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Archive for the ‘U.S. Domestic Affairs’ Category

A Culture War Against Tolerance – An Analysis (16 July 2017) by Lawrence Davidson

 

 

Part I – Tolerance Amid Growing Intolerance

 

In case you haven’t noticed, the United States is a country deeply divided on a large number of basic issues: racial issues, gender issues, issues of sexual preference, the role of government in society, the role of religious views in shaping laws, and so on. Influential Institutions, such as media outlets, are being labeled as “left” or “right” depending on how they report or relate on these issues. Battles now rage on these topics in the halls of Congress. Finally, the Supreme Court’s legal decisions on cases that reflect these questions have been trending toward the “conservative” end of the spectrum. All of this makes it quite difficult to have a meaningful discussion or debate about such issues in the public realm. Such attempts have often led to further divisiveness instead of reconciliation – reflecting what some might describe as an ongoing culture war.

The one place where thoughtful debates are usually encouraged is on the university and colleges campuses. This is particularly so in the “humanities” and “social sciences” classrooms, where you find courses in history, English, foreign languages, sociology, anthropology, political science and the like. Such areas of study draw on diverse source material and examples. And so, running against the popular grain, so to speak, divisive issues often become legitimate aspects of study.

This process of study and discussion concerning controversial topics has been going on on U.S. campuses at least since the end of World War II. By the 1970s clear preferences as to how these issues should be thought about appeared. And, they consistently agreed with a tolerant stand that maximized the virtues of equality and social justice. It should come as no surprise that faculty in these areas are usually left of center on the political spectrum.

Thus, the campus consensus is that while an individual can privately feel as he or she likes about topics such as homosexuality or racial integration, and can choose their social circle accordingly, it is wrong to publicly act in an overtly discriminatory way. Until recently the courts have agreed with this position, but now things appear to be changing. Such a trend in the direction of public intolerance has begun to isolate the campus environment while at the same time denigrating the tolerant position as “political correctness” – as if being correct and thus legitimate, appropriate and proper was a failing.

 

Part II – A Republican Attack on the University

 

This process of isolating one of the staunchest bastions of active public tolerance has recently been highlighted by a new (July 2017) report of the Pew Research Center entitled Sharp Partisan Divisions In Views of National Institutions. According to the report, there has been “a dramatic attitude shift on higher education among Republicans and people who lean Republican.” It would seem that “Republicans have soured on higher education, with more than half [a reported 58% of them] now saying that colleges have a negative impact on the United States.” The more conservative the Republican respondent described him- or herself, the more likely they are to have a negative view of higher educational institutions. This compares with 72% of Democrats who saw the contribution of colleges on society as positive. Of course, Democrats now have problems getting elected.

There is a link between those who hold a negative view of institutions of higher learning and those who confine themselves to watching or listening to the country’s right-wing media. As it turns out, “Virtually every day Fox News, Breitbart and other conservative outlets run critical articles about free speech disputes on college campuses, typically with coverage focused on the perceived liberal orthodoxy and political correctness in higher education.” Now consider that Fox News is the most popular news (or shall we say, alleged news) show on U.S. television.

The success of right-wing news and other media is a good example of viewers practicing, perhaps unconsciously, confirmation bias. The criterion for the information you seek out is not accuracy or truth, but rather its ability to confirm an outlook you already hold.

Of course, one does not have to be right-wing to play this particular game but, ultimately it makes a difference if you are among the intolerant. Intolerant worldviews are closed systems. Once you have committed to them you have put on blinkers and become one of the faithful – no more debates, no more discussions, no more broadmindedness, no more tolerance. People without your blinkers start to appear as dangerous, heretical, unpatriotic. You are now bound to a “group think” that is starkly undemocratic.

 

Part III – Poisonous Sour Grapes

 

As intolerance under the leadership of Republicans and neo-Republicans (Trump, Bannon, Tea Party types, etc.) becomes more widespread, those institutions that value tolerance come under pressure. This sometimes comes from right-wing media, sometimes from special interest donors and lobbyists, and sometimes, in the case of college and universities, from pockets of students (both right and left) who have decided that some outlooks are so unacceptable that they must be silenced. Whenever reasonable this last action should be avoided. If you don’t like what campus speakers stand for or say, one’s default position should not be to shut them down, but rather to use their presence as a teaching moment: here is how not to build a healthy society. However, in the midst of a culture war, the tolerant may ultimately find themselves painted into a corner.

We can legitimately ask how far the Republican right is willing to push their campaign of intolerance against tolerant college campuses. Having lost the open campus debates on an array of divisive issues, they now react with a poisonous version of sour grapes.They declare that “colleges have a negative impact on the United States.” If they take this charge to Congress or to the courts, we may come to a point where tolerance of extreme intolerance is no longer reasonable. Given that level of threat we should all be aware of Karl Popper’s description of the paradox of tolerance: “unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

This is the dilemma that is forced upon us when war – in this case a culture war – takes over the public mind. The space for tolerance shrinks and it is the barbarians among us who start to define the rules of social interaction.

Walls For The Dead – An Analysis (5 July 2017) by Lawrence Davidson

 

 

Part I – A Memorial Wall

 

 

Walls (here we mean monolithic structures that are not part of buildings) seem to hold a special fascination for many people. Some walls feed a tribal passion, a strong us-versus-them mentality. The apartheid wall produced by the Israeli government, as well as the wall envisioned by the Trump administration for the southern U.S. border, are of that type. However, there are other kinds of walls, such as those that memorialize the dead. For instance, in Washington, D.C., there is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall. This wall (actually two walls that meet at a ninety degree angle) is roughly 494 feet long and is inscribed with the names of 58,318 servicemen and women killed or missing in that war.

 

Just by way of comparison, one might ask how long would be a similar memorial to the approximately three million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians killed in the same war. It would have to be about 51 times larger, extending over 25,000 feet. That is about 4.7 miles long.

 

Of course, nations do not commemorate the dead of their adversaries, for to do so would call into question the value of their own citizens’ sacrifices. And sacrifice – indeed patriotic sacrifice – is certainly how most Americans would describe the deaths of those whose names appear on this wall. As one veteran who visits the site often put it, “We lost all those wonderful kids. It’s very moving to see all names at once, all the sacrifice, the enormity of it.”

 

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall is immensely popular – for the relatives and friends of the dead it memorializes are still well represented among the living. More than three million visitors a year (about the same number as Vietnamese dead!) visit the wall in Washington. To this we can add the fact that, for the last thirteen years, there has been a portable replica of the wall traveling about the country.

 

The fact that this replica will soon show up in a town not far from where I live has led me to consider the various ways the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall, be it stationary or mobile, can be contextualized.

 

 

Part II – Patriotic Sacrifice?

 

 

The problem with the assertion that all of those 58,318 dead servicemen and women performed some sort of patriotic sacrifice is that it is it is, at least in good part, ahistorical. In other words, the claim doesn’t fit the facts very well, though it does fit the prevailing official storyline.

 

(1) The official story is that the Vietnam War was all about containing the spread of communism in southeast Asia. Communist North Vietnam supposedly wanted to conquer “democratic” South Vietnam in order to spread its Communist ideology, and if successful, this conquest would trigger a “domino” effect that would result in most of Southeast Asia becoming Communist. To save millions of people from this fate, the United States sent all “those wonderful kids” to war.

 

(2) A contrasting account, one that has much more of a factual foundation, is that North Vietnam and South Vietnam were really one country and the latter existed only as an artificial creation of French imperialism (France controlled Vietnam from the 1880s through to 1954). The main motivation of the North Vietnamese in fighting the United States was to achieve national unification. That made their leader, Ho Chi Minh, first and foremost a Vietnamese patriot. His Communist ideology was a secondary factor in the eyes of most of his fellow Vietnamese (the small Catholic minority in the south being an exception). By the way, Ho had only become a Communist after World War I because the Soviet Union was the only powerful nation willing to help him in his struggle against French colonial occupation.

 

Finally, the OSS/CIA came up with a national intelligence estimate as early as 1945 that predicted the difficulties of fighting in Vietnam, and also remarked on the popularity of Ho Chi Minh as a founding father figure in all parts of the country. This estimate was rejected by the political leadership in Washington. Why so? After World War II the worldview in Washington was dominated by a strident anti-Communist outlook that blinded American leaders to all “Third World” nationalist impulses. Whether it was in Ho’s Vietnam, Nasser’s Egypt, or Castro’s Cuba, among many others, the alleged drive of Communism for world domination was assumed to be lurking somewhere behind the scenes.

 

There are other motivations that came into play in Washington by the mid-1960s. The Democratic Party was in control of the White House, and there was fear that if Democrats did not take a stand in South Vietnam, the Republicans would relentlessly accuse them of weakness, and “losing Vietnam,” as earlier Democrats had allegedly “lost China” to communism.

 

All of this led ultimately to the purposeful exaggeration of the August 1964 naval incident in the Gulf of Tonkin. During this episode a U.S. destroyer fired warning shots at nearby North Vietnamese gunboats. This incident was misleadingly described by President Lyndon Johnson to Congress as an attack by the gunboats on a U.S. ship, and it led to Congress passing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution allowing the president to deploy conventional forces in “defense” of South Vietnam.

 

We can now ask ourselves which of these two storylines supports the claim of patriotic sacrifice? Obviously it is the first one. If the Vietnam War was all about halting the spread of a totalitarian ideology and preventing the destruction of a democratic system of government held dear by the U.S., then friends and relatives of those inscribed on the Memorial wall, as well as those who survived the war, can feel a certain pride and carry on the belief that all the sacrifices were not in vain.

 

 

Part III – Victimization?

 

 

However, as suggested above, that emotionally satisfying explanation is not the historically most accurate one. The evidence more strongly suggests that those U.S. servicemen and women were sent to their deaths because ideologically and politically driven American leaders refused to see what was happening in Vietnam as a national effort at reunification – an effort which, if accurately portrayed to the American people, may have caused a widespread reluctance to go to war. National leaders were so blinded by their anti-Communism that they (not for the last time) refused to accept accurate intelligence reports that contradicted their own tragic groupthink.

 

Under these circumstances all those patriotic dead soldiers become victims – victims of a powerful ideological conviction. But it is not the ideology coming out of Hanoi that killed them. It was the ideology coming out of Washington that transformed patriotic sacrifice into victimization. And, as victims, the American dead stand on the same plane with the roughly three million Vietnamese who perished in the same conflict. They were all victims of ideology.

 

 

Part IV – Patriotic Stories

 

 

All cultures have their patriotic stories – stories about founders, heroes, how the nation is special, and so forth. The first and foremost criterion for such stories is not that they be historically accurate, but rather that they be celebratory in a patriotic and public fashion.

 

Belief in such stories is part of the glue that holds societies together, and so they are learned and reinforced in multiple ways from childhood on. Soon the sanctity of the idols and causes presented in the stories become the stuff of faith and, unless a culture is on the verge of collapse, extremely difficult to widely call into question. As part of this context, all soldiers serve in good causes, and those who die do likewise. That is why, here in the United States, people now go around saying “thank you for your service” – it is like a mantra – to soldiers and veterans, even though they have no idea what the service is or was really all about.

 

And what about the few people who somehow become “social mistakes”? That is, those who no longer believe in the emotionally reassuring stories? Well, some of us write blogs and then go fishing, others try to push their points within the political and media arenas, and many may ultimately give in to alienation and a sort of socio-political melancholy. Whichever way it goes, it is the fate of such people to always be outnumbered, not only by the patriots, but also by the dead.

Our Hidden Cultural Corrupters – An Analysis (22 June 2017) by Lawrence Davidson

 

Part I – Cultural Violence

 

 

There is a lot of violence in the United States, and if you look at the news it appears that things are getting worse. The nation is armed to the teeth, which means that any out-of-control angry person can vent in lethal fashion. Or, maybe they can choose to vent in the European style by using their car as a battering ram.

 

There is much head shaking about this nationwide violence and much wondering about its sources. The usual explanation assigns blame to the “bad apples.” That is, all these people acting out violently are somehow unstable. The fault lies with the individual, and this can be seen in their inability to contain their rage. If there is a broader influence it has to be some foreign agency (this used to be Communism but now is said to be Islam) urging them on through a subtle process of radicalization. This is thought to be one way good apples go bad.

 

But why limit blame to unstable personalities or shadowy alien forces? Our homebred culture acts as the context for a citizen’s behavior, suggesting to them what is allowable and what is not. In the U.S., with its almost nonexistent gun laws, its fundamentalist religious ideas, its rampant Islamophobia, its prevailing white-backlash politics, and its media entertainment industry heavily reliant on virtual violence, there is apparently some confusion as to what is and isn’t permissible. Under these circumstances it is quite possible that at least some manifestations of our own culture have the potential of serving as contaminating agents for otherwise upright citizens. Contamination here means turning those citizens into violent agents – little ticking time bombs.

Part II – Cultural Corruption

 

 

What aspects of U.S. culture could serve this corrupting function? Well there are those mentioned above plus the superheated patriotic environments of thousands of VFW lodges, defensive attitudes and behavior of police fraternal leagues, the motorcycle clubs where flying three-foot-long American flags from your fender is de rigueur, and last but not least the environment of your typical Trump rally.

 

However, these cultural centers of resentment and anger are only occasional producers of public violence. There are other very common culturally contaminating sources that actually supply consistent venues for bringing out the worst in many of us. These are institutions that are hardly noticed by the public and yet are turning thousands of American citizens (mostly young men) into battered, harassed, and humiliated individuals, some of whom will then turn into batterers, harassers and humiliators themselves. Some of them will make this corrupting experience the basis for lifelong friendships. Some will see these activities as integral to their “glory days.”

 

Here are two examples, and ironically, both are part of institutions that purport to be a source of the nation’s highest values – educational institutions and military institutions

 

— The Campus-Based Fraternity

 

In the region of the United States where I live, one of the largest universities is called Penn State. “Penn” stands for Pennsylvania, and it is among this state’s oldest and most respected institutions. Like many other universities and colleges, though, Penn State is a home to a large number of fraternities. Fraternities are largely self-governing male clubs or associations that are supposed to provide camaraderie for their members. Originally, they were seen as organizations that “ennobled” their members and aided in their education.

 

Today, most fraternities are boys clubs that all too often operate as if the fraternal group is bound only by its own traditions rather than societal norms. Among those traditions are regularly drinking oneself into a stupor and emotionally and sometimes physically “hazing” those “pledging” the fraternity. Pledging means going through the process prescribed for membership. At the core of this process is the systematic demeaning or embarrassing of the pledges for set period of time. The rationale behind this behavior is that “hazing” transforms the “pledge class” into a unified “band of brothers.” Overall the process weakens individuality and independent judgment.

 

Most members of fraternities range from 17 to 21 years of age. At this point I would remind the reader that the frontal cortex, that part of the brain that provides “executive function” or control for behavior, does not fully mature until one’s mid-twenties.

 

What are you likely to get when you put together an immature constituency and the sort of organizational traditions described above? Well, on 4 February 2017 at the Penn State fraternity Beta Theta Pi, you got the wrongful death of a 19-year-old pledge. Many men whose own youth have been tied to fraternities dismiss such an event as too rare to be significant. But is that so? Between the year 2000 and December 2014 there were 57 deaths due to hazing at U.S. colleges. This activity is prevalent enough, and dangerous enough, that presently 44 states have enacted some form of anti-hazing statutes. Under the circumstances, Jason Brennan, professor of ethics and public policy at Georgetown University, is right when he observes that “as a matter of fact fraternities don’t educate and ennoble; they stultify and corrupt.” How so? They allow you to see cruelty as an important and functional part of a “normal” social process. They allow you the opportunity to decide if you like being cruel or not.

 

— The Military’s “Basic Training”

 

In what other major organization do you find hazing? The answer is in the U.S. military. It is used during basic training. According to a study appearing in the American Medical Association’s Journal of Ethics appearing March 2014, “there is a long history of sanctioned abuse of new recruits by their drill instructors during entry training.” Such behavior is particularly characteristic of the army and the marines. Officially, the military now regards this form of hazing as “cruel and unnecessary” and “inconsistent with its core institutional values.” However, this is probably more recruiting propaganda rather than a statement of real change. According to the military-associated website Task and Purpose, recruits are still subject to periodic “shark attacks,” which means being “harassed and harangued” and having instilled in them “the fear factor.” These are still the means by which “the whole discipline process” is created.

 

Traditionally, the military sees hazing as serving three purposes: (1) it weeds out those “unfit or unwilling to serve”; (2) it allegedly destroys the civilian “principles and norms” of the new recruits so that they can be replaced by those of the military organization; and (3) it allegedly builds “cohesion” among the recruits. Numbers 1 and 3 also apply to the hazing process of fraternities.

 

Part III – Hazing as a Source of Cultural Deterioration

 

 

The rationale behind hazing is to destroy pre-existing “values and habits” through a process of abuse so that they can be replaced by new “values and habits.” For fraternities the new value structure is relatively benign, going little beyond a sense of “brotherhood” and “old boy’” camaraderie that is supposed to last well beyond one’s college years. It is an elitist message but not one that risks widespread cultural deterioration. For the military the goal is not benign at all. It is no less than the destruction of the recruit’s individuality and habit of independent thinking. The desired restructured individual is one that takes orders unquestioningly and functions as part of a cadre rather than an individual. This is an undeniably anti-democratic process, the effectiveness of which contributes to the difficulty of many veterans to reintegrate back into civilian life. At the same time, “boot camp” seeks to raise the violence potential of the recruit.

 

We cannot overemphasize the fact that that in both cases the institutionalized methodology for the development of an alleged new outlook among millions of citizens is harassment and abuse. No society that allows such processes to go on in some of its most important culture-shaping institutions can hope to remain mentally healthy.

 

In today’s America, there seems to be a deep-seated restlessness. With a nearly open access to all manner of weapons and a history of racial discrimination, labor exploitation, and external aggression, what passes for cultural normality is continuously punctuated by episodes of violence. When considering this, one must face up to the fact that it is to violence that millions of citizens are being acculturated in both college fraternities and military training. These experiences must be judged as contributing factors to a process of cultural deterioration.

Reality and its Enemies – An Analysis (28 May 2017) by Lawrence Davidson

Part I – Reality

There is an ongoing reality that is destroying hundreds of thousands of lives in the Middle East. And though most Americans are ignorant of the fact, and many of those who should be in the know would deny it, the suffering flows directly from decisions taken by Washington over the last 27 years. Some of the facts of the matter have just been presented by the first Global Conflict Medicine Congress held at the American University of Beirut (AUB) earlier this month (11-14 May 2017). It has drawn attention to two dire consequences of the war policies Americans have carried on in the region: cancer-causing munition matierial and drug-resistant bacteria.

— Cancer-causing munition material: Materials such as tungsten and mercury are found in the casing of penetrating bombs used in the first and second Gulf wars. These have had long-term effects on survivors, especially those who have been wounded by these munitions. Iraqi-trained and Harvard-educated Dr. Omar Dewachi, a medical anthropologist at AUB fears that “the base line of cancers [appearing in those exposed to these materials] has become very aggressive. … When a young woman of 30, with no family history of cancer, has two different primary cancers – in the breast and in the oesophagus – you have to ask what is happening.” To this can be added that doctors are now “overwhelmed by the sheer number of [war] wounded patients in the Middle East.”

— Drug-resistant bacteria: According to Glasgow-trained Professor Ghassan Abu-Sittah, head of plastic and reconstructive surgery at AUB Medical Center, drug resistance was not a problem during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988. However, after the fiasco of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, things began to change. In the period after 1990, Iraq suffered under a vicious sanctions regime imposed by the United Nations at U.S. insistence. During the next 12 years “Iraqis were allowed to use only three antibiotics” and bacterial resistance quickly evolved. Those resistant bacteria spread throughout the region, particularly after the American invasion of the country in 2003. Today, according to a Medecins Sans Frontieres analysis, “multidrug resistant [MDR] bacteria now accounts for most war wound infections across the Middle East, yet most medical facilities in the region do not even have the laboratory capacity to diagnose MDR, leading to significant delays and clinical mismanagement of festering wounds.”

Insofar as these developments go, it is not that there aren’t contributing factors stemming from local causes such as factual fighting. However, the major triggers for these horrors were set in motion in Washington. As far as I know, no American holding a senior official post has ever accepted any responsibility for this ongoing suffering.

Part II – Hiding Reality

As the cancers and untreatable infections grow in number in the Middle East, there is here in the United States a distressing effort to rehabilitate George W. Bush – the American president whose decisions and policies contributed mightily to this ongoing disaster. It is this Bush who launched the unjustified 2003 invasion of Iraq and thereby – to use the words of the Arab League – “opened the gates of hell.” His rehabilitation effort began in ernest in April 2013, and coincided with the opening of his presidential library. In an interview given at that time, Bush set the stage for his second coming with an act of self-exoneration. He said he remained “comfortable with the decision making process” that led to the invasion of Iraq – the one that saw him fudging the intelligence when it did not tell him what he wanted to hear – and so also “comfortable” with the ultimate determination to launch the invasion. “There’s no need to defend myself. I did what I did and ultimately history will judge.”

The frivolous assertion that “history will judge” is often used by people of suspect character. “History” stands for a vague future time. Its alleged inevitable coming allows the protagonist to fantasize about achieving personal glory unchallenged by present, usually significant, ethical concerns.

Those seeking George W. Bush’s rehabilitation now like to contrast him to Donald Trump. One imagines they thereby hope to present him as a “moderate” Republican. They claim that Bush was and is really a very smart and analytical fellow rather than the simpleton most of us suspect him to be. In other words, despite launching an unnecessary and subsequently catastrophic war, he was never as ignorant and dangerous as Trump. He and his supporters also depict him as a great defender of a free press, again in contrast to Donald Trump. However, when he was president, Bush described the media as an aider and abettor of the nation’s enemies. This certainly can be read as a position that parallels Trump’s description of the media as the “enemy of the American people.”

But all of this is part of a public relations campaign and speaks to the power of reputation remodeling – the creation of a facade that hides reality. In order to do this you have to “control the evidence” – in this case by ignoring it. In this endeavor George W. Bush and his boosters have the cooperation of much of the mainstream media. No sweat here: the press has done this before. Except for the odd editorial the mainstream media also contributed to Richard Nixon’s rehabilitation back in the mid 1980s. These sorts of sleights-of-hand are only possible against the background of pervasive public ignorance.

Part III – Closed Information Environments

Local happenings are open to relatively close investigation. We usually have a more or less accurate understanding of the local context in which events play out, and this allows for the possibility of making a critical judgment. As we move further away, both in space and time, information becomes less reliable, if for no other reason than it comes to us through the auspices of others who may or may not know what they are talking about. As a society, we have little or no knowledge of the context for foreign events, and thus it is easy for those reporting on them to apply filters according to any number of criteria. What we are left with is news that is customized – stories designed to fit preexisting political or ideological biases. In this way millions upon millions of minds are restricted to closed information environments on subjects which often touch on, among other important topics, war and its consequences.

So what is likely to be more influential with the locally oriented American public: George W. Bush’s rehabilitated image reported on repeatedly in the nation’s mainstream media, or the foreign-based, horror-strewn consequences of his deeds reported upon infrequently?

This dilemma is not uniquely American, nor is it original to our time. However, its dangerous consequences are a very good argument against the ubiquitous ignorance that allows political criminals to be rehabilitated even as their crimes condemn others to continuing suffering. If reputation remodelers can do this for George W. Bush, then there is little doubt that someday it will be done for Donald Trump. Life, so full of suffering, is also full of such absurdities.

Donald Trump’s Behavioral Legacy – An Analysis (14 May 2017) by Lawrence Davidson

Part I – Karma

“Karma” is a Sanskrit term meaning “action” or “deed,” and in its classical religious (Hindu or Buddhist) rendering, it predicts that the behavior of an individual, past or present, influences their future fate. Leaving aside the spiritual dimension of this outlook, one can see that, just from a behavioral point of view, there is a logic to such a causal prediction. For instance, if you are an arrogant or angry person, you will create a different type of environment around you than will a kind-hearted and thoughtful person. Your environment will attract others who, for whatever reason, feel comfortable being close to your sort of person. The nature of this entourage will, in turn, reinforce your surrounding environment. Taken as a whole, that environment defines your world as you go forward.

Of course, plenty of things might intervene to change this equation. Both nice people and bullies do, on occasion, get into serious accidents or die from sudden illnesses. Of the massive numbers of refugees spilling out of places like Syria and Libya, many were and are quite decent folk whose lives have been overtaken for the worse by events utterly beyond their control – and utterly independent of the “karma” that might have produced for them a different fate.

Part II – An Example

Let’s take an example that most people will recognize – President Donald Trump. Judging from his public behavior, we see Trump is shallow, opinionated, self-centered and arrogant. Such a person’s behavior should produce a life that is equally shallow and populated by some pretty distasteful companions. As we shall see, this is generally the case. However, random events have also intervened. Trump was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, which has allowed him to buy his way to fame, all the way to the presidency, while maintaining a battery of lawyers whose job it is to fend off the negative legal consequences of his behavior. Here money serves as a lucky random variable, the negative equivalent of which would be being hit by a bus or being diagnosed with some fatal disease.

The semi-biographical tale told in Trump’s 1987 book, The Art of the Deal, reads like a Horatio Alger “morality play” and makes the good fortune of birth seem like a personal achievement. The book hit the New York Times best-seller list, and many Americans took to Trump’s story, seeing it as a guide to how they too could get rich. Thus, The Art of the Deal’s popularity helped make an idealized Trump a well-known person. It therefore can be seen as a step in the direction of the White House.

Trump has claimed The Art of the Deal as one of his “proudest achievements.” Actually, it wasn’t exactly his achievement. The book was ghostwritten by someone else, the professional writer Tony Schwartz. By the time of Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign, Schwartz regretted his having been Trump’s ghostwriter. He said he had “put lipstick on a pig.” On the other hand, Trump’s claim to authorship is what he (Trump) would call “an innocent form of exaggeration” for the sake of “effective promotion.” But there is something both distasteful, and in character, about this fabrication/exaggeration. It reflects someone who is probably unable to tell the difference between truth and his own opinion. The result is almost certainly “bad karma.”

Part III – Telltale Friendships

One’s personality also broadly defines one’s friendship circle. This is another factor which, if paid attention to, can shed light on who someone really is. So who is Donald Trump drawn to and who is drawn to him? Domestically we know who these companions are (e.g., Stephen Bannon), so here we shall focus on some of the foreign leaders that Trump finds compatible.

— Much has been said of Donald Trump’s affinity for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu is a pugnacious personality, a strong nationalist who cares much more about the ethno-religious purity of Israel than its alleged democratic heritage. He is at the forefront of Israel’s illegal expansion into Palestinian territory and has given full rein to the bellicose, racist settlers who lead the way in this endeavor.

Nonetheless, according to Trump, Netanyahu is “my friend” and the leader of “our cherished ally Israel” with which we have “an unbreakable bound.” Trump goes on to repeat the standard mythology that both he and Netanyahu hold “shared values” such as “advancing the cause of human freedom, dignity and peace.”

This latter bit is propaganda – a longtime, standing example of “false news.” The Israelis have spent the last 70 years destroying the cause of Palestinian freedom and dignity at the price of regional peace. And the U.S.? Last week Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said that the U.S. “no longer would condition its foreign relationships on countries adopting American values such as human rights.” Of course, it can be argued that such a condition has rarely existed in the practice of American foreign policy and that, like Israel, values such as human rights are not among those Americans themselves practice domestically with a lot of consistency. Nonetheless, Tillerson’s confession made nonsense out of the American part of Trump’s declaration.

— Next we come to another of Trump’s “friends” – Abdel Fattah al-Sisi the “President” of Egypt, who paid a visit to the White House on 3 April 2017. According to President Trump, al-Sisi is “my great friend and ally; he is “very close to me.” Trump finished up by telling the world that al-Sisi is “doing … a fantastic job in a very difficult situation.”

And who is this man, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whom Trump so admires and to whom he feels so close?

Al-Sisi is a criminal. He is the “Field Marshal” who pulled off a coup in 2013 against his country’s first honestly elected government and followed that up with a rigged election that made him “president” of Egypt.

Al-Sisi is a megalomaniac. He and his subordinates have constructed a cult of personality by instructing the Egyptian media to describe al-Sisi as a heroic figure, a “brave, special, free and patriotic Egyptian.” To criticize him is to “slander this beautiful thing we have found in our lives.”

Al-Sisi is corrupt. He and his subordinates have been funneling both public and foreign aid monies into special accounts controlled by the military.

Al-Sisi is a hooligan. He has been busy destroying any person or group opposing him, including the largely pacifist Muslim Brotherhood, which has been declared “a terrorist organization.” Those who have protested against all this in the streets of Egypt have been beat up, arrested or simply shot down.

Nonetheless, al-Sisi is President Trump’s kind of guy, and the U.S. president stands with him. ”I just want to let everybody know, in case there was any doubt, that we are very much behind President Sisi.”

— Finally, we take up the appreciative attitude Trump has taken toward Rodrigo Duterte, the President of the Philippines. In early May Trump extended an invitation to Duterte to visit the White House, remarking at the same time that the two presidents had engaged in “a very friendly conversation.” Duterte, like al-Sisi, seems to be just the sort of “get things done” kind of guy Trump is drawn to. And it is equally clear that, in both cases, Trump is sufficiently devoid of ethics so that he doesn’t care how things actually get done.

Thus, President Duterte gets things done in his “war on drugs” by extrajudicial killings (that is, murders) of both “suspected drug dealers and users.” The resulting death toll has climbed into the thousands. If Duterte gets it into his head that you are corrupt, he may arrange to take you for a ride in his presidential helicopter and throw you out in mid-flight. It is reported that “in a brief call in December [2016] about the drug war,” then president-elect Trump told Duterte that he was waging his “war against drugs” in the “right way.”

There are others, of course, but this is a representative sample of the sort of people Trump likes – the type he “feels close to.” They seem to like him too. Perhaps they are brothers under the skin.

Part IV – The Larger Problem

Here is the larger problem. The U.S. president stands at the head of a government, the policies of which also have impact at home and abroad. These policies stand in for behaviors that shape the nation’s present and future by creating a sort of “national karma.” And, all too often, for ideological reasons or because of plain stupidity and ignorance, that “karma” is bad. The various “blowback” episodes of the last twenty-five years, including the 9/11 attacks, are testimony to this fact. In many ways Washington created the context for those attacks by its own violent policies and behavior.

Presidents, who stand at the apex of this process, can’t do much about the country’s historic capitalist and imperialist worldview and ambitions. Most U.S. leaders don’t think a change at this level is even needed. Yet presidents can and do tinker around the edges, putting limits on the militarism or giving it encouragement.

There seems little doubt as to the nature of Donald Trump’s tinkering. He seems to have a special affinity for the brutal and the barbaric. And, as he gathers to his side many of the thugs presently masquerading as foreign leaders, he helps define America’s present and near future – racking up an ever-growing list of aggrieved victims who will continue to see the United States as an active ally of their persecutors. Behavior, as an individual and as a nation, defines the human world. The forecast for Trump’s contribution? Bad karma.

A Dilemma For the Intelligence Agencies – An Analysis (25 April 2017) by Lawrence Davidson

 

Part I – The Dilemma

 

Government intelligence agencies, particularly those in the United States, have a problem. Its nature was spelled out by the retired British diplomat Alastair Crooke in an article entitled “Trump’s 59-Tomahawk Tweet,” appearing 8 April 2017. As the title suggests, Crooke was reacting to President Trump’s precipitous attack on a Syrian government airbase, following the chemical weapons episode of 4 April 2017 at the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Crooke notes that U.S. intelligence had raised doubts as to the Syrian government’s responsibility for the release of poison gas. It seems likely that the Russians had alerted U.S. forces that the Syrian air force was going to attack a rebel warehouse in Khan Sheikhoun that was allegedly full of explosives and weapons. Unbeknownst to the Russians, the Syrians, and the Americans, the warehouse also held a poisonous mix of organic phosphates and chlorine. There is also evidence suggesting that whatever released the poison gas came from an explosive device placed on the ground. Wherever the resulting gas cloud came from, and a Syrian government bomb is certainly not the only possibility, It spread over a local neighborhood and killed a number of exposed residents.

The American mass media nevertheless immediately blamed Damascus for an attack using chemical weapons. Trump, also immediately, believed the mass media. He is, after all, increasingly known as the Fox TV president. Taking his cue from the media, he paid insufficient heed to his own intelligence agencies’ doubts. As a result, as Crooke puts it, “the Tomahawks flew.”

All of this led Crooke to ask “whether Western intelligence agencies still retain an ability to speak-out to power.” Can they still, effectively, convince their governments not to assume that mainstream media information is accurate, but “rather to await careful investigation” before “rushing to judgment” on important issues?

If the answer to Crooke’s questions is No, then what is left of the integrity of the intelligence agencies? Are they now reduced to producing “politicized intelligence assessments” that validate predetermined government policies? Unfortunately, for the United States, this fate appears to threaten the government’s professional intelligence personnel. They seem impotent before a president who has never admitted to a serious mistake in his life – a man who believes that truth is nothing more or less than his own opinion. It might very well be that, facing a crumbling domestic situation produced by his own ill-advised behavior, President Trump sought to recover some credibility by “retaliating” against an alleged crime by Bashar al-Assad.

At least in the short run his maneuver appears to have worked. Trump got an embarrassing amount of positive press following this latest bellicose posturing, and too many editorialists and “talking heads” have asserted that his shooting off 59 Tomahawk missiles (only 39% of which hit their target), and thereby killing yet more Syrians, was a “beautiful” and “presidential” act. These commentators also are not known to admit to being wrong.

 

Part II – Historical Precedents

 

There are actually many historical precedents for this current dilemma of the intelligence agencies. It stands to reason that every once in a while people whose job it is to analyze world affairs will end up telling their national leaders what they don’t want to hear. And while some politicians can handle this better than others, many can’t handle it at all. Here are some examples of the latter. Documented descriptions of the first two examples can be found in my book America’s Palestine (University Press of Florida, 2001) and a documented description of the third example can be found in my book Foreign Policy Inc. (University Press of Kentucky, 2009).

— In 1918 the British War Cabinet, led by David Lloyd George and Alfred Balfour, was in the midst of negotiating what would become known as the Balfour Declaration with the World Zionist Organization (WZO). The British sought the support of world Jewry (which they mistakenly believed the WZO represented) for the Entente war effort in exchange for a British promise to support a “Jewish National Home” in Palestine if in fact the British were victorious.

Specifically, (a) the British believed the WZO could facilitate entrance of the United States into the war through its influence with President Woodrow Wilson. And indeed, American Zionists such as Louis Brandeis did have access to the president. However, Wilson was determined to bring the U.S. into the war quite independently of Zionist wishes. Then, (b) the British were convinced that the WZO could prevent the Russian government (by that time under Soviet control) from leaving the war. This was based on the fact that Leon Trotsky was a Jew. But the British intelligence post at their Petrograd embassy informed the leaders in London that Trotsky was hostile to Zionism, seeing it as a divisive nationalist movement. It is here that intelligence information was ignored by Lloyd George and Balfour in favor of political wishful thinking – their firm, if fallacious, belief in Jewish world power.

— If we move forward to 1947-1948 something similar occurred. This incident involved the U.S. president Harry Truman. Truman had been Vice President when, on 12 April 1945, Franklin Roosevelt died. Succeeding to the presidency in mid-term, he stood for election to that office on his own in 1947. It was a point of pride for him that he win the election, and like Lloyd George and Arthur Balfour thirty years earlier, he was convinced that the Zionists wielded enough influence with American Jews to help him achieve his goal. Now an informal deal was struck. The Zionists would help get Truman elected and Truman would help the Zionists get approval for the division of Palestine by the United Nations and subsequently grant diplomatic recognition to the new state of Israel.

Taking a stand against this arrangement was the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs (NEAA) of the State Department. Those in the NEAA were privy to a range of intelligence sources that Truman knew little of and cared less about. Thus, when members of the division informed Truman that pressure for partition at the United Nations and precipitous diplomatic recognition of Israel would all but destroy U.S. relations with the Muslim world, and thus harm America’s national interests, Truman refused to take this information seriously. Indeed, Clark Clifford, one of Truman’s chief political advisors, told a representative of the NEAA that Harry Truman’s election was the only “national interest” that counted.

— The Zionists have long been a particularly intrusive political lobby throughout much of the West. However, politicians do not need their outside influence to become so fixated that they will ignore their own intelligence services. Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 President George W. Bush became convinced that the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was involved in the attack. When the American intelligence services told him this was unlikely, he refused to believe them and sought to establish an independent “intelligence” operation in the Pentagon that would tell him what he wanted to hear – a list of alleged Iraqi transgressions that soon included the fallacious claim that Saddam possessed “weapons of mass destruction.” None of Bush’s convictions proved true, yet he launched an invasion of Iraq anyway, killing at least half-a-million Iraqis, destroying the country’s political and social infrastructure, and destabilizing the entire Middle East.

 

Part III – Conclusion

 

Intelligence agencies have many functions and we know that some of them can be downright criminal. But it can be argued that their main role is the gathering and analysis of information from around the world so that their respective governments can have an accurate idea of what is going on and make decisions accordingly. The suborning of that role almost always leads to very bad decisions.

There seems to be a correlation between this sort of corruption and national leadership that is egocentric, biased and pig-headed. Leaders who either think they know more about foreign matters than the experts (George W. Bush and Donald Trump), or believe that their own religious mythology and racial stereotypes count for more that than the rights of other peoples and nations (Lloyd George and Balfour), or are so consumed by their personal political ambitions (Harry Truman) that they will ignore fact-based intelligence information that complicates those aims.

Of course in the democratic West all such leaders are to some extent reflections of those who voted for them. So keep in mind the old cartoon adage: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Trump and the Anti-Semites – An Analysis (7 March 2017) by Lawrence Davidson

 

 

Part I – “A Rash of Anti-Semitism”

 

 

My local newspaper is the Philadelphia Inquirer, and when I looked at the front page (the part “above the fold”) for 28 February 2017, it read: “A Rash of Anti-Semitism – ‘Something Bad is Happening in Our Country.’” The attending article went on to report on several instances of Jewish cemetery desecrations and 21 bomb threats made on Monday 27 February to synagogues and Jewish community centers. Nationwide, there have been 90 such threats in 30 states and Canada in 2017.

 

The quote that “something bad is happening” came from one of the neighbors who had come to offer help at a local desecrated cemetery. He is quite right. Yet the Inquirer article and others were only descriptive while quoting the predictable reactions of various politicians and community leaders. The coverage did not go into why we are getting this spate of incidents now, nor did it contextualize the incidents more broadly by noting that they were taking place within a country that, on average, suffers 44 homicides per day.

 

The FBI and local police departments are all out there investigating these anti-Semitic incidents. I would be very surprised if, as a result of their search for the culprits, they found them among the American Muslim community which has strongly condemned these incidents, or Palestinians and their supporters here in the U.S., who typically use non-violent tactics to express their resistance to Israeli/Zionist racism, or the broader immigrant community, which is typically law-abiding and, in any case, is now being harassed by those charged with “making America great again.” No, if you knee-jerk in those directions, you are probably mistaken.

 

 

Part II – The Likely Offenders

 

 

So where should we look for the likely offenders of this latest outbreak of anti-Semitism? Well, there are a couple of possibilities. One is the disturbed individual who, for whatever motive, vents his anger in this fashion. This probably accounts for the St. Louis man recently arrested for making a relatively small number of these threats against Jewish sites. The other possibility is that these actions are expressions of the newly ascendent sense of power of white supremacists.

 

Many of these threatening calls turn out to be “unprecedented” in that they used “sophisticated voice masking technology.” They also warned of bombs made with specific types of explosives. Now, white supremacist organizations with military and security professionals among their members would, plausibly, have the technology and weapons experience used in these incidents. Of course, that does not prove they are responsible, but it does put them on what must be a rather short list of possibles.

 

In this regard, President Trump’s response to this affair is a curious one. In a recent press conference he vehemently declared that “I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. [And also] the least racist person.” Then, later, he suggested that recent anti-Semitic acts were “false flag” operations coming from his “political opponents.” In other words, Trump, and his close advisors too, are suggesting that the culprits are “Democrats” who are trying to make the president and his supporters “look bad.”

 

 

Part III – Donald Trump Liberates the Bad Guys

 

 

I don’t think that Donald Trump is playing games here. I think that he believes everything he says – convincing himself that his “false flag” theory is the truth even as he says it. It is part of a delusional pathology.

 

This means that he is incapable of understanding that, in the final analysis, he may well have triggered the present anti-Semitic acts. It is his threatening and demeaning rhetoric during the campaign and subsequently that has given license to potentially violent elements within American society.

 

Here is how law professor David Cohen, quoting an earlier source, explains what Trump is doing: he is using language “to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.” The technical term for this behavior is “stochastic terrorism.” Stochastic refers to generating statistical probabilities. One of the possible consequences of this sort of rhetoric is explained by Tara Culp-Ressler, senior editor of ThinkProgress: “In this scenario, a lone wolf terrorist wouldn’t be explicitly instructed to commit their crimes, but they would be encouraged by rhetoric that appears to normalize that type of activity.”

 

It is unlikely that Donald Trump realizes what he is doing in these terms. He probably stereotypes his own behavior as necessary and correct just as he stereotypes the behavior of those who disagree or oppose him as wrongheaded and personal (rather than principled). Most likely, he behaves as he does in an almost instinctual way. He is a born-and-bred bully.

 

Finally, if we are to probably contextualize the consequences of President Trump’s rhetoric, we must also note that it not only plays to “lone wolves” and white supremacists, but also resonates with longstanding themes of conservative Republicans and American Christian Fundamentalists. Both of these large groups espouse a white mono-culture wherein Jews, among many others, are outsiders. Trump, for all his anti-racist protestations, seems to to draw these people to him and comfortably walk the same road as they do.

 

 

Part IV – Conclusion

 

 

In the first chapter of Plato’s masterpiece The Republic, there appears a character named Thrasymachus. Socrates engages this character in a debate about the nature of justice. Thrasymachus argues that justice is ultimately whatever the stronger party says it is, and he tries to bully Socrates into agreeing with him. He is uninterested in Socrates’ opinion or the logic of his argument while intent on dominating the conversation. When Thrasymachus is unable to get his way he becomes sullen and rude.

 

Plato’s effort to construct an ideal state, governed by so-called “philosopher kings” – that is, people who, in Plato’s opinion, have the ability to accurately understand the world – can be understood as a reaction to a world that has become governed by the likes of Thrasymachus.

 

Donald Trump provides us with this same sort of challenge for he is our modern day Thrasymachus: a self-centered bully uninterested in any other point of view but his own. In our case, such a man has indeed attained power and in doing so has also liberated the boorish element of the population who mimic his approach to the world. Thus it is you, Mr. President, who may well have set loose the anti-Semites.

 

Follow Up (Jerusalem Post 23 March 2017):

“A 19-year-old dual American Israeli living in Ashkelon has been arrested, suspected of being behind most of a series of bomb and other threats to Jewish communities in the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand that date back around six months, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

As of Thursday, with a gag order on the probe being lifted by the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court at the same time it extended his detention to March 30, sources indicate that most of the threats against the Diaspora communities and organizations led investigators back to Israel.”

 

Truth vs. Trump – An Analysis (27 February 2017) by Lawrence Davidson

 

 

Part I – A Grandiose Delusional Disorder

 

During the presidential campaign I often referred to Donald Trump as a congenital liar, but it is possible that in doing so I made a “category mistake.” By definition liars, even chronic ones, belong to a category of people who know that there is truth from which their lies deviate. I am not sure that accurately describes President Trump’s state of mind. Perhaps a more accurate way of describing Trump’s outlook is that it presents as a grandiose delusional disorder.

 

People with this sort of disorder seem not to be able to discern what is real from what they want to be real. Their beliefs do not have to be bizarre but can appear as persistent misrepresentations that are either false or gross exaggerations. One sort of delusional disorder is called “grandiose.” Here the person has “an over-inflated sense of worth, power, knowledge, or identity.” Trump seems to fit this description.

 

Here are a few of Trump’s misrepresentations and exaggerations that appear to underpin his alternate reality.

 

— According to the president, the nation was in deep trouble when he took over. He insists that he inherited “a mess.” No one challenged this description, although it is plainly an exaggeration. In truth the economy (including job production and employment rates) under his predecessor was doing well and no new foreign wars had been launched by Washington. Civil rights were being extended to more and more minority groups. Where there was dissension it was over such things as police violence (which Trump seems not to see as a problem).

 

To tackle this exaggerated “mess” Trump claims to have put together a “well oiled machine.” This is a misrepresentation. By all evidence his early administration is disorganized, amateurish and plagued by internal dissension. When the situation was reported in the press, Trump got very angry at this challenge to his preferred view of reality and declared that the media is the “enemy of the American people.”

 

— President Trump claims that a key to the safety of the nation is the imposition of his immigration ban blocking immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations. However, the statistical evidence showing a lack of violence on American soil by such immigrants makes Trump’s claim insupportable. Just so his grossly exaggerated assertion that immigrants generally hurt the economy by taking jobs away from citizens.

 

— He (along with that other deluded leader Benjamin Netanyahu) describes Iran as the greatest terror state in the world, even though, in practice, Iran has been a discreet ally of the U.S. in the “war on terror.”

 

— And, of course, Trump continues to insist on his overwhelming popularity, as exemplified by claims for his Electoral College numbers and an alleged record inauguration attendance, despite the fact that each claim can easily be shown to be a misrepresentation of reality. Trump’s real approval rate now hovers around 40%, lower than every other post-World War II president at this point in their term.

 

To these instances of misrepresentation and exaggeration can be added other evidence, such as the fact that just about all contrary views appearing in the media are now described by Trump as “fake news.” In his own opinion, nothing he says or does is ever wrong or mistaken. If something does go wrong it is because some other person or group has maliciously sabotaged his efforts, while twisting the truth he knows to exist into a maligning falsehood. This is why he can’t work with anyone who has previously criticized him or who is likely to do so to his face.

 

 

Part II – Bullshit

 

There is another way to understand what Trump is doing. This is explained in a 2005 book by Harry Frankfurt entitled On Bullshit. Actually, an older and less crude way of describing this is “humbug.” Whatever you call it, this way of relating to the world is, according to Frankfurt, worse than lying because it is “indifferent to the truth.” Those who consistently engage in bullshit “quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant.” You do this enough and you lose your capacity to tell what is true and what isn’t. Frankfurt believes that Trump does often lie, but even more often he just bullshits, and he really cares little about what is actually true. Perhaps he has reached the stage where truth is just whatever comes out of his mouth.

 

 

Part III – The Road to Power

 

How are we to understand the millions of Americans who respond to Donald Trump with uncritical enthusiasm – as if these large numbers are following a pied piper into a promised world. I think we have to see them as an archaic subset of any population. In the U.S. case, this is a largely white American subgroup which has been obsessively angry since the 1960s over both economic and cultural changes. In other words the progressive political and social reality that most Americans have created beginning with the Civil Rights movement is anathema to them. For these discontented people, the changes happening around them appeared unstoppable until now. However, Trump’s language, his attack on the political system per se, his choice of targets such as immigrants, have given voice and direction to the frustrations of this subgroup. Trump’s alternate reality is one that they are comfortable with. This situation is not unique to the U.S., nor is it unique to our historical period.

 

Even though there is no eliminating such a class of malcontents entirely, it is to be emphasized that, despite the publicity given emotional Trump rallies and the Tea Party movement, Trump devotees are a minority of the national population. If that is the case, how is it that Donald Trump occupies the White House? We can answer this question by accounting for the outlook of the rest of the adult U.S. population.

 

First, it is important to understand that a large percentage of American adults (perhaps 40 percent) don’t vote. In my opinion, most of them are just not interested in politics. It is not an important part of their local reality. Thus, they do not show an interest in, much less an understanding of, politically important issues beyond their own immediate locale. This accounts for the chronic low turnout for American elections both national and regional. The default position of this very large number of citizens is one of political passivity.

 

Second, during the past campaign season a large number of traditionally Democratic Party voters became disaffected. The party was essentially split by the Bernie Sanders challenge. When that proved of no avail against an entrenched leadership mindset more beholden to special interests then to the needs of the ordinary citizen, the party lost millions of votes. Some of these defectors probably became closet Trump supporters. Others voted for third party candidates or simply stayed home on election day.

 

You put all of this together with other voting variables such as gerrymandered voting districts, the usual barriers to minority group voting, and the distinct lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton as a candidate, and the mystery of Trump’s victory gets less mysterious.

 

 

Part IV – Conclusion

 

Actually, Donald Trump’s delusional worldview, and the reinforcing support given to it by his enthusiastic followers, does not prevent him from occasionally coming out with accurate observations. Unfortunately, these occur almost spontaneously, in what appears to spur-of-the-moment situations. For instance, in an interview with Bill O’Reilly aired just before the Superbowl, Trump responded to the assertion that Vladimir Putin was “a killer” by saying, “we’ve [the U.S.] got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country is so innocent?” This complemented his on-again – off-again desire to reach an accommodation with Moscow. Then, during Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Washington, Trump questioned the continuing viability of the two-state solution (of course, without contextualizing the statement by pointing a finger at Israeli policies).

 

Yet these relatively rare public displays of reality-based insight are of little reassurance to the rest of us just because they are intermittent and apparently not characteristic of any disciplined analytical way of thinking. So, we are still left with guy who, for most of his waking hours, lives in his own world of “humbug.”

 

So what can we expect from this delusional, morally suspect personality who now occupies the White House? My guess is that as things get more contentious, Trump will retreat from the policy business of governing. He will turn that over (if he hasn’t already) to his accomplices: Stephen Bannon, Reince Priebus, and Vice President Pence. Having done so he will devote more and more time to his so-called reelection campaign where he can vent his spleen amongst the adoring crowds of supporters who serve, collectively, as a stimulus for the man’s immense ego.

Dysfunction In The White House – An Analysis (16 February 2017) by Lawrence Davidson

Part I – Dysfunction

There is something both horrifying and fascinating about the behavior of President Trump, as we watch him fail to cope with – or perhaps even recognize – the differences between the no-holds-barred world he created for his campaign and the much more polite and temperate world expected of leaders of a constitutional government.

As a result, the present White House appears to be a dysfunctional place. Apparently neither President Trump, nor most of his staff, have considered that there are real differences, different rules of behavior, between private and public life. Maintaining the model of the abusive boss, the know-it-all CEO (Trump’s preferred modus operandi), has, in quick order, proved both inappropriate and self-defeating. Here then are some of the consequences:

— The president has refused to stop being the avaricious businessman and relinquish control of his assets. As a result he will soon be facing an increasing number of lawsuits brought by various ethics organizations charging that his refusal to place his holdings in a blind trust violates the “emoluments clause” of the Constitution. The contention is that this can only lead to “scandal, corruption and illegitimacy.”

— The rush to impose a ban on immigration into the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries – imposed by executive order within ten days of inauguration – proved a sloppy piece of work. Trump simply assumed public opinion to be on his side and that that opinion could stand in for legal legitimacy. It didn’t work. The ban caused chaos and hardship, and quickly the courts temporarily set it aside as unconstitutional. The Justice Department lawyers, who had largely been kept out of the loop by the White House, did not have evidence that there was any real danger, historically or immediate, from immigrants of the countries cited in the ban. Pending a “total rewrite” or an appeal to the Supreme Court, Trump’s immigration ban is at a dead end.

— In the meantime, Trump has, in a manner that has become typical for him, attempted to delegitimize judicial opposition – opposition that anyone who is constitutionally savvy knows is solidly lawful. Thus his “so-called judge” statement. It may be an indication of the president’s enduring immaturity that he believes that anyone who stands in his way is a target for bullying and slander. And, indeed, in the private sphere where Donald Trump has been able to use his money to make his own rules, this tactic, apparently, did sometimes work. So, as if by habit, he has carried it over to the public sphere, where it is completely out of place and only makes him look like childish. Except to those adoring fans who were so visible on the campaign trail, his loose verbiage also makes Trump look like a “loser.” Trump’s own nominee for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, has described the president’s bad-mouthing the appeals court judge who suspended the immigration ban as “disheartening” and “discouraging.”

There is one other point that is to be made about this “so-called judge” episode. It has turned the judge involved, James Robart (who is himself a “mainstream” Republican), into a potential target for violence. Having used abusive language throughout his campaign and seen the emotions it aroused, Trump is very likely to be aware that he is risking incitement to violence.

— There are many other moments of Trumpian bluster, such as his yelling at the Australian Prime Minister during an official phone call, or his threatening to send troops across the Mexican border during a call to the president of Mexico. All of this might reinforce his image as a tough guy, but in the political and diplomatic world that now holds him in a spotlight, he starts to remind people of other past cases of bullies in power, most of whom happen to be fascists of the 1920s and ‘30s.

Part II – A Shift in Protest Personnel

As a result of Trump’s bravado, there has been a rapid shift in public activism from Right to what in the U.S. passes for the Left. Just as is the case with the populist Republicans, there is a segment of the Democratic Party base that feels disenfranchised. Some of them tried to do something about this by backing Bernie Sanders. But that was unsuccessful. However, with Trump’s victory, rightwing populism abated, and almost immediately, it was replaced by the inchoate mass of “Left” populists you see hitting the streets today. It is the Sanders folks plus a whole array of special interest groups who feel very threatened by an empowered Right. There is no reason to believe that the anti-Trump array is going to be intimidated and give up. Indeed, the Left activists’ challenge is to coalesce into a real united front.

That should be made easier if Trump stays true to form, lurching from one outrageous move to another. And all the signs point down that road. The “so-called president” has ratcheted up his deportation efforts, allowing individual immigration officials discretion to go after any immigrant without proper documentation no matter of what age or the length of time they have been here. This is the equivalent of giving an army open-ended marching orders, and it is bound to result in abuses of power. He has begun his wall project for the southern border – an effort modeled after Israel’s infamous and illegal “separation (aka apartheid) wall.” He has begun the gutting of environmental and consumer safety regulations, a move which will poison the air and water for the sake of greater corporate profit. He has started to deregulate the banks – a strategy that, historically, has always eventually led to economic crisis. And, of course, attacking abortion and LGBT rights is also on his agenda. There is enough here to keep millions agitated for at least the next four years.

Part III – Opportunities and Risks

Thus, even though we are still early in his administration, there is no sign that anyone can control the President’s addiction to gaffes. He is an immature, thin-skinned egotist, and in the end, this may well cost the Republicans dearly.

However, one does have to give President Trump his due. He has a really exceptional ability to stir up the American political scene. For progressives such agitation creates opportunities and risks. There is now an opportunity for a truly united front of progressives that can reform the Democratic Party and give us, in the near term, a viable alternative to the manic CEO and rightwing radicals now occupying the White House. On the other hand, there is the risk that the apparatchiks who now control the Democratic Party will misread their situation. They might well fail to understand the meaning of the Tea Party movement’s capture of the Republican Party, and resist meaningful reform of their own party. If they can get away with this, it will leave the progressives without a political home. That will make reclaiming a progressive future much harder and the reign of the Right much longer. We will have to wait and see.

Immigrant Irony – An Analysis (3 February 2017) by Lawrence Davidson

 

 

Part I – The Irony of Not Liking Immigrants

 

On 21 April 1938 Franklin Roosevelt delivered a speech to a very conservative organization named the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). He told them to “remember, remember always that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”

 

FDR’s message confused and irritated his audience. On the one hand their being descended from America’s original European immigrants was the source of the DAR ladies’ pride and status. On the other hand, they saw most of the immigrants that came after their own ancestors as rabble. This was not a logical attitude; it was rather an emotional one suggesting that their self-image was built around an elitist in-group – out-group identification. Roosevelt could see past this. He understood that for Americans to turn their backs on immigrants was to turn their backs on themselves.

 

Despite the lack of logic, the attitude of the DAR ladies toward immigrants was typical of most American citizens throughout a good part of the 19th and 20th centuries. A consistent, if inaccurate, link was made between labor strife, political radicalism, crime and immigration. Many elected and appointed officials were just as wrapped up in this mindset as everyone else, and so the animus often found expression in the policies of the federal and state governments. The result was not only restrictive immigration laws, most often based on geographic origins, but also periodic deportations – not all of them legal.

 

Part II – Historical Ignorance

 

Not many of today’s Americans know this history. They do not realize that some of the feared immigrants managed to stay in the U.S. and become their own progenitors. The children of these “aliens” learned English and American ways, intermarried with the offspring of other immigrants, and settled down. Their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are as authentically American as members of the DAR, and thus they too can now get anxious and fearful over the present controversial round of alleged dangerous immigration.

 

Donald Trump and his cohort of xenophobes benefit from this historical ignorance. When you are caught up in the moment and told by politicians and other “talking heads” that Muslims from Yemen to Syria are heading your way with murderous intent, the instinctive reaction is to take a defensive position.

 

Who stops and puts things in perspective? Well, we might as well do just that: roughly 85,000 refugees and asylum seekers were admitted into the United States in 2016. About 10% of them were Muslims. Of those from the seven countries on Trump’s travel ban list, none of them has killed anyone on American soil. In 2017 an American citizen has a .00003% (roughly 1 in 3.6 million) chance of dying at the hands of a foreign-born terrorist. In the meantime 36 Americans per day die as the result of gun violence (this figure is from 2015 but nothing has happened to make it obsolete).

 

So Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration are not fact based. Therefore they are hardly likely to be effective. Indeed, if periodic violent incidents involving Muslims do occur in the U.S. it is the Muslim Americans who are most likely to be the victims. After all, many Americans are not only running around with heads full of frightening misinformation, but they are armed to the teeth. If Trump and his agents want to “protect the homeland,” they should start by reforming the gun laws.

 

Part III – Why Such Ignorance?

 

Why such prevailing historical ignorance and analytical impotence? Well, among other reasons, it is a fact that one can get a college degree in the U.S. without ever taking a history course, much less one in formal logic. Core curriculums have been gutted because students (now seen by educational administrators as “customers”) want vocational educations and don’t care much about what was once known as the “liberal arts.” Things are not much better in the grammar and high schools, where history tends to play a propagandistic role. The object here is to learn to love our country and respect its leaders.

 

Making us all learn the historical facts (real and not alternate) about what periodically ails us – like immigration, race, labor issues, unemployment, human and civil rights, etc. – would certainly help calm the waters and move citizens in the direction of rational awareness.

 

I would like to think that the million or so protesters who have hit the streets against President Trump’s actions know more, historically, about their causes than the average citizen. However, that is probably naive. The protesters are also wrapped up in the moment and emotionally moved. They are also probably more single issue-oriented than they appear.

 

Yet, they have a common enemy, and that lays the basis for a possible united front, which is a very good first step. That immigrants benefit from this collective action is only fitting because the United States is, as FDR said, a nation of immigrants. Finally, let’s hope that the grandchildren of those who today do manage to reach the “land of the free” remember the tribulations of their grandparents, and be willing to hit the streets with the next generation of protesters. Because these are struggles that never really go away.