How Trump Survives

NBC News and the Wall Street Journal polled his job approval. There was no appreciable change.

.. Why? The most important reason has to be the remarkable state of the American economy. On Election Day 2016, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 18,332.43. On August 29, it closed at 26,124.57. That is an increase of some 40 percent. Other indices show similar gains. Growth in GDP went from 1.5 percent in 2016 to 2.3 percent in 2017 and, helped by the excellent 4.2 percent number in the second quarter, is forecast for around 3 percent in 2018.

.. The fact that presidents are not responsible for the economy does not stop the public from assigning them blame or credit. And Trump deserves some credit. His pro-business attitude stirs the bulls’ animal spirits. His deregulatory and tax policies contribute to growth. Trump understands that he is riding the bull — and that his following will be strong for the duration of the journey.

.. The economic boom is crucial in understanding why Trump enjoys the 88 percent approval among Republicans that keeps him politically viable.
.. Trump continues to goad, highlight, and benefit from an antagonistic news media. The overwhelmingly negative coverage of Trump paradoxically works to his advantage by driving his supporters to rally to his side. When the press gets a story wrong, Trump is vindicated. His voters have less reason to trust the elite media institutions they see as allied against them in a struggle over American identity.
.. Media obsession with Trump and scandal helps the president in other ways. For one, the scandals are confusing and increasingly self-referential. Only political professionals and junkies can keep track of them. The headlines run together. The talking heads are background noise to men and women outside the bubble.
.. The media fixation hands Trump the initiative. Because so much of the news is based on his Twitter feed, he can create storylines — and spark confusion and outrage — with the push of a button. This ability lets him shift attention from current controversies by creating fresh ones. The ongoing hysteria lessens the cost to Trump of each bad story. It also allows him to portray media institutions and figures as insiders contemptuous of Trump voters and eager to overturn the result of a presidential election.

Democrats — and most Republicans for that matter — have yet to grasp the ideas of political economy that Trump intuits: government that privileges American citizens through

  • tight labor markets,
  • border security,
  • trade reciprocity, and
  • entitlements.

.. Nor do Democrats understand that American populism is not simply economic. It is cultural. It has long been associated with traditional values and practices, an unreconstructed patriotism, and support for law and order. No matter how well Democratic proposals might test, the party will not succeed at the national level unless it addresses and mollifies the social concerns of the white working class. Pelosi, Schumer, and Sanders have not tried.

When the Tide Comes In

In January of 1959, The Mercury had run an editorial “revealing” a Jewish conspiracy of world conquest along the lines of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Buckley was under pressure from backers of NR and others to publicly rebuke and denounce The Mercury. But some on the NR board worried that it would cost the fledgling magazine many of its subscribers. One board member, Mrs. A. E. Bonbrake, whom Judis describes as “a Forest Hills housewife whom Buckley had promoted to the board as a representative grass-roots activist,” asked, “Since when is it the job of National Review to attack supposedly anti-Semitic publications?”

(More about that “supposedly” later.)

“But Buckley felt hypocritical at remaining silent,” Judis recounts. “He wrote Bonbrake, “I do not feel comfortable criticizing Liberals . . . for not disavowing objectionable Liberals, when I do not myself [disavow objectionable conservatives].”

Buckley first settled for a compromise: National Review’s editors would not write for The Mercury nor would National Review publish anyone associated with it. If you were on their masthead, you couldn’t be on ours. Remember, The Mercury had long been a respected publication on the right, and many of the writers at National Review had cut their teeth writing for it. Many were on both mastheads, in one capacity or another. No longer. You can be with us or with them, but not both. All but one writer sided with National Review.

.. In January of 1959, The Mercury had run an editorial “revealing” a Jewish conspiracy of world conquest along the lines of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Buckley was under pressure from backers of NR and others to publicly rebuke and denounce The Mercury. But some on the NR board worried that it would cost the fledgling magazine many of its subscribers. One board member, Mrs. A. E. Bonbrake, whom Judis describes as “a Forest Hills housewife whom Buckley had promoted to the board as a representative grass-roots activist,” asked, “Since when is it the job of National Review to attack supposedly anti-Semitic publications?”

(More about that “supposedly” later.)

“But Buckley felt hypocritical at remaining silent,” Judis recounts. “He wrote Bonbrake, “I do not feel comfortable criticizing Liberals . . . for not disavowing objectionable Liberals, when I do not myself [disavow objectionable conservatives].”

Buckley first settled for a compromise: National Review’s editors would not write for The Mercury nor would National Review publish anyone associated with it. If you were on their masthead, you couldn’t be on ours. Remember, The Mercury had long been a respected publication on the right, and many of the writers at National Review had cut their teeth writing for it. Many were on both mastheads, in one capacity or another. No longer. You can be with us or with them, but not both. All but one writer sided with National Review.

.. What bothers me is how high these bucks had to go before anyone thought, “Maybe it should stop with me?”

..  the “I’d rather be a Russian than a Democrat” swag among supposed “America First” “nationalists,” Laura Ingraham’s nativist remarks the other night, and this sort of nonsense from Jeanine Pirro.

..  As institutions lose their hold on us, we put our faith in celebrities.

.. Fame becomes its own defense, and instead of invoking principles to stigmatize and shun the irresponsible famous, we yoke convenient principles to the cause of rationalizing our feelings. The round peg of the First Amendment is crammed into square holes. Populist and anti-elitist boilerplate is slapped together to protect the indefensible from criticism. So-and-so has an “authentic constituency,” “Who are you to say what is a legitimate point of view?” “Who put you in charge of policing speech?”

.. There was no legitimate defense of The Mercury against the charge of anti-Semitism. But by saying it was only “supposedly” anti-Semitic, Mrs. Bonbrake was really saying, “I choose not to care about the true or the good; instead I will let evil thrive, sheltered by a benefit of the doubt both unearned and unwanted by the rightly accused.”

.. I am not a huge fan of the argument that says, “The only cure for bad speech is more speech.” But if that argument is to mean anything at all, it must be applied seriously. In other words, if you want to defend the speech of Alex Jones or the bigots swarming out of the swamps, you cannot then denounce, belittle, or mock the exercise of anyone’s right to condemn that speech.

.. When it falls to a bunch of giant corporations — or the federal government — to decide what speech is permissible, it is usually a sign that the rest of civil society has failed to do its job. It is axiomatic that in a free society with a limited government, customs and norms should be strong and robust.

.. The same goes for cynical psychopaths such as Alex Jones. It was outrageous for Donald Trump to go on his show and praise him.
.. My objection is that she has been a guest on Alex Jones’s Infowars.
.. Oh, and if you think such niceties are unnecessary today because “winning” is the highest principle in an existential war with “the libs,” bear in mind that Buckley, Chambers, Burnham, and the other happy few conservatives at NR were far more outnumbered in 1955, and that the institutional forces arrayed against them were far more daunting, than anything conservatives face today. And yet Buckley understood, as he put it in Up from Liberalism, that “conservatism must be wiped clean of the parasitic cant that defaces it.”
.. Cultures are shaped by incentives. The GOP has been grievously wounded and deformed by the refusal of conservatives, in and out of elective office, to lay down the correct incentives. By refusing to defend conservative dogma against “supposedly” racist and nativist forces, our dogma is being erased like the battlements of a sand castle when the tide comes in.

Why Trump Can’t Quit Tariffs

Because his other populist promises are broken, he has to keep this one.

.. His otherwise-unpopular presidency is floated on jobs and economic growth, and trade wars can be bad for both. So why not just drop the mercantilism and let the good times roll?
.. The party’s senators generally have a better grasp of facts than the occupant of the White House, but the president often has a better grasp of politics. And the political truth is that Trump probably needs his tariffs, needs his trade war, to have any chance of re-election — precisely because it’s the only remaining economic issue where he’s stuck to his campaign promises and hasn’t just deferred to traditional Republican priorities.
.. Those campaign promises, as everyone is well aware, were generally more populist than the official G.O.P. agenda: Trump promised
  • middle-class tax cuts and a
  • generous Obamacare alternative,
  • he stiff-armed the entitlement reformers and
  • talked up infrastructure spending, and he railed
  • against free trade deals with every other breath.

And that populist branding was crucial to the electoral trade he made, which ceded a share of business-friendly suburbanites to the Democrats but reaped a crucial group of erstwhile Obama voters, mostly white and working class and concentrated in the Rust Belt and upper Midwest states, who ultimately handed Trump the presidency.

.. That was the story of 2016; the story since, though, is one of reversion to the older political order. Because Trump has mostly governed as a conventional Republican, a certain kind of conventional Republican has come home to him, keeping his support stable in the states that the Romney-Ryan ticket won easily in 2012. But for the same reason — because the infrastructure plan never materialized and the tax cut was a great whopping favor to corporate interests and the health care repeal-and-replace effort was a misbegotten flop — the swing voters he needs to hold the Midwest are now drifting away.
.. Certainly the Republicans criticizing him on trade aren’t offering him such a path: Their overall vision is the same tired G.O.P. orthodoxy that went down to defeat in 2008 and 2012, and that Trump himself crushed in the last primary campaign.
.. the fact that Trump’s tariffs are generally unpopular, even in Midwestern states, doesn’t matter politically nearly as much as their potential appeal to the narrow slice of blue-collar swing voters that he needs if he’s going to be re-elected. And their potential cost, for now, can be swallowed up by general economic growth or dealt with via cynical payoffs
.. One of the strongest arguments for the countermajoritarian element in the Electoral College is that it provides a point of leverage for regional populations that have suffered particularly at the hands of an overreaching bipartisan consensus.

How to Destroy Democracy, the Trump-Putin Way

All around the world, strongmen are seizing power and subverting liberal norms.

fascism came out of particular historical circumstances that do not obtain today—

  • a devastating world war,
  • drastic economic upheaval, the
  • fear of Bolshevism.

.. When Naomi Wolf and others insisted that George W. Bush was taking us down the path of 1930s Germany, I thought they were being histrionic. The essence of fascism after all was the obliteration of democracy. Did anyone seriously believe that Bush would cancel elections and refuse to exit the White House?

.. So maybe fascism isn’t the right term for where we are heading. Fascism, after all, was all about big government—grandiose public works, jobs jobs jobs, state benefits of all kinds, government control of every area of life. It wasn’t just about looting the state on behalf of yourself and your cronies, although there was plenty of that too. Seeing Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at the press conference following their private meeting in Helsinki, though, I think maybe I’ve been a bit pedantic. Watching those two thuggish, immensely wealthy, corrupt bullies, I felt as if I was glimpsing a new world order—not even at its birth but already in its toddler phase. The two men are different versions of an increasingly common type of leader:

  • elected strongmen ‘who exploit weak spots in procedural democracy to come to power, and
  • once ensconced do everything they can to weaken democracy further,
  • while inflaming powerful popular currents of
    • authoritarianism,
    • racism,
    • nationalism,
    • reactionary religion,
    • misogyny,
    • homophobia, and
    • resentments of all kinds.

.. At the press conference Putin said that associates of the billionaire businessman Bill Browder gave Hillary Clinton’s campaign $400 million, a claim Politifact rates “pants on fire” and about which The New York Times’ Kenneth Vogel tweeted, “it was so completely without evidence that there were no pants to light on fire, so I hereby deem it ‘WITHOUT PANTS.’”

.. A Freudian might say that his obsession with the imaginary sins of Clinton suggests he’s hiding something. Why else, almost two years later, is he still trying to prove he deserved to win? At no point in the press conference did he say or do anything incompatible with the popular theory that he is Putin’s tool and fool.

.. These pantsless overlords are not alone. All over the world, antidemocratic forces are winning elections—sometimes fairly, sometimes not—and then using their power to subvert democratic procedures.

There’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey—remember how when he first took office, back in 2014, he was seen as a harmless moderate, his Justice and Development Party the Muslim equivalent of Germany’s Christian Democrats? Now he’s shackling the press, imprisoning his opponents, trashing the universities, and trying to take away women’s rights and push them into having at least three, and possibly even five, kids because there just aren’t enough Turks.

.. Then there’s Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who coined the term “illiberal democracy” to describe these elected authoritarian regimes, now busily shaping the government to his own xenophobic ends, and

.. Poland’s Andrzej Duda, doing much the same—packing the courts, banning abortion, promoting the interests of the Catholic church.

Before World War II Poland was a multiethnic country, with large minorities of Jews, Roma, Ukrainians, and other peoples. Now it boasts of its (fictional) ethnic purity and, like Hungary and the Czech Republic, bars the door to Muslim refugees in the name of Christian nationalism.

One could mention

  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte,
  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi,
  • Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, and
  • India’s Narendra Modi as well.

Pushed by anti-immigrant feeling, which is promoted by

  • unemployment and
  • austerity,

right-wing “populist” parties are surging in

  • Italy,
  • Greece,
  • the Netherlands,
  • France,
  • Germany,
  • Austria, and even
  • Sweden and
  • Denmark.

And don’t forget Brexit—boosted by pie-in-the-sky lies about the bounty that would flow from leaving the European Union but emotionally fueled by racism, nativism, and sheer stupidity.

.. At home, Donald Trump energizes similarly antidemocratic and nativist forces. Last year, outright neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, and Trump called them “very fine people.” This year, Nazis and Holocaust deniers are running in elections as Republicans, and far-right misogynist hate groups like the Proud Boys are meeting in ordinary bars and cafés.

.. The worst of it is that once the leaders get into power, they create their own reality, just as Karl Rove said they would:

  • They control the media,
  • pack the courts
  • .. lay waste to regulatory agencies,
  • “reform” education,
  • abolish long-standing precedents, and
  • use outright cruelty—of which the family separations on the border are just one example—to create fear.

While everybody was fixated on the spectacle in Helsinki, Trump’s IRS announced new rules that let dark-money groups like the National Rifle Association and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity keep their donors secret. 

.. American democracy might not be in its death throes yet, but every week brings a thousand paper cuts.

.. There’s nothing inevitable about liberal democracy, religious pluralism, acceptance of ethnic diversity, gender and racial equality, and the other elements of what we think of as contemporary progress.

.. He has consolidated a bloc of voters united in their grievances and their fantasies of redress. The

  • fundamentalist stay-home moms, the
  • MAGA-hat wearing toughs, the
  • Fox-addicted retirees, the
  • hedge-fund multimillionaires and the
  • gun nuts have found one another.

.. Why would they retreat and go their separate ways just because they lost an election or even two? Around the world it may be the same story: Democracy is easy to destroy and hard to repair, even if people want to do so, and it’s not so clear that enough of them do.

The Italian Economy’s Moment of Truth

Unlike many other European countries, Italy still has not restored economic growth to its pre-crisis level – a fundamental failing that lies at the heart of many of its political problems. Now that a new anti-establishment government is taking power, it remains to be seen if the economy will be remade, or broken further.

..  Italy has become the first major EU member state to be governed by a populist coalition.
.. M5S and the League both openly question the benefits of eurozone membership, though neither party made leaving the euro a specific commitment of their governing program in the election campaign, a failure that Italian President Sergio Mattarella seized upon in vetoing key cabinet pick.
.. They also disdain globalization more generally
.. The League, in particular, is obsessed with cracking down on immigration.
.. promised to tackle corruption and topple what they see as a self-serving political establishment, while introducing radical policies to reduce unemployment and redistribute incomes.
.. There are rumors that the parties want to write down Italy’s sovereign debt
.. In such a scenario, Italian banks currently holding considerable amounts of government debt would suffer substantial balance-sheet damage. The risk of deposit flight could not be excluded.
.. Italy’s nominal (non-inflation-adjusted) growth is too weak to produce substantial deleveraging, even at today’s low interest rates.
.. Italy’s real per capita GDP remains well below its 2007 pre-crisis peak
.. a worldwide retreat from globalization and growing demands for national governments to reassert control over the flow of goods and services, capital, people, and information/data.
.. For years, global market forces and powerful new technologies have plainly outstripped governments’ capacity to adapt to economic change.
.. Italy could soon find that its leading export is talented young people.
.. the Italian government needs to root out corruption and self-dealing, and demonstrate a much stronger commitment to the public interest.
.. Italy needs to develop the entrepreneurial ecosystems that underpin dynamism and innovation. As matters stand, the financial sector is too closed, and it provides too little funding and support for new ventures.
.. collaboration between government, business, and labor has played a key role in the countries that have adapted better to globalization and technology-induced structural change.

Why “America First” Means “Europe United”

despite the formation of an anti-establishment coalition government in Italy, and the rise of populist parties across Europe, opinion polls suggest that support for the EU is now higher than it has been in decades. According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, if a referendum on EU membership were held today, 83% of Europeans would vote to remain in the bloc; and a record-high 60% regard EU membership as a “good thing” for their country.

.. In other words, while populism can certainly sow political divisions within the EU, there is little evidence that Brexit itself has caused a domino effect.

The Brexit ringleader Nigel Farage might like to think that Italy’s new populist government represents a success for his brand of go-it-alone nationalism, but it turns out that Europe’s populists are of a different breed than those in the UK. Though financial markets have  at the prospect that Italy’s new leaders could drive their country out of the eurozone, polling conducted after the election in March showed that 60-72% of Italians would not support such a move.

.. Just 32% of citizens believe that “things are going in the right direction” for the EU

.. Trump’s tariffs have thus provided a perfect opportunity for Germany’s grand-coalition government to meet Macron halfway on his ambitious proposals to reform the EU and the eurozone.

.. Trump revels in the chaos he sows. He regards international relations as a zero-sum game of winners and losers, and, to the extent that his foreign and trade policies make any sense at all, they are transactional. By contrast, the EU’s modus operandi is one of collaboration and compromise. And now that these two worldviews are colliding, each is likely to be emboldened.

 

It’s Benjamin Netanyahu’s World Now

It wasn’t always like this. In his 36 years as a diplomat and politician, Mr. Netanyahu has been reprimanded by the Reagan administration, nearly barred from entering the White House, and banned from the State Department during George H. W. Bush’s administration because of his criticism of its policies. He has been at loggerheads with President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama, both of whom could barely conceal their disdain for him. Now he has an administration that shares his positions almost instinctively.

The simplest explanation for this reversal of fortune is that the Trump administration is dominated by the two types of ideologues with whom Mr. Netanyahu has always gotten along best: foreign policy hawks like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the national security adviser, John Bolton, and Christian evangelicals like Vice President Mike Pence. And presiding over it all is Mr. Trump, a man who has known and admired Mr. Netanyahu since they first met in New York in the 1980s.

.. On May 9, the morning after the announcement on the Iran deal, Mr. Netanyahu was in Moscow as guest of honor at Russia’s Victory Day, standing beside President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Putin still supports the Iran deal, and is in tacit alliance with Iran, Israel’s deadly adversary. And yet the Russian president presented the Israeli prime minister as his country’s close ally. He has also allowed Israel to attack Iranian bases and weapons depots in Syria, and even to bomb Russian-built antiaircraft batteries.

.. Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump are not alone. Mr. Netanyahu has recently been feted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, President Xi Jinping of China, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, as well as a host of leaders of smaller countries — including those with far-right governments like Hungary, Poland and Austria. No less significantly, he has maintained close contacts with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and behind the scenes with the Arab leaders of the Persian Gulf.

Mr. Netanyahu is the toast of the new wave of right-wing, populist and autocrat-like (if not outright autocratic) leaders. They see in him a kindred spirit, even a mentor. He is the leader of a small country who has taken on American presidents and outlasted them. He has successfully defied the Western liberal human rights agenda, focusing instead on trade and security. Israel’s success as a regional economic and military power is proof in their eyes that the illiberal approach can prevail.

He has spent more time than any of them on the geopolitical stage, winning election after election. In many ways, Mr. Netanyahu is the precursor to this new age of “strongmen” who have come to power in different parts of the world. It is the age of Bibi.

.. He has identified a trend: The world is tiring of the Palestinian issue.

.. Mr. Netanyahu has hastened this trend by expanding Israeli diplomacy with Asian and African countries, which have shown little interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict, but are eager to acquire Israeli technology, both civilian and military.

.. Mr. Netanyahu believes he has won the argument. He has proved that the world, not even the Arab nations, doesn’t really care about the Palestinian issue. That Israel can continue enjoying economic growth, regional military dominance and improving foreign relations despite its military control over the lives of millions of stateless Palestinians.