Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Bring on the Noise, Bring on the Contempt

Frank Bruni's Sunday New York Times column went right to the heart of what probably peeves the Establishment the most about Donald Trump. It's his utter lack of style and his dark vision. They still haven't recovered from his utterance of the word "carnage" on such a lofty occasion. In their world, the blood and gore of the forever wars and the opioid epidemic and rising death rates are realities which must not be named during official ceremonies touting American exceptionalism. We haven't been allowed to see the returning body bags at Joint Base Andrews for the past decade and a half for a very good reason. It might make us anti-war.

 All politicians are narcissists, Bruni went on, but at least they have the decency to put on a public display of humility on solemn occasions. And they never fail to pay homage to members of their own bipartisan political cohort. In his own inaugural address, though, Trump not only committed the mortal sin of not groveling to these people, he shockingly blamed them for all the human misery in America. It was especially irksome to Bruni that Trump didn't drool all over Hillary Clinton during his victory speech.

Bruni finishes his column with a centrist cri de coeur:
A humbler man would doubt himself, extend an olive branch to his enemies, contemplate a middle ground. But then a humbler man wouldn’t have come down that escalator at Trump Tower and proceed to say what Trump said and do what he did. As I watched him flourish, I watched humility die. On Friday, our 45th president said its last rites.
Of course, Bruni failed to mention the other 'umble VIPs sitting on the stage directly behind Trump. So in my published Times comment, I did the honors: 
 Of course Trump's populism is a fraud. Just look at all the oligarchs sitting on the stage behind him - his cabinet and billionaire donors. He rushed to shake Sheldon Adelson's hand right after the obligatory wallowing in his own gene pool.

His speech was such a big lie that it must have made the ghost of Goebbels writhe in envious ecstasy. "We’ve made other countries rich, while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon," Trump lied.

He didn't dare speak the truth and blame American multinationals, the Forbes 400... and of course, himself. The top .01% - of which he is such a greedy, loudmouthed part - is what sucked up more than 90% of all the wealth regained since the 2008 meltdown.

And there was billionaire Betsy DeVos, right in the front row, fresh from vowing to ravage public education funding during her Senate confirmation hearing. And there was Trump, outlandishly braying “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs."

Just days earlier, he'd praised oil magnate Rex Tillerson for just such thievery: "He's led this charmed life. He goes into a country, take the oil, goes into another country. It’s tough dealing with these politicians, right? He’s going to be so incredible, and I’m very proud of him."

The one silver lining is that unlike most sociopaths, Trump is a very bad liar. Truth will out, in spite of his spiteful self.
Trump is getting a lot of credit from both the left and the right for immediately  jamming the stake into the Trans-Pacific Partnership's predatory heart. But as Public Citizen's Laurie Wallach warns, whether this means that Trump will actually create any new jobs as a result is still up in the air. And his own cabinet of tycoons will be right there alongside him, doing their damnedest to ensure that their economic class will come out on top regardless. Trump, unlike his predecessors, seems to have gone out of his way not to pick sycophantic yes-men.

Wallach writes:
If President Trump intends to replace our failed trade policy, a first step must be to end negotiations now underway for more deals based on the damaging NAFTA/TPP model so its notable that today’s announcement did not end talks to establish the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the Trade in Services Agreement and the U.S.-China Bilateral Investment Treaty – all of which would replicate and expand the TPP/NAFTA model Trump says he is ending.
President Trump also repeatedly has said he would launch NAFTA renegotiations immediately and withdraw from NAFTA if he cannot make it “a lot better” for working people. NAFTA renegotiation could be an opportunity to create a new trade model that benefits more people, but if done wrong, it could increase job offshoring, push down wages and expand the protections NAFTA provides to the corporate interests that shaped the original deal.
Meanwhile, Trump has craftily moved to the left of the previous administration by inviting union bosses as well as rank-and-file members into the Oval Office for a macho chit-chat. Could there be a smidgen of sincerity in his professed concern for the working stiff? Or, as his slick friend Bill Clinton did before him, is he merely triangulating? No matter what is lurking in his mind, nobody can deny that he is doing an admirable job of keeping everybody guessing and keeping everybody off-balance.

Trump is slyly getting in front of the corporate Democrats by publicly embracing and flattering organized labor (token Clinton supporters) before the party gets a chance to regroup and make another stab at seducing organized labor. It's kind of a mirror image of what Barack Obama admitted doing after his 2010 mid-term "shellacking" by Republicans. He tried to get out in front of Republicans by going whole hog for austerity for the struggling working class while extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. He put an immediate and cruel freeze on federal wages.  For his part, Trump just performed his own triangulating, plutocrat-serving austere duty by imposing a new federal hiring freeze. (private worker pitted against public worker.) Both men gallantly exempted the military from this gratuitous pain for the sake of pain. Armed forces must always be at the ready to protect wealthy interests, which are bipartisan by their very control-freakish nature.

For someone with no traditional political experience, Trump is actually showing himself to be a skilled politician. While the media blares headlines about his incompetence and his penchant for lying for the sheer enjoyment of it, Trump gleans ever more popular support by exposing the media as a cadre of self-serving, thin-skinned careerists who just can't quit his twittering animal magnetism despite their tender sensibilities. They still haven't quite managed to modify their job description from power access-seekers to afflicters and critics of power in all its myriad forms.

So far anyway, Trump is doing the colorful in-your-face Huey Long routine with all the camera-ready panache at his never-ending disposal. As Christopher Hitchens wrote in his scathing polemic against a slightly more refined Huey clone named Bill Clinton, "Kingfish had a primal understanding of the essence of American politics. This essence, when distilled, consists of the manipulation of populism by elitism. That elite is most successful which can claim the heartiest allegiance of the fickle crowd; can present itself as most 'in touch' with popular; can anticipate the tides and pulses of opinion; can, in short, be the least apparently 'elitist.'"

It's an interesting reality show we're watching. Don't they get that "alternate reality" is already a popular genre on TV? Don't they get that people are really into escaping their lives these days?

It's telling that despite the millions of ordinary people who joined the anti-Trump marches and protests this weekend, the media chose to give outsize coverage to the wealthy camera-ready celebrities taking part. Only time will tell whether this becomes a real movement and a permanent struggle and doesn't devolve into a Democratic Party veal pen brand named Resistance, Incorporated.

What gives me hope that it won't is that it is a worldwide movement, with simultaneous protests erupting wherever right-wing extremism is rearing its ugly head. Just as all politics is local, so is all politics getting to be increasingly global. Forget the neo-fascist "America First" xenophobia spewed by Trump. The sooner we embrace the fact that we are all citizens of one world who must unite to survive, the better.

Financial globalization and wars and forced migrations and climate change and years of imposed austerity are combining to bite end-stage capitalism in the ass. And this is scaring the very serious important people at Davos, the IMF, the World Bank and wherever plutocratic thought leaders gather to ponder their navels.

Take another "style"-type piece in this week's New York Times, about how Trump is ruining civil discourse. The  "tone police" are walking the beat with a vengeance and sadly wearing out their Birkenstocks in the process. Georgetown University philosophy professor Karen Stohr urges liberals to immunize themselves against that nasty Trump bug that's been going around. She doesn't say so in her op-ed, but I suspect that she got inundated by many thousands of ladies loudly screaming the F-word while wearing their pink pussy hats at all the weekend rallies.

Stohr preaches with all the virtue-signalling passion that a credentialed expert can muster:
The better strategy for those who are already disempowered is to reject contempt on its face. Returning contempt for contempt legitimizes its presence in the public sphere. The only ones who benefit from this legitimacy are the people powerful enough to use contempt to draw the boundaries of the political community as they see fit. Socially vulnerable people cannot win the battle for respect by using contempt as a way to demand it. In an environment where contempt is an acceptable language of communication, those who already lack social power stand to lose the most by being its targets. The only real defense against contempt is the consistent, strong and loud insistence that each one of us be regarded as a full participant in our shared political life, entitled to hold all others accountable for how we are treated.
My published response:
 There are varieties of contemptuous experience just as there are varieties of religious experience. Getting down in the gutter with Trump to trade insults is just one of the more primitive ones.

As Molly Ivins pointed out, words are the only weapons that the powerless have against the powerful. Trump shows his contempt by punching down. We must show ours by punching up.

Of course, it's smarter to be more contemptuous of Trump's agenda than of his dyed comb-over and mannerisms. Stooping to his low level of mocking (of physical appearance, to name just one) only adds to his own persecution complex and that of the bigots who, in my opinion, comprise just one subset of those who voted for him.

I've heard a lot of people say that they voted for him not because of his depravity but in spite of it. All they wanted was to upend the system. And they have a point. Were it not for the rise of Trump, millions of protesting people would have stayed home this weekend. So maybe we should thank his misguided fans for, intentionally or not, lighting the fuse that brought us out of the doldrums of passive consumerism into a resurgence of active, bottom-up democracy. People joining together in solidarity is the last thing in the world the ruling class duopoly wants. The elites prefer to keep us isolated, marginalized and electronically entertained. They prefer that we remain oblivious to our own innate power. They deserve our contempt in all the creative varieties at our disposal.


Jay–Ottawa said...

"Fight! Fight!" That's what the kids at my old boarding school would shout when two adversaries put down their books, handed eyeglasses (if they wore them) to someone nearby, and faced off over who-knows-what with their dukes up. We guilty bystanders with our shouts were not calling the school authorities to come quickly and break it up. We were just gathering a larger crowd to form an enthusiastic ring around the punchers. Soon, the two fighters would be struggling on the ground. Look, a bloody nose! Ah, those were the days.

A gathering crowd should be jumping up and down and shouting "Fight! Fight!" right now. Trump has just resurrected the Keystone Pipeline.

Let's see what fight there is in the Polite People with Class, in the Greens, in the pink-topped marchers of last week, in the environmentalists, and all the other nice people that sign petitions and who claim that they, unlike Trump, aren't weighted down by any of those heavy diagnoses from the DSM-5. They are clear of head and won't take it anymore. Yeah, right. Put up or shut up, as we'd hear in the preliminaries of any real fight.

In this corner the crazy climate denier Big Donny; in the opposite corner…well, we don't know yet. Who will stand up for what's good, strong and true, eh? The Left, such as it is? Some coalition that still hasn't got its act together? Who? We who form the circle around the fighters?

Anyway, it's a gift that Trump wants to bring it on so early in his administration and on such a key issue. His opponents are still energized, right? But are they capable of the raw contempt our thought leaders, like Bruni and Stohr, tell us we should not harbor in our hearts? They think we can turn Trump around with elevated nostrils and a show of class? Have these two goody-two shoes never heard Augustin's line: “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage." If this is not the hour to fight, when?

The issue should be posed as: Do we let Trump, with his opening the spigot at Keystone, close what might be the last escape door from the Sixth Extinction?

This is the turning point where Trump either takes over full control of everything for the next eight years, OR––, or else he gets his ears pinned back so hard he'll keep this defeat in mind, real humble like, for the next four years.

It may not turn out to be––but it sure ought to be, IT"S GOT TO BE––the fight of the century, the fight for our lives. If we don't stop the mad bully here, at Keystone XL, don't even bother keeping tabs on the rest of his program to follow. It's over, environmentally and politically.

Meredith NYC said...

Any comment on the fascinating rationalizations of many women who voted for Trump? See quotes in NYT article “ ‘You Focus on the Good’: Women Who Voted for Trump, in Their Own Words” by Susan Chira, Jan 14.
They seem to live in their own belief bubble and can't see their own contradictory statements.

Just for starters, these women choose to ignore that the drumpf is a proud molester of women. And a cheating crook who has to pay 25 million to students of Trump U. Yet people discount all that and construct their own reality. A triumph of manipulation.

“....millions of women went to the polls for Mr. Trump...including 53 percent of white women.”

Wonder what they now think of massive protests against the man they voted for, by millions of women across the nation and the world? The biggest protests since the Vietnam War.

How in the world did Obama's TPP deal actually get defeated???

Zee said...

To my mind, it is pretty damned funny to read that “centrists” like Frank Bruni, along with pundits much further to the left, are uniformly disappointed—indeed, shocked, SHOCKED—that Trump has not suddenly adopted in victory a much more conciliatory, presidential and “ ‘umbler ” tone towards those whom he defeated, whose sage counsels Trump will now certainly need to “unify” the nation.

What the Brunis of this world—so desperate to retain some relevancy in this brave new world of Trump—completely misunderstand, is that Trump comes not to bury Caesar, and certainly not to [mellifluosly] praise him, but to stuff Caesar full of explosives and blow the whole damn’ republic up. To hell with unification! (I hope that metaphor makes some sense.)

Like you, Karen, “[I’ve] heard a lot of people say that they voted for [Trump] not because of his depravity but in spite of it. All they wanted was to upend the system .” (Bold emphasis added.)

The following article is, I think, illuminating on a number of fronts, but especially since this particular rural county in Wisconsin “itself had gone blue in every presidential election since 1972.”


In particular, the article more-or-less closes with this comment by a Trump supporter, a Mr. Sievwright:

“Sievwright told me he had grown up nearby and had never left; he paid his bills cutting wood and working part-time for a dairy farmer. He told me he had voted for Obama in 2008, Romney in 2012 and Trump in 2016, but it was clear he held no politician in high regard. He said Bill Clinton ‘sold us out with that NAFTA crap.’ He said George W. Bush had ‘f----d us good.’ He said Obama’s eight years ‘sucked.’ He called Hillary Clinton ‘a mean ol’ heifer.’ And he expressed hardly any confidence that Trump would do well as president or make his own life better. ‘I don’t think he’ll get a second term,’ Sievwright said. ‘It’ll be turmoil for four years. He’s like a firecracker in a keg of dynamite.’

Why, then, I wondered, did he vote for him?

He put down his brandy in a plastic cup and looked at me.

‘Why not?’ he said flatly. ‘Let it blow.’

The main point, Sievwright told me, was this: “The bastards out here in the country are sick of the bullshit.”
(Bold emphasis added.)

Good luck getting some conciliation with THAT, Frank.

Erik Roth said...

Re: "Our new age of contempt"

"The Gray Lady" is awfully shady about closing comments quickly on certain issues.
That would be those opposing their plutocratic position.
But if I had been allowed, I would have quoted Justice Louis D. Brandeis:

“If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable.”

“Our government ... teaches the whole people by its example.
If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law;
it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.”

And best of all, this:

Judge: Young lady, are you trying to show contempt for this court?
Mae West: No, I’m doing my best to hide it.

annenigma said...

In the spirit of trying to stay on a positive note and looking for the silver lining on gathering storm clouds, I'm going to suggest some political jiu-jitsu.

"On January 20, 2017, the people became the rulers of this country once again" proclaimed Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States. If we don't use that to our benefit, we're fools. We can rightfully reclaim our ruling power and deliberately give Trump credit for it IF we can be that magnanimous. I believe we'd be wise to do so because 'We Are the Rulers' and that's what wise rulers do.

So how are we going to do that? Actually claim our movement is HIS. Hey, it's global so it's YUGE which would appeal to him bigly, and he often refers to his having a movement but it doesn't yet have a name yet. So chop, chop, let's hop to it. Real Rulers of the World. What could be more populist, more Big League Bigly! RRW even sounds like a world wrestling team. So let's wrestle, jiu-jitsu style.

Are you ready to Rock and Rule? After all, how can Trump oppose a movement HE inspired? We're even ready to roll with an anthem most people are already familiar with around the world - 'We Are The Champions' from the band Queen (ok, so what if it's also a gay anthem). What a big, beautiful movement it will be! The biggest and most beautiful in the whole world! And it's a global movement! It's YUGE! Thank you, Donald. Let's not look this gift horse in the mouth.

I know this is very hard to swallow, but since it's for a worthy cause, let's actually make Trump feel *flattered* that HE birthed our movement. We know that flattery is the key to his heart and we must get there before the Deep State takes him totally to the dark side by initiating him with his First Kill - if it's not already too late. Let's hope he's still a virgin. I say "Get your hands off his junk, he's ours!"

Ok, so for our movement's banner, we need something that subtly honors Trump (you may barf here repeatedly) for his 'leadership' and 'inspiration'. I suggest something with an Earth design ("I'm a big environmentalist" he said) with a tree that looks curiously like the letter 'T' but in the font the NYT uses on it's front page which evokes Trump's side-swept hairdo. Once you see it, you can't un-see it and neither will Trump. That's ok. That's the point.

Great and enduring edifices have been built by men in tribute to themselves and that same ego can be a great motivator to do great things if managed wisely by wise rulers - Us! Wisdom dictates that we swallow our own egos to stroke his, but only in the direction of our movement. Praise him heartily when he does something we want done, and remind him that we are a movement of Real Rulers and he will be FIRED if he ignores us. It would threaten his ego if he ended up a one-term loser. People, we've got him by the balls! His ego is our tool. Most importantly though, we need to communicate bigly with him so he gets feedback.

As it is now, Hate is trumping Love despite placards claiming the opposite. We need to turn that around. Let's make him proud of 'his' new movement. What are we waiting for? The Democrats to lead us? Heehaw! Heehaw!

We Are The Champions (Rulers!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04854XqcfCY

Jay–Ottawa said...

Oh, Annie, you are so on target with the optimism thing and that business about us peoples co-opting his thing as our thing. But except for that music, hon. Queen? Singing in his long underwear? Trump's not gonna see the champ in him.

No problem, full steam ahead with everything you say, except for the tune. Don't worry. I got the music right here: Jennifer Lopez singing "Let's Get Loud" at the SuperBowl. Woof! Trump'll like her lots more than Mr. Queen. So will lots of other people, one stadium at a time.