Trump And The World

Trump For Christmas, A Grim Update For My Friends In Europe

Impeachment is coming, and other failed predictions.

Trump in the holiday spirit in Orlando
Trump in the holiday spirit in Orlando

WASHINGTON — Just a month into Donald Trump's presidency, my European friends and colleagues were already asking what I thought of the unusual behavior of 45. As I'm no expert on American law or the constitution, I could only give them my impression as a political observer, and U.S. resident. Trump, after moving into the Oval Office, continued to tweet his seemingly thoughtless statements, and act in an unpredictable and senseless way, far from the norm of presidential behavior.

It was my belief that neither this country nor the world could afford to have a superpower like the U.S. led by such an erratic person for any long period of time. And since the White House did not make Trump more presidential, my gut told me that he would soon hit a wall and there would be somebody, somewhere, somehow who would invite him to leave office. I could not imagine how this irrationality could last more than a year. He will be out by Christmas, I kept saying.

I was naive, but just ten months ago, back in February, this world was still a better place. It's a wonder if we'll ever be able to get it back. So long as Trump occupies the Oval Office, we have no way of knowing when we will at last have hit the bottom of this degradation. More about this later.

To my mind, Trump's political story should have ended the moment America learned about his obscene recorded remarks to Billy Bush. The timely release was just week before the election. But Americans, many of them fed up with the political establishment and the unappealing Democratic candidate, wanted to give Trump and themselves a chance for change. They voted for him knowing how vulgar and rude he is. Did they think that only a reckless person like Trump could make a difference? They were right.

The White House is already decorated.

The change started on day one with war declared against America's own intelligence agencies. Again, we were not able to comprehend why on earth a new arrival in the White House would attack the intelligence community, whose job is to protect the President and the country. Surely, it is not because Trump is a peaceful anti-military anarchist! No. In the White House, Trump surrounded himself with many retired generals though he fired one when forced. Michael Flynn, his security adviser, was ousted because of his proven secret dealings with the Russians. As we now know, Trump's attack on the intelligence community was an impulse, a self-protective instinct. And it might just work.

Trump will not be impeached by Christmas. The White House is already decorated and nobody would think it appropriate to dismantle the forest of illuminated Christmas trees that Melania has planted before the holiday season is over. But the word impeachment (just Google "Trump impeachment") is on everyone's tongue. This, of course, does not mean that it will come easily, fast and painless — or at all. Impeachment is a long political process that builds to a consensus that leads to a vote in the House first, and the judging majority in the Senate after.

It is a long and complex procedure, that proves – no matter what we may think of the U.S. recently – the country still has strong democratic mechanisms in place. You may learn, from this great review on the American presidents who did not complete their mandate, that American history has more presidents assassinated than impeached. It took the country almost two years to build the consensus for Richard Nixon's impeachment. In order to avoid it, Nixon resigned, while Bill Clinton was impeached by the House, and then acquitted by the Senate.

Washington, October 1973 — Photo: Wikipedia

The seriousness, but also focus on, the impeachment-seeking nation will depend on constructing one forceful argument before it asks Congress to vote. In short, the critics will have to reduce the impeachment menu and join forces. This might not be easy to do when the occupant of the Oval Office is as the Italian would say a "mina vagante" (loose cannon), who creates then multiplies damage. Experts suggest impeachment can only come when there is one impenetrable item chosen from the vast menu: a smoking gun.

The most concrete and stringent investigation that is already penetrating the inner circle of the White House is the so-called Russian probe. It started with the Russian meddling in last year's elections, with illegal communications between people responsible for Trump's campaign and close collaborators of Vladimir Putin. Two of Trump's campaign managers are now collaborating with the FBI, acting as important witnesses from inside the president's circle. There is no doubt that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the possibility that the president was obstructing justice. For readers not familiar with this passionate topic, that revives American memories of the Watergate investigation and Nixon's resignation, Foreign Policy has a short update on the latest.

With the investigation closing in on Trump, the president's team of lawyers are getting nervous, and so is the president, especially now that members of his own family are being questioned. Trump's relentless pressing to stop the Russia investigation, which began with the firing of the director of the FBI, has vaulted the cause of special counsel Robert Mueller not only to investigate the president's possible obstruction of justice, but to probe his prior business dealings in Russia.

The New Yorker reported: "On Tuesday, the German newspaper Handelsblatt and other media outlets reported that Mueller's office has demanded financial records from Deutsche Bank, a large German bank that is one of the biggest lenders to companies associated with Trump, and that has also had controversial ties to Russia. The news reports said that Mueller's office issued a subpoena to the bank earlier this fall; the impression was that the bank, despite its public refusal to confirm any details, was willingly coöperating with the investigation."

The magazine also quotes Sir Richard Dearlove, a former head of Britain's spy agency, MI6, who said: "What lingers for Trump may be what deals — on what terms — he did after the financial crisis of 2008 to borrow Russian money when others in the West apparently would not lend to him."

An old rumor had it that Deutsche Bank has been used to channel Russian financial support to Trump when he was on the edge of bankruptcy. Some years ago, one of the Trump's sons openly admitted that the Trump organization received Russian financial help, a fact that his father consistently denied. However, Deutsche Bank has very tight ties with Trump and has since 1998, when it loaned him about $2.5 billion. The last loan of $200 million was for the renovation of the International Trump Hotel in Washington DC, just around the corner from the White House. Trump obtained a lease from the federal government for more than 60 years.

But whether Deutsche Bank was channeling any Russian money to Trump is the question that Mueller is now trying to answer. The former FBI director seems to be a very thorough investigator, according to the Washington Post. His silence, prudence, and systematic work have become the stuff of Washington myth, especially against the daily blare of the cable networks, which seem to be unaware of the fact that their reporting is mostly just an echo of the president's tweets. However, it is interesting that Mueller's investigation path is slowly merging with the conspiracy theory of now-popular Seth Abramson, a professor at the University of New Hampshire, who tweets stories that read like thrillers.

Abramson turns the current complex and byzantine sounding events into a simple and fascinating reading. Abramson's tweets link copiously to sources, but some mainstream media have nevertheless dismissed his conspiracy theories. It goes, in short, like this, writes the Washington Post:

After trying for many years to expand his business empire into Russia, Abramson asserts, Trump visited Moscow in 2013 to personally meet agents of Russian President Vladimir Putin, using his beauty pageant as cover.

There, Abramson writes, a secret deal was struck: Putin agreed to open up his country's rich real estate market to Trump, and Trump agreed to campaign for president while promoting pro-Russian policies.

Simple as that. And everything that has happened since — the election hacking, Trump's improbable win and a special counsel's investigation into his campaign and administration — follows from that deal, in Abramson's telling.

The game is afoot. I wonder if there is something more we can do but watch. It's almost Christmas, and no impeachment nor war with North Korea. Not yet, at least.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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