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The Caligula Presidency

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”-From A Tale of Two Cities. “May you live in interesting times”-Chinese curse

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] L [/yt_dropcap] ately, in Modern Diplomacy, and elsewhere in the publishing on-line world, we have had a spate of articles on the up-coming Trump Presidency and how it will transform the next four (or perhaps eight) years “interesting times.” I wonder if people writing these pieces, either singing the praises of, or berating the upcoming Presidency of Donald Trump, are cognizant of the fact that “to live in interesting times” is considered a curse by the Chinese, perhaps even by the Russians.

Be that as it may, I’d like to suggest that perhaps a quote from one of Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities may prove more appropriate: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

To understand such a subtle quip, we need to go back in time to another presidency some fifty years ago and another reign some 2000 years ago. I am referring to Kennedy’s presidency and Caligula’s reign. Those two regimes lasted only a few years, but Dickens’ quip seems to apply to both and it may well turn out to apply to Trump’s presidency too. Let’s see.

We need to go back to April 1961, when over fourteen hundred members of the Cuban Expeditionary Forces landed at the Bay of Pigs, in Cuba. Their mission was to overthrow the communist regime of Cuban President Fidel Castro. The mission was a failure. Almost immediately it became known that the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) trained the so called “freedom fighters.” John F. Kennedy had approved the mission.

President Kennedy soon after the failure spoke at a meeting of the American Association of Newspaper Editors and assumed all responsibility and blame. But soon after his staff began leaking information to reporters, blaming the failure on anyone except the administration. President Kennedy was quoted as saying, “How could I have been so stupid?” to trust the groups who were advising him, such as the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). Even more damning to the CIA was a reputed quote by President Kennedy that he wanted to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds.”

Two and a half years after Kennedy supposedly uttered these words, he was assassinated along a motorcade route in Dallas, Texas. The official government story is that a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, killed Kennedy. A rather popular conspiracy theory, on the other hand, claims that because Kennedy was planning on dismantling the intelligence infrastructure, the CIA had Kennedy killed, and then later covered up the assassination plot. Now, it is not inconceivable that splintering the CIA into a thousand pieces might cause some in the CIA to wonder whether Kennedy was good for the CIA in particular and the entire country in general. And so the conspiracy theory remains alive.

Perceiving the President as a security threat would rationalize an assassination in Machiavellian “real politik” geo-political terms. Let us keep in mind that in our turbulent sad times of when the end seems to justify any means and any agenda, assassinations (as well as assassination of the truth via propaganda) may be part of those means to be employed to gain and retain power. That’s what Machiavelli’s Prince is all about. This is apparent in any authoritarian government around the world, including those who deny that they use those nefarious means. Let’s not be naïve; just look around.

But to go back to Kennedy, given Kennedy’s affinity for covert operations, the next question is whether Kennedy’s attitudes towards intelligence changed after the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Was Kennedy’s confidence in the CIA undermined? It is historically true that, because of his feeling that he needed a better way of gaining intelligence, Kennedy instigated a review of the intelligence system. It is also true that President Kennedy, and his brother Attorney General Robert Kennedy had a habit of not working through the proper channels when it came to communicating with the CIA, and they did not take “I do not know” for an answer. In any case, after his review of the intelligence community, the President began to rely more closely than before on his National Security Advisor to provide him with information. This resulted in more accurate information and arguably helped prevent further fiascoes like the Bay of Pigs.

History may eventually render a final verdict on this popular conspiracy theory on the CIA’s role in Kennedy’s assassination. For the moment we have the official verdict of the government’s investigation. What concerns us here is the comparison with the present situation. To be sure, there are some parallels. Let’s analyze them.

President-elect Trump has been served with intelligence classified reports (which included the CIA intelligence agency) on Russia’s hacking and active interference in the US presidential elections. Mr. Trump has refused, so far, to acknowledge what the report claims, and talks about a fat man in New Jersey sitting on his couch and hacking away at his heart’s content; which of course sounds slightly deranged and more like a rationalization.

Moreover, the intelligence community has furnished Trump with some information which has been circulating for some time now. The information reveals some salacious news generated during his trip to Moscow in 2013 where allegedly Trump was compromised. Here again Trump and all his campaign staff have vehemently pushed back claiming on those rumors claiming that they are pure gossip and slander and the CIA should not have made them public. Actually it was not the CIA who made them public but CNN. Here the denial that followed the allegations of groping by a bunch of women a few months ago, jump to mind.

To place the above in a better context we now need to go back 2000 years when Emperor Caligula ruled the Roman Empire. Some scholars have called his five year rule the beginning of the end for the Empire. Why is that? Well, consider this: he was a man that on a personal psychological level, since his youth displayed psychopathic, extremely narcissistic, paranoid, dictatorial tendencies with a streak of vengefulness and sadism. He seemed to enjoy to disrespect and insult people, to see them hurt and humiliated, especially those who disagreed with him or opposed him in any way. In today’s parlance we would say that he had a thin skin and a fat ego. For example, he would invite a Senator and his wife to dinner; during the event he would invite the wife of the senator to follow him to his bedroom, have sex with her, and then return her to her humiliated husband sitting at the table. In modern Italian parlance he had in effect made a “cornuto” of the senator, a fellow senator of his horse.

He named his horse a senator to serve notice that he would tolerate no opposition from any body, not even from an august political democratic body such as the Senate. In fact, he had contempt for the traditional values of Rome. He took the Roman army to Normandy, supposedly to invade Britain, and had his generals dismount from their horses and collect shells on the beach for his shell collection. One can blame all this to the excesses of absolute power but here was something different, deranged, practically psychotic. He would tell his Praetorian guards to kneel before him not so much because he was emperor, but because he was an immortal god. He insulted and blamed them of incompetence on a daily basis. One was called a girl by him for having a soft voice.

He loved spectacles and games in the Coliseum dressed in extravagant clothes and rode around Rome showing off in a chariot of six horses. He did all those things all the more when he realized that he had become the toast of the people who enjoyed seeing the elites of Rome humiliated. That’s what an emperor should do. He, a member of the aristocracy, had managed to transform himself into a populist. The Republic was fast becoming an autocracy; something rather familiar in modern times. Think of Russia, for example. If all this is sounding familiar, it is because it is. All one has to do is transfer the six horse chariot to the Trump private plane and think of Putin, Trump’s friend, as the richest man in Russia.

We know how the story of Caligula ends: as he was walking out of the Coliseum, his own praetorian guards, those who had been called girls, incompetent and stupid, killed him. In effect they decided to prove their incompetence and the fact that he, Caligula, was just another mortal man. And of course, it was all justified as necessary for the security of the empire which could not be left in the hands of a madman.

But there is another lesson, a moral of sorts, to be derived from those three stories and it is this: it is not very wise to insult and treat with contempt the very people in charge of security, that of the state or one’s own personal security, those who are sworn to come to your defense. If one calls them incompetent, they will prove their incompetence and leave you defenseless to suddenly find out that all men are mortal and that as Socrates put it: “the issue is not whether we live or die, but whether corruption, which is faster than death, catched up with us, because once she has caught up, she may not relent her grasp.”

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Americas

In Praise of the Lioness of Law: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her Jurisprudence

Punsara Amarasinghe

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image credit: Wikipedia

The death of the US Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg has created an abyss in the court for the liberal voice where justice Ginsburg was seen as the linchpin of the liberal block of the Supreme Court at a time when that block was shrinking. Especially late judge had vociferously advocated for women ‘rights, environmental issues and often came up with unique dissents in delivering her judgements which were propelled by her jurisprudence which embodied the solemn ideal in American legal system “Equal Protection under the Law “. She was on a quest to defend the delicate balance between honoring the timelessness of American Constitution and recognizing the depth of its enduring principles in new centuries and under new circumstances.

She grew up in an era where men held the helm in every aspect of social life and especially the legal profession was utterly dominated by men. Recalling her legal studies at Harvard law school in the 50’s judge Ginsburg had stated later how she was once asked by the Dean of Harvard law school to justify her position as a law student that otherwise would have gone to a man. Yet she had the spunk to overcome all the obstacles stood on her way and excelled as a scholar becoming the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.

In tracing her legal career that it becomes a salient fact, Judge Ginsburg marked her name in American legal history even decades before she joined the bench. While at the American Civil Liberties Union in the early seventies she made an upheaval in American in legal system in famous Supreme Court Case Reed Vs Reed. In Reed Vs Reed the brief drafted by Ginsburg provided an astute analysis on the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause. Ginsburg’s brief changed the aged long practice existed in the State of Idaho on favoring men over women in estate battles by paving the path for a discourse on gender equality rights in the USA.

Judge Ginsburg’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 1994 during Clinton administration marked the dawn of new jurisprudential chapter in the US Supreme Court. Two terms later, in the United States v. Virginia (VMI), Justice Ginsburg applied her lucid perspective to a sharply disputed constitutional claim. The United States challenged Virginia’s practice of admitting only men to its prestigious military college, the Virginia Military Institute. Writing for six Justices, Ginsburg held this policy unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. In reaching this result, Ginsburg adroitly cut away potentially confounding issues about women’s participation in the military or the advantages of single-sex education.

Her robust activism in securing gender equality often attracted the admirations of the feminist scholars and activists, but it should be noted that her contribution was not only confined to the protection of gender equality. She was a robust critique of racial dissemination which still pervades in American society and she frequently pointed out how racial discrimination has marred the constitutional protections guaranteed to every citizen. Especially in the case of Gratz Vs Bollitnger, she stressed on the commitment that the state ought to fulfil by eliminating the racial biases existing employment and education. Moreover, disabled citizens. In Olmstead v. Zimring, she held that “unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination” violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.45 She elaborated a two-fold concept of discrimination, noting that unneeded institutionalization both “perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life”.

In remembering the mortal departure of this prudent judge that one cannot forget her keenness in incorporating international law into her judgements regardless of the disinclination shown by conservative judges like Antony Scalia. Going beyond the mere textualism approach to the law, Ginsburg’s jurisprudence was much more akin to using international law to make substantive decisions. For instance, in her concurring verdict in Grutter Vs Bollinger, Justice Ginsburg relied upon international human rights law, and in particular upon two United Nations conventions, to support her conclusions.

Indeed, the demise of Ruth Ginsburg is a major blow for the liberalists in the USA, especially in an era where liberalist values are at stake under the fervent rise of populist waves propounded by Donald Trump. Especially late judge had been one of the harsh critics of Trump even before ascendency to the Oval office. The void created by the demise of judge Ginsburg might change the role the US Supreme Court if the successor to her position would take a more conservative approach and it will fortify the conservative bloc in the US Supreme Court. Trump has already placed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and the third pick would more deeply entrench the conservative views in the US Supreme Court, which would inevitably undermine the progressive policies taken during Obama’s administration towards issues such as the environment. The political storm appeared after the death of the late judge has already created a tense situation in US politics as president Trump is determined to appoint a judge to fill before the presidential election in November.

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The Politics of (In)security in Mexico: Between Narcissism and Political Failure

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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Image credit: Wikimedia

Security cannot be that easily separated from the political realm. The need for security is the prime reason why people come together to collectively form a state. Providing security is, therefore, one of the most basic functions of the state as a political and collective entity.

Last Friday, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) laughed during his daily morning press briefings over a national newspaper headline about 45 massacres during his presidency. This attitude summarises in a macabre way his approach to insecurity: it is not his top priority. This is not the first time that AMLO has showed some serious and deeply disturbing lack of empathy for victims of crimes. Before taking office, he knew that insecurity was one of Mexico’s biggest challenges, and he has come to realise that curbing it down will not be as simple as he predicted during his presidential campaign.

Since the start of the War on Drugs in 2006, Mexico has sunk into a deep and ever-growing spiral of violence and vigilantism as a result of the erosion of the capacity of the state to provide safety to citizens. Vigilantism is when citizens decide to take the law into their own hands in order to fill the vacuum left by the state, or to pursue their own very particular interests. Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, Tabasco, Tamaulipas and Veracruz have over 50 vigilante organisations that pose substantial danger to the power of the state.

Vigilantism is not the only factor exacerbating the security crisis in Mexico: since 2006, young people have also started to join drug cartels and other criminal organisations. There are important sectors of the population who feel that the state has failed to represent them. They also feel betrayed because the state has not been able to provide them with the necessary means to better themselves. These frustrations make them vulnerable to the indoctrination of organised crime gangs who promise to give them some sort of ideological direction and solution to their problems.

As a result, it is not enough to carry out a kingpin arrest strategy and to preach on the moral duties we have as citizens as well as on human dignity. People need to be given enough means to find alternative livelihoods that are attractive enough to take them out of organised crime, Mexico can draw some important lessons from Sierra Leone who successfully demobilised and resettled ex-combatants after the armed conflict. Vigilantism, recruitment by organised crime, and insecurity have also flourished because of a lack of deterrence. The judicial system is weak and highly ineffective. A large proportion of the population does not trust the police, or the institutions in charge of the rule of law.

A long-term strategy requires linking security with politics. It needs to address not only the consequences but also the roots of unemployment and deep inequality. However, doing so requires decisive actions to root out widespread and vicious corruption. Corruption allows concentration of wealth and also prevents people from being held accountable. This perpetuates the circle of insecurity. Mexico has been slowly moving towards a borderline failed state. The current government is starting to lose legitimacy and the fragility of the state is further perpetuated by the undemocratic, and predatory governance of the current administration.

Creating a safer Mexico requires a strong, coherent, and stable leadership, AMLO’s administration is far from it. His popularity has consistently fallen as a result of his ineffective policies to tackle the pandemic, worsening insecurity, and the economic crisis. Mexico has reached over 72,000 Covid-19 deaths; during his initial 20 months as incumbent president, there has been 53,628 murders, among them 1800 children or teenagers, and 5888 women (11 women killed per day) This criminality rate is double than what it was during the same period in the presidency of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012); and 55% higher than with the last president, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). Mexico is also experiencing its worst economic recession in 90 years.

Insecurity remains as the issue of most concern among Mexicans, seeing the president laughing about it, can only fill citizens with yet more despair and lack of trusts in the government and its institutions. AMLO’s catastrophic performance is not surprising, though. Much of his failures and shortcomings can be explained by both ideology and a narcissistic personality. Having someone with both of those traits ruling a country under normal, peaceful times is already dangerous enough, add an economic crisis and a pandemic to the mix and the result is utter chaos.

AMLO embodies the prototypical narcissist: he has a grandiose self-image; an inflated ego; a constant need for admiration; and intolerance to criticism. He, like many other narcissists, thinks about himself too much and too often, making him incapable of considering the wellbeing of other and unable to pursue the public interest. He has a scapegoat ready to blame for his failures and mistakes: previous administrations, conservatives, neoliberalism, academics, writers, intellectuals, reporters, scientists, you name it, the list is long and keeps getting longer.

AMLO keeps contradicting himself and he does not realise it. He has been claiming for months that the pandemic is under control: it is not. He declares Mexico is ready to face the pandemic and we have enough tests and medical equipment: we do not. He says Mexico is on its way to economic recovery: it is not. He states corruption is a thing of the past: it is not. He says Mexico is now safer than ever before: it is not. When told the opposite he shrugs criticism off and laughs, the behaviour of a typical narcissist.

AMLO, alike narcissists, due to his inability to face criticism, has never cared about surrounding himself by the best and brightest. He chose a bunch of flunkies as members of his cabinet who try to please and not humiliate their leader. A further trait of narcissistic personalities is that they love conflict and division as this keeps them under control. The more destabilisation and antagonism, the better. AMLO since the start of his presidency has been setting states against states for resources and for pandemic responses, instead of coordinating a national response. He is also vindictive: playing favourites with those governors who follow him and punishing those that oppose him.

Deep down, narcissistic leaders are weak. AMLO is genuinely afraid to lead. He simply cannot bring himself to make decisions that are solely his. This is why he has relied on public referendums and consultations to cancel projects or advance legislation. He will not take any responsibility if something goes wrong: It was not him who decided, it was the people, blame them. He inherited a broken system that cannot be fixed during his term, blame the previous administrations, not him.

AMLO is a prime example of a textbook narcissist, unfortunately he is not the only one: Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Recep Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte are only a few more examples of what seems to be a normalised behaviour in contemporary politics. Every aspect of AMLO’s and other leaders presidencies have been heavily marked by their psychopathology. Narcissism, however, does not allow proper and realistic self-assessment, self-criticism, and self-appreciation therefore such leaders will simply ignore the red flags in their administration and have no clue how despicably and disgracefully they will be remembered.

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Minor Successes And The Coronavirus Disaster: Is Trump A Dead Duck?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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That reminder from the Bible, ‘He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone’ may give us pause — but not journalists who by all appearances assume exemption.  And the stones certainly bruise.

Evidence for the bruises lies in the latest poll numbers.  Overall, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 50 to 43 percent, a margin that has continued to increase since January.  It is also considerably wider than the few points lead Hillary Clinton had over Trump four years ago.  It gets worse for Trump. 

In the industrial states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump in 2016 won by razor thin margins, he is losing by over 4 percent.  Also key to his victory was Wisconsin where, despite his success in getting dairy products into Canada, he is behind by a substantial 7 percent.  Key states Ohio and Florida are also going for the Democrats.

Trump was not doing so badly until the coronavirus struck and during the course of his news conferences he displayed an uncaring persona larded with incompetence.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the man he fired for correcting Trumpian exaggerations became a hero and Trump the bully.

If that bullying nature won him small rewards with allies, he hit an impasse with China and Iran … while bringing the two closer to each other.  Then there is the border wall, a sore point for our southern neighbor Mexico.  President Lopez Obrador made sure the subject never came up at the July meeting with Trump,   Thus Mexico is not paying for it so far and will not be in the foreseeable future.

The United Arab Emirates, a conglomeration of what used to be the Trucial States under British hegemony. have agreed to formalize its already fairly close relations with Israel.  In return, Israel has postponed plans to annex the West Bank.  Whether or not it is in Israel’s long term interest to do so is a debatable question because it provides much more powerful ammunition to its critics who already accuse it of becoming an apartheid regime.  However, it had become Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sop to the right wing who will have to wait.  Of course, the reality is that Israel is already the de facto ruler.

If Mr. Trump was crowing about the agreement signed on September 15, although it is akin to someone signing an agreement with Puerto Rico while the United States remains aloof.  As a postscript, the little island of Bahrain also signed a peace deal with Israel.  Bahrain has had its own problems in that a Sunni sheikh rules a Shia populace.  When the Shia had had enough, Saudi and UAE troops were used to end the rebellion.  Bahrain is thus indebted to the UAE.

How many among voters will know the real value of these historic (according to Trump) deals particularly when he starts twittering his accomplishments as the election nears?

There things stand.  As they say, there is nothing worse than peaking too early.  Bettors are still favoring Trump with their money.  The longer anyone has been in politics the more there is to mine, and for an opponent to use to his/her advantage.  Time it seems is on Trump’s side.  

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