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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

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…

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….

 

Rational Self-Defence

A Legacy

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) My regular readers probably know that I am, to all intents and purposes, a single father of a seven-year-old boy. As such, I spend virtually my entire waking life trying to make sure that my son has a safe and happy childhood. Under our unique circumstances, that proposition is even more challenging than it is for most parents. For one thing, I am 60 and JJ is 7; as well, I am fighting a 128cancer that keeps popping up in unexpected places; JJ also has a classic case of ADHD and is being assessed for placement on the autism spectrum; JJ is of a visible minority and as such is bully bait; our financial situation is precarious as a result of my having had to withdraw from the world of full employment for several years. and because of the over $250,000.00 I spent (mostly on bribes) to acquire the paperwork necessary to get him out of Indonesia and to confirm his status as my son. Nevertheless, my main concern every single day is that I am providing JJ with a good role model and a safe and happy life.

            All that having been said, I am starting to develop a counterintuitive hypothesis: that a happy childhood can have a negative impact on one’s adult life.

mental-health            Having offered that hypothesis, it’s only fair to state at the outset that I cannot claim to have had a particularly happy childhood. My mother was, for most of my childhood, an undiagnosed and untreated manic depressive, and my father, being a narcissist, was a  a control freak. I loved them both very much and acknowledge that they both heroically struggled with their mental illnesses, and that they did the very best they could as parents. I was their sole caregiver in their final years and watched them both succumb to Alzheimer’s; I was there when they each breathed their last. I learned during that stressful period just how tough their own lives had been. Nevertheless, my childhood was not exactly idyllic.

My soon-to-be ex-wife, Yolanda, on the other hand, had a very happy childhood. Her parents are extraordinarily kind people and devoted parents. She has two brothers and a sister who all love one another and consider each other to be their best friends. She was tropical-villagebrought up in a village in a tropical paradise where childhood activities included swimming in the Indian Ocean, a pristine beach being just a short walk from their home, playing in the clove and nutmeg orchards, coaxing monkeys to eat from their hands, and visiting extended family and neighbours who populated the village. Moreover, the Indonesian child rearing paradigm is extremely attentive to the desires and autonomy of children; their wishes and desires are taken into consideration in every decision that might have an impact on them.

But here’s the thing. Adults with memories of nothing but happy times and positive relationships when they were growing up seem to have no reason to question what they accepted as truth when they were children. For those people, lessons learned in lessonschildhood are eternal truths. What their parents did or said while bringing them up is rarely contested, as there is rarely a sense that they may have been less than perfect.

On the other hand, I have said many times, only half jokingly, that my surest guideline for parenting is to ask myself what my parents would have done in a similar situation, then do the exact opposite. Because, even from a very early age, I was aware that my parents were simply wrong about many things, I was never tempted to believe that simply because they asserted or believed something, it must be true. The result of that was that I was always sceptical when I was asked to accept something simply upon someone’s authority. I learned early on to look for evidence in support of claims. I learned to recognise that an expert’s opinion on a matter within his field is evidence but an uninformed and unsupported opinion is just that. I went so far as to major in and then to do graduate work in philosophy because it is founded upon critical thinking and rational analysis of propositions.

I contrast that with those people who had perfect childhoods and would never think of old-wives-talesrejecting their parents’ wisdom. Yolanda, for example, is convinced that the worst thing you can do if you have the flu or even a cold is to drink any cold or iced drink. Her parents taught her that and other Indonesian old wives’ tales as fact when she was a child. Why they did, or where that idea came from is a mystery to me, but it is unquestionably true to her. I often self-prescribe ice cold lemonade when I have a flu; my thinking is that I need liquids, the cold will keep my temperature down, and the vitamin C can’t hurt. Yolanda’s mum tells me that cold would be a shock to the afflicted throat. And that’s the end of it.

There are countless examples of other more or less harmless beliefs that Yolanda and her siblings accept unquestioningly; from their marvellously kind and decent parents, for instance, they learned that eating beer-and-duriandurian (my favourite fruit in the world) with beer is sure to kill you. Having consumed the two in great quantities on many occasions, I’m happy to report that it’s all bullshit. The problem is that some of the well-meant but utterly false notions that children pick up from their parents are not entirely harmless. And the inclination to accept those notions isn’t balanced by any inclination to apply critical thinking to them.

In Indonesia, everyone has a religion; 90% of the people are Muslims and the majority of the rest are Christians, Buddhists, or Hindus. If an Indonesian were to ask you what your religion is, answering that religious_map_of_indonesiayou have none would make no sense. It would be like telling them you have no name, or that you were not born anywhere; one’s religion is a defining characteristic of every person. Consequently, people from wonderful childhoods generally accept their parents’ religion completely uncritically. And that acceptance of the religious beliefs of good parents is not only an Indonesian phenomenon; most people here in the West who claim to have a religion, have the religion of their parents. And among those who share their parents’ religion and feel comfortable enough with it not to spend a lot of time agonising over their faith, my observation is that most will cop to having had great childhoods and to having great respect for their parents.

There are lots of things I would like my son to accept unquestioningly. I’d like him to believe, for one-raceexample, that violence is wrong, that being kind to others should be at the very foundation of his character, that there is only one race, the human race, and all members should be accorded the same respect, that knowledge, understanding, and curiosity are preferable to ignorance and intellectual complacency. However, most of all, I want him to learn to apply critical thinking skills to anything he is asked to accept as dogma.

It seems to me that the things I want him to weave into the fabric of his personality, the decency, kindness, and tolerance, are more attitudes than factual propositions; they can be modelled rather than taught. I therefore have the responsibility of living my life with those ideals in mind, and I must be in a position to articulate them without hypocrisy if their suitability as values ever needs to be discussed. But critical thinking can be taught.

conspiracy-theoristsI need to teach JJ to respect people even if he can’t accept their beliefs. He doesn’t need to respect erroneous claims of fact, but he has to understand that people have a right to be wrong. I also need to ensure that, if people try to proselytise some crackpot notion like young earth creationism, or a denial of anthropogenic climate change, or chemtrails, or Barrack Obama’s Kenyan citizenship, he has the critical skills to see through the bullshit. He needs to know that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, not just extraordinary conviction.

In short, I’m hoping that I can give JJ both a happy childhood and the intellectual ammunition even to dispute my claims when I am in error. And crucially, I want my son to have the intellectual firepower trump-fibscombined with the strength of character to survive in a post-truth world in the event that Donald Trump’s message of evil and hatred prevails this November. Since Donald Trump announced his intention of running for the presidency, truth, facts, reason, and human decency have been under assault; everyone is going to need the skills of intellectual self-defence. Being able to separate the truth from hyperbolic fact-free statements will be more important than it has ever been. I will not have the person I love the most in the world succumb to the coarsening and dumbing down that Trump spearheads.

ENDITEM…

Left is Left and Right is Right…

And never the twain shall meet…

Pagun

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

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

Hell, no. Never Trump!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDITEM…

 

 

 

The Psychological Perspective

Cognitive Dissonance

Pagun

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

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

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

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

katrina

Katrina (hand me a spoon) Pierson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDITEM…

The Bulletproof Candidate

Why Even Kryptonite Wouldn’t Work

Pagun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDITEM…

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 Glimmer of Hope

Let’s Talk About the People

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) I am trying to avoid writing entire columns on Donald Trump for a number of reasons. One is that I, like any other political writer or TV or Internet pundit, have to shoulder some responsibility for helping create the Trump nauseaphenomenon by providing him with billions of dollars of free publicity. Another is that there is very little left to say about the Republican presidential candidate; what hasn’t been said by left-leaning, centrist, and even moderate right-leaning commentators? I have never written the words “fascist”, “bigot”, “racist”, “misogynist”, or a host of other offensive descriptive nouns as frequently as I have since Trump descended on his escalator to announce his intention to vie for the presidency of the United States. But the overriding reason I want to avoid writing specifically about Donald Trump is that I literally feel nauseated when I am forced to watch him in his public address mode. What needs to be examined, given the media’s saturation with Trump, is the people who will vote for him or Hillary Clinton (or cast a protest vote) this November.

Donald Trump is one man; it is the voters who have made him into the threat to the nation and the world that he has become. He is a threat now because it is still possible that he will be elected. If he were to be elected, we go to DEFCON 1. He will represent an imminent existential threat to the nation and the world.

So who are those people who want to see that scenario play out? Why can they not grasp the deadly seriousness of their support for a dangerously unstable and clearly mentally unbalanced candidate?

For one thing, I suspect that, the polls notwithstanding, as things stand with three months to go until the election, Donald Trump is going to be soundly trounced. I also suspect that congressional and senatorial seat losses will be primarily news_election-results-1024x768those currently held by candidates who have failed to distance themselves from Trump. Republican incumbents who have denounced him or somehow stayed above the fray will be relatively safe, while his ardent supporters will face serious challenges; only the GOP’s gerrymandering will save some of them.

This may turn out to be wishful thinking. I may end up feeling like Grover Norquist and other Republican stalwarts who were gobsmacked by Obama’s re-election in 2008, and I reserve the right to flip flop on this right up until the polls close on the 8th of November. Nevertheless, my reasoning has more to do with my unscientific reading of the American people than the empirical data collected by scientific and ever more accurate public opinion data gathering methods.

Because Trump’s campaign relies on the free publicity he is able to garner by his over-the-top pronouncements, his palpable bigotry, his embracing of violent rhetoric, and his willingness to offend, he finds himself having to outdo himself each news cycle to stay in the headlines. Mexicans, women, African Americans, the disabled, veterans, Muslims; all these groups and more have been subjected to his hateful rhetoric; he is systematically alienating one demographic after another. While there are undoubtedly some outliers in each of his targeted groups who will, bizarrely, vote for him, he has narrowed his appeal down to his hardcore base: white second generation or more WASP males with lower levels of education. That block, which used to be sufficient to elect a Republican candidate in past years is simply no longer big enough on its own to elect a president.

There is, of course, another group upon which he can rely on come election day. That is the very wealthy and those who peasants-for-plutocracy-by-michael-dal-cerro2thrive as a result of the corporate control of the United States. Trump’s recent speech in which he outlined his economic plans made it clear that he has no intention of departing from party orthodoxy in this realm. He intends to push the old trickle down policies that devastated the middle class when last tried. He intends to reduce the taxation and regulation of corporations, he plans to reduce or eliminate social programs at the same time as he reduces taxes on the wealthy; nothing new here, just more screwing the working classes and further enriching the top few. The problem is that the top one percent are just that; one percent.

That demographic simply doesn’t wield enough votes to make a big difference; it is those whom they are able to influence that could be a significant voting block. Nevertheless, traditionally, the wealthy and the corporations have been able to persuade millions upon millions of working and poor Americans to vote against their own interests. As John Steinbeck wrote: “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” The have always bought into the myth of the American dream; since before the nation was formed in 1776, Americans have always believed that hard work, thrift, and diligence would be repaid with success and wealth. There may even have been a time when that was true; in 2016, however, it is painfully obvious that those who actually did achieve massive wealth have entered the castle, pulled up the drawbridge behind them, and locked, loaded, and prepared to repel intruders.

The Trump campaign has made that eminently clear. Until his unveiling of the latest soak the poor and reward the rich economic platform, the Republican nominee had offered the voters nothing but encouragement for their darkest impulses.

'I'm taking more responsibility for my actions since I ran out of scapegoats.'

He fired up people who never even think about economic policy but are angry at every ethnic, racial, or social minority they know of, and are ecstatic at finding someone who validates their suspicions. He convinces them that those people are standing between them and what they feel entitled to. He also persuades the less knowledgeable, the truly ignorant, that: A) the problem is those groups, and, B) he alone has a solution.

It has long been part of the rhetoric of the right that Democrats, if elected, would institute draconian and widespread restrictions on their civil rights. They would come for their guns, they would persecute Christians, they would create “death panels” as part of their socialised medical plan. But even the less dazzling intellects among the stalwart Trump supporters must have noticed that despite two terms in office, the Democratic president has never even proposed that sort of legislation and certainly hasn’t used his executive powers to make any such order. There has been not a single attempt, much less a successful assault on their civil rights. The black helicopters never flew, the rednecks still have their guns, and Christian churches still outnumber synagogues, temples, and mosques. But, if any of them take even a cursory glance at news that doesn’t come from Fox, they will see that the Democratic administration has been responsible for an improved economy, steady job creation, and insulating them from the economic disaster they inherited.

So, it is mseeing the lighty belief that before November 8, a critical mass of Republican voters will see through the hypocrisy of promising them whatever vile and repugnant social legislation they support, while asking them to vote for economic policy that is directly and clearly intended to take from them and give to corporations and superwealthy individuals. At some point they will see that they have been sold a bill of goods. They will see that they have been persuaded by a variety of Orwellian doublespeak. They like Trump “because he tells it like it is”. The truth is that, more than any other political candidate in US history, he tells it exactly like it isn’t. His lies are becoming public knowledge. They cheer Trump when he tells them that Hillary Clinton is “unhinged”; they are beginning to see the truth – Trump is clearly mentally unfit for any public office.

Now, Trump is likely not to see this reversal of his political fortunes happening. He lives in a bubble of sycophants and yes-men and the occasional yes-woman, all of whom seem to tell him exactly what he wants to hear. He simply takes in information that feeds his ego and disregards the rest. He gets his quotidian fix at rallies where the hard, small kernel of utterly faithful, the deluded and delusional fanatics respond with hysterical chanting at his prompts, cheer his every personal insult, approve ecstatically of his dogwhistle threats of violence, and salivate in a Pavlovian manner at his racial taunts.

What I believe is happening, though, is that he managed to woo a vast number of people to his side during the primaries, but he reached a saturation point some time just before the convention. As he found his numbers leveling off, he ratcheted up the vulgar, hateful bigotry that had served him so well. The problem was that he was now starting to alienate those supporters who had thought he might simply be a breath of fresh air in Washington; they were seeing that he was dangerously unfit for the presidency and that a hypothetical Trump administration would be a terrifying and chaotic reality.

His hardcore band of enablers and codependent crazies will keep him going, but the American people are better than he believes they are. They are not as stupid as he is counting on, and when push comes to shove, they are not as hate-filled and vicious as he needs them to be to vote for him.

I hope.

ENDITEM…

Splitting the Baby

A Tale of Two Opinions

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) A favourite technique of the right wing seems to be to attempt to influence public opinion by pretending that there is a serious debate on a subject of importance when in fact there isn’t.

An obvious example of that tactic is the right wing’s insistence that the question of anthropogenic climate change is a controversial issue; that there is genuine disagreement as to whether human activity is contributing to climate change. Not that they’d ever admit it, but even that position represents a retreat from their original argument that climate change (the phenomenon formerly known as “global warming”) simply didn’t exist outside of the fevered imaginations of leftist socialist tree hugging alarmists. When the elephant in the room started to fart and trumpet loud enough that its existence could no longer be ignored or denied, the argument became: Sure the climate is warming up, but it’s part of a natural cycle; dumping millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has no effect on the planet. And, of course, that “argument” came from politicians who, entirely coincidentally I’m sure, accepted huge contributions from Big Oil and, bush denialalso coincidentally, voted to give those very companies billions of dollars annually in corporate welfare. Where that spurious argument did not come from was any actual climate scientist.

The level of public discussion actually included everyday conservatives pointing to every record snowfall and unseasonably cold day and shouting out that here was evidence that global warming was a liberal hoax. Rather than becoming involved in a hopeless attempt to explain the distinction between climate and weather, or to explain how planetary warming could lead to anomalous weather events in some areas, climate scientists started to use the phrase “climate change” to make the truth a little easier to grasp. Still, in an attempt to demonstrate to the public at large that there was a serious debate on the issue, at one point the shills for Big Oil managed to put together a list of “scientists” who held that there was no such thing as human generated climate change. Itclimate-change-denier-1 took about twenty-four hours for that ploy to be exposed as a fraud. Among the deniers were high school science teachers who had never published in peer-reviewed journals and a wide selection of experts in fields like anthropology and dentistry. What was absent was any representation of climate scientists. Despite the rhetoric, there has rarely been, at any time in history, so solid a consensus among scientists; only crackpots and non-experts dispute anthropogenic climate change in 2016. And conservative politicians who have sold their constituents a bill of goods.

As far back as 2001, actual climate scientists published their consensus and their scientific opinion on climate change in the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Its conclusions were summarised as follows:

  1. The global average surface temperature has risen 0.6 ± 0.2 °C since the late 19th century, and 0.17 °C per decade in the last 30 years.
  2. “There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities, in particular emissions of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane.
  3. If greenhouse gas emissions continue the warming will also continue, with temperatures projected to increase by 1.4 °C to 5.8 °C between 1990 and 2100. Accompanying this temperature increase will be increases in some types of extreme weather and a projected sea level rise. The balance of impacts of global warming become significantly negative at larger values of warming.

 

These findings were and continue to be recognised by the national science academies of all industrialised nations. Since then, climate change has become more pronounced and the scientific consensus has become a virtually unanimous voice. There is, in other words, no meaningful debate.

Nevertheless, people with a vested interest in maintaining the current level of hydrocarbon consumption insist that there is a genuine debate to be had and insist that no serious action be taken until the “controversy” is resolved. That technique is known by logicians and rhetoricians as “the fallacy of the middle ground”. That logical fallacy is the mistake of believing or asserting that if there are two sides to a dispute or two competing opinions, the truth is to be found somewhere in the middle between the two opinions. While that may be true on some occasions, and while it may seem intuitively democratic and fair, it is an affront to critical thinking. The tactic employed here is to stake out a position absolutely contrary to reality and try to force people to move away from the truth and toward an artificial middle ground.

However, simply asserting something does not give the assertion legitimacy or any intellectual standing. Despite science-conspiracythe right wing’s anti-intellectualism and dismissal of expertise as elitism, an expert opinion caries more weight than an uneducated, unsupported claim. That is most particularly true when we are speaking of scientific propositions being contradicted by insisting that anybody’s unsupported opinion is as valid as a scientific conclusion.

There is no serious debate on climate change. There are scientific conclusions, and there are uninformed opinions and wishful thinking based on, of all things, political views. That is not a debate. The only debate is how to deal with the reality that the world is facing a clear and present danger that we continue to exacerbate while we keep our heads in the sand. And we do that so the most profitable corporations in the history of the world can continue to increase their revenues and power, and collect more billions of welfare dollars, courtesy of the politicians they own.

Another example of the technique of insisting there is a controversy where none exists is the increasingly nonsensical insistence on the part of conservative, and especially evangelical, Christians that creationism (or its uptown cousin, intelligent design or ID) should be taught along side evolution as a competing scientific theory. Their argument is simply this: Evolution is a theory; so is ID. They should have equal prominence in schools, and refusing to teach ID on an equal footing is one more example of the modern persecution of Christians and Christianity.

This, of course, is another non-debate. The fact that it is even discussed is evidence of the lack of education of the creationism-evolutionID proponents; they don’t understand what, in science, a theory actually is. Having read little but publications that offer theories like: Elvis is alive and living on life support in a cryogenic chamber in Area 51, or President Obama is a Kenyan Muslim plotting the destruction of America, or the moon landings were faked by Stephen Spielberg as a final project to graduate from film school, they don’t understand what a real theory is. They don’t understand that a scientific theory is an explanation of phenomena; an explanation that has been examined, scrutinised, and subjected a series of repeatable experiments and has survived all attempts to falsify it. A scientific explanation is only considered to be a theory if it is testable by experiment or other empirical method. And those tests must, to be valid, be attempts to disprove or falsify the proposed explanation (or, in scientific jargon, the hypothesis); it is easy to find evidence to support a hypothesis but for the hypothesis to become accepted as a theory, it must survive every attempt not to prove it, but to falsify it.

Evolution is a theory. Anthropogenic climate change is a theory. Gravitation is a theory. Even the existence of atoms and subatomic particles is a theory. In fact, most of those things are looked at as facts by any educated person. They are called theories simply because explanations of phenomena can always be refined and tweaked; to call them facts would be sloppy science. Intelligent design, in contrast, doesn’t even qualify as a hypothesis. It is merely an assertion based on an interpretation of a compilation of folk tales told by illiterate late Neolithic middle eastern nomadic goat herders and written down some time over two thousand years ago. To call it a theory is to misunderstand and misuse the word.

At first glance, it is bewildering that scientific questions are political debates with sides lining up along the CorpSpend91214liberal/conservative division. But when one considers that the denial of human caused climate change is supported by the same people and for the same reason that they denied the connection between tobacco smoke and lung disease, it becomes a little clearer. Their phony arguments are sponsored by industry and insisted upon because doing so makes right wing politicians a lot of money. The same is true of the refusal to make any real attempt to stem the flood of deaths by gunshot; politicians have been paid to insist that guns don’t kill people.

The outlier here is the insistence on the propagation of intelligent design as science. Nevertheless, there is a political element in that phony debate; conservative and evangelicals Christians, the proponents of ID, tend to be on the right of the political spectrum, so conservative politicians find themselves pandering to their crackpot notions in an effort to ingratiate themselves. It is cynical in reasonably rational politicians, and in the devout, it is simply one more example of the religious right’s constant pressure to undermine democracy and create a Christian theocracy.howinsteadofwhat

Critical thinking, self education, broad reading, and constant vigilance are all needed to push back against the forces that would twist the facts to fit a political agenda. I believe very strongly that, rather than expend enormous amounts of money and energy to teach particular doctrines in schools, there should be a combined effort, from both sides of the political spectrum, to include critical thinking as an integral part of the curriculum. When rational scepticism, an understanding of rhetoric, recognising sophistry and logical fallacies are all part of the arsenal of students it would be interesting to see how many of these idiotic non-debates simply fizzle and disappear.

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