Tuesday, July 16, 2019

He's No Populist. He's A Racist.

For nearly three years, the conventional wisdom has been that Donald Trump is a populist. His proclamations in the last three days prove that he's no such thing. Paul Krugman writes:

As everyone knows, on Sunday Donald Trump attacked four progressive members of Congress, saying that they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” As it happens, three of the four were born in the U.S., and the fourth is a duly naturalized citizen. All are, however, women of color.
Sorry, there’s no way to both sides this, or claim that Trump didn’t say what he said. This is racism, plain and simple — nothing abstract about it. And Trump obviously isn’t worried that it will backfire.
This should be a moment of truth for anyone who describes Trump as a “populist” or asserts that his support is based on “economic anxiety.” He’s not a populist, he’s a white supremacist. His support rests not on economic anxiety, but on racism.

And it's not only Trump who's racist. The silence of his party proves that they are his collaborators. They, too, are racists. If you need  more proof, consider what happened last week in Tennessee:

Last week Bill Lee, the Republican governor of Tennessee, signed a proclamation ordering a day to honor the Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, whom he described as a “recognized military figure.” Indeed, Forrest was a talented military commander. He was also a traitor, a war criminal who massacred African-American prisoners, and a terrorist who helped found the Ku Klux Klan.

 And there is another facet to Trump's racism. He links it to crime:

I’m not sure how many people remember Trump’s inaugural address, which was all about “American carnage” — an alleged epidemic of violent crime sweeping our nation’s cities. He didn’t explicitly say, but clearly implied, that this supposed crime wave was being perpetrated by people with dark skins. And, of course, both Trump and the Trumpist media go on all the time about immigrant criminality.
In reality, violent crime in America’s big cities is near historical lows, and all the available evidence suggests that immigrants are, if anything, less likely than the native-born to commit crimes. But the association between nonwhites and crime is a deeply held tenet among white racists, and no amount of evidence will shake their belief.

There can no longer be any defending of the indefensible. Trump is, indeed, an ugly American. More than that, he is the incarnation of a very old American disease -- racism -- in all its ugliness.

Image: Louisville Courier-Journal

Monday, July 15, 2019

Getting Nasty

If you were wondering how Doug Ford is faring, a new poll has some answers. Kristin Rushowy reports in The Toronto Star that:

The patronage scandal that continues to batter the premier’s office has hit home for voters, with almost 60 per cent believing the Ford government is corrupt and even more saying too many “cronies” have been hired, a new poll suggests.
The Corbett Communications survey also found that just 10 per cent of respondents think the departure of chief of staff Dean French — whose friends and family members received plum postings — will undo the damage.
The survey of 936 voters taken July 9 and 10 — a little over two weeks after French left as Premier Doug Ford’s chief of staff — saw 63 per cent say the government has doled out appointments to too many cronies, with 57 per cent agreeing with the statement that the Ford government is corrupt. Among PC voters, 10 per cent believe that to be true, the poll found; almost 30 per cent of PC voters “agree too many cronies have been hired” and “disagree the departure of French has solved the problem.”

Ontarians now believe they have Ford's number and they're mightily displeased:

Corbett described Ford’s unpopularity — with 20 per cent of those polled approving of the job he is doing and 69 per disapproving — as “in the dumper” and “unsustainable” for him to remain as leader.
PCs support has dropped again, putting the governing party in a tie with the NDP and the Liberals, despite the Liberals’ decimation to just seven seats in the election a year ago, the poll found.
In addition, the government’s “for the people” slogan doesn’t sit well with voters, with just one in five polled agreeing with a statement that “Ford cares about people like them.”
His government’s budget has proved deeply unpopular, with almost 70 per cent saying Ontario has the money and should not be cutting back on services that help the vulnerable, the poll found. Among PC voters, about 40 per cent feel the same.
“There are enough indications to really demonstrate that his whole shtick is starting to ring hollow,” about having to rein in the deficit and cut services, Corbett added. “The public is not buying it anymore.”

When people discover they've been conned, the fallout can get very nasty.

Image: Niagara At Large

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Embracing Pessimism

The British, David Olusoga writes, are reflexively optimistic. But, as Britain hurtles to a messy Brexit, he argues that it's time to embrace pessimism:

Brexit, the rise of populism and the constitutional crisis in which we are still utterly ensnared – despite the passing distraction of the Tory leadership circus – undermines that sort of blithe optimism.
Now is not the time for upbeat endings. It is a moment to make the case for an ever unpopular and always controversial sentiment – pessimism.

But pessimism gets bad press. So Britons assume -- along with Boris Johnson -- that everything will work out:

“Why this defeatism? Why this negativity?” he blustered, in a pitiful effort to draw attention away from his demonstrable ignorance of his own Brexit “plan”. Don’t analyse, stop identifying flaws and inconsistencies, just be optimistic. Rejoice. Rejoice.
The prevailing cult of optimism reinforces the belief that Britain’s institutions – parliament, the civil service and that jumble of conventions and archaic procedures that are what passes for a constitution – will inevitably weather any future storm.
Well, it’s not been a great week for the civil service; a police investigation has been launched into a leak apparently designed to bring down our ambassador to the most powerful nation on earth, followed by his public defenestration by the PM-in-waiting. Month by month our constitution has been proved unfit for purpose and parliament’s physical decay is increasingly turning it into a vast, scaffold-covered metaphor.
A musty, chintzy kitschness lingers about the Palace of Westminster. A cabbagey, care-home smell wafts along its neo-gothic corridors. With Johnson refusing to rule out bypassing parliament (with his threatened prorogation and his opponents discussing setting up a rival assembly across the road, you have to really want to see the “mother of parliaments” cup as half full.

Other British leaders were not known for their optimism:

Winston Churchill [was] a man who suffered bouts of depression and spent a decade in the political wilderness for pessimistically predicting a global catastrophe. Hardly the ideal poster boy for the breezy optimism of Johnson and his cabal.

There are times when pessimism is the only appropriate response:

Whether we like it or not, there are moments in history when pessimism is the appropriate response. Times when, as the German philosopher Oswald Spengler said, “optimism is cowardice”. What is needed now is not a “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified” form of pessimism that “paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance”, to quote Franklin D Roosevelt, but a sobering and energising pessimism. It is necessary because the cult of optimism, the original source of our national complacency, is in itself a clear and present danger.
The Brexit project exploited our cultural predilection for optimism. Leave was painted as the optimistic choice. Now, when the Brexiteers are not promising us “adequate food”, they are peddling another brand of optimism. No matter what happens at the end of October, they tell us, we’ll be all right. After all, if we can make it through the Second World War we can survive Brexit. One of the many holes in this “there’ll always be an England” line of argument is, of course, that half a million British people didn’t make it through the Second World War.
The simplistic belief that the old voted Leave and the young voted Remain ignores the fact that the most elderly, the people who actually remember the Second World War, who fought and suffered in it, were “far more likely to oppose Brexit”, according to some research, than the baby boomers – a generation brought up watching war films rather than cowering in Anderson shelters.

Sometimes pessimism is simply reality. And that is the place from which solutions arise.

Image: You Tube

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Iceberg

Andrew Scheer hopes -- desperately -- that Doug Ford will keep his mouth shut. But that's something Ford just can't do. Consider Ford's proclamations over the last week. Adam Radwanski writes:

First, while in Calgary, the Ontario Premier accused the Prime Minister of not co-operating with the provinces, slammed federal carbon pricing policy, and punctuated it with a “God help us if Trudeau is re-elected.”
Later, in Saskatoon, Mr. Ford proclaimed that a “powerhouse team” of premiers would fight American trade protectionism because the Prime Minister has failed to do so. In between, he got into a war of words with Mr. Trudeau’s government about who is to blame for layoffs at a Bombardier plant.

The Liberals know that it's easy to get Ford to take the bait:

He got drawn into the Bombardier blame game after federal Employment Minister Patty Hajdu fired first, by blaming his government’s management of transit projects for the job losses.

They know that Ford is his own worst enemy. After a little more than a year, he's now despised by the majority of Ontarians:

Courtesy of unpopular spending cuts and a remarkable string of ethics controversies for a premier scarcely a year into office, Mr. Ford is brutally unpopular in Ontario. That seemingly helps to explain why polls have shown the federal Conservatives failing to gain momentum this year in the largest province, when they need to pick up lots of seats to form a government.
Scheer has convinced Ford not to recall the Ontario legislature until after the election. But Ford can't disguise his animus for Justin Trudeau. And Trudeau is counting on that animus to keep Ford's mouth in motion.

And Ford's mouth could be the iceberg that sinks the Conservatives in vote rich Ontario.

Image: Pinterest

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Most Dangerous On The Planet

Obamacare was never a simple, clean piece of legislation. Paul Krugman writes:

The Affordable Care Act was an imperfect and incomplete reform. The political compromises needed to get it through Congress created a complex system in which too many people fall through the holes. It was also underfunded, which is why deductibles are often uncomfortably high. And the law has faced sabotage both from G.O.P.-controlled state governments and, since 2017, the Trump administration.
Despite all that, however, the act has vastly improved many Americans’ lives — and in many cases, saved lives that would otherwise have been lost due to inadequate care. The progress has been most dramatic in states that have tried to make the law work. Before the A.C.A. went into effect, 24 percent of California adults too young for Medicare were uninsured. Today that number is down to 10 percent. In West Virginia, uninsurance fell from 21 percent to 9. In Kentucky, it fell from 21 to 7.

That's why Americans voted for Democrats in the midterm elections -- to protect their health care. Having been thwarted by voters, the Republican Party has turned to the courts to sink Obamacare:

Which brings me to the federal lawsuit currently before the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, a suit brought by 18 state attorneys general, and backed by the Trump administration. This suit claims that the whole act is unconstitutional and should be thrown out. The plaintiffs’ arguments are clearly specious and made in obvious bad faith. But one lower-court judge has already ruled in the suit’s favor, and early indications suggest that the two Republican-appointed judges on the three-judge panel hearing the appeal may agree.
But wait, haven’t we been here before? Yes. In 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare was indeed constitutional. On one central dispute, the constitutionality of the individual mandate — the requirement that individuals be insured, or pay a penalty — Chief Justice John Roberts ruled that the penalty constituted a tax, and that taxes are clearly constitutional. So the law stood.

But Republicans won't give up. They are, simply put, a mob dedicated to destruction -- the destruction of health care, the destruction of the Iran Nuclear Deal, the destruction of the post World War II Global Order. They stand for one thing only: Nihilism

Which is another way of saying that the American Republican Party is the most dangerous organization on the planet.

Image: Discerning Life

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Not So Fast

Yesterday, I wrote a post which argued that Ontarians have rejected the right wing populism of Doug Ford. Today, in The Toronto Star, Frank Graves and Michael Valpy write that conclusion is premature. Canada's institutional and media elites don't understand what's going on in the rest of the world:

They have embraced the notion that Canada is somehow immune to what’s happening in Europe and America, although the forces of populism will be a significant presence in the forthcoming federal election and, in many respects, Canada is moving in lockstep with the United States — toward a class war and a vision war.
Populism in Canada has been masked by a paucity of research and thinking. It has been belittled, dismissed, with most expert opinion falling into two categories: patronizing and sneering. It has been viewed as the problem all on its own with little thought given to what has caused it or what can be done to encourage it to go away.

I admit that I'm guilty of that perspective. But they warn that I'm dismissing what I don't understand. And there is a lot to understand:

Any kind of populism has two key ingredients: The idea that there is a corrupt, power-holding elite of which the people — the public — are deeply suspicious, and the belief that power should be removed from the domain of the elite and restored to the people (which is why Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks on television with a placard across his tummy reading “For the People”).
We label the particular variant of populism that the advanced democracies of the West are encountering as “authoritarian populism” or, preferably, “ordered populism.” The two terms are interchangeable — they capture the same constellation of outlooks — but the first has a history.
Authoritarian populism was a label created by post-Second World War German social scientists seeking to understand how one of the most civilized societies on Earth could have descended into the horrors of fascism and the Holocaust. Their conclusion was that fearful, Depression-era Germans sought order in the face of an exaggerated sense of external threat (and internal threat from “others” who were among therm, like Jews) and economic hopelessness, and embraced obedience and respect for strong authoritarian regimes to lead them into green pastures.
You’ll see that what the German social scientists uncovered 75 years ago pretty much fits with today. Ordered populism, the kind overtaking Canada and the rest of the developed world, has four key conditions:
A declining middle class, wage stagnation and hyperconcentration of wealth at the very top of the system;
Major shifts in social values which see more progressive values displacing traditional social conservative values which, in concert with the conditions listed above, produce a cultural backlash by those seeing themselves falling victim to loss of identity and privilege;
A growing sense of external threat expressed in a rise in the belief that the world has become overwhelmingly more dangerous as well as a rise in the perception that the country and its public institutions are moving in the wrong direction;
Declining trust in public institutions plus a rise in ideological polarization.
All those conditions are present in Canada. They predominate among less-educated males.
They look as if they’ve suddenly appeared by magic but in reality they have roots dating back 20, 30 and 40 years.

The new populists claim to be champions of the middle class. But, in reality, they are members -- or tools -- of the very elites they badmouth. And they have primarily found a home in the Conservative Party of Canada:

The Conservatives, the party of the financially secure and contented under Stephen Harper, have become the party of the pessimistic and financially insecure under Andrew Scheer.
They’ve become the party mistrustful of the media, science, experts and climate change, preferring to base decisions more on moral certainty than reason. They become a party tending those who favour nativism — who support the interests of native inhabitants being promoted against those of immigrants.
They have become a party overrepresented by self-identified working class supporters (from 25 per cent to 38 per cent since 2013) and hugely overrepresented by male segments of the population (the shift in male support from Liberal to Conservative has been 25 points since the 2015 election) and nonuniversity educated.
Although there’s one important exception to all this. The Conservatives are also welcoming into their tent significant numbers of the self-defined upper class — the Tories have a huge lead with them — who are not acting out of solidarity with oppressed workers, but because they’ve observed in the policy promises and rhetoric of the federal and provincial parties pledges that serve their class interests, like cuts to social programs, tax reductions for business and keeping minimum wages low. This largely hidden alliance of the losers and the top winners in the new economy is critical to ordered populism’s success. Exactly the same thing has happened in the U.S. and Britain.

Something to think about.

Image: Twitter

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Ontario's Short Honeymoon With Populism

Populism -- at least right wing populism -- is on the rise around the world. For awhile, it even rose in Ontario. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

Lest we forget, Torontonians led the way by ushering in Rob Ford as mayor nine years ago. We were among the first to embrace the impulse — until we had second thoughts.
City council soon sidelined him, and big brother Doug was trounced in the next mayoral election. But having purged themselves of populism, voters returned to it in the 2018 provincial campaign.
What’s most striking about the restoration of Ford Nation in this province is that it took place against the backdrop of political disintegration across the border. People could hardly close their eyes to the perils of populism, or the known bugs in Ford 2.0, yet voters held their noses in the 2018 campaign that crowned him premier.

Now the bloom is off the rose:

Today, Ontarians have had their fill of Ford’s populist pretensions, booing him at public events while cheering his rivals. His personal popularity has plunged faster and farther than that of his predecessor as premier, Kathleen Wynne, and most pollsters doubt he can recover from the tailspin.
Political polarization is still less pronounced in Ontario than elsewhere. The biggest chasm — replicated around the planet — is the urban-rural divide that pits Toronto and other big cities against the rest of the province.
But the ethnic and racial splits found in America, Britain or France are relatively muted here, and our major political leaders tend towards tolerance (albeit with some exceptions, notably Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada, and Quebec’s recurring obsession with religious garb). The immigration trickle along our undefended border is but a fraction of the challenge found along the Mexican border and the Mediterranean.

Another reason for populism's short renaissance in Canada is that we are not easily gerrymandered:

Gerrymandering is the weaponization of democracy, thwarting the natural swings of the political pendulum. Canada, by contrast, entrusts redistricting to arm’s length panels that are largely insulated from political self-interest, respecting natural boundaries and community growth.

So, we do have some safe guards that keep us from going off the rails. That said, we'll still have to live with Doug Ford for another three years. It will not be easy.

Image: CTV News Toronto