Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

Charles Dickens is Alive and Well

July 31st, 2019

Here are two headlines from today’s New York Times:

 

500,000 Children Could Lose Free School Meals Under Trump Administration Proposal

Trump Administration Is Divided Over Tax Cut For Investors

 

Unless you were Charles Dickens, you really couldn’t make this shit up.  Come to think of it, isn’t “Donald Trump” the kind of name that Dickens would have given to a character like Donald Trump?

Q: Why Does Moloch Keep Eating Children?

May 12th, 2019

A:  Because that’s what he does.

It is perversely reassuring that even very intelligent and perceptive people are so baffled by Donald Trump’s mentality.  It means that he is an extreme outlier, so far outside the normal ken that he might as well be another species.  I was listening this morning to David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, and Bill McKibben, climate change activist, pronounce themselves stumped by the question whether Donald Trump believes in his climate change denialism.  By contrast, I do not find this puzzling at all. I think I possess a key to understanding Trump that these intellectual lions are searching for in vain.  What that says about me, is something I don’t want to think about too much, right now.

The key is to take really seriously the obvious fact that Trump does not believe anything, at least, not in the same sense that you and I believe things.  For him, facts and truth are entirely fungible.  The only point of reference in his universe is Donald Trump.  Sure, he has certain fixations, like the utter undesirability of any non-Nordic immigrant to the United States and the idea that the trade imbalance with China can be rectified to the United States’ advantage by making U.S. consumers pay more for Chinese goods; but a fixation, an orientation towards the world determined by involuntary psychological factors, is not a “belief” in the same sense that you and I mean by the word, that is, an interpretation of reality based on accepted authority and evidence.

I often say that Trump lies constantly about everything, but I am not being entirely accurate.  In order to lie, one must have some notion of truth, which he does not.  It would be a more precise description to say that no word comes out of his mouth that is neither false nor misleading, because no word of his bears any relation to a referent other than what he conceives to be the advantage to Donald Trump of pronouncing those sounds in that moment.  This is the one thing you never will hear him say.  Otherwise, he will say anything, including things that are directly contrary not only to easily verifiable facts but that directly contradict things he may have said only minutes before.

Another way of seeing it is that words, for Trump, are meaningless except as social currency. They buy attention.  They manipulate behavior.  These reasons alone are why he bothers with grammar and syntax. He displays no sense whatever of the aesthetics of speech, no indication that he uses it to achieve empathy or understanding.  His few attempts at expressing empathy, as when belatedly after a school shooting he will utter his “warmest condolences,” are the clumsy, studied actions of an alien imitating how has observed humans to behave in those circumstances. Language, for him, is purely a transactional medium.  If you want to study Trump, one place to go is the old television series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  One of the humanoid species populating that show was the Ferengi, a race of Trumps, preoccupied almost entirely with personal commercial advantage.  The main Ferengi character was named Quark.  When Trump speaks, I often hear Quark’s distinctive combination of ingratiating whine and bare-toothed snarl, except that Trump’s emotional range is somewhat different, lower and heavier.  There is the occasional ingratiating whine, to be sure, but more often in its place there is the triumphal roar, as when leading a crowd in chanting “Lock her up!  Lock her up!”  That descends through the cheerlessly smirking taunt to the dull, aggressive monotone.

What people like Mr. Remnick and Mr.McKibben canot seem to rid themselves of, despite all evidence to the contrary, is the notion – really, the hope – that Trump possesses some sort of ideology.  Nothing could be farther from the case.  The people Trump seeks to ingratiate himself with are not his fellow believers, of whom there are none, but those whom he can manipulate to his own ends.  (For a fascinating, terrifying closeup depiction of how he does this to the individuals he surrounds himself with, see James Comey’s op-ed in the May 1, 2019 New York Times.)  He goes after the most malleable and gullible, like a scam artist selling fake driveway asphalt services in a housing development full of elderly people.  Of course he espouses climate change denial.  The people who can be taken in by the climate change denial industry are Trump’s meat.  People who understand climate change, despite all the Koch brothers’ expensive efforts, are harder to dupe.  Like any predator, he expends his time and energy on the easier prey.  If Flat Earthers were sufficiently numerous, he’d be directing NASA funding to them.

Similarly, nearly all the head-scratching analysis of Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign strategy, based on demographics and economics and careful consideration of whose interests he may be weighing against what, is misguided.  There is no strategy.  Likewise, the people who perceive Trump as engendering “chaos” also miss the point.  There is a polestar to everythinghe does.  It is him, now.  This may look chaotic, observed from the outside, or it may seem to result from the operation of some inscrutable purpose.  Doubtless the cosmic debris plummeting towards the event horizon of a black hole looks chaotic, yet subject to some mysterious direction.

On Point

April 16th, 2019

Recently, Rep. Ilhan Omar incurred the wrath of the Orange Shite by referring to the World Trade Center attacks with the words, “some people did something.”  There is no way that a reasonable person could construe Rep. Omar’s reference to September 11 as minimizing or belittling the scale or importance of that tragic event.  The only reasonable interpretation, in context, is that 9/11 served as a springboard for islamophobia.  As if to illustrate Rep. Omar’s meaning, the present occupant of the White House seized upon her phraseology as an excuse to wave the bloody flag, inflaming anti-Moslem resentment and libeling Rep. Omar as an extremist supporter of terrorism, thus exposing her to death threats. 

I was dismayed to hear David Folkenflik introduce his radio show, On Point, on April 16, by suggesting that Rep. Omar’s words could be interpreted as anything other than what they manifestly were, or that there was any substantive content to the White House response other than hatred, emotional manipulation, and cynicism.  Mr. Folkenflik clearly is an intelligent, reasonable man with a good grasp of language.  It is dismaying when he joins the all too prevalent practice in the media of acting willfully stupid in order to pursue controversy.  To be sure, careful attentiveness to the principle of “both sides now” is a keystone of journalism.  But so is telling it like it is.  Sometimes there are not really two sides to the story.  Sometimes evil needs to be called by its name.   Sometimes – far too often! -by pretending that there are two sides, and by indulging in euphemistic misdirection, journalists mislead and misinform.  Sadly, On Point is not immune to this.

Ten Questions for the New Year

December 20th, 2018

  1.  What would happen to Trump’s support if, after being indicted or impeached, he were to seek asylum in Russia or Saudi Arabia?  (In contemplating this question, it may be helpful to remember Sabbatai Sevi, the seventeenth century “mystical messiah.”  He won a huge following in the Jewish world of that time, many of whom held fast to their faith in him even after he disavowed his messianic mission and converted to Islam.)
  2. Why do we still occasionally hear the phrase “enhanced interrogation” used to describe torture by U.S. operatives?
  3. With so much happening in the world that is worthy of intense discussion, why would Mary Louise Kelly of NPR devote her most vigorous questioning of Amy Klobuchar to followups designed to wheedle an indication that she is going to run for president, after Klobuchar already told Kelly she’s “considering” it?
  4. Even if “wanting your children to do better than you did” may have been at one time a component of the “American dream,” why would a parent want his children to do better than he did if he had given them a comfortable, privileged start in life?
  5. Why are Americans nostalgic for a snickering mediocrity who lied us into an unnecessary war of aggression that resulted in the worst disaster for American foreign policy since 1812?
  6. Why is it considered important, among the news media, for us to know almost everything that Donald Trump says, leading almost every newscast with his latest tweets when it is as well established as could be that literally everything he says is either abusive, false, or misleading?
  7. Why does so much of the national media’s political journalism consist of speculation about what may happen, or what may be said, or what the effect will be on one political party or the other, instead of telling us what the political class, individually and collectively, are actually doing?
  8. Why do American reporters in the national media never challenge stupid, false, misleading, or outrageous statements by major politicians, in contrast to the BBC, whose reporters do not hesitate to interrupt heads of state and tell them to their face that what they are saying is not credible?
  9. Why do American journalists persist in pretending, in the face of all the evidence, that Donald Trump has any substantive reasons for anything he does, other than impulse, ego, financial self-interest, and nativist racism?  To put it another way, why does “journalistic objectivity” create an ethos of willful stupidity?
  10. Why do we rarely or never hear, in reporting on the marijuana legalization  movement, about the impact on costs and other aspects of the mental health and substance abuse treatment systems?

Drill

October 26th, 2018

There were several ways they used to do it.  One depended on our being small enough, so I assume it was used only on younger kids, in the early grades.  The crackly voice would come on the school public address system and we would slide off our seats onto the floor, under our desks, where we would crouch in silence, the teacher standing silently in front of the room by her desk, until the crackly voice told us it was okay to emerge.  I wonder now what the teacher was thinking.  Unlike us, she did not hide under her desk.  How did she feel about that?

It was like the shooter drills they subject kids to, these days, except we weren’t hiding from some potential random lunatic with a gun who might or might not exist and who might, if he or she existed, kill or wound some of us.  We were hiding from the mutual assured destruction that was the explicit policy of the great powers that ruled our world, from the universal total incineration of which only governments are capable.

Another way they did it, that I remember (and surely there were more, given the ingenuity of those who devise these systems of child abuse), was to march us in single file out into the hall.  It was colder there, the floor gleaming.  We’d curl up against the brown lockers on our knees, their metal doors cool against our foreheads, our hands clasped over our heads as if to shield us from something.  We weren’t allowed to look up, but I wondered, if I looked up would I see the acoustic tiles from the ceiling come crumbling down at me.  Would I see the light burning through.  Would I feel anything.

What I feel, now that Donald Trump and John Bolton have announced their intention to withdraw from the intermediate range nuclear forces treaty, one of the most successful arms control agreements in history, thus rekindling the arms race that blighted my childhood, is a level of loathing and anger that I never have experienced before for any politician.  It goes way beyond “may they rot in hell,” although that is included.  Am I alone in this?  I don’t like to say that anything is intolerable or unbearable, because after all, if you can say something was intolerable or unbearable, you tolerated it, you bore it.  But the thought of a world plunged back into that darkness for my children, for their children, is close to intolerable.  It is close to unbearable.  I know that millions of people of my generation shared my experience.  Am I alone in feeling that the wound, which I had thought long healed, has been ripped freshly open, and in feeling utter revulsion for those who would do it?

If I am not alone, this November may our collective anger at what we had to endure, at what he would have our children endure, scorch Donald Trump to the ground, reduce him to ash floating on the uncaring breeze, and erase him from any further ability to inflict his evil upon the world.

Himmler in the White House

June 20th, 2018

“The best political weapon is the weapon of terror. Cruelty commands respect.  Men may hate us.  But, we don’t ask for their love, only for their fear.”  So said Heinrich Himmler.  I thought of this quote today when I heard Trump today explain his decision to reverse his family separation policy, which he had attempted earlier to sell as a deterrent to illegal immigration; that is, as a weapon of terror.  He talked about the choice between being weak, pathetically weak, on the one hand, and being called heartless for being strong, on the other, and said, “I would rather be strong.”

It seems increasingly likely that the target of the family separation policy was not, in fact, immigrants so much as it was the United States Congress.  That is why Trump and his minions insisted, against all reality, that only Congress could change the policy.  The idea seems to have been to ram through the “Four Pillars” of Trump’s immigration policy (the Wall, etc.) as a necessary adjunct to any immigration reform that he would support.  Thus Congress would be compelled by public outrage to move  against the family separation policy, and the Four Pillars would be smuggled through Congress in connection with addressing that policy.  Since Trump is in fact heartless, he miscalculated the level of outrage that would be directed against him for ripping babies from the arms of their mothers.  The gambit having failed, Trump now reneges on his claim that only Congress could change the policy, and pledges to do it by executive order.  We will see if this promise is any more credible than anything else he says.

Himmler on some level seems to have been a true believer in Nazi racism.  One may debate whether he and Trump exercise a similar level of cynicism.  What seems incontestable is that, as with Himmler, the one constant guiding star of Trump’s political life, apart from self aggrandizement, is xenophobic, racist animus and that, like Himmler, he is not only expressly willing to sacrifice the most basic humane values in the service of that cause, he regards basic humanity as a source of weakness and brutality as strength.

 

Psychopath Trump

October 20th, 2017

I think it is unfair to criticize Trump for attempting to console a fallen soldier’s widow by telling her, “he knew what he signed up for,” or words to that effect. Trump is a psychopath. He no more can comprehend another person’s feelings, or express genuine empathy with them, than a shark can play the flute. It is not within his ken. To him, shit happens, and if you knowingly walk into a situation where shit happens and indeed shit happens to you, well, you had it coming. That makes you weak and a loser, like John McCain, who got caught. Unless, of course, you are Trump, in which case whatever shit happens is somebody else’s fault. To ask him to comprehend another’s grieving or to express heartfelt sympathy for anything whatever is to make a demand he is not equipped to meet. If I am right, his occasional clumsy simulations of compassion represent somewhat grudging moments of forced obedience to social norms he neither shares nor understands (this is a guy who boasted on a national radio show of refusing assistance to someone he thought was dying), and mask a deep contempt for people (all of us) who have not mastered the arts of survival and personal aggrandizement as he thinks he has. It is sad that people persist in the delusion that he is a more or less normal but flawed person who cares about at least some of them. White men, coal miners, unemployed factory hands, etc. He cares about them only in that they feed his ego and otherwise can be used by him. There is a theory that psychopaths are not fully human, that they are something like a predatory subspecies for which we are prey. If so, then how ironic it is that our first black president, eminently human, should have been succeeded by our first nonhuman president, who campaigned on the promise of walling out aliens! I revile Donald Trump, and wish him a short, unhappy, and unsuccessful time in office. I do not make the mistake of expecting him to be able to counterfeit humanity convincingly. Calling him “insensitive” is like calling a brick hard. Of course it is. To those who would reproach the brick for not being permeable to their emotions, my warm condolences.

Attitude adjustment

April 21st, 2017

It is amazing how many people tell me, without being prompted or asked, that they wish he would die.  I’m not going to say his name, but you know exactly whom I am talking about.  Admit it, you have felt this way, too.  Just this morning I was talking to a friend and she dropped it into the conversation with about the same degree and type of emphasis that she might have used in confessing that she doesn’t like cats.  I had to admit that practically every morning when I wake up I check the news right away hoping to read of a popcorn choking incident or myocardial infarction. This does not make us better people, I said.  She said, well, but so long as it’s just him we’re thinking about, it’s not so bad. I suppose that’s one approach. For a while I tried imagining myself inside his head, so that through the magic of empathy I might be able to see him as a human being, like me, deserving of compassion the same as I am. I thought of him as severely emotionally crippled, isolated, unable to connect effectively with other human beings, suffering the pain that goes with that. I’m not that kind of person, but at least that gave me something to work with.  I know something about loneliness.  I was aware that there was a certain amount of schadenfreude in trying to connect with him this way, but it seemed to make him more real and less of a malevolent fantasy.  But then a friend I respect, a psychologist highly experienced in working with criminals, told me that he is a psychopath and he doesn’t feel any pain, at least not the kind of pain I was imagining. I pretty much believe her.  So there goes any basis I can find for relating to him, bringing him within my world of experience, and now what do I do? Empathy doesn’t work if it’s fantasy.  I still don’t want to be the kind of person who wakes up every morning wishing that somebody were dead. Maybe the answer comes out of meditation. There’s no point in repressing a thought. That just attaches you to it and gives it power. Instead you allow the thought to happen, acknowledge that it is happening, and then say goodbye to it. I wish it were that easy to deal with him: allow him to happen, acknowledge that he is happening, and then say goodbye to him. I am impatient. I want to get to the goodbye part without going through the rest. I must remember that “going through the rest” constitutes most of what we call living, and that wishing to cut to the end, the goodbye part, is in that sense a wish for one’s own death to come closer. Am I large enough to live in a world that also contains incomprehensible evil? I hope so. Remember to breathe.