Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Why the NYT Analysis of the Last Presidential Debate Was So Wrong


To read the New York Times' analysis of the last debate between Biden and Trump is to imbibe complicity in our national decline.  The NYT offers up a polished centerpiece of what has gone wrong in this country:  the exile of ethics and, in its place, a staid acquiescence to the rulership of demagoguery and deceit. 

Impressive in organization and voice, the NYT analysis showcased the views of no less than nineteen opinion writers.  It even arranged pictures of their faces on a visual scale, from left to right.  The scale went from 10 blue (pure Biden victory) to 10 red (pure Trump victory).  In the middle, at zero (as two writers were) resided the opinion that the debate was a tie:



Only four of the nineteen opinion writers came down on the Trump half of the scale.   But that's not the point.  The point is that, in terms of who won, ethics was hardly a consideration for the writers at all. 

Perhaps the statement by Liz Mair brings this out the best. 

On 'who won', she writes:

Trump. The debate rules worked in his favor, he was more disciplined, and even though he lied through his teeth for much of the debate, he did it and often does it in a way that is convincing for anyone who doesn’t believe he is always lying. For better or for worse, that remains a decent chunk of the electorate.


There it is.  It's okay to lie, as long as you're convincing.  Winning is about convincing voters.  Ethics is nugatory. 

"That's how the world works," someone might say, even adding a shrug. 

In response, I assert this:  we Americans have been acculturated to accept that winning has nothing to do with ethics.  We've been acculturated not to react with disgust at this conclusion.  Furthermore, we've been trained to think that winning is, overall, more important than being ethical.

Think about that.

Here is the Orwellian breakdown.  We've been taught to shrug.  And, we've been taught to not even realize that we're shrugging. 

And we've forgotten that we've been so taught.   


Mair's statement reveals itself as fully shocking when you realize that the problem is not just that Trump is lying.  It is what he is lying about and how much.  He lies in huge, incessant ways about absolutely horrible things.  Kids in cages on his watch?  He lies.  The advancement of racist fascism?  Lies.  Unnecessary deaths due to covid?  Lies.  Economy hobbled due to his covid response?  Lies.  Subversion of the Constitution.  Lies.

And on and on and on.  See David Rothkopf's new book, Traitor for the latest ethical analysis of Trump.

Now, Mair it is clearly aware that Trump is lying.  She says so.  She doesn't say whether she's aware that he is lying at the Darth Vader level.  But that consideration doesn't even seem to matter, you know, because, when it comes to winning a debate, what is important is simply getting votes.

Are you still shrugging?  It is, I admit, easy to accept that debates are just about getting votes.  All else is irrelevant.

But let's take that deeper.  Such an attitude leads to horrible things. 

I hate to say it, but I get the impression that Mair and many opinion writers, if presented with the equivalent of an early stage Adolf Hitler, who is in a debate with some fictional opponent, in a tottering democracy, would claim that the Hitler-type won the debate.  Why?  Because the Hitler-type was more convincing.

Sure, maybe the Hitler-type advocated racism and anti-Semitism, stoking hate.  But they convinced people to vote for them, right?  So, they're the winner, right?

Doesn't that sound just a bit awkward to you? 

We should never be calling such a person a "winner."  If we do, we have bought into the trap of Arendt's "banality of evil." 

Now, someone will surely say that Donald Trump is not like Hitler.  Fair enough.  But Trump is already evil.  See Rothkopf's book.  Or maybe just acknowledge that Trump is a full-bore hate-monger who is relentlessly pushing for violence.   "LIBERATE MICHIGAN."

Evil should be a consideration in deciding who gets called a "winner."  If you call someone a winner, it has implications.  Calling a demagog a winner hides their evil.  If you do this, you are helping to sow a fabric of banality over a monster.

How about this, a compromise:  run another article, right alongside the one I reference above, the one where Mair and three other pundits say that Trump won. In this second article, point out that Trump is evil.  Call a spade a spade.

Call Trump a devastatingly wicked influencer.  Call him a talented con man.  But don't, whatever you do, call him a winner.

As soon as you call him a winner, you've bought into the false framing, the framing that Trump has been trying to sell to you and to everyone else.

Frankly, even jaded voters, not that long ago, would've been horrified by Trump's lies.  We Americans used to have better standards.  We would never have let someone like Trump be called a 'winner' in any way that promoted him as a potential leader of our country. 

What happened to us?  What happened to the US? 

We need to fix this.  It can be done.  In fact, here's the happy part of my blog.  One of the NYT analysts did give an ethics-based opinion. 

Will Wilkson shines a torch, leading the way where this country needs to be going.

Here is what Wilkson said:


Biden won. Character is on the ballot, Biden said, repeating a theme of his campaign. He’s right, and the contrast was evident all night. When Trump again scurrilously smeared Biden’s son, Biden honorably refused to take a shot at Trump’s kids. It can be tempting to think he missed a ripe opportunity to hit back, but the basic decency of Biden’s restraint did not go unnoticed and made the case for his candidacy in a way that Trump is completely helpless to rebut.


Character.  Decency.  Virtue.  These are a good start.  They are part of an ethical palette, the palette of rights, principles and genuine concern for advancing the common good.

Winning, when it comes to our leaders, should never be about brute force or brute persuasion.  Look, even in football, despite all the bookie joints, there are rules.  You don't break those rules, not without repulsing your fan base.

Politics is far more important than football.  And yet we act like there are no rules in politics, none that shouldn't be broken, if you can get away with it.  There's a name for that in the philosophical canon:  nihilism.

If Trump succeeds, if he turns one side of the country against the other, such that our collective house cannot stand, there is no winner.  We all lose. 

In fact, even if you don't think Trump is evil, it should be enough that he is grossly unethical.  Call him out.  Again, we all lose if he succeeds in dividing us. 

In conclusion, I ask the writers at the NYT to think about this.   In fact, let's all think about it.  Why do we shrug, qua analyst, when we think that someone might become president by riling up hate?  

If we want to keep our republic, our best thinkers cannot pen opinion statements that are the equivalent of a written shrug. 

We have to start thinking--believing--with passionate conviction, that no one who stirs up hate should be called a winner.  We need to allow that belief to affect what we do. 




Saturday, October 24, 2020

Poem: Dust




an outcast had no choice

save to wander like a shroud,

pitching her powder

that rid skin of vitality,

and tarnished everything else,

emaciating its luster.


it was a granular affair,

a sandglass compulsion,

to establish a feast that attracted vultures

and worms.


she built mansions

in the Sahara and the Marianas Trench,

founded outposts that lurked in every lung

to ride the moans of lovers and criminals,

of relatives and ant-like workers,

of despots and clowns and strugglers,

even tickling the nostrils

of saints.


maligned as infernal, she laughed

as the living desperately bred,

while yet she assessed every infant creature

for flavor—


which future, which hope,

dissolved sweeter

in the latté dunes of time.


Friday, October 23, 2020

Napoleon's Aphorisms Chillingly Describe Trump


Is Trump like Napoleon?  The aphorisms below, written by Napoleon, argue that, in some ways, the answer is yes.  Before getting to the quotes, I have a few comments.

 First, this should scare us.  Napoleon, as Emperor, launched the world into over a decade of war, with all the associated horrors.  In the end, all he captured was lost and he was miserably jailed and exiled.  If something like this happened today, fueled by a self-aggrandizing Trump, it would be the end of civilization.

Second, in some ways where Napoleon was arguably great, such as military tactics [1], we see no skill or complete incompetence from Trump.  Whatever Trump shares in common with Napoleon, such as persuasiveness, it in no way makes him the 'equal' of Napoleon in general. Indeed, the fact that Napoleon could write so well, and so much, is an important distinction from Trump.

Third, it could be argued that the main takeaway, from the quotes below, is that we need a completely different way of looking at the world today, than the one embodied in the quotes, if humanity is to survive and protect our beautiful planet.

In other words, if self-centered traditional notions of alpha masculinity remain the enshrined standards for national power, then humanity is doomed.  We must mature.  We must learn the lessons of therapeutic psychology, developed over the last one hundred years or so. 

Indeed, Mary Trump, a clinical psychologist, has written a book explaining why Donald is the most dangerous man in the world (Too Much and Never Enough).

About the Quotes

These aphorisms are taken from Napoleon In His Own Words (1916).  All but one of the quotes are taken from the first chapter, which is titled Success.


I comment in brackets after some of the quotes.  The quotes use masculine pronouns.  In fact, Napoleon might have only been referring to men, as women were acculturated and coerced to have very different and subservient roles.  Either way, it is sexist. 

The Quotes

Without further ado, here are the quotes:

1. A sovereign ought always to confiscate publicity for his own profit.

2. The superior man is never in anyone's way.

3. A Prince, criticised by his subjects, should never attempt to justify himself to them.

[The above three really describe Trump's arrogance and craving for the limelight]

4. There are only two forces that unite men—fear and interest.  All great revolutions originate in fear, for the play of interests does not lead to accomplishment.

[Trump focuses on making his populist base as afraid as possible.  Is he seeking revolution?]

5. Men are more easily governed by their vices than their virtues.

6. Political liberty is a convenient fable invented by governments to lull the governed.

7. Noisy festivals are a necessity.  Blockheads love noise, and the multitude are blockheads.

[The above three map well with Trump's contempt for his followers, and people in general.]

8. There are so many laws that no one is safe from hanging.

9. By taking for your justification the pretended principle of general utility you can go to whatever lengths you want.

[Trump doesn't care about the law, except as a tool to serve his goals].

10.  The man fitted for affairs and authority never considers individuals but things and their consequences.

[Trump doesn't care about people any more than laws, except as means to an end]

11.  Success is the most convincing talker in the world.

[Has Trump ever said that he was wrong?  Isn't he always successful, in his eyes?]

12.  The only thing to be done with those one is no longer able to recompense, is to disgrace them.

[Those Trump can't manipulate, he disgraces, such as the whole Democratic Party]

13.  Force is never anything but force ... But persuasiveness endures and imprints itself on the heart.

[The need to be charismatic and capture followers' hearts.]

Are there Exceptions in Napoleon's aphorisms? 

Just two of the aphorisms seemed to contradict the general theme that I found.  Napoleon writes, "The most dangerous counselor is self-love."  Note, however, that danger doesn't necessarily dissuade a superior person in the Emperor's view.  In fact, often the contrary.

Maybe harder to align is this aphorism:  "A lie is useless since it deceives but once."

However, the bulk of Napoleon's conveyed philosophy indicates that this is an anomaly.  One chilling example is, "To be believed, make the truth unbelievable."

Isn't that exactly what Trump does with his followers?  Make the truth unbelievable?  One small example is Kelly Ann Conway's "alternate facts."

Overall, Napoleon's aphorisms in the Success chapter of the book provide scary resemblances to what Trump seems to embrace, based on his words and actions.

This resemblance is not a compliment to our current President.  Napoleon's ego flaws, one could argue, took the world into bloody chaos.  Some historians say he initiated the strategy of "total war," leading to new standards of extreme violence that influenced the US Civil War and WWI (which in turn influenced WWII).

Frighteningly, Napoleon's status as Emperor is inimical to the basic premise of our Founders.  His ideology, held by anyone who swore an oath to the Constitution, is that of a traitor.   

One positive thing said about Napoleon is that he established "equality" as a legal standard.  But Trump's flagrant racism is the direct enemy of an egalitarian standard.  If anything, Trump is even more narcissistic than Napoleon, while, at the same time, being not only less talented but also manifestly incompetent.



1. Some historians posit that Napoleon wasn't great at military strategy and tactics.  Instead, he benefited from luck and also incompetence from the other side.


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Poem: Traffic Jam


Traffic Jam


cars hunker,

such orderly rubble,

bricks from a shattered,

rebuilt childhood.


this is surely progress

viewed through a cookie-cutter

and laid in strips

to cube a valley’s waist.


so the city gets cinched

until smog glooms,

cowing a sun that slouches

under crimson.


and the windshields gleam,

shocked by this uncertain blood—

have they been strangled?


row after row, line after line of them,

for just a moment

the arteries

of a feat revelation-struck,


once great.



Monday, October 19, 2020

Poem: Desert Walk


Desert Walk


mushroom clouds

kicked up

by the warhead of my shoe


to rile this parched landscape,

alkaline of ruinous scroll,

these dunes


that incant without fortune,

waking at sunset

to play chess with shadows.


no god or gold,

no shatterer of worlds

peturbs the infinite tomb-motes


except my gait.


this amorphous adobe

of despoiled razorbacks

and castles.


no god or gold.

no shatterer of worlds.

no slaughtered cattle


bleached to bone.


no Midas bankers

or Medusan profiteers,

turned into stone.


Saturday, October 17, 2020

Democratic Senators Could Have Neutralized Barrett's Use of the Ginsburg Rule -- Easily


From the perspective of basic logic, the Democrats could've done a much better job questioning Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court Seat.  Her main defense was a simple 'I won't say' when it came to hot-button topics. 

The adoption of the mis-named 'Ginsburg rule' has become a typical and annoying tactic in SCOTUS nominee hearings.  The underlying dodge is this:  if something is likely to come before the court, a justice can't, in advance, give an opinion.

At times, though, it is utterly obvious that you should give an opinion in your nomination hearing.  Otherwise you look like a party tool or, worse, someone willing to shred the Constitution.

The issue of whether a President can self-pardon came up in Barrett's hearings.  Barrett did the 'I won't say thing'.  This is what she said:

That question may or may not arise but it’s one that calls for legal analysis of what the scope of the pardon power is. So because it would be opining on an open question when I haven’t gone through the judicial process to decide it, it’s not one on which I can offer a view.


Here is what any Senator, Dem or Rep, all of them oath-bound to protect the Constitution, should have said to her, based on simple logic:

"Justice Barrett, if a President can self-pardon, what is to keep them from committing treason?  A self-pardoning President could commit a treasonous act, couldn't they, and then turn around and grant themself immunity from repercussion?

"Suppose President Trump self-pardons himself, under the aegis of a favorable SCOTUS ruling that allows such a thing.  Let's suppose Congress tries to punish him for his misdeed.  Couldn't Trump then have the members of Congress arrested, then pardon those who did the arresting?  And again, pardon himself, for neutralizing Congress?

"In fact, a rogue President could have any dissenting voice jailed.  All with the wave of a magical executive wand!

"Do you have any way to counter this simple logical conclusion, Justice Barrett?

"If the States themselves tried to enforce their Criminal statues against a rogue President, couldn't that President, again, have the governors and the attorneys arrested?  Or killed?  Again, such a rogue Executive could pardon themself, and also their lackeys. 

"Shall I remind you that President Trump has expressed a right to do whatever he wants, by misrepresenting Article II of the Constitution?  If he can self-pardon, he can flout the Constitution at will.

"As our founders warned--emphatically--monarchic overreach is always a threat to our democratic republic.  Justices and legislators should be ever vigilant.  So, I ask you again, should a President be allowed to self-pardon? 

"Frankly, Justice Barrett, any answer besides 'No' shows an unwillingness to stand up for the essential framework of our Constitution.  There is no feasible way to assert that a President can self-pardon, while, at the same time, safeguarding our nation's principles.

"Simple logic, then, insists that, as a nominee for the Supreme Court, you stand up at this perilous juncture in the history of the United States.  So, I will give you another chance to say what is logically and ethically necessary.

"What will it be?  Will you bow down, as so many have done already, before the looming specter of tyranny?  Indeed, I ask you this question before God.  As I am sure you know, God is watching.  And the only wise and reasonable answer is very clear.

"Justice Barrett, Will you allow a President to self-pardon?"


I think such a line of questioning would have seriously challenged Barrett's rushed nomination.  But not a single Senator went this way.  Sad.

There are other examples, too, of situations where a nominee can be seriously called out for using 'I won't say,' using simple logic.  However, tempus fugit.  



Monday, October 12, 2020

Use Psychology, Not Rationality, to Reach Trump's Followers

"Rationality will not save us" is #2 in Secretary of State Robert McNamara's ten lessons from the Vietnam War, as presented in the movie, "Fog of War."  


Although I think some of his ten lessons need modification, I also think that we live in a time of Wonderland-ish psychological warfare (or neurochemical warfare, as I have called it) and that McNamara's lessons apply today, at least as useful springboards of reflection.  In specific, these rules can help us approach Trump's fanatic followers, with a goal of healing the divide in this country--or at least help us stay sane and empower ourselves.

I say "psychological warfare" because Trump is using psychology to divide the country and harness his base into an army of cultish followers, willing to suffer greatly for him; and he has even urged them toward violence with tweets like, "LIBERATE MICHIGAN."  This kind of exhortation, much more than a dog whistle, is becoming more frequent and vehement in his 'take up arms' rhetoric.

I say "Wonderland-ish" because even Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, realizes the craziness.  He used a paraphrase of the Cheshire Cat to describe Trump, "If you don't know where you're going, any path will get you there."

Craziness creates chaos, and chaos can work well as a means to usurp (or create) a throne.  Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine and Disaster Capitalism are relevant here, underscoring that we are less rational and less resistant to fear-mongers when panicked.

If rationality will not save us, then I suggest--as I have before, many times--that we chose another strategy, one that seems obvious.  First, admit that humans are psychological, not rational.  Second, use related techniques to listen, validate, and deal with conflict.

Reason is useful, yes, but only secondarily, when couched in our true way of apprehending and perceiving at the world, a psychological one.

Part of this solution, actually, relates to McNamara's Lesson One:  "Empathize with your enemy."    Lesson Three is great, too, as it focuses on enlightened humility:  "There's something beyond one's self."

In many ways, we continue to pretend that humans are primarily rational.  We cherish the chestnut of the noble, wise voter.   However, every major marketing company in the world knows we are subconsciously motivated.  So does Trump.

If you think you are immune to this, well, maybe you are.  How should I know.  But statistical demographics back up the general trend.  Looking at the big picture, via statistics, large segments of society are subliminally vulnerable.

Again, this doesn't mean that rationality is irrelevant or unimportant, only that we are not designed to accept naked logic without considerable resistance, even if it is solid science.  Part of this is all the pain we carry inside, and how it can be surprisingly activated by any change in our way-of-being or worldview.

We also tend to much more easily accept what we want to hear.  What brings us pleasure.  What backs up our current belief system.  Moreover, we are happy to bend or distort arguments so they fit our preconceptions.  In psychology, this is called confirmation bias.

To respond to Trump's psychological warfare, try psychological techniques.  I offer a number of them here:


To emphasize the very important point--that rationality cannot save us--I supply the following quote, taken from another of my blog entries:

The death-swell of 20th century fascism, its dethroning of empires in an orgy of all-out slaughter, including the fire-bombing runs and the apocalyptic use of fission; how it bred the horrors of the genocidal concentration camps; has not stopped the grim specter from rising again.   

As psychological, evolutionary creatures, we tend to focus on what's around us right now--not long-term or global effects, beyond our immediate perceptual purview.  


Fly Well In the Dark,



Friday, October 9, 2020

Paul Matzko Fails to be Vigilant, Calls Trumpism a "Version of Conservatism."

 I'm too busy for this, but an op-ed today by Paul Matzko is a perfect example of what I'm taking about in my recent blog post, "Stop Calling Republicans Conservatives:  It's totally false PR." (Sept 24, 2020)

The title of Matzko's article is "Talk Radio is Turning Millions of Americans into Conservatives": 


In response to this title, No, it is not.  It is turning them into authoritarians.  Authoritarians are very different from conservatives.  By conflating the two, Matzko prettifies the danger we face.  He gives Republicans, both leaders and masses, the staid camouflage of an august intellectual movement that goes back hundreds of years.  

Trump wants to be a dictator.  His followers, authoritarians, want a dictator.  The writing is on the wall.  There is nothing conservative going on here.  This is straight-up anti-liberty, anti-tradition, anti-cautious headlong tyranny.  See my blog post, referenced above, for a point-by-point discussion:

Stop painting lipstick on a pig.  Tell it like it is.  The USA is in peril of losing its republic, and having it replaced by a totalitarian-praising narcissist.  

Please, Matzko, and all you other big-audience pundits, Stop pretending this is another chapter in the liberal vs. conservative dialectic.  Stop sugar-coating.

Digging his misconceptualization deeper--and perhaps, at least at some level of mind, realizing that what he is doing is shameful--Matzko tries to defend his shifty labeling:

The conservatism of talk radio only partly overlaps with institutional conservatism, that of right-wing Washington think tanks, magazines and the Republican Party itself. By the early 2000s, it had embraced a version of conservatism that is less focused on free markets and small government and more focused on ethnonationalism and populism. It is, in short, the core of Trumpism — now and in the future, with or without a President Trump.  

No, sir.  Trumpism is in no way conservative.  None.  Not partially.  Not even a fig leaf.   It is a personality cult that wallows in conspiracy theories.    

Mr. Matzko, Trump got on Fox News yesterday and called for Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and President Obama to be arrested for treason.  Is this a "version of conservatism" to you?    

STOP helping Republicans, including those in Congress, hide what they are doing.  No GOP member of Congress stands up to him.  They are bobble heads.  De facto collaborators.  Or willing collaborators.

See Anne Applebaum's great article for an incredible analysis:


They have acted like quislings and unless they condemn Trump, they are quislings.  

As we all should know, the following is just one example of so many:

I have an Article 2 where I have the right to do whatever I want as president. (Trump, July 23, 2019)


Thursday, October 8, 2020

Poem: The Real




The Real


it hurt it hurt it hurt

the lack of heaven

in the violation of the sky.


it hurt hurt hurt


all the blurbs and fairytales, peddled,

that politicians proclaimed,

lapped up by a pandemic culture 

of unthinking thought.


it never


even entered the outer 

perimeter of the real,

or bore witness to the manufactory

in the pits between the skyscrapers. 


if there was a real god,

who didn’t on the leash of souls fascinate,

she was chastised, marginal,


a handmaid for the crippled and naive,

tolerated yet flimsy,

saddled with an impossible task:


to nurture trust

between those of different skin,

and debunk a sacrilege

of White wonder bread.


the politicians,

they had knives for mean tongues

that cut diamonds with precision

from the religious fat.


they slashed to slay

the quests of the ethical,

drawing out blood

to swill the scarlet of hate.


below their pulpit on the hill,

the coinage and oink-honks

of a low city responded,

ravenous for violence.


it was obvious

though unmentionable in this obvious context

that violence

was the real eucharist.





Kenny Cole, in his Parabellum project for UMMA (see blog post), used several of my poems, two of which have never before been published. One of those poems is above. The theme is in the spirit of Cole's anti-war, anti-conformity message, heartily expressed through provocative art.

To see all the poems in Parabellum, go here:


Fly Well In the Dark,








Thursday, October 1, 2020

Poem: Skeleton Contemplation


Skeleton Contemplation


ripping open

with eagle fingers,

pecking in shrieked phrase,

i strew myself about,


wolf teeth flinging guts,

heart barbed in sharp roses,

bowels squashed

like mr. road-killed snake


it's all sacred bloody knives

from the prune-smooth vulture heads,

their funnels of meat lust,

oozy gloss on coated beaks,

so slovenly stabbing

through a mania of flies.


the bared skull gawks,

chummy with dust,

plum-sized eye sockets




fleshlessly tasked

in unwalled night's tomb

to assemble a skeletal abacus.


“Contemplating One’s Own Skeleton”


The essential elements of this mystical vision

are the being divested of flesh and the

numbering and naming of the bones.

                                                            Mircea Eliade