Friday, 18 December 2015

The Focus of All Ignorance: The Final Republican Primary Debate

If you have time to kill and feel like being scared, why not tune into an online repeat of the final Republican Presidential debate for the primaries that start in Iowa and New Hampshire in a few weeks' time? Because, as you listen to the jostling cacophony of prejudice, pomposity and shallowness, it is a truly terrifying prospect that

(a) one of these people will be the Republican/GOP nominee
 and that
 (b) as things stand, barring a late swing to the insurgent Bernie Sanders for the Democrat nomination, only that pillar of the Establishment, Hillary Clinton, stands tenuously between them and the Presidency (and the US nuclear arsenal).

When race outsiders Jeb Bush and Senator Rand Paul end up sounding like the only sane voices on the stage, this is the reality - men (and one woman) to whom you wouldn't entrust the temporary care of your dog now stand on the threshold of the most powerful and dangerous office in the world. And this is not the narrow prejudice of a leftwing blogger - there are perfectly credible rightwing politicians we can debate with, however deep our differences - but rather a reflection of just how terrifyingly ill-informed and blind to reality most of these candidates are. 

The Ignorant Nine: Republican candidates at the Las Vegas debate
In the debate from Las Vegas, which focused on immigration and foreign policy, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush several times complained businessman Donald Trump could not be a serious candidate because of declarations that, for example, he would "build a Great Wall" along the border of Mexico to keep out Hispanic migrants he has previously denounced as predisposed to commit rape and murder. But it is Mr Trump who stands at 34% nationwide for the Republican nomination while Bush languishes at 7%. The only challenge to the artificially hirsute billionaire businessman is the equally odious Ted Cruz, who joked that he would build a wall too and make Trump pay for it.

Contemplating the nine candidates participating in the debate, it was difficult not to reflect that it must be rare that so much ignorance could be gathered in the one place at the one time. Consider a few gems:

- the repeated confusion of Saudi Arabia with Iran. Several times candidates, Senator Marco Rubio, Governor Chris Christie and Senator Ted Cruz especially, seemed to think that Iran somehow backs or at least is responsible for ISIS while Saudi  Arabia fights ISIS. The reality is the opposite: while Saudi finance founded and continues to support ISIS in its murderous activities, Iranian troops and volunteers have been taking to the field in Iraq for over a year to fight against ISIS. Rubio and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorino imagine a Sunni army taking on ISIS - from where? ISIS are Sunnis fighting Shias in Iraq and Syria. While many Sunnis live in fear of them as much as anyone else, they have no army.

- Ted Cruz implied that all terror attacks are carried out by Muslims. In truth, the FBI's own figures put the Islamist involvement in terrorist incidents within the USA at just 6% of the total and Europol puts the current rate in Europe at just 2% of terrorist incidents. The vast majority of terrorist acts have been committed by Hispanic groups in the USA and by separatist organisations in Europe.

- Governor John Kasich complained about the Europeans "holding a climate conference in Paris when they should have been talking about destroying ISIS". Where do you even start?

- Donald Trump, backing away from his previous call to close the internet, just wants to ban ISIS from using it (perhaps a strong word with their internet provider in downtown Raqqa and slapping on some family control filters?). At the same time, Donald thinks it would be a good idea for western intelligence agencies to hack into ISIS websites to watch what the terrorists are doing; something that presumably he believes they haven't been doing for some time already.

- Trump also wants to set out to kill the families of ISIS members. Suicide bombers while not bothered about their own lives are apparently family guys who will think twice if the US military are instructed to seek out and kill their non-combatant wives and children. Great American values, although he later seemed to contradict himself by complaining about the futility of past US interventions in the Middle East (and, for fairness sake, he did oppose the Iraq War back in 2003).

Dr Ben Carson, a neuro-surgeon and Christian leader, talked bizarrely of his willingness to blow up Muslim children as "an act of love" via a tortuous analogy with his operations on sick kids. Better to get it over with, he seemed to be saying, than death by a thousand cuts. He also started his presentation by calling for a moment of silence for the people killed at San Bernardino, leading one critic on social media to blast him "we can hardly hear you already, why turn up the volume with a moment's silence?"

- Meanwhile, Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, boldly vowed to win back the trust of King Hussein of Jordan. Unquestionably, it will be an amazing achievement of historical proportions if he fulfils this promise as Hussein has been dead for over sixteen years now - but perhaps I am just a pessimistic leftist. Christie also said he wants to shoot down Russian planes in Syria rather than be seen as a "weakling" like Barak Obama. ("The candidate for World War Three", Rand Paul wryly observed).

So, depressingly but unsurprisingly, the Republican field is about as narrow-minded and foreboding as ever, and the narrative darkly extreme. We saw nearly all candidates bantering over how much carpet-bombing is enough, relaxed about deliberately killing innocents, openly advocating a war with Iran and military confrontation with Russia and China, joking about the efficacy of building a wall thousands of miles long ("Just like the folks in Israel", quipped Trump) and purposefully tarring all migrants and refugees with the same brush of terrorism. Perhaps back in 1941 they would have applauded the decision to bar Ann Frank's family's desperate claim for asylum in the USA for pretty much the same reasons of possible latent sympathy for the enemy.

We might like to comfort ourselves with the thought that the two lead candidates - Trump and Cruz - are so divisive and maverick that they will alienate so many Americans that they won't win. Except that the evidence stands to the contrary: tracking polls for RealClearPolitics show a close race indeed between them and either Clinton or Sanders for the General Election itself. The mainstream of American politics has become so dumbed down, so hysterically uninformed and quick to knee-jerk violence, that one poll this week found that 30% of Republican voters would support bombing the city of Agrabah, with only 13% opposed.

Agrabah is an entirely fictional place, the setting for the fairytale story of Aladdin.

All this, of course, is perhaps a symptom of America's long, slow decline, an empire in gradual retreat. Abroad it is reduced to an ever-increasing reliance on projection of military power and violence to shore up its fading influence; at home, to a dependence on raising up scapegoat after scapegoat to neutralise a dislocated and restive citzenry. And with this in mind, the final word must go to Trump. He highlighted perhaps the greatest fear of all when candidates were asked about nuclear weapons. His incisive analysis is about as articulate a summary as anyone could possibly provide:

"The biggest problem we have today is nuclear...nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon. In my opinion, that is the single biggest problem our country faces."

Who could possibly disagree?

(Learn more about all the candidates - including the Green Party's Dr Jill Stein - in the US elections HERE)

Biased, unfair socialist commentary? Watch the whole debate here and see what you think ...

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