To Be Continued…

Howdy everyone,

First, I want to apologize that Friday’s essay post is going to be delayed. I will be posting it later this week, but it will not be posted today. Sorry for not sticking to the schedule.

Second, I will be posting an update explaining a new schedule and the purpose of each feature later this weekend. This is in part because an old friend of mine will be joining me to post essays for this blog.

Third, tomorrow’s Damage Report will still be posted tomorrow, no worries.

Peace.

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Combat (01/31/2017)

“No people ever recognize their dictator in advance. He never stands for election on the platform of dictatorship. He always represents himself as the instrument [of] the Incorporated National Will…When our dictator turns up you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American.”

-Dorothy Thompson, 1935, As quoted in (Brioch, 2016)

Ministry of Truth

  • http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-regulations-idUSKBN15E1QU
    • Alternative Fact: It is “almost impossible” to start a new business today.”
    • Actual Fact: “The creation of new US Businesses has climbed since steadily since 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
  • https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2017/01/19/targeting-the-arts-is-the-laziest-stupidest-way-to-pretend-to-cut-the-budget/
    • Alternative Fact: Cutting funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is part of a “serious effort” to decrease the federal budget.
    • Actual Fact: The total budget of these three programs, $744.7 million, represents only .000179% of the $4.15 trillion federal budget. Cutting this funding does nothing to “seriously” address the federal budget or reduce it. The biggest impact is likely to be on rural citizens whose communities lack the big private donors that make the arts and public news possible in big cities.
  • http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-priebus-idUSKBN1560RM
    • The original “Alternative Fact”: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period.”
    • The original “Actual Fact”: Ariel photographs demonstrated a much smaller audience than Obama’s 2009 inauguration and the Washington subway system reported 193,000 riders by 11 am, more than two times less than the 513,000 by that time on inauguration day 2009.
    • Alternative Fact: News Media reporting accurate estimates of the number of people attending the presidential inauguration and protests over the weekend represents a “running war” with the White House and an “attack” on President Donald.
    • Actual Fact: News Media reporting accurate estimates of the number of people attending or participating in an event is, quite literally, the job of a journalist and one of the purposes of the news media. Almost any event or protest that is reported on reports estimates of the number of people involved, if that information is available or easy enough to obtain. It’s part of the fourth estate’s public duty to be a witness to history.
  • https://medium.com/@sarahcpr/this-is-psychological-warfare-dc5beb8dde54#.eex8wgtbo
    • Alternative Fact: The CIA supported and responded with laughter and clapping to Donald’s dangerous remarks and statements that he desired to commit war crimes by seizing oil from Iraq.
    • Actual Fact: The cheering and clapping was not from CIA staff but from a group sycophants Donald has started bringing along to press conferences to provide a “laugh track” of a sorts. What? Ugh.
  • http://gizmodo.com/trump-staffers-are-reportedly-using-private-email-accou-1791625552
    • Alternative Fact: Using a private email account while serving as a federal staffer is a crime that deserves being locked up in prison.
    • Actual Fact: Donald’s staffers are using private email accounts
  • http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/25/politics/reality-check-illegal-immigration/index.html
    • Alternative Fact: Illegal Immigration is a huge problem and is getting worse.
    • Actual Fact: Undocumented immigration has decreased to half of what it was from 1980 to 2008. This actually marks a 50-year low in undocumented migrants trying to cross the border. There has also been a change in the nature of undocumented migration – instead of people seeking economic opportunities, far more are Central Americans seeking humanitarian protection from dangers in their own countries.
  • https://youtu.be/fM8iWOOLlls
    • Alternative Fact: Donald J. Trump is the world’s greatest negotiator.
    • Actual Fact: President Donald is a terrible negotiator and doesn’t understand that international relations is not the same as business.
      • Lawrence O’Donnell does a great job of breaking down how President Donald has already flubbed his first negotiation – to meet with Mexican President Nieto and discuss “The Wall.” Furthermore, he demonstrates why the skillset of business negotiations is fundamentally different than the negotiation and diplomacy skillset of a head of state.
  • https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/tracking-trumps-web-of-conflicts/

Damage Report Updates

Take Action

Taking Perspective

  • How Journalists Covered the Rise of Hitler and Mussolini
    • http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-journalists-covered-rise-mussolini-hitler-180961407/#Q07LA4dAc6gLqC8j.01
    • Many newspapers celebrated the rise of Fascism, crediting it with saving Europe from anti-capitalistic leftists. Some even saw Mussolini as “restoring normalcy.” With Hitler, they saw him as a joke and a “nonsensical screecher.” Beyond this, there are so many similarities to the press coverage surrounding President Donald and his supporters, it is slightly terrifying. Many media outlets also thought Hitler would be moderated or outmaneuvered by mainstream politicians, in part because the lack of substance in his policies and pronouncements would become clear.
    • While media outlets such as NY Times even fell for fascists, some media outlets were critical from the get-go and remind us that they have long traditions of good journalism, such as the New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine.
  • What is the legal reality of the emolument’s lawsuit and the Muslim Ban?
    • http://openargs.com/oa39-trumps-muslim-ban/
    • The podcast “Opening Arguments” explained the legal precedent and constitutionality of the current emoluments lawsuit and the Muslim ban on their most recent episode. Really enlightening about what might factor into the way the judicial system will treat these legal challenges to Donald.

Inspiration and Comedic Relief

Citation:

Brioch, J. (2016, December 13). How Journalists Covered the Rise of Mussolini and Hitler. Smithsonian.com. Retrieved January 29, 2017, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-journalists-covered-rise-mussolini-hitler-180961407/#Q07LA4dAc6gLqC8j.01

The Damage Report (01/28/2017)

While collecting articles for a weekly news round-up on Tuesday, I realized that if the number of pages hits double-digits, then it is necessary to break it up into smaller bites. For that reason, I am introducing “The Damage Report” today. I will post this every Saturday, summarizing the developments under the Trump Administration and the new Republican-majority Congress. I am also going to keep a running archive of each bit of damage done, so that we can keep track of the results of President Donald’s actions and remind ourselves of what might need to be undone once we come out the other side of this disaster.

 

Updated on 1-29-2017 to add a few items that were missed in the initial post.

 

  • Four-month ban on refugees and travelers coming from 7 Muslim-majority countries
    • http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-refugees-idUSKBN15B2HL
      • President Donald signed an executive order initiating this ban, saying it is a temporary measure until the administration develops a more “stringent screening process” for not only refugees, but also immigrants and travelers. Due to the ambiguity of the order, green card residents are being advised to consult lawyers before traveling outside the country for fear they too may be barred re-entry.
      • This ban also includes Iraqis who are being targeted for working with the United States. These people served their country and the United States following the invasion of Iraq and President Donald has decided to betray promises to help protect them (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-immigration-iraq-idUSKBN15C036)
      • Separately, President Donald has said he wants the new process to prioritize Christians over Muslims for refugee status, a policy that would be in violation of Constitutional protections of the freedom of religion.
      • Countries who are having visas and entry denied:
        • Iran
        • Iraq
        • Libya
        • Somalia
        • Sudan
        • Syria
        • Yemen
      • It has been noted by many that the countries of origin for the majority of people who have committed terrorist acts in the United States are not included on this list, either because they were US Citizens themselves or their country of origin has business relations with President Donald (https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2017-trump-immigration-ban-conflict-of-interest/), such as Saudi Arabia.
  • 17 Federal Agencies to be eliminated or facing severely reduced funding
    • http://time.com/money/4639544/trump-nea-sesame-street-budget-cut/
      • This article details budget and purpose of agencies to be eliminated
    • https://mic.com/articles/165980/trump-plans-to-eliminate-25-violence-against-women-grant-programs-as-way-to-cut-spending#.BmKxQ1v3w
      • This article explains the damage that will be done to federal efforts to help women who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
    • http://thehill.com/policy/finance/314991-trump-team-prepares-dramatic-cuts
      • Proposed cuts are based upon the “skinny budget” blueprint designed by the conservative Heritage Foundation
        • Department of Commerce
          • Programs to be eliminated or transferred to other agencies
        • Department of Energy
          • Decreased Funding
            • Nuclear Physics Research
            • Advanced Computing Research
          • Programs to be eliminated
            • Office of Electricity
            • Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
            • Office of Fossil Energy
        • Department of Transportation
          • Significant budget cuts
        • Department of Justice Budget Cuts
          • Programs to be eliminated
            • Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services
            • Office of Violence Against Women
            • Legal Services Corporation
          • Programs with reduced funding:
            • Civil Rights Division
            • Environment and Natural Resources Division
        • Department of State
          • Funding to be eliminated
            • Overseas Private Investment Corporation
            • Paris Climate Change Agreement
            • United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
        • Corporation for Public Broadcasting
          • Privatized
        • National Endowment for the Arts
          • Eliminated
        • National Endowment for the Humanities
          • Eliminated
        • Minority Business Development Agency
          • Eliminated
        • Economic Development Administration
          • Eliminated
        • International Trade Administration
          • Eliminated
        • Manufacturing Extension Partnership
          • Eliminated
  • House rule change clears way to sell of federal lands to private businesses
    • https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/19/bureau-land-management-federal-lease
      • Republicans have made a single line change in the rules for the House of Representatives, which can be found on page 35 of the document (http://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20170102/BILLS-115hres5-PIH-FINAL.pdf), allows for the transferring of federal lands to a state or local government without new budget authority, without demonstrating that this will not cause a financial loss, and without compensation. Previously, federal lands were considered to have monetary value as assets – like real estate does for an accountant. This line change basically declares they don’t, and thus removes one important obstacle to just giving away protected lands.
      • This change appears to be intended to make it easier for the House to give away federal lands to states, which are more likely to approve private use of these lands or other activities that are likely to damage them. This suggests a likely threat to conservation efforts throughout the country and may cause permanent damage to lands that represent the natural heritage of our nation. State and local officials, in Wyoming and elsewhere, are already discussing potential uses of this land.
  • “National Day of Patriotic Devotion”
  • Threats to have federal government intervene in Chicago if crime rates don’t decrease
    • http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-chicago-idUSKBN15907T
      • Via a tweet, President Donald declared he would “send in the feds” if the “carnage” in Chicago doesn’t decrease. He seems to be responding to a newspaper report about murder rates, not the advice of the FBI or the Department of Justice. Furthermore, no one has a clue what he means by “send in the feds.”
  • Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline given “green light” to proceed
  • Threats of military intervention and war over South China Sea
  • CIA Blacksites to be reinstated following a federal review
  • Incoming Attorney General will not recuse himself from investigations of the president, jeopardizing independent investigations of presidential misdeeds
    • http://www.politico.com/story/2017/01/jeff-sessions-trump-probes-234087?wpisrc=nl_daily202&wpmm=1
      • Our soon-to-be-appointed Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has refused to recuse himself from investigations related to President Donald, for whom Sessions was his supporter in the campaign. This means someone who is heavily invested in President Donald’s success, and has a history of choosing to not prosecute violations of civil liberties, will leave the window open to being involved or directing the “investigations” of Donald’s misdeeds.
  • The White House is no longer recognizing the role of Anti-Semitism in the Holocaust
  • The US Ambassador to the United Nations now threatens foreign nations and the US will be reducing UN contributions
    • http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-un-idUSKBN15B1NG
      • The new US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, threatened all the nations of the world that she will be “taking names” of countries that do not “have our back.” She also suggested there are plans to pressure the UN to eliminate programs, in conjunction with a recently drafted executive order that will initiate a review of UN funding with the goal of cutting the voluntary contribution of the US by half.
  • The Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security will withhold federal funds from “Sanctuary Cities” that do not voluntarily participate in immigration enforcement.
    • https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/sanctuary-cities/
      • This article by the Washinton Post does an excellent job explaining what “Sanctuary Cities” are, the role of county and municipal governments in immigration enforcement, and what the executive order may mean for these cities. It also reports that federal courts have found time and again that it is voluntary for local governments to participate in immigration enforcement, meaning this executive order likely violates constitutional law (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-legal-idUSKBN15B03H).
    • The Department of Homeland Security will publish a weekly “list of criminal actions committed by aliens” in sanctuary cities
      • https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/01/26/trumps-sanctuary-cities-plan-straight-out-breitbart-radical-right-playbook
        • Despite studies showing both documented and undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than US citizens, the executive order signed by President Donald that seeks to punish sanctuary cities included an order for the DHS to publish a weekly list of crimes committed by immigrants, documented or not. This tactic is something that has been proposed or even practiced previously by Brietbart News under Donald’s advisor Steve Bannon and other Radical Far Right groups.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture have been placed under “de facto gag orders.” The Department of Interior has also had temporary gag orders placed on social media accounts and other media relations.

The Return of the Paranoid Style

“…the modern right wing feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined […]; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners but major statesmen seated at the very centers of American power.”

-Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, 1964

I would not be surprised, when reading the above quotation, if you expected to see it attributed to a writer responding to the rise of Trumpism. If he were alive today, I suspect Richard Hofstadter wouldn’t be surprised either, as its undying virulence is a hallmark of the political pathology he described as “The Paranoid Style of American Politics.”

Half a century ago, in the wake of McCarthyism, Hofstadter was trying to make sense of a type of politics he had seen emerge and re-emerge during his lifetime. Among his contemporaries, he saw this form of political rhetoric and vision represented by Barry Goldwater, and the populist movement he led. Goldwater would remind many today of Donald J. Trump, campaigning for president while talking up conspiracies and easily disprovable claims, also showing little impulse control. Famously, he wisecracked that he wanted to “Lob a grenade into the men’s room at the Kremlin” in the middle of escalating tensions between the United States and Russia during the Cold War.

Having borne witness to the politics of the mid-twentieth century, and having studied the history of American political life, Hofstadter found that apocalyptic rhetoric, tinged with conspiracy theory and zealotry, was not an anomaly, but a regular feature of our democracy. In the essay quoted above, he traced this “political pathology” at fifty-year intervals throughout American history. The targets varied, ranging from Freemasons to Communists, but the symptoms of the disease persisted: a distorted style of political speech filled with exaggeration and “conspiratorial fantasy,” a political vision of enemies guilty of inhuman vice and capable of superhuman power, and the immediacy of an apocalyptic disaster, lurking just over the horizon.  Seeing this as an unhealthy political dynamic, he sought to catalog the symptoms and warn future generations of this dangerous cognitive contagion.

The case studies that Hofstadter provides us with are illustrative, but may be surprising to those unfamiliar with some of the murkier corners of American political history. Starting in the 18th century, Hofstadter finds sermons and speeches describing the dastardly designs of Freemasons and the Bavarian Illuminati to overthrow monarchies, establish democracies, and build a wall of separation between church and state. Then there are the Anglo Protestants fearing the vast resources deployed by the Catholic Church in the Americas, seeing the preaching and religious observances of Catholic communities as a conspiracy to overthrow democracy and freedom of religion in the United States. Fears then turn to the Church of Latter-Day Saints, among protestant Christians, and international bankers, among populists, as the 19th century wears on. He found examples among the left-wing socialists and the right wing fascists of the 20th century, locating the practice of the paranoid style both in the New World and the Old. For this reason, he expressed a sense of resignation, saying that this style of political thought seemed to be “all but ineradicable.”

Even though it was clear the paranoid style had long been with us, Hofstadter identified certain important aspects of the style had changed during the 20th century. Chief among them, the emergence of mass media had shifted the attention of the conspiratorial mind from malevolent silhouettes lurking behind closed doors to “vivid” villains seen on the nightly news – politicians, celebrities, and other public figures. Rather than worrying about the outsider trying to infiltrate and corrupt their society, the modern practitioner of the paranoid style sees unwanted outcomes of public policy as arising not from incompetence or misfortune, but as the result of treasonous betrayal. All of this plays out on the stage of “a vast theater for his imagination, full of rich and proliferating detail, replete with realistic clues and undeniable proofs of the validity of his views” (Hofstadter, 1964). That is to say, the spokesperson of this style will hunt out whatever they can find to confirm their beliefs, and any evidence against it becomes itself proof for the conspiracy, more often than not being attributed to the participation of the media in this vast scheme.

Listing off these aspects of the modern paranoid style, memories of the 2016 election and the emerging habits of the Trump administration come immediately to mind. So many times we heard conspiracy-mongering rants and shouts about Hilary Clinton’s e-mails, Obama’s national origin and religious identity, or that incoherent expression of rage, “Benghazi!” Whenever individuals that voiced these ideas, such as our new president, were confronted with evidence that contradicted or disproved their claims, they would reinterpret the facts to fit their narrative, cite falsified news stories, or declare that contrary evidence was just proof that the “liberal media” was biased.

And, of course, Hofstadter recognized among the paranoid style of the contemporary American far right the phenomenon described at the beginning of this essay. In earlier eras, the spokesperson of the paranoid style often still felt themselves to be in possession of their country and community. They were fending of outside threats to a “well-established way of life in which they played an important part,” being the hero that would man the ramparts of civilization against the forces of evil and barbarism. But this did not hold for the modern American far right.

Hofstadter explains that the modern far right feels dispossessed, perceiving that “America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion” (Hofstadter, 1964). The old virtues and capitalism were under threat from “cosmopolitans and intellectuals,” with our national security and independence undermined by “treasonous plots” coming from “major statesmen seated at the very centers of American power” (Hofstadter, 1964). And with this, they demanded we return America to a better time, to once more restore the way things were. It’s almost as if Donald Trump plagiarized earlier practitioners of the paranoid style with his campaign slogan, declaring “Make America Great Again!”

So here we are. It seems that the paranoid style of politics has finally seized the reins of power, moving from the fringes into the center of American democracy. Unfortunately, while Hofstadter cataloged the political pathology, he did not discover the antidote to this poison. Rather, it falls to us to find a way back to healthy and fruitful politics.

Let us consider then, central to the pathology of the paranoid style is that it is a political dynamic, a process, not an outcome or a person. Even more so, this is not just about one man, Trump, but about his way of doing politics. In order to address it, we must engage in a form of political therapy, healing the body politic through consistent activity and careful practice. How can we resist the paranoid style and mitigate the harm it may do? How do we reverse it and prevent it from returning to power?

Like a hurricane, the paranoid style of Trumpism has swooped into the center of our political discourse, bringing destruction and disaster with it. And like a hurricane, it will be up to us to endure and rebuild. The storm is upon us. Batten down the hatches and protect the levees. Keep the radio on and keep track of the tempest. But remember that we have endured this before and we will endure again.

What should we do now to protect those vulnerable to this disaster? What can we do to decrease the damage it will do? And what will we do tomorrow, when we are forced to start over once more?

 

Citations:

Hofstadter, R. (1964, November). The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Harper’s Magazine.

 

If you would like to read Hofstadter’s essay yourself, you can find it here as part of Harper’s Magazine Archive:

http://harpers.org/archive/1964/11/the-paranoid-style-in-american-politics/

Combat

“Combat” will be a weekly feature of the Bios Praktikos blog, rounding up news and salient articles. “Combat” takes its name from the underground newspaper of the French Resistance that was essential for communicating intelligence and keeping morale alive during the Nazi occupation ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combat_(newspaper) ).

Ministry of Truth Weekly Round-Up

 

Damage Report

 

Take Action

 

Perspective Moment

  • http://www.reuters.com/article/us-trump-nixon-commentary-idUSKBN15403N
    • This article compares President Donald’s transition to Nixon’s. There have also been comparisons to the fears and concerns that dominated the political environment during Reagan’s transition. We have endured things like this before. We will endure again….assuming we can avoid nuclear war.

 

Comedic Relief

 

 

Democracy Lives

Today is not the day democracy dies.

For many, this statement might seem overly optimistic, or maybe even an act of delusion. As Donald John Trump prepares to take the oath of office, with the full support of a Republican-majority congress, having not secured a majority of the popular vote, and having campaigned on proclamations of anger, narcissism, and exclusion, it is not hard to see Friday’s festivities as a grotesque funeral for Lady Liberty. That said, I am here to tell you: today is not the end.

Before I begin my argument, I must first make it clear why so many, especially so many in my generation, feel that the inauguration of Donald John Trump, on January 20, 2017, represents the death throes of the American republic. Eight years ago, as we celebrated the victory of Barack Obama, his inauguration stood out as a symbol of our burgeoning adulthood. For many of us, it was the first time our voices were not only heard, but listened to. For others, they came to age in the following days or months of the first person of color being elected to the presidency. Given that our country was founded on the principle that “all men are created equal,” the victory of President Obama seemed to realize, finally, America’s promise. In experiencing this adolescence, both our own and the presidency’s, all things seemed possible in early days of his administration.

As Obama’s presidency aged with us, we experienced disappointment and many of our hopes, whether personal or political, were dashed. As we continued to struggle to realize our dreams and take our place among our seniors in adulthood, many of those we looked up to seemed to become hostile to us and the future we aspired to. And as we began to tire after years of endeavor, we witnessed the ascent of a man and a political platform that not only opposed us and our values, but seemingly sought to demolish the foundations we had been building for the world we wanted to live in.

For these reasons, today is richly symbolic, even without the fears of what Donald John Trump and his supporters will do to the life, liberty, and happiness of our nation. Knowing this, how can I assert that this event does not symbolize the death of democracy? To explain myself, I must first ask a question.

What is democracy?

Is democracy the laws of the land? If we had many of the same laws, but we did not have elections or a participatory process, could we say we were a democracy? Is democracy the titles of those in positions of authority? What of the countless “presidents” of nations where there is no liberty or equality? Is democracy merely formal action of voting or the pageantry and ceremony of our institutions? With so many tyrants in other nations holding “elections” and celebrating their “victories,” can we really say that?

If democracy is not merely a pile of formalities, rules, and events, then what is it that makes a society a democracy? Although it may sound overly sentimental, I would argue simply: democracy is us.

Democracy is performed day in and day out, as we hold school board meetings and when we come together to discuss the issues of the day. Democracy is found in the people volunteering at a neighborhood cleanup or a homeless shelter. Democracy is born anew each time we engage in the simple daily acts of respect for each other’s equality and agency.

For this reason, I think that if democracy is to die, it will die the day we surrender our power and no longer raise our voices in protest. If democracy is to die, it will die when we stop caring or respecting each other as individuals. If democracy is to die, it is in our hearts that we will dig its grave, long before decay sets into the institutions of our society.

With this in mind, what are we to conclude? Has democracy already passed, and all that is left is for the façade of our republic to crumble? Or is democracy alive, though maybe not in the best of health or good spirits. I cannot say which is true. But I can tell you what I believe:

Today is not the day democracy dies. Democracy will live as long as we keep trying to make it happen. Today is the day democracy lives.