Sunday, January 28, 2018
I figured the big political story of the week was Trump going to Davos,
announcing "America is open for business," and hat-in-hand begging foreign
capitalists to invest in America. He'd probably tell you that the reason
he's courting foreign investment is to create jobs for Americans, but
that's merely a second-order side-effect. The reason capitalists invest
money is for profits -- to take more money back out of America than they
put in. By "open for business" Trump means "come rip us off -- we'll make
it easy for you."
Trump's Davos mission effectively ends any prospect that Trump might
have actually tried to implement some sort of "economic nationalist"
agenda. The odds that he would do so were never very good. The balance
of corporate power has swung from manufacturing to finance, and that
has driven the globalization that has undermined America's manufacturing
base while greatly increasing the relative wealth of the top percent.
Trump himself has benefited from this scheme, not really by working the
finance and trade angles as by offering rich investors diversifying
investments in high-end real estate.
None of this was really a secret when Trump was campaigning. To the
extent he had concrete proposals, they were always aimed at making it
easier for businesses, including banks, to screw over customers (and
employees), policy consistent throughout his own long career. Given
that's all he ever wanted to do, it's not just laziness for him to kick
back and let the Republican Party policy wonks go crazy. It's not even
clear that Trump cares about his signature anti-immigration stance. Sure,
the hard-liners he's surrounded himself with have been able to keep him
in line (although his occasional thrashing adds confusion to the issue,
and thus far camouflage -- much ado last week about his seemingly generous
offer on the "dreamers" wrapped up in numerous unpalatable demands).
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important politics stories of the week:
The government reopened (until February 8, anyhow); Trump released his
hostage demands; Mueller is working on obstruction of justice; Pennsylvania
Republicans got some bad news: embattled Rep. Pat Meehan is retiring, and
the Supreme Court ruled against a gerrymander map which gave Republicans
a 13-5 House margin. Other Yglesias pieces this week:
Dean Baker: The Corporate Tax Cut Bonanza.
Jane Coaston: In 2008, Hillary Clinton's faith adviser was accused of
sexual harassment -- and was kept on: More telling, his victim was
reassigned. Still, for me the more shocking (at least more dispiriting)
aspect of the story is that she had a "faith adviser." Didn't that sort
of role go out of fashion with Rasputin?
Masha Gessen: At Davos -- and Always -- Donald Trump Can Only Think in
the Present Tense: Notes that Trump managed to get through Davos
without making any outrageous faux pas, while media ignored anything
of longer-term import:
Reading the U.S. media, you would think that all the attendees of Davos
2018 cared about was whether Donald Trump obeyed the teleprompter and
sounded reasonably civilized while inviting the moneybags of the world
to invest in the United States. [George] Soros's remarks got a bit of
coverage, while the more visionary conversation seemed not to register at
all. This shows how provincial we have become. Our chronic embarrassment --
or fear of embarrassment -- when it comes to our President may be a new
phenomenon, but our lack of imagination is not. The American political
conversation has long been based on outdated economic and social ideas,
and now it's really showing.
By the way, I haven't seen this in any piece on the web, but Seth
Myers, in a subordinate clause, mentioned that no American president
had attended Davos before Trump since 2000. That means the last US
president to take advantage of the opportunity to pander before the
global elites was . . . Bill Clinton. Even there, it's possible that
the lame duck was more interested in lining up contributors to his
future foundation than anything else. I think I actually recall a
story about Clinton in Davos: if memory serves, he skipped out on
the ill-fated Camp David negotiations between Barak and Arafat --
his inattention contributing to both failure and the breakout of the
so-called Al-Aqsa Intifada following that failure. Should be some
sort of cautionary tale, but it's probably true that Trump had
nothing better that he was capable of doing.
For more on what Soros had to say, see:
John Cassidy: How George Soros Upstaged Donald Trump at Davos.
Ryan Grim/Lee Fang: The Dead Enders: "Candidates who signed up to
battle Donald Trump must get past the Democratic Party first."
German Lopez: Marshall County, Kentucky, high school shooting: what we
know: For starters, two dead, eighteen others injured. Among the
- The shooting comes a day after another shooting at a high school
in Italy, Texas, where a 16-year-old student shot a 15-year-old girl,
who is now recovering from her injuries.
- This part of Kentucky has seen school shootings in the past, the
AP reported: "Marshall County High School is about 30 minutes from Heath
High School in Paducah, Kentucky, where a 1997 mass shooting killed three
and injured five."
- So far in 2018, there have been at least 11 school shootings . . .
Kali Holloway: Trump isn't crazy, he's just a terrible person:
Interview with Allen Frances, the psychiatrist who wrote the DSM entry
on narcissistic personality disorder. Frances also has a more general
book: Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age
of Trump. Such a book could be interesting, but his answers in the
interview don't guarantee that it will be.
Patrick Lawrence: Now the US is playing spoiler role in Korea, Syria
and elsewhere. But why? News items include new, arbitrary and
unilateral sanctions against North Korea and Russia, and an avowal
to leave US troops in Syria after ISIS has been defeated (meaning,
driven from its previous territory). One can think of other cases
where the US is acting aggressive arbitrarily with no evident hope
or interest in advancing a diplomatic solution. Trump's mandarins
seem to regard diplomacy with such phobia they can't even imagine
how to accept surrender, much less consider any form of compromise.
On Syria, also see
Patrick Cockburn: By Remaining in Syria the US Is Fuelling More Wars
in the Middle East.
Charlie May: The Koch brothers are "all in" for 2018 with plans to spend
up to $400 million: As Charles Koch said, "We've made more progress
in the last five years than I had in the previous 50."
Sarah Okeson: Making the world safe for loan sharks: "Trump's consumer
protection office helps payday loan companies exploit borrowers." Moreover,
they don't even have to try changing the law. They can just stop enforcing
Paul Kiel: Newly defanged, top consumer protection agency drops
investigation of high-cost lender.
Andrew Prokop: Trump's attempt to fire Robert Mueller, explained:
The event in question actually happened last June, when the White House
counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out the order. Trump was
subsequently talked down by White House staff. Strikes me as one of many
cases where Trump's default position is to think he can do anything he
wants -- even something which is not a very good idea. Very likely Trump
ran into problems like that even before becoming president: businessmen
routinely check with lawyers before carrying out their arbitrary whims,
and probably get shot down a lot. So I wouldn't make a big deal out of
this particular incident, but it does illustrate that Trump thinks he's
above the law, and that could well turn into a problem. For more, see:
Emily Stewart: Lindsey Graham: firing Mueller "would be the end" of the
Esme Cribb: Gowdy to GOP Colleagues: Mueller Is 'Fair' So 'Leave Him the
Jeffrey Toobin: The Answer to Whether Trump Obstructed Justice Now Seems
Daniel Rodgers: The Uses and Abuses of "Neoliberalism", plus comments
Julia Ott: Words Can't Do the Work for Us,
Mike Konczal: How Ideology Works,
NDB Connolly: A White Story, and
Timothy Shenk: Jargon or Clickbait?, plus a
reply by Rodgers. I haven't sorted through all of this, but Konczal is
certainly right that there is a coherent and dangerous ideology there, even
if the word "neoliberalism" isn't an especially good summation of it. My
own experience with the word is largely conditioned by the following:
- I first encountered the word as used by British leftists like David
Harvey -- author of A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005); also
see his interview,
Neoliberalism Is a Political Project,
Thinking Through David Harvey's Theorisation of Neoliberalism, and (more
RSA Animate: Crises of Capitalism -- so
it always struck me as an Anglicism, preconditioned by the fact that in
British politics the Liberal party is distinct from Labour and rooted in
19th century laissez-faire. Similar liberals once existed in the US, but
they generally made their peace with labor in the New Deal Democrats,
while conservatives have turned "liberal" into a broad curse word meant
to cover any and all leftist deviancies.
- Granted, since the 1970s a faction of Democrats have wanted to
stress both their traditional liberal beliefs and their opposition to
social democracy/welfare state, usually combined with support for an
aggressive anti-communist foreign policy. Some actually called themselves
neoliberals. Later the term became useful to opponents for describing
so-called New Democrats, with their eager support for business interests,
globalization and ("humanitarian") interventionist foreign policy -- the
Clintons, most obviously.
- Meanwhile, a group which single-mindedly promoted an aggressive,
hegemony-seeking foreign policy came to call themselves neoconservatives.
While they tended to support conventional conservative causes in domestic
policy, they frequently styled their prescriptions for other countries
as neoliberalism -- presumably to give it a softer edge, although the
agenda meant to impose austerity in government while liberating capital
everywhere. For a while I was tempted to treat this as a unified ideology
and call it "neoism."
Danny Sjursen: Wrong on Nam, Wrong on Terror: Reviews a long list
of books about America's Vietnam War seeking to reverse in theory the
actual results of the war: failure, withdrawal, and defeat. (One book
he doesn't get around to is Max Boot: The Road Not Taken: Edward
Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam.) Sjursen points out
that many of today's prominent War on Terror architects became officers
shortly after Vietnam, so their education was formed in understanding
(or more often misunderstanding) that war's lessons. That should give
them a head start in rewriting imaginary Wars on Terror -- you know,
the kind where we get to win.
Matt Taibbi: How Donald Trump's Schizoid Administration Upended the
GOP: Taibbi continues to worry about the health of our two-party
Pre-trump, the gop was a brilliant if unlikely coalition -- a healthy
heaping of silent-majority racial paranoia, wedded to redundant patriotism
and Christian family values, in service of one-percenter policies that
benefited exactly the demographic the average Republican voter hated most
of all: Richie Rich city dwellers who embraced globalist economics, read
The Economist and may even have been literally Jewish. In other
words, Jared Kushner.
Just 12 months later, all of those groups are now openly recoiling
from one another with the disgusted vehemence of a bunch of strangers
waking up in a pile after a particularly drunken and embarrassing keg
party. Polls show that conservative Christians, saddled with a president
who pays off porn stars and brags about grabbing women by the pussy,
are finally, if slowly, slinking away from the Trump brand.
Yacht-accident victim Rupert Murdoch and other GOP kingmakers are
in a worse spot. They've watched in horror as once-obedient viewers
shook off decades of Frankensteinian programming and went rogue. Since
2016, the audience has turned to the likes of Breitbart and Alex Jones'
InfoWars for more purely distilled versions of the anti-government,
anti-minority hysteria stations like Fox once pumped over the airwaves
to keep old white people awake and agitated enough to watch the
commercials. An October Harvard-Harris poll showed 61 percent of
Republicans support Bannon's movement to unseat the Republican
establishment. . . .
A year into this presidency, in other words, the Republicans have
become a ghost ship of irreconcilable voter blocs, piloted by a madman
executive who's now proved he's too unstable to really represent any
of them, and moreover drives party divisions wider every time he opens
Taibbi misunderestimates Republicans at all levels. For the base, it
would be nice to think that they flocked to Trump over fifteen generic
conservative clones because they wanted a candidate who would protect
safety nets like Social Security, who would "drain the swamp" of moneyed
special interests, who would avoid war, and who might even have the bold
imagination to replace crappy Obamacare with single payer. You can find
support for all those hopes in Trump's campaign blather, but if you paid
more than casual attention you'd realize he was simply the biggest fraud
of all. Rather, it's more likely that the base flocked to Trump because
they recognized he was as confused and filled with kneejerk spite as they
were. Where they misjudged him wasn't on policy; it was in thinking that
as a billionaire he must be a functional, competent sociopath -- someone
who could act coherently even with an agenda that made no sense.
On the other hand, all the Republican donor establishment really wanted
was a front man who could sell their self-interest to enough schmoes to
seize power and cram their agenda through. While Trump wasn't ideal, they
realized he had substantial appeal beyond what more reliable tools like
Paul Ryan and Mike Pence could ever dream of. Perhaps some recognized the
downside of running a flamboyant moron, but even so they've managed to
overcome incredible embarrassments before and bounce right back: witness
the Tea Party outburst and their triumphant 2010 election just two years
after GW Bush oversaw the meltdown of the entire economy. So Trump proves
to be a complete disaster? They'll steal what they can while they can,
maybe lose an election, and bounce right back as if nothing that happened
was ever their fault.
For more on how they do this, see:
Ari Berman: How the GOP Rigs Elections.
Rachel Wolfe: The awards for 2018's quintessentially American restaurants
all went to immigrants.