Can you obstruct justice publicly? Political and Legal Wrongdoing in the Media Age

The Mueller investigation introduced a whole new line of inquiry into the analysis of the Media Age and government accountability. It asked a question not often pondered by media and political pundits: does the secrecy of an act define the boundary of a legal or political wrongdoing? This puzzle was brought abruptly into focus by the Mueller’s report, which pointed out that many of the instances under the special counsel’s consideration were conducted in broad daylight. It must have been difficult for the independent counsel to indict a president for the confessing that he was thinking about “this Russia thing” when he decided to terminate FBI director James Comey, given that the statement was made voluntarily to millions of TV viewers. Thus, it is important for political scientists to recalibrate the analytical tools to answer the question: does speaking publicly reduce the offensiveness of an act, which, if committed in private, would arguably have been more reprehensible?

The most balanced and intricate analyses of the “communicative abundance” and democracy points out that the media’s role in holding the government to account is profoundly ambiguous (Keane 2013). The analytical narrative in this case is always a balancing act between the media used by the elites to manipulate public opinion and the media shedding light on the unguarded and candid private moments of the politicians (Green 2009). In one arguable instance, investigative reporting helped suggest an alternative avenue to legal logic. Attorney General Barr argued that no obstruction of justice was committed, because there was no collusion. This conclusion is based on the presumption that the president’s only possible motivation to obstruct the investigation was to prevent collusion from being uncovered. But Vicky Ward’s investigative reporting, and this is how the media aspect comes in, suggests an alternative explanation. The journalist states that it was not the president, who was most keen on dismissing FBI director James Comey, but his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and it was not collusion that Kushner was afraid of, but underlying conflicts of interest. Thus, it is still possible that the president obstructed justice to prevent the uncovering of crimes that were tangentially related to collusion issue, but did not directly stem from it. In making this episode publicly known, investigative reporting truly lived up to the common expectations for a “watchdog,” “virtuous circle” or “information function” of the media. But there is one more function that is not so common, and it is equally important: the “forum connecting function”connects media, public, legal and political forums and enables them to reinforce each other. Here, media logic supplemented or rather replaced the legal logic inherent in Barr’s report by introducing a different type of reasoning that competed with that of the Attorney General.

In other instances, however, the media make the boundary between legal and political wrongdoing murkier rather than clearer. Again, the inquiry introduced on this occasion is very different from conventional avenues of treating the negative effect of the Media Age on government accountability. Traditionally, the negatives would be summed up by either the “tribune function” of the media, which allows politicians to spin their guilt and avoid blame, or the “mediatisation function” of the media, which makes politicians choose policies that click with voters in the short run, even if they are not beneficial in the long run. But the obstruction of justice case does not fit in either of these analytical narratives. Instead, it poses the following conundrum: when a statement is made in the public sphere, and some events, which are thematically related to it, occur afterwards, does this temporal sequence imply or does not imply a causal sequence? It is hard to ascertain whether there is a causal relationship between presidential candidate Trump’s public call for Russia to find Clinton’s emails, on the one hand, and FBI reports that Russian agents activated themselves to pursue this line of action in the immediate aftermath of that statement, on the other hand. Because the causal connection between media statements and real life events is hard to establish, it is subsequently difficult to figure out whether the reverse is true, i.e. whether anybody should feel beholden for a favour that was done to him without personally and secretly asking for it but explicating it on TV.  Thus, it remains unclear whether the current president feels indebted to ingratiate US foreign policy with Russia, just because Russian agents have attempted to help his election campaign after watching the president “make a joke” about Russia uncovering Clinton’s stolen emails. We need a debate whetherjust because the request was made on national TV, is it any less blameworthy?

The ambiguity arising from the intersection between the media, politics and the law is embedded in an even greater uncertainty. The Founding Fathers referred to this paradox with the question “who will guard the guardians?” and in the present situation it translates into the following puzzle: how can anyone head an investigation that potentially investigates and incriminates him? Politically speaking, the elected head of state has the authority and indeed the obligation to appoint the people he sees fit to be FBI director and attorney general. Thus, the decision to appoint William Barr, who has written a 19 page memo that in a way prefigures the conclusions of the Mueller report, long before seeing the Mueller report, is undoubtedly President Trump’s prerogative. Legally speaking, however, no one should be put in a situation to investigate himself, even through intermediaries.  Given political and legal ambiguity shrouding this investigation, Robert Mueller’s decision to shed the most legally identifiable issues to federal prosecutors and hand the politically fuzzier issues to the attorney general, and possibly, Congress, the public, and, in the long-run, the 2020 electorate, appears reasonable.

One positive takeaway emerges from all the ambiguity. The interconnectedness between media, political and legal issues does contribute to a more fact-based public discourse. If Mueller’s team laid out the evidence on both sides, and based it on an overwhelming number of witness accounts, then the legal contribution is to anchor the ensuing public debate on a factual basis, which would replace the hitherto speculative or even ideological basis of prior discourse. There is one caveat- the Mueller report, just as the Starr report- needs to be made public. If it is the Habermasian “public sphere” will get that much more informed. It is possible that facts would eventually be interpreted in an ideological or political manner, but this would still be a far cry from making up the facts in an ideological or political manner. Legal contributions in the age of spectatorship are not always calibrated in terms of indictments.  They can also provide glimpses into unguarded moments of the politicians, which then take a public life of their own.

Dr Gergana Dimova, Lecturer, University of Winchester, United Kingdom

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Call for Papers: Europe and the Everyday: Grassroots Experience and Mobilisation

The UACES CRN “Europe and the Everyday” (EUEve) invites proposals for its third workshop at the University of Leicester, UK. The workshop will take place on the 21st of September 2018.
 
After examining Europe and the politics of crisis, which engaged questions on (1) how to research Europe and the everyday (Aston University) and (2) alternative visions of Europe and challenges to liberal and democratic ideas (Canterbury Christ Church University), EUEve launches a Call for Papers on everyday experiences.
 
The geographic focus is broad in order to map a range of lived experiences of “Europe” at the grassroots, and to study how the idea of Europe changes and shifts in moments of crises. We will consider the most pertinent examples such as the impact of Europeanization, and how to re-think this concept, how EU policies and structures shape everyday life in Greece, and Southern Europe, as well acceding countries of the Western Balkans. Whilst the rich literature on Europeanization continues to engage scholars in debates about how European norms, values, practices and policies shape and influence domestic politics and structures, far less is known about the impact of “Europe” and “Europeanization” (ie: for instance, “How have refugees from Syria and elsewhere experienced their arrival in Europe, particularly in Eastern Europe and how have indigenous communities reacted to the arrival of refugees?”). The central focus of the workshop is the relationship between different EU-level politics, policies, structures, actors and hierarchies and how diverse experiences, movements, communities and individuals engage with them.
 
Research themes and questions contributions would address include:
  1. The emergence, challenges and limits for grassroots movements and/or grassroots transnational movements;
  2. How do alternative visions of Europe affect, change and/or challenge existing dominant discourses and patterns?
  3. What type of narratives can marginalize, silence and exclude “others”? And how do the same “others” react and engage with the social and political space?
  4. How is “Europe” entrenched in local spaces, cities and neighbourhoods, and what spatial or geographic evidence can we observe?
  5. What is the transformative power of Europe towards spaces and actors in the everyday experiences?
We invite paper proposals from PhD students, early career researchers and senior academics.
 
The workshop will take place on the 21st of September 2018 at the University of Leicester, UK. Reasonable travel and accommodation expenses for PhD students will be covered, where applicable.
 
Please send an abstract of no more than 300 words and a short biography or no more than 300 words (including your full contact details and affiliation) to Europeevecrn@gmail.com. The deadline for applications is the 15th June 2018. 
 
For more information on the UACES CRN on “Europe and the Everyday (EUEve)” please see: https://europeandtheeveryday.wordpress.com/
 
We look forward to receiving and reviewing your abstracts!
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EUEve Academics participate in discussion on federalism in Myanmar

Two  members of the Europe and Everyday CRN – Dr Soeren Keil and Paul Anderson, both of Canterbury Christ Church University’s Politics and International Relations department, – in collaboration with UN Women, the Hanns Seidel Foundation – Myanmar and the Centre for Development and Ethnic Studies, have recently been involved in discussions about the democratisation, peace-building and federalisation process in Myanmar/Burma.

Dr Soeren Keil, Reader in Politics and IR and co-organiser of the EUEve CRN was the Academic Lead for a new Myanmar Federalism Leadership Programme (MFLP), a 10-day programme to prepare activists from civil society, the administration, ethnic armed organisations and political parties for the future discussions on federalism in the country. This is particularly timely, as the next round of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference is scheduled for January 2018. Soeren worked in Nay Pyi Taw, the country’s capital city, from 16-26 November 2017. He represented Canterbury Christ Church at the event, and was in charge of multiple lectures, discussion rounds and inputs. After his work at the MFLP, Soeren participated in two further events, one with a number of civil society activists in Yangon (Rangoon) from 3-5 December 2017 on ‘Advanced Discussions on Federalism’, and another event as a training and discussion forum with the civil society forum for peace, a collection of several NGOs from across Burma.

Paul Anderson, PhD student in Politics and International Relations and communications officer for the EUEve CRN, also contributed to the MFLP with a lecture on autonomy, secession and minority rights, with particular reference to Scotland and Catalonia. In addition to this, Paul spent five days (20 to 24 November) at the Lower Myanmar Civil Service Campus in Phaunggyi, training 35 civil servants on the topics of democracy, decentralisation and federalism.

Both Soeren and Paul shared their expertise on the topics of decentralisation, federalism and territorial autonomy, drawing upon the some of the main themes of the EUEve CRN including crisis and everyday experiences. They have become well respected experts in the country, sharing their knowledge and expertise with a number of actors in the peace process, including leading NGOs, ethnic armed organisations and the civil service.

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Roma Stigmatisation as a Mobilising Tool for Noua Dreaptă in Timişoara, Romania

The social, political and economic restructuring that followed the collapse of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union had dramatic and lasting effects, providing fertile ground for the far right. Membership of the EU brought new opportunities to the countries of Eastern Europe, as well as heightened levels of scrutiny and demands for transparency. However, the onset of the global financial crisis from 2007, combined with a broader challenge to democratic norms, strengthened the claims of populist movements of the left and right. Far right movements have capitalised on this opportunity across Europe, claiming to challenge the actions of the elite in the interests of the people and gaining representation in countries such as diverse as Austria, Greece and Poland. Such groups emerge in periods of political uncertainty and fluidity, playing on themes of nativism and ethnic purity to advance their interests. They are motivated by a range of issues including unemployment, housing, and changes in socio-cultural patterns.

Romania has seen a flourishing of nationalist and far right attitudes following the removal of Nicolae Ceauşescu in December 1989. Politicians such as Vadim Tudor of the Partidul România Mare (Greater Romania Party) were prominent during the early transition period, fading from view as the country joined the EU. As the benefits of EU membership have been muted by the effects of the financial crisis, far right groups have gained more purchase by drawing on dissatisfaction amongst the population. One such group is Noua Dreaptă (ND – New Right). Founded in 1999, the group draws on fascist, interwar imagery to build a state which is ethnically pure, deemed to be serving the interests of the native Romanian population. ND has been able to generate a support base across Romania by appealing to the need to protect such identities, with the formation of a political party (Partidul Noua Dreaptă – New Right Party) in 2015 suggesting normalisation in order to gain political representation.

As the practices and claims of such groups are rooted in local realities it is necessary to consider the actions of ND in a particular location. Timişoara is a city in the Banat region of Western Romania, a region generally given as a model of good ethnic relationships. It was the seat of the 1989 Revolution that saw the removal of Ceauşescu, as protests and clashes with the security forces started there and spread across the country. The 2011 census recorded the city’s population as consisting of 86.79% Romanian, 5.12% Hungarian and 0.69% Roma. Vilification and stigmatisation of the Roma community has been a key issue for ND, as they claim that the rights of native Romanians have been sacrificed in favour of special treatment of Roma and other minorities. Such perceptions and associated stigmatisation are common across Europe, providing a foundation for the group to build on pre-existing identities and perceptions.

Two groups of Roma are targeted by the ND in Timişoara. First, middle class and lower-waged Roma families in Piaţa Traian, living in houses provided for rent under the 1995 Law of Nationalized Houses (and subsequent legislation) and purchased under the Restitution Law on Property. Secondly, wealthy Roma, labelled ‘Gypsy mafia’ by ND, were able to purchase land in Timişoara in the 2000s, also under auspices of the Restitution Law. Identity trumps socioeconomic considerations in ND’s presentation of claims against the Roma, as the lower-waged Roma are stigmatised as beggars and prostitutes, while wealthy Roma are seen as part of the mafia. Linking the stigmatisation of the Roma community to concerns around crime, security, and clan behaviour they built on existing feelings of threat and insecurity within the community. Framing their claims in terms of local issues in this way enables ND to connect ethnic identity to existing perceptions and socio-economic tensions in the community. Drawing on discontent and uncertainty regarding apparently uncontroversial issues, given the overt discourse against the Roma by local officials, the group is able to highlight and reinforce boundaries and divisions based on ethnicity.

The rise of far right groups has accelerated as the effects of the financial crisis have fostered disillusionment with politics and the rise of populist actors and claims. The Eastern European region has experienced significant upheaval in this regard, as the promises of democratisation have failed to materialise. The effects are reflected in the success of groups such as ND in Timişoara in generating support for their claims. In the case of ND, this has been achieved by its ability to tie claims to existing perceptions within society regarding a marginalised minority group, the Roma. ND are able to reinforce boundaries between the Roma community and the rest of the city’s population by drawing on culturally and historically recognised symbols. The group’s actions are framed by local concerns in order to mobilise potential supporters, while also harking back to idealised depictions of Romanian society. In habituating the population to their actions and demands, ND are increasingly able to normalise the claims being made. Stigmatisation of minority groups in this manner resonates across cases, demonstrating the way commonly accepted beliefs in society can be amplified to the detriment of those excluded.

 

Remus Creţan, West University of Timişoara, Romania remus.cretan@e-uvt.ro

Thomas O’Brien, Cranfield University at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom t.obrien@cranfield.ac.uk

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New Federalism project: ’50 Shades of Federalism’

Our co-convenor Dr. Soeren Keil and communications officer Paul Anderson have launched a new federalism project entitled, ’50 Shades of Federalism’.

Having identified five main themes – Case Studies, Conflict Resolution, Diversity Management, Policies and Theory – the central aim of this project is to provide succinct, easy accessible, high quality research articles free of charge. The research articles will feature discussions on a number of abstract and historical issues, as well as illuminate some of the contemporary dynamics in debates on federalism. Given that the study of federalism straddles a variety of disciplines, we seek to pursue a multidisciplinary approach with contributions from politician scientists, theorists and constitutional lawyers, some of whom are leading scholars in the field.

Check out and ‘like’ their Facebook page to keep up to date with the latest contributions – https://www.facebook.com/50-Shades-of-Federalism-581511078722000/ 

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Elections are Dead. Long Live Elections! What do the Mueller Investigation and the Catalan Referendum Protests Have in Common?

On the surface, the Mueller investigation into the Trump-Russia relations and the protests following the Catalan referendum violence for independence seem to be distant, disparate and unrelated events. However, they share one common, albeit implicit premise: both imply that elections are not the sine qua non for democracy. The voicing of discontent with the incumbents is no longer exclusively confined to retrospective electoral accountability. Instead, protests on the street, resorting to legal action and using independent counsellors’ or audit investigations are just a few of the myriad ways indicating the burgeoning anxiety about elections.

The Impotence of Elections: Is Political Science Playing Catch Up?

The study of elections in political science has been slow to recognize the withering salience of elections in politics. Yet, there are two unlikely and relatively unrecognised groups of scholars who were amongst the first to express these initial doubts: they rose from the ranks of public administration and area studies. They were recently joined by students of the ailing Western democracies.

How the “Accountability Revolution” Undercut Electoral Accountability

The field of public management should be credited for orchestrating the so-called accountability revolution (Brookings Institution 2013). The accountability revolution was a game changer in terms of shifting scholarly attention onto accountability and away from elections. Arguably, it was the main factor which transformed non-electoral accountability from a word with only limited “tempting rightness” (Pitkin 1967) into “the hallmark of modern democratic governance” (Dubnick & Frederickson 2011, 329).

 The Accountability Revolution undercut elections indirectly by pointing out that accountability has many shapes and forms, and that this diversity overshadows the importance of elections as the primary accountability mechanism.

It consisted in the broad recognition that there is:

(1) a great diversity of account-givers, meaning that the government is not a unitary actor and there are many ministers, departments that could be held accountable. The New Public Management, a 1980s paradigm which aimed to modernize the public sector, is largely responsible for this shift from a unitary government to a more pluralist governance (Pierre & Peters 2000).

(2) a great diversity of accountability forums, meaning that the locus of accountability stretches far beyond elections and parliament, and reaches out to Audit chambers (Schillemans 2011), European agencies and committees (Bovens 2010), guangos and intergovernmental bodies (Bevir 2010), public opinion (Hutchings 2005), NGOs (Edwards 2006) and the courts (Hirschl 2008). Keane (2009) notes the birth of nearly one hundred new types of power-scrutinizing institutions since 1945.

(3) a great diversity of accountability-holders, which means the electorate is not a homogenous whole, but there are many advocacy coalitions, stakeholders and movements that are willing to seek accountability from the government (Flinders 2001).

(4) a great diversity of criteria for holding the government to account, such as financial accountability, accountability for fairness and accountability for performance and accountability for personal probity (Behn 2001).

None of these four types of diversity could be easily squared with the singular dominance of electoral accountability.

The Dying Electoral Paradigm and the “Export” of Democracy

Area studies scholars issued another challenge to elections. The 1990s democratisation paradigm was built around the notion that “achieving regular, genuine elections will not only confer democratic legitimacy on new governments but continuously deepen political participation and democratic accountability” (Carothers 2002, 15). However, as soon as elections started to coexist with various forms of authoritarianism, their definitive appeal withered away.

The electoral paradigm was further eroded in the process of “exporting democracy” because instead of resolving conflicts peacefully, elections in some case helped to rekindle ethnic conflict. Isaacharoff (2015, 5) recognised that “Elections simply tally up who is majority and who is the minority. By themselves, they neither guarantee civility nor the subsequent accountability of the victors to their subjects.” While the transitologists’ concerns did not significantly diminish the scholarly preoccupation with elections, it built up the analytical momentum towards the desecralisation of elections.

Does the Bell Toll for Elections?

The most influential criticism of elections came from critics of established democracies. The unravelling of the electoral paradigm was a prolonged and gradual process that included the admissions that: elections are a delayed and blunt accountability mechanism of control (Peruzzotti 2014); that citizens do not have sufficient information to make informed decisions at the ballot box (Przeworski 1999); that electoral campaigns can be manipulative (Maravall 1997); that there are systematic causes for electoral failure relating to the electoral college, party finance, voter turnout, the redistricting process and voting machines (Streb 2015); and that socioeconomic, international factors and constitutional power-sharing factors can fundamentally impair elections. While these concerns have been simmering for a long time, they only recently culminated into a distinct pronouncement on the diminished aura of elections.

The Future of Elections: The “Accountablity Turn” versus the “Monitory Turn”

The future salience of elections in the democratic literature hinges upon the outcome of the rivalry between two distinct veins of research: the “representative turn” versus the “monitory turn.” In essence, the representative turn indirectly seeks to rehabilitate the importance of elections by redefining the meaning of elections to include the process of the formation of the “representative claim” (Saward 2010) and by emphasising the procedural value of elections (Urbinati 2014). Beyond recasting elections to include non-electoral means, the  representative turn is fundamentally poised to rescue them by presenting them as “a constitutive act, in which interests are crafted” (Näsström 2011, 506).

By contrast, the monitory turn strays more decidedly away from the electoral paradigm. It attributes greater importance to various non-electoral accountability mechanisms that lead up to such transformative visions of democracy, such as “counter-democracy” (Rosanvallon 2008) and “monitory democracy” (Keane 2011). To these scholars, non-electoral modes of participation are not an extension of elections but distinct mechanisms of their own. Proponents of the monitory turn believe that elections are a decisional moment anchored in time and space, rather than a movement of judgement that lasts indefinitely. Furthermore, they are sceptical of the formative power of various modes of participation. Unlike the representative turn, the monitory turn assumes that public demands are crafted outside of the realm of elections by such exogenous forces as the media, technology and globalisation. Another difference is that the monitory turn gives expression to social diversity, while the representative turn suppresses or homogenises the variety of public voices (Tormey 2017).

The monitory and the representative are both sceptical that the cure for free and fair elections is more free and fair elections. Yet, they recalibrate the paradigmatic importance of elections in different ways and to a different degree.

The success of judicial, social, parliamentary, informal and other non-electoral mechanisms to hold the government to account in between elections will be a pivotal moment in setting the trend of democratic transformation.

 

Dr Gergana Dimova, Lecturer, University of Winchester, United Kingdom

 

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Does the process of European integration help foment a party cartel in young democracies?

The concept of the ‘party cartel’ first devised by Katz and Mair in their seminal 1995 article Changing Models of Party Organization and Party Democracy: The Emergence of the Cartel Party has been one of the most influential pieces of work in the field of party politics. The novelty of this concept is built on the argument that there has been an evolutionary change in the relationship between parties, state and civil society, which in effect has created a party cartel.  Accordingly, in Western democracies, as of recent times, there has been a greater tendency for a closer symbiosis between the three. Whereas traditionally, parties acted as brokers between civil society and the state, the emerging symbiosis between the three has created a cartel party in which there is a collusion between major parties for state resources. As a result, the party has become part of the state, and political competition is reduced to competition for state resources rather than alternative policies.  Robert Dahl has called this an ‘irrational consensus’ due to the displacement of socioeconomic questions by technocratic concerns.

The party cartel concept has raised a number of important questions pertaining to the relationship between party politics and democracy. Questions ranging from the legitimacy of parties as a result this evolutionary change to the legitimacy of political decisions and the legitimacy of the democratic system itself.  Recent research has indirectly addressed this phenomena by showing how dissenting Eurosceptic voices in Europe add a sense of legitimacy to the European project by diverging from the mainstream party cartel.  The concept, however, raises even more interesting questions when applied to young transitioning democracies.

The common assumption in the democracy promotion literature is that the European integration of young democracies leads to the consolidation of democracy for the new members.  This argument, however, is being questioned by recent literature by specifically asking whether under certain conditions European integration is likely to diminish the consolidation or the qualities of democracy.  Among those questions is also the question of whether the process of European integration helps foment a party cartel in young democracies.  If so, what is the implication of this for the consolidation of democracy?

When looking at the democratization of Central and Eastern Europe and their experience with pre and post-EU accession, certain patterns seem apparent.  Firstly, those democracies with the most fragmented party systems prior to accession (such as Estonia, Slovenia, Poland) today stand as the most democratic in the region.  While those with the least fragmented systems (Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria) today stand as the least democratic.  Additionally, the former group of cases entered the pre-accession period with highly Eurosceptic views while the latter group with less Eurosceptic or even Euroenthusiastic views.  The empirical division provided above can of course be debated, but there does appear to be a correlation between Eurosceptic views and party system fragmentation prior to accession with post-accession democratic performance.

It is interesting in that regard to raise the question of whether policy convergence as affected by pre-accession demands which required candidate states to adopt the acquis prior to accession does help foment a party cartel.  Systematic testing of this question is indeed needed in order to ascertain whether this negative consequence of EU accession does take place, but this is certainly something worth exploring as we began to question some of the unintended effects of membership on new democracies.

 

Dr. Eltion Meka is a lecturer in Political Science at the University of New York Tirana, Albania. 

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