Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Crisis: Authoritarianism, About May Day, "Russiagate", Trump's Badness, Snyder

Sections                                                                     crisis index

1. The Authoritarian President
The Many-Sided, Overlapping Meanings of May Day
3. How Russiagate Got So Much Momentum
Donald Trump Is on Course to Be One of the Worst Presidents
     in U.S. History

5. Leading Historian Believes 'It's Pretty Much Inevitable' Trump
     Will Try to Stage a Coup and Overthrow Democracy

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday
, May 2, 2017.

Summary: This is a
crisis log with five items and five links: Item 1 is about an article by Robert Reich, who diagnoses Trump (now) as "an authoritarian" (and I agree more than not); item 2 is a good article about May Day, that told me several things I did not
know; item 3 is about an article about "Russiagate", and I agree that I have not seen
any evidence, for 6 months now, that the Russians did hack the American elections (which by now makes me think it was merely propaganda from the Democrats, to obscure Hillary's mistakes); item 4 is about an article by Robert Parry who argues that
Trump is going to be one of the worst U.S. presidents; and item 5 is about a good interview that Chauncey DeVega had with Timothy Snyder.
May 2: As to the updating problem: The Danish site was again on time today. The Dutch site is still running behind at April 26. They did it well from 1996 till 2015, updating within minutes at most. I think they totally stopped doing this to limit the readings of my site. I think (but I don't know anything whatsoever about "xs4all") they now update once a week, which means that they are - for me - over 10,000 times worse than they were between 1996 and 2015.

These horrors happen now for the 16th month in succession. And they happen on purpose, because it is extremely simple to do this properly, and it was done properly from 1996 till late in 2015. (If you want these horrors, then sign in with "xs4all.nl"; if not, avoid them like the plague.)

And I have to add that about where my site on xs4all.nl stuck for others I have NO idea AT ALL: It may be December 31, 2015. (Xs4all wants  immediate payment if you are a week behind. Xs4all.nl has been destroying my site now for over a year. I completely distrust them, but I also do not know whether they are doing it or some secret service is.)
1. The Authoritarian President

The first article today is by Robert Reich on his site:

This starts as follows:

After more than 100 days into his presidency, it seems fair to ask: What is Donald Trump’s governing philosophy? 

He isn’t really a Republican (he didn’t join the GOP until 2012). He’s hardly a free-market conservative (he’s eager to block trade and immigration). No one would mistake him for a libertarian (he’s okay with preventing abortions and gay marriage).

So what is he? 

An authoritarian.

Political scientists use this term to describe a way of governing that values order and control over personal freedom, and seeks to concentrate power in the hands of a single “strongman.”

Viewed through the lens of authoritarianism, Trump’s approach to governing is logical and coherent.

I think this is more or less correct, but I have two remarks.

The first is that I recall an article by Robert Reich in 2016, before Trump was elected, in which he said that Trump is a fascist. I more or less liked it, but rejected it because (i) there are at least 21 different definitions of the term "fascism", and Reich did not specify any one; because (ii) I don't think Trump is a fascist, at least not in the sense in which I define it (see the last link), though I do think a good case can be made he is a neofascist (but apart from my own definition - see the last link - I do not know any rational definition of that); and (iii) I agree with Reich (and disagree with Chomsky on this) that, seen as either an authoritarian or a neofascist (bolding added) "Trump’s approach to governing is logical and coherent".

Then again, while I think Trump is an authoritarian or a neofascist, the term authoritariamism (<- Wikipedia) has a more precise sense which is difficult to combine with the current (!) laws in the United States and quite difficult to combine with the Constitution.

Here is more on Trump's authoritarianism with regards to the judiciary, that is formally independent (in a democracy) of executives (like Trump):

For example, an authoritarian wouldn’t follow the normal process in a constitutional democracy for disputing a judicial decision he dislikes – which is to appeal it to a higher court.

An authoritarian would instead assail judges who rule against him, as Trump has done repeatedly. He’d also threaten to hobble the offending courts, as Trump did last week in urging that the 9th Circuit (where many of these decisions have originated) be broken up.

And this is about Trump and two of the marks of political democracy, which are deliberation and compromise between differing political groups:

Likewise, an authoritarian has no patience for normal legislative rules – designed, as they are in a democracy, to create opportunities for deliberation.

Which is why Trump told Mitch McConnell to use the “nuclear option” against the time-honored Senate filibuster, in order to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Yes indeed. And there is this is on authoritarians and the freedoms of the press:

An authoritarian also seeks to intimidate the press, in order to avoid criticism and consolidate his power.

Trump still doesn’t miss an opportunity to assail the media for publishing “fake news.” His chief of staff has revived Trump’s campaign proposal to widen libel laws so that he can sue the press for stories he doesn’t like.

Yes indeed. This is from the end of the article:

Donald Trump’s authoritarianism is a consistent and coherent philosophy of governing. But it’s not America’s.  

In fact, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution created separation of powers, checks and balances, and federalism precisely to avoid concentrated power. Their goal was to stop authoritarians like Donald Trump.

Yes, I mostly agree, though I have two remarks: Trump strives for an authoritarian government, but he doesn't have it, at least not yet, and a more or less real authoritarian government (see the last link) is incompatible with many American laws, principles of law, and with the Constitution.

2. The Many-Sided, Overlapping Meanings of May Day

The second article is by Paul Street on Truthdig:
This is from near the beginning (and is from a good and fairly long article on May Day):
Only later did I learn that May Day’s real left origins were in the older revolutionary socialist- and anarchist-led struggle of the U.S. working class for an eight-hour day. Targeting May 1 as the day for the introduction of shorter hours, activists brought the issue to a boiling point in Chicago in the spring of 1886. The fight culminated in the fateful tossing of the Haymarket bomb, the savage execution of four of the city’s great radical leaders—“the Haymarket Martyrs”—and a great wave of anti-union and anti-left repression across the nation.

May 1 became an international day of working-class and left protest in subsequent years. Well into the 20th century, leftist May Day speakers and banners would repeat Karl Marx and Frederick Engels’ maxims: “The working men have no country. … Workers of the world unite.”
Yes indeed. And while I did not know about the Americam 1886 source of May Day, I do recall about the last May Days in Holland, because my parents were communists, and liked it. I do recall the one from 1958 and while there were a few repeats, it never amounted to much in my life.

Here is some more on the reasoning behind May Day:
It might at first seem odd that radical anarchists and Marxists placed such strong emphasis on a day formed largely around a struggle for reform under capitalism—a shorter workday with no reduction in income. But left working-class militants in the late 19th century knew that overwork robbed workers of the time and energy to engage in critical reflection and join movements for resistance to what was then commonly understood to be “wage slavery.” They reasonably saw a reduction of workers’ time spent under the bosses’ lash as an essential step toward the building of anti-capitalist consciousness and struggle.
Yes, though I should add that I did get that justification for May Day from my parents.

Here are two brief remarks on the workers' time and wage slavery (that may be written without quotes, for it was quite real): In the 19th Century workers had to work 10 or 12 hours a day, and sometimes more, and were paid extremely little. Also, even in the 1950ies my father, who was a housepainter, had to work 6 days a week: Five full days from Monday to Friday, and half a day on Saturday. This also was true of all workers, though indeed working on Saturdays was terminated late in the 1950ies.

Then there is this on May Day, about which I had no idea whatsoever:
It is a day of leisure, to be spent outdoors, dancing and wearing flowers. While rooted in custom, it was an official holiday in the British Tudor monarchy by at least the early 16th century. (The bourgeois- revolutionary Puritan Parliaments of 1649-1660 suspended the holiday, which was reinstated with the restoration of Charles II.)
Then there is this on the Diggers (<- Wikipedia) who happen to be one of my favorite leftist groups, because they were very serious, very brave, one of the first socialist/ communist groups, and they were led by a quite amazing man, Gerrard Winstanley, of whom I only discovered some writings in the beginning of the 21st Century, but which are quite interesting (I thought and think):
The Diggers, the first modern communists, were led by Gerrard Winstanley. They sought to pre-empt the coming new soulless wage, money and commodity slavery of the capitalist order (the bourgeois regime that Marx and Engels would justly accuse of “resolv[ing] personal worth into exchange value”) by claiming earth as “a common treasury for all.” Writing as England was becoming the first fully capitalist nation where most of the adult working-age population toiled for wages, Winstanley and his followers practiced what Linebaugh calls “commoning,” the merging of “labor” and “natural resources” in the spirit of “all for one and one for all.”
Yes indeed. The Diggers failed, but - for me at least - some of their writings are still inspiring.

Here is the last bit I quote from this article:
May Day is an official holiday now in many European nations, with its meaning generally understood to combine the pre-modern folk roots and, however diluted, the modern labor and left origins.
But not in Holland, and in fact I found just one mentioning of the fact that - outside Holland, is true - May Day is an official holiday in many European nations.

There is considerably more in the article, that is recommended: It is a quite good article on the history of May Day.

3. How Russiagate Got So Much Momentum

The third article is by Norman Solomon on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:
A new book about Hillary Clinton’s last campaign for president—“Shattered,” by journalists Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes—has gotten a lot of publicity since it appeared two weeks ago. But major media have ignored a revealing passage near the end of the book.

Soon after Clinton’s defeat, top strategists decided where to place the blame. “Within 24 hours of her concession speech,” the authors report, campaign manager Robby Mook and campaign chair John Podesta “assembled her communications team at the Brooklyn headquarters to engineer the case that the election wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up. For a couple of hours, with Shake Shack containers littering the room, they went over the script they would pitch to the press and the public. Already, Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument.”

Six months later, that centerpiece of the argument is rampant—with claims often lurching from unsubstantiated overreach to outright demagoguery.
Yes indeed. And here are two additional remarks:

First, so far and in all of the last 6 months, I have seen not a single bit of real evidence that supported the case that Russian hacking had caused Hillary Clinton's los, and also, which is considerably more important, neither did the people who write for VIPS (<- Wikipedia), that comprise  William Binney and Ray McGovern, who know about spying.

And second, it may be worth remarking that the supposed (asserted, claimed, but never proved) statement that Russia had hacked Trump's winning of the election was probably prepared, since it was in the press within 24 hours, which indeed was precisely the same as in 2001, when I was rather astonished to hear, also within 24 hours of the attack of 9/11, that Iraq was responsible for the deed (which was a lie, but a lie that started the war with Iraq).

There is also this:
The “Moscow Project” is expressly inclined to go over the top, aiming to help normalize ultra-partisan conjectures as supposedly factual. And so, the homepage of the “Moscow Project” prominently declares: “Given Trump’s obedience to Vladimir Putin and the deep ties between his advisers and the Kremlin, Russia’s actions are a significant and ongoing cause for concern.”

Let’s freeze-frame how that sentence begins: “Given Trump’s obedience to Vladimir Putin.” It’s a jaw-dropping claim, a preposterous smear.
I agree, though I also admit that Putin seems quite capable of interfering in the American elections. But mere capacity is no proof whatsoever that he did so, and
indeed there has been no proof whatsoever the last 6 months, which makes it very
likely there will be no proof (though there may be a whole lot more propaganda of this type).

Here is the Democrat's Jennifer Palmieri effectively singing the praise of all false propaganda:
In early spring, the former communications director of the 2016 Clinton presidential campaign, Jennifer Palmieri, summed up the post-election approach neatly in a Washington Post opinion article: “If we make plain that what Russia has done is nothing less than an attack on our republic, the public will be with us. And the more we talk about it, the more they’ll be with us.”
That is: Our false propaganda will work if we manage to keep it in the news - we can deceive our public. I grant that so far the Democrats have kept up the Russia-story, also without any real evidence (for the "evidence" they give consisted all the times that I read it from assertions by anonymous persons there will be evidence, which there wasn't, for mere statements are not evidence).

And here is Solomon's conclusion:
You might think that Wall Street, big banks, hugely funded lobbyists, fat-check campaign contributors, the fossil fuel industry, insurance companies, military contractors and the like are calling the shots in Washington. Maybe you didn’t get the memo.
I agree: They are "calling the shots in Washington" but ordinary people who read the ordinary mainstream "news" read little about these main sources of the "news", while
getting a lot of evidence-less propaganda about Russia's hackings.

4. Donald Trump Is on Course to Be One of the Worst Presidents in U.S. History

The fourth article today is by Robert Parry on Truthdig and originally on Consortium- news:

This starts as follows:

The 100-day mark may be an artificial measuring stick for a U.S. president. Obviously much can happen in the remaining 1,361 days of a four-year term. But Donald Trump’s decisions in his first three months in office have put him on an almost irreversible path to failure.

He now appears to be little more than a traditional Republican with more than a little dash of Kardashian sleaze in him, a boorish reality-TV star reading from a neocon script that could have been written for many of his GOP rivals, except he delivers his lines with worse grammar and a limited vocabulary, favoring imprecise words such as “beautiful” and “sad.”

Trump also has the look of a conman. He sold himself as a populist who would fight for the forgotten Americans, but is following domestic policies aimed at comforting his super-rich friends while afflicting his most loyal blue-collar supporters.

The 100-day mark, that in fact dates back to Franklin Roosevelt's presidential days, clearly is "an artificial measuring stick", but this does not mean it is not sensible.

About the rest of this first part I am less certain, indeed because I agree in part, but also do not know to what extent my or Parry's judgements are shared by "the American people", while I would guess that Parry's judgements are not shared by more than 45% of the present American voters.

And here is reasonable evidence that there is something like a deep state in the USA:

Despite denials from mainstream commentators about America having a “deep state,” one does exist in Washington, as should be obvious watching the cable news shows or reading the major newspapers. Indeed, there is arguably less diversity allowed in the vaunted “free press” of America than in some supposedly authoritarian states.

For instance, even people with solid professional credentials who disagree with the U.S. government’s interpretation of the evidence on the April 4 chemical incident in Syria are excluded from participation in the public debate. The major U.S. media even takes pride in that exclusion because these people are deemed “fringe” or responsible for “propaganda” or guilty of “fake news.” The tendency toward careerist “groupthink” is very powerful in Washington and the national media.

I agree: Both the remarkably similar appearances of the (dominant) cable new shows and the fact that mere disagreement with the government's interpretations of things
leads to being excluded are evidence for the existence of the deep state, and of a considerably more totalitarian or authoritarian political climate, while especially the last fact suggests that groupthinking (<- good reference) is considerably more widespread than is rational.

Then there is this:

At the outset of his presidency, Trump could have really shaken things up. But instead he wasted his first days proving that he was the pumped-up fool that his detractors said he was. Rather than show some grace toward the defeated Democrats, he insisted absurdly that his inaugural crowd was bigger than President Obama’s (which it wasn’t). He failed to appreciate or defuse the anger from the Women’s March, which filled the streets of dozens of cities the day after his Inauguration (with women wearing pink pussy hats to chide Trump for his boasts about grabbing women in the crotch).

Hm. I agree with the first statement, and explain the rest of this paragraph by my assumption (and that of many psychologists and psychiatrist) that Trump is a megalomaniac.

Then again, I tend to agree that after three months, Trump appears - for now, at least: what happens in case of a war or a major terrorist attack I do not know - a bit less dangerous than he did right at the beginning, indeed in good part because he operated quite stupidly (and like a megalomaniac).

Here is Parry's interpretation of what Trump is currently doing:

If anything, Trump is now shifting U.S. foreign policy more into line with what the neocons demand than Obama did. With Trump’s goal to work more cooperatively with Russia smashed by Russiagate, he is now cementing a foreign policy that is almost indistinguishable from what Trump’s vanquished Republican rivals, such as neocon Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, or Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, would have espoused. Or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton.

I don't know, although I agree Parry is better able to judge these things than I am. What he seems to assume here is that Trump has been defeated by the deep state,
or at least that is how I interpret it. He may well be right, but I have not seen any
conclusive evidence.

This is the last bit of Parry's article:

The attendant tensions with Russia—and eventually with China—also could provoke a nuclear confrontation that Trump is psychologically unfit to manage. Playing madman—and counting on President Putin or President Xi to play the adult—is not as clever as it may sound. Putin and Xi have their own internal political pressures to consider—and they may feel compelled to call one of Trump’s bluffs.

Thus, Trump now appears on course to become a failed U.S. president, maybe one of the worst. But let’s all hope he is not the last.

This is not optimistic, but then I am neither: I said at the beginning of Trump's presidency that it was then 50/50 for me that the world will not have a nuclear war between 2017 and 2021.

All that changed now for me, after 3 months of Trump, is that it is now around 55/45 (against/for a nuclear was before 2022). And this will change as soon as their is war or a major terrorist attack.

5. Leading Historian Believes 'It's Pretty Much Inevitable' Trump Will Try to Stage a Coup and Overthrow Democracy

The fifth article and last article today is by Chauncey DeVega on AlterNet and originally on Salon:

This starts as follows:

American democracy is in crisis. The election of Donald Trump feels like a state of emergency made normal.

Trump has threatened violence against his political enemies. He has made clear he does not believe in the norms and traditions of American democracy — unless they serve his interests. Trump and his advisers consider a free press to be enemies of his regime. Trump repeatedly lies and has a profoundly estranged relationship with empirical reality. He uses obvious and naked racism, nativism and bigotry to mobilize his voters and to disparage entire groups of people such as Latinos and Muslims.

Trump is threatening to eliminate an independent judiciary, and wants to punish those judges who dare to stand against his illegal and unconstitutional mandates. In what appears to be a violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, Trump is using the office of the presidency to enrich himself, his family and his inner circle by peddling influence and access to corporations, foreign countries and wealthy individuals. Trump and his representatives also believe that he is above the law and cannot be prosecuted for any crimes while in office.

I think all of the above is true. Here is one of DeVega's answers to these problems, which consists of a decent interview with historian Timothy Snyder, about whom I wrote quite a bit in earlier Nederlogs - see e.g. "Post-truth is Pre-Fascism", and namely here, here, here and here (and at other places):

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale University. He is the award-winning author of numerous books including the recent “Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning” and “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.” Snyder’s new book, “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century,”  explores, among other things, how the American people can fight back against Donald Trump’s incipient authoritarian regime.

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
And in fact in the above linked original of the article there is a link to a more extensive podcast that DeVega made. Since I think Timothy Snyder may well be right, and since he knows a great amount about Nazism, I will extract some of this interview, but I will insert a "D." for DeVega and an "S." for Snyder, that are not in the original, in order to make sure who is talking:

D.: The election of Donald Trump is a crisis for American democracy. How did this happen?

S.: We asked for it by saying that history was over in 1989 [with the end of the Cold War]. By saying that nothing bad could never happen again, we were basically inviting something bad to happen.

Our story about how nothing could never go wrong was a story about how human nature is the free market and the free market brings democracy, so everything is hunky-dory — and of course every part of that story is nonsense. The Greeks understood that democracy is likely to produce oligarchy, because if you don’t have some mechanism to get inequality under control then people with the most money will likely take full control.

I agree with the last quoted paragraph, but not with Snyder's first paragraph: I think and thought that Fukuyama's claim that history had ended was total bullshit, but I see no reason to believe this caused Trump's presidency (28 years later).

Then there is this exchange on fascism:

D.: In my writing and interviews, I have consistently referred to Donald Trump as a fascist. I have received a great deal of resistance to that claim. Do you think this description is correct? If not, then what language should we use to describe Donald Trump?

S.: One of the problems with American discourse is that we just assume everybody is a friendly democratic parliamentarian pluralist until proven otherwise. And then even when it’s proven otherwise we don’t have any vocabulary for it. He’s a “dictator,” he’s an “authoritarian,” he’s “Hitler.” We just toss these words around. The pushback that you are talking about is 95 percent bad. Americans do not want to think that there is an alternative to what we have.
I have been saying, indeed since March 2016 (see here and here, for example) that it is - in my considered opinion - more plausible to call Trump a neofascist than a fascist, while I also think since March 2016 that - in my psychologist's opinion - he is probably a megalomaniac, that is, he has a personality disorder that is well described as a kind of insanity. (And I still, after more than a year, agree with both judgements.)

Here is more about Trump's asserted fascism:

S.: I don’t want to dodge your question about whether Trump is a fascist or not. As I see it, there are certainly elements of his approach which are fascistic. The straight-on confrontation with the truth is at the center of the fascist worldview. The attempt to undo the Enlightenment as a way to undo institutions, that is fascism. Whether he realizes it or not is a different question, but that’s what fascists did. They said, “Don’t worry about the facts, don’t worry about logic, think instead in terms of mystical unities and direct connections between the mystical leader and the people.” That’s fascism. Whether we see it or not, whether we like it or not, whether we forget, that is fascism.

Another thing that’s clearly fascist about Trump were the rallies.
I mostly agree with Snyder, but like to point out - see my "On Fascism and Neofascism: Definitions" - there are at least 20 different definitions of what "fascism" means, so more precision would be quite helpful.

Then there is this on Trump and TV:

D.: Why is Trump not being held accountable for all of his failures, scandals and incompetence?

S: Mr. Trump is primarily a television personality. As such, he is judged by that standard. This means that a scandal does not call forth a response, it calls forth the desire for a bigger scandal.
If so - I do not know, for I am not an American - this is less the doing or the fault of Trump than it is the fault of the majority who watches and judges him as if he were a TV personality, whereas he now is the president of the USA.

Here is more:
D.: In your book you discuss the idea that Donald Trump will have his own version of Hitler’s Reichstag fire to expand his power and take full control of the government by declaring a state of emergency. How do you think that would play out?

S.: Let me make just two points. The first is that I think it’s pretty much inevitable that they will try. The reason I think that is that the conventional ways of being popular are not working out for them.
I think I agree with Snyder that Trump will try to get vastly more personal power, although I don't think his popularity has much to do with it.

Here is the last bit that I'll quote from this interview:

S.: I hate to sound like a self-help person but I’m going to. Every day you don’t do something, it makes it less likely that you will ever do something. So you’ve got to get started right away. “On Tyranny” is a suggestion of things that everyone can do. There are plenty of other great ideas from people coming from other traditions, but the basic thing is you have to change your protocol of daily behavior now.

I think he is right, but I do not know whether this will make much of a difference.
Then again, Timothy Snyder wrote "On Tyranny" and that is a recommended book,
as this is a recommended article.


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