Saturday, November 28, 2020

Why An Iranian Nuclear Scientist Was Really Just Assassinated

By now, news of the assassination of the project-head of Iran's nuclear weapons effort, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, has gone around the world. What is less clear, however, is the identity of the perpetrators - and why they would undertake such a move.

On the surface, both elements seem obvious - the Israelis have a clear motivation for wishing to stab at Iran's nuclear effort and some form for doing so in the past via targeted killings. Something that had also been done to other nations as and when convenient (including their rather inspired choice of hiring none other than Otto Skorzeny in return for a faked 'pardon' for his Nazi service, to get at German scientists working for Egypt in the 1960s).

And I do not disagree that Israel is the most likely suspect. Although their actual reasoning for a strike would be somewhat different than the intuitive suggestion that this is merely about attempting to frustrate Iran's nuclear capability development. And, further, that they are unlikely to be the sole conspirator (a contradiction in terms).

As ever, the timing of events is crucial. We are in the dying days of the Trump Administration. The Netanyahu-dominated government of Israel knows this - and knows that its much free-er hand in the Middle East thanks to a pliant and pliable President in Washington, is similarly likely to be facing impending restraint from the incoming Biden regime. After all, it was the Obama Administration in which Biden served who took the radically logical step to actually endeavour to negotiate (and successfully, it must be added) with Tehran rather than continuing to treat them fruitlessly as international pariahs.

Said Administration - the Obama one, I mean - had also pointedly opposed Israel's efforts at destabilizing the situation via ongoing covert escapades and assassinations. And while it could therefore be fairly suggested that the Israelis might have chosen to 'get while the getting was good', I think that there is something else going on here. Something that has both had a longer-term buildup to it; and which may very well have taken place in some form regardless of recent US political events.

We have recently seen Israel act with the Trump Administration and also off its own bat to shore up the 'Saudi-Israeliya' axis of allies amidst certain Arab states; moves and maneuvers that have enabled an 'above-ground' rapproachment between governments that had long been working together 'under the table', and opened the door to the greater provision of American military hardware to same. This was evidently a long-term project which had been designed to make the region (south of Iraq and Syria, at least) more 'resilient' against perceived Iranian influence - and hopefully help to prevent another Syria or another Yemen (where the Sunni-Saudi-Israeli alignment has either been stymied or is getting a severely bloody nose and looking bad whilst doing it, respectively).

We have also recently seen Trump bluster about starting a war with Iran - not only via his reckless attitude towards the assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani towards the start of this year (which triggered a symbolically necessary Iranian reprisal strike), but also following the Election. And it is that last element which is key here.

Little more than a week after it became apparent that he had not (immediately) won, Trump conjured together his Vice President, Secretary of State, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defence Secretary, with a view towards exploring strike options against Iran. At the time, it seemed like a curious maneuver - one which might have presented a convenient sideshow spectacle as post-electoral shenanigans were engaged in back home, perhaps.

However, read in light of the above, this recent targeted killing of an Iranian nuclear official may suggest that instead of an overt and blustery 'symbolic' blow in the manner of the cruise missile strike against a Syrian airbase in 2017, the Trump Administration may have given the go-ahead to something different. And much more cunning.

You see, the net impact of this most recent assassination isn't really going to be much of a dent in the Iranian nuclear project. That's not what it was designed to do. Rather, it is all about the optics of the thing - it is a 'showy move' of a different, and a far more 'slow-burning' kind. It is about making it far more difficult for the incoming Biden Administration to actually resume nuclear rapprochement with Tehran. Both due to the lingering perception that the Americans may have been implicitly involved in giving the Israelis a green light for the killing, as well as the plausible retaliatory action that Iran may now engage in against whomever it is that they officially declare to have been responsible. The Trump Administration will likely double down upon the action - if not claiming credit for it, then claiming that it was a moral and just action to have occurred and offering their support to whomever it was that pulled the metaphorical trigger.

A much more tense situation between Iran and the West, between the countries on either side of the Persian Gulf, is exactly what the Israeli government dearly wishes. They have been quite dismayed at the manner in which the Trump Administration's singularly inept blustery-shouting-that-it-is-diplomacy have managed to push European Union countries to engage more positively with Iran. Provoking Iran into what can be sold as their 'lashing out' and bellicose shows of attempted strength that make for good propaganda for those endeavouring to cast the Iranians as frothing-at-the-mouth scary fundamentalist extremists, would be useful to them. And would also help to support the development of acceptance amidst various Arab populations for their governments' already-decided rapprochement with Israel. 'The Enemy Of My Enemy', and all that.

So, whether this was an Israeli operation or one that the Americans nudged into occurrence (perhaps this is a part of why Pompeo was in Jerusalem last week), I think that the outgoing Trump Administration will have some small cause for celebration this week. They have managed to secure something they have dearly desired - a likely frustration and hamstringing for the incoming Biden Administration's presumed intent to re-engage with Iran. And therefore, perhaps, Trump won't have to see if he can start an overt and conventional war with Iran between now and January in order to have a lasting 'strike from the grave' at his soon-to-be replacement's ambitions and Presidency.

As I say - this is cunning. It is slow burning. The only serious question is - just how much of the Middle East may yet burn as a result of it. Hopefully, the wisdom and restraint demonstrated by the Iranians when dealing with the deliberate provocations of the Americans shall once again come to the fore. During the January retaliation for the murder of Major General Soleimanei, it was noted that the missile-strike was very much a symbolic one - it satisfied in some limited sense, the visual requirement for Iranian retribution to be 'seen to be done', without actually causing sufficient damage nor casualties to the Americans to then militate a subsequent escalation from that quarter (no doubt to the great disappointment of some).

Perhaps there is room for some similarly line-walking careful placement of foot so as to avoid both accelerator and landmine over the next two months as we all collectively wait for the clock to run down on the Trump Administration. Careful, cautious, and perspicacious consideration from Iran, I mean. I don't think anybody else involved is nearly so keen to avoid dragging  the Americans into a pointless quagmire, including various of the (outgoing) Americans themselves. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

In Riposte To A Journalist's Outrage At Sanskrit Being Uttered In Our Nation's Parliament


Late yesterday evening, I noticed something strange on Twitter. 'Sanskrit' was trending - in New Zealand. Finding this rather unexpected, yet pretty positive, I went to check out why. It turned out that one of Labour's newly minted MPs - Dr Gaurav Sharma - had taken his Oath of Allegiance in Sanskrit, and also in Te Reo Maori. 

I thought this was a nice development. An MP making tasteful nods to both his own heritage, and also to the Maori sphere that is an indigenous, endogenous fundament to New Zealand. A language that came here, and a language that's of here. Treaty partnership and all that. 

Unfortunately, that wasn't quite why 'Sanskrit' was being so avidly discussed here in New Zealand on Twitter. 

Rather, a Kiwi journalist by the name of Michael Field, whom I've never previously heard of ... had taken to the platform to express his outrage that this had occurred. And, in the process, kicked off a bit of an international contratemps as a result. 

What did he say? Why did he object to Sharma's making use of his ancestral tongue to swear the Oath required of a Parliamentarian? 

Because, in Field's own words ... Sanskrit is apparently "a language of religious oppression & caste superiority", and "[a] mark of Hindutva - mark of fundamentalism." He also apparently felt that this may have called into question "Labour's working class values" and posed a question of his own - whether Sharma was, in fact, "a token?" 

Field appeared to be having a pretty bad day, because in his haste he then managed to tag in  the wrong Gaurav whilst demanding an explanation from Gaurav Sharma - so there's a completely unrelated Gaurav in New Delhi at the moment with only a few hundred followers presumably wondering just what on earth is going on in Kiwiland that's got anything to do with him right now. 

But to return to Field's statements, before we explain what's really going on here .. his own explanation for being outraged by Sharma's Sanskrit oath goes like this:

In reply to a twitter account called 'Indians In New Zealand', Field said this:

"This is nothing to do with multiculturalism - this is Modi's caste politics straight and simple. Sadly NZ Labour seems to have forgotten their roots; caste has no place in NZ."

And in reply to another Kiwi who asked him if he was feeling alright given the outlandishness of his initial sentiments, he added:

"Having been frequently in area of India where Sanskrit & Brahmin politics are vivid & result in riots over being forced to speak another language, I was surprised to see a Labour MP heading down that route. And I am feeling fine"

So in essence, Field saw Sharma's invocation of Sanskrit as being the imposition of "a language of religious oppression & caste superiority", incipient religious "fundamentalism", the introduction of "caste" (somehow), and basically a beachhead for "Modi's [...] politics" in Aotearoa.

Which is rather odd, because to start from the back ... it implies that he thinks Sharma is attempting to act as a vector for a foreign political leader and party by swearing allegiance to the Queen of New Zealand

Now, to my mind there are two closely interrelated considerations here when it comes to unpacking what's happened in Field's head. A really complicated situation, no doubt. 

The first, is that he's effectively posited that Sharma acknowledging and making active use of his own heritage, somehow renders Sharma not only irreducibly Indian (or, in Field's own words, a "token") - but also an alien and incompatible element with New Zealand and our broader ethos as a result of that. He's suggested that it's "Labour's working class values" that Sharma is purportedly at odds with - which is further peculiar, because Labour stopped really being an overweeningly 'working class' party several decades ago. I must have missed Field taking issue with the vast majority of Labour's current Caucus on a similar basis. 

Perhaps he wasn't so worried about those other MPs because they spoke in English - which, as we all know, has not been a "language of [...] oppression" for some years now, unless spoken with an American accent. 

But the second element which must be considered is how Field has construed Hinduism and Indian cultural (in this case specifically linguistic) heritage. As something apparently intrinsically and irreducibly "oppressive", bound up with "fundamentalism" and a "superiority" agenda. 

In the wake of the Christchurch Mosque shootings last year, we had a prayer performed in our Parliament in Arabic. Was Field similarly aghast, declaring that Arabic and the Muslim faith which it is strongly associated with, to be a tongue and ethos of "oppression", "fundamentalism", and "superiority" ? I'd certainly hope not. 

So why us? [And I say 'us', because as both a devout Hindu, and internationally published authority in the field, I make literally daily use of Sanskrit for both religious purposes and in my work]

Well, I'd hazard that Mr Field has basically gleaned the vast sum of his views on our religion from a comparatively limited perspective. I'm not going to be so uncharitable as to suggest it's all from some shrill ultra-liberal 'awoken' types, as he does state that he's visited India at some point (although curiously, refused to say when repeatedly asked just where in India it was that he'd been  to where there were "riots" occurring in reaction to some purported enforcement of Sanskrit); but wherever he's gotten his (mis)information from, it's like some sort of bad fun-house mirror - everything's not only distorted, but actively the wrong way around. 

It may perhaps surprise Field to learn this, but Sanskrit is not some sort of "Modi" invention come up with in a bid to propel "caste politics" back in India (something that, if it were actually occurring, Modi would have to be spectacularly bad at - his own party's successful candidate for President of India, the currently serving Ram Nath Kovind is a Dalit, an Untouchable; whilst Modi himself is a Vaishya - a merchant. So much for Brahmin supremacy ... ).

Instead, Sanskrit is arguably the oldest continuously spoken language of mankind - still having more than ten thousand 'native' speakers today in India and finding active use across the world by Hindus for a liturgical language in a manner perhaps comparable to the use of Latin for the Catholics pre-Vatican II. 

Its roots run incredibly deeply, with the oldest attested  texts in this language dating back to roughly three and a half thousand years ago; and the leaves and branches of its tree spanning incredibly broadly - most of India, as well as large swathes of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and places even further afield speak languages that are ultimately descended from Sanskrit. Almost a billion people in the world today have this language as a rather integral part of their cultural an civilizational heritage even before the religious dimension is taken into consideration. 

That was a large part of why Sharma chose to make use of Sanskrit for his Oath - precisely because it was a way of acknowledging the broad (north) Indian spectrum of community. Not because Sanskrit is somehow exclusive to Brahmins (it isn't - as Sharma pointed out, when he'd gone to school it was a compulsory language for all students; presumably in much the same manner that Latin used to be at various secondary schools in the Anglosphere, including, as it happens, the one I went to even in the 21st century - one wonders whether taking the Oath in Latin (or, for that matter, any of the Latinate legal terms still made active use of therein) would trigger Field into a fit of apoplexy about the Government somehow becoming an apologist for the atrocities of the Roman Empire)

So how is it that we wound up with an incredibly ancient and broadly pervasive language being pidgeonholed into evidently near-exclusive (mis-)association with a relatively recent political phenomenon in contemporary India? 

To put it bluntly, I suspect that it is because for Field and others like him - all actual Hinduism, all actual Indian cultural heritage is hidden 'Hindutva' extremism. It's rather like how, in the 1950s in America, being cautiously in favour of a worker getting a fair day's pay for a fair day's work made one a dyed-(red-)in-the-wool "Communist" in the eyes of some people. Or how, for an ongoing period following 9/11, looking like you might be an Arab, a Muslim, on an international aircraft might lead to some irascible American having a panic about how you must be a terrorist.

Any number of Sikhs were physically attacked for exactly this reason over the same period by ordinary Americans who'd completely misunderstood something that was not theirs, was somewhat obscure to them, and which seemed like it might be a threat just going off what they'd seen on the news. 

People often work themselves up into a lather of a moral 'crusade' about perceived injustices meted out overseas, and then attempt to replicate the alleged 'restorative' action they think should have happened over there, in the comfort of their own back yard at home. Maybe it helps them to feel useful; maybe it's a cover for other impulses. 

Whatever it is, it's evidently lead Field to feel that the simple act of speaking Sanskrit is an incredibly 'problematic' war-cry for something that he profoundly disagrees with. 

And therein lies the trouble. Because for Field, I think that if we really drilled down into it, there are no overt expressions of Hinduism that he would think are not somehow "oppressive". He has not said this, of course, and perhaps he has not even given it much thought.

But if we are not allowed to speak nor otherwise make use of our ancient liturgical language because he is afraid of its connotation ... what exactly constitutes 'allowable' expressions of Hinduism for him? Shall he be banning my Mandir from having the fine Swastika-carved doors to the shrines, too, because of Nazi use of the symbol? When my research institute makes use of 'Arya' in its title and its motto ['Arya Akasha', and 'Krinvanto Vishvam Aryam', respectively] - is Field going to likewise declare that these are 'oppressive' due to a certain 20th century political phenomenon which was quite big on "Aryan" as a term? 

Ultimately, the question is quite a simple one. If he genuinely feels that even things which have no necessary connection to nor connotation of the very specific politics he claims to abhor, are somehow symbols and weaponized tools of same ... then does he actually have any mental distinction between 'Hindutva' and 'Hindu'. Or is every single one of the more than one hundred and twenty thousands of us here,  representing New Zealand's largest non-Christian community of faith, some sort of blatantly obvious Hindu extremist - to be hounded from public life and perhaps the country as well. 

I would dearly hope that Field was not in earnest with the clear and unctuous implications of his claims on Twitter yesterday. And that instead, it was the product of that accursed scourge of the Modern Age, ignorance combined with an over-enthusiastic desire to rush in and oppose some alleged social injustice one has read about occurring elsewhere in the world via social media. 

Except there are plenty of actual injustices occurring out there in the world - elsewhere in the world I mean - for Mr Field to concern himself with, without having to attempt to transplant and invent one right here to his own (political) back yard in our nation's Parliament. 

So, to recap: 

Gaurav Sharma MP taking his Oath of Affirmation in Sanskrit (and also Te Reo Maori) ... was not intended to signify what Michael Field thought it did. 

Indeed, it COULD not really signify what Field thought it did, for the many reasons (and more) aforementioned. (Including that Sanskrit is not and has not been for some time, the exclusive preserve of Brahmins - and is learned by many in India as part of standard school education; and that both the language and the religion are quite some orders of magnitude older and broader than one political current in present-day Indian politics; with the BJP (Modi's party), whatever one thinks of them, also not really being 'Brahmin supremacists'; meanwhile, Ambedkar, the incredibly prominent Independence era Indian politician who forsook his native Hinduism to become a Buddhist precisely because of his feelings about the caste system ... actually himself championed a push for Sanskrit as a national language for India)

There are no "riots" occurring in India due to an "oppressive" imposition of Sanskrit. (Although there ARE occasional flare-ups of animosity in the Dravidian-language dominated South about the perceived imposition of Hindi - which is ironic, because Field actually suggested Sharma should have used Hindi instead; notwithstanding that this is not actually Sharma's own native language, Pahari)

And whilst one could perhaps suggest that, as a doctor of medicine, Gaurav Sharma is not exactly 'working class' .. I'm not sure how Dr Sharma's inclusion in Labour's 2020 Caucus is a vitiation of that party's "roots", "working class" or otherwise. A phrase that I most certainly home Field was not using as a cover for "White/Anglo/Pakeha". 

Sanskrit is a truly beautiful language, and I say that as somebody who's spent much of the past half decade working with it near-daily. I truly do feel that our Parliament - The People's House, the House of Speech - has been enriched for its having been made active use of for this small-but-important ceremony occurrant therein. 

I also, as a Hindu New Zealander (although not an Indian), feel myself and my community somewhat more represented as the result of this, as well. It is a small thing, it is a symbolic thing - but in politics, that symbolism can mean everything. One that shows that Heritage, "roots", matters! And is valued by us as a nation. One that shows that, contra to what Field and his ilk may desire, we too have a place here. And that we are not going to be "oppressed" out or marginalized by somebody who would seemingly wish a restatement of Macaulayism (so named for its instigator - a British Lord who wanted to 'de-Sanskritize' India and replace this with English, in part as a way of striking against what he viewed as the "hideous, and grotesque, and ignoble" 'Brahminical religion', as he termed it).

On the plus side, this is the first time I think I've seen a New Zealand MP make reference to Proto-Indo-European - so there's that.

Although if one is eagerly anticipating Proto-Indo-European actually making an appearance in Parliament's debating chamber, for instance as part of an Oath of Affirmation ... you may be waiting some time. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

On Rational Economic Decision-Making In The Age Of Covid-19 Following Our Latest Community Transmission

Earlier this week, we had ourselves some chilling news. A new case of Covid-19 community transmission - without a clear link to a quarantine or isolation facility. Worse, it turned out that the worker in question had gone to work whilst infectious. 

Now, the natural impulse for much of humanity in such circumstances is to cast about to find somebody to blame. This is psychologically helpful (for us, at least) - as it means we feel like we're actively doing something. "We're Helping", indeed. Even if the tangible form that "help" may take looks occasionally like some form of online not-quite-lynch-mob. 

However, while there was some chagrin about the worker and their situation - that was as nothing compared to what's been unfolding in the direction of her employer. And perhaps understandably, again, so. 

After all, initial reports had said employer stating they were aware the worker was pending a Covid-19 test, the inference being they'd told them to come in anyway; with the most recent line that, and I quote: "Chen said Chinese people were very cautious and said she never expected a small cold would turn into Covid-19", not sounding too terribly much better. 

Yet while "blame" is psychologically cathartic - it's another word that is actually rather more useful (and even occasionally coterminous): "Explain". 

The thing we need to do now is to work out what went wrong, where, and how we prevent there from being yet another repeat in a week or a month or in the next crisis at some indeterminate point in the future. 

This isn't about the situation wherein the virus presumably breached quarantine or isolation to reach the worker. Other people are handling that. Top men

But rather - it's about the bit wherein a person, already infected, massively increases the ongoing community transmission risk ... by going to work, and interacting with other people, whilst awaiting a Covid-19 rest and result. 

Is that on them? I don't know how much agency they had in the situation. It is easy from an armchair to insist that somebody who feels even a bit sick (sick enough to go in for a Covid-19 test, definitely) to 'stay home, save lives'. It's a no-brainer in fact. Except in that actual situation itself ... things can suddenly start to look a bit murky. You may feel it's 'not that bad', or that it's unlikely you've got it (which, as I say, doesn't appear to be what's gone on here - it was serious enough to voluntarily opt for a test off her own initiative). More concerningly - while you might think you're in a risky situation, your employer may disagree. Occasionally rather strenuously. Potentially putting some pressure, perhaps even pseudo-legal pressure upon you to come in and fulfil your contractual obligations. 

That shouldn't happen. And "shouldn't happen" - especially come 2020 - appears to mean "does happen", with some depressing degree of frequency. 

Could the state do more to compel employers (and, for that matter, workers) to make good 'decisions' and stay home where there's even a semi-plausible likelihood of infection? Probably. Although as this case demonstrates - that's all hindsight (which is, as we all know, generally of far greater clarity and perspicacity than as the vantage-point things are happening). 'Support' rather than 'compel' is nicer language - and presumably more likely to be more sustainable in the long term (hence why our own Covid-19 relative success story has been based around 'taking the people with you' from the Government ... and the UK and much of the US and Europe are flailing due to population fatigue with being carried along in endless evidently iffily ineffectual measures). It would therefore be tempting to investigate whether subsidies for sudden Covid-19 related sick-days were sufficiently available/publicized in this case - although that doesn't actually help an employer immediately access a substitute worker to fill in for the one that's now housebound pending their test. 

However, one of the simplest things we can do, which is also one of the most dramatically efficacious interventions - is changing the way people think. Which does not necessarily require the expenditure of money in subsidies or law-changes so as to 'alter the playing-field' and condition what is plausible, let alone viable to do. 

Effectively, you're changing what it is that's 'rational' to do - either by changing the direct incentives (via economic or legal impetus), or by changing the perceptions of things (increasing knowledge, understanding). Both of these elements - 'rationality' and 'knowledge' - are cornerstones of how an idealized 'capitalism' is supposed to function. 

The current Covid-19 retail outlet controversy demonstrates that many of the actors in question do not possess this rationality; at least partially due to imperfect information and differing, questionable perceptions. 

Consider this: on the surface, from the employer's perspective, evidently it seems pretty rational to insist that a retail worker comes into work, even if they're sick, right?

Except we're in the midst of a global pandemic, there's been two community transmission cases in the past week happening literally just down the road, and if it does turn out that your retail worker whom you're requesting to come in has the virus ... you're quite likely to wind up "Mt Roskill Evangelical Church"'d or "Coldstore'd", and have a cluster named after your business.

Now, with rationality in mind ... that's something which most business-owners would probably prefer to avoid. Not all publicity, as they say, is good publicity.

But evidently, either these considerations weren't front-and-center for the management who requested the worker come in regardless of illness ... or they rationally decided that the risk of the illness actually being Covid-19 was sufficiently remote to just have her back in anyway rather than finding a replacement staffer for the day or closing up shop.  

Either way - it looks a bit irrational in retrospect. But, then, things viewed in hindsight almost invariably often do. Objects in the rear-view mirror are closer than they appear, however, so it's an act likely to have consequences going forward for everybody involved.

We can do various things to try and 'tip the scales' a bit - and make it more viable for an employer to make what is now, in retrospect, the right call: not calling in a worker awaiting a Covid-19 test, potentially closing up for the day if they can't run the shop without a single retail worker. These include those aforementioned subsidies - acting on the presumption that by eliminating the economic hit for making the 'virtuous' call, you encourage it to actually happen. It's an unfortunate side-point that some employers don't actually make their decisions based on such things (either the economics or 'virtue') and instead prefer to prioritize fixed and rigid projections of what employees 'should' behave like ... but more upon that some other time (it's partially why uneconomical self-service checkouts keep being rolled out to replace human staff at supermarkets even though they cost more and facilitate vastly greater losses through shoplifting - because for these sorts of employers, it's about power, not economics). 

But in the mean-time, and alongside all of that ... I think it's probably a great time to be reminding everybody - both employers and employees alike - that actions have consequences, even the unintended ones; that seemingly minor impositions can have major 'ripple effects' that splash-back. And that like it or not, we really are all in this together. 

In the Age of Covid-19 - We are ALL our Brother's Keeper, now. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Trump's Pinochet Moment ?

 Something which occurred to me in light of the American Presidential electoral results ... is that Trump is having a Pinochet moment. Now I *don't* mean that he's having dissidents thrown out of helicopters (much, I am sure, to the chagrin of some of his supporters at present). But rather - that what has happened this past week or so has been akin to the 1988 Chilean vote that was quite literally a referendum on Pinochet.

Now, that vote is interesting - because it seems that Pinochet thought he would win, fairly handily; and so did not take the ordinary steps afore its occurrence to suppress, marginalize, and otherwise constrain his opponents - nor to overtly 'rig' the vote so that he would win by default.

Instead, he basically allowed both sides (his own, and the 'No' campaign) to have something which, while it was not exactly a 'level' playing field for various reasons (including the rather ingenious use of 'false front' organizations to draw votes from the 'No' side into effective 'protest-vote' third options .. Shades of Kanye, perhaps?), was nevertheless the most 'open' arena which Chile had witnessed for his entire reign.

And was promptly surprised when a) the 'No' campaign turned out to be better at actually campaigning and producing decent campaign material than his own side ; b) that even after "all he had done for them", a majority of Chileans voted to reject him regardless.

Now, the parallels with Trump ought be obvious at this point. Insofar as Trump did not really 'rig' the election (it is an open question whether he actually could have; standard voter suppression etc. of course excepted) - but rather was genuinely surprised to find that a) his opponents actually *were* reasonably competent at campaigning and outreach (rather than 'Sleepy', one supposes); b) a majority of Americans actually weren't that keen on letting him have another four years in office despite "all he had done for them". [the fact that it's "all he had done *to* them" from the view of the Biden vote is, perhaps, not something he'd considered]

This is also - for now - why Trump has not been actively deserving of many of the tropes around playing 14th dimensional underwater strip billiards backgammon .. er .. chess, in pursuit of a clandestinely secured conspiratorial victory which ends democracy in America.

Because it's simply not true. If it WERE, he wouldn't have lost last week's election - likely either in popular vote terms or in tentative electoral college projections.

Instead, he was a man who had bought into his own self-proclaimed narrative - and took at face value (rather than mask value) what his own senses and ego were telling him when he found himself amidst stadia and airports filled with his own cheering supporters (ignoring the obvious 'selection bias' inherent in the fact these people had been bussed to the venue by his campaign after opting-in by already being well-disposed towards him). Namely, that this was America, and what America *overwhelmingly* wanted was more of him for another four years; not another guy in his 70s and a simultaneously ultra-hard-line police state but somehow California ultra-liberal former prosecutor.

Now, buying into your own narrative is a pretty dangerous thing to do in perilous circumstances - as it opens up the possibility that you basically stop engaging seriously with competing perspectives and perceived-unfavourable incoming data-streams. Which appears to be what Trump then did.

And to be fair, he may have had a bit of a point: the differential between Pro-Trump and Anti-Trump on Election Night has not been anywhere near as dire as some polling earlier appeared to predict.

However, none of this changes the fact that the result hasn't gone Trump's way - and he's now left scrambling to try and either make a dignified exit, or dig in for Home Alone: White House Edition.

Which, as far as he's concerned, may well prove to be an *entirely* false notion of choice.

I don't know if I place full credence in the material alleged in a recent Vanity Fair article, that Trump has reportedly declared he'll literally have to be dragged out kicking and screaming. But in a metaphorical sense - this seems somewhat apt. Various Republicans have, after all, recently started openly urging for states to intervene with their Electoral College delegations so as to provide Trump with the votes he needs there that he could not come up with on the ground; and the Court challenges against those votes in key battleground states are also gearing up apace.

The recent - as in, over the past 36 or so hours - spate of firings of civilian leadership and oversight personnel from the Department of Defence, Pentagon, and intelligence services in order to have them replaced by Trump loyalists, is also interesting for obvious reasons.

However, in the hopefully unlikely event that Trump *does* endeavour to more seriously pursue the Pinochet course of action in 1988 - that is to say, calls in various Generals and other such power-havers and asks for, in effect, the powers to ignore the election result ...

... the fate which befell Pinochet then may prove to be instructive: the Generals, even in a military junta, balked at the request and told Pinochet bluntly that his time was up.

Although this is 2020; and even though it would be intriguing to think that American spooks and soldiers had some sort of unflinching loyalty to constitutional governance and democratic norms ... well ... we'll just have to see what happens, won't we.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Trump's "Stab In The Back"


So here's what's going to happen. Assuming there's not some sudden eleventh hour reversal with the count ... the Trumps and the Trump wing of the Republican Party are going to find themselves escalatingly high-and-dry with regard to the rest of their own party.

We've already seen quite a bit of this with even some of the President's own previously pliant supporters refusing to echo his claims and stances over the past 36 hours - or outright distancing themselves therefrom.

Now, there are a few reasons for this, of course - including the fact that some of those rhetorical flourishes on the part of the President are rather ... fraught in their relationship with reality, during the high-sacred hallowed event of the American civic religion.

And also, I personally suspect, because various Republicans are in fact not entirely displeased with the way things have overarchingly turned out - more on that in a moment.

But what this is setting up is a "Stab In The Back" myth. Much like the one prevalent in Germany following World War One. Wherein regardless of what the facts of the matter may or may not have been upon the ground - a festering belief takes hold that it was the President's *own side* that let him down, rather than the President's demands being overtly unfeasible or even outright illegal.

As you can see, we are already beginning to see this - with the President's son expressing vocal frustration that the party is not seemingly doing its absolute utmost to stop counts, secure court challenges, start instructing Electoral College delegates, or whatever else it is he thinks they should be posturing towards.

And it is interesting to note that he's declared that the "voters" in question who'll "never forget" this - are "ours" [as in the Trump dynasty's, the Trump wing of the Republican Party's] ... which is probably not entirely incorrect.

This is also the reason why this is noteworthy rather than merely yet another flare-point of anger amidst the constellation of consternation emanating from the White House in recent days.

Because the Trump ethos really has won a place within the GOP over the past four years. And while some for-now supporters like Lindsey Graham may turn out to be able to 'revert' to their pre-Trump selves with approximately the same level of velocity and spinelessness with which they became pro-Trump allies earlier in this term - I suspect that for a surprising swathe of the Republican Party , we'll see the opposite.

A recognition that Trumpism actually DID 'deliver the goods' electorally - and that it should therefore be persisted with. Even enhanced and doubled-down upon, in more comprehensive, perhaps even overtly 'competent' fashion.

Except with various of these voices within the Republican Party noting that they have now potentially acquired Trumpism without Trump. Simultaneously that ethos' greatest strength and most notorious liability rolled into one.

For those sorts, this Election has delivered them almost everything on their wishlist. They've got a strong position in both the Senate and House of Representatives, they've already got three Supreme Court appointments to deliver a moral majority for their side upon that organ; and, as I have noted earlier, a lack of a Trump to periodically 'mess it all up' (from their perspective) for them via late-night social media shenaniganry etc. So they will indeed quite likely be less than entirely enthusiastic about helping to support the President to intervene his way into inauguration for a second term.

For others, of the more 'true believer' variety - there can be no Trumpism without Trump. And, in their again not entirely inaccurate belief, the Republican holding of the line in this Election would have been difficult if not outright implausible sans Trump's heavy hand upon the scale as well as the heart of the nation. They may perceive that either their principles or their political appeal may go out the window in his large-looming absence from their party or the presumptive national stage.

So where is all of this going?


Civil War.

Probably not in the conventional sense, for America itself.

But within the Republican Party. The battle over its soul which had been effectively forestalled via the triumphs and the whipping of the past four and a half years not only coming to a sudden flashpoint - but acquiring entirely new fissure-lines within it into the bargain.

The "Stab In The Back" narrative is going to take hold and drive a wave of insurgent anger both from an array of ordinary Republican voters and activists and even candidates or office-holders against the leadership. It may fizzle out within the span of a single congressional term - or it may produce a longer-lasting vituperative schism. It may even fuel, Tea Party style, a push for primary challenging and oustering of perceived 'Betrayers' that changes the shape of some Republican races and districts for years to come.

Or, I suppose, we may just see the whole thing go back to a soft simmer if something DOES change in the ongoing electoral count and recount results.

An additional possibility in the unlikely event of the latter - would be Trump and Sons back in the position of power and proceeding to weed out Republicans who had been perceived as disloyal.

Which could even lead to one of those 'realignments' of portions of American politics as some 'moderate' Republicans end up attempting to soft 'patch over' to a center spectrum aligned more with the Democratic Party.

But to return to the more likely set of scenarios - wherein Trump either continues to lose outright in the count of votes , or loses later in some legal challenge of his own devising - the anger against those perceived to have 'failed' him in each of the legislative and judicial branches (as well as in other supposed regime forces, such as Fox News - and seriously, the tweets this week about how Fox News was attempting to rig the election for Biden were ... wild) : this anger may lead to an increased appetite for absolutism on the part of his supporters.

A feeling that if the Republicans of Senate and House aren't going to 'do their bit' and fight tooth and claw for the Solar Presidency ['L'Etat, C'est Moi'] of Trump ; and if the Republicans' Supreme Court appointments refuse to show 'gratitude' to the man who put them there ... that both institutions are pointless and should be further undermined and constrained in the future.

Which does not, of course, mean that those demands could come to especially active fruition. Although it does speak to another of these 'fault-lines' that is in the process of being opened up within both the Republican Party and the broader right wing of the American electorate.

That between the people who - rightly or wrongly and sincerely or not - hold some degree of (at least public) reverence for what they perceive to be the principles (rather than the principality) of the American civic edifice; and those who are more keen only upon 'what those institutions can do for you', perfectly happy to burn parts of it completely to the ground if it is not 'doing for you' at that particular prominent moment of time.

In ordinary times, the latter would be something of a fringe position in terms of public presentation if not necessarily in practice.

Yet these are, as hardly needs to be said, not 'ordinary times'.

It is therefore not inconceivable that right-wing demands to hamstring the 'traitor' branches of government and their duly empowered/empaneled representatives thereupon - become a push to "reform" the system in a not entirely dissimilar manner to how the enthusiasm for Popular Vote and proportionality rather than the Electoral College has become a Cause Celebre in various more progressive enclaves over there.

Either way , it would appear that the upcoming spinoff show for 2020 - Republican Party 2021 - is going to have quite the chaotic new season.