Trumpism: The Art of the Insult

Commentary No. 473, May 15, 2018

Since he became president, Donald Trump has insulted just about everybody with whom he has interacted. The one exception seems to have been close family members. They are not insulted, but when in disfavor simply ignored. He also has insulted every country on the globe, with the possible exception of Israel.

Insults seem to be a tool defining Trumpism, one that he uses constantly and with relish. There are two questions for the analyst of Trumpism. Why does he do it? And do they work?

Some analysts attribute these ceaseless insults, which recur with varying targets, as the result of some kind of mental defect. He is a hypersensitive megalomaniac, they say. He can’t restrain himself. He has no self-control.

I disagree. I believe the insults are part of a deliberate strategy, which Trump thinks will best further (1) his dominance of the U.S. and world scene and (2) the implementing of his policies.

What might Trump think he gets out of the game of insults? When he insults a person or a country, he forces them to make a decision. They can either strike back and risk Trump’s willingness to hurt them in some way important to them. Or they can seek to return to favor by making some concession important to Trump. In either case, the relationship centers around Trump.

In his view, this makes him the alpha-dog. Furthermore, he not only wants to be the top of the world power scale, but he wants to be seen to be. Insults serve this purpose.

Faced with choosing between two undesirable responses to the insult, the person or country insulted can try to make an alliance with others being insulted in similar ways or at the same time. It turns out that the potential allies are having the same debate about the way to handle the insults. The potential ally may be making a different choice of response.

At this point, the person or country insulted can try to persuade the potential ally to change tactics. Or he can look for other potential allies. In either case, rather than focusing on how to handle Trump’s insults, they are focusing on how to obtain allies. They are thus diverted from the main issue, to the benefit of Trump.

Trump can then shift tactics. He can offer some partial concession to the person or country being insulted. He can do it in a way that is ambiguous or is time limited. The person or country involved must choose between swallowing the past humiliation and offering gratitude for the concession or considering it insufficient.

If the choice is gratitude, the person or country lives under the sword of Damocles that the insult will nonetheless recur. Or he can suffer the wrath of Trump. In either case, Trump comes out ahead.

He can use this tactic to appease critics to his right or to his left. Indeed, this will help him emerge as the reasonable center, no matter what are the actual policies he pursues.

One last advantage. Since Trump’s tweets are inconsistent, he can claim credit when the outcome is favorable to him (“I deserve a Nobel prize”). But whenever the outcome is not as favorable as he desires, he can blame some or all of his inner circle, asserting that they failed to follow his instructions.

We now must turn to the question of whether the insults work. Do they have the benefits to Trump that he expects to obtain? We have to start with what Trump must find worrying. He has very high unpopularity ratings in the U.S. polls. And in the vast majority of nations, he also rates low in the polls.

He is quite unsure of winning the elections of 2018 and 2020. His conservative base is unhappy, which may lead to abstentions from voting on their part, or at least less effort to get out the conservative vote.

Nevertheless, despite this weak showing, the game of insults seems to have increased, if only slightly, his support level. Is this enough for his primary immediate purpose, getting re-elected? He needs to present to the voters and to other nations some achievements.

He has a few. On the U.S. scene, he has the tax reduction bill. And on the world scene, he has (as of now) the forthcoming meeting with North Korea’s Leader Kim. But he also has failures. He has not been able to get (yet) his planned immigration measures nor the money for the wall. And worldwide his rejection of the Iran agreement has dismayed most nations.

The question is whether the response to the insults will tilt seriously against him. It is hard to say. It could come suddenly. Or he might scrape through the morass. The real point is that the pluses of the insults cannot go on forever. Too many people and too many nations lose too much as a result.

The question therefore is not whether, but when. This is the game we are all now playing day by day, in elections at every conceivable level, in reformulated alliances across the globe. Not whether, but when!

Columbia 1968: Some Personal Memories

Commentary No. 472, May 1, 2018

April 23, 2018 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Columbia student uprising in 1968. Since I was involved in the events in various capacities, I want to offer a testimony to what happened and what seems to me today the most important lessons we can draw.

May 1 is a famous date. It is Mayday, celebrating the Haymarket riots in 1886 and it is the date celebrating the worldwide events of 1968 that most commentators argue began in France. But actually Columbia predates Paris by a week as I often remind my French friends and is a better starting date for the celebrations.

One outstanding lesson of Columbia is how spontaneous the uprising was. We now know that shortly before it started the leaders of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) felt it was virtually impossible to obtain and maintain student support for their objectives.

SDS had listed six demands. There were two crucial ones: The first was that Columbia should withdraw from its affiliation with the Institute for Defense Analyses, which was a mainstay of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The second was that Columbia cease building a new gymnasium in Morningside Park, which was seen as Columbia’s eviction of the Black community in Harlem from land that was rightfully theirs.

The day started at noon in a traditional site of public discourse in Columbia. There were speakers from SDS and from the Student Afro-American Society (SAS). They voiced once again the six demands. At a certain point the group decided to march on Low Library, where the university administration was located. Finding it locked down when they arrived there, some individual shouted that they should go to the gym. We don’t even know who shouted this, but everyone went to the gym site.

Finding the site protected by police, the group decided to go to Hamilton Hall, the center of Columbia College activities. They sought to enter the Dean’s office. And finding this locked too, the group simply sat down and asked non-participants to leave the building. This was defined by the administration as holding the Dean hostage. And thus began the uprising.

A meeting of the professors of Columbia College ensued. They debated what to do: call the police? negotiate? The students “released” the Dean, but otherwise stayed put. Indecisiveness was everywhere. In the night, the SAS students asked the SDS students to leave Hamilton Hall and “seize” their own building, which they did – four buildings in fact.

Someone telephoned me that night and suggested I come immediately to campus. There I found various professors unsure of what to do. We decided to meet in Philosophy Hall, which had the space. The supervisor of the Hall was very opposed to this, but could do nothing. In effect, the professors had “seized” Philosophy Hall. However, they allowed anyone to enter. The professors then constituted themselves as the Ad Hoc Faculty Group (AHFG) and would begin to meet continuously. An executive committee of I think 17 persons was chosen. I was one of them.

This brings me to my second major lesson. SAS had evicted SDS from Hamilton Hall because SDS was undisciplined. Boy, were they right! SAS was in contrast incredibly tightly disciplined. It turned out in retrospect that SAS was far more important in transforming the university and the larger U.S. situation than SDS, although no one seemed to understand that at the time.

Various Harlem politicians offered themselves to Columbia as mediators, about which Columbia was very reluctant. At the same time, the AHFG had voted to send emissaries to discuss with both SDS and SAS their demands. I was asked to be one of those who discussed with SAS. Others went to see SDS.

I went to see David Truman, the Vice-President, and asked him if he would welcome my playing this role. He was delighted, seeing it as a way of cutting out the Harlem politicians. SAS also agreed that I play this role on condition that I discuss matters only with a four-person group they had constituted.

I thus went in and out of Hamilton Hall several times and was allowed to speak only with the four-person group. Each time, we spoke in coded indirect language. I cannot say that I could report back to the AHFG any significant change in position. SAS seemed to wish to maintain contact but that was all. I at least did better than those who went to see SDS, who reported back total stalemate.

After seven days or so, the Columbia administration decided to call the police. David Truman came to the meeting of the AHFG to tell us that they were going to do that. He simply reported this; he didn’t discuss it. Various professors made different personal decisions. There were many who decided to surround the entrance to the occupied buildings. Most of them surrounded Fayerweather, the building occupied by the graduate students. A smaller group, of which I was one, decided to surround Hamilton Hall.

And that brings me to my last surprise. When the police arrived where I was, they gently wiggled their way past us. The group surrounding Fayerweather was treated quite differently. They were beaten, some of them badly, as well of course as the students occupying the building. What we learned later is that SAS had made a deal with the police. They would leave quietly through a back door and not be arrested. This was why those of us who surrounded Hamilton were treated so gently.

My final conclusion is that the real winner of the Columbia events was SAS. The Columbia administration was devastated and David Truman never became President as had been expected before this. SDS fell apart and was destroyed. The Harlem politicians lost their authority. And SAS had shown the power of discipline. SAS was the winner but of course only as part of a long ongoing struggle against racism in the United States.

As for 1968 as a whole, I have written on this many times and have no space here to repeat the argument. In one sentence, what happened was the ending of the geocultural dominance of centrist liberalism and the reopening of a three-way ideological struggle between the Global Left and the Global Right with centrist liberalism struggling to maintain some support as a real alternative.

Lula Arrested: How Successful a Coup?

Commentary Number 471, April 15, 2018

On April 7, 2018 in Brazil Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva was arrested and taken to prison in Curitiba to begin a twelve-year sentence. He was Brazil’s president from January 2003 to January 2011. He was so popular that when he left office in 2011, he had a 90% approval rate.

Soon afterwards, he was charged with corruption while in office. He denied the charge. He was however convicted of the charge, a conviction that was sustained by an Appeals Court. He is still appealing his conviction to the Supreme Court.

However, under one interpretation of Brazilian law, he can be imprisoned once an Appeals Court has affirmed his sentence without waiting for the judgment of the Supreme Court. He asked nonetheless for a habeas corpus, which would have kept him out of prison until he had exhausted all possible appeals. The demand was rejected by a vote of 6-5. Thereupon, the judge who charged him initially and who was particularly hostile to Lula, Sergio Moro, moved swiftly to put Lula behind bars.

What was the reason for this harsh treatment, which was not applied to many others facing much more serious charges? To understand that, we must review recent Brazilian history and Lula’s role.

Lula was a trade-union leader who founded a workers’ party, the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT). It was the party of the underclass and one that stood for fundamental change both in Brazil and in Latin America as a whole.

Lula ran for president in several successive elections. He was probably cheated out of his election at least once. He finally won in October 2002.

The Brazilian electoral system leads to a profusion of parties, none of which has ever been able to obtain a plurality of more than twenty-odd percent of seats in the legislature, much less a majority. In order to govern therefore, the party with a plurality has to make deals with other parties of quite different ideological leanings.

Despite this limitation, Lula was able to form a government and obtain legislative support for significant transfers of resources to Brazil’s poorest third of the population, which explains his popularity. He was also able to lead Latin American states to forge new interstate structures that did not include the United States and Canada.

The internal redistributions and the geopolitical realignments displeased greatly both the United States and Brazil’s right-wing forces. One thing that made it difficult for them to counter Lula was the fact that the state of the world-economy in the first decade of the twenty-first century was very favorable to the so-called newly-emerging economies, also known as the BRICS (B for Brazil).

However, the winds of the world-economy turned, and suddenly revenue for the Brazilian state (and of course many other states) became scarcer.

The right found a renewed opening in the financial squeeze that ensued. They blamed economic difficulties on corruption and fostered a judicial drive called lava jato (car wash), which evoked the issue of laundering money, something that was indeed widespread.

In 2011, Lula was succeeded as president by Dilma Rousseff, a more conservative leader in the PTB. When some PTB cabinet members were convicted of corruption, the right launched a move to impeach Dilma. She was not charged with corruption herself but charged with inadequate supervision of her subordinates in leadership positions.

This was a thin excuse. As Boaventura de Sousa Santos put it, the one impeccably honest politician in Brazil was being successfully impeached for corruption by votes of all the most corrupt officials in the land.

The reason the right engaged in this farce was that the Vice-President who would succeed Dilma after her impeachment was Michel Temer, who had been placed on Dilma’s ticket as part of an electoral coalition.

Temer assumed office immediately and rejected the idea of early elections which he would almost surely have lost. One of the first things he did instead was to arrange that the substantial charges against him for corruption be dropped.

The motive for impeaching Dilma seems clear. It was to prevent Lula from running in the next election for president. The consensus view was that Lula would win again. The only way to stop him was to charge him with corruption. And the charge could only be sustained if Dilma was impeached. The strength of the PT was closely linked to Lula’s charisma. Any other candidate would probably be unable to command support anywhere near the level that Lula could obtain.

Once Lula was threatened with immediate imprisonment, Brazil’s two major popular forces expressed their strong opposition to what they asserted was a political coup d’état. One was the Central Ùnica dos Trabalhadores (CUT), which Lula had once led, and the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST), Brazil’s largest rural organization.

The leader of the MST, João Pedro Stedile, explained the reasons for their support. The MST had had many disagreements with Lula and had been disappointed with his refusal to break with many neoliberal policies. But those who were trying to prevent Lula from running were truly antagonistic to all the positive things Lula had achieved and would institute severe retrogressive measures.

The MST and CUT organized significant mobilizations against his imprisonment. But, faced with the threat of the armed forces to intervene (and possibly restore a military regime again), Lula decided to present himself for arrest. He has now been imprisoned.

The question today is whether this right-wing coup can succeed. This no longer depends on Lula personally. History may absolve him but the current struggle in Brazil and in Latin America as a whole depends on political organization at the base.

The Temer government will pursue neoliberal policies fiercely. And Temer will no doubt present himself as a candidate for election. Temer knows no shame nor any limits. He risks going too far too fast.

One of the principal characteristics of the structural crisis of the modern world-system in which we find ourselves is the high volatility of the world-economy. Should it run even further downward than it is at present, there may well be an upsurge of popular sentiment against the regime. If it began to include large parts of the professional strata, an alliance with the underclasses is quite possible.

Even then it will not be easy to change the political realities of Brazil. The army stands ready probably to prevent a left government from coming to power. Nonetheless one should not despair. The army was defeated once before and evicted from power. It could be again.

In short, the outlook for Brazil and for Latin America as a whole is highly uncertain. Brazil, given its size and its history, is a key zone of the middle-run struggle for a progressive outcome of the struggle between the global left and the global right for resolving the structural crisis in their favor.

Brazil merits our collective close attention and our active solidary participation.

Note: Content modified on April 16, 2018, at 9:00 PM.

Recurrent Themes: Corruption and National Security

Commentary No. 470, April 1, 2018

People everywhere make claims and complain regularly about corruption and about national security. There is virtually no country in the world where this does not occur. If no one inside the country – whether citizen, resident, or transitory visitor – speaks publicly using such language, it is only because those in power respond with exceptionally harsh repression.

Otherwise, these themes are central to the politics and geopolitics of all countries in the world. The situation of a particular country is subject also to discussion about it by persons outside its boundaries. Citizens of the country in exile talk about it. Social movements in other countries talk about it. Other governments talk about it.

However, this long list of persons who discuss these issues publicly say very different things about them in the case of any particular country. It behooves us to look more closely at the language people use and the descriptions of reality they make in order to understand what is going on and how we should evaluate the claims and complaints.

Corruption is virtually inescapable. As a general rule, the richer the country the larger the amounts that can be accumulated via corruption. We learn all the time in the headlines of the press about some very high-level political figure or some very high-level corporation executive who is accused of corruption and is prosecuted for it or even imprisoned. We learn the same thing about lower-level persons as well. But the press is less likely to speak of these persons.

How does one practice corruption? The answer is quite simple. One has to be situated in a location where the money flows from one person in the chain to another. No doubt there are some individuals whose internalized values keep them from playing the game. But they are more rare than we publicly admit.

What is the purpose of denouncing some miscreants for corruption? It can be the desire for a change of government. Public criticism can lead to street demonstrations or other organized forms of anti-government efforts. Such efforts may succeed or fail, but this remains their objective.

At the same time the government or other persons in dominant positions may accuse the anti-government demonstrators of being corrupt and therefore in no position to denounce those in the government of this.

When we look at governments speaking of other governments, the accusations of corruption reflect primarily geopolitical interests. Again as a general rule, one government does not accuse another government of corruption if it is an ally or it is a government that one prefers to see remain in power. However, one government may denounce another government of corruption when it considers the other government to be an enemy or at least prefers to see the other government removed from power. Or a government may refrain from accusing publicly another government of corruption, while suggesting privately that such restraint is temporary and its continuance depends on some shift in position of the other government.

The theme of national security has a similar gamut of meanings. Governments hope to restrain, even eliminate, public discussion of corruption or of geopolitical alliances by invoking the theme of national security. This is a relatively effective method of achieving various ends. Governments may make the claim of national security without having to prove its validity. They can argue that giving the evidence itself violates national security.

The way someone can counter such blockage of public debate is through leakage by insiders who hope that the press will spread the word that the claim about national security is an invention whose purpose is to silence the opposition. And such leakage (also known as whistle-blowing) is countered by the government by prosecution for endangering national security.

A language allied to national security is that of espionage. Espionage is also universal. It is however expensive and difficult. Therefore, it is done more extensively and probably successfully by richer governments. And the spies may be punished more severely.

The reader may have noticed that I have refrained from using the name of any particular country in this commentary. That is because the article is not about the political or geopolitical situation of any particular country. The essential point I am making is that there is almost nothing but “fake news” as the current expression goes. But one must remember that invoking fake news about accusations is itself a mode of trying to suppress public discussion.

Are we then helpless to see what is really going on? Is there no way of discerning reality? Of course not. We can each of us engage in the necessary detective work to sift through the use of these recurrent themes vis-à-vis a particular situation in order to make a relatively plausible analysis.

The point is that it takes work, lots of work, to be a detective. Few of us have the taste, the money, and the time to do this work. We therefore subcontract this work to others: one or more particular social movements, one or more particular newspapers, one or more particular individuals, etc. To do this, we have to have confidence in the subcontractor(s), and to have it renewed regularly. A big job. But unless we do this work ourselves or rely on one or more first-rate subcontractors, we are doomed to be swamped by the use of these recurrent themes. We are rendered powerless.

A Stable Korean Peninsula: Is a Deal Possible?

Commentary No. 469, March 15, 2018

Two extremely unexpected events occurred regarding the Korean Peninsula in the first week of March 2018. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, offered to meet with President Trump, withdrawing some previous conditions. And President Trump agreed to meet with Leader Kim, withdrawing some previous conditions.

Maybe someone somewhere predicted this would happen. But, if so, I never read it. Now that it has occurred, everyone everywhere is scrambling to interpret it and then to counsel how to react to it. The pundits and politicians are debating: (1) why the two leaders did it, (2) what are its consequences, and (3) will the meeting actually take place?

In the world outside North Korea, some say Kim retreated before Trump’s many voluble threats. A smaller number say the opposite, that Trump retreated before Kim’s many voluble threats. And quite a large number say the threats played at most a secondary role because the real reasons are different.

Some suggest that Kim felt strong enough to reduce his preconditions in order to gain the legitimation his regime has sought and that a meeting would give him. Some suggest that Trump felt strong enough to reduce his preconditions in order to gain him the worldwide recognition as a statesman and great president that he has sought and that a meeting would be likely to gain him.

Of course, some say simply that each thinks he will be able to con the other and has no intention of being serious about a deal. These are views of persons outside North Korea. We really do not know what kind of internal debate is going on in North Korea. I suspect that it is more or less the same debate.

The debate about consequences depends very much on the answers as to the motivations of Kim and Trump. Some see it as the tactical genius of Kim. For these analysts the consequences are negative for the United States because Trump would have surrendered his biggest card to play, non-recognition. Some see it as the tactical genius of Trump. For these analysts the consequences are very positive because they would reduce the opposition of other countries and movements to further punitive actions by Trump.

Finally, the debate on whether the meeting will take place at all depends on the answers given to the previous two questions. If one or the other or both are not serious, then one or the other will call off the meeting. Even if one or the other or both are serious, the meeting still might not take place, as one or the other realize the tactical errors he has made.

Of course, even if the meeting does take place, there is no guarantee whatsoever that the two sides could reduce significantly their very wide differences such that a deal would be consummated. And even if a deal were signed formally by the two, it would remain to be seen how one would verify that the other side was living up to the terms of the deal. Many persons who have been involved in previous negotiations have pointed out how immensely difficult it is to verify compliance.

President Ronald Reagan famously said of a deal with President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union “trust but verify.” But there is virtually zero trust between the United States and North Korea. And if on top of that one can’t verify, a so-called deal would be a fool’s paradise.

I have written this text using parallel phrases for Kim and Trump because I believe they are behaving in mirror image of each other. My own guess is that a meeting is unlikely to come to pass, and that each side will draw negative conclusions from this fact.

In that case, this process would then have made the quest for stability of the Korean peninsula more difficult, not less. In my view this would be disastrous, as it might well lead to the war most of us do truly fear.

I do not however think a nuclear war is inevitable by any means. An increased stability (a more accurate phrase than peace) of the Korean peninsula is most likely to result from pressures from below, from all the rest of us. Such pressures need desperately to be organized, which is not yet happening on a large enough scale.

There is in addition one other element that might work in the same direction – the very unpredictable personal decisions of Kim and Trump. They have surprised us this month, and frequently before this. Maybe they will surprise us again.

Revised 16-MAY-2018 with Korean naming convention adopted per Immanuel Wallerstein

Olympic Diplomacy: Winners and Losers at Pyeongchang

Commentary No. 468, March 1, 2018

The idea of holding the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea seemed destined to fail. The interests of three key actors – the United States, South Korea, and North Korea – were so different that it seemed impossible to find working compromises between them.

And yet it was an unexpected relative success. Diplomacy won out. This was very largely due to the remarkable and unsuspected diplomatic skills of one person: President Moon Jae-in of South Korea. Let us review the issues about which there was deep disagreement, and spell out the positions of the three governments as of the beginning of the year 2018.

U.S. President Trump did not want North Korea even to attend the Olympics. He was intent on finding ways to punish North Korea for defying various United Nations resolutions. He insisted that North Korea renounce the use of nuclear weapons and destroy those that they already had. He intended to engage in military maneuvers that would impress the North Korean regime with the folly of resisting the U.S. demands. He was opposed to any diplomatic discussions with the North Korean regime until they agreed in principle to these demands.

The North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, rejected firmly any idea of denuclearization. He said he would be willing to meet with President Trump only if the meeting were without preconditions and if the United States would cease its aggressive actions against North Korea, such as military maneuvers. He also said that these matters could only be discussed in a one-to-one meeting of North Korea and the United States. He specifically rejected any alternative group as a meeting partner such as the so-called Group of Six (the five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany). He also refused the presence of South Korea at the meeting.

In this dangerous situation of total blockage, President Moon sought to find space for a third position. He wanted to reassure the United States that South Korea still valued, above all, its alliance with the United States. He also wished to persuade North Korea to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The first achievement of South Korea’s president was to obtain the consent of North Korea to participate in the Olympics. He also obtained North Korea’s support to have a joint presence of their teams under one flag. In one sport a single joint team was created.

President Moon sought to assure the United States that he wished to maintain the same high level of alliance that had been functioning for a long time. However, he suggested postponing the maneuvers until after the Olympics. Reluctantly, the United States agreed.

President Moon then sought to get North Korea to impose a temporary truce in rocket launchings until after the Olympics. North Korea tacitly agreed. Presumably, this opened the way to high-level participants on both sides. Each country attended the opening sessions with a top official, plus a woman close to the leader.

In the case of North Korea, it was the nominal head of state, Kim Yong Chol, as chair of the North Korean delegation plus Kim Yo Jong, sister and confidant of North Korea’s leader. She arrived with an invitation to President Moon to visit North Korea. In the U.S. case, it was Vice-President Pence and Ivanka Trump, daughter and confidant of President Trump.

Although the United States was against meetings with North Koreans, a private channel was used to arrange a meeting between Vice-President Pence and the North Koreans. However, in order to appease U.S. supporters of President Trump, Vice-President Pence delivered a public denunciation of the North Korean regime. The North Korean response to this public slap was to cancel the meeting with Pence at the very last minute.

Nonetheless, both the North Korean and U.S. representatives attended the closing session. They studiously avoided any contact with each other, but they also avoided mutual denunciations.

How can we interpret what happened? The North Korean regime made some quiet concessions, which were in reality temporary. Nevertheless, they did make them. Trump made some bigger concessions, which were also in reality temporary. President Moon obtained the credit, both within South Korea and elsewhere, of creating this truce for peace. Even some of South Korea’s conservatives saw some value in what had been achieved.

At the closing session, the North Koreans stated that relations between North and South Korea should “improve together.” Will they now? And will there now be another U.S.-North Korea official meeting? Nothing is less sure. But the tail wind is with President Moon, who thereby is unquestionably the great victor of the Olympics negotiations. He bent the North Korean regime and he outwitted the U.S. regime. Not bad, by any definition.


Revised 16-MAY-2018 with Korean naming convention adopted per Immanuel Wallerstein

Twenty-First-Century Geopolitics: Fluidity Everywhere

Commentary Number 467, February 15, 2018

The most fluid arena in the modern world-system, which is in structural crisis, is arguably the geopolitical arena. No country comes even near to dominating this arena. The last hegemonic power, the United States, has long acted like a helpless giant. It is able to destroy but not to control the situation. It still proclaims rules that others are expected to follow, but it can be and is ignored.

There is now a long list of countries that act as they deem fit despite pressures from other countries to perform in specified ways. A look around the globe will readily confirm the inability of the United States to get its way.

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Who is President Macron of France?

Commentary No. 466, February 1, 2018

(updated on February 10, 2018)

Politicians everywhere have hidden parts of their political and personal itinerary. Sometimes the exposing of such “secrets” causes disillusionment and/or reduced support of voters who had supported this person. What varies is the extent to which the politicians can keep such secrets obscure.

The recently elected president of France, Emmanuel Macron, has managed maintaining the obscurity better than most. It is therefore useful to try to answer the question of who he (really) is. For one thing, there is a lot of disagreement about the answer. This difference is not only one between supporters and antagonists but also within each of the two.
What do we know about his background? He studied at two of France’s elite institutions – Sciences Po and the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA) – where he performed brilliantly.

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