“This Sure Sounds Familiar…” Populism and the Cyclical Decline of Political Parties

Political Party expiration dates and the power of Donald Trump’s American Populism
By Laura Thompson
It is the summer preceding the presidential election, and the United States is a nation of mass discontent. Many citizens feel that they are being deceived and swindled by the elite of society and the businesses meant to hold the economy together. The justice system appears rigged to favor the few rather than protect the many and regions all over the country are being impacted by waves of battered and distressed immigrants—immigrants that often have had limited education, do not come from countries that strictly favor English, and who practice religions that decidedly differ from the Christian principles many Americans consider ‘tradition’. This influx of immigrants also comes at a time when the nation’s economy is not particularly thriving, and many deal with upheaval and unemployment in their workplaces, whether from expanding population versus demand, or from technological change.
That summer, to be specific, is of approximately 1854.
In the decade span of 1845 to 1855, the United States felt the influx of thousands of European immigrants—immigrants that were often poor, uneducated, and very Catholic in a relatively Protestant nation—as well as the global turning tides of the slavery debate on the economic stage. The response to this change, more immediately than the Civil War, was the evolution of political theatre. Amongst all of this societal turmoil, after all, the U.S. saw the final breaths of the Whig Party, and the rapid formation of its populist replacement: The Know Nothing Party.
The Know-Nothings were a short-lived party that had national popularity but tangible power in Massachusetts. It advocated for nativist ideologies, anti-immigration, and anti-Catholicism, and its membership was for Protestant men only. Historian Tyler Anbinder noted in his Nativism and Slavery that the Know Nothing’s success relied not only upon the conditions of society at the time, but the collapse of the Whig Party, which had suffered internalized weakening and factionalism over the last several years, and in particular damage over the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
The 1840s saw a massive and continual influx of Irish immigrants in particular, fleeing their country out of fear, hope for employment, and starvation. When they arrived in America, they found a largely Protestant nation that resented their masses and their devotion to the Pope; Irish stereotypes ranged from laziness and alcoholism at best, to primitive clan-behavior and subhuman existence at worst. The name, Know Nothing, came from the melodramatic practice of the earliest party foundations: the Order of the Star Spangled Banner, which was founded to resist Catholic immigration, encouraged members asked about the order to reply that they “know nothing” of the cause.
The Know Nothing Party did not survive long, and although familiarity with the name is common, the ability to list the beliefs of the party is more difficult. Once the Know Nothing movement disintegrated, the Republican Party formed in its wake, took Abraham Lincoln as its leader, and the nation dove into a brutal and bloody civil war. Did the Know Nothing movement cause the war, or even qualify as a variable cause? No, not necessarily. Things are always more complicated than that, and the Know Nothings were not terribly successful on the national stage—they simply gave a platform for people to voice their discontents, however xenophobic or radical they may have been. The trouble with populist ideologies taking form as political parties rests in the inherent broadness of the issue: populism is a movement based upon mobilizing the power of a perceived oppressed majority against an oppressive few.is, essentially, to represent the populace, and to oppose the strong will of the elite few.
Abstract notions of populism seem promising. The complication is that a politician who declares themselves a ‘populist’ has told their audience very little about their specific policy proposals. Although populist rhetoric and policies are often left leaning of the nation’s middle-ground voting position, strong economic structure is often lacking in favor of economic policies fueled by societal-based resolutions. In the context of macroeconomics, Rudiger Dornbush and Sebastian Edwards summarize this issue neatly:
Populist regimes have historically tried to deal with income inequality problems through the use of overly expansive macroeconomic policies. These policies, which have relied on deficit financing, generalized controls, and a disregard for basic economic equilibria, have almost unavoidably resulted in major macroeconomic crises that have ended up hurting the poorer segments of society.
The Republican Party, somewhat affectionately known as the GOP, is in a minor crisis. The current 2016 election has seen the party nomination of Donald Trump, a businessman, television personality, and now—politician. He is known for his bombastic speeches, broad and sweeping statements, and controversial opinions on women and minorities. He is, generally: anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, and pro-middle and lower classes. His popularity is evidenced by his nomination; but why? Curiously, perceived authenticity tends to reign supreme.
Notions of authenticity are key to populist success, as the masses are receptive to those who are believed to be identifiable and proactive. This is, according to Bram Spruyt, Gil Keppens, and Filip Van Droogenbroeck, “the ‘people centrism’ component in populism—that is, the representation of the people as a pure and homogenous group whose will should be the crucial reference for politicians—is the element that theoretically distinguishes populism from mere political discontent […] populism remains a politics of hope, that is, the hope that where established parties and elites have failed, ordinary folks, common sense, and the politicians who give them a voice can find solutions.” Furthermore, in a fellow World Mind publication, Jeremy Clement also expands on American Populism regarding Trump, in particular comparing him to George Wallace: “The claims of both are generally not supported with evidence, but that is not the point. The speech sounds good and feeds into the idea of the common, struggling, working man fighting against an unfair system that does not respect his values.” The authenticity that Donald Trump possesses, presumably, is his ability to rouse hope in people based on the desired images many have of what America is—American exceptionalism, indeed.
American historian Andrew J. Bacevich emphasizes the broken nature of how the U.S. views itself. In an article for Politico breaking down the crisis with Russia, he tackles the notions of American exceptionalism and how the problematic nature of these self-assumptions has hindered the U.S.’s competence. He writes:
The events we are commanded to remember are those that happened during the period 1933-1945. In geographic terms, we can be even more specific: They occurred in the space bounded by London, where stiff upper lips withstood the Blitz, and Auschwitz, where countless Jews were murdered. But the true epicenter was Munich, site of the great betrayal from which the horrors were said to follow. Events prior to or after that period—1914 or 2003, for example—or events occurring beyond that expanse—you know, like Vietnam—don’t count for much.
The bitter satire of Bacevich’s article is rather forgivable. This comes from a man who regards American exceptionalism as a sort of religion, one that has severely narrowed the perspective of Americans and compromised the strength and capability of the nation—the people are more preoccupied with perceived entitlements to grandeur than to continually earning high regard. American exceptionalism exists within a very peculiar universe: the 1950s were golden, everyone was happy, and things have only gone downhill from there. Likely mental images of stereotypical grandparents reminiscing on the ‘good old days’ have been conjured by this point. For Trump, American exceptionalism is the ambrosia and nectar of his entire campaign.
Donald Trump is a candidate thriving on populist ideologies in America, but the very passion fueling him is also enabling the potential for a collapse of the Republican Party of which he is the candidate. There is a desire to return to the ‘good old days,’ a notion that rejects the realities of history—but it is a reminiscence that Trump encourages: ‘Make America Great Again!’ cries the businessman’s campaign. What once may have been a melodramatic concern is now fair game: Donald Trump is the candidate of the GOP, yes, but he is hardly representative of the party—whether one considers the primary platform or its factional offshoots, such as the Tea Party. The man could easily run as a third-party candidate and likely endure little competition for voters with a separate GOP presidential candidate. The trouble is that Trump is not a Republican: he is a man who has chosen to enter American politics on his own terms.
There are several months to go before the U.S. engages with what may be one of its most important presidential elections in decades—it could, quite literally, change the course of American household politics. Although Trump is hardly friendly with many Republicans, he has recently won endorsements from several major faces, such as Paul Ryan and Chris Christie. However, there is a deeper meaning implicated in these endorsements: party insecurity. In the 1840s, the Whig Party of the United States endured several fractures that eventually sank the entire Party—the mass voting populace no longer unified in its identification with Whig platform values. Today, the same may be happening for the Republican Party; Republican voters find themselves across a broad spectrum, some finding themselves in polarized positions at the far end of the spectrum and too often at the derogatory butt of many liberal media jokes. These jokes do not harm those in the far end, though; the damage is often felt more often by centrist Republicans who are all-too-conscious of the public eye and misconceptions. The result, however, is the same: increasingly irreversible divisions within the Party, impacting both voter optimism and campaign numbers.
What is important to note here is that the Whig Party did not fall in a month. It is likely that the Republican Party will continue to persist as well; Trump is a wild card, but the future hinges on more than one man. Populism compromises the future of the GOP, as it questions the capacity of the Party to connect with U.S. citizens and encourages further political divisions and ideas on reformation. The Know Nothing Party did not last long in its most tangible form, but its values would reverberate across the country for nearly a century. It is difficult to argue that Donald Trump’s dream of a wall will not hold the same impact, both for immigrants and Muslims, as well as for the stability of the floundering conservative Party that has played host to so much of the groundwork for these attitudes.
All views expressed are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Mind or of Clocks and Clouds.

Taking Socialism Home to Meet Your Parents

An increasing number of young people support democratic socialism, but what does that mean?
By Andrew Fallone
So you come home from your first year at college. You wave goodbye to the rear fender of your friend’s beat up 1998 Toyota sedan as it drives away into the distance. You see your parents standing in your doorway smiling proudly, happy to have you back. You walk inside and sit down to a freshly cooked family dinner to reconnect after a year away. Your parents start to ask you about your life, how are the grades, have you locked down a job for the summer yet, do you remember your curfew is still midnight, and for god’s sakes do you have a boyfriend yet? “No,” you reply, no job and no boyfriend yet, but you have started to really like this idea you learned about in your introduction to political theory class; you’ve become a socialist.
Dad dramatically pushes his chair back and storms off to his study to drink scotch straight from the bottle and contemplate where he failed you, while your mother sobs into her apron, and your little brother runs off to alert the neighborhood watch that there’s a dangerous Marxist guerilla living in the area. The white-picket fence has caught on fire and all of the years of wholesome upbringing and money spent on college tuition have gone to waist…or not. Maybe it should not be so shocking that socialism is seeing a resurgence in popularity amongst many young college-age Americans. Now, this is not the socialism of the radical socialism of envisioned by dusty theorists where the government is in direct control of distributing wealth equally to all of its citizen. Instead, this article refers to democratic socialism, which is growing in popularity because it gives the government the tools it needs to administer economic policy and welfare programs, while still maintaining individual rights such as private land ownership and free markets. This allows the enhanced power of the government to be wielded by the larger populace. Indeed, to those who are educated, the ideas that drive socialism are not so foreign or exotic, but are actually reasonable and effective.
Now, in order to evaluate different forms of government, there must be some agreed upon metric by which to do so. For this article, an effective and efficient government is one that can most successfully carry out its laws and directives. Yet this comes with an important caveat, for a truly effective government must also take the best care of its citizens’ needs. In summary, an effective government must be accountable and responsive to its people, while still creating policy that is actually effective at accomplishing a government’s first job—to provide for its citizens—opposed to blindly following every brash impulse of its electorate. While an authoritarian government might be effective, it is not the most humane because large constituency of people are victim to the wants and choices of the small concentration of power in a ruling party or a dictator. A democracy, conversely, while the choices of the electorate might not always be the best or most humane, does have the largest portion of the total populace making the decisions, which is in theory the most humane form of government. Yet that large and theoretically humane electorate is slow to take action and thus is actually not the most responsive or effective in executing its policies. In this article, I posit that a socialist democracy is the best way to execute effective governmental action in the most egalitarian and humanitarian way.
A student of political theory might tell you that an authoritarian or autocratic government is one of the most effective at just directly carrying out its directives. In terms of the economy, a government that does not have to worry about any opposition, nor any approval, can make the changes it decides are the most beneficial for itself much more quickly than if it had to go through more widely accepted democratic routes. While other nations may make economic success more difficult for autocratic governments by punishing them for their system of rule, case in point the embargos that stood for decades against Cuba, authoritarian governments are some of the most capable in terms of implementing their own policy within the confines of their own economy. When speaking about economic development, Modernization theory puts forward the idea that democracy was something for rich and developed nations, and in order to achieve that affluence other less-developed nations had to go through a period of non-democratic rule. Indeed, this idea is supported by London School of Economics professors Timothy Besley and Masayuki Kudamatsu, who illustrate it thus:

[A]utocratic government is not always a disaster in economic terms. Indeed, throughout history there has been growth and development in autocratic systems of government. For example, the British industrial revolution predates the introduction of free and fair elections with mass participation. Modern China is also a case in point with a spectacular growth performance in a non-democratic setting.

The example of modern China is especially pertinent here, for many other countries in Southeast Asia—Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore just to name a few—all experienced incredible economic growth and success under military dictatorships similar to that experienced by China under single party, autocratic rule. This is because of how efficiently they are able to administer their economic policy. Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati is quoted by G. William Dick to say that “No policy of economic development can be carried out unless the government has the capacity to adhere to it […] Quite often, however, democratic governments lose equanimity and determination in the face of opposition.” Yet, the ability to effectively orchestrate policy comes at a price, for few would disagree that authoritarian or autocratic systems are not the most beneficial to the average citizen, thus violating our second rule for effective governance. In China, the economic growth that the single-party government has fostered has not equally benefitted all of its subjects: the elite have become richer and the wealth is not shared equally. This leads us to one alternative to an authoritarian system: democracy.
Yet while democracies are typically far better for all of their constituents in terms of holding their governing figures accountable to the populace, the question remains: can they achieve the same economic success as authoritarian systems? As NYU professor Adam Przeworski notes, “The reason everyone opts for democracy in affluent societies is that too much is at stake in turning against it” because the alternative is so much worse for the average citizen, especially those not aligned with the ruling party. Furthermore, it is true that, as Pranab Bardhan says in the Financial Times, “Democracies are better able to avoid catastrophic mistakes, (such as China’s […] massive mayhem in the […] Cultural Revolution), and have greater healing powers after difficult times. Democracies also experience more intense pressure to share the benefits of development among the people, thus making it sustainable.”
In essence, Bardhan is saying that democracies avoid dangerous blunders because all decisions must first come from the people or those who they elect to represent them. Yet while it might be better for the average citizen in terms of sharing the wealth, a democracy can prove to be painfully slow and inefficient when it comes to deciding upon and administering economic policy. One needs only to look at the struggle the American government goes through every year to pass a budget to simply keep itself operating, and the number of times it has shut itself down due to partisan differences, to see how cumbersome and lethargic a democracy such as our own can be. As Timothy Besley and Stephen Coate posit in the American Economic Review, “[W]hile political equilibrium does satisfy a certain efficiency property, this does not imply that policies are efficient according to standard economic criteria,” for even if we do manage to agree on an economic policy, there is no guarantee that all of the concessions made to reach that agreement have not stripped the policy of all actual effectiveness. This leaves us with one essential question: how do we maintain the economic efficiency of an autocratic government while imparting the social equity of a democratic one?
Our answer lies back in that one dirty word—socialism. A socialist government has a large federal government empowered by its electorate to be able to more directly implement its economic policies, while giving the fruits of its prosperity to its citizens equally instead of having it funneled directly to the top as an authoritarian system would. Cedric Muhammad of Forbes put it eloquently when he said of socialism that
[a] socialist system that is working well is one that is fully deploying the nation’s resources through a central plan that has the approval of the people. It would be superior to a capitalist system that is working so poorly that its adherents must find excuses for mass unemployment, widely diverging income classes, and deepening social pathologies.

Indeed, it is the effective implementation that is the crux of what makes democratic socialism the best choice for America. In post-WWII America, we had a massively powerful federal government that was able to capitalize on the economic success that the nation was experiencing and return it to the people in terms of social welfare programs. This union of the ability of the government to make decisive and responsive economic actions while still having a government by and for the people that makes socialism such a potent and attractive form of governance. I’ll leave you with another quote from Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University: “Another advantage of the socialist countries is their passionate conviction and dedication to the objective of economic growth—which contrasts visibly with the halting and hesitant beliefs and actions of democracies.” A socialist system gives the government the power it needs to enact successful policy, while still being accountable to and benefitting its people, and that’s an appealing concept.
All views expressed are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Mind or of Clocks and Clouds.

Will Doves or Hawks Fly? An Analysis of Democratic Policies in the Levant

A look at whose Sanders’ and Clinton’s foreign policies in the region
By Caroline Rose
In 2011, the streets of Cairo were teeming with political, financial, and religious fervor—with Egyptian President Mubarak at the root of discontent. Young protesters led by the Muslim Brotherhood and pro-democratic groups such as the “Tamarod” movement, took to Tahrir Square to oust a dictator representing three decades of Egyptian strife under secular autocracy, a militant ruling party, and economic strain. While uncertainty loomed in Tahrir Square, discord loomed in the White House Situation Room. Obama and his administration were bereft of time—with the choice of opting for “the right side of history” with young, pro-democracy protestors, or with a decades-old status quo embedded in the Mubarak regime. Answering the pleas of his advisors, President Obama chose to support the rebels. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—the current 2016 Democratic Presidential frontrunner — unsuccessfully advocated siding with Mubarak based on the rationalization that supporting an unstructured, youthful revolutionary movement would not be any less than naïve. The rebels represented change and renewal, but Mubarak represented years of American investment, relative stability, and guarantee of U.S. access and provision.
Such a decision is congruent with Clinton’s so-called “hawkish” foreign policy agenda—yet scholars, critics, and constituents alike are still scratching heads in regards to Clinton’s strict theoretical framework. Many point to former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State as an oscillation between neo-conservatism and liberalism in international affairs. Clinton’s opponent, Vermont Senator Bernard Sanders, staunchly falls within liberalism, yet is misunderstood in his policy projections. In the largest and arguably, most historic presidential election this country will witness, the media machine has detracted voters from dissecting Hilary’s ideological direction or Sander’s exact foreign policy agenda. In this piece, I seek to dissect Clinton’s and Sanders’ theoretical identities and visualize their policies in the most precarious geopolitical hotspot of the 21st century: the Levant region.
Neo-con, Realist, or both? Assessing Hillary’s Ideological Conundrum
Advisor Jeffrey Bader once remarked that Clinton is “not an ideological person, she’s a deal-maker.” The ambiguity that surrounds the exact identity of Clinton’s foreign policy has been the subject of widespread speculation in this election. Her extensive record appears to be a conjectural blend of realist, idealist, and neo-conservative policy selections. As a New York Senator, she voted yes for intervention in Iraq. In her “pivot to Asia” as Secretary of State, she sought a role for the United States in territorial disputes in the South China Sea. She has angered Jewish voters when she has remained neutral with Israeli-Iranian tensions, while acknowledging Israel’s pivotal role as an American ally in the Middle East, and even proposing support of Iranian democratic attempts at a 2016 appearance at AIPAC. Public perception has suggested that Clinton reflects all three ideological identities of realism, liberalism, and neo-conservatism. Yet, when we arrange her record comprehensively, we will discover that Clinton is unapologetically neo-con in every crease and corner of the fabric that is her foreign policy agenda. Clintonism will champion hard power over soft, politics of preconditions, shoe-leather diplomacy, and operating from a position of strength. Is Hillary the next Kissinger? No, but expect a hybridized version of Kissinger, Kagan, and Robert Gates. Hillary will exemplify her appreciation of using clout of diplomacy, but realizes militarized strength may be necessary to sit parties at the table in the first place.
To compare the Democratic candidates, one must comprehend Clinton’s appreciation for statecraft abroad, while Sanders focuses on the American state itself; external reformation runs divergent to internal reconstruction. Clinton and Sanders both exercise caution when flexing their foreign policy muscle, yet differ in nature. Clinton sees the military as a valuable mechanism, while Sanders sees it as a potential deterrent. Clinton practices caution in the calculation and execution of hard power initiatives, keeping her cards close to her chest. Yet in retrospect, she keeps a maximalist thirst for an American militarized footprint across the world. Secretary of Defense Gates recalls Clinton favored 40,000 boots on the ground when he advised 30. After all, Clinton’s education in the world of foreign policy began not in her tenure as Secretary of State or even as First Lady, but as a freshman New York Senator on the Committee on Armed Services, where she developed a great appreciation for American military capability. Sanders on the other hand, is more cautious in foreign policy. He voted against intervention in Iraq and champions that decision as representative of his strong anti-interventionism. Many have compared Clinton’s foreign policy as a continuation of the Obama Administration, such as non-intervention in Syria, but in fact it is Sanders that would replicate “skeptical restraint” best. While critics have pointed to Sanders as immature in foreign policy and avoidant of the topic altogether, they must explore Sander’s liberal logic of policies he has already presented on debate floors across the country. To understand Sander’s global strategy is to understand his domestic platform. His policies abroad are anchored to his economic strategy to alleviate collegiate debt, combat Wall Street, and improve social welfare programs; the United States cannot pour money into carpet-bombing the Islamic State that drains taxation at home, nor expend resources fighting for democracy in Iran or Egypt when democratic ideals are endangered at the expense of the corporate machine.
Visualizing the Levant
The Levantine region of the Middle East has become characterized by regenerative, endless conflicts, ruptures in the ethnic and religious foundations, and proxy interests intersecting in Iraq and Syria. Civil wars are incubated within civil wars—spurred initially by democratic fervor and devolving into foreign manipulation of rebel factions to install puppet leadership. These conflicts are consequential; it is fuddled, it is not simplistic enough to characterize with theory alone. A presidential candidate who claims to contextualize a policy strategy in all corners of this conflict is lying, but a candidate that can produce a doctrine America can commit to, is integral in the Democratic race. Senator Sanders has accomplished this, publicly advocating commitment to non-intervention in the Middle East. Clinton’s stance tethers its “globocop” approach to combatting the swath of violent non-state actors, bloodthirsty dictatorships, proxy interests battling from the Gulf, and militarized “aid” from China and Russia. To Clinton, Putin has no business fighting in Syria. To Bernie, neither does the United States.
Clinton mutually supports an Israeli state and Palestinian forces, yet shies away from the high dive board when pursuing the hunt for a two-state solution like presidential predecessors have done, believing the timing is not ripe in 2016. Senator Sanders additionally will pivot towards the acknowledgement of the right for a Palestinian solution, playing what he called an “even-handed role” in the interaction between Israelis and Palestinians. While Sanders is Jewish, he has shied away from proclaiming himself a Zionist. Sanders has proven to be tactical when approaching the Palestinian question; he wholeheartedly supports the Israeli right to exist, but does visualize an emerging landscape of a new Middle East. Does this make Sanders a realist on Israel? Possibly. It is not clear whether Sanders will pursue a two-state solution, but it’s clear he will not isolate the Palestinians, as have previous administrations. With both candidates, the world will see an American presidency that will re-balance its allegiances in the Gaza Strip.
The question of Syria has deeply characterized the foreign policy agenda of the Obama Administration, and will quite possibly plague the remainder of the twenty-first century. The Syrian Civil War is a tumultuous blend of civil war, proxy interests, terrorism, and underlying cultural and religious tensions—remnants of colonialism and the 1917 Sykes-Picot Agreement. Both Sanders and Clinton understand that any future policy decision in Syria should represent the American people’s aversion to intervention, yet nips the humanitarian strife in the bud. Such a policy has posed presidential politics in a state of flux; Senator Ted Cruz advocated carpet-bombing campaigns, Trump called for the elimination of local gas sources, and many other candidates have called for the eradication of ISIS before approaching the Syrian Civil War. To evaluate the stances of the two Democratic frontrunners, one must first question what beast the candidates will encounter first: Assad or ISIS? Clinton has chosen ISIS, opting to place a larger American presence in the region, surpassing Obama’s authorized 50 Special Operation Troops. The former Secretary of State has advocated the preparation and training of Syrian Sunni and Shiite rebels to fight in Syria, believing they would be a “psychological boost to the opposition” that would back American enemies into a dark corner. Mrs. Clinton sees it necessary to unite under a common international enemy, and then seek regime change with the dismantling of Assad in Damascus. Senator Sanders, on the other hand, has chosen to avoid what he calls a “never-ending quagmire” between American boots on the ground and ISIS fighters, and additionally has not supported a no-fly-zone in Syria. Clinton’s threaded short-term strategies starkly contrast with Sander’s isolationist long-term vision of the struggle with ISIS. While Clinton sees it necessary for the American struggle to incorporate international cooperation, Sanders finds it necessary for the fight to be a globalized one. Sanders has called for an international coalition to combat the Islamic State, emulating the Jordanian King Abdullah’s plan to build a coalition of Muslim nations on the ground, while remaining international powers carry airstrike campaigns and economic measures to cut off the blood-flow of the Islamic State.
Looking Towards The Future
The presidential strategies in Syria best reflect two very contrasting tones set in the Levant region. Clinton’s neo-conservative approach and foreign policy chops will utilize hard and soft power to promote democratic, American ideals in fluctuating political systems. Under a Clinton administration, Hawks will predominately fly over the Levant—a product of the former Secretary of State’s step-by-step strategizing, teaming diplomatic strength with military muscle to accomplish infrastructural stability and political peace in the Levant. Sanders will, by contrast, engage the global arena in coalition building and aversion to on-the-ground intervention. His foreign policy decisions will reflect that of his domestic platform, illustrating the Senator’s long-term vision of a cooperative and welcoming United States in the international community. As Levantine conflicts have begun to pour into the political, economic, and cultural borders of Turkey, the Balkans, and Europe, the world holds its breath as candidates assemble policy projections for such a delicate region. While running within the confines of the Democratic Party, this race is showcasing candidates that will envision two very different faces of the Levant Region in the next four years to come. Doves may fly, but under the shadow of hawks.
 All views expressed are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Mind or of Clocks and Clouds.

Hope and Change in the Time of Police Violence: From Obama’s Inauguration to Trayvon Martin’s Murder

U.S. strikes have violated international humanitarian and human rights law and are setting a dangerous precedent for future American foreign policy
By Sophia Vos
“Euphoric. It was unbelievable to really see that we could do anything we put our minds to. I never had a plan to go to an inauguration before that day.” Dr. Omekongo Dibinga’s eyes lit up as he shared his feelings on President Obama’s 2008 inauguration. He claims it is one of his happiest memories from any public event, one which “sparks something in his heart.” Dibinga is not alone in this sentiment. For so many Americans, Obama’s election seemed to represent the beginning of a new era. As he stood in the freezing cold that January night at the National Mall, he held his little toddler on his shoulders. It was as though, for just one moment, he was holding her up higher than the scourge of a country whose legacy was rooted in slavery, eugenics, and mass incarceration. She would be hurt by these injustices later, but tonight she would witness her father’s joy. An eternity of oppression and despair, seemed for just a moment, to fade in the triumph of a new narrative of hope we can believe in.
At the time, Dibinga was a motivational speaker and diversity counselor in schools that served predominantly low income youth of color. The morning after Obama was elected, he believes his students arrived to class with a new light in their eyes, a new sense of pride and belonging. “I saw my students show up to my class wearing Obama t-shirts. I had never seen my students choose to represent a politician on their clothing before. I had seen rappers and musicians, but never a president.” Dibinga recalls that Wednesday in the classroom with a Jay-Z quote: “The day Obama won the election, the gangster became less relevant.” His students were able to see themselves in a new light, one where they finally saw a representation of themselves beyond entertainers and athletes, a president who looked like them. “I saw black people stand and pledge allegiance to the flag for the first time in their lives. To be alive and witness that moment, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. People finally felt like they were part of this country after being on the outskirts for so long.”
Dibinga was very careful with his word choice. This was just a moment in time. It was a powerful moment, but far from the end of a nation fueled by white supremacy. Maybe it felt like the start of an era where a man of color could lead the free world, but it did not feel like the end of an era where white supremacy remains as prevalent as the air we breathe. It was not until a black man could sit in the Oval Office that we heard proud utterances of a “post-racial United States.” Nevermind the photoshopped images of a lynched Obama with the phrase “hope” replaced with the phrase “rope,” or the fact that congress seemed completely unwilling to get anything passed under his watch. Maybe this gridlock was ideological, others suggest it was racially motivated. At first these messages were whispered on social media, and later they became more confident, even self-righteous shouts of “Your president is black, so what are you people so upset about?” So many, including Dibinga, feared this narrative. We only needed to look at the worn faces of those in the ultra-segregated communities in our home city of Boston, the crumbling state of Boston’s public schools, the hopelessness of our voter turnout, the clearly inequitable way the “T” subway system skipped over black and brown neighborhoods, and the way communities lived in an inescapable state of chaos and poverty. “It was projected that people like me wouldn’t live past the age of 25, that if we weren’t killed by them we would be incarcerated,” said Dibinga. These realities proved to us that regardless of how our president lived, we were very much living in a harsh and unforgivingly racist society.
This has become particularly clear in the recent resurgence of a new civil rights movement which has been sparked in part by the death and subsequent lack of justice for Trayvon Martin. Patrisse Cullors coined the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter after Mike Brown’s death, and it has been employed every time the nation is faced yet another pointless act of police brutality. After Trayvon’s death, President Obama stated “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” This emotive sentiment was one of the first times Obama had been so vulnerable about his position as a person of color for the whole nation to hear. While Dibinga and many others felt affirmed by these words, many others felt threatened by having the president make a statement that connected him exclusively with other Americans of color. The president who Dibinga celebrated had just claimed something Dibinga also felt; this representation from a president was a new experience.
“I see myself in everyone of these guys who is killed.” Dibinga is referring to his reactions to the recent deaths of young black and brown men and women. In 2015, 1205 people were killed by the police in the United States. Black men and boys are twenty-one times more likely to be killed by the police than their white male counterparts. He carries the memory of Obama’s election deeply on his conscience, but says that the media coverage of those killed by police is “always on [his] mind.” Dibinga is somber as he shares how he is scared and sad to hear media “come up with all these theories about why a kid deserved to die. You can’t help but wonder, what story will be told if it happens to you?” As state-sanctioned violence against people of color increases, how can we return to that feeling of unlimited possibility on November 4, 2008 without it being tainted? How can we believe in the hope Obama promised without feeling a sense of fatalism or frustration? Dibinga quietly shares “you feel like you are being minimized at every step… I wonder if people even care about who I am here…”
The media did not help to dispel this sense of the community of color being one dimensional. For the media, these murders are shown as must-see TV. Dibinga looked off saying “Why is it in America we have to see proof of a black man being killed? Why do people have to see us get slaughtered in order for us to believe it?” Over the summer a twitter hashtag, #iftheygunnedmedown, began to gain traction. The hashtag showed two pictures side-by-side of a man in a suit, and that same man dressed in clothes where he would be perceived as a “thug.” “When we die they show us at our worst, if I get killed by police tonight they won’t show the picture of me getting my diploma… To the media at the end of the day your accomplishments aren’t going to mean anything if you are killed by police,” said Dibinga.
Dibinga began to share negative interactions with the Boston police that further fuel how much he saw himself in each man who had been lost. “My Congolese mother [with a Ph. D.] who didn’t learn English until she was 29 was in the train station and a white girl told the cops she was selling drugs. Without question my mother was arrested and when my father came to pick her up in jail, she only had her shirt on.” These stories are so common that they sometimes feel inevitable. If this is the reality, how can we believe in any hope or change? Even for Black and Latino Americans without stories quite as intense as this one, many more wonder why there are no train stops, grocery stores, or decent schools in our neighborhoods of color. Each individual’s story is unique, but they also include patterns caused and upheld by a legacy of racism. Today, Dibinga’s daughter is nine years old, and she does not remember being present for Obama’s original inauguration. Although she was born in a time characterized by hope and change, she is now being raised in an era of cynicism and mistrust. Will she grow up to live a life more boldly stamped by a Black president or by the mindless state sanctioned violence her grandmother experienced?
 All views expressed are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Mind or of Clocks and Clouds.

To Salute or to Burn: The Battle over Flag Desecration Did Not End with Texas v. Johnson

This legal question precipitates spirited debate in the 2016 election cycle, so how should we think about flag desecration?
By Jeremy Clement
“You are a fucking scumbag traitor piece of fucking trash.” In Missouri Donald Trump supporters shout at flag stomping Anti-Trump protesters. Violence erupts as more than 200 people take part in a standoff at the very same Trump rally. Another rally in Wisconsin includes members of the “Fuck Your Flag Tour” protesting against racial discrimination while stomping on an American flag.
Flag desecration and, in particular, flag burning are not new phenomena. The emotional contention over the issue during the Vietnam War era and the following decades is a testament to this. While the act of flag desecration has been declared legal and a legitimate form of free speech by the United States Supreme Court; controversy and emotions are building over the issue again. The views of our potential presidential candidates on this sensitive issue may be worthy of more discussion given the huge impact on our society another era division over this issue would cause. While the flag desecration issue may seem menial, it is representative of a much larger divide in the United States. This is a divide between those who view the flag as a symbol of freedom and sacrifice, and those who view the flag as symbolic of a broken system. If this toxic issue is approached the wrong way during this political climate, it could ignite more division and even violence.
History
In 1984 a man named Gregory Lee Johnson protested the policies of Ronald Reagan by burning an American flag outside of the Republican National Convention in Dallas. His conviction for the act was brought to the Supreme Court. In Texas v. Johnson (491 U.S. 397), the Court decided that “flag burning constitutes a form of ‘symbolic speech’ that is protected by the First Amendment.” The ruling was the first to protect flag desecration on the basis of freedom of speech. Writing for the dissent, Justice Stevens countered that the government had a state interest in limiting the right to desecrate the flag due to the flag’s unique status in the United States.
When congress tried to circumvent the Johnson ruling with the passage of the Flag Protection Act the decision was upheld in United States v. Eichman (496 U.S. 310). After this ruling there were various attempts to work around the decision by congressional statute and state laws; there were also attempts to overrule the ruling through a constitutional amendment.
Current Presidential Candidates
The most recent political battle over this issue was in 2005 and 2006 with a flag desecration bill (in 2005) and constitutional amendment (in 2006) introduced in Congress. The Flag Protection Act of 2005 was cosponsored by Hillary Clinton. This piece of legislation was different from past bills in that it sought to punish flag desecration only if it were to incite violence. The New York Times describes the bill as, “attempt[ing] to equate flag-burning with cross-burning, which the Supreme Court, in a sensible and carefully considered 2003 decision, said could be prosecuted under certain circumstances as a violation of civil rights law.” This position on flag desecration was a middle ground between those who want to keep flag desecration legalized and those who wish to completely forbid it under all circumstances regardless of consequences or content. On the 2006 Amendment, both Democratic candidates, Sanders and Clinton, voted no due to its lack of clarity and broad nature. However, Clinton did endorse a counter measure similar to her 2005 bill to replace the 2006 Amendment.
Relevance
With flag desecration contention and events becoming more frequent in this present election, the votes of the past could become more relevant than the candidates might believe. Donald Trump has stated that he believes that flag desecration should be illegal and events at his rallies have shown that violence can result when people on the opposing ends of this opinion confront each other. The candidates may need to confront this issue head on at some point in the future.
The most dangerous part of this issue aside from the violence is the near 50/50 divide among the public. A Gallup poll asked for the public’s opinion on the issue in 2006 while the Flag Desecration Amendment was being discussed. The poll asked two questions, one that gave little information about the issue and the other that was more specific. Both polls hovered around a 50/50 divide. With the public so sharply divided on the issue, any resulting conflict would be hard to resolve. Even more difficult would be to amend the Constitution in favor of those rallying against flag desecration.
This particular election has seen an unusual degree of polarization. Americans have seen what they perceive to be their own American values questioned. The foundation of the system of our democracy and electoral system has been questioned by Trump and Sanders through criticisms of the nomination process. Sanders has brought an economic ideology to the table that many Americans are uncomfortable with in the form of Democratic Socialism. Donald Trump has also touched nerves with his comments on race, women, and immigration. These clashes of values are extremely volatile. The question of flag desecration is even more toxic in this environment as America is redefining its image. The American flag does not stand for the same principles for everyone anymore and this polarization of values makes this a nasty time for such a dangerous discussion.
All views expressed are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Mind or of Clocks and Clouds.

More of the Same: Bernie’s Foreign Policy, Just War Theory, and International Humanitarian Law

Is Bernie really the dove that some claim?
By William Kakenmaster
The 2016 presidential race has, without a doubt, become one of the most significant electoral phenomena in recent American history. Moreover, the Islamic State (IS) poses a historic problem for candidates, and although foreign policy has not taken center stage, a quiet but vociferous debate goes on about whether the Democrats’ left hand—Bernie Sanders—is more of a hawk or a dove. Sanders basically has no chance of winning the Democratic nomination, but has affected the presumptive Democratic nominee’s position in significant ways. We know enough about Clinton’s foreign policy history given her tenure as Secretary of State, but we know little about Sanders’ positions and how they would possibly influence Clinton. Is Sanders’ policy towards IS theoretically legal? If it reaches the threshold of legality, does that necessarily mean it fulfills the requirements of jus ad bellum and jus in bello? Two useful yet tragically under-utilized lenses for analyzing candidates’ proposed military aggression are those of just war theory and international humanitarian law.
Just War Theory and International Humanitarian Law
International humanitarian law, sometimes called the laws of war, is a set of international legal obligations that applies to states during times of conflict and proscribes them or their agents from certain actions in order to mitigate the harmful consequences of armed conflict. Just war theory provides the legal justification for international humanitarian law, and: jus ad bellum and jus in bello. Jus ad bellum relates to states’ preparatory actions for engaging in conflict before actually doing so. Jus in bello states that, whatever states’ motivations, their wars must be conducted justly. Without going into too much detail, the international humanitarian legal regime takes jus ad bellum and jus in bello as given requirements of warfare—these are like constitutional principles that cannot be violated. The rights granted to states by jus ad bellum and jus in bello are the rights to (1) declare war with just cause and (2) respond to force proportionally. Jus ad bellum derives legal support from Articles 2 and 51 of the UN Charter. Jus in bello’s derives legal support from the Geneva and Hague Conventions, and from customary international law. States have five minimum requirements according to just war theory. First, any just war must be waged by an internationally recognized actor, such as a state or a coalition of states, and must be announced publicly ahead of time. Second, wars must be waged with just intentions, such as the maintenance or restoration of peace. Third, states waging war must only do so if there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the war’s objectives are achievable—the laws of war prohibit mass violence if nothing will likely come of it. Fourth, wars must be waged via proportional means. In other words, if one state invades and conquers another’s territory, then the latter only has the right to take back what is due, not conquer more than its fair share of the former’s territory. Finally, war must only be a last resort after exhausting all other, non-violent means of conflict resolution. As long as states meet these five requirements, their foreign policies are theoretically legal under a just war framework.
It is not useful to list every illegal offense in this essay, which is only concerned with Sanders’ response to IS. Matters of international humanitarian law are almost never as clear-cut as deeming something legal or illegal; they depend on innumerable factors and can be justified in myriad ways by a competent lawyer. However, international humanitarian law relates to jus in bello and derives its authority from two principle legal sources. First, international humanitarian law derives support from hard sources of law in treaties like the Geneva and Hague Conventions, and other legal documents. Second, although not every state is signatory to the relevant treaties, and less have ratified the legal statutes in question, but customary law criminalizes the most severe violations of international humanitarian law. For example, drones are not explicitly banned by any international legal statute, nor are they considered inherently indiscriminate according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). But all states going to war must satisfy the principle of distinction, meaning that they must distinguish between civilians and combatants. Drone strikes against terrorist groups like al Qaeda have a higher threshold for distinction because it is not always clear whether the target is a combatant or not. This means that tactics like signature strikes, for example, are “clearly unlawful,” at least according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions Christof Heyns.
Sanders’ Foreign Policy
During the first Democratic debate, Sanders said, “I am not a pacifist […] I support airstrikes in Syria and what the president is trying to do.” Sanders has also shown himself wary of deploying boots on the ground. And he has even called the situation in Syria “a quagmire in a quagmire,” claiming to “make sure that the United States does not get involved […] like we did in Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country.” So, if he sticks to his campaign promises, we can expect that Sanders likely will not support boots on the ground, opting instead for airstrikes and a coalition of Middle Eastern nations to combat IS—a policy the Senator first supported in 2014.
So, would Sanders’ proposed airstrike-coalition plan comply with the laws of war, and would they adhere to just war theory? On the first question, maybe. On the second, no.
Few would dispute that fighting IS sufficiently constitutes a just cause, especially if the belligerent nations include those most proximate (e.g., the hypothetical members of Sanders’ proposed coalition) and those whose citizens were killed by IS members, not just those who would be indirectly threatened (e.g., the U.S., France, and other victims of IS attacks). Barring more cynical theories that the IS was created by the West in order to justify intervention, going to war because your people have been beheaded or blown up in terrorist attacks does not represent a war of aggression, even if they may do harm to the region. Moreover, Obama’s announcement that his administration will “degrade and ultimately destroy” IS could reasonably count as a public declaration of war by an internationally recognized actor: the United States. What remains is to provide sufficient evidence that military operations are (1) the last resort and (2) likely to achieve the war’s objective. As long as Sanders sticks to his belief that “unilateral military action should be a last resort” and proffers a solution that will likely “degrade and destroy” IS, he has satisfied jus ad bellum.
Sanders’ plan does not fulfill jus in bello, however. Considering that drones are not inherently illegal, but must satisfy the principle of distinction, airstrikes comply with the law only to the unlikely extent that military leaders refrain from signature strikes and other, similar indiscriminate tactics. If, however, the military did not refrain from indiscriminate attacks à la Obama administration, the types of attacks Sanders only says are “counter-effective,” then the drone policy would violate the principle of distinction. The U.S. has not ratified Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions—the protocol officially codifying distinction—but the ICRC considers distinction distinguishing between civilians and combatants part of customary law, or “general practice accepted as law” and independent of treaties. Furthermore, assembling a coalition of Middle Eastern states might relieve the U.S. of any legal responsibility for wars of aggression—whether or not the coalition’s actions would violate the laws of war is beyond this essay. However, if the U.S. knowingly provides funding, weapons, or training to the hypothetical coalition and the latter subsequently violates any international humanitarian law, a case could be made for the U.S.’s complicity. Lastly, if the Senator’s plans include indefinitely and illegally detaining prisoners at Guantánamo Bay—or any other military prison for that matter—and employing enhanced interrogation methods with the purpose of discovering information about IS, then the plan’s detention strategy would violate international humanitarian law. In the abstract, Sanders’ vagueness puts his IS plan in the clear. But as a strategic campaign maneuver, it leaves open the possibility of violating the law when the situation supposedly calls for it. As Sanders described himself, “I am not a pacifist.”
Significant evidence suggests that drone strikes—arguably the centerpiece of Obama’s and Sanders’ plans—engender anti-American sentiment and support for IS. According to a public letter written by four Air Force service members with more than 20 years of experience between then, mistakes that result from the drone program, such as the killing of civilians and U.S. citizens “fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like [IS], while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantánamo Bay.” The number of drone strikes sharply increased under Obama, which Sanders considers “constitutional and legal.” Therefore, Sanders faces an uphill battle to prove that continuing airstrikes will likely achieve the war’s objectives, and that his IS policy will comply with international humanitarian law’s jus in bello requirements.
Conclusion
As with any election, foreign policy has taken a back seat to important questions such as what to do with the economy, and this is no more evident than in Sanders’ campaign. However, all candidates’ policies towards IS represent no less important questions. Sanders can easily justify waging war against IS, thus fulfilling jus ad bellum, however his plan’s strong support for drone strikes sends it into questionable legal territory under the best circumstances, and frankly illegal territory under the worst circumstances. Insofar as it might comply with the law and established principles of justice in international relations, we might accept it as a legitimate plan, but the vagueness with which it has thus far been proffered do more for leaving open the possibility of omission of the U.S.’s legal obligations than to assuage any concerns over its illegality.
 All views expressed are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Mind or of Clocks and Clouds.

Can Donald Trump the WTO?

An analysis of the international legal implications that undergird Donald Trump’s trade policy 

By Paul Jeffries
Yes—it’s another piece covering Donald Trump’s policies—but don’t leave quite yet; I promise to not fall into the enticing leitmotifs typical of the current status quo for journalistic coverage of Trump. Allow me to explain.
Be it on the left or the right, there seem to be two major fissures into which commentators fall whenever Trump’s name is mentioned—sardonic, arrogant insouciance, and melodramatic fear-mongering. Those in the former camp will attempt to write the entire Trump phenomenon off as a manifestation of angry whites too ignorant to see that his proposals are all nonsense and that he is leading them to an inevitable slaughter in a general election; they don’t deem his policies worthy of analysis because they believe the probability of his winning is zero. Those in the latter camp will attempt to spin every Trump statement as an apocalyptic forecast, harking a potential Trump presidency as the harbinger of immediate international Armageddon. Both seem, to me, ridiculous. The first comes with the assumption that Trump’s campaign has exposed nothing useful whatsoever; whereas I concur with scholars like Dani Rodrik and Paul Krugman who believe that the populist wave of support behind a candidate like Trump has highlighted a failure of the U.S. system to share adequately the fruits of globalization and international trade equally amongst the U.S. population. The second sacrifices the reality of the U.S. constitutional system of checks and balances in favor of exaggeration for the sake of ratings and clicks; after all, what would attract more viewers—a piece that recognizes the relative impotence of the U.S. presidency given the division of power between the three branches of government, or one that harks Trump as a Hitleresque totalitarian who will destroy the world?
As with most political polemics, clinging to one ideological line doesn’t lead too much in the way of constructive discussion. Thus, I will not caricaturize Trump using a broad, ideological brush. Nor will I go soundbite-hunting (which honestly requires little creativity during this campaign cycle) in order to cherry-pick quotations that could then be falsely described as Trump’s trade policy. Instead, wary of the aforementioned chasms that flank me on both sides, I will attempt to go straight to the horse’s mouth to analyze Trump’s trade policy reform proposals, basing myself uniquely only on his one and only official campaign position paper that pertains to trade—“U.S. – China Trade Reform.”
A few final disclaimers before proceeding to the targeted analysis are apposite. First, the policy paper under scrutiny here only directly apostrophizes China; however, the policies proposed implicate much more than the bilateral US-China trade relationship. As a result of this, even though this is the only trade-related policy paper of Trump’s, we can deduce a great deal from the suggestions therein when it comes to understanding Trump’s broader approach to trade. Trump’s trade policy paper does contain a variety of economic figures used to justify the proposals therein. I will not be fact-checking any of these myself; there are plenty of better-suited sources that do precisely this type of work. My intention is to examine Trump’s major reform proposals, explicating both the international legal mechanisms they target, as well as the potential effects they would have if carried out in their entirety.
Distilling the signal from the noise:
Some have called the Trump campaign “substanceless,” arguing that he is all talk with no concrete policy proposals. While hyperbolically effective, that is not true when it comes to trade; there are certainly enactable proposals contained within Trump’s policy paper. That said, there is also a great deal that is simply talking point fodder disguised as policy. There are many examples of this type of non-policy proposal peppered throughout the paper—too many for each to be explained in this article—hence, I want instead to begin by offering a framework for sifting through these purely rhetorical proposals, identifying a few glaring examples of strong words, without any legal authority behind them.
When looking for practical trade proposals that could actually be enacted, it is important to remember that the executive branch in the US has relatively little power in determining trade policy. The U.S. Constitution is perfectly clear in its delegation of trade authority to the Congress, not the Executive. Article I, Section 8 gives Congress the sole authority “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations.” This power is no longer absolute, however. In the 20th century, it was quickly discovered that logrolling in the Congress was a political tendency that would make crafting trade deals in the Congress alone untenable. As such, the so-called “fast track presidential authority” to broker trade agreements was created by the Trade Act of 1974. While this act did delegate the authority to negotiate trade agreements to the President, it is an impermanent power that must be persistently re-authorized by the Congress. Even today—an age that many would commonly believe is dominated by trade agreements in-the-works such as TTIP and TPP, the president’s authority is very limited. The only TPA authority currently active is the Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015, which grants the Obama administration limited “power to negotiate major trade agreements with Asia and Europe.” In short, the next president of the United States will have to seek renewed TPA from Congress, and even if it is allotted, any deals made or tariffs proposed are entirely at the mercy of congressional approval. With all this in mind, we can craft a strategy for identifying concrete proposals—finding the signal amidst the noise. We should interrogate every proposal by inquiring: what mechanism is being used to accomplish the policy aim (tariffs, duties, etc.), and what legal entities ultimately control said mechanisms.
As an example of a proposal that is backed by no concrete policy, let’s examine one of Trump’s suggestions regarding a harmonization of environmental and labor standards:
China’s woeful lack of reasonable environmental and labor standards represent yet another form of unacceptable export subsidy. How can American manufacturers, who must meet very high standards, possibly compete with Chinese companies that care nothing about their workers or the environment? We will challenge China to join the 21st Century when it comes to such standards.
As can be seen, this proposal offers the perfect opportunity to test the framework laid out previously. We see very clearly that there is a policy aim—ensuring that the US and China are both held to similar environmental and labor standards—but there is no mention of the mechanism that would be used to accomplish this policy aim. This is surprising, because resorting to tariffs as a default policy tool is a well-documented favorite of Trump’s. Even though the paper mentions no mechanisms and thus cannot be analyzed as policy, we can still answer the second question of our framework, because there is a legal entity that does in large part oversee the standards that Trump would like to see more equally followed: the World Trade Organization (WTO). In fact, this is not an outlier; in most of the instances in Trump’s trade policy paper where a policy aim is announced without a specified mechanism or legal entity being referenced, the issue likely falls under the umbrella of disputes for which the WTO already serves as a forum. This incongruence hints at what I find to be the most confusing and, in my estimation, untenable characteristic of Trump’s trade policy. It seems to argue on various fronts for vigorous U.S. reengagement at the WTO, pressuring other countries—namely China—via the WTO dispute settlement mechanisms more than ever before, while concomitantly arguing for the brandishing of tariffs and other protectionist measures the likes of which the US has not seen since Herbert Hoover held the presidency.
A trumped-up WTO strategy? – Enforce some rules ardently, while breaking others unabashedly
The internally contradictory nature of Trump’s policy proposal as concerns the United States’ role at the WTO is difficult to untangle, but perhaps no better microcosmic representation of the strategy exists than this paragraph concerning how Trump plans to combat “China’s illegal export subsidies and other unfair advantages.”
The U.S. Trade Representative recently filed yet another complaint with the WTO accusing China of cheating on our trade agreements by subsidizing its exports. The Trump administration will not wait for an international body to tell us what we already know. To gain negotiating leverage, we will pursue the WTO case and aggressively highlight and expose these subsidies.
As we can see, the second sentence intimates that a Trump presidency would not wait for the WTO dispute-settlement process to run its course. While an alternative legal mechanism is not proposed, we can insinuate from the rest of the policy paper that what is implied is that the US would pressure China with countervailing duties and tariffs. That said, the following sentence is a complete reversal; without even skipping a sentence the proposal pivoted from “not wait[ing] for [the WTO] to tell us what we already know,” to “pursu[ing] the WTO case” aggressively.
For the sake of a thought experiment to explore the implications of this internal contraction if actually put in practice, let us assume that Trump carries through on all such promises—both of more aggressive WTO dispute settlement action against China, and of simultaneous tariff use. What would come from this? Those who paint Trump’s policies as perfectly pursuant to John Bolton’s view of international law would be exposed as wrong, because even Bolton, who believes that international law has no moral character and instead is only what states will it to be, acknowledges that certain systems exist—such as the WTO—that can be used by states to secure beneficial outcomes if adhered to. If the two previously mentioned Trump policy proposals were both enacted, the result would be devastating for the United States because of the current structure of the WTO dispute resolution mechanisms.
WTO dispute resolutions over subsidies are governed by the “Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures,” and given the diverse ways that subsidies can be disguised (which Trump rightly identifies in the policy paper), successfully winning a dispute before the WTO takes time and a great deal of fastidious effort. On the other hand, the levying of a tariff such as those for whose implementation Trump argues all throughout the policy paper, beginning with the very first paragraph of the “Details of Donald J. Trump’s U.S. China Trade Plan,” is in blatant violation of a host of more universal obligations, and Trump’s proposals would bring the US into immediate breach of GATT Article I—the most favored nation principle that WTO members should treat all imports equally—as well as GATT Article II—the restriction of tariffs to a maximum of the “bound rate” established in the tariff schedule.
Why then, would this be so detrimental? Again, it is a matter of the legal mechanisms that undergird these two separate processes. While the WTO dispute settlement for subsidies is a long, complex process, tariffs are the most overt form of protectionism, and, as Scott Lincicome of The Federalist appropriately states, “[S]uch an obvious violation of WTO rules would make for the easiest WTO dispute in the organization 20-year history.” Hint: the U.S. would lose.
Thus, the hypocrisy of Trump’s proposals as concern the US’ role in the WTO is damaging not just because they are difficult to understand and ideologically self-contradictory (are we for or against the WTO?); they are prejudicial because if they were actually to be enacted, they represent a fundamental misunderstanding of how the WTO dispute-settlement processes operate, and would lead to disproportionate harm for the United States, while China—the target of all of these policies—would actually be able to impose countervailing duties, and the rest of the WTO member states would be justifiably on China’s side, as they have the strength of numerous international legally binding accords behind them.
But what about efficient breach? International legal scholars agree that’s a thing, so…
No. Allow me to stop you there. Efficient breach definitely is a thing, but to apply it in light of Trump’s policy recommendations here would be a gross misunderstanding of that legal school of thought. Eric A. Posner—the intellectual father of efficient breach—agreed with Bolton, in that both espoused the belief that international law had no moralistic underpinning, and was thus a tool for states to use to maximize their well-being. This is a line that sounds like it would fit very well with Trump’s “America First,” doctrine, but to take the next logical leap and say that Trump’s plan is thus one that might be espoused by the likes of Posner and Bolton, would be to convolute sound legal theory with obfuscous rhetoric.
The principle undergirding efficient breach is that of economic efficiency of trade-offs; i.e., international norms (such as adherence to WTO rules) can be broken if the relative economic efficiency of breach outweighs that of continued compliance. Trump’s international trade policy proposals highlight a variety of key problems that are sadly oftentimes left undiscussed because of the polemical—and thus media-attracting—nature of other claims therein. He addresses many issues that should be addressed by the next president—be it the disproportionate distribution of benefits from international trade amongst Americans, to the need to pursue greater harmonization of compliance with international commercial standards so that some nations are not disadvantaged while others are able to dodge safety and labor regulations. That said, all of these issues are overshadowed by the self-defeating nature of Trump’s policy proposals vis-à-vis the WTO. Without even broaching the cultural, sociological, and political implications of overtly breaching the GATT—a subject which would merit an entire article of its own—Trump’s trade policy is currently plagued by a coherence problem identified by our previously established analytical framework. Even if one agrees with every beginning presumption and aim expressed in Trump’s policy paper, the legal mechanisms in place that govern international trade would result in a terribly inefficient breach. WTO law is not all trumpery, and Trump would do well to remember that that which is rhetorically powerful matters much less than that which is legally efficient.
All views expressed are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Mind or of Clocks and Clouds.

The Pragmatic, the Exciting, and the Uncertain: Hillary Clinton’s Infrastructure Proposal

U.S. infrastructure is crumbing and under-funded, but how effective will Clinton’s plan be?
By Samuel Woods
In late November 2015, the Clinton campaign announced plans to pursue an increase in federal infrastructure spending by $275 billion over 5 years, a plan the campaign calls “a major down payment on a stronger America.” Though the plan has been largely muffled on the campaign trail by emphasis on the historical achievement of her mere nomination, email scandals, and the bewildering aura of her presumptive fall challenger, Clinton did state in late May her intention to send “a comprehensive infrastructure proposal to Congress in her first 100 days in office.” Presumably, the inclusion of the plan in the agenda of her first 100 days signifies that this issue is a top priority for Clinton, and something she seems willing to bet her legacy on should she win the election.
However, while the apparent importance of this plan is encouraging given the current state of American infrastructure, it is undermined considerably by the plan’s lack of technical detail. While the Clinton campaign claims that the plan will be fully paid for, it only mentions “business tax reform” as its method of payment, without any specifics concerning which particular taxes will change, how they will change, or how reforming the business tax code will capture an extra $275 billion over 5 years. Nevertheless, it is generally accepted in the economic community that “business tax reform” is a worthwhile policy goal, as it is much more efficient to simply tax people’s incomes if you want to tax them. That being said, if a President Clinton finds herself facing a Republican Congress next spring, the likelihood of her presiding over revenue positive tax reform is dubious.
Beyond the unclear method of payment however, the Clinton campaign’s plan starts to get interesting. Of the original $275 billion sticker price, $250 billion will be set aside for direct infrastructure investment via conventional tax and spend methods. General repair is a major part of this spending,” as the campaign vows to “fix and expand our roads and bridges,” oversee maintenance projects on various pipelines, dams, and levees, and address the “pothole tax.” But the biggest emphasis seems to be on new projects with an eye on efficiency and new technology. Not only does the plan call for the construction of new airports and air traffic control systems, expansion of public transport options with an emphasis on higher capacity passenger rail systems, and “initiating the upgrades of the at least the 25 most costly freight bottlenecks by the end of her first term,” but the plan also articulates a desire for investment in clean energy via attention to the development of a “smart” electrical grid, creating space for non-gasoline fueling stations, and ensuring that “the federal government is a partner in delivering clean and affordable energy.” The Clinton campaign even commits itself to ensuring that, by 2020, “100 percent of households in America will have access to affordable broadband that delivers world class speeds.” If all this was not enough, the campaign assures voters that this infrastructure plan will involve to creation of thousands of “good paying, middle class jobs,” paying well over the national median” in order to make it happen.
While there are holdouts, infrastructure investment is quite popular in the economic community, as infrastructure investment in general is shown to have a positive relationship with economic growth (though the magnitude of this relationship is still up for debate). Specifically, economists will be generally be favorable to the idea of repairing roads to address the “pothole tax,” allowing money that would otherwise be allocated to car maintenance to flow into consumption that is utility positive, raising social welfare. Additionally, while not a public good by definition, clean energy is generally considered a type of good which is chronically underprovided by the market due to the typically large up-front costs and low rates of return, meaning that third party intervention is needed to capture the gains in welfare that are not realized when it is underprovided. Also, Clinton’s plan to connect 100 percent of Americans to high quality broadband is likely to score points with labor economists, as lack of internet access is one of many things that have been cited as holding potentially capable workers from realizing their maximum income potential.
But perhaps the most interesting part of Clinton’s plan is the allocation of $25 billion as a seed fund for an independent, government owned infrastructure investment bank, both because the design and role of the bank lacks detail and precedent, but also because it could potentially offer a more permanent solution to infrastructure neglect in the future. The Clinton campaign states that the bank will exist to “provide loans, loan guarantees, and other forms of credit enhancement” to fund investment in “complex multi-modal projects like freight and port improvements, and in projects to modernize our energy, water, broadband, and transportation systems in urban and rural communities.” The bank will do this by issuing “special ‘super’ Build America Bonds,” building upon the structure of a program that lived and died within Obama’s first term. The campaign also mentions that the bank will be a “one-stop-shop” for state and local governments, municipalities, and project sponsors to secure the capital and expertise needed to see through infrastructure projects that have been vetted and approved by the bank’s “bipartisan review board.”
Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, the campaign leaves out many of the technical details of the bank’s creation and operation schemes that would be useful in imagining what exactly the bank would look like and how it would operate. Currently, the Build America Transportation Investment Center (BATIC), the keystone of the July 2014 executive action Build America Investment Initiative, considers itself a “one-stop-shop” for expertise in infrastructure projects. The BATIC does not, however, issue credit itself, but rather walks applicants through the process of securing private loans or applying for financing via the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program, administered by the Department of Transportation, which provides long-term, flexible financing for highway and transit projects at below market rates, allowing communities easier access to funding for certain infrastructure projects.
Considering that the Clinton campaign has explicitly stated that the infrastructure bank will serve as a “one-stop-shop […] to utilize federal resources and expertise in developing infrastructure projects,” it is most likely that a President Clinton will look to combine the efforts of both the BATIC and TIFIA programs to create a single source of both expertise and federal credit for infrastructure projects. Creating a new bank on its own would simply duplicate the responsibilities of these existing programs, and dissolving the BATIC and TIFIA offices in order to create her new bank seems to be an unnecessarily roundabout way of bringing the bank into existence.
Regardless of the exact specifics of the creation scheme, it does appear that the capability of Clinton’s infrastructure bank does, to some extent, already exist within multiple programs. That should not, however, necessarily discourage their synthesis into a single entity that both counsels and finances future infrastructure projects, as advocates have noted that the ability for a bank to cut across offices to get expertise and financing options to clients allows for a more efficient process in getting projects off the ground. It should also be noted that the current BATIC and TIFIA programs are concerned with highway and transit projects, and that if the Clinton campaign’s direct spending agenda is any indication, the infrastructure bank will be tasked with financing projects far beyond repairing roads and laying down new railroad tracks.
The bank’s capability could potentially go beyond simply synthesizing the current capabilities of various offices however, as the campaign has suggested that the bank would have the authority to issue “‘super’ Build America Bonds.” The original Build America Bonds (BABs) were a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that allowed state and local governments to reduce their borrowing costs when funding infrastructure projects, making it easier to finance projects via loans as opposed to traditional tax and spend methods. The program ended on December 31, 2010, though the Department of Transportation is still on the hook for paying interest on both the 10 and 30 year bonds that were part of the program. The campaign’s use of the adjective “super” to describe their version of the BAB program suggests that the campaign looks to reinstate and expand the issuance of BABs through the infrastructure bank, but is silent as to just what this expansion would look like. Perhaps a Clinton presidency would look to simply issue more of these bonds, or perhaps focus on issuing longer term bonds with higher sticker prices to raise more capital up front for projects today. Unfortunately, we can do little more than speculate as to how the campaign plans to supersize the BAB program of the past, but we can be reasonably sure that the campaign looks to create an institution that uses an expanded form of BABs to help finance infrastructure projects in periods of inaction in Congress.
And the political advantages of being able to fund infrastructure investments with only the implicit approval of Congress should not be discounted, and they are doubtlessly a major point in favor of the bank’s existence. Assuming that it is adequately funded, the bank holds the potential to continue nationwide infrastructure investment irrespective of infrastructure investment’s political popularity. When the Clinton campaign highlights the need to “improve the way we invest in infrastructure,” this bank is what they are talking about. With the establishment of this bank, the Clinton campaign looks to address not only the neglect of past decades, but the potential neglect to come in future decades as well.
However while the potential to bypass Congressional inaction may certainly be appealing in the case of infrastructure investment, it must be stressed that there is little to no precedent for this kind of institution in the world. The closest example of a nationwide infrastructure bank like the one the Clinton campaign seems to be describing is The Infrastructure Bank Plc in Nigeria. The bank is tasked with “providing financial solutions to support key long term infrastructure projects,” much like the Clinton campaign’s proposal, but is majority privately owned, with federal, state, and local governments, as well as the Nigeria Labour Congress as individual minority shareholders. Additionally, the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) launched on Christmas Day 2015, and while it also is focused on providing expertise in and financing infrastructure projects in Asia, it has 57 countries as members/shareholders, and 20 members who are not in Asia. Again, while the goals of the AIIB are analogous to the Clinton campaign’s proposed bank, it does not appear as though its modus operandi will be comparable.
Additionally, and perhaps more worryingly, the details the campaign offers pertaining to the practical operation of the bank are largely nonexistent, and big questions loom over the proposal. The campaign has stated that the bank will be headed by “a bipartisan board of highly qualified directors,” who will presumably influence or even make the final decisions as to which projects get funded and which do not, but does not offer suggestions as to how it plans on selecting and properly vetting candidates for the banks board of directors. The campaign also mentioned that applicants must be able to demonstrate that projects are in the “public interest,” but does not define “public interest” or clarify how one might differentiate between projects that are or are not in “public interest.” Even further, the campaign is silent as to how the bank or its directors would be held accountable for selecting projects that are in the “public interest.” Even basic concerns of equity are not addressed by the campaign, as it offers no explanation as to how local municipalities who are cash-strapped or have poorer credit are expected to benefit from this new bank, leaving the bank’s operation scheme open to criticism of only benefiting well-to-do communities that can better afford infrastructure investment, but may not need it as much.
Nevertheless, from an economic perspective, there’s a lot to like from what we do know of the Clinton campaign’s proposal, and this shouldn’t be discounted by the disappointment that may come from the proposal’s more unclear areas. Given Clinton’s statements concerning the status of this proposal as a top priority of her presidency, it should certainly be expected of the American electorate to challenge Clinton over the next few months to clarify details concerning her plans to pay for the proposal and of the infrastructure bank’s creation and operation schemes, in order ensure that the campaign is putting forth a thorough and realistic plan that can immediately be acted upon in a Clinton presidency. While the buffoonery of her fall challenger may cause some to simply accept Clinton’s proposal as satisfactory by virtue of not being utterly ridiculous, this should not preclude a proper vetting process in which the viability of Clinton’s proposal is put on trial by the American public. As it stands, no matter how enticing the potential of the plan may seem, the mystery surrounding key details should keep enthusiasm grounded, and the jury still out.

 All views expressed are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Mind or of Clocks and Clouds.

Why U.S. Foreign Policy Isn’t Ready for Hillary

Copyright © 2015, Law Street Media, ed. Anneliese Mahoney; This material is used by permission of Law Street Media, LLC.
The dark and little-known past of the Clinton Foundation might make you question the foreign aid industry.
By Emily Dalgo
Hillary Clinton is now the presumptive Democratic nominee for the 2016 presidential election. While Clinton is, without question, a better fit for the job than the GOP’s inevitable nominee, Donald Trump, she might have some explaining to do before she can rally the entire party behind her. Any pro-Hillary voters who prioritize moral plans for American foreign policy should probably look into the candidate’s past in Haiti. Last summer, the Pulitzer Center hosted journalist Jonathan M. Katz for a discussion about the Clintons’ influence and rather infamous legacy in Haiti. It’s surprising how little the failures and destruction of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s presence in Haiti have been brought up so far. Hopefully by November, Clinton will have been pushed toward necessary change.
First, some background on the topic: on January 12, 2010, the deadliest natural disaster ever recorded in the hemisphere, a magnitude-7.0 earthquake, devastated Haiti’s southern peninsula and killed 100,000 to 316,000 people. Former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led the Haitian reconstruction effort and vowed to help the country “build back better,” so that if another disaster struck, Haiti would be able to respond more quickly and with more efficiency. Hillary described their efforts as a “road test” that would reveal “new approaches to development that could be applied more broadly around the world.”
The Clinton Foundation alone has directed $36 million to Haiti since 2010. Another $55 million has been spent through the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, and an additional $500 million has been made in commitments through the Clinton Global Initiative’s Haiti Action Network. But what does Haiti have to show for all of these investments? Not much, according to Katz. “Haiti and its people are not in a better position now from when the earthquake struck,” he said. The hundreds of millions of dollars and the years of reconstruction efforts have yielded negligible results. For a project so expansive, Hillary has kept relatively quiet about Haiti thus far in her campaign. Her spokesman declined to comment on how Haiti has shaped her foreign policy, saying Hillary would address that “when the time comes to do so.”
Hillary’s big plan for how she would “rebuild” Haiti in the wake of desolation was characteristically American: through business. With big corporate plans on the horizon, Bill and Hillary became exceedingly familiar faces in Haiti leading up to the 2011 presidential elections. It’s not surprising that the candidate who vowed to make Haiti “open for business” was ultimately the victor. Former Haitian pop star Michel Martelly eventually won the race, after Hillary salvaged his candidacy when he was eliminated as the number 3 candidate by convincing the parties to accept him back into the race. Katz said that this vote was fraudulent. Martelly, a businessman and strong proponent of foreign investment in Haiti, was “attractive” to the State Department, Katz noted. He very much had a “Clinton view of Haiti and a Clinton view of the world.”
That’s how Caracol Industrial Park, a 600-acre garment factory geared toward making clothes for export to the U.S., was born in 2012. Bill lobbied the U.S. Congress to eliminate tariffs on textiles sewn in Haiti, and the couple pledged that through Caracol Park, Haitian-based producers would have comparative advantages that would balance the country’s low productivity, provide the U.S. with cheap textiles, and put money in Haitians’ pockets. The State Department promised that the park would create 60,000 jobs within five years of its opening, and Bill declared that 100,000 jobs would be created “in short order.” But Caracol currently employs just 5,479 people full time. “The entire concept of building the Haitian economy through these low-wage jobs is kind of faulty,” Katz stated on Monday. Furthermore, working conditions in the park are decent, but far from what should be considered acceptable.
Not only did Caracol miss the mark on job creation, but it also took jobs away from indigenous farmers. Caracol was built on fertile farmland, which Haiti doesn’t have much of to begin with. According to Katz, Haitian farmers feel that they have been taken advantage of, their land taken away from them, and that they have not been compensated fairly. Hundreds of families have been forced off the land to make room for Caracol. The Clintons led the aggressive push to make garment factories to better Haiti’s economy, but what it really created was wealth for foreign companies. This trend was echoed when the Clintons helped launch a Marriott hotel in the capital, which has really only benefited wealthy foreigners and the Haitian elite.
Mark D’Sa, Senior Advisor for Industrial Development in Haiti at the U.S. Department of State, said that many of the Clintons’ promises remain unfulfilled and many more projects are “half-baked.” Haiti remains the most economically depressed country on the continent. If Hillary wins in 2016, U.S. policy geared toward Haiti will undoubtedly expand, meaning even more money will be funneled to the Caribbean nation to fund the Clintons’ projects, for better or for worse. According to Katz, the truth is that we don’t actually know how much money has been thrown into the Caribbean country to “rebuild” it, and that with economic growth stalling and the country’s politics heading for a shutdown, internal strife seems imminent.
The introduction of accountability for the foreign aid industry is the most important change that can be made, according to Katz. Humanitarian aid does nothing positive or productive if there are not institutions in place, managed by individuals who actually live in these countries, to oversee that aid is serving rather than hurting the people it is supposed to “help.” Hillary Clinton’s efforts in Haiti have fueled political corruption, destroyed arable farmland, and have forced hundreds of families to leave their homes and their jobs to make room for a factory that has not given even a fraction of the amount to Haiti as it has taken. If the introduction of accountability is the way to go, then we first need to start talking. So Hillary, what do you have to say about Haiti?

 All views expressed are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Mind or of Clocks and Clouds.

Who Does Foreign Aid… Aid?

Foreign aid matters, and it surely bears heavily upon this upcoming election cycle, but its beneficiaries are often less clear than one would think
By Deborah Carey
In the midst of terrorist attacks and domestic economic debates, foreign aid and its implementation has not been a prioritized talking point in America’s election this upcoming November. However politicians on both sides of the aisle have stated the importance of foreign aid throughout recent history. In April, even rock star Bono appealed to the senate, encouraging senators to increase foreign aid expenditure. So is foreign aid really that important? If so, why has it been minimally discussed in debates for the presidential bid this year?
In the broadest sense of the phrase, foreign aid is defined as “assistance (as economic aid) provided by one nation to another.” Throughout history it has allowed the United States to have a stake in the political decisions of other countries, curb global epidemics, and create wealth in other countries, among other results. It is no secret that the amount of aid the U.S. gives to each country often directly correlates with our interests abroad. We have also engaged in humanitarian foreign aid to build relationships with other governments. In their article, Benjamin Goldsmith, Uysaku Horiuchi, and Terence Wood argue that foreign public opinion is favorable toward the United States when we “do good” in other countries, which benefits Americans abroad and our foreign policy in the long run. Bill Clinton emphasized this idea when he spoke to Stephen Colbert about the Clinton Global Initiative and stated that in his work, there is no difference between selfish and selfless, because “selfless” work innately benefits us as global citizens. However while foreign aid can be a great tool that demonstrates the American values of creating a more prosperous, free world, it is also a large point of contention.
Foreign aid is not always used effectively. In 1987, Ronald Reagan made a speech opposing the mismanagement of foreign aid funds, stating “with this money we bought a yacht for Haile Selassie.” There are many examples of mismanagement of development funds, especially before the 1990s. In his book The Politics of United States Foreign Aid, George Guess names more examples of wasteful spending, such as when “Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos illegally diverted nearly $2 million in interest […] for his unsuccessful re-election bid in February, 1986.” Foreign aid spending dropped in the 1990s, but increased again in the 21st century with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Since this time, more safeguards have been instituted to ensure the responsible spending of foreign aid funds. To increase transparency in foreign aid spending, a new official government website reports all foreign aid data expenditures and breaks down funding by country and type of aid assistance. Development projects have also been increasingly contracted out to third party organizations that have greater oversight capacity to manage projects funded by foreign aid. So while improvements should still be made, foreign aid spending has had progressively more oversight since it was expanded after World War II.
Regardless of these changes in implementation, foreign aid is a highly unpopular concept. In 2014 the U.S. gave a total of $32 billion in foreign aid to other countries. While this sounds like a large amount, it was only 0.19% of the U.S. national income. The U.S. gives the most foreign aid in dollar value, however we fall short of other countries’ generosity in terms of aid as a percent of national income. Sweden gives the highest percentage of foreign aid: 1.1% of their national income. Israel scored the lowest, spending just 0.07% of their national income on foreign aid. In reality the U.S. is average in its foreign aid expenditure, relative to national income. However Americans do not perceive aid this way. The Kaiser Family Foundation polled 1,505 random Americans and found that, on average, most Americans believed 26% of our federal budget goes to foreign aid—more than all of military spending, education, transportation, and veteran’s benefits put together.
Considering these misconceptions about foreign aid, it is easier to understand why an important topic like foreign aid, so capable of shaping international opinion of the US, has not been a greater priority in Election 2016. Both candidates address their foreign aid positions on their websites. Hillary Clinton refers to foreign aid as a component of her formula for “smart power” in her statement “we have to use every pillar of American power – military might but also diplomacy, development aid, economic and cultural influence, technology, and the force of our values, that is smart power.” Donald Trump directly mentioned aid in his bid announcement when he stated: “It is necessary that we invest in our infrastructure, stop sending foreign aid to countries that hate us and use that money to rebuild our tunnels, roads, bridges, and schools.” By “countries that hate us,” Trump is likely referring to Pakistan and Egypt, two of the largest recipients of foreign aid. Most—almost half—of the aid we give to each of these two countries is categorized for “peace and security.” That is what can be so confusing about foreign aid. There is no specification within the term for what is given in military aid, and what is given in humanitarian and infrastructure assistance.
President Obama has proposed that foreign aid should be combined with the defense budget, since the multifaceted wellbeing of other nations and their citizens is vital to America’s national security. Obama’s assertion, combined with the statements by both candidates, suggests that the American people support foreign aid when politicians frame it as a power-inducing factor to America’s national security. To revisit my initial question regarding foreign aid’s nonexistence in presidential debates this past election, what I least expected in starting this research has seemed to be true—fundamentally, foreign aid is a nonissue in this election, with both candidates viewing it as a similar tool, from different sides of the aisle.
It could also be the case that recent events in Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino, and Orlando, and the nativist sentiments that followed, do not allow for discussion of spending more money on aid that would not directly result in greater safety for Americans. However Bush’s support of PEPFAR to reduce the AIDS epidemic, Obama’s “Power Africa” program, America’s support of other countries after national disasters, and funding to make elections in budding democracies more transparent are efforts that do not go unnoticed globally. By framing foreign aid as solely an endeavor for power, we may miss out on opportunities to make deeper partnerships, greater developmental advancements, and participate in the successes of lesser-developed nations. While it is strategic to use foreign aid to make America more powerful, it is just as beneficial in the long run to use our power to promote—and fund—aid projects that reflect American ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness beyond our own borders. To our presidential candidates, it may be time to debate aid, and all categories of it, more in-depth. After all, foreign aid matters, and not just to voting Americans.
 All views expressed are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Mind or of Clocks and Clouds.