Friday, January 19, 2018

Immigration in history

Today's post appears here.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The western imperial project

Formal imperialism became unpopular during the first half of twentieth century and nearly disappeared during the second half.  The great empires of the British, French, and eventually the Portuguese were given their independence.  The Soviet Union still included plenty of non-Russian territory that was in effect ruled imperially, but after 1989 it too became independent.  By 2000 western intellectuals had become obsessed, consciously or unconsciously, with the virtues of third world nations and peoples, which served as a counterpoint to the nations of Western Europe and North America, increasingly viewed as bastions of racism.

Imperialism seemed to be unnecessary, as well as unjust, in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR, since democracy and capitalism were spreading further and further around the world.  But the George W. Bush administration introduced a new form of imperialism to world politics after 2001, claiming the right to overturn any government that assisted terrorism or that sought weapons that the United States government did not think it should have. Both the Obama and Trump Administrations have endorsed that policy, declaring respectively that Iran and North Korea must not be allowed to have nuclear weapons.  Meanwhile, a different kind of imperialism was emerging among western governments in North America and in Eastern Europe.  Essentially, it seems to me, it is attempting to take advantage of the global economic order to impose certain western political and cultural values on other parts of the world.

The new imperialism is on display today in the European Community, which is trying to force one of its newer members to fall into line.  That nation is Poland, which was welcomed into the EC in the 1990s but whose politics, like those of Hungary, have taken a sharp turn to the right.  Its Law and Justice party won a majority in 2015, a very rare event in European nations today, and it has reformed its judicial system to allow the government to purge it and bring it into line.   The EU has now sent Poland a warning about these developments, carrying with it a threat of actual economic sanctions.  22 of the EC's 28 member states, as it happens, would have to agree to impose real sanctions, which has never been done.  The EC has also criticized Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic for refusing to accept any refugees.  Mainstream western liberalism not only believes in an independent judiciary, but seems to feel that advanced nations need to open their borders to threatened people from other parts of the world.  But these views are not universally shared, even within their own societies.

The attempt to impose western values also shows up in sanctions against Russia and particular Russians for human rights violations.  It has also manifested itself in the demand that President Hafez Assad step down in Syria, and the earlier demand for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.  That was part of the movement begun by the George W. Bush administration to spread democracy through the Middle East, but within two years, the Obama administration had effectively reversed itself and effectively blessed the return of military rule in Egypt.  European liberalism also favors stronger action against Israel to withdraw from occupied territories and allow for a Palestinian state, but the United States government has for the time being moved in a completely different direction. 

The backlash against this movement is growing.  Two other world powers, Russia and China, specifically reject western political and cultural models and maintain authoritarian states.  They also have rejected the western tolerance for homosexuality, which is unpopular in much of the third world as well.  Turkey, which had gone further in the direction of the West than any Muslim nation during the twentieth century, is now ruled by an intolerant, authoritarian state as well. 

The values of democracy, the rule of law, equal rights for citizens, and broader social tolerance remain precious gifts which western democracies bestowed upon the world.  Yet the assumption that some Hegelian momentum is inevitably driving them forward is hurting, not helping the effort to keep them alive.  The changes of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries did not happen automatically, but because millions of people believed in them and made them work.  They always encountered vigorous opposition, most notably in the Second World War--and that war was hardly an unmitigated triumph for liberalism.  The belief in citizenship and equal rights, in my opinion, very powerful emotionally, but so is tribalism in both its older and newer forms. To prevail, the ideas of citizenship and equal rights must be renewed through effective collective action.  Those values also turned out to be the best counterweight to economic inequality--the natural result of capitalism--when nations had to mobilize their resources to fight depression and foreign enemies.  For the moment, the people of the United States, in particular, lack any unifying vision that could renew these values.

History does not move automatically in the right direction, and western leaders and NGOs cannot make it do so simply by telling the rest of the world how to behave.  Throughout modern history nations have led by example.  If the best values of modern history are to maintain their influence, teh western nations must act them out at home.  They must also recognize once again that other parts of the world may not share them.  That will become the challenge of statesmanship and diplomacy in the decades to come.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Thr Russians aren't coming--they've arrived

Over the past week I have read the new book, Collusion, by the journalist Luke Harding, which attempts to unravel the connections between Russia on the one hand, and Donald Trump and many of those who worked for his election on the other.  Despite the title, the book has relatively little to say about the Clinton hacked emails and the Russian role in the election itself. It is about something more important, a network of relations between Russians and Americans.  It is a jaunty, but not an easy read.  I am going to summarize the most important things that I learned from it, to try to fill in the picture in a couple of places myself, and to ask, as I always do, exactly what the broader significance of all this is.  The easiest way to do this is by talking about some of the major players in the story

Carter Page, born in 1971, is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.  Although he does not seem to have been born to great wealth, a Naval Academy classmate told Harding that he had lavish spending habits as a student.  The Navy apparently sent him to Georgetown University to earn an M.A.  After serving his statutory five years on active duty, he went to work for Merrill Lynch, specifically in their Moscow office.  He left their employ in 2008 and founded his own energy firm in New York, but that firm does not seem to have any other employees or any business. How Page earned his living since 2008, thus, is something of a mystery.  Meanwhile, he became known as an admirer of Vladimir Putin and an opponent of the Obama Administration's anti-Russian policies, especially after the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Then, in March 2016, as Trump became the favorite to win the Repubican nomination, Trump named Page as one of his five foreign policy advisers.  That July, the Russians invited him to Moscow to give a commencement address.  That address featured extensive criticism of US attempts to spread democracy in the former Soviet Union.

According to the Steele dossier, Page actually traveled to Moscow in July to meet Igor Sechin, one of Putin's closest aides.  Two years earlier, Page had written a fawning blog post about Sechin, protesting the sanctions that had been imposed upon him.  According to Steele, Sechin offered a deal. If the Trump Administration listed sanctions on Russia, joint ventures in the energy sphere might proceed. As it happened, a large venture involving Exxon in drilling in the Arctic had been put on hold by sanctions.  Sechin also dangled a large brokerage fee before Page.

Steele also reported that Page had a later meeting with a another high Russian official, Igor Diveykin.  Divekin told him that the Russians possessed damaging information about Hillary Clinton, but also about Trump--something that Trump should keep in mind.  After returning to the US, Page was one of several Trump aides to meet with Soviet Ambassador Kislyak at the Republican convention.  By this time, as it happened, the FBI had become sufficiently concerned about Page's many Russian contacts and his pro-Russian attitudes to ask for, and receive, a FISA warrant to tap his electronic communications.  US intelligence also briefed senior Congressional leaders about Page, and Harry Reed made a public comment about the briefings. In September 2016, the Trump campaign dropped and disavowed him.

Just two months ago, Page testified before the House Intelligence Committee--too late for the appearance to figure  in Harding's book.  He confirmed that he had fully reported on his Moscow trip to various Trump campaign officials, including Jeff Sessions.  He denied meeting with Sechin but admitted to meetings with two other high Russian officials.  This forced some of the Trump campaign officials to refresh their memories about having heard about Page's trip.  Robert Mueller's office will presumably get its hands on Page's contemporary reports of his meetings.

Born in 1949 in New Britain, Connecticut--where his father became Mayor--Paul Manafort holds a B.A. and a law degree from Georgetown University.  He was active in the Ford and Reagan campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s,worked in the Reagan White House, and worked in the George H. W. Bush and Robert Dole campaigns as well. Meanwhile, Manafort's lobbying firms signed lucrative contracts with a number of foreign leaders.  He might easily have been the model for the parallel career of the Doonesbury character Duke.  His clients included the American client in the Angolan civil war, Jonas Savimbi; Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines; President Mobutu of the Congo; and many other governments as well.  During the 1990s he also received $700,000 that came from Pakistan's Interservice Intelligence Agency, or ISI, for lobbying activities and a documentary film production designed to improve the image of the Pakistani government.

During the 00s Manafort had a long and lucrative relationship with the Ukrainian politician (and eventually President) Victor Yanukovych, whose image he remade after Yanukovych was driven from power by the Orange revolution of 2004, after he had tried to steal the election.  Manafort helped get Yanukovych into power as Prime Minister just two years later, assuring anyone who asked (including Harding, who interviewed him at length) that Yanukovch was now a changed man and a friend of the West.

Around 2005, Manafort also entered into a relationship with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate who cannot travel to the US because of suspected ties to organized crime.  The Associated Press has reported that Deripaska paid him $10 million a year [sic] to improve Russia's image in the West.  Shortly after signing that contract, Manafort bought a $3.6 million apartment in Trump Tower in New York.  With Manafort's help, Yanukovych was elected Ukrainian President in 2009 (the supposedly democratic and pro-west regime had proven ineffective and corrupt), and began eliminating his opposition.   The Maidan protests five years later drove him out of office and out of Ukraine. Putin's annexation of the Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine followed.

Manafort had signed Trump as a lobbing client in the early 1980s.  In March 2016, he approached Trump through a mutual friend, Thomas Barrack, who introduced him to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.  On March 29, 2016, Trump announced his appointment as campaign manager.  Manfort immediately began trying to do for Trump what he had down for Yanukovych--telling anyone who would listen that Trump was simply indulging in campaign rhetoric and would be a different man in office.  The Washington Post credited Manafort with securing the nomination of Mike Pence as Vice President.  But in mid-August, a story broke that a secret ledger discovered in post-revolutionary Ukraine showing that Yanukovych's right wing nationalist Party of Regions had paid Manafort $12.7 million in cash between 2007 and 2012.  Both Manafort and Trump claimed the ledger was phony and denied the story, but he left the campaign, and Steve Bannon replaced him.  Much later, in mid-2017, when Manafort tried to register retroactively as a foreign agent, he admitted to receving $17 million from the Party of Regions in 2012-14.

It has been reported that Manafort, like Page, had been wiretapped by American intelligence before the 2016 election.  Mueller's team eventually raided his home, and he has now been indicted for conspiracy against the United States, money laundering, and failing to register as a foreign agent. Just this week he has sued to block the indictment, claiming that Mueller's charge did not allow the prosecutor to deal with these matters.  It seems rather striking that while endless hours of cable television have been wasted on the issue of "collusion" regarding Democratic emails, hardly anyone ever says bluntly that Donald Trump's campaign apparently featured a director and a leading foreign policy adviser who were both suspected of being foreign agents for Russia and Russian clients in Ukraine, respectively.

Then there is the case of Michael Flynn, who rose to the rank of Lt. General in the US Army  In 2012, Flynn had been appointed head of the Defense Intelligence Agency by President Obama--in whom Flynn had no confidence whatever.  In 2013, Flynn received a mysterious, unprecedented invitation to speak at the headquarters of the GRU, Russian military intelligence, in Moscow, on leadership.  He returned saying he had enjoyed the trip very much.  In 2014 he was forced to leave his position early and retired.  He was informed that he had to report any income from foreign sources.

Flynn formed a consulting firm and co-authored a book with neoconservative Michael Ledeen.  It was very anti-Obama, and in August 2015, Flynn met Trump.   In December of that year he was invited to a 10th anniversary party for the Russian television network RT in Moscow, and sat next to Vladimir Putin. He received, but did not report, nearly $34,000 for the trip.  In March 2016 Flynn, along with Page, was named as one of Trump's foreign policy advisers, and he became an avid campaigner for Trump, declaring at the Repubican convention that Hillary Clinton should be locked up. In August, Michael Steele claimed that he received a report that Putin was very happy with the progress of his campaign to influence the American election. Visits to Moscow from a delegation of supporters of Lyndon Larouche, of Jill Stein of the Green Party, and of Carter Page and Michael Flynn had had good outcomes for the Russians, and even if Clinton won, she would be too weakened by domestic divisions to make much trouble for Russia. And just before the election, Flynn signed a $600,000 lobbying contract with a firm linked to the Turkish government--and failed to report it. (Jill Stein's Russian connection is reportedly under investigation by Robert Mueller. She drew significant numbers of votes in the states that decided the election.)

Flynn was, of course, appointed National Security adviser by Trump. Meanwhile, he was having conversations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak, including a meeting at Trump Tower with Kushner and Ivanka Trump. FBI surveillance picked some of them up.  The Obama Administration had just imposed new sanctions on Russia in retaliation for the intervention in the election, and although we do not yet have all the data, it seems that Flynn may have been discussing the lifting or easing of these and other sanctions--Putin's primary goal.  In any case, he, like Manafort and Page, was now heard by US intelligence surveillance.  He denied, to Vice President Pence and the FBI, that he had had certain conversations with Kislyak. The Justice Department informed the White House that he ws lying.  Flynn was forced out, and has now pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with Mueller. It has occurred to me that the appointment of Rex Tillerson, who as CEO of Exxon had negotiated a big oil exploration deal with Russia that had to be canceled as a result of sanctions--and who has argued repeatedly that human rights considerations should not control US foreign policy--could have been designed in part to make the lifting of sanctions easier, as well.

The reader will note that I have managed so far to avoid discussing the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump, Jr., Manafort, and two Russians, the well-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, and the former Soviet intelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin, now a lobbyist and US citizen.  They had promised derogatory information about Hillary Clinton. Their goal was the repeal of the Magnitsky Act, named after a dissident Russian citizen who had died in custody, which barred Russians guilty of specific human rights abuses from the US.  Indeed, apparently some of the derogatory information they brought involved links between William Browder, Magnitsky's partner, and the Clinton foundation.  This was, clearly, just one of a number of channels that the Russians had developed to persuade a possible Trump administration to lift sanctions.  Donald Trump Jr. had been to Moscow several times himself, and the approach that led to the meeting came from contacts he had developed there, in the same way that Page, Manafort and Flynn had developed contracts of their own.  Jeff Sessions clearly knew about a lot of this, and had spoken to Kislyak himself. When Al Franken asked him about contacts between the campaign and the Russians in his confirmation hearing, he simply lied.  It is shocking that his tenure has survived the subsequent revelations.

And last, but hardly least--what about Donald Trump himself?

The President, it turns out, has sold many apartments in his properties to Russians going back to the 1980s, including some linked to Russian organized crime.  He has had Russian-American partners in deals who have been involved in criminal activity.  Ample evidence, reported at length by Harding, shows that Russians have invested in Trump properties to launder money.  And US Attorney Preet Bharara, of the Southern District of New York, used wiretaps to catch a Russian mobster running a gambling ring out of his suite in Trump tower.  Bharara, of course, lost his job shortly after Trump became President.  (This episode could be the origin of Trump's famous tweet accusing the government of wiretapping Trump Tower.)  Harding discusses other connections as well, including the remarkable sale of a Florida property to a Russian oligarch for about a 100% profit at the height of the financial crisis. But what struck me as potentially critical to the whole story was the role of Deutsche Bank in Donald Trump's career.

Trump's career as a developer has been marked by repeated failures to meet expectations, resulting in several bankruptcies.  When his Atlantic City casinos collapsed, his creditors, sadly, decided to allow him to keep operating because they thought they would be worth more with his name associated with them. However, American bankers, according to many accounts, had finally learned their lesson by the early 2000s and wouldn't lend to him again.The Deutsche Bank stepped in, apparently, to fill the gap.  Trump personally guaranteed a $640 million loan from Deutsche Bank to build Trump Tower in Chicago.  When the financial crisis struck, Trump stopped paying, with $340 million left to go.  When the bank sued to get their money, he counter sued for $3 billion, blaming them and the other big banks (correctly) for the financial crisis. A judge threw out the suit.

Amazingly, in 2010, Trump settled the matter with the help of a new series of loans from another office of Deutsche Bank, their private wealth sector.  Bloomberg estimated that by 2017 Trump owed the bank about $300 million, due in 2023 and 2024.  Meanwhile, beginning in 2005, Deutsche Bank had been involved in huge money-laundering deals with Russian interests.  Their Moscow office had developed close ties to leading Russian officials.  It does not seem at all impossible to me that the Russians had encouraged Deutsche Bank to bail Trump out in 2010 partly to secure leverage over him. Reading this part of the story, I was reminded of a recent interview in which John LeCarre described the similarity he saw between Trump and his own father, a lifelong con man, whom he described length in his novel A Perfect Spy.  LeCarre voiced his suspicion that Trump--like his father--actually has no real assets at all. I began to wonder, once again, if that might be true.

Jared Kushner is also deeply involved with Deutsche Bank, which lent him $285 million in October 2016 to pay off an earlier loan on the old New York Times building, which he had purchased from a Russian.  And in early December, Kushner met with Russian Ambassador Kislyak to propose setting up a secure communications channel, using Russian facilities, between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin.  He denied, when this was discovered, that lifting sanctions was discussed.

Where, then, does all this leave us?

The Trump campaign, from the moment that it first seemed likely to get the Repubican nomination, hired or involved three men--Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn--who had close personal and business ties to the Russian government and wanted to advance its interests, specifically by loosening or ending the sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration.  At least two of them were benefiting financially from that connection.  To judge from his many friendly statements about Putin--which continued after he took office--Trump would have been delighted to improve relations as well.  That proved impossible, as it turned out, because the whole effort became so obvious.  After Manafort, and then Flynn, had to leave the campaign and the Administration, Congress passed a new and tougher sanctions law tying Trump's hands.  One reason Tillerson has fallen out of favor may be that he could no longer play the role some had envisioned for him.

Manafort and Flynn face serious legal problems as a result of their Russian connections.  The real question is whether the President of the United States, Donald Trump, is bound to the Russian government by indirect financial obligations, compromising information developed during his trip to Moscow, money laundering deals over a period of years, or something else.  That would be a very proper subject for an impeachment inquiry, but I see no possibility that the House of Representatives will undertake one any time soon. They too are in thrall of oligarchs--though not, for the most part Russian ones. I have no idea how much of the story Robert Mueller will be able to uncover. I am afraid that the real story is much too complicated and intricate for our news media, as they are now configured, to convey to the American people. I have done what I can to do so today.

As I mentioned last week, Europe in the late 16th and early 17th century was ruled by oligarchs, largely independent of state authority.  Today much of the world is ruled that way--including, increasingly, the United States.  Within the Trump campaign, when Manafort had to go because his Russian patronage was exposed, he was replaced by Steve Bannon, a creature of an American oligarch, the hedge fund manager Robert Mercer.  The Koch brothers have just rammed the tax bill through Congress. Other oligarchs are influential within the Democratic Party.  Our President and the people around him are tied to the Russian oligarchy through Deutsche Bank and perhaps in other ways.  This is the world we live in, and it still would be, even if Donald Trump were to die tomorrow of natural causes.  I do not know what it would take to change it fundamentally and I don't expect that to happen any time soon.

Please share this post widely.

Friday, December 29, 2017

A Turning Point in history

As the year draws to a close, I believe that we are in the midst of a great turning point in western and world history, and that an era that began about 350 years ago might be coming to a close.  That era gave us western civilization and modern political institutions, based upon the Enlightenment, the idea that reason, embodied in the policy of the state, could improve the lives of nations.  It was an era of extraordinary intellectual ferment and a very creative era in politics and institutions.  I now see that I was born at perhaps the climax of that era, at the end of the Second World War, and that I lived through, and later wrote about, the events of the 1960s that were going to undermine it and, perhaps, consign it to the ash heap of history.  It is an extraordinary story, one whose consequences will continue to play out long after my generation has left the scene.

This era, which began in western Europe with the accession of Louis XIV, was characterized by the taming of the great landed aristocrats who, as I showed in Politics and War, had been at the bottom of so much domestic and international conflict in the years from 1559 through 1659.  Not only did Louis XIV create a much stronger French monarchy at home, but he also strengthened his fellow princes around Europe, rather than undermining them by subsidizing their leading aristocrats, as late 16th-century monarchs had done.  He also involved Europe in a series of wars--although they were limited wars that did not seek the complete overthrow of foreign governments.  That pattern of international politics persisted through the 18th century, until 1792.  Monarchs waged wars, in Europe and around the world, in pursuit of relatively small territorial claims.  They also waged them with relatively small armies, and civil life generally continued without much disruption during their wars.  Meanwhile, nations like Great Britain, France, Prussia, and, after 1776, the new United States, developed enormous civic pride in their institutions.  The United States specifically introduced the idea of a nation of equal citizens into western life in 1776, and it gained critical adherents in Europe as well.  During teh wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon, the European states performed unprecedented feats of mobilization and carried on war on a new scale.  Napoleon's conquests also spread the French model of a largely equal citizenry ruled by a bureaucratic state around much of Europe.  Great Britain was something of an exception.  While a democratic spirit had grown within Britain in the mid-18th century, the crown and the aristocracy reacted against it in reaction to the American and French revolutions.  But in all the major nations, loyalty to the state and its institutions had become a key political force, and so remained for another 150 years.

Shaken by the convulsions of the revolutionary and Napoleonic era, the European nations managed to avoid any wars of comparable scale for a century.  The United States, on the other hand, divided over the issue of slavery in mid-century, and fought its Civil War from 1861 through 1865. That war, as Lincoln said again and again, was fought to prove that the world's first freely elected, democratic government could preserve itself.  The governments and peoples of Europe saw it as a war between the democratic North and the aristocratic South, and lined up accordingly.  The northern victory was a victory for the democrats of Europe as well, and it was no accident that Britain (1867), Bismarck's new Germany (1866 and 1871), and France (1871) all moved much closer to genuine democracy and granted the vote to more, or all, of their male citizens as a result.

In the last decade of the 19th century, European politics became world politics.  Imperialism spread direct or indirect rule of the great western nations through Africa and parts of Asia, while certain non-European states such as Japan and the Ottoman Empire struggled to adapt their institutions so as to survive in the new environment.  Meanwhile, Eastern Europe--ruled by three multinational empires from Moscow, Vienna and Constantinople--struggled to deal with the new ideas of nationalism, democracy, and socialism, all of which threatened them at their foundations.  In 1914 a nationalist conflict between Serbia and Austria led to the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the outbreak of the First World War. German imperialism turned it into a world war for supremacy in Europe.  The war was, among other things, a struggle between monarchy, represented by Germany and Austria-Hungary, and the western democracies, as both the Emperor William II and President Woodrow Wilson understood.  In the end it shattered all the empires of Eastern and Central Europe and created a host of new states, all with democratic constitutions.  The attempt to spread democracy into eastern Europe, however, was a failure, and democracy also fell in Italy in 1922 and Germany in 1933.  Soviet Communism created the USSR.

By the mid-1930s a great confrontation among different states and forms of government was becoming imminent.  While France and Great Britain still stood, in essence, for the pre-1914 status quo, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and New Deal America offered new forms of government and new approaches to the problems of modern industrial society--as did Japan in the Far East. The Second World War was thus an ideological struggle, but it was waged by nation-states. It also brought the issue of nationalism to a horrifying climax in Europe, with tens of millions of people either murdered (by the Axis) or forcibly moved (by the allies) to create homogeneous states.  Only two fully autonomous nation states, the US and the USSR, emerged from that war,, and the alliances they formed became the new basis of international politics for the next 45 years.

Moscow and Washington were, among other things, presenting different Enlightenment models to the world.  Washington stood for western democracy and capitalism, Moscow for socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.  The competition between them had some very healthy effects in the west, which worked to show that it could provide for its working classes better than the Soviets could. In the United States the federal government pushed civil rights for black Americans partly o the grounds that the United States had to solve this problem to maintain world leadership.  American and European politics remained an inspiring career: political leaders, drawing on the large resources of their nations, could build enormous new infrastructure, regulate the economy, and compete on the world stage.  High marginal tax rates, which kept the government strong in relation to economic interests, were a legacy of the era of the world wars.  The world was moving forward, and by the early 1960s even Soviet Communism was beginning to evolve somewhat.  Then, in the mid 1960s, enormous changes began.

The beginning of the large-scale US intervention in Vietnam in 1965 coincided with the maturing of the Boom generation.  With five years, that war had convinced many of the wealthier and better-educated members of that generation that both US foreign policy and the whole US political and economic system was hopelessly corrupt.  Virtue was no longer to be sought at the highest levels of public service, but among the oppressed members of society, including racial minorities and, by the mid-1970s, women.  Such groups had been advancing within the old framework--albeit slowly--but now activists among them increasingly gave up the idea of simply carving out their place within the established order, and rejected it altogether instead.  Meanwhile, behind closed doors of corporations, another offensive against the Enlightenment idea of government was beginning.  A Virginia corporate lawyer, Louis Powell, wrote a very influential memorandum arguing that the free enterprise system had to mount a campaign to defend itself against government encroachment.  A network of very wealthy energy producers and industrialists began to subsidize right wing thought and search for new ways to influence politics.  Splits in the New Deal coalition opened to the door to an era of Republican ascendancy from 1969 through 1993.  Meanwhile, in Europe, the old national ideal gve way to the idea of the European Union, while Communism lost its hold on the imagination of younger generations.

The collapse of Communism in 1989-91 appeared to mark a worldwide triumph of western liberal democracy. Instead, it turned out to be the dying canary in the coal mine that might have warned us all about the decline of political institutions. Communism in the USSR gave way within 15 years to oligarchy and an authoritarian state.  Meanwhile, American politics increasingly fell under the control of a Republican party utterly devoted to the pursuit of private wealth, the increase of inequality, and an end to the New Deal model of a state that regulates inequality and provides for the basic needs of its citizens.  American politics has now become a profession for beggars and sycophants, not courageous leaders, and the politicians, as the results of the last few elections make clear, have lost touch with broad areas of the electorate. Meanwhile, cultural divides have made a truly national coalition impossible.  A career in business and television, it turns out, has become a better route to celebrity and popularity than a career as an elected official.  And so it was that Donald Trump in 2016 managed to destroy establishment Republican candidates in the primaries, and to prevail narrowly over the quintessential Democratic establishment candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton--who as I showed last week could not even turn out her own base--in the general election.  Trump is an oligarch, not a politician, and evidence is mounting that he came to power with the help of Russian oligarchs with whom he and some of his campaign had long-standing connections.  This is an echo of the 1559-1659 period, when the great nobles of various states frequently allied themselves with their counterparts in other states, or with foreign monarchs.

In my opinion, the repudiation of the traditions of the New Deal and Great Society has gone much too far for the simple election of a Democratic candidate in 2020 to revive it. Government now serves the interest of the wealthy at all levels, and inequality continues to grow.  Donald Trump is the cooperative figurehead for the Repubican coalition that has been organizing for decades to destroy the legacy of the last 100 years.    And that is what his Administration is doing, gutting the EPA, which has tried to protect us against health threats from the corporate world, and the State Department, which has kept the United States at the center of the great diplomatic conflicts of the world since 1945.  Yet Trump remains a significant historical development, as today's New York Times makes clear.  He is the first person to reach the White House without any commitment whatever to the principles that guided the United States through its great era of influence and power.  And this divides him, it seems, not only from foreign leaders like Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, and Teresa May, but from his senior foreign policy team of Rex Tillerson, H.R. McMaster, and James Mattis.

On July 20 last, it seems, Secretary of Defense Mattis convened a meeting of the top foreign policy team in the JCS "tank" in the Pentagon which the President attended. The Times describes what happened.

The group convened in the secure conference room of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a storied inner sanctum known as the tank. Mr. Mattis led off the session by declaring that “the greatest thing the ‘greatest generation’ left us was the rules-based postwar international order,” according to a person who was in the room.

After listening for about 50 minutes, this person said, Mr. Trump had heard enough. He began peppering Mr. Mattis and Mr. Tillerson with questions about who pays for NATO and the terms of the free trade agreements with South Korea and other countries.
The postwar international order, the president of the United States declared, is “not working at all.”

Friday, December 22, 2017

How Clinton Lost the Election

The alliance of the Trump White House, the Koch donor network, and the Congressional Republicans it controls has won a huge victory, passing another big tax cut that will once again balloon the deficit, the same result achieved by Nixon and Ford, Reagan and Bush I, and Bush II--leaving a mess for the next Democratic President to clean up, and creating more pressure to cut the size of the federal government.  Donald Trump may yet add new dimensions to the crisis in American life, but with respect to the tax cut, he has merely continued the ongoing, 40-year trend of our politics and economics, which is rooted in the most profound historical changes.  In the wake of this milestone, however--and building on the revealing (I thought) analysis of the Alabama election which I did last week--I decided to look more carefully at last year's results, which I had never done before.  I realize now that the research I have done so far is incomplete, and I might finish it at some point down the road, but it still makes certain things  unmistakably clear.  Here, in summary form, are my conclusions.

1.  The 2016 election was marked, as much as anything, by an erosion in the support for both of our two major political parties--but especially of the Democrats.  While the total popular vote for President increased by 4.5% over 2012, the Republican share of that vote fell by -1.1%--and the Democratic share fell by -2.9.  Minor parties, mainly the Libertarians and to a lesser extend the Greens, increased their share from 1.8% in 2012 to 5.8% in 2016.

2.  Different parts of the country moved in significantly different directions between 2012 and 2016.  While Hillary Clinton did substantially worse overall than Barack Obama, winning 48.1 % of the national vote compared to his 51%, she did better in some states, including California, where she did 2.2% better, and Texas, where she gained 1.8%.  On the other hand, She did an astonishing 4.3% worse in her home state of New York, even though she still carried it handily, by 59% to 36.5% . This is where I might have done more research--I do not have this data, as yet, for every single state.  But it is very clear that Clinton owed her margin of the popular vote to the votes of deep blue and in some cases deep red states (such as Texas)--not to swing states.

3.  In the states that decided the election--both the ones that were identified as purple (Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, New Hampshire, Colorado, Nevada, and Ohio) and the ones that were wrongly assumed to be firmly in the Democratic column (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota)--Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Democratic Party got the proverbial crap beaten out of them.  That speaks, presumably, both to the weakness of his candidacy at a personal level and to the ineptitude of her campaign, which failed both to recognize the danger in some of those states, or to out campaign the Republicans in the states they actually focused on.  Donald Trump increased Mitt Romney's share of the vote in those states by .7% overall;  Hillary Clinton's share fell -4.5% from what Barack Obama earned in 2012.  And Clinton lost support relative to Obama not only in the states that cost her the electoral vote, but in the purple states she carried, including New Hampshire, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada.

Let us look at the swing states one by one.

In Pennsylvania, Clinton earned fewer votes, in absolute terms, than Obama in 2012, even though the overall vote in the state increased by 7.2%  Trump increased the Republican share of the vote by 1.6% (to 48.2%); Clinton's share fell from Obama's 52% to 47.5%

In Ohio, the fall in the Democratic vote share was the second-highest among the swing states, an almost incredible -7.1%.  Trump on the other hand increased the Republican share by 4%. Turnout overall was down 1.5%.

Virginia and Colorado were the only two swing states in which Donald Trump did substantially worse than Mitt Romney--minus 2.9% worse in each of those states.  Clinton's share of the vote also fell below Obama's in those two states, and in Colorado, it fell even more than Trump's did (-3.3%), but she still won them both.  (The minor parties obviously did very well in Colorado.)  In New Hampshire, where Clinton won by the narrowest of margins, Trump posted an impressive gain of 4.5% while she lost -5.1%.

North Carolina was another state where the total vote increased but the shares of both major parties fell. Once again, Clinton's fell more (-2.2% compared to -0.6%), and she lost worse than Obama.  In Florida the total vote showed one of the largest increases in the nation, 11.2, and Trump virtually held on to Romney's share while Clinton dropped -2.2%.  The Democratic failure in a state where turnout increased so much is a frightening sign.

That leaves Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota--the rust belt.  The Democratic share of the vote in those states declined by -6.9%, -10.2% [sic!], -6.4%, and -6.6%.  The Republican share grew by 2.8%, 5%, and 1.3% in Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin, but declined by -0.6% in Minnesota, where Clinton hung on for a narrow victory.

Now Clinton did win the popular vote against Donald Trump.  I do not agree with those who think that that fact deligitimizes Trump's win.  Not only did he win according to the rules of our Constitution, but we also have no idea what would have happened had the two candidates actually been competing for a plurality or majority of the popular vote.  More than that, however, Clinton's victory in the popular vote should not be allowed to obscure another significant fact. Barack Obama in 2012 won 51% of the total popular vote, to 47.2% for Mitt Romney.  Clinton won only 48.1%, to 46% from Donald Trump.   Trump did a better job of holding on to Romney's votes than Clinton did in holding on to Obama's.  Meanwhile, the minor party share increased from 1.8% in 2012 to 5.8% in 2016.  That is a sign of a collapsing political system.

2020 is a long way off, but in my opinion, these results still provide important lessons for Democrats.  First of all, they cannot get back into the White House by getting stronger either in deep blue states or n deep red ones: they have to focus on the rust belt and southeastern states where they lost the last election.  Their establishment, represented in 2016 by Clinton, did not energize voters in those states, including the ones in which they won.  Secondly, they need to face the painful question of whether sexism cost Clinton the election in those states, and if it looks like it did, they have to make a hardheaded political calculation that they need a male candidate in 2020.  Just writing that sentence, I know how angry it will make many blue state Democrats, but the point of politics--expecially at an historical moment like this one--is to win.  Lastly, there is a bonanza of voters--more than enough to swing an election--out there who have tuned out both parties.  It would behoove the Democrats to pay attention to them.