Overweening Generalist

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Donald Trump...POTUS? (Vol.2)

Carrying on from yesterday...

Chris Hedges at truthdig 2 March, 2016:

Comment: Lots and lots of Hedges on fascism here, and as one of the more prominent Jeremiahs on the Unistat Left, it's one of the tunes he knows best. Longtime readers of the OG know I'm prone to invocations of FASCISM! and have been since I read 1984, followed by Brave New World, followed by Fahrenheit 451 one summer vacation, for "fun." I don't go to horror movies and instead prefer TV "news" to give me the twitchy creeps.

There was a time when, if someone asked me if I was a Democrat or Republican, I'd rapidly fire back, "I'm an anti-fascist!"

Subsequent reading and thinking over the last 15 or 20 years has led me to agree with Hegel: it's not sufficient to be only "against" something; you should be "for" something else too. So now I'm some sort of what Chomsky has called himself, a Libertarian Socialist (AKA anarchist), with heavy Green leanings but also with much sympathy for 19th century Unistat Libertarianism and European varietals of anarchy. I'm against anything that prevents our technology from becoming smaller, cheaper, more efficient and less-polluting (i.e., Buckminster Fuller's inevitable process of omniephemerlization). I'm for Basic Income (which still seems taboo in Unistat politics), for universal health care and education, for cutting the military budget by 5% every year and reallocating that money for R&D into renewable energy. I think the rich should be taxed at the level they were in the 1950s. At this point I'd like to quote one of our martyrs:

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one

Anyway: Hedges is really against fascism, which is a jejune thing to write, I know. Just about anyone who's read a book is "against" it, but some seem quite a lot more haunted by its historical specter than others. Hedges seems one of the truly haunted, maybe even more than I am, which impresses me in an ironic sense. The "revenge of the lower classes" is equivalent to fascism, and in a classic Hedges riff: it's because of our college-educated elites who aligned themselves with power and privilege and not with The People. That's a dramatic riff on socio-historical dynamics that's long intrigued me. The true Owners play divide and conquer, and they always win. Educated "elites" are still human and feel they are better than the Owners, and seek to fulfill their prerogatives (this is not Hedges, but my own reading of interesting Leftist sociologists and historians, like Alvin Gouldner, Howard Zinn, and Noam Chomsky), so they pay lipservice to the Great Unwashed but want the Good Life too. I know Hedges is with me here...

Hedges: "College educated elites, on behalf of corporations, carried out the savage neoliberal assault on the working poor. Now they are being made to pay." By facing a POTUS named Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.

And Hillary Clinton is a NeoLiberal to the bone, by the way...

Hedges has read all the books and authors that have roused me. His article quotes at length the neo-pragmatist Richard Rorty (died 2007), who is in turn warning about fascism in 1998 because of insufficient care about what to do with displaced workers in a post-industrialized society. Hedges quotes Rorty, who quotes Edward Luttwak the brilliant amoral political philosopher and author of Coup d'Etat: A Practical Handbook, which was read by a character in the Illuminatus! Trilogy. Luttwak's readings have led him to guess that fascism is in Unistat's future and one of the reasons is people whose jobs have been "offshored" and unskilled workers will be forced to realize no one they've elected is trying to help them.

Hedges cites Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here (which I read within a year after my summertime of Orwell/Huxley/Bradbury), quotes at length from a book I have not read, Anatomy of Fascism, by Robert Patton. It's scary, oh yea. Hedges quotes Hannah Arendt, he reminds us of Durkheim's term anomie, he brings up the one Great Thinker on this subject I would've had I been commissioned to write a piece on Creeping Fascism in America, Walter Benjamin, who said that fascism has occurred when politics has become aesthetics. Hedges seems borderline trivially correct when he says fascist movements do not build off the actions of politically active people; they are built on politically inactive "losers."

Trump's supporters are brimming with a transcendent ressentiment and can't wait to get revenge on intellectuals who've told them they can't yell out "Spic!" or "Nigger!" or "faggot!" like the good old days. Also, they'd love to be able to use violence on non-whites with impunity. (Pssst! ever read The Turner Diaries?) All gains made by people of color and gays will be wiped out. Also, says Hedges, Trump's brownshirts hate "intellectuals, ideas, science and culture." (This also describes very neatly just about the only group of people I do not wish to party with.)

To paraphrase from an old Woody Allen joke:

On one hand, we have Hillary Clinton, who stands for just about everything that got us in this mess.
On the other hand, we'll have violent, uneducated racists running wild, who hate culture and ideas.
Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

Hedges even goes here: There will be salutes to the flag and cross (instead of swastika and fasces), and "mass recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance" which will be a "litmus test for detecting the internal enemy." Now that is some haunted jit.

Hey, when they say, "Now let us all stand and sing our National Anthem" at baseball games, I have been that guy who remains seated. Sure, people glare at me for nine innings, but the idea of compulsory saluting and singing of some abstract idea about "freedom" is just too ironic for me. I've been like this for 20 years. Hedges goes down a turgid path here, but maybe he's right and I really hope not. If he is and this blog disappears around January 20, 2017, after the inauguration of King Trump, I guess I was wrong.

(Quick book recommendation from the OG: Alfred Jarry's Ubu Plays)

Hedges - who recently said he's voting for Green candidate Jill Stein - finishes his jeremiad with this: the only thing that will save us is a massive social movement to defeat fascism, but it will not come out of the Democratic Party. (Does he even realize that's basically saying, "We're all so royally screwed!"?)

Hedges always delivers with his apocalyptic Leftist jeremiads, and he always overdoes it. It's like Performance Art to me. Nonetheless, I feel for a guy like Hedges because I think we're of the same intellectual and emotional gene pool. Therefore...

Grade: B
ProfB AKA @hilzoy on Twitter, in a series of Tweets, 29 February, 2016:

Comment: I don't know who this person is, but I admire the judo move of having empathy for Trump supporters and explaining why. The GOP has spent decades destroying trust in science, legitimate experts and the press, constantly messaging that "America is being destroyed" when a corporate Democrat is trying to do some moderately sane thing for humans or the environment. After years and years and years of this, now they're fucked and don't know who to trust. Republicans have been dismantling their quality of life, shipping jobs overseas.

Enter: Trump. He "speaks his mind" and can't be bought. When the mainstream Republican party says, "Don't trust this guy!" well, the Trumpanistas  have just about had it with them too. And who can believe anything in the MSM?

Message: the Republican party made this mess. It's entirely their own fault. They broke it, now they have to buy it, take it home and try to glue it back together. These ideas are seen in very many of the articles that seek to explain the rise of Trump, but I applaud "ProfB" or "@hilzoy" for encapsulating these spot-on ideas so tersely. And again, the empathic turn? Admirable.

Grade: A-
Prof Rick Searle at IEET (Institute for Ethics and Emergent Technologies), 7 March, 2016:

Comment: Searle's thesis is that Trump's candidacy is a result of "dark epistemology" and Trump is the perfect character to use this epistemology on the mass stage for his own gain.

Searle gives us his own history lesson-spiel: Neoliberalism starts in 1945 when Friedrich Hayek shows that Soviet-style central planning is no good, but continuous distributed feedback loops of information yields a better economy.

Still, Unistat gradually went for a Welfare State/social safety net in addition to State capitalism. J.K. Galbraith alerted us to the problem of manufactured "needs" and this muddles things a bit for our values/economy/understanding of where we're at. Nixon created the EPA and flirted with Basic Income (really: the FAP), but by the time of Reagan and Thatcher, the welfare state had suddenly become something evil, or at least that's what our real-life versions of C. Montgomery Burns wanted us to believe. Bill Clinton converted the Democrats to Neoliberalism and bragged about ending "welfare as we know it" before his term was out in 2000. The political philosophy of Neoliberalism led to the Collapse of 2008. (NeoConservatism seems merely a more Far-Right version of Neoliberalism to me. - OG)

[Again: Hillary Clinton is NeoLiberal to the marrow. Think before you vote. Off my soapbox...]

Hayek was for Basic Income, by the way. It's a rare day indeed when I hear a Libertarian who mentions the greatness of Hayek's thought who also mentions he was for Basic Income.

The "dark epistemology" Searle addresses has to do with the acceleration ("flood") of information, which also inundates us with deception, conspiracy theories and manipulation. He seems quite influenced by Shiller and Akerlof's Phishing For Phools. Both authors won the Nobel Prize in Economics.

Searle: "We live in a media environment in which no one can be assumed to be telling the truth, in which everything is a sales pitch of one sort or another..."

He also brings up Agnotology, a term coined by Stanford's Robert Proctor, and it's the study of manufacturing doubt in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence. Big Tobacco saying "the science isn't really in whether smoking causes lung cancer or not" (when internal memos showed they knew it did long ago, but that tar in your mom's lungs was making them rich), and now the best example is probably the "doubt" fossil fuel companies have spread about anthropogenic climate change.

Now that is some dark epistemology! And with Internet and all the other fear-buttons being pushed, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that all of Searle's dark epistemologies are a way of Dumbing Down the population, but as if this process was being done, to use a postmodern metaphor, "on steroids." If so, by which agency? Rogue gummint forces? Corporations? Ourselves? All of the above plus more? Do we need to go back and read Jung now? Is Trump a continuation of some Top Secret CIA mind control plan that began with Herman Cain's run four years ago? Are we hopelessly mired in a funhouse mirror-reality inside a Simulated Universe run by the Nine Unknown Men, who foisted The Matrix on us to throw us off the track while they keep us from realizing we're all only brains in a vat, run by the Illuminati? Or am I seriously lacking sleep from my bronchitis?

Grade: A-
Chris Lehman at In These Times, March 1, 2016:

Comment: This seems almost the essay form of the Twitter artist @hilzoy/ProfB, but with more bile and far less empathy. The GOP made their bed, now we're all forced to lie in It. We get the requisite quote from It Can't Happen Here. We've had decades of antipolitics and bigotry from the GOP, but there's no time for schadenfreude because if Trump gets in we're all fucked, etc.

Lehman cites NeoCon Robert Kagan, who calls Trump a "Frankenstein monster."

Yes, a monster that YOU helped build, you brain-truster for war criminals.

David Brooks was with the NeoCons and now we're supposed to pretend we can't look at his old articles and call him out as the profoundly overrated, lightweight hypocritical blowhard he is. Brooks says Trump is "a cancer." Yes, and you are a gallon of dioxin poured into the local brooks, Brooks.

Ross Douthat of the NYT, another complete zero of a thinker, in my opinion: Trump is Obama's fault. He should have literally mailed that one in.

Mitch McConnell, who Lehman calls a "procedural nhilist," which I find apt and yet somehow too kind, says the GOP will drop Trump "like a hot rock" if he gets the nomination. I don't, and never have, believed this turtle-man. Not for one second. He's as fascist as Trump, but he's the old-fashioned kind: he keeps it to himself and his friends. When there's no mics around. As a matter of fact, I consider McConnell a traitor to the US, because, with no actual principle invoked, said as soon as Obama got elected, he and his beige fascist Do-Nothing Nihilist Republicans will oppose Obama on everything. If Obama says the sky is blue, they say, no, we say it's red. It's better if we don't even listen, much less talk. There is no democracy, no fixing the infrastructure, no exchange of ideas. The Republicans have no ideas. This traitor seemed proud to announce his only purpose was to make Obama a "one-term President." I guess: fuck the constituents who didn't bankroll your run for Senate. And forget about moving the country forward in any way. No thinking, no need to even show up. Vote symbolically to repeal Obamacare SIXTY TIMES.

Oh, McConnell would love Trump in office. You Kentuckians have been had.
On the House side, John Boehner wasn't dipshit enough for these do-nothing decent Nihilists.

My favorite line from Lehman: this Trump run is a "Theater-in-the-round production of Falling Down."

Lehman thinks Trump really is pro-choice and more in favor of single-payer health than Hillary, about which I'll address subsequently.

If it feels like I really went off on McConnell, I did. Guilty as charged, but what's a blog for? And besides, I'm pissy from being inside for five straight days with bronchitis. So there.

Grade: B+
                           The reason for this image will become clear when you read 
                                the last article in this spiel.

Paul Krugman at the NYT, March 8, 2016:

Comment: Nice geometrical diagram, (Krugman calls his own diagram "silly") but overall a tad flippant. How bad would Trump be vs. not-Trump? Krugman thinks, "Who cares?" It has to do with likelihood of being elected. Trump is awful, but not much more awful than the others.

Krugman thinks, as I do, that Cruz is a total ass and paranoid conspiracy nutjob, and Krugman has fun with pretending he's been fomenting a conspiracy that Cruz has bit into: "Progressives should be cheering Trump on (which is why my secret committee has been orchestrating that conspiracy Cruz talks about.)"

Just an aside: how do you vote for a guy like Cruz, who, no one who has ever met him liked him? Are the evangelicals that fucking stupid? I could give a long, detailed and wonky answer, but instead I'll just say: yes. Yes, they are that fucking stupid. Take the most idiotic reading of the Bronze Age text and its sequel, factor in the "decades" of anti-politics and bigotry Lehman cited, next swirl in the dark epistemologies Searle talked about: bake for however long Pat Robertson tells you to*, and voila!: a brain is a terrible thing to waste, but millions of brains wasted this way gets you a Ted Cruz who's still in this thing.

Krugman is no Chris Hedges, I'll give either guy that! (Wha?)

I'm sure Nobelist and science fiction lover Krugman would have more to say about Trump, but this time he'd handing in something a tad light.

Grade: B-
Evert Cilliers AKA Adam Ash, at Three Quarks Daily,  2 March, '16:

Comment: Either this guy is fucking with us, or...something else.

Clinton, W43 and Reagan were so bad, Trump would be much better, because he's smarter than the GOP "(not that this says much)" and the thing to note: Trump is bullshitting his way to the nomination. He and his minions sat up and took notice when an anti-immigrationist nobody named Dave Bratt startled everyone and beat Eric Cantor in Virginia.

For Cilliers, Obama is the best POTUS we've had since FDR.

The building of a Mexican wall: isn't meant to be taken seriously by anyone who can combine a few neurons into a thought.

What Trump's true believers like is that he has no respect for Republican leaders. Just recall what he said about McCain, Romney, and Jeb.

Cilliers seems to believe that we can get jobs back from China by imposing punitive tariffs, which goes against NeoLib doctrine. Maybe it's true, but China has bought up our debt. What about that? And how many jobs will this bring back, with rapid automation? I have my doubts. This seems more Mexican wall-ish to me than a real idea.

Cilliers - as is required - calls Trump a "narcissistic blowhard vulgarian" and a "walking wish fulfillment of every poor guy." The OG qualifies as a poor guy, but I have not for a second in my life wished for anything Trump has. This all feels a bit glib, doesn't it? Now for the conundrum:

"Don't forget, Trump is a socially liberal New Yorker, and not a dyed-in-the-wool conservative by any measure. That's why he's got nothing against Planned Parenthood, Social Security, abortion or any of the socially retro bugaboos so beloved by the troglodyte GOP."

Cilliers asserts Trump's from the elite, so if he wins, he'll surround himself with Bloomberg-like types. (Yea, maybe. But even so, that's not exactly exciting...)

If you read the article, someone in the comments section challenges Cilliers about Trump on the social issues like Planned Parenthood, abortion, etc, with links. Here's where it gets into our problem with dark epistemology. I read the articles the commenter cited. Then I looked to see if Trump has reversed his stance. He has. As of today, it appears Trump is all for Social Security, Planned Parenthood, a woman's right to choose (this one he's hedging on a bit, but that's the way it goes with politicians and abortion: if your constituency wants to end Roe, you must appear to be trying to stop it, all the while knowing what a disaster it would be), etc.

[An example from simple searches: Trump on Planned Parenthood last Oct:
It should be de-funded:

but on March 1st: he's for Planned Parenthood:

Now: who do we believe? This reality TV blowhard billionaire who has burned the playbook of every politician by getting rid of any semblance of decency and decorum and protocol, assuring us his dick is plenty big, insulting people to their face on TV, etc?

This, to me, is some dark epistemology, mi amigos y amigas.

And even if Trump is socially liberal and he's playing the clueless to get votes, he's eerily too adept at it, even for a politician. And Cilliers has nothing to say about Trump with the Launch Codes or drone strikes/a private murder list that Obama currently has.

But: For fucking with my head so well in such a short piece, I have to give Evert Cilliers AKA Adam Ash:

Grade: A
*The OG was informed four hours after this post that Pat Robertson has called for a Trump-Kasich ticket. It remains to be seen how much this harms Cruz, helps Trump, or gets particular members of the flock closer to Jeebus.

Okay, my mommy says it's time to stop playing and come in for din-din. If you like this stuff, I'll do another one manana.

                                           artist: Bob Campbell


Sue Howard said...

Hedges: "College educated elites, on behalf of corporations, carried out the savage neoliberal assault on the working poor. Now they are being made to pay."

I read this and thought: well, I was college educated, I had a job in a financial services corporation and got a decent salary for a while. Shit! Hedges is talking about me! I'm to blame, I carried out the savage neoliberal assault.

Then I realised he's talking about the USA. I live in the UK. Phew!! Seriously though, I do find it puzzling and worrying that prominent smart, erudite folks on the "left" write in these sweeping generalisations in which broad, ill-defined classes of people are savaging other classes. This kind of rhetoric seems very popular and common in the UK too. Sometimes it comes from far-right populist demagogues (with just a few parameters switched, but essentially the same logic and level of generalisation). Perhaps we tolerate it more when it comes from our "side".

Not that it doesn't contain a minimal "core" of validity, in some sense, but then probably so does much of what actual Fascists say in their crowd-pleasing speeches. And if I'm stating the obvious here, I wonder why it doesn't appear obvious to folks like Hedges (since, presumably, if it were obvious, he wouldn't do it?).

michael said...

Good point: the standard generalized "the Left" and "the poor" and "intellectuals are..." and "conservatives think..." etc seems too much part of the internalized Game Rules of political writing.

I think a lot of smart folk get stuck on the political circuit (remember Leary, who said the only appropriate way to discuss politics was when you're down on all fours?) and this generalized language seems to save effort and partly hypnotizes the reader at the same time. Eventually, I think many seem to think these generalizations "are" true.

Korzybski has, on one lingering level, always seemed too tall an order to internalize.

Sue Howard said...

Love the term, "jeremiad", by the way.

Eric Wagner said...

Terrific piece. The tarot has 22 Trumps. You've give us just as many.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I don't buy into the "shipped our jobs overseas" rhetoric; it seems to be that between automation and globalization, this is part of a long term trend, not something that can be pinned on a few convenient villains. But I agree that Trump is doing a good job about stoking resentment of "elites" and the sour direction that the economy has taken.

michael said...

@Tom Jackson-

True: both parties are neoliberal, which means "free trade" which means jobs will go wherever it's cheapest to do business. How "long term" do think the "trend" will be?