Steady drum of Trump’s anti-Germany remarks raises questions
BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s export surplus, migration policies and defense spending have all been on President Donald Trump’s Twitter and diplomatic hit list. Now it’s Germany’s energy policy and joint gas pipeline venture with Moscow, which he says leaves Berlin “totally controlled” and “captive to Russia.”
The steady drum of anti-German rhetoric from one of the country’s traditionally closest friends has started people wondering whether to get ready for a messy breakup.
“It’s an attitude that long term for the German-American relationship is anything but helpful,” says lawmaker Rolf Muetzenich, a foreign affairs expert with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior coalition Social Democrats.
Trumps comments came Wednesday as NATO leaders were meeting in Brussels. Entering the talks, Merkel didn’t mention Trump but stressed Germany “can determine our own policies and make our own decisions.”
Has Democratic Socialism a Future in American Politics?
By Lawrence Wittner
Recently, when 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an obscure, upfront democratic socialist from the Bronx, easily defeated one of the most powerful U.S. Congressmen in the Democratic primary, the story became an overnight sensation. How, the pundits wondered, could this upset have occurred?
Actually, it shouldn’t have been a total surprise for, in recent years, democratic socialism has been making a remarkable comeback in American life. Bernie Sanders, the democratic socialist U.S. Senator from Vermont, won 23 Democratic primaries and caucuses during his tumultuous 2016 election campaign. Indeed, he nearly defeated Hillary Clinton, all but coronated by the Democratic Party establishment, for the Democratic presidential nomination. In addition, numerous candidates backed by a Sanders campaign’s successor, Our Revolution, won Democratic Party primaries and election to office in 2017 and 2018.
Other indications of socialism’s recent popularity are numerous. They include Gallup polls done in early 2016―one showing that 35 percent of Americans had a favorable view of “socialism” and another revealing that 6 out of 10 Democratic primary voters felt that “socialism” had a positive impact on society. Polls found that socialism was especially popular among young people, a key factor behind the jump in membership of Democratic Socialists of America from 5,000 in November 2016 to 40,000 today.
Of course, democratic socialism―centered in the idea of democratic ownership and control of the economy―has had periods of growth, as well as decline, over the course of American history. During the first decades of the 20thcentury, it flourished. By 1912, the Socialist Party of America, led by charismatic labor leader and presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, had succeeded in electing socialists to 1,200 public offices in 340 American cities, including 79 mayors in 24 states. But, within a few years, the party was largely destroyed by government repression (thanks to its opposition to U.S. entry into World War I) and by its bitter feud with the rising Communist movement over the Communists’ contempt for political democracy and civil liberties.
With the onset of the Great Depression, the Socialist Party experienced a modest revival, but soon began to fade as the Democratic Party, then in its New Deal phase, began to implement many of the key programs long championed by democratic socialists: collective bargaining rights for workers; minimum wage and maximum hour laws; public sector jobs for the unemployed; a social security system; and heavy taxes on the rich to pay for an array of social services. Increasingly, the Democratic Party attracted the support of the democratic socialist constituency, including some of its prominent figures―labor leaders like Walter Reuther, David Dubinsky, Sidney Hillman, and A. Philip Randolph, educators like John Dewey, women’s rights activists like Margaret Sanger, and popular writers like Upton Sinclair.
For some decades, the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, founded in 1973 by the writer Michael Harrington and other committed socialists―and its successor, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)―tried to revive democratic socialism by cutting loose from fruitless third party election campaigns and focusing, instead, on fostering public support for greater economic and social democracy. On occasion, DSA backed worthy candidates in Democratic primaries. But it had only minimal success. For the most part, the best that DSA could do was to keep the democratic socialist current alive by pulling together socialist-minded activists scattered about in the labor, women’s rights, racial justice, and peace movements, and putting them in touch with a small group of sympathetic public officials.
Nevertheless, the rise in American life of a rapacious corporate capitalism, a widening level of economic inequality, and the sharply rightwing policies of many states and the federal government are clearly inspiring a revolt on the Left. As the Sanders campaign and the recent election victories of Ocasio-Cortez and other leftwing candidates indicate, in electoral politics this revolt is finding expression largely inside the Democratic Party.
Although it’s too early to know how this revolt will play out, there are signs that it is beginning to alter Democratic Party politics. With a heartily-despised Donald Trump in the White House and with rightwing Republicans now dominating Congress and the Supreme Court, many newly-energized leftwing voters will probably close ranks with mainstream Democrats in an all-out Democratic Party effort to drive the Right from power. At the same time, there is a comparable recognition among establishment Democrats that, unless they welcome the growing number of democratic socialists into their ranks, they have little chance of winning elections. This might well explain why so many leading Democratic politicians have now turned to backing the staples of the Sanders campaign, such as Medicare for all, free public college education, and curbs on corporate power. It might also explain why the Democratic National Committee is busy cutting back the establishment-controlled superdelegate system for choosing a presidential candidate.
As a result, just as the Democratic Party largely absorbed America’s democratic socialist constituency during the 1930s and 1940 and, in turn, was itself transformed by that process, the same phenomenon might be underway today. For many years, sectarian leftists have railed against the activity of democratic socialists within the Democratic Party, claiming that it has held back a workers’ revolution or some other ostensibly glorious occurrence. But this contention seems dubious. Instead, democratic socialist activity within the Democratic Party helped produce the kind of progressive politics and public policy that delivered significant economic and social gains to most Americans in the past. And it might well do so again today.
Dr. Lawrence Wittner, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press).
President Trump’s Useful Idiocy
By Winslow Myers
Though the president still has many supporters, there is a growing consensus, especially as the Trump-initiated trade war heats up, that he does not have their best interests in mind, never mind the best interests of the nation as a whole. While I think I understand why so many people voted for Trump, my sympathy does not extend to the man himself, whose emotional repertoire appears to be the narrow range between meanness and self-pity.
As his first summit with Vladimir Putin approaches, though we do not have certainty about the possibility of active collusion, one cannot help but recall Lenin’s phrase “useful idiot,” by which Lenin meant anyone who could be manipulated to serve the ends of the Soviet state.
To borrow another well-known phrase, this time from the late Senator Moynihan, Trump has “defined deviancy down.” Gradually we have come to tolerate behavior in a leader that was formerly enough to derail a candidacy, if not leading to outright trial by law.
Whether Mr. Trump will or will not be able to serve out his term, it is not too soon to learn some lessons about what we seek and what we want to avoid in candidates for the presidency. In no particular order, here follows a simple and obvious list, clarified by way of contrast with the person presently occupying the office:
• A president needs to be a national model for truth-telling, encouraging and validating the scientific method, and making policy based upon experimentally validated data.
• A president needs a secure, private, inner-directed self-sense that transcends their image in the media, a self-sense that includes a solid ethical compass.
• A president needs to ameliorate, not exacerbate, conservative-progressive polarization, and consistently emphasize what all of us have in common as Americans, like equality of opportunity and equality under the law. The president that follows Trump will need special skills to promote healing between pro- and anti-Trump factions.
• A president needs to understand the racism which is one of America’s original sins, so that they can actively encourage the principle that our diversity makes us stronger.
• Anyone who wins the presidency will inevitably possess a healthy ego, but presidents must sublimate their self-confidence into a humble awareness of their position as servant leader, which views citizens as ends rather than instruments.
• A president needs good listening skills. Most of America’s difficulties, domestic or international, have in common some kind of failure to listen. Crude bullying, such as opposition to a U.N. breast feeding resolutionbecause it threatens the profits of baby formula corporations, is surely not what our country wants to be known for around the world.
• A president needs to separate from business interests clearly and absolutely while in office.
• Presidents need authentic life experience that has tested them. My friend Adam Cote ran for the governorship of Maine. While serving the National Guard, he was deployed to Bosnia, Afghanistan and finally Iraq, where he began an orphanage and established an effective program that adopted Iraqi villages. Five minutes in Adam’s presence is sufficient to demonstrate that his motivation for running is public service, not power. The testing experience doesn’t have to be military; it could be any trial by fire that seasons a person.
• Presidents need a sense of humor, especially about themselves.
• Presidents need to be scholars of the lessons of history, to avoid repeating past mistakes.
• A president needs to be strong enough to push back against establishment groupthink from whatever political direction, such as the momentum of American techno-colonialism and militarism. Presidents can be a bulwark against the tail of unlimited military spending wagging the dog of sensible policy.
• Irrespective of party, presidents need to understand the great global challenge of environmental stress, and the imperative for greater international cooperation to help the planet through to a place where humans have learned to sustain the commons that is the life-support-system for all.
• Presidents must understand that many of our contemporary challenges are trans-national, and that the delicate structures of international law must be gradually strengthened. This will unquestionably benefit America’s security in the long term.
• Presidents need discernment. As my father used to say, quoting Leo Rosten: “First rate people hire first rate people. Second rate people hire fourth rate people.”
Of course, every trait that makes a good president also makes a good civically engaged citizen. It would seem we get the presidents we deserve (though most of the Trump voters I know are much more interesting than either the liberal press stereotype of a Trump voter or than Trump himself).
Even if at a very high cost, President Trump may have done our country at least one valuable service. If we have learned the right lessons, we will tolerate a little less the political obfuscations of the mean-spirited, the petty, the mealy-mouthed, the smugly entitled (in both mainstream political parties), and still less the garrulous narcissism taking up all the air in the room at present. There is an opening, if we can encourage it, for a more disinterested, honest political conversation. I know I will be looking among the emerging candidates for at least some of the qualities listed above—and that, I’m afraid, means I need to exemplify those qualities myself.
Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide” and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Prevention Initiative.
Opinion: Our Public Debates Need More Veteran Voices
By Blayne Smith
The Catalyst, via InsideSources.com
In 2002, I was a 23-year-old platoon leader, and I didn’t have much interest in politics. I considered my role in policy to be solely in the execution, especially during a time of war. My job was to take lawful orders and lead my men to their successful completion. But, it wasn’t that I was totally oblivious to national and international issues.
I’d been an economics major at West Point and found topics like trade and immigration fascinating. Looking back now, I wonder if perhaps my choice to cognitively separate the formation and execution of national policy played an important role in my combat leadership. Maybe it allowed me to fulfill my duties with a level of conviction required to face the terrifying and often ugly nature of armed conflict?
You can imagine how one’s ability to focus on what he can control, and dismiss what he cannot, would be a useful skill in a chaotic and dangerous environment like war. It makes perfect sense for an infantry soldier in the mountains of Afghanistan to tune out the news and commit all of his energy to the task at hand.
The trouble is, this mindset tends to persist after our military members take off the uniform, leaving us with a lack of smart, informed and experienced veteran voices in today’s policy debates. This is unfortunate for all of us because not only are veterans completely invested in the health of our democracy, they are seasoned leaders with the character and perspective to help us navigate many of the complex issues that the nation currently faces.
Veterans have a unique understanding of what policy looks like when it takes effect. From the Iraqi surge to the budget sequester, the military sees and feels the impact in a real way. These aren’t theoretical debates that occur only within the media and the Beltway. They are important decisions that directly influence their lives. Given this valuable perspective and a deeply vested interest in so many of our policy debates, we need veterans to lend their voices to critical social issues.
Public policy, by its very nature, involves tradeoffs and compromise. It requires a willingness to put aside self-interest and act on behalf of the whole. It takes leadership — servant leadership. In a time of so much polarization and hyperbole, this brand of leadership is more important than ever, and veterans are steeped in it.
At every level, the military reminds you that leadership is a responsibility, and not a privilege. As a leader, you put the mission and the welfare of your people above your personal needs. You are the last to eat, the last to sleep, and the first to volunteer. Our public discourse not only needs veterans to offer their opinions, it needs their leadership.
The United States is the most diverse country on the planet. This affords us a tremendous competitive advantage, so long as our policies pull from and reflect our diversity.
Veterans have extensive experience in working on diverse teams in challenging and stressful environments. Overcoming large social challenges requires us to understand others’ perspectives and needs while working for a collective goal.
From the first day of basic training, this has been business as usual for our military veterans. Their ability to strip away that which makes them different and embrace that which they share was vital to their survivability on the battlefield and continues to be a source of strength after taking off the uniform.
With the rise of technology and an increasingly global economy, the world is getting smaller and more complex by the day. As our cities, states and nation attempt to navigate a path forward, we need experienced and thoughtful voices to fill the public discourse. Veterans are certainly not the only source of these voices, but I’d submit that they are severely underrepresented and desperately in need.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Blayne Smith is the winner of the George W. Bush Institute Military Service Citation. This essay originally appeared in The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute. This is distributed by InsideSources.com.