Thursday, November 3, 2016

The really scary things this Fall.

Halloween is over and Bonfire Night just a day or two away.  But even after all of the ghosts and guys are gone and the  phantoms and the fireworks spent, there is a spectre hanging over us that is much more scary than any of these fanciful things which we use to titillate our sense of fear.  I refer of course to the US election, now under a week away. It scares me, whoever may win.  Here is why.

If Hillary Clinton wins there is the much talked about possibility of open rebellion on the part of unhappy Trump supporters, many of whom own and carry formidable arsenals of weapons.  There could be some very unpleasant and violent incidents, but I don't think that they would persist for very long and beyond being a major nuisance, I don't see that they would present an existential threat to the Republic or to the world.  But there is another way in which a Clinton victory could be a threat - perhaps not immediately but certainly within the lifetime of her presidency.  

I refer to her hawkish stand on foreign affairs and in particular her hostility to Russia and its elected and popular (in Russia) president Vladimir Putin.  She has publicly compared President Putin to Adolf Hitler, and has publicly called for a US imposed no-fly zone over Syria. If such were attempted it would bring the US into direct and open conflict with Russia, which of course has a formidable nuclear arsenal. High-ranking US military personnel have pointed out the difficulty of imposing a no-fly zone, and the impossibility of doing so without coming into direct conflict with Russia.  But I have serious doubts as to whether Ms. Clinton would have the nerve and restraint to resist going head-to-head with Russia, especially if she is egged on by some of the more bellicose individuals from whom she might solicit advice.   I refer to people like prominent neocon and promoter of the 2001 Iraq invasion, Robert Kagan.  He is a former stalwart of the Republican Party's foreign policy group.  Yet he quit the Republicans this year and has come out in favour of Hillary Clinton, saying

I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy.  If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else.

Kagan even held a fundraiser for Clinton, this last summer.  It sounds an awful lot like he is angling for a position in her administration.  Other bellicose neocons and Iraq invasion backers who have publicly come out in favour of la Clinton include Max Boot and Elliot Cohen.   

And then there are the Democrat players who have been her supporters for a long time and are almost sure to be part of a Clinton administration.  Perhaps first among these (at least in terms of scariness) is Hillary's protege at the State Department, Victoria Nuland.  Ms. Nuland led the US support for the toppling of Ukranian president Victor Yanukovych - it was she who was overheard in a phone tap, discussing who should replace Yanukovych - even while he was still president.  

She has been tipped by many as Hillary Clinton's Secretary of State.   This is really a cause for concern, especially when one takes into account that she is married to arch-neocon, discussed above, Robert Kagan!  

And then there are the "liberal interventionists" Samantha Power and Susan Rice.  After US warplanes had bombed Syrian troops during the last ceasefire (arranged between the US and Russia) killing over sixty Syrian soldiers on Syrian soil, these two ladies went on the attack against Russia at the UN Security Council emergency meeting called by Russia to discuss the attack.  Ms. Power called the meeting a "stunt" and accused Russia of a "cynical and hypocritical' attempt at "cheap point scoring" and "grandstanding" by calling for the emergency session.

So the prospect of a measured and sensible policy with respect to Syria and Russia, seems extremely unlikely if Hillary Clinton is the next president.  Besides she has form in foreign affairs.  She voted for the illegal and disastrous invasion of Iraq; she has been bellicose in calls for Assad's overthrow and she was a leading backer of armed intervention to topple Moammar Qadaffi's government in Libya.  After learning of Qadaffi's death (in the most brutal of circumstances) she crowed "We came, we saw, he died.  

On top of all this she has bent at the knee to Israeli premier Binyamin Netanyahu, expressing her perpetual support for Israel, no matter what.  And seeing that Netanyahu and likeminded Likudniks regard chaos and unending civil strife among Arab and Muslim countries which could potentially stand up to Israel, as being in Israel's best interest, it is very likely that a Clinton administration would continue with the same failed policies in the Middle East that have prevailed since George W. Bush was put into the White House by the Supreme Court. 

To me it is very understandable that Americans who are sick of foreign wars, and the apparently never-ending entanglement in the Middle East would want to choose anyone but Hillary.  She has nothing to offer but four more years of the same disastrous policies (or worse), draining the treasury and generating more hatred of Americans and consequent terrorism - and possibly even war with nuclear-armed Russia!

Donald Trump has offered much more sensible policies on these issues.  So a vote for Trump?  

The prospect of a Trump presidency is scary in many other ways. Perhaps not nuclear annihilation, but disaster in other forms for the US and the world at large.  

Perhaps the thing that scares me most about a Trump victory is that it would likely be accompanied by Republican success in holding on to the Senate.  Given the fact that, no matter what, the Republicans will hold on to the House, this would mean a trifecta for the GOP.  Think about it.  A party of anti-science, anti-intellectual, unscrupulous right-wing ideologues holding the presidency and both houses of Congress!  

This party, which has been taken over by extremists of all sorts - bible thumpers, gun nuts, racists, creationists, you name it - and backed by unscrupulous big money interests from Wall St. to the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, would be given unlimited power.  They would get to nominate and ratify, probably several, appointments to the Supreme Court, which would extend a rightwing lurch forward for decades to come.  The Republican Party in this century has revealed itself as a party without scruple, with no respect for truth, for democracy or even the law.  Under George W. Bush it violated the law many times, authorizing torture and mass surveillance - often with just a signing statement from the President, appended to legislation. Under Obama it has automatically blocked any legislation, coming from the White House.  Most recently it has blocked Obama's nomination to fill a vacancy he Supreme Court.  

On top of this, at the state level, it has gerrymandered constituency boundaries, to give itself a permanent lock on the House, and it has done everything it can to prevent groups, hostile to it, from voting.  It has challenged the legitimacy of Obama's presidency, by perpetuating gross lies about his place of birth and about him being a Muslim.  

To see what a dismal and dangerous party it has become, one only needs to look at the lineup of candidates who contested the party's nomination with Donald Trump. 

And then there is Donald Trump himself.  If ever there was a person who has revealed by his statements and actions, that he is completely unsuitable to hold the presidency, it is this man.  He has incited racial hatred, has made insulting and demeaning comments about women, has even boasted about sexual assault.  His speeches are inflammatory, inviting violence from his supporters and he has shown no decent respect for the process of democracy, saying he would recognize the results of the election - if he won!   

He uses schoolyard level name-calling - "Crooked Hillary",  "Lying Ted" (Cruz),  "Little Marco" (Rubio) - in place of argument.  He has appealed to many of the worst instincts of his followers, and has debased the whole election process  in doing so.  But in many ways this is just a continuation of what has been happening with the Republican Party for the last decade or so.

To decry the methods used by Trump, and to criticize some of the attitudes of his followers doesn't necessarily mean, though, that they don't have some legitimate points.  For example much of the base of US industry has been gutted, with manufacturing being outsourced overseas.  Well paying, secure working-class jobs have all but disappeared in many regions.  The victims need a voice, and Trump has spoken for them.  Likewise Americans' anger at the crimes of its bankers and their apparent immunity from prosecution, needs a voice - and again Trump has become a champion, unlike Hillary who seems to be on the very best of terms with the money men of Goldman-Sachs and their ilk.  Trump, too, has questioned American involvement in wars which he sees as not being in America's interest.  At the beginning of his nomination campaign, he even spoke in favour of a more even-handed approach on the Israel-Palestine file.  But lately he seems to have to recognized the power of the Israeli lobby, and backtracked on that quite a bit.  

What would a Trump presidency look like?  Some things seem fairly certain. He would block any action on climate change - in this he would probably have the backing of a Republican congress.  He would try to cancel or re-negotiate NAFTA and other trade deals.  On this he would probably run into congressional opposition, and find it not so easy to accomplish.  He would try to impose stiff tariffs on manufactured goods from China, Mexico and elsewhere.  I don't know if he would need congressional approval for this, but even if he were not successful it would likely lead to a severe drop in the volume of trade, and with that a recession, and perhaps worse.  On top of this he would cut taxes, especially on businesses and high-income individuals.  This would be greeted enthusiastically by a Republican Congress, even though it has railed against the Federal deficit for many years.  Unless he were prepared to do something radical, like slashing the Pentagon's budget - stiff congressional opposition here - the deficit could grow to a level where it really would be a problem.

So a Trump presidency seems like it would be a disaster - especially with respect to domestic affairs.   But it is hard to guess what Trump would actually do.  He appears to be an opportunist, who has a well-tuned ear for people's grievances.  Like many populists he has adapted his stance on number of issues to be more in tune with his supporters.  Gun control is a good example.  Before becoming a serious candidate he seemed to be in favour of some restrictions on firearms.  But this wouldn't sell with the disaffected rightwing base, so he threw them great gobs of red meat, by coming out strongly in favour of Second Amendment rights and scaring them by saying Hillary would restrict their firearms rights.  Likewise people say that at the personal level, he is not a racist, and has had friendships with people of colour. But again, like most rightwing populists he saw opportunities in playing to whites' fears of being overwhelmed by blacks, Hispanics and other immigrants, not to mention the fear of Muslims and terrorism.  

Knowledge of the depths into which the world sank, when it embraced rightwing ideologues in the 1930s, should give  pause to those who think Donald Trump could be their saviour.  He speaks for the rural constituency, for poor whites and even for middle class whites who fear for their way of life.  But he is not one of these.  He is a multi-millionaire New Yorker, a self-proclaimed "winner" who pays no taxes, but claims to be a champion of the "losers" - even if they would prefer to identify as "victims" rather than "losers".   He is a salesman, a con man and not to be trusted.  

It is hard to see how Trump could win this election, given that his constituency - older white Americans - appears to declining numerically.  But there is deep loathing of Hillary Clinton, perhaps in part because she is a woman, but I suspect more because of the way she has enriched herself and her family as she has climbed her way up the greasy pole.  She has been revealed as being seriously challenged, when it comes to truthfulness.  She too is easily portrayed a fully paid-up card carrying member of the self-serving governing elite.  

What a choice!  I don't get to vote but I sympathize with Americans who have to choose between these two.  It is a true horror show! Historians in decades to come may well ask how it got to this state.  

And it could get even worse.  Imagine a situation like 2000, with a race so close that it requires recounts and legal challenges in one or more states.  And with public demonstrations of well-armed supporters challenging and threatening their opponents.  It sounds too much like an election in Kenya, Cameroon or Thailand.  Let's hope it doesn't descend to that level.  But this election campaign has already had so many surprises that I wouldn't rule it out.  

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