Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Obama Takes On "Trumpism" In His State of The Union

Live: Fight against Islamic State is not World War-III, Obama says
Obama educated Trumpsters on the nature of government, democracy, the limits of power and citizenship in his SOTU speech.

Lord knows Trumpsters need a clue. Unable to reason their way out of anything, they more or less follow their insane, splenetic blowhard no matter what he says. As one Trump follower put it in a recent TIME article on the Trump phenomenon, "It's time to get insane and shake things up!"  So given just "shaking things up" not a  useful prescription for much of anything it was superb to see Obama giving his best trying to educate these knuckle draggers to the role of citizenship in the United States.

As one UK Guardian lead article put it:

"Obama’s rhetoric reflects his study of the nation’s founding documents – the US constitution and Declaration of Independence – as well as basic texts of our civic culture, from the Bible to the speeches of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D Roosevelt, John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr."

Which is more than needed, given most Trumpsters  in their hostile and arrogant anti-intellectualism, are proud not to be familiar with the basic texts of our civic culture. But then, this is the profile for those who can't even see that reducing the members of one the world's largest religions to "ragheads" plays into ISIS' hands. Or yapping that anyone who supports respect for the vast majority of this religion is "bending over for ragheads" - when in fact they are unwilling to take the vile path into dehumanization - which almost always precedes genocide and "ethnic cleansing".

Obama was no less severe in taking these knotheads to task for sabre rattling when the U.S. is clearly - bar none -the world's 'hammer' not anyone's 'nail'. As the Prez put it:

"The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It's not even close,"

Hence, to idiotically proclaim "World War Three" or "the world is on fire" (as Paul Ryan did in one op-ed) actually confers on these vermin what they want: the equal power of a nation state - when they are merely parasites occupying a failed state. Obama's words:

"Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages pose an enormous danger to civilians and must be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence.  That's the story ISIL wants to tell; that's the kind of propaganda they use to recruit. We don't need to build them up to show that we're serious, nor do we need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world's largest religions,"
But again, his words likely were missed by the pseudo-macho Trumpsters.

Obama's final foray into our toxic politics was a tour-de-force of intellectual power but which was likely lost on most of the audience.  As Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC put it, "the (TV) audience was dumbed down by Trumpism".  So when Obama said "the people should pick their representatives instead of the politicians picking their voters" it likely sailed over their heads.

Why this anti-intellectual strain? Where did it originate? Let's first agree that Trump isn’t the cause, just the symptom. In fact, a pervasive anti-intellectualism  runs through the roots of American culture and has for decades. Richard Hofstadter in his terrific book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life puts his finger (p. 133) on:

"such a thing as the generically-prejudiced mind. Studies of political tolerance and ethnic prejudice have shown that zealous church-going and rigid religious faith are among the most important correlates of political and ethnic animosity."

But it has to go beyond religious aspects, in order to account for the teeming millions who hate intellectuals but aren't necessarily religious. One possible insight  raised by Hofstadter was an engrained tendency by the undereducated to tie the exercise of intellect to being "effeminate". He presented the example of Adlai Stevenson and how he was mercilessly criticized by the media for his speeches and choice of words in the 1950s.

Hofstadter noted that especially during the 1952 presidential campaign,  Stevenson's wit was detested even more than his intellect. Of course, wit functions in the service of intellect, to amplify intellect's intent and render its goals more efficacious. Or to smooth the delivery of information related to weighty issues. For this Adlai was repeatedly slandered and referred to as a "comedian" or "clown" and portrayed in cartoons with a jester's cap and bells, e.g.

The New York Daily News (cf. p. 227) once referred to him as "Adelaide" and charged that he "trilled his speeches in a fruity voice."

Thereby rendering an additional slur - one that directly tied intellectual display or wit with homosexuality. Reinforced by the description of his followers as "typical Harvard lace-cuff liberals." In certain sectors of society today, this pernicious virus can still be seen - in many of our public high schools. There, day in and day out "geeks", "dweebs" and "dorks" are relentlessly assaulted by feeble-minded "jocks" for openly displaying any intellect. Many are also accused of being "gay" simply because they prefer the life of the mind and books- to football, gang hijinks, mailbox 'baseball' or cow-tipping.

Obama's confronting of the Trumpsters in his speech, was therefore somewhat like the class valedictorian confronting the high school football team and trying to teach them nuanced approaches - as in national security (forming a coalition instead of acting like the world's cop) - and respecting others even if their skin, religion or whatever is different. In other words a nearly impossible task given the jocks would likely take any such would-be educator and stuff him into a locker.

And so we have the basis for what now approaches nearly a civil war, given the partisan divide. Another element feeding the rampant anti-intellectualism (which also denies man-made climate change)  has to be the media - and here we come to FOX News. Incredibly, Fox News is currently the most trusted news network in the country. The problem is that “Fox News” is a misnomer. The network,  to quote Jon Stewart, is more of a “relentlessly activist” organization for conservative causes than an intellectually honest conveyor of information.

Don't take my word! There are to date at least seven academic studies that have found that Fox News’ viewership constitutes the most misinformed audience .  From climate change to healthcare, the Iraq War, to Obama's allegedly Muslim faith,  the zombies mesmerized by Fox News are more confident about falsehoods than viewers of any other news network. Several studies even found a positive correlation between how often one watches Fox News and the degree to which one’s worldview is misinformed.

Hence, one can regard FOX News as a breeding factory for anti-intellectuals, and given Obama's SOTU speech, the number one source of anti-citizens undermining the Republic. In this sense, Obama was far too generous when he insisted our citizen bonds "must be based on trust",  because well, how can you have a faithful discussion of facts with a purblind idiot who only accepts falsehoods from a propaganda factory? It's a non-starter. Citizen mutual trust must depend on all citizens having the same access to genuine facts, history and objective truth. If one side is co-opted by bullshit and anti-facts then all bets are off. 

But look, what’s most dangerous about Fox News isn’t its repeated failure to accurately report the facts, but its discouraging that all important form of rigorous curiosity called critical thinking. If people want a single cause to blame for the gradual decline of the American empire, direct your wagging finger at the devaluation of critical thinking skills.

Because make no mistake, any appreciation of Obama's State of the Union speech, whether his comparison of climate denialism to denial of Sputnik, e.g.

"Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn't deny Sputnik was up there. We didn't argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and twelve years later, we were walking on the moon."

Or to his nuanced argument for confronting ISIL but not doing it alone and half-assed, requires at least a modicum of critical thinking. It cannot be appreciated by a brain stewed in endless propaganda so that its medial pre-frontal cortex sees Obama only as 'Obummer' or "Obozo'. In other words, as the "enemy" or  "the other" despite his having fought to prevent cuts to veterans' and other benefits - which their weak memories forget all the Reepos wanted.

Obama sounded a definite note of hope and optimism but that was predicated on all of us taking the citizenship seriously. Alas, that cannot happen when one half the population doesn't know which end is up and is prepared to follows so-called "news" networks - that are really propaganda factories - blindly.

As Thomas Jefferson put it in his 'Notes on Virginia':
"Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories. AND TO RENDER THEM SAFE, THEIR MINDS MUST BE IMPROVED."
Jefferson understood that a citizen "depository" of false beliefs and misinformation would ultimately destroy the Republic on account of the regression of citizens' minds. He understood that citizens, as part of their duty, had to strive to attain mental improvement including being able to read in a focused fashion and not believe everything they read. Another Founder, John Adams, wrote:
Facts are stubborn things,”
But epitomizing the blind stupidity of the Right, their favorite President,  Ronald Reagan,  famously misquoted him:
Facts are stupid things,
 Which could be the motto of all those who get their "values" regularly confirmed  via a reality filtered through FOX News or Limbaugh
Sadly, Obama's lofty goals to eradicate our toxic politics cannot be achieved until the source of that  toxicity is removed. As people learned after the Rwanda genocide, there is free speech and then there is hate speech. NO civil society can long tolerate the latter without facing destruction from within. The U.S. may well be able to put down every 'bully' around the world, but it cannot sustain division from within. United we stand, divided we fall - and it will be a long, hard fall.

One final note: Gov. Nikki Haley, who delivered the GOP response, even called out Trump and his angry bandwagon by admonishing followers to "resist the siren call of angry voices".  But, of course, anyone who's ever had to deal with a bunch of two years olds pitching tantrums knows that probably won't get very far before she's skewered by some of those angry voices. Most likely from right wing propaganda radio.

See also:


"Pathologically playing today at your local Bund rally is the selfsame debauchery that sickens American politics from time to time — what with its "voices urging us to fall back into tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background"; and always, in some rhetorical version, warning us of "existential threats" being slighted by the commander in chief."

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