Tuesday, January 24, 2017
One way Trump is different from European nationalists
History seems to be repeating itself in Europe. Brian Porter-Szücs below notes that European nationalists tend to be socialists -- exactly as Hitler was. And he notes that Trump runs an opposite coalition -- between nationalism and capitalism.
He does not seem to understand The Trump phenomenon or America generally, however. He sees the Trump coalition as weak and unstable while the European coalition as strong. From what we saw of Hitler, he may be right that the European coalition is strong but the Trump coalition could also be strong, given the different historical context in America. Capitalism is much more traditional in America so any type of conservatism is likely to include support for capitalism
When comparing Europe and America, we frequently overlook differences that hide inside similarities.
There is no doubt that President-elect Donald Trump is surfing the same wave as European authoritarian nationalists like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, France’s Marine Le Pen, Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan, Austria’s Norbert Hofer or Poland’s Jarosław Kaczyński.
The parallels are many. Yet, during this apparent moment of political convergence, the U.S. is diverging from Europe in one fundamental aspect. While Trump might resemble these European nationalists, he has tied himself to a Republican Party that is quite distinct from the parties they lead.
Authoritarian nationalism in Poland
Consider the case of Poland, where I am currently living and writing. Over the past year, the situation here has steadily deteriorated.
As recently as 2014, many were saying that Poland had entered a golden age, with greater wealth, stability and international prominence than ever. But in 2015, it all came crashing down with the election of the Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, or PiS).
Since then, Poland has been censured by the European Union’s Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance and transformed from the EU’s exemplar of success to one of its biggest headaches. The formerly booming economy has slowed. The country’s credit rating has been downgraded. And the Warsaw stock market’s capitalization has declined by US$50 billion.
This authoritarian, nationalist movement is led by Jarosław Kaczyński. Kaczyński rules Poland with near absolute authority even though he is technically only an ordinary member of Parliament. He has installed a president and prime minister who are loyal to him, thus making the official offices of state subordinated to the leader of the ruling party – much as it was during the communist era.
Throughout most of 2016, the government openly defied unfavorable rulings from the constitutional court, a conflict that ended only when PiS installed its own obedient chief justice. New regulations restricting the media provoked a filibuster attempt by the opposition beginning in late December. The main opposition parties occupied the parliamentary dais, but PiS responded by holding a meeting of its caucus in another room and passing the legislation it wanted. Faced with threats of arrest, the opposition abandoned their protest on Jan. 12.
The state-owned media has become an unabashed propaganda outlet, with a bias not seen since the fall of communism. For example, on Jan. 15 the main TV station aired a “documentary” arguing that the recent parliamentary protests were a failed coup attempt with the goal of overthrowing democracy in Poland on behalf of unspecified foreign interests.
According to a recent IPSOS survey, only 25 percent of Poles believe that the state-owned media is trustworthy, and nearly all of them describe themselves as PiS supporters. An independent media still exists, but companies with state contracts are being pressured to pull advertising from media that oppose Kaczyński, and not sell opposition periodicals in their stores.
A massive and ill-planned educational “reform” has been pushed through. The main upshot will be the firing of thousands of teachers, setting the stage for an ideological purge of the profession. That’s necessary, because starting next fall students will be subjected to a new mandatory curriculum that emphasizes “patriotic education.”
PiS uses the slogan “Dobre Zmiany,” which means “Good Changes,” to encompass the move away from the norms of constitutional rule of law, pluralism and liberal democracy.
The same hatreds, the same promises
A comparison of the rhetoric of Kaczyński and Trump shows that they both come from the same ideological framework.
For example, on Jan. 10, Kaczyński was confronted with a loud protest during one of his speeches. Pointing to his opponents, he said “the day will come when Poland will once and for all free itself from all that, from the sickness that we see here. And no shouts, no screams, no sirens will change that. Poland will be victorious against its enemies, against the traitors.”
Both Trump and Kaczyński have appealed to explicit xenophobia. Both promise to return “greatness” to their country, even as their isolationism and extremism distance them from former allies. Both evoke memories of a lost era of job security and prosperity for industrial workers, and claim that they can bring those good days back. Most of all, both cultivate a worldview based on an existential struggle between themselves and a mysterious, conspiratorial network of enemies.
Even the path to power for both Trump and Kaczyński has been similar. Neither represents a majority, but both took advantage of constitutional quirks to transform extraordinarily tight electoral results into a victory.
In Poland, parties that get fewer than 5 percent of the vote get no seats in Parliament. Their votes are distributed proportionately among the larger parties. Because the left splintered into multiple parties, none of them got more than 5 percent and PiS’s 38 percent of the votes translated to 51 percent of the parliamentary delegates. As in America, a couple hundred thousand Polish votes cast differently would have led to a totally different outcome. Since the elections, PiS’s support has remained in the low to mid-30’s. That should give us some pause before we attribute either victory to profound cultural or sociological shifts.
Despite Trump’s unconcealed fondness for Russia, which is not usually an asset in Poland, the PiS government applauded his electoral victory. Kaczyński despises Putin and was happy to welcome U.S. troops to Poland on Jan. 12, yet his ideological affinity with Trump seems to be more important.
An essential difference
Despite all these similarities, there is an essential difference between the two leaders. Kaczyński, like his European counterparts on the far right, is genuinely hostile to capitalism.
On the European side of the Atlantic, “liberalism” has long been understood to encompass both free market economics and liberal constitutional democracy. PiS wants to expand the welfare state, lower the retirement age, outlaw commerce on Sundays and holidays and undertake a massive state-financed construction program.
The party’s hostile relation to the business community has sent the Polish stock market and the value of the złoty to record lows. For Kaczyński, national freedom is what matters. Individual freedoms, including economic ones, are subordinate. As a result, most Polish businesspeople stand alongside civil rights activists in common opposition to the wave of far-right victories.
The contrast with the U.S. could not be more dramatic. Trump has named oligarchs, libertarians and Ayn Rand enthusiasts like Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson to cabinet positions.
The ability of the Republicans to bring together business interests with antiliberal populism is an impressive bit of ideological sleight of hand. If that stew can be kept in one pot, Trump will likely remain a formidable force, able to draw upon broad populist anger and vast financial resources. But it is hard to see how Trump will hold all that together.
The base that elected him is more closely aligned to their European counterparts than to the Republican leadership. This difference is crucial. Trump and Kaczyński are similar, but the latter is at the head of a coherent and committed movement, while the former is trying to ride two horses that won’t be going in the same direction for very long.
Perhaps the economic elites of the U.S. will make a compromise akin to that made by their peers in the 1930s, when business leaders in Germany reluctantly accepted fascist centralization and state control as the cost of maintaining their wealth and power. Most of Europe’s business elites today haven’t yet made this bargain, perhaps because they remember the consequences of that earlier deal with the devil. The decisions of their American peers will play a vital role in determining what happens over the next few years.
Netanyahu calls on Trump to unpick Iran nuclear deal
Israel pushed Iran’s nuclear programme to the top of President Trump’s foreign policy agenda last night, in the first phone call between the country’s leaders since Mr Trump’s inauguration.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, is hopeful that the new US administration will take a harder line on Iran. He has long criticised the 2015 Iran nuclear pact spearheaded by President Obama, which Mr Trump has pledged to “tear up”.
In a sign of the increased support Mr Trump appears willing to give to Israel, the White House said yesterday that it was at the “beginning” of discussing plans to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. The US, like most countries, has long kept its embassy in Tel Aviv to avoid taking sides in the dispute over the holy city, which is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians.
Mr Trump has promised to move it, an action that Palestinian officials said would effectively end the peace process. Husam Zumlot, an adviser to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, said: “For decades we’ve accepted that the road to peace goes through Washington. This will be the end of what you’ve been building for a quarter century.”
During last night’s phone call — described as a “very warm conversation” by Mr Netanyahu — the leaders agreed that peace between Israel and the Palestinians must be “negotiated directly between the two parties” and to “closely consult on a range of regional issues, including addressing the threats posed by Iran,” the White House said. Mr Netanyahu, who accepted an invitation from the president to visit Washington next month, said that there would be “no daylight between the United States and Israel” in their vision for the region.
At a cabinet meeting before the call, the prime minister had said: “I would like to make it clear, contrary to reports that I have read, that stopping the Iranian threat . . . continues to be a supreme goal of the state of Israel.”
He also made an unusual public appeal to Iranians in a video posted on Facebook on Saturday night. “You have a proud history. You have a rich culture. Tragically, you are shackled by a theocratic tyranny,” he said in the two-and-a-half-minute clip, recorded in English with Farsi subtitles.
Mr Netanyahu went on to mention the protests after the disputed 2009 election in which scores of Iranians were killed. “I’ll never forget the images of brave young students hungry for change gunned down in the streets of Tehran,” he said.
The message is unlikely to find a large audience in Iran, where Israel is not held in high regard. Instead it was a signal of Mr Netanyahu’s priorities in the Trump era. Israel considers Iran its main regional foe, both because of its nuclear work and its patronage of militant groups such as Hezbollah. Mr Netanyahu spent years threatening to carry out airstrikes against its atomic facilities and the issue came to dominate Israeli politics. He once answered a question about the high cost of apartments by invoking the threat from Iran.
These threats became moot in the summer of 2015 when Iran signed the nuclear pact with six world powers. The deal, reached after years of talks, offered Tehran relief from economic sanctions in exchange for strict limits on its nuclear activities.
Mr Netanyahu had strongly opposed the deal, the centrepiece of Mr Obama’s foreign policy. Its passage was a major diplomatic defeat and he quickly dropped the subject — until now.
On the campaign trail Mr Trump promised repeatedly to “tear up” the deal. His closest aides are similarly critical. Michael Flynn, his national security adviser, predicted that it would lead to a “large regional war.”
Jared Kushner, the president’s influential son-in-law, is also thought to oppose the agreement. The president said last week that Mr Kushner, whose family donates heavily to Israeli causes, would serve as his Middle East peace negotiator. The Justice Department ruled on Friday that his appointment as a senior White House adviser would not violate federal anti-nepotism laws.
Mr Trump’s cabinet nominees took a more restrained stance in their confirmation hearings earlier this month. James Mattis, the defence secretary, called it an “imperfect arms control agreement”. The president’s choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, wants to review the deal. Neither man supports tearing it up.
Analysts say it is unlikely that Mr Netanyahu will push to scrap the agreement altogether. Israeli spies have recently advised him not to: while they think that the deal is flawed, they also believe that it has delayed Iran’s nuclear programme and made it easier to monitor. The municipal planning committee in Jerusalem yesterday approved plans for 556 new homes in three neighbourhoods beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders. The United Nations, and much of the world, considers such construction to be illegal.
The plans were originally tabled in December, days after the UN security council approved a resolution that condemned Israeli settlements, but Mr Netanyahu delayed the measure, afraid of how Mr Obama might respond.
Meir Turgeman, head of the planning committee, said it was no coincidence that the homes were approved on the first working day after Mr Trump took office.
“I hope an era has ended,” Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, said after the vote yesterday. “From now on, we will continue to build and develop Jerusalem for the benefit of its residents.”
Mr Turgeman said that he would advance plans for thousands of other homes in the coming weeks.
Some of Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition partners want to go even further. Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, has already drafted a bill to annex Ma’ale Adumim, one of the largest settlements in the occupied West Bank. Such a move would prompt a furious reaction from the Palestinians and from many of Israel’s closest allies, particularly in Europe. The bill was scheduled for a cabinet vote yesterday but Mr Netanyahu postponed the debate.
Binyamin Netanyahu’s disagreements with President Obama were open and bitter, and most particularly so over the nuclear deal with Iran (Richard Spencer writes).
It is easy to forget how real the possibility of conflict with Iran was, whether stemming from an Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities or an American one, when Mr Obama took office.
Israeli leaders, and some American officials, were scathing of the attempts — led by the European Union — to negotiate with Tehran. However, back-channel talks were under way between the State Department and Iranian diplomats in Oman.
That eventually led to the deal under which most of Iran’s centrifuge programme would be dismantled and put in storage, and its stocks of low-enriched uranium transferred, in return for a gradual lifting of sanctions.
Mr Netanyahu was furious. He had publicly campaigned against any deal that did not scrap the nuclear programme altogether, most famously in 2012 when he used a cartoon of a bomb at the UN general assembly to illustrate his “red lines”. After the deal, he used an address to the US Congress to lay into President Obama, an unprecedented snub.
It all seemed too late. The American foreign policy establishment largely backed the deal and the debate has since focused on how far, and not whether, America and Iran will co-operate on a range of issues, such as fighting Islamic State.
With Mr Trump vociferously attacking the deal and appointing hardline supporters of Israel to key positions, Mr Netanyahu sees an opening, even though he probably knows the deal will not be completely ripped up.
Concerned About Anti-Israel Bias, Republicans Introduce Another Bill Targeting U.N. Funding
Republican lawmakers on Wednesday introduced yet another bill targeting United Nations funding, this time including a special focus on the U.N. Human Rights Council’s heavily anti-Israel agenda.
The bill introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) aims to combat what they describe as “systematic bias and targeting of the Jewish state of Israel at the United Nations.”
It calls specifically for U.S. funding to be withheld until the president certifies that no U.N. agency or affiliated agency grants official status or recognition to any organization promoting or condoning anti-Semitism.
American taxpayers account for 22 percent of the regular budget of the U.N., plus almost 29 percent of the separate peacekeeping budget. The U.S. additionally provides billions of dollars more each year in “voluntary contributions” to a spread of U.N. agencies, ranging from the International Atomic Energy Agency to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
Under the new legislation, the Geneva-based Human Rights Council would be deprived of U.S. funding until it drops a permanent agenda item focusing on Israel and the Palestinian territories.
As CNSNews.com has reported, Israel is the only country out of 192 U.N. member-states that is the subject of a permanent item on the HRC’s agenda.
The item’s existence means that Israel is routinely condemned at every regular month-long HRC session – three times a year – irrespective of what crises and conflicts may be occurring anywhere else in the world.
When the HRC in 2011 held a review of its first five years in operation, the Obama administration sought to have the Israel agenda item removed. Although the move was unsuccessful, the administration chose not to vote against the final review report that left the item intact.
The Rubio-Cotton legislation says that until the secretary of state can certify that the Israel-centric item has been removed from the HRC agenda, the U.S. will be neither able to fund, nor run for a seat on, the council.
Also in the crosshairs is UNRWA, which has been dogged over recent years by allegations about associations with Hamas, and staff members’ posting of anti-Semitic messages on social media.
Established after the 1948 war launched by Arab nations against the newly-declared state of Israel, UNRWA is the only U.N. agency to deal exclusively with one group of refugees. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is responsible for refugees from all other parts of the world.
The U.S. has long been UNRWA’s largest bilateral donor, providing it with $380.5 million in 2015. Since 1950, American taxpayers have accounted for more $4 billion in contributions to UNRWA.
In their bill, Rubio and Cotton make future U.S. funding for UNRWA contingent on the secretary of state certifying that no UNRWA official, employee, consultant, contractor (etc.) is a member of Hamas or any other U.S.-designated terrorist group; or has “propagated, disseminated, or incited anti-Israel, or anti-Semitic rhetoric or propaganda.”
Further, the secretary must certify that no UNRWA school, hospital or other facility is being used by Hamas or affiliated terror groups for operations, training, recruitment or fundraising
It also calls for independent audits to ensure no UNRWA resources are being diverted to Hamas or other terror groups.
“This bill simply puts into law what should be common sense,” Cotton said Wednesday. “Americans’ tax dollars should not fund anti-Semitic activities or nefarious efforts to undermine the legitimacy of Israel.”
“For too long, the world's worst actors have used the United Nations as a forum to point an accusatory finger at Israel and deflect from their own failings,” Cotton added. “That will stop only when America leads, stands on principle, and uses its considerable leverage to force true reform at the United Nations.”
Rubio said it was time the U.N. was “held accountable for targeting and singling out Israel while countries that actually threaten international peace and security – like Russia and China – go unchallenged.”
Other pieces of legislation already introduced in Congress this month seek to prohibit either assessed or voluntary U.S. funding for the U.N. – or both – or to tie future such funding to specific actions by the world body or to funding reports by the administration.
One, introduced by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) last week, would cut off all U.S. funding to the U.N. until last month’s U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel is repealed.
Another bill, the American Sovereignty Restoration Act introduced by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), calls for an outright U.S. withdrawal from the U.N.
The Pew Research Center reported last fall that only 43 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of the U.N., compared to 80 percent of Democrats – the largest margin between the two measured by Pew in the 27 years it has polled the issue.
Obama was worse for freedom and peace than Bush was
On Tuesday, it was announced that President Obama would commute the sentence of Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning, who was given 35 years in jail in 2013 for offences under the Espionage Act. Manning, then serving in the US army, delivered three quarters of a million classified documents to Wikileaks. WikiLeaks published them all online.
We should be happy for Manning; the sentence was extremely long. The power of the president to pardon citizens can be a humane one. And yet Manning’s commutation has a smell of hypocrisy to it. Commutations are usually applied to those who have spent a long time in prison and who are very unlikely to reoffend. Most of those granted commutations alongside Manning had been in prison since the 1990s, many on drugs charges. Manning has spent six years in custody, for a grave criminal offence, and has never expressed remorse. The commutation looks like a PR exercise, a cynical move to secure Obama’s place in the hearts of Western liberals who view Manning as a martyr to the cause of transparency.
The commutation seems especially cynical given Obama’s record on civil liberties. Upon taking office in 2009, he launched an unprecedented ‘war on whistleblowers’. In 2015 it was reported that he had brought prosecutions against nine people under the Espionage Act — more than double all previous presidents combined since that act was passed during the First World War. As one investigative reporter said, these prosecutions created a ‘chilling effect’ in officialdom.
Obama also shrouded his foreign policy in secrecy. He was the first president in history to carry out targeted killings of US citizens outside of warzones. And he did so using secret legal memos, which meant the legal basis for his decisions were never disclosed to the press or reviewed by a federal court. This was, as legal observers have pointed out, a ‘huge departure’ from US constitutional law. Through his targeted killing programmes, Obama dropped bombs in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Libya; he spread Bush’s ‘war on terror’ to more parts of the globe.
He was also a champion of detaining terror suspects without charge. In 2009 he signed executive orders mandating the closure of Guantanamo Bay within 12 months. These orders weren’t worth the paper they were written on. The so-called closure of Guantanamo involved transferring remaining detainees to prisons in their home countries or to US military or civilian prisons, rather than finally subjecting them to proper trials. Also in 2009 he called for a ‘preventative detention’ law that would allow the president to imprison people who had not been charged with a crime. This became reality under the National Defence Authorisation Act of 2012, which Obama personally authorised. Section 1021 of that act affirmed the authority of the president ‘to detain any person, including a US citizen, without trial until the end of hostilities against international terrorist organisations’.
Obama is also heavily into deporting immigrants. Much has been said of Trump’s anti-immigrant language; far less is said about Obama’s industrial-scale deportations. The Department of Homeland Secretary deported 414,481 people in 2014. Each year of the Obama administration involved more deportations than under any preceding president. Staggeringly, Obama is on track to deport more people than all previous presidents put together. He championed the use of the Priority Enforcement Programme, which allowed local law enforcement to check the fingerprints of the people they arrest against a federal database related to immigration. This basically turned local police officers into immigration officers, and increased arrests around the Mexican border.
Obama took some of the worst illiberal excesses of the Bush administration and made them legal and ordinary. And he always hid behind a shield of secret bureaucracy. Like many others, I did not want to see Chelsea Manning rot in prison. But for Obama to use this case to try to rewrite his own record on justice and liberty is an outrage. That so many so-called progressives are lapping it up is an indictment of their levels of critical thinking. What’s more, this commutation looks like little more than a final middle finger to those millions of people who thought Manning should remain in jail.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.