IL SOLE 24 ORE

The World Marks One Year Since Trump Elected

2,400 tweets later
2,400 tweets later
Benjamin Witte

-Analysis-

A political neophyte who launched his presidential campaign by railing against Mexican "rapists' and "murderers' was never supposed to win, especially against a seasoned stateswoman backed by her party's establishment. Add to that unthinkable episodes, like his mocking a disabled reporter or the revelation of the infamous "grab ‘em by the p***y" recording, and a continued refusal to divulge his tax history. In a normal campaign, any single such element would almost surely have derailed his White House ambitions.

Yes, exactly one year after Donald Trump's stunning victory, on Nov. 8, 2016, over Hillary Clinton, the world is still asking how it happened. Twelve months and 2,400 "sulfurous tweets' later — to borrow a term from the French daily Sud Ouest — the world now also seems to ask itself how the brash billionaire is still president of the United States. No toning things down, no acting "more presidential," as many expected or at least hoped: Trump clearly has no intention to abandon his divisive, campaign-mode approach.

For the president's countless detractors, the past year has felt like a lifetime.

That, note analysts from around the across globe, is his strategy, and he's sticking to it. "Donald Trump has never changed his method," writes Frédéric Autran from France's Libération. "The billionaire thrives in chaos. It has served him." Key to the approach, Autran adds, is never apologizing. That, and responding to every bit of criticism with a counter-attack, usually via Twitter — at an average rate of six per day, various news sources have pointed out.

Needless to say, Trump's Twitter tirades and other off-the-wall antics are highly polarizing. They're also counterproductive — at least according to conventional wisdom. The president's overall approval numbers continue to decline, calls for his impeachment grow louder by the day, and even would-be allies in Congress are at odds with the oddball leader who has struggled to to pass basic legislation despite having Republican majorities in both houses of the U.S. legislature.

And yet, none of that seems to really bother Mr. Trump. As Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics told the Spanish daily El País, the U.S. leader is sticking with the same "divide and conquer" approach he successfully employed in the campaign: "Trump has abandoned the presidential tradition of reconciling the American people."

Andrew Selee, a former executive vice president of The Mexico Institute, notes that the President is "both a symptom and a cause" of U.S. political polarization. "He didn't create the country's ideological and ethnic divisions," Selee writes in Mexican daily El Universal. "But he's continued feeding and deepening them with his postures and statements."

Critics can take some satisfaction in Trump's low approval ratings and obvious failures on the legislative front. But they should be wary of dismissing him off-hand, warn analysts like Oliver Georgi, politics editor with Frankfurter Allgemeine. He's still the president, after all, and his impact, be it through executive orders or as an instigator of deeper political polarization, is undeniable. Trump's adversaries tend to "underestimate" him to a fault, overlooking the fact, for example, that he did follow through on threats to remove the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change and undo parts of Obamacare, at least by executive order, Georgi notes.

"From Promises To Reality, One Year Of Trump" — Publico"s Nov. 8 front page

The boastful business mogul also has the benefit of a booming U.S. economy, as Maximilian Cellino of the Milan-based financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore points out. "Not only have Wall Street markets risen 20%, reaching record levels and defying the laws of gravity of financial markets, but also the drop in the dollar and perilous rise in bond yields that some predicted have not come to pass," Cellino writes.

The Italian writer is among those who argue that the U.S. economy would have fared well with or without the new president, thanks to a strengthening recovery in Europe and continued low interest rates. Still, Trump is more than happy to take credit for the boom. And to the degree that American voters are swayed by the state of their wallets, positive economic indicators could translate into pro-Trump votes in the next election cycle and beyond.

Not that there's any way Trump could be reelected.

Right?

For the president's countless detractors, the past year has felt like a lifetime. Little wonder that hundreds of people are planning to "howl" their frustrations today in Dallas, Texas.

Still, the world should plan for at least three more years for Trump to serve the rest of his first term. But four more years after that? Impossible. Impossible? John Zogby, founder of the U.S. polling firm Zogby Analytics told Chile's La Tercera, Trump's approval numbers — between 37% and 41% — aren't good. "And he never had his post-election honeymoon period," the pollster explained. "But so far he's kept his base. And given that no one else on the national scene has better numbers, Trump could in fact be re-elected."

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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