Posts Tagged ‘Donald Joseph Trump’

The Shape of Things

Friday, 19 May 2017

There is a stock formula for political action that says that If the state may X for Y, then the state may X for Z! Usually, the state is euphemistically called we; sometimes the person using the formula is instead honest enough instead to say the government.

Often, the X refers to spending. (Taxation is then only mentioned when the spending immediately involves continuation of a tax that was supposed to be temporary.) For example, after the defeat of Japan in the Second World War, after the Paris Peace Treaty of the Viet-Nam War, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the claims were that, since the United States could previously afford to spend as much money as it had on the military, now it could afford to spend that much money on expansion or introduction of welfare programmes of various sorts. However, sometimes there has been a different X. For example, within the movie Scarface (1932), it is declared that if the Governor of Oklahoma could declare military law to cartelize the petroleum industry forcibly, then military law could be used to effect extensive gun control through-out the nation.

There has been rather a lot of talk, since even before he took office, to the effect that Donald Joseph Trump were a dictator. I don’t think that it’s necessarily unreasonable to assert that he were just that, though he took office with exactly the powers that he’d inheritted from his immediate predecessor, which is to say that if President Trump were a dictator then so were President Obama. The Office of the President has become increasingly powerful over time, with each strong President picking-up where the last one left-off, and adding to the power of the Office, establishing precedents which the other branches have seldom effectively undone. But, whether the refrain is technically correct or not, it is that President Trump be a dictator. If Trump should leave office before the end of his term, then the refrain will become that President Michael Richard Pence were a dictator, as quite possibly he might be.

And if-and-when the Democrats retake the White House, the formula that I noted above will be used. It will more specifically be of the form If we could have a dictator who did Y, then we can have a dictator who does Z! where Y will correspond to the policies and programmes of the Trump or Pence Administration as refracted through the progressive lens, and Z will correspond to progressive policies and programmes, described in terms of their presumed outcomes. This formula will not be used much if at all before the General Election, but it will be used gleefully and self-righteously beginning on the very next day.

(I think it grossly implausible that the Republicans should hold the White House indefinitely; but the public is ever more disgusted with the results of a two-party system, so a Republican loss is not inevitably a Democratic victory.)

A Blame Game

Sunday, 22 January 2017

I have previously explored the logical absurdity of insisting that those who don’t vote for one of the two foremost candidates in an election are effectively voting for the other of these two candidates. That analysis could easily be generalized to include ballot measures; where abstaining from voting has sometimes been claimed to be the same as opposing a measure, and sometimes been claimed to be the same as supporting the measure.

The primary purpose of claims of these forms is to pressure someone into voting for a candidate whom — or measure which — the potential voter finds unappealing. We especially see these claims when there are actual candidates, or formulated ballot measures. But we also see that purpose at play when an election has been held and candidates and proposal for the next election are not yet identified. Some of those declaring You are now to blame for X because you did not vote for Y! are hoping to motivate the audience to tolerate whatever is demanded by the claimant’s faction in that next election. An alternative would be to promise to offer something better than Y in that next election; but they are engaged in brinksmanship, threatening to take the community off a cliff if a plurality don’t agree to their demands.

Other motivations for such claims in the wake of an election are simple ventilation and blame-shifting. It is frustrating to lose an election, and a blow to the ego to acknowledge that one’s own faction may be largely responsible for that loss.[1]

There’s another, unrecognized motivation for these claims. Although there is a very great logical distance between refusing to support one of the two major political tribes and thinking as do members of the other major tribe, it is easy enough for tribal members to disregard that distinction almost perfectly. Thus, these absurd claims that refusal to support Y is operationally the same thing as supporting X implicitly become part of a more general psychological device of treating politics as all falling along a left-right spectrum, and thereby avoiding any challenge to one’s thought or behavior that cannot be dismissed from the left by pointing to the right or from the right by pointing to the left, and saying You guys are worse!, even if the challenger is not one of those guys. The challenge may even be spuriously taken as proof that, after all, the challenger were really a member of the other tribe, as he or she is not challenging them, and them alone.


[1] For example, James Henry (Jim) Webb could have beaten any of the Republican candidates for President in 2016, and it is at least plausible that Bernard (Bernie) Sanders could have beaten Donald J[oseph] Trump; but the Democratic Party chose its weakest or second-weakest candidate. (Martin Joseph O’Malley might have been a still worse choice, as his mythology of Baltimore collapsed in the face of the police murder of Freddie Carlos Gray jr.)

Madding Crowds

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

[An earlier version of this entry was posted to Facebook on 30 September.]

A bad leader whose leadership is accepted with little resistance is more frightening than a bad leader whose leadership is accepted grudgingly, and who knows that the acceptance is reluctant.

A sense that Trump would have the freer hand will make some people vote for Clinton who might otherwise have voted for him; a sense that Clinton would have the freer hand will make some people vote for Trump who might otherwise have voted for her. Where these particular calculations are concerned, Clinton has an actual advantage in there being a present Republican majority in both chambers of Congress, because it is expected that Congress would frustrate Clinton more than it would thwart Trump.

But a bad leader is more frightening if he or she has many loyal followers even if these followers are outside of government. The composition of the Congress could change in the upcoming election or in one to follow; and, even if it did not, a President with greater popular support can accomplish more than otherwise, even without his or her party in the majority in either chamber.

Thus, the failure of the vast majority of the most vocal supporters of each of these two candidates truthfully to acknowledge their candidate for what he or she is makes each candidate far more scary to those who are undecided or weakly decided.

Almost no one who is now undecided or weakly decided thinks that either Clinton or Trump is merely not perfect; the voters most likely to be moved see both Clinton and Trump as awful people, and see this with good reason. To be less scared of these candidates, these voters need to read and to hear acknowledgments, from supporters, of just how flawed their own candidates are. (Becoming still more scared of one candidate is not at all the same thing as becoming less scared of the other, though indeed an increase in fear of one could strengthen support for the other.)

Were these supporters more rational, they would change their pitch. But, psychologically, they cannot. Some of them are simply swept-up in the urges of inverted narcissism;[1] and, more generally, supporters cannot admit the truth to others without to some extent recognizing the truth and acknowledging it to themselves. The world would have to be faced as a bleaker and more uncertain place.


[1] Inverted narcissism (popularly confused with covert narcissism, a markèdly different condition) is the felt need to treat some individual as magnificent, even if careful consideration would show him or her not to be so. The inverted narcissist is thus a sort of complement to the narcissist, supplying the admiration that the narcissist needs for comfort. Inverted narcissism plays a hugely important rôle in politics.