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The Donald Trump Candidacy in Historical Perspective: Prospects for the Republicans 1854-2016? (Part N)

Updated on August 24, 2016
wingedcentaur profile image

The first step is to know what you do not know. The second step is to ask the right questions. I reserve the right to lean on my ignorance.


Still More on the Good Cop-Bad Cop Squeeze

I feel compelled to say yet a few more words on what I have called the "Good Cop-Bad Cop Squeeze." As I see it, my thesis is not very different from a conclusion reached earlier by scholar, author, and activist, Tariq Ali. His general characterization of the way politics has moved over, say, the past twenty years, in both Europe and America can be thought of as a configuration he calls the radical center.

Those of you who have been following this series know that I've been saying this: One several kinds of policy issues, in the United States of America, the Democrats and Republicans can be observed to be engaged in the old "Good Cop-Bad Cop" dance, coming at the "suspect" from two supposedly different directions to finally "break him" and get him to "confess."

I have said that a true basis of contestation between the two parties has disappeared. We no longer have a Franklin D. Roosevelt-style Democratic power that at least challenges corporate power; and that we no longer have a Democratic party that forcefully and openly advocates for domestic human rights (LGBT rights, women's rights, minority, working class, and poor people concerns. A somewhat oversimplified way to say it is: Neoliberalism has shifted politics to the Right.

Because we no longer have a party that challenges concentrated corporate power or openly advocates for domestic human (or civil) rights, the left-right discourse has no productive tension which moves society progressively forward. Instead, the left-right discourse has a disciplinary effect on those elements at the bottom of society that the corporate community would like disciplined.

I have offered the immigration "debate" as a classic example of this. I would venture to say that there is no immigration "reform," because that simply is not the goal of the discourse. Imagine right-wing fire-breathers like Donald Trump (Republican) as the "Bad Cop" on this issue; and imagine the more "reasonable," humane, "path-to-citizenship" school Hilary Clinton (Democrat) as the "Good Cop" on the matter of "immigration reform."

The suspects are migrant Mexican laborers---undocumented or otherwise, who everybody knows the American economy so very badly needs.

What are the Good Cop and Bad Cop trying to get the suspect to do?

Keep their heads down, cooperate, stay out of trouble, and do hassle their employers too much by insisting on human treatment in spite of their dubious legal status.

If your employers works you eighteen hours a day in 120 degree weather: grin and bear it.

If your employer "forgets" to pay you for four months while holding on to your passport: grin and bear it. Don't cause a ruckus!

And so on and so forth.

What this means is that you never know what you are getting when you vote. You may vote for someone on the basis of her "reasonable approach" to immigration. But that is less than half the story. Reasonableness will not be what you get, even if your choice of candidate gets elected because she has to interact with the right-wing fire-breathers both inside and outside of government.

And you must understand that she, as the "Good Cop," is not absolutely "good." She is merely coming at the "suspect" (Mexicans) from another tactical angle, in concert with the "badness" of the "Bad Cop."

Does that make sense? I'm summarizing. I've developed this theory of the course of four or five previous installments in this series.

In any event, Tariq Ali speaks of the "radical center," as I have said. What he means by that is that there has been a convergence, a meeting of the minds of the "center-left" and the "center-right"; and that except for some cultural issues, they agree on major issues of life and death, crime and punishment, economic structure, societal structure, and war and peace.

What results from this weird, ideological melting pot, Mr. Ali says, is the de-politicization of politics, in which you have political parties that have no clear differences between, that are pale imitations of each other and caricatures of themselves.

This, in turn, says Tariq Ali, leads to a de-politicization of the public. That is because the official political landscape---under these neoliberal-ized conditions---leaves so very little to choose from. With so very little choice before them, people wonder why they should even bother voting.

I agree with that thesis in its entirety. But I would go a little further. This is a minor point, but I would say that there is a strange way in which the center-left and center-right even, sort of, kind of agree on cultural issues---that is, they agree in outline as to how they should be discussed.

I will return to this point later on. But for now, I'd like to get a couple of other examples of the Good Cop-Bad Cop Squeeze out of the way.

One of the things I say, in my thesis about the Good Cop-Bad Cop Squeeze, is that the phenomena are facilitated by the American tendency to insist upon the conceptual separation of politics and economics.

To that point, a very fine political-economist, Kevin Phillips, wrote in one of his books the following:

"Between 1970 and 1979, Middle Eastern countries accounted for $57 billion in new foreign military sales orders, close to two-thirds of the U.S. total for those years" (1).

A summary of the opinion of various research institutes monitoring this kind of this went like this: 'the Middle East has become the world's premier weapons market, accounting for approximately half of all arms transfers to the Third World between 1976 and 1980' (2). As CIA director in 1976, George H.W. Bush had been closely involved in the peak period of U.S. arms sales to the Shah of Iran (3).

Congress blocked high-tech sales to Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Reagan administration countered by reducing the restrictions on what advanced technology could be sold to which buyers (4).

Stay with me now!

James Buckley, Undersecretary of State for Security Assistance told the Aerospace Industries Association, in 1981, that the administration flatly rejected the idea that arms sales were 'inherently evil or morally reprehensible' (5). This is that conceptual separation of politics and economics piece I was telling you about.

If the administration was "rejecting" the idea, there must have been parties making the case that certain arms sales to certain governments was inherently evil or morally reprehensible.

James Buckley went on to say; 'This administration believes that arms transfers, judiciously applied, can complement and supplement our own defense efforts and serve as a vital and constructive instrument of our foreign policy' (6).

Kevin Phillips tells us what the Undersecretary meant by a "judiciously applied... vital and constructive... foreign policy." He wrote:

"The United States steadily raised its funding through the CIA --- from $30 million in 1984 to $634 million in 1987 --- for mujahideen rebels fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, sums that were matched by the Saudis. With Vice President George H.W. Bush taking a lead role, the United States also began clandestinely supplying Iraq in its 1980-88 war with Iran" (7).

Here's the part that really interests me, where Mr. Phillips writes: "James Adams, defense correspondent of the Sunday Times of London reported 'an extraordinary feeding frenzy by the sharks of the arms business. Fifty countries sold arms to the protagonists in the war. Of these fifty, four countries sold only to Iraq, eighteen to Iran and twenty-eight, including France, China, Italy, South Africa, Britain, the United States and West Germany, sold weapons to both sides'" (8).

I'll only say this: While this example may not exactly fit into my Good Cop-Bad Cop Squeeze thesis, it certainly qualifies as "playing both sides against the middle," as it were. Furthermore, there are few things more sleazy in this life than selling arms to both sides in a war. But this is a blind spot in foreign policy, again, facilitated by the insistence that politics and economics are two separate and distinctly unrelated spheres of activity where never the twain shall meet. And this conceptual separation of the two spheres of human activity is a core ingredient Good Cop-Bad Cop Squeeze.

If you go back to the Kennedy administration, we can see that his foreign policy contained, in Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde fashion, the Good Cop and Bad Cop elements.

Twentieth-century historian, William H. Chafe, gave a summary of the Kennedy foreign policy in this vein.

"While the Peace Corps represented the benevolent side of Kennedy's commitment to activism, counterinsurgency embodied its more insidious dimensions" (9).

In other words, the Peace Corp was the "Good Cop" arm of policy; and counterinsurgency, beings its "more insidious" aspect, was the "Bad Cop" arm of the Kennedy foreign policy.

Dr. Chafe continued:

"In January 1961, Nikita Khruschev had proclaimed Soviet support for wars of national liberation all over the globe and then proceeded to boast of Russian success in such ventures. The best way to combat such a threat, Kennedy and his aides concluded, was to outperform the Soviets in the skills of infiltration, guerrilla warfare, and mobilization of indigenous nationalistic factions. Operating on the assumption that every local civil conflict was a manifestation of the larger global confrontation between the United States and the U.S.S.R., Kennedy envisioned elite fighting units like the Green Berets as winning 'brush-fire' wars where traditional military units had no place" (10).

We're talking about the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union, circa 1945-1990.

Going on, same passage:

"Just as the Peace Corp would recruit the best of America's young minds to wage the struggle for American superiority through education and technical expertise, the Special Forces would mobilize the most daring and tough-minded young soldiers to carry forward the military and political war against the Soviet efforts to control movements for national liberation" (11).

We notice, in that, the Good Cop-Bad Cop/"carrot and stick" foreign policy approaches embedded in the Kennedy policy. But when you think about it, this policy really doesn't differ all that much from any administration's policy since the start of the Cold War (most scholars agree now that it started in 1917, with the Bolshevik Revolution, and with the interruption of World War Two, continued until about 1990 --- roughly 73 years) to its end; and to a certain extent, beyond.

What on "God's Green Earth" am I talking about?!?!?!?!?!

The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union (circa 1917 - 1990)

  • From one perspective, the United States played the role of "Good Cop" and the Soviet Union played the role of "Bad Cop."
  • From another perspective, though, as is natural, the Soviet Union played the role of "Good Cop" and Uncle Sam played the role of "Bad Cop."
  • But the problem with this scenario (either version) --- although I am not necessarily saying it is wrong --- is that this is a Good Cop and Bad Cop that were not working together, in any way that I am aware of. It is not clear to me what their "combined goal" would have been. Does that make sense?

However, I think it is safe to say that both the United States and the Soviets had "Good Cop" and "Bad Cop" tools in their foreign policy arsenals --- as we just saw with the Kennedy administration.

I cannot speak authoritatively about the former Soviet Union, but I assume they had a similar foreign policy tool box.

If the United States foreign policy featured "Good Cop" and "Bad Cop" tools, regardless of the party of the administration ensconced in the White House at the time, and regardless of the ideological tilt of the administration (liberal or conservative or something called "moderate" or "centrist"), then the following question arises:

Who were the "suspects" upon which the "Good Cop" and "Bad Cop" tools put to work?

The entire "nonaligned" developing world, or "Third World." All those countries in Africa, Eastern Europe, parts of Asia, and Latin America that had not already picked a side.

What were the Good Cop and Bad Cop trying to get the "suspects" to do?

The Good Cop was clearly the bribe, the promise of the benefits of joining with the U.S.-Western side. The Bad Cop was clearly the punishment and threat of punishment that would befall a country for choosing "wrongly" and going with the Soviets.

The idea behind the nonaligned movement was that there were some countries that wanted to escape the binary, reductive, "you're with us or against us," ping pong ball logic of the Cold War.

Remember, assuming that the Soviets were doing something similar---that they utilized both Good Cop/Bad Cop tools---this might mean that national "suspects" had gone through the wringer more than once.

Imagine a police department picking up a person suspect of murder, taking him down to the station and "sweating" him with the approach we've been talking about

Now imagine that another police department---Country Sheriff's Office, say---takes custody of the same suspect, on the grounds that he couldn't have committed murder, at the time mentioned, because at that time, he and a gang were robbing an electronics warehouse. And the Sheriff's Office sweats him using the Good Cop-Bad Cop technique.

Now imagine that the FBI came in and took charge of the same suspect, saying that there is no way he could have been committing murder, or robbing a warehouse, because he was passing bad checks in Phoenix.

Then imagine that it turned out that the "suspect" was innocent of all three crimes.

Question: With the end of the Cold War, has U.S. foreign policy stopped viewing the developing world as "suspect"?

The obvious place to turn for an answer to that question is, say, the National Security Strategy of 2002 (you can readily Google the document).

Well, first of all, good news. The Cold War really is over. We know that because "[t]he great struggles of the twentieth century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom---and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise" (12).

We have two side pretty well laid out. The Strategy tells us that:

"In the twenty-first century only nations that share a commitment to protecting basic human rights and guaranteeing political and economic freedom will be able to unleash the potential of their people and assure their future prosperity" (13).

That is one side broadly constructed by the vision. But not everyone shares these "values of freedom." They have their "enemies."

"Today, the United States enjoys a position of unparalleled military strength and great economic and political influence" (14).

The United States sees itself as a kind of first among equals of the "nations that share a commitment to protecting basic human rights and guaranteeing political and economic freedom."

The document continues: "In keeping with our heritage and principles, we do not use our strength to press for unilateral advantage. We seek instead to create a balance of power that favors human freedom: conditions in which all nations and all societies can choose for themselves the rewards and challenges of political and economic liberty. In a world that is safe, people will be able to make their own lives better" (15).

On one side you have: The United States, exemplifying and leading "the nations that share a commitment to protecting basic human rights and guaranteeing political and economic freedom."

The "suspects" are: All those countries that have, as yet, to "choose for themselves the rewards and challenges of political and economic liberty."

"We will defend the peace by fighting terrorists and tyrants," the Strategy says. "We will preserve the peace by building good relations among the great powers. We will extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent" (16).

On the other side you have: "Terrorists and tyrants."

Question: Will individual nations be allowed to opt for "nonaligned" status?

Survey says: "The war against terrorists of global reach is a global enterprise of uncertain duration. America will help that need our assistance in combatting terror. And America will hold to account nations that are compromised by terror, including those who harbor terrorists---because the allies of terror are the enemies of civilization. The United States and countries cooperating with us must not allow the terrorists to develop new home bases. Together, we will seek to deny them sanctuary at every turn" (17).

That would be a No, since the terrorists must not be allowed to "develop new home bases" and must be denied "sanctuary at every turn."

In the U.S. toolbox will be those "Good Cop" tools, designed to "encourage free and open societies on every continent" to "choose for themselves the rewards and challenges of political and economic liberty" --- whatever economic and political "carrots" the United States might toss their way.

The "Bad Cop" tools, are surely those designed to "hold to account nations that are compromised by terror, including those who harbor terrorists---because the allies of terror are the enemies of civilization." The Bad Cop tools will be whatever punitive or "stick" measures the U.S. might throw at the fence-sitters.

We have unfinished business. On to Part O.

Thank you for reading!


1. Phillips, Kevin. American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, And The Politics Of Deceit In The House of Bush. Viking, 2004. 263

2. ibid

3. ibid

4. ibid, 264

5. ibid

6. ibid

7. ibid

8. ibid

9. Chafe, William H. The Unfinished Journey: American Since World War II. Oxford University Press, 1995. (paperback). 197

10. ibid

11. ibid

12. (2002, September). The National Security Strategy Of The United States Of America. Retrieved August 23, 2016.

13. ibid

14. ibid

15. ibid

16. ibid

17. ibid


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    • wingedcentaur profile image

      William Thomas 13 months ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

      Thank you for the kind praise. I'm glad the piece provided some useful perspective.

      Thanks again.


    • norlawrence profile image

      Norma Lawrence 13 months ago from California

      Excellent article. The illegals are needed where I live to do the farm work. For lack of a better word the "white people" will not work in the fields around here anymore. They have not for years. They complain the Mexicans took their jobs away but they would not do the work. This has developed into a very bad situation. Thanks