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

The Perks of Being a Carnival Barker

by Cinzia Croce

There was only one time I seriously considered dropping my support for Donald Trump: when he selected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate. My reaction was very visceral, and was mostly due to Pence’s reputation as a hardcore social conservative. Trump had managed to marginalize social issues during the Republican primary –- something that I thought I would never live to see. For the first time in a long time, the GOP primary debates were not dominated by questions about the age of the earth, the definition of marriage, or abortion. I was on cloud nine, and Pence threatened to bring me back to earth. As soon as Trump confirmed him as his vice presidential pick, I could see the Democrats salivating at a fresh opportunity to revive the War on Women, raise the prospect of the LGBT community being stripped of their newly acquired civil rights, and distract from Trump’s powerful economic message. My heart sank. I was also not impressed with Pence’s performance during the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act controversy, where he somehow managed to anger all sides of the debate, and often came across as unsure, looking like a deer in the headlights as he dealt with a hostile press. I feared that Trump had made a fatal mistake on the scale of John McCain’s mistake in choosing Sarah Palin as his vice president — I even went as far as labeling Pence as the male Sarah Palin.

carnival

I am thrilled to have been proven wrong. As I predicted, the Democrats did try to turn Pence into politically radioactive material. Within a day of Trump’s announcement, the Democrat-designated mudslingers and their media helpmates began their familiar attacks, which were very effective in the past. But this time they gained no traction. Unlike in the case of John McCain, who threw Palin to the wolves and stepped away, Trump helped to blunt the attacks against Pence by drawing attention to himself, allowing his running mate to fly under the radar. After the GOP convention, Pence barely received any coverage, and was free to focus on his key task of bringing home recalcitrant Republicans. Whether inviting Russia to produce Hillary’s infamous emails or getting into an extended spat with Khizr Khan, Trump never ran out of new shiny objects to keep all eyes on him, leaving the Democrats talking to themselves about Pence. Continue reading

Let the Age of Pragmatism Begin

by Cinzia Croce

The first round of Senate confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s nominees is now in the history books, and it is clear that the incoming president intends to make good on his promise to change Washington. Rex Tillerson and Generals James Mattis and Robert Kelly walked away having established themselves as strong, accomplished, serious men with records of success in their individual endeavors.  Even Dr. Ben Carson — who seemed an admittedly odd choice to head HUD — reassured, pledging to bringing a fresh look to programs whose structure has not been examined in decades, despite, in many cases, having failed to meet the expectations of activists.

There was one consistent theme throughout the testimonies: pragmatism over ideology. After decades of ideological warfare paralyzing Washington, the Trump Administration promises to reassess where we are as a country and chart a new, sustainable course both at home and abroad instead of pursuing ideological purity or utopia.

During the campaign, Trump’s opponents warned that his ego was very fragile, making him susceptible to flattery. If elected, we were warned, he would surround himself with lackeys — “yes men” who would indulge his impulsive, reckless, childish behavior, putting the country — no — the entire world at risk. The hearings effectively debunked the caricature. No one can call General Mattis a lackey or fear that he would not stand up to Trump. The same is true of General Kelly, and Tillerson.

Yet instead of being reassured that Trump is not filling the Cabinet with flunkies, his opponents have switched tactics: they point to areas where the nominees diverge from the president-elect and wring their hands about the divisions and tension or whether it will lead to chaos. There will be no honeymoon, it seems: every decision Trump makes will be cast in a negative light. If his nominees had gone before the Senate and agreed with Trump’s views to the letter — especially with respect to Russia — his opponents would have issued dire warnings that the Kremlin is about to take over our government. Continue reading

Hillary Clinton Is the Empty Suit In the Race

by Cinzia Croce

With a month to go before the end of the long process of selecting the next president of the United States,  it should be clear to every voter by now that Hillary Clinton cannot run on her record.

Initially, Hillary and her supporters claimed the moral high ground. She was the experienced, knowledgeable candidate with a plethora of specific policy positions running against an unaccomplished “reality star.” But on closer inspection, her vaunted experience turned out to be a series of titles she was able to obtain because she was married to Bill Clinton. Her knowledge and policy proposals turned out to be the same old talking points that the American electorate has heard for decades and have produced a declining middle class, $20 trillion in debt and a foreign policy in shambles.  Whenever Hillary is asked about she has accomplished in her decades of public service, she replies with a vague statement about “fighting for women and children,” or something like that. When pressed for more details, she might mentions the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which was first championed by Ted Kennedy, not her — or that, as Secretary of State, she traveled to 112 countries. If taking credit for other people’s initiatives and accumulating a record number of travel miles were achievements, then Hillary would have a stellar record to run on — but they aren’t, and she doesn’t. Continue reading