Did Sarah Sanders lie to the Special Counsel?

To serve Trump, Sarah Sanders lied repeatedly about James Comey having lost the confidence of the rank and file FBI. Despite her claim that it was a “slip of the tongue” utter in the “heat of the moment”, it was, in fact, a lie she repeated on successive days *even though she knew it has no basis in fact*. She might have believed that she could never be caught in her lie because she believed that only she would be able to verify it. What she failed to understand was that severity of her lie, a direct attack on the FBI’s integrity by the White House’s Deputy Press Secretary, would guarantee that someone would take the time to verify her claim. Before we consider whether she lied to the Special Counsel, we need to understand what she said.

When Sarah Sanders claimed on more than one occasion that Comey had lost the confidence of the rank and file FBI agents, she probably thought no one could verify her claims. She also believed that her claim, it was a “slip of the tongue” would be an acceptable defence.  The first “slip of the tongue” occurred on 10 May 2017. (I’ve emphasized key passages.)

Q    What gives you such confidence that the rank and file within the Bureau lost faith in the FBI Director?  There’s a special agent who is inside, who wrote us, who said:  “The vast majority of the Bureau is in favor of Director Comey.  This is a total shock.  This is not supposed to happen.  The real losers here are 20,000 front-line people in the organization because they lost the only guy working here in the past 15 years who actually cared about them.”

So what’s your response to these rank-and-file FBI agents who disagree with your contention that they lost faith in Director Comey?

SANDERS:  Look, we’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things.  In fact, the President will be meeting with Acting Director McCabe later today to discuss that very thing — the morale at the FBI — as well as make an offer to go directly to the FBI if he feels that that’s necessary and appropriate.  And we’ll certainly provide further information on that meeting for you guys. [Emphasis added] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/daily-press-briefing-principal-deputy-press-secretary-sarah-sanders-051017/

The section on Andrew McCabe is highlighted because the following day 11 May 2017 we find that Andrew McCabe had not confirmed the President’s claim nor Sarah Sanders’ claim.

On 11 May 2017 she repeated the claim about countless FBI members which undermines her statement that it was a “slip of the tongue” said in the “heat of the moment”. Unless her tongue slips daily and she has heats of the moment daily? The next day, knowing that her first comment was a “slip of the tongue”, she must have known that it had no basis in fact so she expanded on the lie.

Q    Sarah, you said from the podium yesterday that Director Comey had lost the confidence of the rank and file of the FBI.  On Capitol Hill today, the Acting Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe directly contradicted that.  What led you and the White House to believe that he had lost the confidence of the rank and file of the FBI when the Acting Director says it’s exactly the opposite? [Emphasis added].

    1. SANDERS: Well, I can speak to my own personal experience. I’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the President’s decision.  And I think that we may have to agree to disagree.  I’m sure that there are some people that are disappointed, but I certainly heard from a large number of individuals — and that’s just myself — and I don’t even know that many people in the FBI.

And in response to a follow up question, which mentions the previous day’s claims.

Q    And one last question, just to follow up on the FBI thing.  And I’m not trying to be overly combative here, but you said now today, and I think you said again yesterday, that you personally have talked to countless FBI officials, employees, since this happened.

SANDERS: Correct.

Q    I mean, really?  So are we talking —

SANDERS: Between like email, text messages — absolutely.

Q    Like 50?

SANDERS: Yes.

Q    Sixty, seventy?

SANDERS: Look, we’re not going to get into a numbers game. I mean, I have heard from a large number of individuals that work at the FBI that said that they’re very happy with the President’s decision.  I mean, I don’t know what I else I can say. [Emphasis added.]

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/press-briefing-principal-deputy-press-secretary-sarah-sanders-homeland-security-advisor-tom-bossert-051117/

What is clear from the statements is the only thing true about the above is that she does not know many people in the FBI. If she did, she would know that as a rule they are discrete because their jobs rely on their ability to be discrete, professional, dispassionate, and above all honest. J. Edgar Hoover may have had his flaws but he ensured his agents acted with utmost integrity and probity. The contrast with the Trump Administration could not be greater. The two institutions are the antithesis of each other.

For the White House’s Deputy Press Secretary to claim that “countless” or at least 50 FBI employees through email and text messages told her they were unhappy or that they had lost confidence in Director Comey was a direct attack on the FBI’s integrity. By her public statement, she was undermining the FBI’s integrity. Her lie was attacking the country’s preeminent law enforcement agency and the key agency for investigating Federal crimes such as those that might have been committed by the Trump Administration and its “friends”.

She obviously did not know many FBI employees or understand the Agency since her claim was going to draw intense scrutiny within the FBI. Aside from the attack on the FBI’s integrity, it would raise alarm bells. Why? First, there are very few FBI agents who are going to be in contact, occasional contact, or even social contact with the Deputy Press Secretary. The two institutions do not mingle and FBI agents, while not avoiding the White House, know to keep it at an arm’s length because the ease with which they can become politicized no matter who is in the White House. Second, FBI agents are discrete. They are not going to be sending emails and text messages to Sarah Sanders bitching and moaning about the Director *even if they are not happy*. There might be one, but “countless” or at least “50” is bordering on the impossible.

When she made that claim, she ensured it would guarantee a forensic analysis to determine its veracity. It would guarantee a forensic analysis because it was the one part of her claim that could be verified. That opportunity arose in the Special Counsel’s investigation.

Had Sarah Sanders left her claim vague, she might have gotten away with it. Even then it would be doubtful because the Special Counsel would ask her to verify the claims by naming the FBI agents or producing the evidence for her claim. At that point, she could either refuse to name them or claim she forgot who they were. Instead, she did something that ensured she would be caught in her lie, which showed she had no understanding of how the FBI works or how damaging he lie was and why it would be taken so seriously. She claimed she had received emails and text messages showing that FBI employees had lost confidence in Director Comey. When she did this, she had said something that could be verified.

The Special Counsel would be able to scan her electronic communications and those of the FBI to see if there had been any emails between her and any FBI agent. If someone had sent her an email or a text message, it would have been found either on the White House system or the FBI system. From a basic records management perspective various federal laws ensure that email and text messages within the White House and the FBI are retained.[1] Even if Trump White House staffers may believe those laws do not apply to them[2], the FBI employees know their communications are subject to these laws and the additional monitoring by FBI counter intelligence surveillance as well as the FBI’s internal audit functions.

When the Special Counsel’s investigators interviewed Sarah Sanders, they probably had verified her claims. They knew they were false because there was no evidence for them. Under the penalty of the law, she told the truth—her statements had no basis in fact.

“Sanders told this office that her reference to hearing from ‘countless members of the FBI’ was a ‘slip of the tongue.’ She also recalled that her statement in a separate press interview that rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey was a comment she made ‘in the heat of the moment’ that was not founded on anything.” (Vol. II, page 72) https://viewfromll2.files.wordpress.com/2019/04/mueller-report.pdf

Curiously, the Special Counsel’s report is based on her May 10th statement and does not mention the May 11th Press Briefing where she repeated the claim about FBI employees contacting her and expanded it to say at least 50 FBI employees had contacted her. If her first statement was a slip of the tongue, then to repeat it and expand on it, knowing that the previous day was a “slip of the tongue” means that the second day could not be a “slip of the tongue” said in the “heat of the moment.” If that was the case she could have simply said “I stand by what I said yesterday, we need to move on” or even what she did say too late “I mean, I don’t know what I else I can say”. Instead, she repeated it and expanded on it.

Perhaps, the Special Counsel will revisit her statement regarding her claim that it was a “slip of the tongue” said in the “heat of the moment” to see if she is eligible for a perjury charge. If it was really a slip of the tongue on the 10th of May then why did she expand on it on the 11th of May insisting that at least 50 FBI employees had contacted her by email and text? She intended her claim that at least 50 FBI employees had contacted and was not an intended statement not said in the “heat of the moment” or a “slip of the tongue.”

What is clear is that Sarah Sanders lied to the Press. She attacked the integrity of the FBI. Above all, she lied to the Public. What remains to be seen is whether the Special Counsel decides if she lied to his investigators. If she has, then she could face something worse than having to resign. She could face a criminal sanction for perjury.

[1] https://www.archives.gov/records-mgmt/toolkit/fbi/rma-current-state.html and https://www.voanews.com/a/us-justice-department-suggests-fbi-text-message-retention-improvements/4783420.html and https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/02/white-house-secret-messages/516792/

[2] https://people.com/politics/white-house-aides-tape-documents-trump-rips-up/ and https://www.politico.com/story/2018/06/10/trump-papers-filing-system-635164 and https://splinternews.com/the-white-house-made-an-entire-office-tape-trumps-paper-1826720913

Posted in Government, justice, public sector, transparency | Tagged , , , ,

Trump and Judgement at Nuremberg

The film Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) is a powerful historical courtroom drama based loosely on the trial of the Nazi Judges. The film focuses on Spencer Tracy as Judge Dan Haywood a rock-ribbed Republican who, while not the first choice for the job, is determined to do his duty and deliver justice in the trial of four German judges. Even though the trials are set in 1948 and the prominent Nazi leaders have been executed, they are on trial for crimes against humanity and for supporting the Nazi regime’s atrocity. In their role, they aided and abetted the regime.

Although this is a fictionalized account, it presents a compelling story of the Nuremberg trials and provides lessons for how we understand America and the Trump administration in the wake of the Mueller report. On a superficial level we can say that Mueller is like Judge Haywood diligently doing his duty despite the potential temptations and pitfalls that await (Marlene Dietrich plays her role wonderfully) as well as the various political pressures that emerge during the trial. At a critical point, the geopolitical tensions of the time come to the surface as the Berlin Blockade causes Haywood’s superiors and some colleagues to suggest that it would be expedient to show leniency to the defendants as the Germans are needed in the conflict that would become the Cold War.

The judges are defended by a brilliant defence attorney Rolfe played by Maximillian Schnell. For Trump, that role would not be played by one person (sorry Rudy Giuliani) instead it would fall on the whole constellation of defenders. In many ways, there is a strong parallel to how Trump and his defenders behaved and Rolfe’s defence tactics and methods. Rolfe explains that whatever the Nazis did about racism and eugenics, the Americans had done similar terrible things. In this we can hear echoes of Trump’s defence of Putin (“You think our country’s so innocent….”).  What is particularly poignant, especially in the age where Trump supporters enjoy how he mocks the weak, vulnerable, and the defenceless, is when Rolfe neutralizes the testimony of a feeble-minded man, Rudolph Petersen played brilliantly by Montgomery Clift (cast against type), who was testifying to being sterilized. One can almost hear the Trump supporters respond “Womp, Womp” or “Fuck your Feelings” when Petersen leaves the witness chair.

The main lesson, though, to draw from the film regarding Trump, his administration, and America is the final scene. In that scene, one of the judges, played by Burt Lancaster seeks to find some common ground with judge Haywood after he sentenced all the defendants to life in prison.

Lancaster says “By all that is right in this world, your verdict was a just one.” He then tries to avoid responsibility for the Holocaust by saying “I never knew that it would come to that.” Haywood response is perhaps the best summary for the Trump supporters. “Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.”

We might think this is the moment we waited for when the Nazi judges were sentenced and justice served. In an important sense, justice was served and we can feel vindicated by the judgement and the movie. Yet, the scene, and the film, like Trump and his administration with the Mueller report, does not end there. Instead, as Haywood walks down the prison corridor away from Lancaster’s cell, we see text on the screen. It explains that even though 99 defendants were sentenced to prison terms at the Nuremberg trials that took place in the American Zone, all were freed by the time the film was released in 1961.

Despite having been found guilty of crimes against humanity, these men were free within a few years. Now one can argue that the key Nazis were all dead so justice had been served. The same could be said for the Mueller report. There are people in prison for crimes and what the Mueller report did not do is indict the president. In this, the Mueller report may have rendered an important judgement yet, it remains to be seen whether there are any meaningful consequences and whether those consequences are long lasting. In the end, the question of consequences and whether they can be escaped or must be endured are not legal questions but political questions. As political questions, they come back to the power of the pardon as well as what the public are willing to tolerate. What we have seen so far suggests that the public are wiling to endure and accept a lot more than the political pundits, commentators thought they would or should tolerate or accept.

The Mueller Report like the Judgement at Nuremberg forces us to consider what price is to be paid for decent politics and whether that price is worth paying. That is the open question for both works.

 

 

 

Posted in Government | Tagged , , , ,

Why Trump does not understand James Comey

Trump fired Comey in part because he did not understand him and in part because of who or what Trump is. What has been less explored is why or how Trump did not understand Comey.

On the surface, one view of why Trump fired him was that Trump saw him as a king maker like J. Edgar Hoover. In this approach Trump understands Comey’s reopening of the investigation into Hillary’s emails as an attempt to swing the election towards him to gain an advantage over Trump. Even if Comey did not intend this, his deed created the appearance, if not the reality, that Comey would have something over Trump. For Roy Cohn, who tutored Trump, this view would make political sense. Roy Cohn, who was a notoriously vicious man well practiced in exploiting other people and situations to his advantage, would do this so it is not surprising that his protégé would see Comey and what Comey had done in this light. What Comey appeared to do is exactly what Trump would have done or what Roy Cohn taught him to do.

On the surface this sounds plausible since Trump lives and dies by appearances as he works assiduously to manage his public persona, his reputation, as a dealmaker, a self-made billionaire, and an astute political operator. Trump’s understanding of Comey would be reinforced rather than dispelled by the Steele Dossier briefing. Even if Comey wanted to do his duty, his briefing would appear to reinforce rather than dispel Trump’s fear or suspicion of what Comey was doing. Again, even if this is not what Comey intended, it created the appearance, if not the reality, that Comey had something on Trump. Yet, this only remains on the surface, it does not explain why Trump understood Comey in this way. We can excuse this or explain it by blaming Roy Cohn as this explains why Trump fired Comey. However, that would only be half the story. The other half is the context within which Trump lives. Here we see something different since he could not understand Comey as Comey understood himself. By all accounts, Comey appears to be a decent man, but Trump has never met a decent man.

Trump surrounds himself with the unjust, the incontinent, and the slavish. In a word, these are men and women who are malleable, who can be bent to his will, who have a transactional relationship with him. The unjust do not wish to be found out for what they have done so they will keep Trump’s secrets for fear their own will be disclosed. The incontinent are easily controlled so long as they can indulge their desires. For some this is easier access to sexual partners. For others, it is the opportunity to hurt their political enemies. Finally, the slavish simply want to be in power since that is better than being out of power, which means they are willing to subordinate themselves to Trump to obtain some status. The slavish will serve Trump to hold onto that power. For each, the unjust, the incontinent, and the slavish, Trump knows how to control them, exploit them, and if that does not work, how to bribe them.

These are the types of people Trump has known his entire life. Within his entourage Trump has never known a decent man. He has only worked with and surrounded himself with corrupt, venal, men and women. His relationship with them is purely transactional so he knows they have a price. This price is either the cost of the non-disclosure agreements that are covered by a “position on his campaign” or the salary, status, and position that come with working for him. He knows how to buy people, he knows their breaking point or their price point. Those he cannot buy he will intimidate either with threats from such men like Cohen or Schiller. If he cannot intimidate them, he can bind them up with legal claims such as those used by Roy Cohn to thwart anyone attempting to hold Trump to account. Those who cannot be intimidated, he bypasses them either directly or finding someone who has leverage over them who is venal either for money, status, or reputation. In most cases, this would be turning to politicians to gain leverage over people. Since, politicians can be seen to be particularly venal because they require public support and will exchange things in return for financial or public support, Trump will view politicians and those senior civil servants in this way.

We know what type of people work for Trump, but what is a decent man? How would we recognize him? A decent man or woman is someone who can meet more than one of the following.

  • Being honest
  • Being just by paying what he promised.
  • Being faithful to their spouse
  • Being a good parent
  • Being respectful to women
  • Being compassionate to the weak, the immigrant, the poor, the vulnerable.

For all appearances, especially based on what Benjamin Wittes wrote about him, Comey appears to meet many of these characteristics. However, these are mainly personal traits, they don’t address the public or professional appearance especially for a political man such as Comey. Here we can see why Trump would overlook Comey’s personal traits since he only wants to know about his professional or public behaviour. To anyone familiar with the politics in Washington DC and within the Federal Bureau of Investigations, people don’t rise to the top of any institution because they are nice people. They may not be dishonest, venal, or corrupt, but they understand how to exercise power and how to climb the ladder. To succeed, such men may have made decisions to serve the powerful or those that can benefit them. Even if they have not behaved in this way, Trump, and others, would assume that this is how politics works, since that is how they understand politics, and this is how Comey and others have succeeded. James Comey did not rise to the top of the FBI because he was a nice guy. He did not survive in DC by being unable to defend himself politically or bureaucratically. To put it colloquially he knows how to take out people at the knees.

Trump though does not know or trust decent men. In Trump’s mind, a decent man is weak because he is unwilling or unable to take advantage of the vulnerable, to press his advantage, exploit others, or treat them unjustly. What would be central to Trump’s view is that he believes that no one weak, no one decent, reaches the top of the FBI or succeeds in the FBI without some injustice.

For Trump Willie Stark’s wisdom is a personal truth.

Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something.[1]

When Comey came to Trump with the Steele dossier, he would have seen this in a different light than the average person. He would have viewed this as Comey showing him what he had on Trump with the implied message that he, Trump, owed Comey or that Comey was showing him that he had leverage over him. In other words, Comey had swung the election and had the dossier which would mean that he could control whether Trump was a legitimate president. Behind the scenes only Trump and Comey would know what Comey had on Trump and what Trump “owed” him. He would have seen this as Comey saying something between the lines “I have this on you and I can make it worse for you so better behave.” He might have even though that Comey was coming to him with evidence or something that he would use as a chip in the game or simply leverage over Trump. Trump has never had an employee who had something over him so he felt he had to fire him.

At the same time, he might have seen Comey as expecting something in return for having tipped the election Trump’s way. Therefore, he asks for loyalty. Is Comey working for Trump or does Comey expect Trump to work for him? He would want to know what Comey wants. Comey cannot be a decent man so he must want something as no one does this because they believe in the law, they all have a price.

In this sense, Trump is correct. Washington is a swamp. Those who live there know this and they know that some form of corruption is part and parcel of what they do. No, this does not mean that politics is corrupt or that the law is a sham. Instead, it shows that what Trump believes and how he behaves displays what is implicit within Washington. It is a city that is built on political power, influence and corruption. The political power can be both clean and dirty. Institutional power is often the cleanest power yet it is personal power, the dirtiest, that is the most important since it is what can make men act contrary to their institutional responsibilities. The problem is that we cannot achieve clean power without having recourse to dirty power because people are elected, which has been shown to be the least corrupt method to select people to wield institutional power. Until we understand power is both clean and dirty and why it is clean and dirty, we will be unable to understand Trump, Trump’s appeal, and most importantly how or why Trump misunderstood Comey. Or did Trump understand Comey better than Comey understands himself?

[1] https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/All_the_King%27s_Men Emphasis added.

Posted in Uncategorized

Trump and Miller are too timid about immigration.

Dear Readers,

I am honored to have a guest blog by the world famous scholar Joanne Swift. She has taken time out from her busy schedule to provide a short proposal on how Trump and Miller should deal with the national security threat from immigration. Her biographical information is at the end of the post.

A policy proposal

by

Dr Joanne Swift

President Trump told us that immigration was a national security issue.[1] If it is, and who is to disagree when he says that it is, then we need to treat it appropriately.

Trump has rightfully focused on foreign countries, the “shit hole” countries that send us their worst people to flood our great country with criminals, racists, and those who would kneel during the National Anthem. What Trump has not done, yet, is to link the supply side to the demand side. We need to stop people coming to this country and remove the reasons, the demand, for why they come to America. Therefore, I propose that Trump and Miller initiate Operation SHITHOLE immediately so that we can stop the illegal immigrants before it is too late.

What is to be done?

My proposal has two related parts. The first is domestic (demand) and the second is foreign (supply).

Domestic

We need a zero tolerance for anyone who hires an illegal immigrant. If your business is within 1000 miles of any border and you employ an illegal or allow them to volunteer, then your business and property will be confiscated.

If you are Apple or Amazon, and especially Amazon, and you have an illegal, be it from Mexico, India, China, anyone who is in this country illegally in any way, even if it is one day over their visa, then the business is shut. The power of civil asset forfeiture will be applied to all cases involving illegals.[2] This is where Trump can show Kim Jong-un how serious he is as he unleashes the Trump juche because Americans will sacrifice to show the world they are in charge. This will help America in its trade wars because America will not want to import anything because it is all here in America.

To show their resolve, Trump and Miller will immediately strip all naturalized citizens of their American citizenship. They are really immigrants who came and stole citizenship from true Americans. Men like Seb Gorka and Rupert Murdoch, who became a citizen so he could take American jobs, seize American papers, and publish lies about Trump, will be deported. Mr Murdoch’s assets will be seized, his papers and television shows shut down, and he will be placed on America’s global sanctions list. If we have people who think they can come to this country, take American citizenship, take American jobs, take American newspapers, television stations, and film studios, then they need to be shown that this will NOT stand! We have rules and they will be followed! We must stop illegal immigration and there is no price to high, no sacrifice too great for that goal. Mr Murdoch will understand since he supported Trump and knows that what is best for Trump is best for America and ultimately best for Mr Murdoch.

If you have a sanctuary city, then Trump will take a page from Assad and start barrel bombing it. If the cities will not cooperate after the barrel bombing, then it is time to start the strategic bombing and missile strikes. Trump and Miller need to send a message and nothing shows those illegals who is boss than barrel bombing your own cities and carpet bombing your own people. Critics will note that no one wants to immigrate to Syria and that is because Assad knows how to deal with illegal immigrants.

If a politician has an illegal who volunteers on their campaign or in their office, then they will be stripped of their office immediately. As Stephen Miller said “The powers of the President will NOT be questioned!”[3] If someone employs an illegal as a nanny, a housekeeper, or a tutor their homes, property, and business will be seized and they will be arrested. No one is above the law. Of concern will be religious institutions, especially evangelical Christian churches that might harbour or support illegals. They will be closed, their assets seized and pastors and parishioners will be imprisoned. Trump has sacrificed too much, shown too much support, and given too much to the Christian evangelicals and they have offered nothing in return. If Romans 13 is to mean anything, they will willingly surrender themselves to Trump and Miller.[4] If the Christian evangelicals had shown more faith, support, and a willingness to work for Trump then this problem probably would never have existed. The same will be done to the Catholic Church, Synagogues, Mosques, and Jedi Temples. No one is above the law and Romans 13 will be the theological law while Trump’s word is the law of the land.

If you are a farmer or even a landowner within 1000 miles of any border and an illegal sets foot on your property then it will be confiscated. If you resist, and I am looking at Clive Bundy, the 1%ers the 3%ers and all the other “sovereign citizens”, we will not send a hapless BLM agent to serve papers. We will send a Hellfire missile up your ass with a drone strike. If we are taking out Al-Qaeda supporters, another national security threat, and illegals are going to be Al-Qaeda supporters, then those who harbour them are also targets. This is set out clearly in Authorisation of Military Force. AUMF Public Law 107-40[5] gives the President the power to wage war against those who supported Al Qaeda and those who harbour illegals or let them use their property are supporting Al Qaeda.

If the Hellfire missiles are not effective, then we will send in SEAL teams and other SOF to sort out the survivors. As this is a national security issue, no mercy can be shown to the enemy or their family or supporters. If you resist and you are captured, then you will be tortured. As Trump has said, if their family supports terrorists, and anyone opposing the rule of law is a terrorist on par with ISIS, then the Hellfire missile needs to take out the family supporters[6].

The threat to Al Qaeda inspired illegals brings us to foreign realm.

Foreign

Trump needs to invoke Article 5 of NATO and withdraw all US troops from Europe and send them to the border. He will withdraw troops immediately from South Korea, as he now has Kim Jong-un’s signature and Xi’s understanding about the Korean peninsula. At the same time, America will withdraw from Okinawa so that America can be defended properly. To balance this out, Trump will immediately arm Japan with nuclear weapons. Xi will understand and explain to the Chinese people that Japan has suffered too long from immigration and they have shown too much ingenuity in keeping out foreigners to be abandoned.

To balance out America leaving Europe and NATO, Trump will encourage Putin to take control of Poland so that they don’t harbour any illegal immigrants. And because Merkel cannot handle her own illegal immigrants, he will provide them with nuclear weapons so that they can deal with immigrants once and for all. At the same time, Trump will also provide Ukraine with nuclear weapons. History does not matter because all that matters is America defeats illegal immigrants. Otherwise, what kind of message is sending to the world if he cannot fight illegal immigration at home?

In the Middle East, Trump must withdraw all economic and military support from Israel. What better way to demonstrate America is against illegal immigrants than rejecting history’s most famous illegal immigrants and leave them to their fate at the hands of their enemies. Trump tells us that we must put America first so that means Israel will have to suffer what it must at the hands of its enemies because America needs to defend itself against the national security threat of illegal immigration. Prime Minister Netanyahu will understand why America needs to fight illegal immigrants at Israel’s expense. America first means America first.

With the troops back from Europe, Okinawa and Korea, Trump and Miller can now go to the source of the problem-the shithole countries. America will launch simultaneous invasions of South America, Central America, India, Australia, and New Zealand. America will use all of its carrier task forces, ballistic missile systems and strategic bombing, to defeat any regime that allows illegal immigrants to come to America. The leadership will be replaced with anyone who promises to stop the illegal immigration. America will demonstrate to the world that no one wants to come to America.

How do we define success?

Success occurs once Trump has turned America into a shit hole. At that point, no one will want to immigrate legally or illegally. Trump will reverse Regan’s claim that America was the world’s last refuge.[7] Instead, the world and America will be so bad that no one will ever come here again and most importantly, his enemies will want to leave. Now, where will they go?

This is where Trump’s political genius[8] is demonstrated. The only country that will be untouched will be Canada. Trump will leave Canada unscathed so that Justin Trudeau must deal with all the refugees and immigrants. Trump will kill America to own Canada! FTW!

Dr Swift is a visiting scholar at the Haford School of International Migration National Security. She writes extensively on terrorism, immigration, public administration, and occasionally on Morris Dancing. She is also a distant relative of Dr Jonathan Swift. She is an accomplished contact origami artist with works displayed at Amsterdam’s Gersfhfugel Museum as well as Toyko’s famed Mitsuzshumni Art Institute. She has a BA from Mulebridge College, an MA from Stalford University and a Phd from Bordurian University.

The views expressed in this proposal do not reflect the views of any institution she is associated with.

[1] https://www.nbcnews.com/dateline/video/trump-affirms-immigration-security-is-national-security-768810051724

[2] https://www.cato.org/events/policing-profit-abuse-civil-asset-forfeiture

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ljz8y2qX1f4

[4] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+13&version=NIV

[5] https://www.congress.gov/107/plaws/publ40/PLAW-107publ40.pdf

[6] http://time.com/4132368/donald-trump-isis-bombing/

[7] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPvuYxUxEto

[8] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/07/stephen-miller-backs-trump-as-genius-and-gets-kicked-off-cnn.html

Posted in justice, statesmanship, transparency | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Addicted America: Why Facebook, Apple and Amazon thrive

America is addicted. We see this everyday as 100s of Americans die from drug overdoses. The opioid crisis is a national emergency yet the government’s response is insubstantial in comparison to the problem with their most substantial act to declare and reaffirming the national emergency. Critics would suggest it was a media strategy to manage appearances rather than an attempt to change the reality of the crisis.

Americans are addicted to opioids because it provides welcome relief from the chronic pain, both physical and spiritual, that they experience. Life in America has become harder and harder but not simply materially. Many Americans live a life of comparative luxury with a prosperity that is often the envy of the world. Yet, American life is harder because the gap between rich and poor, haves and have nots has widened both in a relative and absolute sense. What is different is that social media magnifies the gap to make it visible and ever present.

The opioid crisis could be treated; but it will take more than Trump’s media strategy to deal with it. Claims of a national emergency and wanting to execute drug dealers sound good and get the Twitter trends that Trump craves, but it does not change anything. For Trump this does not matter since to appear to have acted so he can claim success for his response and blame any failure on those who oppose his preferred option. Unless he plans to start killing pharmaceutical executives and physicians, executing drug dealers will not have an appreciable effect on addiction rates or overdose rates. However, none of that is important so long as he can gain headlines and *appear* to be doing something *tough* and *unpopular* with those his base dislike.

Trump’s concern with appearances brings us to Facebook, Apple, and Amazon. These companies are part of the FANG group of stocks (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google) that makes up almost 10% of S&P500[1] and therefor a sizable part of the US economy. Trump has famously become “obsessed” with Amazon because its founder and CEO is a critic.[2] He is a critic with a difference since he wields great economic power and owns a major newspaper, the Washington Post. Trump makes public statements about Amazon’s tax advantages and the way they use the US postal service and these have an impact on Amazon’s share price. However, they have no content since there is little that Trump can do about Amazon’s dominance. Even though he wants the appearance that he is doing something and cares for the small retailers, perhaps to tap into the economic populism that Bernie Sanders champions, he has done nothing of substance nor can he do something of substance. Why? America is addicted to these companies.

Amazon

Americans pay for Prime membership so they can get their purchases faster. They already arrive within a few days, but now the average consumer *pays* for the privilege to get them faster. One would imagine that the average person lives with a “just in time” logistical existence so that as soon as their cereal runs low they can replenish it immediately.[3] Except people don’t need to live this way, instead they have been conditioned to live this way by Amazon as if their lives were less worthwhile or enjoyable before Amazon Prime made it easier. What Amazon understands about consumer psychology is that the consumer is addicted to the immediate gratification or satisfaction of their purchase and that is reinforced by quick delivery after the purchase.

Amazon reinforces the customer’s satisfaction by subtle or not so subtle prompts that encourage further purchases. They have tapped into the social satisfaction loop with the following prompts.

  • Others have bought the following items.
  • Only one remains in stock.
  • The price of the product you looked at has dropped or risen.
  • If you order more you can get free delivery or faster delivery.

In time, Amazon will link these prompts to celebrity endorsements so that the consumer can satisfy their status anxiety by buying what their preferred celebrity has just purchased or looked at. If shopping is a drug, consumers have their supplier and they know where they can get their fix.

The Facebook

The Facebook succeeds by its ability to exploit its users. In return, it “connects” its users and creates a “community” that further enhances the Facebook’s ability to exploit them. The more connected the users, the more they believe that their life is enhanced with greater convenience. For most people, once connected, they have no alternative to the Facebook since it becomes their main or exclusive platform. In time, the user becomes dependent on it both for their news and their “connection”. Although, the Facebook has an age limit of 13 it is also keen to take a share of the education market.[4]

What the users do not know and the Facebook does not mention is that social media is designed to be addictive.[5] Moreover, if you leave the Facebook, you leave your “community” and that would mean that the average person will have the dreaded social isolation that they all platforms implicitly warn against through push notifications. Want your next fix, just wait you will have another notification to prompt you to “connect” by telling you who has just updated their profile and who has posted a new link. All of this is sold as a greater convenience and if you do leave the Facebook, you will suffer withdrawal symptoms.[6]

Apple

They have customers addicted to their products and with Apple vertical and horizontal integration within the Apple ecosystem. Your music is on Apple Music which you manage through iTunes. Your iPhone is Apple, you need AirPods, you need an Apple Watch.

Most importantly, and this is how Jobs outdid Coke and Pepsi at selling sugar water because despite their success as status symbols they had an insurmountable barrier. They could not sell the next generation of Coke or Pepsi. Apple, through the iPhone and the iPad can renew *the* status symbol with each generation. You must have the next upgrade because your current iPhone which was much better than the last one needs to be upgraded. If only Coke, Pepsi, or Tobacco had that process. Moreover, Apple just doesn’t sell you an iPhone, you must buy the accessories as you can’t buy one from another supplier.[7] Not only that, if you have your iPhone repaired by anyone else, Apple can stop your phone from working with the next software update. In turn, that requires you to send your phone to them to be repaired.

Apple like other companies and industries relies on planned obsolescence,[8] but they presented it as a feature not a bug.[9] After the issue surfaced, they fixed it.[10] However, based on brand loyalty and the addicted docility, it is unlikely to have an impact.[11] At the same time, they offer a good product that does something more because it provides a status symbol which for a status conscious population, constantly checking their social media feedback loop, this is an important comparative advantage?

Children

What is noticeable about each of these companies is their focus on younger consumers. In their own way, each tap into the market for younger consumers. Apple is trying to catch up with Microsoft in the education market. Google and Amazon have voice assistants that can cater to the children’s market in several ways. Facebook focuses on children as well with 13 being that entry age. Perhaps this is to be expected as the desire for future consumers as revenue streams is important to their success. Even if they avoid breaking any laws, they seek to prepare the ground for younger consumers to become adult consumers. They prepare the soil so they can harvest the seeds they plant by their marketing and educational outreach programmes.

What we find, though, is that these companies and their products do not enhance the common good. They enhance private goods, especially those of their shareholders and the executives, but it is not the common good that benefits. From an economic perspective one might argue that they provide jobs and taxes to Americans so they are important to the common good. To be sure, they do provide jobs and taxes. Yet, the common good is more than jobs and taxes. Each of these services take people way from the physical public domain where their communities exist and the common good manifests. As an Amazon customer you never need to go to a shop or to the mall and see other people or interact with them. You can do all your shopping through Amazon without leaving your home. With Facebook you can “connect” to anyone in the world and never leave your home. All of this is at the expense of meeting people in person and enjoying the serendipity of the public domain. No matter your connectivity through Facebook, you are not physically present. To be sure each company will claim that they make life more “convenient” so that the consumer citizen can enjoy other parts of their lives. Is it their fault if the consumer does not prioritize the public domain?

History has shown that it takes two generations for a Republic to be corrupted. Any change can be resisted if it is identified and remedial action is taken. If it is not taken in the first generation, it is harder for the next generation to resist or even remember what life was like before the change. After two generations, the change is irreversible.

We have one generation to change. The question is whether we can pull ourselves away from our digital opioids and recover our virtue. Perhaps it is too late as citizens we surrender ourselves to the corporate harvesters that exploit us for profit in return for convenience as a better life. As these ills are self-inflicted, we have a chance, but it means a different way of life. Are you ready to make the change?

[1] Apple, Amazon and Alphabet make up 10% of the S&P 500 with a combined market capitalization market cap of $2.3tn. Add Microsoft and Facebook, with a combined market value of $1.1tn, and the big five make up 15% of the index.

 

Overall, technology makes up 25% of the S&P. If tech pops, the thinking goes, so pops the market. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/apr/01/big-tech-touble-amazon-facebook

[2] http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/leaders/why-trump-is-attacking-amazon/news-story/f3a32ee5d0e34c3488cffe3febabfc9a

[3] https://www.economist.com/node/13976392

[4] https://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/28/microsoft-google-and-facebook-see-billions-in-future-of-education.html

[5] See for example Sean Parker’s statement. http://adage.com/article/digital/sean-parker-worries-facebook-rotting-children-s-brains/311238/ Facebook shares this trait with all other successful social media companies. They want their users to be addicted to their services. https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/vv5jkb/the-secret-ways-social-media-is-built-for-addiction

See also http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2017/12/29/facebook-cocaine-opioids-how-addictive-is-social-network.html Further reinforced in the design: http://www.tristanharris.com/essays/ That is people have designed their systems to exploit their fellow man. They design systems that will exploit their vulnerabilities not to help them but for profit.

[6] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/social-media/9986950/Twitter-and-Facebook-addicts-suffer-withdrawal-symptoms.html

[7] https://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonkelly/2018/03/06/apple-iphone-x-price-cost-upgrade-iphone-x-plus-new-iphone/#4d695b6b6f66

[8] Apple is not the only one. https://www.forbes.com/sites/adamsarhan/2017/12/22/planned-obsolescence-apple-is-not-the-only-culprit/2/#cc6e91440d1f

[9] https://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonkelly/2017/12/21/apple-iphone-battery-life-slow-iphone-performance-ios11-battery/#1e7cbfbb674b

[10] https://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonkelly/2018/01/18/apple-ios-11-3-release-upgrade-iphone-shutdown-iphone-battery-problem/#5f4ca2c84423

[11]““The reputation damage from secretly slowing down old iPhones, regardless of the reason, will likely linger for a decade,” argues popular podcaster Marco Arment in a tweet. He’s right and it should.”  https://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonkelly/2017/12/21/apple-iphone-battery-life-slow-iphone-performance-ios11-battery/#1e7cbfbb674b

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A legitimate president knows “Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue.”

President Johnson meets with candidate Richard...

President Johnson meets with candidate Richard Nixon in the White House, July 1968 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the past year, we have been treated to, or rather forced to endure, the unsavoury aspects of a president’s personality. Over the past year, we have tweets and public statements that show us something that is usually hidden. We see a president’s feuds rather than his compromises, his grudges rather than his forgiveness, and his boasts rather than his humility. For his supporters he is telling it like it is. Yet, far from removing hypocrisy he wants to impose his own by replacing the presidential persona with his own.

The President’s behaviour is similar to Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon who were often crude, vulgar, and cruel in private. In public, they presented a different persona to fulfil their presidential responsibilities. They had to adopted a persona that respects common decency since the president is the highest public figure. They respected the office and its public role. They accepted its constraints. What the President has done is blur the two realms through social media and his own personality to avoid these constraints. In particular, he has done this to define himself against the media. The media upholds an expected presidential persona by holding him to account, which in turn filters his public persona to the public. However, the issue is not his struggle with the media nor is it the President’s unwillingness to accept hypocrisy.

To justify his behaviour, his supporters and defenders argue that presidents hide their private vices and that lie to the public with their public virtues. Robert Mercer, for example, claimed he funded Milo Yiannopoulos to attack what he saw as the hypocrisy of those who would shut down free speech in the name of political correctness. In this, though, he refused to accept a view that a society rest upon a shared or common opinion that has to be defended and is not open to “debate.” We can see this respect for the common opinion when previous presidents were genuinely embarrassed to have their private indecency revealed or known. They respected the office and the presidential persona. By contrast, the President broadcasts it, he is *proud* of it, and most importantly, he is celebrated for it by his supporters. They think this reflects the world as it is so they want the world to know he is crude, he is boorish, and he is vicious. Except it doesn’t. Instead, he manipulates the public with his behaviour. He does this for effect and to reshape the presidential persona to his ends, not the public’s.

The President’s behaviour means that his persona supplants the presidential persona. To do this, though he has to undermine any institutions, such as the press, that reminds the public of the presidential persona and the public good. The President and Mercer attack the press or common decency as “fake news” or political correctness so that they can redefine common decency to enhance, not resist, the President’s persona. If they succeed, a private good will supplant the public good.

Posted in Government, statesmanship | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Trump’s Warsaw Speech: some tentative thoughts on the Crisis of the West

Trump’s Warsaw speech has attracted a lot of attention. Grown men and women have literally swooned at its beauty, grandeur, and audacity. Their claims suggest that if you combined Lincoln’s Lyceum Address, King’s I have a Dream speech, and Kennedy’s Inaugural Address and you combined Lincoln, King, and Kennedy into one speaker, they would only be half as good as Donald Trump’s Warsaw speech. Trump is, apparently, a master persuader so much better than Lincoln, King, and Kennedy combined. In light of this effusive praise, what has been lacking is a dispassionate analysis of his speech. The following attempts to provides a tentative or partial analysis to bring to light the issues it contains.

On the surface, Trump’s speech was not legendary; it was not even, adventurous. It appears, at best, a stump speech for foreign policy. His speech relied on standard rhetorical devices to create an enthusiastic audience response. Trump flattered his audience and they loved it. Who would not love to be flattered by the President of the United States? Trump praised Poland to Poles in Poland. Praising the audience is as old as Pericles’s Funeral Oration. The speaker is literally telling the audience what they already know, and what they want to hear. Who does not want to be praised? Who does not want to have their ancestors praised? Who does not want a heroic failure praised?

I am Polish by descent on my father’s side. That side of my family goes back to 13th century to what was Poland before the modern Poland was born. Anyone of Polish descent is going to know, at a minimum, about Pilsudski, the Polish Home Army, and Katyn Massacre. These are touchstones as potent as Washington, Gettysburg, or the Alamo, but they are not the only touchstones nor are they the most important. For Trump to praise these takes no effort. For Poles to cheer when they are praised takes no effort. Flattering an audience takes no effort. At best, this is emotional bribery; at worst, it is a cynical manipulation to avoid the deeper issues within the speech or faced by the audience.

What is overlooked amidst the incontinent praise was that the speech posed a deeper question, a question whose historical echoes remind us of the political consequences from a previous attempt to answer it. Trump appears, through the effusive praise of heroic Poles and heroic Poland, to Poles, in Poland, to have obscured the question and his answer. A few commentators heard his question and the answer, but most have confused the question and the answer such as those invoke Reagan’s Berlin Wall speech as a comparison. The comparison does force us to consider their similarities especially what they both say about America and the West, but they differ in a fundamental way. Reagan did not offer platitudes. He did not offer flattery. He spoke a hard truth that he was prepared to defend with blood and treasure. More to the point he engaged with his adversary and challenged them to come into the community of nations. If we stay on the surface of Trump’s speech, the hollow, shallow, refrain “the west is the best”, we stay with the easy, “feel good” bumper sticker slogans so that his base can feel powerful, important, and crucially, indomitable. Beneath that superficial exterior, the speech presents a less reassuring answer if we understand Trump’s answer. The empty, unthinking, praise does not understand that the West is in crisis. More to the point, it does not understand that Trump’s apparent answer to the Crisis of the West reveals a deeper problem. An answer that could worsen rather than lessen, or resolve, the crisis.

The West is in a crisis. All civilizations, nations, and people, are by their nature not eternal. Their mortality, their fragility, gives their accomplishments, even their death, significance, nobility, and meaning. For Trump, and others, it appears that the Crisis of the West is a spiritual crisis as the search for meaning that will endure or forestall that mortality. Although he rightly notes that Poland does hold a potential answer to that crisis, or at least part of an answer to part of the crisis, it is not necessarily the answer that defines the West. Trump’s attempt to address the spiritual crisis by reference to the will confuses the issue for it fails to ground the spiritual solution politically. Even though the will is not the same as the spirit, Trump’s approach reminded us of another speech that attempted to address a spiritual crisis by way of the will. In his praise of will, he sounds a theme similar to one raised by Martin Heidegger who also spoke of the will and spiritual renewal when he spoke of the self-assertion of the German university. Both Trump and Heidegger, though, evoke a spiritual renewal that differs from the one offered by Popes John Paul II or Benedict. They also called for the West’s spiritual renewal in important speeches that differ from Trump and Heidegger. It is perhaps in this divergence, over the West’s spiritual renewal or the best response to the Crisis of the West, that we need to understand Trump’s speech. To analyse the speech, we need to understand both its structure as well as it content.

Analyzing Trump’s speech

The speech has 70 paragraphs. Within the first 35 paragraphs, there are 18 that contain praise or celebrate Poland or the Polish people. In the remaining 35 paragraphs, there are only 6 paragraphs of praise or celebration. In the first half of the speech, we see many praise paragraphs such as

  1. So it is with true admiration that I can say today, that from the farms and villages of your countryside to the cathedrals and squares of your great cities, Poland lives, Poland prospers, and Poland prevails. (Applause.)

And

  1. And so I am here today not just to visit an old ally, but to hold it up as an example for others who seek freedom and who wish to summon the courage and the will to defend our civilization. (Applause.)  The story of Poland is the story of a people who have never lost hope, who have never been broken, and who have never, ever forgotten who they are.  (Applause)

In the second half, of the speech, Trump addresses many interrelated issues about the West, spirituality, God and the threats they faced. The second half of the speech, it is noticeable that the praise is reduced, the strategic drop-ins regarding foreign policy options occur, and the speech turns to the threats faced by the West, and by extension, Poland.

What is the threat?

The second half of the speech opens with the only paragraph to use the word threat.

  1. This continent no longer confronts the specter of communism. But today we’re in the West, and we have to say there are dire threats to our security and to our way of life.  You see what’s happening out there.  They are threats.  We will confront them.  We will win.  But they are threats.  (Applause.)

Any society or civilization must face the physical threats to its security and its way of life. However, these are only one type of threat. Trump describes several more which are central to his foreign policy. The first is, as expected, radical Islamic terrorism. Trump raises this threat at nearly every opportunity as if it is *the* threat facing America and the West. He describes it in similar terms to the existential threat that the Soviet Union, through its Communist ideology, posed during the Cold War when he calls it “another oppressive ideology”. Yet, by referring to radical Islamic terrorism as an ideological threat, he misunderstands both the Communist ideological threat and the threat of Islamic extremism. To put it crudely, he conflates ideological threat with a spiritual threat and assumes that the Islam, even radical Islamic extremism, is an ideology rather than a spiritual challenge. Perhaps by conflating these he reflects the muddled thinking of his advisors who seem unable to disentangle existential military threats, ideological threats, and the spiritual threat. In this, they appear to misunderstand the Crisis of the West, which is not so much caused by Islamic extremists as revealed by it and exacerbated by it. However, the subtlety of thought required to parse these issues and develop a confident, coherent, and consistent foreign policy appears to escapes him and, and most importantly, his strategic advisors. Leaving that issue, aside, we need to focus on the remaining threats to understand Trump’s attempt at a strategic vision.

The threat of powers that seek to test the West.

Trump refers to powers that confront the West and “seek to test our will, undermine our confidence, and challenge our interests”. He does not refer to states or countries but powers. The nuance is important as it allows him to make the first of two strategic “drop ins”; the strategically placed asides that allow him to speak to a different audience within his speech. In the next paragraph (41) he asks Russia to cease destabilizing Ukraine and supporting hostile regimes. What needs to be considered is whether Trump sees Russia as part of the West or a threat to it because it is outside of it. If Trump understands Russia through the Cold War lens, then he will see the West as a category that referred to non-communist states. Yet, this category, at a basic, level, would include Russia as it is no longer communist. If we consider the West as Christendom leavened with Greek Philosophy, what Thomas Aquinas synthesized to found the West, then Russia has a claim on the spiritual side to be part of the West since its leadership understands its fate, and identity, as Christendom’s true, final, guardian. Yet, if the West is understood as post-Christian liberal democratic alliance since the determinative characteristic is not Christendom but adherence to liberal democracy, then Russia would be excluded from the West. In an interesting twist, perhaps to avoid this nuanced problem, Trump asks Russia to join the Community of Responsible Nations (CORN). However, he does not clarify whether the CORN is the West or whether the CORN is a subset of the West or even if CORN transcends the West. Perhaps, he seeks to differentiate this difference for three paragraphs later (44) “responsible” is dropped so it becomes Community of Nations. He then turns to the next threat.

The unknown existential threat–bureaucracy.

On both sides of the Atlantic we face a tangible, visible, danger—bureaucracy. Bureaucracy as a threat seems to pale when compared to the apparent existential ideological threat from radical Islamic terrorism or the powers that threaten the West’s will, confidence, and interests. If we remain on the surface, the bureaucratic danger appears misplaced. Beneath that surface, though, bureaucracy appears to offer us an insight into the deeper, if not deepest, threat for the West. Although some commentators have seen bureaucracy as a short-hand for the law and the rule of law, they misunderstand how Trump sees the threat since bureaucracy attacks an individual’s autonomy that is sacrificed as the state regulates our behavior whether by law or by fiat. With the three threats identified, Trump turns to how the West will defend against them.

The defence of the West.

In the face of these threats, the West will stand resolute. Here Trump begins his attempt to develop a strategic vision. The West must remain firm in its culture, faith and tradition, so that its courage, spirit, will, remain intact. What is important, though, is that the West is ready for the effort since its alliance, countries, and power will ensure it prevails. It will prevail as long as we remember who we are, our achievements, and our salient characteristics. What is common across the West is that the people are the foundation of freedom and the cornerstone of its defense. If we accept popular sovereignty as the basis for political legitimacy, then a state like the United Kingdom is excluded since it is not founded on popular sovereignty. The Crown, including Parliament, is the source of political legitimacy. How this is expressed, though, is what brings us to the speech’s second “drop in” (paragraph 54) which forms an important parallel with the first. The West’s defense is expressed in NATO and Trump reaffirms America’s support for Article 5 mutual defense commitment. At this point, we have seen the threats and we have seen the West’s response. Yet, there is a deeper threat, which was hinted at earlier in the speech, that comes to the surface.

The Crisis of the West.

Despite the reference to an oppressive ideology as a potential threat to the West and the required reference to radical Islamic terrorism, which the community of nations can meet, we find something more difficult, the gravest threat, except it is not called a threat, it is posed as a question. Does the West have the will to survive?

  1. We have to remember that our defense is not just a commitment of money, it is a commitment of will. Because as the Polish experience reminds us, the defense of the West ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail and be successful and get what you have to have. The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost?  Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders?  Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?  (Applause.)

The question is one that has challenged the West for several decades. The question reminds us of the Crisis of the West, which is that the West is no longer certain of its purpose. For decades, the West has continued to face this question despite claims that it was answered in 1989 with the end of the Cold War and the apparent triumph of liberal democracy. The question, especially for America, has become urgent after 2001 as that provided a potential answer that simply raised a deeper question for America and the West. Trump will present an answer to the question. For his answer, he turns to the speech’s only historical example that has an extended discussion as the question posed in paragraph 57 is addressed over the next eight paragraphs (58 to 65) as he describes the Warsaw Uprising and the battle for Jerusalem Avenue. This section praises Poland’s spirit so that it appears that praise brackets the discussion of threats and the West’s response which means that the speech begins with praise and ends with praise. Except it doesn’t.

The speech shifts dramatically to two short, important, paragraphs. Trump suddenly shifts from the previous threats and their respective defences to something else, something more urgent, and more difficult. In paragraph 66 we find that the fight is not on the battlefield, it is in our minds, wills, and our souls. At the centre stands our will. It is from this beginning that our freedom, civilization, survival, are to be determined since these depend on our bonds of history, culture, and memory. The central word in each three-word series creates an interesting triad: will, civilization, and culture. Our fate rests upon our will. Yet, is our will enough? Are we ready to demonstrate the will to survive? Do we have what it takes to defend our civilization and our culture. Although neither civilization nor culture are described, it appears that the there is an answer to the Crisis of the West. There is an answer to question of whether the West has the will to defend itself.

What is the Crisis of the West? Three thinkers provide a context.

Before we consider Trump’s answer, we need to consider what the Crisis of the West means with three thinkers who have addressed the question of the Crisis of the West–Leo Strauss, Pope Benedict, and Martin Heidegger. Each came to it from their respective disciplines (political philosophy, revealed religion, philosophy) and each offered a different, if related, proposal to address the Crisis.

Leo Strauss

Through a series of books and a lifetime of scholarship, Strauss developed a complex, subtle, and controversial argument about the Crisis of the West. I cannot do justice to his writings or his thoughts, but I can sketch very briefly, and perhaps too crudely, what the Crisis of the West meant. At a basic level, the West has lost faith in its purpose to realize a universal society of free and equal nations where everyone can develop all their faculties. In this universal society, the nations would realize greater freedom and justice. When the world was infused with the principles that animated the West, it would have achieved its purpose. Yet, the belief in this purpose has been lost. It has been lost, to put it too briefly and too directly, because of the death of reason as evidenced in the slaughter of World War One and the monstrous regimes that emerged before World War Two and the brutality of the regimes that followed. Reason had died to the extent that a modern society, pursuing the goal of a universal society of free and equal nations, was built upon the belief in reason as a basis and guide for life so that if reason was to fail or to be shown to be incomplete, then the basis for life within the West would be in crisis. However, this is too simple of argument since Strauss also understood that reason had to be understood as in tension with and in contradistinction to revelation as an important guide to life. Revelation, as a guide to organize society and provide meaning for that society, presents an ever-present rival to the belief in a society guided by reason. For Strauss, it is the tension between these two alternatives that gives the West its vitality. Yet, both of these pillars are in crisis. In brief, the death of God has shaken the West since it destabilizes the necessary tension between reason and revelation. With the decline in reason and revelation as guides to how we should live, the West had succumbed to the illusory belief in progress as promised by two ways of thinking that had emerged from the death of reason–Positivism and Historicism. Yet, these only proved temporary solutions since they only accelerated the flight from reason and revelation. Without reason or revelation, man soon succumbs to nihilism, the belief in nothing since the infinite progress promised by the radical alternatives to reason and revelation is illusory. Instead what was needed to resolve or address the crisis was a way to return to an understanding of reason that would shape public life that avoids modern reason’s pitfalls. However, within that broad alternative, there is another potential alternative as presented by Pope Benedict, through the Catholic Church, which is closely related to Strauss’s but contains an important difference in how it understands the Crisis of the West and the potential response by the West.

Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict confrontation with the Crisis of the West can be seen in his life’s work as presented through his many books, his academic career, and his religious life culminating in becoming Pope, where he set forth Christ’s message through Catholic theology. His work, in contradistinction to Strauss’s, develops faith to explain Christ’s message as a response to what he understands as the heart of the Crisis of the West. Although, it is too simplistic to simply differentiate Strauss and Benedict as philosopher versus the priest, that dichotomy does allow us to see their similarities and their differences.

Like Strauss, Benedict understood the Crisis of the West as one that involved faith and reason. The West had lost its belief in God and in reason where reason had become distorted to serve man without understanding God’s role, the divine spark that animates Truth and the search for Truth both through reason and faith. Instead, reason had become a tool to serve man’s appetites without reference to his soul or the need to find a spiritual path for reason to find the Truth. For Benedict, unlike Strauss, faith and reason work together or complement each other. They are not so much in tension, as suggested by Strauss, as they are continually working out how to reconcile themselves to each other to serve the Truth. One could summarize Benedict’s understanding of the Crisis of the West, perhaps too crudely but with enough clarity as to help us understand Trump, as reason distorted to understand the world without God, as presenting the illusion that will deliver a better understanding of how to live than a reason reconciled to revelation. The illusion expresses the Crisis of the West since it cannot offer man a path to Truth as it only points back to man. However, Strauss and Benedict only present a theoretical response with the political consequences implicit or only suggested. Instead, the political consequences from the Crisis of the West came from the alternative presented by the third thinker who they both confronted in their work.

Martin Heidegger

Both men are connected by their encounter or confrontation with Martin Heidegger. In many ways, we can understand their work as a response to him and his teachings. It would not be too far to suggest that their works present an ongoing dialogue since he presents a challenge to both since he offers an alternative that neither accepts reason nor revelation in the same way. He, more than any 20th century thinker, explored the crisis of reason and faith. Yet, his final interview, published posthumously, is noted for his claim that only a god can still save us. Through his work we also see a certain synthesis of reason and faith, that runs contrary to both Strauss and Benedict that has marks Heidegger’s thought, writing, and teaching. The synthesis is unique to Heidegger and it was perhaps never seen so clearly as his 1933 address The Self-Assertion of the German University. This speech also appears to mark his last, perhaps only, attempt at political philosophy. His synthesis challenged what was previously understood as that which had founded Europe and the West– Thomas Aquinas’s work to harmonize Aristotle and Christianity. Aquinas is considered to have founded the West to the extent it is understood as an enterprise that harnesses Faith and Reason or harmonizes Aristotle to Christianity. Heidegger, though confronted this synthesis with a radical alternative as presented through his work. In this uncanny speech, he offered the political response to the break between Faith and Reason and the decay in both that had left modern man bereft of direction and in need of guidance. Instead of drawing those ends together in new tension, as suggested by Strauss, or seeing that faith and reason were in harmony, as suggested by Benedict, and the political consequences suggested by either, Heidegger offered a radical alternative drawing on an ancient idea and yet one that was uniquely updated to respond to the question of technology, which had altered man’s relationship to reason within a world where God was dead.

Heidegger as a harbinger for Trump?

Through this speech Heidegger addresses the spiritual crisis of the West. A crisis that was threatening to consume the West, Germany, and the German University. If we begin or return to a beginning in the face of Nietzsche’s claim that God is dead, then we find that we face a radical uncertainty that requires questioning as the highest form of knowing. In the midst of this crisis of radical uncertainty we are exposed to the most extreme danger that will create a truly spiritual world. It is only in the spiritual world that the people find greatness for it is there that they face the decisive struggle between the will to greatness and the acceptance of decline. Either we will ourselves to greatness or we accept, will ourselves, to decline. Through their struggle, the people will fight for their spiritual world so that the people will be a spiritual people. Heidegger saw the crisis as one of will, which required a new type of leader who could resolve the spiritual crisis. He argued that through the self-assertion could the German University fulfil its mission to the national community, the nation, and the spiritual mission of the German people to confront this crisis. However, the struggle was not simply within the German university or the German people since it engulfed the West. Heidegger saw the spiritual strength of the West would fail and this would only be resolved by the German people as a spiritual people wills itself and thus stop the Crisis of the West. They achieve this through battle and it is this struggle that defines them as a spiritual people who fulfil their historical mission. They would achieve this if they placed themselves under the leader’s will, since it is this will that provides them the way to determine their essence as a spiritual people. Heidegger’s response to the Crisis of the West was through a leader who wills the people to fulfil their historical mission. The tension between reason and revelation, the complementary relationship between reason and faith are now reconciled in this new leader.

Heidegger and Trump: distant echoes or a recurrent theme?

Heidegger’s proposed response to the Crisis of the West and the Strauss/Benedict responses foreshadow Trump’s Warsaw Speech. In particular, Trump’s speech has a strong resonance with Heidegger’s address since both speak of a spiritual struggle, a battle that the West was in danger of losing, which called forth the will to respond by a select, if not elect, people. Trump speaks of a similar struggle, a test of spirit, and the need for the will to respond. Moreover, we have something that Heidegger could only suggest in 1933. What Heidegger’s thought, as expressed within his address, was the need for the will, the need for a leader to resolve the tension between Faith and Reason; the need for one man who had the spiritual strength to stand in the storm. Such a man would resolve the crisis. Such a man appears to have arrived in Warsaw.

Trump’s answer to the Crisis of the West

Trump made an important, if not historical defining, declaration. His declaration transforms the speech from something ordinary to something extraordinary and daring, if not decisive for the West.

….I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever, be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilisation will triumph. (paragraph 67)

Trump has answered the West’s existential question. As Leo Strauss argued, the West had become uncertain of its purpose. The West’s purpose was to realize a universal society of free and equal nations where everyone can develop their faculties. To do this and as a result of this universal society, the societies within the free and equal nations would realize greater freedom and justice. When the world had become infused with the principles that animated the West, it will have achieved its purpose and its future would be secure. By contrast, the Crisis of the West was that the West was no longer certain of its purpose, no longer able to deliver that vision, and the societies of greater freedom and justice were unrealized because the individual was unlikely to develop their full faculties. All of this is gone now. Trump is now certain of its purpose and its ability to deliver its vision. He has the answer.  He has declared that spirit of Jerusalem Avenue is the answer. However, we have to consider whether it is an answer or the answer. In paragraph 67, Trump declares his answer the question of whether the West has the will to survive. In this one paragraph Trump has done something no other president, statesman, or thinker had done—he addressed the Crisis of the West.

  1. And today as ever, Poland is in our heart, and its people are in that fight. (Applause.)  Just as Poland could not be broken, I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken.  Our values will prevail.  Our people will thrive.  And our civilization will triumph.  (Applause.)

In one bold statement, one simple declaration, Trump has solved the crisis of the West. Thinkers from Heidegger, to Strauss, to Pope Benedict can rest assured. The Crisis is at an end. Trump has resolved it by asserting that the West has the will to survive. He moves beyond the need to reconcile reason and revelation, by restoring the West’s faith in its purpose, to replace that tension or harmony with new certainty. A certainty, that while foreshadowed by Heidegger in 1933, eluded him. Trump by contrast has declared he has replaced the tension or even the harmony with a certainty. A certainty that has been missing in the West for decades and one that resolves the tension between global technology and modern humanity. With one simple declarative sentence, we have moved to a new world historical age with this speech.

Has Trump used a flawed example to illustrate his answer to the Crisis of the West?

If you accept Trump’s declaration as true and binding, then it would be worthy of its praise. It would be worthy of the highest praise since it would have rescued the West from the fate that Heidegger, Strauss, and Pope Benedict had feared and were unable to avoid. If Trump has reconciled the West to its past and its future, then he has done what no political philosopher or statesman has been able to achieve. Trump will have refuted Nietzsche since we have the will to believe in God and the will to believe in the West’s purpose which reason provides. Yet, that belies a deeper problem within Trump’s speech, its central example, and the claim to resolve the Crisis of the West.

Understanding the Jerusalem Avenue in a different light

When we consider the historical example of Jerusalem Avenue, we have to consider there are two unstated outcomes. One is less problematic than the other for what his speech means or suggests, but both present a serious question to Poland and the West. Trump focuses on the struggle, an enduring struggle, so that the normal situation is struggle not peace. Within this claim is the deeper problem of constant struggle since struggle is not the basis for the common good that embodied the West and has ensured it can endure. If we accept Trump as having transcended the West and founded it anew upon the eternal struggle then he rejects peace as the normal state and sees it only as the exception. Within this worldview, the two outcomes become even more important for their consequences for the West.

First, The Poles lost. They were defeated at Jerusalem Avenue. The Nazis won that battle. The Soviets won the war and enslaved Poland. Only with the end of the Cold War was Poland freed. It was not freed by itself, its own arms, its will, its spirit. It survived, barely, but it did not defeat its erstwhile masters. Its spirit allowed it to endure, to survive, but offered no means to throw off the shackles or present an alternative to defeat that which enslaved it. However, it did not survive because of or solely because of it spirit. Instead, the Poles survived because they tapped into something beyond their spirit, something that shapes and transcends their spirit. Trump did not address this political thing although another speech in Poland to Poles did. Trump’s speech makes no reference to that political thing nor that speech. Before we consider the other speech and the political thing, we have to consider the darker, more problematic, outcome from Trump’s example.

Second, as we noted, Trump praised the Poles for their spirit. Yet, they lost. We know that Trump does not rate losers. He likes winners. We know that the Poles were defeated at Jerusalem Avenue. In the Warsaw Uprising and the battle for Jerusalem Avenue, the Nazis won. They defeated the Poles. They closed Jerusalem Avenue. Only when the Soviet Union attacked were the Nazis defeated. Even then Jerusalem avenue was closed. To be sure it was “open” in that the Nazi snipers were gone and the traffic passed through it, but it was closed in that the Soviet Union’s forces controlled it. It is this darker, more problematic, outcome that makes Trump’s speech so dangerous for its focus on the will evokes historical memories, historical echoes, that should awaken Poland and the West to a political danger that lurks beneath the surface of his claims. If we reflect on how Poland found itself fighting in Jerusalem Avenue and the consequences of Heidegger’s speech, we find that the return to will and the spirit, without reference to the political things, provides the potential for a political alternative that can destroy Poland and the West. One could argue it is the danger coeval with the West.

Instead, it is America, a republic, built upon a common good, literally the res publica (the public thing) that led the struggle against Soviet Communism and freed Poland. America is the example that offered the hope, the alternative, and the system that undermined Soviet Union. It is America, founded in belief of Nature and Nature’s God, where all men are created equal, where the majority rule must protect minority rights as people rule and are ruled in turn, that we find the potential response to the Crisis of the West. America, through its founding in Liberalism, offers the alternative to the desire for supremacy that fuelled the Nazis and the Soviet Union since its promise of political equality allows for a community, a common good, founded in justice which will reflect and express decent politics.

Has Trump overlooked the common good that defines the West?

Trump’s response does not appear to be the answer so much as an answer and one, that as Heidegger showed us, has already been tried. To understand why Trump’s answer appears misplaced we need to consider another speech in Poland. One by John Paull II (hereafter JPII). Speaking to the Polish Parliament in 1999, he presented an alternative vision for Poland and the West. He understood politics, reason, and faith differently from Trump or Heidegger. In his speech he encouraged the Poles, and the West, to develop a common good where the new democracy avoided the twin dangers of moral relativism, where the majority decided what was right and wrong, and the harsh authoritarianism where the poor and weak are cast aside in the pursuit of material wealth. Before Trump, JPII spoke about the Poland’s spirit, its heroism and sacrifice. Unlike, Trump, though, JPII connected that spirit to a tangible political thing—the common good. In an interesting occurrence, JPII mentions spirit and common good 15 times each. It is not too far to suggest that for JPII the two are linked since a community’s spiritual health reflects its devotion to the common good. To put it perhaps too simply, the common good is a political expression of a community’s spiritual health as a corrupted society will display a spiritual malaise.

Unlike Trump’s speech, the central paragraph of JPII’s speech talks of a common good as it has a direct message for those devoted to political life. By contrast, Trump’s message to those devoted to the political life suggests something different since it focuses on struggle and the will. JPII talks of a common good that can embrace all for it starts within Poland and it is applicable to all societies.

13. It is clear that concern for the common good should be the task of all citizens and should be seen in every aspect of social life. In a special way however concern for the common good is required in the field of politics. I am thinking here of those who give themselves wholly to political life, as well as of individual citizens. The exercise of political authority, whether in the community or in the institutions of the State, ought to be a generous service to man and to society, not a pursuit of gain by individuals or groups, disregarding the common good of the nation as a whole.

Trump talks of the West at war and facing a constant struggle without mentioning the common good. Yet, without a common good, how can one create a lasting peace? Trump appears to believe that military might will deliver victory and in victory stability will be created. Yet, the deeper problem is that unless the status quo is just, then the peace is simply transitory if not illusory since the desire for political change, to redress historical or material wrongs, the desire for justice will become violent. One cannot defeat extremism or terrorism without creating a common good that removes the reason for terrorism or extremism or presents an alternative that has a greater appeal. If Trump’s vision of the West only relies on its military might or its spiritual strength as expressed in its creativity or material prosperity, then it will lack the political things necessary to create an enduring peace for it will not reflect a common good, it will reflect a particular good one that is imposed by force. In a word, in Trump’s vision, the West lacks a common good or a vision for the common good.

Is the West losing faith in the common good?

Without a common good or a vision of the common good, the political community can fall prey to ethical relativism. Ethical relativism emerges in a democracy when it no longer acts in the belief that a common good can be built upon a shared or ultimate truth beyond what the community declares. When a community no longer sees an ultimate truth as a guide, it is ripe to be manipulated by what the majority or the government decide.

This is the risk of an alliance between democracy and ethical relativism, which would remove any sure moral reference point from political and social life, and on a deeper level make the acknowledgement of truth impossible. Indeed ‘if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism’” (No. 101).

In a curious twist, we find that Trump has never mentioned the common good in his campaign speeches, his tweets, or any White House statement and attacks the news, which attempts to report the truth of what the government or Trump does, as “fake news.” Throughout his campaign speeches he never spoke of the common good and his behaviour and speeches have focused on his individual good and the good of his party. To this extent, Trump forces us to consider his character since he presents himself as an authoritative measure, the standard, by which the good of the country is to be understood. When he did refer to the good of his country, it reflected the good of his party and his personal good. If he is founding a new order for all time, then it reflects his interests not a common interest or a common good that can be shared. As it cannot be shared, it raises questions about the American common good and the common good that defines the West. If this common good is in question, as Heidegger’s alternative in 1933 suggested and Trump appears to be revisiting, then the we face a path, a difficult path, but one that gives us a choice.

If Trump is suggesting a political community that endures by will alone, it raises the question of whether he is a statesman weaving together the polity’s disparate strands to create a protective web of state. In other words, he does not appear to be creating a common good within his speech. Even if he seeks to re-found the common good on a different basis, neither he nor his speech writers appear to understand the forces they seek to evoke or have unleashed. That the echoes of Heidegger’s speech infuse Trump’s speech in a place where Heidegger’s vision, or at least a variation on it, was put into practice, should cause us to question whether Trump has the vision to heal what has been damaged, if not broken, in America by the 11 September 2001 attack. Jerusalem Avenue does not show us the triumph of the will. Instead, it shows us danger arrives when one forgets the common good and seeks to find certainty in a leader’s will. We are now forced to consider if they seek to awaken what has been long suppressed, an alternative to the common good, in the sheer hubris that this time it will be different. Yet, such a view, if it is indeed what they want, lacks the moderation or grace to understand not so much where this statesmanship leads, but that it pursues a goal that is ultimately self-defeating for it lacks the moderation and grace needed to sustain a common good that for decent politics that neither destroys faith or reason.

 

Posted in philosophy, public opinion, statesmanship | Tagged , , , , ,

Journalists wrestling Trump for the truth: Fake News and a Post-Truth society?

English: Donald Trump at a press conference wi...

English: Donald Trump at a press conference with David Blaine announcing Blaine’s latest feat, The Upside Down Man, in New York City at the Trump Tower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jay Rosen in his article (“The Trump White House has turned into a kind of playground for the press.”) has hit upon two important truths about the Trump presidency, the press and the problem of “fake news”.[1]

First, Trump like any political leader is trying to replace the reality created by the press with his reality. Instead of a shared reality, when both seek to create a truth together, we have both sides trying to create their own version of reality with Trump insisting that what does not agree with or confirm his view of reality is “fake news”. All political leaders work with a future reality. They propose policies to create a future and they work with the public to create that future or they have to work to overcome their resistance which is based on a different view of that future reality. What shapes their future reality is how they understand reality. They begin with their own cognitive ability, which is influenced by other forces. The largest external influence on a politician is the media who supply information, opinions, as well as feedback or criticisms on the politician’s vision as expressed in policies and legislation. What Trump is doing, though, goes beyond this because he wants to replace the shared reality with his reality. He wants to impose his reality on the country starting with the press. By contrast, the media who see that Trump is unmoored from the shared reality try to connect him to a shared reality based on facts that reflect reality.

The struggle between the press and presidents is a reason, as Rosen explains, the public have less trust in the media and the government. The public’s trust in the media and the government have declined as the public are caught in the struggle to define reality and in their view neither side captures what they experience. What they see is that each side has its own agenda which relies on a selective approach to the public so that a shared reality is not being created. At a basic level, the public no longer see either party trying to co-create a description of reality so much as to present their reality, or truth, which will be imposed on those who would disagree. For the public, who support their candidate or simply dislike the media, when the journalists say “X” is the story, the public, especially in the social media age, can get other sources, as well as their own experience, that indicates that the story is not “X” but is “Y “or is “XY” but more than “X”. At that moment, they will believe the journalist to be wrong, misinformed, or more importantly-lying. They dismiss the media not for having an opinion that they can evaluate, even though some may lack the capacity to evaluate the media’s claims, but because they see the media as lying. As soon as the media do not correspond to their view of reality, or the reality proposed by their party, candidate, or interest, they dismiss it as a lie.

The source of this problem on both sides is that the news is taken as the reality instead of an appearance based on a reality. In other words, the reporters believe that they report the reality. The politicians believe that what they say is reality. For the public, the reality becomes whatever appears to confirm or conform to their preferences. Where the public live the reality, they become disillusioned with both sides the extent that they fail to reflect their lived reality. Beyond their lived reality, though, the public are caught up in the appearances being created by either side since neither side, at the moment, is tied to facts or an underlying reality that can be access by all parties. In particular, the struggle between both parties serves a deeper purpose. Trump has a convenient excuse, the media or “fake news”, while the media make profits from the conflict that is played out on their pages and platforms. Appearance becomes reality for those who make the news and those who consume it. On many events, the public have no experience or verified understanding so they have to accept the appearances as they created by the media, except where they have a lived reality. The public react to these appearances and accept them as their reality. Thus, they can accept Trump’s claim to hate the press and that the press is the enemy because they accept that appearances are the reality. They confuse appearances with reality. Even if they wanted to transcend appearances, the media have no incentive to disabuse them of the appearances because they benefit from the appearances. However, appearance is not reality nor does appearance create reality. Instead, appearance only covers the reality or clouds the reality. The skill to use appearances to cloud the public’s mind is an idea as old as Machiavelli.

Machiavelli, in his infamous book The Prince wrote the following about the way perceptions or appearances and reality intersect or influence each other.

Men usually judge things by the eye rather than by the hand; everybody gets to see, but few come in touch. Everyone sees what you appear to be, but few feel what you are, and those few don’t have the courage to stand up against the majority opinion which is backed by the majesty of the state. (Chapter 18)[2]

What the press can do, if they want to reinvigorate the public domain as a place for the public to participate, is start to “touch” the president by connecting the president to reality by reporting the facts that either confirm what he has claimed or disprove his claims. In that effort, the press would start to return to the previous role of holding power to account. They are not simply trying to create an alternative to the Trump reality so much as to reveal to the public the reality that Trump is trying to distort or suppress. If done well, their efforts can be used to sustain the common good. Yet, both parties benefit from the gap between the appearance and reality. For their own reasons, neither wants the public to touch Trump. Trump works very hard, and has very aggressive lawyers, to avoid the public and reporters from being able to touch him or uncover the reality about him. Yet, the press has little incentive to do the un-glamourous and financially difficult task to connect Trump and the public to the facts. Which lead us to the deeper problem that Rosen’s article raises.

The deeper problem, as Rosen, alludes is that it is difficult for the press to close the gap. First, the gap makes money. Second, it is hard to close the gap given the nature of what now passes for evidence and reasoning from such evidence. Rosen argues that the solution is that the press change their ways and force the president or the White House to give reasons for their actions.

it’s whether anything journalists do forces the president or the White House to become a little more reality-based, a little more accountable, a little more likely to give reasons for its actions, or to explain what it’s actual policy choices are.[3]

On the surface, this is laudable and appears easy. The journalist simply points to the gap between the appearance, what Trump says about reality, and the reality. At this stage in our democracy, it appears a nearly impossible task. It may occur in a classroom, but rarely in the public domain with Trump. The only example I could find of this approach succeeding was the following. At his first major press conference, a reporter forced Trump to admit that his margin of victory in the electoral college was not the largest since Reagan’s victory.[4] The reporter confronts Trump with the evidence that shows his claim to have the largest electoral collect majority since Reagan is wrong. Trump does not apologize nor does he accept that it was incorrect. He avoids the issue as he says that “someone told him it was the largest margin.” At the press conference, no one else follows up or points out that he had been corrected. Therein we see the first problem. The press rarely challenges the president on his claims since there is no profit in it either financially or politically. They may correct him if he confuses Iraq with Syria, but they will not challenge his claims. The financial part is that the pedestrian work to show Trump is wrong does not garner headlines, clicks, buzz, or whatever metric measures media effectiveness. The second way is that a confrontational approach can jeopardize their access. Although it would be difficult to deny access completely, it could prove problematic for a reporter or a network if their access was limited. These two issues though only look at it from the press perspective. We have to consider how Trump manages the same issue as he works to manage the appearances.

What helps Trump is that he does not have to tell the “truth” as fact checked by the media, he only has to manage the appearance of truth for the public. He shapes a truth, a narrative, that is created by the appearance of what he says which he uses to persuade the public or at least flatter them. For Trump, what is said becomes what is.[5] Anyone who questions him starts at a disadvantage because to question him is a sure sign you disagree with him. If you disagree with him, you will lie about him. In this scenario, only Trump, and those who Trump verifies, tell the truth. Everything else is fake news. Where this can be undone, through patient and rarely rewarded work, is to connect the appearance of truth that he creates with the shared reality understood by all. We saw this when the reporter forced him to accept that his victory margin in the Electoral College was not the largest since Reagan. Only on that basis can Trump be held to account. The attempt to hold him to account by trying to use appearances against him, such as through ridicule, or by a counter “narrative” based on opposing opinions will not work. Once the journalist, or the press, accept that premise, that the issue is decided mainly or exclusively in the realm of appearances, they accept Trump’s premise that the truth is only appearance or what he says it is since they want to say what the truth is what they say it is as well. They will lose in the realm of appearances and their inability to deliver a narrative that flatters the public enough to weaken the public’s support for him.

How Trump answered the question about the Electoral College victory margin gives us an insight into how he deals with bad news or information that does not conform to how he wants to perceive reality. How did he dismiss the question? What he did was say “I was given that information.” He does not take responsibility for it and implies it is someone else’s fault. The response is what his supporters would expect. Trump was given duff information. What matters to his supporters is that Trump won. For Trump, even a single electoral vote is a large margin. To argue that point shows you are a sore loser as you argue about an irrelevant detail because you disagree with the outcome and don’t like Trump. Why else would you question it? Faced with those challenges why would a journalist or an editor want to pursue the point since it will be dismissed, despite the effort, with “I was given that information”?

The realm of appearances, and the belief that what Trump says is “what is” can be seen in Trump’s claim, at the same press conference, that his administration was running like a fine-tuned machine. No one asked him to explain what he meant by fine-tuned or asked him to explain why it was doing so poorly if fine-tuned? If you were to ask Trump to back up his claim, his opinion, that his administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, he would dispute the evidence that contradicts him. Moreover, he would argue that this was your opinion and that it would be dismissed since his opinion is all that matters. If that failed, he would refuse to accept a standard that would allow his opinion to be tested. Without a standard, you have to search for a standard. Once you begin the search for a standard, the journalist, and the public who want to decide between Trump and the press, face another barrier that Trump, and his supporters, raise—the demand for complete evidence linked to a desire to avoid structured arguments.

Even though everyone works and lives with incomplete information, when it comes to political things we find that people demand complete evidence before they will believe a claim. The need for complete evidence is often used by Trump and his followers as part of a common rhetorical technique called “moving the goalposts”. Each time evidence is presented, Trump or his followers demand more evidence, that is “move the goalposts”. We saw this with his claim that President Obama was not born in America. Each time evidence was supplied it was questioned and further evidence was required. If the short-form birth certificate was provided, then the long-form was required. If the long-form was provided, then the persons who authenticated were questioned. At each stage, Trump and his followers insisted that the evidence that was supplied was insufficient. At the same time, they would not accept a common standard by which the claim could be tested. They would not accept that a standard could be accepted that would allow anyone to judge whether the facts corresponded to reality. At each stage, they refused to accept either the standard, the evidence supplied; short-form, long-form, verified newspaper reports, or they would question the veracity of the evidence or the reliability of the people who supplied it. Yet, such an approach is guided by a scepticism that they would not use in any other part of their life. Would the same person demand to see a pilot’s licence before getting on an airplane? Would they demand to see the credentials of the mechanic who serviced the plane? Would they demand the airline prove that its food was not poisoned? Only on the political things they question does it appear they demand complete evidence. Moreover, the demand for complete evidence is linked to the refusal to accept an agreed standard, a structured argument, to resolve the uncertainty or to make a decision based on incomplete information. It is this fear of structured argument, where claims are assessed by an agreed standard such as Occam’s Razor, that makes it difficult to hold Trump and his followers to account as well as sustain a healthy public discourse. However, the public discourse was weakening before Trump came to power, which is where journalists face a particular difficulty in holding power to account.

With the decline in the public discourse, the two barriers mentioned above become much more difficult to overcome. The public have been habituated to what Trump provides as have journalists who can find it easier to navigate the realm of appearances than try to work with facts and structured arguments. If the public want a soundbite or to cheer for their “team”, then the news “market” will reward those who supply that content. The journalists who want to hold Trump or any president to account face a double bind. They must overcome the public who live the realm of appearances, where they want to be entertained or flattered, and they have to challenge Trump on the basis of opinions or appearances while trying to entertain or flatter the public. To do this, the journalists have to connect what he does, not what he says, to the facts. Yet, this is difficult because Trump uses a persuasive rhetoric, which often undermines or attacks the media. One constant refrain is the claim that the media are “fake news” which serves two main purposes. First, it undermines the media’s attempts to hold him to account by questioning their honesty or veracity. Second, it reinforces the idea that Trump alone tells the public the truth. To counter Trump’s rhetoric, journalists need to employ a rhetoric that can convince a public, who are habituated to appearances, opinions, and flattery not rational or structured arguments, and hold Trump to account on facts and arguments. The journalists have to show the gap between what Trump says and what “is”. To show that what he says is empty or is not rooted in facts takes more effort than most journalists and networks will sustain. It can be done, but so infrequently that it has to be reserved for egregious examples where the gap between appearances and reality is so great and so clear that it becomes almost incontestable or, when contested, leads Trump, not the journalist, the network, or the public, into more egregious claims.

If journalists continue to insist on reporting the “palace intrigues” within the administration, they will continue to reside within the realm of appearances. Only when those are connected to facts, clear issues where the gap between appearances and reality is noteworthy, can they hold Trump to account. Where the journalists have succeeded in holding Trump to account are areas such as policies and legislative proposals since those have to be linked to reality, they can be verified, and there is a standard by which they can be judged. Where this works is where the public are ready to be convinced or persuaded such as with the health care reform. In that example, the public were persuaded by the rhetoric and by the facts since both flattered how they understood themselves as well as reflected the reality they lived.

With these issues, the challenge becomes whether journalists and the public want a journalism, and political commentary, rooted in facts and a shared or lived reality that may not flatter them but it will at least serve to sustain a decent public discourse. Without a shared search for the common good neither journalists nor the public will be able to hold the powerful to account for they will be rooted in the desire to be flattered and persuaded which leave them vulnerable to appearances and opinions detached from their shared reality so that they only understand themselves as the powerful want them to be understood rather than how they understand themselves. If the public and journalists are unwilling or unable to work towards this goal, then a shared reality, from which a common good can be discovered and understood, is not possible. What will remain then is a community where the strong do as they will and the weak do as they are told or resist for neither will have seen the other as equals.

 

[1] http://pressthink.org/2017/04/trump-white-house-turned-kind-playground-press/

[2] http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/assets/pdfs/machiavelli1532.pdf (p.38)

[3] http://pressthink.org/2017/04/trump-white-house-turned-kind-playground-press/

[4] See the video at 32:09 to 32: 45. There is simply says “I was given that information.” https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2017/feb/17/donald-trumps-press-conference-in-full-video

[5]  “What permits the sophist to accomplish this feat of forgery is the assumption that what is said is actually is. In other words, sayings are equal to that which is (to on). Hence, words once coupled with deductive reasoning provide a true account of the generic being (i.e. what is).”

http://balticplus.uk/the-children-of-eleatic-hydra-by-reza-negarestani-c28560/

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Trump, supremacism and political extremism

English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth Presid...

English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States. Latviešu: Abrahams Linkolns, sešpadsmitais ASV prezidents. Српски / Srpski: Абрахам Линколн, шеснаести председник Сједињених Америчких Држава. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.”– Abraham Lincoln

Donald Trump has made America confront its darkest fears. His success has awakened ideas and beliefs that have long been suppressed as unsavory, unpleasant and un-American. He has encouraged supremacist beliefs that run counter to the country’s founding in equality. Equality is what gives America its greatest strength and freedom. Without freedom, there is no equality and without equality there is no freedom. Yet, Trump has encouraged those forces and ideas, long discredited, that seek to re-awaken and re-assert the older ideas of supremacism and with it-inequality.

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Of course, the Queen wants Brexit.

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Au...

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Australia, and other Commonwealth realms) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we read Aristotle, his effort to insist that the function of political science is to describe accurately the regime we are talking about or living in, it becomes clear that the most dangerous thing we can do sometimes is precisely that, to state accurately what sort of regime it is under which we live. —- James V. Schall, S. J.

What is often forgotten in the Brexit debate is that the Queen has to be, by default, in favour of Brexit. Even though the Queen will follow political convention and accept what Parliament decide in this matter, it would be rare for her to act otherwise since by constitutional convention she has to accept Parliament’s legislation where it directly relates to her, she is in favour of Brexit. As a Monarch, she supports Brexit for she is intrinsically opposed to the European Project. Even though an alliance, or in this case a treaty, may be in her country’s interest, and she rules in the public interest, she remains intrinsically or institutionally opposed to the European Project. The European Project is a direct result of the French Revolution. Within the French Revolution, the Rights of Man emerged as a viable alternative to the divine right of kings. The French Revolution unleashed a political revolution which has become the modern Human Rights. The UK Monarchy is founded in direct opposition to the Rights of Man and by inference it is intrinsically opposed to Human Rights. To understand why there is this institution conflict, we have to return to the French Revolution.

The French Revolution remains a threat to the Monarchy.

The French Revolution was and remains an existential threat to the Monarchy. In response to this threat, the UK led a counter revolutionary campaign to resist its worst political and military excesses (Napoleon) Even at a less dramatic level, the Monarchy supported efforts to resist the French Revolution’s political philosophical challenges. Unlike the American Revolution, which was up to a point willing to live and let live with the United Kingdom, the French Revolution was focused on overthrowing Monarchies near and abroad. The Crown understood this threat and fought it. Although Napoleon was defeated, the threat remained. The revolutionary spirit had encouraged democratic tendencies and changed European and world politics. As with all great threats it has faced, the Monarchy has adapted to remain relevant and thereby survive.

PREVENT and the question of political philosophy.

The threat is not that a revolution will topple the UK Monarchy. How could it when the PREVENT strategy exists to counter any “extremism”.[1] Instead, it is that the revolution planted the seed that encouraged a political culture, a political thinking, that is the existential threat. The Monarchy understands institutionally that each constitutional change is away from it and towards democracy. As legislation limits its power either as it curtails its Royal Prerogative or imposes financial constraints that weaken it, Parliament’s power waxes as the Monarch’s wanes. To the extent that the two are intertwined within the Crown, they remain united against the People which they seek to manipulate to further their ends. In this historical struggle, the greatest political philosophical threat since 1789 is the Human Rights Act (HRA) in 1998. The HRA helps the People, which is why it was passed as it helped Parliament in its struggle against the Monarchy. What Parliament did not expect, though, was the extent to which as the EU project advanced it would become a threat to Parliament. Suddenly Parliament and Monarchy had a common enemy, but how to get the People to give up on the European project that gave them leverage over both Parliament and the Monarchy?

The answer to this question was the EU referendum which offered the ideal opportunity. The Monarchy will have encouraged those forces, especially within the Conservative Party, who wanted to remove this threat. At the same time, the other institutions, in particular the Press, began to see the threat and swung into action. Once the media saw the advantage that they could go back to an era before the right to privacy existed they saw the advantages to leaving the EU. They too would sell out the People and join Parliament and the Monarchy against the European Project and the Human Rights Act.

The Human Rights Act is a threat to the Monarchy

Just as the UK Monarchy in 1789 recognized the threat from the Rights of Man, it recognized the same threat in 1998. The difference, though, was that to survive and remain relevant to the UK political society, the Monarchy had accepted Parliamentary sovereignty so that it could not openly resist the HRA nor the EU project as both benefitted the people. The UK in 1789, in 1998, and today understand that its sovereignty is constrained by the principles that animate Human Rights. Either the Crown is the source of all laws,[2] as the Crown asserts, or there is a source beyond the Crown, which the Crown cannot alter.[3] For the Crown to accept it is limited by an outside force or is not the source of all laws is to suggest it is no longer sovereign. In effect, if the Crown were to accept the HRA would be to accept the principles of the French Revolution as legitimate.

Will Brexit be the end of the UK’s compliance with Human Rights?

What does this have to do with the Brexit and the Human Rights Act? The Human Rights Act has been an anathema to the conservative (small C) who resist the constraints required to obey some universal principles (human rights) which is predicated upon an idea that explicitly and purposefully renders the idea and practice of a hereditary monarchy as invalid.[4] The UK Monarchy is based on the idea that the strong rule the weak. No one rules the Monarchy, it rules the People. The People do not rule the Monarchy. To put it another way, no one elects the Monarchy. It does not exist by the People’s consent. By contrast, the French Revolution introduced the idea that became the Human Rights of the philosophical proposition that we are equal in our humanity. As such, a person who is equal can only be ruled by with their consent. The UK Monarchy is not based on that idea as only certain people may become the Monarch. Thus, the difference between royalty and commoners. (As an aside it is why the Queen is so interested in husbandry since breeding horses and dogs is similar to managing the royal blood line.) The difference is both natural, different blood, and philosophical, some are entitled to rule and others are required to be ruled, both of which combine to create a political outcome.

The conservative elements have reasserted their intellectual hold on the UK

With Brexit, the conservative elements will have broken an important psychological and philosophical link to Europe and its ideas of Human Rights. With the public mind soften to reject all things European, for fear it infringes on sovereignty, it is only a relatively small step to leave the Council of Europe and repeal the Human Rights Act. Both of these have been promised by the government as a consequence of Brexit.[5] Some may say that this is a step too far yet we are now discussing Brexit so that view seems untenable. To reassure those who are fearful, the campaign to repeal the HRA will stress the *British* Bill of Rights. Even if it is roughly the same, or is indeed the same, what will be clear is that there will be no appeal to a higher authority. As they say, the buck will stop with Crown not with Europe or some *foreign* body.

Is this speculation or simply the trend that is unfolding before us?

Now some may argue that this is a crude simplification and that rights and duties as the UK government will respect Human Rights as expressed as British Rights. Yet that idea of British Rights is already a particular and not a universal approach. If you consider human rights as a framework outside of the state’s immediate control, then it has to justify itself before that standard or in accordance with that standard. That is, it will be measured against human rights not British Rights or rights derived from the state. By contrast, the people, if they lack human rights, can only appeal to the government that determines their rights. It is vital that people understand that the UK government does not exist by consent. The public do not have a say in who is the Monarch or who succeeds to the throne as such, and to the extent they are ruled by the Monarch, they are not consenting to who rules them. Yes, can consent to the government that is offered, they can decide, within limits, the make-up of the government that is formed. However, the central point is that the People have had no say in a constitutional moment. One could argue that the UK lacks a constitutional moment. Therefore, for it to reject Europe and Human Rights in favour of sovereignty and British Rights, it would have to undertake a constitutional moment since the people are being asked to surrender their Human Rights that they obtained by the Human Rights Act and the EU.

If we understand Brexit in this context, especially if a constitutional moment will not arrive[6], then we realize we have surrendered our human rights. We now enter a realm where we will see a government with the power to declare someone is no human or lacks British Rights which strips them of any protection before the state. If you lack human rights and the government can decide your British Rights, what status do you have? Europe was created to escape such a fate. If surrendering our Human Rights is the price of Brexit, what has been gained?

What is clear is that Brexit serves the Crown more than the People.

For Crown, they will have removed an existential threat to their identity and their legitimacy. For Parliament, they will have greater power over the People for there is no check on their sovereign will. For the People, they will have gained the benefits of having protected the Crown and empowered Parliament to determine whether they are worthy of any rights beyond what the Crown and Parliament allow them.[7] In the final analysis, we see that the UK press has served both the Crown and Parliament but not the People. I am not sure what is worse, that the People have been betrayed or that they have been convinced that it is for their benefit.

[1] https://lawrenceserewicz.wordpress.com/2015/12/15/in-the-uk-political-philosophy-is-a-pre-crime/

[2]https://web.archive.org/web/20150416194014/https://www.royal.gov.uk/MonarchUK/Queenandthelaw/HowUKandEUlawaffectTheQueen.aspx (accessed 7 May 2017)

“People often wonder whether laws apply to The Queen, since they are made in her name.

Given the historical development of the Sovereign as the ‘Fount of Justice’, civil and criminal proceedings cannot be taken against the Sovereign as a person under UK law. Acts of Parliament do not apply to The Queen in her personal capacity unless they are expressly stated to do so.

However, The Queen is careful to ensure that all her activities in her personal capacity are carried out in strict accordance with the law.

Under the Crown Proceedings Act (1947), civil proceedings can be taken against the Crown in its public capacity (this usually means proceedings against government departments and agencies, as the elected Government governs in The Queen’s name).

In the case of European Union law, laws are enforced in the United Kingdom through the United Kingdom’s national courts. There is therefore no machinery by which European law can be applied to The Queen in her personal capacity.

However, it makes no difference that there is no such mechanism, as The Queen will in any event scrupulously observe the requirements of EU law.

As a national of the United Kingdom, The Queen is a citizen of the European Union, but that in no way affects her prerogatives and responsibilities as the Sovereign.”

The page was removed from the www.royal.gov.uk page when it was updated in 2016. The updated version does not refer to the Queen’s superiority to the law. https://www.royal.uk/queen-and-law (accessed 7 May 2017)

“In the earliest times the Sovereign was a key figure in the enforcement of law and the establishment of legal systems in different areas of the UK. As such the Sovereign became known as the ‘Fount of Justice’.

While no longer administering justice in a practical way, the Sovereign today still retains an important symbolic role as the figure in whose name justice is carried out, and law and order is maintained.

Although civil and criminal proceedings cannot be taken against the Sovereign as a person under UK law, The Queen is careful to ensure that all her activities in her personal capacity are carried out in strict accordance with the law.”

[3] I will leave it to others to consider why the Monarchy would wish to hide its status within the UK constitutional system.

[4] A monarchy is by its nature is conservative.

[5] http://ukandeu.ac.uk/explainers/what-are-the-consequences-for-human-rights-if-we-change-our-relationship-with-the-eu/

See

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/28/theresa-may-fight-2020-election-plans-take-britain-european/

and

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-politics-24338921/tories-to-scrap-human-rights-act

[6] http://www.consoc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/COSJ2947_The-Crisis-of-the-Constitution_WEB_FINAL.pdf

[7] The Crown retains its Henry VIII powers which means that it can amend any legislation passed by Parliament which means it retains a prerogative power beyond Parliament’s control. http://www.parliament.uk/site-information/glossary/henry-viii-clauses/

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