Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Orlando Massacre is about Guns not Islamic Terror

The recent tragic massacre of 49 people of the LGBT community at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, by Omar Mateen is being used for political ends by both the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton election teams to maximise their advantage in what is already becoming one of the most brutal elections in American history. While Trump attempts to steer the agenda towards 'islamic' terrorism and President Obama's apparent softness on Muslims as the main issues, and away from the all-too-easy availability of guns in the United States, Clinton and Obama are using the occasion to attack Trump's opportunism and poor taste, trying to drive a wedge between the Republican party's leadership and the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee, and defend the Democrats' record in the war on terror. And it is abundantly clear that this war of words will little affect either the supply of lethal firearms or the continuation of America's targetted assassination programmes or drone warfare programmes.

Donald Trump has been endorsed as a presidential candidate by the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) and has since called for the abolition of laws prohibiting the carrying of guns in and around schools. The NRA endorses and backs the election campaigns of large proportions of congressmen and senators of both main political parties and, consequently, acts as brake on legislation to tighten up gun laws, allowing practically anyone with a wish to buy an assault rifle - basically an upgraded sub-machine gun - within three days even if background checks have yet to be completed. And, weapons purchased at gun shows are exempt from any background checks.

There is no question that Donald Trump uses racism and xenophobia to mobilise his supporters and is an embarrassment to the Republican party's leadership. But that's all he is - an embarrassment to be explained away. The likes of Paul Ryan and many other GOP stalwarts who called Trump all sorts of names have swung behind the latter, as have the bulk (possibly 85%) of the Republican electorate. It says a great deal about what republicans stand for as Obama's presidency approaches its final months - led by an openly racist, misogynist, xenophobic presidential candidate guilty of "textbook racism", according to Paul Ryan. And the GOP is doing nothing about it.

For Clinton, Trump is a gift. Her strategy seems principally to be the define herself as the 'anti-Trump' much as Obama was the 'un-Bush' in 2008. This is a short-term strategy that promises business as usual if she secures the White House in November. But the purely negative 'anti-Trump' campaign will need to be tempered with a recognition of the greatest political necessity of this time - the need for a new political order at home and a viable programme for America's global role.   

This election campaign is all about what America stands for in the world - is it the power of money, the gun, of inflammatory xenophobia? Or is it a nation built on a promise, of possibility, capable of renewal? Hillary Clinton has an historic opportunity to seize the initiative and inaugurate political and economic change that may heal a deeply disturbed and fractured society. 


Thursday, 9 June 2016

Sanders and Trump Have Shaken the US Political Order


The primaries represent nothing short of a revolution in American politics, a shaking up of the post-war liberal order.


Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Credit: Reuters.
It may seem unsurprising that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the presumptive nominees of their respective parties for the historic 2016 presidential election – the first likely to feature a female candidate for a main political party. But we should not underestimate what this primaries’ process has accomplished: the unsettling (in the Republican party’s case, toppling) of the established political leadership and parties of the US from both Left and Right, such that the ‘centre’ may be in danger of disappearing or at least being redefined. This is nothing short of a revolution in American politics, shaking up the post-war liberal order. Trump and Bernie Sanders have garnered millions of votes with two clear messages: the ‘system’ is rigged against the working and middle classes and it’s time for the people to take power back from out of touch elites. And America’s role in world must be revised. Whoever wins in November 2016 will have to deal with that fundamental new reality of US national politics.

The July Democratic and GOP conventions will be anything but ‘conventional’. Clinton faces a stubborn opponent in Sanders who’s won 23 states and over 11 million votes for an overtly socialist programme that has made Wall Street a proxy for widespread antipathy to the ‘billionaire class’. He remains bullish that he can swing so-called super-delegates – mainly party stalwarts whose main function is to stop grassroots campaigns against the party leadership – behind him when the latter formally vote only at the Philadelphia convention in late July. Even failing that, Sanders has secured five of his representatives onto the Democratic platform committee that will write the main planks of the nominee’s election campaign. His delegate tally of around 1,800 will ensure that he has a major voice in the selection of a vice presidential running mate because Clinton needs Sanders to urge his supporters to back her in November. Should Sanders manage to secure for Clinton’s running mate someone like US Senator Elizabeth Warren – who is well to the left of the party on matters like inequality and the corruption at the heart of corporate America – a large proportion of his relatively young voters would swing behind Clinton and propel her into the White House. The big question is whether or not Clinton can see past her Wall Street donors and run a presidential campaign offering a vision of change and dealing with economic and political inequality.

On the GOP front, major issues remain: the leadership is swinging behind Trump. Paul Ryan, speaker of the House of Representatives, has changed his mind and backed Trump for president, as have many other of Trump’s erstwhile Republican opponents. Trump is not their man; he makes embarrassing, openly xenophobic and misogynistic statements, for which Ryan et al are now apologising, and brings the Right into disrepute – but it seems GOP leaders think he can be reined in. Yet, Trump also faces a dilemma: riding a storm of protest from alienated Republicans and newly-mobilised voters and winning the primaries, he cannot now openly change his positions for fear of alienating the very people who brought him the nomination. Yet he has also alienated a wide range of Republican voters, especially women, leaving him requiring a strategy to regain political credibility. But there are many Republicans who are simply unable to accept the idea of Trump representing the US, let alone being able to govern effectively.

The political storms released during the primaries have been building for some time – a reaction to the free trade agreements of the Bill Clinton era, breakneck globalisation, outsourcing of factory jobs and the diminishing role of organised labour in US politics, the increased economic power and political influence of financial institutions, the Bush era disasters of the Iraq war and the war on terror, the financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent failure to radically change the position and role of the financial sector in the economy or polity. President Obama missed the chance for radical change despite sweeping to power promising ‘change we can believe in’ – and the power of big banks and big money has continued to grow at the taxpayers’ expense, and social and economic inequality has grown with it.

Sanders’s socialist campaign – against all odds in a country that claims to have abolished class and class inequality – has struck a chord across the US, especially among so-called millennials. He has railed against globalisation and the loss of working class factory jobs. His calls for cuts in military spending and overseas military interventions speak to a large swathe of America that opposes US global hegemony. Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric is the most widely covered part of his campaign. Yet, the power of his message goes a lot deeper than that: he too challenges the very core of the post-Cold War liberal order – globalisation, the market and the loss of manufacturing jobs that’s hit his white working class support base. And his call to question the full panoply of America’s core global alliances – NATO, the treaties with South Korea and Japan, its backing of numerous allies in the Arab world – is a challenge to very foundations of the post-1945 US-led liberal order.

The centre-ground of American politics has just one champion left: Clinton. But even she must redefine the political centre if she is to retain and sustain it into the 21st century. Wall Street is a brake on broadening her vision. But the next president will have to govern a deeply fractured nation in an increasingly fragmented world order, put finance in its place and launch and develop a sustainable new grand bargain for America and its place in the world.
Inderjeet Parmar is Professor of International Politics at City University London. You may follow him on twitter: @USEmpire.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

US election and young people



Perspectives / Activism / The US presidential election: how terrified should young people be?

From escalating police brutality and Islamophobic attacks to skyrocketing student debt and a rampant Wall Street, there could be a whole lot of bad to come for young people, whoever wins the US presidential elections. We asked an expert to help us get to the bottom of the madness.

Watching the race to be America’s next president doesn’t inspire much hope for the future. But let’s assume for a minute that Donald J. Trump doesn’t get his fingers anywhere near the nuclear button, we avoid World War Three and there is still a future to think about.

Whoever wins the US presidential election later this year, there could be huge consequences. We’re already staring down environmental collapse, crippling debt and the knowledge there’s little hope of achieving a better or even similar standard of living than our parents. But depending on how November’s vote goes, we could also have to deal with escalating police brutality and Islamophobic attacks, skyrocketing student debt and a rampant Wall Street.

To get to the bottom of what’s really at stake for young people in this election, we spoke to Inderjeet Parmar, Professor of International Politics and chair of the Obama Research Network at City University, London.

How much have issues that affect young people been part of this election campaign?
I think probably much more than in previous years. I don’t remember a campaign which actually focussed on young people to this extent.
Millennials are such a large demographic cohort and they’re growing in size. Their economic significance is increasing as America gets older so young people’s issues are going to be more and more important. Demographics are very powerful as activators.
Young people have different ideas, views and attitudes. Millennials don’t care about the Cold War or anti-communism, for example. They have no vested interests. They’re looking to the future. Roadblocks to their future seem to be increasing, such as the increasing costs of healthcare. So there’s growing pressure for change. As a result, their discontents do tend to become political issues.

What are the biggest issues affecting young people that have been discussed so far?
There are a couple of big areas. One is students and the indebtedness of graduates. Students are coming out of college paying very high tuition fees and having hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. With graduate employment and salary levels not as high as they used to be, obviously it means its very hard to get a start in life, get on to the housing ladder and so on. That’s been a big issue for Sanders, in particular.
The second area is police violence and gun crime, which Hillary Clinton has pushed on to the agenda. She’s been talking about the high rates of police killings in the last few years and how that disproportionately affects African American youth. Most recently, she has argued that because Trump is now being endorsed by the National Rifle Association, there’s a threat that he’ll call for an end to gun-free zones in schools and that this is a greater threat to children and young people.

Is Trump as much of a threat to minorities as people make out? 
Absolutely. Even under Obama we’ve arrived at a place where Harvard medics argue that police killings of black people should be declared an epidemic. Under Trump I’m sure that trend would get much worse.
Trump’s campaign has already generated more hate crime across the board. A survey by the Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, showed that since late 2015 there’s been a large increase in police apprehending people committing hate crimes. Trump has encouraged and emboldened some of the most bigoted elements in American society to come and act out more of the anti-minority and anti-Islamic sentiments that he’s associated with. That’s just his campaign. If he were to win the White House it would send a huge message.
In 2008 after Obama won the election, right-wing hate groups have swelled. If Trump were to win, those forces which have been pent up for the last eight years would be released and that would be very dangerous.

So, let’s say I’m a Muslim woman living in Dearborn, Michigan – or one of the other big Middle Eastern communities in the US – to what extent should I be worried?
Just imagine! Trump is misogynist and Islamophobic. The violence which comes to Muslim communities, which has tripled in the last year alone, from bombs to name-calling in the street and violence against mosques, will be even more dangerous. Those people who are vulnerable will be even more vulnerable. Trump has benefitted enormously from the Paris and Brussels atrocities. If there were to be another terrorist attack for example, it would just be even more vitriolic and poisonous.

How do you rate Hillary Clinton’s offering to minorities, particularly young people?
Her message is one of hope and change. There’s a lot of loyalty to the Clintons because African American living standards went up so much in the ’90s. But at the same time African American incarceration rates went up astronomically as well. There’s a promise of good things, and more opportunities but a lot of it is rhetorical. What Hillary Clinton can deliver depends on her ability to go beyond Wall Street’s priorities, and that’s where I have the biggest doubts about her agenda.

If Trump won, would he take on Wall Street?
He’s a corporate billionaire himself so he’s obviously not an anti-corporate overall, but he’s been sending the message about globalisation and free trade. He’s been saying that his base has suffered from globalisation, NAFTA and other free trade agreements. So he’s saying he would do something, but what he would actually do he’s never specified. It’s easy to say this is wrong, but what is he going to do to take on those forces? Those forces are very embedded in the political system.

Could any of the candidates really take on Wall Street? What happens if nobody does?
If there isn’t a new president who has an agenda for change, which helps to deal with some of the big structural issues, then the big problems that affect young people are going to get worse. What you currently have is a kind of crisis in the political system and that’s partly brought about by the fact that the corporations, particularly the banks and the financial institutions, have such great power. And they are backers of globalisation. That means very little protection for people within the United States, and in other nations as well, from competition from abroad. The consequence of that is that if there’s free migration as well as an even greater outsourcing of jobs, that then has a big squeeze effect on the economic opportunities young people have.

Where does Bernie fit into all this? Would you say he’s out of the running?
Bernie is immensely popular with young people, in fact most surveys show he’s picked up something like 85% of the vote from people under 30. But it’s difficult to call. Even without superdelegates, Clinton is a long way ahead. But there are big states still to come, like California. What Sanders can do is have an effect on who might be the vice-presidential running-mate. If Sanders were able to get somebody like Elizabeth Warren on the ticket then that could be quite a big deal. She’s on his wavelength and she could get the Sanders movement behind Hillary Clinton.

So, young people’s best, realistic hope might be an Elizabeth Warren vice-presidency at this stage?
Yeah, I would think so. She has championed youth causes before and she is well to the left of the democratic party. She’s been very effective against Trump on Twitter and elsewhere. Some people argue she’s making a play for an all-woman ticket to cash in on the misogyny of Trump. She would be a pretty assertive and strong vice president, who could galvanise support around Sanders’ agenda, like inequality, decreasing levels of income for poorer people, healthcare and student debt. She could be a powerful voice.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Trump Crushes the GOP Establishment

Donald Trump now faces no serious rival in his campaign for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. As the party comes to terms with the news, three experts take the measure of his chances.

Republican meltdown, Democratic opportunity

Inderjeet Parmar, City University London
Donald Trump’s decisive victory in the Indiana primary election last night, coupled with the withdrawal of his principal rival, Ted Cruz, has made him the party’s presumptive presidential nominee. It has exposed a deeply divided Republican party whose leadership has lost all credibility and whose conservative philosophy, which it has held dear since 1980, is in tatters. The party’s very survival is now uncertain.

This near-apocalypse has been years in the making. The Tea Party insurgency has badly undermined both state and national party elites, driving the GOP further to the right and electing highly ideological congressmen and senators who refused to compromise with the Obama administration – not least Cruz, who defied the GOP leadership and forced the US government into a total shutdown in 2013.

But this collapse is also the fruit of decades of economic deterioration of the party’s white working-class voters, especially those without a college education. Compounded by the 2008 financial crisis, decades of deindustrialisation have left a legacy of unemployment, underemployment, falling living standards and expanding social and economic inequality. This has also hit middle-income Republicans hard. Many of them now support higher taxes on corporations and the very wealthy and back some kind of redistribution of income and wealth.

This is a rejection of the core principles of the Reaganite conservative consensus: low taxes, free markets, welfare cuts, laissez-faire government. Trump has also shown that social conservatism is not a prerequisite for victory in the GOP primaries, another blow to the party’s Reagan-era principles.

And so, is the GOP leadership left with no choice but to get behind Trump? There have been recent overtures. Some GOP stalwarts responded noticeably warmly to Trump’s first “serious” foreign policy speech, and Karl Rove’s well-funded campaign organisation has reportedly indicated that if necessary, it would back Trump against Hillary Clinton.

But Cruz’s verdict on Trump, which is shared by a majority of Republican voters, speaks to just how toxic the GOP’s presumptive nominee really is. “This man is a pathological liar, he doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies … in a pattern that is straight out of a psychology textbook, he accuses everyone of lying,” said Cruz on the threshold of the Indiana vote. “Whatever lie he’s telling, at that minute he believes it … the man is utterly amoral”.

The GOP civil war is unlikely to abate any time soon – and that’s a boon to Clinton. The big question now is whether Clinton can turn the other party’s crisis into the Democrats' opportunity. She must now fashion a message that inspires and unites her party for the general election – even as Bernie Sanders, her flagging but still formidable opponent, continues to win states and vows to continue his campaign against the party’s establishment and it Wall Street backers.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

America's moment - Trump, Sanders and Brexit Point the Way Forward



America’s Moment, or How to Turn a Crisis into an Opportunity
President Obama’s recent visit to the United Kingdom to intervene in support of the Remain (in the European Union) campaign was an attempt to prevent the further unravelling of the US-led world system which is in severe crisis at home and facing significant problems abroad. A united Europe – as a bulwark against the Soviet ‘threat’ and as a market for US goods and investment – was an American project. It threatens to disintegrate under the pressure of the Eurozone crisis, the refugee problem engulfing the continent as result of past US interventions in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, and the rise of European nationalisms on the Left and extreme Right. The solution: forge a new grand bargain at home and abroad that allows for diffused leadership serving a broader range of national and class interests in the global polity. More democracy and equality, and less liberty and more state regulation or outright control of the forces of the market that have devastated working class and poor communities through unrestrained globalisation.

Obama’s intervention in the Brexit debate links his position therein to the crisis of Europe, where the Right is on the march, and received the hardly-coded race card response from Boris Johnson and others from the Vote Leave (the EU) campaign (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/boris-johnson-suggests-part-kenyan-obama-may-have-an-ancestral-dislike-of-britain-a6995826.html); in the Middle East, where the US and Britain actively disordered the region after 9-11 that led directly to the rise of Islamic State; and at home, as demonstrated by the anti-establishment turmoil of the US primaries. Obama’s intervention points to the crisis of an international order established in the 1940s that froze power relations and has changed little over the past 70 years, and a domestic party system inaugurated by Reaganomics and social conservatism in 1980 that has yielded power to the market and Wall St corporations. 

Yet, the world has changed and power relations need to change with it. America’s imperial paternalism, that brooks no one else’s nationalism, and even brands some variants of its own as ‘isolationism’, needs to diminish to permit others to exercise the responsibilities of statehood, to develop a stronger stake in the global order, and better manage the world of the twenty-first century. And that grand bargain must be reflected and anchored at home in a political realignment – currently being fashioned by the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders insurgencies - that takes into account the interests of young people, the working poor and the squeezed middle, and engineer and discipline a more socially responsible and politically-accountable financial elite, the 0.1% that since the 1990s has led the corporate takeover of American politics and the current inequalities of income, wealth and power.

Many frame the issue from conservative positions – producing blueprints for a slightly reformed US-led order. One has only to look at the reports coming out of Brookings, the Council on Foreign Relations and the legion of scholars at America’s many elite academies – such as Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School (for example, http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/order-from-chaos/posts/2016/02/17-five-countries-international-liberal-order-piccone). But their flawed US-centric framing leads to a status quo set of conclusions, while actually there is an historic opportunity presented by crisis for a renegotiation of global order or perhaps a series of negotiations – thematic and regional and other - to reshape and fashion a new settlement for the new century.

Dominant framings of the issue leads to an omission of any serious consideration of the opportunities presented by Donald Trump’s critique of the US role in world – the questioning of its principal post-1945 institutions and relationships. For raising those questions alone, the GOP’s primaries front-runner is branded an isolationist. But Trump’s challenge is more than “isolationism”; isolationism is an epithet used by foreign policy establishment people to undermine practically any opposition to their interpretation of America’s global role. Trump is an “America First-er”, not an isolationist, and questions the various alliances and institutions that the US-led order built and rests upon. Trump’s challenge – whether or not he wins the nomination or the general election – will not go away, because it’s one raised on the Left by Bernie Sanders too. Between Trump and Sanders, and the ratchet effect of Sanders on Clinton, there is a structural problem highlighted by their current popularity that is deep-seated and enduring and has now come to a head in a popular revolt against the American elite.

The conservatism of entirely US-centric solutions and critiques of Trump (and Sanders) also elides serious critiques of either the inequalities of the US-led international order or of its effects at home on the majority of Americans whose income shares and wealth have diminished steadily since the 1970s and who are fully aware of the inequities of power and wealth distributions and reject the elites of both parties in such great numbers.

The domestic crisis of US liberal order and its global problems are related but are not insoluble. They require a realignment at home and abroad. Otherwise, narrow nationalist impulses will come to the fore while at the moment there is an opportunity to redefine and reshape globalisation to benefit and not damage so many people, to hollow out the state in its social functions, cutting adrift large swathes of people.

This may be an historic moment of opportunity presented by crisis; the dominant concepts are no longer working adequately, fixed in old global power relations from 1945, slightly tweaked and absorbed in the 1970s, broadly incorporating as apprentices global south ‘middle class’ powers like India, China, Brazil etc.. – what are today called the BRICS. When the West was confronted with the triumph of the oil producing states of the Arab world and the challenge of the G-77 third world states demanding a New International Economic Order, elites did what they’d done with the domestic rise of working class reform movements – buy them off (https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/1975-10-01/united-states-and-third-world-basis-accommodation). Those days, and that kind of thinking, may be long gone.  

Defending the status quo is to defend the iniquitous past. A defence of the status quo that focuses too much on Trump and Sanders (and Brexit) as threats, rather than as pointing the way to a new order, is a road to nowhere but the rise of the radical Right and the forces of backward-looking nationalism and chauvinism. There is sufficient force in the rise of Trump and Sanders which suggests there are significant bases for future positive change.

What the new order will look like is the big issue, not whether there should be one at all. This is the major question of our time.

Inderjeet Parmar is professor of international politics, and co-director of the Centre for International Policy Studies, at City University London
Follow him on twitter - https://twitter.com/USEmpire