Wednesday, January 31, 2018

State of the Bunion, With Heel Spurs

Since much of Donald Trump's speech to the Congressional Joint last night consisted of his own hands, Mussolini-like, clapping for himself, and his  frequent pauses to look around and see who was applauding him, the reviews saying this was one of the longest harangues of its type are misleading.

Before I get into the rancid meat of the speech, let's get the fashion sidebar out of the way first. Paul Ryan wore a suitably lighter shade of blue tie than Trump's, although he did botch his own opening line: "I preven-- present the president of the United States!"

First Lady Melania chose the Hillary Clinton nominating convention look: a blinding white pantsuit. There are already plenty of articles on the possible cultural symbolism and hidden meanings of this choice of couture, so I won't bother. As I previously reported, the Democratic ladies borrowed their style from the Golden Globe ladies, and wore funereal black. Nobody shouted "Shut up!" or otherwise disrupted the spectacle - which is, after all, the political equivalent of Hollywood's own multi-part orgy of theatrical self-congratulation. There were one or two nonverbal outbursts that sounded like projectile vomiting, which I swear came from my TV and not from me or my pet goldfish.

Now, to the speech. If I were asked to give it a title, it'd be a toss-up between "It's Always Sunny When You Got Somebody To Hate" or  "It'll Take a Trillion-Dollar Military Industrial Complex To Crush One Little Latino Gang From Long Guyland."

No way, as the New York Times cheerfully posited in its usual insane deference to the "occasion" of the S.O.T.U. if not the man, was this an appeal for "unity,"  unless a more cohesive jelly mold of fear and hatred was what Trump had in mind.  When read rather than listened to, in fact, it sounds like many bullshitting presidential victory laps of hope which came before it.

Here's my interpretation (his actual words are in italicized quotes.)

America is a lot like Dante's trilogy, folks. There's both a heaven and a hell and maybe a purgatory, but I've never really been one for centrism, so I'll keep maniacally spinning from hell to heaven and back again throughout this diatribe. If there is anything I'm a master at, it's keeping people so seriously off-balance they won't know what's really hitting them until it's way too late.

Ordinary people look out for ordinary people. Because America is a bootstrapping nation which hasn't had a safety net for so long there's no need to even talk about it in this speech.

So, thank you, Mr. Helicopter Rescuer in the audience, for being a human prop next to the White Pantsuit Supermodel, so we don't have to talk about how the government has turned its back on the people of Puerto Rico and "the Harvey."

Thank you, too, Mr. Firefighter dude for rescuing 60 people from the Inferno in California. It only goes to prove that just because you're trapped in a raging fire you don't necessary die from it. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr. Congresscritter Steve Scalise, who proved that just because you get shot along with many other people every single day in America, you can come out of your own trial by fire looking just fantastic, 10 years younger in fact, all because of our great health care system. (Scalise jumps to his feet to prove it and he even blows a two-handed macho Hollywood-style kiss to the president. Because gun ownership for anybody and everybody is what America is truly all about. This happy-ending shooting proved we are one great big happy country-family.

"If there is an opportunity, we seize it." Because predation and greed are what we're all about.

Even though wages are stagnating, I'll do like all my predecessors did and insist they're rising. Plus, since I can't get Jay-Z calling me a germ out of my head, I'll dig in a little deeper and claim that black people have never had it better. Also Wall Street is booming, which is great for the pension accounts it's appropriated until the bubble bursts and somebody who is not a billionaire loses their shirt, their house, and maybe even an eye.

So anyway, here's a shout-out to Steve and Sandy, who own a small factory in Ohio.  Also to their black employee, an all-American welder who is a great welder because his bosses told me he was. You think I personally have the time to look at his welding? So that's another racist dog-whistle completed, sending the message that black people are either uppity Jay-Zs, or not hard-working enough to score a seat next to the White Pantsuit Goddess. How can I be a racist when I highlight a black guy on my special night?

"If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything, you can be anything, and together, we can achieve anything." This is a subtle dig at the 800,000 Dreamers, in the vein of critics who counter the Black Lives Matter Movement with "all lives matter." Trump hammers down on this "dream" theme several more times during his speech.

"In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life. Our motto is 'in God we trust.'” (At this point the camera pans to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is caught applauding this line as robotically as any spellbound person who has ever been positively conditioned throughout life to loaded buzzwords and thus avoid thinking of how this country has always used the tropes of God and family to inflict a whole lot of Infernos both here and abroad.)

"And we celebrate our police, our military, and our amazing veterans as heroes who deserve our total and unwavering support." If you question endless war for profit, or complain about police brutality, you're not a real (white) American.

On that Orwellian note, here's another shout-out to a human prop. Young 12-year-old Preston up there, sitting right next to the White Pantsuit Goddess, started a movement to plant 40,000 flags on the graves of soldiers. Because unlike flowers, flags never die. "Young patriots like Preston teach all of us about our civic duty as Americans. Preston’s reverence for those who have served our Nation reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem." Naturally, this was a dig at the mainly black athletes who have taken a knee in protest of racism at football games. Nothing like using a nice little kid as your racist cudgel, eh, Trumpolini?

Now it's on to the appointment of conservative judges who will allow people to keeping buying more guns because the Second Amendment rules. A quick pan to Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch doesn't elicit any emotion whatsoever.

 "All Americans deserve accountability and respect – and that is what we are giving them. So tonight, I call on the Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers – and to remove Federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people."
Naturally, as the Underminer-in-Chief, this new rule would not apply to Donald J. Trump. But it'd be nice to see Congress take him at his word, just for fun.

Now it's on to the manufacture of more gas-guzzling, fuel-inefficient cars to keep the wheels of Capitalism grinding on until the whole planet erupts into one Dante's Inferno after another.

But before that happens, Trump wants terminal cancer patients to stop schlepping from country to country in search of a quack cure when they should easily have "access" to untested therapies right here in the Homeland.

Also, Trump has directed his new HHS secretary, fresh from the profiteering pharma industry, to "fix the injustice of high drug prices."  He might mean the injustice to the drug industry of laws against price-fixing, which prevent them from conspiring to raise and fix prices to even higher levels than they are already.

On to infrastructure improvement, a meaningless suggestion which seems to come up at every S.O.T.U. speech. Private corporations will not sink any money into such a thing, because it's risky and the returns are slower than would be gleaned by simply gambling with customers' money and making more money off of money than off of things. And no president in recent memory has ever suggested that public works projects actually be totally public. Where there is no profit motive, there is just no American way.

"We want every American to know the dignity of a hard day’s work. We want every child to be safe in their home at night. And we want every citizen to be proud of this land that we love.
We can lift our citizens from welfare to work, from dependence to independence, and from poverty to prosperity."

Notice he doesn't say that he wants every child to have guaranteed health care and a guaranteed public education. He does want every child to be afraid of "foreigners" who make them feel so jittery in their beds at night after they see his inflammatory Tweets. And ominously, he hints at more social safety net cuts to come in some very neoliberal language: "lifting" people from welfare to work and implying that poverty is some sort of cultural problem or individual foible. This is another classic racist and misogynistic dog-whistle employed mainly by the GOP, but also echoed by the Democrats' offerings of "ladders of opportunity."

Now it's on to fulminating the discredited trope of the "trickle-down" prosperity to be unleashed by the massive tax cuts for the rich. Oh, but let's throw in some paid family leave, because that's the pet project of Daughter Ivanka, a registered Democrat until Daddy ran for president.

Finally we get to the real rancid offal of the speech: Keep All Latino Furners Out with our big, beautiful fantastic border wall. To help him make his point, Trump points to a couple more human props whose children were killed by the notorious MS-13 Gang on Long Guyland. And then, using the old divide and conquer propaganda technique, Trump wags an approving digit at a Latino ICE agent who is patriotic enough to go after his own ethnic group.

Now that he got that out of the way, he doubles down on ending the visa lottery and thus barring immigrants from what he infamously called "shithole countries." And he again lies about so-called chain migration allowing any immigrants' distant relatives to get a free ticket into the country.

Next, he tiptoes around the crisis of opioid addiction by telling the heartwarming story of a compassionate Christian cop who adopted the baby of a heroin addict. The implicit message here is that there will always be people to care for the children of addicts, so the government and the oligarchs raking in the dough don't have to worry about it. Because if the children of powerful people become addicted, there are plenty of pricey rehab hospitals to take them in while other addicts either die in the streets, or go through withdrawal in overcrowded prisons, or some stranger comes along to "lift them up."

Would it be a proper S.O.T.U. if Trump didn't also demand unlimited Congressional funding for an already bloated military machine? Naturally, this last symphonic movement elicited the requisite fascistic chorus of USA!USA!USA! as a worthy substitute for fireworks and clashing cymbals. To get the crowd adrenaline flowing, he gushes over two soldiers who helped evacuate a hospital booby-trapped by ISIS explosives, because, as they would have us believe, American soldiers never, ever commit civilian atrocities.

And just in case you still had any doubts that the US military is planning a continuation (it never officially ended) of the Korean War, they should have dissipated with Trump's introduction of his final human prop, a North Korean refugee who lost a leg and whose family was forced to eat dirt helping him to flee to freedom. He further strove to overcome our sickly inhibitions about another war with the evening's most heartless use of human props - the parents of Otto Warmbier, who was apparently tortured by North Koreans before they released him back to the States, where he died of irreparable brain damage - although with the lack of an autopsy, the cause of death was never established.

This country belongs to the police and the military, Trump bellowed.

Is it a coup yet?

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Commercialized Resistance Is Futile

Wealthy entertainers, hijacking social protest in the Age of Trump, have now declared themselves The People. They are not to be confused with the brave but often marginalized and ignored people who have struggled for justice throughout our nation's history.

Move over, all you inheritors of Eugene Debs and Rosa Parks. Because the "Industry" has got this covered. It's all under control. You see, the newest role of famous actors and musicians and other media personalities is to turn the often bloody and violent struggles for racial justice and workers' rights and human rights into one star-studded entertainment diversion after another. Rather than protest in the streets yourselves, all you have to do is sit back and watch celebrities pretend to do it for you on TV. And if you're very lucky, you can even be a member of the live studio audience or even an extra on the stage.

Just as the Women's March franchise was partly the brainchild of affiliates of the Conde Nast publishing empire, the wider #Resistance (to Trump, the whole Trump, and nothing but the Trump) is itself the product of the Media-Political-Entertainment Complex.

To that end, a gaggle of glamorous millionaires is staging a "People's State of the Union" as an alternative to Trump's speech to the Congressional Joint this Tuesday night. So as not to deflect attention from centrist Democrat Joseph Kennedy III's official rebuttal to Trump, the  A-Listers are holding their own "prebuttal" event on Monday night in New York City, where a lot of them were already in town for the Grammy Awards.* To be fair to them, though, they're not actually marketing their gala at the tony Town Hall venue as a protest, but as a "celebration." It's an occasion for all virtue-signalers to bask in the solidarity, narrowly defined as their mutual hatred for Donald Trump.

As progressive actor Mark Ruffalo dished to the celebrity gossip rag People, the restrictive purpose of all these celebrity events is to get out the vote for the Democratic Party, which only recently purged people-intensive populists from all its leadership positions.
“In essence,” Ruffalo tells PEOPLE of the event, “it’s a better reflection of our state of the union based on a more populist point of view, based on the people’s point of view. I think it’s important because we have a president who has a difficult time with the truth, who has a radical, divisive agenda, and spends an enormous amount of time focusing on the negative and hopelessness and despair.”
The agenda, therefore, is not for the wealthy entertainers to demand protections for the most vulnerable people, but to help the most vulnerable people feel better about their situations, possibly by viewing more movies and TV shows about vulnerable people prevailing over hatred, discrimination and poverty through dint of their own humor, hard work, and all-American pluck.

Above all, the #Resistance events are about the activist Beautiful People celebrating themselves:
 “We want to celebrate this moment that we’re in of what is now probably one of the most influential and powerful and really beautiful movements to come into play in the United States since the civil rights movement,” Ruffalo explains, going on to describe the event as “a celebration of the power and the beauty of this movement, but also of our accomplishments and to focus on what’s to come in the immediate future.”
"It's the Mother of All Movements," he added modestly.

The announced host of Monday night's Celebrity Activist Apprentice reality show is yet another Democratic Party offshoot called We Stand United (not to be confused with the main financial backer, Stand Up America, a 501 (c) (4) bankrolled by the Facebook wealth of failed billionaire carpetbagger Sean Eldridge.) For the full A-List roster of performers, check out the People link above, because the last thing that these People probably need or want is more publicity, even publicity on an obscure little lefty blog. 

Led by a former Clinton campaign operative, Stand Up America was also at the "grassroots" forefront of urging Congress to establish an independent commission investigating Russian "election-meddling" in the wake of Trump's firing last year of FBI Director James Comey - who had only recently been evoking the wrath of Clintonites for dredging up the private server-Anthony Weiner mess just weeks before the 2016 election. The enemy of their enemy so conveniently becomes their friend in the interests of the fortunes of The Party. 

Meanwhile, what would commercialized protest be without the solidarity engendered by shopping? No anarchist black hats or Guy Fawkes masks will be tolerated at any sanctioned and capitalized protest celebratory gathering. The must-have item currently for sale on the Stand Up America website is a tee shirt emblazoned with the bold words "It's Mueller Time!" - because goodness knows, the Number One priority of the desperate one-fifth of Americans who now live near or below the poverty line is RussiaRussiaRussia.

Then the commercial resistance marketplace seems to have run out of righteous steam in a hurry, because all I could find were shirts and buttons and bumper stickers  labeled with "Resist" or for double the fun, "Resist. Persist." For only $24, you can score the Lady Liberty super-saver combo package, complete with a quartet of Resist buttons plus a shirt to pin them on for the sake of patriotic redundancy.

 Meanwhile, you will be happy to learn that the Women's March anniversary souvenir book "Together We Rise," is now ranked #5 on the New York Times bestseller list. I was lucky enough to be first in line to score my free ebook version (via the New York Public Library and its crushing partnership with the ubiquitous rentier monopoly Amazon) of the $30 list-price volume. 

Sadly, though, I have been unable to complete my reading to give you a full review at this time. Maybe it was the immediate shout-outs by the Women's March organizers to Facebook and Google, which helped jump-start the Operation Headcount "efficiencies" of the event. Maybe it was the fact that the protests were planned in the pricey Watergate Hotel and underwritten by Conde Nast, also the publisher of the new book. Maybe it was the hat-tip to professional MSNBC Russophobe Rachel Maddow, who supplied a huge chunk of the corporate-sponsored publicity. And since, for security reasons, only clear plastic backpacks were to be allowed at the D.C. event, the ubiquitous rentier Amazon quickly came to the monopolistic rescue and sold millions of cheap plastic backpacks to the marchers. Don't even get me started on pink pussy hats and the pink yarn shortage, which caused a big price spike for that color. Because, capitalism.

At least the organizers admitted that the initial, if not the core, purpose of the march was to give Hillary Clinton voters their moment of catharsis.

A few quotes in the intro jumped right out at me, and not in a particularly good way: 
"I kept running into Trump supporters and many Russians in the hotel and thought, Is this real?" remembers one organizer."
 "Hillary asked us 'How can I be helpful? Can I tweet in support of the Women's March?' We said, 'Absolutely.' So that day, she actually tweeted in support of us."

Now, to be fair, Together We Rise does flesh itself out with quite a few previously published or re-purposed essays by feminists, so I'll refrain from passing too harsh a judgment on the book until I've developed enough resistance to lurking treacle to finish the whole thing.

Sadly, I didn't see anything by Nancy Fraser or for that matter, any radical feminist, in the table of contents. So as an alternative, I would highly recommend her Fortunes of Feminism for a collection of scathing critiques exploring how the feminist movement has both been hijacked by, and has willingly colluded with, the profit-intensive ideology of neoliberalism. This current "wave" of anti-Trump feminism remains true to valorizing "the politics of recognition" over struggles for economic justice. The commercialized #Resistance is also virtually identical to the platform of the centrist, corporatized Democratic Party, in that both studiously ignore the need for redistributive economic policies, a fight which was at the very heart of the original leftist feminist movements, both in the US and internationally.

"The two-dimensional character of gender wreaks havoc on an either/or choice between the politics of redistribution and the politics of recognition, because it assumes that women are either a class or a status group, but not both," writes Nancy Fraser.

Rather than simply "resisting Trump," the Left, what's still left of it, must not only resist getting sucked into the anodyne Hollywood version of protest but also embrace Fraser's suggested motto: "No redistribution without recognition, and no recognition without redistribution."

When the rich and the famous and the powerful posture as agents of social change and protest, everyday people and their everyday concerns are tacitly left out. The idea is that we can simply watch everything on TV: switching channels between the odious Trump reality show, and the mind-numbing liberal reality show.

Take, for example, the Democratic Party's choice of the person to officially rebut Trump after the State of the Union spectacular. Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts will make his national TV debut as the party's latest rising star and savior. (Oprah bowed out.)  He's certainly got the name and the looks and the bathetic dynastic mystique. Other than that, he has refused to co-sponsor the Medicare for All legislation now pending in the lower House. He is also a fiscally conservative deficit hawk in the vein of the oligarch-friendly Clintonian Third Way. And why not? Young Kennedy has collected more than $1 million in campaign contributions from the shadow banking lobby, with his top individual donors listed on Open Secrets as Harvard University, Crescent Capital Group, Nixon Peabody, Bank of America, and Bain Capital. 

So I think we can probably forget about any talk of economic redistribution during his rebuttal. As a matter of fact, his speech should mesh quite nicely with those delivered by the celebrity-soaked "People's" State of Union event on the preceding night.

Stay tuned, and don't forget to pass the stale popcorn. Even better, consider cutting the official content/delivery cord to give your brain a fighting chance to actually think.

* Update, 1/29: The surprise guest star of last night's Grammy show was Hillary Clinton, reading a selection from the anti-Trump breviary, Fire and Fury, and of course appealing to the mainly young TV audience of potential voters. This attempt at hipsterism worked out so well for her when Jay-Z and Beyonce threw her that election eve concert in Michigan! But make no mistake: Hillary is still the heart and soul, not to mention much of the monetized power, of the Democratic Party and its "resistance" franchise. Don't ask me why this is, because I honestly don't know. She maintains her access to the public stage as some sort of great national feminist symbol, even right in the wake of some old but embarrassing news about a predatory campaign faith adviser she once slapped on the wrist. So it's more than apparent that Trump fans are not the only ones plagued by a cult mentality of authoritarianism. This is the thing that the citizens of this country must actually resist.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Artifice of the Deal: Extract and Excrete

I half-expected the squadron of military helicopters to start strafing panic-stricken Alpine tourists as it bore Donald Trump to his Davos destination the other day. The sight of the droning machines on the bleak Swiss horizon has been aptly compared to the famous opening scene of Apocalypse Now. The more recent highly scripted scene lacked only the Wagnerian soundtrack to augment the sense of looming shock and awe, mayhem and insanity.

But not to worry. Because for all his populist rhetoric, Trump loves the plutocrats gathering at their annual confab of greed and do-goodery as much as they love them right back. All talk of Russian collusion, porn actresses, the attempted firing of Robert Mueller, dementia, and corruption took a back seat as Trump took center stage to soak up the genteel love he's been craving his entire professional life. The richest of the richest gripped their turned-up noses with one hand as they grasped their Trumpian tax reform windfalls with the other.

Save for the occasional theatrical boo from the rafters, everybody seemed very satisfied and happy. It shockingly turns out that the anti-Trump resistance is nothing but a big act to deflect the attention of the screwed-over masses from the real complicity and the real collusion: that of Trump with the global financial elite and the self-professed "thought leaders" among them.

Even the New York Times, whose own revenue and readership have reportedly skyrocketed from the #Resistance franchise, was willing to at least partially bury the hatchet as the artless Trump and the artsy Davos crowd did their intersectional thing. For when it comes to the rich growing richer (and buying more Times ads) Trump is just one of those necessary evils to gloss over when the glossing's good - for the extremely rich, that is:
Rather than confrontation, both sides labored for conciliation, at least to a point. For one afternoon and evening, at least, Mr. Trump threw no protectionist grenades and even broached the possibility, however remote, that he would re-enter a Pacific trade agreement that he scrapped last year, if it were renegotiated. For its part, the Davos crowd welcomed its top critic with a reception and warm words.
The mood was strikingly different from a year ago, when Mr. Trump was about to take office and the globalists meeting in this mountaintop getaway reeled in shock, panicked that his campaign promises meant the end of the movement they had nurtured for decades.
 A year later, many of the business and political elites remain dismissive of him, privately rolling eyes and using words like “madman,” but there was excitement about economic growth, and the tax cuts and regulatory rollback he has ushered in.
As long as one can roll one's eyes and tut-tut about Queens accents while raking in the dough, all is right with the world. One can save one's Botoxed face and resist gravity as one valiantly pretends to abhor and resist Trump. For when it comes to unmitigated greed, snobbery conveniently cancels itself right out with just the right injection of reverse snobbery.

 Peter Baker, chief interpretative scribe of the Times's palace beat, enthused
that that wascally wabbit turned his fluffy little tail and reassured the panic-stricken oligarchs. And why not, since his "sober" speech was mostly written by Gary Cohn, his in-house Goldman Sachs advisor? The populist version of Trump will make its next gala appearance next week at the State of the Union speech, said to be the product of the ultra-right xenophobic wing of the White House, aka Stephen Miller.

Meanwhile, one can always rely upon CNN, MSNBC, the Washington Post and the Times to dish the necessary dirt about how many Russian oligarchs are meeting secretly with the Trump contingent right out in the open, in front of the TV cameras and before our very eyes. The Russophobic narrative must be kept alive, albeit as a side-issue, as capitalists of all nations collude and connive in the spirit of good, global neoliberalism.

This go-round, liberal billionaire George Soros graciously played Good Cop to give cover to his fellow oligarchs as they all groveled before Trump. From the Times:
At a separate dinner on Thursday night, George Soros, the liberal financial trader and philanthropist, called Mr. Trump the vanguard of a new wave of authoritarian rulers that threatens open society.
“The survival of our entire civilization is at stake,” said Mr. Soros, while pointing a finger at “the rise of leaders like Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump.”
In the days before Mr. Trump’s arrival, the leaders of India, Canada, France and Germany used a series of high-profile speeches to mount an aggressive defense of the global trading system, while other officials worried that Mr. Trump and other nationalists posed grave risks.
Back in the USA, meanwhile, comic relief in high places abounds. Word is now out that when the Trumps requested a loan from the Guggenheim of a Vincent Van Gogh painting - Landscape With Snow -  to display in the private White House residence, the museum made them a snarky counter-offer of the solid gold toilet satirically titled America.  This iconic sculpture actually gives a whole new meaning to so-called shithole countries.

The artsy-fartsy offer made perfect sense. For one thing, the 18-carat gold toilet cost sculptor Maurizio Cattelan (or his investors) more than $1 million to make. And since oligarchs like Trump love to posture as "makers" rather than takers, what better seat of power could he possibly desire?

Sadly, Trump turned down the offer. Maybe it had something to do with thousands of Guggenheim visitors having previously used the fully functional commode. No amount of Lysol or reams of paper covering could ever properly sanitize it for the Germophobe-in-Chief's protection. Or maybe it was just because he already has a couple of toilets in higher quality 24-carat gold encrusted with diamonds and rubies. 

More likely though, Trump, like most mortals, prefers comfort over style in his most intimate excretory moments. Therefore, he's probably installed at least one Numi toilet in each of his many residences.

For one thing, if one is male, one's urinary stream is guided by the Numi's blue laser light so as to avoid groggy mishaps in the middle of the night. There's no need to even wipe oneself when one owns this $6,000-plus commode, because it actually washes and dries one at the touch of a touchscreen. Just like Trump himself, the Numi can spit out water and blow air at the slightest provocation.

So the creator of the golden toilet is understandably resigned about Trump's refusal of his generous counter-offer:
Asked why he volunteered “America” to the White House, Cattelan told the Washington Post, “Everything seems absurd until we die and then it makes sense.”
It even makes plenty of sense when we're still alive. It makes even more sense when we're clinging to a mere semblance of life by the skin of our teeth. 

Oh well. Donald Trump will always have multiple versions of the iconic kitsch called Apocalypse Now On Snowy Evening to keep him company in his empire's multiple throne rooms. He'll always have the smell of Davos in the morning.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Ursula K. Le Guin

The grand dame of imaginative literature has died, aged 88.

Acclaimed author of such socialist/anarchist-oriented fantasy masterpieces as The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin largely confined herself to poetry, social commentary and yes, blogging, in her later years. As a matter of fact, I was in the middle of a collection of her often hilarious essays when I got the New York Times alert that she had died at her home in Portland, Oregon after several months of ill health.

  My favorite essay in the collection ("No Time To Spare") so far is her skewering of an insipid questionnaire she received from Harvard University in 2011, in which aging alumni were asked what they cared about, and what they did in their spare time. And thus the title: when you're in your 80s, your days are rather too limited to worry about filling out stupid surveys which proffer golf, bridge, shopping and racquet sports as the most likely answers to how aging and comfortable Ivy Leaguers spend their free time. Not one of the choices for old-age activities lacked a capitalistic profit motive at its very core.

"An increasing part of living, at my age, is mere bodily maintenance, which is tiresome," Le Guin quipped. "But I cannot find anywhere in my life a time, or a kind of time, that is unoccupied. I am free, but my time is not. My time is fully and vitally occupied with sleep, with daydreaming, with doing business and writing friends and family on email, with writing poetry, with writing prose, with thinking, with forgetting, with embroidering, with cooking and eating a meal and cleaning up the kitchen, with construing Virgil, with meeting friends, with going out to shop for groceries, with walking if I can walk and traveling if we are traveling, with sitting Vipassana sometimes, with watching a movie sometimes, with  doing the Eight Precious Chinese exercises when I can, with lying down for an afternoon rest with a volume of Krazy Kat to read and my own slightly crazy cat occupying the region between by upper thighs and mid-calves, where he arranges himself and goes instantly an deeply to sleep. None of this is spare time."

"What is Harvard thinking of?" she scoffed. "I am going to be eighty-one next week. I have no time to spare." (Le Guin was actually a 1951 graduate of Radcliffe, the "sister school" of the then-all male university.)

She was an ardent critic of neoliberal capitalism throughout her life, more than apparent in her body of work. One of the questions on the Harvard survey of octogenarian grads was how they ranked, for "future generations," the importance "of economic stability and growth for the U.S., terrorism, improved healthcare quality and cost, implementation of an effective immigration policy, improved bipartisanship in politics and the export of democracy."

"Since we're supposed to be considering the life of future generations," Le Guin acerbically reacted, after noting that Harvard falsely equated economic stability and growth, "it seems a strange list, limited to quite immediate concerns and filtered through such current right-wing obsessions as 'terrorism. effective immigration policy and the exportation of democracy' (which I assume is a euphemism for our policy of invading countries we don't like and trying to destroy their society, culture and religion.) Nine choices, but nothing about climate destabilization, nothing about international politics, nothing about population growth, nothing about industrial pollution, nothing about the control of government by corporations, nothing about human rights or injustice or poverty."

It's no accident that the death of this groundbreaking, award-winning writer, who John Scalzi calls the "spiritual mother of generations of writers," is barely being noticed on mainstream media. The New York Times obituary is now entirely gone from its initial placement below the digital home page fold. At the top of today's page, in fact, is a big spread about a "radical" new reality TV show called "RePaul's Drag Race" which commercializes the politics of personal identity for a mass audience.

Le Guin would probably have been amused, if not enamored, given that she was the literary ground-breaker of gender-bending narrative, with roots solidly planted in the original socialism-aligned feminist movement.

Here she is accepting the 2014 National Book Awards' lifetime achievement honors in decidedly anti-censorship and anti-capitalism ("a panic of ignorance and greed") language.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Neocon Democrats Already Blaming Russia For Shutdown Mess

If When the Democrats are pressured into striking a deal with the bad guys to keep the government chugging along for awhile longer, they want you to know it was all the Russians' fault. David Leonhardt (see previous post) will be so disappointed when he finds out that that his scolding had little to do with "the big cave."

The Democratic veal pen now known as HuffPo has collaborated with the new neocon think tank, Alliance for Securing Democracy, to spread the word that the criticism of hapless Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is emanating not just from American constituents, but from Kremlin "bots" using the hashtag #SchumerShutdown on social media.

Despite all the best algorithmic and human censorship efforts of Twitter, Google and Facebook, Russian-trolled anti-Schumer messages are "blowing up" the Internet. You see, The Alliance has devised its own copyrighted "Gizmo" measuring tool to prove it! The attack on Wall Street stooge Schumer is getting so bad it's even surpassed the nefarious #ReleaseTheMemo campaign. The Alliance would have you believe that no actual Americans ever had the intellectual wherewithal to be curious about much of anything before the Russians went on the Internet and infiltrated all their brains. You'd think that the all-American right-wing propaganda mill known as Fox News was just sitting around and twiddling its pudgy little thumbs.

HuffPo reporter Jennifer Bendery writes:
#SchumerShutdown has surpassed #ReleaseTheMemo as the highest trending hashtag among Russian influence campaigns. They seized on that hashtag earlier this month in an effort to pressure Republican lawmakers to release a classified memo written by House GOP aides that allegedly describes abuses in FBI surveillance practices. Conservative organizations like Breitbart and the Daily Caller have given major coverage to the memo, but Democratic lawmakers have denounced it as deeply misleading.
Alliance for Securing Democracy tracks activity from 600 monitored Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence operations. It has found that Russian bots and trolls frequently amplify content attacking the United States, conspiracy theories and misinformation.
Coincidentally (of course) Twitter has just sent emails to 677,775 users informing them that they were being monitored for the thought-less crime of having read and/or shared tweets from Kremlin propaganda mills.

Also, totally coincidentally, HuffPo has just sent its own emails to its entire stable of unpaid freelance contributors informing them that their "content" would no longer be accepted. This  includes all content from writers like Joe Lauria who dare to express healthy skepticism that RussiaGate has any basis in reality, or that endless war might not be in the best interests of humanity.

  HuffPo editor Lydia Polgreen, late of the New York Times, told the New York Times that she's banned the messy, noisy, free-thinking bloggers so as to "declutter" the site and give more room to quality journalism, such as, presumably, the pro-war propaganda provided by neocon think tanks.

HuffPo certainly did not see fit to inform its readers that the Alliance for Securing Democracy (which it approvingly describes as a "bipartisan" outfit led by former national security officials) is top-heavy with discredited extremist Bush-era neocons who thought it was a dandy idea to invade Iraq and destabilize the entire Middle East and beyond to make the world safe for greedy oil companies and bankers and "defense" contractors.

As a matter of fact, the head honcho of the Alliance is Michael Chertoff, Bush's Homeland Security director. The paranoia-for-profit industry has been very good to him, his private security firm having raked in big bucks from its no-contract Orwellian RapiScan machines used at airports all over the world to humiliate travelers on the pretext of thwarting terrorism. Chertoff has a nice supplemental gig working alongside Obama's former attorney general, Eric Holder, at the Covington and Burling white shoe law firm in Washington, D.C.

Also serving on the Alliance board are neocon columnist Bill Kristol; former acting CIA Director Mike Morell; CNN fear-monger, Harvard professor and former congressman Mike Rogers; Jamie Fly, foreign policy adviser to Marco Rubio; and Clinton campaign operative and Obama administration official Jake Sullivan.

Glenn Greenwald called this power hub of Democratic-Neocon propagandists  "one of the most consequential but under-discussed changes in the American political landscape."

He wrote last summer:
The song Democrats are now singing about Russia and Putin is one the neocons wrote many years ago, and all of the accompanying rhetorical tactics — accusing those who seek better relations with Moscow of being Putin’s stooges, unpatriotic, of suspect loyalties, etc. — are the ones that have defined the neocons smear campaigns for decades.
The union of Democrats and neocons is far more than a temporary marriage of convenience designed to bring down a common enemy. As this new policy group illustrates, the union is grounded in widespread ideological agreement on a broad array of foreign policy debates: from Israel to Syria to the Gulf States to Ukraine to Russia. And the narrow differences that exist between the two groups — on the wisdom of the Iran deal, the nobility of the Iraq War, the justifiability of torture — are more relics of past debates than current, live controversies. These two groups have found common cause because, with rare and limited exception, they share common policy beliefs and foreign policy mentalities.
One bright note: from what I can tell, the nationwide women's marches over the weekend were not centered on Russia fear-mongering despite the best co-opting efforts of the Democratic Party. They were not even exclusively centered on "resisting" Trump, but rather on women running for office in the interests of social and economic justice, and people joining together in solidarity across class, race and gender lines.  

They'd better watch out, or next time the politicians (even the trolling Trump) and police might not be so friendly about the protests which they now find so convenient to encourage. They still seem to have no doubts that the marches are anything more than a get-out-the-vote effort for the establishment party.

That Old Weimar Feeling

David Leonhardt of the New York Times is at it again.

Barely a few hours into the government shutdown, and he already wants the Democrats to settle with the Republicans for the good of the party:
A culture war over immigration replays the racialized debate that dominated the 2016 presidential campaign. As much as it saddens me to say it, the evidence is pretty clear that a racialized debate helps Trump. It’s the kind of debate that will make it harder for Democrats to retake the Senate and House this year....
Democratic leaders are certainly right to insist on protection for the Dreamers. The question is whether the best way to protect them, and the best way to elect politicians who will help them in the long term involves keeping immigration policy in the political spotlight for weeks on end.
The smart move now for Democrats is to accept a short-term funding bill that ends the shutdown and diffuses the tension. Republican leaders are open to that solution, because they have their own vulnerabilities. Their party is the majority party, which is often blamed for dysfunction.
That solution feels a bit unsatisfying, I know. But tactical retreats can lead to big victories in the future.
My published response:
 Last week this author suggested that Democrats stop the "race-talk" for fear that it would turn off the white voters the Big Tent party needs to win come November. Better to get people worrying about their own economic interests than Trump's racism, as if the two haven't been inextricably linked throughout the history of this "democratic" republic of ours.

This week Leonhardt is essentially suggesting that the Dreamers should be deferred lest the Democrats end up taking the blame for the government shutdown. At least they'll have the satisfaction of having pretended to care before doing what they traditionally do best: cave to the Republicans while pleading "we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

This is beginning to sound a bit too ominously like 1930s Germany and all that pragmatic appeasement that led to one of the worst exterminations in recorded history.

You either have principles, or you don't.

The Democrats shouldn't "settle" with fascists. If they do now, they'll do it again... and again... and again. And everybody will lose and more people will die - except, of course, the de facto oligarchy running the place.

Do the Democrats want to remembered as quislings and appeasers, or they do they want to be lauded as people who put their principles above winning a few more seats in a deeply corrupted political system?
Hannah Arendt wrote that all of the world's major religions have rightly condemned "lesser evil" arguments such as those the influential Leonhardt is espousing in the Paper of Record. Conniving with evil in the hope that some good might come out of it someday is at best cowardly and at worst complicit. The Democratic Party has already veered so far to the right that the latter is probably the more accurate theory, given that in exchange for protections for Dreamers, Democrats had already enthusiastically agreed to a border wall costing billions of dollars and even more draconian crackdowns on border-crossers. DACA itself was always the lesser evil, because it arbitrarily granted amnesty to a select few based upon their (healthy) youth, military service, "working hard," or enrollment in school.

"Politically, the weakness of the argument has always been that those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that they chose evil,"wrote Arendt. " If we look at the techniques of totalitarian government, it is obvious that the argument of 'the lesser evil' -- far from being raised only from the outside by those who do not belong to the ruling elite -- is one of the mechanisms built into the machinery of terror and criminality. Acceptance of lesser evils is consciously used in conditioning the government officials as well as the population at large to the acceptance of evil as such."

"The extermination of Jews," she continued, "was preceded by a very gradual sequence of anti-Jewish measures, each of which was accepted with the argument that refusal to cooperate would make things worse -- until a stage was reached where nothing worse could have possibly happened."

You know we're in trouble when the existential plight of millions of human beings and basic social justice issues have been demoted, by our leading newspaper, down to a "culture war" over "identity politics" between two bickering factions who just can't seem to get along with each other. Leonhardt and other neoliberal operatives choose to ignore the fact that without racism and human enslavement and oppression, predatory capitalism would not and could not exist

Paraphrasing Machiavelli, they sow hemlock seed and tell us to expect lush fields of ripening corn.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Censorship Is As Censorship Does

The mass media just can't get enough of Donald Trump's ludicrous "fake news" awards, posted on Wednesday night only to almost instantaneously crash due to all that eager traffic.

That, and other important stories like #GirtherGate and Congress's annual contrived government shutdown threat, have apparently filled the news-holes so densely that there was no room to cover the Wednesday Senate hearing in which groveling reps of the tech giants Google, Facebook and Twitter outlined all the nifty ways they're censoring online content from users they've deemed undesirable or displeasing to the political establishment

The ostensible purpose of the hearing was "terrorism" and sex trafficking, but then it devolved quickly to generalized Content Moderation, which is postmodern Newspeak for censorship under that silly old First Amendment.

Social media's failure to crack down on what Senator John Thune (R-SD) called "extremist groups (that) recruit and radicalize folks that (sic) will commit violent acts against Americans" could well lead to fines and other punitive measures against the tech giants, he warned. He didn't bother to specify what exactly constitutes "extremist groups."

  Eager to show how diligently they're cooperating with Congress and the US intelligence "community," Facebook Global Policy Director Monica Bickert bragged that her company now employs 7,500 people whose sole function is to monitor and remove allegedly dicey content. This censoring workforce, which includes alumni of spy agencies and law enforcement, will double by the end of year, she vowed. 

Just as the 17-agency federal intelligence Borg is a form of bureaucratic overkill which misses more "terrorist plots" than it uncovers or manufactures, Facebook says it has now "partnered" with more than a dozen other private corporations to devise a permanent blacklist based upon certain digital fingerprints which only they, the patriotic nerds of America, can spot. Suspicion of subversion could therefore get a user banned from the entire Internet, with no hope of appeal or any other form of due process. Suspects shall be presumed guilty before they even know they're suspected of anything. 

Google is taking it a step further by actively promoting content from "acceptable" news sources in an Orwellian initiative which it dubs Counter-Speech.

Clint Watts, a former FBI official who has glided through the revolving door to Censorship, Inc. added to the paranoia at the Wednesday Senate hearing as he described various far-fetched scenarios for the end of the world via the Internet. One of them is "Anwar Awlaki Meets PizzaGate." (Awlaki was the radical Muslim cleric who was droned to death on the extra-judicial orders of Barack Obama, while "PizzaGate" was the alt-right agitprop campaign which linked Hillary Clinton to a pedophile ring run out of a D.C. pizza parlor, and which led to a true believer firing his weapon at the eatery's threatening ceiling.)

The danger, schmoozed Watts to the senators, is not so much the homegrown white supremacy resurgence, but the possibility that Russians are fooling the "lesser-educated" white American supremacists into wreaking havoc.

 Twitter, for its own patriotic part, is so gung-ho about the assault on the First Amendment that it euphemistically calls its own censorship rep "the director of public policy and philanthropy."

As reported by Gizmodo,
 Sen. Brian Schatz, for example, wanted to know if Twitter is taking care of its fake news problem and if we can be sure that it is “going to get this right, and before the midterms.” For the record, Twitter is more prepared this time around than it’s ever been, (Carlos) Monje said. And that’s not surprising because it’s never really had to think about the elections all that much until last year.
Monje, despite being a nerd and a charity geek, must be one of those thoughtless dudes whom the FBI guy was complaining about. So it's good to know that the US Senate is such a great teacher. Twitter is not yet so patriotically savvy, however, that it has any immediate plans to ban Trump's own Twitter account and the reckless nuclear threats contained therein.

Meanwhile, the same US Senate which purports to be so worried about social media subversion today voted, by a grotesque two-to-one margin, to give the dangerous Donald "Fake News" Trump six more years of totally awesome and unfettered power to continue spying on anybody he feels like.


In case you missed it, the World Socialist Website hosted a very interesting (and so far uncensored) discussion with Chris Hedges about censorship.

Although I can't prove it (lacking the necessary tools and expertise) I suspect that Sardonicky also has been censored. Google, which actually hosts me on its platform, had already discontinued the Google +  feature, which effectively boosted search rankings according to the number of times a post was up-voted by readers. That absence did affect my traffic somewhat. But in just the last month, Google analytics informs me, my readership has plummeted by a drastic 60 percent. I assumed at first that people were too busy to drop by during the winter holidays. Then I wondered if it was a glitch on Google's end. Then I wondered if readers had simply grown bored, or had caught the nasty Flu bug, or got outrage-fatigued, or just plain sick of my contrarian "content."  But to lose more than half your audience, all in the space of just four short weeks?  

Then I decided not to take it seriously. Life is far too short to fret about blog traffic instead of worrying about the ongoing threat to pretty much the whole Bill of Rights.


P.S., 1/19: I was alerted by "Clueless It Seems" in comments under my previous post that the commenting section of this post was gone. Sure enough, the cartoon I'd appended of Natasha the Spy had obliterated the commenting button. That'll teach me not to make graphic Russian jokes if I want to continue enjoying the privilege of using the Google blogging platform!

In case you're wondering why I don't just migrate to WordPress, I checked into it a long time ago. Because it would not allow me to transfer any of the art accompanying my posts, I decided against the move. Also, creating my own unique website would cost me money I don't have. So I'll continue muddling through at this free (at least in the monetary sense) venue for as long as I am able. Since I don't allow ads on this site, any cash they're making off me is probably minimal to none.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Gray Lady Wants You To Cool the "Race-talk"

How can you tell when the ruling elites have sunk into a moral cesspit? When the Paper of Record, acting on behalf of the Democratic Party, warns liberal politicians and pundits not to talk about Donald Trump's or anybody else's racism past a certain, self-serving point.

You see, it's not about doing or saying what's right. It's about doing or saying whatever it takes for your political party to win.  Calling out the evil of racism apparently has a sell-by date, especially in a campaign year.

Of course, the New York Times posits it a bit more delicately than that, as it coyly headlines David Leonhardt's column Is All This Talk of Racism Bad for Democrats?

The short answer is "Yes, You Idiot!", but since this is liberalism talking, there are the usual "pragmatic" excuses for ignoring both the historical and contemporary racism in this country. It's all about clawing back power by any means necessary. You see, although the Democrats thought they they could win in 2016 by harping about the Trumpian sexism targeting Hillary Clinton, similar talk of Trumpian racism should be off-limits as we approach the 2018 midterms. Identity politics is largely a matter of the class and status of the identity symbol they're talking about and elevating on any given day.

(As just one recent example of this basic truth, the recently-announced Senate candidacy of transgender whistleblower Chelsea Manning has elicited howls of outrage from corporate Democrats. She is simply not the "right" kind of identity politics symbol for them, because she exposed their war crimes and otherwise embarrassed the ruling elites when she furnished their self-serving correspondence to Wikileaks.)

For his own pragmatic part, meanwhile, Donald Trump certainly wants 2018 to be all about race, the better to whip up the estimated third of the electorate which still supports him. He needs them to continue believing that even the lowest white man is superior to the highest black man, That was, and is, a winning strategy for him. He wants Democrats to continue accusing him of racism.

Therefore, it follows that the Democrats should fight this strategy by ignoring racism itself.  After all, this is the reality-based community, in which facts have a well-known liberal bias.

Of course, racism really sucks, "but" as David Leonhardt worries:
 It's  also important to distinguish between the current moment and the remainder of 2018. Calling out Trump as a racist is the right thing to do in the days immediately following comments like his vulgar denigration of Haitians and others last week. It should not become the centerpiece of the Democrats’ 2018 strategy.

That centerpiece needs to be a principled populism that causes voters — white, black, Latino and Asian — to think about their economic interests. Trump certainly can be a huge part of the strategy. The president is almost always the central issue in a midterm election. The key is how Democrats talk about him.

Emphasizing the ways he’s hurting the middle class and working class has almost no downside. It turns off no substantial group of voters. It can win over swing voters and motivate reliably progressive ones.
Well, at least he had the decency to wait till after the Martin Luther King holiday to publish his cautionary screed.

You might agree with Leonhardt - after all, he sounds reasonable and caring and even class-conscious - but read the subtext. He is not suggesting that the Democratic Party actually push policies that will make people's lives better. He is simply suggesting that the candidates talk a good game and get the voters to just "think about" about their economic interests - by making the mid-term campaigns All About Trump. His tax plan and other assaults on everyday Americans are so horrible, who needs an actual plan of one's own? All that Democrats need are better bullshitting skills as they carefully ignore the "shit hole" rhetoric they are currently in a frenzy of co-opting to death. 

In other words, rather than open up the whole can of worms about the American imperialistic origins of "shit hole countries," the Democrats want to dial it back to the same old "We Suck Less" strategy. As Leonhardt enthuses, ignoring Trump's race-baiting in favor of his economic assaults "turns off no substantial group of voters. It can win over swing voters and motivate reliably progressive ones." 

In other words, those wily Democrats think they can seduce white people into the voting booth by making them worry more about money than they worry about black people, who shall not be mentioned in certain polite bourgeois company. Pander, rinse, repeat, ignore, pander some more. And besides ignoring racism, Dems must studiously avoid all mention of the class war and the politically-manufactured wealth inequality, now at its most extreme level since the last Gilded Age.

Another inside-baseball piece by The Hill's Amie Parnes puts it even more bluntly. The Democrats once again plan to follow the winning 2006 Rahm Emanuel strategy by going after the white suburban voters who propelled Trump to his slim victory one year ago. They will also continue harping on their own witch-hunting, xenophobic agenda of Russia, Russia, Russia:
Emanuel benefited from the political climate of 2006. 
The election was driven by opposition to an unpopular President George W. Bush, who was drowning in headlines about the Iraq war and his handling of Hurricane Katrina. Congressional Republicans—including former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (D-Texas) and Rep. Mark Foley (D-Fla.), were also rocked by scandal in the months leading up to the election.  
Democrats say the political climate is even more poisonous for Republicans now. For one thing, Trump’s White House is shrouded in the Russia investigation. And Republican incumbents “are dropping like flies,” in the words of one Democratic strategist helping to win back the House. 
“They’re imploding,” the Democrat said. “All we need to do is let them unravel while holding firm to our issues.”
 Squelching talk of race and racism under the centrist Democratic bromide "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" also lets them ignore their own right-wing policies of endless war, bombings of dark-skinned people in foreign lands under Obama, deportations of record numbers of dark-skinned people under Obama, the warrantless surveillance of American citizens approved by Obama, the bailouts of Wall Street and corporations at the expense of Main Street under Obama, the privatization of public education and the closings of schools in minority neighborhoods under Obama, as well as the militarized police brutality against black and brown people in these same poor neighborhoods.

The upshot of the Democrats' argument is this: let poor people continue to be victimized under our more beneficent watch while we continue to court our wealthy donors and co-opt the support of the people who must continue to believe they "have nowhere else to go."

Remember, this is not about you and your hard lives. This is all about a preferred slate of oligarchic lackeys gaining back power by pretending to care about you for one magical moment every two, four, or six years.

If they think telling people to shut up about uncomfortable topics is a winning strategy for them as they attempt to control the "narrative," maybe they should rethink their entire careers.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Trump the Spellbinder

The Salvador Dali Painting in Hitchcock's Spellbound

 Minority Whip Dick Durbin's head must have been spinning to the point of whiplash from all that awesome proximity to power in the Oval Office. Because when Donald Trump repeatedly described Haiti and African countries as "shitholes," the senior senator from Illinois apparently did not confront him. He was rendered as mute as a Democrat can be when negotiating how many expulsions of black and brown people might be acceptable without opening up the United States to charges of overt racism and xenophobia.

Just as Trump was ironically issuing a proclamation honoring Martin Luther King Jr. on his upcoming birthday, he found himself in the awkward position of insisting that although his language may have been "tough" during immigration talks, he certainly Did. Not. Have. Verbal. Relations. With. That. Word. Period.

Meanwhile, it's finally become acceptable to call Trump a racist as well as a senile ignoramus. It's even become acceptable to print and say the word "shithole" and for the media to pretend to agonize over all the deep soul-searching involved in finally deciding to print and say the word "shithole," despite the fact that newsrooms all over the country are notorious hotbeds of unabashed profanity.

"It is exceedingly rare," writes the New York Times's Michael A. Grynbaum, "for the country’s biggest news organizations to publish a quote that includes an expletive; usually, they employ a censored or blanked-out version. On Thursday’s network evening newscasts, NBC News was the only organization that quoted Mr. Trump in full. Anchors at ABC and CBS used the word “blank” instead. But several media executives said on Thursday that the news value of Mr. Trump’s remarks, which the White House did not dispute, was undeniable."

Donald Trump is not only the Gaslighter-in-Chief. He is also the Spellbinder-in-Chief, and his audience is behaving like the typical Ingrid Bergman damsel in distress. Just witness the supposedly powerful Dick Durbin's helpless shock and awe in the face of it.

Andrew Lobaczewski, the late clinical psychologist and author of Political Ponerology, the study of contagious societal evil, described the  paralyzing effect that the spellbinding Trumps of the world can have on the people around them: 
'Persons with an innate talent for intuiting psychological situations tend to take advantage of this gift in an egotistical and ruthless fashion. In the thought process of such people, a short cut way develops which bypasses the handicapped (brain) function, thus leading from associations directly to words, deeds, and decisions which are not subject to any dissuasion. Such individuals interpret their talent for intuiting situations and making split-second oversimplified decisions a sign of their superiority compared to normal people, who need to think for a long time, experiencing self-doubt and conflicting motivations.

"Such characters traumatize and actively spellbind others, and their influence finds it exceptionally easy to bypass the controls of common sense. A large proportion of people tend to credit such individuals with special powers, thereby succumbing to their egotistic beliefs. If a parent manifests such a defect, no matter how minimal, all the children in the family evidence anomalies in personality development.

"Subordinating a normal person to psychologically abnormal individuals has severe and deforming effects on his or her personality: it engenders trauma and neurosis. This is accomplished in a manner which generally evades conscious controls. Such a situation deprives a person of his natural rights: to practice his own mental hygiene, develop a sufficiently autonomous personality, and utilize his common sense. In the light of natural law, it thus constitutes a kind of crime - which can appear at any social scale, in any context - although it is not mentioned in any code of law."
In a healthy society, Lobaczewski wrote, the activities of spellbinders can usually be stifled fairly quickly. But in an unhealthy society, riven by extreme wealth and social inequalities, the spellbinder finds that people are amenable to his influence. And all that "normal" people like Dick Durbin can do in response is to moralize and express disgust, rather than do anything concrete to stop the madness. That would necessarily include acknowledging the evil of their own policies, which gave rise to Trump in the first place.

There are many psychopaths behind the scenes who steer and/or enable Trump even as they pretend to condemn his words. Even the "good" Democrats seem  increasingly exhausted by the futile effort of telling the president he ought to behave himself so that the quiet work of the oligarchy can proceed apace, and they can pretend that droning people to death in foreign countries and sending thousands of American troops to Africa is not also a form of hideous racism.

Trump's deviant personality is no more deviant than American hegemony itself. He is simply the exception to the unwritten rule that it's the skillfully discreet psychopaths who, after careful corporate vetting, win high office because, as Lobaczewski wrote, "they have thought-processes more similar to the world of normal people; in general, they are sufficiently connected to the pathological system to provide a guarantee of loyalty."

Since Trump threatens the ruling elites by oafishly ripping the mask right off of them, the only weapons they have left in their arsenal are hapless outrage and helpless moralizing. There's no putting the mask of democracy and freedom and equality back on the face of Ruling Class America once it's been exposed in all its ugliness.

So we ordinary people have to protect ourselves both from Trump and from the equally dangerous, reactionary, self-righteous and ineffectual ruling class reactions to Trump. Our own psychological health as individuals and as members of society depends upon it.

We should be neither the helpless Ingrid Bergman wife in Gaslight nor the hapless Ingrid Bergman therapist in Spellbound. We can't play the part of analysts and critics only to succumb and let our emotions of fear and disgust rise above our intellects. We can't be good citizens if we criticize the villainous Trump one minute, and then besottedly fall for the next slick political marketing campaign and neoliberal savior the next.

Howard Zinn was right: "The really critical thing isn't who's sitting in he White House, but who is sitting in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating? Those are the things that determine what happens."