DONALD TRUMP ABROAD: MORE DANGEROUS AND AN UNGUIDED MISSILE ABROAD AS AT HOME

By

Harry C. Blaney III

Donald Trump is soon again going abroad and if this trip is like that of his earlier Europe trip this Spring with considerable maladroit and indeed dangerous statements and behavior with our allies not least at NATO, then the coming journey seems to be not much better. As others have commented, Trump seems increasingly detached from reality and rationality and taken a turn towards irrational bullying and acting beyond normal. The leaders abroad have taken note!

This has already alarmed many Americans according to a recent USA Today/Suffolk University poll and another by Pew. One shows alarming lack of trust in Trump by Americans and another show decrease of respect by people abroad for America likely due to Trump’s behavior.

These polls are confirmed by a recent Quinnipiac University poll, where respondents were asked what word immediately came to mind when they thought of Donald Trump: The No. 1 response was “idiot.” This was followed by “incompetent,” “liar,” “leader,” “unqualified,” and finally, in sixth place was “president.” In addition, superlatives like “great” and a few unprintable names came down on the list.

Looking at his behavior and his words and impulses and the mean spirit that is behind his actions, raises questions of Trump’s stability which in turn diminishes America’s leverage abroad and respect.

Looking at the forth coming trip to Europe there are many pit falls and areas of sensitive issues and concerns in Europe. To say that Europeans are looking at this visit with some disturbing thoughts is an understatement. The key problem is some think Trump’s efforts will be to divide Europe and thereby strengthen Putin and Russian power in the region.

The first reason for this concern is that the initial meeting in Europe, little recognized by much of the media, is to an Easter European bloc of nations under the invitation largely of the far right wing and authoritarian and anti-EU government of Poland rule by the infamous Law and Justice (PiS) party.

In this First part of Trump’s trip is a meeting with a gathering of political leaders from Central Europe, Baltic states and the Balkans that has been called the “Three Seas Summit” which indicates the geographical range of its participating nations. While billed as an event convened by Poland to bolster regional trade and infrastructure within the group, others see it as a mechanism by Poland to create an Eastern Europe bloc against the Western European EU leadership and to weaken EU ties and unity and gain support against EU efforts to signal out Poland for its anti-democratic and human rights violations.

Brussels leaders view the July 6 meeting as a Polish bid to increase its influence vis-a-vis the European Union. The nationalist government has repeatedly clashed with the EU and Germany.. One report has a quote from a Brussels diplomat saying “One cannot but feel a bit suspicious if it isn’t an attempt to break up European unity”

 

So the Poland visit is filled with traps for long held American interests in keeping Europe united and committed to the EU, NATO and democracy and human rights. If Trump take this meeting as another opportunity to criticize the EU or NATO members over added payments for defense, it could end up being, as the earlier trip to Europe, becoming a new Trump debacle. His support for right wing racist and Fascists parties that oppose the EU is part of that concern.

The meeting in Hamburg Germany of the G-20 group of major nations this coming week is another opportunity for Trump ideally to unite the G-20 nations towards cooperation on trade and international financial issues and affirm American engagement towards co-operation. But much of the focus on the Hamburg visit is the side-bar meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin which as both American officials and the public are much concerned that Trump will act irrationally and with views against American security interests.

A face to face meeting could amount to nothing and be just pro-forma, but it could also be historic if dangerous “deals” are made without consulting his expert officials and without consultations with our allies. The background of this meeting is the investigation of Trump’s campaign associates in what may be collusion with Russia on sanctions over Ukraine or even the hacking of American election documents and efforts to push Trump for president and against Hillary Clinton as found by our intelligence agencies. In any case the meet is filled with foreboding.

One of the problems will be how the leaders of the Group of 20 will be looking for leadership from America and Trump. Will it be a stable leader with intent to share efforts that are beneficial for all sides or a confronting “America First” tawdry president who will only further the de-stabilization of our globe by his challenging sands and rejection of decades of coordination and shared interests with our friends or strange actions that further hurt American leadership?

Some have suggested that this trip is an effort to create a distraction (as some think is the case with the Trump effort against MSNBC’s Morning Jo affair), from the congressional and inquires into Trump and his associates dubious connections with Russian agents, lying under oath, and possible obstruction of justice. All of this seems to have unhinged Trump and made him vulnerable in the planned meeting with a more knowledgeable and experienced Putin. At this moment we do not know exactly the context or the issues they will discuss, but likely Syria, Iran, disengagement, North Korea, Ukraine, sanctions and efforts at disruptions of our elections and democracy.

Keep tuned and pray!

We welcome your comments.

THE RUSSIAN-TRUMP CONNECTION: GETTING TO THE TRUTH AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WEST

THE RUSSIAN-TRUMP CONNECTION: GETTING TO THE TRUTH AND ITS IMPLICATIONS

By Harry C. Blaney III

DATELINE :LONDON

The perspective from London: the news that both the Director of the FBI James Comey and the head of the National Security Agency Admiral Mike Rogers have confirmed two key points has given some light here on America’s own disarray: the most important revelation is that of Comey in affirming that an investigation of the connection between the Trump team and Russia is taking place. The other statement by the NSA head, at the congressional committee, is that they could not find any evidence that Obama or his administration called for a wiretap on Trump Tower and affirmed that such a request would be illegal by Obama or any president. This severely undercut the Trump White House assertion that such wiretapping was ordered. They are looking at whether there was any collusion between Trump’s team and Russia to influence the election.

Russian Interference in the 2016 election is the other key issue and the need to look more at this seem on the agenda and will have still public profile until more if revealed and this is also a finding which Trump fears.

Here in London this Russian connection story was given wide coverage especially on BBC News and in the quality newspapers. The question was also raised here whether the Trump unproved accusations that the UK GCHQ, the counterpart of the American NSA, had spied on the Trump camp. This only added to the unease about American leadership. The GCHQ stated that any idea of their spying was nonsense. In fact, at the US House Intelligence hearings on these issues, the NSA head confirmed that such an order was expressly counter to the so-call “5 eyes” of nations with special access to and sharing of intelligence information, and was contrary to its firm rules and no such order was ever given.

With all of that, the White House totally denied any reality of collusion with Russia and stood on their untenable positions, with no indication of any apology or refutation of the now totally denied chargers.

With the affirmation of the FBI Trump-Russian connection inquiry, the possibility of some connection between the Trump people and Russian, before the election and before taking office grows more worrisome. It is clear that something odd was at work in that Trump’s staff. The Trump associates did approach the Russians before the election and that the former NSC head Flynn felt he had to lie to the American Vice president about his talk to the Russian Ambassador. Also US intelligence did report that at least 3 or possibly more members of the Trump team also had contacts with Russians. There were also hints that some of these Russians were from Russian intelligence agencies.

Another disheartening news for Europe is that Secretary of State will not be coming to the forthcoming NATO Council meeting of Foreign Ministers and news reports confirm that he supports the drastic cutting of the State Department and USAID budget which will cost million of vulnerable lives. This only adds to the unease here in Europe and brightens Putin’s efforts to divide the West.

One other element is that UK Prime Minister May has set Wednesday March 27th as the date she will invoke Article 50 to leave the EU. This plays into also Putin’s goals and it seems, that the British right-wing is in its ascendancy and the Labour Party here is in even more disarray than earlier which is saying a great deal given its critical internal turmoil. There seems, as noted before, a rush of the lemmings over the clef.

Finally, the combination of Trump fighting with our allies and pushing, it seems, for their disunity, along with the UK Prime Minister May also on board with the Brexit plunge into even greater isolationism and nationalism, add also lurking economic crisis upon actual breakup. One then must mix in the ascendancy in Europe of the Alt-Right-neo-Fascist parties and groups, despite the Dutch vote, along with the factor of Putin’s Russia playing a not so secret effort to weaken and divide Europe and undermine democracy, result: we have a very dangerous landscape.

All this exacerbated by a very foolish, uninformed, and clearly malevolent man. Not a very good picture for those that prize peace, democracy and security. The costs here are too great to imagine.

More in the coming days from Europe and it’s “discontents” and America’s role in all this.

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THE UNWINDING OF AMERICAN SECURITY: WHITE HOUSE CREATED CHAOS ON DISPLAY AT THURSDAY PRESS CONFERENCE

THE UNWINDING OF AMERICAN SECURITY:

WHITE HOUSE CREATED CHAOS ON DISPLAY AT THURSDAY PRESS CONFERENCE

By

Harry C. Blaney III

The Trump press conference on Thursday was one of the most surreal experience I have ever had in Washington for 45 plus years. But it was emblematic of the whole Trump world. It was filled with lies and exaggerations. It was aimed at attacking his critics and trying to undermined especially the press and news outlets and not least also the intelligence community. But its strategic aim was to deflect attention from his most recent serious debacle namely the relationship of him and his people to Russian intelligence and officials and the failure of himself to run an effective logical and constrictive White House let alone the government that remains in disarray.

The embarrassments of his key NSC head Mike Flynn who made a surreptitious contact that likely was illegal with the Russian Ambassador showed an out of control dysfunctional staff. And we still do not know if Trump knew of or order that meeting, as Trump at the press conference avoided a direct answer. One key question is whether US sanctions on Russia were discussed. At the likely urging of Bannon Flynn was picked but Trump should have known Flynn was a total flake. It seems Trump had no intention of running a true professional NSC. This was proved by appointing Bannon to an official NSC seat and initially taking his intelligence chief and Military Chief of Staff off of the NSC Principles Group all indicating his aim was to conduct a secretive truly only personally directed “disruptive” foreign and security policy.

An example of how chaotic is Trump’s White house his next pick for head of the NSC was retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward who declined the offer. It was reported that he was not promised the ability to pick his own staff as he saw the need for staff that actually know what they were doing given what was at stake. It was said theat there were three persons on a new list and they seem all to have problems. One John Bolton is an extreme war hawk and disliked for his rough personality, in the end the head of the NSC turned out to be Lt. General H.R. McMaster, an active duty officer without any high policy coordinating experience. Trump has almost entirely picked active or former military flag officers in un-presidented numbers for national security and diplomatic positions that normally are largely filled by high ranking civilian officials and experts. At the recent Munich strategy conference Senator John McCann decimated the Trump security and foreign affairs record of Trump in front of the European defense community but later praised the selection of McMaster and the revised NSC team.

Trump a made no attempt at the conference to discuss in a serious way key challenges like climate change, what to do about North Korea, the issues of Iran, nuclear weapons, poverty, not least his failure to maintain American respect or how exactly to deal with Russia and Putin and a host of domestic issues including immigration and refugees.

He avoided serious questions from the press. Probably he has no clue on how to seriously deal with the issues that are on his desk. He has not advance a rational or even creditable national strategy or program. This was proven by choosing many individuals who’s main aim is to destroy the agencies that they head or to put forth policies that are clearly destructive of our nation’s moral, economic, and security fabric and interests. It almost seems that he wanted to choose people who were even less experienced but as destructive as he was.

My main view is again that Trump’s aim was to attack the media and their coverage and thus deflect from the chaos that he himself has caused. Phrases like “dishonest media” and ‘fake news” were designed to fend off criticism or public understanding of accurate facts and objective news analysis of his incompetence which has taken on a crescendo recently given the massive dysfunction and stench emanating from Trump and his people. Trump’s attacks oddly are to attack others for the same characteristics and flaws he has himself!

During the conference Trump tired to depict himself as popular with our citizens and quoted one Republican orientated poll of 56% support when in reality it is closer to 40% in recent polls. He said he inherited “a mess” at home and abroad but the reality is that he inherited fewer large wars, normal global challenges and a growing economy. His acts are undermining of American respect. He has made enemies of our friends and brought joy to our opponents. He and Bannon support far right parties in Europe whose main aims are to destroy both the EU and the unity of the Atlantic community. He argues the moral equivalence of Russia and America. He even took credit for pre-Trump growth of our economy.

Russia may turn out as his most vulnerable arena and challenge. Trump denied that his people had contact with Russians during the campaign and transition while the intelligence agencies has clear evidence that in fact there was contact with Russians during the campaign by his associates which some of these associates deny. Reports in the news seem to indicate that the professionals in the intelligence community do not fully trust him and his staff with the most sensitive data, while still providing him with the main intelligence and assessments to make key decisions. Frighteningly, Trump seems bent on destroying the objectivity and competence of the intelligence community which, if carried out in a political “house cleaning.” could endanger the security of our nation.

The simple fact is the White House under Trump is a disaster zone without rational leadership and the people that Trump has surround are, and there is no other way to put it, a bunch of the most ignorant, bigoted, and incompetent people every to have inhabited the White House in its history. I simply cite Stephen Bannon a White nationalist supremacist and formally key founder and manager of the fascist Alt-Right news outlet Beritbart and follower, like Trump, of Ayn Rand’s version of brutal extreme right ideas and avaricious destructive capitalism. But look at the likes Kellyanne Conway who also lies and violates civil service rules, disgraced Mike Flynn who we have already described, a press assistant that also lies, and a host of others without any government experience and with far right ideology that drives bad decisions and reinforces prejudices.
Trump’s excuse for his actions is that there was a “mess” before he arrived, and he alone with unlimited powers can fix it. But he has deliberately made our nation and whole globe a real “mess” with his twisted madness and made us all more insecure.

There is in short, dysfunction but more than that it is, in my view, in key part deliberate misleading and manipulation of our citizens and the media (which they have too often acted as accomplices), accompanied by a destructive world view. He acts so as to run, in time, an authoritarian state based on one man and his family’s interests. A kind of conspiracy to up-end our best values, decency within our diverse society, to rip out the effort of government to help our most disadvantage citizens, and to create a world of even more conflict and chaos. This all to justify such rule. Already, he has undermined the institutions that have held this nation together protected our citizens and surely take from us all a nation truly great and doing good.

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THE CUBA TRANSITION AND A TRUMP DILEMMA AND TEST FOR OUR NATION?

By Harry C. Blaney III

As one of the key foreign policy tests of Donald Trump’s unfortunate campaign promises and to “Make America Great” is what he will do regarding our Cuba policy.  He has indicated as a threat that if Cuba does not change its policies he will cut relations with that nation. But both the threat and its consequences are more likely to make America “little” rather than great and decrease its leverage not only in Latin America but globally.

The death of Fidel Castro is an opportunity to increase our engagement, not to disrupt an initiative that has promoted many of our long-term goals in Cuba and in Latin America. It is a test for rationality and national interest for the new regime and at the moment it looks as if they still do not understand simple facts and long-term strategic interests of this nation and for that matter of the international community.

Trump speaks of disengagement because Cuba is not the democracy we would hope for and has had a record of human rights violations. His twitter threat that : “I will terminate deal” is a bad example of recklessness which applied to a legion of issues would destroy America’s creditably.  But does Trump also want to “disengage” with countries with like or even worse such records of democracy and human rights violations like China, Russia, Egypt, Turkey, a number of the “-Stans” and a host of other nations around the world?  What has Cuba done that is worst than many of these countries?  And where is there a better place to have a constructive influence over time?

President Obama and John Kerry’s policy is, like that of many past presidents, to engage with nations, even those we disagree with on a host of issues, rather that make “America Small” by mindless disengagement. For the good of global security America must be a leader of the global responsible powers and support positive preventive diplomacy, negotiations, and dialogue as necessary tools to make the world safe.

In the first case President Obama’s outreach to Cuba is by any fair account a success, has provided a key access to that beleaguered and troubled nation, and given Americans and Cubans the ability to exchange ideas, trade and cultural activities as never before.

A majority of Americans support the opening of our relations, with diplomatic and  business communities agreeing with that approach. Further, many young Cuban-Americans want this opening and outreach to continue.  Yet Trump seems in this and in other areas to upend the security, economic and political opportunities that America has gained by a careful and cooperative approach in the international arena.

The test of Cuba policy is whether Trump can see past his destructive campaign rhetoric and look to the long-term gains inherent in constructive engagement with Cuba and other problematic nations. Our country is great, but blind stupidity and destructive policy and actions will only diminish it within and without our nation.

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AN ISOLATED BRITAIN AND A SELF-DESTRUCTIVE BRITAIN

By Harry C. Blaney III  

Photo Credit via Independent


The latest pronouncement of Prime Minister Theresa May at the Tory Party Conference in October provided an especially harsh and rigid statement of future relations with the EU that amounts to a declaration of self-destruction for an open, influential, and prosperous United Kingdom. It was a red-meat speech for her Tory Euroskeptic xenophobic co-conspirators which likely leads to a weakened Britain and into a very dark space that makes Britain and Europe less secure. It brings delight to Putin, undermines greatly the “Special Relationship” with America, and not least emboldens the worst elements in our societies to rise into power.

I have been watching the process of European integration since 1964 and served at the US missions to both the EU and NATO, as well as living for a while in Britain studying European-US relations. But I could not imagine any sane leader after 40 years of building close cooperation and many gains from unity, would bring about such a break in the linchpin of Europe unity and security. I was in Britain for the last phase of the Brexit debate and vote and saw the sad aftermath which had much of the quality I am seeing today with Trump.

Reading Prime Minister Theresa May’s October Tory Conference speech, I was horrified at the false promises made, the emphases on “controlling” immigration, and thinking she can get a good deal that is NOT on offer and that giving the slogan “Global Britain” she can wash away the ugly reality of a small, divided, and weakened and yes, more isolated Britain.  Prime Minister May talks as if she was living again in the 19th Century, focusing on sovereignty and making our own laws, etc.

Americans will always see Britain as our friend an ally but the first call in a crisis will likely not be to London but to Berlin and Paris. Also to say there is no turning back is to say that the old British tradition of realism and pragmatism to redress an unimaginable error is like heading towards the cliff knowing the results. To not permit a vote on the issue when new valid information on costs and dangers emerges is the height of irresponsibility.

Already we see in Britain increases in brutal attacks on those that look different.  After the lies and exaggerations that were told by Nigel Farage and his partner in the vitriolic Leave Campaign Boris Johnson, that Britain would, in effect be great again (familiar words here in the corrosive presidential campaign), outside the EU.  They said all would prosper and those pesky job robbing foreigners would be taken care of and not bother us any more. The big lie of course was to say that Britain would get almost all it wanted from the despised EU even as EU leaders said it would never happen.

Today sadly the EU and more importantly the concept of a peaceful, united, prosperous, and secure Europe seems at risk. The EU unity problem was exacerbated by the “Great Recession” and the failure of the EU to come to the true assistance of the endangered vulnerable states. Many countries including Britain decided to embark on disastrous austerity policies that left far too many people behind, desperate, and feeling hopeless. For this the blame rests unequivocally on the Conservative Party.

Further, the evil stench of Trump is mirrored sadly in today’s UKIP and Right of the Tory Party with its hyper nationalism and bigotry, as well as the French Le Pen National Party and in Germany in the Alternative for Germany with their neo-Nazi bent.  Brexit and May’s harsh speech can only embolden these fanatics.

And now after the Brexit vote. I never have been so concerned not only for Europe, but also for the implications of a deteriorating, divided, selfish and myopic continent for global governance. No wonder that Vladimir Putin is licking his chops over a weakened and divided West.

We are living in a high risk world that calls for greater unity and cooperation, not less. A Continent fighting itself can’t help the rest of the world fight global warming, terrorism, poverty and inequality, and not least deal with the dangers of nuclear weapons nor defend itself against the real dangers of authoritarian aggression near and far.

BELOW ARE SOME EXCERPTS FROM PRIME MINISTER’S SPEECH WHICH ILLUSTRATE THE CONSEQUENCES OF BOTH PANDERING TO THE EXTREME RIGHT AND DISREGARDING THE LONG-TERM NATIONAL INTEREST:

Crediting Brexit as a Conservative Victory
“But come on.  The referendum result was clear.  It was legitimate.  It was the biggest vote for change this country has ever known.  Brexit means Brexit – and we’re going to make a success of it.”

“Now of course, we wouldn’t have had a referendum at all had it not been for the Conservative Party – and had it not been for David Cameron.  And I want to take a moment to pay tribute to David……”

Valuing Total Sovereignty over the Benefits of Cooperation
“But what we are now talking about is very different.  Whether people like it or not, the country voted to leave the EU.  And that means we are going to leave the EU.  We are going to be a fully-independent, sovereign country, a country that is no longer part of a political union with supranational institutions that can override national parliaments and courts.  And that means we are going, once more, to have the freedom to make our own decisions on a whole host of different matters, from how we label our food to the way in which we choose to control immigration.”

Brexit Will Happen
“Having voted to leave, I know that the public will soon expect to see, on the horizon, the point at which Britain does formally leave the European Union.  So let me be absolutely clear.  There will be no unnecessary delays in invoking Article Fifty.  We will invoke it when we are ready.  And we will be ready soon.  We will invoke Article Fifty no later than the end of March next year…..”

Flagrant Denial of Dismal Economic Forecasts
“And it has also meant that we have given some certainty to businesses and investors.  Consumer confidence has remained steady.  Foreign investment in Britain has continued.  Employment is at a record high, and wages are on the up.  There is still some uncertainty, but the sky has not fallen in, as some predicted it would: our economy remains strong.”

“I know some people ask about the “trade-off” between controlling immigration and trading with Europe.  But that is the wrong way of looking at things.  We have voted to leave the European Union and become a fully-independent, sovereign country.  We will do what independent, sovereign countries do.  We will decide for ourselves how we control immigration.  And we will be free to pass our own laws. “

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What is Populism in America? A Historical Approach

By Blaze Joel, National Security Intern

If you look at U.S. Presidential elections throughout history, you will see a few familiar themes. One of the biggest is the prevalence of “political outsiders” who rail against the “corrupt insiders and elites” because they do not know how to make the country work for the average citizen. These calls have come from ideological opposites such as Andrew Jackson, William Jennings Bryan, Teddy Roosevelt, George Wallace, movements like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, and even Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in 2016. While almost every candidate for the Presidency post-Watergate (and especially in the 2016 campaign) has tried to label themselves as an “outsider,” the success of these candidates has been mixed but steadily improving, as this graph from The Atlantic shows. In many ways, this trend culminated with the Republican nomination of Donald Trump, who had no political experience before his campaign.

Pundits were quick to declare that 2016 was the “Year of the Outsider,” which was a fair assessment given the successes of Sanders and Trump. Why is claiming to be an outsider so mainstream in American politics and what helps that message resonate? The answer lies in the political ideology, or more accurately philosophy, of populism.

Defining Populism

At a recent press conference in Ottawa, Barack Obama went on a self-described “rant” about the term when asked about Donald Trump’s divisiveness. The President said that he was “not prepared to concede the notion that some of the rhetoric that’s been popping up is populist…They don’t suddenly become populist because they say something controversial in order to win votes. That’s not the measure of populism; that’s nativism or xenophobia.” To Obama, populism is a philosophy that looks out for those who are vulnerable through policies like guaranteeing education and fairness for workers. This definition led him to conclude that “I suppose that makes me a populist.”

Populism is a broad term that is somewhat hard to pin down, precisely because it does not fit easily into a left-right ideological spectrum – how can something used to describe Barack Obama, Hugo Chávez, and Jean Marie Le Pen? That is because populism has no liberal or conservative ideological tenets. Populism can be defined as a belief in the power of regular people, and in their right to have control over their government rather than a small group of insiders or elites – be they political, cultural, or economic – and the “system” must radically change accordingly.

Throughout history and across the world, populist leaders and movements have campaigned in vastly different ways, and 2016 is no exception. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren decry the evils of Wall Street and the “One Percent” while Donald Trump demonizes immigrants to arrive at similar conclusions that a political system of distant elites does not truly care about the average citizen. In Europe, the term is most often used to characterize cultural nationalists and right-wing politicians like Le Pen and Nigel Farage. In Latin America, it is more closely allied with figures such as Hugo Chávez and Juan Perón – politicians who are economic nationalists “looking out for the little guy” being exploited by international corporations. The United States has seen both types of populists throughout its history, sometimes even at the same time. This year, Donald Trump fits more into the European model of populism (though he also employs an economically nationalist message) while Bernie Sanders is much more in the vein of a Latin American populist.

Jacksonian Roots: The History of Populism in America

In 1828, Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams were set for a rematch of the 1824 election, which Adams won thanks to a vote in the House of Representatives. Adams was the quintessential insider: not only was he the incumbent, he was also the son of a President; a former Ambassador to Russia, Prussia, and the Netherlands; and a Senator by the time of the 1828 election. He had been out of politics for only two years since his 27th birthday. Jackson had been a politician before his election, but was best known for his leadership on the battlefield during the War of 1812, especially at the Battle of New Orleans.

Jackson campaigned for a strong Presidency to serve as a bastion against an elitist and “aristocratic” Congress and their interests. While in office, Jackson crusaded against government spending and favoritism (though established a patronage system), because he viewed it as “anti-democratic” and selectively benefitting the rich elites of America. This is perhaps best seen in his one-man war against the National Bank. Jackson’s Democratic Party coalesced a base of farmers, urban laborers, and religious minorities in order to build a party organization that stretched from the local to federal level, allegedly representing the grass roots.

Jackson’s outsider and populist message would likely not have had as much resonance if not for the electoral reforms that characterized the early 1800s. The franchise was greatly expanded as states eliminated the property requirements for suffrage. While the vast majority of Americans were still not eligible to vote, the nearly ten percent who did in 1828 was almost triple the turnout for any other U.S. Presidential election to that point. Additionally, reforms made direct election of state offices and members of the Electoral College more prevalent. While Jackson and the Democrats did not create these changes (by 1832, all states except South Carolina elected Presidential Electors directly), they did use them to their advantage.

While populism again became a force in the 1850s with the Know-Nothing Party and their anti-immigrant rhetoric, it truly came to the forefront of American politics in the 1890s with the founding of the People’s Party in 1891, its merger with the Democratic Party in 1896, and William Jennings Bryan’s famous “Cross of Gold” speech at the 1896 Democratic National Convention. The People’s Party grew out of an alliance of farmers and unions and ran in one election before merging with the Democrats in 1896. Their 1892 platform declared that they “seek to restore the government of the Republic to the hands of the ‘plain people’” in the face of rampant corruption.

After the recession of 1893, William Jennings Bryan came to epitomize the populist movement and won the 1896 Democratic nomination for President. At the Democratic Convention, he delivered his famous “Cross of Gold” speech, which lambasted East Coast “elites” who sought to “press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns” and “crucify mankind upon a cross of gold” via the gold standard. Bryan argued that: “We are fighting in the defense of our homes, our families, and posterity…We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them…in this land of the free you need fear no tyrant who will spring up from among the people. What we need is an Andrew Jackson to stand as Jackson stood, against the encroachments of aggregated wealth.”

Populism was not solely a phenomenon of the Democratic Party. Dissatisfied with the Republican Party, Theodore Roosevelt formed the Bull Moose Party in 1912 and Robert LaFollette, Sr., formed the Progressive Party in 1924. Both of these new parties took a decisively populist tone from the beginning. For example, Roosevelt’s 1912 Bull Moose Party platform declared that: “Political parties exist to secure responsible government and to execute the will of the people. From these great tasks both of the old parties have turned aside. Instead of instruments to promote the general welfare, they have become the tools of corrupt interests which use them impartially to serve their selfish purposes. Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.” The platform also called for a number of labor reforms and the creation of a social safety net.

LaFollette’s Progressive Party was no different. In its 1924 platform, the party stated: “The great issue before the American people today is the control of government and industry by private monopoly. For a generation the people have struggled patiently, in the face of repeated betrayals by successive administrations, to free themselves from this intolerable power which has been undermining representative government. Through control of government, monopoly has steadily extended its absolute dominion to every basic industry. In violation of law, monopoly has crushed competition, stifled private initiative and independent enterprise, and without fear of punishment now exacts extortionate profits upon every necessity of life consumed by the public. The equality of opportunity…has been displaced by special privilege for the few, wrested from the government of the many.” The platform similarly called for labor and agricultural reforms in the name of “popular sovereignty.”

Populism did not always have such noble connotations in the United States. Andrew Jackson is perhaps best known for his brutal policies against Native Americans culminating in the Trail of Tears. Many of the populists of the late nineteenth century adopted xenophobic and racist overtones like the Democratic Party of that era. Bryan even gave a speech at the 1924 Democratic National Convention against a platform item that sought to condemn the Ku Klux Klan. No Democratic politician better epitomizes this shift than Thomas Watson of Georgia. In 1896, Watson advocated for an alliance between poor whites and African-Americans in the South in the People’s Party based on common economic and class interests. However, by the early 1900s, that populist rhetoric was obscured by xenophobia and nativism, as seen in his magazine’s 1913 anti-Semitic article against Leo Frank, a Jewish factory superintendent accused of murder.

Populism became conservative during the Cold War, thanks in large part to Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy and his allies famously attacked elites across the country (and especially in Hollywood) for allegedly being Soviet spies and selling out “real Americans.” Scholars at the time like Richard Hofstadter and Daniel Bell classified McCarthyism as a “populist” movement because of its similar anti-elitism to the nineteenth century movement and the label stuck. In addition to McCarthy, George Wallace sprung to national prominence railing against “pointy-headed bureaucrats” who wanted to desegregate schools. Televangelist Jerry Falwell similarly villainized the “secular humanist” elites who were leading America away from its Christian principles. By the time of the Watergate scandal, it seemed like anyone could claim to be a populist in America.

Populism in the 2016 Race

Like many things in modern American politics, Watergate represented a real change from the past. After the scandal, politicians and voters – especially Republicans – began to express more distaste and distrust in government. This trend was seen in the elections of Jimmy Carter (the moral peanut farmer) and Ronald Reagan (the incumbent President who ran as an outsider), and perhaps culminated with the Tea Party movement in 2010. The distrust engendered by Nixon (and by extension the rest of the government) has been slow to recover. In fact, monthly Gallup polling since 1979 has registered over 50 percent satisfaction with the direction of the United States in less that 15 percent of months.

Given this prevalent dissatisfaction with the government in the post-Watergate era, and especially under Obama – 87 percent of Americans thought the country was going in the wrong direction just after his election and the high water mark of public satisfaction with the direction of the country was just 33 percent in November 2012 – it is not surprising that anti-establishment forces became prevalent in 2016. As Jeb Bush said at a recent speech in Amsterdam, people “are not as optimistic for legitimate reasons and there should be respect for that…People look at the political system and they think of it as a foreign object.” He pointed to the challenges of globalization, economic inequality, partisan polarization, and a lack of empathy, saying that “the inability to deal with these great challenges…makes it easier in retrospect to see, on the left, a candidate like Bernie Sanders, and certainly in my party, the emergence of Donald Trump.”

These “great challenges” will be examined in a later post, but to conclude, I would like to pose a question that The New York Times (and a number of other outlets) asked: How can Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders both be populists? By describing them both as populists, I by no means look to equate the two or all of their policy positions, merely to categorize a tactic and philosophy they have both utilized on the trail. Both have campaigned vehemently against free-trade deals like TPP and NAFTA, referring to the latter as one of the worst mistakes in our nation’s history because it sold out the average American worker. Both have railed against the establishments – whether they be in the RNC or DNC, Washington or Wall Street, the media or superdelegates – for creating a system that is “rigged” against the common American to the benefit of the “oligarchs” and “aristocrats” who rig it. But, and importantly, Trump’s brand of populism is tinged with xenophobia and isolationism, while Sanders sticks to a populism based on creating economic justice for those who have been left behind.

Perhaps the fact that Sanders and Trump are both called populists reveals that there should be a better term than populism to describe anti-establishment and anti-elite politics in modern America. But in some senses, perhaps populism is the perfect word precisely because of its amorphous ideological connections. As David von Drehle argued in a Time Magazine article from June: “Populism is not an agenda; it is a way of viewing the world. It can come from the left or the right. It can be progressive or reactionary—or both, in an incoherent mix. It is simply the political expression of the free-floating sense that power corrupts, that those who have power conspire to keep it at the expense of humane and patriotic values. There is a streak of populism is virtually every American—it’s no accident that the opening words of the Constitution are ‘We the people.’ But as long as people are capable of hatreds, resentments, and small-mindedness, populism will never be as simple as Barack Obama [or scholars and commentators] would like it to be.”

BREAKING: BRITAIN CHOOSES LEAVE

The United Kingdom voted Thursday to leave the European Union, by a margin of 51.9% to 49.1%.  The vote is sure to have major short- and long-term consequences for both the UK and the European Union.  As seen in the map below, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly for Remain while England (outside of London) and Wales voted to Leave.

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Via the Huffington Post

For up-to-the-minute coverage, please see our Brexit Page.  Harry’s take on the historic vote to come.