Trump is not a smart politician who knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t craft his populist message and ill manners into some clever verbal strategy that is designed to have a particular effect. No, he’s authentic. When you hear him fumble over ideas, encourage violence, display a lack of knowledge, make fun of others, lie, and express his racist and sexist ways he is acting genuinely and organically. This is who he is, someone without the manners or temperament to be the Commander-in-Chief. When he states that a Mexican judge cannot be fair he is expressing an idea clearly representative of his thinking and natural consciousness. When Trump suggests punching a protester in the face, or tries to erase Obama by denying his birth certificate, or expresses disgust toward women and those with handicaps he is offering us the best and most reliable look into his thinking and thought processes.
The clearest and most direct path way into Trump’s consciousness is through his use of language and discourse. By discourse I mean how language is used as a tool for social life and how language carries meaning because it is the most direct link to reality.
For example, the well-known quip that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” is a good example of the relationship between language and consciousness or the performative expression (the language) of cognitive, sociological, psychological, and political content. An individual act of violence can be framed with all of the assumptions and implications of the term “terrorist” or it can be a noble activity of a group struggling for freedom and human rights – the “freedom fighter.” The language used in particular situations is what evokes the semantic network of meanings, and assumptions, and interpretations that accompany the terminology.
Racists betray themselves through language. They will use a derogatory term to refer to a group (all groups have them, “the N word,” “spic”), associate a particular substandard behavior with a group (“Mexicans are lazy,” “Jews are cheap”) assume commonalities among group members that don’t exist (“all Muslims are violent” “those coming across the border are drug dealers and rapists”), expect bias and distorted interpretations because of group membership (“Israelis and Palestinians perceive things only in accordance with their own interests”), rely on historical stereotypes, and assume that the discriminated against group is less deserving of moral treatment.
There are, of course, volumes written about bias, discrimination, and old-fashioned racism. But one of the more interesting strands in this literature is the practice of morally excluding members of minority groups. In cases of extreme threat and violence (e.g. jihadists) the group is considered unworthy of moral treatment (see Opotow’s research).
Trump’s comment about Mexicans (not to mention women) betrays his attitudes about the moral standing of these groups and the extent to which they can be denied considerations of justice and fairness. Trump has essentially delegitimized Mexicans and by his statement that he could not get fair treatment from a Mexican judge, assumes them to be less developed and worthy. In cases of dangerous violence moral exclusion can justify genocide and extremes. But even if we give Trump more credit than that, he is still expressing an ideology of exclusion which justifies attributions of prejudice and discrimination to the “other” group.
Trumps racism is in line with the tendencies to treat an outgroup (Mexicans) as worthy of special consideration; that is, this group violates some standards assumed to be characteristic of his own ingroup and they are therefore problematic and outside the boundaries of democratic processes. Of course, his reference to the judge as “Mexican” rather than an “American” betrays Trump’s inclination to consider ethnicity as generative and a more explanatory category then being “an American.” That’s rank racism.
[I am republishing this because it was an early warning about Trump and violence. The video tells the story of how Trump does not understand what he is responsible for.]
Trump is dangerous and worse yet he’s unaware of how dangerous he is or doesn’t care. Even at the risk of a little hyperbole we are seeing the consequences of a “post-truth” society where information is distorted, low quality, and attached to a cultish individual full of shibboleths rather than data or reasoning. The post-truth society no longer observes and gathers data in the service of a defensible conclusion; rather, one’s established beliefs and group identity seek confirmation and discourse becomes characterized by a series of cognitive shortcuts designed to confirm what you already believe. Below are three qualities of Trump’s discourse.
But first listen to Trump tell an audience that a heckler from the audience should be “punched in the face.” This is a man running for President of the United States encouraging the audience to start a fistfight. Trump does not even have a rudimentary understanding of his own behavior and the likelihood he could start a riot and hurt someone. His own social and political development is so stunted that he does not understand the tinderbox nature of the situation.
Here is Trump telling us he must be smart because he knows a lot of words.
Then again, this is the same presidential candidate who said the only way to defeat ISIS is to kill their family members. This is a candidate for president who is advocating for a war crime and instructing the military to break the law.
Trump is an essentialist. His rhetoric is filled with references to groups of people and their “essential” qualities. He refers to those who are “stupid” and “not the best.” He regularly makes references to a family member who is a professor at an elite university and to his own elite university attendance. He believes himself and his family are of superior descent. In the video Trump embarrassingly tries to perpetrate this myth by referring to how many words he knows.
Trump demonizes the other side. He refers to Hillary Clinton in extreme terms including name-calling, polarizing language, and blame. By creating the opposition as the “devil” incarnate then it becomes easier to scapegoat them and attach blame. He also has no qualms about dehumanizing others also referring to his opposition as “criminal” or “the most incompetent.” This demonization is simply a substitute for his own inadequacies. Trump essentially knows nothing about policy and hasn’t even taken the time to prepare. Moreover, his followers don’t want to hear policy they just want to hear tough talk and demonization.
Third, and more characteristic of Trump than any other candidate, is a strategy that says attack, blame, and accuse and don’t worry about accuracy or justification because the blame and the accusation is what will be remembered and not the explanation or the truth. Hillary Clinton is bombarded with accusations regarding Benghazi, or emails, or accusations about trustworthiness none of which have much merit but are all designed to do damage first and not worry about the truth. These are all tactics associated with authoritarians trying to damage in opposition rather than engage them argumentatively.
A more shocking and deeper question concerns the explanation for why so many people support Trump. He is not so difficult to explain but the collective delusion of the populace is far more troubling.
There is a hadith, or saying of the prophet, that goes: “Know that paradise lies under the shade of swords.” Increasingly, this saying makes me think of American party politics as much as an ISIS credo.
I have spent a good part of my professional life studying group conflict that is informed by ethnicity, religion, and ideology. And of all the ugly and murderous strands of conflict the world is subject to those where religion and fundamentalism prevail are the most troubling and recalcitrant. American political discourse, especially inside the conservative wing of the Republican Party, is beginning to sound more like arguing with those who believe they know the mind of God. The unseemly nature of the Republican campaign and the existence of core values that are not subject to adjustment or moderation by democratic discourse, is a communicative expression of these incommensurate conflicts.
There has been no shortage of criticism of the quality and temperament of the leading Republican candidates so I will not elaborate on that except to add my voice to the chorus of those who are dismayed at how vapid Donald Trump is, and how Cruz is a fear-provoking evangelical who believes in using the state to bring about an apocalyptic vision of the end of the world. Rubio is a Roman Catholic but also attends a Southern Baptist Church in Florida probably for pure political expediency. They both have unforgiving religious boundaries and there isn’t much of a difference between them.
For a good and clear summary of evangelicals including their Protestant foundation and politics read an article in Foreign Affairs by Walter Russell Mead.
Turns out that candidates like Cruz and jihadist organizations like ISIS engage in the same rhetoric that is part of the logic of the discourse that characterizes incommensurable realities. (Those competing incommensurate realities are this group of Republican candidates and their liberal opposition). Cruz, who is immovable with respect to walls preventing immigration, the elimination of social safety nets, wiping out the IRS and making taxes unavailable for the public good, and wild and dangerous statements about carpet bombing ISIS, engages in the same rhetorical strategies as the Islamic state does with the West. Here are a few discursive patterns that underscore both groups.
Islam and the West tell different stories and have rival narratives. The language of the stories is constitutive of the meaning and embedded in the psychological, sociological, and political life of each group. Each group is trapped inside a story and there are no points of convergence between them. This is equally true of the Republican candidates exemplified mostly by Cruz. President Obama is not someone to disagree with but must be completely delegitimized; the Supreme Court becoming more liberal is so horrifying that it requires violating the Constitution and stopping the President from making an appointment; our country has been in decline and only the acceptance of Cruz’s God and family values will stay the decline.
Uncontrollable ingroup-outgroup mentalities that distort communication such that contrast effects create a reproducing cycle of perceived differences. Just as the West perceives differences that favor its own group history and culture, so too does the conservative-liberal intergroup mentality maintain a constant sense of differences with positive attributions made to the ingroup and negative attributions made to the outgroup. That’s why “name-calling” is so common and even effective because just labeling someone as a member of an outgroup is sufficiently damaging. There is no place for nuance. Calling someone “right-wing” or “liberal” categorizes them with all the implications.
The political parties (sorry, the Republicans more than the Democrats these days anyway) easily fall victim to the belief that language is dead – as exemplified by the Supreme Court and Scalia’s notion of strict constructionism – and any term or concept has a specifically decided upon meaning whose intent is clear and well understood and cannot be changed. This “dead” notion of language forces a contest between two or more groups for control of the meaning. It directs attention away from trying to find solutions or points of meaningful articulation and more toward self-justification. Meaning, while not completely free, is a living entity that is subject to new insights and discoveries. This mentality has escaped the current campaign as the candidates seem more intent on overwhelming their opponent then actually engaging the public.
The Republicans have lied so systematically and pervasively that they now have created a new lying monster and it is loose in the streets and no one seems to be able to capture him. It’s Frankentrump. The fact checking websites are ablaze with Trump’s lies. Of course, no one expected Frankentrump to last this long, no one thought the little monster was anything other than annoying and while he might terrorize the streets for a few days he was mostly entertainment value.
But it turns out that the monster Frankentrump has escaped from the laboratory and is staying alive by continuing to terrorize the streets with even more lies and unsubstantiated statements. In fact, Frankentrump is moving into the mainstream population. The village elders in the GOP are worried because they are losing control of him. And, he is upsetting the GOP establishment because his lies and misinformation are not being corrected properly which means this monstrosity continues to feed, grow, and is difficult to contain. How was Frankentrump created?
Frankentrump is the monster that was born of three maniacal mothers all related to the GOP. It’s common enough and facile to say that all politicians lie or that both Democrats and Republicans manipulate information but it does not mean that the two parties do it the same way or have equal skill. The Republicans are far more skilled at lying than the Democrats and they have now created this beast slouching toward the presidency.
Frankentrump’s three mothers are (a) the Republican reality bubble created by their own system of media ownership and think tanks, (b) the era of “post-truth politics,” and (c) new media. You can read more about Trump and the media here.
(a). It’s fairly common knowledge that in the last decades the GOP has successfully created think tanks, media outlets (Fox News), cable programs, talk shows, and publication opportunities all designed to perpetuate a conservative agenda. There is nothing inherently wrong with this except in the case of the GOP it has produced a toxic side effect which is that so many GOP candidates live in a bubble that is disconnected from reality. They have distorted the truth so frequently and so aggressively (e.g., Obama is a Muslim, Obama is not a citizen, veterans Swift-Boating Kerry, weapons of mass destruction, the Clintons killed Vince Foster) that they live in an increasingly insular world. Just look at this list of GOP presidential candidates – listen to how people talk about them as crazy, or scary, or embarrassing – and tell me they are not little monsters challenging conventions of evidence and reasoning.
(b). Post-truth politics is the fact that voters use crude heuristics to assess legislative proposals. This runs somewhat counter to the idealized Enlightenment view which to gather facts, draw conclusions, create policy on the basis of those conclusions, and implement. Post-truth thinkers identify with a group, adopt the position of that group, and then do nothing but seek confirmatory information. The Republicans have been particularly effective at finding heuristics. Every Democratic proposal is met with an unpleasant group identification. The proposal is socialism, or weak liberalism, or class warfare, etc. You can read more about post-truth thinking here.
(c). There is a loss of credibility and traditional media. The era when journalists were informed and asked tough questions and pointed questions designed to inform the public is slipping away. There is so much new media and user generated content that the power of the media has been drained in this sense. There are so many opportunities for expression that no one credible and respectable source can dominate the narrative. And most importantly perhaps is the strategy of simply accusing the other side of something outrageous, knowing it is false, but walking away from the accusation over time because the damage is done even though the accusation is false or constructed. Hence, Hillary Clinton is accused of negligence in Benghazi or inappropriately using a server in the State Department. These are non-issues that are blown way out of proportion and the goal is simply to make the accusation and damage the other person casting care about facts or truth to the wind.
And so the newest incarnation of this entire poison cocktail is the monster known as Frankentrump. The party elders have lit their torches and are trying to chase the monster from the village, but as of now they can’t catch him.
Well, Netanyahu has been elected for an historic fourth time. His path to the Prime Minister’ s office this time is strewn with damaged relationships (think US), international political stunts (speech before Congress), the race card (“the Arabs are voting in droves”), and desperate political appeals (“there will be no Palestinian state”). As much as I understand that he can be a charismatic leader, and Israelis obviously respect him, I also cannot shake the feeling that he is increasingly embarrassing. He has moved from being a strong and impressive leader to just another crude politician. But he also seems to have lost his political sophistication by failing to satisfactorily consider the negative consequences of his behavior. Let’s look at a few examples.
First, trying to scare Israelis about how many Arabs are voting was equated by the White House to the tactics of Southern racists who tried to scare the population about the black vote. Now there is a smart move if you’re dealing with the Obama administration. This is a president who is steeped in issues both professionally and personally related to minority rights. They were not going to be sympathetic to such talk.
Secondly, the statement about there being no Palestinian state, as a few observers have pointed out, undercuts the US argument in the United Nations. We have consistently supported Israel on the basis of bilateral negotiations; that is, the argument has been that solutions should emerge from discussions between the two sides. But if Israel is on record as opposing the future Palestinian state then why have the negotiations in the first place. Then again, Bibi does not want the UN to be involved in outlining a Palestinian state anyway.
There just is not going to be a Palestinian state on Netanyahu’s watch. Netanyahu is not going to be the leader of Israel who goes down in history as responsible for the establishment of the Palestinian state. And this is why Netanyahu is actually dangerous for Israel. No one can think about Israel in the future as an intact stable political system that is both democratic and Jewish without imagining a separate Palestinian state. Netanyahu has become a force leading increasingly in the direction of one state and all sorts of demographic difficulties.
I want to underscore the importance of a stable Palestinian Authority. Israel and the United States subcontract out security issues and border patrol to the Palestinian Authority and as they teeter things get more unstable. Even Israel would rather deal with the Palestinian Authority then some other more politicized and religiously fueled group (e.g. Hamas). So there are incentives to keep the Palestinian Authority stable even though this is distasteful to Netanyahu. Of course, there is the entire matter of settlements which I will not take up here but suffice it to say that Netanyahu’s predatory settlement expansion is a major sticking point.
Finally, there is the looming presidential campaign and US politics. Leaders of the Democratic Party have to find a way for Hillary to run to the right of Obama on Israel if she wants to guarantee the Jewish vote. Running to the right of Obama on Israel is not particularly difficult but it would be far easier for her to run if there is an actual UN resolution outlining final status parameters.
It is distressing that Israel continues to reelect the one person who is resistant to final status preparations. I just have the feeling that Bibi’s heart isn’t in it and he is trying to play both sides. What I mean by that is Netanyahu fundamentally rejects the idea of a Palestinian state, but must present himself as receptive to it. The US will maintain its deep commitment to Israel, but Bibi is not making it any easier.
Just for the fun of it if you want to hear Minister Farrakhan’s take on Israel and Netanyahu click here.
Below are summaries of 3 studies that represent trends and progress in digital media and politics. They are of particular interest and represent highlights from 2013. More details are available from the Shorenstein Center.
The first study demonstrates empirically that the global village is increasingly a reality. Most twitter contributions are beyond the local geography and represent a new pattern of interaction.
“Mapping the Global Twitter Heartbeat: The Geography of Twitter” Study from the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, published in First Monday. By Kalev Leetaru, Shaowen Wang, Guofeng Cao, Anand Padmanabhan, and Eric Shook.
One of the most comprehensive assessments to date about the effect of new technologies on human communications worldwide, this study examined patterns among more than 1.5 billion tweets from 70 million users over a one-month period in late 2012. It provides empirical evidence that the world is indeed shrinking: “There appears to be only weak geographic affinity in communicative link formation in that users retweet and reference users far away nearly as often as they do those physically proximate to them.” Further, on average people tweet news that happens locally and news about far-away events with about equal frequency. Twitter is “not simply a mirror of mainstream media” and has its own distinct conversational dynamics. The data also show that significant portions of the “world’s most influential Twitter users” were in places such as Indonesia, Western Europe, Africa and Central America. The overall takeaway is that where we live is beginning to matter less in terms of our knowledge, interests and social networks: “Geographic proximity is found to play a minimal role both in who users communicate with and what they communicate about, providing evidence that social media is shifting the communicative landscape.” – See more at: http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/news-media/digital-media-scholarship-dozen-highlights-2013#sthash.AtZXGfyh.dpuf
The study below demonstrates that incivility online damages expert credibility and distorts the communication process. The study was responsible for a magazine shutting down its comments section.
“The ‘Nasty Effect’: Online Incivility and Risk Perceptions of Emerging Technologies” From George Mason University and University of Wisconsin-Madison, published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. By Ashley A. Anderson, Dominique Brossard, Dietram A. Scheufele, Michael A. Xenos, and Peter Ladwig.
The study, published in February, has the distinction of being one of the few to actually help change editorial policy this year at a publication. Popular Science cited the study in its announcement that it was shutting down its comments section to push back against a perceived “war on expertise.” There remained some controversy, however, about whether the study’s conclusions were broad enough to justify that editorial decision. The researchers used online surveys with embedded experiments to test how people responded to articles about nanotechnology; some were accompanied by nasty comments, others not. The study’s findings suggest that “impolite and incensed blog comments can polarize online users based on value predispositions utilized as heuristics when processing the blog’s information.” Further, the researchers note, “The effects of online, user-to-user incivility on perceptions towards emerging technologies may prove especially troublesome for science experts and communicators that rely on public acceptance of their information. The effects of online incivility may be even stronger for more well-known and contentious science issues such as the evolution vs. intelligent design debate or climate change.” – See more at: http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/news-media/digital-media-scholarship-dozen-highlights-2013#sthash.AtZXGfyh.dpuf
The third study is an interesting and important summary of the role of the Internet and political campaigns
“The Internet and American Political Campaigns” From George Washington University, published in The Forum. By David Karpf. (Pre-print open version here.)
Part of a growing cohort of academics pioneering the subfield of online politics, Karpf provides a short, useful summary of the state of research in this area. For journalists, the works cited page alone is a valuable who’s who — fill up that contact list for campaigns 2014 and 2016 — but the narrative also underscores some basic truths: The web has not changed many forms of participatory inequality; polarizing candidates frequently win the small donations race; the “culture of testing” and analytics are changing how campaigns allocate resources; liberals and conservatives typically use technology differently for campaigns. One striking insight: “We are potentially moving from swing states to swing individuals, employing savvy marketing professionals to attract these persuadables and mobilize these supporters with little semblance of the slow, messy deliberative practices enshrined in our democratic theories.” But definitive answers remain elusive on many other fronts. “There is still, frankly, a lot that we do not know,” Karpf writes. For more insights in this area, see Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s response, “Messaging, Micro-Targeting and New Media Technologies.” – See more at: http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/news-media/digital-media-scholarship-dozen-highlights-2013#sthash.AtZXGfyh.dpuf
In a couple of posts I’m going to explore the issue of an official “Jewish” definition of Israel. I’m going to explore the issues and expose the difficulties and suffer the different philosophical consequences including the conundrums, logical impossibilities, and damning inevitabilities. Then I’m going to conclude that Israel should be Jewish, that the entire history of the country and the Zionist project makes little sense if Israel is not “Jewish.” You will see, of course, that according to some I’m recommending “Jewish lite” and that will be enough to disqualify my conclusions. But ultimately there’s only one way to meet that goal of Israel being both Jewish and operational and that’s for the Judaism to inform the state but not control it.
This question of Israel’s Judaism is really no small matter because it determines whether or not the state serves Judaism or Judaism serves the state. In other words, if the state is Jewish first and democratic second then the democracy has to be flexible enough to fit the Jewish nature of the state. Strongly religious Jews who want Israel to be a Jewish state begin with Judaism and shape all other forms of government to fit the needs of the Jewish community. Places like the United States begin with democracy and shape the society to fit the democracy. This is known as a liberal democracy and in the more pure sense is impossible in Israel if the state is “Jewish.” I would recommend a reading from the Jerusalem Center for Public affairs available here.
If Israel is devoted to Jewish particularity than it begs the question about what that particularity is and whether or not it is sustainable. A society that is truly communal in the sense that everyone holds a religious or ethnic identity is a society that is truly actualized and expressed by the state. The “state” is truly a full expression of the people and not simply a compromise or the sum of the parts. Even at the risk of some exaggeration the state becomes the full expression of the nature of the people. Now, we’ve seen all this before and it certainly wasn’t pretty (think Fascism or the Soviet Socialist Republic). But it is not inevitable that the state will gravitate toward authoritarianism and oppression – even though constant monitoring is required. But Israel will have trouble if it has a strong sense of Jewish identity wrapped up in the state because the community is not cohesive. An officially Jewish Israel will be oppressive for non-Jewish groups such as the Arabs. Again, this is a situation that simply cannot stand. Israel must find a way to be Jewish but acceptably tolerant of the groups within its confines that are not Jewish. It is easy to describe the state as fundamentally expressing a culture when everyone in the culture is the same or holds the same political or religious values. But government is about managing differences and this is going to be true even of Jewish government.
So this is the primary tension. The tension is between Israel as a modern state and Israel as a continuation of Judaism. In what sense is Israel uniquely Jewish? Well, we could begin with the question of the Jewish people living independently in their own country. How important is it that Jews have a sense of completeness and does this depend on living in certain territory? An Orthodox Jew, although not all strands of orthodoxy, will tell you that the task of completing the Jewish people is dictated by God and an in-tact political system is a means to that end. In fact, the reconstitution of the state of Israel in the biblical and religious sense is a sign of the coming of the Messiah. In the Bible a collection of people make up the nation and they are permanent entity. In this image Israel would become a Torah state that might be an honorable expression of the will of Jews, but it would also be discriminatory not only against non-Jewish groups but include gender and the various intellectual discriminations. To be sure, Israel could create a state of the Jewish people and such a state would struggle in contemporary terms.
We are still confronted with the question of how modern Israel fits into the long tradition of Jewish civilization. And if we decide that Israel is Jewish first then there is the daunting question not of Judaism – which will make adjustments slowly to the modern world – but how Jewish Israel fits into the contemporary culture of justice and fairness for all. More later.
Here’s what Mitt Romney said the other day while speaking in Jerusalem:
“We have a solemn duty and a moral imperative to deny Iran’s leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions. We must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option.”
According to most analyses Romney took a rather aggressive stand supporting preemptive strikes and doing more than the diplomatic dance of the United States. Romney’s performance in Israel is a pretty good test of his foreign-policy chops and his diplomatic skills. He didn’t fail the test but his grade is fairly low. He embarrassed the English during their Olympic moment on the world stage, his characterization of the Palestinians as being culturally behind, and that’s why their gross national product is not as high as Israel’s, is pretty naïve and may even contain a tinge of racism. But he was not completely wrong about Iran and difficulties we face.
The Republic of Iran wants to be a nuclear power. They want a seat at the table with the grown-ups who have the biggest weapon and the most threat. The question of whether or not they deserve a seat at the table remains to be seen. I think you have to prove yourself. Just like you do not get to handle that big machine we call an automobile until you pass the test, you don’t get the responsibility of having nuclear weapons until you demonstrate you can handle the responsibility. Declaring that Allah is guiding your missiles and that some cultures need annihilation does not exactly represent the sort of maturity the world is looking for. But Iran does not seem to care much because they are defying international pressure and seemed to be unconcerned with any diplomatic efforts.
Iran turning its nose up at UN Security Council resolutions directing them to suspend enrichment, and refusing to explain fully their nuclear intentions do not add up to an acceptable definition of “maturity.” It is simply dangerous for Iran to enter the inner sanctum of the nuclear club: there are plenty of reasons for this danger not the least of which is the addition of more nuclear weapons capable of detonation, but the extent to which it would embolden the Iranians is one of the most dangerous. They already support terror in various places in the world and membership in the nuclear club would probably just encourage them to continue their terrorist ways against the United States and Israel. Even if there were some semblance of checks on their nuclear arsenal this sort of provocative activity could spur a conventional war. There is no doubt that tensions in the Middle East would escalate. Israel has a nervous finger on the trigger of nuclear weapons and the foreign-policy rooted in existential threat. Israel responds sharply to existential threat and the nuclear Iran would certainly qualify.
The geopolitical balance of power would be altered and the pickings would be ripe for additional nuclear proliferation. Allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons would undermine efforts to control weapons and how they are used. It would also be a defeat for the United States who has led the efforts to stop Iran and essentially organized the boycott. If the United States is perceived as failing to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons than the question of US power and influence will be unanswered.
There remains diplomacy to play out. Simply attacking Iran would be very provocative and causes many problems as it might solve. Some diplomatic process is the only alternative at this point. But the hell of it is that nothing much can be done during the political campaign because there are significant differences between the Democrats and the Republicans on this matter. The argument that Obama is weak on Iran does not hold much water. Obama is not weak on Iran, he is smart on Iran. It is simply reckless and dangerous to sound like a gunslinger on this issue. Obama is capable of convincing people that he is a tough guy – note the Osama bin Laden takedown – and I think he can be equally tough on Iran.
Even if we give Mitt Romney the benefit of the doubt he has plenty to learn. He was clumsy and somewhat ill-informed on this trip to Europe and the Middle East. His foreign-policy credentials are of course thin and we cannot wait too long for him to fatten them up.
The Republican horror show continues. And although it is great entertainment, we should not forget the most stirring success of Karl Rove and the Republican Party which is to convince voters to support issues contrary to their own interests. The clear goal of every candidate in the Republican primary is to favor the powerful and hold the subordinate classes in check. Corey Robin in a recent book on “The Reactionary Mind” has argued and illustrated convincingly that the conservative mind is fundamentally reactionary and animated by a desire to hold the subordinate classes down. Throughout history superiors – the state, owners, church, or hierarchical institutions – have regularly resisted very much improvement in the lives of those without power. Robin uses conservative and reactionary interchangeably and he is talking about the likes of slaveholders, Catholics, fascists, Burke, Ayn Rand, Scalia, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Irving Kristol, and George W. Bush, and Mitt Romney.
To listen to Romney, Paul, and Gingrich you would think the conservative mind is becoming isolationist again. In the 1960s if you mistrusted the government and home schooled your children you were a liberal hippie. In the year 2012 if you mistrust government and home schooled your children you’re probably a conservative isolationist. It is the role of government that currently most defines liberal from conservative. Clearly other issues weigh in but the role of government is oppressive and a drain on your individual freedom if you’re of the conservative mind (thus, keep your children home), or a transformative and moral force for those with a more liberal turn of mind. The sad truth is that the most important question is not about the role of government but about what government does well and what it does not.
This collection of primary candidates have taken some pretty extreme positions from advocating bombing Iran, privatizing Social Security, eliminating controls on big oil, allowing Wall Street to grab whatever it wants, and extending constitutional rights to zygotes. As outgoing Congressman Barney Frank once quipped, “these conservatives believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth” because they afford more rights to an unborn fetus than a fully developed human being.
Mitt Romney is thoroughly committed to destroying the safety net and any sense in which government can play a role in leveling the field of inequality amongst people. He will eliminate President Obama’s health care program and once again send about 1 million young people into the world with no coverage. And it should be noted that the cost of medical care including office visits, medications, surgeries, and diagnostic exams is all pegged to a financial market that includes insurance companies. Prices are artificially inflated because the dollars are available to pay such prices. Hence, anyone without insurance who gets sick and needs medical attention is asked to pay prices based on an economic system that he or she does not participate in. Without Obama-like controls insurance companies will deny coverage at will and return to hiking premiums.
Even though the subordinate populations have gathered under the banner of economic reform, equality, rights, labor, and sometimes even revolution in every instance they have either been legally or illegally thwarted. Mitt Romney is a natural extension of this sort of leadership. Rather than working with government to find a proper and affordable role, even rather than the pragmatism of Reagan and Goldwater conservatism, these Republican candidates would rather retreat from extending opportunities to others by “fooling” the public into thinking that Obama has committed grave ideological sins (e.g. “socialism”, “liberalism”, or a “decline in social values”) rather than a serious effort to solve problems and help people.
Curiously, traditional conservatives used to believe that human beings were born into a society or culture that was responsible for shaping and fashioning attitudes and values. This society that people were born into became an inheritance that was valued and worth saving. Such original conservatives were open to change, as long as their institutions stayed intact. The only quarrel there should be between liberals and conservatives is what changes are worthy. But don’t underestimate the importance of this difference between ideological purity and pragmatism. The Republican Party has become increasingly apocalyptic as it tries not simply to have better ideas than Obama but to convince us that Obama is inauthentic (“not a citizen”) and dangerous. Tea partiers and paleoconservatives are talking about revolutionary change because the country is in such “trouble.” This is not the healthy argument of a contestatory democracy but a call for Revolution.