A short note on the alt-right and nonviolence

“There’s a contrast between the alt-right and the well-minded people that find themselves somewhere else on this one-dimensional axis: whether you’re liberal, conservative, not sure or don’t know: condemning the alt-right nonviolently is only sane.”

In Jesse Singal’s careful, pragmatic case against punching Nazis, Singal makes a convincing case for nonviolence, a method of protesting that has existed for thousands of years and has caused the successful disruption of government time and time again. Strikes are an excellent example. Albeit more prevailing in the past century, when most workers were still unionized, they have had considerable effects for strikers and their families. As for an older example, take the period of the Conflict of Orders in Rome (494 B.C. to 287 B.C), when the common Plebeians sought to achieve political equality with the aristocratic Patricians. In 494 B.C. this consequential period started with the first ‘secession of the plebeians’, who nonviolently seceded to the sacred mountain, just outside Rome. Eventually, a series of protests and conflicts led to further democratization of the Roman Republic. For more timely examples, note the relatively nonviolent Bolshevik revolution, India’s struggle against British rule or King’s civil rights movement.

counterprotest
Counter-protest

As Trump fails to fully condemn the far-right fringes of the political spectrum and hence further isolates himself in indefensible immorality, nonviolence is the only acceptable reaction. Singal argues the same, on the grounds that for liberals and progressives, violence is always a last resort, ‘the last refuge of the incompetent’ to quote Asimov. Who would not agree with Singal? The relatively small alt-right feeds on violence by its counter-protesters: it’s ‘proof’ that the ‘alt-left’ somehow suppresses the white American who is peacefully exercising his right to free speech.

For this message, I strongly urge you to read Singal’s article, however, I disagree with his categorization. At the end, Singal concludes that progressives and liberals should refrain from “punching Nazis” and that “in most other situations, progressives understand — or claim to understand — the moral gravity of calling for violence. They shouldn’t let a scary but small group of deeply loathed bigots steer them off course.”. The assertion that only liberals and progressives agree that violence is a method of protest so childish and primitive that it should be avoided at all cost, undermines his point.

Singal seemingly understands that neo-Nazism and white supremacy attempt to argue for a society so unsupported and feared that they are vastly outnumbered by their saner countrymen, however different it may appear on Twitter. None of this means, however, that we should group people according to their political beliefs again. There’s a contrast between the alt-right and the well-minded people that find themselves somewhere else on this one-dimensional axis, whether you’re liberal, conservative, not sure or don’t know: condemning the alt-right nonviolently is the only sane thing to do.

As a short addendum, a Martin Luther King quote:

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.

Bannon possibly ousted as chief strategist

According to the New York Times, who cite two administration officials, Trump has decided to remove Bannon from his powerful position. Considering Trump’s loyalty seems to last only a short time, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Considering that Bannon is, despite my mild praise yesterday, the chief engineer of his alt-right base and therefore a valuable asset in maintaining his most consistent following, it is.

Whether this is a noticable change remains to be seen, Bannon’s influence in the White House seemed close to none in recent weeks. The chief strategist even refuted Trump’s statements concerning North Korea in an interview last Wednesday.

Nonetheless, quite interesting.

Bannon, ever controversial

A short comment on Steve Bannon’s interview with Robert Kuttner from The American Prospect.

steve_bannon

Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, called Robert Kuttner from the American Prospect on Wednesday. Contrary to Scaramucci’s call with Ryan Lizza from the New Yorker, Bannon refrained from hateful incentives and vile insults. More so, the chief strategist bared his views on North Korea, China and Charlottesville in what appeared to be a more or less reasonable and substantive call, regardless of his seemingly weak position within the White House.

Contrary to his boss, Bannon seems well-informed and contradicted Trump’s ‘fire and fury’, noting that “there’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats]” and that his focus was fully on “the economic war with China”. Again, he goes against his boss, whose priorities are less with his campaign promises but concern more with the century-old mantra’s of the big-business Republican branch, which is, ironically, the swampy center of the Republican party.

Kuttner has long criticized trade with China and he explained the call by noting that Bannon wants to build a sort of coalition of “trade hawks” with people from both the left and the right. Again, whether you agree or don’t, respect Bannon or don’t, it’s refreshing to see that Bannon seems more free from dogmatic and partisan shackles, venturing to bring people from both the left and the right together in their mutual adversity towards globalism.

Charlottesville, “a bunch of losers”

Bannon was already a kind of chief strategist during the campaign. His Breitbart brought white nationalism, anti-immigration and at times neo-nazism to the mainstream and rallied them for Trump. Speculating whether Trump would have been in the White House if Breitbart and Steve Bannon weren’t there to help him is frivolous. Nonetheless, the alt-right is most consistent in its defense of Trump and Breitbart seems to play a helping hand in that. The aforementioned aside, Bannon did rightly condemn the protests in Charlottesville:

“Ethno-nationalism—it’s losers. It’s a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more.”

The former seems like an effort to please both sides, especially considering that in the same interview he wished that Democrats would keep talking about racism, Bannon would then have clear water before him to propose his program of economic nationalism. All in all, it’s quite promising to see that Trump’s chief strategist has a more nuanced and less reactionary view with regard to North Korea. What’s even more promising is that Bannon is willing to invite to the White House a writer for the American Prospect, an unmistakably leftist magazines that is consistent in its disdain for the Trump administration.

The US and North Korea, business as usual?

However daunting it may seem, the most recent feud with the North seems – lest some notable exceptions – business as usual.

Opinion writers take pride in linking Trump’s win to certain phenomena – a shifting Democratic base, contemptuous liberals, changing media landscapes, Trump’s radically different campaign and his calls for hard power, the Russians, the list goes on. As with foreign policy, electoral victory is dependent on innumerable factors, all aforementioned ingredients add in some way to the serving but it is no secret that Trump seeks to grow the military, increase the US’ hard powers and decimate the state department. The results start to show in the most serious crisis encountered by the Trump administration yet. Trump’s disconnect from the state department and the accompanying absence of thought and thoroughness is sadly unsurprising and, as he called for ‘fire and fury’ or even tougher action, the state department was predictably sidelined.

Exporting threats

Ironic as it may seem shortly after the strictest batch of sanctions was passed, the regime’s prime export product remains free to cross the border: threats. Japan and the US, as well as the North’s southern neighbors, have been subject to its intimidation so frequently that, at first sight, it seems miraculous that none sparked an armed conflict. Over the years, there have been similar diplomatic moments of razzle-dazzle or, for a less British euphemism: a verbal tug of war. However you’d like to call it, commentators and analysts alike have not feared comparisons with the Cuban missile crisis or the invasion in Iran.

Although these crises often passed silently, this feud is quite different. For one, Mr. Kim’s statements are almost indistinguishable from the president’s and in a verbal battle between an autocratic all-controlling leader and a president whose praise for such absolute rulers has remained throughout his time in office, tensions rise high. Quite the contrary to previous years, when it was easy to sideline and ignore the DPRK’s supreme leader as a ‘rambling lunatic’. Most importantly, however, according to the Washington Post, the country is able to miniaturize its nuclear capabilities and aim its functioning inter-continental missiles at the US, meaning that the regime’s long awaited insurance policy is no longer merely the subject of speculation.

nk_propaganda

Despite my lack of expertise in the area, it’s easy to conclude that North Korea’s perspective is very simple; keep the regime in power. State media portray the US as a force of capitalism and evil, a force that simply aims to topple its praised government. The DPRK argues it can only persists if its nuclear arsenal is up to spec. With nuclear miniaturization a possibility and ICBM’s ready, it seems that such an arsenal is no longer a fantasy. The DPRK knows very well that Trump won’t attack since the regime has the capabilities to not only destroy Seoul but to obliterate US cities. On the other hand, the regime won’t attack the United States first since Washington will most certainly claim victory in the war that follows. This, then, is the impasse the world has reached.

Deterrence?

The United States might like the option of regime change – it has a long tradition of crudely toppling regimes it dislikes – but, as John Cassidy writes in the New Yorker, Kim’s aforementioned insurance is paying off. However desired, the installation of a friendly government is not an option. 

Robin Wright, also a staff-writer at the New Yorker, spoke to retired navy admiral and former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Winnefeld. His advice was simple: “Let them stow in their own juices … it’s a fools errand to expect China to solve this”. The Economist aligned with Winnefeld and noted that if diplomacy fails and military action has such horrific consequences, “the only remaining option is to deter and contain Mr. Kim”. As Cassidy notes, it would be an acknowledgement that US policies aimed at the North not acquiring nuclear weaponry has failed. Failing to concede to its own mistakes is typical for the US, note Iran and Iraq during Mossadegh and later Khomeini and Hussein for example. Leaving characteristic Washington megalomania aside, deterrence, together with a thoroughly reviewed personal statement by the president is the only viable and respectable option.

@ Eat Pray Vote!

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.

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).