Monday, September 30, 2019

The Trump Cult and the Ship of Rats

Let's talk about cults just enough to see how they connect so clearly to Trumpism.

Let's start with the assumption that the word "cult" is used pejoratively. We don't think of a cult as a good thing but we need to understand too that it's a term used for otherness when in fact it applies to all of us.

All groups, formally organized or not, are in some respects "cultish" insofar as they form around common interests, shared aspirations, stuff like that. Think: League of Women's Voters as an example of not using "cult" pejoratively but as a group that has a long-standing institutional self-formulation. Things can go sideways, wrong, and unhealthy in any group because of things that make people predictably neurotic: money, power, sex, fear, you name it, people can do really bad and stupid things.

But we humans are social beings no matter how much we guard our autonomy or proclaim our individuality overwrites all. Did you build the road in front of your house? Do you really want everyone to have to build their own road without your neighbors? Think Plato, Aristotle, Yajnavalkya, Manu, Hobbes, Machiavelli, Kautilya, Locke, Rousseau, on and on it goes because people have to create polity and civilization in collectives.

Are all examples corrupt? Well insofar as ideals may not always (or ever) wholly achieved, sure. But that's not corruption that's just the ordinary incongruity between the world you wish you lived in and the one you really do, between what you want and what's on offer. It's all about that space in between, the place that we call "sammelana," a word that few outside our group would know or recognize. All inside language is "cultish" the same way doctors, lawyers, musicians, mathematicians, and Sanskritists, etc. all need their expert vocabulary to move things forward.

So all a cult _really_ is an inside game and if you play well in that game, you're in. If you don't or don't want to or don't care, you don't. Yoga is a very very big cult as professionals would acknowledge but you particular community's yoga has its own tribe, its own sorta' features of the cult: insularity, familiarity, leadership, fidelity, conflicts, challenges, specialized or local language. Think of "cult" a word describing socialization forming concentric circles---things are smaller when you get to the core. Form _enough_ circles of de-localization and you have legitimizing organizational theory in practice. I won't write a book here about cults but to say that you are likely a member of many and that if you are not you are one lonely mofo. Carry on and try to be healthy about it. That's relatively easy, btw. Just make sure to listen to your own heart, don't compromise your character (too much, too often) to get along, and know the difference between right and wrong as best you can---they ask help, don't be too damn sure of yourself, and make confidence and humility best of friends. Here's the rest of the bit about the very sick Republican cult:

The Fate of the Cult

The Republican Cult is not an exception to how cults act, both in terms of success and failure. What can happen when a cult is in the midst of failing is that it can reimagine itself and end its sickness, its relationship to its leader, or it can go further to the margins, where it dithers in a newfound irrelevance. I'm going to take---you're not going to believe it---the most optimistic route in an effort to offer an opinion about why Republicans will fail even if the don't convict in the Senate. This should not sound completely unfamiliar to people who have had some cult life. Ahhh, hem. (Add requisite throat clearing noises.)

Part of what the cult---in this case the Republicans---fears most is that they were all be left alone, each in their own individual wilderness. This is part of the reason they have stuck with the cult, not out of fealty to its principles as such or the leader but for each other. The cult leader punishes infidelity and rewards silence as loyalty. It will take a genuine leadership that stands for values and shared interests that brought them together in the first place to reformulate.

Such a decentralizing, more principled leadership could lead most of the rank and file with them but the Republican cult doesn't know how to do this---and their once leadership is utterly corrupt and debased morally, money being the core of their principles. They all will do whatever they think brings them individual profit: that is their ideology and the source of their potential failure. Ironically, the cult doesn't know it's a cult.

To overcome their utterly corrupt cult leader the majority in leadership would have to act as a collective (not as merely as individuals), banding together denounce him and proclaim a new day. The rank and file of the cult will largely follow if the vast majority of leadership takes this path together. They lose some but regroup to have a future. Otherwise they all have to fight for the leftover scraps---or turn to a new cult leader. This is their most likely move. Someone like Haley is next.

Now the good news is that Republicans don't understand this which means they are on the swift path to self-destruction and a marginalized minority. The Cult will schism and if things go really well (not for them) then "conservatism" along with Trumpism will fail to bring the end of the republic as we know it. If the Democrats don't blow it (yeah, yeah, we know...) Trumpism will consign America's fascist cult of the wealthy to the dust heap of history where it belongs. A burning planet and the last, best hope for humankind may be at stake but why get dramatic?

Saturday, September 28, 2019

How to Rebuild America's Foundations

First, a few paragraphs of hard to accept truths.  I'll let you know when we're closer to a prognosis for better.

One of the hardest lessons of our nation that elected this shameless anarchist racist imbecile is that his slogan really does tell it all. They want to go back.
Of course they do. Back to when and what exactly? It's perfectly clear.

We as a nation are not better than this and that is another meme that may be politically necessary to have any chance but in fact contributes to the delusion. When folks say 'we're better than this' they postpone the more serious conversation, the one that we need to have if we are _ever_ going to be better than this. And that's the problem. It's a problem that I submit we are not prepared to solve. Even if the planet burns.

America has not only always been this failure of ideals, it was built on its own hypocrisy and denial. It isn't going to evolve to its ideals with any alacrity unless it goes to these very uncomfortable places. And it won't. Some of us are willing to have those conversations. But few of those willing have any strategy for reaching those who do not share our understandings of America's original sins. I can assure you that counting on the fact that the average age of the Fox News viewer is 65 years old won't help. The forces of stagnation, regression, and repression are not going to be persuaded by an intelligentsia speaking the truth and waiting for the light to go on or the old white order to die off. Instead, let us begin with the observation that Trump is not an aberration. He isn't a mutation of the "real" American values. That's why so many of us have "friends," blood relatives, and dozens of people we know who are his supporters.

We all want to be charitable, especially to those we know and love. But the verdict is in and it will become plainer still as the impeachment goes forward and he becomes more panicked, angry, and unhinged. Today he called elected representatives---women of color, people of Jewish heritage---"savages." As so many of his supporters say they like him because he is unfiltered and tells it like it is. Trump is the face _and the brains_ of an America that his critics do talk about but one that we can't wholly reject because they are _in fact_ in our families, our neighbors, and there are a _lot_ of them. They are our fellow Americans and what we know now is that this mean, nasty, racist, bullying America occupies every town, city, county, and state.

If we look in the mirror and admit that the devil is us, what _can_ we do next? Trump's America may not be the majority and they may not be the future but neither are they simply going to have a change of heart or be persuaded by some factual argument, some appeal to religion or commonsense. What makes it incorrigible is what has _always_ made it incorrigible: this kind of small-mindedness, fear of the other, brutality, and ignorance is endemic, it is built into the core of American religion and forms an armature of our history. Those who would reject this structural observation always have a stake in the power that they refuse to share. 

Now, the way to rebuild the foundation. 

So what _is_ the solution if there is no serious chance to remake the country building towards its ideals? I think the Right has already understood this: they _know_ they have lost the culture wars---guns, god, brown, women. But what they have had is a plan that works _everyday_, little by little, relentlessly to insure that _their_ agenda rules. Given demographics and the anachronistic operation of our government's organization (a Senate the represents real estate, not people; an electoral college that privileges a system meant deliberately to deny one person-one vote, etc.), the Republicans know how to _use_ that structure to their advantage. And do. Everyday. Relentlessly. So what can be done if these forces and structures of regression cannot be seriously addressed? Because they won't; because we _refuse_ as a nation to have the honest conversations we would have to have with Uncle Bob or Mary from high school. The answer is right before our eyes. The Republicans have given us the structure of the plan, all we need do is pay attention.

Everyday, little by little, with as little compromise as is necessary but with just enough not to lose the day, Democrats and progresses must do two things.

First, they must act as if everything they seek _is_ the case, will _be_ the case, and cannot be taken back or taken away. Next, they must formulate a plan from the ground up to _show up_. They must vote for compromise candidates when they have to that can be turned or can hold the space from a right-winger until the next more progressive candidate can take that seat. They must extract every bit of victory---again little by little---until things have changed and can't go back. The reason that "big structural change" (yes, that's Warren) won't succeed, even if it manages to win the presidency, is that you can't move a structure from its foundations if those foundations are corrupt.

Americans refuse to admit that our ideals have never really been the truths we now mean them to be. Americans are too lazy, desperate, busy, pre-occupied, illiterate, and incapable of doing the very hard work of citizenship that would remake our values to meet our ideals. But that doesn't mean things can't change or get better. 

So second: it means that we need to do the work _everyday_, often in small ways and in compromises we hate, but that add up and add up. Don't relent. Don't lose the plot. Have a plan that will work even when you must adapt and adjust. And most of all have the courage and the wear withal to _lead_ the way. Impeachment is coming. Americans need a simple story, leadership, and a clear destination---albeit for now. Real change won't happen if you ask for what is not yet on offer. If this argument sounds like the deeply flawed Lincoln or Obama that's because they saw greatness in the long view and success as merely temporal. Carry on.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

On the Pathology of Toadies and Dupes

One of the more fascinating features of the Trump Age involves the difference between toadies and dupes. How did they get this way? WTF is wrong with these people? I put it this way because many of them we never thought were this damaged, and we never really quite believed they were this sick. But truth to tell, they are.

What we see as inexplicable behavior, failures of character, and incorrigible stupidity is a sickness of soul. It can happen to anyone who doesn't do the work to unveil the edges and corners of a more soulful life. It can look like people have done the work, some work, any work but I suggest this is exactly what's lacking.

Let us return to the Trump pathology of toadies before we get back to dupes.

Toadies include Graham, McConnell on the A-list because they like _real power_ more than anything. Barr is the new poster child of this kind of sickness. Power corrupts. it's easy. It's fun. It's free of conscience and full of itself.

And on the A-minus list is pretty much all the rest of the elected Republicans who in some way _know_ that this is all a con job, a train wreck, a criminal enterprise and _they don't care_ because they hate us, the liberals, more than they love their country. They give no care for Trump though they say they do. Rather what they love is power and what they hate is us. And that is all they need to know. Toadies want power, money, fame, and when they can get it disdain, revenge, and vindictive self-serving cruelty. Some just like the work. The cost to their soul is never considered.

Dupes are true believers and the question is why? Why have Uncle Bob or Mary from high school, or someone we never really thought was a complete hopeless jackass now proven themselves utterly contemptible? We have lost "friends," relatives, all sorts of acquaintances who we _now know_ live in the moral turpitude, intellectual vacuity, and egregious failure of character that is Trump. How did this happen? Were they always like this?

The answer to that is actually yes but it took a trip wire, what we might call a permission trigger, and some shepherding that authorizes their failure. To put the matter in another way, it is the result of _the unexamined life_. People voted without care and reflection, without the intellectual and moral clarity that is required of citizenship; they voted in anger, desperation, not in bad faith as such but in _very poor judgment_.

How does one arrive at such poor judgment? It usually takes most of a lifetime of _not_ acquiring the emotional depth and intellectual tools that lead us _away_ from our indulgent ID and our inadequate super-ego. People don't have the personal tools to be serious citizens or more sophisticated human beings and they don't think they need them. Or even know they need them. But it's all actually worse than that.

They are actually closer to Trump in fundamental pathology than we ever thought. How do we know that?

We observe a kind of Trump trigger. He has given permission to reach into the unexamined shadow and this has sent people over their edge. This edge was a lot closer than we ever thought. Life is hard, it's not been bad nor great, but has been fed resentment, anxiety, violence, fear, and lots of failures of success. The middle class Trumpsters have met success and found out without much recognition that "success" sorta' sucks, that it's somehow not all that satisfying to have bourgeois comforts. It is not just failure---jobs that fail, marriages, opioids, etc. It's that success is not all that it's cracked up to be and yet their deeper dissatisfactions, all of which are perfectly ordinary, have been wholly unexamined.

Deep down where the Balrog lurks in the hiding places of the mountains of Moria, as Tolkien would have it, there is a shadow lingering over the false contentment that we have reduced in America to economic prosperity. America is too private to talk about its emotional relationship to success, too religiously dysfunctional to know what to do with the ordinary discontent that follows from a life in which required traumas have not been addressed.

We all come to realize that we cannot continue to act as toddlers and we rein ourselves in---at the cost of primal want that comes with our embodied form and inner, unconfined voice. Trump the Toddler is a relief valve. We have to know that we've told ourselves all sorts of stories just to survive, and when we have done that _successfully_ we have created all sorts of demons just to get there. That is just to get some success that isn't all we thought it would be. And then the world happens with love and failure and stress and illness and death. Now all the demons have come out.

So somewhere deep down inside a damaged soul, like a Trump dupe, there is a need for feeling and expressing cruelty, a vulgar self-assertion, a kind of bluster of self-superiority. This compensation and false consolation of its own sort. In short, Trump's pathology lurks in the hearts of a lotta people who are so insecure that it shatters whatever character they once used to temper their failures. What Trump has done by being elected to this pedestal of achievement and leadership is give permission and emboldened the damaged ID that has never been examined or addressed.

By virtue of such "leadership" and authority such damaged people now act out their sick souls. They have no idea how to save themselves because they have never done any of the work to examine what lies beneath their surfaces. In the deep shadows of Moria they keep the company of their own darkness and that is now "telling it like it is." Much of this is _laziness_, turpitude, a failure of character, family, and education. They have done none of the work and this, this is your Uncle Bob. He's otherwise sorta'kinsda' a nice guy. Truth is, he's deeply damaged and irreparable because he's got no interest, no tools, nothing to tell him just how the damage is doing _its_ job.