This will never be normal

One of the current complaints of the Trump right concerns the treatment given to Alex Jones by Facebook, which has temporarily banned the Internet radio host for videos that violated “community standards.” According to Lou Dobbs of the Fox Business Network, “freedom of speech [is] under attack.” Fox News television personality Tucker Carlson has also come to Jones’s defense, saying sarcastically, “I know we’re supposed to think Alex Jones is way more radical than, like, Bill Maher.”

.. Well, yes, that is precisely what we should think. At various points, Jones has promoted the belief that

  • 9/11 was an “inside job,” that
  • Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of a pizzeria, that
  • NASA had built a child slave colony on Mars in order to harvest blood and bone marrow, that
  • the Oklahoma City bombing,
  • the Boston Marathon bombing and the
  • Sandy Hook school shooting were government “false flag” operations, that
  • some shooting survivors were “crisis actors,” that
  • “globalists” are intent on committing genocide and that
  • Democrats are on the verge of launching a second civil war.

.. President Trump has made a great many unpleasant things unavoidable. He has appeared on Jones’s Infowars program and assured Jones that his “reputation is amazing.” The White House briefly gave Infowars a press credential. And Donald Trump Jr. has retweeted Infowars stories.

.. It represents not only a certain approach to political strategy but also a certain approach to morality, pressed to its logical extreme. Trump is not a dogmatist; he is an egotist. He judges others not by their convictions, or even by their hold on reality, but by their fidelity to his person. It is a form of identity politics in which all that counts is one man’s identity. So Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), being faithless to Trump, is an enemy. And the revealer of child slavery on Mars is a friend.

.. Remember when a white man in Boston, spouting Trump slogans, beat up a homeless man outside a subway station? Trump responded: “People who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again.”

.. Remember when a Trump supporter punched an African American man at a rally? Trump said that his follower “obviously loves his country.”

.. Remember when the alt-right provoked violence in Charlottesville? Trump pronounced some white nationalists to be “very fine people.”

.. The president has a nearly impossible time criticizing his fans, even when they are guilty of hate crimes and violence. In Trump’s own private creed, they are absolved of guilt by their loyalty to him.

.. This commitment

  • transforms their cruelty into the proof of passion; their
  • prejudice into an expression of patriotism; their
  • lawlessness into the embrace of his higher order. ‘

Just ask former Phoenix area

  • sheriff Joe Arpaio, pardoned after his abuse of Hispanic migrants. Or
  • Oregon cattle ranchers Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, pardoned after defying the federal government.

All were justified and sanctified by their devotion to Trump.

.. Any political movement is defined not just by what it aspires to, but also by whom it excludes. And the alt-right, the Alex Jones right, the white nationalist right know that they are fully included in Trump’s definition of his movement.

.. They know that their loyalty to him has been rewarded with a legitimacy they have craved for decades. And they are full, enthusiastic partners in the Trump project — to delegitimize any source of authority and information but his own.

  • .. Genuine populists are discredited by consorting with people who accuse elites of arming for mass murder.
  • The religious right is caught in bed with a diseased, seeping moral relativism. And
  • Fox anchors come to the defense of a man who verbally defiles the graves of murdered children.

 

Nationalism Will Go Bankrupt

the supposed rebellion of “common people” against elites has not been much in evidence. Billionaires have taken over US politics under President Donald Trump; unelected professors run the “populist” Italian government; and all over the world, taxes have been slashed on the ever-rising incomes of financiers, technologists, and corporate managers.

.. Meanwhile, ordinary workers have resigned themselves to the reality that high-quality housing, education, and even health care are hopelessly beyond their reach.

.. What, then, explains the sudden dominance of nationalism? There is not much positively patriotic about the new nationalism in Italy, Britain, or even the US. Instead, the upsurge of national feeling seems largely a xenophobic phenomenon, as famously defined by the Czech-American sociologist Karl Deutsch: “A nation is a group of people linked together by a common error about their ancestry and a common dislike of their neighbors.”

  • .. Hard times –
  • low wages,
  • inequality,
  • regional deprivation, and
  • post-crisis austerity

– provoke a hunt for scapegoats, and foreigners are always a tempting target.

.. There is nothing patriotic about Trump’s belligerence against Mexican immigrants and Canadian imports, or the nativist policies of the new Italian government, or Theresa May’s most famous statement after becoming UK Prime Minister: “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what citizenship means.”

.. The xenophobic effort to blame economic hardship on foreigners is doomed to failure.

.. Consider the post-crisis effort to divert popular anger about the  onto “greedy bankers.” This ultimately failed, in part because bankers have huge resources to defend themselves, which foreigners generally do not.

.. banker-bashing failed to assuage public anger mainly because attacking finance did nothing to boost wages, diminish inequality, or reverse social neglect. The same will be true of the current attacks on foreign influence, whether through immigration or trade.

.. European issues have nothing to do with the genuine political grievances that motivated a large part of the “Leave” vote. Instead, the Brexit negotiations will now dominate and distract British politics for many years, or even decades. And Britain’s nationalist confrontation with the rest of Europe will offer politicians of all parties endless excuses for failing to improve everyday life.

..  scapegoating foreign influences, whether through trade or immigration, will do nothing to lift living standards or address the sources of political discontent.

.. Successive Italian governments since the financial crisis have gradually laid the foundations for pension, labor market, and banking reforms. These changes have created the conditions for economic recovery .. but they have been politically unpopular and are now being denounced as symbols of elitist foreign oppression.

.. If the new government abandons all three reform projects, Italians can also abandon hope of economic recovery, perhaps for another decade.

.. Trump thinks his measures against imports from China, Germany, and Canada will hurt these trading partners and create American jobs. This might have been true when the US economy was suffering weak growth and deflation. But in a world of strong demand and rising inflation, German and Chinese exporters will find new markets for their products, whereas US manufacturers will struggle to replace foreign suppliers.

.. tariffs will act as a tax on American consumers, through higher prices, and on American workers, businesses, and homeowners, through rising interest rates.

 

How to Steal the Populists’ Clothes

The continued electoral success of populists in Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America, and in the United States shows that while their policy proposals may be fanciful, their mode of conducting politics is effective. To win at the ballot box, mainstream politicians should apply three lessons that populists have mastered.

.. Rather than complaining about populist successes, established political parties should take a page from the populist playbook. Three lessons, in particular, cry out for attention.

The first lesson is to connect to the people you wish to represent by learning about them and winning their trust.

.. The complacent assumption that people will always vote along party or class lines is obsolete.

.. After a decade of economic malaise, voters are skeptical of mainstream politicians who offer rote promises of growth and improved standards of living. In the eyes of disenchanted workers, those in power have simply been feathering their own nests. Even in many of the world’s strongest economies, workers are earning less in real terms than they did ten years ago.

.. the twin threats of automation and outsourcing have made employment more precarious, and sapped workers’ bargaining power.

.. Who is to blame for this state of affairs? Those who vote for populists clearly hold establishment politicians responsible

.. Contrary to popular belief, recent research finds that technology is not the primary driver of labor’s declining share of income. Rather, the worsening plight of workers is due to

  • lost bargaining power and union density,
  • welfare-state retrenchment,
  • offshoring, and the
  • growth of the financial sector as a share of the economy.

the effective tax rates “paid by the world’s 10 biggest public companies by market capitalization in each of nine sectors” have fallen by nearly one-third since 2000, from 34% to 24%.

since 2008, personal income-tax rates across all countries have increased by 6%, on average.

Against this backdrop, the emergence of populist parties and politicians should come as no surprise. When a majority of people becomes poorer, there will be stark consequences at the ballot box. And yet, in one country after another, the political establishment has been remarkably slow to recognize this.

.. Meanwhile, the populist presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, proposes giving every Brazilian a gun so they can defend themselves. To the elites, this sounds (and is) preposterous. But for Brazilians who worry about their own safety, he is at least showing that he understands their top concern.

.. Before winning the French presidency and a parliamentary majority last year, Emmanuel Macron .. sent volunteers across the country to listen to voters’ concerns.

.. populists is to use simple, intuitive messaging to signal your goals. Yes, slogans like “I’ll protect your jobs” and “Make America great again” sound simplistic. But where are the sophisticated alternatives?

.. In the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum, the Remain campaign, phlegmatically led by then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, argued that leaving the European Union would result in lower GDP, lost trade, and disruption to the financial sector.

.. Such arguments completely missed what concerned most voters. By contrast, the Brexiteers promised to “take back control” of the UK’s borders and claimed – falsely – that the National Health Service would enjoy a windfall of £350 million ($490 million) per week.

.. Academics, pundits, and political, business, and civil-society leaders have been far too slow to articulate new economic and social policies that have broad-based appeal.

.. it takes a commitment of time and energy to understand the plight of the electorate and to frame solutions in a clear, simple way.

.. The third lesson from the populist playbook is to be bold.

.. people are seeking a transformational vision of the future, not slight improvements. After 30 years of pragmatism and incremental change, it is time for a new tone.

.. Recall that in 1945, Winston Churchill, having delivered victory for Britain in World War II, lost the general election.

The winner, Clement Attlee, promised what was effectively a new social contract for war-weary Britons still living under rations. His government went on to provide free universal health care, unemployment insurance, pensions, decent housing, and secure jobs in nationalized industries. And all this was done with the national debt still at 250% of GDP.

The Romney Disease

How does this happen? It happens because the Republicans with the solid family lives, sparkling résumés, unlined faces, and big white teeth think they are entitled to rule the rest of us in their own interests. They think their (real) virtues entitle them to ignore the priorities of the electorate. There will always be fools and con artists but, right now, the vices of the good men are killing us.

The Republicans have managed the unlikely feat of producing a tax-cut bill that has only 26 percent support. This is part of a pattern whereby the allegedly responsible, thoughtful, public-spirited Republican leaders, such as Paul Ryan, produce legislation that is somehow even less popular than our already very unpopular president.

.. But maybe they haven’t forgotten. Maybe the Republican leadership has changed.

.. But something has changed in recent years. One visible sign was the Wall Street Journal’s infamous “lucky duckies” editorial, which complained that lower-middle-class people (those lucky duckies) with little income-tax liability might get a cut to their payroll taxes, and that this cut would reduce the tax cuts that might otherwise have gone to the more productive and deserving high earners.

.. Edward Conard, like Mitt Romney a Bain Capital guy, might be called Mitt Romney’s id. He argues that a proposal to set the corporate tax rate at 22 percent rather than 20 percent in order to finance a tax credit that reduces the payroll-tax liability of mostly wage-earning parents would hurt the economy, because it would reduce economic growth and diminish “middle-class incomes in the long run.”

.. The congressional Republicans are having trouble selling tax cuts to the middle class, because the middle-class tax cuts are included only grudgingly as a sweetener for the business and high-earner tax cuts that are the real goal of the Republican congressional leadership.

.. The elite Republicans haven’t forgotten. They have changed.

The Republican Party of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan is no longer the party of Ronald Reagan and the middle-class tax revolts of the 1970s.

.. Why do Americans turn to elderly socialists like Bernie Sanders, or clownish (or worse) populists like Trump and Roy Moore? It is because the best of the Republicans are wedded to a politically self-destructive view of the world.

.. They seem to have the home life of the family man. They have the discipline and diligence of the organization kid. They have the looks of the pretty boy. Yet the public still rejects them, because the voters find their ideas even more unpleasant than Donald Trump’s odious personality.

.. When they think they can get away with it, they disparage the idea of tax cuts for the middle class (much less for wage-earning parents). They pretend that the taxes paid by wage-earners don’t even exist. They mouth the Reaganite lift-all-boats rhetoric, but they act on a get-those-lucky-duckies agenda. Reagan’s party is being infected with the Romney Disease.