Capitol Riots: The President led a terrorist attack on Congress

January 6: A Day that will live in ignominy. The day Capitol riots broke out when an angry mob, following instructions from Donald Trump, stormed the halls of Congress and came within minutes of a potential hostage situation or worse: a massacre.

I’m still processing the events of Wednesday, as are many. Even though I fully anticipated something horrifying given the utter obviousness of the confrontation brewing, I did not have a particular picture in mind of what that thing was going to be.

Despite having steeled myself for the past 4+ years, I wept many times at some of the imagery and video footage. The defilement of the people’s halls by a violent armed mob who took selfies with Capitol Police was just not something I could have conceived of.

There must be accountability

This was one of the darkest days of our nation. Even during the Civil War the Confederates never stormed the US Capitol, so to see the Confederate flag waving in Congress was a desecration. It twisted me up to have such a raw display of America’s deepest gash of white supremacist history taken symbolically and literally to the nation’s capital.

This event was broadcast around the world, to our allies and to our enemies. We received rebukes from Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran. We — the supposed bastion of democracy. The country that lectures other nations around the world on how to do democracy better. We have been humiliated for the entire planet to see.

We need answers about what happened here. The people deserve to know who planned this, who helped this along, who looked the other away, and perhaps most importantly: who still agrees with it (Hawley and Cruz, for one — they must go).

We must stop fascism in America

The rot of fascism has been allowed to spread to the point where a violent mob of white supremacists, QAnon conspiracy nuts, MAGA faithful and a demon’s host of all stripes came within minutes of taking hostages inside the chambers of Congress. Five people lost their lives and already are being made into martyrs.

This did not begin with Trump, but he certainly amplified the signal at a much more psychotic rate than under previous administrations, certainly of my lifetime. We are now at a dangerous precipice: in a time of staggering wealth inequality, a once in a century health crisis largely being ignored by the right wing, deeply bitter partisanship played out over decades, the creep of authoritarianism around the world — and now at home.

Wednesday’s Capitol Riots did essentially mark the “crossing of the Rubicon” that the Trump cult begged him to do — it was a coming-out day for fascism. It was the President of the United States instructing an armed mob to walk up to the Capitol where lawmakers were certifying the election for the guy who won it, and telling them to “take our country back” and give it to him — by force if necessary. Which, of course, was necessary.

That is the Rubicon — the Rubicon is the willingness to use political violence when you have exhausted all other legal, shady, illegal, and hideously criminal means. That is the fascist twist. If we do not react now; if we do not censure, remove, and allow justice to hold these individuals accountable — both inside and outside of the government — they will take it as permission to try again and again until we deal with this.

We must hold the insurrectionists accountable — if we are to keep this republic.

Lordy, there are tapes: Trump extorts the Georgia Secretary of State

The Trump Tapes make the Watergate Tapes seem like Polyanna. It’s not like a 10x or a 100x — it’s like a 1000x Watergate.

Here is the full audio of the President of the United States essentially verbally abusing GA SecState Brad Raffensperger for over an hour on Saturday, January 2: Trump Tapes: phone call and transcript

There’s the usual chatter in legal, justice, and natsec communities about whether or not this constitutes a crime — the consensus seems to be strong that it does, but then again any smidgeon of wiggle room leaves me feeling a little bit queasy.

If this isn’t a crime; if this isn’t an impeachable offense — then nothing is. If a President can get away with this to keep tyrannical grip on power after losing an election quite resoundingly, then the republic is dead and all its ideals of self-governance with it.

New year, new Lost Cause: The Sedition Caucus

And yet… that’s not all. 11 additional Republican Senators have come forward to follow Josh Hawley’s lead in objecting to one or more states’ count of electors in the ceremonial Jan. 6 readout of the state certifications. The new Sedition Caucus is led by Texas lawyer and newfound facial hair enthusiast Ted Cruz, who is in danger of winning a Daytime Emmy for his crisis acting on the Fox News network.

Along with Senators Ron Johnson (R-WI), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), James Lankford (R-OK), Steve Daines (R-MT), John Kennedy (R-LA), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Senators-Elect Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), and Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), Mr Cruz presented evidence that the people they told to believe the election was rigged then did in fact believe that the election was rigged, and for this reason required another dangerous — and admittedly symbolic! — delay in securing the sovereignty of the nation.

Essentially they are making an argument to keep this President’s fragrantly, steamingly, scathingly unethical, anti-democratic, and anti-conservative, institution-destroying behavior protected and reinstalled against the will of the people for another 4 years of “deal-making” just like this. They haven’t been silently seething at or embarrassed by Trump’s behavior this whole time. They’ve been licking it up — “finally, a guy who will really keep fighting forever!”

However, now The Sedition Gang have been caught flat-footed by the timing of the Raffensperger call breaking — even Tom Cotton has now changed his tune and come out against the coup (though not without getting a few digs in at the Democrats). That is going to start turning the momentum back the other way, with luck. Even Lindsey Graham is inching back from the ledge a bit. The Jan. 6 reception may be chillier than they think.

Hoping it’s all fuel for the blue trifecta in Georgia.

🤞🏾💃🏼

Sources and Media Outlets

I try to be choosy about my news, yet also read widely. I make it a habit to routinely consult sources outside the US, and to mix up the types of media ownership to avoid a monolithic class view.

Other habits: try to corroborate stories amongst multiple publications; evaluate the credibility of authors and references; read source material; do my own calculations; consult public data when available; go back further into history to understand the trajectory of preceding events; keep listening for new information on the subject. Adjust my views based on new incoming information, if warranted.

Having worked in media for most of my career, I have a lot of practice evaluating the quality and veracity of reporting. Cross-referencing comes second nature. I’ve studied the media industry as a professional imperative and understand a bit about its ownership structures and its history, both technical and economic. As a political philosophy buff, I’m aware of the great importance of a free press to our democratic republic.

NameCountryFundingYear foundedAgeLink
The GuardianUKPrivate1821200https://www.theguardian.com/
The EconomistUKPrivate1843178https://www.economist.com/
Scientific AmericanUSPrivate1845176https://www.nature.com/
Associated PressUSNonprofit1846175https://apnews.com/
The New York TimesUSPrivate1851170https://www.nytimes.com/
ReutersUSPrivate1851170https://www.reuters.com/
The Daily TelegraphUKPrivate1855166https://www.telegraph.co.uk/
The AtlanticUSPrivate1857164https://www.theatlantic.com/
NatureUSPrivate1869152https://www.nature.com/
The Washington PostUSPrivate1877144https://www.washingtonpost.com/
LA TimesUSPrivate1881140https://www.latimes.com/
Financial TimesUKPrivate1888133https://www.ft.com/
The New RepublicUSPrivate1914107https://newrepublic.com/
BBCUKPublic192299https://www.bbc.com/news
TimeUSPrivate192398https://time.com/
The New YorkerUSPrivate192596https://www.newyorker.com/
CBCCanadaPublic193685https://www.cbc.ca/news/world
SpiegelEUPrivate194774https://www.spiegel.de/international/
Radio Free EuropeEUPublic194972https://www.rferl.org/
New ScientistUKPrivate195665https://www.newscientist.com/
Rolling StoneUSPrivate196754https://www.gregpalast.com/
PBSUSPublic196952https://www.pbs.org/
Foreign PolicyUSPrivate197051https://www.euronews.com/
NPRUSPublic197051https://www.npr.org/
C-SPANUSPublic197942https://www.c-span.org/
CNNUSPrivate198041https://www.cnn.com/
The IndependentUKPrivate198635https://www.independent.co.uk/us
Sky NewsUKPrivate198635https://news.sky.com/
Greg PalastUSIndependent197645https://www.gregpalast.com/
EuronewsEUPrivate199328https://www.euronews.com/
MSNBCUSPrivate199625https://www.msnbc.com/
VoxUSPrivate200516https://www.vox.com/
PoliticoUSPrivate200714https://www.politico.com/
BellingcatEUIndependent20147https://www.bellingcat.com/
Gaslit NationUSCrowdfunding20156https://www.patreon.com/m/1844970/posts
AxiosUSPrivate20174https://www.axios.com/
The ConversationalistUSNonprofit20192https://conversationalist.org/

malignant narcissism

Malignant narcissism is a more severe and more dangerous version of narcissistic personality disorder. NPD is an extreme and pervasive set of traits associated with narcissism, a common human quality that most of us possess in small amounts — while some have it to excess, and even great excess.

Adolf Hitler is the prototype

While there are several vocabularies around the phenomenon of narcissism and antisocial personalities, the historical clarity of the term malignant narcissism can make for helpful reference. Social psychologist Erich Fromm first coined the term to describe the mentality of the Nazis during the aftermath of World War II.

As the world reeled to understand the nature of the atrocities of the Holocaust and the unfathomable destruction wrought by the Third Reich, Fromm searched for a model to explain what he referred to as the “quintessence of evil.” He thought the extreme inhumanity exhibited by the Germans was emblematic of severe pathology and mental sickness, at the root of vicious destructiveness unleashed on the world.

Core traits of narcissism

  • Grandiosity; sense of self-importance
  • Obsessive fantasies of unlimited success, power, money, sex, etc.
  • Belief in their inherent specialness that necessitates associating with high-status individuals
  • Excessive need for admiration
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Superficial and exploitative relationships
  • Low empathy
  • Lack of conscience
  • Has deep jealousies and believes others are envious of him or her
  • Arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudes
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness and boredom

Add a dash of sadism

As we push higher on the scale to psychopathy from narcissism we enter an arena with even less empathy, less conscience, and more sadism. It’s not merely that these folks are extremely self-absorbed (which they are), it’s also that they enjoy other people’s pain. They get off on hurting others for their own enjoyment, and feel like guilt or shame in doing so.

Quotes about malignant narcissism

  • “regressive escape from frustration by distortion and denial of reality” — Edith Weigert
  • “a disturbing form of narcissistic personality where grandiosity is built around aggression and the destructive aspects of the self-become idealized” — Herbert Rosenfeld
  • “These people are preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love, and with chronic feelings of envy for those whom they perceive as being more successful than they are” — DSM-III-R
  • ‘exploitative and parasitic:’ it is as if they feel they have the right to control others and to exploit them without guilt — Otto Kernberg
  • “The defect, to be precise, is chiefly his missing conscience, which makes him incapable of empathy, guilt, and shame, unable to experience higher level feelings, and understand and respect higher values.” — Elizabeth Mika

Hyper Partisanship: How to understand American politics today

Buckle up, we’re in for a wild ride. Many of the serious scholars of political history and authoritarian regimes are sounding the alarm bells that, although it is a very very good thing we are getting rid of the Trump crime family soon, it is still a very very bad thing for America to have so rapidly tilted towards authoritarianism. How did we get here?! How has hyper partisanship escalated to the point of an attempted coup by 126 sitting Republican House Representatives?

These are some of the resources that helped me grapple with that question, and with the rapidly shifting landscape of information warfare. This outline is a work in progress, and I’m planning to keep adding to this list as the tape keeps rolling.

Right-Wing Authoritarianism

  • Karen Stenner — Australian political psychologist Karen Stenner found that approximately 1/3 of populations are authoritarian, or have authoritarian tendencies.
  • Hannah Arendt — The Origins of Totalitarianism
  • ketman — Ketman is the psychological concept of concealing one’s true aims, akin to doublethink in Orwell’s 1984, that served as a central theme to Polish dissident Czesław Miłosz’s book The Captive Mind about intellectual life under totalitarianism during the Communist post-WWII occupation.
  • Erich Fromm — coined the term “malignant narcissism” to describe the psychological character of the Nazis
  • Fascism — elevation of the id as the source of truth; enthusiasm for political violence
    • Jason Stanley — How Fascism Works
    • Robert O. Paxton — The Anatomy of Fascism
    • Tim Snyder — On Tyranny
    • Federico Finchelstein — A Brief History of Fascist Lies
  • Loyalty; hero worship
  • Richard Hofstadter — The Paranoid Style
  • Lakoff — moral framing; strict father morality
  • Neil Postman — Entertaining Ourselves to Death
  • Anti-Intellectualism
  • Can be disguised as hyper-rationalism (Communism)

Cognitive and psychological data

  • conservative minds don’t accept new information coming in
    • vs. Bayesian logic
    • vs. Thomas Kuhn scientific revolutions
  • Psychological biases
    • Status quo bias
  • The Asch Experiment — more than 60% of the time, people bow to social pressure
  • Stanley Milgram 1974 — we will submit to the demands of authority to a far greater extent than we might expect
    • it absolves us of responsibility
    • a “loophole” to quickly route around our conscience, making “normal” persons susceptible to the appeals of psychopaths
  • The Marshmallow Experiment — drive towards instant gratification
  • Edward Bernays — Propaganda
  • Narcissism and Sadism | The Dark Triad — difficult personalities
    • Political ponerology — the nature of evil; interaction of difficult personalities with power and politics
      • pathocracy — Andrew Łobaczewski (2007)
      • sadopopulism — Tim Snyder
    • Narcissistic collusion — the interplay of the grandiose expectations of the tyrant and his followers. It gives him power as a meshing of mutually compatible needs.
    • Narcissism of small differences — Freud 1991
    • Scapegoating
    • Psychological decompensation
    • Psychopath World
      • The Upside Down — up is down, black is white
      • No conscience
      • No empathy
      • The ultimate narcissist
      • Obsession with power, dominance, and hierarchy
      • Primitive goals, relentlessly pursued
      • Rigidity; inflexibility
      • No access to higher human ideals
      • Performative; mask-wearing
      • See people as objects for their use
      • Control issues
      • Cruel and sadistic
      • Empty and thrill-seeking
      • Enjoy breaking rules
      • Inauthentic; insincere
      • Projectivity
      • Destructiveness; recklessness
      • Conspiracy-minded
      • Cold and inaccessible
      • Reptilian
    • Terminology: ASPD and the shifting umbrella of personality disorder and Cluster B
    • Malignant narcissism as a historical conception of this group of personality traits
  • Paranoia
  • Abuse culture
    • Bullies
    • Emotional abuse
    • psychological abuse
    • physical abuse
    • financial abuse
    • legal abuse
    • abuse of power
    • Alice Miller — Her work identified the psychological impact of childhood neglect and abuse, not just at the individual level but at the societal level — where it has a tendency to produce a hierarchical worldview characterized by the need to control the environment.
    • One-sided development — Dąbrowski (1996)
  • Cults
  • “Big Cults” — rise to the level of nation-state and even beyond
  • Psychological warfare
    • Propaganda
      • Bernays –> Goebbels
      • Michiko Kakutani — The Death of Truth
    • Emotional abuse
    • Interrogation techniques
    • Disinformation
      • Conspiracy theories
      • Fake news
        • “Flood the channel” strategy
        • Overwhelm and drown out the truth
        • Deep fakes
      • Lying with statistics
    • Bot networks and cyborg botnets
      • agents
        • distraction
        • confusion
        • probing
        • persuasion
        • conversion
        • neutralization
      • flying monkeys
      • automated response
      • timed response
    • Extortion
    • Doxxing
  • Living on Fantasy Island
    • Ernest Becker — The Denial of Death & the basis for fundamental self-deception
    • Buddhist / Shambhala conceptions of “The Cocoon” — a mental place of safety we construct for ourselves to remain shielded from Real Reality
    • Republican Denial Bubbles: climate change, trickle-down economics, “no one is racist,” birtherism, covid is a hoax, everything is hunky dory, you are getting very sleepy…
    • Dominionism and extremist religious circles believing literally in the End Times and the rapture coming soon (Tim LaHaye et al), including at the highest levels of government (Pompeo, Pence, etc.)
    • It Was All a Lie — Stuart Stevens, former GOP strategist and co-founding member of the Lincoln Project, spills the beans on the Republican capture of civic discourse with a set of false narratives all spinning out from the white supremacist backlash to the civil rights movement of the 60s.

HISTORY

  • Capitol Riots and Putsch — insurrectionists storm the Capitol
  • Raffensperger extortion call
  • Georgia runoffs
  • Biden elected + Big Lie begins (continues, really)
  • George Floyd murder and summer of protest
    • long struggle with police brutality and “driving while Black”
  • Votings Rights Act gutted
  • Citizens United
  • Growing nationalization of politics parallels the demise of local news

Hyper Partisanship in Congress: The Gingrich Years

  • Newt Gingrich and the Contract on America — Steve Kornacki, Julian Zelizer
  • Rise of Evangelicals and the deals with the devils (Paul Weyrich, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, prosperity gospel, etc)
    • ALEC
    • abortion as a 180-degree turn for use as a wedge issue
    • Brown v. Board of Education & the fight over segregated Christian private schools
  • White nationalism’s reputational laundering
    • David Duke popped back up in both the 90s and the 2010s
    • Some Vietnam vets nurtured their own “stabbed in the back” culture after the war
    • Rise of the militia movement
      • Many returning soldiers saw the fringe left Communist movement in the US as an “enemy at home”
      • Greensboro, NC massacre
      • The Order
      • KKK & KKKK
    • Paramilitary operations in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere in Latin America to “bring the war home”
    • After the fall of Communism, the movement needed a new enemy. During the immediate post-Vietnam era they claimed to be working on behalf of the state, but towards the end of the 80s they did a 180-degree turn to a hard anti-government stance
    • Survivalist fringe
      • Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing
      • Waco
      • Ruby Ridge
      • Unabomber / Ted Kaczynski
    • Intersection of militia movement with NRA
      • Intersection of NRA with Russian active measures

Post-Soviet Capital Flight and the Rise of Russian Organized Crime

Rise of Dark Money

The explosion of Super PACs and other seemingly endless vehicles for anonymous money lending to political campaigns exploded after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010. The hyper partisanship tilted even further when the GOP quietly began accepting far more foreign contributions than many people realized.

  • Citizens United
  • Koch Brothers / Kochtopus
  • offshore tax havens
  • unregistered FARA agents (Flynn, Manafort, Elliott Broidy, etc)
  • Jane Mayer
  • Panama Papers — biggest offshore data leak in history
  • FinCEN files

Rise of Russian Hybrid Warfare

  • Gerasimov Doctrine
  • Vladislav Surkhov’s surrealistic war theater
    • Fifth World War: all against all
  • Cheka –> KGB –> FSB / GRU
  • Psychological warfare
  • Cyber warfare
    • energy grid
    • US Treasury
    • election infrastructure
    • nuclear weaponry
  • Information warfare
    • Disinformation
    • Cyborg bot networks
    • IRA & Robert Mueller indictments
    • Cambridge Analytica, data theft, and microtargeting
    • Astroturfing, fake activism, paid crisis actors
  • Financial warfare
    • Magnitsky Act
      • Bill Browder
      • Natalia Veselnitskaya
      • Trump Tower meeting June 9, 2016
    • Campaign funding
      • Marie Le Pen (France)
      • Viktor Orban (Hungary)
      • Brexit (UK)
      • Trump / GOP (US)
      • Law and Justice (Poland)
    • Corruption — organized crime, money laundering, bribery, human trafficking, drugs, arms, fraud, racketeering, etc.
  • Proxy warfare
    • Private security forces and arms’ length deniability
      • Yevgeny Prigozhin
      • Erik Prince
    • Ukraine
    • Belarus
    • Syria

Role of Facebook, Google, and Big Tech

Silicon Valley played its part in enabling — and profiteering from — hyper partisanship not just in the U.S., but around the world. Facebook in particular has a reputation for being callously cheap about moderating content from hate speech to live mass shooting video, including arguably playing a significant role in the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar.

  • Facebook as a rogue nation state with almost 3 billion non-voting citizen-serfs
    • Reluctant moderators require regulating
    • Questionable ethics
      • Moral hazard in political leanings
      • Paid propaganda machine for dictators and authoritarian regimes around the world
      • Allow disinformation to “skirt around” the rules too often, or fail to police bad actors at all
      • Fail to live up to their own moderating standards repeatedly
      • Refuse responsibility for arguably essential roles in geopolitical disasters including the Rohingya massacre in Myanmar and
      • A business model that fundamentally benefits from human conflict
      • Cambridge Analytica
      • Traumatic conditions of the Facebook moderation team, in the US and abroad
  • Google’s capture of the web
    • monopoly powers
    • surveillance powers
    • AI powers
    • collapse of online advertising market
    • collapse of local journalism
    • Youtube radicalization
  • Surveillance capitalism
  • Data as the new oil

Economic insecurity and staggering inequality

  • Piketty
  • Gilded Age
  • Progressive Era
  • Anti-Trust
  • Herbert Hoover –> FDR
  • Great Depression –> New Deal prosperity
  • Keynesian economics
  • Hillbilly elegy
    • Bowling Alone
    • The Big Sort
  • Globalization
  • Opioid crisis

Republican Myths

As further enabled by the rise of the PR-state

  • White supremacy and the myth of American innocence
  • Trickle down economics –> Reagan
  • Powell Memo –> Think Tanks
  • McCarthyism; John Birch Society
  • America as a Judeo-Christian nation
  • Immigration is bad
  • Climate change denialism
  • Smoking is good for you

Americana and Hyper Partisanship through the ages

  • 2020 election
  • 2016 election
  • Obama years
  • 2008-09 financial crash
  • 9/11, WMD delusions, Iraq War, Islamic terrorism
  • 2000 Bush v. Gore
  • Welfare queens
  • Clinton and the Crime Bill
  • Reagan years
  • Watergate
  • Spiro Agnew
  • Nixon’s war on drugs as a proxy for the war on 60s counterculture
  • White militia movement
  • Civil rights & Vietnam
  • Cold War
  • The Holocaust; Stalin’s Great Terror; Mao’s famine
  • WWII & fascism
  • New Deal
  • Great Depression
  • WWI
  • Gilded Age
  • Snake oil
  • PT Barnum
  • Great Awakening preachers George Whitefield & Jonathan Edwards
    • they argued that church authorities should not own people’s direct relationship with God
  • KKK
  • Jim Crow
  • Reconstruction
  • Civil War & Confederacy — the ur-Hyper Partisanship.
  • States’ Rights
  • Anti-Intellectualism
  • Slavery
  • Racism, Misogyny
  • Federalism vs. Decentralization
  • The Constitution and the Rule of Law
  • Democracy overthrows monarchy
  • Spirit of the Laws — Montesquieu
  • Social contract; consent of the governed
  • Puritans
  • Religious freedom
  • Liberty vs. freedom
  • The Enlightenment
  • Magna Carta
  • The Bible

Time only runs forward

Can’t go back — as far as we know. That makes the politics of nostalgia, of the rose-tinted past, of MAGA, to be by definition an exercise in magical thinking.

We can’t go back to the past.

Psychologically speaking though, it is common to harbor this belief. This wishful thinking.

The Politics of Fear

It is the availability of memory stacked against the uncertainty of the future. For those who lack a certain sense of imagination, the road ahead can seem dark and dangerous. They are vulnerable to succor and protection — from enemies they believe to be around every corner.

In exchange for loyalty to the Strongman, they get fake superficial protection while the leader and his cronies raid the community coffers. Meanwhile the autocrat blames the opposition party for all the followers’ ills, despite obviously being in power himself. They hail him as a truthteller.

Magical Thinking

This blindness to the constraints of reality is more common than we might think. And regression is a common defense mechanism which encapsulates in microcosm this macro nostalgia: wherein we fall back to the carefree mentality of childhood. It’s a method of escapism and avoiding responsibility on one hand, and an aspect of the denial of death.

But we must grow up, and bravely face our fate. We must make decisions that shape it, and guide our course through the significant constraints of life and the unexpected obstacles.

Creativity is the Antidote

Ironically, something worthwhile we may have left behind in childhood can help get us out of this mess. Creativity shares the imaginative aspect with magical thinking, but the difference is its recognition of the constraints of reality. Time, resources, skills, prevailing conditions, random chance, and much more all must be favorable for us to achieve our creative goals and solve our problems. It requires effort and incisiveness. It requires an addiction to reality.

Creativity requires humility — something in short supply. We will need to cultivate vulnerability and non-aggression and deliberation. We will need to rediscover community and rededicate ourselves to civics.

I’m ready. Are you?

kompromat

What I do when I have compromising files to hide is I distribute them evenly across 3 different laptops and ensure that all 3 highly reliable “works for decades” Apple machines go kaput at the same exact time, at which point I leave my home and fly across the country to a jurisdiction patrolled by Rudy Giuliani to service these machines and perform data recovery because I am looking to add maximum inconvenience to my very busy life — a life so busy that I completely forget about my 3 precious laptops which once contained both my livelihood and my most deeply personal and secret materials.

You?

Also, data recovery for 3 laptops is totally $85.

Trump is a cult leader

Cult leader playbook:

1. Position himself (and the group — his extension) as the benevolent safe haven to turn to when afraid

2. Isolate the follower from other sources of safe haven

3. Arouse fear in the follower

Rinse; repeat.

Qualities of a Cult Leader

  • Narcissistic — highly self-absorbed, they demand excessive admiration and slavish devotion to their whims.
  • Charismatic — they have a way of grabbing attention, whether positive or negative.
  • Unpredictable — erratic behavior keeps enemies on their toes and fans “on edge” with desire to please Dear Leader.
  • Insatiable drive — it could be status, money, sex, power, or all of the above, but they feel they deserve it more than anyone else on the planet.
  • Lack of conscience — they have no shame and will demand things a decent human being would not.

Trump has all the cult leader qualities and follows the playbook to a tee — doing little else, in fact. He should be considered highly armed and dangerous. An emotionally unstable individual with access to the United States’ greatest powers and deepest secrets. A threat to American life and liberty. Dictator Don.

How a Buddhist might explain our political polarization

We have a hard time understanding how political polarization has become so extreme in the United States. Forget about right and wrong, and stop being so mystified and affronted that Hillbilly Elegy or Neo Neonazi don’t see things the way you do. “How can they support Trump?!?” many a well-meaning Democrat will plaintively cry.

But these judgments are labels we’ve invented — they’re purely symbolic. It’s the feelings underneath that truly produce motivation — there is a physiological reason that “our camp” and “their camp” seem so drastically different from each other. Almost as if we no longer inhabit the same reality anymore. It used to be that we routinely disagreed (and even fought bitterly) over facts — but now we disagree over whether facts have any value at all, which is a very dangerous place to be.

So we don’t necessarily need right and wrong to understand the Trump cult, and it may even get in the way. A Buddhist would offer a far more neutral perspective on the chasm dividing America today:

DNC
- What the liberal left (and a smattering of defected right) enjoyed tonight at the Democratic National Convention was pleasant to us. It felt good.
- To the Trumpkins, the DNC was unpleasant, and greatly so. 

RNC
- For Trump rallies and presumably the RNC, the feelings swap: his fans pass over mere pleasant into a frenzy of malignant envy and sadism.
- For us Democrats, those events are nightmarishly unpleasant. They give us the heebie jeebies.

Political polarization: Nurture and nature

For some of us, it’s just how we’re wired. Others have the nurture member of the dyad to thank, or blame. The community or communities around us and the context we’re in affect our decision-making as well. As our surroundings become more politically polarized, so do we — having a compounding feedback loop effect.

Some of us will grow and stretch and change over the course of our lives. Others have fixed set points. Maybe we should be asking some additional questions beyond, “But how can they believe…” including, “what is it that some people find unpleasant about compassion and love? Is it that they feel those things to be absent in their own lives, or that they’ve been betrayed by those ideals in some way?”

The Founders considered the US Postal Service essential to democracy

The cognitive dissonance of the so-called Republican “agenda” is on acute display, wherein mortal threat to a literally enumerated power of the Constitution given to Congress to establish a federal postal system seems not to bother the Constitutional originalists one bit. Not to mention said power’s role in facilitating free and fair elections. Curioser and curioser!

Somehow, one of the nation’s oldest institutions — instrumental in both our political and economic history throughout its existence — is suddenly considered yesterday’s fish by the seemingly randomly fiscal conservative. It’s, apropos of nothing (except an upcoming election in a pandemic), nigh time to punish the historic public service for not being more focused on the opposite of its stated mission:

USPS mission

The USPS is synonymous with American independence

Moreover, the origin of the importance of the post to the Founders of the nation lies even deeper within the soul of the formation of American independence: as a backlash to the British Stamp Act of 1765.

The colonies’ budding sense of unity was emboldened by collective action overtaken to dislodge the British Imperial Post (and its taxes with it), and this sentiment continued to grow through related historical affronts including the Townshend Acts of 1767, the Boston Massacre of 1768, and the Tea Party of 1773 into the full-fledged political pursuit of independence waged as the American Revolutionary War.

Foundational Acts: Establishing the post was a first priority

Benjamin Franklin became the first Postmaster General when the Second Continental Congress created the Constitutional Post in 1775. In his first term, the nation’s inaugural President George Washington signed the Post Office Act into law, establishing the USPO in early 1792. By the end of his second term, the number of post offices, miles of post roads, and post revenues had grown by 400%.

Washington spearheaded the creation of the post with help from James Madison. With it the two philosophical fathers of the revolution established both a right to personal privacy and a right to public information for citizens of the new nation. They specifically made it cheaper to send news — believing that an informed population was of utmost importance to a self-governing country.

Alexander Hamilton helped the fledgling post office with legal challenges it faced as it modernized, including a dispute with contracted stagecoach services who refused to adhere to delivery standards. Alexis de Tocqueville was impressed by the postal service on his historic visits to the new nation, convinced that the organizational capability of the early post office was essential to sustaining this fledgling American experiment with democracy.

Without the post, no West

Not to mention that, historically speaking, it’s likely there would have been no westward expansion without the post office. Cameron Blevins’ awesome infovisualisation of post office openings and closings between 1850 and into the 1900s clearly shows the reach of the system and its status as the veins and arteries of a rapidly scaling up nation.

Geography of the Post

Roads in general owe their ubiquity and quality to pressures from the mail service to provide reasonable passage for delivery. The Pony Express provides to this day some of the most iconic imagery and symbolism Americans associate with the Wild West.

The postal service was the largest communications network of the 19th century; it bound the nation back together to some small but not insignificant degree following the Civil War. Later, the Air Mail Service of the Unites States Post Office Department would be inaugurated only shortly after motorized plane flight was in regular usage towards the end of World War I.

Without the West, no America

Anyone care to argue that this country would be the same without the great American West? Surely not you, Texas — nor you, Montana. Not even Wyoming. Our national self-conception as a people of Manifest Destiny — a people whose boundless horizons were thrilling, exciting, and full of possibility. Of social mobility. Of personal responsibility.

The American identity is bound to the West. Our entrepreneurship, our creativity, our explorative and adventurous spirit finds itself embodied in the iconic images of the cowboy, the dusty plain, the purple mountains’ majesties that we all learn in childhood curricula. How would we ever have shared that imagery in the first place, if not for the post?

By the way, did you know that the Postal Service is the United States’s second largest civilian employer? After Walmart.

For all of the above reasons and more: this idea of kneecapping the United States Postal Service to further one’s election ambitions is neither moral, legal, nor historical.

It’s criminal.

The Authoritarian Personality: Deference to a higher power

Sociologist Theodor Adorno created the “F scale” in a 1950 seminal work entitled The Authoritarian Personality — to rank the level of predilection to fascism in an individual, which became desirable both during and shortly after World War II.

In authoritarian personality theory, the defining traits of the Platonic fascist (or the ur-Fascist as Umberto Eco would later call them) include the following:

  • conventionalism — following the rules; “this is how we’ve always done things”; fundamentalist thinking; dogmatic philosophy; intolerance of ambiguity (and intolerance in general)
  • authoritarian submission — follow the Ruler; the Ruler is always right, no matter how obvious the lie or big the myth. only ingroup authority figures matter, though.
  • authoritarian aggression — “send in the troops,” “when the looting starts the shooting starts,” “dominate the streets”
  • anti-intellectualism — distrust of experts; paranoid politics; intellectualism is unmasculine
  • anti-intraception — a dislike of subjectivity and imagination: “the fact is…”; black and white thinking; dislike of flamboyant self-expression; monoculture
  • superstition — conspiracy theory; anti-vaxxers; QAnon
  • stereotypy — racism, sexism, classism, ageism, all the isms; homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, all the phobias
  • power and “toughness” — obsessed with dominance and submission; rigidly pro-hierarchy; solves problems with violence; values physical strength
  • destructiveness — dismantle the Federal government; remove environmental regulations; pull out of international alliances; weakening America’s place in the world, abandoning the EU, and kowtowing to dictators around the world
  • cynicism — “both sides do it,” whataboutism, all politicians are bad, conscience (non)voters
  • projectivity — everything is Obama’s fault, almost literally; claims Biden is corrupt; Hillary’s email server (though they all used and continue to use private email servers, every single one of them); claim that the Clinton campaign started the birther controversy; accuse everyone else of lying
  • exaggerated concerns over sex — anti-abortion; homophobia; excessive taboos; excessive shame

We are seeing all of these traits today. We see the rise of authoritarianism — we see it in our leadership, we see it in our communities, and we see it surging around the world.

We see it in a much larger percentage of our populace than many of us might have imagined. People of good character far outnumber the Right-Wing Authoritarians, but they can be subjugated, emotionally manipulated, strong-armed, abused, intimidated, made cynical by the RWAs. And the RWA personality is driven to actively hate outgroups in many outrageously twisted and depraved ways, from pettiness to genocide.

Right-Wing Authoritarianism

Refined by professor of psychology Bob Altemeyer (The Authoritarians, et al) in 1981, the Right-Wing Authoritarianism scale (RWA) addresses some of the limitations of the F scale and exhibits more predictive power in identifying individuals exhibiting authoritarian personality.

The RWA personality is associated with all of the following traits, beliefs, actions, patterns, and signs of authoritarianism:

  • extreme obedience
  • unquestioning respect for and submission to a chosen authority
  • forceful insistence on hierarchy
  • striving for dominance in social hierarchies
  • supremacy
  • wolves vs. sheep worldview
  • Manichaean struggle
  • punitiveness; vengefulness; malignant envy
  • destructiveness
  • extremism
  • subordination to the collective
  • tribalism
  • cult of personality
  • traditionalism
  • conservatism
  • fundamentalism
  • less openness to experience
  • aggression towards minority groups
  • resistance to change
  • justification(s) for social inequality
  • Libertarianism
  • police brutality
  • psychological abuse
  • hypocrisy
  • projection
  • magical thinking
  • disciplinarian
  • control freak
  • mass surveillance
  • repression
  • a primary drive to achieve relief from uncertainty, even at the cost of individual freedom

Democracy vs. Authoritarianism

Maybe we could offer up the RWA test as a “good faith” gesture, if one is interested in participating in civic discourse with credibility and authenticity. It would help us identify those individuals who are going to be unlikely to play by the rules of the game or have no intention of behaving fairly. It would help us draw authoritarianism and totalitarianism out of the proverbial closet and into public discourse so we can refute it vehemently in a proper forum.

Although we have bot tests, we don’t really have great ways of measuring and identifying human beings with deceptive agendas. If we could screen people as authoritarians via “honorable challenge,” we could save so much time by not wasting it on the lost causes whose power trip runs so deep it can never be exposed. It could serve as a way to drag out into the light any number of intolerable, anti-democratic sentiments masquerading as “strict Constitutionalism.” We can pry open the doublespeak and arm ourselves with the secret decoder rings of understanding RWA dogwhistles.

And maybe we can finally change the conversation by more easily identifying friendlies from foes from the start, without having to wade through every minefield.

Just maybe.

Antidotes to the here and now

When the onslaught of news is overwhelming and oppressively Right Now, I like to escape by:

  1. Getting out of Here — read non-US and non-US based news, media, culture, and history. Try to intellectually get out in the world.
  2. Getting out of Now — read history, watch documentaries, read old novels, listen to classic (and classical) music, learn from the Stoics. Ponder ago.

War of the Worldviews: Hierarchy vs. Fairness

Hierarchy vs. Fairness is the dominant Manichaean struggle of our age, and perhaps every age before it: shall we structure our society with a strict hierarchical system of highs and lows, with power concentrated at the top? Or shall we have an egalitarian society where truth, justice, and fairness rule the day?

There are a lot of stories, myths, and narratives centered on this question: hierarchy or fairness? Cultural wars and actual wars have been waged — numerous times throughout history.

We are fighting a new incarnation of that war now in our nation, as civil unrest spreads following yet another extrajudicial murder by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin — who knelt on the neck of George Floyd for a jaw-dropping 8 minutes and 46 seconds: 2 minutes and 53 seconds beyond the point where Floyd lost consciousness and 1 minute and 54 seconds past the point fellow officers checked to confirm he had no pulse.

That is a staggeringly long time.

There is simply no credibility to the typical excuse that Chauvin somehow feared for his life — from an unarmed, handcuffed, prone, unconscious, and then lifeless George Floyd. Arrested over an allegedly counterfit $20 bill. Meanwhile Congress appropriates hundreds of billions and even trillions for big business and last I heard, no arrests had been made. Curious.

It starts in childhood

Psychologists like Alice Miller and Darcia Narvaez attribute this troubling mentality — this mentality that exhibits complete disregard for human life — as originating in our child-raising “techniques.” At one time corporal punishment for youth was the rule and not the exception; not uncoincidentally, the Hitler Youth of Germany had been largely raised under the “advice” of Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Shreber who advocated beating babies from a young age so the importance of obedience would be drilled into them early on.

It wasn’t until much later we learned that traumatized and neglected children display severe lesions affecting up to the 30 percent of the areas of the brain responsible for controlling emotions. In other words, “traditional” authoritarian child-rearing in the fundamentalist religion style of “spare the rod, spoil the child” produces emotionally crippled adults — who tend to enact the revenge fantasies of their internal repressed rage as adults later in life. They simply need be provided with an “authorized” scapegoat.

Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt

Miller goes on to suggest the psychological survival mechanism of denial employed by abused children to survive their situation leads them to develop the kind of emotional blindness in adulthood that will turn the other way when witnessing violations of another person’s humanity — or may even be induced to carry them out. We’re all familiar with Nazi Adolf Eichmann’s “defense” of why he should be exonerated for behaving like a robotic killer: “I was just following orders.”

Teaching children to be obedient or be emotionally abandoned — whether through physical abuse or emotional abuse or both — is the key to unlocking this mystery of the appeal of hierarchy and authoritarianism which is seeing a resurgence not just in the United States but around the world — especially in Europe as well. Miller calls it “poisonous pedagogy” — not just parents but many other forms of authority indoctrinate youth in this vicious cycle and benefit from the creation of obedient individuals by amassing and maintaining power.

The kicker is we are not supposed to recognize this process — and if we do, we most certainly are not supposed to speak up about it. We are supposed to remain unaware that our deference to authority is merely a construct; a thin veneer over the insecurity of power that hopes desperately to continue wielding absurd moral authority over the masses. This collective and complicitous denial keeps us all locked in the dance of abuser and abused — essentially pretending it isn’t happening all around us including in our own homes.

The Founders advocated fairness

For all the right wing enjoys brandishing the Constitution as fundamental law, they tend to often miss the forest for the trees — that the founding fathers wrote extensively on their views and consideration in constructing a new nation towards the end of the 18th century, and that those views were decidedly against the arbitrary rule of kings and the strict striations of class as seen in the empires of Europe. They sought to get away from the cult of personality paradigm of the divine right of kings, believing that the rule of law should hold sway and that men ought to govern themselves through a political process with enough checks and balances to ensure no single branch or individual could wield too much power over others.

James Madison especially was a big believer in the “wisdom of crowds” to arrive at a better, more morally appropriate solution to legislation and problem solving. Moreover they were extremely uncomfortable with the role of slavery at the founding of the nation, despite being simultaneously apiece with the times and not entirely living up to those professed ideals.

Nevertheless, the role of ideals is to move us forward towards better times; to continually improve our individual and collective characters to get closer to living them out. Taking the founding ideals of fairness and equality as the guiding north star of a new nation and falling short is, in my humble opinion, still leagues farther along than giving in to the indulgent impulse towards supremacy and hierarchy and calling it a day. It’s the essence of progressivism as a vehicle for a narrative of self-growth — as opposed to the narrative hierarchy offers, which is static; dead; inert. There can be no change, no dynamism to a system which defines a priori everyone’s place in society.

Hierarchy is the politics of death.

The Rule of Law vs. the Cult of Personality

The rule of law is a moral force. It’s an ethical tour de force that’s been hard-fought and won in democracies around the world beginning with the French Revolution. And it’s still going on today — everywhere citizens are struggling to achieve political power and equality.

When justice holds sway, there is a true objective arbiter and an ethical framework society can hang from. Imperfect though its actual execution by actual humans may be, the rule of law provides a fundamental basis for agreement on what is right, what is wrong, and how best we shall live in our societies.

The Right-wing and the rule of law

The right-wing faction once gave lip service to the rule of law — when they still had a monopoly over it. Now that they no longer do, the extreme right has abandoned it in favor of a venal power grab in the form of an essentially fascist idea: the Cult of Personality.

In Donald Trump and in authoritarian leaders around the world, the Cult of Personality reigns. These leaders go out of their way to flout the law. They repeatedly allege or assert that they are above it; that they are special. They allege that they’re so special as to be immune to application of the rule of law that applies to other citizens.

When the justice goes dark, trouble brews. When the cult of personality holds sway, entire societies become vulnerable to propaganda, disinformation, gaslighting, fakery, and lies of all kinds. Without a grasp of the truth — and mechanisms within the structure of society to champion it and root it out — societies cannot make informed decisions. They cannot effectively self-govern, and cannot wholly wield the political power a democracy is meant to endow them with. Without the rule of law, freedom is not just imperiled — freedom is dead.

It is most certainly a dark and stormy evening.

Mass death is actually a bad thing for the economy

This past week we had a serious, unironic “debate” about whether or not senicide is a reasonable “plan” for handling the coronavirus crisis. This under the pretense that the other course of action — following the advice of medical professionals and epidemiologists to stay home and socially distance ourselves to curb the spread of covid-19 — is tantamount to shutting down the economy, which is tantamount to killing more people than the virus will.

Meanwhile, Congress passed a $2 trillion relief package, one quarter of which will go to the billionaire class with precious little oversight as to how it can be spent — and still apparently no one seems to have the slightest bit of confidence that the world’s richest economy can possibly weather the storms of depressed consumer demand for even several weeks much less the potentially many months this pandemic will rage across the planet. Perhaps this reveals that The Economy simply isn’t as robust as we tell ourselves it is during better times.

Dead Men Pay No Taxes

The proposed Sophie’s Choice between weeks or months of physical separation and allowing many people to die all around us is a false frame.

Millions of people dying is bad for The Economy in a very similar way to how having ICE eject millions of people from the economy is bad for The Economy. Insofar as economies require a labor force, and insofar as governments require revenue from taxation to pay for the infrastructure upon which The Economy rests, having millions of people depart from them is not a pathway to improving the economy — it is the opposite.

However, perhaps The Economy itself has become a contested concept. There may be a class-based and/or ideologically-based difference of opinion on what this concept means. Perhaps there is now:

  • the economy: the traditionally-held view of economies as markets in which individuals labor and contribute value, and trade assets in mutually beneficial ways to allocate resources efficiently
  • The Economy: a sort of shell game played by the right-wing authoritarian cohort in which the Plebes are starved of infrastructure and resources to the point of being mired inside an Eternal Present — in which we lurch from crisis to crisis — that brokers no hope for the future and no actual policy being made, other than the “policies” which continue to print money from the Federal Treasury for the purposes of propping up the precariously fragile billionaire class whose claims of meritocratic supremacy are stretched thinner and thinner each time the shells are moved yet again

Starving the Beast kills it: Feature or bug?

On paper, “Starving the Beast” is passed off as deeply held ideological libertarianism regarding the fundamental goodness of small government. In practice, starving beasts tend to die of preventable causes — and if governments are to retain the kind of power needed to be a check and balance on a growing hypercapitalist economy, they must indeed grow as well.

But beyond the general case, our specific circumstances of global pandemic lead us to a reasonable question: if laissez-faire capitalism and the free hand of the market is supposedly both sufficient to solve all human problems and vastly superior than the socialist hand of government at doing these things, then why are we in such a pickle? Why hasn’t the Invisible Hand managed to come up with its own solution to the mass death we are currently experiencing?

Or is the answer we might hear one that is too grim to bear — having been provided a clue this week in the grumbling of sacrificing the old to save the young — that a certain part of the political spectrum believe this is the market working as intended. That mass death is an acceptable “negative externality” of laissez-faire capitalism and that we bleeding-heart liberals ought to suck it up and grow thicker skin, rather than demand that governments step in to prevent preventable human atrocity.

Not only am I afraid of the answer — I’m afraid we’ll never get a straight answer in the world of political ketman we seem to have blundered into. In this world, right-wing elites including numerous elected officials continue to give lip service to a democracy that has been systematically hollowed out since the redoubling of the conservative movement in the 1970s to present, to currently resemble a geopolitical reality closer to that of modern Russia than to anything James Madison or Alexander Hamilton would have recognized.

It is technically possible that psychologically speaking, they themselves are actually unaware of this seismic shift in ideological views from that of democratic power and Constitutional authority to one of authoritarian rule and total technocratic control — but I think it’s more likely they’re simply not saying it out loud.