March 6, 2016

Crisis: Trump Explained, Right-Wing Populists, Scary Trump, Germany
Sections                                                                     crisis index

Donald Trump’s Policies Are Not Anathema to U.S.
     Mainstream, but an Uncomfortable Reflection of It

2. The Toxic Factors that Give Rise to Right-Wing Populists
     Like Trump, Berlusconi and Hitler

3. Donald Trump Scares Me
4. New Fences on the Old Continent: Refugee Crisis Pushes
     Europe to the Brink


This is a Nederlog of Sunday, March 6, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. There are 4 items with 4 dotted links, as it happens mostly about Donald Trump: Item 1 is about an article of Glenn Greenwald who explains that Trump's opinions are not that different from the mainstream (I mostly agree, except about psychology); item 2 is about an article by Robert Kuttner about the causes for the popularity of right-wing populists: I found it interesting without agreeing with considerable parts; item 3 is about a reaction of one member of the US intelligentsia to Trump, which I mostly agree to; and item 4 is about a long article in Spiegel International by a committee of (10) journalists, whose ideas I did not much like nor admire.

1. Donald Trump’s Policies Are Not Anathema to U.S. Mainstream, but an Uncomfortable Reflection of It

This first item is by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:
The political and media establishments in the U.S. — which have jointly wrought so much destruction, decay, and decadence — recently decided to unite against Donald Trump. Their central claim is that the real estate mogul and longtime NBC reality TV star advocates morally reprehensible positions that are far outside the bounds of decency; relatedly, they argue, he is so personally repellent that his empowerment would degrade both the country and the presidency.
In fact, quite a lot could be said for both criticisms of Trump: he is morally reprehensible and personally repellent for many people (and see item 3 for one expression of this).

Then again, Glenn Greenwald is quite correct in saying in effect that those who criticize him from the Republican side (which also covers most of the mainstream media) are about as reprehensible, and not much less repellent:

Trump is self-evidently a toxic authoritarian demagogue advocating morally monstrous positions, but in most cases where elite outrage is being vented, he is merely a natural extension of the mainstream rhetorical and policy framework that has been laid, not some radical departure from it. He’s their id.
I don't believe Freud's categories - "id" - are helpful (and I am a psychologist), but the rest of the paragraph seems more or less correct.

Then again, if it is correct, the question is: But why did Trump get so popular? If he doesn't say things that are very different from what the other candidates of the GOP say?

It seems to me that there are two things that make Trump special: He is a billionaire, and he did lower the standards of the debate by many personal attacks on other Republican candidates (who then responded in kind).

Next, Glenn Greenwald considers torture, which is forbidden by international laws, but which both Trump and Bush Jr. favored as a technique of "inter- rogation", and which Bush Jr. also had practised.

I will only quote a few points from this: If you are interested, click the above dotted link. There is rather a lot more.

First there is this:

Even Ronald Reagan, whom virtually all the signatories claim to idolize, advocated for and signed a treaty in 1988 that stated that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever … may be invoked as a justification of torture” and that “each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offenses under its criminal law.” The taboo is on “all acts of torture,” not its “expansive use” — whatever that means.
Yes, but the "reply" to that was invented by the Bush Jr. administration (it seems to me), which consisted in two things: (i) using new definitions for old terms, that are not in the dictionary, and largely consists of propaganda and (ii) having some lawyer who acts for the president sign some statement or mail that
insists on the new definition as a matter of course. [1]

Thus, what had been torture for 400 years or more (for the practice of nearly drowing your victims until they speak is as old or older than 400 years) was verbally restyled as "extended interrogation", and that was then insisted as a
correct and allowable "technique" of "getting information" from prisoners. [2]

Besides, there is this:
Torture was the official American policy for years. It went way beyond waterboarding. One Republican president ordered it and his Democratic successor immunized it from all forms of accountability, ensuring that not a single official would be prosecuted for authorizing even the most extreme techniques, ones that killed people — or even allowed to be sued by their victims.
Yes, though the tortures that went beyond waterboarding, which did kill people, seem to have been used mostly in places of war and on black sites (both of which can be shielded from journalists and other inquirers). Then again, Glenn Greenwald is simply right that torture has been part and parcel of American techniques "of getting information" for a long time.

Greenwald also considers the claims by Michael Hayden that the American military would refuse to do illegal things when ordered by president Trump.

He thinks that they are an uncashed cheque that consists of baloney:

Throughout the 14-year war on terror, a handful of U.S. military members have bravely and nobly refused to take part in, or vocally denounced, policies that are clear war crimes. But there was no shortage of people in the military, the CIA, and working for private American contractors who dutifully carried out the most heinous abuses and war criminality.
I think Greenwald is correct: There will always be only a minority of people who are willing to risk their careers (and perhaps long years of imprisonment) for a moral conflict with their superiors and the government. (In fact, that is the strongest reason why very immoral things can be and are being practised such a long time: Most know these things are immoral, but most also like their own job, salary and security a lot better than standing up and publicly doing the right thing: "video meliora proboque; deteriora sequor" [3])

Glenn Greenwald also considers Trump's proposal to kill the family members of terrorists - which incidentally is a terrorist way of defending oneself - and concludes that as well is nothing special in the USA:
Then there’s the feigned horror over Trump’s proposal to kill the family members of terrorists. Though they claim they don’t do it deliberately, the fact is that this is something both the U.S. and Israel, among others, have routinely done for years:
That is simply true. The same cannot be said for the last bit I will quote - and I am a psychologist with one of the best M.A.'s ever given:
As an excellent New York Times op-ed last week by psychology researchers at Yale explained, “human beings have an appetite for moral outrage” because it’s often “a result of a system that has evolved to boost our individual reputations.”

No, and I am sorry: This is just another bit of psychological baloney that hangs on quite a few very questionable hypotheses and on equally questionable "experimental work". [4]

The truth of the matter seems to have been seen by Ovid, 2000 years ago:

Most people are moral until it clashes with their self-interest, and in that case most judge as follows "I see and approve of the better, but I follow the worse" [3], simply because it is easier to be egoistic and popular than unselfish and unpopular.

2. The Toxic Factors that Give Rise to Right-Wing Populists Like Trump, Berlusconi and Hitler

The second item is b
y Robert Kuttner on AlterNet and originally on Huffington Post:
This starts as follows:

Right-wing populists ascend when three toxic forces converge. First, the economy needs to be really lousy for most citizens. Check.

Second, the political system ceases to be able to solve problems and loses legitimacy with regular people. Check.

Third, some foreign menace causes people to seek shelter in a strongman. Check.

Hm. For one thing, this doesn't seem to fit Berlusconi very well. And while something can be said for all three factors, I think it is a mistake to leave out two crucial facts:

Most who do turn to right-wing populists tend to belong to "the poorly educated" (which are very popular with Trump, in good part because they are so easy to deceive since they know so little), and also belong to the unintelligent.

Since "
the poorly educated" are in fact the majority, as are the unintelligent (for these are at least half of the population) this also explains why right-wing populists may win solid majorities with what are rationally considered merely bullshit plans and proposals. (And this is one of the shortcomings of democracy.)

There is also this list:

Other factors common to successful rightwing populists are these:

* They tend to be very good at breaking the rules of conventional political discourse, and at using mass media.

* They are not conservatives. They love to use big government to help the masses. More on that in a moment.

* They are not accountable to politics as usual. Because of their direct rapport with the folk (or if you like, the volk) their rise suddenly destroys the influence of politicians whose stock in trade is the usual currency of politics -- money, trading favors, cutting deals.

* They trigger cognitive dissonance. Once large numbers of people see a populist outsider as potential savior, it doesn't matter what they say, how much they contradict themselves, how crude they are, or how much their own previous life is at odds with their current role. This is all seen as anti- establishment cred.
I again say hm. I agree with two points: Rightwing populists (and other populists as well) tend to be good at using the mass media, and their rise tends to destroy much of the influence of other politicians (as long as they are on top).

But the rest seems questionable to me: They need not break the rules; they may be conservatives (indeed they usually are, whatever their pretenses); and the author uses "cognitive dissonance" in a non-standard way. (Rightwing populists do not "trigger" cognitive dissonance, although they may profit from it: The dissonance refers to the inconsistencies between previous and new values in those they appeal to, but this is usually rapidly gotten over with, precisely because human beings value consistency, also if this implies lying to themselves.)

Even so, I found this an interesting read, and it has the merit of ending thus:

It's only February. God only knows what this election year will still bring.
3. Donald Trump Scares Me

The third item is b
y Diane Ravich on Common Dreams and originally on her blog:
This is here mostly because it articulates the feelings of the more intelligent part of the American electorate (with a small correction by me between '[]'):

Given the wide lead Trump has, he is likely to be the candidate of the Republican party. This is horrifying. To watch him makes me feel frightened for the future of our country. I also listened to him speaking (I think in Maine) i[n] the morning.

He is crude, egotistical, bullying, self-centered, and vulgar. He boasts nonstop about his wealth and power and success. When he spoke to a crowd, he was egomaniacal. His subject is Donald Trump. He is an expert on himself.

In both venues, he made a crude sexual reference. In the morning, he said that Mitt Romney begged for his endorsement in 2012 and would have gone on his knees had Trump asked. The audience roared. During the debate, he made a reference to his male anatomy.

Yes, I mostly agree: Trump is "crude, egotistical, bullying, self-centered, and vulgar" and he definitely is "egomaniacal". Apart from this, I am certain that he is not by far as smart as he thinks he is, which also means that I think he is fairly honest in showing what he is and stands for (which makes him differ from most of the other Republican candidates, which in turn makes him popular with
his electorate).

Diane Ravich also has the following:

I can’t imagine him as president. We would be the laughing stock of the world. I imagine him insulting other nations, isolating us in the world. I can’t imagine him with his touchiness and temperament in charge of the nuclear codes.

His behavior is revolting. His braggadocio is appalling. His egomania is disgusting. The idea of Trump as president is too horrible to imagine.

Again I mostly agree, although I think I can imagine him as a president: What is far more difficult to imagine is how this will change the USA.

In any case, what I am most worried over if he becomes president is the combination of his temparement and the nuclear codes.

But this is an interesting and recommended (small) article.

4. New Fences on the Old Continent: Refugee Crisis Pushes Europe to the Brink

The fourth and last item today is by a committee of 10 journalists on Spiegel International:

This is from near the beginning:

This is where Fortress Europe begins, secured with razor wire and defended with tear gas. Desperate scenes played out here on Monday, reminiscent of those witnessed in Hungary back in September. A group of young men used a steel beam as a battering ram to break down the gate. Rocks flew through the air as the gate flew off its hinges, prompting the volleying of tear gas cartridges and stun grenades from the Macedonian side. Men could be seen running and children screaming. One woman lay on the ground with her daughter, crying.

This frontier has become Europe's new southern border, with Greece serving as Europe's waiting room -- and the possible setting for a humanitarian disaster.
"Fortress Europe" is supposed to begin on "the border between Greece and Macedonia". I do not know why, and part of my reason is that I thought that
Europe has a duty of helping refugees of war.

Then again, while I still think it has that duty it seems that many, and perhaps most, Europeans, and also most of the leading European politicians, do not want to help refugees of war any more, especially not since there are so many, and since most are Mohammedans - or thus it seems at least to me.

Chancellor Merkel also has redefined her role rather a lot:

Merkel wants to see Turkey stem the flow of refugees and put a stop to the exodus to Europe. European leaders agreed on Feb. 18 that this plan remains the "priority." But Austria and the Balkan states nevertheless moved ahead and closed their borders.
That is: Refugees were welcome until they "became too many", and by now they are not welcome anymore. Here is some background:
Were Europe in agreement, it would be unproblematic to accommodate 2-3 million refugees, given the Continent's population of a half billion people. From such a perspective, the current spat actually seems somewhat ridiculous. But in the run up to next week's EU summit, Europe is gripped by strife. Europe's greatest achievement, the opening of its borders through the Schengen agreement, is at stake, and the increasingly toxic atmosphere between countries has reached alarming dimensions.
For 2-3 million refugees is about 1/2 a procent of the European population.
Well, either the Europeans are not capable of accomodating a half procent of refugees of war, or the Europeans do not want to accomodate
a half procent of refugees of war, and quite possibly both.

What has happened comes to this (according to the journalistic committee that wrote this):

Indeed, the notion of a united Europe is currently under extreme duress, and no summit or compromise on refugees is going to be able to fix that overnight. The Europe of today is a collection of states that have become dangerously foreign to each other.

Perhaps, but the committee seems much more concerned about "a united Europe" than about the rights of refugees not to be bombed, not to be tortured, not to be shot at, not to have their houses destroyed etc. (and they are Mohammedans as well).

Here are the real values of the committee of journalists:

Europe is risking its future by closing its borders. Not only will its economic power suffer, but also its global political influence. In the concert of large geopolitical powers, individual European countries do not have a loud voice, not even Germany. The United States and China are only interested in the EU as a whole. Size is decisive. If Europe is unable to present itself as a unity, it will be marginalized.

I am sorry but that seems just baloney - bullshit, trash, crap - to me as a reply to the question what to do with millions of refugees of very cruel and meanwhile quite long wars: "Our European size is decisive. Therefore you refugees should flee elsewhere."

There is a whole lot more in the article, but this is what I made of it.


[1] In fact, all of this was propaganda, and because it was both steps - redefining the meanings of well-known and accepted terms into meanings they never had, and "legally" insisting (by means of a degree in law, in fact) the new meanings are the proper ones and should be followed - tend to be somewhat obscured.

But this extremely dishonest double system of lies has been very widely practised by the American government.

The reason is - or ought to be - obvious: With new meanings for old terms, coupled to legal looking orders to accept these, any breaking of any law becomes very easy: You simply redefine the meanings of terms in the law; you find a lawyer willing to sign a statement that the new meanings are the governments's understanding; and hey presto, suddenly absolutely anything goes.

[2] This was merely one specific instance of the much wider schema of redefining accepted meanings into the new meanings you want, and insisting that the new meaning are legal by having some lawyer sign this. This has been
a very popular technique both in the Bush Jr. administration and the Obama administration.

And incidentally (in case you didn't know) the water torture is at least 400 years old; was all that time considered to be torture; and was resorted to because it is not bloody and tends to be fast.

[3] "video meliora proboque; deteriora sequor" = "I see and approve of the better, but I follow the worse", Ovid.

Incidentally, this is not just a lack of self-control: it may be quite conscious egoism or greed that one allows or insists is much better in this case than one's moral rules. And indeed that may also be or seem "right", especially in cases where one must choose between a personally risky defense of moral norms and a personally safe conformism.

Also incidentally, from my own - wide and long - experiences in the University of Amsterdam, I guess at most 1 in 20 is willing to do the right thing if the right thing is the decidedly less popular thing.

And I think there is nothing special about the University of Amsterdam: This seems to be more or less the normal proportion of doing the right thing if the right thing is less popular: Then the vast majority will not do the right thing, simply because it is risky to their self-interest.

This explains very many things quite adequately, including how it was possible that more than 1% of the total Dutch population was murdered in WW II because of their supposed "racial inferiority": Very few Dutchmen risked going into the real resistance. (In fact, the two groups who - really - resisted were radical Christians and communists. Most of the rest conformed, and 6 times more Dutchmen went into the SS than went into the resistance.)

[4] For one who did the M.A. in Amsterdam (brilliantly, thank you), and who knows how absolutely horrible, stupid, ideological and unscientific the forced three months (!!) were that were set apart to learn "the scientific method" (as (mal-)practised in psychology) the whole notion of "experimental work" in psychology is rather ludicrous. (And yes, it happens. But usually it doesn't. And few psychologist know anything of philosophy of science, just as few really understand the statistics they use...).

Also, perhaps those who did not study psychology should - at least - read this
"Is psychology a science?" by Paul Lutus.

       home - index - summaries - mail