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This time last year I was invited to a conference in Moscow run by an in-house Kremlin think-tank. I was fully expecting the champagne to be flowing. But even the proverbial bubbles were missing. Having helped bring about the defeat of the much-despised Hillary Clinton, Vladimir Putin — who spoke at the conference (unsmilingly, as ever) — was low key. No bragging or celebration. But I thought I detected a grim satisfaction that the world’s greatest democracy, which had humiliated post-Soviet Russia, was now experiencing it’s own “colour revolution” under Donald Trump. This was no victory parade. It was more like a quiet exercise in schadenfreude.
If someone had predicted to me then that the Democratic Party would be agitating a year later for a new Cold War with Russia, I would have found it hard to believe. Having watched the backlash of America’s left behinds, I would have expected Democrats to revisit first principles and figure out where the party had gone astray. Rebuilding from the ground up, finding a new generation of leaders, and figuring out a way to recapture state houses and governorships from the GOP would have been top of the list. Republicans control more than two-thirds of state legislative seats. Creating ideas factories to rival the conservative machine would have been another. Instead, the Democrats remain fixated on Russia, as I address in my column this week. It is bad politics. Rana, tell me if I’m wrong.
Here is something I did not have space to address. It is also bad foreign policy. With the exception of Russia, no Democrat is focusing on the world beyond America’s shores. All the oxygen is sucked up by the desire to impeach Trump and by the jostling on the left for the affections of the liberal base — Medicare for all, campaign finance reform, and so on. Yet the geopolitical consequences of Mr Trump are perhaps his most damaging and consequential legacy of all. It was the party of Harry Truman that was present at the creation in the 1940s and which set up the Pax Americana world that we all inherited. But the voices of leading Democrats seem to be almost wholly absent from the destruction of what they created. Liberal fixation on Russia is the exception that proves the rule — it is purely for domestic ends. I will address the strange absence of an American foreign policy debate in a future column.
Meanwhile, here is some reading. The New York Times does some brilliant reporting on the vast skein of enablers, agents, lawyers, private detective firms and entertainment industry fixers that allowed Harvey Weinstein to get away with sexually harassing young actresses (and worse) for decades. I’m most struck by the fact that both Tina Brown and Lena Dunham say they explicitly warned the Clinton campaign about Weinstein, yet it caused no change in the candidate’s relationship with the Hollywood mogul.
Writing in the FT, Michael Moritz, the Sequoia Capital partner, says he risks “getting stoned to death” by his peer group on Sand Hill Road for pointing out the flaws in Capitol Hill’s tax reform bill. These include the assumption that a lower corporate tax rate will boost investment when big companies, including even Intel, are spending roughly four times as much on share buybacks and dividends as they do on investment. Another title for his piece could be: “It’s the lack of demand, stupid.”
Finally, as the Mueller investigation continues to mess with Trump’s head, we should all pay more attention to Mike Pence who is closer to being our next president than some may imagine. This Atlantic piece is an excellent profile of the man who did more than anyone to deliver the evangelical vote to Trump. So far the Trump-Pence duo are doing better with conservative Christians than any White House in modern times. Yet Pence’s wife, Karen Pence, reportedly finds the president so “vile” that she can hardly bear to be around him.
I love it when I can both agree and disagree with Ed in the same Note. It’s always bizarre to me when politicos speak of Russia as our number one foreign policy concern. As Ed says, they are a third rate petro-power, and Putin is only doing what any good autocrat of a troubled economy would do, which is to distract from problems at home by stirring up some abroad. It’s also true that Democrats desperately need to get their own house in order if they want to regain power. They lost the 2016 election because they had no coherent economic message for working people (and by coherent, I mean not just correct policy but something unifying and easy to message). They still don’t, and the party leadership’s unwillingness to step aside and make room for younger up and comers who do (paging Keith Ellison) is a major issue for prospects in 2020.
That said, I don’t fault Democrats for obsessively investigating Trump’s ties to Russia. To me, it’s an absolute must and goes to the heart of the deepest problem in American politics today, which is the lack of trust in institutions. If we can’t trust that our own president and his team aren’t colluding with a foreign power, and we can’t trust Congress and the justice department to investigate such claims thoroughly, then we really do have the makings of an elite coup. As it is, Democrats should do less talking about Russia but carry on with the digging.
Farewell Uncle Sam, hello Uncle Donald “Dependable old Uncle Sam seems to have gone on a long vacation — and his malicious twin, Uncle Donald, has taken up residence in the White House,” writes our chief foreign affairs commentator. The result, he says, is confusion and soul-searching among some of America’s closest allies such as Britain and Japan. (FT)
The WTO’s Trump-induced identity crisis The institution’s members are confronted by what many see as an assault on the postwar trading system by a president who seems intent on going it alone. (FT)
‘The president stole your land’ Patagonia intends to sue the Trump administration. The outdoor clothing group has teamed up with other outdoor clothing and equipment retailers to speak out against the US president’s decision this week to shrink two Utah national monuments by 2m acres. The administration said it was a blatant lie. “You mean Patagonia made in China?” one official caustically remarked. (NYT)
The sun is shining on the global economy Now that a recovery is under way, an effort needs to be made to deleverage economies, writes Martin Wolf. (FT)