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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}


#EndorseThis: Michael Moore Condemns Trump’s Callous Address

Following President Trump’s address to Congress last night, the airwaves were filled with somber pundits praising the president’s “pivot” after he delivered a speech that exceeded the very low bar set for him.

While Trump may have used his calm, low baritone to try to sound “presidential” and seduce America, Michael Moore saw right through the charade and compared the speech to “newspeak” from George Orwell’s 1984. The tone may have changed, but the nationalist sentiments had not. In fact, Moore argued that it sounded much like a subdued version of Trump’s campaign speeches — minus the standard Hillary Clinton “lock her up” chants.

For Moore, the most heart-wrenching moment — when Trump introduced the widow of fallen U.S. Navy SEAL, Ryan Owens — was nothing more than a ploy to distract America from Trump’s own role in the disastrous raid in Yemen. As the audience gave Owens’ widow a long standing ovation, America’s narcissist-in-chief gleefully pointed out that Owens should be happy in heaven with all of applause he received.

Moore could barely contain his outrage as he rebuked the president. “To use that to put another notch on his belt and what is he thinking about? ‘My ratings, my record applause. I’m going to get an Emmy for this, most applause for a dead soldier on my watch.’ That is the sickness of this man.”

Watch as Michael Moore condemns Trump’s callous speech.

IMAGE: Screenshot / MSNBC

Trump’s Minister Of Propaganda And His ‘Occupy’ Film

Reprinted with permission from The Washington Spectator.

Everyone has been asking me how Donald Trump can possibly thrive politically once his voters discover that what he said on the campaign trail was categorical bullshit. I respond by pointing out that people only know what they know, and what they know about Trump will be determined by a campaign of White House disinformation to rival Joseph Goebbels, abetted by a political media willing to serve uncomplainingly as its transmission belt. For instance, when the CIA reported its conclusion that the Russian government intervened to try to seal Trump’s victory, his transition team responded with a statement that said: “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history.” The Washington Post quoted it verbatim, like it was precipitation data from the National Weather Service—though in actual fact Trump’s Electoral College margin was in history’s bottom quartile.

Our media gatekeepers act like they’re unaware that our president has chosen as his chief strategist a fellow who’s made disinformation his political vocation, whom no less an authority than the late Andrew Breitbart once labeled the “Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party.” Though maybe I shouldn’t be so self-righteous. Until not too long ago, I’d forgotten that I’d seen Steve Bannon’s Triumph of the Will. Then I remembered, and watched it again—and my respect for anyone who’d take this White House on good faith plummeted below Dante’s ninth circle of Hell.

It happened this way. Covering the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, I decided to test my theory that at any Republican convention, the true face of the party is revealed outside camera range. After braving a security gauntlet far tighter than the conventions, I visited a gleaming white air-conditioned tent devoted to showing movies produced by Citizens United, the organization made famous by the 2010 Supreme Court decision that green-lighted the laundering of unlimited corporate funds to finance propaganda like I was about to witness: a film called Occupy Unmasked, written and directed by one Stephen K. Bannon.

The name meant nothing to me then. The experience, however, was indelible. I tried to record the soundtrack on my phone. An undercover security operative swooped down and made me erase it. That might have been for the best, I wrote at the time, because “the distinguishing feature of Occupy Unmasked’s soundtrack was an unceasing, loud, dull, dissonant . . . well, you couldn’t call it music. It was more like a deep rumble, the aural equivalent of a laxative to loosen one’s critical faculties.” Upon reflection, I couldn’t be sure that the similarity with the cinematic technique described by George Orwell in 1984 (about the Two Minutes Hate) was intended or accidental: “The next moment a hideous, grinding speech, as of some monstrous machine running without oil, burst from the big telescreen at the end of the room.” What I do know is that if I knew then that the man responsible for this sickening Orwellian conflagration would 29 months later be running the White House, I might have considered doing what I never dreamed of during George W. Bush’s reign: getting my emigration papers in order. Which maybe we should all be doing right now.

The film begins silently, an innocuous epigraph filling the screen—

July 2011
Following the historic tea party victory in 2010
The nation is in a heated debate
On raising the debt ceiling.
President Obama’s approval rating
Sinks to an all-time low:

—then comes a windshield’s eye view of a gorgeous California coastline. An unpromising overture for a political thriller.

Until—a car plunges over a cliff, followed by a frenzy of images: worried politicians, newsmen narrating the looming fiscal crisis, a bank machine sorting bills, blindfolded children boxing (and then Senator Barbara Boxer, her voice horrifically distorted); sheets of hundred dollar bills rolling off a printing press, then piling to the sky—the car arcs downward—a racing clock, hundred dollar bills behind a beeping EKG, a man on his hospital deathbed, a little girl batting a piñata, Where is the leadership of this White House to guide the country out of the debt mess we’re in? —Then piles more money and a cardiologist’s paddles on a heaving chest, a racing “debt clock” and credit cards, and a braying Chris Matthews and panic and panic and more panic. The American people are going to pay the price and the EKG flatlines and the car hits the rocks and bursts into flames and Anderson Cooper announces the downgrading of the nation’s credit.

Which resolves into an image of Barack Hussein Obama in the Oval Office to render plain the reason for the frenzy: “An organizer,” words begins spooling “must stir up dissatisfaction and discontent. . .”—and then the letters S-A-U-L and A-L-I-N-S-K-Y emerge, with the “A” in the villain’s last name filled in when the familiar red anarchist-A in a circle stamps itself onto the screen.

Andrew Breitbart appears, explaining, “The battle for the soul of America took an interesting turn in September of 2011, when out of the blue, according to the mainstream media, one finds a group called ‘Occupy’ occupying town squares, city halls, and Zuccotti Park. Who were these people?” [The screen shows a foul dreadlocked, doo-ragged white guy with an “Occupy” fist pinned to his coat.] “Are they just college students that matter-of-factly just show up in Zuccotti Park?” [A ragged tent city, pocked by garbage bags, from which a woman pulls out a shoe.]

“Are these just mom and pa, coming like they did at the Tea Parties?”

“No, no. No, no. This is the organized left.” [The camera lingers on a sign reading “Workers World Party.”] “The Occupy movement is the organized left.”

The plot that follows defies summation. We learn how in August and September, 2011, thanks to the Republicans, the nation was finally verging toward fiscal sanity until the Occupiers appeared just in time to sabotage the whole thing. We learn how the conspiracy was planned in a 2011 email chain that included an MSNBC personality and the political editor of Rolling Stone, where “kids learned how they could orchestrate a movement from scratch,” tutored to be “as amorphous as humanly possible,” the better to “draw in as many naïve people as humanly possible.” But also that it was orchestrated a year earlier “by the SEIU.”

But also that the conspiracy was planned in 2008, at the Republican National Convention.

And, yet more diabolically, in the ruins of New Orleans in 2005: “To most people Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster,” one of the film’s stars explains. “But to the far left, Hurricane Katrina was about the occupation of the Ninth Ward. It was the first time all of these different groups came together under one banner to work together. You had the eco-terrorism group under Scott Crow; the Animal and Earth Liberation Fronts. . . . You had Code Pink; you had the Black Panther Party. . . . You had different movements from around the world coming in. They saw it as a means to work together, finally, for the revolution. . . because people were mad at the U.S. government.”

“And from that, those same people, those same dollars, those same funders, those same leaders—they started the Occupy Movement.”

The insults to linear logic only enhance the film’s effect: this is sense-rape, meant to disarm critical faculties. But if the storyline is, well, as amorphous as humanly possible, the characters are etched sharply. For that is what this game is all about.

There are bad guys, like a man in a bank in a suit. “He’s texting,” one of the story’s narrators explains footage of a scene where filthy marauders invade a Bank of America. “I say, ‘Do you work for the bank?’ And he says, ‘No, I work for the United Autoworkers.’ So the unions are choreographing things, and they’re obviously texting back and making sure it’s going right. But who ends up getting arrested are the students.”

The students: those useful idiots. A fellow holds a sign reading “THROW ME A BONE, PAY MY TUITION.” He’s asked by a Breitbartian why he believes himself to be exploited by elites. “We get taxed more than they do,” he answers. “That’s not true,” the interviewer comes back, matter of factly. The kids responds, incredulous: “That’s not true?”

The faceless, pillaging marauders—some in Guy Fawkes masks, the movie’s main visual motif, others wearing black hoodies, or bandanas over their faces, staving in windows, assaulting cops, dancing by the light of the flames.

The media, some of whom are Occupy puppet masters in disguise—like a writer named Natasha Lennard, who covered the movement freelance for The New York Times, then got radicalized and noisily quit the straight media, but whom under Steve Bannon’s directorial gaze is rendered both a walking, talking embodiment of the Gray Lady herself, sent out to pull the strings of the media’s useful-idiot contingent, like Bill Maher, shown enthusing “Everyone was extraordinarily well-behaved” over an image of a man shitting on a car.

President Obama, that most useful of idiots. (He delivers what the film calls his “Occupy State of the Union” in 2012, his voice distorted like a zombie: “No American company should be able to avoid paying its fair share of taxes. . . . Restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot.” You thought these words were innocent. You are so, so naïve.)

The good guys are the film’s narrators: former members in good standing of the left, who’ve seen the conspiracy from the inside and have emerged to tell the tale.

There is a young man named Lee Stranahan, identified as “Former Writer, Huffington Post, Daily Kos.” He explains, “I actually trace some of the roots of Occupy back to Saul Alinsky and the 1930s . . . his mentor was Frank Nitty, the enforcer of the Capone gang. . . What had happened was, Prohibition had ended, so the mob needed a new way of making money. So what they did was, they moved into—labor. They moved into the unions. So the BSEU was one of the unions they were involved with, and that became the SEIU.” [Cue picket sign: “HEALTHCARE WORKERS / WE’RE PART OF THE 99%”] “The thing that ties in the anarchist movement, and the Obama administration, are the unions.”

A woman named Pam Key, who has been to hell and back: “I was there with them, getting fed some poached salmon, when I was with some anarchists doing ’shrooms discussing whether they were going to assassinate people and when that might happen.” She explains that “They are holding back violence until it is going to work at its maximum capacity,” and that—onscreen, Oakland occupiers take over a vacant warehouse: coming soon to a suburb near you—“that’s the next step, to occupy properties, and homes.”

Brandon Darby, who infiltrated the 2008 RNC protests for the FBI: “. . . the same old far left players who are part of what happened in New Orleans, the same old far-left players who are part of what happened in Seattle . . . arson . . . terroristic acts . .  . Gaza flotillas . . . the convergence of all these disparate groups, let’s attack the United States strength through environmental policies, let’s attack the United States law enforcement, let’s attack the criminal justice system—everything came together for Occupy.”

Anita MonCrief, an African American woman who used to work for ACORN, explains why this list does not, yet, include any black people: “Because they’re being readied for part two. And that is race warfare.”

Now you, my dear fellow member of the Reality Based Community, remember what Occupy actually was: a lightning strike, a miracle, and a tragedy—the kind of uprising the left had been dreaming about for years after the banking system crashed itself then got the government to rescue it (that was why Bannon was able to collect so much footage of left-wing leaders saying Occupy-like things before the event); but which soon spent its promise by fetishizing the absence of organization and the controlling of public space as a perverse end in itself. Which was what allowed some of the encampments to become crime-riddled shit piles, a process hastened, in New York’s Zuccotti Park, when police began directing homeless people to camp there.

Ah, but that’s what they wanted you to believe. Here’s David Horowitz, the New Left leader turned right-winger. The left, he explains, “wants to create chaos. Because out of chaos, they can get power.”

Thus does the film palpitate toward its frenetic conclusion: Epileptic cross-cuts between the chaos of the late-stage Occupy marches and encampments and the violence in cities like Oakland, alternating with images of Stalin, Che, Fidel, and Mao; riots in, perhaps, South America; and the Black Panthers braying that it is “time to pick up the gun,” followed by a screaming 1960s SDSer: “We gotta build a strong base, and some day we’re gonna knock those motherfuckers who control this thing right on their ass.”

Then comes Horowitz again to explain how it is all going exactly according to plan. “The left learned one thing from the 1960s—from its failures in the ‘60s. And that is: don’t telegraph your goals. Don’t tell people that you want to overthrow the government, that you have been working to overthrow American civilization for 40 years. You pretend to be interested in issues. . . . Your goal has always been the same: to destroy a society that you’re alienated from, that you basically hate.”

The film ends with the testimony of a small businessman, “barely making ends meet,” who had the bad luck to get in the revolution’s way. You’re next.

To read it on the page in front of you, it can only seem perfectly ridiculous. You have to fill in the violent chaos of images in a way that—well, as Orwell did when he described the televised “Two Minutes Hate” in 1984.

The Hate rose to its climax. The voice of Goldstein had become an actual sheep’s bleat, and for an instant the face changed into that of a sheep. Then the sheep-face melted into the figure of a Eurasian soldier. Who seems to be advancing, huge and terrible, his submachine gun roaring, and seeming to spring out of the surface of the screen …

That movie ended with the words:


This one ended with Andrew Breitbart crying with heroic earnestness to the riffraff all around him, “Stop the raping! Stop the raping!”

Andrew Breitbart is dead now: long live Andrew Breitbart. Donald Trump is Lord, and Steve Bannon is his prophet—with the U.S. Treasury at his disposal to tell fairy tales like this about anyone who dares cross him.

Rick Perlstein is The Washington Spectator’s national correspondent.

IMAGE: White House Senior Advisor Kellyanne Conway smiles with chief strategist Steve Bannon in the Oval Office.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

What’s Driving Trump’s Derangement Of Democratic Discourse?

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

To understand why Lyin’ Donald is perpetrating such an unprecedented crisis upon the American republic, let’s consider the difference between what children say and do on playgrounds, where they rough out rules for cooperation and competition, and what grownups learn and uphold in order to make a society work.

As the columnist Walter Lippmann put it almost a century ago, adults learn to practice “social control, not by authority from above… but by a common law which defines the reciprocal rights and duties of persons. Thus in a free society the state… administers justice among men who conduct their own affairs.”

Trump’s notions of freedom and control—so childish, so thuggish, so corrosive of an adult freedom that sustains freedom itself—aren’t merely a personal, clinical problem; they reflect what’s happened to a broad swath of the American people and political culture. Deposing Trump is an urgent necessity, but it won’t save the democratic way of life we’ve relied on more than we seem to have realized. We may have to jump-start that way of life in order to depose him.

Adults understand that what a Constitution rightly protects in our freedoms of speech, a strong civil society rightly moderates in its everyday life: Not every insult and vulgarity may be uttered just because it’s legally protected. Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau explained this in 2015 when he criticized (instead of canonizing) the slain writers for Charlie Hebdo, who, he rightly noted, had repeatedly “punched down” poor, pious Muslim immigrants by lampooning their prophet, thereby handing their terrorist murderers a gratuitous provocation and excuse.

What does a strong society need instead of a verbal free-for-all that collapses into a free-for-none?

“It’s not self-censorship, it’s emotional intelligence. Society has to decide collectively what’s untouchable,” as Trudeau put it. Neither law nor autocratic diktats can substitute for that spirit of deliberative decision-making in daily life. Conservatives once understood this, and indeed, insisted on it. So did most Americans and liberals. There were times to break taboos, of course, and there were times to exercise restraint. Free-marketeering has corrupted that understanding.

Trump’s cooptation of the Republican Party and much of the conservative movement is Exhibit A of that corruption. By lowering adult public conversation to the level of a playground he’s dragged us all down to the often-juvenile Hebdo of yore.

When Trump boasted that he could shoot someone without losing public support, and that “Second Amendment people” should go after Hillary Clinton, he excited a roiling horde of “militia” members, authoritarian police, “Stand your ground” and “concealed carry” enthusiasts, and so on. By now he has alarmed even the decorously well-organized, conservative rich and their more “liberal minded” counterparts.

We need to understand why a ranter like Trump “cares nothing for reproaches that he is a criminal or a guttersnipe…. Where [he] knifes his opponents is by disarming them with a cynicism and stabbing them with a morality, [H]e twists and turns, flatters and gibes, lulls and murders. ….He raves about ‘the brutal and rude unscrupulousness of the parliamentary panders.’ He calls them job-hunters, scoundrels, villains, rascals, and criminals. He screams that ‘in comparison with these traitors to the nation, every pimp is a gentleman.” We need to understand why “he boasts of his tricks: ‘Take me or leave me, my object, the resurrection of the … people, is so much more superb than any contrary principle that to bridle me with morals or sentiment is to lose…”

This plausible elaboration of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” wasn’t written by George Will or Tom Friedman, but by a literary editor of the New Republic, Francis Hackett, in April 1941, in his now-forgotten book, What Mein Kampf Means to America.

When Hackett wrote this, many Americans were still excusing der Fuhrer’s demagogic vitality, vulgarity, and brutality. American as well as German businessmen still thought they could make deals with him. After all, Herr Hitler was shaking up the corrupt conceits and arrangements that had survived even after causing the Great War and the Great Depression. Not only that, he was keeping bolshevism at bay.

If Trump were more grandiloquent, he might justify his own demagoguery by adding that “all great movements are movements of the people, are volcanic eruptions of human passions and spiritual sensations, stirred [by] the torch of the word thrown into the masses, and are not the lemonade-like outpourings of aestheticizing literati and drawing room heroes.”

Those words were written by Adolf Hitler himself, in Mein Kampf, in 1926. When Trump commingles racist nationalism with what sounds like socialism by promising both a wall to keep out Mexican rapists and a cornucopia of “jobs, jobs, jobs” and full healthcare for Americans, we might recall that “Nazi” was an acronym for National Socialism.

Nightmares of the Elites

Stunned by the sheer audacity of hopelessness in Trump’s insults and boasts, political and business leaders became alarmed on the eve of the election. Fashionable though it was to disparage his early victories by remarking that no one had ever gone broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people, Republican and Democratic elites went broke by underestimating the angry, embittered intelligence of millions of Americans who were backing Trump. Millions of them have been deserting both parties’ establishments and the airless ideologies of the think tanks and their journals.

But Trump’s detractors, from Tea Partiers such as Ted Cruz and neoconservatives such as David Frum and Robert Kagan to neoliberal Democrats such as Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, can’t face their own long complicity in the omnivorous marketing and other modulations of greed that have made his demagoguery alluring by pumping so much distress and heartbreak into American life.

Trump has shredded the credibility of not only conservatives who’ve fantasized about restoring the capitalism of William McKinley and even John Locke, but also leftists who’ve fantasized that a precariat-proletariat will rise again. But he’s no Hamilton or Madison, struggling to devise an order capable of balancing conservative wealth-making with republican power-wielding and democratic, pluralist truth-seeking. He’s no Lincoln, envisioning a new birth of freedom; no Teddy Roosevelt birthing a “new nationalism” more ecumenical and progressive than Europe’s at the time; no FDR, cobbling together a New Deal.

None of today’s claimants to any of these legacies seems prepared to dive into the abyss Trump has opened. Like Czarist generals desperately flogging serfs to war against the Kaiser in 1917, today’s would-be champions of American democracy are pirouetting at the edge of the abyss their own policies have opened, shrieking and waving their arms while admonishing a bereft, bedraggled citizenry to rise to its duties.

Instead they’re confronting the popular rage against all would-be Good Shepherds and their consultants and scribbling minions.

“Right before our eyes, like something on the screen, the vast social fabric [of the republic] has crumbled…. On its ruins, with the speed of a world’s fair, [he] and his confederates have run up a political front of startling and provocative modernity… [His movement’s] hand has been so much quicker than the democratic eye, and for his violence we have so little precedent.”

Again, this is Hackett in 1941, but today’s elites have been unwittingly clearing the ground for Trump’s great encampment, as Mitt Romney revealed by calling millions of Americans “takers” in 2012 and as Hillary Clinton did by calling others “deplorables.” Takers and deplorables they may be, but some of them are also shrewd, angry, bitter, and desperate. Although Romney was right enough to call Trump a fraud, he and his cohort would have to be a lot less fraudulent themselves to discredit him.

Trump is only the match lighting the tinder that others have prepared—the Clintons and the Schumers among us as much as the Bushes and Mitch McConnells, the “lemonade literati” of the prestige magazines and the David Frums, Robert Kagans, David Brookses, William Kristols, and Pat Buchanans. They’re part of the reason why so many of millions of citizens are willing to gamble so pathetically that Trump will deflect the aggressively marketed civic mindlessness and malevolence that, with these people’s encouragement, have been groping us, goosing us, intimidating us, bamboozling us, indebting us, tracking us, and in so doing, imprisoning us.

Trump’s Troops

The armed racist goons and drooling fools (some in uniform) circling America’s proverbial town meeting democracy weren’t born to do what they’re doing. Nor were they all disposed to do it back on the playground. The quiet little stabs of heartbreak and self-doubt that accumulated in tiny increments in their young lives as their parents lost jobs, pensions, homes, mutual respect, and public moral standing have blossomed into open resentment seeking the right target.

Their losses had many causes. One is that too many of us writers (and some of you who are reading this now) have ignored or dismissed or disdained Trump’s supporters, compounding their distress with turns of a phrase, clicks of our brokers’ mouses, arching our eyebrows in faint disdain, or simple civic inattention that we excuse with genteel stereotypes and solicitous sighs over depictions of Bubba’s distress. Hedge-fund wunderkinds who’ve turned to philanthropy haven’t yet faced the truth that the legal premises, protocols, and practices under which they grew wealthy have done far more damage to the citizenry than their philanthropic ventures can offset or repair.

In 2015, the columnist Thomas Edsall wrote in a column titled, “Why Trump Now,” that “the share of the gross national product going to labor as opposed to… capital fell from 68.8 percent in 1970 to 60.7 percent by 2013” and that the number of manufacturing jobs dropped by 36 percent, from 19.3 million in 1979 to 12.3 million in 2015, while the population increased by 43 percent, from 225 million to 321 million.

“In other words, the economic basis for voter anger has been building over forty years,” including the stagnation of net upward mobility after 2000 and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, which has “imposed far larger costs on American workers than most economists anticipated.”

Then came the financial collapse of 2008, “which many people left and right felt was caused by reckless financial engineering on Wall Street” and which left those who’d not “benefited from the previous boom years” to become “easy pickings for populist rhetoric” because “trust in government was destroyed” by a “widespread sense that all the elites in Washington and New York conspired to bail out the miscreants who caused the disaster and then gave them bonuses.”

In 2010, the Citizens United ruling invited the miscreants to inundate public decision-making processes and institutions through which citizens are supposed to decide how to license and regulate and channel the very forces that are enslaving us. The excuse for Citizens United was that, as Romney would put it in 2012, “Corporations are people, too,” entitled to the same freedoms of speech that citizens enjoy. “If dancing nude and burning the flag are protected by the First Amendment, why would it not protect robust speech about the people who are running for office?’’ asked Theodore Olson, counsel for Citizens United, the corporation that produced the movie to swift-boat Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

The subtext: Let people rant, as long as we can drown them out with expensive megaphones and words that titillate or intimidate while they get laryngitis from straining to be heard, and while we buy off or intimidate their public officials at election time.

No wonder that, by September 2015, as Edsall noted, a survey “asked voters if they agreed or disagreed with the statement that ‘More and more, I don’t identify with what America has become.’ 72 percent of surveyed Republicans concurred, compared to 58 percent of independents and 45 percent of Democrats.’”

The Volcano Rumbles

Some of us saw this coming in 2004, when George W. Bush defeated John Kerry. What worried us wasn’t only that, in the name of fighting terrorism and advancing democracy around the world, Bush and his neoconservative operatives and Vulcan advisers were spending the country into crushing debt that would drive the social compact back to the 1890s.

Nor were we wrought up only because the Republican ticket, led by two draft-dodgers (as defined by every conservative Republican since the late 1960s, when both Bush and Dick Cheney did their dodging), was now “swift-boating” Vietnam veterans such as senators John McCain, Max Cleland and Kerry himself. The republic had survived excesses like that before, if barely.

What really worried some of us in 2004 was a foreboding that the republic couldn’t outlast the eerily disembodied swooning and cheering we were seeing at Bush’s election rallies, where the candidate sometimes campaigned in a baseball cap, the kind of guy other guys thought they’d like to have a beer with.

Two veteran conservative diplomats, Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke, assessed these scary developments in America Alone: The Neoconservatives and the Global Order, in which they compared the American people to “a frog placed in a bowl of cool water as it is slowly heated over a fire. At the point the frog realizes the danger it is in, it is already too weakened to get out. It is boiled alive. Americans today find themselves in water with the temperature rising. To date, the political discourse, impregnated as it is with neoconservative formulations, has led them to acquiesce in the demands of those who are stoking the fire.”

The analogy wasn’t wholly accurate. Frogs are more acutely sensitive than humans are to encroaching danger. But by 2008, some people were jumping around as the water approached full boil on the floor of the Republican National Convention.

Although the party was nominating a decent if limited man (whom Trump would mock eight years later for having been captured in Vietnam), John McCain found himself facing an unnervingly large contingent of young white men whose repertoire of political expression on the floor consisted solely of shouting “USA USA USA!”

They dominated the convention’s reactions as McCain delivered his nomination acceptance speech, bellowing “USA!” even when the nominee was trying to say something thoughtful or poignant. These guys were desperately seeking moral clarity in the fog of ongoing, unsuccessful wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

They hadn’t all curdled into fascists or even racists. A thwarted decency and clueless love in them, a yearning for something slipping away, was struggling to find some political defense against the affronts and distortions their love had suffered. Countless encroachments on their freedom and dignity had generated not only family breakdown and drug abuse but also stresses and humiliations that erupted in road rage, lethal rampages at store openings on sale days; extreme fighting or cage fighting, the gladiatorialization of college and professional sports, and escapist, demoralizing entertainments, including reality TV and Trump’s own The Apprentice. Americans who still think that he’ll avenge them are headed for a let-down too wrenching and violent for the American republic to bear.

How Resentment Politics Works

“Trump’s brand of resentment politics,” as New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns called it during the campaign, rides ressentiment (pronounced ruh-sohn-tee-mohn), a public psychopathology in which gnawing insecurities, envy, and hatreds nursed by many people in private converge in public in scary social eruptions that present themselves as noble crusades but that diminish their participants even in seeming to make them big.

In ressentiment, the little-big man seeks enemies on whom to wreak vengeance for frustrations that are only half-acknowledged because they come from his sense of exploitation by powers he’s afraid to challenge head on. Ressentiment warps the little-big man’s assessments of his hardships and opportunities. It stokes and misdirects his frustrations.

Whether ressentiment erupts in a medieval inquisition, a Puritan or McCarthyite witch hunt, a Maoist Cultural Revolution, nihilist extremes of “people’s liberation movements” such as the Khmer Rouge, or a strain of political correctness that grips a particular community, ressentiment’s most telling symptoms are always paranoia, scapegoating, and bursts of hysteria and violence.

That syndrome was described more recently by George Soros in an assessment of “the power of Orwell’s Newspeak” and “the aversion of the public to facing harsh realities” in America today.

“On the one hand,” Soros writes, “Newspeak is extremely difficult to contradict because it incorporates and thereby preempts its own contradiction, as when Fox News calls itself fair and balanced. Another trick is to accuse your opponent of the behavior of which you are guilty, like Fox News accusing me of being the puppet master of a media empire. Skillful practitioners always attack the strongest point of their opponent, like the Swiftboat ads attacking John Kerry’s Vietnam War record. Facts do not provide any protection, and rejecting an accusation may serve to have it repeated; but ignoring it can be very costly, as John Kerry discovered in the 2004 election.”

“On the other hand,” Soros notes, “the pursuit of truth has lost much of its appeal.”

But why? In 1941, Hackett noted that people who are stressed, humiliated, and dispossessed become easy prey for demagogic orchestrations of “the casual fact, the creative imagination, the will to believe, and out of these three elements, a counterfeit reality to which there was a violent, instinctive response. For it is clear enough that under certain conditions men respond as powerfully to fiction as they do to realities, and that in many cases they help to create the very fictions to which they respond. The fiction is taken for truth because the fiction is badly needed.”

Ressentiment’s gusts of collective passion touch raw nerves under the ministrations of demagogues and an increasingly surreal, Murdoch-inflected journalism that prepares the way for them by brutalizing public discourse. In the 1976 movie Network, which depicts the profit-driven derangement of television news reporting, manager Diana Christiansen tells her staff, “I want angry shows” because Americans want “a mad prophet, denouncing the hypocrisies of our time.” A demagogic network anchor rouses his viewers to shout, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” even as he herds them like sheep.

When ressentiment is only starting to gather strength, it assumes disguises of civility at first, so as not to incur decisive reproach from a public that isn’t yet too weakened to ward off the disease. Soros cites Fox News’ winking assurance, in ads it posted 10 years ago, that it was “fair and balanced”—a dog-whistle to the little-big man that, “Together we’re going to crush those pious, hypocritical liberal journalists who prattle on about objectivity and fairness.”

Drip, drip, drip: Story after story teaches viewers and readers to fear and mistrust one another, souring the spirit of trust and curiosity that sustain democratic dialogue into the cynicism and defensiveness that clear the way for the strongman. Ressentiment’s gloves really come off once there are enough angry little-big men (and little-big women) to step out together en masse, with a Sarah Palin or a Glenn Beck. Now Trump is leading little-big men across the Rubicon, declaring that he’ll mow down anyone and anything in his way.

Until this moment in American history, the legitimate grievances that fuel ressentiment have sometimes driven its eruptions to a fleeting brilliance, as when Sarah Palin tapped deeply into currents of thwarted love and hope in her speech to the shouters at the 2008 Republican convention. Like her public persona, such gestures always curdled and collapsed, tragicomically or catastrophically, into their own cowardice, ignorance, and lies.

But now? “The kind of self-education which a self-governing people must obtain can be had only through its daily experience,” wrote Walter Lippmann, who was Francis Hackett’s colleague at the New Republic. “In other words, a democracy must have a way of life which educates the people for the democratic way of life.” Is there any way to re-weave such a way of life? In America it has always involved a rickety balancing of wealth-making, power-wielding and truth-seeking. What new balance might achieve a liberal-democratic revival?

The late Jonathan Schell’s The Unconquerable World recounts how ordinary, unarmed people and inspired leaders have made it happen time and again, against terribly daunting odds, in British India, apartheid South Africa, Soviet Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union itself. But that revival hasn’t always lasted, and it has always needed rediscovery and rejuvenation, often at some individuals’ heroic sacrifice.

You can read a lot about its twists, turns and demands in the face of demagogues even worse than Trump, in Politics in Dark Times: Encounters With Hannah Arendt, a collection of essays by Schell, Arendt, and others. Every year I tell my undergraduates that liberal democracy often seems implausible but that it equally often proves irrepressible. Part of the reason lies ineradicably in the human heart, which is always divided against itself and the world in ways that a good liberal education illuminates but can’t eliminate.

One thing it teaches is that neoliberal claims that the world is flat can’t be reconciled with the deeper claims of America’s founders, both Puritan and Constitutional, that the world has abysses that open unpredictably beneath our feet and in our hearts. A good society needs coordinates and commandments strong enough to plumb those abysses, confront the demons in them and in ourselves, and affirm our capacity to live in truth and love against our tendency to worship the self and the Golden Calf.

Trump is at once the embodiment and a parody of a society that’s lost that balance. Removing him will require re-weaving and affirming civic myths and coordinates “that people cannot help but love,” as Schell puts it. Who can summon the courage and talent for that? All of us and each of us, some by inspiring and leading others, as Schell and Arendt have described. That won’t happen without some elites’ agreement to reconfigure a Trumpian, soulless capitalism so thoroughly that Adam Smith, who wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments as well as The Wealth of Nations, could recognize it.

Jim Sleeper is a lecturer in political science at Yale.

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order rolling back regulations from the 2010 Dodd-Frank law on Wall Street reform at the White House in Washington February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Is Trump’s America Really Our America?

Who are we?

Are we the great America of courage, spunk, openness, inclusion, opportunity, and democratic promise — as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, and Emma Lazarus’ sonnet engraved on the Statue of Liberty?

Or are we the sad America of fear, cowardice, bigotry, xenophobia, intolerance, and autocracy — negative traits emanating from the darkness of Donald Trump’s miserable dystopian view of our society, which has now resulted in him unilaterally imposing a contemptible and chaotic ban on immigrants from seven Muslim nations.

The Donald and his thuggish regime of demagogic nativists from the far-right fringe are hoping we’re the timorous America. They shout that the people voted for the fair-haired strongman, and now they expect him to save them from bloodthirsty terrorists sneaking into America from Muslim nations. But wait — first of all, the majority of us did not vote for him. So spare us the lie that you have a “mandate” to discriminate.

Second, if your aim really was to save us from Islamic terrorists, you missed by miles. Exactly zero Americans have been killed in terrorists’ attacks here by any immigrants from these seven countries. So why them, and not Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, and Afghanistan — Muslim nations with citizens who have attacked Americans? And, by the way, isn’t it curious that Trump’s ban doesn’t include Muslim countries where he has major corporate investments?

This disgraceful, self-aggrandizing political play is just one more Trump fraud. But the good news is that the American people are rallying in mass opposition to his autocratic arrogance, revealing that his America is not our America — and vice versa.

Not only is Trump going after innocent refugees with his unconstitutional Muslim ban, our bellicose Commander-in-Chief is at war in the homeland, deploying his troops to attack everything from our public schools to the EPA, dropping executive-order bombs on Muslim communities and the Mexican border, and spewing poisonous tweets of bigotry and right-wing bile at the media, scientists, inner-cities, “illegal voters,” Meryl Streep, diplomats, Democrats, people who use real facts and… well, Trump is at war with the American majority, with all who do not agree with him and with America’s historic democratic ideals.

And you thought Nixon had a long enemies list!

Yet, Trump’s most destructive and damnable assault so far has not targeted any one group of people, but an essential and existential concept: Truth. Bluntly put, this president is psychotic, believing that “truth” is whatever he says it is, and that he can change it tomorrow. Years ago, the author of a popular futuristic novel warned about the rise of a tyrannical regime that ruled by indoctrinating the masses to accept such a perverse notion of truth. It was George Orwell’s “1984,” which depicted a dystopia he named Oceana. There, the public had been imbued with a group-think belief that reality is not “something objective, external, existing in its own right.” Rather, “whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth.”

Now, here we are today in Trumplandia, with a delusional leader of a plutocratic party trying to redefine reality with “alternative facts,” fake news, and a blitzkrieg of Orwellian “Newspeak.”

But resistance to Trumpism is already surging — including the fact that Orwell’s 70-year old book became a bestseller in January — thanks to Trump resisters seeking… you know, TRUTH!