Thursday, May 31, 2018

Intolerance Writ Large

I would dearly like to discuss with Trumpists, their ideas, beliefs, and understanding of policy without rancor, bitterness and the need to be completely right.  I personally may be guilty of some of this, too.  Listening was never my strong point and I have a tendency to dismiss those who seem to have lost their senses.  But then I must surely admit, they probably share the same disposition toward me.

Some people are hysterical Trumpists who believe that mainstream America is not giving Trump the chance to be a good President. "It's only been a year and a half," they say. Discussion suffers a devolution to a to a netherworld of alternative facts, fire-breathing Obama or Clinton deprecation as justification for their diversion, obfuscation and ultimately, a seething intolerance.  Attempts at reason seem as elusive as understanding with complete clarity the nature of the universe.  They do not listen at all, so intentionally dismiss arguments contrary to their own worldview.

They are true believers, card-carrying members of the Trump base. A frustration settles over me, unable to overcome their confirmation bias.    Among their thoughts (from a recent vitriolic email) include the inherent anti-intellectualism of the Supreme Soviet or a book burning in a square in 1936 Munich.  Last week, I received the below rant:

"I am always amazed by the amount of advice being given to the President from people no where(sic) near the negotiating table.
I truly believe the left will cheer if North Korea walks away. They, including you, hate Trump so deeply that if he cured Cancer you wouldn't release the formula.
Please do not email me trash from intellectuals who pray for a sitting Presidents failure.
I believe in giving a duly elected President a chance with the support of the country(sic). You don't. (sic)
In the article there was not, and never is, the solution or even an alternate solution to any problem. 
If this summit doesn't happen, it doesn't. But please save your personal dignity and don't go out and cheer for North Korea but Trump, (sic) as every President before him since 1954 has been unable to accomplish. If Trump didn't try, he would further be condemned. Damned if you do, etc.
You, with your loss at the election will.not rest (sic) until he is out if(sic) office by ANY means. 
God bless America, because a group of Americans would cheer for any misstep no matter what.
We are in a sad state of affairs and you, my friend, are hoping for this President's failure. 
I am glad I have never felt the degree of hate that you are living with. It must be a depressing state of affairs to wake up daily hoping for devastation."

Their hatred of Hillary and Obama apparently does not count.  And who said I was not sad about the self-destructive tendencies of this erratic, unstable president?  And why would I wish him to fail?

The above screed in response to an article I had sent from the Washington Post of the vicissitudes of negotiating with Kim Jong Un who has conducted an on again off again agreement to negotiate, and has a completely different understanding of what denuclearization of the Korean peninsula means.  Kim, a demonstrably ruthless murderer, is probably no trustworthier than Trump, who, do not forget, seeks not to develop a condominium project in Atlantic City based upon illusory revenues from a gaming table.  A few days later I sent an article from The Wall Street Journal pointing our similar difficulties.  That resulted in a threat to have my email blocked.   "Good," I said to myself, I no longer have to deal directly with this person, whom I can only regard as detrimental to my blood pressure.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending upon your point of view, I am intolerant of injustice and of people who refuse to respond to rational argument by instead responding with anger.

Apparently, as of this date, our exalted leader is not doing so well with Little Rocket Man.

However, the email above heretofore quoted verbatim:

1. Calculated that I was rooting for the President's failure.
2. Cheering for a Trump misstep.
3. Am consumed by hatred.  
4. Hope for "devastation" for the nation or for the world.
5. Explicitly states that anti Trump people live in a depressing dystopia.
6. Thoughtful people are "pseudo-intellectual" and worthy of contempt.  A nswers are simple and easily analyzed.
7.  That Trump is a good negotiator a priori and should not be questioned. (Evidence has proven otherwise.)
8.  Wished to receive no further discourse.

I mistakenly thought I was sending inoffensive articles, calculated to point out the difficulties of negotiating with North Korea on what North Korean leadership regards as an existential issue. (Think about Gaddafi)  Previously, during a telephone conversation containing a good deal of shouting at me about Hillary's emails and how Obama destroyed America, I desired to impart my point of view against some of other stated beliefs including how poor people (except women starving in the streets) should raise themselves up by their bootstraps and be purged from welfare eligibility.  This person's economic position, it seems, allowed them to condemn most others who have not so similarly found themselves in a very secure circumstance, those circumstances not entirely of this person's own doing.

That distasteful conversation cemented my long held understanding that our nation is ideologically imperiled.  If Trump were to open a concentration camp for Mexicans and people from "shithole countries, " Trumpists would defend him by saying that Trump has not been given a chance and that the Democrats lost the election, "get over it."  We who criticize the president are not loyal Americans. (that dreadful 1st amendment)  And the newspapers (except Fox News) are all purveyors of fake news.  Fox news has garnered millions of viewers, and is a true competitor to Joseph Goebbels.

So how does the average moderate deal with such blindness?   Do they try to convince antagonists?  Do they try to converse with them?  Is it useless or is it a premature surrender to unjustified obduracy?  Or is it that some people are so ideologically ossified that they will not even entertain contrary ideas?   I can understand politicians who must pander to their base.  But what of friends who can no longer speak politics to one another?  Political discourse has always been the essence of the American experiment, leading to compromise and laws to help us all.  That seems to be gone with the vanishing middle class.  A brilliant article in the Atlantic this month, by Matthew Stewart, "The Birth of a New Aristocracy,” deals with that shrinkage.  Well worth reading, it argues that the new aristocracy "has mastered the old trick of consolidating wealth and passing privilege along at the expense of other people's children."  and that consists of the 9.9% of the population.  Doctors, lawyers, engineers and white collar workers who have grabbed the middle of the income scale.  The rest of the people are stagnating in a fetid, Dickensian future, unable to climb the ladder.

The maxim that one should never discuss politics or religion does not carry water for me.   Politics for news junkies such as myself is the bread of social interaction.  But the problem is that social media has placed us in small groups that only see a Manichean world.  People have divided themselves with the sources of information that they use.    Now places like Facebook are finally attempting to verify some of the misinformation and perhaps raise the accuracy of some of the misinformation that is virally corrupting.

But wait.   I have another Republican friend who does not like Trump, concedes his vulgarity, lack of dignity, but argues that the presidency should be dignified, but that since thugs run the rest of the world, we need a thuggish president who can fight fire with fire.  This Palm Beach 1%er knows the answers and spells them out in short, pithy expressions reminiscent of people who consider themselves wise based upon superficial knowledge.  Yet there is an air of tolerance in his responses and a begrudging concession that some of the positions that Trump espouses are racist, and vulgarly repugnant.  On the other hand, he says, that the entire world is racist, implying that that is an inherent justification for Trump's behavior, ignoring our nation's past foundation of slavery.  At least, in my view, he sets the bar very low for American values, by supporting an unfit president.  He, however, is not irredeemably fanatical, but still his ideas come close to justifying the ends justifying the means, a clear abrogation of utilitarian morality.

Another two Republican friends do not argue, they simply base all their support on whether their taxes have decreased, whether the economy is doing well, and whether their bank accounts balloon.  They care not a fig about social issues, nor the less fortunate, nor a wit of social responsibility for those who have not achieved some criterion of their respectful ideation.

Flummoxed is the wrong expression, I must say, of the difficulty in navigating the rocky shoals of political discourse in this time of inordinate schism.  The expressions of frustration linger mightily on the conscience, the always excruciating challenges of attempting to communicate with one's political adversaries.  The better angels of our nature do not prominently appear; they lurk in some shadowy hollow under a rock of hatred, misunderstanding and polarity of the polity of our great Republic, which, none the better for this situation of antipathy and misunderstanding, is exacerbated by an unforgiving social media, televised propaganda, irresponsible talking heads and people whose wealth clouds their humanitarian judgment of themselves and of their fellow citizens.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Iran Deal is not so Clear-Cut

Numerous editorials have either condemned or saluted the deal. The President is clearly taking a chance that the Iranians will succumb to pressure by the invocation of additional sanctions against them.

Iran has been aspiring to hegemony in the Middle East since the 1979 revolution, its "death to America and to Israel" playing upon the minds of American intelligence officers as well as the Saudis, Israelis, Syrians, and all other antagonists who fear that the Middle East tinderbox will explode into another war.
Just last month Russian and American warplanes almost clashed over Syria.  The Russians are supporting Hezbollah against Israel; rockets and missiles abound in Syria, pointed against Israel.  But mainly the nefarious mischief of the Iranians is producing these untenable conditions.

Barack Obama and John Kerry negotiated a deal that omitted the considerations of Iranian duplicity in its promulgation of weapons to the Syrians, the Houthis in Yemen, and all those who are warring against the Sunni majorities in Saudi Arabia, the Jews in Israel and all those who do not believe in the religious fundamentalism of the Iranian clerics.  They expect that they will control Syria through their puppet--the murderous Bashar Al Assad.  Deal proponents argue that the Iran arrangement  is working because the IAEA, the Europeans, and the UN believe that Iran is complying with its obligations under the deal and that America pulling out is a grave mistake.  How are they complying?  That is a matter of great question.  Religious theocratic fundamentalists do not comply with anyone but their preconceived notions of Allah, heretics and infidels threatening their power.

Susan Rice, former National Security Adviser argues that Iran relinquished 97 % of its enriched uranium stockpile and dismantled 2/3 of centrifuges as well as its plutonium and that inspections have verified the same.  She also argues that the US unilateral withdrawal from the agreement demeans trust in the word of the United States, also ascribing Trump's decision to a matter of ego, by jettisoning the Obama agenda at every opportunity, as well as sending a signal to Kim Jong Un that the US "cannot be trusted."    What she neglects to say is that Kim will never trust us anyway and we will not trust him, because nations always follow their own interests.  Rice's naïveté is evident in her piece in yesterday's New York Times.  Also questionable is her premise that in entering the deal, the US never intended to address Iran's other malign expeditions.  Perhaps it should have.

Iran's economy is in a ditch, and President Trump believes that they will be pushed over the edge by additional sanctions.   The jury is out on that one.  We simply do not know how the European actors will handle the American sanctions or even secondary sanctions.  What is clear, however is that European business given a choice between the United States market and the Iranian market, are hardly challenged by such a choice.

I am a progressive democrat and an anti-Trumper.    I have believed that he has demeaned and been destructive of the office of the Presidency.   His animus for Obama is eroding, by a thousand cuts, health care for many Americans.  His immoral acolyte Scott Pruitt is decimating years of environmental protections.  Trump is a proven liar and narcissist.   He has pushed for a ruinous tax cut with possibly dire economic consequences exploding the deficit and fooling his base.

Whatever his motives may be: forestalling Mueller, dancing with porn stars, employing thuggish lawyers, threatening and bullying those below him, inability to think and read, this withdrawal from the Iran deal may be the right move, if perhaps for the wrong reasons.  But maybe not.

The funding of Iranian terrorism through the return of billions to enable them to assert further hegemony, promulgate proxy wars, and cooperate with malign forces, stuck in the President's primitive craw.  Moreover, as Bret Stephens of the New York Times argues, that under the deal Iran would have been able eventually to enrich as much uranium as they would wish, an insane dénouement.

Young Iranians are fed up with theocracy and intolerant clerics running their country.  This bold gambit by the United States may push them over the edge.  Already there have been violent episodes in the streets.  More may be coming and regime change might happen or at least threaten the existing status quo.  But maybe not.

At the same time, the risk of war has grown; Israel is already at war in Syria and the U.S. must brace itself for a time of turmoil including war; and upon turmoil Trump revels.