Slavoj Zizek: We Must Rise from the Ashes of Liberal Democracy

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Trump is a threat to global stability—only a new Left international can beat him.

BY SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK

Donald Trump’s January 20 inaugural address was ideology at its purest, its simple message relying on a series of obvious inconsistencies. At its most elementary it sounded like something that Bernie Sanders could have said: I speak for all you forgotten, neglected and exploited hardworking people. I am your voice. You are now in power. However, beyond the obvious contrast between these proclamations and Trump’s early nominations (Rex Tillerson, the voice of exploited, hardworking people?), a series of clues give a spin to his messaging.

Trump talked about Washington elites, not about capitalists and big bankers. He talked about disengaging from the role of the global policeman, but he promises the destruction of Muslim terrorism. At other times, he has said he will prevent North Korean ballistic tests and contain China’s occupation of South China Sea islands. So what we are getting is global military interventionism exerted directly on behalf of American interests, with no human-rights and-democracy mask. Back in the 1960s, the motto of the early ecological movement was “Think globally, act locally!”

Trump promises to do the exact opposite: “Think locally, act globally.” In the 20th century, one need not proclaim “America first!” It was a given. The fact that Trump proclaimed it indicates that in the 21st century American global interventionism will go on in a more brutal way. Ironically, the Left, which has long criticized the U.S. pretension to be the global policeman, may begin to long for the old days when, in all its hypocrisy, the United States imposed democratic standards onto the world.

Yet, the most depressing aspect of the post-electoral period in the United States is not Trump’s policies, but the Democratic Party establishment’s reaction to its historic defeat: an oscillation between two extremes, the horror at the Big Bad Wolf called Trump and its obverse, the normalization of the situation, the idea that nothing extraordinary happened. On the one hand, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said he detected in Trump’s inaugural address something “Hitlerian.” On the other, Politico’s John Bresnahan reported that Nancy Pelosi “repeatedly brings up the events of a decade ago. For her, the lesson is clear—past is prologue. What worked before will work again. Trump and the Republicans will overreach, and Democrats have to be ready to jump at the opportunity when they do.”

In other words, Trump’s election is just another reversal in the normal exchange of Republican and Democratic presidents—Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama and now Trump. Such a stance totally ignores the real meaning of Trump’s election: the weaknesses of the Democratic Party that rendered this victory possible and the radical restructuring of the entire political space that it announces.

But what if his project of moderate protectionism, large public works and job creation, combined with anti-immigrant security measures and a new perverted peace with Russia, somehow works and gives some short-term results? That is what horrified left liberals really fear: that Trump will somehow not be a catastrophe.

We should not succumb to such panic. Even if Trump will appear successful, the results of his politics will be ambiguous at best for ordinary people, who will soon feel the pain of this success. The only way to defeat Trump— and to redeem what is worth saving in liberal democracy—is to detach ourselves from liberal democracy’s corpse and establish a new Left. Elements of the program for this new Left are easy to imagine. Trump promises the cancellation of the big free trade agreements supported by Clinton, and the left alternative to both should be a project of new and different international agreements. Such agreements would establish public control of the banks, ecological standards, workers rights, universal healthcare, protections of sexual and ethnic minorities, etc. The big lesson of global capitalism is that nation states alone cannot do the job—only a new political international has a chance of bridling global capital.

An old anti-Communist leftist once told me the only good thing about Stalin was that he really scared the big Western powers, and one could say the same about Trump: The good thing about him is that he really scares liberals.

After World War II, Western powers responded to the Soviet threat by focusing on their own shortcomings, which led them to develop the welfare state. Will today’s left-liberals be able to do something similar?

Slavoj Žižek, a Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst, is a senior researcher at the the Institute for Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London. He has also been a visiting professor at more than 10 universities around the world. Žižek is the author of many books, including Living in the End Times, First As Tragedy, Then As Farce, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously and Trouble in Paradise.

http://inthesetimes.com/article/19918/slavoj-zizek-from-the-ashes-of-liberal-democracy

12 Glaring Omissions, Contradictions and Lies Bernie Sanders Spotted in Trump’s Address

NEWS & POLITICS
The Vermont senator slammed the president’s speech in a video response.

Former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear issued a formal Democratic response to Trump’s address to Congress Tuesday. But the most blistering reply may belong to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who took to Facebook shortly thereafter. “I wanted to say a few words about what [Trump] didn’t say, because when you analyze the speech sometimes what is more important is what somebody does not say as opposed to what they actually say,” he began.

Below are 12 glaring omissions, contradictions and lies Sanders spotted in Trump’s address.

1. Social Security and Medicare

“At a time when over half of all older Americans have no retirement savings, I did not hear President Trump say one word, not one word about Social Security or Medicare,” Sanders pointed out.

“During the campaign, as we all remember, President Trump promised over and over and over again that he would not cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. But in his first address [to Congress], he didn’t even mention Social Security or Medicare once, not a single time.”

While Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted the programs would not be touched in an interview this past weekend, President Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, has defended such cuts.

“I urge President Trump, keep your promises, tell the American people, tweet to the American people that you will not cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” Sanders said.

2. Income and Wealth Inequality

Trump’s speech to Congress briefly touched on poverty in America. However, Sanders “did not hear President Trump mention the words ‘income and wealth inequality’ or the fact that we now have the widest gap between the very rich and everyone else since the 1920’s.”

3. Campaign Finance

“I did not hear President Trump mention the fact that as a result of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, a five-to-four decision, we now have a corrupt campaign finance system that is allowing billionaires to buy elections and undermine American democracy,” Sanders said.

To the first-time politician who has repeatedly boasted about funding his own campaign, Sanders asked, “How could you give a speech to the nation and not talk about that enormously important issue?”

4. Voter Suppression

In his speech, President Trump used the phrase “guided by the well-being of American citizens.”

“[But] not only did President Trump not mention the issue of voter suppression, what Republican governors are doing all over this country to make it harder for people to participate in our democracy, but the truth of the matter is his administration is now working, working overtime, with Republican governors to make it harder for young people, low-income people, senior citizens and people of color to vote,” Sanders explained. “That is an outrage.”

5. Climate Change

Perhaps most astoundingly, at a time when the scientific community is virtually unanimous in telling us that climate change is real, that it is caused by human activity, that it is already causing devastating problems in our country and all over the world, I did not hear President Trump say one word, not one word, about the need to combat climate change, the greatest environmental threat facing our planet,” Sanders hammered.

Not only did Trump not mention climate change, “he pledged to increase our dependency on fossil fuels,” Sanders added.

6. Criminal Justice

“At a time when we have more people in jail than any other country on earth, disproportionately African American, Latino, Native American, I did not hear President Trump say one word about how he was going to fix a broken criminal justice system,” Sanders pointed out.

“Yes, we must support the hard work of men and women in the police departments, in the sheriff’s departments all over this country, but we must also end the disgrace of having more people in jail than any other country on earth,” he added.

7. Higher Education

“At a time when we need the best-educated workforce in the world to compete in a highly competitive global economy, I did not hear President Trump say one word, not one word, about the need to lower the cost of college and to do what countries all over the world are doing, and that is to make public colleges and universities tuition-free,” Sanders said.

8. ‘Drain the Swamp’

“During his campaign, President Trump told us that he was going to take on Wall Street and ‘drain the swamp,'” Sanders reminded viewers. “Well, the swamp, big-time, is now in his administration, which has more millionaires and billionaires than any presidential administration in history.”

“Amazingly enough, for somebody who was going to ‘drain the swamp,’ who’s going to take on Wall Street, his chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, is the former president of Goldman Sachs, one of the major financial institutions that pay billions of dollars in fines for their illegal activity,” Sanders added.

9. Glass-Steagall Act

“I did not hear President Trump say one word about another campaign promise that he made to the American people, and that was to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act.”

In his speech, President Trump proposed a $1 trillion investment in American infrastructure, “but the specifics of the financing plan that he has provided us with so far are absolutely wrong,” Sanders concluded. “We cannot rebuild our infrastructure by providing billions of dollars in tax breaks to Wall Street and large corporations.”

10. Clean Water Rules

“Donald Trump said tonight that we need to ‘promote clean air and clean water.’… I had a difficult time not laughing out loud when he said that,” Sanders admitted, since, “On this very, very day, he signed an executive order rolling back President Obama’s clean water rules and has appointed the most anti-environmental EPA administrator in our nation’s history.”

11. Military Spending

“President Trump said [Tuesday night] that he wants to substantially increase funding for the Pentagon,” Sanders recalled. “What he didn’t say tonight is that he will come up with that $84 billion in increased funding for the Pentagon by slashing programs that benefit the working people of this country, that benefit the elderly, that benefit the children, the sick and the poor.”

12. Prescription Drug Costs

“As he did during his campaign, Donald Trump claimed that he would bring down the cost of prescription drugs,” Sanders told viewers. “A few weeks ago, he even said that the pharmaceutical industry was ‘getting away with murder,’ but if Donald Trump really wanted to take on the pharmaceutical industry, he would have told his Republican friends in the House and the Senate to pass legislation, which I [re]introduced today with 20 senators allowing Americans to import safe low-cost medicine from Canada.”

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/12-glaring-omissions-contradictions-and-lies-bernie-sanders-spotted-trumps-address?akid=15250.265072.TIYkRl&rd=1&src=newsletter1073104&t=2

Trump’s speech outlines plans for class war at home and war abroad

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By Andre Damon
1 March 2017

Speaking before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump reaffirmed the core pillars of his presidency: vastly expanding military spending, slashing taxes on corporations, scapegoating immigrants for the crisis of American capitalism, and promoting economic nationalist trade policies.

In contrast to his inaugural speech, Trump couched his extreme right-wing policies in the traditional conventions of American politics. The media, as if on cue, praised Trump’s speech for “reaching across the aisle” and taking a bipartisan approach.

CNN, which last week was included by Trump as part of the “enemies of the people,” headlined its article on the speech, “New Tone, Ambitious Vision.” In praising his remarks, various media talking heads ignored the fact that the administration, packed with fascistic figures such as Steve Bannon, is in the midst of a massive crackdown on millions of undocumented immigrants.

The official response to Trump’s speech by Democrats was given by former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, who currently does not hold any elected office, and who is generally unknown to the public. Beshear devoted his brief rebuttal to a defense of Obamacare, the broadly despised pro-corporate health care program, while denouncing Trump for “ignoring serious threats to our national security from Russia.”

Despite their tactical differences centering on foreign policy, the generally warm response by the media and half-hearted rebuttal from the Democrats points to the fact that, within the ruling class, there is broad and bipartisan support for the essential goals of the Trump administration: Expanding military spending, strengthening the repressive apparatus of the state, slashing corporate taxes, and eliminating social spending.

The day before his speech, Trump announced plans to increase the military budget by 10 percent, to be paid for by an equal reduction of discretionary social spending. But beyond pledging to provide “the men and women of the United States military with the tools they need,” Trump largely ignored the implications of his military expansion and foreign policy in general.

Trump’s budget directive was criticized by both congressional Republicans and pro-Democratic publications, such as the Washington Post, for not going far enough in proposing to slash spending on social entitlements such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

In his speech, Trump indicated that he would work with Congress to cut these programs, including by turning Medicaid, the insurance program for the poor, into a block grant system, which could be cut by state governments. “We should give our great state governors the resources and flexibility they need with Medicaid,” he declared.

He also proposed a massive attack on public education, in line with the perspective of his new education secretary, Betsy DeVos. “Families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them,” Trump said.

At the heart of Trump’s speech was his program of economic nationalism. Trump called for subsidies for US companies to help them penetrate foreign markets, declaring that his administration is “developing historic tax reform that will reduce the tax rate on our companies so they can compete and thrive anywhere and with anyone.” He complained that “when foreign companies ship their products into America, we charge them almost nothing.”

Notably, when Trump declared that his administration will make “it easier for companies to do business in the United States, and much harder for companies to leave,” former Democratic presidential nominee Bernie Sanders applauded. Sanders, together with other Democrats, stated his willingness to cooperate with Trump on nationalist economic policies.

While Trump’s speech was couched in the language of defending “American jobs,” his economic program is, in fact, centered on slashing corporate taxes, eliminating regulations and increasing the exploitation of workers in the United States.

Trump gave a full-throated defense of his vicious crackdown on undocumented immigrants, which has sparked broad popular opposition and demonstrations throughout the country. “As we speak, we are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our citizens. Bad ones are going out as I speak tonight and as I have promised.”

Trump’s speech included a modification to his earlier immigration proposals, calling for a switch “away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system.” Such a policy would continue all the cruelty and violence of his ongoing immigration crackdown, while seeking to ensure a steady supply of skilled labor for American companies.

He likewise reiterated his support for his so-called Muslim ban, declaring, “It is not compassionate, but reckless, to allow uncontrolled entry from places where proper vetting cannot occur…. We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America.”

Toward the end of his speech, Trump exploited the presence of Carryn Owens, the widow of a US Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens, who died in a raid in Yemen last month. Ignoring the denunciations of the operation by Owens’ father, Trump described the mission as a “highly successful raid.”

Trump’s invocation of this murderous rampage, which led to the killing of 25 Yemeni civilians and eight children, was greeted with the longest standing ovation of the entire speech, from both Democrats and Republicans.

Perhaps the most characteristic aspect of the address was its utterly delusional character. Trump declared, “Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved.” He added that, as a result of his presidency, “Dying industries will come roaring back to life… Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our beautiful land.”

All of this is a ridiculous pipe dream. The very fact that Trump, a con-man and scam artist, has been promoted to the highest political office in the state is proof of the deeply decayed state of bourgeois rule in the United States.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/03/01/trum-m01.html

Will Trump and Bannon drag us into another big ground war?

It could happen sooner than we think

Our president wants to “knock the hell out of ISIS” and “take the oil”; his key adviser longs for World War III

Will Trump and Bannon drag us into another big ground war? It could happen sooner than we think
(Credit: Getty/ Chip Somodevilla/everlite/Salon)

On Wednesday NBC News released a poll reporting that 66 percent of Americans surveyed were worried that the United States will become involved in another war. One might think that’s surprising since President Donald Trump has famously been portrayed as an old-school isolationist, an image mostly based upon his lies about not supporting the Iraq War and his adoption of the pre-World War II isolationist slogan “America First.”

As I laid out for Salon a few weeks ago, that assumption is wrong. Trump is anything but an isolationist. He’s not much on alliances, preferring to strong-arm other nations into supporting the U.S. “for their own good.” But if they are willing to cough up some protection money, he might agree to fulfill our treaty obligations. His adoption of the phrase “America First” reflects his belief that the U.S. must be No. 1, not that it should withdraw from the world.

In other words, while Trump has no interest in perpetuating the global security system under which the world has lived since the dawn of the nuclear age, that’s not because he believes it hasn’t worked. He doesn’t know what it does, how it came to be or why it exists. He simply believes other countries are failing to pay proper respect and he is aiming to make sure they understand that America isn’t just great again; it’s the greatest.

This has nothing to do with American exceptionalism. Trump is happy to admit that American pretenses to moral leadership are hypocritical, and he’s openly contemptuous of anyone who believes that the U.S. should try harder to live up to its ideals. If you want to understand what Trump believes, “to the victor goes the spoils” pretty much covers it. He means it in terms of his family, which continues to merge the presidency into its company brand all over the world, and he means it in terms of the United States, believing that this is the richest and most powerful nation on Earth and we can take whatever we want.

One of his goals is to “defeat ISIS.” And when he says defeat, he means to do whatever it takes to ensure it does not exist anymore. That does seem like a nice idea. After all, ISIS is an antediluvian, authoritarian death cult and the world would be better off without it. The question, of course, has always been how to accomplish such a thing.

Thoughtful people rationally understand that “defeating” radical extremism of any kind isn’t a matter of killing all the people. Indeed, the more extremists you kill, the more extremists you tend to create. But while Trump simply sees the world by playground rules, his consigliere Steve Bannon sees the threat of ISIS as a preordained apocalyptic confrontation between Western countries and the Muslim world. In a notorious speech he gave at the Vatican in 2014, Bannon put it this way:

We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict . . . to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.

He has called Trump his “blunt instrument” to bring about this global conflagration. Bannon is now a member of the National Security Council and is said to be running a parallel national security agency called the Strategic Initiatives Group, which he has stacked with kooks who share his views. He is a powerful influence.

Trump has promised to take the gloves off, and I think we all know exactly what he meant by that. He said it many times during the campaign: He favors torture. And he reiterated it just last month in his interview with ABC’s David Muir saying, “When ISIS is doing things that nobody has ever heard of since medieval times, would I feel strongly about waterboarding? As far as I’m concerned, we have to fight fire with fire.”

And Trump went on to grudgingly promise that he would listen to the secretary of defense and hold back on torture if that was his recommendation. But Trump also claimed that he’s talked to people at the highest levels of the intelligence community who told him that torture works like a charm. So we will have to see if the president is really able to restrain himself. (His CIA chief, Mike Pompeo, has been all for it in the past. Maybe they’ll simply decide to leave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis out of the loop.)

But what about Trump’s promises to “bomb the shit out of ’em” and “take the oil?” What about Bannon’s desire to bring on WorldWar III? Will that really happen? It might, and sooner than we think.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday:

More American troops may be needed in Syria to speed the campaign against the Islamic State, the top United States commander for the Middle East said on Wednesday.

“I am very concerned about maintaining momentum,” Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the head of the United States Central Command, told reporters accompanying him on a trip to the region.

“It could be that we take on a larger burden ourselves,” he added. “That’s an option.”

Despite his unfounded reputation for isolationism, it’s obvious that Trump is itching for a war. Responding to a debate question about whether he would follow a military commander’s advice to put troops on the ground, Trump said, “We really have no choice; we have to knock out ISIS. We have to knock the hell out of them.” When asked how many troops he thought might be needed, he replied that the number he had heard was 20,000 to 30,000.

Nobody thought much of Trump’s bluster at the time. But now he’s in the White House with an apocalyptic crackpot whispering in his ear and generals on the ground talking about taking on “a larger burden.” Whether his administration’s military advisers, Defense Secretary Mattis and his newly installed national security adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster, are as eager for this battle remains to be seen. But it appears that the two-thirds of Americans who are worried that we’ll be dragged into another war are anxious for good reason.

 

Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

History shows Trump will face legal challenges to​ detaining immigrants

The long history of detention has an equally long history of legal challenges

History shows Trump will face legal challenges to detaining immigrants
FILE – This 1924 file photo shows the registry room at Ellis Island in New York harbor, a gateway to America for millions of immigrants. The American self-image is forever intertwined with the melting pot _ a nation that embraces the world’s wretched refuse, a nation built by immigrants. But America’s immigration history is complicated. ()(Credit: AP Photo/File)

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

President Donald Trump has followed through on his promise to ramp up immigrant detention as part of immigration enforcement. His executive order on border security and immigration describes a “new normal” that will include the detention of immigrants while they await removal hearings and removal.

Trump’s order expressly announces the end of “catch and release” of undocumented immigrants after their apprehension, which allowed them to post a bond and be released from detention while their removal proceedings moved forward.

Rather than doing something new, President Trump is simply expanding the use of immigrant detention. Immigrant detention has long been a tool in the arsenal of the U.S. government in immigration enforcement. It goes as far back as the detention of Chinese immigrants on Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay, which began processing immigrants in the late 1800s. Detention of immigrants as a method of immigration enforcement saw an upswing at the tail end of the 20th century. In the 1980s, President Reagan’s administration used detention to discourage Central Americans, thousands of whom were fleeing civil wars, from migrating to the United States.

Other groups have also been detained on a broad scale. Several U.S. presidents responded to mass migrations of Cubans in the 1980s, who came in the Mariel boatlift, and Haitians fleeing political violence, with detention.

The Obama administration still allowed for noncitizens to bond out of custody while their removal proceedings were pending. But it also employed immigrant detention liberally – including the mass detention of Central American families. Obama set records for the number of removals during his first term.

The long history of detention has an equally long history of legal challenges. These are likely to continue in the Trump administration, which has made detention a cornerstone of its immigration enforcement plan.

History of immigrant detention

Courts have regularly been asked to intervene to curb the excesses of immigrant detention.

In 1989, during the administrations of President Ronald Reagan and later George H.W. Bush, a class action lawsuit was brought against the U.S. government by asylum applicants from El Salvador and Guatemala in Orantes-Hernandez v. Thornburgh. In class actions, a group of similarly situated persons band together to challenge a policy or practice.

In this case, the asylum applicants challenged mass immigrant detention and various policies that violated their right to counsel. The court found that the U.S. government had been transferring Central American asylum seekers from major urban areas where they could readily secure counsel to remote locations where they could not. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a broad injunction barring the U.S. government from restricting access to counsel.

The Orantes-Hernandez decision was the culmination of a coordinated litigation strategy pursued by public interest lawyers to challenge the U.S. government’s treatment of Central American asylum seekers. Leading immigrant rights advocates, along with private law firms doing the legal work pro bono, planned the suits and divided up the work.

In a 1991 case, American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh, the executive branch settled a suit brought by Salvadorans and Guatemalans. The plaintiffs claimed the U.S. government was biased against their asylum claims because the U.S. was allied with the governments in power in those countries. The settlement required the U.S. government to hear again the asylum claims of more than 100,000 Central Americans.

This line of litigation ultimately contributed to legislative reform.

In 1990, Congress passed legislation that created Temporary Protected Status for noncitizens who fled the violent conditions in El Salvador, and additional countries designated by the president. Temporary Protected Status has permitted thousands of noncitizens to remain in the United States until the violence has calmed.

Despite these successful challenges, the use of detention in immigration enforcement increased with the immigration reforms of 1996. Immigrant detention continues to be criticized – and litigated. For example, in response to an increase in women and children fleeing widespread violence in Central America, the Obama administration began detaining thousands of unaccompanied minors and entire families.

In Flores v. Lynch in 2016, the Ninth Circuit stated the detention of Central American minors was not required by law. However, the court did not protect parents from detention in the same way.

Class action for reform

U.S. immigration agencies have proved resistant to change. In an empirical study of immigration litigation in the 1980s, Professor Peter Schuck of Yale and attorney Theodore Wang concluded that the success of immigrants in class actions suggest the U.S. government’s immigration agencies are uncompromising. They are enforcement-oriented to a fault, they said.

Recent years have continued to see challenges to immigration detention. In Jennings v. Rodriguez, the Supreme Court currently has before it a class action raising the question of whether immigrants, like virtually all U.S. citizens placed in criminal detention, must be guaranteed a bond hearing and possible release from custody. This case challenges, on constitutional and statutory grounds, lengthy immigration detentions without any opportunity for release.

Detention appears as if will be an important part of Trump’s immigration enforcement plan. As historically has been the case, legal challenges will almost certainly follow.The Conversation

Kevin Johnson, Dean and Professor of Public Interest Law and Chicana/o Studies, University of California, Davis

http://www.salon.com/2017/02/09/history-shows-trump-will-face-legal-challenges-to%E2%80%8B-detaining-immigrants_partner/?source=newsletter

Steve Bannon’s war with Islam

Trump may not even understand his adviser’s apocalyptic vision

Bannon has long yearned for a civilizational conflict between the West and the Muslim world. Now he may get it

Steve Bannon's war with Islam: Trump may not even understand his adviser's apocalyptic vision

(Credit: Getty/Win McNamee/AP/Evan Vucci/Muhamed Huwais)

There seems to be considerable urgency right now to enshrine Donald Trump’s Islamophobia into law. Talk of an immigration ban, a Muslim registry and even internment camps once sounded like the machinations of a spray-tanned salesman looking to indulge the electorate’s need for a good villain narrative. Amid an atmosphere of overwhelming chaos, the early days of Trump’s reign have made clear, however, that Islam is Public Enemy No. 1 and serves as the centerpiece of Steve Bannon’s ethno-nationalist agenda. (Trump’s ban on immigration and travel from certain Muslim-majority nations is currently on hold, thanks to a Friday federal court order. That does nothing to resolve the larger questions.)

Bannon called Trump “a blunt instrument for us” in an interview last summer with Vanity Fair. He added, “I don’t know whether he really gets it or not.” That the former Breitbart executive editor would have an outsized role in a Trump administration should have been evident long ago. In Trump, Bannon found a petulant Twitterphile and a manipulable tool who has minimal interest in policymaking and little insight into his own limitations. As he sought an upheaval to remake an America rife with perceived threats, Trump was, as Lawrence Douglas wrote, “the proper vehicle to carry the fight forward.”

For Bannon, the fight is against Islam. There are echoes of Samuel Huntington’s 1993 essay in Foreign Affairs called “The Clash of Civilizations?” Huntington wrote of a world that had been divided along “fault lines” such as culture, which could spur conflict between Islamic civilization and the West. Bannon speaks of the current war with “jihadist Islamic fascism” in apocalyptic terms and sees it as the latest iteration, as Uri Friedman wrote, “of an existential, centuries old-struggle between the Judeo-Christian West and the Islamic world.”

Further, Muslim immigration gnaws at Trump’s foremost consigliere. He evinces ignorance in his ideas about sharia, yet uses the term frequently when discussing Muslim immigrants, who “are not people with thousands of years of democracy in their DNA.” Though roughly 100,000 Muslims have entered the United States in each of the last few years, he claimed in December 2015 that 1 million would be entering in each of the next two years.

These statements were a prelude to Trump’s “Muslim ban,” an executive order that was signed shortly after inauguration (and is now on hold, at least for the moment). Its swift enactment was the first sign that Bannon’s war on Islam had begun. He hastily crafted the ban without regard for the Department of Homeland Security — or for that matter the State, Defense and Justice departments. Soon court orders were being defied and acting attorney general Sally Yates was fired for her refusal to enforce Bannon’s opening salvo. Christian refugees would be given priority over others to enter the country, as an individual’s religious identity is apparently the only indicator of his or her suffering.

Bannon’s temerity was on full display as he sought to engineer the civilizational crisis that he has clearly relished for years. His consolidation of power was complete when Trump took the unprecedented step of offering Bannon — a man with no experience or background in national security, foreign policy or the military — a permanent seat on the National Security Council. (Yes, Bannon was once a Navy officer. He left the service in 1983.) Now the man who admires darkness, Satan and Darth Vader will influence major decisions of war and peace.

All this unrestrained jingoism risks causing a conflagration at a time of isolated fires that are being managed and contained adequately. As Robin Wright of the New Yorker noted, the Obama administration “has turned the tide on jihadism over the past two years. The two premier movements — the Islamic State and Al Qaeda — are both on the defensive.” In the United States, attacks by Muslims were responsible for only one-third of 1 percent of all murders in 2016.

Even Bernard Lewis, who fathered the phrase “clash of civilizations” when he wrote of the Arab world’s need to expunge Islam from its politics, cautioned against an exaggerated response to the Judeo-Christian world’s ancient rival. “It is crucially important,” he noted, “that we on our side should not be provoked into an equally historic but equally irrational reaction against that rival.”

But Bannon desires carnage.

Through the immigration ban and its associated rhetoric, jihadists and at least seven Muslim-majority countries have been given notice of the Trump administration’s intentions. This is a not a U.S. government that will call Islam a religion of peace, as George W. Bush did. Or one that will be reluctant to use the term “Islamic” to prevent giving groups like ISIS legitimacy, as Barack Obama did.

Yet ISIS is emboldened now because Bannon’s undaunted pursuit of a clash will help its goal to “eliminate the gray zone” of coexistence between Muslims residing in the West and their non-Muslim neighbors. ISIS hopes that Bannon’s stark intentions will make Muslims in the West disillusioned about its acceptance and tolerance, boosting recruitment and sympathy for their deranged cause. As Abu Omar Khorasani, a senior Islamic State commander in Afghanistan, said, “This guy [Trump] is a complete maniac. His utter hate towards Muslims will make our job much easier because we can recruit thousands.”

In addition, as Dan Byman, a staff member of the 9/11 commission, noted, Muslims in the United States may become more disenchanted “and thus easier to recruit or inspire to be lone wolves. In addition, it may make communities feel they are suspect and decrease vital cooperation with law enforcement. The hostile rhetoric that goes with these bans makes all this more likely.”

Muslims both within and without the United States will likely become collateral damage amid the tumult Bannon seeks. The hopes and aspirations of Muslims for years have been scuppered within the mere seconds it took Trump to sign his executive order. In fairness, these are not fires started by President Trump, who seems only to be carrying the torch handed him by an insidious, ingenious adviser who wants to set the world ablaze.

SALON 

Jalal Baig is a physician and current Hematology/Oncology fellow based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @jalalbaig

‘America First’ Could Bring the World Closer to a Nuclear Holocaust

Posted on Feb 1, 2017

By Robert Reich / RobertReich.org

Before joining Trump’s inner circle, Steve Bannon headed Breitbart News, a far-right media outlet that has promoted conspiracy theories. (A.Davey / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Donald Trump has reorganized the National Security Council – elevating his chief political strategist Steve Bannon, and demoting the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Bannon will join the NSC’s principals committee, the top inter-agency group advising the President on national security.

Meanwhile, the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will now attend meetings only when “issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed,” according to the presidential memorandum issued Saturday.

Political strategists have never before participated in National Security Council principals meetings because the NSC is supposed to give presidents nonpartisan, factual advice.

But forget facts. Forget analysis. This is the Trump administration.

And what does Bannon have to bring to the table?

In case you forgot, before joining Donald Trump’s inner circle Bannon headed Breitbart News, a far-right media outlet that has promoted conspiracy theories and is a platform for the alt-right movement, which espouses white nationalism.

This is truly scary.

Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice calls the move “stone cold crazy.” Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who also served under George W. Bush, says the demotions are a “big mistake.”

Republican Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told CBS News, “I am worried about the National Security Council. … The appointment of Mr. Bannon is a radical departure from any National Security Council in history.” McCain added that the “one person who is indispensable would be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in my view.”

Here’s the big worry. Trump is unhinged and ignorant. Bannon is nuts and malicious. If not supervised by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, their decisions could endanger the world.

In Trump’s and Bannon’s view, foreign relations is a zero-sum game. If another nation gains, we lose. As Trump declared at his inaugural: “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America First.”

Some of you are old enough to recall John F. Kennedy’s inaugural, when the young president pledged to support any friend and oppose any foe to assure the success of liberty.

But Trump makes no distinction between friend and foe, and no reference to liberty. As conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer observes, Trump’s view is that all other nations are out to use, exploit and surpass us.

Not incidentally, “America First” was the name of the pro-Nazi group led by Charles Lindbergh that bitterly fought FDR before U.S. entry into World War II to keep America neutral between Churchill’s Britain and Hitler’s Reich.

Trump’s and Bannon’s version of “America First” is no less dangerous. It is alienating America from the rest of the world, destroying our nation’s moral authority abroad, and risking everything we love about our country.

Unsupervised by people who know what they’re doing. Trump and Bannon could also bring the world closer to a nuclear holocaust.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/donald_trump_steve_bannon_america_first_world_nuclear_holocaust_20170201