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politics

Iran’s War Within

Ebrahim Raisi and the Triumph of the Hard-Liners

By Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar September/October 2021

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a state divided against itself. Since its inception in 1979, it has been defined by tension between the president, who heads its elected government, and the supreme leader, who leads the parallel state institutions that embody modern Iran’s revolutionary Islamist ideals. The current supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, served as president from 1981 to 1989. During his tenure as president, he clashed over matters of policy, personnel, and ideology with the supreme leader at the time, Ruhollah Khomeini, the charismatic cleric who had spearheaded the Iranian Revolution. After Khomeini died, in 1989, Khamenei was appointed supreme leader and went on to do battle with a long line of presidents more moderate than himself. 

Iran’s recent presidents have not been radicals by the standards of the country’s political establishment. But despite their differing worldviews and social bases, all of them pursued domestic and foreign policies that the parallel state labeled as secular, liberal, antirevolutionary, and subversive. In each case, Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which answers directly to the supreme leader, moved aggressively and at times brutally to contain and control the elected government. The battles left the government bureaucracy depleted and paralyzed. 

With the election of Iran’s new president, this struggle may have finally been decided in favor of the parallel state. Ebrahim Raisi, who captured the presidency in a meticulously engineered election in June, is a loyal functionary of Iran’s theocratic system. For decades, he served as a low-profile prosecutor and judge, including two years as the head of Iran’s judiciary. Over the course of his career, Raisi became notorious for his alleged role in the summary execution of thousands of political prisoners and members of leftist armed groups in the late 1980s. His eagerness to stamp out any perceived threat to the parallel state clearly endeared him to Khamenei, and there is little doubt that as president, one of his priorities will be to tighten the supreme leader’s control over the administrative agencies of the elected government. 

The context in which Raisi assumed the presidency will also require a break from the past. Iran has been impoverished by the stranglehold of U.S. sanctions and the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. The democratic aspirations of the devastated middle class are waning, and a collective sense of isolation and victimhood is rising in their place. The surrounding region remains threatening, strengthening those who pose as guardians of national security. Amid all this turmoil, Iran will soon need a new leader—a transition in which the new president is set to play a critical role, and which could potentially result in his own rise to head of the Islamic Republic. 

These changes promise to usher in a new era in the Islamic Republic’s history. The turmoil created by a divided system could give way to an Iran that is more cohesive and more assertive in trying to shape the region in its own image. As many of the leaders and movements that defined Iranian politics for the past three decades fade away, a faction of right-wing leaders has the opportunity to reshape Iran’s politics and society in ways that will expand the IRGC’s control over the country’s economy, further diminish political freedoms, and yet display limited tolerance on religious and social issues. It will champion Iranian nationalism to widen its popular base domestically, while relying on Shiite and anti-American ideologies to project power regionally.

These changes could also reshape Iran’s relationship with the world, and particularly with the United States. With the backing of a self-assured IRGC and no fear of domestic sabotage, the new government will not shy away from confronting perceived existential threats from the United States. Although it may compromise on the nuclear issue to mitigate mounting economic and environmental crises at home, the incoming foreign policy team will shelve previous presidents’ aspirations of a rapprochement with the West and instead pursue strategic alliances with China and Russia. Its primary focus will be the Middle East, where it will seek bilateral security and trade agreements with its neighbors and double down on strengthening its “axis of resistance,” a sprawling network of proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and the rest of the region. 

U.S.-Iranian relations will be transactional and revolve around immediate security concerns. The alluring promise of a broader rapprochement will no longer find fertile ground in Tehran. The window of opportunity for a “grand bargain” between the two countries has likely closed.

BORN IN STRUGGLE

The political order that Khomeini ushered into being in 1979 emerged in struggle. Removing the shah, the dictator who had ruled Iran since 1941, was a relatively peaceful affair, but the contest between Islamists and their rivals was bloody and protracted. Khomeini’s acolytes battled traditional clergy, nationalists, and Marxists for power. The 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy by students loyal to Khomeini consolidated the Islamists’ grip on power, as did the war that Iran fought against its neighbor Iraq from 1980 to 1988, which helped expand their paramilitary force, the IRGC, as a counterweight to the U.S.-trained Iranian army. 

The victorious Islamist forces established parallel institutions that collectively they call nezam, or “the system,” which is designed to neuter any threats from the secular state. Iran soon found itself riven by fault lines, however: between the supreme leader and the president, between the commanders of the IRGC and the army, and between the religious jurists of the Guardian Council (the body that holds a veto power over legislation) and members of parliament. The fissures deepened after Khomeini died, when the Islamists’ conservative wing took over and removed its leftist brethren from power. The ruling faction soon split between the parallel state and the government, headed by the new supreme leader and the president, respectively. 

The supreme leader is constitutionally the ultimate decision-maker in Iran, but the president and the government bureaucracy can occasionally exploit popular sentiment to outmaneuver him. Elections have highlighted polarizing issues such as civil rights, mandatory dress codes, corruption, and relations with the United States, spurring social movements and protests that the parallel state cannot ignore. The 1997 presidential election gave birth to a formidable reform movement whose “religious democratic” aspirations altered even the supreme leader’s lexicon. 

But for Iran’s recent presidents, efforts to exploit popular sentiment to push for reform usually ended in frustration and failure. As candidates, all the men who have served as Iran’s president during the past three decades—Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Hassan Rouhani—promised to chart an independent course and open the country up to the world. Once in office, however, they inevitably fell short, constrained by the supreme leader’s active opposition. All these men also began their careers as fervent loyalists of the parallel state, and indeed they helped build the foundations of the Islamic Republic. 

Rafsanjani made the first attempt to weaken the parallel state. He was himself one of the founders of the theocratic establishment, as well as an instrumental backer of Khamenei’s appointment as supreme leader. But as Iran’s president from 1989 to 1997, Rafsanjani tried to shepherd the country out of its revolutionary phase and rebuild its fractured economy by strengthening ties with the United States and Europe. Before long, he was locked in a power struggle with Khamenei, as he sought to subsume the IRGC into the army or at least reduce it to a small, elite division. His objective was to centralize decision-making within the government and prevent the parallel state’s interests from determining national security. 

Khamenei foiled that plan and nixed a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed Rafsanjani to run for a third consecutive term. But when Rafsanjani left office in 1997, he did not exit the political scene. Instead, the competition between him and Khamenei introduced an element of volatility into Iranian electoral politics that lasted for a quarter century. 

Khatami owed his stunning landslide electoral victory in 1997 in part to Rafsanjani, who used his control over the political machine to back the unlikely reformist candidate. Khatami’s progressive platform appealed to disgruntled youth, women, and a middle class that had swelled because of Rafsanjani’s economic reforms. As president, Khatami presided over a brief moment of liberalization: hundreds of new media outlets emerged, and intellectuals put forward ideas about religious pluralism that threatened the supreme leader’s monopoly on divine truth. Khamenei and the IRGC moved aggressively to thwart Khatami’s reformist agenda and head off any rapprochement with the United States, arresting hundreds of journalists, intellectuals, and students.

Following this crackdown, the parallel state seemed to be on the verge of winning its power struggle with the government. Ahmadinejad ran a populist campaign in the 2005 election and defeated Rafsanjani, whom he portrayed as the symbol of a corrupt system. Throughout Ahmadinejad’s presidency, the IRGC penetrated state institutions, accelerated the country’s nuclear program, and exploited Iran’s international isolation under sanctions to bolster its own economic activities. When millions of Iranians protested Ahmadinejad’s contested reelection in 2009, the IRGC violently crushed the demonstrations. The parallel state imprisoned many reformist leaders and placed others under house arrest. Among the dead and detained were children and relatives of senior conservative officials. For a moment, even the parallel state cracked: IRGC commanders had to travel around the country to brief rank-and-file members and other conservative figures to justify their excessive use of violence against the protesters.

But even Ahmadinejad eventually clashed with Khamenei and the IRGC. In his second term, he dropped his anti-American stance in favor of overtures toward Washington and replaced his earlier Islamist rhetoric with appeals to Persian nationalism. He accused the IRGC and the intelligence agencies of smuggling luxury commodities such as cigarettes and women’s makeup products (and other goods) disguised as sensitive items into and out of Iran. In an effort to bypass the very religious establishment that had brought him to power, he intimated that he enjoyed a connection of some sort to the “Hidden Imam,” a messianic figure revered by the Shiites. 

After eight years with a loose cannon as president, Iranians began to support reformists who promised a return to normalcy. Rafsanjani was disqualified from running in the 2013 election by the Guardian Council, which is charged with assessing whether candidates hold loyalty to the supreme leader, and so he rallied support for his protégé, Rouhani, a former national security adviser to and nuclear negotiator for Rafsanjani and Khatami. Rouhani campaigned on an ambitious platform, pledging to defend citizens against the militarism of the IRGC and the religious extremism that restricted citizens’ daily lives, secure the release of reformist leaders from house arrest, and improve the economy by resolving the nuclear impasse. He linked economic growth to the nuclear negotiations by declaring, “It’s good to have centrifuges running, but people’s lives also have to run; our factories have to run.” 

With Rafsanjani and the reformists behind him, Rouhani was elected president in 2013 and reelected in 2017. Technocrats returned to senior positions and resumed the nuclear negotiations they had started a decade earlier under Khatami, but this time, they spoke not only with European powers but also directly with the United States. Preliminary nuclear talks between Iran and the United States had started secretly in Oman, with Khamenei’s blessing, a few months before Rouhani’s election. But the new team used its popular mandate to pressure the supreme leader to show more flexibility in the negotiations than he would have liked. After two years, Rouhani’s negotiators concluded an agreement with six world powers, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which offered Iran some relief from sanctions in return for agreeing to allow inspections of its nuclear facilities and to limit its uranium enrichment, at least for a time. 

LEAKED SECRETS

The parallel state struck back hard to dampen the euphoria that greeted the 2015 nuclear deal. In doing so, it provided graphic evidence of the internal struggles within the Iranian state. In April of this year, a three-hour audio file that was part of a classified oral history commissioned by an arm of the president’s office was anonymously leaked to the media. In it, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif can be heard bluntly stating that Iran’s foreign policy has consistently been at the service of the IRGC.

This leak confirms that the Rouhani administration viewed Iran’s nuclear program as an IRGC project not entirely in the interests of the state. In the taped conversation, Zarif says that he told Khatami and Rouhani that “a group [presumably the IRGC] has thrown the country down into a well, and that well is a nuclear well.” 

Zarif even accuses the IRGC of collaborating with Russia to sabotage his diplomatic efforts on the nuclear issue. The Russians feared that a nonproliferation agreement could bring Iran closer to the United States. According to Zarif, immediately after the JCPOA was announced, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, to discuss the Syrian conflict. Russian missiles and planes then began intentionally flying a longer route through Iranian skies to attack forces battling the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Zarif implies that Putin intended to lock Iran into a collaboration with Russia in a regional battle as a way to keep Tehran in conflict with Washington. 

In the leaked audio, Zarif howls that the parallel state spent the six months before the nuclear agreement went into effect trying to sabotage it. The IRGC’s “firing a missile with ‘Israel must be wiped out’ inscribed on it, those affairs with Russia and the following regional events, raiding the Saudi embassy [in Tehran], seizing U.S. ships—they were all done to prevent the JCPOA from implementation,” he says on the tape. 

In the years after the JCPOA was adopted, Zarif found himself constantly scrambling to repair the IRGC’s damage to his careful diplomacy. Soleimani told Zarif little about his plans. For instance, in January 2016, U.S. sanctions on Iran’s flagship airline, Iran Air, were relaxed as part of the nuclear deal. But five months later, Zarif learned from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that Iran Air not only had resumed the use of putatively civilian flights to funnel weapons to Hezbollah in Syria, the action that had gotten it sanctioned in the first place, but also had increased those flights sixfold on Soleimani’s direct orders. 

The flights put Iran Air’s aging fleet at risk and courted new sanctions. Zarif furiously summarizes the IRGC’s view of the matter—that if using Iran Air for this purpose conferred a two percent advantage over the alternatives, “even if it cost the country’s diplomacy 200 percent, it was worth using it!” (Soleimani’s risk acceptance and willingness to provoke the United States may have contributed to his own demise; in early 2020, he was targeted and killed by an armed U.S. drone in Baghdad.) 

Zarif bemoans the fact that his popularity among Iranians dropped from 88 percent to 60 percent in the years after the JCPOA was finalized. Meanwhile, Soleimani’s approval jumped to 90 percent thanks to his heroic portrayal in the IRGC-backed media.  

Throughout his time in office, Rouhani found himself at war with the parallel state, just like predecessors. Back in the 1980s, Rouhani had helped expand the IRGC from a small volunteer organization into a full-fledged army, with ground, naval, and air forces. Three decades later, he publicly accused the IRGC of sprawling interference. In a 2014 anticorruption conference with the heads of the judiciary and the parliament, he demonstrated his frustration with the IRGC’s nonmilitary activities. Without explicitly naming the IRGC, he stated, “If guns, money, newspapers, and propaganda all gather in one place, one can be confident of corruption there.” 

LEAKED SECRETS

The parallel state struck back hard to dampen the euphoria that greeted the 2015 nuclear deal. In doing so, it provided graphic evidence of the internal struggles within the Iranian state. In April of this year, a three-hour audio file that was part of a classified oral history commissioned by an arm of the president’s office was anonymously leaked to the media. In it, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif can be heard bluntly stating that Iran’s foreign policy has consistently been at the service of the IRGC.

This leak confirms that the Rouhani administration viewed Iran’s nuclear program as an IRGC project not entirely in the interests of the state. In the taped conversation, Zarif says that he told Khatami and Rouhani that “a group [presumably the IRGC] has thrown the country down into a well, and that well is a nuclear well.” 

Zarif even accuses the IRGC of collaborating with Russia to sabotage his diplomatic efforts on the nuclear issue. The Russians feared that a nonproliferation agreement could bring Iran closer to the United States. According to Zarif, immediately after the JCPOA was announced, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, to discuss the Syrian conflict. Russian missiles and planes then began intentionally flying a longer route through Iranian skies to attack forces battling the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Zarif implies that Putin intended to lock Iran into a collaboration with Russia in a regional battle as a way to keep Tehran in conflict with Washington. 

In the leaked audio, Zarif howls that the parallel state spent the six months before the nuclear agreement went into effect trying to sabotage it. The IRGC’s “firing a missile with ‘Israel must be wiped out’ inscribed on it, those affairs with Russia and the following regional events, raiding the Saudi embassy [in Tehran], seizing U.S. ships—they were all done to prevent the JCPOA from implementation,” he says on the tape. 

In the years after the JCPOA was adopted, Zarif found himself constantly scrambling to repair the IRGC’s damage to his careful diplomacy. Soleimani told Zarif little about his plans. For instance, in January 2016, U.S. sanctions on Iran’s flagship airline, Iran Air, were relaxed as part of the nuclear deal. But five months later, Zarif learned from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that Iran Air not only had resumed the use of putatively civilian flights to funnel weapons to Hezbollah in Syria, the action that had gotten it sanctioned in the first place, but also had increased those flights sixfold on Soleimani’s direct orders. 

The flights put Iran Air’s aging fleet at risk and courted new sanctions. Zarif furiously summarizes the IRGC’s view of the matter—that if using Iran Air for this purpose conferred a two percent advantage over the alternatives, “even if it cost the country’s diplomacy 200 percent, it was worth using it!” (Soleimani’s risk acceptance and willingness to provoke the United States may have contributed to his own demise; in early 2020, he was targeted and killed by an armed U.S. drone in Baghdad.) 

Zarif bemoans the fact that his popularity among Iranians dropped from 88 percent to 60 percent in the years after the JCPOA was finalized. Meanwhile, Soleimani’s approval jumped to 90 percent thanks to his heroic portrayal in the IRGC-backed media.  

Throughout his time in office, Rouhani found himself at war with the parallel state, just like predecessors. Back in the 1980s, Rouhani had helped expand the IRGC from a small volunteer organization into a full-fledged army, with ground, naval, and air forces. Three decades later, he publicly accused the IRGC of sprawling interference. In a 2014 anticorruption conference with the heads of the judiciary and the parliament, he demonstrated his frustration with the IRGC’s nonmilitary activities. Without explicitly naming the IRGC, he stated, “If guns, money, newspapers, and propaganda all gather in one place, one can be confident of corruption there.”

The Trump administration’s insistence that Iran’s elite was monolithic became something like a self-fulfilling prophecy: Trump’s actions pushed Iranian politics in a more extreme direction. Under the existential threat of a draconian U.S. sanctions policy, internal divisions abated. The White House’s policies helped forge a broad agreement among Iran’s elites that the only way to protect the country’s national interests was to secure the regime, which allowed the IRGC to present itself, for the first time in its existence, as the champion of Iranian nationalism. 

The IRGC had long claimed that its advanced ballistic missiles and network of proxies across the Middle East protected Iran’s territorial integrity. In 2019, after it became clear that Iran’s policy of “strategic patience” in upholding the JCPOA was not paying off, the IRGC sprang into action to establish deterrence against further pressure from the United States. It began carrying out brazen attacks, launching a startling, precise drone strike on an oil-processing facility in Saudi Arabia and shooting down a U.S. drone over the Persian Gulf. In January 2020, the IRGC launched ballistic missiles against American forces in Iraq in response to Soleimani’s assassination. These operations also served to silence the IRGC’s opponents within the state and society. 

For decades, the parallel state had feared that Iranian society would unite with the elected government to overpower it. The parallel state had acted, nimbly and often violently, to forestall that possibility. Now it could envision a new future, one in which both Iranian society and the government united behind the parallel state, making the supreme leader and the IRGC the vehicles for their aspirations. 

CO-OPTING THE FIELD

By this year’s election, Iran’s political and social landscape had been transformed. Rafsanjani, for decades a powerful force in elite politics, had died suddenly from a heart attack in 2017. Khatami remains under virtual house arrest, and the government forbids Iranian media from mentioning him or publishing his photograph. Ahmadinejad is still an outspoken critic: former advisers have described in Iranian media how he envisions himself as an Iranian Boris Yeltsin, destined to ride mass protests to power to save the nation. But Ahmadinejad’s faction has been purged from every important institution.

The reformist bloc was the biggest loser of the 2021 campaign, during which its aging leadership failed to present a united front or a coherent plan of action. The movement had once mobilized enough public support to propel Khatami to the presidency and later formed a crucial part of the coalition behind Rouhani. Now, however, it seems out of touch. The inflation rate in Iran soared to 40 percent after Trump withdrew from the JCPOA, and the country is plunging into poverty. According to Iran’s Social Security Organization, the absolute poverty rate doubled within only two years, from 15 percent in 2017 to 30 percent in 2019. The efforts by student groups and women’s organizations to organize protests against political repression and human rights violations have tailed off, replaced by impromptu violent riots over economic grievances, water shortages, and power outages. The rioters’ angry slogan—“Reformists, conservatives, your time is up”—suggests that they view the reformists as accomplices in their misery. 

In the past, reformists succeeded in elections by polarizing the political landscape. Khatami ran on a platform of promoting civil society and democracy, and Rouhani promised the resolution of the nuclear issue and improved ties with the United States. These qualify as wedge issues in Iran, and invoking them transformed those candidates’ campaigns into social movements, thus increasing voter turnout, particularly among women and young people. That strategy doomed Raisi’s first bid for the presidency, in 2017, when he lost badly to Rouhani.

In this year’s election, however, Khamenei and the IRGC found little resistance on their way to choreographing Raisi’s win. The Guardian Council disqualified all the candidates who could have potentially energized the electorate, barring not only all the reformists and Ahmadinejad but also Ali Larijani, a relatively moderate former Speaker of the parliament and chief nuclear negotiator. The only moderate candidate left in the game was Rouhani’s head of the central bank, Hemmati. 

In the end, the reformists’ supporters fractured into three camps: those who boycotted the election, those who cast blank ballots, and those who voted for Hemmati. Turnout came in at 49 percent, the lowest for a presidential election in the Islamic Republic’s history. In the reformist stronghold of Tehran, only 26 percent of eligible voters participated. According to official figures, Raisi won 62 percent of the vote, and Hemmati only eight percent. 

The hard-line campaign succeeded not solely due to repression but also by stealing a page from its opponents’ playbook. Raisi’s background is almost entirely in the theocratic judiciary, but as a presidential candidate, he emphasized security and prosperity rather than religion and ideology. He ran on a platform devoted to building a “strong Iran,” promising to tackle government corruption and neutralize the effect of sanctions by replicating the IRGC’s self-reliance in the defense industry in nonmilitary arenas, too. When he campaigned at bazaars, factories, and Tehran’s stock market, IRGC-affiliated media showed him talking to workers and technocrats about reopening bankrupt businesses and reviving the economy. 

Raisi not only posed as a centrist technocrat but appropriated the reformists’ secular discourse, as well. He promised to fight domestic violence and pledged to discourage the much-despised morality police from harassing ordinary people and to encourage them to instead go after economic and bureaucratic corruption. Images released by his campaign suggested that his supporters included women who did not follow the strict official dress code. 

Other hard-liners have struck a similar tone. In a debate between reformists and hard-liners held on the chat app Clubhouse during the campaign, Masoud Dehnamaki, a notorious vigilante and militia leader who since the 1990s has physically attacked intellectuals, students, and ordinary people for “un-Islamic” behavior, ridiculed the reformists for focusing on social restrictions. In a telling moment, he said that compulsory veiling was no longer a serious concern for the regime.

Raisi has also repeatedly said that he advocates engagement with the world. This represents a significant shift from the confrontational approach that hard-liners have traditionally taken. He also has made clear that he does not object to the nuclear deal as such, only to the specific aspects of the agreement that allowed the United States to violate it with impunity. The most dramatic shift has come among Raisi’s hard-line supporters, who were adamantly opposed to the JCPOA until a few weeks before his campaign began but have since made a U-turn, pledging compliance with the agreement. Mojtaba Zonnour, a senior member of parliament, once led a group of conservatives to the podium and set a copy of the JCPOA on fire after Trump withdrew from the agreement. After criticizing the JCPOA for years, he is now backing Raisi’s adherence to it, as long as the United States honors its obligations. 

THE PARALLEL STATE AS UNITARY STATE

This time, those who anticipate a repetition of the familiar conflict between the president and the supreme leader may be disappointed. The impending transition to the next supreme leader will loom over Raisi’s presidency. There is limited information on the 82-year-old leader’s health, except for a much-publicized prostate surgery in 2014. But it is widely expected that the decision to replace Khamenei will have to be made during the new president’s tenure. 

The forces that engineered Raisi’s victory are purging the highest echelons of the Islamic Republic to smooth this succession process. If he is not himself named Khamenei’s successor, Raisi will play a key role in determining who is. He is thus unlikely to spend his presidency challenging the current occupant of the nation’s highest office.

Raisi is simply part of a larger political project that Khamenei is pursuing in his final years. The new president may tactically moderate his positions, but any real policy shift will occur in close coordination with the supreme leader. The parallel state is widening its social base beyond Islamists to nonreligious nationalists, in an attempt to co-opt the growing influence of those who despise the official and selective imposition of Islamic law. Many veiled women have joined the anti-veiling campaign, since they see the dress code as divisive, generating resentment toward them in the street. Raisi’s selective and reversible appropriation of the reformists’ social and foreign policy agendas is designed to further undermine their ability to return to the political scene at this critical moment in Iranian history.

Despite its smooth start, this high-stakes gambit could quickly fall apart. Raisi and his team of young, right-wing technocrats will need to use state patronage to co-opt resentful elites, particularly the faction of marginalized conservatives. They also must address the needs of the impoverished population, a portion of which backed Raisi because of his economic promises.  

On foreign policy, Raisi will attempt to turn the failed globalist aspirations of his predecessors on their head. Previous presidents came to believe that the best way to forge a safe and secure Iran was to make the country a prosperous part of the global economy. Raisi believes that, on the contrary, only a strong Iran with undisputed regional leverage can deter external forces and achieve economic prosperity. Therefore, he is expected to enhance the IRGC’s military capabilities in order to counter U.S. pressure. That means bolstering the corps’s network of proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and beyond, all in the service of protecting the original parallel state in Iran.  

The new administration will also deepen Iran’s security and economic ties with both China and Russia. Putin issued one of the first and strongest congratulations to the new president, expressing his confidence that Raisi’s election will lead to “further development of constructive bilateral cooperation between our countries.” Tehran also recently signed a 25-year trade and military partnership with Beijing, which was initially delayed in 2016 because Iran hoped to improve ties with the United States and Europe.

Paradoxically, the elimination of any potential rapprochement with the United States has brought coherence to Iran’s foreign policy. There is now a general consensus across Iran’s political spectrum that their country’s hostile relationship with the United States will persist indefinitely. Consequently, Iran’s competing factions are no longer obsessed with the domestic ramifications of improved ties with Washington. This means that neither the JCPOA’s success nor its failure can dramatically upset the internal balance of power. This new dynamic has reduced the likelihood of domestic sabotage in the event a diplomatic breakthrough is achieved—but it has also hardened Iran’s bargaining position in the ongoing negotiations. 

Raisi needs a diplomatic success on the nuclear front to deal with a sea of internal problems. But unlike Rouhani, he is not betting his political fortune on it. His hawkish foreign policy team perceives the United States as ideologically committed to destroying the Islamic Republic. Its assumption is that Washington will attempt to renege on any agreement either bluntly, as Trump did, or subtly, as the Obama administration did, by not properly removing financial sanctions on Iran. The political forces that propelled Raisi to the presidency are therefore preparing step-by-step retaliatory measures in case a revived JCPOA falters. They are also committed to preserving Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, to maintain the option to weaponize the program rapidly if the agreement falls apart. At the same time, the signing of a new nuclear deal could inadvertently create a more combustible region: Tehran fears that it would give the United States a free hand to go after its regional influence, and Tehran’s enemies are concerned that it would provide Iran with more resources to bolster its proxies and missile program. 

The resulting security dilemma appears poised to escalate tensions between Iran and the United States. The two countries are already embroiled in a low-level but continuous conflict in Iraq, where U.S. forces and pro-Iranian militias clash sporadically. Although Raisi has held out the prospect of talks with regional powers to lower tensions, the emerging unified leadership in Iran sees itself in a win-win position. It is confident in its military and has long known how to thrive on conflicts and expand its nonstate allies. Thanks to the new domestic political transformation, it can also make tactical compromises with its adversaries without the risk of exacerbating internal divisions. As a new era of the Islamic Republic begins, Iran and the United States are on a collision course.


Tudo pronto para o Verão

Só mesmo com ironia e sátira.

Haja paciência.


The Clash of Capitalisms

The Real Fight for the Global Economy’s Future
by Branko Milanovic – Foreign Affairs (January/February 2020)

Capitalism rules the world. With only the most minor exceptions, the entire globe now organizes economic production the same way: labor is voluntary, capital is mostly in private hands, and production is coordinated in a decentralized way and motivated by profit.

There is no historical precedent for this triumph. In the past, capitalism—whether in Mesopotamia in the sixth century BC, the Roman Empire, Italian city-states in the Middle Ages, or the Low Countries in the early modern era—had to coexist with other ways of organizing production. These alternatives included hunting and gathering, small-scale farming by free peasants, serfdom, and slavery. Even as recently as 100 years ago, when the first form of globalized capitalism appeared with the advent of large-scale industrial production and global trade, many of these other modes of production still existed. Then, following the Russian Revolution in 1917, capitalism shared the world with communism, which reigned in countries that together contained about one-third of the human population. Now, however, capitalism is the sole remaining mode of production.

It’s increasingly common to hear commentators in the West describe the current order as “late capitalism,” as if the economic system were on the verge of disappearing. Others suggest that capitalism is facing a revived threat from socialism. But the ineluctable truth is that capitalism is here to stay and has no competitor. Societies around the world have embraced the competitive and acquisitive spirit hardwired into capitalism, without which incomes decline, poverty increases, and technological progress slows. Instead, the real battle is within capitalism, between two models that jostle against each other.

Often in human history, the triumph of one system or religion is soon followed by a schism between different variants of the same credo. After Christianity spread across the Mediterranean and the Middle East, it was riven by ferocious ideological disputes, which eventually produced the first big fissure in the religion, between the Eastern and Western churches. So, too, with Islam, which after its dizzying expansion swiftly divided into Shiite and Sunni branches. And communism, capitalism’s twentieth-century rival, did not long remain a monolith, splitting into Soviet and Maoist versions. In this respect, capitalism is no different: two models now hold sway, differing in their political, economic, and social aspects.

In the states of western Europe and North America and a number of other countries, such as India, Indonesia, and Japan, a liberal meritocratic form of capitalism dominates: a system that concentrates the vast majority of production in the private sector, ostensibly allows talent to rise, and tries to guarantee opportunity for all through measures such as free schooling and inheritance taxes. Alongside that system stands the state-led, political model of capitalism, which is exemplified by China but also surfaces in other parts of Asia (Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam), in Europe (Azerbaijan, Russia), and in Africa (Algeria, Ethiopia, Rwanda). This system privileges high economic growth and limits individual political and civic rights.

These two types of capitalism—with the United States and China, respectively, as their leading examples—invariably compete with each other because they are so intertwined. Asia, western Europe, and North America, which together are home to 70 percent of the world’s population and 80 percent of its economic output, are in constant contact through trade, investment, the movement of people, the transfer of technology, and the exchange of ideas. Those connections and collisions have bred a competition between the West and parts of Asia that is made more intense by the differences in their respective models of capitalism. And it is this competition—not a contest between capitalism and some alternative economic system—that will shape the future of the global economy.

In 1978, almost 100 percent of China’s economic output came from the public sector; that figure has now dropped to less than 20 percent. In modern China, as in the more traditionally capitalist countries of the West, the means of production are mostly in private hands, the state doesn’t impose decisions about production and pricing on companies, and most workers are wage laborers. China scores as positively capitalistic on all three counts.

Capitalism now has no rival, but these two models offer significantly different ways of structuring political and economic power in a society. Political capitalism gives greater autonomy to political elites while promising high growth rates to ordinary people. China’s economic success undermines the West’s claim that there is a necessary link between capitalism and liberal democracy.

Liberal capitalism has many well-known advantages, the most important being democracy and the rule of law. These two features are virtues in themselves, and both can be credited with encouraging faster economic development by promoting innovation and social mobility. Yet this system faces an enormous challenge: the emergence of a self-perpetuating upper class coupled with growing inequality. This now represents the gravest threat to liberal capitalism’s long-term viability.

At the same time, China’s government and those of other political capitalist states need to constantly generate economic growth to legitimize their rule, a compulsion that might become harder and harder to fulfill. Political capitalist states must also try to limit corruption, which is inherent to the system, and its complement, galloping inequality. The test of their model will be its ability to restrain a growing capitalist class that often chafes against the overweening power of the state bureaucracy.

As other parts of the world (notably African countries) attempt to transform their economies and jump-start growth, the tensions between the two models will come into sharper focus. The rivalry between China and the United States is often presented in simply geopolitical terms, but at its core, it is like the grinding of two tectonic plates whose friction will define how capitalism evolves in this century.

LIBERAL CAPITALISM
The global dominance of capitalism is one of two epochal changes that the world is living through. The other is the rebalancing of economic power between the West and Asia. For the first time since the Industrial Revolution, incomes in Asia are edging closer to those in western Europe and North America. In 1970, the West produced 56 percent of world economic output and Asia (including Japan) produced only 19 percent. Today, only three generations later, those proportions have shifted to 37 percent and 43 percent—thanks in large part to the staggering economic growth of countries such as China and India.

Capitalism in the West generated the information and communications technologies that enabled a new wave of globalization in the late twentieth century, the period when Asia began to narrow the gap with the “global North.” Anchored initially in the wealth of Western economies, globalization led to an overhaul of moribund structures and huge growth in many Asian countries. Global income inequality has dropped significantly from what it was in the 1990s, when the global Gini coefficient (a measure of income distribution, with zero representing perfect equality and one representing perfect inequality) was 0.70; today, it is roughly 0.60. It will drop further as incomes continue to rise in Asia.

Although inequality between countries has lessened, inequality within countries—especially those in the West—has grown. The United States’ Gini coefficient has risen from 0.35 in 1979 to about 0.45 today. This increase in inequality within countries is in large part a product of globalization and its effects on the more developed economies in the West: the weakening of trade unions, the flight of manufacturing jobs, and wage stagnation.

Liberal meritocratic capitalism came into being in the last 40 years. It can be best understood in comparison to two other variants: classical capitalism, which was predominant in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and social democratic capitalism, which defined the welfare states in western Europe and North America from World War II to the early 1980s.

Unlike in the classical capitalism of the nineteenth century, when fortunes were to be made from owning, not working, rich individuals in the present system tend to be both capital rich and labor rich—that is, they generate their income both from investments and from work. They also tend to marry and make families with partners of similar educational and financial backgrounds, a phenomenon sociologists call “assortative mating.” Whereas the people at the top of the income distribution under classical capitalism were often financiers, today many of those at the top are highly paid managers, Web designers, physicians, investment bankers, and other elite professionals. These people work in order to earn their large salaries, but whether through an inheritance or their own savings, they also draw a great deal of income from their financial assets.

In liberal meritocratic capitalism, societies are more equal than they were during the phase of classical capitalism, women and ethnic minorities are more empowered to enter the workforce, and welfare provisions and social transfers (paid out of taxes) are employed in an attempt to mitigate the worst ravages of acute concentrations of wealth and privilege. Liberal meritocratic capitalism inherited those last measures from its direct predecessor, social democratic capitalism.

That model was structured around industrial labor and featured the strong presence of unions, which played a huge role in shrinking inequality. Social democratic capitalism presided over an era that saw measures such as the GI Bill and the 1950 Treaty of Detroit (a sweeping, union-negotiated contract for autoworkers) in the United States and economic booms in France and Germany, where incomes rose. Growth was distributed fairly evenly; populations benefited from better access to health care, housing, and inexpensive education; and more families could climb up the economic ladder.

But the nature of work has changed significantly under globalization and liberal meritocratic capitalism, especially with the winnowing away of the industrial working class and the weakening of labor unions. Since the late twentieth century, the share of capital income in total income has been rising—that is, an increasing portion of GDP belongs to the profits made by big corporations and the already wealthy. This tendency has been quite strong in the United States, but it has also been documented in most other countries, whether developing or developed. A rising share of capital income in total income implies that capital and capitalists are becoming more important than labor and workers, and so they acquire more economic and political power. It also means an increase in inequality, because those who draw a large share of their income from capital tend to be rich.

MALAISE IN THE WEST
While the current system has produced a more diverse elite (in terms of both gender and race), the setup of liberal capitalism has the consequence of at once deepening inequality and screening that inequality behind the veil of merit. More plausibly than their predecessors in the Gilded Age, the wealthiest today can claim that their standing derives from the virtue of their work, obscuring the advantages they have gained from a system and from social trends that make economic mobility harder and harder. The last 40 years have seen the growth of a semipermanent upper class that is increasingly isolated from the rest of society. In the United States, the top ten percent of wealth holders own more than 90 percent of the financial assets. The ruling class is highly educated, many of its members work, and their income from that labor tends to be high. They tend to believe that they deserve their high standing.

These elites invest heavily both in their progeny and in establishing political control. By investing in their children’s education, those at the top enable future generations of their kind to maintain high labor income and the elite status that is traditionally associated with knowledge and education. By investing in political influence—in elections, think tanks, universities, and so on—they ensure that they are the ones who determine the rules of inheritance, so that financial capital is easily transferred to the next generation. The two together (acquired education and transmitted capital) lead to the reproduction of the ruling class.

The formation of a durable upper class is impossible unless that class exerts political control. In the past, this happened naturally; the political class came mostly from the rich, and so there was a certain commonality of views and shared interests between politicians and the rest of the rich. That is no longer the case: politicians come from various social classes and backgrounds, and many of them share sociologically very little, if anything, with the rich. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in the United States and Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major in the United Kingdom all came from modest backgrounds but quite effectively supported the interests of the one percent.

In a modern democracy, the rich use their political contributions and the funding or direct ownership of think tanks and media outlets to purchase economic policies that benefit them: lower taxes on high incomes, bigger tax deductions, higher capital gains through tax cuts to the corporate sector, fewer regulations, and so on. These policies, in turn, increase the likelihood that the rich will stay on top, and they form the ultimate link in the chain that runs from the higher share of capital in a country’s net income to the creation of a self-serving upper class. If the upper class did not try to co-opt politics, it would still enjoy a very strong position; when it spends on electoral processes and builds its own civil society institutions, the position of the upper class becomes all but unassailable.

As the elites in liberal meritocratic capitalist systems become more cordoned off, the rest of society grows resentful. Malaise in the West about globalization is largely caused by the gap between the small number of elites and the masses, who have seen little benefit from globalization and, accurately or not, regard global trade and immigration as the cause of their ills. This situation eerily resembles what used to be called the “disarticulation” of Third World societies in the 1970s, such as was seen in Brazil, Nigeria, and Turkey. As their bourgeoisies were plugged into the global economic system, most of the hinterland was left behind. The disease that was supposed to affect only developing countries seems to have hit the global North.

CHINA’S POLITICAL CAPITALISM
In Asia, globalization doesn’t have that same reputation: according to polls, 91 percent of people in Vietnam, for instance, think globalization is a force for good. Ironically, it was communism in countries such as China and Vietnam that laid the groundwork for their eventual capitalist transformation. The Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949 by prosecuting both a national revolution (against foreign domination) and a social revolution (against feudalism), which allowed it to sweep away all ideologies and customs that were seen as slowing economic development and creating artificial class divisions. (The much less radical Indian independence struggle, in contrast, never succeeded in erasing the caste system.) These two simultaneous revolutions were a precondition, over the long term, for the creation of an indigenous capitalist class that would pull the economy forward. The communist revolutions in China and Vietnam played functionally the same role as the rise of the bourgeoisie in nineteenth-century Europe.

In China, the transformation from quasi feudalism to capitalism took place swiftly, under the control of an extremely powerful state. In Europe, where feudal structures were eradicated slowly over centuries, the state played a far less important role in the shift to capitalism. Given this history, then, it is no surprise that capitalism in China, Vietnam, and elsewhere in the region has so often had an authoritarian edge.

The system of political capitalism has three defining features. First, the state is run by a technocratic bureaucracy, which owes its legitimacy to economic growth. Second, although the state has laws, these are applied arbitrarily, much to the benefit of elites, who can decline to apply the law when it is inconvenient or apply it with full force to punish opponents. The arbitrariness of the rule of law in these societies feeds into political capitalism’s third defining feature: the necessary autonomy of the state. In order for the state to act decisively, it needs to be free from legal constraints. The tension between the first and second principles—between technocratic bureaucracy and the loose application of the law—produces corruption, which is an integral part of the way the political capitalist system is set up, not an anomaly.

Since the end of the Cold War, these characteristics have helped supercharge the growth of ostensibly communist countries in Asia. Over a 27-year period ending in 2017, China’s growth rate averaged about eight percent and Vietnam’s averaged around six percent, compared with just two percent in the United States.

The flip side of China’s astronomic growth has been its massive increase in inequality. From 1985 to 2010, the country’s Gini coefficient leapt from 0.30 to around 0.50—higher than that of the United States and closer to the levels found in Latin America. Inequality in China has risen starkly within both rural and urban areas, and it has risen even more so in the country as a whole because of the increasing gap between those areas. That growing inequality is evident in every divide—between rich and poor provinces, high-skilled workers and low-skilled workers, men and women, and the private sector and the state sector.

Notably, there has also been an increase in China in the share of income from privately owned capital, which seems to be as concentrated there as in the advanced market economies of the West. A new capitalist elite has formed in China. In 1988, skilled and unskilled industrial workers, clerical staff, and government officials accounted for 80 percent of those in the top five percent of income earners. By 2013, their share had fallen by almost half, and business owners (20 percent) and professionals (33 percent) had become dominant.

A remarkable feature of the new capitalist class in China is that it has emerged from the soil, so to speak, as almost four-fifths of its members report having had fathers who were either farmers or manual laborers. This intergenerational mobility is not surprising in view of the nearly complete obliteration of the capitalist class after the Communists’ victory in 1949 and then again during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. But that mobility may not continue in the future, when—given the concentration of ownership of capital, the rising costs of education, and the importance of family connections—the intergenerational transmission of wealth and power should begin to mirror what is observed in the West.

Compared with its Western counterparts, however, this new capitalist class in China may be more of a class by itself than a class for itself. China’s many byzantine forms of ownership—which at the local and national levels blur the lines between public and private—allow the political elite to restrain the power of the new capitalist, economic elite.

For millennia, China has been home to strong, fairly centralized states that have always prevented the merchant class from becoming an independent center of power. According to the French scholar Jacques Gernet, wealthy merchants under the Song dynasty in the thirteenth century never succeeded in creating a self-conscious class with shared interests because the state was always there ready to check their power. Although merchants continued to prosper as individuals (as the new capitalists largely do nowadays in China), they never formed a coherent class with its own political and economic agenda or with interests that were forcefully defended and propagated. This scenario, according to Gernet, differed markedly from the situation around the same time in Italian merchant republics and the Low Countries. This pattern of capitalists enriching themselves without exercising political power will likely continue in China and in other political capitalist countries, as well.

A CLASH OF SYSTEMS
As China expands its role on the international stage, its form of capitalism is invariably coming into conflict with the liberal meritocratic capitalism of the West. Political capitalism might supplant the Western model in many countries around the world.

The advantage of liberal capitalism resides in its political system of democracy. Democracy is desirable in itself, of course, but it also has an instrumental advantage. By requiring constant consultation of the population, democracy provides a powerful corrective to economic and social trends that may be detrimental to the common good. Even if people’s decisions sometimes result in policies that reduce the rate of economic growth, increase pollution, or lower life expectancy, democratic decision-making should, within a relatively limited time period, correct such developments.

Political capitalism, for its part, promises much more efficient management of the economy and higher growth rates. The fact that China has been by far the most economically successful country in the past half century places it in a position to legitimately try to export its economic and political institutions. It is doing that most prominently through the Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious project to link several continents through improved, Chinese-financed infrastructure. The initiative represents an ideological challenge to the way the West has been handling economic development around the world. Whereas the West focuses on building institutions, China is pouring money into building physical things. The BRI will link partnered countries into a Chinese sphere of influence. Beijing even has plans to handle future investment disputes under the jurisdiction of a Chinese-created court—quite a reversal for a country whose “century of humiliation” in the nineteenth century was capped by Americans and Europeans in China refusing to be subject to Chinese laws.

Many countries may welcome being part of the BRI. Chinese investment will bring roads, harbors, railways, and other badly needed infrastructure, and without the type of conditions that often accompany Western investment. China has no interest in the domestic policies of recipient nations; instead, it emphasizes equality in the treatment of all countries. This is an approach that many officials in smaller countries find particularly attractive. China is also seeking to build international institutions, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, following the playbook of the United States after World War II, when Washington spearheaded the creation of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Beijing has another reason to be more active on the international stage. If China refused to advertise its own institutions while the West continued to advance the values of liberal capitalism in China, large swaths of the Chinese population could become more attracted to Western institutions. The current disturbances in Hong Kong have failed to spread anywhere else in China, but they do illustrate real discontent with the arbitrary application of the law, discontent that may not be confined to the former British colony. The blatant censorship of the Internet is also deeply unpopular among the young and educated.

By projecting the advantages of its political capitalism abroad, China will reduce the appeal of the Western liberal model to its own citizens. Its international activities are essentially matters of domestic survival. Whatever formal or informal arrangement Beijing reaches with states that embrace political capitalism, China is bound to exercise increasing influence on international institutions, which in the past two centuries have been built exclusively by Western states, to serve Western interests.

THE FUTURE OF CAPITALISM
John Rawls, the consummate philosopher of modern liberalism, argued that a good society ought to give absolute priority to basic liberties over wealth and income. Experience shows, however, that many people are willing to trade democratic rights for greater income. One need simply observe that within companies, production is generally organized in the most hierarchical fashion, not the most democratic. Workers do not vote on the products they would like to produce or on how they would like to produce them. Hierarchy produces greater efficiency and higher wages. “Technique is the boundary of democracy,” the French philosopher Jacques Ellul wrote more than half a century ago. “What technique wins, democracy loses. If we had engineers who were popular with the workers, they would be ignorant of machinery.” The same analogy can be extended to society as a whole: democratic rights can be, and have been, given up willingly for higher incomes.

In today’s commercialized and hectic world, citizens rarely have the time, the knowledge, or the desire to get involved in civic matters unless the issues directly concern them. It is telling that in the United States, one of the oldest democracies in the world, the election of a president, who, in many respects in the American system, has the prerogatives of an elected king, is not judged of sufficient importance to bestir more than half the electorate to go to the polls. In this respect, political capitalism asserts its superiority.

The problem, however, is that in order to prove its superiority and ward off a liberal challenge, political capitalism needs to constantly deliver high rates of growth. So while liberal capitalism’s advantages are natural, in that they are built into the setup of the system, the advantages of political capitalism are instrumental: they must be constantly demonstrated. Political capitalism starts with the handicap of needing to prove its superiority empirically. It faces two further problems, as well. Relative to liberal capitalism, political capitalism has a greater tendency to generate bad policies and bad social outcomes that are difficult to reverse because those in power do not have an incentive to change course. It can also easily engender popular dissatisfaction because of its systemic corruption in the absence of a clear rule of law.

Political capitalism needs to sell itself on the grounds of providing better societal management, higher rates of growth, and more efficient administration (including the administration of justice). Unlike liberal capitalism, which can take a more relaxed attitude toward temporary problems, political capitalism must be permanently on its toes. This may, however, be seen as an advantage from a social Darwinist point of view: because of the constant pressure to deliver more to its constituents, political capitalism might hone its ability to manage the economic sphere and to keep on delivering, year in, year out, more goods and services than its liberal counterpart. What appears at first as a defect may prove to be an advantage.

But will China’s new capitalists forever acquiesce to a status quo in which their formal rights can be limited or revoked at any moment and in which they are under the constant tutelage of the state? Or, as they become stronger and more numerous, will they organize, influence the state, and, finally, take it over, as happened in the United States and Europe? The Western path as sketched by Karl Marx seems to have an ironclad logic: economic power tends to emancipate itself and to look after, or impose, its own interests. But the track record of nearly 2,000 years of an unequal partnership between the Chinese state and Chinese business presents a major obstacle to China’s following the same path as the West.

The key question is whether China’s capitalists will come to control the state and if, in order to do so, they will use representative democracy. In the United States and Europe, capitalists used that cure very carefully, administering it in homeopathic doses as the franchise slowly expanded and withholding it whenever there was a potential threat to the property-owning classes (as in Great Britain after the French Revolution, when the right to vote became even more tightly restricted). Chinese democracy, if it comes, will likely resemble democracy in the rest of the world today, in the legal sense of mandating one vote per person. Yet given the weight of history and the precarious nature and still limited size of China’s propertied classes, it is not certain that rule by the middle class could be maintained in China. It failed in the first part of the twentieth century under the Republic of China (which held sway over much of the mainland from 1912 to 1949); only with great difficulty will it be reestablished with greater success 100 years later.

PLUTOCRATIC CONVERGENCE?
What does the future hold for Western capitalist societies? The answer hinges on whether liberal meritocratic capitalism will be able to move toward a more advanced stage, what might be called “people’s capitalism,” in which income from both factors of production, capital and labor, would be more equally distributed. This would require broadening meaningful capital ownership way beyond the current top ten percent of the population and making access to the top schools and the best-paying jobs independent of one’s family background.

To achieve greater equality, countries should develop tax incentives to encourage the middle class to hold more financial assets, implement higher inheritance taxes for the very rich, improve free public education, and establish publicly funded electoral campaigns. The cumulative effect of these measures would be to make more diffuse the ownership of capital and skills in society. People’s capitalism would be similar to social democratic capitalism in its concern with inequality, but it would aspire to a different kind of equality; instead of focusing on redistributing income, this model would seek greater equality in assets, both financial and in terms of skills. Unlike social democratic capitalism, it would require only modest redistributive policies (such as food stamps and housing benefits) because it would have already achieved a greater baseline of equality.

If they fail to address the problem of growing inequality, liberal meritocratic capitalist systems risk journeying down another path—not toward socialism but toward a convergence with political capitalism. The economic elite in the West will become more insulated, wielding more untrammeled power over ostensibly democratic societies, much in the same way that the political elite in China lords over that country. The more that economic and political power in liberal capitalist systems become fused together, the more liberal capitalism will become plutocratic, taking on some features of political capitalism. In the latter model, politics is the way to win economic benefits; in plutocratic—formerly liberal meritocratic—capitalism, economic power will conquer politics. The endpoint of the two systems will be the same: the closing ranks of a privileged few and the reproduction of that elite indefinitely into the future.


“Alternative facts” strikes back (again)!

Trump wiretaps

Sean Spicer just said President Trump wasn’t referring to wiretapping when he tweeted about “wires tapped”. According to the White House Press Secretary, “wire tapped” doesn’t have anything to do with wiretapping.

It’s just a mere “alternative fact”, one with the potential to become a fake news.

Furthermore, despite having used the following expression “Bad (or sick) Guy!”, he (Trump) also wasn’t referring Obama personally. No, Trump meant to say the Obama administration. In both cases!

Two observations must be made:

First, if Trump doesn’t know how to correctly write what he wants or desires, I wonder why he still uses twitter? If he isn’t capable of doing it in 140 characters …

Secondly, what is the extent of Sean Spicer’s linguistic knowledge? And why does he persists in pushing “alternative facts”?


Trump’s Decalogue

 

trumps-10

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Judging by Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway reactions

as well as Steve Bannon´s attitude,

nowadays these are the ruling commandments!

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Trump inauguration – The same as it ever was!

trump-inaugural-address

Trump inauguration address was no surprise to me. Unlike many of my friends, I always paid close attention to non-verbal language and to psychologic profiles. As such, and as expected, President Trump will be just plain old Trump. Nothing more, nothing less.

In its core, Trump’s speech is not new. Every President’s primary concerns are internal and not external. Should we strange a patriotic speech? Of course not. Similarly, an isolationist speech is not a novelty. Although being rarer among republicans discourses today, there are many historical moments where patriotism and isolationism were the main republican topics. However, what is really innovative is Trump’s willingness to a closer relation with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, none of the past republican Presidents expressed such will or desire.

Donald Trump is not a Republican. He never was. And he is not a Rino either. Like most things throughout his life, the Republican party is simply an instrument, a tool to achieve a goal or to close a deal. Trump is a “Trumplican”. In fact, as he himself would say: “I’m the real trumplican, the only real trumplican. Which is yuge and bigly!”

Does Trump embody what we understand as a bully, a nationalist, a populist, a xenophobe? Yes, he does. However, the question must be: Is he aware of that? You see, sometimes is not just about perception. And if by any small probability Donald Trump is mindful of his own behavior, he simply does not consider such characteristics as negative and/or reprehensible.

As a political science and international relations researcher, in a certain way and to some extent, I’m looking forward to see what Trump’s presidency will bring. Both internally as externally.

Despite we can safely affirm that Trump will not fulfil most of his campaign promises, avoiding, to a certain degree, clashes with the Senate and the House of Representatives, we also can assert that unpredictability will be the rule. As such, the relation between the executive and legislative branches will be very interesting to follow. Furthermore, the same can be expected about Trump’s international stances.

Lastly, but certainly not least, in a significant reversal, Wall Street took over the White House. What’s next? What will happen to the balance between the political and economic spheres? What will happen to democracy?

For better or for worse, a new spectrum of possibilities emerges.

[If, in a sense, Trump is the same as he ever was, should we let the days go by?]


Yuge!

donald-trump-twitter-follow

Trump is not going to govern.

No, Sir.

He is going to TWIVERN!

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(which is much more yuge!)


The day after the day after

tump-pence

Trump’s election, which must be respected as it is a democratic manifestation, does not offer a sense of security.

However, my main worries are related with the day after the day after.
This may just be the beginning of a even more profound change. Much worse will be Trump’s impeachment. And the hypothesis is not implausible.

Mike Pence is a committed creationist and an tea party element. Can you imagine his type of presidency?


45th US President

trump

I was not a Trump supporter. Actually, I also wasn’t a Hillary supporter. But I will always be a supporter of democracy.
The US will change. Particularly, internally. That seems clear. I only hope that US foreign policy will not change much.

With this election, the Republicans control the Presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Trump has the possibility of making Tea Party affiliates and the like irrelevant. Let’s see if this possibility materializes.


Trump will win!

michael-moore

Michael Moore predicts Trump’s presidential victory and advances five reasons for that outcome.


Pattern of behavior (2)

Greece-flag

Having in mind certain circumstances one can and must understand some decisions such us the latest agreement on Greece. However, we should not neglect the pattern of behavior evidenced by the greeks.

I do not share the general view about the Grexit.

When a unit loses one of its parts, after the adaptation of such loss the degree of cohesion is greater than the original.

Furthermore, the Greeks need again to be able to devalue a currency, which it’s impossible while they remain within the euro.


Mirror faces

Varoufakis 2011 vs 2015


Finally, democracy has arrived to Greece. What a joke!

Tsipras Syriza wins

 

Pretty soon a lot of people will defend
that democracy has arrived to Greece.

Me?
I just wonder about the definition
and concept of democracy?


Sobre as maiorias e o exercício do poder.

A democracia está assente no Estado de Direito e não no direito do Estado. Por essa razão, por o Direito estar acima do Estado, também a população deve ser protegida da ditadura das maiorias. As maiorias, depois de eleitas, não estão legitimadas para se servir do povo. Antes pelo contrário. Como adquirem poder acrescido com a eleição, devem utilizá-lo em prol do povo, começando por algo muito simples: respeitar quem os elegeu.
Nesse sentido, é desejável ser o mais transparente possível na gestão do dinheiro dos contribuintes.

Em democracia, poder não é dado.
É confiado. Temporariamente!

As “maiorias”, principalmente as que são eleitas democraticamente, não estão isentas de respeitar os princípios consagrados e/ou referidos na Constituição. Para isso é essencial a observação de alguns valores, entre os quais a transparência.

Que razão pode obstar à transparência? Há decisões que são inadmissíveis. Especialmente se forem tomadas por partidos que não defendem ideologias totalitárias. Não basta parecê-lo. Há que sê-lo.