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 preface of everything I say below is that Trump is a narcissistic cult leader.  However, leaving this aside, the case rests squarely and decisively on its logical points. 

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... 


(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-rampage strategy.


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.