Trump Evangelizes for American Exceptionalism

Trump

If you want to get a sense of the enduring power of American exceptionalism, watch President Donald Trump’s address Tuesday to the United Nations General Assembly. Here we got a clear message from the candidate whose foreign policy platform was “America first”: He implored the regimes of weaker rogues to clean up their acts, or else.

The president threatened total destruction for North Korea. Its leader, whom Trump called “rocket man,” is on a “suicide mission for himself and for his regime,” Trump warned. “The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary.”

Iran? The deal his predecessor struck to temporarily limit the nuclear program was an “embarrassment to the United States.” But it doesn’t end there.

Trump says that sooner or later revolution is coming to the Mullahs. He asserted the whole world “understands that the good people of Iran want change, and, other than the vast military power of the United States, that Iran’s people are what their leaders fear the most.”

This was just the warmup. Trump went full neocon for Venezuela. Its leader, Nicolas Maduro, is a dictator “stealing power from his own people.”

Whereas Trump was vague about what his plan was for North Korea and Iran, for Venezuela he came very close to calling for regime change. “The United States has taken important steps to hold the regime accountable,” Trump said. “We are prepared to take further action if the government of Venezuela persists on its path to impose authoritarian rule on the Venezuelan people.”

For a moment, I closed my eyes and thought I was listening to a Weekly Standard editorial meeting.

To be sure, this is not quite a return to the days of George W. Bush, who in 2005 made it briefly US policy to seek democratic transformation for friend and foe alike. Trump offered no critiques for the illiberal systems and strongmen that rule Russia or China. He briefly called out threats to the sovereignty of Ukraine and the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, without mentioning Russia and China by name.

And yet Trump, who ran in part against the folly of neoconservative nation-building, is also not quite ready to give up the power of America’s values in determining its interests. He calls his approach “principled realism.” And on the surface it nods to the respect traditional foreign policy realists pay to national interests. But there is also a paradox. Trump still wants nation states to serve the interests of their people.

Consider this line from the speech: “We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions or even systems of government, but we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties, to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.”

On the one hand, Trump is correct. States with governments that respect their own people are almost always less bellicose than states ruled by authoritarians. Dictators like Vladimir Putin often must start foreign wars to distract from their own corruption at home.

At the same time, Trump’s formulation leaves a lot of wiggle room for what traditional foreign policy realists deride as military adventurism. After all, who determines when a nation is respecting the interests of its people? Trump certainly isn’t saying that is for the UN to decide. He spent a good portion of his speech threatening unilateral action against Iran, North Korea and Venezuela.

Trump’s newfound enthusiasm is familiar to the public. America has been spreading its gospel for centuries, according to Robert Kagan’s 2006 book, “A Dangerous Nation,” which traced US foreign policy from the founders to the dawn of the 20th century. Kagan argues persuasively that because America is a country founded on democratic revolution, it has always threatened unfree countries by its very existence. From the very early days of the republic, US leaders have supported a kind of American exceptionalism we usually associate with the 20th century.

Trump’s speechwriters are beginning to understand this. It’s a lot better than some of Trump’s early signals on foreign policy, when he ingratiated himself to dictators like Filipino strongman Rodrigo Duterte.

Let’s hope Trump sticks with this new approach.

Bloomberg

The Best Era for Working Women Was 20 Years Ago

working

The working woman was everywhere in 1980s and 1990s pop culture: The tough single gal Murphy Brown ran the news on TV every week. Dolly Parton in “9 to 5,” Melanie Griffith in “Working Girl,” and the ominously coldhearted mother in “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

We didn’t know it then, but that was the apex for the American working woman. It’s fitting that “Murphy Brown” left the airwaves in 1998. It would only be two years later that the share of American women over 16 who are in the labor force would hit its peak: 60.3 percent in April 2000.

The late 1990s — Murphy Brown’s decade — may have been as good as it gets for American women in the workplace.

The steady, seemingly inevitable march of significant numbers of American women into paid jobs began during World War II. Women certainly worked before the war, but it was usually certain groups: women of color, who have almost always had to work, and single women. During and after the war, work suddenly opened for more and more women.

In the decades after, the gender wage gap shrank, women became highly educated and the options for more prestigious careers increased. Widely available contraception allowed women to control when they became pregnant and to invest in their careers. Beginning in the late ’70s, surveys have found increasing shares of Americans accept and even support the idea of women working outside the home.

But then, in the early 2000s, the rise in the share of working women came to a halt. And since the Great Recession the figure has even fallen. Today it’s just over 57 percent.

We’ve spent a lot of time worrying about American men. Their labor force participation trend line has looked like a tumble down the side of a hill since the late 1950s. But all of this time, men have always worked at higher rates than women.

Up until the late 1990s, the United States stood out among developed countries for its higher female labor force participation rate. But that’s when the other countries started to catch up.

“We noticed right away,” said Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Her organization compiles an annual report on the economic status of women in every state, and in 1998 it sent a preview to some people in Vermont. The data showed that women’s labor force participation had fallen in that state, a harbinger of a national trend. The reviewers said “this can’t be right,” she recalled, adding, “We looked at the numbers again and we wrote back and said, ‘It is right.’ ”

Things seem to have changed around the 2001 recession. Until then, women tended to keep their onward march into employment steady even when the economy faltered. If their employment dipped, it quickly recovered. But this was the first time that the share of working women dropped without bouncing back.

A number of things may have coalesced at the time. Women are now getting even more bachelor’s degrees than men. There is much less room for them to keep getting ahead by obtaining degrees.

Husbands’ wages grew faster than wives’ in the 1990s, which may have eventually discouraged married women from staying at work. The gender wage gap has stayed relatively stuck for some time, offering women less incentive to work.

For lower-wage women, work itself has also gotten worse. Research by Robert Moffitt, a Johns Hopkins economist, has found that the decline in women’s labor force participation, especially among lower-educated women, mirrors that of their male peers.

The 1990s were a turning point, Professor Moffitt noted. Every office suddenly had a computer. “It’s an economywide thing,” he said. “It’s not gender-specific.” Just as technology has reduced the number of jobs on factory floors, it has also meant fewer secretaries, bank tellers and retail workers.

The low-wage jobs these laid-off workers found are more likely to come with variable schedules that make it difficult to arrange child care. Work hours have also stretched later and later, which hurts women more.

Even as women pushed their way into the workplace, the United States has done almost nothing to help make it easier for parents to work and raise a family at the same time. Unlike all other developed countries, the United States doesn’t guarantee parents any paid time off when they have children.

Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, economists at Cornell University, have found that while the United States had the sixth-highest female labor force participation rate in 1990, by 2010 it had fallen to 17th place. About a third of that drop, they say, could be explained by the fact that other developed countries instituted and expanded policies like paid family leave, subsidized child care and flexible work arrangements while the United States did barely anything at all.

It may very well be that the American women who were in the best position to make it all work — who faced the lowest hurdles to arranging child care and balancing work with family — have made it into the work force, but those who have bigger challenges simply can’t swing it. “A lot of women were able to make do, and those women are in the labor force,” Professor Blau said. “How do the rest come in without some kind of change?”

It’s unlikely that the country has simply hit a ceiling for how many women want jobs. If the United States were to spend more on helping parents get child care, ensure they can take paid time off work and protect those who want or need to work flexible schedules, it would almost certainly tap into this pool of women who have stepped away from work.

Helping them isn’t just something that is nice to do. If women keep getting pushed out, the economy will suffer. In 2012, one analysis found, the economy would have been 11 percent smaller if women’s labor force participation had remained at the levels of the late 1970s.

President Trump has said he wants to reach 3 percent G.D.P. growth. He would do well to focus on increasing how many women work. “He could probably get there much faster,” said Dr. Hartmann of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “if he tried to do more on equal pay and provided subsidized child care for everyone.”

At his daughter Ivanka’s insistence, he has talked superficially about affordable child care and accessible paid leave, but so far his plans are pretty pathetic. He just took a step backward on closing the wage gap, with Ms. Trump’s blessing, by rescinding a rule requiring businesses to report pay by gender.

This is a man who said in the 1990s — that same decade when working women reached their zenith — that “putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing.”

He’ll find out how dangerous it is for the economy when the government doesn’t help put all women, married or not, to work.

The New York Times

Two Weeks Left to Flush for Guggenheim’s Gold Toilet

Maurizio Cattelan's "America," a fully functional solid gold toilet is seen at The Guggenheim Museum in New York

New York- Art lovers have two more weeks to sit and ponder the meaning of “America,” the name given to a 18-carat gold toilet that has been on display at New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum for nearly a year.

During that time more than 100,000 people have paid a visit to Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan’s exhibit, located in what looks like a typical bathroom on the museum’s fifth floor. “Most people I think are pretty happy to get in there and have a few moments to take a selfie or whatever they choose to do,” said Michael Zall, associate director of facilities operations at the museum. “America” encourages unusually close interaction for art, and is meant to remind viewers of their “shared humanity” in the pursuit of the American dream of success, the Guggenheim says on its website.

Some visitors believe Cattelan’s artwork took aim at excess in society and art.

“It’s called ‘America’. An ironic kind of statement about wealth and silliness in art,” said Avital Fryman.

Others who lined up to see the luxury latrine were surprised to find it in full working order.

“It’s definitely the first golden toilet I’ve ever seen. I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Hayden Tobin.

The exhibit closes on Sept. 15.

Trump’s Afghanistan Strategy isn’t to Win. It’s to Avoid Losing.

Trump

Will President Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy alter the dynamics of America’s longest and most frustrating war? Do commanders really have any better chance of succeeding now than when this conflict began 16 years ago?

I put those questions by phone Tuesday to Gen. John “Mick” Nicholson Jr., who for more than 18 months has commanded US forces in Kabul. This is his fourth tour in Afghanistan and his sixth year of service there. He probably knows as much about this difficult and costly war as any American in uniform.

Nicholson answered by describing what he has learned about Afghanistan since we first met 10 years ago in Jalalabad, when he was a colonel commanding a brigade of the 10th Mountain Division. Those were heady, optimistic days when Nicholson would take visitors to a provincial “loya jirga” tribal council, where the turbaned leaders professed support for the US mission; when US development teams were building roads and schools, confident that stability would follow economic development.

It didn’t happen that way, and Nicholson now cites two illusions of that period that he says undermined the war effort. The first was that US commanders didn’t realize just how crucial external support from Pakistan was in allowing an unpopular Taliban insurgency to survive. The second was that commanders didn’t understand how corruption was rotting the Afghan security structure the United States was trying to build.

Both problems are addressed, at least modestly, by Trump’s strategy. First, Trump warned: “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations.” This will likely mean more sticks and fewer carrots for Islamabad — perhaps including new sanctions that punish Pakistan for aiding terrorist groups such as the Haqqani network that kill Americans and their allies. (Unfortunately, Trump may have undermined his Pakistan pitch by urging a closer “strategic partnership” with its archenemy, India.)

Second, Trump promised support for an Afghan government under President Ashraf Ghani that is seeking to combat corruption and is planning provincial elections next summer. Stronger, better leadership will, in theory, bolster the campaign against the insurgents. “The American people expect to see real reforms, real progress and real results,” Trump said. (In addition to being a long shot, this sounds suspiciously like the nation-building Trump insists he’s abandoning.)

But will it work? Many observers doubt the strategy will “push onward to victory,” as Trump said, but they think it may avoid an outright defeat. The consensus among these experts is that by adding troops and other measures, the United States can sustain the current stalemate, in which the Taliban controls about half of the countryside and the central government holds Kabul and other major cities.

The Trump strategy reduces the probability that the Kabul government will collapse over the next two to three years. This is a very limited version of success.

So why did Trump reverse his early, skeptical view and back Nicholson and the other generals who dominate his national security team? Why did this Wharton School graduate ignore the advice often offered by business professors that “sunk cost” — the money and effort already spent — does not by itself justify further investment?

The answer isn’t really very complicated. Trump doesn’t want to be the president to pack up and go home. He doesn’t want the stain of defeat.

The best argument for Trump’s Afghanistan policy is that it avoids losing, and at relatively low cost. It maintains a platform that can operate against what Trump said are 20 terrorist groups in the region; it sustains a base that will allow the United States to keep watch on nearby Pakistani nuclear weapons. It avoids a quick win by the Taliban and allows eventual reconciliation. Those are all worthy goals.

“I don’t know that we have a choice to walk away,” argues Nicholson. “It would inspire other jihadis around the globe.” He likens Afghanistan and Pakistan to a “petri dish” in which dangerous terrorist groups have thrived. Across the US government, even skeptics of the policy share his concern about the risks of a hasty US withdrawal.

Trump was once said to be so frustrated with the slow pace of the US campaign in Afghanistan that he wanted to fire Nicholson as commander. “The American people are weary of war without victory,” he said Monday night. But as he has weighed the terrible dilemma of the war in Afghanistan, Trump seems to have opted for a stay-the-course policy to “seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made.”

No victory parades, but no defeat, either.

Washington Post

Is War Between a Rising China and a Dominant America Inevitable?

Chinese President Xi watches during a gift handover ceremony at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva

Let’s imagine a Chinese “applied history” project, similar to the one at Harvard’s Belfer Center that helped spawn Professor Graham Allison’s widely discussed book “Destined for War.”

Allison’s historical analysis led him to posit a “Thucydides Trap” and the danger (if not inevitability) of war between a rising China and a dominant America, like the ancient conflict between Athens and Sparta chronicled described by the Greek historian Thucydides. A study by the Belfer Center’s Applied History Project identified 16 similar “rising versus ruling” cases over the past 500 years, 12 of which resulted in war. What would the Chinese say about the lessons of past interactions with the West?

Chinese analysts, from President Xi Jinping on down, have nominally rejected Allison’s pessimistic analysis. “There is no Thucydides Trap,” Xi has argued, claiming that he had devised an alternative “new type of great-power relations” that would avoid war by recognizing that each Asian giant had its own legitimate interests. More recently, he has shifted to arguing that “China and the US must do everything possible to avoid [the] Thucydides Trap.”

Similar protestations have reportedly been offered privately in recent months by a string of senior Chinese officials, and China’s modest cooperation with the United States in dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat provides some hope that this is indeed a “win-win” game, as Xi and other Chinese leaders so tirelessly repeat. (Of course, if you’re a hawkish “Trap” advocate, these are just more soothing blandishments to encourage the United States to avoid reckoning with the potency of Chinese power.)

An interesting thought experiment would be to imagine a Chinese version of Allison (though one of their weaknesses is they don’t have such a prominent, independent scholar), who decides to examine the ledger from their side. What would such applied history teach the Chinese about their looming intersection with the dominant power of the United States?

I’m no expert on Chinese history or foreign policy, so I’ll simply sketch some areas of possible study for a hypothetical Sino-Thucydides analysis. In each case, my imaginary Chinese scholars would apply Allison’s rubric for applied history (developed by the late Professor Ernest May), which asked how each case was like its historical antecedent, how it was different and how that evidence might produce a net assessment.

Here’s my list of testable propositions, from a Chinese perspective.

Economic and cultural power is no substitute for military power. China was a dominant economic and intellectual force when it first encountered European power, but it lacked technologically backed military muscle. Mistake.
Weakness breeds contempt. Western powers made a show of pledging loyalty and tribute to China’s rulers and warlords, but this masked hostile intent. The Chinese were wooed and corrupted by the West’s influence. Mistake. Allison quotes Thucydides’ precept: The weak (and by extension, the corrupt) suffer what they must. Rooting out (or at least controlling) corruption is a central Chinese task.

The West preached openness as the way for China and other Asian nations to absorb advanced technology and Western know-how. But the West exploited that openness to create dependence. Even Japan, which built an astonishing manufacturing base, remained dependent on Western raw materials and energy supplies. Mistake. The result was a catastrophic war.

Networks of aid and assistance are good covers for expanding influence and military power. The Marshall Plan was a sublime scheme for spreading US influence and blunting the Soviet Union, in the name of relieving humanitarian suffering. China is devising similar outreach through the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the cooperative development project known as “One Belt One Road.” The United States has done everything it can to prevent other nations from signing up to China’s initiatives. Mistake. Asian development is the handmaiden of Chinese power.

The United States argues that transparency and an international rules-based order are the best guarantee of security for all sides. But what this really means, through modern history, is that the United States makes the rules and others obey the orders. Adherence to the “rules” would have checked China’s expansion into the South China Sea (allowing perpetual US domination). And if last year’s Philippine arbitration ruling had been enforced, it would have rolled back China’s projection of power through reclaimed islands and military bases. Mistake. History teaches that China should proclaim that its intentions are limited, benign and non-military — even as its power expands and it creates the military bases that will allow it to challenge US naval power in the South China Sea.

I’ve stacked the deck here, a bit, with some of the cases that lead many analysts to assume that a rational China, seeing these lessons of history, will opt for a course that increases the likelihood of confrontation. But maybe I’m wrong; maybe there really is an alternative “new type of great-power relations” that would posit different outcomes. I await such an analysis from my imaginary Chinese counterpart to Graham Allison.

(The Washington Post)

How Interracial Love Is Saving America

America

As a descendant of slaves and slaveholders, I embody uncomfortable incongruities — just as America does. In “Notes on the State of Virginia,” Thomas Jefferson wrote with anguish about the risks of amalgamation, or interracial sex, to a new nation. Whites were “stained” when they mixed with blacks, whom he speculated were inferior in mind and form.

There was a Strom Thurmond-esque artificiality to this cry for racial purity. Southern patriarchs made an art out of objecting to what was happening under their own noses — or pelvises. As history would prove, human urges, whether violent or amorous, inevitably muddy lines, and master-slave rape and coupling produced many mixed people.

Today, the “ardent integrators” who pursue interracial relationships are motivated by love and are our greatest hope for racial understanding. Although America is in a state of toxic polarity, I am optimistic. Through intimacy across racial lines, a growing class of whites has come to value and empathize with African-Americans and other minorities. They are not dismantling white supremacy so much as chipping away at it.

Fifty years ago next week, on June 12, 1967, Mildred and Richard Loving won their landmark Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia, ending state bans on interracial marriage. Mildred was a homemaker of indigenous and black heritage, cast as a Negro by Jim Crow. Richard was a white brick mason who drag-raced cars with similarly mixed-race friends. They lived in Central Point, a rural hamlet with a history of racial mixing that began in the colonial era, and they were considered felons under Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924.

Such miscegenation bans were a relic of slavery. When wealthy planters transitioned from largely white indentured servitude to black chattel slavery in the second half of the 17th century, they feared that poor whites who labored alongside slaves and sometimes took them as lovers would rebel with them or help them escape.

Miscegenation laws in as many as 41 states helped to keep these dangerous whites from subverting slavery, and later Jim Crow. As Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the unanimous Loving opinion, such laws were an instrument of “White Supremacy” — the first time the Supreme Court used those words to name what the Civil War and the 14th Amendment should have defeated.

Today the race mixing that supremacists feared is growing apace, and interracial dating, marriage, adoption and friendship are occurring at rates that were unfathomable 50 years ago.

As of the 2010 census, the most reliable recent source, around 24 percent of adopted children in the United States were placed with a parent of a race different from their own, up from 17 percent in 2000. Christian groups in red states are part of this trend.

About 17 percent of new marriages and 20 percent of cohabiting relationships are interracial or interethnic. About one-quarter of Americans have a close relative in an interracial marriage. In the most recent Pew Research Center survey, 91 percent of respondents said that interracial marriage was a change for the better or made no difference at all.

Whites and blacks are still less likely to intermarry — they make up about 11 percent of newlywed heterosexual couples — but acceptance is growing. For whites in particular, intimate contact reduces prejudice. Whites with reduced prejudice, in turn, have a worldview similar to that of many minorities; that is, they support policies designed to reduce racial inequality.

Those who think of white people in monolithic terms miss this nuance. A small study of whites married to blacks documented increased understanding of racism. And those married to nonblack minorities were likely to experience a shift in their thinking about immigration.

This transition from blindness to sight, from anxiety to familiarity, is a process of acquiring “cultural dexterity.” Love can make people do uncomfortable things, like meeting a black lover’s family and being the only white person in the room. Culturally dexterous people have an enhanced capacity for intimate connections with people outside their own tribe, for recognizing and accepting difference rather than pretending to be colorblind. And if one undertakes the effort, the process is never-ending.

One need not marry or adopt a person of another race to experience transformational love. Close friendships across group boundaries have been shown to reduce prejudice, ease anxiety and enhance willingness to engage in the future.

Ardent integrators also transfer benefits to the less dexterous people in their tribe. Attitudes can be improved merely by knowing that someone has a close friend from another group.

Social psychologists have even documented that people can develop virtual ties with a fictional character or, say, a black president, in ways that reduce prejudice. As the media represents more diverse racial experiences with shows like “Black-ish,” it will further humanize others.

After Loving was decided, politicians dog-whistled for five decades. Divide-and-conquer tactics like union-busting and gerrymandering destroyed the possibility of class unity among struggling people. In its absence, culturally dexterous people may be our only hope for disrupting hoary race scripts. I believe that growing interracial intimacy, combined with immigration and demographic and generational change, will contribute to the rise of this group.

Eventually, a critical mass of white people will accept the loss of the centrality of whiteness. When enough whites can accept being one voice among many in a robust democracy, politics in America could finally become functional.

The New York Times

PepsiCo Chairman: Huge Growth Opportunities Motivate Us to Invest in Middle East

PepsiCo

Dubai – PepsiCo Chairman Indra Nooyi underscored the importance of cooperating with governments to discover the best ways that make taxes a solution for governmental topics and social challenges.

Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper asked Nooyi, “What is the strategy of PepsiCo during the coming five years?”

She replied, “PepsiCo is considered the second biggest company in the food and beverages sector. We have been working in this segment since 100 years as Pepsi-Cola and 140 years as Quaker Oats. PepsiCo has a well-founded history in the segment that goes back to more than 50 years since the integration of PepsiCo and Frito-Lay. Our company majorly focuses on building a healthier future for everyone through providing high quality world-scale products.”

When asked about countries of growth opportunities for PepsiCo, Nooyi stated that the company operates in 180 countries all over the world.

“For example, the US is one of our biggest markets and we are the biggest F&B company there… We are also growing in south eastern Asia, Pacific Ocean and Eastern Europe. Latin America has revealed growth potentials similar to these in the Middle East because of the high population. The good news is that we focus on diversifying options, healthy offers and delightful products that motivate us to carry out more investments in these countries.”

Commenting on previous steps taken by her to change the way PepsiCo operates and the challenges facing the company, Nooyi stated that she did not take only steps that can be done during five or ten years but it is a comprehensive journey of development. As for the challenges, she considered that the biggest difficulty is to be able to persuade consumers in the Middle East in the health new products.

Finally, the newspaper asked Nooyi on the company’s contradicting statements regarding US President Donald Trump, she said that the during the elections her statement was not reported properly and that after the elections, Trump has her full support as a US citizen.

Mohammed bin Rashid: Arab Region Possesses Potentials to Revive

Dubai

Dubai- Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum addressed a panel of the World Government Summit, which was launched in Dubai on Sunday, affirming that the Arab world civilization should start comprehending the indicators of the future to regain its past glories.

Sheikh Mohammed referred to a message he made to the Arab governments 12 years ago that “you must change, or you will be changed.”

“As we talk about resuming civilization, we need hope. I am optimistic because it is the man who makes civilization, economy and money. If the Arab-Muslim man succeeded in building a civilization in the past, then he is capable of resuming it,” he added.

Sheikh Mohammed continued, “The Arab world possesses all required potentials, including human resources, education, fertile lands and will-power. The only thing missing is management — The management of governments, economy, resources, infrastructure and even management of sports. We are 300 million, almost equal to the population of the U.S., but look how many medals they win in the Olympic Games. We have failures in certain areas that need to be addressed.”

Answering a question on the possibility of achieving a balance between economic and tourism openness on one hand and security on the other, Sheikh Mohammed replied: “The world’s problems are open-ended and we have to grow for the interest of our people and country. If we had said 40 years ago: let us stop until it is safe, we wouldn’t have achieved anything.”

On how to develop civilization through separating religion from politics, he said: “During the pre-Islam era, tribes used to fight and invade each other and when Islam came, the civilization started. Today, there are people with half knowledge, who blow themselves up in Europe and America in the name of faith. Their interpretation of Islam is wrong — Islam is a tolerant faith that calls for peace for all people, not only Muslims.”

Opinion: When Lebanese Democracy Talks

The controversy surrounding the election of Donald Trump as US president made many outside America have another look at how its electoral system works. However, controversy is surely not limited to America; it extends to Lebanon, a faraway small country that boasts being an ‘institutional democratic’ state built on consensus and entente.

Many pose questions about the logic behind the American political system which values the electoral votes of individual states more than the direct popular votes of the electorate. The fact is that the USA is a federal country, thus its political representation needs to reflect two fundamental principles without which no healthy democracy can survive:
-The first is simple direct democracy whereby the numerical majority has the advantage over the numerical minority; and this is embodied in the House of Representatives where each state is represented by a number of congressmen relative to its population.
-The second is respect for national unity in a diverse society, where an individual in a populous state must enjoy no advantage over another individual from a less populous state before the federal law which must treat all Americans equally. The principle of national unity is enshrined in the Senate where all states, regardless of population, are equally represented by two senators each.

This great vision has helped make the American political system as a whole, one of the fairest and most advanced in the world. It has sustained an ever growing and geographically expanding country since the 16th century, attracting wave after wave of immigration; and through the years each American state based on its topography, natural environment, and economic resources had specific attributes and qualities despite free and smooth inter-state movement.

Of course Lebanon is far too small compared to the USA. Its ‘democratic’ experience is also pretty modest to compare with that of America’s ‘Founding Fathers’ and the legislations and agreements they adopted, even though these legislations and agreements failed to prevent the American Civil war (1861-1865), some vestiges of which remain until today. In fact, Lebanon too had a civil war in 1860 that helped create its almost ‘independent’ status; and as in America’s case, the vestiges of the war remain, while its borders have changed.

Still, size and global influence aside, there is another major difference between the American and Lebanese examples, which is that the Americans have learnt from their experiences, respected their institutions, and stopped bluffing themselves, which is not the case with the Lebanese.

In the USA no less than five presidents trailed their opponents in the popular votes, but abiding by the Constitution, the process led them to the White House. Moreover, despite the huge diversity in a country of 320 million inhabitants, there remains a good deal of healthy co-existence. We don’t hear people calling every day for a new electoral law that enhances the share of his or her ethnicity or religious sect. Nor do we hear of people calling for foreign intervention in their favor in the light of changing international policies.

Lebanon’s case, however, is totally different. Here, even the Lebanese constitution does not deal with its people as citizens but rather as members of sectarian flocks. The constitution which recognizes 17 sects, has “permanently” allocated each sect what has been deemed as its fair share of governmental position although population changes are continuous as are political disagreements.

Another interesting fact is that any Lebanese may spend his/her lifetime within the confines of his/her sect without interacting with other sects, beginning with birth, death, inheritance and marriage registries, and ending with education, health and employment. Thus, religious sects in Lebanon are de facto quasi-independent ‘states’, that have their own leaders, political parties, schools, universities, hospitals, and even sport clubs!

Given this situation and bearing in mind the vestiges of the past, the Lebanese have two living obsessions: the first is the ‘unfairness’ lamented by the Muslims who believe they are the majority that is long prevented from enjoying what it deserved under the French Mandate (1920-1943); and the second is the ‘fear’ felt by the Christians towards the ‘sea of Muslims’ surrounding them. The latter, led at first to separating Mount Lebanon from its surrounding area in 1861 and giving it the status of an ‘autonomous district’, i.e. “Mutassarrifiyya”, under the joint rule of the Ottoman Government and the European Powers, in order to ensure the ‘protection’ of the Christians. Then in 1920, it led to the creation of the current Lebanon (Grand Liban) under a Christian president, and a 6 to 5 parliamentary representation in the Christians’ favour that lasted until the ‘Taif Agreement’ in 1989.

Now, after ending ‘the presidential vacuum’ and forming the new cabinet, all that remains is electing a new parliament to replace the current one. The latter ended its four year term in 2013, but due to ongoing disagreement the scheduled elections were cancelled and its term extended. Still, disagreements continue regarding under what electoral law the forthcoming elections should be conducted, noting that almost all political parties and blocs refuse to carry on under the current multiple seat constituency law, popularly known as ‘The 1960 Law’.

There are many alternatives being put forward by parties and blocs ranging from full ‘proportional representation’ as preferred by Hezbollah and followers – which is understandable given its virtual armed hegemony – to the ‘Greek Orthodox Law’ whereby each sect elects its own members of parliament, including different ‘mixed’ versions combining direct vote and PR.

One alternative, however, that seems to be intentionally and stubbornly dismissed is the one calling for a bi-cameral parliament comprising: A Senate or Upper House elected by each sect, whereby all religious sects are equally represented and enjoy a ‘veto’ on issues adversely affecting their interests; and a House of Deputies or Representative, elected with no sectarian quota, with Lebanon as a single constituency, thus encouraging proper issue-based political parties after ridding the country of the two obsessions, i.e. the Muslims with ‘unfairness’ and the Christians with ‘fear’!

Why the idea of a Senate looks like being rejected out of hand, is not really surprising, if one keeps in mind the Lebanese eternal gamble in external forces and changes of regional and international balance of power. This remains the case despite the fact that the Lebanese Constitution, as adopted in Taif, called clearly for ‘wide decentralization’ and a ‘senate’.

Indeed, it has become a habit of Lebanon’s factions to demand justice and fairness when they are the underdogs, but seek hegemony when they feel they are winning.

Given such a mentality, any authority devised to curtail the ambitions of the powerful and defended the rights of the weak, has no chance of being accepted; as every faction hopes one day to be powerful enough to monopolize the country, and obliterate the others. Even the one who may be weak today would rather hope for an opportune moment to gamble again, and settle old scores.

In short, this is ‘electoral democracy – Lebanese Style’!

Is America at its Greatest what Trump has in Mind?

Trump

For America, 2016 was a dark year. The country was still at war. Our election was a brutal grudge match that left us more polarized than ever. Our closest allies were rocked by terrorism and turmoil. Adversaries toyed with our politics. Even the basic facts about life and science seemed to be in dispute.

However you voted, this was a year few would want to repeat. Now, as the calendar is about to turn, many of us look to the new year with a mix of hope and concern.

If you’re like me, this holiday season is a time for reflection, sometimes with anguish, about how we got here and where we’re going. I found comfort in the image at the center of the Christian faith, of an innocent baby arriving in a dark land — the beginning of a story that has been more powerful over the past 2,000 years than all the tyrants and tax collectors.

Americans are optimists, by birth or affirmation. We pledge allegiance to a country that is “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” We believe in “And the Fair Land,” the abundant nation evoked by the Wall Street Journal in its Thanksgiving editorial, which has been printed every year since 1961: “We can remind ourselves that for all our social discord we yet remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves without benefit of kings or dictators. Being so, we are the marvel and the mystery of the world.”

The year ahead will test how well the system devised by our founders works under stress. President-elect Donald Trump proposes radical changes welcomed by his supporters but feared by many who voted against him. He won’t succeed if he drives the country to the breaking point.

How hard will Trump push to undo existing laws and agreements? Will Congress play its role in checking raw executive power, or will Republican majorities be loyal to party first? Will officials who swear to protect and defend the Constitution demonstrate by their behavior in office that they mean it?

As Trump’s inauguration approaches, he remains a mystery to many of us. He seeks to be a disruptive agent of change, but what are the limits? What if Trump tries to place himself above the law? He wouldn’t be the first president to do so, but are the country’s institutions still strong enough to resist? What if he tries to subvert investigations of Russian hacking that are being conducted by our intelligence agencies and Congress? The cliche “profiles in courage” may actually get a test in 2017.

Trump’s comment Wednesday that “we ought to get on with our lives” despite Russian hacking sounded like a self-protective attempt to minimize an investigation that’s only beginning.

This coming year, the United States will face the severe strains that accompany change and political division. We’re a soft target for our adversaries right now — a country whose nerves are raw and jangled, whose tribal fault lines are exposed and easy to exploit.

Our national heroes are the men and women who get up every day and serve the country — in the military abroad, in schools and hospitals and fire stations at home. We want to be as steadfast in adversity as they are. We’ll find out in 2017 how healthy our body politic really is, and whether our democratic institutions remain resilient.

This holiday season, I got a burst of sunshine in a production of “Carousel,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, at the Arena Stage in Washington. Many strands of our national myth come together in this story of a carnival barker who falls in love with a sweet, shy girl who works in a factory. It’s a hymn to blue-collar America, to rebellious young people who insist on being free spirits despite the prissy elitists and censorious prudes who want to tell them what to think. Like “Oklahoma,” it describes the America many of us have in our heads when we think about the way life used to be.

How did this quintessential American story of working people in Maine emerge? It was adapted from a 1909 Hungarian play. The 1945 Broadway version was written by two Jewish Americans and directed by an Armenian American. Nowadays, the phrase “melting pot” is sometimes taken as a “micro-aggression.” Not then.

When Trump says “Make America Great Again,” he evokes the national mythology that binds us together, whatever racial or other biases it may conceal. After a bruising 2016, perhaps this is a theme that we all can embrace. America is at its greatest when it’s united, confident and inclusive of all its citizens. Let’s hope that’s what Trump has in mind for this country. We need to be great in that way again.

Washington Post