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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

THE WOMANS MARCH ON WASHINGTON: GET MAD; HAVE FUN; GO HOME



The New York Times declared it a “ringing success”, a not surprising conclusion from their politically liberal viewpoint.  And after all, a street event by a couple of hundred thousand angry women who didn’t break any windows or torch any cars is a success of sorts. But if it was a political rally or protest, what was it a success at?  

Successful political protests have a political objective which brings about political change.  The civil rights protests of the 1960's targeted unconstitutional racial segregation and resulted in the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent Civil Rights Act of 1965 dealing with voting rights.  The anti-Vietnam war protests of the 1960's over time succeeded in turning public opinion against continuation of the war, led to President Lyndon Johnson’s decision to not seek reelection in 1968, and eventually led President Nixon to begin the “Vietnamization” of the conflict and the eventual withdrawal of American forces.

But what was the political goal of the Women’s March on Washington?  In actual fact, it was a fragmented event as smaller groups and individuals with specific grievances showed up to take advantage of the numbers participating and the media coverage. In fact the organizers internet site explained that the March was about “women's rights, immigration reform, and health care reform; to counter Islamophobia, rape culture, and LGBTQ abuse; and to address racial inequities (e.g., Black Lives Matter), workers' issues, and environmental issues.”

That’s a lot to “raise awareness” about without saying anything specific and just about covers all the left wing grievance groups and issues. But over inclusiveness has its problems as a kind of competition among groups to influence the identity of the protest takes place. Black Lives Matter advocate and feminist Ijeoma Oluo complained that the March was “too white” and that is the reason no protesters were arrested.  And then in an example of the alternate universe of liberal unreality, a trans-gender “woman” complained that the March was not inclusive of trans-gender "women" citing the use of the pink “pussy hats” as a symbol of feminism while “she”, and other trans-gender “women” didn’t have one; uh, not the hat that is.  

Black Lives Matter was actually there in small numbers, as were a few rainbow signs for the alphabet soup label which describes the non-heterosexual movement, and a few climate change advocates held forth. But it was clear from the majority of the signs and the pink hat uniform of the day that this was a protest by aggravated females about a general feeling of alienation, grief and anger over the outcome of the presidential election and of course Trump’s highly publicized crotch grabbing confession which inspired the comical sight of women in their 70's holding laughably obvious signs declaring “My body is not up for grabs”. 
 
The high level of emotional investment in the prospect of “the first woman president” which was cultivated and enhanced over an 18 month period creating an air of certainty with respect to that outcome, was blown up over a few late night hours on November 9th.  It was like suddenly waking up from a fanciful dream only to discover that nothing has changed and you are still in bed with a bad cold and an overdrawn bank account. 

This was a liberal feminist nightmare which overwhelmed the “five stages of grief” so that the afflicted quickly jumped over the first stage of “denial” and went directly to the fourth stage, “depression”.  There was no “bargaining” and no final “acceptance”.  Finally, a group therapy idea in the form of a March on Washington blossomed and the group reverted to the second stage of “anger” where it remains.

Of course, one of the protest organizers seeking broader legitimacy said that the “march” wasn’t an anti-Trump exercise but this apparently was before the celebrity Madonna took to the microphone and in an expletive laced rant said that she had thought about “blowing up the White House”.  And of course, if an estimated 470,000 females are angry they need a target, which the signs and speeches confirmed.  A sign that claims “Trump is a Fascist” or demands that non-Trump voters “Resist Hate and Fear” leaves little doubt about the emotional underpinning of the exercise. Essentially, the whole event had the feel of a giant pep rally.  

So what happens now?  Is this the birth of a “movement” which will take back control of the Congress in 2018 and the White House in 2020, as some opinion gurus have declared?

Probably not.  Once the marchers went home the organizational aspect disappeared and the participants became the same liberal diaspora that existed during the failed election. It was fun for a day or two and protests are always fun.  The anonymity afforded by the mob; the rare opportunity to engage in hateful speech and make “demands”is emotionally empowering.  On college campuses where students have few daily responsibilities, protests are an intramural sport. Who can think up the most provocative slogans and chants? Who can conjure up another politically correct grievance and defy authority?

A mass protest serves lots of psychological needs but the intensity is gone when the participants resume their individual lives.  In this case the potential “movement” already existed in the form of the organizations that make up the liberal political spectrum and which were the sponsors of the March. This version of the movement, the pro-choice NARAL and Planned Parenthood; the far Left MoveOn.org; the feminist political candidate promoter, Emily’s List; the extreme environmental advocacy group the Sierra Club and others, obviously failed in November.  

There is nothing new; same membership, same angry voices, no outreach to penetrate the progressive bubble and attract politically moderate or independent voters that are needed for growth and political efficacy to join up.  The March participants were just a small percentage of Hillary’s voters primarily energized by the presidential “glass ceiling” myth and by the thought of being symbolically empowered by its shattering.  Will that potential energy even last for two years to effect the mid-term congressional election or for four years especially if there is no female presidential candidate?  

A few sound thinkers in the Democratic fold do not think so.  They have looked at the 2016 election and discovered that voters, including many of their previous supporters, are divided more by socio-economic class than by social issues and identity politics, which these voters perceive as being the realm of the “morally and intellectually superior” elite. The plight of trans-genders and spotted owls is far down their lists of political priorities. They are tolerant of legal immigration but want the borders secured. But primarily they want policies that address economic relief and security. Abortion rights and global warming don’t fit the bill.
    
If the Democratic Party wants a new Progressive movement it will have to be more inclusive and less intolerant and condescending of the “outsiders” and less centered around the daily vilification of their choice for President.  Given the near hysterical hate being promoted by the mainstream liberal media, this seems highly improbable.

Of course much depends on the governance of the Trump Administration and the Republican controlled Congress which is the other side of the coin of future Democratic Party success.  It is far to early to render confident judgments about the political acceptance of Republican policies. However, it will not be sufficient for Democrats rebuilding efforts to rely on President Trump’s personality traits as a basis for change. 

 Admittedly Trump has an aggressive, sometimes graceless and undignified tendency to overstate, and impetuously criticize, exaggerate both the good and the bad, and uncareingly open the door for criticism.   But so far his policies have been executive initiatives which have been consistent with his campaign promises which won him the election.

Putting a freeze on federal bureaucratic hiring conforms to the general belief that government is bloated and inefficient. Reactivating the 3.5 billion dollar Keystone XL pipeline from Canadian oil fields is a jobs producer and as David L. Goldwyn, President Obama’s head of the State Department’s Energy Bureau has recently said: “Keystone has never been a significant issue from an environmental point of view in substance, only in symbol,”. 

Commencing the process for the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, if done correctly, will address the unhappiness with the rapidly rising premium costs and the false claims of President Obama himself with regard to health provider choice.  While these initiatives will of course stimulate howls of liberal anguish, they have been well vetted by the successful Republican election campaign.

The more difficult work will come for his proposals which require legislative approval.  The Congress is divided and Democrats are seemingly committed to a  program of blind “resistance”.  Even the Republican majorities in both houses are divided in terms of parochial interests and Trump’s trade agreement modifications, funding for his border wall with Mexico and repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) will not be as easy as simply signing an executive order.  
If Trump’s domestic policies fail to approximate his campaign promises and his foreign policies have serious unintended negative consequences over the next two to four years, he will be a one term president as would any new president of either party.  But unfocused marches and protests simply expressing anger and accusations are likely to go the way of the much ballyhooed but failed Left wing Occupy Movement which was exposed both for its excesses and its pointless confrontations.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

TRUMPLOMACY: A WORK IN PROGRESS


Somehow the word “diplomacy” doesn’t seem to fit with soon to be President Trump’s persona.
The word has a generic meaning which includes the synonyms “ sensitivity”, “discretion”, “subtlety”, and “finesse”.  Oh well.   But in government, it simply describes the official interactions between representatives of various nations so in that case, maybe there’s more room for a variety of approaches.  
Still, the styles described by the generic descriptions have infused the international diplomatic process for decades if not for centuries.  Understatement in pursuit of the non-committal or “subtle”, has created a kind of long term “diplomatic speak” that looks sure to be subjected to  some “shock and awe” among the diplomatic traditionalists who now are thrust into the arena with the Twitter prone and unabashed President Trump.

Diplomats who are engaged in negotiations that don’t appear to be going anywhere describe themselves as “cautiously optimistic”.  In today’s epidemic of terrorist violence, representatives of sympathetic governments, simply “condemn” the terrorist acts, an over used and essentially meaningless phrase of disapproval.  For the most heinous of terrorist acts these same governments my take the bold step of “condemning the acts in the harshest possible terms.”  But what are the “harshest possible terms” and shouldn’t the terrorists hear them?


On a recent and “historic” trip to the battleship Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii,  Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered his "sincere and everlasting condolences" for his country’s attack which brought the U.S. into World War II, destroyed the U.S. battleship fleet and took the lives of 2,403 Americans.  “Condolences”?  Of course the Japanese are “diplomatic” to a fault and there exists in Japan a nationalist element which doesn’t condone apologies, even for 75 year old acts of war.


There are occasional exceptions to this formality.  Secretary of State John Kerry departed from abstraction and sensitivity in his defense of the Obama Administration’s failure to veto the recent UN Security Council Resolution which declared Israel’s construction of settlements in the West Bank occupied territories as a “violation of international law”.  


Emboldened by the fact that both he and his boss would soon be searching the “help wanted” ads of the Washington Post, Kerry, an advocate of the “two state solution” took a parting shot at Israel’s government. 


In an unprecedented personal attack on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Kerry he called the current government the "most right-wing" in Israel's history and claimed its agenda is "driven by the most extreme elements."  He continued with “If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic. It cannot be both.”

Kerry’s over simplification of the highly complex Israeli/Palestinian conflict and his departure from anything near traditional diplomatic support for America’s lone democratic ally in the volatile Middle East was not lost on the also diplomatically challenged President-elect.  Trump immediately entered the fray with an un-nuanced Tweet: “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th.”

 
He followed with another Tweet directed at the house of diplomacy itself: The UN is "just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!"

These short and disdainful comments, while containing elements of truth, indicate a distinctly different approach to the formality and caution, and indeed the special jargon that characterizes traditional diplomatic exchange.


There is a downside to Trump’s abrupt, “tell it like it is” approach, and his over use of Twitter gives the appearance of simplistic, knee-jerk reactions to events without the usual and prudent discussion with competent advisers.  The formerly conservative political pundit David Brooks, in this case correctly outlines the potential problem.  Speaking of the role of all Presidents in diplomacy he says:


“He’s the top piece of a big system, and his ability to create change depends on his ability to leverage and mobilize the system. His statements are carefully parsed around the world because presidential shifts in verbal emphasis are not personal shifts; they are national shifts that signal changes in a superpower’s actual behavior.”


Thus when made aware of North Korea’s recent claim to be ready to test an ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, Trump tweeted:

“North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen!”

The long term complexity and history of U.S. unsuccessful efforts to deter North Korea’s nuclear ambitions make Trump’s assertion either naive, or to some, threatening. In either case it deserves not more nuance, but more details. 


If Trump has a new, more bold, or simply more efficacious approach, it needs clarification, especially for the states most concerned with the problem, South Korea, China, and Japan.  Such clarification would be better served if it was delivered by foreign policy officials and by more than a 140 character Twitterspeak. 

Still, in some circumstances, Trump’s instinct to cut through the obfuscation of normal diplomatic niceties can clarify his positions or simply stimulate a “reality check” in policies  overly cluttered by political theater. 


A recent example is the “incident” regarding a phone call he received from Tsai Ing-wen the President of Taiwan (Republic of China) it was a five minute call in which mutual congratulations were offered for the successful 2016 elections by both parties.


Although since 1979, the U.S. has had a “One China Policy” which essentially recognizes that there is only “one China”.  This a legal concession demonstrated by the lack of formal diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Taiwan.  But the political reality is that Taiwan self identifies as The Republic of China and has since 1949 maintained and independent status with its own democratically elected government. 


U.S.-Taiwan relations are governed by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 which incorporates references to trade and security totally separate from relations with China.  

The Chinese government (PRC) demands a ritualistic level of diplomatic sanitation when it comes to references or communications with Taiwan which the world’s professional diplomats are careful to observe.  Thus Trump’s direct communication with Taiwan’s president, a first for a U.S. president or president-elect since 1979,  caused gasps of consternation among Obama’s loyalists and Trump haters. Liberal pundits proclaimed that serious consequences would follow. One even suggested that a new level of hostilities between Trump’s administration and the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) signified by the phone call could lead to “nuclear war”.


The original Chinese government,[ response was this:

“We have noticed relevant reports and lodged solemn representation with the relevant side in the United States.", said China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.

This might actually mean something in Chinese, but whatever it might mean in English, it doesn’t sound too threatening. 


In point of fact Trump has made introductory phone calls to a number of foreign leaders including Philippine President Duterte, Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif, and British Prime Minister Teresa May , which the distressed Democratic gurus of diplomatic procedure found to underlay dark motives, signals of unintended shifts in policy or dangerous outcomes, in spite of the fact that nothing serious was discussed in any of the brief conversations.


Thus the “bad news” of Trump’s unconventional, Twitter and phone diplomacy is still hypothetical.  He will no doubt be a bit of a “bull in the carefully arranged and allegedly fragile diplomatic “china shop”.  But the “good news”, which is also primarily based so far on the absence of major faux pas, is also that the clarity and efficiency of getting to the heart of policy positions might actually seem to be a refreshing change to foreign leaders who have sometimes struggled to actually know what positions the current American president and diplomats are taking.  


Time will tell and because Trump’s foreign relations learning curve is steep, he will probably make mistakes which will need “clarifying” but hopefully there will be no more phony “red lines”, contradictory and inconsistent positions towards our allies, or flaccid diminution of threats to American interests or security.