Denial and Destruction

I won’t spend much time on the twisted announcement reversing U. S. climate change policy that Trump made yesterday. There’s plenty of analysis regarding that already. Instead, I’d like to suggest you focus on something other than our buffoonish president for a moment. That something is the Republican Party itself, which MIT gadfly Noam Chomsky recently said is “racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organized human life.”

Hurricane Sandy aftermath, 2012.
Hurricane Sandy aftermath, 2012. Photo: NY Daily News.

The GOP, and conservatives in general, have always been laggards when it comes to keeping pace with change—any sort of change. But today’s Republicans are another breed entirely. Motivated by a toxic combination of greed and hatred, and almost entirely devoid of empathy, the Republicans, as David Brooks puts it in today’s Times, “share [a] core worldview that life is nakedly a selfish struggle for money and dominance.”

Chomsky, in addressing the dangers this worldview and the Republicans pose, cites a 2013 Daedalus article by conservative political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein in arriving at his dire prognosis. They wrote that the Republican Party is now “ideologically extreme, scornful of facts and compromise, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” Those words date from four years ago and their truth has only intensified in 2017. Moreover, Chomsky is not only considering climate change when he speaks of dangers to human survival but nuclear weapons as well.

Given what we saw yesterday in Washington, and given recent developments on the Korean Peninsula, we would do well to take Chomsky’s warning seriously.

An American Kakistocracy

Many of you probably intuit what a “kakistocracy” is but may be a little fuzzy on the exact definition. According to Wikipedia, a kakistocracy is “a state or country run by the worst, least qualified or most unscrupulous citizens.” (Or, in the case of the United States, people who occupy all three categories simultaneously.)

Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, Paul Ryan. The worst.
Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, Paul Ryan. The worst. Photo: Salon.com.

The word comes from the Greek kakistos (meaning “worst”) and kratos (meaning “rule”), thus meaning government by the worst people. Despite the Greek roots, the word was first used in English and was coined by author Thomas Love Peacock in 1829.

In spite of its long history, the word’s usage has been infrequent. But I think the times we find ourselves in could make “kakistocracy” a strong candidate for 2017’s Word of the Year.

Trump’s election has obviously given the word a boost. As economist Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times, “[Trump is] surrounding himself with people who share his contempt for everything that is best in America. What we’re looking at, all too obviously, is an American kakistocracy—rule by the worst.”

I want to do my small part to promote widespread usage of the word, since in my view we are living in a moment when kakistocracy has supplanted democracy as our country’s governing principle. Democracy has in fact been subverted (perhaps with foreign assistance) to allow the rise of kakistocracy in America. This has been achieved through the canny use of social media and “alternative facts,” heavy Republican gerrymandering and a politically masterful stoking of widespread, free-floating resentment. Plus copious amounts of money, of course.

Our American kakistocracy runs far deeper than the three ugly (in every sense of the word) politicians shown on this page. A large portion of our citizenry has indeed been taught to hate all that is best in America, and cheer when the crass and the ignorant tear down another standard of civility or excellence. Everything that has traditionally represented progress in the U.S. and around the world—education, science, the arts, social integration—is now suspect, part of a “politically correct” elite which must be overturned.

Kakistocracy is in full flower thanks to the Trump administration, and the nearly 40% of U.S. citizens who still support it. This must change. But how?

An Enemy of the People

As we arrive at Trump’s 100-day landmark, there is an astonishingly wide array of catastrophic decisions to examine (the Korean peninsula, which is bubbling in the red zone as I write this, may turn out to be the most catastrophic of all).

Trump: Appalling ignorance and a dangerous tone
Trump: Appalling ignorance and a dangerous tone. Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

Of the many abominable actions and statements we have had from this president and Congress since January, I think their hostility toward a free American press is among the most alarming. Trump’s characterization of the press as an “enemy of the American people” is straight out of Orwell. Not coincidentally, this governmental animosity is reflected in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index compiled by the non-profit, non-governmental group Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières). The U.S. slipped two places, to rank 43rd out of 180 countries surveyed. The United Kingdom also slipped two places, largely due to laws permitting generalized surveillance and a proposal for a new espionage act that could result in journalists and whistle-blowers being prosecuted as spies. Even so, at number 40, the UK still ranks ahead of America.

If you’ve heard of (or remember) COINTELPRO, the FBI’s “counterintelligence program” of some 50 years back which involved massive amounts of illegal surveillance, then having the president refer to the press as an “enemy of the people” should be especially chilling. The FBI of the 50s, 60s and 70s was not even close to today’s NSA in terms of surveillance capabilities. No wonder major news organizations like the New York Times go to great lengths to try to provide confidential access to members of the public who would like to submit tips. We’re way beyond Watergate days, when a reporter could safely meet an anonymous source in an underground parking garage.

Still, the First Amendment remains on the books. The Times can publish stories showing how deeply compromised the Trump administration is, and I can publish this humble blog. But—and it’s a big “but”—things can change very quickly.

Trump and his cronies are setting a very dangerous tone where press freedom is concerned. Already, a very large proportion of U.S. adults have been convinced that mainstream media is corrupt and untruthful. Already, U.S. education has been undermined (quite deliberately) to the point where today’s young people need to be taught how to distinguish truth from falsehood—the ability doesn’t come naturally any longer.

Ignorance is extremely dangerous. That’s why, upon Trump’s election, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ “Doomsday Clock” was moved forward by 30 seconds. We’re now at two and a half minutes to midnight. Let’s hope that the “major, major conflict” with North Korea which Trump is threatening doesn’t bring us any closer. Let’s also hope that a free American press keeps shining a light on this disastrous administration, for those are are still able and willing to see.

Darkness Visible

Amnesty International released its 2016/2017 “State of the World’s Human Rights” report yesterday and it paints a dark picture. The global human rights organization noted that toxic fear-mongering by anti-establishment politicians, including President Trump, is contributing to a worldwide drive to roll back human rights.

Amnesty described 2016 as “the year when the cynical use of ‘us vs. them’ narratives of blame, hate and fear took on a global prominence to a level not seen since the 1930s.”

The watchdog group named Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte among leaders it said are “wielding a toxic agenda that hounds, scapegoats and dehumanizes entire groups of people.”

Trump’s “poisonous” rhetoric exemplified “the global trend of angrier and more divisive politics,” Amnesty said.

Donald Trump
Trump photo © Huffington Post.

The day before Amnesty’s report was released, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly issued a pair of memos intended to expedite the removal of millions of U. S. immigrants far more quickly, with far fewer checks and far less balance. Kelly wants to hire 10,000 more ICE officers and 5,000 more Border Patrol agents, in addition to enlisting police departments around the U. S. to assist in immigrant roundups.

Yesterday, the Amnesty report noted that “The limits of what is acceptable have shifted. Politicians are shamelessly and actively legitimizing all sorts of hateful rhetoric and policies based on people’s identity: misogyny, racism and homophobia. The first target has been refugees and, if this continues in 2017, others will be in the crosshairs.”

The White House had no comment on the report.

Can Facebook Save the World?

I won’t try to cover the absurd press conference conducted by our so-called President yesterday, as it’s already been done quite effectively (Steven Colbert stands out here). Laughter is a natural response, and many progressives take heart from the fact that every such fiasco undermines Trump further.

But I don’t share this optimism. Even if Trump fails to last a full term, as many pundits are predicting, we’re still left with Pence and an amoral Republican Congress intent on undermining every bit of social progress the country has made in decades.

Well, the pendulum will swing back, others say. And to that I respond, so what? Let’s say we manage to elect a Democratic President and control the Senate again in 2020. We will still be left with the ignorant, misguided and/or malevolent citizens who voted Trump into office last year. So how much lasting progress can really be made? The pendulum is swinging more slowly now, and the clock is winding down.

The country’s two-party system, with its electoral college and other quaint artifacts, is broken beyond repair. Universal suffrage is no cure when half the electorate is uninformed and unqualified by temperament, education and upbringing to make rational decisions. (The Republicans have done their best to increase this pool of unqualified voters through effective gerrymandering.)

All of which brings me to a surprising statement made by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, yesterday: “progress now requires humanity coming together not just as cities or nations, but also as a global community.”

Facebook
Can Facebook help create global harmony? Logo © Facebook.

This is absolutely true. Both climate change and nuclear weapons, to cite just two examples, are terrifying threats that only a global response can meet effectively. But how do we get there? Somehow I think Facebook alone is not the answer. But maybe it can help, if it does more to curtail the ignorance promulgated on its network and more to help people break out of their tight little groups and constant posting as an end in itself to take part in organizing change in the real world.

Zuckerberg has raised a very important issue and I admire him for speaking out in today’s nationalistic, close-minded environment. How do people of intelligence and good will come together to make genuine progress? That is the question more of us need to address today, regardless of national boundaries or Trump’s latest tweet.

On the Brink

As I write this (on Monday, December 19), Donald Trump has just surpassed the 270 Electoral College votes he needs to become President. This, despite the news of Russian interference to tilt the election in his favor. This, despite the fact that his opponent had a popular vote margin of more than two and a half million.

Plenty has already been written and said about both factors. The fact that the popular vote winner has lost the presidency is nothing new; we only have to go back to 2000 and George W. Bush for another example. The Russian hacking is new, though, and it is highly disturbing for anyone who genuinely cares about American democracy. But not disturbing enough to make a difference, apparently.

The Russian connection, like Trump himself, has already been “normalized” with “Saturday Night Live” skits and jokes around the office. All the talking heads are still talking, and irony is still frequently called upon. The seriousness of the situation continues to escape most of us, most of the time.

Is America’s political nightmare so horrifying that, like death itself, we find it difficult to view straight on? Is it only possible to avert our eyes and twitter (pun intended) nervously at stupid skits and jokes? If so, things are about to get a whole lot worse.

Sneak Preview: 2017 TV Season

Big Changes Are in Store for Your Favorite Shows!

Writeside.com has learned that the Trump Administration has negotiated major changes with America’s TV networks and cable companies—plus streaming providers Netflix, Hulu and Amazon—to “bring prime time TV programs into closer accord with America’s values.”

Virtually every prime time program will reflect these changes. Here, for example, are some of the changes planned for the well-regarded FX series “The Americans.”

"The Americans"
“The Americans” title card © FX.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Rather than being set in the early 1980s during the Cold War, the upcoming fifth season will take place in present-day America.
  • Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, two Soviet KGB officers posing as an American married couple living in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., will come out of hiding and join their neighbor Stan Beeman at the FBI.
  • Paige Jennings, who had intended to follow in her parents’ footsteps, becomes an intern at the Trump White House.
  • Elizabeth and Philip join Stan in combating un-American bureaucrats at the CIA, who are alleging that America’s close ally Russia interfered with the 2016 election. Certain members of Congress who prove susceptible to these claims also become FBI targets.
  • Vladimir Putin will make a cameo guest appearance mid-season.
  • John McCain, who had been spearheading efforts to prove Russian interference in the election, is poisoned with polonium-210, a radioactive isotope. Elizabeth and Philip are seen hovering near his hospital bed.
  • At a news conference in the season’s final episode, President Trump makes his own cameo guest appearance. He is asked if Russia is responsible for the McCain poisoning. “That’s ridiculous,” the President replies. “Besides, I like senators who haven’t been poisoned with polonium-210.”

President Trump has announced that he will serve as executive producer for “The Americans” next year, along with “The Apprentice.” The President also referred to some “fabulous” changes in store next year for “PBS News Hour.”

“We’re going to bring back that fantastic two-woman anchor team,” the President said, alluding to the duo of Judy Woodruff and the late Gwen Ifill. The program’s new 2017 anchors will be Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Palin.