Archive for the ‘stinking piece of shit’ Category

Who’s really a citizen?

July 17, 2019

Trick question: what’s the world’s second biggest Muslim country?

If you said America, shame on you. Everyone (who’s reasonably informed) knows Indonesia has the biggest Muslim population; and coming second is India — even though Hindus are a large majority there.

Trump insists we should find out who, living in America, is really a citizen. Seem reasonable? And what’s India got to do with it?

Keep reading.

In India’s 2014 election, I endorsed Narendra Modi, despite blood on his hands from Gujarat’s anti-Muslim pogrom and his BJP party’s Hindu nationalism. He seemed to understand how India’s still very anti-business economic structures kept people poor. And he has done some good in that regard, though not nearly enough.* Meantime, though it may be too soon to quite give Modi the “authoritarian” label, he’s working on it.

Meantime too the Hindu nationalism has become increasingly central. This is bad. Recall some history: Pakistan was traditionally part of India, but was hived off at independence in 1947 to create a Muslim state. Many millions caught on the “wrong” side of the new border migrated — amid appalling bloodshed. But most Muslims stayed put, and their population in India exceeds Pakistan’s.

Given this background, you might think any Indian government would strive for intercommunal emollience, so Hindus and Muslims can live together equably. You would be rational. But religion never is, and India’s BJP government, under Modi, is doing the opposite. Trying to make Muslims second class citizens — if that.

Assam, an Indian state bordering (Muslim) Bangladesh, has a concentration of Muslims. Unsurprisingly, few Muslims vote for the BJP. Which would rather they didn’t vote at all. So now there’s a big push to find out how many are really proper Indian citizens.

Is this beginning to ring a bell?

They’ve created a “National Register of Citizens” (NRC). If your name’s not there, you’re summoned to a bureaucratic tribunal, with the burden of proving your citizenship. It’s mainly Muslims, of course, targeted for this. Realize it’s a region of endemic illiteracy and poverty, with public records something of a shambles. The Economist’s report headlined with the word “Madness” and invoked the ghost of Kafka. And get this: anyone can file an official objection to a name on the NRC. In Assam, 220,000 such poison letters were filed — all ostensibly by a very small group of objectors.

Failure to “prove” citizenship (to the government’s satisfaction) can put you in jail or in one of the archipelago of detention camps they’re building, for “foreigners.” Their fate is uncertain; they cannot be deported to Bangladesh, which won’t take them. But they will be stripped of citizenship rights — including the vote. Which seems to be the real point.

Now this Assam model is being extended to the whole country.

Back to Trump: insisting we must find out who’s really a citizen. If that may have sounded reasonable to you before, think about India, and what the long range Republican game plan is. They already have a despicable record of winning elections by denying the ballot to targeted groups through discriminatory voter ID laws. This citizenship gambit is the logical, and frightening, next step.

And Trump has now said some U.S.-born Congress members should “go back” to some other countries. Is the next step actually to declare them non-citizens (as India is doing)?

Can you prove you’re a U.S. citizen?

* And he did one economically terrible thing, demonetizing the bulk of India’s circulating currency.

 

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Another day, another protest

July 14, 2019

I attended Friday’s Albany protest against Trump’s inhuman cruelty to migrant people. Some things one has to do.

Quite a few asked to take pictures of my sign. Maybe I should copyright it. (“Make America Great Again: Dump Trump”)

One speech I really didn’t like. Assemblyman Phil Steck started by saying, “This is no aberration,” that America has always committed villainies, so we shouldn’t be surprised. He went on like that at length; got applause.

No. He spoke before a statue of Washington — a very noble man. I’m proud to be part of a nation conceived in nobility, standing for the highest ideals and human values. Have we been perfect? Of course not. But America has always striven for, and achieved, progress.

Until 2016. It breaks my heart to see my beloved country so degraded. Forced to join a protest against vile atrocities committed in its name.

Many present were veteran protesters. There was a very nice comradely vibe. At the end we all sang, “This Land is Your Land.” Yet there was an air of going-through-the-motions. I felt like an alien. Not just because of Steck’s speech; others said the right things; yet for all the outrage expressed, it somehow seemed inadequate to the seriousness of this moral crisis.

Churchill said America will always do the right thing, after exhausting all the alternatives. I hope he was right and I don’t have to attend many more such events.

Social disconnection and Trumpism

July 11, 2019

“Grab them by the pussy.” I’ve striven to understand how any Americans could vote to put such a reptile in the White House.

Columnist David Brooks keeps saying America is insufficiently community-centered. Recently I critiqued one such column. But subsequently he wrote another more on target. Doesn’t mention politics, yet it seems very relevant.

Brooks says a market economy emphasizing competition and self-aggrandizement needs to be balanced by a social culture of “cooperation, stability, and committed relationships.” But that’s not where many working class men are at, according to a recent study.

Economic change is driving social change. Less educated working class men don’t fit into the kinds of lives they used to. This is a big factor in the opioid crisis. Also in the explosion of single motherhood.

“Nearly all the men” in the study, Brooks notes, “viewed the father-child tie as central while the partner relationship was peripheral.” Seeing women like they see jobs — cycling from one to another. And of course their own parenting roles are undermined by weak bonds with their children’s mothers.

Cause and effect here is a tangle. While a working class man used to be a family’s anchor, that breadwinner role has eroded, and meantime women are better able to support themselves. They flourish in service-type jobs, like in healthcare, that less educated men don’t adapt well to. A lot of women see such men as okay sexual partners but pretty useless as husbands.

A single mom may be heroic and all, but their kids mostly do worse than dual-parented ones. So their male children tend to follow in their fathers’ footsteps, repeating the story.

Brooks thinks these economic dynamics are aggravated by the cultural zeitgeist emphasizing personal autonomy, aiming for a life “lived in perpetual flux, with your options perpetually open.” Again inimical to lifetime attachments.

All this subverts broader social cohesion too. Brooks’s basic point is that the sort of men we’re talking about don’t have the connectedness, the embedment in societal structures, like they used to. Seen even in declining church attendance, for example. Many still believe in god, but being part of an organized congregation is not for them.

Brooks’s column again doesn’t touch on politics, but a lightbulb went on in my political brain. The social culture he vaunts includes the body politic — one’s role as a citizen participant in a collective, with government part of it, and seen as embodying our values. And this too suffers from the disconnection Brooks laments.

It partly explains why some Americans, at least, could vote for a vulgar creep and continue backing him. They’re disengaged from and no longer invested in our civic institutions. It used to matter to Americans to have a president we could look up to, a role model for our kids, an avatar of our highest ideals. But pussygrabber’s voters don’t give a shit.

Trump at the Rubicon

July 6, 2019

Julius Caesar’s army in Gaul was not authorized to enter Italy. Crossing the Rubicon River made him an outlaw. But he then proceeded to Rome to make himself dictator. (Literally — his title, “Perpetual Dictator.”)

When the Supreme Court told President Nixon to turn over White House tapes, he complied. The Court has barred adding a citizenship question to the Census. Trump now says he’s “seriously considering” an executive order to do it anyway.

Is this finally his Rubicon crossing, making him indisputably an outlaw? Why this issue?

The administration had claimed the citizenship question was needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act. Laughable because they spit on the Voting Rights Act. Indeed, their true aim is directly contrary to that act — to undercount ethnic minorities and thus dilute their voting rights and political representation. They refuse to admit this* but documents revealed after the court decision unarguably expose their motive.

But even without that, the Supreme Court ruled the administration’s pretext for its plan was simply a lie. An extraordinary, unprecedented judicial rebuke. Not even this Republican-majority court could stomach the brazen dishonesty. (Well, at least John Roberts could not.)

And why do Trump and Republicans make such a big issue of adding a citizenship question? For partisan advantage; believing it would really skew the Census in their favor.** That’s why it mustn’t be allowed.

If Trump does issue his Court-defying order, what should happen? Those charged with carrying it out should refuse. If they have a civic bone in their bodies. Don’t count on that.

I have opposed impeachment because politically it would play into Trump’s hands. Disobeying the Supreme Court would change my view. If a president does that, and isn’t impeached, our Constitution isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

But even if sanity prevails, and Trump backs off from this particular threat, the fact that he could even utter it cannot be squared with the kind of nation we are — or used to be.

* Trump’s babblings on this disregard the Constitution requiring the Census to simply count people — not citizens — with Congressional apportionment based likewise. Trump’s aim is to deter non-citizen participation. The Census Bureau itself says a citizenship question would do that. (Thus fewer Congressional seats for cities where immigrants congregate.)

** Meantime, under the radar, they’re also aiming for an inaccurate Census by just grossly underfunding it.

“Crimes that shock the conscience of civilized men” (and women)

June 28, 2019

That’s a phrase I remember from my legal education.

Over a year ago we learned of Trump’s cruel policy of separating migrant children from parents. Kidnapping them, really; put in cages in concentration camps; often with no tracking to ever reunite them with parents, many of whom were deported. The psychological trauma inflicted on these innocent children is an abomination.

First the administration lied that its hands were tied by prior legislation. Even invoked the Bible to defend this atrocity. When national revulsion nevertheless exploded, Trump then said it was an Obama policy he was stopping — a lie on both counts.*

Today thousands of children remain in these wretched camps. Recently the Trump administration announced cancellation of many services provided to them, including recreational and educational programs.

More recently reports have emerged about the shocking conditions to which these kids are subjected. In tents and concrete blocks with no summer air conditioning, in Texas and Florida. Crowded together in filth, with no baths or showers, no diaper changes for the youngest; scant medical care or adult attention of any sort. Unsurprisingly, deaths have occurred. Sexual molestation is rampant.

Public outrage is muted. Why? No searing photos. One thing this otherwise incompetent administration has managed to accomplish is keeping a lid on pictures in these concentration camps. Not even members of Congress are allowed access.

Speaking of Congress: why no public hearings, to grill administration officials about these atrocities and hold them to account?

They claim there’s no money to care for these children. Should have thought of that before ripping them from their mothers. But Trump says he can find money for his wall. Which will do nothing to stop the influx of people fleeing desperate circumstances in their home countries.** Countries whose U.S. aid Trump has insanely cut.

Meantime he threatens to have ICE round up and deport millions of people who’ve lived here, inoffensively, mostly productively, for years. Many with children who are U.S. citizens, who’ll be devastated to lose their parents.

All this from a political gang purporting to worship Jesus Christ; indeed, fetishizing the rights of unborn children.

Their crimes against humanity will blacken America’s soul forever. The only possible expiation will be to vote out the depraved monster responsible, and all his enablers. They deserve worse.

* The Supreme Court officially ruled yesterday that the Trump administration is a bunch of liars; rejecting its bid to add a citizenship question to the Census, because the pretext for it was false. (The true aim was to undercount Hispanics.) Trump tweeted he’ll seek to postpone the Census — contrary to explicit Constitutional requirement.

** Trump in his first campaign launch called Mexican migrants rapists. Turns out he’s the rapist.

ALARM! Russia attacking America

June 21, 2019

On 9/11 we were attacked. America united fiercely, in outrage and resolve, to confront the enemy and prevent a repeat.

In 2016, a different enemy attacked us, with actually far greater damage. But this time we collectively shrugged, with many heads in the sand.

Russian Roulette, a 2018 book by journalists Michael Isikoff and David Korn, details Russia’s war on American democracy and how Trump’s election fit into it. Not news to anyone whose head’s above ground. But the book is an eye-opener about how deep and serious this is.

The 9/11 death toll was terrible, yet Islamic terrorism has never been an existential threat to our way of life. Russia is far more dangerous; has already harmed us more. The Obama administration never got it, the book shows. Obama fell into the trap of fixating on the over-hyped threat from the Middle East, and imagined Russia as a potential partner there. Thus the “re-set” effort to improve relations. But our worst enemy is not terrorism, it’s Russia.

Remember when Romney said this — and Obama mocked him as living back in the cold war? The cold war did end but this is a new and different one. If we fail to see Russia as our deadly enemy, Putin and the Russians certainly see us as theirs. And while during the cold war, the Soviets never imagined destabilizing America itself, that’s exactly what Putin is doing. It wasn’t only screwing with the election, but more generally working to aggravate our societal divisions. They’re doing it elsewhere too; Russia had a hand in the Brexit vote, which is tearing apart Britain’s body politic.

The book shows that the Kremlin had been cultivating Trump for years, playing him, dangling the lure of a big real estate deal (that never jelled). Drooling for it, Trump kept kissing Putin’s posterior. He naively fantasized that his idolizing Putin was mutual, and they could get along beautifully.

In fact, Putin hated Hillary because she (unlike Trump) had his number; and come 2016, Trump was a tailor-made guided missile for Putin to fire at America’s heart. A president who’d weaken the country with self-destructive policies, weaken its alliances and international prestige, exacerbate our internal divisions, and undermine our democracy. Personal vulgarity, lying, and corruption were added bonuses. Putin didn’t expect his election shenanigans would be enough to make Americans drink this Kool-Aid. But just 77,000 votes in three key states did it. A hole-in-one.

The book details just how extensive and sophisticated that election subversion was, clearly orchestrated at the highest levels, deploying state resources. Taking Hillary down with a tsunami of lies. I was NO Hillary fan, but the Russian-orchestrated demonization that took hold was just nuts. (Especially when compared against Trump’s flaws.) A particularly virulent item was the “uranium deal” which Hillary haters still keep bringing up. The book disposes of this in a few sentences, showing there’s nothing there.

Trump and his enablers pound the lie that the whole Russia story is a “witch hunt,” a “deep state” FBI plot to take him down, an attempted coup. That they “spied” on his campaign. The nonsensicality is obvious because while the FBI tarred Hillary publicly during 2016, they kept a lid on the explosive fact that they were investigating Trump-Russia links. And they had ample reason to investigate, plenty of evidence of Russia’s intervening to help him. The FBI knew the Russians had hacked the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign, and were spilling what they’d gotten. The FBI was also already looking at Trump advisor Carter Page, playing footsie with Russian operatives in Moscow. And George Papadopoulos. And of course campaign chief Manafort, long involved with pro-Russian interests.

So it was far more than the notorious “Steele Dossier.” Christopher Steele was a former officer with Britain’s intelligence service who’d previously given ours much useful material. He was instrumental in our busting FIFA corruption, and also worked with the State Department. So his 2016 work having initially been paid for by Democrats didn’t taint it. When he gave it to the FBI, it fit with what they were already seeing. Though the allegations of Trump hotel sex hijinks couldn’t be documented, Steele’s detailing how the Russians had long been working Trump certainly merited investigation. It would have been scandalous had the FBI not pursued all this.

Meantime the FBI and intelligence services were oblivious to another huge part of Russia’s scheme: its devastating exploitation of social media. And the Obama administration seemed asleep at the switch about the whole thing. But the book chronicles the administration’s terrible quandary. Obama held back out of fear of looking partisan, and strong action could have backfired. He did hold a meeting with GOP Congressional leaders, trying to get them on board for a bipartisan outing of, and response to, the Russian subversion. Mitch McConnell refused.

Russia also tried to hack local election systems. This actually hasn’t been much investigated, but it appears Russia did succeed in some spots, like North Carolina. It’s not just vote counting, serious a concern though that is; in North Carolina they seem to have messed with voter records (concentrating on Democrats). Imagine millions coming to vote and finding they can’t; sowing chaos on Election Day. Russia wants to damage the idea of democracy itself, making it seem a sham, undermining public confidence in the integrity of elections. This is a huge vulnerability.

Much in the book is also documented in the Mueller report. Mueller tried to sound the alarm in his public statement, imploring us to take this seriously. We need presidential leadership to mobilize against the next Russian attack, but obviously we don’t have it. Trump takes the whole idea of Kremlin election meddling as a personal insult — while probably realizing it did help him win —leaving the door wide open for a repeat.*

Basically, the Russians got away with it, paying no real price. Obama had belatedly imposed slap-on-the-wrist sanctions but Trump sought to undo them. When Congress put them into law, Trump said he’d disregard that legislation. He’s been at war not with Russia but with America’s own FBI and intelligence services. It culminated in firing Comey as an attempt to squelch the continuing investigation (which is what led to Mueller’s appointment). Then in Helsinki he acted as Putin’s lap dog, endorsing his lies. Not only did Putin get his man in the White House, but the hoped-for benefits were amply forthcoming.

* Meantime, he recently said that if a foreign government offers dirt on a political opponent, he’d see no reason not to take it. In fact, doing so would be committing a crime.

Is China our enemy?

June 15, 2019

In 1989, China’s regime followed Mao’s dictum, “power comes from the barrel of a gun,” shooting many hundreds of democracy proponents in Tiananmen Square. (Trump has called this a “strong, powerful government” quelling a “riot.”) Since then, even as China has modernized in many ways, its regime has become increasingly repressive, tolerating not the slightest chink in its absolute power. Its police state in Xinjiang is an Orwellian nightmare. Xi Jinping has made himself president-for-life. China bullies its neighbors, tightening its unlawful grip on a wide swath of the Pacific. It abuses world trade rules, its advance fueled by theft and dishonesty.*

So is China our enemy? Not exactly.

The Communist bloc, during the cold war, was our enemy. Its aim was world domination, ideologically, seeing the U.S. as a bete noir and wanting our failure or destruction. Putin’s Russia today, while non-ideological, has a similar outlook.

This again is not exactly true of China. While some regime elements do see us as conspiring to keep China down, that’s not exactly true of America. Wise heads in both countries understand there’s room in the world for both to prosper; indeed they’re in it together. Not a zero-sum game where one nation’s gain is the other’s loss. China becoming more prosperous and powerful doesn’t necessarily require America becoming less so. To the contrary, trade with a prosperous America is good for China. Thus a win-win mentality.

It’s not Trump’s mentality. This is why he’s a bull in the China shop. A lot of voices say he’s right to confront China on trade, and I actually agree, up to a point. However, Trump sees every thing we buy from China as China raping us; he wants it to stop. That’s idiotic.

The win-win logic is a key concept of economics, called comparative advantage. We buy from China what China is better at producing; China buys from us what we make best. Both countries benefit — even if one buys more than the other.

Do we lose some jobs to China? Sure. But the money U.S. consumers save buying cheaper Chinese goods enables more spending on local products and services, creating jobs. More than are lost. By messing with that dynamic, Tariff Man loses us jobs.

Nations are enemies when their interests clash, in a zero-sum sense. That’s not our situation with China. Again, we have a mutual interest in our bilateral trade. That doesn’t mean we don’t fight China on intellectual property theft, human rights, or territorial aggression. We can have those arguments while still expanding mutually beneficial trade and without being enemies. You have fights with your spouse but you still have intercourse.

The tragic stupidity of Trump’s China stance is that it’s the opposite. He wants no fights with his “great friend” Xi over things like Xinjiang or silencing dissent. Nor is he even really confronting China over intellectual property theft, which is the trade fight we should be having. Instead, it’s the intercourse he wants to curtail.

“Intercourse” doesn’t even begin to cover it, as elucidated in a recent Thomas Friedman column (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/04/opinion/us-china-trade.html). Our two economies are totally intertwined. We have huge investments in each other. Both economies rely heavily on vast, interlinked supply chains, each supplying to the other things necessary for their productivity. For example, Apple has products assembled in China; Chinese technology firms need U.S.-made chips. If we rip all that apart, Friedman says, “we’ll all end up living in a less secure, less prosperous and less stable world.”

But he fears that’s happening; stumbling into a new cold-war-enemy relationship with China that’s totally unnecessary. “The erecting of an equivalent of the Berlin Wall down the middle of the global technology market,” dividing it into separate and mutually hostile spheres.

Instead we should be working to coax China into full partnership with the rules-based globalist economic order. Which is really in China’s own long-term best interests. In this, a united front with all our allies would help. But Trump has antagonized them, picking trade fights with them too. (Britain, for one, now sees its trade relationship with China as economically central.) So we’re on our own.

Bad enough that Russia is a big enemy. China would be far bigger. Its economy is already as large as America’s and will soon outstrip it. Its population is more than thrice ours. China’s increasing global importance is an inevitability we must live with; making the best of it. And we can. If instead we opt for all-out battle, we will lose.

* Counterfeiting is a big industry — a major problem in my own business field, rare coins. Maybe bigger than we even know.

Hate, love, humanism, and (of course) Trump

June 4, 2019

I’ve been called a hater, in blog comments. My extensive political analyses written off as simply hate. As though Trump hate is somehow built into me; a pathology; a cause rather than an effect.

It’s an easy way to dismiss someone’s opinion you don’t like. But do I actually have some blind irrational hatred for Trump?

“Nonjudgmentalism” has been a big cultural trope, like it’s wrong to judge anybody for anything. Yet we evolved as judgment making machines. Because survival depended on judgments about threats. This was the context of our social evolution — harmful behavior threatened the group. So we evolved a powerful detector for that — our sense of justice — with a proclivity to make the judgments that go with it. Thus hate for wrongness is deeply embedded in human nature, it’s integral to our social makeup, and it is mostly a good thing.

Except we’re not always right about what’s wrong. “Better safe than sorry” causes too many false positives. There’s a difference between hating something truly wrong, and hating something (or someone) for the wrong reasons.

Furthermore, psychology comes into it. Obviously people vary between sunnier and darker dispositions. The latter predisposes one more toward hate. And the more that’s the case, the less likely the hate will be rational, the more likely to be directed at wrong targets. Certainly true when it comes to ethnic hatreds (aggravated by another evolutionary trait, suspicion toward people unlike us).

I myself am far at the sunnier end of the spectrum. Indeed, I literally wrote the book on optimism. When I started work on what became that book, it forced me to examine and think through my beliefs, more deeply than I’d never done before. I am a humanist. This valorizes, first and foremost, human life, and what I call the human project, to achieve the best possible quality of life for us all.

Thinking trough this humanism heightened my love for humans, both collectively and individually. I’ve spoken of making judgments. But absent full knowledge of any given person, the likelihood, the default assumption, is that they’re a good person. It’s usually true.

I think I’m a good person, but it’s easy for me as I’ve had an extremely fortunate life. Most others have not; for them it’s much harder. Yet most are nonetheless good. Struggling with life’s challenges, trying very hard to live good lives. For this I love them.

Of course nobody is a saint, and some do bad things. “Hate the sin, love the sinner” is often wisdom. However, there are people deserving harsh judgment. And while I do look upon most others with love, it’s also the case that my own judgment module, my injustice detector, is set on “high.”

Partly this is a further consequence of how fully, by now, I have built the ideas and principles I apply to the world. And the objectivity I’ve also cultivated, striving to see things as they really are. I also try to stay extremely well informed (with genuine news, not Facebook garbage). All this makes me confident in my judgments, grounded in a sound rational outlook. So when I see something as wrong, I am very clear on how and why it’s wrong.

Like most human beings, most Trump supporters are not bad people. I don’t hate them. They too struggle with life’s challenges. They’re very misguided, led astray by an unscrupulous con man who plays their vulnerabilities and anxieties like a violin. They’re short on the knowledge and intellectual equipment to see through the blizzard of lies. They have misdirected hatreds. They’re human; all these are very human failings. Overcoming them is part of the great human project. And, in the big sweep of history, we’re making much progress.

A beacon of that progress has been the United States of America. Playing a huge role in leading the rest of the world into a better place. On my wall is a picture of our postage stamp proclaiming “America’s light fueled by truth and reason.” Dimming that light is tragic.

For this Trump bears grave responsibility. A rare person whose own flame burns pure with wickedness. Hate the sin but love the sinner? Is he, indeed, a pitiable victim of a twisted character he cannot control? Maybe some truth in that; yet we have enough free will to be responsible for who we are. Still I might merely pity him were he not doing such vast harm. If there’s anything properly to be hated in this world, it is such consequential wickedness.

The hatred not a cause, but an effect.

The crisis of followership

May 30, 2019

Great Britain has a crisis of leadership. One main party now headed by an agit-prop Marxist; the other by a hapless prime minister, who has now quit, leaving the crazies to take over.

This prompted The Economist’s “Bagehot” columnist (covering Britain) to recall a long ago discussion about leadership — where management guru Peter Drucker said we actually need to think more about followership. (Here’s a link: https://www.economist.com/britain/2019/05/04/britains-followership-problem) If we don’t see great leaders like Lincoln, Churchill, and FDR, maybe it’s because followership has changed.

In America, Democratic party followers are riven between two opposing tendencies. One feels we need radicalism, blowing up the system. The other wants to seize the center ground, to return America to normalcy. Would-be leaders play to one or the other ethos, the gap seemingly unbridgeable. The followers want the leaders to follow them, not the other way around.

The Republicans’ situation is the opposite. They’re totally united, in following one leader — down the road to perdition.

Bagehot says politics works (or should) by politicians gaining authority from voters and using it to do the work of government. Authority had long been gained through followership, with three basic paradigms: voter deference to an elite; class solidarity; and perceived competence.

All three have broken down. The very idea of deference rankles. The idea of competence elicits laughs. And class consciousness has faded. The result is a collapse in legitimacy and a widening gap between leaders and followers.

Which, says Bagehot, “has sent new forces surging through the body politic.” Including know-it-all cynicism on the one hand and, on the other, sudden enthusiasms for radical nostrums. I would add the degeneration of political discourse into what looks more like team rivalry; color war rather than class war. Policies are only a thin veneer on what is really a cultural, tribal divide. Us-against-them, with winning all that matters. Trampling “the better angels of our nature.”

Meantime, Bagehot writes, the most dangerous motivator “is the combination of anger, disappointment and bloody-mindedness” — in a word, resentment. And Bagehot fears this politics of resentment will likely trump the politics of problem-solving for some time.

Speaking of Trump — oddly, the column actually doesn’t. Yet obviously Trump’s election represented exactly what it talks about. A gotterdammerung of resentment and bloody-mindedness, when too many American voters threw responsible citizenship to the winds and plunged for its antithesis.

And of course the great irony: why expect such nihilism to achieve what (inchoately, confusedly) they sought? Surely a leap from the frying pan to the fire.

Indeed, Bagehot quotes the words people most commonly use in condemning politicians: “contemptible, disgraceful, parasitical, sleazy, traitorous.”

Remind you of anyone in particular?

What are we saying when we talk?

May 18, 2019

That was the subject for a fascinating entry by “Johnson” (after Samuel), The Economist’s language columnist.

We typically say language is for communicating and conveying information. But the two are not the same. A study cited in the column found only 36% of utterances purport to be factual statements. The rest instead have social purposes; either as social lubricants or to convey something about the speaker.

Johnson cited for example Christians who might say, “I believe in the resurrection of Jesus.” Maybe not an everyday conversational gambit. Anyhow, I’ve pointed out that what we think we believe and what we truly believe can differ. Johnson posits that a lot of Christians don’t really truly believe in the resurrection; rather they are saying, “I am a Christian and it is important that I say this.” The latter is what they aim to convey — not that the resurrection was real. I’d put it in terms of delineating one’s personal identity.

Then there’s Trump. Johnson notes his telling fans that the Obamas built a wall around their house. Turns out they didn’t. But for Trump and his audience that was irrelevant. He wasn’t actually telling them, “this is a fact.” Instead he was communicating something about himself. Something like, “I share your loathing for Obama, that n_____.”

Yet, with all due respect for Johnson, there’s really more going on with Trump, he’s a special case. Normal people have a filter to vet utterances before they come out. Trump doesn’t. Recently he said his father was born in Germany. Actually it was the Bronx. Why misstate such a thing? He denied having any role concerning Jared Kushner’s security clearance; it turns out he had a very big role. This is not just ordinary lying, but pathological lying. A disturbed relationship with reality. What comes out of his mouth at any given moment is what his brain thinks fits with his narrative of the moment — reality being irrelevant. One very sick puppy here.

And here’s another point Johnson didn’t make. We understand pretty well what the story is when buddies banter in a bar; and it’s fine. However, it’s different when the president of the United States speaks in public. His office invests him with an awesome trust and responsibility, his utterances are highly consequential. Furthermore, people have long believed “all politicians lie,” a vast overstatement, but this basic reflexive distrust makes it all the more incumbent upon a president to use the greatest care when speaking, doing everything possible to avoid misstatements. Trump’s doing the very opposite is corrosive to the relationship between citizens and their government; devastating to our civic discourse and our whole civic culture.

Those are factual statements.