Danger! Danger Will Robinson!

August 14, 2018

If you had a glimpse of the coverage of Trump’s “mass rally” in Tampa last week, you might have noticed a packed crowd behind him on stage with a single African-American featured prominently over his left shoulder. Not that I would suggest anyone has a morbid sense of curiosity, but if you have watched video clips of past rallies, you would have noticed two things. First there is always a single African-American always situated behind him so that whenever Trump is on camera, so would that man. Secondly, you would have noticed that the designated black man has changed from a rather animated and odd looking guy to a more conservative-looking and reserved black man. Other than that, the staged events always featured people deliberately crowded into a small area behind him, with no shots of the crowds (which have grown smaller in the past year). This is an effort to make it appear that huge turnouts of diverse people come to his rallies – a propaganda technique developed by German cinematographers in the 1930s.

Although the content of each rally is essentially always the same reiteration of the campaign top hits (e.g. lock her up!), the vitriol has increased to the point where many fear that violence will result – in particular, violence directed against the media covering the rallies. Trump infamously encouraged people at is rallies during the campaign to attack protesters in attendance, promising to pay their legal bills. This thuggish behavior was widely condemned, except among the Trump base. However, that was a different sort of malignancy from the recent rallies. Attacking protesters attempting to disrupt the rally was a reaction, a calculated reaction, but different from encouraging hatred of the media covering the rally. The difference being one where he is attempting to identify a class of people – not just individuals but a class. The transition from having an “enemies list” to having an entire class of people identified as enemies (the “fake media”) is a tactic historically used by dictators under stress in the past to divert attention from their failures. Stalin identified the media as an “enemy of the people” (that is a direct quote), Hitler identified the “Jewish media” as the enemy of the people. Putin was the author of the term “fake news” (contrary to Trump’s lie that he invented the term) and targeted assassinations of the fake news journalist, who happened to author reports critical of his regime.

In another blatant borrowing of a term used regarding another leader, Trump propagandists now speak of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” (remember Obama Derangement Syndrome?), to trivialize the legitimate concerns of Americans. Obama Derangement Syndrome referred to provably false accusations about Obama such as he was not a citizen, he was a Moslem, he wanted to create an alliance with ISIL, etc. In contrast, Trump Derangement Syndrome may refer to questions about his behavior that are rooted in evidence, history and his own statements that leave open such questions as to whether he is compromised by Putin, or that he is a pathological liar.

I propose an alternative definition to Trump Derangement Syndrome: the vast majority of his supporters who believe everything he says, even when he blatantly contradicts himself or when his comments are demonstrably detached from reality. People who attend his rallies are true believers and that would be alarming in itself, but they represent only a fraction of Americans who have a more realistic appraisal of his character and revile him, but still support him politically. These are millions of people and that is a real danger.

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Their Hero

August 13, 2018

Who ARE these people who attend Trump rallies, such as the one in Tampa last week? The familiar scene are the crowds roaring in admiration, and reciting the same repetitive lines used in every rally has grown more ominous as Trump’s vitriol has crossed the line into dangerous incitement. Trump is their hero.  A Gallup poll today provides some insight as to who these people are. The only demographic category that has positive job approval ratings for Trump were white, high school educated, lower middle class. Virtually every other demographic category of Americans has negative job approval ratings. In an ironic way, these are the people who are being betrayed by the policies being implemented by the Trump administration in contrast to the very promises he makes at every rally. For example, while Corporation and billionaire investors are experiencing the tremendous profits as the result of the tax bill that was passed, wages have experienced a negative growth rate, insurance premiums are climbing while coverage has decreased, and tariffs have begun to increase the cost of living.

Some people claim that the high school educated, white people of America need someone to voice their concerns and fears that their lifestyle and economic security is threatened, and that may be true, but what about actually representing them with policies that address the reality of their condition? Is telling them at rallies that they are the real elite, that they are smarter than ivy League graduates what they really want? They claim he is keeping his promises, but what promises? Do they have better wages? No. Do they have better medical insurance at a fraction of the cost? No. Is there even a Wall that Mexico paid for? The tax bill returned fractions of a penny compared to what billionaires gained. If no one earning over a million dollars got a tax break, every person earning less than a million dollars a year would have realized $68,000.00. The only promise kept turned out to be a rip off of his most ardent followers.

Is Trump their hero because of his character? Most of the people at his rallies would never cheat on their wife as she just delivered their child, or grab women by their vaginas, mock disabled people, or lie without any conscience. It is true that many of them are racist, could that be the appeal? Many of them wish they were as rich (or appear to be as rich), could that be the attraction?

I suspect that Trump is a hero to many of these people because he appears to be rich enough to say whatever he wants, and do whatever he wants. That illusion is reinforced when he exploits their fears and voices their resentments. Its not about what he does, its about what he says that matters – even if he is lying to them. These are emotionally vulnerable people, who dance to the siren song of demagogues. He is their cult leader, and like many of those types his behavior matters less to his followers than his words and how he makes them feel.

Many of them could also be led to something much more productive and meaningful for their lives without appealing to our baser natures and emotions, but fear is a powerful thing and there are very few people in the GOP with courage these days.


Religion and Politics

August 13, 2018

Our Founding Fathers recognized that organized religions were poisonous to a Representative Democracy and explicitly put a wall between government and religion. They did not preclude that men (women were not allowed participation in government at that time) with religious convictions would apply their religious principles to how they governed, only that their religion could never be the reason for why they governed (i.e. the goal of governing is never to be the institution of an official religion).

However, government may also be just as toxic for religion as vice versa. Perhaps the involvement of the Evangelical Movement in the present government has done far more damage to their institutions than the benefits realized thus far. For decades now the American Evangelical Movement has sought to impose their religious beliefs on the rest of the country through political activism. They routinely condemned the character of Liberal and Conservative politicians who also happened to oppose their legislative agenda. Their claim to political legitimacy was their moral legitimacy – they wanted a government and people who govern that reflected their moral beliefs – and they claimed that it was their Christian duty to elect men and women who reflected their heart-felt religious beliefs.

Throughout the history of the country, whenever organized religions flexed their political muscle it tended to expose the illusion of their moral authority. For example, the Christian religion’s justification of slavery with scriptures, and Native American programs that resulted in cultural and actual genocide. The result has been the recognition by the wider society that Christian control of government policy results in harm to our democracy and to society as a whole.

The present condition of American politics is yet another confirmation that when Christian leaders exert extraordinary control over society, then we all suffer. It also illustrates that Christian involvement in government has revealed that the Christian kings have no clothes – to quote their own scriptures their “sins have become naked before the Lord”. The same Christian leaders who condemned Clinton for his moral shortcomings and called for his impeachment, openly excuse their support of Trump whose character and behavior daily manifest every contradiction to their teachings on moral character.

The Christian leadership justify their hypocrisy with the anticipated results of reversing Constitutional rights to abortions and freedom from discrimination. They even justify some of the most basic tenets of the teachings of Christ such as taking children from parents and locking them up, refusing services to people based on their sexual preference or religions. Some people argue that Christianity by nature is intolerant and dangerous to freedom, and when put into practice in government policy results in a destruction of liberty and tolerance. I am not so sure about that being true for all Christians, but it is certainly true when Christianity becomes a part of government policy.

The risk that these “Christian” leaders supporting Trump no matter how immoral he behaves or evil his policies are, is that their followers will come to see their hypocrisy and question whether their leadership is authentic. The even greater threat to Christianity is that the followers of these corrupt hypocrites will lead their flocks to conclude that their faith is not so much misplaced as it is false.