America was a ‘stan’ long before Trump

Paul Krugman et al conveniently forget that corruption, cronyism and contempt for the rule of law long predated Trump.

Annual press conference of Russian President Putin
US commentators have claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin groomed Donald Trump for the US presidency for years, writes Mitrovica [EPA]

Apparently, for a host of “progressive” writers, American history began on November 8, 2016.

People and events before that notorious date have been forgotten or marginalised, in effect, to sanitise America’s not-so-distant past in order to paint an apocalyptic picture of its not-too-distant future as US president-elect Donald Trump prepares for his inauguration.

These writers aren’t principally seized by a lazy, predictable historical revisionism – although there’s certainly an irritating dose of that, to be sure – but rather a wilful amnesia that has infected their thinking and writing like a synapsis-sapping virus.

Lately, that contagion has contaminated the thinking and writing of marquee New York Times columnist and “progressive” Paul Krugman.

Earlier this week, Krugman penned a piece suggesting that America – with Trump and his fellow feather-bedding “cronies” manning the state’s cash register – is destined to morph quickly into one of those garish, “tin pot” “Central Asian” “regimes”, or “stans” for short.

Krugman’s satiric abbreviation was instantly and wildly popular with his fellow progressives as the derisive column ricocheted quickly and widely on social media.

But Krugman’s column proves that even Nobel prize-winning economists can conveniently forget the past in the smug, grating service of American hubris and exceptionalism.


Look, Trump is an unabashed reflection of what America is and will continue to be – whether Krugman and company are prepared to admit it or not. America was a “stan” long before the Manhattan megalomaniac was elected president by more than 62 million Americans chomping to install their “stan”-like version of a tin-pot “dictator” into the White House.

Still, I don’t recall any of the other “stans” invading and subsequently destroying a sovereign nation and its people based on cooked-up “intelligence”.

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I don’t recall the other “stans” setting up “black sites” across the globe where countless people were shipped like pieces of baggage to be tortured out of the Red Cross’s sight or those pesky, irrelevant human rights conventions.

I don’t recall the other “stans” secretly hauling Muslim and Arab men – many of them innocent – to a gulag at Guantanamo Bay without charge to rot, to be tortured, go mad or commit suicide.

I don’t recall the other “stans” unilaterally ordering extrajudicial killings by way of remote drones and having to apologise repeatedly and pay compensation for massacring children, women and men who thought they were attending a wedding, not their summary executions.  

I don’t recall the other “stans” engineering the near collapse of the global financial system because of the insatiable avarice of mostly middle-aged, pinstripe suit-wearing con men on Wall Street.

I could go on, but you and, perhaps, Krugman get the point.   

Forgetting inconvenient truths

Like other pedestrian polemicists, Krugman begins his oh-so-pithy column with the oh-so-pithy caricature of Turkmenistan’s president cementing, as it were, his “cult of personality” with a gaudy, oversized sculpture of himself on horseback.

Turkmenistan’s resident narcissist-in-chief could have carved, I suppose, a 60ft-high, granite likeness of himself into a mountainside as a permanent ode to his greatness like, say, presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln at Mount Rushmore.

Of course, when Americans do the chiselling to immortalise, while simultaneously scrubbing the nasty parts from their mythic, heroic leaders’ visages, it’s called art. When others do it, particularly in those authoritarian “stans”, it’s called ugly, self-aggrandising kitsch.        

Not surprisingly, in Krugman’s calculus, Trump would be comfortably at home in any of the kitsch-loving “stans” since he fashions himself as “strongman” surrounded by a clique of wealthy crony capitalists intent on capitalising from their cozy access to the gilded throne.

“Donald Trump seems to be assembling a team of cronies, choosing billionaires with obvious, deep conflicts of interest for many key positions in his administration,” Krugman wrote.

A perfunctory grasp of recent history reveals that Trump won’t be the first US president to populate his administration with rich, white men inclined to enrich themselves at the expense of America’s “national” interest.

My goodness, have Dick Cheney and Haliburton receded that far into the distance that Krugman and all of his sanctimonious fans have already forgotten Darth Cheney’s profitable escapades? If any major US political figure is the walking, talking, possibly war-crime committing definition of a “strongman”, it is Cheney.    

Not done airbrushing, Krugman wrote this astonishing paragraph: “But let’s get real. Everything we know suggests that we’re entering an era of epic corruption and contempt for the rule of law, with no restraint whatsoever.”

It’s astonishing because Krugman appears to be suggesting that the systemic, deeply entrenched nexus of corporate and political malfeasance that led to the savings and loans crisis during the 1980s and 90s and the collapse of the subprime mortgage market in 2008 that triggered another depression, somehow don’t constitute “epic corruption”, nor are they classic examples of an unrestrained “contempt for the rule of law”. 

If memory serves, not one of the rogues’ gallery of white-collar architects of the financial meltdown a decade ago has been charged, let alone seen the inside of a prison cell in the time since. So much for America’s shining, pre-Trump notion of probity and the “rule of law”.

Let’s get real, indeed.

To provide himself with some factual cover, Krugman makes passing reference to the calamitous Iraq war, as well as the “cronyism” endemic to the Clinton and Bush administrations. Krugman buries these inconvenient truths in his column.

Progressive conspiracies

Taking their cue from Krugman, other amnesiacs wailed on Twitter and elsewhere that the House Republicans’ ramshackle and unsuccessful attempt to “gut” the Office of Congressional Ethics amounted to a blatant scheme to “legalise” corruption on Capitol Hill.

These hyperventilating progressives are blissfully ignoring the fact that generations of Democrats and Republicans have conspired openly to make Capitol Hill an ethics-free zone, where real crimes perpetrated by real power are rarely, if ever, prosecuted.

Beyond re-writing history, progressives have recently been busy channelling one of America’s more odious charlatans, Joe McCarthy.

Employing McCarthy-like innuendo and fantastical, thread-thin connections, writers for so-called “elite” news organisations are seriously claiming that Trump has been “groomed” for decades by Vladimir Putin, who has waited patiently to elevate his orange-haired poodle into the Oval Office.   

As supposed evidence of Trump’s closet treachery, progressives have cited Trump’s and his son’s business trips to Moscow and that Ivanka Trump was reportedly introduced to her future husband by a woman who is now allegedly Putin’s lover. Connect the ephemeral dots and there you have it – Trump emerges as the modern-day Manchurian candidate guilty of being “compromised”: a polite euphemism for treason.   

Move over Joe and blathering Alex Jones, you’ve got conspiratorial company, not on the lunatic fringes of the web, but in mainstream media.

Progressives, it seems, aren’t immune to Trump’s penchant for hyperbolic smears, wacky conspiracy theories and contagious stupidity.

Andrew Mitrovica is an award-winning investigative reporter and journalism instructor.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.