Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day







Monday, January 8, 2018


January 7, 2018
The New York Times has received criticism for publishing, on November 25, an article, "A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland," profiling a neo-Nazi named Tony Hovater, showing that he and his wife are, up to a point, typical small-town Americans. As one letter to the paper put the complaint, "The New York Times just normalized Nazi sympathizers." Another added: "Nazi sympathizers are supposed to be reviled and ostracized, not humanized and normalized." There were many other negative reactions. More importantly, two columnists in The Nation, Gary Younge [1] and Eric Alterman,[2] offered extended versions of those complaints.
In Younge’s view, due to the article’s "obsession with the trivial details of the Hovaters’ daily lives, its effect was not to expose the obscenity of their views, but rather to underscore the normality of their existence." However. the latter seemed to be the point, that right-wingers with extreme views are not necessarily raving maniacs, that they live quietly among us. The article emphasized that aspect of the situation but, although it did not closely examine or emphasize Mr. Hovater’s extreme views, it did not ignore them. He is described as an "avowed white nationalist" and a bigot. "Most Americans would be disgusted and baffled by his casually approving remarks about Hitler, disdain for democracy and belief that the races are better off separate." Note the title of the article.
As to normality, the article, according to Younge, "offered this as a revelation, as though Hannah Arendt had never covered Adolf Eichmann’s trial." His reference presumably is to Arendt’s 1963 book on the war-crimes trial, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil . Readers of The Nation are sophisticated, but I doubt that all of them have read the book or otherwise absorbed her theory of the banality of evil, and have, from it, concluded that, of course, neo-Nazis live among us unnoticed. In any case, it is unlikely that all the readers of The Times have done so; pointing that out was not superfluous.
Alterman took the critique a step further: "the already infamous New York Times profile of one Tony Hovater," which "seeks to illustrate the point that Nazis are people, too," results in " coddling Nazis." He summed up as follows: "Most of the weaknesses of the piece—and there were many—can be subsumed under the heading of ‘category error’. . . . [I]t is clear that what is important about Nazis is not their personalities; it is their ideology and their ability to put it to work killing people."
With due respect to two excellent commentators, all of this seems to me to be an exercise in missing the point: there are extreme right-wingers among us who resemble the rest of us, who are part of the current culture. In response to the claim of category error, one could argue that the evil of neo-Nazism is better known than the ordinariness of people who adhere to it. If so, the Times did a service.
The Times article made another point ignored by Younge and Alterman: "the movement will be looking to make use of people like the Hovaters and their trappings of normie life . . . ."
A recent book[3] describes the Ku Klux Klan of the Nineteen Twenties. In discussing the origins of the Second Klan, the author notes that two of its ideological components were racism and nativism, which included, as with neo-Nazis, white supremacy and hatred of Jews.[4] A review in The Atlantic described the movement as follows: "the Klan of the 1920s encouraged native-born white Americans to believe that bigotry, intimidation, harassment, and extralegal violence were all perfectly compatible with, if not central to, patriotic respectability."[5] The Klan was a more complicated, self-contradictory phenomenon than present-day white nationalism, but its appeal to otherwise ordinary people is instructive. That experience reenforces the message of the Times’ article: we must realize that extreme views are part of American culture, may be held by our seemingly "normal" neighbors, and will erupt at times in movements such as neo-Nazism.
Alterman argues that "the Times — for all its crucial investigative reporting — is simply not up to the job of explaining what the hell is going on in our country." Perhaps, but remember that the elevation of Donald Trump to the Presidency is the result as well as the cause of what is going on. The approach of the article is relevant to the former; we need to realize that otherwise normal people, in this case Trump voters, support or at least tolerate extreme views. Trump’s approval rate among Republicans, after a year in office (82%, according to Gallup), demonstrates that fact; though he is bigoted, laughably incompetent and frighteningly dangerous, they still support him.

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1.
https://www.thenation.com/article/how-to-interview-a-nazi/

2. https://www.thenation.com/article/the-media-must-stop-normalizing-nazis/

3.
Gordon, The Second Coming of the KKK

4.
Id., at 25-28

5
https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/12/second-klan/509468/

Saturday, December 30, 2017

December 30, 2017

Wishing each other a happy new year might seem to require more optimism than perception this time around. However, not all the signs are negative.
We should congratulate ourselves for being such a compassionate nation. Where else would people who are unable to reason, suffer from serious delusions, and wander about mumbling nonsense, find elite employment? Not only do such people find high-paying, influential positions in what used to be termed the news media, in part courtesy of that selfless benefactor, Rupert Murdoch, but we (sort of) elected one of them President. Don’t forget that Murdoch is an immigrant, illustrating another of our generous attitudes.
Where else would the representatives of the people put aside principles about deficits and debt in order to assist those in need, those struggling to pay for maintenance on private jets, yachts and third homes, those worried about passing their hard-earned wealth to deserving children.
We can be proud that America is exceptional, so exceptional that it will stand virtually alone among nations in ignoring climate change hysteria.
We can honor the Christian charity extended by evangelicals, ready to forgive sins in order that true Americans can be elected who will save us from evil liberals. We can extol the brave efforts of the NRA and other patriots to prevent the confiscation our guns, the symbol of our freedom and ability to resist oppression.
Yes, there is much to celebrate.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

December 19, 2017

Just when one thinks that the Republicans have reached the limit in inanity and irresponsibility, more appears. As to the former, there’s a comment by Senator Lindsey Graham. His bill abolishing Obamacare was, acording to him, "the only process available to stop a march toward socialism." Stopping socialism is a conservative mantra, reaching back to the 1880s, and as a Republican, Senator Graham is wedded to the ideas of the past. Here is the official, modern, dressed up, but even more inane, anti-Obamacare rationale, courtesy of Paul Ryan: "Let’s give people more choices and more control over their care." That’s like refusing to toss a life ring to a drowning man, explaining that he has the choice of sinking or swimming, that he has control over his health.
However, the Republicans have topped that with a stunning example of irresponsibility, the tax plan. Not only is it a fiscal disaster, justified by lies and sleight of hand, but it is designed to financially benefit Trump and members of Congress. I suppose, given recent history, such venality shouldn’t surprise, but I cling to illusions about government of, by and for the people. The Republican Party has made a devil’s bargain with the super-rich, corporations, and their dupes in the Tea Party, and now with a demented fool who may stumble into blowing us up. 
Bring on November.

Friday, December 8, 2017

 
December 8, 2017 

An article in New York Magazine is entitled "New Reports Suggest Trump Might Not Be a Liar at All, But Truly Delusional." It notes that Donald Trump generally is considered to be a "con man," i.e., a liar. "But new reporting has opened up a second possibility: The president has lost all touch with reality." That appraisal is based on "accounts from insiders suggesting Trump habitually insists upon the impossible in private. He does not merely tell lies in order to gull the public or to manipulate allies. He tells lies in private that he has no reason to tell."

 An article in The New York Times of November 29 is one such account. Trump now denies that he made the crude comments on the "Access Hollywood" tape, that the voice isn’t his, even though he admitted earlier that it is. He still claims that he lost the popular vote due to voter fraud. He has returned to claiming that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. According to "a Republican lawmaker," not identified, Trump boasts of winning districts he did not win.

Donald Trump is a bad joke as President, but we have tended to see him as a fool, a braggart, a child in a job demanding an informed adult. He also is a man full of, virtually defined by, worrisome personality quirks. Now, in addition to leaks of his possibly delusional behavior, we have expert opinion, by way of a collection of essays by mental health professionals.[58]  A few days ago, I referred to a book entitled Dangerous Convictions, describing the state of the Republican Congress; now we have The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, which presents essays by two dozen mental health professionals, including psychiatrists and psychologists. They are of the opinion that, as stated in the Prologue, "anyone as mentally unstable as Mr. Trump simply should not be entrusted with the life-and-death powers of the presidency."

It’s true that diagnosing mental illness from a distance is risky, potentially misleading and controversial. For psychiatrists, it is contrary to the so-called Goldwater rule, which was adopted after the 1964 election; it "prohibits psychiatrists from offering opinions on someone they have not personally evaluated. . . ." The American Psychological Association has a similar rule. However, there is a distinction between diagnosis and informed comment about a public figure by those trained to evaluate mental health; it can be proper and useful and, at present, it is necessary.
Some of the essays come close to diagnosis at a distance and some generalize broadly about patterns of behavior. However, most offer expert insight into the behavior which all of us can see. As one contributor puts it, the Goldwater rule is not an impediment because the aim is not diagnosis, and the subject is not a patient.: "Our duty to warn is an expression of our concerns as citizens possessed of a particular expertise; not as clinicians who are responsible for preventing predictable violence from someone under our care." [59]  Put simply, "The issue that we are raising is not whether Trump is mentally ill. It is whether he is dangerous."[60]
In a sense, expert opinion isn’t required, as Trump’s deficiencies are obvious. However, many seem unaware of how serious the situation is, either from lack of attention or because they think that Trump, though he sometimes might be over the top, will solve what they see as the country’s problems. Others, harboring no illusions, hope to use him. All must be persuaded that his intellectual and emotional problems are too serious to ignore. Any input from those experienced in detecting and evaluating behavioral aberration is welcome.
Several of the essays describe Trump in terms of "malignant narcissism." One lists Trump’s traits which fit that description: lack of empathy for others, lack of remorse, lying and cheating; loss of reality; rage reactions and impulsivity. Because of this array of traits, Trump is "definitively and obviously dangerous."[61]  Another adds paranoia and sadism, illustrated by Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, and his threats aimed at protesters.[62]
Indulgence in conspiracy theories is an additional sign of instability. Trump has praised Alex Jones, who alleges wildly imaginary conspiracies to explain 9-11, the Sandy Hook massacre, Boston Marathon bombing and other events. The "birther" nonsense about Obama implies a conspiracy, and Trump claims that the Access Hollywood tape may have been altered.
One essay echoes the New York article in suggesting that Trump suffers from delusional disorder. It gives three examples; one might be dismissed as mere lying ("mere"?), but two do seem delusional: Trump’s claim of a huge inaugural crowd, in the face of photos showing the opposite, and his story that rain stopped as he began his inaugural speech, when it actually started then.[63]  The author offers solipsism, a term borrowed from philosophy, as an alternative descriptive category: "solipsism is the belief that the person holding the belief is the only real thing in the universe." Donald Trump does seem to live inside himself.
Robert Lifton, who wrote the Foreword to The Dangerous Case, in an interview also referred to solipsism in describing Trump: "Solipsistic reality means that the only reality he’s capable of embracing has to do with his own self and the perception by and protection of his own self. And for a president to be so bound in this isolated solipsistic reality could not be more dangerous for the country and for the world."[64]
Another essay sums up itself and the exercise. The issue is not mental illness, but there are "genuine, observable, and profound impediments in Mr. Trump's capacity to deal thoughtfully and reliably with the complex and grave responsibilities of being a reliable president and commander in chief." Whether or not he is delusional, he doesn’t acknowledge or, apparently, recognize having been wrong, and he doesn’t seem to learn or accept anything which might convince him of his errors.
"Donald Trump's presidency confronts the psychiatric profession and, much more important, our country with the challenge of dealing with an elected leader whose psychological style (marked by impulsivity, insistence on his own infallibility, vengeful retaliation, and unwarranted certainty in uncertain circumstances) is a profound impediment to sound decision making and presages the erratic and ill-considered exercise of enormous power."[65]
Unless "the Vice President and a majority of . . . the principal officers of the executive departments," acting under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, declare that "the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office," we’re stuck with this dangerous man for at least another year. We’d better hope for a Democratic landslide next November.


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58. The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, Lee, ed. (2017)

59.
Id., at 153

60. Id., at 172

61.
Id., at 89-91


62. Id., at 96-98


63. Id., at 113


64.
http://billmoyers.com/story/dangerous-case-donald-trump-robert-jay-lifton-bill-moyers- duty-warn/


65.
The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, at 158

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

December 5, 2017
The current Republican Congress is a menace to good government — to any government — as demonstrated by its votes on health care and taxes. However, any thought that the present-day Party is uniquely destructive, unusually captive to an anti-government philosophy because of the advent of Donald Trump, vanishes with a brief glance at its history.

A book written by a former Congressman, Tom Allen, Dangerous Convictions: What’s Really Wrong with the U.S. Congress, describes the tax cuts of 2001 under a Republican Congress and President. A speech by George W. Bush shortly after his inaugural, pushing his tax cut proposal, described the "reality" of his plan: increased discretionary spending, $2 trillion of debt paid off, $1 trillion in a contingency fund, and money left over. "Bush was in fact not talking about ‘reality,’ because none of it was true."[55]  It reminds one of the claims this year by Congress that the tax cuts would help middle class families and create jobs, and Trump’s assertion that the cuts wouldn’t help him.

Allen notes that Paul Krugman exposed the lies in his book, Fuzzy Math; Krugman said this: "There's something about the tax cut crusade that gives the crusaders a disdain for petty concerns, like telling the truth about their own proposals. . . . [T]he arguments made for tax cuts have been startling in their intellectual dishonesty." Although extreme partisanship was present under Gingrich in the 90s, Krugman saw a new form after 2000: "[W]hat has happened since Bush moved to Washington—the deliberate mis-statements and suppression of the facts—is, as far as I know, unprecedented in the history of American economic policy. It would be a shame if this style of governing succeeds, because it will set a precedent for future administrations."[56]  He certainly was right in the last observation.
In 2006, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, scholars of, and partisans for, Congress —to them the First and most important Branch of government — wrote a book entitled The Broken Branch, describing Congress’ decline. That same year, they wrote a column for The Los Angeles Times in which they described a bill pushed by the Republican Speaker of the House: "Hastert and his fellow House Republicans have refused to say exactly what they will include in the 300-page court security bill . . . ." Again, a familiar pattern. "If this were one isolated instance of a Congress pushing through sloppy and ill-considered legislation . . ., we would wince but move on. But this breach of the normal legislative process is all too typical of today's Congress. Over the last five years, Congress has abandoned the web of rules and norms that have long governed how a bill is considered, how votes take place and how outcomes are decided."
In a later book, It’s Even Worse than It Looks, Mann and Ornstein put it more bluntly: "Today’s the Republican Party. . . has become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition, all but declaring war on the government."[57]
Republicans’ contempt for social policy is illustrated by comments by two Senators. Orrin Hatch expressed his disdain for "entitlement" programs: "I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger, and expect the federal government to do everything." Not to be outdone, Chuck Grassley proclaimed: "I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies." Or on food, shelter, other such luxuries.
I suppose that having such contempt for ordinary people — you know, the ones Trump promised to protect — makes it easier to be flunkies for the favored few.

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55. Dangerous Convictions (2013), 43-44

56. Fuzzy Math (2001). 8-9

57. It’s Even Worse than It Looks (2012), 102-03

Sunday, December 3, 2017

December 3, 2017

The Senate, with one dissenting Republican vote, passed, at about 2 a.m. December 2, a tax-cut bill which is massive in size, and so much a work in progress that it was amended by handwritten notes in the margin. Its contents were better known to lobbyists than to Democrats; the former provided the latter with a list of amendments.

The bill, by every independent analysis, rewards corporations and the rich, and adds a trillion or more dollars to cumulative deficits, and therefore to the national debt. Unable to destroy Obamacare directly, the Greedy Obfuscating Party did it by eliminating the individual mandate.

The aim was to reward donors and starve government, goals so important that the usual pretense about avoiding deficits was abandoned. If anything is done by the wrecking crew later on that score, it probably will involve cuts in Social Security and Medicare. This fraud has been perpetrated with the lying approval of a President who ran as a friend to working people.    

Although not the goal, the possible effect of the bill and its House counterpart will be to finally awaken voters to the fact that Republicans cannot be trusted with the reins of government.

Friday, November 17, 2017

November 16, 2017
Donald Trump is bizarrely unqualified to be President, but that has not led to his rejection, by Congress or by those who voted for him. Support by Congressional Republicans can be discounted to a considerable degree, as they rally around more out of a desire to use him than from any illusion of his merit. Some of his fans among the public seem to be true believers, an extreme example being the woman who, in the presence of the great man, held up a sign reading "Thank you, Lord Jesus, for President Trump." Some fall between adulation and opportunism, such as the white nationalists who see him as an ally. Whatever the motivation, the support is surprising given his obvious and overwhelming unfitness for office.
Trump’s job rating among the general public never has been high, ranging between 33% and 43% since July 1, according to numerous polls, and between 33% and 40% on the Gallup tracking poll. Several polls over the same period produced "favorability" ratings ranging from 28% to 46%.[52]  According to Gallup, his job approval rating for November 6-12 is 38%; the ratings for the nine previous Presidents for November of their first years range from 49% to 87% Leaving aside the highest number, for G. W. Bush, aided by 9-11, the range is 49% (Clinton) to 79% (Kennedy).[53]   Therefore, Trump is performing below par, but his numbers still strike me as high, given his record and character.
The explanation, if it can be so described, is that, over our selected time frame, self-identified Republicans have given Trump job approval ratings between 78% and 87%.[54]  Making due allowance for party loyalty, cultural divisions, the influence of the far right, the cheerleading of Fox News and the low level of attention paid by many citizens, those numbers are mind-boggling.
One additional, and ironic, element is that Trump is so bad that we become used to his deficiencies, and new ones fail to register. He is such a clown that no one expects calm, rational, consistent behavior.


54.
Ibid.