Category Archives: politics

Why Populism is Dangerous: The False Migrant Crisis and The Real One

My latest article in the “Populism is Dangerous” series, just published on Impakter:

In the photo: Migrants: Germany to accept 50 rescued migrants after Italy’s plea July 15, 2018 Source:Reuters article

Populism is dangerous and puts public health and the economy at risk. But it is hard to resist. Populist politicians thrive on fake news: it is so much easier to fuel people’s emotions if you feed them fabricated news of imaginary crises. Particularly the so-called “migrant crisis”.

Italy is a harbinger of things to come in liberal democracies. It is where political change often happens first. The largest communist party in Europe outside the Soviet Union was in Italy; yet it was the first to go after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Berlusconi, a showy media tycoon who came to power in 1994 was a proto-Trump.

Previous articles have addressed the issue of austerity (here) and the public health crisis (here). Now we look at the false “migrant crisis” fabricated by populists. Yet  there is a real migrant crisis caused by the lack of assimilation of migrants already in Europe. Because the issue is not correctly diagnosed, no European country, or for that matter the U.S., has yet developed a set of policies to address it – with the exception of Sweden with its pro-active labor policies and Italy with its “Riace model”.

There is a migrant crisis for sure, but it’s not the one described by populists.

Exhibit ABrexit. The UK voted to leave the European Union, panicked by the imagined threat of a migrant invasion and is now facing economic disaster.


In the photo: Brexit poster used by UKIP  

Exhibit B: Trump, with his assault on migrants and Muslims. In view of the midterm elections, he’s upped the ante in an exceptional op-ed he wrote for USA Today on 12 October and a few days later, he re-opened his “caravan” scare on Twitter.

In the photo: Note how they move from right to left, just as in the UKIP Brexit poster, but there are children here.  These are Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., during a leg of their travel in Chiquimula , Guatemala October 16, 2018.  Source: REUTERS/Edgard Carrido Reuters article and video

In a string of tweets, he threatened to cut off funding to the countries from where immigrants fled (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) and demanded that Mexico put a stop to it. If it can’t, he announced he would use the military to shut the southern border. The most striking tweet is this one:

It encapsulates his favorite accusation against the opposition (“All Democrats fault for weak laws!”) but it puts forward an astonishing new notion: His trade wars, he says, are less important to him, even the newly achieved NAFTA that now goes by the name USMCA, U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (it still awaits ratification). That’s remarkable, considering that he could claim USMCA as an achievement.

Like any good populist strategy, such technical considerations are set aside: the point is to divert public attention to fabricated issues – like “caravans” – that readily stir up emotions. Nothing is better than the true and tried recipe of evoking migrant invasions – just as was done by Brexit supporters. By comparison, trade is profoundly dull.  To whip emotions to a frenzy, there’s nothing like spreading fake news:  “A lot of money has been passing to people to come up to try and get to the border by Election Day,” Trump declared, without any evidence for this.

He immediately got support from the Republican party. U.S. Representative Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said U.S. border security was a key election issue: “We have to secure that border once and for all,” he told Fox News in an interview.

The False Migrant Crisis

Trump tweets of “criminal elements and DRUGS pouring in”, a vivid, scary image. But how bad is it really to allow migrants to enter the country?

Historically, America has been a beacon for migrants because of its “values”. Which is exactly what Europe also offers. And Italy in particular, a Catholic country that hosts the Leader of the Universal Church, the Pope.  What values are they exactly? A respect for human rights and human dignity. And for political refugees in particular, the protection provided by the 1951 Refugee Convention that sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of host countries.

However that welcoming environment changed in Italy well before the populists came to power in March 2018, as this PBS video makes clear:

The ground was laid out for the arrival of the populists. What we need to realize is that the austerity policies imposed on Europe since the Greek debt crisis exploded in 2010 are the root cause of the problem.

Countries that are impoverished by austerity policies  – Greece lost half its GDP, Italy is stagnant and its youth suffers from one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe  – are easy prey to populist anti-immigration policies. Blaming foreigners for one’s woes is far easier and more satisfactory than trying to sort out the problem and come to a constructive solution.

Europeans have very negative views of migrants, and the countries with the most negative views (for example, Hungary) are those that close their borders, build walls and refuse to cooperate with European Union members:

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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Trump vs. Macron at the United Nations

This 2018 session of the UN General Assembly gave us a special show: Trump vs. Macron. I just published an article about this, here’s the opening:

The fight between US President Trump and French President Macron at the United Nations General Assembly hit headlines around the world. It was a classic clash of values, openness and multilateralism promoted by Macron vs. unilateral nationalism, the “doctrine of patriotism” touted by Trump. Here are the highlights:

But the real differences in the style of the two leaders exploded at the UN Security Council on 26 September, this year exceptionally chaired by Trump.

He started with a long speech that was singularly devoid of specifics but included an unexpected attack on China, accusing the Chinese to interfere in the upcoming midterm elections – unexpected because it was totally off-topic, the agenda of that particular UN Security Council being the question of nuclear proliferation and how to address it (including the question of Iran and the sanctions the US are placing on anyone trading or investing in Iran). Here is Trump’s long-winded, meandering opening of the Security Council session:

See the rest on Impakter, click here.

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“Fear”: Why Bob Woodward’s New Book is a Bombshell

A key question is raging around Bob Woodward’s new book “Fear: Trump in the White House”, published by Simon & Schuster on September 11:

Did Bob Woodward wildly exaggerate and fabricate findings or is the Trump White House, and more importantly, the president himself, wildly dysfunctional?

An answer in partisan mode is no answer at all. Here, as a friendly outside observer (disclosure: I am European), I will try to clear up the issue.

The book, in a sober style, convincingly depicts an administration in the midst of a “nervous breakdown”, with aides running to contain damage. He reports this unforgettable comment from Reince Priebus: “When you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls, things start getting nasty and bloody. That’s what happens.”

Among the revealing anecdotes:

  • Gary D. Cohn, former Goldman Sachs President then working for Trump as Chief Economic Adviser, removes a letter from Trump’s desk in the Oval Office to stop him from signing it – a letter that authorized withdrawal from the trade agreement with South Korea; Cohn said afterwards that he did it “for the country”, as the trade agreement vitally underpins US-South Korea cooperation, a pillar of US policy to contain North Korea;
  • Chief of Staff Kelly exploding in a meeting:  “We’re in crazytown, I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had”;
  • an exasperated Jim Mattis, the defense secretary, after a discussion with Trump last January about the nuclear standoff with North Korea, tells colleagues “the president acted like — and had the understanding of — a ‘fifth or sixth grader.’”

This particular depiction of Trump’s White House found an unexpected echo –  really a confirmation – in the anonymous op-ed published by the New York Times just a few days before Woodward’s book came out, with the striking title: “I’m Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration”. It is from a White House senior official and there are many theories as to who did it. The latest from  Ann Coulter claiming Jared Kushner did it. But at the time of writing, still no one really knows.

What is most unsettling about Trump is not so much his level of understanding about issues, bad as it is, but his systematic misperception of reality.

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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War on Migrants: Is Europe the Loser?

Just published this article about the (depressing) results of Swedish elections – once again, the extreme neo-nazi right has scored a win – and here’s why we should worry. The article opens on the results of the elections and goes on to explore the consequences for  liberal democracies in Europe and America:

This Sunday 9 September, all eyes were on Sweden, where elections for a new parliament were taking place and where populists, playing on widespread and rising hostility to migrants, seemed set to win a decisive victory. And they did. Almost one in five Swedish people voted for the Swedish Democrats (SD), the neo-nazi, anti-immigration party, giving it 17.6% of the votes:

Why has Sweden become the battlefield to watch? One of the world’s richest economies, it has drawn proportionately more migrants than most countries in Europe, along with Germany, when in 2015 Chancellor Merkel famously opened the doors to a “million immigrants”. And, in spite of an excellent “model” for integrating migrants in its economy  and statistical “proof” that migrants have contributed actively to the rise in Swedish GNP – more about this below – people in Sweden have nevertheless been drawn to the siren songs of the populists. Just as they have in America, with Trump’s fight against immigration.

While the anti-immigration SD did not gain the 20 to 25 percent predicted by some polls before the elections, it is still a sizeable win that spells gridlock in Swedish politics.

Though early news indicate that the Swedish system of two blocks (left and right, each with around 40% of the votes) that has dominated Swedish politics over decades could be coming to an end. The outgoing Prime Minister Stefan Lovfen indicated that he would keep governing and would open to the center-right block. His party the Social Democrats, while losing some ground (it’s the worst result since 1908) still came out first at 28.3%. The problem is that the center-right leader Ulf Kristersson strongly feels he should be the one forming the new government.

Can this gridlock be resolved by the SD? The SD leader Jimmie Åkesson sees himself as a kingmaker. But other parties see him as definitely dangerous and don’t want to talk to him. Small wonder: SD has proposed a “Swexit” referendum to take Sweden out of the European Union and has vowed to end Sweden’s asylum policies.

The SD’s policies resonate in Swedish society, shaken by the flows of migrants that have strained housing, health care and welfare services. Public services came under pressure in 2015 when 163,000 asylum seekers were let in, proportionately the highest number in Europe in relation to the population. And the SD call resonates particularly in rural areas where industries and public services have been cut back. The party has repeatedly tried to link a rise in violence to immigrants, although official figures show no link.

In the photo: Comment made by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage on LBC radio on Monday 20 February, when he discussed the recent comments by US President Donald Trump about terrorism in SwedenSourceBBC

Malmo, in spite of Nigel Farage’s claims, is not the rape capital of Europe. Rate of reported rapes are high in Sweden because of the way Swedish law is applied; but the rate in Malmo, and other urban centers, has not dramatically risen in recent years and has in fact declined from its peak in 2010, before the recent large increases in refugees. In short, there is not way to link

But the problem is bigger than Sweden. While such a win certainly signals another tightening of the screw on migrant inflows, more importantly, it threatens Europe’s future and the liberal values it stands for. In short, it marks a further rise in xenophobic populism.

Xenophobia is Back in Europe

It is back in Europe with a vengeance. Because that is the right term for this type of populism, rooted in the hatred of the other. The term, derived from Greek, has deep roots in History. Indeed, the ancient Greeks were the first to give it a name. They called foreigners with the derogatory term “barbarian” and saw them as only fit to be slaves.

This formula – ascribing a rise in violence and a decrease in public services to immigrants –  is exactly the policy of all populists across Europe, from Italy’s Matteo Salvini, Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski to Hungary’s Viktor Orban – spurred on by Steve Bannon who’s working hard to pull together all the European populists for a big win at the elections for the European Parliament in May 2019.

The populists’ aim is simple enough: kick the foreigners out. They won’t hear of managing the situation and integrating whoever can prove that they are able to work and contribute to national wealth. Integration is a dirty word, something they won’t even discuss.

The Swedish elections are a litmus test for liberal, democratic values, a test that is causing fear across Europe and should equally worry Americans. Because a strong win for populists in Sweden does two things:

  1. Confirm Trump and populist leaders like him around the world and not only in Europe, that populism rooted in anti-migrant sentiments is a winning card and that they should keep playing it;
  2. Lead to a rise in euro-skepticism and nationalism across Europe – or what used to be called chauvinism because you cannot grace this new phenomenon with the hallowed term of patriotism (although they do – but populists are masters at manipulating people’s emotions with the “right words” and spreading fake news).

The term “migrants wars” is bandied about as if flows of migrants were still on the rise, while they have in fact sharply fallen since the high in 2015. And that is the biggest piece of fake news that populists bank on.

A quick look at the facts is needed to dispel any doubts that migrant flows are rising.

The Migrant Crisis that Doesn’t Exist

Consider this diagram showing immigrants arrivals to Europe in 2018 (UN data)…

Read the rest on Impakter, click here

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Pope Francis under Attack

My latest on Impakter Magazine, published Friday 31 August and updated today 3 September, here’s the opening:

Allegations of sexual abuse cover-up have lately become the weapon of choice to attack the Catholic Church and Pope Francis. The problem with this weapon is that it too often relies on largely unfounded assumptions, of the “he says, she says” variety. The sexual abuse is, of course, very real and deeply shocking. But the cover-up in every case? Not so much. And in any case, cover-up is always hard to prove.

This is precisely what Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a top Vatican diplomat, former Nuncio in America, did in an 11-page long letter of accusations: He accused the Pope and several cardinals and bishops of cover-up of sexual abuse. The problem is that Viganò’s allegations are unverified.

When it was published on August 26 in the National Catholic Register and other media, it was a bombshell that shook the Catholic community not just in the United States but across the world. The letter was intentionally designed to be as scandalous as possible, citing bishops and cardinals by name, zeroing in on former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in particular. And, shockingly,  concluding with a call for the Pope’s resignation:

“In this extremely dramatic moment for the universal Church, he must acknowledge his mistakes and, in keeping with the proclaimed principle of zero tolerance, Pope Francis must be the first to set a good example for cardinals and bishops who covered up McCarrick’s abuses and resign along with all of them.”(p.11 of his letter – in bold and underlined in the original)

The Pope did not dignify his accuser of an answer. On the plane back from Ireland, he told reporters, “I will not say a single word about this, I believe the statement speaks for itself.”

The latest news from Italy is that the Pope is saddened (“amareggiato”) by the accusations but is not remotely thinking of resigning. McCarrick’s replacement in Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, immediately found himself in the eye of the storm.

So what happened, has Viganò’s letter unleashed a storm in a teacup?

Not quite a teacup. Many people wondered why Viganò hadn’t published his letter before. The answer is that it was timed to inflict maximum damage to the Pope’s image, coming out a week after the Pennsylvania grand jury report:

And the Pope was traveling back from Ireland when Vigano’s letter hit the news. The visit had not been easy. The trip to Ireland was seen as hugely symbolic as Ireland, once a bastion of the Catholic Church, has now abandoned the Church’s teachings by legalizing divorce and same-sex marriage and lifting a ban on abortion. This was a country where 90 percent used to attend Sunday mass, now thirty percent do.

People had expected him to announce new measures to protect children. They were disappointed. The Pope was apologetic and repeatedly offered his commiseration. But for many, that was not enough. They wanted action from the Church, not words. Yet, the Pope in his last speech publicly acknowledged the crimes:

If Viganò’s aim was to amp the pressure on the Pope, he certainly succeeded.

It is also clear that Viganò’s attack on the Pope is part of a broader conservative strategy to discredit Francis.

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

Let me know what you think. Whether you are a Catholic or not, I think it’s important news. This is an attack against a Pope who stands for moral values that conservatives these days are strangely lacking. The Pope is a paladin of social justice, defending immigrants and the poor. And he is calling on all of us to fight climate change and environmental degradation. In fact, he defends the whole planet and everyone on it!   

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Trump on the Warpath: Attacking the Justice Department

My latest article on Impakter, here’s the opening:

Trump is on the warpath. Trump is cornered. Two catastrophic verdicts against his personal fix-it lawyer Michael Cohen (who has taken a plea deal) and his one-time campaign manager Manafort (who hasn’t) have made the news this week.  Both directly implicate him and the Trump organization. This is obviously driving him mad. And as usual, he has turned to Twitter to defend himself – or rather, go on the attack which is his natural self-defense system.

His target? Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a man he dislikes for not having shown him the blind loyalty he expects from all his aides:

The day before, Jeff Sessions had defended the action of the Justice Department:

Today, August 24, Trump responded with two tweets directed at Sessions, opening a new chapter in Trump’s long fight against the American justice system. To his usual cries of “collusion”, “rigged witch hunt”, he’s added, bizarrely, a more personal plea, or more accurately,  a threat to Jeff Sessions:

Note how he cleverly starts off by repeating Jeff Sessions’ own defense of the JD’s action, saying of it: “this is GREAT, what everyone wants”. The implication is now, Jeff-boy, do it! “Look at all the corruption on the other side”. And he lists a long list of supposed Dem crimes. Including, this could not fail,  “Mueller conflicts” and mention of McCabe, Strzok, Page etc.

But it doesn’t stop here. The second tweet completes the list and call to action:

For good measure, he’s thrown in the Clinton Foundation (always a convenient scapegoat), the “illegal surveillance of Trump Campaign” (there was none) and “Russian collusion by Dems” (what collusion?).

If you really feel you have to say something like this, you do it in the intimacy of your office, with all doors closed. Certainly not hollering on Twitter.

To go on Twitter to publicly twist the Attorney General’s arm and try to engage him in a series of actions to change or obstruct the course of the Justice Department’s activities is simply unheard of. Historically, no President has ever done anything like this. Not publicly. Not even Nixon – especially not Nixon who liked to engage in shadowy, behind-the-curtains actions.

Does Trump’s openness play in his favor? For his fan base, there is no doubt that it works. For the rest (the majority), not so much. Mainly because his pronouncements are laden with lies and exaggerated claims. Like this tweet that preceded his attack on Jeff Sessions:

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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Europe Haters, Unite! Steve Bannon at work in Europe

Steve Bannon is roaming Europe trying to unite nationalist populist parties, in preparation of the next European Parliament elections coming up in May 2019.

Bannon is a man to watch:  alt-right guru, former investment banker, former executive chairman of Breitbart News, former CEO of Trump’s 2016 campaign, former White House strategist (for seven months), he has remained Trump’s close friend. And he is dangerously savvy: As vice-president of Cambridge Analytica, he was able during the 2016 Trump campaign to use its data to target and manipulate voters.

Last month, Bannon announced he would move to Brussels to found a new pan-European populist movement, called “The Movement”. His hope? To get all populist, anti-establishment parties in Europe to join his Movement, which he views as an umbrella “supergroup” to lead them to victory. He could just as well have used the slogan “Europe Haters, Unite!”

It all started a few months before, in March 2018 when Bannon was invited by Marine Le Pen to speak to her party’s annual summit meeting, the National Front congress in Lille. That’s when he realized that he had a goal cut out for himself. Bannon told the LePen crowd:

“What I’ve learned [visiting Europe] is that you’re part of a worldwide movement that is bigger than France, bigger than Italy, bigger than Hungary, bigger than all of it. And history is on our side. The tide of history is with us and will compel us to victory, after victory, after victory!”

The following video of the event is instructive:

Note how Bannon uses typical populist oratorical ploys: “Let them call you racist, let them call you xenophobes, let them call you nativists” he yells, adding meaningfully: “Wear it like a badge of honour.” A badge of honor, really? Yes! Nothing to be ashamed of! And why not?

Here’s his answer: “Because every day we get stronger and they get weaker.”

Notice how this works: He is suggesting to his audience that they are on the “right side of History”.

The last time we heard that argument, it came from the communists and the Soviet Union. They too claimed to be on “the right side of History”.

We know how well that ended. At the Berlin wall.

“Next May is hugely important,” Bannon told the Daily Beast. “This is the real first continent-wide face-off between populism and the party of Davos. This will be an enormously important moment for Europe.”

What he calls disparagingly “the party of Davos” are the political and business leaders who meet to debate world issues at the World Economic Forum, held in Davos in January of every year.

Yes, Bannon is busy trying to destroy the Europe we love. Read the rest on Impakter, click here. Do let me know what you think!

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Turkey’s Lira Crisis: How Dangerous?

Just published on Impakter, my take on the Turkish Lira crisis currently roiling the markets:

Turkey’s Lira crisis: Is it a strictly Turkish problem or is there a risk of contagion? The answer to that question is complex and requires taking a close look at what happened and at Erdogan’s role which is central. Including looking at his past, considering the whole arc of his career, from Istanbul mayor to autocratic president.

The Lira, weak since the start of the year, went into freefall by August 13, following two hostile American policy moves. One was sanctions hitting two Turkish government officials, the Justice and Interior ministers, on August 1. The other was a Trump tweet announcing steep tariffs on steel and aluminum on August 10:

Both moves surprised international investors. They hit an important NATO ally like Turkey that is host to a major American base and put at risk other areas of U.S.-Turkey cooperation like the war in Syria, drug fighting or anti-terrorism. They arose from a dispute over the release of an American evangelical pastor, Andrew Brunson, whose cause is championed by Vice President Pence. Turkey is accusing pastor Brunson of espionage and terrorism in relation to the failed 2016 coup attempt.

This is not the first time that Turkey is impatient with the United States. In 2017, the Turks sent seven requests for extradition of Fetullah Gullen who presently lives in the United States. A one-time Erdogan ally, he has turned into his foe. As head of FETO, he is accused of orchestrating the 2016 coup.

By August 13, at the close of markets, the Lira had lost an unprecedented total 40% of its value since January. The already fragile economy looked ready to collapse, with inflation poised to surge. On August 14, the Lira marked a short gain while the rupee collapsed further. The US continued to demand the release of pastor Brunson from house arrests but Erdogan speaking in Ankara today threatened to boycott American electronic goods: “If they have iPhones, there is Samsung on the other side, and we have our own Vestel here.”

Turkey’s Lira crisis is a currency crisis like no other, with a strange twist: The Turkish Central Bank is unwilling to face the problem head on with a raise in interest rates – the classic way to defend a currency under attack.

It seems the Central Bank is under pressure from President Erdogan not to raise rates that would hurt his voters, particularly small businessmen. Capital controls are also ruled out.

Over the weekend, Erdogan has gone a step further. He’s announced he wouldn’t accept an international bailout, something Germany had intimated might be possible if Turkey agreed to restore independence to its Central Bank.

Instead, at the time of writing (August 14), the Central Bank had only pursued relatively modest liquidity measures to buffer the Lira. Things like asking Turkish citizens to sell their dollars and buy the Lira and easing bank rules. It has vowed to provide banks with all the liquidity they need – whether it can effectively do so remains to be seen.

As a result, the Lira keeps falling with President Erdogan remaining defiant, calling it an “economic war” unleashed by America:

The Lira crisis is rippling across the world. Emerging markets are roiled, India’s rupee, the South African rand, the Argentina peso, the Russian were all hit, and Europe is threatened, starting with its weakest member, Italy, with the largest debt burden (over 130% of GDP). Some observers warn of a domino effect. Italian treasury bonds took an immediate hit, the spread with the German bonds widening again. Add to the mix major European banks excessively exposed to the Turkish Lira, particular Spanish banks.

To understand what happened, one needs to take a step back in History. Turkey has come a long way since the times of Ataturk and Erdogan at first was a positive force, until he wasn’t, as explained in this excellent video:

See the video and read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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Dangerous Times for Democracy: Italy in the Eye of the Storm

Just published on Impakter the article of a friend of mine, currently visiting Italy. I think that what she says is important and I wanted to share it with you.

You’ll see that her reaction to the situation in Italy (and Europe) is very different from Thomas Friedman’s, the New York Times brilliant columnist who also happens to be visiting Italy these days. And from my standpoint – and I think it matters, after all, I live in Italy, I’ve been here over 40 years, I read the Italian papers every day, interacting with my Italian friends and overhearing people in the street and at the bar where I go for my daily espresso –  well, in the light of what I know of Italy, I honestly think my friend got it right and Friedman didn’t quite get it. Yes, his analysis is excellent, spot on, but his conclusion is a tad too negative…

Judge for yourself, here’s the beginning:

Writing from Italy, New York Times foreign affairs Op Ed columnist and Pulitzer winner Thomas L. Friedman claims in a new not-to-be-missed piece that he will “ruin your breakfast, lunch and dinner “ and he certainly does. He argues that if Putin, Trump and Bannon (presently roaming across Europe to raise trouble) succeed in breaking up our “community of democracies”, we are toast. There will be a power vacuum. Who will defend human rights and democracy? You certainly can’t count on China or Russia to save our Western values.

Italy seems to have inspired him, or perhaps helped clear his vision of what are the true challenges we are facing in Europe. And, as I too write from Italy, I can only agree with him. Up to a point. Let me clarify.

First, of all, he is right, it’s not only Brexit. Or the rise of populism. Or Putin’s interferences with elections in Europe. Or immigrant waves driven by “the environmental and political disorder from the south”, the war in Syria, the political mess in Libya, the poverty across Africa. Or the lack of cooperation within the European Union, with East European members (the Visegrad Group) most at fault, preventing any solution to the immigration problem. Or, because of Trump, an isolationist U.S.  It’s all of them, a perfect storm. And the eye of the storm is in Italy.

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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Trump Fatigue? Here’s How to Cope With It

Last week I told you I was suffering from Trump fatigue. That spurred me to think some more about it and about what can be done. So I wrote a short piece for Impakter, this is the opening. Please note the featured image, I really think those three monkeys can teach us a lot – Great picture from Alison Curtis Flickr, many thanks Alison!

Is Trump fatigue inevitable? Can something be done to alleviate it – apart from not reading his tweets and not listening to his speeches?

This is very similar to another well-known psychological problem: Compassion fatigue. That is the clinical name for what we are increasingly suffering from in this age of 24-hour news that makes us constantly aware of all the appalling events around the world. When we are saturated with pleas for attention, we grow numb.

Numb is the operative word here. And the one Susan Sontag used in her short work about pain, called Regarding the Pain of Others, published in 2003:

“Flooded with images of the sort that once used to shock and arouse indignation, we are losing our capacity to react. Compassion, stretched to its limits, is going numb.”

This week, the UK Guardian has an excellent piece of long journalism on the subject, written by poet and essayist Elisa Gabbert who’s written a book about disasters (soon to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux). She presents us with psychologist Charles Figley’s definition for compassion fatigue:

“A state of exhaustion and dysfunction, biologically, physiologically and emotionally, as a result of prolonged exposure to compassion stress”.

A nice definition that conceals with abstract words what really happens: too much “proximity to trauma” can itself be damaging “like second-hand smoke”. Figley knows what he’s talking about: He has served in Vietnam and has observed what happens to caregivers attending to veterans affected by PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder): They themselves become anxious and start exhibiting similar symptoms.

That’s what has happened to me – and possibly to others in the United States. Prolonged exposure to Trumpian stress is causing Trump fatigue, biologically, psychologically and emotionally.

It is now well established that compassion fatigue in healthcare workers can lead to increased clinical errors and high employee turnover. And here’s what needs to be done to avoid the worst, as Elisa Gabbert notes:

“Caregivers are coached to follow various established guidelines of self-care in order to ward off compassion fatigue, or to recover if it has already struck. These include physical, psychological and social commitments such as maintaining healthy eating and sleeping habits, making time for relaxation and meditation, and building a social support network, including at least two people who can be counted on to be ‘highly supportive’.”

It even looks like Trump’s own administration is suffering from Trump fatigue and stress. The New York Times reported that there is a rising dissonance between what the President says and what his administration does.

Trump is friendly with the world’s worst autocrats while Congress and his administration are not. This week it became clear that  “be it Russia, NATO, Iran or North Korea, Mr. Trump’s staff and his party projected a radically different message than the president himself.”

Incidentally, this plays in the hands of U.S. adversaries – not a good thing. Trump is viewed as “weak”, for example, North Koreans much prefer to deal with Trump than with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

So who is right, Trump or his staff and the GOP? Is the administration prone to more “errors”? From Trump’s standpoint, the answer is yes. Look at how angry he is with Attorney General Jeff Sessions because he recused himself from the Russian investigation. And it certainly looks like we are witnessing “high employee turnover” at Trump’s White House.

The pace of turnover is dizzying. 40 percent of the staff that worked for Trump a year ago is gone.

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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