A business-like White House and John Kelly

In light of maintaining the US government’s international position and the need for a strong foreign policy, John Kelly will bring a welcome change to the White House.

From the campaign trail on, Trump has been pointing to the success of his business as physical examples of his leadership talents. It seemed only logical he would take his experience as a businessman into the White House, his experience in corporate America, however, seems quite the double-edged sword.

For one, running a business is – although it may seem so at first sight – not a one-man job, it requires advisory from both the private- and public sector, furthermore, no business thrives without the necessary channels of communication, the well-being of its employees and satisfaction of its customers. It is for these reasons that Republicans have enjoyed the thought of an executive run by a CEO-like figure on many occasions; Reagan, for example, established a commission that looked to the private sector for ideas with regard to efficiency and removal of the necessary evils that accompany federal bureaucracy. Fellow Republican George W. Bush promised to run government based on a ‘market-based’ approach. Both these examples fit snugly in the Republican mantra of small government.

On the other hand, however, businesses – in their essence – exist for the sole purpose of making money and distributing that money to its respective employees and shareholders. In the private world, customer satisfaction is merely a necessity in the process of making money, not a goal. Furthermore, corporate America prefers short-term dividends over long-term investment, which results in limited innovation. Although previous attempts to modernize parts of government by peering over the shoulders of the chief executive officer have sometimes lent themselves well to efficiency in the oval, a business-esque government falls flat on its face by the above arguments. By definition, this philosophy does not result in a government ‘for the people’, nor does it secure the ‘blessings of Liberty and Posterity’ of its citizens.

Despite obvious faults and fallacies, it seems that the idea of a business-esque government is one of the current administration’s most consistent. Ramifications include an executive that is geared towards short-term wins, an executive that seems to take no interest in its example-setting role and a President that makes his decisions unexpectedly and abruptly, many based on the opinion of the last person or adviser he spoke to, none seem to involve the careful deliberation and thought that government so requires. Trump’s personality traits further add to the administration’s inability to function, for the sake of avoiding reiterations, it is sufficient to note that Trump’s satisfaction at reading his name in one of Magie Haberman’s headlines trumps his will to serve the country as promised.

The gatekeeper

Thermodynamic’s second law – namely that entropy, a quantitative measure of disarray, will always increase – still holds as the White House engages in an outlandish display of chaos; Scaramucci in, Spicer out, Priebus out, Bannon insulted, and, in a bizarre twist of events, Scaramucci out as a result of Kelly in.

Judging from media reports over, Reince Priebus has been a weak chief of staff. His nomination already seemed mostly the result of Trump realizing that ‘draining the swamp’ is more easily said than done, Priebus appeared merely a kind gesture towards the more ‘swampy’ Washington-folk. The previous chief of staff therefore never quite enjoyed the same friendliness with Trump as some of the more ominous, cartoonish figures in his administration, nor were he ever distinctly part of one of the White House factions.

Trump’s – and therefore Priebus’ – oval office has been described as a ‘Grand Central Station’, contrary to the ‘therapist’s couch’. Priebus has left the traditional gatekeeper role of which Chris Whipple speaks in his new book (The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency) at the door and seemingly tried to put Trump in the more accustomed environment of his Trump Tower office. As is plain from the above, the strategy has not worked: no campaign promises have been materialized nor has the swamp been drained, all the while Obama’s legacy still stands, international conflicts ask for dire attention and all that has manifested is either half-baked or hastily established via executive order.

This, then, is Kelly’s task: to promote thought and argument, demote sloppy advisory and first and foremost keep the gate. Whether supportive of Trump or not, whether supportive of his policies and ideology or not; the US government needs to be run and in the light of maintaining its international position, the general will most certainly bring a welcome change to the White House.

Short addendum; journalists have noted that the door to the oval office was often closed for the past few days, seeing patterns within this short while might be a tad optimistic but it seems that Kelly aims to take on the role of keeping the gate.

@ Eat Pray Vote!

The Trump-administration might slowly bring back bipartisanship

The Trump-administration might actually bring the legislative branch back from the dead.

William F. Buckley, respected by those on the left and the right and more than most anyone a father of modern conservatism, made for a weekly dose of civil- and substantive discourse via his Firing Line. Two seats and a small audience combined with Buckley’s wit and rhetorical talents amounted to the longest running one-on-one television show.

The episode that aired on the 18th of September, 1998, featured conservative firebrand Ann Coulter — obviously accompanied by the ever-skeptical Buckley. Coulter was invited to discuss her new book; High Crimes and Misdemeanors, which concerned with the impeachment of Bill Clinton. One would presume Buckley and Coulter could agree, however, in this episode one sees the clear distinction between the two: Buckley’s arguments constituted a revival of conservatism; Coulter’s arguments merely concerned with Republican electoral gain — partisanship.

Impeachment and partisanship

Let us note Clinton’s impeachment process when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich was the main voice of opposition. Although Clinton was impeached on charges of perjury, the Senate later acquitted him. The heated hyper-partisan shadow cast over the nineties may have then culminated to nothing as Clinton’s approval rates jumped up and the GOP’s plummeted, the process of impeachment and eventual conviction has, is and will be in the President’s mind at his every move. Ultimately, it’s congress’ only tool to remove a President from office when the next election is simply too far away.

Vice-versa, any Democrat would rather unseat a Republican President than he or she would one of his own. Whether the respective President is accused of perjury, adultery or obstruction of justice is of no importance. Simply for the sake of the party and therefore a healthy opposition to the other, partisanship and impeachment are intertwined, the procedure is thus not so much a tool of justice and righteousness, merely one of politics and power.

A prominent and more timely example of partisanship when it comes to impeachment is the current Republican reaction to calls for impeachment by the Democrats. For one, the same Newt Gingrich and Ann Coulter whose calls for Clinton’s impeachment were among the most perfervid, now support the President in every way; defending his indecency, his incompetence and his role in the ever-deepening Russia-scandal. The sheer hypocrisy is a result of partisanship.

However ironic, both parties are obviously fighting a losing battle. The Democrats are becoming what they so loathed the Republicans for in the past eight years, namely an obstructionist party whose manifesto seems to consist only of ’stop Trump’. The Republicans aren’t fairing any better as they increasingly stray from their respectable conservative roots in their dogmatic defense of Trump — if any was left.

Bringing back collaboration

It is no secret that the GOP is too divided and uncontrolled to bring forward a decent ObamaCare replacement, the house bill only passed marginally, leaving Paul Ryan to lose every bit of credibility as a social conservative he had saved. Trump is merely a sideshow in the health care debacle; for one, he does not seem to care what it looks like as long as the AHCA is repealed, second, Trump has absolutely no idea how the promised bill should be advocated and promoted — surprisingly, health care is rather ’complicated’.

After eight years of negativism and obstructionism, Republicans jumped on the Trump-wagon in bare lust for power. Although — as noted — Trump’s input with regard to the legislative branch is non-existent, his candidacy has further divided Republicans, with some now choosing to not support the President in fear of losing their electorate – Sen. Collins is a notable example; while others provide deepening support for the President and find themselves deeper into the rabbit hole with every move. For those opposing the Republican party, current disarray is a happy confirmation that a party so experienced in its obstructionist opposition role can’t pass any serious legislation. For those same people, seeing the Democrats falling into that same position is a development less to their liking.

To conclude, we could note that with No. 45 further enveloped in his Russia scandal; breaking apart his administration — Sessions being the latest example — and causing his approval ratings to sink, house- and senate Republicans might come to their senses, starting to view the executive with a very healthy dose of skepticism. GOP House members and senators might once look at the honorable roots of their party and watch an episode of Firing Line, paving the way for a more bipartisan and therefore more representative and efficient approach and with that a legislative branch that is to be taken seriously again.

@Eat Pray Vote. Also, please note that all Firing Line episodes can be found on Youtube.

Quora discussion; liberalism and Marxism

Had quite an interesting conversation with somebody on Quora a few days ago. I commented on an answer to ‘Why don’t proponents of social democracy ever use Southern or Eastern European countries as an example for the US?’ after which the writer answered, the subject changed quickly and as such our conversation became much more about the world economy as a whole than it was about the pro-Russia, anti-EU governments that prevail in Eastern Europe.

The writer first wrote the following (Note that is an excerpt of his answer):

Calling it “austerity” (for you, not for them), the G20 is not only the cause of the 2008 meltdown, but now it offers the solution. Goodbye healthcare, goodbye pensions, goodbye social services.

And so, when you see mass demonstrations in the streets of some of these southern European cities, you’ll know why.

ADDENDUM: 1 in 5 children living in the G20 now lives in poverty.

My reply:

For one, I’d like to stress that your assertion that the G20 was established in response to the economic crisis is simply a fallacy. It was founded in 1999, where its principles entailed the involvement of less developed countries – such as India and Brazil for example. It was then re-energized as a result of the horrid effects of the economic crisis when Bush called for a leader summit.

Second, your answer does not answer the question, nor do I agree with your second assumption that mass demonstrations in the Southern countries are a result of capitalist deprivation. These mass demonstrations are – as far as they could be considered ‘mass’ demonstrations – a reaction to a failing, corrupt government that can’t control its bank as well as ever-growing migrant inflow from Northern Africa.

And third, your last sentence makes absolutely zero sense considering my first point, namely that the Group was founded with developing countries in mind.

At the time of writing, I was under the assumption that the user meant recent demonstrations in Italy, however, the demonstrations that he referred to took place in 2012, a direct reaction to further cuts as the eurozone seemed destined to enter another recession, as the user kindly pointed out:

They were MASS demonstrations and regardless of the cause of their discontent, the solution was to punish THEM in the guise of “austerity”. They know their government is corrupt. They don’t need G20 to jump on them with a second pair of feet. As for 3rd point, consider the nature of the G20 and how it operates, not what its charter might have said 18 years ago. Any way you spin it, the pain is not being suffered by the world’s giant corporations now is it?

The discussion now quickly became one of great importance as we got onto the subject of globalism and its humanitarian consequences. I followed up:

I’d like to get back on you concerning those demonstrations. If you are referring to anti-austerity demonstrations in Italy, it would be mostly frivolous to blame capitalism, or the G20, for that matter. Southern European financial crises are mostly a result of political instability. With the level of behind-closed-doors state intervention in financial institutions, political instability leads to further economic turmoil.

Getting back on my third point; you note that we must consider how the G20 operates now. I’d agree with you that – whether you support that or not – the core of the G20 is the absolute epitome of neo-liberalism and free-trade. However, to argue that 1 in 5 of the members state children lives in poverty as a result of its current way of acting would imply that poverty rates have only worsened in its member nations, which definitely isn’t the case.

And finally, I agree with you on the last point. Multi-national conglomerates do not feel such pains and its important to note that neo-liberalism has not only had good effects on our lives, because for a large group it hasn’t. Blaming capitalism or the G20 seems – again – frivolous, mainly because globalism has brought such wealth as well as cooperation on climate change and defense, that a large majority has benefited. What I mean to say is that on a netto basis, neo-liberalism has been a win for most of us. It’s incredibly important, however, to acknowledge and try to solve – by means of regulation or less political influence – problems for people who haven’t been as well off.

He quickly responded:

I see your point but I find these “gains” are not to be regarded as substantive as they appear. If you consider that much of this alleged rise in GDP for member nations is actually based on DEBT, that’s somewhat startling to contemplate. In other words, the economy is driven by people spending all right—but spending money they don’t have. Using the U.S. as an example, “real” wages haven’t increased for decades. The average American might say: “But look, I have a house, two nice cars and my kids are in college”.

Yes, but the house is mortgaged for 30 years, the cars for 72 months, and the kids owe $150K apiece in student loans.

It’s not good right now. I am quite concerned that the biggest players within the G20 do not realize that if you take out all your winnings in a poker game, the game stops.

Regarding demonstrations, I think the bottom line, the base cause, is economic—however one wishes to frame it. I tend to be somewhat Marxist in my views (couldn’t you guess—LOL!) and I do see things as a class struggle in those cases.

Corruption in Greece is just awful. They are among the worst.

From his response, the discussion was not only about the faults of neo-liberalism and globalism, it took on the much broader subjects of capitalism and Marxism. However, as I note in my answer below, his proposition that a debt-based economy is only rich in the minds of GDP-figures is rather benighted.

First of all, yes, corruption in Greece is awful, just as corruption in many other Southern European countries is awful. This is part – if not the biggest part – of the problem. In a country where banks and governments go hand in hand – which is quit logical considering Europe’s long tradition of state-meddling in financial institutions – economical stability goes hand in hand with political stability. It adds up; think about Italy’s history of countless different governments and coalitions or Greece’s aforementioned levels of corruption.

Your second point is a very interesting one. Although I may not be as well-versed in the subject as you might be, we both look at this in different ways, I guess. Loans are easy and cheap, for people as well as corporations. Let me also note that if people are able to pay off their loans, no problems arise, the money is not somehow gone or ‘taken out’, as you assert. The essence is that debt is absolutely no problem, provided that the economy grows, which it not always does.

Possible solutions include changes to the tax code, although huge tax code changes are out of the question for most if not all developed countries.Safe to say, it seems that a Keynesian style monetary policy is a temporary solution to this growth-based economy problem, and sometimes a temporary solution is more than sufficient.

After all, it was agreed upon that the economy as it is now is unstable and not as future- and fool-proof as some bureaucrats might hope. However much our views differed or however little we actually agreed upon, it’s delightful to find someone who is open to opposing views, quite a rarity in between the dogmatic, pseudo-intellectual, keyboard-warrior crowd that I usually find on Quora.

G20 Aftermath: New Global Leadership

The tides have indeed turned; the US’s position has weakened as the Trump administration seems to have no interest in global leadership, while China’s domestic problems negate its interest in a similar leadership role. All the while Europe has shrugged off its recent wave of right-wing populism. Economic stability followed political stability as the Union self-handedly recovered from its lows, rewinding the economy to pre-crisis levels. From the start it would be clear that the EU would now set the tone.

G20

Before attending the G7 summit on his previous foreign trip, Trump took the time to increase tensions in the Middle East by sympathizing with Saudi-Arabia and affronting Iran, after which Trump seemed perfectly content with letting Palestine and Israel find a way of solving their increasingly complex conflict. Safe to say, Trump was more of a crowd-pleaser than he was a problem solver, visiting only the countries he knew welcomed his electoral college victory.

Similarly, preceding the G20 summit, Trump took to the stage in Poland, a country that shares with Hungary its illiberal, right-wing government. PiS, the Law and Justice party, strongly opposes immigration and espouses values of Euro-skepticism unseen elsewhere in the union. Its party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, unsurprisingly hailed Trump’s visit as a “new success.” The underlying strategy seemingly entails first to do something that can’t possibly go wrong and can only be touted as a ‘success’ by his base, only after these successes come the summits. Besides cozying up to his supporters at home and in Poland, commentators swiftly described his visit as an attempt to deepen divisions within the European Union, hoping to spur the populists who only reached second place in many of Europe’s elections.

On the other side of the aisle, a new trade deal between the EU and Japan was ratified. This deal not only establishes an economic relationship between the two countries, it entails further cooperation with regard to defense and cyber-security. Less evident than these obvious benefits involved for the two power blocs, however, is the political statement that it symbolizes. Hastily finished before the gathering, it sounds a strong voice against protectionism and isolationist economic policy, showing that Japan and the EU hold hands whilst Trump is letting them go.

Trump and Putin might have been the center of attention during this summit, it was Angela Merkel, German chancellor, whose job it was to channel the summit and make sure that its result – a communique – was of any significance. With her reelection at stake, Merkel had presented herself as the front woman of the liberal west and free trade, with ‘difficult tasks’ ahead, she had to be careful not to give away too much of these values in negotiations with Trump, Putin and Erdogan: The Terrible Trio – as the Economist once named them

After all, however, it wasn’t Merkel, who assiduously persevered and dabbled between the G20 and fierce protests in her own country, who will be remembered. It isn’t for the meager fifteen page communique, full of boilerplate and cliche statements either, which will be largely forgotten by the time of the next summit. Quite frankly, it will be remembered for its stark contrast with previous international gatherings, when a respected US president helped lay the foundation for the Paris accord.

New roles

Let us return to the aforementioned terrible trio; Trump, Putin and Erdogan. The three will set the stage for global relationships in the upcoming decade.

For one, many leaders question Trump’s unpredictability. On the one hand, Trump’s disdain for international cooperation seems clear; on the other hand, this message seems to show only in general diplomatic incompetence, not in actions.

In the case of Putin and Erdogan, it’s not so much a case of questioning, it’s a case of fear. Putin leaves Russia with severe domestic problems, however, his presence on the world stage is prominent as ever. Leaders fear his ever growing sphere of influence in the Eastern parts of Europe, where Putin supports the pro-Russia, illiberal and isolationist countries, one of which is the aforementioned Poland. More worrying is his relationship with Erdogan, the self-made autocrat whose one-man control in Turkey abolished the once secular NATO member. With Turkey moving to Russia, the recent refugee treaties with the EU aren’t as sure a case as they seemed; furthermore Turkey is a key NATO-member as a result of its location and a possible EU-member – although accession talks have stalled – making further cooperation with Russia a frightening development.

It’s these factors combined that divide the world into a small number of huge power-blocs, competing in the arena that Trump’s economic- and national security adviser argue for. Many acclaim that this terrible trio casts a looming shadow over Europe, one that may break apart the Union. If anything, however, it seems to make the EU stronger, as a result of blocs such as Russia, China and the US isolating themselves, it has to take matters into her own hands, leading the way to closer cooperation within the Union and a possible pan-EU defense initiative.

Now, I’d not argue that the world will be at war within the foreseeable future, nor that the world will return to a competition of Western civilizations much akin to the world before the first World War. These dynamics do make for a worrying – albeit interesting – future that, however speculative, shouldn’t be ignored.

A new strategy for the Democrats?

“With Trump’s disapproval sky high and support for the health care bill at a nationwide 17 percent, a Democratic wave should have been rocking the foundations of the Republican party by now. ” Democrats haven’t yet picked up steam it seems.

As I recently wrote, the Democratic Party has become synonymous with an image of pretentiousness and contempt, effectively forcing the better half out. A message was missing. Let’s be honest, who remembers the slogan of the Democrats? Trump had (slightly less than) half of the US saying ‘Make America Great Again’, whilst Clinton was busy arguing she was the lesser of two evils and pondering why she wasn’t ‘fifty points ahead.’

However vacuous the message on the Republican side, the message on the Democrat side was more often lacking than not. What they did have wasn’t good either: clinging to the utopian idea of a progressive, green society where equality is not an ideal but simply the norm. Envisioning such and striving for this idyllic goal is a crucial element of any political party – and country – wanting to move forward.  I doubt many would disagree. However, such a message has to go hand in hand with a plan and an acknowledgment of problems that afflict people now. Trump did just that, Clinton did not.

With all but one of the five congressional races since the election won by Republicans, it seems Democrats are not yet picking up steam. Of course, John Ossoff, for example, received a considerable amount of votes in his traditionally red district. Still, with Trump’s disapproval sky high – even in Ossoff’s district – and support for the health care bill at a nationwide 17 percent, a Democratic wave should have been rocking the foundations of the Republican party by now. Are ever-changing voter bases and the absence of a clear message really the only things to blame?

A Short History

Many of you will have read this simple story over and over again, the usual oversimplified conclusion, always easy to draw afterward. Many have argued that their loss resulted from transitioning voter bases, with Democrats starting to appeal more to professionals, ‘high-minded’ people and Republicans strategically picking up where the Democrats lost their working middle-class voters. And of course, they are partly right.

Political parties simply try to adapt in the name of electoral gain and changing times. Take the rural nineteenth century as an example, when Democrats and Republicans quite bluntly switched places, with Democrats moving from center-right to center-left and vice-versa. In the beginning of the twentieth century, Democrats were then torn between their socially conservative voters in the rural south and their cosmopolitan, progressive voters in the north.

Finally, nearing the end of the twentieth century, Democrats brought forward Bill Clinton, whose neo-liberal, business friendly but progressive ideas served him well at a time when the Soviet power bloc was no more and the world found itself in relative prosperity. This leaves us where we are now, with a neo-liberal, progressive Democratic party.

That’s also where the problem lies.  Democrats can’t seem to acknowledge that their neo-liberalism has not only brought good, bringing consequences to low-schooled workers who have trouble adapting to these developments. The ‘higher-minded’, professional people who proposed these ideas and fully support them, do not directly feel these consequences. These developments fuel the idea of the ‘elite’ liberal class and their ignorance for the common people’s problems. Evidently, Republicans try to fill the gap, ironically claiming to serve the interest of the common, ‘beaten-down’ man whom they have so often beaten down.

So yes, a shifting voter base has played a role, even though a substantial majority of people who voted for Trump would have benefited miles more from the Democratic economic plan and – more importantly – the Democratic health care plan.

Democrats and Trump, Now

As we have now concluded, the Democrat’s true problem-solving message was hijacked by a feeling of superiority over Trump – contempt – and their ability to truly address problems. Even worse, Democrats continue along the same path.

On the GOP-side, we find a deeply divided house, a dysfunctional Senate, a wildly unpopular President and a hastily written, unsupported healthcare plan. The Democrats have a hugely active base, share a fierce adversity towards the President and have a working – albeit imperfect – healthcare plan. Still, Democrats are stuck in the slow lane. Huge parts of the nation find themselves in complete disarray, they loathe the Democrats and they loathe Trump.

This then brings me to my conclusion. It’s time for Democrats to stop relying on a self-imploding Republican party. Democrats have to stop ignoring problems and start addressing them. It’s time to put on the old pair of work boots, get their hands dirty and regain their image as the party that brought about the New Deal and the Civil Rights movement.

A follow up on my previous article (A party of contempt and Short update: Eat Pray Vote).

Short update: Eat Pray Vote

Another short blog update. As of a few days ago, I have joined the Eat Pray Vote team and I will start contributing there on a non-regular and non-committal basis. One might fear that someone loses his voice when mandated to comply with the editorial policy of a bigger website, as such, I’ll keep this blog. I will thus post excerpts here as well as stand-alone articles that I might not deem fit for EPV or simply because I want to.

A party of contempt

Democrats can’t seem to shrug their mage of pretentiousness and contempt, time to lose the ‘I mean, have you seen the other guys’ slogan.

Last December, as the dust from the US election had settled and people were slowly – perhaps worryingly – starting to accept and normalize the results, I wrote a short letter to a prominent Dutch daily (De Volkskrant, which translates to The People’s Paper)De Volkskrant, a centre-left leaning morning newspaper from Amsterdam, had joined the majority of self-respecting newspapers in showing their adversity towards the new found president. In my letter, I wondered whether Democrats had learned from the disastrous election, as many had already done or were going to. I wrote about the Democrats ‘adapting to new voters’ and the Republicans playing a ‘strategic game’ in picking up where the democrats left off, claiming to ‘get to work’ for the beat-down man whom they have so long beaten down. What struck me then, however, was the arrogance and pretentiousness with which Democrats continued to campaign and play their politics. What strikes me now, is that contempt is increasingly becoming their most recognizable trait.

Contempt found its way into the Democratic party during the past election. Of course, some may be justified when opposed by a GOP-candidate who yelled, ranted and contradicted himself at every turn. Slowly, however, the sentiment was becoming part of their brand, evidently pushing the good bits out. One might wonder what happened to the party that once was and to a lesser extent, still is, the party of tolerance and diversity. Besides their values, the Democrats form the only kind of effective opposition against the Republicans – if furthering divisions within the Republican party itself aren’t enough, of course – and as such need the votes of many Americans to truly counter the GOP-controlled parliament.

Sending only a meager message whilst taking the time to wonder why you’re ‘not fifty points ahead’, did not work. Now, don’t get me wrong, some contempt may be justified, but voters notice and voters care – rightly so. It’s time for the Democratic party to strap on its old pair of working boots and regain its place not only as the party for professionals, and the ‘higher-minded’ but as the party for low-income families who struggle in this day and age. It’s time that Democrats show not only what good globalism and internationalism has brought but acknowledge that those developments bring problems too, now that the US’s manufacturing industry has disappeared and its service industry flourished. It’s time for a Democratic party that does not reach and fail in its feeling of superiority over the others, but for a Democratic party that can turn to the majority that so needs them.