Trump, Regan, Nixon: What to Expect Next From Trump and Russia

It is happening again.

No, I am not referring to the (blessed) return of Twin Peaks to television. What is the subject of this missive, however is no less sinister and seemingly opaque.

What is happening again is that the American people are being betrayed by a Republican President who was colluding with a foreign power before they were even in office – and in fact owe their election to this.

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It is very frustrating reading coverage President Trump’s obstructing the FBI investigation into his campaign’s – surely indisputable now – relations with Russia if for no other reason than that such commentary lacks historical perspective. Simply put, Republican Presidents conspiring against their country for electoral gain is a very common and important occurrence.

The quintessential parallel reached for in the Age of Trump is Watergate. And of course it would be. By firing the special prosecutor Archibold Cox – and getting through two Attorney Generals to do it – President Nixon fundamentally and egregiously breached the separation of powers so key to the American constitution. This is the same principle President Trump fell foul of when he asked FBI director James Comey to cease the ongoing investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia – and dismissed him when he demurred.

In the rush to devour this low hanging fruit another arguably more pertinent example from the Nixon administration gets overlooked: the sabotaging of the Paris Peace Accords of 1968. Rather than allow the administration of Lyndon Johnson to claim the political victory of a negotiated settlement between South and North Vietnam, strengthening the Presidential campaign of fellow Democrat Hubert Humphrey, the Nixon campaign team plotted to derail negotiations. Nixon campaign manager John Mitchell, his future National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, and Republican socialite Anna Chennault all encouraged the South Vietnamese to double down with the promise of better terms under a Nixon administration and to avoid any Democrat-brokered settlement in the meantime. The FBI would identify this strategy as both having played out and of being integral to why the South Vietnamese did not go to the table. 

A week after LBJ ordered a cessation of in American operations in the hope of concomitant commitment from Ho Chi Minh which did not come, Nixon, who ran on the promise of “peace with honour”, beat Humphrey by just one point in the popular vote.

For an administration awarded for its duplicity from the outset, it should be no surprise that Watergate followed, nor the clandestine bombing of Cambodia. The attempt to conceal the latter from the American public and Congress was considered so egregious that Congress moved to circumscribe the power of the executive branch to wage war without its express permission under the 1973 War Powers Act.

Just as these treasonous tricks worked for Nixon, so they did for another Republican President: one Ronald Regan. It would appear then that Trump and Regan have more in common than being geriatric celebrities in the all too palpable throes of a nascent dementia.

It was unfortunate for Jimmy Carter that the 1979 Iranian Revolution occurred during his administration. In the course of it, 52 American embassy staff were seized as hostages by radical Islamist students. The Carter administration was gravely wounded as it tried and failed to secure their release before a Presidential election it would go on to lose to Regan in 1980. It was during this negotiation between the Carter administration and the new Iranian regime that members from the Regan campaign team allegedly ensured that the release of the hostages would not occur in Carter’s administration. Both NSA council member under the Ford and Carter administration, Gary Sick, and Iranian president at the time, Abolhassan Bansidar, have drawn on their experience of events to advance this theory.

And so it passed that mere minutes after Regan became President on January 20th 1981, the hostages were released. The measure of debt that the Regan administration thus felt towards the Iranians explains the great lengths he would go to give arms to the new regime and conceal this, the most notable example being, of course, the Iran-Contra affair.

The rewards were reaped in a country where the political culture strongly favours the incumbent in presidential elections. Nixon would go on to win another term before being brought down by his hubris and incompetence, and after Regan’s victory the GOP would hold on to the presidency until 1994. Insofar as this helped to give the edge of their candidate, the ends seemingly justified the means. 

What is particularly concerning with the parallels of Nixon and Regan, is how emboldened by their initial intrigues they would go on to mislead the American public again. In what ways then, can we expect to be misled by Trump? Does it have something to do with Jared Kushner’s request to the Russian ambassador to set up a back channel hidden from American intelligence agencies, I wonder? And why have Mike Flynn and Jeff Sessions been caught out lying about their relations with the Russian state?

Maybe these historical instances are side-lined because it lessens the hyperbole than can be applied to this story. This has simply happened far too often, and with far too little consequence that it becomes hard to remain excited with a perspective going further back than the latest 24 hour news cycle.

 

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Trump vs Sweden

As much as I would love to discuss the pros and cons of different compilations of Swedish crime statistics, I think people are in danger of not seeing the woods for the trees here.

Even if immigration of certain groups leads to more crime – and this is not at all straightforward – this does not necessarily render it a non-starter. There is a principle of compassion at stake here, which does not just stop at some border.

At the very least against any putative increase in crime there must be a consideration of the suffering which has been alleviated. This seems an astoundingly bold thing to say, and I am well aware it goes against the grain, but it is just the basic principle of utilitarianism taken to its logical end point. You may well wish to weigh the interests of your compatriots higher than those of outsiders. There are certain moral imperatives of community, as people understand it. The point is you can factor in for these and still see both sides of the equation.

At the moment we have this myopic focus on just one side. To take one instance, Donald Trump made an executive order on his fifth day tasking his Secretary for Homeland Security to weekly “make public a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens”. Can we detect the hand of Steve Bannon, whose Breibart website maintains a whole section called “black crime”?

We also have to be realistic that doing the right thing can often bring its own set of difficulties. Principles are like that. What we should not do is what I saw Don Lemon do in his interview with the film maker who inspired President Trump’s “last night in Sweden” comments this week. When confronted with very inconvenient data and asked to make very straightforward inferences on the upward trend of at least of some crime according to some statistics, he shamefully prevaricated in such a way as to play into the hands of those who doubt the sincerity of advocates for refugees. You can disavow the providence of certain statistics, but you cannot disavow statistics.

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And before anyone rebukes me for a presumption to accept risk and difficulty on others’ behalf who may not ask for it, right wingers ask us to tolerate harm all of the time in favour of their principles.

Compare an America where we have sensible – read: any – gun control to the America we have now. But we put up with the America we have now because of the (ridiculous and anachronistic) principle of the Second Amendment. Far more people die from loose gun laws that allow mentally ill people or people on no fly lists to buy guns than from immigration. There were 15,809 homicides by firearm in America in 2015, against the 14 deaths by Islamic terror (and in deathly cross pollination these were killed by legally purchased firearms.) We lose a tremendous amount of life, and we receive no boon in the alleviation of suffering to offset this. In other words it is a massive and unambiguous net suffering, which you cannot say for immigration. There were 15,809 homicides by firearm in America in 2015, against the 14 deaths by Islamic terror (and in deathly cross pollination these were killed by legally purchased firearms.)

It is especially egregious that people tolerate this risk but not the other because America and Britain played a part is destabilising the Middle East with its foreign policy. Why is it that the same Americans who are so quick to take credit for the glories of their country, at the same deny any responsibility at all when it does something bad – and all the while lecture us about “accountability”? I believe its “My Country Right or Wrong”, not “My Country When It Suits Me”. And yet we who would wish to bear the burden are decried as snowflakes, while those who shirk it with hysteria and hyperbole idealise themselves as modern day, rugged frontiersmen.

There is just not enough perspective – on the right – or honesty – on the left – being brought to debates on immigration to begin with. We need to put this aside and ask ourselves what would truly bring the greatest good to the greatest number of people.

Trump, Brexit and the Death of Patriotism

We have really lost our way with immigration. Sad! Forgive my Trumpian flourish but this is an important topic and I need all the attention I can garner.

I totally understand that one can take a principled stance against immigration to a point – and many do – but it has become far too common to hear the motives of immigrants impugned.

Observe the pejorative meaning the phrase “economic migrant” has taken on. As a friend mentioned on Facebook, “economic migrants continue to flood in, let’s face it for their own good, not the good of the country they are (sic) enter”. Why are we are rebuking the insufficient patriotism of those yet to land on our shore? It is a bizarre condition totally divorced from an understanding of human psychology that we seem to be placing on entry and one which is quite antithetical to British and American values.

Anyone who argues that this disdain is solely because economic migrants are taking the place of deserving refugees, has not come to terms with the fact that for large swathes of the right there are no refugees, just economic migrants. As Twitter user Truth_At_Last writes “Invest in so-called ‘refugees’? I wouldn’t piss on one of the criminal economic migrants if they were on fire #NoRefugees

The thing is, emigrating to further your interests and emigrating to further the interests of the country are not mutually exclusive. America as I recall had rather a large number of immigrants who came in the pursuit of happiness and that as we are often reminded turned out quite well. It was called the American Dream.

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This idea had its antecedents in Britain. Our relations with other individuals do not represent some zero sum equation, but rather the potential for prosperity via mutually beneficial economic activity. If I sound unduly Whiggish here, it is because I am simply stating what British values are as they have traditionally been conceived, cant and all.

In fact the whole edifice of Anglophone Liberal Democracy is that by private individuals pursuing their own interests the public good is taken care of – as though by a guiding “invisible hand” if you will forgive the allusion to Adam Smith.

I have to say I find the lack of faith in basic British and American values among the nationalist right to be disturbing. I am reminded of the words of another “Britisher” Samuel Johnson. He made the distinction between patriotism and nationalism, calling the latter the “last refuge of the scoundrel”. Patriotism is a positive love for your country and what it stands for; nationalism stands for little else than empty headed belligerence to the rest of the world. I would go further and suggest that it is mere tribalism, no different to that of the supposed “savages” we supposedly run the risk of being “swamped” by. We have – and I never thought I would see myself type this – too few patriots at the moment. For a love of country unmoored from principle is a truly worrisome thing.

But I am the son of an immigrant so what do I know?

Trump vs Sweden

As much as I would love to discuss the pros and cons of different compilations of Swedish crime statistics, I think people are in danger of not seeing the woods for the tress here.

Even if immigration led to more crime – and that is far from certain – it would still be worth it because the moral imperative overwrites the risk. Right wingers ask us to tolerate far higher levels of risk all of the time in favour of their pet causes.

Compare an America where we have sensible – read: any – gun control to the America we have now. But we put up with the America we have now because of the (ridiculous and anachronistic) principle of the Second Amendment. Far more people die from loose gun laws that allow mentally ill people or people on no fly lists to buy guns than from immigration. There were 15,809 homicides by firearm in America in 2015, against the 14 deaths by Islamic terror (and in deathly cross pollination these were killed by legally purchased firearms.) There were 15,809 homicides by firearm in America in 2015, against the 14 deaths by Islamic terror (and in deathly cross pollination these were killed by legally purchased firearms.) This is their version social justice, far more deleterious than that held on the left and yet ours is supposedly “societal suicide”.

It is especially egregious that people tolerate one but not the other because America destabilised the Middle East with its foreign policy. Why is it that the same Americans who are so quick to take credit for the glories of their country, are the same to deny any responsibility at all when it does something bad – and all the while lecture us about “accountability”? I believe it’s “My Country Right or Wrong”, not “My Country When It Suits Me”. And yet we who would wish to bear the burden are decried as snowflakes, while those who shirk it with hysteria and hyperbole idealise themselves as modern day, rugged frontiersmen.