With Trump and Putin, Europe is now between a rock and a hard place

Natalie Nougayrède writes: European capitals have been busy sending discreet emissaries to New York to sound out Donald Trump’s intentions. Angela Merkel, who on 9 November delivered a blunt warning to the US president-elect, sent her close adviser Christoph Heusgen to meet General Michael Flynn, the new national security adviser, in late December. François Hollande, who commented during Trump’s campaign that it made him want to “throw up”, sent his diplomatic adviser, Jacques Audibert. Now Theresa May has announced that she will travel to Washington to meet Trump directly in the spring. But European leaders are still at a loss as to what to expect from the man – hardly surprising when major foreign policy pronouncements are made via Twitter. “We’re in another world” one German official recently told me, after pointing to how closely Merkel had worked with Obama on Ukraine and other issues.

Everything that is mind-boggling and distressing about Trump for liberal Americans is even more so for democratic Europeans, and that’s because of the angst attached to geopolitics. With Trump about to settle in the White House and Putin gloating in the Kremlin, two illiberals who like zero-sum games, Europe finds itself dramatically caught between a rock and a hard place.

The rock is Trump’s propensity to disparage alliances and show sympathy for illiberal European politicians. The hard place is Putin’s expectation that more, not fewer, opportunities lie ahead to further his foreign policy goals – not least a rewriting of Europe’s architecture, to Russia’s benefit. Noises in central Europe that Trump will be keenly interested in the region because his wife was born in Slovenia smack of either irony or despair.

For Europe, two dangers arise. The first is that the principles on which the transatlantic link was founded in the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, including the pledge to uphold “democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law”, might head for the dustbin. The second is that Europe may witness a return to spheres of influence, something that has historically plagued it, and essentially amounts to saying this: might makes right, and the strong do what they can while the weak suffer what they must. Not much seems to separate Trump from Putin on that account.

If this is the new normal, expect an unseemly European scramble, with governments rushing to try to secure their own interests whatever the cost to neighbours and the continent’s future. Putin will be waiting with open arms for those who, whether out of admiration or fear, might want to compensate American strategic withdrawal by seeking lofty arrangements with the great eastern neighbour. Peeling Europe away from the US is an objective Putin has long made clear. A strong, coordinated Europe is in Putin’s interest only if it is ideologically favourable to him – with cultural nativists such as Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and Viktor Orbán calling the shots. If liberal democracy can resist, however, especially in France and Germany, then he will continue working to achieve a weak and fractured Europe. [Continue reading…]

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A crisis of liberal democracy? More of liberalism than of democracy

Kenan Malik writes: Welcome to 2017. It will be just like 2016. Only more so. This will be the year in which Donald Trump formally enters the White House, and Theresa May (probably) begins Brexit negotiations. It will be the year in which elections in Germany, the Netherlands and France, and possibly Italy, are likely to see rightwing populists gain ground, even triumph.

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigration Party for Freedom(PVV) leads the polls and may help form the government in March. In France, in May, Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National should reach at least the second-round run-off in the presidential election and may even win. In Germany, Angela Merkel could hang on as chancellor after September’s vote, but the far-right AfD will almost certainly have dozens of Bundestag seats.

And, so, 2017 will also be the year when fears for the future of liberal democracy will reach a new pitch. Such fears will, however, be only half-justified. Democracy is in rude health. It is liberalism that is in trouble.

Democracy does not require that the “right” result be delivered every time. The whole point of the democratic process is that it is unpredictable. The reason we need democracy is that the question of what are “right” policies or who is the “right” candidate is often fiercely contested. Donald Trump or Le Pen may be reactionary, and their policies may help unpick the threads of liberal tolerance, but their success reveals a problem with politics, not democracy. [Continue reading…]

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Open society needs defending

George Soros writes: Open societies are in crisis, and various forms of closed societies – from fascist dictatorships to mafia states – are on the rise. How could this happen? The only explanation I can find is that elected leaders failed to meet voters’ legitimate expectations and aspirations and that this failure led electorates to become disenchanted with the prevailing versions of democracy and capitalism. Quite simply, many people felt that the elites had stolen their democracy.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US emerged as the sole remaining superpower, equally committed to the principles of democracy and free markets. The major development since then has been the globalization of financial markets, spearheaded by advocates who argued that globalization increases total wealth. After all, if the winners compensated the losers, they would still have something left over.

The argument was misleading, because it ignored the fact that the winners seldom, if ever, compensate the losers. But the potential winners spent enough money promoting the argument that it prevailed. It was a victory for believers in untrammeled free enterprise, or “market fundamentalists,” as I call them. Because financial capital is an indispensable ingredient of economic development, and few countries in the developing world could generate enough capital on their own, globalization spread like wildfire. Financial capital could move around freely and avoid taxation and regulation. [Continue reading…]

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Putin sees a happy new year

Michael Khodarkovsky writes: These days President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia cannot hide his glee. This is unusual for a man trained to deceive and mislead, a man who is practiced in his profession. In an interview with the Russian television program “Weekly News” on Dec. 4, Mr. Putin said it was obvious that the West had failed to create a unipolar world and that balance was being restored. He had reasons to feel triumphant: His years of supporting anti-establishment movements in the West, mostly on the right, by hacking and leaking private information, spreading fake news and financing parties and individuals ready to do the Kremlin’s bidding all seem to be paying off.

Russia’s methods are hardly new. Remember, for example, “The Protocols of the Elders of the Zion,” a notorious forgery concocted by the czar’s secret police and published in Russia in 1903. Purporting to describe a Jewish plot to dominate the world, it became a bible for anti-Semites everywhere and was widely used by the Nazis. Throughout the 20th century, disinformation and propaganda disseminated by the Communist Party’s Department of Propaganda and Agitation, alongside its intelligence services, became part and parcel of the Soviet regime. During the Soviet-Finnish war in the winter of 1939, for instance, as Soviet planes bombed the Finns, the Soviet foreign minister, Vyacheslav M. Molotov, said Moscow was dropping humanitarian aid — food and water. In response to the lie, the Finns sarcastically named their own bombs — bottles filled with flammable fuel — Molotov cocktails.

In post-Soviet Russia, the same cynical mendacity has become the Putin government’s hallmark. On July 9, 2014, in a meeting with public leaders at the Kremlin, Mr. Putin referred to Joseph Goebbels, the notorious Nazi minister of propaganda, as “a talented man who knew that the more incredible the lies, the quicker people believe them.” The quote, which he was using to condemn the West’s supposed misrepresentation of Russian history, was in fact the best indication of Mr. Putin’s own creed. [Continue reading…]

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Trump to inherit more than 100 court vacancies, plans to reshape judiciary

The Washington Post reports: Donald Trump is set to inherit an uncommon number of vacancies in the federal courts in addition to the open Supreme Court seat, giving the president-elect a monumental opportunity to reshape the judiciary after taking office.

The estimated 103 judicial vacancies that President Obama is expected to hand over to Trump in the Jan. 20 transition of power is nearly double the 54 openings Obama found eight years ago following George W. Bush’s presidency.

Confirmation of Obama’s judicial nominees slowed to a crawl after Republicans took control of the Senate in 2015. Obama White House officials blame Senate Republicans for what they characterize as an unprecedented level of obstruction in blocking the Democratic president’s court picks.

The result is a multitude of openings throughout the federal circuit and district courts that will allow the new Republican president to quickly make a wide array of lifetime appointments.

State gun control laws, abortion restrictions, voter laws, anti-discrimination measures and immigrant issues are all matters that are increasingly heard by federal judges and will be influenced by the new composition of the courts. Trump has vowed to choose ideologues in the mold of the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon — a prospect that has activists on the right giddy. [Continue reading…]

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There is nothing inevitable about the rise of hatred

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Russia signs cooperation agreement with anti-immigrant party in Austria

The Wall Street Journal reports: Russia’s ruling party signed a five-year “cooperation agreement” with the anti-immigrant Freedom Party of Austria, one of the clearest signs that the Kremlin is seeking to deepen ties with nationalist and antiestablishment forces in the West.

The two-page agreement, reached in Moscow after Freedom Party leaders met with officials from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, spells out a common commitment to holding regular joint meetings and public events while working to strengthen social and economic ties between Russia and Austria.

The agreement, seen by The Wall Street Journal, describes “mutual noninterference in internal affairs” and “equal, reliable, and mutually beneficial partnership” as key principles.

The accord is the latest example of Russian efforts to forge ties with antiestablishment, euroskeptic parties in Europe, many of which in turn promote closer ties to Moscow and rolling back the European Union. Marine Le Pen’s National Front has tapped a Russian bank for a loan to help fund its election efforts in France, for instance. Meanwhile, antiestablishment politicians such as Ms. Le Pen, Britain’s Nigel Farage and Geert Wilders, head of the Netherlands’ Party for Freedom, have bashed the EU in interviews on Russian television. [Continue reading…]

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After the USSR fell, the world fell asleep

Gary Kasparov writes: It is difficult to describe what life in the U.S.S.R. was like to people in the free world today. This is not because repressive dictatorships are an anachronism people can’t imagine, like trying to tell your incredulous children that there was once a world without cellphones and the internet. The U.S.S.R. ceased to exist in 1991, but there are plenty of repressive, authoritarian regimes thriving in 2016. The difference, and I am sad to say it, is that the citizens of the free world don’t much care about dictatorships anymore, or about the 2.7 billion people who still live in them.

The words of John F. Kennedy in 1963 Berlin sound naive to most Americans today: “Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free,” he said. That for decades the U.S. government based effective foreign policy on such lofty ideals seems as distant as a world without iPhones.

Ronald Reagan’s warning that “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction” was never meant to be put to the test, but it is being tested now. If anything, Reagan’s time frame of a generation was far too generous. The dramatic expansion of freedom that occurred 25 years ago may be coming undone in 25 months. [Continue reading…]

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In Donald Trump, Alexander Dugin trusts

Matthew d’Ancona writes: Russian hacking, White House warnings, angry denials by Vladimir Putin’s officials: we are edging towards a digital Cuban crisis. So it is as well to ask what is truly at stake in this e-conflict, and what underpins it.

To which end, meet the most important intellectual you have (probably) never heard of. Alexander Dugin, the Russian political scientist and polemicist, may resemble Santa’s evil younger brother and talk like a villain from an Austin Powers movie. But it is no accident that he has earned the nickname Putin’s Rasputin. His books and posts – often, it must be said impenetrable or plain madcap – are required reading for those who seek to understand the new landscape of Brexit, Donald Trump’s victory and the global surge of the far right.

Born in Moscow in 1962, Dugin is a ferocious champion of Russian imperialism, or what he calls Eurasianism. He supports tradition against liberalism, autocracy against democratic institutions, stern uniformity against Enlightenment pluralism. In The Fourth Political Theory (2009), he claims all this adds up to a new and coherent ideology, supplanting liberal democracy, Marxism and fascism – though he still seems pretty fond of fascism.

The extent of Dugin’s personal access to the Kremlin remains opaque: it has certainly waxed and waned over the decades. What is beyond dispute, however, is the influence his geopolitical vision has enjoyed in the general staff academy and the Russian ministry of defence. Putin’s intervention in Georgia in 2008, his invasion of Ukraine in 2014, and his tightening grip on Syria are all entirely consistent with Dugin’s strategy for Mother Russia.

All of which is alarming enough. But what makes Dugin so suddenly significant is his growing influence in the west. It has long been alleged that he acts as a covert intermediary between Moscow and far-right groups in Europe, many of which are believed to receive funding from the Kremlin.

The purpose of operations like the hacking of the US election has been to destabilise the Atlantic order generally, and America specifically. And on this great struggle, Dugin is positively millenarian: “We must create strategic alliances to overthrow the present order of things, of which the core could be described as human rights, anti-hierarchy, and political correctness – everything that is the face of the Beast, the anti-Christ.” [Continue reading…]

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To combat Trump, Democrats ready a GOP tactic: lawsuits

The New York Times reports: One attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, is already investigating Donald J. Trump over possible violations of New York State law at his charity foundation.

Another, Maura Healey of Massachusetts, has joined Mr. Schneiderman in an investigation into whether Exxon Mobil — whose chief executive, Rex W. Tillerson, is Mr. Trump’s choice for secretary of state — lied to investors and the public about the threat of climate change.

Ms. Healey also has a new fund-raising pitch: “I won’t hesitate to take Donald Trump to court if he carries out his unconstitutional campaign promises,” she recently wrote to supporters.

A third, Representative Xavier Becerra, who was chosen this month to become California’s attorney general, has dared the Trump administration to “come at us” over issues including immigration, climate change and health care.

As Democrats steel themselves for the day next month when the White House door will slam on their backs, some of the country’s more liberal state attorneys general have vowed to use their power to check and balance Mr. Trump’s Washington. [Continue reading…]

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Nine ways to oppose Donald Trump

John Cassidy writes: er the past few weeks, a number of anguished friends and acquaintances, and even some strangers, have got in touch with me to ask what they might do to oppose Donald Trump. Being a fellow sufferer from OATS — Obsessing About Trump Syndrome — my first instinct has been to tell people to get off social media and take a long walk. It won’t do anybody much good, except possibly Trump, if large numbers of people who voted against him send themselves mad by constantly reading about him, cursing him, and recirculating his latest outrages.

But, of course, taking a mental-health break is only a first step toward preserving the Republic. As a daily columnist, I see my role as trying to analyze and critique the Trump program, while also trying to understand some of the phenomena that allowed him to blag his way to the verge of the White House. But for those who want to take a more direct approach, here are some suggestions, starting with something you can do immediately:

1. Go to change.org and join the 4.9 million people who have signed a petition calling on members of the Electoral College to reject Trump. Then contact the electors for your state directly and tell them your concerns. On Monday, the five hundred and thirty eight electors will choose a new President. According to the Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, between twenty and thirty Republican electors are ready to vote against Trump. To deny him a majority, the number would need to reach thirty-seven. Most observers think that won’t happen, and, even if it did, the task of electing a President would pass to the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, which would almost certainly vote for Trump. But a big protest vote in the Electoral College could still have great deal of symbolic importance. [Continue reading…]

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Is Donald Trump a threat to democracy?

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt write: Donald J. Trump’s election has raised a question that few Americans ever imagined asking: Is our democracy in danger? With the possible exception of the Civil War, American democracy has never collapsed; indeed, no democracy as rich or as established as America’s ever has. Yet past stability is no guarantee of democracy’s future survival.

We have spent two decades studying the emergence and breakdown of democracy in Europe and Latin America. Our research points to several warning signs.

The clearest warning sign is the ascent of anti-democratic politicians into mainstream politics. Drawing on a close study of democracy’s demise in 1930s Europe, the eminent political scientist Juan J. Linz designed a “litmus test” to identify anti-democratic politicians. His indicators include a failure to reject violence unambiguously, a readiness to curtail rivals’ civil liberties, and the denial of the legitimacy of elected governments.

Mr. Trump tests positive. In the campaign, he encouraged violence among supporters; pledged to prosecute Hillary Clinton; threatened legal action against unfriendly media; and suggested that he might not accept the election results.

This anti-democratic behavior has continued since the election. With the false claim that he lost the popular vote because of “millions of people who voted illegally,” Mr. Trump openly challenged the legitimacy of the electoral process. At the same time, he has been remarkably dismissive of United States intelligence agencies’ reports of Russian hacking to tilt the election in his favor. [Continue reading…]

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