Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Power, Otherness, and Bending the Moral Arc of America Why Republicans Are Lost to Power

So what happened? How did the Republican Party lose every last bearing on its moral compass? Why did they become so determined to rule rather than govern? Why have they simply given up on telling the truth or standing for more than power?

What is before us now is America's true shadow. Some half of the population I believe actually wants to address this shadow. It wants to have a conversation about race but doesn't know how, knows that it will be deeply scary and dangerous, doesn't know how to begin or really where to start at all, and is afraid of the repercussions. The reflection it will demand will be painful. The rejection that will accompany it may ruin the republic. President Obama knew this so well that he knew America wasn't ready for that serious conversation.

Our other half--- let's call them the Fox News half--- wants none of it. Not now, likely not ever. For them there is no shadow, there is only darkness to reject and shiny objects they can use for light. For them there is no work to be done: not on our society and culture, not on themselves as individuals, there is nothing to do but validation and self-confirmation of the simplest worlds of black and white. This is the real "clinging to guns and religion" because those are the symbols of fear and instruments of denial that allow the dismissal of this conversation. And it is this reality of the America's failure to contend with its true shadow that I think paralyzes our country and bodes so sadly for our future. When will we wake up? There is a future worth our having if we can begin to understand what lies beneath. Work to do.
There’s a deep-seeded illness that infects America that is part of our history, the failure of the noble experiment, the sin of sins. Until Obama, the real balance of power, our system of so-called checks and balances were handled fundamentally by white men. They stood for different policies and surely there is no mistaking Nixon for JFK or Reagan's southern strategy for Bill Clinton's move to the corporate center. But the differences here are real and yet there is one more exceptional fact. They were all white men moving around the pieces.

When Democrats were at last wiling to see the world in bigger terms and allow others to play, the stakes changed entirely. Republicans knew it could be played as a zero sum and their worldview demanded it. White men must rule entirely and there is no room for others. Enter the well-germinated seeds of Trumpism.

So when women and minorities, gay people and others who'd been systematically disenfranchised dared to claim a seat at the table, Democrats could embrace that purpose. Sure, they too are corporate hacks beholden to money and craven with ambition but the difference here is real.

Democrats realized that their purpose was to began to look for a _bigger_ table to share. With Obama the threat to Republican white-male-only-governance rose to the highest level, and that finally made it game over. White men and their dutiful women would not share because they could not stand the loss of their complete hegemony. This is as old a story as America’s founding. LBJ knew it in 1965 and Reagan got elected on it in 1980.

Power is everything and in America race has always been power. Obama in the White House was never okay with Republicans. Not. One. Bit. Nothing President Obama could do would undo what President Obama is. And that is black. To see him as "unAmerican" was just a furtherance of the same fact of identity, not a difference.

Republicans see their power going away the same way they see race, immigrants, women, and any one who is other. We humans are tribal and Republicans seize upon that narrowness of identity with deep, unconscious fear and shameless, overt passion. They will resolutely deny their policies have anything to do with being racist, sexist, or homophobic but it is this fear of identity loss, this choice to hoard power and the largely unspoken issues of white superiority and heterocentric domination that dictate their decisions. Those once enslaved, oppressed, or genocidally removed must never take what rightfully belongs to the legacy of European settlers. So the conversation about line cutters, entitlements, immigrants, and the rest is just their next stock in trade, but it is nothing really new.

In this worldview now there is NOTHING BUT power, and any edge of majority power is regarded to be absolute. The current majorities in Congress require nothing more than efforts to collect that power. (The good news is that their own competing interests may foil them.) But there’s nothing like hating a liberal to make it easy for whitey to pull the Republican lever. There can be no sharing, and no acknowledgement of others' stakes in the game.

Gorsuch was their latest victory. They simply choose to ignore anything but a scorched earth of white male power. Ignoring whatever any Democrat says about Trump or their policies now will be their next obvious choice. They will not move to impeach Trump unless their power is in jeopardy. Then and only then will they move on to the next lackey that supports their deeper fears. Their goal is to not allow the _order_ of white male domination to be changed, the patriarchy that has ruled since the founding must rule, and they will run against Democrats in 2018 as the party of "give aways." This will work wherever the fear of otherness does its insidious business.

Democrats don't really understand power because they have always believed that politics serves a purpose: it is there to promote the welfare of the people, for something like the common good. Perhaps that is too idealistic since Democrats in power seem hellbent on the money too. But since Reagan and before, Republicans have understood politics to be the fundamental impediment to claims of entitlement and superiority. The southern strategy is now Confederate flags in rural white western New York, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

The choice is to NEVER give up power, never to share power, never to change their minds, and never ever to allow anyone change anything that shifts the balance of power. Their God wills this order and justifies its claims. But alas, they see their power slipping away and mean to seize upon like a death grip. Democrats dream of progress and betterment. (We can say they dream of money too, but let's pretend more.) But for Republicans it is brazen and intractableL they dream of domination and a simpler world, one in which they can rule without opposition. It isn’t for them merely a matter of who rules, it is a matter of who they must rule over.

Another Year in College and Year 30 at My Job. Why There's Less Chance and More Risk

College education has been successfully refocused to advance prospects for adult material success. A humanities education is a luxury that is largely unaffordable, impracticable, and impossible to achieve while focusing on STEM subjects. It's still true that financial prospects are immeasurably better with college than without it. But this is also why education is failing.

When I was a kid studying in India I was often uncomfortable with how schoolchildren were treated. Even at our deeply egalitarian Srividyalaya School in Madurai there was a lot of discipline, uniforms, deference to teachers, elders, and authority, and a deep commitment to teaching basic morals, hygiene, civic responsibilities. We humans rarely learn things well that we haven't been taught are important to learn.

I'm not sure how we re-introduce these kinds of values in American education. Each child deserves her and his own chance to flourish as an individual, each with gifts and passions and cares that must be theirs to love and further. But unless we teach our children well that they have individual responsibilities to themselves, to each other, to the community, to the idea of America, we're really not going to make it. As their education moves further and further into technical expertise, the kind required for success, it is more and more about less and less. But without---dare I say this?---civics, not flag waving stupidity, but something like "critical civics" we're going to be grossly underprepared to sustain this republic.

Our commitment to creating citizens, humanizing each other, teaching people _how_ to _think_, is unraveling. America _must_ have this kind of education--- starting in school with civics and then in college with critical _thinking_--- because without it we have no way of defining what it means to be an American.

America is an invention unlike every other, it is a radical experiment with justice and freedom, and an _idea_ that must first be learned and then interrogated. Lest we learn how to criticize "America" we will never face the deeper facts of our history and culture. Students are learning the material that will take them further into global technologies but virtually nothing _about_ thinking, even less about exposure to the complexities of the world. Those without college will be left further and further behind materially. Our divisions will become more exacerbated. And to further the real tragedy at hand, not going to college nowadays reduces your chances so gravely such that you likely will have NO chance to learn the rudiments of critical thinking. This explains how America got where we are today and portends our future.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

We resist, they laugh

The more we point out his dangerous fakery, imbecility, and fraud the more they will support him. 80%plus Republicans warmly support Trump and more than that are gleeful and disposed to be _more_ supportive because they love to hate liberals. Read Charles Sykes piece in the NYTimes today: he is part of the AM radio talk that has poisoned America but he understands this fact because he has also been party to the laughter, disdain, rejection, and despising all things progressive, Obama, etc ---and everything we say or do.

The calls for impeachment, the facts of obstruction of justice, the constant barrage of buffoonery and indignity mean nothing. Nothing the FBI, the Senate and House Committees, or any other agency uncovers will matter or change their minds. These facts will only further their intransigence and confirm their support. They are irremediable, impenetrable, and beyond the reach of any argument, evidence, or appeal. We are a house utterly divided and to understand that is to begin to know what to do about it.

To them we deserve more than scorn: we are a source of bemusement. Leaving aside how their tender feelings are hurt by their deplorable behavior, that too is part of their disorder. Our resistance is a game of recruitment and sustainability for Republicans. Hating us and watching us complaint, rant, and reject conservatives with facts, arguments, and our own TV histrionics only reinforces them and gives them more to love about their pathetic lives. We resist, they applaud and laugh.

So what do we do about this? Nothing different from what we are already doing, especially in our support of the press. It's now part of Republican DNA is to stand for nothing which means that hating the "other" as part of their own self-confirmation. You may respond that _your_ Republican friends and relatives are better than this. Perhaps to you. But the nature of this pathology is that it is not personal: it is directed to a "them."

If you are expecting help from "decent" Republicans, I submit you underestimate their depth of depravity and collusion. McCain and Graham will roll rather than revolt. The latter would be admission of error: we're on the wrong side. No, they believe in the core cause, which means to punish the poor, enrich the rich, and claim the patriot's seat.
This is part of a psychological _need_ to justify delusions, disappointments, and failures, just as it is for the rest. Further, it is a way of claiming entitlement and asserting domination _over_ the other. They're not interested in different opinions, only in self-approval.

Like their leader, for Republicans there are never any errors, mistakes, or apologies. Point out their racism or systemic bigotry and _we_ are playing identity politics. You see, nothing can be refuted with evidence. And our TV monitoring with all of its satisfying evidence and argument only reinforces their views.

Otherness as a pathology has no remedy: no education, no argument works. The solution ---the ONLY solution--- is to out vote them. And so send them back to their foxhole (aka Fox-hole). There is going to be no impeachment, no reckoning with truth. The ship may sink with us aboard before we get to the polls, but that is because half the country is singing along. In the meantime, recruit people to vote. The rest is noise.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Inside Trump Mind. Or How Decisions Simply Appear

There is far less here than meets the eye.  Don't over think Trump.  He doesn't.

Most of the commentators are asking "why now?", why fire Comey now when it is so inopportune politically, so distracting and unhelpful to Trump.   But this is far too sophisticated a question.  While it may be true that Trump had this notion in his immediate wheelhouse for some time, he did this now because it rose to his occasion.  It is as if it suddenly occurred to him that _now_  this_ is what he wants.  He acts from the need for immediate gratification.  Comey's been a problem for awhile, for many reasons, but why now? Because it exploded into his mind and that was enough. There was no further calculation.

The more evidence we obtain, the more apparent it becomes that Trump has no capacity to calculate and has never needed or created a plan that isn't entirely based on impulse and pre-thought.  There is no strategy and obviously there are no principles but the simplest, crass outbursts that serve the moment.  At his base there is nothing particularly sophisticated or nuanced.  So I think this too was pure impulse, an idea that may have a history in his head, working like a slow-cooker but then he simply acts.  Perhaps some someones also got in his ear recently ---Roger Stone far more calculating, so worried about Russia investigations---but  it wasn't a conspiracy so much as it was Trump come to a boil. He trusts and likes only those who confirm his feelings and that very small sphere of his criminal family enterprise.  He lets people in, like Flynn, and won't disavow them even when he's got to fire them--- it's just business.  Everything is true only _for now_.

So the idea that Trump fires Comey because his Russia investigation was getting too close gives Trump too much credit.  This is a hollow, callow, deeply lonely, pathologically paranoid, narcissist who can't help himself.  Comey crept up on Trump,  it finally exploded ---and no one needed to be told or consulted, most were left out.

There is another way in which Trump decides: it is when he is on the spot, when he feels cornered.  When he _has_ to deal.  And in those situations, he does the very same thing.  He reaches for what is nearest, the closest thing he has got to get to the next moment.  Voila.

The decision _like all Trump decisions_ reveals a consistent pattern: this is a man who has only the most rudimentary intellectual grasp of any complex situation who relies entirely on unmediated feelings.  He is hasty, abrupt, impetuous, and utterly indifferent to how others will react or think.  He has never had to care because, well, he's got the money and has a made a life out of appealing to his most base intuitive impulses without the slightest need to comprehend or calculate more than the most rudimentary facts.  For details he's got others to do his work.  He watches TV.  He knew he could fire Comey, and when it felt like the moment, he did.  He is run by his feelings.  He doesn't so much _have_ feelings as these feelings _have him_.

The only interesting fact left is whether Rothstein was set up to write this letter because Trump wanted an excuse or whether Rothstein, having come into the job, just had it out for Comey for his own reasons.  Rothstein may have been the one who wanted Comey fired and made sure the ear worm got into the worm's ear.  We'll find out.  Trump will simply respond to every situation as it unfolds---this is governance by pure unskilled improvisation, much like the naive, thoughtlessness of his constituents.  If it feels right, do it.  From this base thoughtlessness he says and does whatever emerges into mind _at the moment_ that will serve his immediate interests.  There is no plan, no future, no calculation: there is just what works for him, _his_ interests _now_.  Oh, and there is no country, no republic, no principle or value that even comes to mind.

The Lifeless Faces of Evil

Trump's tragic moral anarchy never surprises.  But surrounding this nucleus of artifice and deceit are an increasing cast of characters complicit in every fraud and fakery.  To add further insult to our collective injury it is with commensurate dismay and deep feelings of revulsion that we add the lesser players ---Spicer, Conway, Huckabee Sanders---to likes of Ryan and McConnell who hold far more power, and are dedicated to the proposition that they mean to keep it.  The entire coterie reaches into its constituency of the willfully ignorant through the propaganda machine of Fox and the media of the right.  Koch money and its ilk provides requisite inspiration and incentive.

Such commitment to the banality of evil must not leave us speechless however it paralyzes reason to fathom.  It is in  true dedication to power at any cost, proffered in zealous tones of muted prosaicism, that we witness the effective machinery that  sabotages the republic.

The real victim is decency and our precarious American Experiment, which has always been self-subverted by hypocrisy and sanctimonious duplicity ---we create public panegyrics to truth and integrity, revel in historical achievements and progress toward equality and due process, only to elect to our highest offices those who  make a willful mockery of these idolized principles.  America our tearful eyes turn to you.

We think ourselves better than this insipid, tedious pabulum.  But then we see Paul and Mitch, and their complicit pendants like McCain and Graham wearing a gilded pretense of objection claiming better, all made of the same tawdry stuff---nothing.  That is a nothing that is nothing more than plastic and pedestrian pledges to their own continued ascendency.  They believe that serving themselves is serving us.  Could evil be more mundane?  When history is written let us hope we remind ourselves how evil must also wear the face of complaisant partnership in unprincipled depravity, no matter who gives the orders.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Who's Left to Defend the Republic?

"I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors."

This final sentence in Trump's letter to Comey is not to him. It's to us. The House will do nothing. The Senate will squawk some, the same few Republican dissidents like McCain and the same few cowards like Collins, Burr, et.al. will appear to soothe with moderating complicities. Trump will appoint a loyal, friendly replacement as FBI Director, and his Senate will confirm him. So who exactly is going to do anything that gets to the _investigation_? Who will _do the work_? Will our protests matter? They govern without us. They don't _need_ to care what we think or say. Don’t kid yourself about that.

Our hope lies with the free press. Last night as the Comey Catastrophe unfolded I watched Fox. As much as I admired Jeffery Toobin’s lucid and relentless criticism on CNN, we have to remember that Fox is all that matters to Republicans. And Fox did its job. It made sure there was nothing to see here. In one 20 minute stretch the word “Russia” or “Russians” was never uttered. The propaganda arm of the Right owns the hearts and minds of their dupes, make no mistake. But it is up to the free press, some dogged sets of characters, women and men from the NYT, WaPo, Mother Jones, people doing their job with dedication that can break this story. Say “Bernstein and Woodward” like it’s 1974 and hope there is someone who knows someone called Deep Throat.

Let us hope that the _next_ Trump move is not to silence the press, because THIS is why the Republicans talk about "leaks" when they should be talking about collusion, conspiracy, and treason. The Republicans will follow their Fox, we can expect nothing from them like decency or integrity. This is the _only_ country they care about, or need to care about. Listen carefully. Stay tuned. Buy a newspaper. Support the 1st Amendment.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Strategy for Trumpistan. Unpublishable Policy Memo.

The key to changing votes or creating enough dispirit to keep Trump voters home requires dealing with a few essential facts that Democrats never seem to fathom. Here's a list.

1. We are behind in this game of hearts. There are no minds. Just hearts.

2. Trumpistan watches only Fox, listens only to Limbaugh and Hannity and worse. They have had 20+ years of their memes, fed to them directly and effectively, at their level.

3. We need emotional reach of _every_ kind: into their fears, into anger, into the comedic and the courageous, we need to reach into their primal experiences. Shamelessly, clearly, and without too many words.

4. Simple is the required direct counter to the Republican meme. We need a _language_ of simplicity, and too simple can't be simple enough. NEVER underestimate the power of low information and under evolved reflection.

5. We need to use effective language that doesn't rely on policy, facts, counter arguments because it's not about arguments, it's about lives and feelings. Trump tells them it's gonna be great. We need to tell them that it's coming out of their hide, on their dime, that the con game is on and its real and that HE cheated them, _not_ that they made a mistake.

6. To wit, they will never admit ANY mistake, nor will they regret. We need an alternative narrative that tells them HE cheated them. Use language that counters rather than replies. Don't reply to them with arguments, much less facts. Answer them with a counter-language that sounds like something familiar. "Social Security protects you and you paid for it." "Your drinking water needs to be protected from greed."

7. We need memes that do NOT scare them with our diversity or complexity. They hate women, minorities, religions other than their own, they are afraid of everything that is unfamiliar, complex, nuanced, and less than black and white simple. That is everything that is other, everything. So they need to be shown that WE are THEM too. That they _like_ these people that they hate and are being ripped off NOT by them but by these jokers who are the elites.

8. No allegories, complex metaphors, deal only in "facts" even if they are allegories and metaphors. "Myth" means false to Republicans, and "lies" are what other people tell.

* I could make this list go on all day. Keep it emotional, keep it clear. Use language that counters rather than replies.


Also, this:
The Yates/Clapper Senate Hearings, May 8th 2017

Here's the alternative interpretation, which better reflects the honest implications of these events. First I say, settle down, this may be shocking, appalling, and seemingly beyond the pale. You may love the liberal meme that this is so very important and even game changing. No. It's not going to be anything but more of the same and there are zero longer term implications.

Republicans are responding to everything in calculated ways to create the appearance that this is a partisan witch hunt. It does not matter that it is not for three reasons. First, they need convince no one, only create a meme for Fox to use. Second, they don't care if Yates looks brilliant to liberals, it only reinforces their consistent narrative that she is a liberal. Last, they control the power to make this important and since all they want is to make this go away, it's merely another news cycle.

Nothing will come of this. No votes will change, the media will report that the committee is "sharply divided on partisan lines" and that is precisely what the Republicans want--- and will get. The rest is smoke, mirrors, and noise. The only issue is whether more Democrats will vote in the midterms. Don't hold your breath.