Why Theresa May has called for a snap election

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday called for a snap election to be held June 8. May argued that “the only way to guarantee certainty and security for years ahead is to hold this election.” The House of Commons is expected to hold a vote Wednesday to approve May’s plan. So what’s going on?

What is a snap election?

British general elections are held every five years under the Fixed Term Parliament Act. Former Tory leader David Cameron won the 2015 election, so the next U.K. vote was scheduled for 2020. However, the majority party can seek to call an early (or “snap”) election, should they choose. That’s what happened on Tuesday. Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has said his party will vote in favor of holding the election, so Britons will most likely be heading to the polls in two months.

Why has May called it?

The snap election is almost entirely about domestic politics. May, formerly home secretary in the British government, was not elected prime minister, nor was she elected leader of the Conservatives. Her party elevated her to that position in the turbulent days of June 2016, after Cameron resigned following his defeat in the Brexit referendum. All of May’s rivals for the top job dropped out, so she became PM.

As such, May is trying to push through the U.K.’s exit from Europe ― the biggest political shift in British national identity in decades ― in the absence of a political mandate of her own.

Winning the snap election would not only solidify May’s position as Tory leader, but would allow her to claim that the public has backed her plan for how to extract Britain from the European Union. As May said Tuesday: “There should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not. We need a general election and we need one now.”

Isn’t she taking a risk?

Not really. Labour, the Tories’ traditional rival for majority party, is currently in disarray due to Corbyn’s contentious leadership. Corbyn is a firebrand whose left-wing policies are not supported by a majority of his own MPs. According to the polling firm YouGov, Labour is currently polling at around 23 percent, far behind the Conservatives’ 44 percent.

The 2015 election gave the Tories a small working majority of 17 seats in Parliament ― enough to govern, but only just. By calling a snap election, May hopes to take advantage of the Labour crisis and increase the number of Tory seats in Westminster, giving her more room to push through her own policy agenda, including education reform.

Research also shows that May has strong personal support from the electorate, with a recent YouGov poll suggesting that 48 percent of Britons are confident she can successfully shepherd the U.K. out of Europe. She’s in a very strong position.

Could this derail Brexit?

No. Even if Labour were a functioning opposition party, their platform is to honor the result of the Brexit referendum and take Britain out of the EU. The Liberal Democrats are running on a platform of holding a second referendum in the hope of reversing the Brexit decision, but they’re polling at around 12 percent and have no chance of becoming the majority party. Article 50 has been triggered; barring something massively unforeseen, Brexit is happening. As May said, “Britain is leaving the European Union and there can be no turning back.” Moreover, winning a snap election could give May a stronger hand in dealing with Brussels in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

What will happen to the other parties?

One Labour MP has already said he will not stand for election under Corbyn’s leadership. Others will likely follow, and the party could lose scores of parliamentary seats in June. It’s unlikely that Corbyn’s leadership will be challenged ahead of the election, but should he lose heavily in the election, his slightly madcap tenure as leader could end. The Liberal Democrats will likely pick up seats, but not enough to challenge the Tories.

Are we in for another election surprise?

It’s very unlikely. There is no credible challenge to May; the question is whether she’ll win big or very big. Then again, Donald Trump is currently eating lunch off the Resolute desk, so who knows…

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original can be found here.

Two British siblings evaluate Trump’s win from opposing ends of a divided culture

A little over a week after the victory of Donald J. Trump, two British siblings, both long-term U.S. residents ― one in New York, one in Louisville, Ky. ― reflect on the American election, the echoes of Brexit and the country going forward.

Paul, 40, is an editor for the Huffington Post and has lived in Manhattan for nearly four years. His sister Katherine, 36, is a systems analyst at the University of Louisville. She has been in the U.S. for 10 years. Before moving to Kentucky, she lived in Indiana.

NEW YORK ― Red seeped across the Florida map on the screen above my desk. A colleague muttered, “Broward County, you bastard. Come on.”

“They’re still counting,” offered another in vain hope.

By 9:30 p.m., the noise in the office had been cowered into silence. Having said for months the U.S. election was “nothing like Brexit,” and assured friends that presidential polls are “historically very accurate,” this was exactly like Brexit.

I watched Trump’s victory speech at home in the early hours. I looked for a quote or quip that accurately summed up this disastrous moment in the history of the republic. Days later I readAntonio Gramsci’s line: “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters.” But at the time all I could think was, “fuck.”

* * *

LOUISVILLE, Ky. ― I watched both the EU referendum results and the presidential election results with my husband. Both times we disagreed and both times he correctly predicted the outcome. As my Facebook feed swelled with liberal friends’ heartfelt reflections on what it meant to them to vote for the first woman president, I watched CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer visibly deflate as the voice of the people went further and further off script. Just like Brexit, this wasn’t supposed to happen.

Why did Americans vote for Donald Trump?

Paul: Only about a quarter of Americans did; slightly less than voted for Clinton. Almost half didn’t vote at all. The microanalysis of Trump’s win has barely started, but the broad strokes include the 2008 economic crash and subsequent bailout undercutting trust in government along with the changing demographics highlighted by the election of the first black president and rapid cultural shifts, such as the legalization of same-sex marriage. This left white Christian America fearful and bent on redress. So it responded to Trump and his siren of white nationalism. His election was also a rebuke to congressional Republicans who have deliberately hobbled government for the past eight years. Trump spoke directly to voters who felt abandoned by the system and forsaken by both parties. It’s a horrible irony that the congressional GOP is now being rewarded for its awful approach to governance.

Katherine: Economics and the desire to extend a middle finger to the establishment. Trump’s promises to “Make America Great Again” and “drain the swamp” appealed directly to rural communities decimated by the outsourcing of heavy industry and manufacturing jobs. It’s an alluring message for Rust Belt towns facing extinction as the coal mines or factories that support them close down, and it carries more weight because it comes from a businessman not a career politician. That said, there’s hardly any variation in the number of votes for the Republican candidate in the last three presidential elections; McCain, Romney and now Trump all hovered around 60 million votes. Democrat votes, however, have tanked ― almost 10 million more people showed up for Obama in 2008 than voted for Clinton in 2016. So the real question is not, “why did America vote for Trump?”, but “why did America not vote for Clinton?”

So why did Hillary Clinton lose?

Paul: Technically, because fewer Democrats turned out than in the previous two elections. As for why, it’s tempting to say because she’s a woman and paint America as patriarchal. There might be some of that, but probably more voters were put off by the whiff of corruption ― the James Comey debacle, the two-facedness that came out in the Podesta emails, being given a debate question beforehand and so on. Clinton had become emblematic of the government institutions that many Americans now mistrust. She was in hindsight the wrong candidate for the 2016 cycle. Voters wanted someone different. I should note the GOP has been demonizing the Clintons for decades; their name unites Republicans like nothing else. But what did she stand for? Besides being the first woman president? Is she of the left? How does she represent the working class? How does the modern Democratic Party represent the working class? Like the British Labour Party under Tony Blair, the Democrats seem to have disconnected from the people they’re supposed to champion. Bernie Sanders supporters would likely agree.

Katherine: Rejection of Clinton was in large part a rejection of an elite ruling class that appears shrouded in corruption and no longer speaks for a significant portion of rural America. Trump’s shambolic stream-of-consciousness speeches were not a deterrent to people who interpreted Hillary’s polished performances as just that ― a performance, and something that could not be trusted. Trump supporters often praise him for “telling it like it is.” His lack of refinement makes him relatable to a portion of the electorate who get a little thrill from a loose cannon and will forgive any number of abhorrent statements as harmless bluster so long as the prejudice invoked is directed at groups to which they are only tangentially related. Both candidates had serious issues ― a vote for Trump required the forgiveness of bigotry and a vote for Clinton required the forgiveness of corruption.H

How deeply divided is America?

Paul: Hugely ― and it’s not going to get better any time soon. Americans are already seeing the divisions of the campaign continue post-election. Now we have protesters on the streets in several major cities, including New York, demonstrating against Trump’s win. Racial problems were already simmering before the country elected a man who ran an openly bigoted campaign. So, of course, there is now an outcry, and it will continue. Minority rights will be fiercely defended, as will those of women, the LGBTQ community and anyone oppressed. If you think gay marriage legislation won’t be attacked, look at the record of Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Likewise the right to choose. Americans who believe in pluralism, multiculturalism and equal rights will not just let the new administration roll the country back to the 1950s. Also, if Americans think the white working class is angry now, wait till they realize they’ve been duped by Trump.

Katherine: The only thing uniting this country is the flag. As a Brit, it’s easy to mock a caricature brash American chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” at every opportunity, but the public performance of patriotism is essential to holding all these disparate groups together across a landmass that is 40 times the size of the U.K.. Unless you’ve been on a road trip here, it can be difficult for Europeans to grasp the sheer size of the place. You could drive the length of Britain just to get from one American city to another. Utah is nothing like California which is nothing like New York which is nothing like Kentucky.

What are your concerns about President Trump?

Paul: As I European, I worry that Trump’s win will give succor to the nationalistic forces already reshaping British politics post-Brexit. The British Conservative Party is no longer the liberal center-right party of David Cameron; it now treads a much more reactionary line. Likewise, the American Republican Party is now the toy of an ethnocentric, nationalist president-elect. France, anecdotally the most socialist country in the EU, could go the same way, bewitched by Marine Le Pen. And then there’s Germany, a country that’s acutely sensitive to far-right messaging due to its history. If anti-immigrant forces score electoral wins in either of those nations, we could be in for a very dark time.

As a U.S. resident, I fret that the country will polarize further, especially as it’s the people who voted for Trump who will suffer the most in the coming years. If Trump finds a way to repeal Obamacare, it’ll be the working class hit hardest. Likewise with Medicare privatization. There’s a massive tax cut coming for the donor class. Republicans argue this helps workers by stimulating growth, which eventually trickles down. What demonstrably happens is the rich get richer, and the disparity between the top and the bottom gets wider.

Living in New York ― a city of immigrants ― I’m acutely aware of the fear and anxiety generated by Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric. The president-elect’s team says he’s mulling a Muslim registry, with one Trump goon even suggesting that the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans set a precedent. It just won’t be tolerated. To quote a countryman, “a dog of that house shall move me to stand.”

Katherine: I worry about Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who I suspect will wield more influence than usual because Trump has no political experience. During his time as the governor of Indiana, Pence doggedly pursued an evangelical Christian agenda, leading to some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. Trump, I think, ran on a whim, whereas Pence is following a systematic path to power. He understands how the game is played and is that much more dangerous for it.

In the week or so since the election, I’ve become equally concerned with a tide of vitriol from my own side, as many on the left process their outrage and shock. A campaign that encouraged the right to dehumanize individuals who are not like them has resulted in some on the left dehumanizing individuals who are not like them: “I want the South to burn,” one liberal friend in Pennsylvania raged, “It’s no more than deserved.”

Are Trump voters racist?

Paul: Trump is a birther and racist, and he ran racist campaign. He also surrounds himself with extremists; his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, runs a website for the white nationalist alt-right. And there were many bigots at Trump’s rallies who were exposed on film during the campaign. But I wouldn’t blanket Trump voters as racist or sexist. I think it’s likely many people voted for Trump overlooking his chauvinism, not overtly because of it. Early data suggests Trump won a lot of the white working class who’d previously voted for Obama ― twice! So there’s clearly more than racism behind his win. But that doesn’t absolve those who voted for him. They voted for a xenophobe, and we’re already seeing an uptick in racist incidents post-election. That’s on them.

Katherine: Some of them are, and you’re likely to see that covered extensively by the media. But there’s a real danger in applying the hateful agenda of a vocal minority to all 60 million people who decided their interests were best represented by choosing Donald over Hillary. There’s a sense of hurt and mistrust among Hillary voters right now. They don’t understand how anyone could vote for bigotry because that’s all Trump is to them ― a deplorable. In the current climate, nuanced discussion is more important than ever but stereotyping Trump voters as white supremacists only shuts conversation down.

What should those abroad know about America?

Paul: Trump’s win plays into a European cultural snobbery about the U.S., the cartoon of an unsophisticated, childlike nation. The country has, after all, just elected a screaming infant whose psychology is forever on tantrum’s cusp. But it’s a grotesque caricature. American democracy hasn’t been perfect, but the United States is the only revolution to arise from the Enlightenment that’s ongoing. That, to borrow a phrase, is what makes America great. The sadness of Trump is that the centuries-old experiment will soon be tested to a breaking point, and by a man who has no regard for the battles fought to preserve it.

To understand the U.S., the national divide should be viewed not as political or geographic, but as tribal. It’s not enough that your side wins. It’s just as important ― maybe more important ― that the other side loses, and that they are made to feel defeated. The rivals have their own turf, their own media, their own personalities, prophets and icons. They even have their own history and their own facts. Because it’s tribal, it’s also illogical. Americans will act against their own economic interest if it harms the other side. Not all voters are dragged along on this wave of cultural sectarianism. But a lot are… Trump knew it, and he exploited it.

Katherine: The metropolitan areas and rural middle America don’t understand each other as a consequence of their relative diversities. Small town Kentucky is overwhelmingly white, Christian and struggling economically. It’s also solid red. But what is often misinterpreted as bigotry is simply lack of exposure. Outside the big cities, people may never have left the country. I’ve been asked if we have Christmas in Britain, if London is overrun by deer because we don’t carry guns and, without a shred of sarcasm, how England celebrates the 4th of July. I learned pretty quickly not to say “I’m from the U.K.” because here that only means University of Kentucky ― United Kingdom isn’t a connection anyone would ever make. Rural Kentuckians may go their entire lives without meeting a Muslim, but they’ve all been told radical Islam is coming to wipe them out. With media fear mongering as their only reference, prejudice is unsurprising, but it’s directed at nebulous groups not individuals; the same people who worry about radical Islam would be genuinely warm and welcoming if I brought a Muslim friend round for dinner.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original can be found here.

The Trump plague is real. And it’s enduring.

For 18 months a plague has swept through America, spreading xenophobia, hate and resentment. Last night, 70-year-old Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States. His campaign should have been routed. But this infection would not die.

The multicultural coastal cities that bookend the nation’s continental mass commiserate. The white nationalism exploited by the tycoon’s presidential bid has been emboldened. It not only now has a grip on the contorted husk of Republican Party politics, but it also has the White House.

“Trump has unleashed forces ― forces much bigger than he is ― that simply can’t be put back into the bottle,” said Richard Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank, earlier this year. He was right.

Chauvinism and bigotry have long been shadowy forces in the politics of the United States. But Trump’s campaign took them a step further, pulling them into the light, and with it, yanking American democracy towards a cliff edge. Last night, Lady Liberty stepped off into the void.

On Wednesday, as America awoke to news of Trump’s victory, the New Yorker’s David Remnick called the election outcome, “a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism.”

It is also a tragedy for the old Republican Party, which is now dead. The GOP has proved unwilling to stand up to the president-elect’s vociferous support, even when that meant playing footsie with anti-Semitism, calling to torch the 14th Amendment or undercutting democracy with talk of a “rigged” election.

For some Trump voters, conservative orthodoxies be damned. The motivating force is now immigration and hostility to non-whites. The GOP yielded. It had planned to spend four years subverting Hillary Clinton’s administration rather than have a reckoning of its own. That reckoning has now been permanently abandoned.

The party’s retrograde plank, revealed during Trump’s coronation in July at the Republican National Convention, will now be enacted. During that event, Trump delivered an acceptance speech appealing directly to the white working class. Eyeballing the camera, he bellowed: “I am your voice.”

“I have visited the laid-off factory workers, and the communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals,” he said. “These are the forgotten men and women of our country. People who work hard but no longer have a voice.”

American manufacturing has certainly suffered in recent decades, and the impact on the working class is real. In his book “Hillbilly Elegy,” author J. D. Vance depicts life in a county in Ohio scarred by welfare dependency, drug abuse and a chronic lack of opportunity. This is the message of economic anxiety ― white workers forgotten in an age of globalism.

But Trump’s response was a masquerade. His economic plan will help Vance’s heroes naught. During the campaign he capitalized on their economic plight as a cover to peddle jingoism and bullying, tapping into the death throes of white Christian hegemony to fear-monger against “the other.”

And his supporters, still suffering from the 2008 financial crash, a collapse in institutional trust, and feeling culturally mocked for their beliefs in in God, guns and the flag, were captivated, drawn to the authoritarianism of a man who promised to cure their ills, to re-establish the group’s religious and cultural dominance ― to “Make America Great Again.”

Nominee Trump puffed: “I alone can fix it,” even at the expense of the U.S. Constitution, now flexible in matters of free speech, religious tolerance, or a woman’s right to choose.

Towards the end of his run Trump regularly recited lyrics to “The Snake,” an Aesop-style fable with “immigrants” as the viper that betrayed its naive host. Some have suggested Trump was the snake, biting the GOP after it took him in.

But the true serpent is the dark populism of the political right, welcomed in decades ago by a party now held hostage by its fangs.

The success of Trump’s campaign was the natural conclusion of the GOP’s long-standing inability to respond to a groundswell of demographic changes. Instead the party surrendered its soul to the mountebanks of talk radio, whose ethnocentric rhetoric energized millions of voters receptive to a message of white grievance.

Trumpism is white nationalism, and the Republican Party must now entertain it, regardless of whatever economic doctrines grandees like Speaker Paul Ryan sermonize in the capital. As journalist Bret Stephens lamented on the eve of the election, conservative and political leaders, “prostrated themselves before Mr. Trump simply because he won.”

Whatever Trump does in office, the fascistic forces that gave rise to his bid are now permanently coiled around a party that once fought for slaves.

There they will remain, even after Trump and his ghastly coterie are consigned to the ghosts of reminisce.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original can be found here.

For Trump and his mob, partisan feeling won’t yield to patriotism

“There is tremendous voter fraud,” U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump told supporters in Wisconsin this week, before predicting that “1.8 million deceased individuals” will vote for his opponent Hillary Clinton.

Facing a potential wipeout at the polls, Trump has of late used rallies, Twitter and sporadic Fox News interviews to question the legitimacy of an election he is about to fluff.

Studies reveal there is no widespread voter fraud, and, with the possible exception of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the dead don’t vote.

On Tuesday, Trump went further encouraging his supporters to monitor polling stations for electoral wrongdoing, especially in the inner cities.

And fascism’s siren song was heard: “If she’s [Hillary] in office, I hope we can start a coup,” Dan Bowman, 50, recently told The Boston Globe. “She should be in prison or shot.”

“We’re going to have a revolution and take them out of office if that’s what it takes,” he added. “There’s going to be a lot of bloodshed.”

Remarkably, this was posted by an elected sheriff:

Voter intimidation is likely on Nov. 8, especially if Trump’s vigilante “monitors” openly carrying guns.

America has enjoyed a peaceful transition of power after every election since 1876, but the death rattle of Trump’s burlesque campaign is now threatening that long-standing democratic tradition.

As Donald’s surrogates often parrot, he’s an “agent of change.”

Grace in defeat.

Trump isn’t the first to test America’s precariously balanced civics. As recently as 2000, the country looked truly f***ed. An impossibly ugly election was followed by a contested result forcing the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. In a split decision, it ruled that Florida’s disputed votes be awarded to George W. Bush.

His Democratic rival Al Gore won the popular vote, but the Texan took the White House.

Gore had grounds for grievance but noting the potential damage of a continued fight, he conceded victory, yanking the nation back from the brink:

“I also accept my responsibility … to honor the new president-elect and do everything possible to help him bring Americans together in fulfillment of the great vision that our Declaration of Independence defines and that our Constitution affirms and defends.”

Forty years earlier, Richard Nixon gave a terse variation of the same sentiment on national TV:

“I want, I want Senator Kennedy to know, and I want all of you to know, that certainly if this trend does continue, and he does become our next president, that he will have my wholehearted support and yours, too.”

Adlai Stevenson in 1952 promised his support to Dwight Eisenhower, noting: “We vote as many, but we pray as one.” A similar “pledge” was made by Bob Dole in 1996 after he failed to unseat Bill Clinton.

Even McCain’s slapstick bid of 2008 correctly managed the concession, refusing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin a platform to deliver her own speech, albeit against the protests of the vice presidential pick, who by this time had gone full “Black Swan.”

Why it is important?

A state cannot function if a third of its citizenry believes the elected leader is illegitimate. As such, the concession speech is a vital release valve after the build up of a lengthy election campaign that cuts deep into the national consciousness.

Yet Trump is now threatening to make the scar tissue permanent with repeated claims of “rigged polls,” “biased” debate moderators and “corrupt media” pushing “false allegations” ― all strings of a marionette controlled by a “global power structure” bent on stealing the election from America’s white working class.

This type of waffle has currency among the orcs and goblins of the internet; a conspiracy theory after all simplifies a complex world. However, for an American presidential candidate, it’s absurd.

In Trump’s defense, he is not responsible for the country’s polarization, nor did he create a society in which truth has lost its value. But he is deliberately exploiting both to undercut the democratic process by claiming the election is “one big fix.”

Why is he doing this?

During July and September, Trump’s flamboyant campaign pulled at the docking ropes threatening to take off. Many national polls showed the portly tycoon level with his seasoned yet very beatable opponent.

The improvement was attributed in part to his newly-appointed campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who successfully yanked Trump’s snout ring around the country giving the impression of a sober operation. However, in October the ship exploded, bursting into flames like the Hindenburg.

The campaign’s combustible mix of white victimhood, Islamophobia, anti-intellectualism, KFC buckets and late-night tweets was finally lit by vintage audio of the candidate talking “p***y” on a bus.

The tape and subsequent flood of women claiming to have been assaulted by her boss left even Conway, the smiliest of Stepford wives, floundering and the campaign in a tailspin.

Loyalists cried foul but the tape was revealing. For decades Trump fostered the myth of a dealmaker doyen, a man driven solely by his resolute desire to peak in business.

The video, however, suggested Trump was impelled by nothing more than his perverse need to exert power over women. Perhaps this was already obvious. His willingness to confess to serial sexual assault was not.

Already behind in battleground states, Trump’s turn in the first Clinton debate did little to encourage swing voters. Then came the video and attendant allegations, effectively ending the race.

The second debate proved a turning point, a pantomime of Clinton-bashing that suggested Trump had given up the White House. Instead he would concentrate on maintaining a sizable, hardcore following that he could exploit for cash after the vote.

According to reports, this change was encouraged by campaign CEO Stephen Bannon, a bedraggled anti-establishment agitator who runs a white ethno-nationalism website.

In Trump’s ear like Grima Wormtongue, Bannon coaxed the willing tycoon to turn on the whole political class ― the Clintons, the Republicans, the media… even the election itself.

The GOP response?

Many prominent Republicans, sniffing the coming drubbing at the polls, jumped ship, giving Trump and his twitchy coterie another bête noire: those “disloyal” Republicans,” those “traitors.”

Even Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a man with an almost ideological commitment to cowardice, baulked at fantasies of a “rigged” election, putting out a statement noting he was “fully confident” the vote would be fair.

Which is where we are three weeks out from the vote. The irony for Trump is that his opponent is currently having her soiled underwear shaken out daily byWikiLeaks. If he stopped talking about voter fraud, he could hammer her for the remainder of the campaign on issues far less mythical. But he won’t because his goal is no longer office.

Quoted by Gore, defeated Sen. Stephen Douglas (D-Ill.) told Abe Lincoln in 1860 that “partisan feeling must yield to patriotism.” But Trump requires partisanship to feed his post-election vision.

It appears that after 16 squalid months of race-baiting, lying, debasing women and threatening to upend American democracy, the campaign of Donald J. Trump has yet to reach its nadir. This could end in violence.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

The conspiracy theorist-in-chief

His name has never once appeared on a ballot paper and he has never held public office. Yet Dr. Ben Carson has spent much of the past 50 days sitting second in the polls to be the presidential nominee for the Republican Party ahead of the 2016 election.

Only the insurgency of Donald Trump, a man with an equal paucity of elected experience, has demoted his rival to the role of subsidiary, though recent polls have Carson besting his competitor in the early voting state of Iowa.

Either way, both remain far ahead of the “traditional” candidates in the race for the nomination, a roster that includes three former governors, two current governors, three senators, one former senator and a member of the House of Representatives.

Much has been written about the appeal of “political outsiders” across the US and Europe in recent years. The predominant American narrative has Carson and Trump riding a wave of conservative discontent birthed by the election of Barack Obama, and nurtured by a Republican party impotent to offer coherent opposition ever since.

Yet Trump and Carson are also exploiting a very American flavor of disgruntlement – the obsessed, conspiratorial mindset of a pocket of the population besieged by paranoia and a fear of the hidden hand.

Their approaches, however, do differ. Whereas the billionaire property tycoon is peddling empty optimism, fawning to a sense of injustice that says a longstanding political cabal has robbed America of its God-given dominance of the world, Carson’s campaign has the hue of an Internet comment board, replete with Nazi analogies, hatred of the media, conflation of the welfare state and Stalin’s gulags… and yet more Nazis.

A fetish for Hitler references has contaminated Carson’s campaign, the MD given to likening the United States to the Third Reich or warning that Democratic policies are paving a path for the next Fuhrer. “Socialism” is discharged as a similar catchall for “bad.”

Although Trump recently denounced Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders as a “communist,” generally the businessman resists using McCarthyite slurs to attack his competitors. Evoking Herr Hitler or the Soviet Union is too thin a branch even for the rambunctious frontrunner. Not so Carson, who applies a heavy garnish of fascist fear mongering every time his feather-caked voice leaks towards a microphone.

Witness the recent gun debate following the Oregon shooting in which Carson shoehorned a Nazi analogy into the tragedy by suggesting the Holocaust would have been “greatly diminished” had the Jews been armed.

Likewise in 2013, Carson called Obamacare (that’s the provision of healthcare to millions of working class Americans), “the worst thing since slavery,” while noting that American citizens were living in a “Gestapo age.

In August this year, Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization that provides reproductive health services, was decried by Carson as an agent of “population control” in black neighborhoods. “Read about Margaret Sanger, who founded this place [Planned Parenthood],” he told Fox News. “Look and see what many people in Nazi Germany thought about her.”

On evolution Carson forewent the Nazis, settling on that other bête noir the Devil, arguing “the adversary” had possessed Charles Darwin and was therefore responsible for the Victorian naturalist’s famous theory. At the same meeting in 2012, he claimed the Big Bang was a “fairy tale” cooked up by “highfalutin scientists.”

When the doctor is challenged on his historical parallels, he claims he has either been misrepresented or misquoted, opting not to defend his position but to blame the media.

Much of Carson’s twaddle appears to be inspired by the 1958 book ‘The Naked Communist,’ in which the author heralds a Red plot to take over the world. “It reads like it was written last year,” Carson told Newsmax in 2014, while suggesting viewers read ‘Mein Kampf,’ to find out the truth about President Obama.

The ’58 tome was written by W. Cleon Skousen, a far right conspiracy theorist who, when not crusading against hidden communists in society, was warning against a cabal of global bankers. Although written half a century ago, this paranoia has become the tone for much of the right wing Internet, a vernacular that Carson is gleefully corralling into a run for the White House.

Policies aside, Carson is an odd chap – and not just because his eyelids look like a half-closed blinds with weights tied to the trim. The delicate tenor of his voice jars with the savagery of his rhetoric. Red faces etched with mounting dander usually deliver right wing bluster. Hearing Carson quietly mumble his way through musings on Hitler’s manifesto is jumbled.

The 64-year-old attributes his slow and measured demeanor to the tranquility of his faith. This maybe so, but faith likely accounts for Carson’s conspiratorial bent too. This is, after all, an educated man from Detroit who followed a successful career in medicine by becoming the author of hugely popular books in which he employed his own life story as an aspirational metaphor for the United States. Yet he speaks in sentences that could be cut from the bottom end of a comment board on YouTube.

It could be that the bounds of rationality have long since been breached. Carson fluffs with abandon his Seventh Day Adventism, a protestant sect that eagerly awaits the Second Coming of Christ. Central to the faith’s doctrine is the belief that the Son of God was due to swing by in 1844. He did not, but adherents insist he remains en route. If Carson can swallow that conspiracy with a straight face, perhaps it’s not surprising to find him indulging in more sinister make-believe, including jackboots goose-stepping up Pennsylvania Avenue.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Shouting ‘gun control’ across the Atlantic isn’t going to save a single life

“What the fuck is wrong with America?” It’s the stock refrain that echoes across the rest of the developed world after another mass shooting blights an otherwise civilized, progressive and responsible state.

“Gun control,” comes the shout from Europe’s ancient capitals. Kill the Second Amendment; excise the law that routinely leaves bodies heaped in schools and churches across the bloodied republic.

It’s an easy answer and wholly unsatisfactory. Democratic America is what it chooses to be, but the issue is so aged, politicised and now polarised that banning guns is not only impossible, it would likely do little to stop the type of bloodshed witnessed last week in Roseburg.

Here’s what is known:

The US boasts a high murder rate — one of the highest in the developed world. Guns are likely the main cause of this higher rate, being the prime weapon in around 65 percent of all US murders.

An American is five times more likely to be murdered than a British person, and 40 times more likely to be murdered with a gun. However, overall crime rates in the US are falling, with the rate of gun deaths halved since the early Nineties.

Nobody knows how many guns there are in private hands. A 2007 Small Arms Survey suggested around 270million but it’s likely much higher.

The reason there is no national firearms database is because the government has not been allowed to create one. The gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, argues that the government knowing who owns a gun is an infringement on the constitutional right to bear arms. Not only can Washington not stop citizens buying a gun, it doesn’t have the right to know who owns one.

Why is there no gun control?

The disproportionate power for the NRA, which plays on an old and ingrained distrust of the government, has turned Second Amendment absolutism into a test of identity. You cannot be a true Republican, a true conservative, a true constitutionalist, or a true American and countenance gun control, so they argue. Backed by the gun manufacturers, the NRA has money to bully politicians, funding those who display Second Amendment fidelity, while financing the opponents of politicians that pose a threat.

And there is plenty of money to go around. In the past seven years, the share price of most major gun manufacturers has increased; Sturm Ruger’s share price has gone up 700 percent since 2009.

The upsurge in sales is tied to the election of Barack Obama; gun enthusiasts, anxious that the commander-in-chief would enact gun control, responded by stockpiling weapons.

However, the gun lobby didn’t cause this anxiety. The election of the country’s first African-American president churned up a raft of ugly sentiment — racial, religious and social — allied to a shifting national demographic that led many citizens to feel America was changing and not for the better. The gun lobby feed off this anxiety while stoking the flames.

Despite the increase in sales, crime rates have still fallen. Yet the US retains a deserved reputation for gun violence. This is because although the overall trend is downward, the numbers of mass shootings, the type that capture national and international attention such as Oregon, are rising.

Would gun control work in the United States?

It is unlikely that implementing controls, such as background checks for buyers, would stop the type of mass shooting that increasingly plagues the national body.

Neither would banning guns, at least in the short term. There are an estimated 300 million weapons in circulation in the US; restricting access to guns, as enforced in the UK and Australia, would not hinder a determined buyer. The time for that has long passed.

And despite a succession of mass shootings (11 during Obama’s tenure alone), there remains little public appetite for gun prohibition. A 2011 poll showed that only 26 percent of US citizens want to ban handguns.

What onlookers can fail to appreciate is the depth of feeling towards concepts of liberty and individual freedom that burns in the national consciousness. Even if it were proven that gun controls would prevent mass shootings, some Americans would still resist.

The loathing for government restrictions is so deeply entrenched that there is almost no price for which many Americans would hand over their firearms. And for Second Amendment absolutists, the NRA included, liberty is so sacrosanct that they would be willing to endure any atrocity to retain the right — even if that means scraping 10 children off the wall every six months.

It’s a Faustian pact, but it’s also a choice. If there were a genuine demand for legal restrictions, candidates would emerge in regional and national elections campaigning on that plank — “vote for me, I’ll ban the guns.” Citizens would vote for those candidates en masse and the country would change. That they do not is down to crony capitalism and the influence of the NRA, but it’s also because Americans choose not to.

Here’s the real question: does a lack of gun control make mass shootings inevitable? This is where fact gives way to conjecture and politics. The NRA skillfully diverts attention away from guns after every massacre, framing the problem as a mental health issue.

But it’s a far broader cultural problem. So what is it about American culture that drives young men to take an automatic weapon to a school, church or cinema and start shooting?

Guns are part of the problem, but guns alone don’t turn sane people into mass murderers. Then again, there is something perverse and fetishistic in the way guns are revered in the US that is individual the country.

Opponents of the Second Amendment point to the success of banning weapons in the UK and Australia after the Dunblane and Port Arthur massacres. Would those countries have suffered further atrocities had guns not been banned? Possibly, but with the multitude of guns in circulation in the US (unlike in the UK and Australia) comparisons are problematic. The best you could say for a blanket ban is that it may eventually cause a cultural shift away from firearms, but probably not for generations.

It’s an ‘American’ problem.

Guns have become a tribal issue in a country increasingly separated by two opposing identities. Speaking about this article to an otherwise dispassionate and rational ally in the Midwest triggered a visceral response in which gun control was instantaneously dismissed. Likewise, speaking to colleagues in New York sparks an opposing but equally primal reaction.

This plays out on a national level with massacres met by entrenchment on both sides — those who believe guns make individuals safer and those who believe they make the country as a whole more dangerous. The makeup of these opposing groups falls along political, ethnic, social and geographic lines, as revealed by Pew polling.

Speaking after the shooting last Thursday, Obama scolded the nation for becoming “numb” to the problem. He is right; it has become “routine.” But the detachment is not because Americans don’t care… it’s because they don’t know what to do. Half the country advocates measures that wouldn’t stop mass shootings while the other half refuses to acknowledge the gun’s role in creating a destructive culture. And that, to answer the original question, is what is wrong with America.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Across Britain and the U.S., centrism is out; anti-establishment populism is in

The politics of Britain and the United States are being warped. Centrism is out, anti-establishment populism is in.

The rise of Donald Trump as frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination is mirrored by the blossoming support for Bernie Sanders, an old school democratic socialist who has gained traction on the left as the Democratic Party’s alternative to Hillary Clinton.

In Britain, Eurosceptic MEP Nigel Farage failed to win a parliamentary seat at May’s general election, however Ukip, the right wing party he leads, trawled more than 4 million votes, up from 900,000 in 2010.

More recently, Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran anti-war socialist, has emerged as favorite to be the next leader of the British Labour Party, garnering robust support from new and existing party members much to the frustration of his centrist rivals.

Yet the move away from conventional politics doesn’t represent a shift by the electorate towards political extremism, rather a growing frustration at the ruling political class. Trump’s June comments calling Mexican’s “rapists” and “murderers”may have split the ears of the groundlings, yet his appeal goes far beyond base nativism.

Trump praised the governments of China and Mexico for being “much smarter” than his own country’s “stupid” leaders. The tycoon’s shtick is to blame the weak establishment — Republicans and Democrats — for not standing up for blue-collar citizens in the face of conniving foreigners.

“Our enemies are getting stronger and stronger by the way, and we as a country are getting weaker,” he said, offering an easy solution — an outsider to stand up for Americans rather than politicians that pander to their own self-interest.

Trump’s cause is aided by his wealth. As he points out, he doesn’t kowtow to donorsunlike his rivals. Yet despite his money, Trump has succeeded in making many Americans feels as though he’d fight for them, not for the corporate interests establishment politicians currently serve.

The property tycoon isn’t the only anti-establishment candidate running for the Republican Party nomination. Former neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Texas Senator Ted Cruz peddle a similar line, excoriating Washington and the leaders of their own party as much as the Democrats. Combined they boast almost 40 percent of current Republican polling.

In the UK, Corbyn’s rise to frontrunner of the Labour Party leadership race comes on the back of his strident opposition to the status quo.

He opposes the welfare cuts imposed by David Cameron’s ruling Conservative Party (reforms the Labour establishment has failed to resist) and favors tax increases on the wealthy. He even wants to renationalize the UK railway system and end Britain’s nuclear deterrent.

Corbyn stands in contrast to the previous leader Ed Miliband, whose half-hearted leftism failed to convince the voters in May, and even more starkly to Tony Blair, who led the party to three successive election victories by deliberately moving the Labour edifice to the center ground.

In the U.S., Sanders has specifically called for an end to “establishment politics,” while highlighting the threat of income inequality and the anti-Democratic influence of corporations.

He wants to increase the minimum wage, provide “tuition free” university courses, increased vacation holiday days, boost mandatory sick pay and offer childcare for working mothers.

That agenda appeals to frustrated Democratic Party supporters who were promised “hope and change” by a supposedly leftist Obama, who instead delivered eight years of centrism, albeit within an administration that pushed through equal marriage and healthcare reform.

In the UK, the popularity of Farage and Corbyn represents a similar rejection of conventionalism, both attracting support from citizens who feel that neither Labour nor the Conservative Party represents them. Members of parliament have become a political class, the only goal of which is to stay in office. They no longer serve their constituents or represent them.

Likewise in the U.S., voters see the Democratic Party and the Republican Party as what Mark Leonard called “appendages of the state,” with senators and representatives reduced to the role of corporate oligarchs.

As Trump said recently, people are tired of “incompetent politicians.” The political class may scoff, but it’s Trump leading the polls and Corbyn set to be the next leader of the British Opposition.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

American election debates are even more contentious than their British counterparts

NEW YORK — The advent of American-style TV debates as part of the British electoral landscape proved hugely popular during the 2010 and 2015 general election campaigns. Yet for broadcasters, organising an event that can have such a decisive impact on the result (the 2010 success of the Liberal Democrats started with a strong debate performance by Nick Clegg) is a difficult exercise, balancing fairness to the candidates while providing a service to the electorate — all while creating a watchable spectacle.

Witness David Cameron’s machinations before the 2015 election in which the prime minister laboured to participate in the fewest debates with the most possible candidates. As the incumbent, he had the most to lose by either making a mistake or inadvertently bestowing statesmanlike parity on his rivals. The opposite ran true for the non-incumbents, whose natural inclination was to target the prime minister in the hope of gaining an imprimatur of legitimacy.

If dragging Cameron into a studio to face his adversaries was a testing task for the British broadcasters, that obstacle seems trite compared to the brouhaha engulfing the first Republican primary debate of the 2016 presidential election, scheduled for Cleveland, Ohio on August 6th.

The debate is being produced by a partnership of Fox News, Facebook and the Republican Party with the broadcaster deciding the best format would be to limit the number of candidates to 10. A second debate organised by CNN with the same format is scheduled for September. Unfortunately, there are currently 17 Republicans vying for the nomination, the largest presidential primary field in the history of the Party. So who makes the cut?

Fox News and CNN plan to use an average from five major national polls ahead of the debates. Unfortunately, polls are often wrong, particularly with some candidates polling similarly low numbers. Also, early polls tend to favour candidates with better name recognition. As such, the 10 candidates on stage in Ohio may not be the best 10 candidates in the Republican field.

Some are guaranteed a place on stage due to their consistent high polling. Businessman Donald Trump, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee will, short of a meltdown in the next two weeks, be at the debate.

Ted Cruz, who has suffered most from the Kraken-like emergence of Trump, is still likely safe. Trump’s nativist siren song has enchanted the party’s populist wing, a role formerly occupied by the Texas senator. Yet Cruz is polling high enough to not miss out. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, however, are in peril should a rival candidate surge.

Even if those 10 are the final selection, some heavyweight candidates will miss out, including former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who came second to Mitt Romney in the 2012 primary race, winning 11 states. Ohio Governor John Kasich (whose state hosts the debate) would also sit on the bench, alongside Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and former New York Governor George Pataki.

Critics, including Santorum, have complained about the “arbitrary” nature of the 10-person cut off, which could have far-reaching consequences for the nomination and even the Presidency. Those candidates who do make the cut will benefit from huge national exposure not only to prospective donors but also to voters in states the elect the Republican nominee early. Exclusion from the first two debates will, in effect, smother candidacies in their crib.

This has pushed some candidates to spend precious campaign dollars trying to secure enough support just to appear at the debate. Other aspirants – Graham and Perry – have turned on frontrunner Trump, hoping to build their profile by attacking the playground bully. Some have used the media to call for a rethink of the format, including Jindal, who argued in the Wall Street Journal that “all 16 candidates” should debate. Or as Graham brusquely reflected on the selection criteria, “It sucks.

The Republican National Committee hatched a plan to limit the 2016 primary race to just nine televised events hoping of avoid the exhaustive 2012 schedule in which candidates bloodied each other over 22 debates. The longer debate schedule gave Democrats time to organise, while leaving little more than a Romney Husk by the time he emerged the eventual Republican nominee.

As RNC Chairman Reince Priebus reflected after the 2012 defeat, “While we were playing footsie debating each other 22 times, they [the Democrats] were spending $100 million on technology.”

The move to limit the debates was designed to help Republican candidates with the aim of recapturing the presidency. However, by handing control of the debate mechanics to the broadcasters who, for production reasons have limited the number of participants, the RNC may well have distorted the democratic process, while inadvertently intensifying the internecine bloodshed.

Having reality TV star Trump and conservative author Carson on the stage makes for great TV. Yet having them ahead of senators and governors dilutes the Republican field. Also, unlike the British debates in April, which boasted three female participants, American voters will not be given a chance to hear the only woman in the Republican race, former Hewlett Packard Chief Executive Fiorina. As one of the lesser-known and lesser-funded candidates, a good debate performance could help the impressive Texan break out into the mainstream, while giving the field at least a whiff of diversity. That is unlikely to happen.

Yet despite the criticism, Fox News and CNN have shown no inclination to adjust the format. As Fox News Executive Vice President of News Michael Clemente told Bloomberg earlier this month: “National polls are the traditional, time-tested yardstick by which presidential hopefuls have long been measured and remain the fairest, most objective and most straight-forward metric for gauging the viability of these candidates.”

And why should they adjust the format? They are in the ratings business not the democracy business and will do whatever creates the most compelling TV. The problem rests with the RNC, which has done nothing to force a compromise. As Curt Anderson, a consultant to Jindal’s campaign, recently noted: “The Republican Party should be looking forward instead of backward — and seeking every opportunity to feature its roster of excellent candidates, rather than trying to find ways to constrict the field.”

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.