Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What do voters want?

The Nottingham University professor, Steven Fielding, has published two posts on the excellent university politics blog, Ballots and Bullets, dealing with the issue of what voters want - and therefore vote for - in their political leaders.

His first post was written after Theresa May appeared on the One Show.  In explaining why she would take part in a light entertainment magazine show, he noted that not only was she after its audience - some 5 million probably not very political viewers - but also needed to use the show to develop her empathy with voters.  Reasoned argument does not penetrate particularly far in a modern election, and some might dispute that two or three repeated mantras amounts to reasonable argument in any case. What voters are looking for is someone they can both admire as leaders and support as individuals who understand their own circumstances.  Fielding notes Aristotle's argument on "ethos, pathos and logos" in developing his point.

In his subsequent post, Fielding looks at the desire for voters to have a "strong and stable" leader.  Again, one might dispute whether the facts of May's leadership thus far really merit those words (weakness in the face of popular press campaigning and U-turning on budget promises within days don't constitute either strength or stability) but the reality is that she and her campaign managers have been successful in instilling that as a feature of her leadership.  Fielding references the arguments on "strong man [or person]" leadership from Plato, via Carlyle to Archie Brown (who disliked it but acknowledged the public's desire for it).

Fielding's two posts are engaging and accessible for A-level students, and help to consider what the features are for a successful leader in elections (both American and British).  They also illuminate the ongoing problem for anyone who thinks electoral politics is about an engagement of rational ideas, competing for the available political space.  It isn't and probably never has been.  It is about an engagement with the gut instinct of voters, the vast majority of whom are not interested in the minutiae of ideas.  Most voters, indeed, are not particularly exercised by the idea of democracy itself (the number of non-voters certainly indicates this, while even those who do vote contain a large number of agnostics who wouldn't miss the process if it were abolished).  What exercises them is the need for food, shelter, jobs and the chance of leisure - all exercised without obvious government presence.  If they do want to acknowledge a leader, they want that leader to look as if he or she knows what they're doing, makes occasional obeisance to the people's condition, and harasses their enemies with the minimum of actual conflict.  Currently, May understands that better than Corbyn.  Much better.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

How voters think....or don't

There was a fascinating piece on the "Today" programme this morning (scroll to 1:20:35).  Listen to these voters try and identify party policies (they mostly fail), and then explain why it doesn't matter anyway.  They may or may not be a representative sample, but these ordinary voters are classic examples of the principle of voting with the gut rather than the mind.  They are happy that they don't really understand any policies, it doesn't matter what detail parties promise as "they all promise the same and never deliver".  The personality of the leader is the most important thing.

Parties spend a lot of time developing their manifestos.  Voters spend a lot of time ignoring them and then claiming the promises don't amount to a hill of beans anyway.  Win the battle of perception and you've pretty well clinched the election.  That's Lynton Crosby's key understanding, and Theresa May - neither particularly strong or particularly stable as it happens - is his most obedient pupil.  Of course she's winning.  Policies have nothing to do with it.

One friend who has been canvassing for the Lib Dems reported a voter telling him that it was important to vote for Theresa May as she needed all our support to negotiate for Brexit.  That's nonsense and it doesn't actually mean anything.  But it is the simple mantra put out regularly by May and co, and a voter who doesn't spend much time thinking about politics has swallowed it whole.

Want to be depressed about human nature?  Want to understand Thomas Hobbes a bit more?  Follow an election!



The failure of Republican leadership

It is truly stunning that the President of the United States has almost certainly given classified information to the Russians because he loves bragging and has no control over his tongue.  He has himself pretty well admitted this in his latest tweets (here and here).

It is worth taking a moment to think about how extraordinary this is.  The president of the United States gives intelligence to the Russians!  This was the stuff of jokes not very long ago, or far fetched political thrillers.  Now, it's real.

Now consider the reaction of the Republican leaders on the Hill, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.  They hounded Hillary Clinton over her emails (though no significant information was ever discovered to have leaked) and set up numerous committees to investigate the Benghazi Embassy attack.  They portray themselves as American patriots.  With the exception of a half-hearted mention by Ryan, they have had nothing to say on this issue.  No comment on the fact that the president has given classified information to a hostile power, endangering the intelligence relationship with an ally in so doing.

Ryan and McConnell have spent a long time demeaning themselves and placing party interests before country, but so far this is their nadir.  It's ok to put intelligence lives at risk and betray your country's secrets if it means keeping a Republican in the White House.  McConnell has already shown how little he regards America's once revered constitution with his party games over the Supreme Court.  Ryan's whole mission in his political life has been to cut funding to any form of welfare programmes. Not exactly a couple of inspiring political heroes even before the Trump juggernaut exposed their self-serving, vindictive and malicious political dealing.

Donald Trump is a braggart and a moron who has little idea of the implications of his actions.  His only defence is that no-one expected any better of him; his whole political adventure has been to extend the brand of Trump and give his barely thought through political beliefs a megaphone to the world.  But Ryan and McConnell have come through political life.  They have brains of a higher working order.  Unlike Trump, they do know exactly what they are doing.  And it is one of the most depressing political spectacles ever witnessed.  Not since the days of Franz von Papen have we seen such naked political self-interest and cowardly retreat from morality give service to such an unspeakable populist power.

 When the history of the decline and fall of the American Republic is written, Ryan and McConnell will have prominent roles.  But why would they care?  What is the future of the republic compared to their political careers?


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Firing Comey won't hurt Trump

President Trump's sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey, just after a former fired Justice Dept official, Sally Yates, had been giving damning evidence to Congress, is an extraordinary event.  But not unprecedented in style.

Trump has fired Comey while Comey is overseeing an investigation into Trump's links with Russia.  Back in 1973, Republican president Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox while Cox was investigating Nixon's links to the Watergate break-in.  Reports have not been slow to raise the links, and Democrats on the Hill have quickly referred to the Comey firing as "Nixonian".

Nixon's actions led to his eventual impeachment.   But enemies of Mr. Trump shouldn't be too keen to expect significant retaliatory action against him.  Here's why.

1.  Nixon's actions came after a slow-burning revelation of the internal paranoia of his presidency through initially unregarded reports in the Washington Post.  By the time Cox was fired, the Nixon White House was already in a state of siege.

2.  Nixon faced a Democrat controlled House and Senate ready to use their significant constitutional power to investigate him.

3.  Trump faces a House and Senate controlled by virtually supine Republican leaders utterly in thrall to his presidency.  Ryan, McConnell, Nunes, Grassley and others have all shown their willingness to roll over in front of Trump if it furthers their judicial or economic agenda.

4.  Trump still retains a strong support from his voting core.  This won't budge.  He has already faced down public protest over a range of other unorthodox or unethical moves in his frist 100 days; this is simply one more.

5.  The presidency was still regarded as having to work by understood ethical and political standards under Nixon.  He breached those, and thus began his downfall.

6.  There has never been an understanding that Trump will use the presidency in a dignified or ethical way.  Media and political opposition have failed to shift this narrative, due to Trump's continuing hard-line support from his activists and an extraordinary abdication by Republicans of any thought that they will offer independent scrutiny of the president.

7.  Popular pressure is all, but it has to be seen to be large and widespread.  After Nixon's firing telegrams and messages poured into Congress and the White House from concerned citizens.  It suggested a general shift in the public mood away from the president.  Trump can remain secure in the knowledge that the base which put him into office still would so again.  Millions of opponents in Calfifornia or New York will have no impact on him.

8.  The Democrats have colluded in undermining Comey, notably Hillary Clinton herself.  She has consistently blamed him for her own election defeat and been supported in this view by supporters such as Chuck Schumer.  This makes any opposition they now express to Comey's firing extremely suspect.  They should have kept quiet and understood the need to coalesce around an independnet minded Director who was, after all, appointed by a Democratic president.

No-one can tell how this latest abuse of presidential power will run.  Trump is still at the beginning of his presidency, he enjoys support where it matters, and neither the media nor Democrats have yet found a way of seriously challenging him.  They may still not have managed to do so in four years' time.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

US Politics - A-level round-up

Parties

Democrats in the House

While Republicans have effectively divided into two warring parties over the Obamacare repeal, Democrats have retained a strong congressional unity, says the Washington Post’s Daily 202.

Key points:

1-      Democrats have voted with consistent unanimity in rejecting repeal proposals, even those up for re-election in Trump states and districts
2-      The House Democratic caucus has changed since Obamacare’s passage in 2010.  “Blue Dogs” have been wiped out and the party’s base has moved left; of 34 Democrats who opposed Obamacare in 2010, only 3 are still sitting in 2017 and they are all opposed to GOP repeal attempts.
3-      The Democrats are reacting to the so-called Resistance movement’s pressure from outside the House; similar to Republicans and the tea party at the beginning of Obama’s presidency
4-      House Democrat Leader Nancy Pelosi acknowledges it is easier to mobilise votes against something than for something and imposes strict discipline on her caucus
5-      In a Washington Post interview, also promoted in the Daily 202, Pelosi noted the importance of keeping the Democrat tent a wide one, incorporating pro-lifers as well as abortion rights activists.

Democrat Problems

“Commentary’s” Noah Rothman says the Democrats have been learning the wrong lessons from their 2016 defeats:

1-      Blaming Hillary Clinton and other external party factors for their defeat, the Democrats have concluded that re-energising their base is the way forward
2-      The problem is that the Democrat base was already energised in 2016 – but for Donald Trump
3-      The so-called “Obama Coalition” seemed to show that Democrats no longer needed their white working-class voters; 2016 showed that Clinton could not keep the “Obama Coalition” in place – perhaps no other Democrat can
4-      Democrats are thus allowing a new and radicalised base to drive them, whilst ignoring the original white working-class base which used to win them elections





Hillary Clinton on defeat

Hillary Clinton has been speaking about her reaction to her defeat in an interview with CNN’s Christine Amanpour.  Whilst accepting “personal responsibility” for the defeat, she also cited other factors as being decisive – notably James Comey’s re-opening her email case, the Wikileaks hack of John Podesta’s emails, and misogyny in politics.   Clinton’s campaign has also been the subject of a “tell-all” book – “Shattered” – which is hostile to the former Secretary of State’s failed candidacy against Donald Trump, suggesting she was insular, secretive and isolated from disenchanted Democrat voters. 



Race and Parties

Trump and the resurgence of race issues

President Donald Trump has reiterated his admiration for President Andrew Jackson (the first real “Democrat” president), claiming that had Jackson been president later the Civil War would not have happened, in an interview with the Washington Examiner.

Salon writer Chauncey Devega sees this as further evidence of Trump and the Republicans’ neo-Confederate racist leanings.  His key take-aways:

1-      Trump’s inner circle hold white ethno-nationalist, supremacist beliefs
2-      They came to power in part by promoting a false idea of white victimhood
3-      Andrew Jackson, who carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the American west against Native Americans, is an appropriate symbol for this movement
4-      Neo-confederates promote a historical fiction that the Civil War was not about slavery but states’ rights
5-      It is no surprise that the KKK endorsed Donald Trump
6-      Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act gave birth to the modern, white supremacist Republican Party.  It “transformed the party of Abraham Lincoln into the party of Jefferson Davis”.
7-      The Trump Administration’s treatment of undocumented Latino immigrants is redolent of the hunting of fugitive slaves before the civil war.
8-      Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions continues to be dogged by allegations of a racist past.

Historical note: The Washington Post noted that Democrat House Leader Nancy Pelosi sat beneath a portrait of the first Republican president Abraham Lincoln, while Trump espouses the virtues of the first Democratic president Andrew Jackson.




Saturday, April 22, 2017

The bleak outlook for liberalism - in all parties


Labour and the Conservatives have never been particularly hospitable homes for their moderate, centrist members.  Corralled within an insulated party bubble consisting mainly of true believers, the moderate members have often been regarded as potential betrayers, consensual minded types who occasionally find common ground with their opponents; worse, as people who seem too willing to question the orthodoxies of their chosen tribe and challenge some of their heart-held beliefs.  What kept them going was the belief that their party leaderships, whatever they said in public, often shared their own centrist, outward-reaching attitudes.  In a sense they had to, for how else could they expect to govern except with the support of some of that part of the electorate which didn’t traditionally identify with their party?  So for decades in the past century or so, the two parties were, for the most part, led by mainstream centrists. 

Since 1945, the Labour party has had only one exception to this general rule until Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpected victory; Michael Foot, who presided over the disastrous defeat of 1983.  For the Conservatives, the story has been more mixed, as the era of One Nation leadership came to an abrupt halt with Margaret Thatcher’s election as leader in 1975.  Her electoral success was enabled by weak and divided opposition, but her leadership eventually became too divided for the party’s parliamentary leadership and was brutally shunted aside in favour of the more centrist John Major in 1990.  Major’s appeal brought his party an extra term in government, but his three successors ditched the appeal to moderation and presided over two election defeats until the more One Nation oriented David Cameron took over. 

Even in their darkest times – the early 80s for moderate Labourites, the noughties for moderate Tories – moderate members of each party could take solace from both the possibility of a return to favour at the top, and the knowledge that at least their opponents weren’t out and out lunatics.  A centrist Labour leadership benefited from the Tory retreat into its right-wing laager in the noughties just as David Cameron was able to see off the leftwards tilt of Ed Miliband.  Alas, no more.

If the liberal progressives in either party were tempted to be despairing about the outcome of the Brexit referendum, that is as nothing compared to the political landscape that looms before us in the 2017 general election and its aftermath.  Never has it been such a bad time to be a moderate in politics.  While Jeremy Corbyn exercises a complete control over the Labour party on behalf of his left-wing supporting movement, Momentum, Theresa May abandoned some time ago any attempt to face down her right-wing in turn.  Indeed, for all the eloquence of her chief of staff’s speech writing in the early months, it is difficult to discern a clear political vision from May, other than the need to stay in power and bludgeon a hard Brexit through parliament whatever the consequences.  There is a small remnant of moderate, independent minded MPs on the Tory benches, but they are unlikely to be much enlarged by the influx of new Tory MPs on the back of this election.

It is a bleak picture, but is there some light to be had from the direction of the Liberal Democrats?  Tim Farron has bounded fresh faced and energetic into the election and his party has trumpeted over 5,000 new members since the election was called.  They may even pick up seats – probably at the expense of Tory MPs in Remain-leaning southern metropolitan seats, or traditionally liberal south-western ones.  As nice as such a boost will be, they are unlikely to reach their glory days of 60 plus MPs without further work in the Labour strongholds of the north, and here it is more likely to be Tories – as in Copeland – who take the prize.

Why has liberalism, the progressive attitude once prevalent in all parties, reached such a dire state?

In essence liberalism has never been a far-reaching ideology in populist terms. Labour’s brand of social liberalism was smuggled onto the statute books by Roy Jenkins and his successors on the back of its more populist electoral appeal to manual Britain for better wages and working conditions, and better public services.  Margaret Thatcher’s economic liberalism came cloaked in populist attacks upon the failures of social democracy, and then appeals to national identity (via the Falklands and latterly Europe). 

Progressive liberals always sought validation from the establishment in power, and not from the people.  The belief in a reasoned, consensual, progressive building of a civilised state served by governments committed to at least some aspects of the liberal cause wasn’t one easily sold in gut electoral terms.  But populism was always tearing away at the fabric.  Most people, uninterested in politics and prepared to vote instinctively and emotively, and once upon a time tribally, had no time for the finer aspects of political debate and theorising.  While the liberal state delivered, this seemed fine, especially when each party had a core of leaders committed to variations on the same project.  Nevertheless, as turbulence swept the global community, and mass migration became a feature, the fragile belief in a liberal state that could both serve its people and extend magnanimity towards others started to explode. 

The incendiary devices for such resentment had long been readily to hand in the form of the popular press.  Once the liberal state stumbled in its attempt to explain the impact of global trends that put indigenous workers out of their jobs, and seemed to fail to arrest influxes of foreign workers to occupy the lower reaches of the salary earning spectrum, the way was open for the ever louder beat of nationalism. 

It came from the right-wing press, and was quickly adopted by politicians with an eye to the main chance.  It seems odd, in the age of social media and the generally accepted ability of anyone and everyone to forge their own news sources via facebook, blogs and twitter, to talk of the power of the press, but power it is.  Few twitter accounts or facebook pages can match the reach – even today – of traditional newspapers.  Where social media is bifurcated and diverse, newspapers still provide a common currency in news and opinion.  In some respects, social media merely amplifies this.  A single front page in the most powerful of the papers – the Mail or the Sun – can drive social media comment for days.  A largely mediocre political class remains in thrall to the apparent and high profile power of newspapers.  The Telegraph had MPs on the run for months over expenses a few years ago; Theresa May crafts her agenda almost entirely to suit the Mail and the Sun today.  And what makes these papers even more powerful is their ability to dance to the otherwise inchoate beat of the nationalist drum up and down the country.

Liberalism – the belief in reasoned, rational politics – is upended today by the resurgent triumph of nationalism.  In a shrewd column recently, the Economist’s new Bagehot (Adrian Wooldridge) identified the posthumous triumph of Enoch Powell’s vision for Britain (“Thethird man”).  The party that succeeds, he argued, would be the party that successfully articulated this ideal of a national identity, and he further noted that Theresa May’s provincially rooted Englishness seemed to have a far better chance of success than Labour’s messy, divided party. 

For the liberal, this is a most unappetising vision.  Having successfully emerged from the last wreckage of nationalist triumph in the first half of the twentieth century, securing what seemed to be a permanent supra-national and liberal dominance, the collapsing of that same hegemony, and the accompanying lack of confidence in its future, is once again unleashing the darkest of political forces.


It is a bleak time indeed to be a moderate.  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

6 quick election announcement takeaways

       1.  Theresa May hasn’t actually called a general election yet.  She can’t.  The Fixed Term Parliament Act leaves that decision with the House of Commons, so in reality the fate of this putative election lies with the other parties (see Lord Norton's short sharp analysis).  If Labour – as Corbyn has asserted – supports the call, along with the SNP and the Lib Dems, then the one thing they cannot do is accuse May of putting party interest before country.  The Act no longer allows her to do that.  Instead, it makes a 2/3rds majority of MPs responsible instead.  Murmurings of turkeys and early Christmases spring to mind, and I do wonder if all Labour MPs are going to sign up to Corbyn’s suicide pact tomorrow.  If they do, then for more than a few it will be a means to hastening their unloved leader’s end.

2.       2.  Most forecasts – actually all forecasts – give the Tories a whopping likely majority.  This is pretty solid, and it will take a small political earthquake to dislodge the Tory advantage (although…Trump, anyone?).  Therefore much of the interest will be on how the opposition forces realign themselves.  If Labour really does head into an electoral meltdown, are the Liberal Democrats well placed to take advantage of it?  Tim Farron was far more sure-footed today than Jeremy Corbyn, and the Lib Dems are claiming a thousand new members in the few hours since Theresa May’s announcement.  They may also benefit from the “Remain” leaning seats currently held by Tories in south London and the south west – some estimates put their possible gains from the Tories at 27 seats.  Nevertheless, can the Lib Dems also budge Labour in its northern heartlands?  The now redundant Manchester Gorton by-election was showing some real LD strength thanks to a good local candidate, but can that be repeated across a swathe of Brexit believing Labour seats?

3.       3.  Will this election make UKIP formally redundant?  They are not defending any seats since the defection of sole MP Douglas Carswell (who was never a spiritual UKIP-er anyway)  and it will be interesting to see what happens to their 3 million 2015 votes.  If they see a sharp decline, we can probably rule them out as a political force from June 9th onwards.  If we haven’t already done so.

4.       4.  Theresa May has crafted this as an election on Brexit, but does that mean she is hoping no-one will look too closely at the rest of her domestic agenda?  She is struggling to define herself at the moment, making speeches that lean towards One Nation conservatism but carrying out actions that suggest old style Tory callousness.  Catastrophic morale in the NHS, short-funding of schools, budget incompetence recently over NI contributions, craven-ness on challenging the corporate interests she claimed to be ready to face up to….all this points to an uneasy domestic agenda that has hardly been crafted to win popular support. 

5.       5.  It’s about personalities.  With Brexit the dominant political item, and no-one really having a clue about how it will or should pan out, the election will – as so often – come down to personalities, and for May there is very little competition.  Jeremy Corbyn is as hopeless a leader as you could hope for in your opponent, while Tim Farron will struggle, even with an election megaphone, to make the impact he needs.  By slapping down the chance of a TV debate May has also deprived Farron of his possible “Cleggmania” moment.  It was a smart move on May’s part – she had nothing to gain from such a venture.

6.       6.  Finally, the result doesn’t mean a one-party state.  Should the Tories win big – the most likely outcome – they still face inordinate problems over the next five years, and such a result gives both Lib Dems and Labour the chance to properly regroup (under a new leader in Labour’s case, or with a spun off new party).  Five years may seem like a lifetime to upset liberals, but it offers May a mere two-year extension on her current lease.  In the end, that may not actually be enough if Brexit bombs.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Is Trump treading Reagan's path?

Republicans consistently rave about Ronald Reagan as one of the twentieth century's greatest presidents.  There is more than a little yearning for Reagan in their attitudes to Donald Trump. Trump himself is an admirer of the 40th president and sees himself treading the same path.

And Trump may well be right.  I was struck, when reading William Leuchtenburg's chapter on Reagan in his "The American President", just how much there was a similarity between them.  Forget the traditional smiling picture of Reagan, and consider this:

"If the casual observer thinks that Trump’s presidency is headed for the rocks, then reflect for a moment on the actuality of Reagan’s presidency.  His swingeing budget cuts condemned millions to poverty and wretchedness, cutting off millions more from any realistic chance of health care. His tax cuts benefitted primarily the very wealthy.  He sought to weaken the Voting Rights Act and became the first president to veto a civil rights act; in both his elections he received the smallest share of African American votes ever given to a presidential candidate.  He appointed an anti-environmentalist to the Environmental Protection Agency who proceeded to halve the EPA’s budget, urged drastic weakening of the Clean Air Act and refused to enforce most of the congressional regulations on the environment.  Her name, incidentally, was Anne Gorsuch, and her son became President Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee.


 In foreign affairs, Reagan actively connived with a hostile power (Iran), selling them arms in a trade that his administration banned as aiding terror when undertaken by other countries.  He went to great lengths to deceive Congress on this, and when he could evade responsibility no longer he threw those of his aides who had done his bidding under the proverbial bus, sacking them without a backward glance.   His consistent defence was that he couldn’t remember authorising such sales.  He also supported some of the most brutal and dictatorial leaders in the world, including the murderous presidents of El Salvador and Guatemala.  Early in his presidency he sent several marine divisions to Lebanon against the advice of his military chief.  Over 260 marines were eventually killed, mainly in suicide attacks, before Reagan recalled them, having gained nothing.  

For all the mishaps, for all his political ignorance and his utter disdain for the poor, working class victims of his domestic policies, Reagan is somehow remembered as a great president."  

There are some extraordinary parallels between Trump and Reagan, even down to the reason why so many people voted for them.  The above extract is part of my longer article on Reagan as Trump's curtain-raiser, and even when writing it I felt increasingly pessimistic about the chances of anyone really dislodging Trump before his time is up.

The full piece is here.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Democrats unappeased by Gorsuch choice

Democrats are in no mood to play nice with the Gorsuch nomination it seems.  I still maintain that since Gorsuch will be confirmed anyway, Democrats might want to hold their most lethal fire for the next one, who may not be as qualified or as easy to sell as a suitable Supreme Court Judge as the undeniably credible Gorsuch.  Nevertheless, after denied a vote on Merrick Garland, with Republican leaders McConnell and Grassley mounting a very effective year-long blockade, you can see why there is such anger on the Democratic side.  It can't be denied that Republicans have no moral authority on this issue at all.

For a sense of just how deep the anti-Trump anger runs, look at any post on Daily Kos.  Or have a read through this interview with New York Magazine's Frank Rich.  Rich was the most famous and feared theatre critic of his day and he has lost none of his punch when discussing - or writing about - politics.

Gorsuch's presentation by Trump reduced him to the "status of a supplicant at a corrupt royal court".

Trump was "using language you'd expect to hear from a Vegas lounge singer paying tribute to Frank Sinatra".

And on the wretched House Speaker Paul Ryan, Rich is especially sharp, describing him as "the leading Vichy Republican.  A coward who will do anything to hold on to power."

Meanwhile, Politico's report on the prime time presentation ceremony noted Trump's lack of apparent understanding of any of Judge Gorsuch's legal opinions.  The show was everything.   As, so far, seems to have been the case with the whole of this presidency thus far.


Can the Gorsuch nomination restore dignity to the Supreme Court process?



We simply don't have a similar institution in Britain.  Our own relatively new Supreme Court - a creation of Tony Blair's - received its first real bit of headline publicity with its deliberations on triggering Article 50, and acquitted itself perfectly soundly, providing a new and important constitutional document in the process.  But British citizens are unlikely to get too exercised by the UK's deliberately down-played Supreme Court.

It's a whole different matter in the United States.  The very pillars of the Court breathe remote majesty and authority through their brilliant white marbled stone.  The nine robed justices play such a significant role in the legal ante-room of American politics that they were once even charged with deciding the president of the United States.  It is said that candidate Trump paid most attention to the poll that said the Supreme Court was the single most important issue to them.

After eleven days of perhaps deliberately provoked chaos and division, President Trump's Supreme Court nomination looks positively statesmanlike and actually presidential.  The originalist nominee, Neil Gorsuch, is respected across the spectrum and is clearly a fine jurist with the capability of producing lucid, deeply thought out rulings.  He is no right-wing head-banger.  He speaks honeyed words when defending the law and the principle of an independent judiciary.  Even if you disagree with his broad legal philosophy, you get the impression that the integrity of the Court is safe in the hands of this man, this chosen successor to Justice Scalia.

Of course that isn't quite how this is playing, and the Republicans have only themselves to blame for that.  The unprecedented action of Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Judiciary Chairman Grassley has undeniably poisoned the atmosphere of Supreme Court nominations.  For Democrats, this is the "stolen" seat.  The one that Republicans held back when President Obama still had nearly a quarter of his last term to run.  If Neil Gorsuch is being garlanded with praise by Republicans and their ilk, is being spoken of as a great jurist, a man with previous support across the political spectrum, well then so was Merrick Garland similarly presented back in March of 2016.

This National Review article by Jim Geraghty is pretty typical of the paeans of praise to Gorsuch and damnation to oppositional Democrats currently being generated (this one too, from American Greatness, lays out the Republican case pretty clearly).  How stupid of the Democrats, how narrow-minded of them to want to oppose such a universally loved jurist as Judge Gorsuch.  But nearly everything in this article could have been written by a Democrat about Judge Garland too.  The Supreme Court process has become so politicised that neither side can give credence to any suggestion or nomination from the other.

But, you know, this was also Justice Scalia's seat.  Gorsuch's appointment simply maintains the old balance of the Court, with a man who undoubtedly deserves his nomination.  Democrats may be wise to row back from a dust-up over this one.  They may still be fuming over the Garland obstruction, but fighting Gorsuch would seem to be the wrong battle this time.  And maybe we should remind Democrats that they had their scalp long ago, back in 1987 when they successfully prevented Robert Bork's nomination.  The Republicans are simply catching up.

Gorsuch should be given tough questioning by the Judiciary Committee Democrats, but they might be willing to give the Supreme Court itself a chance to recover some much needed dignity by not invoking a filibuster here.  By submitting to Gorsuch's nomination, the Democrats can keep their moral high ground, leave the Court where it was before Scalia's death, and most importantly keep their more lethal ammunition in reserve for the nomination that truly matters.  The one to replace the first liberal to step down.

Despite himself, Trump has played this one well.  After an exhausting eleven days, plenty of people would thank the Democrats for not picking an unnecessary fight.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Trump in his supporters' words

There is a lovely twitter post by the Toronto Star's Washington correspondent, who asked various Trump supporters in Washington for the inauguration their view of the man they admired.  He tweeted their responses with their pictures, without comment.  Have a read.  If you are cynical about Mr. Trump, you will find the responses intriguing, and will certainly be left asking, "But how could they think this?"


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Theresa May and the delusion of a special relationship

Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, has arrived in the US to be the first foreign leader to meet President Trump, and she sounded as if she was in optimistic form, suggesting that “opposites attract”.  The visit has caused a resurgence of hope in Britain that the much vaunted “Special Relationship” is back in vogue.  In Britain, the term “special relationship” refers to what is believed to be a unique partnership between the two English-speaking powers of Britain and its old colonies across the Atlantic. 

The problem is that Britain is rather more devoted to the idea than the United States.  Whilst the new president undoubtedly has some anglophilic tendencies – he is, for example, restoring the bust of Winston Churchill to the Oval Office, and speaks positively about the British vote to leave the EU – the British prime minister should tread warily.  Mr. Trump himself is quite clear in his commitment to “America First” – it dominated the thinking in his inauguration speech – but British prime ministers have always tended to be a little disappointed by their attempted diplomatic embrace with the much bigger power overseas.  Whether President Trump breaks the decidedly one-sided nature of the relationship remains to be seen, but if the actions of past presidents are anything to go by this may be one area at least where he is well in vogue with his predecessors.

Since the time of Franklin Roosevelt and the expansion of American power consequent upon the Second World War the British, for all their desperate flirting, have often been left in the cold with occasionally just enough acting paint to hide the tears.  Here is a brief history of the not-so-special-relationship that Theresa May is hoping to reignite.

Roosevelt and Churchill.
This is where it was meant to have started. FDR moved heaven and earth to get US aid to brave little Britain, and he and Churchill bestrode the post-war world stage like conquering colossi joined at the hip. Yes?

Er, well not quite. Roosevelt was a thoroughly reluctant interventionist. He gave short shrift to the pro-interventionist Century Group, deferring instead to advisers like Sumner Welles, who in January 1940 was still determined to get Hitler and Mussolini to talk peace. When help did come, Roosevelt extracted everything he could from Britain and then tried to make sure the Atlantic War was firmly eastern focused, which suited American interests better. Neville Chamberlain had always believed that the cost of American help would be too high – he wasn’t wrong. Military bases, trading concessions and considerable regional influence was all ceded to the USA. The Roosevelt-Churchill relationship existed mainly in the mind of Churchill himself, who did so much to propagate it. Which is surprising, given the way FDR himself sought to undermine Churchill in front of Stalin at Yalta.

Truman and Attlee
Attlee didn’t speak much anyway, but his Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin did, and it was Bevin who felt so downtrodden by Truman’s Secretary of State that he advocated British ownership of nuclear weapons, if only so that “no foreign secretary gets spoken to by an American Secretary of State like that again”. It was another Truman Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, who caustically remarked that “Britain has lost an empire but not yet found a role”. Thanks for the support Dean.


Eisenhower
One word really. Suez. When Anthony Eden tried to protect British interests in the Suez Canal, Eisenhower was the first and most important statesman out of the blocks to condemn him. And then begin a run on the pound. Never mind that Khrushchev was slaughtering Hungarian rebels at the time – Britain was Enemy No. 1! Oh, and lest we forget, it was Eisenhower as US Supreme Commander who stymied Churchill and Montgomery’s plan to beat the Russians to Berlin. He didn’t believe the Russians posed a threat and decried Churchill’s pleas to the contrary.

Nixon and Heath
Possibly the only really effective working relationship between a US President and a British Prime minister, because it was based on an understanding that there wasn’t actually a Special Relationship at all. Both Heath and Nixon believed that America’s real focus in Europe was never going to be a single country, but a united European organization. Nixon, in any case, was very clearly identifying the East as the true arena for US activity.

Reagan and Thatcher
This is where it’s meant to really go into overdrive. If the lovebirds Maggie and Ron didn’t have a special relationship, then who did? But, alas, for all their cooing to each other in public, Reagan not only proved notoriously slow to throw support behind Britain in the Falklands crisis, but then didn’t let Thatcher know when he invaded the Commonwealth country of Grenada. Britain had to content herself by joining 108 other nations in condemning the invasion at the UN. Tellingly, Reagan later recollected than when Thatcher phoned him to say he shouldn’t go ahead, "She was very adamant and continued to insist that we cancel our landings on Grenada. I couldn't tell her that it had already begun." Special Relationship indeed.

Bush and Blair
No world leader was more determined to show his support for the US than Tony Blair. No other world leader was greeted familiarly as “Yo, Blair”. But for all the support he gave to George W. Bush’s strategy of middle east invasion, Blair’s voice was heard as tinnily as anyone else’s when it came to trying to influence US foreign policy. It was one of the supreme, defining failures of his premiership.
Obama and Cameron
They played table tennis and cooked burgers together, but when it came to an alignment of interests there was precious little empathy.  President Obama famously noted that Britain would be “at the back of the queue” when it came to negotiating new trade agreements after a Brexit vote, and he was very critical of Cameron’s role in foreign policy.  Obama believed Cameron was wrong on Libya and stymied his own efforts in Syria when the British PM allowed parliament to vote against intervention. 

Theresa May, then, is following in a grand tradition of trying to re-start a special relationship that has never got past the warm-up phase.  She might be lucky.  President Trump will be in the business of surprising everyone over the next four years and he might just take a different tack on this one too.  But don’t bet on it.  Realpolitic will be as important to him as his predecessors, and by that principle Britain is just another pygmy, albeit one with a common language. 


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Supreme Court defends constitution

Tempers have calmed down a bit in the more extreme fringes of the media and the decision of the Supreme Court justices - by an 8-3 majority - to reiterate the lower court ruling that parliament is sovereign when it comes to legislation, may be greeted by rather less fuss than met the original lower court conclusion.

In part, this may be because the fanatical Brexiters have now realised that their precious project - whatever form it finally takes - isn't going to be blocked by parliament.  The rage of the Sun and Daily Mail tribe and all their acolytes was never about constitutional propriety and always about the invidious cheek of anyone daring to challenge Brexit.  But parliament will accede to May's request to initiate Article 50.  It was always going to.

I forget what the Spectator magazine stance was when the first ruling was made, but editor Fraser Nelson has this time produced a careful and effective acknowledgement of why the Supreme Court was right.  It's well worth a read since it encapsulates the issue of both constitutional power in Britain and also links it coherently with one of the Brexit demands - that British institutions reign supreme, without foreign oversight.

It's also refreshing to read because the Spectator have had a tendency in recent weeks to publish more irrational right-wing rants than they used to.  They've always made room for Rod Liddle and Brendan O'Neill, who are virtual caricatures of the angry loon shaking his fist at everything in the world, but they seem to be adding to their number in some of their features.  I read an egregious piece a couple of weeks ago railing against the unadulterated teaching of liberal nostrums in our schools.  Utter fantasy but why let facts ruin a good rant?  Anyway, Nelson has moved the balance back a bit this week which is good news as I've always had a soft spot for venerable weekly.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

The certifiable lunacy of the Trump White House

Has the White House had a certifiable lunatic as its resident in previous years?  Here we are in the second day of the Trump presidency and the most important thing on the mind of the most powerful individual in the world is how big his crowds were at the inauguration.

As he addressed his intelligence community - or part of it - you might have thought he could have come up with slightly more pressing topics of consideration for his speech.  But nope.  Crowd numbers and the mendacity of the press were his highlights.

We know Trump cares about his ratings.  During his bizarre transitional period he found time to lambast Arnold Schwarzenegger for his low ratings as the new host of the "Apprentice".  He even gave himself a nickname.  "Ratings Machine DJT".  So this stuff is important.

The two picture above have had wide circulation.  The top one shows the crowd for Barack Obama's first inauguration in 2009.  The second shows the crowd for Donald Trump's inauguration in 2017.  There is a bit of a difference.  Even a casual observer can see that.  Whatever the numbers were in 2009, they were considerably lower by the looks of it the other day.

This would normally be a matter of inconsequential comment before moving on.  But partly because Trump bigs himself up so much, the photos received wide publicity across various media.  Cue the statesmanlike White House response.

Not only does Trump major on this to the intelligence officers, but his new press secretary, Sean Spicer, indulges himself in an extraordinary rant at the media in his first press conference.  Both Trump and Spicer show-cased their infrequent relationship with the truth.  Trump could apparently see that there were around 2 million people in the crowds from his perch at the podium.  Spicer ranted first that there were no official numbers available and then, without batting an eyelid, announced that this had been the largest inauguration crowd ever.  Period.  So there.  He also misrepresented a comparison of DC metro numbers, claiming that there were over 500,000 journeys on Friday compared to a mere 3000,000 on the day of Barack Obama's second inauguration.  Washington Metro actually reported 193,000 metro rides just after 11am on Friday, compared to 513,000 on Obama's first inaugural.  The figures for Friday seemed to be the lowest of any inuagural travel since 2005.

Spicer- surely the most comic figure to ever stand in that press room - then had to go further.  When Trump addressed the intelligence officers, so the press were told, there over 500 people there, and over 1,000 had applied to be present.  The officers were ecstatic in their joy at having Trump as their new president.  They love him and he's got their back.

The problem is I'm not actually sure they were lying.  There is a serious danger that they actually believed their own nonsense.  Trump is delusional enough to convince himself that he can accurately assess 2 million people standing in front of him.  The raging Spicer could not even maintain a basic consistency for two sentences.

Pathological liars or delusional maniacs.  Either way, the lunacy in the White House became more palpably certifiable just two days in to the administration.

The New York Times report of the press conference is here.  The opening part of the press conference from old loony-bag Spicer is below.

Slate fact-checked the lies in Spicer's statement - 4 in 5 minutes.




Friday, January 20, 2017

Give Trump a chance

Donald Trump has broken a lot of norms, but it is likely he might keep to one at least - making his inaugural address today an address that reaches beyond party or personal politics to speak to the nation, and the world, at large. He'll doubtless do it in inimitable Trumpian style, but the man we hear today won't be Twitter Trump.  It should at last be President Trump.

His has been the most chaotic transition in a long time, not least because of the large number of potential ethics and financial conflicts from his predominantly billionaire cabinet.  Trump lowered standards himself with his failure to make his tax returns public - and even to hint that he hadn't paid any - so it was hardly likely that his conflicted cabinet nominees would somehow try and raise the bar again. I wonder whether future political candidates will decide that it is worth keeping to the Trump standards?  I think they'd like to, but I suspect they will lack his sheer chutzpah and that utterly fanatical support from his popular base.

But it's Trump's day today, so let's hear him on his terms and allow for the possibility that this very different president was elected because he's very different.  It could work, you never know.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Trump's New Normal

The Washington Post puts it best here:

Washington veterans marvel at how much Trump has been able to get away with because he just doesn’t seem to care what anyone else thinks. The president-elect has disregarded the longstanding tradition that there should only be one president at a time. He talked to the leader of Taiwan in contravention of the One China policy; his national security adviser has been in contact with a senior Russian government official. He’s refused to fully divest his financial holdings, given his son-in-law a government job and ordered his aides to declare war on an independent ethics office that raised questions about these arrangements.

Just reading through that reminds us of how far the goalposts have moved.  This may be a failure of news reporting, although to be fair most outlets are busy trying to hold Trump accountable; there is just so much material that it's difficult to keep track.  Perhaps the big problem is the lack of obvious public discontent.  This is still the Trump who was on offer in the elections, and I guess if you thought he was suitable to be president then you are not likely to think anything he has done since is out of order.

By way of comparison, the Post referred to the case of Tom Daschle.  A former Senate Majority Leader tapped by the new President Obama to be Health and Human Services Secretary in 2009, Daschle eventually had to withdraw over an issue of unpaid taxes (which he later repaid on being nominated).  Unpaid taxes?? Donald Trump pretty well admitted he didn't pay taxes during the campaign and it's a fair bet that several of his billionaire cabinet appointees have found ways to avoid such a tedious task.  But there has been so little trasnparency from Trump and his appointees that virtually anything goes now.  The new normal is that ethics and openness are for the birds, and much of that is thanks to a Republican controlled legislature led by one of the most cynical men to adorn a democracy, which operates on an anything goes policy if it brings party advantage.

Welcome to the new normal.  Old standards no longer apply.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Neither bad nor good. Just human. Goodbye 2016

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There’s a tendency in some of the reviews of 2016 which are finding their way online to praise the year as a great one.  It’s the usual form of contrariness to the oft stated maxim that 2016 has been such a terrible year, and it comes from the right of the political spectrum of course.  Because it has been a good year for “right-wingers”, no doubt about it.


But of course 2016 is neither a terrible nor a great year.  It is a year the memory of which is entirely dependent on the individual living it.  Citizens of Aleppo, or Syria generally (other than its wretched president) haven’t had a great year.  People who have suffered family or close friend bereavements haven’t had a great year.  On the other hand, weddings and births will have continued to bring pleasure to many too.  In a more general sense, citizens of western democracies are likely to have had a better year than the citizens of poor authoritarian countries such as Russia.


The purpose of a brief blog review therefore can’t possibly be to provide some sort of neat summary of the year.  What it can do is see what the year has left us politically, and whether it provides any signs of what is to come.  Which is a bad statement to make of itself since if it has done anything I guess 2016 has at least thrown up the frailty of political punditry, which has mostly been wrong even from those who may have ultimately been delighted at what has happened.


2016 hasn’t quite been the triumph of democracy that some of its enthusiastic backers are now proclaiming.  Yes, the Brexit referendum encouraged lots of people to vote – a good thing – although it provided its victors with a narrow enough margin – a mere 4% of the turn-out – to maintain the divisions that the campaign itself exposed.  In America, the scene of that other great democratic cataclysm, the ‘populist’ victor has turned out to be not quite so popular after all, winning his presidential election with a popular vote that trailed nearly 3 million or so behind the loser.  So democracy isn’t a winner here.


A certain loser could be liberalism.  Liberal nostrums have received a bashing, no doubt about it.  Liberals have been damned as establishmentarian and elitist as the newly resurgent right marauds its way across the landscape.  But even here the rhetoric disguises the reality.  There can be few more elitist people than the billionaire victor of the American presidential election, living in his gold trimmed penthouse in New York.  As if to perpetuate his elitism, his cabinet is packed with more billionaires than any cabinet in American history, his defence policy will be overseen by generals and his foreign policy by the highly elitist – and undeniably well connected – chief executive of an oil company.


In Britain, the apparently non-elitist Leave campaign was spear-headed by public schoolboys (an Old Etonian and an Old Alleynian at the two campaigns’ respective heads) and received the support of the majority of the establishment print media, edited by wealthy mandarins working for putocratic foreign-based owners for the most part.  The populist leader of the right in France, meanwhile, inherited her party from her father.  Elitism is very much in vogue, and it is on the “populist” right as much as anywhere.


Truth took a knocking though.  The Brexit campaigners paraded promises that they forsook on the day after their victory, one of their key campaigners disparaged “experts”, while the American president-elect continues to deal in fantasy even after his victory.  Facts and rational argument took back seats to fiery words, the more outrageous the better.  The reward for the fantasists has been great indeed, with one of the most prominent even gaining a $250,000 book deal from a once reputable publisher.


Internationally, Russia’s leader has played a poor hand with shrewdness, bloody-mindedness and considerable success.  The murderous thug who leads a regime of torture in Syria and has presided over a villainous civil war looks as if he has won through.  The president of Turkey has turned himself into a virtual dictator with little consequence as yet, firming up his odd foreign alliance with that other clever dictator in Russia.  The current president of America, a beacon of liberalism, leaves office with the possibility of his legacy being burned by his successor, while the Chancellor of Germany, who welcomed immigrants to her country so fulsomely, may yet be undone by the next election.


Lost of celebrities have died, but then there are lots more celebrities around.  Celebrity culture took off  around the 1960s, so it may not be surprising that its older personalities are starting to fall away.  Its younger personalities have never been noted for lifestyles that promote longer living either.  2017 is unlikely to see much of a change from that.  Meanwhile, as we mourn celebrities, unsung heroes will also pass away.  Dr Donald Henderson, who eradicated smallpox, died in 2016, receiving a public encomium finally via twitter at the end of the year.


In sum, the year has been messy and provocative.  As such, it stands little different from either its predecessor or, in all likelihood, its successor.  The means of the mess may change, but the broad thrust of flawed humanity making its ever populous way in a world it can’t mould or understand remains similar.


Happy 2017.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The importance of a vanishing class: the party member

Political parties are the heart and soul of our democratic system.  They are the crucial interface between voters and professionals, providing the space for hard-pressed volunteers who may not wish to become professionally involved in politics to nonetheless become active agents in the body politic.  They have also been facing significant decline over many years.  While there has been a slight recovery in the UK since 2013 – especially for Labour and the SNP – the overall figures are depressing. 

The website Democratic Audit estimates that only 1% of the UK population is a member of a political party.  In the 1950s, parties famously calculated their members in the millions.  The Conservatives were dominant with their 3 million or so members, but Labour garnered some 1 million too. 

Labour is now the dominant party with half of their 1950s figure – 515,000 members according to a House of Commons Library briefing.  The Conservative figure is more difficult to get hold of – many of the constituency parties  don’t file complete returns, and the party still runs quite a federalist structure with significant opposition to centralising party membership.  Nevertheless, figures published in 2013 suggest the Conservatives have a mere 149,800 members.  The Lib Dems have some 79,000 members.

Party membership decline is evident across Europe, although it remains most marked in Britain.  The Democratic Party (PD) in Italy has some 500,000 members, while the two behemoths of German politics – the CDU and SPD – have around 477,000 members each.  To that figure the CDU could add those of its ally, the separate, Bavarian only CSU party which has over 146,000 members. 

Why does this matter?  Because the health of the parties is a major indicator of the health of a representative democracy.  Parties provide a key focus of engagement for citizens.  It allows them to meet with their elected representatives, have a role in choosing them, gives them a chance to offer themselves for election at local and national levels and offers a platform to change party policies. 

This is about much more than simply attaching oneself to a single cause, as offered by the pressure groups.  This is about a full and broad involvement in the democratic process.  This is about committing to action and nailing political colours to a mast – any mast. 

Parties are the foundation stones of any representative democratic system, and they depend utterly on members for both financial resources and the all important human resources.  It should come as little surprise that a growing national disengagement with politics has been accompanied by such a decline in party memberships.   Interestingly, as the memberships get smaller, the relative importance of the remaining members gets bigger.

Labour saw a spike in numbers as a result of their leadership troubles, with the Momentum movement organising effectively to get sympathisers to join and confirm Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party.  Party memberships have always tended to be more radical than their outward-facing elected representatives, but as those memberships decline so the impact of a hard-core radical few makes even greater waves across the national party.  For Labour it has been the election of its most left-wing – and polling suggests unelectable – leader ever.  For the Conservatives, it gave euro-scepticism a crucial place in the party’s bloodstream and led to the Brexit referendum. 

Party memberships can absolutely define politics on the wider stage.  They can also make life difficult for specific representatives.  MPs may represent up to 100,000 people in their constituencies, but their attention can often be dragged towards the few who are members and office holders in their own party.   Labour’s MP for Brighton and Hove, Peter Kyle, faced serious de-stabilisation in September when one of his local members, briefly elected as Vice-Chairman, started agitating against him for not supporting Jeremy Corbyn.  Today, the deputy chairman of Loughborough Conservative Party went on the BBC’s “Sunday politics” to denounce his own MP, Nicky Morgan, for criticising Theresa May.  The two party office holders speak only for themselves, where Morgan and Kyle represent thousands of voters of differing hues, but that hasn’t stopped a brief but strong media focus on those party critics.

There are signs of a resurgence in the importance of party membership.  Labour’s spike – increasing its membership from 270,000 to 515,000 in less than a year thanks to the leadership election – is seen in other parties too.  The Liberal Democrats saw their membership rise significantly after their crushing General Election defeat, as liberal-minded voters sought to engage once again in a liberal fight-back, seen most recently in the success of Sarah Olney – a member of just one year’s standing – being elected as MP to the former Conservative held seat of Richmond Park.  The SNP saw a spike in membership after losing the independence referendum.  It is interestingly Conservative party membership which appears to have been least affected, even though its political bias has probably had the single most important impact on British politics in over 40 years.

As the importance of party members re-asserts itself, so elected representatives become more responsive.  The Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley notes that Labour MPs, since the re-election of their bete noir Jeremy Corbyn as leader, have been quietly re-working their constituency parties to ensure the election of supportive office-holders.   The internet supporters of Momentum have been less inclined to go the extra mile in attending local party meetings, and as Rawnsley notes, it is at these unglamorous occasions where real power can be wielded. 

The larger the membership of a party becomes, the more it can reflect the different shades of opinion in the society from which it grows, and the more effective an interface it is between ordinary voters and the professional politicians.  A larger party base, too, increases the range of talents available to parties in selecting their elected representatives, and ultimately their leaders. 


The health of a democracy, after all, plays out in the health of its parties.  

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Fakery and Bullshit - some Trump reading

It won't be dull with President Donald Trump in the White House, with even the transition period providing plenty of comment.  Here's a few reads to keep up to date.

At the UCL Mishcon Lecture last night, Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian gave the liberal tour-de-force warning of the appalling times to come under President Trump.  More on that below, but one article he recommended is the Tony Schwartz one from the New Yorker.  Schwartz ghost-wrote the Trump book "Art of the Deal", and in a fit of buyer's remorse, as Freedland put it, came clean about the real Donald Trump.  The New Yorker piece is here.

Trump has tried to re-awaken the memory of the Republicans' favourite president of recent years, Ronald Reagan, but how good was Reagan really?  An article in Salon suggests Reagan was the most ill-informed president to ever take office, and slept through much of his presidency - read it here.  Some may indeed be wanting Trump to sleep throughout most of his presidency as well - but that would mean leaving the governing side of things to Mike Pence, Stephen Bannon and Reince Priebus, with Mike Flynn steering foreign affairs.  Hardly a recipe for calm.

Salon gave Chris Christie one of their un-coveted "Bullshitter of the Day" awards and it makes entertaining reading here, as Christie tries to persuade everyone he'd rather play out his governor's term than accept the non-existent role coming from the Trump team.

Freedland also mentioned the phenomenon of "fake news", and the Washington Post carried a great expose of it in this piece, as they interviewed two prolific - and definitely not true-believing - manufacturers of news to the gullible right. Perhaps the most eye-opening thing you'll read this week.

Oh, and that Trump victory?  Two million votes behind Clinton, as this Politico report reminds us.  Forget the "Revolution in America"; what about "A broken democracy"?

Finally the Mishcon Lecture itself, as delivered by Jonathan Freedland and attended to in person by a few of SGS's finest and brightest, can actually be accessed in glorious video here.  If you missed it, give it a watch.  Well worth an hour of any Trump sceptic's time.





Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Live Blog - After 3!

0445  There's no actual winner, but - in the old Nixon phrase - if present trends continue, Donald Trump will be president of the United states tomorrow.  It's not the most elevating of thoughts, but it is democracy.


0406    Has Hillary given up? (https://twitter.com/HillaryClinton/status/796169187882369024?lang=en)


0358  Michigan has been Democratic for 20 years, and tonight The Donald, our Donald, looks to end the reign. Currently ahead by over 40,000 votes, this will be a big win for Trump if he pulls it off. Ever divided, the room is buzzing with debate reminiscent of that between rival sports fans. Thobiyas and Smitho are still supporting Clinton to her last breath (although morale is low), and us deplorables are loving every second. Trump still looks more certain to be the President with every update.

Alex and Ben M


0356  Election night carries on at SGS. Our very own Smitho is in the first stage of grief - denial. Currently staring sadly at the MSNBC news stream, when asked who he thought would win he claimed it was 'too close to call'. Well, the rest of us have managed to call a Trump victory, much to his dismay. As Smitho tries to distract himself with talk of tomorrow's morning routine, the rest of us prepare ourselves for the nights continuous entertainment. Sutton Grammar's Trump campaign has proudly claimed new members over the night*, and we are happy that others have seen the light.

Alex and Ben M

* I think "claiming new members" is something of an over-statement; there's been an acceptance of Trump's probbaly victory, and a belief that he will be so disastrous as to possibly ruin the Republican party beyond repair in four years' time.  Parties find it more difficult to recover from a bad president than just a bad candidate!  GM


0345 Trump looks set to win. If this election has proved anything, it's that politics is the art of the possible. Today, Americans have stood up for what matters to them the most: culture, national identity, and a burning desire to dismantle the political establishment. For too long the American people have been told that their opinion does not matter; that their patriotism is a bad thing; and that their opinions are bigotry. The vote for Trump was not an ideological one, nor a supportive one, it was a big 'f*** you' to the elitist political class. Trump's success has reverted America's changing status from a grand republic to an insular oligarchy. Trump's success is a victory for democracy.

Ben M. and Alex B.


0344  So Ben Muir wants to share this:




0335  Tonight was supposed to be the night when liberal, left-leaning America cast off the chains of aggressive right-wing rhetoric and twitter-based hate campaigning . It was supposed to be the night when US citizens recognised that political experience and hard graft outweighs bare-faced lies and hyperbolic promises. Tonight is in fact the night when anti-establishmentarianism and anarchism paved the way for US voters to vote for the lesser of the two evils, and in turn elect ‘the Donald.’ Goodbye cruel world.

Smitho


0331  "Politics is the art of the possible" - Mr. Bartlett quoting Machiavelli as a pretty sound insight into the apparent success of the Trump candidacy!

GM


0330 The North West is prevailing as a Democratic stronghold. In New York for example 40.8% of the votes cast have been counted and 70.8% are for Clinton. Virginia the close race has also turned out a Democratic victory with 94% of the votes cast showing a democratic majority of 48.1%.

Trump has almost certainly going to win the Republican Midwestern stronghold and of course the George Wallace states too.

The glimmer of hope remains in Colorado 54.4% of the votes show a Democratic majority of 49%. New Mexico show a similar trend but these are states Obama won and not exactly toss up states so can we really celebrate it?   

It is becoming increasingly likely that a Trump presidency will occur. I predict a Bush 2000 victory in terms of the Electoral College votes.

Thobiyas



0325  As the clock ticks on, it looks more certain with every second that the next POTUS will be Donald Trump. Currently he is projected 140 votes against Clinton's 104, with predictions stating that roughly 280 votes will go to Mr Trump at the end of the night, 10 more than he needs for the win. If he manages this, Clinton has very little chance of disputing the victory. Minds here at SGS have already shifted to 2020, with some of our liberal colleagues even resigning the Presidency to Trump. The current topic of conversation is Mr Marshall's prediction of a Michelle Obama candidacy in 2020, and the prediction of a landslide victory. Well, you heard it here first. Whether we think that Clinton can still make a comeback or that Trump has already won, most of us are certain of a one term Presidency for either candidate.

Still ever hopeful - Alex and Ben M



0307  So the live blog running from eastern polls closing at 12 midnight (British time) to just after 3am are below.  The next tranche begins here, but this time with the more conventional placing of the most recent updates at the top!

And as we start anew, Trump as president looks less like a fantasy and more like nightmarish reality - but a nightmare that only lasts 4 years and could draw the poison from the Republican destruction of US politics.

GM