The Election: Talking Energy, Foreign Policy & Demographics

The Election: Talking Energy, Foreign Policy & Demographics November 9, 2020

I have written an awful lot on this election and there will be some more post mortem examination to take place. This piece will be an analysis of a right-wing commenter, Person223, who comments here regularly and who at least gives a little more substance than most every other right-wing (religious) commenter here – thanks for commenting. I will respond interlinearly to his comment on my piece “The Republicans Smashed It“.

I said after your last blog entry that Trump gained in every demographic except white males.

First of all, with literally millions of votes still to count around the country, from New York to California, it is perhaps a little early to see demographic trends accurately. To be fair, gains and losses will largely depend on context and geography. Michigan will look different to Florida, which will look different to Arizona. There is some ruth in losing nonwhite votes, but this really depends about where you are talking and I think to make national conclusions is to miss the devil in the detail. It’s probably fairer to say urban and suburban voters are what won it, and even then, in certain areas, education played a part. These things are complex.

I blame white men for this fiasco. Yes, Trump gained a lot of votes over 2016 and Republicans seem to have kept the Senate and didn’t lose a single seat in the House despite all the money Dems spent.

I’m not sure of how this blame thing works, but the GOP have done very well, in the present climate, in both houses.

Still, Biden can do a lot of damage in 4 years. The USA is energy independent for the first time in many decades. Biden is going to destroy that, and those who vote for him don’t even understand why energy independence is important. Stephen Breyer is 82. Biden’s position on guns and policy generally is anti-freedom.

From a national security point of view, energy independence is important, and from an economic point of view, it can be advantageous too. But one thing P223 forgets to mention is becoming energy independent in using a greater mix of renewables, with the US (as intended under Obama) becoming a world leader in green technology. This requires a centralised strategic plan to retrain fossil fuel workers and provide the sorts of subsidisation for alternatives that the fossil fuel and nuclear sectors have enjoyed over decades. That renewables have become competitive in spite of the lack of federal support is testament to the power and future of green tech.

Energy independence (EI) isn’t something Trump has “achieved” (in a single-handed sort of way) but reflects a long-term trend. There are some who claim it is not, actually, energy independent (though this may have changed) and others who argue that EI isn’t all that, and still others who say that Biden’s energy plan is actually pretty similar to Trump’s in a way that render P223’s claims impotent, and we have people like The Hill recognising that Trump/the GOP mischaracterize Biden’s energy plan.

It looks to me, at face value at least, that Biden is not going to cut back the oil and fracking industries, but will build up the alternative energy sector, I guess in the hope that it becomes more competitively superior and the market takes over. A sort of strategic guidance of the “free” market.

Either way, P223’s agenda is getting in the way of a nuanced and honest discussion about energy.

The biggest fear in all this is the foreign policy damage Biden will do.

He’s way out here. We know, partly from the global reaction(where only Russia is upset) that the US soft power has plummeted and the rest of the world really wants Biden to be POTUS for global stability. US global approval sank from an Obama high of 69% to a Trump low of 34%, around about what the world thinks of China and Russia… Germany’s stats are very worrying, but even South Korea has hugely dropped (about 20%) in Trump approval.

Iran, Syria, the Kurds, Russia, love letters with Kim Jong Un (a murderous dictator), his pathetic response to Russi offering money for hits on US  troops, the UN, NATO, “shithole” countries, so on and so forth. Yes, some successes (as you would expect with an entire diplomatic corps). Foreign Policy earlier this year declared that “Trump has destroyed US foreign policy“.

Domestic policy phook ups are discouraging for they do affect peoples lives, but they also are relatively quick to correct if a president is booted. The problem is that we don’t realize that lesson long term and keep putting Dems in the White House. But foreign policy is much more long term. We are still dealing with consequences of Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy and these problems were exacerbated by Clinton and Obama.

I don’t think P223 really has a clue here, though he’s toeing the party line. The Washington Post gives Trump a D- for foreign policy with a useful summary. The LA Times wrote a very interesting article earlier this year, “Trump’s foreign policy has produced a string of failures“, from which the following is excerpted:

The strangest thing about President Trump’s aborted plan to fly the Taliban to Camp David wasn’t the terrible symbolism of hosting terrorists three days before the anniversary of 9/11 — although that was bad enough.

Even crazier was Trump’s underlying premise: that he could sweet-talk Taliban leaders to end the war in Afghanistan by luring them to a weekend in the bucolic Maryland countryside.

But Trump doesn’t understand diplomacy. It’s not about splashy deals and self-aggrandizing stunts; it’s about nurturing alliances and building relationships. It’s not done on a whim; it takes time and preparation. And the purpose isn’t to make the president look good; it’s the harder work of averting crises and ending wars.

This isn’t just me saying this. That’s the advice of America’s most seasoned diplomats.

“Even when Trump’s instincts are correct, like the need to explore a deal with the Taliban after 18 years of bloody stalemate …. [his] illusions, impulsiveness and incompetence smother any glimmer of diplomatic possibility,” William J. Burns, who served as a senior diplomat under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, told me. “There’s nothing wrong with disruptive diplomacy. But what we’ve seen from Trump is lots of disruption, and very little diplomacy.”

The president keeps making the same mistake: seeking headline-grabbing summits with his adversaries in hopes of landing a big deal and burnishing his image as a statesman.

It hasn’t worked. It didn’t even work when he tried it with Democratic leaders in Congress.

Yes, he got three made-for-TV meetings with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. But Kim is still testing missiles and building nuclear weapons, which is what those meetings were supposed to end.

Yet the president and his aides count his North Korea talks as a win. He wants to try the same playbook with Iran. On Monday, he repeated his offer to meet with Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani.

“I always say having a meeting is a good thing,” Trump explained.

On the general principle, he’s right. But Trump doesn’t have what’s required to make his foreign policy work.

First, the White House needs a clear strategy and a cohesive staff. Trump has neither. His foreign policy team has been chronically divided.

On Tuesday, Trump ousted his third national security advisor, John Bolton. Bolton opposed the proposed deal with the Taliban, opposed Trump’s bromance with Kim, and opposed negotiations with Iran. The real question is why he took the job at all.

Second, an administration needs to know where it has leverage against adversaries and where it doesn’t. Trump has often overestimated U.S. strength and underestimated the tenacity of others. And he has avoided working within alliances, which earlier presidents considered a key asset. Trump prefers to go it alone.

Third, complex diplomacy requires careful groundwork, mostly out of public view. The Obama administration’s controversial nuclear deal with Iran, which Burns helped arrange, took more than two years of negotiations — after more than four years of secret contacts.

Trump prefers Twitter storms and televised summits. He boasts that he trusts his gut, not briefing books.

All those factors helped sink his Taliban gambit.

It’s worth reading the whole thing. The point is, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the results are sparse and everyone’s opinion of the US around the world is hugely at odds with P223’s claims. P223 continues:

I just hope that Republicans hold the Senate and, if they do, they can find their backbones for a change of pace.

I don’t know what this means. I am looking forward to competence, coherence, cohesiveness, and not hearing a lot about it. Things happening with qualified experts behind the headlines. I don’t want to hear about foreign policy on fucking Twitter, for God’s sake. P223 and other cultists don’t realise the damage Trump has done to the image of US competence.

One very interesting article that was brought up again this week was the powerful one but the excellent Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times, written earlier this year (“Donald Trump has destroyed the country he promised to make great again” is behind a paywall but can be read here). He nailed it when observing that the rest of the world no longer respects America or Americans. We now pity them:

Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity.

However bad things are for most other rich democracies, it is hard not to feel sorry for Americans. Most of them did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Yet they are locked down with a malignant narcissist who, instead of protecting his people from Covid-19, has amplified its lethality. The country Trump promised to make great again has never in its history seemed so pitiful.

Will American prestige ever recover from this shameful episode? The US went into the coronavirus crisis with immense advantages: precious weeks of warning about what was coming, the world’s best concentration of medical and scientific expertise, effectively limitless financial resources, a military complex with stunning logistical capacity and most of the world’s leading technology corporations. Yet it managed to make itself the global epicentre of the pandemic.

As the American writer George Packer puts it in the current edition of the Atlantic, “The United States reacted … like Pakistan or Belarus – like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering.”

It is one thing to be powerless in the face of a natural disaster, quite another to watch vast power being squandered in real time – wilfully, malevolently, vindictively. It is one thing for governments to fail (as, in one degree or another, most governments did), quite another to watch a ruler and his supporters actively spread a deadly virus. Trump, his party and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News became vectors of the pestilence.

The grotesque spectacle of the president openly inciting people (some of them armed) to take to the streets to oppose the restrictions that save lives is the manifestation of a political death wish. What are supposed to be daily briefings on the crisis, demonstrative of national unity in the face of a shared challenge, have been used by Trump merely to sow confusion and division. They provide a recurring horror show in which all the neuroses that haunt the American subconscious dance naked on live TV.

If the plague is a test, its ruling political nexus ensured that the US would fail it at a terrible cost in human lives. In the process, the idea of the US as the world’s leading nation – an idea that has shaped the past century – has all but evaporated.

Of course, this is hard for nationalistic Trumpian Americans to take, so it will slide off their shoulders with a dose of cognitive dissonance, but all I ask for people like P223 is to have an ounce of self-reflection and self-awareness. And the great thing, the great hope, is that Biden and, more importantly, a competent and cohesive administration can remedy this for the good of the world.

If Republicans don’t hold the Senate the Dems can do whatever they want to us with the only recourse to have groups like that Pacific league mount legal challenges. Expensive, but it is something that has to be done.

What utter nonsense. No, nothing does have to be done. Let democracy take its course. The odd thing with such approaches is that they fail to take into account that something around 5 million more Americans have voted for Biden. That is some margin and it cannot remotely be explained by fraud. This is democracy. It’s kind of pathetic (rather like the impeachment) and telling that Republicans like this want to rely on procedural challenges without seeing the big picture, without concentrating on what is, in an ordinary sense, right: that a tonne more people in the country wanted Trump out than wanted him in. “Oh, but Michigan…” won’t cut it. And I’ve seen how desperate things are when Giuliani is literally tweeting out for ideas on how to challenge this in court, when Republicans have publicly called fraud in Georgia because “how can a population of only 3.7 million cast over 5 million ballots? Fraud!”

Georgia the state is not Georgia the country. Learn some geography before you invoke legal challenges, you dimwit.

Then we need to be on the defensive for four years to try to do the best to make sure this is only a four year setback. These are power hungry, dangerous people and that fact needs to be communicated loudly and constantly. The sad part is that tens of millions of Americans don’t even care that people like Biden want to infringe rights and rob freedom. The Dems are banana republicans.

Er, yeah. Whatever.

Anyway, more nuance please. Complex subjects, and all. And greater self-awareness, thanks.


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