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Poetry and Rancor: Donald Trump, America and the “Hollow Men”

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“We are the hollow men, We are the stuffed men”-T S Eliot, The Hollow Men  (1925)

Donald Trump did not emerge ex nihilo, from nothing. He was the predictable outgrowth of a society that generally loathes any serious thought. When Mr. Trump noted proudly during his 2016 campaign that “I love the poorly educated,” it was by no means an off-the-cuff or seat-of-the pants observation.

It was offered as a politically convenient affirmation of alleged kinship, a deliberate strategy nurturing his bond with a specific portion of the American electorate.

This targeted portion could have been called “hollow men” by poet T S Eliot. Currently, to be sure, this meaning must be taken to include both genders. In this regard, the president’s revealed sentiments were entirely “evenhanded.”

However regrettable and worrisome for other reasons, they were not intended as sexist.

What were these “other reasons?” To answer, we must first inquire: Where does Donald Trump’s conspicuous loathing of intellect and learning have its contemporary historical roots?  Significantly, this is not really a difficult question.

“Intellect rots the mind,” warned Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels at the Nuremberg rallies in 1935. This plausible historical resemblance or commonality need not suggest that the Trump administration is in any way genocidal, only that both regimes drew their “primal” nurturance from the poisonous font of a know-nothing populism.

Even in anti-intellectual America, the poet occupies a proper place. Sometimes,  he or she is all-seeing, even as a prophetic antecedent of what still lies ahead.  “This is the dead land…” laments T.S. Eliot, speaking of no one geographic place in particular.  Rather, he observes, in a presumptively generic “cactus land,” false images of wood and stone are raised by “hollow men” as suitable objects for veneration.

Just as in present-day Trump-era United States, compliant inhabitants will insistently welcome “the supplication of a dead man’s hand.”

By definition, of course, it is a profoundly self-destructive welcoming.

Today, still more precisely, such lethal surrenders are witnessed most often at Trump “rallies,” literally incoherent gatherings of the president’s faithful, replete with screams and ritualistic phrases chanted in loud and atavistic chorus.

For the United States, at least in principle, there still exist more promising supplications. But any such foreseeable entreaties would first require a society that can take itself seriously, not one that has wittingly exchanged banal observations and empty chatter for intellect and learning. Under no circumstances – absolutely none – could these sensible pleas be spawned by a society of “hollow men” or “hollow women.”

Never.

Now, actually meeting the requirements of a tangibly thoughtful and reasoning society is little more than a vague hope.Nonetheless, a simple though dignified model for improvement does remain available. To wit, before the poet Eliot’s revealing metaphors, Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson called upon his fellow Americans to embrace “plain living and high thinking.” Today, especially, it is evident that his sensible nineteenth-century plaint for enhanced equilibrium  (personal and social) went unheeded.

Widely unheeded.

No truth-based observation could ever be more obvious.

Now, in the glaringly rancorous “Trump Era,” there is no longer any plausible pretense concerning  mind or integrity. Today, both intellect and dignity are out of political fashion, strikingly out of fashion. At least in the most cantankerous public realms, truth is no longer regarded as meaningfully worthwhile or advantageous. For this president, who seemingly learned a great deal from de facto mentor Joseph Goebbels, it is plainly a liability.

A grievous liability.

Though not generally understood, looking behind the news is everyone’s first obligation of citizenship. Only here, in what is not immediately obvious, may we yet discover certain immutably core truths of American life. After all, even the tiniest hint of science or “high thinking” is treated by US President Donald Trump as an affront, as an epithet, as an unseemly sign of independent thinking.

Could anything else be more fittingly subject to mass-based spasms of public loathing, of duly “patriotic” American hatreds?

This corrosive subordination of intellect was by no means an original “contribution” of  Donald Trump  (American society has never been an example of obeisance to learning or enlightened considerations of “mind”),  but it remains a defiling signature of this rapidly dissembling American presidency.

 For sensible and still-thinking Americans, there should be little residual ambiguity about what is unraveling. Beyond any reasonable doubt, this country now backs further and further away from any merit-based  standards of policy assessment. Locked fixedly into a regressive trajectory of political and cultural decline, America’s cumulative ambitions are continuously being reduced to narrowly shallow credos and correspondingly empty witticisms.

“I love the poorly educated” said candidate Trump back in 2016.

Pertinent policy examples abound. It hardly comes as a surprise that virtually all Americans are already victims of this president’s  vaunted “trade wars.” Ironically, the principal long-term beneficiaries of  this Trump-induced incoherence will be Russia and China. The only derivative question should be this: Why is such plainly injurious presidential irrationality still acceptable to millions of rhythmically chanting citizens?

What can they possibly be thinking?

Always, science must begin with tangible questions.  These core questions cannot be overlooked or ignored.  Americans, it follows, must much more sincerely inquire: “How can a US president so willfully ignore and accept his Russian counterpart as his puppet master?” Even in the wholesale absence of “high thinking” within the Trump White House, it should be unambiguous that one superpower president has become the all-too-witting marionette of the other.

At what point do Americans candidly acknowledge that in any measured comparisons with geopolitical reality, the current US presidency is effectively The Manchurian Candidate on steroids?

There are still more serious questions. As a nation, when shall we finally agree to bear truthful witness on Constitutional governance?[1] Can there be any doubt that there is much more to these founding principles than the Second Amendment?  Surely this country must ultimately be about much more than just the right to bear arms.

Is it not already obvious, patently, that what we now witness from moment to moment represents a more perilous American declension than even the most sensationalized fictional catastrophes?

Cultural context remains vital, even determinative. Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency did not arise ex nihilo, in a vacuum. What exactly has gone wrong with American  “high thinking?” How, more precisely, have we managed to allow a once-still-promising and steadily-rising nation to slide uncontrollably toward collective national misfortune?  

In the inherently unsteady nuclear age, such misfortune could sometime include irreversibly catastrophic human wars.  With such dreaded inclusion, we the people might even need to witness a wholly unprecedented fusion. This would be an explosive alloy of banality and apocalypse.

It’s not a pleasing fusion.

Before answering such queries – and properly serious replies must take special account of expanding nuclear proliferation – the genre we select must be exquisitely precise.  In this connection, whenever we speak of Donald Trump we dare not speak of authentic “tragedy.” “True” tragedy, unlike common buffoonery or self-induced misfortune, is ennobling.  Always.

From Aristotle to Shakespeare, true tragedy has demanded a victim, whether individual or societal, one who suffers undeservedly.

This demand has not been met today.

In this dreary and profane play directed by President Donald Trump, we Americans are not properly tragic figures. Surely we are not just the passive victims of a disjointed and contrived presidency effectively forced upon us in 2016. As long as we refuse to speak out at less  delicate levels of truth-telling – and this refusal means much more than just showing up to vote in 2020 – we will  deserve our consequent losses.

Richly deserve them.

In the nuclear age, it now bears repeating, such losses could be irremediable.

Even immediately, they would likely be unendurable.

At that late point we would surely not represent the tragic victims of some unstoppable national decline. Instead, we would appear the pathetic “spillover” of a palpable and once-preventable melodrama.

At that point our defining genre will have become parody and pathos.

In all likelihood, that finally expressed American genre would represent a dreadful and prospectively hideous farce.

Amid all these consequential “theatrical” matters, we may have less to learn from Aristotle or Shakespeare  than from the 20th century psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Even a cursory glance at the two seminal thinkers from Vienna and Zurich should remind us of the ever-present dangers posed by “horde” or “mass.” Both Freud and Jung were strongly influenced by the Danish Existentialist thinker Soren Kierkegaard (who personally preferred the term “crowd” to “horde” or “mass”) and by German-Swiss philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

 Without guile, Nietzsche spoke woefully of the “herd.”

Whatever term we might decide to favor, one key point remains unassailable: When an entire nation and society abandon the most basic obligations of critical thinking and “reason” (this observation about “reason” should bring us also to the German post-War philosopher, Karl Jaspers[2]), we can expect incremental deformity and eventual tyranny.  Nietzsche, in his masterpiece Zarathustra, was more specific. “Do not seek the higher-man in the marketplace,” the prophet had warned presciently.

Translated into more prosaic terms of our current American presidential dilemma, this ought to remind us that mundane skill sets acquired in the worlds of real-estate bargaining and casino gambling do not “carry over” to high-politics and diplomacy.

Or as one might say here in Indiana, “Not hardly!”

Now, in essence, American national leadership desperately requires some serious figures of historical literacy and tangible erudition, not the crudely half-educated marketers of  “deals.”

In America, snake oil can still be sold under various different markings.

But it’s still just snake oil.

In the end, every society represents the sum total of its individual souls seeking some sort or other of “redemption.” This search is never properly scientific – after all, there can be no discernible or tangible referent for a human “soul” – but important answers may still occasionally lie outside mainstream scientific investigations.[3]

These sorts of “eccentric” answers ought not necessarily be disregarded.

At times, at least, they should be consciously sought and carefully studied.

Not only the blustering American “emperor,” but also those still awed  by his mind-stifling “parade,” are shamelessly “naked.” In President Donald Trump’s deeply fractionated American republic, we the people cheerlessly inhabit a stultifying “hollow land” of unending submission, crass consumption, dreary profanity and immutably shallow pleasures. Bored by the suffocating banalities of daily life and beaten down by the grinding struggle to stay hopeful amid ever-widening polarities of wealth and poverty, our weary US citizens – people who have every right to vote,  but not to keep their teeth[4] – now grasp anxiously for any available lifelines of distraction.

In 2016, this presumed lifeline was a false prophet of American “greatness.”

In 2016, legions of Americans unaccustomed to reading anything of consequence were easily taken in by a mountain of cheap red hats and starkly inane slogans.

For Donald Trump, cynical simplifications represented his planned path to electoral victory.

“Intellect rots the mind” said Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in 1935.

“I love the poorly educated” said US Presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016.

Such things considered, it is small wonder that the cavernous Opiate Crisis is already deep enough to drown entire libraries of a once-sacred poetry.

Small wonder, too, that in a nation of so much institutionalized pain and private desperation there exists a pervasively growing cry for “anesthesia.”

In part, because of the indifferent and ineffectual stewardship of America’s current president, both this singular nation and the wider planetary system of which it is a part are at significant risk. Where, then, shall we meaningfully seek any still-lingering public demands for human improvement and collective survival? Where might we still discover any usefully reinforcing visions of social cooperation and personal growth?  

In principle, at least, thoughtful concepts are de rigeur. Misdirected by the incessantly hollow claims of “American Exceptionalism” and “America First,” we have somehow managed to forget that world politics is a system.  It follows, among other things, that US prosperity is perpetually linked to the calculable well-being of other states and other societies.

It’s not terribly complicated. In brief, this is an historical moment where one simplifying gastronomic metaphor can actually make sense:  In essence, we are all in the “soup” together.

There is more. Until now, we have unceremoniously ignored the Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s clear warning from The Phenomenon of Man: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature. No element can move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”

We have also ignored almost everything else of commendably real intellectual importance. Should there remain any sincere doubts about this indictment, one need only look at the current state of American higher education –  in many ways, now just another obvious expression of Nietzsche’s (Zarathustra’s) “marketplace.”

In Donald Trump’s America, we the people are no longer shaped by any suitably generalized feelings of reverence or compassion, or, as has already been amply demonstrated, by even the tiniest hints of plausibly complex thought. Now, our preferred preoccupation, shamelessly unhidden, lies with a closely- orchestrated hysteria of indulgence in other people’s private lives and (with even greater and more visceral enthusiasm) their corollary sufferings. In German, there is a specially-designated word for this lethal pathology of the human spirit.

The Germans call this schadenfreude, or taking exquisite pleasure in the misfortunes of others.

For the most part,  this voyeuristic frenzy is juxtaposed against the always-comforting myth of American superiority. In the end, this particular myth, more than any other, is apt to produce further declension and despair. This is the case even when an American president chooses to physically wrap himself around the flag, a recent Trump embrace of rare and visually defiling repugnance.

I belong, therefore I am.”  This is not what philosopher René Descartes had in mind when, back in the 17th century, he had urged greater thought and expanding doubt. It is also a very sad credo. Unhesitatingly, it loudly shrieks that social acceptance is equivalent to physical survival, and that even the most sorely pretended pleasures of inclusion are inevitably worth pursuing.

There is much more. A push-button metaphysics of “apps” now reigns supreme in America. This immense attraction of smart phones and corresponding social networks stems in large part from our barren society’s machine-like existence. Within this increasingly robotic universe, every hint of human passion must be shunted away from any caring human emotions, and then re-directed along certain uniform and vicariously satisfying pathways.

Jurisprudentially, although international law obliges the United States to oppose all crimes of genocide and related crimes against humanity – and despite the fact that this binding international law is an established part of the municipal law of the United States[5] – America’s president remains irremediably silent on war crimes committed by both America’s allies and its adversaries. These terms of relationship must be bound together because  it has become substantially unclear in Trump’s inverted universe exactly who is friend and who is foe. When Trump says of North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un “We’re in love,” the rest of us are in real trouble.

We may still argue, and quite correctly, that human beings are the creators of their machines, not their servants. Yet, there exists today an implicit and hideous reciprocity between creator and creation, an elaborate and potentially murderous pantomime between the users and the used. Openly, our adrenalized American society is rapidly making a machine out of Man and Woman.

 In an unforgivable inversion of Genesis, it now seems plausible that we have been created in the image not of God, but of the machine.

Mustn’t we now ask, at least those residually few Americans who would courageously remain determined thinkers and doubters, “What sort of redemption is this?”

For the moment, we Americans remain grinning but hapless captives in a deliriously noisy and stultifying mass. By relentlessly disclaiming any dint of interior life, we are able to proceed with our lives, very tentatively, of course, and – in absolutely every existential sphere – at the lowest possible common denominator.

Expressed in more palpable terms, our air, rail and land travel is too often insufferable, especially when compared to other western democracies. Our universities, institutions in which I have lived exclusively for more than the past half century, are generally bereft of anything that might ever hint at serious learning. For the most part, they have obligingly become submissive adjuncts to the larger corporate and entrepreneurial worlds.

Now, they are dedicated more than anything else to private wealth accumulation and institutional self-promotion. In America, let us be candid: “You are what you buy.” Or in a grotesque inversion of Descartes, “I don’t think, therefore I am.”

In the blatantly anti-intellectual Trump Era, this already intolerable trend merely continues to worsen.

There is still more pertinent detail to consider. Across the beleaguered land, our once traditionally revered Western Canon of literature and art has largely been replaced by unhidden and more “practical” emphases on job preparation, loyalty-building sports, and “branding”(quantitative rankings.) Apart from their unhappy drunkenness and broadly tasteless entertainments, the once-sacred spaces of “higher education” have managed to become something wholly unrelated to learning. Most visibly, though rarely acknowledged, our universities have morphed into a vocational pipeline to nonsensical and unsatisfying jobs.

Sometimes, as in the case of onetime “Trump University,” they are incapable of meeting even these embarrassingly minimal expectations.

Again, it is time for candor.  For most of America’s young people, learning has become an inconvenient and burdensome commodity, nothing more. At the same time, as virtually everyone already understands, commodities exist for only one overriding purpose. They exist, like the newly minted college graduates themselves, to be bought and sold.

Beware, warns Zarathustra, of ever seeking virtue or quality at the marketplace. This is a place only for buying and selling, a venue for “deals.”

 Though faced with genuine threats of war, illness, impoverishment and terror, millions of Americans still choose to amuse themselves to death with assorted forms of morbid excitement, public scandal (remember Schadenfreude), inedible foods, and the stunningly inane repetitions of an illiterate political discourse. Not a day goes by that we don’t notice some premonitory sign of impending catastrophe. Still, our bewildered and  drug-numbed country continues to impose upon its exhausted and manipulated people a devaluation of challenging thought and a breakneck pace of unrelieved and unrewarding work.

Small wonder that “No Vacancy” signs now hang securely outside our psychiatric hospitals, childcare centers and ready-to-burst prisons.

In an 1897 essay titled “On Being Human,” Woodrow Wilson inquired coyly about the authenticity of America. “Is it even open to us to choose to be genuine?” he asked. This president (a president who actually read and wrote serious books) answered “yes,” but only if we would first refuse to join the misleading “herds” of mass society. Otherwise, President Wilson already understood, our entire society would be left bloodless, a skeleton, dead with that rusty corrosion of broken machinery, more disabling than even the sordid decompositions of an individual person.

 In all societies, Emerson had already understood, the care of individual “souls” is our most urgent responsibility. Conceivably, there could emerge  a betterAmerican Soul,”but not until we first agree to shun the variously inter-penetrating seductions of mass culture  –  that is, (1) rank imitation; (2) shallow thinking;  (3) organized mediocrity; and (4) a manifestly predatory politics of  ethnicity, race and class. Of course, any such far-reaching rejection will not be easy. It will take time.

 And time is something we no longer have.

The alternative would be for us to embrace an intolerably “hollow” future, one offering not a national life of any excellence or promise, but a “cactus land” –  a decaying country ever more willing “to receive the supplication of a dead man’s hand.” This would represent an unalterably lethal embrace, one earlier described (in generic terms, of course) by 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard as “a sickness unto death.”  In this cactus land, hope would inevitably give way to abject surrender and expanding despair.

Eventually, resembling the probable survivors of a future nuclear war (perhaps even  literally), the living could envy the dead.


[1] https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2017/07/Beres-president-trump-impeachment1/

[2] See especially Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952).

[3] Both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the very essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provides a precise definition of the term, but clearly it was not intended by either in any ordinary religious sense. For both, it was a still-recognizable and critical seat of both mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present context, is that Freud explained his already-predicted decline of America by various express references to “soul.” Freud was plainly disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect and literature), and even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and material accomplishment at any cost would occasion sweeping psychological misery. Per the following brief discussion of America’s rampant Opiate Crisis, he was most assuredly prophetic.

[4] One has to wonder just how many Americans can even afford to have essential dental care. As a practical matter, for a great many Americans (both poor and aged) teeth are simply no longer affordable.

[5] In the words of Mr. Justice Gray, delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900)) See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)).Moreover, the specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is expressly codified at Art. 6 of the US Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.”

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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Is the Washington-initiated Climate Summit a Biden Politrick?

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Earlier on, climate skeptics had wondered if President Biden’s January 27 Executive Order on “climate crisis” was “climate politrick?” Now, scholars in China have likened the US climate envoy’s hurried China visit last week to “a weasel calling on a friendly New Year visit to a chicken” – or a visit with evil intentions. Some overenthusiastic critics of the US in Beijing are even warning President Xi to not login for the online Earth Summit in Washington this week.

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People in China believe a snake and a wolf must never be rescued. The belief comes from a popular idiom: the Zhongshan wolf or “The Wise Old Man and the Wolf.” In a few words, the essence of the popular Chinese adage is well-captured in the following sentence: a popular fairy tale about the ingratitude of a creature after being saved. Last year, the idiom entered China’s foreign policy discourse as several IR commentators employed it to describe “ingratitude” of the Trump-led America towards the Peoples’ Republic. Following the ascent of President Biden in the White House, the Chinese commentariat quickly course-corrected itself, i.e. neither Trump nor Biden, it is the US bipartisan anti-China consensus which is the real “wicked wolf.”

Just like the curt and bland statement issued by China’s foreign ministry acknowledging China will host the US climate envoy Kerry for three days in Shanghai, 14-17 April, China released on last Sunday the text of the joint China-US statement following Kerry’s departure on Saturday. The statement said: “The United States and China are committed to cooperating with each other and also with other foreign governments to tackle the climate crisis which must be addressed with seriousness and urgency it demands.” Interestingly, or rather conspicuously, the statement neither indicated nor was followed by another press release regarding whether China will be represented at the upcoming crucial 40-nation Earth Summit being hosted by President Biden.

While it is true a few Chinese scholars and think tanks have welcomed the worlds’ two largest carbon emitting nations to come forward to cooperate with each other upholding the spirit of the Paris climate agreement. What is perhaps unprecedented and more significant is the warning to President Xi by a section of China’s leftist intelligentsia to beware of Biden’s “climate politrick.”

Talking of those who welcomed Xi-Biden climate cooperation initiative – the first sign of bilateral cooperation since the Trump interregnum, Zhang Jianyu, chief representative and vice president of the non-profit Environmental Defense Fund’s China Program, reacted positively and said: “The fact that the joint statement has been signed, means that both Beijing and Washington believe in climate change. We are hoping both China and the US take bold actions.” Li Shuo, senior climate adviser for the environmental group Greenpeace, said China could soon respond to a new U.S. pledge with one of its own, building on the “momentum” of the Shanghai talks.“The statement in my view is as positive as the politics would allow: It sends a very unequivocal message that on this particular issue (China and the United States) will cooperate. Before the meetings in Shanghai this was not a message that we could assume,” Li added. 

In contrast, an article in Utopia, one of the influential “anti-US” platforms for ideological debate in China, cautioned China’s top leadership while questioning Biden’s credentials to host the Earth Summit. The pro-Mao, leftist online intellectual discourse forum advocates Maoist and communist ideology. In a signed article on the forum’s website last Saturday – the day John Kerry concluded his 3-day stay in Shanghai and left for Seoul, a commentator using strong words not only “condemned” Joe Biden for his “arrogant” and “hypocritical” foreign policy thinking, but also urged the Chinese leadership to thwart Washington’s attempt to regain the US leadership by holding the Earth Summit beginning Thursday. The article was entitled: “China must resist and fight back hypocrite Biden.”   

In fact, as early as in November last year, within days of the presidential voting, a section of scholars in China were writing “the election of Biden may or may not turn out to be a turning point for easing Sino-US frictions…with Biden in power, the nature of Sino-US relations will not see a fundamental change, but the mode of confrontation will be relatively soft and the direction of negotiations will be more predictable.” However, with each passing day since taking office, President Biden’s China policy has consistently been predictable in only one direction – in enduring the Trump legacy. The most recent manifestation of which was on display at the testy diplomatic summit last month in Anchorage where senior officials from the two countries “traded sharply critical assessment” of each others’ policies.

Another Chinese commentary has highlighted six ideological “attacks” the US has carried out against China in the international arena under Trump and Biden administrations respectively. First is the classic example of the US-Japan nexus in politicizing and turning on its head the Chinese opposition to Japan’s decision to release radioactive contaminated water from Fukushima into the sea; second is the Western governments and media carrying out slanderous campaign of China’s “economic colonialism” in Africa; third, as soon as China succeeded in containing fight against COVID-19 last year in May and started offering humanitarian assistance abroad, the US-led started defaming and discrediting China by launching “mask diplomacy” campaign against Beijing; fourth, just like vicious propaganda maligning China’s economic assistance to Africa and China’s humanitarian aid by free supply of PPE and masks, the US launched “vaccine diplomacy” campaign to vilify China; the fifth is attacking China using the virus trajectory and accusing China of developing COVID-19 virus and exporting it from chemical laboratory in Wuhan; the sixth and the latest anti-China “false” propaganda is the “genocide” in Xijiang. Unlike the genuine human rights violation by Japan to release the contaminated water into the sea, the false propaganda against China is aimed at creating anti-China world public opinion, creating social unrest and turbulence in China and ultimately achieving their goal of destroying China, the article stated.   

Finally, it is not incorrect to view President Xi’s highly charged remarks made at two most recent international events respectively in the context of strongly-worded articles published in Utopia and other left-leaning online websites in the past few days. Two days prior to the arrival of Kerry in China, President Xi, according to the Xinhua news agency, warned the US in his speech at the China-Germany-France trilateral video conference on climate change: “Climate change could be used as a tool to disparage some countries for not doing enough.” Then two days prior to the Earth Summit, Xi apparently reiterated his stern warning to President Biden: “We must not let the rules set by one or a few countries be imposed on others, or allow unilateralism pursued by certain countries to set the pace for the whole world.” The remarks by Xi were made at China’s annual Boao Asia Forum on Tuesday.    

China’s semi-official “independent” English language CX Daily interpreted Xi’s above remarks as “veiled swipe at the new US administration under Biden” who has been busy forming alliances challenging China over issues such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang. Of late, mainstream media in China has been accusing Biden of not only carrying on and enduring the Trump legacy in relentlessly “attacking” China, but also that Biden has gone far beyond Trump in insulting and condescending Beijing. In fact, the Utopia commentary uses another Chinese idiom “externally strong, empty inside” to caricature Biden’s personality. It cites two recent incidents to establish how weak and hollow is President Biden, i.e. the US-China talks in Alaska and Putin’s resolve to dare the US in the Black Sea – in both instances, Biden simply caved in after he was challenged, the commentary observed. “On Iran nuclear deal issue too we saw Biden acting in the same surreptitious and crude manner. He [Biden] is typical treacherous man,” the Utopia commentary continued its verbiage.

Some Chinese scholars, therefore, have welcomed Xi’s remarks as clear rebuff to what the mainstream Western media, in particular the Wall Street Journal has been spreading, i.e. “Xi would participate in the US-initiated climate summit later this week.” These scholars are invoking yet another ancient Chinese proverb “Mouth honey belly sword” or Koumifujian in Chinese. The idiom is used as a metaphor for describing someone extremely sweet on the outside but actually shrewd, cunning and sinister. Most Chinese IR commentators are telling us, the idiom is a perfect description of Biden. 

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Russia Or China: Is Biden Right To Target Russia?

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No one can disagree with President Joe Biden when he wants to overhaul infrastructure — although a single-minded concentration on one aspect is likely to be longer lasting and a legacy.  Consider, for example, a high-speed rail link between New York and Los Angeles,  True high-speed, that is, and truly modern like the new lines in China with a design speed up to 350 km/h (220 mph), or preferably higher by the time the rails are constructed in the US.  It would make overnight coast to coast (3,000 miles) railroad trips a reality.  

What is more difficult to fathom is Biden’s foreign policy.  He appears to have identified Russia as an adversary or worse, starting with calling Vladimir Putin a killer and exposing several Russian companies that possibly support its intelligence services.  Do American companies ever provide cover for the CIA?  That is the obvious question coming to mind with an obvious answer.  Have western intelligence services including the CIA ever carried out assassinations?  If so, would the US president be called a killer?

At the same time, Russia is not the country with a stated goal of becoming the world’s leader in its economy, technology and military.  No, that’s China.  Russia only wants closer ties with the west but is being driven into the arms of China.

Given China’s stated goals and its progress towards them, it is transparent that its aims require the displacement of the US from its leadership position.  Any prospect of thwarting China’s ambitions would impel the US to cordon the  country to some extent or at the very least attempt to challenge its influence.  Instead, China is signing treaties with neighbors.  It is in Iran and it announced that it might send its own troops to Afghanistan to maintain its “peace” after the US departs.  Afghanistan, by the way, is rich in minerals and rare earth elements.  

So far Mr. Biden’s foreign policy initiatives appear tactical with a kind of tit-for-tat approach that is absent a coordinated (with allies) strategic plan to prepare the US for a confrontation politically and economically — not militarily, although as the US ramps up pressure, a skirmish here and there on the high seas could be a possibility.

A string of Chinese bases now ring the Persian Gulf extending west to East Africa and east along the Iran and Pakistan coast to Sri Lanka, across to Burma and then south to the western end of Indonesia.  The recent treaty with Russia allows convenient Eurasian access while the new closeness with Iran permits an overland route to its oil riches.  East of Iran is Pakistan which is a Chinese client state of long standing and where it has built the Gwadar port.

Given the circumstances, the US is obliged to reassess Iran from a geostrategic perspective but also Pakistan, a country that has been on the frontlines of the Afghan war since the beginning.  Pakistan is also a key to long term peace in Afghanistan as its own Pashtun population is connected to Pashtuns there through family ties and a traditionally porous border.  They also command a plurality as the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. 

Further east China is increasing its influence in Sri Lanka, and is by far Burma’s largest trading partner.  The recent coup in Burma is its own story and an oft-reported tale in that country without noting China’s silence.  

Despite the local politics, the US can ill afford to surrender such a vast region to China without counter moves to ensure some freedom of movement within China’s tight embrace.

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Americas

Playing Politics in Times of Covid: AMLO’s Whimsical Inoculation Programme

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Image source: as-coa.org

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has capriciously modified Mexico’s inoculation programme as he sees fit. He has followed an improvised strategy along the way that follow no logical approach.

The initial vaccination schedule was set up in 5 stages that placed frontline and essential workers as priority sectors; the rest of the population would be divided up by age ranges and inoculated accordingly. However, last January, AMLO announced the creation of 10,000 brigades who would oversee the vaccination programme. Each brigade is made up 12 people majority of whose are active members of the president’s political party MORENA. They also were prioritised for vaccination, even ahead, some key workers. This process alone took up 120,000 vaccines that otherwise would have gone directly to frontline workers or the elderly.

As of mid April, Mexico, with a population of 117 million people, has only vaccinated over 10 million people, roughly 8.5% of the population. Only 2.6 million have received the second shot, only 2.2%. The government also announced that it was prioritising the poorest citizens and indigenous communities. In a more recent announcement, he declared teachers would be also bumped up for priority vaccination ahead of the elderly. This again demonstrates the arbitrary standards of his vaccination schedule.

The government’s decision to inoculate teachers ahead of even health workers does not come as a surprise: they’re a key voting bloc. Mexico is holding mid-term elections this coming July, and vaccinating teachers so close to voting time is the latest evidence that the president is playing politics with the vaccinations. Just like in old times under the hegemonic party, unionised teachers are crucial for AMLO’s political party to win the most votes in the next elections.

Using certain sectors of the population to mobilise voters in favour of political party is not something new in Mexican politics. In Mexico, just like in many other unconsolidated democracies, political parties and candidates themselves can turn to political agents to ensure victory in elections through the use of patronage systems or vote-buying strategies.

To fully understand the role of the Teachers’ Union (SNTE and CNTE) as a political machine, it is essential to understand its history and role in elections over the last decades. The SNTE has more than 1.6 million members nationally, while the CNTE has over 100,000 members, it was founded in 1980 and has considerably less influence than the SNTE.

The SNTE was founded in 1949, and since then they served as a satellite organisation of the hegemonic party, PRI. Up until 1992, it was mandatory for all Union members to register as active party members. Therefore, throughout these years, the PRI, regularly received electoral support from the Union. The alliance between the hegemonic party and the SNTE strengthened in 1989 when Elba Esther Gordillo was appointed as the new leader of the Union.

What was behind the motivation of the SNTE in becoming an electoral agent? For many years, the Union received monetary incentives and access to political posts. Under this arrangement, political parties and even candidates may monitor the performance of such agents to make sure they are still aligned to those of the government, political party or candidate. As long as the interests of both sides are aligned, the electoral agent is expected to work efficiently to deliver the expected results either on election day or throughout the length of the administration.

In 2005, Elba Esther Gordillo was expelled from the PRI, ending the alliance between the SNTE and the hegemonic party. The leader of the Union founded her own political party, PANAL, and participated in the 2016 federal elections. However, due to the number of voters the newly created party attracted, it was only limited to proportional representation positions. Although PANAL, presented its own candidate for the presidency, Elba Esther offered the votes of the Union in the presidential elections to other political parties with greater possibilities of winning.

The SNTE supported Felipe Calderón, the PAN candidate in 2006 and in 2012 they backed the PRI candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto. The SNTE’s geographical outreach and the role of teachers as community and educational leaders facilitate their role as electoral agents. They’re able to influence informally the vote of others as well as the opinions and voting decisions of students and their parents.

In many democracies, it is not unusual for teachers to have strong ties to political parties and their candidates, and this is critical when it comes to explaining their effectiveness as electoral agents. It is not uncommon also for teachers to be appointed as voting stations representatives. The combination of these institutional characteristics opens the door for teachers to continue to influence voters through either legal or illegal.

AMLO’s courting of the Teachers’ Union dates to his electoral campaign in 2018. José Alfredo González, son in law of Elba Esther Gordillo, was seen in a presidential campaign event to support AMLO’s candidacy. He is also an active member of Redes Sociales Progresistas, a newly created party with links to Elba Esther Gordillo. Soon after AMLO’s inauguration in 2018, AMLO set to dismantle the education reform that has been approved by Enrique Peña Nieto in 2012. This was well received by the 2 Teachers’ Trade Unions. In 2020, the SNTE expressed its support for the president, and they also ratified its adherence to the political programme of the president. AMLO also publicly asked Elba Esther Gordillo to talk openly about the (alleged) fraud of 2006. AMLO’s intentions in doing this are very clear: He wants the former leader of the Union to enter the political game by talking about the issue and taking a stance that would not be antagonistic towards the incumbent party.

There is no doubt that the president has an underlying agenda in prioritising the vaccination of teachers when mid-term elections will be held in less than 2 months in Mexico. The president has chosen CanSino as the vaccination to be used to inoculate teachers across Mexico to allow schools to reopen by the end of May in some states. Now, with only less proven vaccine options, CanSino has an efficacy rate of less than 65%, questions undoubtedly arise as to how effective the inoculation of Mexicans will be with the use of these vaccines over the already proven ones.

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