Trump and Putin: A Bad Bromance

For Quartz, I looked over years of Russian-language coverage of Trump, which long preceded his campaign, and reflected on their relationship and their collaborative white supremacist bases:

While some members of the US media have dismissed attempts to examine Trump’s ties with Russia as “McCarthyism,” Trump’s long-standing public approval of Russia—and Russia’s equally enthusiastic response to Trump—merits scrutiny.  Throughout his campaign, Trump has vacillated on nearly every position, with the notable exception of his consistent praise for Putin. The genesis of this relationship is not as important as its consequences. Though Trump’s odds of winning the presidency have decreased, his campaign has empowered white-nationalist movements, many of which embrace Putin. In July, US white-supremacist leader Matthew Heimbach proclaimed, “Putin is the leader, really, of the anti-globalist forces around the world.”

In other words, Trump and Putin are two of a kind: xenophobic, bigoted demagogues with dual histories of corruption, aggression, and celebration of white supremacy repackaged as patriotic nationalism. Their radical American and Russian followers, now linked by the internet, share similar goals and are part of a larger revival of white-supremacist movements happening across the West.

The USSR collapsed twenty-five years ago. Russia is no longer the center of the communist Soviet Union but rather a hyper-capitalist, authoritarian state. Dominated by oligarchs, modern Russia has retained the worst trappings of the Soviet system—such as mass surveillance and personality cults—while cracking down on political dissidents, gays and lesbians, Muslims, Jews, migrant laborers, and others who do not fit with Putin’s nationalist vision. In other words, he engages in many of the same practices Trump proposes.

 Trump and Putin are two of a kind: bigoted demagogues with dual histories of corruption and aggression. Critics of this relationship are therefore not merely reacting to outdated Cold War stereotypes—in fact, many are not even old enough to remember this era. Rather, they are rightfully wary of a mutually beneficial relationship between a Russian dictator and an American demagogue that could ultimately harm citizens of Russia, citizens of the US, and citizens of the many other states most directly affected by this alliance, starting with Ukraine and the Baltic members of NATO.

Read the whole thing here

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Trump’s foreign policy is actually a domestic attack

From my latest for the Globe and Mail:

He had no intention of making an actual foreign policy speech. Instead, he made a domestic policy speech aimed at recasting innocent U.S. citizens as dangerous foreign infiltrators. There is no true foreign policy in his universe – only the singular threat of radical Islam, a concept without a country, easy to manipulate in order to smear perceived adversaries.

According to Mr. Trump’s speech, the great enemy of the U.S. is “immigrants or the children of immigrants,” whom he claims are “the common thread linking the major Islamic terrorist attacks that have recently occurred on our soil.”

This is a remarkable claim for a candidate who is both the son, husband and ex-husband of immigrants. It is an inflammatory claim in a country in which 13.3 per cent of citizens are immigrants, and which has long prided itself on a being refuge for foreigners. It is an irresponsible claim in a country where the majority of mass murders are carried out not by Muslims, but by white nationalists or random angry men – two key components of the Trump constituency. And it is a suspicious claim to make as he and his backers fall under scrutiny for their connection to an authoritarian government, Russia, which shares the xenophobic, anti-Muslim outlook.

In the U.S., one is far more likely to be killed in a shooting by a lone white male than in a terrorist attack by an organized Muslim group. Even recent attacks by Muslim Americans – the Orlando shooter or the Boston marathon bombers, for example – were very loosely connected, if at all, to terrorist cells. Between September 11, 2001 and 2013, 33 Americans were killed in terror attacks by Muslims, while 180,000 Americans were murdered during that same period. In 2012, 66 were killed in mass shootings alone: twice the number killed by Muslim terrorists since 9/11.

You can read the whole thing here. I also recommend giving a reread to some of my recent articles in the Globe and Mail, Foreign Policy, and Quartz. Weeks ago I predicted a number of developments in the Trump campaign to which the rest of the world seems to be just catching on. These predictions have implications far beyond November, and concern public safety. I’ve been right on most every Trump development since January, so please take heed.

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More on Poland, Russia and the US

The Polish news outlet Onet did another interview with me on the US election and its potential ramifications for Poland and other Eastern European states. You can read excerpts in Polish here, and the original interview in English below:

Hillary Clinton has the chance to win the 2016 US presidential elections and become US president. But there are some concerns about her record as Secretary of State regarding “reset policy” towards Russia. What do you think about it? Is there a risk that Clinton would try to introduce new “reset policy” in relations with Russia if she wins presidential elections?

The US-Russia relationship has recently become extremely complicated, to say the least. A central source of contention is Russia’s alleged interference in the US election, which has included possibly collaborating with Wikileaks to hack the Democratic National Committee, and Putin’s embrace of Donald Trump, who has encouraged Russia to get Hillary Clinton’s emails. These actions have no precedent in US electoral history. Furthermore, since the 2009 “reset”, Russia has taken Crimea, which transformed its relationship with the US and the West in general. There is no returning to the old “reset” anymore.

Russia’s aggression is a concern not only for the US but for NATO, especially as Russia contemplates invading other Eastern European states. No one wants a new Cold War. Everyone in America who can remember the first Cold War is wary of revived tensions. But no one wants Russia to pursue its current course of aggression either. The US will likely have a very tense relationship with Russia in the years to come, which will require serious diplomatic effort on Clinton’s part. Who she picks for Secretary of State and other key positions, should she win, will be critical to making US diplomatic policy effective and avoiding more serious conflict.

“Reset policy” is the main concern for countries from Central and Eastern Europe such as Poland. Should Poland worry about New “reset” policy?  Is there some way for Poland to stop – just in case – such attempts by American authorities in the nearest future?

Right now, Poland’s biggest concern should be a Trump win, since Trump has openly stated he would support the US withdrawing from NATO and would do nothing to stop Russian invasion of Eastern European states. Trump advisors such as Paul Manafort have intervened in other Eastern European states, including Ukraine, and Trump has been praising Putin excessively for years. Trump is unlikely to care if Russia invades Poland. He will probably cheer it on.

If Clinton is elected, she will likely continue the standard US policy toward Eastern Europe and Russia, which includes participation in NATO and a commitment to protecting NATO members like Poland from Russian aggression. It is unclear, given the repercussions of Russia’s possible involvement in the US election, how or whether a Clinton administration will continue to collaborate with Russia in other international ventures. But you can basically consider the Russian “reset” over. While Clinton has defended the “reset” as a success before, it is very difficult to claim that the “reset” policy was effective given Russia’s actions over the past few years.

The Obama administration is pursuing active policy towards NATO (and strengthening NATO Eastern flank). Would active Washington’s role within NATO be the best guarantee in order to avoid new “reset policy” towards Russia?

Like I said, the US under Clinton would likely maintain a strong commitment to NATO and to NATO’s mission of helping its Eastern European member states. The US relationship with Russia has substantially worsened over the past two years – and particularly over the past two months – and Clinton will need to repair this relationship while also not allowing Russia to pursue aggressive policies against neighboring foreign states. This will be very difficult for her administration to accomplish. But at this point, the US’s commitment to NATO is strong and would remain strong under a Clinton administration as well.

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On Clinton Derangement Syndrome

In which I try to explain to a European audience this unique pathology affecting Americans:

The answer is often axiomatic. People hate Hillary Clinton because people hate Hillary Clinton. This instinctive, matter-of-fact hatred is known in America as Clinton Derangement Syndrome. When possessed, the victim sees Hillary Clinton as a woman of unimaginable power. Her most amazing trick is the ability to eliminate men from American history. For example:

  • Did the US go to war in Iraq because of George W. Bush and his team of neoconservative advisors? No, it was because Senator Hillary Clinton voted for it.
  • Do we have mass incarceration for black Americans because Bill Clinton, backed by bipartisan leadership and widespread public support, instated a crime bill in 1994 that had horrific repercussions? No, it was becauseHillary was First Lady,and gave a speech supporting it (as did Bernie Sanders and many other liberal politicians).
  • Is the recent rise of authoritarianism and terrorism the result of complex worldwide geopolitical problems that now fall to John Kerry, current Secretary of State – along with many others – to solve? No. Hillary Clinton,who left her office as Secretary of State in 2013, and only Hillary,is causing these problems.

These allegations, echoed widely as Clinton campaigned against Trump and Sanders, are the Clinton Derangement Syndrome in action.

Read the full article at De Correspondent

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Another horrifying day in the US election. My latest on Trump’s assassination threats for Globe and Mail:

“By the way, and if she gets the pick – if she gets the pick of her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” he said at a rally, discussing the ability of the president to appoint members of the U.S. Supreme Court. “Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

“The Second Amendment people” refers to America’s gun fanatics, many of whom have appeared at Trump rallies screaming “lock her up,” “burn the witch” and other chants. The rhetoric at Trump rallies is so vicious and misogynistic that one featured a 10-year-old boy yelling “take that bitch down” as his mother stood by approvingly. (This incident would have dominated coverage had Mr. Trump not feuded with a baby at the same rally.)

Was Mr. Trump, as he now says, merely calling on the electoral power of this group? No. Was his hint for an assassination a joke? No. Moreover, does it matter? How do you joke about the assassination of your rival – or of any politician?

His comments are unprecedented in U.S. history – a history littered with political corpses. Mr. Trump was 17 in 1963 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, 22 in 1968 when JFK’s brother Robert and Dr. Martin Luther King were assassinated, and 34 in 1981 when then-president Ronald Reagan was shot. These were the formative political events of Mr. Trump’s baby boomer generation. They were moments of collective national agony. They are never recounted in jest.

Mr. Trump’s comments are so beyond the pale that they have prompted, yet again, speculation that he is trying to get himself thrown out of the race. This is too charitable an interpretation. His comments are in line with a campaign that has always been a test of his fans’ limits and loyalty, of how much tolerance Americans have for bigotry and threats, and how much power Mr. Trump can wield over his base.

If someone assassinates Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump will abdicate all responsibility – but he will luxuriate in his own might. It is adoration he wants, and revenge he seeks as his beloved poll numbers fall. Though he runs as the candidate of “law and order,” he has repeatedly called for chaos, at one point in 2014 proclaiming that “total hell,” “disaster” and “riots” were necessary to make America great again. His loyalty is not to his country, but to how much influence he can hold, regardless who suffers – or who dies.

Read the whole thing here

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If Trump loses, who follows?

My latest for Quartz is a sequel of sorts to my Foreign Policy piece (see below) on the repercussions of a Trump loss, and how his campaign has mainstreamed extremism:

Donald Trump’s erratic behavior over the past week has led to speculation that he is purposefully trying to sabotage his own campaign.

Since Aug. 2, Trump has feuded with a baby, repeatedly insulted the Muslim parents of a deceased veteran, claimed he “always wanted a Purple Heart,” insisted the election will be “rigged,” reignited past campaign controversies like his mockery of a disabled reporter and his comments over Megan Kelly’s menstrual cycle, falsely claimed he was given state secrets about Iran and then announced those “secrets” to the public, and inspired several Republicans to endorse Hillary Clinton.

This is clearly not a winning strategy. But there is no reason to believe Trump is purposefully trying to lose. In January, Trump boasted that he “could stand in the middle of [New York City’s] 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”  There is no reason to believe Trump is purposefully trying to lose. What he is doing now is merely the rhetorical equivalent. Trump’s current behavior should concern Americans–not simply because of the hatred and intolerance his campaign has normalized, but because the leaders who might inherit Trump’s voter base could be even worse.

Find out what will happen next at Quartz

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Lots of new articles on the election apocalypse

I’ve been a little lazy about updating this website, which I use mostly to let readers know what I’ve written recently. Lately I’ve written a lot! Here’s everything since the last update:

The Democrats’ America on display: flawed but not fatalistic — Globe and Mail — 7/26/16

How Trump punked American by manipulating our obsession with useless polls — Quartz — 7/28/16

How nostalgia blinds Trump to the reality of working-class America — De Correspondent — 7/28/16

Donald claims he was sarcastic about Russia — no one’s buying it — Blue Nation Review — 7/28/16

Welcome to Donald Trump’s America — Foreign Policy — 8/3/16

Back to work!


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American political dysfunction: a guide for Europeans

Happy to announce I’m going to be covering the US election and other social and political issues for De Correspondent, a Dutch news outlet that broke a record in crowdfunding when it launched as an initiative to support independent journalism. Prior to returning to journalism, I was an anthropologist studying political dictatorships in Central Asia and explaining them to American audiences. Now, thanks to Donald Trump, I am explaining American authoritarianism to Europeans.

My introductory piece covers the economic and political crises that led us into our current chaos, with a focus on what the last eight years have done to the American heartland. My second piece is on the long history of police brutality against black Americans, touching on Ferguson and the recent state-sanctioned murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. An excerpt:

In the aftermath of the police shootings of black citizens, prominent Americans call for a “conversation on race”, but that call is often made with euphemisms. Politicians speak of the killings as “officer-related incidents”, a term so vague it could refer to any encounter with the law. Police departments issue statements saying “shots were fired”, as if shots materialized in thin air, and were not fired by an officer into the body of a black man who died. To state the truth plainly – “American police officers can shoot black men to death for no reason and face no punishment” – is to provoke empathy for the victims, and to recognize the officer who did the fatal shooting for what he is: a state-sanctioned executioner.

No American wants to feel that those who are supposed to serve and protect us are legally sanctioned to kill us. The difference is that for non-black Americans, noting the possible brutality of law enforcement is a matter of choice, whereas for black Americans, it is a matter of survival. Non-black Americans have the option of avoiding the topic, while black Americans must have “the talk” with their children: lessons passed down through generations on how to survive encounters with police. The disjuncture between black and non-black America that Douglass noted in his speech continues to this day. It persists because of the refusal of non-black Americans to see targeted brutality toward black Americans as a shared problem, one which they are complicit in through their refusal to listen or to believe firsthand accounts of abuse.

Read them here

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America’s growth industry is rage

I’m covering the GOP convention for the Globe and Mail and another outlet, so expect a sequel to this horror story later this month. On last night’s “Make America Work Again” fiasco:

On July 19, 2016, Donald Trump was formally nominated as the Republican candidate for president of the United States. It was a moment that would live in infamy, if infamy, in 2016, weren’t fully booked.

Mr. Trump did not appear in person at his Cleveland coronation, a night his team had christened “Make America Work Again.” Skyping in briefly to inquire if the audience was having fun – which, judging by the sparsely filled room and delegate in-fighting, they were not – he disappeared, leaving the discussion of the U.S. economy to a lineup consisting largely of Trump business employees, a Trump reality show contestant, Mr. Trump’s rejected VP picks, and Mr. Trump’s children.

Mr. Trump’s lack of interest in his own party may foreshadow his style of governing: leave the real work to lackeys and heirs while soaking up the glory from a distance. The second convention night was about Mr. Trump, the brand, but rarely about Mr. Trump, the political leader – and it was certainly not about “making America work again” or how Mr. Trump would make that happen.

During the primaries, Mr. Trump triumphed by capitalizing on and conveying how the post-recession U.S. economy feels to the average U.S. worker: the pain of losing middle-class stability, and the fury that this loss is glossed over with proclamations of “recovery” and misleading statistics of low unemployment. Mr. Trump channelled his supporters’ economic frustration into bigoted attacks on undeserving targets – in particular, immigrants – but the despair he tapped into was real.

That understanding of America’s economic crisis was absent at the GOP convention, replaced by a mixture of platitudes and partisan fury. If Mr. Trump’s America has a growth industry, it is rage.

Read the whole thing at the Globe and Mail

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Police brutality, caught on tape

My latest for the Globe and Mail is on the murder of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police:

In 1991, when video was released of Rodney King being beaten by Los Angeles police officers, Alton Sterling of Louisiana was 12 years old. Philando Castile of Minnesota was seven.

The King video was supposed to provide irrefutable evidence of what black Los Angeles residents had been describing for decades: systematic, racist police brutality. Now, many assumed, the violence black Americans had long endured from police would not be denied. Now, finally, officers would have to face legal repercussions.

But instead, the officers who abused Mr. King walked free. And today, videos of Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile being killed by police officers circulate online, joining videos of police officers killing Laquan McDonald of Chicago, Walter Scott of North Carolina, and Eric Garner of New York, among others.

The legacy of the Rodney King video was not justice, but sequels.

Mr. Sterling died at 37. Mr. Castile died days before his 33rd birthday. They left behind children, parents, and friends. They were men who loved and were loved. Today their loved ones, in the midst of grief, are tasked with not only proving these men’s innocence, but vouching for their basic humanity. Advocates of Sterling and Castile will fight to put the officers who killed Sterling and Castile on trial, knowing Sterling and Castile were on trial their whole lives in the court of public opinion. Their very existence as black men is considered, in the eyes of many Americans, evidence of their guilt.

Read the whole thing at the Globe and Mail

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