Friday essay: turning up the level of civilisation



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Donald and Melania Trump in Paris last week. According to the Washington Post, the president has made 6,420 false or misleading comments in 649 days.
Ian Langsdon/EPA

Julianne Schultz, Griffith University

In October 2005 Stephen Colbert was just starting his eponymous show. It is somewhat chilling to realise that this was when he came up with the word truthiness: it seems so now.

It has taken a while to reach maturity and morphed into the even more menacing trumpiness. Truthiness captures the slippery world inhabited by those unencumbered by books, or facts, context or complexity – for those who just know with their heart rather than their heads – where things can just feel truthful.

Who would have thought that a little more than a decade later, the White House would be occupied by a man who makes the Colbert character seem almost reasonable. Quaintly charming. Trumpiness captures something even more sinister, statements that don’t even have to feel truthful, apparently ignorant rough-hewn words, weaponised for effect. Whatever comes out – alarmingly frequently words that sound as though they emanated from the crib sheet of a propaganda handbook.

In defining these words, Colbert provided a helpful predictor for a president who according to the Washington Post last week, had made 6,420 false or misleading comments in 649 days. That is industrial scale deception – small lies told over and over, medium sized lies that have become a new global lingua franca and big lies that take even his most ardent supporters by surprise and sometimes force a sort of retraction or denial – sort of, but only after they have already infiltrated the virtual world and got a life of their own.

This is not normal. It is not the way we have come to expect even a tainted public sphere, distorted by the commercialisation of public attention, to operate. The president’s mantra of fake news is, as he has admitted, a deliberate and determined effort to undermine confidence in what remains of a rigorous public sphere and professional journalism that takes itself seriously. In the unregulated, “more insidious” domain of the internet this is particularly dangerous.

Such industrial scale deception is at odds with the norms that characterise any flourishing civilisation. If truth is irrelevant to discourse, trust is not merely dented it is destroyed. Other norms of acceptable behaviour cannot be far away. What is happening now, goes well beyond spin or hollow speech. The New York Times correspondent Roger Cohen describes it as “corrosive, corrupting and contagious”.

In the shrunken global village this has dangerous implications everywhere, for public and personal behaviour. If the so called, “leader of the free world” can talk the way he does, without regard to fact or feeling, the level of civilisation is turned down everywhere he is heard.

What we are witnessing is behaviour contrary to the long-established moral core of a civilised society, arguably giving succour to evil, and deliberately destroying trust.

Democracy in retreat

So how did it come to this?

It is easy to feel that the world is going to hell in a handbasket – the news of catastrophe and disaster, the inflammatory US president, the distortion of social media, the global instability of superpower realignment, the palpable threat of climate change, the rise of authoritarian leaders – and that is for starters.

Freedom House, the Washington-based NGO, has been monitoring global freedom since 1941, when a very different US President articulated an expansive ethic that has since prevailed in “kin countries” and beyond. With the second world war in full, murderous, destructive fury, President Roosevelt declared that as human beings, all people were entitled to freedom of speech and expression, freedom to worship their god in their own way, freedom from want and freedom from fear. At the time it was ambitious rhetoric, demonstrably at odds with the wartime experience. But it provided guiding principles for a different future.

Last month in a very different context, Freedom House reported that around the world, political and civil rights sunk to their lowest level for a decade.

For the twelfth year in a row, democratic setbacks outnumbered gains. Democracy is in crisis. Values are under assault and in retreat in country after country. Young people are losing faith in politics. Trust has been eroded by commerce and the calcification of institutions. Millions of people are living without the rights we take for granted as a measure of civil, liberal, democratic society. Even nations that like to pride themselves on a deep democratic history are slipping on the scale, as trust in institutions is eroded and checks and balances slip out of equilibrium and technology remakes the way things are done.

This is most notable in the United States, which fell to 86 out of 100 on a scale measuring a wide range of political and individual rights and the rule of law, and the United Kingdom, which slipped to 94. Australia and NZ scored 98, with the virtuous Scandinavians topping with perfect scores.

This trend line is a matter of real concern, because it is contrary to the previous trajectory.

Until relatively recently, enhanced civil and political rights were what was expected, giving comfort to those of us who “hope the arc of history bends towards greater emancipation, equality and freedom”.

Taking a wider view of the state of the globe provides a slightly more reassuring message, that that arc may still be bending the right way. But the tension between individual rights and popular will is fertile territory for authoritarian leaders and their shadow puppets.

Survival is deep in our make up, means we dwell on the negative, alert to threats and dangers, ready to respond to fear. But as Stephen Pinker and Kishore Mahbubani loudly proclaim, the bigger picture is not as bad as we might be inclined to think with one ear cocked to the latest news bulletin and an eye on the real Donald Trump’s twitter feed.

The Human Development Index shows that as a species we are living longer and better. Life expectancy at birth worldwide is now 71 years, and 80 in the developed world; for most of human existence most people died around 30. Global extreme poverty has declined to 9.6% of the world’s population; still limiting the lives of too many, but 200 years ago, 90% lived in extreme poverty. In just the last 30 years, the proportion of the global population living with such deprivation has declined by 75%. Equally unappreciated is the fact that 90% of the world’s population under the age of 25 can read and write, including girls. For most of the history of Europe, no more than 15% of the people could read and write, mostly men.

So despite the truthiness feeling that things are going wrong, a lot is going right, for a lot of people, in a lot of countries. But this is a moment at risk of being squandered.

‘Reason sweeteened by values’

Which invites the question of what is at stake, how might the level of civilisation here be turned up, by whom, and to what end?

This was a question addressed by Robert Menzies when in 1959, as Prime Minister, he approved the formation of the Humanities Council, the precursor of the Australian Academy of Humanities. At the time, with the Cold War in full swing, and the memory of the hot war still smoking, Menzies declared the Humanities Council would provide,

Wisdom, a sense of proportion, sanity of judgement, a faith in the capacity of man to rise to higher mental and spiritual levels. We live dangerously in the world of ideas, just as we do in the world of international conflict. If we are to escape this modern barbarism, humane studies must come back into their own, not as the enemies of science, but as its guides and philosophic friends.

Robert Menzies: saw a key role for the ‘humane studies’.
AAP

Now we are more often likely to hear prominent politicians pillorying the humanities as esoteric and truth-defying, and humanities scholars as ideologues in cahoots with self-aggrandizing scientists who are addressing the existential crisis of climate change for personal gain.

To attack the university system at precisely the moment when it reaches more people, when its impact on the social, cultural and economic wellbeing of the nation has never been higher, seems perverse. Based on medium-sized lies, madness even, from the zone of truthiness.

As the debate triggered by the Ramsay proposal has shown there is a lot at stake. For all the noise in the press, the very fact that there are lots of different ways of approaching the study of civilisations, has not been addressed except by snide, often ill-informed or defensive comments about “relativism”.

I am not a scholar of civilisations or a philosopher, but I am aware of some of the complexity of these debates. The need to define civilisation, and to allow the notion of civilisations, has preoccupied fine minds, and lead to different conclusions. Are there six civilisations, as Samuel Huntington suggested remained when he wrote his most famous essay The Clash of Civilisations? Or the 26, not including the civilisation of the first Australians, which Arnold Toynbee had identified a few decades earlier in his monumental work A Study of History.

Some maintain that civilisations are shaped by religion, others by culture, cities, language, ideology, identity or as a response by human beings to nature.

Civilisations flower and die. Some leave artefacts, buildings and monuments that endure. Others leave stories, philosophies, language, knowledge and ways of being that echo and resonate long after. Some just disappear, some suicide. Others grow and respond to interaction, adapting and changing as they go. And we now know, many leave a measurable trail in the polar ice, as the recent discovery of the traces of lead from Ancient Rome from 1100 BCE revealed.

As Kenneth Clark reputedly said after devoting his life to popularising the study of civilisation, “I don’t know what it is, but I recognise it when I see it.”

A full moon rises behind the Propylaia of the ancient Acropolis of Athens, Greece, November 2016. Civilisations flower and die.
Andrea Bonetti/EPA

I like to think of it as a shorthand for the way human beings coexist with each other, the world they have created and the natural environment which makes it possible. While recognising the contestability of values, I like the positive humanity of Clive Bell’s notion of “reason sweetened by values” and RG Collingwood’s, “mental process toward ideal social relationships of civility”.

For me, civilisation is pluralist, contestable, open, polite, robust; buttressed by law, culture and institutions and maintained by sustainable economic conditions across time and place.

The need for a bill of rights

The barbarism of the second world war galvanised the creation of civilising mechanisms and institutions. They varied from country to country, with different impacts , but the intention was generally to expand rights and enhance democracy.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which will turn 70 on the 10th of December, was the most singular global response: its 30 rights recognise and spell out “the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family”. Its symbolic power exceeds its legal effect, as George Williams has written. It forms part of customary international law and is seen as binding on all nations. It been translated into 500 languages. Australia has ratified two of the most important subsequent conventions which grew under its umbrella to define political and civil; social, economic and cultural rights – so it is not without effect here.




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The Universal Declaration may well have faults and limits. Some regard it as “human rights imperialism” used by the West to run the world in ways that will protect and promote its interests. But when expansively applied, rather than as an embodiment of Western hegemony, it remains the best organising principle for civility that humanity has yet been devised. Ask women in Asia, India and the Middle East, democrats in Turkey, Hungary and Poland, activists in China or journalists in Russia.

“Without it”, as a Turkish-born scholar recently wrote, “we have few conceptual tools to oppose populism, nationalism, chauvinism and isolationism”.

Australians played an important role in the creation of the Declaration, but we have been tardy about its application. Ours is the only democratic nation which does not have a bill of rights – the only one. This is something that demands pause for thought. It is something we need to address if we are to foster an ethic for a distinctive, hybrid Australian civilisation.

An early morning view of Parliament House. Australia is the only democratic nation without a bill of rights.
Lukas Coch/AAP

It is probably worth noting in passing that some of the most strident opponents of an Australian bill of rights are also amongst the most vociferous promoters of a narrowly defined agenda to study western civilisation. It is easy in this environment to forget that the demographics are with those of us who see the arc of history bending up. Surveys show most Australians would welcome a formalisation of rights.

Surely a clear statement of rights and responsibilities is central to any attempt to define a civilisation and the way we co-exist, respectfully, sustainably, creatively.

More than a pale shadow

Tony Abbott: ‘a long march through our institutions’.
Joel Carrett/AAP

“Person by person the world does change,” Tony Abbott wrote in his essay for Quadrant that marked the beginning of the end of the Ramsay program at ANU. In his final paragraph, the former prime minister suggested that the “hundred bright young Australians” who received the proposed scholarships “might change the world”, and begin “a much more invigorating long march through our institutions!”

That makes me a little nervous. It sounds a bit like a fifth column, though I doubt that the students would be willing fodder for such a scheme. I suspect that if they were to embark on such a long march, they, like me, would prefer an open, inclusive, contested, respectful, non-ideological journey, grounded in the unique nature of this place as home to the oldest living civilisations, a product of British colonialism, the creation of people from every continent and our own imagining.

This country has a lot going for it, but we seem stuck in neutral. We need to regain ambition. To foster a remarkable country, one which learns from the mistakes of past and displaces complacent caution to imagine and create a robust, inclusive, generous, rights-based democratic order that will work well in the very different world of the 21st century.

It won’t come from politicians. It will, if history is a guide, be something that is worked up on the ground, in our universities, in our institutions, in our justice system, in business, community groups and on social media. As it takes shape, the politicians will follow and carry it forward.

There is a lot at stake. Person by person, we can help to turn the level of civilisation up in this place, so that it becomes much more than a pale shadow of the worst of the rest of the world.

This article is an excerpt of the 49th Academy Lecture delivered by Professor Julianne Schultz AM FAHA as part of the Australian Academy of the Humanities Symposium, ‘Clash of Civilisations: Where are we now?’ held at the State Library of NSW on 15 November 2018. The full lecture will be published in the 2019 edition of the Academy’s journal, Humanities Australia.The Conversation

Julianne Schultz, Founding Editor of Griffith REVIEW; Professor, Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The US midterms show the power of Trump’s divisive messages



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Ted Cruz held off a spirited challenge from Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke to help the Republicans hold onto the Senate in a big night for the GOP.
Michael Wyke/EPA

Timothy J. Lynch, University of Melbourne

The good news if you don’t like US President Donald Trump: he has less than 24 months remaining in his first term in office. The bad news: he now looks to have a better chance at staying in office until 2025.

This year’s midterm elections broke for Trump much more than expected. The Republicans maintained their control of the Senate, picking up key victories in Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota. And though the Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives, as expected, this is not the counter-revolution they were hoping for.

It is not a Trump wave, but it has confirmed the president’s staying power. Love him or hate him, he remains a remarkable political phenomenon.




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Some key takeaways from the midterm elections:

Scaring people worked: The Republicans not only held onto power in the Senate, they seem likely to have increased their slim majority in the chamber. Importantly, there will be more Trump Republicans in the Senate.

Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, such as his pledge to secure the border against an “invading caravan” of Central American migrants, worked as a get-out-the-base strategy. While Democrats enjoyed a surge in turn-out, Republican voters also did not stay home.

And several winning Republican candidates, like Mike Braun in Indiana, ran hard on Trump themes like immigration. Their victories show how much Trump’s control of the GOP has increased.

Trump for president in 2020: Trump looks to be in a better position for re-election than many commentators had believed.

The Democrats did take back the House, but that is par for the course in midterm elections. What’s more telling is that they did not invade Trump territory – the deep-red parts of the South, Midwest and Rust Belt – in any substantial way. Winning control of the House could make life difficult for Trump, but the Democrats cannot remove him from office without a sizeable majority in the Senate – which seems a world away.

Also, the midterms should make it a near-certainty that no serious Republican will challenge Trump for the presidential nomination in 2020. He has proven once again that he is an impressive electoral campaigner with a crude but effective grasp of strategy.

Democrats celebrated retaking the House, but they failed to make huge in-roads in ‘Trump country’.
Erik S. Lesser/EPA

There was a Brett Kavanaugh effect: The highly contentious nomination battle over Trump’s Supreme Court pick seems to have energised his base more than the Democrats’. The Democrats in red states who voted against Kavanaugh lost their re-election bids – Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Joe Donnelly in Indiana and Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

Meanwhile, the only Democrat to vote to confirm Kavanaugh – Senator Joe Manchin – won his race in predominantly Republican West Virginia.




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The US midterm elections are being billed as a referendum on Trump, but it’s not that simple


There is not a Democratic messiah in waiting: Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke looked like he might be this figure – a person to energise the party much the way then-Senator Barack Obama did in 2008 – but O’Rourke lost his race against incumbent Ted Cruz, despite a very tight contest. Democrats still need a platform that is about more than “Stop Trump.”

Beto O’Rourke would have been the first Democratic senator elected in Texas since 1988.
Larry W. Smith/EPA

It is a year of the woman – but not just progressive women: A record number of women (260) ran for Congress this year. Early results suggest that many white, female voters who backed Trump in 2016 went for Democratic candidates this time around, reflecting the salience of healthcare as a key election issue for Democrat voters.

But not all winning female candidates in the midterms were Democrats. Marsha Blackburn, a staunch Trump supporter and demoniser of the Central American migrant caravan, won the race for the open Senate seat in Tennessee.

Hispanics remain a key demographic: Trump was widely condemned for his anti-Hispanic immigrant stance in midterm campaigning. The paradox is that the more Republicans can appeal to Hispanics, the more likely they are to win next time.

According to exit polls, the Republicans look set to win less than 30% of Hispanic votes in the midterms, compared to nearly 45% captured by Republican George W. Bush in 2004. If they are able to increase this margin to between 35 to 40%, this might be enough to turn purple states like Florida and Nevada reliably red.




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There is a lot of purple out there: Americans still rather like split-ticket voting, meaning they are fine voting for different parties on the same ballot. This makes the notion of exclusively red and exclusively blue states an exaggeration.

For example, Democratic candidates picked up governorships in traditionally Republican states, such as Laura Kelly’s win in Kansas over Kris Kobach, a hard-line, anti-immigrant Trump ally. And Republicans won several governor races in traditionally Democratic New England.

Laura Kelly’s gubernatorial win in Kansas was a bright spot for the Democrats.
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Florida has retained its centrality to US electoral politics: The state remains essentially impossible to call. Polling trends were again defied on election day, with losses by Democrats Bill Nelson for Senate and Andrew Gillum for governor. As purple a state as they come, Florida could well determine the next several presidential elections.

The bottom line after the midterms is that Trump is here to stay. And though the Democrats now control the House, this has just offered him a foil – an institution to define himself against – as he moves toward re-election in two years time.The Conversation

Timothy J. Lynch, Associate Professor in American Politics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Democrats take House at US midterm elections, but Republicans keep Senate; Labor well ahead in Victoria



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Democrats celebrate as the US mid-term results come in.
AAP/EPA/Erik S. Lesser

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

US midterm elections were held today. All 435 House seats and 35 of the 100 Senators were up for election. Democrats were defending 26 Senators, including some states that Trump won by big margins in 2016, and Republicans just nine.

Democrats won the House, regaining control of a chamber they lost at the 2010 midterms. They currently have a 218-192 seat lead over the Republicans, with 25 races uncalled, and have gained a net 26 seats. Democrats lead the House popular vote by 50.7-47.6, but this gap will widen as more Californian votes are counted over the coming weeks.

The New York Times House forecast currently gives Democrats a predicted final majority of 229-206 and a popular vote margin over the Republicans of 7.1%. Expectations were that Democrats needed to win the House popular vote by six to seven points to win control, owing to Republican gerrymandering and the concentration of Democratic votes in urban areas.

In the Senate, Republicans hold a 51-45 lead over Democrats, with four races uncalled. They gained Missouri, Indiana and North Dakota. Indiana and Missouri voted for Trump by 18-19 points in 2016, and North Dakota by 37 points. However, Republicans missed out in West Virginia, which voted for Trump by 42 points. West Virginia’s Senator, Joe Manchin, is a more conservative Democrat. The Democrats gained Nevada, somewhat compensating for losses.

The most disappointing Senate result for Democrats is likely to be Florida, which voted for Trump by just 1.2 points. But Republican Rick Scott, the current Florida governor, currently leads incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson by 50.2-49.8, with few votes outstanding. Strong rural turnout for the Republicans, and lack of turnout from Democratic-favouring Hispanics, was probably responsible for this result.

A Senate byelection in Mississippi used a “jungle primary” format, where all candidates, regardless of party, run on the same ballot paper. If nobody wins a majority, the top two proceed to a runoff. The Republicans will almost certainly win this seat after the runoff on November 25.

In the Senate, Democrats paid the price for a very strong performance when these seats were last up for election in 2012. Republicans will be defending 22 seats in 2020, and Democrats just 12. As the whole House is up for election, it is a better gauge of popular opinion than the Senate.

Trump’s final pre-election ratings in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate were 41.8% approve, 52.8% disapprove, for a net approval of -11.0. Trump’s approval slipped from 43.1% on October 23, a high he had last reached in March 2017.

I wrote for The Poll Bludger on Saturday that the vitriolic anti-immigrant rhetoric, with which Trump closed the campaign, was likely to be counterproductive in the House, where battleground districts had higher levels of educational attainment. However, the more rural battleground Senate states were easier to win. In my opinion, it would have been better for Trump to focus on the strong US economy in the final stretch.

These results will give Democrats a veto over any legislation proposed by Trump and the Republicans, and they will be able to set up House investigations into Trump. However, the Senate has the sole power to confirm presidential Cabinet-level and judicial appointments. The Supreme Court currently has a 5-4 conservative majority, so Democrats will hope that none of the left-wing judges dies in the next two years.

With four contests uncalled, Republicans led Democrats by 25-21 in state governors, a six seat gain for the Democrats. Governors and state legislatures are important as, in many states, politicians can draw federal boundaries.

Victorian Newspoll: 54-46 to Labor

The Victorian election will be held on November 24. A Newspoll conducted October 24-28 from a sample of 1,092 gave Labor a 54-46 lead, a three-point gain for Labor since April. Primary votes were 41% Labor (up three), 39% Coalition (down two) and 11% Greens (steady). One Nation will not contest the state election.

45% (up two) were satisfied with Premier Daniel Andrews, and 40% (down seven) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +5, up nine points. Opposition Leader Matthew Guy’s net approval was -15, down two points. Andrews led Guy by 45-29 as better Premier (41-34 in April).

Labor led the Liberals by 45-37 on managing Victoria’s economy, a bad result for the Liberals as economic management tends to favour conservatives. Labor also led by 43-32 on maintaining energy supply and keeping power prices lower (42-40 in April). On law and order, a Liberal lead of 46-37 shrunk to just 39-38. Labor led by 33-30 on having the best plan for population growth.

We have had a recent Galaxy poll for the bus association that gave Labor a 53-47 lead. This Newspoll adds to the impression that Labor is pulling away, and should win the election easily.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The US midterm elections are being billed as a referendum on Trump, but it’s not that simple



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Much is hanging on the outcome of the US mid-term elections – and much of it is unpredictable.
Wes Mountain/The Conversation , CC BY-ND

Brendon O’Connor, University of Sydney and Dan Dixon, University of Sydney

From afar, the US midterm elections might seem to be all about Donald Trump, and there is some truth to this. The man, as has been the case for some years now, is unavoidable.

More than 700 days after the host of The Apprentice was elected to lead the world’s largest military and economic power, this will be the first chance for Americans to express buyer’s remorse at the ballot box by potentially giving the Democrats control of the House (and less likely the Senate) in order to rein in the president.

Trump himself is not up for re-election, though. Voters will be making decisions about local and state representatives, so it would be a mistake to presume the outcome will be entirely dependent on questions of federal leadership.




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However, Democrat Tip O’Neill’s famous claim that “all politics is local” is not entirely true here; this election has local, national and international implications.

This is why, once again, non-Americans are taking such an interest in an American election. Many believe that Trump and his Republican Party represent much of what endangers the world.

Who is up for election?

Members of the US House of Representatives serve two-year terms, and senators six-year terms. This means that all 435 members of the House and 35 out of 100 senators (33 plus two empty seats due to resignations) are up for re-election on November 6.

Due to the Democrats’ success in the 2012 election, just nine of those 35 Senate seats are Republican-controlled. So the Democrats’ chance of taking the Senate is slim – around 1-in-7, according to FiveThirtyEight.com – despite the fact Republicans currently hold only a narrow 51-49 majority.

For those outside the US, this may seem remarkable, given the profoundly unethical decisions enacted by the Trump administration, and the parade of misogyny that surrounded Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s recent Senate confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court.

And yet, there are a number of plausible scenarios in which the minority party could actually lose ground.




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To forge a path to victory in the Senate, Democrats will need to retain seats in states that Trump won easily in 2016 – North Dakota, Montana and Missouri – as well as in Florida, where incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson faces a tough race against multimillionaire Republican Governor Rick Scott.

They’ll also need to pick up a seat or two in the traditionally Republican states of Arizona, Texas, Tennessee and Mississippi (listed in order of likelihood). The fact that Mississippi and Tennessee are even in play for the Democrats is noteworthy because Trump won both in 2016 by over 15 percentage points.

But given the circumstances, the Democrats remain unlikely to win a Senate majority.

A Democratic victory in the House is far more probable, with FiveThirtyEight.com giving the minority party a 6-in-7 chance to take back control.

Because all House seats are up for grabs, this is the contest that many will view as a national referendum on the Trump administration. And the results will be shaped by voter turnout.

Typically, turnout for midterm elections is older and whiter than it is for presidential elections, and this is a demographic that favours Republicans. The Republicans have maintained or taken control of the House in every midterm election since 1994, with the exception of 2006, when President George W. Bush’s popularity had plummeted to the mid-30s due to his mishandling of the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina.

According to recent polling averages, Trump’s approval rating has been hovering at just over 40%.

Why is gerrymandering significant?

This election is consequential for far more than the future of the Trump administration. Republican victories in state legislatures and governors’ races, which occur alongside the national election, will provide another opportunity for the party to consolidate its power through gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is the underhanded process whereby elected politicians redraw federal and state electorate boundaries to group voters by demographics and improve their chances of success at the ballot box.

These lines are redrawn every 10 years, following a nationwide census. The next census is in 2020, so the lines will next be redrawn in 2021. This year’s midterm election is therefore crucial in determining which party will control each state during the upcoming redistricting process.

Gerrymandering tends to be a tactic of Republicans, who currently hold the majority of seats in 32 of America’s 50 state houses. Furthermore, the task of gerrymandering is more straightforward for Republicans, as Democratic voters are typically packed together in urban centres, while Republicans are usually spread out across states.

In a number of states, Republicans have engineered things so Democrats are sure to win just a few seats with massive majorities, while Republicans are favoured to capture far more by closer margins, for instance a 55% to 45% majority.

However, there is a catch. In a wave election, as this one may well be, those Republicans who would normally expect to get elected with 55% of the vote could be vulnerable. This may occur in this year’s House races in North Carolina.

What is the effect of voter suppression?

Further impeding the Democrats’ chances is the systematic and widespread strategy of voter suppression, which is typically utilised by Republicans to prevent likely Democrat voters, such as African Americans, from voting.

One particularly alarming example has been happening in Georgia, where Democrat Stacey Abrams is attempting to become the country’s first female African American governor.

Her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, also happens to be Georgia’s secretary of state. His office had been strictly enforcing a new law known as “exact match”, under which voter-registration applications are dismissed for absurdly minor discrepancies, such as missing hyphens or slightly mismatched signatures.




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A judge recently halted this practice, but over 53,000 registration applications have already been suspended. African Americans comprise 32% of the state’s population and nearly 70% of the rejected applications.

This kind of behaviour is not confined to a few rogue states. Other methods of voter suppression, such as felon disenfranchisement, voter ID laws and reductions in the number of polling booths in African American communities, are routinely used across the country to disproportionately target minority voters.

Even the fact that voting takes place on a Tuesday, rather than a weekend, marginalises people who cannot get off work. These people are likely to be poorer and less likely to be white.

Will Trump be impeached?

As was proven on the evening of November 8, 2016, while polls can show likelihoods, nothing is guaranteed. However, the polls currently suggest that the most likely outcome of these midterms is a Democratic-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate.

What this would mean for Trump is more frustration. The Democrats would be able to investigate the president’s questionable financial deals, potential fraud related to Trump University and possible links to Russian interference in the 2016 election. They could also push for the release of Trump’s much sought-after tax returns.

It seems likely the House will find grounds to impeach Trump. But, hold your breath – that would be only step one of a lengthy process.

Dismissal of a president requires 67 of 100 Senate votes, a threshold that makes such an event unlikely. Given the president’s propensity for mendacity, it will be intriguing to see whether he is able to avoid any perjury charges that might arise from Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian election interference. But again, such charges are unlikely to lead to his removal from office.

Yet who can say? Whatever the outcome on November 6, there is much about the future of US politics – and the global ramifications – that remains entirely unpredictable.The Conversation

Brendon O’Connor, Associate Professor in American Politics at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney and Dan Dixon, PhD Student in English, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

All eyes on November’s G20 meeting as tensions between China and the US ratchet up



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Much attention will be on the next meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump at the G20 in late November.
AAP/EPA/Roman Pilipey

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

When G20 finance ministers met in Bali last week to review economic developments in the lead-up to the annual G20 summit, they could not ignore troubling signs in the global economy driven by concerns about an intensifying US-China trade conflict.

Last week’s slide in equities markets will have served as a warning – if that was needed – of the risks of a trade conflict undermining confidence more generally.

China’s own Shanghai index is down nearly 30% this year. This is partly due to concerns about a trade disruption becoming an all-out trade war.




Read more:
The risks of a new Cold War between the US and China are real: here’s why


IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde’s call on G20 participants to “de-escalate” trade tensions or risk a further drag on global economic growth might have resonated among her listeners in Bali, but it is not clear calls to reason are getting much traction in Washington these days.

Uncertainties caused by a disrupted trading environment are already having an impact on global growth. In its latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF revised growth down to 3.7% from 3.9% for 2018-19, 0.2 percentage points lower than forecast in April.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has called on G20 members to
AAP/EPA/Made Nagi

The IMF is predicting slower growth for the Australian economy, down from a projected 2.9% this year to 2.8% next year. The May federal budget projected growth of 3% for 2018-19 and the following year.

Adding to trade and other tensions between the US and China are the issues of currency valuations, and a Chinese trade surplus.

In September, China’s trade surplus with the US ballooned to a record U$34.1 billion.

This comes amid persistent US complaints that Beijing has fostered a depreciation of the Yuan by about 10% this year to boost exports, which China denies.

These are perilous times in a global market in which the US appears to have shunned its traditional leadership role in favour of an internally-focused “America First” strategy.

So far, fallout from an increasingly contentious relationship between Washington and Beijing has been contained, but a near collision earlier this month between US and Chinese warships in the South China sea reminds us accidents can happen.

This is the background to a meeting at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires late in November between US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. That encounter is assuming greater significance as a list of grievances between the two countries expands.

US Vice President Mike Pence’s speech last week to the conservative Hudson Institute invited this question when he accused of China of “malign” intent towards the US.

Are we seeing the beginning of a new cold war?

The short answer is not necessarily. However, a further deterioration in relations could take on some of the characteristics of a cold war, in which collaboration between Washington and Beijing on issues like North Korea becomes more difficult.

By any standards, Pence’s remarks about China were surprising. He suggested, for example, that Chinese meddling in American internal affairs was more serious than Russia’s interventions in the 2016 president campaign.

He accused Beijing of seeking to harm Republican prospects in mid-term congressional elections and Trump’s 2020 re-election bid. This was a reference to China having taken its campaign against US tariffs to newspaper ads in farm states like Iowa.

Soybean exports to China have been hit hard by retaliatory tariff measures applied by Beijing in response to a first round of tariffs levied by the US.

“China wants a different American president,” Pence said.

This is probably true, but it could also be said that much of the rest of the world – not to mention half of the US population – would like a different American president.

All this unsteadiness – and talk of a “new cold war” – is forcing an extensive debate about how to manage relations with the US and China in a disrupted environment that seems likely to become more, not less, challenging.

Australian academic debate, including contributions from various “think tanks”, has tended to focus on the defence implications of tensions in the South China Sea for Australia’s alliance relationship with the US.

This debate has narrowed the focus of Australia’s concerns to those relating to America’s ability – or willingness – to balance China’s regional assertiveness.

This assertiveness increasingly is finding an expression in China’s activities in the south-west Pacific, where Chinese chequebook – or “debt-trap” – diplomacy is being wielded to build political influence.

Australian policymakers have been slow to respond to China’s push into what has been regarded as Australia’s own sphere of influence.




Read more:
Despite strong words, the US has few options left to reverse China’s gains in the South China Sea


Leaving aside narrowly-focused Australian perspectives, it might be useful to get an American view on the overarching challenges facing the US and its allies in their attempts to manage China’s seemingly inexorable rise.

Among American China specialists, few have the academic background and real-time government experience to match that of Jeffrey Bader, who served as President Barack Obama special assistant for national security affairs from 2009-2011.

In a monograph for the Brookings Institution published in September, Bader poses a question that becomes more pertinent in view of Pence’s intervention. He writes:

Ever since President Richard Nixon opened the door to China in 1972, it has been axiomatic that extensive interaction and engagement with Beijing has been in the US national interest.

The decisive question we face today is, should such broad-based interaction be continued in a new era of increasing rivalry, or should it be abandoned or radically altered?

The starkness of choices offered by Bader is striking. These are questions that would not have entered the public discourse as recently as a few months ago.

He cites a host of reasons why America and its allies should be disquieted by developments in China. These include its mercantilist trade policies and its failure to liberalise politically in the three decades since the Tiananmen protests.

However, the costs of distancing would far outweigh the benefits of engagement to no-one’s advantage, least of all American allies like Japan, India and Australia.

None of these countries, in Bader’s words, would risk economic ties with China nor join in a “perverse struggle to re-erect the ‘bamboo curtain’… We will be on our own”. He concludes:

American should reflect on what a world would be like in which the two largest powers are disengaged then isolated from, and ultimately hostile to each other – for disengagement is almost certain to turn out to be a way station on the road to hostility, he concludes.

Bader has been accused of proffering a “straw man argument’’ on grounds that the administration is feeling its way towards a more robust policy, and not one of disengagement. But his basic point is valid that Trump administration policies represent a departure from the norm.




Read more:
Response to rumours of a Chinese military base in Vanuatu speaks volumes about Australian foreign policy


At the conclusion of the IMF/World Bank meetings in Bali, Christine Lagarde added to her earlier warnings of “choppy” waters in the global economy stemming from trade tensions and further financial tightening. She said:

There are risks out there in the system and we need to be mindful of that…bIt’s time to buckle up.

That would seem to be an understatement, given the unsteadiness in the US-China relationship and global geopolitical strains more generally.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Poll wrap: Phelps slumps to third in Wentworth; Trump’s ratings up after fight over Kavanaugh



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Independent Kerryn Phelps has slumped in the polls ahead of the Wentworth byelection, which was likely caused by changing her position on preferences.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The Wentworth byelection will be held on October 20. A ReachTEL poll for independent Licia Heath’s campaign, conducted September 27 from a sample of 727, gave the Liberals’ Dave Sharma 40.6% of the primary vote, Labor’s Tim Murray 19.5%, independent Kerryn Phelps 16.9%, Heath 9.4%, the Greens 6.2%, all Others 1.8% and 5.6% were undecided.

According to The Poll Bludger, if undecided voters were excluded, primary votes would be 43.0% Sharma, 20.7% Murray, 17.9% Phelps, 10.0% Heath and 6.6% Greens. Compared to a September 17 ReachTEL poll for GetUp!, which you can read about on my personal website, primary vote changes were Sharma up 3.7%, Murray up 3.3%, Phelps down 4.8%, Heath up 5.6% and Greens down 6.0%. Phelps fell from second behind Sharma to third behind Murray and Sharma.

Between the two ReachTEL polls, Phelps announced on September 21 that she would recommend preferences to the Liberals ahead of Labor, backflipping on her previous position of putting the Liberals last. It is likely this caused her slump.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Labor drops in Newspoll but still has large lead; NSW ReachTEL poll tied 50-50


While more likely/less likely to vote a certain way questions always overstate the impact of an issue, it is nevertheless bad for Phelps that 50% of her own voters said they were less likely to vote for her as a result of the preference decision.

This ReachTEL poll was released by the Heath campaign as it showed her gaining ground. Heath appears to have gained from the Greens, and the endorsement of Sydney Mayor Clover Moore could further benefit her.

Despite the primary vote gain for Sharma, he led Murray by just 51-49 on a two candidate basis, a one-point gain for Murray since the September 17 ReachTEL. The Poll Bludger estimated Murray would need over three-quarters of all independent and minor party preferences to come this close to Sharma.

At the 2016 election, Malcolm Turnbull won 62.3% of the primary vote in Wentworth. While the Liberals’ primary vote in this poll is about 19% below Turnbull, it is recovering to a winning position.

Trump, Republicans gain in fight over Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation

On July 9, Trump nominated hard-right judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace the retiring centre-right judge Anthony Kennedy. The right currently has a 5-4 Supreme Court majority, but Kennedy and John Roberts have occasionally voted with the left. If Kavanaugh is confirmed by the Senate, it will give the right a clearer Supreme Court majority. Supreme Court judges are lifetime appointments.

Although Kavanaugh is a polarising figure, he looked very likely to be confirmed by the narrow 51-49 Republican majority Senate until recent sexual assault allegations occurred. Since September 16, three women have publicly accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when he was a high school or university student.

On September 27, both Kavanaugh and his first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. On September 28, without calling additional accusers, the Committee favourably reported Kavanaugh by an 11-10 majority, with all 11 Republicans – all men – voting in favour.

However, after pressure from two Republican senators, the full Senate confirmation vote was delayed for a week to allow an FBI investigation. The Senate received the FBI’s findings on Thursday, and the investigation did not corroborate Ford. Democrats have labelled the report a “whitewash”, but it appears to have satisfied the doubting Republican senators, and Kavanaugh is very likely to be confirmed.

Since the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh began, Trump’s ratings in the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate have recovered to about a 42% approval rating, from 40% in mid-September. Democrats’ position in the race for Congress has deteriorated to a 7.7 point lead, down from 9.1 points in mid-September.

Midterm elections for all of the US House and 35 of the 100 Senators will be held on November 6. Owing to natural clustering of Democratic votes and Republican gerrymandering, Democrats probably need to win the House popular vote by six to seven points to take control.

While the House map is difficult for Democrats, the Senate is far worse. Democrats are defending 26 Senate seats and Republicans just nine, Five of the states Democrats are defending voted for Trump in 2016 by at least 18 points. Two polls this week in one of those big Trump states, North Dakota, gave Republicans double digit leads over the Democratic incumbent.




Read more:
Polls update: Trump’s ratings held up by US economy; Australian polls steady


The FiveThirtyEight forecast models give Democrats a 74% chance of gaining control of the House, but just a 22% chance in the Senate.

Republican gains in the polls are likely due to polarisation over Kavanaugh. In a recent Quinnipiac University national poll, voters did not think Kavanaugh should be confirmed – by a net six-point margin – but Trump’s handling of Kavanaugh was at -7 net approval. Democrats led Republicans by seven points, and Trump’s overall net approval was -12. Kavanaugh was more unpopular than in the previous Quinnipiac poll, but Trump and Republicans were more popular.

The hope for Democrats is that once the Kavanaugh issue is resolved, they can refocus attention on issues such as healthcare and the Robert Mueller investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia. However, the strong US economy assists Trump and the Republicans.

In brief: contest between left and far right in Brazil, conservative breakthrough win in Quebec, Canada

The Brazil presidential election will be held in two rounds, on October 7 and 28. If no candidate wins over 50% in the October 7 first round, the top two proceed to a runoff.

The left-wing Workers’ Party has won the last four presidential elections from 2002 to 2014, but incumbent President Dilma Rousseff was impeached in August 2016, and replaced by conservative Vice President Michel Temer.

Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad and far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro are virtually certain to advance to the runoff. Bolsonaro has made sympathetic comments about Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship. Runoff polling shows a close contest.

In the Canadian province of Quebec, a conservative party won an election for the first time since 1966.

You can read more about the Brazil and Quebec elections at my personal website.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The risks of a new Cold War between the US and China are real: here’s why



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The US and China find it extremely difficult to see the world from the other’s perspective.
AAP/EPA/Roman Pilipey

Nick Bisley, La Trobe University

Donald Trump is making good on his trade war rhetoric with China, announcing tariffs on a further US$200 billion worth of goods from the PRC. As China promises retaliation, the warmth of the Mar-a-Lago summit of April 2017 is a thing of the past. When this is added to the wide-ranging tensions such as the disputes over barely habitable rocks in the East China Sea, tensions over the competing claims in the South China Sea, and the spectre of nuclear catastrophe on the Korean Peninsula, the sense of geopolitical risk is as palpable as it is frightening.

During such periods of turbulence, it is not surprising that scholars and commentators look to the past for parallels to current crises. Not long ago, the trend, prompted by the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war, was to see Asia on the cusp of 1914-like conflagration. This proved a highly imperfect point of comparison.

Today, a more common refrain is that Asia is on the cusp of a new Cold War. If it were to happen, it would mean the rivalry that has been growing is transformed into overt militarised competition that drags the region into its vortex.

In this case, the US is confronted not by an expansionary Soviet Union seeking to capitalise on decolonisation to advance its ideological and geopolitical ambition, but by a resurgent China. Its ambitious president, Xi Jinping, has clearly set out his aim to make China the world’s preeminent national power.

Until very recently, it seemed unlikely that a Cold War with 21st century characteristics would eventuate. The USSR and United States inhabited almost entirely separate economic universes during the Cold War.

This meant the dynamic of competition was driven by power politics and ideology alone – the tempering effect of shared economic interests simply didn’t exist. Today, so the argument goes, their economic interdependence is a powerful brake on the worst instincts of the two countries.

While China and the US are in competition, the two countries have also established an extensive range of bilateral mechanisms to manage their complex relationship. There are around 1000 meetings between the countries every year, ranging from summit level down to mid ranking officials, covering issues from trade and investment to coastguard and fisheries.

The two countries know they have to work hard to ensure the competitive dynamic does not spiral out of control. And of course, both sides’ nuclear weapons act as a great disciplining force, ensuring even the most heated of relationships can remain short of outright conflict. Asia also has a wide array of institutional mechanisms such as ASEAN and the East Asia Summit that regularly discuss their common concerns and build a sense of regional trust.

Yet, in spite of their many meetings, in which there is much discussion but little agreement, there are good reasons to think a Cold War 2.0 might be a good deal closer than we realise. The US and China are plainly entering into a period of significant geopolitical rivalry. Each has ambitions that are mutually incompatible. Beijing wants a south-east Asian region in which it is not beholden to US primacy, while Washington wants to sustain its regional dominance.

The two also find it extremely difficult to see the world from the other’s perspective. Washington does not seem able to grasp that even though Beijing benefited from US primacy in the region, it will not forever accept a price-taker’s position in the regional order.

For its part, Beijing simply does not believe Washington’s claim that it wants China to achieve its potential, and that this can occur without meaningful changes to the current international order. When that is added to the nationalism that is a powerful political force in both countries, the prospects of a bleak geopolitical future seem very real.

The trade war escalation is one of the most worrying developments. Not only does it signal a more turbulent and less dynamic period in the global economy, it represents the victory of nationalist politics over shared economic interests. More importantly, it may presage a return to a less integrated global economy.

Trump evidently wants to rip up global supply chains and turn back the clock to the days of mercantilist approaches to economic development. Most worryingly, due to China’s behaviour in the past — stealing IP, predatory approaches to foreign investment and refusing access to its vast markets — Trump’s tariffs have a surprising level of support in business circles in the US.

The risk is not only one of sustained tension between the world’s biggest economies, but significant division between the interests of the two most important countries. If the golden straitjacket of economic interdependence is gone, the prospects of geopolitics and nationalism winning the day are significantly enhanced. China also sees in the tariffs a confirmation of its long-held suspicion that the US is intent on keeping the country from fulfilling its potential.

Worryingly, there is widespread complacency in the region. We used to think great power politics had been banished by globalisation. We were wrong. We thought Trump would come to his economic sense when elected. Wrong again. And now the escalation of trade conflict is undermining the most important link between the US and China – their shared economic interests.

We must not fool ourselves again. High intensity geopolitical competition is increasingly likely. Unless the US and China can step down from the escalatory cycle they are on, we are sliding into another period in which great power rivalry, militarised competition and dangerous nationalism once again dominate the region.The Conversation

Nick Bisley, Head of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trump versus China means picking sides



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If the trade war with China escalates, siding with the US is going to cost, but Australia’s long-term national interests still lie with it.
Shutterstock

Giovanni Di Lieto, Monash University

As Donald Trump escalates his trade war with China, slapping a 10% tariff on roughly $US200 billion of imports that will climb to 25% if China retaliates, he appears to found something of a soul mate in Scott Morrison.

“We both get it,” Australia’s new prime minister said this week. What they get, he told the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, is that some people feel left off the globalism gravy train: “The president gets that. I get it.”

His words signal a profound change of tack in Australian economic diplomacy as the new US approach threatens to break down the World Trade Organisation and universal trade agreements in general.

Under Trump, trade will depend on stronger bilateral (one on one) agreements that support US geopolitics.

It’ll mean Australia picking sides.

Double dangers in middle of the road

The status quo of relying on China for trade surpluses and on the US for security patronage might not be sustainable in the long run.

Siding with neither China or the US, attempting a “third way” of non-alignment, runs the risks losing out on both trade and security.

Broadly speaking, we can summarise the trade war between the US and China as a contest between sea and land.

The US aims to secure trade routes through the Indian and Pacific oceans. China wants to shift the bedrock of international trade to Central Asia.

Its Belt and Road Initiative is a grand strategic plan to join Eurasian economies from Lisbon to Vladivostok. The plan would end the historic era of Anglo-American hegemony founded on controlling trade routes across the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans.




Read more:
Is the Trump administration getting East Asia right, or just confusing it?


Australia faces an existential strategic choice.

Leaving political ideologies aside, its economic prosperity depends on trade by sea. The return of Marco Polo’s world would eventually make Australia little more than a price-taking commodity supplier to trade and investment hubs from Beijing to Venice.

This means our national interests lie with the US defence of its seaborne trading routes.

Picking a side will be costly

In the short term, especially if the trade war escalates, siding with the US will be costly. We could lose a good deal of China-related export and business opportunities. Over the longer run we could offset the losses by diversifying to trade and invest in countries with shared strategic interests, such as Indonesia and India.

We would be well advised to reconsider the diplomatic benefit of RCEP, the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. This mega regional trade deal between the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their bilateral trade partners has been dubbed the Chinese Trans Pacific Partnership. It can be seen as an extension of Xi Jinping’s major-power agenda.

After a promising start, RCEP negotiations now appear to be stuck. The main obstacle is India’s fear of worsening its already significant trade deficit with China.

Our interests lie with the US, and India

Another sticking point is that India, the Philippines and other potential members want countries like Australia, New Zealand and Japan to open up their markets for information technology and professional services.

In pure trade terms we would lose little if the RCEP did not proceed. We already have strong bilateral ties with all the negotiating countries apart from India, with whom we are presently negotiating a free trade agreement.

We would be well advised to use our limited diplomatic resources for that and supporting the US when it comes time to pick sides.The Conversation

Giovanni Di Lieto, Lecturer of international trade law, Monash Business School, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With Cohen and Manafort both guilty, the pressure on Trump is rising



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A protestor outside the Virginia courtroom where Paul Manafort was convicted of fraud on Tuesday.
Michael Reynolds/EPA

Timothy J. Lynch, University of Melbourne

The guilty pleas by Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, and conviction of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, this week no doubt deepen the US president’s legal problems.

Occurring nearly simultaneously in separate courtrooms, the developments were the most dramatic yet in the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US elections.

But do they pose an existential risk to Trump’s presidency? This obviously depends how special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation continues to develop in Washington. But in terms of how damaging Tuesday’s events are for Trump, there are competing schools of thought.

Things are looking bad for Trump

The Manafort verdict was the first time Mueller’s investigation has been tested in court. Trump has spent months deriding this “witch-hunt” against him, but even witches get a trial and Manafort largely, though not completely, lost his.

Manafort was convicted of eight of the 18 charges he faced relating to tax and bank fraud with his personal finances. Manafort was Trump’s campaign manager in 2016, though his crimes largely predate that three-month tenure. While Manafort’s convictions are not directly related to Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, the impression the Trump campaign was staffed by white-collar criminals is now much stronger.

Manafort was also in the pay of a Russian-backed leader in Ukraine, former President Viktor Yanukovych. When Yanukovych was ousted from office in 2014, that source of income dried up, forcing Manafort to find new and nefarious ways to support his lavish lifestyle.




Read more:
Q+A: Why is Paul Manafort on trial and what does it mean for Donald Trump?


The problem for Trump is the possible nexus between himself, Manafort and Putin that Manafort’s guilty verdicts could expose. That will likely be tested when the former campaign chair goes on trial in Washington next month for his alleged crimes linked to his Ukraine consultancy.

Cohen’s plea bargain also makes a possible charge against Trump more stickable. Importantly, Cohen has gone further than anyone else in directly implicating Trump as a co-conspirator in some of his actions. If Trump did authorise his former personal lawyer to pay off women with whom he had had extramarital affairs and told him to do so in order not to derail his 2016 presidential campaign, he may be guilty of campaign finance violations, at the very least.

Together, the legal travails of Manafort and Cohen bring the Mueller investigation into the White House. It has so far just been banging on the windows. Trump has been able to skirt the malfeasance of his former advisors through the court of public opinion. The problem is that the United States is a government of laws and of actual courts that bully-pulpit tweets cannot indefinitely protect him from.

This won’t hurt Trump that much (at least, not yet)

Trump has earned a sort of immunity by profusion. He commits so many faux pas, is politically incorrect so often, skirts potential legal issues so frequently, that no one transgression ever seems to stick.

Former President Richard Nixon committed one clear crime and paid the price. But what is Trump actually guilty of? Having dubious business and political associates? What president hasn’t had those?




Read more:
A friendly reminder: impeaching Donald Trump will not remove him from office


Sexual relations with women other than his wife? Bill Clinton did as much and is regarded as one of the most successful presidents of recent years.

Trump’s supporters also don’t care about any of this. Many see the trials of Manafort and Cohen as the elite going after Trumps’s associates because they can’t land a glove on their hero.

This popular sentiment is a vital currency for the Trump administration. He has thus far remained enormously popular with his base, despite the gathering legal clouds. He is particularly adept at exploiting his victim-in-chief status. The most powerful man in the world is protected in the court of public opinion by his victimhood – a remarkable state of affairs.

And another important point: there is still no clear crime that would make Trump impeachable. There is still not enough in the Manafort verdict and Cohen plea bargain to force Republicans to desert the man on whom their fortunes in the November midterm elections (and beyond) depend.

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The Conversation

American politics is about to become even more partisan and personal because the legal stakes have just gotten higher. Are they high enough to end the Trump presidency, though? Probably not. There is some way to go and many more days in court before we can answer that with any confidence.

Timothy J. Lynch, Associate Professor in American Politics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.