Tag Archives: US presidential elections

Book review: To Kill The President by Sam Bourne

Book review: To Kill The President by Sam Bourne
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
31 August 2017

Writing under the pseudonym Sam Bourne, Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland’s new book is a timely Washington D.C.-based political thriller.

Presumably finished soon after Donald Trump won the presidency in November last year, To Kill The President begins with an unnamed, newly elected and manically unstable Commander in Chief stopped at the last minute from ordering an unprovoked nuclear strike on North Korea – a storyline that got Freedland plenty of media exposure during the recent US-North Korean nuclear standoff.

Operating in the shadows is the president’s calculating, deeply unpleasant chief strategist Crawford ‘Mac’ McNamara, clearly based on the recently departed Steve Bannon.

Fighting the good liberal fight is Maggie Costello, a former UN aid worker and peace negotiator now working in the White House’s Counsel Office. Ordered to investigate the mysterious death of the President’s personal doctor, she uncovers a plot to assassinate POTUS, grappling with the personal, moral and political repercussions of her discovery. Should she try to stop the murder of the democratically elected head of state, or would the US and the world be a better place if the ignorant and dangerous demagogue was six feet under? This conundrum isn’t as interesting as Freedland thinks it is but nonetheless it’s an entertaining plot device, one that encourages the reader to root for the assassin, in a similar way to Frederick Forsyth’s classic The Day of the Jackal.

The centrality of the assassination plot means the book is inescapably premised on a particularly elite view of history – that the real power resides with Great Men and that significant, long-lasting political change is triggered if they are disposed. Social movements, grassroots activism, broad historical currents – all are ignored.

Talking of politics, as a long-time reader of Freedland’s Guardian articles, I was interested to see if his brand of liberal, establishment-friendly politics would be reflected in his writing, or whether he was a skilled enough author to escape, or atleast think critically about, his increasingly irrelevant worldview (e.g. his article just before the general election about Labour’s fortunes titled ‘No more excuses: Jeremy Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown’).

Spoiler alert: it’s the former.

Diligently following the press pack, lamentably the book is preoccupied with the supposed dangers of social media, and those liberal bête noires – so-called Fake News and post-truth politics. In contrast Media Lens told the Morning Star last year the “media performance” of the corporate liberal media “is itself largely fake news”, arguing the term is deployed to demonise social media and bolster the corporate media. Indeed, Freedland isn’t averse to some post-truth politics himself. For example, “when violence resumed in Gaza” was how he described/dismissed, on BBC Question Time, Israel’s 2014 one-sided bombardment of Gaza that killed 1,523 Palestinian civilians, including 519 children, according to the United Nations.

The previous occupant of the Oval Office – who Costello reverentially remembers serving under – is represented as a benign, wise, rational man. Laughably, at one point Freedland writes that this Obama-like figure insisted an investigation into a “mid-ranking official” in his own administration had as wide a remit as possible to make sure it uncovered any corruption going on. Again, this power worship shouldn’t be surprising when one considers Freedland’s quasi-religious account of Obama coming on stage in Berlin in July 2008: the then Democratic presidential candidate “almost floated into view, walking to the podium on a raised, blue-carpeted runway as if he were somehow, magically, walking on water”, he breathlessly recorded.

“We will miss him when he’s gone”, he wrote about president No. 44, who had bombed seven nations, killing thousands of men, women and children, during his presidency. Freedland has acted as a defacto unpaid intern in the White House press office for decades. “I had seen a maestro at the height of his powers. Clinton was the Pele of politics, and we might wait half a century to see his like again”, he gushed at the end of Bill Clinton’s time in office in 2000. “I will miss him”.

Perhaps it’s too much to ask from To Kill A President, but the book – and no doubt Freedland – shows no awareness of the relationship between Obama’s neoliberal, status quo-saving politics and the rise of Trump. Or the key role played by liberal commentators such as Freedland in shielding the Wall Street-funded Obama from serious criticism.

Though it doesn’t match the excitement levels or political conspiracy of the best in the genre – think the unthreatening and simplistic politics of TV show Designated Survivor rather than the radicalism of Costa Gavras’s Z or the lightening pace of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels – Freedland has written an enjoyable page-turner. Just don’t read it to understand US politics, the Trump presidency or how real progressive change might be made in America.

To Kill The President is published by HarperCollins, priced £7.99.

 

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Book Review: How I Lost by Hillary Clinton

Book Review: How I Lost by Hillary Clinton
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
7 August 2017

Since Trump was elected President of the United States the Democratic Party establishment and Hillary Clinton supporters have blamed everyone – including FBI Director James Comey, the Russian government and backers of Bernie Sanders – except the Democratic candidate herself.

How I Lost puts the spotlight firmly on Clinton, arguing she lost because she is “an economic and political elitist and a foreign policy hawk divorced from the serious concerns of ordinary Americans”.

The book’s wheeze is that Clinton is the author, based on the fact it’s largely based on Clinton’s own words taken from her campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails and Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails – both leaked by Wikileaks last year. However, Clinton’s authorship is a red herring – it is former Wall Street Journal correspondent Joe Lauria who provides the important context and inconvenient facts (for Clinton anyway) to help the reader make sense of all the leaked information. Wikileaks Editor-In-Chief Julian Assange provides the book’s foreword.

The emails paint a picture of Clinton and her team as deeply Machiavellian characters, her “embrace of centrist neoliberalism” completely out of touch with our turbulent political times. Journalists are shown to have an extremely cosy relationship with Clinton’s campaign, while emails are presented showing that Clinton’s entourage and the Democratic Party establishment colluded to crush Sander’s insurgent campaign to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for the presidency. The Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee sent Clinton’s team advanced warning of questions to be asked by the audience in debates between Sanders and Clinton, while the DNC’s Chief Financial Officer suggested to the DNC Communications Manager that Sanders should be challenged about his religious beliefs, which they saw as a potential weakness.

On foreign policy, the emails highlight Clinton as an aggressive military interventionist in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and the “shit show” (Barack Obama’s description) that is Libya. Though she publically called for the US setting up no-fly zones in Syria, in a private 2013 speech to Goldman Sachs she suggested caution as it would “kill a lot of Syrians.”

So how can Trump and the Republicans be defeated at the next presidential election? Lauria is clear: the Democrats need to “find a candidate seriously committed to reversing the betrayal of the party’s traditional working-class base and restore the badly eroded New Deal.” Who that should be is unclear, though one thing is undeniable – it can’t be Clinton or someone with her politics.

How I Lost by Hillary Clinton is published by OR Books, priced £14.

Book review. ‘Trump Unveiled: Exposing The Bigoted Billionaire’ by John K. Wilson

Book review. Trump Unveiled: Exposing the Bigoted Billionaire by John K. Wilson
by Ian Sinclair
Red Pepper
April-May 2017

“A narcissistic, bigoted, even idiotic fool”, Donald Trump “is just a petty, vicious, angry man”, argues John K. Wilson in this short primer, published just before the US presidential vote.

Written in a no-nonsense, straightforward style, Trump Unveiled shows just how frightening Trump’s election to the highest office of the most powerful country in the world really is. The chapters on Trump’s racism, misogyny and his belief in wild conspiracy theories are often both hilarious (Trump reportedly told one woman “Once you made love to me, you’ll never to able to make love to anybody else”) and horrifying (he is a climate change denier). The American president is a “sociopath”, Tony Schwartz, the co-author of Trump’s 1987 book The Art of the Deal, said last year. “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

However, though it is important to highlight Trump’s unsavoury business dealings, ignorant arrogance and often contradictory political positions, arguably progressives need to jettison this often highly personal criticism and start to think systematically, radically and self-reflectively. Why did huge numbers of Americans vote for The Donald? Like many liberals, Wilson focusses on Trump’s outrageous public statements and behaviour while failing to seriously engage with the fact his campaign was likely successful because he repeatedly talked to working people about trade, jobs and declining industry.

The key task for the left now is to work out how Trump can be defeated – something Wilson’s book offers few insights on. In the short-term there are hopeful signs: his poll ratings are disastrously low, his administration is looking relatively weak and, as the growing scandal over the resignation of his National Security Advisor shows, wholly incompetent. In the long-term the left needs to be organised and powerful enough to make sure a credible, socialist-minded candidate gets the Democratic nomination for president. Given that Hillary Clinton’s enthusiastic backing for Wall Street deregulation and the North American Free Trade Agreement ultimately boosted support for Trump, a neoliberal, ‘pragmatic’ candidate is simply no longer an option.

Trump Unveiled is published by OR Books, priced £13.

 

The US presidential elections: corporate power vs democracy

The US presidential elections: corporate power vs democracy
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
21 April 2016

With the 24-hour, wall-to-wall soap opera-style coverage, it is easy to get lost in the minutiae of the US presidential primaries. Seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency, Senator Bernie Sanders recently noted “We need to break through the fog of the corporate media, which does everything that they can to keep us entertained without addressing the real issues… they talk about everything under the sun, but not the real issues.”

So what are the real issues when it comes to the US presidential elections?

Discussing the influence of money last year, former US President Jimmy Carter provided much needed clarity: “It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president.”

Comparing polling data with policy outcomes, recent research by conducted by two academics from Princeton University and Northwestern University provides hard evidence to support Carter’s assertion that the US is controlled by a monied elite. “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence”, note Professor Martin Gilens and Professor Benjamin Page. “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association” they conclude. However “if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

Professor Thomas Ferguson fleshed out the nefarious relationship between money and US electoral politics in his 1995 book Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems. Many view US politics through the wrong lens, Ferguson argued in 2010, “treating public policy as the result of the will of voters. But, in fact, American political parties are mostly bank accounts.” Ferguson maintains the historical record shows “parties are more accurately analysed as blocs of major investors who coalesce to advance candidates representing their interests.” Importantly, his theory posits that “on all issues affecting the vital interests that major investors have in common, no party competition will take place.” To take just one example, neither of the two main parties reflects the interests of the majority of Americans who have long supported an American national health service, according to repeated polling.

For Edward Herman and David Peterson the US political system is “an unelected dictatorship of money” whereby big business “vets the nominees of the Republican and Democratic parties, reducing the options available to US citizens to two candidates, neither of whom can change the foreign or domestic priorities of the imperial US regime.” Hillary Clinton’s conservative, business-friendly presidential candidacy is the perfect illustration of this. The former Secretary of State and her husband Bill Clinton have received $35 million from the financial services, insurance companies and real estate sectors since 2001, including $675,000 from Goldman Sachs for giving three speeches, aswell as the backing of the vast majority of the liberal media.

In contrast, CNN noted in January 2016 that left-leaning social democrat Sanders “has received vastly less media attention than” Clinton, “while his chances of becoming the party’s nominee were largely dismissed by pundits and commentators.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? “None of them, except the Morning Star, supported us”, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell explained earlier this year about the British media’s coverage of Jeremy Corbyn’s bid to become Labour leader. “Even the liberal left Guardian opposed us and undermined us at every opportunity.”

Like Corbyn’s inspirational grassroots campaign in the UK, Sander’s surging progressive campaign suggests the corporate-controlled political status quo is not invincible, that the popular will of the people can force its way on to the agenda in the right circumstances.

And like Corbyn and the British establishment – remember that a senior serving general threatened a coup should the MP for Islington North become prime minister – Sanders’s growing popularity has, according to commentator Brent Budowsky, put “virtually the entire Washington and Wall Street establishments… in a state of panic.”

Though a victory for Sanders in the race to become the Democratic presidential nominee would be an astonishing moment in US politics, unfortunately it looks like Clinton’s lead is insurmountable. But all is not lost for those who wish to see a more equal and peaceful world. As US historian Howard Zinn once noted “What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but ‘who is sitting in’ – and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.”

Therefore, with the climate crisis already upon us, Obama having bombed seven nations and talk of another financial crisis over the horizon, win or lose it is imperative that the mobilisation and energy of Sanders’s campaign is expanded and deepened into a sustained mass movement that can successfully challenge corporate power and the dark shadow it casts over US politics.