Thursday, March 31, 2016

Donald Trump and our Inner Third-Grader

There are many scary things about Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency. But in my mind the scariest is that Trump seems sincerely not to get a fundamental insight most of the rest of us hold to--that laws and principles are what keep any society, including our own, from sinking into barbarity.

If you’re paying attention, you’ve noted that this blindness of Trump’s, this basic contempt for law and principle, structures his talking points on nearly every topic. Whether it’s trade or ISIS or libel laws, Trump’s speech shows him almost uniformly hostile to any kind of overarching norms--the norms we consult when seeking sound policy. Worse, I suspect it’s this very aspect of Trump that’s made him so infectious. We’ve all been in grade school before, and we can relate. Trump appeals to the 3rd grader in us.

“Timmy kicked my dog, so of course I can kick his sister. What . . . I can’t even kick his sister? It’s not FAIR!”

Listen to Trump on whatever subject and you will see a deeply frustrated kid itching to drag everything down to tit for tat. Here he is again after the Brussels attacks:

I think we have to change our law on the waterboarding thing, where they can chop off heads, and they can drown people in steel cages, in heavy steel cages, and we can’t waterboard. So we have to change our laws, and we have to be able to fight at least on an almost equal basis. We have laws that we have to obey in terms of torture, and they have no laws whatsoever that they have to obey.

With Trump it’s always the “they can” but “we can’t”. And for him the problem, bizarrely, is somehow our own respect for laws and principles.

For Trump, principles are little more than troublesome barriers that keep him from getting his meaty hands on the world and doing whatever he wants with it. (Meaty but smallish hands, I should say.)

And his sense of the world is really quite odd. Consider just this sentence: “So we have to change our laws, and we have to be able to fight at least on an almost equal basis.” Are you f***ing kidding me? There is nothing even remotely equal about the basis from which we fight ISIS. We fight from a vastly superior position. And we’ve earned this position because, through long struggle, we’ve developed a civilization that makes this position possible: one grounded in law and principle; one grounded in the rough-and-tumble need, through lawful institutions, to develop a broad consensus.

But note the degrading affect Trump’s rhetoric has on this whole process. Because is his rhetoric is that of a grade-schooler trying to justify himself, the political context into which he projects himself, in the minds of his followers, itself becomes something like a huge classroom. A global-sized classroom in which Trump is standing on a desk making his case.

And in our International Classroom, if student Donny can’t do whatever he wants when angered, then who is it that’s stopping him?

Who else but Teacher.

Trump clearly doesn’t like it that we “can’t torture”. As Trump might say, pointing his finger toward the blackboard: “Teacher doesn’t let us torture. It’s NOT FAIR. They can torture, but we can’t.”

Obviously “Teacher” in this grade-school struggle is everything and everybody that would hold us Americans back from behaving like our gut instincts tell us to. Teacher is the one, for instance, who would prevent us from hunting down and killing the family members of suspected terrorists. Teacher is the one who says torture is always wrong. Teacher is the one who would remind us that bombing whole regions into the Stone Age is genocide.

Of course Trump is ready with his answers: “But they hit us first.” “But they are cutting off heads.” “But they are getting away with murder.”

They are getting away with murder, the logic goes, so we should be able to get away with murder too.

I remember back during the lead up to the Iraq war listening to the Fox News crowd trying to justify our going in. “Look what they did to us on 9/11. We need a Strong Response.”

Never mind that the 9/11 attacks weren’t orchestrated by Iraq, which considered al Qaeda an enemy. Never mind that there was zero evidence of active jihadist cells in Iraq. No. To hear the way some Americans talked in those fateful years, it seemed any Muslim power was ripe for attack because, don’t you see, “They did this.”

Of course the danger in this kind of thinking was clear to many of us back in 2002. But by now, after all the mayhem the Iraq war unleashed, the danger in this thinking should be clear to any moron who can add 2 + 2.

Somehow it still isn’t clear.

In fact we’re no longer in a grade school classroom, where basic rules of behavior, rules of engagement, are first taught. We can no longer afford to pretend these rules are irrelevant--as I believe most Trump supporters are pretending. Like it or not, we’re now in an adult world. And we face ever graver challenges. In such a world there’s simply no room for this “It’s NOT FAIR” brand of pleading and whining. We need to do decide what will work, what will succeed, not what will make our gut instinct feel better.

Oddly, if you listen to Trump’s words carefully, the thing that seems to make him maddest about ISIS is that we aren’t allowed to behave like they do. Clearly, Trump and his followers, to make themselves feel better, are pretending to believe ISIS would dwindle if we just followed our gut instinct and gave them tit for tat.

Recent history proves how delusional this is. The jihadists, as everyone knows, want us to sink to their level. When we sink to their level, they grow.

But my main point here is not just about the fight against terrorism. It’s rather more about Trump as a social being. Because if you listen to him, you’ll hear this same approach of his repeated in almost every context. And so it’s not only: “They can torture and kill civilians, but we can’t.” It’s also: “They can say nasty things about me, but I can’t ruin their careers by suing them for libel.” And: “They can disrupt my rallies, but we can’t beat them up in response.” And: “They can say things about my small hands, but if I talk about my dick being just fine during a debate, they blame me for not being presidential.” And now: “They can post things about my wife, but I can’t post things about how ugly Cruz’s wife is.”

It’s all just NOT FAIR, Donald, is it? And when you become president of the United States, you’re going to make it all “fair” again, right? Fair on the battlefield, fair in the press, fair to your sense of the grandeur of your own ego.

The Trump campaign is in fact making a grand contribution to America’s collective reversion to childhood. It’s working, sadly, because Americans do have legitimate grievances, and because, again, all these millions of aggrieved people have been to grade school.

“I wanna kick his sister, I wanna, I wanna, and if you don’t let me, it’s NOT FAIR. He kicked my dog first.”

What would policies formulated through Trump’s 3rd-grade lens do to America’s standing in the world? I don’t know about you, but I kind of strongly doubt they would work. As I’ve hinted already, I think Trump’s supporters mostly know this too. They know one can’t really solve complex problems with such policies. But somehow they’re just itching to pursue these policies even so.

Why? Just because. Because otherwise it’s JUST NOT FAIR.

Eric Mader

My new book Idiocy, Ltd. is now available through Amazon.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Election 2016: Our Deep Malaise

Feeling anxious and strung-out? Worried about where America’s headed? Worried about where’s America’s gotten? Feel like you’ve no good choice in this drawn-out campaign nightmare?

Me too. Election 2016 has put me on edge. I’m pulled this way and that. I’m convinced, like many, that we've been pushed to a precipice, and there’s no way back.

“But which precipice will it be?” the Fates seem to be asking. “You don’t know now, do you? Just wait and see.”

And the Fates wink mischievously. And their mischief is more menacing than playful.

One thing I’m sure of in this mess is that Americans are no longer fooled by the political class. These recent months have proved it. More than anything, the election battles we’re watching are about a single glaring fact:

A corporate-controlled government and democracy are mutually exclusive.

Yes, it’s finally out in the open. The corporate-sponsored puppet show we’ve been watching the past couple decades is not in fact democracy. What’s more, it can no longer even impersonate democracy.

Though I’m glad to see Americans are finally wise to Washington, I’m not so glad about where they take it from there.

On the one hand we’ve tens of millions opting for something like a fascist solution.

“What we need is a strong leader who tells it like it is and puts everyone back in place!” they cry.

Strong leaders can sometimes do great things, indeed. I just wish the strong leader they chose wasn’t such a moron. Conviction grounded in principle is one thing. A buffoon aping conviction is something else. And racist convictions--well, they shouldn’t be tolerated.

But is this buffoon we now see cavorting across the media really a racist? Or is he just being labeled one unfairly?

Before offering my own answer, I should point out that I don’t go along with the hyper-sensitive current PC definition of racism. I think one can say all manner of things these days that will be called out as racist, but that aren’t actually so.

And yet, even given my pretty thick skin regarding what is and isn’t racism, I’d have to say that, yes, Donald Trump is a racist. The things he’s allowed to happen at his rallies prove it. For America’s sake, I wish it weren’t true. It is. Trump is not to be trusted to lead a multiracial society.

But in opposition to this Fascist Clown Solution on offer, we’ve also a European-style socialist running, a man driven by true convictions rather than just aping conviction.

Bernie Sanders seems to me the only contender who’d actually fight to loosen the corporate stranglehold on our polity. Whether or not he’d succeed is a different question. But I can understand people’s strong belief that Sanders offers the best blueprint for the coming years. I largely agree with them.

Yet there are caveats in my support for Sanders. These have to do with the rise of political correctness.

I'm sympathetic to many organizations fighting injustice in America, and I recognize that the black community especially has valid grievances. Nonetheless in recent years I’ve become convinced that PC as a general phenomenon is a serious threat to our culture. On many crucial issues, and especially in their strategies for addressing issues, our social justice warriors are dead wrong. On campuses across the country, they’re destroying what little is left of American liberal education. Which is no small loss. Liberal education and pluralist liberal principles are necessary to our democracy. Speech codes, “safe spaces” and trigger warnings are not. Not to mention the nonstop demonization of all things European that passes for Humanities these days.

This SJW crowd largely backs Sanders, and they’re probably right to do so. I suspect Bernie himself never met a social justice warrior he didn’t like. Which leads me to question my own support for him. I’m a strong pluralist and Catholic, an avid believer in both Western cultural traditions and religious liberty protections, both of which have taken a beating under the PC onslaught. I’ve every reason to fear the justices Sanders would nominate to the Supreme Court. Bernie is not, by any means, my ideal candidate.

Then there’s Hillary Clinton. I’ll acknowledge straight off: Even a Trump nomination would not induce me to vote for Hillary. They don’t currently market nose clips reliable enough to allow me to vote for her. Hillary is, in my reading, something like the worst of both worlds. She will empower and pander to the SJW crowd even as she cheerleads the ongoing corporate dismemberment of our economy. She will do the bidding of the military industrial complex and the abortion industry with equal glee. Hillary is one of the few things I’m sure of in this election year. She is no good.

Many fellow Democrats point out to me that Hillary agrees with Bernie on nearly all the issues, then they ask: “Why would anyone who supports Bernie as you do not also support Hillary if she were the nominee?”

I have an answer: “Because while Hillary may agree with Bernie on a whole range of things during the campaign, this does not at all reflect what she would actually do once in the White House.”

Good Democrats refuse to hear this answer.

Would a Hillary administration be better than a Trump administration? I suspect it would. In the way that being slowly worn down into nihilism and despair is better than being beaten up by a drunk clown.

I hope you see my point.

If in the end America pushes its voters to choose between a fake Democrat and a fake Strongman--between, in short, a Total Sellout and a Fascist Clown--I will be very tempted to say: “Sorry, friends, I’m not going to dignify this election with my vote. Or rather: I’m going to write in the imperfect candidate who at least seems to me a viable candidate.”

If things keep going as they are, many Americans may end up doing something like this, and the candidate they write it may be Bernie, or John Kasich, or who knows. Bernie is more what a Democrat was before the 1990s. And Kasich is more what a Republican was before Fox News and friends dumbed the party down to what it has become today.

Admittedly, none of the above offers much help given the precipice we face as a country. And that is why I, along with so many others, am worried about what the Fates have in store.

Eric Mader

My new book Idiocy, Ltd. is now available at Amazon.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Dear America: You're lucky I'm not there

Super Tuesday is over, and the taste in my mouth is nothing good.

My man Bernie didn't even win Massachusetts. How could it be?

Whatever the reason, I see Bernie's loss of that great state as the writing on the wall. Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee, and it’s largely thanks to her popularity with minority voters.

Come again? Hillary? The choice of minority voters?

Sad but true. It's puzzling to me, and not a little disheartening, because Hillary will do no more for these voters than Obama did. And the only minority community he helped is the one that takes its lunch round Wall Street and calls itself the 1%.

So WTF, America?

Though it’s a hard pill for me to swallow, I have to face the fact that our two parties are going to nominate the candidates I'd have picked last from each party's contestants. With every year that passes for me here in Taiwan, where I've lived and taught since the 1990s, it seems I get less and less American. Though I grew up with you people, I no longer comprehend what motivates you, what is happening in your heads. Is it Dancing with the Stars? Is it “We love you Caitlyn”? Is it USA! USA! USA!

I really have no fucking idea.

Luckily I live abroad, or I'd have flipped out by now and you all would see me in the news as the perp in a mass shooting. Living overseas, I can keep on keeping on as a relatively harmless eccentric.

Somewhere in those fifty states there's a shopping mall full of morons who continue to live and breathe just because I happen to be in Asia.

Yes, you’re lucky I’m not there. And me, I feel lucky too--to be spared the psychopathology that would be my fate if I had to live with y'all.

Eric Mader