Topics

A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter... p.write@gmail.com

Meet the new boss, completely different from the old boss…

The Genie’s Out of the Bottle

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND)  Any rational person who is aware of actual – as opposed to ‘alternative’ – facts will acknowledge that the Trump presidency thus far has been a chaotic clown show. At one time I believed that the vast majority of people fell into the category of being rational and fact aware; now I continue to believe it is a majority, but only by a razor thin margin. One of the most perplexing facts about the Trump phenomenon is that, at this writing, the percentage of acknowledged Trump voters who now regret their vote is somewhere between 3 and 5. You heard that right. Despite the many anecdotal instances of regretful Trump supporters, 95 to 97 percent of them say they would vote for him again if there were to be an election tomorrow.

This is despite his failures to keep any of his campaign promises, from the Muslim ban, to the Mexican wall; from repealing and replacing Obama care with something better to ‘draining the swamp’. This is despite the almost daily reminders of his utter ignorance of how government works; of what is actually in the trade agreements he claimed were terrible; of diplomacy; of American or world history; of the US Constitution; and of the limits and extent of presidential, judicial, and congressional powers and responsibilities. The Trump base is comprised of the people most affected by losing Medicare, Medicaid, and any of the other social programs to which this administration is laying waste. Well, except for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and the subsidies for Public Broadcasting. They won’t miss those. That all those programs are being eliminated or severely hamstrung by budget slashing is being done specifically to help pay for tax breaks and incentives that only apply to the very wealthiest Americans doesn’t even seem to annoy them.

And most bewildering of all, his rock-solid base is not perturbed in the slightest that it’s becoming more and more apparent with each passing day that his election was largely due to illegal interference in the process by Russia. Moreover, his people continue to resist the very idea of a genuinely impartial investigation into what is almost certainly treasonous activity on the part of his closest and most powerful inner circle, and very likely on the part of Trump himself.

What is going on here? How can this scorched earth model of governance be accepted by the very people who are inhaling the smoke and being barbequed by the flames? Why, apart from commentaries like this one being run on the Internet and published in print, is there so little outrage when one would expect there to be millions of villagers with torches and pitchforks assaulting the White House?

The answer is oddly paradoxical. The lack of overwhelming grassroots backlash to Trump’s appalling agenda is due both to the outrageously unprecedented nature of the 45th US president’s shambolic administration, and to the fact that the insanity surrounding and permeating the administration is becoming normalised.

For any constitution or other formalised plan of government to work, the consent of the governed is necessary, and much of the quotidian activity carried out in the halls of government is not covered by a constitution, but is managed and directed by precedent, by tacit agreement, by convention, and by tradition. These need to be respected by both those in government and by those governed; it is impossible for even the most prescient document to anticipate every eventuality and address it with specific rules or even guidelines. For example, the US Constitution does not require candidates for high office to release their personal income tax returns for public scrutiny. The self-evident need for that disclosure was not a failing on the part of the Founding Fathers; there was no income tax at the time and none was foreseen. The first such tax was the Revenue Act of 1861, a century after the signing of the constitution, and it was a temporary wartime measure. The 16th Amendment passed in 1913 established the tax as it is known today. But candidates, by convention and tradition, have been expected to disclose their returns since the post-war period. There is therefore no mechanism (yet) to compel presidential candidates to disclose.

Nevertheless, tradition, etiquette, and convention is so important to the smooth running of government that even Donald Trump assured voters that he would disclose his returns should he choose to run for office. Later, as a candidate, he promised to disclose them as soon as a routine audit was completed. Later still, as president, through his spokesperson Kellyanne (Alternative Facts) Conway, he told the country that he wouldn’t be disclosing them, as his victory demonstrated that the people weren’t really interested. The brazenness of that lie, combined with the tortured logic behind it had no precedent in US federal politics prior to Donald Trump’s appearance on the scene. It was outrageous; it was an in-your-face middle finger to the US citizens and the rest of the world. But it wasn’t out of character. Trump had made a successful presidential candidacy out of outrage and running roughshod over tacitly understood mores, customs, and traditions. Just to demonstrate how outrageous and beyond the pale Trump was prepared to venture, let’s remember Trump’s straight faced assertion that sitting president Barrack Obama, with the help of former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, had founded ISIS. Not in any figurative sense, not meaning that their policies had led to the formation of ISIS; no, he insisted that they were the actual and literal founders of the radical Islamic terrorist army.

We have to remind ourselves of that because it is so profoundly delusional. It causes a certain cognitive dissonance because there is nothing in our collective memory to reconcile the fact that such a clearly insane accusation could have been made, repeated, expanded upon, and doubled down on by a man who was only months later elected to the presidency of the United States of America.

Whether by design or by accident, the Trump approach to politics has normalised the shocking, the despicable, the outrageous. Actions taken by this administration, had they occurred under the authority of any previous president, would have sparked a backlash that probably would have removed him from office. The brazen profiteering and self-enrichment that is commonplace under this administration would have led to investigations and impeachment motions. Ditto for the scenario in which a political appointment recuses himself from an investigation into activities in which he was involved, but nevertheless is able to fire the person responsible for leading the investigation. It is even business as usual when Congress, under the control of the President’s own party, refuses to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate charges of espionage and treason at the very highest levels of the administration, despite the overwhelming evidence of a massive conspiracy against the nation.

The problem, no matter what happens next, is that the unspoken rules of the political game have all been changed now. And they won’t be changed back. Just like the first time the word ‘fuck’ was spoken out loud in a movie, a certain Rubicon had been crossed. It has now become normal. Thanks to Trump and his idiot diehard supporters, American politics have been coarsened, campaigns have become blood sports where policy means nothing, promises have no meaning, debate means character assassination, and governance means personal enrichment. Even if Trump and Pence and half the cabinet were to be impeached and imprisoned, the face of political discourse in the US has been forever disfigured. The genie is out and he’s not going back in.

ENDITEM…

The scent of desperation

Incompetence? Or a Wild Gamble?

Pagun

 

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The current atmosphere in Washington and especially in the White House is so chaotic and fraught with cliques, factions, and competing interests that pinpointing the exact and

The White House at Work

proximate reason for President Trump’s decision to fire FBI chief James Comey is a pointless exercise. Suffice it to say that, love him or loath him, Comey is one more piece of collateral damage in the clusterfuck that US politics has become.

But if there is anything more coordinated in the White House than could be seen at an unsupervised gathering of spoiled, over-privileged, hyperactive pre-adolescents, today’s news is breathtakingly sinister.

James Comey

The Deputy Attorney General’s letter to Trump includes the following paragraph:

“Over the past year however, the FBI’s reputation and credibility have suffered substantial damage. . . I cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgement that he was mistaken.”

 

Rod Resenstein

It is abundantly clear that by “the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton” emails” Resenstein is referring to Comey’s conclusion that, while her handling of those emails was extraordinarily careless, her culpability didn’t rise to the level of criminality and that no responsible  prosecutor would pursue criminal charges. It should be clear to anyone watching this drama that the groundwork is being laid and the stage is being set to find some way to charge Hillary Clinton with some serious criminal offense(s).

The idea of a manifestly incompetent and power hungry head of state preparing to fulfil his campaign promise/slogan to lock up his opponent in a national election – one that is universally recognized to have been influenced by a hostile foreign government – is terrifying. Nothing could scream “Banana Republic” louder or clearer than the pretender to the presidency orchestrating the incarceration of his more popular one-time rival on bogus charges. But that’s the thing with populist demagogues like Donald Trump; somehow they persuade their devoted and even fanatical followers that they are actually saving the nation, while they strive destroy its very foundations.

Donald Trump is ignorant of virtually everything with which a national leader should be conversant. “Who knew health insurance was so complicated?” “People should know that Lincoln was a Republican.” Pretty much everyone in the world did, of course, except for the president of the United States. To be as uninformed as the American President requires a significant lack of intelligence. To remain that way, as Trump has, demands an even greater degree of stupidity. But although Donald Trump is both unintelligent and ignorant, he is a master at manipulation through the media. And this might just be his greatest feat of sleight of hand.

The walls are closing in on the president and his team of pillagers ensconced in the White House. Despite the valiant efforts of the entire GOP to thrust a stick into their spokes, the various investigations into the Russian influence on the election are uncovering more and more evidence of what looks like treason on the part of President Trump’s closest advisors. Despite the GOP’s refusal to appoint a special prosecutor to carry out a thorough and non-partisan investigation, it is only a matter of time before the President himself is identified as having colluded with Russia to swing the election in his favour. The evidence is overwhelming and it is piling up.

So, while the entire criminal edifice that makes up the Trump administration frantically tries to cash in; while the President’s family and friends brazenly use their official and non-official statuses to solicit bribes and special favours for their various personal companies, the administration throws up this frightening smoke screen. This may well be the desperate move of a failing dictatorship. It may well be the sudden panicky attack mode of a rat that finds itself cornered. But if the GOP faithful don’t soon – immediately – each grow a pair, it could be the masterstroke that establishes an overt dictatorial oligarchy as the new political paradigm in the United States. This may be a wild gamble on Team Trump’s part; it may be pushing its pile of chips to the centre of the table and going all in.

It’s important to remember that the ultimate decision as to whether an indictment be sought or charges brought against Ms. Clinton is in the hands of Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General and Trump toady. Attorney General Sessions is a mean spirited, vindictive little sycophant who will do whatever he believes Donald Trump wants him to do. If the White House, overtly or covertly, signals him that it’s time to move, he will order one of the law enforcement agencies under his control – probably the FBI – to go ahead and slap the cuffs on her. If that happens, the world will know that the coup d’état is underway and Ms. Clinton is the first of many to find themselves in the cross hairs of the new regime.

Whether this is just another example of desperate flailing about or, on the other hand, a reckless gamble with the future of the country will soon become clear. Better buckle up. It looks like we’re in for a bumpy ride.

ENDITEM…

Just Ahead: The Final Curtain

Endgame

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) With less than two weeks left of the ugliest presidential campaign in living memory, it is now evident, to all but the hardest of the hardcore bubbleheadconspiracy theorists and the most willfully bubble-dwelling Trump supporters, that Donald Trump, the candidate that never should have been, will lose decisively at the polls on November 8, 2016.

If there remains anyone in the Trump camp with a modicum of rationality, they will know that, because of the campaign they have run, even more damaging WikiLeaks revelations are unlikely to reverse the trend of voters gravitating toward Hillary Clinton and at long last rejecting Trump. As President Obama tours the country campaigning for his successor and scoring points off those opponents who made his term of office a hellish experience, with their obstructionism and thinly disguised racially motivated legislative sabotage, Republicans are distancing themselves from their nominee with allrat-with-life-preserver the subtlety of rats strapping on life jackets. In a little more than a week, down-ticket Republicans are going to have to answer for their contributions to the most useless and blindly partisan Congresses in American history. Some will lose their seats as a direct result of their bitter and persistent attacks on a president destined to go down in history as one of the greats.

There is now no realistic chance of the tide receding again and returning to sweep the Republican nominee into the White House; and that is largely because of the gamble that Trump took. He gambled from the beginning that he could run a completely negative campaign and bully his way to the finish line, picking up enough support along the way to pull off an upset. Insofar as he had any actual strategy, it was one of scorched earth; attack, attack, attack. However, Trump and his inner circle confused strategy with

Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump holds a plane-side rally at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna, Ohio, Monday, March 14, 2016.  (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

tactics. Looking back over the campaign, each time his senior campaign officials were replaced, that absence of coherent strategy was evident in that nothing of substance changed in any significant way. There were moments, even days, when Trump was reined in; during those brief periods, Trump stayed on script, used a teleprompter, didn’t light up the Twittersphere with midnight storms of 140 or fewer characters, and enjoyed a few moments of being taken seriously by the country. But he was never able to maintain that façade of adult-level seriousness. Abandoning anything resembling a strategy, he resorted to tactics.

Trump was a media whore for his entire adult life. He cultivated a public persona and revelled in the attention he managed to generate by his unceasing pandering to the media. Early on, he recognised that he could stay in the public eye by outrageous tacky-trumpbehaviour; he was a natural for Howard Stern’s shock radio show, and he and Stern fed off each other. He was a natural at reality TV as well, his bad boy billionaire character, and his gaudy life of breathtakingly tacky, tasteless, excess brought in viewers who are impressed by such things. But what he discovered when, after years of threatening to do so, he decided to dip his toe into the waters of national politics, was that his previous experience of media attention was only a gateway drug. As the primaries wore on and he rose from being a joke candidate to winning the Republican nomination, he experienced the real thing; he had been given a taste of the hard stuff and he couldn’t get enough.

And like every other pathologically addictive personality, he needed more and more to achieve the same high. There are some junkies who can get a regular dose of their drug heroin-2and just float along on a quotidian buzz, never quite coming down, and never needing more than that. There are others, and Trump is among them, who never seem to get quite high enough; they push the envelope by demanding higher and higher doses, more and more frequently. They flirt with overdose every time they use. Those junkies are the crash and burn types; they don’t survive very long at that level of neediness, and, one day, they inevitably go too far.

It’s not entirely clear whether there is such a thing as a death from overdose when the addiction is to public adulation. But what is clear is that, at some point, the supply dries up. The very people who once provided the fix, become the ones who turn on their former idol and reject the market’s oversaturation. What was once brash and refreshing, trump-the-carnival-barkerbecomes obnoxious and crude. After enough exposure to the spotlights, the manufactured public persona becomes seen for what it is: a tawdry and cheesy patina; a threadbare and tacky suit, covering up a phony with all the depth and sincerity of an aged and hungover carnival barker.

At this point, Trump is still in desperate need of an ever-larger fix. He will, until the election, continue to hold rallies while eschewing any other kind of campaigning; rallies give him the kick, being packed to the rafters with the remaining cretins who still look to him for validation of their prejudices, fears, and suspicions of conspiracies. But even Trump knows that the party’s over when he loses the election. He will never again, as a laughably inept and failed candidate, garner the attention and free media he thrived on during the last fifteen or so months. But, being allergic to being exposed as a failure, not wanting to be seen as his favourite epithet, “a loser”, he has victimbeen preparing the groundwork for his sound defeat on the 8th of November. He is increasing his outrage factor by assuring the country and the world that the election is rigged, that the fix is in.

He is trying, at one and the same time, to persuade his followers to get out and vote for him, and to tell them that their votes will be stolen; that the election is a fraud and that they should participate as though it isn’t. In his increasingly deranged carnival barker’s patter, he makes it clear that the only way to know that the elections are fair and democratic, would be to see him elected. If he loses, as he most assuredly will, that will constitute proof that there exists a conspiracy against him.

Trump is gambling at this point that he can raise so much distrust and suspicion of the electoral process that his supporters will reject the election’s outcome. He is counting on post election chaos and turmoil; if he succeeds in instigating widespread upheaval and violence, he believes that he will still be relevant. What he sees his role to be in such aendgame scenario isn’t clear. It isn’t clear to us and it is almost certainly not clear to him. Remember, he has no strategy; he has tactics. All he knows is that if the country is rocked by a large enough and violent enough group of people that buy his snake oil, he will still be the centre of attention; and that’s the fix he needs.

What comes next? To Trump, it’s irrelevant, as long as people continue to pay attention to him. For the rest of the world, it’s hard to say. But predictions vary from simply a period of violence and acrimony that will ultimately die down before things return to normal, to the prediction of the end of that great experiment in democracy that is the United States of America.

ENDITEM…

Democracy? What Democracy?

Democracy in America 2016

Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND) The Washington Post recently published an article describing the results of a study that seem to show that Americans’ confidence in their government is at its lowest ebb since the Civil War. Perhaps even more significantly, confidence in the very idea of democracy has waned to the point that a majority now distrust democracy as a governance paradigm. And, perhaps not surprisingly, this distrust is manifested most strongly in young adults. As many as half of millennials claim that they accept-resultswill not accept the legitimacy of the elections or the new president if their candidate loses. That refusal to acknowledge the results of next month’s election is expressed in a majority of Trump’s supporters and a significant minority of Clinton’s.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to point out that for a democracy to function at all, the people must be prepared to accept the wishes of the majority and respect the democratic mechanisms in place to determine the will of the people. Without that social contract, no form of democratic governance – government by the people – is even possible. For it to work, a democratic system must be supported by all the people, not just those whose candidate prevails.

It is for that reason that one is hard pressed to disagree with the cynicism of those who no longer have confidence in the democracy of the United States of America. At the very outset of the Obama presidency, the Republican Party, unable to accept Barack Obama as their president, made it a policy to disrupt, to block, to hamstring his every effort to govern. One of the two major parties in an essentially blame-obamatwo-party system refused to accept the legitimacy of a democratically elected black president. Democracy American style began its death spiral on inauguration day 2008, when GOP leaders met and formulated their policy of refusing to cooperate with a White House occupied by a black man. The first concerted effort to reject democracy as the paradigm of US governance was made by the party of Lincoln.

Donald Trump is the logical outgrowth of the Republican’s policy of ending democracy in America. He was created by the GOP and every one of his outrages was perfectly predictable, given the direction in which the party was heading. He is an unabashed racist; perfectly in line with the Republicans’ disdain for African Americans and other minorities. He is a misogynist; appropriate for the party that wants to overturn Roe v. Wade and return women to the kitchens. He is a climate change denier; right in line with the party that’s bought and paid for by big oil. But mostly he is a fascist, with dreams of ruling the people he despises; a perfect nominee for a party that rejects democracy.

As the campaign lurches into its final days, the toxic shitshow of which Trump is the ringmaster reaches a new low point virtually every day. But since the Republican nominee has exhausted the supply of ethnic groups to trumpolinimalign and has already alienated pretty much every demographic except poorly educated white males, he has now decided to dispense with any pretensions of being anything but an authoritarian with a vision of America that can’t be honestly described as anything but fascist.

In what democracy on earth does a candidate vow to imprison his opponent if he wins? The most accurate answer to the question is that it doesn’t occur in a democracy; it happens in the United States of America. The United States of America hasn’t been a true democracy for some time. In a democracy, there would have been no President George W. Bush to lie, knowingly and deliberately, to the country in order to start a war to enrich himself, his cronies, and his ego. There would have been no President George W. Bush because the candidate elected by the people, Al Gore, would have been inaugurated instead. In fact, in any country other than the US, George W Bush’s assumption of the presidency would have been recognised for what it was, and described as such: a coup d’etat.

But the Republican mission to bring an end to democracy in the US should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention; that intention has been out in the open for decades. When Ronald Reagan, at every opportunity from the Johnny Carson Show to the State of the Union Address, reagan-idiotasserted that people shouldn’t look to the government for solutions to their problems; that government was the problem, nobody believed he meant that literally. After all, he lived in government housing, and deposited his government cheque, and flew on government transportation, in the company of dozens of others who all did the same. In truth, he didn’t mean that the notion of government is wrong per se. He meant that democratic government was wrong; he clearly believed that leaders like himself and his select subordinates and their families should continue to draw their incomes from public coffers but the people who fill those coffers should not have access to them. The people should be self reliant and fend for themselves; anything else was immoral. He wasn’t a small ‘D’ democrat; he was a plutocrat. The United States is a plutocracy now, and this election is offering the people an opportunity to become a purely fascist plutocracy.

The Republicans have all along supported the plutocracy and in this election cycle they are simply asking for the final seal of approval in an effort to remove the necessity of pretending it is anything else. Remember Grover Norquist vowing to shrink government down to a size where it could be drowned in a bathtub? He didn’t mean all government. He meant those parts of the government that are involved in corporatewelfarevssocialwelfareproviding social services and programmes for those in need. He meant those aspects of government that could be considered democratic. He had no problem with the government stepping in to control women’s bodies, or providing billions of dollars annually to corporate interests. Democracy, not government was the problem. Note the gerrymandering that ensured a Republican House for the foreseeable future; note the Republican organised efforts at voter suppression; they weren’t even pretending to want a democracy. Putting a fascist in the White House, particularly an inept, not terribly bright, and easily manipulated fascist, wofree-pressuld ensure the long term survival of the plutocracy.

Donald Trump suits the needs of the entrenched powers. They know that he’s lazy, ignorant, and far more interested in the trappings of power than actually administrating the affairs of state. As long as he gets to attend rallies and hear his name chanted, others will be able to maintain and ensure the survival of the plutocracy. With him in the White House, the limitations on the rights and freedoms of the people will be easy to manage. Trump has free-speechalready promised to impose stricter limits on the free press. He has already promised to impose stricter limits on free speech. He built his campaign on promises to take actions that are not permitted under the constitution as it currently exists. His handlers will have no problem imposing fascism under a Trump presidency.

The only real problem facing the Republicans at the moment is the establishment of a true hierarchy of hidden power. In their view, Trump will be the figurehead national leader while his strings are pulled by the true wielders of power; but who will that be? The party is falling apart because of utter internal chaos and an apparent inability to organise anything more complicated than a month or two vacation for themselves.

But should the Koch Brothers finally get fed up with all the clowning around in the GOP, for-sale-your-soulthey’ll just put their financial foot down and read them the riot act. They’ll tell them what to do and the soulless legislators they own will snap to attention and do as they’re told. The plutocracy will prevail. It won’t hit the tipping point this time, because Trump is going to get his ass handed to him in November. But Hillary as president won’t change much, and the Republicans will have four, or possibly eight years to regroup. And then, unless there is some cataclysmic change, or a revolution in the thinking of the people of the US, the plutocracy will once again flirt with fascism.

ENDITEM…

Language in the era of uncertainty

Declining Standards or a Sea Change?

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) I use the phrase “Sea Change” ironically to point out the declining standards also referred to in the slug above this essay.

Although Shakespeare used the phrase in Ariel’s Song in The Tempest, the expression “sea change” is bardactually a reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In the bard’s greatest tragedy, Prince Hamlet of Denmark undergoes a nearly inexplicable modification of his personality and character during an off-stage adventure at sea, which is not performed, but only described to the audience by means of the play’s dialogue. Unobserved by the audience, Hamlet embarks on the adventure as the melancholy Dane, an indecisive, dithering mass of uncertainty. When he returns, he is strong, focused, stalwart, and determined. He has undergone a sea change.

That phrase is commonly employed by writers today who mean little more than a modification of the status quo; as a metaphor, it has lost its punch through misuse and overuse.

I only mention that single and not terribly important example as an indicator of an increasing degradation of the English language. Unexamined metaphors are one thing, but the erosion of the fundamentals of the language is something else again. The inclination to disregard rules and conventions of usage is a clear trend, and it is snowballing as it gathers strength and increases in acceptability. I doubt if anyone who is proficient in grammar, spelling, and word usage has failed to notice, and even decry, the way the English language has lost much of its beauty and elegance in an unequal trade for a naturalistic sound in published prose.

toystory-badwritingEven a cursory look through the Internet editions of highly respected publications like The New York Times, The Atlantic, or Time Magazine will reveal typo after typo, syntactical errors, and misused words. Just today, I saw an article by a professional journalist who used the word “clique” where she clearly meant “cliché”. An error on the part of an auto-correct feature? Perhaps. A slip as a result of writing under the pressure of deadline? Could be. But the point is that errors of all types are increasingly common. What is significant, though, is not so much the frequency of errors, but the indifference displayed even by professionals to their appearance in print or online.

It is exceedingly rare to read anything online today that is entirely free of errors. What is becoming increasingly common, though, is the deliberate employment of chatty colloquialisms, Web-jargon, and acronyms. Serious articles contain expressions like LOL, or WTF, even presidential candidates rely on social media familiarity by posting phrases like “delete your account”, which would have been meaningless even a decade ago.

Now this essay isn’t intended to be a crotchety, pedantic, lament from a professional writer for “the good good-newsold days”. On the contrary. I’m writing this piece to suggest that we may just be at a watershed point in the history of the English language. Historically, it wouldn’t be the first time the language has undergone a process of rapidly overhauling itself.

The Great Vowel Shift of the 15th to 17th Centuries was a process of radical modification in the way English was pronounced; essentially, English was spoken like Chaucerian English before the shift, and like Shakespearean English afterwards. At roughly the same time the pronunciation was changing, the language itself was changing from Middle English to Modern English. A quick way to get a sense of the scope of the change is to compare the readability of something by Sir Thomas Malory from the early-mid 15th Century, to the ease of access enjoyed by the King James version of The Bible, written between 1604 and 1611.

Two great dictionariests also had marked impact on the English language. In 1746 in Great Britain, Samuel Johnson was contracted to produce a more definitive English dictionary than the haphazardly researched ones then available. Over nine years, he single handedly researched, compiled, and wrote A Dictionary of the English Language, sometimes printed as Johnson’s Dictionary. Widely recognised as being among the greatest scholarly achievements in history, Dr. Johnson’s magnum opus remained the standard English language reference until The Oxford English Dictionary was completed over 170 years later. Thanks to Johnson, spelling became standardised. Prior to his dictionary, spelling was idiosyncratic and capricious, with words being written however the writer heard it in his head at that moment. William Shakespeare famously even spelled his own name differently on different occasions. Now there was a correct and an incorrect way of writing the spoken language.webster-johnson

On the other side of the pond, in 1806 Noah Webster’s first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, was published. Webster can be credited with standardising the American spelling of English language words, and formalising the differences between British and American spelling. In America, centre became center; labour, neighbour, and favour all lost their Us and became labor, neighbor, and favor; specialise swapped its second S for a Z (now called zee rather than zed) and was spelled more like it is pronounced: specialize; and so with civilize, vitalize, recognize, and harmonize.

And all of these mowilliamdifications, shifts, and changes are in the relatively modern history of the language. Before the Norman Conquest in 1066, a modern English speaker would not have understood a Briton’s language at all; the introduction of Norman French to the language of the Angles and Saxons altered the language of the British Isles and sent it off on a trajectory that culminated in today’s version.

That we are in a new period of flux and uncertainty regarding English usage can be attributed to the Internet, of course, but there is also a sociological and even political component at work.

The Internet has provided an audience undreamed of by writers even 20 years ago. And that audience is available to literally anyone who has something to say and access to a computer. For those of us who started our careers in print media, we were second guessed on newsroom-old-schoolmatters of adherence to the publication’s style manual, on spelling, on usage, and our editors always had a spike waiting if we wrote crap. Nothing was set in type without having been seen by at least five sets of eyes. Mistakes in print, therefore, were rare. In contrast, for the vast majority of people who post on social media, or even personal blogs and websites, there is no third party filter; there is no editor to exercise control over content, there are no copy editors to impose style, spelling, and usage standards, and there are no proofreaders to provide a final check for errors. What they post can be stream of consciousness, straight from their keyboards to a potential audience of hundreds of millions of internet-warriorpeople. And no matter how unhinged the copy is, it can find an audience within that vast amorphous crowd who wants to read more of it. That’s how The Drudge Report and Breitbart manage to stay in business.

People are becoming accustomed to sloppy syntax, to the casual employment of neologisms, unconventional grammar, usage, and spelling. The unprofessional writing standards of even very successful Internet outlets has become the new normal. And that’s where the sociological and political component comes in.

For about 20 years now and increasingly every day, a movement within conservative circles has deliberately disparaged and undermined any hint of intellectualism, or expertise. Part of the new conservatism, especially as represented by the so called “alt right”, is an insistence that an expert opinion is just an opinion and anybody, however ignorant of the subject, can have an equally valid opinion. Scientific claims can be refuted, in the conservative zeitgeist, by anyone who makes a contrary claim; accepting an expert’s claim is seen as elitism unless even the least educated counterclaim is given equal standing.

That, of course, crosses over into the field of writing. A professional who anti-intellectual-1automatically avoids splitting infinitives, who ensures that verb and subject agree, chooses words with care, and is consistently accurate in his spelling, is condescended to as an “elitist”. The anti-elitist thinking goes so far as to suggest that it is safe to reject the arguments of someone who frames them logically, presents them with precision and care, and supports his points with factual evidence. To criticise the quality of writing in the blog of someone who is barely literate, is to invite a rebuttal that would argue that it must be good writing because of the number of hits it racks up. Popularity justifies bad writing. Bad writing is becoming standardised. But this may be the dawn of another shift; this time from Modern English to a 21st Century English language.

For a new and updated version of the English language to become the agreed upon standard, perhaps a period of fluidity, of flux, is a necessary precondition. Before a Samuel Johnson can emerge and rewrite the standards of acceptability in the new New English, it may be necessary for people to become dissatisfied with the capricious way people speak and write. If so, that probably won’t take very long. The problem with people using language willy-nilly, without reference to conventions or rules, is that communication suffers.

People simply won’t be able to understand one another clearly without conventions of usage. We have paul-ryan-trump-ap-reuters-640x480already seen the bastardisation of the English language leading to confusion in the current US presidential election. The mutability of words allows, for example, Paul Ryan to refuse to defend his party’s nominee; to acknowledge that Donald Trump is the very definition of a racist, to report being “sickened” by his misogyny, but somehow continue to endorse him. When words do not have a clearly understood shared meaning, every statement made can be weaseled out of as having been misunderstood. That’s where we are now.

But soon, one can hope, people will reject the muddy, indefinite, and vacillating use of language that is so common today. A new set of conventions will, one can hope, emerge, and lead to a comfortable period of clarity, understanding, and perhaps even elegance of expression in the English language. Perhaps then public figures won’t be able to get away so easily with claiming they didn’t say something they were recorded saying. Words have power; it’s incumbent upon us all to insist that the power be used with care.

ENDITEM….

 

The Fact-free Future

Embracing Ignorance

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) As western politics become increasingly polarised, and the liberal vs. conservative battle lines are drawn ever more far apart, one feature of the conflict becomes particularly bemusing: questions of scientific fact have become politicised.

In the 21st Century, issues that are clearly susceptible to empirical investigation and rational analysis have become litmus tests for one’s political persuasion, despite the salient fact that, on the surface at life-beginsleast, there is nothing whatever political about the subjects. At what moment does human life start? At birth? At viability? At quickening? At conception? At erection? Scientific questions, certainly, but the religious implications are clear; and where issues of religion and legislation collide, politics becomes the battlefield. But then there are other clearly scientific subjects that have even more tenuous connections to politics.

Anthropogenic climate change is simply and obviously a question that falls squarely within the realm of scientific analysis. And yet its acceptance or rejection is an indicator of one’s political leanings. Ditto for the purely scientific discussion of evolution and the part it plays in human and other organisms’ development over Earth’s history. Nevertheless, both of those subjects, within the political world at least, are deeply divisive. In the scientific world, there is no genuine controversy over either scientific theory; climate change is real and it is caused by human activity; evolution is real and it is the explanation for the origin and development of species.

quantum2The interesting thing, though, about the politicisation of those scientific theories is that their acceptance is virtually universal by the political left, while their rejection is comparably pervasive by the right. How does it happen that the conservative political stance has come to include a contemptuous disdain for science, for expertise, education, and knowledge on the one hand, and an enthusiastic embrace of gut feeling, of unsupported dogma, and of belief over knowledge? And why is the left more predisposed to accept science and rational analysis as their decision-making criteria than the right?

The short answer is that the conservative viewpoint tends to be shared, in North America particularly, by those who self-define as Christian, evangelical, fundamentalist, or born again; it is the religious conviction of conservatives that makes scientific questions political. Politics, as such, has no disagreement with science; but the religion of political conservatives most certainly does. Religion, persecutionparticularly Christianity, has a long and chequered history of butting heads with science. Scientists, Galileo perhaps most famously, have put their lives at risk to express scientific discoveries that met with the disapproval of the Christian church leaders.

 Stephen J Gould proposed the notion of “non-overlapping magisteria”. The idea was to separate the realms of science and religion and accord each the respect they deserve, while accepting that their intellectual content did not intrude on each other’s; that their areas – magisteria – of subject matter did not overlap. Science, according to Gould’s doctrine of NOM, would deal with questions susceptible to empirical and rational observation and investigation, while religion would deal with matters of revealed knowledge, the supernatural, and faith-based belief. Unfortunately, Professor Gould’s elegant and simple solution to the conflict between religious belief and science couldn’t stand up to real life testing.

an_inconvenient_truth_vs_a_reassuring_lieThe main problem with the NOM doctrine with respect to the political realm is that Christian activists are dedicated to the elimination of the separation of church and state; activist Christian groups are explicitly working to bring about a Christian theocracy in the United States. And, given that their brand of Christianity is largely based on the view that every word of their Bible is literally true, they read the bible as a scientific and historical text as well as a theological text.

Thus, the US conservative movement is comprised of those who adhere to the scientifically ludicrous “young Earth” dogma. The notion that every genuine scientist is simply wrong in the assertion the Earth formed some four and a half billion years ago and that life arose eons later and through a process of natural selection evolved into what we see around us today, is part of their religious belief. Therefore, their religious dogma that the Earth was created in seven twenty-four hour days some six thousand years ago, that mankind shared the planet with dinosaurs, that Noah’s flood somehow explains the stratification of the Grand Canyon, etc. etc. has become their political position as well as their scientific assertion and historical understanding.

As their religious-political-scientific-historical worldview is rejected by the majority of people who are less extreme in their beliefs and agendas, the religious right has for more than a decade employed a science-1strategy they openly call “the wedge”. The idea is to demonise and ultimately eliminate Darwinian evolution from the classroom. Their technique is Machiavellian and has been frighteningly successful in The US. Since the US Supreme Court has declared that teaching creationism as science violates the constitutional prohibition of the establishment of a state religion, they propose a modified version they call “intelligent design”. Then they argue that since evolution is merely a theory, alternative theories, ought to be on the curriculum.

Court after court has ruled that IT or intelligent design is nothing more than a tarted up version of creationism, and that it doesn’t come close to meeting the criteria to be called a scientific theory. Nevertheless, its supporters are indefatigable; they just keep on trying. After all, they are on a holy mission. And from their viewpoint, their crusade is blessed by their god because they know the Truth.

This politicisation of the goals of the theocratically inclined right wing is becoming increasingly confrontational with the current presidential contest. Not that Donald Trump is particularly religious; he’s not. Not even a little bit. He believes in Donald J Trump and nothing else. But the religious right is just wild about him. And that dynamic seems to have baffled a few pundits.science-gop

Why wouldn’t the religious right support Hillary Clinton, a church going, family values candidate whose history shows just how seriously she takes the sanctity of marriage? Why would they gravitate en masse to Trump, who can’t remember a single chapter of their bible, a man who bragged openly about his infidelities and is on his third wife? The short answer is that all that family values rhetoric and posturing, so common in Republican circles, is sheer hypocrisy.

The truth is that what Donald Trump represents to them is a rejection of rational thought, a dismissal of critical thinking, and a strong anti-science and anti-intellectual inclination. He loves the poorly educated, he once enthused. They know that with the dumbing down of America and the rise of a fact-free world order, their utterly fanciful and delusional beliefs about science, history, and even morality will have an atmosphere in which they would thrive. They are excited about the prospect of an America in which their Christian Taliban can wield power. They love things like the law Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate recently enacted in his home state; the law requires a funeral – arranged through a licenced funeral parlour – for all foetuses that are either aborted or miscarried. They know that the implicit rejection of centuries of scientific progress is the sort of fertile ground in which their idiot ideas will flourish.

Other cultures have taken retrograde steps and rejected learning and fact-based thinking. Look at Islam. It was once the centre of science and art and was centuries ahead of the west in the sophistication of its society. Fundamentalism rose, however, and the current barbarity that much of Islam embraces is the direct result of choosing religion over science. It is not unduly fanciful to fear a similar fate for the US in the event of a Trump presidency.

ENDITEM….

 

Lyin’, and Soundbites, and Memes…Oh My

Attention spans and politics

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) It’s no secret that attention spans are getting shorter. Arguably, that’s the fault of the Internet providing nearly instant response times, and keeping text content small while graphic and video content dominate on most sites. When I first started writing analysis and opinion pieces many years ago, the average column was about 1500 words and contained no visual content other than a headshot at the top, over the byline. Today, most of my editors are looking for columns of half that length, with 800 words the standard maximum.

attention-span

            I’ve had editors argue that the pay for shorter columns ought therefore to be about half of what they’d pay for twice the number of words. Truly professional editors, editors who started out as writers, see the fallacy in that argument. Winston Churchill, when he was earning his living as a political writer after he withdrew from political life, was once asked to write a specific piece of critical analysis for the London Times on short notice. He told the editor that he could get them 4000 words by the next day’s deadline. The editor responded that he would be happy with 2000 words, to which Churchill replied that he didn’t have enough time to write it that short. Churchill was acutely aware that cramming that much insight into a smaller piece was a far more difficult challenge than covering the same territory with enough room to express himself freely; condensing his thoughts and maintaining the same quality of analysis was a much tougher proposition.

            If a good writer takes a certain number of words to make and justify a point and then edits his

Winston Churchill...5th June 1941: Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965) pins his flag into his lapel after he had bought one in aid of Red Cross Day in London. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

own writing, eliminating any UEUE[1], any further cutting by an editor necessarily takes something away from the point and its supporting argument. And it’s safe to say that Churchill, the winner of the 1953 Nobel Prize for literature, was a good writer. Ideally, in commentary and analysis in periodicals, a writer will produce a piece that expresses a single main point and argue for it in the minimum number of words she or he feels covers the idea thoroughly. If the editorial constraints are too strict, the piece will be too short, and will spark rebuttals from readers who wish to dispute the points raised but insufficiently supported. If the piece is too long for a daily, it should perhaps be submitted to a weekly, or, if still too long, a monthly. If no periodical can accommodate its length, clearly the writer should be thinking in terms of a book.

            When I first started this site, I used to post 800 word pieces, sometimes with a graphic or two. That was because I had developed the habit of writing pieces on opinion pages of daily print media, for attentionwhom 800 words had become the standard. But over the years, I have discovered that 1300 to 1700 words is a far more comfortable size with which to get my point across. And now I add 5 or 6 graphics to each post because my research shows that, on the ‘net, people who are just clicking through, are put off by seeing blocks of text that aren’t broken up by visual content, and are likely to “bounce” as SEO experts express it.

            Having said all that, what is revolutionary about the current state of political reporting and commentary is that even the briefest analysis is beyond the attention span of the majority of people who aren’t either in politics, or in the media, or simply obsessed with the current US presidential election. A little over a year ago, the alt. right, after endorsing Donald Trump, claimed that they would win this election by memes. And of course the Trump campaign has taken on board as their CEO, the former head of alt. right news source, Breitbart, Stephen Bannon. And since Bannon took over, the campaign’s reliance on clickbait, memes, prepared soundbites, provocative tweets, and a refusal to take questions or engage in dialogue at press “conferences”, has contributed to Trump’s resurgence in the polls.

            Today, even the 800-word standard is too much for the demographic that gravitates to Trump. It is too much for them actually to read and understand facts in news reporting; it is completely beyond their grasp to understand thoughtful analysis. Memes are their preferred bite-sized nuggets of wisdom.memes For that demographic, memes are ideal. They say something briefly; they usually say it as though their opinion is an established fact; and the more offensive and confrontational they are, the more they are shared and circulated. Memes can’t be argued against because the person who posts them doesn’t necessarily take responsibility for them, and, like Trump, when called on it, they can claim to have been joking.

            The left doesn’t seem to be restricted to the same extent as the right is to those tiny thoughts expressed in photo shopped visuals and often misspelled one and two syllable words; the right wing, however, seems to employ them to the exclusion of more thorough analysis. Certainly, the left employs memes and tweets, but there is almost no thoughtful analysis of politics from a right wing viewpoint available online. In print, there is the Wall Street Journal, but even that bastion of conservative journalism has abandoned Trump and the alt. right. Right leaning blogs and news outlets tend to be hyperbolic in their condemnation and ad hominem pickard-facepalmattacks on the left; they tend to state opinions as fact, they support the wildest conspiracy theories without any critical analysis. In short, The National Enquirer is the standard of journalism to which they seem to aspire.

            There used to be intelligent if misguided think pieces in sensible right wing periodicals. Besides the WSJ, there was the National Review and other conservative outlets. The right wing, however, has moved so far into fascist territory that even William Buckley’s pseudo-intellectual conservative platform finds itself uncomfortably close to the centre.

            And this is the new face of journalism. On one side you have twfoxnewseets, memes, soundbites, slogans, catchphrases, and low rent sewer attack journalism. This is the Trump universe. There is not one single responsible and professional news outlet, in print, in broadcast, or in electronic format that supports Trump unreservedly. Even the worst excuse for television news, Fox News, can’t bring themselves to get fully behind their own creature; Trump has made the right wing echo chamber hesitate before fully committing to his political psychosis.

            The Trump ascendancy has destroyed civil political discourse, it has eliminated human decency in political campaigning, and perhaps worst of all, it has reduced journalism to the lowest ebb in its venerable and proud history. What Trump will do to international relations and world politics in the unthinkable event of his election is too horrible to contemplate rationally.

[1] UEUE is a word I invented to mean “extraneous and unnecessary additions to that which is essential”. Its genesis is the spelling of the word “queue”, in which the letters UEUE add nothing that isn’t said simply by “Q”.

ENDITEM….

Left is Left and Right is Right…

And never the twain shall meet…

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Republicans are all upset and feeling betrayed because 92-year-old former

US President George W. Bush (C) stands with President-elect Barack Obama (2nd L), former President George H.W. Bush (L), former President Bill Clinton (2nd R) and former President Jimmy Carter (R) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 7, 2009. Bush, acting on a suggestion by Obama, invited the former Presidents and President-elect for lunch, the first time since 1981 that all living presidents have been together at the White House. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Hell, no. Never Trump!

president Bush the Elder has made it clear that he cannot support Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Actually, none of the Bushes intend to support Trump. In fact, no living former president will endorse him, and a good number of them and their families have made it clear that they intend to vote for his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. True to form, the Trump campaign has responded to that news by launching Twitter attacks on the turncoat Republicans and calling the reluctance of their fellow GOP members to endorse bigotry, xenophobia, racism, misogyny, paranoia, compulsive lying, ignorance, and hate speech “a slap in the face”.

            Leaving aside for a moment the observation that the Republican nominee richly deserves a slap in bush-hillarythe face and more, the Trump campaign’s reaction tells us a great deal about the state of polarisation in American society. Trump interprets anything short of adulation and unconditional approval to be treachery and betrayal. When he hears of any prominent figure who has publicly disagreed with him or even failed to praise him with sufficient fervour, his reaction is to tweet an insult, usually dismissing his critic as a loser, or a lightweight, or a failure, or as unintelligent. Then he will tweet several more attacks,trumptwitter now incorporating a new nickname, typically projecting one of his character flaws on his new enemy; “Crooked Hillary”, “Lyn’” Ted”, “Little Marco”, or the like. Not for a moment does it occur to him that someone may not support him because of a fundamental disagreement with one or more of his policies; in Trump’s universe, it’s always personal.

            Of course he has good reason to reject the notion of a policy-based lack of support; he hasn’t articulated a single policy that he hasn’t walked back, flip-flopped on, said he was only joking about, or flat out lied about advocating. It’s pretty hard to support a policy that is as elusive and vague as some of his are; or as utterly unfeasible constitutionally, financially, or logistically as the rest are. It is hardly reversalssurprising that many people are attracted to Hillary’s proposed policies simply because they are laid out in detail and are available for scrutiny, for discussion, and for clarification if needed.

            For Trump, these are tedious irrelevancies. For Trump, policy, platforms, and plans are all tedious irrelevancies. All that matters to him is blind loyalty. He is unabashedly striving to create and enlarge a cult of personality. And, like all narcissistic demagogues, to Trump, you are either blindly and devotedly on his side, or you are an enemy to be crushed and destroyed.

            The man claims to be a uniter of people, and the only one who can rescue the nation from his imaginary precipice of humiliation and defeat at the hands of foreigners who laugh at the country’s weakness; that weakness, of course, being the result of the failure of Barack Obama’s leadership. He claims to be dedicated to restoring the country’s greatness. To make that claim resonate, his entire campaign is based upon manufacturing an image of the United States as being downtrodden among the community of nations, of having slid into a cesspool of uncontrolled violence and swamped by parasitical and criminal illegal immigrants bent on imposing Sharia law on good, upstanding bible bashers. Thanks to foreign-looking people, the economy is in the toilet and people have no hope of escaping their misery. The country, in politics-of-fearTrump’s dystopian fiction, is little more than a battleground in which the white, Christian, hard-working, poorly-educated, salt-of-the-earth, “real Americans” are fighting a rearguard action against violent, atheistic yellow, brown, and black thugs. Christians, in this fantasy, are a persecuted group suffering discrimination that is far worse than any other group has endured, including African Americans under slavery. The inner cities, he has claimed with a straight face, are more dangerous than Afghanistan. For Trump to position himself as a saviour, it is necessary for there to be something from which to save the people; hence the hellish depiction of contemporary America.

            The right wing, especially the “alt right” represented by Donald Trump, is desperate to embrace the absurd and factually inaccurate vision of America because to do so confers upon them the right, even the obligation, as the only patriotic Americans to speak and even to act upon their latent racial and cultural animosity. Trump’s hardcore base needs his doom and gloom rhetoric because it is the only thing that legitimises the cold, dark, hatred at the centre of their damaged souls.

            The fact that Obama has done everything the Republicans have promised over the years but failed to deliver is simply brushed aside in a wave of denial. The economy was turned around under a Democratic White House. Obama presided over the longest unbroken streak of job creation in history. More people were raised from poverty last year than at any other time; more people are now covered by health insurance, the Dow Jones has risen past the point it was at before the bubble burst; the balance of trade is beginning to reverse itself, Bush’s deficit has been reduced by half a trillion dollars. By every measure, including crime statistics, the United States is in better shape than when George W. Bush left office; the Obama presidency is an unadulterated success. Nevertheless, none of that makes anydenial-1 difference to Trump’s people, because they need to believe in Trump’s nightmare to justify voting for the most overtly racist candidate since George Wallace, and the most self-evidently unqualified candidate in US history. And as long as they get to express their fundamental hatred, they’ll deny the truth and ignore the facts; they’ll even believe a narrative that, deep down, they know to be unadulterated bullshit.

            On the left, however, there is another dynamic at play. By and large, left leaning voters tend to be persuaded by things that mean little or nothing to the right wing. Things like voting records, histories of public service, knowledge and understanding of the constitution, foreign policy, economics, history, and proven diplomatic chops. They will never vote for Trump; but that doesn’t mean they are committed to Hillary Clinton. For whatever reason, many will lodge protest votes, write-in votes, or simply abstain. Nothing will sway a Trump voter but Hillary is held by traditional Democratic voters to a higher standard. She is actually expected to speak and act like a president; Republicans are satisfied with voting for a blustering ignoramus.

            For that reason, when a Republican defects and expresses support for Hillary, the Trumpies go batshit-crazybatshit crazy; they can’t understand how one of their own has abandoned their race-baiting and nonsensical worldviews for policy and a promise of good governance. This election comes down to just a few things: how many Republicans will decide to leave the dark side and vote responsibly; how many centre and left of centre voters will actually come out and vote against the evil represented by Trump. If, as Trump seems to believe, there is a significant block of closeted Trump voters, poll respondents who are embarrassed to voice their position, and at the same time a lack of enthusiasm among Democrats to support Hillary, we may well be looking at a Trump victory and the very real cataclysmic results of his ascension to the most powerful office in the world.

ENDITEM…

 

 

 

The Psychological Perspective

Cognitive Dissonance

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) It’s an accepted scientific observation, that has been repeated many times and has never been falsified by any reputable study that, in general, people who hold right wing views are brainsconsiderably less intelligent than those who identify as liberal or progressive.  That comes as no surprise to any liberal or progressive, although making that statement has been known to strike some right leaning conservatives as provocative for some reason. Go figure.

Evidence of this observable tendency is to be found in abundance at rallies for the Republican presidential candidate. Simple observation inclines one to suspect that many of Trump’s most fervent supporters are engaged in deliberate acts of self-parody as they labour strenuously to perpetuate the stereotype of being ignorant, bigoted, violent, and profoundly stupid rednecks. But a closer look, and any attempt to engage one of them in conversation quickly reveals that theirs is no act. They are for real. Their right wing views include racism, religious fundamentalism, climate change denial, and rejection of evolution. A significant percentage also adhere to flatly idiotic theories including birtherism, faked moon landings, the 9/11 inside job theory, and the notions that vaccinations cause autism and that Donald Trump is a suitable presidential candidate.

believersThat the real knuckle dragging mouth-breathers and inbred hillbillies subscribe to those views is not a particular surprise. We have always known that those people exist, it’s just that up until recently, most had the laudable instinct to remain hidden from public view and only to share their cretinous views with one another. Trump has legitimised their moronic ideas and given them permission and a platform from which to shout them out to a bemused and somewhat bewildered normal world. No, the real surprise is the Trump-supporting demographic that doesn’t get all the press: the people that believe themselves not to be racist or xenophobic, but support him because they claim seriously that he would be a better president than his opponent.

Among that group, we can disregard the Republican politicians like Paul Ryan, who are simply party hacks for whom their positions within the party take precedence over the nation, or who are, like Chris Christie,

katrina

Katrina (hand me a spoon) Pierson

nothing more than sleazy opportunists who are rolling the dice on a Trump victory and hoping for some of the scraps that would fall from his table. We can’t assume that their views are held out of stupidity, since it is impossible to say what their views really are, beyond expediency and personal ambition. Ditto with their surrogates and party spokespersons; guns for hire who would cheerfully eat a plate of Trump’s turds on CNN for the right paycheque.

The ones that cause real head scratching are the rest. The ones who have bought into the hate propaganda that paints Hillary Clinton as everything from a serial killer to a man with AIDS in drag, and intend to vote for Trump because they genuinely hold that he is the lesser of two evils.

One of the indicators of lower intelligence or mental instability is a high tolerance for cognitive dissonance. Those with higher intelligence and healthy psyches instinctively seek to resolve paradoxes and align theircalvin thinking and behaviour with the information available. For anyone at this point in September 2016 to argue that Donald Trump isn’t a racist, or that he is refreshingly honest, or that he is a uniter of people, requires at least one of three things: 1) That he or she is willfully and woefully ignorant and simply has been living under a rock for the last year, or 2) They are simply liars and don’t care if you know it, or 3) They are capable of tolerating cognitive dissonance of breathtaking dimensions.

It is no longer possible, if it ever was, to separate the man from his baggage. One cannot support Trump and dismiss his racism, his constant and habitual lying, and his unparalleled record of reversing himself, of claiming statements were only sarcasm and then that they weren’t, while insisting that one is not a racist or that one values the truth. The vile and hateful facets of Trump’s character cannot be isolated from one’s decision that he ought to be the president of the United States of America. The level of cognitive dissonance required to hold both that Trump would be a good president and, at the same time, that he is what he has unrelentingly demonstrated himself to be, is beyond the capability of a mentally healthy human being. Lewis Black said it succinctly: If you vote for Trump you’re going to hell.

The human mind is hard wired to resist cognitive dissonance; where it exists, tension builds and inclines cognitive-dissonancea healthy person to seek to resolve the paradox. An unhealthy mind (or a stupid person) can tolerate the dissonance with less stress because they have no problem with holding contradictory beliefs. (There are those who can, for example, believe in the literal truth of every word of the bible despite the glaringly contradictory stories in Genesis 1 and John1: 1-13.) But healthy and intelligent people use their higher faculties to resolve paradoxes, not to accommodate them. It is this drive that motivates physicists to delve deeper and deeper into higher mathematics and theoretical physics in an effort to resolve the apparent paradoxes that crop up in the quantum realm. It was that drive that led Einstein to say ironically that god doesn’t play dice with the universe.

From a standpoint of rationality, following the logic of an argument to a paradoxical conclusion demonstrates the fallacy of the argument; a conclusion that entails a logical absurdity is a flawed argument. A paradoxical conclusion means you have to go back and question the premises and try to detect fallacious argumentation. But the conclusion cannot stand. To look at the painfully obvious facts about Trump and still conclude that he should be elected to the most powerful office in the world is to arrive at an absurd and paradoxical conclusion. It cannot stand in a healthy and reasonably intelligent mind.

It is clear that one can support Trump if one is a supporter of his most salient traits: his disdain and contempt for the truth, for facts, and for pretty much everyone but himself. But if one rejects racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, fundamental dishonesty, ignorance, and hatred, one has to reject Donald Trump, the personification of those things. The cognitive dissonance of rejecting those things and accepting Trump is simply too great to accept.

ENDITEM…

The Bulletproof Candidate

Why Even Kryptonite Wouldn’t Work

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Rational people everywhere are bewildered by the 2016 presidential election. It’s astonishing that the occupancy of the White House for the next four years is being contested by two bewilderedpeople who are, each for their own reasons, detested by a majority of the people in the country they are seeking to lead. It’s hard to understand how a campaign, that should be about weighing and comparing the track records of governance and legislative successes and failures of the candidates, so rarely even touches on substantive issues. It is mired instead in re-litigating phony scandals that have been investigated ad nauseum and laid to rest countless times on the one hand, and, on the other, fact checking and exposing an endless series of lies that keep being repeated, also ad nauseum. But despite all the mud that’s being slung and the apparently bottomless pit of sleaze in which Donald Trump insists on wallowing, the most astonishingly incomprehensible aspect of this clown show is that Donald Trump continues to be a viable candidate with a narrow, but still substantial, path to victory.

            Pundits, professional political operatives, seasoned pollsters, and the public at large are constantly expressing their bafflement that the Republican candidate is able to commit every sin against politics, social interaction, and human decency imaginable and still manage to put up a respectable showing in the polls. Trump has offended every minority group in the nation from African Americans, Muslims, and Latinos, to veterans, the disabled, and women. Those groups, in aggregate, form a large majority of the population of the United States, and yet Trump continues to be a threat to win the presidency.

            Donald Trump has lied with such frequency and regularity that it is literally the case that, if he trump shootsmakes a statement of fact that is actually true, it becomes a news story. Donald Trump has done and said so many idiotic things that would have disqualified any other human being as a legitimate candidate, that I doubt if anyone would be astonished if he decided to prove his assertion that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose a single vote. Short of actually doing that, he has managed to prove that his followers cannot be swayed by any normal means of persuasion.

            Take cheap shots at a war hero? They love it. Blow kisses at the Russian dictator? No problem. Claim that his business acumen qualifies him for the presidency, despite it being public knowledge that he has failed more often than he has succeeded? Irrelevant. Call his opponent crooked while he is under indictment for fraud and RICO conspiracy and under investigation for bribing a state governor? Chants of “Lock her up!” Nothing can dissuade his fans.

flip flop            He can vacillate, flip flop, and babble incoherently on matters of policy. He can double down and reaffirm his commitment to promises that everyone knows are the purest unfeasible fantasy and still command their loyalty. And rational people can only shake their heads in confusion, and wonder what on earth it would take for him to lose that vast wellspring of support he delights in whipping into a homicidal frenzy at his rallies.

            It is apparent that all the lists of people he has defrauded, contractors he has stiffed, employees he has exploited and refused to pay, bribes he has paid, and taxes he has evaded will have a zero net effect on his unthinking and vocal followers. They simply don’t care. And they don’t care despite the obvious fact that they would explode with righteous indignation if his opponent had committed even one of his countless outrages.

            Here’s why they don’t care: they don’t love him for his policies, his track record, or even his politics. They love him for his attitude.attitude

            That’s it. That’s all there is to it. Trump has always been insulated from the opinions of others or any real consequences of his words or actions by his inherited wealth. He used the vast fortune he inherited to raise himself to media prominence by pushing the envelope of public tolerance by giving interviews in which he said things that were right on the borderline of acceptability. He cultivated a reputation as an enfant terrible while he stickhandled one high profile business disaster after another; masterfully manipulating the media, he burnished his persona as a brash playboy, and created the myth of his Midas touch and enormous personal fortune. His acolytes eat that up. They like it when he goes on Howard Stern’s shock radio show and uses language and expresses misogynistic and racist sentiments that were even offensive back in the 50’s before people fully recognised their trump-women-360x220inherent ugliness. They think it’s cool that he impersonates an employee and gives himself a standing ovation for his infidelities. They hero worship his braggadocio with reference to his wives and mistresses, whom he refers to as “beautiful young piece(s) of ass”. And Trump himself has never felt any negative feedback for his adolescent attitudes. It was there, but he never felt it because, as a textbook narcissist, he only hears what supports his pathologically inflated self-image.

            Donald Trump has always been a racist. Or at least he has long been a practitioner of racial discrimination. It’s entirely possible that his discriminatory housing practices were the result of greed; he might have believed that refusing to rent to African Americans was simply a business decision to increase the profitability of his New York housing developments. If so, that is arguably even more contemptible than simple anti-black prejudice. In any case, when he tapped into a rich vein of racial hatred among his base, he kept hitting the race-baiting button to get his fix of adulation.

            It was, of course, inevitable that his committed base of followers would have a discernible streakwall and trump of race-based animosity; he announced his candidacy with a speech in which he characterised Mexicans as rapists, murderers, and drug dealers. Reacting instantly to the positive response sparked by his bigotry and offensive language, he spent the next year and more ramping up the racist rhetoric and expanding the cast of targets of his vitriol. Before he charged to the front of the pack of the GOP primary candidates, he had expressed his contempt for pretty much every identifiable minority group in the country, and his angry and marginalised hardcore followers were ecstatic to hear him voice the hatred that they had all been suppressing since their kindergarten teachers had taught them how to behave in civilised society.

            And that’s why he can’t do anything that would disqualify him, or even lose the vocal support of his base. They don’t care about his policies; he has none. They don’t care that the wall that formed the lynchpin of his candidacy is utter nonsense; they only care that they heard someone they wish they were (or were married to) give them permission to express their frustration as violent hostility to visible minorities they can now feel good about persecuting. A ban on Muslims entering the country? Whatever. Just let us hate them openly and treat them with discriminatory contempt.

            The bottom line is that Trump cannot alienate his followers as long as he keeps the heat up on his rhetoric of hatred and contempt for his opponent, for the incumbent president, and for everyone who is not white, male, and poorly educated. He has no plans, he has no foreign policy, he has no domestic policy. He hasn’t any knowledge or even interest in any of the subjects with which a president should be thoroughly conversant. What he has is attitude. And that’s not about to change. And neither will the loyalty of those for whom attitude is everything in this election.

ENDITEM…

css.php