Archive | February 12th, 2020

About Last Week – and the Accelerated Drives to Extinction and Fascism

by PAUL STREET

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

If, as some observers worry, the United States is undergoing an accelerated transition to full authoritarian class rule in the Donald Trump years, then the events of last week may be considered critical by later historians permitted to chronicle what happened.

Another Democratic Gift to “the Most Dangerous Criminal in History”

On Wednesday, the mock mistrial of the demented fascist oligarch Trump came to its foreordained conclusion. As Noam Chomsky says in a recent interview, the Senate “trial” was an “exhibition of pure farce.” The president was falsely “exonerated” for committing a clear criminal abuse of power. The stay-in-office verdict came courtesy of the totally Trumpified white-nationalist (neofascist) party in the U.S. Senate. The instantly demonized Mitt Romney was the only Republican Senator to vote in accord with Democratic House evidence showing that Trump set the Founding Fathers’ wigs on fire by trying to trade U.S. military assistance and a White House visit to Ukraine’s newly elected president Volodomyr Zelensky in return for Zelensky agreeing to hold a press conference announcing a corruption inquiry into Sleepy Joe Biden and his creepy son.

As many left critics, myself included, have argued, UkraineGate is far from the worst of the demented fascist oligarch Trump’s many offenses – try concentration camps on the southern border and the acceleration of capitalogenic global warming (the second is merely the worst crime in human history). “The impeachment effort,” Chomsky notes, was “another gift by the Democrats to Trump, much as the Mueller affair was.” It was also a great act of avoidance, reflecting the narrow priorities of ruling-class politicians. Chomsky’s comments merit lengthy quotation and sober reflection:

“Are the [UkraineGate] crimes discussed a basis for impeachment. Seems so to me. Has Trump vastly more serious crimes? That is hardly debatable. What might be debatable is whether he is indeed the most dangerous criminal in history (which happens to be my personal view). Hitler had been perhaps the leading candidate for this honor. His goal was to rid the German-run world of Jews, Roma, homosexuals and other ‘deviants,’ along with tens of millions of Slav ‘Untermenschen.’ But Hitler was dedicated with fervor to destroying the prospects of organized human life on Earth in the not-distant future (along with millions of other species…The list of Trump’s crimes is immense, but none merit a nod in the impeachment proceedings. Trump is. And those who think he doesn’t know what he’s doing haven’t been looking closely.”

“…. Trump’s war on organized life on Earth is only the barest beginning. More narrowly, in recent days, the Chosen One has issued executive orders ridding the country of the plague of regulations that protect children from mercury poisoning and preserve the country’s water supplies and lands, along with other impediments to further enrichment of Trump’s primary constituency, extreme wealth and corporate power.”

“On the side, he has been casually proceeding to dismantle the last vestiges of the arms control regime that has provided some limited degree of security from terminal nuclear war, eliciting cheers from the military industry. And as we have just learned, the great pacifist who is committed to end interventions “dropped more bombs and other munitions in Afghanistan last year than any other year since documentation began in 2006, Air Force data shows. He is also ramping up his acts of war — which is what they are — against Iran. I won’t even go into his giving Israel what the Israeli press calls “a gift to the right,” formally giving the back of his imperial hand to international law, the World Court, the UN Security Council and overwhelming international opinion, while shoring up the Evangelical vote for the 2020 election. The prerogative of supreme power.”

“In brief, the list of Trump’s crimes is immense, not least the worst crime in human history. But none merit a nod in the impeachment proceedings. This is hardly a novelty; rather the norm. The current proceedings are often compared with Watergate. Nixon’s hideous crimes were eliminated from the charges against him despite the efforts of Rep. Robert Frederick Drinan and a few others. The Nixon impeachment charges focused on his illegal acts to harm Democrats.”

“Any resemblance to the farce that is now winding up? Does it suggest some insight into what motivates the powerful?”

There’s nothing noble or virtuous about the imperial New Cold War agenda shared by top Democrats. “Since Trump came to office three years ago,” the World Socialist Website (WSWS) notes, “Democrats have worked to channel mass opposition to his fascistic administration behind their own conflicts with Trump, centered on issues of foreign policy. This has culminated in the impeachment drive, which is focused on Trump’s decision to delay military aid to Ukraine in its proxy war with Russia” – a war that carries no small risks of escalation.

Chomsky might have added that Trump has recently acted to slash Food Stamps for 700,000 needy Americans, been upheld by his right-wing Supreme Court in his effort to deny public benefits to untold masses of immigrants, and now released a “low-yield” tactical nuclear weapon (the W-672) that promises to significantly escalate chances for nuclear war.

Trump is trying to move the Doomsday Clock right up to and past midnight. If I was religious and Christian, I might seriously consider Trump the Antichrist.

Bold New Open Steps Beyond the Rule of Law

The profound limits of the UkraineGate embarrassment don’t mean that the sham is without dark historical significance beyond its diversionary role. It is worth nothing that that Trump’s party decided (with the single exception of Romney) to make an open mockery of the rule of bourgeois law and to coldly deface the Constitution to which they took an oath. The neofascistic Republicans gave their Dear Leader a pass after absurdly refusing by open vote to hear witnesses and consider new and damning evidence. They did this in accord with openly grotesque “legal” arguments including Trump counsel Alan Dershowitz’s Orwellian notion that the Constitution lets the tyrant Trump do whatever he wants to bring about his re-election. These were bold steps beyond constitutional and legal checks and balances on path to dictatorship.

Mocking Jesus

Trump followed the Senate’s sham trial by going to the annual Christian National Prayer Breakfast last Thursday morning. Historically, the event has claimed to stand for national and bipartisan reconciliation and healing, shared mercy before the Lord. The malignantly narcissistic president had no interest in all that. He used the gathering to boast of his greatness and thrash his enemies. The crime-boss-in-chief held up headlines declaring his “exoneration.” He mocked Jesus’s call for the forgiveness of one’s enemies. Trump called the Democratic House leaders who impeached him “terrible” and “vicious” people. He persisted in his preposterous Big Brother claims that he committed no offenses and that his “treasonous” impeachment was an attempted “coup.”

That was the language of a wannabe dictator, nothing new. Whence Trump’s special love for despots and dictators of various ideological stripes around the world? “The president,” one top national security aide told the senior Trump administration official Anonymous, “sees in these guys what he wishes he had: total power, no term limits, enforced popularity, and the ability to silence critics for good.”

There was no rebellion among the sausage-slurping flock at the National Prayer Breakfast. Of course not: this is the Antichrist the nation’s evangelical Christians have embraced in order to enlist the Supreme Court and the rest of the federal bench in the holy projects of maiming poor pregnant women, advancing female slavery, and slashing social programs for the truly disadvantaged.

Purging the Disloyal (and Insufficiently Enthusiastic)

Then came the predictable beginning of authoritarian payback with the discharge of two key witnesses who testified in the House impeachment inquiry. On Friday, Trump fired Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and had Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman – a top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council – escorted out of his White House job. Vindman’s twin brother, who also worked for the NSC, was also given the perp-walk treatment. Vindman’s attorney released a statement saying the obvious: “LTC Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth. The truth has cost LTC Alexander Vindman his job, his career and his privacy.” The brother had to go too.

The discharge of Sondland, the Vindmans (more will certainly follow) happened just hours after Trump was asked about his press secretary’s declaration that the president’s opponents must “pay a price.”

“Well, you’ll see,” the president told reporters.

But of course. The “purging of the disloyal” – and even just the insufficiently enthusiastic in Sondland’s case – is a central part of the fascist and broadly authoritarian playbook.

The firings were also, by the way, illegal. But so what? As the childish former Black Republican Congresswoman Mia Love explained on CNN two days ago, “the president can do whatever he wants…” The plagiarist-Zionist Professor Dershowitz will be happy to explain.

Twitter and Facebook lit up with anti-Semitic applause from Trump’s fascist fans after the firings. Many Trumpenvolk take special pleasure in the termination of Jews.

Hate of the Union

Equally chilling and more explicitly fascistic was Dear Leader’s State of the Union Address last Tuesday night. Emboldened by the certain preposterous party-line pardon coming the next day, Trump’s right-wing demagoguery brought the annual exercise in presidential bluster and delusional national narcissism to a new low.

Demented Orange railed against the supposed ominous specter of allegedly evil socialism, which he accused of “destroying nations.”

He identified the Democratic Party with the “radical Left,” consistent with fascist-style politicos’ longstanding false conflation of centrist liberals with socialists and communists.

He doubled down on his longstanding Nativism with vicious attacks on immigrants and “sanctuary cities” – and with praise for border officials who have ripped infants from their mothers’ arms, caged children, lethally denied medical care to sick minors, and overseen concentration camps on the US-Mexico border.

Trump denounced women’s right to control their own bodies.

He bragged about expanding the already gigantic U.S. military.

He crowed about the U.S. murder of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani, a monumental war crime that nearly sparked a full-on war with Iran.

He hailed Juan Guaidó, the ridiculous right-wing politician whom the Trump administration has been trying to install as the president of Venezuela in an ongoing imperialist operation.

He announced the granting of a Presidential Medal of Freedom to the far-right talk-radio hate merchant Rush Limbaugh – a racist hog who would love to see Black chattel slavery reinstated in the U.S.

He trumpeted his support for guns, which kill more than 30,000 U.S.-Americans every year.

He openly lied (imagine that) by claiming that his administration is dedicated to maintaining the guarantee of health insurance for people with pre-existing conditions (the opposite is true).

Why So Much Socialism, Then?

Not content merely to smite and smear his liberal, “radical Left,” and brown-skinned immigrant enemies and scapegoats, Trump sought to advance a “positive message” by boasting about the supposedly great state of glorious American capitalism supposedly under his supervision. “In just three short years,” Trump declared, “we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny. We have totally rejected the downsizing,” he said. “We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago and we are never going back.” His favorite indication of national prosperity was of course the booming stock market.

Trump’s economic claims naturally deleted a number of inconvenient facts: tens of millions of Americans stuck in low-paying zero-benefit working poverty employment; the massive statistical under-reporting of real unemployment and workforce participation under the standard inadequate government measures; a weakening pace job- and GDP-growth under Trump compared to the last three years of the Obama administration; the savage unaffordability of health care and higher education for most of the population; ubiquitous crippling credit card and student loan debt; the highest national income and wealth inequality in half a century; the disproportionate ownership of corporate stock by the wealthy class; the slowing of business investment under Trump; the bankrupting of government services by Trump’s massive tax-breaks and other giant subsidies – socialism – for the super-rich and powerful; the near-certainty of a deadly recession for which government and society are unprepared (thanks in no small part to trump’s policies) in the near-future; the fatal environmental costs of capitalism’s growth-addiction and ideology.

If capitalism is performing so damn well under Trump, one might ask, then why is socialism – popular hostility to the savage inequalities, unfairness, ecological toxicity, and anti-democratic nature of capitalism – such a rising “menace” in the U.S.? Why do most young American adults respond more favorably to the word socialism than they do to the word capitalism these days?

It is of course a great myth that the sitting U.S. president is personally responsible for the state of the American economy, good or bad, at any given point in time. Capitalism ebbs and flows in accord with its own cyclical and long-wave logic and contradictions. It is hardly directed, central command-like out of the White House – certainly not by a president who can’t read a balance sheet and who spends most of his taxpayer funded time watching television, playing golf, and sending out vicious Tweets.

Fake Resistance

So, well, what about the so-called opposition party, absurdly labelled the “radical-Left Democrats” by Trump? That’s not a pretty story, either. As noted above, the doomed impeachment trial was largely an act of fake resistance and diversion: like the Watergate Articles of Impeachment, it dodged the president’s worst crimes and went after him for trying to criminally harm the other ruling-class political party – the Democrats (though with UkraineGate we have to add that Trump was also being prosecuted for messing up imperial policy in Eastern Europe).

Along the way, many atop the Party of Fake Resistance have been quietly signing off on much of the Trump agenda. “If Trump has successes of which he can boast,” the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) noted, “they consist of getting his far-right agenda through Congress and the courts. He bragged about passing the USMCA trade deal with Mexico, cracking down on immigrants and massively expanding the US military. All of these policies have been approved by Congress on a bipartisan basis.” A popular Internet meme speaks a lot of truth beneath a picture of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

“Yeah, I Resist Trump:

Raise his military budget.

Endorse status-quo corporatists.

Suppress left-wing voices.

Ignore the needs of the working-class.

Stop Medicare for All from being passed.

Take millions in campaign contributions from the 1%”

At Trump’s Hate of the Union Address last week, Pelosi and most of her fellow Congressional Democrats leapt to their feet at Herr Trump’s command to applaud Washington and Wall Street’s Venezuelan coup figurine Juan Guaido. When Fred Guttenberg, father of a teenager felled in the Parkland High School gun massacre, booed Trump’s promotion of “gun rights,” Pelosi glared and ordered his ejection.

The Democrats’ official response to Trump’s HOTUA was pathetic. Michigan’s mild-mannered neoliberal governor praised Michigan residents for (in the words of the WSWS) “personally trying to fix the state’s notoriously poor roads with ‘a shovel and a bucket of dirt.’”

Alfred E. Wine Cave “Wins” Iowa for Mike Bloomberg

More and historic proof the inauthentic of the dismal Democrats’ “resistance” came with the Iowa Democratic Party and the Clintonite Shadow app’s theft of the Iowa Caucus from Bernie Sanders last week. The epic Iowa Debacle let the dodgy former McKinsey consultant and Naval Intelligence officer and current Wall Street plaything Pete Butiggieg – the candidate I call Alfred E. Wine Cave (AEWC) – play Juan Guaido and claim triumph.

It was a great centrist play. The fact that Sanders won Iowa was turned into a public non-fact. The confusion bought Mayor Pete three days to take some undeserved victory laps across the “liberal” media (MSDNC and Stephen Colbert, for example), boosting him by 9 points in New Hampshire tracking polls.

And even if Sanders really won Iowa, liberal talking heads tell us, Bernie didn’t really win because he didn’t set new Iowa turnout records and he didn’t get to have a triumphant, momentum-building election night speech. Without the speech, it’s not a win – ask Rick Santorum.

It’s all about setting up the mega-billionaire Michael Bloomberg as the “pragmatic” savior to calm a bourgeoisie thrown into a panic by the hideous specter of Judeo Bolshevism that is Bernie Shining Path Sanders and his Red Army Fraction – and by the nonviability of depressing centrists like Biden, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, AEWC, and Amy Klobuchar.

Steve Bannon Likes Bernie

Imagine Bernie supporters trying to make themselves vote for Bloomberg in November. Imagine Bernie following a primary campaign directed at “the billionaire class” by trying to get his backers to vote for the mega-billionaire oligarch Bloomberg in the general election.

FOX New had global fascist organizer and grinning bastard Steve Bannon on last Sunday saying that the establishment Democrats are “screwing Sanders,” that he “likes Bernie,” and that Bernie supporters need to come over to the “populist” Trump. Someone who never samples the rightmost cable network might be surprised at how much of that sort of talk one hears there.

Trump would love to face off against Bloomberg and run with “the Bernie got screwed” theme to keep Democratic turnout down. I’m not sure he’d have to say much about the screwing. Reality will be enough: Bernie will have been screwed and many Sandernistas will be unable to make their hands make marks for Bloomberg even as Bernie tells them to do so.

“Bernie Sanders Makes My Skin Crawl”

By contrast with Bannon’s false affection for the “democratic socialist” candidate, it’s difficult to overstate the depth and degree of the contempt the “liberal” Democratic business and professional class feel for the moderately leftish Sanders, who has the “radical left” audacity to think that health care should be a human right in the world’s richest nation and that humans might want to get off fossil fuels before Antarctica (which recently registered a record high temperature of 65 degree Fahrenheit) melts. Two days after the nightmare in Iowa, snot-filled Chicago Sun Times columnist and Chicago City Club enthusiast Neil Steinberg wrote that “Bernie Sanders makes my skin crawl.” Praising the neoliberal-imperialist robot AEWC for “hav[ing] dignity,” “speak[ing] in complete sentences,” and being able “to lead us into the future,” Steinberg called Sanders “hare-brained” and “uncomfortably similar to Trump.” (Steinberg did not elaborate on the similarities). In a column that ended with a pitch for readers to attend a $50 City Club schmoozing reception on “Urban Health Care Challenges and Solutions,” Steinberg admitted to “scowling…whenever Sanders spools out his wish list of what he’s going to do – Medicare-for-All, Green New Deal, free college” – you know, crazy stuff like that.

What an asshole.

World Class Jackass Chris Matthews: “How Do You Know?”

Speaking of which, CNN’s cool, calm, and collected globalist Council on Foreign Relations guru Fareed Zakaria didn’t flinch two days ago when he absurdly called Sanders “far left” and used the Brexit-muddled and media-managed destruction of Jeremy Corbyn as “proof” that Sanders can’t win in the U.S.

Ask an actual left socialist if Bernie Sanders is “far left,” Fareed.

At the outer reaches of unhinged talking-head idiocy, MSDNC’s world-class jackass Chris Matthews is anything but cool, calm, and collected. He told a live television audience last Friday of his insane fear that Bernie Sanders might support public executions in Central Park “if Castro and the Reds had won the Cold War.”

It was left to MSDNC’s leftmost commentator Chris Hayes to tell the network’s neo-McCarthyite Ted Baxter impersonator that Sanders “pretty clearly” advocates the social-democratic “socialism” found in Scandinavia.

Suggesting that he has passed his intellectual expiration date and needs to retire, Matthews said “how do you know? Did he tell you that?” and then repeated his suggestion that Bernie backs massive state violence.

Someone should tell Matthews that the Reds won the World Series in 1975, 1976, and 1990 [the Soviet Union still existed for the last one] and the U.S. bourgeoisie kept its head in New York City and across the country. (You can purchase a special Johnny Bench 1792 guillotine model here.)

Will the DNC Ask Trump to Run as a Democrat?

As Rolling Stone’s Peter Wade rightly noted, “Matthews nearly losing his mind on national television in addition to some of the debate questions about Sanders — including whether his opponents were afraid of having a democratic socialist on the ticket — shows just how terrified corporate media is of a Sanders win.”

recent Onion spoof almost credibly runs with this headline: “DNC Mulls Asking Trump to Run as a Democrat in Effort to Stop Sanders.” The Onion cleverly concocted the following statement from Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair Tom Perez:

“This late in the game, we need somebody with name recognition and a built-in following, which Trump definitely has. He has political experience working with Republicans, which will help him win over moderate voters who are turned off by the idea of a socialist president. Plus, he’ll have the backing of the Democratic donor base, who generally prefer him to Sanders. Look, sometimes politics makes strange bedfellows, but I think I speak for party leadership when I say that we’d much rather see Donald Trump than Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee.”

The last line there is no joke.

So what if Sanders is the Democratic presidential candidate most likely to organize the working- and lower-class the corporate Democrats have been grassing and shutting down for half a century? So what if this makes Sanders the most electable candidate against an incumbent president and a party that pose existential fascistic and ecocidal threats to what’s left of democracy, the republic, and life itself? So what if Sanders’ key policy proposals are required for the common good and, you know, human survival?

Surprised? Don’t be. Welcome, my son to the machine. Where have you been? The Democratic Party isn’t about social justice, democracy, and/or environmental sanity. It isn’t even primarily about winning elections. “History’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party” (as former Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips once accurately described the Democrats) is about serving “elite” corporate and financial sponsors above all, and those sponsors prefer a second fascistic Trump term to a mildly progressive first Sanders one. Money, it’s a crime.

The ruling class wants the fascistic Antichrist over the neo-New Deal progressive. The Democrats are tools of the ruling class. America’s possible full-on transition to authoritarian class rule is a richly bipartisan affair.

If that transition occurs, and it could very well in the absence of a significant popular rebellion beneath and beyond the election cycle, historians will want to pay some special attention to last week – if there any historians left, I should say.

Postscript: Amy Doesn’t Know You

Just because you are an elitist, centrist political candidate who views progressive-populism with disdain doesn’t mean you aren’t willing to pretend to be a progressive-populist in your campaign rhetoric. Listen to this tear-jerking soliloquy from “moderate” (corporate) Democrat Amy Klobuchar’s final statement in last Friday’s presidential debate in Manchester, New Hampshire:

“There’s an old story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and when he died, his body was put on a train and went up across America and there was a guy standing by those tracks along with so many Americans, and he had his hat on his chest and he was sobbing and a reporter said, Sir, did you know the president? And the guy says, no, I didn’t know the president, but he knew me. He knew me. …If you have trouble stretching your paycheck to pay for that rent. I know you and I will fight for you. If you have trouble deciding if you’re going to pay for your childcare or your long-term care, I know you and I will fight for you. If you have trouble figuring out if you’re going to fill your refrigerator or fill your prescription drug, I know you and I will fight for you. I do not have the biggest name up on this stage. I don’t have the biggest bank account. I’m not a political newcomer with no record, but I have a record of fighting for people.”

That’s quite the purple passage. But Amy’s nice, progressive-sounding words that are contradicted by her constant and false claims that Sanders’ proposals for Single Payer, a Green New Deal, and free public college are too expensive for the government of word history’s richest and most powerful nation. With her constant harping on what government CAN’T provide everyday people and her continuing reliance on big money donors opposed to basic social-democracy decency, Amy Klobuchar is most definitely NOT there to fight for the working class.”

Ask your doctor if Klobuchar is right for you.

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What Trump and Netanyahu just unveiled was a PR campaign, not a peace plan

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Trump at a White House news conference to announce a U.S. peace plan for Israelis and Palestinians.  (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Trump at a White House news conference to announce a U.S. peace plan for Israelis and Palestinians. (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

By Max Boot ColumnistJan. 28, 2020 at 10:28 p.m. GMT

Every president in political trouble looks to foreign policy for a distraction, and President Trump is no different. January began with the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani and ends with the release of a White House peace plan for Israelis and Palestinians. Surely it is no coincidence that all this is happening while the president is being impeached. Trump is selling himself as both warmaker and peacemaker.

But while the president can undoubtedly order the killing of enemy leaders, he cannot snap his fingers and end a long-running conflict. Indeed, he is not seriously trying to do so. What was unveiled on Tuesday was a PR campaign, not a peace plan.

Normally when you make peace, you have to do so with your enemies. But the only people present at the White House lectern Tuesday were Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Not a Palestinian representative in sight — and none was apparently consulted in the creation of this plan. The Palestinians have not been talking to the United States since Trump announced in December 2017 that he was moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, recognizing that contested city as Israel’s capital. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, was reported recently to have called Trump a “son of a dog” and a “filthy man.” Netanyahu, by contrast, just called Trump the “greatest friend Israel has ever had in the White House.”AD

He is certainly the best friend Netanyahu has ever had. The indicted prime minister and the impeached president stood at the lectern pretending that all they care about is peace. In fact, all they care about is politics. This “peace plan” is so heavily tilted toward Israel that it should help both Netanyahu and Trump with conservative voters in their respective countries as they face reelection. Maybe that’s what Trump meant by calling it “win-win.”

The losers are Palestinians and all those who think that the only way to safeguard Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state is to create a real Palestinian state with sovereignty over most of the Arab population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The peace plan was billed as a “vision” for a “realistic two-state solution,” but this was mere window-dressing for an Israeli power grab and land grab.

You have to read the fine print — specifically page 34 — to see that Trump’s commitment to a Palestinian state is contingent on conditions that will never be met. The “criteria” for “the formation of a Palestinian State” include the complete demilitarization of the entire Palestinian population, which includes the disarmament of Hamas, the terrorist group in control of the Gaza Strip, over which the Palestinian Authority has no control. Hamas must go from advocating Israel’s eradication to renouncing the Palestinian “right to return” and recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.AD

This isn’t even the most far-fetched part of the plan. Another condition for statehood is the creation of a “a governing system with a constitution or another system for establishing the rule of law that provides for freedom of press, free and fair elections, respect for human rights for its citizens, protections for religious freedom and for religious minorities to observe their faith, uniform and fair enforcement of law and contractual rights, due process under law, and an independent judiciary.”

In other words, to become recognized as a sovereign state, the Palestinians will have to achieve levels of governance achieved by no country in the Middle East other than Israel itself. None of America’s Arab allies — from Egypt to Saudi Arabia — meet these criteria.

But while the promise of Palestinian statehood is contingent on fantastic conditions, the plan sets no conditions for allowing Israel to annex the Jordan Valley and all Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu can do that tomorrow — and very well may. Any serious peace plan would make Israel dismantle outlying settlements now totaling roughly 80,000 people. But the plan specifically eschews such compromise, saying “Peace should not demand the uprooting of people — Arab or Jew — from their homes.” The plan includes a “conceptual map” for a future state of Palestine that looks like a gerrymandered congressional district — not a self-sustaining state.AD

In return for sacrificing statehood, Palestinians are offered promise of riches: “With the potential to facilitate more than $50 billion in new investment over ten years,” the plan states, “Peace to Prosperity represents the most ambitious and comprehensive international effort for the Palestinian people to date.” Fifty billion dollars is the imaginary sum that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, tried and failed to drum up at a “workshop” in Bahrain last summer. Neither the United States nor any of its allies have any intention of giving the Palestinians that money — and they know it.

“If Jared Kushner can’t do it, it can’t be done,” Trump said. Turns out — no surprise — that it can’t be done, if by “it” he meant resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. If, however, by “it” he meant helping Trump and Netanyahu politically while damaging the long-term prospects for a two-state solution — well, that has been done.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, USA, ZIO-NAZIComments Off on What Trump and Netanyahu just unveiled was a PR campaign, not a peace plan

Deconstructing the deal: A breakdown of Trump’s plan

After more than two years, the US president finally unveiled his proposal on Tuesday. What is proposed exactly and what remains unclear?

Trump says the Palestinians will eventually come to the table once they realise it’s in their interests – but will this actually happen?

By Chloé BenoistMohamed HassanDaniel Hilton

After a two-year wait for Donald Trump’s Middle East plan to address the Israel-Palestine conflict – framed by the businessman-turned-president as a deal – we now know what it contains. 

REVEALED: Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ map for a future Palestine, IsraelRead More »

Middle East Eye deconstructs the 181-page plan here to give you a broad sense of what it proposes along with lingering questions over exactly how it plans to attain those aims. We’ll be adding to this as we scour the deal.

1. Israeli annexation 

Most importantly – and controversially – Trump’s plan accepts Israeli calls to annex the Jordan Valley and Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

To be clear, these areas are currently under military occupation by Israel and the construction of settlements there is in violation of international law.

In exchange, the plan seems to offer Palestinians areas of land along the western border of Israel, connected to the Gaza Strip, as well as current pockets of territory that the Palestinian Authority controls.

The plan also outlines a four-year freeze on Israeli settlement construction in the areas outlined for Palestinians. But what it doesn’t address are the many roads, checkpoints and military outposts that Israel has set up that strangle this existing territory.

2. Jerusalem 

All parts of occupied East Jerusalem that lie west of Israel’s separation barrier – which has also been deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice – would be recognised as part of Israel’s undivided capital under this plan. These include large parts of the city where more than 300,000 Palestinians live, the Old City and holy sites, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Abu Dis: The Palestinian ‘capital’ Saudi Arabia wants to force on AbbasRead More »

What’s left – the areas to the east and the north of the barrier – would become available for the capital of a future Palestinian state, according to the plan. The plan suggests that a Palestinian capital be cobbled together between the existing village of Abu Dis, and the East Jerusalem neighbourhoods of Shuafat and Kafr Aqab – a capital that “could be named Al Quds or another name as determined by the State of Palestine”. The Arabic name for Jerusalem, Al-Quds, translates to “the Holy City” – yet there are no significant religious sites in the areas suggested by the plan as a basis for the new capital.

3. A Palestinian state? 

But when would this Palestinian state be established?

The plan says this can only happen when Palestinian leadership wholly accepts Israel’s new borders, disarms completely, removes Hamas from power in Gaza and agrees to Israeli security oversight on all of its territories until a point in the future deemed ripe for withdrawal. 

At this point – and only at this point – the Palestinians would receive $50bn of investment promised by the US, although even then the figure is misleading. As outlined in the economic part of the plan released in June, only $27.8bn of that will go directly to the new Palestinian state over the span of 10 years, while the remainder will go to neighbouring states.

That $27.8bn is around 27 percent less than the $38bn ten-year military aid deal that the US made with Israel in 2016.

4. No right of return for refugees

Right of return for Palestinians expelled from their homes during the establishment of Israel is something that Palestinians have long held as a precondition to peace talks. Under Trump’s plan, however, they would not be allowed to return to any Israeli areas.

The millions of Palestinian refugees living outside Israel and the occupied territories, for example in Syria, Lebanon or Jordan, may be allowed to move to the future Palestinian state. Or, the plan suggests, the countries they currently reside in could give them citizenship. Another mooted scheme would see 50,000 people relocated to member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

The refugees who wish to move to the presumptive Palestinian state – particularly those currently in Syria and Lebanon, countries the plan calls “extremely hostile” to Israel – will, however, need to be approved by a committee of Israelis and Palestinians that will also restrict the influx of new citizens.

5. Gaza, a ‘problem’

The section of the plan addressing the fate of the besieged Gaza Strip is tellingly titled “The problem of Gaza”. The 13-year Israeli-led blockade of the coastal Palestinian enclave is described as “tightened security”. Like “occupation”, the term “siege” or “blockade” is nowhere to be found in the plan.

The Hamas movement is directly blamed for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and Palestinian statehood is conditioned on the Palestinian Authority regaining full control of Gaza without Hamas.

The Trump administration set forward a plan for a “high-tech manufactory industrial” area and a “residential and agricultural” zone just south of Gaza in the Negev desert.

The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt – the only direct border area the presumptive state of Palestine will have with a state other than Israel – will be subjected to as-yet-undetermined “specific arrangements” to be agreed upon between Egypt and Israel.

6. The status of Al-Aqsa

The proposal suggests that the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem should remain under the same “governance regimes that exist today” while remaining under Israel’s full control of Jerusalem.

However, the civil affairs of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, among other religious sites, are currently administered by Jordan – which is the official custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Currently, Jews are not allowed to pray within the Al-Aqsa compound, which sits atop where the First and Second Jewish Temple are believed to have once stood. While the plan calls for the maintenance of the “religious status quo”, it then calls for “people of every faith” to be permitted to pray there – raising questions about whether incursions by Israeli settlers at the site would be normalised.

As for Muslims who wish to visit and pray in Al-Aqsa, the plan states that only worshipers “who come in peace” will be welcome. The Palestinian state will be allowed a “special tourism zone” in Atarot – a few kilometres north of Jerusalem”, which will serve as a transportation hub for tourists to gain access to the holy sites in Jerusalem.

7. Israeli security and Palestinian demilitarisation

Under the plan, Israel will maintain military control and security coordination between Palestinian authorities, Israel, Egypt and Jordan, solidifying the existing security apparatus governing Palestinians’ lives in the occupied territories.

Throughout the document, Israel’s security is highlighted as a necessity that cannot be compromised. The same isn’t said for Palestinians, whose new state must be fully demilitarised as part of the plan. In fact, Palestinian security considerations are not mentioned anywhere in the plan.

As is already the case, Israel would “maintain overriding security responsibility”, while the new Palestinian state would deal with internal policing. But the plan reserves the right for Israel to intervene as it sees fit “to ensure that the State of Palestine remains demilitarized and non-threatening to the State of Israel, including from terrorist threats”.

Already the Israeli army carries out regular incursions into Area A of the West Bank, despite it being under full Palestinian control, so there would be little change.

Security coordination with Israel has long been controversial for Palestinians. But here, the plan reassures them that they “will not be burdened” with the costs of financially maintaining this external military power, as these will be “shouldered” graciously by Israel.

8. Land transfers to Palestine

Another controversial element of Trump’s plan is the transfer of land now within Israel to a future Palestinian state.

The scheme envisions ceding arid areas of the Negev desert near the Egyptian border and the Northern Triangle, an area encompassing Kafr Qara, Arara, Baha al-Gharbiyye, Umm al-Fahm, Qalansawe, Tayibe, Kafr Qasim, Tira, Kafr Bara and Jaljulia.

Around a third of Palestinian citizens of Israel can be found in the Triangle: as many as 350,000 in total. The population in the area is also largely Muslim, and Umm al-Fahm is an Islamic Movement stronghold.

The plan says these communities “largely self-identify as Palestinian”, but that is no rarity for those whom Israel – and the plan – usually call “Arabs”.

The transfer of the Triangle has been brought up before, but several legal issues that violate Israel’s Basic Laws have stood in the way, in addition to cultural and logistical problems. Palestinians in the Triangle have strong ties with Palestinian communities elsewhere in Israel. This plan makes no attempt at addressing that severance.

9. The fate of prisoners

Deeper into the plan, a section discusses a deeply sensitive issue for both Israelis and Palestinians: the fate of prisoners.

Trump’s ‘deal of the century’: 17 things we learnedRead More »

According to Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer, some 5,000 Palestinians are currently detained by Israel. The Trump administration lays out conditions for a possible release of Palestinian prisoners as part of a swap – so long as they were not convicted of murder, attempted murder or conspiracy to commit murder.

All releases, however, will be predicated on the condition that prisoners sign a pledge “to promote within their community the benefits of coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians”.

The plan also states that no Palestinian prisoners will be released so long as any Israeli citizen held captive by Palestinian groups – including the remains of soldiers – is not returned to Israel. Hamas is believed to be holding an Israeli citizen and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers in Gaza.

The plan made no mention of the fate of hundreds of Palestinian bodies held by Israel for years, in a policy that has been denounced as collective punishment.

10. No word on Hebron

Trump vowed that his plan would be incredibly detailed, but some of the highlights of the “deal of the century” are in fact the glaring silences on key issues.

The city of Hebron is one of them. Almost 800 Israeli settlers currently live in the centre of Hebron under heavy military guard among a Palestinian population of 200,000 people. It is the only Palestinian city in the West Bank that has Israeli settlers living in its heart. Meanwhile, the Ibrahimi Mosque – also known to Israelis as the Tomb of the Patriarchs – is a highly contested religious site.

Any proper proposal seeking to create a two-state solution would have to address Hebron’s unique situation. Yet the map released as part of the plan is vague: A symbol indicating a land route looms over Hebron’s location, obscuring whether the city would fall within the new Palestinian state or Israel.

The written plan, meanwhile, brings no further clarity. The only mention of Hebron is in a spreadsheet listing possible infrastructure projects, allocating $600m for a gas-fired power plant in the city.

11. The role of Jordan

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is expected to play a significant role in Trump’s plan. Acknowledging the “proximity, cultural affinity and family ties” between Jordan and Palestine, the scheme suggests the kingdom provides “assistance in fields such as law, medicine, education, municipal services, historic preservation and institution building” as the new Palestinian state is set up.

Other than state-building, Jordan is to offer it Red Sea port of Aqaba for Palestinian use. Palestinians will collect all tax revenues, but pay Amman a rental fee. Only cargo ships are permitted to use the facilities.

A free trade zone between Jordan and the Palestinian state should be established, the plan says, “to expediate economic cooperation between the two countries”.

Finally, the kingdom is urged to set up two security bodies with Arab countries in the region, Israel and the US – something resembling the Arab NATO that has been floated by the Trump administration. Israel doesn’t have a security concern with Jordan per se, the plan says. But there are fears that “Middle Eastern powers” could forcibly use the kingdom to stage attacks on Israel. Who these powers may be and how they could invade a country laden with US and UK military bases is not explained.

12. Regional normalisation with Israel

A section of the plan reveals another desired gain for Israel: the normalisation of relations with Arab states.

In the past several years, Israel has experienced warming ties with states in the Middle East, particularly Gulf Arab states. But the vast majority of countries in the Middle East and North Africa do not officially recognise Israel.

The Trump plan states its goal is to “have the Arab states fully cooperate with the State of Israel” on economic and security issues. That includes fighting “terrorist groups” such as Hezbollah, the Islamic State and Hamas, should the latter maintain its opposition to Israel.

The plan, however, identifies one main “existential threat” that unites Israel and Arab states: Iran.

13. What Palestinian sovereignty?

The proposed State of Palestine fails to answer many basic Palestinian demands – but is it even achieving basic tenets of sovereignty?

In the name of Israeli security, the plan states that all border crossings connecting the new Palestinian state to neighbouring countries must be “monitored by the State of Israel”. Same fate for Palestinian airspace, which will be under “Israeli security responsibility and Israeli control”.

If these stipulations might strike observers as undermining whatever self-determination the Palestinian state might have, the plan suggests that critics shed their preconceived notions of what sovereignty should look like.

“Sovereignty is an amorphous concept that has evolved over time. With growing interdependence, each nation chooses to interact with other nations by entering into agreements that set parameters essential to each nation,” the plan reads. “The notion that sovereignty is a static and consistently defined term has been an unnecessary stumbling block in past negotiations.

“Pragmatic and operational concerns that effect [sic] security and prosperity are what is most important.”

14. US compromises at the negotiating table

‘The deal that can’t be made’: A timeline of the Trump administration’s Israel-Palestine policyRead More »

Despite presenting a plan that was preemptively and categorically rejected by Palestinian leadership, the Trump administration has still expressed hope that the proposal would lead to negotiations.

Should such negotiations take place, the United States commits to implementing a certain number of moves “to the extent permitted by law” as a gesture of goodwill towards the Palestinians.

Those moves include the reopening of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) office in Washington; the opening of a US liaison mission to the PA; the resumption of US aid to the occupied Palestinian territories; and efforts to support international infrastructure projects.

The PLO office was closed by the US in September 2018; US funding for UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, was cut off completely in August that same year; and USAID funding to projects in the occupied territories suffered a similar fate in February 2019.

In effect, the moves would not so much bring new benefits to Palestinians, as simply roll back decisions that were taken since Trump came to power.

15. What is Israel conceding?

Trump has said it over and over again: a good deal requires compromises. The “deal of the century” has already been slammed for demanding that Palestinians give up East Jerusalem, large swathes of the West Bank, the right of return and compensation for refugees, justice through international bodies, to name a few.

After reading the full plan, Middle East Eye can provide a complete list of what Israel has agreed to concede to Palestinians in exchange:

  • Transferring two areas of arid land in the Negev desert
  • Freezing settlement expansion in areas “eyed for a Palestinian state” for four years
  • Contemplating the “possibility” of transferring the Northern Triangle populated by Palestinian citizens of Israel
  •  Remaining withdrawn from territories it occupied in 1967 and has since left. “Withdrawing from territory captured in a defensive war is a historical rarity” which “must be recognised”, the plan states. The statement likely refers to the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in 1982, transfer of control of Areas A and B to the PA following the 1993 Oslo Accords, and settler evacuation from Gaza in 2005
  • Fully funding the Israeli forces that will maintain “overriding security control” over the fledgling Palestinian state (See item 7 on this list)
  • Granting temporary, supervised use of port facilities at Haifa and Ashdod for trade
  • Halting demolitions of Palestinian properties – except for punitive home demolitions, a policy Palestinians have repeatedly denounced.

It is up to our readers to decide if the Trump administration has indeed come up with a “fair compromise”.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, USA, ZIO-NAZI, Human RightsComments Off on Deconstructing the deal: A breakdown of Trump’s plan

Live From New Hampshire: God, Country and Electability

by MATTHEW STEVENSON

This is the fourth of periodic reports from the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, and perhaps beyond, should the republic last until South Carolina and Nevada. This was written as the campaign entered its last days before the vote in New Hampshire. I managed to hear all the active candidates on both sides in the race, except Michael Bloomberg, who is running in his own reality.

A group of people in a roomDescription automatically generated

Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick campaigning in Durham, New Hampshire. Photo by Matthew Stevenson.

Even presidential primaries have snow days, and I have had two in New Hampshire. About four inches of snow fell on the first day, and on the second the weather turned to sleet and freezing rain. I know that “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” should keep this “courier from the swift completion of [his] appointed rounds”, but when the choice was driving on frozen roads to hear Tulsi Gabbard address the Fireside Inn in Lebanon, NH, I couldn’t summon the energy to bear witness to someone who herself might not be present.

Searching for the White Whale of Centrist Electability

Actually, for my first small steps in New Hampshire, the campaign came to me in the form of John Bessler, who is the husband of Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar (of 12.3% fame in the Iowa caucus). He showed up about a mile from where I was staying, to speak at what used to be called “a tea” of concerned voters.

Bessler arrived on time, despite the rain and snow. He was wearing a (slightly rumpled) blue suit, which is the exception on the trail in 2020. (Last evening in Durham, I bumped into Colorado Senator Michael Bennett, who was wearing sneakers and looked as though he was about to coach a gym class.)

A tall man with a receding hairline, Bessler shook hands with everyone in the living room. We were a circle of about fourteen people, and he stood near the dining room table (in a beautiful house, owned by an Amy for America volunteer) and spoke for close to an hour on behalf of his wife’s candidacy.

Bessler said that he and Amy had been married for twenty-six years, and that they had one daughter, who, as it turned out, was one of the reasons that Klobuchar got involved with state politics in Minnesota.

When their daughter was born, she was not able to swallow properly, and required a feeding tube to survive. After about a day in the hospital, Amy was booted out of the maternity ward while the baby remained behind for treatment.

At the time Amy was a lawyer in Minneapolis, representing such clients as MCI (an upstart phone company challenging the bigger players). Her anger at being separated from her sick daughter pushed her to lobby the state legislature to pass a law allowing women to remain at least forty hours in the hospital after delivering a baby.

Those were Amy’s first baby steps in politics, and she went on to be elected three times to the U.S. Senate from Minnesota and now to stand as a presidential candidate.

From her first dealings with the legislature, she had an inkling, as John said, of “what an advocate can do.” She’s a midwestern pragmatist who can work with moderates in both parties.

Although John phrased the contrast diplomatically, he wanted the gathering to understand that Amy “gets things done”, while senators Sanders and Warren are better at talking the talk.

Klobuchar’s first elective office in Minnesota was as a county attorney, from which in 2006 she stood for the U.S. Senate and won, by an average margin of nine votes in the precincts across Minnesota. Her re-elections in 2012 and 2018 were more comfortable; those she carried by margins of 35 and 20 points.

John made the point that in 2018 Amy won 31 counties that in the 2016 presidential election had flipped from Barack Obama to Donald Trump, indicating that, as the nominee, she would be acceptable to moderates in both parties (unlike the bomb-throwing Sanders and Warren, although he didn’t say it like that).

The more I listened to Bessler lecture about “Amy Klobuchar’s Contract for American Renewal,” the more clearly she came into focus as a can-do midwestern senator, in the Progressive traditions of Senators Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, and Walter Mondale.

Like Elizabeth Warren, Klobuchar has a fair number of plans, and Bessler went through her ideas to invest in American infrastructure, deal with climate change (she would increase gas mileage standards and renewable energy), dedicate resources to education and job training, and even squirrel away some resources to amortize some of the $23 trillion in national debt.

In all cases, John said, Amy was good (in their life together and in the Senate) at husbanding resources. In the Iowa caucuses, for example, she spent less money—only $3.9 million—than the other major candidates.

Bessler remarked that Klobuchar cares passionately about the enforcement of anti-trust legislation. It’s one of her committee assignments in the Senate, and trust busting (as it used to be called) is tied to her advocacy for level economic playing fields, fairness to consumers, and opposition to oligarchy.

He made the point that it was two Republicans, Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, who first enforced anti-trust legislation (which was passed during the administration of Democrat Grover Cleveland but ignored by William McKinley, who was in the pocket of the bosses, notably business tycoon and fixer Mark Hanna).

The Only New Hampshire Issue is Electability

The question consistently posed to Amy’s husband was how, if she were the nominee, she would stand up to a lunatic such as Donald Trump, who campaigns as if he were Mussolini on his balcony.

What seemed to matter most to the people gathered (an older crowd with mid-day time on their hands) was beating Trump in the general election. In response, Bessler said that “Trump isn’t going to know how to deal with a strong-willed woman such as Amy.”

Over and over, he described her as task-oriented, detail-driven, and focused on the people’s business. He never entirely convinced me that Amy has Butch Cassidy’s wiliness, demonstrated in his knife fight with Harvey Logan, who challenged Butch for leadership of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. The movie script reads:

Butch Cassidy: [ as Harvey tenses to begin the fight] No, no, not yet. Not until me and Harvey get the rules straightened out.

Harvey Logan: Rules? In a knife fight? No rules.

[Butch throws dirt in Harvey’s eyes and kicks him in the groin, causing him to collapse on the ground]

Everyone at the tea party wants Trump to be the Harvey Logan of American politics.

If there was a downside during the Q and A, it came when Bessler answered a question about how Amy will deal with Putin and Russia. His answer, which drifted back to her Senate committee work on cross-border trade with Mexico and Canada, indicated that she doesn’t have much feel for or experience with foreign affairs.

A lack of experience in foreign affairs isn’t fatal for a presidential candidate (I doubt Trump could point to Iran on a globe), but it could lead to discomfort on the campaign trail if Amy is ever challenged, for example, about the Macedonian Question.

The Student Debt Crisis: How to buy an education and influence people

Deval Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts and the close friend of Barack Obama, has gotten little respect during this Democratic political campaign.

Except maybe in an early round, he has been excluded from the televised debates, and only because CNN needed to have an even number of guests was he included in the Town Hall series of primetime, hour-long interviews, although Patrick was put in the 11:00 p.m. slot, never ideal.

To my knowledge he did not campaign in Iowa, instead deciding to husband his resources for New Hampshire, where he could hope to trade off his name recognition as the former governor of Massachusetts.

Another former Massachusetts governor, William Weld on the Republican side, who is challenging Donald Trump, made the same calculation but he turned up for a whistle-stop tour (okay, in a rental car) in Iowa.

I tracked down Deval Patrick at a public event held at the University of New Hampshire, which is located in Durham, not far inland from the coast. Patrick was speaking at a conference entitled College Costs & Debt in the 2020 Elections.

The host was the UNH Carsey School for Public Policy, and the topic, I am sure, was chosen with the idea of luring some presidential hopefuls to campus.

As it turned out, only the second-team candidates accepted the invitation to speak. Hence the attendees were Representative Tulsi Gabbard, Senator Michael Bennett, Weld, and Patrick. Gabbard bailed at the last minute, pleading the excuse of the weather (which remained a mixture of snow, rain, and ice).

William Weld’s Democrat-Republican Revival

Before Patrick, Weld spoke for about twenty minutes, and he summarized the crisis in higher education, saying that many students graduate with too much debt and too few job prospects.

I know that nominally he’s a fiscally conservative former governor, but on the stage at the UNH Carsey School he sounded like former presidential Democratic candidate George McGovern.

Weld said many college graduates had become “indentured students” to various student loan programs, and that the only way to get out from under the debt was to pay it off or die.

He cast the administrators of the federal government’s student loan programs in the guise of loan sharks, saying that if graduates missed payments on their debt, they were charged an assortment of fees and penalties, and that they were furthermore unable to benefit from a rate reduction because interest rates have trended lower.

Weld did not believe that graduates should have to begin servicing their loans until they were earning enough money on the job to be comfortable in making the monthly payments. He also advocated debt forgiveness for any graduates who serve adequate time in the military or in an equivalent public-service job.

Weld called it “the compounding problem,” when graduates are forced to work for years, often at uninspiring jobs, just to service their student loans. He also warned that with the development of artificial intelligence, many workers will lose their jobs (those for which they took on high debts).

Weld isn’t persuaded that everyone needs to attend a four-year college or university and, like others in the presidential campaign, spoke well of two-year community colleges and trade schools as often sufficient, and at much lower costs, for many high school graduates.

Weld was prompted to talk in a slightly discursive way about his own evolution from conservative Republican to someone who now believes that “government has a responsibility to look after its citizens…”, and with that mindset he didn’t like it that one aspect of public and private education has turned into a racket.

Weld himself went to Harvard where he studied classics. When I asked him about the books that inspired him, he mentioned Friedrich Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty, which is a go-to treatise of libertarian political thought.

By the time that Weld spoke to the conference it was well after 6:00 p.m., and if the room had ever been full (which I doubt), now it was largely empty. We were perhaps a group of twenty-five, sitting in a hall that could easily accommodate a thousand people. (Even my own undergraduate classes in Greek military history drew a larger crowd.)

It highlighted one of the sadnesses of the presidential primary system, which is that it is front-loaded to track polling data, gaffs, soundbites, short TV interviews with big-foot anchors, and miscellany (Bailey Warren, Elizabeth’s dog) while the good government ideas are relegated to the not-ready-for-prime-time players.

Deval Patrick’s Journey From the South Side of Chicago to Harvard

Deval Patrick, another former Massachusetts governor, followed Weld to the stage, and for an applause line evoked yet a third former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, who had just voted to convict Donald Trump on one of the impeachment clauses.

Patrick also gave a shoutout to Weld, who after speaking had taken a seat in the audience to hear what Patrick had to say. (Not many candidates run in the listening mode.)

I had never heard Patrick speak, and he was more soft-spoken than I expected. His position in the race, other than running on the Largely Unknown ticket, is that of a career Democrat on the left who nonetheless would like to work with moderate Republicans (that category may be down to Weld and Romney).

Patrick is also unusual in candidate circles as he has had two distinct careers, one as a civic rights attorney in the Clinton justice department and the other in private equity, in which he was a senior officer at Bain Capital, the private equity firm that Mitt Romney helped to found. (Patrick came later to the company.)

Not all hard-left Democrats appreciate Patrick’s work on Wall Street, but unlike Tom Steyer, who tends to gloss over his deal-making life, Patrick is clear in wanting to involve the so-called “private sector” in solutions to government problems.

Patrick is close to Sanders and Warren in advocating forgiveness of student debt and free tuition, but he would not make college completely free for those who can afford the tuition and fees.

He, too, spoke of getting the government loan shark off the backs of graduates, by dropping interest rates on borrowed money to zero and by making community colleges and trade schools free for students (and retooling workers) who need certain basic job skills to enter the economy.

He made the point that in-state tuition for the University of New Hampshire is $34,000 while out-of-state costs are $54,000, which puts the school beyond the reach of many middle-class students, even those with moderate savings.

Later that same evening, on CNN’s Town Hall, Patrick spoke more generally about his bi-partisan credentials, his record as a two-term governor, his experience in business, and the sense fairness that he would bring to the White House.

Asked about his personal history, he talked about growing up poor on the south side of Chicago, in a home with his mother and grandmother. When he was accepted at Harvard and told his grandmother of the achievement, she congratulated him and then asked, “Now where is that?” No one in his family had ever been to college.

At Harvard, which he liked for its diversity, size, and challenging intellectual life, he said that he often had the uneasy feeling that someone might one day tap him on the shoulder and say it had all be a mistake and that he needed to go back to his cold-water tenement on Chicago’s south side. That never happened, and later Patrick flourished at law school.

Of late, because of low poll numbers and fund raising, Patrick had not made any of the debates, so he was running on the margins of the campaign, a bit like Spinal Tap playing in neighborhood rec rooms.

My sense is that he is soldiering on, perhaps to position himself as a potential vice-presidential nominee, in the event the nominee wants a centrist African-American pro-business Democrat with strong ties to the civil rights movement.

It’s not a bad bet in 2020, with so many older white men running for president (Patrick is only 63). And the African-American competitors for such a slot (Kamala Harris and Cory Booker) have already withdrawn from the race.

Tulsi Gabbard Goes to War at the Elks Club

It took me a while to track down Representative Tulsi Gabbard. She had not been in Iowa when I was there (except on billboards floating above the Iowa cornfields, a bit like Oz), and she was hard to find in New Hampshire.

At most she was only appearing at one or two events each day, and then usually at some remote VFW hall in a place such as Laconia, New Hampshire, which is an additional hour long drive from the Boston suburbs around Nashua and Manchester.

Finally I found the Gabbard candidacy in Rochester, New Hampshire, at an Elks club which was kitted out with American flags and enough chairs to seat an audience of perhaps 125 people.

Gabbard is the exception in the race for the Democratic nomination in that her campaign is focused on foreign affairs, notably the issue of bringing home the troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, and northern Syria.

Most of the other candidates only speak of foreign affairs in the context of the domestic budget (they want to cut military spending to devote resources to the opioid crisis or medicare for all).

Gabbard, however, speaks more openly and directly on behalf of the veterans (she is one of them) who were deployed to these savage wars of peace with no clear government objective behind them, and then largely ignored when they came home with post-stress traumatic disorders.

Gabbard is a major in the Hawaii national guard, and at times during her candidacy she has left the campaign trail for weekend or summer duty.

She speaks in the patient, direct, calming voice of a military briefing officer, although she didn’t have a relief map of the Middle East or one of those long pointers, and her principal message is that the United States needs to stop fighting “endless wars” in the Middle East.

But if anything has defined Gabbard’s candidacy in the 2020 Democratic race it is her ability to generate headlines that put her at odds with the mainstream Democratic leadership, which neither likes nor trust Tulsi.

Most recently Representative Gabbard voted “present” when the articles of impeachment against Donald Trump were brought before the full House of Representatives. She was the only Democrat not to vote for impeachment.

Other headline-generating events include her 2017 meeting with Syrian strongman and president, Bashar al-Assad, and her defamation lawsuit against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who suggested in a tweet (without actually naming Gabbard) that the Hawaii’s member of Congress might well be a Russian agent or run by its bots.

Gabbard met with Assad to make the point back home that the United States was fighting on the wrong side in Syria. To CNN she justified her meeting by saying: “Whatever you think about President Assad, the fact is that he is the President of Syria. In order for any peace agreement, in order for any possibility of a viable peace agreement to occur there has to be a conversation with him.”

At the Elks club she didn’t mention the meeting with Assad, but she did say several times that: “…as a veteran, I have been serving in the Army National Guard now for 16 years and continue to serve, served on two Middle East deployments. I have seen this cost of war firsthand, which is why I fight so hard for peace.”

Hillary Clinton’s view of Gabbard’s candidacy is that she’s part of an election hoax, on behalf of the Russian hacker state. Clinton said (clearly referring to Gabbard):

They’re also going to do third-party. I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who’s currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She’s the favorite of the Russians, they have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far, and that’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not, because she’s also a Russian asset. Yeah, she’s a Russian asset, I mean totally. They know they can’t win without a third-party candidate.

Against this claim, Gabbard filed a libel and defamation suit against Clinton, although I doubt it’s more than a campaign spot, as I cannot imagine Gabbard has the appetite to sustain a civil case for five years against Clinton. For the moment, however, it’s probably cheaper than running 30-second adds on Manchester television (“and I support this lawsuit….”).

At the same time as Gabbard is speaking for disgruntled Iraq and Afghanistan vets (“I want to challenge the war majority coming out of Washington…”), she’s also given to inflated boasting, notably her claim that she has the “most experience of any candidate in the race on foreign affairs, except maybe Joe Biden.” Actually she only speaks well on the wars in the Middle East (although more with emotion than as someone who understands political intricacies).

Later in her talk, Tulsi expanded the reach of her stump speech, and talked generally, as all candidates do, about health care, the opioid crisis, the Supreme Court, mental health, teacher pay, etc. and on those issues she might well be singing from the candidate hymnal.

By this point I was done with Gabbard but I did stick around to ask her a question about the unresolved European crisis in the Balkans. (To me the next European war, if it comes, will happen in or around Kosovo.) I figured she was fair game for the question as “the most qualified candidate in foreign affairs…”

Gabbard wanted nothing to do with my Balkan wars question. I even wondered if she knew where Kosovo was. Her facial expression was one of alarm and horror at the question.

She cut me off and said an aide would send me an email, and as I wandered back to my car in the Elks parking lot, I thought that even Hillary would have given me ten minutes on Albanian separatism. After all, in Pristina there’s a dress shop with her name on it.

James Carville Spins The Electorate

The last candidate on my list was Senator Michael Bennet from Colorado, who has campaigned across New Hampshire, without much response, as if running for local office in Denver.

I heard him speak at the Palace Theater in Manchester—actually the event was in a storefront next to the theater—and the only reason the event was packed was because CNN’s James Carville introduced Bennet and spoke about him as the second coming of Bill Clinton.

Actually, when Clinton was the “Comeback Kid” in the 1992 New Hampshire primary, he finished second, behind Paul Tsongas. But it was less than a month after Gennifer Flowers had gone public with the details of their affair (“he eats pussy like a champ…”) and the Clintons had held their Super Bowl halftime marriage therapy session, which Carville himself had helped to orchestrate.

I presume that Michael Bennet, a two-term Colorado senator, is a less complex than Bill Clinton. Bennet’s wife was at the rally (she pleaded his case in the prelims… “If you will just give him a chance….”) as were their three daughters.

The reason for the capacity crowd in the storefront wasn’t to hear from Bennet or his wife (although both speak well) but from Carville, for whom politics is a blood sport.

I had only ever seen Carville on television, and then in snippets after some debate, so I wasn’t quite ready for his one-man stage act, that of a Ragin’ Cajun.

Carville had on an LSU jersey and a Marine Corps veteran’s cap, and the waist on his ratty blue jeans was too big and cinched in to hold them up, giving him the look of a roped steer. On his feet were designer sneakers, the kind a Kardashian would wear along Rodeo Drive.

On stage Carville plays up his swamp cat, southern accent and uses the kind of expressions that must fly around Bayou drinking holes just before closing time.

Carville imagined Mitch McConnell’s facial expression if Republicans lost control of the Senate (“like he’d crapped a pineapple…”) and put the boot into Bernie for not appealing to southern or western Democrats (“they’ll run away from Bernie Sanders like the devil running away from holy water…”).

According to Carville, only Bennet could win the election (he’s won twice in the purple state of Colorado) and save the republic from Trump (“we’re gonna change thingswe’re gonna dream..”). And then Carville vanished from the stage, as though someone had switched off CNN.

Michael Bennet Runs Hard in the Shadows

It was hard for Bennet in person to live up to Carville’s hype. His main message was that he was the Democrat best able to defeat Donald Trump, as he had won several elections against Republican majorities in Colorado.

Earlier in his career, Bennet was superintendent of the Denver school system, and in many respects his political personality is that of a high school principal rallying the student body for the big game against Trump High. He speaks optimistically, and he believes that his students (in this case American voters) can always do better on their regent exams.

If Bennet has a cause about which he is passionate, it is to defeat Mitch McConnell and regain Democratic control of the Senate. More than once, I heard him say, “I can’t stand losing to Mitch McConnell”, and he believes that “no one should be as cynical or malevolent as Mitch McConnell.” He adds that Democrats need to be “as strategic” as the Senate majority leader.

Bennet’s problem as a candidate is that he’s running as a moderate in a body politic of extremes. He speaks well and seems to have a positive and pleasing personality, but in the polls I see in New Hampshire, Bennet hardly moves the dial.

Probably the best story he told at the rally was in response to a question about his mother, who escaped as a child from the Warsaw ghetto during World War II.

When fighting engulfed Warsaw, she fled with her parents to a suburb, where they hid from the Germans and then the Russians.

After the war, her family went to Stockholm and then Mexico City, before coming to the United States. She had only a smattering of English when they arrived, but in the early 1960s she earned her undergraduate degree from Wellesley College and married Michael’s father, who was an American diplomat and political aide within the Democratic hierarchy.

That Michael’s mother survived the Warsaw ghetto in World War II has no bearing on whether he would make a good president, but his telling of her ordeal suggested some understanding of European history, which otherwise is never mentioned on the campaign trail. Out here, it’s America First.

The Last Hurrah of Democratic Politics

On the last weekend before the vote, I crisscrossed much of New Hampshire and saw all of the remaining candidates running for the Democratic nomination.

Here are my notes of each candidate in the closing days of the campaign, in order of polling preference:

Bernie Sanders Plays the Role of Frontrunner:

Sanders is running as the confident frontrunner. His team in the field is young and what attracts most of his supporters are his stances on climate change and income inequality.

What people like about Sanders in New Hampshire is that he is familiar and speaks with passion. At a women’s rights forum, he drew applause for saying he would have a “litmus test” for judicial appointments and would not appoint anyone who did not support Roe v. Wade and abortion rights.

Sanders is vulnerable to a centrist challenge (Buttigieg in New Hampshire, Biden in South Carolina) because many voters, while believing in Bernie’s integrity, don’t think his medicare-for-all, free tuition numbers stand up.

Buttigieg, who has targeted Bernie as his chief rival for the primary win, asks repeatedly, “How are you going to pay for it?”

My feeling is that momentum will carry Bernie over the line in New Hampshire, ahead of Buttigieg and Klobuchar, although I do think that so-called “late undecided voters” will lean toward Pete, eve if they voted last time for Bernie.

I don’t think Bernie will win South Carolina, but will do well in Nevada, and he will be the frontrunner, perhaps against Michael Bloomberg, entering Super Tuesday.

If Bernie stumbles in New Hampshire and loses to Pete, all bets on his campaign will be off.

Pete Buttigieg Pitches God and Country:

The former mayor of South Bend wants to be all things to all men. He’s the outsider from Indiana challenging the covey of Washington insiders. He’s the antiwar Afghan war veteran (well, G.I. driver) who wants to “restore America’s standing in the world.”

He’s the liberal Democrat who talks about balancing the federal budget and paying down the deficit. He’s the McKinsey whizz kid who thinks it’s unfair that Amazon and Chevron don’t pay taxes. He’s the advocate of another Peace Corps who will turn up on Fox News. In short, he’s the Leonard Zelig of the Democratic primaries.

Pete is doing better in the polls because many of those casting votes in the primaries (New Hampshire is today) are asking themselves one question: Can this candidate beat Trump?

In Pete they see a centrist who can bring together the left and the right, the young and the restless, and at several crowded events it was clear to me that all sorts of voters were seeing in Pete things that they wanted to believe about a candidate.

I went to one of his last rallies in New Hampshire, and he spoke as if he had already won the Democratic nomination. About potential vice-presidential running mates, he said that senators Kamala Harris, Warren, and Klobuchar were all “people I admire,” and reached out to “future former Republicans,” something Sanders would never do.

In his speeches, Buttigieg lacks Bernie’s (or even Warren’s) fire and ice. He’s more of an itinerant faith healer than an old testament prophet (Bernie’s job description).

On subjects such as business, the military, and politics, Pete sounds like a graduate student sitting for his oral exams. I am sure he’s done the required reading and has carefully footnoted his thesis, but he’s not someone who can apply the practical experience of his life to his theories of government.

He has worked in business and done time in the military, but he has no critical insights into the modern corporation and its powers, and his observations about Afghanistan and Iraq sound like excerpts from a New York Times Op-ed piece. In most of his life endeavors, he was there, as they say in the army, to get “his ticket punched.”

He’s been lucky that the first two primaries have been in largely white and well-educated states; South Carolina will not be so forgiving.

Pete’s undoing in this election will be among African-American and young voters, who have a visceral dislike of the mayor (they see his home city as white privilege), but I can see him staying in the race for a while, as his vanilla messages (“I just want to say that I will not take away your social security benefits…”) have more reach than those of Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennet, and Deval Patrick, other centrists in the race.

Elizabeth Warren Will Have a Hard Time Changing Lanes:

If “Dandy” Dan Meredith, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and Monday Night Football color man, were covering the Warren campaign, he would be singing: “Turn out the lights, the party’s over…”

Warren, in the big game against the Bernie Raiders, is behind 27-7, and even though it’s the second quarter and Super Tuesday comes with a big half-time show, it’s still getting late early out there for Elizabeth.

Warren’s views are almost identical to those of Sanders, but voters think he speaks to them with conviction while Warren tends to lecture. He’s considered “passionate” while she’s dismissed as “strident”. (To many men she sounds like a divorce lawyer, coming for their BMW.)

Compared to Bernie, Warren has more executive experience, and she’s had fewer heart attacks. Plus she’s a little younger. But voters, at least in Iowa and New Hampshire, aren’t buying the pitch.

The word used most often among insiders in these primary is “lanes,” referring to a candidate’s chosen path through the electorate, in terms of the left, center, or right wings (here they become “lanes”).

Bernie’s lane is on the far left wing of the Democratic party, to the extent that he identifies with “democratic-socialism,” as if lining up with some European workers’ party.

In positioning her campaign, Warren chose to fight for Bernie’s lane on the far left, and she ceded the center to Klobuchar and Buttigieg.

Now that Sanders is winning his lane, there’s no place for Warren to go. If she shifts to the right, she will be branded a sellout for political expedience. And there’s no room to the left of Sanders, except perhaps with the Red Brigade or the Shining Path.

I listened to Warren at two get-out-the-vote rallies, and she hit all of her high notes: about how the economy “is working great if you’re a large corporation” and about how “working moms” are getting shafted in terms of their salaries and what it costs to pay a baby sitter.

She shares the pain of her questioners about the opioid crisis and crippling student debt. Or she talks about the “gun violence problem” or making Roe v. Wade “the law of the land.” Then she hangs around for pictures or offers up Bailey (her buffed up golden retriever) to play fetch in the selfie line.

It’s all well choreographed, a bit like an episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show (without all the celebrity chefs and more about “extremists controlling our courts…”). But the ratings aren’t there.

Amy Klobuchar Decides How to Spin Another Fourth Place:

Amy for America, the Klobuchar organization, has everything you might want in a presidential campaign.

It has endorsements from the New York Times and other politically prominent newspapers. It has a 59-year-old well-spoken female candidate who has worked successfully in the Senate with Republicans and Democrats. It has a centrist message that ought to sell well in the mall of political America. And it has a flavor of midwestern, soccer mom sensibility in a campaign that has far too many old white guys from the East or West Coasts.

What Amy for America doesn’t have is much momentum, although she did well in recent debates, and there were many enthusiasts waving her kelly green signs at her get-out-the-vote rallies in New Hampshire.

It’s a shame, as Klobuchar is one of the few candidates (of the eleven that I have listened to in the last two weeks) who does not seem to entirely believe her own press releases and who has even delivered a few jokes. I think her midwestern nasal tone and slightly frumpy appearance have given voters a reason to overlook her qualities, which are many.

In New Hampshire, a win for Klobuchar would be to do better than Warren and Biden, and to stay close to Buttigieg (in that lane). A fourth or fifth place finish, behind Warren and Biden, would kill her candidacy, as neither South Carolina nor Nevada holds much promise for Amy’s can-do promises.

Joe Biden Waits on Godot in South Carolina:

The former vice-president can say he never expected to do well in Iowa and New Hampshire, but if you’re leading in the national polls (although not the betting odds) and finish fourth in the first two primaries, I am not sure what’s left of your candidacy.

Losing badly in the first two primaries will kill fund raising for Super Tuesday, when Biden will have to face the flush campaigns of Bernie Sanders and, I presume, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Nor has Biden been particularly sharp in New Hampshire, after sleep-walking through Iowa. In the debates, he seemed to claim credit for every piece of social legislation that has passed since the Franklin Pierce administration. But not many in his audiences seem to connect Joe himself to the bills under review (health care, background checks for gun buyers, etc.).

It seems as if there are two Bidens running for president: the one of his imagination, and the one that the voters recall, whose main job during the Obama years was to fly to state funerals.

Nor do I think that the impeachment hearings did Biden any favors. I suspect more than a few voters think Trump used his office for political gain (just as they think about 24 impeachment counts could have been brought against the president and made to stick, without a stacked jury). At the same time they don’t quite believe Biden’s story that Hunter had qualities that would earn him $50,000 a month on most boards of directors.

I don’t see how Biden can lose in Iowa and New Hampshire, and then, by virtue of winning in South Carolina, get enough momentum to win the nomination on Super Tuesday.

He’s low on campaign funds, and Buttigieg and Klobuchar are crowding his lanes. Joe’s done, sooner than you think.

Tom Steyer Blows a Billion:

I guess a billion dollars means less than it used to, as Tom Steyer is going nowhere in the campaign, despite flooding the airways and highways with his paid political messages and billboards.

Steyer would love to be the People’s Bloomberg, and to corner the electoral market before Mike shows up with his own billions on Super Tuesday.

The problem with his campaign is that Tom sounds a bit like former third-party candidate and mogul, H. Ross Perot, a whiny speaker with a bunch of great ideas to get government working—on gun safety, climate control, health care, impeachment, free tuition, etc.

I am sure most Democrats support the ideas that Steyer articulates; they just don’t like them coming from him.

I assume that Bloomberg doesn’t get the same criticism because he was a three-term mayor of New York, while Steyer has never held or run for any political office.

Steyer does have street cred for organizing voter drives, especially among young people, and he has funded a grass-roots impeachment campaign against Donald Trump and devoted resources to fight climate change. But few are listening.

Andrew Yang Does His Best to Buy a Few Votes:

There’s probably less to Yang than appears at first impression, when his irreverent humor, tech savviness, and youthful appearance make him stand out in a field of seventy-year-old contenders who give the impression that they have yet to send an email.

I actually think Yang’s $1000-a-month giveaway to every citizen could be grounded in serious economics, but as he presents the idea—Robin Hood soaking the tech giants—it begins to sound glib, at least without the numbers needed to back up the idea.

Yang’s observations about the presence of technology in our lives, while on point at a seminar in Palo Alto, California, or Cambridge, Massachusetts, begin to sound extraneous in a political campaign, although personally I think he makes good points about Citizens United being one of the worst judicial judgments in recent years. (He would fund campaigns by giving everyone $100 in “democracy credits” that could then be given to a candidate of their choice.)

Yang might be among those who are running for president for reasons that have nothing to do with holding the political office. He might see it as a way to build “his personal brand,” possibly to position himself down the road as a CEO of a hedge fund or non-governmental organization. (Apparently, even failed candidates come away from the race with benefits and a few speaking gigs.)

For the moment, Yang’s new age, app-driven campaign has been more successful than some of the traditional ones, and I could see his campaign sticking around in the race longer than, say, Warren or Biden, if only because his message is carried farther on social media and at lower cost than those delivered in TV ads.

Michael Bloomberg’s Altered Primary State:

The $60-billion-dollar bionic man is not in New Hampshire. Nor was he in Iowa. But in both states, not to mention in Super Bowl ads, Bloomberg is the man who came to dinner. (It’s a Kaufman and Hart comedy from the 1940s, about a man who comes to a house for a dinner and never leaves, turning upside-down the lives of those in the house.)

Bloomberg is a bank account more than he’s a political idea. If he had only one billion and had never held office, I suppose he would be Tom Steyer, trying to buy a presidential lottery ticket. But with $60 billion and as someone who has run for office as both a Democrat and a Republican, Bloomberg is not just an uninvited house guest but, to many, a man for all seasons.

Bloomberg’s lane is down the center, which, if his expense budget were less, would relegate him to the worlds of Deval Patrick and Michael Bennett, both of whom can match Bloomberg for political experience but don’t have his resources.

Bloomberg’s strategy is to let the Democrats bloody themselves in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, and for the field to be winnowed from about nine to three or four.

Ideally Bloomberg would love a Democratic field that is down to Sanders, Buttigieg, Biden, and Yang, which, in his mind, he could divide and conquer, especially as only Sanders has the rank-and-file funding for a long-term national race.

In a race against Sanders, Bloomberg would make the point that he would have a better chance of defeating Trump than someone who is a self-proclaimed democratic-socialist.

This year, the Super Tuesday primaries are to be held on March 3 in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia, and at this point only Sanders (aside from Bloomberg) has the resources to mount a media campaign in all those states.

I think Bernie would beat Bloomberg in a head-to-head campaign (Bernie’s passion would play better than Mike’s millions), but what will it say about the Democratic party if the last candidates standing turn out to be three white guys (Sanders, Biden, and Bloomberg), all of whom are in their late seventies, napping toward glory. It will say the party’s over.

Trump and Pence Play Manchester, NH: Democracy’s End

For my last event in New Hampshire I decided to attend a Trump rally in Manchester, on the eve of the primary election. The event was taking place in the arena of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), not far from where I was staying, and a week after I had applied online, my press credential had come through for the Trump campaign.

I didn’t completely fancy spending another evening at one of Trump’s red-hat, red-meat rallies, but since I had seen him in Iowa, he had given his (shredded) state-of-the-union address and been acquitted on both impeachment charges in the Senate. After a week of Democratic events, maybe a Trump rally would shed light on the possible outcome of the general election?

The SNHU Arena is located in downtown Manchester, which is more of an inner-city suburb than a city. Blocks of small wooden frame houses surround downtown, which has the feel of a renovated mill city, although along the main street there are more bake shops and quirky cafés than law firms and corporate headquarters.

I parked my car several blocks from the SNHU arena and walked to the sound of the TV commentators. All around the arena, the local police and secret service had parked snow plows and garbage trucks to serve as makeshift road blocks, around which police and firemen, in security vests, were loitering as part of a thin yellow line to protect the president inside the hall.

When I reported to the press entrance, a secret service agent, wearing a flak jacket and gun, explained that I should have signed in by 4:30 p.m. (the speech started at 7:00 p.m.) and that the arena was now closed to the press. Just before I got to the gate, he had delivered the same news to another journalist, who was weeping at her exclusion.

For my part I heard the news as a reprieve and would have clicked my heels at being spared from another Trump rally, except that everyone around the gate was heavily armed.

Instead of taking my seat in the press gallery, I walked around to the front of the SNHU arena, where a large crowd had gathered around an outdoor jumbotron, as if for a World Cup match.

Mixed into the crowd where numerous card tables where Trump hats, bumper stickers, t-shirts, decals, and signs were on sale.

Along the barriers that lined the main street a crowd of Trump supporters was watching the giant TV screen, on which the president’s oldest son, Donald Jr., was warming up the crowd. He was dressed in a sports shirt and jacket. Otherwise, his tone was that of an attack dog lunging on his chain.

I had never actually heard Don Jr. speak in public, and what struck me was the contempt and hate in his voice. To be sure, he was introducing his father and delivering a speech to a partisan political crowd, but he did both with a scorn unusual even in the age of Trump’s bile.

Don Jr. ran down the Democrats, Bernie Sanders, Joe and Hunter Biden, and Elizabeth Warren (he didn’t call her Pocahantas, but analyzed her Native-American DNA claim, as if he were an external consultant for Ancestry.com). They were all socialists, terrorist enablers, and un-American, and if allowed in office would embrace open borders, late-term abortions, socialized medicine, and ruinous economic policies.

After Don Jr.’s hate speech, Mike Pence came on stage to deliver a litany of Trump sycophancy. One can imagine Trump himself, back in the green room, watching Pence’s delivery carefully, just to make sure that he repeated correctly all the words that Trump had chosen for him to say.

Pence repeated, almost word-for-word, what he said at the Trump rally in Iowa although here he added that the Senate had acquitted Trump of the impeachment charges “forever.” And Pence ended by saying, reverentially, of Trump that “the man is in the house.”

On the jumbotron I watched the first twenty minutes of “Trump: The Love Song,” that which he sings to himself at these rallies. It was a repeat performance of everything he said in Iowa, although on this occasion he updated his paeans to include new material about the impeachment, Nancy Pelosi (“a horrible woman”), and the state of the union (back from the insolvency of the Obama years).

When Trump began reading the speech from his teleprompters, I decided to leave. I had heard the canned messages of hate before, and Trump reading a prepared speech sounds like someone in a freshman-year language lab trying to read aloud a German text of Goethe.

Around me, whenever Trump mentioned someone on his enemies’ list, such as Mitt Romney or Nancy Pelosi, the crowd would break into chants of “Lock Her Up” or “U-S-A!” While they were chanting, Trump would smirk and preen, pleased with himself for having incited his followers to hate.

* * *

Will Trump or a Democrat win in November? After only three weeks in Iowa and New Hampshire, I cannot say, but based on the turnouts in both parties, at this point the Democrats look weak and divided, while Trump, mounted on his fascist hobby horse, has the look of a supreme leader, a man on horseback.

If the general election were held tomorrow, I could well imagine Trump winning, but that’s only because in a field of nine Democratic candidates it’s hard at this stage to take the measure of the opposition.

Nor can much be said about the eloquence of the various Democrats, many of whom, at least in the primaries, shout catch phrases more than they deliver speeches. It doesn’t help that eloquent candidates for the nomination—such as Deval Patrick and Michael Bennet—get excluded from the debates and shut out of any publicity.

I would like to believe that the republic is capable of overcoming Trump and his henchmen (Don Jr. among them), but if you spend time listening to the Democrats campaign and then hear the president on his gilded soap box, you do come away with the feeling that the United States has crossed a Rubicon, from which the round trip will not be easy.

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