Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Washington Post/Ishaan Tharoor: The West's anti-liberal backlash can't escape its racism

The turbulent politics of the past year have hinged on a grand historical premise:  The status quo of the West is in crisis. Figures such as President Trump swept into power promising jobs for the disaffected, closed borders for migrants and economic protectionism; his fellow leaders in Europe preached an even more xenophobic message.

But in the chaotic months since Trump's inauguration, Europe's far right suffered electoral setbacks and the president's own agenda proved something of a muddled mess. His campaign-trail populism quickly gave way to policies that favored the mega-rich. What has endured are the identity politics — the resentments toward multiculturalism and immigration — that galvanized his base, which has remained loyal to Trump even while the president racks up historically low approval ratings.

And although the Trump administration tries to distance itself from "white nationalism" and its supposedly fringe adherents, ethnic grievances anchor the West's anti-liberal backlash. It's at the heart of the "traditionalist" Christian nationalism embraced by White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who despite various rounds of West Wing purges has held onto his post.

"I think Trump was a legitimatizer," said William Regnery II, a secretive funder of a slew of "alt-right" organizations that champion extreme anti-immigration politics in the United States. Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Regnery said that white nationalism has gone "from being conversation you could hold in a bathroom to the front parlor."

Over the weekend, a group of committed white nationalists, including some figures directly connected to Regnery's funding networks, held a conference in Tennessee, debating everything from Trump's record on race to the prospect of fashioning some chunk of America into a whites-only "ethno-state."

Jared Taylor, the founder and editor of American Renaissance, the far-right website that staged the event, spoke to the Guardian about the millennials turned on by his message. "These young white guys," Taylor said, "they have been told from infancy that they are the villains of history. And I think that the left has completely overplayed its hand."
Orban smiles before delivering a speech in Baile Tusnad, Romania, on July 22. (Nandor Veres/European Pressphoto Agency)

Orban smiles before delivering a speech in Baile Tusnad, Romania, on July 22. (Nandor Veres/European Pressphoto Agency)

A similar argument is made by considerably more powerful people in Europe. Last week, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivered a speech in a leafy Romanian town where a majority of the population is ethnic Hungarian. Not many international outlets covered the event — far-right website Breitbart was an exception, gleefully quoting the right-wing premier at length for his call to stop a "Muslimized Europe."

This rhetoric is familiar coming from Orban, an outspoken leader among the European statesmen railing against immigration and the challenge of Muslim integration into Western societies. (No matter that the E.U. refugee quotas Orban resists would do little to change his nation's demographic composition.) But this time, he offered a shout-out to Trump, whose nationalist speech in Warsaw in early July clearly thrilled the Hungarian leader.

Orban quoted from Trump's Warsaw address, in which the president warned of an existential threat facing the West and appealed to a narrow Christian cultural identity in the face of enemies at the gates. "Our freedom, our civilization and our survival depend on these bonds of history, culture, and memory," Orban said, echoing Trump. (Absent in either of their remarks were similar paeans to Western ideals such as democracy and the rule of law.)

The Hungarian prime minister also celebrated the fact that such statements are being made in public at all: "These words would have been inconceivable anywhere in the Western world two years ago," he said.

He went on to bemoan what is afflicting Europe. "Christian democratic parties in Europe have become un-Christian: we are trying to satisfy the values and cultural expectations of the liberal media and intelligentsia," Orban said, swatting at the transnational commitments of technocrats in Brussels and growling over his bete noir, Jewish American financier George Soros.

"In order for Europe to be able to survive and remain the Europeans’ continent, the European Union must regain its sovereignty from the Soros empire," Orban said. "Until that happens, we have no chance of retaining Europe for the European people."

Others on the far right are taking matters more directly in their hands. This summer, a group called "Generation Identity" set about trying to challenge the efforts of NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders that are operating ships in the Mediterranean to rescue migrants whose own vessels have sunk or become inoperable. Hoisting a "Defend Europe" banner, they tried to disrupt rescue efforts and even threatened to tow stranded migrants back to sea. Over the weekend, they were confronted by leftist activists in the Sicilian port city of Catania.

British journalist Rossalyn Warren described Identity Europe in The Washington Post's Global Opinion section:

"The group is known for its publicity stunts and creepy promotional videos showing white Europeans playing sports in what looks like summer camp for fascists. Their reach hasn’t just been limited to Europe either. Though the group is small — around 400 to 500 members in several countries including Austria, France and Germany — they’ve since been joined in Sicily by high-profile, far-right activists from Canada and the United States. They’ve also been supported by neo-Nazi leaders, including former KKK head David Duke, a vocal supporter of the Defend Europe mission."

Duke, of course, was also a vocal supporter of Trump during last year's election. The president may disavow these links, but leading far-right ideologues, including Regnery and Bannon, are more coy. Bannon, after all, once described Trump as a "blunt instrument" for his agenda. And although the effect of months of bludgeoning is still hard to measure, it's impossible to ignore the rhetoric that binds politicians in Central Europe to once-fringe radicals in Tennessee — and Washington.

• The BuzzFeed profile of Regnery is worth reading in full. A scion of a wealthy Chicago family, his grandfather was a key bankroller of the “America First” committee that sympathized with fascist Europe and sought to prevent the United States from entering World War II. Trump, of course, went and enshrined the “America First” slogan at the heart of his administration’s agenda. Regnery spoke to Buzzfeed about his personal politics:

“’I’m most comfortable around Europeans,’ he went on, as if describing a preference for tweed suits rather than twill. But soon his preoccupation got serious: ‘I just like living around people with whom I’m most comfortable, and that’s white.’…

"‘In my ethnostate,’ he explained, ‘I would exclude, as a rule of thumb, non-whites, non-Europeans, wherever, however you want to define them. So, that includes blacks. We keep getting back to blacks, but we've got to throw in Han Chinese, have to throw in Amerindians, people who are distinctly different.’”

• Fare thee well, Mooch. On Monday, White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci resigned his post just ten days after accepting the job — and 15 days before actually ever reporting to work. His farcically short-lived tenure will be remembered for the expletive-laden interview he gave the New Yorker, including a memorably nasty attack on Bannon. Scaramucci’s ouster was prompted by new White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who replaced Scaramucci foe Reince Priebus earlier this week. Kelly had no time for Scaramucci.

From my colleagues: “The abrupt decision signals that Kelly is moving quickly to assert control over the West Wing, which has been characterized by interpersonal disputes and power struggles during Trump's six months in office.

• In other White House news, my colleagues have another scoop: In early July, Trump personally dictated a statement about the actions of his son Donald Trump Jr., who arranged a meeting in June 2016 with a Russian lawyer claiming to have dirt on Hillary Clinton. The statement said that the meeting was about the adoption of Russian children, a claim that was later proven to be false by Trump Jr.’s own released emails. From my colleagues:

"The extent of the president’s personal intervention in his son’s response, the details of which have not previously been reported, adds to a series of actions that Trump has taken that some advisers fear could place him and some members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy.

"As Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III investigates potential obstruction of justice as part of his broader probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, these advisers worry that the president’s direct involvement leaves him needlessly vulnerable to allegations of a coverup.

"‘This was . . . unnecessary,’ said one of the president’s advisers, who like most other people interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. ‘Now someone can claim he’s the one who attempted to mislead. Somebody can argue the president is saying he doesn’t want you to say the whole truth.’”

• The Trump administration slapped new sanctions on the Venezuelan government and President Nicolas Maduro, whom Kelly called a “dictator.” In the wake of a controversial election yesterday that was boycotted by the opposition, the country has effectively picked a new legislature operating in parallel with a National Assembly dominated by the opposition. The new state of affairs has Maduro’s opponents worried about an uncertain road ahead.

From my colleagues: “Despite the tough talk from the White House, the sanctions fell short of the crippling pressure many observers were expecting. Potentially more sweeping measures — including the targeting of Venezuela’s all-important oil industry — are still on the table. But the opposition here is running out of time to turn the tide, and is now facing new and significant threats.”

• Leaked emails show that the United Arab Emirates once competed with Qatar to host an office for the Afghan Taliban. The revelations, reported in the New York Times, are important given how the UAE has invoked Qatar’s supposed coddling of extremists as grounds to justify an ongoing diplomatic and economic boycott of the tiny peninsular state.

South Korea&#39;s Hyunmoo II missile system fires during an exercise with the&nbsp;U.S. military on July 29. (South Korea Defense Ministry via Associated Press)</p>

South Korea's Hyunmoo II missile system fires during an exercise with the U.S. military on July 29. (South Korea Defense Ministry via Associated Press)

Two can play that game

North Korea has nuclear weapons and an ever-advancing ballistic missile program. So why shouldn't South Korea have nuclear weapons, too?

That question resurfaced after North Korea's missile test on Friday: South Korean officials suggested they would seek to further develop their ballistic missiles, perhaps renegotiating an agreement with the United States that places limits on its missile capabilities.

Nuclear weapons would be a step further, but South Korea has a civilian nuclear power program and could probably pull together the expertise to begin developing weapons in relatively short order.

The idea has significant support within South Korea. Won Yoo-chul, a senior figure in the then-ruling conservative party, said last year that his country should develop “peaceful” nuclear weapons to counteract North Korea's “fearful and self-destructive” ones. A few months later, a poll found that 60 percent of the nation supported such a move, in keeping with most polls conducted in South Korea since 2006.

South Korea has tried to join the nuclear club before. In the early 1970s, President Park Chung-hee began to investigate building nuclear weapons but was pressured to drop those ambitions by the U.S. and Canada. South Korea eventually ratified the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, in 1975, but it is widely believed that Seoul secretly pursued nuclear weapons thereafter.

Some experts now suggest South Korea might be able to develop a nuclear weapon in as little as 18 months. But many analysts worry a South Korean nuclear program might only add to a problem it claims to resolve.

If South Korea violated the NPT, it could tarnish the country’s standing on the world stage and lead to sanctions. It could cause problems for its nuclear power industry, which accounts for about 30 percent of the country's energy consumption. Worse still, some fear that a South Korean nuclear program could spur a broader regional arms race, with Japan or Taiwan perhaps developing nuclear weapons or China expanding its own program.

When the issue flared up again last year, then-President Park Geun-hye dismissed the idea. Park's successor, Moon Jae-in, has pushed for peace talks with the North as opposed to military solutions to the conflict.

“I don’t think that South Korea actually wants nuclear weapons,” Park Syung-je, chairman of the Asia Strategy Institute in Seoul, recently told The Washington Post. But with tensions rising with every day, that attitude may not last. — Adam Taylor

A Russian meme mocking Vladimir Putin&#39;s attempts to punish the West. The caption reads: &quot;If NATO invades Syria, we&rsquo;ll bomb Omsk!&quot; (Demotivation.me)</p>

A Russian meme mocking Vladimir Putin's attempts to punish the West. The caption reads: "If NATO invades Syria, we’ll bomb Omsk!" (Demotivation.me)

The big question

After Congress approved new sanctions on Russia last week, it was only a matter of time until the Kremlin responded with a punitive move of its own. It came on Sunday, when Russia announced that U.S. diplomatic missions across the country will have to reduce their staffs by 755 people. Booting diplomats from each others' soil is a time-honored tradition (the U.S. did this to Russia just last year), but the massive cuts ordered by President Vladimir Putin were unprecedented and eye-catching, signaling the Kremlin's growing anger with the U.S. So we asked Post Moscow correspondent Andrew Roth: How big of a deal is Moscow’s retaliation?

"Russia’s decision sounds dramatic, but it's ultimately a petty jab that falls hardest on the ordinary Russians who make up the majority of the U.S. diplomatic workforce here. Yes, it will make life harder for U.S. diplomats and hamper the U.S. Mission’s work, but it won’t put much pressure on Congress or the Trump administration to repeal sanctions.

"Putin mainly wants to show he’s fed up. As often happens, he’s sacrificed his own people to make that point.

"This follows a familiar plot. When Putin wants to punish the West, he does it by limiting access to the Russian market. Whether it's stopping food imports in 2014, banning adoptions of Russian children by U.S. parents in 2013, or now preventing the U.S. embassy from hiring Russian labor, his weapon of choice is the Russian people.

"Why does Putin do this? Because it’s one of the only weapons he has. The two countries do little trade, and America is a far more influential global economic player. Russia needs to think creatively to compete with America's punitive measures. As Fyodor Lukyanov, an influential Russian political analyst, told me this week, 'it’s very difficult for Russia to do anything to harm the U.S. interests unless Russia is ready to take steps which will harm ourselves.'

"As you can see above, the Russian Internet even has a meme for this: a photo of Vladimir Putin snarling self-defeating threats into a microphone. 'If NATO invades Syria, we’ll bomb Voronezh!' (or Omsk, another Russian city) reads one.

"In English, we call this cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. And under Putin, the joke goes, Russia’s always ready to do just that."

The Guardian — and many others — see a global crisis of democracy at hand, and an op-ed by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) that lit up Washington on Monday lays out how his own party has failed to rein in President Trump's own anti-democratic tendencies. But the White House could trigger a different kind of global crisis: an economic one, depending on how it deals with the country's debt ceiling. Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs says Vladimir Putin's isn't looking for a decisive break with the U.S. even as relations with Washington grow worse.
Democracy is dying – and it’s startling how few people are worried
There is a concerted and combined effort by the likes of Putin, Erdogan and Trump to hollow out democracy. To stop them, we must change how we view the world
By Paul Mason | The Guardian  •  Read more »
My party is in denial about Donald Trump
We created him, and now we're rationalizing him. When will it stop?
By Jeff Flake | Politico  •  Read more »
The most dangerous man in Washington
Mick Mulvaney has the potential to instigate a global crisis within a matter of months.
By Catherine Rampell | The Washington Post  •  Read more »
If Putin wanted to step up his fight with America, you’d know it
The Russian president’s decision was not the act of a man ready to give up on relations with the United States.
By Dmitri Trenin | Foreign Policy  •  Read more »


Remember almost two Scaramuccis ago, when President Trump declared it “Made in America” week? In keeping with the president’s “America First” agenda, the idea was to promote products made in the U.S. But Quartz highlights a glaring problem with the promotion: More manufacturing doesn't automatically lead to economic growth. In other news, The Chronicle of Higher Education profiles a black philosophy professor at a Texas university who was inundated with death threats after one of his statements was taken out of context, while The Pudding shows you who Americans eat with and what that says about the stage of life they’re in.
Donald Trump believes manufacturing equals prosperity. Our data analysis proves him wrong.
A visual tour through 12 years of data.
By Ana Campoy, Youyou Zhou and Christopher Groskopf | Quartz  •  Read more »
Who’s left to defend Tommy Curry?
A black philosopher at Texas A&M thought forcing a public discussion about race and violence was his job. Turns out people didn't want to hear it.
By Steve Kolowich | The Chronicle of Higher Education  •  Read more »
Table for one
An exploration of the dining habits and companions of Americans.
By Henrik Lindberg | The Pudding  •  Read more »

For Taylor Miller, the debate about transgender people serving in the U.S. military is not theoretical. She is the first Coast Guard officer to serve while transitioning, a process that has included painful facial and genital hair removal, constant medical appointments and staggering medical expenses. Miller suffers isolation in the Coast Guard and her parents have disowned her. "It’s a crap life," she said "I hate being trans. I don’t fight it. I know it’s what I am, it’s not going to stop me from being trans — but sometimes I just really hate it." This is what the past year of her life has looked like. (Amy Osborne)

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