It’s Not About You, Jeff Sessions

by Cinzia Croce

As soon as Attorney General Jeff Sessions concluded his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, supporters of President Donald Trump took to social media celebrating what they deemed an “evisceration” of the Democrats on the panel. They did the same after the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey, which they, and Trump himself, viewed as total vindication of the president. If the hearings were about seeking the truth about any potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, then indeed both days would be victories for the president. But after months of hearings and many hours of testimony, it should be clear to all that the hearings are not about pursuing the truth. The hearings — and special counsel Robert  Mueller — are about miring the Trump administration in endless investigations in the hope that some grounds for impeachment materialize or, at the very least, prevent Trump from implementing his agenda. Let me make this very clear to Trump supporters: as long as the hearings and the special counsel keep going, every day will be a bad day for President Trump and a great day for his political opponents in both parties.

For many Trump supporters, watching Jeff Sessions forcefully defend his honor increased their admiration for the man. For me, it had the opposite effect. By the time he finished his testimony, my admiration had turned into an intense dislike. I did not see a selfless public servant defending his good name. Instead, what I saw was a self-centered individual with a grandiose opinion of himself more interested in protecting his reputation  than serving the administration he joined. Sessions requested an open session before the committee. He wanted to make sure that the entire world would be able to see him deny that he ever colluded with Russia to defeat Hillary Clinton. Did anyone expect him to say otherwise? What exactly did Sessions’ appearance before the Senate achieve other than giving him a high-profile platform to declare that he was offended? So exemplary is Sessions that he decided to recuse himself from the Russia investigation rather than risk his prestige. So exemplary that he testified that he had full confidence in Mueller at a time when the special counsel’s team is being filled with Democratic donors and Clinton loyalists. No: it was all about protecting Sessions’ standing among his colleagues — and if that meant overshadowing the president’s trip to Wisconsin to promote his workforce reforms, well… Continue reading

Theresa May: The UK’s Hillary Clinton

by Cinzia Croce

What began as a sure bet is turning out to be a white knuckles experience for the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom. After ruling it out as “self-serving” and sure to lead to uncertainty, Prime Minister Theresa May stunned the British political scene by changing her mind and calling for a snap election. Initially, her surprising move was regarded as brilliant, and Tories rejoiced at the prospect of increasing their majority in Parliament. The main opposition party, Labour, was deeply divided, stuck at historic lows in the polls, and led by Jeremy Corbyn, who was widely viewed as an unacceptable alternative by the chattering classes, including Blairites. All the ingredients were in place for a Tory landslide not seen since the days of Margaret Thatcher — initially, there were even attempts to portray May as the new Maggie. But it seems that Tory political strategists are afflicted by the same lack of imagination as their Republican cousins who try to market every GOP candidate as the new Reagan.

If the Tories believed they had a modern day Thatcher leading their party, they soon learned that they are saddled with their own Hillary Clinton. To be fair, unlike Hillary, who is drenched in the stench of scandal and corruption, there is not a tinge of impropriety about May. Where she draws parallels with Hillary is in her dull, uninspiring campaign: she is a candidate unable to connect with voters and totally lacking a substantive record on which she can run. There are no parallels between May and Thatcher other than sharing the same gender and political party. Thatcher was energetic, passionate, and confident in her views. Above all, Thatcher was able to withstand political heat, while May melts away at the first hint of controversy. Continue reading

Marine Le Pen Should Get Tips From the Democrats

by Cinzia Croce

As soon as it was clear that Emmanuel Macron would be facing Marine Le Pen in the final round of the French presidential election, the other major candidates immediately closed rank behind Macron in an effort to keep Le Pen from reaching the Élysée. The only exception was Jean-Luc Mélenchon – the far left candidate – who initially said he wanted to see the official results before conceding, but eventually declined to endorse either candidate, deeming them both unacceptable. The reason offered for supporting Macron – who has never held elected office and founded his political party only a year ago – has little to do with Marine Le Pen as a candidate, or even her particular political program. Rather, it has everything to do with a negative consensus about her political party, the National Front.

Marine’s party was founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 1972, to unite various nationalist and reactionary movements on the political right. The party attracted monarchists, Vichy nostalgists, ultra-conservative Catholics, and other fringe elements. Jean Marie Le Pen added to the toxicity of his party by repeatedly trying to minimize the horrors of the Holocaust. Consequently, for most of its history, the National Front was deemed an untouchable party, and operated at the margins of French politics.

In 2011, Marine took over the party leadership from her father and began the process of reforming the National Front and bringing it into the mainstream. She purged many of the unsavory elements within the party, even going so far as to expel her own father. Despite all of her efforts, Marine is being held accountable for what François Fillon – the defeated presidential candidate for the French Republican Party – described as the National Front’s “history of violence and intolerance” — and Marine herself indirectly acknowledged the anchor weight that is her party on her political aspirations by resigning as its leader a day after reaching the runoff.  Continue reading

The Trump Train Enters Rocky Terrain

by Cinzia Croce

The Trump Train charged out of the station in January with vigor and determination — and for about three weeks, it was barreling down the tracks at an impressive pace. Between a flurry of executive orders and a Supreme Court nomination applauded by all factions of the Republican Party, Trump delighted both his supporters and those who had been very skeptical of him during the campaign.

And then the train began to slow down.

The first victory Trump’s opponents scored was halting his temporary travel ban. It was a setback in terms of implementing his agenda but, politically speaking, Trump came out in a very strong position. He delivered on his promise to halt immigration from countries that are havens for Islamists, his opponents were shown to put the interests of foreign nationals above the security concerns of Americans, and if — God forbid — another terrorist attack were to take place, Trump could credibly claim that he tried to protect Americans but the Democrats and their simpatico judges stopped him. Continue reading

Notes on Disengagement From the Middle East

by Alex Knepper

What do we lose when we start disengaging from the Middle East? I think we lose a sense of national honor. I think we lose a sense of our moral distinctiveness. I think we lose some of the legitimacy behind our claim that we possess a willingness as Americans to look hard truths in the eye and confront hard choices others want to ignore. I think we will be more likely to allow ourselves to forget about the outside world. I think engagement abroad can also be a healthy reminder of what unites us as Americans — of what we have in common, and what makes us different from the rest of the world: whether we are from Maryland or Montana, we have infinitely more in common with each other than with our enemies abroad. Nowadays we lose sight of that seemingly-obvious fact with relative frequency. I also believe well-coordinated interventions can be an effective way to do a lot of good for a lot of deserving and suffering people, if we check the right boxes — see: Hillary Clinton’s reasonable and limited proposal for a No-Fly Zone in Syria. I think this is a loftier and more ennobling enterprise than just constantly trying to run down the price of everything and fatten our paychecks.

Americans hate foreign policy. They do not pay attention to it unless it seems immediately relevant to their own lives and values. For the overwhelming majority for Americans, the rest of the world is something they see on TV: something an ocean away. And furthermore, in campaigns, this irritant, foreign policy, insists on diverting our attention away from programs and institutions at home that have become totally dysfunctional. When we are dysfunctional at home — witness the price tag attached to college and health care, rent in major cities, and diminished job opportunities — we will be far less likely to be able to rally our people to a grand mission abroad. My colleague Cinzia has a point, in that regard. Someone who is staring down a life-altering medical bill or six-figure student loan debt is a lot less likely to find room in his political consciousness for the spirit of military virtue.

middle-east

More to the point, America’s big-picture mission in the Middle East no longer makes sense to the average voter — it has become incoherent. Voters last year seemed to have little idea what America was trying to accomplish in Syria in the first place, and many were convinced outright that we had no interest there at all and that the attention we paid to its civil war was misguided or a waste of time. Many simply find the topic overwhelmingly complicated and confusing and do not understand why they cannot be provided with a simple-enough explanation for why we should be involved. A real threat can be explained succinctly and quickly, right? The old canard that we have an obligation to fight evil dictators is no longer convincing, and it is wrong. besides. So what is the point of our intervention? What is the explicit, bottom line goal that the average voter can weigh and measure?

Proponents of intervention since the Iraq War are hopelessly divided and no longer speak with one voice about what we hope to accomplish in the Middle East. I have a lot of very serious disagreements, for instance, with many neoconservatives and liberal hawks alike about the viability, necessity, and logic of Islamic government in the Middle East. I have come to believe that most governments in the Middle East should have an Islamic character. But many, who — for good reason — are suspicious of conservative variants of Islam and think they are all incompatible with liberalism — want to side against the crazy Islamists every time, even if a particular variant of secular authoritarianism is just as bad or even worse than what the religious fanatics are offering. These include many of the followers of Donald Trump. Islamists are obviously a cancer on the planet, and the world would be better off if they all dropped off tomorrow. But the same is true of Assad: he is a despicable, cruel, liberty-hating tyrant, and by no means “our bastard.” What is the long-term strategy and goal against which the results of the proposed short-term intervention in Syria could have been judged? Americans did not know how to answer that question, and that is why they rejected further intervention in the Middle East. Those of us who believe in continued American engagement abroad must come up with better answers, or we will lose the policy battle.

Everyone Needs to Calm Down a Little

by Alex Knepper

A month after the election, I wrote this:

There is no way around it: Trump is really bad. But I refuse to spend the next four years in perpetual disappointment, embarrassment, and outrage over what is likely to be a long series of unfortunate events.

I stand by that assessment. I have several friends telling me they are frightened by Trump, even personally frightened. They are frightened for women and minority groups, and they are frightened about the possible advent of a fascist regime.

The rhetoric driving these fears is out of hand. I firmly believe that some lamentable crisis is likely to take place in the next four years — probably in the foreign policy arena, where the president has his broadest powers — but once we cut through the clutter, the chaotic administration of the flurry of executive orders, and the rhetoric — we are most surely not there yet. The specter of fascism — a somewhat amorphous term that often just is invoked as a synonym for “extreme right-wing” — remains mostly inside progressives’ heads.

Some of my social media commenters have suggested I am failing to appropriately speak out during a critical historical moment. But I have spoken out against Trump as much as anyone — repeatedly, and harshly. I have said that his election represents a turning point for our republic and an indictment of its current claims to greatness, that he has the soul of a tyrant, and that he is uniquely unqualified to be president. And unlike many people now complaining the loudest, I did all that was within my power to support the only person who could actually keep him from becoming president.

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‘Alternative Facts’ and the Media Crisis of Legitimacy

by Alex Knepper

President Donald Trump and his legion of lackeys rolled the dice on the theory that left and right now live in totally different realities: that we no longer agree on what constitutes a legitimate source of information, that motives and intentions now count for more than diligence in ‘getting the facts right,’ and that a forceful Republican candidate can bypass the mainstream media altogether as long as he steadfastly refuses to cater to their standards. To a large extent, this is true, and is one of the major truths Trump accurately perceived that caught Washington by surprise. Rather than seeing polarization as a problem to be overcome, Trump sees it it as an opportunity to be embraced. There have been occasions in which Trump has been shown a tape of him saying something, after which he denies having said it. But rather than abandoning him over such a blatant act of charlatanism, his supporters love it: he is their liar, engaged in combat against the other liars — and his lies drive those other liars up the wall. He lies for them, and against Obama, the Clintons, and progressives — and that perceived loyalty means more than any factual account: motive trumps all.

Not surprisingly, a campaign based on this attitude became a magnet for grifters, media-whores, trolls, has-beens, and malcontents — an army of the alienated: everyone from Sarah Palin to Martin Shkreli to Milo Yiannopoulos — excuse me: MILO — to Richard Spencer to 4chan to Alex Jones eagerly hopped on the Trump Train, perceiving that this opportunity to help usher in a world where everyone has their own — liar-for-hire Kellyanne Conway’s words, not mine — ‘alternative facts‘ — would be a boon to them. An environment like this is something of a free-for-all, and every niche figure can be included and validated in it. There is no umpire, no referee — every man and woman can be their own final arbiter of what counts as true.

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