Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Lydie Denier, Fiancée of the Late Ambassador Chris Stevens, Interviewed by Steve Malzberg.

Ex-Fiancée: Chris Stevens Planned to Cut Libya Ambassadorship Short. By Jason Devaney. Newsmax, May 23, 2016. With video.

Lydie Denier discusses Amb. Chris Stevens, Hillary, Benghazi. Video. The Steve Malzberg Show. NewsmaxTV, May 23, 2016. YouTube.

Lydie Denier discusses her memory of the the late Amb. Chris Stevens. Video. The Steve Malzberg Show. NewsmaxTV, April 22, 2016. YouTube.

The Future Shape of American Politics. By Michael Lind.

This Is What the Future of American Politics Looks Like. By Michael Lind. Politico, May 22, 2016.


This year, we’re seeing the end of a partisan realignment, and the beginning of a policy one — and U.S. politics is about to change big-time.

For political observers, 2016 feels like an earthquake — a once-in-a-generation event that will remake American politics. The Republican party is fracturing around support for Donald Trump. An avowed socialist has made an insurgent challenge for the Democratic Party’s nomination. On left and right, it feels as though a new era is beginning.

And a new era is beginning, but not in the way most people think. Though this election feels like the beginning of a partisan realignment, it’s actually the end of one. The partisan coalitions that defined the Democratic and Republican parties for decades in the middle of the twentieth century broke apart long ago; over the past half century, their component voting blocs — ideological, demographic, economic, geographic, cultural — have reshuffled. The reassembling of new Democratic and Republican coalitions is nearly finished.

What we’re seeing this year is the beginning of a policy realignment, when those new partisan coalitions decide which ideas and beliefs they stand for — when, in essence, the party platforms catch up to the shift in party voters that has already happened. The type of conservatism long championed by the Republican Party was destined to fall as soon as a candidate came along who could rally its voters without being beholden to its donors, experts and pundits. The future is being built before our eyes, with far-reaching consequences for every facet of American politics.

The 2016 race is a sign that American politics is changing in profound and lasting ways; by the 2020s and 2030s, partisan platforms will have changed drastically. You may find yourself voting for a party you could never imagine supporting right now. What will that political future look like?


Today’s Republican Party is predominantly a Midwestern, white, working-class party with its geographic epicenter in the South and interior West. Today’s Democratic Party is a coalition of relatively upscale whites with racial and ethnic minorities, concentrated in an archipelago of densely populated blue cities.

In both parties, there’s a gap between the inherited orthodoxy of a decade or two ago and the real interests of today’s electoral coalition. And in both parties, that gap between voters and policies is being closed in favor of the voters — a slight transition in the case of Hillary Clinton, but a dramatic one in the case of Donald Trump.

During the Democratic primary, pundits who focused on the clash between Clinton and Sanders missed a story that illuminated this shift: The failure of Jim Webb’s brief campaign for the presidential nomination. Webb was the only candidate who represented the old-style Democratic Party of the mid-20th century — the party whose central appeal was among white Southerners and Northern white “ethnics.” Even during the “New Democrat” era of Bill Clinton, white working-class remnants of that coalition were still important in the party. But by 2016, Webb lacked a constituency, and he was out of place among the politicians seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, which included one lifelong socialist (Bernie Sanders) and two candidates who had been raised as Republicans (Hillary Clinton and, briefly, Lincoln Chafee).

On the Republican side, the exemplary living fossil was Jeb Bush. Like his brother, Jeb pushed a neo-Reaganite synthesis of support for a hawkish foreign policy, social conservatism, and cuts in middle-class entitlements to finance further tax cuts for the rich. From the Reagan era until recently, the GOP’s economic policies have been formulated by libertarians, whose views are at odds with those of most Republican voters. In March of this year, a Pew Research Center poll showed that 68 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters opposed future reductions in Social Security benefits — almost the same amount of support found among Democrats and Dem-leaning voters (73 percent). Republicans who supported Trump were even more opposed to Social Security benefit cuts, at 73 percent. And even among those who supported Kasich, 62 percent opposed cuts in Social Security benefits — even though Kasich, himself, is in favor of cutting entitlements.

As country-and-western Republicans have gradually replaced country-club Republicans, the gap between the party’s economic orthodoxy and the economic interests of white working-class voters in the GOP base has increased. House Republicans repeatedly have passed versions of Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which is based on cutting Social Security and replacing Medicare with vouchers.

Except for Trump, all of the leading Republican candidates—Cruz, Bush, Rubio, Kasich—favored some version of the Ryan agenda. By contrast, Trump was the only leading GOP candidate who expressed the actual preference of most Republican voters, declaring his “absolute intention to leave Social Security the way it is. Not increase the age and leave it as is.” Trump is now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

If Trump is defeated, what is left of the GOP establishment might try to effect a restoration of the old economic dogma of free trade, mass immigration and entitlement cuts. But sooner or later, a Republican Party platform with policies that most of the party’s core voters reject will be revised or abandoned—over the objections of libertarian Republican party donors and allied think tanks and magazines, if necessary.


Why is this all happening now? Because the decades-long “culture war” between religious conservatives and secular liberals is largely over.

Most culture-war conflicts involve sexuality, gender, or reproduction (for example, abortion, contraception, LGBT rights, and same-sex marriage). The centrality of culture-war issues in national politics from the 1960s to the present allowed both major parties to contain factions with incompatible economic views. For a generation, the Democratic Party has included both free traders and protectionists — but support for abortion rights and, more recently, gay rights have been litmus tests for Democratic politicians with national ambitions. Conversely, Republicans have been allowed to disagree about trade and immigration, but all Republican presidential candidates have had to pay lip service to repealing Roe v. Wade and outlawing abortion.

Social issues spurred a partisan realignment by changing who considered themselves Democrats and Republicans. Over decades, socially conservative working-class whites migrated from the Democratic Party to join the Republican Party, especially in the South. Socially moderate Republicans, especially on the East Coast, shifted to the Democratic coalition. Now, there’s little disagreement within each party on social issues. Liberal Republicans are as rare as Reagan Democrats.

Like an ebb tide that reveals a reshaped coastline, the culture war remade the parties’ membership and is now receding. In its absence, we are able to see a transformed political landscape.

The culture war and partisan realignment are over; the policy realignment and “border war” — a clash between nationalists, mostly on the right, and multicultural globalists, mostly on the left — have just begun.


For the nationalists, the most important dividing line is that between American citizens and everyone else—symbolized by Trump’s proposal for a Mexican border wall. On the right, American nationalism is tainted by strains of white racial and religious nationalism and nativism, reinforced by Trump’s incendiary language about Mexicans and his proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

But while there is overlap between nationalists and racists, the two are not the same thing. The most extreme white nationalists don’t advocate nationalism as a governing philosophy in our multiracial country; they hope to withdraw from American life and create a white homeland within the nation-state. Nationalism is different than white nationalism, and a populist American nationalism untainted by vestiges of racial bigotry might have transracial appeal, like versions of national populism in Latin America.

The rise of populist nationalism on the right is paralleled by the rise of multicultural globalism on the center-left.

For multicultural globalists, national boundaries are increasingly obsolete and perhaps even immoral. According to the emerging progressive orthodoxy, the identities that count are subnational (race, gender, orientation) and supranational (citizenship of the world). While not necessarily representative of Democratic voters, progressive pundits and journalists increasingly speak a dialect of ethical cosmopolitanism or globalism — the idea that it is unjust to discriminate in favor of one’s fellow nationals against citizens of foreign countries.

This difference in worldviews maps neatly into differences in policy. Nationalists support immigration and trade deals only if they improve the living standards of citizens of the nation. For the new, globally minded progressives, the mere well-being of American workers is not a good enough reason to oppose immigration or trade liberalization. It’s an argument that today’s progressive globalists have borrowed from libertarians: immigration or trade that depresses the wages of Americans is still justified if it makes immigrants or foreign workers better off.

The disagreements within both parties on trade is a living example of the inchoate policy realignment. Every major Republican presidential candidate supported free-trade agreements — with the sole and major exception of Donald Trump, the presumptive nominee, who routinely slams free-trade deals and has called for the reintroduction of certain tariffs on foreign goods.

Likewise, the current opposition of many Democratic politicians to free-trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership reflects the residual influence of declining manufacturing unions within the party According to a March 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, by a margin of 56 percent to 38 percent, Democratic voters believe that free-trade agreements have been good for the U.S. Among Republicans, those numbers are almost reversed: by a 53 percent to 38 percent margin, a majority of Republicans believe free-trade has been a bad thing. Among younger Americans, who tend to prefer Democrats to Republicans, support for free trade is high: 67 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say trade agreements are good for the country. Even progressives who campaign against trade deals feel obliged by the logic of ethical cosmopolitanism to justify their opposition in the name of the labor rights of foreign workers or the good of the global environment.

For the next decade or longer, as the parties’ stances adjust, this “border war” that has succeeded the “culture war” will define and remake American politics.


The outlines of the two-party system of the 2020s and 2030s are dimly visible. The Republicans will be a party of mostly working-class whites, based in the South and West and suburbs and exurbs everywhere. They will favor universal, contributory social insurance systems that benefit them and their families and reward work effort—programs like Social Security and Medicare. But they will tend to oppose means-tested programs for the poor whose benefits they and their families cannot enjoy.

They will oppose increases in both legal and illegal immigration, in some cases because of ethnic prejudice; in other cases, for fear of economic competition. The instinctive economic nationalism of tomorrow’s Republicans could be invoked to justify strategic trade as well as crude protectionism. They are likely to share Trump’s view of unproductive finance: “The hedge-fund guys didn’t build this country. These are guys that shift paper around and they get lucky.”

The Democrats of the next generation will be even more of an alliance of upscale, progressive whites with blacks and Latinos, based in large and diverse cities. They will think of the U.S. as a version of their multicultural coalition of distinct racial and ethnic identity groups writ large. Many younger progressives will take it for granted that moral people are citizens of the world, equating nationalism and patriotism with racism and fascism.

The withering-away of industrial unions, thanks to automation as well as offshoring, will liberate the Democrats to embrace free trade along with mass immigration wholeheartedly. The emerging progressive ideology of post-national cosmopolitanism will fit nicely with urban economies which depend on finance, tech and other industries of global scope, and which benefit from a constant stream of immigrants, both skilled and unskilled.

While tomorrow’s Republican policymakers will embrace FDR-to-LBJ universal entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, future Democrats may prefer means-tested programs for the poor only. In the expensive, hierarchical cities in which Democrats will be clustered, universal social insurance will make no sense. Payroll taxes on urban workers will be too low to fund universal social insurance, while universal social benefits will be too low to matter to the urban rich. So the well-to-do in expensive, unequal Democratic cities will agree to moderately redistributive taxes which pay for means-tested benefits—perhaps even a guaranteed basic income—for the disproportionately poor and foreign-born urban workforce. As populist labor liberalism declines within the Democratic party, employer-friendly and finance-friendly libertarianism will grow. The Democrats of 2030 may be more pro-market than the Republicans.

Of the two coalitions, which is likely to prevail most of the time?

While progressives claim that nonwhite Americans will become a majority, this is misleading for two reasons. To begin with, according to the Census Bureau, from this point until 2060, there will be only limited growth in the African-American population (a rise from 13.2 percent to 14.3 percent) and the Asian-American population (5.4 percent to 9.3 percent) as shares of the whole. The growth of the nonwhite category by 2060 is driven overwhelmingly by the increasing Latino share of the population, from 17.4 percent to 28.6 percent.

Second, Latino Americans increasingly identify themselves as white. Between the 2000 Census and the 2010 Census, about 7 percent of Hispanics changed their self-description from “some other race” to “white.” At the same time, according to the Census Bureau, three-fourths of “white population growth” in 21st-century America has been driven by individuals who declared themselves white and of Hispanic origin. If increasing numbers of Hispanics identify as white and their descendants are defined as “white” in government statistics, there may be a white majority in the U.S. throughout the 21st century.

More important than unscientific Census classifications will be how the growing Latino population votes. Trump’s unpopularity among Latino voters is likely to help the Democrats in the short run. But Democrats cannot assume they’ll have a solid Latino voting bloc in the future. In Texas, in particular, Republicans have been successful in winning many Latino voters, all the way back to Senator John Tower and Governor George W. Bush. In Texas’ 2014 elections, Republican gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott won 44 percent of Latino Texans. Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn did even better, with 48 percent.

In the coming decades, it is possible that Latinos will be reliable Democratic voters and condemn the Republican Party to minority status at the presidential level, if not everywhere. But it is also possible that as Latinos assimilate and intermarry, they will move from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, following a trail blazed in the past by many “white ethnic” voters of European descent, including Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans.

The policy realignment of the present and near future will complete the partisan realignment of the past few decades. And though it’s impossible to know exactly how it will end, one thing is clear: In 2016, the old political system is crumbling, and a new American political order is being born.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A History of Sustainable Violence. By Aaron David Miller.

A History of Sustainable Violence. By Aaron David Miller. Foreign Policy, May 19, 2016.


There’s a reason why Israelis and Palestinians haven't made true and lasting efforts for peace — their conflict is now the status quo.

Shortly after becoming secretary of state in 2013, John Kerry spoke to the American Jewish Committee and made it clear that the status quo between Israelis and Palestinians was simply “not sustainable.” A year later, at the Brookings Institution’s annual Saban Forum, Kerry made his point again. “The status quo between the Israelis and the Palestinians is not sustainable,” he said, “and the alternatives to peace are neither acceptable nor viable.”

Much like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, Kerry has issued perennial warnings to the Israelis and Palestinians — though more the former, actually — that if they don’t change their ways, and soon, a variety of disasters will befall them.

When Kerry repeated his message once again late last year in another speech at the Brookings Institution, he noted that the status quo — including “violence, settlement activity, demolitions” — was “imperiling the viability of a two-state solution.”

Some, of course, might argue it already has. Others, including Kerry himself, have predicted even worse disasters are ahead: a third intifada, the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, or a permanent one-state reality that would all but guarantee constant violence.

And yet over the course of the past 16 years, we have witnessed one full-blown Palestinian intifada (2000-2004); three bloody wars between Israel and Hamas (2008-2009, 2012, and 2014); an intense eruption of Palestinian lone-wolf stabbings and shootings of Israelis (October 2015-present); and what has become the daily indignities inherent in the relationship between the occupier and the occupied.

It would seem, then, that this unsustainable status quo (and the pain and misery that it carries) to which Kerry constantly refers has proved well … quite sustainable.

Surely Kerry is correct in his analysis that keeping things exactly as they are is unnecessarily costly and potentially disastrous. But his calls for change are falling on deaf ears. Why isn’t anyone listening?

The politically inconvenient truth is that not even a solution-oriented or peripatetic U.S. secretary of state will be able to scare or persuade hard-edged Israeli and Palestinian leaders — through either threats or appeals to their enlightened self-interests — into real and actionable change.

Israelis and Palestinians have their own agendas and their own concerns. Call them excuses, rationales, or self-perpetuating delusions if you will, but these rationales and fears have trumped American arguments to move beyond this conflict “status quo.” And they will likely continue to do so. Here’s why.

Changing the status quo is just too risky

Almost 50 years after Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, it’s stunningly clear that the fear of dramatically changing the status quo outweighs the risks of managing it.

It’s hard for big powers to appreciate fully the way in which small ones calculate risks and gains, particularly in a conflict that is perceived to be existential in nature. But it shouldn’t be. This isn’t just a real estate deal. It’s a brutal and bloody struggle that stirs up hatreds and passions among those who don’t want it resolved. Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin were murdered for their peacemaking.

At the Camp David summit in July 2000, I heard Yasser Arafat say several times that he wouldn’t give the Americans the chance to walk behind his coffin. Translation: Don’t think I’ll sign a deal that will get me killed. Arafat was happy (ego-wise) to be at the summit, but he also knew that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat had been at Camp David, too, in 1978 with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and that despite getting 100 percent of Sinai back and all Israeli settlements there dismantled, the Egyptian leader had been murdered. Arafat didn’t negotiate seriously at Camp David, but he certainly wasn’t going to risk his life and legitimacy by settling for the 92 percent of the West Bank that then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered at the summit.

Whether a gloomy Barak (who had, by the 2000 summit’s end, taken to dressing in all black) was thinking about Rabin’s murder at the hands of an Israeli terrorist is unknown. Barak did go further on a deal with the Palestinians than any other Israeli leader had before. But no Israeli leader — certainly not in what was the first serious negotiating session with a Palestinian counterpart — was willing or able to meet Palestinian requirements. And the Israeli leader was surely thinking about his political survival. Barak had arrived at Camp David with a shaky government that collapsed while he was there. Once it was clear there would be no deal, the Camp David dynamic became very much a gotcha game of domestic politics. Who was going to be blamed for the failure of the summit or, to use former Secretary of State James Baker’s notion, on whose doorstep would the dead cat be left? Nobody has ever been assassinated or discredited by their constituents for not making peace and blaming the other side. Barak blamed Arafat for the failure of Camp David and tried to discredit him and Palestinians as negotiating partners. Bill Clinton, who believed Barak had made historic compromises, agreed and criticized Arafat. We left the summit with no agreement and very little prospect of achieving one in the six months that remained in Clinton’s presidency.

The fact is negotiating political agreements, let alone implementing peace treaties that reshape public attitudes and change the way adversaries think and behave toward one another, isn’t for the faint-hearted. It takes big, bold leaders who are willing to risk separating themselves from their respective tribes at considerable risk. Indeed, one reason that status quo prevails is that these leaders are so rare. And the deals they can do equally so. The Egypt-Israel peace treaty combined strong leaders and issues much less complicated and sensitive than those like Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. That was also why King Hussein and Rabin were able to negotiate an Israel-Jordan treaty. Weaker leaders without that kind of authority and strength and who lack the capacity and motivation to do a deal (see: Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Palestinian Authority president and Israeli prime minister, respectively) cannot be expected to produce those kinds of historic achievements, particularly when the issues they’re negotiating are so explosive.

Managing is easier … and safer

Israelis and Palestinians may not be adept conflict resolvers, but despite their ongoing dysfunctional relationship as occupier and occupied, they actually have found ways to avoid pushing one another past the brink or the proverbial point of no return.

For example, in frustration with dealing with Israel, Abbas has, since 2008, repeatedly threatened to dismantle the Palestinian Authority and turn over the proverbial keys to Netanyahu so he could “be responsible for the Palestinian Authority.” Of course, that’s never happened. Nor have Palestinians or Israelis permanently terminated security cooperation. For its part, Israel has built settlements, walls, and annexed Jerusalem, but it has avoided annexing the West Bank, thereby leaving open the possibility of an agreement — at least theoretically. So while Israelis and Palestinians can’t seem to solve the two-state problem or stop fighting, they can’t stop cooperating either.

Paradoxically, while close proximity drives the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it also helps mitigate it. Palestinians have a crippling dependency on Israel for water, electricity, access to the outside world, and a range of goods and services — including employment opportunities. Indeed, unlike during the Second Intifada, Israel recently decided to grant 40,000 additional work permits to Palestinians.

As long as Abbas and the Palestinian Authority want to govern the West Bank — and there’s no indication that desire is going to end — the Palestinians need Israeli help in handling security, particularly in checking Hamas’s influence. Abbas has said many times that security cooperation is in the Palestinians’ interest. And it also frees the Israelis from having to reoccupy large areas of the West Bank. Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj estimates that his security forces have stopped 200 attacks since last October. And Israel’s internal security service — the Shin Bet — and chief of general staff, too, confirm that the problem Israel faces on security would be much worse without the Palestinian Authority.

Analyst Neri Zilber describes the Palestinian Authority as Israel’s secret weapon in its war against terrorism. Abbas is walking a fine line. He doesn’t want his 30,000-man security force to appear to be Israel’s police force. He seems to be succeeding. Since last fall, only three members of the Palestinian Authority’s security forces have been implicated in the current violence. In a remarkable admission to Israel’s Channel 2 last in March, Abbas admitted that without security cooperation, a “bloody intifada would break out.”

Washington is a status quo enabler

Much of that security cooperation is funded by the United States and plays a significant role in helping maintain stability and, yes, the status quo. It is a cruel irony that Kerry warns of an unsustainable status quo that Washington plays a big part in sustaining. U.S. technical and financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority helps keep Abbas in power. Indeed, since the Palestinian return to the West Bank in 1994, the United States has been key to the international donor effort on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and the key crisis manager in defusing violence and getting both sides out of bad situations that could have easily escalated to worse ones. I spent much of my life in the 1990s helping keep the Oslo process alive and prevent and preempt big explosions. The United States is in a perverse investment trap: It wants Israelis and Palestinians to grasp the dangers inherent in the status quo. Yet it seems to have no choice but to shelter them from it.

Add to that America’s enduring special ties with Israel (unlikely to wither anytime soon), its willingness to bankroll and arm the Israelis, and its readiness to defend the country from international criticism and pressure, and it’s easier to see how the status quo ambles along without fundamental disruption. And that reality has been reinforced in the past five years by a Middle Eastern meltdown, the rise of the Islamic State, the Syrian civil war, and the Iranian nuclear deal that have distracted the international community and the United States from seriously focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. And there’s little to suggest a change in that focus.

It’s tempting to suggest that if the United States applied real pressure on Israel by threatening to cut its military aid, Israel would have no choice but to be more compliant on the Palestinian issue. There’s, of course, no way to know. No Democratic or Republican administration has ever even hinted at such an approach, let alone tried to implement one. And it’s hard to imagine such a scenario.

One might ask Kerry that if things are as bad as he describes them, why he and the administration haven’t adopted a remedy more in keeping with the severity of the disease. Though I think the answer is already pretty stunningly clear: Like its predecessors, this administration lacks both the will and the capacity to take on America’s close Israeli ally on the peace process’s most crucial sticking points — settlements, forcing Israel to change its position on borders or Jerusalem, among others. And even if those within the Obama administration could summon up the necessary courage, they know in the end it still wouldn’t be sufficient.

I worked on this issue in various capacities under four administrations — from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush — and none of them seriously believed that American pressure or a U.S. peace plan could move the two sides closer to resolving their conflict, let alone delivering a deal without the willing participation of the parties themselves.

No surrender

After 50 years of violence, terrorism, and conflict, one might reason that Israelis and, particularly, Palestinians have experienced more than enough suffering to compel a resolution. And one could argue that because the suffering (on both sides) has spanned generations, it has only stiffened the resolve to resist and fight on. After 50 years of Israeli occupation, Palestinians are not about to abandon their national narrative. And unlike a traditional colonial situation where the occupying power could leave and sail home (see: the British in India, France in Algeria or Vietnam), Israel isn’t going anywhere and will remain a permanent part of the neighborhood — whether the West Bank situation is resolved or not.

Since neither surrender nor victory is a realistic option, both sides have no choice but to operate in the status quo — shifting between conflict and accommodation. In that vein, the Palestinian Authority works pragmatically with Israel on issues like security and water. And, as a February poll by the Awrad research firm reveals, only 42 percent of the Palestinians surveyed supported a third intifada — a drop from the survey conducted just a few months earlier that saw 63 percent support. Overall, the findings saw that there is now little desire for the kind of mass uprising of the First Intifada or for the kinds of suicide attacks that were carried out in Israel during the second. Indeed, it’s been seven months since the outbreak of the so-called “intifada of knives,” but those attacks didn’t lead to surging demonstrations or more shows of violence, signaling, possibly, that there is clearly an appetite for broader engagement on the part of the Palestinian public. Indeed, the status quo is further reinforced by a Palestinian national movement that is divided and dysfunctional and lacks anything resembling the unity, will, or capacity to articulate a coherent national strategy to create a Palestinian state through force, diplomacy, or a combination of the two.

As for the Israelis, a combination of factors reinforces the inertia of a seemingly unchangeable status quo. Prime Minister Netanyahu, now an apparent constant in Israeli governance, has no interest in negotiating an endgame deal with the Palestinians. The continuation of Palestinian violence, a still hostile Hamas government in Gaza, a Middle East in meltdown, an Arab world distracted by Iran and the Islamic State, and Israel’s growing closeness with Egypt all create very little chance that there will be an intense focus on negotiations to create a Palestinian state. Even with the surge of lone-wolf attacks (now abating somewhat), the normalcy and vitality of life in Israel proper results in zero pressure on the government to do anything about the Palestinian issue. Indeed, Israel, according to the global happiness index, ranked the 11th-happiest country in the world in 2015 — a stunning fact, particularly when you look at the preceding 10. The very real danger that the continuing occupation will erode Israel’s character as a Jewish democratic state, increase its international isolation, and strain relations with its friends, including the United States, is present but simply not felt immediately or severely enough to overcome the risks of taking bold steps to end that occupation.

Is there anything left to do?

Perhaps the most compelling reason that the status quo continues is that no way has been found of fundamentally altering it to the benefit of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

This may seem tautological. But it makes an important point. Fifty years on, many different options have been tried: quality of life and the Jordanian option in the 1980s; the Oslo interim accords of the 1990s; the Camp David endgame efforts (2000); the Annapolis negotiations (2007-2008); Ariel Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza (2005); the Kerry peace effort (2013-2014). None has worked. And the cumulative impact of these failures has begun to seriously undermine the notion that there is in fact a solution that’s workable and acceptable to both sides.

But no matter. The same proximity that creates conflict between Israelis and Palestinians will also guarantee that they will continue to look for these kinds of solutions. Whether they find them is another matter. Indeed, even as I write this column, Israelis and Palestinians are coming off yet another seemingly hopeful but apparently failed effort to negotiate Israel’s turning over of more control to Palestinians in parts of the West Bank.

And I’m certain that before the year is out there are three things you will be able to take to the bank. John Kerry will again be talking about the unsustainable status quo and the dangers it presents. The Obama administration will have launched some effort to leave its mark on the peace process, and the unsustainable sustainable status quo and the headaches it portends will still be around to plague the U.S. president lucky enough to sit in the White House next year.

The Meaning of Trump. By Walter Russell Mead.

The Meaning of Mr. Trump. By Walter Russell Mead. The American Interest, May 23, 2016.


What energizes the Trump phenomenon is the power of “NO!”: people who think the train is about to head off a cliff want to pull the emergency cord that stops the train even if they don’t know what happens next.

The punditocracy whipped itself up into a a hot frenzy over the weekend about Mr. Trump’s recent rise in the polls against Secretary Clinton, with the RCP average showing the presumptive Republican nominee with a statistically meaningless but eye-catching lead of 0.2 percent. But there is less here than meets the eye. Trump is benefitting from the normal phenomenon of GOP voters rallying around the standard bearer now that his nomination is all but certain. Clinton meanwhile is still mired in the contest with Sanders. Once the nomination fight is over, she should also get a bump.

We aren’t going to get into the horse race punditry here; the U.S. press burns through vast resources of energy and time over-reporting and over-analyzing every random twist in a grossly over-hyped presidential campaign season that now stretches out across two of every four years. The country would be much better off if both news writers and news readers paid less attention to the horse race and more attention to the events and trends that are reshaping the world—and that will have more impact on the next four years than the personality of the person elected to occupy the Oval Office.

As far as one can say anything sensible about the race at this point, it appears to look like this: Clinton is the putative favorite given Obama’s favorable job approval ratings, the state of the economy, and demographic trends that don’t seem to favor the Trump campaign. But there is a non-trivial chance that Trump’s non-conventional attacks can derail the Clinton campaign—much as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth derailed the Kerry campaign in 2004.

Just as Kerry made his Vietnam service the cornerstone of his campaign (at a time when the shock of 9/11 still made Americans suspicious of candidates without very tough national security credentials), Secretary Clinton has made feminism the foundation of hers. The Swift Boat Veterans’ assault on Kerry’s war record was successful enough to undercut public confidence in the essential premise of his campaign. If Trump can make the charge that Clinton helped her husband vilify and marginalize the women who came forward to charge him with exploitative personal encounters, it’s just possible that her campaign could be holed below the waterline.

Team Clinton will have to think hard about how to respond. Trump looks like a vulnerable candidate—one with so many flaws that his candidacy must inevitably implode once he comes under serious scrutiny. But as he showed during the primary campaign, Trump isn’t subject to the normal rules. Between policy flip-flops, lack of knowledge and experience, business woes, ill-tempered outbursts, and scapegoating of minority groups who are likely to vote in November, he presents his opponents with an embarrassment of riches: there are so many attractive targets for negative ads that even Lee Atwater would be hard pressed to decide which to hit first.

But this apparent weakness and vulnerability conceals a strength: Trump is an unconventional candidate whose proposition to the electorate isn’t about particular policy stands, experience, credentials or even personal and political honesty. Trump is the purest expression of the politics of ‘NO!’ that I personally can recall. He’s the candidate for people who think the conventional wisdom of the American establishment is hopelessly out of touch with the real world. He’s the little boy saying that the emperor, or in this case, the aspiring empress, has no clothes. What energizes the Trump phenomenon is the very power of rejection: people who think the train is about to head off a cliff want to pull the emergency cord that stops the train even if they don’t know what happens next. To many of Trump supporters, Hillary Clinton looks like Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: the enforcer of a fatally flawed status quo and the personification of bureaucratic power in a system gone rogue.

What makes Trump so appealing to so many voters is that the establishment does seem unusually clueless these days. The great American post-Cold War project of seeking peace and security through the construction of a New World Order based on liberal internationalism and American power doesn’t seem to be working very well, and it’s not hard to conclude that neither the neoconservatives nor the Obama-ites really know what they are doing. When it comes to the economy, it’s been clear since the financial crisis of 2008 that something is badly awry and that the economists, so dogmatic and opinionated and so bitterly divided into quarreling schools, aren’t sure how the system works anymore, and have no real ideas about how to make the world system work to the benefit of ordinary voters in the United States. With the PC crowd and the Obama administration hammering away at transgender bathroom rights as if this was the great moral cause of our time, and with campus Pure Thought advocates collapsing into self parody even as an epidemic of drug abuse and family breakdown relentlessly corrodes the foundations of American social cohesion, it’s hard to believe that the establishment has a solid grip on the moral principles and priorities a society like ours needs.

Trump appeals to all those who think that the American Establishment, the Great and the Good of both parties, has worked its way into a dead end of ideas that don’t work and values that can’t save us. He is the candidate of Control-Alt-Delete. His election would sweep away the smug generational certainties that Clinton embodies, the Boomer Progressive Synthesis that hasn’t solved the problems of the world or of the United States, but which nevertheless persists in regarding itself as the highest and only form of truth.

The interest groups and power centers that surround Secretary Clinton like a praetorian guard—Wall Street, the upper middle class feminists, the African American establishment, the Davoisie, the institutional power of the great foundations and educational bureaucracies, Silicon Valley, Hollywood—have defeated their intellectual and political rivals in their spheres of interest and influence. Supporting her is a massive agglomeration of power, intellect, wealth and talent. Her candidacy is the logical climax of the Baby Boom’s march through the institutions of American life. Even the neoconservatives are enlisting in her campaign.

The American Right for all its earnest efforts has been unable to construct a counter establishment that can compete with the contemporary liberal behemoth. Libertarian nostalgia for the 1920s and 1890s, social conservative nostalgia for the faux-certainties of the 1950s; paleocon isolationism; white nationalism; ‘reformicon’ tweaks to the liberal policy agenda—none of these mutually hostile and contradictory sets of ideas can challenge the Boomer Establishment synthesis. The Clintonian center-Left won the cultural and intellectual battles of its time against both the hard left and the fragmented right. The Clinton candidacy is about inevitability, about the laws of historical and institutional gravity.

Yet though the Boomer Consensus has triumphed in the world of American institutions and ideas, in the eyes of many Americans it has not done all that well in the real world. Foreign policy, financial policy, health policy, support of the middle class, race relations, family life, public education, trade policy, city and state government management, wages: what exactly has the Boomer Consensus accomplished in these fields? Many Americans think that the Consensus is a scam and a flop when it comes to actually, well, making things better for the average person. It has made life better, much better, for the upper middle class; few would dispute its accomplishments there. And Wall Street has every reason to pay large speaking fees and make large financial contributions to the champion of the orthodoxy that helped make it so rich.

But many and possibly most Americans think that the Boomer Consensus didn’t work for them. They may not have much confidence in the various conservative and socialist alternatives to the consensus, but they believe that something about it is flawed, and they want it stopped dead in its tracks. This is where Trump comes in. His supporters aren’t united around a set of positive ideas, but they are united in opposition to the status quo. They believe that the emperor has no clothes, even if they can’t agree on a replacement wardrobe.

This makes it easy and profitable for Trump to wage negative campaigns—against Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and the Republican establishment in the primary, against Hillary Clinton and the conventional wisdom of the center left in the general. It also makes it much harder for negative campaigns to hurt him: his appeal doesn’t stem from approval for particular policies, but from opposition to elements of the status quo. His supporters may not expect Mexico to pay for a border wall, but they believe that he doesn’t like unlimited illegal immigration and that he will do something about it. His supporters do not necessarily think he will start a trade war with China, but they don’t think that the conventional approach to globalization is working and they expect him to try something different. At the very least, they believe that he won’t exude serenely toxic moral smugness as he steers the country down a dead end road, that he will at least try to wrench the country off its current course.

This makes him hard to hit. To accuse him of a business career based on flim flam and razzle dazzle doesn’t hurt him with people who think the economic game is rigged. To accuse him of sponsoring outrageous policy ideas that the experts unite in condemning won’t hurt him with people who have lost faith in the experts and the oracles of conventional wisdom. To accuse him of inconsistency won’t hurt him with people who think the establishment is hypocritical and self-serving.

Myself, I don’t think the system is quite as corrupt as some Trump supporters believe or, perhaps more accurately, I lack their confidence that burning down the old house is the best way to build something new. But it would be equally wrong and perhaps more dangerous to take the view that there is nothing more fueling his rise than ignorance, racism and hate. The failure of the center-Left to transform its institutional and intellectual dominance into policy achievements that actually stabilize middle class life, and the failure of the center-Right to articulate a workable alternative have left a giant intellectual and political vacuum in the heart of American life. The Trump movement is not an answer to our problems, but the social instinct of revolt and rejection that powers it is a sign of social health. The tailors are frauds and the emperor is not in fact wearing any clothes: it is a good sign and not a bad sign that so many Americans are willing to say so out loud.

Those of us who care about policy, propriety and the other bourgeois values without which no democratic society can long thrive need to spend less time wringing our hands about the shortcomings of candidate Trump and the movement that has brought him this far, and more time both analyzing the establishment failures that have brought the country to this pass, and developing a new vision for the American future. The one thing we know about 2016 is that neither of these two candidates has what it takes to repair or to renovate the ship of state. Clinton stands for the competent management of an unsustainable status quo, like Rahm Emmanuel in Chicago: a pair of safe and steady hands on the wheel as the ship glides slowly toward the reefs. Trump, at least so far as we can infer what a Trump administration would be like, stands for the venting of steam and the striking of satisfying poses.

We can hope that a President Clinton’s instincts for power and self-preservation will make her something better than the earnest custodian of a failing status quo, and we can hope that a President Trump would prove inspired and lucky rather than bumptiously sharp-tongued. But hope is not a plan. The likeliest forecast is that under either candidate, the slow unraveling of the liberal world order and the American domestic system will continue and possibly accelerate. The 2020 election may take place against an even darker background than what we now see; if America’s intellectuals and institutions don’t start raising their games, 2016 could soon start to look like the good old days.