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Secret of Trump’s victory: Mesmerizing the folks

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap] he secret of Trump’s victory lies in that he utterly identified his target audiences and their problems and points of discontent and frustration, meticulously addressed them, offered magnetic solutions, and ultimately, won their hearts and votes. Although many of Trump’s proposed policies and solutions are just rhetoric statements disconnected from the reality and practicality, he was able to mesmerize the folks into voting for him to become the president of the United States of America smashing almost all expectations and polls.

Hillary Clinton had portrayed the Trump campaign as divisive. Even she quoted Abraham Lincoln saying “A house divided against itself cannot stand”. But Trump is not the cause of the division within the American society rather a symptom of the division. Perhaps such erroneous perception and inability to figure out the real troubles of the American society played a role in Clinton’s defeat. This may help to understand why Clinton lost while the more puzzling and key question is what the secret of Trump’s victory is?

In order to discover the secret of Trump’s astounding victory, two crucial components of his campaign should be identified: who are the electorate that voted for him and how he had persuaded them. Data on voters clearly show that white Christian mainly working-class Americans with conservative views constituted the core of Trump’s electorate. The Clinton campaign had largely missed to consider this particular majority group of population as she had been much obsessed with minorities leading to   disregarding   hence   alienating the majority.   “Though Clinton’s platform was inarguably more progressive than Trump’s, she failed to communicate those policies to the voters who needed to hear it most. Instead, she focused on girl-power anthems and cultivated wealthy celebrity surrogates who were incapable of addressing the grievances that fuelled Trump’s campaign” says Sarah Jones from the New Republic.

In a way, election campaign is an intimate communication between voter and candidate. A voter identifies problems and figures out which candidate is likely to help solve them. Meanwhile the candidate identifies his/her potential target electorate and figures out how to persuade them. The Trump campaign skillfully caught up with the pulse of the time. Meanwhile Hillary Clinton built on her previous campaigning experience and failed to send a proper message to white working-class Americans. Hillary often referred back to her time as Secretary of State and cited her past successes while Trump’s   backlash was “Hillary Has Experience, But It’s Bad Experience”. He lambasted her failures such as the Benghazi tragedy and email scandal. More importantly, Trump tapped into the veins of angry white Americans providing a ‘forward-looking’, often wishful and mesmerizing though, vision for the future to come.

Not various minorities such as Latinos, Muslims, women, Afro-Americans, LGBT communities but the majority white Christian Americans decided the outcome of the US election 2016. They had become fatigue of talks about both minorities and external problems and threats. They utterly needed a domestic focus. The Trump campaign caught the moment by emphasizing the domestic focus. However, Clinton got stuck in appeasing already attracted minorities and focusing on external issues to the apparent irritation of conservative white Americans, who were increasingly feeling minority with the domestic problems remaining unattended despite their factual majority. This portion of population is dissatisfied with demographic change, living standards, unemployment, and lack of social benefits, and feels frustrated by the previous administrations, which have let them down. “Trump has been able to appeal to a certain group of folks who feel left out or are worried about the rapidity of demographic change, social change, who, in some cases, have very legitimate concerns around the economy and are feeling left behind”, Obama said. But the president maintained that these people do not make up “the majority of America”. It appears that Democrats failed to properly assess the scale of folks, who had bought into Trump’s promises, and turned out to be crucial in the defeat of Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s electorate perceives Muslims and immigration as a threat to the socio- economic welfare and a threat to their identity. Trump came up with one solution for the two problems: his identity-based solution was to address both the threats to socio-economic welfare and to the identity. His radical proposals on banning Muslims’ entry to the US, deportation of illegal immigrants, and construction of the wall in the Mexican border were seen through the lens of white Christian Americans as a solution to the imminent threat to their identity, and ultimately as a solution to the socio-economic problems. Many Americans view immigrants as grabbing their jobs and sucking taxpayers’ money as social benefits. Yet drug trafficking and criminal activities are often associated with those of Latino background. And almost all presidential candidates had talked about and promised tackling the immigration issue. They all forgot their promises once the election campaign had ended.

In his first interview after the election victory Trump said that “We’re losing this country. That’s why I won the election. And by the way, won it easily”. Trump chose to play the identity card instead of lecturing on liberal values and detailing economic and other programs. He skillfully addressed the sentiments and emotions rather than the intelligence of potential voters. Trump’s identity-based policies represented a temptation to both those who are concerned over the identity threat and those who are concerned over socio-economic problems.

The previous US administrations had used identity politics to rally domestic support for external interventions in Muslim countries. Now trump played the same card but just for the election campaign. Moreover, the previous administrations and election campaigns had scapegoated Islamic extremism and immigration in particular from Mexico and other Latin American countries for problems and failures for nearly 15 years. Also media and opinion makers had depicted Muslims and Latino immigrants. Apparently, most voters for Trump genuinely perceive Muslims and immigrants as a major source of threat to their welfare and life-styles. “Muslims have become popular scapegoats in every election since George W. Bush became president” says Daniel Bush from PBS. But what Trump did differently from the previous campaigns is that he scapegoated the administrations and Washington establishment for failing to settle the problems regarding Muslims and immigrants, and offered radical solutions such as imposing total ban on Muslims’ entry into the United States, and deportation of millions of Mexican immigrants. In fact, Trump won primaries due to such radical statements, which boosted his popularity.

Interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq didn’t solve but amplified the problem. For around 15 years of the so-called war on terror, Americans felt fatigue of too much talk about Islamist extremism with little effect of counter-extremism policies and actions. The war on terror and interventions drew enormous amounts of funds and resources, which could be used for the well-being of American citizens. Yet these massive military campaigns failed to produce the intended outcomes. Instead, the US got stuck in the Middle East and elsewhere, and had to go through troubled times with Russia. “Trump, under the rubric of “America First ,”   was critical of military interventions driven by a particular internationalist narrative such as the global war on terrorism or the responsibility to protect rather than interventions to advance traditional notions of national interests”. And here is another issue: amid growing tensions with Russia, the US allocates big funds to defense systems in Eastern Europe for NATO. Tensions with Russia over Ukraine and Syria, on-going turmoil in the Middle East, and related US and NATO efforts and actions have captured the focus of media and administrations hence diverting attention and resources from immediate socio-economic   needs of Americans to outside problems.

Trump would seek to bring into reality some of his pre-election promises and could retreat from some others. Many checks-and-balances are in place in the US. So, the president alone is not able to implement significant portion of policies. Even if the president was able to make sure necessary support from proper authorities, just the practicalities wouldn’t allow for successful implementation. Just a few quick examples: how one can identify who is Muslim and who is not. If citizens of a whole Muslim-majority country is banned from entering in the US, what about non-Muslim citizens of that country? If all Muslims are banned, how they would identify Muslim citizens of non-Muslim countries? Yet alone there are so many economic, business and lots of other sorts of vital ties between the US and Muslims and Muslim countries, where Americans are utterly interested, and billions of dollars from Muslim countries are invested or deposited in the US. Another example is that how one can pack millions of illegal Latino immigrants into busses to send to their home countries. These are just a few very simplistic practicalities. In   Trump ’s telling , “America’s problems are simple, self-inflicted and easily reversible, once the right man is sitting in the Oval Office”. Yet there are most complicated issues concerning NATO or free trade. NATO is not just about security and military alliance. The US is much dependent on global integration in general and transatlantic integration in particular. Revising the terms in NATO and free trade agreements is much easier said than done. Neither NATO nor free trade is American charity, and both are as much beneficial to the US as no less than that to other participants. Leaving trade agreements and increasing taxes and levies on imports into the US will trigger consequences. The United States’ trade counterparts like China, India, Brazil and others will seek retaliation and substitute for imported US goods and services. Yet one can imagine creation of jobs at home by bringing back US companies from China, India, Bangladesh, Cambodia and the likes, where salaries are incomparably lower than in the US, means rising costs at the domestic market and much less competitiveness abroad. Yet large portions of the American consumers perhaps many of who voted for Trump would encounter higher price US-manufactured goods at Walmart stores instead of Chinese-made cheap alternatives they have used to have. Many immigrants do such ‘dirty’ or low-paid jobs in the US many Americans wouldn’t. A white working-class American would feel the impact of his vote when he will have to pay much more to a white American nanny or nurse than the immigrant. Of course, this is not most Trump voters hope for. “History shows it can be hard to fulfill vows that sounded easier to make in front of cheering crowds on the campaign trail”.

One absolutely significant point is that some republicans opposed Trump not because of his statements, but just because they didn’t expect him to win. Even many republicans understood concerns of white Christian Americans but they either didn’t dare or didn’t want to do what Trump did. House Speaker Paul Ryan “repeatedly criticized Trump throughout the campaign, slamming his call to ban Muslims and at one point calling his attacks on a Mexican-American judge the “textbook definition of racism,” only to embrace him in the election’s closing days”. Ryan immediately congratulated Trump on “His Big Night” and also spoke with his running mate Mike Pence”.

“I think Trump has the idea that things move very quickly in his world, but his world is very different than the political world,” said Behrends Foster, a partner at Bluestone Strategies. But Trump is well-aware of that a big deal of his proposed solutions and policies are too unrealistic to be implemented due to a range of reasons. As a star reality showman, he is skilful in dealing and even playing with emotions and sentiments of people using the problems they face. Trump was lucky enough as he led the potential electorate to buying into his unrealistic promises. Trump’s electorate just ignored Clinton’s calling him ‘Putin’s puppet’, serial sexual misconduct accusations by women, and wider anti-Trump because he had already won their hearts. In order to bring his presidency ambition into reality, he made quite controversial statements and magnetic promises to appease angry white Christian working-class Americans with conservative views and mesmerized them into voting for him.

From the moment of Trump’s victory speech, he has started to show signs of retreatment from his previous statements. “He offered unusually warm words for Mrs. Clinton, who he has suggested should be in jail”. It is likely that his tone would increasingly change for more realistic and less emotional. Yet his   first meeting with incumbent president Barack Obama is another sign of such a change in tone. Furthermore, much of his pre-election promises are missing in his plan for first 100 days. But that is not the change his voters expect. They expect him to deliver what he has staunchly and enthusiastically promised. Now it is not clear whether he would be able to deliver. What is clear at this point is that the history has repeatedly demonstrated leaders such as Trump quickly rising in the wave of high popular expectations is likely to end up face to face with frustration of those people in case of failure to deliver. Yet possible conflict of interests between Trump’s business and presidency is and will remain under the spotlight of media and public. Imagining the public frustration to be seen in the light of that conflict, it would just add more fuel to the anger and discontent.

A conclusion is that white Christian Americans feel that their identity and socio- economic wellbeing are threatened by Muslims and immigration. US administrations had scapegoated Muslims and immigration for many problems and failures for many years. Moreover, media and opinion-makers have played a significant role of demonization of Muslims and immigrants. In that context, many Americans view the Washington establishments as too incompetent to address those imminent problems. At this point, Donald Trump stepped in the election campaign 2016 with his anti-establishment agenda to play the identity card. He was courageous enough to be politically incorrect and offer unrealistic and drastic solutions and policies to win hearts and votes of Americans. Ultimately, he mesmerized white Christian Americans into voting for him to become the president of the United States of America. But it is too naïve to expect the Trump presidency to cause a drastic change in the US foreign policy. Trump would struggle between efforts to realize the expectations of his electorate and uniting the much divided America. Yet another challenging task is to do all that without harming vital US interests abroad. Furthermore, once he is in the Oval office, Trump will have access to absolutely confidential reports, which would probably soothe his defiant temperament and anti-establishment rhetoric. Anyway, the Trump presidency would definitely refresh both the foreign policy and the domestic policy. Whether that refreshment would turn out positive or negative is much dependent on Trump’s ability to deliver, which is anyone’s guess.

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New Constitution in Chile: From a protected transition to an agonizing transition

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Image: Juan Manuel Núñez Méndez/ Unsplash

A constituent process has been installed in Chile. On October 25, 2020, the date of plebiscite, the alternative “Apruebo” (78%) by a new political constitution, and the option of “Constitutional Convention” (79%), obtained the majority over the option of “Rejection” (22%) and on the “Joint Constitutional Convention” option (21%), respectively.

This is the current state of things. But let’s go back a little bit about its origins.

In 1988 the Plebiscite took place that said NO to Pinochet, and which then led to the first presidential and parliamentary election, after 17 years of dictatorship. Pinochet accepts this plebiscite in large part, for fear of a popular rebellion, an issue that was akin to protests that would begin to occur moreively and progressively, from 1983 to 1986 in Chile (Délano, 1985; Delgado-Torres et al., 2018; Manzano, 2014, p. 80; Salazar Salvo, 2019) called “awakening” (Moulian, 2002, p. 261)- and for the attack on Pinochet (the so-called “Operation TWENTIETH Century”) on September 7, 1986  (Equipo de prensa CHV, 2015; Holzapfel, 2006; Zalaquett, 2011).

And all this popular uprising occurred, even though the media of the time were trying to produce distortions in the perception of the veracity of the facts. Iconic is, for example, the protest that took place in an act broadcast on television about John Paul II’s visit to Chile, where it is possible to contrast the social reality of the events produced at that time on camera, and the fully ukrainian journalistic narrative (TVN, 2015) With the Plebiscite of 1988, this would put an end to the right-wing military dictatorship or  Pinochetist dictatorship..

The new regime or state of business would arise from a political negotiation (Departamento de prensa, TVN, 2018; Godoy, 1999; Kaltwasser, 2007) an “antisocialpact”» agreed between a sector of politicians who opponent Pinochet, on the one hand, and on the other, Pinochet and the  pro-dictatorship political sectors. Pinochet leaves the political power of the executive, not without first sesuring him, of political-judicial immunity for the future and to his economic and political heritage which, and as such, should continue and be projected over time. Proof of the first, are the negotiations of the concerted government administrations to rescue him from trials in England  (Agencia EFE, 2018; Guzmán, 2001; Huneeus, 2018; Portales, 2018)and the one who was never tried on national soil  (Gárate, 2016) Thus it was said: “We have an unwritten covenant, but morally subscribed by all political forces, not to review the dictatorship”(Baby, 2011) To enable this, from an economic and political model that would have already been installed in dictatorship  (Salazar Vergara & Pinto, 1999)”transition” (a term adopted by Pinochet himself in Chacarillas’ speech in 1977), consisting of a process of administration protected by the continuators, is proposed. In short, Pinochet’s political power would be abandoned, but the political and economic model flanked by the Political Constitution and related laws would not be touched.

Between 1990 and 2000, there is a phase that we could call a protected transition, somewhat in reference to the name that some gave of this period as “protected democracy”  (Huneeus, 1997) Protected by Pinochet and political parties; protecting the model. All the measures taken of a police type in that period, and for the sake of this “protection”, were aimed at disarcting the movements of armed insurgency. Just like the Dictatorship, through the DINA, and its “turn continuator”, the CNI, did so with the self-styled “Revolutionary Left Movement”(MIR), and, in part, with the “Patriotic Front Manuel Rodríguez””  (FPMR),as well as the police during the transitional governments did so with the”Lautaro Youth Movement” or  MAPU Lautaro, and any other focus of insurgency that was thus, asítambién la policía durante los gobierno stransicionales lo hicieron con el “ (Labbé, 2019)

For their part, economic measures were geared towards the maximum economic opening of foreign capital. The Chilean economy was opened to the installation of foreign companies of all kinds in Chile, and Chilean companies with large economic conglomerates. It is the time of the Great Stores that trade with all kinds of goods and services, species of “Walmart”, that allowed a constant flow of purchase and sale of goods, on all those destined for consumption, an issue that led to the consideration of Chile by the authors, as a “paradise of consumption”  (Moulian, 2002) Outside of this, there was a strong export incentive but where only one sector of entrepreneurs (big company) enjoyed the benefits from this activity, of full liberalization of the economy based on an extractive economy where by which transnational corporations made use of domestic labour at low wages compared to the resulting benefits to enterprises, in addition, with serious environmental damage (Espectador, 2019)foreign contractors selling second-hand or obsolescent goods and services at the price of first-hand goods and services and state-of-the-art technology. Example of this, we have the purchase, by the administration of the government of Ricardo Lagos Escobar, of second-hand Spanish trains (Délano, 2008) the railway that united the capital Santiago with Chillán. Responsibilities are assumed for irregularities in the purchase and management of these goods (Sánchez, 2008)of influence by Ricardo Lagos Escobar for the purchase  (Donoso, 2008)workers  (Mostrador, 2011).

A social structure based on the acquisition of material wealth and their social ostentation would also have contributed, an irrepressible need of the popular classes to resemble the most affluent classes, there is an aspirationism  or uprhithism (Ariztía, 2016; Contardo, 2013) As the most affluent classes lived looking at Europe, and then the U.S. as their image to imitate, this eventually irrigated the entire Chilean social structure. There was no “identity” (with all the enose that has been for the postmodernist academy this term). Chile, fertile province for the ideology and practices of remote nations.

Now, on the one hand, was politics based on the logic of political parties, under a system of indirect representation without the possibility of revocation of mandates or citizen trials for poor performance (Salazar, 2011, 2015) On the other hand, the practical attempt to monopolize politics by political parties in Chile and exercise unweighted dominance of it leads us to the phenomenon of the partidarquía (Carrasco Jiménez, 2016, 2020).

The Chilean partidarquía  originated with the first post-Pinochet government, that is, in the government of Patricio Aylwin. The political blocs of Pinochet were clearly recognized, and the  pro-dictator bloc. These blocs would continue more or less dominantly until the first luster of the 21st century, when the student movement of 2001 and pinochet’s death in 2006 occur, turning points of the historical process in Chile.

Adherents to mass, incendiary and revolutionary protest socialism of the 1960s and 1970s began to enjoy the economic “goodness” of the model established by the dictatorship, and ceased to be (if ever really) critical of economic disadvantages. If their model worked for them, then it didn’t matter then the gangsterism, the arrogance, the threats, the corruption of the administration as ways to preserve power in all its manifestations. Instead, they were installed as ways of doing things, all with the aim of extending their prebendas, privileges, and domains. What Pinochet’s partisan bloc already perversely enjoyed, even before it became a bloc and simply being Pinochet’s adherents during its regime, would also begin to taste its perverse fruits the bloc opposing it. Therefore, right or left, it was already the same when it comes to embodying the vices of the political and economic model.

Many exhibited uninhibitedly their corrupt and corrupting practices, exercising nepotism, the trafficking of influences, the undue pressures, participating in street television shows as celebrities, posing as movie or rock stars in banal and gossip-oriented magazines, some showing their pectoral (The Clinic, 2015)others notorious for their romances and confessions (Equipo FMDOS, 2016)an exhibitionist egolatry. It should come as no surprise, then, that the world of the show is interspersed with that of partisan politics  (Sandoval, 2013).  We understood that they were public servants, but figuration, flattery and power made them feel like land gods.  Drunk with ego, they didn’t know what was going on in real Chile, in the one of daily life.

The partidarquía  was also built on political operators who did not belong to the dome, but lived off partisan clientelism. His entire social position, his “benefits”, were secured by the party only by his belonging and devotion. Jobs were secured to people without professional instruction, or who, having it, were and are of paradigmatic mediocrity, along with accumulating, a whole “toolbox” of bad practices: deviations from public resources for personal interests  (Bravo, 2019; Mostrador, 2019); obtaining professional qualifications to projects through bribery, threat and extortion  (Arroyo, 2017; Espinoza Riquelme, 2020; Jara Herrera, 2020); the granting, with public funds, of professional services at a cost to friends and family without merit (Cooperativa.cl, 2017; Kelly, 2020; Pizarro & Sepúlveda, 2017). Thus a working culture was built based on this mediocrity, on the trafficking of influences based on political favor. That is, a corruption of practices, an issue that was permeating every labor organization.

This, in some way, was accompanied by a whole process of deep banalization, a “concertary aesthetic” (Oporto Valencia, 2015, p. 254)kind of “soma” as described by Huxley in Brave New World, anopium that was distributed by the political system prevailing post-pinochetist and  transitional (1990-2000), whose effect produced some malaise of Chilean culture, and the evasion of the population to the social reality resulting from the model. Many “ingested” this drug, this alcohol, as an anesthetic ways of trying to subterranean (or “subterranean”)»rape and its «trauma, non-human rights violation, real and concrete violation of the body, one of the political foundations of Pinochet’s dictatorship, and element of the inherited model. So many others also consumed this “soma” so as not to hear. Pitifully led them to insult those who wanted to restart, with the necessary justice, their lives after the ageing, an issue that the political system threw under the carpet out of fear and cowardice  (Deutsche Welle, 2018; Herceg, 2020) In this way they were “resentful”, there was a boredom to listen to the issue of human rights, and in the most extreme cases, to mention that the unfinished work of the dictatorship lay in not having killed all those who were part of political dissent  (Guzmán, 2001) This type of violence demonstrated, in our view, two things: (1) that the model installed by the dictatorship was more than just a “brick” and a Constitution; it was a structural complex, within which the economic and the political are elements, but that the way to configure them socially and historically, is what defined the model; (2) that the model produced the same effects as in dictatorship, also in “democracy”, so that the people veded, were still veded.

This is how the questions that arose in everyday conversation, on the journey on public transport, in the opinion of the driver, the passengers, the clothesline, a cashier, in the mass chats, began to gather at a mouth where their waters were slowly growing. And the rumour of them did not stop, and it was timed by the stone on which the political parties had founded their building. This was decanting in a distrust of the “political class” and in a “crisis of representation” (Salazar, 2019).

It is not that the current Constitution, in itself, is “the” source of any possible corruption. Rather, the defect would be the type of relationship between the economic structure implemented in Chile and the established political-legal structure, a political-legal structure whose head, ceiling and support is the current Constitution. The result of the interaction and dynamics of both structures in Chile is a set of social and/or practical relationship modes that are distributed particularly throughout the social body. It would have to be the current social “celeste” in Chilean society, that is, “what are you willing to do to achieve the social objectives that the political-economic framework allows you”,thatis, cost. And optimization would indicate, in a society like ours, that media matters more than ends. Therefore,  political or class favor, which is but the “sale ofthe soul to the devil”, venta del alma al diablo implies a means of obtaining social position, riches, recognition. But if these are conceived only individual means for purposes other than just individual ones, the way of social relations, perhaps they could change. This lacks, in my view, the current social model. Individualism of this kind only generates unsportsman proof competition: a heavenly desire, whatever the way it cost it.

All these critical points are sharpened by bordering a phase that we will call agonizing transition. The transition is beginning to dilute, because the political and economic model that was intended to be founded would have already progressed in its maturation sufficiently. The transition was simply the “snake egg” that enabled the process of “maturation”  (Oporto Valencia, 2015) of a political and economic model that began to peck, the space for its culmination. And this was possible to perceive, because social problems became more acute and critical, and as a result, the social bubbling of this culmination begins to burst on the surface producing an ever-increasing social cracking. In other words, the more consolidation of the model, the greater the social cracking, and as a result, the student protests that were to come begin to take place.

Bibliographic references

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Godoy, Ó. (1999). La transición chilena a la democracia: Pactada. Estudios Públicos, 74, 79-106. https://www.cepchile.cl/cep/estudios-publicos/n-61-a-la-90/estudios-publicos-n-74/la-transicion-chilena-a-la-democracia-pactada

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Implications of the U.S. election on U.S.-China relations

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Photo by Adam Schultz / Biden for President

The last four years have been one of the most tumultuous periods in modern China-U.S. relations. U.S. President Donald Trump has been the critical catalyst of this upheaval as he has oscillated between presenting China as a valued partner in international affairs, to it being a pariah that needs to be ever more constrained.

Such fluctuations have mounted in intensity as the Trump presidency has progressed.  They have left observers uncertain as to whether or not this is a purposeful strategy of the leader of the world’s most powerful country, or an indication of an untethered, badly conceived, and even short-sighted policy.

Such a wild approach has been no clearer than in their economic relationship.  Here, the U.S. has strived to re-balance its trade relations with China, in particular, to reduce Beijing’s long-standing trade surplus with Washington.  The surplus has been argued by U.S. elites to have led to an unequal relationship, which a rising China exploits to challenge the U.S.’s economic supremacy.  This divide has increasingly taken on a symbolic quality with it becoming representative of a rising China that is soon to surmount the U.S. in global affairs, and which U.S. elites now regard as the most pressing strategic threat to its global position.

In an attempt to pressure China into some kind of re-alignment, the U.S. President initiated a trade war in 2018 and ratcheted up tariffs on Chinese imports to the American market.  By early 2020, these amounted to over $400 billion in tariffs, with China imposing its own retaliatory tariffs of $138 billion on its U.S. imports.  Such steps have taken place amidst ongoing trade talks between the two sides and have been viewed as a negotiating tactic that has ultimately been detrimental to both countries’ economies.  In late 2020, the WTO said that U.S. tariffs violated international trade rules, undercutting their legitimacy, as well as the U.S. claims that China is undermining the U.S.-led “rules-based” international order.

Elsewhere, the two sides have also come into friction concerning China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, with the U.S. carrying out regular freedom of navigation operations in the area.  The U.S. now also sends warships and military aircraft through the Taiwan Straits on a monthly basis (something innovated under President Trump), so as to deter China’s historical claims on the island.  In turn, Washington has urged its allies – Australia, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom – to act similarly, which has raised concerns in China of the country being strategically constrained in the region.  Such a constraint could prevent Beijing from pursuing its foreign policy goal of claiming hegemony in East Asia.

Concerning the coronavirus pandemic, narratives emanating from the U.S. along with its Western allies have targeted China as being culpable for the outbreak.  In a recent speech at the United Nations, President Trump openly claimed that China had knowingly unleased the Covid-19 “plague” on the world, which prompted a terse response from Beijing’s officials that it is a cooperative, not a confrontational country that firmly has “no intention to fight either a cold war or a hot one with any country”.

Such criticism has been increasingly mainstreamed in the last few months in the West with it acting as a stimulus for discussions on how to deal with China’s rise. More critically, an October 2020 Pew survey showed that unfavorable opinions about China were at their highest ever level across the populations of Western Europe, the U.S., Canada, Australia, and South Korea.  

All of these aspects of U.S.-China relations will present particular challenges regardless of the outcome of the U.S. election, in particular concerning growing global concerns over China’s international ambitions.  In this regard, Beijing will certainly need to redouble its diplomatic efforts to present the country as a responsible and benign international actor, through which others can benefit – in primarily – economic terms.  That, by most accounts, China has the coronavirus largely under control means that it has been able to restart its economic activity, which gives Beijing the ability to kickstart and lead an international recovery.  That most Western countries are still overwhelmed by the pandemic reinforces this capability and gives China the further chance to gain greater leverage and influence.

It also appears that it is now the U.S. that faces the greatest challenges to its international legitimacy, the consequences of which may have profound implications for its own global standing.  This relates to the U.S. president’s handling of the pandemic, which has to date led to its world-leading status of 210,000 deaths (which is set to double by the end of the year) and over 7.5 million infections.  That the U.S. president himself has now become infected points to a leader but also a wider political system around him (including senior military leaders, senators, and most of his election campaign staff) that had a nonchalant, underprepared and irresponsible attitude to the major global health challenge of our time.  

President Trump’s infection also marks a major national security threat for the U.S. and the world.  Given his age, obesity, and unhealthy diet, it is feasible that the leader of the world’s most powerful country may become incapacitated from leading the U.S. in the next weeks.  Crucially here, it has been widely reported that Trump will be unwilling to accept any negative outcome in the forthcoming election.  Apart from suggesting that he would not leave office, he may try to rally supporters – potentially even violently – to protect his position.  Crucially here, some of the medication he is taking to help him recover from Covid-19 has the potential to debilitate his mental capacities and overall judgment.  This could impact his ability to recognize when he is incapable of leadership, but also spark irrational tweets and behavior that may destabilize the U.S. and even the world. 

If the U.S. president were to die – either during or in the months after the election – in all likelihood the country would be thrown into a truly unprecedented constitutional crisis.  With widely circulated claims among Republicans and Trump supporters that the election is rigged, if the Democrats were to win, we can expect lengthy legal battles, as well as a heightened potential for major civil unrest across the U.S. Either of these outcomes, would consume the U.S.’s domestic and international capabilities to act beyond its borders.  They would also signal a sense of the U.S. political system (and democracy) as being illegitimate.

Such crises will only be to Beijing’s advantage (among other U.S. competitors), especially given that China is in many ways returning – if not returned to – its pre-coronavirus economic activity.  If U.S.-China relations do signify a contest for supremacy between the world’s two foremost countries, Washington’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact upon the U.S. presidential election could very well indicate the U.S.’s decline on the international stage, and essentially speed up China’s path to global pre-eminence.  

From our partner Tehran Times

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The Battle for the Essence of the Democratic Party

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When President Trump fired defense secretary Mark Esper and cybersecurity chief Christopher Krebs just days after the elections, the President set a new integrity litmus test. He was clearly cleaning his circle of those who could stand up to him on the big stuff, such as not sending troops on the Black Lives Matters protesters or not pronouncing the elections rigged. In the meantime, Trump was showing the American public who he still considered loyal by not firing them by keeping the agency chiefs who stayed at least somewhere in the middle. 

In the new Biden era, being fired by Trump will be considered the new badge of honor, an integrity stamp of a sort. Despite talk of firing FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel, Trump has not taken the decision, yet, and there surely must be a reason for it. To paraphrase Trump’s infamous McCain quote, I like those who were fired by Trump, not those who were not fired by Trump. This is now the new integrity litmus test. 

In May 2020, I was amidst my campaign for UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech as one of the top finalists, when in an interview on Bulgaria on Air I called the Trump Administration’s and the US authorities’ treatment of the media and the protestors during the Black Lives Matter crackdown “despicable”. I was set on going after the Trump Administration and the US authorities if I had the chance to win the UN mandate on freedom of speech. And I had no plans for going easy on anyone. 

There is something profoundly wrong with the US authorities, if instead of going after the crimes, they willingly choose to go after those that have a reaction against the crimes, outraged by crime impunity.

US agencies who “just don’t get it” have to be defunded. And that brings us exactly to the discussion on the future of the heart, soul and essence of the Democratic Party. 

The Democratic party has never been about appealing to the middle in order to be liked or about maintaining some kind of lowest common denominator to make sure that no one got offended. The Party has always been about equality and social justice, housing some of the most bad-ass status-quo shakers — not those that wanted to make sure that rich abusers stayed comfortable, racists were not inconvinienced, or abuse of military power for some illusive common good that served only those in power went unchecked. This is the party that offends and has offended throughout the decades to shake the status quo. This is why it is shameful that veterans in the Democratic Party have tried to shame Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others who have run and won their mandates on classical Democratic Party values. 

Civil rights movement defenders in the black marches never said: “let’s have a march but let’s do it only on the pavement not to inconvinience cars”. They took the whole street. 

When I worked for Congressman Bill Delahunt, the Chairman of the House Sub-committee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight, representing 10th congressional district of Massachusetts, some 14 years ago, we did not say that torture by the CIA and the CIA extrajudicial rendition flights were okay but not too much, in order to appeal to the center. We would say that torture is unacceptable, that America can do better than that.

Social justice and equality are uncomfortable. Rights are defended and guarded. They are never simply given. As an example from the other side of the aisle, when Republican President Eisenhower sent the troops on Little Rock to enforce black kids’ right to attend school just like any other kid — what Brown vs Board of Education reaffirmed in order to end racial segregation exactly 30 years before the day I was born — Eisenhower did not aim for troops to only show up and waive at the crowds. The soldiers took the black kids by the hand and walked them straight in the school, in the face of hundreds of racist opponents — not trying to please them.

Defending rights takes grit and courage. And some US agencies will never really get it unless their budgets are cut and they are all actually pressed up against the wall — to change unwillingly, forcably and through the trivial but always effective use of financial pressure.

FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich’s reaction to the Black Lives Matters protests at the time when I was running for UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech this year was that it is the protesters that should be arrested under an outdated rackateering law from the 1940s — not the murdering cops. A memo leaked to the New York Times showed that Mr Bowdich considered the social justice movement “a national crisis” comparable to 9/11. The hundreds of thousands of people mourning and marching across the country, unified by the simple thought that no life should be taken lighly, for nothing, were actually similar to terrorists in the eyes of the FBI who wanted to charge them as racketeers.

It is that kind of injustices and human rights infringements that I would have stood up against as UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech, as witnessed by the outrage and intentions, expressed in my May media appearances. I claimed back then that it is precisely in times of crises that rights are tested and defended. The United States is no exception. The US government is bound by international human rights law standards and no interpretation by second-rate lawyers loyal to the Trump Administration, comparing social justice protesters to racketeers and terrorists, can change that. International voices such as myself and others are here to make sure that US authorities do not forget their international human rights legal obligations.

America has a long way to go to recover from the damage that Trump and his cronies spread across the various US agencies have done to democratic principles and human rights. The Trump institutional capture of key agencies such as the FBI and the CIA, let alone DOJ, has lead the country into a downward spiral.

US authorities will not learn unless their actual day-to-day, functional survival is put on the line. People do not get it otherwise. This is why I fully support AOC and others in their defunding efforts, which are considered by many as controversial, extreme, out there and even dangerous, but in reality are simply the only effective way to fight institutionalized racism within the FBI, the police and other law enforcement agencies. “There is nothing radical about moral clarity”, to repeat AOC’s simple, yet powerful assertion. The comfortable, lowest common denominator parts of the Democratic Party need to wake up and realize that it is the Black Lives movement that got Joe Biden and the rest of the party across the finish line in November. And this precisely will be at the heart of the battle for the essence of the Democratic Party over the next four years.

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