Trump’s strategic vision of chaos: Inventing a nonexistent crisis so he can “solve” it

The president depicts a failing America that’s more like 2009 than 2017 — so he can take credit for doing nothing

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Trump's strategic vision of chaos: Inventing a nonexistent crisis so he can "solve" it

(Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Drake)

As you know, our administration inherited many problems across government and across the economy. To be honest, I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess. Jobs are pouring out of the country; you see what’s going on with all of the companies leaving our country, going to Mexico and other places, low pay, low wages, mass instability overseas, no matter where you look. The Middle East is a disaster. North Korea — we’ll take care of it, folks; we’re going to take care of it all. I just want to let you know, I inherited a mess.
Donald Trump, Feb. 17

These words of the president are not quite as evocative as his doomsday inaugural “American carnage” address, but it may be more effective in the long run. Donald Trump is ignorant in most ways a president should be smart, but he does have an unerring instinct for hype.

One of his favorite tall tales is the miraculous “comeback” story. You’ve heard him endlessly recount the tedious details of his Great Campaign in which nobody said he could get the nomination and yet he defied the odds and vanquished 16 men, Carly Fiorina and one crooked Hillary, ultimately winning a historic landslide of epic proportions. No, it wasn’t historic and it wasn’t epic and it wasn’t a landslide, but that’s part of the myth Trump has created for himself: He only wins big.

The point is that he’s making himself out to be a hero who can defy tremendous odds to fight back and win. That’s why he insists that he inherited a terrible mess that will take a heroic effort to turn around, and he’s the only guy who can do it.

The country he describes is very familiar: Its economy is terrible, millions of people are going bankrupt and losing their jobs, their homes and their health care. People who have saved money for decades have seen their retirement funds shrink to nothing in the stock market crash, while Wall Street masters of the universe collect millions and tell everyone financial institutions are simply “too big to fail.” Major industries are on the verge of collapse. Banks are closing all over the country.

Tens of thousands of troops are still stationed overseas in a war that seems to never end. Terrorist bombings are happening all over the world and nobody knows when the next one is going to hit close to home. Even the natural disasters are catastrophic, taking out whole American cities and seeming to portend more of the same as the climate changes and nobody knows what to do about it. The future seems bleak indeed.

We all know that country. It was America in 2009.  It was the mess our last president inherited, not this one. (If you need a little refresher course on how bad the employment situation was during the Great Recession, you can read all about it in a recap from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.) It was the worst economic recession in the lifetime of anyone younger than age 70 and it came on the heels of a period of tremendous fear and anxiety after 9/11 and the debacle of the Iraq war.

Now that was a real mess.

To be sure, the recovery has been a long, uneven slog and many people are still reeling. There are long-term economic trends that have hit some communities very hard for decades and the Great Recession exacerbated their suffering. And much of the gains have gone to the upper 1 percent.

But millions more people have jobs, homes and health care today than they did eight years ago. That is just a fact. The idea that Donald Trump is facing an emergency of that magnitude, even among many of the white working-class folks who remain underemployed and financially insecure is ridiculous. We were on the verge of another global Great Depression. Now we’re not.

As I pointed out before the election in September, whoever won was going to have the economic wind at his or her back, which is a lucky thing for any president. I quoted economist Jared Bernstein who wrote in The Washington Post that “poverty fell sharply, middle-class incomes rose steeply, and more people had health coverage” in 2015, which meant that many of those who had been left behind by the recovery were starting to see the benefits. But there is often an emotional hangover after a deep economic crisis that takes some time to dissipate; even when things have improved,  people still feel anxious for some time afterwards.

One suspects Trump understood from the beginning that the economy was rebounding. But in order to take advantage of his reputation as a wealthy businessman, he needed to pump up those feelings of anxiety so that he could take credit for the upturn once in office. The dystopian hellscape that he describes today will quickly give way to “Morning in America” for his followers. And he doesn’t have to do anything.

This is lucky for him since Trump doesn’t have a clue about what a president has to do in a real crisis and doesn’t have the temperament or skills to do it anyway. As Jonathan Cohn wrote in this piece for The Huffington Post on Tuesday, as much as Trump and his minions insist that his first month in office has been historically successful, it’s been nothing more than endless gaffes, scandals and flashy edicts that are far less substantial than the sweeping and complicated legislation that President Barack Obama ushered through Congress in the corresponding period.

Cohn related Trump’s attitude toward the hard work of creating policy:

During the presidential campaign, Trump mocked Hillary Clinton for her wonkishness: “She’s got people that sit in cubicles writing policy all day,” he said during one interview. “It’s just a waste of paper.” At one point, Trump’s own policy advisers quit because nobody was paying them or taking them seriously.

That’s appalling. But unless Trump’s GOP colleagues in the Congress muck up things badly by repealing the Affordable Care Act or making such drastic cuts that employment falters, he doesn’t really have to do much. He can just tweet about saving some manufacturing jobs that CEOs are happy to pretend he personally negotiated, and his followers will be happy to give him credit for “saving” an economy that was already on the upswing.

There is one problem with his cunning plan, however. If a healthy economic environment requires the confidence of people that their future looks bright, then this growth may just come to a screeching halt. The “carnage” he likes to describe may not exist today. But millions of people are frightened to death that the nightmare of Donald Trump may make it very real in the days to come.

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.

Trump’s unknown financial connections to Russia may hold the key to the widening scandal

Deeper and deeper: Congress wakes up as Trump’s ties to Russia look more tangled and troubling than ever

Deeper and darker: Trump's unknown financial connections to Russia may hold the key to the widening scandal
(Credit: Getty/Drew Angerer/Klubovy)

There’s a joke going around about President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, to the effect that he has the dubious distinction of having been fired by both Democratic and Republican administrations. But that’s not really very funny when you consider that he was fired by one for his erratic behavior and from the other because he was implicated in a scandal concerning possible connections to the Russian government.

Something has gone very wrong with our system that such a person could come so close to high levels of power in two administrations. But Flynn did. His short tenure and the circumstances of his departure have brought all the questions about Russian involvement in the campaign to the White House’s doorstep, where they cannot be ignored any longer.

I always had tended to believe that Trump probably didn’t really have any personal relationship with Vladimir Putin. Trump is such a serial exaggerator that his allusions to one struck me as hype. His great pleasure in being stroked with Putin’s compliments indicated that Trump didn’t actually know him. It’s also obvious that he truly admires Putin’s strongman leadership style and that’s disturbing enough.

Still, there has been the nagging sense for some time that there’s something off about the way Trump speaks about Putin. It’s obsequious and submissive, which is very uncharacteristic of his normal style and one cannot help but wonder why that is. Trump is not servile toward anyone in this world — except Vladimir Putin.  It would be one thing if we could chalk it up as another one of Trump’s weird psychological tics and hope that he isn’t so subject to flattery that he decides to help the Russian leader carve up Europe just to keep his approval. But it seems there’s more to it than that.

The Russian story has been bubbling under the surface for months, of course. The hiring of Paul Manafort, best known in recent years for his career as a lobbyist for pro-Russian Ukraine politicians — and a stranger to American politics since the 1980s — has seemed odd. Still, there has been no reason for serious suspicion since Manafort had once been partners with Trump’s good friend Roger Stone and had lived in Trump Tower at one time. Anyway, the world of political consultants is very small. So no big deal.

When the word came down that the Democratic National Committee had determined it had been hacked by what its security firm said were foreign actors associated with the Russian government, I don’t think anyone saw an immediate connection. But then came that weird incident at the Republican National Convention in July, when Trump representatives intervened to soften the GOP’s official policy on Ukraine. Again, by itself this would not be a huge deal. But when combined with Trump’s strangely passive attitude toward Putin and the hiring of a man who had spent years working in politics in the region, people started to wonder.

It was only a few days later that Trump made his shocking public invitation to the Russian government to “find” Hillary Clinton’s personal emails and deliver them to the media. He suggested afterward that he had only been joking. Maybe so.

Since that time suspicions have only grown. The U.S. government verified that the Russians had hacked the files of various people and institutions in the presidential campaign, the WikiLeaks dumps happened and we have learned that the FBI had been investigating possible connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government since last spring.

Members of the mainstream media finally revealed that, except for Mother Jones, they had been sitting on an explosive dossier compiled by a credible opposition researcher with deep ties to Russia that suggested members of the Trump campaign, including his handpicked national security adviser, were in touch with Russian officials and that the Russians had some compromising material (or kompromat) on Trump himself. The infamous details of the kompromat have not been verified but other elements of the dossier appear to have some basis in truth.

Since Flynn was prompted to resign due to an inappropriate conversation with the Russian ambassador related to sanctions, one can no longer avoid asking whether Trump was personally involved. After all, those sanctions that Flynn apparently assured the ambassador would be revisited after Trump took office were imposed precisely because Russia had apparently interfered in the election on Trump’s behalf.

So here we are, with members of the GOP-led Congress finally rousing themselves to open a serious investigation. They sent around a memo telling the White House to keep all records pertaining to Russia, which is a start. Over the weekend, a startling new report appeared in The New York Times:

A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia. Mr. Flynn is gone, having been caught lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

This report was  characterized by Michael Weiss, senior editor of the Daily Beast, this way:

Jesus. Trump’s lawyer, a mobster and a Manafort-minted Ukrainian pol are trying to blackmail Poroshenko. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/19/us/politics/donald-trump-ukraine-russia.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share 

Both Manafort and Cohen were among those said to be under investigation by the government. The Trump business associate, Felix Sater, is the Russian-born “mobster” (and convicted felon) who has apparently also been a CIA and FBI informant for years. As Josh Marshall laid out in a Talking Points Memo piece, Sater’s story is bizarre and incredible — but no more so than the fact that the president of the United States has been financially connected with him for years.

We don’t have enough information to come to any conclusions about any of this yet. As Vox’s Matt Yglesias pointed out, however, there is a long list of questions that must be addressed. This growing scandal makes more clear than ever how unacceptable it is that we have a president who won’t properly divest himself of his business dealings around the world and refuses to even reveal what they are. It’s untenable. Trump cannot govern under these circumstances.

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.

Trump’s “America First” policies and the global eruption of economic nationalism

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By Nick Beams
21 February 2017

While the battle in Washington between the intelligence agencies, the media and the Trump administration over the question of Russia and Trump’s supposed ties to Putin is attracting most of the headlines, a conflict on the economic front is of no less significance.

Earlier this month, in response to Trump’s “America First” agenda and what it called his “divisive delusions on trade,” the Financial Times, the voice of British and to some extent European finance capital, warned that if the Trump administration continued on its present course, it would represent a “clear and present danger to the global trading and monetary system.”

The immediate cause of this unusually strong language was the claim by the Trump administration that the euro was significantly undervalued, operating to the benefit of Germany, which enjoys a trade surplus with the US.

The editorial called for other countries to “stand ready to resist bullying and not to let the US drive wedges between them.”

The Financial Times did not go any further, but the logic of this position is clear. If countries are to stand together to combat what are seen as American attacks, then the next step is the development of trade and economic agreements directed against the US—in short, a major step down the road to the kind of economic and currency blocs that exacerbated the 1930s Depression and played a major role in the drive to a second world war in the space of two decades.

No one has yet put forward the formation of such alliances, but the issue is assuming a larger presence in public pronouncements and no doubt in discussions behind closed doors.

Last month, speaking to the New York Times on the sidelines of the Davos summit of the World Economic Forum, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the president of the euro group of finance ministers, pointed to possible major shifts in orientation. “We’ve always said that America is our best friend,” he said. “If that’s no longer the case, if that’s what we need to understand from Donald Trump, then, of course, Europe will be looking for new friends.

“China is a very strong candidate for that. The Chinese involvement in Europe in terms of investment is already very high and expanding. If you push away your friends, you mustn’t be surprised if the friends start looking for new friends.”

So far as the Trump administration is concerned, China, and to some extent Germany, is the main economic opponent and threat to the economic pre-eminence of the United States. This orientation is one of the reasons for its conflict with the sections of the military and intelligence establishment that are pressing for a more open confrontation with Russia.

Trump has variously threatened to brand China a currency manipulator and impose tariffs as high as 45 percent on its exports to the US. While he has yet to announce any concrete policies and his positions so far have been set out only in tweets and similar remarks, the underlying position of the administration and the economic processes that are driving it were set out last September in a paper on the Trump economic plan authored by the then-business professor at the University of California-Irvine, Peter Navarro, and equity investor Wilbur Ross.

Since the election Navarro has become the head of Trump’s National Trade Council and Wilbur Ross has become commerce secretary.

The paper began by noting that in the period from 1947 to 2001, US gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 3.5 percent a year, but from 2002, that average had fallen to 1.9 percent, representing a 45 percent reduction in the US growth rate from its historical pre-2002 norm.

The authors dismissed the claims of the Obama administration that lower growth was a “new normal,” labelling that position “defeatist” and claiming that low growth was the result of higher taxes, increased regulation and the “self-inflicted negative impacts from poorly negotiated trade deals,” including NAFTA and China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The latter, they wrote, negotiated under Bill Clinton, “opened America’s markets to a flood of illegally subsidized Chinese imports, thereby creating massive and chronic trade deficits.”

China’s accession to the WTO, they argued, “also rapidly accelerated the offshoring of America’s factories and a concomitant decline in US domestic business investment as a percentage of our economy.” They noted that from 1999 to 2003, US investment flows to China were stable at around $1.6 billion per year, but jumped in the period 2004–2008 to an annual average of $6.4 billion a year.

In other words, according to their argument, the flow of investment funds to China, made possible by its accession to the WTO, is one of the chief causes of the long-term slowdown in US economic growth.

The authors also hit out at WTO rules, saying that the exemption of exports to the US from value added taxes (VAT) imposed by European governments and the fact that US exports to Europe are subject to these taxes was a form of discrimination against US firms. These conclusions form the basis for the discussion within the Trump administration on the possible imposition of taxes on imports.

They wrote that unequal treatment of US exports was an example of “VAT gaming,” and that the US should have demanded equal tax treatment for US exports.

“Since the WTO would be meaningless without the presence of the world’s largest importer and third largest exporter, we had the leverage then—and we have the leverage now—to fix this anomaly and loophole,” they asserted, adding the implied threat that “without the US as a member, there would not be much purpose to the WTO.”

The Trump administration’s denunciations of China as a currency manipulator have attracted most of the media attention. But Navarro and Ross were no less strident when it came to the European Monetary Union.

“While the euro freely floats in international currency markets, this system deflates the German currency from where it would be if the German Deutschmark were still in existence,” they wrote. This was the reason, they claimed, that the US had a large trade in goods deficit with Germany, some $75 billion in 2015, even though German wages were relatively high.

The paper gave a clear summing up of where the Trump administration sees the position of the US in regard to the struggle for global markets. Answering critics of the “America First” agenda, they wrote: “Those who suggest that Trump trade policies will ignite a trade war ignore the fact that we are already engaged in a trade war. It is a war in which the American government has surrendered before engaging.”

They held out the prospect that in pursuing a policy of what they termed “more balanced trade,” the US would be able to secure cooperation because US trade partners were more dependent on American markets than America is on their markets.

As with so many of Trump’s policies, the trade war agenda outlined by Navarro and Ross represents not so much a break from the policies of the Obama administration as a continuation of their basic thrust and, at the same time, a qualitative escalation.

The underlying strategy of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its counterpart for Europe, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, promoted by the Obama administration, was that privileged access to the vast American market for those countries that signed up would enable the US to force concessions upon them.

Both proposed trade investment deals specifically scrapped the system that had governed trade relations since World War II under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and then the WTO, which maintained that concessions offered to one country should be offered to all. This policy was in recognition of the damage done to the world economy and trade system through the formation of exclusivist blocs in the period of the 1930s.

Outlining the rationale for the proposed agreements in 2014, Obama’s trade representative Michael Froman wrote in a major Foreign Affairs article that “trade policy is national security policy,” and that the aim of the agreements was to “place the US at the center of agreements that will provide unfettered access to two-thirds of the global economy.”

He went on to explain that the post-war system was no longer adequate and that the US no longer held “as dominant a position as it did at the end of World War II” and had to build new “trade coalitions working toward consensus positions.” In other words, the development of new mechanisms whereby the US could counter its economic decline vis-à-vis its rivals.

The Trump policy is being driven by this same agenda, albeit in a different form. The underlying driving forces can be clearly seen.

First, there is the contraction in economic growth not only in the US but internationally. It has been estimated that the economic slowdown since the financial crisis of 2008 means that developed economies are one sixth smaller than they would have been had pre-crisis growth trends been maintained.

The contraction is even more pronounced in world trade. Since 2012, world trade has advanced by little more than 3 percent per year, less than half the average expansion of the preceding decades. As the International Monetary Fund has noted, between 1985 and 2007 real world trade grew on average twice as fast as global gross domestic product (GDP), whereas over the past four years it has barely kept pace. “Such prolonged sluggish growth in trade volumes,” it concluded, “relative to economic activity has few precedents during the past five decades.”

Even before the accession of Trump, the WTO noted the rise of protectionist measures. It pointed out that members of the G20 group—all of which pledged to eschew 1930s style measures—had, in the five months leading up to last October, been implementing an average of 17 trade constraints a month, a situation it described as a “real and persistent concern.”

In other words, the accession of Trump and his “America First” agenda of economic nationalism and a war of each against all is not some aberration, but the qualitative development of a trend that has been building up within the world capitalist economy over the past decade, but which is now coming to the surface with explosive force.

WSWS

 

 

 

 

 

How to Build an Autocracy

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The preconditions are present in the U.S. today. Here’s the playbook Donald Trump could use to set the country down a path toward illiberalism.

It’s 2021, and president Donald Trump will shortly be sworn in for his second term. The 45th president has visibly aged over the past four years. He rests heavily on his daughter Ivanka’s arm during his infrequent public appearances.

Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.

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The president’s critics, meanwhile, have found little hearing for their protests and complaints. A Senate investigation of Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential campaign sputtered into inconclusive partisan wrangling. Concerns about Trump’s purported conflicts of interest excited debate in Washington but never drew much attention from the wider American public.

Allegations of fraud and self-dealing in the TrumpWorks program, and elsewhere, have likewise been shrugged off. The president regularly tweets out news of factory openings and big hiring announcements: “I’m bringing back your jobs,” he has said over and over. Voters seem to have believed him—and are grateful.

Anyway, doesn’t everybody do it? On the eve of the 2018 congressional elections, WikiLeaks released years of investment statements by prominent congressional Democrats indicating that they had long earned above-market returns. As the air filled with allegations of insider trading and crony capitalism, the public subsided into weary cynicism. The Republicans held both houses of Congress that November, and Trump loyalists shouldered aside the pre-Trump leadership.

The business community learned its lesson early. “You work for me, you don’t criticize me,” the president was reported to have told one major federal contractor, after knocking billions off his company’s stock-market valuation with an angry tweet. Wise business leaders take care to credit Trump’s personal leadership for any good news, and to avoid saying anything that might displease the president or his family.

The media have grown noticeably more friendly to Trump as well. The proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner was delayed for more than a year, during which Time Warner’s CNN unit worked ever harder to meet Trump’s definition of fairness. Under the agreement that settled the Department of Justice’s antitrust complaint against Amazon, the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, has divested himself of The Washington Post. The paper’s new owner—an investor group based in Slovakia—has closed the printed edition and refocused the paper on municipal politics and lifestyle coverage.

 

CONTINUED:

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/03/how-to-build-an-autocracy/513872/

Ivanka goes out of style

More women are refusing to buy what she’s selling

Donald Trump’s daughter is learning a hard lesson in politicized American consumerism

Ivanka goes out of style: More women are refusing to buy what she's selling
(Credit: Getty/Chip Somodevilla/Salon)

Despite scrambling to the press to take credit for the scuttling of a barbarous anti-LGBT executive order that had been floating around President Donald Trump’s offices, waiting for just the right devastating smirk from Anderson Cooper to find a hospitable berth in the president’s damaged mind, Ivanka’s personal and professional brand took a major hit when Nordstrom announced it would not continue to carry her apparel line. The anti-Trump boycott movement Grab Your Wallet took credit, and Nordstrom levied the only sick burn a Trump can truly feel: “Low sales.”

Having your allegedly prestigious brand dumped by Nordstrom and, as is now the case for her jewelry line, Neiman Marcus, is not good for a woman of Ivanka’s stature. But — for now — she’s still stocked in Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s and Lord and Taylor, perfectly respectable runners-up, as well as Amazon and its subsidiary Zappos. She could keep making money off her sensible flats for years to come. But discount marts T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s ordering their employees to chuck her wares into the gen pop racks? That’s a flat rejection from a safety sorority. And when Belk, a Southern department store chain that could not be more synonymous with Red State Hair, 86-ed the Ivanka line, things really got real in the land of lady-business wear. Sad!

There’s no such thing as divorcing your politics from your consumption — every rural American who saw their Main Street devoured by a Walmart knows this. The only thing I know about the Woolworth’s brand is that four African-American college kids in ties sat down at its lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960 and demanded their humanity be recognized in the only way a capitalist system can and will. That lunch counter sit-in spawned a wave of similar ones across the South, and associated boycotts cost the company about $1.6 million in today’s dollars. The desegregation of lunch counters followed. In America, money talks. (Unfortunately, it also tweets in all-caps.)

That women might think twice about buying an Ivanka outfit right now is not surprising. I once recoiled physically from a pair of shoes because they were “designed” by a celebrity whose image I did not see aligning with my own, a decision with a mere $79.95 and my own dumb pride, not the tacit approval of an authoritarian regime, hanging in its balance. Ivanka’s lifestyle brand, designed to be so non-controversial and non-threatening that it might as well not even exist, has now become synonymous with an administration seemingly hell-bent on discriminating against our most vulnerable, helping sick people die faster, and maybe starting World War III before anyone manages to change the password on the president’s phone. Who wants to cop to wearing that look?

Trumpsters are fighting back online, but few of the Ivanka defenders appear to be legitimately dedicated customers, and not only because they’re secretly teen boys from Macedonia. Ivanka has a problem because no there there to defend — her designs lack distinction. As long as Banana Republic doesn’t hire Sean Spicer as its spokesmodel, cubicle-crawling America will be able to clothe itself for the work week if her line disappears tomorrow. Ivanka’s wearables are economically vulnerable because they are needed by none, and now coveted by few.

Take the Ivanka Trump Soho Solutions Work Tote with Battery Charging Pack. It comes in three colors of leather; it’s fine. Looking at one online, it appears to be polished, professional and functional, and if the stitching is decent and the hardware can stand up to a year’s worth of weekday wear, it’s not a bad buy. It’s also utterly generic. This bag says nothing about its owner except “I want people in the office to stop mistaking me for an intern.” Say what you want about Kellyanne Conway’s bonkers style, but at least she has some.

Up until now, this has been the core strength of Ivanka Trump™ — and I don’t just mean the business strategy that makes her Hettie heels indistinguishable from every other knock-off Aquazzura at the mall. While Daddy Trump received his rage-love injections on the Cheeto Circus Rally Circuit, Ivanka’s job was to act as a blank canvas — or a blush crepe sheath, at least — upon which the female and non-caveman electorate could project their last-ditch hopes for reasonable human leadership. What Ivanka and her father likely didn’t bank on was that her utility to Daddy’s more reluctant supporters — the superficial proof that he hadn’t screwed up every last thing he ever touched in his life — was dependent on her continuing to shine professionally and personally through the storm of excrement swirling around his Oval Office.

The shit has hit the proverbial cap-sleeved blouse now, and #WomenWhoWork are apparently not having it. What Ivanka must realize is that she isn’t really selling floral knit shells and A-line dresses anymore, at least not to the #BuyIvanka crowd. She’s selling them a proxy to her father, and they’re supporting her with a MAGA chorus of janky memes, not shoe receipts.

The funny thing about products designed to appeal to everyone is that they are either bulletproof, by virtue of defining or redefining the standard — Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Target, Netflix, Budweiser, Taylor Swift — or they remain third-tier and if they disappear, nobody really cares or notices. You can’t convince Americans to boycott things they love without a strong reason, and you can’t make them be loyal consumers of crap they don’t want. The proof is in the latte foam: All of those brands I just mentioned, with the exception of Ms. Swift, have been the targets of recent conservative boycott threats.

No Jesus on the cups? No guns in the store? Hiring refugees? #PourOutStarbucks! Allowing people to choose their own restrooms? #FlushTarget! A show called “Dear White People?” #CancelNetflix! A Super Bowl commercial celebrating many languages and ethnicities? #SiegPepsi!

Has Coke apologized to Nazis? Are Starbucks employees trained to bless your Glock? Did Target set aside special potties “For Ted Cruz Only?” Not exactly. Forget the pointless “Hamilton” boycott — it’s not a boycott if you just can’t get tickets — the day a critical mass of suburban white people skip their Starbucks fixes to make a rhetorical point about things that have very little bearing on their overall health and happiness is the day that old guys in Make America Great Again hats say “no thanks” to a cold Bud because the company ran an ad celebrating a German dude’s financial success. Posturing online is one thing, but Macedonian teens run on Fanta, that “Iron Fist” trailer looks sick, and female Republicans in the Nordstrom demographic would probably rather vote for Hillary Clinton than cut up their charge cards forever over a wrap dress that looks like every other wrap dress on the racks. Ivanka 0, American Women emoji-100.

As my colleague D. Watkins might say, congratulations, Ivanka, you played yourself. Humans might gravitate to material success and power, but they have no motivation to fight — or in the case of Americans, even mildly inconvenience themselves — for something that has no center. Ivanka believes in her own exceptionalism to the point of thinking that the actions of her father’s administration wouldn’t tarnish her, but an influential subset of American consumer now sees through the tasteful fabrics which don’t quite disguise the ugly reality. When you lie down with dogs, Ivanka, don’t be surprised when their fleas stick around.

Opposition to Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban mounts on eve of court deadline

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By Patrick Martin
7 February 2017

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, will hear oral arguments Tuesday on the travel ban on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries imposed by the Trump administration January 27 by executive order.

The hearing was announced Monday evening, shortly after the administration filed legal briefs with the appeals court seeking to overturn the decision by Judge James Robart, a federal district judge in Seattle, who issued a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of the Muslim ban.

The three judges include William Canby Jr., appointed by Jimmy Carter; Richard Clifton, appointed by George W. Bush; and Michelle T. Friedland, appointed by Barack Obama.

The hour-long hearing, with 30 minutes for each side, will take place at 6 pm Tuesday, Eastern Time, or 3 pm Pacific Time, with a recording of the hearing released to the public after the conclusion of the arguments.

The states of Washington and Minnesota brought the suit charging that the executive order issued by Trump is unconstitutional because of its brazenly religious character. They also argued that it damages the interests of citizens of those states as well as institutions such as universities and corporations whose students and employees are affected by the ban.

Fifteen more states, with a combined population of more than 100 million people, filed an amicus brief Monday supporting the position of Washington and Minnesota. The brief was drafted by attorneys for California, New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia joined in supporting the brief. The state of Hawaii filed a separate motion in support of Washington and Minnesota.  Nearly all these states are governed by Democrats.

The 15-state brief detailed the impact of the ban on the educational and health care systems in many of the states. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that medical school programs would “risk being without a sufficient number of medical residents to meet staffing needs,” and that more than 2,000 students set to enroll in the state’s college and university system would be affected.

The main argument presented by the Trump administration was the claim that the states have no legal standing to challenge the executive order, and that the president’s power to control immigration is conferred both by the Constitution and federal law and is absolute and unreviewable by any court.

“Judicial second-guessing of the president’s national security determination in itself imposes substantial harm on the federal government and the nation at large,” Justice Department lawyers wrote in legal papers defending the executive order.

At the court hearing last Friday, Washington state Solicitor-General Noah Purcell responded by saying, “They’re basically saying that you can’t review anything about what the president does or says, as long as he says it’s for national security reasons. And that just can’t be the law.’’

Aside from the obviously authoritarian character of the administration’s claim, this is the diametric opposite of the position taken by Republican state attorneys general in 2015 when they argued—successfully—before the Fifth Circuit Court (based in New Orleans) that they had standing to challenge President Obama’s executive order exempting several million long-settled undocumented immigrants from deportation.

The Trump brief also urged the Ninth Circuit to reject out of hand any arguments based on religious discrimination, since the text of the executive order does not explicitly call for a ban on Muslims. Trump’s numerous statements declaring that he wished to impose a Muslim ban, and his seeking advice on how to word such a ban so that it would pass legal muster, could not be considered by the court, the brief argued, because this would involve investigating the motives of the executive branch, and would thus breach the separation of powers. The contrast between this argument and Trump’s own conduct, tweeting imprecations against Judge James Robart and all but branding him a terrorist sympathizer, is stark.

The brief filed by Washington and Minnesota replied that “courts have both the right and the duty to examine defendants’ true motives,” and cited precedents linked to previous Supreme Court decisions in relation to discrimination against gays and other disfavored minorities.

The states’ brief pointed out that the claims of urgent national security dangers were undermined by the sheer breadth of the order: “For several months it bans all travelers from the listed countries and all refugees, whether they be infants, schoolchildren or grandparents. And though it cites the attacks of September 11, 2001 as a rationale, it imposes no restrictions on people from the countries whose nationals carried out those attacks. It is at once too narrow and too broad… and cannot withstand any level of scrutiny.”

The issues of imperialist foreign policy underlying the legal recriminations were spelled out in an affidavit filed Monday by ten former top figures in the national security establishment, mostly from Democratic administrations. The document was signed by two former secretaries of state, John Kerry and Madeleine Albright, former defense secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta, former national security adviser Susan Rice, her former deputy Lisa Monaco, former homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano, and four former CIA directors or deputy directors: Michael Hayden, Michael Morrell, John McLaughlin and Avril Haines.

Noting that four of these officials “were current on active intelligence regarding all credible terrorist threat streams directed against the US” as late as January 20, 2017, the statement declared: “We all are nevertheless unaware of any specific threat that would justify the travel ban established by the Executive Order issued on January 27, 2017.”

Trump’s executive order will “disrupt key counterterrorism, foreign policy and national security partnerships that are critical to our obtaining” intelligence necessary to combat terrorist groups like the Islamic State, the statement declared. It went on to warn that individuals in the seven targeted countries who cooperated with US intelligence and military operations would now be endangered.

Newly installed Pentagon chief James Mattis reportedly ordered emergency measures for the protection of Iraqis who collaborated with the US military occupation by acting as translators or providing intelligence. The entry of these Iraqis into the United States under a special visa program was halted by the Trump order.

A separate amicus brief was filed by 97 giant corporations, including a who’s who of Silicon Valley: Facebook, Microsoft, Intel, Uber, eBay, Apple, Google, Twitter, Airbnb and Snap. The corporations argued that the order “inflicts significant harm on American business, innovation, and growth,” and by disrupting the movement of employees and potential customers “is inflicting substantial harm on US companies.”

Legal commentators expect the Ninth Circuit, which is the most liberal of the circuit courts in the US, to endorse Robart’s decision in some fashion, followed by an appeal by the Trump administration to the Supreme Court. In the event of a 4-4 split, which was the result of the previous immigration enforcement lawsuit by Republican-controlled states in 2015, the circuit court’s decision would stand.

Whatever the long-term result of the legal conflict, however, the temporary restraining order remains in effect this week, with as many as 100,000 people holding visas for entry into the United States from the seven countries targeted by the White House.

Meanwhile, more evidence has emerged of the racist and bigoted character of both the executive order itself and its enforcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A report in Newsweek quoted Los Angeles immigration lawyer Stacy Tolchin, who describes how ICE agents separated Muslims from non-Muslims during detention proceedings at the airports in the period before the court order halting the travel ban was issued.

“They are segregating Muslims from the non-Muslims when they’re being detained, holding them in separate rooms,” Tolchin told Newsweek. “I think it shows what the real intent of the travel ban is.” The magazine reported that several other lawyers “corroborated Tolchin’s account, saying those who identified themselves as Christian or Jewish did not seem subject to the same treatment at the border.”

What does it mean to make “America First”?

Trump has won some support among workers and even unions with his proposals around trade, but is this billionaire really on their side? Lance Selfa explains why not.

Donald Trump

PERHAPS IT’S foolish to take anything Donald Trump says as an articulation of core principles or beliefs. But this passage from his inaugural address hit many like a bolt of lightning:

From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.

I will fight for you with every breath in my body–and I will never, ever let you down. America will start winning again, winning like never before.

This appeal to economic nationalism is very much in line with his “Make America great again” campaign theme. But for those whose political memory goes back a little ways, “America First” means something very specific and very problematic.

In the late 1930s, the Roosevelt administration was increasing its support for an interventionist foreign policy that would assert the U.S. on a world level. After the Second World War started in 1939, the administration lent massive amounts of military aid to Britain, with the intention of drawing the U.S. into the conflict.

From the late 1930s up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 1941, a substantial sentiment against U.S. intervention in the European war developed. While on the whole sincerely opposed to a repeat of the imperialist slaughter of the First World War, the anti-intervention mood also intersected with an isolationist, rather than internationalist, approach to the coming conflict.

So when a number of college students–including future Republican President Gerald Ford, future Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart and future Democratic vice presidential candidate Sargent Shriver–along with leading capitalists issued a call to form an “America First” committee to keep the U.S. out of the European war, hundreds of thousands responded.

America First also called for a U.S. military buildup to defend the continental U.S.–a policy that came to be known as “Fortress America.”

The banner of “America First” was also embraced by supporters of the anti-Semitic “radio priest” Father Charles Coughlin, along with fascists and sympathizers with the Nazi regime in Germany. In speeches for the America First committee, the aviator Charles Lindbergh contended that Britain and Jews were the main advocates for U.S. intervention in the war, and that the interventionists’ main aim was to defeat Germany.

Other mainstream political figures–like Joseph Kennedy, ambassador to Britain and father of future U.S. President John F. Kennedy–shared the “America First” outlook. He contended that Germany was too strong, and that Britain and U.S. should make peace with the Nazis.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent U.S. intervention, America First organizations collapsed. The U.S. emergence from the war as a global superpower marginalized support for the “American First” outlook of staying out of foreign entanglements while building a “Fortress America.”

In the 1990s and 2000s, far right, anti-Semitic pundit and presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan carried the “America First” torch for a while. Then Trump came along.

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THIS BRIEF history of “America First” politics provides a context for Trump’s rhetoric. It also shows that, far from being a common sense advocacy for ordinary people in the U.S. versus global elite, the slogan drags along more than its share of historical baggage. It wasn’t accidental that Trump’s presidential proclamation on Holocaust Remembrance Day failed to mention the genocide of European Jewry.

Trump’s America First policy asserts that “[e]very decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”

That rhetoric sounds radical, especially when compared to that of the last generation’s status quo, when most decisions on trade and foreign affairs did little for U.S. workers and their families. For most of the last generation, politicians–both Democratic and Republican–have told us that global trade is like a force of nature, which the U.S. economy can only adapt to, not control.

This notion of globalization operating outside the influence of the world’s most powerful government was always false. U.S. state policy undergirded the bipartisan regime of free trade and the U.S. global military projection. As that purveyor of “flat-world” banalities Thomas Friedman once put it, “McDonalds cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas.”

If Trump’s tumultuous first week showed anything, it showed just how much governmental action can shift the terms of engagement and debate on these questions.

Given that decades of corporate, governmental and institutional practices are invested in the neoliberal regime, it remains to be seen whether any or all of Trump’s actions will be sustained as new policies for the long run. But in the immediate term, they present our side with a tremendous set of challenges.

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THE FIRST of these is assessing whether they are reality-based or not. Millions of people–among them supporters of Bernie Sanders–would agree with the sentiment of protecting “our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs,” whether or not they agree with Trump’s rhetoric.

Yet the empirical evidence that trade arrangements–like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO)–are the main culprits in the decline of U.S. manufacturing jobs and workers’ standards of living is thin.

The liberal University of California-Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong calculates that of the decline in U.S. manufacturing employment since 1971 that is greater than that experienced by other industrial powers undergoing similar structural economic shifts, only one-tenth of even this extra amount can be attributed to NAFTA and trade with China.

Nevertheless, we know that during the same period, living standards for workers in the U.S.–and not just those in manufacturing–stagnated. In real terms, the median U.S. household income is no higher than it was in the early 1970s.

Clearly something is wrong in the U.S. economy, and no amount of statistical modeling is going to convince people that they should just accept it. So when figures as diverse as Trump and Sanders point to global trade deals as the culprit for declining living standards, they at least have the merit of relating to people who know–unlike the Friedmans and the Clintons–that not all is right with the neoliberal world.

Trump promotes the notion that other countries are “ripping off” the U.S. through unfair trade deals. But this inverts reality.

One drastic effect of NAFTA has been the destruction of small farming in Mexico when that sector was forced into unfair competition with U.S. agribusiness. By some estimates, more than 1 million farmers have been driven from the land. Many of the victims moved to Mexican cities or crossed the border into the U.S. without documents to find work.

“Free trade” agreements like NAFTA are engineered for the benefit of U.S. business, as levers to pry open sectors of other countries’ economies to investment and services in the first instance.

Second, they allow for the free movement of capital across borders, but not the free movement of labor. In fact, the era of NAFTA coincided with a huge increase in “border security” and repression that produced a record number of deportations–more than 2 million–under the Democratic Obama administration.

That aspect of “Fortress America”–repression at the border–is already in place. Trump proposes to increase it. But the record should show that free trade policies didn’t put out a welcome mat to immigrants, either.

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OUR SIDE will continue to analyze the economic ramifications of Trump’s policies, but we’re faced today with what to do about the political challenges they represent.

In this case, there is a more complicated test for the left. Trump’s protectionism and rhetoric about bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. have already won praise from union leaders like Teamsters President James Hoffa. Hoffa and other labor officials likewise hailed Trump’s executive order aimed at restarting the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline projects that activism forced the Obama administration to shelve.

After a White House meeting with Trump, North American Building Union President Sean McGarvey declared, “We have a common bond with the president” and that “We come from the same industry. He understands the value of driving development, moving people to the middle class.”

In speaking to reporters, McGarvey and Laborers President Terry Sullivan–whose unions both endorsed Hillary Clinton for president–pointed out that they had never been invited to a White House meeting in the eight years of Obama’s presidency.

But there’s something else besides the Democrats’ neglect behind the labor leaders’ cozying up to Trump and his America First program: It gives them an alibi for their failures to do much of anything to reverse the long-term decline of their organizations and to protect their members from worsening conditions.

Those problems stem from anti-union U.S. employers and anti-labor U.S. politicians, not overseas competitors or immigrants.

Hoffa, for example, has a long record of cooperating with employers while bargaining away the rights and benefits of rank-and-file Teamsters.

For the likes of Hoffa, it’s much more convenient to blame international competition or Mexican truckers for eroding wages and conditions than to confront U.S. employers–even ones, like UPS, making record profits. Joining with Trump under the banner of “America First” won’t change Hoffa’s behavior at all.

Labor leaders like Hoffa give Trump the cover to paint his economic program–which in reality is based on tax cuts for the rich, allowing corporations free reign, and selling the U.S. as a low-wage economy–as “populist” and pro-worker. And they lend legitimacy to an administration intent on attacking whole sections of the working class, including immigrants and the undocumented.

Any labor union or worker who signs up with Trump’s “America First” program will find out that–rhetoric aside–Trump will put them last.

Thanks to Joe Allen for help with this article.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/02/03/what-does-it-mean-to-make-america-first