We Are All Donald Trump


Donald Trump is the manifestation of our most ginned up nightmares. His relentless march to the fore of the post-Tea Party GOP should’ve been entirely predictable to anyone paying attention during the age of Obama. White Americans that have been losing economic (although the certainly not social) power through the inexorable destruction of the middle class have formed an increasingly paranoid contingent of voters fueled by anxiety and racism.

Trump’s blinding ginger halo of celebrity, combined with his slimy assertions of his penis size, and grade school attacks on women, has lowered the level of political discourse to that of a rundown Applebee’s bar in Nowhere, Idaho. Nakedly racist commitments to build a wall on the border and ban all Muslims serve to bolster the grievances of a population betrayed by the capitalist system it voted for. A shrinking population that is also entering its demographic sunset. The Bud Light crowd cheers Trump for giving a loud voice to their deepest fears and desires. As factories, mills, and coal mines shutter, legions of men and women have become displaced vagabonds in their own land.

Things just don’t make sense anymore. There’s a black president, Mexicans beset them on all sides, and the Islamists are determined to see them dead. Any way you slice it, good ol’ America has lost her way. But Trump is gonna put her back on course.  He’s a billionaire, after all. Just the type of man needed in the White House.

Reading is Fundamental: Vol. 1

Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters
Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

The Battle for Justice in Palestine by Ali Abunimah is the March pick for The Atlantic’s Twitter book club, #1book140. I picked it up from Skylight Books yesterday, and my highlighter game is already strong! Abunimah is a co-founder of Electronic Intifada, a digital clearinghouse for news, information, analysis, and activism focusing on the issue of Palestine. I’ll be biting off large chunks of his work daily to prepare myself for the discussion. In the spirit of Abunimah’s work, the inaugural post of this new series focuses on Israel and Palestine. The Israelis go to the polls today, in another bid to reaffirm its identity as a Jewish, “democratic” state. Haaretz ran an interesting opinion piece by Amira Hass that places today’s election in the context of the millions of disenfranchised Palestinians that will remain silenced. The New York Times covered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last ditch appeal to the far-right by declaring Palestinian statehood would be verboten during a fourth term. Bibi’s declaration is stunning only in the sense that his earlier attempts to block real reform were veiled in talk of a difficult “peace process”. I’m quite sure the American response to Netanyahu’s stance will be canned criticism followed by absolutely no substantial change in the status quo ante. The Atlantic published a quick primer on the Israeli elections for those of us that demand a little more context with our news. Finally, Foreign Policy ran a piece that really weakens the “terror network” narrative often deployed when discussing violence in Gaza and the West Bank. According to the magazine, “lone wolf attacks” have risen in the wake of the failures of recent peace negotiations. Individuals are carrying out violent attacks in a bid to exorcise the raging despair of life under occupation. Violence as a form of resistance can be debated. However, what’s unassailable is the fact that the hyper-aggressive, militaristic, ethnocentric Israeli misadventure will never lead to anything approaching peaceful.

The Struggle Continues.

On The Inevitability of Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton Getty Images
Getty Images

First Lady, senator from New York, 2008 presidential contender, secretary of state. These are the bold descriptors invoked when politicos and observers discuss the bona fides of Hillary Rodham Clinton. The perpetual-campaign mindset of the American media has created an atmosphere of frenzied speculation surrounding the 2016 presidential election. This state of affairs has contributed to the development of an insidious notion that crosses partisan lines —the inevitability of a Clinton run, and perhaps, presidency. This sort of fatalism is dangerous to the democratic process because it discourages the serious exploration of alternative candidates in favor of a narrowly circumscribed contingent of acceptable contenders.

The assumption of Clinton’s ascendency to the Democratic nomination is founded on the nebulous contention that America is “ready for a female president”, and thus women will deliver her to the White House. It betrays a perception of American women as an undifferentiated mass that will eschew thoughtful consideration of her policies in favor of groupthink that employs gender as a litmus test. The final assumption, and perhaps most critical to this assessment, is the overt acceptance of a dynasty in American politics. Many will point swiftly to the Kennedys, the Bushes, and perhaps even the Pauls. While the focus of this piece is on the Clintons, the formers’ attempts at dynasty are no less problematic.

At the time of this writing, two pro-Hillary Super PACs, Ready for Hillary and Priorities USA, are conducting closed-door meetings in preparation for her run. Their highly seasoned staff (many are vets from both the Clinton and Obama campaigns), and ability to marshal vast financial resources, virtually ensures that Clinton’s cloud of inevitability will darken the landscape long before her declaration. Closer to the candidate, unofficial campaign advisers have begun consultations with Clinton about the technical requirements of running a campaign. Maggie Haberman of Politico reports that, “publicly, Clinton insists she’s many months away from a decision about her political future. But a shadow campaign on her behalf has nevertheless been steadily building for the better part of a year — a quiet, intensifying, improvisational effort to lay the groundwork for another White House bid.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times Magazine describes the former Secretary of State’s gravitational pull, Politico breathlessly reports on Clinton’s shadow campaign, and Time describes her political momentum as unstoppable. These three rather reputable outlets represent a larger trend towards shaping the political conversation in a manner that presupposes the outcome.

Amongst the 2016 hopefuls, Clinton has attracted the most feverish speculation about a possible run. Thus, it raises a question—does the coverage influence the polls? Or do the polls influence the coverage? I suspect that the incessant speculation surrounding her potential presidential bid may lead some respondents to favor the candidate with the most hype.

Recent polling data from Iowa demonstrate Clinton’s clear lead in virtual matchups with various opponents. The October Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll shows Clinton with strong leads over Governor Chris Christie, Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz, and former Governor Jeb Bush. Mitt Romney proves the rare exception and leads Clinton 44-43. However, Romney’s edge is trivial, as it falls squarely within the margin of error.

Other numbers from Iowa demonstrate Clinton’s almost absurd lead amongst dems. According to another poll administered by the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg, 76 percent of likely Iowa Democratic caucus voters have a “favorable” view of Clinton. The former secretary of state’s horrifying gaffe about leaving the White House “dead broke” clearly hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of Iowa dems.

However, in the thick of the horse race, the salient issues remain unexamined. It’s easy to periodically weigh in on current affairs, such as the annexation of Crimea or the emergence of ISIS, without leaving yourself open to questions about what a Clinton foreign policy would actually entail. The complacent acceptance of a candidate simply based on her family name and celebrity, instead of her policies, goes against our democratic culture.

Inevitability and democracy are, and always have been, mutually exclusive. Clinton ’16 is virtually inevitable, and that reality is fraught with dangers to our political future.

“Most of her fellow Democrats are signaling scant interest in taking her on. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a hero of the left, has repeatedly said she would not challenge Clinton in the primary. Likewise, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota—who might otherwise vie to be the first female President—have said they would support her candidacy. ‘I think if another woman ran against Hillary, she would bring down the wrath of women around the country,’ said one veteran democratic strategist, echoing a widespread view inside the party that Clinton earned another shot at history when she surrendered gracefully to Barack Obama in 2008.”

The above passage from David von Drehle in Time provides a sharp glimpse into the bloated inevitability surrounding Hillary Clinton’s political future. Democracy at its core is about the people having choice in their political affairs. The notion of Hillary as a foregone conclusion, even before she declares her candidacy, is a toxic manifestation of the intermingling of party politics and the cloying cult of personality that hovers around the Clintons. Much has been written about their vast political network and its sometimes-decisive impact on Democratic Party politics. In fact, the Hillaryland machine has been noted for precipitating the swift death of certain opponents’ political careers.

Nevertheless, viable alternatives to the corporate-lite brand of Clintonian politics do exist. Both Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand are serious policymakers that can bring significant value as the first female President. (Let it be noted that Gillibrand’s junior status in the Senate arguably prevents any serious traction in 2016).

Clinton’s obvious inability to effectively tackle the rampant class-anxiety permeating post-Great Recession America came roaring into the spotlight in the wake of her claim that she and former-President Clinton walked out of the White House “dead broke”. A contention that many Clinton observers immediately assailed. Her latest attempt at faux populism came this month while stumping for Boston gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley. In a naked attempt to woo the progressive wing of the party, and align herself more closely to the positions taken by Warren, Clinton heaped praise on the liberal champion, and offered pat critiques of corporate culture and Wall Street excesses.

Senator Warren, in contrast, has been known as a dogged champion of the middle-class since the publication of her landmark work The Two-Income Trap. More recently, her instrumental contribution to the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
demonstrates her willingness to take the political hits necessary to reign in Wall Street. Warren’s tenure in the upper chamber has been spent sponsoring strong bills that call for serious student loan reform. The latest bill, officially known as the “Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act”, ultimately failed to pass. Warren was 2 votes shy of a victory. The broader point, however, is that Senator Warren isn’t just hanging out in the Senate waiting for reelection. She’s taking her principles to the table.

Senator Gillibrand, a young upstart from New York, has taken on the herculean task of dragging the scourge of rampant sexual assault in our military into the light. She has deployed her hard-won political capital to shatter the veil of silence on such a dishonorable phenomenon and change the rules of the prosecution game. One would be hard pressed to argue that her status as a woman on the Senate Armed Services Committee didn’t have an impact on her decision to champion this issue.

These two Senators, at sometimes-great political cost, have decided to tackle serious issues that have festered in the background of our culture for years. So, why aren’t they stepping to the fore in the 2016 race? Well, according to the received wisdom of our political class, it’s Hillary’s turn. Women are ready for Mrs. Clinton, and woe to the sorry broad naïve enough to challenge her.

At this point, it’s important to reiterate that my personal stance on Clinton is really beyond the point. I’m not attempting to cast doubt on her fitness for the Presidency. Nor am I suggesting a preference. Rather, the critical issue here is the absence of a meaningful, serious choice. Each time another elected representative declines to initiate a healthy competition for the most important office in the world, and each time voters fail to attack this lack of courage and imagination, American democracy dies a little.

The specter of defeat in politics is an immutable facet of the landscape.
Some of our most qualified elected representatives have declined to compete for the chance to forge a future in which America remains the strongest nation on the international stage. This writer, for one, would like authentic choices in 2016. Token candidates need not apply.

The EU Finally Musters the Courage to Poke the Bear

In a coordinated move to further punish Russia for its material and diplomatic support to rebels in Ukraine, the United States and leaders from Germany, Britain, France, and Italy agreed to a new, relatively tougher round of sanctions.

Today’s decision is a bold move for the European Union, considering their earlier reluctance to impose sanctions anywhere beyond select high-level Russian officials. President Obama announced at the White House today a round of initiatives designed to put the squeeze on Putin’s administration, with sanctions targeting the banking, energy, and defense industries. According to Reuters:

In Brussels, diplomats said ambassadors from the 28-member European bloc agreed to restrictions on trade of equipment for the oil and defense sectors, and “dual use” technology with both defense and civilian purposes. Russia’s state run banks would be barred from raising funds in European capital markets. The measures would be reviewed in three months.

However, in a nod to the EU’s ongoing strategic trade partnership with Russia, certain agreements made prior to today’s authorization of new sanctions will be honored. Furthermore, Russia’s natural gas stores, upon which the Europeans have a critical dependency, will remain sacrosanct. This move becomes particularly compelling when considering the participation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Deutschland has made no secret of its reluctance to threaten Russo-German trade relations by adopting the deployment of sanctions as a first principle in weakening Russian influence in Crimea.

Indeed, an oft-overlooked, yet vitally important element in the ongoing drama of Putin’s latest expansionist push is Germany’s deep and varied economic ties to the Eurasian giant. Indeed, as Mitchell A. Orenstein observed in Foreign Affairs, the Russo-German economic partnership is likely to have a decisive influence on both the contours and nature of any future EU policy towards Russia.

Today, Russia is Germany’s 11th largest export market, after Poland. Russia sells Germany gas and oil and Germany sells Russia expensive cars, machine tools, and manufactured products. A trade embargo or asset confiscations would sting Germany more than any other European power — except Netherlands where Royal Dutch Shell has substantial interests — and far more than the United States. So would a gas cutoff or embargo.

However, tempering this new public relations blitz touting the embrace of “sectoral sanctions” is the reality that the EU counts Russia as a vital partner in investing, arms sales, and energy supplies. Thus, placing too strong a vise grip on Russian industry will undoubtedly precipitate a toxic ripple effect across Western Europe. Foreign Policy notes the following:

The EU will likely restrict each industry slightly, rather than imposing a full ban — such as an arms embargo. That approach would help address the fundamental problem of different EU countries relying more on Russian business in different industries. London’s financial district, for instance, has many ties to wealthy Russian businessmen, whereas in France it’s the defense industry that could suffer if it can’t fulfill a $1.6 billion deal to sell warships to Moscow. The new measures could also target technology provided by Western companies that Russia relies on in its energy sector, which the United States has also considered.

The abiding reality is that the Europeans can only take sanctions on Russia so far before hurting themselves. Thus, the collective desire to decisively cripple an already-weak Russian economy is likely to remain at a simmer, instead of an all-out boil. The Europeans can’t afford to cause self-inflicted pain on their tender economies— and beyond that, force is clearly out of the equation. So what’s the endgame for the West?

The American public will be understandably outraged at the mere suggestion of putting boots down in a far-flung European locale to fight a pumped up menace from the Cold War era. We are battle fatigued from the ongoing chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, with congressional midterms approaching, and a presidential election looming over our discourse like a red- white- and blue cloud, chest-thumping rhetoric about reigning in a recalcitrant Russia is likely to gain steam.

However, any cynical attempt raise the specter of the big, bad, heavily accented Russian wolf in order to justify the deployment of even the most minor contingent of American troops will destroy the political capital of the poor shmuck who dares to suggest it. And so we circle back…what is the end game here?

Rick Perry and Muscular Statecraft: Prepping for 2016

The ongoing immigration saga precipitated by the bloated influx of thousands of children from Central America has provided a platform for Texas Governor Rick Perry to superficially flex what some consider his newfound national security bona fides. At a press conference on Monday, Perry announced that he was authorizing the dispatch of approximately 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in order to stem the tide of desperate refugees.

Perry’s move serves three functions: chiefly, he draws a sharp distinction with President Obama, and by extension congressional Democrats, by appearing to take decisive action on immigration while Congress attacks the details of Obama’s $3.7 billion emergency funding request. Second, the dispatch of troops can be seen as a bold reaction to conservative media claims of rampant criminality and disease brought on by undocumented immigrants (claims that have more of a basis in xenophobic sensationalism than fact). Finally, this latest gambit can be used to burnish his reputation as the proponent of a muscular policy that an ultra-conservative base can rally around. Yesterday, the NY Times noted the following:

By seeking more military resources at the border, Mr. Perry may also be trying to repair his standing among some conservatives who had expressed doubts about his willingness to be tough on immigration. During a Republican presidential debate in 2012, the Texas governor defended in-state tuition for immigrants in the country illegally and said of those who disagreed: “I don’t think you have a heart.”

Perry’s tripartite scheme is clearly intended to catapult him to the forefront of the 2016 presidential contest. However, what’s most striking about the coverage of Governor Perry’s recent announcement is that there’s been virtually no examination of the impact on Hispanic voters of what some may consider a racist policy.

Instead there have been wry jabs at his new “hipster glasses”, mentions of his time spent being “tutored” by republican intellectuals, and even quick looks at his new exercise regimen— all in an attempt to gauge his preparation for the bitter slog that promises to be the 2016 election. Muscular though it may be, the Governor’s shortsighted policy move is guaranteed to poison the presidential well.