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Trump acquitted, Democrats in disarray

Nearly four weeks have passed since the U.S. Senate acquitted U.S. President Donald Trump of impeachment charges leveled against him by the U.S. House of Representatives. But the modern news cycle now changes so quickly that the entire affair seems to have happened months ago.

In the end, because the Senate remains under Republican control and all U.S. political issues have become intensely partisan, Trump’s acquittal was easily foreseeable. [1] House Democrats made the result inevitable once they failed to pinpoint a specific crime (such as bribery) of which they wanted to accuse Trump and then use as a media talking point. The vague charges of “Abuse of Power” and “Obstruction of Congress” are the legalese used in such occasions, but that vagueness meant that both were easily denied or manipulated in today’s heated, sectarian American media environment.

Subsequently, the entire impeachment process highlighted the questionable decision-making that much of the current Democratic Party leadership exhibits. For example, some Democrats have hailed Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as “the greatest speaker of modern times,” but her choices in regard to the impeachment process clearly showed faulty judgment.
Impeachment over foreign policy?

U.S. foreign policy has fallen ever more deeply under the Presidency’s purview since WWII, making it largely a matter of the president’s choice: whatever the President decides, becomes the policy. Yes, Congress still has some powers in relation to foreign policy, but they are highly circumscribed; the president is the essential decision-maker.

The State Department was once charged with formulating foreign policy options and then implementing the president’s decisions, but the formulating aspect of Foggy Bottom’s role has, since WWII, dissipated like the morning mist on a sunny spring day. For those reasons, Nancy Pelosi’s choice of an incident — Trump’s attempt to strong arm the Ukrainian government into pursuing an investigation into Joe Biden’s son — that fell almost entirely under the category of foreign policy was a mistake.
Ultimately, the only way that more than a dozen Republican senators could have been convinced to vote for Trump’s conviction would have been to present a forceful and compelling case that Trump’s behavior endangered the nation. Election-year politics in an intensely polarized domestic atmosphere meant that Democrats needed to associate Trump’s behavior with a criminal act (or acts) that the vast majority of citizens would clearly recognize. In other words, Pelosi’s essential task was to present a focused narrative that labelled Trump’s actions in openly criminal terms in order to convince Republican Senators to vote against the majority of their party.

Pelosi came nowhere near to doing that. To top things off, only hours after the Senate acquitted Trump, Pelosi lowered herself to Trump’s level by childishly ripping up a copy of Trump’s State of the Union address, right behind his back and in full sight of the Congressional television cameras focused on him. In sum, nothing of the entire impeachment process and its aftermath inspires the feeling that Pelosi is “the greatest speaker of modern times.”

Instead, the House Democrats’ disastrously failed effort to remove Trump through Congressional legal processes energized Trump, his base, and the Republican Party only ten months from the Presidential election. The Democratic Party looks defeated and damaged. Realistic Democrats cannot even count Trump’s impeachment as a Pyrrhic victory.

Bloomberg joins the race

The Democrats’ problems are not limited to the impeachment fiasco. For months, eager anticipation was focused on the first caucuses and primaries, which occurred in February. Instead of smooth democratic procedures, the Iowa caucuses turned into another scandal as the official outcome could not be determined for several days. When the final results were announced, multiple errors and inaccuracies were identified. Even worse, the same issues plagued the Nevada caucuses ten days ago. Now the Democratic Party looks as if it does not have the organizational capacity to carry out its own caucuses. These problems raised yet further questions about the manner in which the Democratic Party chooses its presidential candidate, especially among rampant press whispering that the Democratic Party leadership is unhappy with the prospect of Bernie Sanders winning the party’s nomination.

As the Democratic candidates for the November 2020 Presidential election made their way through the winter debates towards this month’s initial caucuses and primaries, the race’s dynamics began to change. Most importantly, Joe Biden’s polling numbers began to flag as Bernie Sanders (despite having a heart attack) and Pete Buttigieg gained ground.

Elizabeth Warren’s popularity also began to wane as another candidate who once seemed poised for a strong showing, Kamala Harris, dropped out of the contest. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar began to rise in the polls, while several other lesser-known candidates quit, significantly narrowing the field. One candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick entered, then left the race after failing to attract significant attention.

The other main development was former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to join the race. For the past six months, stories reporting rumors that the Democratic Party’s leadership was quietly dissatisfied with the field of candidates repeatedly surfaced. The reason for the unhappiness, in essence, was the lack of a moderate, unifying candidate with a mediagenic personality. Such sentiments eventually inspired Bloomberg to join the field. Bloomberg’s polling numbers have risen steadily since and he now participates in the candidate debates (though most found his performance in the 19 February Nevada debate extremely weak, and his performance in the South Carolina debate last week only marginally better).

Bloomberg is a controversial candidate for a variety of reasons, not least because he is a billionaire and spent half of his mayoral career as a Republican. He did not change his party affiliation to Democratic until late 2018. Bloomberg’s policies as mayor have also attracted criticism.
Bloomberg’s candidacy reminds this observer of Bill Clinton’s 1992 candidacy. The 1992 Democratic Party candidates were also a disparate field with no dominant figure. Clinton was not a widely regarded candidate until relatively late in that contest, only becoming the Democratic frontrunner after the March Super Tuesday primaries, and not taking a polling lead against incumbent George Bush until July of that year.

The primary factor contributing to Clinton’s 1992 success was his conservatism on fiscal policy matters (in contrast to traditional Democratic Party ideals) in a period when the U.S. economy was suffering a recession. Currently, the U.S. economy is not in a recession, but the manner in which Bloomberg entered the race late and made a slow-motion polling surge is similar to Clinton’s 1992 rise.

More significantly, Bloomberg shares similar conservative economic policy preferences with Clinton, to the point that a notorious political website, the Drudge Report, recently published wild gossip claiming that Bloomberg might choose Hillary Clinton as his vice-presidential candidate. Bloomberg, however, does not have Bill Clinton’s media-friendly demeanor and charisma.

Bernie now the frontrunner

February witnessed the initial primaries and caucuses of the Democratic Party’s campaign. The most notable result was that Sanders emerged victorious in all three votes, making him the current favorite. Other candidates have strengths in various states or regions, such as Biden’s support in the South, so the race’s dynamics may still change. For the moment, attention is focused on analyzing a potential Sanders-Trump competition for the Presidency.

Most Republicans see Sanders as a candidate that Trump can easily defeat because of Sanders’ self-proclaimed “socialist” identity. Americans, by-and-large, do have an allergy to the term socialist, but Sanders has gotten to this position despite the label. Trump would certainly wield the word like a broadsword throughout a campaign against Sanders, under the assumption that most Americans would eventually fall victim to their prejudices and turn against Sanders.

Sanders’ proponents argue that his radical identity will prove compelling to people thirsty for real change. Polling data during February showed a consistent advantage for Sanders (as well as for several other Democratic candidates) over Trump in a head-to-head matchup. [2] On the other hand, because of Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the 2016 election despite winning the popular vote by nearly three million ballots, everyone is now well aware of the difficulties that the Electoral College causes for predicting the outcome of Presidential elections. The political demographics in just three or four states, or even fewer, can change an election’s outcome.

Foreign policy dominated by media discourse

In sum, we will be forced to wait for another month or so before we have a more concrete idea about who will be the Democratic nominee and who the November favorite will be.

So, what about foreign policy, specifically towards Turkey? The past two Democratic candidate debates featured minimal questions on foreign policy topics. The Nevada debate had no foreign policy questions at all, while the South Carolina debate moderator did ask several foreign policy questions, mostly on issues related to Russia and China.

One question in the South Carolina debate did refer to the ongoing situation in Idlib, in NW Syria, where the al-Assad regime, backed by Russia, is slaughtering civilians under the pretext of “fighting terrorists”. The moderator directed the question to Buttigieg and Warren. Buttigieg did mention Turkey, but his reference was limited to the context of which powers actually affect events in Syria, while lamenting America’s lack of influence.

Buttigieg then made an ambiguous statement about “working with our international partners, in order to deliver peace”. Warren’s answer was equally noncommittal and focused only on “working with our allies” and not intervening militarily.

Buttigieg’s and Warren’s answers begged the question of exactly which international partners or allies they are referring to. Obviously, the answer is NATO ally Turkey, but neither candidate is willing to state that. The reason is that, unless something dramatic changes in the U.S. domestic media narrative, none of the candidates will be able to state anything positive about Turkey or working with Turkey on pressing international issues such as Idlib.

Why? Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring against the PKK’s Syrian branch, the PYD/YPG, elicited a flood of hostile coverage, aimed at the Turkish government and Turkish society, from U.S. media. True; American coverage of Turkey has been highly negative for the past ten years, but what occurred after the White House announced withdrawal from northern Syria last October was shocking nonetheless. Despite the current polarization in U.S. politics, a great wailing and gnashing of teeth immediately erupted from all U.S. media outlets.

No matter what the ideological perspective of the publication, the vocabulary utilized was, and has continued to be, nearly the same: “bloody invasion,” “Kurdish fighters,” the “Syrian Democratic Forces,” “U.S. policy to support the Syrian Kurds,” etc. Never mind the fact that such a discourse is based on misinformation and distortions; the unanimity with which the U.S. press approached the issue exhibited massive groupthink.

The current anti-Turkish atmosphere and media propaganda in the U.S. will make expressing positive evaluations of Turkey more-or-less impossible for the Democratic Party candidates because they will be instantly attacked by their rivals and critics. An anti-Turkish attitude has established itself in U.S. society as received wisdom, and acts as a countrywide shibboleth. Anyone who expresses a perspective that violates any aspect of the narrative is met with scorn or hatred, and is attacked for deviating.

For example, Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar refused to be swept up in the general anti-Turkish hysteria last fall. She was then attacked by the U.S. left and left-of-center for not toeing the line. [3] In reality, the U.S. left and left-of-center should be questioning why the U.S. media as a whole has moved to such a monolithic and aggressively malevolent stance towards Turkey, but ignorance, prejudice, and groupthink have, for the foreseeable future, won the U.S. public dialogue on any issue concerning Turkey.

Because the phenomenon is now so deeply ingrained in U.S. society, imagining how the situation can be rectified is both difficult and discouraging. Most U.S. citizens have little-to-no actual knowledge of Turkey, so they depend on what the media tells them. And in the short term, Turkey will face continued ugly behavior from American media. Turkey — both state and society — will have to be patient, determined, and confident while presenting accurate information about itself to U.S. citizens. Consequently, Turkish observers should not expect positive statements on Turkey from the Democratic Party’s 2020 Presidential election candidates in the coming nine months.

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