“A victory of neo-conservatives” – that’s how Ron Paul, a former member of the US House of Representatives and three-time presidential candidate, described the US strike on Syria, adding that he does not expect peace talks to resume any time soon. Speaking to RT, Ron Paul said that there is no proof of Damascus’ guilt that could trigger such a rash and violent response from the US.
“I don’t think the evidence is there, at least it hasn’t been presented, and they need a so-called excuse, they worked real hard, our government and their coalition.”
This is not the first time something like this has happened in Syria or elsewhere, Paul said, but now it is convenient to pay attention and react immediately.
“If any of this was true, I don’t know why they couldn’t wait and take a look at it. In 2013, there were similar stories that didn’t go anywhere, because with a little bit of a pause, there was a resistance to it built in our Congress and in the American people. They thought that it was a fraud and nothing like that was happening, and right now, I just can’t think of how it could conceivably be what they claim, because it’s helping ISIS, because it’s helping Al-Qaeda.”
“From my point of view, there was no need to rush. There was no threat to national security. They have to give a reason to do these things,” Paul added.
A factor that contributed to the speedy reaction was of course the US president, the politician told RT.
“I have no idea what his purpose was. Maybe he just didn’t want to hear the debate, because the last time they debated it, they lost. And this time, it was necessary for them to jump onto this, before people came to know what was really going on.”
The Syrian situation now is “a victory for neo-conservatives, who’ve been looking for Assad to go,” Paul said.
“They want to get rid of him, and you have to look for who is involved in that. Unfortunately, they are the ones who are winning out on this, and the radicals, too! There is a bit of hypocrisy going on here, because at one minute we say, well, maybe Assad has to stay, the next day he has to go, and we’re there fighting ISIS and Al-Qaeda. At the same time, what we end up doing is we actually strengthen them! It is a mess.
“I don’t believe that our people or the American government should be the policemen of the world, it makes no sense, it causes us more trouble and more grief, it causes us more financial problems, and it’s hardly a way that we could defend our constitutional liberty.”
This policy clearly does not lead to peace, Paul told RT.
“The peace talks have ended now. They’re terrified that peace was going to break out! Al-Qaeda was on the run, peace talks were happening, and all of a sudden, they had to change, and this changes things dramatically! I don’t expect peace talks anytime soon or in the distant future.”
Last but not least, the politician spoke out about the deeper reasons – and potential disastrous consequences – of the latest attack’s timing.
“I was wondering about the fact that the announcement came when Trump was talking to Xi [Jinping, the Chinese president]. And of course, [North] Korea’s high on the list of targets for our president and our administration. It might be a warning: this is what’s going to happen to you if you don’t do what we tell you. I just don’t like us being involved in so many countries, in their internal affairs; I think it’s so detrimental.”
Both the Snowden revelations and the CIA leak highlight the variety of creative techniques intelligence agencies can use to spy on individuals, at a time when many of us are voluntarily giving up our personal data to private companies and installing so-called “smart” devices with microphones (smart TVs, Amazon Echo) in our homes.
So, where does this leave us? Is privacy really dead, as Silicon Valley luminaries such as Mark Zuckerberg have previously declared?
Not according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s executive director, Cindy Cohn.
“The freedom to have a private conversation – free from the worry that a hostile government, a rogue government agent or a competitor or a criminal are listening – is central to a free society,” she said.
While not as strict as privacy laws in Europe, the fourth amendment to the US constitution does guarantee the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
That doesn’t mean citizens have “absolute privacy”.
“I don’t think there’s been absolute privacy in the history of mankind,” said Albert Gidari, director of privacy at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. “You walk out in public and it’s no longer private. You shout from one window to another and someone will hear you in conversation.”
“At the same time things are more intrusive, persistent, searchable, they never die. So our conception of what is or isn’t risk from a privacy perspective does change and evolve over time.”
The law hasn’t kept pace with digital technologies. For example, there is a legal theory called the “third-party doctrine” that holds that people who give up their information to third parties like banks, phone companies, social networks and ISPs have “no reasonable expectation of privacy”. This has allowed the US government to obtain information without legal warrants.
Unlike the NSA techniques revealed by Snowden, the CIA appears to favour a more targeted approach: less dragnet, more spearfishing.
The WikiLeaks files show that the CIA has assembled a formidable arsenal of cyberweapons designed to target individuals’ devices such as mobile phones, laptops and TVs by targeting the operating systems such as Android, iOS and Windows with malware.
It’s encouraging to note that the government has yet to crack the encryption of secure messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Signal and Confide. However, it does not need to if it can instal malware on people’s devices that can collect audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.
“People expect the government to have these magic tools,” he said.
American citizens should not be lulled into a false sense of security that the CIA only targets foreign nationals. The “Vault 7” documents show a broad exchange of tools and information between the CIA, the National Security Agency, and other US federal agencies, as well as intelligence services of close allies Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
“We can’t spy on our own citizens but we can spy on anyone else’s,” explained Neil Richards, a law professor from Washington University. “If agencies are friends with each other, they have everybody else do their work for them and they just share the data.”
“Dividing the world into American citizens and non-American citizens is a false dichotomy,” Gidari added. “We don’t have a monopoly on spy tools.”
This leaves us with a terrifying new prospect: government spies essentially deploying viruses and trojans against their own citizens.
The onus is now on the companies that make the devices to plug any holes in their operating systems – something they do regularly through bug bounty programs, where security researchers disclose vulnerabilities in return for rewards.
It’s clear from the CIA files that the US government has flouted this custom in order to stockpile “zero days” – undisclosed exploits – for its own advantage. This is a practice the US government has previously publicly denied.
“If companies aren’t aware that a vulnerability exists they can’t patch it. If it exists it can be exploited by any malicious actor – whether that’s a hacker, foreign state or criminal enterprise,” said Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union.
“I have a big problem with the government leaving us vulnerable to the same tools in hand so other nation states and hackers could exploit them,” Gidari said. “That isn’t protecting American citizens.”
Gidari’s view echoes Apple’s stance when the FBI demanded the company build a backdoor to the iPhone so they could access data on the San Bernardino killer’s phone.
“Apple believes deeply that people in the United States and around the world deserve data protection, security and privacy. Sacrificing one for the other only puts people and countries at greater risk,” the company said at the time. The iPhone maker was more muted in its response to the Vault 7 dump, vowing to “rapidly address” any security holes.
“There is nearly universal consensus from technologists that it’s impossible to build weaknesses or access mechanisms into technology that can only be used by the good guys and not the bad,” Cohn said.
This week’s revelations are sure to increase the strain on relations between Silicon Valley and the US government. While some of the older telephony companies such as AT&T and Verizon, which rely heavily on government contracts, have a history of compliance with government requests, tech giants Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple have proved to be less compliant.
It’s not possible to meaningfully participate in modern life without relationships with some or all of these technology companies processing our data, Richards added. So it’s important to know where their loyalties lie – to their customers or to government.
Since Snowden’s revelations of mass surveillance, companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft have been working hard to rebuild trust with consumers through strengthening security, fighting government data requests and releasing transparency reports highlighting when and how many requests are made.
“It’s a very encouraging development if we care about civil liberties and the right to privacy, but at the same time it’s unsatisfying if the discretion of a company is the only real protection for our data,” Richards said.
“We need to build the digital society we want rather than the one handed to us by default,” he added.
Journalists play better offense than defense. Give them the ball, and they’ll sleuth out the hidden crumbs of information, filling the scoreboard with touchdowns. Assign them to a dangerous story, and they’ll exhibit the bravery associated with U.S. Marines. Ask them to work late, and they’ll labor all night and file copy at dawn, rat-eyed from exhaustion yet happy and ready for the next story.
But criticize them and ask them to justify what they do and how they do it? They go all go all whiny and preachy, wrap themselves in the First Amendment and proclaim that they’re essential to democracy. I won’t dispute that journalists are crucial to a free society, but just because something is true doesn’t make it persuasive. The chords that aggrieved journalists strike make them sound as entitled as tenured professors. This behavior was on display last Friday after President Donald Trump disparaged the press at CPAC and on Twitter. Later that day, Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, amplified the CPAC insult by excluding CNN, Politico, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and others from an off-camera briefing.
Almost immediately, the press protests went off like a battalion of popguns. “Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest,” said New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet. “This is an undemocratic path that the administration is traveling,” chimed Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron. Others in the press scrum called for retaliation. MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski demanded that the press boycott the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner “until the White House’s abhorrent behavior towards members of the press stops.” Her Morning Joe co-host, Joe Scarborough, likewise insisted, “All news organizations must refuse to attend briefings where major outlets are excluded because of critical coverage.”
On and on it went. Former New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse tweeted that White House reporters should “show some solidarity (and spine) & boycott briefings if Trump Admin excludes certain media.” Writer Simon Schama tweeted for a boycott of “the tinpot dictator’s briefings.” Public radio host Maria Hinojosa (Latino USA) reprised Jay Rosen’s recent idea that the press protest the administration’s behavior by sending interns to White House briefings instead of credentialed reporters. The Washington Post adopted a dreadfully overwrought masthead slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” for its online edition and the New York Times produced a sanctimonious “truth is hard” commercial, which aired during the Oscars. By Sunday morning, Brian Stelter’s guests on Reliable Sources had adopted the wounded theme, which was almost enough to cause me to start rooting against the home team and throw in with Trump.
I understand the press corps’ fury, but does the reaction make sense? As excluded New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush tweeted, there was a deliberate method to Spicer’s madness. It allowed the press secretary to avoid on-camera goofs; it got the press to “whine”; it sowed internal strife among reporters; and it prevented Trump—not Spicer’s biggest fan—from watching his performance. As a piece of lion-taming, the Spicer move was a great success. The lions may still be roaring, but he’s cracking the whip.
There’s nothing Trump and Spicer would love more than a press walkout from gaggles, press briefings, press conferences and assemblies like the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Boycotts would change the subject from Trump and Spicer’s original insults to the bruised egos of the boycotters—and really, how much sympathy should we expect the masses to have for the gang that brings them reams of bad news every morning? Besides, a boycott would be doomed. To be effective, a boycott must enlist almost everybody. Good luck with that. As candidates for adopting a one-for-all ethos, journalists must rank last. The only organizational principle most of them understand is competition.
For the sake of argument, imagine journalists pulling off a principled boycott after Spicer repeats his Friday stunt. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it—we’re halfway there. The Associated Press and Time boycotted the Friday briefing when they learned of the limitations he had placed on participation. Bloomberg, the Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal and other outlets have already vowed to shun future closed briefings. But as “principled” reporters peel off to paint protest placards, won’t Spicer merely tilt the briefings toward Trump-friendly media like Breitbart and One America News Network? Remember, Breitbart and OANN’s reporters attended Spicer’s controversial briefing, and they’ll never boycott. Spicer and Trump have already demonstrated a preference for calling on friendly media and will happily shovel interesting news to the pro-Trump outlets who attend. This will create an incentive for news organizations to hold their noses and ditch the boycott. Cozying up to power—writing “beat sweeteners” to gain access and publishing an administration’s planted leaks—has made more than one career in Washington. A boycott will only make the pro-Trump media stronger.
What would I have the press do? Words of protest and pushback, of which we’ve seen plenty, can’t hurt. But the best response, and one that wouldn’t require much in the way of press corps solidarity, would be to make Spicer answer the exiled questions. If, say, Spicer deletes Thrush from another briefing, Thrush can distribute his questions to the invited reporters. When Spicer calls on one, the reporter can say, “Glenn Thrush of the New York Times, who couldn’t be here today, has this question …” And then read it. A couple of rounds of “Thrush questions” and questions from other exiled reporters would not constitute an “I am Spartacus” moment, but it would convey that Spicer can evade news organizations but not their questions. If he can’t stop the reporters’ questions, what’s the point of exiling them?
Reporters have become pawns in Trump’s political strategy. In recent weeks, he’s trotted them out for sacrifice whenever the seeping wound of Russia news gets too moist for him, something NBC News’ Chuck Todd explained Sunday. Instead of taking it personally, I want journalists to take it professionally and continue to report like hell. A great story is always the best revenge.
Who was Norma McCorvey? Norma McCorvey is the real name of the woman known as “Jane Roe” in the landmark US supreme court case on abortion rights, Roe v Wade. The 1973 case established a right for US women to have abortions. McCorvey became the plaintiff after she met with two lawyers looking for a test case to challenge Texas’s abortion ban. That was in 1970. At the time, McCorvey was pregnant, unwed, unemployed and unable to obtain an abortion legally or otherwise.
McCorvey never had an abortion. Her case, which proceeded largely without her involvement, took too long to resolve, and she gave birth to a child that she placed for adoption. Several years after the ruling, she publicly revealed her identity and became involved in the pro-abortion rights movement. But after a conversion to Christianity, she became an anti-abortion rights activist. Before she died last week, McCorvey had said that it was her wish to see Roe v Wade overturned in her lifetime.
Is Roe v Wade actually in danger? It depends on what you mean. Many legal experts are sceptical that the US supreme court would overturn it any time soon. For starters, it’s difficult to bring a case before the supreme court that would threaten the ruling, because those cases almost always founder in a lower court. And even if Donald Trump’s supreme court nominee opposes abortion rights, the current makeup of the court is such that there aren’t enough votes to overturn Roe.
An alternative strategy is to poke so many holes in Roe that its protections for abortion rights become weakened. At this, anti-abortion activists have been very successful. Since Roe, some states have enacted laws requiring women seeking an abortion to attend anti-abortion counselling or to wait 24 hours or more for the procedure, laws extensively regulating abortion after 20 weeks, and laws blocking public funding for abortion. And they have picked up speed in recent years. Since 2010, lawmakers have placed 338 new restrictions on abortion.
Will states continue to pass new anti-abortion laws? Many states are controlled by Republicans who oppose abortion rights, so they will certainly try. You might have heard about a proposal in the state of Oklahoma calling for women to require permission for an abortion from the man who impregnated her. One legislator justified the bill by saying pregnant women’s bodies are not their own because they’re “hosts”. It’s outrageous, but not a huge threat to abortion rights – the jurisprudence is pretty clear that you can’t require an adult woman to get permission before having an abortion.
What does threaten abortion rights are laws that chip away at Roe v Wade. Several states are attempting to ban a common method of second-trimester abortion on the basis that it’s cruel to the foetus. There are efforts to regulate how abortion clinics dispose of medical waste, which the clinics say are just attempts to shut them down with unnecessary rules and expenses. There is also a push to give women scientifically untrue information that it is possible to “reverse” an abortion performed with medication.
Have all these laws really made it harder to get an abortion? It’s hard to say. There is evidence that shutting down clinics can cause a drop in the abortion rate. In Texas, after a 2013 clinic regulation forced about 20 clinics to close, there was a 50% drop in abortions in areas where the distance to the nearest clinics suddenly increased by more than 100 miles. Last June, the US supreme court ruled that the regulation had no medical justification and was unconstitutional. But in many places, the damage had already been done.
Making it harder for women to pay for abortions also seems to have an impact. Since 1976, when Congress blocked Medicaid – insurance for those on low-income – from paying for abortions, more than a million women have been blocked from access. A new tactic is to try to ban abortion coverage in state insurance marketplaces. Congress is exploring ways to replicate those restrictions nationally.
Then there are laws that place extra restrictions on abortion – a waiting period, or a counselling requirement, or a ban on abortion after a certain number of weeks. The research isn’t definitive, but people who study abortion restrictions are pretty sure that these kinds of laws don’t prevent women from having abortions – they just make it more time-consuming and expensive. The exception may be bans on abortion after a certain week of pregnancy, which studies show can force women to carry a pregnancy to term.
What could change under Trump? Republicans in Congress have plans to pass a national ban on abortion after 20 weeks, to make it harder for a future Congress to restore public funding for abortion, and to curtail insurance coverage for abortion. It’s not clear if they will overcome opposition in the Senate, where Democrats retain enough votes to filibuster legislation.
But many public health advocates fear that the Trump administration will scale back the availability of contraception – which seems to have helped bring the US abortion rate to historic lows. Obamacare requires insurance companies to cover contraception with no copay, and the share of privately insured women who were able to obtain contraception at no extra cost quadrupled. Trump and Congress intend to repeal Obamacare – and so far, none of the replacement models have the same coverage requirements. At the same time, Republicans are attempting to strip public funding from Planned Parenthood, a move that health experts warn could blow a hole in the family-planning public safety net.
Donald Trump evokes a wily and resilient mythic figure: the joker, the trickster, the fool, the one the Lakota people call the Heyoka, the contrary. Had his opponents – such as Hillary Clinton – understood this quality in him, the electoral outcome might have been different. The sooner the rest of us understand this side of him, the better.
In the European tradition, the fool holds up the mirror to the monarch and to all of us, mocking our faults and pretensions. He (the fool is almost always a man) is not constrained by deference or allegiance to truth. The Heyoka, one of the purest forms of fool, pretends to shiver when everyone else is sweating and takes off his clothes in winter.
The fool is a potent truth-teller and commands attention. Shakespeare knew this. Lear’s Fool, a gentle version of the species, skewered the arrogance and pride that were his master’s downfall, even as he comforted him. The “scabrous” Thersites in Troilus and Cressida speaks with relentless, scene-stealing venom. He paints Achilles, the Greeks’ greatest hero, as a petulant adolescent; King Agamemnon is a blowhard, Helen of Troy a hooker.
The fool is always addressing us, his audience, as well as his high-ranking targets. He performs a vital social function, forcing us to examine our own preconceptions, especially our inflated ideas about our own virtue. Trump was telling all of us – women and minorities, progressives, pillars of the establishment, as well as his supporters – that we were just like him.
The appropriate, time-honored response to the fool’s sallies is to take instruction from them. Only after we’ve acknowledged and accepted our own shortcomings do we have the integrity that allows us to keep him in his place. Perhaps if Secretary Clinton had been a more skillful, poised and humble warrior, she could have done this.
Fools serve the collective order by challenging those whose ignorance and blindness threaten it. They are meant to be instruments of awareness, not rulers. Impossible to imagine Lear’s Fool succeeding him or Thersites commanding the Greek army. Trump will not address his own limitations, cannot tolerate criticism, and takes himself dangerously seriously. This makes him a seriously flawed fool. He believes his own hyperbole and threatens democratic order.
In the weeks since his election, Trump has continued to act the fool. Now, however, the underdog’s challenges have become a bully’s beatdowns. His attack on the steelworkers’ union leader, Chuck Jones, exactly the kind of man whom he claimed to champion, was a vicious and painful lie. Unfunny, purely ugly. His more recent rants, including boasts about the crowds at his inaugural and the millions of imaginary illegal Clinton voters, illuminate his own troubled insecurity: the all-powerful winner acting the petulant, powerless loser.
Many of President Trump’s cabinet choices are like the punchlines of jokes, but punchlines with potentially devastating real-world consequences: an education secretary who disparages public education and badly botched her own effort at creating an alternative; men charged with responding to climate change who deny its existence; and a national security adviser who purveys paranoid fantasies.
There are glimmers of hope that the jester might mature to majesty. Gen James Mattis, the defense secretary, inspired a Trumpian epiphany that waterboarding might be counterproductive. Conversations with Al Gore or, more likely, ones with his daughter Ivanka could persuade him to open his eyes to the reality of climate change.
Or perhaps President Trump will implode, brought down by the damage done by perverse cabinet choices, or words and actions so intemperate and ill-advised that Congress and the courts call him to a terminal account. His challenged immigration order could be a harbinger.
Meanwhile, what are the rest of us to do? The fact that this question is even being asked is healthy, a residual benefit of his fool’s vocation. Trump’s grand and vulgar self-absorption is inviting all of us to examine our own selfishness. His ignorance calls us to attend to our own blind spots. The fears that he stokes and the isolation he promotes goad us to be braver, more generous.
Already, people all over the US – Republicans I know as well as Democrats – are beginning to link inner awareness to small and great political action.
The day after Trump’s inauguration, hundreds of thousands of women of all ages, ethnicities and political affiliations affirmed their rights, celebrated their community and slyly poked at the joker: “if I incorporated my uterus,” read one demonstrator’s sign, “would you stop trying to regulate it”.
The joker who is now our president has served an important function, waking us up to what we’ve not yet admitted in ourselves or accomplished in our country. He is, without realizing it, challenging us to grow in self-awareness, to act in ways that respect and fulfill what is best in ourselves and our democracy.
It’s time for us citizens, who’ve watched the performance, to take the stage.
Editor’s Note: This is one of the soundest analysis of what’s possible under the Trump administration focusing on solutions instead of hysteria. Please read the entire article.
By Michael Grunwald
Donald Trump’s political brand is about fighting and winning, and he has promised to fight and win a war on big government. As a candidate, he often attacked the federal bureaucracy as a bloated monstrosity teeming with “waste, fraud and abuse all over the place,” and vowed to “cut so much your head will spin!” As president-elect, he continued his clamor on Twitter, pledging to save taxpayers billions on “out of control” programs like the F-35 fighter jet.
But Trump has also proclaimed his belief in an activist government, portraying himself as a kind of father-figure leader who will “take care of people.” He insisted during the Republican primary that, unlike his opponents, he would never cut a single dollar from Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, or let Americans “die on the streets.” His agenda to Make America Great Again is in many ways a big government agenda, with bleeding-heart goals like rebuilding infrastructure and reviving inner cities, as well as get-tough goals like beefing up the military and walling up the border
Trump’s critics cite this split-screen attitude toward government as evidence that he’s running a con. And his early moves, like stocking his administration with Goldman Sachs alumni, do suggest he won’t feel constrained by his drain-the-swamp campaign talk. But if Trump’s two-sided rhetoric about government sounds like a con, it should sound like a familiar con, because Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all fed us similar lines. They all argued that the federal government is too big, wastes too much money and tries to do too many things—but also that it should perform vital functions like defending the nation, supporting the elderly and providing a safety net for the vulnerable.
In fact, polls show that most Americans agree with both of those arguments, which might help explain why politicians who make them keep winning the White House. As Obama put it in The Audacity of Hope, voters “don’t expect government to solve all their problems,” but do “figure government should help.” And those dual beliefs happen to be sensible ones, not just popular ones. It’s hard to see how Americans can be assured of clean air and water, a basic level of subsistence and protection from foreign invaders without federal intervention; it’s just as hard to see why the federal government needs 200 science education programs spread across 13 separate agencies. It’s disturbing that we’re the only wealthy nation without universal health insurance, and also that our government delivers 81 billion annual pieces of junk mail. If you think about it, this amounts to a logical theory of governance that would be revolutionary in practice: Washington really should do some big stuff in a big way, while doing a lot less stuff overall. It ought to focus on policy wars of necessity rather than wars of choice—and then fight those wars with overwhelming force.
This triage approach to governance could be called “limited-government liberalism,” although Trump certainly wouldn’t use that phrase. Or perhaps, to borrow a slogan that Bush never really defined, it could go by “compassionate conservatism.” Its motto could be Clinton’s only-half-remembered 1996 declaration that “the era of big government is over—but we cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves.” It’s about as close as this polarized nation has to a bipartisan political philosophy, and it’s probably the rosiest scenario, if not the likeliest scenario, for the kind of radical change Trump could bring to Washington. It would involve near-constant battles with the special interests and other insiders Trump always talks about battling; it could appeal to Trump’s self-image as a heroic disrupter of an entrenched status quo; and it could be quite popular, a quality populists tend to like. Read more…
Amid the ongoing protests against President Trump, calls for “resistance” among Democratic politicians and activists, and the overheated rhetoric casting Trump and his supporters as fascists and xenophobes, an outsider might be forgiven for thinking that America has been taken over by a small faction of rightwing nationalists.
America is deeply divided, but it’s not divided between fascists and Democrats. It’s more accurate to say that America is divided between the elites and everybody else, and Trump’s election was a rejection of the elites.
That’s not to say plenty of Democrats and progressives don’t vehemently oppose Trump. But the crowds of demonstrators share something in common with our political and media elites: they still don’t understand how Trump got elected, or why millions of Americans continue to support him. Even now, recent polls show that more Americans support Trump’s executive order on immigration than oppose it, but you wouldn’t know it based on the media coverage.
Support for Trump’s travel ban, indeed his entire agenda for immigration reform, is precisely the sort of thing mainstream media, concentrated in urban enclaves along our coasts, has trouble comprehending. The fact is, many Americans who voted for Trump, especially those in suburban and rural areas across the heartland and the south, have long felt disconnected from the institutions that govern them. On immigration and trade, the issues that propelled Trump to the White House, they want the status quo to change.
During his first two weeks in office, whenever Trump has done something that leaves political and media elites aghast, his supporters cheer. They like that he told Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto he might have to send troops across the border to stop “bad hombres down there”. They like that he threatened to pull out of an Obama-era deal to accept thousands of refugees Australia refuses to admit. They want him to dismantle Dodd-Frank financial regulations for Wall Street and rethink US trade deals. This is why they voted for him.
The failure to understand why these measures are popular with millions of Americans stems from a deep sense of disconnection in American society that didn’t begin with Trump or the 2016 election. For years, millions of voters have felt left behind by an economic recovery that largely excluded them, a culture that scoffed at their beliefs and a government that promised change but failed to deliver.
Nowhere is this disconnection more palpable than in the American midwest, in places such as Akron, a small city in northeast Ohio nestled along a bend in the Little Cuyahoga river. Its downtown boasts clean and pleasant streets, a minor league baseball park, bustling cafes and a lively university. The people are friendly and open, as midwesterners tend to be. In many ways, it’s an idyllic American town.
Except for the heroin. Like many suburban and rural communities across the country, Akron is in the grip of a deadly heroin epidemic. Last summer, a batch of heroin cut with a synthetic painkiller called carfentanil, an elephant tranquilliser, turned up in the city. Twenty-one people overdosed in a single day. Over the ensuing weeks, 300 more would overdose. Dozens would die.
The heroin epidemic is playing out against a backdrop of industrial decline. At one time, Akron was a manufacturing hub, home to four major tyre companies and a rising middle class. Today, most of that is gone. The tyre factories have long since moved overseas and the city’s population has been steadily shrinking since the 1960s. This is what Trump was talking about when he spoke of “American carnage” in his inaugural address.
Akron is not unique. Cities and towns across America’s rust belt, Appalachia and the deep south are in a state of gradual decline. Many of these places have long been Democratic strongholds, undergirded by once-robust unions.
On election day, millions of Democrats who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 cast their votes for Trump. In those earlier elections, these blue-collar Democrats were voting for change, hoping Obama would prioritise the needs of working Americans over the elites and special interests concentrated in Washington DC and Wall Street.
For many Americans, Hillary Clinton personified the corruption and self-dealing of the elites. But Trump’s election wasn’t just a rejection of Clinton, it was a rejection of politics as usual. If the media and political establishment see Trump’s first couple of weeks in office as a whirlwind of chaos and incompetence, his supporters see an outsider taking on a sclerotic system that needs to be dismantled. That’s precisely what many Americans thought they were doing eight years ago, when they put a freshman senator from Illinois in the White House. Obama promised a new way of governing – he would be a “post-partisan” president, he would “fundamentally transform” the country, he would look out for the middle class. In the throes of the great recession, that resonated. Something was clearly wrong with our political system and the American people wanted someone to fix it.
After all, the Tea Party didn’t begin as a reaction against Obama’s presidency but that of George W Bush. As far as most Americans were concerned, the financial crisis was brought on by the excesses of Wall Street bankers and the incompetency of our political leaders. Before the Tea Party coalesced into a political movement, the protesters weren’t just traditional conservatives who cared about limited government and the constitution. They were, for the most part, ordinary Americans who felt the system was rigged against them and they wanted change.
But change didn’t come. What they got was more of the same. Obama offered a series of massive government programmes, from an $830bn financial stimulus, to the Affordable Care Act, to Dodd-Frank,none of which did much to assuage the economic anxieties of the middle class. Americans watched as the federal government bailed out the banks, then the auto industry and then passed healthcare reform that transferred billions of taxpayer dollars to major health insurance companies. Meanwhile, premiums went up, economic recovery remained sluggish and millions dropped out of the workforce and turned to food stamps and welfare programmes just to get by. Americans asked themselves: “Where’s my bailout?”
At the same time, they saw the world becoming more unstable. Part of Obama’s appeal was that he promised to end the unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, restore America’s standing in the international community and pursue multilateral agreements that would bring stability. Instead, Americans watched Isis step into the vacuum created by the US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. They watched the Syrian civil war trigger a migrant crisis in Europe that many Americans now view as a cautionary tale. At home, Isis-inspired terrorist attacks took their toll, as they did in Europe. And all the while Obama’s White House insisted that everything was going well.
Amid all this, along came Trump. Here was a rough character, a boisterous celebrity billionaire with an axe to grind. He had palpable disdain for both political parties, which he said had failed the American people. He showed contempt for political correctness that was strangling public debate over contentious issues such as terrorism. He struck many of the same populist notes, both in his campaign and in his recent inaugural address, that Senator Bernie Sanders did among his young socialist acolytes, sometimes word for word.
In many ways, Trump’s agenda isn’t partisan in a recognisable way – especially on trade. Almost immediately after taking office, Trump made good on a promise that Sanders also made, pulling the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and proclaiming an end to multilateral trade deals. He also threatened US companies with a “border tax” if they move jobs overseas. These are not traditional Republican positions but they do appeal to American workers who have watched employers pull out of their communities and ship jobs overseas.
Many traditional Republicans have always been uncomfortable with Trump. They fundamentally disagree with his positions on trade and immigration. Even now, congressional Republicans are revolting over Trump’s proposed border wall, promising to block any new expenditures for it. They’re also uncomfortable with Trump personally. For some Republicans, it was only Trump’s promise to nominate a conservative supreme court justice to replace Justice Antonin Scalia that won their votes in the end – a promise Trump honoured last week by nominating Judge Neil Gorsuch, a judge very much in Scalia’s mould.
Once Trump won the nomination at the Republican national convention, most Republican voters got on board, reasoning that whatever uncertainty they had about Trump, the alternative – Clinton – was worse.
In many ways, the 2016 election wasn’t just a referendum on Obama’s eight years in the White House, it was a rejection of the entire political system that gave us Iraq, the financial crisis, a botched healthcare law and shocking income inequality during a slow economic recovery. From Akron to Alaska, millions of Americans had simply lost confidence in their leaders and the institutions that were supposed to serve them. In their desperation, they turned to a man who had no regard for the elites – and no use for them.
In his inaugural address, Trump said: “Today, we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, DC, and giving it back to you, the people.” To be sure, populism of this kind can be dangerous and unpredictable, But it doesn’t arise from nowhere. Only a corrupt political establishment could have provoked a political revolt of this scale. Instead of blaming Trump’s rise on racism or xenophobia, blame it on those who never saw this coming and still don’t understand why so many Americans would rather have Donald Trump in the White House than suffer the rule of their elites.