A note on the foreign policy of President Trump

A note on the foreign policy of President Trump

My general policy with posts on this site is that I do not engage with day-to-day, ground level political discussion, which is often wild, misplaced and quickly forgotten. Do you remember what was dominating political headlines in your country a month ago? Two months ago? Six? I doubt it.

Occasionally, though, a situation will call for some comment, if only to set in place a guiding principle for you to bear in mind whenever similar stories come up over the next however-many years. One such occasion is happening right now, and it has to do with the foreign policy direction of the Trump presidency.

Trump’s decision to bomb a Syrian governmental air base was, for the most part, strongly supported by traditional instruments of power, while being disliked by his base. Naturally, the question both of these groups have been asking since is ‘Is Trump going to become another ‘policeman of the world?’, which seems like a reasonable question on the surface, but is actually just the kind of wild, misplaced and quickly forgotten discussion that benefits no-one and achieves nothing, because on its own, it lacks any supporting statement. It has no thesis to work towards. There is no attempt in asking the question to view the actions of the US administration within a political framework.

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A contender emerges for the WAELOAT

A contender emerges for the WAELOAT

The final results are in for the Western Australian state election, an election in which conventional political wisdom was meant to return in full. Instead, it decided that it quite enjoyed being on holiday and just kind of phoned it in, delivering Labor not just a win – like it was supposed to – but one of the most crushing victories in Australian electoral history.

Photo: Philip Gostelow

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Venezuela’s Supreme Court and a history lesson

Venezuela’s Supreme Court and a history lesson

Former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and incumbent president Nicolás Maduro Photo: Getty Images

Venezuela has been in a downward spiral since the death of socialist icon Hugo Chavez in 2013. During his presidency, Chavez was a whirlwind of activity, using the price of oil to fund socialist initiatives in his oil-rich but poor nation, nationalising whole industries in the process. His death came at just the wrong time, as in 2014 the price of oil plummeted, and the country plunged into crisis, with food and medicine shortages. Chavez may have been able to troubleshoot the country out of the crisis, but his chosen successor, Nicolás Maduro, is a much more stoic, stable character than his charismatic ‘father’ – and therefore not the kind of person to fix an economic and political crisis such as this. Maduro has instead spent his presidency attempting to retain his hold on power while the nation’s economic and social situation continues to fall, strengthening his own position as president wherever he can while the people he is meant to be serving struggle to have food on the table and stay healthy.

The latest manoeuvre in this depressing story comes from the Supreme Court, which decided to revoke the legislative power of Congress (which now has an opposition majority) and take it for themselves, making themselves a legislative and judicial body. Because the Court is full of Maduro appointees that belong to the ruling Socialist Party, this would mean that Maduro, the head of the executive, has control of all three arms of government. Maduro reversed the Court’s decision a day later, but the scale of the backlash suggests that people find something distinctly wrong with the mingling of the judicial branch of government mingling with the legislative branch of government.

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Who will win the 2017 Dutch general election?

Who will win the 2017 Dutch general election?

The first of the big European elections of 2017 is here, and it’s promising to tell us…very little. The governing coalition of Mark Rutte’s Liberals and Lodewijk Asscher’s Labour are not going to be able to form government again, but at least one and possibly both may be part of a governing coalition. Welcome, then, to the most pure proportional electoral system in the world, where 0.67% of the vote will usually get you a seat in parliament.

From a 2012 debate (balloons did not appear in 2017) Photo: Masters of Media/University of Amsterdam

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The biggest hurdle for Europe’s nationalist parties

The biggest hurdle for Europe’s nationalist parties

In a few days from now, the Netherlands will be going to the polls, the first of three (possibly even four) national elections in major European nations this year. The Party for Freedom (PVV), led by the charismatic Geert Wilders, is fighting with the ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) for first place in the election. If they do manage to win, will PVV form government and have Wilders as the new Dutch Prime Minister? Probably not.

In a month and a half from now, France will be going to polls, the second of three (possibly even four) national elections in major European nations this year. The National Front (FN), led by the charismatic Marine Le Pen, is fighting to have her elected as president, and she is leading the polls despite a strong challenge from the young Emmanuel Macron. If she does come first, will she be elected as President of France? Probably not.

Nationalist parties in Germany and Italy have the same problem, as did Austria’s Freedom Party in elections last year. What’s stopping them?

Geert Wilders (Ned/PVV); Frauke Petry (Ger/AfD); Harald Vilimsky (Aut/FPO); Marine Le Pen (Fra/FN); Matteo Salvini (Ita/LN) Photo: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

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Who will win the 2017 Western Australian state election?

Who will win the 2017 Western Australian state election?

Image: ABC

An old-fashioned election

For all the battering that received political wisdom got in 2016, it still has its uses.

The lead-up to the Western Australian state election has felt a bit like going back in time, all the way back to a decade ago. Then, as now, state politics are less important than they used to be, with the federal government vacuuming up revenue and powers from the states, leaving them on the edge of irrelevance. But one effect of this is that federal politics has come to an almost complete standstill, with the sheer numbers of important issues piling up, and the capacity of any government to make changes in any of them decreasing. This, however, has freed up state politics to continue being about ‘the issues’ (mostly), even though the importance of those issues is not as great as it used to be.

The Australian government has been in a state of paralysis for some time, across both major parties, because any real movement one way or the other on the vast array of ‘big issues’ it can now legislate on is likely to be met with absolute fury and, therefore, a loss at the next election, which always seems just around the corner – particularly in the modern, worldwide political environment, which is happy to throw the established order of things out the window. At state level, though, ‘big issues’ are no longer at play. The kind of things that are driving people to vote against the liberal order in national elections are not able to do the same as state level, because the states aren’t really able to do much about it. Conventional wisdom is therefore thrown a lifeline at this election which, I must admit, makes it a bit less interesting, but without the dull elections we wouldn’t be able to tell when a truly extraordinary election is taking place.

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Breaking down the results of the 2016 US presidential election (part two)

Breaking down the results of the 2016 US presidential election (part two)

In part one of our election review, we looked at the results of the election by state and region, and what they indicated for the Democrats, Republicans and third parties. In this second part, we will be looking more closely at some of the states that mattered, to discover exactly where it was that Trump won the election.

States are in alphabetical order. Maps are courtesy of the New York Times, voting figures are from the respective state electoral commission.

California

Dem – 8,753,788 (+899,503)
Rep – 4,483,810 (-356,148)
Oth – 943,997 (+599,693)

California stands out at this election for how unrepresentative it is of the election as a whole. It is one of only five states (plus D.C.) in which the Democrats gained votes and the Republicans lost votes, and the only of those states in which the Democratic gain was over 100,000 votes.

Unsurprisingly, the shift in the votes predominately came from the major urban centres. Amongst the inner-city counties of Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Clara, the blue vote increased by 485,727, more than half of Clinton’s gains in California. There was also some increase in her vote in suburban/coastal northern California, with a collective increase of 146,277 in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma and Yolo Counties. But it’s in southern and eastern California, traditionally stronger Republican territory, where Clinton made the most impressive gains. Removing San Diego and Los Angeles, her vote increased in SoCal by 236,937, including flipping Orange County with a 180,000 vote turnaround.

Donald Trump’s unpopularity in the OC is, I think, indicative of the enormous political shift that has occurred, as Orange County has not voted Democrat since 1936. It is reflective of both a cultural shift that has occurred within the county, and indeed across the other coastal counties, and also of a political shift that has occurred within the Republican Party, which is not appealing to these counties like, say, Mitt Romney was. On the other hand, Trump’s vote in Kern, Riverside and San Bernardino actually increased, while his overall vote in the counties he won was more or less exactly the same as it was in 2012. It was in the urban centres, where Clinton and the third parties gained votes, that his losses occurred, presumably due to the aforementioned cultural and political shifts.

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UKIP’s existential dilemma

UKIP’s existential dilemma

What does the United Kingdom Independence Party stand for?

UKIP leader Paul Nuttall Photo: Joe Giddins/PA

That is, on the surface, actually quite easy to answer: they want a United Kingdom that is independent of the European Union. Last year we learned via referendum that a majority of Britons want that too, and the British government – a Conservative Party government, not a UKIP one – is going through the process of extracting the country from the European super-state.

The problem for UKIP is that Britain leaving the EU removes their own raison d’être. The party seems to realise this, and has spent the last two years trying to build a purpose for the party beyond its foundation principle. UKIP made some big gains at the general election in 2015, coming second in 120 of the 650 constituencies, most of which were in Labour heartland in the north of England. This sounds impressive for a party that is, as far as British political parties go, quite young, particularly given it only really became a ‘serious’ party within in the last decade.

However, in most of these second-place performances, UKIP was in second by 10% or more. This is suggestive of a wider problem that the party faces at the moment, which is exemplified in their second place in the Stoke-on-Trent by-election. This was a seat that Labour won in 2015 with 39.3% of the vote, and UKIP just pipped the Conservatives for second, with 22.7% against 22.5%. This council area voted the most heavily for Leave out of any in the entire United Kingdom, and many thought UKIP could win the seat, or at the very least run it mighty close.

Instead, despite UKIP’s new leader Paul Nuttall being their candidate, Labour won with 37.1%, UKIP came second with 24.7% and the Conservatives came third with 24.3%. The needle barely moved. Why?

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Breaking down the results of the 2016 US presidential election (part one)

Breaking down the results of the 2016 US presidential election (part one)

Having spent a great deal of effort in (accurately) predicting what would happen in the 2016 US presidential election, it seems appropriate that, now that we have the final numbers for said election, I should also break down those numbers, and explain to you what actually happened, and why.

As with my prediction, you will find next to nothing in what follows about day-to-day issues, such as the Clinton email investigation, or supposed Russian hax0rs. The reason for this is simple: they’re not that important. Trends across a group of voters, especially one as large as in an American presidential election, do a good job at preventing minor and last-minute issues from seriously impacting the result. Hopefully this will become clear to you as we go through the numbers.

In this introductory first part, we will be looking at the raw numbers and party trends. Regions are divided in accordance with the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

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Thatcherites and Blairites – peas in a pod?

Thatcherites and Blairites – peas in a pod?

Photo: Kieran Doherty/Reuters

A newly published study of Britons has concluded that people who grew up under the government of Tony Blair have similar political attitudes to those who grew up under Margaret Thatcher. Before we get into the study itself, try reading the article from the University of Sheffield that accompanied it, and see if you can understand what they’re trying to say.

How did you go?

If you understood precisely what they said, then you are either a liar or have a better command of political language than I do, for I could not make heads nor tails of what they were claiming.

The article begins by saying “Young people in Britain are more right-wing and authoritarian in their political views than previous generations”, which seems simple enough. This is followed by Thatcher being a “moral crusader” who “embedded conservative authoritarian values” which went unchallenged by the Blair government, resulting in “younger generations becoming increasingly economically and social liberal.”

Que?

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