September 7, 2020: America’s history lesson: Seven truths Trump taught the world

In Peter Beinart’s review of books, he summarizes his collection as “chronicling both the decline of American power and the decline of American exceptionalism: [that is,] the belief that the United States is immune to tribalism and authoritarianism that plague other parts of the world.” [1] As we now know, it is not. As the New Right busies itself with making America a full-blown tyranny, the most common and sometimes cavalier comparison is Nazi Germany. (Clichés are clichés for a reason.) However, when it comes to political sects, as Brookings Institute’s Jonathan Rauch shows, ideology is irrelevant; fanatic cranks on both Left and Right operate in the same manner as Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and now Trump have demonstrated. [2] For many humans suffering from disconnected modernity, our fix is a tribal cult based on who we hate—or more accurately, who we can be made to hate.

Ashamed to be Americans after four years of national humiliation, laughed at and pitied by the world, even incapable of facing a common viral enemy thanks to an all-rights-no-responsibilities faction stoked by our propaganda networks, we watch America retreat. [3] Dazed and impotent like a 3rd world country with a 1st world economy, "alternative facts" have lacerated truth and trust to dismember the social body, from our highest institutions to the man on the street. As moral philosopher Stuart Rachels illustrates, no civilization long survives without trust and the capacity for truth. [4]

Domestic institutions are hanging on by efforts of the rank and file, but political loyalists appointed to run them are in control. Many of them in “acting” roles, some illegal, free to abuse without the people’s review by a craven Senate. [5] With recent discoveries of executive powers undisclosed even to Congress, shadow authorities emerge, facilitated by Attorney General and Trump-fixer, Bill Barr, to direct Trump’s Secret Police. [6] Like Himmler’s early S.S., these unmarked agents kidnap people off streets far removed from Federal property they ostensibly protect (while some protesters provide Trump the vandal video he wants). They beat Navy veterans and break the skulls of old men with “lethal cell phones,” as China jokes about U.S. criticism of China’s human rights abuse. [7] Cultivated by hardships of the Great Depression and WWII, moral leadership by the Greatest Generation seems to have died with them and the last Cold War president.

Though not entirely. As Trump and his enablers denied, dithered, and diverted, frontline nurses and doctors risked and sometimes lost their lives to fight a virus that couldn’t be bullied by liars. While refrigerator trucks filled with dead people in blue-state New York, then a defiant red-state Texas as it swaggered into the record books, medical staff showed those with a spine can still stand up to evil. [8] We expect that every person they saved praised the science and expertise of someone who knew what they were doing, rather than vilify them under oath of tribal creed in a nation whose scientists and experts once put men on the moon. All the while, Trump and his bootlickers nurtured their conspiracy theories spoon-fed by comrade Putin.

As America appears to imitate 1934 Germany, we’ve arrived, after what seems an eternity, at the 2020 election just two months away. At this juncture, it might do to assess what’s been learned from Trump and his disciples:

1. Crime pays. Consider Trump’s money laundering through casinos and real estate; his fake university scam; his bribery of Ukraine; Russian collusion (not conspiracy) as proven by Mueller and validated by the Republican Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; his fleecing of U.S. taxpayers and foreign nations; all were considered here, supported by IRS, Treasury, Senate, House, and media investigations. [9] Trump is a walking crime wave, but a lucrative one. After 40-years immersed in New York and Russian mafia, surrounded by convicted felons, “law and order” Trump stumbled into a position he had no idea could be so safe for a life of crime. The only person in a nation of 330,000,000 above the law.

2. The stage was set, and we didn’t know it. Economists “assumed” their domestic models applied worldwide. [10] Jobs lost in one location would be offset by jobs created through innovation elsewhere. Instead, under “hyper-globalization,” when we paid China for manufactured goods, we also gave them our jobs. [11] Such are the economic “experts” blue-collar Americans rightly denounce, though the New Right includes hard science experts to make themselves feel better and because Rush Limbaugh told them to. For labor, this was groundwork, like Germany’s economic collapse delivered by a punitive Versailles Treaty. Add to this: corporations more powerful than nations; authoritarian political correctness; death of the Fairness Doctrine spawning our propaganda-silos; a U.S. K-12 educational system ranked near bottom in the industrialized world to yield attenuated reasoning and scientific illiteracy; collapse of Right-wing Christian morality; isolation through loss of belonging predictable in individualistic modernity, and the stage was set for a rise in primate behavior. [12] With demise of an external enemy in the USSR, The End of History turned out to be The Bumbling Superpower. Bush-Cheney’s Iraq Calamity and laissez-faire pandering to unregulated Wall Street gamblers who gave themselves a $20B bonus for wrecking the world economy further depleted American confidence as the working Joe lost his job and home. [13] People were pissed. They wanted to break things. Trump was just another dumb hammer.

3. The supremacy of our reptile brain. “The reptilian structure [in our brain] is the most primitive to ripen in the long line of human mental development. Responsible for feelings of urgency—gag, vomit, defecation, sex, fight or flight—it’s the oldest structure, fundamental to blind survival in a man-eating world, and irresistibly mighty.” [14] Commandeered by primate tribalism, this tool can make people defraud everything they once stood for. [15] Evolutionary mechanisms adapted to ensure species survival guarantee that any clan-threatening reason, proof, or science is rejected to save the clan. What Eric Hoffer terms that “fact proof screen between the faithful and realities of this world.” [16] “We are wired…so that our reasoning [supports] in-group solidarity,” writes Jonathan Rauch. “Presenting people with facts that challenge group-defining opinions does not work. Instead of changing their minds, they [reject] facts to double down on false beliefs…regardless of educational and cognitive firepower.” [17] Polarization is not a byproduct, “polarization is the product [as] cravings for shared outrage against a common adversary.” [18]

4. The internet is smarter than we are. With laws established to protect social media from litigation other media is subject to, anything goes on the internet. We invented and built a platform for hostile powers to upend nations for low cost and no risk, except for complaints about it. The internet proves how poorly humans sift fact from fake. We even prefer fake news over real news as more sensational. [19] Without regulation, social media business models profit off this sabotage of open Western society. [20]

5. As students of history, our Founders anticipated despots, but this? Could America’s Founders have conjured Trump and his true-believers hell-bent on subverting Constitutional governance? Trump defied Congressional subpoenas under claims of “absolute immunity” (“Wrong,” said the Court); hid or destroyed classified documents; appointed family members to the highest security positions despite Defense Investigative Service rejections; fired Inspector Generals as retribution and to hide his corruption; persists in secret meetings with America’s enemy, Putin, un-phased by Putin’s bounty on U.S. troops because, as Trump said, American soldiers are “losers” and “suckers;” and installed inept loyalist to intelligence and Health and Human Services amid a persistent KGB/FSB cyberwar and coronavirus pandemic to teeter this Republic and cost hundreds of thousands of lives. [21] All as Congress proved helpless to do anything about it, other than a momentous but symbolic gesture of impeachment. Who knew just how toothless Congress really is? [22]

6. Politics trumps religion. What is a Christian? Complex as that answer can be, might we simplify it as one who at least attempts to practice the teachings of Christ? But if someone who identifies as a Christian makes no such attempt, proudly rejecting those teachings for political orthodoxy, are they Christian? Is their “faith” simply a crutch when fate calls? For these people, their in-group is the party, not the church. Their idol is Trump, not Jesus. Per David Hume, “the highest zeal in religion and the deepest hypocrisy, far from being inconsistent, are commonly united in the same individual.” [23] Judged not by their commitment but by their actions, we’ve considered here before how Trump-supporting Christians betray their Savior for politics. [24] As evangelist Pat Robertson expressed Trump’s “Mandate of Heaven,” so too in 1937, Hans Kerrl said, “The Fuehrer is the herald of a new revelation.” [25]

7. A large faction in America is no different than any other totalitarian. Surveys show half of “Republicans” want an authoritarian dictatorship, discharging that Constitution they pretend to revere. A third of “Republicans” favor Putin. Their House and Senate representatives promote Putin’s talking points, and those like Representative Devin Nunez, assisted by Rudolph Giuliani, actively seek Russian assistance in the coming election. [26]

Once upon a time, the U.S. was the world’s champion of democratic governance. The post-WWII order implemented worldwide institutions (not worldwide government) to stall WWIII. For 70 of the most prosperous years in all of human history, it worked. [27] But the Greatest Generation gave way to the next, economists bumbled #2 noted above to stimulate that reptile brain of #3 inflamed by asocial media of #4, thus inviting America’s Carnival Barker in #5, only to find a large faction of Christians and Americans noted in #6 and #7 aren’t so special after all. On the heels of National Book Award winner George Packer’s conclusion that America is now a failed state, Reagan conservative George Will wrote, “This is what national decline looks like.” [28]

As 44 B.C. Rome, 1934 Germany, and 2020 America remind us, pathologies rooted in human mental circuitry have not changed since the rise of Homo sapiens. The Right-wing is not alone in this as campus free-speech bans, “Cancel Culture,” and despotic leftist postmodernism will attest. American “exceptionalism” Peter Beinart noted, is now a fallacy.

But there are glimmers in the dark. In two months, America’s tyranny will harden, or it won’t. And we are witness to history—live, not in a book.

[1] Peter Beinart, Obama’s Idealists: American Power in Theory and Practice, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2919, pg. 162-169.
[2] Jonathan Rauch, Rethinking Polarization, National Affairs, Fall 2019.
[3] Tom McTague, The Decline of the American World, The Atlantic, June 24, 2020.
Philip Bump, A majority of Americans are embarrassed by President Trump, The Washington Post, Feb. 23, 2017.
Timothy Egan, The World Is Taking Pity on Us, New York Times, May 8, 2020.
OLGA KHAZAN, Americans Are Getting Secondhand Embarrassment From Trump , The Atlantic, MARCH 27, 2019.
Aaron Blake, A brief history of world leaders laughing at Trump, The Washington Post, Dec. 4, 2019.
Megan McArdle, Conservatives who refuse to wear masks undercut a central claim of their beliefs, The Washington Post, May 27, 2020.
[4] Stuart Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, McGraw-Hill, 2010.
[5] Michael D. Shear, G.A.O. Says Top Homeland Security Officials Are Serving Illegally, New York Times, Aug. 14, 2020.
[6] Elizabeth Goitein and Andrew Boyle, Trump Has Emergency Powers We Aren’t Allowed to Know About, New York Times, April 10, 2020.
Gary Hart, How Powerful Is the President?, New York Times, July 23, 2020.
[7] TIM DICKINSON, How Oregon Is Pushing Back Against ‘Kidnap and False Arrest’ by Trump’s Agents, Rolling Stone, July 21, 2020
ANDREW SELSKY, Navy vet beaten by federal agents on the streets of Portland, Oregon: ‘They came out to fight’, ASSOCIATED PRESS, JUL 20, 2020.
QUINT FORGEY, Trump’s conspiracy theory on 75-year-old protester draws sharp backlash, POLITICO, 06/09/2020.
Peter Baker, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Monica Davey, Trump Threatens to Send Federal Law Enforcement Forces to More Cities, New York Times, July 24, 2020.
Dan Friedman, Federal Agents Invade Portland, Citing Trump’s Executive Order Protecting Statues, Mother Jones, July 17, 2020.
Riyaz ul Khaliq, ‘US world’s top human rights violator,’ China says, Anadolu Agency (ANKARA, Turkey), 16.07.2020.
[8] CAITLIN O'KANE, Refrigerated trucks requested in Texas and Arizona as morgues fill up due to coronavirus deaths, CBS NEWS, JULY 15, 2020.
Philip Bump, The shift of the coronavirus to primarily red states is complete — but it’s not that simple, Washington Post, June 24, 2020.
[9] Brett Williams, Our Dear (mafia) Leader, Goodreads, December 24, 2019.
Brett Williams, America is asking, “Are Trump and his Party, traitors?”, on Goodreads, January 6, 2019.
Sean Illing, Trump’s ties to the Russian mafia go back 3 decades: Journalist Craig Unger talks Russia, Trump, and “one of the greatest intelligence operations in history”, VOX, Jan 12, 2019.
See The Asset Podcast for extensive details.
[10] To “assume” models work is unheard of in the hard sciences. Hence, one of many reasons why economics and the other social “sciences” should be called the social “studies” instead. Autor, Dorn, and Hanson, The China Shock: Learning from Labor-Market Adjustment to Large Changes in Trade , Annu. Rev. Econ, 11/21/2016. Automation is now a significant factor in U.S. job loss, but not 30 years ago when this process started.
[11] Dani Rodrik, Globalization’s Wrong Turn, Foreign Affairs, July/August, 2019. As Rodrick writes, “Globalization became the end, national economies the means.”
[12] ARAG KHANNA, These 25 Companies Are More Powerful Than Many Countries, Foreign Policy, March/April, 2016.
Katy Steinmetz, The Death of the Fairness Doctrine, TIME, Aug. 23, 2011.
JILL BARSHAY, U.S. now ranks near the bottom among 35 industrialized nations in math, The Hechinger Report, December 6, 2016.
JILL BARSHAY, What 2018 PISA international rankings tell us about U.S. schools, The Hechinger Report,December 16, 2019.
Peter Wehner, Conservatives Have Only One Choice in 2020: After what we have seen during Trump’s first term, any true conservative should be appalled by the prospect of a second., New York Times, Aug. 24, 2020.
JEFF BRUMLEY, Support for Trump could spell end of the evangelical church. But when?, Baptist News Global, MARCH 19, 2018.
[13] CBS NEWS, Wall Street Doled $20B in Bonuses in 2009, CBS/AP, FEBRUARY 23, 2010.
[14] Brett Williams, Why my old Right-wing tribe betrayed everything it once stood for, on Goodreads, March 2, 2020.
[15] Brett Williams, The Collapse of American Christianity, on Goodfreads, January 18, 2020.
[16] Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Perennial, 1989.
[17] Jonathan Rauch, Rethinking Polarization, National Affairs, Fall 2019.
[18] Ibid. Extreme partisanship may be addictive, says social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, as justifying lies gives partisans a hit of dopamine. “Like rats that cannot stop pressing a button, partisans may be simply unable to stop believing weird things.”
[19] Hiawatha Bray, Survey says: Many Americans love their fake news, Boston Globe, January 17, 2020.
ROBINSON MEYER, The Grim Conclusions of the Largest-Ever Study of Fake News: Falsehoods almost always beat out the truth on Twitter, penetrating further, faster, and deeper into the social network than accurate information., The Atlantic, MARCH 8, 2018.
[20] FRONTLINE, The Facebook Dilemma (Part One), Goodreads, PBS, Aired: 10/29/18.
FRONTLINE, The Facebook Dilemma (Part Two), PBS, Aired: 10/30/18.
[21] JEFFREY GOLDBERG, Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’, The Atlantic, SEPTEMBER 3, 2020.
SCOTT DETROW, AYESHA RASCOE, CARRIE JOHNSON, Presidents Do Not Have Absolute Immunity, Supreme Court Rules, NPR, July 9, 2020.
Rachael Bade and Tom Hamburger, White House whistleblower says 25 security clearance denials were reversed during Trump administration, Washington Post, April 1, 2019.
George Packer, The President Is Winning His War on American Institutions, The Atlantic, APRIL 2020.
Aaron Blake, Pompeo just undercut Trump’s continued dismissal of Russian bounties, Washington Post, August 13, 2020.
James Glanz and Campbell Robertson, Lockdown Delays Cost at Least 36,000 Lives, Data Show, New York Times, May 20, 2020.
Gene Jarecki, Trump’s covid-19 inaction killed Americans, Washington Post, May 6, 2020.
[22] Dareh Gregorian, Trump impeached by the House for abuse of power, obstruction of Congress, NBC NEWS, Dec. 18, 2019.
[23] David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Penguin, 1990 (1779), pg. 133.
[24] Brett Williams, The betrayal of Christ: global warming denial, on Goodreads, November 5, 2018.
Brett Williams, The Collapse of American Christianity, on Goodfreads, January 18, 2020.
Brett Williams, Why my old Right-wing tribe betrayed everything it once stood for, on Goodreads, March 2, 2020.
[25] William L. Shrirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, Touchstone Simon & Shuster, 1990, pg. 239. And as Thomas Paine wrote, “When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind…he has prepared himself for commission of every other crime.” Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Prometheus Books, 1984 (1794), pg. 8.
[26] Vicky Ward, Giuliani associate willing to tell Congress Nunes met with ex-Ukrainian official to get dirt on Biden, CNN, November 23, 2019.
JOHN BOWDEN, Nunes declines to answer if he received information from Ukraine lawmaker meant to damage Biden, The Hill, 07/30/20. And yes, I meant "faction," a political portion, not "fraction," a portion.
[27] Wikipedia, Post–World War II economic expansion.
[28] George Packer, We Are Living in a Failed State, The Atlantic, JUNE 2020.
George F. Will, The nation is in a downward spiral. Worse is still to come., Washington Post, July 15, 2020.
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Published on September 07, 2020 09:42
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