Saturday, 4 February 2017

How the Anti-Trumpers are losing their minds, and why it's no longer funny...

Between the morning of 9 November 2016, when Donald Trump declared victory, and the evening of 20 January 2017, when he made his inaugural speech, politics was at its most entertaining in my lifetime. Watching the bien pensant establishment melt down into a political temper tantrum over Trump's victory was a long overdue balm for the long-suffering rational mind. After years of watching the authoritarian behaviour of professional cry bullies whose affected victimhood had suddenly and violently morphed into the real thing, we finally saw those who had abused their positions of power and authority for so long get what they had earned, good and hard. However, not long after watching Trump's inaugural speech, I stopped laughing. This week, I have started to feel something else: fear. No, not based on anything Trump has done. Not his long overdue declaration of war on business regulation; not his executive order to build the border wall; not his immigration order that isn't and doesn't even border on a "Muslim ban"; and certainly not his appointment of perhaps the most civil liberties friendly Supreme Court judge since before the New Deal era, in the form of Neil Gorsuch. No. There is nothing (as yet) to confound my prediction that Mr. Trump is not a revolutionary (whether of the good (Ron Paul) variety or bad (Bernie Sanders) one) but, rather, a purveyor of the most sensible set of policy positions for which the establishment consensus will currently allow.

No. My fear relates to Mr. Trump's great political asset, which now shows disturbing signs of turning into a liability, namely his ability to induce derangement in his opponents. During his successful campaign, he succeeded in making his enemies expose themselves as politically correct, inverted-racist, open borders zealots. This helped to deflect attention from Trump's greatest political weakness: the fact that his authoritarian streak is real, even if exaggerated and decontextualised. Like George H.W. Bush and Hillary Clinton, he has made public statements in support of criminalising flag burning. Like George W. Bush, he has intimated that he would like to tighten libel laws to reduce the freedom of the press. Like Bill Clinton, he seems discomfitingly comfortable with mass incarceration. Like Barack Obama, he seems to have little respect for States' rights and executive accountability and has intimated that he'd like to regulate the media to make its coverage of him less "unfair" (although, unlike his spoiled brat predecessor, he can at least claim to have a genuine grievance in this regard). This week, Dilbert creator Scott Adams asked whether Trump's opponents actually want to bring out the worst in him. Adams may have a point. I can't think of a better way in which to bring out Trump's inner authoritarian than the manner in which his opponents have been behaving since 20 January.

Observing the Women's March held on that day was akin to watching a hitherto entertainingly and somewhat endearingly mad person cross the line into seriously deranged and destructive behaviour. First, the arch-solipsist Ashley Judd stood, pie eyed, screaming to a frenzied crowd: making fun of Trump's physical appearance; suggesting that he harboured incestuous lust for his elder daughter; and going on a bizarre loghorreous rant about her menstrual cycle. Then there was Madonna, an "entertainer" who became super-rich by making semi-pornographic music videos and has since used her wealth to indulge the wildest and most exhibitionistic components of her personality. Her contribution was to fantasise about blowing up the White House. Finally, there was Linda Sarsour, a "feminist" who wears a Hijab, acts as an apologist for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and recently expressed the desire to subject the genuine women's rights campaigner Ayaan Hirsi Ali to an "a$$ whippin". After watching this bizarre freak show and seeing the glowing coverage it received on mainstream media, I could no longer feel amused. These people were clearly a danger to themselves and others.      

But this week, the behaviour has crossed a dangerous Rubicon. Two days ago, Trump supporting Breitbart journalist Milo Yiannopoulos was due to speak to the College Republicans at the University of California at Berkeley. Left wing demonstrators organised a "protest" against him being entitled to speak on campus (yes, that's right, a protest against free speech, go figure), which quickly turned into a melee when a masked thug element started a riot which culminated in the vandalism of a Starbuck's and a bank. This orgy of "anti-Fascist" violence (terrorism, really) caused more than US$100,000 worth of damage. Berkeley's mayor Jesse Arreguin summed up "progressive" attitudes in saying the following: "Using speech to silence marginalized communities and promote bigotry is unacceptable. Hate speech isn't welcome in our community." Enough said. The following day saw another "protest", this time against Takimag journalist Gavin McInnes being invited to speak at New York University. A woman identifying herself as an NYU professor (admittedly, a status which is, as yet, unverified) screamed at members of the NYPD that they should be beating McInnes up rather than protecting him (McInnes was reportedly pepper-sprayed by an "Antifa" rioter). Even if this woman turns out to be an actress (which seems more than possible), it is impossible to explain away the clear cheers and applause that her deranged and incoherent rant elicited from protesters. 

Yesterday, however, Village Magazine crossed the most disturbing line of all, publishing a cover with a picture of Donald Trump with crosshairs superimposed on it with the chilling caption: "Why Not". As editor Michael Smith pointed out, the lack of a question mark after the phrase, together with an inside editorial suggesting that assassination would be a bad idea, meant that the lurid cover stopped millimetres short of constituting a direct incitement to murder. However, those of us with long memories remember the climate of hysteria in relation to immigration restrictionists in 2002, which culminated in a left wing lawyer by the name of Volkert van der Graaf shooting dead Dutch nationalist politician Pim Fortuyn. There will always be enough people of questionable mental health who will be happy to take the provocations of attention seekers like Smith at face value and indulge their "Saving the world from Hitler" complexes with homicidal results.

This is where Trump's more authoritarian instincts become relevant. 

If Trump supporters wearing "Make America Great Again" hats are attacked and beaten in the streets; if people cannot see a speech by Yiannopoulos or McInnes with being maced or attacked; if Trump's voters become fearful that powerful establishment elements are tacitly encouraging violence and crime as a weapon against the Trump administration, will this make them more or less likely to demand that Congress pass draconian laws against protest or declare groups like ANTIFA or Black Lives Matter to be terrorist organisations and use the RICO Act to prosecute them? 

If elements of the deep state or city governments begin using illegal or legally dubious mechanisms to frustrate policies with wide public support, will this increase or reduce support for Trump engaging in legally dubious strongman behaviour of his own?

If Trump fears that he or his family will be killed or injured by people hostile to his worldview, will this increase or decrease his respect for civil liberties?

If Trump looks at the deep state, the courts, the State governors, the City mayors and their media supporters and concludes that they are engaging in a de facto coup against him, will this make him more or less likely to perpetrate his own coup against America's constitutional order?

Let me repeat to the anti-Trumpsters: Trump's authoritarian tendencies are not welcome but they are not unique. They have been shared to a greater or lesser extent with every president at least since Reagan. Thankfully, from Bush I to Obama, none crossed the line into fully fledged tyranny. However, none of these faced so many elements of the deep state, the political establishment, the media, academia and civic society believing, not only that they were wrong but that they were illegitimate and had no right to govern. If Trump's authoritarian tendencies are provoked like none of his recent predecessors', then it is precisely this provocation, and not any of Trump's unique characteristics, that will be to blame for any tyranny that ensues. 
     

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

What posture should Enda adopt towards the Donald? A pro-Irish one perhaps?

So now the Irish establishment knows the nausea I felt watching each of the Taoiseach's annual Paddy's Day pilgrimages to Washington to meet and lard unctuous praise on Barack Obama - or they soon will. Not that they'll be justified, of course, but in the Irish establishment's schema, treating Donald Trump with basic and businesslike respect is somehow equivalent to the craven and embarrassing obsequy lavished on his predecessor. Forgive me if I feel some Schadenfreude (no, scratch that, there's no shame in my joy; just plain Freude will do nicely). Between 2001 and 2008, I watched the Irish establishment bifurcate. Those in power treated George W. Bush with guarded respect. Those in opposition denounced his war in Iraq and decried Bertie Ahern's supposed complicity in it; some, such as Pat Rabbitte and David Begg boycotting diplomatic receptions. Of course, when Barack Obama started the equally idiotic and, arguably, more disastrous Libya war, nobody in Ireland's higher echelons could bring themselves even to suggest that the blessed one should be spared the "Is feidir linn" Blarney in favour of a more arms' length treatment. In so doing, the elites (and especially their leftist cohort) showed that they had no genuine anti-war feelings, merely a pathetic tendency to ape the opinions and attitudes of the "sophisticated" coastal Americans, who hated Bush and loved Obama. 

Was Bertie Ahern wrong to visit DC despite Iraq and should Cowen and Kenny have boycotted Obama over Libya? No, and nor should they have engaged in the narcissistic virtue signalling which accepting their hospitality and using it as a platform to criticise them would have entailed. Contrary to the image that our delusional political establishment has sought to project, Ireland is not a small country that punches above its weight in geopolitical and geostrategic influence. Rather, we are a small country which , in common with all countries below a certain critical mass of population, punches with no weight at all. Nothing Ireland says about any great issue outside our borders is capable of exerting any fundamental influence at all. With no ability to affect reality, the fundamental duty of our government is to negotiate that reality to ensure that Irish interests are best served. In 2003, the Ahern government, in its own incoherent way, represented Ireland's interests well with regard to the Bush administration. By pointedly neither endorsing nor opposing the Iraq expedition, Ahern kept on the right side of the Bush/Cheney compact. This was useful. The Bush administration largely ignored the offshoring of US corporate profit streams to Irish vehicles. Meanwhile, when Ahern shrewdly sought to use the murder of West Belfast man Robert McCartney to pressure Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams, Bush helpfully backed him up by inviting the dead man's sisters to the White House. Moral grandstanding would have done nothing to prevent the Iraq war and it's unlikely that a more fulsome or laudatory approach to Bush would have delivered anything more. All the evidence is that Bush respected Ireland and acted accordingly.

By contrast, in spite of the condescending pats on the head from Obama and our puppy dog like yelping in his midst, what did we get from him? Arguably worse than nothing. When the US Congress started to assail Ireland as a global tax haven, Moneygall's favourite son was nowhere to be seen. So what should Enda learn from Ireland's relations with the last two POTUSs? Insulting Trump will do us no more good than canonising Obama did. America and the world don't care what we think - and we should not be narcissistic enough to think they should. All we can do is behave in a businesslike manner, command respect, engender some passive goodwill and hope that each yields some low hanging fruit to be picked. Kenny will go to Washington on St. Patrick's day under pressure from some not to go at all and from others to go and condemn his so-called Muslim ban and his Mexican border wall. Many of those who advocate the latter also want him to raise the issue of the 50,000 or so Irish illegals living in the US. This final issue is a classic example of low hanging fruit that can be picked by a deft harvester. So what should Kenny do?

First, let me answer by saying what he should not do. He should not ignore the fact that it is in Ireland's indubitable interest not to have to assimilate tens of thousands of deportees from the US. By the same token, if it is not in Ireland's interests to have them back, it's logical to presume that it's not in America's interests to keep them. This leads to the second thing he should not do. He should not insult Mr. Trump by asking him to ignore law breaking by tens of thousands of our citizens and the socialised costs associated with their presence in his country. Big countries like the US can (for a time) pretend that the rest of the world is obliged to operate in their interests. Ireland has no such luxury. Kenny should thus say nothing about these 50,000 in public and anything said in private should be said through diplomatic back channels. Behind the scenes, Enda needs to talk the language that the Donald himself speaks like no other: The Art of the Deal.

So what trade is to be had? First off, Kenny should publicly call on Trump to take Ireland's interests into account when negotiating a trade deal with post-Brexit Britain. This will send Trump the tacit message that Ireland will adopt, at worst, a benign neutrality with respect to his and Theresa May's attempts to craft a new international order for when the terminally ill EU finally dies. Secondly, when asked about Trump's border wall and his so-called "Muslim ban", he should pointedly say that the US's immigration policies are a sovereign matter for the American people and not something upon which a foreign leader should comment. He should then add, as an aside, that, so far as he is aware, Mr. Trump's executive order does not even mention the word "Muslim" and that there is thus no "Muslim ban" for him to condemn or endorse and, so far as he knows, no plans for one. Finally, Kenny should sound the distinctly Trumpian note of endorsing the latter's policy of replacing "refugee" resettlement in western countries with a policy of locally guaranteed "safe zones" in the Middle East, where far more, far more desperate people can be helped at a far lower per capita cost. In addition to being something approaching the most principled stance any Taoiseach has taken in relation to international policy in the history of the State, such a statement would be a deposit in the bank of goodwill which can allow Kenny to quietly work out a deal exempting the Irish illegals from whatever Trump has planned for the Mexicans et al. This is Trumpian dealmaking avant la lettre.

Enough of the "should" though. What do I predict Kenny will do instead? He will go to Washington, thereby offending the terminally Donald-deranged. He will present his bowl of shamrock without enthusiasm. He will use his 15 minute photo-op to insult his host by blatantly prying into matters of American domestic policy that are none of his business. Trump, who, whatever one may think of his qualities, does not suffer fools gladly, will see the Taoiseach as a glorified mayor who takes his marching orders from Angela Merkel, a politician who, all the evidence indicates, he (justifiably) despises. There will be no respect, no goodwill, just a fixed and sour smile on his perma-tanned visage. Meanwhile, when his Treasury and Justice Departments cast a beady eye over our illegals and our tax laws, Ireland will be overdrawn at the United States Bank of Goodwill. But hey, who wants to be a normal, self-respecting country that looks out for its own interests when there's virtue to be signalled?