Prev-IndexNL-Next

Nederlog

Friday, Apr 7, 2017

Crisis: On Ayn Rand, Impeaching Trump, Bannon's Removal, Zimbardo, On Neoliberalism


Sections                                                                     crisis index
Introduction

1. How Ayn Rand's 'Elitism' Lives on in the Trump Administration
2.
The Grounds for Impeaching Donald Trump (Video)
3. Bye, Bye, Bannon: Trump Ousts His Former Right-Hand Man
     from a Key Power Circle

4.
Philip Zimbardo on Trump
5. Neoliberalism in the Driver's Seat: Trump and Ryan's
     Ruling-Class Schemes
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Friday
, April 7, 2017.

Summary: This is an ordinary
crisis log with five items and five links: Item 1 is about an article (by a philosopher) on Ayn Rand and her elitism; item 2 is about an article by Robert Reich on the grounds for impeaching Trump; item 3 is about an article about the removal of Steve Bannon from the National Security Council, that comes with a reasonable explanation; item 4 is about Philip Zimbardo on Trump (but I found this
disappointing); and item 5 is about an interview with Michael Meeropol about Trump and
his schemes, that seems mostly correct.
April 7: As to the updating problem: The Danish site was again on time today; but the Dutch site again failed to upload and is still stuck on Tuesday, April 4. These horrors happen now for the 16th month in succession.

And I have to add that about where my site on xs4all.nl stuck for others I have NO idea AT ALL: It may be December 31, 2015. (Xs4all wants  immediate payment if you are a week behind. Xs4all.nl has been destroying my site now for over a year. I completely distrust them, but I also do not know whether they are doing it or some secret service is.)
1. How Ayn Rand's 'Elitism' Lives on in the Trump Administration

The first article today is
by Firmin DeBrabander on AlterNet and originally on Salon:
This starts as follows:

Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has said Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” is his favorite book. Mike Pompeo, head of the CIA, cited Rand as a major inspiration. Before he withdrew his nomination, Trump’s pick to head the Labor Department, Andrew Puzder, revealed that he devotes much free time to reading Rand. The Conversation

Such is the case with many other Trump advisers and allies: The Republican leader of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, famously made his staff members read Ayn Rand. Trump himself has said that he’s a “fan” of Rand and “identifies” with Howard Roark, the protagonist of Rand’s novel, “The Fountainhead,” “an architect who dynamites a housing project he designed because the builders did not precisely follow his blueprints.”

I say. Do you believe this? I give my answer:

I am a philosopher - a real one, and so real that I am the only person who, since 1945 in Holland, was illegally denied the right of taking my (excellent) M.A. in 1988 in Holland, because I had, very correctly, identified the "philosophers" who were supposed to teach me (and paid a lot) as utter incompetents and as greedy parasites who taught that "everybody knows that truth does not exist", which is (neo)fascism by Timothy Snyders' much more recent comments [1] - and I tried to read Ayn Rand (<-Wikipedia) in the 1970ies, but I found that she is an awful writer and a solidly stupid "thinker". (I did read about 2 1/2 of her books, but that is as long as my patience lasted.)

In fact, I think Rand was not a real philosopher, but she was an ideologist, and she was an ideologist of and for rich business men, whom she exalts as the best of the best, and as the most talented of the most talented.

Both are crazy ideas, for the talent for making money is not at all the same as a talent for painting, a talent for mathematics, a talent for physics or a talent for writing prose, while extremely few men have more than one (extreme) talent [2], which is also the reason why the smart business men of the Renaissance employed painters, mathematicians, physicists and philosophers, but did not confuse their own talent for making money with the intellectual or artistic talents of other gifted individuals, with different gifts.

Then again, it is rather obvious that these falsehoods might be quite popular with the class of rich business men, and they were. They also are completely false, and in gross and obvious contradiction with the facts about real talents and real people, but these - of course - need not hinder the popularity of these highly ideological falsehoods, especially not under the rich who thus get assigned all talents, instead of - at best and at most [2] - one talent, namely for making money. [3]

So I can understand how and why so many - not very bright - rich men were converted to Ayn Rand's "philosophy": They were flattered a lot, for they were made into something no one ever was: Extremely many-talented superior individuals fit to rule the world as its one and only elite.

This leads to an apparent problem:

Though the Trump administration looks quite steeped in Rand’s thought, there is one curious discrepancy. Ayn Rand exudes a robust elitism, unlike any I have observed elsewhere in the tomes of political philosophy. But this runs counter to the narrative of the Trump phenomenon: Central to the Trump’s ascendancy is a rejection of elites reigning from urban centers and the coasts, overrepresented at universities and in Hollywood, apparently.

I think that problem is more apparent than real: It forgets that Trump's ascendancy had to be made by flattering his potential voters. Here is a very simple outline of Ayn Rand's - ideology, I will say, for it doesn't come close to a real philosophy:

Ayn Rand’s philosophy is quite straightforward. Rand sees the world divided into “makers” and “takers.” But, in her view, the real makers are a select few – a real elite, on whom we would do well to rely, and for whom we should clear the way, by reducing or removing taxes and government regulations, among other things.

And this elite is the business elite: Those who get rich or at least are rich (for most of the rich are rich because they inherited riches they did not make themselves), and who in fact - like almost all real people - lack all real talents, or have only one talent, and that tends to be a talent for acquiring money.

Because the rich are deemed to be - quite falsely - so very special that they comprise all talents, they have to be given all advantages (according to Rand), which - of course - again flatters the rich:

In laying out her dualistic vision of society, divided into good and evil, Rand’s language is often starker and harsher. In her 1957 novel, “Atlas Shrugged,” she says,

“The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all their brains.”

In fact, the men at the top that Rand speaks for are the rich, and the rich rarely have other talents than getting rich, for real men rarely have more than one (extreme) talent, and usually have no talent. But this Rand did not see or refused to see, while the rich she flattered were flattered a lot by being assigned all talents, instead of - at the very best - only one talent.

Also, Rand's falsehoods vastly ennobled the greedy rich by assigning them all talents instead of at most one (for gathering money for themselves), while she denied all talents to everybody else:

Rand is decidedly cynical about the said masses: There is little point in preaching to them; they won’t change or improve, at least of their own accord; nor will they offer assistance to the capitalists. The masses just need to stay out of the way.

The principal virtue of a free market, Rand explains, is “that the exceptional men, the innovators, the intellectual giants, are not held down by the majority. In fact, it is the members of this exceptional minority who lift the whole of a free society to the level of their own achievements…”

In brief, she flattered the rich by a series of lies and falsehoods that ennobled the rich prejudices by an exceedingly crude version of a Nietzschean world view, that she published with panache but without any writing talent, and that seems to have succeeded (to the extent that it did) because it flattered the rich and assigned them gifts and talents they could not possibly have.

There is considerably more in this article, that is recommended.

2. The Grounds for Impeaching Donald Trump (Video)

The second article is by Robert Reich on Truthdig and originally on RobertReich.org:
This starts as follows:
By my count, there are now four grounds to impeach Donald Trump. The fifth appears to be on its way.
And here they are as stated by Reich, and without his brief explanatory comments:
First, in taking the oath of office, a president promises to “faithfully execute the laws & the constitution.”

Second, Article I Section 9 of the Constitution forbids government officials from taking things of value from foreign governments.

Third: The 1st Amendment to the Constitution bars any law “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Fourth: The 1st Amendment also bars “abridging the freedom of the press.”

A fifth possible ground if the evidence is there: Article II Section 3 of the Constitution defines “treason against the United States” as “adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.”
Reich is right that there has so far not appeared any evidence as required by the fifth possible ground to impeach Trump.

He is also right (it appears to me) in the following:

Presidents can be impeached for what the Constitution calls “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The question is no longer whether there are grounds to impeach Trump. The practical question is whether there’s the political will.

As long as Republicans remain in the majority in the House, where a bill of impeachment originates, it’s unlikely.

Yes indeed.

3. Bye, Bye, Bannon: Trump Ousts His Former Right-Hand Man from a Key Power Circle

The third article is by Jefferson Morley on AlterNet:

This starts as follows:

The removal of Steve Bannon from the National Security Council was first revealed in the capital’s dullest publication, the Federal Register, and explained in the country’s most influential conservative newspaper, the Wall Street Journal. The register published an executive order from President Trump, giving full control of the National Security Council to National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. The order shows every sign of having been written by McMaster himself.

I have commented on Bannon's removal in yesterday's Nederlog. Here is a summary by Morley:

McMaster now has control of the NSC agenda, which is to say he has control of the policy options presented to the president, and Bannon does not. Of course, Bannon is still a trusted adviser and still attends NSC meetings. But he will have a lot less influence over what Trump sees, especially in a crisis.

Yes, that seems correct. Here is a question that has been played around a lot:

Is Bannon’s defenestration the revenge of the so-called Deep State?

There is considerably more about this question than I will quote here. Morley's opinion
is that Bannon's removal was not done by "
the so-called Deep State" but is due to
conflicts of opinion between Trump's son in law Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon.

He doesn't mention Bannon's anti-semitic opinions nor the fact that Kushner is Jewish (with a Holocaust background and the Jewish faith, since he is Modern Orthodox Jewish) but my guess is that this did play a role.

And I think Morley is plausible here. Here is the last bit that I'll quote from this article:

Not coincidentally, Politico reports that Kushner “has asked searching questions—sometimes for hours—of inside and outside advisers about the White House's performance and complained about Bannon in particular, according to people who have spoken with Kushner.”

In particular, Kushner “has told people that Bannon’s desire to deconstruct the government, is hurting the president.”

More specifically, Bannon has advertised himself as "a Leninist" who wants to destroy the American government, whereas Kushner is (still, on Wikipedia) described as a Democrat, whose father was a Democrat who gave a lot of money to the Democrats.

So Kushner's complaints about "Bannon’s desire to deconstruct the government" seem to have considerable validity.

4. Philip Zimbardo on Trump

The fourth article is by Chauncey DeVega on Salon:

This starts as follows:

In 1971 Philip Zimbardo conducted one of the most widely known social psychology experiments of all time. A professor at Stanford University, Zimbardo recruited 18 college-aged male students to play the role of guards and inmates in a makeshift prison he would construct in the basement of the psychology department. After just one day of the experiment, these students quickly internalized the roles of the powerful and the powerless.

“Guards” became increasingly abusive and cruel toward “prisoners.” The prisoners responded first by resisting and then by succumbing to despair and a sense of learned helplessness. Although the experiment was originally planned for two weeks, Zimbardo stopped his experiment after six days. The lesson had been learned: When the correct group dynamics are present — and a set of rules legitimate the behavior — otherwise “normal” and “good” individuals will abuse and bully other human beings.

I somewhat like Zimbardo (<-Wikipedia) (although I think Milgram (<-Wikipedia) was more original and better) and I also used Zimbardo's experiment in my "ME in Amsterdam", but this is in Dutch, as is the last somewhat lengthy treatment of Zimbardo that I found in Nederlog, namely here: 28.xii.2009.

But both are in Dutch and I only provide links for my Dutch readers. (Also it seems as if in the above quotation a part of the statement after the last "" seems to be missing, but this I only mention.)

Here is some more on the Stanford Prison Experiment (<-Wikipedia):

How can social psychology help us understand this moment? What lessons does the Stanford Prison Experiment hold for American society in 2017? Are Donald Trump’s supporters swept up in a wave of authoritarianism and bullying? Can they be stopped? Why are conservatives so hostile to people they perceive as “the other”? What can we do to resist Donald Trump and fight back against the feelings of hopelessness and trauma that many Americans have experienced since his election in November?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Zimbardo, now a professor emeritus at Stanford and also president of the Heroic Imagination Project.

I do not think most of these questions were well answered, but here are some replies by Zimbardo. Here is Zimbardo on - how he thinks - Trump is seen by non-Americans:

Zimbardo: It’s an embarrassment. They keep saying, “We don’t understand Americans. We thought you were smart people.” They all loved Obama overseas. He was smart. He was articulate. He was a minority. He made very good decisions. This guy comes in who is a billionaire. He’s used to having his own way and runs the White House like it’s his corporation; he makes decisions without conferring with his staff or his party. He believes climate change is a hoax despite all the evidence. He doesn’t believe in science. Then what’s even more embarrassing is a president that tweets online like a little kid.

I wrote "- how he thinks -" because I think Zimbardo only reports on part of the non-American reactions to Trump: There are also quite a few enthusiastic ones.
(Also, I do not think that Obama "
made very good decisions", but I leave this out of consideration.)

But Zimbardo seems more or less correct (apart from Trump's supporters) on how many Americans see Trump.

Then there is this:

Zimbardo: In America even though our president was democratically elected, what we are seeing is the equivalent of right-wing totalitarianism building up in our country where you do things not for the power of the people but the power of the leaders. That’s essentially what totalitarianism is — a small inner group that dictates what everybody else will do and they take it or leave it.

Hm. I'd say Zimbardo may be confusing authoritarianism and totalitarianism here, and he also is not correct about what totalitarianism is: It is not "a small inner group that dictates what everybody else will do and they take it or leave it"; it is - in my opinion -
a qualification of ideas (rather than of groups) with the following characteristics:

Totalitarian: Ideology or religion that is pretended to have final answers to many important human questions and problems and that is pretended to be thereby justified to persecute persons who do not agree with the ideology or the religion.

This is the usual form that every human ideology assumes - religious, political and otherwise, with science as the almost only partial exception.

So I disagree with Zimbardo over what totalitarianism means. I also disagree with
his psychological analysis of Trump:

Zimbardo: Trump is an unconstrained present hedonist. As kids, all of us are hedonists. (...) Animals live for the moment. You’re hungry, you forage and you eat. My sense is that Trump lives in a totally present hedonistic world. He makes decisions on the spur of the moment without thinking of the consequences. That’s OK if you’re a kid. It also is the basis for all addictions.
No, that is both far too simple-minded and also does not mention at all a diagnosis (or professional opinion) that was reached by many psychiatrists and clinical psychologists,
and which I think is correct: Trump is a megalomaniac, and as such not sane. For more,
see the link (by three professors of psychiatry or psychology, to Obama, in late 2016).


5. Neoliberalism in the Driver's Seat: Trump and Ryan's Ruling-Class Schemes

The fifth and last article today is by C.J. Polychroniou on Truth-out:
This starts as follows:
Donald Trump ran a campaign to "make America great again," promising the creation of high-paid manufacturing jobs and the restoration of the middle class. Yet, his economic policies will most likely make things worse for average American workers and deal a further blow to the environment, says economist Michael Meeropol, an NPR commentator and author of Surrender: How the Clinton Administration Completed the Reagan Revolution. Michael Meeropol is the oldest son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
In fact, I selected this article because of its writer, who is a good and sensible interviewer, and I had forgotten that Michael Meeropol is a son of Julius and Ethel
Rosenberg, whom I recall from the 1950ies (mostly because they were communists,
as were both of my parents).

Who were the Rosenbergs (for I think few will know who they were)? This is quoted from the beginning of the Wikipedia lemma Julius and Ethel Rosenberg:
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were United States citizens who were executed for conspiracy to commit espionage for the Soviet Union. They were instrumental in the transmission of information about top-secret military technology and prototypes of mechanisms related to the atomic bomb, which were of value to the Soviet nuclear weapons program and also provided top-secret radar, sonar, and jet propulsion engines to the Soviet Union.
(...)
For decades, many defenders of the Rosenbergs, including their sons Michael and Robert Meeropol, maintained that Julius and Ethel were innocent and victims of Cold war paranoia. After the fall of the USSR, much information concerning them was declassified, including a trove of decoded Soviet cables, code-named VENONA, which detailed Julius's role as a courier and recruiter for the Soviets and Ethel's role as an accessory. Their sons' current position is that Julius was legally guilty of the conspiracy charge, though not of atomic spying, while Ethel was only generally aware of his activities. They believe that he did not deserve the death penalty and that she was wrongly convicted. They continue to campaign for Ethel to be legally exonerated.
I think most experts agree. Anyway - I quoted this because it certainly is quite relevant to Michael Meeropol.

This is about the present:

Michael Meeropol: It is essential to separate Trump (the man) from the policies proposed by the Trump administration. Trump, the man, displays "bright shiny objects" that unfortunately divert us from the substance of the actual policies.... The national media and too many of the opposition are diverted by his outrageous lies, his grandiose promises, his bombast and his dangerous authoritarianism. These are the "bright shiny objects" but they have almost nothing to do with the substance of [his] proposed policies.

Your question brings focus where it should be -- the neoliberal content of his administration's proposals. With the possible exception of the selective protectionism he promised during the campaign, [his] economic policy proposals are extensions of traditional neoliberal policies that date back to Ronald Reagan. These policies were enabled by Bill Clinton (see my book Surrender and Bob Pollin's book Contours of Descent), expanded by George W. Bush and not forcefully countered by Barack Obama.
Yes, I think all of that is correct (and Obama was mostly a black Bill Clinton).

Then there is this (and Michael Meeropol is an economist):
Michael Meeropol: Should this new set of neoliberal proposals be adopted, there is no way they will have a positive macroeconomic impact. Forty years of neoliberal policies since 1980 show that. But in terms of income and wealth for the top 1 percent, neoliberalism was a dramatic success. The well-known Saez-Piketty diagrams plotting shares of the top 10 percent and 1 percent of the income distribution show that reduced inequality (the top 1 percent [of people in the US] had 20 percent of income in 1929 and 8 percent in 1979) was successfully reversed in the neoliberal heyday: The [top] 1 percent's share climbed to 18 percent by 2007. In other words, it didn't matter that the economy as a whole did worse -- the "most important" people did better.
This also seems correct to me (for some background see item 1), though I also grant that, for the moment, the stocks are high (but these again mostly benefit the rich).

Here is the last bit that I'll quote from this interview:
Michael Meeropol: Neoliberalism remains in the driver's seat, and it is essential that we continue to expose it and demand real change while resisting the worst proposals of the Trump administration. I do not see acceleration of growth in the macro-economy. The employment- to-population ratio -- the best measure of labor market slack -- has struggled to reach 60 percent just last month, well below the 2007 peak of 63 percent. If the Trump administration rattles world markets sufficiently, there will be another recession.
This also seems correct to me. And this is a recommended article.

---------------
Notes

[1] There is more on Timothy Snyder (<- Wikipedia) here and in "Post-truth is Pre-Fascism".

[2] Here are two precisifications (and I could give more, as a psychologist):

First, in the text I am speaking of extreme talent, such as characterizes geniuses or very brilliant men and women. Of such talents, there are extremely few who have more than one such talent, and indeed they are mostly known: Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

Second, while it seems true that considerable talent tends to be multiform (good physicists may be decent musicians etc. etc.) a considerable talent is not a genius,
while it also is a mistake to attribute the consequences of a fairly obvious high intelligence (highly intelligent people tend to be good at most subjects in schools)
for real talent or rare genius.

[3] And in fact having or getting a lot of money may not have much to do with a real intellectual talent at all: Having money often is the case because one has inherited it; making money often seems to depend on greed, hardness of heart, and complete indifference for the fates of the people whose incomes one acquires for oneself. (These may be called "talents", but they are not intellectual talents but rather what I would call moral or ethical insensitivities.)

       home - index - summaries - mail