The American people have watched with fascination and growing foreboding as the Republican Party gradually developed a neo-fascist leadership. Ted Cruz and his right-wing confreres are neo-fascists, more or less—but it was Donald Trump who had the bombastic, hateful ‘strong man’ personality preferred by fanatics in the Republican base. They liked Trump’s appeal to hate, and it didn’t seem to bother them that almost everything he said turned out to be some kind of lie or distortion.
Now Donald Trump is the elected leader of our country, and the most powerful man in the world. If this seems like a nightmare to you, you’re not alone. One moment Trump is the Clown Prince of cable TV—an acknowledged racist, misogynist, and liar—and the next moment he’s king of the world.
There’s no use pretending that we’re not in danger. Donald Trump sees a chance to feed his ego while making himself—with the help of Vladimir Putin—the richest and most powerful man in the world. He cares nothing about the people who will die if he starts a war, or wars. The narcissist operates in a universe consisting solely of himself.
This article will offer no easy answers, but it will explain how we got here, and how we can honorably resist Trump’s lies and aggression.
Why am I so concerned, personally? That’s easy. I have a Muslim daughter; a finer kid you could not find anywhere. She won a scholarship to Brown University, got herself trained as a nurse at Yale Nursing School, and now does what she loves most, which is writing public health policy. Ever since 9/11, I’ve been worried sick about how this country’s drift into extreme religious bigotry could hurt my child.
This is my attempt to protect that beautiful, idealistic kid of mine.
Interestingly, I also have a Jewish daughter—and I’m a Christian, of the progressive, heretical sort. I think I’m lucky to live around such disparate cultural currents. And we get along fine with each other—the intercultural swapping and merging is all part of the California story.
It is Donald Trump’s sudden arrival at the pinnacle of power, and the waves of bigotry and hatred his campaign has knowingly unleashed, that are so disturbing.
The image of waking up in a parallel universe comes from the actress Sigourney Weaver, who once remarked on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert that she’d always wondered what it would be like to play someone who wakes up in an alternative universe.
“And on November 8,” she said, “it happened to me!”
Waking up in another world is very powerful, because it’s not something that you choose—it’s something that happens to you, ready or not. And yes, most of the people I know say that their world changed irrevocably on November 8. People they thought they knew—their friends and neighbors, and very often their own families—turned out to be strangers, with hateful values and extreme, ignorant ideas. What that boils down to, for a great many people, is sadness and depression—sadness for what they’ve lost, and depression for the unknown future.
They understand that a very bad man has achieved supreme executive power, but feel completely helpless to do anything about it.
We’re all struggling against evil, there’s no doubt about that—and we will never be able to go back to the world that existed before 8 November 2016. But if President Trump tries to turn this country in an evil direction, as he has so often said he will, we must resist. This article is dedicated to the idea that you can resist in ways that are nonviolent, smart and courageous. I will suggest how that can be done.
Resistance to evil is surprisingly energizing, once you get the hang of it. It feels good. And the truth is, resistance is the only way out of the depression and sadness that so many Americans are now feeling. This is your moment to find your moral center.
Go for it.
ONE: Surprised by Evil
On Nov. 24, 2015, at a political rally at Myrtle Beach, S.C., Donald Trump mocked a reporter who is physically handicapped.
The issue was a disputed quote. The journalist was Serge Kovaleski, who suffers from Anthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita (AMC), a condition that produces congenital joint contractures. With a leering grimace, his wrists twisted and taut and his arms flailing wildly, Trump cruelly sought to mimic symptoms of Kovaleski’s handicap.
Millions saw Trump do this on TV. Few have been able to forget it. Why the impact?
As a conscious act of a powerful political figure, it was pure evil.
I once had a housemate with a debilitating nervous disorder. Small children in the community sometimes laughed at his lurching way of walking. “Don’t punish them!” my friend would say to the parents. “It’s natural for kids to laugh when they see someone walking differently. Later on, when you explain it to them, they’ll understand.”
Indeed, most of us who are parents have had such conversations, or remember them from our own childhood. It is the job of parents to explain why we shouldn’t make fun of those with handicaps, in a non-judgmental and matter-of-fact way. It is through such conversations that children begin to see, in a halting and childlike manner, the moral complexities of power relationships, and the tragic realities of fate and human pain. Such conversations are precious, because out of them grow the mysterious quality known as empathy.
Some people never learn empathy. They are the children of the lie, who grow up to become the entrepreneurs of evil.
Sadly, modernity has little to say about evil, and as a result, I wrote three books about it. In Trauma Bond: An Inquiry into the Nature of Evil, I suggested that systemic evil is unacceptable aggression plus deceit—that is, evil occurs when an aggressor conceals his aggression, by covering it up, lying about it, or rationalizing it. Typically, he then repeats the aggression, since deceit provides him with a shield of impunity, and he often tries to posture himself as a victim.
After Trump attacked the journalist Koveleski by mimicking his handicap, there was no remorse, no apology. Instead Trump denied it ever happened, denied that he even knew Kovaleski, and threatened to sue the newspaper Kovaleski worked for. That is typical of the entrepreneurs of evil—they continue to attack their victims until they are silenced.
Above all, the attacker never takes responsibility for his behavior.
When Trump mimicked Kovaleski on network TV, it was traumatizing to many people (or at least overwhelming), and it was intended to be. The only way to survive that kind of psychic aggression is to internalize some of it—that way, you nominally own it, which gives you a sense of control. But internalizing aggression in that manner adds to your own aggression, making you complicit in the aggressor’s strategies without being conscious of it.
Trump’s obscene attack on Kovaleski was not so much a violation of decorum, as of decency. Sadly, we are now in the process of becoming two nations, one that rewards Trump’s obscenities with votes and adulation, and one that rejects them. As a result, we are beginning to see the pulling apart of a broad moral consensus that once guided political, social and religious thought in this country. Perhaps one good thing to come from the Trump disaster might be that people will finally begin to accept the existence of evil, and acknowledge—at long last—that systemic evil operates rather like a mass addiction. That is, it depends upon the complicity of ordinary people to do harm.
But the mass nature of their complicity will not free them of responsibility. There were those who saw Trump’s fundamentally evil nature, and yet endorsed him for the most powerful job in the world. They will suffer the consequences of that evil along with everybody else. Trump’s presidency may begin with the destruction of democratic institutions, but it is likely to end with something far worse.
The grim reality is that the the Republican Party has produced a neo-fascist wing, which provided the momentum and excitement necessary for Donald Trump to win. Neo-fascists, I pointed out, don’t try at first to destroy democracy—they try to make democracy unworkable. They promote hatred of government, until a charismatic ‘strong man’ comes along and takes over that same government, all the while disseminating hate against vulnerable minorities and ginning up endless conspiracy theories.
The Republican Party had already begun the movement toward overt authoritarianism by refusing to meet with the Supreme Court judge picked by President Obama. By controlling the Supreme Court, the extreme right will seek to institutionalize the ‘Citizens United’ decision, gut the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and defeat Roe v Wade.
Why Trump? What people often forget is that this is a celebrity culture. Instead of a landed aristocracy, we have a gaggle of highly visible, generally mindless celebrities, whom Americans find entertaining and admirable. Donald Trump seems to have realized in the 1980s that being a celebrity was one way to stay constantly in the public eye. Simply to appear on TV makes the celebrity transcendent and fascinating to many Americans, Trump realized.
So, Trump set about becoming the most visible celebrity in the world.
But what about the people attracted to Trump’s politics? These are the guys who got their brains rattled as linemen in high school football, but weren’t quite fast enough to get the college athletic scholarships. They went into the military, but to their astonishment didn’t get the credit they deserved. They returned to a devastated economy, where the factories had departed, replaced by the fast food “industry,” where if you got a management gig you might make about half of what your father made.
You know the story, if you’ve ever listened to a Springsteen lyric. Trouble is, unlike “the Boss,” too many of them don’t seek to improve themselves, because they don’t know how. They have made a good adjustment—too good—to the depressed world that globalism has created, internalizing its psychic violence and self-hatred. It is this fierce nihilism that drives the meth culture in the white underclass that populates America’s rural communities. It is intermingled with racism and bigotry at every point, because someone must be blamed.
What do these people want? To hurt someone, anyone. That’s the essence of American neo-fascism. And if they take the country down with them, that’s just too bad.
The real question is this: how we will respond, you and I? If Trump does something good, we should support it. If he advocates evil, we must resist—and as I mentioned in the Preface, that resistance must be nonviolent, smart and courageous. We should repeal or renegotiate every treaty or trade bill that exploits workers, including NAFTA and TPP. We should give Bernie Sanders greater power within the Democratic Party. We must resist any attack on religious minorities, especially Sikhs and Muslims, because Trump followers seek scapegoats for their resentments and deep feelings of inferiority.
We must be especially vigilant regarding Trump’s attempts to start a war.
Trump has promised to violate Obama’s historic nuclear deal with Iran, and will most likely engage in provocations against both China and Iran. If he succeeds in starting a war with Iran, the Middle East will boil over. This would bring on what the right-wing evangelicals and the apocalyptic Republican base have long sought—a brutal religious war that could take the lives of millions. It could also trigger efforts by Trump and his neo-fascist followers in the US to put innocent Muslim families in internment camps.
Our response should be a national antiwar movement, probably starting in California, in the name of universal human rights and the rule of law. It is in times of crisis that we discover what America really is. We have seen what evil looks like—now we must re-discover the good in ourselves, and find out if we have the courage to match our values.
TWO: Understanding Trump
By the 1990s and early 2000s, Donald Trump had succeeded in positioning himself solidly in the celebrity culture, especially on the East Coast and the New York area. The most powerful drive in his personality, then and now, was to attract attention to himself, and he did this mainly through media stunts of various kinds that portrayed him as a kind of superman who always got what he wanted. Raw aggression and hyper-competition, Trump saw, were the main organizing principles of popular American celebrity culture, because its fantasies feed the resentments of millions who feel that life has dealt them a bad hand.
There was never any doubt that in his business dealings Trump was a scoundrel—indeed, he has often bragged about his lack of business scruples. The properties managed by him and his father in the 1970s were sued by the government for refusing African-American tenants, which Trump never denied, but was able to shrug off by paying huge fines. Taking a page from the Mob, his hotels and casinos in Atlantic were declared bankrupt six times between 1991 and 2009, so that Trump’s businesses could force banks and stock-owners to renegotiate his debts, a process that in Trump’s hands was little more than extortion.
In Atlantic City, Trump was famous for stiffing contractors and workers. His MO was simply to refuse to pay his workers, or to refuse to make final payments on negotiated contracts. “Too bad,” he would say, “but I’ve got more lawyers than you do.” Trump has often bragged that he went out of his way to hire undocumented workers, since they are not powerful enough to ensure that they get paid.
Trump: The Art of the Deal, which was supposedly written by Trump, was actually written by ghostwriter Tony Schwartz. Tony tried a first to conduct interviews with Trump, but was astounded to discover that Trump was unable to focus mentally long enough for interviews; Schwartz therefore to settle for listening in—with Trump’s permission—on his telephone calls. Schwartz now says he is deeply remorseful for helping Trump, and has given at least $55,000 in royalties to the National Immigration Law Center, which helps undocumented immigrants and advocates for immigration reform. If he were to rewrite Art of the Deal, Schwartz has said, he would now call it The Sociopath. The book sold well and was Number One on The New York Times Best Seller list for thirteen weeks—Trump insists (falsely) that every word is his, adding that it is his second-most favorite book, the first being the Bible. The publication of this book and the accompanying publicity was a seminal event in making Donald Trump a “household name,” as the publicists like to say.
But how wealthy was Trump at that time, really, and how wealthy is he today? The Washington Post concluded that Trump’s wealth “was a mix of braggadocio, business failures, and real success.” It also depends, in part, on a sophisticated scheme Trump developed to cheat the government, by maximizing losses in a single year to win tax breaks for the next ten years. When Hillary Clinton remarked in 2016 that this scheme made him a tax cheat, he replied, “No, it makes me smart.”
Trump’s presence in American media—and in the celebrity culture—was greatly strengthened by the launching of his TV enterprise The Apprentice in 2003. The premise of this show was that individuals of unspecified talents and inclinations would do battle for high-level positions in one of Trump’s businesses. When they did not succeed, contestants were ritually “fired” from the show, with Trump confronting them with his signature catchphrase: “You’re fired!”
The Apprentice created the impression of an enormously powerful figure who could make or break people at will, and who never has to justify his reasons. The show often looked like a parody treatment of the super-rich, but one that wasn’t particularly funny. (Especially during the Great Recession of 2007-2009.) The job that applicants sought was under Trump’s personal supervision and was always in a Trump company; the applicant would be fired or hired not because of any discernable skills—other than those involved in making a single business proposal—but based mainly on Trump’s opinions, taste and power.
When you consider how traumatizing it is for most workers in Middle America to be fired (or laid off), the enormous popularity of this show is significant. The Apprentice creates a highly-charged fantasy in which the average working-class or lower-middle-class viewer can imagine firing other people, and in general controlling the occupational lives of others. Since they live under the threat of such economic violence themselves they must, in order to survive, internalize some of the violence implicit in the show’s premise. Thus, when the Draconian sentence is pronounced (“You’re fired!”) they are likely to end up identifying both with the fired worker and the all-powerful boss who fires him. But in their fantasies, they are the ones who do the firing.
Trump owns hotels and resorts around the world, as well as thirteen golf courses in places as diverse as Dubai, Scotland, Ireland and Los Angeles, all named after himself. Just on the east coast there is, for example:
Trump World Tower in NYC
The Trump Building in NYC
Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower, in Panama City, Florida
Trump Parc and Trump Parc East
Trump Park Avenue, Manhattan
Trump International Hotel Las Vegas
Trump Plaza (New Rochelle)
Trump Plaza (Jersey City)
Trump Plaza (New York City)
In all, there are over fifty resorts, plazas, towers, international hotels and golf courses named after Trump, not to mention food, drink, and other products named after him. Some have not been completed, and some of these businesses are licensed to others, while Trump owns many outright. In addition to making money for him and serving his need for self-aggrandization, they all serve the same overall purpose—to keep Trump’s name before the public, as part of an over-all strategy to maximize and enhance his name-recognition.
From 1996 to 2015, Trump owned part or all of the Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA beauty pageants. (They were—and still are—all owned by a single parent company, the Miss Universe Organization). He was very involved in the running of the pageants, sometimes a bit too involved. According to several sources, Trump was known for suddenly appearing backstage while the contestants were still changing their clothes. He later bragged about this on the Howard Stern show.
One of the contestants in 2013 was Cassandra Searles, who was Miss Washington. In a Facebook post in 2016 she recalled Trump as a “misogynist” who “treated us like cattle” and “lined [us] up so he could get a closer look at his property.” Paromitra Mitra of Mississippi has said, “I literally have nightmares about the process.” Searles added: “He probably doesn’t want me telling the story about that time when he continually grabbed my ass and invited me to his room.” He also called Alicia Machado, a Miss Universe winner, ‘Miss Housekeeping,’ because she was Latina.
There are scores of reports of Trump’s creepy (and often racist) behavior in the twenty years that he ran the beauty pageants—they’re all on the internet, including on Wikipedia. They all fit the same pattern, of a man who is driven by sexual obsessions who is nonetheless disgusted by women and who publicly expresses his contempt for them, often by publicly embarrassing them.
Trump’s public statements about women are a compendium of misogynist (and misanthropic) believes and outlooks, which can be easily documented over the years.
In a 1991 interview with Esquire Magazine, Trump remarked, “You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media writes, as long as you have a young and beautiful piece of ass. But she has to be beautiful.”
But the lucky lady so-described must be watched carefully, since women are prone to betraying unsuspecting mates. “I would never buy Ivana any decent jewels or pictures,” Trump said in 1990 of his then-wife Ivana. “Why give her negotiable assets?”
The idea that a woman might choose to use her body for anything but pleasuring men is anathema to the misogynist. In 2011, attorney Elizabeth Beck, who was deposing Trump, asked for a break so that she could pump milk for her infant daughter. According to Beck, Trump stood up and shrieked, “You’re disgusting! You’re disgusting!” and ran out of the room. (Both Beck and The New York Times confirmed that Trump used the word ‘disgusting.’)
It really doesn’t matter if misogyny arises because some men are afraid of women, or because they act on an ingrained prejudice that they are unable to examine rationally. The misogynist simply doesn’t like women, but needs them as sex objects. These attitudes toward women are a big part of patriarchy, which is more of an emotional orientation than an ideology, an orientation that plays a central role in fascism, neo-fascism and authoritarian politics generally.
Patriarchy is about a small group of privileged men dominating everybody else—democracy and cooperation plays no role in patriarchy. Women are important solely for giving sexual pleasure to entitled men when they’re young. Older women are dangerous because they often refuse to follow the patriarchal playbook. Men and women without privilege—that is, money or influence—are useful only in serving men of privilege at the top.
Trump has tweeted: “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?” The underlying idea here is the common patriarchal belief that a woman’s identity lies solely in sexually satisfying a man. Poor Bill never could keep his pants on, but in the patriarchal world, it must be Hillary’s fault. The idea that a woman can have an identity based on her own intelligence and skills has no place in the patriarchal worldview.
When “the Donald” gets into an argument with a woman, it always comes down to her appearance, never her ideas, her personal qualities or her creative gifts. When New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote some critical things about him, Trump sent her a copy of her column with her picture circled and the words “The Face of a Dog” written on it.
Why? Because he is not as articulate or as smart as she is, and he knew it. So, he did what he always does, which is to launch a crude, adolescent personal attack.
During the August, 2015 Republican debate, Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly referred to some Trump remarks had made calling women he doesn’t like “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.” Trump replied that such objections were “total political correctness,” followed by a not-so-subtle threat: “Honestly, Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you’ve treated me. But I wouldn’t do that.”
But of course, he did. On Saturday, the next day, he gave an interview in which, besides calling Kelly a “bimbo,” he attacked her right to ask questions he didn’t like. “She gets out and she starts asking me all kinds of ridiculous questions. You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, coming out of her…wherever.”
Kelly’s questions had no validity, Trump was hinting, because they were merely the result of a hormonal rant. In making this attack, Trump referenced one of the hoariest gambits of the misogynists, which is to demonize all women as deranged—and perhaps possessed by malevolent spirits—because they menstruate. For this reason, misogynists say that women cannot be trusted to wield power, because they are driven mad once a month, if not more. Trump also was careful to refer to something normal and wholesome—menstruation—as something loathsome and dangerous to the public order, indirectly referencing the revulsion that many misogynists feel for the female body. (“Don’t trust anything that bleeds once a month,” is one of the favorite sayings of woman-haters.) Furthermore, Trump postured himself as a victim, rather than as an aggressor—he did no wrong, according to him, but was merely defending himself from the media’s nefarious assaults.
Many of the men in the Republican base, who by now had come to expect Trump’s outrageous insults directed at women, were ecstatic. Trump had done what many of them also longed to do, which was to shame and humiliate an attractive, competent woman by publicly referring on network TV to the most intimate functions of her body—and he’d gotten away with it. Fox News’ defense of Kelly as a journalist should have been immediate and robust, but listening for Fox’s response was like throwing a feather down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo. Although Fox commentators and management often say they are independents, the network itself is clearly a right-wing propaganda outlet, and at that point was making a great deal of money off of covering Trump’s antics. So, they said very little by way of defending Kelly.
For his part, Trump had by that time learned the political effectiveness of evoking hate and resentment, because they arouse deep-seated, aggressive emotional orientations. Or perhaps demagogues simply know instinctively from childhood how to arouse feelings of resentment, fear and loathing, because they have those feelings themselves. The problem, of course, is that hateful emotional orientations, while useful in winning elections, are bad for America, resulting in unnecessary hostility and aggression in the short term, and hyper-partisanship in the long run.
But that didn’t seem to bother Trump—he never feels shame or remorse for his own personal excesses. His was the slogan of the narcissist: “If I do it, it’s right. If you don’t like it, you’re wrong, and should be punished.” Negotiation doesn’t make sense to the narcissist—why should he negotiate, when he’s always right?
An unfortunate example of this arose in connection with Donald Trump’s support of ‘birtherism,’ a movement of fringe political activists on the far right of the Republican base that arose during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Followers of this conspiracy theory believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, and that his published birth certificate was a forgery. What all the conspiracy theories connected to ‘birtherism’ had in common was that Barack Obama was, according to these theories, ineligible to be President, and was deliberately concealing the truth about his birth.
Thus, it was a profound personal attack on Obama, because it assumed that he was personally engaged in defrauding the American people. Like most conspiracy theories, it could be easily disproven, yet the Republicans base clung to it, probably as a way to rationalize their racist feelings, and to express them. It was, in other words, a way to justify hatred of Barack Obama as a candidate and as a public figure; after all, if he could lie to the American people in order to get power, didn’t that make him a criminal who deserved contempt, even hatred?
Donald Trump had discovered what the historians have long understood—that racism is America’s most intractable and volatile problem—and prepared to use it politically. A virulently racist wing had arisen in the Republican Party, caused by the possibility that millions of Latinos might become citizens as a result of immigration law reform, and also the popularity of the first African-American President, Barack Obama. But they did not want to express their racism directly, and were looking for indirect ways to express it.
Through 2009 the birther issue was energetically promoted by people on the Republican right, especially Joseph Farah, the editor of WorldNetDaily, an intensely Islamophobic neo-fascist publication. Some participants in Tea Party demonstrations said that organizers encouraged them to carry signs that questioned President Obama’s place of birth; by the summer of 2009 the birther issue was the hottest fund-raising issue on the political right. Columnist Andrew Sullivan summed up the situation thusly: “The demographics tell the story: a black man is president and a large majority of southerners cannot accept that, even in 2009. They grasp [at] conspiracy theories to wish Obama—and the America he represents—away.”
“Since white southerners comprise an increasing proportion of the 22% of Americans who still describe themselves as Republicans, the GOP can neither dismiss the crankery nor move past it. The fringe defines what is left of the Republican center.” What Sullivan is really describing here is the rise of a neo-fascism wing in the GOP, which like almost every other malevolent political movement in the US was—and is—all about racism.
During March 2011, on ‘Good Morning America,’ Trump said he was thinking about running for President, and that he was “a little doubtful” of Obama’s citizenship. “Growing up no one knew him,” he added. Later he appeared on The View, where he said, “There’s something on that birth certificate that he doesn’t like.” On April 7, 2011, on NBC, Trump said he could not let the issue go, because he wasn’t satisfied that Obama was really an American citizen. About this time, Trump was personally contacted by Joseph Farah of WorldNetDaily, who was thereafter on the phone with Trump on a near-daily basis, encouraging him to run with the issue. He encouraged Trump to simply ask, “Where’s the birth certificate?”
Trump continued to publicly maintain his skepticism about the President’s citizenship for the next four years, insisting from time to time that it was Obama’s fault for not supplying the public with a proper birth certificate. (In April, 2011, the White House made Obama’s long-form birth certificate public, yet a very high percentage of the right-wing birther conspiracy theorists continued to say that this was not the “real” birth certificate.) At one point Trump said he had personally sent emissaries to examine the issue in Hawaii, saying, “You would not believe what they are finding out.”
But of course, he never revealed this secret information that he was forever hinting at, because it didn’t exist. Trump’s use if the birther issue was simply a way to reassure the mainly southern Republican base that he shared their fears and racial biases, by implying that the President wasn’t a “real” American. ‘Birtherism’ became a favorite issue of the three or four hundred “hosts” on AM Hate Radio, virtually all of whom insisted that the President was deliberately and with premeditation concealing information about his origins. Since birthers (and conspiracy theorists generally) cannot be dissuaded by logic or evidence, the birther fantasy clearly had a powerful impact on low-information voters in the Trump base, confirming their belief that Obama was an imposter.
Many people in the Republican base—especially working-class men—had already become aware of Trump because of his involvement in professional wrestling, especially WrestleMania, which Trump had been involved with since 1988, and which upper-middle-class liberal Democrats tend to know little about. Wrestlemania is a professional wrestling pay-for-view operation produced annually every mid-March to April by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), run by Vince McMahon. According to Wikepedia, WWE is the largest “wrestling promotion” company in the world, broadcasting over 500 events a year. “As in other professional wrestling promotions,” Wikipedia adds, “WWE shows are not legitimate contests, but purely entertainment-based, featuring storyline-driven, scripted, and choreographed matches, though they often include moves that can put performers at risk if not performed correctly.”
“WrestleMania’s widespread success helped transform professional wrestling,” Wikepedia notes. Especially effective was the management’s introduction of celebrities from the world of entertainment, who were often written into the storyline acted out by the wrestlers in the ring. “Celebrities such as Aretha Franklin, Cyndi Lauper, Muhammad Ali, Mr. T, Alice Cooper, Lawrence Taylor, Pamela Anderson, Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather, Pete Rose, Burt Reynolds, Mickey Rourke, Snoop Dogg, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, Kid Rock, Fred Durst, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronda Rousey and Shaquille O’Neal have participated or made special appearances within the events.”
As did Donald Trump, whose involvement lasted almost thirty years. In 1988, Trump succeeded in bringing WrestleMania IV to Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, where he met Vince McMahon, CEO of WWE, and his wife, Linda. Intrigued by professional wrestling, Trump worked hard to bring WrestleMania V back a year later to the same venue. During this time-period he also learned how wrestling promoters such as Vince and Linda McMahon operate. Trump began to invest in professional wrestling, while simultaneously enhancing his public profile. (During his presidential campaign, Linda McMahon donated $6 million to a pro-Trump super PSC. After Trump won the presidency, he picked Linda McMahon to run his Small Business Administration.)
One of the things that would have intrigued Trump about professional wrestling is the scripted nature of the bouts; while they are choreographed in advance, they involve skill to execute. Trump also would have relished the underlying ethic of the professional wrestling world, which is that life is brutal, the strong have a right and an obligation to crush the weak, and that aggression is the universal, crucial determinant in all human affairs. This fundamental rule is repeatedly emphasized by the invented storylines, in which betrayal is rife and deep rivalries and hatreds flourish between the contestants.
Most of this is “kayfabe,” an expression used in professional wrestling to describe the manner in which promoters make the aggression between wrestlers seem “real,” rather than pre-determined or staged. The term “kayfabe” probably comes from carny (carnival) slang; in practice, it means the extremely violent storylines invented by the promoters to excite the viewers, and to create interest in the fan base. When questioned by a legislative committee in 1988, WrestleMania CEO McMahon acknowledged that his wrestlers did not engage in a legitimate sporting events, but were acting out scenarios created in advance. Professional wrestling was entertainment, McMahon said, not sport.
Many fans of professional wrestling say they are aware of that, but do not object to it. There is a willing suspension of belief in professional wrestling that is similar to what theater-goers experience when the curtain goes up. Indeed, professional wrestling is like nothing so much as a kind of hysterical working-class folk opera, enhanced by popular music (including a fair amount of rap), the screams and taunts of the crowd, the violent imagery on the TitanTron (a huge TV screen suspended above the ring), and the constant threats and violent posturing of the performing wrestlers.
The fantasy created by professional wrestling is of a rage-driven, larger-than-life, dysfunctional family made up of insanely violent superheroes who are in constant conflict with each other, who come and go according to the evolution of a storyline, which is bigger than the wrestlers themselves, and from which—like both gods and humans in Greek myth—they cannot deviate.
There was another reason why Trump would have been fascinated by WrestleMania, and professional wrestling in general. The people who patronize it, and pay to see it regularly, are overwhelmingly working-class, a demographic he wanted to reach. Therefore, it should not surprise us that at some point Trump sought to create his own celebrity character that could be written into the various WrestleMania scenarios, one that could generate the tension that wrestling fans have come to expect, and perhaps build on the character created in The Apprentice.
And that celebrity character would be—himself, America’s richest and most powerful man, a man who was even more powerful than Vince McMahon, the CEO of WrestleMania, so powerful that he could insult and humiliate Vince in front of his fans, setting the stage for a grudge match. McMahon was the son of a professional wrestling promoter and an ex-wrestler himself, and therefore exquisitely aware of the rule of “kayfabe,” in the name of which he has invented various storylines for his wrestlers, as well as himself and his family members. He has over the years also developed an awesome stage presence, and a wide-eyed facial expression that suggests that everything he does is simultaneously real and part of an act.
Trump made his debut in wrestling in late 2006, the storyline being his famous feud with Rosie O’Donnell over a contestant in one of the beauty contests he owned, Miss USA, who supposedly had a drug problem. In a news conference that Huffington Post saw as somewhat contrived, Trump revealed that he was giving Tara Conner, the 2006 winner, a second chance, and was allowing her to stay on as queen. He also revealed that he found her attractive, which was one of the reasons why he was letting her stay on. This was too much for Ms. O’Donnell.
A further subtext for the public spat was that Rosie O’Donnell’s show, The View, was doing poorly in the ratings, and Trump’s The Apprentice was also having a bad year. Rosie O’Donnell, who was a co-host on The View at that time, publicly alleged that Trump was no billionaire, but had actually gone bankrupt. “He’s not a self-made man,” O’Donnell avowed, “but the snake-oil salesman on ‘Little House on the Prairie.’” She added: “He left his first wife—had an affair. He had kids both times, but he’s the moral compass for 20-year-olds in America. Donald, sit and spin, my friend.”
Trump retaliated by telling People Magazine that Rosie was “out of control” and threatening to sue her for her statements about his bankruptcies. Rosie piled on, by lowering her voice and mimicking his comb-over, and also comparing Trump’s Miss USA extravaganza to the older and more established Miss America pageant, suggesting that Trump’s operation was a cheap imitation of the real thing. “Miss America is the prestige,” she said. “Miss USA is a different thing. It’s basically a model competition. Let’s be realistic.”
What subsequently happened was that in early 2007 the announced match was fought, but with wrestler Ace Steel playing Trump and Rosie played by Woman’s Champion Kylie McLean; the stunt was hated by fans, who yelled and chanted throughout the whole match. But it got huge mainstream attention. (TMZ among others, did a segment on it.) “For the first time in years, people were talking about professional wrestling,” wrote “Flickering Myth” critic Luke Owen.
“Not only that, but this skit was the first step towards something bigger.”
Shortly afterwards, in early 2007, Vince McMahon started publicly to call out Trump, and developed a different storyline that would produce a confrontation between himself and Trump. On Monday Night Raw, CEO Vince McMahon actually came down to the ring to publicly taunt Trump for receiving failing ratings on The Apprentice. According to the new storyline, Trump had written a letter to Vince McMahan, insulting his taste and judgment and claiming he didn’t know what people really wanted. McMahan replied to Trump—who was on the so-called TitanTron, a big-screen TV similar to the Jumbotron—by saying that his fans would like whatever he told them to like. A week or two later, Trump appeared again on the big TV, after which he caused money to rain from the ceiling on the fans in attendance.
This wasn’t fake money either, this was real cash. Trump also appeared live on Monday Night Raw—one of McMahon’s many “brands”—to sign up for the match, where he ended up manhandling Vince McMahon, throwing him over a special table that had been set up in the middle of the ring. Trump and McMahon also had a big press conference at Trump Tower, at which Trump—predictably—hauled off and slapped McMahon. The particular form of “kafabe” that had been cobbled together was simple: each would be represented by a well-known wrestler, and the loser—either Trump or McMahon—would be humiliated by publicly having his hair shaved off. (Humiliating one’s opponent is usually the goal in professional wrestling, much more important than merely appearing to cause physical pain.)
Which wrestlers would represent the two businessmen? The Great Khali, “the Punjabi Nightmare,” was at first set to defend Trump, but Khali was being groomed for a WWE championship fight. Hulk Hogan was also considered, along with several other journeyman wrestlers. Finally, the “Samoan Bulldozer” Umaga was chosen as Vince McMahon’s wrestler, and Bobby Lashley (also known as Blaster Lashley) became Trump’s man. Stone Cold Steve Austin would be the guest referee. On the first of April—April Fool’s Day—the ‘Battle of the Billionaires’ was on.
Perhaps remembering the disappointing reception of the Rosie O’Donnell/Trump bout, the WWE management of went out of its way to provide a good show, especially since this was the Main Event of WrestleMania 23. (Live attendance was at 74,687.) Umaga and Bobby Lashley were both good athletes, and went through their paces with more than their usual ferocity. Suddenly, however, Shane McMahon intruded upon the scene, announcing himself as the new referee, and for reasons unknown Stone Cold Steve Austin agreed. In rapid succession Umaga attacked Austin, and McMahan and Austin double-teamed Bobby Ashley. Steve Austin suddenly reappeared in the ring, and knocked both Shane and Umaga out cold. The simulated violence was quite impressive, and the unexpected way it played out was likewise impressive.
Meanwhile, Vince McMahan was standing just outside the ring, looking somewhat worried, when Donald Trump hit him at a full run, knocking him down and throwing several head punches at him at point-blank range while he lay on the floor. Then came the denouement for which the roaring crowd had come…Vince McMahan was drug into the ring by Lashley and Trump, who proceeded to humiliate him by shaving off his hair, as Vince whined and moaned for mercy. McMahan was last seen running piteously up the runway to the exit, minus his hair.
The bit with McMahon is interesting for several reasons. In the storyline involving Trump, McMahon was simultaneously playing himself, a CEO and promoter in professional wrestling, and a character, albeit a character based on himself. When he stood before millions of PPV customers and said, “My fans will like whatever I tell them to like,” he was playing someone guilty of hubris, of overweening pride. As such, he was setting up his character for punishment—which Trump dutifully administered by cutting off his hair. That part of the performance was a subtle, nuanced act on Vince McMahon’s part.
But Trump cannot distinguish between the role and the person, nor does he wish to do so. While running for President, he played a larger-than-life character we might call HateMonger the Bully, who provided entertainment to millions in much the same way that he did in WestleMania. Trouble is, he can’t get out of the character he plays—he’s still HateMonger the Bully today, and he will continue to be HateMonger the Bully for as long as he lives. Trump doesn’t see the importance of separating a fictional character from real life, because he’s emotionally incapable of doing so—living as a fantasy character gives him far more scope to make demands of others, than operating according to the normal rules of society. Trump also learned many lessons about a particular demography—working-class and lower middle-class whites—which he later used to appeal to people who would later elect him President.
Above all, professional wrestling taught him the usefulness of violence in a world based solely on aggression, and the effectiveness of a rapid-fire, unhesitating attack, which is physical in wrestling, and verbal in politics. Professional wrestling also celebrates dysfunctional relationships, since deceit and betrayal are the stock in trade of the wrestling storylines. Sadly, it enhanced Trump’s childlike tendency to see things in black and white, since character development in the wrestling storyline rarely progresses beyond the level of a comic book. But comic book super-heroes are sometimes allowed to appear vulnerable, whereas that would not work well in professional wrestling. Instead of catharsis there is repeated and escalating violence, usually taking the form of complicated betrayals.
But in politics, interactions—including the betrayals—are often highly nuanced, and very complex. Trump gets bored when things are complicated, because he is incapable of critical thought, and bad at negotiation, since he thinks he’s always right. Above all, complexity comes across to him as a kind of trick, calculated to distract him from whatever he wants in the present moment.
The Triumph of Spectacle
Professional wrestling gained maximum prominence in popular culture in the early 2000s, at a pivotal moment in America. In the period 2004 to 2012, reading went into a sudden decline, except in institutions of higher learning, where books are necessary for the dissemination of technical information. Yet, as most young people will tell you, it is a rare person nowadays who reads for pleasure and the formation of personal values. As for entertainment—well, film as art has overtaken the novel in the past fifty years, and was in turn overtaken by the blockbuster, which is a consumer event rather than a movie. Wrestling, on the other hand, is a wild and woolly hybrid entertainment that seems to operate out of the same principles as street theater, vaudeville and boxing.
The radical journalist Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winner as well as a Presbyterian minister, has written at length in his book Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle about professional wrestling as a malevolent influence, and a symptom of moral decline. Hedges believes that the end of literacy in America has created a deep longing for spectacle. These spectacles—professional wrestling is probably the best example, although professional football is in the same league, so to speak—are a response to a longing for societal catharsis, a kind of emotional coherence that art and religion once supplied, partly through the auspices of print culture.
Public spectacles such as WWE, on the other hand, cannot satisfy, because although plot twists in the storylines grow ever more bizarre, there is no character development—that is, we are not allowed to see what influences the behavior of the characters…so, there is no reason to really care about the characters—indeed, part of the agreement with the viewers is that they don’t have to care about them. And to just the extent that character development contracts, so must the sensationalism and violence of the storylines expand. Wrestling is a kind of frantic theater of effects, which leaves us unsatisfied because we cannot see why the larger-than-life, super-characters are behaving as they do.
It is important to keep this in mind when considering violence in professional wrestling. Violence is not necessarily bad in the performing arts—theater is all about conflict, and it is while seeing the effects of conflict at close quarters in human behavior that we learn the truth about it. Shakespeare, like many of his contemporaries, wrote plays that contain a great deal of violence, most specifically ‘Hamlet,’ in which the stage is virtually littered with bodies at the conclusion of the play.
But it is not the violence, but the causes of the violence, that spellbinds the viewer of Shakespeare’s best plays. We are forced—or seduced—into seeing, gradually and with growing understanding and apprehension, the horrible paralysis of mind and feeling that causes Hamlet to lose his agency, to forfeit his ability to do anything meaningful. The violence at the end is a culmination of all the unresolved psychic violence that preceded it. It is more of a cautionary tale regarding violence than an invitation to enjoy it.
“We now live in two Americas,” says the promotional material for Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, Chris Hedges’ book. “One—now the minority—functions in a print-based, literate world that can cope with complexity and can separate illusion from truth. The other—the majority—is retreating from a reality-based world into one of false certainty and magic.”
It is a strong accusation to say that people who do not read regularly have trouble distinguishing between truth and illusion, but that is undoubtedly the case. We have only to examine pre-literate societies to understand this. In their world, truth was a mixture of song, poetry, theater, myth and magical thinking of every variety, capable of deeply stirring the emotions, and fascinating to be sure; but it was not until the advent of the written word that humans began to see themselves in the cultural mirror that the written word creates. It was not until the written word that human beings could see themselves as part of an ongoing story on planet earth, and to create their own narrative as part of that story.
Narrative art takes emotion and helps us examine it through the logic of the narrator who experiences them. Print culture adds another dimension to the world of emotion, allowing the conscious and the unconscious minds to tell their different versions of the same story together.
We humans are story-tellers, we understand ourselves through our narratives; for that we need literacy, in order to put one thought in front of the other, just as to walk we must put one foot in front of another. Reason begins with literacy, and is sustained by it. It is by creating narratives that we are able to reflect on our behavior in the past. This is the most important step in the development of a moral sense, because it is by reflecting on our past behavior that we arrive at a knowledge of right and wrong. And it is by using those insights to guide our behavior in the present moment, that character develops.
But when we leave behind the written word, we lose the instrument that allow us to see ourselves. The most immediate effect is an intense longing for what we’ve lost—and all too often, literacy is replaced by the magical thinking of the monsters and heroes of popular culture, the conspiracy theorists and the violent instant mythology from the rightwing websites, the fake news and the delusional beliefs provided by hate-driven politics, which people use to comfort themselves in the darkness of the post-print world, in the badlands of a country that seems increasingly not to even know itself. With the loss of literacy comes the loss of cultural literacy, a disappearance of nuance and an awareness of the world that made us.
To fill that void come tricksters like Donald Trump, whose bombastic nonstop lying and pathetic self-serving theatrics created the illusion of entertainment, but who are now—because these illusions have become delusional—agents of moral and political depravity. The society Trump seeks to concoct upon the ruins of American democracy would be styled on the narcissistic world of the super-heroes of professional wrestling, where every performer is out only for himself, and one betrayal follows another in rapid succession. He and other billionaires are already creating the psychological and economic superstructure for the new oligarchy that America is becoming: Robert Murdock and Fox News, Murdock’s propaganda network; the Koch brothers by massive expenditures to influence the electoral process; and Trump himself with his political influence.
As for himself, Trump couldn’t make ridiculous promises fast enough, throwing out one promise after another to solve all of America’s problems. The people who could least afford to believe such adolescent nonsense, the workers of Rust Belt, often bought into his magical thinking as though it was the Gospel itself.
Donald Trump developed his political chops during the time he was involved in professional wrestling, and if you want to understand Trump you’ve got to understand what he learned from that world. Sadly, however, the underlying ethos of professional wrestling is not a good one—there is no redemption, there is no compassion, there is nothing uplifting or even genuinely comic. (Grotesqueness may be laughable, but it is not the same thing as comedy.) There is nothing in professional wrestling that compels our sympathy—it is always about the strong beating up the weak, and the weak beating the strong guy up in return. That is Trump’s life-story, repeated endlessly in a single life; and for just that reason, his monochromatic and sinister storyline is incapable of generating suspense.
THREE: What Made People Vote for Trump?
The Offshoring of America’s Future
“How could this happen? How could someone like Trump be elected President? It doesn’t seem possible.”
Ride any public conveyance in San Francisco, or anywhere in California, and this plaintive question was heard repeatedly in the month after the election.
To the average Californian, it simply defies common sense that such a bizarre, emotionally unstable con man as Donald Trump could get elected to the most powerful office in the world.
But he did. And the reasons for that started long before November 8, 2016.
The momentous changes that set the stage for disaster began in the 1980s. Remember them? Cabbage Patch dolls, Madonna and Michael Jackson, and a lot of over-digitalized music…but there was a lot more going on than that. Another kind of cultural change was underway, one with some profound economic effects. Instead of the idealism of the 1960s and 1970s, there was now a belief that money should be made any way you could get it. This led to the idea that “greed is good”—typified by the Savings and Loan scandals—and even a last wave of bloody Mafia wars as the underworld crime families faithfully reflected the cynicism and violence of the corporate upper class.
But there was more, a lot more. Under President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, the corporate upper class started exporting our entire industrial base to other countries. They sent America’s precious basic industry to places where wages were lower, to places like Mexico, China and South Korea. This was a staggering blow to working families in America, because it meant that their incomes would be cut by a third to a half, overnight. The corporate CEOs that promoted these changes likewise used globalization to sell goods and services abroad, rather than to working families here in the US.
Then in 2007-2009, the collapse of the credit and housing markets led to the Great Recession. This further devastated the Rust Belt, whose communities were already suffering from the off-shoring of major industry, jobs that had left and would never come back. In retrospect, it is amazing how quietly this all happened—first the off-shoring of American jobs, then the disintegration of the housing and credit markets, and finally massive loses of private equity. At the time, the off-shoring of American industry, a phenomenon that would devastate whole counties, whole cities, and whole states, seemed to be beyond human agency.
But it wasn’t happening by itself, despite the fact that it often felt that way. In the 1980s the big corporation initiated a very conscious strategy of sending their productive factories (and even their call centers and service organizations) overseas. It was all planned and carried out by the CEOs of the big corporations, who acted because they thought they could raise their profits. Ominously, among these same CEOs arose a dangerous new breed of multi-billionaires, among whom were right-wing extremists who were completely without scruple. These super-rich individuals, such as Rupert Murdoch, the Koch brothers, and Donald Trump, began to use their wealth to disenfranchise the middle class, and to attack democratic institutions.
They could get away with it because their incomes no longer depended on American workers and consumers, because their workers—and most of their consumers—no longer lived in the US. At the same time, the billionaires sponsored a number of union-busting scams, which further crippled the ability of ordinary people to control their own future. By the time of the Great Recession in 2007-2009, a great many American workers had already been separated from collective bargaining for a generation, and many no longer understood how it worked.
In the past, the billionaires of the corporate upper class couldn’t exploit American workers and consumers too much, because there would be a political reaction—but now their workers were in Asia, Latin America or other parts of the developing world. Ditto for their consumers. They didn’t even have to pretend to make good products and create quality services for Americans, because those who consumed their products lived in countries where workers and consumers had little power, and were not allowed to complain. So now they were free to ignore the needs or workers and consumers living in America. This added to the feeling of impunity toward organized labor, and encouraged corporations to engage in increasingly aggressive union-busting.
American workers scraped by on social security and government programs, moved away, or got retrained. Overall, times were bad, and people really didn’t understand why. There were no solutions in sight, and people felt helpless. But—as o often happens—a new group of very clever but evil people came along to explain why times were so hard. And their explanations became part of the problem.
Conservatism Becomes Neo-Fascism
In 1987 President Reagan got rid of the Fairness Doctrine in broadcasting, which held that the radio airwaves belong to the American public—the Fairness Doctrine was an attempt to give access to different points of view: left, right and center. To Reagan and his acolytes, the idea of fairness in communications was rank sentimentality—the point was solely to make money, according to Reagan’s appointees. So, with the Fairness Doctrine gone, the door was opened to the right-wing talk shows, many of which were underwritten by large corporations, and all of which had the same extreme right-wing political orientation.
AM Hate Radio featured a hard-right political and social message in the mold of Rush Limbaugh. At one point, there were as many as 300-400 of these scurrilous talk show “hosts,” all blaring the same racially-tinged, hate-driven political message.
These right-wing radio extremists had a lot of easy answers for why things had gotten so tough. It was all the fault of those immigrants, minorities and feminists, who were taking away everybody’s jobs and destroying American families. Some of these talk show on AM Hate Radio discussed traditional conservative concerns, but most had a new slant, a different tone, and a different emphasis. There was a near universal focus on race and gender, and a lot of anger and resentment directed toward blacks, immigrants, Muslims and women, all of whom were seen as receiving special treatment, compared to white males, who were presented as pitiful victims.
Blacks, Latinos and upper-middleclass whites generally don’t listen to these shows, which means that they often do not understood the insidious nature of AM Hate Radio. The listener to one of these shows is usually alone, and gets his news solely from one of the Hate Radio “hosts,” all of which means that he is to some extent being indoctrinated on a wide range of subjects. The genocidaires of Rwanda understood that power of radio to indoctrinate—it was their on-air programs and appeals that drove the genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda.
The voices of AM Hate Radio in the US haven’t just broadcast conservative views—although they claimed to do so—but were in fact the voices of a new American neo-fascism. They aim not just to indoctrinate with falsehoods and distortions, but to create an emotional orientation based on racial and religious hatreds and class resentments. The difference between conservatism and neo-fascism is in the level of demonization of progressive and centrists. Remember how they constantly insisted that President Obama was a foreigner, and that he was deliberately defrauding the public? The neo-fascists of AM Hate Radio see themselves in a struggle with demonic forces, which they must not only defeat but destroy.
There was a member of my extended family who was a long-haul, over-the-road trucker, who listened to AM Hate Radio every day while driving, day and night. After two years of this, he was a completely different person. All he could talk about was how the socialists and immigrants were destroying America. When he sent my wife and myself a box of family items, the outside of it was covered with a tape that said, “Speak English—this is America!” His resentments of nonwhite immigrants, people he thought were cheating him (and undermining America), had become the major theme of his life.
But here’s the kicker—his own wife was an immigrant born and raised in the developing world. Go figure!
But raised a decibel or two, this angry voice of my family member took over the Republican Party base, and became the voice of Donald Trump. You hear a particularly rabid version of it in Trump’s deliberate and boorish rudeness, his snarling contempt for female interviewers, a studied lack of civility with the press (always assumed to be ‘the enemy’), and vile and bullying ways in general. These qualities, which are in themselves contemptible, accurately reflect the aggression, lack of cultural literacy, and mean-spiritedness of the Republican base.
Rupert Murdoch hatched the idea of an American TV network devoted to extreme right-wing propaganda laced with religious bigotry against Muslims, formatted like a regular news channel, but without access to facts that might contradict the network’s propaganda. He created a niche market for Republicans in the late 1990s and early 2000s, at the same time that the GOP was moving rapidly to the right, by carefully stoking the violent paranoia of the party’s geriatric white southern base and the clueless hysterics of the Tea Party. The billionaires of the Republican Party generously funded right-wing foundations, while Fox News interviewed almost exclusively the people selected or paid by those same foundations. Although little noted at the time, their most formidable feat was destroying progressive taxation that had been in place since the early 1900s, shifting the tax burden onto middle class families while cutting services.
Meanwhile, an attorney’s group called the ‘Federalist Society’ had been waiting patiently to turn America further toward the right through massive political influence on our previously independent judiciary. Never heard of the ‘Federalist Society?’ Supposedly founded to oppose “liberal judicial activists,” the Federalists’ real motivation has always been to advocate and protect ultraconservative activism. An organization of some 60,000-70,000 attorneys, it is heavily bankrolled by billionaires such as the Koch brothers. (Wikipedia reports revenues of $18,197,898 for the last year.) Rejecting the Enlightenment values of the Constitution, they hark back to an earlier Puritan ethos in which civic virtue is determined by the worth of your estate—in other words, how much money you have.
One big real reason for the Federalist Society’s resentment of our independent judiciary was Brown vs Board of Education, the judgment that ended separate schools for black and white students. They have never gotten over the fact that segregation was ended by the courts, rather than the legislature. Of course, they had plenty of ways of buying off the legislatures, so without the courts it never would have happened. That’s why Thurgood Marshall is such an American hero—he understood that using the courts was necessary to end the pernicious practice of segregation in the schools.
The high tide of recent Federalist Society influence was the ‘Citizens United’ judgment of recent memory, in which the Roberts court handed down one of the most treacherous decisions in the history of the US Supreme Court. It creates an America in which power is determined not by merit, but by the highest bidder. Rather that tear up the Constitution, the Federalist Society would simply bypass the Constitution, or twist it until it is unrecognizable. The Citizens United judgement of the Roberts Court is the legal argument for oligarchy, in which the corporate upper class is able to use their billions to bypass democratic institutions and impose their program on the American people.
What do the Republicans leaders want? I’m sorry to say it, but what many of them—probably most—want is oligarchy for the corporate elite, and neo-fascism for the Republican rank and file. According to reporter Pam Martens, it was associates of Charles Koch who funded the Clarion Fund, which distributed the film ‘Obsession’ during the 2008 election. This was an extremely inflammatory Islamophobic film that was distributed free as a DVD in swing state newspapers, in a transparent attempt to influence voters who thought Obama was a Muslim.
The acolytes of the Federalist Society say they are originalists, who understand the true meaning of the Constitution. Will they then stand up for the First Amendment right to freedom of worship for Muslims? Not likely. Clearly, today’s Republican Party seeks to use Islamophobia exactly as the right-wing parties of Europe used anti-Semitism a century ago. They want an internal US “enemy” to distract the middle class from the predations of multi-billionaires such as Trump, the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch, who are intent on destroying the social gains Americans have won since the New Deal, as well as the democratic institutions that made those gains possible.
The New Corporate Hustle
Meanwhile something unique has been happening to the corporate upper class. Not only were the billionaires giving huge salaries to themselves—larger than anything in the past—the very way one makes and maintains wealth in America has changed. Only a part of the corporate upper class actually manages productive industry that makes things or creates services. Too many of the others at the economic top are simply glorified paper pushers, gambling with the wealth generated by working people and small businesses, and with the huge pension plans they often manage.
Hedge-fund managers, for example, simply make huge profits for themselves by betting with other people’s money, sometimes even betting against the best interests of their clients. This huge paper-pushing contingent on Wall Street now contains some of the wealthiest people in the world, yet there is nothing wholesome or productive or healthy about what they do, nor do they do any appreciable good for America or the American people. The only people they serve is themselves.
This section of the corporate upper class reminds me of a legendary village where everybody was poor. One day a self-appointed genius in their ranks announced that he had the solution for their poverty. “I’ll let my neighbor do my laundry, and I’ll pay him,” he said. “Then I’ll wash the laundry from my neighbor on the other side, and he’ll pay me for washing it. That way, we’ll all have clean clothes, and we’ll all be rich!”
Well, nobody was going to get rich in this village, but people in a community—or in a country——who receive large amounts of money but do no productive work, eventually become nihilists of a sort: that is, they voluntarily give up the values upon which personal morality can be constructed, or practical experience upon which people can build wholesome lives. That’s the similarity between the aforementioned mythical village and the new corporate upper class. And that’s also a big reason why we should be suspicious of the new Wall Street billionaires. Too many of them have no morality, and worship nothing but the aggression needed to cheat others out of their money. Furthermore, they actively seek to bond others to their depraved life-style.
Worst of all, they don’t believe in the American Constitution anymore. The maintenance of democratic government doesn’t make sense to them, because it requires work, and since there are no immediate profits deriving from it, they don’t see why they should bother. Today’s corporate upper class would much rather get rid of government, and replace it with an oligarchy, corporations that will do what democratic government used to do. They seek to ridicule and obstruct government until they can push it aside, or bypass it completely, and put Trump—or a billionaire like him—in its place.
This is the main goal of the Republican Party in the early part of the 21st century.
Ironically, while this new system is technically oligarchy, it requires neo-fascist tactics in the Republican base to intimidate those that who still wish to follow the Constitution. That is the strategy of American neo-fascism; government is obstructed—not to mention ridiculed and derided—until it no longer works; then some particularly nihilistic billionaire rises to take its place. The neo-fascist base of the Republican Party will do all they can to weaken government, then they will seek to empower someone who is willing to openly defy the Constitution, and seek to make both Constitution and government irrelevant.
If that gambit is successful, the next step would be oligarchy, and finally fascism, the enthusiastic supporters of which would be recruited—or perhaps they would recruit themselves—from the ranks of Trump’s most fanatical followers. But it is our responsibility as progressives to resist in nonviolent, democratic ways, and make sure that Trump and the extremists in the Republican Party never get that far.
The Putin Factor
There’s another problem, a big one. According to the intelligence community, the computers of the Democratic Party were hacked during the 2016 election. And Americans have noticed Trump’s fondness for Russian President Putin. It’s disturbingly similar to Nixon tapping the phones of the Democratic National Committee in the 1970s at the Watergate complex…but it’s even more disturbing this time around, because the hacking was done by a foreign power, by elements of the Russian intelligence services, or independent contractors working for them.
It is also clear that Putin ordered the hacks. That is what our intelligence agencies say, and they are saying it publicly. I can’t imagine why they would keep saying it if they weren’t sure it was true. Yet our new president, Donald J. Trump, refuses to concede that it was probably the Russians. Instead, he continues to praise Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, in a strange and disturbing way. Clearly the Russians have some kind of leverage over Trump, and that could constitute a terrible Constitutional crisis. Trump is beginning his presidency while being to some extent under Putin’s influence.
What if Putin’s henchmen lured Trump into some kind of unusual sexual liaison in Moscow? In a way, it sounds like just more garden-variety Trump depravity, and as such is relatively unimportant—but what if the Russians have the whole appalling adventure memorialized on film? There is very little that goes on in Moscow hotel rooms of American VIPs that is not filmed. What we need to be concerned about is Trump’s weird refusal to criticize Putin…it all feels very much like somebody is loan-sharking him—that is, it feels like he owes somebody big-time—and on the international stage, that means somebody is using him to accomplish some political goal here in the US.
What I find most treacherous about this situation is those Trump voters in the US who say, “Well, if this is what it takes to defeat Hillary Clinton, so be it!” In other words, they are willing to let a foreign nation interfering in our country’s politics—in our electoral process, no less—if they think it necessary to advance the interests of their party, and their candidate. (“If that’s what it takes to win, so be it!”) I’ve heard Republicans say exactly that on AM Hate Radio. And some of them make no attempt to hide the fact that they admire Putin’s brutal dictatorial style, and would like to see something similar in the US.
Those people are playing with treason, because they are putting the interests of Trump—and the hate he represents—above America’s national security. I’m willing to bet you that if by chance it can be proven that Trump worked overtly with Putin’s intelligence services, Trump’s followers will find some way to excuse his behavior. That’s not so much loyalty as it is an extremely dangerous cult of personality.
Poverty, Unions and Neo-Fascism
These are the huge political and economic changes that created the followers of Donald Trump, over the three decades after the 1980s. Remember, the basic impulse of American neo-fascism is to hurt someone, anyone, even if it’s only themselves, and the basic strategy of oligarchy is to obstruct democracy. Mix those two powerful emotional orientations together, and the resulting aggression is the key to their destructive—and self-destructive—behavior.
A justice-oriented activist will sit down and try to figure out how to make a society with less injustice. His methods may not work, especially at first, but social justice is what he’s aiming at. The same is true of most progressives (like this writer), and virtually all centrists—we value the democracy that this country has managed to create during the 19th and 20th centuries. We realize that some people have gotten left behind, and that this needs to be fixed.
But some Trump voters have long ago abandoned any idea of making a better society. They are desperate, and they are irrational, and they do not seek to make a better society. Their anger is so strong and so unreasonable that acting it out is more important to them than solving their own problems. Furthermore, they engage in a lot of magical thinking—that is, they think that if they want something bad enough, that means they’ll get it. This only happens in the movies.
That’s why millions of them believe that Donald Trump is going to bring back all those jobs that were sent abroad by the billionaires…but there’s no evidence that Trump would (or could) ever do that. Otherwise Trump would have stopped using steel and other basic materials that are made in China, and use American products. The truth is, Trump is a con artist who will do absolutely nothing for the working-class people in the small towns and rural areas. He is only out for himself.
Most of the people hurt most by the off-shoring of our basic industry—which some call Reaganomics, since it began under Reagan—were Americans on the lower end of the economic scale. They were mainly working-class or lower-middle-class people, people who in the past would have looked to unions and the Democratic Party for relief. Some still belong to unions or live off pensions achieved through union membership. But they are at least a generation away from the collective bargaining process, and are somewhat alienated from the Democratic Party
Unions are voluntary associations that exist for one purpose—to bargain collectively with an employer. The employer is motivated to negotiate because of the possibility of a strike. The goal is to reach an agreement, after which a contract is drawn up. The contract is usually good for two or three years, and it can be enforced in a court of law; this contract is then policed by a shop steward system. If there are grievances written up by the shop stewards, they are resolved through a process of collaborative discussion, and if necessary goes to arvitration.
That’s it. That’s how unions work. It’s simple, it’s powerful, and it invented the American middle class, and made that middle class the envy of the world. Workers came up in the factories with good union jobs, they sent their kids to college, and the whole family moved up the economic ladder. That process is now dead, but it can be revived.
There was a time in the Midwest—what is now called the Rust Belt—in which entire communities were aware of how union contracts got negotiated. People knew when the contracts were about to run out, and negotiations were about to begin; the union contract was the only reliable economic power than such people had. There was a consensus that workers needed good wages, if America was going to flourish.
Of course, the company management would always try to keep the wages down, and the union fought for regular raises. It could get pretty tense, the whole process, and sometimes it even got violent. But somehow both sides usually found a way to reach an agreement, because nobody wanted to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. (That golden egg was the profits made by American industry, of which both sides got a portion. It was a great system, for about fifty years.)
Good union contracts sent many a bright kid to college, and propelled many a family into the middle class. But in the 1980s the billionaire class was in no hurry to reach agreement with their workers. Reagan fired the flight controllers, despite the legitimacy of their complaints, and the next year Greyhound broke the union that organized their drivers, killing one of the striking drivers to do so. This ominous process continued through the 1980s, in ways that made it clear that the billionaire class no longer wanted to negotiate with workers, because they no longer had to.
The great country stylist Dan Seals once wrote (and recorded) a terrific song called ‘Factory Town,’ about a place in the Midwest where the contract at the local factory was just about up, and people were preparing for a fight. But something new had crept into the scenario. Now everybody was scared to death that the employer would pack up and go, taking their jobs to China, South Korea, or Latin America. That hadn’t been part of the picture before. So, what should they do? Should union workers hang tough, or soften their demands this time around, to make sure they’d have a job when the dust settled?
The problem was, in many communities, that the big employers decided to pull up stakes and leave no matter what, even if the unions were conciliatory, even if the union workers wanted to negotiate. By leaving and taking the jobs to the developing world, these American companies killed the goose that laid the golden egg. From now on all the money went to the corporate upper class, and the workers could go screw themselves. It was a terrible betrayal, and nobody has ever held the billionaire CEOs to account, because the corporate upper class was “too big to fail.” From that moment on working families and the middle class in America were doomed. The fact that so many businessmen were willing to take their capital to foreign lands is a prime example of corporate anti-Americanism.
Factories, garment, steel, manufacturing, almost all of American industry except auto, started to send their production overseas, wherever the wages were down. (Auto didn’t go overseas because the United Auto Workers were not about to allow them to do that.) The big CEOs said, “It’s only business.” But it wasn’t only business—it was peoples’ lives. These billionaires knew what they were doing to the country, but they didn’t care.
The CEO’s knew what they were doing, because they had a couple of hidden agendas. The greedy billionaires—and they were greedy—knew that if they sent industry overseas, the unions belonging to those industrial workers would evaporate. No industry, no unions. The profit margin would skyrocket! But there was a secondary motive, a truly devious one. Unions had always been the main supporters of the Democratic Party, at least in the past, so if the unions could be destroyed, the Democratic Party would go away. No industry, no unions. No unions, no Democratic Party.
If there were no Democratic Party, the plutocrats of the corporate upper class could jam working families and the middle class seven ways to Sunday. This is what began to happen, and what is still happening. All over the country, whole communities withered, whole areas sank into poverty. Meth cooking and meth addiction went up, ditto alcoholism and opioids. Since the Democratic Party has not yet found a way to reverse this process, many disaffected workers think they’re helping their families by supporting Trump.
They’re making a terrible mistake. I say that because the racism and bigotry and lies and greed that Trump uses, are toxic and dangerous. It goes into the American mainstream like typhoid. Some people think they can embrace a few of Trump’s ideas—like fair trade, for example—and pretend not to see the racism and religious bigotry and narrow-mindedness that goes with it, but sooner or later those toxic ideas get out of hand. We should be encouraging people to improve their situation in ways that make sense. Donald Trump encourages people to look for scapegoats, and take their frustrations out on innocent people.
On the other hand, the Democratic Party must now accept that it can no longer support free trade, as it has always been practiced. If the US is to survive globalism as a country, there must be protection of workers and consumers, if the capital for production comes from the US. That’s just common sense. Protectionism has been a bad word in the past, but globalism is a radical departure from everything in human history that has preceded it. A new way to approach trade is needed, to offset the impact of globalism on salaried workers, farmers and small businesses. Instead of free trade, what we now need is fair trade, in which the emphasis is on the American standard of living rather than profits for the corporate owners and managers.
Hard Times in the Rust Belt
As I was saying before, in places where the jobs have left—like the Rust Belt—some of the workers got retrained, some moved away, and some found different jobs. But almost all took a substantial pay cut, because the good jobs were sent overseas, especially the union jobs. There were other people who stayed in the depressed areas, sometimes because they owned homes or property there. Many people saw their equity in their houses and property slashed, and out of a sense of helplessness experienced profound personality changes, so profound that their whole worldview changed.
Instead of trying to adjust to the new situation, or improve their economic and social situations, too many of them began to look for scapegoats to take out their anger on. That sort of emotional orientation is futile—in the sense that you never improve your own life by trying to hurt someone else—but it’s also dangerous, because it can so easily get out of hand. Many of the people who fall into that trap unconsciously feel that they shouldn’t have it so hard because they’re white, and they’re not an immigrant.
But what if the nonwhite immigrant is willing to work harder, or is simply better at the job than you are? Hard times is no respecter of skin color, and people who think that being white is their ticket to economic security are under the influence of good old-fashioned racism, because they sometimes feel—usually unconsciously—that white people should have more privileges. But the uncomfortable truth is while the workers had a good run from the 1930s to the 1980s, the hard times are here. Things are never going to go back exactly to the way it was, no matter what color your skin is.
A great many voters in the Rust Belt have decided that Trump is going to bring back all of those well-paying jobs that went offshore. Not going to happen, folks. The jobs that do come back will be done by machines—that’s the bitter truth that neither Trump or his billionaire friends are going to tell you. There’s no two ways about it—to survive in the 21st century, you’re probably going to have to get retrained.
People who are under the hammer economically are often critical of “entitlements,” which they tend to think go to racial minorities, yet their own unconscious belief in white privilege is itself nothing more than a negative form of entitlement. And while we’re on the subject, Social Security is not—I repeat not—an “entitlement,” because it is a compensatory program. You pay into it when you’re young, and then when you’re old you receive the money you originally paid into the system. People forget that Social Security and Medicare were both important parts of the social safety net that allowed the American middle class to grow and flourish and to become one of the economic wonders of the modern world. Obamacare was far from perfect, but it added to that safety net.
The Republicans would like nothing more than to destroy Social Security because it would disempower so many people. That is, without Social Security, people would have less options for survival, which means less power, let ability to resist the billionaires. Remember, the corporate upper class doesn’t have to be nice to workers and consumers anymore, because most of their workers and consumers are now in the developing world. As a result, the major goal of the Republicans at present is to screw working families to the max, and to use resentment and racism to get people to vote for them.
But why do people in the Rust Belt states have to sit around waiting for somebody to offer them a job? I have a different vision. Why can’t people organize cooperatives that can hire people, and then sell their products or services? Granted, given the hyper-competitive nature of the American marketplace, people would have to choose a product or a service that has a niche quality—that is, something nobody else is marketing.
It would require some retraining, and banks may not want to finance cooperatives, because they focus on money and not on the American people. But surely there are some places where such capital can be raised, and even if it can’t, people can start small and work toward something larger.
A Permanently Aggrieved Minority
The off-shoring of basic industry during and after the 1980s was—and continues to be—the most important economic event in America in the second half of the 20th century. You don’t hear that much about it, because nobody has yet figured out how to deal with it. The real nightmare scenario is that we may have created a permanently aggrieved section of the population, which will rise up every four years or so to punish the rest of us by electing a demagogue, but who cannot find a way to improve their own situation. That’s the way to oligarchy and fascism.
The existence of a permanently aggrieved part of the population is tragic for a different, and perhaps subtler, reason. Americans have always believed that if a person works hard, they can advance themselves economically, so that their children will be better off than they. In fact, if you examine everything that has been said or written about that elusive thing called ‘the American Dream,’ it boils down to being able to advance oneself and one’s family economically within a single generation. Sadly, one can no longer be sure of that, which is a tremendous blow to the American faith in personal self-improvement.
One goal of the Democratic Party should be to develop, through individuals acting together—and acting with appropriate elements of government—a new ethos, and a new business model, based on mutual assistance and cooperation rather than market forces alone.
FOUR: How Donald Trump Uses Systemic Evil
Trump is a classic predator. He has gotten rich off stiffing workers and contractors, and building racially-segregated housing. He and his followers are also very good at generating systemic evil, which includes aggressive emotional orientations that are part of an ideological, emotional and political system. Let’s look at Donald Trump’s personality first, then at the system he has set up.
Trump has less impulse control than the average nine-year-old, and often develops obsessions that have a delusional character. Take, for example, his belief that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton only because millions of “illegals” voted for her…this is a delusion, pure and simple. It adds to the anti-Latino racism that is already rampant in the Republican base, to be sure, but in terms of real events, it simply didn’t happen. The TV news broadcasters regularly point out that there’s no evidence for Trump’s belief that millions of “illegals” voted in the last election.
But they’re afraid to say that it’s a delusion, because they all make money from reporting on Trump’s antics. Like a spoiled child, Trump tries to twist the world to fit whatever he wants it to be at any given moment. It’s like the emperor with no clothes on: he insists that he, the emperor, is wearing a beautiful outfit, when in reality he’s naked as a jaybird.
But the little child says, “Hey, the emperor has no clothes on!”
He can speak the truth because he’s a child, and instinctively understands what’s really going on.
Republicans are going to support voter suppression as a way of hanging on to power. His insistence that there was massive voter fraud will be used by Republicans to launch the most repressive kind of voter suppression. That is, they will argue that they need to add cumbersome new limits on the way Americans vote, because of this voter fraud, in order to suppress the vote of Blacks, Latinos, students and elders. This will become a huge issue, perhaps involving millions of people on the streets, and hopefully will spark new legislation for federal control of the electoral process across the nation. I think the only way we can defeat the Republican use of voter repression, is a mass movement to protect our electoral process. We need legislation that will make voting a right, one that is protected by the federal government.
Remember, Trump engages in constant attention-seeking—he really can’t help himself. That’s one reason why he’s such a disruptive force. He’ll stir up trouble when there’s no need to do so, the reason being that it maximizes the attention he receives. Creating chaos can also be part of Trump’s negotiating strategy—it distracts people from what’s really going on, and whatever hustle Trump is trying to put over on people.
But his need for attention also seems to be driven by his narcissism and grandiosity, and he isn’t always in control of them. Strategy and grandiosity often overlap in his mind, which can lead to a variety of problems. Sometimes he gets so seemingly obsessed with relatively petty things that his irrationality becomes painfully transparent; other times his need for attention becomes so overwhelming that he himself doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing.
But he is using this bull-in-a-china-shop style to prepare the public for attacks against democracy further on. Take his childlike insistence that “illegals” are voting illegally by the millions. First, such wild, erroneous claims get him a lot of attention—you get the feeling that it starts out as a lie, and gradually becomes a delusion. Second, it’s an exercise in the most childlike form of magical thinking, which is clearly delusional, but which Trump will desperately try to get everybody else to believe. But thirdly, it is a delusion that also prepares the public for a massive attack on voting rights later on.
Republicans have gradually adopted various strategies for suppressing the vote among four key voting blocs, African-Americans, Hispanics, students and the elderly. They do this by making it harder for targeted groups to vote. Or making them obtain special kinds of ID cards, and claiming on the day of voting that it’s the wrong card. Or limiting places to register to vote in minority neighborhoods. And so forth and so on. (If you’d like to know more about how it works, click on “voter suppression” online.) It’s just an extension of the way that that registrars in the south once made it almost impossible to vote under Jim Crow.
Now it has become a major strategy—the major strategy, along with racial gerrymandering—of the modern Republican Party in the so-called red states, repressing the vote so Republican candidates can win.
Republicans prepare the public for new voter suppression laws by trying to make it seem that there is massive voter fraud. (What an irony…the demand to stop voter fraud, which is illusory, is likely to lead to voter suppression, which is very real.) But countless organizations—including the Supreme Court—have pointed out that there’s no voter fraud to speak of, anywhere in the US. Voter fraud would involve hundreds of thousands of people conspiring together to influence an election. That’s never happened, and it’s not going to happen, because it would be difficult to manage.
The voter suppression strategy serves many functions. If the Republican Party can convince people that racial minorities are influencing elections through voter fraud, it will increase racial prejudice against those same groups. With the growth of racial prejudice, Republicans will find it easier to rationalize voter suppression against minorities. It’s a vicious circle, and it’s deadly, and it’s exactly the kind of systemic evil (because racism is evil) that Donald Trump practices.
Here’s something else to keep in mind when discussing the modern Republican Party. Beginning in 2010, the Republicans launched a major drive to gerrymander the voting districts in the red and purple states. (A purple state is one that can go either Republican or Democratic.) That is, the Republicans set up the districts in such a way that Republicans would have a greatly enhanced opportunity to winning a majority than Democrats. The leadership of the Democratic Party unfortunately let us all down by not understanding how dangerous the gerrymander was going to be, and fighting it tooth and nail. Ditto for voter suppression. These are two areas where liberals seemed to be in denial regarding the aggression of the Republicans even when it was staring them in the face.
The Democratic National Committee will have a chance to redeem themselves in 2020, when voting districts will be redrawn in the states. Count on Trump to scream, yell and tear up his perfectly clean diapers insisting that the Democrats are practicing voter fraud. That’s Trump’s method—accuse someone, anyone, in order to distract everybody from his real goals. Democrats need to fight racial gerrymandering with everything they’ve got.
There’s another thing fair-minded people should know. That is the tremendous difference between the money that Democrats and Republicans have access to. Democrats and independents—and even some Republicans as well—are required to stay on the phone for hours every day calling constituents for money for their campaigns. (I receive calls every day, and being a writer, I have pitifully small amounts I can donate.) There’s always far more money for Republicans, because of the deep pockets of the Republican Party’s billionaire donors.
Democrats are always in a hard-scrabble fight for dollars, because although they have a few rich donors, they don’t have nearly as many as Republicans. Thanks to the ‘Citizens United’ decision, the corporate upper class can give enormous amounts of money to particular Republicans campaigns, and they don’t have to tell anybody how much they’re giving, and who they’re giving it to. And according to the Roberts court, rich people deserve to have more political influence because they have more money.
Gerrymandering, voter suppression and deep pockets of the billionaires—that’s the new Republican system. Taken together with Trump’s racist, bullying rhetoric, and the racism and contempt for democracy that accompany it, there is no doubt that it constitutes neo-fascism. In any case, it’s a system that Trump knows how to use—and as always in America, it will be the racial minorities and the working people that catch the most hell. But Trump’s followers have in some sense created a Frankenstein monster in Candidate Trump—he says what they think, but their ideas are so extreme that they make it almost impossible for Trump to create enough consensus to govern as President.
All in the Family
How did Trump get to be the way he is?
It probably began with his father, who gave his son a gift (Donald described it as “only” a million dollars, but it was apparently more like thirteen million), which Donald used to invest in middle-class rental properties in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. According to a story that appeared in the Washington Post on January 23, 2016, blacks and Puerto Ricans seeking housing in Trump’s rental properties were treated differently than whites. “Trump employees had secretly marked the applications of minorities with codes, such as ‘number 9’ and ‘C’ for ‘colored,’ according to government interview accounts filed in court. The employees allegedly directed blacks and Puerto Ricans away from buildings with mostly white tenants, and steered them toward properties than had many minorities, the government filings charged.”
“When a black woman asked to rent an apartment in a complex managed by Donald Trump’s real estate company, she said she was told that nothing was available. A short time later, a white woman who made the same request was invited to choose between two rental units.”
It was one of the biggest federal housing cases ever brought to court. Trump got an attorney to help him fight the government charges—none other than the infamous Roy Cohn, previously a legal assistant to Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s McCarthy era. A smear artist who had destroyed many lives by falsely accusing them of Communism, Cohn advised the young Trump to posture himself as a victim of an overzealous government. For his part, Donald Trump denounced the charges as “outrageous lies.” This was a tactic Trump was to use all his life: when called on his criminal or immoral behavior, his typical response was to deny everything and defame the person or institution that called him out, while posturing himself as a victim.
Trump eventually paid a large fine, but as part of a deal in which he and his company acknowledged no wrongdoing.
This early experience deeply influenced the young Trump. To begin with, this was the first of many times he would posture himself as a victim, when it was actually himself that was the aggressor—it’s part of his modus operandi. And Trump seemed to have no notion of social justice, nor could he see that racism in housing is something that hurts people. Finally, it was the first of countless times in his career when he would posture himself as a victim when anyone questioned his behavior. At a certain point, Trump also picked up the habit of threatening lawsuits against anybody who questioned his behavior.
To be sure, there are many forms of racism in the US, and Trump’s is only one form of racism among others. What is uniquely Trump-like in this scenario is his furious victimology—which in this case means seeing himself as a victim. (“I’m shocked, shocked, to hear that racism is being practiced in my rental properties! This has to be a conspiracy to defame me!”) Trump couldn’t see anybody else’s rights being violated—in his mind, the only person being hurt was him. This is a characteristic of sociopaths; such people simply can’t feel empathy, especially toward the people they harm.
When extremely aggressive people posture themselves as victims, it is almost always in response to, or preparation for, an attack on somebody else. But make no mistake about it—powerful people like Trump may actually feel that they are victims. Talk to sociopaths, and you will be surprised to find that they invariably see themselves as victims, and everybody else as aggressors. They might have a rap sheet a mile long, they may have committed the most gut-wrenching kinds of rapes, thefts, murders and what have you, but in their own minds they’re the real victims, and everybody else is just making it all up. It’s an unpleasant trait that usually accompanies a personality disorder—but in politics, it often pays off big-time. Such people are so difficult to deal with, and so dangerously hostile and aggressive, that people have a tendency to let them have their way.
It was his father, Donald Trump has said, who told him, “when somebody hits you, hit him back twice as hard.” That was Roy Cohn’s favorite adage as well; perhaps unsurprisingly, Donald Trump adopted it as the motto by which he would conduct his life. What both of these role models forgot to mention to the young Donald Trump was that he had an obligation not to hit others first. Trump doesn’t believe he has such an obligation, because his narcissism causes him to believe he’s always right. That kind of grandiosity is one of the most dangerous characteristics of narcissists.
Unfortunately, the wealth Donald Trump was born into has made it easy to live outside of conventional morality. Other people—whether they are people with a different opinion, or people whom he has harmed—are enemies who have to be ruthlessly attacked and intimidated. Instead of shrugging it off, Donald Trump responds to criticism by furiously attacking the person responsible for it, even if—or especially if—the criticism is more or less on target.
Trump believes he can harm people anytime it serves his purposes. He can say nasty, racist or misogynist things about or to other people, because if they object they are just being ‘politically correct.’ And he can rape, attack or behave inappropriately with women because he can always get his attorneys to make huge cash settlements. But most importantly, if he wants to harm somebody else, he doesn’t have to pay any attention to morality, or bother about the pain he is causing, because he is so special. If you are dealing with a narcissist, be careful. They can be very dangerous.
Because narcissists may be haunted by deep feelings of inferiority, they are often driven to exaggerate their accomplishments in a most astonishing way. They tend, in other words, to grandiosity, in which they regard themselves and their actions as so wonderful that they are historically beyond comparison. For example, in his first week as president Trump declared that “with the single exception of the famous Abe Lincoln,” he was clearly the best president in American history. Hilarious, right? I call it scary.
Many people think that narcissism is simply having a big ego, but it’s more than that. As I’ve indicated, narcissism may be driven by profound feelings of shame and inferiority—so profound that it is necessary for the individual to invent a special persona who is above all the rules and laws that other people follow. Furthermore, a narcissist just doesn’t have empathy for the pain he causes in others. (This lack of empathy is a dangerous, recurring trait in Trump’s personality.) People who lack empathy will typically assume that empathetic persons are faking emotion. As President, Trump initiated a temporary travel ban from seven countries, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wept at the fear and confusion this caused one immigrant family. Trump referred to Schumer’s emotion as “fake tears.”
Both sociopaths and narcissists can be charming and talented, and can hide their emotional orientations for long periods of time, but they have a tendency sooner or later to say jarringly inappropriate and cruel things that expose them for what they are. A narcissist will seek out situations in which he or she can dominate or trick others—and Donald Trump, being born into wealth, was born into such a situation. And he also has a tendency that is characteristic of both sociopaths and narcissists: he is very manipulative.
Trump attended the New York Military Academy, at Cornwall-on-Hudson, about an hour’s drive from New York. There was an episode that occurred during Trump’s senior year at NYMA that sheds light on behavior for which Trump would later become famous. As a senior he was named a captain, a student command position, but was removed from this position after only a month because of an alleged hazing incident, and given a job without any command responsibilities.
A freshman named Lee Ains was allegedly hazed, and Donald Trump was seen as partially responsible. “They felt he wasn’t paying attention to his other officers as closely as he should have,” Ains said in a 2016 interview with the Washington Post.
Trump doggedly referred—and still refers—to this incident as “a promotion.”
“I had total control over the cadets,” he insisted in an interview referenced by the Post. “That’s why I got a promotion—because I did so good.”
Former cadets see the incident differently, wrote the Post reporter.
“The incident, previously unreported, offered an early glimpse into a pattern that would follow Trump through much of his life and has been evident in his rise as a leading Republican presidential candidate. Often the center of controversy, he finds a way to emerge by declaring victory and claiming success, even if the facts are more complicated and some people around him are left with sour feelings.”
During the 2016 interview, Trump devoted three phone interviews to denouncing former classmates at NYMA. Michael E. Miller, the Post reporter, asked him about the way Lee Ains remembered the hazing incident and subsequent reassignment. Ains’ allegations were “fiction,” Trump insisted, invented “to get himself a little publicity.” As for Specht, the student who replaced Trump, it was “a promotion for me, and a demotion for him.”
Trump insisted that Post reporter Miller “was doing a lousy story.” After the original phone interview, Trump called the reporter two more times, attempting to intimidate the reporter into accepting his version of events. “I was promoted,” Trump said. “The word is promoted. Mark it down.”
Trump said he’d never seen hazing at the school. “I did a good job, and that’s why I got elevated,” he said. “You don’t get elevated if you partake in hazing.” When the reported asked if the Post could take a look at his records, he said, “Why would I let you look at my records? You’re doing a lousy story.”
Trump’s position on events at the military academy has been simply to insist, again and again, that he had not been demoted, all those years ago, but rather promoted—and attack anybody who does not accept his version of events. Trump even went so far as to contact a retired teacher at NYMA named Theodore Dobias, an 89-year-old World War II vet and retired Army colonel, and get him on the line to the Post reporter to validate Trump’s position.
Then Trump proceeded to break in every so often to badger and contradict the reporter.
You have to wonder, after all these years, if Trump originally pulled rank by bringing his father into the dispute at New York Military Academy. In any case, Trump the younger had—and still has—an uncanny tendency to engage in petty power struggles. From the beginning, he insisted that the transfer from a student command position to a staff job was a promotion, and a demotion for the staff student who replaced him in the command position. Even then, some of his youthful contemporaries saw the transfer not as a reward, but a case of keeping Trump close. “He was singled out as early as October for special treatment,” one of the top cadets told Miller. “They were keeping Trump busy and out of trouble.”
All his life Trump has had a tendency to insist that his recollection of events is the only right one, and the memories of everybody else are necessarily malicious and deceitful. When and if others disagreed, Trump represents them as bad people who needed to be punished and marginalized. As time went on, he fell into the practice of suing anybody he disagreed with. At the same time, he would also try to shape events in such a way that they might lend credibility to his version of reality, past and present.
Despite the hazing incident, it was Donald Trump who got to accompany VIPs when they visited the campus. It was Trump who got to lead a drill team during New York’s ‘Columbus Day’ parade. And it was Donald Trump who led the entire parade down Fifth Avenue to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he was met by no less than Cardinal Francis Spellman.
“I was always good at that school,” Trump insisted during his interview with the Post reporter in 2016. “Take a look at the pictures. I’m standing at the head of the whole place.”
Trump’s wealth—and the power wealth represents—is without question part of his ability to dominate others, but it’s also a matter of temperament. Trump doesn’t know how to negotiate his way out of a tight spot, despite his frequent statements to the contrary, because the idea of compromise is foreign to him. So, in any conflict he almost invariably falls back on ridicule, manipulation, lying and intimidation. Over the years his tendency to remember things creatively (or at least selectively) has given some of his public presentations a delusional dimension.
Lying, intimidating and manipulating, when practiced consistently, are all extreme expressions of aggression.
This underlying and extreme aggression was on full display during the 2016 presidential campaign. In the terrifying electoral struggle of 2016, Trump faced an older woman, one who was very smart and very strong. This is exactly the kind of woman that misogynists tend to hate and fear. Trump started out making the vile insults one would expect of him, comments about age, appearance, and the sins of Hillary’s husband. Trump even engaged in potty jokes—one mainstay of adolescent and emotionally stunted males—saying it was “disgusting” that Hillary took such long bathroom breaks during debates. What he did not do is discuss policy, because he doesn’t know anything about policy.
Misogyny and the 2016 Election
But it wasn’t long before Trump developed certain memes of his own devising, testing them in front of crowds at rallies in states where Clinton was unknown or unpopular. They were simple and they were very potent, and they were based on deep emotional orientations associated with classical misogyny. Once he had arrived at the memes that got the strongest response, he repeated them over and over. Some of these memes may have been invented by the Russians, but the emotional orientations were already there in the Republican Party base.
Women were represented as betrayers, like Eve in the Bible story, who lead men into sin or death. (As Hillary allegedly did in Benghazi.) Women who seek power are untrustworthy, tending toward secret activities that threaten the male order. Women who seek power are criminals—they must be, because why else would they seek power?
It went something like this:
1. Hillary is guilty of untold crimes. These crimes are so unspeakable that she should spend the rest of her life in prison. Thus, the chants, “Lock her up!”
2. Hillary is secretive; she is hiding something.
3. Hillary is personally responsible for the tragedy at Benghazi, and perhaps many other tragedies. But she won’t admit her guilt, even though her guilt is obvious.
After some time, these memes became interchangeable with arguments for Trump. But there was another reason why people didn’t like Hillary.
4. She was extremely intelligent, and far more competent and experienced than any other candidates seeking the same office, whether male or female. For this she had to be punished.
The media loved covering Trump because he was so crazy—nobody ever knew what he was doing to do or say next. Every day it was something outrageous, something crazy, but something newsworthy. You always had a story covering Trump. But what were they going to do with Hillary? They could have decided to cover the important policy issues she raised—but the media decided early not to go that way, reusing to discuss even one of the many position papers she wrote. Donald Trump set the tone of the campaign, and the media giants got better ratings and made more money covering them. Every day was all about Trump’s charge that Hillary was a criminal, was hiding things, and was untrustworthy.
I have sadly become convinced that there was probably more misogyny at play in the Clinton campaign than racism in the Obama campaign—and there was a lot of racism used against Obama by the Republicans. (Remember that the ‘birther’ thing was generated by Donald Trump, and was a way that people could indirectly express their racism.)
Misogyny is perhaps more deeply embedded in individual personalities than even racism. It starts in the family, often in the attitudes of the father toward the mother. But soon those attitudes become the attitudes of all society, and are internalized by the child.
The idea that women lead men into evil is about as deeply ensconced in myth, song and poetry as any human emotions as can be. Like all stereotypes, there is an element of truth in it—by being the proximate cause of aroused sexual feelings, women may appear to change the behavior of men, and also of women, for many different reasons. But that power is usually based on the struggles of men to sublimate the urgency of their sexual feelings, and their disgust and anger at a woman seeking power, rather than anything the woman does.
When Trump’s crowd screamed “Lock her up!” a great many of them were probably expressing frustration with their inability to adequately sublimate sexual preoccupations and desires. The history of sexuality in virtually all societies is often a story of trying to control female sexuality. But the sexuality everybody is seeking to control is male sexuality, not the feelings of the girls and women involved. What does this suggest? That one of the earliest tasks of the male adolescent is to learn how to sublimate sexual emotions, and that for most men it is a lifelong process.
Furthermore, when Trump’s followers screamed “Lock her up!” they may have been trying to express a literal desire, however primal, to lock women up. They may really have believed—or felt—that women are dangerous, and that they should be locked up to protect society. And there may also be an iota of truth to the idea that women are secretive, and that they hide things: any group that has been victims of so much violence and superstition will likely be somewhat careful about what they tell others. This will strike some people as being unnecessarily cagey.
Repeatedly I heard—especially from working-class women—that Hillary must be hiding something. Why did they feel that? Because it was repeated over and over by Trump, who understood its power. She had been given a job to do, Secretary of State, but had maliciously hidden or destroyed important emails. It was as though the entire job of Secretary of State consisted of sitting at a terminal and writing and receiving emails, rather than negotiating with world leaders, arriving at policy decisions, and organizing conferences. The very word “emails” was given a highly-charged meaning…and that meaning was, betrayal.
My neighbor, a working-class woman in her fifties, told me, “I was going to vote for Hillary, but somebody told me she had something to hide…so now I have to find someone else to vote for.” I heard something similar from others, especially from women.
Trump and his followers often referenced the Benghazi tragedy, so much that Hillary was often assumed to be personally responsible. There have been many investigations of the Benghazi tragedy—sixteen that I know about—and not one has found the Secretary of State responsible for the tragedy, including the one done by the Senate. Again, there is simply no evidence the Clinton did anything wrong. But after so many repetitions, just the word ‘Benghazi’—not a word that most Americans would know or care about—became highly charged.
Many Republicans, when asked about the events there, clearly knew nothing about the Benghazi tragedy, except for near-incoherent scraps of information from the right-wing websites and AM Hate Radio, or incoherent conspiracy theories. But they felt something profound when they heard the word ‘Benghazi.’ I believe this was mainly actuated by the continual repetition of an unfamiliar word, and its connection to something dark and terrible—something connected to an ambitious woman who led brave men into battle, and then deserted them, leaving them to die.
These dark feelings about Hillary were mainly caused, I believe, by constant repetition of the idea that Hillary Clinton was intrinsically evil, and that she was guilty of crimes of almost unimaginable—or at least monumental—danger, so horrible that it could never be adequately described. How can certain emotional orientations become ingrained through repetition? I don’t really know, and I don’t think anybody does. But it clearly works. Trump kept repeating his catch-phrases (“Lock her up!”), and they took on an emotional life of their own.
Anybody who watches and analyzes a Trump rally will be seeing the action of a hatemonger in action. When Trump spoke of his opponent, it was of a corrupter, temptress and fiend who was uniquely loathsome. She was guilty of crimes so dark that there was no punishment strong enough for her. She was a monster, according to Trump. There is little doubt that he was appealing to certain dark emotions and fashioning from them a vengeful excitement that would animate the listener for months to come.
At times Trump’s rhetoric was so verbose and so grandiose as to be comical—one would laugh in spite of oneself. Yet there was always the effect of those constantly repeated ideas, and the danger of all that concentrated hate. After a while they created a powerful resonance, an emotional orientation more powerful than any idea. And the kind of people that Trump was targeting were fundamentally inarticulate, and therefore open to anything that was extreme, angry and potentially violent.
“Lock her up!”
At bottom, there was a deep feeling that Hillary had made the gods of patriarchy angry, that she was too smart, too effective, too good at what she did. Above all she had crossed the line drawn by the male power structure. Ultimately her crime was to play the patriarchal game better than the boys. When girls do that, there’s always the danger that they will see through the strictures of patriarchy, and join with like-minded people to play a different kind of game, one based in part on cooperation rather than on aggression.
For both men and women, it was just too terrifying. So, they voted against Hillary. The election has taught me one thing: that this is one of the most patriarchal countries in the world, and that people here are less aware of it than anywhere else. (Just look at the men in the gun culture—they don’t even begin to understand how crazy they are.) But there’s one last factor that needs to be considered. Hillary was—and is—extremely smart. She probably knows more about statecraft that anybody else in the US. And that, finally, is what contributed to her defeat—because of the monumental fear and loathing of intelligence that is shared by both men and women in America.
It goes back to high school. Remember then, when those slightly nerdy boys and know-it-all girls always had the right answers to the teachers’ questions? Boys—especially the jocks, those involved in sports—got their revenge by beating up on the nerdy boys. But sooner or later it occurred to them that they weren’t going to do so well in the greater society, and the nerdy boys were probably going to become professionals, and do well. That’s when the resentment began.
The girls had a special challenge. They had to decide at that point to find out what boys said and thought, and try to fit in with this essentially male worldview. Or were they going to develop a different worldview, one that was neither male nor female, a completely original way of viewing the world? Girls often borrowed from both approaches. But there were often warned by their mothers that nobody would ask them out on dates, if they continued to have these rebellious, original ideas. So, they had to choose.
A great many people emerged from the pressure cooker of an American high school with enormous resentments against what they regarded as the students with the right answers, which translated into hatred of all intellectuals. This was enhanced by the economic disaster of the Great Recession, in which a lot of people lost their homes. For a great many people, resentment became a kind of private religion. Why am I not doing better? Why am I not like those people on TV? Yet these unrealistic expectations did not help, but instead got in the way of personal improvement. To improve one’s situation in life takes work, imagination and focus, and resentment, self-pity and magical thinking is far easier.
How does this relate to the defeat of Hillary Clinton and the election of Donald Trump?
Trump was able to turn his hatred and fear of women into a public coinage that was quickly picked up and understood by other men with similar resentments against women. (“What a nasty woman!”) It was revenge, finally, against all those smart-ass girls who always had the right answers for the teachers in high school, and all the independent-minded women who’d given them rejections. A smart-ass woman, so much like all those others in the past, finally got slapped down. To Trump, hatred of independent-minded women was a huge part of his political appeal, and for him personally, it was the very essence of the victory he’d always sought.
Remember how Trump promised, again and again, that he was going to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary’s crimes, an investigation that would put Hillary behind bars? Trump quickly discarded that idea, because there weren’t any crimes to investigate, and Trump knew that—his threats to throw her in jail were all part of his hustle. He may have known that, but his followers got caught up in the game. Perhaps some Trump supporters know on some deep level that they were being played. But they couldn’t stop screaming for blood.
It will seem to some that I am being hard on Trump’s working-class supporters, but I’m specifically referring to those who don’t care to improve themselves. I don’t like know-nothings, not because they lack knowledge, but because they lack curiosity. They don’t question the values of the world that created them, and they’re not interested in knowing themselves, or improving themselves. I quit school after the eighth grade, but went back to college and got a BA and an MA in my forties. My own father got a PhD at an accredited university by going to night school.
In the 19th century, there was something called the “Know-Nothing Party,” which is what many Trump followers remind me of. What I’m trying to say is that you can always grow, but if you start to identify with your own anger and resentment, you stop growing. And when a substantial number of people do that all at once, they become dangerous, to their country and to themselves.
Neo-Fascism and Oligarchy
The things discussed in this chapter are to some extent surface expression of a deeper evil. But let’s think for a moment about the terms I’ve used to describe Trump, and let’s look at the politics of the Republican Party as it has moved to the hard right.
The three words you need to know are neo-fascism, fascism and oligarchy.
Neo-fascism is a world-wide phenomenon, but especially strong in Europe, where fascism originally arose. Neo-fascism includes such far-right groups as the Austrian Freedom Party, Frauke Petry’s Alternative for Germany, the National Front in France, Geert Wilder’s Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, Golden Dawn in Greece, Hungary’s Jobbik movement, Swedish Democrats in Sweden and Slovakia’s People’s Party. They are fiercely nationalistic, some are anti-Semitic (such as the Jobbik movement), all are anti-Islam, and almost all the groups have a fixation on violence. They aren’t quite as ugly as fascists like the Nazi Party in Germany, but they traffic in hate in much the same way.
For example, an activist in Hungary’s neo-fascist Jobbik group was filmed kicking and tripping refugees in a refugee camp, and Geert Wilders of the Netherlands’ Party for Freedom is currently on trial for hate speech.
The goal of most neo-fascist movements is not necessary to take over the state, but to make the functioning of democratic government difficult or impossible. This is done to raise doubts about the workability of democracy, and to impose certain policies on the government. The ultimate goal of some neo-fascist movements is to impose an authoritarian or all-out fascist government, and they see themselves as laying the groundwork for it. Most aim at discrediting democracy and government generally as a first step.
Several American observers, most notably Carl Bernstein, one of the two reporters that broke the Watergate story, said as early as October 1916 that Trump was creating a neo-fascist movement—and that was before Trump won the 1916 election. Now it appears that Trump is creating a neo-fascist administration, aided by his new principal advisor, Steve Bannon, a toxic right-wing extremist who has been around for a long time. The resulting chaos most closely resembles a Monty Python sketch, as one of the MSNBC reporter remarked, in which a bombastic but weak executive finds it impossible to accomplish anything. Such situations can turn into full-fledged fascism, unfortunately, because Trump has access to the levers of governmental powers, and may end up doing something overtly criminal, something that brings on a full Constitutional crisis. Trump’s followers may try to use the crisis to quickly move the country away from democracy.
What Trump and the other billionaires at the top of society want is some version of oligarchy. This is a situation where the extremely wealthy take over the government, and use it to run the country, free of democratic oversight. They are then free to manipulate the government and the economy in order to enhance their profits, and use the power of the state to retaliate against their enemies. But they need a violent political movement in the rank and file (neo-fascism) to secure the economic arrangements (oligarchy) they’re putting in place at the top.
While Trump seeks some form of oligarchy, he also needs neo-fascism to intimidate his enemies. Look at it this way: Trump needs oligarchy to secure his billions, but needs neo-fascism on the streets, where his followers can attend his rallies, threaten his opponents, and intimidate political progressives. Oligarchy is rule by billionaires, instead of democracy, but neo-fascism is the violence—and threat of violence—necessary to keep oligarchy in place. To personalize it in the current scenario, think of Trump as the oligarch, and Steve Bannon as the neo-fascist who is helping Trump secure his economic arrangements.
Does that seem a bit extreme? Well, consider this: there are Trump supporters in the Congress that are planning legislation that will declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. Why? Because once they succeed in doing that, they will start accusing every American Muslim organization of being a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood—and there will be accompanying legislation that will specify legal penalties for anybody helping a terrorist organization.
So, if you are a member of the Congress for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), or seek their help, there will be fines or jail time waiting for you, because some extremists of the Trump administration are going to claim you are supporting a terrorist organization. And they will set up boards very much like the old House Un-American Committee (HUAC) during the 1950s, to question people about their religion.
The Congress of American-Islamic Relations has done an incredible job making the case for religious liberty in a time of neo-fascism and hatred, and I am a fanatical supporter of real religious liberty, as specified in the First Amendment. (Not the right-wing evangelical kind of religious liberty, which is about using state power to punish gays, Muslims and secularists, but real religious liberty that protects the rights of religious minorities.) But there are a whole group of people on the extreme right of the Republican Party who believe that the Muslim Brotherhood has taken over the country, that the head of the CIA is a secret Muslim, and so on.
Most of these people are hopelessly paranoid, but—like a great many fanatics—incredibly energetic, and can hardly way to start sending people to jail for defending CAIR. These pathetic Islamophobes have developed a whole vocabulary to describe people they believe are part of a Muslim conspiracy to take over the country. None of their ideas have any basis in reality, but the Trump administration will have no difficulty promoting their prejudices if they succeed in igniting the deepest form of systemic evil that passes for policy in the Trump administration. I am referring to the Trump administration’s drive for all-out religious war in the Middle East, not to mention conventional war with China.
Let’s talk first about the possibility of a Middle East war, since such a war could last until the end of the century. Go back and read the writings of Steve Bannon, whom Trump has made his principal advisor, and you will see that he has a long history—as has Trump himself—of advocating war with Iran. Bannon goes further—he thinks a religious war with Iran is both necessary and inevitable, and Trump’s attitude is not notably different.
The biggest security threat to the US at present is probably North Korea, which will have reached a full nuclear capacity in about two or three years. I don’t think anybody really understands how to deal with North Korea, but something must be done, hopefully before the point that Korea can kill—or threaten to kill—millions of our people. I’m a progressive, but I’m not a pacifist.
Likewise, there is legitimate concerns with China, especially regarding economic issues—a great many of the jobs that were sent overseas end up in China. But simply advocating war with China is not likely to change the way that country steals our jobs. This tendency will be defeated only when we have the courage to make it illegal for American companies to send jobs to China, and buy resources (from timber to garments to steel to what-have-you) from them. And I have no doubt that this will require legislation. But the American billionaires such as Trump will do everything can to block such steps, which is one of the reasons they’re so interested in getting political power.
Now, about war with Iran. Why would any sane leader try to start a war against another country when it’s not necessary, particularly one that may turn into a religious war? Well, you might as well ask why George Bush marched off into Iraq, arrogantly telling the world that it would be a cakewalk, that it would all soon be over and that the US would be the victors. By invading Iraq, the idiots under George Bush ignited a world of trouble, and when they dissolved the Iraqi Army its soldiers took their weapons home and joined the armed resistance to the US occupation. This intense desire on the part of Bannon and Trump to attack another Middle Eastern country is an extension of George Bush’s insane adventure in Iraq.
What is going on here? Why this desire to start wars in the Middle East, when that is perhaps the worst place in the world to do so?
Look at the history of Christianity in the West. The two great enemies of Christianity were thought to be Jews, on the one hand, and the Muslims. The hatred of Jews culminated in the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were brutally murdered in gas chambers, all by Christians. It was an anomaly, say the Christian leaders, but it wouldn’t have happened if among all those Christians there weren’t some pretty deep hatreds against the Jews they so willingly murdered. And through all those centuries when anti-Semitism was marinating in the Christian heart and mind, hatred of Muslims was also being stoked—“the cruel Turk,” like the Christian, was seen as another fundamental enemy of Christianity. This despite the fact that during a couple of centuries, the Muslim leaders of the Ummayad Caliphate allowed and even encouraged religious liberty for Jews and Christians, much more religious liberty than the Christians ever allowed to Jews and Muslims in Europe.
Then consider the Crusades, in which both Jews and Muslims were murdered by European Christians. There is an attempt by certain modern scholars to say that really, the Crusades weren’t so bad. Actually, they were worse than almost anything one can imagine, involving ritualized torture, cannibalism, and endless war, during which particular groups of Crusaders often fought other Crusaders. (And sometimes ate their remains.) It was an orgy of self-righteous sadism in which anything compassionate and good in Christianity was forgotten or discarded.
And today, there are still people who think that everything will be hunky-dory, and all our wishes will be fulfilled, if only we can defeat and humiliate Iran, its government and its people. Such people should always be denied power, because they are sick people who have a desperate need to ignite unwinnable conflicts. I do not like the government of Iran, and I support sanctions against it. But look what former President Obama did. He organized the other superpowers in a movement aimed at stopping Iran’s progress toward achieving a nuclear bomb, and a nuclear capability. The signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) were China, France, Russian, the UK, Germany, and the US. And as far as we know, it has worked—if there are future problems with it, there are mechanisms in the agreement that will provide for a full discussion by the principals.
But the agreement only covers the development of a nuclear weapon. Others problems—including frequent military provocations by Iran—are not covered by the JCPOA, and must be addressed separately. But Donald Trump and Steve Bannon frequently denounce the nuclear agreement as though it alone was the cause of Iran’s misbehavior—and there’s no evidence that this is true. Other actions by Iran that the US dislikes must be dealt with by conventional military and intelligence actions, although those actions may be severe. The nuclear deal as conceived by President Obama could be in many ways probably a forerunner of similar treaty-making in the future, where a government’s development of nuclear weapons is blocked by treaty without affecting other conventional military and intelligence capabilities. In this scenario, Iran and the US may initiate sanctions, or engage in military operations against each other—like the covert operations that US and Israel regularly run against Iran and its proxies—without affecting the agreement regarding nuclear weapons.
All in all, the nuclear agreement was—and continues to be—a stunning achievement.
So why get rid of it, when it protects the world from further nuclear development by the Iranians?
Interestingly, Trump and Bannon probably won’t get rid of the nuclear agreement, because they may be able to start a war without doing so. Why start a war with Iran? Because Trump and Bannon want it. Why? I cannot read their minds, but I can read their statements. As I have indicated, they sound very much like all the statements made by Christians in the long history of religious war—they are under the influence of historical forces stronger than themselves, and they seek an overarching conflict in which they can cause the maximum amount of suffering. Donald Trump does not see himself as a problem-solver, but some kind of monumental leader, who is at the center of a huge war of civilizations. Ultimately, Trump and Bannon want to push us into the tragedy—religious war—that Obama was so skillfully able to avoid. And all Americans will suffer.
Think back to Iraq. We invaded in 2003. We’re still there, trying to “win.” We may be there for another decade or so. That is because, as the Greek general and historian Thucydides wrote, the two biggest mistakes that people make when starting wars is that they think their plans will go exactly as they want to them to, and they think they can end the war whenever they want to. Furthermore, any invasion of Iran will cause the Middle East to boil over. Sectarian divisions will be overcome, as Muslims everywhere unite to protest and punish America for its hubris.
The result will be—religious war.
Why religious war? Because if they are deliberately attacked, that is likely to be how the Iranians see it. And that is to a large extent how Trump and Bannon see it, which is why they have been so careful to include right-wing evangelicals in their coalition. Many of the fanatical right-wing evangelical Christians who support religious war will go crazy with delight, and some may volunteer to fight. But I think at some time it will start to occur to some of them that they have gotten themselves into something much worse than they ever could have imagined.
Religious war is terrible. It will make absolutely necessary a strong US antiwar movement, since if there is one thing Americans are tired of, it is wars in the Middle East. And remember, it won’t just be war there. It will also be war here, as Trump seeks to use the war fever to stir up Islamophobia, and convince Americans that their Muslim neighbors are all members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The military authorities know how irresponsible it would be to invade Iran, but for these reasons and many others, Trump’s insane proxies may push them into a confrontation. What they will find is that young Iranians are fierce patriots. They don’t like the sectarian government of Iran much, but they don’t want to be pushed around or dictated to by the West, and it’s their country. They will respond with a fighting spirit that will surprise many armchair generals on Trump’s staff.
Religious war is the worst kind of war there is. Women and children suffer most in such a scenario, and the hatreds that are left could eat at the hearts and minds of the survivors until the end of this century. The young Muslims that Trump will seek to bomb into oblivion, will turn to terrorism—although probably not of any kind we have previously seen—that will allow them to die with some honor, at least in their own minds. For the young Americans, it will be a death beyond reason and honor, death in the service of a narcissistic sociopath, who thinks himself a modern Churchill instead of the grandiose, ignorant mountebank that he is.
In the aftermath of the disastrous Iraqi war, at exactly the time when we should be learning to live without war, a section of the American electorate has decided they are willing to send our precious young people into the hell of sectarian conflict. We must resist, in ways that are courageous, non-violent and effective. Given the unpopularity of Middle Eastern wars among the American people, it is likely to end up being the biggest antiwar movement since the Vietnam War.
Trump’s use of Tomahawk missiles against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad may have been partly part of a geo-political calculation, but it was mainly done to distract domestic critics from the investigation Congress is conducting into the 2016 election. The fact that Trump can appear to be so concerned about the Syrian children who were gassed, and the fact that so many TV commentators took it at face value, is entirely consistent with the way sociopaths operate. Trump cares nothing for Syrian children, and will never do anything that doesn’t directly or indirectly benefit him in some way. People who think otherwise are kidding themselves.
FIVE: Trump and Neo-Fascism—The Order of Battle
For most of my adult life—as vice-president of a San Francisco postal union, a journalist in Europe and Latin America, a college professor, a novelist and a counselor at a residential crisis program—I have been fascinated by aggression and systemic evil. For that reason, I wrote three books (the ‘Genesis Trilogy’) about the ways aggression is disseminated, and how aggression ends up becoming systemic evil in certain situations.
In the second book of the trilogy, Trauma Bond: An Inquiry into the Nature of Evil, I explained one important aspect of my theory of aggression and systemic evil. “Aggressors are always aggrieved,” I wrote, “and always posture themselves as pitiful victims—that is one of the observable constants in the economy of human aggression. Likewise, aggressive ideologies always encourage adherents to embrace victim status, preparatory to acting out their internalized aggression.”
President Donald Trump also sees himself as a pitiful victim. He has said that the media is an ‘opposition party’ (which sounds like one of Steve Bannon’s half-baked ideas), that millions of ‘illegals’ voted in the last elections, that people who disagree with him are malicious, that judges that don’t agree with his interpretation of the Constitution are out to destroy America, and so forth. (He even attacked one judge who disagreed with him because the judge’s parents came from Mexico.) He insulted the President of Mexico because he wouldn’t pay for the wall Trump wants to build, and in a telephone call insulted the Prime Minister of Australia. To Trump, anybody who won’t do exactly what he wants them to, when he wants it, are his enemies.
Some of Trump’s ideas are straight-up delusional, in both the popular and the clinical senses. But as many people have observed, Trump embraces delusions that are useful politically, so you have to question how much is delusion and how much strategy. Trump’s delusions of being attacked and aggrieved, although apparently based on nothing more substantial than his paranoia, are emotions that Donald Trump feels deeply. As such, they are a major source of his aggression against his enemies, real and imagined. He has to attack them, because they don’t always agree with him, which is unacceptable.
Most evil people have trauma in their background that they cannot overcome. But we can’t say that for sure about Trump, because we don’t know that much about the early development of Donald Trump. It may be that his aggressive emotional orientations were not based on trauma but from profoundly stunted moral and emotional development. His father’s worldview was that aggression was the fulcrum around which everything in the known universe revolved, and that that the willingness to use aggression was the most important quality one could possess, which John Trump Senior expressed as “always hit the attacker twice as hard as he hits you.”
This rule, an almost exact inversion of the Golden Rule—which Roy Cohn repeated—the young Trump internalized fully. And he had that one great advantage that sociopaths and criminals have, which is that he had no empathy. It wasn’t that his empathy was blocked. It just wasn’t there.
The only problem with this was that neither Roy Cohn nor Trump’s ever mentioned to Donald that one has an obligation not to hit the other guy first. It probably occurred to Trump that he could get a lot further by doing exactly that, and rationalizing it by reasoning that he had a right to do so, because in Trump’s mind anybody who didn’t agree with him was ipso facto his enemy, and deserved to be hurt.
I heard an interesting story about Trump by someone who’d been around New York quite a while, and knew people in both parties. “I talk to a lot of people who have known Donald for a long time, and they all say that when they went out for dinner with him he was quite pleasant, friendly and interesting to talk to. But none of these guys would do business with him.”
The reason was simple. If he saw a chance to cheat you, he would. And if he didn’t see a chance, he’d look for one. That is classic sociopathy. Such people can’t stop cheating, and they can’t stop lying about it. I’m interested that Trump apparently believes that he can cheat virtually everybody with whom he comes in contact, and still keep their friendship. In reality, it is almost impossible to keep friends under those circumstances, and even harder to stay married. You could no sooner do business with Donald Trump than you could shake hands with a rattlesnake.
The picture I’m getting is of a young man who internalized his father’s deepest belief about hitting the other guy, and believed his father would love him in return. But his father’s inverted Golden Rule is designed to destroy and dominate people, and love has nothing to do with it. His father may have felt that intimacy was a dangerous place to be, exposing one to every kind of attack. So instead of having the love of his father, Trump the younger had his father’s willingness to give him money, which probably resulted in a fair amount of confusion on the boy’s part. I’m guessing that the one thing borrowing money apparently could not do was to win his father’s love.
On the other hand, the young Trump always managed to mention in interviews his father’s twisted version of the Golden Rule, so it seems clear he must have struggled with its implications for a long time. In the end, it seems that he accepted the implications of the ghastly proverb his father bequeathed to him: that people would get close to him simply to hit him, and the best he could ever do would be to hit back twice as hard. “Do to others before they do to you.”
Even as a young man Trump must have realized that there was more to life than this—above all, he must have sought love, as all young men do. But he had been given the spiritual tools only to destroy, not to accept love, or give it.
Nor understand it.
In a remarkable interview with Bill O’Reilly after the 2017 Superbowl, Donald Trump—who now was President-Elect—spoke about his interactions with Barack Obama in a tone that was almost reverential.
“I think he likes me,” Trump said.
Clearly O’Reilly was taken aback. “What? Why do you think that?”
“The way he talked to me.”
Perhaps sensing Trump’s fear, Obama had spoken to him with compassion. Trump really didn’t know how to handle that.
In that moment, one saw the depth of the emotional deprivation Trump has suffered. This is a man whose pain is as big as the world, because he was never taught empathy; his mentors—beginning with his father—could only teach him racial prejudice, aggression and contempt for those weaker than him. As a result, there is a strangely one-dimensional quality to Trump’s personality—he will never know the emotions felt by most people, because right from the gate he was trapped in a narcissistic system that gives power but no satisfaction.
So, he schemes, insults, and lashes out.
The reader would do well to watch Citizen Kane, the movie by Orson Welles. The protagonist is a spoiled rich kid who got no love from his parents, but was sent away to a series of boarding schools, rather like Trump was. Kane buys the ownership of a newspaper, and initiates a reform-minded editorial policy. In the beginning, he and his newspaper are very popular, but he suffers from a deep sense of emotional deprivation which affects his judgment, and he ends up exploiting everybody around him (including his wife and his best friend). Through it all, he keeps trying to use money to buy everybody’s love and friendship.
I won’t tell you the ending, but as you might already have guessed, it’s not a happy one.
The big difference between Trump and the protagonist in Citizen Kane is that Kane’s attempt to win political power plays out in a single election. And Kane lacks Trump’s strange appeal to people mired in rural poverty—for that you’ll have to go back and see A Face in the Crowd, Andy Griffith’s haunting 1957 film about a narcissistic country musician who becomes a kind of malignant, right-wing version of Woody Guthrie.
Such stories are cautionary tales, important for what they tell us about people who seek power. And it is a story that keeps repeating itself in America. The main point of this recurring tale is that although some public figures may have charisma, that’s not the same thing as leadership. Almost all people seeking political power are in some way looking for love. If they have that dynamic under control in their own personalities, they may be okay, depending on their ability to work hard, their honesty, and their intellectual gifts—but it they aren’t self-aware enough to know what’s driving them, they are bound to be dangerous. In the nuclear age, flagrantly unstable people like Donald Trump put the entire world at risk.
Steve Bannon: The Streetfighter as Right-wing Ideologue
And then, there is Steve Bannon.
Bannon is a true monster of the Republican Party’s precipitous lurch to the far right, who crawled up out of the neo-fascist fever swamp that was—and still is—Breitbart News. (Which is a website carrying far right commentary on the news, in the same vein as Fox News and AM Hate Radio, but with more open racism.) I’m not going to do an analysis of what Bannon says, because there is already a fair amount of information on him and Breitbart News on Wikipedia, which anybody can access. But suffice it to say that he is a bad actor of the extreme political right, and fairly typical of what I have characterized as neo-fascism in the Republican Party base. He has also been called alt-right, hard right, right-wing nationalist or populist, and he features well-known white nationalists on his website.
He has said and written things that are racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and offensive for a variety of reasons. His beliefs could serve as typical of the emerging ideology of the neo-fascist right (or “alt-right,” as he likes to put it), with all the underlying mean-spiritedness that one might expect from such political posturing. It reminds us that neo-fascists, while they do not wish to go as far as outright fascists, do seek to introduce many fascist habits of mind typical of classic totalitarian fascism.
None of this would make any difference if it were not for the fact that Bannon was the chief executive officer of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and has now become the Assistant and Chief Strategist to the President of the United States. This loathsome gutter hatemonger has also been placed on the Principals Committee of the National Security Council in the White House, and Trump trusts him, probably because Bannon will agree to almost anything Trump says. (I have also noticed that Bannon’s reign as trusted consigliere began roughly during the same time-frame as the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s influence over Trump.)
Is it possible that Bannon encourages Trump to talk to Putin? That alone might be enough to cause Trump to elevate him. But what exactly is Bannon’s game? Like Putin, he’s known as a master manipulator. He above all will know how to feed Trump’s massive insecurities with flattery, rumors, selective information and tidbits of information from the Washington matrix. And he will play Iago to others in Trump’s orbit, igniting feuds and squabbles in ways that will improve his own position.
Bannon’s main goal is to encourage and advocate aggressively for religious war against Iran. And he will encourage Trump to form an alliance with Putin to carry out this war, since he is in a position to understand how powerful Putin is in Trump’s mind, and how easily Trump can be manipulated. None of us really know what Putin has on Trump, but it is clear that he has something on him. And Bannon understands that, and will seek to use it.
In 2007, Bannon wrote an outline for a proposed film for a documentary to be called Destroying the Great Satan: The Rise of Islamic Facism (sic) in America. I quote from the Wikipedia entry on Bannon: “The outline describes Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America as “cultural jihadists”. Bannon wrote the outline himself, and it labels the Washington Post, the New York Times, NPR, “Universities and the Left”, the “American Jewish Community”, the ACLU, the CIA, the FBI, the State Department, and the White House as “enablers” of a covert mission to establish an Islamic Republic in the United States.”
Which is quite a few enablers, by any standard.
Bannon has called Marion Marechal-Le Pen of the neo-fascist National Front in France “the new rising star.” He has spoken well of Julius Evola, an influential Italian fascist who was greatly admired by Mussolini. On November 16, 2016, a group of 169 Democratic House Representatives sent an urgent letter to newly-elected President Trump, asking him to get rid of Bannon because his “ties to the White Nationalist movement were well documented,” they said; indeed, white nationalist Milo Yiannopoulos—and others of the same persuasion—were well-represented on the Breitbart website during Bannon’s time with it, although Yiannopoulos has taken more than a few hits lately because of his approval of pedephilia.
After seven years in the Navy, Bannon worked at Goldman Sachs; afterwards he and a group of former colleagues at Goldman formed a “boutique investment bank,” through which they succeeded in selling Castle Rock Entertainment to Ted Turner. Bannon accepted a financial stake in several of the shows—one of which was “Seinfeld”—whose residuals would make him a rich man. Bannon used this landfall to fund, write, produce and film documentaries, most of which feature long speeches by the appalling pseudo-intellectuals that Bannon admires, such as Phil Robertson of the Duck Dynasty clan.
One of his more frightening documentaries is called “Generation Zero,” which is nominally about the housing and credit collapse of the Great Recession—or at least it starts there. But it quickly cuts to the 1960s, since Bannon blames the permissiveness and narcissism of that era for the meltdown of the housing and credit markets in 2007-2009. Why the 1960s? Hippies tended to idealize drugs, and the campus-based New Left never made sense, but to blame the 1960s for something that took place in the early 2000s makes little sense.
But perhaps Bannon is reluctant to talk about the activities of the major Wall Street institutions, since he had himself worked for Goldman Sachs during a time when it was cheating its clients and making decisions that would contribute to the coming economic disaster. In other words, the proximate cause of the Great Recession was immoral and illegal activity on Wall Street, at a time when Bannon himself worked there—but don’t look for that in Bannon’s documentaries, for they are short on introspection, honesty and historical accuracy, and long on bombast and theory.
And guess what…Bannon has the cure for the lingering effects of the Great Recession, and that cure is—wait for it—an apocalyptic, worldwide religious war! This will burn off the corroding influence of the hippie era, and allow Americans to reclaim their frontier heritage! Bannon’s social theories are like schematic exercises in gaming logic, and resemble an excited adolescent playing a war-fighting video game, but there’s little in the way of nuance or emotional intelligence in Bannon’s thinking. And they all his theories have the same underlying theme: some kind of looming evil threatens America, but the country will be saved through an apocalyptic war that will cleanse everybody spiritually. Nobody has to make any changes or do anything, but simply go to war.
Bannon reminds me somewhat of the more extreme neoconservatives I knew back in the 1960s and 1970s. I was then involved in union politics—in a postal workers’ union—and the neocons were at first involved in moderate socialist groups. Then the neocons were offered careers in return for giving up their leftwing ideas, and they accepted with alacrity, in the process becoming influential conservatives in right-wing think tanks and pro-Israel organizations. But nobody, nobody ever got to the corridors of power as directly—and in such a dangerous fashion—as Steve Bannon.
How bad is he? He might experience nuclear war as redemptive, not in spite of—but because of—the millions who would die. In other words, Bannon is one of those extremely dangerous, half-educated scoundrels who sees human beings as pawns to be played. Taken together, Bannon the Svengali and Trump the man-child constitute one of the greatest political dangers of any presidential administration in American history.
So how do demagogues like Trump transform their ideas and talking points into an emotional and social system? For one, they stay away from actual issues, and concentrate on communicating negative emotional orientations. They will at first strive to communicate the idea that their listeners can’t trust anyone. This is the underlying premise of Fox News and AM Hate Radio: since you can’t trust anybody, and there’s no such things as objective truth, why not have your own truth, one that conforms to your own nihilism?
This idea, that you couldn’t trust anybody, actually began with the assassination of President Kennedy and its aftermath. The majority of the American people simply didn’t believe the findings of the Warren Commission, that their charming President was killed by a violent misfit, committed for reasons that perhaps even the killer didn’t understand. People rejected this version of events—although it was probably true—in favor of a number of conspiracy theories, numbering literally in the thousands, each one bestowing meaning to its adherents. Each conspiracy theory functioned as a kind of private mythology that explained the origins of a particular act of evil, and therefore—since the JFK assassination was an extremely traumatic public event—to some extent the way evil itself operates.
One may say that truth is essentially subjective, and that the decision to arrive at a private version of it is inevitable in a democratic country. But there can be only one of two separate truths about an assassination—it is either a conspiracy, or the act of a lone gunman. The idea that it was the inexplicable act of a single gunman suggests that there may not be an explanation for life’s most painful events, and that therefore life is essentially tragic. That is where I come down on the JFK assassination: I believe that when we cannot discover the truth in events themselves, we can only give them truth through our subsequent behavior. To live out the best values of JFK may be the closest we will ever get to solving the mystery of who killed him, and why.
Trump understands the free-floating cynicism of the masses, since he has so often contributed to it. (Remember the way he tries to cheat everybody with whom he does business?) So, he will continually whack away at the idea that nobody—and no institution—is trustworthy. Interestingly, he also suggested constantly through the 2016 campaign that there are no values worth believing in. In other words, Trump is to some extent a nihilist, somebody who—in the words of Wikipedia—believes that “life is meaningless, and who rejects all religious and moral principles.” But there is one principle that Trump does not reject, which is his right to lie, exploit and harm others. That is a right on which he has staked his identity.
Which is a profound form of aggression. That is the second big element of Trump’s political style, aggression. Notice how he always got the crowd fired up during the 2016 campaign, by yelling, “Lock her up! Lock her up!” There was little explanation why she should be locked up, or even who was supposed to be locked up. (Or even what the specific crimes were supposed to be.) Hillary Clinton simply became the Great Satan of the Republican Party base during the 2016 campaign—you just knew that if you went to a Trump rally, you were supposed to yell at Hillary. Why? Trump never got around to explaining why, because if he tried to do that, it would become clear that his reasons were based to a great extent on exaggeration and duplicity. So, he just went right to the hate-mongering, the yelling and screaming, without ever bothering to explain why.
The Trump rallies used to remind me of that scene in George Orwell’s 1984 where the people all gather together regularly in an auditorium for a “Two-Minute Hate.” The Orwell story takes place in a dystopian future dictatorship, where the government is led by this supposedly-benign dictator called “Big Brother.” There was a particular individual that the government wanted you to hate, and they would project his image on a screen. People would yell and scream various hateful slogans at images of the guy, and by the end of the “Two-Minute Hate” they were actually throwing things at this man’s image on the screen.
What is so striking about this scene is that “Big Brother”—that is, the government—never bothered to say why people were supposed to hate the person on the screen. It’s easy to see why not—if the totalitarian government of 1984 started giving reasons, they might create a dialog about the ritual, and people would start to distrust the omnipotence of the government; some people might agree with it, and others might now. In other words, they might start thinking for themselves. That is the one thing that authoritarian-minded people don’t want. Trump didn’t want you to think for yourself, he just wanted you to hate the person you were supposed to hate, and then vote for him, Donald Trump.
Now, the average Trump follower has probably experienced a fair amount of psychological trauma—that’s what got him to the Trump rally in the first place. And every bit of aggression that this individual experienced previously probably changed his personality a little more. It has changed his world-view, made him feel that the world is full of people and institutions that are out to hurt him, and that to survive he’s got to learn how to be more aggressive. But he probably isn’t particularly strong when it comes to critical thought, and accurate discernment. That is actually a very complicated process, one that we go through unconsciously to survive in a very aggressive world, and far too often we internalize that violence and aggression we see, so that we can own it. On the surface that seems okay, but sadly, it changes peoples’ behavior to just the extent that they internalize it. It makes them different and more aggressive people.
When Trump speaks to that person at the Trump rally, he speaks to the pain, not to make it less painful, but to give the listener someone to blame. Trump say, Are you in pain? Here’s who you can blame for it. In the meantime, I will make it all better, if you follow me…together, we’ll take care of those bastards, those people who are keeping you from being the happy, secure person you want to be. Help me get into government, and I will help you. I’ll have the power then, and I will change your life.
But it always involves smashing something, punishing someone. That is the neo-fascism in the Trump message—aggression is the answer to everything. But it never is, really, because when you’re done attacking others, you’re still left with yourself and your situation. A ‘strong man’ politician may promise to help you, but basically you must be willing to help yourself by working with others. The promise of Trump’s message is that everything is rigged, you can’t trust anybody, and that to get anywhere you have to cheat and hate as he does.
When he encourages followers at his rallies to feel like victims, he knows what he’s talking about—most of people he’s conned over the years are poor suckers just like those people out there yelling his name.
The emotional orientation that characterize so many Trump followers is resentiment. It comes from the French word ressentiment, which means to feel something more than once. Here’s what Wikepedia says about it: “Ressentiment is a sense of hostility directed at that which one identifies as the cause of one’s frustration, that is, an assignment of blame for one’s frustration…This value system is then used as a means of justifying one’s own weaknesses by identifying the source of envy as objectively inferior, serving as a defense mechanism that prevents the resentful individual from addressing and overcoming their insecurities and flaws.”
All of which sounds way too philosophical, when it is really a very simple concept. But I can see why philosophers use it so much—Kierkegaard and Neitzsche were both huge fans of the concept of resentment, using it regularly in their writings—since it is by comparing ourselves to others that we arrive at a sense of our own identity, and our place in society. But resentment (let’s use the English version of the word) starts to happen when you become irrationally fixated on something or somebody outside yourself, and start to blame them for everything that has gone wrong in your life.
That just doesn’t make sense, does it? But is can be a real sickness of the soul, and some are never able to get out of it. Resentment is seductive, in the same way as identifying with victim status is seductive—you don’t have to anything or make any changes, and yet you’re always right and everybody else is wrong. And the Bad Guys can be different people at different times. For the anti-Semite, it is “the Jews” that are causing society’s problems, for the Islamophobes it is “the Muslims”; for a certain group of people during this last election is was “the liberals” who were to blame for everything; and Hillary Clinton was the identified witch who, according to Donald Trump, was the biggest and most egregious political criminal in the history of the Republic.
To understand resentment as a way of life (and a private religion) just listen to AM Hate Radio a few days. Before this last election, it was all about resenting Hillary Clinton, except there were few reasons given for doing so.
Resentment is the bane of organizational life in America—join any organization and you will find that a kind of free-floating envy and resentment is seemingly the main motivating force for a great deal that goes on, with the single exception of management decrees. In offices people divide themselves into factions, all of which gossip endlessly about the other factions, and plot their downfall. Needless to say, this kind of backbiting and resentment is not discouraged by the employers, although it doesn’t improve production to any appreciable extent. But it does add greatly to the hyper-competitiveness that already corrupts this society, and keeps people from working together to get better wages.
I believe that a very high percentage of Trump voters are influenced by resentment of one kind of another, especially against the vague social forces that people feel, but do not completely understand. And to be frank, understanding is not a strong trait among Trump followers. They generally have a rather spotty knowledge of how power and politics work (all exceptions happily acknowledged), and as I’ve indicated, they often can’t think critically. This lacuna is filled in by Fox News and the ranting neo-fascists on AM Hate Radio. There are smart people out there—liberals, progressives, intellectuals, whatever you want to call them—who are causing all the problems in society, and salvation lies in hating them with every fiber of one’s being.
And then what happens? Well, Trump will come swooping in, and restore all the jobs that were sent overseas. He will bring them back—except that it’s not going to happen. So, what will the poor Trump voter do? He’ll be even angrier than before, and instead of understanding that he’s been played by Trump, he will redouble his hatred of “liberals,” and the educated middle class generally. He will continue to follow Trump, or somebody very much like him, and his violent hatreds will grow.
It is impossible to over-emphasize the extent to which people who are stuck in a static economic and social situation can learn to hate everybody outside their small world. And the violence they feel toward those who are better educated than themselves, can quickly be directed against those in their own world, for “getting above themselves,” as they say in Appalachia, by actually trying to improve themselves.
The resentful under-unemployed are the shock troops of neo-fascism. After a while their resentments becomes much more important that improving themselves, and they may never give up their resentments without a fight. All that will separate them from their hatreds will be the arrival of real opportunity, a willingness to take advantage of that opportunity. But having once drunk from the trough of resentment, a willingness to engage in opportunity may be harder for them to achieve than outsiders to the morbid process would ever imagine
Stephen Miller: The Pathological Hater
There are several people in Trump’s administration who have mastered the art of lying, but Stephen Miller has raised it—perhaps by observing the master—to the level of a minor art form. Miller was once a kind of warm-up man for crowds at Trump’s rallies, but is now White House senior policy advisor, whatever that means; his terrifying specialty is repeating again and again the same unlikely whopper, whilst staring unblinkingly at the camera with his odd, fish-like countenance. Sometimes the lie is so egregious—and he repeats it so robotically—that it all starts to sound like something from a skit by the British group Monty Python.
But Miller is deadly serious. This became apparent on the Sunday-show rounds as George Stephanopoulos asked Stephen Miller about Trump’s charge that during the 2016 election voters were bused in to New Hampshire from Massachusetts, causing Trump and Kelly Ayotte to lose the state. Stephanopoulos demanded proof, but Miller replied airily that everybody who’s worked in New Hampshire knows about it.
“Hold a second. I’m asking you as the White House senior policy adviser, the president made a statement saying he was the victim of voter fraud,” Stephanopoulos said. “Do you have any evidence?”
“I have actually worked before on a campaign in New Hampshire,” Miller said. “I can tell you that this issue of busing voters into New Hampshire is widely known by anyone who’s worked in New Hampshire politics. It’s very real. It’s very serious. This morning, on this show, is not the venue for me to lay out all the evidence. But I can tell you this: Voter fraud is a serious problem in this country. You have millions of people who are registered in two states or who are dead who are registered to vote.”
This is a familiar vote-suppression accusation, but being registered in two states is not voter fraud. This writer once lived in Massachusetts, where I was registered to vote, and then I moved to California, and registered there. I did not notify the registrar Massachusetts that I was leaving, because voters are not required to do that. Therefore, my name is no doubt still on the rolls, but that is not voter fraud. If I went to Massachusetts and voted, and flew back to California and voted again, then—and only then—would I be guilty of voter fraud.
Same deal with dead people on the rolls. People die, and their families do not immediately call the registrar of voters, because they are not required to do so. Now, if you were to go to the polls and represent yourself as one of those dead people, and try to vote using that dead person’s name, that would constitute voter fraud. But simply having dead people on the rolls is not voter fraud.
Poor George Stephanopoulos kept trying to get Stephen Miller to produce some proof. “You just claimed that there was illegal voting in New Hampshire, people bused in from the state of Massachusetts,” Stephanopoulos said. “Do you have any evidence to back that up?”
“George, go to New Hampshire,” Miller said airily. “Talk to anybody who has worked in politics there for a long time.”
“Do you have any evidence?”
Stephen Miller pulled himself up to his full height, raised his voice, gave the camera the fish eye, and said in his unique robotic manner: “The White House has provided enormous evidence with respect to voter fraud, with respect to people being registered in more than one state, dead people voting, non-citizens being registered to vote. George, it is a fact and you will not deny it, that there are massive numbers of non-citizens in this country who are registered to vote…that is a scandal!”
Miller continued: “We should stop the presses! And, as a country, we should be aghast about the fact that you have people who have no right to vote in this country registered to vote, canceling out the franchise of lawful citizens of this country. That’s the story we should be talking about. And I’m prepared to go on any show, anywhere, anytime, and repeat it and say the president of the United States is correct 100 percent.”
Being registered in two states is not fraud, nor is being dead with one’s name still on the voting rolls. And non-citizens registered to vote—again, if non-citizens show up to vote, that’s fraud, but being registered to vote is by itself not a crime. What is memorable and important about the above statement is the threatening “and you will not deny it,” typical of Miller’s neo-fascist schtick. He is a born dictator, and like most people with authoritarian tendencies, he is somewhat laughable. But someone like him at the height of power could do enormous harm before he is shut down.
Stephen Miller is a long-time, dedicated racist who despises Hispanics. Read the shocking and well-researched story by Fernando Peinado, of Univision, that I reproduce in full below. It was first published February 08, 2017, by Univision.com.
“Stephen Miller and Jason Islas grew up in sunny southern California in the late 1990s, united by their passion for ‘Star Trek.’ But Miller stopped talking to his friend as they prepared to jump from Lincoln Middle School to Santa Monica High School.”
“Miller only returned Islas’ phone calls at the end of the summer, to coldly explain the reason for his estrangement.
‘I can’t be your friend anymore, because you are Latino,’ Islas remembers him saying.”
“Islas recalled that Miller mentioned other reasons, which he considered ‘childish.’ But that was his first sign of the change Miller would undergo when he was 14 years old: a political radicalization that defines his life even now as a senior White House adviser with direct access to President Donald Trump.”
“Miller, now 31, and Stephen Bannon, former executive director of the populist Breitbart website, have been described as the main architects of Trump’s immigration policies.”
“Several reports identified Miller as the brains behind the controversial executive order that temporarily banned people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. With Bannon, he also wrote Trump’s aggressively nationalist inauguration speech and in July wrote a draft of Trump’s acceptance speech to the Republican presidential nominating convention.”
“Miller’s precocious politicalization as he entered Santa Monica High was even more surprising because the school, just blocks from the Pacific Ocean, prided itself as a multicultural space where diversity was celebrated. Hispanics were the single largest minority, with 30 percent of the 3,400 students, and ethnic clubs like MEChA and The Chicanx de Aztlan Student Movement. African Americans followed at 12 percent and Asians made up 5 percent.”
“In liberal Santa Monica, students in the city’s largest high school tended to hold progressive ideas, to be environmentally conscious and open minded.”
“But Miller went the other way. He quickly stood out as a contentious and provocative student whose conservative and ultra-nationalist politics put him continuously at odds with teachers, administrators and students.”
“Univision Noticias spoke with several classmates who said Miller had few friends, none of them non-white. They said he used to make fun of the children of Latino and Asian immigrants who did not speak English well.”
“Early on, Miller began to write opinion columns in conservative blogs, the local press and the high school’s own newspaper, The Samohi. He also contributed at times to the national radio show of Larry Elder, a conservative African American, and once invited him to speak at the school.”
“Displaying his hostility toward minorities, Miller complained to school administrators about announcements in Spanish and festivals that celebrated diversity.”
“In his third year at the school, the 16-year-old Miller wrote a letter to The Lookout, a local publication, about his negative impression of Hispanic students and the use of Spanish in the United States.”
“When I entered Santa Monica High School in the ninth grade, I noticed a number of students lacked basic English skills. There are usually very few, if any, Hispanic students in my honors classes, despite the large number of Hispanic students that attend our school,” Miller wrote.
“Even so, pursuant to district policy, all announcements are written in both Spanish and English. By providing a crutch now, we are preventing Spanish speakers from standing on their own,” he added. “As politically correct as this may be, it demeans the immigrant population as incompetent, and makes a mockery of the American ideal of personal accomplishment.”
In that article, Miller also complained about his school’s celebration of Cinco de Mayo, the existence of a gay club and a visit by a Muslim leader.
School Board member Oscar de la Torre said he had numerous verbal clashes with Miller, and recalled that Miller turned up one day for a meeting of a committee created to help Hispanic and African American students. But Miller was not there to help, de la Torre told Univision Noticias.
“He wanted to sabotage us,” de la Torre said. “He confronted everyone, denying that racism existed. He said that was a thing of the past.”
Univision Noticias requested an interview with Miller through several White House press officials, but received no reply. Subsequently, the White House rejected the veracity of this article and requested a rectification. But Univision has verified the credibility of the sources used in addition to Miller’s own writings. Univision again requested an interview with Miller to express his point of view, but did not receive a response.
Miller wrote about those meetings years later, during his time at Duke University. “I was quickly labeled a racist, and after the session de la Torre became combative. He, like countless others during my time at Santa Monica High, tried to convince me that blacks and Hispanics were all victims of inescapable discrimination, deeply ingrained in the white ruling class and all public institutions,” he wrote.
Natalie Flores, another student who witnessed Miller’s evolution from middle to high school, said he displayed “an intense hatred toward people of color, especially toward Latinos.” She and other students interviewed for this report recalled that Miller became angry whenever he heard students speaking Spanish in the hallways.
“I think his big problem was the Latinos. He thought they lived off welfare,” said Flores, now a graduate student at Columbia University.
Most of the students avoided arguments with Miller. Even though many thought he was quick and smart, they also saw him as incapable of calm dialogue. In private, they often made fun of him. His eccentricities were so notorious that The Samohi published a satire of his rants, expressing his joy over the cancellation of a food festival. “We are finally free, free to eat the bland and over-cooked food that is our birth right as Americans,” it said.
Miller appeared to enjoy his notoriety. He did not want to go unnoticed, and did everything possible to dramatize his confrontations.
Ari Rosmarin, editor of The Samohi at the time, recalled that Miller confronted him after he published an article arguing that drivers who put U.S. flag stickers on their SUVs were not really patriotic because their vehicles consumed imported gasoline.
“He came up to me after an assembly and put his finger on my chest, telling me that I was anti-American,” Rosmarin told Univision Noticias. “Then he opened up his shirt and showed me his t-shirt with an American flag. I was surprised by the melodramatic gesture,” said the descendant of Polish immigrants.
Rosmarin also recalled a Miller speech during a campaign for student council elections in which he attacked the requirement that students put their trash in garbage bins, saying that janitors were paid to do that.
Some of the students who knew Miller in high school said he had no interests other than radical [right-wing] politics, and that he always seemed unhappy.
“He had a lot of grudges. He didn’t go out of his way to go to dances or to have girlfriends,” de la Torre said. “I don’t remember ever seeing him smile.”
Others recalled that Miller was very sure of himself, and vehemently expressed his views.
“He always defended the ideas he believed in,” Mark Kelly, who was co-principal of Santa Monica High at the time, wrote in an email to Univision Noticias. “I am not surprised to learn that he is working for the Trump organization.
We are proud of students who chose a career of service to country and to the community.”
His old friend Islas said he never spoke to Miller during their four years in the same high school. “Losing a friend didn’t bother me, because the fact that Miller rejected me because I am Latino showed me he was pretty much worthless,” he said.
Recalling their childhood friendship, Islas also found it ironic that Miller was a big-time fan of Star Trek, the TV series that promoted intercultural understanding.
Islas, now a journalist in Santa Monica, said he did not know why Miller became so radical at an early age. His family life seemed stable, and Islas was invited to his Bar Mitzvah.
The Los Angeles Times wrote that Miller’s family suffered a setback when its real estate business slipped, and had to move out of the tony north-of-Montana neighborhood, in Santa Monica, to a more affordable area in the south side of town.
Miller has said that he became a conservative after reading the 1994 book Guns, Crime, and Freedom by Wayne LaPierre, president of the National Rifle Association.
De la Torre said many people in Santa Monica were surprised that someone so conservative could have grown up in such a liberal city, but added that many residents secretly share Miller’s views.
“Santa Monica is liberal, but there’s a lot of racism and segregation,” he said.
The high school itself was highly segregated, said Cynthia Santiago, who was president of the student council and member of MEChA at the time. “There was a lot of separation among the races. The Anglo students kept to themselves, and the Latinos did the same.”
One event that marked Miller’s time in Santa Monica High School was the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. It reaffirmed his nationalist ideas, even as his fellow students opposed a military response.
In “Time to Kill,” the title of an article he published in The Samohi, Miller revealed his vision of Islam 15 years before he worked on the Trump executive order to ban the entry of people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
“We have all heard about how peaceful and benign the Islamic religion is,” he wrote. “But, no matter how many times you say that, it cannot change the fact that millions of radical Muslims would celebrate your death for the simple reason that you are Christian, Jewish or American.”
Miller had no conciliatory departing words in his senior yearbook. “There can be no fifty-fifty Americanism in this country. There is room here for only 100 percent Americanism, only for those who are Americans and nothing else,” he wrote, quoting former President Theodore Roosevelt.
Some of Miller’s fellow high school students now say they are alarmed by the power he seems to wield. “He is very dangerous,” said Islas. “One thing is a kid who makes inappropriate comments in the high school newspaper, and another is letting him write presidential orders.”
And they say they recognize Miller’s voice when they listen to Trump speeches. Rosmarin said that re-reading Miller’s writings in high school gave him an eerie feeling. “It’s like you’re reading Trump’s words, written by a 16-year-old kid from California,” he said.
Cynthia Santiago, today an immigration lawyer, said she was disheartened that Miller is now directly affecting the lives of some of her clients.
“A few days ago I spent a weekend at the Los Angeles airport volunteering to assist immigrants arriving from countries on the (Trump) executive order,” she said. “It upsets me that we were in the same school.”
I don’t know about anybody else, but I had difficulty sleeping the night after reading this story. Miller is sick and dangerous.
More on Putin
So, there you have it—the order of battle for the Trump government: one-third nonsense by the narcissistic Trump himself, one-third malignant war-loving misfit and conspiracy theorist Steve Bannon, and one-third racism from the hateful fanatic Stephen Miller. But there is much more to the Trump phenomenon—I’m simply touching on the main players.
There is another area that needs to be mentioned—the astonishing role of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the stunning rise and electoral success of Donald Trump, and the future of Trump’s movement. Making this assessment more difficult is the fact that we still don’t know all the facts, but we know enough to lay out the basic information in outline form. By far the best book on Trump and Putin and the hacking of the Democratic Party is Malcolm Nance’s The Plot to Hack America—How Putin’s Cyberspies and Wikileaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election. Nance has a background in intelligence work, and a clear idea of what the Democratic Party was up against during the 2016 campaign.
During the Cold War the goal of the then-Soviet Union was world revolution. Vladimir Putin’s goal today is driven by Russian nationalism—what he seeks is a greatly weakened America, and a weak NATO, which would leave him free to intervene in the Baltic states. (And it would establish Russia as one of the two or three most powerful countries in the world.) To achieve this latter goal, Russia is now intervening in electoral activity in Western Europe, mainly using its intelligence and cyberwar capabilities.
Why is this important to the Progressive Resistance? Because it is a terrible thing to have a hostile state actor manipulating anything having to do with one’s electoral system. We already know that the Republican Party’s strategy for winning elections in the future will depend heavily on voter suppression. (Which is why Trump is always talking about voter fraud, which is virtually non-existent.) This means that in any electoral activity we may have to deal simultaneously with Putin’s intelligence groups—which are very good at manipulating electoral outcomes—and the Republican Party’s voter suppression. This is why Putin’s intervention in our elections is a huge red flag—the Republican Party’s dependence on racism and voter suppression is difficult enough to deal with, and if we also have hostile state actors helping him (and perhaps working with him) the task is doubly difficult.
The truth is that Putin is one of the most brazen and despicable dictators in the world today, a leader who murders journalists and dissenters—and potential political rivals—without hesitation. And he uncritically supports Bashar al-Assad, the ruthless torturer and dictator of Syria, a man who belongs in the dock at the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague. This alone is enough to discredit Putin, but for him to intervene in US elections is a huge insult to all true patriots—of which I consider myself one—and to all people of the Democratic Resistance.
Most Americans—especially our millennials—are vaguely aware of “Russia Today,” or RT America (and Sputnik, another Putin media project), both of which carry programs of a seemingly progressive nature. But check out the news crawl on the bottom of the screen—where Syria is concerned, it’s invariably filled with pro-Assad propaganda; likewise, the news from Ukraine or Crimea is all from Putin’s perspective. And there are other indications, seemingly subtle ones. All the stories on RT about America really nail it when they cover America’s flaws, but they carry no updates from the many progressive movements that are working to address those flaws. And their coverage of Hillary Clinton’s campaign was either missing in action or badly distorted.
In fact, Julian Assange—probably under the tutelage of Putin’s intelligence organizations—managed to release in a highly selective way certain emails he or his associates had hacked from the Clinton campaign. Clinton’s team understood they had been hacked, but lacked any means to wage a campaign against the hacking since it would interfere with electoral business. Furthermore, Trump kept insisting that Clinton had endangered national security by not being more careful about the email traffic she dealt with. The irony of the situation is almost unbelievable: even as Trump accused Clinton of being criminally negligent with her emails, Trump’s ally Assange was selectively releasing hacked emails to disrupt Clinton’s campaign. What this has taught us is that the transparency movement, which once seemed to offer so much hope to activists, can and often will be used to empower evil people, in this case both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.
The aging ex-Stalinists that run Putin’s propaganda efforts don’t usually seek to inject themselves into progressive movements around the world—progressive movements are not disruptive enough. (Unless they are anarchists or violent ultra-leftists.) Putin’s goal, like the goal of most European neo-fascists, is to make governing difficult, and real political dialogue impossible. That is why he has given money, as Malcolm Nance documents in his book, to the National Front in France, a neo-fascist organization.
As I mentioned, Americans on the hard right (I refuse to call them conservatives) will often confess—sometimes openly on AM Hate Radio, sometimes on Fox News—to a certain liking of Vladimir Putin. (He’s decisive, they like to say, ‘decisive’ being a code word on the hard-political right for a dictator.) And for his part, Vladimir Putin really likes his operatives to pay attention to right-leaning billionaires from the west——after all, they’re more likely to arrive in positions of power, and are therefore more useful.
Unraveling and exposing Putin’s influence on the Republican Party must be a major goal of the Progressive Resistance to Trump, and the Democratic Left generally. Silicon Valley is overflowing with brilliant young millennials working in what we once called High Tech, and there are more hacktivists lurking around the San Francisco Bay Area than you can shake a stick at. To them I say, here’s your chance to show us your stuff by helping us get to the bottom of Putin’s interventions in American politics. (You might even start a security business or two along the same lines, if you are one of those gifted entrepreneurs we’re always hearing about.)
And to all the young people just launching themselves into the tempestuous waters of modern investigative journalism—forget about Watergate, this is the biggest story of the early 21st century. So, start digging, and help America survive the anti-democratic assault being launched against it, whether by the voter suppression, racism and lying of Donald Trump, or the off-shore forces of Putin’s neo-Stalinist cyberwarfare.
Do your homework, and you’ll quickly apprehend the similarities and differences between Watergate and the very complicated and as-yet-unnamed scandal we’re now wrestling with in 2017.
And when you find a good name for the crisis we’re in now, let me know. I personally like Vladgate or Pootiegate, but there’s absolutely no accounting for taste in this area. Russiagate seems to sum it up.
Our political enemy is the neo-fascism that arose in the base of the Republican Party during the rise of Donald Trump, and gradually took over the leadership. In the Republican Party one sees three distinct groups that have responded to this. First is the mainly white, working-class individuals that live in rural areas and small towns devastated by the off-shoring of basic industry throughout the US. Those within this group who are loyal to Donald Trump usually have attitudes consistent with neo-fascism, and many are violently racist in their attitudes toward immigrant Latinos. Second is traditional Republicans who think they can get what they used to get—like tax breaks and an end to regulation—but refuse to see Trump’s personal corruption, political extremism and lack of mental stability.
The third group are millionaires and billionaires who would like to see the corporate upper class push democracy and the Constitution aside, and take over the role that an elected government once played. What they want is oligarchy and the death of democracy, although they may not say as much, and they will look the other way as people in the Republican base use violence, threats, racism and dirty tricks against progressives to help the billionaires secure their economic and political privileges.
SIX: Order of Battle for the Democratic Resistance
The one political organization in the US that tried hardest to defeat Trump was the Democratic Party, which is a loose coalition of liberals, labor and minorities—in other words, the three constituencies that are concerned with liberty and social justice in America. Liberals are perennially concerned with freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom generally. Labor identifies with collective bargaining and broad issues of economic justice for workers. Minorities also identify with economic issues, but also racial justice, and the perennial issue of racism in America. The Democratic Party is going through a process of realignment in which it is developing some of the characteristics of a moderate European social-democratic party.
Liberals are also interested in social justice, since many were involved the civil rights movements, and then in the Bernie Sanders campaign. Although liberals—and what I call progressives—tend to come from an upper middle-class background, they are sympathetic to civil rights issues; some, like Bernie Sanders himself, were involved in the civil rights movement in the southern states. Labor has suffered profound attacks by the corporate upper class in the last few years, who have ways—some illegal—of making it difficult to organize unions.
Many union leaders supported Bernie Sanders during the primary; all are loyal advocates of democratic institutions and the rule of law. Minorities have become especially important in the last few years, especially since large elements of the Republican Party have adopted various forms of racism, some subtle, some overt.
African-Americans were responsible in the 1960s for the most important legislation of the 20th century, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since that time, they have been the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, and in 2008 and 2012 elected the first African-American president, Barack Obama. Latinos have likewise become increasingly important, as have Asian-Americans. Latinos are especially important in California, because their hard work drives the economic infrastructure in the Central Valley, as well as the Napa Valley, where I live. Latinos, Asians and Pacific Islanders identify with broad economic issues, and very strongly with immigration reform, since many are the targets of the ICE deportation squads put into action by Trump.
You may be asking yourself, what about those small, radical parties like the Green Party? People in the Green Party are sincere, progressive people, and they help to raise consciousness around critical issues. We should work with Green Party people in community, labor and other areas. But where national issues are concerned, the Green Party just doesn’t have the membership to prevail in a national presidential election—and they invariably draw votes away from the Democratic Party in a time of crisis, where all the votes on the national level should be for a single candidate. That’s what happened during the Gore versus Bush election in Florida in 2000, and again in this latest 2016 Clinton versus Trump election.
Of course, candidates from the Green Party could play an important role in local and state elections, and we should work with them organizing demonstrations and other projects, but when they participate in national elections they unwittingly operate as spoilers. What we must seek is broad effectiveness in reaching the main goal, defeat of Donald Trump’s neo-fascism.
I understand those who disliked Mrs. Clinton because of her ties to Wall Street, but is there any doubt but that she was vastly more thoughtful, smarter and more experienced than Trump? Hillary Clinton had ties to Wall Street, yes, but Trump is a brazen neo-fascist who has brought Wall Street into the White House, and put the billionaires to work as the heads of entire departments! These billionaires are absolutely ruthless, and will move against liberals, labor, minorities and the American people generally. A successful resistance to Trump means coalition politics, and that means some compromise so that groups with different goals can cooperate for the larger goal, which is defeat of Trump—resistance to his policies now, defeat of Trump’s followers in 2018, and electoral defeat of the entire Trump administration in 2020.
Defense of the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare)
The ACA came about because of severe dislocations in the American economy. As basic industry was sent off-shore, workers who had worked in the factories—many at union jobs——were now reduced to a desperate search for work. A very high percentage of them ended up working two or three jobs at less pay than they had once received from one job. While much is made of the white workers thus displaced, there were also a huge number of Blacks and Latinos similarly disadvantaged. This very large group, composed of people of all races, was left without any way to have health care for their families. It is people from this group that ended up going to the Emergency Rooms when they or their children got sick. The upshot of this was that the entire health care delivery system was buckling under the strain.
The ACA was designed as an emergency measure to assist this group. A big part of this was to be large disbursements of money going to hospitals, but thanks to a combination of racism and extreme partisan fanaticism a great many of the governments in red states refused to accept money associated with the ACA. The blare of fearful anti-ACA propaganda was so fierce that many people did not realize the ACA and Obamacare were the same thing—thus the irony that although many finally ended up accepting help from the ACA, the same people would often refuse help from Obamacare, not realizing that the ACA and Obamacare were the same thing. Such was the hatred against anything connected to Obama whipped up by the Republicans.
It is too bad that Obama did not continue to defend the ‘public option,’ because it almost surely would have helped repress costs. But since the ACA was a market-based system, it was vulnerable to sudden hikes in costs. And make no mistake about it—keeping it a market-based system was to some extent a hopeful concession on Obama’s part to get Republicans to participate in the design of the program. There was, and is, a certain pathos connected to this. Throughout the struggle to establish Obamacare, the President convinced himself that he could somehow get Republicans to cooperate with him in setting up the new system. They repaid him with contempt and hatred, the Republican base denouncing it as socialism, Communism, Satanism and every other bad thing they could think of—the very same Republicans, in some cases, that had supposed health care reform in Massachusetts under Governor Romney.
The fact that Obama could not acknowledge the extent to which the Republicans hated him, and hated Obamacare, was a recurring personal and political weakness. But it showed the world, or at least to those willing to learn from the political realities in the situation, just how dangerous the hyper-partisanship being promoted by the Republicans was becoming. The reckless nature of the lies told by the Republicans in their efforts to defeat the ACA was another indicator of the increasing demagogic and hard-right nature of Republican politics, an orientation that would become overwhelmingly neo-fascist with the rise of Trump, and with his consolidation of power.
Now we are in a situation that is embarrassing to the Republicans, dangerous for the US economy, and economically desperate for millions and working-class and middle-class families. We are threatened with the end of the ACA, and the Republicans—who spent years claiming that Obamacare was a Communist plot from the bowels of hell—must now face the fact that many people want to keep it, because without it they cannot afford health care in any form. (The subsidies were also helpful in overcoming the Great Recession, and taking them away could have a negative effect on the economy.) The continuation of some kind of health care programs is absolutely necessary, it should go without saying, and this crying need has become—and should remain—a major focus of the Democratic Resistance.
When and if certain Republican representatives and senators become identified with killing health care in its entirety, a nonviolent sit-in at their offices would not be a bad idea. It may be necessary at some point to stage a sit-in in Congress. Whatever form the resistance takes, it should fearlessly profile particular, flesh-and-blood cases of people that are losing health care, and stay away from political jargon. The people so-affected should be standing with you during public events.
A word of warning: beware anything that comes out of the office of House Speaker Paul Ryan. Ryan is an ideological fanatic of the first order, and has ice water in his veins where the suffering of the American people is concerned. He will never rest until he kills the ACA, Medicare and Social Security, because his political goal is to take as much power away from ordinary Americans as possible. The guy is a great fan of the atheist novelist Ayn Rand, and if you’ve ever read her insane fascist screeds, you will understand how dangerous both she—and Ryan—are to American democracy. Rand work is all about the strong dominating the weak, and Ryan seems to take great pleasure in the very idea of a society based on such brutality.
The ICEmen Cometh
It is heart-breaking to realize how very close we were to solving the problems of our broken immigration system with the bipartisan bill designed by President Obama and the Senate, but for the fact that Speaker of the House John Boehner refused to let the bill come to a vote. His reason? “In our conversation, last week,” Boehner said in 2014, “I told [Obama] what I have been telling him for months: the American people and their elected officials don’t trust him to enforce the law as written.”
This is a frank admission of the shocking unwillingness of Republican leaders to engage in immigration reform, and their personal contempt for Obama, the Democratic president. Let’s not fool ourselves—the Republicans wouldn’t agree to immigration reform that includes any possibility of citizenship, and they never will. The Republicans were aware that immigrants would be likely to vote Democratic, and that partisan fact took precedence over everything. They are also not anxious to cooperate in fashioning immigration reform legislation for those who wish to come her legally, if they come from the developing world—from Asia, Latin America or Africa. The Republican base has adopted too much white supremacy and xenophobia, and they have moved too far to the right.
All of this began to intensify around 2008. Partly the Republican base just doesn’t like Latinos, and they are afraid that as citizens these same Latinos are likely to vote for Democrats. If it weren’t for a single man, John Boehner, the lives of millions could have received the full benefit of the rule of law, while immeasurably improving their standard of living, and the quality of our society. Because of Boehner’s malevolence, eleven million have been cast into the purgatory of uncertain, continued exploitation and the brutal division of millions of families, not to mention incarceration and deportation by ICE agents.
We came very close—but not close enough. Obama himself may have made a big mistake in not promoting immigration reform before health care reform, when he had majorities in both houses of Congress. The problem had festered too long, and as early as 2008 one began to hear unmistakably racist voices from the Republican base, voices that should have triggered tough, aggressive responses from Democrats. President Obama should have moved then and there, when he had the chance, when the Republicans were legislatively divided.
Progressives must support those who are struggling to stay in the US, who have jobs and families, and are making a positive contribution in the community. They should be able to pay a fine, get in status with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and begin the process of working for citizenship. But Republicans will work very hard to defeat that, for the reasons given above.
President Obama was an idealist who sincerely thought he could get Republicans to work with him on immigration reform. He was a good man, but because of his very goodness he did not comprehend—and probably could not comprehend—the hatred white people in the Republican base felt toward Latino immigrants, and were beginning to feel toward him. Idealist that he was, Obama’s greatest fault was seeing the world as he wanted it to be, rather than what it was, and what it was becoming. For that reason, Obama apparently did not really understand the depth of the Republican hatred, and therefore did not prepare himself, and us, for the crisis we’re in.
The Republican Party, under the tutelage of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, has moved very rapidly to the right; and it—and its leadership—have become quite ruthless, where this nation’s most important issues are concerned. Immigration reform is only one area where they have played a destructive role, but it is especially poignant, because the Republican Party were the spoilers. But Obama and his government should have seen that Republicans would never help in fixing our broken immigrations system, because of their hatred of Latinos and their hatred of him.
Sanctuary Cities and sanctuary churches are an important way to protest Trump’s brutal deportations. If you live in a sanctuary city, find out as much as you can about the issue, and write letters to community leaders (or call them) expressing support for sanctuary cities. (Sanctuary cities in California do not protect immigrants that have committed felony crimes.) Find out also about the sanctuary churches that are beginning to declare themselves across the country. Your participation can mean more than you perhaps imagine. If you are an undocumented immigrant, be aware that there are many different kinds of legal help being offered. Find out if you are in status—or out of status—and ask the lawyer you’re working with what you can do about it.
Progressives must do everything in their power to protect the Dreamers and their families—these are children who were brought to America as children, and grew up here; the US is the only home they know. President Obama introduced legislation that would have made them and their immediate family members citizens…but the Republicans defeated this humanitarian legislation. Don’t be surprised if the Republicans try various legislative tricks to send them “home”—that is, to deport them to the countries their parents came from. But we must find ways to protect them from the Republicans’ ignorance and brutality. Hiding them and their parents could become a humanitarian duty for many.
The main focus of the Democratic Resistance at this point has to be the defeat of Trump. To accomplish that, I advocate an inside/outside approach to the Democratic Party. That means every two years or so one participates in electoral activity, and in off-years one participates in demonstrations, vigils, and other kinds of political and educational organizing. Bernie Sanders should be promoted to a leadership position in the Democratic Party, as well as Representative Keith Ellison and Senator Elizabeth Warren. When not doing electoral activity, progressives should find other ways to influence Americans to resist Trump’s program.
We should be aware that because of Trump’s lack of impulse control, he is quite likely to blunder his way into an acute Constitutional crisis. This may lead to articles of impeachment. At that point all progressives should look for ways to support the drive for impeachment, assuming the charges are justified.
Recent activity against Trump’s travel ban gave many anti-Trump activists a chance to point out the essentially chaotic nature of Trump’s white house. Democrats in red states should take this time to educate people to the nature of Republican gerrymandering. The gerrymandering will all come to a head in 2020, when new voting districts will be drawn up. The Democratic Party leadership let us down in 2010, when the districts were last drawn. (They’re drawn up every 20 years.) This time, in 2020, there’s every indication the Democratic leaders will fight like tigers.
And Democrats and independents who have long considered running for office should think about running at this time, since it is a time of national crisis. Various state Democratic Parties have caucuses that can be a good place for people to start educating themselves, and discussing the possibility of running for office. I give to the California Democratic Party, and make regular donations to Just Foreign Policy, the American Civil Liberties Union and a few other progressive and humanitarian organizations. I don’t give much, because I can’t, but I give regularly. It’s a personal decision.
I also advocate a base-broadening strategy for the Democratic Party. That may mean working to get back the white working-class voters, especially union members, we lost when top Democrats were supporting NAFTA and TPP. What we are dealing with is a crisis in American capitalism. When I talk about this, some people say, “Seriously, Larry, are you saying you don’t like capitalism?” What I’m saying is, “I don’t like this kind of capitalism, where all the money goes straight to the top, and workers and small business-people get nothing. I want to find a kind of capitalism that works for everybody.” That’s not unreasonable—Franklin Delano Roosevelt found a way for American capitalism to pretty much work for all the people. At present, we don’t have that. So we need to keep organizing against the status quo until we do.
In other words, Democrats need to show the way out of this economic conundrum the billionaires and the Republicans have led us into. But we can never give up our insistence on anti-racist tolerance as a basic value. Many poor people were seduced by Trump into thinking that Big Daddy Trump in the White House was going to come down and solve all their economic problems, and Trump encouraged that fantasy. Trump has from the beginning encouraged workers to take out their frustrations on vulnerable populations in our society; but that—like Trump himself—is a huge dead end, and it’s the way of the coward. People who are under the hammer economically have to make up their minds to improve their situation, develop a strategy, work with other people, develop alliances with a variety of organizations, and get help from progressive Democrats and independents in government.
Voter Suppression is the main strategy that will be used by the Republican Party in the next few years, and it will go on as long as we don’t stop it. This is going to be one of the biggest political issues in the history of the country. Voters tend to vote according to various ethnic groupings, and in the last decade or so Republicans have noticed that they are losing percentages in the larger racial voting blocs—among Pacific Islanders, Filipinos, Asians and Latinos, for an example; and among African-Americans, they have almost no following. Why? Because of the more or less open hostility of the Republican Party to minorities. You will hear it very strongly on the programs of AM Hate Radio, sometimes in indirect ways, such as in hatred of Barack Obama in the ‘birther’ movement. Many Asians and Latinos listened carefully to Republican rhetoric, especially concerning Obama, and most came away with the impression that Republican rhetoric was inherently racist.
And in the last few years it was not uncommon for white Republicans to say in interviews, when asked about their poor numbers in minorities, “Well, maybe we don’t need any more minorities—perhaps we should go for simply getting more white people to vote for us.” What that really means is white nationalism, although perhaps the Republican apparatchiki didn’t call it that, but that’s what it was. And white nationalism really leads in only one direction, which is white supremacism.
Too bad, because white nationalism is bogus, because there is no such country as ‘white.’ You can be an Irish-American, an Italian-American, a Greek-American, a Polish-American, and so forth. You can be an Irish nationalist, an Italian nationalist, a Greek nationalist or a Polish nationalist, but not a ‘white nationalist,’ because there is no country called ‘white.’ White people in America do not invariably share cultural and political values—on the contrary, they are deeply split, now more than ever.
So, I say again, there’s really no such thing as white nationalism. It’s just a covert way of saying ‘white supremacism,’ which is not an ethnic identification but a political position that advocates white people suppressing non-white people. That will never work in America because one never gets social justice that way, and our Constitution forbids it anyway.
So, as the Republican Party realized they were lagging behind in the racial voting blocs, they began to realize that they had to find some gimmick to deal with it. And what they came up with was voter suppression. This means that they had to find some way to make it hard for the key Democratic constituencies to vote, like those aforementioned racial voting blocs. The four groups they wish to target were Blacks, Latinos, students and—in some areas—the elderly. But as always, Blacks were the main targets of the voter suppression.
The Republicans have been extremely clever in the way they have done this. Techniques used have included putting polls in areas that are hard for Black voters to find, rather than in Black neighborhoods; changing the hours so it is particularly hard for working people and minorities to vote; demanding special ID cards for voting, cards that are hard to obtain; demanding ID cards, but then telling prospective voters the cards are insufficient in some way; centralizing activities in Black and Latino neighborhoods so that people must wait in long lines to vote; and so forth. It you study these methods that are being used, it quickly becomes apparent that this is simply an extension of the Jim Crow methods used before the Voting Rights act of 1965, although the methods used are subtler.
At the end of February, 2017, the office of the US Attorney General announced that it would no longer oppose voter suppression in Texas. As long as the Republicans are in power, there will be little relief for voters being so discriminated against. Texas is becoming a purple state, in the sense that a day is coming when Democrats will outnumber Republicans in Texas. Look for the Republicans in government and in the judiciary to put off that day as long as possible by denying relief to those groups targeted for voter suppression.
The use of voter suppression aims at continuing discrimination—mainly racial discrimination—in certain ways, which make it harder for certain voters to vote, while not prohibiting them entirely. The Republicans in the red states have made careful calculations, and have decided that they can maintain power by prohibiting a minority of a constituency from voting, which is usually enough to affect the outcome of the vote. This choice in Republican strategy infuriates me, because disenfranchising people is a form of systemic evil. The people who have adopted these methods know exactly what they are doing—but sadly, there is no immediate relief in Texas, because while the Constitution specifies how certain aspects of the voting process should occur, my understanding is that it does not establish voting as a right.
Wikepedia has this to say on the subject: “Voter suppression is a strategy to influence the outcome of an elections by discouraging or preventing people from voting. It is distinguished from political campaigning, which consists of attempts to change likely voting behavior by altering voter opinions through persuasion and organization. Voter suppression, instead, attempts to reduce the number of voters who might vote against a candidate or proposition.” It adds: “Voter suppression can be effective if a significant number of voters are intimidated or disenfranchised.”
And if you question the neo-fascists who predominate in the Republican Party about this, they are likely to tell you quite frankly that you have no right to vote, because voting is a privilege. Voting is a right, but it is a right that must be enforced by federal law, otherwise it will be vulnerable to manipulation by the Republicans who control the red state governments. Since voting is administered by a confusing patchwork of state and local laws, the process of voting can be endlessly manipulated by a determined and privileged minority, who will find one way after another to continue to keep discriminatory practices in place.
We need comprehensive legislation that makes voting a right under federal law, hopefully as an amendment to the Constitution. This legislation would establish a new federal agency to oversee voting, in that way to compel the end of discriminatory practices. This proposed agency should oversee voting through the United States, and would hear testimony in a timely way regarding use of discriminatory practices. It would also regularize equipment, correct practices, and policies regarding voting places in the US. And it would establish better and more convenient hours, making it easier for everybody to vote. (Saturday morning through Tuesday seems a reasonable proposal for voting hours.)
It is hard for some people to understand why conservatives would wish to support such clearly despicable practices as voter suppression based on race. In reality, conservative Republicans have long supported voter suppression: The National Review, the most influential magazine of the conservative movement in the US, was founded in the middle 1950s, and everyone on the executive board of the magazine, with one exception, supported segregation in the southern states. They continued to support it through the 1960s, when the civil rights movement was at its height and opposed both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
William F. Buckley, founder of the National Review and eminence grise of US conservatism, wrote in 1957 in “Why the South Must Prevail” that “the central questions that emerges is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes—the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.”
Like it or not, there has always been a strong tendency toward white supremacy in American conservatism, and although that is not true of all conservatives, I believe it to be true of most conservative arguments. Don’t be misled by complicated arguments about states’ rights—it’s all about race, because the central problem in American life, politics and culture, has always been race. Conservatives have consistently come down on the wrong side of any argument about race and voting, which is one of the many ways that conservatism is becoming neo-fascism.
This powerful racist tendency extended—and still extends—to the Supreme Court of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., which on June 25, 2013, struck down Part 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Roberts and the other Republicans knew exactly what they were doing; voter suppression began almost immediately afterwards. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg summarized her dissent by pointing out that the focus of the Voting Rights Act had changed from “first-generation barriers to ballot access” to “second-generation barriers” like racial gerrymandering to various forms of voter suppression.
Roberts, on the other hand, argued that if people wanted to enjoy the protections of Part 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, they should go to their legislatures. This is part of an old conservative argument, as pointed out earlier, that any relief for systemic racism should come from the legislative branch, and not from the courts. Of course, Roberts and other conservatives know very well that such relief is not likely, because of the Republican shift to the hard right, and their influence in the gerrymandered red states.
Gerrymandering is all part of system used by conservatives to make it harder for Democrats and independents to win, by making it harder for them to vote. Since it is the artificial result of a deliberate—and highly undemocratic—strategy involving race, it should be prohibited by new federal laws governing it.
We should not be surprised that the Republicans have counter-arguments for keeping voter suppression in place, the main one being that there is widespread voter fraud, making onerous voting regulations inevitable. In particular, they like to claim that non-citizens are voting in American elections. There is no truth to this claim, although the racism intrinsic to it pleases the neo-fascists in the Republican base. As mentioned before, they also like to say that deceased people are still on the voter rolls, and that some people are registered in more than one state. This is true, but neither of these things are illegal. When somebody dies, their survivors are not required to notify the local registrar; furthermore, there is nothing illegal about being registered in two states. It would only be a crime if someone voted in more than one state.
And the arguments that there are three to five million “illegals” are voting in US elections, as claimed by President Trump, is a typical Trump falsification, which begins as a lie and apparently, in his mind, becomes a paranoid delusion. There are no “illegals” voting in American elections. But Trump has an underlying reason for periodically telling this whopper. Republicans are preparing the American people for a campaign to put new and ever more restrictive conditions on everybody’s ability to vote. The constant reiteration that there is ongoing, massive and deliberate voter fraud is simply another Republican lie to set the stage, and prepare Americans psychologically, for new forms of voter repression.
Muslims and Islamophobia
Trump’s appeal to Islamophobia may have helped him win in such states as Florida, Ohio and North Carolina, and virtually all the so-called battleground states. As Kaled A. Baydoun—an associate professor of law at the University of Detroit—wrote in Al Jazeera, Trump’s electoral victory “lacked any bona fide Muslim American involvement, and the Trump administration will likely reflect that.”
“Most alarmingly, it will usher in a cultural movement (and moment) whereby the highest office in government authorizes discrimination and violence against Muslim Americans. If the president of the US is the very archetype and orchestrator of Islamophobia, then assailing Muslims, torching mosques, and attacking anybody who looks Muslim is fair game.”
The Islamophobic political ambience in the American heartland was brought into sharp focus by reports of a planned attack in 2016 on a Kansas apartment complex where Somali refugees lived. This bombing was aimed at killing scores of people. Acting US Attorney Tom Beall in Wichita, Kansas, revealed in October, 2016, that a federal investigation had arrested three members of a militia (‘the Crusaders’) that was planning the bombing at the complex. Other bombings were planned across the country, including one aimed at blowing up a mosque under construction in Georgia. Muslim organizations likewise reported a big uptick in hate crimes against Muslims in America, and pleaded with Trump to suspend his Islamophobic rhetoric.
Trump’s anti-Muslim statements clearly contributed to the swirling anti-Muslim atmosphere across the country. Typical of Trump’s provocative rhetoric was his statement to CNN, when he said on March, 2016, “I think Islam hates us.” This paranoid and rather childish statement made little distinction between Islam and terrorism. Like other such statements, this one had a political context, and was aiming to win votes among his rightward-moving Republican base. But the results of such outbursts weren’t confined to political gain for bigots like Trump—for Muslims, it also resulted in increased hate crimes against them.
I believe Trump knows exactly what he is doing, although he may lack the moral discernment to understand why it is wrong to incite hate, and why it is especially wrong for an American President to incite hate. He is using Islamophobia exactly as the gutter hate-mongers of Vienna used anti-Semitism at the beginning of the 20th century. Islamophobia, like anti-Semitism, is essentially political—it is the religious hatred of centuries applied to a political situation, and is used by people who do not care how much harm they do to their society, when and if there is political gain for them. But its origins are in the disturbed personalities of people who feel that life has dealt them a bad hand, and are looking for someone—or some group—to blame.
Until the late 19th century, anti-Jewish sentiment usually had to do with religious hate, although the rising tempo of pogroms was accompanied by certain political beliefs used to justify the violence against Jews. Newspapers at that time coined the awkward word ‘anti-Semitism,’ which from the beginning had a political meaning: it referred not just to Jews, but to allegations that Jews tended to undermine the traditional values of the western nations where they lived. Likewise, Jews were thought by the political center-right to support radical political ideas—in particular, democracy and democratic institutions. In fact, the political parties in Vienna, where anti-Semitism was rife, tended to blame everything that was challenging in the new century, on Jewish influences.
Islamophobia is used in a remarkably similar way in 2017. Islamophobes such as David Horowitz believe that Muslims are involved in a malevolent conspiracy with the political left to undermine America. Other Islamophobes believe that at a predetermined time Muslims will rise up and take over the country, and that Islam isn’t a real religion. One sentiment common to both anti-Semites and Islamophobes is deep-seated, burning resentment, and a need for scapegoats. One of the reasons that bigots have such trouble making sense is that the objects of their hatred are so important to them psychologically. Both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are driven by persistent and mainly pathological feelings that are quite uncomfortable, and that demand release through violent expressions of hate, or physical violence.
But what about 9/11? Wouldn’t this devastating attack on America have some influence on the emotional orientations of ordinary people? It would seem so, except that Islamophobes aren’t going after terrorists, but rather innocent Muslim families. And they all have complicated rationalizations for why they should be able to kill or oppress Muslims, rationalizations that are—while dangerous—ultimately quite silly. The vast majority of Americans realize that most Muslims had nothing to do with 9/11, but anybody who spends time around persons struggling with Islamophobia will quickly realize that they are dealing with issues and problems originating not in the world, but inside their own personalities.
Trump used Islamophobia as method for winning votes, and the struggle against anti-Muslim propaganda should be waged with this in mind. It is gutter politics, a way of winning votes from people who are ignorant, inclined toward paranoia and violence, and racked with anger issues. But there is something else we should be aware of when opposing Trump’s use of anti-Muslim bigotry—it is, again, powerful evidence for the way in which the Republican Party is becoming a neo-fascist party. Big majorities of Republicans continues to believe that President Obama was a Muslim, even after it was obvious that he wasn’t.
One thing that should concern us all is men that turn up uninvited at mosques with guns. Sometimes they picket with their guns, sometimes they just lounge around trying to look menacing. Generally, they belong to the so-called Open Carry subset of the larger gun culture. Since mosques often receive death threats, it is a terrifying experience for the people in that particular house of worship to see men arriving with guns. But these same men are convinced that the Muslims inside are storing weapons, or planning violent acts.
Which perfectly demonstrates, I must say, the willful ignorance of the Islamophobe. If anybody wanted to plan a terrorist act, it would not be at a mosque. There are too many people, to begin with—there are women’s groups, kids running around, and a community of worshippers constantly coming in for prayers, all of whom know everybody else. It’s not a place for a conspiracy. If somebody was planning something secretive and illegal, it would be at a coffee-shop, during a walk in the park, or in a motel room. In any case, my own belief is that the 2nd Amendment does not give people the right to terrify peaceful people by needlessly displaying weapons, thereby prohibiting—or at the very least interfering with—the free exercise of religion. I think the courts have an interest in ruling on this matter, and I hope sooner rather than later. We’ll hear a lot of yelling and screaming from both the gun lobby and the Republican base, one more indication that conservatism is becoming neo-fascism. But I think we can prevail.
Two things you should bear in mind regarding Islamophobia. First, almost all Islamophobes have a fixation on the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which is represented by the rightwing websites as pure demonic terrorism. Some say that it’s an offshoot of Hamas, others say it is an offshoot of Hezbollah, still others say it is a satrap of the Saudis. None of those things are true; CAIR is an American civil rights and advocacy organization with no such attachments.
In my work with them I experienced the people at CAIR as intelligent if occasionally frazzled people who are navigating a difficult course in a country where an extreme and violent form of Islamophobia is practiced. In particular, I appreciate the fact that CAIR has raised up a generation of extremely courageous and intelligent Muslim women. The Muslim community is lucky to have such advocates, and America is lucky to have such advocacy for religious liberty.
The attitude of conservative men in the Republican base toward CAIR reminds me of the attitudes of most white people in the southern states in the 1950s and 1960s toward the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP. White people in the south in those days almost all believed, almost without exception, that the NAACP was a Communist organization. Never mind evidence—they just knew it was Communist. Objective truth had little to do with it. It was a delusion, and like a great many delusions, it served a particular emotional purpose.
War and Peace
There is a good chance that Donald Trump will start a war against Iran or China, probably with Iran. At that point the Progressive Resistance will become a national antiwar movement. As a mass movement, the Resistance will inevitably change, as it becomes broader, more thoughtful, and more militant. But if it is to succeed, it must remain nonviolent, as well as smart and courageous.
There are certain provocations that Trump would be able to carry out against Iran without necessarily abridging the Iran nuclear deal, and he will probably take that path. A great deal of free-floating nationalism has been released by political events that began with the off-shoring of American industry, some rational and some irrational.
In general I agree with the perception of many German progressives, that nationalism is essentially bad, and patriotism good. Patriotism is the celebration of good things in one’s country; nationalism is an attempt to impose those things on another country. Nationalism, by itself, is far too often a kind of mass narcissism, and like most narcissism, is used to cover over deep feelings of inferiority and shame. It is also used to start wars.
Sadly, the one entity that may actually present a military challenge is the government of North Korea, a country in which Trump seems to have no interest whatsoever. It is Iran that fascinates Trump, as it does his buddy Steve Bannon; both have expressed the idea that war with Iran is to some extent foreordained. Powerful people—particularly men—who think they have a date with destiny to launch particular wars are quite dangerous; whereas war should be a last resort, they see it as their ticket to fame, their place in history. They can’t think strategically, but instead see the events leading up to war as all about themselves, all about the way history will view them. But Americans are in general fed up with Middle East wars, and will generally resist a new one.
Furthermore, war with Iran will also be about hurting and killing Muslims, which is a shared obsession with Trump, Bannon and the racist toady Stephen Miller. Therefore, any war in the Middle East will be an excuse for Trump to crack down on Muslims living in America. He will try to use Islamophobia from whatever war he has been able to foment as fuel for Anti-Muslim measures here in the US. If some Muslims turn up as leaders of the antiwar movement, as they almost certainly will, they will be at risk under the Trump administration. To complicate things, we must be prepared for the intervention of Vladimir Putin’s intelligence services in any American antiwar movement. That might take the form of inciting unnecessary violence in order to discredit antiwar voices.
Sadly, opposition to unnecessary Middle East wars began with George W. Bush’s tragic invasion of Iraq, an adventure that cost many hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives. (Nobody know exactly how many, but surely in excess of 200,000, with 40,000 American casualties.) This shocking and arrogant incursion and occupation destabilized the Middle East, and opened the door to al-Qaeda and then ISIL/ISIS. Not only did Bush invade Iraq, his clueless representatives dissolved and outlawed the battle-hardened Iraqi Army, whose soldiers and officers promptly took their weapons home and became the basis for the resistance to the American occupation.
While the ‘the Surge’ of 2007 under General David Petraeus was successful in military terms, it continued the devastation of Iraqi society and involved the bribing of Sunni tribes, who afterwards often joined ISIS. The manner in which Iraq was destroyed was a case study in why Americans should not be imperialists—we’re just not that good at it. US Army Colonel David H. Hackworth compared American imperialism to British imperialism: “”They [the British] were very good at lining up local folks to do the job like operating the sewers and turning on the electricity. Far better than us—we are heavy-handed, and in Iraq we don’t understand the people and the culture. Thus, we did not immediately employ locals in police and military activities to get them to build and stabilize their nation.”
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon want to continue the dreadful imperialistic carnage of Iraq, except that their perceptions of the Middle East are based almost completely on their own half-baked beliefs, including a great deal of religious bigotry. If Trump invades Iran, or engages its armed forces in some way, he and Bannon will get an unpleasant surprise. Most young Iranians do not like their government, but they are fierce patriots, and there is a growing realization that President Trump dislikes Islam and has disseminated hatred of Muslims in the US. The morale of the Iranian forces is likely to be very high, and their willingness to fight profound. They would be heroes in the Middle East for resisting Trump—and what many consider US imperialism—and that high regard would surmount sectarian differences.
Sending American troops to fight in any war against Iran would be a horrible waste of human life. Yet Trump has much support in the increasingly neo-fascist Republican Party base, so we must be prepared for a difficult fight—nobody likes the prophetic voice that warns, and then brings bad news when the warning is ignored. But there can be little doubt that the great mass of the American public will oppose a new Middle Eastern war, and Americans who lead an antiwar movement may gain great credibility simply for speaking out against a war nobody wants.
This would include instant, highly-focused, nonviolent demonstrations in response to any talk of using nuclear weapons. Leaflets for such mass actions should be short, thoughtful, written in colloquial language, and printed in mass numbers for handing out. The fundamental point should be that war in the Middle East is not necessary. People will be extremely curious about the reasons given by Trump for war, and they will recognize lies and propaganda when they hear it.
Sadly, there are some people in the Democratic Party that would like to see a war against Iran—some of them are big donors, and some are under the influence of Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel. He has long wanted to fight Iran, right down to the last American. These influences are unhealthy but can be deflected.
Most of the world—certainly most world leaders—are now aware that Donald Trump is a grandiose, bumbling fool, and are learning to deal with him as they would any disruptive force on the world stage. But many of them are at a severe disadvantage, because there is so much confusion in the Trump White House that they do not know—or feel that they do not know—what is really going on. According to reliable sources, many European capitals have launched intelligence initiatives of their own, simply to get some idea what the hell is going on at the Trump White House on a day-to-day basis.
The British and Germans already have their own channels, and it’s my guess that the Dutch will have some soon as well. If you accept the premise that many wars happen because the belligerents make a blunder, the Trump presidency is a veritable Disneyland of mistakes waiting to happen, because the President himself does not have a very firm grasp on reality, and knows nothing about diplomacy.
Foreign Policy should be based on the best American values, and informed by a certain amount of no-nonsense realpolitik. But that kind of situation does not always prevail—the Trump foreign policy, to the extent that Trump even understands that word, will be a very catch-as-catch-can affair. The most realistic frame for the Democratic Resistance to operate out of, regarding foreign policy, is to see Trump’s mistakes as periodic opportunities for raising awareness amongst the American people of Trump’s stupidity, lack of cultural literacy, and essential depravity.
At the point where Trump decides that he wants to start an unnecessary war against Iran, we should at that point consider ourselves not merely advocates for a certain foreign policy, but members of an antiwar movement. And don’t kid yourselves—once such a movement finds its voice, Trump will retaliate against protesters, perhaps unpredictably. And he’ll double down in whatever way he can find, regardless of the law. Ultimately, he may, in fact, do things that will bankrupt America, although in wartime initially economies tend to surge. Once the economy starts to buckle, expect Trump to become especially dangerous. He does not understand or acknowledge negative consequences of his own actions, and will start looking for scapegoats.
It is too late to offer humanitarian or military assistance in Syria. In my opinion, President Obama should have intervened more aggressively in the Syrian conflict. The best gambit would have been to set up a no-fly zone, preferably around Aleppo—by not doing that, the Obama administration opened the door to the Russians and ensured the defeat of the rebels, as well as the deaths of tens—perhaps hundreds—of thousands of civilians. Interestingly, Hillary Clinton argued for material support for the rebels, but that opportunity is now lost. At this point we can only welcome Syrian refugees, and provide maximum help to their traumatized family members. Syria under Assad is no longer a viable country, and Assad is a criminal.
Because of his mental instability and his childlike approach to national security in the nuclear age, there is no way we can be safe as long as Donald Trump has the nuclear code. If you are feeling helpless, you are not alone. We have long felt—rightly or wrongly—that important geo-political leaders will at the very least have enough sense not to use their nuclear weapons, because we have always thought of our leaders as having the minimum common sense to avoid disaster. (And we are aware that nuclear weapons are for deterrence, not for threatening or adolescent braggadocio.)
We can no longer make these assumptions with Trump in the White House. He is fascinated by nuclear weapons, and instead of taking strong steps to enforce the nonproliferation of these weapons, he has now made it clear that he wishes to encourage a nuclear arms race in certain parts of the world. That is not, I am sure most readers would agree, a rational goal, because Trump himself is not rational. The most horrifying aspect of this situation is that it creates a world that puts our children at risk, and there is little we can do about it, as long as Trump is in the oval office.
Masha Gessen, a Moscow-born writer and anti-Putin activist, puts it this way. “My biggest fear is a nuclear holocaust, because what we have now is these two stupid men with short tempers with their fingers on the nuclear button, each of whom thinks that he has got a special understanding with the other one and each of whom, even more dangerously, thinks he is now the most powerful man in the world. That’s a recipe for disaster.”
There is only one way to rid ourselves of this horrible situation, and that is to fight it. We must resist systemic evil wherever it occurs, and work unstintingly for the electoral defeat of Donald Trump and the Republicans in 2020, and if necessary 2024. The one great systemic flaw in American politics has long been the lack of a responsible Left, which Bernie Sanders did a great deal to remedy. Our resistance to Trump involves the realignment of the Democratic Party, away from donors and toward the grass roots, with a strong emphasis on labor, collective bargaining, job creation and the rehabilitation of communities destroyed by jobs sent overseas.
The Democratic Party must forever abjure global economic treaties that gives more power and profit to the billionaires, while taking it from American workers. The appointment of Keith Ellison as Deputy Chair of the Democratic National Committee was a step in the right direction. His defeat as DNC Chair demonstrates why we shouldn’t give so much power to big donors in the Democratic Party.
Two Important Last Thoughts
Perhaps that most striking thing about the Trump phenomenon is his ongoing battle with the media. Trump’s insane hatred of the free press comes from the fact that he cannot stomach criticism, but it also comes from the fact that he lives in his own reality, and then tries to get everybody else to believe in it. This is his weakness, and our strength—the Progressive Resistance should support the free press in any and every way possible. Some in the neo-fascist base of the Republican Party will cheer his attacks on the free media, but it is gradually becoming clear to the more thoughtful people across the country that Trump’s attacks on the press are based mainly on paranoia and mental instability. As a result, is it gradually becoming clear to many people—including some who voted for him—just how crazy the guy is.
The other important point is the sheer incompetence of Donald Trump and people around him. Some people have already compared the goings-on at the Trump White House to a Monty Python routine, and they’re not far wrong. Trump will likely blunder into a Constitutional crisis at some point; and if a strong and morally justifiable movement for impeachment results, the anti-Trump movement should focus on it, continuing to put pressure on the points where Trump is over-reacting, in order to bring the crisis to a resolution. Impeachment of Trump will send a strong message to the billionaires that support him, and strengthen the progressive realignment in the Democratic Party. But it would also drive the neo-fascist Republican base even further to the hard right, sharpening differences and setting the stage for the next election.
While you are helping the Progressive Resistance, remember please that you need to take care of yourself. Fighting dragons is tiresome—so get enough sleep, eat healthy food, and have positive short-term goals. You may have temporarily lost control of your long-range future, but you have the present. Spend time with your kids, and tell them how much you love them. That’s one thing that will never change.
A Short Personal History
For about ten years I worked as a clerk at the Post Office in San Francisco. In 1969 I participated in a strike against the Postal Service, which started in New York and New Jersey, and rolled westward. The strike in San Francisco lasted only about a week, but it shook things up, causing the Congress to reorganize the Postal Service. The “1970 Postal Reorganization Act” wasn’t perfect, but it put the Postal Service on a modern footing, and included a hefty and much-needed raise for postal workers. I wrote a novel about the postal strike called Waiting for the Earthquake, which was published by Atlantic-Little, Brown.
Besides being an officer in my postal union, I was also a delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council. During the summer of 1969, there was a movement for a Moratorium on the Vietnam War. A young man named Sam Brown was encouraging thoughtful people to spend a weekend thinking (and perhaps praying) about the Vietnam War. I made a motion that the SF Labor Council participate in this activity, and to my surprise, the motion passed. By the end of 1970 almost all the large AFL-CIO Labor Councils across the US had taken positions against the Vietnam War.
After 9/11 I organized the Interfaith Freedom Foundation to oppose attacks on Sikhs and Muslims. As I wrote at the beginning of this essay, that was partly because I have a Muslim daughter—but it was also because I began to comprehend the dangerous nature of religious bigotry generally, and the utter malevolence of Islamophobia in America. And I become increasingly aware of America’s long history of religious freedom, and became determined to support it. If you would like to make a contribution to the IFF, please send it to P.O. Box 125, Angwin CA 94508.
These things made me aware that there are critical junctures in every country’s history in which events move very quickly, in which it is possible for ordinary citizens to have a big impact. Being a patriot is, for me, not a matter of waving a flag. It is an opportunity to engage in organizing against systemic evil and for social justice in the defense of American democracy.
If this essay was helpful, let me hear from you.
Interfaith Freedom Foundation
P.O. Box 125, Angwin CA 94508