Trump voters, Venezuela’s rabbits, and human rights goes to the movies

Sep 15, 2017 · 6 min read

The Word

Let’s start with this… A good analyst questions his assumptions. Continuously. That’s especially true when it comes to assumptions about Donald Trump, but it also applies to our understanding of the people who support him. On the one hand, Trump distinguished himself in a ginormous field of Republican candidates as an unapologetic hell-raiser. His refusal to give an inch carried him a thousand miles.

But Morning Consult/Politico published a national poll this week that we need to read closely. The survey found that 57 percent of Republicans said Trump should work with both Democratic and Republican lawmakers to get things done. Just 31 percent of Republicans said that Trump should work “primarily with Republicans,” and eight percent actually said he should work “primarily with Democrats.” Among respondents who voted for Trump in 2016, demand for a bipartisan approach was even higher. Some 64 percent said the president should work with lawmakers of both parties. Is that the Trump voter we think we know?

Then a new HuffPost/YouGov poll reported that 62 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of Trump voters approved of the president’s decision to side with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi over the Republican leadership on a deal over managing US debt.

Assuming these polls accurately reflect something in the national mood, what do these numbers mean? Is this a fleeting moment of cooperative feeling that follows two natural disasters in the US in a year with no national election? Does it reflect public exhaustion with petty partisanship in Washington? The better question: Could numbers like these persuade the president and members of Congress to change their approach to one another, even if only tactically, with implications for both foreign and domestic policy? The cynical answer is the easy one. Maybe Trump is just angry at his party’s congressional leadership. It’s hard to believe that Trump’s deal with Democrats on the debt ceiling signals more bipartisan deals to come.

But let’s question our assumptions and keep an open mind — about US voters if not US politicians.

Elsewhere… More sanctions this week on North Korea, which answered with yet another fish-killing missile. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker doubled down this week on deeper European integration, former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe told an interviewer that the ruling African National Congress would be better off if it lost the 2019 election, Russia sent a strong signal to NATO, future Saudi king Mohammad bin Salman sent a strong signal to the kingdom’s clerical establishment, and a nun with a chainsaw sent a strong signal to Hurricane Irma.

Next Up… Turkey announced this week that it will purchase a Russian-designed air defense system, perturbing its NATO partners, who warn that the Russian product is not compatible with NATO systems. President Erdogan then took yet another opportunity to poke his Western allies for not offering Turkey a sweet-enough deal. There’s a lot going on here. First, Erdogan remains angry that the Trump administration has not extradited Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan accuses of a thousand forms of treachery, from his adopted home in Pennsylvania. He’s also unhappy about US support for Kurds in Syria, and he knows that spitting at the US and Europe keeps him popular with some at home.

He should bear a couple of things in mind. The Russians are happy to sell him some product and sow some division in NATO, but they won’t prove the most reliable ally. Less than two years ago, Putin squeezed Turkey’s economy after Turkey’s air force shot down a Russian fighter plane near the Turkish-Syrian border. And Erdogan can learn from Putin’s experience about what happens when you’re forced to lean on an opportunistic temporary friend. When Putin grabbed Crimea in 2014, Europeans sanctioned Russia, and Putin turned to China for some energy deals. Russia’s president then found out what it’s like to get squeezed (on price, in this case) by a partner who knows that you need him more than he needs you.

Finally… I’m not saying that the current Philippine government isn’t serious about human rights. I’m just saying that Philippine lawmakers voted this week by a margin of 119 to 32 to provide the country’s Commission on Human Rights with a budget for the year of 1,000 Philippine pesos. By my calculation, that’s US$19.61. The Commission had requested 1.72 billion pesos (US$34 million). In a country where the president encourages police and local vigilantes to kill people they suspect of involvement in the drug trade, the government will lay out $19.61 to safeguard human rights. That’s enough money to take human rights to the movies and buy it a box of popcorn, but human rights will have to bring its own drink.

Self-Promotion Interlude: Eurasia Group’s Chris Garman and Daniel Kerner discuss the upcoming round of elections in Latin America.

What we’re watching

Ethnic cleansing in Myanmar —
The not-so-well-kept secret is out. The UN’s top human rights official has denounced Myanmar’s assault on Rohingya Muslim’s as a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing. He said government attacks are “clearly disproportionate” to insurgent attacks carried out last month. A few brave journalists have entered Rakhine province to corroborate the stories that Rohingya refugees have told aid workers in Bangladesh. Later in the week, Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi skipped a UN meeting on this subject.

Venezuela’s opposition election participation — If the battle between Nicolas “Let Them Eat Rabbits” Maduro and the various opposition groups is an endurance contest, score one for the opposition this week. Well aware that the ruling party will try to steal/manipulate the outcome of regional elections on October 15, some 1.5 million voters turned out for primaries to choose opposition candidates anyway. That’s about three times the average turnout for party primaries. The message: “We’re still here. We’re still fighting. And rabbits are pets, not food.”

Cat tattoos — Speaking of pets, a woman in Winnipeg was reunited with a cat she lost 12 years ago after workers at the local Humane Society discovered a faded tattoo on the cat’s body that identified the woman’s address.

What we’re ignoring

Russians being Russians — Local air quality investigators have issued a notice of violation against the Russian government following an alleged “burning [of] inappropriate materials,” in a fireplace inside the (now shuttered) Russian consulate in San Francisco. Late last month, the State Department ordered the consulate closed as part of a diplomatic tit for tat that’s been going on for weeks. Don’t worry about the Russians, their secret papers, and their geopolitical ambitions. San Francisco environmentalists have this fire under control.

Russians being Russians — I Still Know What You Did Last Summer — Later in the week, the Russian government painted over US diplomatic parking spaces outside the US consulate in St Petersburg and removed parking signs outside the US consulate in Yekaterinburg. Next week, the Russian security services will probably prank call an order of vegetarian pizzas for the US consulate in Vladivostok.

People who say the cat tattoo story happened in June — OK, it happened in June, but I just heard about it on Wednesday.

Watch the G-Zero World with Ian Bremmer and Senator Cory Booker. The Muppet goes to Washington.

5 days: A US National Security memo aimed at addressing the unprecedented level of leaks coming out of the West Wing lasted only five days before it was leaked to the press. #PracticeMakesPerfect

500: The US Airforce dropped 500 bombs in Afghanistan during the month of August, the highest count for a single month since 2012. #AmericaFirst

60K/24K: Protests in Paris this week against the proposed labor reforms of Emanuel Macron attracted 60,000 people, according to a trade union involved. But police placed the total at just 24,000, and two of the country’s biggest unions didn’t participate.

712: Spain’s public prosecutor has summoned 712 mayors from the autonomous region Catalonia in response to their support for an upcoming independence referendum.

1,333: Iraqi forces are currently holding 1,333 foreign women and children suspected of being the family members of ISIS fighters. The group includes Japanese and South Korean citizens.

75: Uganda’s ruling party is trying to overturn a constitutional provision that prohibits the president from serving beyond the age of 75. Easier solution? Change 73-year-old President Yoweri Museveni’s birth certificate.

Words of Wisdom

“Never have I lost my love for the European Union. As we all know there is no love without disappointment.”

– European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker reminded us in his annual State of the Union address this week that sometimes love hurts.

Signal is written by Willis Sparks with editorial support from Gabe Lipton (@gflipton). Don’t like what you read? Feel free to yell at us on Twitter or just reply to this email.

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LOUD WORLD. CLEAR SIGNAL. Signal is a twice-weekly newsletter on international affairs. No jargon, no nonsense, no noise.


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