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Monday, April 17, 2017


Pro-Trump and Proud?

by Tom Sullivan

Image Reuters via Twitter.

Hannah Arendt's writings provide some road signs for navigating the “subterranean” dark side of Western culture. Karen Greenberg reviews several at the New Republic. Arendt, of course, wrote in the wake of WWII, but while the United States was a beacon of hope, she saw too the vulnerabilities of American-style democracy.

Baked into the American cake at its inception was the potential for representative democracy to create alienation and loss of belonging. Donald Trump exploited that "forgotten man" sentiment in his run for the presidency. But in addition, creating a population incapable of, or perhaps uninterested in, critical thought is a prerequisite for totalitarian rule. Greenberg writes:
What is real? What is not real? To Arendt, the danger comes when it no longer matters to the populace whether something is true or not, only whether it is useful. The result is that the inability to distinguish between values and to make judgments accordingly becomes obsolete, and in her view eventually disappears entirely. “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule,” she argued, “is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction…and the distinction between true and false no longer exists.”
We're not just talking about Donald Trump's pathological lying. Trump gets away with lying because his followers enjoy being lied to; they've been conditioned to it. It's stunning how many people tune in each week to watch "reality TV" that is anything but. Or Fox News that isn't. It is enough that it is spectacle.
Maximus: [after swiftly dispatching another gladiator] Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?
Greenberg continues:
As Arendt points out in “Ideology and Terror,” “The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions but to destroy the capacity to form any.” Trump’s proposed budget calls for the bludgeoning of the public school system, and the defunding of PBS, perhaps the single most important educational program in the United States, available to rich and poor children alike. Together, the partnership between unthinkingness and lying create fertile conditions for a fickle public to whom almost anything can be sold, even ideas completely at odds with what existed before. “Totalitarian rulers organize this kind of mass sentiment,” she told an interviewer in 1973 “and by organizing it articulate it, and by articulating it make the people somehow love it. They were told before, thou shalt not kill; and they didn’t kill. Now they are told, thou shalt kill; and although they think it’s very difficult to kill, they do it because it’s now part of the code of behavior.”
I write this in the wake of the melee that took place in Berkeley on Saturday:
BERKELEY (CBS SF) — A pro-Trump group known as the Proud Boys sponsored the protest that descended into bloody violence at Berkeley’s Civic Center Park on Saturday. They say they have a right to bring their views to liberal Berkeley.

According to the description on their Facebook page, “The Proud Boys are a fraternal organization founded on a system of beliefs and values of minimal government, maximum freedom, anti-political correctness, anti-racial guilt, pro-gun rights, anti-Drug War, closed borders, anti-masturbation, venerating entrepreneurs, venerating housewives, and reinstating a spirit of Western chauvinism during an age of globalism and multiculturalism.”
Coherence is not one of their beliefs III. Perhaps by design.

Perilous times.

Reuters reported:
Among the Trump opponents were some counter-protesters dressed in black and wearing masks. The other side included self-described "patriots" and "nationalists", Trump supporters, free speech advocates, and other groups.
Adam Silverman writes at Balloon Juice that the actions seemed purposefully designed to blur the lines between the real and the unreal, with the intent to license violence:
Earlier today in Berkeley things got violent. A dedicated group of folks on social media, with a significant amount being done by Caroline O., have been doing yeoman’s and yeowoman’s work to pull all the social media evidence together indicating who was really responsible: the alt-right. The violence was planned, orchestrated, and telegraphed on social media by a dedicated group of alt-righters. And it was done in such as way as to make it look like black bloc or antifa demonstrators, who are often associated with the extreme left even if they have nothing to really do with left of center politics in reality, were responsible. This allows the alt-right to have its cake (beat the daylights out of people it disagrees with) and eat it too (have it blamed on these same people).
Who was whom? What is true? Social media feeds last summer were awash in inflammatory and dubious stories from instant news sites of questionable provenance. Many, we know now, were designed to blur the "distinction between true and false" and to overwhelm fact with innuendo. For Arendt, Greenberg writes, "Being able to distinguish fact from fiction is a form of resistance." That form of resistance is needed now.

A smart, skilled and promising organizer I met last spring fell prey to circulating fake news flying around social media during the primary campaign. After Clinton locked up the Democratic nomination, she vanished. Asked what happened, a mutual acquaintance says she went "full chemtrails conspiracy theorist."

Propaganda is toxic. Be vigilant.