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In this week's New Statesman | Time to re-arm?

A first look at this week's magazine.

28 March 2014 Issue

Time To Re-Arm?

Brendan Simms: Why The West Must Stop
Appeasing Putin’S Russia

Letter From Moscow: Angus Roxburgh Fears The Rise
Of Russian Chauvinism

John Gray on the moral world of Captain America

IPPR director Nick Pearce acclaims Capital, the economist Thomas Piketty’s “magisterial” new study of inequality

Laurie Penny on the dystopian stories that ring true for today’s teens

Rafael Behr: Labour’s silences are too long and too loud

George Eaton on the rebellion from Labour’s left

The NS TV critic Rachel Cooke on Martin Amis’s England: “How can someone so clever end up sounding so incredibly stupid?”

 

COVER STORY: TIME TO RE-ARM?

In this week’s NS cover story, Brendan Simms, professor in the history of international relations at the University of Cambridge, warns that Europe should not underestimate the threat from Russia and that it must work towards unification and moral and military rearmament.

“When a man sticks in a bayonet and strikes mush, he keeps pushing,” Lenin once remarked approvingly, “but if he hits cold steel, he pulls back.” His successor Nikita Khruschchev was fond of repeating this remark as he tested the west in Berlin, Cuba and elsewhere during the cold war. For some years now, the Russian leader and former communist counterintelligence agent Vladimir Putin has also been sticking in the bayonet and, so far, he has encountered only mush . . . In the first phase of the Crimean crisis, western mushiness has been palpable.

[. . .]

Moscow could have been stopped by early action. If Russia had been deterred from attacking Georgia, or put under such intense political, economic and military pressure as to force it to withdraw, Putin would never have dared invade Ukraine . . . Failure to respond robustly in the early stages of this crisis, by contrast, has emboldened Putin and made the situation far more intractable than it needed to be.

Simms argues that the west should be under no illusions about the scale of the threat now posed by Putin’s Russia:

One way or the other, what we are witnessing is the biggest crisis of the European order since the cold war, with the potential to shred the reputations of the governments and national security establishments of Europe and the US.

Simms believes that the European project’s response to the Russian threat will determine whether it stands or falls:

The looming confrontation with Russia is best understood . . . not as a repeat of the past but as the beginning of something new: a European (cold) war of unification. Waging it successfully will consolidate the eurozone, just as the contest with France made Great Britain, and the American project in the world made the United States. Conversely, failing to take up the challenge, or doing so incompetently, may damage the European project beyond repair.

So what is it to be? Will the challenge from Putin’s Russia unite Europeans today, or will it drive them further apart, perhaps irreconcilably?

[. . .]

If that happens, history will judge the European Union an expensive youthful prank that the continent played in its dotage, marking the completion rather than the starting point of a great power project.

 

ANGUS ROXBURGH: THE MOOD TURNS NASTY IN MOSCOW

In a despatch from the Russian capital, the former BBC Moscow correspondent Angus Roxburgh evokes an atmosphere bristling with menace, in which increasingly pugnacious Muscovites have crossed the line between nationalism and chauvinism.

I found myself at a barbecue last summer . . . All the neighbours came round to meet the foreign guest. A thoroughly unpleasant experience it was, as they began by denouncing the pro-democracy protesters and the central Asians who clean Moscow’s streets, and ended by insisting that we British would never solve our problems until we throw out all our Muslims.

I recall hearing a very senior member of Putin’s circle (one of those whom foreign journalists describe as sophisticated and westernised) privately describing the Ukrainians as a nation of devious, untrustworthy crooks.

The atmosphere is about as nasty as I have ever known it in Moscow. There is, of course, another Russia, westernised and outward-looking, that watches all of this with apprehension. Many people have moved on too far to contemplate a return to the isolationist days of the communist period.

Yet the likely beneficiary of recent events will be – who else? – Vladimir Putin, his popularity bolstered by each new western sanction. Do we really want to ensure he is with us for another ten years?

 

THE NS PROFILE: THOMAS PIKETTY, A FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY

Nick Pearce, the director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, considers the influence of the French economist Thomas Piketty, whose “magisterial” book Capital in the 21st Century is, Pearce argues, the most important work of political economy in decades, having rescued the study of inequality from oblivion.

Piketty’s thesis is arresting because he buttresses it with ample historical data to show that the reduction of inequality in the middle of the 20th century was an exception, not the norm in a market economy. Ordinarily, he argues, if capital is reinvested it yields between 4 and 5 per cent a year, outstripping economic growth. Wealth inequalities therefore increase.

[. . .]

[Piketty argues that] we need to rebuild the democratic institutions that can redistribute income and wealth. His signature policy is a global tax on wealth, levied progressively at different wealth bands. He is politically realistic enough to know that formidable practical and political obstacles lie in the path towards that objective. So he sets out various steps towards it, such as greater transparency about asset ownership, and automatic transmission of bank data to tax authorities, while urging the adoption of
a wealth tax at the European level. A tax at 0 per cent on fortunes below €1m, 1 per cent between €1m and €5m, and 2 per cent above €5m would affect about 2.5 per cent of the population of the European Union and raise about 2 per cent of Europe’s GDP.
This would of course require greater political and fiscal integration in Europe, which is why Piketty was a co-signatory, with Pierre Rosanvallon and other French intellectuals, to a recent open letter calling for tax-raising powers and a budget for the eurozone, held accountable to a new European chamber of national parliamentarians. Is this utopian? No more so than the “stateless currency” the eurozone already possesses, he says.

Is Piketty’s analysis too pessimistic? Thoughtful politicians will embrace much of [it]. Stewart Wood, Ed Miliband’s intellectual consigliere, has read the book and called for its arguments to be debated widely. Piketty’s work gives substantive grounding to the core argument of Miliband’s leadership that Britain’s post-Thatcherite economic model generates socially destructive, unjustified and ultimately unstable inequalities. But parties aspiring to elected office will also be deeply wary of the politics of levying supertaxes on the wealthy, and with good reason: François Hollande is currently the most unpopular president in French history.

 

THE POLITICS COLUMN: RAFAEL BEHR

In his column, the NS political editor, Rafael Behr, watches as frustration turns to fear in the Labour Party, with many MPs concerned that the party is ill-equipped to deal with the inevitable Tory onslaughts.

Miliband has made speeches on tricky topics, each crafted to neutralise some Tory accusation, without inviting charges of treason from his own side. He then seems to think the matter is settled. This hit-and-run technique has often frustrated Labour MPs. The mood is souring into fear of going into battle without defences against predictable Tory onslaughts. “There’s so little time to go and it doesn’t feel like we’re on a total war footing,” laments a backbencher. Others are harsher still. “We have nothing interesting to say about the things that really matter to people,” warns a shadow minister.

...

Labour will point at hardship and hunger as proof that the Chancellor’s economic recovery is leaving millions of people behind. To embarrass the government, the opposition will continue asking questions about food banks, zero-hours contracts, low wages, housing shortages, crippling rents and inequality to which Cameron has no answers. There are many awkward facts that the Tories want to wish away. All parties have their discomfort zones and things they would rather not talk about. Labour’s problem is that, when the Conservative attacks are constant, Miliband’s silences are too long and too loud.

 

GEORGE EATON: LABOUR PREPARES FOR REBELLION

George Eaton, the editor of The Staggers, the NS politics blog, predicts that increasing divisions in the Labour Party could lead to full-scale rebellion. Some Labour MPs have declared their intention to defy the whip over the leadership’s decision to support George Osborne’s new cap on welfare spending:

For the left, the cap is a crude device, designed to perpetuate the Conservatives’ false divide between “strivers” and “scroungers”, and a threat to support for the vulnerable. Under the new limit (set at £119bn for 2015-2016), which includes all benefits except the state pension and cyclical unemployment benefits, the government will have to cut spending if the cap is breached by more than 2 per cent.

The Labour MP Diane Abbott told me she opposed the policy on the grounds that it would “encourage cuts in benefits, rather than long-term strategies to do things to bring the benefits bill down, like housebuilding, like a rise in the minimum wage”. She added that it was “part of a political narrative which demonises welfare claimants. Most of the public don’t understand that half of welfare claimants are pensioners and that another quarter are in work.”

Other MPs who confirmed to the NS that they would vote against the policy included Ian Lavery, Mike Wood and John McDonnell . . .

For now, Labour can dismiss such rebels as the “usual suspects” (as one source did), but were Miliband to enter Downing Street with a small majority, he could be held hostage by his party’s left. Policies such as a welfare cap are precisely the kind of austerity measure that will be required [in order] to meet his strict deficit-reduction targets – and that his backbenchers will seek to obstruct.

 

RACHEL COOKE ON MARTIN AMIS’S ENGLAND

The NS’s TV critic, Rachel Cooke, finds herself struggling to excuse a “loopy” exercise in nostalgia, cliché and snobbery by the author Martin Amis:

Responses to Martin Amis’s England (23 March, 9pm) have ranged from mild bafflement (a minority) to tinny outrage (the majority). I’m in the baffled camp – mostly because I don’t have it in me to be truly angry
at the author of Money (or Experience, which I regard, controversially, as his best book). Yes, he says dumb things these days. Yes, he’s starting to sound a bit like his pater. But he’s clinging to his reputation as if to a lifebelt and I can only feel tenderly about that.

Still, you have to wonder – here’s the baffling part – how someone so clever ended up on this occasion sounding so incredibly stupid. Admittedly, the documentary was made for French television and its director had clearly done his best to encourage Amis to reinforce a stereotype popular on the other side of the Channel. (We’re repressed! We like spanking! Some of us fantasise about the Queen!) But he didn’t have to go along with this. Gilding a cliché artfully and with reference to John Milton and Samuel Richardson doesn’t make it any less of a cliché.

The loopiest part was his big idea. You want to know why we drink? (I’m going to assume that you do drink; as Amis noted, one must have “the freedom” to generalise.) Well, it’s all down to the empire, see, the loss of which has left us feeling terribly embarrassed, and so we blot out the shame with booze. Do remember this the next time you’re in Newcastle on
a Friday night.

 

Plus

 

William Dalrymple spies a long caravan of Lawrence of Arabia books
on the desert horizon

Alev Scott reports from Turkey as Erdogan’s election campaign turns nasty

The historian Anna Whitelock on terror and faith in Elizabethan England

Philip Maughan reviews All the Rage, A L Kennedy’s new short-story collection

Leo Robson on the cult of the new Nordic Everyman, Karl Ove Knausgaard

The NS science correspondent, Michael Brooks, on the iPhone app that allows you to hear shapes and colours

Real Meals: Will Self on the “useless and destructive” artisan crisp

Commons Confidential: Kevin Maguire shares his latest Westminster gossip

*

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How Donald Trump is slouching towards the Republican nomination

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb.

In America, you can judge a crowd by its merchandise. Outside the Connecticut Convention Centre in Hartford, frail old men and brawny moms are selling “your Trump 45 football jerseys”, “your hats”, “your campaign buttons”. But the hottest item is a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Hillary sucks . . . but not like Monica!” and, on the back: “Trump that bitch!” Inside, beyond the checkpoint manned by the Transportation Security Administration and the secret service (“Good!” the man next to me says, when he sees the agents), is a family whose three kids, two of them girls, are wearing the Monica shirt.

Other people are content with the shirts they arrived in (“Waterboarding – baptising terrorists with freedom” and “If you don’t BLEED red, white and blue, take your bitch ass home!”). There are 80 chairs penned off for the elderly but everyone else is standing: guys in motorcycle and military gear, their arms folded; aspiring deal-makers, suited, on cellphones; giggling high-school fatsos, dressed fresh from the couch, grabbing M&M’s and Doritos from the movie-theatre-style concession stands. So many baseball hats; deep, bellicose chants of “Build the wall!” and “USA!”. (And, to the same rhythm, “Don-ald J!”)

A grizzled man in camouflage pants and combat boots, whose T-shirt – “Connecticut Militia III%” – confirms him as a member of the “patriot” movement, is talking to a zealous young girl in a short skirt, who came in dancing to “Uptown Girl”.

“Yeah, we were there for Operation American Spring,” he says. “Louis Farrakhan’s rally of hate . . .”

“And you’re a veteran?” she asks. “Thank you so much!”

Three hours will pass. A retired US marine will take the rostrum to growl, “God bless America – hoo-rah!”; “Uptown Girl” will play many more times (much like his speeches, Donald J’s playlist consists of a few items, repeated endlessly), before Trump finally looms in and asks the crowd: “Is this the greatest place on Earth?”

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb. Only a minority within a minority of Americans, it was assumed, could possibly be stupid enough to think a Trump presidency was a good idea. He won New Hampshire and South Carolina with over 30 per cent of the Republican vote, then took almost 46 per cent in Nevada. When he cleaned up on Super Tuesday in March, he was just shy of 50 per cent in Massachusetts; a week later, he took 47 per cent of the votes in Mississippi.

His rivals, who are useless individually, were meant to co-operate with each other and the national party to deny him the nomination. But Trump won four out of the five key states being contested on “Super-Duper Tuesday” on 15 March. Then, as talk turned to persuading and co-opting his delegates behind the scenes, Trump won New York with 60 per cent.

Now, the campaign is trying to present Trump as more “presidential”. According to his new manager, Paul Manafort, this requires him to appear in “more formal settings” – without, of course, diluting “the unique magic of Trump”. But whether or not he can resist denouncing the GOP and the “corrupt” primary system, and alluding to violence if he is baulked at at the convention, the new Trump will be much the same as the old.

Back in Hartford: “The Republicans wanna play cute with us, right? If I don’t make it, you’re gonna have millions of people that don’t vote for a Republican. They’re not gonna vote at all,” says Trump. “Hopefully that’s all, OK? Hopefully that’s all, but they’re very, very angry.”

This anger, which can supposedly be turned on anyone who gets in the way, has mainly been vented, so far, on the protesters who disrupt Trump’s rallies. “We’re not gonna be the dummies that lose all of our jobs now. We’re gonna be the smart ones. Oh, do you have one over there? There’s one of the dummies . . .”

There is a frenzied fluttering of Trump placards, off to his right. “Get ’em out! . . . Don’t hurt ’em – see how nice I am? . . . They really impede freedom of speech and it’s a disgrace. But the good news is, folks, it won’t be long. We’re just not taking it and it won’t be long.”

It is their removal by police, at Trump’s ostentatious behest, that causes the disruption, rather than the scarcely audible protesters. He seems to realise this, suddenly: “We should just let ’em . . . I’ll talk right over them, there’s no problem!” But it’s impossible to leave the protesters where they are, because it would not be safe. His crowd is too vicious.

Exit Trump, after exactly half an hour, inclusive of the many interruptions. His people seem uplifted but, out on the street, they are ambushed by a large counter-demonstration, with a booming drum and warlike banners and standards (“Black Lives Matter”; an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, holding aloft Trump’s severed head). Here is the rest of the world, the real American world: young people, beautiful people, more female than male, every shade of skin colour. “F*** Donald Trump!” they chant.

After a horrified split-second, the Trump crowd, massively more numerous, rallies with “USA!” and – perplexingly, since one of the main themes of the speech it has just heard was the lack of jobs in Connecticut – “Get a job!” The two sides then mingle, unobstructed by police. Slanging matches break out that seem in every instance to humiliate the Trump supporter. “Go to college!” one demands. “Man, I am in college, I’m doin’ lovely!”

There is no violence, only this: some black boys are dancing, with liquid moves, to the sound of the drum. Four young Trump guys counter by stripping to their waists and jouncing around madly, their skin greenish-yellow under the street lights, screaming about the building of the wall. There was no alcohol inside; they’re drunk on whatever it is – the elixir of fascism, the unique magic of Trump. It’s a hyper but not at all happy drunk.

As with every other moment of the Trump campaign so far, it would have been merely some grade of the cringeworthy – the embarrassing, the revolting, the pitiful – were Trump not slouching closer and closer, with each of these moments, to his nomination. 

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism