Thursday, August 25, 2016

What is American nationalism?

The racists who are prominent today, calling themselves the alt-right, also call themselves nationalists.  They think this legitimizes themselves.  "I am just a nationalist, defending my nation."  There is something to this, but it is, of course, mostly ignorant bullshit.  Huh?

The politics of any country is in part a competition about defining who the "us" is and what it means to be "us".  And each nationalism has many threads or ideas, and groups will compete to highlight certain threads and ideas at the expense of others.  The white supremacists want to emphasize race as the defining character of American nationalism--whites are American and no one else really is. 

While whites have dominated the US, its nationalism has long been considered to be civil and not ethnic.  Not focused on race but on the ideas contained within the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and all that.  Which has led parties to compete to define certain elements of those documents as being more or less important relative to others.  Is freedom about the pursuit of happiness or is it about equal protection?  While minorities may complain that this civic nationalism glossed over white supremacy, many minorities leaders embrace the elements of civic nationalism that promise better outcomes for their groups.  What made Martin Luther King so very powerful was his invoking of the civic nationalism and calling white Americans to live by it.

The white supremacists who call themselves nationalists have a crappy understanding of history which undermines their claims.  How can you be an American nationalist and be nostalgic about the Confederacy.  The Confederacy aimed to destroy the Union and was very much treason.  So, how can American nationalists venerate traitors?  By focusing on ethnic ties--being white.  But this nostalgia creates incoherence, which is fine for these folks because logic, facts, coherence are all irrelevant to them.  Indeed, being ignorant is a point of pride with these folks. 

Anyhow, getting back to the white supremacists, they call themselves nationalists, thinking this sounds good.  However, the postcold war world has generally considered the nationalists to be problems--that these are the folks who spawn conflict.  When they call themselves American nationalists, it only resonates among themselves and not any further.  It sounds strange to the rest of America.  Alt right?  It might sound a bit better than Nazi or White Supremacist, but that is not saying much.  The more people hear what Breitbart has on its site, the more disgusted they will be.  Because intolerance of everything is actually un-American.  The white supremacists will lose the contest to define American nationalism because the United States is actually a pretty successful place with a bunch of flaws, but a place where Latinos, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, immigrants, LGBT, Jews, and others can thrive.  And their thriving really pisses off the alt right. 

By calling Trump out as a racist and highlighting the alt right racists, Hillary may be giving them the press they want.  But the exposure to the light will lead to political outcomes that they don't want--more years of Democrats, more years of empowered minorities, more problems for a Republican party that has to choose whether to get votes from Real America or lose national elections again and again. 

Trump the White Supremacist

Hillary Clinton is going after Trump on his racism today.  Not just in this video but in a major speech.  And I am glad to see it.  Let's call him out for what he has been doing--making a series of statements over the past year that are appeals to white supremacists.

Some argue that Trump is not really a white supremacist but playing the part to get votes, akin to Fred Thompson in a weaker season of Wiseguy long ago.  Of course, one could argue that this is just as bad or worse--to be insincerely racist.  But the record of Trump is more consistent than his anti-immigration stance:
  • Trump and his dad were sued for housing discrimination long ago
  • Trump was upset that his accountants were African-Americans and not Jewish, showing a reliance on ethnic stereotypes to make personnel decisions.
  • Trump's birther obsession.
  • Trump's opening statement where he labeled an entire group as rapists.  
  • Trump's reactions to a judge's decisions is to blame his heritage.
  • Trump's statements when meeting with the Republican Jewish Committee that repeated invoked stereotypes.  "Hey, you guys are good bargainers, I like to bargain, we should get along..."
  • Trump retweeting white supremacist folks and using their racist gifs.

Other than ripping off people via underpaying contractors and using bankruptcy strategically and other than being skeevy about his daughter, Trump's white supremacy and bigotry are his most consistent characteristics. So, I am glad to see folks call him out for it. The shame of the GOP is that his competitors refused to so because they were pandering for the white supremacist vote even if they were not so consistently racist.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Trump and Israel

Last month, I spoke at a synagogue about Trump and the US elections.  I feel pretty good about what I said, as much of what I highlighted has become even more apparent--that the fundamentals favor HRC, that Trump is a lousy candidate and on and on.  I did regret how I answered the last question, which was about Israel.  Folks fear the Democrats these days because there are pro-Palestinian types in the party.  Sure, but what I should have said more clearly is what a disaster Trump would be for Israel.  How so?
  1. Trump is, of course, the candidate of white supremacists, who tend to be very, very anti-semitic.  Many online critics of Trump have faced significant abuse from the Trump fans who do not hesitate to make the most Jew-hating, holocaust-denying or holocaust-celebrating remarks.  Trump's staff is, alas, chock full of these people, even before Steve Bannon of Breitbart came on board.
  2. Trump's vows to support Israel are just as reliable as every other promise he has made.  Yes, politicians do lie sometimes and break promises, but no candidate has threatened to break pretty much every promise he has made like Trump has.  Trump is about as untrustworthy as one can imagine.
  3. Trump's promises (whatever they are worth) to ban Muslims and all the rest are likely to feed Islamist extremism, which is not good for Israel.  Alienating all Muslims is just a dumb move, one that Trump would very much likely make. 
  4. Trump would be bad for the world economy, which would then hurt Israel.  His threats to default on the debt, the promises to get out of most major trade agreements, and on and on would create more than a bit of uncertainty and most likely cause a recession (if not worse).  The United States, given its role in the international economy, tends to share its economic generously, so not good for a smaller country.
  5. Oh, and to underline the first point, a key point of NEVER AGAIN is not just aimed at preventing genocide of the Jews, but opposing movements that aim to threaten minorities in general.  Supporting Trump now would be a betrayal of NEVER AGAIN.  
What about a President Clinton?  I am pretty sure she is not going to have as hostile relationship with Netanyahu as Obama did--that would be hard to achieve.  Otherwise, pretty much more of the same.  Clinton will not throw Israel to the wolves, but she will support the Iran deal.  She will probably not be pleased by yet more settlements in the occupied territories, but she will probably not do much about it.

Unionizing Grad Students

My American colleagues are starting to think about the increased unionization of graduate students in the aftermath of a major court decision.  Having experienced both a unionization effort long ago and the reality of supervising unionized teaching assistants for ten years at my previous job, I have a few things I learned.

At UCSD, the grad students were unionizing to get health care (or a better deal, I forget).  That was something that seemed worth fighting for.  That seemed to be the major issue in the late 1980s'/early 1990's, long before Obamacare.  So, while I did not spend much time pushing for unionization, I generally supported it.

At McGill, I was not a fan.  Due to the joys of national health care (quality varying by province, of course), health care was not an issue, but workload and pay were.  I didn't care much about pay issues.  Sure, what I paid research assistants was affected by the going rate for teaching assistants, but I didn't mind spending more more grant money on grad students.  Indeed, I saw that as the primary purpose of the grants I received. 

What I did mind was the workload issue.  The students were supposed to work a certain amount of hours per term, and, to enforce this, we had to bargain each semester with our TAs about what they would be doing and how much time each task would take.  What was included in these calculations: not just the time it took to grade each assignment, but attendance in my lectures, the weekly meetings for the team of 8-9 TAs for the big classes, their office hours, their conferences (discussion sections),  with the students, prep time, and eventually they wanted the time they spent emailing.  The practical effect this had on my teaching was to assign fewer assignments since much of the other tasks were harder to finesse.  I could have not expected my TAs to attend my lectures, but given that part of their job was to clarify/extend what I was saying class, it was kind of important for their job.  I did find a way to get through all of this, but when I had half-time TAs (mostly law students), the math became really difficult.

I did not have much sympathy since I asking them to do the job of assisting my teaching--read, grade, attend class, hold office hours and such.  I didn't think I was asking them to do too much.  I got it that these restrictions were mostly there to protect the students in other areas (the hard sciences) where profs tended to overwork the students.  It was never too inconvenient, except when they struck during finals, but it was a constant annoyance.

I did get the sense that the union organization was more focused on what was best for the organization and not so much what was best for the students--ye olde iron law of oligarchy.  As Dan Drezner highlights in the link at the top, the real hardships are faced by the adjunct professors and they have a strong need for unions.  Ironically, the best thing we could do for the graduate students is ... to have fewer of them.  If we were a better guild and produced fewer PhDs, then there would be less of a glut that makes it easier for universities to offer lousy jobs with lousy working conditions.  But then, to make that work, we might have to ask more of our graduate students--TA more, RA more.  Ooops.





Tuesday, August 23, 2016

NATO's Enduring Relevance

Twitter and life met this past week.  On twitter, folks have been wondering if NATO is relevant again.  In life, I was asked by a Canadian government review agency about NATO (not part of the Defence Review), and whether it was relevant for Canada.  Despite the criticisms of how NATO operations in our book, I am very much an advocate of NATO.  So much so that I went on a twitter rant about how NATO has always been relevant, enumerating some (but probably not all) that NATO has done over the years.

The list includes:
  • Playing a major role in keeping the peace in Europe since World War II.
  • Ended the Bosnian War and kept the peace afterwards
  • Stopped ethnic cleansing in Kosovo
  • Prevented escalation of conflict in Macedonia
  • Monitored US skies (cities during major events) after 9/11 via NATO AWACS planes
  • Counter-terrorism via a NATO fleet in the Mediterranean
  • Held the line in Afghanistan while the US was distracted in Iraq
    • Indeed, American allies did not go to Afghanistan because they cared about the place. They saw it as their chance to help out their ally.
  • Counter-piracy naval operations off of Somalia
  • Fostered civilian control of the military in Eastern Europe after Communism.
  • Training of Afghan troops which continues
  • Training of Iraqi forces
  • Preventing massacres in Libya.  
    • The Libyan effort is very controversial--that NATO took a mandate to protect citizens and turned into regime change, but I am not sure how to R2P without removing someone like Qaadafi. 
    • Oh, and for those who consider Libya an absolute failure, compare the casualty numbers between Libya and Syria.
  • Deterring Russia from aggressing against the Baltics.
So, NATO was always relevant, but is more obviously so thanks to Putin's neighborly predations.  One question that came up with the DND review agency is whether NATO does anything for Canadian interests such as in the Arctic.   My answer: if NATO is not doing much in the Arctic, Canada has much to blame for that.  Harper opposed NATO extending any attention to the far north, preferring the Arctic Council and bilateral relations with the US.  Trudeau, thus far, has not changed course on that.  Perhaps if Canada wanted NATO to be more involved in the Arctic, this would lead to some tough bargaining with Norway, since the Norwegians want all NATO Arctic stuff to go through them.  Still, Canada can't complain about something it didn't want not happening,

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Weenie Washington Post

The WashPo almost gets it, almost goes there.  It has a story about the racist fan boys of Donald Trump, but the headline writer and the journalist bought into the use of "racialist."  Why not use a term that already exists?  That is, racist.  These folks are not nationalists, but white supremacists.  They want white people to rule, and minorities to go to the back of the bus. 

Trump has been playing to this crowd since he started the campaign (what he said about Mexicans) and before with the birther nonsense.  In his most recent, post-Bannon, post-latest pivot speeches, Trump continues to be flaming racist--telling African-Americans (the Blacks, as he calls them) that they are all the same, with lousy job prospects, with lousy life prospects, with no insurance (actually, Obamacare has made a big dent in the un-insurance problem among African-Americans).

Since Trump has no problem pandering to the racists, why should media outlets soften the coverage of it?  Yes, this story does a good job of showing who is the core of the Trump "movement," but it pulls back.  No need to pull back.  It is not politically correct to call white supremacists racists--it is just accurate. 

As a scholar of ethnic conflict, I honestly cannot remember ever using or even reading "racialist" in my 20 plus year career.  But that is what the white supremacists do--keep coming up with new names.  What remains the same is a nostalgia for a time where minorities "knew their place", before multiculturalism taught tolerance, acceptance and even celebration of diversity.  I guess it sucks to be on the wrong side of history--this country is becoming increasingly diverse.  They fear this perhaps because they project too much--that the diverse groups will rule just as oppressively as the whites did when America was "great."

So, perhaps the WashPo story is a mostly good one--reminding us of the the awful stuff that is out there and that favors a Trump win--but I wish they had just been a wee bit more direct.  Trump and his core supporters are not racialists but racists, that their nationalism is white supremacy.  And as a white American, I feel I should be apologizing to non-white Americans for the hateful ideology spewed by the candidate nominated by the GOP.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

How to Become a Fringe Party in North America and Europe

One of the dynamics I learned in the process of researching the Dave and Steve book on NATO is that left-wing parties aspiring to broaden their appeal felt compelled to support NATO operations.  Huh? 

In Canada, the New Democratic Party supported the Libyan operation.  In the Netherlands, it was the Groenlinks party that supported the new policy mission in 2011.*  Both parties had traditionally been anti-NATO, but both chose to support new (and less risky) NATO operations because they saw that being anti-NATO had marginalized them. If they wanted to be mainstream, they would have be seen as not hostile to NATO.  They realized that voters beyond their narrow core saw NATO as a legitimate alliance that their country should support much of the time, if not always.  These parties realized that their anti-NATO ideology caused voters to think of them as fringe parties, as ones that were not serious enough to be considered fit to govern even as part of a coalition.  Taking stances on less risky missions, especially ones that seemed vaguely humanitarian, allowed these parties to shift and be more supportive of NATO. 

Why think about this now?  Because it seems that some actors in Western politics are taking the opposite strategy--how to alienate voters and become a fringe party by being hostile to NATO.  In the US, Donald Trump has been alienating not just Democrats but increasingly Republicans due to his anti-NATO (and pro-Putin) stances.  As Dan Drezner has repeatedly pointed out, no GOP experts have jumped up alongside Donald to suggest that NATO might need to be cut adrift.  The NeverTrump crowd, however, does cite Trump's anti-NATO stances as one of the reasons why they have to oppose Trump, even if they are not fans of Clinton. 

Trump is not alone.  UK Labour "leader" Jeremy Corbyn refused to say that the UK would come to the defence of allies if they were attacked, which seems pretty anti-NATO.  Then, of course, folks found some of his previous NATO statements.  Being anti-NATO is great for pandering to the far left, but that will alienate less extreme Labour voters and tell the rest of the UK that the Labour party is not serious about governing and just wants to be a fringe party.  Of course, Corbyn is doing other stuff that has this effect, but the focus here is on NATO. 

I just want to congratulate both Trump and Corbyn on figuring out how best to turn mainstream parties, ones that has governed on their own, into fringe parties that most citizens will find to be unacceptable.  Well done.













*  I wrote a bit about it in this paper that I never submitted anywhere.  I forget why I didn't--it might been trying to publish too much off of the same book project--that I wanted to avoid self-plagiarism.  Or that this was going to be in an edited volume that never took place. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Alt Right Is Very Wrong

Over the past year or two, folks have identified themselves as being part of the alt-right.  These are folks who think that the right wing is not sufficiently something.  Hmmm, what could that be?  Oh, that the GOP and its right wing is not sufficiently racist: 
“The Alt-Right is a loose set of far-right ideologies at the core of which is a belief that “white identity” is under attack through policies prioritizing multiculturalism, political correctness and social justice and must be preserved, usually through white-identified online communities and physical ethno-states.”
I found the Southern Poverty Law Center quote in a Charles Blow piece. The reason I started thinking about it is, of course, the new force in the Trump campaign is Steve Bannon of Breitbart [#notallSteves].  Discussion about his impact focus on how Trump's campaign might embrace nationalism more.  Does this mean wearing more red/white/blue?  Does it mean live readings of the Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights?  What does it mean to be more nationalist?

Well, any nationalism has multiple meanings that can be emphasized, different content to stress and highlight.  What has Bannon and Breitbart been emphasizing?  The plight of whites in an increasingly diverse America.  When people speak of a more nationalist campaign in this case, they mean a more white nationalist campaign--emphasizing how the increased diversity in the US is leading to white genocide, how Mexicans and Muslims are going rape our (white) women, and on and on.

Trump has long moved from speaking via dogwhistled code (birther--how can a black President be a real American?) to openly making racist appeals.  He retweets white supremacists and their graphics on a regular basis.  So, it makes sense that he is the favorite candidate of the white supremacists.

The strange thing is that the alt right folks don't like being called white supremacists.  I learned this again yesterday via a series of tweets:


After the first and before the second, I received a bunch of tweets from white supremacists who were mad that I called them that.  Apparently, they are as thin skinned as the celebrity candidate that they prefer.  The irony or hypocrisy (hard to tell) is that these folks want to be "plain spoken" and not criticized for their non-politically correct views, but criticize me for telling it like it is.

We are doing the country no favors by letting these racist, anti-semitic, homophobic, xenophobic and largely misogynist folks (hence multidimensional bigots) use labels that provide even the thin gloss of "alt right."  Call them what they are, so that they retreat back to under the rocks from whence they came.

Others will advocate finding ways to bring them back, to deradicalize them.  I don't have the skill or patience or tolerance to advocate that.  Instead, I want them marginalized.  The big damage that Trump has done has been to make these folks feel as if they are accepted, acceptable and voicing legitimate grievances.  They are not.  White supremacy is simply not legitimate.  Blaming entire races for one's problems is not a pathway to anything good.

But what do I know, I am just (((Steve Saideman))) as one white supremacist tweeted back at me, biased by my heritage to think that blaming entire groups for whatever societal ills is just a bad idea.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Trump and Putin: Birds of a Feather

I spent this morning chatting about Trump and the strange role of Russia in the US election on radio stations across Canada. As usual, there was a basic set of questions asked over and over (eight hits this time).  What was asked?  What did I say?  While some of the hosts went off script slightly, this was the gist:



1. What do you think of the ways in which Russia is being raised in the American election campaign...How surprising is it to you that Russia has taken this sort of prominence? 

It is pretty amazing. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union played a major role in elections but only as a question: is a candidate up for dealing with the threat?  After 1991, Russia was less relevant and then people, including myself, scoffed when Mitt Romney listed Russia as biggest threat in 2012.  But since Crimea and the war in Ukraine, Russia is relevant again but now it is actually seeking to influence the election
 
2. How much of a preference does the Russian Government or Vladimir Putin have between the two U-S Presidential candidates?
The less covered story is that Putin apparently dislikesHillary Clinton from her time as Secretary of State
Trump, on other hand, has very visibly promised a set of policies that Putin prefers: recognizing Crimea, softening sanctions, not being so enthusiastic about supporting Ukraine, potentially breaking NATO, and that last one is one of Putin's highest priorities.  So, yes, Putin has a very clear preference.

 3. There have been accusations directed at Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, accusing him of pro-Russian ties. How  plausible is it that Russia is exerting influence through members of the Trump campaign?
[This one was slightly overcome by events since Manafort got demoted last night with word breaking this morning]
The ties between Manafort and Putin/Russia are pretty clear, as he worked for pro-Russian figures in Ukraine and elsewhere
It is hard to explain the stances of Trump on Russia without thinking that someone is pushing this as there is no real domestic constituency pushing for this AND the effort to change the GOP platform at the convention was a major exertion of political capital.  Why?  Because elements within the campaign care a great deal. 

4. There are also allegations that Russia is behind hacks of the D-N-C and the Clinton campaign's computer servers. Do you think this is the sort of thing the Russian state would undertake?

Russia has advanced cyberwarfare capability, so it definitely is something the Russians can do.  Russia engaged in cyber attacks against Estonia in 2007, and used cyber attacks as part of its campaign against Ukraine.  When the hack was originally discovered, Russians were immediately suspected, and then the emails were given to wikileaks and released a month later. 

5. What does all of this suggest about the U.S. relationship with Russia over the longer term, after the election?
HRC is going to win, and she will remember this unprecedented effort by Russia to influence a US election.  So, expect an increased chill in US-Russian relations but not that much change in substance since US is already confronting Russia over Ukraine and is already reinforcing NATO in the Baltics/Poland.