Friday, June 15, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Necessary Book

As a literary author and national journalist for many decades,
I have come to know many writers. Many of the books I read
and enjoy most are by these acquaintances and friends, and
this presents me with an obvious dilemma in writing about or
reviewing their books.

Book reviews are an art form in their own right, especially
those about works of fiction and poetry. Reviews of non-fiction
books can serve as a starting point or foundation for the
reviewer’s own views on a subject. And then there are those
books which are so necessary they merit a straightforward
alert to readers.

Newt Gingrich’s newest book Trump’s America is just such a
work.

In full disclosure, Newt Gingrich has been a friend and. on
occasion, a collaborator, for more than three decades. I will
let my readers decide if what I now say about his new book
is fair and useful.

The former speaker of the U.S. house, himself a serious
presidential candidate in 2012, was among the earliest figures
to see the eventual 2016 electoral success of candidate Donald
Trump. I know that is so because of conversations with him
long before I realized it.

He unambiguously predicted Trump’s nomination and
subsequently his victory over Hillary Clinton in the November
election. Since President Trump took office, he has consistently
explained his actions and views in articles, TV appearances,
and books. Although clearly and constantly favorable to Mr.
Trump, he has always exercised his right to be critical of the
president when he disagreed with him.

Some might characterize Gingrich as a cheerleader or advocate
for Donald Trump, and I think it would be fair to do so. But that
does not diminish the value of Gingrich’s writing on the subject
because the whole phenomenon of Donald Trump’s candidacy
and subsequent presidency is so unprecedented and so often
misunderstood that lucid analysis and explanation is vitally
important for both his partisans and his opponents.

As in his previous book Understanding Trump, Newt Gingrich
continues to be the most incisive diagnostician of the Trump
phenomenon and the political environment which surrounds it.
Yes, his new Trump's America is a partisan account, but that
does not lessen its value, especially to the many Democrats,
and not a few Republicans, who dislike and/or disagree with
the president’s views and style.

For much of the Trump candidacy, and during all of his
presidency, I have been urging my readers, whether they are for
or against Mr. Trump, to put aside their stereotypes of him as
well as the biased media conventional wisdom about him, and
try to understand the underlying reality of his appeal to voters,
and what the president is saying or doing. His Democratic Party
opponents especially need to do this if they are to successfully
provide n credible alternative to him.

So Trump’s America is not only a must-read for the president’s
supporters, but also for his opponents. Mr. Gingrich has become
the most articulate diagnostician of contemporary American
politics. Unlike many of his colleagues on the right and the left,
he is open to new political and technological developments, and
bold enough to try to explain them.

You need not agree with Newt Gingrich, or with Donald Trump,
to gain much from reading Trump’s America. It is a necessary
and timely book.

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Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Old Order Is History

Global civilization goes from one order to another. The transitions
in times we now call “ancient” went slowly and violently. As times
went on, the transitions went more quickly, but alas, no less
violently. The peoples of the world used to be  compartmentalized
geographically.  There were unconnected. Some civilizations
considered themselves “advanced” --- those in north Africa, the
Middle East, Asia and Europe. In addition, there were aboriginal
civilizations in the rest of Africa, North and South America and
Australia and the Pacific Island. As the "advanced" peoples
discovered the lands of the aboriginal peoples, they occupied and
conquered them. After about 5000 years, the dappled settlements
of various peoples became a truly global civilization.

The first true world war was the Seven Years War (1756-1763), and
it involved all of the European great powers as well as their
empires and local allies on all the world’s major continents. In one
of history’s great ironies, it was set off one afternoon when a very
young British officer mistakenly ambushed a French parol near
Pittsburgh in western Pennsylvania. The name of that young
British major?

George Washington.

The Napoleonic wars in Europe followed. The 19th century order
after that was a European construction called the “chandelier
balance of power’ which lasted almost a century until a single
anarchist shot the heir to the throne of Austro-Hungary. Of course,
before this act in Sarajevo, events and politicians had put the
conflict on the calendar, and when this World War I was finally
suspended (but not really terminated), a Second World War
followed.

By 1945, the globe and its peoples were connected as never before,
and the appearance that year of a nuclear weapon, made the
prospects of worldwide violence much diminished. What followed
was a so-called Cold War which was primarily ideological, and
concluded with the survival of democratic capitalism and the
failure of totalitarian communism. Thereafter, a series of
regional and violent wars took place in Korea, Viet Nam, the
Balkans and the Middle East involving the remaining
superpower, the United States of America and its various
challengers and allies.

What was an incipient new order in 1914, and was transformed
first after 1945, and then after 1990, into an aging world order,
soon found the implacable forces of history creating a new world
order --- one now in its gestation.

This new world order involves peoples from the old order, and,
no surprise, peoples and cultures which are newly arriving to
positions of power in the world.

Interestingly, the new players are not entirely new, but come from
prominent civilizations of the past when the world was not so
interconnected. These include China, India and the Islamic
worlds which owe their re-emergence now to their sheer
population size --- each with more than a billion persons.

The old players include the United States and Europe although
these entities are clearly now on defense as the new players
emerge and grow in economic power.

I have set down this super-condensed and simplified survey of
global history with a specific purpose in mind. It is to try to
make more understandable events and personalities now
disrupting and occupying the global stage.

It will be difficult and unsettling to those immersed in the
catechisms of the old order to recognize and understand the
new order.

The central international political figure today, like him or not,
is U.S. President Donald Trump. He does not occupy that
position by some kind of default. His predecessor, Barack
Obama, could have been the central figure, but for reasons of
his own temperament and ideology, he chose to create a
vacuum of global power. No vacuum of diplomatic, military
and economic power lasts more than a nanosecond of political
time, and various figures, major and minor, from all over the
world quickly moved to take full advantage of the new global
circumstances.

It is not necessarily true that only Donald Trump inevitably
would become president, but I think it was inevitable that, if
he did not, someone like Mr. Trump would have emerged.

My European and American readers who are immersed in the
old order will disagree with this hypothesis because they
either consciously or unconsciously resist the coming of a
new global order.

Donald Trump’s strategies of adaption to the new global order
are not necessarily the only potentially successful ways for the
United States to make a transition between the old and the new,
but he is the only elected American politician who currently
has a strategy.

The recent G7 meeting in Canada is a case in point. Most of the
leaders present at that meeting subscribe to the tenets, issues
and circumstances of the old order. Even as they do so, the
leaders of Europe are witnessing the foundations of their own
nations, and the European Union (EU) specifically, crumbling
under their feet. They put on faces of outrage at President
Trump for not going along with their assumptions mired in the
past, but Mr. Trump’s popular support with voters is growing,
not declining.

Mr. Trump has been telling the world, to the contrary, that it’s
time for political and economic reality. The imbalances between
the U.S. and its allies, in military and economic terms, are no
longer viable. The Western establishments have been burying
their collective heads in some desert sand.

No one knows what forms the new world order will take. No one
knows what events, human-made or natural, lie ahead. How the
current negotiations on the Korean peninsula will turn out are
unknown. How the global economic structures, always in
transition themselves, will behave is unpredictable. Is the role
of the U,S, to preserve and grow democratic capitalism in the
new order?

But it won’t be mere words or pieces of paper that will determine
the new global order.

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Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Party Eliminations

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Although the smoke has not yet lifted from the two major party
conventions in Minnesota, one matter is clear: the traditional
parties are closer to irrelevance in 2018.

Each party endorsed a candidate for governor, but endorsement
is only a recommendation to primary voters  in August when the
formal nomination is decided. In the past, endorsements usually
led to nomination, but this has, in some recent cycles, often not
been the case.

Republicans endorsed their previous (2014) nominee, Jeff Johnson,
who lost the general election. It took him three ballots this time to
defeat little-known opponents, and now he must face a much-better
known opponent, former two-term Governor Tim Pawlenty, in the
primary. Pawlenty not only has raised much more money, he is one
of the best communicators in recent state politics.

Democrats (DFL) endorsed a St. Paul legislator, Erin Murphy, in
an upset over retiring 1st district Congressman Tim Walz, a rural
candidate DFL insiders felt would have broad appeal in November.
Walz will now oppose Murphy in the August primary. But he won’t
be Murphy’s only major DFL opponent. DFL Attorney General
Lori Swanson failed to be endorsed on her first ballot at the
DFL convention, and abruptly withdrew from the race. Three
days later, after teaming up with retiring DFL 8th district
Congressman Rick Nolan as her running mate, she filed for
governor. Having run successfully three times statewide,
Swanson could win the primary. In any event, all three major DFL
gubernatorial campaigns will now have to raise and spend a lot
of money in the primary --- a contest that will inevitably be bitter
between the candidates. The general election is only two months
later.

Pre-convention, most observers thought that Walz, as the likely
strongest DFL nominee, would be endorsed and then coast to
the November election with no intraparty problems and a big
campaign fund balance. This has evaporated.

To make matters even more complicated for the DFL, 5th district
DFL Congressman Keith Ellison announced his retirement from
Congress and filed to run for state attorney general against the
DFL endorsee, a little-known attorney who had defeated Swanson
at the state convention. Former Attorney General Mike Hatch, a
close advisor to Lori Swanson, also filed for attorney general, as
did several other DFLers. Hatch lost a 2006 race for governor
against Pawlenty. Ellison has won re-election easily in his
ultraliberal district (Minneapolis), and is the controversial vice
chair of the national Democratic Party. He is well-known for his
radical, and often unpopular, views throughout the state, but he
could win the multi-candidate primary. The likely GOP attorney
general nominee, Doug Wardlow, could now win this race.
Republicans have not held this office since 1971.

Many Republicans are eager for Ellison to win the DFL primary,
and to make his radical left views a major issue in November,
not only in his race, but all the statewide races as they ask all
DFL candidates if they agree with the 5th district congressman’s
controversial views.

The DFL will keep Ellison’s 5th district seat, but now much
money and distraction will be spent by DFLers seeking to be
his successor.  A large number of candidates have filed to run
for this seat. The most well-known is former DFL Speaker of
the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher, but Minneapolis voters
have, as their 2017 municipal elections indicated, moved sharply
to the left, and the primary result in this race is yet unknown.

Republicans were poised to possibly pick up two U.S. house
seats elsewhere in the state, and DFLers felt they could pick up
one or two from the GOP, but the chaos in the DFL now would
seem to help Republican candidates outside the Twin Cities.
DFL Senator Amy Klobuchar re-election is safe in any event, but
a second U.S. senate race with appointed DFL Senator Tina
Smith (she replaced Al Frnnken who resigned) now becomes
even more competitive as the cancelled August recess in
Washington, DC makes it difficult for her to campaign back
home in Minnesota where she is not well-known.

To be fair, both parties have divisions and factions, and both
party organizations are big losers as a result of the convention
endorsements. Only a tiny number of activists (less than 1% of
eligible party voters) participate in the endorsement process.
The ability of the DFL and GOP to raise money for the rest of the
2018 campaign is severely diminished, as most donors, large and
small, will give their money now to the individual campaigns
they support. Furthermore, since the two party organizations
(especially the DFL) will now campaign for their endorsed
candidates who might well lose in the primary election, their
political credibility is likely to be severely reduced in November.

Others have observed the general decline of the political  parties
across the nation. But perhaps nowhere has this decline
happened so dramatically as it just has in Minnesota. The DFL
particularly has been the solid backbone of liberal voters in this
state for decades. With their factions, liberal and radical, now at
each other’s political throats in 2018, however, all bets are off.

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Copyrght (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Shocker In Minnesota?

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The two major political parties are in decline across the
nation, and nowhere is this more evident than in Minnesota
where the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have
each just endorsed candidates for governor who are likely
to lose to more popular challengers in an August primary.

Minnesota employs a precinct caucus system in which a tiny
percentage of party activists control the parties, including the
endorsement of candidates for all offices.

That system enables small groups of activists on the left and
the right to dominate the parties with only a tiny number of
activists who are elected delegate every two years in February.
Only about 1% (sometimes even less) of eligible party voters
takes part in this very undemocratic process which culminates
in a biennial state convention.

In recent years, this inefficient, elitist system has produced
weak nominees and intraparty conflicts --- and it is a curious
mystery to many observers why the precinct caucus system
has not been abandoned.

This year, the Republican convention endorsed as expected,
including for the top of its ticket, 2014 GOP gubernatorial
candidate Jeff Johnson (who lost) again. He was endorsed
after the third ballot against two little-known opponents.
Former two-term governor and 2012 presidential candidate
Tim Pawlenty entered the race late and decided not to seek
endorsement. He will run against Johnson in the mid-August
primary. In spite of running in 2014, Johnson is not that
well-known statewide, Pawlenty, on the other hand, has very
high name recognition. In only a month, Pawlenty raised more
than million dollars. Johnson has raised only about $200,000
in almost a year Both support President Trump who remains
very popular with the GOP base--- although Pawlenty was
critical of candidate Trump immediately after the release of the
controversial LA videotape, Pawlenty says he voted for Trump
in 2016 and now supports most of his policies and actions.

Retiring Congressman Tim Walz has been the favorite in the
Democratic (DFL) race for governor. Although he had two
serious opponents (both women), he was expected to win
party endorsement at the DFL convention. He led slightly on
the first ballot, but State Representative Erin Murphy of St. Paul,
running to the left of Walz, took the lead, and won an upset
endorsement on the 8th ballot. Walz then announced he would
run against Murphy in the August DFL primary.

Many observers think that Tim Pawlenty is the much stronger
GOP candidate in 2018, and that the Republicans, with him at
top of the ticket, have a good chance to pick up two Democratic
congressional seats (districts 1 and 8), be competitive in one U.S.
senate race  (against appointed DFL Senator Tina Smith who
replaced Al Franken), keep control of both houses of the state
legislature, and win the governorship.

The results at the DFL state convention will likely enhance
the latter. An endorsed Walz was expected to have little or no
primary opposition, and run as a rural moderate. Now he must
run to the left, and it isn't a certainty he will be the nominee. If
Erin Murphy is, she will have the disadvantage of being to the
left of most state voters. Urban candidates from Minneapolis and
St. Paul traditionally also do not do well with outstate voters.
Normally, her gender would be an advantage, but both DFL U.S.
senate candidates this cycle area also women --- so the advantage
might be limited. Minnesota voters are often ticketsplitters.

The DFL has been, since 2016, moving sharply to the left in
urban centers. This was very evident in both the Twin Cities
2017 municipal elections, and again this year when long-term
iconic DFL elected officials failed to be endorsed. Most notable
of these took place when long-time former legislator, DFL
gubernatorial candidate, and current Hennepin County Attorney
Mike Freeman, son of legendary Minnesota Governor Orville
Freeman (who put JFK name in nomination for president in
1960) was denied endorsement at his own convention.

Both major Minnesota parties have their internal differences and
conflicts, but the DFL also has the extra complication of its
Wellstone Alliance (named after the late senator, and which is its
main voter ID and GOTV vehicle)  being in disarray following
the ouster of the two Wellstone sons from its board with reported
recriminations --- all of this at a critical moment in the election
cycle..

Final filing date for all state offices is Tuesday, June 5. In light
of what happened at the state conventions, more candidates
could file for office. Presumably, the two parties will try to
raise money to promote their endorsed candidates. In reality,
however, major donors are bypassing the party organizations,
and giving directly to each candidate they support.

By continuing to support the precinct caucus system, the two
Minnesota major parties are making themselves more and
more irrelevant,

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Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.