Sunday, August 23, 2015

Donald Trump and Jacksonian Populism.

The Trump Virus and Its Symptoms. By Charles C.W. Cooke. National Review Online, August 10, 2015.

The Nihilistic Populism of Donald Trump. By Walter Russell Mead. The American Interest, August 11, 2015.

Donald Trump, the Hipster Candidate. By Tom Nichols. The Federalist, August 11, 2015.

Donald Trump: The Golden Haired Sun Eater Who Says “Go America.” By Ben Domenech. The Federalist, August 12, 2015.

Angry Taxpayers, Not Stupid People, Are Backing Trump. By D.C. McAllister. The Federalist, August 12, 2015.

Trump Derangement Syndrome. By Esther Goldberg. The American Spectator, August 17, 2015.

America Needs Better, Classier Immigration Reformers. By Nicholas M. Gallagher. The American Interest, August 20, 2015.

Of Nationalists and Cosmopolitans. By Walter Russell Mead. The American Interest, August 21, 2015.

Le Donald, and Western Democracy’s Populism Problem. By Benjamin Haddad and Neil Rogachevsky. Foreign Policy, August 21, 2015.

Are Republicans for Freedom or White Identity Politics? By Ben Domenech. The Federalist, August 21, 2015.

The Secret to Donald Trump’s Massive Rise in the Polls. By Matt Purple. The National Interest, August 22, 2015.

Saving America from a European Future. The American Interest, August 23, 2015.

Donald Trump Is Not a Populist. He’s the Voice of Aggrieved Privilege. By Jeet Heer. The New Republic, August 24, 2015.

Donald Trump’s Secret Weapon: The Silent Majority? By Robert W. Merry. The National Interest, August 27, 2015.

America Is So in Play. By Peggy Noonan. Wall Street Journal, August 27, 2015.


America is so in play.

And: “the base” isn’t the limited, clich├ęd thing it once was, it’s becoming a big, broad jumble that few understand.


On the subject of elites, I spoke to Scott Miller, co-founder of the Sawyer Miller political-consulting firm, who is now a corporate consultant. He worked on the Ross Perot campaign in 1992 and knows something about outside challenges. He views the key political fact of our time as this: “Over 80% of the American people, across the board, believe an elite group of political incumbents, plus big business, big media, big banks, big unions and big special interests—the whole Washington political class—have rigged the system for the wealthy and connected.” It is “a remarkable moment,” he said. More than half of the American people believe “something has changed, our democracy is not like it used to be, people feel they no longer have a voice.”

Mr. Miller added: “People who work for a living are thinking this thing is broken, and that economic inequality is the result of the elite rigging the system for themselves. We’re seeing something big.”

Support for Mr. Trump is not, he said, limited to the GOP base: “The molecules are in motion.” I asked what he meant. He said bars of support are not solid, things are in motion as molecules are “before combustion, or before a branch breaks.”

I end with this. An odd thing, in my observation, is that deep down the elite themselves also think the game is rigged. They don’t disagree, and they don’t like what they see—corruption, shallowness and selfishness in the systems all around them. Their odd anguish is that they have no faith the American people can—or will—do anything to turn it around. They see the American voter as distracted, poorly educated, subject to emotional and personality-driven political adventures. They sometimes refer to “Jaywalking,” the old Jay Leno “Tonight Show” staple in which he walked outside the studio and asked the man on the street about history. What caused the American Civil War? Um, Hitler? When did it take place, roughly? Uh, 1958?

Both sides, the elites and the non-elites, sense that things are stuck.

The people hate the elites, which is not new, and very American. The elites have no faith in the people, which, actually, is new. Everything is stasis. Then Donald Trump comes, like a rock thrown through a showroom window, and the molecules start to move.

Donald Trump, Traitor to His Class. By Ross Douthat. New York Times, August 29, 2015.

The Donald and the Demagogues. By Bret Stephens. Wall Street Journal, August 31, 2015.

Bret Stephens and Trump. By Mark Bauerlein. First Things, September 2, 2015.

The Trump Movement Isn’t About Conservatism – It’s About Americanism. By Rush Limbaugh. Rush, September 2, 2015.

Limbaugh: Trump Movement Exposes Low Regard Conservative Intellectuals Have for Ordinary Americans. By Jeff Poor. Breitbart, Sept 2, 2015.

Is Trumpism supplanting Reaganism? By David Freddoso. Conservative Intel, September 7, 2015.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Obama and the Downsizing of the American Dream. By Joel Kotkin.

Obama, the Left downsizing the American Dream. By Joel Kotkin. Orange County Register, August 16, 2015.


Barack Obama has always wanted to be a transformational president, and in this, at least, he has been true to his word. The question is what kind of America is being created, and what future does it offer the next generation.

President Obama’s great accomplishment, arguably, has been to spur the evolution of a society that formerly rested on individual and familial aspiration, and turn it into a more regulated and centralized regime focused on broader social and environmental concerns. This tendency has been made much stronger as the number of Americans, according to Gallup, who feel there is “plenty of opportunity ahead” has dropped precipitously – from 80 percent in 1997 to barely 52 percent today.

The shift away from the entrepreneurial model can also be seen in the constriction of loans to the small-business sector. Rates of business start-ups have fallen well below historical levels, and, for young people in particular, have hit the lowest levels in a quarter century. At the same time, the welfare state has expanded dramatically, to the point that nearly half of all Americans now get payments from the federal government.

In sharp contrast to the Bill Clinton White House, which accepted limits on government largesse, the newly emboldened progressives, citing inequality, are calling for more wealth transfers to the poorer parts of society, often eschewing the notion that the recipients work to actually improve their lives. The ever-expanding regulatory state has powerful backing in the media, on campuses and among some corporations. There is even a role model: to become like Europe. As the New York Times’ Roger Cohen suggests, we reject our traditional individualist “excess” and embrace, instead, Continental levels of material modesty, social control and, of course, ever-higher taxes.

Progressive Advances

Three ideas prevail in shaping today’s new politics: sexual liberation, racial redress and environmental determinism. The first notion has made rapid progress, in that gay marriage now is, rightfully, legal, and women are making steady gains across the employment spectrum. No matter how much Republicans fulminate in debates or on the campaign trail, this aspect of the basic progressive agenda has been largely accomplished, and is particularly accepted among the young.

The second major thrust of the reconstituted American Dream is the imposition of a regime of permanent racial redress. In contrast to assuring equal rights, the new drive is to guarantee similar results. In every aspect of life, from immigration and housing to school and work, “people of color,” which increasingly excludes Asians, will be categorized by race. This includes the call for “reparations” for African Americans and essentially open borders for undocumented immigrants.

This logic carried to extremes can be seen in the “disparate impact” rules promulgated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and now blessed by the Supreme Court. Under this concept, any town can have its zoning and planning upended if the bureaucracy, or some plaintiffs, decide the town is too white, too Asian or too affluent to meet the standards of “social justice.” This could be extended down the line to every institution, from the workplace to the university. The new approach could be accurately characterized as affirmative action on steroids.

The Green Dilemma

When the United States took big steps in the 1960s to open its society, the economy was basically very strong, with lots of jobs, making initial accommodations to new entrants, minorities or women, much easier. But economic growth in the current “recovery” has been somewhat meager and wage gains all but nonexistent. Any attempt to extend the new version of “civil rights” protections – essentially taking opportunity away from the majority – would be far riskier at a time of economic torpor.

Worse still, the third major lodestone of current reigning ideology – environmentalism – increasingly tends to tilt against broad-based economic growth. Environmentalism, defined as a movement of conserving resources, extending parks and improving environmental quality could co-exist with an expanding economy, generating the funds to finance such improvements.

But today’s climate-change-focused environmentalism increasingly opposes economic growth per se, seeing in it a threat to the planet. For some people, the solution for the planet lies in depressing living standards by such steps as ratcheting up the cost of basic necessities, from energy to housing. Environmental advocates often work in concert with those who benefit from subsidies for everything from solar energy to transit lines, but the goal remains to constrain consumption and raise prices for such basics as housing and energy.

Yet these negative impacts don’t mean much to many green activists who, notes the Guardian’s George Monbiot, see the climate struggle as a way to “redefine humanity.” The target here is the economy itself, which remains driven largely by the desire for material wealth, upward mobility and support of families. Monbiot envisions a war against what he calls the “expanders” by the rational legions of green “restrainers” who will seek to curb their foes’ economic activities.

The celebration of economic stagnation is accepted openly among European greens who support an agenda of “degrowth.” It is also reflected in American calls for “de-development,” a phrase employed by President Obama’s Science Adviser John Holdren. The agenda, particularly in high-income countries, seeks to limit fossil fuels, raise energy prices, stem suburban development and replace the competive capitalism system with a highly regulated economy that favors designated “green’ energy industries over others.

What of future generations?

Constantly expanding pressures to accommodate both the environmentalist credo and the demands of protected identity groups may continue to shift older Americans to the political right. Forced to pick up the bills while enduring insults about their unconscionable “privilege,” it’s hard to see how they, for the most part, can become anything but more alienated by the progressive credo.

One worry for the older generation is their kids and, particularly, their grandchildren. Parents today generally see things getting worse for their offspring and grandchildren, with only 21 percent, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, expecting things to get better for the new generation, compared with 49 percent in 2001. These sentiments may make older folks more solicitous about helping their own, but one doubts how much they desire to pour out their retirement savings to save someone else’s kids.

The biggest impact of the new politics, however, will be felt by the new generation. Some of their attitudes are certainly congenial to the progressive positions in such areas as interracial and gay marriage, and a certain commitment to greater social justice. Yet they might find they, too, need a little “justice” themselves, since their incomes, adjusted for inflation, are actually lower than those of their counterparts in 2000, or even 1980. They may be better educated than their predecessors, but it’s not quite paying off.

Take, for example, that more millennials are living with their parents than in predecessor generations. Many also are burdened with enormous student debt, which makes moving forward, for example, by starting a business or buying a house, more difficult. Most disturbingly, pessimism about the future is greatest among the youngest millennials, those still in high school.

This decline in prospects – as evidenced by consistently weak income and growth numbers – could, ultimately, reshape politics. Millennials may have different social attitudes than their parents, but that doesn’t mean they reject their parents’ aspirational dream, most notably to buy a house, preferably with some decent space. Although they have been far less able to achieve homeownership, surveys consistently show that most millennials want to own a house, get more space and seem increasingly willing to move to the suburbs, even the exurbs, to get it.

This will no doubt prove a disappointment for the highly influential cadre of generally wealthier, environmentally focused baby boomers, who celebrate millennials being satisfied as apartment renters – for life. Perhaps this is one reason that, in recent surveys, young people have been less likely to identify as “environmentalist” than previous generations.

Similarly, millennials may be very tolerant and welcoming of diversity, but one has to wonder how many – particularly those outside the protected classes – are likely to chafe at a regime that disfavors their own prospects. The fact that white millennials have been trending Republican should be seen by Democrats as something of a warning sign.

Ultimately, the future of American politics will not be determined by those mostly graying legions rallying to Donald Trump. It will be largely forged by young people seeking some way to transcend a weak, and largely unpromising, economy. They will be the ones to decide whether the aspirational model still fits America, or how far they want to embrace a new, more Europeanized version imposed from above.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Israeli-Palestinian Peace Is Dead and Both Sides Killed It. By Carlo Strenger.

Israeli-Palestinian Peace Is Dead and Both Sides Killed It. By Carlo Strenger. The Huffington Post, August 14, 2015. Also at Haaretz.

In Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a two-state solution is dead. By Padraig O’Malley. Boston Globe, August 11, 2015.

With His Head In the Sand. By Matti Friedman. Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2015.

The Left’s Cognitive Dissonance on the Palestinian Authority. By Evelyn Gordon. Commentary, August 14, 2015.

Review of  Padraig O’Malley, The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine. By Peter Beinart. New York Times, August 18, 2015.

Peace Between Israel And Palestine: Is It a Delusion? Padraig O’Malley Explores. By Annie Shreffler. WGBH News, August 18, 2015.

Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine. By Padraig O’Malley. Video. WGBH Forum Network, August 5, 2015. YouTube.

The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine – A Tale of Two Narratives (w/ Padraig O’Malley). Interview by Michael Brooks. Video. Majority Report. Sam Seder, August 25, 2015. YouTube.


Irish conflict researcher Padraig O’Malley says that neither side has the will to reach the two-state solution, and he is probably right.

The world has grown tired of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Twenty-two years after the historic signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn, the very term “peace” is fraught with despair, ridicule and anger both among Israelis and Palestinians, and with tiredness of those who have spent much time and energy to reach this elusive goal.

Many accounts have been written about the failure of the peace process, often by those who have played a role in it like Shlomo Ben-Ami, the foreign minister under Ehud Barak, Dennis Ross, who was senior negotiator for the United States, as was David Aaron Miller. These books appeared between 2006 and 2008, and none of them exuded optimism.

As time went by, the accounts and analyses became more bitter and desperate. Benny Morris, the left-wing doyen of the so-called New Historians, who unearthed Israel’s role in the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, has made a radical right-turn and no longer believes that Palestinians want peace. And Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al-Quds University and long-time peace activist wrote his depressing What Is a Palestinian State Worth? in which he calls on fellow Palestinians to cease fighting for two states: Israeli Jews, he believes, are too traumatized to give up control over the West Bank, and Palestinians should just insist on civil rights and a life with dignity.

Both Morris and Nusseibeh buried the two-state solution, each thinking the other side was responsible for its demise.

It is therefore of great interest, even though depressing, to read an account written by someone who is not part of the conflict, and who comes to the same conclusion – but without blaming either side exclusively. Padraig O’Malley’s life has been about peace. Born in Dublin, educated there, then at Tufts, Yale and Harvard, he has spent decades involved in the Northern Irish peace process that ultimately led to the Good Friday Agreement. In parallel he spent thousands of hours documenting South Africa’s transition to democracy, and serves as Professor of International Peace and Reconciliation at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

He has been an observer of and involved in intractable conflicts for more than 40 years, and has been trying to bring his vast experience to the Middle East as well; first to Iraq, and from 2010 to 2014 he travelled Israel, the West Bank and Gaza to get an in-depth understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict, interviewing more than 100 people on both sides.

The result is his book The Two-State Delusion, a detailed analysis of the conflict, and particularly of the demise of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. The book is extensively documented, including a huge bibliography and the detailed and very impressive list of Israeli and Palestinian interviewees on both sides; he has spoken to many of the central players in the various stages of peace negotiations, but also to many of the peace process’s implacable enemies, like the leadership of Hamas.

O'Malley’s conclusion is obvious from the book’s title: He thinks that neither side has the will to reach the two-state solution, and that the Israel-Palestine conflict is there to stay indefinitely. Toward the end of the book he relates that friends who had read the manuscript told him that he couldn’t simply publish the book without any indication of hope and advice. In response he writes:

“But why should I be so presumptuous as to dare to provide a vision for people who refuse to provide one for themselves, not just in the here and now, but in the future, too? For people who have no faith in the possible? Who themselves believe the conflict will take generations to resolve? Who are content to live their hatreds? Who are so resolutely opposed to the slightest gesture of accommodation? Who revel in their mutual pettiness? Why delude you into thinking that there is a magical bullet?”

Of course, such a conclusion will lead readers from both sides to seek bias, but they are bound to come up empty-handed: O’Malley is remarkably balanced in his analysis of the reasons that make him so pessimistic, and his diagnosis is as interesting as it is depressing. He believes that both Israelis and Palestinians are so addicted to their respective narratives that they are both incapable and unwilling to do what it would take to reach the two-state solution.

The Jewish-Israeli narrative is dominated by the fear of annihilation. Israeli Jews’ collective memory is shaped by the history of persecution and suffering culminating in the genocide that largely destroyed European Jewry in the Holocaust; the memory of three wars from 1948 to 1973 in which Israel’s existence was indeed at stake; the memory of terror attacks from the early Fedayeen to the second intifada; and most lately the various wars with Hamas in Gaza. Israelis, O’Malley concludes, are deeply convinced that the Palestinians’ ultimate goal is to erase the State of Israel.

The Palestinian narrative is one of humiliation and dispossession, and O’Malley’s Palestinian interviewees return to the same refrain of “humiliation, indignity, dispossession and disrespect, leaving little room for other issues to become part of the dialogue. So while the Palestinian national narrative is invariably cast in terms of the Nakba and the occupation, a subnarrative is daily life in occupied territory.” O’Malley comes to the conclusion that Palestinians cannot really accept Israel’s existence, because the Nakba and the question of refugees is central to their narrative and their identity.

O’Malley’s book is a refreshing departure from the blame game in which Israelis and Palestinians and their respective international champions try to make the other side responsible for the peace process’s failure. And it diverges from the tendency to find the trick that will do the job, and comes to a conclusion as intellectually compelling as it is dismaying: “. . .on a deeper level it seems that the impasse relates to human nature and the nature of social structures that have been the source of the two people’s habits/addictions, not the least of which is an impenetrable adherence to national narrative.”

Reading O’Malley, I am divided between two of my identities and roles. As an Israeli who believes that anything but the two-state solution is bound to have a catastrophic outcome for Israel, and who has written this endlessly and ad nauseam, I cannot but recoil from his conclusion.

When I try to take analytical distance and look at the facts and at O’Malley’s arguments from an academic point of view, I am afraid that he is right. In the past I have argued that the human need for meaning can be so strong, that it often overrides reason and pragmatism, sometimes with catastrophic consequences.

The idea of the two-state solution is based on the model of sovereign nation-states and based on the value of self-determination of national groups. It is not a religion, but the only pragmatically workable model that has so far been offered – and it has the advantage that the 1967 borders are recognized by international law, which means that they can serve as a reasonable basis for a final-status agreement.

But the Middle East is not governed by the logic of modern international law, nor by political pragmatism, but is disintegrating into a war of cultures, religions and meaning-systems rather than moving toward pragmatism. One state after another disintegrates into warfare between religious and ethnic groups. Organizations like Al-Qaida and Islamic State dream of the reestablishment of the caliphate, Saudi Arabia and Iran are theocracies, and most other Middle Eastern states that have not disintegrated are autocracies of some form – and the Israel-Palestine conflict reflects this wider reality.

Palestinians are deeply divided: While Fatah seems to aim for a liberal democracy, Hamas is committed to Sharia as the law of the future Palestine (which for them includes Israel, whose legitimacy they deny). Israel is, despite all criticisms, a functioning liberal democracy within the 1967 borders – but we must not forget that even here there are substantial groups seriously calling for Israel to become a Jewish theocracy.

O’Malley’s The Two-State Delusion provides an impartial, empathic but relentlessly objective look at our reality. His idea that both Israelis and Palestinians are so addicted to their meaning-systems (“narratives”) that they are willing to slide into a chaotic abyss is chilling, but seems strongly supported by recent history and current facts.

Like O’Malley, I wonder whether I should not end on a rousing battle cry for political will, prudence and the need for a vision for the future. But then again, such calls are coming to sound more and more hollow. There may be moments where only chilling clarity can liberate us from the cacophony of political rhetoric and allow us to fully face our situation.


One year has passed since the Gaza war between Hamas and Israel came to an end. An uneasy peace prevails. The 2014 war, however, changed the calculus of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In retrospect, it was the final nail in the coffin of a two-state solution.

During the war, the Israeli public called for the demilitarization of Hamas — for the IDF to destroy Hamas’s military brigades and force it to decommission its arms. That didn’t happen. If the IDF had tried, it would have been met with pitiless person-to-person combat and house-to-house searches, making the actual 2014 conflict look like children playing a toy war.

But even if the IDF had, as a result of some remarkable phenomenon, demilitarized Hamas, at best Israel would have bought itself a respite before it would face a rearmed Hamas, which has undergone a rapprochement with Iran in the face of the threat ISIS presents to both.

Given the unfathomable levels of distrust that exist on both sides, Israel will never sign off on a two-state solution, because in a Palestinian state there would be free movement between Gaza and the West Bank, giving Hamas unrestricted access to the latter.

Retired General Michael Herzog, a veteran Israeli negotiator, told me that “no government would ever contemplate leaving the West Bank until that threat of Hamas or any other militant group to launch rocket attacks was removed.” Otherwise, all of Israel would be exposed to attack.

Confinement to Gaza limits Hamas’s offensive capacity to wage war; the strategic question it faces is how to “break out” of Gaza. The only obvious way is to acquiesce to a two-state solution that would give it freedom to move between a united Gaza and West Bank. The contiguity of such a Palestinian state would require a corridor, under Palestinian sovereignty, connecting the two parts of its sovereign territory.

Hamas would then be free to solidify its presence in the West Bank and find routes for smuggling sophisticated mobile missiles, fitted with launchers and timers, into the territory. Given the West Bank’s topography, such missiles could be fired from numerous sites toward Israel’s population centers and infrastructure, including Ben Gurion Airport. This would leave Israel vulnerable to missile attacks from any number of places. Thus Hamas running loose in the West Bank would be a much more elusive and lethal enemy for Israel.

A crushing response against rocket attacks from tiny Gaza is not all that difficult, but a crushing response against both Gaza and the much larger West Bank would be another challenge entirely. Israel would face a highly mobile Hamas, more difficult to pin down and more adept at asymmetric warfare.

Further, a “demilitarized” Palestinian state — i.e., a state without a standing army — could not guarantee that Hamas would not remilitarize. Given the prospect of Hamas rearming, a two-state solution acceptable to Hamas would never assuage Israel’s fears. Israel is more comfortable with the status quo: recurring bouts of violence between itself and Hamas.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say Hamas and other militant groups pledge to demilitarize. Who would believe them? How would Hamas get unanimity among its own factions, let alone bring other militant groups on board? Surely Israel would insist on having an international body monitor the process. Would Hamas agree to that? Would Islamic Jihad, or the ISIS-affiliated Salafi groups that are an increasing presence in Gaza?

And since nobody beyond Hamas has an exact account of its arms inventory, how would the monitoring body know whether it was being given accurate numbers? How would it actually verify demilitarization? Or preclude Hamas from rearming in due time?

Those realities frame Israel’s choice. One option is a militarized Hamas confined to Gaza, a threat Israel can deal with. The other is a two-state solution with no ironclad guarantee of a demilitarized Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or other jihadist groups — and with those groups having access to the West Bank. The former is unsustainable in the long run, but the latter is out of the question.

Given these realities, what’s next? Last week, in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most influential newspaper, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin proposed a “borderless” Palestinian-Israeli “confederation” as a solution. The fact that any president of Israel, particularly one who is a former member of Likud, would make such a breathtaking statement is an indication that fresh thinking is catching wind. Unfortunately, however, even a confederation would not negate the concerns I have outlined. Perhaps nothing short of a catastrophic war will be necessary to bring about the attitudinal changes a confederation would require.

Another sad, but unforgiving reality.