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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

A bang or a whimper? Either way, it ends.

A Tangled Web

Pagun

 

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) When I taught journalism at universities, I would always put All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward on the reading list. For other courses I

Redford and Hoffman in
All the President’s Men

taught in which journalism was touched upon, if not the primary focus, I would often assign the movie version of that book (Dir. Alan J. Pakula, starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford) as outside viewing. The book and movie are wonderful examples of dogged investigative journalism at its best and serve as templates for how the fourth estate can act as a critical part of any democratic system of government, and be in the US at least, as important as the legislative, the judicial, and the executive, the three constitutionally mandated branches.

I have always been astonished at the complexity of the cast of characters and roles they played in the Watergate conspiracy and cover-up; even more impressive is the way Woodward and Bernstein put it all together and sorted it all out into a comprehensible narrative. When the last domino fell, even those among us who weren’t obsessive US politics junkies were able to follow the story and make sense of what happened in the most multifaceted and intricate criminal conspiracy in US political history. And without the work of a free press, dedicated journalists, and courageous publishers, the “cancer on the presidency”[i] would never have been exposed and excised.

The concern that I and many fellow journalists share is that, in today’s political zeitgeist, there is neither the will nor the skill to expose an even more serious cancer on a different presidency. The scandals that will ultimately bring President Donald Trump down are by orders of magnitude farther-reaching, more tangled, and more damaging to the country than anything Richard Nixon did or approved of. There are literally dozens of confirmed and suspected criminal acts attributable to the president and his men (and one or two women), ranging from soliciting bribes and influence peddling to espionage and treason; in between are money laundering, abuses of power, and obstruction of justice. The whole mishegas is so vast that it is unlikely that it will ever be encapsulated in a single book, movie, or impeachment hearing. When Donald Trump goes down, it will be because some investigation has focused exclusively on a single or small number of related criminal acts and decided that these would be the easiest to prove. But what won’t happen in today’s world is the daily exposure of the President’s crimes in a clearly explicated, step by methodical step exposure and explanation by the Fourth Estate.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that journalism no longer resembles the respected, admirable, nearly sacred calling it was during Watergate and its aftermath. I and every other budding journalist I know of in those days saw our profession as a vital and valued component of a democratic society. We sought out the truth; our loyalty was to facts. We saw ourselves as watchdogs who kept politics honest and protected the people from unscrupulous or corrupt leaders. But something happened; journalism became entertainment. Ratings became more important than honest, fact-based reporting. Sensationalism, not truth was what reporters tracked down. And at the same time, with the advent of Fox News, objectivity and balanced reporting began to disappear from the airwaves and never made a strong appearance on the Internet. Fox was a de facto propaganda arm of the Republican Party and showcased the rantings of assorted right wing and evangelical Christian nutjobs. Conspiracy theories proliferated on the ‘Net and with Trump, the last vestiges of old school fact-based reporting were labelled “Fake News”. All news is now suspect unless it is a partisan claim that happens to reinforce an already held belief. It is hard to imagine who could write a genuinely objective summary of the entire Trump presidency when all the dust has settled. (My money would be on Rachel Maddow and her team, but even though she is scrupulous and thorough in her reporting, she will be dismissed as partisan. She’s right, but that won’t matter in today’s world of binary politics).

The second reason is the scale of the malfeasance this time around. The Watergate dust-up seemed byzantine at the time. It all started with a bungled break-in at the Democratic Party’s national headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington. It turned out that the burglars were paid out of an illegal slush fund traced back to the Committee to Re-elect the President (identified by one of the all-time greatest acronyms: CREEP). Ultimately it turned out that the president and his closest advisors were aware of the fund and the criminal activities it financed; the trail led right to the top. But, as we all know, the cover-up is what ultimately undid President Nixon.

This time around the crimes that are being investigated are nothing like the vaguely comical bungled break-in organised by the cartoon figure, G. Gordon Liddy. Today’s crimes make Watergate look like a particularly puerile frat boy’s prank gone wrong. Here we have international espionage and treason. We actually have the certain knowledge that the president was helped along in his campaign by Russian dirty tricks. It is virtually certain that his people have coordinated with the Russians to swing the election away from his opponent. And we have a Republican Party that acknowledges all that but doesn’t believe it’s important enough to appoint a special commission, let alone a special prosecutor. Bear in mind that this is the same party that spent years and millions of dollars on an investigation, prosecution, impeachment, and failed attempt to convict a Democratic president over an illicit blowjob.

Entangled in this mess is the possibility, even the likelihood that the president is compromised because the Russians have videos of his aberrant sexual acts with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel. We know for certain that his national security advisor was a Russian agent; we know for certain that the president was aware of that. We also know that his campaign manager was a foreign agent. His new Attorney General, who helped run his campaign, is in charge of the agency tasked with investigating espionage in the country. And none of this even touches on Trump’s paying off favours to industrialists by letting them mine and otherwise lay waste to national parks. Or using his office to pimp his daughter’s line of apparel. Or his family selling visas at inflated rates to Chinese businessmen.

The web is so vast and so tangled that today’s ineffective and defanged press will not hold anyone’s feet to the fire. There will continue to be hysterical shouts from clickbait producers and accusations of snowflakery in response, but this time we need to see if the system still works. Only the political system as defined by the US Constitution will be able to bring this despicable and hateful regime down and take its leaders to task. So far it has failed. If the nation’s last hope, Congress that is dominated by political hacks who always, always, put party before country, the great experiment in democracy will have failed in a spectacularly obvious way. And that is happening in front of our eyes in real time. I have very faint hope indeed that the United States of America will survive their national idiocy in having elected Donald J. Trump.

ENDITEM…

 

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…

Let the finger pointing begin…

The News Media’s Responsibility for 2016

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Some things that rational people have suspected for many years have been confirmed over the last year and a half of the US presidential campaign.

Those of us who watch the United States from outside of its borders have long suspected colorblind-thoughtthat racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny were alive and well in the US; they were bubbling and seething just below the surface, ready to explode into the mainstream, if societal pressure was released for a moment. The Donald J Trump candidacy did exactly that. It made hatred and intolerance legitimate and exposed the depth and intensity of the hatred that, until Trump gave it his blessing, couldn’t be expressed in polite company. Trump’s campaign even managed to do away with the notion of polite company.

Prior to Donald Trump’s announcement of his intention to seek the highest office in the land and the position of most powerful person in the world, many political observers, including me, have remarked upon the dumbing down of public discourse; some, also including me, have even tried to focus attention on the very real decrease in the average IQ of Americans, as stupidity is being selected for in the patterns of human reproduction in the country. Of course, as intelligence wanes, an understanding of evolution tends to fade away too; there is a correlated disappearance of worry about the increasing stupidity that defines the US.

But even more than those suspicions, which the presidential campaign has confirmed, newsthe frequently noted degeneration of the American news media has become patently evident. Whatever happens on November 8 and in the immediate aftermath, it’s important that we be very aware of the fact that the entire debacle of the 2016 election campaign was largely the result of a news industry that has completely lost its way. The clusterfuck that we have been force-fed for one and a half years is the result of a news media that no longer deserves to be called anything but entertainment.

When television networks looked at their programming lineups decades ago, and50s-tv noticed that their most reliable and consistent viewership was during the time set aside for the news, the powers of capitalism and free enterprise couldn’t be restrained. For years, the news had been broadcast as a public service. It was not intended that news be a profit centre. Back in the days before everyone controlled their television viewing with a remote control, people had to stand up, walk to the TV, and physically change the dial to the network they wanted to watch. Network loyalty was an important factor in programming. So, the only reason ratings were important to news broadcasts was for the bragging rights and the rather nebulous assumption that people would be inclined to leave the dial on whatever channel they were watching when the news broadcast ended and prime-time viewing started.

networksocialmediachart_6But when the big money people realised that they could sell advertising on news broadcasts, it became a race for the bottom. News was only as important as it was likely to increase viewership. If it bleeds, it leads, was always a cynical dictum of news editing; with the race for ratings, blood became only one of the leads. Celebrity gossip, pathos, sex; all of those were sure to bring in the viewers, so they became the standard fare of broadcast ‘journalism’. Politics made the editorial cut if it involved the White House, because the president could be sold as a celebrity. Other politicians were only interesting if they could be reported on as celebrities, too. Salacious stories involving the sexual misadventures of legislators became newsworthy; actual political news didn’t grab the lowest common denominator, the hypothetical viewer for whom the news is edited.

Newsworthiness is judged simply by the ratings. The desperate battle for attention spilled over to other media; print media started to die when it tried to compete for internet-newssalaciousness and titillation; the Internet spawned thousands of sites that cater to every perverted taste. The result was a vast, nearly infinite forum in which genuine professional journalism is given equal time with rabidly fanatic partisan propaganda; with clickbait sites devoid of content but displaying outrageous headlines; with joke sites that parody the news; with hate sites; with sites claiming to be journalism, but lacking any understanding of basics like sourcing, independent confirmation, or fact-checking.

And the bastard child of the media’s infatuation with ratings is the dismissal and rejection of reporting on anything of substance. Only the sexy, the violent, or the outrageous draws enough attention to make it into the mainstream news. And the mainstream news fell for the ploy of one of the world’s greatest media whores and media-whorecheesiest hucksters. They let him define the terms of the election coverage and they played into his tacky, tasteless, deeply offensive strategy.

Donald Trump is not smart enough to have planned this campaign and then followed through on a pre-existing strategy. But he does have a low animal cunning and some sort of instinct for manipulating the media. Modern media manipulation isn’t all that complicated. All it takes is a willingness to wallow in sewage and have no regard whatsoever for human decency or civilised behaviour.

He started garnering media coverage by targeting those who share his racist views. In his very first speech as a candidate, he fired up anti-immigrant sentiment and described Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers. He followed that up with an absurd promise topoorly-educated build an enormous wall along the US/Mexican border to eliminate illegal migration, despite the fact (barely mentioned in the media) that net migration is southward, as Hispanics overall are leaving the US to return to Mexico. The press, true to its mission of whoring for ratings (or clicks), reported the outrageous promise as though it deserved to be taken seriously. And Trump, true to the B.F. Skinner model of human behaviour, was gratified by the positive reinforcement he received from an uncritical press. He quickly realised that he could press the buttons that result in adulation from his fellow bigots, and they found themselves able to express their long suppressed bigotry without condemnation in the media. Hatred was not only okay again; it was a courageous refusal to kowtow to ‘political correctness’. And the mainstream media kept reporting the increasingly delusional statements, pledges, and promises of a clearly mentally disturbed candidate as though he was making sense.

Trump was a goldmine. He was ignorant enough to appeal (“I love the poorly educated”) to the ignorant. And, as we have seen, the ignorant were forming an increasingly word-saladsignificant block of the electorate. But because Trump could be depended upon to do or say something over-the-top and outrageously offensive, the news media gave him so much airtime that he spent zero on television campaign ads in the primaries. It didn’t matter if it made the slightest bit of sense; Trump meant ratings. Media analysts have estimated the advertising value of the unwarranted coverage he got, for simply being a loudmouthed asshole, in the billions of dollars.

The media was enjoying a windfall and they didn’t want it ever to end. They handed him the nomination and no one was more surprised than Trump insiders that he was now the candidate of one of the two major political parties in the US. Trump, who had started the idiotic campaign with no more of an agenda than increasing his brand’s value through media manipulation, soon started to believe his own press; he began to believe that he is the future of America. And as we watch Americans go to the polls, we can all be afraid that he is.

I'm a defense attorney and this clown is our consultant in the event the case becomes a media circus.

But starting now, whatever happens on the 8th, the news industry is going to have to take a long hard look at themselves. Trump is a refection of every ignoble aspect of the American psyche and is an embarrassment to the nation. He was created by the systemic bigotry and ignorance espoused by the party that nominated him, and he is a logical outgrowth of their platform and policies. But he was elevated to importance and to a level of significance that makes him an existential threat to democracy in the United States by the media. It is time that the news industry does some real soul searching and rethinks the very paradigms that have dominated the news media for several decades.

ENDITEM…

 

What if…

The World of Trump

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Despite the uproar caused by the inexplicably ham-fisted mountain-or-molehillrelease of yet another batch of innocuous Hillary Clinton emails, with less than a week until the US presidential election, the Democrats are on track to win the White House for another four years. The prospect of the needed humiliating landslide has dimmed somewhat, but a Hillary Clinton presidency is still the most likely outcome of the most bizarre and ugly political contest in American history.

Nevertheless, I have spoken to several political junkies and people on both sides of the battle for the position of most powerful person in the world, and indulged in a little trumphousefantasising and prognosticating in a masochistic attempt to imagine a world in which Donald J Trump wins the election. It doesn’t do anyone any good, but like poking with your tongue at a loose tooth, it’s hard to resist. So, to make sure that we do it right, I’ve also imagined that the Republicans also cement their domination of the House of Representatives and, what the hell, win a majority in the Senate as well. The scenario is unlikely to unfold, but, being technically possible, is scary to contemplate.

The first thing to consider is that, before the inauguration in January next year, it is virtually certain that the stock markets in the United States, and to a very slightly lesser extent the rest of the world will take a nosedive. We know this because within the last crashfew weeks, when Trump’s poll numbers rose for a few days, the markets immediately reacted by plunging by hundreds of points before recovering when Hillary Clinton climbed back up. It is a truism that markets abhor volatility; whatever policies a government supports, stability and predictability are what investors crave. Uncertainty sends them running for safe harbour; money moves from corporate stocks to perceived safety in things like gold investments. Trump has said many times that he likes to be unpredictable and to keep people in suspense.

the-1As the stock markets crash, Trump’s wealthy friends and the rest of the 1% will have protected themselves and moved their investments into insulated assets, but the rest of the country will see a recession that will make the 2008 crisis that Obama clawed the country out of look like a blip on the screen. There is every possibility that the stock market plunge will lead to a panic resulting in a depression every bit as brutal, or even worse that the crash in 1929.

With that as a backdrop, Trump will take office in January of 2017. At that point the question will be whether the new president will throw himself into the job and get down trump-cabinetto the work of governing. Or will President Trump, as many of us have speculated he might do, leave all the heavy lifting to his coterie of acolytes while he does little more than bask in the focus and attention his office guarantees? We know he has a severely limited attention span, and he certainly knows virtually nothing about policy, domestic or foreign, has no understanding of the powers of his office or the US Constitution, and is completely ignorant of economics. Perhaps it would be all for the best if he chooses to remain nothing more than a figurehead.

One thing we know for sure about Trump is that he lies with breathtaking frequency; should we expect him to keep any of the promises that fired up his followers and form the basis of his support? There is no reason we should expect Trump to follow through on any of his promises; the only thing we could count on is his mismanagement and an trumpwallair of chaos surrounding the governance of the US. Nevertheless, let us assume that either the president or his inner circle decides to fulfill his first and arguably most contentious campaign promise. He will begin to build a wall along the US/Mexican border. Congress will, of course, have to allocate billions of dollars for the project, as Mexico certainly won’t be paying for it. And with Trump’s abysmal track record of completing projects on time or on budget, that wall will be a boondoggle riddled with squandered funds, corruption in the bidding and purchasing processes, and will be a black hole into which taxpayers’ money disappears, while the farcical project just goes on and on with no end in sight.

Given Trump’s history and business practices, contractors will be lined up to file suits for non-payment, labour unrest will be a daily issue, and racial tensions, especially in blameobamaborder states, but also throughout the country, will escalate to crisis levels. While the White House will push the narrative that the broken economy, the massive unemployment, and the racial and class conflict are all the fault of the previous administration, the alt right and white supremacists will be emboldened and become a visible and violent part of the political scene.

We will almost certainly see instance after instance of the deployment of militarised police forces and the mobilising of the federal National Guard to quell civil unrest; theadam12 White House will show the country just what Donald Trump meant by his promises to “get tough”. The military itself will be in disarray as the natural result of ethical general officers resigning their commissions rather than having to obey unlawful orders from their commander in chief. Torture will be re-introduced, and it will be employed on those who object to the actions of the executive branch, in the interests of “national security”. The president will subscribe fully to Nixon’s delusion that “if the president does it, it’s legal”. With no coherent domestic policy, civil unrest, in disparate pockets and population centres throughout the country, will be rampant and increasingly violent as demonstrations will be crushed with increasingly harsh methods.

There will arise a movement in opposition to the excesses of Trump’s military and quasi-military assets in unconstitutional ways for unconstitutional ends. This will put the country into a state of perpetual military readiness to defend against its own citizens. With a cooperative Congress, Trump will immediately fill the current Supreme Court partisansupreme_500vacancy with a reliably compliant Justice. But even scarier is the thought that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is now 83 years-old, Justice Arthur Kennedy is 80, and Justice Stephen Breyer is 78; any or all of them could retire at pretty much any time, allowing for the SCOTUS to be packed with Trump selections, skewing the highest court toward fascism for decades.

In this atmosphere, initiatives like creating a “deportation force” to round up millions of undocumented immigrants; placing a “temporary but total and complete ban” on any Muslim from entering the country; legislating “some kind of punishment’ for women civil-rights-suspendedwho undergo abortions; “tightening” control of the media, especially the press; and restricting freedom of expression by “opening” legislation regarding libel, slander, and defamation lawsuits are all distinct possibilities. None of those are far-fetched or paranoid fantasies; each of those initiatives has been promised by the Republican candidate, and each enjoys broad support among Republican voters.

From there it isn’t any kind of leap of the imagination to take Trump at his word and expect him to use – or abuse – his authority to “lock her up”; to put his rival candidate in prison, despite her having been cleared of any criminality in every one of the countless investigations to which the Republicans have subjected Hillary Clinton. That specific initiative doesn’t just have the support of Donald Trump’s base; it is one of their primary rallying points. Trump’s supporters will not just approve of incarcerating Clinton; they will demand it.

This deeply disturbing exercise could be extended to imagine the next generation and more if Trump were to succeed in his bid for the White House, we could continue to envision the dystopia that those who claim to want to “shake things up” would wreak upon the US and the world. But let’s just stop here and look at the United States as we have imagined it would be in the short to medium term after a Trump win in November.

police-stateA country in financial crisis, riddled with civil unrest; race riots being quelled by increasingly militaristic domestic police; civil rights suspended; executive power maximised and centralised without congressional or Supreme Court restraint; political opponents jailed without due process; habeas corpus suspended or not applicable to certain religious groups. This is a picture of the world’s largest banana republic. This is a vision of the end of the United States as we know it. This may well be what the US looks like just before its balkanisation as one state – or group of states – after another simply opts out of the union and refuses to accept the legitimacy of federal authority.

Can’t happen in the US? Of course it can. It has happened throughout history to empires and regimes that had been around a lot longer than the US has. It is currently the state of affairs in Putin’s Russia, and there are plenty of tin-pot populist wannabes in countries all over the world just waiting in the wings with ambitions and egos similar to Trump’s. A Trump presidency must be guarded against; it must not happen. If it should come to pass, all bets are off. Except this: The United States will not be a place rational and moral people would want to be.

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…

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.

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