The Irrepressible and Irresponsible Donald Trump – Part II

The Irrepressible and Irresponsible Donald Trump – Part II

 

by

Howard Adelman

There is truth and there are lies. The first represents reality. The second deforms it. There are many kinds of lies. There are visual lies created by the selection and juxtaposition of images; the visual lie is also provided by the omission of other images. There are rhetorical lies, lies that result by the choice of words, by the way words are brought together, by the words omitted and by the way an argument is made. There are behavioural lies, lies conveyed by body movements and by actions, by policies and by plans. Finally, unlike these previously ambiguous lies that require dissection to reveal the distortions, there are simply outright lies, lies that are bare-faced and bald-faced, that are simply naked and carry no ambiguity whatsoever. The latter are usually brazen, bold, brash and blatant. They lack a trace of concealment. They are undisguised and unabashed.

In his response to the story of the Charlottesville torch march by the alt-right and in its aftermath, Trump told all four types of lies.

I begin with the visual that was so important in grasping the truth about Charlottesville. If you go to youtube, you can see multiple versions of the visuals of what happened at Charlottesville. Thanks to the prevalence of camera phones, if one goes through many of the postings, one can obtain a clear sense of what went on during the torch parade on Friday evening and on the Saturday following. Or one can look at a composite film made up of those images. A greater truth can even be obtained when the composite, when the scissors-and-paste effort to reveal the truth, juxtaposes those images with images from the past – from what Trump has said in the past and from films of fascists in the thirties, both real and fictional. I commend the following one to you. It is powerful and frightening.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1_wfS1LGig

But films misrepresent because they are clearly an artifice. They are a selection of images. Even when they reveal a greater truth, as I believe the one that I have pointed out does, they select, they juxtapose and they omit. This is what makes them so powerful; they are pointed. The video above omits any images of violence by the alt-left. It also omits the video images of the candlelight vigil and the over one thousand students and faculty at the University of Virginia singing those memorable songs of the protest movement in the sixties. For those images, one has to scroll through many of the videos posted on youtube. Thus, in the most powerful way of revealing the truth, through what one sees and hears, and if you were actually there, what you smelled and the fear you felt in your belly, these films, and even the compilations based on them, cannot offer a comprehensive and coherent view of the truth, but only a perspective on and the closest correspondence with that truth.

In the effort to get to a more comprehensive truth, a shift to rhetoric is required. This does not exclude the visual. It does require juxtaposition on a different level to a visually edited compilation, the extraction from what was said by Donald Trump on Tuesday that obliterated his conciliatory and wooden performance before the teleprompter on Monday. On Tuesday, DT doubled down and went back to the rhetoric of insisting on violence on both sides (a correct observation in itself if one goes carefully through the images), but implies proportionality, implies equivalence when there was none either in intent, quantity, quality or consequence, let alone in the justification accorded that violence by the proponents and users of that violence.

Let me begin with the easiest rhetorical device – repetition – one used so frequently by Donald Trump. On Tuesday, he repeated fifteen times – fifteen times – that he knew the facts and we listeners and viewers, and the media reporting about him, did not.

“Before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.”

“You don’t make statements that direct unless you know the facts.”

“It takes a little while to get the facts.”

“You still don’t know the facts.”

“And it’s a very, very important process to me and it’s an important statement. So I don’t want to go quickly, and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement. I want to know the facts.”

“I like to be correct. I want the facts.”

“Before I make a statement, I need the facts.”

“But unlike you, and unlike the media – before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.”

“I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters, unlike a lot of reporters.”

“I didn’t know David Duke was there. I wanted to see the facts, and the facts, as they started coming out, were very well stated.”

“I couldn’t have made it sooner because I didn’t know all of the facts.”

“Frankly, people still don’t know all of the facts. It was very important –“

“Excuse me, excuse me. It was very important to me to get the facts out, and correctly.”

“I want to make a statement with knowledge, I wanted to know the facts. Okay.”

“What about the fact they [the alt-left] came charging, that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs?”

What we have learned from Donald Trump is Trump’s Law. The more he repeats himself, the greater the lie. DT is and has proven himself to be a serial liar. The more he insists that he, and virtually only he, knows the real truth, the more you can bet that this lie will be a whopper.

One merely has to go through the assertions he made in these series of repeated claims to be Moses and that he and he alone has an exclusive access to revelation and an exclusive ability to reveal facts and the truth to reveal the misrepresentation. One repeated theme: “Before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.” Are you kidding! DT is notorious for pronouncing the truth long before he has or could have access to the facts. The instances are so many that what he says has to be ranked as indeed a bald-faced lie. He does not check the facts. His beliefs and ideas determine the facts, not what he sees or hears.

Is this an expression of delusion or a lie? Is he simply saying what he believes to be true or is there some degree of deliberation to misrepresent behind the statement? That is the ambiguity. For there is virtually a unanimous consensus, even among many supporters, that Trump maintains this idiosyncratic belief that he is a man who is not only committed to getting at the truth by getting the facts first, a claim totally contradicted by his record of lying. But is he delusional? Is he mentally ill? Or is there a possibility that he both believes that about himself and is conscious that he misrepresents what is generally accepted as real, namely that DT is a deliberate liar. I have concluded that his own self-admissions, his own exercises in advertisements for himself, indicate the latter to be the case. He states what he knows is not true because he believes he is the creator of reality.

It was DT on Saturday, who without any analysis, without the time to engage in inquiry, claimed that there were good and bad people on both sides, totally contradicting his claim that he does not make judgments until he has the facts. In explaining why he was doubling down on his initial claim that both sides were equally violent, he insisted that getting at the facts takes time. But he did not take any time to make the initial claim on Saturday that he then insisted was the real truth on Tuesday.

DT claimed that “you” – the reporters, the viewers of that unscripted press conference – do not know the facts. How could he possibly make such a claim – not simply that some may not have access to all the facts – but that universally everyone there, and, presumably everyone watching and listening, do not know the facts. He would have to analyze what each of us knows and does not know and parse that with analysis. Later he modified the claim to refer to “most reporters,” a claim that in itself contradicted his earlier universal claim and proved that he knew that universal claim was false, as well as a later claim that the facts were well known. However, consistency is not Donald’s forte. DT notoriously does not examine, does not analyze. The claim is both self-contradictory about patience and pattern, that on its surface it had to be a false claim to knowledge which he did not and could not have had.

DT claimed that he did not know that David Duke was at the torch-light parade. One could only recall that during the presidential race he claimed not to have known David Duke, that he had never met him and knew nothing about him when there are extant videotapes from years earlier when he was explaining why he would not accept the nomination of the Reform Party – because he did not want to be a member of a party to which David Duke, the former Grand Vizier of the Ku Klux Klan, belonged.  He did know who David Duke was when he claimed to know nothing about him. And if he was now claiming not to know that David Duke was at the rally, and was one of the chief organizers, then this man who claimed to want to know the facts before he made a pronouncement was displaying his ignorance for all to see. The chief policy maker, who had an obligation to know those facts, a fact easily ascertained by going to the website of the “Unite the Right” movement, supposedly did not know this.

Further, if the facts as they came out, presumably with respect to David Duke, “were very well stated,” how could DT claim that most reporters did not know the facts?

What about DT’s claim that the alt-left, swinging clubs, charged the parade of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Klu Klus Klanners – or, as he preferred to depict it, the majority of peaceful paraders who were there simply to protest against the dismantling of the Robert E. Lee statue in what was formerly called Lee Park? DT was correct. Members of the alt-left were present, did wield clubs, did attack racist demonstraters. They even attacked one white bearded older man carrying a confederate flag, surrounded him and beat him.

Representatives of Antifa – short for anti-fascist – and some of the members of Black Lives Matter, did use force as can be seen if you scan the videos. Further, they used more than clubs. They used mace; in the now famous VICE video, Christopher Cantwell, can be seen pouring water over his face while claiming he was attacked with mace twice. Some members of the alt-left threw bottles of urine and other despicable material at the representatives of the extreme right. They engaged in fisticuffs.

All true. But also true and omitted by DT was that the protest against the “Unite the Right” demonstration was organized by clergy and others who opposed violence, but were in no position to keep out violent extremists from the so-called left. The racist paraders included men armed with automatic weapons who brandished them; one showed his automatic rifle, his reserve rifle in a case, his Glock automatic pistol in a front holster, his other pistol stuck in his back belt, his gun strapped to his ankle and, to top it off, his knife. The protesters against them did not have any guns as far as anyone could tell.

There was no equivalence in numbers. There was no equivalence in organization. There was no equivalence in arms. There was certainly no equivalence in proportions. And there was no equivalence in intentions. The alt-right had organized their torch-lit parade to call for a white ethnic state without Blacks, Jews or minorities. Anyone who marched alongside claiming to be simply protesting against the plan to remove the Robert E. Lee statue had to be naïve or contaminated, for what “good” person, as DT depicted the majority of those in the parade, would march alongside neo-Nazis chanting, “The Jews will not replace us,” and “Blood and Soil,” the basic slogan of the Nazi movement in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. If there were any non-racists in that parade, they could neither be good nor simply or primarily focused on the Lee statue. The Robert E. Lee status was a symbol. The alt-right offered a clear expression of why this statue should be dismantled. or moved.

Irresponsible Trump – Part I

Irresponsible Trump – Part I

by

Howard Adelman

Donald Trump praised the extreme right-wing blogger, Mike Cernovich, who labeled DT’s own security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, as a puppet of George Soros who in turn allegedly owed his allegiance to the Rothschilds. No wonder that the violent demonstrators in Charlottesville Virginia in turn openly insisted that they were there in support of Donald Trump and what he stood for. So why did Donald Trump take two days to read from a teleprompter the following?

“Racism is evil, and 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. We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our creator, we are equal under the law, and we are equal under our Constitution. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.

We must love each other, show affection for each other, and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry, and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans.”

However, as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about brotherhood, fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro, there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook. He remembers that with each modest advance the white population promptly raises the argument that the Negro has come far enough. Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash.”

No wonder that many remained dissatisfied with DT’s clarification, and correctly so as we saw with extreme clarity yesterday. First, the statement was greeted as too little and much too late. Second, it appeared only to be the result of DT feeling cornered, given the widespread criticism from his own party. Third, though he had promised to hold one of the rarest events in his presidency, a press conference – a promise which he eventually kept yesterday – he did not keep his promise the previous day. Fourth his statement was read and, to many, came across as disingenuous because it lacked the personal voice and conviction he conveyed when he condemned Mexican illegals as rapists and Muslims as terrorists and that was part of yesterday’s rant which took back everything he read the previous day and went back to equating the thugs who, DT claimed, were mixed in with the good people protesting the taking down of the statue, with violent protesters on the other side.

Fifth, he did not include the “alt-right” in the groups he explicitly mentioned; yesterday he pointedly demanded that a reporter define the alt-right – a phrase he deliberately refused to use, but, as I indicated in my previous blog, the white supremacist, Richard Spencer coined and defined in terms of racism. Sixth, instead of highlighting the neo-fascist and racial issue, in his five-minute speech, he made his anti-racist comments as a footnote to the success of his economic policies (without, of course, noting that the success was the continuation of the upward curve of the Obama administration or acknowledging that the news was not all positive, and without DT noting that he was using the same evidential sources that he once condemned as phony.)

But, sixth, Trump only presented a very partial truth as he does on just about everything. The Dow Jones industrial average passed the 22,000 mark for the first time, possibly partly related to Trump’s initiatives in deregulation. Unemployment fell from 4.8% when Obama left office, to 4.3%, and is threatening to close in on Bill Clinton’s record of 3.9% unemployment. But wages and GDP growth both remain flat, though DT, against common practice, rounded up the GDP rate upwards. Disparities continue to grow and the labour force participation rate has actually fallen. If DT is not lying about the economy, he still repeats his habit of ignoring evidence that fails to support a claim he is making.

Seventh, DT did the typical blaming, condemning the media for fake news in its coverage of the Charlottesville violence: “Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied … truly bad people!” Eighth, when Ken Frazier, an African-American and CEO of Merck Pharma, dissociated from Trump’s failure to condemn the racists by resigning from the President’s Manufacturing Council (“America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.”) Trump, instead of trying to empathize and understand and holding an open hand for Frazier to return, instead of being penitent and seek to heal the wounds he had opened, instead of being contrite, he was hostile and turned on Frazier and bitterly tweeted, “he will have more time to LOWER DRUG PRICES.” (In a second tweet, he said, “Merck Pharma is a leader in higher & higher drug prices while at the same time taking jobs out of the U.S.”) So why had he appointed him the Manufacturing Council? Why did he not rebuke the two, and, subsequently, five white members who resigned following these rebukes and following rather than preceding his effort to correct the record?

Ninth, Trump never apologized (but he never does) for his initial failure to condemn the neo-Nazis; Trump does not do atonement. Instead of bending on his knees for forgiveness, Trump boasts. Tenth, he announced no new actions to gather intelligence on the alt-right and to prepare for government intervention and prevention. Finally, he did not announce that he would fire policy adviser, Stephen Miller, and especially chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who once headed Breitbart News which allowed the alt-right a voice.

The Trump failure to vocalize his condemnation of white supremacists, the small vocal and demented faction of a larger though minority part of racist America, stood out more boldly because of what other members of his team stated. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that the alt-right attack on counter-protesters fit the Justice Department’s definition of “domestic terrorism,” even though he had instructed his department to investigate, not the alt-right, but American universities for discriminating against white applicants. Sessions is now investigating the Charlottesville violence. If the violence entailed the use of weapons, including the car, to deliberately hurt the counter-protesters, then a charge of domestic terrorism might be appropriate.

In contrast to DT, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado repudiated the white supremacists: “We don’t want them in our base, they shouldn’t be in a base, we shouldn’t call them part of a base.” Gardner urged DT to call this white supremacism “evil” with the same kind of conviction that DT used in “naming terrorism around the globe as evil.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), with a moral clarity that Trump clearly had not displayed, said, “My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.” Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee condemned the torch-bearing and gun-toting and the 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio driving a Dodge Challenger, in imitation of radical Islamicism, into civilians. “The person who drove the car is a murderer when he ran over and killed 32-year-old Heather D. Heyer and injured 19 others. “That is simple murder. There is nothing you can do besides condemn that action. That is not politics, that is not America. That is evil, sinful, disgusting, behavior.” And DT.’s own daughter, Ivanka Trump, after the violence immediately and clearly stated, “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazis.” As a convert to Judaism, she possibly was particularly incensed at the Jew-filled hate speech directed at Charlottesville’s Jewish mayor, Mike Signer and on display at the torch-lit neo-fascist march on this past Friday evening in Charlottesville.

What would she have thought if she had tuned into the news coverage by the VICE reporter embedded within the alt-right? What would she have said or even thought if she watched the torch bearers repeatedly chant, “Jews will not replace us” and the Nazi phrase, “Blood and Soil” with absolutely no evidence of “good people amongst them simply there to protest taking down the Lee statue. What would she have thoughts if she had been with the Jewish congregants who fretted through the shabat service in Charlottesville as “Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, ‘There’s the synagogue!’ followed by chants of ‘Sieg Heil’ and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols… Soon, we learned that Nazi websites had posted a call to burn our synagogue… but we had already deemed such an attack within the realm of possibilities, taking the precautionary step of removing our Torahs, including a Holocaust scroll, from the premises.”

America in 2017!

Inconceivable only two years ago, and even in the 1930s, white supremacists without hoods and sheets foment race conflict and congregate in a small American college town in Virginia to spew their hatred. Did DT with his personal hate speech, with his anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican rhetoric, with his reluctance to condemn white supremacists except when forced into a corner, create the atmosphere that emboldened these white supremacists? Is DT reverting to his insistence of executing the five innocent young Blacks falsely accused of raping a white woman. He had served as the voice of the birther movement, insisting that Barack Obama was not born in America. All of this helped prepare the ground for the emergence of white supremacism into the light of day?

Perhaps what disturbs me most was not how Donald Trump responded, but how some anti-liberal Jews dealt with the issue. One of the men I have esteemed for years, a Holocaust survivor, emailed me just after I left for Israel and which I read on my return: “Trump certainly is a better friend to Israel than Obama who while President visited every country in The Middle East except Israel. Thank god for TRUMP.” Would he say the same after Charlottesville?

On the other hand, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, said that “once again, hate has killed.” He issued a statement: “The vile presence and rhetoric of the neo-Nazis who marched this weekend in Charlottesville is a reminder of the ever-present need for people of good will to stand strong, to speak loudly against hate, and act both to delegitimize those who spread such messages and to mitigate the harm done to the commonweal of our nation and to those that are the targets of hate messages.” While commending the opening of DT’s 12th of August statement, he said that we (speaking for the Reform movement) are deeply troubled by the moral equivalence evident in President Trump’s statement. If our leaders cannot name the culprits, then America will fail to stop it.” However, hate may motivate but an action is only criminal when the intention was to harm a specific group as defined in law.

Monuments and Media Matter

Monuments and Media Matter

by

Howard Adelman

On Saturday evening, I was returning from the Arts and Crafts Fair in the Sultan’s Pool opposite the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem and flipping channels on the TV set. I was startled to come across Donald Trump on an Israeli news show. He was calling for unity and condemning hate and violence in America. I had no idea about the context since I had not followed North American news since I left Canada just over a week ago. My response was: was that really Trump? Has he changed? DT condemned hate and violence! Even though the condemnation seemed to be simply a rote display, this seemed to be a new Trump for me, ignorant as I was of the frame for the remark. Nevertheless, it was hard for me to believe Trump had changed his spots.

When I arrived back in Canada just over 36 hours ago, I got onto my computer after I unpacked and tried to catch up on the hundreds of unread emails. Then I learned of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and White Supremacist in the “Unite the Right” rally that had instigated violence in in the small quiet college town of Charlottesville, Virginia. The following tweet of Donald Trump, usually so promiscuous in his condemnation of others by name, followed the earlier statement that I had heard. In the second statement, he condemned “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” And, as his wont, he repeated the phrase: “on many sides.” Tom Bossert, Trump’s homeland security adviser, claimed falsely that people on both sides showed up in Charlottesville “looking for trouble” and that he wouldn’t assign blame for the death of a counter-protester on either group. As very many commented, why had DT not named the perpetrators of the violence, the loose coalition of extreme conservatives and fringe groups that gave energy to his campaign – the alt-right?

The white supremacist, Richard Spencer, a key organizer of the torch parade in Charlottesville, Virginia, invented the term. Alt-right is “identity politics for white Americans and for Europeans around the world.” The alt-right includes white supremacism, white nationalism and the neo-Nazis, all opposed to diversity, multiculturalism as well as democracy and universalism.

Daily Stormer on his alt-right page wrote: “He [DT] didn’t attack us. Refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.” Yet Stormer’s web site disingenuously insists that, “We here at the Daily Stormer are opposed to violence. We seek revolution through the education of the masses.”

These neo-fascists praised DT for not surrendering to the liberal intelligentsia. More specifically, why had DT not named and condemned the Trump-heiler and chief rabble-rouser, 39-year-old Richard Spencer and his “torch-wielding bullies out for notoriety and intimidation of “nigger lovers.” Spencer was determined to “humiliate all those people who oppose us.” Why had DT made the protesters and anti-right protesters equivalent? Abraham Foxman head of the Anti-Defamation League insisted that, “It is time to condemn racist-white supremacist neo-Nazi hatred and violence by name!”

Before I try to explore that question, let me go back and put the rally and the anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville in context. The rally against the planned removal of a statue of General Robert Edward Lee from Forsythe Park in Charlottesville and a statue of Jackson from another park became the symbol of the political-right resistance to the changes that have been underway in America. It was a bronze statue of Lee on his horse, Traveller, put up, not after the Civil War, but over fifty years later during the institutionalization of the Jim Crow laws.

In the movement to remove symbols of hatred, racism and anti-black ideology, including the confederate flag and various statues of those who led the battle to retain slavery, this effort in historical correction recently received an impetus with the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House and the statue of Jefferson Davis, the ostensible president of the Confederacy, from New Orleans. Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans’ mayor, explained: “The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered.”

The city council of Charlottesville had voted to move its statue of Lee to another location and rename Lee and Jackson Parks as Emancipation and Justice Parks, but the implementation has been delayed by court action. Charlottesville’s Circuit Court Judge, Richard Moore, issued a six-month restraining order lest the moving of the statue result in “irreparable damage to a war memorial.” As the mayor explained, “we have these two [statues] that have drawn a lot of controversy, and what we’ve heard from many people in the community, and what I believe, is that we’d be better off adding more history, creating a dynamic present that shows both the offense and the response to the offense. That creates a conversation and does not fall into what I think is the concern that, if we don’t remember the past, we’ll be condemned to repeat it.” After all, monumentalizing a person is intended to set one version of history or anti-history physically and literally in stone or bronze. No wonder statutes come alive during historiographical wars.

Individuals who are unequivocally not racists have opposed the removal of these symbols. One of those happens to be the very progressive mayor of Charlottesville, Michael Signer who happens to be a Jew and who has been the target of a slew of personal anti-Semitic attacks by the alt-right. On the rational level, I have read the following arguments of others:

“I do agree on the intrinsic value of historical monuments. All histories and civilizations are built on injustices, their symbols (while serving as a tribute) are an important reminder of those times. The basic difference should be past and present. A confederate statue built in the past surely must be viewed differently than a confederate flag raised today. By pulling down a statue we don’t erase a history. The second argument in favor of leaving historical monuments alone is that it is precisely pulling them down, or wanting to, that draws attention to them in the first place and ignites white supremacist ideology and the explosion of polarities we’re witnessing with such frequency today.”

“There are many existing forms of art that represent or stem from political movements, but they are first and foremost works of art and should be perceived as such – not as propaganda (e.g. cultural revolution in China).”

Fortunately, the fallacies in these so-called counter-arguments against removal of these symbols is easy enough to point out. Historical monuments do not have “intrinsic” value. The statues of Hitler, say the one in the Austrian village of Braunau Am Inn where he was born, the many statues of Lenin and Stalin, the statues of Saddam Hussein, all lacked any intrinsic value. The role those statues play in processing memory is far more important than the sculptural product.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who supported the removal of the statue of Davis, did so with the following argument: “These monuments have stood not as historic or educational markers of our legacy of slavery and segregation, but in celebration of it. I believe we must remember all of our history, but we need not revere it. To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in some of our most prominent public places is not only an inaccurate reflection of our past, it is an affront to our present, and a bad prescription for our future.”

  1. The statue of Lee is not primarily a marker of history, but a celebration of certain values from that history and was erected to help reinstate those values in new forms.
  2. There is a difference between remembering all history versus revering some parts and putting them on a pedestal.
  3. Remembering belongs in museums, with the context provided to educate viewers, not in public places which are intended to celebrate values; this was the option the mayor of Charlottesville favoured, but to do so in place by providing supplementary monuments and a contextual frame.
  4. In terms of an educational role, without the context to provide that education, we only receive a deformed view of history.
  5. The radical separation of past versus present made by the non-racist opponents to removal of the statue is a false dichotomy, for the past is very much part of the present and is used to forge the future.
  6. Last, and least important, the statue is not very good piece of art, though the original sculptor was the artist, Henry Shrady, who happened to be Jewish and was the artist who sculpted the statue of George Washington at Valley Forge and created the Ulysses S. Grant memorial on the United States Capitol, both recognized generally as excellent works. However, the sculptor who finished the work on Lee in Charlottesville when Shrady died at a relatively young age in 1922 was the Italian-American, Leo Lentelli, whose work, though demonstrating great craftsmanship, is stilted and never comes alive even as it displays Lee in a proud moment of courage.

However, the key proof of the fallacy of the arguments opposing the removal of the statue were the actions on display of the racists. They came from all parts of America, some dressed in combat fatigues and openly carrying semi-automatic weapons, others with shields and batons, and still others with bottles of water that actually contained mace and pepper spray. They physically attacked the local peaceful demonstrators who supported removal of the statue and opposed the neo-Nazi demonstration.

These purveyors of violence proved demonstrably and clearly that neo-fascism is alive and well in America. Though no longer stalking the halls of academia as it did eighty years ago when the president of the American Political Science Association in his 1934 presidential address dismissed the “dogma of universal suffrage,” criticized democracy for allowing “the ignorant, the uninformed and the anti-social elements” to vote, and urged Americans to appropriate elements of fascist doctrine and practice, unfortunately the ideology is now parked in the White House.

As Ernst Nolte wrote over fifty years ago in his phenomenological analysis of the political movement, Fascism in its Epoch (in English in 1965, The Three Faces of Fascism), fascism, whether in its French, Italian (the theoretical version that I had focused upon in my recent writings) or German Social nationalist “synthesis,” were all anti-modernist, anti-progressive and anti-liberal in the name of national self-assertion, but rooted deeply in stoking fear. Although America is not going through a recession but an economic boom, though radical Islamicism is nowhere equivalent to the danger of communism, and though American fascists no longer have the model of Germany as an economic and military powerhouse – it is now an economic and ethical powerhouse – yet a resurgence of fascism in America has been clearly shown to be possible given growing disparities in income, given the hollowing out of many small towns in America and given the fears of globalization, not only in America but in Europe as well.

The time has proven to be ripe for a resurgence of fascism. It must be fought. But first it must be identified in all its expressions.

Trump Fascist Part VII: Dystopia and Utopia

Trump Fascist Part VII: Dystopia and Utopia

by

Howard Adelman

I have not spent full blogs on many of the basic philosophic premises of fascism and instead have included them as minor keys within a larger discussion of one principle, such as the reference to the breakdown between the public and the private within the discussion of chaos, democracy and fascism. However, there are two remaining themes that I want to discuss at some length in this blog, the dystopian view of the existing world and the utopian portrait of a nostalgic as well as future world characteristic of fascism.

As was widely noted when Donald Trump delivered his acceptance speech after he won the nomination at the Republican Convention, in contrast to Barack Obama’s stress on hope and the typical stress on optimism characterizing presidential hopefuls, DT painted a very bleak picture of both the state of the nation and the world.  In a dystopia, people live dehumanized and fearful lives. Of course, it is an imaginary world conforming very little to reality, but all the more powerful because of that.

DT’s portrait of the state of the nation was cast in terms of murder and mayhem, moving towards financial ruin because of unfair trade deals and an invasion by immigrants and refugees. More recently, he insisted he won New Hampshire – he did not; he won the primary – because it is a drug-infested den.

The general explanation is that he was tapping into widespread anger and fear among white working-class men. However, in listening to interviews in the states that he won and among individuals who voted for him, I heard no expressions of fear, except in the abstract – that is, if something is not done, the U.S. is headed to hell in a basket. I heard very little anger. His supporters were calm and determined to have a candidate that reflected themselves and only fearful that DT and the Republican-led Congress would not deliver. Thus, the irony. They voted for the candidate who held the most jaundiced view of America than anyone had ever expressed on the campaign trail while they most deeply wanted to preserve the status quo where they lived in the American heartland.

The dystopic text for comprehending the regime is not George Orwell’s 1984 but Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. In that dystopic novel, order is not maintained by Big Brother watching your every move and thought, but by an amusement and entertainment absorption resulting in “blissed-out and vacant servitude.” (Christopher Hitchens) However, we live in an age of celebrity politics. DT as a candidate won power on a platform of “draining the swamp” by appointing billionaires, extras from Goldman Sachs and generals. In ignoring this and many other blatant contradictions, those who voted for DT were not “blissed out” by an absorption in amusement and entertainment, but rather in soap box melodrama both before and after the election. Aldous Huxley was right about distraction, but wrong about the vehicle. For the latter, as it turns out, is even more effective in burying facts and analysis in weepy clichés rather than sensual distractions.

In 1935, the great muckraking novelist, Sinclair Lewis wrote It Can’t Happen Here, warning about the immanent possibility of fascism in America. As Brian Bethune wrote in an essay in Macleans in January, “A dystopian reading list for the Donald Trump era,” the political style of the president was to sneer at “tact” and “courtesy.” Civility was not to be a hallmark of such an administration. Rather, a self-advertising and self-promoting hero defines himself as the only one who can make America great again in a fictitious America where citizens hide away fearful of marauding hordes of migrants.

The irony – one among many – is that this promoter of chaos mentioned “law and order’ four times in accepting the role of presidential candidate for the Republican Party. Further, his first TV ad in black and white at the beginning of the year, when he sought the nomination, included images of the two accused San Bernardino shooters, missiles, a body on a stretcher, bombs dropping on buildings. In this hellscape of riots that bore little resemblance to the then current reality in America, DT painted a portrait of the American nightmare rather than the American dream, the reference point for almost all American politicians running for high office.

This did not mean that his platform, his program and his performance lacked a utopian dimension. Quite the reverse. It was integral to his appeal.  DT views America as a once great nation (assuming, of course, that his words approximate his deep beliefs – a big assumption in itself) that is currently beset by a myriad of problems resulting from the U.S. being exploited and used by the rest of the world. He campaigned on a vision: “Make America Great Again.” Not only has the world taken advantage of America, but the elites have betrayed their own country.

Of course, the dystopic and utopian sides of his coin of the realm are at one and the same time a distorted picture of America’s problems and wrongheaded view of the solutions to the real problems of the country. DT promised to bring the coal industry back to life and restore the well-paying jobs in the industry. He is averse to involvements in foreign wars, but has been unable to forge an effective military doctrine to extract the U.S. from Afghanistan.

However, he has delivered his promises to the business world as he wages war on regulations. He promised to produce jobs and reduce unemployment and so far the economy has sizzled even higher than under Obama so that the U.S. is at the lowest record of unemployment in sixteen years – 4.3%. The unemployment rate was even lower in 19 of America’s fifty states, ironically mostly in states that voted for Hillary Clinton. Within the vision of this schizophrenic dystopian president one finds a utopian vision of America with full employment, high paying jobs, job security and thriving businesses operating in a country free from foreign wars, a reduced influx of “unwanted” migrants and increased domestic freedom from both regulations and taxes.

However, DT is a particularly odd type of saviour. For he has never been interested in creating a new world order. Nor even a new national order. His slogan is not. “Make America great,” but “Make America great again.” His utopia hearkens back to the vision America projected of itself when DT was a boy in the fifties, when the image was there, but not the reality of widespread discrimination, of the Korean and later Vietnam War. For DT, the strains and stresses of domestic strife in the U.S. began the long decline. D.T.’s utopian vision is a backward gaze immersed in nostalgia and mindblindness.

Linking the dystopian and utopian vision is the projection of himself as a doer, as a man of action, as a leader who signs executive order after executive, order, many, if not most, without reflection, vetting or input even by his own party or even cabinet. But if he emerges as disastrous on domestic policy requiring legislation (repeal and replace Obamacare), his record is even more disastrous when it comes to foreign policy. The Philippines has been allowed to fall into the Chinese sphere of influence. He is determined to destroy the Iranian nuclear agreement even as his officials certify that Iran has kept to its terms, even as his rants have undermined the relatively moderate leadership of Hassan Rouhani and even though his views are contradicted by his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. DT also spoke of supporting NATO in contradistinction to DT who wallows in belittling the alliance, wearing on the nerves of his allies. His one foreign policy success, getting through the UN Security Council a unanimous vote, resolution 2371, in support of severest sanctions ever against North Korea, but even that success might be highly overrated if China does not follow through with strict compliance on the boycott of North Korea.

However, even the North Korean UN victory cannot be attributed in any way to Donald Trump, but to the twin wrestling team of Rex Tillerson and Nikki Haley, his ambassador to the UN. For unlike their boss, they take the importance of the UN, and particularly the Security Council, seriously. They both emphasize the importance of diplomacy, though Nikki is more likely to wave the big stick. Rex Tillerson stresses clarity. “We do not seek a regime change; we do not seek the collapse of the regime; we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula; we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th parallel.”

The sanctions passed will slash North Korea’s revenues from coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood by one billion dollars, a full one-third of its foreign currency earnings. The victory is also noteworthy because it relied on subtle diplomacy rather than shifts between rants and insults versus excessive praise and flattery. We can only watch to see if China, and, to a lesser extent, Russia really comply with the sanctions resolution.

Utopian/dystopian frameworks for politics lead to mindblindness to the actual problems nations face and the realistic alternatives for resolving them. The split undercuts rational analysis and detailed empirical research. Most importantly, it feeds the politics of centering attention on a leader who sees and projects a reality that is overwhelmingly a product of his own mind. As such, it reinforces an attachment between that leader and followers caught up in a similar or identical imaginative worldview.

Donald Trump Fascist Part VI: Chaos, Human Rights and Democracy

Donald Trump Fascist Part VI: Chaos, Human Rights and Democracy

by

Howard Adelman

Democracy is a system of government accountable to voters. Democratic republics and responsible or parliamentary democracies have in common that both are governments by the people. However, in the model of responsible government, the supreme power in vested in a parliament made up of representatives of the people. In a republic, the people are represented by a supreme power divided between an elected leader versus a legislative body made up of elected representatives. Republics inherently deal with a system that makes checks and balances a core part of government based on the premise that strong leadership is a requisite of effective government, while, at the same time, there is a need to provide boundaries and checks to that strong leadership.

I usually call a republic a democratic monarchy because the issue is not any objection to a single political leader, but an insistence that the leader be directly accountable to the electorate. A republic denies power to a monarch without limited terms where power is transferred based on inheritance and there is no accountability. Both parliamentary democracies and republics eschew inherited power. Republics elect their kings or queens for limited terms. Parliamentary democracies, if they are monarchies, usually put their monarchs on a pedestal where they have no power. Absolute power is given to the legislative branch of government, subject only to the limitations of an independent judiciary system and sometimes a written constitution.

There is little debate that parliamentary democracies have gradually moved towards a presidential model, or the model of an elected president where the elected representatives often achieve office on the coattails of a prime minister. On the other hand, there remain distinctive differences.

This simplistic version of Politics 101 is not intended to discuss the benefits and dangers of the two respective systems, but to raise the issue of free speech as well as the principle of order and good government. The highest value is placed on the protection of individual rights, especially the right to free speech. For both systems – a parliamentary government and an elected democratic monarchy or republic – are guardians of that fundamental right. From the perspective of a member of a state based on a parliamentary democracy rooted in a principle of responsible government, one is appalled that “free speech” can be so defined that it protects the right of hate speech, certainly to a much higher degree than is the case in Canada. This does not mean that there are no critics in Canada of the refusal to protect hate speech. In contrast, Americans in general are much greater purists with respect to free speech and will often defend the right to express hatred of groups.

In the case of the current debates in the U.S. over Russian hacking into the American electoral system to favour one candidate, the objections are primarily to a foreign state doing so. Spreading false information is perceived as simply part of the democratic political tradition. Listen to Jeffrey Lord on CNN; he even fails to acknowledge the legal limits placed on malicious free speech which intentionally misrepresents. This, according to most American constitutional theorists, is banned by U.S. law. However, whatever the range of differences, the bar is very high in only restricting intentional and explicitly malevolent lying. This is very different than restrictions that can be found in a democracy like that of Canada.

One corollary of such a difference is that the American republic places a much greater stress on human rights; in the U.S., individuals enjoy a wider compass. At the same time, fundamental weaknesses have come to the fore in a democratic monarchy, particularly in the last American election of Donald Trump as the monarch. The American government has moved, certainly in the White House, even further away from order and good government towards chaos. What is less evident is that opportunities to restore order become fewer and harder to implement the longer DT is in office. “Topological mixing” versus linear clarity is enhanced because of the continuous presence of a “shift operator.” In other words, chaos has a propensity to increase because of the continuing central role of Trump.

This points to a second and related major difference. Both democratic monarchies and parliamentary democracies are committed to preserving order and preventing chaos. However, a system of responsible government is more averse to chaos and disorder. For in republics, political division exists, not simply between political parties, but among different governmental institutions. This is part of the system of checks and balances that builds into the system a greater degree of chaos than in a parliamentary democracy. In contrast, order and good government are mainstays of parliamentary democracies and enjoy a higher status. I argue that in parliamentary democracies, the principle of averting chaos is more important than even the protection of human rights and the freedom of speech.

What is chaos? Since the popularity of the 2001 movie about John Nash, A Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe, chaos theory has become part of public, though not popular, parlance. The biggest threat for responsible government is chaos even more than breaches of human rights. However, according to chaos theory, systems which are more dynamic tend to have a greater reliance on chaos. Further, in chaos theory, dynamic systems are, ironically, far more sensitive to initial conditions.

Stanford Levinson in his 1989 book, Constitutional Faith, argues that the foundation of the American secular religion is its 1788 constitution that forms the counterweight to fragmentary propensities, on the one hand, and the emergence of tyrants on the other hand. Chaos is anathema to both democratic republics and those responsible democracies which esteem order and good government. Chaos is neither governance nor responsible. Chaos is favoured by fascist systems. In part, it is because fascism offers itself as the only escape from chaos; chaos is created to make the need for fascism apparent. But it goes deeper. For in all dynamic systems, the creative energy, the initial big bang, comes from that chaos.

However, there is a third way in which chaos is favoured – not simply as an impetus and distraction, not simply as an energy source, but as proof of the need for a transcendental mind that will impose order on that chaos. There is also a fourth sense which makes chaos crucial to a fascist system. Chaos undercuts the possibility of a hierarchical ordered system. That is why DT is a populist. That is why he will undercut his army brass and arbitrarily demand that transgender individuals be thrown out of the army. That is why he will upset the leaders of the boy scouts by using a jamboree as a political rally. That is why he will upset most police chiefs when he suggests that there is no problem with roughing up arrested individuals when putting them in a squad car.

Contrary to authoritarian governments and widespread impressions, the leader of a fascist regime does not bring about order by imposing it from above, but by making it the duty of his subordinates and followers to discern and then work towards the realization of the amorphous image of the transcendental mind of the leader. That is why a fascist system, to most people’s surprise, is not a top-down movement. The leader may say that we must build a wall to keep out the bad hombres and that the government of those bad hombres will pay for it, but it is the followers who will have to figure out how to square that circle. For if it is a government of bad hombres, why would it pay to build the wall? The duty of the leader’s subordinates and followers is to discern how to realize this contradictory vision in the leader’s mind.

The dilemma applies to health care and to tax policy, to refugees and to immigration. How can the U.S. be a country open to the poor and an elitist country that builds a great deal of its human capital by skilled and well-educated imports from abroad? Reconciling expanding health benefits both in the entitlements and the people entitled while lowering premiums has to be “im Sinne des Führers ihm entgegenzuarbeiten.” It is the duty of all, especially appointees and followers, to interpret the vision of the leader and work assiduously towards its realization. Thus, initiatives are not just relegated to subordinates, but subordinates are held responsible to take those initiatives. They will of necessity be at odds with other colleagues, since there is no centre of interpretation. That in turn will recreate the chaos that is the foundation of a fascist system and, in turn, the demand for the leader to impose order.

Delegation, interpretation, conflict and disorder will all be hallmarks of such an administration. There will be a chaotic struggle of overlapping and competing centers of power that will vie as if in a Darwinian struggle to predetermine and refine the contents of a mind that works by free association rather than according to the rules of logic. Contrary to popular myths about fascism, the will of the leader will neither be absolute nor monocratic. A four-star general might be recruited to make sense of that chaos, but John Kelly as head of the White House, in spite of his experience and esteemed record, will crash his head against a wall trying to make sense of the slovenly manner in which Donald Trump makes decisions, sticking to some like gorilla glue while discarding others as mere flotsam while tossing the detritus overboard, and, to deliberately mix metaphors, then throwing the subordinate offering that interpretation “under the bus”.

However, when he cannot and does not decide between and among competing interpretations of his inchoate inspiration, any inability to make “spontaneous” and “irrevocable” decisions will drive him to retreat to stare at his own navel and issue a flurry of tweets as if they were a genuine means of communication of policy in a system of governance based on checks and balances.

The result, ironically, is even more personalized rule and the increasing elimination of the separation of the private and the public spheres, a hallmark of fascism as subordinates continue to vie to promote what they believe to be the leader’s will. It will be a system where the buck never stops at the White House Highest Office, except in cases of clear success, even if those successes are not the prime responsibility of the leader’s regime.

This is why so much attention is payed to Donald Trump’s psychological make-up. His self-esteem is not only the centerpiece of the governing structure, but it is one most propelled by past scars left when that self-esteem had been wounded. Was Donald Trump most humiliated when the Manhattan bigwigs in the New York development world spurned this vulgar arrival from Queens and Brooklyn or when the banks turned their backs on him when his businesses declared bankruptcy for the fourth time after the fiasco of his casinos in Atlantic City? It is not simply difficult but impossible to discern which flapping of the butterfly’s wings determined the Trump trajectory.

Donald Trump did not achieve his office on his own. He said that he was the voice of his followers. But they are the echo of his voice. In Nebraska where almost 80% voted for DT, after seven months of chaos in his administration, the vast majority still, as he does, blame the chaos on the “obstructionists.” His voice is viewed as their voice and the expression of sincerity, both because that which he articulates is based on emotion rather than facts and logic, and because he conveys sincerity even as he repeatedly lies and avoids any depth of reflection or deliberation.

But others in addition to the solid base of populism are responsible. Conservatives believed they could manage this vulgarian. Conservatives and the followers of his populism are “strange attractors.” At the very least, the conservatives believed that they could use his rule to advance the conservative agenda in judicial appointments, in administrative changes in a myriad of departments – health, the environment, agriculture, science policy, etc. And they have done so even if there has been no positive legislative record.

However, will conservatives and even his base begin to desert him if the chaos continues as well as his shameless record of lying and betrayal? For he demands fealty but offers no loyalty in return, even as he attacks the responsible media for producing “fake news,” a claim which his followers repeat. Reporters are “scum” and “enemies of the people.” Thus, paranoia is enhanced as DT’s base wallows in fantasies about immigrants and refugees and lap up conspiracy theories.

Another source and expression of chaos is DT’s overt contempt for his appointees, even though he periodically praises them with superlatives, and his covert condescension for the members of his base whom he manipulates with the tremendous repertoire of an actor even as he plays the charmer and cracks “jokes” at the expense of others. When interviewed and asked about their support after seven months of the DT administration, they quickly reveal that they live in “echo chambers or information cocoons.” (Cass R. Sunstein) Instead of exposure to difference, instead of celebrating the unplanned and the unanticipated, what counts is repetition of the same, precisely the environment for enhancing rather than reducing chaos. Chaotic complex systems are characterized by their feedback loops and repetition, by self-similarity rather than broad variation.

There are mundane expressions of this chaos. DT loves to play golf. It is a game in which prediction is difficult and where many variables determine the quality of play. But golf is also a game of honour; each player keeps his own score. DT is renowned for his cheating. More publicly, even in his own golf courses, he breaks all the rules and drives his cart across greens and tee boxes. And he can’t shut up when others are shooting. He talks through his game, filling the narrative with his usual hyperbole. While he celebrates the game for the exercise it offers, he always rides a cart.

Most importantly, DT manifests the greatest contempt for the rule of law. Even though Jeff Sessions has proven to be the most effective cabinet member in realizing a conservative agenda, DT belittles him for doing what he was legally required to do, recuse himself from the Russian investigation. DT fired James Comey as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for pursuing the inquiry. DT threatens Robert S. Mueller III, the Special Council heading the investigation, if he crosses the red line of probing his finances. In the meanwhile, he denounces the investigation as a witch hunt, illegitimate and a total fabrication instead of stating, as his own lawyers have done, a commitment to cooperating fully and transparently with the probe. DT, in contrast, does not express any belief in the role of an impartial investigation insulated from political interference, but sees all employees, even those in the Justice Department, even those in the special investigation unit, as his lackeys who owe fealty to him. As Ruth Marcus wrote in The Washington Post, “Trump is a one-man assault on the rule of law.”

It is precisely because of this trait that the longer DT remains in office, the more unpredictable his behavior will become rather than more predictable and better controlled. Uncertainty will increase exponentially the longer he stays in office. This means that he is unlikely to walk quietly into the night if he is indicted. He will battle. He will bring his followers into the streets.

One might dismiss the charge that DT is a fascist because he has neither quasi-militarized black nor brown shirts at his back, only Trump peak caps. Further, DT is wary of foreign wars rather than being a territorial expansionist. And he picks on Muslims rather than Jews. But those are details and different manifestations which are not at the core of fascism. Chaos is. Characterizing the expression of responsible journalism and free speech as fake news is. Chaos is not simply an accidental feature of the Trump administration that hopefully can be corrected by better management, but that which is at its core. Though insufficient in itself, chaos is another necessary condition for defining Trump as a fascist.

Trump Fascist Part V: Reason and Empiricism – The Art of the Deal

Trump Fascist Part V: Reason and Empiricism – The Art of the Deal

by

Howard Adelman

The third key philosophical premise that characterizes Donald Trump is his contempt for both reason and empirical truth. It is an indicator of fascism – again not a sufficient condition for labeling a fascist, but a necessary one. I will offer an alternative example of an argument that uses neither reason nor a reference to empirical fact to support a decision, but the conversation does not reveal or suggest fascism. I outlined the character of DT ignoring the use of reason and empiricism in my previous blog. Neither objectivity nor rational discourse is a measure for what is real. Reality is created by the spirit of a powerful personality who lays down his vision for the world.

This morning I will explore the implications of this proposition and its negative effects by analyzing the debate between Moses and God on Moses’ plea to be allowed entry into the promised land that is contained in this week’s parshat, parashat va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11). I will compare it to the arguments that Trump presented to both the President of Mexico and to the Prime Minister of Australia in his conversations with each one in turn.

 It should be recalled that this shabat is referred to as “Shabbat Nachamu,” (my wife’s Hebrew name is Nechama), the sabbath of comfort or solace. We may also ask what comfort the words of Moses and God bring? Compare it to the continuing discomfort resulting from Donald Trump’s words and actions.

 Usually, or, at least, very often, commentators on this parshat focus on the rule of law as discussed in the version of the Ten Commandments put forth in Deuteronomy as distinct from previous iterations. Or they choose the Shema, the declaration of the oneness of God for further discussion and analysis. They may take apart Moses’ narrative of the whole Exodus story and compare it to earlier iterations.

I choose to focus on the issue of entry into the land and the debate between God and Moses asking what rationalism and empiricism, the use of logic and the reference to the real world to falsify and confirm beliefs, have to do with that debate. The argument between God and Moses will be the source of the revelation.

The opening of parashat va’etchanan read this shabat begins with Moses pleading to be allowed to enter the promised land. Now Moses was not and never had been a narcissistic Alpha Male. His first concern had always been the security and survival of his people, not his own, a commitment that went back to his striking of the Egyptian guard and then being forced to flee Egypt and his life of privilege. He initially also always insisted that he was undeserving of the task of leading his people. Based on his own self-knowledge, Moses recognized that he was not an Alpha Male and seemed ill-equipped to lead his people given the Egyptian example. He was not even able to deliver a coherent speech.

Further, while developing great skills as a practitioner of the magic arts, he remained both the ultimate realist and rationalist. On the latter, it was he who accepted the advice of his non-Israeli father-in-law to decentralize the political leadership and judicial system based on Jethro’s reasoning, even though there was no evidence yet available that a decentralized system was more effective than a centralized one. Jethro’s experience counted, no matter the non-Israelite source. It was he who recognized after the spies returned from Canaan that the issue was not the fearsome might of the peoples there and the strength of the walls around their cities, but the will to win among his own.

A very different Moses emerges at the end of his life in complete contrast to the beginning. This text of Deuteronomy begins as follows:

Deuteronomy 3:23-3:28

Do not fear them, for it is the LORD your God who will battle for you.”

23

וָאֶתְחַנַּ֖ן אֶל־יְהוָ֑ה בָּעֵ֥ת הַהִ֖וא לֵאמֹֽר׃I pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying,

24

אֲדֹנָ֣י יְהוִ֗ה אַתָּ֤ה הַֽחִלּ֙וֹתָ֙ לְהַרְא֣וֹת אֶֽת־עַבְדְּךָ֔ אֶ֨ת־גָּדְלְךָ֔ וְאֶת־יָדְךָ֖ הַחֲזָקָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר מִי־אֵל֙ בַּשָּׁמַ֣יִם וּבָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יַעֲשֶׂ֥ה כְמַעֲשֶׂ֖יךָ וְכִגְבוּרֹתֶֽךָ׃“O Lord GOD, You who let Your servant see the first works of Your greatness and Your mighty hand, You whose powerful deeds no god in heaven or on earth can equal!

25

אֶעְבְּרָה־נָּ֗א וְאֶרְאֶה֙ אֶת־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַטּוֹבָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֖ר בְּעֵ֣בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן הָהָ֥ר הַטּ֛וֹב הַזֶּ֖ה וְהַלְּבָנֽוֹן׃Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan, that good hill country, and the Lebanon.”

26

וַיִּתְעַבֵּ֨ר יְהוָ֥ה בִּי֙ לְמַ֣עַנְכֶ֔ם וְלֹ֥א שָׁמַ֖ע אֵלָ֑י וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהוָ֤ה אֵלַי֙ רַב־לָ֔ךְ אַל־תּ֗וֹסֶף דַּבֵּ֥ר אֵלַ֛י ע֖וֹד בַּדָּבָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה׃But the LORD was wrathful with me on your account and would not listen to me. The LORD said to me, “Enough! Never speak to Me of this matter again!

27

עֲלֵ֣ה ׀ רֹ֣אשׁ הַפִּסְגָּ֗ה וְשָׂ֥א עֵינֶ֛יךָ יָ֧מָּה וְצָפֹ֛נָה וְתֵימָ֥נָה וּמִזְרָ֖חָה וּרְאֵ֣ה בְעֵינֶ֑יךָ כִּי־לֹ֥א תַעֲבֹ֖ר אֶת־הַיַּרְדֵּ֥ן הַזֶּֽה׃Go up to the summit of Pisgah and gaze about, to the west, the north, the south, and the east. Look at it well, for you shall not go across yonder Jordan.

28

וְצַ֥ו אֶת־יְהוֹשֻׁ֖עַ וְחַזְּקֵ֣הוּ וְאַמְּצֵ֑הוּ כִּי־ה֣וּא יַעֲבֹ֗ר לִפְנֵי֙ הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה וְהוּא֙ יַנְחִ֣יל אוֹתָ֔ם אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר תִּרְאֶֽה׃Give Joshua his instructions, and imbue him with strength and courage, for he shall go across at the head of this people, and he shall allot to them the land that you may only see.”

Moses could have offered many arguments to God on why he should be permitted to enter the promised land. He deserved such a reward after all his labours and sacrifices. Refusing to allow his entry was unjust and disproportionate if the reason for that refusal was his failure to invoke God when he struck the rock with his rod to bring forth water in the exodus across the Sinai. Even if you add to that all his other failures of commission and omission as a leader of his people, denying him the right to enter the land appears to be an extraordinary punishment totally out of proportion to any accumulation of his small sins.

Moses could have insisted that his people needed him. At that moment, it was highly risky to change leaders just when the real confrontation with the enemies of the tribes of Israel was about to begin. As the mediator between the people’s trust in God, he could have argued that he was indispensable. Moses could have insisted that since he had kept his part of the bargain, God should keep His and allow his entry. Finally, with the conquest of Sihon and Og and the settling of one-and-a-half tribes on the east side of the Jordan, Moses could have argued that the Israelites were already in the Promised Land. They were already in Canaan for the defeated peoples were Canaanites.

However, Moses offered none of these arguments or others he could have used. Moses does not try to reason with God nor offer evidence for God acceding to his request. Instead, he “entreated” (וָאֶתְחַנַּן) God to allow his entry. As Rashi wrote, “חִנּוּן [and its derivatives] in all cases is an expression signifying [requesting] a free gift. Even though the righteous may base a request on the merit of their good deeds, they request only a free gift of the Omnipresent.”

Moses also appears to flatter God. With God’s greatness and his mighty hand that no god in heaven or on earth can equal, it was totally within God’s power to grant such a request. Are the remarks of Moses similar to Donald Trump’s pleas, first to Mexican President ­Enrique Peña Nieto, not to talk publicly about Mexico not paying for the wall because that was politically embarrassing to DT given that he had run and won on such a platform? Are the remarks of Moses akin to DT’s discussion with Prime Minister Turnbull of Australia? After all, with both DT alternated disparagement with flattery.

The context of the first conversation was DT signing an executive order to begin construction of the wall on the Mexican border without any agreement that Mexico would pay for it and Nieto cancelling his trip to Washington when DT kept insisting that Mexico pay for the wall. Threats by DT were injected – tariffs, restrictions on imports and refusal to meet with the Mexicans in the future if they failed to accede to his request. There were also promises, but insulting ones – we will send our boys to help fight the tough hombres. Whereas Nieto made his requests in terms of the mutual interests of both countries, DT’s emphasis kept returning to the effects on his image.

DT’s other reference was to his great election victory – “the large percentage of Hispanic voters” and 84% of the Cuban-American vote – both lies – and that “no one got people in their rallies as big as I did” – 25,000 to 50,000. DT also used insincere flattery of Nieto as “smarter” and “more cunning” combined with insults. “You have not done a good job of knocking them [the drug dealers] out.”

Finally, there is the insistence of DT’s absolute authority to impose taxes and tariffs on Mexican goods coming into the USA independent of any vote in Congress – another lie. “I am sort of in this bad position because the deal that they are making is not nearly as good as the deal I could impose tomorrow – in fact this afternoon. I do not have to go back to Congress or to the Senate. I do not need the vote of 400 people. I have the powers to do all of this.”

The conversation with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was much testier. DT insisted that the Australian PM break the agreement that the US had made to take in 2,000 asylum seekers on humanitarian grounds that had been interned in islands off Australia since the deal was so antithetical to the platform on which DT had run. “The deal will make me look terrible.” “This is going to kill me;” “that will make us look awfully bad;” “I look like a dope.” The references and arguments are all addressed to his own image and not the best interest of America or the mutual interests of both parties, let alone a set of higher ethical and political ideals. Instead, DT insists the deal is stupid and hangs up on Turnbull.

Contrast these conversations with the one Moses had with God. First, Moses entreated God. He granted right from the start that it was within God’s absolute power to grant such a request. His reference to God’s omnipresence should be viewed in this context, not as flattery, but as a sincere recognition that if a deal is to be made, the other, but especially God, has the right and power to decide on what He will do.  With all his flattery and insults in dealing with other leaders of countries in the free world, DT never grants such an acknowledgement, but veers between putting the other down and self-aggrandizement as he boasts about his own powers.

There is also a contrast between the substance of the requests. Moses asks to be allowed to cross over and at least see the land on the other side of the Jordan, and, as a tack on, Lebanon. DT asks to keep migrants and drug dealers at home in Mexico and to keep the manufactured goods flowing so freely across the border at home. DT asks Turnbull to keep the refugees. Moses asks to keep the border open for him to cross. DT asks to close borders lest the image of himself that he has created and projected be damaged. The first constitutes religious respect. The latter is out-and-out self-idolatry, in this case, when one envisions oneself as the idol.

Does God respond to Moses with reason? Not at all. He just says, Shut up! Nor does God offer any empirical evidence for his decision – such as, given the strength and position of their enemies, why Joshua is now more fit to lead the Israelites. God just delivers the decision from on high. Don’t bring up the issue again. But there is a twist. God offers Moses compensation. He throws a bone. Moses will be allowed to see the land but not enter it. In return, Moses will pass the role of leader formally to Joshua so the leadership transition will go smoothly. Moses was instructed to pass on to Joshua his gifts of strength and courage.

And Moses accepts. That is the art of the deal when the object is not the protection of one’s own image, not narcissistic idolatry, but the primacy of service to the nation. All three examples of efforts to change the mind of another (1 by Moses and 2 by DT) begin with a sense of deep disappointment. All ask for a change of mind. But Moses is other-directed – towards God and towards his people. Donald Trump, while claiming to express the interests of Americans and to be the voice of his followers, is clearly almost exclusively interested in boosting and boasting about his own image. None of his arguments are sincere and some are outright lies.

Not all arguments and pleadings are settled by reason and a reference to facts. In the Moses example, this was definitely not the case. But in such instances, the use of a plea rather than a threat, the recognition of the other rather than the focus on the self, the willingness to accept a half measures instead of bullying to get what one wants even if one only wants half the pie in the first place, offer guidelines for the art of the deal, practices that DT seems to totally lack.

It is also an acceptance of one’s mortality as well as the acceptance that one fulfills one’s mission in life, not by accomplishing the goals set out, but by doing one’s best to advance those goals. There are consolation prizes in life and these are sufficient. There is no need to aspire towards immortality. But that is a message that will have to be saved for another blog.

Trump as a Fascist Part IV: The Alpha Male, the Nation and the State

Trump as a Fascist Part IV: The Alpha Male, the Nation and the State

by

Howard Adelman

If you are an Alpha Male, there is no necessity that you will be a fascist. However, there is no example of fascism that does not have an Alpha Male as its leader. An Alpha Male as a leader of a fascist moment is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition, of identifying a movement as fascist.

I thank God (colloquially and not ironically) that I come from a tradition that puts the stress on non-Alpha Males as political and spiritual leaders. Abraham was not an Alpha Male. Isaac was not an Alpha Male. Jacob was not an Alpha Male. The list goes on. Neither Joseph nor Moses were Alpha Males. Sampson was, but he was not a leader, but a martyr.

An Alpha Male has the following characteristics, often seen and promoted in ads or on internet sites as positive virtues. Those promotions are social and psychological equivalents to the ads I would read in comic books when I was a kid about the skinny guy on the beach being beaten up. But if he took the Charles Atlas exercise program, he would be the beater rather than the beaten. Further, he would get all the girls.

For a central characteristic of an Alpha Male is one who strives to win, not just by demonstrating superiority to a rival, but by whipping that rival. Winning versus losing is not enough. The victory must be convincing to all who watch. Hence, the pitiful display, both of the way Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton (“Lock her up”) and his need and insistence that he won with the greatest majority in history.

The advertisement for himself begins, always, with self-confidence. It is not that self-confidence is a vice. It is clearly not. But when at fourteen years of age as a student in a military academy when, in a baseball game, you hit a ball into left field and the ballplayer fumbles the catch, you not only boast that you hit the ball way into the stands, but insist that your teammate verify the truth of that claim. The self-confidence is not only physical, but vocal and revealed in both action and thought (not reflection, for the behaviour tends to be on auto—pilot).

Accompanying this form of self expression is a demonstration of perseverance. Again, perseverance, stick-to-itiveness, is not a vice in itself. It is normally a virtue. But when that doggedness is accompanied by two other characteristics, it is without question a vice. Tenacity is insufficient. First, there is no second guessing. What is expressed must be reality. There are no social or intellectual checks and balances. However, a second characteristic is also present – the ease with which the Alpha Male changes his mind. But the change always comes from his mind and never the influence of others. He must be the genesis of all thought and action. He must define himself. No one else.

Until he changes his mind, he is immovable in his convictions. But if and when he changes his mind – and that will be often – there will be no admission of such. DT has never confessed that he was wrong in his insistence that Barack Obama was not born in America. He will go from being a professed supporter of LGBT rights to demanding that transgender individuals be kicked out of the armed forces virtually overnight without any acknowledgement that he has changed his mind.

As a result, this Alpha Male, afraid to be the victim of a bully, becomes the bully on the beach. After all, in his world view, there are only winners and losers, dominance or submission. That is expressed in every aspect of his body language which I have already depicted – from the pompadour hair styling to the upwardly thrust chin and the exposure of his neck as if he were daring anyone to come up to the podium and try to slit his neck. Exposing his neck is not an act of submission but of bravado. Don’t slump; thrust your shoulders back. Don’t fold your arms; display them and your hands, for you, as the Alpha Male, fear no one. Shake hands, if possible, with your palm down. DT took instructions from the best Alpha Male manuals.

This bravado is also expressed in his use of language – the repetitions, like the rattling of a gatling gun, the unapologetic way in which he interrupts a conversation or abandons it if he cannot prevail. It is why he is such a poor listener for he is in thrall to his own voice. When he speaks, he so frequently uses the device of the pregnant pause that he would make the believer think that he is the source of a brilliant idea every fifteen seconds. He stops in the middle of sentences, even the middle of a phrase, to communicate that everyone listening must “hang” onto his every word.

As everyone now recognizes, the crisis of the time may be North Korea developing nuclear weapons, but what absorbs 80% of his energy is himself and how he appears to others. He needs to stand out. He needs to say what he wants to say and insist that what he says becomes the centre of attention. When he is not the centre, he is very creative in interrupting the public conversation and turning the spotlight back on himself. Thus, he is not a simple Alpha Male, but one who suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder. He has to demonstrate that he can do what he wants, when he wants because he can. He does not ask. He tells. He must show that he is in the lead and ahead of the game all the time even when he is leading backwards and retreating.

If an Alpha Male is a leader, does he not have to demonstrate that he takes care of the people close to him, that he listens to them to find out what they are thinking? Does he not have to demonstrate that he can put his own ego aside to learn and grow rather than demonstrate defensiveness and insecurity about one’s own ego?  The answer to both questions is – Yes. The issue is the few that he allows to be close. In front of those few, he will demonstrate that he can sideline his ego, but only to allow it overnight to re-appear bigger and supposedly better by the next morning.

That does not mean that he lacks considerable social skills. He can laugh and tell a story. He can flatter and make others feel good about themselves. But only so long as those around are sucked into his construction of reality. When they demonstrate they are the agents of their own actions, even when those actions conform to his own wishes or, in the case of The Mooch, to his own style, he will not only be dismissive of them, but can resort to humiliation and denigration. DT’s treatment of Jeff Sessions is a case in point. Just because the norms of justice demand that any Attorney General recuse himself when the subject of an investigation includes him as a central figure, that is of no consequence. The only thing that matters is that Sessions acted without consulting him and getting his stamp of approval. The preeminent Alpha Male must make all decisions that may affect oneself.

Such an Alpha Male must not only be the star of the show, but the All-Star. However, that ego must be fed, fed by people who are in awe of him. At the same time, the Alpha Male must demonstrate that he goes into battle with a magical talisman that deflects both bullets and criticism. He firmly believes that nothing can harm his Ego.

However, the weakness of that ego, the insecurity behind the insistence on only self-validation, is the need to rely on others demonstrating an overwhelming sense of reverence and admiration. He must not only be imposing and impressive, formidable and frightening at one and the same time, he needs to be exalted and treated as a wondrous being. In turn, he doles out approval in superlatives – he is the best; isn’t she the greatest. But what about self-deprecation? What about admitting that you do not have all the answers? Any form of such admission is not a demonstration of superiority, but of inferiority and dependence on others.

What about honesty and integrity? DT is a serious serial liar. He can barely tell the truth even when he has no need to deceive. One could argue that the Alpha Male has no reason to lie because he is unconcerned with how others view him. But a super Alpha Male needs to create his own reality and suck everyone else into his vortex. Lying and insisting on its truth is not a mere tactic of never admitting you are wrong, but an ontological need for the only reality can be one that the Alpha Male creates.

What has all this to do with politics – especially in a democratic order? Everything, especially if the democracy has put itself at risk by removing barriers to the ascension of an Alpha Male to a throne of power. According to Giovanni Gentile, what made the world was not an objective understanding of it, but an imposition of the ideas of a subjective agency upon it. In objective thought, opposites in contention were the source of validating reality. In Gentile’s fascist world, the one who chose among opponents in contention determined leadership. Nothing exists external to the human mind and spirit and the most dominant expression of human will, therefore, defined reality. There was no empirical reality independent and capable of assessing and evaluating the predominant spirit. What that spirit must do is offer to “his” people, especially appealing to those left behind by the current direction and dialectic of history, was a vision of a totalized whole of society in which they could all be a part. All thought had to be subsumed by the state and independent media could only be a source of false ideas and untruths.

Thus, individual interests of divergent groups were to incorporated into one movement that in turn was determined to incorporate them into the state. That meant a state defined by humans and not by laws and a constitution. That meant a state based on a doctrine of, “L’état c’est moi.” The “stato etico” was to be the means of resolution of the problems of alienation. What about the conservative vision of a diminished state. No problem. The issue was not how much the state delivered services, but how much the state expressed that unified vision where efforts to balance and deal with various interests were anathema. The state may shrink, but no one can be free of its ever-presence and the omniscience and domination of its leader.

Thus, two propositions are identified with the theory of fascism. “The State is a wholly spiritual creation of its leader” and “the nation is also a creation of mind and not a pre-existing entity.” Make America great again means “make America.” The past is denigrated and the future becomes wide open and adaptable to the contingencies of the time and place. A dominant human will imposing its authority on the will of others must prescribe that reality with the message that he is the deliverer from the forces of oppression and the spokesperson for the historical expression of a pre-determined destiny. There are no independent laws and there is no independent reality separable from that vision and articulation.

Education may be privatized, but simply to allow the movement to capture control from the pre-existing state. Individualism, the idealization of the self-centred and self-interested self, must be idealized only to subsume that individual in the will of a nation and a state bound together by a common vision of a greater America that, at its ultimate, will demand the self-sacrifice of the individual for this duty to serve the higher expression of the larger community. For it is in the national spirit that the individual truly lives and experiences reality.

There is, thus, a rejection of materialism, a rejection of empirical positivism, a rejection of scepticism, for a vision of man creating through the exercise of that “free will” his own world. And it will be his world, a world he can own and not a world that is passing him by. To participate, he and she must become active agents in this project of self-creation accepting the vision of the leader as the maker of the new reality. And making that new reality will not be an easy enterprise. It will take work. It will take a sustained effort. It will take trust in the leader. Since the movement believes in the state and in the nation, but not government, the exercise of government is only instrumental to serving the vision. As such, the movement will have more of the characteristics of a mass cult than of a political party.

Its roots will be the family. Leadership will extoll the foundation of society in the traditional family, and, in turn, the social group in which one experiences a commonality of purpose. Diversity becomes a swear word in such a context. Instead, the stress is placed on a commonality of tradition, even as one reconfigures those traditions, such as the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty, and, most of all, the commonality of language. Hence, the insistence that those recruited into the community share that language and those traditions.

How can man act on both society and on nature? With respect to the latter, denying both the importance and the relevance of nature’s laws. The problem with the concept of global warming is not the earth warming resulting from human activity, but the idea of the earth warming by forces almost out of human control. The exercise is not to conform to nature’s laws, but to insist that humans, more specifically, societies led by leaders are in control independent of such forces. If that means being a climate change denier, so be it.

Only in this way can liberty escape the prison bars of liberalism, escape the individual driven by drives and interests, in favour of a nation and a state created independently, indeed, in disregard of, such natural forces. Only then will the nation and the state express the free will of the individual to achieve a higher state of being through that nation and through that state. Contrary to the suggestion that DT is an anti-statist, he is anti-government. Chaos is not an accidental feature of his administration but its core. For only out of chaos will the new emerge.

No wonder that super Alpha Males and this notion of the nation and the state forge such a perfect marriage. Congratulating the scouts for the universal virtues developed and created as part of civil society is anathema, for the boy scouts must be harnessed by the movement towards an organic nation and state. Using a scout jamboree as if it is a movement rally is par for the course and not considered deviant behaviour. For there can be no virtues outside this spiritual movement thrust forward by the vision of a renewed nation and state.

Hence, fascism is and must be totalitarian even if, on the way to that end, compromise may be necessary. Therefore, individuals who fall by the wayside out of this cultish movement must be denied the rites even of a proper burial of their role and, instead, literally tossed under the bus. Because the rise of fascism is opportunistic. The absence of ethics as we know it in all these ways  is a telling revelation of the means and ends of the movement.

Trump as a Philosophical Fascist – Part III

Trump as a Philosophical Fascist – Part III

by

Howard Adelman

In Sheri Berman’s article, “Donald Trump isn’t a fascist” that I cited in my last blog, she wrote: “This debate over labels may seem merely semantic. But definitions matter. The point of labels is to identify, clarify, understand, and, if relevant, figure out ways of coping with the phenomenon at hand. Labeling Trump or other new-right parties and politicians ‘fascist’ implies something not just about what these people and movements stand for but how the opposition should deal with them.”

Sheri Berman is right, but not quite perfectly. Words matter. Definitions matter. Labels matter. They identify and clarify by implying and connecting with associations that give meaning to that label. However, they only help us understand in a significant way when the associations that provide that meaning are both comprehensive and correspond to empirical reality. Only then can we have the precise tools to deal with the problem at hand.

The critics of labeling Donald Trump a fascist did so because they listed four or seven or whatever number of symptoms that indicate that the political ideology signified by those symptoms was fascism. For Berman, the requisite symptoms are suspicion of capitalism, anti-democratic propensities because one regards democracies as both weak and inefficient, celebration of the use of violence for its own sake and use of a revolutionary rather than an evolutionary strategy.

Other commentators point to prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory behaviour towards minorities because of fear of either difference or outsiders or both, a cult of action and celebration of alpha male aggressive masculinity as public political performance, an intolerance of criticism as a psychological characteristic, a pitch to the frustrations of the lower middle class, and populist appeals to national pride, resentment of humiliation and an opportunity for everyman (and woman) to identify directly with the power of the leader.

There is nothing wrong with this list. A few others could be added – such as focusing on the most up-to-date media at the time, whether radio and movies in the 1920s and 1930s, or tweets on the internet currently – to communicate directly to followers. But listing symptoms is not the issue. Of course, it helps to identify them to identify and classify but hardly sufficient.

In medicine, a symptom is a physical or mental feature that is an indicator of a disease or condition; an indicator is not usually the disease itself, but it may be part of the disease process as well as the effects on the body or the mind. In politics, the spectrum is broader. Symptoms which directly track the disease include mental items – such as the psychological (an emphasis on alpha male propensities, narcissism) and the ideological make-up of the politician. Both spheres are reflected in and are manifested by policies that translate into strategies for social change, whether in the democratic political system, the economic (capitalist in our case) system, the emphasis on action and the use of violence to achieve ends versus democratically elected and accountable legislatures and an independent judiciary for achieving goals. It is also helpful to identify the process as either chronic or acute.

In medicine, a patient may be prone to accepting quack beliefs. In politics, it may be a fear of minorities and paranoia about strangers (in medicine, someone with a cleanliness fetish or someone with an irrational fear of inoculation). Recognizing a patient’s openness to falsification and instilling criticisms of inherited folk wisdom when it is inappropriate, is important. Some patients may even have a propensity to want a shaman or witch doctor whom that believe capable of performing miraculous cures rather than a medical practitioner steeped in empirical knowledge of both the objective world and established proven practices as means of attacking problems. So too does it help if we identify conditions that provide ripe grounds for a disease to expand quickly. In politics, this may be rural or small town social groups, declining in numbers and prosperity, and resentful of their declining status.

Thus, it is not sufficient to list indicators. It is important to classify them and differentiate between and among direct indicators of the disease or condition, the best grounds for it to flourish and spread, and the social conditions and belief systems that foster that growth. However, simply identifying indicators with the disease or condition itself is a category mistake. For symptoms qua symptoms are merely the most superficial elements in recognizing a disease. We also must identify the anatomical location, the physiology and aetiology of the development of the disease. Only then can we grasp which interventions are most successful and why.

In the case of fascism and fascist leaders, we are very far from such a developed state of recognition. But we do know some of the factors that go beyond symptomology. Rather than simply via symptoms and conditions for the spread of a disease, fascism at this stage is best recognized by a specific ideological constellation concerning the body politic just as a disease may be identified by its actual effects on the body.

Let me shift from the theory of naming to actual deeper identifiers than symptoms. It should be no surprise then that I turn away from political scientists, historians, social and cultural commentators to a philosopher. Further, it is not just any philosopher. Giovanni Gentile was a leading Italian philosopher of the first half of the twentieth century from his academic post, first at Palermo University and then at the University of Pisa. He enjoyed a long quasi-partnership with Benedetto Croce, usually identified as the father of twentieth century positivist philosophy. The two went through an intellectual divorce in the early 1920s and Gentile became the “philosopher of fascism.” He provided Italian fascist thought with its intellectual foundation.

Though cast within what was dubbed a neo-Hegelian framework, his articulation of “actualist idealism” was not a development upon, but a gross distortion of Hegelian thought. This articulation was not simply the subjectivist extreme of idealist thought, but an intellectual framework that carried idealism over the edge. Those ideas were best expressed in his volume – originally a 40-page extended essay in the 1932 edition of the Italian Encyclopedia – The Doctrine of Fascism (“La dottrina del fascismo”) – that he co-wrote with Benito Mussolini which glorified the fascistic male – Uomo Fascista. Gentile was solely responsible for the first part on the fundamental precepts “Idee Fondamentali” in contrast to the second part, the doctrine of fascism (“Dottrina politica e sociale”) which may have been penned by Mussolini or both authors.

From that work and from H.S. Harris’ 1966 study of Gentile, The Social Philosophy of Giovanni Gentile with a biography of unknown origin, I have extracted the following core elements of fascism. A more accessible source for most readers might be Thomas Clay’s 2009 essay in the journal Gramsci and Educational Thought (41:6, 640-660) “Introducing Giovanni Gentile, the ‘Philosopher of Fascism’.” That essay is available online.

  1. The Cult of the Alpha Male
  2. The Cult of the Nation and the State
  3. The Contempt for both Reason and Empiricism
  4. The Contempt for Universal Human Rights and Liberal Ideals
  5. The Celebration of the Transcendental Mind: Free Will as The Absolute
  6. The Celebration of Populism vs Democratic Responsible Government
  7. A Dystopian View of the Existing World
  8. A Utopian Vision of a New World
  9. The Merging of the Private and the Public
  10. The Dialectic of Conflict to Foster Change and the Victory of the most Powerful Nation.

The first six of these core elements focus on the “anatomy” of fascism. The last four deal with its “physiology,” the depiction of the dynamics of change. Clearly, some of these are akin to specific symptoms mentioned above. However, unlike mere symptoms, these articulations try to address the phenomenology of experience rather than the experience of phenomena. Further, they are the parallel to identifying a mental disorder in the individual rather than an anatomical disease or condition. Only this is a condition which is political and which manifests itself, not simply in deviant individual behaviour, but in a public manic state in which large masses of individuals who consciously or, most frequently, unconsciously embrace fascism, become part of a large and significant political movement that threatens the very life of a democratic and liberal society.

In the next blog or blogs, I will clarify each of these elements in turn and indicate the evidence of Donald Trump being the current poster boy for that tradition. What I intend to make clear is that Donald Trump is merely the face of a much larger social change. That social change was already well underway when Trump became its titular face and leader. I will develop this claim in a follow-up blog on the precursors of the emergence of Donald Trump as president of the USA. If an individual exhibits traits that cause them to feel and behave in socially unacceptable and distressing ways and limit the individual’s ability to function and establish social relations, a collective political condition like fascism is much more damaging and widespread.

Further, there is no incompatibility between Donald Trump suffering from a psychological or psychiatric condition, such as a narcissistic personality disorder, and the spread of a plague of fascism. Donald Trump, as I will argue, is the prime instrument for spreading that plague. But he suffers from it as much as he has become its poster child. At the same time, the characteristics he exhibits in his deformed personality are ideal conditions for becoming a lead player in the spread of the disease of fascism.

That leaves one major problem. Sheri Berman wrote that it is not sufficient to label a disease or condition or anything else for that matter if that label and the underlying characteristics do not allow us to deal with and reverse the condition. In fact, filling out the definition of fascism and illustrating its applicability to the current case is itself subject to the test of whether and how the agents for developing an immunity can be fostered sufficiently to defeat and destroy the danger of that condition.

Donald Trump the Fascist – Part II

Donald Trump the Fascist – Part II

by

Howard Adelman

Conrad Black in his biography Richard M. Nixon (2007) informed us that, in the 1950 California Senate race, Helen Gahagan Douglas accused her opponent, Richard Nixon, of advocating “nice, unadulterated fascism.” In this morning’s blog, I implied that few of Donald Trump’s American critics had suggested an identification of Donald Trump with fascism. A reader commented that a Google search in 38 seconds revealed 559,000 results connecting Donald Trump with fascism. However, very few Americans claim that DT is a fascist. They generally equivocate in the endless stream of commentary and analysis of Donald Trump. The analogy hangs in the air, but generally does not land on his head.

Trump has been called a proto-fascist and his post-truth is labeled as pre-fascism. Few Americans label him outright as a fascist.  For some, such as Sheri Berman, a political science professor at Barnard College and an expert on the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe, this is because he is a populist, but not one that conforms to four basic characteristics of fascism. (See her article, “Donald Trump isn’t a fascist,” (www.vox.com/…/1/3/14154300/fascist-populist-trump-democracy.) For her, Trump was not an ardent pro-nationalist, wherein the individual is in service to the nation; he does not view the nation as an “organic entity”. Trump does not possess a suspicion of capitalism. He may to some degree be overtly anti-liberal, but he is not anti-democratic rooted in the belief that the people must be led by a strong leader since American democracy as inefficient, unresponsive and weak. Finally, although Trump fails to reject violence unequivocally and will even urge police officers not to protect the heads of those arrested when throwing them in the back seat of a squad car, he does not advocate the use of violence as both a means and an end. In any case, fascism comes to power through revolutionary conquest not the ballot. In the rise of populism, there is a gradual erosion of democratic norms and institutions rather than undermining them through radical revolution.

But this is to confuse the rhetoric of fascism at a particular time with its core tenets. Such a definition gives pre-eminence to the tumultuous environment of hopelessness that gave rise to fascism in the 1930s. Berman argues that, although Trump bears a similarity to fascism in promising to protect Americans from the pernicious effects of foreigners and the disruptions of globalization and free trade that have, in his eyes, decimated America as a manufacturing centre, these are populist appeals common to both fascism and populism. But a populist does not a fascist make. Nor are the conditions – such as military defeat and economic depression – ripe for the rise of fascism.

A Toronto Star (2 April 2016) article by Olivia Ward asked, “Is Donald Trump a fascist?” and opined that “Donald Trump’s strong-armed call to keep Mexicans and Muslims out of America echoes last century’s fascist governments.” Ward cited young historian, Fedja Buric, from Bellarmine University in Kentucky, a specialist on the rise of fascism as the successor to Tito’s communism in Yugoslavia. Buric insisted that Trump was merely the face of fascism in America. He even compared DT with Benito Mussolini. New Republic editor Jamil Smith declared unequivocally that, “yes, Donald Trump is a fascist.” But Buric and Smith were foils for Ward who insisted that, “the jaw-jutting reality star doesn’t quite squeeze into the classic 20th-century mold.”

Even earlier than 2016, on 3 December 2015, Ross Douthat in The New York Times had asked, “Is Donald Trump a fascist?” based on his illiberal musings about Muslims and his blatant lying? Douthat even cited Jamelle Bouie in Slate who, referring to Umberto Eco in turn, “argued that Trumpism, however ideologically inchoate, manifests at least seven of the hallmarks of fascism…a cult of action, a celebration of aggressive masculinity, an intolerance of criticism, a fear of difference and outsiders, a pitch to the frustrations of the lower middle class, an intense nationalism and resentment at national humiliation, and a ‘popular elitism’ that promises every citizen that they’re part of ‘the best people of the world’.” Bouie was born in Virginia and I should have qualified my words about most Americans being reluctant to label Trump as a fascist, for Boule is a Black Virginian and Black Americans seem to disproportionately recognize fascism when they see it.

For those who eschew applying the fascist label to Donald Trump, America historically provided poor soil for fascism given the American conservative tradition of “a libertarian skepticism of state power, a stress on localism and states’ rights, a religious and particularly Protestant emphasis on the conscience of an individual over the power of the collective — that inoculated our politics against fascism’s appeal.” However, DT lacked the inoculation against that contagion because he was not an ideological conservative. In spite of the similarities of DT to Eco’s seven identification markers, and in spite of the fact that DT resisted any vaccination against the pox, neither religion, which for him is purely instrumental, nor Perot’s economic nationalist libertarianism and love of small government, nor, finally, Wallace’s deep racism and local and regional chauvinism, were available to save him from infection, for like a fascist, l’état c’est moi, Trump clearly is not averse to centralization as long as he is at that centre. Nevertheless, Douthat concluded that DT was at best a proto-fascist at one end of the conservative spectrum. “Trump may indeed be a little fascistic, but that sinister resemblance is just one part of his reality-television meets WWE-heel-turn campaign style. He isn’t actually building a fascist mass movement.”

Ishaan Tharoor in The Washington Post (28 March 2017) wrote that, “nobody invoking the ‘analogy’ seriously believes the hideous slaughters of another era are imminent.” Not much comfort. Tharoor went on to identify DT’s “reactionary platform in sync with xenophobic rhetoric and the extremist far right politics of Europe. But this just meant that, “The shadow of an earlier moment of demagoguery seems to unavoidably loom over the national conversation.”

The issue is not that there are no American commentators that called DT a fascist, but that the vast majority avoid, for very different reasons, labeling him with the fascist designation and draw back even at the last minute from knighting him as such. Douthat thought that, although DT had not been inoculated against fascism, conservatives in the Republican Party were and would refuse to embrace him if he overtly takes on those traits.

How wrong he was. Further, as my blog tomorrow will indicate, I want to insist that DT’s fascism goes much deeper than the above merely superficial resemblances to fascist performers.  Trump is philosophically a fascist and it is as a philosophical fascist that he is able to wrap conservatives around his little fat pinky.

I am aware that scholars of Italian fascism, such as historian Enzo Traverso, the Susan and Barton Winokur Professor in the Humanities in the Department of Romance Studies at Cornell University, argue that identifying Trump “through the old category of fascism” is not only misleading but useless (World Policy Journal “Trump’s Savage Capitalism: The Nightmare is Real,” 34:1, Spring 2017, 13-17). This scholar insisted that, despite Trump defining himself as the charismatic leader and despite his speeches and meetings having “an incontestably fascist taste,” the fascist analogy remains superficial involving only Trump’s personality. “Fascism is reducible neither to the temperament of a political leader nor to the psychological predispositions of his followers. The fact is that Trump does not lead a mass movement; he is a TV star.”

Isabel Hull, the John Stambaugh Professor of History and colleague of Traverso at Cornell, pointed out that some of the things that paved the way for fascism in Germany are repeated now, such as a weak government that was intentionally undermined by its elites, and “a highly stove-piped national press, such that people only heard and saw what they already thought, and that should sound familiar though it now comes in a different mode.” Another similarity, Isabel Hull pointed to at the Cornell symposium on “Trump and Fascism,” was that Hitler, like Trump, “had no regard for bureaucracy or law or regularity or policies. Under National Socialism, that system of government made it flexible, adaptable, but also self-radicalizing and ultimately completely self-destructive.”

However, for these thinkers, although there are significant analogies, the identification is just not there. Trump is not an imperialist. Rather than arguing for military expansionism, DT is an isolationist. What drives him is his personal business interests and his family. Xenophobic and reactionary, yes; fascist, no. Populism, not fascism, explains DT.

Without denigrating the role of populism and without insisting that DT exhibits all the expressions of fascism in the 1930s. I suggest that DT is at his core a philosophical fascist and not simply a behavioural one or even that some of his behavioural traits share a kinship with fascism.

I make this assertion, not as a scholar of philosophical fascism, but because of knowledge by acquaintance. When I co-taught the graduate course on Hegel at York University, my colleague was the late Professor Henry Silton Harris, H.S. Harris or simply Harris as he was called by his colleagues and friends. He was and remains the foremost Hegelian scholar in the world. What few seem to know was that his PhD thesis was on Giovanni Gentile, subsequently published as, The Social Philosophy of Giovanni Gentile: with a bibliography (1962).

Gentile, already a widely recognized philosopher in Palermo and then Pisa, Italy, before Benito Mussolini came to power in 1922, became Minister of Education in the first Mussolini government of 1923 and ghost wrote Mussolini’s A Doctrine of Fascism (1930). His own philosophic identification with fascism and the characterization of its essential precepts were inscribed in his volume, The Origins of the Doctrine of Fascism. The fascist themes were also indicated in his break with Croce, the intellectual founder of positivism, the doctrine that science provides the model for all thought and explanation, more fundamentally, that all thought is rooted in sense experience.

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

Donald Trump the Fascist – Part I

Donald Trump the Fascist – Part I

by

Howard Adelman

On Friday night at dinner, my friend complained that a crossword puzzle with the clue “mission” required the answer, “errand.” He thought that was unfair. I defended the answer to the clue because an errand – sending someone to fetch something – was one kind of mission, an activity directed intensely towards a single goal. My companion conceded the point and then asked what about the word “stupid”? The answer in the puzzle was “crass”. In this case, I tended to agree with my friend who was incensed at the injustice of the query.

However, my concurrence bothered me. For I knew I was often ignorant of some of the meanings of terms. Though I thought “stupid” conveyed primarily “lacking intelligence,” and “crass” conveyed “boorishness,” perhaps the two terms did, in some of the uses of each, enjoy a family resemblance. I looked “stupid” up in the thesaurus and found this additional equivalence:

crass

Crass behaviour is stupid and does not show consideration for other people.

They have behaved with crass insensitivity.

In this meaning, “crass” is not so much defined by the words and deeds of the character said to be crass, but by the crass individual’s ignorance about the effects of his (or her) behaviour. A crass individual is stupid in his or her insensitivity to others.

I begin with this very small anecdote because of puzzlement about Donald Trump who seems both crass and stupid. But how can someone so stupid, so ignorant about so much, know such a great deal about those who follow him? More significantly, how can he keep not only his own populist followers, but also so many conservatives and Republicans (the latter two are not identical) in line if he is both stupid as well as crass? Simply put, my answer comes in explaining Donald Trump as a fascist.

However, before we explore that response, it is well to understand another very different reason why we may be avoiding pinning the tail of fascism on the ass of Donald Trump. We use him and need him as either an object of ridicule or as a measure of madness. I focus on the latter.

Instead of calling DT a fascist, we say that he is mad, daft, crazy, an insane narcissist. Senator Jack Reed (D- R.I.) said, “I think — I think he’s crazy. I mean, I don’t say that lightly and [mean that] as a kind of a goofy guy.” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who voted against the Republican efforts at “repeal and replace” of Obamacare, seemed to express her concurrence. This was on top of his ignorance. “I don’t think he knows there is a [Budget Control Act] or anything,” added Collins.

Mark Cuban, the billionaire, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and celebrity on “The Shark Tank,” dubbed DT “bats” and David Brooks of The New York Times described DT as suffering from “multiple personality disorder.” However, if DT is mad, he has certainly developed a mastery of celebrity politics, more than sufficient to wipe the floor with his 16 opponents on the campaign trail for the nomination and then to go on to defeat Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College.

One problem is that if Trump is mad-as-a-hatter, we should not normally ridicule him. Blaming a madman for his erratic behaviour simply undercuts the judicial principles developed over the last century whereby the mentally disturbed are not laughed at, but rather treated for their illness. If DT is mentally ill, some might criticize him but not laugh at him. For most cases of mental illness, we extend sympathy and empathy to the troubled individual. However, some diagnoses empirically do not generally elicit sympathy. Offering sympathy or empathy in some cases takes place only at considerable risk to the one who proffers it to a severe narcissist/sociopath/psychopath. For the latter will only use that empathy to disadvantage the person who is attempting to offer it, always in order to get the upper hand. DT is a master at doing just that. Further, if he claims personal experience trumps reality supported by evidence, we can end up only treating the individual as a deliberate liar rather than delusional.

Most important, we fail to get at the source of his erratic behaviour that runs so counter to his own interests. Just last week, these irrational patterns included:

  • Continuing the efforts at humiliating his only critical ally in the legislature when he was campaigning and who was so important in linking him up with the conservative core of the Republican Party, his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions;
  • Embarrassing an organization such as the Boy Scouts by treating youth as a staging ground for his rallies with his railing against the Washington swamp, and getting those boys to cheer for him rather than his applauding them for upholding the universal virtues that the movement tries to instill in its youthful members;
  • Doing far better than central casting, appointing Scarry Moochy, Anthony Scaramucci, as his Communications Director [for only trn days] who even upped DT himself in his profanity and use of humiliation to drive his rival, White House Chief of Staff and a pillar of the Republican establishment, Reince Priebus, from office by accusing him of being a criminal and crazy at one and the same time; the Mooch called Priebus a leaker (a felony) and a paranoid schizophrenic;
  • Contrary to his campaign pledge to guard their back, DT announced that he was not only denying transgender military personnel access to state-supported funds for medical procedures to which they were entitled as members of the armed forces, a denial policy pushed by many conservatives, he went further and tweeted that he was kicking them out of the armed forces altogether, claiming the decision followed consultation with “his” generals when, in short order, it became apparent that they had been blindsided and were unwilling to implement an order contained in a tweet.

The list could go on. These were only the most outstanding expressions of what is easily dubbed as madness. These were not simply breeches of democratic norms and standards of decorum expected of a president, but symptoms of a very deep illness.

There is another view. His nuttiness is merely his unique brand of cutthroat cleverness. As the campaign was heating up, Konrad Yakabuski in The Globe and Mail eighteen months ago wrote that, “While the historians debate whether Mr. Trump is a bona fide fascist or just an opportunistic rabble-rouser, the pundits have already decided that he is crazy – like a fox. His endless disregard for the boundaries of acceptable political discourse only serves to ensure that he dominates the news cycle – to the detriment of rivals struggling to gain basic name recognition – and to consolidate his support among a slice of the electorate that is hopping mad and sick of slick career politicians.”

Craziness had been converted into political craftiness based on absolute amorality. The main object is to continually hijack the debate, to hijack debate altogether, in favour of one outlandish claim after another, each more extreme than his previous record. Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post, six months after Yakabuski penned his op-ed, opined that he had once thought that DT was just “being crazy like a fox. Now I am increasingly convinced that he’s just plain crazy.”

Crazy or crazily calculating? However, if DT is that sick, should we laugh at him or ridicule his behaviour? Rather, should we not try to analyze the source of his dysfunction and urge treatment? Instead, DT has served as a boondoggle to liberal satirists. And he is such an easy target given his inability to complete a sentence unless he has his eyes literally tied to a monitor. With his compulsion to repeat phrases, his open-hands used to wave away criticism like a set of bothersome flies while he communicates that he is totally open to the audience as his limbs move in unison to draw in identification with himself as the abiding authority.

Like primates, wolves and dogs, Trump snarls.  Dogs snarl as a defensive, protective gesture and to provide a warning signal. DT does it to communicate threatening disdain as he shrugs to deflect criticism. His distinctive eye roll relays his contempt while his smirk discounts the other as a fool and his finger pointing identifies his enemies. He purses his lips to scowl at his opponents as childish miscreants and turns his torso towards them as an expression of domination. Finally, his swept blonde hairdo signals that he is not afraid to convey any of these characteristics, but wallows in the attention these gestures bring.  He is not only a celebrity who is energized by the spotlight, but a black star that uses all its energy to absorb the light from everything around.

Many in America are reluctant to use the term “fascist” and apply it to Donald Trump lest they be regarded as “off the wall” and exaggerating. They would, thereby, undercut the opposition to Donald Trump. However, non-Americans need not be so timid. My friend, Michael Marrus, wrote an op-ed in the Globe and Mail on 7 July entitled, “The new face of fascism, American-style.” (https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/a-whiff-of-fascism-drifts-across-america/article35556412/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&) Michael is a European historian and for years was the Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Professor of Holocaust Studies at the University of Toronto.

Other than prudence, Michael offered many other reasons why the term fascist had been avoided. The following elements seemed to be missing:

  • a cult of militarization and war
  • a celebration of youth
  • an idealization of sacrifice and death
  • an incubator of economic depression
  • seething ethnic quarrels.

My inclination is to suggest that all of these are lurking in the shadows. However, Michael suggested another reason for avoiding the use of the term fascist. Citing George Mosse, he wrote that, fascism is a “scavenger ideology,” “less a coherent body of thought and policy than a mood articulated by talented demagogues who patched together, from the popular culture, strident calls to action in the service of ill-defined myths of a nation’s greatness.” Michael urged us to resist the temptation and the many reasons on offer for avoiding the link between Trump’s overt behaviour and the label “fascist”. Rhetorically, he asked whether Trump’s contempt for a free press and his cruel insinuations and use of stigmas indicated a fascist personality. DT’s behaviour was not merely crass and stupid. Nor could his remarks simply be dismissed as just “inappropriate” and “disappointing”.

Michael cited Robert Kagan of the Brooking Institute, one of the few Americans unafraid to link DT with fascism in print. For fascism has come to America, “not with jackboots and salutes … but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac ‘tapping into’ popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party – out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear – falling into line behind him.”

The result has been:

  • an emphasis on fealty rather than loyalty
  • a professed disdain for elites as Trump surrounds himself with obeisant generals and billionaires as well as sycophants
  • embracing rather than rejecting the principle of contradiction
  • contempt for convention, comity and civility.

In People Magazine in 1981, Trump described humans (actually “men”) as “the most vicious of all animals.” He went further than Thomas Hobbes in insisting that this military viciousness was not even controlled or controllable by political institutions, but meant that life was just “a series of battles ending in victory or defeat.” You were either a killer or a sucker. He was not a believer in the doctrine that the end justifies the means, but an idolater who believed that the only end worthy of effort was victory űber alles, including especially army generals whom he relished being made into his subordinates. The world is divided into alpha males and the “rest.”

As Trump boasted, “I was elected president.” Neither his supine nor his clever and intelligent opponents were able to defeat him. And in a memorable effort to confine Donald Trump within the constitution and some scraps of morality, Khizr Khan, father of a decorated deceased Muslim war hero whom Roger Stone, one of DT’s mentors, had labeled a “Muslim Brotherhood agent,” this “agent” waved the pamphlet containing the constitution, offering it to DT as reading material for DT seemed so ignorant of its contents, Trump was easily able to brush an attack launched from a pinnacle of virtue into the swamp created by the dam he has so assiduously built in the valley below.

As David Givens, Director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies in Spokane, Washington, noted during the primary campaign referring to Donald Trump, “Nobody has done it this well since John F. Kennedy. Or Mussolini.” It is to Mussolini and his philosophical partner, Giovanni Gentile, that I want to move. However, I will first elaborate on the debate over whether DT is a fascist. My position is clear. Whether a clown or crazy, Donald Trump’s behaviour does not simply bear a superficial resemblance to that of fascists. Donald Trump deeply identifies with the philosophical tenets of fascism.

With the help of Alex Zisman – and others.