The Donald’s Date with Cinderella

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On Thursday, January 26, a grim announcement  ticked across the news wires and internet but was buried to the point of near-obscurity by the blitz of executive orders and incessant accusations by the new administration of widespread voter fraud and media manipulation of  inaugural crowd reporting.

 

On November 14, 2016, an interview of Noam Chomsky— linguistics scholar, political philosopher, and public intellectual—by C. J. Polychroniou was published on the website of political news outlet Truthout. In the interview, Chomsky made the assertion that the Republican Party had become the most dangerous organization in world history. The assertion expectedly drew criticism for being preposterously partisan hyperbole, and some other things not quite so nice.

 

Chomsky’s point was made on observations about the two most potentially destructive human creations ever, each having within its exclusive characteristic to cause “catastrophes that could wipe out all of humanity or, at least, devastate modern civilization.” Either of the two acting alone and left unimpeded could fulfill  its nightmarish potential in due course. Those two Frankensteins-in-waiting are Anthropogenic Global Warming (climate change) and nuclear war. And to those, the members of the Republican Party either—on the subject of climate change—sneer at the overwhelming consensus of individual researchers and the esteemed agencies of NOAA, NASA, and many others based internationally, or—in the case of nuclear weapons—make frequent loose-lipped referrals and jingoistic threats to nukes as possible solutions to conflict, as did Sen. Ted Cruz did in recommending “making the sand glow” in combating ISIS; or the even more ominous suggestions to restart the arms race to add even further destructive power to those running the show.

 

The announcement Thursday was made by The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the publication of a group that is comprised of physicists and environmentalist working in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which currently sits 15 Nobel Laureates—including luminaries Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss. The Bulletin originated at the University of Chicago by some of the same scientists that worked on the Manhattan Project, which developed the first nuclear bomb. In 1947, reports The Bulletin on its information webpage,

 

the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors…

 

The clock was initially based on the threat of nuclear conflagration only, but in 2007 was expanded to include other potential civilization-altering calamities including climate change, and cyber-and biological warfare. It was first set at 7 minutes before midnight, and has been reset 20-odd times in the last 70 years. The furthest from midnight was in 1991 when the SALT agreement was signed by the U. S. and Moscow, soon followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The closest it was moved toward the bewitching hour was 11:58—just two minutes shy—in 1953, when the U. S. tested its first thermonuclear device, followed in the same year by the Soviets.

 

Thursday’s announcement advanced the clock to two and one-half minutes before twelve, the nearest it has been since that “two-minute warning” in 1953. The symbolic time-setters at The Bulletin have no supernatural ability to foresee the future, but given their familiarity with the history of this project, and the serious nature of their opinions and the effects of their pronouncements, one could only hope they make them only after rigorous evaluation and with religious regard the weighty consequences involved in their interpretation. Reasons for advancing the clock this year were: “the rise of nationalism, here and in Europe; the threat of a new arms race between the U. S. and Russia, along with heightened tensions in eastern Europe and NATO; President Trump’s comments on nuclear weapons; and the disbelief in the scientific consensus on climate change by the Trump administration.”

 

You would think Noam Chomsky was on the Board of Sponsors, having basically said much of the same thing two months earlier. Chomsky might wish, however, to rephrase his comment about the Republican Party to include the volatile and unknowable Trump as its leader as being a major factor in making his judgement. Such an amendment could change what seemed preposterous partisan hyperbole for some to an undeniable truth for all.

 

Twain Meets Arendt

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One of my longtime favorite recognitions to fellow conversationalists’ interesting stories and and anecdotal experiences replete with strange twists or surprise endings has been at times an approving nod— but almost always adding this brief note of contrast in poetical meter :

“Yes. Truth is stranger than fiction.”

The undeniable wisdom expressed in the sublimely short one-liner should be recognized as the the work of Mark Twain, one of America’s finest in the art of letters, lecturing, journalism, storytelling and satire. It’s one of just many on the subject of truth (and its contradiction, untruth) penned by the  bushy mustachioed wordsmith:

 “When in doubt tell the truth

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

“One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives.

“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.

“Carlyle said ‘a lie cannot live.’ It shows that he did not know how to tell them.

 “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” 

 I admittedly had been missing what now I find more interesting in that aphorism: the second part,

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick possibilities; Truth isn’t.”,

 because it touches closely on two threads in the fabric of history of the campaign, transition, and now presidency of Donald Trump. One thread is the misrepresentations, falsehoods, alternative facts, conspiracy theories, and just. plain. lies—fictions, in other words, have needed to have been at least possibilities. The other thread is the fact—the “truth”—is the invariable failure to disavow, admit to, or contradict the fictions, even when presented with uncontroversial and unambiguous evidence of their falsity. This is the truth of the impossible, the truth that is not limited to the possible: perhaps a truth important to him for other goals that may need justifying, perhaps a truth to be held to as evidence of his own genuineness, his infallibility. Perhaps confronting and bowing to the facts would, in his mind, be a show of weakness or lack of heroic character.gaslight-2

Or maybe this “truth unobligated to the possible” is a page from an old playbook, a dictator’s handbook of sorts. Some interesting quotations from Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism and other troubling comparisons were among a recent reading on the Open Culture website.

The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.

 

“The great analysts of truth and language in politics”—writes McGill University political philosophy professor Jacob T. Levy—including “George Orwell, Hannah Arendt, Vaclav Havel—can help us recognize this kind of lie for what it is…. Saying something obviously untrue, and making your subordinates repeat it with a straight face in their own voice, is a particularly startling display of power over them. It’s something that was endemic to totalitarianism.”

The sheer number of deceits plays a role in the process of control. The following may be the most insidious of all propaganda and psycho-manipulative techniques. “She [Arendt] also recognized the function of an avalanche of lies to render a populace powerless to resist, the phenomenon we now refer to as “gaslighting”:

The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed.”

 

This deserves repeating “the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world…is being destroyed.” The stability of our collective psyche is being tested. Our individual neuroses are being aggravated; and increased stress within the self and among our fellow citizens is finding expression through harmful avenues of release.

Some minimize the or flatly deny any motivation of the Trumpian campaign of mendacity—claiming his obsession with picayunish details of crowd sizes (particularly at his inauguration) and his popular vote count in the general election—to nothing more than an innocent but hyper-inflated ego rationalizing away the unfavorable numbers. But an examination of these seemingly trivial obsessions uncovers a codified language within at the ugly heart of this charade, a message of  jingoistic nationalism, revulsion to the dark hoard overrunning America, his intentions to control public information, and subordinating the value, usefulness and honesty of entire networks of intergovernmental agencies. For the authoritarian personality, mere victory is not enough, nothing short of total victory is necessary.

 

Arendt’s analysis of propaganda and the function of lies seems particularly relevant at this moment. The kinds of blatant lies she wrote of might become so commonplace as to become banal. We might begin to think they are an irrelevant sideshow. This, she suggests, would be a mistake.

 

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Thelonious Monk, another American genius in the arts as jazz composer, pianist, and band leader is quoted as saying “The piano ain’t got no bad notes.” His contemporary and fellow musical genius Miles Davis offered this modification: “There are no wrong notes in jazz: only notes in the wrong places.” Notes in  a musical composition function in similar in a way similar to words in a sentence, paragraph, or larger composition, as individual elements resulting in an emergent creation larger and more complex than sum of the parts. So while any word we choose in making statements of fact or opinion is both possible and acceptable (Monk), the arrangement (Davis) can end up being a thing of beauty to meaningless gobbledegook to anti-truths and alt-facts.
Mark Twain, witnessing today’s power abuses through communicative manipulations might say we are in immediate  need of music lessons; while at the same time finding lots of fresh material for his maxims on truth and lies.

History in 500 Words

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Father Fred. Queens. Rental housing. Department of Justice. Housing discrimination settlement. Manhattan envy. Loan. Trump Organization. Trump brand. Casinos. Hotels. Trump Tower. Trump Princess (yacht). Junk bonds. Bankruptcies (x6). Over-leveraged. Central Park. Rape. Murder. Central Park 5 (Black youth).  NY Times full-page ad. Trump :restore death penalty. Convictions overturned. Trump Shuttle. Trump Place. Trump Steaks. Trump Wine. Trump University. Trump ego. The Apprentice. WWE. Don King. New Jersey Generals. Dennis Rodman. Miss Universe. Dressing rooms. Celebrity Trump. Trump lawsuits: 3500 (plaintiff/defendant combined). Stiffing workers. Short-paying suppliers. Trump resorts. Trump golf courses and clubs. Trump hair. Mar-a-Lago compound. Lawsuit. Municipal tax credits manipulator. Twenty-five million dollar Trump University settlement. Billion dollar business loss. Unknown IRS tax credit. Non-disclosure of Federal Income Tax filings. Audit in progress. Reform Party. Birtherism. Long-form birth certificate. Investigators to Hawaii. Make America Great Again. Mexico. Rapists. Crime. Drugs. The Wall. NAFTA. TPP. Paying for shipping jobs out. Tweets.Terrorism. Ban Muslims. Register Muslims. Monitor mosques. Deportation force. Bomb ISIS. Torture. Muslims in New Jersey seen celebrating 9/11 attacks. Waterboard. Take out the families. Populist. Right wing. Rallies. Hooliganism. Doctor: healthiest President ever. Obamacare repeal. Great plan to replace. Executive order cancellations. Climate change denial. Exit Paris Climate Agreement. Brexit booster. Trade wars. Border taxes. America First. Lower taxes on corporations. Increase military spending. Spend more. Tax less. Reduce deficit. Dismantle Iran nuclear agreement. Nuclear Triad. Supports West Bank settlement. Tough on crime. Blue lives matter. Urban blacks. What’s to lose? Second Amendment and 2 Corinthians buff. No birthright citizenship. Pro-life. Women should pay. Megyn Kelly. Bias. Blood. Eyes. Wherever. Victim of press. Snowflake. Lying Press. Blacklisted news outlets. Washington Post . Buzzfeed. Huffington Post. Politico. Loose cannon. Lyin’ Ted. Little Marco. Low-energy Jeb. Small hands, big…Loosen libel laws. Mock disabled reporters. Deny. Bully. Paul Manifort, campaign director. Russia. Melania plagiarism. Mitt Romney’s malleable  conscience. Crooked Hillary. Emails. Benghazi. Find emails, Russia! Russian finds emails. Clinton Foundation. Play-to-pay. Bernie Sanders. Socialist. Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton victims. Sexual harassment. Locker room talk. Groping. More accusations. Late night Tweets. Attack pageant contestant. Lawsuits. Trump narcissism. Trump abuses. Election rigged if he loses. FBI announces looking at Weiner’s emails. Hillary emails. Trump wins. Margin: -2.8 million votes. More tweets. Unhinged. Election rigged. Campaigned for electoral swing state vote. Ben Carson. Mock knife/belt buckle story. Nominated for HUD Secretary. Chris Christie. Bridgegate. First selection for VP. Prosecuted Jared Kushner’s father. Pushed out of transition team. Rudy Giuliani played for sucker duh. Rick Perry, Dept. of Energy (yikes nukes). Betsy DeVoss, Public Ed enemy No.1 and grizzly-shootin’ head school marm. Steve Bannon. Breitbart. Rabble-rousing possible supremacist. Mike Flynn. Islamaphobe. Mnuchin, empathy-free mortgage buzzard. Secretary of Treasury. Rex Tillerson, Exxon Texan. Putin podnah. Sarah Palin who? Saving 800≠2000 Carrier jobs.  CIA, FBI, others reveal Russian hacking of DNC. Election not rigged. Someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds. Dangling participle or fat-shaming. Or the Chinese. Putin denies. Shawn Spicer. Latino-free cabinet is no problem. Buzzfeed reports Russian dossier on Trump activities. Russian hotel. Trump. Peeing prostitutes. Fake news. Disgrace. CNN denied questions in press conference. Star-studless inaugural fête. Women’s March possible larger draw. Lowest-ever approval rating. Highest ever IQ presidential cabinet. Many positions still unfilled. Hit the ground running. Monday.
You are now entering the Trumpocene.