He is not a liberal, he’s the end of liberalism.
A few months ago, I wrote a column saying I would vote for Elizabeth Warren over Donald Trump. I may not agree with some of her policies, but culture is more important than politics. She does not spread moral rot the way Trump does.
Now I have to decide if I’d support Bernie Sanders over Trump.
We all start from personal experience. I covered the Soviet Union in its final decrepit years. The Soviet and allied regimes had already slaughtered 20 million people through things like mass executions and intentional famines. Those regimes were slave states. They enslaved whole peoples and took away the right to say what they wanted, live where they wanted and harvest the fruits of their labor.
And yet every day we find more old quotes from Sanders apologizing for this sort of slave regime, whether in the Soviet Union, Cuba or Nicaragua. He excused the Nicaraguan communists when they took away the civil liberties of their citizens. He’s still making excuses for Castro.
To sympathize with these revolutions in the 1920s was acceptable, given their original high ideals. To do so after the Hitler-Stalin pact, or in the 1950s, is appalling. To do so in the 1980s is morally unfathomable.
I say all this not to cancel Sanders for past misjudgments. I say all this because the intellectual suppositions that led him to embrace these views still guide his thinking today. I’ve just watched populism destroy traditional conservatism in the G.O.P. I’m here to tell you that Bernie Sanders is not a liberal Democrat. He’s what replaces liberal Democrats.
Traditional liberalism traces its intellectual roots to
- John Stuart Mill,
- John Locke,
- the Social Gospel movement and
- the New Deal.
This liberalism believes in gaining power the traditional way: building coalitions, working within the constitutional system and crafting the sort of compromises you need in a complex, pluralistic society.
This is why liberals like Hubert Humphrey, Ted Kennedy and Elizabeth Warren were and are such effective senators. They worked within the system, negotiated and practiced the art of politics.
Populists like Sanders speak as if the whole system is irredeemably corrupt. Sanders was a useless House member and has been a marginal senator because he doesn’t operate within this system or believe in this theory of change.
He believes in revolutionary mass mobilization and, once an election has been won, rule by majoritarian domination. This is how populists of left and right are ruling all over the world, and it is exactly what our founders feared most and tried hard to prevent.
Liberalism celebrates certain values:
- intellectual humility and
Liberalism is horrified by cruelty. Sanders’s leadership style embodies the populist values, which are different:
- bitter and relentless polarization, a
- demand for ideological purity among your friends and
- incessant hatred for your supposed foes.
A liberal leader confronts new facts and changes his or her mind. A populist leader cannot because the omniscience of the charismatic headman can never be doubted. A liberal sees shades of gray. For a populist reality is white or black, friend or enemy. Facts that don’t fit the dogma are ignored.
A liberal sees inequality and tries to reduce it. A populist sees remorseless class war and believes in concentrated power to crush the enemy. Sanders is running on a $60 trillion spending agenda that would double the size of the federal government. It would represent the greatest concentration of power in the Washington elite in American history.
These days, Sanders masquerades as something less revolutionary than he really is. He claims to be nothing more than the continuation of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. He is 5 percent right and 95 percent wrong.
There was a period around 1936 or 1937 when Roosevelt was trying to pack the Supreme Court and turning into the sort of arrogant majoritarian strongman the founders feared. But this is not how F.D.R. won the presidency, passed the New Deal, beat back the socialists of his time or led the nation during World War II. F.D.R. did not think America was a force for ill in world affairs.
Sanders also claims he’s just trying to import the Scandinavian model, which is believable if you know nothing about Scandinavia or what Sanders is proposing. Those countries do have generous welfare states, but they can afford them because they understand how free market capitalism works, with fewer regulations on business creation and free trade.
There is a specter haunting the world — corrosive populisms of right and left. These populisms grow out of real problems but are the wrong answers to them. For the past century, liberal Democrats from F.D.R. to Barack Obama knew how to beat back threats from the populist left. They knew how to defend the legitimacy of our system, even while reforming it.
Judging by the last few debates, none of the current candidates remember those arguments or know how to rebut a populist to their left.
I’ll cast my lot with democratic liberalism. The system needs reform. But I just can’t pull the lever for either of the two populisms threatening to tear it down.
Whenever investors suspect that Donald Trump will really go through with his threats of big tariff increases, provoking retaliation abroad, stocks plunge. Every time they decide it’s just theater, stocks recover.
.. while trade is one of Trump’s two signature issues — animus toward dark-skinned people being the other — when it comes to making actual demands on other countries, the tweeter in chief and his aides either don’t know what they want or they want things that our trading partners can’t deliver. Not won’t — can’t.
.. In some ways, China really is a bad actor in the global economy. In particular, it has pretty much thumbed its nose at international rules on intellectual property rights, grabbing foreign technology without proper payment
But if getting China to pay what it owes for technology were the goal, you’d expect the U.S. both to make specific demands on that front and to adopt a strategy aimed at inducing China to meet those demands.
.. In fact, the U.S. has given little indication of what China should do about intellectual property. Meanwhile, if getting better protection of patent rights and so on were the goal, America should be trying to build a coalition with other advanced countries to pressure the Chinese; instead, we’ve been alienating everyone in sight.
.. Anyway, what seems to really bother Trump aren’t China’s genuine policy sins, but its trade surplus with the United States
.. Over all, the U.S. trade deficit is just the flip side of the fact that America attracts more inward investment from foreigners than the amount Americans invest abroad.
.. A decade ago, China’s current account surplus — a broad measure that includes trade in services and income from investments abroad — was more than 9 percent of G.D.P., a very big number. In 2017, however, its surplus was only 1.4 percent of G.D.P., which isn’t much.
.. But in that case, why is “bilateral” trade between the U.S. and China so unbalanced? The answer is that it’s largely a kind of statistical illusion. China is the Great Assembler: it’s where components from other countries, like Japan and South Korea, are put together into consumer products for the U.S. market. So a lot of what we import from China is really produced elsewhere.
.. It’s not clear why we should demand that China stop playing that role.
.. it’s not clear that China could even do much to reduce its bilateral surplus with the U.S.: To do so, it would basically have to have a completely different economy. And this just isn’t going to happen unless we have a full-blown trade war that shuts down much of the global economy as we know it.
.. Oh, and a trade war would also devastate much of pro-Trump rural America, since a large share of our agricultural production — including almost two-thirds of food grains — is exported.
North Korea, if not stopped, will build an arsenal with multiple nuclear missiles meant to threaten the U.S. homeland and blackmail us into abandoning our allies in Asia. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un will sell these weapons to state and nonstate actors, and he will inspire other rogue actors who want to undermine the U.S.-backed postwar order. These are real and unprecedented threats. But the answer is not, as some Trump administration officials have suggested, a preventive military strike. Instead, there is a forceful military option available that can address the threat without escalating into a war that would likely kill tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Americans.
.. Some may argue that U.S. casualties and even a wider war on the Korean Peninsula are risks worth taking, given what is at stake.
.. A strike also would not stem the threat of proliferation but rather exacerbate it, turning what might be a North Korean moneymaking endeavor into a vengeful effort intended to equip other bad actors against us.
.. I also hope that if North Korea did retaliate militarily, the United States could control the escalation ladder to minimize collateral damage and prevent a collapse of financial markets.
.. the rationale is that a strike that demonstrates U.S. resolve to pursue “all options” is necessary to give the mercurial Kim a “bloody nose.”
.. If we believe that Kim is undeterrable without such a strike, how can we also believe that a strike will deter him from responding in kind?
And if Kim is unpredictable, impulsive and bordering on irrational, how can we control the escalation ladder, which is premised on an adversary’s rational understanding of signals and deterrence?
.. Some have argued the risks are still worth taking because it’s better that people die “over there” than “over here.” On any given day, there are 230,000 Americans in South Korea and 90,000 or so in Japan. Given that an evacuation of so many citizens would be virtually impossible ..
.. these Americans would most likely have to hunker down until the war was over.
.. To be clear: The president would be putting at risk an American population the size of a medium-size U.S. city — Pittsburgh, say, or Cincinnati — on the assumption that a crazy and undeterrable dictator will be rationally cowed by a demonstration of U.S. kinetic power.
.. An alternative coercive strategy involves enhanced and sustained U.S., regional and global pressure on Pyongyang to denuclearize. This strategy is likely to deliver the same potential benefits as a limited strike, along with other advantages, without the self-destructive costs.
- .. First, the Trump administration must continue to strengthen the coalition of U.N. member states
- Second, the United States must significantly up-gun its alliances with Japan and South Korea with integrated missile defense, intelligence-sharing and anti-submarine warfare and strike capabilities to convey to North Korea that an attack on one is an attack on all.
- Third, the United States must build a maritime coalition around North Korea involving rings of South Korean, Japanese and broader U.S. assets to intercept any nuclear missiles or technologies leaving the country. China and Russia should be prepared to face the consequences if they allow North Korean proliferation across their borders.
- Lastly, the United States must continue to prepare military options. Force will be necessary to deal with North Korea if it attacks first, but not through a preventive strike that could start a nuclear war.
.. This strategy gets us out of crisis-management mode. It constitutes decisive action, not previously attempted, by President Trump. And it demonstrates resolve to other bad actors that threats to the United States will be countered.
He’s aware of the storylines, and he reacts to various challenges to his authority as if they’re just weird turns the producers came up with behind the scenes. This should come as no surprise. This is how you win in reality TV, a format Trump is eminently comfortable in.
.. Hatch gleefully styled himself as the contestant you loved to hate and invented reality TV as we know it. The producers were only too happy to follow along.
.. Hatch invented the alliance — the voting bloc that would carry a contestant to the finals. He double-crossed others with impunity. And he generally seemed to get a huge kick out of behaving like a total asshole on TV. Hatch understood, on some intuitive level, that we wanted to see people give in to their own worst, most amoral impulses on our TV sets, and where he went, reality TV followed. Reality TV wasn’t for the nice or pure of heart. It was for the nasty, and in that first season, Hatch alone seemed to grasp this... What’s also notable here is the way Hatch drew to himself a coalition of people who wouldn’t necessarily have kept company with him in other situations, simply because he rarely blinked and seemed like he knew what he was doing in a most unusual situation... Richard was the one guy who seemed like he could see the whole picture, simply because he didn’t let things throw him, and that caused others to gravitate toward him, even as they were fairly certain he would stab them in the back eventually... Watch again, if you can, Trump’s confrontation with Megyn Kelly over his previous misogynistic statements. Try to ignore, if possible, how horrible those statements are. Instead, focus entirely on how Trump carries himself... For starters, Trump doesn’t shrink from Kelly’s challenge. He stays ramrod straight at the podium, and he doesn’t shift or move around. That’s pretty basic stuff, but you’d be surprised how many politicians who are under the gun forget all about it.Now notice how he uses his hands. His gestures are kept close to his body, so they don’t fly out too far from the audience’s attention or distract from the speaker at hand. He’s essentially keeping the center of the screen focused entirely on him, even when the Fox News chyron pushes him into the left half of the screen. This is, again, something politicians know to do (keeping your gestures small and forceful conveys control over your own emotions),
.. But also look at how good Trump is at sliding what he wants to say in between what Kelly is saying. He holds up a single finger, the universal symbol of “My turn.” He waits for just the right pause to jump in. And he doesn’t let Kelly continuing to speak deter him. He knows exactly how to do this, because, in so many ways, Trump is just back on reality television at this moment. If anything, he makes Kelly seem like she’s out of control of the situation, on a night when Kelly’s performance was generally very good. And that’s to say nothing of how quickly he comes up with this little quip to turn the audience to his side.
.. NBC actually promoted The Apprentice in this way for years. You won’t believe what Trump does next! But despite his frequently strange decisions, he rarely was ridden down as out of touch. Part of that is the simple suspicion most of us have that reality TV is heavily controlled by the producers (and thus Trump was as well). But just as much is due to the fact that Trump held court in the boardroom in a way that made everything he did, no matter how out there, seem like a perfectly logical decision... We have a tendency to write off reality TV in America as lowest-common-denominator entertainment, because a lot of it is. But the specific storytelling forms and cinematic tricks of reality have more or less become central parts of our current cultural vernacular. Is it any wonder they’ve entered politics as well?.. The usual way to deal with something like what Kelly accuses Trump of is quick contrition, followed by a pivot to a talking point or two... But Trump is, as Ezra Klein has noted, without shame, because he’s a reality TV character who’s escaped into a presidential race. He avoids the contrition and jumps straight to whatever he wants to talk about... As we saw with Richard Hatch, unflappability plays beautifully on television, and it makes for wildly entertaining viewing. The contents of Trump’s message are loathsome to many, including many Republicans, but the package Trump is selling them in is market-tested and ready to ship. Compared with many of his competitors, especially, Trump seems to be playing at a whole other level when it comes to live television... But, then, the smart money in that first season of Survivor was on the fellow members of Richard’s alliance realizing he didn’t have their best interests at heart and tossing him overboard — and that simply never happened... On television, never look for the person who’s playing the game best. Look for the person who’s realized the rules are only a suggestion. That’s the person the audience wants to watch — and that’s the person who just might win.
the Trump administration says it wants to create a military coalition of Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, to fight Islamist terrorism. It was as if Mr. Trump was trying to break his own alliance, described as an “Arab NATO,” before it had even formed.
.. where Mr. Trump sees an alliance united against extremism, the Saudis see a Sunni coalition that will roll back Iran.
.. Saudi-exported, ultra-conservative Wahhabism, which breeds intolerance around the world, is no less dangerous to Western interests than Iran’s support for radicalism, regional meddling and expansionism.
.. our Arab partners could use the anti-Islamic State coalition to go on the offensive, dragging the United States into new misadventures in the Middle East.
.. while Mr. Trump expects a Middle Eastern coalition to leverage the Arabs to do more, they will want to use it to deepen United States military engagement in the Middle East, while doing as little as possible themselves.
.. NATO itself is more than a coalition of common interests — it’s an alliance of shared values.
.. Mr. Trump seems more at home with Middle Eastern autocrats than he does with European democrats.
.. In their absence, an “Arab NATO” will prove to be a hollow enterprise.
The collapse of Republicans’ first order of business in the new Washington, a health-care overhaul, reveals a startling reality for President Donald Trump: At this moment, two months into his presidency, he doesn’t yet have a reliable governing coalition.
Moreover, he may be on his own to create one.
The effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act failed because Mr. Trump got zero Democratic support, because neither his threats nor his cajoling were sufficient to move enough Republicans, and because he couldn’t count on congressional leaders to change any of that for him.