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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Trump Can’t Lead

The Daily Escape:

Zion NP Utah, 2001 – photo by Wrongo

Leader of the Free World. Leader of the Republican Party. Commander-in-Chief. Leader of the US Government. Donald Trump holds all of these titles, but he isn’t a leader. We just lived through a lab experiment in Trump’s leadership, his curious response to the Charlottesville protests. Either he had a lapse in clear thinking, or he cannot show empathy when the rest of us need it.

Either way, he failed as a leader.

On Saturday, America reacted to a moment in which armed racism was celebrated by members of the KKK, neo-Nazis, white nationalists and white supremacists, who sought a confrontation to help them achieve high status among the far right. The ugliness of the rally – which included crowds of young white men carrying torches, an air of menace, and the offering of the Nazi salute — should make our president think about how not just to defuse the situation, but how to blunt this from becoming a wave of similar protests across the nation.

Trump’s remarks on Saturday said in essence, “All lives matter”. By Monday, when most of America thought that what he said was far less than the situation required, he gave a terse speech saying:

Racism is evil…Those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.

There was no emotion or believability behind it, he said what he was told needed to be said, not what he believed. Where was Trump’s sympathy for Jews, African-Americans, Muslims and others that these white-right protesters savaged?

And where was his leadership? Richard Neustadt wrote “Presidential Power” in 1960, a definitive book for its time. Wrongo read it as a freshman in college. Here is a quote:

The president’s primary power is to persuade and bargain, not to command. When a president has to resort to commanding people, he is showing weakness. Commands only work in very special circumstances. The essence of a President’s persuasive task is to convince…that what the White House wants of them is what they ought to do for their sake…

The power to persuade is perhaps the most important tool a president has. Power in our government is dispersed, so the president must bargain and persuade others that what he knows is in their best interest, and coach them to move in the right direction. Do you see Trump doing that?

Dr. Christine Porath of Georgetown thinks that “warmth” is the most important trait for a leader to have:

Warmth is the primary characteristic that people judge you by, and they make that judgment first…Can I trust you? If you seem warm, then that’s great…Leading with warmth, for leaders, has shown to be helpful. It’s a way to connect with people and again they’re more likely to work harder for you and perform better.

Do you see any warmth in Trump? Any empathy? It isn’t there.

Neustadt agrees. He calls how the public views the president, “public prestige”. Even though the public has no direct association to policymaking, the public’s view of the president affects how legislation moves through the Congress and into law. Neustadt also says that a president should think and act prospectively, so decisions he makes today aid his ability to persuade tomorrow.

Trump’s opinion polls are in the dumpster. A very small core of Americans find him believable.

Scott Adams the Dilbert guy, has said that Trump is a master persuader, and that he won the election because of his mad persuasion skills. But, those skills, which did seem to exist in the 2016 primaries and general election, have deserted Der Trump, and have been replaced by continuing Twitter attacks on a growing list of institutions, groups of people, and individuals.

Charlottesville was a protest by those who define themselves not just by who they are, but by who they hate. And they also define themselves as Trump supporters. There were shouts of “Heil Trump” on Friday night. They see no benefit in finding commonality with a diverse America, but pointedly, thrive off of hating our differences.

These people are content to blame “The Others” for their lot in life, and Trump persuades mostly by telling us what he hates, rather than what he likes.

In the 1960s we had much larger, and more violent (though mostly unarmed) protests. Those protesters didn’t want to jet us back to the past, but to propel us forward to a better future.

The white nationalist agitators in Charlottesville want to return us to an era that cannot (and should not) be recreated. All in the name of making America “great again.”

And they back Trump, a charlatan who pretends to lead.

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Has Trump Changed Over The Years?

During his flu-mandated confinement last week, Wrongo read a 1990 Vanity Fair profile of Donald and Ivana Trump. 1990 wasn’t the best year for The Donald, he was up to his armpits in debt. Some of his real estate ventures were under water and his marriage was coming apart. He was involved in a very public extramarital affair with Marla Maples, whom he later married and still later, divorced.

The Vanity Fair article by Marie Brenner, was written in the midst of all of that:

Trump isolated himself in a small apartment on a lower floor of Trump Tower. He would lie on his bed, staring at the ceiling, talking into the night on the telephone. The Trumps had separated. Ivana remained upstairs in the family triplex with its beige onyx floors and low-ceilinged living room painted with murals in the style of Michelangelo. The murals had occasioned one of their frequent fights: Ivana wanted cherubs, Donald preferred warriors. The warriors won.

Brenner continued:

For days, Trump rarely left his building. Hamburgers and French fries were sent up to him from the nearby New York Delicatessen. His body ballooned, his hair curled down his neck. “You remind me of Howard Hughes,” a friend told him. “Thanks,” Trump replied, “I admire him.”

It is a very long piece, and provides insight and important history. In a follow-up article in 2015, Brenner gave us bullet points about the Trump character and elements that have remained true through the years:

  • Trump’s views on women are still repugnant
  • He is still loves slinging bullshit.
  • He is still convinced that the public loves him, even if you find him repulsive.
  • When pressed on awkward topics—such as whether or not he regularly read Adolf Hitler’s speeches—he gets vague and inventive.
  • He has a long history exploiting undocumented immigrants on construction projects.
  • Loyalty has never been his strong suit.

In 2011, WaPo’s Richard Cohen recalled Brenner’s original Vanity Fair article: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

American political life [today] is [about] doing away with the back story. Increasingly, politicians are becoming religious types, Eagle Scouts who mastered all the knots, a monasticism leavened only by the occasional martini. They do not stray. They avoid midlife crises. They came out of the womb with certainty, avoided acne, married the first girl they dated and went on to make a fortune in something or other.

With Trump, it’s all back story. We know his flops. We know he curses. We know he fools around, that he isn’t religious. We know he lies. We know he has bad taste — in buildings, in ties, in associates (the late Roy Cohn, for instance, and now, Roger Stone). We know about his support for Birtherism.

He’s all these things, and he knows there’s no bad publicity.

He even exaggerates his exaggerations, which is what all people in real estate do. After all, every condo in the building is sold, and the apartment you want already has a ton of offers.

How will that style work with Putin? With President Xi of China? Does The Donald’s experience with borrowing money and then letting his projects go bankrupt animate his thought about welshing on our National Debt?

This from David Remnick:

Trump is no longer hustling golf courses, fake “universities,” or reality TV. He means to command the United States armed forces and control its nuclear codes. He intends to propose legislation, conduct America’s global affairs, preside over its national-intelligence apparatus, and make the innumerable moral and political decisions required of a President.

No, we are not in a Seth Rogen movie. That was North Korea. The movie we are in includes televised assurances of adequate genital dimensions. This is our political moment, a fact-free time where insults and bigotry are acceptable. Remnick reminds us of a story: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

When Howard Kaminsky of Random House called on the real-estate developer and self-marketing master Donald Trump at his office on Fifth Avenue. Kaminsky brought along a cover design for “Trump: The Art of the Deal”. Trump seemed reasonably happy. Just one thing, he said. ‘Please make my name much bigger.’

The Republican Party, having spent years courting the basest impulses in American political culture, now sees the writing on the wall. It reads “Donald Trump,” in very big letters.

Wrongo spoke today with a blog reader. His view was that the end game is set up for Trump, and that he can’t lose. If he wins in the General Election, he wins. If he loses in the General, he still wins.

Regardless of the outcome, Trump wins, but, apparently, we the people will lose.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 20, 2016

Let’s start with the infamous Donald Trump and his Trumpettes whacking protesters at his rallies:

COW Trump Anger

Trump isn’t alone. This happened in the past. Ronald Reagan, as Republican Governor of CA said after Kent State: “If it takes a bloodbath, then let’s get it over with.” James A. Rhodes, Republican governor of Ohio, said about student protesters at Kent State:

They’re worse than the brown shirts and the communist element and also the night riders and the vigilantes. We’re going to eradicate the problem, we’re not going to treat the symptoms.

Onward to the GOP and SCOTUS nominee Merrick Garland. Mitch McConnell, our #1 Constipational scholar, says “no” to a previously appointed Constitutional scholar:

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Judge Garland should take his cue from namesake Judy Garland in Wizard of Oz and say to the Senate, find a heart, find a brain. But mostly, find some courage:

COW 2040

Or as the cartoon shows, all the seats on the Court could well be vacant. Never before has the Senate insisted that it can simply ignore the president’s nominee and refuse to participate in the process required by the Constitution. They should not start now.

The GOP has trouble squaring the circle about the people’s voice being heard:

COW Double Jepordy

 

The general election shapes up as who can use the Force more effectively:

COW Darth Candidates

One explanation for Putin’s pull-out from Syria:

COW Putins Tiny Hands

 

 

 

 

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Super Tuesday Part Trois

A little music to get you to (or through) today’s primary election, particularly if you are in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio or North Carolina.

We’ll see if it is still a race in both parties @11:00pm.

Here is “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by the Who. It was released as a 3+ minute single in June 1971, reaching the top 10 in the UK. But the full 8 1/2 minute version appeared as the final track on the band’s 1971 album Who’s Next, released that August.

In 2011, the song was ranked number 134 on Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

When will we not be fooled? When we learn the facts. Knowledge is the first step to resisting the BS. When you know the facts, politicians can’t fool you.

Here is “Won’t Get Fooled Again”:

Here are the lyrics:
We’ll be fighting in the streets with our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on sit in judgment of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song
I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play, just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again

The change, it had to come, we knew it all along
We were liberated from the fold, that’s all
And the world looks just the same and history ain’t changed
‘Cause the banners, they are flown in the last war

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play, just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again, no no

I’ll move myself and my family aside
If we happen to be left half alive
I’ll get all my papers and smile at the sky
Though I know that the hypnotized never lie
Do ya?

There’s nothing in the streets, looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left is now parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play, just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
Don’t get fooled again, no no

Yeah
Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

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Has The Progressive Moment Returned?

(This is the second and final column on the Progressive Movement)

Few issues in the history of 20th and 21st century America have inspired more disagreement than the value of the Progressive movement to our society. Our high school texts taught that it was a movement by the people to curb the power of the special interests in our government:

COW Bosses

The Bosses of the Senate by Joseph Keppler, 1889

The 1890s Progressive Movement was a response to dislocations in American life. There had been rapid industrialization of the economy, but there had been no corresponding changes in social and political institutions. Economic power had moved to ever larger private businesses, while social and political life remained centered primarily in local communities, even within rapidly growing cities, with great variability in quality of life.

But early Progressives believed that the problems society faced (poverty, violence, greed, racism, class warfare) could best be addressed by providing good education, better working conditions and an efficient workplace. The desire to regulate big business was mostly focused on creating a fair(er) deal for small businesses and workers. Others encouraged Americans to register to vote, fight political corruption, and let the voting public decide how issues should best be addressed (via direct election of senators, the initiative, and the referendum).

Essentially the struggle was a clash between the “public interest” and “corporate privilege.”

Daniel Rodgers’s Atlantic Crossings (1998), shows how European reforms at the time influenced American progressives, suggesting that the movement was not just an American phenomenon, but had roots in a European process of change. He describes the international roots of social reforms such as city planning, workplace regulation, rural cooperatives, municipal transportation, and public housing that traveled across the ocean to our shores.

This is something we see today. Populist movements from the left and the right are roiling Europe, just as they are in America.

In the mid-1930s, the New Deal allowed the country to return to a pent-up agenda of its Progressive past. Once again, we had an economic crisis, once again, the power of business was outsized versus the power of the worker.

Another Roosevelt reformer stepped into the role of Progressive-in-Chief. But where Teddy was a Republican, FDR was a Democrat. Regardless, change again ensued.

We hear Progressivism referred to as synonymous with the American welfare state. But, the original Progressives did not believe that a ‘welfare state’ was an end goal. In fact, the term ‘welfare state’ did not come into currency until the end of the 1940s, as a new label in the Republican Party’s attack on Social Security and other programs of the New Deal.

As we wrote in the review of One Nation Under God (2015) by Kevin Kruse, James Fifield, a minister who worked to bring Corporate America and Christians together said in 1935:

Every Christian should oppose the totalitarian trends of the New Deal…

Overall, Kruse’s book is an excellent analysis of how Christian fundamentalism and capitalism were conflated in the 1950s to erode the divide between church and state, re-casting Progressive political philosophy as both “un-American”, and “anti-Christian” at the same time.

Progressives were called Reds or socialists. It was a charge that would follow Progressives throughout the 20th Century, whenever Progressives returned to the cause of economic equality.

In American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation (2012), Michael Kazin shows that the US is unique among Western nations in that we never developed a viable, left-wing political movement. Unlike Europe, a progressive party has never succeeded in establishing more than a temporary foothold in American politics, despite the hysterical rhetoric of conservatives. We have had a Congressional Progressive Caucus only since 1991. It is comprised of one Senator and 75 Congress people, all Democrats.

Yet, Progressives still have had great success in shaping American society. During presidencies from LBJ to GW Bush, there was far more radical dissent in the US than at any time in the 1950s. Millions of Americans, perhaps a majority, came to reject racial and sexual discrimination, to question the need for and morality of military intervention abroad, and to worry that industrial growth might be destroying the climate.

Since Teddy Roosevelt and the Bull Moose Party in 1912, Progressives have had little historic influence on electoral politics. In the earliest days of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, it was thought that his role was not to win the election, but to slip a few liberal planks into Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. But on the campaign trail, Sanders started drawing crowds of thousands, his ratings surged, and his became a Progressive moment in electoral politics.

Today, Progressivism is a cause in search of a candidate.

Many have called our time a new Gilded Age.

If so, the question then becomes whether Progressivism can once again move back into the halls of government, and be a positive force for change.

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 7, 2016

Today’s wake-up call is for the Republican Party.

Beginning with Barry Goldwater in 1964, the Republican Party began its deal with the Devil by starting their catering to those on the farthest Right edge of the political spectrum, inviting people who traffic in anger, hatred, religious zealotry, and fearmongering of those not like them, inside the GOP tent.

The election of Ronald Reagan helped bring these zealots some legitimacy, not because he was one of them, but because he had courted them in his first run for the White House.

We forget that in 1976, an evangelical Christian who taught Sunday school, and who endeavored to follow Christ in his daily life ran for President and won. But, despite Jimmy Carter’s strong Christian beliefs, Evangelicals went heavily for Ronald Reagan in 1980. Because they admired his Christian faith? No, his faith seemed situational. But he projected what they perceived as strength and leadership.

Evangelicals ignored one of their own in favor of a secular Republican who talked tough and affected an air of someone who could talk tough when events called for toughness. Turns out that for Evangelicals, like many groups, are primarily concerned with political power; their need for a theologically-sound candidate takes a back seat whenever it has to.

That’s the reality today, as it was back then. Trump is barely Christian, and Cruz is solidly Christian, but the politics of the Christian Right demands fealty to a political agenda that tolerates hatred, exclusion, and intolerance. Therefore, Trump and Cruz quality.

The contrast between the Democratic and Republican parties couldn’t be more sharply defined.

Since the late 1800s, when businesses were undertaking tremendous consolidation, leading to the formation of trusts, Republicans supported business, despite the fact that business was beginning to prey on people and overshadow the government.

After the brief Republican Progressive period from 1890-1917, in which Republicans were the force behind “trust-busting”, they have advanced an increasingly exclusionary and discriminatory agenda, denying a collective responsibility to care for our fellow human beings in favor of elevating corporate interests along with their view of individual liberties above all else. Government is an instrument designed to show strength, project American power, and enforce a neo-liberal, dog-eat-dog economic worldview, one that will take the social contract back to where it was in the early 1900’s.

Democrats understood that government needs to be more than a police and fire department. One of the most important roles assumed by government was ensuring that we create a level playing field for all citizens, that corporations were not first among equals in America. They also believed that we must look after those who are down on their luck by providing a social safety net.

Government was not to be primarily an instrument for projecting power and protecting the influential, but rather one of ensuring the American social contract, while protecting our citizens from the abuses of big business.

After years of courting the Radical Right, thinking that they could be kept under control, Establishment Republicans now understand that, not only do they no longer have control, the inmates are now running the asylum – poorly. Faced with the reality that the bill for their deal with the Devil has come due, Republicans trotted out Mitt Romney to make the case against The Donald, who responded with crude personal insults and inappropriate sexual innuendo:

COW Trump Miracle Worker

Congratulations, Republicans, you have only yourselves to blame. Now, you desperately need a Wrongo Wake up Call. To help you wake up, let’s return to the “small hands” innuendo of the last GOP debate.

Here are the Talking Heads doing “Born Under Punches” live in Rome in 1980, from their great album, “Remain in Light”. This 8-minute live version is worth your time, since it includes spectacular guest guitar work by Adrian Belew, who played with Frank Zappa and King Crimson.

Some think the guitar that Belew is playing was originally jimmy Hendrix’s (the one he burned at the Monterey Pop festival). Frank Zappa repaired it, and loaned it to Adrian Belew, whose main influence was Hendrix.

The bassist in the white dress is Tina Weymouth who is (still) married to Chris Franz, the Talking Heads guitarist. Here are some sample lyrics:

Take a look at these hands
Take a look at these hands
The hand speaks, the hand of a government man
Well I’m a tumbler born under punches, I’m so thin

Hmmm. Is Trump a government man?

Those who view the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 13, 2015

(This is the last column until Thursday 12/17. Wrongo and Ms. Right are in San Francisco. Talk amongst yourselves, keep hands inside the blog at all times.)

The hits keep coming! The San Bernardino killings continue to reverberate in our psyches. People are scared beyond what should be reasonable, given the statistics about killings by Islamic terrorists. The Paris climate agreement is signed, but what will it really do? The Supreme Court considered affirmative action again, with predictable BS from both sides. Trump continues, and Rahm Emmanuel looks to be on the wrong side of justice in Chicago.

Here come the same tired solutions once again:

COW Tom Tomorrow 2

It’s Trump’s world, but so few can live in it:

COW Trump World

 

Chicago’s mayor finally decides to get rolling on solving the problem:

COW Rahm TruckAs mayor, he sat on that video for over a year. He had to know, because the $5 million payment to the victim’s family didn’t come from petty cash at the Chicago PD. He was the chief architect of the cover-up. And he needs to go.

Justice Scalia again covers himself with glory:

COW Scalia Bad Thing

 

Won’t matter what Paris says about climate change:

COW Climate Change

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Pope Francis on Capitalism

With the Pope starting his visit to the US, most focus will be on Conservatives’ support for the Catholic Church’s views against abortion and gay marriage. Conservatives are far less enthusiastic about Francis’ views about climate change and capitalism, both of which are covered in Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’.

While the Wrongologist has not read Laudato Si´, he did read an extensive and thoughtful review by William Nordhaus in the NY Review of Books, who says the Pope thinks that the degradation of our environment is a symptom of deeper problems: rapid change, unsustainable over-consumption, indifference to the poor, and the decay of social values.

Nordhaus notes that the encyclical contains an extensive discussion of the features of markets and modern capitalism. It emphasizes dysfunctional tendencies and distortions, witness his criticism of excessive consumption:

Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic paradigm affects individuals. [Paragraph 203]

And Francis’ criticism of the distorting effect of the drive for profit:

Once more, we need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals. Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they will leave behind for future generations? [Paragraph 190]

Nordhaus quotes Francis, who argues that profit-seeking is the source of environmental degradation:

The principle of the maximization of profits, frequently isolated from other considerations, reflects a misunderstanding of the very concept of the economy. As long as production is increased, little concern is given to whether it is at the cost of future resources or the health of the environment; as long as the clearing of a forest increases production, no one calculates the losses entailed in the desertification of the land, the harm done to biodiversity or the increased pollution. In a word, businesses profit by calculating and paying only a fraction of the costs involved. [Paragraph 195]

Francis singles out financiers for special disapproval:

In the meantime, economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment…. [Paragraph 56]

The Pope criticizes capitalism’s push to make ultra-consumers of everyone:

This paradigm [consumerism] leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume. But those really free are the minority who wield economic and financial power. [Paragraph 203]

Pure capitalism ignores two major shortcomings of those economies run by Mr. Market: The first is the emergence of monopolies, or things like unregulated pollution, which distort market outcomes. The second is inequality of opportunities and income. And much has been written about rising income inequality, particularly by Seitz and Piketty, and Joseph Stiglitz.

However, it would be inaccurate to point solely to the depletion of resources or pollution as major causes of rising poverty. Instead, it is forces such as the labor-saving nature of new technologies like robots, rising imports from low- and middle-income countries, and the capture of our income taxing system by corporations and the wealthy that have distorted our markets.

Specifically, as economist Arthur Okun has written, markets do not have automatic mechanisms to guarantee an equitable distribution of income and wealth:

Given the chance, [the market] would sweep away all other values, and establish a vending-machine society. The rights and powers that money should not buy must be protected with detailed regulations and sanctions, and with countervailing aids to those with low incomes. Once those rights are protected and economic deprivation is ended, I believe that our society would be more willing to let the competitive market have its place.

So, as this week rolls out, expect to hear many voices on the right argue that Francis is an unrealistic economic fool. In particular, expect to hear George Will’s arguments this week in the National Review echoed by the media. Here is a representative quote from Mr. Will: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Francis’s fact-free flamboyance reduces him to a shepherd whose selectively reverent flock, genuflecting only at green altars, is tiny relative to the publicity it receives from media…He stands against modernity, rationality, science and, ultimately, the spontaneous creativity of open societies in which people and their desires are not problems but precious resources. Americans cannot simultaneously honor him and celebrate their nation’s premises.

See what George Will did there? He says that climate denialism is pro-science, while belief in climate change is anti-science.

Know the enemy by their arguments.

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29% of Americans Support a Military Coup

A law professor at West Point was forced to resign after it emerged that he had authored a number of controversial articles. In one, he suggested that the US military may have a duty to seize control of the federal government if the federal government acted against the interest of the country.

Link that thought to a YouGov poll taken this month that found that 29% of US citizens would support a military coup d’état. Moreover, a plurality of Republicans, (43%) would support a coup by the military. They were the only group with a plurality in favor in the poll:

YouGov poll

They polled 1,000 people on September 2nd & 3rd. The poll has a margin of error of ±4%. Another theme of the poll was that Americans think the military want what’s best for the country, followed by police officers:

YouGov poll 2

The other categories, which included Congress, local politicians, and civil servants, went in the other direction. The vast majority of those polled thought that local and DC politicians were self-serving.

In other words, most Americans have a lot of confidence in the police and the army, the armed enforcers of government’s rules, but very little confidence in the politicians and bureaucrats who actually write and enact them. This is a rather dangerous disconnect when you think about it. A fascinating poll question was: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

5. Should active duty members of the US military always follow orders from their civilian superiors, even if they feel that those orders are unconstitutional?
Should . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18%
Should not . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49%
Not sure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33%

The answer shows that many Americans think:

1. The military are all Constitutional scholars, and

2. Americans want soldiers to think for themselves, even though the civilian superior who matters is the Commander-In-Chief, or Mr. President to the rest of us.

All of this, despite the fact that the US military has long embraced the idea of civilian control of national affairs, and apart from certain rare moments, the American officer corps has faithfully followed the orders of their civilian superiors.

The weakening of support for many of our institutions is clear: Every year Gallup asks Americans about their confidence with 15 major segments of American society. The police and the military routinely top the list with overwhelming support, while no other government institution inspires confidence among the majority of voters. That includes the presidency, the Supreme Court, public schools, the justice system, and Congress. Also near the bottom, are the media, big business, and banks.

Essentially, the YouGov poll shows that most Americans have completely lost faith in the system, and the powers that run it. The only people they still trust are cops and soldiers. And a society that trusts its armed enforcers more than everyone else is a society that could be ripe for a coup. In today’s age of blanket surveillance, the military coup option may be especially appealing to quite a few US citizens who are afraid to risk their own lives opposing their government. It is a version of “let you and him fight”.

Those military officers who would make good political leaders are smart and too principled to launch a coup against the civilian government. We would likely see mass resignations of the officer corps before any attempted coup. So, a few questions:

• Why conduct this poll now?
• Who commissioned the poll, and why?

It’s clear that people are seriously disgusted with the political class. The first reasonably persuasive demagogue who comes along may give America’s political class exactly what it deserves.

Sadly, the rest of we Americans deserve better.

 

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Anger is an Energy

We are witnessing the convergence of several trends, which may take politics as we know it and turn it on its head. First, a political trend in which both angry Republicans and angry Democrats now believe that there is zero chance that the government will do anything to improve their lives.

Second, the American Exceptionalism movement is morphing into something that says we must win, and win now. Never mind trying to figure out exactly what “winning” means. We’ve now spawned two generations of Trump wanna-be’s who have no time for losing. They must win, win, win, and they will say or do whatever it takes to win.

Third, people have sorted themselves into groups that are impervious to fact. Presenting people with the best available information doesn’t change many minds. Like a psychic immune response, they reject ideas that they consider harmful. Regardless of whether the subject is climate, vaccines or politics, they prefer and are much more susceptible to, appeals to emotion.

So we live in a time of angry rage. We can’t change most of what we see, but we sure can be pissed about it. The angry voter has been blamed for the insurgent candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, and the possible emergence of a third-party presidential run in 2016.

In the midst of this shit storm, political scientists Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster of Emory University last week posted an intriguing analysis at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball Blog on the role of anger in the 2012 presidential election. They conclude that voters are indeed angry. But their anger is directed mainly at the opposing party, and this anger is increasingly correlated with ideology. In other words, the most liberal and most conservative voters are also the most likely to be angry. Looking forward to 2016, they conclude: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The most important influence on the 2016 presidential election as well as the House and Senate elections will be the division of the American electorate into two warring partisan camps. In the seven decades since the end of World War II, Democrats and Republicans have never been as divided as they are today.

Earlier this year, Abramowitz and Webster released a paper cataloging the sharp increase in party-line voting in recent decades. Once upon a time, it was not uncommon for Republicans to vote Democratic and vice versa. In 2012, the authors tell us, the US saw:

The highest levels of party loyalty and straight-ticket voting since the American National Election Studies first began measuring party identification in 1952.

What’s the reason for the polarization? Abramowitz and Webster call it “negative partisanship”, the tendency of voters to think of their ballots not as a way to help their party but as a way to hurt the opposition. In other words, it’s not that our side is so great; it’s that the other side is so awful.

How do we know the other side is awful?’

Abramowitz and Webster say that a crucial element in negative partisanship is the assignment of negative characteristics to the other party. From 1972 to 2012, the proportion of voters who believed there are significant differences between the parties rose from 55% percent to well over 80%. We can argue over why, but, as the authors point out, these changes in perception are rational, since the parties themselves have become more ideologically rigid.

A thought experiment: Is there a party where the voter who is for abortion rights, but against same-sex marriage is comfortable? How about the voter who supports the Affordable Care Act, but is a skeptic on climate change? And if you don’t believe such complex voters exist, you are part of the evidence for the authors’ thesis about party rigidity.

All of us have met political partisans who believe that those on the other side are irredeemably stupid or evil. Yet we know that view of superiority is ultimately enforceable only at the point of a gun — just the opposite of what we expect of our democracy.

So, is anger good for our democracy? In a world of twitter and other social media, there are just way more outlets for anonymous anger. And that anger reproduces itself with every re-tweet.

And if there’s one thing anger loves, its attention.

Maybe we can learn something from what Johnny Rotten said in his book, “Anger is an Energy”, (which is a line from his song “Rise”): (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

When I was writing the Public Image Ltd song ‘Rise’, I didn’t quite realize the emotional impact that it would have on me, or anyone who’s ever heard it since. ‘Anger is an energy’ was an open statement, saying, ‘Don’t view anger negatively, don’t deny it – use it to be creative...’

Anger doesn’t necessarily equate directly to violence. Violence very rarely resolves anything. In South Africa, they eventually found a relatively peaceful way out. Using that supposedly negative energy called anger, it can take just one positive move to change things for the better.

Maybe, a third party presidential run in 2016?

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