Can Trump Beat Hillary?

trump
Who knew?

W.J. Astore

You’ve seen the headlines: Can Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton?

The short answer: Of course he can.  And so can she beat him.

It’s a long time until November, and so much can (and will) happen between now and then.  But some obvious points about the volatility of this year’s presidential race:

1. Both candidates have high negatives. An NBC/Wall Street Poll suggests that 68% of voters doubt whether they could vote for Trump – and 58% of voters doubt they could vote for Hillary.  High negatives suggest lack of enthusiasm as well as antipathy.  Turned off by the candidates, many voters may simply stay home in November.  And that makes for a volatile race.

2. Trump is prone to gaffes. The man will say almost anything: Women seeking an abortion deserve to be punished.  Women reporters who challenge him are cranky from their period.  Mexican immigrants are thugs and rapists.  Muslims must be banned from the U.S.  Terrorists’ families should be hunted down and killed.  Protesters at his rallies should be punched and thrown out.  And on and on.  So far, Trump has been a Teflon candidate: His outlandish statements have not harmed him appreciably.  But how long before he says something equally offensive, or worse, as we head toward the general election this fall?

3. Trump’s business record. Trump University, anyone?  That trial should be interesting.  As lawsuits stalk Trump, how long before some past deal, either dodgy or dishonest, blows up in his face?

4. Hillary’s political record. Benghazi, anyone?  But potentially worse than Libya is the ongoing FBI investigation into Hillary’s emails.  Perhaps she’ll be cleared of wrongdoing, but the taint of wrongdoing will remain.  Indeed, a hint of scandal has always surrounded the Clintons – and it’s not just because of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

5. Hillary’s lack of political acumen: It’s hard to get enthusiastic about Clinton. Other than the fact she’d be the first female president (a big milestone, of course), there’s nothing new about her.  Consider her race against Bernie Sanders.  It was Bernie who drove the narrative.  It was Bernie who won the vote among the young, both male and female. Hillary is the staid old establishment.  When she raves, it’s about continuity.  But who wants continuity in America today?  What American is truly happy with the status quo (besides members of the establishment, of course)?

6. Wildcard events: Another 9/11-like attack. A bear market on Wall Street.  Wider conflict in the Middle East.  An incident with China in the Pacific.  A Russian move against Ukraine.  Will a crisis favor the “experience” of Clinton, or will people prefer Trump because “he gets things done” or “puts America first”?  As Yoda the Jedi Master says, “Difficult to see.  Always in motion the future.”

7. Finally, consider the fact that Bernie Sanders has run an issues-oriented campaign against Clinton. He hasn’t attacked her on her emails.  He’s left Bill Clinton’s past behavior out of the mix.  But just wait until the fall when the Republican attack dogs are unleashed.  Hillary is fond of saying she’s seen it all from Republicans, but with the stakes this high, I’m guessing there’s much she hasn’t seen.

So, yes, Trump can beat Clinton, and vice-versa.  The sorry fact is that regardless of which candidate wins, the country will be left with a deeply flawed leader who’ll be despised or disliked by more than half the electorate.

Donald Trump and American Decline

The Donald: Easy to make fun of ... too easy
Don’t hire him, America

W.J. Astore

Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again.  What does this mean, exactly?

Think about it.  As American workers, how desperate are we to “hire” a man as president whose signature line to wannabe entrepreneurs is, “You’re fired”?  We’re a bit like abused spouses who, despite being bruised and bloodied, still decide to stand by a bully.

Americans sense that our nation is in decline; indeed, that’s the implicit meaning (as noted in this article by Tom Engelhardt) of Trump’s slogan: he wants to make America great again.  As in, we’re not great now, but we have been in the past, and under Trump we will be again.  But how?  Is Trump just going to fire all the “losers” in America?

Many abused workers have placed their faith in Trump to revive America.  Yet the irony is that Trump himself has precipitated America’s decline, what with his tacky casinos, his off-shoring of jobs, his shady business deals that seek to maximize profits while minimizing pay to workers.

So much of our economic health today, such as it is, consists of massive spending tied to a sprawling national security state, which fosters military adventurism and interventionism as well as weapons exports, amplified by casino capitalism (literally “casino,” as in my old hometown, which desperately seeks a casino as a jobs producer).

Back in the day, the city of my birth was proud to manufacture shoes and to ship them around the world.  Now, my city puts it faith in casinos and gambling.  If that’s not a clear sign of economic decline, what is?

Again, consider the irony of placing faith in Trump to reverse this trend.  Nearly 30 years ago, in the song “Gimme What You Got,” Don Henley captured the hollowness of “promoter Trump” with the following lines:

Now it’s take and take and takeover, takeover
It’s all take and never give
All these trumped up towers
They’re just golden showers
Where are people supposed to live?

Trumped up towers – more true today than when Henley penned that song (along with Stan Lynch and John Corey) back in 1988.

How have so many come to place their faith in America’s resurgence in the trumped up BS of Donald Trump?  Again, someone whose signature line as a boorish and preening boss is, “You’re Fired”?

Let’s make America great again.  Come this fall, let’s not hire Donald Trump as our new boss.

Surging to Defeat: Learning from the Germans

armor show

W.J. Astore

I recently read “Armor and Blood” by Dennis Showalter.  It’s about the Battle of Kursk in July of 1943, the massive, last-ditch offensive by the Nazis on the Eastern Front, and how the Soviet Army was able to stymy it, seize the initiative, and take the offensive for good.  As Showalter notes, the Nazi offensive at Kursk in 1943 was much like the Ludendorff Offensives in the Spring of 1918 near the end of World War I.  They were offensives of desperation.  As General Ludendorff said in 1918, first we’ll punch a hole in the enemy’s lines, and then we’ll see.  Tactical zeal (and wishful thinking) took the place of careful strategic calculation.

In 1918 as well as in 1943, the German military was given free rein to pursue a military solution when there wasn’t one to be had.  Germany simply didn’t have the military means for the strategic end they sought to achieve.  In 1918, Ludendorff believed he could defeat the Entente forces (the French, British, and other allies, to include the rapidly arriving Americans) on the Western Front, but his offensives only served to weaken his own army, ensuring its exhaustion and defeat by that November.  In 1943, Hitler gambled he could defeat the Soviet Army at Kursk, but his massive offensive only weakened his own army, ensuring its exhaustion and eventual defeat in the spring of 1945.  Both times, more military action only precipitated defeat and disaster.

Is the United States the inheritor of this Germanic bias?  Instead of punching a hole, the U.S. military speaks of “surges.”  It surged in Iraq in 2007.  It surged in Afghanistan in 2010-11.  But after each “surge,” the situation in those countries was basically the same – and, over time, grew worse.

Of course, U.S. “surges,” in each case involving roughly 30,000 additional troops, were in scale dwarfed by the German offensives in 1918 and 1943, involving millions of men and the movement of entire armies.  But scale is less important than process.  In each case, “victory” was staked on more military action, in part because both Germans and Americans believed themselves to be in the possession of “the finest fighting forces in the history of the world.”  Neither, of course, would admit that they were fighting on foreign soil, that the enemy had agency too, and that the longer the fighting continued, the weaker they grew as the enemy grew stronger.  So, in the name of “victory” the German and American “surges” played themselves out, and nothing changed strategically – there were no victories to be had.

The Germans, of course, drove themselves to utter collapse, both in 1918 and especially in 1945, after which they could no longer fool themselves as to the success of their “surges.”  A superpower with enormous resources, the United States is not yet on the verge of collapse.  But enormous budgetary deficits, driven in part by endless wars and a plethora of imperial commitments and overseas bases, are gradually eating away at the sinews of American strength, even as militarism eats away at the marrow of democracy.

After their utter defeat in 1945, the Germans learned to avoid endless war and the seductions of militarism.  The question is: Will it require a total collapse of the American Empire before its leaders learn the same lesson?

Hillary the Hardheaded Hawk

hillary henry
Birds of a feather …

W.J. Astore

In a lengthy article (April 21st) at the “liberal” New York Times, “How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk,” Hillary is variously described as “aggressive,” “tough,” a “military wonk” who’s “more muscular” than President Obama when it comes to advocating for the use of force.  Noted for her “pugnacity” and “hardheadedness,” Hillary is praised for her close relationships with U.S. generals, to include David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal.  Indeed, the article highlights the fact that Hillary is sometimes more aggressive in advocating for military force than the generals she confers with.  Nevertheless, or rather because of this, the generals apparently like Hillary.  They really like her!

What are we to make of this puff piece that praises Hillary the Hawk?  Obviously, with Hillary’s victory in New York and her forthcoming, now nearly inevitable nomination as the Democratic candidate for president, Hillary Clinton and her allies have decided it’s time to sharpen her beak and claws.  No more nonsense about being a touchy-feely progressive like Bernie Sanders.  It’s time for Hillary the Hawk to take charge and soar, preempting any criticism by Republicans that she’ll be “weak” on defense.

But, tell me again, how did America’s wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere go for the United States?  At least three trillion dollars lost, tens of thousands of U.S. troops killed and wounded, hundreds of thousands of “foreigners” killed and wounded, millions made refugees, and for what, exactly?

Hillary the Hawk wants to double-down on a losing hand.  That’s neither “aggressive” nor “tough”: It’s reckless and dumb.  Worst of all, she’s playing with our chips as well as the lives of our troops, not to mention the lives of all those “foreigners” seeking shelter from American bombs and bullets and drones.  (But we have a word for them: collateral damage.)

Hillary Clinton, like all of the remaining presidential candidates, never wore a military uniform.  Her one child, Chelsea, married well and lives in a posh apartment (price: a cool $10.5 million) in New York City.  Indeed, like most American politicians in Congress, Hillary is a millionaire without children in the military, therefore she risks little in advocating for more U.S. troops to be sent off to war.  Her defenders (including Hillary herself) will say she will use force only as a last resort, yet the “Hillary Hawk” article cited above makes plain that she is no reluctant warrior.  Hell, why not, when she earns such praise for her wonkish warrior posturing from the New York Times?

Admirer of Henry Kissinger, supporter of the Iraq War in 2003, self-styled conqueror of Qaddafi and Libya (“We came. We saw. He died,” Hillary the Hawk laughed), fervid supporter of Bibi Netanyahu and Israel, Hillary Clinton is ready to take on the world.

One thing is certain: We can’t say we weren’t warned.

“Unquestionably Syme Will Be Vaporized”: Lessons from Orwell’s 1984

orwell-nineteen-eighty-four-large-cover

W.J. Astore

Syme is a minor character in George Orwell’s “1984.”  A philologist, Syme works on the Eleventh Edition of the Newspeak dictionary, “the definitive edition” according to him.  What’s fascinating is Orwell’s description of the intent and main functions of Newspeak, as given by Syme in this passage:

“You think … our chief job is inventing new words. But not a bit of it! We’re destroying words—scores of them, hundreds of them, every day. We’re cutting language down to the bone … You don’t grasp the beauty of the destruction of words. Do you know that Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year?”

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten … Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller… The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect…”

“Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like ‘freedom is slavery’ when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

This brilliant passage by Orwell sends chills up my spine.  There will be no thought.  Orthodoxy means not thinking.  Is this not in fact true of many people today, content to express unquestioning and unwavering obedience to “the Party,” like the people who support Donald Trump simply because he says he’ll make America great again?

After Syme’s oration on Newspeak, Winston Smith, the main protagonist of “1984,” thinks to himself: “Syme will be vaporized. He is too intelligent. He sees too clearly and speaks too plainly. The Party does not like such people. One day he will disappear. It is written in his face.”

A couple of pages later, Syme makes another penetrating observation:

“There is a word in Newspeak … I don’t know whether you know it: duckspeak, to quack like a duck. It is one of those interesting words that have two contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it is abuse; applied to someone you agree with, it is praise.”

To this observation, Winston thinks to himself: “Unquestionably Syme will be vaporized.”

Why?  Orwell notes that Syme is a Party zealot, a true believer.  But what he lacks, Orwell makes clear, is unconsciousness.  Syme is too self-aware, and speaks too plainly, therefore he must go.  And indeed later in the book he does disappear.

(As an aside, I like Orwell’s reference to some of Syme’s fatal flaws: that he “read too many books” and “frequented … [the] haunt of painters and musicians.”  Yes: books and the arts are indeed the enemy of unconscious orthodoxy in any state.)

The other day, a reader sent to me the following unattributed saying:  We build our houses out of words, then we live in them.

In “1984,” the Party sought total control over language, over words, as a way of dominating people’s consciousness.

One of my favorite sayings of Orwell, also from “1984” and one I always shared with my students, goes something like this: Who controls the past controls the future.  Who controls the present controls the past.

I think you could add to that: Who controls the language, the very words with which we communicate and think, controls the present.

Language is the key, a point Orwell brilliantly makes through the character of Syme in “1984.”

Reinforcing Failure

readyandresilient_header5
Send in the troops … there ought to be troops … don’t bother they’re here

W.J. Astore

I get a situation report (or SITREP) from FP: Foreign Policy.  I’ve pasted it below.  The gist of it is that Afghanistan is going poorly, therefore there’ll be no U.S. troop drawdown; and Iraq is going poorly, therefore the U.S. is sending more troops and money.

“Poorly” never seems to lead to the obvious conclusion: withdrawal.  Rather it always leads to escalation: more troops and more money.  So the U.S. always reinforces failure, exactly the opposite of sound military strategy.

The illogical nature  of U.S. foreign policy would surely befuddle Mr. Spock. Put differently, U.S. foreign policy has a “logic” of its own.  It goes something like this: Never admit mistakes.  Domestic politics always come first, so never leave yourself open to charges of “cutting and running.”  Never close an avenue to “influence” and future weapons sales, no matter if that avenue is a dead end.

No foreign policy update would be complete without a Republican charge of weakness or pusillanimity leveled against the Obama administration, hence the concluding comment by John McCain.

Here is the FP SITREP:

“The Institute for the Study of War recently released a map of Taliban strongholds throughout the country, showing the Taliban gains in the south.”

“A spokesman for the U.S. military command in Kabul tells SitRep that no U.S. servicemembers were caught up in the attack. In a statement, Gen. John Nicholson, head of U.S. and NATO troops in the country, said that the attack “shows the insurgents are unable to meet Afghan forces on the battlefield and must resort to these terrorist attacks.” Nicholson, who took command of America’s longest war last month, is still working to draw up a list of recommendations for what assets he’ll need. It’s expected he will ask that troop numbers remain at the current level of 9,800, and not drop to about 5,500 by the end of the year.”

“All eyes on Mosul. There are another 217 U.S. troops headed to Iraq to help security forces fight their way toward the ISIS-held city of Mosul, bringing the official number of American servicemembers there to just over 4,000. Hundreds more are in country but are not counted on the official rolls, meaning the real number is over 5,000, defense officials have said.”

“As part of the new aid package announced in Baghdad by Defense Secretary Ash Carteron Monday, the Pentagon will also start handing over $415 million to the Kurdish government to help pay their fighters, who have gone without pay amid a budget crunch due to falling oil prices.”

“The new troops will move out with Iraqi forces, advising local commanders at the battalion level, potentially putting them closer to the fight as the Iraqi army pushes north toward Mosul. Until this point, American advisors generally stayed at the division level or above. The new troops will also fly Apache helicopters that will strike ISIS fighters and man artillery systems, including the HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System), which can fire multiple 200-lb. GPS-guided rockets over 40 miles. The HIMARS has already been used by U.S. forces to pound ISIS around Ramadi, and one U.S.-manned system has fired from Jordan into Syria in recent months. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called the new deployment the kind of ‘grudging incrementalism that rarely wins wars.'”

This Modern and Dystopic World

orwell 006
My copy of Orwell’s 1984

W.J. Astore

The modern world is a kluge of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 with screens everywhere in which people submerge themselves, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World with “soma” of all sorts to keep us drugged and happy, and of course George Orwell’s 1984 with constant surveillance and the “two minutes of hate,” directed mainly at “the enemy,” especially the enemy within, known in 1984 as Goldstein (for some Americans today, “Goldstein” is Donald Trump; for others, it’s Hillary Clinton; for a few, it’s Ted Cruz or perhaps all of the above).

Dystopic elements characterize our American moment, hence the appropriateness of dystopic science fiction novels.  Bradbury was especially good at poking holes in the idea technology was in essence a liberating force.  He captured the way people might submerge their identities within screens, neglecting the real people around them, even those closest to them, for the “virtual reality” of infotainment.  Huxley was keen to debunk mass production as a liberating force, but his invention of “soma,” a mood-enhancing drug that leads to detachment and inaction, captured our overly medicated ways.  (I can’t watch network news without being bombarded by drug ads that promise me release from pain or acne or other nuisances and hence a better life, as long as I take this pill or use this inhaler.)  Finally, Orwell captured the total surveillance state, one driven by fear, obsessed by enemies created by the state to cow the masses.  Perhaps the darkest of the three, Orwell left little hope for the “little man” oppressed under the jackboot of a militaristic and totalitarian state.

The times are not quite that dark in America today, but these three classic novels offer warnings we’d do well to heed.  An aspect of these dystopias we most definitely see in America today is the degeneration of news, of information, of knowledge.  As a society, America is arguably less fact-based today than at any point in its history.  Even as we’re immersed in information via the Internet, the news itself has become shallower, or trivial, or frivolous, when it’s not out-and-out propaganda.

I grew up watching the news.  Before going to school, I used to watch the “Today” show in the morning in the 1970s.  It was a decent show.  Some real and serious news made the cut.  Now it’s largely a laugh-fest featuring celebrities making sales-pitches.  The news as soap opera; the news as vanity.

To state the obvious: The network “news” has been dumbed down.  Image is nearly everything.  Stories are far shorter and without context.  Designed for people with limited attention spans, they’re also designed to keep people watching, so they feature sensationalism and “quick hits” — nothing too taxing or disturbing.

Of course, the real news is still out there, as Tom Engelhardt notes in his latest probing article at TomDispatch.com.  It’s just much harder to find on the network “news”:

What’s left out?  Well, more or less everything that truly matters much of the time: any large, generally unphotogenic process, for instance, like the crumbling of America’s infrastructure (unless cameras can fortuitously zoom in on a bridge collapsing or a natural gas pipeline in the process of blowing up in a neighborhood — all so much more likely in an age in which no imaginable situation lacks its amateur video); poverty (who the hell cares?); the growing inequality gap locally or globally (a no-interest barrier the WikiLeaks-style Panama Papers recently managed to break through); almost anything that happens in the places where most of the people on this planet actually live (Asia and Africa); the rise of the national security state and of militarism in an era of permanent war and permanent (in)security in the “homeland”; and don’t even get me started on climate change…

Coming to grips with the real news would require thought and necessitate action – changes, radical ones, to the status quo.  And what powerbroker wants that?

Focus instead, America, on your screens.  Take your soma.  Hate your Goldstein.  That’s the method driving our madness.  Dystopia, anyone?