Donald Trump Fascist Part VI: Chaos, Human Rights and Democracy

Donald Trump Fascist Part VI: Chaos, Human Rights and Democracy

by

Howard Adelman

Democracy is a system of government accountable to voters. Democratic republics and responsible or parliamentary democracies have in common that both are governments by the people. However, in the model of responsible government, the supreme power in vested in a parliament made up of representatives of the people. In a republic, the people are represented by a supreme power divided between an elected leader versus a legislative body made up of elected representatives. Republics inherently deal with a system that makes checks and balances a core part of government based on the premise that strong leadership is a requisite of effective government, while, at the same time, there is a need to provide boundaries and checks to that strong leadership.

I usually call a republic a democratic monarchy because the issue is not any objection to a single political leader, but an insistence that the leader be directly accountable to the electorate. A republic denies power to a monarch without limited terms where power is transferred based on inheritance and there is no accountability. Both parliamentary democracies and republics eschew inherited power. Republics elect their kings or queens for limited terms. Parliamentary democracies, if they are monarchies, usually put their monarchs on a pedestal where they have no power. Absolute power is given to the legislative branch of government, subject only to the limitations of an independent judiciary system and sometimes a written constitution.

There is little debate that parliamentary democracies have gradually moved towards a presidential model, or the model of an elected president where the elected representatives often achieve office on the coattails of a prime minister. On the other hand, there remain distinctive differences.

This simplistic version of Politics 101 is not intended to discuss the benefits and dangers of the two respective systems, but to raise the issue of free speech as well as the principle of order and good government. The highest value is placed on the protection of individual rights, especially the right to free speech. For both systems – a parliamentary government and an elected democratic monarchy or republic – are guardians of that fundamental right. From the perspective of a member of a state based on a parliamentary democracy rooted in a principle of responsible government, one is appalled that “free speech” can be so defined that it protects the right of hate speech, certainly to a much higher degree than is the case in Canada. This does not mean that there are no critics in Canada of the refusal to protect hate speech. In contrast, Americans in general are much greater purists with respect to free speech and will often defend the right to express hatred of groups.

In the case of the current debates in the U.S. over Russian hacking into the American electoral system to favour one candidate, the objections are primarily to a foreign state doing so. Spreading false information is perceived as simply part of the democratic political tradition. Listen to Jeffrey Lord on CNN; he even fails to acknowledge the legal limits placed on malicious free speech which intentionally misrepresents. This, according to most American constitutional theorists, is banned by U.S. law. However, whatever the range of differences, the bar is very high in only restricting intentional and explicitly malevolent lying. This is very different than restrictions that can be found in a democracy like that of Canada.

One corollary of such a difference is that the American republic places a much greater stress on human rights; in the U.S., individuals enjoy a wider compass. At the same time, fundamental weaknesses have come to the fore in a democratic monarchy, particularly in the last American election of Donald Trump as the monarch. The American government has moved, certainly in the White House, even further away from order and good government towards chaos. What is less evident is that opportunities to restore order become fewer and harder to implement the longer DT is in office. “Topological mixing” versus linear clarity is enhanced because of the continuous presence of a “shift operator.” In other words, chaos has a propensity to increase because of the continuing central role of Trump.

This points to a second and related major difference. Both democratic monarchies and parliamentary democracies are committed to preserving order and preventing chaos. However, a system of responsible government is more averse to chaos and disorder. For in republics, political division exists, not simply between political parties, but among different governmental institutions. This is part of the system of checks and balances that builds into the system a greater degree of chaos than in a parliamentary democracy. In contrast, order and good government are mainstays of parliamentary democracies and enjoy a higher status. I argue that in parliamentary democracies, the principle of averting chaos is more important than even the protection of human rights and the freedom of speech.

What is chaos? Since the popularity of the 2001 movie about John Nash, A Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe, chaos theory has become part of public, though not popular, parlance. The biggest threat for responsible government is chaos even more than breaches of human rights. However, according to chaos theory, systems which are more dynamic tend to have a greater reliance on chaos. Further, in chaos theory, dynamic systems are, ironically, far more sensitive to initial conditions.

Stanford Levinson in his 1989 book, Constitutional Faith, argues that the foundation of the American secular religion is its 1788 constitution that forms the counterweight to fragmentary propensities, on the one hand, and the emergence of tyrants on the other hand. Chaos is anathema to both democratic republics and those responsible democracies which esteem order and good government. Chaos is neither governance nor responsible. Chaos is favoured by fascist systems. In part, it is because fascism offers itself as the only escape from chaos; chaos is created to make the need for fascism apparent. But it goes deeper. For in all dynamic systems, the creative energy, the initial big bang, comes from that chaos.

However, there is a third way in which chaos is favoured – not simply as an impetus and distraction, not simply as an energy source, but as proof of the need for a transcendental mind that will impose order on that chaos. There is also a fourth sense which makes chaos crucial to a fascist system. Chaos undercuts the possibility of a hierarchical ordered system. That is why DT is a populist. That is why he will undercut his army brass and arbitrarily demand that transgender individuals be thrown out of the army. That is why he will upset the leaders of the boy scouts by using a jamboree as a political rally. That is why he will upset most police chiefs when he suggests that there is no problem with roughing up arrested individuals when putting them in a squad car.

Contrary to authoritarian governments and widespread impressions, the leader of a fascist regime does not bring about order by imposing it from above, but by making it the duty of his subordinates and followers to discern and then work towards the realization of the amorphous image of the transcendental mind of the leader. That is why a fascist system, to most people’s surprise, is not a top-down movement. The leader may say that we must build a wall to keep out the bad hombres and that the government of those bad hombres will pay for it, but it is the followers who will have to figure out how to square that circle. For if it is a government of bad hombres, why would it pay to build the wall? The duty of the leader’s subordinates and followers is to discern how to realize this contradictory vision in the leader’s mind.

The dilemma applies to health care and to tax policy, to refugees and to immigration. How can the U.S. be a country open to the poor and an elitist country that builds a great deal of its human capital by skilled and well-educated imports from abroad? Reconciling expanding health benefits both in the entitlements and the people entitled while lowering premiums has to be “im Sinne des Führers ihm entgegenzuarbeiten.” It is the duty of all, especially appointees and followers, to interpret the vision of the leader and work assiduously towards its realization. Thus, initiatives are not just relegated to subordinates, but subordinates are held responsible to take those initiatives. They will of necessity be at odds with other colleagues, since there is no centre of interpretation. That in turn will recreate the chaos that is the foundation of a fascist system and, in turn, the demand for the leader to impose order.

Delegation, interpretation, conflict and disorder will all be hallmarks of such an administration. There will be a chaotic struggle of overlapping and competing centers of power that will vie as if in a Darwinian struggle to predetermine and refine the contents of a mind that works by free association rather than according to the rules of logic. Contrary to popular myths about fascism, the will of the leader will neither be absolute nor monocratic. A four-star general might be recruited to make sense of that chaos, but John Kelly as head of the White House, in spite of his experience and esteemed record, will crash his head against a wall trying to make sense of the slovenly manner in which Donald Trump makes decisions, sticking to some like gorilla glue while discarding others as mere flotsam while tossing the detritus overboard, and, to deliberately mix metaphors, then throwing the subordinate offering that interpretation “under the bus”.

However, when he cannot and does not decide between and among competing interpretations of his inchoate inspiration, any inability to make “spontaneous” and “irrevocable” decisions will drive him to retreat to stare at his own navel and issue a flurry of tweets as if they were a genuine means of communication of policy in a system of governance based on checks and balances.

The result, ironically, is even more personalized rule and the increasing elimination of the separation of the private and the public spheres, a hallmark of fascism as subordinates continue to vie to promote what they believe to be the leader’s will. It will be a system where the buck never stops at the White House Highest Office, except in cases of clear success, even if those successes are not the prime responsibility of the leader’s regime.

This is why so much attention is payed to Donald Trump’s psychological make-up. His self-esteem is not only the centerpiece of the governing structure, but it is one most propelled by past scars left when that self-esteem had been wounded. Was Donald Trump most humiliated when the Manhattan bigwigs in the New York development world spurned this vulgar arrival from Queens and Brooklyn or when the banks turned their backs on him when his businesses declared bankruptcy for the fourth time after the fiasco of his casinos in Atlantic City? It is not simply difficult but impossible to discern which flapping of the butterfly’s wings determined the Trump trajectory.

Donald Trump did not achieve his office on his own. He said that he was the voice of his followers. But they are the echo of his voice. In Nebraska where almost 80% voted for DT, after seven months of chaos in his administration, the vast majority still, as he does, blame the chaos on the “obstructionists.” His voice is viewed as their voice and the expression of sincerity, both because that which he articulates is based on emotion rather than facts and logic, and because he conveys sincerity even as he repeatedly lies and avoids any depth of reflection or deliberation.

But others in addition to the solid base of populism are responsible. Conservatives believed they could manage this vulgarian. Conservatives and the followers of his populism are “strange attractors.” At the very least, the conservatives believed that they could use his rule to advance the conservative agenda in judicial appointments, in administrative changes in a myriad of departments – health, the environment, agriculture, science policy, etc. And they have done so even if there has been no positive legislative record.

However, will conservatives and even his base begin to desert him if the chaos continues as well as his shameless record of lying and betrayal? For he demands fealty but offers no loyalty in return, even as he attacks the responsible media for producing “fake news,” a claim which his followers repeat. Reporters are “scum” and “enemies of the people.” Thus, paranoia is enhanced as DT’s base wallows in fantasies about immigrants and refugees and lap up conspiracy theories.

Another source and expression of chaos is DT’s overt contempt for his appointees, even though he periodically praises them with superlatives, and his covert condescension for the members of his base whom he manipulates with the tremendous repertoire of an actor even as he plays the charmer and cracks “jokes” at the expense of others. When interviewed and asked about their support after seven months of the DT administration, they quickly reveal that they live in “echo chambers or information cocoons.” (Cass R. Sunstein) Instead of exposure to difference, instead of celebrating the unplanned and the unanticipated, what counts is repetition of the same, precisely the environment for enhancing rather than reducing chaos. Chaotic complex systems are characterized by their feedback loops and repetition, by self-similarity rather than broad variation.

There are mundane expressions of this chaos. DT loves to play golf. It is a game in which prediction is difficult and where many variables determine the quality of play. But golf is also a game of honour; each player keeps his own score. DT is renowned for his cheating. More publicly, even in his own golf courses, he breaks all the rules and drives his cart across greens and tee boxes. And he can’t shut up when others are shooting. He talks through his game, filling the narrative with his usual hyperbole. While he celebrates the game for the exercise it offers, he always rides a cart.

Most importantly, DT manifests the greatest contempt for the rule of law. Even though Jeff Sessions has proven to be the most effective cabinet member in realizing a conservative agenda, DT belittles him for doing what he was legally required to do, recuse himself from the Russian investigation. DT fired James Comey as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for pursuing the inquiry. DT threatens Robert S. Mueller III, the Special Council heading the investigation, if he crosses the red line of probing his finances. In the meanwhile, he denounces the investigation as a witch hunt, illegitimate and a total fabrication instead of stating, as his own lawyers have done, a commitment to cooperating fully and transparently with the probe. DT, in contrast, does not express any belief in the role of an impartial investigation insulated from political interference, but sees all employees, even those in the Justice Department, even those in the special investigation unit, as his lackeys who owe fealty to him. As Ruth Marcus wrote in The Washington Post, “Trump is a one-man assault on the rule of law.”

It is precisely because of this trait that the longer DT remains in office, the more unpredictable his behavior will become rather than more predictable and better controlled. Uncertainty will increase exponentially the longer he stays in office. This means that he is unlikely to walk quietly into the night if he is indicted. He will battle. He will bring his followers into the streets.

One might dismiss the charge that DT is a fascist because he has neither quasi-militarized black nor brown shirts at his back, only Trump peak caps. Further, DT is wary of foreign wars rather than being a territorial expansionist. And he picks on Muslims rather than Jews. But those are details and different manifestations which are not at the core of fascism. Chaos is. Characterizing the expression of responsible journalism and free speech as fake news is. Chaos is not simply an accidental feature of the Trump administration that hopefully can be corrected by better management, but that which is at its core. Though insufficient in itself, chaos is another necessary condition for defining Trump as a fascist.

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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