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Trump (and Sanders) Damage Not Just America, But the Liberal Democracy Brand

Lee Kuan Yew

Lee Kuan Yew / Photo by U.S. Department of Defense

A few days ago, the editorial page of China’s Global Times basically pointed at America’s political system and laughed. Look at what the nagging democrats coughed up!

Big-mouthed, anti-traditional, abusively forthright, [Trump] is a perfect populist that could easily provoke the public. Despite candidates’ promises, Americans know elections cannot really change their lives. Then, why not support Trump and vent their spleen?

The rise of a racist in the US political arena worries the whole world. Usually, the tempo of the evolution of US politics can be predicted, while Trump’s ascent indicates all possibilities and unpredictability. He has even been called another Benito Mussolini or Adolf Hitler by some Western media.

Mussolini and Hitler came to power through elections, a heavy lesson for Western democracy. Now, most analysts believe the US election system will stop Trump from being president eventually. The process will be scary but not dangerous.

Even if Trump is simply a false alarm, the impact has already left a dent. The US faces the prospect of an institutional failure, which might be triggered by a growing mass of real-life problems.

Pundits immediately (and rightly) jumped on this, pointing out the flaws that the paper was ignoring in China’s own authoritarian system of government, which not only excludes public input but also suppresses dissent. “Of course, there are a couple of glaring lacunae in that argument,” noted the Washington Post‘s Simon Denyer. “The most obvious being the tyranny and mass insanity unleashed by Mao Zedong, who killed tens of millions of his own people, (as indeed Stalin did in the Soviet Union). But hey, that bit of history is officially glossed over here.”

And no matter the populist lunacy into which democracies descend, they’re pretty good at peaceful shifts in political leadership. Dictatorships are a bit clumsy at that whole transition of power thing.

But Denyer and other commenters missed the fact that the Global Times editorial wasn’t a one-off. It’s part of a much larger reconsideration of the principles of government by much of the world that hasn’t fully (or at all) adopted liberal democratic values.A lot of that “reconsideration” is self-serving twaddle by autocrats looking to retain power while granting their subjects sufficient access to prosperity that they don’t revolt. But there’s enough truth to the analysis of the West’s flaws and the growing political crisis in supposedly stable, established systems that editorials criticizing democracy can gain traction among educated people who are deciding on their own future path.

Similar criticism could also be directed at Bernie Sanders–a surging politician who would and should be the year’s astonishment if Americans weren’t flocking in even greater numbers to support an orange authoritarian narcissist. The Vermont socialist’s promises to loot prosperous Americans to support a ludicrous grab-bag of unaffordable goodies are excellent examples of a prevailing problem with western democracies that dominated attention before the emergence of an open thug on the U.S. scene.

In 2014’s The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State, John Micklethwait, then editor-in-chief of The Economist, and Adrian Woolridge, management editor of the same magazine, sketched the “revolution” in government through the nation state, the liberal state, and the welfare state. Published just two years ago, the book seems almost quaint as it discusses the crisis in which the modern welfare state finds itself–before the political eruptions of the last year which drove a populist thug to prominence in the Republican Party, an economically illiterate socialist to draw crowds of young Americans, a crazy Trotskyite to gain the leadership of Britain’s Labour Party, the surge of nationalist-populists in Germany, France… But though overshadowed since, the authors’ points about the crisis of the modern western political system remains valid. Describing the condition of Britain in the 1970s, they write, “Ever-bigger government meant ever-greater social dysfunction. Vested interests competed ever more viciously for their share of the pie.”

More importantly, those flaws have been picked up by those seeking an alternative–an alternative to western democracy, and also an alternative to loosening their own grip on power.

“When you have popular democracy, to win votes you have to give more. And to beat your opponents in the next election, you have to promise to give more away. So it is a never-ending process of auctions–and the cost, the debt being paid for by the next generation,” they quote Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew as commenting. Lee, who died last year, famously created an economically free and socially authoritarian city state that has limited  democratic input–and stiff penalties for too vigorously criticizing the powers-that-be.

Lee was listened to and is eagerly studied, partly because he tells many people what they want to hear, but also because even when his tightly controlled system suffers an economic setback, it still seems to be doing better than the much freer democracies of the West.

And his example has been adopted and touted elsewhere. At the China Executive Leadership Academy in Pudong (CELAP) which trains the country’s future government apparatchiks and considers models to take the massive country into the future “there are better places to look than gridlocked America–most notably Singapore.”

The Singapore model is also admired, write Micklethwait and Woolridge, in places including Russia, Dubai, and Rwanda.

So the Global Times editorial fits into the ongoing erosion and disparagement of the western model of liberal democracy–often on a very calculated and deliberate basis–by people considering what system of governance should take them into the future. Many of those people obviously want an authoritarian model that maintains their clout and privileges. But to the extent the established western democracies keep shitting the bed, the Lee Kuan Yews of the world will find an increasingly receptive audience among those who need a system that effectively allows them to get rich while protecting lives and property. Civil liberty…well, if it leads to Trump, maybe they’ll pass.

While critical of libertarianism–at least in quasi-anarchist form–Micklethwait and Woolridge call for a revival of classical liberal solutions which most people would recognize as libertarian. They want to see the state restrained and reduced in size, power devolved, and rights protected. They see that–convincingly I think–as reinvigorating liberal democracy and securing its continued existence where it is already established, as well as its status as a model for the rest of the world.

“It is time to put the ‘liberal’ back into ‘liberal democracy’: to persuade both voters and governments to accept restraints on the state’s natural tendency to overindulge itself.”

Yes, I think that’s convincing. But how to accomplish that is the trick. How do you convince people to rein it in when they’re reveling in the use of the state as a bludgeon (Trump voters) or a mugger-for-hire (Sanders supporters)? Because if they don’t limit themselves, the system will fall apart–and then the Lee Kuan Yews of the world will happily do the limiting for them.

With Clinton Campaign Collapsing, Brace Yourself for a Brown vs. Red Election

Offered, for your edification, this comment from Hillary Clinton’s campaign spokesman, Brian Fallon:

“It is alarming that the intelligence community IG, working with Republicans in Congress, continues to selectively leak materials in order to resurface the same allegations and try to hurt Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.”

The offended protest came in response to revelations from an inspector general for the intelligence community that some of the emails the presidential candidate stored on her home-cooked email server when she was secretary of state included “special access program” information. That’s the sort of super-secret label slapped on black projects and other we’d-tell-you-but-then-we’d-have-to-kill-you data.

I’m guessing that the latest details are a deliberate intelligence sector leak, but not necessarily as a gimme to Republicans. I have to think that the country’s spooks are pretty damned appalled at the prospect of a chief executive who cavalierly leaves sensitive data lying around her apartment rather than stored at the office as an attempted end-run around freedom of information requests. Slipping that nugget to the press is probably a shot at torpedoing Clinton’s candidacy and/or pressuring the Justice Department to prosecute, without regard for who else may benefit as a result.

I'm trying to pass one of my policies now. Anybody got some prune juice?

Bernie Sanders/Photo by Gage Skidmore

But the obvious beneficiaries include not just Republican presidential hopefuls, but also Bernie Sanders. The socialist from Vermont is the only serious remaining alternative for the Democratic nomination at a point in time when it’s really too late for anybody else to jump into the normal selection process with hope of getting the donkey party’s nod. He’s already leading Clinton in New Hampshire, competitive with her in Iowa, and gaining nationally. I’m not sufficiently versed on party bylaws to know if there’s still a chance of something being engineered at the convention (both major parties have democratized their procedures over the decades so that the process is far more grassroots-driven than in the past), but it would be exceedingly difficult to foist a top-down establishment pick on the party if Sanders shows up with the requisite delegates.

Would you believe it started as a Y-O-O-O-J joke?

Donald Trump/Photo by Gage Skidmore

With Donald Trump chewing up the scenery on the GOP side, there’s a very real chance of seeing two outsiders seize the major party nominations based on populist campaigns exploiting the collapse of establishment efforts. Sanders is a self-described socialist, while Trump is a personality-driven authoritarian centrist who stirs up nationalist sentiments while vilifying out groups–a fascist at least in the broad sense, if not a Mussolini fanboy.

That means America’s major political parties (which have effectively delegitimized competitors through the schools and media) are within a whisker of handing us a brown vs. red presidential race in the fall of 2016.

For what it’s worth, I recommend bourbon. Or Victory Gin, if you wait a year.

Between the devil and the deep blue Santorum

The list of presidential candidates over whom I’d prefer Barack Obama is a short one, indeed. I’ll admit that I never had high expectations for old Barry — honestly, how could anybody? In 2008, when he was running for the presidency for the first time, he was a TV-ready politico-academic dilettante with an obvious social-democratic view of the ideal relationship between individuals and the state — a good-looking guy who wanted to turn the U.S. into Holland, but was ill-equipped to do so. (But he’s well on his way to turning it into Greece! Bring on the retsina!)

But, at least, I hoped, he could nudge the U.S. away from its Bush-driven role as the bombs-and-waterboarding capital of the world, right? Maybe a little more peace and a little less security state. That would be a good thing.

Now, of course, we’re reading headlines about the widespread popularity of President Obama’s scheme for using drones to assassinate American citizens living abroad who have been accused (but not convicted) of terrorist ties.

Yeah. So much for that plan (I say as I nervously watch the sky).

But, even so, Obama remains … less horrendous than some people who want to be president. I’m looking at you, Rick Santorum, you liberty-hating, authoritarian freak. I mean, really … This gay-baiting, collectivist control-freak is now the leading contender (for the next five minutes) among the Republican faithful?

Well, sure. When campaigning against an incumbent president who favors an expanded role for the state in people’s lives, why not go with a guy who favors an expanded role for the state in people’s lives, but in a different way.

That’s choice, American-style!

Democracy didn’t look so good yesterday

Well, I tried keeping these two links open in adjacent browser tabs, but then they started beating on each other (and liking it — you never can tell about these media stories):

I really am happy to see Prop. 8 knocked down, and no, I really don’t give a shit about the “undemocratic” nature of a court voiding the hateful, anti-liberty will of the people. I believe in freedom and am willing to use democracy as a tool — or to push it aside as needed — in order to maintain and expand freedom and minimize the constraints placed on human action by the coercive power of the state.

My chastity belt is pinching my junk

Rick Santorum, when last he sucked off the public tit

As further support for my disdain for democracy, I point to the fact that Rick Santorum topped the polls in three states, yesterday. That’s Santorum who not only hates the chaps-and-flannel-wearers who prevailed in yesterday’s court decision against Prop. 8, but also the libertarians and fellow-travelers who were equal victors in that case. Santorum has openly denounced those of us who “have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. You know, people should do whatever they want.”

And people voted for this intolerant, authoritarian tool.

So those two browser tabs were a double exercise in juxtaposition: bigotry vs. tolerance and democratic betrayal of liberty vs. antidemocratic support for it.

Interesting.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/calif-same-sex-marriage-ban-ruled-unconstitutional/2012/02/07/gIQAMNwkwQ_story.html?tid=pm_pop

Ron Paul polls strong as opponent to Obama

The latest CNN poll is out, including a variety of hypothetical matchups between potential GOP nominees and the sitting president. The strongest contender is … Rep. Ron Paul!

That’s right, in a what-if race between Barack Obama and Ron Paul, polling 1,034 Americans, the results come in at 52% for Obama and 45% for Paul. The next strongest candidate is (gag) religio-fascist Mike Huckabee at 8 points behind the president. Supposed favorite Mitt Romney trails by 11 points.

It’s way early yet, so take this poll with a grain of salt — although it taps the leading advocate of libertarian ideas in the Republican party as a serious contender.

A serious contender with the general public, that is. Among Republicans, Paul comes in with 10% support as a potential nominee, behind Huckabee at 16%, Trump, Romney and Palin. That still puts him in play, of course — and let’s see if the numbers move after this poll and today’s debate.

Light ’em up, desert rats

Contrary to early claims that Arizona voters had rejected a medical marijuana initiative, state voters appear poised to approve legal use of the weed yet again (third time is the charm!). As early and provisional ballots finally get tallied, Prop. 203, the latest medical marijuana initiative, is sliding from narrowly defeated to narrowly approved.

The latest count has the measure ahead by about 4,400 votes, with little chance for the antis to make up the difference.

What’s that I smell in the air? It must be victory.

Oh hell no. It’s the sweet smell of weed.

Next stop, sniff, is cocaine.

Election horror! I’m moving to (fill in the blank)

Why is is that, after every disappointing election, libertarians generally just grin and bear it (and tunnel a little deeper into the underground economy and counter-culture), conservatives vow to try harder next time (and win back their country for Jeezis), but lefties are forever vowing to toss their Patagonia gear into their hybrid put-puts and flee to Canada or France or some other mythical social-democratic paradise? My Facebook feed is currently speckled with progressive chums contemplating the good life in Toronto, Paris or Lilliput, about all of which they seem equally well mis-informed. This isn’t the first time, either.

Gawker captured the situation nicely with a round-up of five potential cities to which refugees from the recent dastardly Tea Party coup could consider fleeing. Kudos to Gawker for mentioning the uncomfortable truth that much of the world is a tad less lollipops-and-unicorns social-democraticky than progressives might like — less so than the U.S. in many cases. As Gawker points out of our neighbor to the north, “Well, it’s not that liberal. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a conservative leader, after all,” and even “[t]ax-heavy, expensive Sweden is also moving into a more American style of limited-ish federal government, privatizing many formerly state-owned business to stave off economic woes.”

In fact, deprived of the huge line of credit possessed by the United States, many countries to which trendy lefties might flee have long-since started slashing state spending, freeing their economies (a bit, anyway) and turning toward Tea Party-ish smaller-government solutions.

Canada, for instance, is no longer so much the big-government contrast to the United States. Canadian federal spending topped out at over 50% of GDP back in the ’90s, after which somebody went to tap the piggy bank yet again and found nothing but moths and good wishes. Out of necessity, the old Liberal government began cutting spending well before the Conservatives came to power.

Likewise, Britain is only one of the European countries that have explicitly rejected the Obama administration’s hoary Keynesianism in favor of some sort of fiscal discipline. Sweden really is deregulating and privatizing its economy — to the point that the Christian Science Monitor says, “some believe it should be held up as a bastion of market capitalism.”

On a less-encouraging note, the French have their own problems with nativism and immigration fights. There’s no escaping the border warriors in Paris.

I’m not entirely sure what sort of Erewhon the folks on the losing side of the latest election think they’re going to find once they disembark in the imagined promised land, but it’s probably going to leave them a bit disappointed.

It’s not that the latest crop of elected officials won’t be as bad as everybody fears; the last few batches have certainly lived down to expectations, and why should things change now? But, if progressives insist on fleeing the latest electoral catastrophe (after the previous one, which they themselves brought on us) they might trouble themselves to do a little research to make sure that they won’t be greeted in their new homes by poutine-munching, Gauloises-puffing clones of the scary villains they left behind.

Post-election …

… I just feel … dirty.

Irrational exuberance over the mid-term election

I admit to a certain degree of pre-election, hysterical jackassery.

The things is, while I know that virtually nothing is likely to change for the better in the wake of tomorrow’s mid-term election, I’m compulsively checking the political news sites and the online prognosticators — Nate Silver’s 538 in particular. It’s all Politico to Daily Caller to 538, then a little CNN.com and a taste of MSNBC.com, and back to …

But it’s all bullshit. There may be some tweaks after tomorrow’s results, but I highly doubt that much of substance will change. We’ll still be saddled with an ever-expanding state, shrinking realms of life in which we can make our own decisions, and an economic debacle looming ever-closer as office-holders play hot potato with the job of explaining to the American people that both Social Security and Medicare have always been both incredibly stupid and unsustainable ideas, and Obamacare is just a double-down on idiocy.

It’s not that everybody running for office or participating in the process is a scam artist; in fact, I expect that the Tea Party activists of the moment’s headlines are overwhelmingly sincere (if occasionally unhinged). It’s just that the United States has some of the most astoundingly well-stage-managed elections in “democratic” history. Idealists come and go, but the same political parties, dynasties and even policies endure for decade after decade. Sea changes do come from time to time, but with almost geological slowness compared to the forces that have swept away Canada’s Progressive Conservative Party, every major Italian political party of the post-war period, New Zealand’s old first-past-the-post system and even several French constitutions.

Elections happen in the U.S., but change doesn’t necessarily follow. The same shit just gets done to us by a slightly re-shuffled arrangement of oh-so-concerned faces.

I don’t think it’s all futile, though. No would-be omnipotent puppet-master is half as invulnerable as he or she thinks. But we won’t actually know that the real change is coming until we wake up some morning to find that the White House is in flames and a revolutionary junta of iPad app programmers has seized the airwaves and is locked in a death struggle with Android-powered counter-revolutionaries.

Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing will depend purely on the entertainment value.

If I was completely sane, I’d remember the revelation I first had when I was about … oh crap … five. That’s when I realized that a decent life depends on living the way you wish no matter what the folks in charge say, not on waiting for the rules to change.

But I still find myself getting that irrational thrill, waiting for the early returns …

I’ve already broken my campaign promise

Now you know to never vote for me. I’ve already broken the one campaign promise I made this year — and the election hasn’t formally occurred, yet. That’s right, I voted in the congressional election on my early ballot. Specifically, I voted for the Republican douchebag over the Democrat harpy. I’m not enamored of Paul Gosar, who has positioned himself as a social conservative in addition to his au courant, Tea Partyish support for free markets and smaller government, but incumbent Ann Kirkpatrick voted for the porculus bill and Obamacare, and that’s really all I need to know about her. Basically, I voted for divided government that will occupy its time entertaining us with angry gridlock rather than hurrying us over the brink and into the abyss.

Getting it in the front from Democrats and from behind by Republicans -- it's like being trapped between a Kennedy and Larry Craig!And no, I’m not one of those deluded fools who believes that “every vote counts.” I’m well aware that for any individual, voting is an essentially pointless activity that papers over irrelevance with a warm-and-fuzzy illusion of participation. But it’s a low-cost means of expressing an opinion and relieving a bit of my political angst.

Gosar, by the way, was the only Republican I marked on the ballot.

Arizona has a long list of ballot measures to choose from, this time around, and several are especially attention-worthy. In particular, I voted for Prop. 106 which would bar any rules or regulations that might force people into a health-care system. Basically, it would outlaw mandatory socialized medicine. Whether the measure could actually stand as a barrier to some federal decree is an open question, but I think it’s worth a try. It’s a giant “fuck you” to the folks who would herd us into for-your-own-good government systems, anyway.

And Prop. 203 would, once again, legalize marijuana for medical use. Arizonans have voted for medical marijuana before, only to be overruled by the state legislature, so this is a sort of “yes, we really mean it,” reminder to the state’s office-holding control freaks. The measure isn’t perfect, since it would turn marijuana users into a protected class that can’t be fired by pot-hating employers (a violation of free-association rights). But it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

And yes, oh social authoritarians who stumble across this site (did your preacher let you out of the basement for the day?), I do support legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes, or any other use to which people may wish to put it. Heroin and cocaine, too. So there’s no “stealth” aspect to my support for the measure.

Boy, I feel so civically responsible, today! It’s giving me a tingly feeling.

Or maybe that’s the bronchitis.