Donald Johnston and Donald Trump: Europe and Russia

Donald Johnston and Donald Trump: Europe and Russia

by

Howard Adelman

Russia and Europe are both in the headlines these days, Russia because of the probe into the connections with the Trump White House, and Europe because of the fallout from Donald Trump’s visit last week. “The American-German relationship has been the core of the transatlantic alliance for more than 70 years. It was in Berlin in 1963 that President John Kennedy uttered the phrase, “Ich bin ein Berliner” signalling the unbreakable link between the U.S. and Germany.

Following last week, that close relationship is now dead. At its centre were trade and a military alliance. With respect to the latter, Donald Trump refrained from endorsing Clause 5 of the NATO pact. Trump even lectured his European colleagues for their failure to pay their fair share of NATO costs. Yesterday we learned that most are expecting Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris Accords.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel rebuked the American leader. “Anyone who accelerates climate change by weakening environmental protection, who sells more weapons in conflict zones and who does not want to politically resolve religious conflicts is putting peace in Europe at risk.” Angela Merkel said that it was time for Europeans, “to take our fates in our own hands.” Given “what I’ve experienced in recent days,” the days when “we could completely rely on others are over to a certain extent.” “We have to fight for our own future, as Europeans, for our destiny.”

These statements, as much as one might deplore this extraordinary breach in the trans-Atlantic alliance, seemed to prove Donald Johnston’s conviction that Europe had to have strong, visionary leadership. Though he had not seen it yet when he wrote Chapter 3 of his book, “Europe Listing, but Afloat,” the statements of German leaders, the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of France, the prior rejection in Austria of a right-wing populist government, the rebirth of Greece and its rejection of a Greek Grexit, the solidification of the Spanish and Irish economic recoveries, all spoke to a revived Europe, and one without the UK which had voted to leave the European Union in the Brexit upset referendum.

The UK seems to be on a downward slide. London’s place as a world financial centre will begin a slow spiral driven by the gravity of less access to markets. Further, the UK faces the possibility of disintegrating into even smaller nation-states as Scotland looks forward to another vote for separation and rejoining Europe. While most Germans, Dutch and French identify as Europeans, the English still overwhelmingly identify their nationality with their little British Isle. Nevertheless, Johnston believes that the English will soon come to their senses, especially as the unravelling gets closer and more difficult. He believes that Brits will reverse course before it is too late.

One reason Donald Johnston offers is not only the difficulties in unravelling membership, not only the increasingly apparent high costs, but his belief that the Brexit referendum “was a vote of passion, not reason.” Rational self-interest would win out over identity politics currently manifest in the U.K.’s resistance to the influx of outsiders, even though two-thirds of migrants to the UK were not Europeans. Further, like populists on the right in the U.S., those supporting exit from the EU hated the Brussels bureaucracy and called for “independence.”

Nevertheless, Johnston believes that Brits will change their minds before the break is finalized. “What government would have the courage to sign off on Brexit if the polls show a large majority of electors opposed, which is likely to be the case when the consequences are well understood?” If they don’t, separation will take place “against the will of the majority of people in the United Kingdom.” How does he arrive at that assessment? He adds together those who voted against exit with those who did not vote at all on the assumption that 100% would oppose Brexit. Further, even if the divorce is concluded, he expresses the belief that Britain would remain in the European economic zone or, at the very least, forge a free-trade agreement.

Ignoring the statistical sleight of hand above, which Johnston rails against in his chapter on stats, for someone who supports democratic institutions, it reveals a strong distaste for populism and referenda, a dislike he repeatedly expresses in the book. The problem, of course, is that a united Europe is primarily a mandarin’s dream while people throughout Europe and not only in the UK resent the usurping of tradition, of national parliaments and national pride. Johnston believes in a federated state model for Europe. He is an unabashed supporter of multilateralism and globalization as he envisions an even stronger Europe with increasingly open markets, a diminution of trade subsidies, a supporter of structural reforms in the provision of labour and manufacturing. But without completing the mission of creating a united federal state of Europe, the prospect of it becoming the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world while ensuring social cohesion is, for DJ, iffy.

It is not that Johnston has not considered the reasons for populism – the suspicion of remote bureaucracies or the desire for greater parochialism. He has, but only to dismiss such approaches and to double down in defence of globalization. Nowhere in the book could I find an analysis of the effects of restructuring and globalization on workers. Further, and this is most surprising, though he applauds the goals of the Lisbon Declaration in support of education, research and innovation, research and innovation are not included in his graphic summary of his moral economics. Nor is his support for representative democracy and his fears, even hatred, of referenda and populism. The latter just provide grounds for demagogues and irrational passions displacing the task of rational decision-making. DJ quotes Edmund Burke with enthusiasm for parliamentarians who offer unbiased opinions, mature judgement and an enlightened conscience applied to political decision-making. Even those who have a deep faith in rational decision-making can be romantic visionaries.

What remains wrong in Europe? No equivalent to a European-wide securities and exchange commission, no EU-wide drug or food agency, no effective common immigration and refugee position, if only to counter-balance population decline, no formula for redistribution and strengthening weak regions. These unachieved goals, not identity politics, are responsible for the reassertion of populist, irrational, ill-informed and volatile popular will.

Donald Johnston presents himself as the antithesis to Donald Trump. Except he thinks Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is an effective leader in Turkey and only became a radical pro-Islamic politician because Europe procrastinated and dithered on Turkey’s application to join the EU. Turkey’s flaws are largely the product of that rejection, even though he concedes that many who suspected his demagoguery and counter-democratic tendencies may have been correct. What he writes abut Russia offers a test of whether he can reconcile his support of parliamentary representative democracy and admiration for strong, effective leaders, for the latter is the trait he unabashedly shares with Donald Trump.

That, however, does not seem to be the case when he begins his chapter on Russia. “Putin’s personal agenda is totally incompatible with democratic ideals, free markets, freedom of expression, and even human rights.” Sounds pretty much like Erdoğan. Both men came to power with a very specific goal – to make their respective countries great again. Both used democracy to advance their own popularity and agenda. Both are economic mercantilists. And both are enemies of freedom and human rights. So why is Johnston so favourable to Erdoğan but critical of Putin? The sentence that follows partially answers the question. “His popularity is founded on hostility and aggressive policies towards the west.” (p. 41)

But what is the difference between the two leaders of Turkey and Russia respectively? Both disappeared adversaries, Erdoğan blatantly, openly and extensively. Putin was more surreptitious, but only Putin is accused. The difference seems to be that people eliminated in Russia included technocrats who Johnston knew – Boris Nemstov, for example.  Erdoğan only wiped out Kurds, jailed journalists and rounded up tens of thousands of members of his own party, civil servants and members of the judiciary, or anyone he thought might be opposed to his increasingly autocratic rule. The only substantive difference: Turkey had a much longer period as a democratic state.

But the causes are the same. Western failures. “Putin [like Erdoğan] is a product of Western blindness.” The stimulus may be different – the closure of the EU to Turkey versus the resurrection of the Cold War in a new form against Russia. The EU dithered on admitting Turkey. OECD procrastinated with Russia’s application to join.

Look at DJ’s answer to Putin’s query to him for an example of bad practices that OECD could help eliminate. Johnston replied, with only the slightest hesitation: “In Canada, which is a vast and diversified country and has similarities with Russia, we committed many mistakes. We pushed local development policies that were more tailored to positive political outcomes than to economic ones.” His reaction to Putin’s impassive response is even more interesting, explaining that passivity because Putin recognized that, “in democracies, placating local constituencies with public funds is an odious, yet obvious (my italics), by-product of the election process.” (p. 45) That says very little about Putin, but a great deal about Johnston’s cynicism and very guarded qualified defence of democracy, which seemed to boil down to the less you consulted your constituents, the less you tried to placate and cater to them, the better leader you were.

Putin could ignore proposals to liberalization of trade, effective taxation, privatization and methods for attracting foreign capital investments. Why? Because the West had made him justifiably wary because of the advance of Western missile defence systems eastward and NATO expansion to the borders of Russia. Those missile defence systems and the move of NATO eastward were not because former satellites had learned to distrust Russia throughout their history and needed reassurances if they were going to embrace the West.

Whether the problem was Crimea, the Ukraine or Syria, the answer is always the same: the mindblindness of the West. The West had failed to provide, in a timely way, healthy market-oriented and properly regulated economic nostrums in the nineties so that Russia could have avoided the depredations of corruption and kleptocratic oligarchs. Why? Because “the Harvard boys” with their unboundaried faith in self-correcting free markets got to Moscow before the OECD boys and their ethical economic doctrines. Russia could and should have been made part of the EU community earlier and history would have run a different course. The IMF got it wrong. OECD had it right.There are vast differences between DJ and DT: DJ’s high regard for civil servants and DT’s contempt for them; their joint appreciation of free markets, but Trump for unregulated ones and DJ’s belief in moral boundaries to them; DJ’s and DT’s contempt for the populace, but with Trump gleefully manipulating the public while DJ did so with his head down and with no sense of self-satisfaction. However, look at the similarities. Both support military withdrawal from spheres of Russian interest. Both share a belief in the power of personal diplomacy. Both respect strong leadership. Trump crusaded against corruption while openly admitting he was part of the corrupt system. DJ, though critical, was more accepting of corruption in its institutionalized democratic forms.

With respect to the latter, there is a major difference. DJ believes in consulting, placating and catering to constituents as little as possible. Trump does not exactly consult them, but psychologically he needs their approval and applause – look at how he is handling the abrogation of America’s signature to the Paris Accords.

DJ and DT are not the same. They are in many ways opposites. However, they are twins, though DT is the hairy one prone to mistakes, governed by instinct and unabashedly frank and even trusting. DJ is cautious, reads his briefing papers diligently and, even more importantly, appreciates others who do the same. Both have strong opinions and both offer very weak defenses of them. Trump’s are almost non-existent or simply products of his imagination.  But DJ respects mandarins. DT despises them. DJ is a globalist and cosmopolitan. DT is a nationalist. DJ is the epitome of civility. DT disses his opponents.

But both believe that history can be commanded and controlled – DJ through thoughtful and careful deliberation, DT through instinct and unabashed self-trust.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Donald Trump and Hitler: Part II

Donald Trump and Hitler: Part II

by

Howard Adelman

I had already written a reply to an email from a reader of my blog in Miami asking for my take on the comparison of Donald Trump to Hitler before I wrote Part I. My reader cited Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s piece on the Hitler-Trump comparison and he personally thought that the Rabbi was dead-on in his criticism of various Hitler-Trump comparisons in a 7 March op-ed in The Jerusalem Post. Shmuley Boteach, a Lubavitcher orthodox rabbi with an amazing proficiency for self-advertisement and self-promotion that makes Norman Mailer’s Advertisements for Myself look like the product of an amateur, is the author of such best sellers as Kosher Sex, Kosher Jesus and Kosher Lust.  Just this past week in the Canadian Jewish News (10 March 2016, p. 50), he enjoyed a full page Q&A session, but nothing to do with his criticisms of comparing Trump to Hitler.

In criticizing those who compare Trump to Hitler, who is Shmuley taking on? There are a plethora of candidates, but he specifically cited Louis C.K. and Darrell Hammond on Saturday Night Live, Colin Jost, Weekend Update’s co-host, and Bill Maher on his late show. C.K. wrote, “the guy is Hitler… Hitler was just some hilarious and refreshing dude with a weird comb over who would say anything at all… [Trump’s] an insane bigot. He is dangerous.” The Daily News wrote a story on “SNL takes on Donald Trump’s racist supporters and endorsements; comparing front-runner’s campaign to Nazi Germany.” President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico compared Trump’s pursuit of office to Mussolini and Hitler: that’s “how Mussolini got in, that’s how Hitler got in.” I could not find where The Daily News had on its front cover, “Trump is Hitler” as Shmuley claimed. Further, Shmuley insisted, correctly, that the others “made comparisons between Trump and Hitler, but after running through the episodes, I could not find anywhere where they simply equated Trump with Hitler.

C.K. came closest, but it is clear from the context that he was claiming that Trump was Hitler with respect to his disregard of the truth. In the op-ed piece, Shmuley argued that the comparisons of Donald Trump and Hitler were “disgusting” and “vile.” They were “an affront to decency, the Jewish community, the victims of the Holocaust and to Trump himself.” Describing something said about and not by Trump as “an affront to decency” alone has to wake any reader from his somnolent state since Donald Trump is currently hailed generally as the greatest assault on decency by a public political figure in the United States. Does comparing Trump to Hitler trivialize the genocide of the Jews as Shmuley claims? Recall that Shmuley himself was forced to apologize when he claimed that, “Susan Rice has a blind spot: Genocide.” He criticized Susan as “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between the U.S. and Israel.

In none of the pieces cited could I find any hint of a suggestion of any trivialization of the Holocaust. Of course, Trump is not Hitler. Of course, there is no comparison between Trump and Hitler’s anti-Semitic quest to exterminate the Jews. No one suggested any such comparison. Absolutely no one I read had even hinted that Donald Trump is “a Republican presidential candidate… running for office to perpetrate genocide.” Shmuley seems to have the same propensity as Donald Trump to play fast and loose with facts and citations. When comparing Trump to Hitler, there never, as much as I have read or seen, been any comparison between Hitler exterminating the Jews and Trump’s desire to exterminate anyone. And what has the whole problem of comparing Trump with Hitler have to do with falsely charging Israel with “genocide” when it counters the missiles Hamas aims at Israel with rockets of its own?

It is also irrelevant that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is an orthodox Jew and that Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, converted to Judaism or that Donald Trump has orthodox Jewish grandchildren.  Whether or not the comparison between Donald Trump and Hitler is either valid or valuable, these assertions disqualify Shmuley as a reasonable critic of such comparisons. There is a fundamental rule in comparison, and in analogical argument more generally. Analogy may be the weakest form of argument, but when it is well done, it can be both funny and enlightening. But it must obey one simple rule. Comparisons should not be general.

Shmuley claimed that, “Comparing Trump to Hitler trivializes world war, genocide, the one-and-a-half million children gassed by the monster, and is a vulgar attack on the good citizens of the United States who are being accused of getting behind a murderer. Try telling someone who lived through the concentration camps and lost their entire family to the Nazis that Trump is Hitler.” But no one that I read or heard ever said, “Trump is Hitler.” Instead, as is appropriate in analogical argument, they compared specific traits or sets of traits. And this is precisely what valid comparisons are about.

Shmuley not only does not understand the nature of analogical argument, not only denies both the veracity, utility and value of those specific comparisons, but attributes qualities to Trump, like a great many others, that Donald Trump does not seem to possess. For example, Shmuley credits Trump with “straight talk”. Trump’s speeches are direct. They are plainly spoken. But they lack the one essential character of straight talk – honesty.

Examine Donald Trump’s speech when he announced his candidacy. Are any of these accurate about the most powerful and richest state in the world today? “Our country is in serious trouble.” What is the source of that trouble? Is it that there is a growing gap between stagnating middle class incomes and the dramatic increase in the incomes of the rich? Is it because America has not been quick enough off the mark in reversing the trend to despoiling this planet? Is it because there are still far too many Americans, even with Obamacare, who do not have adequate health insurance? None of these. “We don’t have victories any more.” That does sound like something Hitler might have said.

However, the closest comparison between Hitler and Trump is the reverence for a strong leader and the assertion that he was the only candidate for that strong leadership. Trump when he announced he was running to be the Republican candidate for the American presidency said, “Now, our country needs – our country needs a truly great leader, and we need a truly great leader now. We need a leader that wrote The Art of the Deal.”

And who are the military leaders he admires. The ones who flouted civilian authority over the military. “[W]ithin our military, I will find the General Patton or I will find General MacArthur, I will find the right guy. I will find the guy that’s going to take that military and make it really work. Nobody, nobody will be pushing us around.” The Donald does not appeal based on his detailed knowledge of the issues, but on an appeal to the guts and the fears of Americans. “Trust me. I’ll get the job done. I’ll take care of you. I’ll negotiate the great deals that will protect Americans unlike the vacuous existing leaders in the Republican party and the dead end that they have led the membership into.”

After he cancelled his Chicago rally on Friday, he told Don Lemon of CNN, echoing Senator Marco Rubio, that, “No one understands immigration better than I do.” Trump said, “No one understands protests better than I do. I have had protesters at my construction sites. I have had protesters at my… Believe me, no one, and I mean no one, understands protesters better than I do.” Is that why he corralled and kicked out of his rallies any protester who dared to raise a sign? Is that why he cancelled the Chicago rally because 400 or so protesters turned up at is rally, too many to manhandle without causing a riot?

 

Trump in his hyperbolic mode of speech called America a loser in everything it did over the last seven years. There were no victories. Trump would ensure that the U.S. would have a record of victories when he became President. If Trump was referring to an absence of diplomatic victories, the Iran nuclear deal was a victory. On the military front, the war against ISIS in Iraq will be over in another year. In economic terms, Trump declares that, “China kills us, beats us all the time.” But China via the trade deal became the third biggest market for American exports. Further, America has exported high-priced services to China, services that have grown by about a third each year over the previous one. The excess trade in services dwarfs the China’s surplus trade in material goods. American investors have reaped enormous profits from their investments in China. America has exported high-value added items while it imports disproportionately low-valued merchandise. Yet Donald Trump declares that China “is our enemy” while he declares he loves China, but insists their leaders have outsmarted Americans in “how to make a deal.” The reality is that the American Congress and the U.S. President, given their deep divisions, have not been able to protect those negatively affected by the new globalized trade system.

Trump is so clearly totally ignorant of international political and economic affairs as when he declares that China is solidifying its economic and political influence in Iraq from which the U.S. has withdrawn. Quite aside from the fact that the U.S. is still very much politically and militarily active in Iraq, what Chinese scholar of contemporary Chinese foreign affairs would declare China to be active in Iraq? China does have important investments in Iraq, particularly in the oil sector. Beijing has a very watchful eye to ensure its oil wells largely in the south remain outside ISIS areas of control. China, after all, was the largest importer of Iraqi crude oil, 22% of all Iraqi exports (India was next at 19%.) Virtually all of this production where Chinese oil companies conduct business is still distant from the conflict zones, but China has been very wary. However, wariness does not entail China becoming active in Iraq.

China’s only significant presence in Iraq’s eruption of terrorism has been the discovery that one Chinese citizen joined ISIS. Ironically, China generally agrees with Trump that the U.S. became bogged down in a terrible quagmire in Iraq and China has stayed away to allow the U.S. to be eaten away by the seeds of destruction that it sowed. The only relevant point of all this, insofar as Donald Trump is concerned, is that he has absolutely no compass to discriminate between the truth and outright falsity. In that respect, he is directly comparable to Hitler. For Trump, “If I say it, it is true,” except if I say the very opposite the next day

Trump is the champion of the attacks on lies, obfuscation and cover-ups. Though I strongly disagree with his proposed policies, particularly the same attacks he makes against free trade as Bernie Sanders, the difference is that Trump insists he is a free trader. “Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people, but we have people that are stupid. We have people that aren’t smart. And we have people that are controlled by special interests.” I applaud the fact that just as Trump has set the standard for dishonesty, Bernie Sanders has set a standard for honesty and challenging mendacity even though I disagree with his attacks on free trade while I agree with his criticisms that those details did not protect or retrain the workers affected.

Trump is a nativist protectionist and harks back to a mercantilist international economic order. He has politicized economic and trade issues in his advocacy of protectionism and making a better deal. Instead of arguing for enhanced trade in goods, capital transfers, technology and services, Trump shouts slogans – “get a better deal!” At least Bernie Sanders as an unqualified anti- free trader is consistent. The reality is that neither Trump nor Sanders really believes in a multilateral trading system. Trump believes in walls and containment, confrontation rather than cooperation, rivalries rather than partnerships.

Trump declares that China’s currency manipulation and other trade practices have crippled the ability of the U.S. and other countries to compete worldwide. He calls China a “big abuser” for keeping its currency artificially low and making it impossible for America to compete.  But the yuan has increased significantly in value in relation to the American dollar over the last decade, though, more recently, the yuan has fallen in value relative to the American dollar as the Chinese market slowed and the Chinese government has not adequately intervened to stimulate the economy. “They’re devaluing their currency to a level that you wouldn’t believe. It makes it impossible for our companies to compete, impossible. They’re killing us.” “Our leaders are not smart. Our leaders are being laughed at in China.”

Donald Trump is also a hypocrite. One of his Trump Towers was heavily financed by Chinese investors in a cash for visas scheme. Hitler may have demonized Jews, but Trump demonizes Mexicans, Muslims (immigrants in general and even women), and, as in the above example, the Chinese. The target for demonization may be different, but the practice of demonization and blaming others and the weakness of one’s own leaders in response for all problems is both a Trump and a Hitler trait. It is not as if the disrespect for truth has not become an integral element to American political life, but since McCarthy I know of no other political leader who has brought political discourse deeper into the gutter.

Derrick Peavy from Atlanta believes that Trump may very well become president, and may also have done the best job of pinning the tail on the donkey. We have not been watching debates in the Republican race, with the possible exception of this past Thursday, that have been anything else than examples of competitive sports and entertainment.

The audience and the entire country all know that you’re not in a debate. They all know that you are standing behind one podium and there is a monkey behind the other podium.  You are the only one who doesn’t know it. And so you start talking, and the moderator asks Trump (the monkey) for his reply. And the monkey looks around, makes a few noises, then reaches back behind his back, shits in his hand and throws it in your face. The audience is roaring and eating this schtick up. And you stand there shocked. You’re simply stunned and thinking of a comeback, but the audience is eating it up. You see, they didn’t show up for a debate.  You are the only one who showed up for a debate.  And any time you reply or say anything, the monkey just shits in his hand and throws it in your face again.  And the joke is on YOU!

That’s what Hitler did. He threw shit around and degraded both public discourse and respect for the truth though he generally avoided vulgar language. He just celebrated vulgar violent behaviour. The one thing Trump has been correct on is that the plutocrats in the Republican Party have sold Americans a bill of goods. Trump himself has bought into some of it – climate change is a hoax, the Second Amendment must be absolute so everyone can buy a gun – but he has thrown a spanner in the works by exposing the power of special interests, by disagreeing with the Republican dogma of damning Planned Parenthood as the epitome of evil, and insisting that Obamacare must be universalized instead of selling out to the insurance and drug companies – shades of Bernie Sanders.

Why did Trump not immediately separate himself from David Duke and the racist neo-Nazis in the U.S.? Why did he initially plead ignorance, blame his ear piece and finally offer such an avuncular statement disavowing that racist support? The answer is not that he is a racist, but that he lacks any sensitivity to racism. Further, he may even know that many of his supporters have been deeply upset and resentful that a Black man captured the presidency. And serious discourse is suborned to populist celebrity culture. Bernie Sanders has the same populist appeal, but for opposite reasons. He insists that the top 1% not be forgiven for the devastation they have wrought on the American economy, that Bill Clinton introduced by cancelling the controls and regulations of the banking sector.

The absolute prerequisites for good governance are honesty and integrity, accepting real responsibility and not blaming others, and accountability and verifiability. Donald Trump is severely challenged on all these grounds – as was Hitler. Without the gyroscope of truth, the Big Lie becomes the standard, the bigger the better. And so begins the moral degradation of a great republic. When it is fueled by ultra-nationalism – make America great again – and by xenophobia, we have the beginnings of a great tragedy. The irony is that history has turned on itself and the middle class worker has become the bastion of the neo-fascism in both Europe and America while ideological anti-Semites in the guise of anti-Zionism have become the foundation of the radical left. Who would have thought that fascism and eventually socialism when they were driven into their graves, the latter, even in its various non-communist guises, would be resurrected in such monstrous and perverse emanations. The new black beast for both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders is both globalization and mobility, because the direction of the latter is viewed only as downward and the expansion of the former is viewed as exclusively at the cost of the native-born.

Accompanying the whole process, we have witnessed the vulgarization of public space. Angela Merkel is called a “whore”. Donald Trump boasts of the size of his penis. The authenticity of citizenship of Barack Obama has long been questioned by Trump; he was at the centre of the “birther” movement. He is the political leader closest to Marine Le Pen in France and Viktor Orban in Hungary, promoting nativism at the cost of multiculturalism. It is no surprise that Donald Trump claims he can get along with Putin.

Last Wednesday evening in the Florida debate between Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, both were asked by the co-moderator, Karen Tumulty, whether Donald Trump was a racist. Clinton said she had called Trump out. “Basta!” (In Spanish, “Stop”, that’s enough.”) “You don’t make America great, by getting rid of everything that made America great,” she continued, leaving it up to the American public to decide. Bernie Sanders came closer to an explicit answer when he cited Trump’s leadership in the birther movement and the demand that Barack Obama produce his birth certificate (which Obama actually already had). Sanders added, “Nobody has ever asked me for my birth certificate; maybe it has something to do with the colour of my skin.” But Bernie could have gone beyond Trump’s insults of Mexicans, Muslims and Black Americans by citing Trump’s own answers, though perhaps he did not because it is difficult to find confirmation from more than one source for many of them:

  • when a New Mexico mob attacked a family of illegal immigrants, Trump assured Americans that when the wall went up (and Mexico paid for it) there would no longer be a reason to attack
  • though some Mexicans he assumed are good people, Mexicans migrating to America have lots of problems; they bring drugs; they are rapists
  • make the real [my italics] America really great again
  • when mosques were burned across America, he insisted tempers would cool when a temporary freeze went into effect banning Muslim entry into the U.S or travel between states without a special permit
  • the sporadic violence in Alabama between white supremacists and African Americans was just “a legit argument”
  • he called reporters liars when they brought to his attention anti-Jewish signs being held aloft at his rallies beside anti-Muslim signs.
  • he had nothing to say when ultra-orthodox Hasidim were insulted and driven out of one of his rallies near Albany
  • to a meeting of Jewish businessmen, he began with a vulgar joke and stereotype – ‘I am in the right neighbourhood because I know how to make a deal’
  • Louis Farrakhan, the Black Muslim anti-Semite – Jews belong to the Synagogue of Satan – and leader of the Nation of Islam, praised Trump for telling Jews that, “I don’t want your money’.”
  • After days, “OK, I disavow David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan; are you satisfied?” .

There was no need for equivocation. Donald Trump is a racist even if he has grandchildren who are Jewish. He practices the politics of resentment and appeals to emotional despair rather than any real vision. In that respect, he is directly akin to Hitler. This is not the reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy (Godwin’s law) and Trump is not a pussycat compared to the neo-fascists in Europe. He is just an American version of an Erdoğan or a Putin. So while it is quite correct to compare Trump to Hitler is specific respects, it might be wise to heed the advice of the German historian and authority on Hitler, Thomas Weber: “First and foremost, it (the comparison) is a distraction. The problem is that the moment someone brings up Hitler in a political discussion, in a way it’s the end of the political discussion, because then it turns into a discussion over the comparison rather than substance. That said, to answer your question, on a tactical level there are great similarities between the early rise of Hitler and Trump. But we should not forget that beyond the tactical level there are huge differences and that ultimately the danger that Trump poses is rather different from the threat posed by Hitler.”

Weber went on to write:

Both (Hitler and Trump) present themselves as anti-politicians with a great degree of tactical flexibility, whose rhetoric is to fix America and to fix Germany. Both basically say that if we go on the way we are, America or Germany will not survive in the form that we know it. So there is a similarity in the rhetoric, also in the early anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim rhetoric, and I am not talking here about the 1930s and 1940s, but the kind of anti-Jewish rhetoric of post-World War I Munich where there were demands to drive Eastern European Jews out of Germany. Here, there are great similarities. Another similarity would be that precisely because of their tactical flexibility, both Trump and Hitler are difficult to make sense of, as a result of which they become a kind of canvas on which people can draw their own image of Trump and Hitler, both positively and negatively.

And what are the differences?

The modes of politics of Hitler and Trump are fundamentally different. For Hitler, every compromise that was not a tactical compromise was a rotten compromise. So in that sense he defied the rules of politics. For Trump, ultimately a compromise is what you do… So I think in that sense the similarity lies more in the rhetoric than in the substance.

It is also important to bear in mind that the Trump we know very much represents everything Hitler hated about America –  this kind of billionaire who had made his money, not from something productive, but from either finance or gambling. What we often forget is that, for the early Hitler, anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism were as important as anti-Semitism and anti-Bolshevism. So in that sense there is also a major difference between the two.

The biggest difference – which takes me back to my point why the Hitler comparison may distract from the real danger that Trump poses – is that Trump is ultimately a demagogue and a populist. He will say whatever it takes to get elected and then to stay in power. In the most positive scenario, this would mean that once in power he may not be the type of President we like, but he would ultimately turn into something moderate. The reason why I don’t think this is going to happen is that Trump, by being a populist and a demagogue, is destroying the very fabric upon which American politics operates. And that is an extremely dangerous game…

My point is, Trump isn’t Hitler, but things won’t be fine. In Hitler, you have someone who is destroying the rules of the game in order to replace them with either no rules at all or right-wing/fascist rules of survival of the fittest. In the case of Trump, it is more of a reckless, tactical game, where Trump is outwardly using the rules of reality TV shows in order to destroy the existing rules of American politics. The real danger is that Trump would apply the rules of reality TV to international affairs once he was President and by so doing destroy the international system and make an already volatile world far more dangerous.

May God bless America.

 

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

On Novorossia

On Novorossia

by

Howard Adelman

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What are Putin’s goals with respect to Ukraine? On Thursday, the cognoscendi on Russia, that is, those who are not simply experts on Russia but those who profess to understand and know the reasons for the actions of Russian leaders, perked up their ears when Vladimir Putin in a four hour television Q&A with the Russian people referred to Novorossia or New Russia. This territory includes both Eastern and Southern Ukraine. Putin said that the area had been detached from Russia in the 1920s and joined to Ukraine but without any reason and certainly no consultation with the people of Novorossia.

Christian Caryl wrote a piece in Foreign Policy on Novorossia on Monday. Linda Kinstler did the same in The New Republic (“Which Former Soviet State Could be the Next Ukraine?” 21 April 2014) but went further in suggesting that the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia), Belarus as well as Moldova (see my earlier blog on Transnistria or the self-proclaimed Transniester Republic that voted 96% in favour of Russian annexation), the five “stans” (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgzstan) as well as Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and even Poland that was never part of the old Soviet Union, all currently fear that they fall within the expansion plans of the new vision of Russia. For adumbrations of the new Putin doctrine, see George Friedman’s 1 April 2014 “Russia and U.S. Negotiate Ukraine’s Future” (Stratfor Global Intelligence) and David Ignatius 26 March article in The Washington Post. For the role of local Russian populations outside of Russia serving as a fifth column, see Mark Almond “It’s Not Just Russians Spoiling for a Fight” (Telegraph, 9 April 2014) and Cathy Young “Who Are You Calling Fascist, Putin?” (Weekly Standard, 9 April 2014).

What has emerged is the Putin doctrine. Russia is not just covertly and overtly seeding and orchestrating a separatist movement in both eastern and southern Ukraine. The ambition goes far beyond that. State borders are not just accidents of history but mistakes in history. Mistakes can and should be corrected. Further, according to the Putin doctrine, Russia’s true long-term interests do not lie in or rely upon multilateralism, integration into the world economy and the international rule of law. Russia’s economic prospects must be placed in service to political goals and only thereby will those economic interests best be realized.

On what grounds is the new Putin Doctrine articulated? Some believe that Putin is out to annex regions which include a significant Russian ethnic presence on the grounds that ethnic Russians need protection. Those Russians have the right to secede and rejoin Russia from which the people and lands were wrongly severed. This is what Jeffrey Sachs claimed in yesterday’s New York Times suggesting that Putin was leading an irredentist movement – “the effort to reunify a ‘lost’ territory inhabited by ethnic kin with either a mother country or with other territories also inhabited by ethnic kin.” I suggest that Putin is NOT a Russian ethno-nationalist but rather a Russian cosmopolitan, a very different entity.

Putin is determined to restore Russia as the lingua franca of a large part of the earth’s surface in which many ethnicities live but among which the Russian government will not discriminate. He is not trying to distract the Russian people with nationalist rhetoric, but trying to inspire them with the rhetoric of enlargement, with the dream of regaining a Russian civilization. It is the parallel to the ideology of the Han Chinese and Erdogan’s anti-Ataturk Turks. His adventurism is not simply a diversion but part of a long term policy in spite of and not because of a flagging domestic economy and a restive population tired of both corruption and repression. The Putin doctrine does not just defend ethnic Russians or even Russian speakers but a Russian World including minorities who need protection from ethno-nationalists. Kyiv’s efforts to protect Russia as a minority language and ethnic Russians are insufficient because it is the domination of Russian culture and civilization that is the prior aim. That is why Russia must prevail throughout Ukraine and in the media and why NATO cannot be permitted to encroach into the turn of the greater Russian civilization. The issue is not Ukraine independence. That is fully acceptable to Putin. The issue is whether Ukraine remains within the orbit of the prevalence of Russian culture.

Some background first.

Novorossia is Russia’s west, the New Frontier in the Turner version of western expansion applied to Russia rather than the United States of America. The area north of the Black Sea known as the Wild or Devastated Fields was conquered in a series of wars from the Crimean Khanate and the Ottoman Turks by the Russian Empire at the end of the eighteenth century and settled by Russians during the nineteenth century to establish new towns and cities within the Novorossiysk Governate administered from Kremenchuk to enable not only Russians and Ukrainians but Poles and Armenians to establish farms and estates in the new frontier. When the Bolsheviks in 1922 annexed this area to Ukraine, for the new visionaries of the Russian Empire it was akin to giving Texas to Mexico. For Putin, the reasons were inexplicable and only God can decipher a rationale. But although the territory was severed, the Russian population remained in place and it is the duty of the Russian Federation to help the Russian-speaking population find a solution to their cultural displacement.

Recent History

When the Party of Regions won the presidency in the 2006 Ukrainian parliamentary elections, it was in the territory of what had been called Novorossia that they garnered their greatest support. An historic error was about to be corrected, but the plan was undermined, not according to the Putin doctrine by corruption and misrule, but by American subversion through the CIA which backed a rebellion in Kyiv and by the cowardice of former president Viktor Yanukovych who fled his post for the safety of Russia in February. Acting President Alexander Turchinov and Prime Minister Alexander Yatsenuk as well as their cabinet ministers are not legitimate representatives but usurpers of power brought into their positions by the machinations of the CIA. Alexander Yakimenko, the former head of Ukrainian Secret Services (SBU) who escaped to Russia, claimed Andriy Parubiy, the current head of the SBU, forged a deal with the Americans. On American instructions, he hired the snipers who killed the 70 civilians as well as some of the riot police. This was done in spite of polls conducted ostensibly by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology that showed that 75.3% of residents in the Lviv region wanted to be reunited with the Russian Federation. In Lugansk, Donetsk and Kharkov in the East, the majorities were even much greater – 90.3%, 97.5% and 96.1% respectively. The February coup had set aside the rule of law in Ukraine in this interpretation.

The Putin Method

How does Putin intend to go about correcting this core central historic mistake as the second step following the accession of Crimea to the Russian Federation? By stealth. First there will be clear and unequivocal expressions of pacific intentions by the Russians as there were in last week’s negotiations with John Kerry in Geneva. Russia will move according to the old Russian proverb with great patience, but once started will proceed expeditiously – Russians take time to saddle their horses, but once mounted they ride with great speed. Those moves enjoy massive support in the Russian Duma. After all, as Putin said, “The Federation Council granted the president the right to use military force in Ukraine.” Putin then added that, “I really hope that I do not have to exercise this right and that we are able to solve all today’s pressing issues via political and diplomatic means.” Russia will begin by talking softly. But in the other hand Russia will not just carry one big stick but a batch of covert and overt coercive moves that will include fear mongering, economic blackmail, funding and organizing separatist forces, covert operations and only the use of overt military action as the final stage.

Western Responses

The European Union is an economic powerhouse but a military and diplomatic pygmy. Besides, it is dependent on Russian gas and oil for its economic prosperity in spite of Jeffrey Sach’s argument that the EU could survive without imports of Russian natural gas that only constitutes 10% of the EU’s overall imports, neglecting to say that gas and other energy (coal and oil) imports constitute 25% of Germany’s energy needs with no alternatives in sight. Germany is the economic engine of the EU. Germany for historic reasons did not follow France’s lead in the development of nuclear power but now Chancellor Merkel has said that in light of the Ukraine crisis, “all of Germany’s energy policies must be reconsidered.”Germany, the main powerhouse of the EU, and, in particular, Angela Merkel may be miffed by Vladimir Putin’s betrayal of her trust, but she has withdrawn from the field to lick her wounds and has no interim realistic policy to counter Russian aggression except to utter threats of economic retaliation that amount to mere pin pricks. This purportedly powerful leader has been reduced to practicing Haitian voodoo instead of an effective foreign policy to counter the Russian initiatives. Loans by western investors to Russian banks and corporations may not be renewed or may even be recalled, but Russia can be expected to initially step into the breach to counter the credit squeeze.

What is the American response? The United States just does not have the forces on the ground to counter Russian military moves. Further, the U.S. is till suffering from the scars of both the Afghan and Iraq wars. But both Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, and Diane Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee,

thought that America had been blind-sided by Russia’s rapid military move into Crimea. Feinstein said, “It should not be possible for Russia to walk in and take over the Crimea and it’s a done deal by the time we know about it.” Others, particularly backers of Putin’s new doctrine, seem somewhat baffled by America’s muted response and a reading of their websites indicate that they believe that the rhetorical gestures are just that, gestures to distract the western public to the fact that America has already agreed to the dismemberment of Ukraine and the annexation of Novorossia to Russia otherwise why has there been virtually no official western response to Putin’s assertion on Thursday.  Ukraine stripped of its eastern and southern regions will, in any case, be more acceptable as part of the EU. Kerry and the key European leaders must have already secretly agreed to this outcome. Their pusillanimous response is a certain indicator that both centers of power regard the current government of Ukraine as constituted by “idiots” (the term of the opposition nationalists – see the blog of Anatoly Shary who prides himself on his careful analysis of Western politicians).

After all, Novorossia already has the hymn of the revived republic penned by Alexander Duhnovicha in the nineteenth century expressing the wish and desire for an autonomous Russian republic within Ukraine, Podkarpatsky rusiny, with the modern founding document approved by 109 delegates in the Russian drama theatre, Mukacheva, and the founding scheduled for 1 December 2014, supposedly the birth date of the priest and author of the republican hymn:

Podkarpatsky rusiny,

Leave a deep sleep.

The national voice calls

Do not forget

Our people are favoured.

You will be free

From the storm

And keep away enemies

Justice will visit

The Russian nation!

Yea, Russia lives – the people!

We Ask God Vyshnjago (most High)

Support russkago

  Grant this century to luchshago!

[luchshago = Russian self-determination and autonomy: the Russian commission on governance in 1681 provided “the legal case for luchshago, sovereign governance in the organization and management of the polity.”

Behind it is a religious war between the Eastern Orthodox church and the Latinate Catholic Church of western Ukraine. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate was accused by the Russian nationalists of handing “over 1 million hryvnia to finance armed groups” in Kyiv, an interpretation allegedly supported by Eastern Orthodox Archpriest George Gorodentsev. The efforts of Yatsenyuk to promise a new status for Russia in regions with a large Russian presence and increased decentralization of power does not hide the real power for these Russian separatists who see behind these moves en empty hand behind which lies a conspiracy of the CIA and the Ukrainian Latin Church. Further, such offers are but spoiled candy, for the separatist forces demand the acceptance of Russian as an official language for all of Ukraine and demand a referendum on Russian autonomy as well.

Conclusion

Immediate prospects for the Ukraine look poor indeed given Russian determination and the lack of a well thought-out response from the West. One should not longer be fooled by Putin’s peaceful feints. They are just that. The overall path and pattern has been set.

The question is: how should we respond?