Overweening Generalist

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Donald Trump...POTUS? (Vol.1)

I've had a nasty rhinovirus lately, and I've been resting, drinking lots of fluids, looking at porn. But many of the "experts" say, due to the psychosomatic synergy of mind/body, the unwell ought to convalesce with happy, humorous, less stressful mind-stuff.

And yet: I found myself spinning out into a YUGE pileup of "what does it mean to have Trump doing so well?" articles. It's the atavistic need for a bad time when there's a bad time to be had, I guess. Or: my masochism takes on ever-odd hues.

Anyway: I will link articles with my comments and, because I found while reading these articles (and what follows is merely a handful; please feel free to link to ones I didn't in the comments and say why you thought the opinion was interesting) that I was interested in the epistemologies used, and how they resonated with my idiosyncratic take on this Horror Show. Furthermore, I will act the schoolmarm and give pissy "grades" to each opinion piece.

Here goes...
Scott Adams of the famous "Dilbert" comic strip, from his blog way back on 13 August, 2015

Comment: In what will become fairly standard in these articles, Trump is a "narcissistic blowhard" without any political credentials. I'm guessing, were Trump to confront Adams he'd say, "Damn straight, but I'm the best narcissistic blowhard you've ever seen and I get things done...I've got a lot of money my friend. A lot of money." Just a guess.

The meat of Adams's analysis is that Trump is using classic hypnosis techniques, like "intentional exaggeration" and "brand management" and "taking the high ground" (when accused of being a whiner, Trump said he was the "best whiner of all time").

And then there's deflection: when called out on his misogynistic remarks, Trump said yea, I've said some nasty things about Rosie O'Donnell, knowing his pathetic sans culottes universally revile Ms. O'Donnell. And hey, those chicks had it comin'. Adams sees Trump making a deal with Fox honcho Ailes over ratings: hey Rog, you don't like me, but your ratings go up when I appear on your network, so let's make a deal.

As of last August, Adams didn't know Trump didn't write The Art of the Deal. It was written by Tony Schwartz, who has since said Trump only "read it."

Adams seems to genuinely think Trump is so adept with his hypnotic billionaire's business ju-ju that he could make Mexico build a wall and pay for it.

Scott Adams has studied hypnosis himself, so he's spotted it. To me, it's soooo missing the point. Nassim Nicholas Taleb might call this a petty case of "tunneling," which is the neglect of sources of uncertainty outside the plan itself. Others use the term "cherry picking." I will settle with "missing the point."

There's no need to invoke hypnotic techniques; Trump seems to be obviously (to me) saying things with a certain style that appeals to downtrodden, uneducated whites who feel like they're losing.

Grade: C-
Freddie Gray in The Spectator, 5 March, 2016

Comment: For Gray, Trump is a "fulminating demagogue with more than a whiff of mad dictator about him." Articles about Trump are your chance to really let your high-minded invective riffs out. And who can blame the writers? It's appropriate, no?

Gray calls Trump a "foreign policy moron," which I think is true. There's no way he could find Aleppo on an unmarked map. A true Murrkin, that Trump. Gray says Trump is "narcissistic and nihilistic," and I think the first term is obviously true and hope to hell the second one is not. It's an easy riff. He gets in the requisite allusion to fascism: Mussolini and the KKK. Gray also says Trump "tramples all over the corpse" of W43: the failed wars, the financial crisis. I have no problem with anyone raking W43 over the coals.

Also: Trump attracts millions "precisely because he is a rude thug." Aye, too true. Or at least Trump's playing the rude thug. (This will get complicated.) We know politics has been about bluster for a long time, but Trump takes it up a notch - hell: 23 notches! - and it makes the more sensitive among us who have read history a bit unnerved. Believe it or not, there are some of us Ordinary Unistatians who have never bought any of the lines about American exceptionalism, and do fear that It Can Happen Here. (Book recommendation from the OG: The Mass Psychology of Fascism, by Wilhelm Reich.)

Here's where the conservative Freddie Gray loses me:
Unistat with Trump is seeing "the most benevolent superpower in history turning nasty." My gawd, you need to actually read outside your dipshit reality tunnel, Gray. Tell the people of Hiroshima about our benevolence. Tell everyone in Latin America. Tell the East Timorese. Show the Vietnamese peasant burned with napalm about "nasty." I could literally go on for days here.

Also, Gray apparently thinks our garrison state economy is just ducky. What an asshole. He seems to actually admire our military expenditures. And here's a line that seems ripped out of a rich kid's 7th grade essay:

"America has always tried to do the right thing." How do you get a job writing..? Ahh...conservative. Probably favors Rubio and his more foreign wars/tax cuts for the rich brilliance. Trump's ideas about protectionism are like "national socialism" and what about "free enterprise"?

Finally, Gray had to do it: he ends his piece by asserting that Trump is the "logical consequence of Obama" who "swept into power on a wave of demented hope."

Grade: F
Andrew Bacevich from Tom Dispatch, 1st of March, 2016

Comment: The intro by Nick Turse, about Trump's "Trumpiso" and his "xenophobia, political bromides, and so-light-it-floats policy proposals" are well-taken by me. Tonight I watched Trump talk about how he'd handle ISIS: he'd find a really really tough guy like Gen. George Patton. That's pretty light. Politically speaking, it's roughly the equivalence in density of a neutrino.

I liked Turse's memory of his 1980s and the commercial for Trump's Atlantic City gaudy pleasure palace. It gave me a minor bad-trip flashback to the time I got stoned and watched Robin Leach on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," which put me off pot for a long time. Like maybe even a week. But to Bacevich.

Andrew Bacevich has been on my radar since the Awful Years of Cheney, W43 and that entire cadre of NeoCon war criminals. Bacevich is an American historian who retired as a career US Army officer. His son died fighting in Iraq in 2007. He specializes in diplomacy, military history and foreign policy and said W43's "preventative wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan were "immoral, illicit and imprudent."

About Trump: he's not a big fan. Trump is to American politics what Martin Shkreli is to Big Pharma, and that Trump as POTUS will "demolish the structural underpinnings" of what we've called "democracy." So: Trump as POTUS = no more constitutional democracy, with Trump playing a Juan Peron character, with Melania as Eva. And even if things don't get better for Trump's desperate supporters, at least he'll be more fun to watch on the teevee.

Bacevich understands the public anger, but he has some insights on Trump's use of that anger: that Trump understands that the difference between the ostensibly serious and the self-evidently frivolous has collapsed, and that "celebrity confers authority" at this stage.

Thinking is a sacred disease and sight is deceptive. - Heraclitus

Trumpism "is an attitude or pose that feeds off of and then reinforces, widespread anger and alienation." In addition, his followers like the fact that Trump knows all about the bullshit corporate "news" journalists and gatekeepers and other "reality show" producers and calls them out on their bullshit, because apparently it takes one to know one.

For Bacevich, Trump is a carnival barker selling magical potions to fix health care, immigration, the economy and war.

Then it gets dark. By which I mean I think Bacevich is right: Trump, Cruz and Rubio (this last guy will now have to drop out as of his showing in primaries within the past eight hours, as of the moment I'm writing this) all say - and maybe even believe - that things were great until Obama got in, so on "day one" they'll reverse...all...that. - Playing to the childish electorate who apparently think the Prez is a guy with a Big Dick who is OMNIPOTENT. Cruz, Trump and Rubio look at the rest of the world, and Unistat's place in it and see nothing but military solutions. (Not that Obama is all that different!)

(Suddenly I'm reminded of a George Carlin bit about campaigns and telling the truth. Carlin would have run on this slogan:

The People Suck
Fuck Hope)

Finally, Bacevich predicts - and he's not the only one - that this means the Republican Party as we've known it is gone. Even if Cruz or Trump don't win.

Which brings me to my next guy, but first a grade for Bacevich:

Grade: A-
Bruce Bartlett in Politico, July 27, 2015

Comment: A supply-sider and former Reagan advisor who worked in the Treasury under Bush41 and who is a longtime Republican party apparatchik, Bartlett thought W43 and his NeoCons had dangerously departed from true conservatism and has been vocal about the increasingly disastrous path his beloved party has taken. Bartlett voted for Trump in order to speed the demolition of the Republican party. This seems almost mythic to me. If not mythic, it's at minimum chock-full of pathos.

I've seen Bartlett talk recently. Let's lose this one, big, so we can start over with Adults in the room, and get away from the racists, borderline fascists, religious nutjobs and know-nothings in the party.

Fat chance, Bartlett. But I feel for ya, man.

(NB: Bacevich thinks the Trump/Cruz run means the end of the Republicans. Maybe. But we'll see how/if they reorganize. But I can picture Bartlett in his mansion, reading Bacevich's piece with glee. Maybe he even pushes away from his 250 year old cherry oak desk and dances a little jig, late at night, alone, with some vodka in his system.)

"Trump's nomination would give what's left of the sane wing of the GOP a chance to reassert control in the wake of inevitable defeat..." Ummm...how many "sane" ones are there? I can count 'em on one hand, right?

Bartlett seems somewhat comforted in that he thinks Trump would lose big like Goldwater did in 1964, which seems his model for restructuring. (Bartlett thinks it's good Goldwater lost in '64 because it paved the way for Nixon!) Methinks times have changed, especially with Citizens United and people like the Koch Bros. But hey: good luck on this one, Bruce.

Bartlett thinks: When the Republicans get trounced in November, we'll have someone running in 2020 who is less right-wing than either McCain on Romney were. Really? I don't see it. As a matter of fact, I think guys like Bacevich and others are right: there will be more Trumps and Cruzes in 2020, unless something is done to staunch the flow of jobs overseas, the falling wages, the shitty jobs, the hopelessness of much of the country. About this Bartlett, the Party Man, has nothing to say.

He does make an interesting point when talking about the 1960s and the history of the Republican party: that conservatives and country club Republican Party members "have always been uncomfortable allies." That's my favorite line in Bartlett's piece.

But then Bartlett tries to paint Wm. F. Buckley as for civil rights (he opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but to his credit, later said it was a mistake to oppose) and that Buckley tried to purify the party by distancing it from Birchers and Randroids, which I find equivocal. Buckley wanted to appear to distance the party from extremists, but he knew they needed as many factions as possible. And Bartlett goes on with this louse-ridden history lesson by reminding us that Irving Kristol and his NeoCons were a way of getting moderate Jews into the party. How did that work out for you, 2000-2008?

Bartlett mentions nothing about the sort of anger that would give rise to Trump. I think he's been too well-fed and protected and privileged to even think about this.

Bruce says some true things about his political god, Ronald Reagan, who "raised taxes 11 times, gave amnesty to illegal aliens, pulled American troops out of the Middle East, supported environmental regulations (not so much- OG), raised the debt limit, and appointed many moderates to key positions, including the Supreme Court."

I hope Bartlett doesn't think Scalia was a "moderate."

Grade: C
Well, that's all for today 'cuz I'm weak with bronchitis, but I'll go over some more of these tomorrow, if only get all this this off my chest. (<----did you catch the lurking pun?)

                             a graphic depiction of my inner state after watching footage of 
                             U. of Louisville student Shiya Nwanguma surrounded by white
                             supremacists at a Trump rally a week ago


Dirtydiscordia said...

Top commentary. I've been watching developments from this side of the Atlantic with interest. In many ways, the same trend seems to be occuring here. There seems to be more than a whiff of the last days of the Weimar Republic around these days, both in the US and here in Europe.

The Andrew Bacevich piece was very much worth reading. I thought it a good point when he said how far political debate has fallen from Kennedy/Nixon in 1960. Doesn't it seem almost inevitable though?

It makes me want to rewatch Bob Roberts, a film I would recommend to anyone who hasn't seen it.

Trump has completely exposed this trend, and cleverly distilled its essence. He's like some sort of blowback of the modern political process.

Bacevich seems to be right - politics has changed. That intense, incoherent rage isn't going to go away. I fear a Clinton led administration will probably only incubate it.

A clever POTUS would recognise this and try to at least attempt to ground some of that rage before it manifests into something uncontrollable.

Alas... where can such a beast be found...

Eric Wagner said...

Great article as usual. I fear I could not find Aleppo on an unmarked map. I remember when you encouraged me to reread The Mass Psychology of Fascism to help me understand the Tea Party and contemporary America.

Re: Isis. I really liked this article: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/18/turkey-cut-islamic-state-supply-lines-erdogan-isis?CMP=share_btn_fb

I have reached 1978 in my chronological trek through film history, and I hope to reach the present this year. I don't know what I will watch after that. I may binge on the Three Stooges. I know Bob Wilson found that they helped him understand 21st century American politics.

Aside: what do you think of Karl Popper's analysis of Heraclitus?

I also loved the film "Bob Roberts". I bet it would resonate with today's world if I watched it again.

michael said...

Yea, you can imagine how embarrassed sombunall Unistatians are to know the world is listening to a guy run for Prez by assuring his audience his dick is big enough.

Bacevich is someone the Right can't dismiss as some liberal hippie and I wish he had more MSM prominence.

I know very many people here don't realize how the people of other countries fear the US with a MadMan all too willing to use violence to "solve problems" in other parts of the world. With our defense/military budget, it's all nails, nails, nails and a "I like to make things get done" POTUS is given a hammer. I hope certain theorists of the Shadow Gvt are right.

There are various models of the Shadow Gvt, but one that really intrigues me: the Pentagon has been the true Executive Branch since 1947 or 1950. When it comes to violence in foreign policy: they're willing to let the POTUS bomb certain areas, but he's on a leash. The Pentagon does see war as a more-than-viable option, but they do appreciate diplomacy done well. In general. Cheney's people put on a show of diplomacy, but they were determined to invade Iraq anyway, no matter what. And LOTS of CIA and Pentagon people went on record as saying this going to be a mistake, but they got away with it anyway.

Still: not a sane system at all, at all.

I have about 16 more of these articles and I'm not sure how many I'll cover before I get sick of the topic.

Robert Anton Wilson said around 1988 that he could always predict who'd win the election for POTUS: whoever came off as being just as stupid as the electorate. But then: Clinton was a Rhoads Scholar. Then: dipshit W. But then: Obama, who at times slipped and actually appeared on TV sounding like a guy who had edited the Harvard Law Review. And now: Trump. Curiouser and curiouser...

Mass pop culture has gone supernova since Kennedy/Nixon, so the range of what passes as political discourse has torched the eyeballs of people like us who watch this stuff. We need to repeal Citizens United. We need publicly funded elections. We need Ranked Voting. We need the option of None of the Above. And I'd like to see a curtailing of the Spectacle: now a guy is running for Prez the day after the inauguration. Europe has many models that seem far saner to me, but Unistatians are not supposed to know anything about Europe.

Why not make it a double bill:
-Bob Roberts followed by a brief intermission, then A Face In The Crowd?
-Bob Roberts and Triumph of the Will?

michael said...


Thanks for the link about Turkey and ISIS.

Turkey (Erdogan regime) has become paranoid over the power of its academics.

I haven't read Popper's book on Problem Solving, which appears to be where he weighs in most substantially re: Heraclitus. But I've read enough of Popper (he believed in mind-body duality but not the extension of Mind) to guess he'd see Heraclitus's quasi-Taoist proto-Whitehead "process" philosophy as too mystical. How close was I?

Eric Wagner said...

Thank you for sharing the Turkey article. I have only read The Open Society by Popper. I read it about 19 years ago, and I found it hard going. As I recall he criticized Heraclitus for historicism, for seeing certain events in the future as inevitable. He criticizes Plato, Hegel, and Marx for the same thing.

michael said...

Oh yea! I'd forgotten that riff from Popper on Heraclitus in _The Open Society_ (which is now available in one volume, btw). I imagine I've forgotten 80% of those two volumes, they were so dense.

It now seems sort of a frivolous charge against a thinker who stands at the dawn of actual philosophizing. Forecasting - and then pushing your visions as "inevitable" seems baked into a lot of brilliant minds who are weird. Still, Popper had lived through too much of this stuff, and saw it as leading to nothing but bloodbaths, so who can blame him?

Robert Anton Wilson, in his book _Chaos and Beyond_, calls historicism "fundamentalist futurism." I see this as complementary to Popper.

Not only does Popper criticize Plato, Hegel and Marx, he would've tried to warn us against the NeoCons too, I think. The Straussians thought they had the key to the true reading of history...