Ben Rhodes,a speechwriter for Barack Obama and, from 2009 to 2017, a deputy national security adviser, is among the former president’s fiercest defenders. In 2018 he published a White House memoir, titled with characteristic certitude “The World as It Is,” in which he first took up the question that haunts Mr. Obama’s legacy: If he was the wonderful president his admirers say he was, why did the country elect Donald Trump to succeed him? Mr. Rhodes’s answer—I will put it almost as plainly as he does—is that Republicans are racists and thus demonized Mr. Obama as un-American, and the country fell for it.
Mr. Rhodes offers that same interpretation in “After the Fall: Being American in the World We’ve Made.” But in this book he expands his brief by portraying Mr. Trump’s election as part of a much wider embrace of nationalist authoritarianism. China’s lurch toward surveillance-state totalitarianism, Hungary’s transition to illiberal democracy, Russia’s reversion to its former status as a global menace—these are all, according to Mr. Rhodes, symptoms of the “virus” that gave us the Trump presidency.
The promise and betrayal of Reconstruction, Lafayette’s revolutions, a day with Virginia Woolf, a poisoner’s reign of terror and more.
Political views aside, the book is not a pleasure to read. Mr. Rhodes often writes in a flurry of ill-defined abstractions. “Our own collective embrace of a blend of capitalism, militarism, and technology that somehow bred identity-based polarization” is a typical phrase. He refers casually to the “poorly regulated global economy,” making me wonder when the global economy was well regulated. The meaning of the words “capitalism is as fungible as Communism” eludes me.
But “After the Fall” is, in its way, instructive. “I’ve written thousands of speeches for Barack Obama,” Mr. Rhodes modestly informs us, and he probably understands the 44th president as well as anyone. The problem is that he has none of Mr. Obama’s warmth and personal appeal but all of his self-importance, hypersensitivity to criticism and penchant for highfalutin platitudes.
Rarely has a writer thought more of himself and with less justification. He interviews Alexei Navalny mainly, it seems, in order to compare himself to the Russian dissident—a man who has been harassed, imprisoned and poisoned for his opposition to Vladimir Putin. Though generously allowing that Mr. Navalny’s sufferings “are far greater than anything I have experienced,” Mr. Rhodes sees in him someone just like himself: “a guy who didn’t expect to be doing what he was doing, who was motivated by anger and yet still energized by the whole experience.” Later he speaks with a pro-democracy protester in Hong Kong who describes for him the ways in which the Chinese Communist Party frightens critics of Beijing into silence. This reminds Mr. Rhodes of “the warnings I got at times to tone down my anti-Trump commentary for fear of appearing hysterical, unserious.”
A man who consistently equates opposition to his views with racism and mendacity isn’t likely to notice weaknesses in his arguments, and Mr. Rhodes doesn’t. He laments the Chinese government’s belligerent online censorship of dissenting political opinions but says nothing, for example, about American social-media platforms erasing reasonable assertions by respected professionals that don’t align with the progressive orthodoxy of the moment.
Mr. Rhodes repeatedly describes conservative and “nationalist” political viewpoints he doesn’t like as “grievance-fueled” and “grievance-based,” but he doesn’t bother to mention the obvious counterclaim—even to reject it—that the American left has cultivated racial, ethnic and sexual grievances for so long that we now have a name for them: identity politics.
Occasionally you wonder if he’s pulling your leg. In a long chapter on the evils of Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister—the left’s current obsession with Hungary, of all places, is on full display here—Mr. Rhodes inveighs against Orbán-linked groups that demonize the progressive Hungarian financier George Soros. Now I am aware that a lot of right-wingers in the U.S. entertain some outlandish theories about Mr. Soros’s influence, although characterizing him, as Mr. Rhodes does, as a disinterested crusader for good government who has “established foundations that give grants to civil society organizations” is a bit much. Mr. Soros is a leftist mega-donor, full-stop. But that’s not the funny part. Four pages later, Mr. Rhodes attributes the Tea Party’s success in the 2010 midterm elections in part to “Charles and David Koch, two billionaires who were among the Republican Party’s largest donors, and their innocuously named organization Americans for Prosperity.” Self-awareness is not the man’s strong point.
Mr. Rhodes believes that progressives are an oppressed and threatened population. Many political-class progressives believe this, for reasons I wish I understood. The left’s values prevail in universities, public schools, newsrooms, corporate boardrooms, cultural institutions, government agencies, and lately the U.S. military.
This strange conviction enables the author of a White House memoir to think of himself and his political allies as objects of censorship and persecution. In a chapter titled “Power Doesn’t Give Up Without a Fight”—an Obama tagline—Mr. Rhodes addresses the point directly. “Even after we were ensconced in the White House,” he recalls of 2009, “power never really did give up.” The “wealthy business elite,” the “military and foreign policy establishment,” and “America’s oil-rich allies in the Gulf,” he reflects, “never took to Obama.” And of course Republicans “relentlessly attacked and sought to undermine Obama, even though he came into office determined to work with them.” So, Mr. Rhodes concludes in a dramatic imperative, “don’t tell me Trump isn’t the establishment.” The claim that Donald Trump was part of Washington’s establishment, whatever Mr. Rhodes means by that term, is so stupidly tendentious that I have to assume he doesn’t mean it.
Elsewhere in the book Mr. Rhodes describes what it was like to be a young speechwriter on the 2008 Obama campaign—“the villains in the story,” he recalls, “were . . . the warmongers, torturers, racists, climate deniers, special interests, and amoral wealthy who always tried to stand in the way of progress”—so forgive me if I remain skeptical of his claim that Mr. Obama “came into office determined to work with” the opposition. It’s true that Mr. Obama inspired hostility. But how could he not, when Ben Rhodes was his muse?
Jason Kenney quits Alberta politics with critical letter on state of democracy
“Thank you to my constituents for the honour of representing them in Parliament and the Legislature over the past 25 years,” Kenney said in a tweet also containing a statement.
The resignation came two hours after the throne speech for the Fall session was read inside the legislature, which Kenney was not present for.
Kenney said he is proud of the work done while he was the leader but with a new government in place under Premier Danielle Smith — who replaced him as leader of the UCP in October — and a provincial election coming in May 2023, now is the best time for him to step aside as MLA.
“This decision brings to an end over 25 years of elected service to Albertans and Canadians,” he said.
“I would like to thank especially the people of south Calgary for their support over nine elections to Parliament and the legislature, beginning in 1997. Thank you as well to the countless volunteers, staff members and public servants who have supported me throughout the past two and a half decades of public service.”
Kenney said in the future he hopes to continue contributing to democratic life but chose to close his resignation letter with a scathing reflection of the state of politics.
“Whatever our flaws or imperfections, Canada and I believe Alberta are in many ways the envy of the world. This is not an accident of history.”
Kenney went on to provide the following statement:
“We are the inheritors of great institutions built around abiding principles which were generated by a particular historical context. Our Westminster parliamentary democracy, part of our constitutional monarchy, is the guardian of a unique tradition of ordered liberty and the rule of law, all of which is centred on a belief in the inviolable dignity of the human person and an obligation to promote the common good. How these principles are applied to any particular issue is a matter of prudent judgment.
“But I am concerned that our democratic life is veering away from ordinary prudential debate towards a polarization that undermines our bedrock institution and principles.
“From the far left we see efforts to cancel our history, delegitimize our historically grounded institutions and customs and divide society dangerously along identity lines. And from the far right we see a vengeful anger and toxic cynicism which often seeks to tear things down, rather than build up and improve our imperfect institutions.”
“As I close 25 years of public service, I do so with gratitude for those who built this magnificent land of opportunity through their wisdom and sacrifice. And I’m hopeful that we will move past this time of polarization to renew our common life together in this amazing land of limitless opportunity.”
Kenney announced his intention to step down as the leader of the United Conservative Party on May after he received 51.4 percent support in his leadership review vote.
Earlier Tuesday, Smith was sworn in as the new member for Brooks-Medicine Hat after winning a byelection for the seat earlier this month.
It was her first time back on the floor of the legislature chamber since the spring of 2015.
At that time, Smith was with the Progressive Conservatives, having led a mass floor-crossing of her Wildrose Party months earlier. She failed to win a nomination for the PCs in 2015 and returned to journalism as a radio talk show host for six years.
Kenney remained a backbencher UCP legislature member until his resignation. It’s not yet known when a byelection will be held in Calgary-Lougheed.
Kenney joins a long list of Alberta conservative leaders sidelined following middling votes in leadership reviews.
Former Progressive Conservative premier Ralph Klein left after getting 55 percent of the vote in 2006. Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford received 77 percent in their reviews but stepped down from the top job when the party pushed back.
— With files from The Canadian Press
Murray Mandryk: Today’s partisan politics abandons all common sense
Long abandoned is the principle in politics that politicians are there to represent everyone…even those that didn’t vote for you.
Today’s politics is tribalism and, sadly, this cuts across party lines…although that observation is, evidently, now considered offensive to members themselves.
We’re not like that — they are.
Let us review, beginning with the latest from the federal Liberals. By definition, liberals (small l) are supposedly respectful and accepting of behaviour and opinions different from their own, open to new ideas and, promote individual rights, civil liberties, democracy and free enterprise.
Consider the last-minute amendments to the latest federal gun-control bill that stands to criminalize millions of firearms now used by Canadian hunters.
The amendment would ban “a firearm that is a rifle or shotgun, that is capable of discharging centrefire ammunition in a semi-automatic manner and that is designed to accept a detachable cartridge magazine with a capacity greater than five cartridges of the type for which the firearm was originally designed.”
For those unfamiliar, that’s pretty much all hunting rifles and shotguns that aren’t pump, bolt or lever-action.
Essentially, this would ban all forms of semi-automatic firearms except for tube-style duck hunting shotguns — far in excess of the how Bill C-21 was pitched as a targeting of the sale of Canadian handguns (no mention of long guns was even in the initial draft bill).
The changes drew the expected angry response from Western Conservative politicians including Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe — which only seems to fortify the Liberal notion that somehow what they are doing is right.
But what happens when they are not?
The ongoing problem with illegal guns crossing the U.S. border, 3D printers capable of producing all manner of weaponry and light sentences for violent crimes would seem far bigger threats than a hunting rifle locked up for 364 days a year.
But in today’s tribal political world, it’s not about common-sense solutions. It’s about the virtues you are signalling to your base, which takes us to today’s conservatives defined by preserving traditions, institutions and following rules of law.
It was bad enough that we saw in January elected politicians like Moe writing letters of support to Freedom Convoy organizers — some of whom were subsequently criminally charged.
But the same Conservative politicians who cavorted and emboldened protester organizers are now eagerly engaging in political revisionism. To hell with what the people of Ottawa endured. Senator Denise Batters claims she “personally never felt safer.”
And those criminally charged with obstruction? The plethora of other actions meritorious of criminal charges and the very real threats at border crossings? A figment of Liberal and/or RCMP imaginations?
Of course, that has now been superseded by the battiness of convoy protest lawyer Brendan Miller being sued for accusing someone of being al Liberal provocateur who waved a Nazi flag just to make the protesters look bad.
But this, too, is easily justifiable when you can view everything through a lens of extreme partisanship rather than common sense that’s seemingly no longer required in politics.
Mandryk is the political columnist for the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
The U.S. and Iran beef is what politics has become at the World Cup
Over the weekend, U.S. Soccer sent out social-media posts containing an altered Iranian flag. Two lines of Islamic script and the country’s emblem had been stripped from it. A spokesperson for the American team said the change had been made to show support for Iranian women.
Iran has had a torrid first week in Qatar. Its Portuguese coach, Carlos Queiroz, devotes huge chunks of his near-daily remarks to alternately lashing the team’s critics and begging them to back off.
Here was a main chance to change the story, courtesy of their old enemy. The fight is so silly, you’re tempted to think the two teams – who play each other on Tuesday – cooked it up together.
Iran saw the provocation from the U.S. and raised it. It demanded FIFA suspend the American team for 10 games – effectively eliminating it from the World Cup. FIFA ignored it.
On Sunday, in the midst of a U.S. news conference, an Iranian journalist scolded America’s media operation, telling it to “respect international media.”
“This is World Cup, not MLS Cup,” he said.
The presser was cut short.
By Monday, Iranian journalists were pressing American manager Gregg Berhalter to move the U.S. Fifth Fleet out of the Persian Gulf. Shockingly, Berhalter doesn’t have any juice with the Navy.
Berhalter explained that neither he nor his players knew anything about the flag flap, but still apologized for it. No one wanted to hear it. This is what happens when athletes become political advocates. Everyone ends up looking clueless.
FIFA has spent years trying to strip the World Cup of its political symbolism and replace it with a commodified, pop-culture, politics-lite. That would be the sort of politics that gooses viewership, but doesn’t upset anyone.
It hasn’t helped itself by placing the event in military autocracies (Argentina 1978), functional dictatorships (Russia 2018), and developing nations that can’t afford to host it (a few).
A high-water mark for political tensions created by soccer goings-on was the 1982 semi-final, France vs. Germany. The two nations didn’t like each other going in. They liked each other much less after watching their countrymen kick the tar out of each other for 120 minutes. At one point, the German goalkeeper delivered a flying knee to an onrushing French player, knocking out several teeth.
Afterward, the German – Harald Schumacher – was told about the missing teeth. “I’ll pay for the crowns,” Schumacher said, glibly.
That went over as well as you’d imagine. Tensions mounted to a postwar high. The Germans learned the French hadn’t really forgiven them, and the French figured out they were still piping hot over it.
The situation was only defused when the then German chancellor publicly apologized to his French counterpart. The incident – referred to as ‘The Tragedy of Seville,’ after the city in which the match was played – remains a potent touchstone in both countries.
That was back when politics in sports had guardrails. You only went so far, for fear that a shouting match might become a shooting match.
Those limits have come off in recent years. People feel perfectly entitled – compelled, even – to show up at events such as this and start delivering speeches and tossing around insults.
As usual, FIFA is mostly to blame. By inveigling teams to engage in soft advocacy, it has persuaded the human brands in its temporary employ to speak the sort of truth that makes sponsors comfortable. But once the complaints get anywhere near the money, FIFA becomes a stickler for rules as written.
So, ‘OneLove’ armbands? Out. ‘No Discrimination’ armbands? In.
What does ‘no discrimination’ mean? Who, exactly, are these people who are for discrimination? When’s that press conference, because I’d like to attend it.
‘No discrimination’ means less than nothing, because it pretends to be something. Proper protest is organic. It isn’t approved by the marketing department, then sent off to the printers to be colour-matched and sized for overnight delivery.
After FIFA nixed the armbands, Germany came up with its own stunt. During the prematch team photo ahead of its first game, German players put their hands over their mouths. Presumably, this means they can’t speak their minds. Who exactly this is a shot at – FIFA? The state of Qatar? The World Cup writ large? – wasn’t defined.
And yet, they can speak. They’ve got cameras on them every hour of the day. People are itching to tell their stories. The German players haven’t been prevented from speaking. They’ve opted not to speak because they fear sanction.
So what is it? You’re taking a principled stand, or you’re doing a photo op? You can’t have both.
Now you’ve got USA and Iran taking pops at each other for kicks, hoping a few callbacks to the bad old days will jazz up their current sports chances.
Is it now totally out there to say this stuff ought not be taken so lightly? You want to start an international slapping contest with a sovereign country? Maybe your foreign service should be the one doing that, rather than the guy who runs the Instagram account at U.S. Soccer.
If you’re the United States of America, maybe don’t do that at all. You’re in no moral position to lecture anyone else.
But stripped of actual menace, that’s what politics has become at the World Cup (as well as the Olympics). It’s gamesmanship. It’s theatre. It’s for funsies.
And it can be fun. Until one day, something silly that happens here leaks out into the real world, where everyone doesn’t slap hands and trade jerseys when the game ends.
You feel like protesting the injustice inherent in staging this World Cup in this place? Or how your opponents comport themselves? How about not coming?
Why not apply the same standards of total commitment to your protesting that you do to your play? Otherwise, make room for serious people willing to take actual risks.
Canada coach John Herdman disputes Croatian counterpart's account of skipped post-match handshake – The Globe and Mail
DoorDash laying off 1,250 people, about 6% of its workforce – CBC News
Social media tools were key to 'Freedom Convoy' protest, expert tells inquiry – CBC News
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