The Atlantic: The War-Crimes President

I was about to post a blog entitled The War-Crimes President (based on NYT article “Trump’s Intervention in SEALs Case Tests Pentagon’s Tolerance”; but I see that the Atlantic beat me to it.

Trump, Authoritarianism, Demagoguery

Here is a comment I just posted in a small e-mail forum of old college friends that I participate in:

Jim, some thoughts on your observation that Democrats have been trying to get rid of Trump since he was elected: I would number myself among those people but would like to draw some lines. In some respects, this is what happens when any losing party gears up for the next election. And Trump’s depiction of ‘Never-Trumpers’ states the obvious in that respect — but probably also reflects his narcissistic criticism of people who would “dare” oppose him. It’s these latter aspects of Trump – his narcissism, his demand of absolute loyalty, his “I alone can fix it”, his camaraderie with Putin and many other authoritarian leaders, his (out of the paper today) reversal, to the dismay of high brass, military courts punishment of people convicted of murder, conscious lying in which his only concern is to keep his base intact and to divert it from falling for “fake news”.  A few hours after Trump’s inauguration, I posted a blog asking rhetorically “Is a Demagogue in Power?”  Trump is something dangerously out of the ordinary. I find myself in strange agreement with many cable news talking heads from the CIA and FBI who see Trump as a threat to the rule of law. Having lived for three years and carefully observed (reading the newspaper daily) a vicious military dictatorship in Brazil (where a supporter of the dictatorship widely known as “the Trump of the Tropics” is now president), I see in Trump a wanna-be dictator, someone who plays only by his rules and is ready to run rampant over anything and anybody who threatens his power.  One time in Brazil, knowing I was crossing a certain line, I stated to a neighbor with her son, about 10 years old “The military run everything here”.  The son, alarmed, said instantly “Mother, he is against Brazil”.  Trump at his rallies decries that a coup is taking place against him, that his opponents are enemies of “the USA”, etc, classically conflating the head of state with the country (“L’etat, c’est moi”).  And the problem is not just Trump but his sizable base and constituency (itself a part of an international rise of the right) , which is ready to be scared into believing in him.  Maureen Dowd made an interesting observation the other day that Nixon did not have, like Trump now has, a major television network behind him.  Fox is the most watched network of the impeachment inquiry.  And they toss up on the screen one-liners dismissing some of the most important conclusions of the inquiry. So the “fake news” is not going to hamper Trump’s fight against a coup.  And he can keep on screaming at rallies about becoming president for life (as he has, if you missed it).

Mystery Solved: Identity of Forger of Trump Nobel Peace Prize Nomination Revealed

This morning’s New York Times reported that the Norwegian police are trying to find out who forged Donald Trump’s nomination to receive this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. A large but limited number of people – heads of state, legislators, past recipients, etc. – qualify to make such a nomination. The person who ostensibly made the Trump nomination, when contacted by the Nobel Committee, informed them of the misuse of identity. A lengthy forensic examination is expected by the police.

Before the Norwegian police spend any of their valuable time on this matter, I can with full confidence identity the culprit for them. He is someone who is known, in the 1980s, to have made anonymous phone calls to New York City gossip columnists to fill them in on the latest activities of Donald Trump. He is someone who placed fake Time magazine covers featuring himself in at least five of his golf clubs (see the Guardian “ “Time magazine asks Trump to remove fake covers from display at golf clubs ”. He is someone fined 25 million dollars for running the scam Trump University. He is someone for whom the word “shady” would had to have been invented if it did not exist (see The Atlantic, “The Many Scandals of Donald Trump: A Cheat Sheet” by David A. Graham).

Simply put, Donald Trump’s fingerprints are all over this. The Oslo police forensic division should take a breather and move on to cases more challenging than this one.

The Michael Flynn Story

Michael Flynn is back in the public eye again with the news that he’s struck a deal to cooperate with Robert Mueller’s investigation. Last January, as Flynn’s outsize role in the newly empowered Trump regime became apparent, I decided to learn more about him by reading his memoir The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies. I never completed the post or the book, but I did manage to save a number of passages on my Kindle. The one I found most disquieting reads:

Most Americans mistakenly believe that peace is the normal condition of mankind, while war is some weird aberration. Actually, it’s the other way around. Most of human history has to do with war, and preparations for the next one. But we Americans do not prepare for the next war, are invariably surprised when it erupts, and, since we did not take prudent steps when it would have been relatively simple to prevail, usually end up fighting on our enemies’ more difficult and costly terms. (Kindle lines 121-125)

When I mentioned, separately, to a couple of friends that Flynn sees war as normal, each reacted saying that there is something to it. That is, war has indeed been a regular feature of human history. Indeed if we go simply by the frequency with which wars have occurred throughout human history, an argument can be made that there is a certain “normalcy” to war. But I think this passage goes much further than just acknowledging the regularity with which we have faced war. Listen again. Flynn states that it is a mistake to “believe that peace is the normal condition of mankind, while war is some weird aberration. Actually, it’s the other way around.” Peace, in other words, is the “weird aberration” and war is “the normal condition of mankind”. This is an Orwellian character’s vision of human nature! It’s the kind of nihilist thinking that makes it possible to talk nonchalantly about war, as if it’s something routine, something to plan on as surely as a rising sun, something that as a national security assumption makes it easy to exclude the peaceful course of action in favor of the bellicose path.

Flynn describes a tough upbringing as one of 11 kids growing up in an impoverished household in Rhode Island.

I was one of those nasty tough kids, hell-bent on breaking rules for the adrenaline rush and hardwired just enough to not care about the consequences. This misguided mind-set and some serious and unlawful activity by me and two of my co-hoodlum teenage friends would eventually lead to my arrest. The charges warranted a very unpleasant night in “Socko”—the state boys reformatory—and a year of supervised probation. Saved!

By “Saved!”, he means this experience caused him to mend his ways; it was the turning point in a bad-kid-makes-good story. But now the last chapter is being written. Even if saved by a Trump pardon, the personal enrichment schemes in which Flynn got involved even while working in the White House already make clear that this is a bad-kid-makes-good-makes-bad-again story.


Donald Trump, Rosa Parks and David Duke

Lost in Donald Trump’s latest tweet tantrum this past weekend was one post with a link to a video narrated by Trump.  It commemorates Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott. (It was “lost” in that I, at least, saw no mention of it in the MSNBC and CNN coverage).

The video, considered completely apart from the narrator, is marvelous, even inspiring, lauding the defiance of Rosa Parks and the black citizens of Montgomery rising up against Jim Crow. But putting the message and the messenger together gives me an eerie Orwellian feeling of unreality.  Did I really hear these words coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth?  Or were they read by an impostor, like, for example, the one who, as Trump would now have it, mouthed his words in the Access Hollywood video?  Is this the Donald Trump who pretended not to know who Donald Duke is when publicly confronted with Duke’s support during his primary campaign?  Is this the same Donald Trump whose retweets of Islamophobic videos, just days before the 62nd anniversary of Rosa Park’s civil disobedience, caused David Duke to declare:

“Trump retweets video of crippled white kid in Europe being beaten by migrants, and white people being thrown off a roof and then beaten to death, He’s condemned for showing us what the fake news media WON’T. Thank God for Trump! That’s why we love him!”

Is this the same Donald Trump now on the stump for a U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama who successfully led the charge against removing from the state constitution now antiquated and purely symbolic clauses mandating racially segregated schools?

Yes, indeed.  There is an impostor narrating that video about Rosa Parks.


The Fire and the Fury in the Authoritarian Minds of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un

In the wake of Donald Trump’s reckless “fire and fury” comment yesterday, what I said here in my post “North Korea: Clashing Orders, Clashing Reasons” (September 11, 2016)  is more relevant than ever – but it now needs to account for the alarming Trump factor. Here is part of what I said in the earlier blog:

Authoritarian order is a very real type of order but it is mechanistic.  It tries to mechanize human behavior.  It is based on the absolutist assumption that disorder and uncertainty can be eliminated.  Those who actually acknowledge the existence of uncertainty defy the “reality” of absolute certainty; they must be repressed.  The dissenters also effectively acknowledge a radically different view of reality, one affirmed by 20th century science, namely that disorder and uncertainty can never be eliminated.  They can only be reduced.   Political conflict within North Korea reflects these clashing orders, these diametrically opposed views of rationality.  In its dealings with the world, the North Korean regime is hypersensitive to real or perceived threats and tends to be irrational.  Much of the challenge in dealing with it on the world stage is psychological.

Given Trump’s authoritarian mindset – his embrace of right wing nationalism here and abroad, his coziness with the Putins of the world, his intolerance of criticism, etc. — an implicit assumption in the above is no longer true.  For the United States government to be able to achieve a perspective more rational than that emanating from Pyonyang, it must understand that assumptions of absolute certainty are reality disconnects and deal with them in psychologically- and policy-appropriate ways.  But such understanding or the hope of achieving it fades to the extent that our president is also consumed by know-it-all delusions (“I alone can fix it”, “I know better than the generals”, “etc.).  Today’s talking point of official and unofficial Trump people trying to defend his “fire and fury” comment is that Trump was just speaking the language of  Kim Jong-un, a language he can understand.  That is to say, it’s OK for Trump to speak in intemperate, irrational terms so long as Kim Jong-un does.  The clashing of these two poles of unreason is a recipe for disaster.

This is just one of myriad reasons that our country and the world need Donald Trump to exit government as quickly as possible.   For that outcome to occur our 18th century democracy must pass a test.  It must be able to expel someone whose absolutist tendencies make him inimical even to the minimally democratic features built into the Constitution by its elitist authors.  It is in no way reassuring that the surest solution – his impeachment and conviction – does not appear to be possible any time soon – if at all.  But hopefully Trump’s penchant for shooting himself in the foot will somehow hasten this outcome — – before some tragedy occurs “like the world has never seen”.

Crisis: Thoughts last November on Trump’s election

Some of my thoughts from an email exchange (11/28/2016) I had with my two sisters as we lamented Trump’s election:

The Trump we got to know in his campaigns was a demagogue, clearly appealing to the worst base instincts knowing he might win that way.  Based on that, I’d have to say the country faces an unprecedented crisis.  But now we have to see him in office to know if that same demagogue is the one who exercises power.  On “the jury’s out” side, he’s said some conciliatory things and has not held grudges religiously.  On the demagogic side, he just re-circulated the notion put forth by some conspiracy theorists that millions did not vote legally, the kind of thing Bannon gets wind of and might have urged on him. The power of the presidency being used for this!  The laundry list of other dire possibilities –the fact that he must stop being a businessman and devote full time to the presidency, the gutting of the EPA, climate policy and social policy, the real possibility that he will launch dangerous foreign policies (I hope he selects Romney as Sec of State to lessen this possibility) etc.  We have to see what he actually says and does in power.  But we may well be facing a great crisis.

Trump-Inspired Terrorism?

Alexandre Bissonnette, who massacred six Islamic worshipers in Quebec last Sunday, is, according to people who know him, a white supremacist who loves Donald Trump (see article here).  On Facebook, Bisonnette “liked” the Facebook pages of Trump and Marine Le Pen (now removed from Facebook but archived here:  It would appear that our famously anti-terrorist president has served as a source of inspiration for a terrorist.  And what are we going to find out about the mosque arson in Bellevue, Washington (January 14) and the mosque burnings in Lake Travis, Texas (January 7) and Victoria, Texas (January 29)?  Will we find terrorists similarly enamored of Trump?

Is a Demagogue in Power?

If today we had just inaugurated one of the Republican presidential aspirants other than Donald Trump, we would still be facing the dour prospects of right-wing ossification on the Supreme Court, the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, an EPA about to be dismantled, US withdrawal from efforts to avert climate disruption, further enrichment of the top one percent through drastic tax cuts and a host of other changes guided by the illusion that unregulated markets magically make the world a better place.

Donald Trump adds a disturbingly distinctive quality to these regressive movements, something I found myself blurting out once when listening to him on TV during the Republican primaries. “He’s a demagogue!” I declared to my wife.  I don’t remember exactly what he was saying at that moment but I’m sure it had to have been one of the many instances when he was pulling punches at a time when any civil citizen would be going on the attack.  Maybe it was the time he tried to distance himself from David Duke, claiming he didn’t know who Duke was (something incredible for an even casual observer of American politics and clearly a lie by Trump who had had no problem speaking publicly about Duke before that).  The demagogic element in such behavior lay in Trump’s coldly calculated decision not to upset a racist mob element in his constituency, not to risk losing the votes of good people whose latent bigotry could be stirred to the surface by a power-hungry leader willing to build and exploit such a constituency.  It is the kind of behavior that caused Duke to encourage Trump to say whatever he had to in order to get elected, the kind of behavior that won him the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan.

At that time, early in the primaries, one edition of the New Yorker had a cover with a balloon, Trump’s face imprinted on it, rising into the ether.  The clear implication was that the balloon was about to burst.  That’s what so many of us took as a foregone conclusion.  Surely, we thought, the primary process of debates and media scrutiny would expel such a candidate. With the system’s failure on that count, we moved on to the next, bigger test of our system.  Would the intense presidential election process turn back such a candidate?  Now, today, the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, with our system also having failed on that count, we face the ultimate, three-strikes-and-you’re-out test of whatever strains of democracy remain in our society.  Can our system through checks and balances, through an accountable Congress, through a democratic judiciary, through questioning media coverage, through public pressure assure that the Oval Office does not become a vehicle for demagoguery?  Will the system tame Trump? These are open questions.  It is too early to conclude that a demagogue is in power. But now is a time for vigilance of the highest order.

The Devil and the Demagogue

In the presidential debate on Sunday, Donald Trump charged that Bernie Sanders had sold out to “the devil.”  The devil?!  Oh, yes, of course.  Hillary. “She’s the devil.” That’s how the aspiring exorcist-in-chief put it in a Mechanicsburg, PA rally in August.  And he has reportedly repeated this rant once again on the campaign trail this week.

Trump’s Manichean disposition – his tendency to demonize or dehumanize opponents – has been on such stark display over the past year there’s no need to offer further documentation.  That may be found among the 36,600 hits that a “Manichean Donald Trump” search calls up on Google today.

What is of interest from the complexity perspective advanced by this blog is the reality disconnect in which political Manicheanism is rooted.  It is a phenomenon that Norbert Wiener, writing at the height of McCarthyism, devoted attention to in his still timely and exciting work The Human Use of Human Beings (1950, 1954).  Continue reading