New York Times reporter airs baseless “Trump is a fascist” claim

I like much of Peter Baker’s reporting. I liked his book about the George W. Bush administration. I don’t like this article by Baker called “Rise of Donald Trump Tracks Growing Debate Over Global Fascism.”

It’s a slippery piece. Baker doesn’t argue that Trump is a fascist — it’s more along the lines of “some people say Trump is a fascist.” But by choosing to repeat the charge, and writing a long article about it, Baker lends respectability to the claim.

People have said all sorts of very bad things about President Obama. I don’t see the mainstream media converting these claims into news stories, except maybe for ones that attempt to paint Obama’s critics as deranged.

I discussed the matter of Trump and fascism here, borrowing extensively from Michael Ledeen, an expert on fascism. To summarize, there is no viable case that Trump is a fascist. Robert Kagan embarrassed himself when he tried to make one.

Speaking of experts on fascism, it is not until deep in Baker’s article that we encounter any (before then, we hear instead from William Weld and the Mexican president — why Baker gives them the floor on a matter of political theory is anyone’s guess). The experts Baker finally quotes don’t think Trump fits the fascist label.

Robert O. Paxton, a Columbia professor whom Baker identifies as one of the most prominent scholars of fascism, points out that fascists believe in strong state control, not get-government-off-your-back individualism and deregulation (as Trump does, at least to some extent).

Volker Perthes, the director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, rejects the Trump-as-fascist claim:

All the phenomena he describes are raising concerns, but I would still not call Trump or his campaign fascist. Maybe with German and European history in mind, we are a bit more cautious than others in using the label ‘fascism.’

Mr. Perthes said real fascism requires two more elements — an outright rejection of democracy and a harsher definition of order.

Charles Grant, the director of the Center for European Reform in London, explains the distinction between hard-line nationalism and actual fascism:

Historically, [fascism] means the demonization of minorities within a society to the extent that they feel insecure. It means encouraging the use of violence against critics. It means a bellicose foreign policy that may lead to war, to excite a nationalist feeling. It takes xenophobia to extremes. And it is contemptuous of a rules-based liberal order.

Grant argues that even Marine Le Pen’s “far right” party in France isn’t fascist. Yet, her National Front is much more stridently anti-immigrant than Trump. For example, Le Pen doesn’t favor bringing illegal immigrants back into France once they have been expelled and vetted.

Other scholars suggest that Trump may represent a wave of “right-wing populist nationalism” or “illiberal democracy.” I’m not sure that either label quite applies to Trump (the latter isn’t a bad fit for Obama). In any event, this isn’t fascism.

The title of Baker’s article should be “Experts Reject Claim That Trump Is Fascist.” Better yet, the article shouldn’t have been written.

Five (plus one?) for the Trump VP short list

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post serves up his list of the five people he judges most likely to wind up sharing the GOP ticket with Donald Trump. I don’t know whether Cillizza’s picks are all in Trump’s top five, or even whether they are all under consideration. However, the list seems plausible enough to present to our readers for comment on a slow news day.

Here are the five and my very brief take on each:

5. Joni Ernst.

I like her. She was a Power Line Pick when she ran for the Senate on 2014. I’m not sure she’s shown that she is ready to be second in line for the presidency.

4. Bob Corker

Not conservative enough. See, e.g., Iran deal; AFFH defund vote.

3. Chris Christie

Big strengths, big flaws. Trump could do worse, but we should hope for better.

2. Mary Fallin

The Oklahoma governor could be a good pick. I need to know more about her.

1. Newt Gingrich

Say it ain’t so. Too flaky; too much like Trump.

Meanwhile, Thomas Lifson of the American Thinker mentions Tom Cotton as a potential Trump running mate. I don’t know whether the Senator would run with Trump or whether Trump is considering him.

Sen. Cotton hasn’t been in Washington long, but I believe he has already demonstrated that he has what it takes to be president. Sen. Ernst is a quality legislator, but she hasn’t made anything like the mark Cotton has.

Readers are invited to weigh in.

Academic Loons of the Week: The Yoga and the Commissar

Tough to decide on who gets the honor of our Academic Absurdity of the Week award. I was inclined to give it to the ingenious author of “Humor and Parody in Finnish Rap Music Videos,” since I’m still trying to recover from the mistake of listening to a Finnish rock band in a park in Helsinki last summer. (Their “music” sounded to me like a whale being waterboarded.) I can’t even imagine what “Finnish Rap Music” must be like.

But in fact we have a tie this week. Who knew that yoga is not just a cultural appropriation, but some kind of tool for “neoliberal” oppression? With apologies to Arthur Koestler’s The Yogi and the Commissar, herewith two new entries from our would-be academic commissars about yoga. The first is an actual dissertation from Duke, naturally:

Tightrope Walkers: An Ethnography of Yoga, Precariousness, and Privilege in California’s Silicon Valley

Bar, Neta

Abstract:

This dissertation offers an account of precarious neoliberal subjectivity by examining the suffering of the privileged as it relates to the practice of Western yoga in California’s Silicon Valley. Yoga culture underlines creating connections and community. But my research, based on twenty-seven month fieldwork in an epicenter of the global high-tech economy, reveals that yoga practitioners actually seek to experience and create “space.” I suggest that yoga practitioners often cultivate an interiority aimed at giving themselves room from the judgment and expectations of others.

This dissertation portrays the complicated lives of people who are more privileged than most. In so doing, this study questions the separation between “real” and “privileged” suffering; and it explores the ethical and political implications of the problems of the well-off. I suggest that the destructive aspects of neoliberal capitalism and late modernity do not hurt only the marginalized traditionally studied by anthropologists, but also–albeit in very different ways–those who supposedly benefit from them. The social scenes of modern yoga are sites of ambivalently embodied neoliberal logic, where clusters of promises and recipes for an “art of living” are critical about aspects of capitalism while enjoying its comfort. Even though the yogic ethic and politics do not adhere to the anthropological ideals of political action, Western yoga is often an ethical practice that does not simply reproduce neoliberal logic, but also shifts it slightly from within. By creating disruption of subjectivity and gaining space from old and habitual ways of being, yoga sometimes opens up a new territory of change and reflection.

Not to be outdone, here’s a contrary take that yoga might be a tool of resistance against neoliberal oppression. I think.

The Neoliberal Yogi and the Politics of Yoga

Farah Godrej

Abstract

Can the theory and practice of the yogic tradition serve as a challenge to dominant cultural and political norms in the Western world? In this essay I demonstrate that modern yoga is a creature of fabrication, while arguing that yogic norms can simultaneously reinforce and challenge the norms of contemporary Western neoliberal societies. In its current and most common iteration in the West, yoga practice does stand in danger of reinforcing neoliberal constructions of selfhood. However, yoga does contain ample resources for challenging neoliberal subjectivity, but this requires reading the yogic tradition in a particular way, to emphasize certain philosophical elements over others, while directing its practice toward an inward-oriented detachment from material outcomes and desires. Contemporary claims about yoga’s counterhegemonic status often rely on exaggerated notions of its former “purity” and “authenticity,” which belie its invented and retrospectively reconstructed nature. Rather than engaging in these debates about authenticity, scholars and practitioners may productively turn their energies toward enacting a resistant, anti-neoliberal practice of yoga, while remaining self-conscious about the particularity and partiality of the interpretive position on which such a practice is founded.

As always, yours for the bargain price of just $36! When you think about it, though, you really wonder what took lefty academic so long to get on to yoga as a topic, since it involves lots of heavy breathing and twisting into unrecognizable shapes.

Is The Libertarian Party Serious? [with comment by Paul]

John notes below that one of Gary Johnson’s leading issues is drug legalization, which is not likely to sell well in places like otherwise libertarian-friendly New Hampshire, which has experienced a massive increase in heroin use in recent years. Then there was Johnson’s answer to the question posed to him in a candidate debate at the Libertarian Party convention: should the United States have entered World Wars I & II? Johnson’s answer: “I don’t know.”

That was it. He didn’t elaborate on the answer at all. It would have been good to hear him discuss the question, which is certainly unusual though typical for libertarians, who are big on historical litmus tests. There’s a very strong case, on prudential rather than isolationist grounds, that we should have stayed out of World War I. (Churchill came to that view in the mid-1920s.) Johnson could have made a great critique of liberal internationalism with direct relevance for today. As for not entering World War II after Pearl Harbor? “I don’t know” is pretty lame, unless you wish to develop the critique that we provoked Japan and/or pursued the imprudent war aim of unconditional surrender. That case is not very persuasive, but it isn’t frivolous. If Johnson wants to be on the main debate stage with Trump and Hillary in the fall he’ll need to step up his game by a lot.

The asking of this question shows the absolutism that runs in the libertarian mind, as does the question of whether Johnson would have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He said “Yes,” and was booed. There is something to be said for the purist libertarian position on the problems of the CRA (see Richard Epstein’s fine book Forbidden Grounds: The Case Against Employment Discrimination Laws), but the practical politics of this position are suicidal.

But above all one wonders whether the Libertarian Party really doesn’t care about practical politics at all—that’s it all just one big prank, the political equivalent of the Star Wars cantina scene. The Wall Street Journal account of their convention today includes this pitch perfect vignette:

The convention was an unusual spectacle by the standards of typical American political gatherings, even in an election year where a reality-television star has catapulted to an almost-assured Republican nomination.

Indeed, a large comic book, science fiction and anime exposition was being held adjacent to Libertarian convention, leading delegates to mingle in the hotel with a steady stream of people dressed in costumes depicting characters, such as Pokémon’s Pikachu and Star Wars’ Han Solo.

How could you tell who were the Libertarian delegates, and who were the comic book aficionados? Indeed, how about the presentation of James Weeks, a candidate for Party chair? Scroll through to about the 1:30 mark of this 3:40-long video and you’ll see what I mean:

PAUL ADDS: The Libertarian Party selected William Weld as Gary Johnson’s running mate. Weld, who supported John Kasich for president this year, is not a libertarian.

His selection, at the urging of Gary Johnson, can be viewed as an attempt to convey pragmatism and, thus, seriousness. I don’t think the attempt succeeds.

Trump’s intellectuals

Fred Barnes identifies a handful of conservative intellectuals who support Donald Trump to one degree or another. In some cases, the reasons presented for supporting Trump are unpersuasive and/or illogical.

Roger Simon says:

Like others, I want things to change. . .and Donald seems like the man with the courage and will to do it. He’s unafraid. He’s upbeat. He’s funny. He despises political correctness (as anybody with a brain does). . . .I can think of no greater antidote to Obama than a Trump presidency.

Antidote or not, Simon’s pitch sounds suspiciously like Obama’s “hope and change” vacuity. In assessing Trump’s candidacy, we should ask what, specifically, the “it” he will “do” is. An answer does not appear in Barnes’ report about what the Trump intellectuals are saying.

Being unafraid, upbeat, and funny are desirable traits in an entertainer. They are not undesirable in a president. But they are no substitute for wisdom and sound policy.

Neither is political incorrectness. To view it as a virtue in itself exalts form over substance and can lead one to judge pronouncements and behavior uncritically.

Trump has mocked a disabled reporter, insulted women based on physical characteristics, called Mexicans who come to the U.S. rapists by and large, and urged a ban on Muslim entry into the U.S. Statements like these fall into the category of politically incorrect — indeed, they are a big part of Trump’s politically incorrect mystique. But they hardly recommend him for the presidency.

Simon told Barnes, “I could change my mind [about Trump] on a dime. . .if other information comes to light or if Donald starts to act loony or, more precisely, excessively loony.” It’s understandable that Roger wants an exit ramp. The fact that he needs one and the “excessively loony” standard he invokes for taking it are telling.

Charles Kesler’s defense for Trump is also telling:

Kesler puts Trump in the context of earlier presidents. “Do obscenities fall from his lips more readily than they did from Lyndon Johnson’s or Richard Nixon’s?” he writes. “Are the circumstances of his three marriages more shameful than the circumstances of John F. Kennedy’s pathologically unfaithful one — or [for] that matter Bill Clinton’s humiliatingly unfaithful one? Have any of his egotistical excesses rivaled Andrew Jackson’s killing a man in a duel over a racing bet and an insult to Jackson’s wife?

In other words, Trump combines the worst traits of a batch of seriously flawed presidents.

It gets worse:

And there’s a parallel, Kesler believes, between Trump and Woodrow Wilson’s insistence that “the personal force of the President is perfectly constitutional to any extent he chooses to exercise it,” Kesler writes. This is “not far from Trump’s praise of high energy, toughness, and strength in the ideal chief executive.”

What conservative wouldn’t support a horrible guy whose view of presidential power reminds us of Woodrow Wilson’s?

Kesler is on firmer ground when he says “conservatives care too much about the party and the country to wash our hands of this election; a third party bid would be quixotic.” This statement suggests the only serious conservative argument for supporting Trump — he may be appreciably better than the only real alternative, Hillary Clinton. This is the theme of several conservative intellectuals Barnes cites, including Wilfred McClay and Victor Davis Hanson.

Trump cannot be made over to look conservative, respectable, or non-dangerous. However, it may not require a makeover for him to appear more conservative, more respectable, and less dangerous than his awful opponent.

STEVE adds: Barnes doesn’t reflect the context of Kesler’s remarks properly (I’ve heard directly from Charles about this). In fact the comparison of Trump to Wilson is precisely a reason to be concerned about Trump, although Hillary’s full-blown Wilsonianism could tip Kesler’s vote to Trump on “lesser of evil” grounds.

Barnes also interviewed me for this piece but didn’t use anything I told him, including my line that Trump was perhaps like Nancy Pelosi’s take on Obamacare: “We may need to elect Trump to find out what’s in him.”

Is This the Libertarian Moment?

As the Libertarian Party’s convention nominates former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson for president, some are saying that the Libertarians’ time has finally come, that 2016 could be the Libertarian moment. I very much doubt it.

A few years ago, I was invited to the George W. Bush Library in Dallas for a conference on the economy. While there, I was also part of a small group that met with Governor Johnson. As a libertarian of sorts, like most American conservatives, I looked forward eagerly to what Johnson had to say. But when he was introduced to the group, the first thing (and principal thing) Johnson talked about was legalizing drugs.

No doubt there are voters whose top priority is easier access to meth or heroin, but their numbers are, I think, small. While lots of voters are attracted to the idea of libertarianism in general, there is a reason why the Libertarian Party has never drawn much support. Look for Johnson to continue that tradition.

Meanwhile, Bill Kristol, who has remained adamantly opposed to Donald Trump, tweeted yesterday that in this year’s election, there will be an independent candidate with a “real chance.”

So perhaps voters will have four choices on the ballot. I remain skeptical that a still-unidentified independent candidate can get traction between now and November, but I suppose (s)he (or Gary Johnson, few as his voters may be) might earn enough support to flip a state or two to Hillary Clinton. We will see. In any event, I don’t expect anyone to be talking about a “libertarian moment” once the ballots have been counted.

America’s honor

In observance of Memorial Day 2007 the Wall Street Journal published a characteristically brilliant column by Peter Collier to mark the occasion. The column remains accessible online here. I don’t think we’ll read or hear anything more thoughtful or appropriate to the occasion today. Here it is:

Once we knew who and what to honor on Memorial Day: those who had given all their tomorrows, as was said of the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy, for our todays. But in a world saturated with selfhood, where every death is by definition a death in vain, the notion of sacrifice today provokes puzzlement more often than admiration. We support the troops, of course, but we also believe that war, being hell, can easily touch them with an evil no cause for engagement can wash away. And in any case we are more comfortable supporting them as victims than as warriors.

Former football star Pat Tillman and Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham were killed on the same day: April 22, 2004. But as details of his death fitfully emerged from Afghanistan, Tillman has become a metaphor for the current conflict–a victim of fratricide, disillusionment, coverup and possibly conspiracy. By comparison, Dunham, who saved several of his comrades in Iraq by falling on an insurgent’s grenade, is the unknown soldier. The New York Times, which featured Abu Ghraib on its front page for 32 consecutive days, put the story of Dunham’s Medal of Honor on the third page of section B.

Not long ago I was asked to write the biographical sketches for a book featuring formal photographs of all our living Medal of Honor recipients. As I talked with them, I was, of course, chilled by the primal power of their stories. But I also felt pathos: They had become strangers–honored strangers, but strangers nonetheless–in our midst.

***

In my own boyhood, figures such as Jimmy Doolittle, Audie Murphy and John Basilone were household names. And it was assumed that what they had done defined us as well as them, telling us what kind of nation we were. But the 110 Medal recipients alive today are virtually unknown except for a niche audience of warfare buffs. Their heroism has become the military equivalent of genre painting. There’s something wrong with that.

What they did in battle was extraordinary. Jose Lopez, a diminutive Mexican-American from the barrio of San Antonio, was in the Ardennes forest when the Germans began the counteroffensive that became the Battle of the Bulge. As 10 enemy soldiers approached his position, he grabbed a machine gun and opened fire, killing them all. He killed two dozen more who rushed him. Knocked down by the concussion of German shells, he picked himself up, packed his weapon on his back and ran toward a group of Americans about to be surrounded. He began firing and didn’t stop until all his ammunition and all that he could scrounge from other guns was gone. By then he had killed over 100 of the enemy and bought his comrades time to establish a defensive line.

Yet their stories were not only about killing. Several Medal of Honor recipients told me that the first thing they did after the battle was to find a church or some other secluded spot where they could pray, not only for those comrades they’d lost but also the enemy they’d killed.

Desmond Doss, for instance, was a conscientious objector who entered the army in 1942 and became a medic. Because of his religious convictions and refusal to carry a weapon, the men in his unit intimidated and threatened him, trying to get him to transfer out. He refused and they grudgingly accepted him. Late in 1945 he was with them in Okinawa when they got cut to pieces assaulting a Japanese stronghold.

Everyone but Mr. Doss retreated from the rocky plateau where dozens of wounded remained. Under fire, he treated them and then began moving them one by one to a steep escarpment where he roped them down to safety. Each time he succeeded, he prayed, “Dear God, please let me get just one more man.” By the end of the day, he had single-handedly saved 75 GIs.

Why did they do it? Some talked of entering a zone of slow-motion invulnerability, where they were spectators at their own heroism. But for most, the answer was simpler and more straightforward: They couldn’t let their buddies down.

Big for his age at 14, Jack Lucas begged his mother to help him enlist after Pearl Harbor. She collaborated in lying about his age in return for his promise to someday finish school. After training at Parris Island, he was sent to Honolulu. When his unit boarded a troop ship for Iwo Jima, Mr. Lucas was ordered to remain behind for guard duty. He stowed away to be with his friends and, discovered two days out at sea, convinced his commanding officer to put him in a combat unit rather than the brig. He had just turned 17 when he hit the beach, and a day later he was fighting in a Japanese trench when he saw two grenades land near his comrades.

He threw himself onto the grenades and absorbed the explosion. Later a medic, assuming he was dead, was about to take his dog tag when he saw Mr. Lucas’s finger twitch. After months of treatment and recovery, he returned to school as he’d promised his mother, a ninth-grader wearing a Medal of Honor around his neck.

***

The men in World War II always knew, although news coverage was sometimes scant, that they were in some sense performing for the people at home. The audience dwindled during Korea. By the Vietnam War, the journalists were omnipresent, but the men were performing primarily for each other. One story that expresses this isolation and comradeship involves a SEAL team ambushed on a beach after an aborted mission near North Vietnam’s Cua Viet river base.

After a five-hour gunfight, Cmdr. Tom Norris, already a legend thanks to his part in a harrowing rescue mission for a downed pilot (later dramatized in the film BAT-21), stayed behind to provide covering fire while the three others headed to rendezvous with the boat sent to extract them. At the water’s edge, one of the men, Mike Thornton, looked back and saw Tom Norris get hit. As the enemy moved in, he ran back through heavy fire and killed two North Vietnamese standing over Norris’s body. He lifted the officer, barely alive with a shattered skull, and carried him to the water and then swam out to sea where they were picked up two hours later.

The two men have been inseparable in the 30 years since.

The POWs of Vietnam configured a mini-America in prison that upheld the values beginning to wilt at home as a result of protest and dissension. John McCain tells of Lance Sijan, an airman who ejected over North Vietnam and survived for six weeks crawling (because of his wounds) through the jungle before being captured.

Close to death when he reached Hanoi, Sijan told his captors that he would give them no information because it was against the code of conduct. When not delirious, he quizzed his cellmates about camp security and made plans to escape. The North Vietnamese were obsessed with breaking him, but never did. When he died after long sessions of torture Sijan was, in Sen. McCain’s words, “a free man from a free country.”

Leo Thorsness was also at the Hanoi Hilton. The Air Force pilot had taken on four MiGs trying to strafe his wingman who had parachuted out of his damaged aircraft; Mr. Thorsness destroyed two and drove off the other two. He was shot down himself soon after this engagement and found out by tap code that his name had been submitted for the Medal.

One of Mr. Thorsness’s most vivid memories from seven years of imprisonment involved a fellow prisoner named Mike Christian, who one day found a grimy piece of cloth, perhaps a former handkerchief, during a visit to the nasty concrete tank where the POWs were occasionally allowed a quick sponge bath. Christian picked up the scrap of fabric and hid it.

Back in his cell he convinced prisoners to give him precious crumbs of soap so he could clean the cloth. He stole a small piece of roof tile which he laboriously ground into a powder, mixed with a bit of water and used to make horizontal stripes. He used one of the blue pills of unknown provenance the prisoners were given for all ailments to color a square in the upper left of the cloth. With a needle made from bamboo wood and thread unraveled from the cell’s one blanket, Christian stitched little stars on the blue field.

“It took Mike a couple weeks to finish, working at night under his mosquito net so the guards couldn’t see him,” Mr. Thorsness told me. “Early one morning, he got up before the guards were active and held up the little flag, waving it as if in a breeze. We turned to him and saw it coming to attention and automatically saluted, some of us with tears running down our cheeks. Of course, the Vietnamese found it during a strip search, took Mike to the torture cell and beat him unmercifully. Sometime after midnight they pushed him into our cell, so bad off that even his voice was gone. But when he recovered in a couple weeks he immediately started looking for another piece of cloth.”

***

We impoverish ourselves by shunting these heroes and their experiences to the back pages of our national consciousness. Their stories are not just boys’ adventure tales writ large. They are a kind of moral instruction. They remind of something we’ve heard many times before but is worth repeating on a wartime Memorial Day when we’re uncertain about what we celebrate. We’re the land of the free for one reason only: We’re also the home of the brave.

Peter’s book on the living Medal of Honor recipients is Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty, now republished in a third edition. Peter is the author, most recently, of Political Woman, the biography of Jeane Kirkpatrick published in 2012 by Encounter Books.

Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Phillips first reported Jason Dunham’s story in the Journal and then told it in The Gift of Valor. The story that Peter relates from Senator McCain is included in Senator McCain’s classic memoir (written with Mark Salter), Faith of My Fathers. The story that Peter relates from Leo Thorsness is included in Col. Thorsness’s moving memoir of his service and captivity, Surviving Hell.