Category: U.S. Politics (Page 1 of 22)

State of the Union highlights: Trump’s unpatriotic appropriation of the flag

Donald Trump attacked free speech in his first State of the Union address (and second speech to Congress) on January 30. As usual, he tried to claim the mantle of patriotism by referencing acts and words of others whose values he himself doesn’t appear to share.

In one case, he returned to one of his greatest hits tracks: the national anthem and attacking those NFL players who have been taking a knee to protest.

Preston’s [referring to a 12-year-old boy, Preston Sharp, who put flags in front of veterans’ graves] reverence for those who have served our nation…

It is worth noting here, that reverence for veterans is not something Trump shares with Preston. Trump has diminished the sacrifices of veterans, referring to John McCain as a “loser” for having served something larger than himself, and saying of prisoners of war, “I like people who weren’t captured.”

Trump doesn’t understand why anyone would be an official, because he doesn’t understand serving the public

…reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.

Context and subtext are inseparable from meaning. That’s why Trump can say, “It’s big enough. Believe me,” and people know what he’s meaning without him saying it directly. Communication would be an impossible task if people didn’t include context and subtext in their analysis of meaning. (And, indeed, Trump’s speechwriters and supporters do so, too, even if they feign otherwise when it suits them.)

In this case, the context is clear. Trump has been attacking Colin Kaepernick and other football players who have been taking a knee to protest, both in support of #BlackLivesMatter and, later, in protest to Trump’s attacks on free speech. Trump lashed out and called for the firing of any player who takes a knee. He has also issued words of support for criminalizing burning the flag with punishments up to loss of citizenship.

In this case, by proclaiming “stand[ing] for the national anthem” as something “we” do, he is saying anyone who does otherwise is deviantly violating the rules and norms of our society. In fact, the vast majority of people already do stand, and it wouldn’t even be an issue in the NFL anymore if Trump hadn’t made it an issue (the number of players kneeling in solidarity increased hugely after his attacks), and anyone who kneels isn’t actually disrespecting veterans or causing any material harm. (The only potential harm they might be causing is offending—or annoying—people who are offended by words and speech, and Trump says he is against political correctness.)

Trump doesn’t have to say he’s specifically attacking those who protest, nor does he need to issue the threat, which he has already made clear in the past, any more than a triad collector needs to spell out what happens if you don’t pay your protection fee.

Of course the Republicans gave Trump a standing ovation for this bit of low brow refuge-seeking.

Even divorcing the words from all context, they are empty drivel not worthy of applause, much less ovation. Any president and any politician and the vast majority spectators do the ceremonial standing at the sound of the anthem. It doesn’t require any sacrifice. It doesn’t help the soldiers injured in Iraq and those still serving in Afghanistan and elsewhere. At best it is a symbolic gesture, and at worst, as in Trump’s State of the Union, it is a manipulative appropriation of a symbol of patriotism used to prop up a man who values the flag only for what political value it might bring him.

Feature photo by Shealah Craighead, official White House photographer. Public domain.

Trump doesn’t understand why anyone would be an official, because he doesn’t understand serving the public

DOJ staffers who don’t support Trump agenda are “Trump women”, officials earning six figures are dismissed as poor

In Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff reveals Donald Trump’s fascination and confusion over bureaucratic professionals. The out-of-touch president is amazed that anyone would work for such a pittance as three or four times the average US salary.

In chapter 7, commenting on Trump’s antagonism towards Sally Yates and other Department of Justice career officials, Wolff wrote:

Here was an elemental divide between Trump and career governmental employees. He could understand politicians. But he was finding it hard to get a hand on these bureaucrat types, their temperament and motives. He couldn’t grasp what they wanted. Why would they, or anyone, be a permanent government employee. ‘They max out at what, 200 grand, tops?’ he said, expressing something like wonder.

Trump can only understand power and use of power to enrich oneself. “He could understand politicians.” Politicians get to be courted. They get to go on the Sunday shows. They get to write themselves tax cuts and trade their votes for personal benefits.

But career professionals just get to keep the country running and maintain the institutions of democracy. They aren’t even dedicated to pursuing an ideological agenda. For Trump, it is literally inconceivable how anyone could care about serving the public. Particularly when the salary they take is a pittance compared to what could be made conning white working class aspirers into enrolling in threadbare “real estate courses.”

His view, on that point, is also at odds with a long-held view of conservative Republicans that government employees are paid too much. As someone cooped up in a blindingly gaudy 1980’s apartment, Trump has no clue how ordinary Americans live.

The chapter also reveals the Trump administration’s contemptuous sexism towards women in power. Trump staffers already hated Yates from the start due to stereotypes about “Obama women” and “Hillary women.”

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Responding to Daniel Kim: What he gets wrong about Trump and immigration

This past month and a half, Bombs + Dollars has published an immigration-related argument by our Korea analyst Daniel Kim. The topic of immigration has been in the news since Donald Trump referred to some countries as “shitholes” and called for cutting down on immigration in a meeting with senators. I have discussed my views with Kim and now join the discussion in a response piece.

I find myself sympathetic to Kim’s argument that it should be made easier for foreign students to stay and work in America after graduating and for qualified foreigners in general to be able to obtain work visas in the United States. Unfortunately, those positions run exactly counter to the narrative and policies put forth by the Trump administration. Kim’s biggest mistake, in my view, is mischaracterizing the Trump position to be more pro-immigration than it actually is.

Kim starts his article by telling us, “Trump has been called an ‘anti-immigrant’ extremist, but I’m telling you, as a Korean aspiring to immigrate to the United States, that is simply not true.” He simply wants to change America to a completely merit-based system that tries to attract talent with high levels of education and skills. There are valid arguments for and against such a system.

First and foremost, however, I believe this interpretation of Trump’s and the Republican Party’s position is misleading, or at least incomplete. The bill that Republican Senator Tom Cotton introduced and that Trump supports, the “Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act”, would not only introduce a points-based system (at a time when there is already a system in place for employers to sponsor those immigrants who possess necessary skills for their jobs), it would also cut the number of green cards in half. And it would require that applicants for immigration calculate the points their spouse would score, despite the fact that the person immigrating would already have to have a job that pays well more than enough to take care of a family. At the same time, it would cut refugee admissions and cap them at 50,000, end the visa diversity lottery, and make it harder for extended family members to immigrate.

Taken as a whole, the Cotton immigration bill is a restrictionist measure. Even if one agreed with changing the criteria for acceptance of immigrants, this bill does much more than that. In fact, the Cotton bill would decrease the number of spots open for skilled immigrants. It would cut the number of H-1B visas by 500,000.

The bill and the rhetoric surrounding it is nothing more than a push to cut legal immigration while dressing it up in innocuous language. For all the talk from the anti-immigration right about enforcing America’s immigration laws, they actually want to change the laws themselves, to restrict the flow of immigration. They are not just opposed to illegal immigration but to legal immigration, too. Trump had in fact called on the campaign trail for an indefinite end to all green cards.

Kim talked about how hard it is for companies to hire qualified workers who happen to be of different nationalities. Trump wants to make it harder. He has campaigned for a “hire Americans” policy and pushed it in his inaugural address, too. He proposed raising the prevailing wage for workers to qualify for H-1B visas, making it more expensive and burdensome to hire them. In fact, the NY Times reports that even without any new immigration measures having been passed by Congress, issuance of work visas has slowed down and hit road blocks, suggesting a possible administrative push by the Trump administration to decrease immigration.

So Kim might be right about making it easier for foreign nationals to work in America, but he’s assuredly not right that Trump or Trump’s policies would help with that. Just the opposite.

One note, also, about Kim’s opposition to any kind of amnesty or in-state tuition measures for illegal immigrants: The amnesty plans and in-state tuition plans all have some kinds of merit-based qualifications attached. For example, in Texas, illegal immigrants must have resided in Texas for attended at least 3 years of high school in Texas (so it’s not like they have no connection to the state), same as in Colorado, California, New Jersey, Nebraska, Maryland, Minnesota, and Illinois. Most of these people are going to be living in America for the rest of their lives—even Trump doesn’t have the political capital nor ability to deport 12 million people—so wouldn’t it be better for America to encourage those who would be in America to get an education and become legalized?

Maybe it is a question about fairness versus pragmatism.

The Iran protests and American journalistic hackery

Before new years and continuing until the present, Iranians have taken to the streets to demand political and economic reforms. Over 400 protesters have been reportedly arrested and 20 killed. Having cracked down violently on protests in 2009, too, the Iranian government appears to face a crisis of legitimacy.

Much of the commentary from the political right, however, launders the protesters’ real grievances to make partisan political points. Take Fox News opinion columnist Stephen L. Miller (@RedSteeze on Twitter). Yesterday evening (US time), he had published a garden variety “Why aren’t liberal feminists supporting Muslim women in the Middle East?” article.

In this case, the specific language was: “Women are leading in Iran. Where is their voice of support from the left?”

So the question must be asked: Where are the women’s movement supporters in the United States and Europe, which gathered en masse to protest a newly inaugurated American president last year?

The question presumes that a protest in America against Iran’s government would have much influence in toppling Iran’s government. It presumes Americans shouldn’t care about the actions of their own government–or at least shouldn’t care any more about their own government’s actions than they do about those of foreign governments. After all, why should Americans protest bad governance and abuses of power in America if they don’t protest about foreign countries?

The question could be asked about anything. Why hasn’t Stephen L. Miller written anything about North Korea’s human rights abuses lately? Why hasn’t he written about democratic backsliding in Poland and Hungary governments?

Hell, Miller was outraged about the IRS reportedly scrutinizing tax exemption applications from Tea Party groups. Even if a conspiracy against the Tea Party existed (and it didn’t–liberal groups applying for tax exempt status were scrutinized, too, according to an audit conducted years later), would it really be as bad as South African leader Jacob Zuma’s hundreds of crimes of corruption?

One can imagine the story framed in Miller’s terms:
So the question must be asked: Where are the conservatives and Tea Partiers in the United States, which gathered en masse to protest a newly inaugurated American president on Tax Day?

Another cliché gaining being pushed on Iran is the typical: “Why isn’t the media covering this story that I read about in the media?” Stephen Miller wrote on December 30:

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Chinese Constitution Day: “Study the Party Congress”

The current constitution of the People’s Republic of China was adopted on December 4, 1982, making December 4 Constitution Day. Some of the subway stations in Nanjing are blanketed this month with ads calling for the public to “study the implementation of the 19th Party Congress.” The high-level Communist Party meeting was held this October and ushered in a new Politburo Standing Committee. In the photo above, I have added the English translation.

Public propaganda hailing the party and calling for study of recent political doctrines is common around China. On the campuses of universities, the 19th Party Congress is often hailed.

A banner at Hehai University in Nanjing calls for studying the implementation of the 19th Party Congress.

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Republicans investigating political enemies, defending power

In November 2016, I questioned whether Republicans who investigated the Obama administration with passion would do their job as a check on the president.

“Many Republicans are more concerned about excusing Trump’s abuses of power than investigating them,” I wrote.

We’ve seen their performance for one year. How have they done? There are token efforts in the House and a somewhat more critical effort in the Senate to look into the Russian controversies. The Republicans haven’t even lifted a finger to investigate Trump’s conflicts of interest as owner of a vast business network, including a DC hotel where foreign diplomats like to stay.

But there have always been a Trumpist Republicans eager to run interference for their guy. Rep. Devin Nunes met with the White House to coordinate talking points this spring. Now Nunes and other Republicans are using their powers to try to undermine the FBI. Rep. Matt Gaetz called for firing Mueller.

Attacks on Special Prosecutor and Republican Party member Robert Mueller have been picking up in recent weeks. Republicans have just held an investigatory session of FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and asked seemingly tougher questions than they ask of Trump’s allies.

The Trumpist wing of the right-wing media is picking up any and every straw they can find to try to undercut the investigation. The conservative wing of the right-wing media is often downplaying or ignoring revelations.

Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing harder and harder for Trump to investigate people who aren’t in power, like Hillary Clinton. Department of Justice director Jeff Sessions, after being pushed by Republicans to pick a Special Council to investigate Clinton, has “begun asking FBI agents to explain the evidence they found in a now dormant criminal investigation into a controversial uranium deal that critics have linked to Bill and Hillary Clinton, multiple law enforcement officials told NBC News.”

The idea for many Republicans seems to be to be a check (or even obstructionists) on watchdogs like the FBI and defeated politicians like Clinton and a guarddog on power.

I want to immigrate to America, and I think Trump is right

Trump has been called an “anti-immigrant” extremist, but I’m telling you, as a Korean aspiring to immigrate to the United States, that is simply not true. Trump wants to set a new way of immigration system by following both Canadian model and Australian model. Both Canada and Australia are far stricter than the United States when it comes to immigration. They do not have a lenient policy on illegal immigration. They do not try to attract people without a high English-speaking ability and high education level. And there’s no green card lottery in those countries. Rather, they give points to the immigrant applicants when they have accomplished each step of requirements such as official English exam scores (Either TOFEL or IELT), high educated diploma in the speaking-English countries, certified careers of occupations.

Trump and some of his allies in Congress are pushing to abolish the diversity lottery for green cards and increase security on the borders. He has put a halt to Obama’s DACA policy of giving temporary citizenship-level status to illegal immigrants who came to America as children. To be honest, many international students who come to America legally quite agree with suppressing the number of illegal immigrants because they might reduce the potential for legal immigration. At the least, it is extremely unfair to let illegal immigrants stay—or even become citizens, as some have proposed—while enforcing a harsh line on law-abiding students and foreign workers who have to jump through many hoops to try to get a job or student visa in the States.

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The difference between hypocrisy and evil

When Republican senators Mark Foley and Larry Craig were forced to resign because of sex scandals just over a decade ago, Byron Williams accused them of harboring “the hypocrisy of the hypocrisy.” Articles about the right-wing’s biggest sex hypocrites flood out every time a Donald Trump is exposed as having sexually assaulted someone or a Roy Moore is found to be a child molester.

The primary problem with Foley, Craig, Trump, and Moore, however, isn’t hypocrisy but immorality. Foley abused his power to proposition a page for oral sex. In addition to sexual harassment and abuse of power, Trump and Craig also committed adultery.

Sexual harassment and assault is a crime and an immoral violation of one’s rights no matter what one’s ideological or moral values system one follows. If a sexist man who believed that it was his right to grab women anytime, anywhere committed sexual assault, it would still be immoral despite the fact that that evil man wrongly believed it was his right.

To focus overwhelmingly on the “hypocrisy” aspect could have the unfortunate effect of downgrading immoral acts committed by immoral men. In effect, we are giving a free pass to the worst of the worst.

A common refrain from Trump supporters when Trump is caught lying, speaking like a 5th-grader, or having a temper tantrum at 5 am, is that, “We knew what we were getting with Trump.” Why, we did indeed know that he was guilty of multiple character flaws. He still is. Period.

If Osama bin Laden had been caught and brought in front of a judge, should he get off if he argued, “I have directed terrorist attacks for years. I openly talked about it and threatened it in propaganda statements. You already knew this”? Pathological dishonesty, incompetence, corruption and the like are in and of themselves.

When hypocrisy really matters

The Republicans just passed a tax bill that increases the deficit by $1 trillion and repeals the mandate that individuals purchase health insurance.

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Did the US and Iraq really defeat ISIS? Not so fast.

David French has a piece bemoaning that the Western media hasn’t reported America defeated ISIS in Iraq. Iraqi’s military, with American support, pushed ISIS out of Mosul and most of the area they occupied in Iraq, and now Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory. Iraq’s PM has a clear-self interest to declare victory, but it’s true that ISIS lost ground.

“So why does no one seem to care?” French wrote.

It’s just not that clear of a victory. Iraq remains an unstable, low-quality semi-democracy–the US didn’t accomplish its objectives there–and there’s no reason to believe that Iraq won’t ever be threatened by militants or terrorists again in the near future.

I won’t spend too much time on this, but here are a few relevant sources for why people should not get too excited about what is possibly an incomplete and short-lasting victory:
Iraq’s PM has a clear-self interest to declare victory, but it’s true that ISIS lost ground. – AFP

As Sumantra and I have written for The National Interest,

It is important to remember that the liberation of Mosul is not something to be proud of just yet. Economically, it is a damaged city—in worse condition than Stalingrad or Dresden. Materially, it is a commodity that nobody wishes to touch. Strategically, it is important—but that too is a curse, as it’s almost inevitable that a backlash will transpire, and Sunni civilians will suffer.

Unfortunately, Mosul is only one among many cities on the fault line of what increasingly appears to be an Iranian race to form a land bridge to the Mediterranean against periodic Sunni opposition. People will continue to suffer. Iraq’s central government is not, and will not be, capable of continuing to safeguard the area from falling further into the hands of jihadists. And the flawed counterinsurgency tactics of the West mean that the jihadist threat will merely go dormant until the next opportune moment.

Read our full article: Winning the hearts and minds won’t eliminate ISIS

Just a reminder: Trump is unhinged

Donald Trump went off on another gibberish-filled rant at 5 am EST today, as he does most days. I would like to say this is “bad even by Trump’s standards,” but that would be a cliche and not true. His ordinary level of discourse is extremely coarse.

But that doesn’t mean we should ignore reality just because some of the press that covers Trump wants us to define down deviancy. If you saw this message and didn’t know who wrote it, you would think that person was an extremely thin-skinned, ill-tempered, vain man with no self-control.

He doesn’t respond to the charges. He doesn’t sound original or unaffected. His message contains precisely no useful information to reflect poorly on his presumed target (and no truthful information whatsoever). The only person who would be moved to support the message is someone who values the power of emotional charisma, the low-brow “dominance” politics of a tyrant, and “loyalty” to a political leader.

Trump’s attacks on the foundational tenets of republican democracy are important. The health of our republican form of democracy is not trivial. The American system is based on rational-legal authority. Revolutionary systems like fascism and communism are often based on the charismatic authority of a Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin, Chavez or Duterte. The megalomaniac in charge asserts someone hasn’t been “loyal” to him personally, and that is taken as a criticism–and grounds to rise up in fury–by the leader’s cultish followers.

Trump’s purposeful divide strategy is contributing to the biggest partisan division Pew has found on record. The president attacking the legitimacy of his political opponents–who make up a majority of the country–and acting in a manner undignified of his office, or of anyone speaking in society, really, is a recipe for creating social strife.

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