As many of you must have heard by now, Kim Jong-Nam (the elder brother of the current North Korean leader Kim Jong-Um) was assassinated about 10 days (on 13 February 2017) by two women spraying something toxic on his face. Since that day, there has been much speculation about the identity of the toxic substance in the sprays which killed him. This was especially so because the two women who were paid to spray him were themselves unskilled locals who were unaffected by whatever they used on him. However that very fact that two sprays were used seemed to suggest that the toxic compound was a binary chemical agent- most likely a never gas.
It seems that this particular theory has now been confirmed. Earlier today, the Malaysian police announced that preliminary tests show that Kim Jong-Nam was killed by a potent nerve gas known as VX. So why does the use of VX suggest that it was generated in situ by a binary chemical reaction– apart from two women spraying him with stuff that did not kill them? Well.. because VX is highly toxic and has certain physical properties (high viscosity and low volatility) which make its use as a gas or spray really problematic- especially if an actual human being is doing the spraying. However it is far easier to use as binary chemical weapon because both components of the binary mix (QL and Sulfur) are fairly safe by themselves.
The structure of VX and QL as well as the general schematics of the chemical reaction which generates VX from QL and Sulfur are shown below. The short version of the story is that QL reacts with Sulfur to generate an intermediate compound which then undergoes a slight chemical rearrangement to form VX.
As you can see, the reaction is fairly simple and the two components which generate VX in situ are themselves fairly non-toxic. While there have a few isolated incidents in the past 2-3 decades (link 1, link 2, link 3) of people using weaponized organophosphate compounds aka ‘nerve gases’ to kill a few people- this incident is perhaps the first the first one to use a binary chemical agent for assassinating a public figure of any significance.
Update: It is possible that the North Koreans might have used the binary version of another structurally similar compound or a different organophosphate ‘nerve gas’ such as Sarin.
What do you think? Comments?
While writing an upcoming post about why the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) is a terrible idea on multiple levels, it occurred to me that I had not yet posted one of the best and smartest YouTube spoofs about that subject. FYI, I first came across this spoof in late-2014 and thought it was hilarious enough to post on many places other than this blog. In case you are wondering, the imaginary IoT product mentioned in that spoof is scarily close to some products that have actually received venture capital funding in Silly Valley.
I had written the previous two post of this series (link 1, link 2) in the 2-3 weeks after Trump’s election on November 8. While it was tempting to write more parts of this series at that time, observing his actions immediately after assuming the presidency before writing the next part seemed to be a better idea. As many of you know, Trump has taken multiple and often conflicting positions on a variety of important issues over the years. Perhaps even more unusually for a politician, he has often done a 180 on his previous position on some issues- without even acknowledging that he took conflicting positions in the past.
For example- he is on record as supporting the right to abortion, being agnostic about it and opposing it depending on the personal benefit of taking one of those three position at a given time. Similarly, he is on record as supporting single-payer healthcare systems, supporting mixed private-public healthcare systems or defending complete privatization of the healthcare system- depending on the personal benefits of taking one of those three positions. In other words, it appears that Trump has few (if any) fixed beliefs about a large number of issues. More worryingly, especially since he is now the president, Trump seems to believe that his public perceptions about his past position on issues have no effect on his current position on them.
And all of this brings us to what Trump has been doing since he was formerly sworn in as the president on Jan 20, 2016. As many of you must have heard by now, Trump has been signing a shitload of controversial executive orders since he assumed office last week. They range from the hilarious (national day of patriotism), somewhat populist (withdrawing from the TPP), expected (mexico city policy on funding NGOs, approving new oil pipelines), plutocrat enriching (eliminating some rebates on mortgage payments), dangerous (starting repeal of ACA without an alternative plan, OK-ing the construction of a wall between Mexico and USA) to the batshit insane (banning entry of people from some Muslim countries, even legal permanent residents, into the USA).
Now, it is certainly possible to imagine that his executive orders are more theater than substance and might not survive legal challenges. However a lot of the concomitant rhetoric coming out of Trump’s mouth and tweets suggest that he is more than a bit serious about actually implementing those orders- especially the dangerous and batshit insane ones. I had briefly mentioned (in a previous post) that his positions on Mexican .. well.. actually all non-white immigrants and citizens has special potential to cause severe disruptions and unrest in the country. Events of the previous two days have added another issue to the list of those which have similar or even higher potential for disruption and unrest- albeit for different reasons than the “mexican” issue.
You might have heard that Trump has signed an executive order banning people from 7 predominantly Muslim countries from entering the USA- even if they happen to permanent legal residents. Curiously, people from these seven countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) have never ever been implicated in a terrorist act within USA. Furthermore, people from the two Muslim countries (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) whose residents have been implicated in almost every single Islam-inspired terrorist attack in USA are still free to enter USA.
To be fair, establishment democrats and their supporters had no problems in the past when Obama tried to overthrow the government in two of these countries + expanded “war on terror in the other five on that list. It is also no secret that the rise of organisations such as ISIL was aided and abetted by the overt and indirect policies of the Obama administration. In other words, there is more than a bit of hypocrisy when establishment democrats who were perfectly OK with bombing people in these countries and funding organisations bent on overthrowing their governments pretend to be shocked and angry at Trump taking their stupid policies to the next level.
Having said that, this latest move by the Trump administration is especially problematic- and not just in the immediate and widespread popular response against its implementation. As many of you realize, such executive orders and their implementation creates a new set of bad precedents. If you can ban the entry of people from countries accused of terrorism by the government, in spite of evidence to contrary, what is there to stop this (or a future) president from banning people of other religious, ethnic or racial groups from entering the country legally? Now some old and decaying american racists.. I mean jingoists.. might think that such actions have no consequence in international relations with other important and supposedly white countries.
As it turn out.. a lot! many of the supposedly important and white countries are no longer as white or important as they used to be in the past. Consider, for example that many west-european countries such as the UK, France, Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland have a fairly significant minority that is not white or christian. Do you really think that Trump won’t sign future executive orders to ban Muslims (often second or third generation) from west-European countries from entering USA? Do you really think that implementing such orders would not cause serious problems in those countries? Do you really think that many countries in that position would not reevaluate their relationship with USA? Do you really think that there would no financial consequences (for both sides) of such actions?
The problem with Trump and people who think like him is that they live in world which does not and cannot exist now. There was a brief period (between 1945-1949.. perhaps until the early 1960s) when the relative power differential between the USA and the rest of the world (especially non-white countries) was large enough for the USA to get away with some stupid shit. But that was a long time ago and things have changed a lot since the early 1960s. In 2016, the USA simply lacks the power differential to pull that type of shit without screwing itself in the process. Today everyone knows that the USA is not an exceptional country. Today everyone has seen the USA lose against insurgencies in even poor medium-sized nations and lacks the ability to win a war against any other nuclear power of consequence.
I think it is likely that this particular move by Trump will turn into his first real public relations disaster, very likely to due to internal protests and legal challenges. However, this “Muslim ban” also provides an interesting window into how Trump and people around him see the world. It is now fairly certain that Trump and his advisers inhabit a mental world where the USA is far more powerful than it is in reality. Therefore, I expect Trump (and his associates) to make similar moves in a number of other areas- from trade and immigration to internal issues such as “law enforcement”. Needless to say, it won’t end well for Trump, his associates, the republican party, average Americans and to a far lesser extent- the rest of the world.
In the next post of this series, I shall try to write about the panoply of problems (both obvious and not so obvious) consequent to Trump’s policies wrt to people of Mexican descent in USA- citizens, immigrants and undocumented. That is.. unless his recent Muslim ban causes even more unrest and problems which I then have to write about.
What do you think? Comments?
One of the most popular talking points of “public intellectuals” who support the CONServative or neoliberal position goes some like this.. the average income of some of the poorest states in USA is often higher than the average income of wealthy west-european countries. They use this bullshit argument to convince people that the american socio-economic system, as it exists now, is the best possible way to run countries. They also use this scam to pretend that the quality of life for the average person in USA is much better than in other affluent countries- when the reverse is in fact true. The rest of this post will show how the relationship between income as measured in USD and quality of life has completely broken down all over the world in the last thirty years.
Now, there are a number of reasons why a significant percentage of people in USA might have believed such bullshit in the past. As many of you know, people in USA did not (and still do not) travel to other affluent countries at percentages that are even remotely comparable to their counterparts in other developed countries. Therefore, in the pre-internet era it was easy to believe propaganda which told them that the USA was the best place to live in the world. This was especially true in the era between 1945-1999 when the economy in USA, despite occasional downturns, seemed to work reasonably OK for a majority of its people. It is also worth nothing that much of the cultural memory of Americans about the quality of life in other European countries was formed in the first 10-15 years after the end of WW2.
The course of events in the world, however, does not stop if you cease to observe them. Nor does the nature and speed of change to accommodate the beliefs and delusions of any particular group of human beings. My point is that saying or believing something to be true does not make it so- regardless of how loudly and frequently you say it or how many “credentials” you possess. But what does the futility of believing in comforting bullshit have to do with the already massive disconnect between proxy measures for economic well-being of average person in various countries? And why is believing in such bullshit actually dangerous to those who choose to believe in it?
Let us start by looking at the correlation between average incomes (measured in USD) in various countries and their average life expectancy- which is one of the better indicators of general socio-economic well-being. While median life expectancy and remaining life expectancy after age 65 are somewhat better measures of socio-economic, the average numbers are good enough for most purposes. So how does USA compare in that respect to other developed countries? Well.. have a look.
You will immediately notice that while the USA spends way more than similar west-european countries, it has by far the lowest average life-expectancy. The high per-capita expenditure on healthcare in USA, as compared to other developed countries, does not translate into better outcomes. Furthermore, bankruptcy and severe financial problems due to medical costs are basically unknown in the rest of the developed world. But it get’s worse.. much worse. A number of developed countries such as South Korea, Chile, Greece and Israel are able to achieve significantly higher life expectancy (than USA) for a fraction of the cost- as measured in USD. The life expectancy in Mexico is almost identical to USA though its per-capita spending on healthcare (as measured in USD) is about a tenth of that in USA.
Even countries as different from each other as China, Jamaica, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Tunisia whose per-capita spending on healthcare is 5% (or less) of USA have average life-expectancies similar to (or better than) early-1990 era USA. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the entire healthcare system in USA is more about rent extraction and job creation than providing.. healthcare. But that is best left for another series of posts- though I have made a brief version of that argument in a previous post. The point I am trying to make in this particular series of posts is that comparing income across countries in USD is delusional and potentially dangerous.
So let us now turn to the costs of housing in USA, especially as regards to what people get for a given amount of money (as measured in USD). While it is possible to make the case that houses in USA tend to be bigger than those in many other developed countries, that is only part of the story. Sure.. you can buy a large and relatively inexpensive house if you are willing to live 50-100 km outside the nearest city in pretty much any part of USA. But how many people want to willingly live in such places? Here is a hint, use google earth or maps to look at satellite pictures of distant suburbs and then compare them to locations near nearby cities. So let us be honest and compare the cost of housing (buy or rent) in desirable locales in USA to those in other developed countries. When you do that, it quickly becomes obvious that housing in many developed countries often costs a bit less and has significantly superior access to everything from shopping to entertainment.
And this brings to the issue of discretionary purchasing power. One might think that the average person in USA would have more discretionary spending power than his or her equivalent in other developed countries. But is that so? I mean, you are far more likely to see a tourist from a west- or east- European country in USA than the other way around. Not only that, people in European countries tend to dress better than their equivalents in USA. So how do those who defend the american system based on income as measured in USD explain all of this? Well.. they try to distract you by lots of hand-waving and sophistry.
Then there is the issue of education or more precisely the cost and quality. While the cost and quality of K-12 education in USA is somewhat close to its equivalents in other developed countries, it still leaves much to be desired. The situation of higher or post-secondary education in USA is however far worse. As many of you know, the cost of obtaining higher education in USA is far higher than in other developed countries. But is the quality any better? In other words, is an engineer from some large and well-known university in USA really better than his equivalent from some German or Japanese university? Or is a doctor from a large and well-known american university any better than his equivalent from some French or British university? What about other areas of higher education? My point, here, is that the american education system (especially its post secondary component) provides incredibly poor value for money and is far more about obtaining credentials from a shiny-looking university. That is why most international students in american universities are from developing countries, rather than other developed countries.
In the upcoming part of this series, I will show you how the average quality of life for ostensibly middle-class people in USA has more in common with their equivalents in other developing countries rather than developed ones.
What do you think? Comments?
Let me begin by telling you that I first considered writing this particular article a few months ago. However, I decided against doing so at that time because its conclusions would have been seen as controversial- even by the standards of what I usually write about. The social media environment at that time was, also, especially toxic for posts like this one. Since then, things have gotten a bit more normal and the major controversial prediction in the current post is starting to come true.
So what series of events inspired me to consider writing this post in the first place? Well.. there have been many over the years, but one set stand out. Many of you might recall that in 2016, a then largely unknown senator from Vermont known as Bernie Sanders came very close to becoming the democratic party’s candidate for president. Were it not for the democratic party establishment (especially the DNC) rigging the democratic primary in favor of HRC, he would have been the democratic nominee and almost certainly won the 2016 presidential election.
The subsequent mistreatment of Bernie supporters by the democratic party establishment combined with Wikileaks exposing the democratic establishment conspiracy against him almost certainly made enough potential democratic voters stay home (especially in the Midwest) resulting in Trump winning those states and the electoral college in the presidential election. Now many partisan democratic voters, especially of the astroturf type, still maintain that Bernie would have lost against Trump in the general election. While I would like to destroy the many versions of that particular myth, doing so is best left for another day and post.
This post shall instead focus on the identity and motivations of one specific subset of media personalities pushing various versions of that argument. I am talking about black media personalities- both in traditional media as well as “new” media. To be clear- the loudest pushers of this myth have always been white establishment democratic operatives. Having said that, it is also fair to point out that many black media personalities were also very active in pushing this myth- and some are still busy doing so.
It is no secret that some of the most public critics of Bernie Sander’s candidacy were black. Most of you have heard names such as Joy-Ann Reid, Jamelle Bouie and Don Lemon or pseudo-journalists such as Donna Brazile. But perhaps more interesting was the unusual prominence of certain black print journalists and new “media” types such as Yamiche Alcindor, Imani Gandy, Marcus H. Johnson and a number of black bloggers who wrote anti-Bernie sanders hit pieces for a wide variety of online media outlets.
I initially considered the possibility that all of this negative reaction to Bernie’s candidacy by black media personalities was due to latent antisemitism with certain parts of that community. I have heard more than a couple black comedians remark that Bernie reminded them of their (Jewish) landlord. However reading the contents of these increasingly numerous hit pieces made me consider a different possibility- namely that is was due to greed rather than simple antisemitism. Here is why..
Firstly, almost every single black media personality who criticized the Sanders candidacy was also full of effusive praise and unconditional support for HRC. It is well-known that the ‘get-tough-on-crime’ policies of her husband (Bill Clinton) resulted in the single largest increase in rates of incarceration for the black community. His other trademark policies, from ‘welfare reform’ to ‘free trade’ also caused disproportionate damage to the black community. Moreover, all of this occurred during the 1990s- less than 20 years ago. So you can see why all of that praise and support for HRC by black media personalities (who criticized Sanders) sounded so.. odd.
Secondly, the general themes for criticism of Sanders by different black media personalities (at any given time) were almost identical. Even more telling, the shift in themes for such critiques changed almost simultaneously across multiple media platforms. It was as if they were on the same mailing lists. The criticisms leveled against Sanders were also peculiar. They ranged from outright lies and misrepresentations to saying that he only represented the white working class to a lot of academic sounding bullshit talk about ‘intersectionality’. It was almost as if all these black media personalities were parroting talking points written up by people working from a certain office in Brooklyn.
But why were they doing that? Why were so many black media personalities (especially of the ‘new media’ kind) so enthusiastic about supporting a candidate as untrustworthy and reviled as HRC?
Now.. I am sure that a few well-known black media personalities were financially (and otherwise) compensated for their efforts by the HRC campaign. However it appears that the vast majority of ‘new media’ types did not receive any worthwhile financial compensation for their efforts. So why did they do it? What was their motivation? Some of you might think they did so due to group-think or personal stupidity. I think otherwise. While the willingness of people to work for free might seem irrational to most people- it is not so to those who actually believe in neo-liberalism.
Neo-liberal ideology, you see, is like a religion- albeit a secular one. And like all other religions and ideologies, it is a pyramid scheme requiring an endless supply of suckers willing to slave for others so that they may, one day, have the chance to do the same to other newer suckers. Isn’t that why so many white university-educated “millennials” slave away in long and unpaid internships at otherwise profitable corporations? Or consider the number of young, and largely white, people who try their luck in the entertainment industry each year. My point is that actions of black media personalities who dissed Sanders and cheered on HRC during the democratic primary make sense if you assume that they are true believers in the neoliberal way.
Some of you might say.. So what? Aren’t all these black media personalities just doing what their white counterparts have been doing for much longer?
Well.. it is true that black media personalities who shill for rich white oligarchs are just following the footsteps of their white counterparts. Also, I am not suggesting that members of one ethnic group should hold itself to higher standards than those of another ethic group. My critique is that black media personalities who shill for rich white oligarchs are not getting remunerated for their work at rates approaching their white counterparts. Furthermore- white media shills.. I mean media personalities, seem to be far more successful at turning their poorly paid shill gigs into reasonably OK, if mediocre, careers. Black media personalities, on the other hand, can seldom transform their sucking up to the elite into decent careers.
To be clear, this has nothing to do with their relative competence. But it has everything to do with how the democratic establishment sees black people- even those who help them win elections. As far as the democratic establishment is concerned, blacks exist largely to vote for them in elections and thereby make them look better than republicans- at least to themselves. Once the elections are over, they see blacks as a group to be aggressively policed, heavily incarcerated and otherwise ignored. There is a reason that cops legally murder as many black men in states and cities governed by the democratic party as its republican equivalent. That is also why democrats talk a lot suppression of black voters by republicans but do precious little to fix it.
I am guessing that the rise of Obama during the previous eight years might have provided some false hope to aspiring social climbers in the black community. It is likely that many of them believed that towing the establishment neoliberal line would translate into a decent chance at getting the kinds of gigs and careers that their white counterparts used to get. Well.. that is definitely not going to happen now as HRC lost the election. But I think it would not have occurred even if she had won the election as throwing average black supporters under the bus after the elections is second nature to the Clinton family and the democratic party establishment.
What do you think? Comments?
A couple of comments to a recent post of mine made me write up this one to address and wreck some popular delusions concerning the real-life power of USA. As many regular readers know, my analysis of events is based in objectively measurable reality as opposed to parroting “conventional wisdom” or deferring to “credentialed experts”. My dislike and distrust for what passes as “wisdom” and “expertise” is based on witnessing many instances (in multiple areas of human endeavor) where they turned out to be disastrously and systemically incorrect. My prediction that Trump would win the republican nomination and presidency almost a year before those events occurred is one recent example where my detached objective analysis beat the predictions of pretty much every single highly-paid ‘journalist’ and ‘pundit’ in the main-stream media.
But enough of that. Let me now address some of the popular delusions (and talking points) of people who believe that the USA is a far more powerful country than objective evidence suggests.
While it is unlikely that “Not Born This Morning” is an especially strong believer in the power or competence of USA, as a country or as a military power, one of his comments contained a talking point that is quite popular among jingoists trying to rationalize the many unsuccessful and disastrous armed interventions by USA in other countries since WW2.
Many, many, many more Vietnamese, Iraqis, and Afghan, were shot, burned, bombed, slaughtered in various ways by the same race that committed genocide on “American” soil less than 200 years ago. So, who really “got their asses kicked”. Unfortunately, the popo will be very well supported by those who have driven Smith & Wesson and Rugers (and others) stock up about 1000% during the past 8 years.
As I mentioned in my reply to that particular comment, the relative number of casualties are irrelevant as long as they do not affect the final outcome of that war. Victory or defeat is almost exclusively determined by who prevailed once it was all over. So, USA lost the Vietnam war because the then North-Vietnamese state was still around after the USA left South-Vietnam. Even more humiliatingly, North- Vietnam then went on to defeat South-Vietnam a few years later resulting in their unification. In other words, all the american lives lost and hundreds of billions spent on fighting that war did not change the final outcome- and were thus spent in vain. Vietnam won and the USA lost..
The Iraq war(2003-2010?) and Afghanistan war (2001-present?) are two more contemporary examples of how the USA lost wars that it was supposed to win. In both cases, initially successful military occupations quickly degenerated into prolonged and bloody decentralized insurgencies that made USA basically pack up and leave in one country (Iraq) and quietly scale down to pave the way for an “honorable exit” in the other (Afghanistan). We can certainly talk about the number of dead on each side, but that does not change the outcome of either war. In both cases, the USA was unable to prevail over persistent and decentralized insurgencies. Perhaps more importantly, it was unable to prevail despite having far more money, weapons and technological resources than its adversaries.
I subsequently came across another common talking point of jingoists- this time from a commentator named “Yusef”. He wrote the following:
If U.S. objectives in Vietnam are understood regionally, it is possible to argue the U.S. did prevail. Most of the region, for example Indonesia, was just as ripe for Communism as Vietnam, yet never fell to Communism, even when the established regime was toppled in what appeared at the time to be a leftist coup. A lot of these other S.E. Asian countries are more geopolitically important to the U.S. than Vietnam, and some of them are very oil rich. Vietnam did suffer terribly and suffers to this day…Anyone but a crazed fanatic would look at the example of Vietnam and wish to avoid it at nearly all cost.
One of the more popular delusion among the jingoists is that the actions of USA, even when not successful, are part of some “clever” overall strategy. In the aftermath of their defeat in Vietnam, many “public intellectuals” in USA tried to pass of their failure as example of success. They made the claim that war in Vietnam somehow stopped the progress of communism in SE Asia. But is that claim even realistic let alone true? Well.. it is (like many other claims by “public intellectuals” in USA, total bullshit. Here is why..
Even at the height of its power and influence, state communism as an ideology was never exactly popular outside Russia. It is no secret that most east-European countries who were part of the ‘Eastern Block’ and Comecon had no great love for, or belief, in state communism. Leaders in China largely used state communism only as far it allowed them to receive assistance from Russia during the 1950s and facilitated mass murder of dissidents during the cultural revolution in the 1960s. The ostensibly communist movements in South-East (and East) Asia have an even weaker link to state communism. Indeed, it is fair to say that all those supposedly communist movements in Asia were actually anti-colonial and nationalistic movements. Their connection to state communism was largely a consequence of being supported by Russia and to some extent China and fighting against their erstwhile west-european colonizers and a USA that wanted to recolonize them.
The idea that USA entered and fought the Vietnam war as part of a grander strategic move against the spread of communism is therefore an ex post facto myth concocted once it became clear that they could not win that war easily in the mid-1960s. It also helped see that disastrous war to a fairly gullible audience at home- at least till 1968. There was never any worthwhile possibility for state communism to spread in South-East Asia- and they knew it. Post-colonial political movements in other countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines etc were always about establishing self-rule, enriching local elites and promoting dominant ethnic groups in those countries. As many of you know, a majority of those countries (even the ones on good terms with USA) also experienced a series of internal ethnic strifes and violent government changes during that time. Also many of those countries ended up implementing fairly socialistic policies for members of their dominant ethnicity.
To put it another way, the participation of USA in Vietnam war had no worthwhile influence on the trajectory, policies and governing style of other populous countries in that region. Those countries, if anything, used the american obsession with stopping communism to obtain favorable loans, industrial investments and other favors from USA. I could make a far better case for countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines using the USA to get what they wanted than the other way around. The belief in USA that they somehow stopped communism in South_east Asia by fighting the Vietnam war is therefore something the establishment in that country must tell itself to avoid confronting that it fought an unnecessary expensive war and then lost it to a bunch of people who were seen as racially inferior to them.
What do you think? Comments?
In a previous post from another series, I had written about how my predictions about Trump winning the republican nomination and presidency came true. Many of these predictions, found in older posts, were made many months before those events occurred and more importantly before all those so-called “experts” even considered the possibility of said events occurring. I was also able to predict that HRC would lose because of a serious lack of enthusiasm among the ‘obama coalition of voters’ that made both his presidential victories possible.
As some of you are aware, many “pundits” and “experts” are now busy concocting ever more complicated explanations for Trump’s “unexpected” victory in the 2016 presidential election. These range from the semi-plausible such as a reaction to prolonged socio-economic stress to fanciful ones involving the russian government. Not to be outdone by credentialed bullshit artists of the establishment, many of the right and alt-right are also spinning their own fanciful explanations for Trump’s victory. These range from the wishful such as a resurgence of white power to the bizarre which see Trump as some sort of genius at “persuasion”.
My explanation for the rise of Trump, as documented in a previous series of posts, is not particularly fashionable or gratifying. Instead, it explains the rise of Trump (and similar people around the world) as an almost inevitable consequence of rapidly declining nation states filled with mostly less-than-human people and run by a sheltered and incompetent elite who cannot visualize of world that is not neoliberal. In other words, the rise of Trump and similar “leaders” is as inevitable as a rash of large forest fires during especially dry years in California . My point is that, the rise of people like him is a symptom of serious systemic problems rather than a temporary disturbance in otherwise functional systems.
Having said that, I will now make some initial predictions about the likely trajectory of a Trump presidency. But before I do so, here are two caveats. Firstly, I am assuming that the next four years won’t see any unpredictable and extremely significant events such as imminent comet strikes, super-volcano eruptions or something along those lines. Secondly, I am assuming that the american populace does not suddenly attain wisdom and enlightenment. Personally, I am far more certain about the second caveat holding true than the first one.. but that is just me.
1] Trump’s campaign promises for massively increasing spending on rebuilding infrastructure, make-work jobs and restraining corporations from outsourcing will receive far more push-back from establishment republicans than democrats. While he might be able to eke out a few token victories on those issues, it is unlikely he will be able to fulfill most of his populist promises- at least as perceived by the people in rust belt states who voted for him in 2016. In other words, unless there is some massive movement to stop establishment republicans from running again in 2018, his populist agenda is pretty much dead on arrival.
In case you have forgotten, establishment republicans and democrats are just two different flavors of neoliberalism. Both are supported by, and in thrall to, rich individuals and institutions devoted to asserting power over the masses by impoverishing them. The unpleasant reality is that neither group of elected officials have any interest in improving the lives of most people. Indeed, they would rather preside over a collapsing society as long as they are can stand on top of its ruins. The establishment types, especially in the republican party, have therefore no real incentive to go along with any plans that might improve the lives of most people- and every incentive to stop them.
2] The establishment republicans, on the other hand, have every reason to vigorously pursue all their unpopular neoliberal and neoconservative policies under a Trump presidency. These include privatizing social security and medicare, eliminating medicaid, undermining scientific research, crapifying education etc. They will also try to do it by linking to legislation meant to fulfill watered down versions of Trump’s populist promises. It does not take a genius to figure out that doing so will result in a massive increase in Trump’s unpopularity. The establishment republicans will however see this as killing two birds (boosting neoliberalism, hurting Trump) with one stone.
The added complication in this scenario is that some of Trump’s promises regarding deporting millions of hispanic residents and subjecting blacks to even harsher policing will also backfire in “unforeseen” ways. Let me explain that previous sentence in some detail. All system of governance, regardless of the lethal force they wield, can survive only as long as the majority of people see them as largely legitimate. Even openly totalitarian societies like former communist countries were largely seen as legitimate by their populations till the last decade of their existence, largely because they could deliver on their promises and maintain a functional and orderly society. That might no longer be the case in USA, if the republicans push forward with their corporatist and neoliberal agenda.
3] Trump, ironically, might never be widely seen as legitimate- but not because of the electoral college. As many of you know, almost half of eligible voters did not vote for him or HRC. This almost-half of the population does however participate in all other aspects of being an adult resident of USA. Consequently, any lack of improvement in their circumstances combined with establishment republican further abusing or impoverishing them will likely lead to an unprecedented loss of legitimacy for him and establishment republicans. The loss of legitimacy for him will likely be far stronger than that suffered by any president in living memory- largely because the USA has not experienced a decade of almost continuous decline of stagnation with patches of anemic “growth” in the last hundred years. Like they say.. victory has a thousand fathers while defeat is an orphan and always requires a good scapegoat.
It also does not take a genius to figure out that establishment republicans will start disowning him as his popularity and perceived legitimacy falls. Doing so will however also simultaneously corrode their own (and linked) claims at legitimacy, resulting in further rounds of disowning. Pence, despite all his establishment republican connections and frantic maneuvering, will suffer an even more severe drop in his public legitimacy- because he is seen as both an acolyte of Trump and an establishment republican. Also, there are many others republicans wgo would be eager to fill his position and wield his power.
4] Some of you might have noticed that those who are already part of a future Trump administration or are vying for positions in it are.. for the lack of a better word.. ideologues with a rather tenuous connection to the world as it exists in 2016. Even his picks to date such as Jeff Sessions, Mike Pompeo and Michael Flynn inhabit a world where the USA is still an indispensable nation which can get away with anything. In other words, his administration is going to to be full of people who mentally live in a world that does not exist. Indeed, the the period between 1946-1961 and to a limited extent between 1991-2001 was the closest reality came to the fictional world they inhabit. The reality is that the actual capabilities of the USA are a shadow of what these people (mostly white men who grew up in a different era) assume it to be. In case you think otherwise, I would like to point you to the recent thorough defeats of USA in Iraq and Afghanistan- both of which largely occurred under the previous republican president.
The reality is the USA does not have the financial capability, dominant influence, adequate number of soldiers, appropriate weapons, sufficient technological edge or industrial capability to actually win a war against any determined adversary- be that another competent nation-state or a popular non-nation entity in any part of the world. While people in the current Obama administration do seem to (if grudgingly) understand this reality, it appears that those being recruited by the Trump administration are prone to magical thinking. While it is possible that they might ultimately accept this new reality, it is more likely that their lack of connection to the real world of 2016 might result in them entering into new unwinnable and ultimately humiliating conflicts with nations such as Iran, China and yes.. even Russia. Also, going back on less than favorable multi-lateral agreements and treaties might make it basically impossible to enter into similar agreements in the short-term.. or possibly ever again.
To quickly summarize this post, I think there is a better than 90% chance than a Trump presidency might make the disastrous second term of Bush43 look competent and organized in comparison. Of course, there is a small chance that he might be able to become a true (agnostic) populist and succeed- but that looks less likely with each passing day. In an upcoming post of this series, I will try to enumerate the ways in which the neoliberal establishment will try to make him fail in a spectacular fashion.
What do you think? Comments?