Friday, February 24, 2017

Authoritarian White House bars selected news organizations

Trump today at the CPAC conference once again attacked the media, calling it fake news.  His spokesman followed up by banning the New York Times, CNN, Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed, and Politico from a question and answer session with the press secretary.

Admitted were right wing media - Washington Times, One America News Network, and of course Breitbart, Steve Bannon's news organization.

As I wrote earlier, Authoritarianism 101 is to control the news.  Here is an action demonstrating that. The way democracy is killed is to take away the ability of the people to be informed.  This is absolutely disgusting.

So, where are my conservative friends?  Where is the Republican Congress?  Do they just cheer this move toward authoritarian rule?  Don't they find this appalling?  Isn't a free press one of the guarantees of the first amendment?  Where are the "Constitutional Conservatives"?

At a minimum, this is Trump signalling his base who not to get information from. 
I believe that the banned news organizations are quite experienced in covering authoritarian regimes around the world, and I expect that they are energized by this in a way that they haven't been energized for decades. 

Bannon and Trump have declared war on the news, I believe Mr Nixon did that a while back and it didn't work out too well for him.  

Trump serves at the pleasure of the Republican Congress, who do have the power of impeachment.  The question is how far will they let themselves be pushed? 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Trump - alternative reality TV president

Authoritarianism 101 is for the authoritarian leader to control the news.  The Soviets had Pravda, North Korea has total control over the news, and Donald Trump is doing everything he can to discredit actual news, mainstream news from professional journalists, actual facts.

This, of course follows the example of Limbaugh, Fox News, and other right wing media, who are really doing nothing more than a marketing ploy to get to you stop watching other media and tune into them - it is a ratings increasing strategy.  Unfortunately, too many people actually seem to believe that real news is biased, or "fake', and the only way to find out what is really going on is to listen to them - successful marketing strategy, but disastrous effect on America.

So, when a right wing populist president also says that the news is "fake" and you should get all of your news from the right wing echo chamber, that becomes the fundamental strategy of authoritarianism - to control the news.  

What Fox and Limbaugh haven't realized yet is that Trump will have no more respect for them than he does for CNN.  His goal will to have everyone believe only his news.  He already has a news source set up to take over the news - Breitbart.   Indeed, it can be argued that the childish and ignorant Trump is dancing on the strings being pulled by Steve Bannon, former head of Breitbart, and Breitbart has already announced plans for ambitious expansion into Europe and other areas of news coverage.  Breitbart is the self proclaimed mouth of the Alt Right, which is a welcome home to white supremacists, and certainly a deadly foe of liberalism.  

Breitbart may think they are in the catbird seat, but I believe they too should be wary of the authoritarian in the making, Mr. Trump.  As I said, Authoritarianism 101 is to control the news, and Mr. Trump lives only in a world of alternative facts - facts that feed his Grandiose Ego.

What alternative facts does Mr Trump want us all to believe?

The latest example comes from his disturbingly rambling news conference a couple of days ago when he made this ridiculously untrue boast:

“There has never been a presidency that’s done so much in such a short period of time.”

So, is that true or just the ramblings of a man whose ego so isolates him from reality that he just believes things that feed his ego fantasies?  

Here are some comparisons to other recent presidents, as discussed in Fareed Zakaria's latest article.

" this point in his presidency, Barack Obama had signed into law an almost-trillion-dollar stimulus bill to revive the economy, extended health insurance to 4 million children and made it easier to challenge discriminatory labor practices. 

How many bills have presidents passed in the first 100 days?

  • Bill Clinton had passed 24 bills
  • John Kennedy, 26 
  • Harry Truman, 55
  • FDR, 76
Trump?  Probably will be less than 10?

Actually, the best thing about Trump so far is how ineffective he is.  He is good at what he is good at - getting TV ratings, dominating headlines, focusing nationwide and worldwide attention on himself - feeding his insatiable ego.

But he is not good at actually doing things.

The worst thing about Trump, of course, is the same thing - his insatiable and childish ego.  How will he react when there is actually something to do? when there is a crisis to make decisions about and actions to be taken?  That is truly a frightening thought.  He is still a 10 year old boy, as far as emotional and intellectual development goes, and he may very well respond as a 10 year old boy.

Speaking of 10 year old boys in charge of nuclear weapons - Kim Jong-Un of North Korea?  One shudders to think what can happen if these two decide to face off over some international crisis.

I am somewhat encouraged that we seem to have adults as Secretary of Defense - Mattis - and Secretary of State - Tillerson.  I strongly desire that they can guide him toward reality rather than fantasy, and toward maturity rather than childishness.

So, the reality TV show star has become the Alternative Reality TV president.  Which reality will we live in - the real world, or the "alternative facts" world of Mr Trump?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Are you an Authoritarian? Latent authoritarian? Are you sure?

Presidential adviser, young Stephen Miller, went on the Sunday shows and proclaimed that the President’s powers cannot be questioned when it comes to securing the borders.  He is ridiculously wrong.  The way he said it was authoritarian in the extreme – threatening, dogmatic, inflexible, triumphant.  And then Trump tweeted congratulations to Miller for his performance. 

So, OK, Trump is demonstrating his intent to rule as an authoritarian.  It’s pretty clear.

I have been trying to understand Trump and his voters.  And it is clear that Trump’s authoritarian promises and behavior are exactly what got him into office.  There is an excellent article entitled “The Rise of American Authoritarianism” by Amanda Taub on that explains the rise of authoritarianism in America and around the world.  It is a response to fear – fear of attack by the Islamofascist element of Islam, but also fear of social change and diminution of father figure type of authority, hierarchy, and structure.

It’s a long article, worth the read, here are some highlights and thoughts stimulated by the article.

People who score high on in authoritarianism voted for Trump.  The strongest correlation for Trump voters was authoritarianism.  Indeed, much of the polarization in America is due to a rise in authoritarianism in the Republican Party.

They note that once the GOP positioned itself as the party of law and order and traditional values it became a magnet for the authoritarian voters. This happened with Nixon in his infamous "Southern Strategy" where he switched the South from Democrat to Republican.  

This can end up hurting the Republicans because the authoritarian wing is at odds with traditional Republicans – e.g. authoritarians could give two hoots about tax breaks for the rich.

Authoritarians express much deeper fears than the rest of us and want order and strong leaders when they feel threatened.  The Islamofascist element of Islam is such a threat.

But there is another threat, just as terrifying to the authoritarians – social change.  And guess what’s been going on for the last few decades?  Lots and lots of social change.  With the Boomers has come social change, and with the Boomers has come other Boomers frightened of and fiercely opposed to social change – empowered minorities? gays? women? diplomacy rather than war? Understanding rather than punishment?  Way too scary for the authoritarians

There are overt authoritarians and latent authoritarians.  Threats from outside forces, and from the social changes from the inside activate overt authoritarians, but they also trigger an authoritarian response from those with latent authoritarian tendencies.  The terrorist attacks combined with the rise of minority, gay, and women’s rights and power have created a perfect storm of threat to the old structures that the authoritarian mind so needs - the strict father hierarchical, orderly, rigid, punishing structure where they are on top and feel safe in a chaotic and changing world.

“As the NYU professor Jonathan Haidt has written, a button is pushed that says, "In case of moral threat, lock down the borders, kick out those who are different, and punish those who are morally deviant."”
So, how to tell if you’re an authoritarian?  Scientists took quite some time to find a way to test it, but they succeeded.

“Feldman developed what has since become widely accepted as the definitive measurement of authoritarianism: four simple questions that appear to ask about parenting but are in fact designed to reveal how highly the respondent values hierarchy, order, and conformity over other values.
1.       Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders?
2.       Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: obedience or self-reliance?
3.       Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: to be considerate or to be well-behaved?
4.       Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: curiosity or good manners?
Feldman's test proved to be very reliable. There was now a way to identify people who fit the authoritarian profile, by prizing order and conformity, for example, and desiring the imposition of those values.”
I have to admit that I was raised by an authoritarian father, and I think his greatest disappointment in me was that I never became like him, but I have to be aware that I am very likely to have latent authoritarian instincts, which I will be guarding against, because I think  they are essentially hurtful, fearful, and weak.

Authoritarianism isn’t active in most people, but it can be triggered by perceived threat.  As I said above, terrorism from outsiders and social change from insiders that the authoritarians see as different from themselves are the triggers that drive them into the arms of authoritarian rulers, like Donald Trump. (Not sure yet if Trump really is authoritarian or just playing one on TV, but he is as close to one as I ever want to see in America)

So the Republican Party became the party of law and order, the controller of minorities and women, the chooser of the military over diplomacy, the crusher of social change – and became the home of the authoritarians - both candidates and voters.

The Democratic Party became the party of civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, criminals’ rights, social progress, equality – and drove the authoritarians screaming in fear and righteous threats into the arms of the Republicans.  Liberals see this fear response as bigotry – racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc.  But underneath it all is fear of change, specifically fear of change being forced upon them by the Other, those unlike them, the strong white man model of how the world is supposed to be.  That world is fading away, and all the authoritarian bullying and cruelty that authoritarians can muster is not going to stop it.

What do authoritarians want in an authoritarian leader? government action to crush the threats – external attacks from the Other, and internal change from those mistakenly perceived to be the Other.

We end up with Trump today, but whom tomorrow? maybe a smarter crueler authoritarian?  Let’s keep that from happening, please.

The first thing that I wrote about Trump was that he was temporary but his voters were not.  That is still true.  Trump will eventually go away, maybe he’ll last a full term, maybe less, maybe he’ll manage two full terms.  But he will go away.  

It it is up to the rest of us to make sure the authoritarians do not run this country, not now, not in the future.  Maybe we can try to persuade them that their fears are overblown, paranoid, divorced from reality.  Sure, we need to protect ourselves from terrorists, but we are actually doing a good job of that, long before Trump arrived on scene.  Sure there is crime and corruptions, but in the real world rather than the Right Wing Alternative Facts World crime and corruption have been dropping steadily for some time, again long before Trump arrived.

Oppose the bullying.  Allay the fears.  Renew the True American Spirit, which has both individualism, freedom, and opportunity, and also has caring, compassion, equality, and social justice as well.  America needs two healthy parties – parties of both will and love.  

The authoritarians have stolen the party of individualism, freedom, and opportunity and turned it into the party of oppression, fear, and cruelty.  I trust my conservative friends will take the party back to its real values and reject this terrible flirtation with authoritarian rule.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

How to tell if Trump is creating an authoritarian tyranny

I believe the Trump administration has the potential to be a real threat to freedom in America.  This is ironic, because Trump has come to power under the banner of conservatives and the Republican Party whose ideology has freedom and independence at its core. As a friend pointed out to me, this is not about the old right vs. left ideological divide, it is about populist based authoritarianism.  This is happening not just in America.  

The problem is the very real potential that Trump is instituting an authoritarian regime.  How can we tell?  It turns out that many people who have suffered under authoritarian rule are trying to tell us what to beware of.  I reproduce some main points here so as to have them as a reference for myself going forward.  

This is a longer than normal post because there is a lot to be aware of.

First up is from Europe, actually from Poland which is dealing with this problem now -  They list strategies of authoritarian rule in Poland. I quote and condense below. Does any of this remind you of Trump and some of his team?

  • ·         They will come to power with a campaign based on fear, scaremongering and distorting the truth
  • ·         They will divide and rule.  They will call their supporters Patriots, the only “true Americans”
  • ·         Through convoluted laws and threats they will try to control mainstream media and limit press freedom. They will ban critical press from their briefings, calling them “liars”, “fake news”. They will brand those media as “unpatriotic”, acting against the People
  • ·         They will create chaos, maintain a constant sense of conflict and danger. It will be their argument to enact new authoritarian laws, each one further limiting your freedoms and civil liberties
  •            They will distort the truth, deny facts and blatantly lie. They will try to make you forget what facts are
  • ·        They will incite and then leak fake, superficial “scandals
  • ·        They will propose shocking laws to provoke your outrage
  • ·        In the meantime they will push through less “flashy” legislation, slowly dismantling democracy
  • ·         When invading your liberal sensibilities they will focus on what hurts the most – women and minorities. They will act as if democracy was majority rule without respect for the minority
  • ·         They will try to take control of the judiciary. They will assault your highest court
  • ·         They will try to limit freedom of assembly, calling it a necessity for your security
  • ·         They will distort the language, coin new terms and labels “thief”, “liar” or “traitor” will automatically mean the opposition, while a “patriot” or a “true American” will mean their followers
  • ·         They will take over your national symbols, associate them with their regime, remake them into attributes of their power
  • ·         They will try to rewrite history to suit their needs and will smear any historical or living figure who wouldn’t approve of their actions, or distort their image to make you think they would
  • ·         They will alienate foreign allies and partners, convincing you don’t need them. They won’t care for the rest of the world, with their focus on “making your country great again”
  • ·         They will eventually manipulate the electoral system. They might say it’s to correct flaws

What to do?  Counter distortions with truth, educate, illuminate the real facts, refuse to be divided from fellow Americans, stay alert, don't get worn out by the relentless propaganda and distortions and give up.

Next up is David Frum of The Atlantic.  It is a long thoughtful article and worth reading and keeping as a reference. His point is that modern authoritarian rule is unlike the 20th century dictators from Hitler and Mussolini to Mao and Castro.  They dominate in different, harder to see ways. Perhaps the biggest tool of the modern authoritarian like Putin is to create a nation of cynics who cannot distinguish fact from fiction. During the campaign there was actual fake news against Hillary - e.g. that Hillary ran a pedophilia ring out of the basement of a pizza parlor in Washington D.C - patently ridiculous but believed by some!  Trump has taken over the fake news label and now applies it to real news that is critical of him.  This is the most dangerous thing he has done so far, and it has terrible consequences.

Here are some key highlights of that article.

"Opponents of the regime are not murdered or imprisoned, although many are harassed with building inspections and tax audits. If they work for the government, or for a company susceptible to government pressure, they risk their jobs by speaking out...“The benefit of controlling a modern state is less the power to persecute the innocent, more the power to protect the guilty.”

What is spreading today is repressive kleptocracy, led by rulers motivated by greed rather than by the deranged idealism of Hitler or Stalin or Mao. Such rulers rely less on terror and more on rule-twisting, the manipulation of information, and the co-optation of elites.
It is essential to recognize that Trump will use his position not only to enrich himself; he will enrich plenty of other people too, both the powerful and—sometimes, for public consumption—the relatively powerless. Venezuela, a stable democracy from the late 1950s through the 1990s, was corrupted by a politics of personal favoritism, as Hugo Chávez used state resources to bestow gifts on supporters.

Polarization, not persecution, enables the modern illiberal regime.

Civil unrest will not be a problem for the Trump presidency. It will be a resource. Trump will likely want not to repress it, but to publicize it— The more offensively the protesters behave, the more pleased Trump will be.

“Get used to being stigmatized as ‘opposition,’ ” ... “The basic idea is simple: to delegitimize accountability journalism by framing it as partisan.”

 Mostly, however, modern strongmen seek merely to discredit journalism as an institution, by denying that such a thing as independent judgment can exist. All reporting serves an agenda. There is no truth, only competing attempts to grab power.

By filling the media space with bizarre inventions and brazen denials, purveyors of fake news hope to mobilize potential supporters with righteous wrath—and to demoralize potential opponents by nurturing the idea that everybody lies and nothing matters.
A would-be kleptocrat is actually better served by spreading cynicism than by deceiving followers with false beliefs: Believers can be disillusioned; people who expect to hear only lies can hardly complain when a lie is exposed. The inculcation of cynicism breaks down the distinction between those forms of media that try their imperfect best to report the truth, and those that purvey falsehoods for reasons of profit or ideology. The New York Times becomes the equivalent of Russia’s RT; The Washington Post of Breitbart; NPR of Infowars.
A survey by YouGov found that by December 1, 43 percent of Republicans accepted the claim that millions of people had voted illegally in 2016.
I’ve talked with well-funded Trump supporters who speak of recruiting a troll army explicitly modeled on those used by Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russia’s Putin to take control of the social-media space, intimidating some critics and overwhelming others through a blizzard of doubt-casting and misinformation

Trump and his team count on one thing above all others: public indifference. “I think people don’t care,” he said in September when asked whether voters wanted him to release his tax returns. “Nobody cares,” he reiterated to 60 Minutes in November. Conflicts of interest with foreign investments? Trump tweeted on November 21 that he didn’t believe voters cared about that either: “Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world. Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!”
And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered.

Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American."

The above by David Frum is profoundly important to understand, as far as I can tell.  It is not yet the destiny of this administration that it become authoritarian, but Trump and his minions have given us plenty to pay attention to and be wary of."
My conservative friends may angrily say that Obama was an authoritarian tyrant using presidential powers in dictatorial ways.  And I am sure they can cite examples of executive over-reach. Perhaps so, for example when he unilaterally decided to stop the deportation of the children of illegal immigrants, or established stricter environmental protections, etc.  However, Obama's over-reach was for what he considered to be the benefit of the country.  
I think Mr Trump's abuses will start out with policy to please his followers, but end up with the real goal of being much more about establishing himself as an American king, complete with the accumulation of fabulous wealth for himself and his cronies, and with the take over of the United States by his avid supporters in the Confederacy.  The South is trying to rise again, with too much of what that might mean to all but the favored white aristocracy.
I believe America has entered a new era that is creating a clarion call to patriotism - the patriotism of awakening of the fundamental spirit of America - the spirit of freedom, the spirit of refusing to be crushed by authoritarian rule. It is not to be allowed by a free people.