Would You Have Resisted Hitler? Are You Resisting Trump?

Freud’s id has landed. David Brooks nails it. If Trump still wins after this week, then obviously there’s something going on in the psyche of the majority of Americans that craves vengeance, authoritarianism, harshness, and Nietzschean indifference toward the weak.

It won’t be Jefferson’s America, or Eisenhower’s America. It will be Putin’s Russia, Mussolini’s Italy, or Hitler’s Germany circa 1933.

If you think, had you been alive in the 1930s, that you would have resisted Mussolini and Hitler after they reached power, you may soon get your test in real time.

Women, demographics, and Trump. I’ve long thought the resonances of Weimar Germany with our contemporary politics were obviously there, but I just never seriously believed it could rise to this level of existential threat–until this year. I thought demographics would save us. And women tend to vote in greater numbers than men–and with a competent woman leading one of the parties, it still seems logical this year that they’ll break for her in large numbers, given the historic nature of her candidacy. The ascent of a dictator (“Yes he will!”) who explicitly dog whistles to white supremacists and preaches blood and soil nationalism, seems impossible in America, 2016.

Yet here we are. Alarmingly, the Republican Party first buckled, then swooned, then collapsed like a house of cards before such a man. Now it appears the Republican Party is firmly united behind Trump. In Trump, George Wallace now meets Adolf Hitler meeting the Republican Party–and it isn’t pretty.

Perhaps the country’s demographics as a whole will indeed save us. But if so, it will be by a hair. That means that if you aren’t voting against Herr Trump in November, and if you’re not speaking out loudly–loudly and unmistakably now–then you’re responsible for whatever Herr Trump does when he reaches the Oval Office.

Vladimir Putin in the Lincoln Bedroom? In his essay, Brooks is most angry with Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, etc. for caving to Herr Trump, and for now functioning as the ongoing enablers of Herr Trump.

So it’s on the rest of us right now. We either defeat Herr Trump–with moderate Democrats, Republicans, and Independents turning hard against him together in the last months of this election–or we perhaps spend literally decades fighting to get back to even the semblance of the America we thought we knew.

Will the center hold? Or will we find Herr Trump inviting his good friend Vladimir Putin to spend nights in the Lincoln Bedroom?

Tactical nuclear weapons and the loss of civil liberties? If you have small children or grandchildren, you may literally be deciding in November what sort of country they will inherit as adults decades from now. If you vote for Trump, you may even be condemning them to death in a civilizational war akin to the two fought in the last century. (Do not put it past Trump to escalate to the use of tactical nuclear weapons very quickly in a crisis, then locking down on the country domestically–then finding the crises he has exacerbated spinning beyond his control.)

So this isn’t the usual swing of the left-right pendulum with checks and balances securely in place. That’s what we’ve known for over two centuries. The choice in November is to upend this arrangement fundamentally. We literally risk a fatal compromising of our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, and our nuclear arsenal (in the sense that Trump may be foolish enough to start making use of it).

And yet there are people who say this is not a fundamental election; that Trump won’t be so bad.

Trump and global warming. Poo-pooing Trump’s danger is akin to poo-pooing global warming. If you deny even the basic threat, then you can blindly court disaster without even offering supporting arguments. You don’t have to have a consequential debate because you won’t start with the premise that something consequential is going on.

So this is the question every Trump supporter should be confronted with again and again until November: In a crisis, what makes you think Herr Trump won’t use tactical nuclear weapons? How confident are you about this? And if he does, what makes you think a broader war won’t necessarily break out, accompanied by still other war crimes and deployments of still more tactical nuclear weapons–and that our domestic civil liberties will go on being reliably protected after that?

It’s not how Trump might behave in the absence of crisis that makes him so startlingly dangerous, but how he might behave in a crisis. And the truth is that we don’t know. Nobody knows. We don’t have a clue. So don’t call yourself a conservative if your choice this year is not Hillary. There’s nothing “conservative” or “pro-American” about voting for a mercurial and temperamental authoritarian who might use a tactical nuclear weapon in a fit of pique.

But it may not matter which party had the better convention.
Posted in atheism, donald trump, edward feser, hillary clinton, Politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Be Afraid. Ezra Klein Is.

Ezra Klein is starting to panic: “I am, for the first time since I began covering American politics, genuinely afraid.” In a recent article, he rehearses numerous reasons Donald Trump’s nomination is now an enormous dilemma for the country as a whole–and for the world.

What will it mean, for instance, should Trump’s unrestrained and Putin-like vindictiveness intersect with the powers of the American presidency? What will be the consequences for his domestic opponents? His foreign opponents?

And would he use a tactical nuclear weapon in the Middle East? When Trump attains access, not just to vast funds and a team of lawyers (as he has enjoyed his whole life), but to the most powerful military and intelligence services in the world, what is this mercurial and temperamentally panicky man capable of toward those who cross him? Nobody knows.

Here’s Ezra Klein:

[T]he unifying theme of Trump’s convention is that the leader of the opposition party should be thrown in jail. Trump didn’t like the Washington Post’s coverage of his campaign, so he barred its reporters from his rallies and threatened to use the power of the presidency to bring an antitrust suit against the Post’s owner, Jeff Bezos. He was upset that Ohio didn’t vote for him, so he sat its delegation in the cheap seats, even though the state is hosting the convention. He was angry about an interview his ex-ghostwriter gave to the New Yorker, so he sent his lawyers after him. He hates the protesters who interrupt his campaigns, so he said he would look into paying the legal fees of a supporter who sucker-punched one of them. Imagine Donald Trump with the powers of the presidency. Imagine what he could do — what he would do — to those who crossed him.

I am stunned at the Weimar resonances of this American moment. And yet we’re not even in recession. Has eight years of a black president really scorched the psyche of white conservative identity, entitlement, and privilege so fundamentally that revenge translates into enthusiastic support for a Putin-like figure?

I think of something Pat Buchanan wrote back in December of 2013:

Is Vladimir Putin a paleoconservative?

In the culture war for mankind’s future, is he one of us?

Buchanan’s answer was yes.

Sorry, but Donald Trump isn’t temperamentally fit to be president.
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Trump Is Hitler–Or Will Lead To Hitler

Right now, lawyers do his bidding, then it will be generals. Trump is Hitler. Yes, that Hitler. Or rather, he is in danger of becoming that Hitler–or of bringing us to that Hitler.

Take his use of lawyers. Has Trump ever shown restraint in his aggressive deployment of lawyers?

What makes one think he would show restraint in his deployment of other forms of power–the FBI, the CIA, police powers, and military assets?

What makes one think he wouldn’t institute marshal law after a major terror incident, then provide a laundry list of excuses (generated by his lawyers) for never formally relinquishing it?

What’s immoral here? So it’s not immoral to call Trump Hitler. What is immoral is to risk exposing our democracy to an illiberal and authoritarian direction by voting for Trump.

As Andrew Sullivan has noted, Trump may be an extinction level event for the American experiment, with historians writing a hundred years from now (perhaps from a freer country) that the American experiment in Republican constitutional democracy started with Washington and ended with Trump.

Trump is a game changer. He could quickly make the nation into something quite different entirely if he is not defeated decisively in November. George Will is right that it is incumbent on every American–especially Republicans–to work for Trump’s defeat in all fifty states.

BT and AT (before and after Trump). If Trump wins, at minimum he is likely to make our nation into something like that of Putin’s Russia (essentially a one party state, led by a strongman, and with democracy surviving in name only). And from there, by the precedent Trump will have established, especially if superficially “successful,” it could become ever more difficult for the country to return to the way it was before he came to power (BT–before Trump).

For instance, Trump may deploy tactical nuclear weapons in a first strike manner as President, reintroduce Bush torture on a broader scale, ignore the Constitutional balance of powers, go after the press, and undermine the courts in ways as yet unseen by our democracy. He could prove to be the ultimate stress test for our democracy, generating a Constitutional crisis.

We are not even in recession–and yet the country’s politics has produced Trump. A mercurial man with power is, by definition, unpredictable. And for what? The country is not in economic crisis. We are not even in recession. Terrorism is a lowgrade and manageable phenomenon, though it makes headlines. (The risk of death 20 or 30 years after exposure to body scan radiation is greater than dying of a terrorist attack over those same years, statistically.)

Thus, to give an authoritarian, panicky, and paranoid temperament the presidency, when we’re not even having a Weimar-style crisis, conditions the country for yet other strongmen in response to harsher future conditions. (Ironically, Trump is actually no Mussolini or Hitler strongman in character, only in style. He’s a “tough guy” who actually avoided when young his opportunity to participate in a war.)

Mass deportation of Mexicans and the building of walls. The resonances between Trump’s temperament and Hitler’s are unmistakable to anyone who has studied history. For instance, in the 1920s and early-30s, Hitler’s obsessive interest surrounding Jews was in achieving their mass deportation–as it is with Trump with regard to illegals–the vast majority of whom are Mexican. Trump has been essentially targeting an ethnic group all year in his rise to power. He seeks to round up eleven million people and remove them from the country, then erect a thousand mile wall to keep them from ever returning. But if he actually followed through on his political promises as President, the country would very quickly take on the feel of a police state.

Terrorism and marshal law. We should not at all put it above Trump to declare marshal law at some point in his presidency–and if he does indeed do this, then all bets are off. Hitler acquired his strongman powers after a terrorist incident–the Reichstag fire. The signal in the noise here is that Trump’s potential is Hitlerian. He will play that full role if he’s ever given the opportunity–and history could readily supply opportunities were he to reach the Oval Office. He is not, temperamentally, a democrat, but an authoritarian.

Americans in denial. There were Jews in Hitler’s Germany in the early 1930s who thought Hitler wouldn’t be so bad and could be outlasted–and they decided to stay in the country and not speak out. But then they discovered, too late, that they had calculated quite inaccurately. We are at that moment now in the United States. Far too many people are nonchalant about what Trump means. Rather than complacency, we should speak and vote for Hillary, and have contingency plans for ongoing resistance if Trump wins. Some of us should even have plans for leaving the country if Trump wins. (Does anyone doubt there are wealthy individuals and corporations quietly and discreetly making such plans?)

This scene from Poltergeist (1982) is uncannily relevant to this American moment. A spellcasting confidence man is at our door. Let him in?


Posted in donald trump, hillary clinton, Politics, Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Is Trump-Pence Cult Behavior–or a Winning Ticket?

Crackpots to the future. Trump picked for VP, not just a man who can’t say whether he thinks the Earth is 4.5 billion years old and that plants and animals have changed over time, or whether global warming is occurring, but whether women should have the right to control their own bodies.

Indeed, it’s worse than this. Mike Pence is not merely a global warming denialist and potential young Earth creationist, or a man indifferent to women’s equality and reproductive choice (which necessarily go together), but one who is actually a longtime activist against women’s issues.

And he opposes gay equality as well.

If Trump still wins this year, then I simply do not understand the mentality of my fellow countrymen and women at all, and what’s really important to them, what they shrug at, etc.

And remember: Trump has to come close to winning half of women’s votes, and do better than Romney with Hispanics, Asians, and blacks, to actually win the election–or he has to ramp-up the white male vote to unprecedented levels, and win it overwhelmingly. This seems wildly improbable. And yet pollsters suggest Trump is roughly in a dead heat with Clinton–or at least within striking distance of overtaking her.

So here’s my question: Can these two men–Trump and Pence– really be the preference of the majority of Americans in 20-fricken-16?

Put another way, are we witnessing delusional and cultish behavior on the part of the Republican Party this year, or is there something in the country’s collective psyche that has gone terribly, terribly wrong–so wrong, in fact, that the country as a whole is every bit as sick as the Republican Party itself?

When you see cult-like behavior, with people under the spell of a con-man, you think, well, at least this guy’s con goes no farther than his outspoken, fanatic, and proselytizing followers. But maybe this year is different. Maybe the majority of Americans are Trump’s followers; his silent followers.

In the privacy of their homes, are a majority of Americans–perhaps even a majority of women–really saying, “I’m with Trump”?

How can this be?

Mike Pence has endorsed controversial legislation on abortion and Planned…
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Was It Right for Turkey’s Military to Have Tried to Remove Erdogan by Force?

I wouldn’t want to make an invidious comparison, but I think of how Hitler came into ever greater power (via democratic election and joining his party into an alliance with conservative parties), and then, when he became chancellor, how he could only be dislodged after that by force.

Illiberal democracy and democracy that is quite obviously heading toward authoritarianism or totalitarianism sometimes has to be saved from itself. If a leader like Chavez in Venezuela, Putin in Russia, or Erdogan in Turkey has weakened checks and balances on the exercises of power in such a way that they cannot be plausibly resisted or dislodged peacefully or lawfully, it may be quite appropriate for the military to arrest power from one of these sorts of very, very dangerous alpha males.

Erdogan, for instance, has been going after press freedom recently, strengthening his grip on power in ways that make democracy something that is largely in name only.


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A Christian Critique of Trump: Norman Vincent Peale Meets Nietzsche, Then Nietzsche Meets Mike Pence

A genuinely troubling piece by Matthew Schmitz appears at the Catholic magazine First Things (August/September 2016) on Donald Trump’s “faith,” which, it turns out, is in the positive thinking philosophy of Norman Vincent Peale, someone Trump interacted with personally when he was younger. It explains so much about Trump. By lifelong habit, he has learned how to con himself–and con others–via Peale’s famed confidence tricks, detailed in his book, The Power of Positive Thinking (1952). And how well the tricks have worked for Trump! Six money quotes from the excellent essay:

Peale promised his readers “constant energy” if they thought positively. Optimistic thoughts opened one up to a vital force coming directly from God. Negative thoughts, especially a tendency to dwell on one’s faults, could interfere with the divine charge. He warned those with active consciences that “the quantity of vital force required to give the personality relief from either guilt or fear” was so great that it left “only a fraction of energy” for going about one’s tasks. […]

For Peale, “attitudes are more important than facts.” The man who displays “a confident and optimistic thought pattern can modify or overcome the fact altogether.” The first fact that Peale’s positive thinking had to overcome was the fact of human frailty. […]

Where the Bible urges man to search his heart and know his faults, Peale encourages him to “make a true estimate of your own ability, then raise it ten percent.” […] Thus the necessity of repentance recedes. It is important to think positively, and a negative thought, […] can be injurious to spiritual health. Yet the gloomy aspect of traditional Christian practice is also the wellspring of Christian compassion. At the moment a Christian asks for forgiveness, he must acknowledge his own weakness and look mercifully on the weakness of others. […]

At a campaign event in Iowa, Trump shocked the audience by saying that he had never asked God for forgiveness. All his other disturbing statements—his attacks on every vulnerable group—are made intelligible by this one. The self-sufficient faith Trump absorbed from Peale has no place for human weakness. Human frailty, dependency, and sinfulness cannot be acknowledged; they must be overcome. This opens up the possibility of great cruelty toward those who cannot wish themselves into being winners. A man who need not ask forgiveness need never forgive others. He does not realize his own weakness, and so he mocks and reviles every sign of weakness in his ­fellow men. […]

Because Peale was a decent man of sincere if not quite orthodox Christian faith, he never drew out the harsh implications of his views. Trump feels no such restraint, and so has taken Peale’s teaching to its logical conclusion. He has called the widow whose house he tried to take a “terrible human being” whose lawyer is a “loser.” He has mocked a reporter for having a disfigured hand. […]

Peale is now largely forgotten, and his bestseller languishes in used book stores. This is a shame, for it has led us to underestimate the influence and power of the self-sufficient faith that he promoted, and that he imparted to his greatest student. Peale meant to preach a gentle creed, one that made hellfire and terror into mere afterthoughts. In Trump it has curdled into pagan disdain. Both forms of this philosophy have captured the public imagination, and both stand at odds with the faith taught by Christ.

What strikes me most about these quotes is how they expose Trump as an American Nietzsche, and yet they are also accompanied by this thought: If he wins the presidency, it will be because conservative evangelical and Catholic Christians–Christians!–put him over the top. Trump is devoted to a philosophy that holds losers in contempt, and his strongest backers are . . . Christians. And Mike Pence, an evangelical, is his running mate.

The majority of conservative Christians in Germany in the 1930s made a similar pact with a strong man. We are living through an extraordinarily dangerous political moment.


Christianity is a religion of losers. To the weak and humble, it offers a stripped and humiliated . . . .
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Did Trump Rape a Thirteen Year Old in the 1990s?

Donald Trump may have a Bill Cosby problem brewing. A recent court filing in New York alleges that Trump raped a thirteen year old in the 1990s. Alternet reviews the allegations contained in the filing, and judges them plausible. Money quote:
Jane Doe says that as a thirteen year old, she was enticed to attend parties at the home of Jeffrey Epstein with the promise of money modeling jobs.[…] Jane Doe says that Mr. Trump “initiated sexual contact” with her on four occasions in 1994.[…] On the fourth incident, she says Mr. Trump tied her to a bed and forcibly raped her, in a “savage sexual attack,” while she pleaded with him to stop. She says Mr. Trump violently struck her in the face. She says that afterward, if she ever revealed what he had done, Mr. Trump threatened that she and her family would be “physically harmed if not killed.” She says she has been in fear of him ever since. […] Two unusual documents are attached to Jane Doe’s complaints – sworn declarations attesting to the facts. The first is from Jane Doe herself, telling her horrific story, including the allegation that Jeffrey Epstein also raped her and threatened her into silence, and this stunner: “Defendant Epstein then attempted to strike me about the head with his closed fists while he angrily screamed at me that he, Defendant Epstein, should have been the one who took my virginity, not Defendant Trump…” […] The second declaration is even more astonishing, because it is signed by “Tiffany Doe”, Mr. Epstein’s “party planner” from 1991-2000. Tiffany Doe says that her duties were “to get attractive adolescent women to attend these parties.” […] Tiffany Doe says that she recruited Jane Doe at the Port Authority in New York, persuaded her to attend Mr. Epstein’s parties, and actually witnessed the sexual assaults on Jane Doe.
Hmm. The word of two women against two powerful men. We know that Trump is indeed a friend of billionaire Epstein, and that Epstein is a registered sex offender. And surely such parties with casual sex opportunities take place among the fabulously wealthy. So would a judge let this case go forward to discovery and depositions, exposing the behind-the-scenes world of billionaires and their friends gone wild? The woman obviously persuaded another woman to cooperate in the filing, and also managed to get an attorney to believe her story, who then filed papers on her behalf. What think ye? Here’s another summary of the complaint, this time from William Boardman:
According to the complaint: Plaintiff Jane Doe came to New York in the spring of 1994 in hope of starting a modeling career. Professionally unprepared, she had little success and was headed home when she met Tiffany Doe, another pseudonym, who worked for Epstein from 1990 to 2000, recruiting young women to attend his parties and entertain his guests. Tiffany Doe, age 26 in 1994, promised Jane Doe that she would be paid to attend these parties at which she would meet people who could help her start her modeling career. Jane Doe attended at least four of Epstein’s parties at which she interacted with both Trump and Epstein sexually, as described graphically in the complaint and in attached affidavits of the two women. Tiffany Doe, in her affidavit, says she was a witness to the events described by Jane Doe. […] Defendants have not yet filed a response to the June 20 claim in court. Nor has there apparently been any public response from Attorney Garten, the Trump campaign, Epstein, or others associated with Defendants.
And the Daily Beast is taking the court filing seriously, providing Jane Doe’s name as Katie Johnson:
[W]hile the media has been hesitant to report on Katie Johnson’s accusations, stories have emerged in recent days in outlets like the New York Daily News and Gothamist and more may be in the works: Johnson’s attorney says he taped an interview with ABC News and sources spoken to for this story said they had been contacted by other national news organizations.
The dogs are hunting.
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Trump’s VP Pick Mike Pence a Homophobe

Trump’s likely VP pick is homophobe Mike Pence. Here he is hemming and hawing on whether it should be legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in Indiana. Lovely man.


Posted in donald trump, hillary clinton, Politics | 1 Comment

With Pence, Trump Is About To Go Full Jesus

This is how Trump plans to win: evoke nostalgia for when 1950s white American Christians (Protestant and Catholic) roamed and ruled the Earth. It’s his non-retreat strategy.

Call it Jurassic Park 5: Return of the McCarthy Era.

In place of compromise, Trump promises revival. Even though just 45% of the country now fits the white Christian label, demographic decline is going to be ignored for the rest of this election cycle.

In other words, Trump is going to play pretend–and hope it works. Not governed by reality, he means to make his own reality.

There will thus be no negotiated truce with secular, feminist, and nonwhite America–and certainly no terms of surrender.

This is what Trump means by “Make America Great Again”–and why he thrills the Republican base in ways that no other politician could touch in the 2016 primaries. It’s also why he is so painfully and evidently unsuited for navigating the black-white divide in the country today (as illustrated by his response to the recent shootings).

So in terms of political governance, “Make America Great Again” is code for “I won’t power share. I mean to take power back for white Christian America.” Trump’s hope is that this subtext will light-up more than half of American voters. It is Trump’s Hail Mary pass for the general election: achieve unprecedented turn-out among white Christians. It’s what’s coming into focus as his plan for victory.

Put another way, Trump appears to have concluded that the secular and nonwhite demographic trends of the country as a whole can be overcome by appealing hard to the demographics of Indiana (treating the country as if it had the demographics of Indiana), and this is why Trump is most likely to pick the shark-eyed and Lego-hairdoed homophobe Mike Pence as his VP pick.

If it is Pence, we’ll discover in November whether the Trump-Pence strategy worked. I seriously doubt it will. (O me of little faith.)

Can the era of white Protestant dominance in America be recovered?
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I know it’s going to take time to sink in, but today’s news on the FBI not recommending Hillary Clinton’s prosecution is big. Really big. Benghazi and the emails are now off the table. The Fox News crowd took its very best swift-boating shots, and they’ve fallen short. Hillary Clinton is stronger now–and it’s because of the far right. She looks like the survivor of an ordeal. She has gravitas in age and experience. This contrasts with Donald Trump, who has never risked himself in life, ever. He skirted Vietnam and has lived the life of a rich man behind walls, protected from consequences by a team of ruthless lawyers. But Hillary has exposed herself to life and public shame, and has never given up. She’s fought men at their own political games, and won. People admire that. If the far right now harps on Benghazi and the emails anyway, and Trump dredges up old stuff from the 90s, it’s going to look very, very small of them; like sour grapes. They will be treating a strong woman unjustly, and I think voters will punish that. Hillary could blow the lay-up, of course, but it’s now a lay-up.

santi lia aria playing chess

Posted in donald trump, feminism, hillary clinton, Politics, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Hurricane Hillary and Nietzsche’s “Whatever doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger”

Nietzsche famously wrote, “Whatever doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.”

How does this apply to Hillary? Well, the Fox News crowd has tried to destroy Hillary for literally decades, but it has now reached a culminating and catastrophic failure today in the good news for Clinton: no FBI prosecution recommendation.

Let that sink in. Clinton is off the hook. She is now a force of Nature; a political hurricane of one, gathering power to herself.

Hurricane Hillary.

Think about it. On Benghazi, the Republican-led congressional investigation yielded nothing to harm her presidential candidacy, and now the FBI is done with its investigation as well. This is via The New Republic this morning: “In a press conference today, FBI Director James Comey ended Clinton’s legal troubles by saying that ‘no reasonable prosecutor’ would bring criminal charges against her for using a private email server.”

So Clinton’s path to becoming the first woman President of the United States has basically been cleared, and because it was against great odds and resistance, she’s all the more strong for it.

Hillary has earned this. She’s fought through a maze of obstacles to get to the top of the political heap, and now all that stands between her and the presidency is a temperamental fascist. I think she can handle that. Her fierce toughness, intelligence, and optimism is a match for Donald Trump’s fear, cupidity, and pessimism.

Indeed, the next four months constitute the trial run of her presidency; it’s essentially the first four months of it, and then we’ll all decide if we want it to continue: “Yes, more of this,” or “No.” The next four months will show us all how she manages to work her way around an authoritarian personality to achieve a goal. If she can handle Trump effectively, slicing and dicing him into oblivion, she can handle Putin, Ted Cruz in the Senate, et al.

And now that her path is cleared, power is going to gather to her very fast. People like a winner, and she’s a winner. A very tough, very strong winner. Hurricane Hillary.

I’m looking forward to voting for her.

In a press conference today, FBI Director James Comey ended Clinton’s legal troubles by saying that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring criminal charges…
Posted in Bernie Sanders, donald trump, feminism, hillary clinton, Politics | 2 Comments

Trump’s Antisemitic Hillary Tweet

71 years ago, the Allies liberated the Nazi death camps, and, aghast in the knowledge of what had transpired in them, there seemed to be a fresh collective resolve globally to “never again” generate the sorts of conditions that might lead to genocide (antisemitic demonization, collective silence in the face of growing evils like fascism, etc.).

Fast forward to 2016. On the very day the death of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel was announced, the Republican candidate for President of the United States tweeted an antisemitic trope against his opponent, affiliating her supposed corruption with, you guessed it, Jewish finance. Would anybody have imagined, even a year ago, that an American candidate for President could put forward such an antisemitic trope and still remain a viable candidate?

Trump is inuring us to fascism.

Visuals matter—and one shared on Trump’s Twitter account on Saturday quickly drew criticism.
Posted in donald trump, feminism, Genesis, God, hillary clinton, Politics | 6 Comments

Hillary, Iago, the FBI–and Wittgenstein

This is where it gets real. It’s now the FBI’s call, and the investigators will probably make it before the Republican convention starts on July 25th. Sometime over the next two weeks Hillary either reaches orbit on her way to becoming the first woman President of the United States–or she utterly crashes and burns, forced from the race in disgrace, under indictment. I have no idea which way it will go. It’s like that scene in No Country for Old Men, where the killer flips a coin in the country store of an old man and says, “Call it.” And I think of Iago at the end of Act 5:1 of Othello: “This is the night / That either makes me or fordoes me quite.”

So this raises an issue of language games (in the Wittgensteinian sense). Sometimes our languages are merely imaginative, indifferent or irresponsive to facts on the ground (think of a sci-fi novel or a cult group in cognitive dissonance). Other times, our language games derive their plausibility from direct appeal to facts, and if those facts change, the language game we’re playing has to adjust–or even be abandoned altogether. Here’s Wittgenstein on this latter sort of language game:

Certain events would put me into a position in which I could not go on with the old language game any further. In which I was torn away from the sureness of the game. Indeed, doesn’t it seem obvious that the possibility of a language game is conditioned by certain facts? (On Certainty, aphorism 617.)

This is one of those moments for the Hillary-candidacy language game: it’s possibility being “conditioned by certain facts.” All along, the Hillary narrative has been that the email controversy is a Fox News-generated faux controversy. This narrative is now getting its stress test. How responsive is the Hillary narrative going to be to this sort of reality testing? Can the language game that has built up around the Clinton candidacy go on sustaining itself in the face of whatever new facts the FBI now brings forward?

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Trump Used Charity Money To Buy Himself A $12,000 Helmet

This is really, really bad behavior. The Washington Post has traced down an image of Trump posing with a $12,000 helmet that he purchased with money explicitly raised for charity:

Four years ago, at a charity fundraiser in Palm Beach, Donald Trump got into a bidding war at the evening’s live auction. The items up for sale: A Denver Broncos helmet, autographed by then-star quarterback Tim Tebow, and a Tebow jersey. Trump won, eventually, with a bid of $12,000. Afterward, he posed with the helmet.[…] But Trump didn’t actually pay with his own money. Instead, the Susan G. Komen organization — the breast-cancer nonprofit that hosted the party — got a $12,000 payment from another nonprofit, the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

Trump Foundation paid $12,000 for the helmet, which Trump later posed with, at…
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GMO Wars: 107 Nobel Laureates vs. Greenpeace

Can my fellow liberals, who too frequently count themselves among the idiotic “No GMO!” constituency, please get off the science-denial bandwagon now, leaving it to the far-right, with its young Earth creationists and global warming denialists?

It’s the latest sign of a rift between the scientific establishment and anti-GMO…
Posted in atheism, Politics, science, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

The Difference Between Having An Ideology And Having An Agenda

It’s one thing to have an ideology, another an agenda. An ideology is a habit of mind, often not wholly conscious to its possessor. It functions as subtext for behavior.

The ideology of consumption, for example, takes it for granted that consumption is a good thing. Part of Greenpeace’s ideology is that fundamentally altering nature is bad, and so Greenpeace adherents take for granted that genetically modified foods (GMOs) are bad–even if they’re perfectly safe to eat.

In ideology, one leans, say, left or right, but may also swing center, or, on occasion, to an opinion actually inconsistent with one’s underlying ideology. One has a bias, to be sure, but it’s not a disciplined bias. It’s not wholly predictable.

By contrast, an agenda is driven in a wholly disciplined and predictable manner. It is strategized, as when a religious believer, in possession of a traditional monotheistic ideology (Islam, Judaism, Christianty), drives it with systematic apologetics (“an intellectual defense of the faith”).

And think of a career court prosecutor. S(he) has an agenda. S(he) strategizes in advance what themes will be brought into court. These will be presented to a jury with repetition, manipulation (rhetorical appeals), appeals to evidence, etc. A prosecutor’s role is to make a case. S(he) possesses a point-of-view. It is undergirded by ideological assumptions; it is driven. The prosecutor is an advocate on behalf of a client, and is under no obligation to provide a positive case for the other side. Balance is provided by the defense attorney. A court room is adversarial.

Another example. NBC and The New York Times have an ideology that is center-left, but their executives do not strategize in advance an agenda that will be driven by repetition and manipulation of an audience. Fox News, by contrast, functions much like a prosecuting attorney. It has at once an ideology (far-right) that they treat as a client, and an agenda that is relentlessly executed by repetition and manipulation on behalf of that client.

For instance, if Donald Trump comes onto Fox News’s Hannity program, Sean Hannity functions as akin to the friendly defense attorney speaking to the defendant on the stand, leading his client with softball questions before the jury. The questions are designed to lead the audience to certain conclusions. Hannity gives Trump opportunities to walk back or clarify statements he might want to clarify, limiting damage that Trump might have inflicted on himself in other contexts (as in a botched interview with an adverserial journalist, or a loose comment while campaigning, etc.). Hannity’s interview is not adversarial, but driving an ideology and candidate.

So Fox News is Fake News. It’s not really news, it’s advocacy.

Fox News, by repetition, calls itself fair and balanced, but it is, in fact, the opposite. It is not attempting to be either fair (in the sense of giving competing ideologies equal time) or balanced (in the sense of making room for competing advocates on the other side). And when Fox News, on rare occasion, goes off-message, it is for purposes of bolstering credibility–or because a host or guest went rogue–in which case, there is a quick wrap-up and cut to commercials.

So wherever Fox News goes off message, you can generally bet it’s a head fake. And that head-fake into the realm of calculation, manipulation, presentation, and insincerity is the difference between merely having an ideology that is tugging on you as a subtext in your life, and having an agenda.


Here’s a wonderful clip of Zizek on ideology as subtext.




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For Lower Taxes (His Own), Trump to Sue D.C.!

This is crazy. Trump is so selfish and narcissistic. He’s in the midst of running for President, and yet he won’t show his tax returns–and now, smack dab in the middle of an election cycle, he appears to be filing suit against D.C. to get his tax bill dropped even lower!

Wow. That’s chutzpah.

Trump wants to enjoy police protection, etc., but have others pay for it. He is really taking his followers for a ride.

Here’s the key quote from the just-posted Politico article:

If Trump moves forward with the hotel-related tax battle, it would be another potential distraction for his presidential campaign. His failure to release his own personal tax returns has generated numerous news stories, as has his claiming of a $302 property tax break on his Manhattan apartment. That relief is available only to taxpayers who make less than $500,000 a year. Trump is also suing two restaurateurs who backed out of plans to open dining establishments at the planned Washington hotel after Trump lashed out at Mexican immigrants last year.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/…/…/donald-trump-taxes-hotel-224956…
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GOP candidate prepares to sue city over tax bill for his luxury development on Pennsylvania Avenue.
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Elizabeth Warren for VP

Elizabeth Warren on The View yesterday was awesome. She would make a terrific VP for Hillary. Oddly, when I watch her, she makes me want to live (to live larger and enjoy each day). She seems to love life. She reminds me of Yoda in Star Wars. She’s charming and emanates hope and optimism. Her enthusiasm is contagious; you feel problems can be solved with her in the room. I think that this subtext is what excites people, perhaps unconsciously, about her. She can’t be bought, she’s not afraid of the powerful or bullies, she’s quick on her feet, she speaks her mind. And yet she’s also not an overbearing narcissist, drawing attention to herself. Instead, she points enthusiastically to solutions and uplifts others, without apparent jealousy for the spotlight to turn back upon her. She seems to know how to focus on what’s important. She’s passionate, yet also thoroughly in control of herself: calm, centered, and thoughtful. What great qualities!

The Massachusetts senator blast Donald Trump on “The View.”
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More Trump Racism: Trump is Afraid to Trade with Asians and Mexicans. Notably, He Says Nothing in His Speech Today about Trading with Russia or Tearing-up Trade Agreements with White Europeans.

Today, Trump has made tearing-up trade agreements with both east and south center pieces of his idiotic economic policy–actions no serious economist appraises as valuable or urges. Such moves as Trump proposes would tank the economy, killing domestic jobs (as both the Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers rightly and quickly noted). What a fool Trump is. Voting for him would be as catastrophic for the United States as Brexit has become for Britain. He is a walking Brexit referendum in the flesh–and with a tinge of selective racism against trading with Asians and Mexicans. I vote no.

Opposing trade deals is disconnected from the decades-long direction of the United States economy.
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Brexit and Trump vs. The Big Blue Marble in Space

Brexit and Trump. The Brexit vote and the Trump movement suggest to me that the anti-globalization right in the West is ever more evidently on the ropes. The broken wheel squeaks loudest. The right’s Christian fundamentalism card doesn’t seem to work, so now it’s playing, in Trump’s movement and in the Brexit vote, the protectionist nationalism card.

Protectionist nationalism and fundamentalist religion are essentially two ways to play the same game. Nationalist religion is what’s left of religion after actual religion is intellectually discredited.

In this sense, the Japanese imperialism and European nationalism of the 19th and early-20th century varieties were forms of reactionary tribalism that replaced old-school religious tribalism. They were the movements that dominated life and thinking after the the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, and Darwin set religion on its heels.

So nationalism was the Herderian reaction to the stresses of modernity up and until its reductio ad absurdum in Adolf Hitler. By the end of World War II, the Holocaust and Hiroshima finally gave everyone serious pause about the value of imperialist and protectionist nationalism and chauvinism.

Then, in the summer of 1969, we landed on the moon, and saw Earth from space.

So religion was intellectually discredited in the 19th century; nationalism in the 20th; and the possibility of a world civilization was given a concrete visual symbol when humanity first saw the Earth from space.

Communism then, Islam now. In the 20th century, it was the Russian revolution and international communism that played the anxiety-provoking excuse for hunkering down in conservative nationalism. In the 21st century, it’s 9/11 and fundamentalist Islam. Militant forms of Islam, and the tip-to-toe covering of immigrant women brought by Islam to the West, spur the sorts of anxieties that make Western people want to hunker down in suspicion as opposed to trust. Hitler would have never reached power save for fear of Communism, and likewise, Trump and Brexit are fueled by fear of Islam.

My prediction. As compared with populist and protectionist nationalism, Brexit will bring to the fore the natural superiority, in the 21st century, of globalization, trade, and multiculturalism. The real-time experiment Britain is now conducting is going to alarm everyone–most especially the Brits. You don’t know how good you’ve got it, till it’s gone.

So I predict that the sheer shock of the Brexit vote’s economic consequences is going to result in a counter-reaction that forges Britain to Europe even more indissolubly. It’s going to completely discredit protectionist and nationalist movements. There will be no Brexit follow-through. Britain’s leaders will drag their feet, and another vote will be taken a year from now. And there will be no Donald Trump presidency because Brexit will scare shit out of the majority of Americans. Before entering voting booths in November, they’ll see what populist simplicities applied in practice look like. Trump’s fatal error was nonchalantly saying in Scotland that Brexit is a good thing. It’s the rope Hillary will hang his candidacy from.

Illegal aliens and space aliens. Younger voters especially don’t want to blow up the evolving global civilization, for they are increasingly urban-dwellers, and urban-dwellers have far more in common with their urban peers across the globe than they do with, say, those living in rural areas, divorced from technology, and devoted to traditional forms of life, religion, and patriotism.

So while it’s true that humans are tribal animals, and human nature doesn’t change quickly from an evolutionary point of view, it is nevertheless also true that the notion of the tribe is being imaginatively transformed into the inhabitants of the planet as a whole. Against the noisy protectionist, nationalist, and anti-immigrant reactionaries, and their psychologically shut-in monotheist cousins (“There is no god, but mine“), the circle of empathy of people actually braving movement about in the larger world is widening every day. In ever greater numbers, people are coming to see our human fate as a collective one; we’re all in the same boat. We sink or swim together.

The global collective threat of poisoning the commons, and the problem of rising sea levels from global warming, helps us envision our collective fate. And what might also help an expanded and empathic global consciousness is if SETI discovers a signal from an alien civilization over the next couple of decades. Then it can be “us” over here on this tiny planet, and “them” out there in the very far (and fortunately, unreachable) distance. Focusing on illegal immigration narrows vision; focusing on SETI broadens it.

The big blue marble vs. the tangerine tornadoes (Trump and Boris Johnson). The Sesame Street song, Big Blue Marble, has far more good sense in it than any speech by Donald Trump or Brexit politician like Boris Johnson. The lyrics to the song pretty much explicate the megatrend that will swamp in due course all contemporary efforts at revived protectionist nationalism and fundamentalism:

The earth’s a Big Blue Marble
When you see it from out there
The sun and moon declare
Our beauty’s very rare

Folks are folks and kids are kids
We share a common name
We speak a different way
But work and play the same

We sing pretty much alike
Enjoy spring pretty much alike
Peace and love we all understand
And laughter, we use the very same brand

Our differences, our problems
From out there there’s not much trace
Our friendships they can place
While looking at the face
Of the Big Blue Marble in space

Notice that last stanza–and most specifically the third line of that stanza (“Our friendships they can place”). The “they” in that third line suggests imagined aliens. Aliens seeing the Earth from space would see that those living there share a rare and beautiful home (oikos; ecology), and would infer that, if there is a civilization on the planet, it is evolving toward an ethos of: (1) not wrecking Earth; (2) recognizing the shared fate of its inhabitants; and (3) valuing integration and friendship.

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