Tag: Donald Trump (Page 1 of 15)

Weinstein, Trump, and the crisis of confidence in rule of law

Donald Trump’s politicization of the Justice Department hurts faith in rule of law when it is sorely needed. Film producer Harvey Weinstein has been investigated before for sexual abuse, and now, with many more allegations coming out publicly, it is likely that he might have faced serious investigations under any administration.

Yet the appearance of conflict-of-interest and the demonstrated intent of applying law politically casts an inescapable lack of confidence under anything the Justice Department does now. The admissions by Trump that he made explicit political calculations when staffing the Department of Justice and pressured the DOJ to investigate his enemies (Trump says he wouldn’t have picked Sessions if he knew he’d recuse himself, After attacking AG Jeff Sessions for failing to investigate Hillary Clinton, Trump won’t say if he will fire him, Comey documented Trump request to drop Flynn investigation in memo) imply that he would use, or try to use, his power to attack any political enemy he can.

Now it is reported in the Daily Mail that the FBI is opening up an investigation into Weinstein at the behest of the DOJ (although “it is unknown whether the DOJ order came directly from Sessions”). There’s a 90 percent chance that this is justified entirely on the facts of the case. In almost any other administration, there would be closer to 99 percent confidence.

We know how Trump responds to crimes committed by his political allies: he pardons them.

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Mafia Don: Trump as an Amoral Familist

Donald Trump’s presidency has been so strange it has caused columnists around the world to try to conceive of new frameworks to explain politics. But what if what is needed is really an old framework? In 1955, Edward C. Banfield visited a village in Southern Italy and described a dysfunctional politics based on the pursuit of personal and family profit above all else. He called the practitioners of this anti-social morality “amoral familists.” It was the behavior of the mafia and it is the behavior of Donald Trump and his cronies.

The amoral familist will, “Maximize the material, short-run advantage of the nuclear family” and “assume that all others will do likewise,” Banfield wrote. Trump has appointed his daughter and son-in-law into White House positions and put his two sons in charge of his business empire. The Trump administration has used official outlets to hawk his family’s products and has raked in cash from foreign diplomats staying at his DC hotel in the hopes of influencing him.

The effects of this lack of character and the assumption that all others lack character as well corrode to the core of a political system. Banfield noted how the locals in the small town had no trust in politics, and as such, no one trustworthy ran for office, and no one trusted the government to solve their problems. “[N]o one will further the interest of the group or community except as it is to his private advantage to do so.”

Banfield noted an additional 17 points that describe specific things one would expect to see in a society of amoral familists. It is worrying how many appear in Donald Trump’s United States in varying degrees.

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Korean Security Chat, II: Time to strike North Korea

“The only practical solution we have got is to make a first strike.”

Mitchell Blatt and Daniel Kim chat about North Korea’s sixth nuclear test and how this changes things.

Daniel Kim has served as an artillery man and an interpreter in the Republic of Korea Army and is currently enrolled at Eastern Washington University where he is majoring in interdisciplinary studies. He will be joining B+D on a regular basis to discuss Korea issues. Mitchell Blatt is a founder and editor of Bombs + Dollars and is pursuing a degree in International Relations at Johns Hopkins University.

Mitchell Blatt: So let’s start with the biggest news of the year: North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test. This time it was a hydrogen bomb over 100 kilotons. That’s over 10 times as large as the last bomb it tested. Ankit Panda and Vipin Narang write in War on the Rocks that North Korea is now a nuclear power. Are they right?

Daniel Kim: Apparently yes. However, no country is gonna accept them as an official nuclear power.

MB: Have they proven they have an ICBM capable of hitting the mainland United States? Do they have the reentry vehicle?
DK: It is still questionable, though, I’m sure they can hit US soil. They have successfully completed hydrogen bomb. I don’t think that they won’t be able to develop a capable ICBM, if they haven’t already. (Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon says they might launch one at full range on Saturday.)

This reckless action wont help North Korea at all. Although almost every major American media outlet, even the Wall Street Journal, a conservative newspaper, is bugging Trump a lot, there is one thing they don’t really argue with him on. It is North Korea.

Trump may end up being the worst president in history, but I guarantee that he won’t let America get hit by external forces.

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Korean Security Chat, I: Fallout from Trump-Kim confrontation

Yesterday morning, B+D editor Mitchell Blatt chatted with former Korean army soldier Daniel Kim about the tense situation on the Korean peninsula in the first of a new series. Later that day, North Korea launched a missile over Japan. In our conversation, we discussed Korea’s relations with Japan, White House shakeups and what effect they will have on U.S. policy towards Korea, and Korean President Moon’s “North Korean sympathetic” policy.

Daniel Kim has served as an artillery man and an interpreter in the Republic of Korea Army and is currently enrolled at Eastern Washington University where he is majoring in interdisciplinary studies. He will be joining B+D on a regular basis to discuss Korea issues. Mitchell Blatt is a founder and editor of Bombs + Dollars and is pursuing a degree in International Relations at Johns Hopkins University.

Mitchell Blatt: First off, White House advisors Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka have both been fired/resigned in the past two weeks. How do you think it will affect White House policy?

Let me start with my thoughts: Bannon was pushing for a minimalist response to North Korea. He let loose in an interview with The American Prospect the night before leaving, promising to fire many of the State Department’s East Asia specialists and undercutting Trump’s threats of military force against North Korea by saying, “There’s no military solution.” Trump was saber rattling, but it seemed like Trump was bluffing the whole time. I think Bannon leaving reflects existing White House policy more than meaning any changes. Mattis and McMaster have the situation in their hands. They want to increase pressure but do so rationally, knowing the risks of war.

You?

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Antifa and Alt-Right: bellum omnium contra omnes – Part 2

Read the first part here

We all saw the descent into violence at Charlottesville, with the far-Left protestors and Antifa met with deliberate force from the white identity politics of the alt-Right for the first time. It turned fatal for an anti-racism campaigner attending the counter-protest, and trends suggest that this escalation will continue.

One thing that was noticeable about the alt-Right march and the examples we’ve seen of who makes up the alt-Right was that it was majority young, angry, disillusioned, white men. Sure, there were some older white supremacists and KKK members, but they’re a shrinking component of the far-Right. The white nationalist alt-Right with its younger demographics is now in the ascendant. This is a new wave of white identity politics, that now sees/identifies white college age males as its spear-tip. Many of those who marched the night before the protest that ended in tragedy appeared to be college age. This points to a troubling trend among those in the late-teen/early 20’s age bracket.

As George Hawley states, many of the alt-right are not only college age, but are in some ways even more right-wing and radical than their Boomer and older Gen-X parents, and far more so than the older millennials. Indeed, one poll showed that white high school students would have voted for Trump by 48%, Hillary by 11%, and that overall Trump would have won 34% of the vote, Hillary 20%. Democrats, if this is your future, you’re virtually dead.

Far from being less racist and castigating their parents for failing to curtail their racist attitudes, increasing numbers of young whites are now castigating their parents for not being racist enough. Indeed, it appears that many are being radicalised while in college, so the old fall back of education as the salve to society’s ills seems, in this case, to somewhat exacerbate rather than mitigate the problem.

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Mr. President, George Washington was no treasonous Confederate

I never thought I’d hear this argument from the President of the United States, much less from a Republican whose fans fancy themselves hardcore patriots, but Donald Trump compared George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson yesterday.

The moment came during his off-the-rails press conference in which he doubled down on his “many sides” take on the violence in Charlottesville.

TRUMP: Those people — all of those people –excuse me, I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

Q Should that statue be taken down?

TRUMP: Excuse me. If you take a look at some of the groups, and you see — and you’d know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you’re not — but many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.

So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?

There are only two groups of people who compare Washington to Lee: those who want to take Washington’s statue down by attaching to it the baggage of Lee, and those who want to keep Lee’s statue up by painting on the varnish of Washington. Trump either thinks Washington is just as bad as Lee or Lee is just as great as Washington.

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North Korea calls Trump’s bluff (Update on Trump’s statement)

Yesterday I wrote that Trump’s threat to send “fire, fury, and power the likes of which the world has never seen before” raining down on Pyeongyang if Kim Jong-un threatened to attack the U.S. was reckless because it would put American credibility at stake.

I said:

There are only two things that can come of Trump’s threat to respond with “power the likes of which this world has never seen before”:
1.) Trump is bluffing, and he doesn’t start a nuclear war with North Korea. Many lives are initially saved, but America’s credibility is damaged, causing North Korea to push forward with its nuclear weapons program and raising the risk of war later.
or
2.) Trump does incite a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula.

It was just a few hours later that North Korea made a threat to strike Guam. As I wrote at the time, North Korea makes implausibly bellicose threats all the time, and it is wise not to always take them at face value. Yet Trump specifically mentioned “threats” in his statement (“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States”), so for him to not follow through would mean North Korea once again found his words to be not credible.

The result:
Trump just set his own, uncrossable ‘red line’ — and North Korea crossed it instantly – CNBC
North Korea just called Trump’s bluff. So what happens now? – Washington Post

Trump appears (wisely, it should be said) to have opted for choice #1 of the two choices, at least for now.

If and when the President does a real red line, however, will North Korea believe him? And if they don’t, would that mean war?

Maybe world leaders will realize that Trump is a buffoon and take their cues on America’s position from smarter men like Secretary of Defense Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson, and National Security Advisor McMaster (who is currently facing an attack from the alt-right).

To that end, Mattis put out a statement, in much more refined language, that threatened strong actions should North Korea go too far but also affirmed America’s strength and ability to deter:

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Trump’s “fire and fury” threat on North Korea is reckless

Donald Trump’s saber-rattling towards North Korea has heated up as North Korea is getting closer and closer to having an operational intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of striking the United States mainland.

This afternoon, he threatened “fire and fury” against Kim Jong-un’s thiefdom.

North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. He has been very threatening — beyond a normal statement. As I said, they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.

Notice, too, that Trump’s strong words were made specifically in response to “threats” by Kim Jong-un and his government. North Korea makes farcical threats all the time. In 2013, years before he had the capabilities to hit even Los Angeles, Kim made a threat to attack Austin, Texas, of all places.

That Trump issued such fiery words in response to “threats” rather than anything of substance indicates his strange obsession with honor politics. He is a man whose argument for pulling out of deals is that “the world is laughing at us.” He took Cuban President Raul Castro’s absence at Obama’s arrival to Cuba as an insult to the United States.

North Korea, of course, poses some very real threats to the U.S. and its allies. It tested two ICBMs in July, prompting new UN sanctions, and a U.S. intelligence assessment holds that it has attained the capability of putting warheads on missiles.

But North Korea’s threat is just why Trump needs to be careful: hasty responses could cause miscalculation and could result in a war that would leave millions dead. Even without the use of nuclear weapons, 20 million civilians in the Seoul area and 28,500 American troops in Korea are at immediate threat of heavy artillery.

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Donald Trump wants Republicans subservient to him

Jonah Goldberg writes about a “cult of personality” around Trump again this week. It’s a well-trodden subject, especially at National Review, in my own writings, and even from Trump’s own mouth (“I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue…”).

So far he hasn’t been able to translate his rabid base of supporters into much besides a solid 39 percent base of approval and a protective wall of Republican Congressmen who mostly want to do as little as possible to hold him accountable.

For all the Republicans have been leaking information favorable to Trump, going on TV making farciscle excuses, and (some of them) using questioning of Jim Comey to defend Trump, Trump has been shockingly ungrateful to Republicans for their help.

Over the past few weeks, he has attacked Jeff Sessions, his first Senate supporter, for recusing, questioned the allegiances of Ron Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General who put his credibility on the line to help Trump fire Comey, and publicly threatened to primary Sen. Dean Heller, who is facing one of the toughest reelection fights of a Republican Senator in 2018, while sitting next to him.

Trump is noted for his views on “loyalty”–which got him in trouble with Comey–but it’s all about loyalty for he, not for thee.

But if there’s one thing Trump is in no short supply of, it’s narcissism and brazenness. This afternoon, the long-time Democrat demanded Republicans rally around him.

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Poland, Trump, and Hungary: This is what illiberal democracy looks like

The election of Trump, the Law and Politics Party winning a majority in Poland in 2015, and Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary; what they all have in common is not merely a right-wing bend, but a contempt for liberal democracy. So goes the narrative, which has been particularly on display since Trump’s speech in Poland, that “illiberal democracy” is threatening the underpinnings of democracy in the Western world and beyond.

Some of the more conservative-minded would say this argument is the resentment of the losers. Trump, Szydlo, and Orbán won their elections fair and square. Why should they be dismissed just because you disagree with them? “If a democracy now needs to be a tool for spreading liberalism, conservatives are by definition, not democratic,” Sumantra Maitra wrote for Quillette.

Here is the thing: the problem isn’t simply with policy preferences but with the normative structures of democracy itself. These governments are taking actions to solidify their own power, not just to advance ideological interests of the people, but to advance the personal and party-based interests of the leaders or the ruling parties in ways that strike at the legal and moral underpinnings of democracy and rule of law.

A few examples will illustrate what exactly is meant by illiberal democracy. In Poland, the ruling party is trying to enact a measure that would give them control over the composition of the judiciary. As reported by Politico Europe:

Poland’s parliament, under the leadership of the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, passed a law dissolving an independent body responsible for the nomination of judges. At the same time, PiS submitted a draft law that would force the entire Supreme Court into retirement and give the country’s justice minister the ability to decide which judges can stay in their current roles.

Currently, Poland’s federal judges are appointed by a professional panel of lawyer. The Law and Justice party attacked the judges as leftists—the party chairman called the judiciary a “stronghold of post-communists”—and it is easy to see how a panel made up of lawyers could be attacked as “elitist” and biased to be more favorable towards political liberalism than the public, due to expected leanings within the field. Perhaps there is a case to be made for having judges appointed by the president, prime minister, parliament, or some combination thereof, as is done in places like the United States and South Korea. Although there are problems with the system in the U.S., which has resulted in the politicization of judicial appointments, there is a case to be made for some level of political accountability in the process.

The problem is that the manner by which Law and Justice is planning to implement this program appears meant to give their party control over the composition of the court

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