Archive | November, 2016

How he got over: The Trump his followers see

25 Nov
Contrary to how he was portrayed in the mainstream media Trump did not talk only of walls, immigration bans, and deportations. In fact he usually didn’t spend much time on those themes. Don’t get me wrong, Trump is a racist, misogynist, and confessed sexual predator who has legitimized dangerous street-level hate. Most of all, Trump is a fraud. And his administration will almost certainly be a terrible new low in the evolution of American authoritarianism. But the heart of his message was something different, an ersatz economic populism, which has been noted far and wide, but also a strong, usually overlooked, anti-war message. Both spoke to legitimate working class concerns.
Furthermore, his message was delivered with passion and a strange warmth. Dare I say it? Donald Trump has charisma. It is a mix of almost comic self-confidence, emotional intelligence, a common touch, but also at times slight vulnerability. Let’s face it, even the aura of sex around Trump—sleazy and predatory, sometimes sophomoric, as in the “small-hands” jokes—was at least part of a libidinal aura.
And here comes that Peter Thiel line you’ve been hearing:
One of the few coastal elites to have cracked the Trump discursive code is the otherwise odious Peter Thiel, who told the National Press Club, “the media is always taking Trump literally. It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally.” Voters on the other hand, said Thiel, “take Trump seriously but not literally.” Bingo!
Or to translate this into the academese of Roland Barthes, perhaps Trump’s discourse was more “writerly” (scriptable) than its simple sounds suggested; that is his meanings, because of the form of their delivery, were open to multiple understandings and re-assembly by the listener. Even his endlessly invoked wall, in reality a proposal for more militarized policing, could sound like a public works scheme, an infrastructure based jobs program. […]
In Trump’s discourse A does not necessarily connect to B. If you don’t like A, just focus on B. The structure of Trump’s discourse will never demand that all the pieces be connected. That, in part, is what he meant with the Orwellian phrase “truthful hyperbole.” He has even described his own statements as mere “opening bids” in a negotiation.
Style and the little guy:
Choppy as they were, Trump’s speeches nonetheless had a clear thesis: Regular people have been getting screwed for far too long and he was going to stop it.
Continue reading

The Election: Of Hate, Grief, and a New Story

21 Nov

by Charles Eisenstein*

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Normal is coming unhinged. For the last eight years it has been possible for most people (at least in the relatively privileged classes) to believe that society is sound, that the system, though creaky, basically works, and that the progressive deterioration of everything from ecology to economy is a temporary deviation from the evolutionary imperative of progress.

A Clinton Presidency would have offered four more years of that pretense. A woman President following a black President would have meant to many that things are getting better. It would have obscured the reality of continued neoliberal economics, imperial wars, and resource extraction behind a veil of faux-progressive feminism. Now that we have, in the words of my friend Kelly Brogan, rejected a wolf in sheep’s clothing in favor of a wolf in wolf’s clothing, that illusion will be impossible to maintain.

The wolf, Donald Trump (and I’m not sure he’d be offended by that moniker) will not provide the usual sugarcoating on the poison pills the policy elites have foisted on us for the last forty years. The prison-industrial complex, the endless wars, the surveillance state, the pipelines, the nuclear weapons expansion were easier for liberals to swallow when they came with a dose, albeit grudging, of LGBTQ rights under an African-American President.

I am willing to suspend my judgement of Trump and (very skeptically) hold the possibility that he will disrupt the elite policy consensus of free trade and military confrontation – major themes of his campaign. One might always hope for miracles. However, because he apparently lacks any robust political ideology of his own, it is more likely that he will fill his cabinet with neocon war hawks, Wall Street insiders, and corporate reavers, trampling the wellbeing of the working class whites who elected him while providing them their own sugar-coating of social conservatism.

The social and environmental horrors likely to be committed under President Trump are likely to incite massive civil disobedience and possibly disorder. For Clinton supporters, many of whom were halfhearted to begin with, the Trump administration could mark the end of their loyalty to our present institutions of government. For Trump supporters, the initial celebration will collide with gritty reality when Trump proves as unable or unwilling as his predecessors to challenge the entrenched systems that continually degrade their lives: global finance capital, the deep state, and their programming ideologies. Add to this the likelihood of a major economic crisis, and the public’s frayed loyalty to the existing system could snap.

We are entering a time of great uncertainty. Institutions so enduring as to seem identical to reality itself may lose their legitimacy and dissolve. It may seem that the world is falling apart. For many, that process started on election night, when Trump’s victory provoked incredulity, shock, even vertigo. “I can’t believe this is happening!”

At such moments, it is a normal response to find someone to blame, as if identifying fault could restore the lost normality, and to lash out in anger. Hate and blame are convenient ways of making meaning out of a bewildering situation. Anyone who disputes the blame narrative may receive more hostility than the opponents themselves, as in wartime when pacifists are more reviled than the enemy.

Racism and misogyny are devastatingly real in this country, but to blame bigotry and sexism for voters’ repudiation of the Establishment is to deny the validity of their deep sense of betrayal and alienation. The vast majority of Trump voters were expressing extreme dissatisfaction with the system in the way most readily available to them. (See herehereherehere) Millions of Obama voters voted for Trump (six states who went for Obama twice switched to Trump). Did they suddenly become racists in the last four years? The blame-the-racists (the fools, the yokels…) narrative generates a clear demarcation between good (us) and evil (them), but it does violence to the truth. It also obscures an important root of racism – anger displaced away from an oppressive system and its elites and onto other victims of that system. Finally, it employs the same dehumanization of the other that is the essence of racism and the precondition for war. Such is the cost of preserving a dying story. That is one reason why paroxysms of violence so often accompany a culture-defining story’s demise.

The dissolution of the old order that is now officially in progress is going to intensify. That presents a tremendous opportunity and danger, because when normal falls apart the ensuing vacuum draws in formerly unthinkable ideas from the margins. Unthinkable ideas range from rounding up the Muslims in concentration camps, to dismantling the military-industrial complex and closing down overseas military bases. They range from nationwide stop-and-frisk to replacing criminal punishment with restorative justice. Anything becomes possible with the collapse of dominant institutions. When the animating force behind these new ideas is hate or fear, all manner of fascistic and totalitarian nightmares can ensue, whether enacted by existing powers or those that arise in revolution against them. Continue reading

Muslims for Trump – And then there’s Bernie, w/ a note from Nate Silver [flip the switch]

10 Nov
Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution, I noticed something funny over red lentils:
Earlier this week I was sitting in one of my favorite local Bangladeshi restaurants, enjoying the red lentils. For whatever reason, when the talk switched to politics, the Bangladeshis on the adjacent table switched to English. Five of them were debating heatedly, and with considerable sophistication, whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton was the better candidate. From their dress, language, and accents, there was strong evidence they all were Muslim and recent arrivals to this country. I didn’t come away with the feeling that a majority of them would vote for Trump, but not one of them seemed completely sold on Hillary Clinton as the superior choice. At that moment I wondered what was going on.
From Omar Kamel, in Aeon, “I’m Arab and Many of Us Are Glad That Trump Won” –
There’s a bit of fatality involved here to be sure, and a deep level of cynicism. Many of us feel that if America could not choose the best option, then it deserved the worst. Also, there’s a harsh desire for rough truth, rather than hypocritical garnish. In a sense, most Americans are Trump, but many of them like to think of themselves as closer in character to who Clinton (falsely) claims to be; liberal, democratic, leftist, humane, charitable, kind. There are some who faced the facts honestly, and admitted that, for all intents and purposes, Clinton was a criminal and a manipulator, who plays ball with the worst human rights offenders on the planet (Saudi Arabia and Israel, for example) and relies on their financial and political support, that she, when promising to continue Obama’s legacy, is in fact, promising to kill another 4,000 innocent Pakistanis by drone strikes in an illegal attempt to murder untried ‘terrorists’. That this is a woman for whom Madeline Albright is a role model, and Kissinger is an icon, a woman who started out Republican before swapping sides and acting as though she were a Democrat, most likely because she realized that, as a woman, she could go farther as a Democrat. This is a liar who claims to have been dodging sniper fire in a foreign land when she was being greeted with flowers. […] We do not think Trump is any better, but we think a Trump victory would force the USA to admit to what it has become, and would allow other countries around the world to react appropriately now that the cover has been blown.

BURLINGTON, Vt., Nov. 9 – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) issued the following statement Wednesday after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States:

“Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media. People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids – all while the very rich become much richer.

“To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.”

Nate Silver has an interesting article,What A Difference 2 Percentage Points Makes. He notes, after all, that the two parties spun very different narratives, but each claiming to have the voice of the people while their opponent was flat-out mistaken. And does in the context of arguing that interpreting the polls is a tricky business.
But to a first approximation, people are probably giving the polls a little bit too much blame. National polls will eventually miss the popular vote by about 2 percentage points, which is right in line with the historical average (and, actually, a bit better than national polls did in 2012). State polls had considerably more problems, underestimating Clinton’s complete collapse of support among white voters without college degrees but also underestimating her support in states that have large Hispanic populations, such as New Mexico.
Given how challenging it is to conduct polls nowadays, however, people shouldn’t have been expecting pinpoint accuracy. The question is how robust Clinton’s lead was to even a small polling error. Our finding, consistently, was that it was not very robust because of the challenges Clinton faced in the Electoral College, especially in the Midwest, and therefore our model gave a much better chance to Trump than other forecasts did.
He concludes with this observation:
But that’s not very important. What’s important is that Trump was elected president. Just remember that the same country that elected Donald J. Trump is the one that elected Barack Hussein Obama four years ago. In a winner-take-all system, 2 percentage points can make all the difference in the world.

Yes, the same population, but a very different configuration.

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I’m one of those who thinks the SYSTEM needs shaking up. I liked Bernie for the win. Given the choice I had, however, I voted ‘safely’, shall we say. Still, I wonder if there isn’t lemonade to be made of this garish orange-haired lemon. After all, the belief that the system needs shaking up generally implies that the believer gets to do the shaking up on their own terms. Perhaps that’s an illusion, that there’s no such thing as the ‘ideal’ shake-up. The people who did vote for Trump, after all, don’t know what he’s going to do. Trump himself doesn’t know. Yes, the Supreme Court will go strongly conservative. Maybe he’ll actually deep six the Department of Education. These are not good things. But he’s said he wants to unite the country. Just what does that mean, concretely? He doesn’t know, we don’t know. Would Hillary have been a better uniter? We don’t know.

Trump wants to be admired. OK. He’s President. But when all the votes are tallied, he likely won’t get the popular vote. That is, in popular terms, he’s still a LOSER. Publically, of course, he’ll stake the win. Privately, maybe the loser thing will bug him at 3AM. What’ll he do to become a winner? Here’s what Tyler Cowen thinks:

If there is any common theme to my predictions, it stems from Trump’s history in franchising his name and putting relatively little capital into many of his business deals. I think his natural instinct will be to look for some quick symbolic victories to satisfy supporters, and then pursue mass popularity with a lot of government benefits, debt and free-lunch thinking. I don’t think the Trump presidency will be recognizable as traditionally conservative or right-wing.

Potayto, potahto. 
Uniter, divider. 
Game on.

Post-Election Blues, First Riffs

9 Nov

In the 19th century the Morris Canal moved coal from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley to northern New Jersey and terminated in the Hudson River in Jersey City, just across from Lower Manhattan. It carried iron ore westward from the Hudson to Pennsylvania. Not so long ago there was a small industrial building near the mouth of the canal. It was abandoned and falling apart, but had attracted the work of a roving crew of graffiti writers in and around North Jersey and NYC. In May of 2014 I snapped this photo there:

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Consider it a metaphor for the current state of America, this November 9, 2018, the day after Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton for the Presidency. Those who won, those who lost, all of us, heartache – in some measure.

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From Donald Trump’s Victory Speech:

I’ve just received a call from Secretary Clinton. She congratulated us. It’s about us. On our victory, and I congratulated her and her family on a very, very hard-fought campaign.

I mean, she fought very hard. Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country.

I mean that very sincerely. Now it is time for America to bind the wounds of division, have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.

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David Porush–my old grad-school buddy, Trumposaurus Rex, Act 2: Why our psychopathology will elect the next president:

Trump narcissism, boasting, outrage, whining, lying, insulting, shouting, bullying charm is catnip for the media. But incredibly, they don’t understand the business they’re in. They think they’re dissecting his actions and informing us. But they, especially the obsessed CNN, are really providing a conduit for his hindbrain to talk to our hindbrains. During our waking moments, we try to ignore and suppress what our hind brain is singing to us, but it’s always there, whistling its seductive 500 million-year-old tune: “Feed me!” The media are feeding us a part of our brain we don’t get to taste otherwise.

That’s why everyone who tries to analyze or predict Trump’s path to the Presidency with their forebrain has been and will be wrong. Remember when everyone thought he was a joke? Remember when Trump trailed by 10% in all the polls to … everyone? This level of amnesia and denial would be astounding unless we understand it as a kind of brain defect, an aphasia, that is usually an evolutionary advantage but every once in a while blinds us to dangerous realities. We’re trying to peer into the jungle with eyes trained to see only urban architecture and orderly streets and mostly well-behaved humans. Worse, the jungle we’re trying to see is inside us, and we spend most of our time trying to deny that we’ve crawled out of it. Furthermore, the essence of reason and civilization is to declare that the jungle exists only in others, not in ourselves. Yeah, we got that lizard under control, man. It’s those Others you gotta watch out for. This is the flip side of the tune Trump is singing, and all you liberals out there should begin with a little introspection of your own hatreds before condemning the other half of the electorate.

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Ross Douthat, NYTimes, The Trump Era Dawns:

I fear the risks of a Trump presidency as I have feared nothing in our politics before. But he will be the president, thanks to a crude genius that identified all the weak spots in our parties and our political system and that spoke to a host of voters for whom that system promised at best a sustainable stagnation under the tutelage of a distant and self-satisfied elite.

Paul Krugman, NYTimes, The Economic Fallout:

The disaster for America and the world has so many aspects that the economic ramifications are way down my list of things to fear.

Still, I guess people want an answer: If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never.

Under any circumstances, putting an irresponsible, ignorant man who takes his advice from all the wrong people in charge of the nation with the world’s most important economy would be very bad news. What makes it especially bad right now, however, is the fundamentally fragile state much of the world is still in, eight years after the great financial crisis.

Thomas Friedman, NYTimes, Homeless in America:

As much as I knew that it was a possibility, the stark fact that a majority of Americans wanted radical, disruptive change so badly and simply did not care who the change agent was, what sort of role model he could be for our children, whether he really had any ability to execute on his plan — or even really had a plan to execute on — is profoundly disturbing.

Before I lay out all my fears, is there any silver lining to be found in this vote? I’ve been searching for hours, and the only one I can find is this: I don’t think Trump was truly committed to a single word or policy he offered during the campaign, except one phrase: “I want to win.”

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