Archive for the ‘Rosenthal’ Category

Brooks and Rosenthal

January 10, 2017

In “Bannon Versus Trump” Bobo gurgles that the larger battle is over whether the Republican Party as a whole will become an ethno-populist party.  Will become?  Really, Bobo?  WILL become?  With Sessions as the possible new Attorney General?  Mr. Rosenthal, in “Republican Hypocrisy on Trump’s Nominees,” says Mitch McConnell used to be demanding when it came to presidential nominees. How times have changed.  Here’s Bobo, to be followed by a comment by “soxared, 04-07-13” from Crete, IL:

It’s becoming clear that for the next few years American foreign policy will be shaped by the struggle among Republican regulars, populist ethno-nationalists and the forces of perpetual chaos unleashed by Donald Trump’s attention span.

The Republican regulars build their grand strategies upon the post-World War II international order — the American-led alliances, norms and organizations that bind democracies and preserve global peace. The regulars seek to preserve and extend this order, and see Vladimir Putin as a wolf who tears away at it.

The populist ethno-nationalists in the Trump White House do not believe in this order. Their critique — which is simultaneously moral, religious, economic, political and racial — is nicely summarized in the remarks Steve Bannon made to a Vatican conference in 2014.

Once there was a collection of Judeo-Christian nation-states, Bannon argued, that practiced a humane form of biblical capitalism and fostered culturally coherent communities. But in the past few decades, the party of Davos — with its globalism, relativism, pluralism and diversity — has sapped away the moral foundations of this Judeo-Christian way of life.

Humane capitalism has been replaced by the savage capitalism that brought us the financial crisis. National democracy has been replaced by a crony-capitalist network of global elites. Traditional virtue has been replaced by abortion and gay marriage. Sovereign nation-states are being replaced by hapless multilateral organizations like the E.U.

Decadent and enervated, the West lies vulnerable in the face of a confident and convicted Islamofascism, which is the cosmic threat of our time.

In this view, Putin is a valuable ally precisely because he also seeks to replace the multiracial, multilingual global order with strong nation-states. Putin ardently defends traditional values. He knows how to take the fight to radical Islam.

It’s actually interesting to read Donald Trump’s ideologist, Bannon, next to Putin’s ideologist Alexander Dugin. It’s like going back to the 20th century and reading two versions of Marxism.

One is American Christian and the other orthodox Russian, but both have grandiose, sweeping theories of world history, both believe we’re in an apocalyptic clash of civilizations, both seamlessly combine economic, moral and political analysis. Both self-consciously see themselves as part of a loosely affiliated international populist movement, including the National Front in France, Nigel Farage in Britain and many others. Dugin wrote positively about Trump last winter, and Bannon referred to Dugin in his Vatican remarks.

“We must create strategic alliances to overthrow the present order of things,” Dugin has written, “of which the core could be described as human rights, anti-hierarchy and political correctness — everything that is the face of the Beast, the Antichrist.”

“We, the Judeo-Christian West, really have to look at what [Putin] is talking about as far as traditionalism goes,” Bannon said, “particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism.”

Last week’s intelligence report on Russian hacking brought the Republican regulars, like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, into direct conflict with the ethno-nationalist populists. Trump planted himself firmly in the latter camp, and dragged Fox News and a surprising number of congressional Republicans with him.

If Trump were as effective as Putin, we’d probably see a radical shift in American grand strategy, a shift away from the postwar global consensus and toward an alliance with various right-wing populist movements simmering around the globe.

But Trump is no Putin. Putin is theological and cynical, disciplined and calculating, experienced and knowledgeable. When Bannon, Michael Flynn and others try to make Trump into a revolutionary foreign policy president, they will be taking on the entire foreign policy establishment under a leader who may sympathize with them, but is inattentive, unpredictable and basically uninterested in anything but his own status at the moment.

I’m personally betting the foreign policy apparatus, including the secretaries of state and defense, will grind down the populists around Trump. Frictions will explode within the insanely confusing lines of authority in the White House. Trump will find he likes hanging around the global establishment the way he liked having the Clintons at his wedding. In office he won’t be able to fixate on ISIS but will face a blizzard of problems, and thus be dependent on the established institutions.

The result may be a million astounding tweets, but substantively no fundamental strategic shift — not terrible policy-making, but not good policy-making, either.

The larger battle is over ideas, whether the Republican Party as a whole will become an ethno-populist party like the National Front or the U.K. Independence Party. In this fight the populists might do better. There’s something malevolently forceful about their ideology, which does remind you of Marxism in its early days. There’s something flaccid about globalism, which is de-spiritualized and which doesn’t really have an answer for our economic and cultural problems.

In short, I suspect Steve Bannon is going to fail to corral the peripatetic brain of Donald Trump. But he may have more influence on the next generation.

If Bannon influences the next generation then I’m profoundly glad that I only have a few more years to live.  Here’s the comment from “soxared, 04-07-13:”

“Mr. Brooks, this column defines the utter chaos to come. And when Stephen Bannon is the architect of the next president’s worldview, well, we’re not at the lip of the abyss, we’re already plummeting.

Bannon, quite frankly, is a white nationalist. He’s Dylann Roof without the rap sheet of nine souls destroyed. Bannon is the lieutenant in the army of the “Judeo-Christian West” that has drawn a line in the sand against multiculturalism. As I read this devil’s script for international anarchy, all I could think of was that Bannon and Vladimir Putin’s own Bannon, Aleksandr Dugin have in mind a joint dual national program to eliminate Islam from the world’s face and, in the process, begin the systematic subjugation of mankind, those peoples not to their liking. Bannon, please recall, will be at Trump’s elbow in the Oval Office.

The absolutism of both Bannon and Dugan, are quite terrifying. The danger to our Republic, though, is the next president. It has been amply documented that his infinitesimal attention span is the last link in the chain of sanity. Its end is perilously close.

Leavening the loaf in the hellish oven until it is ripe are your GOP “ethno-nationalist populists.” Start with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, the Senate and House leaders, who worked assiduously to mine President Obama’s tenure with failure; both are viciously hostile to democracy. Putin is their soul mate, all things considered.

The “cosmic threat of our time” is the looming Trump administration.”

And now here’s Mr. Rosenthal:

The Constitution and American tradition provide lots of ways for a president to exercise executive power.

The president can, for example, create an agenda and propose legislation to Congress to carry it out; appoint cabinet members, with the Senate providing its advice and consent, and use the platform of the presidency to talk to Americans about important issues.

When the modern-day Republicans are in charge of the White House and Congress, of course, law, tradition and principle have little meaning.

Senator Mitch McConnell once said his party’s most important task was to deny Obama a second term. In February 2009, he wrote a letter to Senator Harry Reid, then the majority leader, saying there could be no action on Obama’s nominees pending a long list of demands, including completion of reviews by the Office of Government Ethics. McConnell only escalated when Republicans took control of the Senate in 2014 and by last year he was refusing even to consider any Supreme Court nomination Obama might make.

So how will things be with our new Republican president?

We don’t really know what agenda Donald Trump will pursue, since he didn’t offer anything like a realistic one to voters. He takes office thanks to the obsolete and undemocratic Electoral College, as the second Republican president in a row to be rejected by a substantial majority of voters.

With the inauguration less than two weeks away, it’s certainly looking as if McConnell’s Republican Senate majority will do a complete about-face and rush through Trump’s appointments without the process on which senators used to insist.

McConnell and his cronies have crammed the Senate schedule full of confirmation hearings for Trump’s selections for major cabinet officials, including several of the biggest positions for this Wednesday.

Unfortunately, not all of these candidates have been through the customary vetting process. Last week, the Office of Government Ethics informed congressional Democrats that it had not yet had time to screen all of the Trump appointees, which created “potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues.” Democrats want to delay some hearings until the candidates can be vetted.

McConnell’s response to Democrats’ concerns has been typically cynical and hypocritical.

This year, he’s telling Democrats to “grow up.” “All of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustration at having not only lost the White House, but having lost the Senate,” he said on Sunday.

Ethics review is hardly a “little procedural complaint,” especially since the Trump camp reportedly did far less than previous presidential transition teams to vet candidates before nominating them. Of course, since Trump won’t clear up the endless conflicts of interest involving his business interests and those of his children and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, whom he is appointing to a senior White House role, why should we expect him to be concerned about his appointees’ conflicts?

If you think Trump’s partisan handmaidens in Congress are going to do the vetting for him, then you haven’t been paying much attention to American politics. What you can expect is a once-over-lightly review by the Republicans and efforts to thwart any Democrats who try to do the vetting.

So what about the “bully pulpit” that the presidency is going to give Trump once he takes office? The problem is that we are not supposed to take anything that Trump says seriously.

On Monday, Trump tore into Meryl Streep for mentioning in her Golden Globes speech that he had mocked a disabled reporter, Serge Kovaleski, during the campaign. Trump said, as he had before, that he had never mocked Kovaleski, despite videos viewed millions of times online that show him doing exactly that.

The problem, according to Trump’s chief propagandist, Kellyanne Conway, is that people are actually paying attention to what Trump says.

“You always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth,” Conway sneered. Instead, she said, we should all “look at what’s in his heart.”

After Trump was elected, he told Times editors, reporters and business executives that he wasn’t interested in prosecuting Hillary Clinton anymore. The next day, he was smirking triumphantly while his supporters chanted “Lock her up!”

Does he believe in his heart that Clinton should be behind bars? Or does he believe what he said in a crowded conference room at The Times the day before? Or neither?

The sad truth is, we’re never going to know. We will never be able to trust what Trump tells us about his principles, his policies and his intentions as president — if he bothers to tell us anything at all. Mostly, we’re all just supposed to read his mind.

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Andrew Rosenthal and Krugman

December 16, 2016

Andrew Rosenthal is the newest op-ed contributor.  He writes about just about anything that intrigues him.  Today, in “To Understand Trump, Learn Russian,” he says the language has two words for truth, and it’s time for Americans to learn them.  Prof. Krugman, in “Useful Idiots Galore,” says Russia got lots of help in the United States hacking the election.  Here’s Mr. Rosenthal:

The Russian language has two words for truth — a linguistic quirk that seems relevant to our current political climate, especially because of all the disturbing ties between the newly elected president and the Kremlin.

The word for truth in Russian that most Americans know is “pravda” — the truth that seems evident on the surface. It’s subjective and infinitely malleable, which is why the Soviet Communists called their party newspaper “Pravda.” Despots, autocrats and other cynical politicians are adept at manipulating pravda to their own ends.

But the real truth, the underlying, cosmic, unshakable truth of things is called “istina” in Russian. You can fiddle with the pravda all you want, but you can’t change the istina.

For the Trump team, the pravda of the 2016 election is that not all Trump voters are explicitly racist. But the istina of the 2016 campaign is that Trump’s base was heavily dependent on racists and xenophobes, Trump basked in and stoked their anger and hatred, and all those who voted for him cast a ballot for a man they knew to be a racist, sexist xenophobe. That was an act of racism.

Trump’s team took to Twitter with lightning speed recently to sneer at the conclusion by all 17 intelligence agencies that the Kremlin hacked Democratic Party emails for the specific purpose of helping Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton. Trump said the intelligence agencies got it wrong about Iraq, and that someone else could have been responsible for the hack and that the Democrats were just finding another excuse for losing.

The istina of this mess is that powerful evidence suggests that the Russians set out to interfere in American politics, and that Trump, with his rejection of Western European alliances and embrace of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, was their chosen candidate.

The pravda of Trump’s selection of Rex Tillerson, head of Exxon Mobil, as secretary of state is that by choosing an oil baron who has made billions for his company by collaborating with Russia, Trump will make American foreign policy beholden to American corporate interests.

That’s bad enough, but the istina is far worse. For one thing, American foreign policy has been in thrall to American corporate interests since, well, since there were American corporations. Just look at the mess this country created in Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Middle East to serve American companies.

Yes, Tillerson has ignored American interests repeatedly, including in Russia and Iraq, and has been trying to remove sanctions imposed after Russia’s seizure of Crimea because they interfered with one of his many business deals. But take him out of the equation in the Trump cabinet and nothing changes. Trump has made it plain, with every action he takes, that he is going to put every facet of policy, domestic and foreign, at the service of corporate America. The istina here is that Tillerson is just a symptom of a much bigger problem.

The pravda is that Trump was right in saying that the intelligence agencies got it wrong about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction.

But the istina is that Trump’s contempt for the intelligence services is profound and dangerous. He’s not getting daily intelligence briefings anymore, apparently because they are just too dull to hold his attention.

And now we know that Condoleezza Rice was instrumental in bringing Tillerson to Trump’s attention. As national security adviser and then secretary of state for president George W. Bush, Rice was not just wrong about Iraq, she helped fabricate the story that Hussein had nuclear weapons.

Trump and Tillerson clearly think they are a match for the wily and infinitely dangerous Putin, but as they move foward with their plan to collaborate with Russia instead of opposing its imperialist tendencies, they might keep in mind another Russian saying, this one from Lenin.

“There are no morals in politics; there is only expedience,” he wrote. “A scoundrel may be of use to us just because he is a scoundrel.”

Putin has that philosophy hard-wired into his political soul. When it comes to using scoundrels to get what he wants, he is a professional, and Trump is only an amateur. That is the istina of the matter.

He does seem to be a real fan of the useless link…  And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

On Wednesday an editorial in The Times described Donald Trump as a “useful idiot” serving Russian interests. That may not be exactly right. After all, useful idiots are supposed to be unaware of how they’re being used, but Mr. Trump probably knows very well how much he owes to Vladimir Putin. Remember, he once openly appealed to the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Still, the general picture of a president-elect who owes his position in part to intervention by a foreign power, and shows every sign of being prepared to use U.S. policy to reward that power, is accurate.

But let’s be honest: Mr. Trump is by no means the only useful idiot in this story. As recent reporting by The Times makes clear, bad guys couldn’t have hacked the U.S. election without a lot of help, both from U.S. politicians and from the news media.

Let me explain what I mean by saying that bad guys hacked the election. I’m not talking about some kind of wild conspiracy theory. I’m talking about the obvious effect of two factors on voting: the steady drumbeat of Russia-contrived leaks about Democrats, and only Democrats, and the dramatic, totally unjustified last-minute intervention by the F.B.I., which appears to have become a highly partisan institution, with distinct alt-right sympathies.

Does anyone really doubt that these factors moved swing-state ballots by at least 1 percent? If they did, they made the difference in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — and therefore handed Mr. Trump the election, even though he received almost three million fewer total votes. Yes, the election was hacked.

By the way, people who respond to this observation by talking about mistakes in Clinton campaign strategy are missing the point, and continuing their useful idiocy. All campaigns make mistakes. Since when do these mistakes excuse subversion of an election by a foreign power and a rogue domestic law enforcement agency?

So why did the subversion work?

It’s important to realize that the postelection C.I.A. declaration that Russia had intervened on behalf of the Trump campaign was a confirmation, not a revelation (although we’ve now learned that Mr. Putin was personally involved in the effort).

The pro-Putin tilt of Mr. Trump and his advisers was obvious months before the election — I wrote about it in July. By midsummer the close relationship between WikiLeaks and Russian intelligence was also obvious, as was the site’s growing alignment with white nationalists.

Did Republican politicians, so big on flag waving and impugning their rivals’ patriotism, reject this foreign aid to their cause? No, they didn’t. In fact, as far as I can tell, no major Republican figure was even willing to criticize Mr. Trump when he directly asked Russia to hack Mrs. Clinton.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. It has long been obvious — except, apparently, to the news media — that the modern G.O.P. is a radical institution that is ready to violate democratic norms in the pursuit of power. Why should the norm of not accepting foreign assistance be any different?

The bigger surprise was the behavior of the news media, and I don’t mean fake news; I mean big, prestigious organizations. Leaked emails, which everyone knew were probably the product of Russian hacking, were breathlessly reported as shocking revelations, even when they mostly revealed nothing more than the fact that Democrats are people.

Meanwhile, the news media dutifully played up the Clinton server story, which never involved any evidence of wrongdoing, but merged in the public mind into the perception of a vast “email” scandal when there was nothing there.

And then there was the Comey letter. The F.B.I. literally found nothing at all. But the letter dominated front pages and TV coverage, and that coverage — by news organizations that surely knew that they were being used as political weapons — was almost certainly decisive on Election Day.

So as I said, there were a lot of useful idiots this year, and they made the election hack a success.

Now what? If we’re going to have any hope of redemption, people will have to stop letting themselves be used the way they were in 2016. And the first step is to admit the awful reality of what just happened.

That means not trying to change the subject to campaign strategy, which is a legitimate topic but has no bearing on the question of electoral subversion. It means not making excuses for news coverage that empowered that subversion.

And it means not acting as if this was a normal election whose result gives the winner any kind of a mandate, or indeed any legitimacy beyond the bare legal requirements. It might be more comfortable to pretend that things are O.K., that American democracy isn’t on the edge. But that would be taking useful idiocy to the next level.