stagnation, high levels of unemployment, terrorist anxieties, and closely related threats to indigenous ethnic and racial identities. In effect, right wing populism is a response to the failures of Western political, economic, and cultural systems to protect the material and psycho-political wellbeing of their respective national populations.

 

Over all, my foreign friends were generally opposed to Clinton’s global security agenda, especially as it pertained to Russia and the Middle East, and preferred Trump’s vague generalities and even regarded his inexperience as an asset. The pro-Trump arguments here concentrated on Clinton’s past record of support for regime-changing military interventions in the Middle East and her support for a No Fly Zone in Syria whose establishment would almost certainly result in a confrontation with Russia that could escalate into yet another American-sponsored regime-changing intervention in a Muslim country. Such an intervention was particularly feared as it could easily lead to a new cold war, with hot war dangers. More than a couple of my correspondents quoted her chilling remark in Libya shortly after Qaddafi’s capture and grisly execution, “We came, we saw, he died,” feeling that it embodied the heartless geopolitics in the Middle East that had produced the current regional turmoil.

 

Although these perceptions are anecdotal, I find them revealing and disturbing. Because American elections, especially this one, seem so important to people in other countries, the results are watched closely, sometimes more closely than their own national elections. Early reactions to the Trump victory in Mexico and Russia reveal contradictory priorities in various parts of the world. The Mexican reaction has been reported to be one of uniform shock and sorrow, as well as feelings of deep concern for their relatives and friends living in the US or worries that remittances from America for very poor families would now be in jeopardy or heavily taxed. In the streets of Moscow, there was rejoicing, since Russians, whether they liked Putin or not, seemed convinced that Trump would act as a practical business man and work toward cooperative relations that would help both governments diminish the frightening tensions currently associated with NATO, Ukraine, and Syria, and avoid any further downward spiral in relations that they quite reasonably feared would be the trajectory of a more ideological Clinton presidency.

 

Outside the U.S., many people, whether American or not, tend to view the Trump victory and the Clinton defeat through a single-issue optic that mostly pertains to international economic and security policy. In contrast, those living here in the United States, if drawn to Trump, are likely to be attracted by his anti-establishment outsider outlook combined with their own internal preoccupations with national economic policy, especially jobs and trade, and cultural liberalism (e.g., gays, pro-choice, race, immigration, and recreational drugs). Trump supporters with a more self-consciously conservative bent believe he would keep the Supreme Court appointment process in Republican hands for the next four years. This prospect alone apparently led many wavering suburban Republicans to vote for Trump in the end, disregarding qualms that might otherwise have kept them home on election day.

 

In his victory speech, Trump sounded gentle and benign, promising to govern for all citizens as a unifying leader, stressing the need to rebuild the decaying American infrastructure and even offering gracious praise to Hilary Clinton for a hard fought campaign. Unfortunately, this cheerful aftermath is bound to be short lived. Major struggles loom, and will begin as soon as Trump announces his appointments of cabinet members and key staff. Not long after some doubtless provocative choices, bitter policy controversies will emerge a he seeks to implement his programmatic priorities: scrapping Obamacare, NAFTA, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and the Iran nuclear deal. Altogether, this will sadly erase from the books the best parts of the Obama legacy. It is not a pretty picture without even considering whether Trump will follow through on his most notorious pledges: mass deportation of ‘illegal’ immigrants, imposition of an airtight anti-Muslim immigration ban, and the construction a police friendly ‘law and order’ regime to combat ‘black lives matter’ activism and inner city crime.

 

In this period, American resilience will certainly be tested, probably as much or more than at any time since the American Civil War. The haunting uncertainty is whether the likely incivility of the Trump presidency will decisively darken the political destiny of the country, or only be a transitory period of regression. Can the creative energies of resistance and reform build a transformative movement of sufficient strength to balance the Trump juggernaut? On this slim possibility, somewhat prefigured by the primary campaign of Bernie Sanders, our hopes rest for a resilient and resurrected America again dedicated to achieving peace abroad and justice at home.

 

There is a final observation that deserves commentary and reflection. It should not be overlooked that Clinton won the popular vote by a comfortable margin (thanks to California) despite her high unfavorability ratings. If not for that peculiar anachronistic American institution—the Electoral College—Clinton would be the winner, Trump the loser, and political gurus would be busy telling us why such an outcome was inevitable. With real world clarity, it is mere cocktail party phantasy to think that American democracy will sometime soon be democratized by counting every person’s vote equally. Entrenched Republican Party interests will never let the US Constitution be so modernized, but what this popular vote does confirm is that country is almost evenly divided, and that progressive values continue to enjoy a slight majority. It is therefore wildly premature to think that this election signals that the American people have descended into the swamps of racism and nativism, but it will still take a vigilant opposition movement to prevent Trump’s government from imposing its horrendous agenda on our collective future.

 

 

 

 

In the weeks prior to the American presidential election I received a large number of independent messages from progressive friends abroad who were either expats or citizens of other countries. I was not too surprised that almost every message expressed hostility to Hillary Clinton, but I was shocked that so many were opting for Trump to win the election or advocating a stay-at-home boycott or third party vote believing that neither Trump nor Clinton deserved support, and there was no basis for making one preferable to the other. I shared some of these sentiments, but overcame my doubts about the better option as the campaign wore on, becoming increasingly definite about supporting Clinton, initially as the lesser of evils and later more affirmatively, as she had become a woman unduly victimized by the nasty virulence of Trump’s hurtful misogynist slurs. I increasingly felt that my overseas friends were out of touch with the internal dynamics of American society, specifically, not appreciating that Trump’s election, in view of his campaign, would be a dark day of foreboding, hurt, rejection, and despair for African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, women, and supporters of progressive causes.

 

The views of my pro-Trump foreign friends have over the years been consistently humane and congenial. Their various reasons for being anti-Clinton or pro-Trump resulted from adopting predominantly structural outlooks or reflect preoccupations with specific substantive concerns. The structural arguments were two-fold: first, that both political parties in the US were equally subservient to the logic of neoliberal globalization (‘the Washington consensus’) that they believed was the source of many of the worst evils in the world, making Trump seem almost like a third party candidate who was challenging the core elements of economic globalization. For them, the only moral response was either to boycott the election altogether, as it made no difference which side won; or alternatively, take a chance with Trump, as he at least seemed likely to repudiate NAFTA and kill the TPP.

 

A second structural argument, often overlapping with the first, was that the military industrial corporate complex was embraced by the mainstream of both parties, making American global militarism bipartisan. Such a view was reinforced by the degree to which the Washington national security establishment and neocon think tanks overwhelmingly stepped forward to support Clinton, including many prominent Republicans, fearing that Trump would choose a security path that was adventurously dangerous or, worse, might even pursue an anti-militarist neo-isolationist foreign policy. Trump so threatened the Republican national security establishment that Washington’s political elite generally agreed he would make an unreliable and irresponsible leader of the American ‘global state.’ Trump’s repeated calls to rebuild America’s allegedly broken military capabilities were almost irrelevant, given his disorienting comments about alliances, nonproliferation, and regime-changing interventions. Although Trump’s challenge to political correctness in the security domain was anathema to Washington’s political class, it was music to the ears of my foreign friends.

There is a third version of structural analysis, ignored by my friends abroad, that seems helpful in explaining what happened in the American election. It is the extent to which various forms of ultra-nationalist populism are succeeding in electing leaders throughout the world by large margins, including Russia, India, Japan, Turkey, Egypt, Philippines, and now the United States. The Brexit vote in Britain, along with the rise of right wing political parties in Europe, exhibit a similar backlash against globalizing tendencies and foreign interventions that have in turn engendered menacing transnational migrations of desperate people fleeing war torn zones and escaping from extreme poverty. These migrations fuel chauvinism in the West that toxically interacts with economic stagnation, high levels of unemployment, terrorist anxieties, and closely related threats to indigenous ethnic and racial identities. In effect, right wing populism is a response to the failures of Western political, economic, and cultural systems to protect the material and psycho-political wellbeing of their respective national populations.

 

Over all, my foreign friends were generally opposed to Clinton’s global security agenda, especially as it pertained to Russia and the Middle East, and preferred Trump’s vague generalities and even regarded his inexperience as an asset. The pro-Trump arguments here concentrated on Clinton’s past record of support for regime-changing military interventions in the Middle East and her support for a No Fly Zone in Syria whose establishment would almost certainly result in a confrontation with Russia that could escalate into yet another American-sponsored regime-changing intervention in a Muslim country. Such an intervention was particularly feared as it could easily lead to a new cold war, with hot war dangers. More than a couple of my correspondents quoted her chilling remark in Libya shortly after Qaddafi’s capture and grisly execution, “We came, we saw, he died,” feeling that it embodied the heartless geopolitics in the Middle East that had produced the current regional turmoil.

 

Although these perceptions are anecdotal, I find them revealing and disturbing. Because American elections, especially this one, seem so important to people in other countries, the results are watched closely, sometimes more closely than their own national elections. Early reactions to the Trump victory in Mexico and Russia reveal contradictory priorities in various parts of the world. The Mexican reaction has been reported to be one of uniform shock and sorrow, as well as feelings of deep concern for their relatives and friends living in the US or worries that remittances from America for very poor families would now be in jeopardy or heavily taxed. In the streets of Moscow, there was rejoicing, since Russians, whether they liked Putin or not, seemed convinced that Trump would act as a practical business man and work toward cooperative relations that would help both governments diminish the frightening tensions currently associated with NATO, Ukraine, and Syria, and avoid any further downward spiral in relations that they quite reasonably feared would be the trajectory of a more ideological Clinton presidency.

 

Outside the U.S., many people, whether American or not, tend to view the Trump victory and the Clinton defeat through a single-issue optic that mostly pertains to international economic and security policy. In contrast, those living here in the United States, if drawn to Trump, are likely to be attracted by his anti-establishment outsider outlook combined with their own internal preoccupations with national economic policy, especially jobs and trade, and cultural liberalism (e.g., gays, pro-choice, race, immigration, and recreational drugs). Trump supporters with a more self-consciously conservative bent believe he would keep the Supreme Court appointment process in Republican hands for the next four years. This prospect alone apparently led many wavering suburban Republicans to vote for Trump in the end, disregarding qualms that might otherwise have kept them home on election day.

 

In his victory speech, Trump sounded gentle and benign, promising to govern for all citizens as a unifying leader, stressing the need to rebuild the decaying American infrastructure and even offering gracious praise to Hilary Clinton for a hard fought campaign. Unfortunately, this cheerful aftermath is bound to be short lived. Major struggles loom, and will begin as soon as Trump announces his appointments of cabinet members and key staff. Not long after some doubtless provocative choices, bitter policy controversies will emerge a he seeks to implement his programmatic priorities: scrapping Obamacare, NAFTA, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and the Iran nuclear deal. Altogether, this will sadly erase from the books the best parts of the Obama legacy. It is not a pretty picture without even considering whether Trump will follow through on his most notorious pledges: mass deportation of ‘illegal’ immigrants, imposition of an airtight anti-Muslim immigration ban, and the construction a police friendly ‘law and order’ regime to combat ‘black lives matter’ activism and inner city crime.

 

In this period, American resilience will certainly be tested, probably as much or more than at any time since the American Civil War. The haunting uncertainty is whether the likely incivility of the Trump presidency will decisively darken the political destiny of the country, or only be a transitory period of regression. Can the creative energies of resistance and reform build a transformative movement of sufficient strength to balance the Trump juggernaut? On this slim possibility, somewhat prefigured by the primary campaign of Bernie Sanders, our hopes rest for a resilient and resurrected America again dedicated to achieving peace abroad and justice at home.

 

There is a final observation that deserves commentary and reflection. It should not be overlooked that Clinton won the popular vote by a comfortable margin (thanks to California) despite her high unfavorability ratings. If not for that peculiar anachronistic American institution—the Electoral College—Clinton would be the winner, Trump the loser, and political gurus would be busy telling us why such an outcome was inevitable. With real world clarity, it is mere cocktail party phantasy to think that American democracy will sometime soon be democratized by counting every person’s vote equally. Entrenched Republican Party interests will never let the US Constitution be so modernized, but what this popular vote does confirm is that country is almost evenly divided, and that progressive values continue to enjoy a slight majority. It is therefore wildly premature to think that this election signals that the American people have descended into the swamps of racism and nativism, but it will still take a vigilant opposition movement to prevent Trump’s government from imposing its horrendous agenda on our collective future.

 

 

 

Trump and Clinton: National versus Global Perspectives

6 Nov

 

 

It is not often that Medea Benjamin, the charismatic founder of Code Pink, offers us her insight into a troublesome American reality that is almost simultaneously confirmed by the New York Times, the virtual bible for secular liberals in the United States. Yet it happened, most surprisingly, in a positive portrayal of one thin slice of Trump loyalists—veterans of recent foreign wars. Medea reports on a conversation with such a veteran on a train out West, and was impressed that he felt Clinton much more likely than Trump to get Americans killed in a future distant war disconnected from any reasonable defense of the homeland. The New York Times in a front-page feature article reached this same plausible conclusion on the basis of a wider scan of relevant evidence.

 

Here are two disturbing realities worth pondering as we come closer to this most potentially momentous of American presidential elections. While the civilian national security establishment in the United States is outspokenly supportive of the Clinton candidacy, many combat veterans seem to consider Trump less of a warmonger despite his loose talk about crushing the enemies of America. Is it that the national security establishment has entered the arena of partisan politics because it is so worried about Trump’s petulant style and go it alone adventurism or because it finds Clinton’s record of military internationalism strongly to their liking? Or maybe a combination?

 

The second cluster of observations concerns the split between those of left liberal persuasion who reside in America and those living abroad, especially in the Euro-Mediterranean region. Those outside, whether American citizens or not, think of what these bitter rivals are likely to do once ensconced in the White House, and it makes them fearful. Typical is the view of Slavoj Žižek, the celebrity Slovenian public intellectual: he believes that Trump is ‘apparently less dangerous’ than Clinton, a view overwhelmingly held among Russian elites, and not just Putin. In complementary fashion Julian Assange insists, with the weight of Wikileaks on his shoulders, that the American political class will not allow Trump to win. Such opinions are also shared by many expatriates (as well as in country America First isolationists who are all in for Trump) who consider Clinton fully committed to continuing the American global domination project, no matter its costs, with twin ominous dangers of raising tensions with both Russia and China.

 

Those of us on the left who live mainly in the United States see the risks and dangers differently. We are more inclined to repudiate unconditionally anyone with Trump’s unsavory views on nuclear weapons, race, women, Muslims, immigrants, climate change, guns, and torture without bothering to look further. And if this is not enough, then Trump’s commitment to appoint justices to the US Supreme Court who embrace a jurisprudence that resembles the approach of the recently deceased arch conservative, Anthony Scalia, lower taxes on the super-rich, and is cavalier about the menaces posed by nuclear weaponry and global warming, is more than enough to turn many, including most disappointed Sanders’ enthusiasts, into reluctant Clinton supporters. Additionally, those with Wall Street portfolios also have reasonable fears that Trump’s rejection of trade agreements and commitments to scrap existing arrangements and negotiate better deals with China and others, as well as make countries being defended by American military power pay their fair share will lead to an unraveling of the world economy, collapsing stock markets, and a return of protectionist policies leading to a new economic downturn reviving grim memories of ‘beggar thy neighbor’ trade wars and the Great Depression of the 1930s, which also operated as one incubator of the rise of fascism. Trumpism might also destabilize security arrangements to such an extent that several states will go all out to acquire their own stockpile of nuclear weapons, and a series of regional nuclear arms races ensue.

 

We learn from this recital of competing fears, what has always been implicit, but now becomes apparent, that the United States is a global Behemoth whose missteps have for decades harmed the wellbeing of peoples around the world. For this reason, continuity with the past tends not to be viewed favorably by many foreign progressive observers, especially the projection of American military power throughout the planet. Trump for all his flaws is perceived as embodying a crucial discontinuity, and this alone makes him attractive for the very same reasons that Clinton appeals to many mainstream Republican and neocon foreign policy analysts. Additionally, Clinton is seen domestically as less of an uncertain quantity. She is predictable and stable, which explains the overwhelming support she receives from the American political class, including the media, Beltway think tanks, Silicon Valley, liberal centers of learning, and much of the military industrial complex.

 

Even though my months spent in Turkey each year have made me a partial expatriate, I still regard the political choices primarily from an insider’s perspective. This helps me justify to myself why I am a reluctant supporter of Clinton, which in the end strikes me as a clear choice, which would hold up even internationally if properly appraised. Although it is naïve to expect that Clinton has learned to be more cautious about the use of American military power on the basis of past failures of regime-changing interventions and muscular geopolitics, it feels grotesquely naïve to trust Trump with the ‘nuclear football,’ as well as to risk a mighty economic crash or the dire consequences of neglecting climate change (a hoax according to Trump), which if any materializes, would be catastrophic far beyond the borders of the United States, and as usual in such circumstances deliver the most crushing blows to the poorest and most vulnerable among us here at home and abroad.

 

One aspect of the conventional wisdom is to say that Clinton has experience that shows she can get things done. In contrast, Trump is almost proud of his lack of experience, and the prospect of his twisting Congressional arms to reach a compromise in support of his policy initiatives seems like what in American football talk is called ‘a hail Mary.’ Yet reflecting on this prospect the contrast may not be so clear. After all Clinton as president will almost certainly face a Republican dominated Congress determined to nullify her presidency by all means at its disposal. Trump as winner, which at present remains an improbable outcome, would enjoy a tactically sympathetic Congress controlled by Republicans, who despite themselves being sharply divided, would probably join with centrist Democrats to be more legislatively effective than a Clinton presidency.

 

What is most deeply worrisome about the Trump candidacy, win or lose, is the degree to which it has empowered a hitherto relatively dormant proto-fascist underclass, which for its own reasons of alienation had long been boycotting mainstream politics (at least since Reagan), although gradually building a populist base during the last decade via the extremist Tea Party. Trump now has a movement at his disposal that can create havoc either as the mobilized base of an extremist leadership or as the militant vortex of a disruptive opposition that could pose a threat to the future of the republic, especially if mega-terrorist incidents on a 9/11 scale were to happen in the West, and especially within the United States, or economic hard times recur.

 

To the extent I equivocated earlier in this electoral cycle, it was to consider seriously giving my vote to the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein. I think third party candidates have every right to seek as widespread support as they can gain, and that existing rules restricting their participation in national debates should be relaxed to allow their voices to be heard nationally. This would make such political alternative more competitive with the big money machines that the two major parties have become, and create a live possibility of candidates whose program and character can be affirmed, freeing persons like myself from the demoralizing dilemma of voting for the lesser of evils. If American democracy is going to be strengthened it must begin to give the citizenry political alternatives that resonate with our ‘better angels.’

 

I admit voting for Ralph Nader back in 2000 when it seems that Nader’s votes in Florida swung the election to George W. Bush with some help from the Supreme Court. Few strangely cast blame on the 300,000 or so Democrats who voted for Bush in that same Florida election, and were hence a much larger factor in explaining the outcome. Liberals are scornful of those who voted for Nader, while giving a pass to their more wayward fellow Democrats, perhaps partially forgiven because at least they didn’t ‘waste’ their vote.

 

My vote for Nader represented a rejection of the lesser of evils argument. I was also influenced by my perception back then of Al Gore as militarist and unapologetic champion of neoliberal globalization, making Nader the only candidate to express views that I could endorse in good faith. In retrospect, I did underestimate the leverage of neoconservative forces surrounding Bush, and wanting, partly on Israel’s behalf, to restructure the Middle East by what became euphemistically described as ‘democracy promotion’ but can be more realistically described as forcible ‘regime change.’ It was the 9/11 attacks in 2001 that gave the Bush presidency a political climate within which to pursue this disastrous neocon program in the Middle East, centering on the attack and occupation of Iraq starting in 2003, and undoubtedly a primary cause of much of the suffering and turmoil that now afflicts the region as a whole. It is reasonable to believe that Gore would have responded similarly to 9/11 with respect to Afghanistan and the tightening of homeland security, but likely would have acted more prudently in the Middle East, although even this is far from a certainty.

 

Perhaps, I can end by taking note that American presidential elections generally, and this one in particular, should be understood as a type of two-level political exercise. On its primary level, the election is treated by both sides as inward looking, and determined by which side is most persuasive with voters on domestic policy issues. This domestic focus has itself become quite problematic, affected by Republican efforts at ‘voter suppression’ (ways to deny the vote to African Americans and Hispanics), by relentless fundraising favoring the priorities of the most wealthy, and by a variety of ways to manipulate results in the few key ‘battleground states’ that determine which side wins enough electoral college votes to gain the office of the presidency. For the sake of balanced perspective, it should be acknowledged that there have been serious infringements on the proper exercise of the right to vote ever since the United States became a republic.

 

Then there is the secondary level of this American electoral process where people around the globe view American elections as directly affecting and threatening their lives in a variety of tangible ways. These people situated in various parts of the world are victimized (or benefitted) by the American global state but are disenfranchised by being denied any voice, much less a vote. From the primary level, Russian efforts to meddle in American elections are totally unacceptable, but viewed from the secondary level, are completely understandable. Putin is not irresponsible to believe that vital Russian interests are at stake, and that Trump is less likely than Clinton to engage in inflammatory confrontations. From a nationalist perspective, Trump’s possible encouragement of Putin’s concerns seems treasonous; from a global perspective, Russia is acting prudently by acting nonviolently to avoid an electoral outcome in the United States that could have grave consequences for its future wellbeing, and for that matter, so is Julian Assange and Wikileaks. 

 

In this respect, there is a real erosion of global sovereignty in the sense of self-determination that results from this non-territorial salience attributed to the effects of an American presidential election. For a truly legitimate political order of global scope, we need to begin thinking of how to construct a global democracy that is responsive to the multiple experiences of political, economic, and cultural globalization and facilitates some form of legitimating univesal participation in the governing process.

 

To aspire to such an end presupposes the ethos of ‘citizen pilgrims,’ those who transcend national identities in their journey toward a promised land of peaceful co-existence, equitable distribution of material goods, ecological vigilance and sensitivity, a culture of inclusive human rights, and above all, enhanced and variegated spirituality. It may sound utopian, and it is. I believe we are reaching a biopolitical threshold that increasingly equates prospects for human survival with the achievement of an eco-political utopia. This presupposes that utopianism must soon become the new realism of a politics dedicated to a benign human future.  

On (Not) Loving Henry Kissinger

21 May

On (Not) Loving Henry Kissinger

 

There is an irony that would be amusing if it was not depressing about news that Donald Trump has been courting the 92-year old foreign policy sorcerer Henry Kissinger. Of course, the irony is that earlier in the presidential campaign Hilary Clinton proudly claimed Kissinger as ‘a friend,’ and acknowledged that he “relied on his counsel” while she served as Obama’s Secretary of State between 2009-2013. It is indeed strange that the only point of public convergence between free-swinging Trump and war-mongering Clinton should be these ritual shows of deference to the most scandalous foreign policy figure of the past century.

 

Kissinger should not be underestimated as an international personality with a sorcerer’s dark gifts. After all, he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his perverse role in Vietnam diplomacy. Kissinger had supported the war from its inception and was known as a strong proponent of the despicable ‘Christmas bombing’ of North Vietnam. He had earlier joined with Nixon in secretly extending the Vietnam War to Cambodia, incidentally without Congressional knowledge, much less authorization. This led to the total destabilization and devastation of a country that had successfully maintained its neutrality for the prior decade. It also generated the genocidal takeover by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s resulting in the death of a third of the Cambodian population. It was notable that the Nobel had been jointly awarded to Luc Duc Tho, Kissinger’s counterpart in the negotiations, who exhibited his dignity by declining the prize, while Kissinger as shameless as ever, accepted and had an assistant deliver his acceptance speech because he was too busy to attend. Significantly, for the first time, two members of the Nobel Selection Committee resigned their position in disgust.

 

The more familiar, and more damning allegation against Kissinger, is his association with criminal violations of international law. These are convincingly set forth in Christopher Hitchens The Trial of Henry Kissinger (2001). Hitchens informed readers that he “confined himself to the identifiable crimes that can and should be placed on a proper bill of indictment.” He omitted others. Hitchens lists six major crimes of Kissinger:

            “1. The deliberate mass killing of civilian population in Indochina.

  1. Deliberate collusion in mass murder, and later in assassination in         Bangla Desh.
  2. The personal suborning and planning of murder, of a senior constitutional officer in a democratic nation—Chile—with which the United States was not at war.
  3. Personal involvement in a plan to murder the head of state in the democratic nation of Cyprus.
  4. The incitement and enabling of genocide in East Timor.
  5. Personal involvement in a plan to kidnap and murder a journalist living in Washington, DC.”

Whether the evidence available would support a conviction in an international tribunal is far from certain, but Kissinger’s association and approval of these unlawful and inhumane policies, and many others, is clear beyond reasonable doubt.

 

In some respects as damaging as these allegations of complicity in war crimes is, it is not the only reason to question Kissinger’s credentials as guru par excellence. Kissinger shares with Hilary Clinton a record of bad judgments, supporting some foreign policy initiatives that would be disastrous if enacted

and others that failed while inflicting great suffering on a foreign civilian population. In his most recent book, World Order published in 2014, Kissinger makes a point of defending his support of George W. Bush’s foreign policy with specific reference to the war of aggression undertaken in 2003. In his words, “I supported the decision to undertake regime change in Iraq..I want to express here my continuing respect and personal affection for President George W. Bush, who guided America with courage, dignity, and conviction in an unsteady time. His objectives and dedication honored his country even when in some cases they proved unattainable within the American political cycle.” [pp. 324-325] One would have hoped that such an encomium to the internationally least successful U.S. president would be a red flag for those presidential candidates turning to Kissinger for guidance, but such is his lofty reputation, that no amount of crimes or errors of judgment can diminish his public stature.

 

Kissinger first attracted widespread public attention with a book that encouraged relying on nuclear weapons in a limited war scenario in Europe, insisting that the United States could prudently confront the Soviet Union without inviting an attack on its homeland. [Nucelar Weapons and Foreign Policy (1967). As already indirectly suggested, he supported the Vietnam War, the anti-Allende coup in Chile, Indonesian genocidal efforts to deny independence to East Timor, and many other dubious foreign policy undertakings that turned out badly, even from his own professed realist perspective.

 

It is true that Kissinger has a grasp of the history of diplomacy that impresses ordinary politicians such as Trump and Clinton. True, also, he rode the crest of the wave with respect to the diplomatic opening to China in 1972 and pursued with impressive energy the negotiation of ceasefire arrangements between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Syria after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. As well, TIME magazine had a cover featuring Kissinger dressed as superman, dubbing their hero as ‘super-K.’ There is, in this sense, no doubt that Kissinger has been a master as refurbishing his tarnished reputation over the course of decades.

 

Yet fairly considered, whether from a normative or strategic outlook, I would have hoped that Kissinger should be viewed as ‘discredited’ rather than as the most revered repository of foreign policy wisdom in this nation. Bernie Sanders struck the proper note when he said “I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend.” And when queried by Clinton as to who he would heed, Sanders responded, “I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger.” In contrast, the words of Hilary Clinton confirm her affinity for the man: “He checked in with me regularly, sharing astute observations about foreign leaders and sending me written reports on his travels.” In fairness she did qualify this show of deference with these words: “[t]hough we have often seen the world and some of our challenges quite differently, and advocated different responses now and in the past….” This was the only saving grace in her otherwise gushing review of Kissinger’s World Order (2014) published in the Washington Post.

 

Let me offer a final comment on this shared adulation of Kissinger as the éminence grise of American foreign policy by the two likely candidates for the presidency. It epitomizes and helps explain the banality of the political discourse that has dominated the primary phases of the presidential campaign. It is hardly surprising that during this time dark clouds of despair hang heavy in the skies above the American body politic. Before either presidential hopeful even walks into the Oval Office both Trump and Clinton are viewed unfavorably by over half of all Americans, and regarded with a mixture of dismay, fear, and shock by political leaders and their publics around the world. To show obeisance to Kissinger’s wisdom and wizardry is thus emblematic of the paucity of mainstream American political imagination, and should worry all who care about the future of the country and the world.