Tag Archives: right-wing

The Donald Trump revolution, dismissed as all revolts are in the beginning

Summary: Donald Trump’s assumption of leadership of the right wing of American politics, and perhaps of the Republican Party, marks a milestone in our history. Even if he burns out, we see in him the outlines of a greater leader to follow. Meanwhile the machinery of Republic lies unused, as we tell ourselves there is no difference between the parties and that reform is impossible.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Donald Trump

NBC Photo, by Chris Haston.

“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
— Attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson.

The rise of Donald Trump to a leading position in the Republican Party marks a milestone in the evolution of modern America.

Conservatives have worked for generation to create a body of people ignorant of our history, of economics, and of current events. They’ve created a faux version of economics and a faux version of history (buttressed with hundreds of fake quotes). They have incited fake fears about threatening “others”, foreign and domestic — and the almost certainly coming crash of the US dollar and bankruptcy of the US government.

Perhaps these people have found a leader in Donald Trump — an ignorant, prejudiced and boorish figure even by the lax standards of American politics. He makes previous political outsiders look like George Washington (e.g., Ralph Nader, Ross PerotJessie Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger). America has a tradition of populist leaders, such as Huey Long and William Jennings Bryan, but Trump is like them as chalk is to cheese.

Assessing the Trump phenomenon

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For 50 years Republicans have fought against treaties that brought peace

Summary:  To understand the dynamics and stakes of the Iran deal we should look at our past, rather than conservatives’ confident warnings about the future. The peace we’ve enjoyed for decades results in part from 50+ years of arms control treaties — all strenuously fought by the Right. We can learn much from their false predictions, as they’re repeated today about Iran.

Atomic bomb explosion

Contents

  1. Unceasing war.
  2. Clinton takes a turn.
  3. Obama negotiates a New START.
  4. Reagan the peacemaker.
  5. Conclusions.
  6. For More Information.

(1)  Unceasing war

The far-right’s grand strategy since WWII has been one of unceasing war and rigid opposition to all arms control treaties (we are always in 1938 Munich; are foes are always NAZI Germany). We see that in their opposition to a deal with Iran (where the likely alternative is war), just as we saw in their support for the continued above ground nuclear testing that was blanketing the world with radioactive fallout. Even after a full-court press by Kennedy, 19 Senators voted in 1963 against the first Nuclear Test Ban Treaty JFK negotiated in 1963. Fortunately saner people prevailed.

To get an idea of the results if the conservatives had won, read the National Institute of Health’s pages about exposure to radioactive Iodine-131 from fallout. These debates would play out repeatedly during the next 6 decades, but not always with a happy ending.

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The 1% are changing America. It’s our move.

Summary: The moment approaches when every American sees that the 1% are taking it away. Then we each make a choice to go with the flow or resist. Here are a few events that show this time is close. I’ve predicted the events leading to this point, but have no idea how we’ll react. Much depends on our choice.

“An experience of profound contempt is necessary in order to grasp our situation, and our capacity for contempt is vanishing.”
— From Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, chapter on “Values” (1987).

Don't Tread on Me

We’re in the pursuit phase of our battle with the 1%, the quiet coup. Decades of quiet organizing and slow progress (see here & here) — then Reagan began their advance that continues to this day, inexorably accelerating. After breaking down the old order (e.g., unions, campaign finance limits, New Deal era limits on banks) we see them building a New America: dismantling the public-financed colleges (see here and here), shifting the tax burden from the rich to the middle class, and many other changes to core features of America.

The obvious moment of truth will come when events force us to see the systematic nation of these changes. Will we rise to the challenge, or look in the mirror and see cowards? That time approaches. Soon we’ll learn the answer.

(1)  Former NSA & CIA Director Hayden mocks us

This is almost too good to be true. Former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden spoke to America’s inner party at the Wall Street Journal’s CFO Conference.

If somebody would come up to me and say “Look, Hayden, here’s the thing: This Snowden thing is going to be a nightmare for you guys for about two years. And when we get all done with it, what you’re going to be required to do is that little 215 program about American telephony metadata — and by the way, you can still have access to it, but you got to go to the court and get access to it from the companies, rather than keep it to yourself” — I go: “And this is it after two years? Cool!”

He was speaking the truth. We deserve to be mocked The USA Freedom Act was mostly cosmetic reform (the NYT agrees). Two years ago I predicted our pitiful response to Snowden’s revelations.

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Dreams of apocalypses show the brotherhood of America’s Left & Right

Summary: Left and Right in America are in many ways mirror images of each other, as many posts here have shown. No surprise, since we’re all Americans. If we recognize this, perhaps we can better communicate with each other, and perhaps even work together better.  {1st of 2 posts today.}Apocalypse

 

Left and Right share a belief in the coming apocalypse, although they differ in the nature of the end times. Is it Cultural collapse or resource exhaustion? National bankruptcy and currency collapse or climate catastrophe? Mass social disruption or … they both agree on that.

These nightmares seem to be gaining an increasing grip on the American imagination, as fear becomes the major marketing tool in our politics — across our political spectrum. Does this provide a basis for communication, and perhaps working together?

Here are excerpts from two books I recommend that give deep insights into our culture. The first is by one of the top social critics of our generation. The second is deep and complex but brilliant,  well-worth the effort to carefully read it (his description of us is imo dead on target).

 

An excerpt from Christopher Lasch’s
The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (1991)

The Waning of the Sense of Historical Time

As the twentieth century approaches its end, the conviction grows that many other things are ending too. Storm warnings, portents, hints of catastrophe haunt our times. The “sense of an ending,” which has given shape to so much of twentieth-century literature, now pervades the popular imagination as well. The Nazi holocaust, the threat of nuclear annihilation, the depletion of natural resources, well-founded predictions of ecological disaster have fulfilled poetic prophecy, giving concrete historical substance to the nightmare, or death wish, that avant-garde artists were the first to express. The question of whether the world will end in fire or in ice, with a bang or a whimper, no longer interests artists alone.

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America slides to the right, faster. Why? What you can do about it!

Summary: Today’s post gives excerpts from some of the best political analysis of the year, concluding with suggestions for those people who care to do something about it.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

El Reagan: viva revolucion

Contents

  1. The best political analysis of the year.
  2. Excerpt #1: The Problem.
  3. Excerpt #2: The real problem, part one.
  4. Excerpt #3: The real problem, part two.
  5. What you can do about all this.
  6. For More Information.

 

(1)  The best political analysis you’ll read this year

A slow-mo revolution has been running in America since 1980. We have entered the steep part of the “S” curve, when laboriously built political machinery of the Right reaches maturity and exerts its full power.

There have been hundreds of articles about this. Pulling all this together is “No Cost for Extremism” in The American Prospect — “Why the GOP hasn’t (yet) paid for its march to the right.” The authors are professors of political science: Jacob Hacker at Yale, Paul Pierson at Berkeley. If not stopped it will shape a new America for the 21st century. I recommend that you read it in full.

On the other hand, why bother unless you’ll do something about it? See the last section for some ideas.

(2)  Excerpt #1: The Problem

According to the news media, 2014 was the year that the GOP “Establishment” finally pulled Republicans back from the right-wing brink. Pragmatism, it seemed, had finally triumphed over extremism in primary and general election contests that The New York Times called “proxy wars for the overall direction of the Republican Party.”

There’s just one problem with this dominant narrative. It’s wrong. The GOP isn’t moving back to the center. … based on voting records, the current Republican majority in the Senate is far more conservative than the last Republican majority in the 2000s. Meanwhile, the incoming House majority is unquestionably the most conservative in modern history, continuing the virtually uninterrupted 40-year march of the House Republican caucus to the hard right.

The GOP’s great right migration is the biggest story in American politics of the past 40 years. And it’s not just limited to Congress: GOP presidents have gotten steadily more conservative, too; conservative Republicans increasingly dominate state politics; and the current Republican appointees on the Supreme Court are among the most conservative in the Court’s modern history.

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Are ISIS terrorists coming to America from a base in Mexico?

Summary: Arousing fear has become not just an effective political tool but a good business in our increasingly gullible America. This post looks at one example from the many in today’s news. An industry has grown to disseminate activists’ scary stories. Like the candy industry it’s big because we love their products although we know they’re bad for us. We’ll need sterner standards if we hope to again govern ourselves. {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Contents

  1. Weaponized urban legends.
  2. Today’s fear attack on America.
  3. Journalists defending us.
  4. Conclusions.
  5. For More Information.

 

(1)  Weaponized urban legends

For years I wondered what happened to the scary but fun urban legends that so often swept across America, as new ones became rare after the bogus Y2K panic attack. Had we learned? Only slowly did it become apparent that this powerful tool has been professionalized by activists and deployed against us for political effect. Amateurs’ creations can’t compete against the product of pros.

Previous posts have debunked the increasingly delusional claims by the Left’s activists about imminent climate catastrophes (either unsupported or contradicted by the work of the IPCC). Here we look at similar activities of the Right. A thousand and one posts could be written and not list a year’s fear barrages dropped on America, and their growing role shaping our view of the world.

(2)  Today’s fear attack on America

A hot meme on the Right concerns the danger from the others to the south. Hordes of young men taking our jobs. Criminals taking our goods and attacking our women. Lazy people exploiting our charity. Sick people bringing diseases. The latest concerns those others working with our foes.

Judicial Watch originates many of these stories (165 thousand followers on Twitter), aptly described by the invaluable myth-busters at Snopes in an article debunking the jihadists coming from Mexico stories:

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Did Robert Heinlein in 1961 predict the fall of the Soviet Union? Lessons learned from this.

Summary: Our past can help us to better understand our present. The ills of the present didn’t just appear, and often can be seen more clearly in the past — such as as our penchant for believing fables. This post has it all: a great story about Robert Heinlein’s astonishing prescience, the Evil Empire, demographic collapse, gross errors by experts, a spectacular save at the end, and insights to help us tomorrow.  It’s another in a series about experts.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Writing about geopolitics = progress by making mistakes

Ask an expert

I find it difficult to guess about the future (track record here). But it’s often difficult to get the past correctly, which makes it almost impossible to accurately see the present.

For example, in 2009 I wrote about the failings of our experts, especially those at the intel agencies, during the Cold War. I cited science fiction writer Robert Heinlein as an example of a non-credentialed expert who got a big question right while they were wrong. I told a commonplace kind of story one sees these days, about how the official sources are wrong when the outsiders are right.

It’s the story so often told by many groups — the climate scientists are frauds people, the down with the Federal Reserve crowd, the anti-vaxers, and the pollutants are everywhere (soda bottles, cell phone towers) tribe — as well as people with whom I largely agree (e.g., the military reformers, the 4GW community, and the peace and justice movements).

It’s an extension of the “crowdsourcing” concept — the anti-establishment belief that wisdom is found on the fringes, in the hands of outsiders. Since 2009 I have found other examples of this. Under examination most proved to be false.

As part of an article about our new cold war (it’s only a slightly chilled dispute, the past repeating as farce) I intended to again cite this example of Heinlein’s wisdom. But my mistakes of the past 5 years (tracked here) taught me to dig deeper before writing. Doing so disproved my 2009 post, giving in exchange some useful insights.

Did Robert Heinlein foresee the fall of the Soviet Union?

In 1960 Robert and Virginia Heinlein visited Moscow. In 1966 he published this note about his trip in Worlds of Robert Heinlein, republished in 1980 as Expanded Universe. In 2009 I cited it as an example of genius by a non-expert. Let’s examine it more closely.

Cover of "Worlds of Robert Heinlein"

For many days we prowled Moskva — by car, by taxi, by subway, by bus, and on foot. Mrs. Heinlein, in her fluent Russian, got acquainted with many people — drivers, chambermaids, anyone. The Russians are delightful people, always happy to talk with visitors … She was able to ask personal questions by freely answering questions about us and showing warm interest in that person — not faked; she is a warm person. But buried in chitchat, she always learned these things:

  • How old are you?
  • Are you married?
  • How many children do you have?
  • How many brothers and sisters do you have?
  • How many nieces and nephews do you have?

Put baldly, that sounds as offensive as a quiz by a Kinsey reporter. But it was not put baldly — e.g., “Oh, how lucky you are! Gospodin Heinlein and I didn’t meet until the Great Patriotic War … and we have no children although we wanted them. But we have lots of nieces and nephews.” Etc, etc.  She often told more than she got but she accumulated the data she wanted, often without asking questions.

… Mrs. Heinlein is a close student of Russian history, history of the Russian Revolution, history of the Third International or Comintern, and so skilled in Marxist dialectical materialism that she can argue theory with a Russian party member and get him so mixed up that he’s biting his own tail.

So far, so good. He’s established some grounds for credibility.

{Virginia said…}  “They claim to have finished the War with about two hundred million and Moscow at four million. Now they are claiming twenty-five million more in the Union, and over a million increase in Moscow. It’s a lie. Unless they are breeding like flies everywhere outside Moscow, they have lost population since the War — not gained. I haven’t found even one family with more than 3 children. The average is less than 2. And they marry late. Robert, they aren’t even replacing themselves.”

…We stopped in many other cities — Alma Ata, Tashkent, Samarkand, Minsk, Vilno, Kiev, Riga, Leningrad, etc. — and she continued her gentle questioning but never found reason to change her opinion. Even out in the Muslim countries of Turkestan the birthrate was low, or the answers seemed to show it.

By the 1990’s Russia’s demographic collapse spread so that the total population began to decline, something rare in modern times except during wars. The Heinleins had discovered this in its early stages 2 decades before the CIA saw it! I was awed. Heinlein had more observations in this article.

One day we were seated on a park bench, back of the Kremlin and facing the Moskva River. I said, “How big does that guide book say this city is?”

“Over five million.”

“Hmmph! Look at that river. Look at the traffic on it. (One lonely scow) “Remember the Rhine? … Ginny, this dump isn’t anything like five million. More the size of Copenhagen, if that. Pittsburgh. New Orleans. San Francisco, possibly.  Yet they are trying to tell us that this dump is bigger than Philadelphia, bigger than Los Angeles, bigger than Chicago. Nonsense. … Three quarters of a million, not five million.”   {1960 population of San Francisco: 740 thousand}

She looked at that empty river. “Not quite as big as Copenhagen is my guess.”

The CIA estimate of Moscow’s population in 1960 was 6 million. Heinlein’s estimate of 750,000 was absurd. That’s almost an order of magnitude difference. Asserting that experts are grossly wrong is a red flag for wingnuttery.

How was it possible for the Russians to claim that Moscow was seven times as big as it actually was? How could I be right and the whole world wrong? The World Almanac gave the same figures the Russians did, all news services seemed to accept Russian population figures. How could a Big Lie that big not be noticed and denounced?

About a year later I had a chance to discuss it with an old shipmate, an admiral now retired but then holding a major command. I asked him how many people there were in Moscow. … He closed his eyes and kept quiet for several minutes. “750,000, not over that.” (Jackpot!)

I said, “Mister 007, have you made a special study of Russia? Or shouldn’t I ask?”

“Not at all. [This command] gives me all the trouble I need without worrying about Russia. I simply worked it as a logistics problem, War College style. That city just doesn’t have the transportation facilities to be any bigger than that. Get much over three quarters of a million and they’d starve. Until they double their tracks and increase their yards they can’t risk a bigger population. You don’t do that over night. They can pick up some slack with the river, but it doesn’t go where they need it most.”

Look, both the Pentagon and the State Department know exactly how big Moscow is, and the Kremlin knows that they know. We were highflying ‘em with the U-2 for four years; you can bet Moscow was carefully photographed many times. Our present Eye-in-the-Sky satellites are so sharp-eyed that they can come close to reading the license plate on your car …

I have one very wild theory. Our State Department may see no advantage in calling them liars on this point. Through several administrations we have been extremely careful not to hurt their feelings.

This should have loudly rang the FAKE alarm for me, since it has so many of the classic elements of urban legends: an anonymous authority figure, an assertion that the author has the hidden truth not visible to lesser beings, and a conspiracy theory about the government hiding truths for mysterious reasons. But I wanted to believe him, and so my critical sense slept.

David Hume

Conclusions

A generation of Boomers grew up with Robert Heinlein as a voice of authority about the world. But this is an odd story in many ways.

Millions still believe Heinlein’s insights from his fiction — such as “an armed society is a polite society” (Beyond This Horizon, 1942), but this assertion about the Soviet Union’s weakness never caught on. Also, after WWII Heinlein was a far-Right conservative. Yet Heinlein’s story contradicts the Right’s belief about the USSR’s growing power, powerfully asserted even in the 1977 by the right-wing Team B (although largely wrong, its members went on to great career success).

Heinlein reminds us that political delusions passed by trusted people are always with us. They are easier to see in the past, which can help us to see them in the present. There are so many of them today, from both Right and Left. I doubt we can regain control of the Republic until we regain our sense of skepticism, even about those we trust.

Also: this post was added to the “Smackdowns” page.

Some thoughts about Heinlein

Here are comments about Heinlein much like my own, from Walter Jon Williams’ “Revisiting the Classics“:

Heinlein had the gift of a perfect avuncular voice: if you were a bright kid of thirteen and curious about the world, he was the kindly uncle who would help you find out how things worked. And as a 13-year-old I read Heinlein and I believed everything Uncle Bob told me: I believed we should bring back flogging (Starship Troopers), practice Upton Sinclair’s version of socialism (Beyond This Horizon), and practice Free Love (Stranger in a Strange Land).  (Of course, when you come down to it, what 13-year-old male doesn’t want to practice Free Love?)

That Heinlein’s various visions of the future were contradictory did not occur to me. I also was unable to distinguish between the ideas that Heinlein meant seriously and the ideas he was just throwing out for their own sake.

When I re-read the book in college, I had the feeling that my kindly uncle was something of a blowhard. Now that I’m older, I’m finding the avuncular voice just the least bit condescending.

Comment by MDHughes:

Stranger’s weird now because it’s not so weird; at the time it must’ve been pure fantasy, and today it passes for current events minus Mars (and we’ll be there soon enough). The sexuality and politics seem plausible … The religious lunatics and stormtroopers are half our political system.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  See the other posts about Robert Heinlein and the other posts about experts, especially these:

  1. Today’s debate: a passionate defense of credentialism. State your view!
  2. Experts now run the world using their theories. What if they fail, and we lose confidence in them?
  3. Do we face a future without confidence in experts?
  4. Our confidence in science is crumbling. Why? How can we fix this?
  5. 2015 might bring an end to the great age of experts’ experiments on us.
  6. Tips to find the experts that help you see the world more clearly.
  7. Will our geopolitical “experts “lead us to ruin?