KNEW That Sounded Familiar

Something in President Trump’s inaugural “American carnage” speech, set off alarms in my memory, and I’ve just realized what it was. Mr. Trump instructed “all Americans,” with rhetorical flourishes about “every city near and far, small and large” and so forth, to hear his words:

“You will never be ignored again.”

 
My gratitude to Peter Maass, writing on intercept.com. Mr. Maass reported from the Balkan wars of the 1990s, and his article reminded me that a young and entirely colorless Serbian fonctionnaire named Solbodan Milošević was assigned to speak at a rally in Yugoslavia just as the Soviet Union’s unsteadiness began to infect its near abroad, in 1987.

The rally was held at Kosovo Polje, the “Field of Blackbirds” outside Pristina in Kosovo, the site of a battle between Serb in Turk in 1389 that ended in the utter defeat and collapse of Serbia. Milošević, a Belgrade politician, drew a crowd of Serbs in majority Albanian Kosovo. Predictably, the crowd grew restless and hurled stones. Police applied force. These two events may have happened in either order.

Milošević responded to the crowd, “You will not be beaten.” His words were heard by the minority Serbs, variously translated, as generally “No one will ever dare beat you (Serbs) again!” Serbian nationalism was off and running and President Ivan Stambolić, whom the gray apparatchik Milošević replaced in short order, called that day “the end of Yugoslavia.”

Perhaps Milošević was as surprised as anyone at his newfound power. Not to suggest any present day parallel.

For the record, the Milošević regime didn’t work out all that well. Many died, war swept the land and Milošević himself died in prison.

Here’s a little something I brought back from a visit to Slobodan Milošević’s Belgrade in 1997, before he decided to surrender instead of shoot himself dead, but after he’d had time to enact his economic policies:

500billiondinarssmall
A 500 billion dinar note.

President Trump Honors Black History

CS&W is normally a pretty apolitical place, but hey, we live in unusual times. This is a transcript of President Trump’s Black History Month remarks yesterday, in which he opines, among other things, that “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I noticed.” This is not a parody.

Well, the election, it came out really well. Next time we’ll triple the number or quadruple it. We want to get it over 51, right? At least 51.

Well this is Black History Month, so this is our little breakfast, our little get-together. Hi Lynn, how are you? Just a few notes. During this month, we honor the tremendous history of African-Americans throughout our country. Throughout the world, if you really think about it, right? And their story is one of unimaginable sacrifice, hard work, and faith in America. I’ve gotten a real glimpse—during the campaign, I’d go around with Ben to a lot of different places I wasn’t so familiar with. They’re incredible people. And I want to thank Ben Carson, who’s gonna be heading up HUD. That’s a big job. That’s a job that’s not only housing, but it’s mind and spirit. Right, Ben? And you understand, nobody’s gonna be better than Ben.

Last month, we celebrated the life of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., whose incredible example is unique in American history. You read all about Dr. Martin Luther King a week ago when somebody said I took the statue out of my office. It turned out that that was fake news. Fake news. The statue is cherished, it’s one of the favorite things in the—and we have some good ones. We have Lincoln, and we have Jefferson, and we have Dr. Martin Luther King. But they said the statue, the bust of Martin Luther King, was taken out of the office. And it was never even touched. So I think it was a disgrace, but that’s the way the press is. Very unfortunate.

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Unease

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The country is at loggerheads. I imagine the way I feel tonight may be the way some felt about the incoming Obama administration.

I’m on the way out of town. We have the pure honor and privilege to be able to spend the next couple of weeks immersed in African wildlife. I’ll post here as opportunities allow. I can’t help but observe, though, that we leave a most unsettled America.

To ponder:

  1. The neoliberal economic model, unsteady since the 2008 crisis, is under attack at all the ideological fringes, fraying at the edges. What will be the impact of a tycoon-president determined to commingle his business interests with the exercise of power?
  2. What is to become of the existing western defense structures? I fear especially for the brave but tiny Baltic states. Then there is the incoming administration’s unsteady start with China.
  3. In light of the incoming president’s apparent appointments, what’s really up with the Trump/Russia relationship?
  4. Come on, now. About this incoming Trump cabinet, consider:
  • An education secretary who wishes to privatize education
  • A labor secretary opposed to the minimum wage
  • A national security advisor who joined in a chant to “lock her up” at the Republican convention
  • An environmental protection head who is suing the agency he will be nominated to lead
  • An Attorney General who was denied a judgeship
  • A health secretary who apparently wishes  to privatize Medicare
  • A UN representative with no international experience beyond trade missions as a governor
  • A housing secretary, a surgeon, with no managerial experience
  • A transportation secretary who is married to the Senate majority leader
  • A Small Business Administration head who is a wrestling promoter
  • Apparently, John Bolton

One or two of these, okay, sure. But collectively?

Now, you may make the “he won, he has a right to assemble his own people” argument. Or the “he’s a small government Republican (if you say so) and these people will advance that agenda” argument. I agree with the former. We can argue about the latter.

But really, are intelligence briefings too inconvenient for a president-elect to be troubled with? Really really? And does a president-elect really need to get publicly prickly against a local union leader in Indiana?

Back over the summer, as we left to visit Greenland, I wrote that I was happy to leave the dismal Trump/Clinton campaign behind, if only for a couple of weeks. For the next couple of weeks I’ll leave the transition with you, but this time I’m uneasy. Things don’t feel right.

If you feel I’m wrong, or wish to quibble on the particulars, please do. We can discuss with civility and respect. Let’s engage.

Meanwhile, for me, it’s onward and upward, for a brief two weeks, to Africa. The law of the jungle (in this case, the savanna), is way more uplifting.

 

 

On Trump, and Where We Are Now

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It’s hard to see what’s out there.

We live in a most pregnant moment. Outside cosseted liberal circles (where I live), one may not become unpregnant. Change will come.

There is a Great Blue Rush to understand the white working class.

A hero of the moment is J D Vance, whose Hillbilly Elegy is all the rage just now. Having lived in Appalachia for fifteen years (the very buckle of the bible belt, we like to say), I caution against taking Mr. Vance too seriously. As soon as I picked up his book, it struck me as lacking in empathy for the people he describes.

Vance is mean. He castigates his kin and their fellows, and he ascribes their predicament to flaws in their own character.

In fact, the largest single cause of underperformance around here is that all of the jobs in this part of the world have left this part of the world. Until not long ago there was a garment factory near our home. Now there are none, save for chicken processing plants largely employing immigrant labor. High school kids can’t wait to graduate and get the hell out of here. Methamphetamine is the local plague.

Rather than Vance, to get yourself thinking I recommend on the left, Roy Greenslade’s Is liberalism really to blame for Britain’s (and America’s) ills? and on the right, Joan C Williams’s What so many people don’t get about the US working class. It is not impossible to understand that white working class men (this is Williams) “aren’t interested in working at McDonald’s for $15 per hour instead of $9.50.”

It’s honor. And dignity.

After the election I watched PBS pundits answer “guilty as charged” to dissing that dignity in using the shorthand “non-college educated voters.” I would add “fly over country” and, as Sherrod Brown pointed out, “rust belt” to the slurs that surely stuck in the collective craw of the Trump electorate.

So we are off on our period of Blue Guilt. In the rush of excitement to embrace globalization, Blue World has been called out. While those of us not left behind celebrate the hundreds of millions of people lifted from poverty – China, Bangladesh, Pakistan – we stand naked and guilty as charged of overlooking our own countrymen, our neighbors.

Does anyone listen to globalization’s poster boy, Tom Friedman, anymore? If so, why?

And yet: While we may be suffering from a patch of Blue Guilt, it is not emollient to embrace the entire suite of Red Resentments, particularly the unwelcome antagonism toward the very Latin American migrants who do the essential, grinding work of our country, and do it willingly, even gratefully.

Hand in unfortunate hand with the fear and resentment of that particular “other” elides the fear of Islam, because of its perceived threat of terror. Whatever your politics, it is hard to avoid that at least since the overthrow of Saddam, the United States has had a large(r than Trump’s) hand in the disruption of the Islamic neighborhood. We dodge responsibility, but we should not.

So many innocent shattered lives, in the name of humanity, deserve safe harbor. Up until now our decent and welcoming land, a land of immigrants, would have been expected to understand, and lend a hand.

Apparently no more, because now is the time of Trump.

It may be, as Mr. Greenslade suggests, that painstaking education (ever the tiresome, long term corrective, ever with the lefty whiff of condescension) is the long term answer. This election has shown that the body politic is no longer willing to wait.

In a revolution, you have to know who you can trust. Half the country trusts, half the country doesn’t, both ways.

In the tumult of lefty thought there is no guidance. Some want to close ranks, for the good of the country. Others demand that Trump fail, and fast. For the good of the country.

We know our country must heal. And we wait, on knife’s edge.

The New Populism

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The world has been waiting for Donald Trump since 9 November, 1989. It’s not often we can calculate the end of a political era to the exact day, but the breach of the Berlin Wall on that date set off a dénouement to the Cold War, a 776 day countdown to the final dissolution of the authoritarian model represented by the Soviet Union.

The ensuing interregnum had its own name, the Post Cold War period, highlighted but not defined by the 9/11 attacks. Its defining events were the Yugoslav wars, the GWOT and the continued strong dominance of neo-liberalism in the United States, which many believe led to the other defining event of the period, the 2008 financial crisis.

donald_trump_make_america_safe_again_sign_-_fred_shinn__terrie_frankel

During the Post Cold War period political scientists grew impatient for the world to get on with things, to get past this pause in history. Now the new era is well and truly here; out with the old, a half century’s balance of power between representative government and authoritarianism, in with the new populism.

Few get to watch an inchoate new era take form, and that is our great good fortune. I look forward to reading future writing about the underlying dynamics that set this unnamed new era in motion. It will earn its own name in due time, but whatever we call it, who on earth would have thought one of its founding fathers would be Donald Trump?

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Berlin Wall photo from EarthPhotos.com. Other photo from Wikimedia Commons.