Bloomberg is the Greater Evil

Trump-bloomberg-getty-img

Here we are. After years of the professional managerial class moaning about violated norms and decorum, those very same people are now turning towards a figure as personally odious as Trump and on policy arguably much worse in order to save them. Save them from what? The systemic breakdown of a dying neoliberal order is the correct answer but these aggressive presentists only see one incredibly dumb man in the White House as the source of all the woes. Get rid of him and it all goes back to normal, they think. Never mind that Trump is a product of all those normal policies that got us here in the first place. Orange Man Bad.

But these are not people who read books of history and political philosophy to inform their world view, but rather react to cable news and fictionalized portrayals of politics as seen in the pablum of Aaron Sorkin style programs. They overestimate their popularity and appeal because they all consume the same media, attend the same cocktail parties, and yes, share the same class interests. Consider the track record of the neoliberal centrist in the 21rst Century. Gore, Kerry, Romney, (H) Clinton all lost the presidency. Obama ran as a reforming outsider but once that was shown to be a false claim he oversaw the greatest loss of Democratic seats in the legislature in generations and only won re-election because his opponent was such a cartoonish parody of the plutocrat class. Hawkish centrists perform terribly not just on policy but in national elections. Meanwhile, the policies of Reagan and Clinton that the center defends makes the poorer more poor, the rich more rich, and environment more degraded, and the living standards and sustainability of developed countries more and more precarious and less and less developed. Feudalism returns through tech and finance with a shiny new woke veneer. These are processes enabled and abetted by the bipartisan establishment, its most fanatical elements are the lingering miasma of Paul Ryan’s disastrous tenure in governance.

And who best represents these bipartisan liches now that Ryan has slunk off into obscurity, perhaps hoping to be forgotten about as the tides of both parties turn against him? Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor was like the Bush-Obama years in exaggerated microcosm. An already existing mass surveillance state  was greatly expanded into something that would have made East Germany’s Stasi shudder in unease. Stop and Frisk policies and his eugenics-level disdain for local minorities under his governance are quite famous criticisms of him already so I feel little need to elaborate on them further here. Perhaps more shocking to those not in the know is his depths of sexist ranting which borders on sexual harassment. I thought a major part of the liberal critique of Trump was his misogyny, but his own terrible record on the issue pales in comparison to Bloomberg’s in sheer frequency and vindictiveness.

Then of course comes the terrifying idea of one billionaire president being exchanged for another. Worse, Trump at least ran a pretty bare bones campaign reliant on donations. Clinton outspent him on the campaign trail nearly two to one. Being the grifter he is, he actually spent very little of his own money on running for office. Bloomberg, on the other hand, is purchasing media left and right directly with very little campaigning or small donor support. He is buying his presence in this election in a way beyond anything seen before. The Norms Nerds who tend to be sympathetic to his run should consider that this is more norm-busting than anything yet seen in American politics. If allowed to triumph it may well end any remaining checks we have on the ruling classes and usher in a new era of techno-feudalism, where all major political parties are beholden to different oligarchic patrons based on the social issues/values they espouse and literally nothing else. A never ending culture war to keep the proles divided and prevent any unification against their Lords and Ladies.

Considering Trump’s rampant racism and the horror he has inflicted (particularly on the southern border), one could still make the argument that Bloomberg and Trump are tied. But we haven’t even gotten to the meat of my argument. This is an internationally focused blog foremost, and in Bloomberg’s foreign policy views we find the true horror of his candidacy.

To say Bloomberg is an arch-Zionist even by American standards is nothing new. One suspects that everyone skeptical of just how close the U.S.-Israeli alliance is knows this. But his rampant neoconservatism remains largely unchecked by a media class who remain one of the few constituencies left in contemporary America where sympathy for that ideology runs rampant. Bloomberg was an ardent supporter of the Iraq War and still is, despite everything that has happened since from the expansion of Iranian influence in the region to the rise of ISIS-neither of which could not have happened without the American invasion of Iraq. He has come out for the other disastrous American regime change operations, whether they ‘succeeded’ like in Libya  where slave markets are now commonplace or clearly failed (at great cost to everyone but Al Qaeda and defense contractors) in Syria. He would most likely deploy military forces to Venezuela under the guise of helping our generation’s Pu Yi in Juan Guaido and probably not have even Trump’s ability to step back from the brink when shooting incidents happen between the U.S. and Iran. Regime change wars in the 21rst Century have been a universal failure for America and they must be stopped for our sake and the rest of the world’s. As we have seen time and time again, they also exacerbate the refugee crisis which in turn increases the appeal of the far right and racist politics in developed countries. Bloomberg would be at least as hawkish as Hillary Clinton on these issues. Hillary Clinton, who many independent voters (myself included) did not find a ‘lesser evil’ to Trump specifically because of foreign policy issues-the most important issues handled by the president it must be remembered- also tended to lose swing districts where war casualties were highest.

Do I think Bloomberg is likely to win the democratic nomination? Not particularly. But I do think he has a better chance at it than some others. Democrats seem not to understand that independent voters are not necessarily centrists. I am not, and I find most of the disdain for the democrats to come from precisely that they are the centrist party. I know for a fact that I am not alone here. But the party is convinced a hyper-centrist is always the best option. No, getting voter turnout with independents is…something Obama did as a relative outsider but not Hillary as the penultimate insider. Bloomberg would do the opposite of this.

I think Bloomberg has an even smaller chance of winning the general election than in the democratic primary. He is probably the exact kind of candidate that Trump wants to run against in a general election-out of touch, no organic support, a clear representative of the failed policies both parties support and thus a perfect foil for anti-establishment times. I remember an Ann Coulter (of all people) quote from the 2012 election. ‘If we don’t run Chris Christie, Romney will be the nominee and we will lose.’ It is looking like you can take that quote into today, switch its party and replace Christie with Bernie (or even anyone not Bloomberg at this point) and Romney with Bloomberg.

But lets say Bloomberg (Boomerberg?) pulls it off and buys not only the primary but the general election. What could we expect? Here is just a little list off the top of my head:

  1. All of the same economic policies Trump supports sans the trade war aspect.
  2. Silicon Valley/Manhattanite/Beltway social liberalism used to disguise a further harrowing of workers rights, union power, and the like. The ruling class would keep getting more diverse in a purely racial way but not at all in an ideological way. Class mobility would de facto cease for most.
  3. More wars, especially in the Middle East. Possibly escalating to showdowns over smaller countries vs Russia. The worst actors like the Saudi royal family and Erdogan indulged to make this more feasible.
  4. A return to the 90s-era expansion of the mass incarceration state and possibly a re-vamping of the calamitous drug war.
  5. A greater ability to ‘get things done’ than Trump by bringing together the two party establishment, which means more of the above policies actually getting enacted than should be possible.

On the bright side maybe it will prove accelerationism to be true and we will get a true political revolution down the line? But most likely people will be so beaten down and disaffected that politics will just divorce itself from the daily struggle to survive for most people. Full banana republic mode.

Keeping these factors in mind, it is extremely likely that a Bloomberg presidency would in fact be worse than a Trump second term. He would be able to ‘bring together’ the worst people of each party and marginalize the few remaining best. He would empower the far right as a seemingly ‘credible’ opposition while discrediting most others by virtue of now being a democrat. This leads me to believe that a second Trump term (preferably handicapped by democratic control of the house and senate of course) would be a significantly less terrifying prospect than a Bloomberg presidency.

Trump is the weakest and least effective American president since Jimmy Carter. If Bloomberg is the alternative and promising that ‘Mike can get it done’ should we be in such a hurry to replace him?

The Spectacle Presidency and the Spectacle of Opposition

trumpswan

I was a History undergrad (thank the gods) and not a ‘political scientist’ until grad school. And even then, I stuck my political science more towards the real than the ideal. Geography and geology and anthropology were as much my focus as political science and philosophy. Because, at the end of the day, it is all about what really exists, not what we hope. Hope, as apparently Eisenhower and one of my co-workers mothers once said, is not an achievable policy. But the one political science class I took in undergrad was ‘The Presidency’. In it, our professor talked about how Reagan, then (and somehow still now) was lauded as this great president when in fact he was nothing but a milquetoast capable of great shows of spectacle. He used the media to build up issues which he could ‘solve’ in a media friendly way, from invading Grenada to smashing up the traffic control strikers. Everyone loved this. The people cheered, much as they would cheer as the charismatic but empty shell of the Clintons cut away any remainders of meritocracy in this country with a smile and a wave.

We have, unsurprisingly, an erratic administration in the White House. In light of the recent strikes in Syria, conducted without an investigation into an attack which occurred in a war where we know all sides possess chemical weapons, most likely based on the president having an emotional reaction to television, much like his core constituency does. Words, spoken or written, cannot adequately express how utterly horrifying a prospect that is. Grand strategy is now in the hands of serial molester and loofah/falafel shipping fanfic audiobook narrator Bill O’Reilly’s prime time rants.

The conservative movement, which often had pretenses of intellectualism but could find no intellectual with which to cling to aside from William F. Buckley (himself basically the Bill O’Reilly of the 1950s), Ayn Rand, and the clueless ideologue bro-‘wonk’ that is Paul Ryan-a man who opposed Obamacare so much for 8 years he never even came up with an alternative until one week before his epic failure in the House passing something far worse-is basically bereft of brains. In America this has always been so. Vague attempts to cling to the coattails of Edmund Burke usually come up short when faced with the sheer ranting racism and religious fanaticism that makes up the vast majority of American conservatives (and once again, always has). In many ways this makes Trump unremarkable except in one way, he is totally honest. A purely instinct-driven creature, he shuffles from outrage to outrage and poll boosting issue to poll boosting issue as only the most delicate of right wing shrinking violets can. The mask has not only slipped, but fallen into a boiling cauldron of lava and is never to be retrieved again. Trump is barely into his presidency. Sure, he has the potential to be beyond the scope of horror, but in the small time he has yet to even come close to Dubya’s track record of sheer globe spanning incompetence and murder. He also has yet (although his policies promise to do so soon) to come close to Bill Clinton’s record of waging ruthless and brutal warfare against America’s working class. In other words, the spectacle has never been more honest. Its all style and no substance, exactly what an enormous percentage of voters have been content with for a very long time.

But to find such a mercurial and unqualified character making an erratic President is hardly a perspective you need me to elucidate. You can find that anywhere. 90% of online content now exists to do exactly this. What I find even more craven, even more bothersome moving forward, is The Loyal Opposition, or what they call themselves with no self-awareness whatsoever, ‘The Resistance.’ They are just as much a fraudulent spectacle as the president they condemn….Condemned that is, until he shot some missiles and CNN got the footage.

Much like how the Democratic Party has been ‘anyone to the left of John McCain’ in definition since at least Carter, so too is The Resistancebasically defined as anyone who hates Trump. That is actually quite a lot of people of various divergent backgrounds. Most don’t have large financial backing and mainstream support anymore, but the ones that do….oh the ones that do. They certainly earned their this week didn’t they?

Nothing like a good act of war to bring out the sheer levels of contortions required for the sad sacks who pass for an opposition. Fareed Zakaria, one of the few neoliberals which I had any respect for, declared the act of President Baby’s hissy fit to be ‘Presidential’, Admiral Stavritis and other wannabees in an alternate universe Clinton cabinet could not stop themselves from using the kinds of words op ed columnists use when reviewing the latest self serving autobiography of a public figure. ‘Bold.’ ‘Decisive.’ ‘Insert Generic Descriptor Here.’

My original thought if Trump took us into the field of basically becoming Jihadist Offshore Support Group 1 was that the mainline democrats and Sensible Serious Center of which I have spoken before would suddenly pull the same move they did when their rosy Iraq predictions turned out to be wrong-suddenly flopping back into Dove mode. The good news is, they defied that low partisan bar. The bad news is they went even lower…by just coming around, at least on this one very important issue, to the very force they claim to oppose.

The day after former Secretary Clinton called for a wholesale attack on the airbases of Syria, something equivalent to if the Pearl Harbor assault had hit the entire West Coast in addition to Hawaii, Trump struck only one (so far) in a demonstration of spectacle which immediately was followed by bipartisan praise. In other words, The Resistance™ came around to Trump. Because he bombed someone. That is just as horrifying as the idea that he ordered the attacks based on his emotional response to the news. It also shows that it is Trump who is becoming much like the DC establishment he ran against, rather than bending it to his will. This blog is focused on foreign policy issues, but there is ample reason to see the same effect on domestic policy as well if one is willing to look for it.

The only thing The Resistance™ is doing is building themselves up as the people who could do the same failed policies, but more politely. With less….acrimony. In the case specifically of Syria most Democrats demand something more hawkish than Trumps irresponsible flirtations with World War III on behalf of sectarian Wahhabi fundamentalists. And what the Thomas Freidmans’ and David Brooks’ of the world want is precisely that, because its safe and polite. It is what they know. America has an excess of military power so it must ‘do something’, and damn the consequences. I mean, otherwise those bombs just might sit around. Why have that when you can use them to provide collective therapy for the neoliberal/neoconservative on the world stage? These people have no actual critique of systemic forces, but only brands. Coke and Pepsi, Marvel and DC, Lockheed Martin and B.A.E. Systems, the Democrats and the Republicans.

Spectacle Presidency, meet Spectacle Opposition.

 

 

Fortunately, occasional lone voices cry out in the wilderness against this double sided madness. One of them has been one heartily endorsed by this blog since before the party primaries. That continues to be a damn good call.

Tulsi triggers liberals

 

 

 

Meme War Does Not A Rising Power Make

russian-octopus

A Japanese take on the Russian Empire before the Russo-Japanese War.

Yes, I know, Fidel Castro died today. In many ways he was the ultimate trickster-figure of 20th Century International Relations and so it deserves mentioning on this blog. You will, no doubt, find many articles on him and his legacy today and in the near future so I feel no need to interrupt the upload of this post as it was originally conceived. Anyway:

From alleged interference in the U.S. election to  the obvious Russian preference for Donald Trump, Russia has factored more into American politics this year than at any point since the Cold War. It is kind of interesting that this is so now, as never before (excluding the Yeltsin era) has Russia been weaker compared to the United States. Sanctions imposed following the de facto invasion of Eastern Ukraine have been surprisingly effective against an economic model largely based on a few core resources and some oligarchs squatting-no doubt in track suits-upon the decaying remnants of once impressive Soviet infrastructure networks. The Democratic Party in particular seems to have absorbed fully the ghost of Joe McCarthy in its desperate attempts to fob off blame for its own abysmal performance. Whether their claims have merit or not (we simply do not yet know for sure), it is apparent that Russia is regarded as such a threat by segments of the American political class that a sane discussion on many foreign affairs is simply impossible to have with them. This also goes for many EUphoric chattering classes in the European Union, who above all fear the future of providing their own defense and having to play political hardball divorced from the Kantian platitudes they now internalize as part of their fundamental values.

Regardless of what Russia might have done in the election, and with cyber-espionage in general, I view these fears as massively exaggerated for a variety of reasons. In addition to the above-mentioned sorry state of Russia from an internal perspective, what we are really seeing here is the panic shown by people in America when they are forced to confront new and different tactics. Russia can no longer rely on ideological appeal or overwhelming conventional military power as it once did, so it has become a pioneer in two other fields, cyber warfare and faddish propaganda. It resembles less the Soviet Union than it does a type of meme-culture hipster who stays ‘ahead’ of the time by being on the avant-guard of witty if substance-free internet commentary. Kind of like an edgier version of J.K. Rowling’s twitter feed or a late night comedy show. Russia is merely the pioneer. Soon, every nation with technological capacity will be doing this. Already, the internet is a place of more disinformation than quality facts. This is why I always recommend that people stick to books, on the ground independent journalism, and academic and/or peer reviewed articles as the primary source of information in their lives. So much of the rest is really just rumor-mongering among various cliquish fads who live the postmodern dream of being able to construct their own hermetically sealed realities.

With less to lose than most powerful nations, Russia seeks to undermine consensus in established alliance networks. It cannot, however, fill the vacuum itself if successful, merely make others more insecure. Even with a chummy presidency in Trump, changing the head of the executive branch does not change America’s core interests or place at the top of the world stage. Trump will likely work with Putin in Syria-a position I have argued the U.S. should adopt for years. More dangerously, he might sell out eastern Ukraine for the sake of not caring about it/good relations with Russia. That would not be a position I would endorse as wise, but it still would not compromise fundamental U.S. interests. The real threat is the break up of the E.U., and even this would still not increase Russia’s influence in overall terms on the continent if Germany, France, and Britain (and a few likely others such as Poland) hung together in a defensive alliance. It is precisely to wound any such solidarity that Russia supports far right movements in western European nations. But, as with Trump, such people will (if victorious) inherit state apparatuses with certain interests that will prevent them from simply compromising their long term interest regarding other powers. The possible exception to this in a worst case scenario is France. Geography means France is not directly threatened by Russia and a powerful eastern ally against the center has often been the objective of historic French foreign policy. The Ottoman Empire was their ally in the renaissance and the Russians after the unification of Germany. This makes France the key to any issues of keeping western Europe stable and out of the Russian orbit, which means this is more a question for the E.U. itself than it is of Russia or America. If western nations can offer something positive rather than the simple Neo-McCarthyite rhetoric and complacent ‘stay the course’ talking points that the Democratic Party in America or the Remain campaign in Britain engaged in, the edgy hipster propaganda of Russia could actually be counteracted.

Perhaps the most important aspect of all of this, and the one most likely to somehow be *shocking news* to your average European liberal, is that Russia’s position in Europe is now no longer its sole concern. The temporary alliance of Russia and China simply cannot last forever as the Chinese make massive inroads of economic and political capital into once Russian dominated Central Asia. While Russian aid still tends to outstrip Chinese, and its military presence is very strong-particularly in Tajikistan-Chinese investments and trade have become the largest single potential factor in the region’s future. Something only likely to increase as the once bullish Kazakhstan begins to contract and Turkmenistan and Tajikistan continue to economically deteriorate. Uzbekistan, the most powerful and independent of the regional states, has long since courted China as a counter-balance to Russia. Only Kyrgyzstan seems firm in resisting Chinese expansion, something which could change. Also important is Russia’s reliance on being an arms exporter. It has no larger single-state market than India. India and China are basically guaranteed rivals due to Chinese chumminess with Pakistan and long simmering territorial disputes. Therefore, unless Moscow is willing to basically surrender many of its dominant diplomatic positions in Central Asia and weaken its relationship in India, it will simply not be able to become a hegemonic power in Europe, much less the world. Even the current (and quite clever) Moscow-Ankara detente is a short term arrangement that overlooked widely divergent objectives to the countries involved-particularly in the Caucuses.

None of this is to say that Russia has not carved out an interesting and potentially exploitable niche for itself-it certainly has. But it is one of many major powers in the world system. Its tactical innovations may be shocking to some now but as with all tactics they can be copied and refined. The overall geopolitical context from which Moscow operates remains, for now, unchanged. What we should perhaps be more concerned with is that other nation’s leadership might copy its internal method of rule by appeal to romantic nationalism, and that ball is entirely in the court of each countries’ domestic politics rather than a neckbearded self-proclaimed expert in Meme War in a St Petersburg basement. It is domestic elites seeing value in the model of the oligarch-mafia state that is the real threat, not the fact that inevitably someone was going to weaponize the internet’s habit of indulging the confirmation bias of low-information voters.