Hit Piece Calls Center-Left Sánchez Spain’s Donald Trump

Pedro Sánchez Pablo Iglesias
Spanish party leaders Pedro Sánchez and Pablo Iglesias meet in Madrid, February 5, 2016 (PSOE)

I’ve been a fan of Yascha Mounk’s Persuasion, which was founded to resist the illiberal turn in American media. The newsletter deliberately publishes analysis and commentary from across the political spectrum to make it readers think. I’ve disagreed with several pieces, and that’s the point.

This is the first time I’m disappointed by one.

Mounk has published a hit piece that makes Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, a mainstream social democrat, out to be the greatest threat to Spanish democracy since Francisco Franco! Read more “Hit Piece Calls Center-Left Sánchez Spain’s Donald Trump”

Italy Shouldn’t Need Draghi

Mario Draghi
European Central Bank president Mario Draghi walks to a news conference in Frankfurt, October 25, 2018 (ECB/Martin Lamberts)

It’s not an endorsement of Italian democracy that the country needs another above-the-fray technocrat to pull it out of the mud.

If Mario Draghi, the former European Central Bank chief, wins the support of parliament, three of the last six Italian prime ministers will have been apolitical appointees.

I hope Ferdinando Giugliano is right and Draghi will succeed where his predecessors failed, but recent history — and Giugliano points this out too — does not inspire confidence. Neither Mario Monti nor Giuseppe Conte was able break the political logjam to enact much-needed reforms. Read more “Italy Shouldn’t Need Draghi”

Scotland Is a Country!

Scotland flag
The flag of Scotland (Paul Morgan)

My most recent article about Scottish independence, from last summer, got more than a hundred angry replies on Twitter today.

Not a lot of substantive comments, unfortunately, although I had good discussions with those Scots who argued I had overstated the risks of dissolution and underestimated the opportunities.

No, nearly all replies hounded me for describing Scotland as a “region” and not a “country”, which I know it is.

The reason I use “country” as well as “region” is that Scotland’s constitutional status — a country within a country — can be confusing to readers who aren’t familiar with the UK. That’s all. I meant no offense. Read more “Scotland Is a Country!”

Butter on Their Heads

Wopke Hoekstra
Dutch finance minister Wopke Hoekstra in The Hague, September 15, 2020 (Ministerie van Financiën/Martijn Beekman)

There’s a Dutch expression for hypocrisy that doesn’t have a direct translation in English: you accuse someone of having “butter on their head”. It means they better avoid the heat lest it stream down their face.

Party leaders Wopke Hoekstra of the Christian Democrats and Lilianne Ploumen of Labor stepped into the heat on Saturday, when they addressed their respective party congresses (held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic). It wasn’t long before the butter on their heads started to melt.

Both accused Prime Minister Mark Rutte, in power for ten years, of dismantling the Dutch welfare state.

Just one problem: their parties have each governed with Rutte for five of the last ten years. Read more “Butter on Their Heads”

America Needs a de Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle
French president Charles de Gaulle gives a speech in Montréal, Canada, July 24, 1967 (Archives de Montréal)

Charles de Gaulle’s great achievement, to paraphrase his British biographer, Julian Jackson, was that he reconciled the French left to patriotism and the French right to democracy.

The history of France since 1789 has been a consistent struggle between a universalist left and the conservative right; between republic and monarchy; the Enlightenment and Catholicism; labor and capital; Paris and La France profonde.

History hasn’t ended. Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen embody opposite visions of France today. But de Gaulle narrowed the divide and helped Frenchmen and -women think of each other as opponents rather than enemies.

That America could use a whiff of Gaullism isn’t my idea. Ross Douthat, the conservative columnist of The New York Times, called for an American de Gaulle two years ago.

I suspect he envisaged an authority figure on the right. Instead we have Joe Biden. Can he play the same role? Read more “America Needs a de Gaulle”

Merkel’s Party Doesn’t Need More Ideology

Angela Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel attends the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, August 25, 2019 (Bundesregierung)

Saturday’s election for the leadership of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is also a debate over the future identity of the party.

Friedrich Merz, the darling of the right, would arrest Angela Merkel’s twenty-year slide to the center and take the fight to the far right with small-government and law-and-order policies.

Armin Laschet, the prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, and Norbert Röttgen, a parliamentarian, fear Merz would throw away Merkel’s gains with younger and women voters. They argue for continuity (critics might say muddling through), with Röttgen proposing a slightly more modernizing program.

Waiting in the wings are Jens Spahn, the ambitious health minister, and Markus Söder, the prime minister of Bavaria. Neither man is in the running for the party leadership, but they may yet hope to be nominated for the chancellorship. Spahn is a younger version of Merz, Söder a more solid version of Laschet. Read more “Merkel’s Party Doesn’t Need More Ideology”

Renzi Picks the Wrong Fight — Again

Matteo Renzi
Then-Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi answers questions from reporters in Rome, December 10, 2015 (Palazzo Chigi)

Former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi has pulled the plug on the country’s ruling center-left coalition.

Renzi, now a senator, has withdrawn his 48 lawmakers and three ministers (one junior) from the coalition ostensibly over a spending dispute. He wants to use Italy’s €200+ billion share of the European Union’s €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund to invest in infrastructure and the green economy. The other ruling parties prefer to use the bulk of the money for short-term stimulus.

Renzi has also proposed to tap into the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), set up in the wake of the euro crisis, to help pay for Italy’s increased health-care spending, something Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has resisted. ESM funding would come with strings attached. Countries are free to spend their share of the coronavirus recovery fund however they see fit.

Renzi’s proposals have merit. Italy is failing its next generation. It needs structural reforms — which ESM support would require — to catch up with the rest of Europe. Spending €200 billion to prop up the Italian economy in the short term is a wasted opportunity.

But expecting the other ruling parties to meet his terms, when Renzi’s is by far the smallest of the three, is unreasonable. Throwing Italy into a political crisis when it is still suffering one of the worst outbreaks of coronavirus disease in the world is irresponsible.

Conte must now find a new majority in parliament, perhaps with members of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, or call early elections. Read more “Renzi Picks the Wrong Fight — Again”

Cabinet Coup Would Give Trump His Own Dolchstoßlegende

German cartoon
1924 political cartoon shows the leaders of Weimar Germany stabbing soldiers in the back

Democrats in the United States are urging Vice President Mike Pence and members of the cabinet to remove Donald Trump from power under the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution.

That could be a mistake.

It would be constitutionally dubious. The Twenty-fifth Amendment allows a majority of the cabinet to replace a president who has become incapacitated. It wasn’t designed to topple a president who is still technically able to carry out his duties.

It can be argued Trump has proved himself “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” by inciting a mob of his supporters to storm the Capitol on Wednesday in an attempt to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s election. But I can think of a dozen more examples of Trump’s behavior from the last year alone that proved his unfitness for office.

More worrisome than potentially setting a bad precedent is that a cabinet coup would add fuel to the fire of the stab-in-the-back myth Trump and his supporters are already writing. It could give the outgoing president just the pretext he needs to lead an insurgency against the next government of the United States. Read more “Cabinet Coup Would Give Trump His Own Dolchstoßlegende”

This Is a Putsch

Paris France riot
Rioters attack police in the Place de la Concorde of Paris during the attempted overthrow of the French government on February 6, 1934 (Wikimedia Commons)

I’m not sure how to describe what’s happening in Washington DC today as anything other than an attempted coup.

It’s like Berlin 1920 or Paris 1934. Right-wing militias, egged on by conservative politicians, storm parliament in an attempt to topple a democratically elected government. In this case, a president-elect: Joe Biden. Read more “This Is a Putsch”

Be Wary of the Return of Big Government

Union Station Washington DC
South Front Entrance of Union Station in Washington DC, July 4, 2019 (Unsplash/Caleb Fisher)

Big government is back.

Massive rescue programs have prevented business failures and unemployment on the scale of the Great Depression, even though last year’s economic contraction was nearly as bad. The European Union agreed a €750 billion recovery fund, financed, for the first time, by EU-issued bonds. The money comes on top of national efforts. The United States Congress passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus, worth 10 percent of GDP, in March and added another $484 billion in April. An additional $900 billion in relief was included in this year’s budget.

Joe Biden, the incoming American president, wants to spend $2 trillion more over the next four years to transition the United States to a greener economy and create a public health insurance program. Corporate tax would go up from 21 to 28 percent.

In Spain, a socialist government has introduced the biggest budget in Spanish history — partly to cope with the impact of coronavirus, but also to finance digitalization, electric car and renewable energy subsidies, infrastructure and rural development. Taxes on income, sales and wealth are due to increase.

In the United Kingdom, the ruling Conservative Party is building more social housing and it might renationalize rail. Unlike during the last economic crisis, it does not propose to cut spending even though tax revenues are down.

Same in the Netherlands, where all the major parties agree the government needs to do more to reduce pollution and prevent people at the bottom of the social ladder from falling through the cracks.

I’m not opposed to more government per se. I’ve argued that the United States should imitate countries in Northern Europe to improve its public services, particularly child and health care and housing.

But let’s be careful not to throw “more government” at every problem. Sometimes government is the problem. Read more “Be Wary of the Return of Big Government”