Monday, July 08, 2019

Right-wing ideology is literally killing our country

"When I give food to the poor, I'm called a saint. When I ask why they are poor, I'm called a communist." -Archbishop Dom Helder Camara.

I saw this really interesting essay in The Boston Review entitled 'Dying of Whiteness.'

It gave some examples of how some people would rather die - literally die - by not getting  treatment than accept the help of medical services provided by 'Obamacare' (which was developed by a Republican governor and inspired by a conservative think tank). They would rather die than than accept help from a 'liberal' program.

It shows the extent to which the right-wing nihilism has taken our society hostage.

I don't know what kind of public policy can be developed when neither the two foundational cornerstones of governance - the greater good and pure self interest - are considered valid.

The right-wing notion that social progress is a zero sum gain - that my prosperity is entirely dependent on harm to you - is killing this country, both figuratively and literally.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Hillary Clinton passes the buck

"When I give food to the poor, I'm called a saint. When I ask why they are poor, I'm called a communist." -Archbishop Dom Helder Camara.

In an interview with the UK Guardian, Hillary Clinton claims that immigration "lit the flame" of right wing extremism in Europe.

Fascism always rises when the ruling elite is revealed as corrupt and dangerously out of touch.

Yes, sometimes the arrival of immigrants who are fleeing violence or seeking a better life for their families serves as the perfect scapegoat to "light the flame". The Other is always the most popular villain. But it only works if there is kindling to light.

Western Europe is governed mostly by centrists, like Mrs. Clinton herself. Many large countries are run by grand coalitions that cannot or will not make tough decisions for fear of the government falling.

Europe could've found a way to accommodate the migrants in a way that respected international law without undermining national societies. But this coordination required the leadership that Europe's centrist coalitions were lacking.

It's no surprise that as Europe's non-leaders dithered, the far right seized power in places like Poland and Hungary and is rapidly expanding in places like Sweden and Germany. Politics abhors a vacuum.

And that's how the far right seized power in the US. The ruling elite was revealed as corrupt and out of touch and a charismatic demagogue filled the void. Who was the standard bearer of the ruling class when this happened? Centrist Hillary Clinton.

Much of what African migrants are fleeing to Europe about are economic morasses and wars created or exacerbated in large part by European neo-colonialism. Just like much of what migrants are fleeing from in Mexico and Central America are similar collapses caused by American neo-colonialism... including those helped by Barack Obama's first secretary of state.

Hillary Clinton giving a nod to xenophobia is really just her making excuses for her own role in the rise of the US far right. The fascists needed a shady, out of touch ruling class member to vilify and the DNC obliged them. Hillary Clinton was hardly unique in that but just happened to be in that role at the wrong time. But it does make her supremely unqualified to lecture others about how to combat right wing extremism.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

We don't forget the lessons of history. We ignore them.

I've come to believe that societies don't degenerate because humans "forget" the lessons of history.

Societies degenerate because people tell themselves the lessons of history do not apply to their situation.

People think that their situation is different - which it always is, usually in some trivial way - and therefore use this insignificant difference as a pretext to waive away said lessons.

For example: Nazis referred to Jews as vermin. Hutus referred to Tutsis as cockroaches. Trump referred to immigrants as an infestation. Not exactly identical so therefore lessons of history don't apply. Or so goes the self-delusion.

Except history never repeats itself exactly. The lessons of history are intended to be broad, not narrow. They are meant to be a deterrent, not to describe an exact replication.

This is related to exceptionalism. Humans tend to view themselves as exceptionally altruistic. This permits them to dismiss any negative warnings.

I think part of it also has to do with how history is taught. We learn quite a bit about the bad things in history. We're taught quite a bit about the Holocaust and the rise of the Nazis. We learn about the failures and actions that led to the rise of totalitarian regimes.

But how much do we learn about historical examples in which movements with totalitarian and/or racial/nationalistic bents, etc. were thwarted by actions of civil society?

We're often presented with negative blueprints but rarely affirmative ones that can be acted upon.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Not implementing Medicare for All is absurd

"When I give food to the poor, I'm called a saint. When I ask why they are poor, I'm called a communist." -Archbishop Dom Helder Camara.   

Recently, Senator Bernie Sanders proposed implementing a single-payer style Medicare for All system to replace our completely dysfunctional sick care system. This was denounced by Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan as "absurd."

In 2018, all health care spending is expected to total $3.5 trillion.

By 2026, such spending is expected to skyrocket to $5.7 trillion.

Sanders' plan is projected to cost $32.6 trillion over 10 years, or an average of $3.26 trillion a year.

So Medicare for All would insure far more people than the current system (everyone) for far less money. To not implement such a program is what would be absurd.

Unless you own stock in the private health insurance industry.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

#HimToo ?

Today, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman resigned, hours after The New Yorker revealed serious allegations against him of violence toward women. Many called for him to step down immediately.

On one hand, it's good that, at least in some quarters, public revelations of violent misogyny cause the accuser to be shunned into slinking out of public life, not excused or, worse, actively embraced.
And it is fitting that Schneiderman - a vocal backer of the #MeToo - may be punished under laws that he helped pass as a state senator.
On the other hand, some of his accusers claim that they told others of his actions a long time ago and they were not acted upon.
Clearly many men in positions of power - Republicans and Democrats alike - think they are above the law - to say nothing of basic human decency - in how they treat (usually) women. Far too often, they are right.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Let's get rid of E Pluribus Unum as our national motto

I read this story in The Guardian about how Parkland massacre survivors have been attacked with hoaxes and smears.

To me, this is not really about the smearing of those kids (although I personally feel sorry for them that they have to endure this garbage after what else they've had to endure).
I am more broadly disturbed by the extent to which toxic hate propaganda - often outright lies but always malicious - has taken over our public discourse.
To use this example, criticize what these kids are saying and proposing. Sure, that's fair game. No one is exempt from that.
But to circulate malicious lies like how one of them allegedly tore up a copy of the Constitution - she did not - is downright evil. It's evil because it's sole purpose is to sow hatred and division.
People who support any form of gun control are not Nazis. People who own guns are not murderers. Neither group is homogeneous enough for such labels. And it's hardly just this one issue where such poison is flooding society. It's all of them.
I've read somewhat extensively about the Holocaust, Rwanda and other 20th century genocides and they all - WITHOUT EXCEPTION - started not with physical violence but with a rigorous and systematic hate campaign designed to demonize whichever group was being targeted. Once these groups were dehumanized with words, it became much easier to commit atrocities against them with actions.
The level of toxicity is becoming poisonous. You can be passionate and provocative without being hateful. It is truly threatening our country. We have always been a violent society, even in the best of times. There is no reason to think that, if left unchecked, this will end well.
If we consider ourselves a civilized nation, let's act like it. If we consider ourselves a Christian nation, let's act like it.

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.