Trump, the Manchurian President: Culture Jam from Far Away

Remember the 1962 movie, The Manchurian Candidate based on Richard Condon’s 1959 novel? There was a remake in 2004, with Denzel Washington playing the man who knows something is wrong about the presidency. A slick candidate for the U.S. presidency has been “brainwashed” to do the bidding of a foreign power. The inevitable struggle between good and evil ensues and the crisis approaches apocalypse.

Atomic TrumpI think we have an apt metaphor here for the Trumpery we all now experience. After all, his election rested on more than one form of electoral fraud, from Russian trolls and bots to widespread Republican voter suppression by tampering with voter rolls and extreme gerrymandering.

These days the US president appears to be helping the Russians in several ways. One has to wonder what Putin and his henchmen have on the Empty Clown Suit pretending to be president. Could it be the laundering of oligarch money or the Deutsche Bank loans of suspicious origin when no other bank in the world would loan him a nickel? He is also jamming core American values and interests in national security in service to the Billionaire Class and especially his own (largely secret) financial interests. I am not the first to suggest the Manchurian Candidate as an appropriate metaphor for this situation.

The whole thing, morally as well as socially and economically, is far, far away from the everyday lives of ordinary Americans. It is, in a word, foreign, although many Americans have been infected by the “new normal” of demagoguery covering political corruption and possibly treason. The financial and corporate elites control the Senate. They support the endless executive orders and appointments undercutting the public interest in established law and administrative regulations by the Manchurian President.

The reality TV show that now guides the nation brands the President as the only real winner among the rest of us “losers.” Every vulnerable ethnic group is cast as some form of evil. The amoral Trump brand touts greed, meanness, and blatant racism as its central principles of governance. Yet, the man himself has no idea how to govern a nation. He has gained the power that allows him to take what he wants, whenever he wants, from whomever he wants by ignoring the law and democratic principles. He exposes thereby the fragile nature of democracy when so many of its citizens remain uninformed by their lack of critical thinking.

I still cannot get over how easily he dupes so many Americans. I was in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, the day before his arrival for one of his rallies. Along some major streets, I saw hawkers selling MAGA tee-shirts, hats, and other paraphernalia of the New American Fascism (Shall we call it NAF? No, let’s not. That would just reify the insanity.)

When will we realize the destructiveness of this evil vindictive brand of irrational self-dealing hate and gross political corruption, masked as patriotism, which projects itself across the world in our name? Our nation’s security suffers severely for it. When American power is projected around the world based on the whims of narcissistic sociopathy, it only instills confusion and mistrust among our allies, as well as everyone else.

Light Bulbs and Straws vs. Human Survival

If we can Save the Banks, We can Save the World.

~ Greta Thunberg

During Elizabeth Warren’s segment on the CNN Climate Forum on Wednesday, September 4, 2019, Chris Cuomo asked her whether the government should dictate the kinds of light bulbs and straws we use. It was typical of mass-media-pundit questions, which so often implicitly incorporate a climate-denialist trope. During the prior debates among the twenty or so Democratic presidential candidates, both questions and answers seemed to acquiesce defensively to right-wing Republican definitions of “political reality.” Cuomo’s question framed the climate crisis as a simple matter of individual choice versus government intrusion into our private lives.

Warren Overcomes

Elizabeth.Warren_CNN.ClimateHowever, Elizabeth Warren would have none of it. She immediately recognized that she was being set up to accept the individualization of an inherently collective, even global problem. Why should the citizens of America submit themselves to government dictates regarding what kind of light bulbs we must buy? What if we prefer plastic straws to the paper ones, which sometimes soften and grow flimsy before we finish our diabetes-encouraging high-fructose corn-syrup infused 20 oz. soda? Warren pointedly asserted that the corporate elites deploy millions of dollars each year to keep us distracted by desires for individual convenience and comfort.

Isn’t the right to choose a sacred value of American Individualism? Well, corporate propaganda regularly confirms its application to industrial consumer behavior, anyway. However, the white nationalists and religious fundamentalists who demand total conformity to the sacred imaginaries of their madness, even as they assert “individualism” in the abstract, do not allow it. Nor do their political enablers. The corporate culture works very hard to exploit such madness to keep the public discourse focused on individual behavior, not institutional corruption. Yet, the force of the climate emergency is gradually making inroads into the “normal politics” that sustain corporate hegemony over industrial civilization until it collapses from the weight of excess.

Warren answered Cuomo’s loaded question by pointing out that such redefinitions of global problems as issues of individual choice rather than matters of public purpose, are exactly what the fossil-fuel industries and their allies and lobbying agents want us to focus upon. The power of the electricity-generation, the fossil-fuels and construction industries produces about seventy percent of global carbon emissions. We participate, of course, by using and wasting the energy and products these institutions produce. The inordinate power of the corporate state has enabled, indeed caused, the national denial of climate chaos.

The Life and Death of Denialism

We can see that denialism fading even as the remaining ten candidates for the Democratic nomination for the presidential race, up the ante on their mostly ambiguous “climate plans.” Sure, their vision is incomplete and their tendency to stay within the lines of business-as-usual remains. Yet, the voices of reason and fact are gaining strength.

Greta Thunberg on SailboatThe very fact that a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, has gained an international following, having merely started a personal School Strike for Climate at her high school demonstrates that the tide is turning. We have no idea whether the climate action movements will be able to move whole societies to transform themselves, but there is hope.

A recent public presentation and discussion by Greta Thunberg and Naomi Klein, among other climate activists, reflected the essence of all this. The Intercept organized the event, which is well worth watching and listening to as it demonstrates the wisdom of youth focused on facts.

Ambitious Goals are Not Enough

I keep hearing about what an ambitious plan the Green New Deal is, how bold and grand its goals and the programs it points to are, implying that “in the real world” it is “impractical.” Granted, the Green New Deal was a giant step forward when you consider where the Congress, the media pundits have been on the issue – exactly nowhere.

Of course, in a society where the only sacred thing is “the economy,” anything that might disturb the corporate vision of “economic growth” talking heads deem evil, “socialist,” or just plain stupid.

Policy Dissembling

Even the supposedly progressive (yet corporately constrained) MSNBC commentators have little to say beyond vague political generalities about “climate change.” The Democratic presidential candidates have said little of any substance on the gravest existential threat to humanity ever – until the Green New Deal gained increasing national attention. In the first two rounds of the debates, the average time spent on climate crisis was under ten minutes in a three-hour event. The greatest existential threat to humanity was sidelined amid regressive jockeying around Republican talking points.

Just as with the gun control issue, genuine proposals specifying how to constrain carbon emissions from the global industrial-consumer economy have not seen serious public discussion, despite the unequivocal scientific evidence of imminent existential danger. Such talk is so far away from the public discourse that is is almost entirely out of sight. At least, the Green New Deal points in the right direction.

Aspirations or Action

AOC and Markey unveil Green New Deal

@AOC & Senator Markey unveil the Green New Deal

The Green New Deal is, after all, an aspirational resolution in the Congress proposed by its most progressive Democrats. The attempt to get a genuine public political conversation going about mounting a national response to the climate emergency faltered amid claims that it would be too expensive or that it is a socialist plot to take away our (consumerist) freedoms. However, emergent social movements like the Extinction Rebellion and the Sunrise Movement, along with outspoken new progressives like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez have gained significant public attention with their blunt talk on the climate crisis.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee was the only presidential candidate to base his run for the nomination explicitly on responding to the climate crisis. Inslee posted on his website serious detailed proposals that extend beyond the other candidates’ lip service proclamations. He dropped out of the race because he just could not get enough traction amid the myriad candidates and sound bites on the stage. The debate moderators had presented the climate issue as somehow just another topic for a brief question. 

The Challenge

Jay.Inslee

Jay Inslee

Jay Inslee and the vocal supporters of the Green New Deal have certainly brought the climate emergency to a public that is increasingly aware of the reality of damage already done by climate disruption. Elisabeth Warren offered a climate plan that Mother Jones Magazine gave a grade of C-Bernie Sanders has released a far more detailed extensive plan. Yet, in the short history of climate science, the fossil-fueled propaganda supporting climate denial has set us decades behind when we should have taken rational action. So, we can understand why some view the mere statement of the major actions necessary now, as “ambitious,” bold, or even “unaffordable.”

Yet, ambitious goals are not anywhere near enough. Only massive concrete societal actions will give us a chance to avoid total climate and ecological chaos leading to societal collapse. To curtail carbon emissions to slow global warming and ecosystem destruction enough to salvage some livable degree of climate stability, we need to take drastic actions that will necessarily transform the way we live, as well as the way we relate to each other and to the entire Earth System on which we depend for survival. “Ambitious” as used seems to imply unreasonable or unachievable. Yet, how ambitious is the goal of human survival, as conditions into the Anthropocene turn increasingly unlivable?

Is “The Wall” Performance Art?

For some time now, I have wondered what it is about the images of The Wall on the U.S. southern border that seems to disturb not only my political cognizance but also my aesthetic sensibility. Most of the images I have seen show it as what I would have to call a high steel fence stretching over long distances, imposing itself upon the desert. But what does it mean? Continue reading

The Medical Insurance Scam and the Candidates’ Cowardice

Healthcare insurance is not a difficult concept to understand. However, if we use the Democratic presidential candidates’ bickering over the details of their so-called “plans” as a measure, we only get confused. Their fallback on Republican talking points in the recent “debates” was both disgusting and counter-productive. Obfuscation of the obvious would seem to be the goal, especially for the corporatist Democrats. Continue reading

Earth Manifesto, any time soon?

The idea of an Earth Manifesto reaches way beyond “normal politics.”

The pressures that diverse interest groups place on democratic institutions drive politics. Right? Well, that is what the power elites that dominate political institutions have claimed for a long time.

Nevertheless, politicians feel the power of great wealth and giant corporations every day. The public discourse is constrained through bias in the mass media. These are the forces that actually drive politics today. Continue reading

Institutions are as Good as the People Running Them

Most of us most of the time envision public institutions as fixed objects, occupied by people who manage and perform their functions for the benefit of the people. When those who the people have entrusted with the authority to lead institutions to achieve their mission, believe in the institutions they oversee, such assumptions pretty much hold true.

However, most institutions function effectively mostly because of the commitment of their directors to honestly implement their mandated operations.

Authoritarian Demagoguery and Corruption of the “Rule of Law”

The so-called “rule of law” exists only to the extent that people believe in the value of institutions operating as prescribed in law. Legislation specifies the mandate and basic operational principles by which an institution is supposed to conduct its business. The institution promulgates rules and regulations as the operational means of carrying out the mandate.

In “normal times,” all this works out, at least in terms of maintaining the legitimacy of the institutions and its actions, more or less effectively, whether we happen to like a particular policy or not.

However, the actions of authoritarians demonstrate the fragile nature of democratic institutions. If the chief executive, i.e., POTUS in the case of the U.S.A., has no commitment to democratic values or the rule of law and happens to be a narcissistic sociopath then the “rule of law” tends to break down.

When the highest executive authority in the land routinely lies and violates the law and ethics, and roles back institutional regulations to further his power-seeking agenda above all else, then all sorts of things we have taken for granted tend to crumble before our eyes. That is what corruption looks like.

The authoritarian demagogue speaks with a forked tongue; his speech has little to do with his actions, intentionally fomenting as much ambiguity as possible. The goal of wannabe dictators is to upset normal expectations, leaving others unable to operate in normal ways. The “new normal” is the abnormality of a personality disorder.

Chaos, Democracy, and Enforcement of Law

When the culture suffers from a weakening of democratic values and deep-seated resentment of the failure of the government to represent the interests of the people, authoritarians can take illegitimate control by manipulating public opinion. They repeat big lies claiming all manner of accomplishments that do not exist. The tyrant defines a free press as “the enemy of the people.” Under such circumstances, corruption has a free reign.

A wealth of self-indulgence clutters the culture, amplified by social media. Core values are clouded in a haze of greed and fear turned skillfully into hatred, distracting people from the corruption of high office. Democratic values take a back seat and, as in our case, the mass (corporate) media promote implications that the “authority” of the would-be autocrat in the highest office, is absolute and exempt from legal or moral constraint. Mandated to execute the laws of the land, he is somehow “above the law” and shielded from prosecution for violating the law. Too many believe he is excused from scrutiny by the one body – Congress – authorized by the Constitution to execute “oversight” over the executive.

Who enforces the law when the highest authority appoints an attorney general to protect his personal power, not the rule of law, thereby avoiding any kind of accountability for violating the law? The danger to the survival of democratic institutions is very real and growing daily.