America’s democracy has received another blow, even as its president insists all is okay. Russia, which is silently watching, has many questions to answer: Why were the Russians so keen on Trump to begin with? And Xi Jinping could end up looking very “unpowerful” after amassing all the power that he has. Does the world need to acknowledge that our politics simply can’t be fixed by political means?
Why were the Russians so keen on Trump?
The indictment of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for money-laundering and tax fraud is, as the Financial Times argues, “enough to frighten any friend of America”.
“If they are true, Donald Trump’s campaign manager from March to August 2016 — a period encompassing his nomination by the Republican party — was a criminal. Not a criminal in some abstract or technical sense: Mr Manafort is accused of laundering millions of dollars, evading taxes, and concealing his role as a lobbyist for a foreign government,” the FT writes.
“The latter point is the most alarming. It raises the possibility that a foreign power, without knowledge of the electorate, influenced the policy of the party that ultimately won the presidency.”
But there are some unanswered questions that lie at the core of this indictment, argues The Economist. “Why were the Russians so keen on Mr Trump? Why was Mr Trump so keen on Mr Putin, saying many times that he wanted a better relationship with him? Why did Trump officials attending the Republican National Convention in the summer of 2016 water down a resolution calling on America to send arms to Ukrainians fighting Russian forces who had occupied part of their country? These and many other questions lie at the core of Mr Mueller’s mission. Hope that Mr Mueller is not fired before he completes his work. Keep sight of the task that matters—understanding an attack on America—through all the distractions that undoubtedly lie ahead.”
Xi’s power could come back to bite him
Xi Jinping could come to regret all the power he has amassed, writes Kerry Brown in the South China Morning Post. “The Chinese president’s authority may have been enhanced at the Congress, but the party’s connection with ordinary Chinese is not what it was under Mao, and if things go wrong, one man’s carrying the can,” he argues.
“In the Maoist era, Mao Zedong Thought was, at least briefly, a living faith, that swept up millions upon millions of people across China. It was something people literally lived and died for,” Brown writes.
“For the average Chinese, ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ is background elite babble far away from their lives. It’s a bit reassuring – at least the politicians are busy doing their politics thing and leaving people largely alone. But it is very remote. The party has to speak in two languages – one to itself, and one to the wider world. And at moments when an ideology like this is promoted, the stretch marks reach almost to breaking point. The party is powerful and coherent in itself. But in ways in which this was not true in the Maoist era, it serves at the people’s pleasure. It has to deliver growth, a good environment, and a better lifestyle, and deliver these things quickly, to one of the toughest audiences in the world. And there are plenty of things in the next few years during this complex era of transition that could go wrong, and make this very powerful group of people with Xi at their heart looking very unpowerful indeed.”
No politician will come save you
Politics nowadays has taken the form of “a visceral, even subconscious, attachment to a party group,” argues David Brooks in The New York Times. “People on the left and on the right who try to use politics to find their moral meaning are turning politics into an idol” – and idols, he argues, are bound to fail people.
“When politics is used as a cure for spiritual and social loneliness, it’s harder to win people over with policy or philosophical arguments. Everything is shaped on a deeper level, through the parables, fables and myths that our most fundamental groups use to define themselves.”
“For years, the meritocratic establishments in both parties told an implicit myth. The heroes of this myth were educated, morally enlightened global citizens who went to competitive colleges, got invited to things like the Clinton Global Initiative, and who have the brainpower to run society and who might just be a little better than other people, by virtue of their achievements.”
“Donald Trump tells the opposite myth — about how those meritocrats are actually clueless idiots and full of drivel, and how virtue, wisdom and toughness is found in the regular people whom those folks look down upon.
Trump’s supporters follow him because he gets his facts wrong, but he gets his myths right. He tells the morality tale that works for them.”
“To be a moderate is to be at war with idolatry. It’s to believe that we become free as we multiply and balance our attachments. It’s to believe that our politics probably can’t be fixed by political means. It needs repair of the deeper communal bonds that politics rest on, and which political conflict cannot heal.”
Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism
In a week that marks the 500th year since Martin Luther challenged the Roman Catholic Church, Richard Cohen argues that he is a flawed figure, who hated Jews. His Jew-hatred is hugely negligible compared with the Reformation he initiated, but the evidence of it is “pretty shocking, not to mention definitive”, writes Cohen in The Washington Post.
“In 1543, he published ‘On the Jews and Their Lies,’ in which he called my ancestors “base and whoring people” full of the “devil’s feces . . . they wallow in like swine.” He had all sorts of ideas for what to do with the Jews, including the wholesale liquidation of their synagogues, even homes, and a ban on the teaching of their rabbis “on pain of loss of life and limb.”
“To be sure, Luther’s Jew-hatred was typical for the time, but Luther himself was hardly typical. He was a powerful, colloquial writer, and his words surely had some effect. He was the founder of a church, or a movement, that now numbers nearly 1 billion. But more pertinently, he provided a religious imprimatur to German anti-Semitism, which culminated in the Holocaust. Luther was often cited by the Nazis, but it would be wrong to blame him alone for the murder of 6 million souls.”