Monday, March 27, 2017

Trump & Putin

Trump and Putin

I listened with fascination to a podcast discussion between Sam Harris and Anne Applebaum. Applebaum writes for the Washington Post, but her credentials are even more impressive for this discussion. To quote from the Harris blog, Anne Applebaum is a columnist for the Washington Post and a Pulitzer-prize winning historian. She is also a visiting Professor at the London School of Economics where she runs Arena, a program on disinformation and 21st century propaganda.

Formerly a member of the Washington Post editorial board, she has also worked at the Spectator, the Evening Standard, Slate, the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs, the Economist, and the Independent. Her writing has also appeared in The New York Review of Books, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the International Herald Tribune, Foreign Affairs, The New Criterion, The Weekly Standard, the New Republic, The National Review, The New Statesman, The Times Literary Supplement, and many other journals.

She is the author of Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956, which describes the imposition of Soviet totalitarianism in Central Europe after the Second World War. Her previous book, Gulag: A History, won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction in 2004.”

The discussion contained several threads, including a full conversation about the incoherence of Trump.  He speaks some babble-language, probably mostly closely akin to what a 2-3 year old speaks. Mainly though, Applebaum focused on Trump and Putin. As to the connections, she has some interesting insights.

First, Putin can legitimately be labeled as the head of the Russian Mafia. He is using means both legal and illegal to enrich himself. Of late, it has become obvious that, when his ties to organized crime threaten to flush to the surface, critics mysteriously disappear, are ejected from the country, or simply die under questionable circumstances. So, it would seem that Russia is safely in the hands of its mafioso bosses.  And, now, it would appear, Trump plans the same outcome for America.

His campaign apparently adopted a Russian style campaign of disinformation. Paul Manafort helped to plan the campaign of the Putinesque Ukrainian leader, after which he began as the campaign manager of the Trump campaign.  The Russian style of campaigning is to develop false narratives of the opposition (in this case Hillary Clinton) and then employ both social media and fake news (in this case Breitbart and Fox) to disseminate and expand the false narratives.  In large measure, people believe both the fake news sites and the social media sites.  If it appears on TV, folks assume the facts have been verified and can, therefore, be believed. Why they continue to believe social media is beyond ordinary explanation.

Trump’s financial ties to Russia are manifold and well known. Even his children have bragged about the immensity of the Russian financial connections.  Manafort’s connections are as impressive, receiving ten million dollars per year on one contract alone.  The fact that Manafort withdrew from the campaign is largely irrelevant, since Trump continued throughout the campaign to employ the same tactics used in Russia by Putin.

But her central point is that we really do not need a “smoking gun” obtained by the CIA or a deep FBI investigation. What we already know is reason enough to do something about our President. Impeachment is one, but perhaps not the only remedy we might consider.  His continued illegal financial remunerations break the emoluments clause in the constitution, and he has consistently refused to take any action to stop these payments.   Yet, we do not act, and that is perhaps the most troublesome aspect of this entire affair. Yes, he was elected officially, and he is officially our President. But our President is not above the law, thank you.  So, given that his actions, past and present, actions that likely violate the law, are known and open, why do we not act?  Well, one may assume that republicans do not act, because it is not in their best interest to act. Acting against their leader would be viewed as a suicidal gesture, and republicans are not yet ready for such acts. Also, it is now clear that republicans view holding onto their lucrative positions in Congress as way more important than serving the people who elected them.  And, it should be noted, that, since republicans often fail to act in ways that help their constituents, they clearly will never act to meet the needs of people who either do not vote, or vote for other kinds of folks.

And then, finally, what about all those folks who voted for Trump and his merry band of Mafioso’s? Why do they continue to support him? The last numbers I saw suggest that 37% still support Trump, and that number simply astounds me. Really . . . with all we now know, 37% of our people support him?

Ms. Applebaum suggests that his supporters may well begin deserting Trump when it becomes clear that he lied to them and that he is not acting to meet their needs.  Well, I wonder, when might that be?  It is abundantly clear that he lies nearly everytime he opens his mouth, so it apparently is not just lying that matters to his supporters.  What is it they wanted again from Trump? Oh, yeah, their old jobs back. They want to be 1940’s-style coal miners again, or they want to work in big factories producing things we used to produce in the 1940s and 1950s.  Well, that may or may not happen anytime soon, although he is working at eliminating the regulations that keep coal-fired plants from polluting. We can then resume looking like we did before EPA regulations cleaned up our air. That should be fun.

But I think that his promises about jobs are mostly feckless, because I continue to believe that Trump really doesn’t know anything. He seems the most remarkably ignorant (stupid??) man ever to grace the White House. He helped to blow the health care replacement bill, mainly because he and his staff don’t know anything about either health care, insurance, or even politics.  They wander about in the dark, while he issues his daily stream of witless commentaries that seem barely even in English.

So, what is with his supporters again?

Well, one possible explanation is organized religion. Organized religion has existed for centuries, millennia even, as a force that communicates a belief system that borders on the lunatic. They created an entire after-death world of folks floating around on clouds chatting it up with long dead relatives and maybe even Shakespeare. But the specifics don’t matter. What matters is that many/most people are most afraid of death, and the cessation of being.  The Churches of the world, knowing that, created these fictional worlds that convey to the fearful (faithful) that they need not fear death, if only they pay attention to their church leaders—obey and you will be rewarded. Disobey/disavow and you will be punished with . . . The Zen of Nothingness.  Their game is closely akin to a Ponzi scheme, but because you die first, and nobody ever comes back to testify to the lie, the Ponzi can go on indefinitely.

So, folks now routinely listen to patent nonsense on a weekly basis, and yet they continue to support their leaders, even when their leaders do things like routinely rape little boys, or abuse the hapless in many other ways. 

Now, given that mentality, Trump becomes easier to understand and recognize. He has been compared to a carnival barker. But no, I would suggest he is way closer to a religious leader. We know carnie barkers lie, but they give us some fun along the way. Religious leaders lie, but we rarely acknowledge their lies, because we are too scared to so acknowledge the obvious.  And the more autocratic Trump becomes, and the less he responds to questions, the more he appears like a religious leader.  Most folks don’t routinely question their popes, or their ayatollahs. It just isn’t done.

So, he may get away with his Three-card Monte game for quite a while. Unless and until the other folks we elect to Congress and maybe even the judiciary decide that enough is enough.  But that may take a while, and may actually never occur unless and until we replace all the folks currently holding office, and that would require everyone to actually get off their asses and vote. Wow, voting . . . what a concept.

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