Friday, December 02, 2016

Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?

The answer might surprise you!

In my opinion, all political campaigns are identity based.  Shaking the money tree to the tune of $1 billion + it now takes to run a national campaign demands access to big money, deference to capital, and a willingness to promote political loyalties on the basis of identity, not class.  George Soros is not going to underwrite an anti-plutocrat jacquerie marching on Washington.

Post-election there has been a lot of defensive bleating by mainstream Dems that they did not run an identity politics campaign i.e. one that trafficked primarily in ethnic/gender allegiances to attract voters.

There is considerable spittle devoting to rebutting the idea that Clintonism was Vote Your Vag + African American tactical voting.   “Issues, ability, and values brought the voters to Clinton” is the refrain.

The campaign spin was that Clinton, a tired pol with more baggage than an Indian passenger train-- and who had interrupted her self-declared mission as champion of the oppressed for a resume-polishing stint as warmonger at the State Department--was Jesus in a pantsuit and the primary task of her campaign would be restraining the American public from skipping the election and making her president by acclamation.

Judging by the immortal exchange at Harvard between Kellyanne Conway and Jennifer Palmieri ("’I would rather lose than win the way you guys did,’ Palmieri said, her voice shaking” per NPR.  Well, Wish. Granted.) it looks like the Clinton campaign had partaken intemperately of its own Kool-Aid. 

Trouble is, Clinton was an establishment pol promoting a rather murky elitist and globalist agenda that pushed zero nationalist and populist buttons.  She was the candidate of the 1% and she needed help of some of the 99% to push her across the electoral finish line.  She and her handlers chose identity, not soak-the-rich faux populism as her path to the White House.  

Clinton’s strategists eventually chose identity-lite for the general election campaign, targeting voters whose idea of heaven is attending continuous performances of Hamilton for the rest of eternity, instead of unambiguously throwing out red meat to the blocs she was targeting to elect her.

 Coulda worked.  Shoulda worked.  Except Clinton was a clumsy campaigner with a less than galvanizing message.  Trump, a talented carny barker, ran his much narrower identity politics campaign as an outsider, igniting the bonfire of white anxiety and stoking it to white heat.  And, pending the outcome of the recounts, he did good enough to win.

Unsurprisingly, the Democratic Hamiltonians hang their hats on the coulda/should/mighta/might still.

This comes up a lot, complete with torrents of spicy rhetorical lava, when Sandernistas play the class card and claim their guy wudda won with a class-based appeal that would have lured a decisive number of white males into the Democratic camp.

Prudence might dictate looking at Sanders’ socialism-lite as a way to advantageously slice and dice the white electoral gristle.  

Inside the Democratic Party at this moment, however, vitriol carries the day as champions of the “woke” coalition—energized by African-Americans who, with the endorsement of John Lewis, placed all their eggs in the Clinton basket—point the finger of blame at everybody and anyone but themselves for failing to deliver the “Expect Us” rainbow triumph, and furiously resist Sandernista white “class” outreach.  

Problematically, repudiation of the Sandernista claim involves tarring both Sanders and the voters he was targeting as irredeemable, despicable racists who would have been deaf to any principled class-based appeal.

This kind of flamethrowing works OK if you won the election; but if you’ve lost, and find it necessary to dismiss almost half of the electorate as either Nazis or deluded fellow travelers—and sustain eye-bulging outrage for the duration of Trump’s administration-- it creates a certain awkwardness.

It’s also identity politics.  You can call it “identity politics by default: they started it!” but it’s basically “Admirables” vs. “Deplorables”.  Unity is derided as appeasement and the political dynamics are being driven toward increased polarization by a combination of money, self-interest, hurt pride, conviction, and calculation.  Judging by my Twitter timeline, not an infallible indicator I’ll admit, defining and running against the Trump Republican Party as bigoted scum is seen by some activists as a winning strategy as well as a moral imperative.

Sooner or later, the Democratic Party is going to have to decide whether an overt anti-white-male-racist posture is going to deliver the winning combination of advantageous demographics, fired-up base, and big-money support.  2018 (mid-terms) or 2020 (presidential)?  Or maybe sometime later?

In other words…

When will the War on White Privilege be fought?

Well, it was already roadtested during the primaries.  Hillary Clinton’s surrogates used it to eviscerate Bernie Sanders in the southern states, and POC activists still use it to deny Sandernistas a spot at the DNC strategy table/feeding trough.

White privilege issues took a dirt nap during the general, when avoiding the alienation of white voters nationwide took precedence over nailing down black Democratic support during the crucial southern primaries.

But I saw inklings of it back in June, when John Lewis organized a sit-in of Democrats on the floor of the House of Representatives to protest Republican inaction on gun control following the Pulse nightclub massacre.

Lewis was attempting to amplify the call President Barack Obama made for gun control legislation in his eulogy for Reverend Clement Pinckney, one of eight people, all African-Americans, massacred in a church in Charleston.  Obama framed the Charleston killings as a tragedy but also a catharsis, one that would bridge racial divides and unite Americans in a shared abhorrence of gun violence.

None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight.  Every time something like this happens, somebody says we have to have a conversation about race.  We talk a lot about race.  There’s no shortcut.  And we don’t need more talk.  (Applause.)  None of us should believe that a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy.  It will not.  

But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again. 

The political conditions were deemed to be ripe, since demographic and electoral shifts had forced the NRA in a deep, virtually monogamous relationship with the Republican Party and allowed the Democrats to seize the moral and political high ground as both national unifiers and gun control advocates.

The opportunity to amplify African American social and political aspirations through the broader issue of gun control was, I expect, seen as attractive both by African American and Democratic political strategists.

At Slate, Jamelle Bouie laid out the thinking:

[N]either [Pelosi] nor her caucus has to cater to vulnerable Democrats in the rural South or West. The kinds of voters Democrats once tried to attract by shying away from gun politics are Republicans now. And Democrats don’t believe they need to reach out to them. The politics, they argue, have turned… this past week is the clearest possible evidence that we're watching a new kind of Democratic Party, one in which a young black representative from Brooklyn named Hakeem Jeffries, speaking shortly before midnight, invokes Martin Luther King and Bull Connor in a call-and-response with his colleagues. One that's changing.

The GOP,at least in the eyes of liberal critics, had in contrast committed itself irrevocably to serving as the party of the white as the Democrats scooped up the rest of the rainbow.  

This understanding—that the Democrats were already on the winning side in the identity politics contest—perhaps provided the pretext for officially dismissing the overt influence of identity politics considerations and focus on ladling out Clinton pap in the general election instead.

 Beyond the predictable exploitation of the Republicans’ slavish devotion to the agenda of the NRA, there was an interesting kulturkampf subtext: that the dead hand of white conservative America was holding back the real America by its domination of institutions like the US Congress, which is pretty much lily-white.

In fact, a rather compelling case was made that, thanks to the vital alliance between the NRA and conservative Republicans, collateral damage of the effort to maintain GOP dominance was the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Americans due to gun violence.

Or as Bill Moyers put it:

Once again the Republican leaders of Congress have been revealed for what they are: useful stooges of the gun merchants who would sell to anyone — from the mentally ill to a terrorist-in-waiting to a lurking mass murderer. And the Republican Party once again has shown itself an enabler of death, the enemy of life, a threat to the republic itself.

Human decency as well as American progress, therefore, would dictate that these old white guys and their reactionary and self-serving agenda get booted from office and letting a new team dedicated to pushing America forward instead of holding it back take over.

It was a seductive narrative of what I like to call “White Twilight/Black Dawn!”  It exploited the rhetoric of intersectionality—shared experience of oppression as a defining political identity—to permit the African American community, as the prime wronged American ethnic bloc, to claim a position of moral and political leadership.

Of course, white privilege is sustained not only by racist domination of powerful institutions, but also by white votes, and direct confrontations with white political power, particularly on behalf of African Americans who compose only 14% of the US electorate, tend not to go well, particularly in national elections.  

African American activists’ ambitions to punch above their weight are increasingly hampered by their limited demographic clout and also by perceptions that their political strength has plateaued and the growing Hispanic demographic component will displace African Americans in the party league tables and hearts of political planners.  Hence the obsession with the “intersectional” force-multiplier narrative.

Add to that disturbing expressions of black militancy surrounding the shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, and I think a conscious decision was made by Clinton strategists in the summer of 2016 to soft-pedal racially-inflected attacks on white privilege (like Occupy stunts in Congress led by black male politicians!) and go with the positive but apparently fatally mushy “rainbow coalition” alignment (hugging black moms + Hamilton!).

The electoral results were not pretty.  Now the question is, rethink or double-down on race-inflected Democratic identity politics?

Is there a political future in an open, polarizing political campaign against conservative whites founded on the idea that they must surrender control of the public institutions they currently dominate?

Let it be said I am a believer in the fact of white privilege, as well as its beneficiary. 

There is a special circle in Unzworld Comment Section Hell devoted to flambéing folks who don’t understand that, far from reveling in unearned privilege, Caucasians are not enjoying anywhere near the advantages merited by their genetic and cultural endowments.  Well, fire up the barbie.

But…just for the sake of argument…let’s assume that the idea that pruning the white deadwood becomes a top priority for political activists.  How would that work?

Pretty well, I think.

The big story over the next thirty five years is the inexorable decline of the white vote from majority to plurality.  That kind of demographic trend is bloody chum in the political shark tank.

Some day some opportunistic and charismatic pol is going to stand up and sell the message that it’s time for the old whites to step aside and give the young people of color their shot.

Political happenstance will dictate, I think, how much racial justice and social progress we get, and how much co-option and corruption.  And I have a feeling that Hispanic as well as white factors will continue to marginalize black political clout.

But it’s not too early to think about what the war on white privilege might entail, and what choices might be made.


Thursday, December 01, 2016

Great Game on the North Korea Chessboard

I have a piece up at Asia Times on Donald Trump’s North Korea options: waste it, sanction it (and China), or have a burger with Kim Jong Un: Trump, North Korea, bombs, and burgers.

“Kinda crippling sanctions” got another workout at the UN on November 30, highlighting a point I made in the piece that the US and PRC are interested, for differing reasons, in 1) maintaining North Korea’s status as an international pariah but 2) keeping it on life support.  

The PRC’s motives are pretty simple: North Korea isolated and hopelessly reliant on the PRC is infinitely preferable to a North Korea pivoting away from the PRC to engage with the US, Japan, and/or South Korea.  

US motives, I think, are somewhat more complicated: There’s loyalty to a lazily-executed denuclearization strategy that has so far failed miserably; there’s also the fact that the “North Korea threat” allows the United States to maintain and upgrade its military posture not just in South Korea but also in North Asia to provide heft and credibility to the China-containment regime.

Bottom line is North Korea is highly unlikely to surrender its nukes for reasons Muammar Qaddafi, if he were alive, would find compelling; the PRC still has insufficient incentive to take the highly risky step of cratering the regime through a genuine economic blockade; and the US was, at least until the North Korean ICBM program began to develop some homeland-threatening credibility, quite happy to let the situation drag on a.k.a. strategic patience.

US bestie Japan, I imagine, is also not too interested in North Korea regime collapse and the emergence of a competing Korean powerhouse spanning the whole peninsula either.

So you get incremental stuff like this:

The new sanctions target North Korea’s hard currency revenues by placing a cap on coal exports, cutting them by at least 62%.

Diplomats said the new sanctions further clarify that the “livelihood” exemption, which allowed the Chinese imports, is meant only to protect the livelihoods of those currently living inside North Korea, not Chinese people or companies doing business with the country.

North Korea’s main ally and largest trade partner, China, hailed the sanctions as striking a balance between punishing the rogue nation and protecting its people.

“The resolution adopted by the council today demonstrates the uniform stand of the international community against the development by DPRK of its nuclear missile programs and forward the maintenance of the international non-proliferation regime,” China’s ambassador, Liu Jieyi, said, adding that the measures “are not intended to produce negative consequences on DPRK’s humanitarian situation”.

You may notice that, thanks to the UN sanctions resolution, as long as the DPRK keeps its nukes the PRC has a license to ratchet up the economic pressure on North Korea for whatever reason, whether it's endangering the world through WMD or just inching too close to the US.  That's pretty sweet.

I should add that one motive for the US pushing the UN sanctions strategy is it sets the table for US national “secondary” sanctions targeting countries and enterprises that continue to do business with North Korea.  That strategy was used by the Obama administration with reasonably good effect in the case of Iran, especially against highly vulnerable European institutions that were canoodling on Tehran trade; the PRC was also targeted though Chinese “backfilling” via barter & RMB-denominated transactions was a continual headache for the US.

There is every indication that Hillary Clinton intended to clone the Iran strategy on North Korea when she became President, not necessarily in hopes of denuclearizing North Korea as much as having a perpetual US sanctions club ready to beat the Chinese.

Believe it or not, the US had already road-tested the strategy of threatening PRC international financial institutions over North Korea back in the Bush administration. It is apparently remembered only by me that the money-laundering designation of Banco Delta Asia in Macau was intended to impress and cow the PRC with a demonstration of the power of the US Treasury Department financial sanctions death star.

One reason the PRC is deeply engaged in the North Korean UN sanctions effort (other than its utility in keeping North Korea isolated, flat on its behind, and reliant on China) is to sustain and channel the UN track and avoid giving the US a legal basis and political justification to impose national sanctions.

The energetic PRC efforts to internationalize the RMB should not be understood primarily as an attempt to replace the Almighty Dollar as the international reserve currency.  They are meant to ensure that, if the US deploys the secondary sanctions weapon again, the PRC has the international financial infrastructure in place to conduct its business without the need to clear transactions through the US Fed, as is the case with all dollar transactions conducted through the international clearing networks such as SWIFT.  

The concept that all significant dollar transactions touch base in America is why the US government can drop the hammer on those European banks that paid gigantic fines for business they did out of Europe with Iran, Cuba, Sudan, etc.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Back to North Korea, which can be regarded a) as the last great treasurehouse in Asia unexploited by Western capitalism and b) the chessboard upon which the US, China, and Japan play the North Asian Great Game.

The Chinese play wei-qi, the strategy game; Shinzo Abe plays multi-dimensional chess as he juggles the needs of the US alliance with the reality that Japan must have the capability to act independently; Donald Trump apparently just wants to play checkers.

I previously wrote about Trump’s disinterest in complex multilateral Asian initiatives like TPP and the pivot and his preference for simple bilateral deals with immediately realizable benefits.

You know, like normalizing relations with North Korea, sticking a finger in the PRC’s eye, and jumping the line ahead of South Korea and Japan in pursuing economic advantages in the North.

In other words: Eat the burger, Donald.

I expect the foreign policy/military/security quadrant is laboring mightily to convince him otherwise, since it is totally committed to the pivot architecture.  I see the pivot as a futile, expensive, dangerous, and ultimately doomed gambit to sustain American pre-eminence in Asia past its sell-buy date but that’s just me, and maybe devotees of offshore balancing like Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Trump knuckle under to the blandishments of what is, frankly, the main business unit of the US government and a trillion-dollar presence in America’s economy and politics. 

Trump’s initial stimulus/pork barrel/institutional bribery plans centered on a supersized 350 ship navy, so I expect he will find it equally expedient to give it some ego-enhancing missions in the South China Sea.  CSIS is already agitating for its precious FONOPs (“Mischief Reef! Gotta do Mischief Reef!”) even though the underlying strategy of isolating the PRC as an UNCLOS renegade is pretty much an omnishambles with Duterte’s tilt toward China.

In any case, “Presided over U.S. retreat from Asia” is a resumé bullet point that any president would happily defer to his successor.

So I’m leaning toward big ticket muddling instead of opportunistic burger munching. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

PRC Catastrophism Collides with Trump Catastrophism

I don’t share the US FP handwringing over Trump’s retreat from overarching multilateral initiatives in favor of bilateral engagements in Asia.

The point of the complex multi-lateral arrangements—the pivot, rebalance, whatever you want to call it, and TPP—were intended to position the United States as the “indispensable nation” in Asia, the glue that was needed to hold these various rickety structures together.

I considered these regimes to be weak, unsustainable in the long term, and excessively costly in the short term.

As an example, under the pivot it would be necessary to think seriously about some kind of regime modification in the Philippines to neutralize Rodrigo Duterte’s hostility to the US military and sustain the fiction of a military and diplomatic united front against the PRC.

Trump can either accommodate Duterte or overthrow him depending on the bilateral advantages he sees in the relationship.  And Duterte can bargain for the US alliance while keeping a door open to China.

I guess the terms of art are “independent foreign policies” for the Asian countries, “offshore rebalancing” for the US.  Maybe.  Apparently, the rise of Trump, otherwise lamented by respectable FP practitioners, is causing a certain amount of heavy breathing in the Walt-Mearsheimer quadrant.  

The Trump shock helped reveal the mindset and strategies of US globalists who had assigned the United States the role of indispensable nation in the “principled international order”.

In my most recent Asia Times piece, Atlas Stumbled, I wrote about an interesting interview Paul Krugman gave to VOA, in which he opines that one consequence of the deterioration of the globalist financial regime under Trump & Brexit is that “China will be too big to save” once its chickens of massive indebtedness and faltering economic reform come home to roost.

Krugman’s bitter Cassandra-ism offers an interesting perspective on what I think was an important but shaky pillar of the pivot, the assertion that “the United States is 6000 miles away but will always be in Asia; the PRC/CCP regime is near the center of Asia but will vanish within a decade or two.”

The message that the United States discreetly whispered in Asia’s ear was Chinese power is corrupt and fleeting; America’s power is pure and eternal, so place your bets with the pivot-enhanced Uncle Sam as the enduring Asian power, in other words.

Welp, as they say on the Internet. 

I think the theoretical underpinnings of this approach is what I choose to call “Shambaughism”.  

David Shambaugh was an original proponent of the “responsible stakeholder” strategy, by which the PRC would be allowed to enter the international order and in return it would ineluctably liberalize its politics and economics and become a friendly partner of the United States.

Well, that didn’t happen for a number of reasons, one of which I suspect was the geopolitical hollowing out of the US thanks to its orgy of debt finance that nourished the PRC export machine, and the 2008-9 Great Recession.  Anyway, today’s PRC/CCP is not too liberal and not too friendly.

Shambaugh naturally preferred to question the PRC/CCP’s wisdom instead of the wisdom of his own theory, so he began promoting the concept of the coming PRC/CCP crackup.

During the administration of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, China collapsism became intellectually respectable (i.e. more than a Gordon Chang obsession) and was a ready-made and critical theoretical premise for the pivot which, in an environment of declining US relative power, offered a narrow but plausible path to the objective of PRC rollback (and a broad, endless highway to enrichment and influence for pivot-oriented think tanks and the US military).

To raid the metaphor chest, the King Canute in the advancing tide scenario was not the United States confronting the inevitable erosion of its power and influence as its relative strength in Asia declined; the vulnerable monarch on the throne was the CCP, vainly trying to wish away the inexorable advance of globalized liberal values.

My personal conclusion is that everybody’s wrong! nobody knows anything! and Asia will reveal itself as a welter of relatively high-functioning states that will find a way to muddle through without the guiding genius of the United States and without submitting themselves to CCP bondage.

Hope so, anyway.