Category Archives: UK Politics

SOME WEIRD SHIT. THE CARTOON VERSION OF FASCISM. How democracy ends – David Runciman.

If Trump is the answer, we are no longer asking the right question.

Here we are, barely two decades into the twenty-first century, and almost from nowhere the question is upon us: is this how democracy ends?

Trump’s arrival in the White House poses a direct challenge: What would democratic failure in a country like the United States actually involve? What are the things that an established democracy could not survive? We now know we ought to start asking these questions. But we don’t know how to answer them.

When democracy ends, we are likely to be surprised by the form it takes. We may not even notice that it is happening because we are looking in the wrong places.

The inauguration of President Trump was not the moment at which democracy came to an end. But it was a good moment to start thinking about what the end of democracy might mean.

Democracy has died hundreds of times, all over the world. We think we know what that looks like: chaos descends and the military arrives to restore order, until the people can be trusted to look after their own affairs again. However, there is a danger that this picture is out of date.

Until very recently, most citizens of Western democracies would have imagined that the end was a long way off, and very few would have thought it might be happening before their eyes as Trump, Brexit and paranoid populism have become a reality.

David Runciman, one of the UK’s leading professors of politics, answers all this and more as he surveys the political landscape of the West, helping us to spot the new signs of a collapsing democracy and advising us on what could come next.

David Runciman is Professor of Politics at Cambridge University and Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies.

Thinking the unthinkable

NOTHING LASTS FOREVER. At some point democracy was always going to pass into the pages of history. No one, not even Francis Fukuyama who announced the end of history back in 1989 has believed that its virtues make it immortal. But until very recently, most citizens of Western democracies would have imagined that the end was a long way off. They would not have expected it to happen in their lifetimes. Very few would have thought it might be taking place before their eyes. Yet here we are, barely two decades into the twenty-first century, and almost from nowhere the question is upon us: is this how democracy ends?

Like many people, I first found myself confronting this question after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. To borrow a phrase from philosophy, it looked like the reductio ad absurdum of democratic politics: any process that produces such a ridiculous conclusion must have gone seriously wrong somewhere along the way. If Trump is the answer, we are no longer asking the right question. But it’s not just Trump. His election is symptomatic of an overheated political climate that appears increasingly unstable, riven with mistrust and mutual intolerance, fuelled by wild accusations and online bullying, a dialogue of the deaf drowning each other out with noise. In many places, not just the United States, democracy is starting to look unhinged.

Let me make it clear at the outset: I don’t believe that Trump’s arrival in the White House spells the end of democracy. America’s democratic institutions are designed to withstand all kinds of bumps along the road and Trump’s strange, erratic presidency is not outside the bounds of what can be survived. It is more likely that his administration will be followed by something relatively routine than by something even more outlandish. However, Trump’s arrival in the White House poses a direct challenge: What would democratic failure in a country like the United States actually involve? What are the things that an established democracy could not survive? We now know we ought to start asking these questions. But we don’t know how to answer them.

Our political imaginations are stuck with outdated images of what democratic failure looks like. We are trapped in the landscape of the twentieth century. We reach back to the 1930s or to the 1970s for pictures of what happens when democracy falls apart: tanks in the streets; tin-pot dictators barking out messages of national unity, violence and repression in tow. Trump’s presidency has drawn widespread comparison with tyrannies of the past. We have been warned not to be complacent in thinking it couldn’t happen again.

But what of the other danger: that while we are looking out for the familiar signs of failure, our democracies are going wrong in ways with which we are unfamiliar? This strikes me as the greater threat. I do not think there is much chance that we are going back to the 1930s. We are not at a second pre-dawn of fascism, violence and world war. Our societies are too different too affluent, too elderly, too networked and our collective historical knowledge of what went wrong then is too entrenched. When democracy ends, we are likely to be surprised by the form it takes. We may not even notice that it is happening because we are looking in the wrong places.

Contemporary political science has little to say about new ways that democracy might fail because it is preoccupied with a different question: how democracy gets going in the first place. This is understandable. During the period that democracy has spread around the world the process has often been two steps forward, one step back. Democracy might get tentatively established in parts of Africa or Latin America or Asia and then a coup or military takeover would snuff it out, before someone tried again. This has happened in places from Chile to South Korea to Kenya. One of the central puzzles of political science is what causes democracy to stick. It is fundamentally a question of trust: people with something to lose from the results of an election have to believe it is worth persevering until the next time. The rich need to trust that the poor won’t take their money. The soldiers need to trust that the civilians won’t take their guns. Often, that trust breaks down. Then democracy falls apart.

As a result, political scientists tend to think of democratic failure in terms of what they call ‘backsliding’. A democracy reverts back to the point before lasting confidence in its institutions could be established. This is why we look for earlier examples of democratic failure to illuminate what might go wrong in the present. We assume that the end of democracy takes us back to the beginning. The process of creation goes into reverse.

In this book I want to offer a different perspective. What would political failure look like in societies where confidence in democracy is so firmly established that it is hard to shake? The question for the twenty-first century is how long we can persist with institutional arrangements we have grown so used to trusting, that we no longer notice when they have ceased to work. These arrangements include regular elections, which remain the bedrock of democratic politics. But they also encompass democratic legislatures, independent law courts and a free press. All can continue to function as they ought while failing to deliver what they should. A hollowed-out version of democracy risks lulling us into a false sense of security. We might continue to trust in it and to look to it for rescue, even as we seethe with irritation at its inability to answer the call. Democracy could fail while remaining intact.

This analysis might seem at odds with the frequent talk about the loss of trust in democratic politics and politicians across Western societies. It is true that many voters dislike and distrust their elected representatives now more than ever. But it is not the kind of loss of trust that leads people to take up arms against democracy. Instead, it is the kind that leads them to throw up their arms in despair. Democracy can survive that sort of behaviour for a long time. Where it ends up is an open question and one I will try to answer. But it does not end up in the 1930s.

We should try to avoid the Benjamin Button view of history, which imagines that old things become young again, even as they acquire more experience. History does not go into reverse. It is true that contemporary Western democracy is behaving in ways that seem to echo some of the darkest moments in our past, anyone who watched protestors with swastikas demonstrating on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, and then heard the president of the United States managing to find fault on both sides, could be forgiven for fearing the worst. However, grim though these events are, they are not the precursors of a return to something we thought we’d left behind. We really have left the twentieth century behind. We need another frame of reference.

So let me offer a different analogy. It is not perfect, but I hope it helps make sense of the argument of this book. Western democracy is going through a mid-life crisis. That is not to trivialise what’s happening: mid-life crises can be disastrous and even fatal. And this is a full-blown crisis. But it needs to be understood in relation to the exhaustion of democracy as well as to its volatility, and to the complacency that is currently on display as well as to the anger. The symptoms of a mid-life crisis include behaviour we might associate with someone much younger. But it would be a mistake to assume that the way to understand what’s going on is to study how young people behave.

When a miserable middle-aged man buys a motorbike on impulse, it can be dangerous. If he is really unlucky it all ends in a fireball. But it is nothing like as dangerous as when a seventeen-year-old buys a motorbike. More often, it is simply embarrassing. The mid-life motorbike gets ridden a few times and ends up parked in the street. Maybe it gets sold. The crisis will need to be resolved in some other way, if it can be resolved at all.

American democracy is in miserable middle age. Donald Trump is its motorbike. It could still end in a fireball. More likely, the crisis will continue and it will need to be resolved in some other way, if it can be resolved at all.

I am conscious that talking about the crisis of democracy in these terms might sound selfindulgent, especially coming from a privileged, middle-aged white man. Acting out like this is a luxury many people around the world cannot afford. These are first world problems. The crisis is real but it is also a bit of a joke. That’s what makes it so hard to know how it might end.

To suffer a crisis that comes neither at the beginning nor at the end but somewhere in the middle of a life is to be pulled forwards and backwards at the same time. What pulls us forwards is our wish for something better. What pulls us back is our reluctance to let go of something that has got us this far. The reluctance is understandable: democracy has served us well. The appeal of modern democracy lies in its ability to deliver long-term benefits for societies while providing their individual citizens with a voice. This is a formidable combination. It is easy to see why we don’t want to give up on it, at least not yet. However, the choice might not simply be between the whole democratic package and some alternative, anti-democratic package. It may be that the elements that make democracy so attractive continue to operate but that they no longer work together. The package starts to come apart. When an individual starts to unravel, we sometimes say that he or she is in pieces. At present democracy looks like it is in pieces. That does not mean it is unmendable. Not yet.

So what are the factors that make the current crisis in democracy unlike those it has faced in the past, when it was younger? I believe there are three fundamental differences.

First, political violence is not what it was for earlier generations, either in scale or in character. Western democracies are fundamentally peaceful societies, which means that our most destructive impulses manifest themselves in other ways. There is still violence, of course. But it stalks the fringes of our politics and the recesses of our imaginations, without ever arriving centre stage. It is the ghost in this story.

Second, the threat of catastrophe has changed. Where the prospect of disaster once had a galvanising effect, now it tends to be stultifying. We freeze in the face of our fears.

Third, the information technology revolution has completely altered the terms on which democracy must operate. We have become dependent on forms of communication and information-sharing that we neither control nor fully understand. All of these features of our democracy are consistent with its getting older.

I have organised this book around these three themes: coup; catastrophe; technological takeover. I start with coups the standard markers of democratic failure to ask whether an armed takeover of democratic institutions is still a realistic possibility. If not, how could democracy be subverted without the use of force being required? Would we even know it was happening? The spread of conspiracy theories is a symptom of our growing uncertainty about where the threat really lies. Coups require conspiracies because they need to be plotted by small groups in secret, or else they don’t work. Without them, we are just left with the conspiracy theories, which settle nothing.

Next I explore the risk of catastrophe. Democracy will fail if everything else falls apart: nuclear war, calamitous climate change, bioterrorism, the rise of the killer robots could all finish off democratic politics, though that would be the least of our worries. If something goes truly, terribly wrong, the people who are left will be too busy scrabbling for survival to care much about voting for change. But how big is the risk that, if confronted with these threats, the life drains out of democracy anyway, as we find ourselves paralysed by indecision?

Then I discuss the possibility of technological takeover. Intelligent robots are still some way off. But low-level, semi-intelligent machines that mine data for us and stealthily take the decisions we are too busy to make are gradually infiltrating much of our lives. We now have technology that promises greater efficiency than anything we’ve ever seen before, controlled by corporations that are less accountable than any in modern political history. Will we abdicate democratic responsibility to these new forces without even saying goodbye?

Finally, I ask whether it makes sense to look to replace democracy with something better. A midlife crisis can be a sign that we really do need to change. If we are stuck in a rut, why don’t we make a clean break from what’s making us so miserable? Churchill famously called democracy the worst system of government apart from all the others that have been tried from time to time. He said it back in 1947. That was a long time ago. Has there really been nothing better to try since then? I review some of the alternatives, from twenty-first century authoritarianism to twenty-first century anarchism.

To conclude, I consider how the story of democracy might actually wind up. In my view, it will not have a single endpoint. Given their very different life experiences, democracies will continue to follow different paths in different parts of the world. Just because American democracy can survive Trump doesn’t mean that Turkish democracy can survive Erdogan. Democracy could thrive in Africa even as it starts to fail in parts of Europe. What happens to democracy in the West is not necessarily going to determine the fate of democracy everywhere. But Western democracy is still the flagship model for democratic progress. Its failure would have enormous implications for the future of politics.

Whatever happens, unless the end of the world comes first, this will be a drawn-out demise. The current American experience of democracy is at the heart of the story that I tell, but it needs to be understood against the wider experience of democracy in other times and other places. In arguing that we ought to get away from our current fixation with the 1930s, I am not suggesting that history is unimportant. Quite the opposite: our obsession with a few traumatic moments in our past can blind us to the many lessons to be drawn from other points in time. For there is as much to learn from the 1890s as from the 1930s. I go further back: to the 1650s and to the democracy of the ancient world. We need history to help us break free from our unhealthy fixations with our own immediate back story. It is therapy for the middle-aged.

The future will be different from the past. The past is longer than we think. America is not the whole world. Nevertheless, the immediate American past is where I begin, with the inauguration of President Trump. That was not the moment at which democracy came to an end. But it was a good moment to start thinking about what the end of democracy might mean.

INTRODUCTION

20 January 2017

l WATCHED THE INAUGURATION of Donald Trump as president of the United States on a large screen in a lecture hall in Cambridge, England. The room was full of international students, wrapped up against the cold, public rooms in Cambridge are not always well heated and there were as many people in coats and scarves inside the hall as there were on the podium in Washington, DC. But the atmosphere among the students was not chilly. Many were laughing and joking. The mood felt quite festive, like at any public funeral.

When Trump began to speak, the laughing soon stopped. Up on the big screen, against a backdrop of pillars and draped American flags, he looked forbidding and strange. We were scared. Trump’s barking delivery and his crudely effective hand gestures slicing the thin air with his stubby fingers, raising a clenched fist at the climax of his address had many of us thinking the same thing: this is what the cartoon version of fascism looks like. The resemblance to a scene in a Batman movie the Joker addressing the cowed citizens of Gotham was so strong it seemed like a cliché. That doesn’t make it the wrong analogy. Clichés are where the truth goes to die.

The speech Trump gave was shocking. He used apocalyptic turns of phrase that echoed the wild, angry fringes of democratic politics where democracy can start to turn into its opposite. He bemoaned ‘the rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation the crime and gangs and drugs’. In calling for a rebirth of national pride, he reminded his audience that ‘we all bleed the same red blood of patriots’. It sounded like a thinly veiled threat. Above all, he cast doubt on the basic idea of representative government, which is that the citizens entrust elected politicians to take decisions on their behalf. Trump lambasted professional politicians for having betrayed the American people and forfeited their trust:

“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.

Washington flourished but the people did not share its wealth.

Politicians prospered but the jobs left, and the factories closed.”

He insisted that his election marked the moment when power passed not just from president to president or from party to party, but from Washington, DC back to the people. Was he going to mobilise popular anger against any professionals who now stood in his way? Who would be able to stop him? When he had finished speaking, he was greeted in our lecture hall back in Cambridge by a stunned silence. We weren’t the only ones taken aback. Trump’s predecessor but one in the presidency, George W. Bush, was heard to mutter as he left the stage: ‘That was some weird shit.’

Then, because we live in an age when everything that’s been consumed can be instantly reconsumed, we decided to watch it again. Second time around was different. I found the speech less shocking, once I knew what was coming. I felt that I had overreacted. Just because Trump said all these things didn’t make them true. His fearsome talk was at odds with the basic civility of the scene. Wouldn’t a country that was as fractured as he said have found it hard to sit politely through his inauguration? It was also at odds with what I knew about America. It is not a broken society, certainly not by any historical standards.

Notwithstanding some recent blips, violence is in overall decline. Prosperity is rising, though it remains very unequally distributed. If people had really believed what Trump said, would they have voted for him? That would have been a very brave act, given the risks of total civil breakdown. Maybe they voted for him because they didn’t really believe him?

It took me about fifteen minutes to acclimatise to the idea that this rhetoric was the new normal. Trump’s speechwriters, Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, had put no words in his mouth that were explicitly anti-democratic. It was a populist speech, but populism does not oppose democracy. Rather, it tries to reclaim it from the elites who have betrayed it. Nothing Trump said disputed the fundamental premise of representative democracy, which is that at the allotted time the people get to say when they have had enough of the politicians who have been making decisions for them. Trump was echoing what those who voted for him clearly believed: enough was enough.

Watching the speech over again, I found myself focusing less on Trump and more on the people arrayed alongside him. Melania Trump looked alarmed to be on the stage with her husband. President Obama merely looked uncomfortable. Hillary Clinton, off to the side, looked dazed. The joint chiefs were stony-faced and stoical. The truth is that there is little Trump could have said after taking the oath of office that would have posed a direct threat to American democracy. These were just words. What matters in politics is when words become deeds. The only people with the power to end American democracy on 20 January 2017 were the ones sitting beside him. And they were doing nothing.

How might it have been different? The minimal definition of democracy says simply that the losers of an election accept that they have lost. They hand over power without resort to violence. In other words, they grin and bear it. If that happens once, you have the makings of a democracy. If it happens twice, you have a democracy that’s built to last. In America, it has happened fifty-seven times that the losers in a presidential election have accepted the result, though occasionally it has been touch and go (notably in the much-disputed 1876 election and in 2000, when the loser of the popular vote, as with Trump, went on to win the presidency). On twentyone occasions the US has seen a peaceful transfer of power from one party to another. Only once, in 1861, has American democracy failed this test when a group of Southern states could not endure the idea of Abraham Lincoln as their legitimate president, and fought against it for four years.

To put it another way: democracy is civil war without the fighting. Failure comes when proxy battles turn into real ones. The biggest single danger to American democracy following Trump’s victory was if either President Obama or Hillary Clinton had refused to accept the result. Clinton won the popular vote by a large margin, 2.9 million votes, more than any defeated candidate in US history and she ended up the loser thanks to the archaic rules of the Electoral College. On the night of the election, Clinton was having difficulty accepting that she had been beaten, as defeated candidates often do. Obama called her to insist that she acknowledge the outcome as soon as possible. The future of American democracy depended on it.

In that respect, a more significant speech than Trump’s inaugural was the one Obama gave on the lawn of the White House on 9 November, the day after the election. He had arrived to find many of his staffers in tears, aghast at the thought that eight years of hard work were about to be undone by a man who seemed completely unqualified for the office to which he had been elected. It was only hours after the result had been declared and angry Democrats were already questioning Trump’s legitimacy. Obama took the opposite tack:

“You know, the path this country has taken has never been a straight line. We zig and zag and sometimes we move in ways that some people think is forwards and others think is moving back and that’s OK. The point is that we all go forward with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens because that presumption of good faith is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy And that’s why I’m confident that this incredible journey that we’re on as Americans will go on. And I’m looking forward to doing everything I can to make sure the next president is successful in that.”

It is easy to see why Obama felt he had no choice except to say what he did. Anything else would have thrown the workings of democracy into doubt. But it is worth asking: What are the circumstances in which a sitting president might feel compelled to say something different? When does faith in the zig and zag of democratic politics stop being a precondition of progress and start to become a hostage to fortune?

Had Clinton won the 2016 election, especially if she had somehow contrived to win the Electoral College while losing the popular vote, it is unlikely Trump would have been so magnanimous. He made it clear throughout the campaign that his willingness to accept the result depended on whether or not he was the winner. A defeated Trump could well have challenged the core premise of democratic politics that, as Obama put it, ‘if we lose, we learn from our mistakes, we do some reflection, we lick our wounds, we brush ourselves off, we get back in the arena’. Licking his wounds is not Trump’s style. If the worst-case scenario for a democracy is an election in which the two sides disagree about whether the result holds, then American democracy dodged a bullet in 2016.

It is easy to imagine that Trump might have chosen to boycott the inauguration of Hillary Clinton, had he lost. That scenario would have been ugly, and petty, and it could have turned violent, but it need not have been fatal to constitutional government. The republic could have muddled through. On the other hand, had Obama refused to permit Trump’s inauguration, on the grounds that he was still occupying the White House, or that he was planning to install Clinton there, then democracy in America would have been done for, at least for now.

There is another shorthand for the minimal definition of a functioning democracy: the people with guns don’t use them. Trump’s supporters have plenty of guns and, had he lost, some of these people might have been tempted to use them. Nevertheless, there is a big difference between an opposition candidate refusing to accept defeat and an incumbent refusing to leave office. No matter how much firepower the supporters of the aggrieved loser might have at their disposal, the state always has more. If it doesn’t, it is no longer a functioning state. The ‘people with guns’ in the minimal definition of democracy refers to the politicians who control the armed forces. Democracy fails when elected officials who have the authority to tell the generals what to do refuse to give it up. Or when the generals refuse to listen.

This means that the other players who had the capacity to deal democracy a fatal blow on 20 January were also sitting beside Trump: America’s military chiefs. If they had declined to accept the orders of their new commander-in-chief for instance, if they had decided he could not be trusted with the nuclear codes then no amount of ceremony would have hidden the fact that the inauguration was an empty Charade. One reason for the air of mild hilarity in our lecture hall in Cambridge was that the rumour quickly passed around that Trump had been in possession of the nuclear football since breakfast time. The joke was that we were lucky still to be here. But none of us would have been smiling if the joint chiefs had decided that the new president was best kept in the dark. Even more alarming than an erratic new president in possession of the power to unleash destruction is the prospect of the generals deciding to keep that power for themselves.

Yet it is worth asking the same questions of the generals as of the sitting president: When is it appropriate to refuse to obey the orders of a duly elected commander-in-chief? Trump came into office surrounded by rumours that he was under the influence of a foreign power. He was certainly inexperienced, likely irresponsible and possibly compromised. American democracy has survived worse if inexperience and irresponsibility in international affairs were a barrier to the highest office, then the history of the presidency would be very different. It is the knowledge that American democracy has survived worse that makes it so hard to know how to respond now. In Cambridge, we laughed for a bit, and then we sat in glum silence. In Washington, they did the same.

. . .

from

How Democracy Ends

by David Runciman

get it at Amazon.com

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Jeremy Corbyn insists he ‘can still be PM’ and vows to fight Theresa May ‘all the way’ – Chloe Chaplain. 

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn insisted he “can still be prime minister” as he vowed to fight Theresa May’s attempt to run a minority government “all the way”.

Labour won 262 seats in the General Election, up from the 232 secured by Ed Miliband in 2015, but the Conservatives remain the largest party in Parliament.

Mrs May today secured an outlined agreement with the DUP who she hopes will be able to prop up her minority in the Commons.

But Mr Corbyn said that, without an outright majority, Mrs May’s position is vulnerable and he has outline his intention to oppose the Queen’s Speech in an attempt to bring down her administration.

‘Very happy’: Mr Corbyn said he was pleased with the election result (Frank Augstein/AP)

He told the Sunday Mirror: “I can still be prime minister. This is still on. Absolutely. Theresa May has been to the palace. She’s now attempting to form a government.

“She’s then got to present a programme to Parliament. There’s a possibility of voting the Queen’s Speech down and we’re going to push that all the way.

“We have got a mandate to deal with issues of poverty, justice and inequality in Britain.  We want to end austerity and invest in this country and that’s what we’re going to do.

“Nearly 13 million people voted for us to do it. That’s why I’m here.”

Mr Corbyn said: “I don’t think Theresa May and this government have any credibility.

“The Prime Minister called this election on the basis she would need a stronger mandate to negotiate Brexit.

“Well look what’s happened. The parallels are with 1974. The Conservatives sought, as they have done this time, a ‘who governs Britain?’ mandate.

 Evening Standard

    Watch “Socialism Strikes Back!” on YouTube

    By choice, I’ve never voted before. But Jeremy Corbyn has changed my mind – Akala

    We do not need perfect politicians, because we are not perfect people ourselves.

    I have a confession to make: I have never voted in a general election in my life. Despite attending more demos with my parents than I care to remember, I have never yet cast a vote. I can hear the voices of disapproval. Don’t bother; it has been a conscious choice.

    However, I will be voting for the first time in June and I will – I am shocked to be typing this – be voting Labour. I am not a Labour supporter; I do not share the romantic idea that the Labour party was ever as radical an alternative as some would like to think. Despite building the welfare state, Labour has been an imperialist party from Attlee to Wilson to Blair, thus as a “third world” internationalist I have never been able to vote for them.

    So why will I be voting now? Jeremy Corbyn. It’s not that I am naive enough to believe that one man (who is, of course, powerless without the people that support him) can fundamentally alter the nature of British politics, or that I think that if Labour wins that the UK will suddenly reflect his personal political convictions, or even that I believe that the prime minister actually runs the country. However for the first time in my adult life, and perhaps for the first time in British history, someone I would consider to be a fundamentally decent human being has a chance of being elected.

    I recognise that Corbyn is an imperfect “leader”. He is a politician, and he will make more mistakes.

    We do not need perfect politicians, because we are not perfect people ourselves.

    The Guardian

    Part 1: Our Dishonest President – Los Angeles Times. 

    by The Times Editorial Board

    APRIL 2, 2017

    It was no secret during the campaign that Donald Trump was a narcissist and a demagogue who used fear and dishonesty to appeal to the worst in American voters. The Times called him unprepared and unsuited for the job he was seeking, and said his election would be a “catastrophe.”

    Still, nothing prepared us for the magnitude of this train wreck. Like millions of other Americans, we clung to a slim hope that the new president would turn out to be all noise and bluster, or that the people around him in the White House would act as a check on his worst instincts, or that he would be sobered and transformed by the awesome responsibilities of office.

    Instead, seventy-some days in — and with about 1,400 to go before his term is completed — it is increasingly clear that those hopes were misplaced.

    In a matter of weeks, President Trump has taken dozens of real-life steps that, if they are not reversed, will rip families apart, foul rivers and pollute the air, intensify the calamitous effects of climate change and profoundly weaken the system of American public education for all.

    His attempt to de-insure millions of people who had finally received healthcare coverage and, along the way, enact a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich has been put on hold for the moment. But he is proceeding with his efforts to defang the government’s regulatory agencies and bloat the Pentagon’s budget even as he supposedly retreats from the global stage.

    “It is impossible to know where his presidency will lead or how much damage he will do to our nation.”

    These are immensely dangerous developments which threaten to weaken this country’s moral standing in the world, imperil the planet and reverse years of slow but steady gains by marginalized or impoverished Americans. But, chilling as they are, these radically wrongheaded policy choices are not, in fact, the most frightening aspect of the Trump presidency.

    What is most worrisome about Trump is Trump himself. He is a man so unpredictable, so reckless, so petulant, so full of blind self-regard, so untethered to reality that it is impossible to know where his presidency will lead or how much damage he will do to our nation. His obsession with his own fame, wealth and success, his determination to vanquish enemies real and imagined, his craving for adulation — these traits were, of course, at the very heart of his scorched-earth outsider campaign; indeed, some of them helped get him elected. But in a real presidency in which he wields unimaginable power, they are nothing short of disastrous.

    Although his policies are, for the most part, variations on classic Republican positions (many of which would have been undertaken by a President Ted Cruz or a President Marco Rubio), they become far more dangerous in the hands of this imprudent and erratic man. Many Republicans, for instance, support tighter border security and a tougher response to illegal immigration, but Trump’s cockamamie border wall, his impracticable campaign promise to deport all 11 million people living in the country illegally and his blithe disregard for the effect of such proposals on the U.S. relationship with Mexico turn a very bad policy into an appalling one.

    In the days ahead, The Times editorial board will look more closely at the new president, with a special attention to three troubling traits:

    1. Trump’s shocking lack of respect for those fundamental rules and institutions on which our government is based. Since Jan. 20, he has repeatedly disparaged and challenged those entities that have threatened his agenda, stoking public distrust of essential institutions in a way that undermines faith in American democracy. He has questioned the qualifications of judges and the integrity of their decisions, rather than acknowledging that even the president must submit to the rule of law. He has clashed with his own intelligence agencies, demeaned government workers and questioned the credibility of the electoral system and the Federal Reserve. He has lashed out at journalists, declaring them “enemies of the people,” rather than defending the importance of a critical, independent free press. His contempt for the rule of law and the norms of government are palpable.

    2. His utter lack of regard for truth.Whether it is the easily disprovable boasts about the size of his inauguration crowd or his unsubstantiated assertion that Barack Obama bugged Trump Tower, the new president regularly muddies the waters of fact and fiction. It’s difficult to know whether he actually can’t distinguish the real from the unreal — or whether he intentionally conflates the two to befuddle voters, deflect criticism and undermine the very idea of objective truth. Whatever the explanation, he is encouraging Americans to reject facts, to disrespect science, documents, nonpartisanship and the mainstream media — and instead to simply take positions on the basis of ideology and preconceived notions. This is a recipe for a divided country in which differences grow deeper and rational compromise becomes impossible.

    3. His scary willingness to repeat alt-right conspiracy theories, racist memes and crackpot, out-of-the-mainstream ideas. Again, it is not clear whether he believes them or merely uses them. But to cling to disproven “alternative” facts; to retweet racists; to make unverifiable or false statements about rigged elections and fraudulent voters; to buy into discredited conspiracy theories first floated on fringe websites and in supermarket tabloids — these are all of a piece with the Barack Obama birther claptrap that Trump was peddling years ago and which brought him to political prominence. It is deeply alarming that a president would lend the credibility of his office to ideas that have been rightly rejected by politicians from both major political parties.

    Where will this end? Will Trump moderate his crazier campaign positions as time passes? Or will he provoke confrontation with Iran, North Korea or China, or disobey a judge’s order or order a soldier to violate the Constitution? Or, alternately, will the system itself — the Constitution, the courts, the permanent bureaucracy, the Congress, the Democrats, the marchers in the streets — protect us from him as he alienates more and more allies at home and abroad, steps on his own message and creates chaos at the expense of his ability to accomplish his goals? Already, Trump’s job approval rating has been hovering in the mid-30s, according to Gallup, a shockingly low level of support for a new president. And that was before his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, offered to cooperate last week with congressional investigators looking into the connection between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

    “Those who oppose the new president’s reckless and heartless agenda must make their voices heard.”

    On Inauguration Day, we wrote on this page that it was not yet time to declare a state of “wholesale panic” or to call for blanket “non-cooperation” with the Trump administration. Despite plenty of dispiriting signals, that is still our view. The role of the rational opposition is to stand up for the rule of law, the electoral process, the peaceful transfer of power and the role of institutions; we should not underestimate the resiliency of a system in which laws are greater than individuals and voters are as powerful as presidents. This nation survived Andrew Jackson and Richard Nixon. It survived slavery. It survived devastating wars. Most likely, it will survive again.

    But if it is to do so, those who oppose the new president’s reckless and heartless agenda must make their voices heard. Protesters must raise their banners. Voters must turn out for elections. Members of Congress — including and especially Republicans — must find the political courage to stand up to Trump. Courts must safeguard the Constitution. State legislators must pass laws to protect their citizens and their policies from federal meddling. All of us who are in the business of holding leaders accountable must redouble our efforts to defend the truth from his cynical assaults.

    The United States is not a perfect country, and it has a great distance to go before it fully achieves its goals of liberty and equality. But preserving what works and defending the rules and values on which democracy depends are a shared responsibility. Everybody has a role to play in this drama.

    LA Times

    The leave fanatics will have their hard Brexit – even if the price is the union – Jonathan Freedland. 

    What a paradoxical story we shall tell our grandchildren about Brexit. The little ones will climb on our knee and we will recall how we bravely seized our independence from hated Brussels, only to destroy our country. Their infant brows will furrow in confusion when we tell them that in order to make Britain great again, we smashed it to pieces.

    Was this some kind of terrible accident, they will ask. And we will have to say no, this was deliberate. Our leaders thought escaping the European Union was so vital it was worth shattering the deeper, closer union that had defined our country for more than three centuries. So great was their professed patriotism that they had to break the thing they loved.

    The Guardian

     

    Never has America elected one so unsuited to top office – Bryan Gould. 

    Donald Trump is by no means the first US president to take office with no prior experience of holding political office.

    Dwight D. Eisenhower, for example, became president after a stellar career in the military, though his military service no doubt gave him some familiarity with the concept of public service.
    Trump, however, is unusual in taking office with only the experience of pursuing his own self-interest to guide him – “and a very good thing too” many of his supporters will no doubt say.
    But, however appealing may be the prospect of a president unencumbered by political baggage, the lack of any political or governmental experience can be just as much a handicap for a new president as would be a similar absence of relevant experience in any other field of endeavour that requires judgment, knowledge and understanding.
    Politics in a democracy is essentially about carrying people with you. It requires an ability to persuade and compromise, to recognise “the public interest” is more than the simple aggregation of individual interests.

    The absence of relevant experience is one thing, the continuing impact of inappropriate and unhelpful experience quite another. The fact that Trump’s life has been dedicated to his own self-advancement leads to concern that he is not just lacking the necessary qualities but that he is actually handicapped as he takes office, by allowing his experience to have taught him the wrong lessons.
    The early indications, even before his inauguration, are not encouraging. He has already been exposed, by some immediate and pressing issues, as being ill-prepared for the major responsibilities that will soon become his.
    It was surely unwise, and unlikely to build confidence, to have parted ways so publicly with his providers of intelligence.
    His rejection of the briefing he has been given by the FBI, and the breakdown of relations between them, means that the US no longer has an accepted and reliable source of information about the activities of hostile interests – and the fact that the rejected briefings involve President Putin and Russia can only increase anxieties about the role they may have played in Trump’s election.
    And his child-like susceptibility to flattery, so expertly exploited by Putin, is far from desirable in the man to whom the free world entrusts its future.
    The nature of the allegations made against him – that the Russians have “compromising” material of a sexual or financial nature or both that could be used to blackmail him – and his difficulty in shaking himself free of this story, show how much his public image has already been damaged by what he revealed about himself during his election campaign.

    There can be few who have ascended to high office under such a cloud of their own making.

    In domestic politics, too, he has already shown himself to be less than sure-footed.
    He seems to have struggled to comprehend that running the country is different from running his own businesses and that the two must be separated – indeed, it isn’t clear that he sees any difference between them.
    There is also, of course, the persistent impression – not helped by his continued refusal to publish his tax returns – that those businesses are in trouble and that they owe vast sums of money.
    His record in business does not help.
    It is one marked by risky borrowing, followed by repeated bankruptcies, leaving the burden of unpaid debt to be borne by the lenders – hardly likely to inspire confidence if (as he advocates) the same practices are applied to the management of the public finances.
    And, in the appointments he has made to some of the most important offices in his Administration, he seems to have followed the principle that the essential qualification is that the appointee has a record of opposition to the interests (such as climate change or an end to racial discrimination) to be overseen.
    Most worryingly, Trump’s life experience appears to have taught him that celebrity and headlines are all that matter and will cure all. It seems we are about to enter an era of government by Twitter.

    A snap overnight response to some perceived slight is apparently to replace careful analysis and considered policy – and opponents and those who disagree with him are to be countered by insults and scant regard for the truth.
    It is hard to see that such an impetuous and narcissistic approach to government can possibly succeed. It is even harder to discern the likely end point.
    No American president, surely, has ever entered the White House so much behind the eight ball before he has even begun. Oh, American voters, what have you done?

    NZ Herald

    The right is emboldened, yes. But it’s not in the ascendancy – Gary Younge. 

    When there’s a cloud this large and foreboding no lining, silver or otherwise, will suffice. This was a year in which vulgarity, divisiveness and exclusion won – a triumph for dystopian visions of race, nation and ethnicity. Those thought dangerous and marginal are now not only mainstream, they have power. Immigrants and minorities are fearful, bigots are emboldened, discourse is coarsened. Progressive alternatives, while available, have yet to find a coherent electoral voice. You can polish this turd of a year all you like – it won’t stop it stinking to high heaven.

    But while the prospects for hope are scarce there is, none the less, one thing from which we might draw solace. The right is emboldened but it is not in the ascendancy. The problem is that the centre has collapsed, and liberalism is in retreat. There is nothing to celebrate in the latter but there is much to ponder in the former. It suggests that this moment is less the product of some unstoppable force than the desperate choice of last resort.

    Americans did not turn their backs on a bright new future but on a candidate offering more of the same at a time when the gap between rich and poor and black and white is growing. Nor did most of them vote for Donald Trump. Not only did he get fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, but he got a lower proportion of the eligible vote than Mitt Romney in 2012, John McCain in 2008, John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000 – all of whom lost.

    The Guardian 

    A Brexit betrayal is coming – but who will get the blame? – Aditya Chakrabortty. 

    Hold off the jibes and sighs over how much poorer Brexit Britain will be. Forget about the mendacity and slipperiness of Boris ’n’ Nigel. In the six months since the referendum these have been the clever arguments to make, the ones that fill the sophisticated newspapers and BBC discussions. But none answer the far simpler and much harder question: then what? What happens when 17 million people get the feeling they’ve been cheated?

    That will be the most profound question in British politics, not just in 2017 but for many years to come. As the broken promises of Brexit pile up one on top of the other, so that they are visible from Sunderland, from Great Yarmouth, from Newport, what will the leave voters do then?

    The Guardian 

    Brexit’s Bitter Winners. 

    In a country polarized and paralyzed, an unchecked authoritarian right-wing populism, Trumpism without Trump, is coming to define the political culture.

    David Bowie died, and it was all downhill from there. That’s how 2016 felt if you were on the losing side of Britain’s referendum on membership in the European Union.

    Post-Brexit Britain is now mired in crisis. The ruling Conservative government, lacking any coherent plan for leaving the union, is embroiled in a bitter legal fight over the process, while a divided opposition contemplates the disintegration of its electoral coalition.

    New York Times

    MPs launch new attempt to interrogate Tony Blair over Iraq. 

    A cross-party group of MPs will make a fresh effort to hold Tony Blair to account for allegedly misleading parliament and the public over the Iraq war.

    The move, which could see Blair stripped of membership of the privy council, comes as the former prime minister tries to re-enter the political fray, promising to champion the “politically homeless” who are alienated from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour and the Brexit-promoting government of Theresa May.

    The group, which includes MPs from six parties, will put down a Commons motion on Monday calling for a parliamentary committee to investigate the difference between what Blair said publicly to the Chilcot inquiry into the war and privately, including assurances to then US president George W Bush. 

    The Guardian 

    Boris Johnson is a clown who has united the EU against Britain – Jean Quatremer. 

    The age of such drab characters as Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron is over. No more, it appears, must we suffer leaders equipped with a brain and a sense of the common interest. The hour of the political clown has come.

    In a few short weeks, Boris Johnson, the former journalist, for whom facts were never an obstacle likely to get in the way of a good story, has succeeded in squandering what little sympathy and understanding was left in Europe for a Great Britain embroiled in the mess of this referendum.

    It will be a “hard Brexit” not because that is what Theresa May wants, but because her future ex-partners consider they have no choice faced with a Great Britain so resolutely indecisive.

    If you want something from someone, it is generally wiser to avoid telling them they are an idiot.

    The Guardian 

    Rampant Neoliberalism.  ‘Just about managing’ UK families to be £2,500 a year worse off by 2020. 

    Thatcher II Has Arrived. 

    The combined impact of welfare cuts will leave struggling working families – the “just about managing” households Theresa May has vowed to help – worse off by more than £2,500 a year by 2020, according to research published days before her government’s first autumn statement.

    A study of 187,000 households across the UK found that policies including cuts to universal credit and the four-year benefit rate freeze, coupled with rising rents and higher inflation, would see low-income working families typically lose £48.90 a week by the end of the decade.

    The findings have alarmed councils and charities worried that the growing financial burden on low-income families will raise poverty and homelessness levels.

    The Guardian 

    I’m a rabbi, and I’m applying for a German passport. Here’s why. 

    Why on earth would I want a German passport? My feelings about Germany were pretty negative for the best part of 50 years. Most of my mother’s family, from Heilbronn in southern Germany, perished. Some of my father’s family perished too, including his beloved grandmother.

    I have felt enormous admiration for Chancellor Angela Merkel, for her open arms to the refugees from Syria and elsewhere, which is in deep contrast to the meanness shown by our own government – with the enormous effort needed even to persuade it to take a few hundred children from Calais.
    Britain took 10,000 Kindertransport children before the second world war, and many others, my mother included. Why could we not do the same now?

    The Guardian 

    And what do you think happens next? Anybody read any history lately? 

    US presidential election: Who will cause more damage to the world?

    The vicious assault on UK judges by the Brexit press is a threat to democracy. 

    The Brexit-supporting press has mounted a vicious assault on the three high court judges who ruled in the article 50 case and it has undermined our constitution in the process. The government appears to be fuelling this attack. Sajid Javid, the local government secretary, described the judges as seeking to “thwart the will of the people”.

    The judiciary is a pillar of our constitution. Allow faith in the judges to be eroded and that pillar is eroded at a huge cost to our freedoms.

    The Guardian 

    More than 300,000 UK children dragged into poverty due to benefit cuts.

    The Government is being urged to rethink a dramatic lowering of the controversial household limit on social security payments, or face a devastating surge in poverty and homelessness. The numbers who will be affected is significantly higher than the Government expects. Pressing ahead will fly in the face of Theresa May’s promise, in her Conservative conference speech last month, to “make society fairer for families” The Independent 

    Exchange Rate Folly: How The British Government Lost The Plot. 

    In these conditions of uncertainty, the exchange rate has collapsed. But the scale of the decline has been greater than anyone had predicted. Sterling has fallen sharply against the US$ to a level not seen since the 1980s and there have been similarly sharp falls against the euro. In these cases there are now predictions that the rates may fall to parity within the next few months. The overall effect of depreciation on this scale is to reduce real national income and overall living standards – the cost of imports is increased and export prices are lowered.

    For many years the UK has been running a deficit on its current account. In the second quarter of 2016 this was no less than 5.9% of GDP and deficits on this scale have been common for many years. Of course, a country can only continue to run a large current account deficit if it either has large foreign exchange reserves – the UK doesn’t – or else it borrows extensively overseas. Social Europe 

    Brexit politicians are putting UK on a fast track to financial jeopardy. 

    How do you take your Brexit? Soft or hard? Quick or slow? It might all seem semantics but for the UK and Europe it is the £1.1tn question. That is the amount banks based in the UK are lending to the companies and governments of the EU27, keeping the continent afloat financially. The free trade in financial services that crosses the Channel each year, helping customers and boosting the economies in the UK and Europe, is worth more than £20bn.

    Brexit means Brexit and we are all Brexiters now. But if we get it wrong, that £20bn trade in financial services is at risk. The Guardian

    “Labour would have a better chance of winning if Tony Blair came back as leader.”  – WTF? 

    What a load of Tory inspired utter Bullshit! Typical ‘the independent’. 

    Nobody in their right mind would want that deceitful lying puppydog to a Texas, born again Christian,  gunslinging and historically ignorant George W D Bush back in charge. 

    This Clown needed lessons on the world beyond the USofA for a couple of years before becoming ‘Comedian In Chief’. 

    And as for his partner in crime Anthony WMD Blair. He has no credibility left after dragging Britain into the utter lie that was the invasion of Iraq. 

    We have ISIS and the imminent Russian backed annexation of Syria, Iraq,  Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to show for the criminal efforts of these two bedfellows.

    It is vital for UK Labour’s credibility and performance in the next election that ‘the Party Faithful’ now pull their heads out of their arses and join the 21st century.

    Neoliberalism has now been tried and comprehensively discredited. Get with the play or make way for new blood that doesn’t have a stubborn will to not see reality and the types of policies needed to give government back to the people. 

    The Independent 

    Court battle over Brexit legality. 

    Senior judges will hear claims that the government cannot trigger article 50 without parliamentary approval. 

    Scores of QCs and lawyers will cram into court four on Thursday, the largest in London’s Royal Courts of Justice, to hear two and a half days of argument that could decide how – or conceivably even whether – the UK leaves the EU. The Guardian 

    Tories accused of Lurch to the Right. 

    Parts of Theresa May’s speech were however very ‘Keynesian’. 

    “People with assets have got richer. People without them have suffered. People with mortgages have found their debts cheaper. People with savings have found themselves poorer. A change has got to come. And we are going to deliver it.”

    Earlier in the week Chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed the Government would also ditch Mr Osborne’s target of balancing the budget by 2020 – a symbol of the austerity era – adding that he was instead willing to borrow more to invest in infrastructure.

    The shift in economic policy dovetailed with the broader message of her speech, in which she pledged a more interventionist Government and put big business and the rich “on warning” that she would chase them if they broke rules. The Independent 

    Balancing the budget a symbol of the Austerity era? Does that imply that the Austerity era is over, at least in Britain? I am very suspicious. 

    This Tory is Promising Extra Spending. Isn’t ‘The Market’ up to it? Hypocrites! 

    We’ll ride Brexit with extra spending, says Philip Hammond.

    With more Corporate Welfare,  yes Socialism, from the peoples meager pockets. Tax cuts for the rich too I bet. 

    Deficit Spending? YES, Deficit Spending!  The Independent 

    Aucklanders know all about it. Foreigners make London unaffordable.

    Nearly half of all properties in Central London are owned by foreigners. Most of the owners do not live in their properties but rather use them as second homes or investment properties. Foreign ownership has driven up property prices immensely, and has made life in central districts almost impossible for many poorer Londoners who feel the fallout most severely.
    Bright, young people – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds – are being priced out of the city’s housing market, despite London being the top place in the country for law, medicine, media, and finance jobs. NZ Herald 

    UK heading for hard Brexit, say European diplomats. 

    European diplomats are increasingly convinced the UK will sever economic ties with the continent when it leaves the European Union, as hopes of a special partnership languish.
    The UK is on the path to “hard Brexit”, namely giving up membership of the EU single market, as well as the customs union that allows free circulation of goods. The Guardian 

    Corbyn urges Labour MPs to end ‘trench warfare’ and back socialist vision. 

    “Yes, our party is about campaigning and it’s about protest too but most of all it’s about winning power in local and national government to deliver the real change our country so desperately needs,” he said, describing his vision as “21st-century socialism”. The Guardian 

    Corbyn mark II looks like a leader – he must set out a clear, coherent vision. – The Guardian

    In the last year, Corbyn’s leadership has been battered by the most relentless and extreme media campaign against a mainstream politician in modern British history. Labour MPs attempted to turf him out of his office in a botched coup at a time of national crisis, and 172 members of the parliamentary Labour party voted no-confidence in his leadership.
    A leadership team that had no expectation of winning last year has made repeated and undeniable mistakes in communication and strategy. Yet not only has Labour grown into perhaps Europe’s biggest political party, but Corbyn has been granted an electoral mandate even greater than his overwhelming victory a year ago. Last year he won 59.5% of the vote. This time he won almost 62% among an even larger selectorate. The Guardian

    ​Corbyn victory gives message to NZ Left. They certainly won’t succeed by continuing to pitch to a mythical “middle New Zealand”. – Bryan Bruce

    The news that Jeremy Corbyn has been returned as Labour’s leader in the UK with a vastly increased majority, yet again sends the message to the  Left in New Zealand that the way to win the next election is to  marshall the votes of all those Kiwis whose lives are being being daily diminished by the government’s  ongoing neoliberal economic policies.
    Corbyn is not charismatic .He is not a Bernie Sanders, But he is giving a voice to the working poor and those who are struggling to make ends meet, because wealth has not “trickled down” as promised by 3 decades of neoliberal governments.
    The idea that winning  the next election still depends on wooing “middle New Zealand” is a nonsense.
    Middle New Zealand (if it ever existed) has gone.They have been replaced by Struggling New Zealand, the Working Poor and the Unemployed  Poor.
    So the  message to the Left in all this is – listen to what the people are telling you. Houses are unaffordable, rents are high, good food costs too much, our school system is unfair…. the list goes on and on.
    Around 1 million of us did not vote last time.
    The reasons for that are many and varied – but one reason is that lots of people felt they had no real choice given the  two neoliberal alternatives.
    The Left have to find a way of motivating those disillusioned non -voters if they want to form a government next year, for they certainly won’t succeed by continuing to pitch to a mythical “middle New Zealand”. 

    Jeremy Corbyn re-elected as leader of Britain’s Labour Party. 

    More votes than when he first won the leadership last year.

    Jeremy Corbyn has been re-elected leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, ending a “coup” attempt by more moderate MPs who say his left-wing agenda can never deliver victory at the polls.

    The veteran campaigner’s triumph, by 313,209 to 193,229 votes, cements his authority over the divided party and will fuel his drive to turn Labour further left – a move many of his colleagues say will see them out of power and allow the ruling Conservatives free rein to set Britain’s divorce from the EU. NZ Herald

    This is a huge endorsement, despite all the tough talk by the dissenters, of Jeremy’s push away from ‘just left of centre’ back to a more social labour party. I wish our NZ Labour Party could find some courage and do likewise. 

    Brexit latest: Britain not out of the woods warns Bank of England

    Britain still faces a “challenging period of uncertainty and adjustment” in the wake of the Brexit vote, the Bank of England has warned in a wake-up call to those who are arguing that the worst is over. The Independent 

    Theresa May’s Plan To Spend £100m Keeping Migrants Away From UK Torn Apart. 

    Children’s charity War Child said it was “disappointing” that May will spend the money on trying to stop the flow of refugees and migrants across the Mediterranean, when children affected by conflicts are in desperate need of safe homes and education. Huffington Post 

    Theresa May more Neoliberal than Osborne and Cameron. 

    Tory MPs who followed the former Prime Minister fear his successor is pulling the party to the right and are preparing for a fight. Ms May is under pressure from the right wing of the Conservatives to maintain a strong position on leaving the European Union. The Independent

    Tory infighting is never a bad thing.