Me on Indian TV on Trump’s First 100 Days

Here’s my Indian TV interview from Friday, on Trump’s first 100 days in office. This was not the first time the Gravitas program had interviewed me, but it was the first time I’d subsequently seen how I was framing both my skype video and remarks. So lots of room for improvement, I know.  My part starts at 2:15.

I found the lead-in pretty illuminating, in terms of one Indian media outlet’s take on Trump. And check out the way the segment closes with a big bang, commencing at 7:40, via a video of a North Korean military/propaganda drill.

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My Trump Talk on Indian TV

This classroom.

So, I talked Trump on Indian TV back on February 14th. It all started when a former student of mine arranged for me to give a presentation at a leading New Delhi think tank, the Observer Research Foundation. This led to what we thought would be a subsequent five-minute televised chat, which turned out to be a 30-minute interview on the Indian network WION.

Though the Observer audience and WION interviewer were all very sharp (no surprise there), their questions still struck me as uninformed about Trump in a crucial way that reflected not on them but on the nature of foreign news coverage of Trump. That is, they understandably focused on how the new administration would handle China or terrorism or H1B visas, by which many India tech workers come to the United States. What they didn’t seem to get, and what I tried to educate them about, was how this president differs from all others in terms of his personality, his views on democracy and what those might mean for the United States and the world.

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Wag the Dog

Image result for photo dog wagging tail

Feeling pretty good about the defeat of Ryancare…or Trumpcare…or the Gut-Health-Care-Coverage-for-24-Million-People Act? Hoping this is the start of a long-term slide for the president?

Such hope is helpful and such a slide would be super. But there’s still a respect in which we should watch what we wish for.  As Andrew Sullivan speculates, a Trump slump could lead us into a wag the dog scenario:

A president hobbled domestically by his own party’s divisions and the opposition’s new energy may be tempted — Putin-like — to change the subject in a way that vaults him back to popularity. A foreign altercation from which he will not back down? A trade war? A smidge likelier, I’d say, is an over-the-top response to an inevitable jihadist terror attack in a major American city. A demagogue loses much of his power when he tries to wrestle complicated legislation through various political factions, in the way our gloriously inefficient Constitution requires. He regains it with rank fear, polarization, and a raw show of force. Heaven knows what the Constitution will look like once he’s finished.

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Trump, Russia and the “T” Word. What About the “F” Word?

People walk past a mural on a restaurant wall depicting U.S. Presidential hopeful Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin greeting each other with a kiss in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on May 13, 2016.

Courtesy of Nicholas Kristof, historian Douglas Brinkley and others, the “T” word is finally in the air. Kristof’s column sums up and speculates about some of what we know about Trump advisors’ potentially treasonous collusion with Russia. As an indication of how this story is evolving in such a fast and troubling way, the piece doesn’t address the recent unprecedented, extremely political decision of House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes to brief a subject of his investigation (Trump) on the investigation itself.

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It’s a Wonderful Life

Pottersville

My wife and I recently returned from a vacation in India, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Israel. My first memorable step in our convoluted trip was actually a movie I watched on the flight out: Frank Capra’s 1946 fantasy drama, It’s a Wonderful Life, in which an angel shows a kind-hearted but suicidal George Bailey (James Stewart) how bad his friends’ and family’s lives would have been had he never been born.

Bailey also learns that in this alternative reality his wholesome home town of Bedford Falls would have been renamed Pottersville, to honor the venal banker who would have dominated life there but for Bailey’s beneficent influence and call for people to help each other through hard times. Pottersville is a debauched place with no sense of community, where it’s all for none and none for all. Not that I mind some debauchery, but the town resembles what the United States of Trump could become: a small-minded, mean-spirited land that lauds selfishness.

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Other Countries and Autocracy: It Can Happen Here

Image result for photo of trump as king

Not With a Bang…

Rather than blow up with a bang, American democracy may wither with a whimper. That insight lies at the heart of David Frum’s frightening but invaluable Atlantic essay, “How to Build an Autocracy.” It’s the best analysis I’ve read of the damage Donald Trump could do.

Frum is no innocent observer of presidential overreach. A former George W. Bush speechwriter, he coined the “axis of evil” line his boss employed to justify the Iraq invasion. Nevertheless, respect the messenger along with the message this time around. Frum flagged the threat from the outset last year. He warned of the then-candidate bucking the courts if elected, long before Trump started attacking judges.

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Here’s an Import Trump Can Treasure

The Age of Trump could usher in troubling trends and practices we used to only associate with foreign kleptocracies.

That’s the core message of this perceptive blog post by Professor Bonnie Palifka, a corruption expert at a leading Mexican university. The problems start with the Trump Administration’s “possible conflicts of interest, nepotism, insider trading, and other types of grand corruption,” which could trigger a ripple effect of other harms. Drawing on both international research and her knowledge of Mexico (but one of many countries where high-level corruption is pervasive), Palifka warns us of what we might expect from a White House that houses a cornucopia of conflicts of interest.

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March On

So I went to my first demonstration in I’m-afraid-to-say-how-many years this weekend. Though driven by plenty of passion and even anger, the Oakland Women’s March was a positive, pleasant, laid-back affair for its up to 100,000 participants (not bad for a city of 400,000). Lots of creative signs, just like its sister rallies across the globe. (My personal favorites were signs #5 and #45.)

All in all, this extraordinary event seemed liked an ordinary thing to do. And I mean that in a good way.

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The Trump Legitimacy Debate

The Great Debate

Is Donald Trump’s presidency legitimate? A week ago, Representative John Lewis became the first prominent Democrat to say “No.” In an NBC interview, he charged that “the Russians participated in helping this man get elected” and “helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.” This iconic civil rights leader’s stand has spurred an inauguration boycott by nearly 70 congressional colleagues and an important debate about what constitutes the greatest threat to our democracy.

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The French Disconnection

Do you want to disconnect from some unpleasant realities these days? Move to France!

No, I’m not talking about escaping to or through the wine, the food, the lifestyle, the whatever.

Instead, as this article explains, France has a new law that allows employees limited rights to disconnect from work communications outside of office hours, without penalties from their employers. The emphasis here should be on “limited,” since it’s unclear whether or how the law will even be enforced.

What’s more, I can’t’ help but wonder whether there will be all sorts of informal pressure on employees to be available. Miss an email and maybe you’re seen as less committed to the company? Ignore a group text and you’re then outside the loop on a big project?

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Krugman Underestimates Trumpistan

Paul Krugman is no friend of Donald Trump or the Republican Party, to put it mildly. Yet while his January 2 New York Times op-ed is extremely hard-hitting, his argument is incomplete in a way that understates the challenges they might constitute for our democracy.

One challenge he airs is whether America will turn into a Trumpistan, along the lines of the Central Asian states (the names of which all end in “stan”), formerly parts of the USSR, that are controlled by corrupt, crony-capitalism strongmen pushing personality cults. (Pardon my nit-picking, development professional digression, but Krugman gets this wrong when it comes to Kyrgyzstan, the only one of those five states that is a functioning though flawed democracy – not that we’re ones to judge these days. It should not be lumped in with its neighbors.)

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Grave New World, But…

WELCOME…

…to our Grave New World. Come January 20th, our president will be a misogynistic bigot, with the attention span of a  “a 9-year old with ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder].” He arguably owes his election to a media feeding frenzy over his opponent’s mishandled emails and to help from a foreign dictator to whom his ties remain as mysterious as his taxes, and whom he seems to trust more than he does U.S. intelligence agencies.

So much of this is so surreal. It’s like a bad, unbelievable movie. Or like a brilliant one: the Peter Sellers political satire, “Being There” – though that film featured a much more benign would-be president. Our own real-life drama is like something out of The Twilight Zone – or, worse yet, Black Mirror.

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2020 Vision

Having some trouble contemplating the next four years? If so, skip ahead to 2020 and this Washington Post piece on early jockeying by likely presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker. The article discusses their snagging Senate committee slots that boost their foreign policy credentials. It also sketches what several other presidential wannabes are up to, and provides a bit of extremely preliminary polling data.

Empty Sky

The saddest song Bruce Springsteen wrote about 9/11 was “Empty Sky.”

It’s about the loss of the planes that day. It’s about the loss of so many lives. It’s about the loss of a loved one.

And most of all, it’s about the loss of faith.

To borrow the best line from Bruce’s song, I woke up this morning to an empty sky.

I’m not yet certain what I’ve lost faith in. My fellow Americans who picked Trump for president? Our democracy? Our future? America itself?

How did this happen? Pundits and political scientists will spend years analyzing Trump’s shocking win. I’ll do some speculating myself. And sooner or later I’ll seek ways of rebuilding from the ruins of this election.

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A Rigged Election and Raul

Some of my most powerful overseas memories are of seeing folks in Sri Lanka and the Philippines roast in the tropical sun for hours, just waiting for a chance to vote. In places where people have far too little control over their lives, the opportunity to have some sort of say – however minimal – can be inspiring.

Contrast that with the same sight in the United States, where we have long lines of voters before and on Election Day. As this article explains, those lines are part of a Republican effort to discourage turn-out. They are much more about voter suppression than inspiration.

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