Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A New Message and Ethic Needed to Challenge Trumpism

Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat It is hard these days to wake up and not feel some degree of nausea and shame about being an American.  How do we live with the just the idea of a president who lies on a regular basis and seems to be  the only one in his administration who disbelieves that the Russians meddled in our election. Place on top of this ugly reality his withdrawal from the Paris Climate accords and , his cruel efforts to take health care away from between 12 to 16 million people and you end up with what can be loosely termed a "hot mess."This is without even considering the Muller investigation which the closer it gets to implicating Trump's inner circle in colluding with the Russian government to steal the election the more the president lashes out and attempts to obstruct justice.

How did we find ourselves at this awful historical moment and how do we move beyond it are two fundamental questions we cannot avoid asking, Naomi Klein provides some answers in her latest book No is Not Enough. In it she argues that “Trump is not a rupture at all, but rather the culmination — the logical endpoint — of a great many dangerous stories our culture has been telling for a very long time...That greed is good. That the market rules. That money is what matters in life. That white men are better than the rest. That the natural world is there for us to pillage. That the vulnerable deserve their fate and the one percent deserve their golden towers. That anything public or commonly held is sinister and not worth protecting. That we are surrounded by danger and should only look after our own.”

While Klein has found some compelling words to explain why a narcissistic billionaire maybe driving us all off a potential cliff. but does not give us any robust sense of hope that we can eject him from the driver's seat any time soon. Klein's
"solution" if that is the right word seems to be a feel good one--the left has to "pull together" and not divide up into "silo interest groups".  “The trick is going to be to stick together, and have each other’s backs as never before.” Really? A set of cliches that might be good to share with a set of nervous teenagers who are anxious about the future--but is this a real plan--does this suggest really in the words of her title that "No is Not Enough"?

To really beat Trump the left needs not just an emotional kumbaya moment but a real plan. We cannot simply rely on the fact that Trump's national poll numbers are down to historic low of 36 percent, we need to keep in mind that according to Gallup in 17 states Trump is 50 percent or higher job approval ratings. While the beginnings of the democrats fight back are evident in their latest "A Better Deal" message that was announced to very little mainstream press news coverage on July 24th, it fell short of what is required in several ways and was immediately panned by the wildly popular Morning Joe show as "bland" and "vanilla. The New Republic rightly saw a basic contradiction at the heart of the document in that while there is a recognition that the economy is rigged against the middle class, it expects the American worker to pull himself up by his bootstraps and get the training he or she needs to seek higher wage jobs. The new democrats proclaim that their "better deal is not about expanding the government." As Bustos et al (for CNN) commented " That position betrays a continued acceptance by Democrats of a decades long Republican talking point that demonizes government, adopts the idea that taxes are too high and puts blind faith in the "free market."

It is past time to remind people that big government got us out of the 1930s depression, won the second world war, built the national highway system, got us to the moon, developed the prototype for the internet and GPS. Big government is managed by annual appropriations bills that have to be scrutinized by Congress. To demonize big government to essentially give up on democracy and decide that it is too challenging to put controls on it that reflects the national interest. To really begin to respond to the demands of a global economy and the need to create secure middle class jobs democrats should set out a plan that requires government to be a partner in the need to create a green economy. The dems should be honest in setting out the stakes and that the GOP alternative is to place the nation's wealth in fewer and fewer hands--as the one perccnt squeeze the middle class even further in their pursuit of ever more gargantuan profits. We must in short replace a wildly out of control individualistic ethic that would strip health care from tens of millions of people because they want younger people to be "free" not to pay into health care, with a communitarian one that accepts the mutual obligations of each generation to contribute to the national good.
Senator Elizabeth Warren said it well "there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody…Part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.” For the last two to three decades there has been very little paying forward and a lot more concentration of wealth in a few hands.

The democrats' challenge will not be easy. They are badly in need of a leader who will speak from the heart and who will not shy away from words like "opportunity", "fairness" and even terms like "economic justice." Democrats will need to have the confidence of their convictions and lean on their talented friends in Hollywood and Madison Avenue to come up with the words, video and music that can help convey the message. Some will argue that until they do get the messenger a new Barack Obama, Bill Clinton or JFK that the democrats new message will not be able to break through. There is some truth to that point --charismatic leaders do have their often decisive role to play but the Trump emergency means we cannot wait around and hope that the man or woman on the white horse will show up. There is plenty of talent that is already there in the democratic party. That talent is more likely to emerge once the old guard--- Nancy Pelosis, Steny Hoyers and Chuck Schumers (all in their seventh decade) decide that is in the long term interest of the party and the country for them to step aside.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Trump --Our First Mafia President Shows His True Colors

For those who were eager to know how a Trump presidency would work out and who might fantasized that the golden haired casino owner would be making decisions around a  table Apprentice style. Or board room style,  work with Chuck Schumer and Paul Ryan and apply his business acumen to form partnerships, build coalitions in order to move his transformative "Make America Great Again" agenda through the Congress, we now have the reality of the first 120 days. Based on the last three months we now have a few hints that the reality of a Trump administration is radically different from the TV fueled fantasy that his supporters probably had in mind. Turns out that Trump wants to closely align his administration with Costra Nostra principles. So the question on the table is whether Donald J Trump is our first Mafia President?  There are lots of signs that he well might achieve this historic if dubious historic title. After all something must have rubbed off from his friendship with the true master of intimidating enemies and hoodwinking the authorities, Roy Cohn. It was Cohn after all who used to defend Mafia bosses and must have helped him find the  mobsters to work on his building projects as this article makes clear.

But the connections to the Mafia world goes even deeper than we might first have imagined.  Trump acts like a classic Mafia Capo in his administration because it suits his style of having no interest in the details of government or ideology but just in finding more ways to continue to flatter his insatiable ego and grow his thirst for power for its own sake. To run a non ideological non n strategic administration that depends on the whims of the boss as to whether we bomb Syria today, send warships to North Korea tomorrow, kick 24 million off health care or provide full coverage, is not as easy as it looks.  To do so you have to maintain tight control of your inner circle who have the authority to do your bidding. You need to have some well defined enemies to help you achieve your goals. You need an entire army of bad hombres, Muslims, media elites, fake media to get your team in shape.  As one study of the Costra Nostra has pointed out it is the Capo who for example keeps control of the group by constantly "hyping of a belief that there is an external danger to the group."

As the authors, Franco Di Maria and Giorgio Falgares  explains,

"This way of governing the organization has helped to create the right tension for members to feel not only united, but always alert, ready for attack, to serve the Capo for the good of the group." As Comey and others like SallyYates and a series of other members of the group found out is from the
 the Capo ready to discard his men when they failed to show reliability   (a failure on a psychological level, an inability to keep secret a truth, or even if a boss warned, paranoid, that certain of his men could pose a threat to him or to the entire group..Psychodynamically speaking, we could say it is the fear of the Capo that is the main mechanism of legitimation of the role and of constructing and maintaining consensus, even if all of this is, as mentioned, cleverly concealed by seeming good faith and readiness-to-help. To paraphrase Lewin, we define this modality of expressing leadership “cruelly authoritarian” or “falsely paternal.”

People like Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General  who was forced to write the appalling memo "justifying"  Comey's  memo have to possess "certain basic personality requirements. They must demonstrate willingness to be indoctrinated into criminality and cruelty, that is, the process of hardening and brutalization that the organization considers essential in transforming members into willing and trusted tools for their own criminal ends." The study goes on to locate the mysterious rage that Trump and his Costra Nostra colleagues share with respect to their victims like Comey who Trump after unceremoniously firing him while he was talking to employees out in Los Angeles and had to read about his execution on  TV is now threatened by the Capo in chief if he tells a story that contradicts the story his boss has just concocted.

"The rage expressed upon victims is the physical outcome of that process of blind devotion and unquestioning obedience to the leader which they feel."  The leader must constantly be praised as somehow extraordinary and who undying loyalty for his great courage and fortitude must constantly be shown in public and private. There must be no hint of disrespect. Alec Baldwin and others in the SNL team or the Oscar award actress Meryl Streep  who dare to disrespect him through satire are "no talent" people worthy of his base's derision and mockery. Trump the beauty queen competition maven is in their eyes at least  the final judge of all things,  including talent.

What is the point of all this energy and devotion to the charismatic leader apart from just staying in power and constantly getting even with your enemies in the Fake Media world who point out all your flaws,  inconsistencies, contradictions, and amorality?  It is the "ability to arouse admiration and consent from groups not only far removed from the criminal world" It is to make their world where authoritarian values rule, where what the leader says today is more important than any other version of reality, a world where crime pays, and morality, human decency and serving others are seen as "phony" insipid even low energy. For finally the real world is less entertaining and less forgiving than the one dreamed up by the Crime boss who even if he has not  won every battle
can force those around him to imagine that is the case.

How does it all end? Stay tuned the ending is likely to be even stranger than the Sopranos and the Godfather but like those two movies expect plenty of victims. The Capo does not go down without a good fight.