Living Large In Carson City: This Ain’t No Disco/This Ain’t No Fooling Around David Byrne Edition

 “If voting made a difference, they wouldn’t let us do it. ” Mark Twain

Less than 24 hours after the Senate Republicans voted to exeronate Donald J. Trump of obvious high crimes and misdemeanors, the president showed all the signs of a mad man run amok. The following morning at the National Prayer Breakfast, he came bearing a copy of the USA Today newspaper that proclaimed in bold block letters ” Trump Acquitted” at the top of the page. From there, things went predictably downhill.  In his speech to the historically non-partisan meeting he stated,

“As everybody knows, my family, our great country and your president have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people,” Trump said. “They have done everything possible to destroy us and by so doing, very badly hurt our nation. They know what they are doing is wrong, but they put themselves far ahead of our great country.” NBC News

It is becoming increasingly apparent that to criticize Trump’s aberrant behavior beyond noting that he is a seriously disturbed individual is simply playing into his bully mindset which is self-affirming regardless of who criticizes or praises him. At the annual prayer breakfast, he wasted no time  attacking Nancy Pelosi (who sat a few seats away) and Mitt Romney for using, in his words, their faith to publically attack him. Besides being incredibly offensive and laughingly unchristian, his actions, then and later in the day at the White House, verged on outright slander. It raises the question just how far Trump will go in punishing anyone who stood for impeachment or is a perceived enemy in his warped mind.

Over the course of the day, he attacked everyone from the past and present including Robert Mueller, Andrew McCabe, Hillary, Romney, Pelosi, former FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, former FBI Director James Comey, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, and others too numerous to mention here. Conversely, he lauded praise on his sycophantic Republican enablers calling out one after the other to praise and charm while he told jokes and laughed his way through both meetings. To a man and woman, they ate it up chuckling and laughing continuously as Trump ranted on and on. To say his actions both brought shame on the office of the presidency and highlighted in stark illumination his mental demise is an understatement. A common definition among psychologists seems eerily apt for what Americans saw on stage this morning after,

Antisocial personality disorder, sometimes identified interchangeably as sociopathy or psychopathy, is defined by the Mayo Clinic as: “A mental condition in which a person consistently shows no regard for right and wrong and ignores the rights and feelings of others. People with antisocial personality disorder tend to antagonize, manipulate or treat others harshly or with callous indifference. They show no guilt or remorse for their behavior.” Psychology Today

Honestly, is there anyone who didn’t see something of this nature coming if not outright expected it. What is most disturbing is the way conservatives, and Republicans in particular, have abandoned all sense of decency and the moral high ground to allow Trump free reign in doing whatever he chooses. It is as if the rest of us are witnessing some alternative universe. One where conservatives are living in a totally bogus reality where up is down, wrong is right, and Trump is an angelic savior who is not to be questioned let alone be held responsible for his behavior.

The overarching question is what has gone wrong with the Republican Party, collectively and as individuals. It is hard to believe in the world of Trump that once upon a time there were actually people who called themselves patriots and Republican in the same breath.  They believed in the rule of law, the Constitution, and the all important separation of powers where the Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Judiciary worked in tandem as checks on the power of the other individual branches to achieve balance. The system worked well until 2016 when Trump was elected, and the entire conservative cabal lost its mind.

Charles Mackay  was an early social scientist who was fascinated with the psychology of crowds and the masses. His seminal book published in 1841 titled Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds is still studied, and for the most part, highly regarded. He is quoted as saying, 

“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

For many scholars familiar with Mackay’s work, he has taken on an almost visionary personae. He was concerned with economic bubbles, not unlike the ones Americans have dealt with over recent years. His work, arguably, suffered from lack of experience and foresight developed over the years, but his foundational tenets were solid nonetheless. He also explored the motivation behind the witch mania that became popular in both Europe and America related to overzealous religiosity. Mackay also believed the crusades and popular prophecies were a type of mania that motivated, on one hand, vast numbers of people across the globe to engage in battles to support their particular belief systems, and on the other, to believe projections of the future without sufficient warrant. In every case, the people involved molded their beliefs to fit the prevailing zeitgeist without questioning or acknowledging the impact of their reasoning.

Watching the Republican crowd at Trump’s victory laps immediately after the vote for acquittal when Republicans Senators blindly ignored a mountain of evidence proving the president’s guilt was breathtaking in it audacity. There and since, the actions of conservative lawmakers has been nothing if not embarrassing. This sycophantic, servile kowtowing to Trump is chilling as is his monarchical acceptance of their praise and glorification.

While there seem to be obvious similarities between the Trump army and Mackay’s research into the madness of crowds, Trump’s minions seem far more sinister and evil (although it  is a stretch to think marauding crusaders, either Christian or Muslim, could be any less forbidding). No, this is a new kind disease infecting the Grand Old Party today. It is a cancer eating away at the heart of our democracy, decimating the Constitution, rendering low the rule of  law, and hoodwinking the masses into seeing Trump as the savior of the American Dream. He is not. Sane people see him for what he is and recoil in horror at what has been going on the past three years in the United States.

The sooner the rest of America comes to grip with the fact that all the lies, cruelty, ad hominem attacks, border wall boondoggles, assaults on the environment, and cuts to healthcare, education, Social Security, and on and on are simply diversions in a grander scheme, the better off  America will be. No one likes to think their fellow Americans are capable or deluded by the promise of power to the point of staging a coup against our great country, but collectively, Americans had better come to that conclusion . . . and quickly.

This is reality. Get used to it, and above all else, get mad. Hate is not an enemy that one fights with clean hands under the The Marquess of Queensberry Rules. The election will be a street fight up until November 3. Then things will get real. If Trump wins, all bets are off, and America will cease to be a democracy. If the Democrats win, the fight will shift to retain power until the country heals and our way of life is returned to a semblance of law and order.

These are the only two paths to choose from as America goes forward. Get used to it.

Living Large In Carson City: Padraig Deignan: Democracy is the counting of heads, not what’s in them! Edition

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Bread and circuses” (or bread and games; from Latinpanem et circenses) is a figure of speech, specifically referring to a superficial means of appeasement. As a metonymic, the phrase is attributed to Juvenal, a Roman poet active in the late first and early second century AD — and is used commonly in cultural, particularly political, contexts.

In a political context, the phrase means to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy, but by diversion, distraction or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace[1] — by offering a palliative: for example food (bread) or entertainment (circuses).

Juvenal, who originated the phrase, used it to decry the selfishness of common people and their neglect of wider concerns.[2][3][4] The phrase implies a population’s erosion or ignorance of civic duty as a priority. Source

Here we are at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. It’s been a whirlwind ride with few highs and ever increasing lows. This is the year that future generations will mark as the beginning of the cracking of our democracy by the Donald Trump and his merry, but rabid, ban of deplorabbles. When Hillary first made the “basket of deplorables” comment, I literally and figuratively cringed. I feared she was exacerbating an already undeniable truth – people just didn’t like her and alienating Trump’s base was not the wisest political path she could have chosen.

I was wrong. Trump’s base has proven themselves time after time to be a pack of scoundrels, misfits, and emotionally and intellectually dead individuals, and it is only getting worse. The quote about bread and circuses above has come to fit this administration’s modus operandi to a tee. Today, however, our bread and circus are the world wide web coupled with Twittter as the arena and sensationalism and dishonesty  (fake news) the bread that people feed on daily.  In these opening days of the new year, America needs to come to grips with the reality that our democracy is broken and fixing it is going to take a lot of harsh decisions and more than a little gumption to get us through to the other side.

On the bright side, the Democrats take control of the House on January 3 bringing with them a ray of hope that the Orange One will finally find a modicum of supervision, but with Trump in the mix, who knows how that will work out. Frankly, I have serious doubts about both major political parties doing anything but line the pockets of their donors and the large corporations that control our political system. Still, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to take an optimistic view in these blogs, rather than the doomsday approach I’ve taken often in the past. In my defense . . . they made me do it.

Having said that, as bad as the Democrats have the potential of being, they are far more positive and rational than what is now the Republican Party, which has for all practical purposes, abdicated control of the party to the House Freedom Caucus led by former Tea Party members and ultra conservative House newcomers. While few in number, some estimates list its membership in the mid-thirties, as a block, they have tremendous sway on the outcome of legislation and the actions of the president. It was the Freedom Caucus along with Anne Couture and Rush Limbaugh who put the screws to Trump when he capitulated to the Democrats and a portion of his own party in December that passed a bill to avoid the current government shutdown. Trump’s reversal of course was meant to appease his base, of which, the Freedom Caucus can be counted.

American linguist, philosopher, historian, political activist, and social critic, Noam Chomsky (Video Transcript), makes an even bolder claim about the current condition of the political system and those who are involved in determining the life of Americans when he stated,

I’ve said sometimes, what’s considered an utterly outrageous comment, that today’s Republican Party is the most dangerous organization in human history. Sounds outrageous, but think about it for a moment. I mean, Hitler didn’t intend to destroy the prospects for human existence; Attila the Hun didn’t intend that – nobody has. But that’s what these guys intend, and it’s not ignorant, uneducated you know, religious fundamentalists [or] whatever you want to blame people. These are the most educated, sort of best supported people in the world, and they’re doing this eyes opened because you make more profit tomorrow. It’s hard to imagine anything like it. Source

In the fog of our current cultural war, I think it is easy to single out Trump and place the majority of blame for the current democratic crisis we find ourselves in today. Yet, reread the “bread and circus” quote at the top of the page. Then consider this from Chomsky’s video above,

Trump’s role is to ensure that the media and the public attention are always concentrated on him. So every time you turn on a television set: Trump; open the front page of the newspaper: Trump. And in order to maintain, he’s a conman, basically a showman, and in order to maintain public attention, you have to do something crazy, otherwise nobody’s gonna pay attention to you. . .  In the background, the wrecking crew is working Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, [and] the guys in the Cabinet who write his executive orders.

What they are doing is systematically dismantling every aspect of government that works for the benefit of the population. . . I mean, anything you can think of
is being dismantled and all efforts are being devoted, kind of almost with fanaticism
to enrich and empower their actual constituency which is super wealth, and corporate power; who are delighted. Source

A simple Google search will turn up a litany of real accomplishments the Republicans have achieved while the rest of us have been watching Trump scream “Squirrel” including both his base and those who oppose his actions. Read any number of outlets that have tracked Trump’s nefarious behind-the-scenes machinations. Anthony Zurcher’s, Ten Ways Trump Has Changed America, he wrote for BBC News is a typical compilation. While most of America has been sitting quietly around the nation, either wallowing in Trump’s craziness or grumbling about his ineptitude, the bread and circus continues.

Complicating the situation even more are the misconceptions that all American have about what it is to live, work, and die in America.  Basically, America is run on myths. Myths about our freedom, our rights, our national consciousness. Keeping us believing these myths is the job of the elites, social media, and the corporate ruling structure. Read American Society Would Collapse If It Weren’t for These 8 MythsThe author, Lee Camp, systematically dismantles our foolish beliefs that all Americans hold dear including our democracy, voting/electoral system, consumerism, truth about the media, and on an on. It isn’t pretty how we have been led to this point in our nation’s history. This has been an ongoing train wreck that survives only because it is so much better here in the United States than in other less fortunate parts of the world. But every train wreck has its end, and America is perilously close to that point.

Chomsky uses the Doomsday Clock put out by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to measure just how badly America has slumped though the ages up until December 2017. He wrote,

They (scientists) just moved it to 2 minutes to midnight. That’s where it was in 1953 when the U.S., and later the USSR, exploded thermonuclear weapons which were, could totally destroy the world. It went to 2 minutes, now it’s back to 2 minutes, and that’s the Republican Party. [They’re] the ones who are running the country and dominating the world. There’s never been a situation like this. Bulletin

So much for my morphing into an optimistic man full of joy and wonder. As long as Trump is in the White House and long after he is gone, we will face this existential crisis until Americans wake up and take their destinies seriously in light of rising greed, lack of empathy, and give up on political correctness to reshape America into something different. A nation of laws and governance that takes both the environment and individual liberties into consideration would be a far cry from our situation in the opening days of 2019. Happy fucking New Year.

Living Large In Carson City: Stupid Is as Stupid Does Edition

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The one lesson the Trump administration has taught America is don’t get too comfortable with the status quo. To Donald Trump, it means nothing. Whether it was the size of his popular vote win to the crowd numbers at his swearing in to just about everything that has transpired over the last year and a half, Trump’s version of the event is going to be diametrically opposed to the reality of the situation. Honestly, it’s exhausting.

This week ushered in a respite of sorts, albeit, a devastating one. Hurricane Florence began her journey to the America’s eastern shore a little over a week ago and has been steadily plodding her way across the Atlantic for the inevitable land fall last Friday. Coverage and preparation for the disaster in making has been round the clock and seems to be more than adequate so far. Florence is expected to hang out on the central Eastern seaboard well into next week with flooding of low lying areas of particular concern.

I know this is going to sound callous, but it is refreshing in a morbid way not to have to listen to the criminal antics of Giuliani, Cohen, Manafort, Don, Jr., and the whole cast of unseemly characters that Trump has anointed with his on special brand of brotherhood. Yet, Trump insanely got into a pissing war with the media over the number of deaths that resulted from last year’s Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico. Here was one of his opening salvos,

Trump has consistently denied any fault for his administration in the aftermath of the storm. In fact, the President has instead sought praise for his handling of Hurricane Maria, saying earlier this week that it was “an incredible, unsung success.” CNN

Later, he came up with this statement without providing documentation or facts beyond those he pulled from his “superior intellect”,

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000…

His rationale centered mainly around blaming the Democrats for trying to make him look as bad as possible. Trump is, as we all know, a “blamer” and uses blame as his go to default defense when challenged on just about any issue. Giving him the benefit of the doubt is never a good course of action, especially not in this case.

The death toll study was commissioned by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, a member of Puerto Rico’s “New Progressive Party.” It was conducted by the nonpartisan George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.
There has been no evidence to indicate that partisan politics has played a role in the calculation of the death tally, and George Washington University released a statement Thursday that said it stands by its work. CNN

What baffles me is how can he look directly into a camera and state lies as if he believes them with every ounce of his being? He does it time and time again without the least bit of embarrassment or fear that he will be found out. Then a couple of weeks ago, I ran across an old installment of The David Pakman Show where Pakman interviewed David Dunning formerly of Cornell University’s Institute of Social Sciences. He along with his fellow social psychologist, Justin Kruger, developed the Dunning-Kruger Effect back in the late 1990s, and all things Trump became clearer.

In an article for Forbes Magazine titled The Dunning-Kruger Effect Shows Why Some People Think They’re Great Even When Their Work Is Terrible, Mark Murphy goes into detail of what the Effect is in real life, and for me, explains Trump’s less than strict adherence to the truth. Murphy wrote,

If you’ve ever dealt with someone whose performance stinks, and they’re not only clueless that their performance stinks but they’re confident that their performance is good, you likely saw the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action.

Coined in 1999 by then-Cornell psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the eponymous Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias whereby people who are incompetent at something are unable to recognize their own incompetence. And not only do they fail to recognize their incompetence, they’re also likely to feel confident that they actually are competent. Forbes

Sound familiar? It’s actually much worse than what Murphy describes above. He continued,

The irony of the Dunning-Kruger Effect is that, Professor Dunning notes, “the knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task—and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at that task.”

 

To be fair, everyone at some time in their life is subject to the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It links to how I understand ignorance and stupidity. Not knowing how something works or not understanding the bigger picture of how things interact in the real world, we operate on the information we have on hand. Often this incomplete knowledge comes from our parents or people we trust or want to emulate. While they may be dealing with a bigger set of parameters, in our ignorance, we use the knowledge we have available.

For most of us, as we age and gain more information, we alter our beliefs and ultimately our actions to expand our knowledge base, so our lives and understanding transform as we grow intellectually and emotionally. This is why I think that in ignorance there is power. Power to change. Power to expand into a greater world of understanding. Stupidity is never making the leap from our incomplete knowledge base and remaining mired in that less than perfect understanding of the world and calling it good.

Factor in Trump’s narcissistic personality, and you have the perfect storm of a person caught between reality and their own fictional world that supports their every claim, regardless of the veracity of their beliefs. When a narcissistic person is challenged on an obvious untruth or misconception, regardless of the facts, they lie or invent a bogey man to blame for the discrepancy.

For Trump, this isn’t even a choice but a knee jerk reaction to being questioned about his internal story line. Part pride, part self-delusion, Trump’s lies are the act of a pathetic, small-minded person who is so caught up in his fantasy of himself and his self worth that, in his mind, he is the sole arbitrator of truth, regardless of the facts. It’s the rest of us that have to deal with the reality of those fantasies.