Jan 16, 2017
Crisis: Revolting, Anti Dissent, Neuter Press Freedom, Davos Man, Modern Art
Sections                                                                     crisis index

Building the Institutions for Revolt
2. Donald Trump Really Means What He Says—and Plans to
     Silence and Intimidate Dissenters

Trump’s Plan to Neuter the White House Press Corps, and
     Neuter Our Democracy

Davos Man Is a Neanderthal Protectionist
5. Originality Versus the Arts

This is a Nederlog of January 16, 2017.

This is a
crisis log with 5 items and 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article by Chris Hedges on revolting; item 2 is about an article on AlterNet that - correctly, I think - says that Trump wants to silence all dissent; item 3 is about the further Trumpian plan of silencing all alternative media; item 4 is about the lies of the rich; and item 5 is not a crisis item but about Modern Art (that I happen to dislike a lot, ever since I was 11).

My Dutch provider xs4all went wrong again, as they or some secret service have been doing most of the last year, while the Danish is OK today...

And incidentally: I can get rid of "December 31 2015" in Denmark (which the provider regularly shows, much rather than the current date, although it meanwhile is 2017 and I published many
megabytes since 2015, also on every day) by (i) clicking on the rightmost globe, (ii) doing this again on the new screen, and then (iii) again on any central globe (... and I am deeply sorry, but this is the level of utter idiocy that I am now reduced to, either by my providers or by supermen from some secret service(s) from somewhere).

Building the Institutions for Revolt

The first item is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:
This starts as follows:
Politics is a game of fear. Those who do not have the ability to make power elites afraid do not succeed. All of the movements that opened up the democratic space in America—the abolitionists, the suffragists, the labor movement, the communists, the socialists, the anarchists and the civil rights movement—developed a critical mass and militancy that forced the centers of power to respond. The platitudes about justice, equality and democracy are just that. Only when power becomes worried about its survival does it react. Appealing to its better nature is useless. It doesn’t have one.
Yes and no: Yes, if this paragraph is about radical politics (as indicated by the examples of Hedges), but not if it is about conventional politics, which is any kind of politics - right, middle, left - that is not out for any fundamental social or ethical changes, and that mostly consists of continuing the existing schemes, of continuing the existing governments and political leaders, and of getting good money for those who protect or support the politicians, and - of course - also getting good money for the politicians themselves, who all mean so extremely well and who almost all talk so very nobly.

And while I basically agree with Chris Hedges on the dominant need for a real and radical Leftist politics, I also know that this is seen by only a rather small minority
(and I am very sorry for this, but not blind).

Indeed, there are reasons for this:
We once had within our capitalist democracy liberal institutions—the press, labor unions, third political parties, civic and church groups, public broadcasting, well-funded public universities and a liberal wing of the Democratic Party—that were capable of responding to outside pressure from movements. They did so imperfectly. They provided only enough reforms to save the capitalist system from widespread unrest or, with the breakdown of capitalism in the 1930s, from revolution. They never addressed white supremacy and institutional racism or the cruelty that is endemic to capitalism. But they had the ability to address and ameliorate the suffering of working men and women.
Yes, I agree - but then this also corresponds with the fairly fundamental distinction between capitalism-with-a-human-face, that ruled the West from 1946 till 1980, and capitalism-without-a-human-face, that arose with Thatcher and Reagan, and that essentially came down to:

As much profits as possible are to be given to the already rich, and as little as possible is to be done for the non-rich. The non-rich - all losers, according to the norms of the vast majority of the rich - need to be given only as much money as will prevent them of arising in rebellion, but as I said: The non-rich are losers, and losers can count on no sympathy, no solidarity, and only on as little money as keeps them calm and well-behaved (for the most part).

I am outlining this because I think for a long time that this is a fairly fundamental distinction, indeed in good part because the arisal of the organized rich meant the killing of
capitalism-with-a-human-face, which happened in fact - it seems to me - because of the infinite greed for wealth and power that marks the already very rich, and through deregulations which take away all legal
protections of the non-rich.

But I agree capitalism-with-a-human-face was killed and was killed intentionally, and out of greed:
These liberal institutions—I spend 248 pages in my book “Death of the Liberal Class”  explaining how this happened—collapsed under sustained assault during the past 40 years of corporate power. They exist now only in name. They are props in the democratic facade. Liberal nonprofits, from MoveOn to the Sierra Club, are no better. They are pathetic appendages to the Democratic Party. And the Democratic Party, as the community organizer Michael Gecan said, is not a functioning political party but “a permanent mobilization.” It is propped up with corporate money and by a hyperventilating media machine. It practices political coronations and manipulates voters, who have no real say in party politics. There are, as the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin reminded us, no institutions left in America that can authentically be called democratic.
Again yes and no, mostly for the reasons I said the same under the first paragraph of this article: Yes for those who want radical politics, no for those who do not want it, which indeed (as is) is the majority of those somehow interested in politics.

And in fact we can distinguish two types of non-human capitalism: The capitalism- without-a-human-face, that ruled from Thatcher and Reagan until Bush Jr. and Obama, and the capitalism-with-an-inhuman-face that is Trump's. There is a difference between the two, and the difference is that the latter want absolutely everything they can get for the very rich, while the former were content with huge profits for the rich. (And this is the "draining of the swamp" of Trump: Change all of the USA - except for the private resorts of the very rich,
of course - into one major swamp exploited by the very rich for their own benefits.)

Here is in some more detail how it will work under Trump:
The corporate state ignores the suffering of the majority of Americans. It rams through policies that make the suffering worse. This is about to get turbocharged under Donald Trump. Institutions, the courts among them, that once were able to check the excesses of power are slavish subsidiaries of corporate power. And the most prescient critics of corporate power—Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader and others—have been blacklisted and locked out by corporate media, including a public broadcasting system that depends on corporate money.
Quite so! And there is this on the corporate mainstream media:
The corporate press echoes the pronouncements of the power elites. It is blind to the undercurrents and moods of the wider society. It did not anticipate the election of Trump any more than it did the financial crash in 2008. It does not report on the lives of ordinary men and women. It shuts out their voices and renders them invisible. And it—like the power structure—will be among the last to know that the bankrupt social and political systems that sustain it are collapsing. Once the ruling ideology, in our case neoliberalism, is understood by the public as a tool for corporate and oligarchic pillage, coercion is all the state has left.
Yes, though I should add that - in my opinion at least, that is well provided with relevant knowledge - "neoliberalism" (which is a propaganda-term for either neo-conservatism or neofascism (as defined by me)) is still not widely seen through by the public, that indeed has also been systematically deceived the last nearly 40 years by the mainstream media, that serve the government and the rich.

Here is the last bit that I'll quote and discuss from this article (in which I have left out all references to a political organizer who was interviewed by Chris Hedges):
“Everywhere the tightly-knit worlds of a dozen or so blocks—where workplace, church, neighborhood, recreation, tavern, and political affiliation were all deeply entwined—have given way to exurban enclaves, long commutes, gathered congregations, matchmaker websites, and fitness clubs filled with customers who don’t know one another. A world where local news was critically important and closely followed—often delivered by local publishers and reporters and passed along by word of mouth—has been replaced by the constant flow of real and fake news arriving through social media. A world of physically imposing and present institutions and organizations has morphed into a culture of global economic dynamics and fitful national mobilizations built around charismatic figures.”
Yes indeed - and that also was more or less as my youth (in the 1950ies and 1960ies) was like, and the main difference is easily stated, though a bit more difficult to explain:

The basic difference is that in my youth there were very many small firms and small shops that made or sold most things most men wanted and sold a wide varieties of things; at present there are a few enormous corporations (and hardly any small shops) that sell the same sort of atrocious things to anyone, and those who don't want it can stuff it: That is all there is (and nearly everything I can buy - it doesn't matter which - is of considerably lower quality than 45 and more years ago).

And the "news" now comes - on the asocial profit-oriented advertising media that systematically defraud their users with lies and bullshit and propaganda and advertisements - from mostly anonymous ignorant or stupid idiots who don't know shit but that all can use Twitter, which has a limit that corresponds to their intelligences. [1]

That is the world that the rich created for me, and indeed I don't want it. And this is a recommended article.

2. Donald Trump Really Means What He Says—and Plans to Silence and Intimidate Dissenters

The second item is by Amanda Marcott on Salon:
This starts as follows:
For liberals, and anyone with a fundamental love of our democracy, the two months since the election have been one long anxiety attack. Like most really bad anxiety attacks, this one has been fueled not just by fear, but also uncertainty. We know Donald Trump is bad, but the question is, how bad? Was Trump’s bringing-fascism-to-America act just a campaign ploy, one that he will drop in favor of being a bog-standard Republican when he steps into office? Or are we really looking down the barrel of an authoritarian regime that suppresses dissent and has no regard for the norms of democracy?

Unfortunately, the past week’s events suggest Trump is going with Door #2: Authoritarian regime that shows strong indicators of sliding into fascism.
I agree with the conclusion, but I've known for quite a while that Trump is both a neofascist and a madman, though I should immediately add that both are - so far -
very much minority views, that in my own case are (most probably) caused by the
fact that my parents and grandparents were strong antifascists who also were heavily punished by the Nazis for resisting them, and by the fact that I am a psychologist, which makes it a bit easier to diagnose people.

Then again I do agree that the USA is going to be ruled by a neofascist, whose political career was very much helped by the mainstream media. In this context, there is this in the article:

To put my fellow journalists on blast for a moment: You should be ashamed of yourselves, letting this doofus whose rhetoric literally sounds like that of a mustache-twirling comic book villain manipulate you, using the same tactics as some schoolyard bully.

Aren’t journalists supposed to be skeptical, independent-minded and brave? Stop being so goddamn gullible and cowardly.
Yes and no. That is, I agree in principle, but it also seems to me that the majority of the editors and the journalists that currently work for the mainstream media are of a quite different type and character than the journalists who wrote in the Sixties and the Seventies: They decided that they can be bought for money and also seem quite proud of it (and they also may have very decent incomes as well).

And this is not true of all journalists and editors, but it seems true of the majorities of those who make money by working for the mainstream media.

This is the last bit that I'll quote from this article:
Trump isn’t even in office yet, and already he and his supporters in Congress are making moves to silence dissent through intimidation. Any hope that he was simply going to be a terrible president who still leaves our democracy mostly intact, like George W. Bush, is flying out the window.
And not only intimidation: Trump - and his Republican majorities in the House and the Senate - are out to introduce new laws for the press (and who knows: for free speech of any kind) that will make the First Amendment (<- Wikipedia) effectively a thing of the past: Trump wants to prosecute anyone who had the gall to criticize him. He may well succeed, for he has the majority in Congress, and most members of Congress have been heavily corrupted by lobbyists for the rich.

This is a recommended article. And here is more on Trump and the media:

3. Trump’s Plan to Neuter the White House Press Corps, and Neuter Our Democracy

The third item is by Robert Reich on his site:
This starts as follows:

Tyrants don’t allow open questioning, and they hate the free press. They want total control.

That’s why, according to three senior officials on the transition team, the incoming Trump administration is considering evicting the White House press corps from the press room inside the White House and moving them – and news conferences – to a conference center or to the Old Executive Office Building.

This may sound like a small logistic matter. It’s not. The White House “press room” contains work stations and broadcast booths, and the briefing area for presidential news conferences. Reporters have had workspace at the White House since Teddy Roosevelt was president, in 1901. 

But we’re in a new era, the reign of King Trump.
I don't think Trump is a tyrant yet, but I agree that he very well might want to become one, and that he may - perhaps - succeed. But let me add some precision:

I agree with Reich that Trump is trying to kill "the free press", which I render (a bit more precisely, I think) as the non-mainstream media.

And I think he is using the following means for getting that done:
  • Trump is setting up Trump as the main source for "the news" about Trump:
    This is happening now, mostly by Trump's tweets;
  • Trump wants all written or filmed opposition to him to be legally forbidden: This requires changes in the US laws (which may succeed);
  • Trump wants Trump as the main source for instructing his followers to do as he wants: This is why he keeps rallies going on, also after winning the presidency;
  • Trump wants the news to be as he dictates it, or else to be shut up: This is behind the present move.
We are here considering the last of these means. Here is the background for it, supplied - quite correctly, I think - by Robert Reich:
It’s because a larger room would allow the administration to fill seats with “alt-right” fringe journalists, rightwing social media, Trump supporters and paid staffers. They’d be there to ask the questions Trump wants to answer, and to jeer at reporters who ask critical questions and applaud Trump’s answers.

The move would allow Trump to play the crowd.

That’s exactly what happened at Trump’s so-called “news conference” on January 11 – the first he’s held in six months.

Yes indeed. Here is some more on January 11's "news conference":

He slammed CNN for dispensing “fake news,” called Buzzfeed “a pile of garbage,” and sarcastically called the BBC “another beauty.” The audience loved it. 

Just as he did in his rallies, Trump continued calling the press “dishonest” – part of his ongoing effort to discredit the press and to reduce public confidence in it. 

And he repeatedly lied. But the media in attendance weren’t allowed to follow up or to question him on his lies.

Here is the explanation, which is - I think - again quite correct:

Which is the danger of evicting the press from the White House and putting press conferences into a large auditorium: Trump won’t be called on his lies, and the White House press corps will lose the leverage they have by being together in one rather small room.  

And that’s precisely why Trump wants to evict the press from the White House. 

A senior official admitted the move was a reaction to hostile press coverage. The view at the highest reaches of the incoming administration is that the press is the enemy. "They are the opposition party,” said the senior official. “I want ‘em out of the building. We are taking back the press room.”

The incoming Trump administration is intent on neutering the White House press corps. If it happens it will be another step toward neutering our democracy.

Yes, although I think - indeed with Sheldon Wolin and Chris Hedges - that democracy in the USA has been killed quite effectively: Those who get in the mainstream news (which is still followed by the majority, at least of those who follow any news made by professionals) are almost only spokesmen for the few rich and almost never for the many non-rich. And those who decide things in the USA are almost all rich. And the few rich almost always decide in favor of the few rich.

That is not a real democracy at all (though it is quite compatible and consistent with the Democratic Party in the USA).

4. Davos Man Is a Neanderthal Protectionist

The fourth item's is by Dean Baker on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows

The NYT had an article on the annual meeting of the world's super-rich at Davos, Switzerland. It refers to Davos Man as "an economic elite who built unheard-of fortunes on the seemingly high-minded notions of free trade, low taxes and low regulation that they championed." While "Davos Man" may like to be described this way, it is not an accurate description.

Indeed (and for The New York Times see item 3): The economic elite stole indeed incredible fortunes, but the "free trade" arguments they used were all propaganda and lies that enabled the rich to deregulate the laws that protected the non-rich; the "low taxes" were only for the rich (who pay percentually less taxes than the poor secretaries who work for them); and the "low regulation" corresponds to the unprotected and fearfully exploited non-rich that the rich could exploit as much as they wanted after having deregulated the laws.

Here is some more:

Davos Man is actually totally supportive of protectionism that redistributes income upward. In particular Davos Man supports stronger and longer patent and copyright protection. These forms of protection raise the price of protected items by factors of tens or hundreds, making them equivalent to tariffs of several thousand percent or even tens of thousands of percent. In the case of prescription drugs these protections force us to spend more than $430 billion a year (2.3 percent of GDP) on drugs that would likely cost one tenth of this amount if they were sold in a free market.

Yes, indeed - and "tariffs" were what the rich wanted to get rid off, indeed to replace them by (far) longer patent and copyright protections, that again were much more profitable.

Here are two other sources of enormous profits for the few rich, that arose out of the enormous difficulties for the many non-rich, that were made very intentionally by the few rich, in order to get far richer:

Davos Man has not objected to central bank rules that target low inflation even at the cost of raising unemployment. Nor has Davos Man objected to meaningless caps on budget deficits, like those in the European Union, that have kept millions of workers from getting jobs.

Here is how Robert Rubin and Hank Paulson frauded everybody who was not rich, and indeed this was a fraud worth trillions of dollars for the rich, and all these trillions were paid for by the non-rich from their taxes:

Davos Man also strongly supported the bank bailouts in which governments provided trillions of dollars in loans and guarantees to the world's largest banks in order to protect them from the market. This kept too big to fail banks in business and protected the huge salaries received by their top executives.

And it also completely prevented that any of the major thieves that headed the defrauding banks was ever punished, or indeed did ever have to appear in court: Total corruption of the politicians by the rich. (For the banks were "corrected" by "forcing" them to pay a small percentage of their enormous gains, which allowed all the managers not to have to appear in court, and gave the corporations the label of not having committed any crime: American justice at work.)

Here is the last bit that I'll quote from this article:

In short, Davos Man has no particular interest in a free market or unregulated economic system. They only object to interventions that reduce their income. Of course, Davos Man is happy to have the New York Times and other news outlets describe him as a devotee of the free market, as opposed to simply getting incredibly rich.

I think this is a mistake in the present conditions, for these make an unregulated economic system far more profitable for the few rich than a regulated system.

And while I agree this may change, the last nearly 40 years were extremely profitable for the few rich because of deregulations, for these took away almost all protections that the non-rich had surrected against merciless exploitations by the rich.

But this is a recommended article.

5. Originality Versus the Arts

The last item today is not a crisis item but is about Modern Art - which, as it happens, I have always despised, and quite consciously so since I was 11, in 1961. This is by Michael Lind on The Smart Set:
Let me start this review by saying a few things about myself and art.

It so happened that I could draw fairly well, in a realistic fashion, which most men can't do well at all. I don't think I was very talented at all, and I know my father was better at it than I was, but I definitely had a small talent for drawing from a young age onwards, and this did influence my perceptions of art. Thus, I knew I would never be able to draw like Rafael, but I did know that the art of persons like the painter Karel Appel was simple to imitate, and I knew this by the time I was 11 or before.

What really more or less settled my opinions on Modern Art (painting and sculpting mostly, but the same applied to architecture, and indeed I very much dislike all modern architecture) was a lesson I received at age 11, when my teacher explained the ideas of the director of the Museum of Modern Art, who had the additional distinctions of being a nobleman, with a double name, and with two academic titles (I think), and who had published an article (ca. 1960) in which he claimed that now, with the arisal of Modern Art, absolutely everyone was An Artist because - and this was his example - everybody could tear puppets from the paper, and that was Modern Art that was in principle as good, as valid, as true and as artistic as anything else any other artist made.

I agreed everyone could tear puppets from papers, but otherwise I was totally appalled:

So Rembrandt, Rafael, Da Vinci, Rubens - whose paintings I did know, because my parents had books of reproductions of them - and others were just as good, just as valid, just as true and just as artistic as the 11-year olds I saw tearing puppets from papers?!

But this was the vision of Modern Art of this nobleman and this director of the Museum of Modern Art, also when I checked that with my teacher: We Now Were All Artists.
I did not believe this, but I was the only one in the class who thought that talent for realistic drawing played an important role in good paintings: it seemed everyone else
was quite happy of being made An Artist (because he or she could tear puppets from papers).

This was by way of introduction. The article starts as follows:
In the last century, originality has killed one once-flourishing art form after another, by replacing variation within shared artistic conventions to rebellion against convention itself.

I blame the Germans.

It was the German Romantics who introduced the idea of “original genius” to modern society. The artistic genius, according to 19th-century romantics, is a special kind of human being with unique visionary powers. In ancient Greece and Rome, poets had sometimes claimed vatic powers; the “bard” sometimes posed as a quasi-prophetic figure, not a mere versifier, though this pose was usually not taken seriously. It was only in the 19th century, however, that the notion of this kind of visionary genius was generalized outside of poetry to what became known as the “fine arts,” including painting and sculpture and even architecture. Earlier, all of these arts had been classified among the utilitarian “crafts,” like textile-making and tile-making.

Yes, that seems more or less correct, indeed also from my readings in the history of arts. Here is more about what "art" came to mean in the 20th Century - which it definitely did not mean before the 1860ies or so:

In my youth, I studied 20th-century art history. In hindsight, this was a waste of valuable time because the art historians were trying to impose a philosophical framework on what was in fact just a series of fads and fashions. To the extent that there was any logic to 20th-century modernism, it was what the critic Robert Hughes called “the shock of the new.” To stand out from rivals competing for the attention of galleries and collectors, modernist painters from the 1900s onward had to do something even more striking and controversial than their immediate predecessors.

Yes indeed, though I should add that "the shock of the new" was deemed important because of the prior conviction that "the new is the good", and especially in art (as in technology and science), which was repeated and popularized by very many, even though somebody who knows about art knows that it rarely is the latest that is the best, but far more usually it were the first talents who made an innovation who were the best.

And this is one of the many things that were wrong with concentrating on the new as if the new had to be art because those who made it said they were artists:

But this is not working out the possibilities in a particular art. It is destroying the art itself by rejecting the conventions which distinguish it from other activities.

In fact, real art is produced by artists who have a real talent for their art, and real talent is quite rare, and very rare if it is first class. But this again was precisely what was denied by Modern Art: Real art - according to Modern Art proponents - was produced by innovators, and was art because it was new, very much rather than because it was made by some rare talent.

Here is Lind on what really happened (in his view):

Recalling my college art history texts now, I think they got art history completely wrong. Modernism was not a late stage of Western art. It marked the death of the Western artistic tradition and the beginning of something entirely new — the art of global industrial capitalism.

Did I say I blame the Germans? German romanticism could not have killed off Western art without the help of global industrial capitalism.

It is does not appear quite consistent to me to say that "modernism (..) marked the death of the Western artistic tradition" and next to say that "modernism was (..) the beginning of (..) the art of global capitalism".

In any case, whatever the appearances, what seems to have been quite characteristic for all Western art since 500 B.C. till 1850 A.D. was that it needed a considerable or a great talent for the particular art in which one excelled, while there simply was no real art without a real talent (which always is rare).

This disappeared in Modern Art, and especially in painting, sculpting and architecture.

Incidentally, this development does not mean that there are fewer born with a real talent for - say - drawing: it meant that real talent was very much less appreciated than it was before. [2]

Here is one interesting application (that is rather closely mirrored by my own experiences, at least from the Sixties till the Nineties):

This corporate marketing logic explains why, in every apartment I’ve ever lived in, there’s a variant of the same painting in the hallway — an abstract blob of color in a frame.

Yes, indeed - and the reason it was abstract was (which is also explained by Lind) that this could hurt no one because it did not say anything. I agree, though I insist that it did hurt a few like me, simply because nearly all abstracts I have seen seem to have been made without any talent and to be quite ugly (if you can draw at least a little, to be sure, which most cannot).

Here is the last bit from this article:

20th-century modernism marked the transition from a world of regional civilizational artistic traditions to the bright, shiny, new, universal society of airports, hotels, and office buildings which are the same everywhere on the planet, with the same color-blob paintings in the lobbies and corridors and the same metal tripod or other abstract sculpture out front.

Yes indeed - or if this is an exaggeration, it is not a large one. [3]

[1] The limit I refer to is that of 140 characters. Also, I am by now convinced that there is a whole new extremely numerous "social class": The users of the asocial media, who are not distinguished by intelligence or knowledge, but by their powers of scolding and insulting, which they now can loosen on anyone who knows more or thinks better than these several billions do.

I agree this is new, and it does not make me any happier. Also, see item 5, about Modern Art.

[2] In fact, I could get into art school (The Rietveld-akademie, in fact, in Amsterdam) in the end of the 1960ies, but did not after I had seen that the works made in the final year (after four years of "studying") were - with two exceptions, that were a bit better than I did - no better than I drew then, without any schooling, and with a talent that I knew (from looking at the great painters: no way I can draw as Rafael, Da Vinci or Titian could) was at best a quite small talent.

In fact, there is something else behind this reduction of all art that requires a genuine talent, namely the conviction that saying = being, which indeed is one version
of the disappearance of real truth:

One "is" an artist, such as an abstract painter or an abstract sculptor, not anymore because one evidently has a considerable talent for painting or sculpting (which indeed is rarely the case) but simply because one says one is an artist and has some diploma of some art school. All that is next required to be a successful artist is that one's art gets hung in art shops and possibly in museums, and the modern art in art shops and modern museums of modern art again does not often require great talents for art.

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