“Trump And The Myth Of Superiority”: It’s The Lowest Part Of Who We Are, This Need To Find Someone Else To Put Down
There are many reasons to recommend Elizabeth Strout’s new novel, “My Name Is Lucy Barton,” but this is not a book review, so I offer this single, searing paragraph:
“I have said before: It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, and all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.”
Could there be a more perfect description of that failed human strategy? If we feel good about ourselves only by comparison, we are forever on the hunt, setting our sights on innocent others so that we can stomach who we’ve become.
“So what?” one might ask. If this game of mental gymnastics is an interior job — if we keep our darkest motives to ourselves — what harm comes of this way of thinking?
Well, there’s this: When storing our insecurities, the mind is the worst place to stock the shelves. Eventually, the monster festering and growing in the dark demands its freedom — or, in the case of the Republican presidential race, an audience.
This week Sarah Palin, who refuses to go away, endorsed Donald Trump, who insists he is here to stay. The public response was rapid and, many would say, often hilarious. Satirist Andy Borowitz wrote a piece for The New Yorker titled “Palin Endorsement Widens Trump Lead Among Idiots.” The New York Daily News‘ cover headline: “I’M WITH STUPID! Hate minds think alike: Palin endorses Trump.”
A few months ago, I would have snickered along and maybe shared links to this coverage on Facebook, but these past few months of relentless Trump coverage have changed me. To laugh is to play along with this notion of my superiority, and I don’t like that version of myself. I was raised to be better than this.
Some of Trump’s most ardent supporters — white, working-class males who fear they are on the brink of extinction — are the same Americans who would suffer most if he were the Republican nominee and could continue this farce of a campaign to Election Day. These are the people I come from. I have reached the point where I am more worried for them than embarrassed by their choice of candidate. I’m not proud of either sentiment.
It is perhaps the most depressing fact of this current primary campaign that Donald Trump’s extremism — so much of which swirls around his assertions of superiority — has fueled his momentum. Every speech is one long brag-fest about his fictional superiority, not just to other candidates but also to a growing list of entire groups of people: Mexicans and Muslims, women and black people — and now members of the media, too, who dare to defy his coverage directives. He mocks them, all of them. The more he bellows and belittles, the louder his crowds roar.
And now he has been joined by Sarah Palin, who resigned her job as Alaska’s governor to pursue her hobby of willfully uninformed trolling in the arena of public discourse. During her endorsement speech for Donald Trump, she made up a new word — “squirmishes” — to describe the complexities of the violence in the Middle East:
“And you quit footing the bill for these nations who are oil-rich. We’re paying for some of their squirmishes that have been going on for centuries, where they’re fighting each other and yelling ‘Allahu akbar,’ calling jihad on each other’s heads forever and ever. Like I’ve said before, let them duke it out and let Allah sort it out.”
And this, comparing Trump to President Barack Obama: “And he, who would negotiate deals, kind of with the skills of a community organizer maybe organizing a neighborhood tea, well, he deciding that, ‘No, America would apologize as part of the deal,’ as the enemy sends a message to the rest of the world that they capture and we kowtow, and we apologize, and then, we bend over and say, ‘Thank you, enemy.’”
Thanks (I think) to The New York Times‘ Michael Barbaro for transcribing those chunks of Palin’s ranting.
Most major news organizations in the country sent out breaking news alerts when she announced that she was endorsing Trump. Think about that, but whatever you do, don’t dwell on it. No good comes of it, I can tell you.
There was a time when too many of us saw Trump’s climb in the polls as so temporary, and evidence of our superiority. Look how stupid those people are, we said, chuckling.
Who’s laughing now?
By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist; The National Memo, January 21, 2016
“Congress Consorting To Thwart U.S. Diplomacy?”: The NSA Reportedly Spied On Congress. Is That The Real Scandal?
There’s a lot we don’t know beneath The Wall Street Journal‘s report today that the National Security Agency picked up intelligence on meetings with U.S. members of Congress and domestic political groups while spying on the Israeli government after credible reports (subsequently validated by the surveillance) that the Israelis were collecting and leaking intelligence on the sensitive U.S.-Iran nuclear talks.
The story has many dimensions. But, so far, virtually all of the reaction involves two questions: (1) Should the U.S. be spying on our ally Israel? (This was raised immediately if cautiously by Marco Rubio, who’s in a bit of a quandary because he’s normally a fan of surveillance.) And (2) should the Executive branch be spying, even incidentally, on the Legislative branch? (Former House Intelligence Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra called for an investigation of this possibility and for indictments if it turned out to be true.) These are both important and complex issues. But there should be a third question raised as well: Should members of Congress be consorting with agents of a foreign government to thwart U.S. diplomacy?
Perhaps this question seems obvious in the context of a situation where the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives invited a foreign prime minister to address Congress with the thinly veiled intention of building opposition to approval of the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal. But most Republicans and some Democrats have long adopted the habit of arguing that the U.S. should defer to Israel on all matters relating to the Middle East, to the point of abandoning any pretense of an independent point of view. The dominant position among Republicans was articulated by Mitt Romney in October of 2012: “The world must never see daylight between our two nations,” meaning the U.S. and Israel. No one was under the illusion that Romney was instructing Israelis to move closer to the U.S.
This was and remains a dangerous and largely unprecedented position. Even if one intends slavish obeisance to a foreign government, there’s something to be said for keeping up the appearance of independence. After all, a lot of the conservatives most determined to carry Bibi Netanyahu’s water in Washington are also outspoken about the U.S. being the unchallenged colossus of global affairs, unconstrained by alliances with Euro-weenie socialists or even friendly relations with Muslim countries. So it would be preferable if American politicians who want to signal to conservative Evangelicals or to Sheldon Adelson that Bibi’s policies will be their own could find a way to do so without meeting with people who are under U.S. intelligence surveillance. Their hatred of Barack Obama is no excuse for disloyalty to the United States.
By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, December 30, 2015
“Things To Celebrate, Like Dreams Of Flying Cars”: Progress In Technology Has Made Saving The World Much More Plausible
In Star Wars, Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon did the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs; in real life, all the Falcon 9 has done so far is land at Cape Canaveral without falling over or exploding. Yet I, like many nerds, was thrilled by that achievement, in part because it reinforced my growing optimism about the direction technology seems to be taking — a direction that may end up saving the world.
O.K., if you have no idea what I’m talking about, the Falcon 9 is Elon Musk’s reusable rocket, which is supposed to boost a payload into space, then return to where it can be launched again. If the concept works, it could drastically reduce the cost of putting stuff into orbit. And that successful landing was a milestone. We’re still a very long way from space colonies and zero-gravity hotels, let alone galactic empires. But space technology is moving forward after decades of stagnation.
And to my amateur eye, this seems to be part of a broader trend, which is making me more hopeful for the future than I’ve been in a while.
You see, I got my Ph.D. in 1977, the year of the first Star Wars movie, which means that I have basically spent my whole professional life in an era of technological disappointment.
Until the 1970s, almost everyone believed that advancing technology would do in the future what it had done in the past: produce rapid, unmistakable improvement in just about every aspect of life. But it didn’t. And while social factors — above all, soaring inequality — have played an important role in that disappointment, it’s also true that in most respects technology has fallen short of expectations.
The most obvious example is travel, where cars and planes are no faster than they were when I was a student, and actual travel times have gone up thanks to congestion and security lines. More generally, there has just been less progress in our command over the physical world — our ability to produce and deliver things — than almost anyone expected.
Now, there has been striking progress in our ability to process and transmit information. But while I like cat and concert videos as much as anyone, we’re still talking about a limited slice of life: We are still living in a material world, and pushing information around can do only so much. The famous gibe by the investor Peter Thiel (“We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”) is unfair, but contains a large kernel of truth.
Over the past five or six years, however — or at least this is how it seems to me — technology has been getting physical again; once again, we’re making progress in the world of things, not just information. And that’s important.
Progress in rocketry is fun to watch, but the really big news is on energy, a field of truly immense disappointment until recently. For decades, unconventional energy technologies kept falling short of expectations, and it seemed as if nothing could end our dependence on oil and coal — bad news in the short run because of the prominence it gave to the Middle East; worse news in the long run because of global warming.
But now we’re witnessing a revolution on multiple fronts. The biggest effects so far have come from fracking, which has ended fears about peak oil and could, if properly regulated, be some help on climate change: Fracked gas is still fossil fuel, but burning it generates a lot less greenhouse emissions than burning coal. The bigger revolution looking forward, however, is in renewable energy, where costs of wind and especially solar have dropped incredibly fast.
Why does this matter? Everyone who isn’t ignorant or a Republican realizes that climate change is by far the biggest threat humanity faces. But how much will we have to sacrifice to meet that threat?
Well, you still hear claims, mostly from the right but also from a few people on the left, that we can’t take effective action on climate without bringing an end to economic growth. Marco Rubio, for example, insists that trying to control emissions would “destroy our economy.” This was never reasonable, but those of us asserting that protecting the environment was consistent with growth used to be somewhat vague about the details, simply asserting that given the right incentives the private sector would find a way.
But now we can see the shape of a sustainable, low-emission future quite clearly — basically an electrified economy with, yes, nuclear power playing some role, but sun and wind front and center. Of course, it doesn’t have to happen. But if it doesn’t, the problem will be politics, not technology.
True, I’m still waiting for flying cars, not to mention hyperdrive. But we have made enough progress in the technology of things that saving the world has suddenly become much more plausible. And that’s reason to celebrate.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 25, 2015
“Plight Of Syrian Refugees Recalls Tale Of 2,000 Years Ago”: Bar The Gates, Exclude The Stranger, Ignore The Vulnerable
There is irony aplenty in this season, which is celebrated throughout Christendom because of the tale of a babe born in a troubled precinct in the Middle East a little more than 2,000 years ago. You know the story: A couple of modest means finds no accommodations, even as the woman is on the brink of giving birth. After the child is born, they are forced to flee the depredations of a murderous king.
As history rolls on, we find the Middle East once again in upheaval, roiled by murderous tyrants who have spurred families to seek sanctuary. Given the time of year, you’d think the plight of those families would be the preoccupation of the news cycle; you’d think accommodating them would be the pre-eminent call of preachers and politicians alike. After all, the ancient tale has been said to inspire reflection, charity and generosity.
But those sentiments seem in scant supply in these United States. Instead, we are awash in suspicion, waylaid by fear and anxiety, beset by bigotry. Many of the nation’s political leaders have insisted that we bar the gates, exclude the stranger, ignore the vulnerable.
While President Obama has called on the nation to take in more refugees from Syria — where the armies of President Bashar Assad and the self-proclaimed Islamic State represent dire threats to life and limb — 27 U.S. governors, more than half, would attempt to bar Syrian refugees from their states. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has famously said that he wouldn’t even take in orphans under the age of 5.
Indeed, the call to keep Syrian refugees out of the United States has captured a substantial number of voters; 56 percent oppose President Obama’s policy. And that refusal finds support across party lines: Eighty-one percent of Republicans, 59 percent of independents and 31 percent of Democrats, according to an NBC News survey.
The proximate cause of that hunker-down insularity is the threat of terrorist attacks, a danger brought home by the San Bernardino atrocity earlier this month, which left 14 people dead and 22 injured. But humans are notoriously bad at assessing risks. While 45 Americans have been killed in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11 (counting the Fort Hood shooting), far more have been killed since then in automobile accidents and non-terrorist-related gun violence.
Besides, as the brilliant novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson has written: “Contemporary America is full of fear. (But) fear is not a Christian habit of mind. … Those who forget God can be recognized in the fact that they make irrational responses to irrational fears. … There are always real dangers in the world, sufficient to their day. Fearfulness obscures the distinction between real threat on one hand and on the other the terrors that beset those who see threat everywhere.”
Terror is not everywhere, and its risks would not increase if we were to admit substantially more Syrian refugees. They are subjected to a vetting process that takes up to two years. Anyway, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the married couple who allegedly carried out the San Bernardino attack, had no ties to Syria that authorities have detected.
Meanwhile, millions of Syrians have been displaced by war. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Turkey has taken in 1.9 million, while Iraq, which is still beset by armed conflict, has taken in 250,000. More than 1 million Syrian refugees are in Lebanon, and more than 600,000 are in Jordan.
The far wealthier European nations are still wrangling over the numbers they will accept, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been steadfast in her welcoming tone; her country has taken in more than 98,000 Syrians and stands ready to accept as many as 500,000 refugees, including Syrians, per year for several years.
With that in mind, President Obama’s call for the United States to take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year seems modest. And while providing sanctuary to some of the planet’s most vulnerable populations may not promote peace on Earth, it is certainly a small gesture of goodwill to all men.
By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, December 26, 2015
During Saturday night’s debate, Hillary Clinton raised a familiar concern that has a lot of merit: Donald Trump’s bigoted rhetoric has the effect of helping America’s enemies. We need to make sure, Clinton said at the debate, that Trump’s more hateful rhetoric doesn’t “fall in receptive ears” abroad.
“He is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter,” the Democratic frontrunner added. “They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists.”
The syntax got a little garbled, but it sounded as if Clinton was saying there are already ISIS videos in circulation featuring Trump’s rhetoric. Since that does not appear to be the case, Trump is demanding an apology.
That’s not going to happen.
A spokesman for Hillary Clinton says “hell, no,” the candidate won’t apologize to Donald Trump for calling him “ISIS’ best recruiter.”
“Hillary Clinton will not be apologizing to Donald Trump for correctly pointing out how his hateful rhetoric only helps ISIS recruit more terrorists,” said spokesman Brian Fallon in a statement.
It’s worth unpacking this a bit, because the entire story helps capture just how odd this year’s presidential race really is.
First, let’s focus on the substance. Trump’s whining notwithstanding, the truth of the matter is Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric is noticed abroad and has been utilized by radicals. Rita Katz, executive director of the SITE Intelligence Group, recently explained to NBC News that Middle Eastern radicals “love” Trump “from the sense that he is supporting their rhetoric. They follow everything Donald Trump says. When he says, ‘No Muslims should be allowed in America,’ they tell people, ‘We told you America hates Muslims and here is proof.’”
Clinton could have worded this better, but her underlying point is sound: Trump is providing rhetorical ammunition to America’s enemies. There’s ample evidence to bolster the argument.
Second, the lack of self-awareness surrounding Trump’s complaints is astounding, even for him. Without a hint of irony, the Republican frontrunner said this afternoon, in reference to Clinton’s debate comments, “There is no video.” Seriously? Wasn’t the reality-based community using the same four words when Trump claimed he saw imaginary video of thousands of American Muslims celebrating 9/11 in New Jersey?
Third, Trump may not realize this, but for a guy who’s preoccupied with “strength” and “toughness,” watching him whine about Hillary Clinton hurting his feelings isn’t exactly consistent with the image he works so hard to project.
Finally, note that the fight itself is exactly the kind of showdown Clinton and her team want to have. It’s to their benefit to treat Trump like the Republican nominee, and offer a preview of the kind of general-election fight they’d love to have – with the Democrat on the offensive, and the Republican waiting for an apology that will never arrive.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 22, 201