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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…

 

What if…

The World of Trump

Pagun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDITEM…

 

Democracy? What Democracy?

Democracy in America 2016

Pagun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDITEM…

A Free Press…

is a right; reading it critically is a duty…

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) One thing that we have learned from the bizarre 2016 United States presidential elections is that the media is simply no longer equipped to perform its function as an impartial, objective reporter, and analyst of important events. And in the only thing I have ever or am ever likely to agree with Donald Trump, the media have done an execrable job covering this election thus far.

There are two salient reasons the coverage of the candidates and their campaigns has been so dismal; the first one is an endemic problem with US media and has existed for a long time: news has to be profitable.

Walter Cronkite reporting breaking news: the Kennedy assassination.

Walter Cronkite reporting breaking news: the Kennedy assassination.

At one time, within my lifetime, the news departments of TV networks were expected to be a net expense; nobody expected them to be profit centres. News desks were occupied by actual journalists and anchors had proven their journalistic chops before they became talking heads. Walter Cronkite, before he became the most trusted man in the country anchoring CBS Evening News, had been a print journalist who had done everything from sports reporting to flying on B17 bomber missions over Europe during WWII.

The “Big Three”, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, and Peter Jennings anchored their respective networks’ evening news from the ‘eighties through to the 2000s, all having started and subsequently retired within

At that point it was a question. Later, it became obvious: profits.

At that point it was a question. Later, it became obvious: profits.

a year of one another. All three were highly respected actual journalists with training, experience, and talent. But it was toward the second decade of their reign as the trusted triumvirate of television journalism that television journalism began to die. Palpably and incrementally, news began to be replaced by entertainment.

Whereas I can remember a time when network news broadcasts were uninterrupted by commercials, the network executives started to ask themselves why, in an hour that attracted among the most viewers of their entire lineup, they had no revenue-generating ad spots. They argued with their news department journalists that the additional revenue from selling advertising in between news stories would offset the cost of new overseas bureaus, newer and better technology, and higher salaries. Seduced, but in reality not having much choice, the network news departments capitulated and, almost instantly, became seen as profit centres rather than the pro-bono public services they had always been.

All kinds of things changed, from the network studios in New York, all down the line to the regional affiliates. The news departments tenaciously, and increasingly desperately, tried to maintain their journalistic integrity. First, and most obviously, the anchors themselves, and all the other on-air talent began to be selected primarily for their telegenic qualities; journalism experience was unimportant, it

NEW YORK - JULY 7:  Actor Will Ferrell aka Ron Burgundy participates in Q&A after a special screening of the film "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" at the Museum of Television and Radio July 7, 2004 in New York City. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

was rationalised, for someone simply to read from a teleprompter. Anchors now were expected to fit neatly into a marketer’s bland, blow-dried conception of a trustworthy television newsman; Ron Burgundy and Ted Baxter were born. And if the public was to believe that the weather reporters were actually meteorologists, one would have to believe that among the pre-requisites for meteorology courses were big tits and a propensity for wearing tight dresses and five inch spikes.

But it wasn’t just the on-air personalities that morphed from journalists into vapid eye candy. Now that the news had started to generate revenue, the suits upstairs couldn’t leave it alone; having found money in a hitherto untapped source, their new mission was to maximise the take. So, in a shameless scramble for ratings, the news weathergirlitself changed. The affiliates and the networks demeaned themselves by running with stories that had no real significance or impact on viewers’ lives but had shock value. If it bleeds, it leads, became the mantra. Any story with violence or carnage was guaranteed a few minutes, while less viscerally appealing real news was barely mentioned. And, of course, anything that could be strip mined for prurience will be covered. If a school board decided to stop teaching cursive writing and concentrate on keyboard skills instead, that would be a story that is of some importance and relevance to a large number of viewers. If, on the same day, a local mall was holding a lingerie fashion show, there wouldn’t even be a discussion as to where to send the camera crew.

With television journalism at such a low ebb, it is no surprise that coverage of the elections this year is so inept. But there is a second element that contributes to the appallingly unprofessional media coverage.

In the absence of any serious coverage by the major networks, alternative media have sprung up like mushrooms after an autumn rain. Given that anyone can have access to the Internet and potentially reach an audience even greater than any of the networks could twenty years ago, anyone with a WiFi hate-pressconnection can report and comment on the news. There is no tradition of responsible reporting or providing balance or fairness to what is posted on the ‘Net. It’s the wild west out here in the cyberworld. There are some highly partisan but nevertheless reliable outlets run by actual journalists but there are also hate-spewing, attack sites. And they form the majority.

As a consequence, the television news media find themselves trying very hard to appear like seasoned, professional journalists. They strive for an appearance of neutrality and an absence of bias. Unfortunately, they are still playing by rules and conventions that prevailed at a time when the behaviour of a candidate like Donald Trump would have been unthinkable. Virtually every one of the mainstream news media have fallen into the trap of treating Trump as though he is a serious candidate.

The press, in an effort to demonstrate their even-handedness, press Hillary Clinton on the tired, and long since laid to rest email story. Despite having been investigated for years by 9 different panels and agencies, from rabidly partisan Congressional panels to the FBI, and exonerated each time, Matt Lauer

Matt Lauer: Journalist

Matt Lauer: Journalist

shamed real journalists by wasting her time and ours, apparently thinking he’d turn up something everybody else missed. He then compounded his incompetence by letting Donald Trump slide when he repeated lie after fact-checked lie.

Trump throws around racial, sexual, and ethnic epithets with abandon; he has made prejudice and bigotry the principal pillar of his candidacy. But when Hillary accurately refers to half of his followers as “a basket of deplorables”, she is vilified for being divisive. And the press, to demonstrate their absence of bias, reports the two candidates’ remarks as though they are somehow comparable in their offensiveness. They deliberately create false equivalencies, because to apply the same rules of comportment to both candidates would result in such breathtakingly lopsided reporting, with Trump taking the worst of it, that it might seem as though he was being persecuted when, in fact, he would only be experiencing the same level of scrutiny and reportage any candidate should expect.

But given the lack of journalistic experience or training, one can expect little more from the mainstream media. The non-mainstream media is even worse, of course, but the heavily right-leaning press is largely a self caricature and no one expects high quality journalism.fox-news At least when one watches Fox News, one knows that what is being broadcast is straightforward Republican Party talking points and right wing dogma.

So, where should people, who want to know the facts and who expect journalists to have some integrity, turn for their news? There is no single source of news that can be relied upon for clear, unvarnished, fact based journalism. There are even very few news analysis and commentary sources that can be relied upon to tell the truth, even as they criticise a candidate or party. All that can be done is to read as many different sources as possible. Nevertheless, I provide the following tips for deciding whether a news outlet is worth following.

Your suspicions of unprofessionalism ought to be raised if:

  1. The copy in the reports or columns is in need of proofreading. Typos can occasionally be missed in the best publications, but if a piece is riddled with misspellings or grammar and usage blunders, the writer and/or editor are not professional.
  2. In place of rational argumentation, the writer relies on distortions of a person’s name to make a point. Expressions like “Killary” or “Obammy” are a tipoff that you’re reading something from someone who has all kinds of attitude but no knowledge of journalism or even argumentation.
  3. You are repeatedly fooled by clickbait headlines. How many times do you have to click on a header that says something like, “Trump surrogate reduces interviewer to incoherence” only to find that an interviewer stumbled over a word and nothing much else happened?
  4. A purported news story is structured so that you have to read to the very end of several thousand words to find the salient fact that induced you to read the piece. A professional news writer will have made a habit of writing in the pyramid style: the lede (journalism jargon) will contain the Who, What, Where, and When of the piece, and the Why will be filled in as you read the next sentences. If any of those Ws are only to be found deep in the content, the writer is not a journalist.

Try using those notions as hermeneutics and I’m sure that you’ll find yourself less outraged at the garbage that you have to sort through to get to some approximation of the truth. You’ll never get all the way there, but by discriminating among the multitude of choices available, you’ll have a better basis for judgment. And if the 2016 US presidential election is in desperate need of anything, it’s just that: judgment.

ENDITEM…

 

The World According to Trump

Looking to a Grim Future

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The 2016 United States presidential election is different from any previous presidential political race. Few of the elements that make this election unique are, in and of themselves, completely new to US politics; taken together, though, they add up to an unprecedented political campaign.

            There have been candidates before Donald Trump who ran on an “America First” platform; indeed, the America First Committee formed in 1940 was a powerful pressure america firstgroup whose avowed purpose was to keep the US out of World War 2. Naturally, the group attracted Nazi supporters, including Hitler admirer Charles Lindbergh; The Trump campaign’s use of the slogan is a dogwhistle call to neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other race baiting groups. But Trump’s overt racism and in-your-face hatred of minorities was also foreshadowed by George Wallace’s segregationist presidential bid.

            The vitriolic hate speech that forms the backbone of Trump’s rallies is different only in degree from some earlier campaigns. That Trump regularly and unabashedly calls his opponents criminals, bigots, and traitors, that Trump leads his acolytes in chants of “lock her up!”, that Trump routinely encourages violence against peaceful protesters, are all behaviours that are simply quantum leaps more extreme than previous campaign outrages.

            Even Trump’s success in creating a political atmosphere in which his policies are utterly incomprehensible, his statements contradict themselves daily, and in which he is free to lie, to mislead, and to make and double down on outrageous and entirely false and easily disproven accusations, is merely taking old unethical political tactics to their extreme. Candidates have accused one another of a variety of unsavoury actions in previous campaigns, but it took the Trump candidacy before we would see the Barack-Obama-Hillary-Clinton-ISISRepublican nominee stating flatly that the incumbent president and the current Democratic nominee and former secretary of state were literally co-founders of ISIS. Not in any metaphorical or figurative sense or anything, Trump assured us; but literally and factually, actual founders of the radical Islamic terrorist organisation.

            Donald Trump with his “political outsider” pretense is degrading not only the way politics is done in the US, but he is debasing the entire social atmosphere of the nation, and to a lesser extent, the world. In the year that Trump has dominated the media with his ludicrous campaign, the culture of the United States has been demonstrably coarsened and human decency, trump-effecttolerance, courtesy, and critical thinking have receded to the point that they are all treated as the laughable conceits of the cowardly and the pretentious. The emergence of ignorance, hatred, and violent confrontation as virtues can be credited to the account of Donald Trump.

            On this Labour Day, as I am busy gathering my seven-year-old boy’s back-to-school stuff in preparation for Grade Two tomorrow, I am naturally inclined to look toward the future that he is going to face both this year, and over the course of his life. With two more months to go until we can be certain that the Donald Trump infection has been finally eradicated, that future is somewhat uncertain. But I know one thing for sure; the world in which JJ will grow to adulthood is darker, uglier, and more dangerous than it was, even eighteen months ago.

            When I was his age, there was much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments Joan_Baez_Bob_Dylanover the perceived chaos in the world as a result of the baby boom bubble coming into its own. Youth culture was emerging and the previous generation was afraid, was offended, but mostly was bewildered. The zeitgeist was indeed chaotic in the early Sixties. My generation was stretching its wings and flexing its muscles; we knew we wanted change although we weren’t sure what we wanted to change into. But whatever ideas we had about what the world ought to look like, we took it for granted that with cooperation, with dedication, and byhippy3 bringing our energy and commitment to bear, we could make it happen. We had great dreams and endless supplies of hope.

            Before that energy dissipated and our generation scattered and then succumbed to the “me” generation that followed, we managed to accomplish things that today would be considered hopeless tasks. By applying our will and energy, we managed to get civil rights legislation passed in the US, legal segregation was ended, Roe V. Wade made abortion legal, a Catholic president was elected, the Peace Corps was founded, we put humans on the moon, feminism became second nature to most people, environmental issues were raised and became part of the world’s discussion, we managed to turn the world against the Vietnam conflict and forced a president to pull American troops out, and far from least, we held a president’s feet to the fire and forced his resignation for having done politics in the traditional, unaccountable way.

Bookends

Time it was

And what a time it was

A time of innocence

A time of confidences

Long ago it must be

I have a photograph

Preserve your memories

They’re all that’s left you

Simon and Garfunkel

simon and garfunkel

            But I look around now and I see what my son is going to face and I worry for his future. My son is a remarkable person. Although he can be exhausting because of his ADHD, I’m convinced that I learn as much from him as he does from me. He’s wicked smart; in some things, like places he’s been and people he’s met, his memory is eidetic; he has an autism-related difficulty with language acquisition, preferring to use words in a way that make sense to him, rather than employ the socially agreed-upon syntax. But mostly I am struck daily by his very un-autistic sense of empathy and sensitivity to the feelings of others. He is always the first one to run and hug another child who is sad or afraid. He cries when he hears something sad, he is more likely to give his lunch or his toys to someone who needs or wants them, than to monopolise or hoard them as most kids his age do. But he is of a visible minority, being brown skinned; he has speech issues; he is hypersensitive both physically and emotionally; he is very vulnerable.

            He will almost certainly be the target of bullying as he grows up and goes to school. The world that he is now inhabiting is far more likely to treat him cruelly or harshly than it was when I was young, and he is far less equipped than I was to cope with those sharp corners and elbows. The world that Donald Trump exemplifies and encourages, is full of intolerance and hatred. It is a world where walking all overBleakFutureAhead_B our weaker fellow humans is encouraged and admired, where kindness and decency are disdained as weakness or cowardice. It is a world without genuine confidence in the future, or any real hope for improvement as the result of our actions. Idealism, that sense of right and wrong and the value of working to make the world better, simply isn’t a big part of the world at the moment. And it makes me want to weep for him. Since I became a father late in life – I’m sixty and he’s seven – I am increasingly aware that I won’t be around to cushion the slings and arrows of everyday fortune when he is an adult.

            Largely for that reason, I have chosen to spend his critical early elementary school years in a small village in rural Vancouver Island, where we know all our neighbours, where there is a community of artists, hippies, free thinkers, and back to the land people, as well as environmentalists, vegans, and traditional farmers. A place where we often keep our doors unlocked, where neighbours take care of one another and their children feel free to knock on one’s door if frightened, or tired or lost.

            But eventually, when he is better able to accept that not everyone in this world is prepared for a _donald-trump-insanelittle boy who will spontaneously hug a stranger in a queue at the general store because he likes her voice, he will have to take his place in the hate-filled, and intolerant world that we are creating by accepting Donald Trump and his ilk. By letting his viciousness, his narcissism, his pathological inability to distinguish fact from fiction, and his bigotry to slide without instant, unanimous and vocal condemnation, we are normalising it and allowing it to become part of the new world order.

            Where we stand right now, should Trump manage to get himself elected, the world will be a nightmarish dystopia, and one for which it is impossible to prepare because of Trump’s instability and refusal to prepare in any way for the position he wants. But even if, as seems likely, he is trounced and sent packing, his legacy will live on. The world is a palpably worse place for his having occupied so much of our attention. And before the pendulum swings back, as it inevitably will, the world that my son should be looking forward to being a part of is going to be unpleasant, inhospitable, and a bleak, cold place. For that I can never forgive Donald Trump and his supporters.

ENDITEM….

Licence to Hate

The Rise and Fall and Rebirth of Political Correctness

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The first time I heard the phrase “political correctness” was some time back in the 70s, and it was used by my then agent to criticise a publisher’s rejection letter. She had submitted a manuscript of a mystery/thriller I had written, in which one of my more unsavoury characters, a debt collection agency owner, was named Lenny Stein. She faxed me a copy (faxes were new and high tech back then) of the rejection letter, as it was actually a personal note and not a form letter. The publisher, rejection-letter-socialin his rejection of one of the few substantial pieces of fiction I have ever written, was positive, if not actually effusive about my novel. He recommended a number of changes if I were to submit it elsewhere and explained frankly why he was turning it down and not asking me to resubmit it to him. He was offended, he explained, by my rampant antisemitism. That Lenny Stein was clearly intended to be an unscrupulous Jewish bill collector, was pure bigotry and intolerable to him.

Ironically, the character was actually deliberately based on an unscrupulous Jewish bill collector with a similar name. The character and his real life counterpart were similar, even in their physical descriptions, right down tpreppy waspo the perpetual dusting of dandruff on the shoulders of their cheap suits. (I wanted him to recognise himself despite the disclaimer). Nevertheless, the publisher was right; the character was clichéd and worked much better when I changed him to a very WASPish Upper Canada College preppy type, slumming in the debt recovery business. But it was my agent who was furious. She said in a very sarcastic tone that the submission had only been rejected as it was insufficiently “politically correct”.

The expression, “political correctness”, as a neologism of the latter half of the 20th Century became part of our everyday lexicon as a reaction to an historical period in which civil rights and racial, ethnic, and gender equality were finally becoming a reality against strong social pushback. By the late 60’s some of the most offensive epithets, slurs which had been commonly deployed in casual middle class discourse, had been suppressed and were recognised as trace hatehe hurtful expressions they always were. But ordinary people no longer felt free to use words like nigger, kike, spic, or broad any more. Civilised and courteous people eschewed language that was likely to offend; the now sidelined derogatory labels were only employed by die-hard bigots, and were used specifically because of their verboten nature when offense was the aim.

But like many other benign and even beneficial notions, the societal pressure to avoid giving offense became an exercise in playing gotcha! People began militantly dissecting the language of others in an attempt to find an expression, word, or phrase that carried the possibility of offending someone or some group. People without the tiniest bigoted bone in their bodies found themselves accused of being insensitive or even of willfully offending when they used a word they had no idea could be interpreted as racist. Someone who had routinely used the word “gypsy” metaphorically, or even simply to describe the people known for their caravans,colourful head scarfs, and fortune tellers, would find himself accused of unforgiveable racism. “Gypsy” was no longer politically correct; the proper descriptive term was now “Romany” people. My suspicion is that not a single Romany person had ever objected to being called a gypsy. As I recall, being a young boy in France in the late 50’s and early 60’s who loved to play with the children of the Romany people when they camped in the fields behind our house, they called themselves “gypsies” or its equivalent in the various languages they spoke.

There is no question that the PC impulse got out of hand, with people demanding the right to go politically correct fightingthrough life in a racially and culturally diverse society without ever being offended. At the height of the PC zeitgeist, I wrote emphatically against the restrictive nature of society’s impulse to stifle others’ freedom of expression. I remember moderating a discussion in which John Cleese (at the time still best known as a Python) very firmly held that he had the right to offend; that offending people was his job and was the job of all social critics and relevant comedians and always had been. I remember agreeing wholeheartedly with him. Political correctness, toward the end of the last century, found itself being disparaged and mocked.

People, while still trying to express themselves in ways that didn’t cause needless pain to others, began to refuse to tie themselves into knots simply to be politically correct. Referring to short people as being altitudinally challenged became the kind of joke critics of PC were making. The pendulum had swung far enough that simply referring to someone as being politically correct was the equivalent of saying they were unimaginative and feckless; that they were prissy prudes; simply put, they had a stick up their ass. clint_eastwood__by_cameron1395-d5spzncIn the current US election cycle, no less an icon than Clint Eastwood called those who reject Donald Trump’s in-your-face race baiting, “pussies” and urged us to “get over it”.

Arch liberal Bill Maher, called his ground-breaking political commentary/comedy show “Politically Incorrect” in an effort to re-humanise the parameters of permissible discussion. (As an aside, he was handed his walking papers for being, wait for it….politically incorrect when he said on his show that, to be realistic, one couldn’t honestly describe the suicide terrorists of 9/11 as being “cowards”. He was right, of course, but the PC police wanted his ass, and they got it.) So now it was the conservatives who were demanding political correctness while the progressives and liberals were rejecting it as stultifying and unreasonably restrictive.

The phrase was never employed in an approving manner; it has always carried some connotation of reflecting a sheep-like mindset, a knee-jerk deference to popular social trendiness. Until fairly recently it had seemed as though political correctness had completed its life cycle and was soon to be consigned to the dust bin of anachronistic language. In the last few years, however, the phrase has come roaring back into the vocabulary. The radicalised right wing has suddenly discovered that no one has had much respect for political correctness for years; that to describe someone as being politically correct is to suggest that their freedom of expression has been stolen from them, and that to abjure political correctness is to demonstrate courage and independence of thought.

Trump and PC           With Donald Trump leading the charge, the right, particularly the alt right, has embraced the disdain for PC and employs its rejection as protective colouration for the most appallingly vile public discourse the United States, and the world, has seen since the pre-civil rights era. They have discovered that all they have to do is preface a statement with the assertion that they refuse to be politically correct, and then they have somehow given themselves permission to speak hatred, racism, sexism, or any sort of disgusting bigotry. Where, not very long ago, even the worst example of a redneck racist hillbilly would have thought twice before using the word “nigger” in public, today, people are openly using it as a taunt and a verbal assault.

By implicitly claiming that the only reason people don’t use that and similar repugnant epithets is that they are slaves to PC; they seek to perpetuate the fiction that everyone has their kind of crude bigotry and intolerance bubbling just below the surface. They want everyone to think that only people of courage and honesty, that is people like them, have the integrity to reject political correctness and state the obvious.

So repulsive and so offensive is the licence they give themselves to speak hatred, that sometime soon, we will start to see a reaction to their hatred of and their disdain for political correctness. I believegood-manners- that PC will be reborn. It will have a different name, or no name at all, but the use of society’s surfeit of PC as an excuse to engage in hate speech and vicious, open bigotry will not continue to be acceptable in normal society. The idea of moderating one’s language in an effort to avoid unnecessary hurt will make a comeback as a reaction against the debasement of public discourse that is a direct result of Donald Trump’s emergence on the political landscape.

I just watched a video some Hillary Clinton hater posted on Facebook. Within the first 30 seconds of the ham-fisted clip, the narrator casually refers to Mrs. Clinton as, “that cunt.” By and large, in the comments, even those who don’t support her or her politics reacted negatively to that kind of offensive speech disguised as merely being politically incorrect. The coarsening of the public forums and the negative reaction to it from more enlightened souls is not a matter of political correctness or its rejection. That kind of political attack is simply too vulgar, to gratuitously hurtful, and too personally insulting to be taken seriously or accepted as anything more than ignorant logorrhea.free speech

Assuming, as we must, that Trump will be soundly defeated and Hillary Clinton will be the next US president, it seems likely that society will generally begin to reject the Trump style of rhetoric. There will be a period during which there will be incessant Trump style attacks on the president, but Trump himself will eventually get bored and leave, and his minions will disperse without him as a rallying point. In time it will once again become unacceptable to use racial or ethnic or sexual epithets; their casual employment in conversation will not much longer be seen as honest and brave. People who read, people who are able to think critically, people who have educated themselves will see through the smokescreen; decency, courtesy, and respect in all our dealings will once again be seen as virtues. All we have to do is send Trump and his knuckle dragging, mouth breathing band of bigots back down to the minors.

ENDITEM…

 

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Post-democratic Society

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) A somewhat schizophrenic attitude toward the concept and practice of democracy in America is becoming more noticeable in this, the summer of Trump. In the most bizarre presidential election campaign in living memory, the fundamental assumption of US politics and civil society – that the nation is essentially a democratic one – is up for discussion. We see one group of US citizens espousing the view that the United States is the most democratic and free nation that has ever existed, and that this aspect of American exceptionalism needs to be defended from interlopers. But average votercuriously, that same group also seems to hold that the country is riddled with corruption, that its political leaders are bought and paid for, and that what’s needed is a shakeup that would involve drastically curtailing the very freedoms that they insist make America exceptional. If asserting both positions simultaneously isn’t schizophrenic, at the very least it involves tolerating a high degree of cognitive dissonance.

However, the conflicting perspectives held by any rational citizen of a western industrialised country tend to gloss over even deeper problems with some fundamental assumptions. In play today is the assertion that (taking the United States as the most graphic example) we are now living in a post-democratic historical period. And if one were to look at it realistically rather than emotionally, democracy, as an ideal form of government, in which the people are sovereign and in which the elected legislators represent the desires, interests, and viewpoints of the citizenry, simply does not exist now, if it ever did.

winston-churchill-democrasy            The United States cannot truly be described any more as having a democratic system of government. The people of the country are accustomed to and have come to accept the reality that their congressmen and senators are far more responsive to those who finance their political careers than they are to their constituents. There is scarcely any outrage or public outcry when Congress grants billions of dollars in government subsidies to the big oil companies who have financed their campaigns; the fact that those companies are the most profitable enterprises in the history of mankind and don’t need any social assistance to thrive makes absolutely no difference to anyone. And the very same lawmakers can sanctimoniously point to having voted to cut funding for the most desperate and vulnerable of their constituents, and pat themselves on the back for their exercise of “fiscal responsibility”.chuck heston NRA

When you have party leadership that vets every initiative by checking with their lobbyists before bringing them to the floor for discussion; where the National Rifle Association has de facto veto power over any gun-related proposed legislation, democracy is not at work. When special interest groups with enough financial support can create “think tanks” to draft legislation that favours themselves, and then see their tame representatives and senators table those proposed laws without changing a comma, we are not dealing with a democratic process. When a blind eye is turned to gerrymandering, to deliberately created electoral inequalities, to state level disregard for federal laws, we are not looking at democracy.

We have to accept thCongressional BJat, in the United States, congress and the courts are not genuinely accessible or answerable to the average citizen. Laws are made by corporate interests. Well heeled anti-democratic special interests like the extreme religious right can determine a politician’s career path.  Legislators spend at least 50% of their time in office raising money from wealthy private donors and corporate interests to whom they owe their allegiance and who can threaten to withdraw support if they’re not satisfied with their purchase. The last tenuous shreds of democracy have been lost when one considers that the two big parties’ nominees for the presidency are among the most despised people in the country.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump can find millions of supporters when his campaign, on the one hand, can be based on the notion that the country has gone to hell, and that it is a laughing stock in the community of nations; while on the other hand he is selling the snake oil that the country is so wonderful that the drawbridge needs to be raised and all hands prepared to repel boarders. He can repeat, day after day, that the country has become a third world cesspool and still garner applause when he condemns an athlete for failing to show proper respect for the national anthem. Trump claims that he is defending freedom by demanding that the athlete in question be punished for exercising that very freedom.

In a world where people are encouraged to come to important decisions viscerally, where they are bought and paid for congresstaught that reason, logic, and knowledge are east coast liberal conceits, and that their own ignorance supported by intense feelings is superior to another’s facts and researched information, the mechanisms of representative democracy cannot work. The failure of democracy and the decline of expertise, education, and factual knowledge are inextricably entwined; each contributes to the other and results in an inevitable vicious cycle. The rise of demagoguery, as well as the belief in magical thinking and the increase in divisiveness are the other side of the same coin. The increase in ignorance is reflected in the decreasing respect for rational and prayer-350empirical thinking; and ignorance is always accompanied by its dark companions: fear and hatred. But democracy, particularly representative democracy, requires leadership that embraces reason and arms itself with knowledge and compassion. As things stand at the moment, reason is eschewed for gut instinct, knowledge is rejected in favour of opinion, and compassion is dismissed as weakness and seen as being taken advantage of. Democracy cannot and does not work under these conditions.

When some of the greatest intellects of the Enlightenment collaborated and drew up the Constitution of the United States, they did not design a two-party system of government; that was something that emerged spontaneously as the infant democracy found its footings. They didn’t mention parties at all in the document they produced. And when a country is as polarised, when groups are uncompromising and determined not to give an inch, but rather, inclined to harden their positions, a two party system doesn’t work. There is only a binary choice at the polls, and neither option is likely to be fully satisfying to the vast majority of voters. A multiparty system, like in a parliamentary democracy would work better because it would force compromise, it would require coalitions and working with opponents to achieve anything.

But the founding fathers believed that their constitution would be even more democratic, because therush_822 people themselves, more than any party, would be the drivers of the nation’s destiny. Because of the intricate system of checks and balances built into the constitution, they believed that the people would always be sovereign and their will would be expressed through the election of representatives in congress, and in their choice of president, who would express his understanding of their will through his judicial appointments. Nevertheless, in the Federalist Papers, Publius, (the pseudonym of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay) was clear that a rational and thoughtful population was critical to making the system work:

 “It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force. (Federalist 1)

At this point in US history, and in much of the rest of the developed world, accident and force are making a comeback as the deciding factors in political decision making. Thlincoln on revolutione Federalists were not completely convinced that democracy was a good idea; their concern was that bad, or unfair polices would be enacted by a majority and trample the rights of the minority. The Federalists were deeply concerned that democracy would be little more than mob rule. They accordingly built in those checks and balances. But mostly, their justification for opting for democracy was that they had confidence that the people of America could live up to their ideal of conducting politics with reflection, human decency, and informed thought.

In the era of Trump, that optimism is demonstrably unfounded. Mob rule is taking over and democracy is clearly failing. Can it be rescued and revived? Ask me again on the morning of November 9, 2016.

ENDITEM…

 

 

Time for a reckoning

Morality, Ethics, and November 2016

Pagun

 

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Okay, that’s it; we’ve all had enough. The Trump candidacy started as a joke, got more and more serious, became a threat to civil society, and has now become something repellent and vile; something that normal people would refuse to scrape off their shoe and instead toss the offending footwear into the nearest incinerator while they try to swallow their vomit.

In just a little over a year, the monster that was cooked up over the last decade or more in the Republican Party’s frankenstein1backroom laboratory has staggered out into the daylight and done precisely what he was created to do: sow fear and hatred and viciousness across the entire country and the rest of the world. It’s alive! And its creators are astonished at the fact that they succeeded beyond their fondest wishes. Their golem is made up entirely of ingredients found on the shelves of the GOP; the disgusting creature that they have elevated to be their standard bearer has never said or done anything that is without precedent in the party’s recent history. He’s not different in kind from what the party has degenerated to; his variance is only one of degree and overtness. He blows a trumpet where they have employed dog whistles. He says what they imply; he asserts what they hint at.

And now the Republican Party stands exposed for what they really are; they can no longer get away with their customary “Gee whizz! I’m not a racist (misogynist, bigot, Nazi, white supremacist, etc.) You’re reading something into what I said that I certainly didn’t mean!” They have named him their candidate and the party aristocracy, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, havetrump-and-immigration-cartoon-darkow gone further and endorsed him, even as they try to waffle by claiming they object to his more extreme rhetoric and behaviour. Ryan, by way of example, described Trump as a textbook racist, something of which he claims to disapprove, and then says the candidate has his vote and he should have yours as well. While the inner circle has doubled down on their medieval platform of supporting the most regressive social legislation seen outside of the Nation of Islam, Trump recently made a pro forma economic policy speech that was nothing but tired, old, utterly debunked trickle-down, take from the poor and give to the rich, Republican dogma. It never worked except for the corporations and the rich and everyone knows it. The Republicans know it and their corporate and wealthy private sponsors who draft their economic policy sure as hell know it.

They get their quid pro quo: massive deregulation; across the board tax cuts on corporate profits; repeal of estate taxes; the general tax burden shifted to consumption from profit, thereby disproportionately targeting the least well off; the defunding of programs relied upon by the middle and lower income earners from veterans to the disabled. Those, of course are the main louis-brandeisitems on the wish lists of the owners of the GOP. The problem is that, to own a president as well as their representatives and senators, they need more votes than those they can rely on from their fellow members of the 1%.

That’s where the regressive social platform comes in. Less than a policy statement, it is, from the first paragraphs of the preamble and all the way through, a preciously worded dismissal of every one of the accomplishments and successes of the Obama administration as being un-American, dismal failures, betrayals of the people, overreaches of power, unconstitutional, and even illegal. Their promise to the base (not the 1%…they have the economic policy and that’s all they care about) is that when the Republicans can place their man in the White House, they will dismantle all of those initiatives. So long, Obamacare; good-bye, Roe v. Wade; hello, expanded implementation of the death penalty; adios, Planned Parenthood and the EPA. And since their corporate owners need to sell a lot of oil and gas and coal, we’ll deregulate anything that seems to recognise the scientific reality of anthropogenic climate change. It is, after all, a liberal intellectual conspiracy to hoodwink real Americans. And since we really need the evangelical vote, let’s agree that creationism, or “intelligent design” must be taught in science classes in public schools alongside that other liberal intellectual hoax, evolution. Until we dismantle the public school system, that is; education should be privatised and it shouldn’t be mandatory since that is the state interfering with a parental purview.

They pander to the Christian right by holding that life begins at conception and that therefore abortion is murder and ought to be treated as such. The only acceptable contraception is to be abstinence. Religious bodies, currently forbidden to engage in political acts or advocacy, or relinquish their tax free status, will no longer face those constraints. Of course this expanded freedom of religion also means that they can once again discriminate against the minorities of their choosing. Moreover, their religious freedom (a sacred right) means that they won’t have to see mosques or synagogues; their very existence would be a restriction of their right to something or other.

The NRA is also being well represented. The Republicans’ interpretation of the 2nd Amendment was intended to thrill the base, as it seems to be that every American should have unrestricted access to pretty much any weapon up to and possibly including tactical nuclear warheads.

So, the owners of the GOP get the economic and domestic policy that will repay their investment. But since their agenda is against self-interestexactly opposite to the best interests of the base, the GOP gives them what they want in exchange for their support at the polls. They give them all the restrictions on personal freedoms they could wish for (as long as they’re aimed at “others”). The NRA gets what it wants because the base wants guns, guns, and more guns while the NRA represents the corporations that make and sell those guns.

And the rabid, fanatical devotees of the Trump magic, those who make up the crowds at the rallies, just eat up his racism, his hatred, his promises to bring them back to a future that is supposed to resemble a past that never was. They have nothing but sheer, ecstatic worship for a presidential candidate who validates their ignorance by repeatedly suggesting that his utter lack of knowledge or understanding of the constitution, geopolitics, domestic policy, economics, or the powers and limitations of public office is somehow a good thing. His ignorance and, frankly, stupidity, validates theirs. They have been conned into supporting an economic policy that strikes directly at them and their neighbours. They have sold their birthright for a wave of cathartic anger and hatred.

But the time has come to stop pretending that we are dealing with the reductio ad absurdum of the American way of politics. This is not a contest between opposing views or competing political philosophies. The monster has exposed the ugly truth. This has become a contest between an old-school politically connected and savvy representative of Washington insider politics, and chaos, destruction, fascism, and a complete denial of all that is decent in humanity. One cannot still support Donald Trump without conceding that one is, or at least supports, a vicious, hate-filled destroyer of whatever good is left in mankind. There is absolutely no possibility of taking a position of supporting Donald Trump without copping to being a racist, misogynist, bigoted fascist.

There is an old myth that if you drop a frog into hot water, he’ll immediately jump out; but if you put him in a pot of cool water and gradually bring up the heat, he won’t notice when it gets to be a lethal temperature. Something like that may be at play froghere. Trump started out this campaign by announcing right on Day 1 that Mexicans were criminals, rapists, and drug dealers. Then he promised his famous (fatuous?) wall to keep them out. It was outrageous. It got him noticed and the pundits gave him an unconscionable amount of coverage. But each day, he brought the heat up another notch; in each news cycle, he outdid himself. Perhaps he was counting on the water reaching a boiling point just as the polls opened in November, catapulting him into the White House because his faithful hadn’t been aware of just how cooked they were.

But today I watched him specifically and deliberately incite his rabble to assassinate Hillary Clinton should she be elected and dare to exercise her presidential duty to nominate Supreme Court justices who might share her views on gun control. He told the crowd that if she did that, there was nothing to be done about it. Then he added: unless some 2nd Amendment supporters could do something, that is. It was instructive to watch the faces of his partisan crowd when he made that suggestion; even his most dependable loyal true believers, those who were placed where they could be relied upon to fawn for the cameras, were stunned. The frogs had suddenly been made aware of the steam coming up all around them. This candidate, they suddenly recognised, was not just a demagogue; not just a narcissist with an inclination to blurt out a stream of semi-consciousness at trump restrainedthe podium. Their candidate, they saw clearly, is a madman. He is a homicidal, mentally unstable, and very dangerous man who has no business being allowed out without a keeper; that he is actually vying, on behalf of the party of Lincoln, for the presidency of the United States is a nightmare of apocalyptic proportions.

Now, nobody… NOBODY…has any excuse to support this maniac. The most enthralled and stubbornly deliberately ignorant supporters have even woken up to reality. GOP stalwarts are defecting; even Fox News has taken to disparaging him. Anyone who is left now has chosen the dark side. To continue to support Donald Trump can no longer be characterised as merely “willful ignorance”; ignorance is no longer possible. To support him is to endorse what he stands for. And we all know what he stands for. If, after today, you are able to rationalise your intention to vote for this evil man, you have sold your soul. There is no more room for dodging the issue. You have thrown in with the forces of evil, and you did it knowingly, willingly, and with full understanding of what you are doing.

ENDITEM…

Is Dialectic Dead?

When did “consensus” become a dirty word?

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Anyone who spends a great deal of time, as I do, reading online news feeds, news analysis, and op-eds is bound to be fed up with the hyperbolic headlines that herald fairly pedestrian stories.Jon Stewart and The Daily Show headlines Headlines, intending to draw in web surfers and current affairs junkies, all too often promise something rare and explosive if you click on it, then routinely turn out to introduce a story of mild interest at best. Internet headers are papered with expressions like “explosive revelation”, “epic rant”, or “complete meltdown”. Clicking on these screeds brings you to stories of mind numbing tediousness and utterly devoid of anything explosive, epic, or even complete.

On the internet, the number of clicks a page receives determines the value of that page and, in aggregate, the worth of the site. The owners and webmasters couldn’t give a rat’s ass if you read the cretinous drivel that supports the headline; as long as you clicked on the page you’ve done your job. Headlines are now breathless, overblown, and misleading; they are an insult to their readers’ intelligence and an affront to anyone who cares about journalism.

Nevertheless, the hyperbolic headline is an indication of the depth to which political discourse has descended. Overstated claims, describing molehills as mountains, and screams of outrage at the slightest hysteria from trumpprovocation are all part of the dialectic. Political positions have become like those headlines: overblown, shrill, uncompromising, and extreme. Political positions have become extreme, not in an effort to increase one’s click-through rate, but to eliminate the possibility of compromise. To stake out an extreme or radical position helps to ensure that no common ground can be found; compromise thus becomes impossible.

Bombast, in the expression of a political position or in a demand made in the political

'That's what i hate about being a caveman. Everything has to be carved in stone!'

sphere, has become so commonplace that those who express their views in extreme language have come to believe their own rhetoric. That which was once either simply florid language on the one hand, or the expression of an initial negotiating position on the other, has become a bottom-line non-negotiable demand. Today, all stances assumed in the political sphere have become unalterable and carved in stone. An uncompromising position is the only type of position we see at this point in social history.

Compromise, the backbone of civilised society, the very essence of culture and non-confrontational relations, has become anathema. Where compromise used to be taught to kindergarten children as a necessary social skill, today, and particularly by those on the far right, compromise is seen as synonymous with defeat and surrender. Insistence on seeing one’s most extreme demands acceded to without the slightest alteration, modification, or moderation is the new standard in public discourse. Stubbornly refusing even to consider an opposing view is seen as integrity; loyalty is defined as an unthinking rejection of anything that differs from the party line. It doesn’t matter how extreme the party line, or how benign the contrasting idea, refusing even to consider it is seen as a virtue.

In the US, the infiltration of the Republican Party by the Tea Party faction was the watershed moment of TeaPartythe new politics of absolutism. They came roaring into Washington on a wave of support for their evangelical fervour and their rejection of the traditional way of doing politics. Drunk with their own success, they demanded that even (or even especially) their most outrageous and radical ideas be accepted, and they simply would not compromise or retreat even fractionally from those positions. The result was acrimony in discourse and gridlock in Congress.

But they went even further in their refusal to compromise; when they were given, as the result of negotiations, what they demanded, they simply staked out a position that was even more extreme and refused to back down from that as well. They waged a tireless war against the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), even though it was a compromise on the part of the administration and the Democrats in Congress, and was, in fact, the health care reform recommended and supported by their own party before the Tea Party came to prominence. As long as the other side was willing Thinking gop styleto accept it, they wouldn’t; it was too much like capitulation to their minds.

So polarised has the political world become, actual thinking has become suspect. If someone is thinking about the implications and consequences of their views, the possibility of considering modifying them is raised, and that will never do. Polarisation has become so extreme that political philosophies and viewpoints have become secular religions and to apply critical analysis to them is to commit heresy.

And, as politics becomes similar to religion in its adherence to immutable doctrine and dogmatic cohesion, religion becomes increasingly political in its insistence on imposing its doctrine on the body politic. This is seen most graphically and most dangerously in the rise of a faction of extremists within Islam.

The radical jihadists, who form a tiny minority within Islam have persuaded many in the western world that they speak for all Muslims and their savage actions are supported by all or most Muslims. The acts Terroristsof brutal terrorism the radicals carry out against western targets are intended to raise the anger and fear of Islam as a whole; they want westerners to hate and fear all Islam so that their warped and vicious heretical Islam will dominate. And, here in the west, we find some politicians playing into their hands by blaming all Muslims for the actions of a few. And what those politicians don’t mention, since it conflicts with their views, is that jihadist terrorism kills and injures far more Muslims than western Christians. To acknowledge that Muslims are the vast majority of victims of jihadist terrorism would contradict their lies that the west is in a war with Islam rather than the truth: that extreme Islamic jihadists are in a war with the rest of the world.

The hyperbolic headlines, and the polarisation of politics and religion that they reflect are seen in the increasingly radicalised evangelical Christian movement here in North America. Christian radicals, who are increasingly disconnected from anything like the mainstream interpretation of the teachings of Jesus Christ, have taken to manipulating politics by trying to persuade the media and their consumers that they represent the views of the majority. Precisely like ISIS.

The positions staked out by the Christian right include a rejection of the doctrine of separation of church and state; they insist that Christianity is the religion of the United States and that legislation, education,

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church hold anti-gay signs at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Veterans Day, November 11, 2010.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)

and daily life should reflect that. Disconcertingly, they insist that their right to practice their religion is being compromised by having to obey the same laws that the rest of us do. They insist that the existence of legal same sex marriage is oppressive to their religion. They demand the right to practice their religion by discriminating against various groups, most notably the LGBTQ community. They demand that the rest of the country provide, through tax breaks, financial support for their institutional bigotry. There is no room for compromise, and their rhetoric becomes more strident and more extreme every day.

What can be done about this gridlocked and hostile state of affairs? Are we doomed to keep spinning our wheels as we push against one another? Will public discourse remain nothing more than two opposing sides shouting slogans and epithets while nothing gets done and forward momentum dies? Only a few things come to mind.

In the first place, we can read news media that carry opposing views. In an effort to avoid being locked in an echo chamber in which we only hear our own thoughts and ideas parroted back to us in different words, we can actively listen to what the other side is saying. We can choose the media we really pay attention to by eschewing the ones with the overblown and bombastic headlines that sparked this column, and instead turn our focus on the outlets with restrained and moderate headlines; the content under those headers is likely to be more thoughtful as well. We can develop our critical thinking skills and apply them both to what we read about hot button subjects and to what public figures actually say.

demand-evidence-and-think-critically-17But most of all, to get out of this trap of strident and hostile gridlock caused by a refusal to back away from extreme views, we can avoid voting for candidates who fan the flames of fear and anger; we can reject the politics of polarisation and dogged adherence to extreme and exclusionary views. We can decide that our culture of inclusion and cooperation is worth saving. We can reject those who harangue us with the notion that we need to treat everyone who is different from us with cruelty. But the simplest and perhaps the most important thing we can do right now, today, is reject people who seek high political office on a platform of easily debunked and consistently repeated lies. We can reject those who appeal to the very worst in human nature and we can support anyone who is willing to consider opposing views, to apologise for mistakes, to correct factual errors, and to assume the best in people rather than the worst. We can refuse to fall into the trap of voting out of despair, out of anger, out of fear and hatred. We can have faith that if we reject fear and hatred, there might just be a chance to renovate our civilisation and have a society where we work together constructively and cooperatively.

All of that is much harder to do than to relax into the comfort of groupthink and tribalism; but if we want to back away from the abyss just in front of us, we have to have the courage to do what’s right.

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A Closer Look

Trying to Figure Out the Trump Phenomenon (Part 2)

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Since there is a dearth of firm policy statements coming from the Trump camp we have to look at the general tone and atmosphere of his campaign. Even his supporters will acknowledge that Trump has lowered the level of discourse and public debate; the Trump campaign has coarsened and degraded the way in which politics and democratic functions are carried out. His followers have justified his and their own hateful rhetoric by suggesting that they are courageously refusing to submit to “political correctness”. His and their vulgar and bigoted language is gleefully deployed and political correctness is condemned as too restricting. The political correctness they reject is,political-correctness of course, nothing more than socially acceptable ways of behaving, and communicating respectfully and without causing undue offense. But Trump’s rejection of respectful communication and behaviour gives his followers licence to speak hatred and to act violently. In fact, Trump has explicitly encouraged violence against his detractors, and his people have enthusiastically rejoiced in the freedom they have been given to behave like a mob and to express their racism in ways that were unacceptable just a little over a year ago.

Trump is an authoritarian. He also seems to be unaware of the responsibilities and limitations on the power of the office he seeks. He speaks as though he expects to be elected to be an all-powerful national leader with the authority of a Roman Emperor. Remarkably, he does this while simultaneously lambasting President Obama for using his authority to employ executive orders. Also remarkably, he condemns Obama’s use of that authority as dictatorial when, in fact, Obama has employed that authority far less frequently than his Republican predecessors.

So, what exactly is it that Trump supporters see in him as being valuable or desirable in someone who is asking to be made the most powerful man in the world? The most common answer to that kind of question is that he is a great businessman and that expertise will serve the country well should he be elected. There are a few problems with that reasoning, however, when one looks at it a little more carefully.

TrumpWealthEarningsanIllusionIn the first place, Trump is losing support every day as the reality of his business acumen is being exposed as largely imaginary. Trump has an enormous list of business failures on his resume. From Trump Steaks to Trump Vodka; from failed real estate projects to bankrupt casinos; and frauds like Trump University, Donald Trump has an abysmal record as a business giant. A number of financial analysts have stated that, had Trump simply put his inherited millions in a mutual fund with an average return, he would be better off than he is as a result of his business adventures. Whether that is accurate is hard to determine since Trump, the first candidate in over 40 years to do so, has refused to release his tax returns. He knows that keeping his returns secret is hurting him; that means he knows that releasing them would hurt him even more. It is likely that public scrutiny of his tax returns would put the final nail in the coffin of Donald Trump’s self-created mythology of being a philanthropist and vastly wealthy.

The second problem is that the notion that business experience is a critical credential for a presidential candidate is simply wrong. Not one of the great presidents was a particularly successful businessman. Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Kennedy, Reagan; none of them relied on their reputations or experience as business successes to govern. In fact, governing and managing a corporation require utterly different skill sets, as the two institutions are completely different in structure, in purpose, and in benchmarks of success. A president of the US needs to govern with the rights, needs, desires, and even lives of all Americans in mind. A corporate president needs to increase the corporation’s profits for the benefit of the shareholders. If it works as part of a broader profit-making strategy, a CEO may downsize, government and businessdismantle, or even bankrupt a corporation; Trump claims to be an expert at that sort of thing. That kind of strategy would be catastrophic for a country. A CEO has virtually unlimited authority. A US president is an executive who manages according to the laws passed by congress and with the approval of the Supreme Court; despite Trump’s poor understanding of the constitution, a president is not a dictator.

So what is it that his followers see in Donald Trump? The best way to figure that out is to look at the demographics of his base. Trump’s most solid and unwavering support is comprised of poorly educated white men. That demographic is the most alienated and dissatisfied identifiable group in the country. In the lifetime of the baby boomers among them, they have seen themselves diminished as the most influential and politically courted segment of the electorate. Having become a minority as the result of the diversification of the US population, as the result of increasing numbers of Americans seeking and earning college educations, and as the result of women taking a greater part in politics, they miss the angry white mengood old days when all politicians tailored their campaigns and policies to appeal to them. They feel abandoned. They have seen their real income and their job prospects take a hit. They have been reduced from solidly middle class to poor white trash at the same time as they see more minorities succeeding. They are angry.

Donald Trump has come along and told them that he’ll make America great again. He hasn’t told them what he’ll do to accomplish that other than to take actions against the minorities that his base fear and loath. When he goes into his tough guy shtick, they feel empowered. When he crosses the invisible line between straight talk and outright bigotry, they feel that he’s one of them because he has said out loud those things that they have always felt constrained to suppress. He has given racists permission to repeat outrageously hateful racist statements as being too honest to submit to “political correctness”. Being a vocal hatemonger has, with Trump’s ascendancy, become seen by some as courageous, rather than as the craven sniping it really is.

By knowing alanti-intellectualmost nothing about foreign or domestic policy, macroeconomics, constitutional law, geopolitics, or anything else that have always been critical areas of expertise for an American president, and by steadfastly refusing to take the trouble of boning up on those subjects, Trump has helped his supporters identify with him. They are delighted to see a candidate who dismisses expertise, knowledge, and critical thinking as nothing but elitist egghead rhetoric. Trump loves a conspiracy theory; in that, he also identifies with his base who get their news from Trump’s favourite supermarket tabloids. They respect him for buying into their own favourite crackpot beliefs. Trump, after all, has never backed down from the birtherism he spearheaded; he cannot retreat from claiming Hillary Trump is a criminal, despite her having been investigated for virtually her entire 25 years in public life without having come up with anything.

Trump is identified with because, apart from his claim to be a billionaire, he is like them: thin skinned, childish in his insulting and abusive language, both in speeches and in his obsessive use of Twitter to blurt out inanities. The Trump people are self-righteous and angry because they feel that the world has left them behind; they take it as a personal insult when a politician like their president speaks of the importance of education in achieving success in the 21st Century. Trump cozies up to them and validates their fear, their anger, their alienation. He doesn’t mind lying consistently and he couldn’t care less that his lies are exposed every single day, because when he is routinely called a liar, his people just put it down to liberal attacks on their guy.

Trump plans to be swept into the presidency on a wave of ignorance, violent rhetoric, bigotry, and fear and loathing. He is pushing all the right buttons to appeal to those who have those qualities in their Georgw F Will and Trumphearts and are ecstatic at the opportunity to see them brought out into the daylight. But there is a finite number of Americans who are willing to go down that road; thoughtful Republicans are jumping ship and finally saying, “Trump does not speak for me!”

Having tried to look at Trump and his followers objectively and give them the benefit of the doubt; having tried to walk in their shoes and understand where they’re coming from, I have to say that I arrive at the same place I was before that exercise. Trump is neither Republican nor Democrat and he doesn’t represent either party’s core values. He represents all the worst in America and he will lose badly in the general election the November.

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