Violence renewed

How the cowardly slaying of two soldiers and a police officer in Northern Ireland has been covered o

Responding to murder

It's been more than ten years since peace in the country has experienced such violent hiatus – and the murders of army and police personnel by republican terrorists in Northern Ireland has dominated the blogosphere this week.

John Wright, writing on Socialist Unity, was unsurprised by the Antrim attack, believing that it exposed underlying flaws in the peace process.

“It involved throwing money at the communities involved in a clear attempt to buy their support,” he wrote, “hoping that in time the contradiction that lies at the root of the conflict – namely partition – would recede in importance in line with a peace dividend in the form of prosperity and a boom in consumption.”

Wright believes that as darker economic times come upon us, the divisions that characterise the country are inevitably re-emerging.

There was a tangible hardening in of condemnatory rhetoric amongst republicans following the killing of a police officer in Craigavon, an act claimed by the continuity IRA. Former government advisor Conor Ryan regarded Martin McGuinness' press conference with DUP leader Peter Robinson and Hugh Orde as a sign of the “penny having dropped” among Sinn Feinn politicians, writing that McGuinness “expressed himself with unprecedented emotion and feeling”.

South Armagh republican Chris Gaskin was less than mournful at the death of British soldiers – but at news of the police murder, he wrote “I'm starting to feel slightly angry at the moment and I never thought I would ever feel that reaction in relation to the death of a peeler”, going on to say that: “these people cannot succeed in allowing this country to slip back into chaos, they just can't!”

On the leading blog for coverage of Northern Irish politics, Slugger O'Toole's Turgon examined the question of whether Sinn Feinn's initially “stuttering condemnation” of the army murders amounted to a missed opportunity for the party, which, he argued, should be using the airwaves and internet to call on constituents to assist the police.

Northern Ireland Tory Seymour Major wanted us to spare a thought for former DUP MEP Jim Allister, now representing 'Traditional Ulster Voice'. Allister, he blogged, is puzzled by unionist support for McGuinness' stance following the attacks – and is now keenly seeking to make political capital from Sinn Feinn's rejection of stepped up security.

Finally, the silent protest against violence, led by the trades union, was captured beautifully by Belfast photographer Phil O'Kane.

What have we learned this week?

That the government has apparently abandoned any pretence of sanity, decency or consistency, by granting Hezbollah's Ibrahim Moussawi the right to enter the UK, just weeks after refusing the same to Geert Wilders.

Around the World

Riyadh-based blogger Ahmed Al-Omran commented this week on injustice in the Saudi judicial system. He blogged about the elderly Syrian woman in the KSA, who was lashed and deported for having two men who were not relatives come to her house and sell her bread. Ahmed considered it “a slap in the face” for the country and welcomed news that human rights lawyer Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem is to take on the case, “not just for the sake of the old woman and the two young men, but also for the cause of justice and human rights in this country”.

Video of the Week

Watch footage of the president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Patricia McKeown, address the crowd at Belfast peace protest, courtesy of WIMPS, a Northern Ireland website dedicated to improving youth engagement with public representatives.

Quote of the Week

“So as well as a return to recession we have the return of people who think that murdering working class teenagers is a good and noble thing.”

John Gray on Labour List

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
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Donald Trump ushers in a new era of kakistocracy: government by the worst people

Trump will lead the whitest, most male cabinet in memory – a bizarre melange of the unqualified and the unhinged.

“What fills me with doubt and dismay is the degradation of the moral tone,” wrote the American poet James Russell Lowell in 1876, in a letter to his fellow poet Joel Benton. “Is it or is it not a result of democracy? Is ours a ‘government of the people by the people for the people’, or a kakistocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?”

Is there a better, more apt description of the incoming Trump administration than “kakistocracy”, which translates from the Greek literally as government by the worst people? The new US president, as Barack Obama remarked on the campaign trail, is “uniquely unqualified” to be commander-in-chief. There is no historical analogy for a President Trump. He combines in a single person some of the worst qualities of some of the worst US presidents: the Donald makes Nixon look honest, Clinton look chaste, Bush look smart.

Trump began his tenure as president-elect in November by agreeing to pay out $25m to settle fraud claims brought against the now defunct Trump University by dozens of former students; he began the new year being deposed as part of his lawsuit against a celebrity chef. On 10 January, the Federal Election Commission sent the Trump campaign a 250-page letter outlining a series of potentially illegal campaign contributions. A day later, the head of the non-partisan US Office of Government Ethics slammed Trump’s plan to step back from running his businesses as “meaningless from a conflict-of-interest perspective”.

It cannot be repeated often enough: none of this is normal. There is no precedent for such behaviour, and while kakistocracy may be a term unfamiliar to most of us, this is what it looks like. Forget 1876: be prepared for four years of epic misgovernance and brazen corruption. Despite claiming in his convention speech, “I alone can fix it,” the former reality TV star won’t be governing on his own. He will be in charge of the richest, whitest, most male cabinet in living memory; a bizarre melange of the unqualified and the unhinged.

There has been much discussion about the lack of experience of many of Trump’s appointees (think of the incoming secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who has no background in diplomacy or foreign affairs) and their alleged bigotry (the Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, denied a role as a federal judge in the 1980s following claims of racial discrimination, is on course to be confirmed as attorney general). Yet what should equally worry the average American is that Trump has picked people who, in the words of the historian Meg Jacobs, “are downright hostile to the mission of the agency they are appointed to run”. With their new Republican president’s blessing, they want to roll back support for the poorest, most vulnerable members of society and don’t give a damn how much damage they do in the process.

Take Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general selected to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt describes himself on his LinkedIn page as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” and has claimed that the debate over climate change is “far from settled”.

The former neurosurgeon Ben Carson is Trump’s pick for housing and urban development, a department with a $49bn budget that helps low-income families own homes and pay the rent. Carson has no background in housing policy, is an anti-welfare ideologue and ruled himself out of a cabinet job shortly after the election. “Dr Carson feels he has no government experience,” his spokesman said at the time. “He’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”

The fast-food mogul Andrew Puzder, who was tapped to run the department of labour, doesn’t like . . . well . . . labour. He prefers robots, telling Business Insider in March 2016: “They’re always polite . . . They never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”

The billionaire Republican donor Betsy DeVos, nominated to run the department of education, did not attend state school and neither did any of her four children. She has never been a teacher, has no background in education and is a champion of school vouchers and privatisation. To quote the education historian Diane Ravitch: “If confirmed, DeVos will be the first education secretary who is actively hostile to public education.”

The former Texas governor Rick Perry, nominated for the role of energy secretary by Trump, promised to abolish the department that he has been asked to run while trying to secure his party’s presidential nomination in 2011. Compare and contrast Perry, who has an undergraduate degree in animal science but failed a chemistry course in college, with his two predecessors under President Obama: Dr Ernest Moniz, the former head of MIT’s physics department, and Dr Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist from Berkeley. In many ways, Perry, who spent the latter half of 2016 as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, is the ultimate kakistocratic appointment.

“Do Trump’s cabinet picks want to run the government – or dismantle it?” asked a headline in the Chicago Tribune in December. That’s one rather polite way of putting it. Another would be to note, as the Online Etymology Dictionary does, that kakistocracy comes from kakistos, the Greek word for “worst”, which is a superlative of kakos, or “bad”, which “is related to the general Indo-European word for ‘defecate’”.

Mehdi Hasan has rejoined the New Statesman as a contributing editor and will write a fortnightly column on US politics

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era