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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…

 

Peering Inside the Candidate’s Head

Just one question: Why?

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The world of punditry has been thrashing around for about a year now, asking, and answering one another with speculation and educated guesses, why Donald Trump is running for the presidency of the United States. It seems strange under the current circumstances, but that’s a question that I can’t remember ever having been asked of or about any other candidate in any other its-a-mystery-500x325presidential election year. Much of the discussion about the most discussed presidential election campaign in recent memory can be distilled down to that one fundamental question: What is behind Trump’s decision to throw his hat into the ring and take a run at achieving the highest office in the country? A multitude of possible answers has been proposed, ranging from the preposterous to the ridiculous, and each answer tells as much about the person proposing it as it does about the candidate himself. As the Republican candidate’s campaign flounders, reboots, flounders again, reboots yet again, and then repeats the sequence, the question becomes less and less academic. At the time of this writing we appear to be watching the imminent implosion of the most bizarre campaign in US presidential history. Here then is a sampling of some of the answers to that question; it is far from exhaustive, but it is indicative of the inscrutability of Trump’s motives and, therefore, his endgame…if he has one.

marketing-plan

  • From the beginning, there were suggestions that Trump never expected to succeed to the extent that he has; his campaign was supposed to raise his already considerable public profile to another level, increase the value of his personal brand, and wrap things up early in the primaries. It was, according to this suggestion, another publicity stunt intended only to increase his income in much the way other Republican candidates have used their candidacies as little more than book tours paid for by their supporters; Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee come to mind. Things got out of control, though, and Trump couldn’t just walk away. Now he’s doing his level best to sabotage his own campaign by alienating every demographic he can think of, with some success.

TV land

  • Trump, clearly uninterested in actually governing, is laying the groundwork to create his own TV network. Since Trump is largely a creation of the media and his only real expertise is in its manipulation, further incursions into that world make some sense. According to this theory, his penchant for trashing the media, even Fox News, and cozying up to the bosses at Breitbart and even recruiting alt right hero Stephen Bannon to chair his campaign are all indications of his plan to start up a network that appeals to the extreme fringe right. Judging by his rallies, there is an audience for that kind of hate speech.

spy

  • Trump is a witting or unwitting pawn of Vladimir Putin. He is being pushed toward the White House by Russian apparatchiks so that Russia will effectively control the Western world by having their puppet agent in Washington. Trump’s unrelenting praise for Putin, his Russian financial connections, his previous campaign manager, Paul Manafort’s history of working for the Russian government are all supporting evidence for this hypothesis.

worried-trump-hands-headache

  • And this is the one to which I subscribe: Trump did indeed expect to increase his celebrity and drop out early in the primaries. So, not trying to be elected, he simply blurted out whatever crossed his mind. Since what crossed his mind was a fetid jumble of racism, bigotry, misogyny, paranoia, hatred, and incoherent but revolting ideas, he resonated with a group of Americans who share his xenophobia and hatred. They responded with fervour bordering on worship; Trump, being a textbook narcissist, experienced an orgasmic ego boost and found he couldn’t get enough. Although the more outrageous his rhetoric, the more support he loses; on the other hand the more fervently his hardcore supporters respond. Trump prefers rallies to any other form of campaigning because he can do no wrong, as long as he keeps whipping up the hatred. He doesn’t appear on the daytime talk news circuit; he phones it in. He hates town halls. He is trying to find ways to avoid debates. He doesn’t care about polls; he cares about the reaction he gets at rallies. He wants the shattering ecstasy he experiences when his frenzied base chants, roughs up protesters, and sings his praises.

The only reason he hasn’t dropped out at this point, with a landslide defeat looking probable, is that he needs the fix. He will likely tough it out as long as he can get it; he has already laid the groundwork for his excuse for losing. The system, you see, is rigged. As long as even a relatively tiny slice of the demographic pie is big enough to fill a venue and can be relied upon to speak in tongues and scream his name, he’ll stay in.

Of course, what’s missing from this brief list of possible reasons Trump is running for the presidency is the answer that applied, to a greater or lesser extent, to virtually every serious contender in US history: That the candidate has ideas and policy suggestions that he believes would be beneficial to the people of the country, and that he genuinely believes himself to be the best person to work with Congress in an effort to enact them.

DonaldTrump2Trump has no genuine economic plan; he has done nothing more than trot out shopworn and long since debunked trickle down theories and promises to cut taxes and create jobs and win in trade negotiations. No plan, no actual understanding of even the basics of economics. He has no conception of foreign policy beyond promising to get tough with foreign countries he doesn’t like, abrogate international treaties, and perhaps employ nuclear weapons in a first strike. All he has is absurd and unworkable promises to build a border wall, to round up more than 10 million undocumented residents, to block Muslims and to register them…a series, in other words, of illegal, unconstitutional, and logistically impossible proposals intended to fire up the latent hatred and prejudices of his poorly educated base. Even Richard Nixon, another mentally unstable Republican narcissist, had a plan, knowledge and understanding of the things with which a president needs to be familiar, and a conviction that he was the person to make it all work for the country.

That a desire to serve the people of his country has never been proposed as a reason for the Trump candidacy by any serious analyst says a great deal about the nature of Trump’s campaign and about Trump himself. It is clear to America, and to the world, that Trump is in the race for some motive that devolves entirely to Donald Trump. The question of the consequences to the country of a Trump presidency only amounts to opinions as to whether it would be catastrophic or merely disastrous.

apocalypse

ENDITEM….

 

 

A Post Trump America

The Hangover

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Describing what the world would look like during a hypothetical Donald Trump presidency has become something of a cottage industry, with pundits predicting everything from a glorious rebirth of a prosperous and powerful supernation to a post-apocalyptic wasteland. While my instincts are that the latter would probably be closer to reality than the former, I contend that a Trump post-apocalyptic-fantasy-245333presidency, barring something explosive occurring before November, will not happen, that cooler heads and reason will prevail and Trump will lose by a wide margin. That said, it would be worthwhile to look at what the US will look like after Trump has returned to his regular job of media whore and flimflam artist.

The Trump candidacy and campaign has introduced a new style of politics in the US. Trump, who injected himself into the national political scene on the strength of his name recognition and his self crafted image of a flamboyant billionaire real estate developer, parlayed his ignorance of everything political into an asset. Wafted in on the winds of dissatisfaction with the way government was working, his bellicosity with respect to the entrenched political forces resonated with those who don’t think deeply about politics, but embrace a visceral anger at the status quo. And in 2015, the status quo was pretty disgraceful.

The Republicans in Congress had just spent the president’s second term doing virtually nothing, except obstructing and filibustering every Democratic initiative, and doing their level best to deny obamagraphicObama any accomplishment. In their relentless crusade to destroy the presidency of Barack Obama, they ground government to a halt, and earned the title of least productive congress in US history, and the lowest approval ratings ever recorded. By the time Trump descended on his escalator to announce his candidacy as an outsider to politics as usual, syphilis had a higher approval rating than congress. To the surprise only of pundits and political insiders, his candidacy took off and he steam rolled his way through the primaries to become the presumptive nominee.

His pose as a straight-talking firebrand and hugely successful businessman appealed to those who bought the pose. But his pretence at straight talk, from the very beginning, was simply expressing thoughts that most people have been taught since childhood not to blurt out, and his dishonesty in business was not seen as a serious issue by his base. As his business record was exposed bit by bit, it became clear to everyone that Trump, in fact, was not what he advertised himself as being. The gradual uncovering of his nearly unmatched record of business failures didn’t perturb his base in the slightest; his fraudulent practices, including Trump University and his list of questionable bankruptcies, all seemed just fine to his true believers. Described like that, it would be something of a miracle that he managed to retain any following at all.

But what’s left out of that description is the true source of his appeal; what really sits well with his base has nothing to do with his business skills (or lack thereof); it has nothing to do with whether his net worth is anywhere near what he claims; they don’t care that he lies with breathtaking regularity and reverses himself so often that he seems to spin like a dervish. What matters to them is that he is belligerent and hostile; he is playing to a demographic that is angry and bewildered by what is basehappening in their country. His base is fuming that their previously unassailable position of white male privilege is now being assailed. They can’t understand, and simply won’t accept, that this is the first time in their history that being a white, working class man isn’t an automatic guarantee of respect and financial stability. Donald Trump’s open and unapologetic race-baiting is like a breath of fresh air to a demographic that desperately needs scapegoats for their declining fortunes.

People who are confronted with the reality that they and their peers are rapidly becoming a minority; people whose heads are exploding at the thought that Latinos, African Americans, Asians, and Muslims together are forming a majority and white Christian Anglo Saxons are making up a smaller and 2012-2013-Demographic-Pie-Chartsmaller wedge of the pie chart, are desperate for affirmation that their woes can be blamed on those groups. They are ecstatic to find a candidate who will openly attack the groups they used to dominate.

They are thrilled to find a candidate who routinely retweets white supremacist memes; who promises to expel millions of Mexicans; who promises a total and complete ban on Muslims entering the country; a candidate who refers to a black attendee at his rally as “my African American”, and never walks anything back, but rather, when challenged, doubles down on his bigotry – now, that’s their kind of guy. Trump has legitimised their racism. He has given bigots permission to express their hatred loud and proud, where before they felt compelled to speak more circumspectly or risk society’s stern disapproval. Now, all they have to do is say that they refuse to be politically correct, and they feel free to express their darkest, most loathsome and cruel thoughts. They believe that a refusal to be constrained by courtesy, or even the slightest shred of human decency, when those are described as “political correctness”, is courageous and honest. Given that permission to lash out at the groups they blame for their declining status and am-i-the-only-one-that-can-tell-the-difference-2460307fortunes, it is no surprise that their candidate can do no wrong. It is quite possibly literally true that Donald Trump could, as he has bragged, shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose a single vote. And if that person was Hispanic, black, LGBTQ, or, even better, Muslim, he would probably solidify his position.

That is the legacy that the Trump candidacy will leave after he goes back to his TV appearances, his cons, and his phony investment scams. The tone of public discourse has been coarsened and degraded; campaign hate rhetoric has few, if any, limits now. The belittling and personal insults, the utter lack of substance, and the surfeit of vicious animosity has become the new normal. Hatred is back and it’s back with a vengeance. It is probably not entirely coincidental that alongside the rise of Trump we have been seeing a horrifying spate of police shootings of unarmed black men. Nor is it coincidental that police in Dallas were targeted by an African American. We are seeing racism unbridled. Political correctness, far from being the evil that Trump and his followers claim they have risen above, was simply a societal consensus as to what ought not be said or done lest we hurt others. Now it is a dirty word along with tolerance, inclusion, equality, and restraint.

Coming soon to your neighbourhood!

Coming soon to your neighbourhood!

A post-Trump America will be more openly bigoted. It will have a lower standard of media and political conversation. The country will be more divided than at any time since the social revolution of the late 60’s. But this time it will be divided along religious and racial lines; we can expect to see more violence, we can expect to see an increase in the popularity and membership of hate groups like the KKK and Aryan Nations. Respect and courtesy are already becoming extinct.

Donald Trump has done very little for anyone he doesn’t see in the mirror; he has done nothing for his country before his candidacy. But he has done plenty since then: he has diminished it in the eyes of the civilised world and he has made it a much more callous, hostile, and dangerous place.

ENDITEM…

 

 

Stupid is as Stupid Does

A Civilisation in Decline

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Before the Orlando massacre forced everyone with an audience to respond to yet another American mass shooting, I had intended to write a column about the disturbing anti-intellectualism that is gathering momentum in the United States. The latest and worst American civilian mass shooting, though, has focused most social orlando shootingcommentators on issues of gun control, LGBT rights, domestic terrorism, Islamophobia, and law and order. Every one of those issues has once again been thrust into the forefront of our collective consciousness and each is every bit as unresolved as it was before Omar Mateen began squeezing the trigger on his assault rifle.

I believe that the anti-intellectual inclination that is daily growing stronger in the US has something to do with both the shooting itself and with the media’s helplessness in reacting to it. All we can expect now is the usual back and forth over gun legislation, the left calling for common-sense restrictions on weapons, the right, led by the NRA, screaming 2nd Amendment rights, and blah, blah, blah. Already, the hate-preachers of the Christian lunatic fringe are blaming the LGBT victims and assuring us that their slaughter was god’s punishment, and that the victims are now roasting in hell. Other dwellers on the right are demanding that more and more draconian measures be taken against Islamic refugees and any Muslims attempting to enter the country, notwithstanding the fact that the killer was actually born in New York. The reactions to this latest offense are a kind of Rorschach test of where one stands; the lesson one draws from the events in Orlando are a direct reflection of what one already believes socially and politically. And the lack of nuance, of analysis, and of actual thinking is indicative of the anti-intellectualism that I wanted to address.

The early 21st Century in North America is a period in history in which intelligence, thinking, analysing, applying stupidity2reasoned criticism are all looked at with suspicion and denigrated as elitist. It is an era in which expertise is ridiculed and treated as though it can be trumped by anyone with a strong enough opinion. At this time in history, reasoned argument has been replaced by the rote recitation of memes and personal insults. It has come to the point where science and wishful thinking are competing for acceptance, and science is losing because people simply can’t be bothered to make any effort to understand how it works. We are living in a time when the lowest common denominator is the acme of our aspirations; nobody wants to achieve great things any more because it involves effort.

In a society in which the notion of creationism, or its better dressed cousin “Intelligent Design”, vies to be taught on an equal scientific footing with actual science, one can be forgiven for thinking that the downhill slide to barbarianism has begun. When actual human beings accept the ludicrous proposition that we can unload billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere with zero effect upon the planet, and at the same time reject the science of climate change, it has become evident that critical thinking has been replaced with magic; a sure sign of the degeneration of civilisation. scienceWhen conspiracy theories replace critical analysis, when feeling carries more weight than logical enquiry, we have crossed the threshold into the foyer of a new Dark Age. When you have a presidential candidate, in the aftermath of the worst mass shooting in the country’s history, suggest that the incumbent president is sympathetic to terrorists, and that is treated as having equivalent validity to any evidence to the contrary of the ludicrous claim, it is fair to say that reason has left the building.

In the mid 18th Century, a time now known as “The Enlightenment”, the zeitgeist was the polar opposite. That was a time during which ordinary people met and discussed philosophy; wrote and read treatises on the improvement of society; shared an interest in the remarkable advances in the sciences, and did their level best to understand how things worked, and how to employ them for the benefit of mankind. The greatest minds in history would get together regularly in salons, in taverns, in university lounges and lecture halls, to exchange ideas and to learn through discussion. In Paris, David philosophesHume, Denis Diderot, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Voltaire might all be in the same room at the same time, each learning from and contributing to the knowledge of the others; not shouting one another down and belittling different views. An encyclopedia, which would be an attempt to collate and summarise the entire totality of western knowledge was underway. In America, the Founding Fathers were writing the Federalist Papers and Jefferson was writing the first drafts of the Constitution of the United States. The difference between then and now couldn’t be starker.

Now, the very notion of specialised knowledge is treated with cynical contempt; expertise is suspect because it isn’t understood. But rather than try to understand it, the usual reaction is to dismiss it as elitist bafflegab and replace its conclusions with comfortable “common sense” or gut feelings. A loudly shouted appeal to the basest of instincts is considered more authentic than a quietly stated rational argument. Only in this reason-rejecting atmosphere could a demagogue like Donald Trump be cheered for calling for a ban on Muslim immigration as a response to a mass shooting by an American citizen. Only in this rationality-eschewing era could Donald Trump collect a following of dimwits, hillbilliesmarginalised crackpots, angry ignorant social outcasts, and paranoid racists into a coalition of the damaged and rejected. They are stupid and they are ignorant. But frighteningly, they are proud of it.

In lockstep with stupidity and ignorance, of course, march their close relatives: hatred and bigotry. Not being capable of serious thought makes it easy to accept simple minded hostility toward those who appear to be different. And from that, the inclination to acting on racism is a short hop. In just the last year, that inclination to act on racist impulses has become acceptable to a greater and greater number of Americans.

Where, once upon a time, people of profound intellects like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were respected and heeded, now people like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump are celebrated. Duck Dynasty philosophy is respected and its idiot proponents celebrated. They are celebrated precisely for their ignorance; their lack of knowledge is trumpeted as an indication of their authenticity. Intelligence doesn’t count for anything; being like the lowest form of human life; that’s what counts. The degeneration of America is occurring in front of us, and we are all circling the drain along with wisdom, class, intelligence, reason, and human decency.

Unless this election suddenly turns around and sees a landslide victory for the forces fighting back against Donald Trump, we may well be looking at the end of an era of optimism, of positive intellectual growth. Instead we will be seeing the dawn of a period in which our society’s proudest accomplishments are dismantled and the barbarians at the gates will enter and occupy the centres of power. A long, dark, grim winter may well be about to begin.

ENDITEM…

The Coming Dark Ages

Barbarians at the Gate

Pagun

 

I join other pundits in making the observation that, although the Trump phenomenon is astonishing in its offensiveness, we shouldn’t be all that surprised. Another thing that shouldn’t surprise us much is the breathtaking hypocrisreagan (1)y of the GOP stalwarts trying somehow to square the circle by simultaneously denouncing their nominee, The Tiny Tangerine Titan, and endorsing him. Trump’s offensiveness is merely the bombast with which he delivers the talking points that have been the Republican worldview since Reagan first blew his dogwhistle about “welfare queens”; racism and contempt for anyone who can be seen as “other” have always been at the core of the Republican message and philosophy and Trump is only saying it out loud rather than with a wink and a nod.

That’s why it really set one’s teeth on edge when the Republican House Speaker, who has (as was inevitable) recently endorsed Trump, said that one of Trump’s recent racist outrages “came out of left field”. A big surprise? The Republicans have never been in line for beatification as a result of their rigid adherence to principles of truth and honesty; but that whopper is almost in a league by itself. The GOP, the party of white working class male privilege; the party of Archie Bunker; the party whose nominee started his campaign with a promise to build a wall on the Mexican border; the party whose operatives overtly acknowledge george-wallaceethnic and minority voter suppression as a means of increasing their share of the vote; that party’s elected Speaker was surprised by one more racist remark by the most overtly racist candidate since George Wallace? Seriously?

All this hypocrisy ought to be telling us something and the rest of the country and the world should be taking it in. They will eventually, of course, but the question is whether the obvious will sink in before November. The party of Lincoln, the Republican Party, is utterly morally bankrupt; it is bereft of any claim to ethics, integrity, or honesty; it is now a dumping ground for nutjobs, bigots, racists, conspiracy theorists, and misanthropic sociopaths; it is all but done as a genuine political party.

The hypocrisy of the Republican stance with respect to their nominee is so transparent that the party’s leaders have given up even pretending that they have, or ever have had, the country’s best interests in mind. Congressman Chris Stewart, who once called Truhypocrisymetermp “our Mussolini” has now endorsed him. Party stalwart Rand Paul, who is on record as having said that Donald Trump was less qualified than “a speck of dirt” to be president, has endorsed him. And let’s not forget Bobby Jindal, ex Republican governor of Louisiana and vice chair of the Republican Governor’s Association; he said that Trump is a “madman who must be stopped”; he endorsed him too. I guess one way to stop a madman is to vote for him and to encourage others to do the same. And then there is “Little Marco”, taunted and ridiculed by Trump; he also wants you to know that you should do as he is doing, and vote for Trump. And of course there is Paul Ryan himself; outraged and shocked at the nominee’s racism and overt bigotry – he wants you to vote with him for Trump.

Apparently Trump was almost right. If he were to do as he believes he could, and shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue, I suspect he actually would lose some votes. I don’t think he would lose any party endorsements, though. The depth of the hypocrisy demonstrated by the shambolic remnants of the GOP is such that a complaint would only be heard if the shooting victim was a white male Republican. And that would only be because of the lost vote. The Republicans have put the country on notice that their degenerate party is of more significance than any other consideration, up to and including the country; the country they swore in their oaths of office to put ahead of everything else.

That on their list of priorities, the country comes after their systemic racism and their political party, was made manifest during the Obama presidency when the GOP swore to undermine the president at every turn. Their stated mission at first was deny him a second term; in his second term it was to deny him any accomplishment or victory. These patriots went so far as to hold the country at ransom, threatening to shut down the government and refusing (contrary to the Constitution) to pay bills which they themselves had incurred in Congress.  That Congress was far and away the least productive Congress in the history of the US, having done virtually nothing whatsoever except to pass a few porkbarrel bills for their own constituents and steadfastly refusing to do anything worthwhile. lazy repubNevertheless, Obama prevailed and turned the economy around, brought in a rudimentary form of national health care, tracked down and killed Osama Bin Laden, and opened the doors to greater equality under the law for all Americans. One cannot help but wonder how much could have been accomplished had the Republican Congress not filibustered, refused to hear, or simply ignored every bill, nomination, and initiative proposed by the president or any Democrat. The Obama years might well have been a halcyon period of US history.

The Republicans could not have been more clear in telegraphing their contempt for their oaths of office, their president, and, saddest of all, their country and their fellow citizens. But that message has been sent. It has been doubled and tripled down. The Republicans would rather see their country collapse into anarchy under the steady hand of a madman who previously needed to be stopped than see a non-Republican in the White House again.

They don’t care about governing. They have no coherent vision or any way of achieving it if they had one. They are nothing any more but a loose rabble of misfits, outcasts, and bewildered and angry socially marginalised leftovers on the ground beside the evolutionary ladder; and it’s terrifying that there are enough of them to make a credible run at the presidency. Nevertheless, they will not prevail. Trump and his cohort of incompetent anti-intellectual sociopaths will lose in November to a majority of the country that still has some vestige of intelligence and critical thinking skills. There are still enough people of conscience and sense in the US to reject a breathtakingly ignorant, narcissistic, racist fascist.

Barbarians at the Gate

Barbarians at the Gate

But what’s scary is this: that demographic is shifting. I think there’s a chance for civilisation to overcome the barbarians at the gate this time; I’m not so sure about 2020. And 2024 is even less certain.

ENDITEM…

 

The Teflon Donald

I’m rubber, you’re glue…

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) One of the more bewildering aspects of the incomprehensible Trump phenomenon is the way that he seems to suffer no political damage as the result of his own blunders, any one of which would spell the end of a candidacy, or even a career, for any other politician. Trump is routinely caught lying through his teeth about virtually anything he chooses to talk about; his bare-faced lies are publicly expteflonosed and held up to public scrutiny. A normal person would be embarrassed and would immediately start damage control; there would be an assumption that the misstatement would cost votes that would need to be wooed back into the fold. Trump, on the other hand, not only disdains walking his falsehoods back when exposed, he usually doubles down and simply repeats the lie or even expands upon it. Alternatively, Trump simply denies having uttered the offending words even when there is video proof of his telling the lie.

But it’s not just lies. Trump also blurts out what’s on his rather disturbed mind and says and does things that are so irredeemably ignorant, so crude, and so profoundly offensive that anyone else would be shunned as a social pariah. Can any of us imagine the uproar if, say, Obama had mocked a handicapped journalist by imitating his impaired speech and movement? If Hillary Clinton htrump mockeryad expressed scorn for a war hero and former prisoner of war because he had been captured? If Bernie Sanders had made up a story for the people of California that the drought they’re experiencing is phony and that water is being dumped in the sea rather than distributed to farmers and the city of San Diego? If any other public figure had claimed to have collected 6 million dollars for and donated 1 million dollars of his or her own money to veterans and then had it exposed weeks later thtrump shrugat the million hadn’t been donated at all, and the rest was languishing that person’s bank account? The list of what for anyone else would be gaffes is virtually endless; every time Trump opens his mouth, something that would be utterly unacceptable from any other adult comes pouring out. And yet Trump apparently only increases his following, both in numbers and in fervour.

Why does nothing stick? Why can respected journalists, highly regarded academics, and revered public figures of all sorts point out Trump’s flagrant racism without, in any perceptible way, negatively affecting Trump’s numbers? Why can business people, law enforcement experts, and economists show how ridiculous Trump’s grandiose promises of walls and mass deportations are and simply watch Trump repeat the idiotic memes he created?

The simple answer is this: Trump’s racism isn’t seen by his supporters as a disqualifying character trait. On the contrary; they flock to him and, once there, show a pathological loyalty precisely because he’s a racist. They’re not concerned that the rounding up of 11 million undocumented refugees is a Lying Pinochiofarcical idea for logistical, constitutional, and moral reasons simply because they know Trump lies all the time; what they care about is that a Trump presidency would usher in a new era of white supremacy with top down bigotry as part of the new order. They don’t see Trump’s adherence to every National Enquirer scare headline and conspiracy theory as being disqualifying because they themselves suspect that the government is engaged in a conspiracy to put down white, poorly educated, working class men; why else would they and everyone like them be at such an historically low point? They even believe demonstrably false claims such as Trump’s repeated assertion that veterans get inferior health care and other services compared with illegal immigrants. They choose to believe that sort of nonsense because it reinforces their self image as long suffering victims while “others” are getting benefits that are rightly theirs.

So asking how Trump survives his own gaffes is to make an error of assumption: those aren’t gaffes at all when Trump utters them; they are siren songs to his base.

Connected to the confusing reaction of hardcore Trump supporters with respect to their embracing the very worst Trump can do or say, is their devotion to political and social policy that is clearly not in their own best interests. As noted, Trump’s base is a demographic that, within their own lifetimes, has seen their lives deteriorate from solid middle class, middle income, tax-paying citizens to the marginalised working poor. Thanks to min wage raiseRepublican doctrine which has caused the near disappearance of the middle class; has sponsored the ever increasing gulf between the vastly wealthy and the poor; and has concentrated enormous wealth in the hands of a few oligarchs while the actual working class can barely survive; the poorly educated, white men to whom Trump appeals are far worse off today than they were a generation ago. Nevertheless, that same demographic is vocal, even strident in its support for less tax on the wealthy. They are against raising the minimum wage. They are vocal in their demands for further benefit cuts to the middle class and the poor, the elimination or refusal to fund job-creating infrastructure projects, and even the repeal of Obamacare, which is, in many cases, the only way they could afford health care for their families.

This is perhaps partly attributable to the inclination that JoSteinbeck millionaire quotehn Steinbeck noted of seeing themselves as actually being among those oligarchs but for some temporary circumstances which will at some point reverse themselves. Against all evidence, that demographic still holds to the long since debunked belief in the American Dream, that one day soon they will amass great wealth and therefore legislation that only benefits the wealthy is a proactive vote in their own best interests. That’s perhaps why they lap up Donald Trump’s lie about being a self-made man and having built his empire by dint of hard work, brains, and audacity…oh and “a small loan of a million dollars” from his dad. That he actually inherited some 40 million dollars from his enormously wealthy father is well known, but doesn’t fit into their fantasy world. The fantasy that Trump feeds by behaving like an ignorant, loudmouthed, braggart is that they are just like Trump except for that matter of temporarily elusive prosperity. He talks like them, he says things that they haven’t been permitted to say because of mark twain fool people“political correctness”, he shares and encourages their bigotry and anti-intellectualism; he is like them and he celebrates their (and his) stupidity. He encourages them to embrace and share his lack of knowledge, his delusions of superiority, and his trademark staggering ignorance. The fit feels good; they are just like him. The only difference is that they haven’t yet made their pile. And once they, with Trump at the helm, get rid of those illegals, ban Muslims, deregulate pretty much everything, and turn themselves loose without all those restrictions, the sky’s the limit. Soon they too will be flying around in their own private jets and soaking in solid gold hot tubs with supermodels.

            But more than anything, it has become apparent as this political clown show rolls on, that what really holds Trump’s followers’ attention is his contempt for anyone who doesn’t sing his praises or is in any way “different”. Trump is vociferous in lashing out at any and all dissenters; his followers love him for being an unabashed bully and they admire his thin skin as it shows a willingness to fight back. Even, apparently, to greet simple dissent with violence. The mean-spirited contempt for Truth set you freeothers, the embracing of hostility, and the violence that is always simmering just below the surface matches his supporters’ tendency to want to harm or even kill those with whom they can’t identify.

Trump’s faithful, the true believers, have bought into the biggest Trump lie of all. They willfully and deliberately choose to believe that Donald Trump is one of them and on their side. They have persuaded themselves, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that Donald Trump actually gives a rat’s ass about anyone or anything other than Donald Trump.

ENDITEM…

Quiet…Idiots at Work

The Thought Stops Here

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The current state of North American society has pundits and critics reviving interest in a 2006 film by Mike Judge called Idiocracy. It postulates a dystopian future USA of some idiocracy500 years hence in which anti-intellectualism has become universal, as the result of the average IQ in American society having dropped by what appears to be double digits because of the disproportionate rate at which the less intellectually gifted reproduce. The movie wasn’t great although it has developed a solid cult following; its premise, however, was great, if a little scary.

A quick look around and simple observation will tell you that it seems true that there is an inverse relationship between intelligence and the number of children produced. Even if you happen to be among those who don’t believe that evolution is real, you would have to admit that, even just mathematically, that a society in which the intelligent produce few offspring and the less bright produce more, there will be a downward trend in the overall or average IQ as long as intelligence is genetically transmitted. With that in mind, simply look at who is bringing large numbers of children into the world.

Certainly those who think contraception is wrong are more likely to become pregnant than those who practice birth control. And those who absolutely reject abortion as an option are certainly more likely to devolution GOPbring a pregnancy to term and give birth to a child. And there is an inverse correlation between level of education and number of natural children in a family. So while rural, poorly educated (Trump loves them!) members of society are out there breeding as fast they ever did, the “intellectual elite” are more and more opting for few, if any, children, or like me, adopting. Now, of course these are generalities, trends; there are millions of exceptions to this general inclination. But that’s all that is needed for evolution to do its work. As the trend continues, natural or artificial selection will see to it that the trend selected for – in this case, stupidity – will come to dominate the gene pool. This, of course speeds up the process, and, in time (8/10 of an IQ point per generation), the stupid gene becomes the norm. Voila! Idiocracy.

When looking at the US presidential campaign, the makers of the movie are undoubtedly regretting that they placed the story so far in the future; a few hours of watching the coverage will convince normal people that the dystopian (or possibly utopian for some people) future has arrived. It has become apparent only now because until very recently, intelligence and knowledge were respected. Beginning asimovwith the advent of the Tea Party movement and reaching its nadir with the Donald Trump campaign, the rejection of intelligence, critical thinking, expert knowledge, science, and the finer arts has become virtually universal. What this suggests is that the evolutionary trend toward stupidity has been underway for some time; it has been underground, however. Until recently, the truly stupid had not been convinced that their gut feelings and instincts on questions of scientific fact were as or more valid than those of an expert in the field.

Now, their ignorance is being validated by one of their own. Now they have been given permission to come out of the closet, raise their voices, and form a political movement that threatens to take over the country. The political movement that is led by Trump is not flourishing because more people are more stupid than last year; those people have always been among us. It’s just that until recently, they didn’t see their own ignorance and stupidity as being a point of pride.

Trump has demonstrated to his followers that he can triumph in spite of, perhaps even because of his near total absence of understanding or knowledge of the very things that we expect our leaders to be world-class at. Trump explains to reporters that he doesn’t know much about foreign policy but give him a few hours and he could become fully proficient at wielding presidential power in its service. He says he is his own best advisor on most subjects because he has such a good brain. He disdains any real expert fact v beliefknowledge or even real thinking on any subject of importance. Gut feeling and common sense, he assures us is what he has in abundance and what will make him the greatest president ever.

All of this is like a breath of finely scented fresh spring air to his less-than-genius base. All of their lives they have refrained from learning anything that presented a challenge; they have never chosen to look deeply into any hard subject. But nevertheless, they are convinced that if they were to apply themselves for a little bit, they’d be every bit as smart and knowledgeable as those damn liberal intellectual elitists. It’s easy; they just choose not to do it. With this as a foundation for their belief system, it’s easy to see why they think that there is actually a controversy regarding some scientific facts with which they take issue.

Their self-regard tells them that their instinctive rejection of anthropogenic climate change has as much validity as that of every rational climate scientist in the world; they feel free to reject the science because the scientists are just a bunch of phonies whose intellectual accomplishments they could match if they were to bothered to put in a few hours of effort. Ditto with evolution, except that they have put the effort into reading the first chapter of Genesis, so in this case they are as knowledgeable as the experts; more so, in fact, because the “experts”, by and large, have less knowledge of Genesis.

Donald Trump and his progenitors in the Tea Party have given these people permission to be ignorant; to be vocally stupid; to reject those who actually are experts or knowledgeable. Tell any of them that someone is going to speak on a subject in which he or she is an expert and their response will be cynical chuckling. “Expert” means a spokesperson for the liberal intellectual elite, an amorphous group made up of everyone who knows anything beyond what their bible or their gut tells them. For the first time in modern history intelligence is suspect and knowledge is a handicap. Permission has been given to be and stay uninformed and ignorant.

In lockstep with this anti-intellectual migration is another frightening result of Tea Party/Trump PC-Cartoon-FT-659x505populism…overt bigotry. Disdaining any expression of tolerance, inclusiveness, or recognition of the rights of others as “political correctness” has given their supporters licence to vocalise hatred, racism, and bigotry. By calling a decision not to say hateful things succumbing to political correctness, they are suggesting that those hateful things are on everybody’s mind but others are afraid to “tell it like it is”. They, the brave followers however, have the moral courage to speak the truth. Bigotry thus becomes an admirable quality and those who are not bigoted become liars and cowards for suppressing their real underlying hatreds. Their bête noir, political correctness, is not seen as a cultural inclination to suppress hatred and cruelty and to reject it when it is expressed. Political correctness has become a hypocritical pretense of not espousing the truth out of some weak-kneed, panty-waist fear of honest and truthful expression.

Permission has been given to be everything that Western culture has rejected as contemptible and beneath us, and to begin tearing down the edifice of civilisation that has been painstakingly built over the centuries. It wasn’t long ago that we had respect and admiration for those who actually worked at being better intellectually, technically, aesthetically, and morally. The expression “it ain’t rocket science” when indicating that a proposition or a task is simple indicates that people generally saw that expertise was both hard to acquire and worthwhile to achieve. Now, thanks to the movement toward Idiocracy, anyone who has an opinion is an expert, while the genuine expert is dismissed as a dupe or con artist. Now someone who supports equality of treatment, tolerance of opposing views, or a belief in human decency is considered to be a hypocrite spouting political correctness while racists and religious and secular bigots are to be applauded for their honesty and frankness.

Mark Twain

This is the way the world, led by the United States of America, is heading. It is frightening and it is appalling. But the big question is whether it is inevitable. Has the balance tipped irreversibly toward idiocy? Or is this a particularly vicious and abrupt swing of the pendulum that, in time, will reverse itself? The shifting demographics due to birthrates suggests that the latter is mere wishful thinking.

ENDITEM…

The Dumbing of America

Liberals, conservatives, IQs, and conspiracies

Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – I just ran across a recent study that confirmed what many of my readers (and certainly I) always believed at some pre-conscious level. The study, conducted through Brock University and published in Psychological Science, was led by Dr. Gordon Hudson; the upshot was that people of lower intelligence tend to gravitate to socially conservative viewpoints. 

The correlation between conservatism and lower intelligence was very strong, and, that conservative political propositions appeal to persons of considerably lower intelligence, irrefutable. Hudson conjectures that because the politically and socially conservative stance is simplistic, it is attractive to those with limited analytical skills; the less black and white, more nuanced liberal or progressive worldview tends to attract those who are prepared to examine complex propositions in greater detail. Bluntly put, liberals and progressives are more capable than conservatives are of understanding the subtleties that exist in the real world. 

Is anybody truly surprised by these results? Certainly not liberals. As for conservatives, one can’t really say that they are surprised because, insofar as they acknowledge the existence of the study at all, they deny its validity, the credentials of the researchers, the honesty of the reporting, the protocols employed, the statistical analysis, the interpretation of the numbers, the reputation of the university, and probably the validity Dr. Hudson’s birth certificate.

 All that notwithstanding, the results and the conclusions seem intuitively obvious; the study serves as empirical confirmation of the obvious which, one suspects, even conservatives believe deep down inside.  

 Forget for the time being the anti-human celebration of greed and indifference to fellow human beings that is a significant component of today’s conservative worldview. Look quickly instead at the painfully self-evident stupidity that is espoused as conservative common sense. 

Try economics for an obvious example. Take a period of economic downturn; the economy is shrinking, jobs are being lost. Conservative answer? Slash the government budget and lay off thousands of federal and local government employees, reduce services to those in need and lower taxes on the top 1% while increasing the tax burden on the middle class and working poor by increasing sales tax. Cut the social safety net but continue to subsidize the most profitable corporations in the history of the world. 

 The economic ignorance is so stupifyingly idiotic that one wonders how these people even remember to breathe periodically. 

But of course that’s only the fiscal conservative viewpoint. One of the strange things about conservatism is that when one adopts a fiscal conservative stance, for some reason social conservatism seems to be part of the package. Along with some neo-Ayn Rand-screw-the- less-fortunate economic policy seems to come all the other crackpot notions that typify the conservative worldview. Something that also came out in the study cited at the top of this piece was that the less intelligent among us – the conservatives – also are more likely to subscribe to conspiracy theories. 

Those that genuinely espouse the position that the moon landings were faked, that Obama is really a Muslim born in Kenya, that even the Sandy Hook massacre was a government hoax intended to drum up support for a government move to confiscate firearms from American citizens, and that climate change is a fraud,  tend to be conservatives. Lower IQ citizens, along with their conservative politics have a tendency to racism, to abhor immigration, to be inclined to believe that race is the root of crime, and significantly, that their own IQs are, on the whole, about 10% higher than they actually are. 

Over 90% of people who describe themselves as “conservative” or “right leaning” believe that they are of above average intelligence. The facts are that, on average, those same people are of lower intelligence than those who describe themselves as liberal or left leaning.

And least surprising of all, the lower the IQ, the more likely right leaning or conservative respondents were to describe themselves as religious. The less likely they were to believe in evolution, the more likely to believe in the literal truth of the Bible. (Or the Koran.) Moreover, they are more likely to believe that abortion under any circumstance ought to be outlawed and even that contraception is wrong. As well the lower IQ (conservative) segment of the population is more likely to oppose sex education in schools and believe that only abstinence ought to be taught. The natural outgrowth of all of this is that these people are far more likely to have children.

Since the lower IQ conservatives don’t believe in evolution, this obvious fact will escape them, but nevertheless it will work in their favour. More intelligent (liberal leaning or progressive) people tend to limit the size of their families and are more likely to adopt, while the conservative leaning, lower intelligence people tend to have more children. There is only one way this trend can possibly go; the average intelligence of a society that is bifurcated in this way will decrease. The conservatives cannot win by the power of their reasoning or the strength of their ideas, as both are, frankly, inferior. But because we are a democratic society, they will win by sheer numbers. We are witnessing the devolution of society; for the first time in history the trend has become toward stupidity and away from intelligence. 

It’s important to realise that we are speaking here of overall trends. Just as there are not very bright liberals, there are intelligent conservatives; overall, however, the opposite tendency is clear. And that is the way evolution works. As the less intelligent demographic reproduces at a greater rate than the more intelligent, the lower IQs will outnumber and dominate their intellectual superiors. Despite the excesses of the radical modern right having offended even the not too bright conservatives, causing a liberal backlash that is just now beginning to be felt, the increasing population of the less intelligent will have a profound negative effect upon western society in generations to come. 

The dumbing of the West is profoundly disturbing and leaves me with great concern about the world my four-year-old son will inherit. While I hope that he will be able to cope with a world in which more and more people are generally stupider than they are today, and therefore more likely to lean conservative even than today, I am grateful that I won’t be around to see the bar lowered so that the truly stupid are the new paradigm. 

Yes, the future holds great promise…promise of dull, thick, slow, obtuse, and plodding intellectual degeneration. That ought to be a great source of pride for the conservatives and right wing true believers who are leading the charge into the trailer parks of the future.

…enditem…

 

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