Small World, Big Change: Chasing the New Great Transformation

The cliché, “the world is getting smaller,” sometimes jumps right out at you in an incident or experience that is entirely unexpected. That happened to me one cool fall evening. My wife sat at a table at the entrance to the Torreon Marriott Hotel (a small part of a global story of transformation in itself), as I retrieved my jacket from the car. She introduced me to the gentleman with whom she was talking. Georg is some sort of international executive with BMW, who was considering an extended stay in Mexico to help establish certain BMW business interests there. He had just completed a seven-year stint in China. Georg speaks five languages and owns a home in the U.S. One crosses interesting paths in unexpected places in the small world of international travel. I sat down, anticipating an interesting conversation.

Naturally, topics ranged from cars – especially those “ultimate driving machines” – to international agreements on climate action. Georg confirmed how terrible the smog has been in Beijing. However, he assured us that it is getting much better since the government forced the move of over a hundred companies out of the city. Of course, that does not change the total carbon pollution resulting from Chinese industry, but it does provide a bit of relief to Beijing residents. Georg confirmed my impression that the Chinese, despite their massive current levels of carbon emissions, are taking a number of positive steps toward carbon constraint.

china-bad-pollution-climate-change-7__880-boredpandacom

Beijing Smog. Source: BoredPanda.com

I asked Georg if he knew of any incentives for conversion to electric cars in China. He replied that in Beijing today, a license for a fossil-fuel driven car is more expensive than the car itself, and it is very difficult and time-consuming to obtain. If you want to buy an electric car, the license is free and immediately available. Since a charging infrastructure is not yet built, electric vehicle drivers in Beijing can rely on mobile charging units simply by calling a company that will come and charge their electric car for a modest fee, while they work, shop, etc., at a particular location.

Like so many, Georg affirmed his bafflement over the U.S. election of Donald Trump. He indicated how ambiguous the consequences seem for implementing international agreements on climate action. We didn’t dwell on “The Donald.”

I suggested that development of battery technology seems to be progressing well. Georg confirmed my thought, stating that 250-mile range is available now and 350-mile range configurations are coming on line for production. For the U.S. that would eliminate the issue of range if we built a recharging infrastructure soon. However, in the U.S., the political climate remains dominated by climate denial, despite the incontrovertible science and growing public awareness. Politicians of all stripes talk of rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, but they usually refer to roads and bridges for our fossil-fueled vehicles. Trump likes to assert that our airports are “terrible, terrible,” and need to be “modernized.” Airlines make public relations gestures around reducing carbon emissions, but no real plan to do so exists. Established economic interests dominate political decisions.

Mexico’s transportation sector is much like the U.S. Crowded cities with similar traffic jams punctuate vast open spaces. Neither have adequate rail transportation, except for industrial transport. In both, conversion to electric vehicles would require a deliberate government policy of establishing a network of recharging stations and incentives for conversion to electric vehicles. Of course, that will be a problem in the U.S. with its continued political culture of climate denial and fear of “liberal conspiracies” to control everyone by programs of climate action. Do we really have to leave climate progress up to Elon Musk?

The fundamental underlying fact is that humanity is now undergoing a New Great Transformation, much larger than the industrial revolution and vastly more crucial to our prospects on this planet. In 1944, Karl Polanyi, in his prescient book, The Great Transformation, predicted many of the problems that have resulted from the industrial revolution and subsequent proliferation of industry. The ecological consequences of globalization of the industrial system have reached far beyond anything he could have imagined.

Today we are already witnessing the early stages of a New Great Transformation that will change the role of humanity on earth forever. We must take action globally now if we are to make the big changes necessary for our own survival in the context of the converging crises that are leading to global chaos. We must act or suffer the consequences. The actions required themselves constitute a great social transformation.

We have already changed the world in entirely unanticipated ways. Vested interests in our increasingly suicidal path resist Big Change, seeking short-term profits while ignoring the obvious signs of a catastrophic future. Failure to take the extreme corrective actions needed to re-stabilize both the climate and ecological systems worldwide will be disastrous. We must take charge of the New Great Transformation; it is a matter of survival or extinction.

The world may be getting smaller, but its problems are getting much bigger than ever before imagined. We live within complex living ecological systems, long ignored by our economic and political elites. Our actions have destabilized those systems, yet we are utterly dependent upon them. That is the essence of our problem. Big Changes are already the reality we have inadvertently created. Our situation now calls upon us to change our behavior in ways that are unprecedented and very hard to imagine. The New Great Transformation is for humanity the point of no return. We must imagine a future that our world can tolerate.

No is not Enough: Democracy At Risk

Shock and disbelieve spread across the world late on the night of November 8, 2016. American democracy had been Trumped. Subsequent prognostications by the usual pundits attributed the statistical-political surprise to any of a number of causes. Social media and cable TV have fully exemplified Wednesday-morning quarterbacking, so I need not rehash them here. More important, what does the dethroning of the Democratic Party Establishment actually mean?

trump_cnn_new-york_2016

Donald J. Trump, New York, 2016. Source: CNN

And, equally important, what does the election of a narcissistic, apparently sociopathic, surely unscrupulous businessman whose only value appears to be winning, who spouts racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, and megalomaniacal promises, and has zero experience in government, mean for the future of American Politics, culture, and even survival? So-called “liberals” were shocked. The Democratic Party National Committee had picked its establishment candidate, despite the surge of popular support for party outsider, Bernie Sanders. Therein lies the rub. The Washington establishment does not like outsiders, rich or poor, popular or not – they can disrupt long-established relations of convenience and profit.

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump came at their populisms from opposite directions. They responded in very different ways to the deep pain and anger that had become widespread among the American people. The appeal of populist ideas emerged in different ways for the white working class and isolated poor communities of color. Ultimately, anger trumped both ideology and democracy. I am convinced that Bernie would have won against “The Donald.” He not only responded to white working class anger with the Washington establishment, but offered concrete programs to reestablish the needs of the American people, including excluded ethnic groups, as the primary driver of public policy. His New Deal liberalism has a life-long consistent track record.

As we all know, and Trump so skillfully exploited, the dominant political feelings among regular people have focused resentment against government corruption and indifference to the people. Most people resent the pandering to “special interests,” particularly corporate and Wall Street financial interests, to the detriment of society as a whole, and to them in particular. Despite the continued existence of party loyalists who have consistently voted their party tickets, many democrats and republicans resent that their party elites largely represent the interests of the powerful, not the people.

Both Sanders and Trump responded to that resentment. The democrats nominated an establishment politician beleaguered by continued attacks from the right. The Republicans chose a sleazy celebrity businessman with a track record of shady business dealings and little taste for toeing the Republican party line. Yet he played to the racist elements of populist resentment on the right, and ruthlessly exploited the fears and anger of diverse anti-establishment demographics while ignoring or insulting diverse ethnic and gender groups. Trump made his appeal as a political outsider.

Hillary Clinton did not. She could not. Her public policy support for women and children is well established. But so is her close association with financial and political elites, the establishment targets of so much public disaffection. On matters related to Wall Street she waffled. On matters of the Washington Establishment, well, she embodies it. Hillary attempted to shift from her corporatist party right-centrism to adopt half-hearted watered down versions of some of Bernie’s proposals. For example, she proposed “debt free” college education for some, not tuition free higher education for all. Too many people saw her efforts, accurately, as campaign strategy, not personal commitment. The DNC, having lost all semblance of traditional liberalism except for ritual use of its lexicon, ruthlessly undercut Bernie’s primary campaign.[1] So did the corporate mass media.

Not only did the corporate mass media supply Trump with hundreds of hours of free media exposure – in response to his celebrity and attention-getting skill. The media assumed his unelectability, while pandering to his sensationalism. To the establishment “journalists,” he just as well could have been a Kardashian. The same media power elite virtually blacked out any exposure of Bernie Sanders to the American people, many of whom had never even heard of him. In spite of that, Sanders progressive brand of populism caught on. He was tapping into the same pain and anger as Trump, but with a big difference: he proposed policies and had a plan.

The corporate “journalists” of the major media identify with the technocratic Ivy League elite of the Washington establishment. They identify with the centers of power in Washington, D.C. They simply branded Bernie Sanders as illegitimate because he opposes the existing power structure with which all candidates are supposed to align themselves. Bernie bashing became a dominant theme for the op-ed pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post.[2]

Donald Trump won the election because there was no other anti-establishment choice. Republican gerrymandering and the anti-democratic Electoral College helped, of course. So did FBI Director, Comey. People were willing to overlook Trump’s otherwise monumental flaws simply because he skillfully presented himself as outside the establishment that has failed ordinary Americans for decades. The rules of the establishment game certainly did not fail Trump; he exploited them ruthlessly, enabling him to avoid paying income taxes for almost two decades. The surge of rural white disaffected voters and the slack turnout of educated white women also made a difference. The failure of the pundits and statisticians to predict Trump’s victory resulted from the failure to factor in the pain and anger of large segments of the American population, as well as the sense of betrayal felt by many progressive democrats. That pain and anger led to a level of resentment that allowed many to accept the Trumping of Democracy rather than put up with more of the same.

But NO is not enough. On numerous fronts, we are in for a very rough ride. We live in the most interesting, and dangerous, of times. The most disruptive of all trends, climate destabilization, will continue to amplify political, economic and social crises. The U.S. government is likely to ignore and deny it for four more years. That alone is enough to push us past the point of no return to climate stability, leading to further economic, social, and political chaos. Only a mass movement of global citizens can possibly make a difference now.

___________

[1] For an astute historical reading of the replacement of traditional liberalism with a hollow shell of rhetoric that now veils the Democratic Party’s obeisance to corporate interests to the detriment of society, see Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class (New York: Nation Books, 2010).

[2] For an insightful assessment of the power-elite favoring partisanship of the major media outlets and the cooptation of journalism itself, see Thomas Frank, “SWAT TEAM: The media’s extermination of Bernie Sanders—and real reform” Harpers Magazine (November 2016) pp. 26-35.

What is Wrong with Economic Growth?

I read a report in Forbes Magazine on the sluggish character of the current recovery from the 2008 financial crash, which lamented its exceptionally weak economic growth. Apparently, we continue slogging along in the weakest recovery since 1949. Since the Great Recession technically ended in 2009, average GDP growth has averaged only 2.1%. In the September 13, 2016 issue, Forbes staff writer Rich Kalgaard reports that the current “expansion” is more constrained than any similar period since 1949. Why is this, and what is the meaning and importance of such a slow recovery?

0816_karlgaard-gdp-chart_1200

Kalgaard offers “three clues” as to why post-recession expansions have steadily gone downhill, if erratically, for over a half century. He blames the fact that “the rest of the world has caught up to the U.S.” He claims that the U.S. abandonment of the gold standard in 1971, is part of the problem. Finally, he offers that routine corporate allegation that “the explosion in federal regulation” has stifled economic growth. He is wrong on all three counts.

Such claims by any writer attached to Forbes should not surprise us. Explanations for economic woes from corporate utopian dreamers will always blame the federal government for poor performance of the economy. They will also project causes of slow growth onto some outside force – certainly never to corporate malfeasance or distortions of the “free markets” they worship. Never will the internal flawed logic of extractive capital or the phantom financialization of the economy come into question.

The Great Transformation

In 1944, Karl Polanyi exquisitely explained the origins and the utopian illusion of free market capitalism in his book The Great Transformation. That great transformation of human societies was what we call the industrial revolution. He also forecast the inevitable damage to society caused by the inherent flaws in the unregulated market system no longer embedded in society. The logic of its economic theory, which emerged as the intellectual justification for today’s global political economy, was deeply flawed.

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, diverse societies have attempted to protect themselves from the damage done by market liberalism (the theory that if left to their own devices, markets will “self-regulate” and somehow produce the best result for society). The classical economists of the eighteenth century, such as Adam Smith, believed in two ideas that just never panned out in real economies.

First, they assumed that all human behavior is “rational.” That is, people will always act in economically rational ways, seeking their own best economic advantage in all their behavior. In fact, many exigencies and values in everyday life influence behavior. Economic advantage is just not the only important thing in life.

Second, the classical economists believed that markets would “regulate” themselves if allowed to do so, resulting in the best outcome for all. Adam Smith’s metaphor, the “invisible hand,” captured the essence of that belief.  Economic elites have both exploited and distorted it ever since. Due to the economic and political power of corporate and financial elites, the academic field of economics has retained those theories under the guise of pseudo-scientific analytics. All the while, “free-market” economies have failed to live up the theories of economists. Yet those theories continue to dominate economic thinking.

Utopian Dreams and Corporate Control

The theories that have controlled economics throughout the industrial era have held to these failed assumptions for centuries now, despite the overwhelming evidence against them. We now call such theories “neo-classical” economics, “neo-liberal” economics, or just plain “mainstream” economics. Despite their failings, the propaganda of the corporate media continues to glorify them as the scientific answer to all our economic problems. Corporations today routinely fight for regulations that favor their growing power, all the while claiming to seek less regulation of the markets they try to control. They never consider the social control of markets, for the benefit of society rather than for that of economic elites, as an option.

The consequences of the great transformation that subordinated society to its economic elites, as Polanyi predicted, continue to plague us today. Only this time the economic crisis converges with the climate crisis leading to global destabilization of access to resources, disrupted production and distribution of food, and escalating conflicts worldwide, all amplified by climate destabilization.

The utopian dream of endless economic growth may be the world’s greatest social illusion. However, it is also an imaginary vision that sustained itself in the centuries since the beginnings of the industrial revolution, despite repeatedly failing the test of time. Never have “free markets” operated without causing serious social damage. In each case, society has tried to protect itself from the excesses and destruction of speculative capital, with varying success.

Overcoming Illusion

In cases such as the poor laws in industrializing England or the New Deal responding to the economic and social collapse of the Great Depression, political responses protected the people from the damage caused by unregulated markets. In cases such as the communist revolutions in Russia and China, the abolishment of free markets led to their replacement by cumbersome command economies that ultimately resulted in a state capitalism unable to respond to the damage caused by its bureaucratic control of markets.

Corporatist attempts to explain the flaws of the market system, like Kalgaard’s, implicitly assume the success of a failure. Their blaming of government and outside forces disrupts any attempt to protect society from the failures of a market system in desperate need of overhaul. Promoters of the corporate economic status quo like Kalgaard demonize as “wasteful spending” or simply “socialism,” any political attempt to require the economy to serve human society rather than only itself. They are mere corollaries to the failed neo-liberal economic utopianism promoted by global power elites for their own shortsighted gain. Some serious re-thinking is in order.

Community: Some Fragments Remain

Little old airports near small towns have a story to tell. I have been flying since 1976. For most of that time, I flew mostly in the Southern California area, to and from small and medium sized airports surrounded near or in cities. In 2010, I flew from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to the annual airshow and fly in put on by the Experimental Aircraft Association. It is one of the biggest air meets in the world. My wife and I had decided to camp right on the airfield, where airplane camping was available in designated areas.

I took the back seats out of the Glasair Sportsman II, which I had built in 2008, and loaded it with all our camping gear. We flew from Santa Fe to Oshkosh, Wisconsin – well, almost to Oshkosh – in two legs with a stopover in Council Bluffs, Iowa. As it turned out, many of the aircraft parking areas as well as the camping areas at Oshkosh were flooded. A year’s worth of rain fell in the four or five weeks before the air show. Only about fifty miles out, I picked up the information on the radio, that they had closed the camping areas. I diverted to the nearest small airport, Dodge County, where I found that many other small aircraft had landed, diverted from Oshkosh. There I learned that airplane camping was available at Fond du Lac airport, about twenty miles from Oshkosh. We took off immediately and landed at Fond du Lac, and got one of the last available camping spots at the edge of a taxiway. The air show organizers had arranged a shuttle bus to get campers to Oshkosh each day. That camping experience is a whole other story.

On the flights between New Mexico and Wisconsin, I did my flight planning in part based on my intention to stop at small airports for refueling. I was aware that fuel prices are lower at small rural airports where rents and other costs are cheaper. I had never flown an airplane in the Midwest. When I needed fuel, I landed at more remote airports. I knew that many such small airfields were scattered among the towns and fields of “the nation’s breadbasket.” The main users of these small airfields are farmers and crop-dusters. On the way home, a storm system chased me further southeast, over Missouri, so we stayed in Springfield the first night. On that trip across the rolling green fields of the Midwest at the end of July, I noticed some distinct differences from the urban and suburban airports where I had normally landed for thirty years in California.

major-samuel-b-cornelius-field-airport-spearman-texas

Major Samuel B Cornelius Field Airport, Spearman, Texas.

First, almost no security was evident at these little airports. Even when nobody was around, the little airport office would be open along with the restrooms. At small rural airports, a “courtesy car” is often available on the airport in case a pilot and passengers want to run into town for lunch or for any other reason. It doesn’t matter. The car key is hanging in an obvious spot in the office. An unwritten rule expects guests to top off the gas tank full for the next user. The key code for the gate is always a number that would be obvious to a pilot who had landed there.

Once, at a small airport at Spearman, Texas, to be exact, access to the fuel pumps required a local credit card unless the attendant was present. As I unsuccessfully attempted to use the pump, finally figuring out the problem, a man drove up in his pickup truck and offered the use of his card if the attendant did not return by the time we got back from our lunch in town. “Here’s my business card; just call me if you need it.” It was just the neighborly thing to do. He was a farm implements dealer.

Stepping out into the parking lot at the front door of the “Cowboy Grill,” we saw a massive black cloud formation, a virtual wall, moving in from the East. We did not want to have to stay at the only motel in town that night, a dingy cinder-block structure. So, we rushed back to the airport and took off in a very strong crosswind, heading west. We outran that storm and still had plenty of fuel to reach another town ahead.

We landed at the Dalhart, Texas airport. Dalhart is a larger farming community, and the airport has an FBO (fixed base operator) supplying fuel and aircraft services. Dusk was fast approaching, so we concluded that we had had enough flying for the day. A man came out of the office to greet us and offered us space in a hangar to shelter our aircraft from the approaching storm. We accepted. He then drove us and another couple of people to the motel he recommended in town, and picked us up the next morning when we said we’d be ready to take on the next leg of our flight. He owned the aviation service business on the airport, where we re-fueled for the final leg of our journey.

On our recent aborted camping trip to a small grass-and-gravel airstrip in the middle of the Gila National Forest, we diverted from our planned flight path near our remote destination because I was getting a wildly erratic fuel pressure reading. While I believed that the problem was due to a faulty sensor, we did not want to risk a fiery crash in the trees. We landed at Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, to try to resolve a fuel-pressure problem. “T or C”, as the locals refer to it, has one of those small airports where it is more about people and flying than about economics. When Steve, the gentleman in the airport office, learned of our problem, he offered us the use of the airport courtesy car. “Well, we don’t usually give it to people overnight, but since you’re stranded until you can get your plane fixed, go ahead, that’s what it’s for.”

ktcs-areal-photo

Truth or Consequences Airport, New Mexico.

We had the car free of charge, for five nights while we waited for a part to be delivered to the mechanic we had tracked down on the Friday of our arrival, another interesting character with his own story. Steve called me three days into our “inadvertent adventure” to see how we were doing. I expected him to demand the car back. He never mentioned it. I thanked him profusely for its use. He simply said, “that’s what it’s for,” without reference to when we might bring it back. We had to wait until Monday to order the fuel-pressure sensor, known as a “sender,” for overnight shipment.

Overnight took two days; we got to know the community, which had the same small-town America traits we appreciated in those rural airfields and towns in the Midwest. The loss of community is one of the important effects of the endless-growth corporate economy that is destroying all that is good (other than consumer goods, of course) in communities and ecologies around the world.

Dumbing Down America Degrades the Nation and More

An article in Psychology Today, posted by Ray Williams on July 7, 2014, delineated a long list of indicators of the decline and fall of culture and education in the U.S. in recent decades. Diverse measures of that decline led the author to conclude that, as I would rather put it, “American Exceptionalism” is in fact a particularly degraded concept describing the downwardly spiraling status of our culture.

The loss of respect for education, teachers, science, and intellect, contrasts sharply with the cultures of Japan and Europe, for just two examples, where these cultural features are highly valued. Ridicule of intellectual accomplishment is quite popular. This has led to the fall of the U.S. in its ranking on various measures of competence in science and the humanities. Even more important, the anti-intellectualism and anti-science mentality that accompanies the insecurities of ignorance, can have a disastrous effect on our chances for survival as a species. No small problem.

Training for Exclusion

For many decades now, the education of Americans has been transformed into the training of potential workers for the degrading dull jobs with little creativity that remain available. At the same time, the outsourcing of well paid jobs to poor nations with extremely low wages, has forced many middle class workers into the ranks of the poor. This causes a great deal of personal insecurity and anger, especially among the formerly privileged class of white male workers.

A few bright software engineers and developers create products with increasingly meaningless connection to actual life in the modern world. It is all about distraction and disorientation to life with any intellectual content. The young are taught to respond impulsively to images and emotions in the online game culture and social media. Who now reads books and contemplates their meaning?

Among the many implications of the turn away from intellect and toward impulsive response to images and associated emotions, the reality of politics has detached itself from the reality of life in the nation and on the planet. Shocking percentages of the population hold beliefs that contravene massive evidence that they either fail on the facts or simply have no particular connection to reality. This cultural situation is ripe for demagogic exploitation.

Political Degradation

Trump.Huff.Post

False Front

Despite the flaws of Hillary Clinton, the attraction to the demagoguery of the certifiable megalomaniacal sociopathic business cheat that is Donald Trump boggles the imagination of any modestly informed citizen. The man maintains a vast store of ignorance of most matters related to national security and domestic government, with the possible exception of how to work the income tax system. His international entanglements and personal nature of his business and political connections with disreputable characters in Russia and elsewhere, make the concept of putting his financial interests in a blind trust (administered by Ivanka!) something less than laughable.

It is difficult to grasp the extent of ignorance out there. Nor is it easy to understand the widespread indifference to information in favor of impulse and emontion. No point in going on about all that; either you are paying attention to basic verifiable facts or you are a victim of confirmation bias — the common defense mechanism where any evidence that contradicts prior beliefs is simply ignored in preference to self-delusion consistent with beliefs held closely.

Ignorance or Survival

More importantly, the fate of the nation, and possibly the planet, hinges on the necessity of immediate and comprehensive actions to stave off the very worst impacts of climate destabilization. Things are so bad that not even the feigned climate-action promises of Hillary Clinton could make a significant difference in responding to this global crisis.

Species Extinction and Human Population_USGS_1451324_650954518277931_1616731734_nWhich ever U.S. presidential candidate “wins” the election in November, little hope for the kind of change we must have seems to be in the offing. The probability of adequate societal response to the emerging crises of global financial collapse and global climate collapse is very low indeed. Something very different from conventional politics or its current deranged deviations must arise in some form of broad social mobilization demanding the actions not even conceivable by our distorted, corrupt, “politics as usual.”

Republican Honor and Trump’s Tropes

Republican honor is on the line. The honor, such as it is, of a political party always depends on the character of the candidates it nominates. Donald Trump is an ASS. Everyone with the slightest sensibility knows that. Well, more accurately, he is a certifiable Narcissistic Sociopath, unfit for any pubic responsibility, no less that of the presidency.[1]

Trump.Huff.Post“According to DSM-5, individuals with NPD have most (at least five) or all of the symptoms listed below (generally without commensurate qualities or accomplishments).

1 Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment by others.

2 Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.

3 Self-perception of being unique, superior, and associated with high-status people and institutions.

4 Needing constant admiration from others.

5 Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others.

6 Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain.

7 Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs.

8 Intensely jealous of others and the belief that others are equally jealous of them.

9 Pompous and arrogant demeanor.”

(Nigel Barber “Does Trump have Narcissistic Personality Disorder?” Psychology Today, August 10, 2016)

Trump’s business practices have long demonstrated his complete lack of a moral center. As an investigative reporter, David Kay Johnson covered Trump for nearly thirty years and has documented his biographical trail of nefarious business practices.[2] By pandering to the worst bigoted impulses of the so-called “Republican base,” he skillfully captured the presidential nomination. Because of his dexterity at manipulating the fears and incipient hatreds of socially and economically displaced white Americans, some consider him the most skilled politician on the national scene today. That is a problem for the Republican Party.

Pseudo-patriotic Perversity

One of the key characteristics of a sociopath is complete lack of empathy for other human beings. At the Democratic National Convention, Mr. Khizr Khan righteously scolded Donald Trump’s racist tropes denigrating Khan’s warrior son, whose heroism sacrificed his own life in defense of his comrades in arms. Khan’s articulate speech was eloquent in its passion and pain, something of an order entirely beyond the grasp of the Billionaire Bimbo, whose only experience with the military was to avoid service.

Trump’s reaction, as expected, expressed not a scintilla of empathy for a hero’s sacrifice or his parents’ pain. He has no sense whatsoever of the deep sacrifices that our troops have made in the wars of choice prosecuted by the U.S.  Corporate State.  Trump’s reaction to Mr. Khan’s eloquent critique of the perverse Republican candidate’s insults was to attack Mrs. Ghazala Khan for her silence as she stood with her husband. He projected onto Mrs. Khan more of Trump’s Tropes of ethnic derision. Fortunately, Mrs. Khan later spoke strongly and shot back a statement that she had been too upset to speak at the Democratic convention. How dare he attempt to trivialize this gold-star mother’s pain with his ethnic slurs?

Wrong War, Right Heroes

While many would consider it old news by now, the disrespect Trump showed to America’s fallen warriors and their families remains somewhere on the far side of disgusting. It is entirely consistent with the numerous tropes of Trump’s tragic pandering to the lowest hateful impulses of American political culture. Despite my opposition to such wars of choice, the cavalier treatment of our troops outrages me, including the common disrespect shown troops who may be Muslim, gay, transgender, or whatever.

These are gallant victims of unnecessary wars. Regardless of the legitimacy of the wars, these heroes stood tall and performed as the warriors they were. Many died; others suffered severe trauma, both physical and mental. Trump’s self-indulgent juvenile whining is just beyond tolerance. His self-aggrandizing B.S. should offend every American, whatever her/his political position on anything.

One of my biggest worries is why such a narcissistic sociopath could possibly garner enough support from voters to become a candidate at all, no less mount a serious campaign in a general election for president. However, the machine of electoral politics knows no moral compass. At the same time, too many Americans respond to the hateful rhetoric of jingoistic xenophobia that is encouraged by the propaganda of the war profiteers. Where is the Republican honor in all this? AWOL ~ Absent With Out Leave.

I remember the days when I strongly protested the U.S. war on Viet Nam. Having already served in the military, I knew something about how the system works and how enlisted men, are treated and required to perform. The military must serve the purposes of the politicians, who, in all instances since World War II, have not had the guts to declare the wars they prosecute.

The role of the airman, marine, soldier, or sailor can be easy or hard, boring or terrifying. But it is always subordinate to the formal commands and personal whims of one’s commanders and their political ambitions. This I was able to observe without ever having seen combat. War fighters often know little of the geo-politics of warfare; their loyalty and performance has more to do with commitments to their brothers in arms. In that, they excel.

Psychopathology of Pretenders to Authority

In the opposition to the Viet Nam war, too many protesters projected their anger upon the troops. Draftees and recruits were victims of the military adventurism of the politicians of both parties, who formulated the terrible policies that killed so many. Elites in this world prosecute wars; the troop are usually victims as well as directed killers. Elites always find plenty of scapegoats onto whom to project all the evil they create. Without a scintilla of military experience, Donald Trump is a master of denial and projection in his war against everyone.

The misogynist megalomaniacal charlatan, who pretends to be prepared to take on the mantle of Commander in Chief (!), better fits the cloak of Traitor (need I mention his affinity for Putin?). His only defense would be mental illness – the insanity he daily displays – but that would be terribly difficult for a narcissist sociopath to admit. He has no legitimate standing in either business (where he is a cheat), politics (a fraud), economics (multiple bankruptcy as business model), or patriotism (a pure demagogue). Anyone who thinks otherwise is just watching too much of the Fox ideologues who trash anyone who actually thinks of issues rather than jerk their knees in response to the xenophobic demonizations so fully infused into Trump’s Tropes.

Party loyalty is a difficult matter. Real conservatives find themselves in a difficult position, put there by the Republican Party failure to manage its own nomination process. (The Democratic Party managed their nomination process by making it anti-democratic to protect the party elite from a popular candidate.) Trump’s demagoguery pandered to the resentments of the Tea-Party base of the Republican Party, a shrewd tactic to capture the nomination. The party elite could muster no viable response. The corporate interests, who support both Republican and Democratic politicians who toe the corporate line, just did not know what to do with the unpredictable neo-fascist.

Real conservatives will have nothing to do with this perverse pretender to political authority. Honorable Republicans, whatever we may think of their position on issues, have refused to participate in the fiasco that may yet result in the end of the Republican Party.

_________

[1] Just check the Psychology Today website for some professional diagnoses. Psychologists are normally reticent about making comments on the mental conditions of public figures. However, in the case of Trump, some seem willing to make an exception. Diagnoses from afar may be problematic, but in this case the symptoms are as public as the person.

[2] David Kay Johnson, The Making of Donald Trump (Brooklyn, New York: Melville House Books, 2016).

Olympic Teamwork and the Ugly American

biles-raisman-lochte

I have never been much for ceremony. Neither Michael Phelps leading the U.S. team into the Olympic Stadium nor the pomp and circumstance of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics interested me. I marveled at both the individual and team efforts, especially those of the Brazilian and the U.S. teams. As always, Olympic performances do not fail to impress.

The U.S. women’s gymnastics team was particularly astonishing, and not only for their individual talent and skills. Gymnastics seems to represent pure generic physical talent and skill. Yet there is a very important mental factor. I grew up near the beaches of Southern California and played volleyball there myself as a teenager. Naturally, the beach volleyball competition drew my attention. Each team has only two players; the indoor variety involved plays by the larger teams that are more complex.

I was amazed when I heard a commentator describe Michael Phelps’ unique physical characteristics. Wingspan wider than his body height, lung capacity several times larger than the average person, huge hands, a long torso and double-jointed limbs, all contributed to the success of his drive to win. His superior performance became less surprising. Yet, there is much more to Olympic performance than physicality.

A Special Kind of Olympic Teamwork

Something very special about the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team drew my attention. The “Final Five” were a team in the truest sense of the word. Gymnastics is an individual sport. Whether on the uneven parallel bars, floor exercises, etc., it is all about the perfection of individual performance. The team called themselves the Final Five because their world-famous team coordinator, Martha Karolyi, was to retire after the 2016 Olympics, making them her last of many Olympic successes. Their “team spirit” was exceptional. Simone Biles talent reigned supreme. Yet her teammate Aly Raisman performed her role as team captain as superbly as her own spectacular comeback performance.

The mutual aid and support of the five young women who work so well together reminded me of the total commitment and training of the Navy Blue Angels or the Air Force Thunderbirds aerobatic teams, whose individual performances and mutual coordination constitute life-or-death challenges every time they fly. I saw a documentary once depicting the level of precision piloting, interpersonal coordination, rigorous physical training, and individual discipline required for the Thunderbirds’ achievements in formation flying. They have to do extreme physical training in the gym in order to handle the extreme g-forces their maneuvers entail. The level of individual commitment and mutual trust is almost inconceivable to a non-pilot or even an ordinary pilot. But it is not about the flying itself; it is about the almost unbelievable level of coordination and self-control needed to accomplish their mission. Very similar qualities were quite evident in Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, and their teammates.

The Ugly American Exposed

Enter Ryan Lochte and friends. As one commentator put it, his performance represented the worst stereotype of the “Ugly American” during his night on the town with his teammates in Rio de Janeiro. It reflected the unfortunate reality of, as the commentator said, the attitude that, “Anything goes south of the equator” for white wealth and privilege. It is not just that some athletes partied most of the night in town after the high stress of competition. That would not be unusual or outrageous in itself.

After urinating in public and vandalizing property at a gas station in Rio, Lochte and his white-privileged friends figuratively urinated on the brown people of Brazil. Exercising their sense of self-importance and privilege, he and his teammates lied about their vandalism. A security guard at the gas station had confronted them demanding that they pay for the damage they had done. Exercising their sense of privilege, they denied their own culpability and projected it onto the security guard. They falsely claimed to police that someone impersonating a police officer had robbed them.

Later, on reflection, Lochte exacerbated his culpability in response to Matt Lauer’s softball questions in a televised interview after his return to the U.S. He gave pathetic partial excuses, claiming he had “over-exaggerated” what had happened. Say what? His “apology” did not really extend beyond excusing his behavior by reference to his drunkenness. The Ugly American plunders the world, then blames his victims and claims he did not really mean to do any harm. The U.S. media meanwhile ponders the financial cost of his losses of corporate product endorsements. Give me a break.

Camaraderie of a Higher Order

It is hard to imagine Lochte’s and his fellow swimmers’ behavior in the home of their hosts having been much sleazier. The contrast with the women of the U.S. Gymnastics Team could not be greater. Its members represent not just the best of athletic performance, but also the best human values of self-discipline and mutual aid.

Simone and AlyThe positive energy and mutual support of the women of the U.S. Gymnastics Team were a remarkable sight. In a sense, they represent far more than a superb athletic achievement. Even more important, they symbolize what humans are capable of when they put their minds, bodies, talent, and skills to the test. These women stepped up, took the challenge before them, and did what they had to do to meet that challenge together.

These are exactly the qualities that we need most to pull off the Next Great Transformation of human economy from environmental plunder to ecological harmony. Too much in the behavior of the Lochte gang reflect the widespread U.S. culture of corporate greed, self-righteousness, and individual self-aggrandizement. Lochte’s false contrition reflected a total lack of compassion. Simone, Aly, and their teammates have shown a higher order of respect and camaraderie, capable of great things, capable of achievements greater than we could have imagined.

Today, as a society we face challenges that require social changes so deep they too are hard to imagine. As a nation and as a species we face the necessity of making changes that go far beyond what might seem to be the limits of our capabilities. Just as on the gymnastics floor, no guarantees assure success. Far too many of us are complacent or indifferent to the damage we have done to our home – the planet.

In thinking of what lies ahead and the level of social mobilization needed to deal with the climate crisis, I often think of the economic and social transformation U.S. society accomplished through collective effort in order to fight and win World War II. The level of effort and social mobilization necessary to stop global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in order to avoid catastrophic consequences will be far greater. In that effort, we will all need to behave like a Simone Biles or an Aly Raisman.