To Arms, Teachers! Trumpism as Totalitarianism

I just finished Masha Gessen’s truly great The Future is History, her story of “how totalitarianism reclaimed Russia”. It was hard to read, not just because of the grey bleakness that choked out all Russian political space throughout the book, but because of the vast parallels between Russia and the United States…especially, of course, between the rise of Trump and the Reign of Putin.

I don’t mean, right now at least, in the strictly legal or political sense. The book doesn’t at all touch on potential collusion, or cooperation between the parties. Trump is really only mentioned a couple of times at the end, once where Gessen is talking about the growing global influence of Alexander Dugin, the philosopher of Putinism and Russia’s aggressive revanchism, with its white nationalism, hatred of modernity, anti-gay hysteria, political oppression, and swaggering love of upsetting norms.

In the epilogue, she writes of his growing international fame: “With the election of Donald Trump in the United States, the neo-Nazi movement known as the ‘alt-right’ gained public prominence, as did its leader Richard Spencer, an American married to Nina Kouprianova, a Russian woman who served as Dugin’s English translator and American promoter.”

This, I think, is part of the key. The philosophy behind Putinism, especially once his second terms started, has been aggressive and deeply conservative, almost atavistic. And that movement, which I’ve lumped as “white suprenationalism“, has been the driving moral force behind Trump.

This isn’t a full review of the book, nor is it trying to tease out the enormity of the Russian connection, in a spiritual, legal, and economic sense (indeed, every time I try to, I get lost in the vastness of the details, which might be the point). I hope to do a full review this week, and hope to bring out more connections as we go along.

But there was one passage that struck me, and that clarified a lot of what I have been thinking about when we talk about arming teachers.

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You Want it Darker? Trump’s Illiberal World Order


Image result for cartoon american imperialism

The plus side is maybe we’ll get more cartoons like this


Trying to figure out Trumpism, as it relates to foreign policy, is in many ways a mug’s game. After all, it seems, he doesn’t really think deeply about the world, or even much at all. Just as a place to screw people over or where America gets screwed. To imagine Trump with a unified theory is to imagine him really considering an issue, and that’s laughable.

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have opinions, and half-baked self-centered beliefs. And one of this blog’s long-standing principles is that Trump’s personal pathologies perfectly fit the goals of the far and alt-right, which makes him the perfect vehicle. His empty faith that he is the world’s best negotiator allow for the breaking up of the multilateral order, and his own roiling racism dovetails perfectly for their anti-Muslim and white supranationalism fervor.

And, through that, we’re beginning to get an idea of what the foreign policy will look like. The Soufan Group watched his Fate of the Nation speech, and weren’t thrilled with what they saw.

Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has viewed and positioned itself as the leader of the free world….Despite the variations, (ed: in how this has played out) the core of U.S. foreign policy over the last seven decades has been that the U.S. would play a leading role in the global order. 

The Trump administration appears in both rhetoric and deed to be pivoting from this long-held stance in a noticeable fashion. During his campaign and his first month in office, President Trump has consistently stressed that he believes the U.S. has ‘been taken advantage of’ in terms of trade policies and defense obligations, and has promised that would no longer be the case. Trump’s February 28 joint address to Congress confirmed again that the shift to a transactional balance sheet approach to many international concerns will be a cornerstone of his administration. 

President Trump’s preference of viewing foreign affairs in a bilateral fashion—and to approach pacts as ‘deals’—was evident in both what was and was not said in the one-hour long speech. During his speech, the President never mentioned the word ‘democracy’ in any context—foreign or domestic. He mentioned the word ‘freedom’ three times, though none of the three mentions were in the context of foreign affairs or global stability. The only specific use of the word came in the context of health insurance. The term ‘free world’—whatever its merit—was also not mentioned, again consistent with the President’s preference to review and perhaps discard long-standing policies and treaties. He stated that the U.S. “will respect historic institutions, but we will respect the foreign rights of all nations. And they have to respect our rights as a nation, also.” He added: “America is willing to find new friends, and to forge new partnerships, where shared interests align.”

In theory, there might be something refreshing about a US President who doesn’t give grandiloquent speeches about how we’re a shiny beacon on the hill and how our endless struggle and god-given mission is to let freedom bloom around the globe. After all, in doing so, the United States have fomented or had its hands in a dozen bloody and grubby coups, started of perpetuated civilian-slaughtering wars in places as distant as Vietnam and Guatemala, and has generally run unchecked while acting like self-righteous.

But that’s not what Trump is doing. He isn’t wrestling with a tortured history in an attempt to be more decent. He’s saying that America’s problem was that it viewed itself as the guarantor of the international order, and that it hasn’t been aggressive enough.

The essential policy is that we deal from strength, running over those who are weaker, and forming alliances with those that are strong. There will be ideological alliances, of course, but only if they are suitable. If Le Pen wins, then France is a friend; if not: Paris isn’t Paris. To say that this is distasteful, and the opposite of what the post-war world has been like is to say that water is wet.

One doesn’t even have to bring in the Russian angle on this, though Putin’s Russia is the model, the inspiration, and maybe the daddy of it all. This has been the project of the right for a long time. The distaste in multilateral institutions isn’t that they take away American freedom–they really, really don’t–but that they constrain America from acting like a classic imperial power. From “cutting deals” to exploit weaker countries, from forcing our economic interests at the barrel of a gun (well, not really, but in theory), and from carving up the world in a great game.

Where do Mattis and McMasters fit in? Who knows? They probably see it as their duty to check this. The question is if they’ll be able.

As they say, hypocrisy is the tribute that vice plays to virtue. It’s fair to say that has been the essence of US foreign policy while upholding the world order that has gone a long way toward preventing catastrophic war after the fires of last century. Trump, though, isn’t even decent enough to be a hypocrite. For him, and for the team that channels his sicknesses toward their own ends, vice is the virtue unto itself.

Trump on Paris: Equal Parts Racism, Terrible Government, And Maddening Idiocy



More like the “Arch De Jim Doesn’t Want To Go To Paris Anymore!”


I feel that for everyone, there is one Trump habit or event that sticks in your craw more than others, something that seems minor (in the grand scheme of Trump horrors), but that, to you, just wraps everything up in a disgusting, pulsating meat-bow. For me, it’s France. Or, more specifically, what he has to say about Paris, which comes up every time he’s talking about “terror”. He did so in his CPAC speech.

Take a look at what happened in Sweden. I love Sweden. Great country, great people, I love Sweden. They understand I’m right. The people there understand I’m right. Take a look at what’s happening in Sweden. Take a look at what’s happened in Germany. Take a look at what’s happened in France. Take a look at Nice and Paris.

I have a friend, he’s a very, very substantial guy, he loves the city of lights. He loves Paris. For years, every year during the summer he would go to Paris. It was automatic. With his wife and his family. Hadn’t seen him in a while. And I said, Jim, let me ask you a question, how’s Paris doing? Paris? I don’t go there anymore. Paris is no longer Paris. That was four years, four, five years, hasn’t gone there. He wouldn’t miss it for anything. Now he doesn’t even think in terms of going there.

Now. There’s actually a lot going on here. For one thing, it is weird and terrible to try to paint an ally (as France most certainly is) as a dystopian hellhole, and one that it isn’t safe to go to. That’s just being really bad at government. It’s considerably worse than criticizing a particular policy. Saying “Paris is no longer Paris” is attacking an ally on a fundamental, even existential level. French President Hollande is rightfully upset. Part of running the government, and being the face of the country, is getting along with allies and not going out of your way to needlessly insult. Trump is very bad at this job!

But let’s go a little deeper. The whole “Paris is no longer Paris” thing isn’t just about terrorism. Indeed, it’s more straight-up racism. The example here is from “Four, five years ago”, before Hebdo, before Nice, before the Bataclan. There’s a chance that Trump is just riffing and fudging the years, but he’s told this story many times. It isn’t that it is violent. It’s that there are immigrants there. Non-French.

And it is true that while before the wave of jihad violence France, and Paris, were trying to deal with poor immigrants who were not able to assimilate into society. It’s very complex, partly because France, unlike America (traditionally), had very strict requirements about what it meant to be “French”, and there wasn’t much of an attempt to change that, or to help newcomers from different cultures. They were immediately given up on and marginalized. One of the reasons the immigrant experience in America has worked so well, despite its flaws, is that the culture is flexible enough that it changes with new arrivals, and doesn’t try to change them (much).

So when Trump talks about his friend Jim not wanting to go to Paris because it is no longer Paris, he’s just updating and incorporating an older story into a narrative of terrorism. But the story is that Paris is no longer purely white, and that the non-whites would like some rights, and the right to be visible. The heart of it is pure racism; the conflation of religious bigotry with fears about terrorism are at the heart of the white supra-nationalist campaign. It would be subtly very smart, if I thought it was intentional.

I’m not sure it is, though, because of what bothers me the most: that the President of the United States of America, when discussing transnational terrorism, seems to base most of his thinking off a vague anecdote about a buddy of his named Jim.

This is enraging. It makes me so mad I can barely sit still. It’s not even the policy-basing part. It’s that he thinks this means something. He thinks it is interesting and important that a guy named Jim–a substantial guy–doesn’t like to go to Paris, and he always used to. Something’s going on!

Think about it. Imagine you got into a conversation in a bar and someone said, well, let me tell you about terrorism: here’s an incredibly boring story about a guy’s vacation history. You’d nod, and think, well, ok, that doesn’t mean anything. This guy just has a few vague, mostly racist assumptions, a second-person anecdote, and not much else. It would be a bad conversation in a bar, the faintly-lunatic ramblings of a know-nothing blowhard who seems like he’s more interested in impressing you by being friends with a substantial guy who can go to Paris whenever he wants than on actually talking about the issue.

Now imagine a Presidential candidate uses that anecdote as something meaningful. Now imagine the President keeps using it. What the hell? You have access to every bit of intelligence the country produces, and you want to talk about Jim?

I mean, maybe this is why he is “relatable”, because he talks like a normal guy. That’s backward in and of itself; his “normal guy” talk is so sweaty in its desperate lust for your admiration and filled with brags about the powerful people he knows that it should render itself as more out of touch than Romney, but we’re in the upside down, so who knows?

And maybe this is smart. Maybe it is a not-too-subtle dogwhistle about the mongrol hordes in Europe, and how they are coming over here if we don’t do anything. Maybe he knows exactly what he is doing, if just instinctively.

But let us not forget that the President is a man so deeply incurious about the world, and so vastly unlearned, that he bases his ideas on cable news crawls and other people’s idiot stories. That’s where we are.