Dire Predictions on the Big Picture
Mark Danner’s “What He Could Do,” in the current New York Review of Books is a terrifying read. But, unfortunately, we find his predictions not only plausible, but compelling. He fears the Trump Administration is lying in wait for a crisis. “It is impossible to say when such a crisis might present itself or what it might be: A confrontation with Iran in the Persian Gulf? A dust-up with China over its claimed possessions in the South China Sea? A terrorist attack on American soil?”. Such a crisis could be the perfect opportunity for what Steve Bannon is calling the “birth of a new political order.” Danner predicts it might feature measures against immigrants, big brother surveillance, abandonment of the writ of habeas corpus, military action — it depends, he says, on the severity of the crisis.
Steve Bannon on the apocalypse and inevitable war. Lest Danner seem hysterical, put his predictions together with Steve Bannon’s belief that the predictions of philosophers William Strauss and Neil Howe have brought us to a “Fourth Turning” in American history — a collapse of such proportions that, as the Huffington Post reports, only a “Grey Champion, a messianic strongman figure, that may have already emerged,” can save us. To keep your adrenalin pumping, check out this official teaser for Bannon’s film, Generation Zero.
David Frum offers us chilling warning about the authoritarian proclivities of Trump and the possibilities of his moving us toward a controlled state. The biggest opening comes from Republicans’ failure to even care about his lies, cover-ups and legal transgressions, much less do anything about them. We are witnessing, he says, a “slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit” that has led to “the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered.” He calls on every citizen to push back. There are signs that such a movement has started, but will it be organized and effective?
“The Styrofoam Presidency,” by Masha Gessen. Less terrifying, perhaps, is this account of his “spectacular vacuousness” from Masha Gessen in the New York Review of Books Daily edition. Trump is dumbing down the aesthetics of the presidency, at the same time filling it with small-mindedness, vengefulness and mediocrity. She makes an apt comparison to this trend with Putin’s Russia
Time to take action by resisting Trump, says Eliot Cohen. We also have commentary from Eliot Cohen on just how bad, or not, things already are, who is to blame, and what we should do to resist. He writes in the Atlantic that this, “A Clarifying Moment in American History” requires that we fight back politically and “. . . in the end, it is the greatness of America that will stop him.”
Kevin Baker Blames Americans. He “is not over it” and is deeply disappointed in an unexceptional American people — “Today’s passive, unhappy Americans sat on their couches and chose a strutting TV clown to save us. What they have done is a desecration, a foolish and vindictive act of vandalism, by which they betrayed all the best and most valiant labors of our ancestors.”
George Packer believes Trump will fail. He recounts the litany of current horrors, posits that the Republicans are too cowardly to stop Trump, and then, mysteriously, suggests that, “If Trump were more rational and more competent, he might have a chance of destroying our democracy.” So, we should put our faith in incompetence and irrationality?
Self-defense strategies of the rich. Who knows if they watch Steve Bannon movies, but some of the super-rich aren’t taking any chances. These “survivalists” are making all kinds of weird preparations for the apocalypse, which many of them think will derive from the collapse of our government. Some are building bunkers, others underground condos. They are buying guns. New Zealand seems to be the country of refuge for those choosing to flee. The day after Trump’s election 13,401 Americans registered for possible immigration to New Zealand, 17 times the usual rate.
Bush era law-enforcer says not to worry. Once the facts are out A former assistant attorney-general under George H. W Bush, Jack Goldsmith, thinks the system can self-correct with investigations and leaks. We hope he is right.
Charles Blow, offers a wise, if unrealistic solution. He argues that the Presidency of Donald Trump should be stalled until we know whether or not he was legitimately elected. So, the investigations and leaks bear a heavy correction burden.
Threats to Free Speech, Free Press
David Cole offers us an exhaustive recounting of the defense of 20th century free speech and civil liberties in the U.S. (including a fascinating account of the early Roger Baldwin and the evolution of the American Civil Liberties Union from workers’ defense to free speech.) The occasion is a couple of new books. The central issue, he says, is the connection between free speech and the condition of economic inequality — the financial resources it takes, in their words, to actually be heard. He delves into such issues as the dangers of state intervention — even to correct disparities — and press monopolies where big money controls what gets reported. So, while acknowledging the empowerment needs of the lesser classes, he is still against any government intervention to aright the imbalance. Surprisingly, he does not take up the free speech interpretations of the Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision.
Robert P. George and Cornell West (we are fans of neither) have created a remarkable list of signatories to a statement aimed at quelling intolerant demonstrations on college campuses, which are, not surprisingly, coming mostly from the left.
Indivisibles become locally targeted national action group. Perhaps more astounding is a fueling of local national action groups, the “Indivisables” from a guide authored by a number of Congressional staffers. Even though it offers clear disclaimers on some Tea Party tactics, we find it unfortunate that it looks to the Tea Party at all for guidance. In our view, disruptive tactics play into the hands of those seeking to stifle free speech. In fact, they stifle free speech themselves.
A number of states have passed, or are considering new laws governing protests. A lot of them seem reasonable on their face but, as this New York Times story suggests, they are probably intended to intimidate demonstrators. A lot of what they cover is already on the books, suggesting the new measures are designed mainly to propagate fear simply by generating media hype. The ACLU keeps useful tabs on these bills.
Most disturbing are the systematic efforts of Donald Trump to discredit the media. This New York Times piece by Joel Simon, the head of the Committee to Protect Journalists, offers a good wrap up of what Trump is doing. The more he can seed doubts about media work-ups, of course, the less likely the public is to believe negative reports about him. At least, that is his hope. Efforts to fight back are discussed by Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times and in this fascinating article by Courtney C. Radsch, also from the Committee to Protect Journalists. These efforts are part of the free market approach to course correction advocated by Mark Danner.
Ex-national security advisor, Michael Flynn lobbied for Turkey, the country our recently experienced a dramatic decline in press freedom, according the most recent Freedom House report. In fact, for freedoms in general, it came in second worst for 2016.
Trashing Truth, Facts and Expertise
Seen from the viewpoint of politics, truth has a despotic character. It is therefore hated by tyrants, who rightly fear the competition of a coercive force they cannot monopolize, and it enjoys a rather precarious status in the eyes of governments that rest on consent and abhor coercion. Facts are beyond agreement and consent, and all talk about them – all exchanges of opinion based on correct information – will contribute nothing to their establishment. Unwelcome opinion can be argued with, rejected, or compromised upon, but unwelcome facts possess an infuriating stubbornness that nothing can move except plain lies.
Hannah Arendt, From “Truth and Politics,” 1967
We know Trump lies . Tragically, the rest of the world knows it too. A lesser lie, for example, is that it was sunny during his inaugural address. Then there was the one about the Sweden’s dangerous immigrants and the paranoid assertion that a “Deep State” is out to get him. Most serious so far is his claim that Barack Obama “wiretapped” his phone at Trump Tower. The list is long and too cumbersome to go into here. Besides, you know all about them. The lies come daily and are refuted daily. Then the refutations are discredited by the Trump White House. Even so, Congressional Committees are sent scurrying off to look into them, at considerable cost in time and money, not to mention unwarranted media attention. Truth-telling in politics has always been suspect. Dodging and fudging are commonplace, unfortunately. But Trump denies his own words when there are recorded tapes of them. He says his words don’t mean what they mean, at least to everyone else. Could he believe them himself? It’s bad enough that he lies, but having a delusional leader of the free world would indeed be troubling.
New York Times advertises the truth, apparently because incentives for finding it are disappearing. The New York Times even made its own ad alluding to contemporary Trump misrepresentations of truth and concluding that “the truth is hard.” Except for those sympathetic to Trump, the media tries to fight back by digging into every Trump allegation of fact. But they come at whirlwind pace.
Tom Nichols posits that Donald Trump “ran a one man campaign against established knowledge.” People who disrespect expertise, as in Trump’s case, are “the most likely to try to fake it, and the least able to learn anything,” says Nichols. We would add that in it probably also contributes to his lying. Experts, after all, have a command of facts related to a particular field or skill. For Trump experts are irrelevant and he doesn’t want to become one, even on the presidency. Nichols argues that there is a cultural shift at work, emerging from the massive amount of information available to everyone. The result is adversity to deep knowledge. It is also a threat to democracy. He has a new book, The Death of Expertise, and has written extensively about this, up to and including a fine piece in the current Foreign Affairs (which we cannot access except in hard copy).