Thursday, September 24, 2020

Stop Calling Republicans Conservative. It's Totally False PR


The news media continue to refer to Republicans under Trump as "conservative."  This is not only wrong, it is Orwellian.  It is like saying love is hate, peace is war, freedom is slavery.  

Every time some commentator uses "conservative" this way, it grants a false label of normalcy to a reckless, fanatic movement opposed to just about everything that conservatism stands for. 

All quotes below, unless otherwise attributed, are from The Conservative Mind by Russel Kirk (1).

First of all, the GOP under Trump is a swamp of fawning toadies.  To epitomize this point, the RNC did not have a platform this year at its convention.  Instead, it spent a week worshipping their king-with-fake-gold-hair.  The programmatic propaganda was worthy of North Korea.

A key premise of everything I say below is that Trump is a narcissistic cult leader.

Now, consider four pillars of conservatism:  (1) freedom of the individual; (2) the importance of custom, convention and prescription; (3) the importance of prudence when effecting large scale social change; (4) belief in a natural law, accessible through religion and which "rules society as well as conscience." (p.8)

These are absolutely fundamental. Without them, you cannot be a conservative.  End of story.

Let's check Trump and his fellow quislings along these scales...


(1) Freedom

American conservatives want to minimize government to maximize individual liberty (2).

However, Matthew C. MacWilliams makes a strong case that Trump's followers are authoritarian: 

Roughly 40 percent of Americans tend to favor authority, obedience and uniformity over freedom, independence and diversity. (3)

In the current social climate, further exacerbated by the demagog-in-chief, this means about 40% of Americans are ready to accept him as a dictator, as long as he advances their prejudiced nostalgia (White, patriarchal, heteronormative ...)

So much for freedom.  Moving on... (sorry, I have little time)


(2) The importance of custom, convention and prescription

For conservatives, "Custom, convention and old prescription [a body of established law] are checks upon both man's anarchic impulse and upon the innovator's lust for power." (p.9)

Trump is shredding the USA's democratic traditions and trouncing our Constitution.  He says Article II gives him the power to do whatever he wants.  He violates the Emoluments Clause with wanton impunity.  Etc.

So much for custom.  Off to the next stop on our philosophical journey ...


(3) The importance of prudence or caution

Conservatives believe that "hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration."  Kirk furthermore writes that, "a statesman's chief virtue, according to Plato and Burke, is prudence." (p.9)

However, Trump is transforming our country, and the world, at a fulgurant pace. In little over three years, he has crippled our international alliances, pulled out of key Treaties, imposed a chaotic cascade of tariffs, disparaged and contradicted our Constitution, and much more.  Norms and traditions are being murdered by the dozens, maybe even hundreds.

All of this has created strife and upheaval, magnified by his incompetence at dealing with the pandemic, racial tensions, global warming, immigration, trade, etc.

Furthermore, one of his central strategies is to stoke hate and division.  So much for social change through careful deliberation.  His modus operandi is violence.

If prudence is a chief virtue, then recklessness, its diametric counterpart, is a chief anti-virtue and Trump's calling card.   

Indeed, Trump shows "Contempt for tradition," which is one of the qualities that conservatives assign to their enemies, the "radicals." (p.10)


(4) The importance of both religion (natural law) and conscience

Kirk writes that, for conservatives, "Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems." (p.8) 

However, Trump's behavior is neither religious nor moral.  He lies openly and continuously.  He exudes greed, selfishness and braggadocio.  He shows no loyalty and yet demands loyalty.  He arrogates to himself all authority, and does so in querulous, petty, cruel, vindictive ways.  He praises his own incompetence, calls it "perfect" even though, concerning the pandemic, it has resulted in the unnecessary death of over a hundred thousand citizens.

He claims constantly to admire dictators.  Their raw military and police strength--the strength to seize and control the government by force.  He shows no concern for human rights.

 There is no evidence of him following a moral or religious code of any kind.

As a side note, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump argues strongly that Trump is a "malignant narcissist," a combination of narcissist and sociopath, who does not possess a conscience.

His own niece has written a book saying that he is the most dangerous man in the world (Too Much and Never Enough)


It is absolutely obvious that Trump is not a conservative.  The large majority of Republican leaders are his bootlickers and apparatchiks, with no platform of their own, except Trump--and so they are not conservatives either.

Not only is it a misnomer to refer to Republicans as conservatives, it is illogical.  The flat out opposite of the truth.  At present, no Republican should be accorded the title of conservative unless they specifically and vehemently denounce our wannabe dictator.

If the media continues to use "conservative" as a label for Trump and his toadies, it cloaks them in a pretty lie and gives them a big PR boost. 

After all, if Trump is surrounded by "conservatives," then he must be prudent, moral, freedom-loving, and respectful of tradition.  Right?  How else would he earn their adulation?

No. Please stop.  Trump is an authoritarian.  His followers are authoritarian.  Refer to them as such. 

And make clear to viewers and readers what "authoritarian" means.  An authoritarian is someone who tends to "favor authority, obedience and uniformity over freedom, independence and diversity."




(1) Kirk uses the sexist term "man" to refer to humanity.  Rather than correct all quotes, I do so here. 




Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Deep State, Actually, is Racism


Anyone schooled in the basics of psychology can see that Donald Trump projects all the time.   Witch hunts, hoaxes, liars, frauds, traitors.  He gushes such terms like a hemorrhage, accusing others, when in fact simple logic shows that they all apply to him.  Projection, a subconscious sleight, is a time-honored method to avoid facing the truth, to remain a coward (another Trump term) and keep your head in the sand.


Through the invertible prism of projection, Trump's self-condemnation is easy to see.  Weakness, loser, fake.  Not only does he spew these terms, he does it with whiny incessancy.  His subconscious needs to spin on overdrive to protect whatever part of his mind is conscious from the larger picture of his moral ugliness and failure.


Typing "Trump projection psychology" in a search engine, I found decent articles.  An Atlantic piece by Peter Beinart goes into the strategic application of projection and why it might be accepted by Trump's base (because they do it too).


Beinart includes a telltale quote, worth mentioning, lest we forget the quisling-status of the current Republican Senate:


During the primaries, [Senator] Ted Cruz actually tried to diagnose this Trump habit [of projection]. “This man is a pathological liar,” Cruz insisted. “He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth.” And in “a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying.”


What I want to suggest here is that Trump's rhetorical talk of a "deep state" is actually a reference to his own secrets and strategy.  Specifically, in the context of his use of projection, "deep state" reveals his own (barely) concealed racism and how it works, via deceitful cues, to incite and solidify his base.


The real cabal concerns Trump and his ardent followers, those who by extension join in his big lie.  They all claim not to be racist, and yet their actions (wink, wink) militate toward racist ends.  They all claim to be advancing equality, when their actions in fact promote White nationalism.


To get away with being so obvious and yet impervious--this alone shows that racism has a huge amount of clandestine social backing.  In addition to being so insidious, it is also ubiquitous.  And of course, it wields tremendous local, national and global clout.


Summing all this up, racism, as a guardian and purveyor of apartheid culture, is a shadowy influencer, and those who weaponize it can fluidly deny what they are doing, suffer no consequences, and succeed politically. 


This is exactly what Trump has done.  He has invoked and wielded the massive, monstrous force of racism, while saying there is nothing there.  Racism is the real deep state threatening our country.


There's a change in a person when they adopt the unsaid rituals of Trump-worship.  It's somewhat like joining an illuminati.  Things are done in code.  Much is deep in the brain, distant from the clear facts of conscience.  The way things are phrased, and perhaps felt, allows plausible deniability (a term that originated with the CIA).  And yet there's a major shift, a baptism, in the arcane and the cryptic. 


The obvious example is the Q-anon cult.  But it's not just them.  Others change too, when they fall into Trump worship.  The Ted Cruz quote above shows the Senator before his conversion.  Contrast that with the current Ted Cruz, a Trumpian lickspittle.  The change is as stark as the Invasion of the Body Snatchers.


When you hear Trump talk, try flipping the projection.  Then you can work back from the lies to hear the truth, which goes something like this:  "I am a deceitful, racist coward.  A needy loser.  I am fearful.  I feel I am the worst.  I need constant praise to hide from what I am.  I am so weak."



Thursday, September 3, 2020

The Terrible, Atrocious, Unforgivable Normalization in George Lakoff's Moral Politics


George Lakoff is one of the great contemporary thinkers and has commensurately influenced my own worldview.  However, in his classic Moral Politics: What conservatives know that liberals don't, he offers one of the starkest examples of trivializing wrong action that I have ever seen.  In so doing, he normalizes atrocious rightwing behavior, making it look acceptable, merely a counterpoint to a liberal platform.


Normalization--the concealment of evil by cloaking it in the ordinary and acceptable--has been widespread for a long time in US politics.  Donald Trump's party, for example, is still often presented in the media as a legitimate option to Democratic values.  The prevalence and effectiveness of this insidious technique makes it all the more important to call it out.


Lakoff's view in the book, perhaps stunning to some, especially in current times, is that rightwing and leftwing politics are, ultimately, moral agendas.  More than anything else, morality is fueling what both sides believe. 


This becomes jarringly disharmonious when, for instance, Lakoff argues that conservatives are willing to support a totalitarian dictatorship, if it doesn't challenge the central premise of their way of conceptualizing the world:


For Reagan ... Soviet totalitarianism was evil, but the U.S. had supported capitalist totalitarian dictatorships willingly ... The main evil of communism, for Reagan, as for most conservatives, was that it stifled free enterprise.  (p.195)


Actually, "had supported" is inaccurate.  During Reagan's presidency, the US continued to support multiple dictatorships in Central America, not to mention the vicious civil war in Nicaragua, where the US-backed side destroyed communities, schools and hospitals as part of a terror-strategy rampage.


Leaving this aside, let Lakoff's statement sink in.  The so-called conservative "morality" embraces the support of totalitarian dictatorships in service of free enterprise.


Embraces.  Totalitarian.  Dictatorships.


Is such a mindset really worthy of the label "moral agenda," as Lakoff proposes?   Make no mistake, totalitarianism here means death squads, torture, kidnapping and general terrorizing of the population.  Think Darth Vader.


Lakoff, then, is in the awkward--and despicable--position of blessing evil actions, premeditated actions, perpetrated against entire countries, as components of a moral agenda.


This twisted bit of theorizing, moral = evil, is awful in itself.  It offers a reductio ad absurdum of Lakoff's whole book. 


Making it worse, though, he goes on and disguises what he has done--he normalizes it--by giving the conservative "moral" view equal status alongside the liberal human-rights view. 


Please indulge a slight digression.  Noam Chomsky has gained much intellectual traction by pointing out hypocrisies of this kind.  Hypocrisies that infest US institutions, including academia.  Hypocrisies that sweep US-supported torture and terror under the rug.


In the end, Lakoff's thesis can only be salvaged by retreating a step.  He could argue that what the rightwing is doing isn't moral--but--they think it is moral.  And so, he could conclude, given this tweak, that morality is at the heart of conservative politics in some significant way.


However, there's a real problem with this correction.  To think that what you're doing is moral is not to actually make it moral.  I'm sure Hitler thought that what he was doing was moral.  Does that make Hitler's actions right?  Should the Final Solution be offered up as just one hors d'oeuvre on a silver plate of legitimate perspectives?


Again, we're stuck in that ridiculous spot where, in Lakoff's view, so-called moral politics can epitomize evil.  Satan, construed as a paragon of immorality, could be moral on this view, as long as Satan asserts that what he, Lord of Evil, is doing is right.


Maybe Lakoff is okay with that.   Maybe "moral" for him is just intention, not deed.  But that just plays into my point--that evil has been normalized.  In a Lakoffian wonderland, the cruellest crimes of leaders become hidden in fancy semantics and tricky comparisons, tied with a pretty, lying bow of righteousness and good.

As far as I can tell, this is Lakoff's lowest moment in all of his writing.  As a cognitive psychologist, he seems to bring some sort of science-ish relativism into his discussion of politics.  Okay, if you're a relativist, fine.  But don't assume relativism is the only possible way to go .  There is, after all, this thing called the Declaration of Independence.  There is a great deal of sound philosophical support for universal human rights.  

So please, don't surreptitiously impose your relativism on those of us who think totalitarian dungeons should not be framed as an option on a menu of moral choices. 




Thursday, August 27, 2020

Trump's "Law & Order" is the Enemy of Truth, Morality and Justice

Subconsciously, we human beings, as creatures of cognitive psychology, often associate the concept of law with the concept of ethics.  However, as someone who has taught ethics courses at three state universities, let me share one of the basic points of Ethics 101, namely, that law and ethics are very different entities.

Laws are not necessarily, or even likely to be, ethical.  Conversely, ethical ways of behaving can be outright illegal. 

When "law" backs the ascent of a fascist like Donald Trump, when "order" means thuggish, racist, and even murderous police enforcement, then law & order become the opposite of morality, justice and their deep association with the founding ethical principles of this country. 

These principles include "self-evident" truths.  They include equality, equal justice under law, the right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

Again, law and order are not automatically good.  Look at North Korea.  Look at China.  Plenty of law & order.  And yet also evil.  Atrocity.  Brutality.  Mind-control.  Surveillance.  Oppression of all basic freedoms.    

Democrats would be wise to counter Trump's framing with a simple, clear point:  "law & order," as used in his rants, is the opposite of Truth, Morality and Justice.  In association with the latter, our Founders insisted on a Bill of Rights and a Declaration of Independence. 

Trump's "I am the LAW & ORDER President" is a dictator's proclamation.  He perverts law and order, makes it dirty, as he does with so much else.

 Jacob Blake's sister speaks out, Trevor Noah Commentary


Monday, August 24, 2020

Yes, Trump is Plausibly a Fascist, John McNeill is Wrong.


As I said in my last post, I don't have time for long entries anymore.  I'm just going to toss out ideas, hoping some of them are of interest to someone.

An article by John McNeill was recently featured in the Washington Post titled, "How Fascist Is Donald Trump?  There's actually a formula for that."

Although this article is two years old, it still earned a front-page position on the website.  McNeill includes the brief assertion that, yes, Donald Trump is a major threat to our democracy; and yet his overall message is that Trump is not a fascist.  

This conclusion is based on "the 11 attributes of fascism," all of which can be numerically quantified by assigning a certain number of points called "Benitos."  After doing the calculations, McNeill states:

"Add all this up, and you get 26 out of a possible 44 Benitos. In the fascist derby, Trump is a loser."

I have three general comments on this article. 

First, it relies heavily on late-stage Hitler and Mussolini to provide its paragon of fascism.  For instance, one attribute is "Fetishization of Youth."  Trump is given zero Benitos on this scale, reducing his level of fascism.

What?  Why is this attribute important?  And why is it as relevant as "Leader Cult," another one of the attributes? (on which Trump gets four Benitos).

This kind of problem troubles the whole list of attributes.  Why are they so essential?  Why do they have equal weight?  Furthermore, how are you measuring them?  Not only the choice of attributes but the quantification scheme is highly problematic.

Compare McNeill's trait-based definition of fascism to Madeline Albright's key insight, in her recent book, that fascism is not a governmental system but a means to gain and maintain power. 

Aha!  Far better, at least as a starting place.  It takes context into account.  Trump is a fascist by this standard when you add his racism, sexism, white nationalism, xenophobia, golden-age nostalgia, and so on.  

Second comment.  The author's tone is bizarrely playful.  The "fascist derby."  "Benitos."  C'mon, really?  We're talking about evil, and threats to world stability, not Netflix movie ratings.

This bizarre playful tone, along with the conclusion that Trump isn't even close to a real fascist, creates an underlying theme that is still trotted out way too much by the media--foolishly, I would add: 'Trump isn't all that bad so stop worrying about it so much.'

Third comment.  This relates to Albright's insight that fascism is a means to gain and maintain power.  Maybe there's another important question we should be asking:  Would Trump do the things that Mussolini and Hitler have done, if the current power structure allowed it? 

Based on his professional diagnosis as a malignant narcissist, a person who has no conscience at all, and who possesses an all-consuming urge to be worshipped,  and who is inherently sadistic, there is certainly a case to be made that the answer to the above question is yes.  White nationalist Trump would indeed violently impose whiteness as a pure, superior race--if he could get away with it.

Didn't he just recently--Lafayette Square--try to send 10,000 troops into the streets?  Wasn't he stopped only by Defense Secretary Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Milley?   

In any case, we should be distinguishing between early stage and late stage takeovers (scary, yes I know.  I live in sorrow--but there's still hope from this next election).  

Also, we should be looking at the psychology of Trump, not ignoring it.  Psychology is far too often ignored as a science, often due to each academic discipline setting up its own little intellectual fiefdom.

In conclusion, McNeill's article is highly flawed, inappropriately playful, and in effect dangerous, because it tends to make readers think, "Oh, it's not so bad."  When in fact, it truly is that bad--and more.  The entire geopolitical balance is at stake.


Friday, August 21, 2020

A Briefer Future Format

I'm going to try and bring back this blog in a shorter format, something more conducive to my new situation.  It has been a difficult stretch for me, as for many of us.

On April 2, I started to show symptoms of COVID-19.  I proceeded through the stages:  weakness, fever, then later lung and some kidney issues.  It never became very serious, but it lasted a while.  I took myself out of quarantine on May 13.  In the rural area where I live, there was no testing at the time, and I relied on CDC web pages for general guidance. 

Around the same time, as with many of us, I was hit with new financial and professional challenges.  (I work as an adjunct professor, never more than a contract worker for the state university system, which gives me no benefits and a poverty-level income).  While before I could save a hundred dollars a month, if I lived like a stoic, I now struggle not to sink too fast into the red.

Then on June 3, I went to bed wondering if I would wake up in a dictatorship, due to Donald Trump's wish to send ten thousand troops to Lafayette Square to break up a peaceful rally of citizens exercising their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.  Fortunately, two individuals stopped that from happening (according to WaPo):  the Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley.  On that night, these two men saved the Constitution as a viable document.

We here in the USA continue to live in a vortex of pandemic, economic crisis, social protests, and Trump's continuous and major threat to our democratic system.  The period from now until 2021 may be the last time in my life that I live beyond the grip of an authoritarian regime.  Conversely, if Trump is thrown out of office, it may signal a reformation, a bright epoch for equality, rights, decency, and democracy.  The USA is the wealthiest country and has the strongest military.  It isn't far-fetched to argue that as the US tilts, so tilts the globe.  The fate of humanity-- --autocracy or democracy--hangs in the balance during these precarious, tumultuous months. 

To be clear, autocracy as present in the USA includes:  White nationalism, fascism, racism, sexism, islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia, kleptocracy, plutocracy, and the monarchic worship of hate-mongering demagogue who, by clinical standards, is both a narcissist and a sociopath.

Indeed, part of what has crippled me mentally is the fact that so many people could bow down to such a repulsive figure, when by resisting him they could live such better lives and more noble lives, and also found a quality future for their children.  For instance, we could have good government healthcare--but instead, more than half of our White population fixates on imaginary problems related to supposed dangers posed by immigrants and Black people.

Democracy, in contrast to Trumpian autocracy, is indeed, as Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for President, put it, on the side of Light.  For instance, Biden's Vice-Presidential pick is a Black woman (who also has Indian heritage).  Yes, this alone is a magnificent thing, all by itself.  If that comes as a surprise, you aren't engaging the full virulence of racism and sexism in this country.  

Aside from all that, Kamala Harris, the VP candidate, is inspiringly and outstandingly competent.

Although for years I've been warning about the rise of fascism, this blog being one of my standard soapboxes, I find it very different to face what's going on directly, rather than just writing about it with foresight.  Intellectually,  sure, I saw this coming.  Psychologically, I can't come to grips with how quickly the Republican leadership sold out our values, whether in abject cowardice, or simply lust for their rung in the hierarchy.  Either is awful.  Either is despicable, dreadful, pitiable and infinitely sad.

As for me, my writing time is more precious than ever.  Most of what time I have, I put into my novel.  I'll be finishing the current draft soon, the fourth draft, and then I'll read it through out loud, one last time.  I work on it every day, even during the teaching semesters, except when a migraine headache looms.  I have to stop then.  The migraines are absolutely debilitating.  I'm talking paralytic pain.  No light, sound, or movement allowed.

I do think it will be a great novel.  It deserves to reach the world and to change it.  Desert, of course, doesn't translate into success.  I did write it to be stimulating and engaging and I'll market it aggressively.  In any case, it is something I've always wanted to do--the extreme exercise of my mental potential for the greatest challenge I could possibly face.  The content has been as soul-draining as validating.   It has plundered my passionate, social, and spiritual riches.  There is a higher statement buried in the dual plot.  This statement is sotto voce and it is not pure or innocent.  It gets heavily challenged, diluted, and suffers within the drama, love, war, beauty, monstrosity and apocalypse.

As I see it, my purpose is to finish this novel, whatever the financial or other expense.  It's not merely selfish.  I am no better than anyone else, but no worse either.  And to the extent that we can throw ourselves into the ordeals of prophets, channeling something greater than our carnal needs--aspects of art, good, and collective conscious--I consider myself a prophet. 

I am also, still, a poet, writer, thinker and ethicist.  My head is full of thoughts.  They bustle through, quite impatient.  My hope for this blog, at this juncture, is merely to share some of those thoughts in a brief format.  Maybe they will be useful to someone 'out there'.   Even if not, at least I'll relieve some of the pressure on my bulging, scattered, inefficient brain (A brain I love by the way, though I'm no Albert Einstein or Mary Shelley).





Monday, March 2, 2020

Why Sanders?

Many Democratic pundits seem flummoxed by Bernie Sander’s ascent.  It’s a source of existential apprehension.  The blue sky is falling, dissolving into a far-left madness that signals a rosy red election.  Part outraged, part querulous, the anti-Sanders faction insists that a unifying, moderate candidate is necessary, someone ‘safe’, like the Obama-associated Biden, to beat Donald Trump.

Whoa.  Hype overlord.  Sanders isn’t toting serious socialist bona fides.  NY Times columnist Paul Krugman points out that Bernie’s “democratic socialism” is basically the ideology of Norway’s social democrats.  Sanders isn’t nearly as far left as Trump leans right. 

Trump is an imminent threat.  He advances white nationalism while pushing for dictatorship.  But it would be a gross mischaracterization to even tacitly suggest, let alone normalize, a Trump vs. Sanders polarity.  

Sanders is not some horrible antipode, as if he and Trump were two endpoints of a line, one on which the only sane point is somewhere in the middle, between the two insanities.  The metaphor of a line with terminal ends is easy to adopt, especially given all the talk about a ‘middle’ or a ‘moderate’; and yet it is false framing at its deceptive finest.

If Sanders is after an “I am the State” takeover, he’s done a perfect job hiding it behind progressive, egalitarian, private-ownership-affirming policies.  Irrational fears notwithstanding, all industrial countries except the US have universal paid healthcare.  

The paranoia and hype are real.  And yet despite the fuel they supply for jet-engine takedowns, Sanders is still doing exceeding well in the delegate count and the popular vote. 


The answer is that the American people are infuriated.  Atrocious corruption has parasitized them for decades.

The best, most honest logo for a 2020 candidate would be the national wealth distribution curve.  The graph looks like a very thin boomerang, with one side much longer than the other, indicating the outrageous pinnacle of the richest sliver. 

It only takes a glance at this mutant boomerang to reveal the egregious graft, a monster of avarice that took a half century to bring into its current state of grotesquery.  Indeed, compare it to the wealth curve of 1960’s, when one blue collar income could buy a house, two cars, and a good, lifelong trajectory for an entire family.

Also obvious, to those not under their spell, are the longstanding tricks of the trade, the catchy ideas, used to advance and maintain the parasitism of the public.  These are sources of vast frustration. 

Four of these catchy ideas are as follows:  giving tax breaks to the rich is good; big government is bad; consumers should spend instead of save; and, lastly but most importantly, ‘our’ traditional society (read straight and white, with male leadership) is under attack.  

The last is the worst, enhancing the effectiveness of the rest.  It embodies many forms of oppression and xenophobia.  But let’s go through all four of these GOP tricks.

‘Giving money to the rich is good’ is just trickle down economics.  The idea is that tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy will, in fair proportion, benefit everyone in society.  

After five decades of this kleptocratic chestnut, we can easily and safely say, Nope.  Yes, profits are up. Yes, productivity is up.  And yet wages are stagnant.  Not only that, essentials like education and doctors are much more costly.  #TrickleFail

 ‘Government is bad' is a Ronald Reagan mantra.  The unstated implication is that if the needy get less help, there’s more room to cut taxes for the rich.  

Depression era virtues of thrift, humility, and charity were still fairly strong in the 1980’s, as were worries about unbridled greed.  Reagan successfully fought against this ethos.  He replaced it with conspicuous consumption.  The effective slogan became 'spending is good'.  

Americans were given credit cards and told to live it up.  Welcome to MasterCard.  Bank accounts were drained.  We went from a creditor nation to a debtor nation.  The fictional Gordon Gekko proclaimed “Greed is good,” and that became the actual practice of Wall Street.  

A friend to Wall Street, Reagan de-regulated the markets, allowing Gekko-esque gambling to run rampant.  One quick result was the destruction of the savings & loans industry.  It was the biggest bank collapse since the Depression, and a colossal scandal.  Tax payers had to pay for most of it, over $100 billion, as the fat cat culprits at the top, who ramped up the banks’ debt to play the stocks, were never caught.

Corporate raiding became the thing:  Hostile takeover, gut and destroy for short-term stock profits.

However, the Republican’s most powerful mind control idea, the trickiest of all tricks is ‘the loathing of the Other’:  traditional white communities are under attack.  This is the psychological cement that turns followers into sheep.

People allow themselves to be further duped if you've convinced them you are saving their 'purity' from ethnic annihilation.  Fear and loathing tend to turn off one's faculties of higher thinking, preventing such questions as, "Why are we giving our money to the rich, again?"

Amp up ignorance with faux nostalgia.  It's simple and effective hate-monger propaganda.  The wonderful world described in the fiery speeches by the racist politician never truly existed, but hey, so what.  

The classic example comes from 'he who should not be named', and yet, in our times, he must be named:

Even without the full development of a fascist Volk. racism works for the dark side.  Nixon’s Southern Strategy.  Reagan’s welfare queen, a black woman, in her golden Cadillac.  H.W. Bush and W. Bush both dived into racist demagoguery to win elections and appease the base. 

The content of the infamous Willie Horton add used by H.W. was grossly unfair and misleading.  But that came out too late for his opponent, Michael Dukakis.  Racism helped Bush win the election in a landslide:

All these hate-filled sops thrown to a constituency-Cerberus.  Wag the dog of prejudice.  And win.  

Trump of course has now taken it in the only direction it could go:  much closer to outright white supremacy; much closer to a fascist white state. 

Fifty years of economic parasitism, prejudice, and spin.  Republicans led the sordid way, down into darkness.  But they were abetted by Democrats, whether corrupt, compromising, or apathetic.

Sanders has been a lone voice in the wilderness, speaking out on the wealth curve.  His jeremiads have been steady and forceful, in effect isolating him from both major parties.

He makes simple points, using honest math. He speaks to the lopsided boomerang.  He backs it all up with damning details, say, the per capita cost of healthcare in America compared to anywhere else.  He encapsulates powerful arguments with accessible sentences like, “All other countries have been able to do it, why can’t we?”

Fifty years of being cheated and swindled.  Many Americans, more than the mainstream media want to admit, view ‘moderate’ candidates as shifty, to say the least.  These candidates want to work within the current system.  For instance, they want to keep third-party insurance companies.  But that entails, in effect, a compromise with kleptocracy.  But what could that mean, except a way to continue the corruption?

When you look at the long history of economic parasitism and political casuistry in this country, a half century’s worth--a time frame that has seen a once-prosperous middle class brought to its knees--Bernie Sanders doesn’t seem like the one who is out of touch.


Sunday, January 26, 2020

Does Truth Matter?

Every American should be staggered by Adam Schiff's closing argument in Donald Trump's impeachment trial.  In his momentous and immortal speech, he states with brimming emotion, "If the truth doesn't matter, we're lost."  This is an almost unreckonable sentence.  Here is the chief House Impeachment Manager, standing before the Senate to make a cataclysmic claim.  The podium is physically small and yet the stance invites global judgement. 

Schiff is certain that his side's case is beyond reasonable doubt.  The president withheld crucial aid to pressure Ukraine.  Why?  Because he wanted our NATO ally to announce an investigation of Joe Biden, a political rival.  To smear him.  Trump, in other words, employed his vast executive power to monkey wrench the cogs of our sacrosanct electoral process.

Sadly, Schiff is correct.  Not only in rhetoric, but in substance.   The implication is beyond dire.  If Trump eludes congressional oversight, he escapes our failsafe of checks and balances.  He achieves the mantle of dictator, one who also happens to be the most powerful man in the world.

It's easy to balk at such an enormous conclusion.  Politicians will be politicians.  And yet this impeachment trial, only the third in the history of the United States, is extraordinary even among its peers.  Bill Clinton, the last president impeached, committed a sex act.  Andrew Johnson, right after the Civil War, fought to re-establish slavery despite the law.  But Trump is the first to seek out foreign aid to subvert the Constitution, something he swore an oath to protect.   

Even a casual look at Trump's behavior shows something frightening:  a rejection of the obvious for the fruits of the devious.  If Trump had wanted a serious investigation of Biden, why not ask the CIA, instead of Ukraine?  One might further inquire why the Republicans, who controlled Congress for the first two years of Trump's presidency, showed nary a spark of interest in Biden during that time.

When confronted with the above point, both the president and the GOP sidestep without agility. Indeed, clumsy is inevitable when you ignore every known fact to firebreathe conspiratorial claims--claims that mesh with Russian propaganda--and that lack even a scintilla of merit. 

For instance, US intelligence services have repeated stated that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections.  But both Trump and the GOP continue to weave webs around Ukraine.

Even more damning is what could be called "The Coincidence Con."  According to Trump's defenders, it is mere coincidence that Biden was the person singled out by our president for investigation.  The timing, they adamantly protest, is just a fluke of chance.  Trump's goal was merely to investigate corruption.  It had nothing to do with getting votes.  Nothing at all.

Adding another layer of absurdity to this response, Trump does not express any interest in corruption in the transcript where he talks to the Ukrainian president.  The word doesn't appear at all.  Trump does, however, ask for a "favor" and then goes on to push for an investigation of Biden.

The above are just specks of frost on the tip of a deep iceberg.  Throughout the procedures of the hearing and the trial, Trump's defenders have flouted logic and eschewed dignity to ballyhoo the specious and the fallacious   Some Senate Republicans have outrightly revealed that they have no inclination to be impartial. 

We know that, under established dictatorships, minions knuckle under at the threat of jail or worse.  Whatever the king or queen decrees.  Off with their heads.  But what to say about the Republican party in this cancerous moment for our country?  Why do they follow Trump when all reasonable roads lead to condemnation? 

However mysterious the failure of the GOP, while we flounder as a bastion of freedom, it shall go down in world history as a singular failure.  It presents us with a most awful scourge, a tragedy that tips a telecommunicated planet toward darkness, an indelible  exemplar of the most despicable in human beings.  


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Political Abuse

Political abuse involves a tyrannous leader.  It has a lot in common with domestic abuse.  In both contexts, those on the outside, disengaged from the inflictor-victim dynamic, don't understand what's really going on. 

The first reaction is to express outrage and exasperation for the abuse, and to state the obvious.  It doesn't help.  Such reactions stem from a righteous ignorance that crystallizes in questions like, "Why don't you just leave?" or "Why can't you see what's really going on?"
Ending abuse isn't like showing someone how to solve a math problem.  Abusive relationships solidify over time and are highly resistant.  They involve a calculative mind control, one that is both strategic and tactical.  It is a common misconception that the inflictor 'just has an anger problem' or some other pity-worthy condition. 

Although mental disorders may well be present in an abuser, what's going on is something else entirely:  an observant manipulation that proceeds in careful stages.  A house of abuse is built with an insidious and devious carpentry.  When looked at in full light, it is unrepentant, malign and premeditated.  

If you ask counselors at any domestic violence agency, they will tell you eye-opening stories.   An abuser can spin on a dime from ranting and raving to looking calm and polite the next.  Many of them will relentlessly blame others, especially the victims, and never accept blame themselves.  If mandated for anger management, they use that opportunity to share and improve their techniques with other perpetrators.

The analogy in politics is a spin artist who lusts for total power without conscience.  Such a leader first seeks to ensure the faith and trust of their followers, then uses that to isolate them further from the facts.  This goes on an on, a conspiratorial wooing, until a kind of singularity event:  the constituency reaches a place where they will sacrifice their dignity, freedom, health and money rather than question.  They have at this point bought into a loyalty test, one that requires them to see falsely in order to retain their leader's approval. 

All abusers latch onto insecurity and weakness.  If a victim has a fear of being alone, the abuser strives to become the sole source of comfort and understanding.  If the victim has a distrust of others, the abuser does everything they can to expand that fear. 

Intimidation and threats are common.  This means 'flexing the muscles.'  At the political level, this could involve tariffs, building walls, military action, or selective disaster aid.  It includes vicious verbal attacks against those outside the flock--the enemy--or those who stray.

The goal is authoritarian:  "I alone have the power.  I can send my support elsewhere, should I deem you unworthy.  I can cast you out completely." 

An essential element is flipping.  Always blame others even when you are clearly at fault.  Always claim others are hateful or prejudice, even when, by that very proclamation, you are the one spreading prejudice and hate.

In domestic violence, flipping means that the victims end up blaming themselves for being abused.  In politic abuse, it means that the people or institutions (like the media) who criticize the leader are denounced as enemies of the state.

What could be called 'strategic instability' keeps victims on edge and alert to the abuser's every behavior.  Such behavior, such as an unexpected act of violence, can look erratic, spontaneous, or just outright crazy.  Maybe it is. But it also meshes with a larger strategy, creating useful crises, mudding the calm waters of objectivity, and in effect reminding followers of the need for continuous servitude.

No examples of an abuser leader have been given in this article.  This is intentional, to make a further point.  There is indeed an abuser in our country right now at the highest level.  However, Democrats and Republicans will disagree on who that is.  This reinforces how deeply we are stuck in a morass of human frailty.  And though one party is right, neither of them grasps the depth of the problem.


Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Almost Shut Down

I seem drawn to painful truths, and have been so throughout my life.  The repetition, to an extent, inoculates me from matters that others habitually flee.  I often claim, maybe with some hidden pride, that I am tired or even exhausted.  Perhaps it is ironic to take pride in the analysis of tragedy.  But it is a necessary pursuit.  Otherwise injustice reigns unchallenged.  Yes, there can be joy in facing injustice--in wielding a sword of reason and light.  But of course, as everyone knows, the study of human darkness can be depressing and lonely.

This year my tiredness, my exhaustion, almost shut me down.  Donald Trump threatens to become a dictator.  If he does, America falls.  And if America falls, the world falls.  It would be the defeat of the epoch of democracy.  In its place, we would install a type of governance that already has a strong grip:  the rulership of populist fascists.  Putin in Russian.  Erdogan in Tukey.  Modi in India.  Xi in China.  Kim in North Korea.  Duterte in the Philippines, Trump in the United States.  And so on.

Here are some of the implications if fascism becomes world dominant. 

First, efforts to combat global warming will become even weaker than they are now, almost insuring a maximized environmental catastrophe.  Extinction.  Resource depletion.  Climate and geological havoc, leading to mass human migration, fear and panic.  Given the dissipation of human rights, the result will be massacre and genocide.  The wealth gap, already obscene, will stretch into a full-blown neo-feudalism.  Nobles behind walls, a servant professional and artisan class, and teaming masses of the poor.

Racism and sexism, along with other forms of traditional, cultural oppression, will become far worse.  In the USA, what we are looking at is this:  a white nationalist heteronormative patriarchy, with an emphasis on evangelical jingoism.  

Police functions employing advanced AI and robots will allow (a) quick enforcement, (b)  instantaneous identification, (c) ubiquitous surveillance, and (d) privacy-erasing 'citizen scores'.  Standardized 're-education' practices will insure not only conformity but also loyalty.  With police and army functions robotized, the chance of a successful revolution by a 're-educated' people will be minimal.

Furthermore, given a geopolitics of totalitarian dynasties, centered on charismatic tyrants, the genesis of World War Three seems inevitable.   Narcissists with god-complexes cannot back down.  Sooner or later they violently clash.

It might seem far too much to attach all the above to the success of Donald Trump.  But if you look at the high-tech facial recognition platform in China, and also the capacity for complete subservience evinced in North Korea, it becomes more plausible.  Take into account humanity's current willingness to continue to rape the planet Earth (a recent WaPo article says the Amazon rainforest is at a tipping point (1)), and also our eagerness to fall into line behind dictators, adopting their views with fanatic glory, and it becomes more plausible still.

The USA has the mightiest military in world, and the largest economy.  Once it goes dark, there will be enough tenebrosity to snuff out the rest of the light.  No one will be left to check tyranny.

As an ethicist, I've argued that people can be good, that we can eliminate war, that we can defeat oppression.  There are plenty of examples of people changing, culture shifting, and human rights rising up.  Women getting the vote was a big deal.  So was, before that, the idea that people should get to vote.

Looking at the world now, however, I see that human psychology is even more labyrinthian than I feared.  How could so many Americans embrace Trump and his hate, worship him, in fact, Christian people even, at the expense of their country, their dignity, the environment, and world stability?

It's much easier to understand why third-world minions, under mortal duress, obey a dictator than it is to fathom why the Republicans in the Senate of the United States are throwing away our country's two-hundred year old project of rationalism and freedom.   

As for me, I've had a good life.  I was born in a lucky place and time where the middle class was able to enjoy freedom of speech to a large degree, and where the women's movement and the civil rights movement were making progress.  I lived on a planet that was not yet showing obvious massive strain from vast climate change, a change taking place far faster than any other before it in the 4 billion year history of life on Earth (2).

Whatever happens to me next, I at least had these things, and others, that were very special.  I had tragedies and terrible hurdles to overcome, and I'll have more, no doubt.  I've been desperate and on the edge many times.  Maybe I'll go down pathetically.  But on the whole, I've had the chance to get an education, to improve my psychological health, and spend time on creative, philosophical and artistic projects that relied on freedom of thought.  I've enjoyed much time hiking and meditating out in 'nature'. 

For some reason, though, like billions of other people, I am not entirely selfish (Imagine that!).  I am still tremendously saddened by the possibility that democracy is going to die, that our planet is going to be wrecked, and that nuclear war will probably come.  And yes, that Donald Trump is ascendant. 

The problem, in the end, is that, while billions of people feel saddened and worry for the future, billions of others, those who praise and prop tyrants, do not seem to care, not in their public actions or beliefs.  Perhaps they have no choice, either because they were born with no choice, as in North Korea, or they gave up their ability to choose, somewhere along the way, as the people of the United States are in the process of doing now.