Friday, October 1, 2021

New Public Opinion Research Shows That Tens of Millions of (White) Americans Are Prepared to Use Violence to Put Donald Trump Back in Office

Two weekends ago, Trump loyalists gathered in Washington for the "Justice for J6" rally, a supposed show of solidarity with the "political prisoners" arrested for their alleged (or confessed) participation in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

Trump's Republican-fascists and their propagandists have elevated these hooligans, vandals and (in many cases) terrorists to the status of martyrs and patriots as a way of legitimizing their anti-democratic movement, creating sympathy among Trump's faithful that can be exploited for fundraising and, of course, recruiting and encouraging more extremists to the cause.

Despite warnings from the Capitol Police, DHS and other authorities that more violence was possible, the rally on Sept. 18 was a tame and peaceful affair. No more than a few hundred Trump cultists attended, greatly outnumbered by law enforcement and the news media. This low turnout was widely mocked among the chattering class, liberals and progressives of the "resistance" and others who oppose Trump and his movement.

As I have argued before, such reactions are shortsighted and ill-advised — another example among many of the way America's political class, news media and the public at large still does not understand the nature of the threat they face from the Republican-fascist movement and the larger white right.

Experts on domestic terrorism have repeatedly warned that in the aftermath of Jan. 6 many militant Trumpists and other neofascists are operating more covertly, perhaps by breaking up into small cells that are difficult for law enforcement to track and apprehend. Right-wing militants and terrorists are more likely to attack "soft targets" as opposed to widely publicized events and locations where law enforcement is sure to be present.

As seen in Michigan and elsewhere, right-wing militants are likely to focus their attention at the state and local level where law enforcement assets are more porous and likely targets are, in general, more vulnerable to attack.

But in fact the real power of Jan. 6 and its aftermath is difficult to measure by such standards. Those events, and Republican efforts to rewrite the history of that day, have increasingly normalized right-wing political violence — if not in fact made it a preferred and desired way of obtaining and keeping political power.

In keeping with Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels' "Big Lie" strategy, a large majority of Republican and Trump voters actually believe that the 2020 presidential election was "stolen" from Donald Trump — and, in effect, from them as well. Public opinion polls also show that a significant percentage of Republicans believe that the violence and coup attempt on Jan. 6 was a "patriotic" or at least understandable action that was necessary to "defend" democracy and Trump's presidency.

On a daily basis, neofascist white supremacist opinion leaders and other propagandists on Fox News and across the right-wing propaganda echo chamber are radicalizing millions of white Americans. Most will not personally commit acts of violence against nonwhites, Muslims, "radical socialist Democrats" and others designated to be the enemy. But they are ever more likely to tolerate or condone such crimes.

Ultimately, fascism is a type of political and social poison which manifests as violence and other antisocial and anti-human behavior. New research by Robert Pape and the University of Chicago Project on Security and Threats demonstrates how far that poison has spread among the American people.

In a new essay at The Conversation, Pape summarizes these findings, beginning with the most startling result:
We have found that 47 million American adults – nearly 1 in 5 – agree with the statement that "the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president." Of those, 21 million also agree that "use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency."

Our survey found that many of these 21 million people with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. At least 7 million of them already own a gun, and at least 3 million have served in the U.S. military and so have lethal skills. Of those 21 million, 6 million said they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and 1 million said they are themselves or personally know a member of such a group, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.

Only a small percentage of people who hold extremist views ever actually commit acts of violence, but our findings reveal how many Americans hold views that could turn them toward insurrection.

Pape's polling found that 9% of American adults agreed that "Use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency, while 25% agreed that "The 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president."

Pape reports a margin of error of 4 percentage points, meaning that the proportion of American adults who hold both those views is somewhere between 4% and 12%. "The best single figure," he writes, "is the middle of that range, 21 million."
He continues:
People who said force is justified to restore Trump were consistent in their insurrectionist sentiments: Of them, 90% also see Biden as illegitimate, and 68% also think force may be needed to preserve America's traditional way of life.
In an interview with the CBS News podcast "Intelligence Matters," Pape further explained what this new research reveals about the relationship between the white supremacist "great replacement" theory, the QAnon cult and right-wing violence:
Sixty-three percent of the 21 million adamant insurrectionists in the country believe in the "Great Replacement," the idea that the rights of whites will be overtaken by the rights of Blacks and Hispanics. The second most important driver was a QAnon belief, where 53 percent of the 21 million believed that our government is run and controlled by a satanic cult of pedophiles. Those are the two radical beliefs that are really ... the key drivers of the insurrectionist sentiments in the country today.
Pape also sounded the alarm about the prospects for right-wing political violence and terrorism in the months leading up to the 2022 midterm elections:
This is about, what are the prospects for other instances of collective violence, especially related to elections going forward? ... I think that we need to be aware that we are moving into already a politically tumultuous 2022 election season just in the last month with the events in Afghanistan, which has created tremendous amount of anger in many of our military circles, military communities; with the new mandates for COVID, which President Biden has just announced, which are already generating tremendous pushback against the federal government. ... We need to understand the risks that that could break out into violence.
For all of these escalating warnings about the potential for serious right-wing political violence, America's political class remains largely unwilling to properly respond to the clear and present danger. Such an outcome is in part explained by the very language that is most often used in these discussions.

For example, "right-wing terrorism" or "right-wing extremism" is often presented in a race-neutral fashion.

A more accurate description would be to say "white right-wing terrorism" or "white supremacist violence." Similarly, the events of Jan. 6 could be described as a "white insurrection" or "white riot," which more clearly captures the role of race and racism in the violence of both that day and the Age of Trump as a whole.

To be clear, there are Black and brown people who belong to Trump's cult. Some are among his most militant supporters. Regardless of their skin color, such people are loyal to Whiteness as a social and political force. As such, Black and brown Trumpists and other neofascists want to access white power and white privilege for themselves. For them, the end goal is to somehow "earn" a type of transactional honorary whiteness.

Trumpism and other forms of American neofascism and racial authoritarianism are an extreme personal and existential problem for nonwhite people and others who are marginalized as the Other. They are also a problem spawned by and of White America.

Until that distinction is internalized by America's elites, and widely accepted as common sense by the American people, neofascism will continue to gain momentum and the country's democracy crisis will continue to escalate toward full-on disaster, from which no return to "normal" will be possible. America's past and America's present (again) runs along and through the color line.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Fact Checking, Laughter, and Liberal Schadenfreude Will Not Save You From Donald Trump and His Neofascist Movement

Recently, a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee was finally removed from Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the old Confederacy. The statue was erected in 1890, as Jim and Jane Crow tightened their hands, often literally, around the throat of Black America. The AP reported the big moment:

Hundreds of onlookers erupted in cheers and song as the 21-foot-tall bronze figure was lifted off a pedestal and lowered to the ground. The removal marked a major victory for civil rights activists, whose previous calls to dismantle the statues had been steadfastly rebuked by city and state officials alike.

"It's very difficult to imagine, certainly, even two years ago that the statues on Monument Avenue would actually be removed," said Ana Edwards, a community activist and founding member of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom Justice & Equality. "It's representative of the fact that we're sort of peeling back the layers of injustice that Black people and people of color have experienced when governed by white supremacist policies for so long."

Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, had ordered the statue's removal last summer amid the nationwide wave of protest that followed the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But it took more than a year for lawsuits aimed at saving the statue to work their way through the courts. Northam called it "hopefully a new day, a new era in Virginia," adding: "Any remnant like this that glorifies the lost cause of the Civil War, it needs to come down."

Lee's statue, like those "honoring" other Confederates, was the physical embodiment of centuries of racial intimidation, racial violence and threats against Black Americans and other people of color. Such statues and monuments were — and in many places still are — an attempt to create a usable past that reinforces and legitimates white supremacy, with the goal of defeating the civil rights movement and the long Black Freedom Struggle. In effect, they communicate that Black people are supposed to forever remain second-class citizens in their own country.

In addition, Confederate statues and monuments are symbolic acts of psychic and emotional violence against Black people. Many Black people — especially those who survived the era of Jim and Jane Crow — experience anger, pain, humiliation and other forms of trauma when they are forced to confront these statues and other symbols of racist hatred and white supremacy. Confederate statues and monuments are meant to make a claim on public space, one that creates boundaries of civic belonging and community. In that way, some public spaces are declared to be "whites only," even long after the end of legal segregation.
In a 2017 op-ed for the Washington Post, noted historian James Loewen, author of "Lies My Teacher Told Me" and "Sundown Towns," offered this intervention against the distortions and lies about the Civil War offered by Donald Trump and other neo-Confederates, including the ludicrous notion that the war didn't need to happen:
Trump's conclusion about [Stonewall] Jackson places him in a camp of 1930s historians who called it a "needless war," in the words of James G. Randall, brought about by a "blundering generation." That view is a product of its time, and that time is now known as the Nadir of Race Relations. The Nadir began at the end of 1890 and began to ease around 1940. It was marked by lynchings, the eugenics movement and the spread of sundown towns across the North. Neo-Confederates put up triumphant Confederate monuments from Helena, Montana, to Key West, Florida, obfuscating why the Southern states seceded. They claimed it was about tariffs or states' rights — anything but slavery. …

Today, when slavery has no state sanction anywhere, it seems obvious that the institution could not have survived to the 21st century. But if the South had prevailed, cotton would have resumed its role as "the largest and most important portions of the commerce of the earth," to quote Mississippi's secession document.

There is one more layer on this onion: The South did not quite secede for slavery, but for slavery as the mechanism to ensure white supremacy. On many occasions, its leaders made this clear. In 1863, William Thompson, founder of the Savannah Morning News, proposed a new, mostly white national flag for the Confederacy: "As a people, we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause." The government agreed and adopted his flag.

Some Trump partisans are clearly still fighting for that idea. Unfortunately, the Civil War settled only the issue of slavery — not white supremacy.
There is a powerful historical symmetry at work in the reality of the Lee statue's final removal from Monument Avenue. It was taken down and carted away by Team Henry Enterprises, a company whose CEO and president, Devon Henry, is a Black man.

Hundreds of thousands of Black men joined the Union Army during the Civil War. They were integral to turning the tide of battle and finally defeating Lee's forces and the Confederate slaveholding oligarchy.

I personally believe that Lee's statues and other monuments "honoring" the Confederacy should be shattered and otherwise destroyed, melted down and turned into chamber pots or other types of toilets. Those objects should then be auctioned off with the money going to civil rights organizations. I would be among the first people to bid on such a prize.

After Lee's statue was removed in Richmond last Wednesday, Donald Trump, de facto leader of the white right and larger American neofascist movement, issued this statement:
Just watched as a massive crane took down the magnificent and very famous statue of "Robert E. Lee On His Horse" in Richmond, Virginia. It has long been recognized as a beautiful piece of bronze sculpture. To add insult to injury, those who support this "taking" now plan to cut it into three pieces, and throw this work of art into storage prior to its complete desecration.

Robert E. Lee is considered by many Generals to be the greatest strategist of them all. President Lincoln wanted him to command the North, in which case the war would have been over in one day. Robert E. Lee instead chose the other side because of his great love of Virginia, and except for Gettysburg, would have won the war. He should be remembered as perhaps the greatest unifying force after the war was over, ardent in his resolve to bring the North and South together through many means of reconciliation and imploring his soldiers to do their duty in becoming good citizens of this Country.

Our culture is being destroyed and our history and heritage, both good and bad, are being extinguished by the Radical Left, and we can't let that happen! If only we had Robert E. Lee to command our troops in Afghanistan, that disaster would have ended in a complete and total victory many years ago. What an embarrassment we are suffering because we don't have the genius of a Robert E. Lee!
On cue, the mainstream news media, many liberals and progressives and other members of the chattering class and commentariat began mocking Trump once again. There were numerous essays, op-eds and commentaries proclaiming Trump to be ignorant of history because of his lack of knowledge about Robert E. Lee, himself a slave-owner and leader of an evil and defeated cause.

Laughing at Donald Trump may provide comfort for his detractors and opponents. But that laughter is actually rooted in helplessness, impotence and overall despair in response to Trump and his movement's escalating assault on American society. In a recent conversation at Salon, psychiatrist Justin Frank explained this to me:
It is unhealthy humor. The humor you are describing is defensive in nature. It's defending against anxiety and fear. Specifically, it is a defensive use of contempt. Through it, people can demean and insult Donald Trump, which in turn means they don't have to be afraid of him. One of the ways a person can express contempt is through laughter. Thus it is a denial of one's vulnerability, because contempt means the other person is harmless, therefore he or she cannot hurt you. In that way, Trump is made into a pathetic fool. "If I laugh, it's not going to hurt me."

Ultimately, defensive contempt is a way of dismissing Trump's dangerousness. However, that type of contempt toward Trump is really an attack on reality. It is also an attack on one's own perception because you have actually undermined your own ability to understand just how dangerous Donald Trump is.
Historians and other experts eviscerated Donald Trump's public display of his severely limited historical understanding of Lee and the Civil War. That is well and good: Truth is an important weapon against the lies that sustain fascism. But one should make those interventions with the understanding that truth and facts alone is not sufficient to defeat Trumpism.

Instead of self-satisfied mockery, a more effective counter to Trump's lies about Robert E. Lee (and other matters) is to ask oneself the following question: What is the meaning of this latest controversy? How should we locate Trump's lies, distortions and propaganda relative to the larger context of America's democracy crisis?

Some examples may help. Trump and his supplicants have repeatedly described the campaign to remove Confederate statues and monuments as part of a "politically correct" assault by "Radical Leftists", "Black Lives Matter" activists, proponents of "critical race theory" and other perceived enemies of the "real" America.

Trump and his propagandists have repeatedly used white supremacist language and code — "our culture," "our heritage," "our history" — when defending Confederate statues and monuments. The worldview here is one fixated on white grievances and fake victimhood. Those claims and feelings are cornerstones for larger white supremacist fantasies of violence and revenge against Black and brown people (and their supposed white allies) who are engaged in a fantastical global campaign of "white genocide."

The controversy over a different statue of Robert E. Lee was also the pretext for the "Unite the Right" rally and its ensuing white supremacist rampage in Charlottesville in August 2017. Donald Trump infamously defended those white supremacist thugs and their allies as "very fine people."

Today's Republican Party has largely embraced the neo-Confederate movement and its white supremacist "Lost Cause" narrative. These white supremacist fantasies about the Confederacy's valor and heroism as defenders of "White Southern Civilization" are foundational to Trumpism and its racial authoritarian political and social project.

White Christian evangelicals (especially the Southern Baptists) are among Trump's most loyal supporters. Those denominations can trace their origins back to the Southern slaveocracy and the white supremacist terror regime of Jim and Jane Crow. White Christian evangelicals remain deeply committed to the political and social project of creating a Christian nationalist theocracy.

The Confederate battle flag — which is a white supremacist hate symbol that threatens violence against nonwhites — is a fixture at Trump's rallies and other events as well as those of the Republican Party and "conservative" movement more generally. Flags, hats and other MAGA regalia often prominently feature the Confederate flag.

Public opinion and other research have repeatedly shown that today's Republican Party and its followers, especially Trump supporters, believe in the Lost Cause mythology and other white supremacist lies about America's past and present. While the United States may have defeated the Confederacy and forced its surrender in 1865, as historian Heather Cox Richardson persuasively argues, today's Republican Party and "conservative" movement are in many ways the Confederate States of America reborn in the 21st century.

On Jan. 6, Donald Trump's assault force carried Confederate flags and at least one white Christian nationalist cross. Those thousands of Trump terrorists included Nazis, Klan members, and other white supremacists. Their goal was to overturn America's multiracial democracy by nullifying the results of the 2020 presidential election and keeping Trump (and in their minds, white people) in power indefinitely. History echoes: The treasonous Confederates believed themselves to be "patriots" and the true heirs to the tradition of George Washington and the American founding. Donald Trump's followers have deluded themselves in much the same way.

The Jim Crow Republican Party's coup against democracy did not end on Jan. 6. Instead, it Is escalating, and scoring victories across the country. The dangers represented by Trump and the Republican Party's threats against democracy are so great that George W. Bush recently declared that Trump's terrorists and others of their ilk are of the same poisoned tree as the terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11.

Laughter may make you feel good. Fact-checking may give you a feeling of intellectual superiority. Liberal schadenfreude may provide momentary happiness. But none of that will save American democracy from Donald Trump, the Jim Crow Republican Party and their fascist movement. Only the hard work of mobilizing and engaging in corporeal politics can possibly do that.

Friday, September 17, 2021

A Death Cult: Donald Trump Could Destroy the World and Today's Republican Party Would Still Support Him

Is it life imitating art imitating life, or something even more complicated than that? At this point in America's state of malignant normality and unreality I am no longer sure. America in the Age of Trump lost the plot some time ago.

Consider this narrative: A crazed and out of control president, viewed by political rivals and military leaders as so unstable he might start a war — even a nuclear conflict — to gratify his ego and hold onto political power. He has launched a coup attempt, which remains unresolved. But a few brave and patriotic souls are willing to stop this president in order to save the country and the world from catastrophe and potential annihilation.

That comes rather too close to the plot of the 1965 thriller novel "Night of Camp David." Unfortunately, these events are not fictional. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other senior military and civilian leaders felt it necessary to prevent Donald Trump from acting out his most destructive impulses after losing the 2020 election, fearing the risks of a new world war.

These details come from CNN's report on "Peril," the new book on the presidential transition period by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of the Washington Post:
Two days after the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, President Donald Trump's top military adviser, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, single-handedly took secret action to limit Trump from potentially ordering a dangerous military strike or launching nuclear weapons. …

Woodward and Costa write that Milley, deeply shaken by the assault, "was certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election, with Trump now all but manic, screaming at officials and constructing his own alternate reality about endless election conspiracies."

Milley worried that Trump could "go rogue," the authors write.

"You never know what a president's trigger point is," Milley told his senior staff, according to the book.

In response, Milley took extraordinary action, and called a secret meeting in his Pentagon office on January 8 to review the process for military action, including launching nuclear weapons. Speaking to senior military officials in charge of the National Military Command Center, the Pentagon's war room, Milley instructed them not to take orders from anyone unless he was involved.

"No matter what you are told, you do the procedure. You do the process. And I'm part of that procedure," Milley told the officers, according to the book. He then went around the room, looked each officer in the eye, and asked them to verbally confirm they understood.
In a conversation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Woodward and Costa report, Milley agreed with her characterization that Trump was "crazy" and had been so "for a long time." The authors write that after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, Milley "felt no absolute certainty that the military could control or trust Trump and believed it was his job as the senior military officer to think the unthinkable and take any and all necessary precautions," calling it the "absolute darkest moment of theoretical possibility."

According to Woodward and Costa, national security officials appointed by Trump agreed. Then-CIA director Gina Haspel told Milley, "We are on the way to a right-wing coup. The whole thing is insanity. He is acting out like a six-year-old with a tantrum." Even Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had refused to acknowledge in public that Biden had won the election, told Milley that Trump was "in a very dark place right now."

Trump's supporters in the Republican Party are predictably focused on a single detail: CNN's report that Milley had "two back-channel phone calls with China's top general, who was on high alert over the chaos in the U.S.," in an effort to prevent a military incident between the two nuclear-armed nations. The right-wing disinformation machine is not interested in any form of accountability for Donald Trump, of course. Instead, leading Republicans and conservative pundits are demanding that Milley resign and be punished for alleged "treason." Trump himself has publicly declared Milley to be a traitor.

That response offers more evidence — if any was needed — of how today's Republican Party has become a fascist cult and a political crime syndicate, where loyalty to the leader matters more than anything else, including the survival of the nation or the entire world. Public opinion polls indicate that Republican voters largely feel the same way.

This is part of a larger right-wing impulse towards death and destruction, as seen with Republicans' collective response to the pandemic, the global climate crisis, mass shootings, police violence, economic inequality and other forms of injustice, and societal harm and human suffering more generally. In total, the "revelations" in Woodward and Costa's book are further proof that today's Republican Party is a massive danger to the world.

What happened? In 2015, the Republican Party made a devil's bargain with Donald Trump. He would provide the destructive energy and cult of personality that would give Republicans and the white right an opportunity to undermine, if not destroy, the country's democratic norms and institution. The proximate political goal was clear: Find a way to keep the Republican Party in power indefinitely, even in the face of demographic changes that threaten to render it obsolete.

As seen in Texas and many other states, the Republican Party's new campaign against democracy is scoring important victories and gaining momentum. Whether Trump himself believes in the cause is irrelevant: He is an instinctive fascist and demagogue, with no discernible ideology. For him, the presidency was a means to an end, an unlimited source of narcissistic fuel and a way to enrich himself (and his inner circle) and accumulate more power and attention.

As he revealed on numerous occasions, Trump's impulse was to seek out ways he could remain president into the indefinite future.

Per the account in "Peril", Vice President Mike Pence told Trump he had no power to reverse the results of the presidential election. Trump then asked him, "But wouldn't it be almost cool to have that power?"

Ultimately, Trump understood the Republican Party's voters and their darkest and most malevolent desires better than did nearly all Republican pollsters, pundits, opinion leaders and political strategists.

Donald Trump instinctively understood that his followers — the "deplorables" that Hillary Clinton warned the American people about — did not care about being "respected." They wanted permission to unleash their worst fantasies and desires, unrestrained by "political correctness" and other societal expectations that they respect the humanity of other people. Such a concept of "freedom" is central to Trumpism and other forms of fascism. Trump's followers see in him a projection of their ideal selves. This is why they are willing to kill and die for him and the movement.

In response to these new "revelations" about the latter days of the Trump regime, the mainstream news media is back on its hamster wheel of shock and surprise and outrage. This is largely political theater, not the kind of rigorous pro-democracy journalism that America's battle against neofascism demands. In a few days, the hope peddlers and professional "smart people" will move on to the next controversy.

To protest that the Republican Party is hypocritical or lacks principles, as some commentators invariably do, is a pitiful example of missing the point.

Peter Wehner expounds on this in a recent essay for the Atlantic, observing that the "MAGA brain" has been "rewired":
Republicans who assumed that the party would return to sanity after Trump left office never understood how deforming the effects of his presidency would be. For many, Trump's behaviors were initially a bug; eventually, they became a feature. Republicans ignored his corruptions and reveled in his cruelty. They entered Trump's hall of mirrors, and they rather enjoyed it.

To better understand what's happening in the GOP, think of a person with addiction who over time develops a tolerance; as a result, they need more potent and more frequent doses of the drug to get their desired high. And sometimes even that isn't enough. They might turn to a more potent drug, which offers a more intense experience and a longer-lasting high, but at the price of considerably more danger.
In the final analysis, today's Republican Party and the right-wing neofascist movement have no principles beyond winning at all costs. To deny that fact is to deny reality. Unfortunately, too many Americans, including everyday people as well as members of the political class, have convinced themselves that the Age of Trump and beyond is like a Hollywood movie, sure to arrive at a requisite happy ending in which good triumphs over evil. As most Black and brown Americans already know, such an outcome is not guaranteed in the real world. Such fantasies are not exclusive to white people, but they are definitely an artifact of white privilege.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Our Dunning-Kruger president: Trump's arrogance and ignorance are killing people

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a term that describes a psychological phenomenon in which stupid people do not know that they are in fact stupid.

Writing at Pacific Standard, psychologist David Dunning — one of the social psychologists who first documented this type of cognitive bias — describes it in more detail:
In many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize  —  scratch that, cannot recognize  —  just how incompetent they are, a phenomenon that has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack. To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent. Poor performers  —  and we are all poor performers at some things  —  fail to see the flaws in their thinking or the answers they lack. What's curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.
The Dunning-Kruger effect manifests in the form of the drunk at the bar who weighs in on every conversation with unwanted advice, the online troll who monopolizes comment sections, or the person who reads one book (or perhaps the introduction) and then acts like an authority on the subject.

Visionary science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov signaled to the Dunning-Kruger effect with his famous observation in 1980: "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'"

Donald Trump is the Dunning-Kruger president of the United States.

But he is also something much worse than that. Donald Trump is an almost perfect living, breathing example of the Dunning-Kruger effect: a president in a time of plague whose ignorance and stupidity are amplified through apparent and obvious mental illness as well as cruelty, compulsive lying, grand immorality, corruption and evil.

Americans have already died because of Trump's false claims about the novel coronavirus pandemic. Many more will die in the weeks and months ahead.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Donald Trump, the coronavirus and the power of white male privilege

Racism hurts black and brown people. But it hurts white people too. In the case of the coronavirus pandemic, this is true on a very literal level.

To this point, Donald Trump's regime and its propaganda machine have turned the coronavirus pandemic into a debacle that will likely kill Americans in large numbers.

Trump and his sycophants have systematically lied about the threat to public health, safety and order posed by the coronavirus. Trump himself called the epidemic — or at least the media's coverage — a hoax.

The Trump regime has purged scientists and other experts who were deemed insufficiently loyal. These are the very same experts and career government officials who are essential to protecting America from the coronavirus pandemic and other threats.

Fox News and other parts of the right-wing echo chamber have circulated lies to their public about the coronavirus, downplaying its threat and encouraging behavior that will actually spread the lethal disease. Why? Because in the twisted reality of TrumpWorld, showing loyalty to the Great Leader is more important than public safety.

Trump and his cabal have repeatedly shown that they possess no belief in public service or the common good, and have no genuine feeling of care and concern for the American people.

Trump is being advised by Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller, a slumlord plutocrat and a white supremacist, respectively. Neither are scientists. Neither have any experience managing a public health crisis.

Vice President Mike Pence is leading Trump's coronavirus task force. Pence is a right-wing Christian fundamentalist. He does not believe in science. He believes that a person can somehow "pray the gay away." As governor of Indiana, Pence failed to respond when the HIV epidemic hit his state in 2015. In the normal world of facts and reason, faith does not supersede empirical reality and science. One cannot pray away the coronavirus or other fact-based challenges and problems. To believe such a thing is to believe in magic.

Forced by the circumstances, the Trump regime has now — several months too late — accepted that the coronavirus is real and that it poses a great threat to the American people. But instead of mobilizing properly against the threat, Trump and his followers have instead chosen to attack the Democrats as somehow responsible for a public health crisis.

None of this would be happening if Donald Trump were not president of the United States. The virus might be here, of course, but what we face now would not be nearly as bad.

And how did Donald Trump become president of the United States? Racist white voters.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

White Victimology: Trump’s "Lynching" Comments Are a Reminder of the Relationship Between His Lawlessness and White Supremacy

Historian Ibram X. Kendi believes Donald Trump is the second most racist president in American history, ranking only behind Andrew Jackson. Based on Trump’s ongoing behavior, Kendi may need to re-evaluate that assessment.

On Tuesday, America’s racist in chief managed to combine his lawlessness and white supremacy in a single tweet:
So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here — a lynching. But we will WIN!
In the worst of ways, Donald Trump has shown himself once again to be a deft multitasker of ignorance, hate and authoritarianism.

Lawlessness: Donald Trump does not believe in the rule of law or the U.S. Constitution. He has said as much, describing the Constitution as “phony.”

Impeachment is also one of the most important elements of the Constitution because it is the ultimate protection against a tyrant. Trump and his regime, of course, do not believe that any substantive restrictions on the president’s behavior exist — as long as the president is Donald Trump or another Republican.

White supremacy: At least 4,000 black Americans were killed by white mobs and individuals in the extrajudicial killings known as lynchings across the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries. This political terrorism was not confined to the South. Black people were also lynched in states such as Indiana. The goal of white-on-black racial terrorism was to intimidate and control black people who desired, struggled for and demanded their full human rights as citizens of the United States. Racial pogroms and lynchings — especially what are known as “spectacular lynchings,” attended by hundreds or even thousands of white people — were a for of terrorism used by whites to intimidate and control black Americans.

Trump’s comments on Tuesday are also a reminder that lawlessness and white supremacy are not discrete and separate from one another. They have a complex and contradictory relationship.

White supremacy is maintained through the law: Racists ignore the law when they need to, and invoke the law when it serves their purposes.

White-on-black lynchings were not vile acts perpetrated by outliers in white society, people who were exceptionally barbarous compared to the “ordinary” white person. Lynchings were part of a regime of racial terrorism with the goal of maintaining white control over black people in all areas of American life. This culture of racial terrorism that Trump references so casually was central to American society. That ethos of racism as violence against black people specifically, and against nonwhite people (including Latinos and Muslims) more generally, continues through to the Age of Trump. This violence has “evolved” to fit the sensibilities of the post-civil rights era.

In his book "Trouble in Mind," historian Leon Litwack writes about America’s culture of lynching:
Neither crazed fiends not the dregs of white society, the bulk of the lynchers tended to be ordinary and respectable people, animated by a self-righteousness that justified their atrocities in the name of maintaining the social and racial order and the purity of the Anglo-Saxon race. The mobs who meted out "summary justice” were pronounced by one Georgian as "composed of our best citizens, who are foremost in all works of public and private good”…. Drawn from all classes in southern white society, from the "red-necks” to the best people,” lynchers came together in an impressive show of racial and community solidarity …. 
But white solidarity almost always prevailed. Townspeople closed ranks to protect their own kind, thereby becoming partners in the crimes committed. Eyewitnesses refused to testify, and grand juries refused to bring indictments against easily identifiable mob participants; even if they had, juries would have refused to convict, whatever the evidence.
Trump defenders, as they always do, have summoned ridiculous defenses. They note that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said, some decades ago, that he was a victim of a “high-tech lynching.” They claim people are too "sensitive" because of "political correctness.” They claim that lynchings don’t necessarily have anything to do with race. of course, they insist that Trump is not a racist; he is misunderstood or being persecuted by Democrats and the "liberal media.”

Like almost all defenses of Trump’s behavior, such claims are easily dismissed by honest and ethical human beings.

The racism of Trump’s comments about lynching is easily exposed through several basic questions.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Mind Control and Cult Expert Steven Hassan Warns That Donald Trump's Movement is a Dangerous Cult -- And Even If Trump is Removed From Office His Followers Will Remain a Threat to American Society

A new Gallup poll finds that at least 50 percent of the American people want Donald Trump to be impeached and removed from office. That's three times higher than the percentage of Americans who supported impeaching Richard Nixon during the early stages of the impeachment process. Trump could become the first American president to run for re-election after being impeached in the House of Representatives.

On the surface, at least, it would seem that Donald Trump’s continual torrent of lawbreaking, his disrespect for the Constitution and democracy, his corruption, racism, nativism, misogyny and overall debasement of human morality and human decency have finally reached a point where he will be held accountable by the Democrats in Congress and then at the polls in 2020.

But what of the 39 percent (or so) of Americans who continue to support Donald Trump? His popularity among Republican voters continues to be remarkably high and stable (87 percent per Gallup’s most recent poll) given his many failures of policy, including policy decisions that directly hurt his most enthusiastic “white working class” supporters. Indeed, Trump’s base of stable support remains the highest among American presidents in the history of modern polling.

Despite — or because of — Trump’s apparent criminal behavior and obvious inclinations toward fascism he has a cement-like hold on his supporters. Trumpism can be understood as right-wing political extremism transformed into a cult. This is not just a metaphor. Trump’s lies, his assault on reality, his threats of violence, his cruelty, his demand of absolute loyalty, his manipulation of willing subjects who choose to escape empirical reality, and his shared state of collective narcissism with his followers all fit the definition of a cult. From that realization follows another: Trump’s removal from the White House, by electoral defeat or any other means, remains unlikely — unless his opponents can fully mobilize to overwhelm and defeat Trump’s zealots.

Is it possible to deprogram Trump’s political cult members and return them to normal society? Should good Americans isolate Trump supporters and refuse to interact with them? In what ways does Trump fit the profile of a cult leader? How is his apparent and lengthy history of sexually predatory behavior typical of a cult leader? If Trump is removed from office, will his supporters respond with violence?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Steven Hassan, one of the world's foremost experts on mind control and cults. Hassan is the author of several bestselling books, including "Combating Cult Mind Control" and "Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs." His new book is “The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control.”

Steven Hassan is the guest on this week's episode of my podcast The Truth Report.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Cruelty is Trump's Guiding Principle — But Democrats Can Use It to Defeat Him

It is possible to hurt a person without ever meeting them. Donald Trump and his regime have done that millions of times in the almost three years he has been president of the United States.

Cruelty, especially against nonwhite people, is one of the Trump regime’s guiding principles. Trump, his supporters, and enablers take great pleasure in hurting the weak, the sick and any other people they deem vulnerable. This is a function of "social dominance behavior," a trait that is common to conservative-authoritarian personalities.

As I explained in an 2017 essay at Salon, Republicans and conservatives widely believe:

... that those who seek assistance from society have no right to receive it. If people do not have the resources to provide adequate health for themselves and their families, that's their own fault. Most important, the sick deserve their illnesses; the healthy and strong have earned their advantages. 
Once again, the repeated efforts by the Republican Party to repeal the minimal protections offered by the Affordable Care Act serve to remind us that conservatism is a type of socially-motivated cognition that minimizes any sense of human obligation and connection to other people, outside a narrowly defined kin or other peer group. 
Today's version of American conservatism is also a celebration of selfishness — and a belief that true freedom and liberty are based on a perverse individualism with little sense of common decency or linked fate with someone's fellow citizens. Today's American conservatism also embraces an extreme form of neoliberalism whereby human worth and dignity are determined by profit-and-loss statements, and capitalism and democracy are confused with one another. Ultimately, American conservatism is a value system that is antisocial, anti-democratic and anti-freedom.
In keeping with those values, the Trump administration recently proposed deporting critically ill immigrants who are receiving medical care in the United States.

Earlier this week the New York Times reported that on Aug. 7:
... the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, without public notice, eliminated a 'deferred action' program that had allowed immigrants to avoid deportation while they or their relatives were undergoing lifesaving medical treatment. The agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, had sent letters informing those who had asked for a renewal, which the immigrants must make every two years, that it was no longer entertaining such requests. The letters said that the immigrants must leave the country within 33 days, or face deportation.
Because of public outrage at the wanton cruelty of sending sick people — including many children — back to their home countries to die, USCIS announced a temporary pause in the deportations:
On Monday, the agency said in a statement that while limiting the program was “appropriate,” officials would “complete the caseload that was pending on August 7.” The statement said that deportation proceedings had not been initiated against anyone who had received the letter. However, it did not say whether it would continue to grant immigrants extensions to stay in the country or whether the program would be continued after current applications are processed. When asked for clarification, an agency official said the agency “is taking immediate corrective action to reopen previously pending cases for consideration.”
This should be no comfort for the people who are in the United States under the "deferred action" program. Moreover, the safe and reasonable assumption should be that the Trump regime will resume its efforts to deport immigrants receiving lifesaving medical care once the controversy and resulting public and media attention subsides. This is part of the Trump regime's fascist strategy of creating controversy through its "shocking" and "surprising" assaults on democracy, the rule of law and human decency. Predictably, the public and news media react to the outrage of the day, week or month. In response, the administration then appears to back down.

Testing the limits of societal norms is one of the primary ways through which fascists and other authoritarians break a democracy and in so doing train the public into a state of constant distraction, exhaustion and learned helplessness.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Patriotism, truth and fascism: Donald Trump is creating a subjective reality where dissent is not allowed

At some point in high school, Donald Trump’s new White House press secretary and communications director Stephanie Grisham must have read George Orwell’s "1984." Instead of understanding Orwell’s book as a warning about totalitarianism, however, Grisham took it as a "how to" guide.

This is from a profile of Grisham, published last week in the Washington Post:
Does Grisham think Trump ever lies? After all, as of Aug. 5, The Washington Post Fact Checker had documented 12,019 false or misleading claims made by Trump during his presidency. 
“No,” she responds without hesitation. “I don’t think they’re lies. . . . I think the president communicates in a way that some people, especially the media, aren’t necessarily comfortable with. A lot of times they take him so literally. I know people will roll their eyes if I say he was just kidding or was speaking in hypotheticals, but sometimes he is. What I’ve learned about him is that he loves this country and he’s not going to lie to this country.”
Despite the thousands of documented lies Trump has told since becoming president, his media sycophants at Fox News and elsewhere continue to claim that he is an honest and truthful person. Because they are authoritarians who are comfortable with their leaders lying to them, Trump’s voters and other Republicans also believe that he is honest.

Grisham’s recent comments to the Post are also another example of a very dangerous overlap between Donald Trump’s subjective reality, politics and truth. When Grisham says, "What I’ve learned about him is that he loves this country and he’s not going to lie to this country,” she is asserting that patriotism — always a subjective and normative quality — is a litmus test for the truth. Given his egomania and narcissism, Trump certainly agrees with her. Objective reality is to be made secondary, if not wholly replaced and usurped by, the whims of a mercurial, unstable authoritarian.

The real world is swallowed up by TrumpWorld; Trump’s critics and other detractors are then excluded from reality itself — which in turn legitimates their silencing by any means available.

In total, Trump's lies, and the media and political machine that disseminates and sustains them, are antithetical to democracy. This is not a precondition for fascism. It is fascism in action.

Moreover, those people and organizations who aid, abet and enforce his lies are also enemies of a good and humane society. Philosopher Hannah Arendt warned of this in her 1971 essay “Lying in Politics”:
[T]he historian knows how vulnerable is the whole texture of facts in which we spend our daily life …. [I]t is always in danger of being perforated by single lies or torn to shreds by the organized lying of groups, nations, or classes, or denied and distorted, often carefully covered up by reams of falsehoods or simply allowed to fall into oblivion. Facts need testimony to be remembered and trustworthy witnesses to be established in order to find a secure dwelling place in the domain of human affairs.
The Washington Post’s profile of Stephanie Grisham also reveals the worldview and collective character of the Trump regime and those people willing to serve it. In Grisham’s comments about her job as press secretary and communications director there is no mention of a commitment to public service, the common good or the well-being of the American people. Loyalty to Donald Trump is all that matters. The framers of the United States Constitution rejected the divine right of kings and queens and the idea of a hereditary nobility in America. Donald Trump is the human exemplar of why the framers put safeguards in the Constitution to remove such an authoritarian.

Donald Trump’s lies are a tool. They help him to assault the rule of law, cut away at democracy, profit from corruption and greed, normalize his illegitimate regime, and stay in power by distracting the American people and the news media from his political agenda, which presents a dire threat to the existence of America’s multiracial democracy.

Donald Trump’s lies represent another type of threat as well. Philosopher Henry Giroux demonstrates in his new book “American Nightmare” how Trump and his movement imperil the American people’s relationship to history and reality:

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Chauncey DeVega Show: A Conversation with Dr. Justin Frank About How Donald Trump's Mental Pathologies are Encouraging A Plague of Right-wing Violence and Hatred Across America

Dr. Justin Frank is a former clinical professor of psychiatry at the George Washington University Medical Center and a physician with more than 40 years of experience in psychoanalysis. He is the author of the bestselling books Bush on the Couch and Obama on the Couch. His newest book is Trump on the Couch. Dr. Frank's work has appeared in Time magazine and the Daily Beast and he has appeared as an expert commentator and guest on MSNBC, CNN, PBS and other outlets.

Dr. Frank explains how Donald Trump's many mental pathologies give permission for the violence, hatred and terrorism of his supporters and why the massacres in El Paso and Dayton -- and his reactions to them -- reveal Trump's lack of empathy for other human beings and how the president is likely a sociopath. Dr. Frank also warns that Donald Trump hates to see happy families and this is why he does not care about seeing nonwhite children and their families suffering in his concentration camps. Dr. Frank also sounds the alarm about how the right-wing terrorism and other political violence that Trump has encouraged and commanded through stochastic terrorism and scripted violence will spread across the country like an epidemic.

Chauncey DeVega is angry that after only three years of so-called "resistance" that too many people have already surrendered to Donald Trump, the Republican Party and their fascist regime. Why? Because they are "tired" and "frustrated". This is because of a lack of historical perspective and understanding about what true struggle looks like in America and around the world. Chauncey also shares several news stories and commentaries about Donald Trump's post El Paso and Dayton "victory" tour of human depravity including a raid by ICE brownshirts which stole hundreds of Latino and Hispanic parents away from their crying children on the first day of school.

At the end of this week's podcast Chauncey reads a wonderful animal friends story about an honored elder who adopted an amazing senior cat.