Friday, September 01, 2017

How the media feeds tribalism

American journalism has taken a beating in the last year, to a large extent by those angry that it's doing its job. "Fake news" has come to be a lazy slur toward any story that reflects poorly on one's tribe.
But what's obscured is the culpability of the increasingly large part of the media that no longer engages in journalism. The part whose sole purpose is to give microphones to divisive windbags and blowhards reading the Script of their tribe.
Most of this part of the media is stuck in the binary narrative that essentially reduces everything to a zero sum gain. It is tribalism plain and simple.

There is no more effective recipe for division than convincing people that social and economic progress is a zero sum gain.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Trumpism is a cult

Not everyone who voted for Donald Trump adheres to his cult, but Trumpism has clearly become a cult.

During last year's presidential campaign, I often noted that Donald Trump's appeal reminded me very much of the sort of naked tribalism westerners associate with the so-called 'third world.' South African comedian Trevor Noah went so far as to describe Trump as America's first African president.

His presidency has shown this to be completely accurate.

Guardian piece interviewed a number of Trump supporters at one of his recent virulent rallies. He is much better at campaigning than at governing.

One woman praised him for being "anti-left, anti-PC, anti-stupid."

She's no 'deplorable', easy for snobs to look their nose down at. She is a senator in the Arizona state legislature.

But her comment perfectly encapsulates Trumpism.

She does not state one positive (in her mind) accomplishment that Trump has made since becoming president. Not one promise kept.

In her eyes, and the eyes of many Trump loyalists, his best quality is how much he hates the left. How much he hates the  "politically correct." How much he hates the media.

His emphasis on hating other Americans is not a flaw, in their eyes, but his greatest virtue. If you press them, it seems to be his only virtue.

This is why they are impervious to any kind of logical argument.

They claimed to oppose Hillary because she was investigated by the FBI but when Trump is investigated by the same, it's a conspiracy. They claimed to be furious at Hillary's handling of emails but ignored Vice-President Pence's similar infractions. They denounced "crooked Hillary" but have no problem with Trump turning the presidency into an extension of his family business (very much like a stereotypical African dictator). They cheered his insistence that he would make Mexico pay for the border wall but are silent when he threatens to shut down the government if the (US) Congress refuses to fund it.

And can you imagine the rage they would launch at any "liberal" with such deep ties to regime hostile to the US? At any "liberal" who defended symbols of anti-US sentiment (Confederate statues)? At any "liberal" who attacked Gold Star families?

The reason for these apparent inconsistencies is simple. All the claims above were not sincere. They were poses. They were pretexts invented to justify what was really a vote for a worldview, far more than a vote for a particular candidate.

That is why that when, he can't deliver on his promises, it never due to any fault of his own. It's the fault of the evil media. Or the powerless Democrats. Or of venal Republicans who don't obey his orders completely.

They could only vote for him for president. They really want to install him as emperor.

Donald Trump is part of their tribe and what he actually does is fairly irrelevant to his most rabid supporters.

Partisan politics has always had a certain tribal aspect to it. But there's always been the pretense of a certain ideological basis. Trump has resorted to naked cult appeal.

This is why his poll numbers are collapsing. In a recent poll, 61% of Americans said they had low or no confidence in Trump. Only 49% of Americans voted for Hillary. Clearly, even many who voted for him are starting to see through his scam.

In a story about the 1982 New York Democratic gubernatorial primary, a Village Voice article noted: "For too many people in our tightening political economy, the family ties and values he loves have been broken or twisted so that they bear no fruit in good health or fresh opportunities. And as openness and hope become overwhelmed by fear and hatred in enough people's lives - openness curldes to bitterness and hope shrivels to a craving for revenge - hard-pressed voters turn to leaders with a streak of malevolence resembling their own - leaders who reassure them perversely by showing them where they can extract vengeance for their own diminished lives."

It is even more true today than in 1982.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Christian fanatics threaten far more Americans than ISIS

There's been much talk in recent years about "religious liberty" and "religious freedom." In general, this is a fraud. What is usually being discussed is the supremacy of a particular religion. What many want is for the US to implement the Christian equivalent of Sharia Law.
This is a grave threat to our constitutional republic, something that threatens far more Americans than anything ISIS is doing in Syria or Iraq.
Remember, if you are a soldier, politician, Peace Corps volunteer or any other kind of public servant, you swore an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States from all enemies foreign AND DOMESTIC.
The Founders of the republic intentionally devised a system where no one faith had official status. This is why no specific religion is mentioned in the Constitution.
While everyone is focused on the chaos in the Trump regime, much truly evil legislation is being pushed at the state level with far less notice.
The Texas legislature has a bill which would allow medical "professionals" to deny care to LGBT people. This is not refusing to sell someone a cake.
You could be dying and the doctor could refuse to treat you because s/he doesn't like gay or trans people. Seriously WTF?! Is this America or Saudi Arabia?
It would allow nurses and doctors to discuss a woman's medical condition with her husband against her wishes, if their religious beliefs state that a husband is the head of the household.
But theocrats should beware of this double edged sword: such a bill would also permit a Jewish or Muslim nurse to refuse treatment to Christians.
It would also let them refuse to serve you because you're a man or woman if their religion bans them contact with people of the opposite gender not related to them. Your intent may be to harm LGBT people but you risk harming yourself.
So-called Christians are plotting and, in some cases achieving, far more damage to American citizens than any Muslim extremist group. Civilized Christians need to denounce this and loudly.
If you are a medical PROFESSIONAL, your job is to help people, not to refuse to help them.
You have the right to a religion. You don't have the right to a job.
If your religion states you can't do your job helping someone because of who they are, you either need a new religion or a new job. Or perhaps a new country.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

What a racket: Crooked Donald and the family presidency

Donald Trump used a lot of rhetoric during the presidential campaign that resonated with people for reasons other than bigotry. Nearly all of his actions have betrayed that.

He talked about “draining the swamp” and taking on Wall Street, which he quickly betrayed by appointing a cabinet almost entirely madeup of Wall Street fat cats and other oligarchs.

He talked about reviving American manufacturing. Now he’s going after an American retailer for dropping his daughter’s failing line ofmerchandise which is… made in China.

The real purpose of Trump’s presidency is simple: to be an extension of his and his family’s businesses.

He bellowed non-stop about “crooked Hillary” but what he’s doing is worse. Far worse

It started with him violating the Constitution since the moment he swore an oath to preserve, protect and defend that Constitution.

It was followed quickly using the White House website topimp his wife’s jewelry line.

He hired his son-in-law to be his unaccountable taxpayer-paid advisor.

Now, he’s using his taxpayer-paid spokestools to defend hisdaughter’s private business interests.

All this and he’s only been in the job for three weeks.

Any one of these things might excusable.

But put them all together and you who is acting like some two-bit banana republic dictator.

Then again, we’ve devolved into a political culture where big business has successfully bought politicians to advance their corporate interests at the expense of the public. I guess Trump is just skipping the middle man. Maybe that’s where Betsy DeVos got the idea from.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Eminent domain: public good or crony capitalism?

Kelo v New London is arguably the worst Supreme Court decision of my life time still in effect. Citizens United is terrible too but it mostly legimitized a system that was increasingly corrupt anyways.


The US Constitution permits the taking of “private property for public USE" with just compensation.This process was typically used to obtain land to build highways, bridges, parks and other things the public has access to. There have often been battles over what constitutes just compensation but the principle of what constituted “public use” was pretty clear.


The Kelo ruling threw this out and authorized eminent domain  to be used for the far more nebulous reason of the public benefit. This is often invoked to justify giving the land – or selling it at a pittance - to a private developer to build a private structure because of the “public benefit” of greater tax revenue.


In other words, it opened the door for the government to seize property and use it to further crony capitalism.


In this story, the city of Hartford, CT, seized land from a developer who wanted to build a mixed-use structure adjacent to where a new baseball stadium was being built. The city seized the property from one developer and gave it to another developer.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The biggest loser of this presidential election: journalism

I’ve been saying for a long time that the decline of journalism would have a major impact on civic life in America. It was not an original though... Chris Hedges even wrote a book about it. 

This decline did not start in 2016 nor did its effects.

My dad pointed out the start of this trend about 20 years ago. It was reinforced to me when I lived abroad and listened on shortwave to foreign radio stations and noticed how differently they covered issues.

The decline is essentially the increasing emphasis on polls and “analysis” and opinion at the expense of in-depth factual reporting. Journalism has become less about revealing what’s going on beneath the surface and mostly dominated by parroting of superficial conventional wisdom. It’s shallow b.s. and the media that pats itself on the bdack as watchdog is suffocated by it.

For the last several years, Nate Silver has been canonized by adherents of the analysis school of “journalism.” I think only a week before the election, I checked his site. It said that Hillary Clinton had at least a 95% chance of winning (might have been 99%). It said that she had 268 electoral votes in the bag and Trump 210. And that basically Trump had to win every single swing state, bar none, to win the election. Clinton will end up far short of even that 268 that Mr. Infallible predicted. He epitomizes the failure of modern journalism. He’s a statistician yet the media treated what he did as journalism.

Trump/Pence’s fascist bigoted agenda was only endorsed by one of every four Americans. Trump is our president but the overwhelming majority did not endorse his agenda. Only one of our four

Nearly half of all Americans did not vote. This shows how sick our democracy is far more so than the identity of the winning ticket. The media only reports on two choices. And despite overwhelming disgust with those two, they almost completely ignore the two (national ones) that offer something meaningfully different. “Conventional wisdom” was that you were wasting your vote if you voted for a smaller party candidate. Even on those rare occasions a smaller party candidate gets media attention, there is NEVER an occasion where s/he isn’t asked about being a “spoiler” or chances of winning or other horse race garbage. S/he is lucky if meaningful policy discussion is even half of the interview.

So when you are told that your choices are to waste your vote on a good candidate or support someone you find morally repugnant, it is any surprise nearly half of Americans said “the heck with all this”? When they find out that the person who gets the most votes doesn’t win – unlike EVERY OTHER OFFICE IN AMERICA – it makes the process seem even more pointless. When “experts” and the professional pundit class tell them must vote for the “lesser of two evils” and to vote for A because B sucks even more, does that really inspire them with a deep sense of patriotic and civic pride?

If you want those half of Americans to actually vote, don’t lecture them. Don’t condescend to them. Give them a positive reason to do so.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Donald Trump will be your president. It's up to you to make sure he knows that.

Donald Trump will be my president in a few months. Just as Barack Obama will be my president until then. This is true even though I never voted for either of them.

There is a very simple reason for this.

If he is not my president, he owes me nothing.

If he is my president, then he is my public SERVANT. If he is my president, then he has the obligation to represent me. If he is my president, then I have standing to hold his rear end accountable and his administration's if he doesn't. If he is my president and I don't think he's doing a good job, I can try to get him fired in four years.

He will be the president of ALL Americans in a few months, whether he likes it or not. He needs to be reminded of that. Don't give him and his team an excuse to do otherwise.

He will be your president. It's up to you to make sure of that.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Fearmongering didn't prevent Brexit, won't prevent President Trump

The departure of the UK from the European Union and the rise of Trump are interesting and related phenomena. 

It's often said in this country that Trump is a threat to our democracy. In fact, he's a product of our democracy's failures. The same could be said of the Brexit.

Hatemongering fascists have always been an undercurrent of most societies. They only rise to prominence when the ruling elite is discredited as corrupt and dishonest and betraying those who work for a living. 

The EU is not really a coherent organization or set of institutions. Although it does confer many benefits, it's marginally democratic and hard for people to feel a sense of loyalty toward. Fixing it was a harder sell that quitting it. But the latter will have consequences too. 

It's easy for someone to look at Hillary Clinton's traditionally sketchy relationship with truth and ethics and think "The heck with that." As Trump is the only alternative most are made aware of, the disgusted gravitate toward him. 

It's beyond question that many racists and other bigots support Trump. But it's a mistake to infer that all, or even most, Trump supporters are like that. Many just want something different from the corporatist sellouts that the Democratic and GOP elites have been shoving down our throats for decades and erroneously think Trump is their only option. 

Trump's a more firmly part of the exploitative elitist class than even Clinton. And he's not their only non-Clinton option. Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Dr. Jill Stein are both far better choices than Trump and Clinton and offer positive, affirmative agendas. 

Spending decades trivializing the concerns of people who work for a living - and claiming they are just racists - is what's caused the huge backlash against the Democratic and Republican elites. 

Establishment fearmongering didn't prevent the Brexit and it will not be enough by itself to prevent a Trump presidency. When you don't give people an affirmative option to say yes to, the vacuum will usually be filled with something more nefarious.