Mar-a-Lago Goes to Warsaw

It’s easy to mock Donald Trump, because almost everything he says and does is worthy of nothing but mockery.  But just because it’s easy doesn’t mean you ought to stop doing it.   Yesterday Trump attempted to re-cast himself as a 21st century incarnation of Ronald Reagan,  in a paranoid and utterly reactionary speech that reached deep into the dark and tragic history of Poland as a metaphor for our dark and dysfunctional present.

Only a few days ago attacked Trump attacked MSNBC co-host Mika Brzezinski by informing the world that he had turned her away from his Mar-a-Lago freakshow paradise because ‘ she was bleeding badly from a face-lift.’  Brzezinski is the daughter of Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s former secretary of state, who died in May, and whose Polish roots shaped his own evolution into the hawkish Cold War warrior who set the Afghan ‘Bear Trap’ to ensnare the Soviets back in 1979 by funding the Afghan jihad.

Yesterday Trump’s speechwriter filled his mouth with sonorous words words like ‘soul’, ‘ bled’, ‘spirit’, ‘heroism’,  ‘freedom’, and above all ‘civilisation’,  that were clearly designed to make the hearts of Polish nationalists beat faster.  The Emperor of Mar-a-Lago even had the nerve to invite veterans of the Warsaw Uprising to join him on stage, as he told his audience that Poland’s national survival was not just due to the Polish spirit, but also to God, and that this ‘message’ is equally appropriate today since ‘ The people of Poland, the people of America, and the people of Europe still cry out “We want God”.’

Why do we want God?   Because communism has been ‘vanquished by another oppressive ideology — one that seeks to export terrorism and extremism all around the globe.’ We have heard this before, but now we have a president who God favours as much as He once favoured Poland, since:

‘During a historic gathering in Saudi Arabia, I called on the leaders of more than 50 Muslim nations to join together to drive out this menace which threatens all of humanity. We must stand united against these shared enemies to strip them of their territory and their funding, and their networks, and any form of ideological support that they may have.’

This is the same Saudi Arabia that produced most of the 9/11 attackers, that is currently bombing Yemen to starvation, that is intent on promoting and unleashing all-out sectarian war across the Middle East and beyond, and which has just bought $100 billion worth of weapons from Trump’s son-in-law for this purpose.

Such allies are nevertheless essential when faced with really bad states like Russia, who Trump urged ‘ to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes — including Syria and Iran — and to instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself.’

Having referenced the Russian Bear to rouse Polish hearts, Trump drew another lesson from Polish history, warning of another threat to civilisation that ‘is invisible but familiar to the Poles: the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people. The West became great not because of paperwork and regulations but because people were allowed to chase their dreams and pursue their destinies.’

So that was why Jews rose up in the Warsaw Ghetto.  That was why the Polish Home Army rose up against the Nazis, why Solidarity went on strike at Gdansk – it was all part of the endless struggle against the ‘paperwork and regulations’ that impede the one percent and Donald Trump’s pursuit of limitless wealth.  In the magic world of Mar-a-Lago land however, Islamic State, paperwork, Iran and Russia are all part of the same Godless anti-civilisational forces ‘ whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.

What makes us what we are, according to Trump?

‘We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers. We reward brilliance. We strive for excellence, and cherish inspiring works of art that honor God. We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression.’

It’s striking how, like Anders Breivik and so many white nationalists, classical music becomes some kind of exemplar of ‘Western’ civilisation against the barbarian hordes, even for those who never listen to it.   Can you imagine Trump, lying on a gilded sofa listening to Mahler as he meditates on our ‘timeless traditions and customs’?

Me neither.  If Trump’s reference to those ‘brand-new frontiers’ means that imperial conquest and domination, genocide, slavery, and forced depopulation are hallmarks of the outward march of Western civilisation, then he is right, but it shouldn’t be something to boast about. Trump is the living proof that ‘we’ do not always reward brilliance, and that even the trashiest manifestations of inherited wealth can rise to the top in a dysfunctional political system warped by power and money.   As for those ‘inspiring works of art that honor God’, has this bleached loon turned into Philip II of Spain now?

And then there is this priceless gem:

‘ We empower women as pillars of our society and of our success. We put faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, at the center of our lives. And we debate everything. We challenge everything. We seek to know everything so that we can better know ourselves.’

I’m sorry. But we’re talking about a man who once called his own daughter ‘ a piece of ass’ and who once said of an object of his affections ‘I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phoney tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.’

Yesterday that man told Poland and the world: ‘ The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?’

There are other ‘fundamental questions’ that are not raised here, such as the threat of climate change to our common survival as a species, let alone as a civilisation – a threat that Trump has intensified through his fanatical and ignorant opposition to even the most tentative attempts to mitigate it.   Others may argue that Trump himself is the symptom of a political disease that threatens our collective freedom and the future of democracy.

And take note of that promise to defend ‘our’ values ‘at any cost’ – words that could not be more chilling coming from this vainglorious, arrogant dolt, especially given the mayhem that has already been unleashed by his supposedly more sophisticated predecessors in defense of those values.  In equating ‘respect for our citizens’ with the desire to ‘protect our borders’, Trump was aligning his ‘Muslim ban’ with Poland’s refusal to allow Muslim refugees into the country – both of which breach the international responsibility to protect refugees that until recently was considered a hallmark of civilisational advancement.

In a final tilt to the Law and Justice Party, Trump warned that ‘ We can have the largest economies and the most lethal weapons anywhere on Earth, but if we do not have strong families and strong values, then we will be weak and we will not survive. So, together, let us all fight like the Poles — for family, for freedom, for country, and for God.’

So Poland has become the world, and the world has become Poland, and this reactionary, manipulative and warmongering call to arms is further evidence that the Emperor of Mar-a-Lago land deserves our collective contempt as much as he ever did.

 

Bombs and Chocolate

For liberals who saw last week’s missile strikes in Syria as a belated but welcome act of humanitarianism, Donald Trump was always going to be an awkward president to share the moral high ground with.   One minute he might be talking about beautiful babies and the children of God, but then he gives interviews with a Fox News ‘journalist’ named Maria Bartiromo, which contains sequences like this:

BARTIROMO:   You redirected navy ships to go toward the Korean Peninsula. What we are doing right now in terms of North Korea?

TRUMP:  You never know, do you? You never know. I don’t want to talk about it.  We are sending an armada, very powerful.  We have submarines, very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier, that I can tell you. And we have the best military people on Earth.  And I will say this.  He [Kim Jong Un] is doing the wrong thing.  He is doing the wrong thing.

BARTIROMO:  Do you…

TRUMP:  He’s making a big mistake.

BARTIROMO:  — do you think he’s mentally fit?

An interesting question, particularly when directed at Trump, who remains enigmatic and replies:

I don’t know.  I don’t know.  I don’t know him.  But he’s doing the wrong thing

This doesn’t actually answer the question of ‘what we are doing right now’ in North Korea, but the bragging about the power of American weapons and the barely-concealed threat in these observations ought to be as alarming as North Korea’s equally deranged and reckless nuclear diplomacy.   Things do not get any better when Trump and his interviewer turn their attention to  the bombing of Syria that thrilled so many liberal hearts:

BARTIROMO:  When you were with the president of China, you’re launching these military strikes.

TRUMP:  Yes.

BARTIROMO:  Was that planned? How did that come about that it’s happening right then, because right there, you’re saying a reminder, here’s who the superpower in the world is, right?

This is the kind of question that gives journalists a bad name.  In Bartiromo’s world,  it’s perfectly normal and acceptable for a US president to order military strikes over dinner in order to remind a foreign head of state ‘who the superpower in the world is’.  And Trump is as excited as she is:

TRUMP:  You have no idea how many people want to hear the answer to this.  I have had — I have watched speculation for three days now on what that was like (INAUDIBLE).

BARTIROMO:  When did you tell him?

TRUMP:  But I’ll tell you (INAUDIBLE)…

BARTIROMO:  Before dessert or what?

Another crucial question, which gets the following astonishing answer:

TRUMP:  But I will tell you, only because you’ve treated me so good for so long, I have to (INAUDIBLE) right?  I was sitting at the table.  We had finished dinner.  We’re now having dessert.  And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen and President Xi was enjoying it.  And I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded, what do you do?  And we made a determination to do it, so the missiles were on the way.  And I said, Mr. President, let me explain something to you.  This was during dessert. We’ve just fired 59 missiles, all of which hit, by the way, unbelievable, from, you know, hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing.

So it turns out that the man who expressed the will of the ‘international community’; who finally stood up to evil after all these years of Obamesque caution and vacillation; who bombed Syria because he couldn’t stand the sight of dead babies, is also a man who boasts of firing missiles while eating ‘the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen.’   And when he does so, he does it with the approval of a ‘journalist’ who can only shake her head in admiration and say:

Unmanned?  Brilliant.

That ‘brilliant’ is a darkly hilarious counterpoint to Trump’s troglodyte braggadocio. Bartiromo is clearly still stuck in the low-tech world  where US pilots strapped themselves to missiles and waved stetson hats, which is sooo last century.    Trump, on the other hand, knows that things have moved on.  William Tecumseh Sherman did not love war, even though he waged it harshly.  George Patton thought war was hell but loved it anyway.  Trump just loves it, almost as much as he loves chocolate cake:

TRUMP:  It’s so incredible.  It’s brilliant.  It’s genius.  Our technology, our equipment, is better than anybody by a factor of five.  I mean look, we have, in terms of technology, nobody can even come close to competing.  So what happens is I said we’ve just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq and I wanted you to know this. And he was eating his cake. And he was silent.

Even the unctuous Bartiromo has noticed that these weapons were not fired at Iraq, and feels the need to point this out to the president:

BARTIROMO:  (INAUDIBLE) to Syria?

TRUMP:  Yes. Heading toward Syria. In other words, we’ve just launched 59 missiles heading toward Syria.  And I want you to know that, because I didn’t want him to go home.  We were almost finished.  It was a full day in Palm Beach.  We’re almost finished and I —what does he do, finish his dessert and go home and then they say, you know, the guy you just had dinner with just attacked a country?

Let no one say that Trump doesn’t understand strategy or diplomacy.  Just because he won’t shake Angela Merkel’s hand doesn’t mean he is going to eat dessert with the Chinese premier and not tell him that he’s, like, attacked a country.

Several possibilities come to mind while considering these astounding words.  Clearly Trump is a moral imbecile, who is too stupid to consider that juxtaposing making war and eating chocolate cake and dessert might be considered inappropriate, and perhaps just a little flippant, shallow and lacking in presidential gravitas.  It’s also possible that war actually is a trivial activity for Trump, of no more importance and significance than eating chocolate cake, in which case he is probably a deranged psychopath who ought to struggle even to get a firearms license – let alone run the world’s only superpower.

But whatever the glaring defects in Trump’s monstrous personality, his psychopathic behaviour is also a systemic consequence of American militarism.   It’s the same unlimited global military power that enabled Ronald Reagan to order the bombing of Tripoli on no evidence.  It’s why Bill Clinton could fire missiles at a Sudan medical facility while he was being investigated for having weird sex with an intern, and why George Bush could invade Iraq on the basis of lies and fabrications.  It’s why Hilary Clinton could giggle ‘ we came, we saw, he died’ following the extrajudicial execution of Gaddafi.  And it’s also why the former community leader Barack Obama could sign off on a weekly kill list during his ‘Terror Tuesday’ meetings.

They did this because they could.  Because America has a unique ‘right’ and the ability to fire missiles and bombs at any country or target anywhere in the world for whatever reason.  Trump – despite his previous aversion to gratuitous military adventures during his campaign – has now taken up this role with a dangerous gusto and a total lack of understanding of the world he is operating in or the potential consequences of his actions.

Domestic political considerations partly explain this volte face, but Trump’s childlike enthusiasm for all things military also exhibits alarming signs of megalomania that are more commonly associated with Kim Jong Un, with their references to ‘my military’ and ‘my generals’, and his glassy-eyed worship of America’s powers of destruction.

Following last week’s MOAB bomb strike on Afghanistan, Trump was quick to suggest that he was responsible for it, bragging ‘Everybody knows exactly what happened. What I do is I authorize my military.  We have the greatest military in the world and they’ve done a job as usual. So we have given them total authorization.’

Trump’s choice of wording hinted that he had given the order to drop the largest non-nuclear bomb in history, even though one of ‘his’ generals has since said that the decision was taken without consultation with the White House.   Either way, the satisfaction that Trump has taken from it is not an encouraging sign, for those who would rather not see this crazed clown stagger into World War III with Boris Johnson’s head sticking out of his pocket like a pet gonk.

Because it is impossible to believe that the US would drop a 21,000-bomb simply to eliminate some 30-odd Islamic State terrorists.  To do such a thing would be such an incredibly disproportionate concentration of resources that one could only conclude that Trump and ‘his’ generals have lost the plot.

It is far more likely that the MOAB is a message aimed at America’s other ‘adversaries’, including North Korea and Iran.   That is the only thing about the use of this horrendous weapon that makes any sense, insofar as there is anything sensible about Donald Trump, and this possibility really ought to give some pause to those who believe that a man who conflates bombing with eating chocolate cake is the great moral hope of a new international order.

 

Trump Goes Robocop

There’s a certain kind of liberal/left commentator that – to paraphrase Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now –  just loves the sight of missiles in the morning.  For some they smell like humanitarianism.  For others they smell like meaningful action.  Or ‘doing something’.  Mostly they have the allure of American power – an aroma that is just irresistible for a certain kind of establishment pundit.

For these commentators American power is always power used for righteous ends.  In a world of cruelty and violence, of civil wars and state collapse and fragmentation, where ‘rogue states’ defy the will of the ‘international community’ and dictators slaughter ‘their own people’ with impunity, these pundits cry out for the world’s only military superpower to use its high-tech weaponry in the interests of universal justice and bring chaos and  disorder with the kind of order only Robocop can deliver.

Trapped like flies in aspic in careers that revolve around restaurants, cafes and tv studios in the capital cities of a declining Western world that seems increasingly unable to assert its will over anything at all, their consciences cry out against the spectacle of murder – some murders anyway – being transmitted daily on television and social media platforms.  They demand action.    And action can only mean one thing – that America blasts the forces of evil in the name of goodness and justice.

No amount of disasters can ever diminish this yearning.  When countries that were supposed to be saved by US power fall to pieces, these outcomes are either ignored, or else they intensify the intensify the hope that the next intervention will be the one the others should have been.

Without that belief in the essential goodness in American military power, it’s impossible to understand the incredible speed with which a man who less than a week ago was regarded as an ongoing calamity and a disgrace to the presidency by many of these same pundits,  has now become a figure worthy of respect and admiration, simply because he ordered 59 tomahawk missiles to be fired at a Syrian military airfield.

Overnight Trump’s defects were swept aside by the swooshing of missiles from aircraft carriers, and his orange hair acquired something like a halo from the bright blaze of burning rocket fuel as he sat having dinner at Mar-a-lago with Melania and the Chinese president.  As a result of the bombings ‘Donald Trump became president of the United States’, according to Fareed Zakaria, while MSNBC’s Brian Williams insulted Leonard Cohen by quoting from a satirical song and gushing that he was ‘guided by the beauty of our weapons’.

He wasn’t the only one.   Over here Labour MPs – including many of those who had abstained from last year’s vote calling for an international investigation into alleged Saudi Arabian war crimes in Yemen – praised Trump and criticized Corbyn for condemning the strikes in Syria.    And Tim Farron also praised the strikes, saying that they were a ‘proportional’ response to attacks on civilians  with ‘weapons that have been outlawed by the international community for their horrific and indiscriminate consequences.’

These weapons were also outlawed when Iraq used mustard gas and sarin against Iranian soldiers and civilians, with the complicity of the same country which is now enforcing the will of the ‘international community’ – without the authorisation of the international community.  And as was only to be expected, the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland applauded the fact that ‘sometimes the right thing can be done by the wrong person.

Freedland, as always, has his reservations about the US wars that he invariably supports. He tells us that he doesn’t ‘trust’ Trump, just as he ‘didn’t trust’ Bush and Cheney.  God knows what Freedland would be like if an American war was waged by a president he did trust.   On this occasion however, he can only wonder ‘if the 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles that rained down on the Shayrat base in the early hours of Friday morning were a one-off or the start of something more.’

What would that ‘something more’ consist of?   All-out bombing of Syria?  Ground troops?   War with Russia and Iran?  Freedland doesn’t say.   He’s just happy that someone is doing something, even though he does acknowledge that there is a legal question. Trump acted alone; he did not have UN authorisation or even try to get it. Which means he might have been breaking international law in order to enforce international law. ‘

Some of these commentators, like Freedland, have noted the speed of Trump’s transformation, from non-interventionist president to righteous American bomber, and have attributed it to a kind of better-late-than-never humanitarianism.  The New York Times described Trump’s U-turn as ‘an emotional act by a man suddenly aware that the world’s problems were now his.’

The idea that a man who refuses even to allow Syrian refugees into the US is so moved by the sight of ‘beautiful babies’ killed by chemical weapons is a pleasant fairy tale to tell to three-year-olds, but it is not the most convincing explanation for Trump’s Damascene conversion to military action.   The bombings might be the work of ‘Mad Dog’ Mathis, or Trump’s plummeting domestic ratings, or the impending investigation into Russian interference with the election campaign.

Fortune magazine noted that the Syria attacks ‘lit up’ the Dow Jones stock for ‘defense’ companies, particularly Raytheon, which makes Tomahawk missiles.  It’s probably only a coincidence that Trump owns shares in Raytheon, and would therefore have profited financially as well as politically from the strikes he ordered, but it’s nevertheless one worth noting.

Whatever his motivations,Trump has now discovered – like many American presidents before him – that bombing will always work in your favour no matter who you are or what the consequences may be.  That does not bode well, because the consequences of what Trump has done are potentially very serious indeed: war with Syria, and also with Iran and Russia – or whoever else crosses Trump’s red lines.

All this is ok, according to Fareed Zakaria, because ‘President Trump recognized that the president of the United States does have to act to enforce international norms.   For the first time really as president, he talked about international norms, international rules, about America’s role in enforcing justice in the world.’

This ‘role’ essentially consists of a carte blanche for the US to project military power anywhere in the world.  Such wars invariable evoke universal principles, international laws and ‘red lines’, but in practice they are almost always used selectively, against specific states considered to be enemies of the US or obstacles to American/ Western geopolitical objectives.  

The response to Trump’s bombings makes it clear that too many influential people across the political spectrum have no problem with that whatsoever,  and their rapturous applause makes it likely that we will see a lot more missiles fired in the future by the one state that – regardless of the quality of its president – always has the right to fire them wherever it wants to.

 

Reflections on the Bowling Green Massacre

As some readers of this blog will know, for the last four months I’ve been heavily involved in the One Day Without Us campaign,  which came to an end last Monday.  For much of this time my normal life has been on hold and pretty much everything has revolved around the campaign.  This has meant that I haven’t had time for a lot of things, including blogging.  This is a pity, because a lot of things have happened since the campaign first started last October that I would like to have written about. Take the Bowling Green Massacre, which Donald Trump’s disturbingly spooky amanuensis Kellyanne Conway referred to on Feb 2 as a justification for her boss’s ‘Muslim ban.’ Now some of you might argue that I needn’t regret not commenting on something that never happened, and that there isn’t that anyone can say about a non-existent massacre except that the person who referred to it is either a liar or an idiot.

Nevertheless I can’t help thinking that the Bowling Green massacre is more significant than it might appear, and that it represents a new cultural/political threshold.   It isn’t just the fact that Donald Trump and his entourage are liars and fantasists.  That isn’t entirely the novelty it seems to be.  When we talk about our supposedly new era of ‘post-truth’ politics we forget that it wasn’t that long ago when George Bush – aided and abetted by our own prime minister – ignited a war on the basis of ‘smoking guns’ that never existed in order to prevent imminent attacks that were never going to happen and that he and his entourage knew were never going to happen.

So we shouldn’t get too nostalgic for some imaginary good old days when presidents and their counsellors told the truth and the statements they made were submitted to careful rigorous scrutiny.    Nevertheless the Bowling Green massacre is a sign of different times, or perhaps it’s a symptom of a disease that’s simply got worse and worse over the last sixteen years.

After all, even Bush and Blair had to ‘prove’ their case to the public – even if the proof was mostly fabricated, imagined and invented.   But now Trump and his team can tell the most bare-faced idiotic lies repeatedly – virtually on a daily basis – and refer to things that have never happened,  without the need to prove anything or come up with evidence or defend themselves and apologise when they are caught out.

We are in new territory when Trump can say that the White House Mall was packed, even when photographs show that it wasn’t; when Kellyanne Conway can describe his lies as ‘alternative facts’ as if there were some other kind of facts that are as valid as the actual facts; when she can refer to a massacre that never happened and her boss can refer to what happened last night in Sweden even when nothing happened last night in Sweden.

It’s tempting to conclude that these people are merely passing idiots who can be safely laughed at, but that would be a little too comforting.  Trump might not be an intellectual giant but he knows his base.  His lies are not aimed at people who think and assess things carefully before deciding whether they agree or disagree with them.  They are aimed at people who agree with him whatever he says.

Most importantly they are aimed at people who feel the same kind of feelings that he feels; who believe that even if the Bowling Green massacre didn’t happen, it could have happened; that something must have happened in Sweden and that anyone who says otherwise or says anything the president doesn’t like is merely ‘covering up’ or disseminating ‘fake news.’

In this sense, we have entered new territory. The conspiratorial far-right fringe has gone mainstream and emotions are more powerful than thoughts – as long as they are the feelings of rage, hatred, fear, self-pitying victimhood, resentment and bitterness that Trump played upon during his campaign and which brought him to power.

These are the emotions that he continues to reach for every time he lies.  Politically speaking, these are dangerous emotions to play with.  In his great 1995 essay on ‘Ur-Fascism‘ Umberto Eco lists ‘irrationalism’ as one of the recurring intellectual characteristics of fascism.

For Eco, irrationalism is characterised by ‘ the cult of action for action’s sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.  Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes.’This is the world of the Bowling Green massacre, and this is the audience that Trump’s lies are aimed at – people who are averse to critical thinking and regard the whole concept of critical analysis as some kind of elite liberal project.   That doesn’t mean that Trumpism is fascism – yet – but his unlikely rise to power suggests that we have entered a cultural and political environment in which some kind of 21st century fascism is possible.

So it’s no good simply ridiculing Trump, Conway or the other liars in his team.  Nor is it enough to simply call them liars.   To counter them requires more than facts or arguments. It requires politicians and political movements capable of arousing and appealing to different emotions and beliefs, based around a different notion of the common good than the malignant and sinister dystopia that is unfolding in front of our eyes.

So far the ‘left’ – in the broadest sense of the word – has failed to do this.   And that is one reason why it is being persistently defeated by demagogues and frauds like Trump who are able to fly with no moral or intellectual compass,  and have no compunction about referring to massacres that never happened because they know that their intended audience doesn’t actually care if they did or not.