Archive for the ‘U.S. Domestic Affairs’ Category
True Believers and the U.S. Election – An Analysis (27 September 2016) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – The Universal Presence of the True Believer
One thing that Donald Trump has done is brought the U.S. version of “true believer” to the political forefront. This group of people was best described by Eric Hoffer (1898-1983). Hoffer was a largely self-educated, working-class, American social philosopher. His best-known work was entitled The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, published in1951.
Hoffer made the following points about true believers:
— They consider the social conditions under which they live hopelessly corrupt and alienating.
— They feel that these social conditions rob them of self-esteem and render their lives worthless.
— Only by submerging themselves in a larger movement demanding radical change can they regain self-worth.
According to Hoffer, being part of a mass on the move is more important to such individuals than the goals of a particular movement. This means that the movements that attract them are interchangeable. That is why they can be Nazis or communists, fanatical devotees of a religion, or part of an aggressive movement to, supposedly, redeem U.S. greatness.
Part II – Mr. Trump’s True Believers
Donald Trump has recruited this demographic element for his campaign to become president. Indeed, it appears to be his core constituency.
Thomas Donlan, writing in Barrons, puts it this way:
“Trump voters … are angry about being losers in the modern economy. It’s harder than ever to make their way forward without the advanced education or skills that are in demand. … They blame elites and the establishment for casting them loose. … Trump has taken their cause to the political stump and set himself up as their winner.”
To get an even better sense of the emotional drive behind Trump’s true believers one should read Dana Milbank’s piece entitled “A Day with Trump’s True Believers,” which appeared in the Washington Post on 14 March 2016.
“I watched Sunday night’s rally here [Boca Raton, Florida] … up front, in the crush of the crowd. … Once Trump arrived, they [the crowd] became ominously transfixed and aggressive. They pumped their fists, flashed thumbs up, mouthed ‘Thank you,’ chanted ‘Trump! Trump! Trump!’ and hung on the candidate’s every word — often with looks of ecstasy and some visibly trembling.
“Trump captivated them with words that were alternately desperate and violent: “Our country is going to hell. . . . We’re sitting on a very big, fat, ugly, bubble. . . . We’re like the lap dog for the world. . . . Drugs are pouring across. . . . They’re chopping off heads. . . . You see so many people being killed. . . . The jobs are being sucked out. . . . We’re losing with everybody.
“Twice he said that in a Trump presidency they could “relax” while he defeated the Islamic State and beat the world in trade. ‘We’re gonna become rich again,’ he promised. ‘We’re gonna become great again.’ From the passionate cheers sounding around me, I knew they believed him.”
Part III – Allied Groups
The true believers are not the only people who will vote for Donald Trump. There will be some Republicans who will vote that party ticket not really knowing or caring who is representing it. They are “knee-jerk” party loyalists whose family and friends have been Republicans for generations and vote that way, literally out of habit (the Democrats have their own version of this phenomenon). There are allied constituencies of fanatics such as fundamentalist Christians who hate alleged Democratic atheists and there are neo-anarchists who hate the federal government. And then there are those who are just confused. They have their complaints that seem never to be addressed, they witness repetitive scandals and corruption, and all of this tempts them to vote for the candidate who promises to bring “real” change. All of these allied groups will vote for Mr. Trump.
However, Trump himself seems most bonded to his true believer supporters, and this makes him all the more dangerous. Perhaps the source of that bond is the fact that the true believers don’t care about constitutional protections and the rule of law, and one gets the sense that neither do Mr. Trump and his close advisers.
Will all these discontented people be enough to get Mr. Trump elected? Perhaps. The probability goes up or down to the extent that the Democrats do or don’t manage to turn out a sufficient number of their own supporters on election day. In other words, the contest is Hillary Clinton’s to lose.
Part IV – Consequences
There is the question of just how much damage can Trump (and his followers) do regardless of whether he is elected. If he is elected he may be able to enact his destructive policies or he may be hemmed in by a Congress that will be less radical and by governors who are more cautious.
.If he is not elected, how much of a reaction will there be? There will certainly be accusations that the election was stolen from him, that the fix was in and the Democrats cheated. The true believers will truly believe this. They will grumble and maybe take to the streets in a scattered, uncoordinated way. There might be some intermingling here with supporters of Bernie Sanders, some of whom can also qualify as disappointed true believers. But then, most likely, the true believers will retreat back into the fringes of society to await the next charismatic leader who can rally them. And, given both traditional parties’ (Republicans and Democrats) historical inability to reform the country’s capitalist, imperialist and racist ways of doing things, that next time is bound to come
New Anti-Semitism and its Background— An Analysis (26 August 2016) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Background to Today’s Anti-Semitism
It has been 71 years since the end of the Holocaust. Initially, the world took that horror show as a serious lesson, and the international community created laws against acts of genocide. Those who, even after the public revelation of the Nazi killing fields, still held anti-Semitic opinions kept them to themselves, and as time passed, this particular form of bigotry seemed to be fading away. And, indeed, that might have been its fate if it weren’t for the strange fact that some of the victims of anti-Semitism, in this case a subset of the Jews known as Zionists (those devoted to the founding of a Jewish state), proved susceptible to catching the disease of their oppressors. The Zionists took up their own form of virulent bigotry against Palestinians, and in reaction, this encouraged a new round of anti-Semitism.
It is a complicated history, but here are some of the particulars that stand out: Israel, created in 1948 in response to anti-Semitism in general and the Holocaust in particular, became the “Jewish state.” Its Zionist leaders were dedicated to the “ingathering” of all Jews into one national entity. And, before you knew it, they were attempting to ethnically cleanse Palestinians and other non-Jews from the land under Israel’s control so as to make room for this “ingathering.”
Such behavior on the part of Zionist Jews was much too reminiscent of their own historical victimization. It created a vigorous anti-Zionist reaction, not only among the Palestinians, but also among increasing numbers of enlightened Jews and others of good will. However, it also created fertile ground for isolated anti-Semites to come out of the closet, as it were, and again become publicly active.
Indeed, we now have the situation where the more anti-Palestinian the Israelis become, the more anti-Semitism they engender. Of course the Zionists (mistaking longevity for permanence) have always claimed that anti-Semitism is an eternal quality of the Christian West, as if it was something genetic. This is nonsense, but it does allow them to maintain the claim that anti-Semitism would be an ever-growing and threatening reality regardless of their own bigoted behavior.
Part II – A U.S.-Based Case Study
As an example of the kind of anti-Semitism popping up these days in the United States we can consider the case of the African American assistant professor of rhetoric and composition Joy Karega at Oberlin College. Dr. Karega seems to be the type of personality prone to understanding the world in terms of conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, those who understand a complex world in terms of oversimple plots are not rare. If you are interested in learning how such a mindset can slip easily into bigotry I recommend Stephen Bronner’s The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists (Yale University Press, 2014)
As Joy Karega’s case makes clear, having a higher education is no guarantee against such distorted thinking. Dr. Karega has recently used Facebook and Twitter to make her theories publicly known. As it turns out, she sees Jews at the center of many such conspiracies. For instance, according to Dr. Karega, “Rothschild”-inspired manipulators control banks, media and the U.S. government. She blames U.S.-Israeli conspiracies for the 9/11 attacks, the downing of the Malaysian airliner over the Ukraine, and terrorist attacks in France. Again, according to Dr. Karega, the “Rothschild-led banksters” are “staving off the coming global deflationary depression [by] implementing the World War III option.” While most would rightly dismiss these views as, to put it politely, less than well thought out, Dr. Karega claims they fall within the categories of “contested and controversial” knowledge.
Much of the debate resulting from these postings revolves around issues of free speech and academic freedom. Because Dr. Karega put forth her views on social media, she is covered by the First Amendment right of free speech. There is nothing illegal about what she said or how she said it. The First Amendment, however, is like an insurance policy that only partially covers you. It protects a person from government censorship. However, there are no First Amendment rights vis-a-vis nongovernmental institutions such as Oberlin College.
Yet there is still the issue of “academic freedom.” Initially, Oberlin College’s president, Marvin Krislov, characterized Dr. Karega’s statements as falling within the realm of “academic freedom” and therefore beyond the Oberlin’s ability to control. I am not sure that academic freedom is the correct category to use in this case. Apparently, Dr. Karega has made none of these conspiracy statements in Oberlin classrooms or within her published scholarly work or at academic conferences. So in what way are her social media posts “academic”?
Even if academic freedom is not applicable here, one can take the position that, as long as she maintains a strict division between these personal opinions and her academic work, Oberlin’s administration should not care about or act on what Dr. Karega says on Facebook or Twitter. That is probably President Krislov’s preferred position, but, alas, he and his school are being forced in a different direction.
In the West, including the U.S., the issue of anti-Semitism is still a highly sensitive one. For many it is seen as one of the worst examples of dangerous bigotry. That is certainly the case for those members of university and college boards of trustees – to say nothing of donors – who happen to be Jewish and/or Zionist. Oberlin is not immune to this fact. And so, the college’s president has quickly come under pressure from the Oberlin’s trustees to get rid of Dr. Karega because she is an anti-Semitic embarrassment. On the other hand, she is popular with the college’s black student body, and they, sensitive to different, African American-centered issues, are pressuring not only for retaining her, but for her guaranteed tenure.
President Krislov, caught between these two forces, has placed Dr. Karega on paid leave (thus removing her from the classroom) and retreated to the position that Oberlin is “required to follow established academic procedures when addressing questions regarding an individual faculty member.” In the face of this move, Dr. Karega is “deferring to her lawyer.”
In the meantime, President Krislov asserts that “our community will address the issues raised in this situation by honoring the essence of liberal arts education at Oberlin by interrogating assertions with facts and deep, critical thinking from multiple viewpoints.” This is a good idea, particularly when it comes to the allegations of fact inherent in Dr. Karega’s conspiracy theories. A campus-wide open debate that allows accurate knowledge to be brought to bear about how banking, media and government work, what happened on 9/11, and how the Malaysian airliner was shot down, etc. ought to be able to debunk Dr. Karega’s “controversial and contested” knowledge while also showing up the flaws, foibles and often the downright corrupt way many government and corporate officials can act.
In the end, Dr. Karega will probably be bought out of Oberlin and most probably not get another academic job. However, she may make a good living, at least for a while, on the speaker’s circuit. It is unlikely that her case will settle the debate over academic freedom, anti-Semitism, and opposition to Israel’s criminal behavior.
Part III – Institutional Bigotry Gives License to Anti-Semitism
Putting Joy Karega’s fate aside, let us also ask about the state of mind of those Zionist Jews who are ever on the watch for anti-Semites and see in Joy Karega proof that the State of Israel is still necessary to Jewish survival.
Keep in mind that instances of anti-Semitism of the sort displayed in the Karega case are isolated and do not reflect the actions of organized or institutionalized forces. They are indeed offensive and deserve to be condemned, but they do not threaten the rights of Jews as citizens of the United States. Also, in the opinion of this writer, the charge that such cases reflect a dangerous anti-Jewish atmosphere on college campuses is wildly exaggerated. On the other hand, as noted at the beginning of this analysis, much of this sort of anti-Semitism has been encouraged by the actions of yet another sort of bigotry that is organized and institutionalized. That is the bigotry inherent in the ideology of Zionism and the practice of ethnic cleansing by the Israeli state. This sort of bigotry does threaten the rights, and often the lives, of Palestinians living under Israeli rule.
Zionists who decry the anti-Semitism of Dr. Karega should be called out for holding obvious double standards. The protections they demand from anti-Semitic bigotry are protections they should also demand for non-Jews against Israeli bigotry. But most do not do this. They find hypocrisy a necessary cover for their own biases. Yet by dissembling in this fashion they actually create an environment that gives license to folks like Joy Karega while simultaneously undermining the foundation upon which a college like Oberlin is built – the principles of “interrogating assertions with facts and deep, critical thinking from multiple viewpoints.”
From Charity to Mayhem – An Analysis (16 July 2016) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – An Overdependence on Charity
I have been watching my postal mail more closely than usual. Like most other people, I rarely get personal letters in the postal mail – those having been shifted over to e-mail. So what is left to keep the United States Postal Service in business? It adds up to advertisements, the occasional bill and, most noticeably, non-stop charitable solicitations. My address has been receiving, on average, four such solicitations a day. Given our six-day delivery schedule, that makes 24 a week. That is over 1,200 solicitations a year. This is not atypical. What can such a deluge possibly mean?
For one thing, it suggests that there are a wide array of community-related projects that are underfunded or simply not funded at all by public monies. These include various forms of medical research; local arts, including orchestras, theaters, and museums; parks and wildlife causes; animal shelters and rescue services; various sorts of poor-relief organizations such as the Salvation Army and Good Will; civil and human rights groups; women’s shelters; and volunteer fire companies.The list seems endless.
In the U.S. this process of charitable solicitation has become a big business. There is an article in then 14 July 2016 New York Review of Books entitled “The Undermining of American Charity.” According to the article, the “second most popular charity” in the U.S., in terms of donated dollars, is Fidelity Charitable, a branch of Fidelity Investments that acts as a “middleman” between “individual client accounts” and the charities they wish to support. Fidelity holds the money and, of course, “manages” it for profit until the clients instruct the firm how to distribute the funds. Fidelity can also help the donor save on taxes by timing out donations. The charges and fees for all this make these “donor advised funds” money makers for “big finance.” The authors of the NYRB essay don’t like this turn of events. They feel that too much of the charitable funds are being “hoarded” by such institutions as Fidelity in order to maximize profits. Charities end up with less.
Part II – An Underdependence on Government
Of course, someone was bound to turn charity into big business in an economy and culture that prioritizes the making of profit. However, that apparent inevitability aside, what lesson can be learned from the large and growing role played by charitable solicitations in the United States? An answer can be found in the proposition that, to the extent that a society is dependent on charity to satisfy community needs, the proper role of government is not being realized.
This conclusion is based on a commonsense social democratic point of view – one that assumes that the collective (working through government) has a responsibility to support activities that reflect important community interests. This is, ultimately, one of the purposes of government. Most of the charities soliciting funds through the U.S. Mail would fit into this category of activities.
Part III – A Perverse Philosophy
It is significant that, in the U.S., reluctance to use government to own up to this responsibility is rationalized in the name of “freedom” from economic restraint and taxes. That is, the perverse American philosophy of radical individualism preaches that government should not be responsible for community needs beyond supporting the justice system, national defense and the enforcement of contracts. Everything else is the individual’s responsibility. Such a scheme, at least in theory, gives the citizen the “right” to “get rich” as well as the “right” to endure a lifetime of poverty.
As just suggested, this socio-economic state of affairs is packaged as the secret of success in the “land of opportunity,” where millions come to “make their fortune.” But there is a very high, yet under-recognized cost: a growing loss of any sense of responsibility to a greater holistic community. One is reminded of one of Margaret Thatcher’s more ridiculous public statements (for the United Kingdom too has been infected by this philosophy of radical individualism) that there is no such thing as society. There are only individuals.
The most obvious consequence of this flawed approach is the pervasive alienation that at once reflects and causes the fractionalization of society. Because they are left adrift from a holistic national community (except, perhaps, when confronted by an alleged foreign enemy), Americans have learned to make do with tribal-like relationships based on local and regional identifications (particularly in the South), gender, class, race, and/or fraternal loyalties based on occupation (like the police).
We are also left with an environment where there are no longer adequate safety nets, because the funding of such things requires a deeper sense of government responsibility to a community than the prevailing individualistic philosophy allows for. As time goes by, the greater community breaks down into winners and losers and things can turn ugly. To wit: a continuing economic stagnation of African American and other minority group neighborhoods; the growing dislike of the police, who are given the job of defending a wholly inadequate status quo; the reciprocated negative feelings displayed by the police (whose own collective identity resembles that of a college fraternity) for those who challenge the system; and outbursts of violence within this disordered yet armed setting – very much in the character of the country’s recently witnessed mayhem.
Part IV – Conclusion
Thus, it would seem that there is a connection between the ubiquitous institutional begging done through the postal system and the deterioration of U.S. society we are now witnessing. The charitable solicitations that flood American mailboxes are futile efforts to bandaid over a socio-economic affliction. However, charity is not the answer to American society’s ills, much less those of the world at large. Those ills reflect systems’ problems and, in the case of the U.S., a philosophy that denies the reality that humans are social animals who have collective needs. Simply put, the government has, as a matter of perverse principle, abandoned responsibility for its multifaceted community’s welfare.
To address this affliction Americans need to scrap the entire idea of radical individualism and replace it with a community-minded version of social democracy. How likely is that? Well, I would not hold my breath. A lot of individuals are getting rich through the abandonment of the greater community. Yet, Bernie Sanders’s 12 million supporters is (or is it, was) a good sign.
Hillary Clintons Platform Follies – An Analysis (7 July 2016) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – A Self-Destructive Tactic?
There has been close coordination between the Democratic Partys presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and those representing her on the committee shaping the partys platform. It is here that a battle was waged with reformers representing Bernie Sanders over party positions on a large number of important issues. The positions and behavior of those acting as Clinton proxies can therefore provide a window into her attitude toward the movement Sanders has launched.
The platform committee sessions quickly became confrontations with the supporters of Bernie Sanders, and resulted in a successful effort to stymie his reform agenda for the Democratic Party. This was done despite the political danger such a tactic of frustration represents – dangerous because Sanders has some 12 million supporters, many of whom are not yet convinced that Hillary Clinton deserves their vote. Thus, what may turn out to be a politically self-destructive game-plan on her part requires some explanation. Here is one possible way of understanding her actions.
Part II – Who is Hillary Clinton?
Hillary Clinton has pursued the presidency for almost a decade with a tenacious determination. She almost achieved the nomination in 2008 only to lose to Barack Obama. That led to an eight-year stifling of this ambition. Finally, in the long run-up to the 2016 election, she was convinced the nomination was hers. She had lined up her own partys leadership, the Chuck Schumers and Nancy Pelosis, and found it relatively easy to match her own policy preferences with theirs. Ahead of her, she believed, was a relatively easy road to the White House through the defeat of a fractionalized Republican Party led by an opposition candidate who, it would seem, had limited appeal.
Then along came Bernie Sanders, whose energetic and timely social democratic approach to long-standing U.S. problems threatened to steal the Democratic Party show. His positions were not hers, nor did they conform to the tastes of the party leadership. This latest complication must have exasperated Clinton. Even after she won enough delegates to assure her nomination, she still could not get rid of Sanders. And, his persistence, combined with just enough popularity to demand her and the party leaderships attention, threatens even now to compromise her upcoming contest with the Republicans.
Clintons response to all of this is in part shaped by her bedrock alliance with party leaders. They certainly oppose Sanderss reformist aims. However, more than any of these intra-party considerations, her response is shaped by her own personality, which causes her to be determined to make the presidential run, and play out the subsequent White House tenure, on her own terms.
So, what is to be said about Hillary Clintons personality? In an essay by Audrey Immelman, published in 2001 by the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics of St. Johns University in Minnesota, a discussion of Clintons dominant traits is taken up. Here are some of the conclusions: Hillary Clinton is an aggressive and controlling personality; when she makes up her mind about something, she loses interest in other peoples points of view; she is often impatient; she lacks empathy and can act harshly to those seen as standing in her way; she has boundary problems due to her excessive level of self-confidence – that is, when she knows she is right, she doesnt like the idea that there are limits that she has to abide by.
Given these traits, one can imagine what she thinks of Bernie Sanders and his challenge to her ambitions. She is, of course, forced to deal with him, but she will seek the cheapest price necessary to buy him and his supporters off. Her Democratic Party allies seem to agree with this strategy, and this means that Sanders will get little more than words from both Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party leaders.
Part III – Thinking That Words Will Suffice
And indeed, that is what is happening. To see a run-down on how Clintons strategy plays out, plank by plank of the proposed party platform, go to William Boardmans 28 June 2016 essay Platform for Deception – Democrats at Work. Boardman clearly shows that Clinton and her allies are playing a smoke and mirrors game with the party platform. They pay lip service to almost all of Sanders demands, but in almost every case refuse to commit to any policy programs for change. It is as if Clinton and her allies are saying to Sanders and his supporters, You can make us pronounce platitudes, but when it comes to practice, you cannot make us do anything. Policy formulation is not your business. Having drawn this line in the sand, the Democratic spin doctors have started calling the resulting vacuous platform a progressive triumph. For instance, according to the Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the result is a platform draft that advances our partys progressive ideals and is worthy of our great country.
The probability that this will satisfy either Bernie Sanders or his roughly 12 million supporters is close to zero. Sanders himself has pledged to take the fight for a progressive and reformist platform on to the floor of the Democratic convention. Whether they like it or not, were going to open the doors of the Democratic Party, he announced. This pledge may lead to the most raucous Democratic Party convention since 1968.
Part IV – Playing Hard Ball
So how are Hillary Clinton and her Democratic Party allies, people like Schumer and Pelosi, likely to react to a convention floor challenge? Keep in mind that these are not people who are used to being confronted or defied. And they certainly arent fellow reformers. All of them, including Hillary Clinton, who sold her soul to the Democratic Party when she became a senator from New York in 2001, are systems people. That is, they are creatures of the very system that Sanders wants radically overhauled. You dont usually get leaders bred to a particular organizational environment ready and willing to cooperate in its deconstruction. Rather, they will fight, sometimes ruthlessly, to maintain the status quo from whence they draw their power and influence.
Here is how this confrontation may play out: Sanders will indeed make a stand at the Democratic Convention at the end of July 2016. Here there is likely to be a replay, this time in public, of the frustrating sessions of the platform committee. Issues will be briefly debated (Clintons people will control the gavel), this time in front of a national audience. There may be some further concessions on wording coming from Clinton, but no commitments to specific policies. In other words, the Sanders delegates will be defeated and yet another notable effort at reform will probably pass into history.
Throughout this process, Clinton and her allies will repeatedly insist that the real concern is not progressive reforms (they will claim that their smoke and mirrors platform already has addressed those concerns) but rather the danger of party disunity in the face of the challenge offered by Donald Trump. This will paint the Sanders people as possible spoilers and, ultimately, force Sanders to choose between pushing his progressive program and defending the country against the Republican right wing. Since Sanders is already publicly committed to the latter objective, all Clinton and the Democratic leaders believe they have to do is go through the convention practicing damage control. Then they turn to Sanders and say, Are you going to back us or do you want to help Trump win?
Bernie Sanders is indeed in a tough spot. In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post appearing on 23 June 2016, he spelled out his penultimate aim this way: What do we want? We want to end the rapid movement that we are currently experiencing toward oligarchic control of our economic and political life. What Clinton and the Democratic leadership are forcing Sanders to do is chose between oligarchies – The Democratic Party one or the Republican Party one – which is exactly the unsatisfactory choice voters have had all along. For Sanders, this is going to be a very bitter pill to swallow. He is 74 years old and this is likely his final battle for meaningful change.
Part V – Conclusion
Why all this to-do over a non-binding platform document? Perhaps because, for a short but critical time, you have 12 million voters taking it seriously – seriously in a way that may cause damage to Clintons presidential ambitions. Yet her blinding self-confidence wont let her consider this possibility, and that myopia is why she refuses to make substantive compromises to Sanders. She is sure she can co-opt his followers with promises and high-sounding declarations. She also probably sees her Republican opponent as such a loud-mouthed fool that she knows that, if she holds Sanders at bay, moderate Republicans will turn to her rather than simply staying home on voting day. Maybe. However, though she fails to see the point, her ultimate victory is not at all a sure thing.
Clintons weakness is just that which she considers her great strength – her self-assured conviction, her certainty that she knows what she is doing. She knows that her opportunity for success is at hand and she knows how to grasp it. There is a word for this sort of over-confidence, this overweening sense of power that prevents meaningful compromise – it is hubris – the pride that goes before a fall.
So we have a fair idea of what Hillary and her political allies will do. We know that Sanders has pledged to help “badly” defeat Trump. The only unknown is what the 12 million supporters of the Sanders movement for reform will do. In theory, if a sufficient number of these people can find new leaders and hold themselves together, hitting the streets in a coordinated and continuous way right through the November election, they have a chance of scaring at least some of the Democratic leaders into a progressive path. But that is theory, and Practice is always a more difficult endeavor.
Paul Ryan’s Economic Plan – An Analysis (28 June 2016) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – The Plan
Some Americans have decided that Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is a “moderate” who might have a restraining effect on GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. This might be because Ryan’s language is less combative and contentious than Trump’s. But this is dangerously misleading, for the Speaker’s apparent moderation is an illusion. The truth is that regardless of his choice of words, what Ryan stands for is as disastrously radical as the positions of Trump and the rest of the right-wing Republicans.
America’s “newspaper of record,” the New York Times has caught on to this fact. In an editorial on Ryan’s “economic agenda,” published on 19 June 2016, theTimes tells us that Ryan’s vision for the U.S. economy is centered around a single, allegedly cure-all idea: “roll back hundreds of federal regulations that protect consumers, investors, employees, borrowers, students, and the environment.” The paper characterizes this as a “corporate wish list.” Ryan claims that this radical vision of deregulation is in line with Donald Trump’s own economic agenda. Thus, electing Trump and maintaining Republican control over the Congress would most likely result in Ryan’s plan being realized. The Speaker thinks this would lead to a period of economic growth that would benefit everyone – an economic utopia. However, this prognosis is also an illusion.
Part II – Another Gilded Age Dystopia
In truth Ryan’s plan would result in an economic dystopia – a society characterized by human misery. This assertion is not based on simple disdain for Republican Party posturing. It is based on history – a history of which Ryan apparently knows little. It is based on the fact that Ryan’s deregulated economic experiment has already taken place and proved to be catastrophic. That is why the U.S. now has the regulatory system it does today.
What the House Speaker apparently wants to do is resurrect the so-called Gilded Age. That was the period of American history following the Civil War when the economy grew rapidly but in an unregulated fashion. If you will, the Gilded Age economy operated apart from the rule of law, unless of course you believe in the ideologically posited “laws” of capitalism and the mystical notion of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” guiding the marketplace.
During this period of U.S. history a small class of entrepreneurs got very rich (their mansions and palatial grounds can still be visited today). But they operated with no reference to the basic human needs, or safety, of the community they lived in. And so, in their own lifetime they were both envied and denounced, and soon became known as “robber barons.”
The entire historical episode had a terrible dark side. If you think consumer vulnerability is a problem today, it was much, much worse in the era before regulation. For instance: most medicines (“patent medicines” often called “snake oil”) were sold in adulterated condition; food products were also adulterated with cheapened or impure ingredients; child labor was widespread; unions were considered a form of restraint of trade; there was no minimum wage; there were no safety standards for workers; monopoly enterprises grew; banking practices led to one panic after another, running into the 20th century, and finally culminating in the Great Depression; there was rampant job instability; railroad practices ruined farmers in the Midwest; land, sea and air were polluted without restraint. This is the sort of conditions that arise in the absence of economic rules and regulations.
Paul Ryan acts as if he knows nothing of this dark side. And perhaps he really doesn’t. He is an ideologue, and as such he cares more about his laissez faire ideology than he does about historic reality. He “knows” only what is filtered through the theoretical scheme to which he adheres. So it should come as no surprise that a free market ideologue such as Ryan has idealized, indeed has romanticized, the Gilded Age of economic expansion to such an extent that, for him, this distorted vision of the national past has been resurrected as a model for the national future. And how do we get back to this economic utopia? By eliminating all regulation and thereby turning the henhouse over to the foxes.
Part III – America’s Comfort Zone
The New York Times editorial asserts that “the American people are unlikely to be comfortable” with Ryan’s economic plans. Of course, “American people” is an unwieldy generalization. Certainly many of Donald Trump’s supporters are backing him because of what they perceive as government interference in their lives. These individuals exaggerate individual instances of conflict with this or that regulation into a near hatred of all regulation. Many others will support Trump for different reasons and won’t even bother to give serious thought to Ryan’s economic scheme. Presently, Trump and Clinton are running nearly even in several key states. Will this continue? If so, could it be that the Times has misjudged what the majority of the voting public might find “comfortable”?
Part IV – Conclusion
Never underestimate the power of dogma when propagandistically spread about among people who do not know much history. As the propaganda spreads out, dogma replaces reality. Thinking automatically narrows. Of course, the Democrats will try to counter the GOP worldview, but they also are opportunists. If Ryan’s passion for deregulation catches on, perhaps the Democrats will come up with their own compromise version of the Speaker’s scheme.
The most exasperating part of all this is that the likely consequences of much of Republican thinking has been seen before and we therefore know where it leads. Thus, it bears repeating that what in Ryan’s vision is a utopia has already been historically proven to be its opposite – a dystopia. The haunting refrain that history is bound to repeat itself is true only if we let it be so. And when our leaders’ plans and schemes spell predictable disaster – well, only the self-deluded and the truly ignorant would go there.
Getting It Wrong about the Orlando Massacre – An Analysis (20 June 2016) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – This Is Not about Islam
Though it seems to fit the political agendas of both Republicans and Democrats, the assertion that the shooter responsible for the Orlando massacre was motivated by the Islamic State (ISIS) is certainly wrong. This conclusion is supported by the recent testimony of CIA Chief John Brennan before the Senate intelligence committee. He said that the CIA has found no connection between Omar Mateen, the man who gunned down over one hundred people at a gay nightclub in Orlando Florida on 13 June 2016, and any terrorist group. Thus, it makes more sense that this was a hate crime against gay people facilitated by gun laws that are demonstrably not in the interest of the citizens of the United States.
If this is so, why would Mateen claim on a 911 call, and later on a call to a television station, that he was slaughtering all these people in the name of ISIS? Can we take him literally on this? I don’t think so. Just ask yourself, Why would an alleged ISIS-inspired radical “Islamist” shoot up a gay nightclub full of Puerto Ricans?
Here is my theory to explain those phone calls and the ISIS claim. In Mateen’s mind, connecting his slaughter to ISIS was emotionally satisfying. He could convince himself that this political rationale would bring him praise rather than shame within the small and violent “Muslim” subculture with which he seemed to identify. However, his target belies this claim. It is far fetched that ISIS would select a gay nightclub in a middle-sized Florida city as a target. No, this was a personal act on Mateen’s part, motivated by a hatred of gay people, perhaps stemming from his own conflicted sexual feelings. However, if he explained his actions as an act against gays, later investigation might discover those conflicted feels, and that would certainly lead to shame in the sight of that same subculture. So he identified the whole thing with ISIS as a kind of false trail – a cover-up, if you will, to delude himself and others.
There are at least two other unnamed accomplices in this slaughter. One is the Christian right who have long sought to promote an anti-gay climate across the nation. As ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio noted soon after the massacre, “the Christian Right has introduced 200 anti-LGBT bills in the last six months.” He concluded that it was not Islam, but rather “Christian homophobia” that contributed to the Orlando tragedy.
A second accomplice is even more culpable, and that accomplice is the nation’s criminally inadequate gun laws. Mateen had easy access to a weapon that could do maximum damage in the crowded, confined space of the Orlando nightclub. This easy access to guns is the common denominator that places Mateen’s action squarely in line with the hundreds of other gun deaths, singular and multiple, that have occurred in the U.S. in recent years.
Part II – Awful Responses
The politicized responses to Mateen’s awful act have themselves been awful.
Donald Trump unashamedly used the tragedy for political profit. “We’ve got problems,” he said and then identified these with Muslims both at home and abroad. He repeated his demand that Muslims be banned from entering the U.S. He also implicitly blamed the Muslim community now living in the country for recent acts of violence by individual Muslims. Trump made this charge based on the assumption that the American Muslim community is not turning in the alleged terrorists in their midst. Actually, when it comes to the Orlando incident, this is not true. The authorities had been alerted about Omar Mateen multiple times, both from Muslim and non-Muslim sources, but at that time the authorities did not judge him enough of a threat to warrant arrest. Trump made no reference to this fact. One might also wonder how far Mr. Trump wants to take this proposed community responsibility. Does he expect the American Christian community to start taking responsibility for shooters coming from their ranks? After all, they account for most of these kind of slaughters.
In any case, Trump’s reaction was selective at best. The presumptive Republican candidate simply ignored the possibility that the Orlando massacre could have been a hate crime against gays. He certainly made no mention of the need for much stricter gun control.
It should be noted that Trump’s position melds with that of the more fanatical U.S. Islamophobes, a good number of whom are, unfortunately, also fanatical Zionists. Take for instance the words of Daniel Pipes: “Omar Mateen’s obvious motives are almost ignored. … It’s time for the authorities to focus on Islamism as the problem, rather than bizarrely insisting Islam has nothing to do with it.” This is just typical distortion on Pipes’s part. What is truly bizarre is the attempt to conflate Mateen’s insanity with the entire religion of 1.6 billion mostly law-abiding Muslims.
Pipes was joined in his distortion by none other than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We are all shocked by the terrible massacre in Orlando,” Netanyahu proclaimed, adding, “Islamic terror threatens the entire world and all enlightened nations need to unite in order to fight against it.” It goes without saying that he ignored his own country’s brand of terrorism.
And then there was the response of Hillary Clinton. The majority of her remarks right after the massacre were not that different from Trump’s. She concentrated on the need to destroy ISIS even though its leaders were certainly more in the dark about Mateen’s violent potential than were local authorities in Florida. Like Trump, Clinton was maneuvering for political advantage here. She too seems uninterested in the fact that the vast number of these murder sprees in the U.S. over the last couple of decades have been carried out not Muslims, but by white Christian males. In addition, it was only after much talk about “jihadists” that she threw in a brief reference to a truly relevant topic – public access to assault rifles.
Part III – Conclusion
The only reason that U.S. politicians can get away with pinning the violence in Orlando on Muslims is because they, and their constituents, live in ignorance and denial. The truth is that most Americans rely for their news and opinions on media sources which are at best shallow and at worse are manipulative and propagandizing. Often, these media sources are bereft of logical thinking as well.
Unfortunately, your average media editors and reporters do not know much more than their audiences when it comes to non-local affairs. They get their information from the government, politicized “talking heads,” biased think-tanks, and news or “wire” service sources. This leaves all of us open to unwarranted exaggeration and fear, as well as the deemphasizing of selective topics deemed too politically or socially “sensitive.”
We should always keep in mind that the United States is not a democracy of individual citizens. It is a democracy of competing interest groups which use lobbies to pressure government (local, state and federal) as well as media to substitute their parochial interests for community or national interests. Presently, fear and distortion generated by neoconservative, Zionist and Islamophobe interest groups are influencing the storyline, the “spin,” on the sort of violence we have seen in Orlando. The National Rifle Association – that is, the gun lobby – is successfully pushing to minimize the issue of inadequate gun control.
And there you have it. If these interest groups prevail, the proper and needed steps to deal with the violence epidemic in the U.S. will not be taken. That means more carnage is in America’s future no matter who ends up in the White House.
Two “Presumptive” Presidential Candidates: Bigots All Around – An Analysis (11 June 2016) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Bigotry and High Office
To find bigots in political office in the United States is not historically unusual. In fact, up until the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement, publicly recognizable bigots in office was the norm in many parts of the country. Even in the post-1960s era we find presidents such as Nixon and Reagan who could be openly bigoted. However, most recent office holders have known enough to keep their prejudices off of the public airwaves.
It is a sign of the fragility of the changes in national character wrought by the Civil Rights Movement that the inhibitions holding back public expressions of bigotry are wearing thin. And that has set the scene for the current contest for the presidency in which both major parties have thrown up (no pun intended) bigoted candidates. Yes, that is right, two of them, not just one.
Part II – Mr. Trump’s Bigotry
On the Republican side the bigot is easy to spot. That is because Donald Trump wears his bigotry on his sleeve, so to speak. He can’t help but display it because, apparently even at this late date, he doesn’t understand what the big deal is. On the campaign trail he has insulted Mexicans, Muslims and “our African-Americans,” and gotten away with it because millions of his supporters are also bigots. A common bigotry is one of the reasons they cheer him on. However, now that he is the “presumptive” Republican candidate for president, much of that party’s leadership and their media allies have begun to call him on these problematic public expressions. They want to see Trump act “presidential,” hiding away his prejudices for the sake of achieving maximum appeal. Alas, this is not easy for a man who, all of his life, said what he thought, no matter how improper. He sees it as “just being honest,” and up until the run for president, his wealth had helped forestall most public criticism.
Part III – Ms Clinton’s Bigotry
On the Democratic side the bigot is not so easy to spot, but the problem exists in any case. Hillary Clinton may not be a bigot in the same way as Trump. She certainly isn’t going to go about insulting ethnic groups with large numbers of potential voters. Indeed, she has cultivated many minority groups and is supported by them. But such outreach has its limits, and in one important case she is willing to act as a de facto bigot in order to cater to a politically powerful interest group. Having actively done so, the difference in ethical behavior between her and Mr. Trump starts to blur.
In what way is Hillary Clinton, now the “presumptive” presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, behaving like a de facto bigot? She does so in her open, prosecutorial hostility toward the fight to liberate Palestinians from the racist oppression of Israel and its Zionist ideology. Clinton, having in this case traded whatever principled anti-racist feelings she has for a fistful of campaign dollars, has openly sided with the Zionists. And, as she must well know, they are among the world’s most demonstrative bigots. Having made this alliance, she praises Israel as a democratic state upholding the highest ideals and ignores or justifies the illegal and blatantly racist treatment of its Palestinian population. In fact, she wants to reward Israel for its racist behavior and policies by pretending that to do so is to assist in the necessary self-defense of the Zionist state.
At the same time, Ms Clinton is willing to attack those who fight against Israeli bigotry, particularly in the form of the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement. Disregarding U.S. law, she has pledged herself to destroy the BDS movement even if she has to rip to shreds the First Amendment of the Constitution to do it. And – here is the irony of it all – she claims she has taken this position in order to fight anti-Semitism, one of history’s most pronounced bigotries.
This rationale, that she backs a state full of infamous bigots in the name of defending against bigotry, is just so much sophistry. If there is an increase in the number of anti-Semites in today’s world, we can thank Zionist racism for that development. However, anti-Semitism does not motivate the BDS movement, which in the U.S. is backed by a large and growing number of Jews. No, the reason Clinton has targeted BDS is because it has proved an effective weapon against Israeli racism, and therefore her Zionist allies have oriented her in that direction.
The problem for Hillary is that if you ally with bigots and actively do their bidding, you too become a de facto bigot. Unlike Trump, who may or may not understand the offensive nature of his behavior, Clinton knows exactly what she is doing. Trump is a bigot by upbringing and social conditioning. Hillary is a bigot by choice. I will leave it to the reader to decide who is worse.
Part IV – Ultimately, Gender Is Immaterial
There are many considerations that go into choosing the candidate for whom to vote come November. If she plays her cards right, Ms Clinton may win over enough of the Sanders supporters to defeat Trump. However, if you are inclined to vote for Hillary, don’t kid yourself that what your are going to get is an upright, ethical president unwilling to adopt openly bigoted policies against vulnerable and long suffering peoples. Ms Clinton has clearly abandoned such standards of behavior.
Many will respond that, political expediency aside, she is a viable woman candidate and that as such she opens the way for greater female access to the highest offices in the land. This is true. However, taken too far, it is also a naive argument. The U.S. political system is deeply mired in corrupt ways of doing business. At this time in its history, just about any citizen willing to follow these flawed pathways can operate successfully – be they women or ethnic minorities. But adherence to rules of the political game is the price of playing the game. Ms Clinton has paid her dues, she has proven herself a reliable supporter of this corrupt system. As a consequence, having Hillary as president will not result in any significant changes to the system or its priorities. Her gender is immaterial.
The truth of the matter is that Hillary Clinton, like her Republican opponent, has devolved into an unprincipled opportunist with a growing self-centered myopia thrown into the mix. If she becomes president she will almost certainly be aggressive in her foreign policy, perhaps renewing the Cold War, undermining the Iran nuclear agreement, and embroiling the country in new wars. If the Republicans maintain their hold on Congress, she will be just as stymied in her domestic policy as was President Obama. In her role as a system politician, she may not be dangerous to the nation in the same way as Donald Trump, but she will prove dangerous nonetheless. And, as many have pointed out, choosing the alleged lesser of two evils still means choosing evil.
The Opportunist and the Fanatics – An Analysis (1 June 2016) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – A Common Denominator
What do opportunists and fanatics have in common? They both chronically exaggerate – the former often to con folks into doing their bidding, and the latter most often because they have already been conned by their own grossly distorted worldview. There are plenty of both types of people in today’s America, and the uncertain political environment has brought a lot of them out of the woodwork. The recent marriage of convenience of the National Rifle Association (NRA) leadership (fanatics) and Donald Trump (opportunist) is a case in point.
Part II – The Fanatics
The NRA is one of the country’s most influential advocacy organizations, with a membership of over 3 million. Its worldview, which can be neatly summed up as “freedom equals unrestricted gun ownership,” almost certainly carries weight beyond its membership numbers. In the wilds of places such as Minnesota, Wyoming and Alabama, NRA principles might carry more weight than the Bible.
Wayne LaPierre is the executive vice president of the NRA and Chris Cox is its executive director for Legislative Action. LaPierre and Cox are typical of NRA stalwarts and we can see them as representative of a good percentage of the organization’s members. On 20 May 2016 both men gave speeches before the NRA convention in Kentucky announcing the association’s endorsement of Donald Trump for president. In his speech Cox spent a lot of time painting a picture of the United States as a place about to lose its “freedoms” if Hillary Clinton gets elected. Here is how he put it: the present political environment in the U.S. is mired in “dishonesty, corruption and contempt for everyday Americans” and the only thing that stands between those “everyday Americans” and “the end of individual freedom in this country” are “gun owners,” who must turn out to vote “in droves this fall.”
Wayne LaPierre painted a similar crisis picture, again emphasizing that it is only the country’s gun owners who stand in the way of catastrophe. Here is how he put it: “We in this room, we are America’s best hope, and this is our moment. In all of history, there’s always been a time and a place when patriots stand up and rise up against the decree of the elites and shout, ‘No more! Get your hands off my freedom!’… That time and place is now. … The revolution to take America back starts here.”
Hillary Clinton was characterized as a “corrupt politician” whose “policies and Supreme Court picks would destroy individual freedoms, and therefore destroy the America we all love.”
According to Cox, Clinton’s vision of the U.S. is a place “where only law enforcement has guns and everything is free: free meals, free health care, free education.” It seems Cox has a real distaste for free access to anything that does not have lethal potential. He likens a society that provides no-cost availability to the items he lists to a prison.
As these sentiments suggest, the NRA’s notion of freedom is harshly reductionist and based on its members’ own idiosyncratic interpretation of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That interpretation is discussed in Part IV below. For the NRA, freedom is the right to own and carry a gun of any type. All other freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights are secondary, probably because without the right to own large numbers of assault rifles, the population cannot defend itself against an American government allegedly bent on dictatorship. Assigning such an exaggerated importance to the right to bear any arms is, of course, a gross distortion of the concept of freedom and demonstrates “contempt” for the ability of U.S. society to function based on the rule of law.
The NRA stalwarts live and breathe this exaggeration. There is something pathological going on here, for their obsession with gun ownership has also spun out conspiracy theories about looming oppression. There is here a general inability to analyze, in any reasonable way, the political and social environment around them. In other words, the NRA devotees are fanatics.
Part III – The Opportunist
The speeches of LaPierre and Cox laid the groundwork for the introduction of Donald Trump – now the NRA’s endorsed candidate for president. Trump’s appearance at the NRA convention marked his official acceptance of the organization’s exaggerated reductionist position. Actually, it was but a culmination – months before, Trump had discarded his more moderate position and, upon launching his campaign for the presidency, almost immediately adopted the NRA’s stance.
Now on stage at the Kentucky convention, he started off with what has become his characteristic patter for things he finds convenient to endorse: “I love the NRA. I love the Second Amendment.” Then he moved on to, essentially, parrot Cox and LaPierre: “The Second Amendment is under a threat like never before. Crooked Hillary Clinton is the most anti-gun … candidate ever to run for office. And, as I said before, she wants to abolish the Second Amendment. She wants to take your guns away. She wants to abolish it.” All of this is a mixture of lies and gross exaggeration. In addition, Trump pledged to “get rid of gun-free zones” because that will make us safer. Trump has claimed that if we all went around armed, the death toll during the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Paris would have been lower. At this point the Huffington Post contacted a number of Trump hotels and found that, lo and behold, most of them remain “gun-free zones.”
The truth is that Trump is an opportunist and a chronic exaggerator. You might say that all politicians fit this bill. However, here we are dealing with a matter of degree, and most the key word is “chronic.” Trump’s practice in this regard is habitual and therefore may be pathological as well.
It is to be noted that this habit of persistently stretching the truth to the breaking point does not make Trump a fanatic. In fact, it causes his thinking and rhetoric to be all over the map. He even tells us that he values “unpredictability,” and this means he is often inconsistent as to how and what he exaggerates. It’s an orientation that precludes fanaticism but lends itself naturally to opportunism.
Part IV – Just What does the Second Amendment Say?
As mentioned above, the NRA has its own peculiar interpretation of the Second Amendment. This piece of the U.S. Constitution reads as follows: “a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
The amendment has two parts, the first part contextualizing the second. The first part reads, “a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State.” The term “militia” here is the late 18th century American way of referring to the military forces of the thirteen states then in the process of becoming the United States. These militias were not private organizations but were controlled by their respective “free State.” That is what “well regulated” meant. The second part implies that these militias were to be democratically derived, that is, the “People” were to “bear arms” so a “well regulated militia” is possible. In other words, the “right to bear arms” is not open-ended or unregulated. It is tied to the maintenance of a regulated, democratically constituted armed force.
Nonetheless, what the NRA and other gun fanatics do is simply drop the contextualizing first part from their interpretation of the amendment. Having done so they are conveniently left with “the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” They put all their emphasis on this second part which, now taken out of context, inevitably distorts the meaning of the Amendment as a whole.
This is the kind of thing that both fanatics and opportunists are good at, and what comes so easily to them – the twisting of a text, and often reality itself, to conform to their point of view.