Category Archives: Politics & Society

At present this includes posts on history of Zionism and modern Israel and Palestine as well as current events. Continue this setup? What of other histories? Adjust name of category? Currently includes Islamism (distinct from Islam) as an ideology of terrorism. Also currently includes Islamophobia and hostile denunciations of Islam — but see the question on Islam in Religion and Atheism.

Some Sites that have Helped Keep Me Sane

Two videos (one based on a British song; the other an American satirist) and two cartoons (both by Australia’s Leunig). . . .

 

 

Coronavirus #2

It’s hard to feel motivated to write about biblical studies. I can think of nothing less important at a time like this, especially after reading the latest news re the U.S. right now. Can there be anything more evil than using the pandemic to bolster and fuel the profit-motivated capitalist system? A federal government that stands back and watches each state fend for itself while feeding the capitalist system? That does not even qualify as “civilized”.

Remarks by President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force in Press Briefing

REAR ADMIRAL POLOWCYZK:  So FEMA is — so this product that we’re moving is primarily commercial product that would enter the commercial system and be distributed through financial business transactions between hospitals and these distributors.

Q    So, just to clarify that, that explains why states say they’re bidding like they’re on eBay, because the supplies are going to the private sector and then they have to go there to get the supplies.

REAR ADMIRAL POLOWCYZK:  That’s normally how things –that’s normally how things work, right?  So I’m not here to disrupt a supply chain and say — look, these six distributors — six, seven — they have six to seven hundred warehouses.  They have trucks to go to the hospital door every day.  We’re bringing product in.  They’re filling orders for hospitals, nursing homes, like normal.  I’m putting volume into that system.

The Ventilator Business Is Its Own Swamp Of Miscreant Corporations

This apparent profiteering should come as no surprise. Consider the poor track record of the ventilator industry. ResMed is not the only producer with a history of alleged misconduct. In fact, all the big publicly traded companies in the industry have paid millions of dollars in penalties in False Claims Act, kickback and bribery cases.

Along with ResMed, they are Philips, General Electric, Hill-Rom and Medtronic.

How Big Pharma Is Getting Ready To Blackmail Americans

The $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill that Congress hastily passed and Donald Trump signed into law deliberately creates new price gouging opportunities for drug companies.

Left out of the relief bill was language from a 1980 law that requires drug companies to charge “reasonable” prices for pharmaceuticals developed with government financial help. Companies that charge unreasonable prices, or hold back on making their inventions available, can be stripped of monopoly rights.

Without this language companies that develop coronavirus vaccines or cures using federal funding can jack up prices for any COVID-19 cure or vaccine with no legal limits. Imagine the price gouging possibilities for a life-saving vaccine or cure. All other countries with modern economies have laws to protect against price gouging.

Coronavirus

Many newsfeeds and tweets have freaked me out but these two remain uppermost in the “freak out” department:

The Pandemic Is Going To Cost Us $5 Trillion … Or More

We Ran the Numbers. They’re Devastating

The $1 trillion coronavirus relief package Congress passed won’t come close to making up for the damage caused by COVID-19 and the Trump administration’s lethal dawdling.

We need the government to act or we could fall into a depression rivaling the 1930s.

An 18-month crisis is widely expected. The Trump administration plan is for 18 months. That implies $5 trillion based on my calculations.

The ultimate cost of this novel virus is likely to be north of $7 trillion, assuming this pandemic endures for two years, as German public health officials warn.

and . . .

Coronavirus is spreading rapidly in the US. American culture might make it uniquely vulnerable

Now is hardly the time to be attacking opposition parties, least of all media, as if they are the ones to hold us back. I would expect a civilized society to rise above that sort of thing.

The 1930s depression did not end well for the world. History does not repeat, I know, but I do often think I see times when it rhymes.

Declaration of the Freedom of Mind

I found this declaration on https://medium.com/@bandyxlee/declaration-of-the-freedom-of-mind-f093fa0cd711 — Quite a revolutionary idea, yes?

. . . .

Written by Bandy X. Lee (Forensic psychiatrist, violence expert, president of the World Mental Health Coalition (dangerouscase.org), and editor of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.”)

This statement originated from a meeting with citizen organizers in New York City on President’s Day, February 17, 2020, when we noted a public not lacking in resources or will but gripped with disappointment, demoralization, and despair at a government’s lack of concern for its citizens. The failure to grasp a problem of mental health had resulted in the failure of a political process (impeachment), and the psychological oppression of a populace was proving to be the most pernicious form of oppression of all. The phenomenon of oppression is no different from what our Founders experienced at the time of the Revolutionary War, but it needs updating, taking into account the psychological weapons that have become available. To help protect the most sacred right to freedom of mind, along with the nurturance and societal support that make it possible, we offer a tool for citizen groups to identify correctly and target precisely the problem, by drafting the following.

We at the World Mental Health Coalition believe that freedom of mind is a basic human right. It is at the core of all other freedoms and is fundamental to a working democracy. Without it, all rational systems break down. It is a right that is derived from the Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We declare that the ignorance, neglect, or contempt of the human right to freedom of mind are the principal cause of public disempowerment and oppression by governments. People denied of agency become easy tools of those intent on ruling, rather than serving, them. When this happens, police and prisons are no longer necessary: people themselves enthusiastically volunteer to their own servitude.

We therefore announce a solemn declaration of the natural, unalienable, and sacred human right to freedom of mind, as a derivation of the above Declarations. We aspire toward reminding the people continually that they have this right, that political bodies should not abuse or suppress it, and that social systems ought to protect and nurture it. With this awareness, we believe that the people, based on the simple laws of nature, will be empowered to live out their full potential to the happiness of all.

Therefore the World Mental Health Coalition recognizes and upholds the following human right to freedom of mind:

1. As stated in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, endowed with reason and conscience and the obligation to act towards one another in a humane spirit.

2. Everyone is entitled to make informed decisions for themselves. The people shall have access to information and the best available knowledge, including expertise, so that they can make informed choices about health care, education, distribution of wealth, and organization of power or other decisions that affect them. Access to information and knowledge is critical to the people’s ability to secure conditions that are necessary for their collective health, including mental health.

3. No one shall be held in mental slavery or servitude. Without being agents of their own minds, a people cannot make reasoned judgments and decisions that will help their situations. When information control, mass manipulation through lying, and thought reform are allowed to occur, mass hysteria and cults of personality replace informed, autonomous rule.

4. The people shall retain the right to have a wholesome environment for the mind. An environment that is flooded with false information, manipulative techniques, and malign psychological conditioning injures their mental health and stunts their ability to reach their full mental potential. Mental health professionals shall make recommendations for maintaining and reclaiming mental health and self-reliance.

5. Law is an expression of the general will. The people have a right to participate personally, or through a representative, in shaping laws that protect freedom of mind and prevent its slavery. Information from journalists, professionals, and whistleblowers increases freedom of mind and needs to be protected. Propaganda and large-scale psychological abuse and oppression should be identified and curtailed, just as other forms of violence and abuse, as impingement on others’ rights, are punishable by law.

6. Since freedom of mind is an inviolable and sacred right, no one shall be deprived of it, actively or passively. Children shall be nurtured for healthy mental development, safety, and supportive education so that they may build autonomy and critical thinking skills. Adults shall be treated with dignity, whereby no locus of control shall be external, rather than internal, whether coerced or manipulated.

7. We recognize that society, as a whole, is far from perfect in mental health and that a healing process is necessary for even the awareness of mental health matters to grow. There shall be no abridging of speech, of the press, or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble around matters that affect their mental health.

. . .

Recommendation: Precisely at a time when the president is using his power to conceal Russian schemes to reelect him, and to muzzle health officials before an impending pandemic, this statement is all the more relevant. Use it to claim your rights! While we are seeking a governmental body or international organization to adopt it, it is our official interpretation, as a professional organization of mental health experts, of your rights.

The Assange Hearing

What I have learned so far:

— the prosecutor in delivering his opening statements openly stated that he was addressing the media;

— many of the journalists left the courtroom after the prosecution set out its case and did not stay to hear the defence;

— information that has been public knowledge for ten years (published, in the public domain) that Wikileaks and Assange personally went to great lengths to remove sensitive names and sources from their files before they were released to the public means nothing to those in power: they still have the audacity to accuse Assange of not redacting key information and names;

— that the U.S. is allowed to target an Australian for exposing war crimes and the Australian government will not object.

We may be paddling through a bend in the river of history

Understanding Why Hamas Refuses to Recognize Israel

As a follow on from the previous post it seems appropriate to post one more piece from Alastair Crooke. As a diplomat Crooke had direct meetings with Hamas leaders so what he writes should have some credibility. The following is from his 2009 book Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution. I hope some readers find this discussion informative. All bolded highlighting is my own.

Refusing Recognition

The refusal to recognise and to acknowledge special rights or a hierarchy of identity is filtered through the prism of Euro-centrism when westerners contemplate a movement such as Hamas: refusal to recognise Israel is perceived not as an act of resistance but the obduracy of fundamentalism. It is a further signal of being held fast by religious or cultural instincts – it demonstrates the inability to embrace change.

‘Plainly Israel “exists”, and to deny it, is obdurate perversity … All they have to do is say those three words: We recognise Israel’, an editorial board meeting at Ha’aretz, the Israeli daily newspaper repeatedly and wearily emphasised in a discussion with the author – with heads shaking in disbelief at Hamas’ inexplicable refusal to say the three words.

That is surely the widespread assumption among most Westerners today. So what is Hamas’s explanation? What is the point of resistance against such overwhelming power?

Hamas is not only refusing to ‘say the three words’. It refutes a Jewish-Israeli exclusionary identity, one that has never acknowledged Palestinian rights, and which has never accepted any parity of rights between the Jewish people and the Palestinian people.

Khaled Mesha’al, the political leader of Hamas, speaks of resistance as an attempt to bring about a ‘balance’. He was clear that the aim of this was to effect a psychological change on the part of the occupier – rather than to inflict a military defeat in terms of conventional military tactics:

Khaled Mesha’al

The problem is that they believe that they can dictate to the weaker party. This is not an approach that will lead to peace. A few years ago in 2003 we were ready to be flexible. We offered a new initiative – the truce, or hudna, of 2003 – but Israel did not respond positively. It did not result well.

Israel still, at this time, plainly does not feel the need to pay any price … It wants to impose its pre-conditions of required Palestinian ‘good behaviour’; it then demands the right to evaluate for itself that ‘good behaviour’, and thinks that is enough. It is never willing to offer gestures on its own initiative. This unbalanced approach will fail: it needs to understand that in Hamas there is a tough negotiator; but one, that, unlike others, stands by its commitments when given.23

23. Khaled Mesha’al in an interview with the author, 2007.

Justice? Compromise? But without respect for the rights of the other?

And in a later interview:

They want neither a peace based on justice nor a peace based on compromise. They want to keep the land, they want security for themselves and they want to be the masters of the whole region, without recognising the rights of Palestinians. Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas tried to pursue a compromise. Did they achieve peace with the Israelis? So, the obstacle to peace in the region is Israel – and American bias.24

24. Interview with Hugh Spanner in Damascus, May 2008.

What Hamas is doing – in dramatic fashion – is to put a finger on a key failure of the Israeli–Palestinian political process since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 – which is the singular omission of any clear outline of Palestinian rights.

A people’s narrative is their identity. It is at the heart of their self-respect, dignity. It is true of large groups as well as of individuals.

What the Hamas leaders are stating is that while the West repeatedly honours the Jewish narrative of injustice, it feels no parallel need to recognise or acknowledge the Palestinian narrative of injustice that Palestinians feel in respect to the events of 1948, when villages and houses were destroyed, many were killed and thousands fled to refugee camps beyond Palestine’s borders. read more »

Jewish Zionism . . . an Old Testament Project (for the USA, too)

Alastair Crooke

From an article by British diplomat Alastair Crooke, Israel in the Middle East — A Civilisational and Metaphysical War. Crooke essentially links the recent Trump “Deal of the Century” Peace Plan to the historical visions of both American “manifest destiny” and Israeli Zionism.

* Mr President … you became the first world leader to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over areas in Judea and Samaria that are vital to our security and central to our heritage. . . . For too long — far too long — the very heart of the Land of Israel where our patriarchs prayed, our prophets preached, and our kings ruled, has been outrageously branded as illegally occupied territory. Well, today, Mr. President, you are puncturing this big lie. (Applause.) . . . . These, as the distinguished pastors who are here know very well — these are places inscribed in the pages of the Bible. These are places carved into the bedrock of our common civilization: the sacred tomb in Hebron where the fathers and mothers of the Jewish people are buried; Bethel, where Jacob dreamed of a ladder ascending to the heavens; Shiloh, where the Ark of the Covenant that held the Ten Commandments … for centuries. That’s what happened in Shiloh.Netanyahu’s speech (Times of Israel)

Jewish Zionism, as expressed by Netanyahu this week*, though ostensibly secular, is not just a political construct: It is, too, as it were, an Old Testament project. Laurent Guyénot observes [link is to Zionism, Crypto-Judaism, and the Biblical Hoax by author of From Yahweh to Zion], that when it is asserted that Zionism is biblical, that doesn’t necessarily mean it to be religious. It can, and does, serve as key leitmotiv for secular Jews too. For secular Zionists, the Bible is on the one hand, a ‘national narrative’, but on the other, a particular civilizational vision, bound around a modern state (Israel).

Ben-Gurion was not religious; he never went to the synagogue, and ate pork for breakfast, yet he could declare: “I believe in our moral and intellectual superiority, in our capacity to serve as a model for the redemption of the human race”. Dan Kurzman, in his biography (Ben-Gurion, Prophet of Fire, 1983) writes that “[Ben Gurion] was, in a modern sense, Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, a messiah, who felt he was destined to create an exemplary Jewish state, a ‘light unto the nations’ that would help to redeem all mankind”. This is the inner Universalist vision (tied to a state). These backstage, half acknowledged, convictions – of being ‘elect’, as an example – clearly do condition political actions, (such as disregarding legal norms).

If you don’t have a subscription to Haaretz (your library may have an online subscription) you may not be able to read what Alastair Crooke means by “disregarding legal norms”. I’ll quote pieces from the Haaretz link. It is an opinion piece by Gideon Levy discussing the recent Trump-Netanyahu “peace plan”. Levy begins with “the good news”: the plan puts a decisive end to any hopes for a two-state solution. That was never a serious option, Levy writes, it was never going to be allowed by Israel. Levy calls this “good news” because it forces the world to acknowledge that the only positive option available is to work towards a single democratic state “between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.” That, of course, also implies the end of the “Jewish state”. The alternative is the acceptance of a new apartheid state.

Disregarding legal norms

So Levy writes of what the “peace plan” means for legal norms:

With the Jordan Valley and most of the West Bank settlements under Israeli sovereignty, the Palestinians are guaranteed not to have a state, half-state, city government or neighborhood. Nothing but a penal colony. With the Jordan Valley and most of the settlements annexed, Donald Trump makes official the establishment of the apartheid state to be known as the State of Israel. What Herzl began in Basel, Trump finished in Washington. . . . Trump’s news and the world’s capitulation, however, is much more portentous. Trump is creating not only a new Israel, but a new world. A world without international law, without honoring international resolutions, without even the appearance of justice. A world in which the U.S. president’s son-in-law is more powerful than the UN General Assembly. If the settlements are permitted, everything is permitted.

Levy, Gideon. 2020. “Opinion  One Person, One Vote for Israel-Palestine.Haaretz, January 26, 2020. (Highlighting is my own in all quotations)

Ben-Gurion was not a special case

Continuing Crooke’s article:

Ben-Gurion was in no way a special case. His immersion in the Bible was shared by almost every Zionist leader of his generation, and the next. And the Israel of today, is no longer as secular as it once was, but rather, is in transit back towards Yahweyism — which is to say, away from the law of a secular state founded by the Zionists, towards traditional Hebraic law as revealed in the Tanakh (the Old Testament of the Christians). Netanyahu implicitly reverts to Hebraic tradition (from secular norms), when he states flatly that as ‘leader’, he should not be removed from power. In other words, Israel is becoming more, not less, ‘biblical’.

Securing “Israel’s destiny” … as outlined in the Bible

read more »

The New Propaganda

An alternate information ecosystem was taking shape around the biggest news story in the country

The story that unfurled in my Facebook feed over the next several weeks was, at times, disorienting. There were days when I would watch, live on TV, an impeachment hearing filled with damning testimony about the president’s conduct, only to look at my phone later and find a slickly edited video—served up by the Trump campaign—that used out-of-context clips to recast the same testimony as an exoneration. Wait, I caught myself wondering more than once, is that what happened today?

As I swiped at my phone, a stream of pro-Trump propaganda filled the screen: “That’s right, the whistleblower’s own lawyer said, ‘The coup has started …’ ” Swipe. “Democrats are doing Putin’s bidding …” Swipe. “The only message these radical socialists and extremists will understand is a crushing …” Swipe. “Only one man can stop this chaos …” Swipe, swipe, swipe.

I was surprised by the effect it had on me. I’d assumed that my skepticism and media literacy would inoculate me against such distortions. But I soon found myself reflexively questioning every headline. It wasn’t that I believed Trump and his boosters were telling the truth. It was that, in this state of heightened suspicion, truth itself—about Ukraine, impeachment, or anything else—felt more and more difficult to locate. With each swipe, the notion of observable reality drifted further out of reach.

What I was seeing was a strategy that has been deployed by illiberal political leaders around the world. Rather than shutting down dissenting voices, these leaders have learned to harness the democratizing power of social media for their own purposes—jamming the signals, sowing confusion. They no longer need to silence the dissident shouting in the streets; they can use a megaphone to drown him out. Scholars have a name for this: censorship through noise.

From —
Coppins, Story by McKay. 2020. “The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President.” The Atlantic. Accessed February 10, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/the-2020-disinformation-war/605530/.

What I’ve Learned This Week about the U.S. and Impeachment

As an Australian I am not as immersed in U.S. political news as some readers of this blog but I try to keep up with the main points that I think have some relevance for the rest of the world. A few days ago I naively posted Woops! thinking it was going to cause some sort of crisis for Trump. Naive was the word. At that time I had not fully appreciated (perhaps I had forgotten) the extent to which an impeachment process is not bound by formal judicial processes, but rather . . .

Professor and impeachment expert Michael Lawlor says that members of Congress don’t have to act anything like attorneys, judges or even jurors when investigating, authoring or considering articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

That’s because impeachment is inherently political–not legal, according to the University of New Haven associate professor of criminal justice. Lawlor explained how the law doesn’t strictly apply to impeachment via an op-ed in The News-Times on Monday.

“This is not a criminal trial,” he notes. “There need not be specific allegations at first. When articles of impeachment are considered, they need not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In fact, there is no evidentiary standard. Hearsay, conjecture, your own political instincts are all fair game. There is no appeal from your decision.”

As Law&Crime previously reported, impeachment is a quasi-legal process that only bears many striking similarities to bona fide legal inquiries largely because that’s what people, including members of Congress, think impeachment is supposed to look like–since that’s how such proceedings have often looked before. . . . 

“This is a political remedy to a political problem,” Lawlor continues. “It is a process that frustrates and confounds the best criminal defense attorneys. It is not court. You must not be distracted by legal arguments that assume trial-like procedures and standards.”

The op-ed also features a relevant quote from former president Gerald Ford–himself somewhat familiar with impeachment: “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

Kalmbacher, Colin. 2019. “Legal Expert on Impeachment: You Don’t Need ‘Specific Allegations at First,’ Hearsay Is ‘Fair Game.’” Law&Crime. October 3, 2019. https://lawandcrime.com/high-profile/legal-expert-on-impeachment-you-dont-need-specific-allegations-at-first-hearsay-is-fair-game/.

That Bolton revelation meant nothing to the realities of the process. Chomsky seems to have his head screwed on right and what he said before the Bolton news could just as well have been said afterwards:

“Don’t think it matters,” Chomsky told Law&Crime of Harvard Law Professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz’s latest bid for publicity by joining Trump’s legal team. “It’s all predictable.”

I think the impeachment process, which avoids Trump’s major crimes and keeps to the fact that he tried to harm a prominent Democrat (like Watergate), will end up being a gift to Trump and may send him back to office. A tragedy.

“The worst crimes by far are those that literally threaten human survival, not in the distant future: his policies on escalating global warming and the race to develop still more destructive weapons,” Chomsky told Law&Crime email. “But the Dems would never agree that these are ‘high crimes.’”

. . . . also said that Democratic Party leadership would never think to consider the Trump administration’s alleged human rights abuses along the U.S-Mexico border as impeachment-worthy crimes. Chomsky said that the situation was the “same” regarding Trump’s arguably unlawful use of military force against sovereign nations in the Middle East.

“How could the Dems regard it as ‘high crimes’ to carry out more deportations than any predecessor and a global assassination campaign of unprecedented scale?” Chomsky asked out loud—referencing the immigration and national security apparatuses and policies put into place by former president Barack Obama and taken to their logical extreme by Trump.

“Same as Watergate,” Chomsky explained. “There was an attempt, by Robert Drinan, to include [Richard] Nixon‘s real crimes, like the bombing of Cambodia, in the bill of impeachment, but that was cut out and the focus was on an attack on Democrats, much as today.”

Rev. Drinan was a prominent Jesuit priest, leftist, anti-war activist and Democratic Party representative from Massachusetts who drafted and introduced the original resolution calling for Nixon’s impeachment in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1973. Ultimately frustrated by liberal members of his own party, Drinan’s language regarding Nixon’s secret and unlawful bombing of Cambodia was swapped out for the Watergate charges.

“Can we be silent about this flagrant violation of the Constitution?” Father Drinan asked his liberal colleagues at the time. “Can we impeach a president for concealing a burglary but not for concealing a massive bombing?”

House Democrats answered that question in the affirmative—setting a behavioral precedent and squeamishness with criticizing war-making that has continued to the present day.

“The message appears to be the same: a real crime is attacking the powerful,” Chomsky continued. “It’s okay to murder [Black Panther leader] Fred Hampton (or any number of Cambodians, etc.), or to send children to concentration camps, and all the rest. But not to undermine those with power here.”

Chomsky’s impeachment-focused comments are in keeping with his prior public statements about the Democratic Party’s prior single-minded focus on the ultimately ineffectual Robert Mueller investigation.

“The Democrats invested everything in this issue,” Chomsky said at a forum with progressive radio host Amy Goodman in April of last year. “Well, turned out there was nothing much there. They gave Trump a huge gift. In fact, they may have handed him the next election…That’s a matter of being so unwilling to deal with fundamental issues, that they’re looking for something on the side that will somehow give political success.”

Kalmbacher, Colin. 2020. “Noam Chomsky Torches Democrats’ Narrow Trump Impeachment: ‘A Tragedy’ That ‘May Send Him Back to Office.’” Law&Crime. January 21, 2020. https://lawandcrime.com/high-profile/noam-chomsky-torches-democrats-narrow-trump-impeachment-a-tragedy-that-may-send-him-back-to-office/.

So predictable, as he said:

Barring a lightning strike or some other miracle, the impeachment process is all done but for the final, predictable votes.

It has been a cringe-worthy process that almost certainly has further deepened divisions. The Republican Senate majority has shown its willingness to follow party loyalty right out the window, throwing out a truckload of traditional values.

Do we believe in fairness, in truth, in fact?

The trial process put forth zany legal arguments seemingly spun of whole cloth to protect Donald Trump. So what about the radical reinterpretation of the Constitution’s division of governmental responsibilities? Who cares about the simple understanding that doing bad is something to be excised and punished?

Do we really accept that a president, particularly one who has made self-aggrandizement a hallmark, can do anything to get re-elected? Is it “in the public interest” as proclaimed by presidential defender Alan Dershowitz?

. . . . L’etat, c’est Trump.

Schwadron, Terry H. 2020. “Now We Know What Trump Really Thinks of Us.” DCReport.Org (blog). January 31, 2020. https://www.dcreport.org/2020/01/31/now-we-know-what-trump-really-thinks-of-us/.

And here was me thinking the Bolton news was going to at least bring about some pause towards the “predictable end”.

It’s a worry. I have been doing lots of reading lately related to ancient history so what I’m seeing happen now between Trump and the Senate carries a strange echo of another time when a Roman Senate cowered before Augustus Caesar, yielding all power to him through flattery and a pretence of a restoration of republican values. But those Senators had an excuse. They knew the consequences of disloyalty to the imperator could be lethal.

Dangerous Charisma, 2: How the Leader (Cult, Trump . . .) Unlocks the Followers

What follows is not an attempt to explain every person who supports Trump. But if the shoe fits, wear it, as the saying goes. What is uppermost in my mind as I read Post and Doucette’s analysis of the dynamic between a certain kind of charismatic leader and his/her followers is my own experience of strong attachment to a cult leader. Does it fit? Does it seem to apply in non-religious settings? I have posted much about the process of radicalization (especially why people join terrorist groups) and found strong similarities in the psychology involved there and the process of conversion to cults. Let’s see what Post and Doucette say about “the charismatic leader-follower relationship”. This post is a survey of their chapter 7. Bolding and formatting are my own in all quotations. Page references are from the electronic version.

Our authors do not believe much can be gained by either a study of the psychology of Trump or the psychology of his followers, but what is of interest is a study of how the two feed off each other, the dynamic between the two.

The relationship between Trump and his hard-line followers represents a charismatic leader-follower relationship, whereby aspects of the leader’s psychology unlock, like a key, aspects of his followers’ psychology.

Remember the Jonestown massacre. Post and Doucette cite work by Abse and Ulman who studied the psychological dynamic between Jim Jones and his followers.

[I]n times of crisis, individuals regress to a state of delegated omnipotence and demand a leader who will rescue them, take care of them.

(p. 110)

I have skipped past Post and Doucette’s analysis of Trump himself so permit me to simply state things will have to be justified in a future post. The idea expressed is that Trump “feeds off the adoration of his followers”. What has led to this type of personality is an “injured self” that finds remedy in the confirmation and admiration of others. Where does an “injured self” come from? Two roads lead to it:

  • the individual who has been deprived of mirroring adoration from rejecting parents,
  • and a more subtle variant, the individual who has been raised to be special, contingent upon his success.

In the second pathway, a very heavy burden can be placed on a child. Expectation of success can generate troubled insecurity. That’s the kind of person who “feels compelled to display himself to evoke the attention of others.” The attention seeker who is never satisfied, who is constantly seeking new audiences for ongoing recognition.

People who are constantly craving attention and admiration do best when they have the ability “to convey a sense of grandeur, omnipotence, and strength.

And here’s the hard part for many of us:

Leaders such as Trump, who convey this sense of grandiose omnipotence, are attractive to individuals seeking idealized sources of strength; they convey a sense of conviction and certainty to those who are consumed by doubt and uncertainty.

(p. 111)

I recall the many stories of fellow members of the cult of how “God called” each of us through some crisis in our lives. We were ready for the taking, experiencing doubts and uncertainty.

Now obviously not everyone who goes through a time of “doubt and uncertainty” is going to join a cult or vote for Trump. But it is a factor for many and it is at those times that most of us are vulnerable:

This was evident in Trump’s support from rural areas and the working class, where Trump’s motto “Make American Great Again” (MAGA) had a strong resonance. Despite his lack of any concrete policy, his tweets concerning “JOBS, JOBS, JOBS” had resonated with many of his followers, especially those who are struggling and feel abandoned by the last administration.

(p. 111)

We all see how Trump loves large rallies; even after the election was over he has continued with them. In the cult I don’t think we were disloyal enough to commit the thought-crime that our grandiose leader, “God’s Apostle”, “God’s End-Time Apostle”, was basking in the admiration of his followers even when the stood to applaud whenever he entered and left an auditorium on a speaking tour.

The leader thrives off the admiration of the crowd; his insecurity and self-doubt are buried in it. But the crowds need the leader as much as he needs them.

There is a quality of mutual intoxication for both sides, whereby Trump reassures his followers who in turn reassure him of his self-worth. Even before current rallies, his followers will line up hours early, waiting to fill even sports stadiums that can seat 10,000, continuing to chant “Lock her up!” During the rallies, Trump continues to use his externalizing rhetoric attacking any opponents or focusing on the immigrant crisis, despite calls from fellow Republicans to focus on issues like the economy. But it is this rhetoric that draws in his followers, who chant, “Build the wall! Build the wall!” One can compare it to a hypnotist mesmerizing his audience. But the power of the hypnotist ultimately depends upon the eagerness of their subjects to yield their authority, to cede control of their autonomy, to surrender their will to the hypnotist’s authority.

(p. 112)

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Woops!

H/T Ophelia Benson @ Butterflies and Wheels


President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former adviser, John R. Bolton.

The president’s statement as described by Mr. Bolton could undercut a key element of his impeachment defense: that the holdup in aid was separate from Mr. Trump’s requests that Ukraine announce investigations into his perceived enemies, including [the two Bidens].

Mr. Bolton’s explosive account of the matter at the center of Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial, the third in American history, was included in drafts of a manuscript he has circulated in recent weeks to close associates. He also sent a draft to the White House for a standard review process . . . 

Fake news, of course.

Over dozens of pages, Mr. Bolton described how the Ukraine affair unfolded over several months until he departed the White House in September. He described not only the president’s private disparagement of Ukraine but also new details about senior cabinet officials who have publicly tried to sidestep involvement.

For example, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged privately that there was no basis to claims by the president’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani that the ambassador to Ukraine was corrupt and believed Mr. Giuliani may have been acting on behalf of other clients, Mr. Bolton wrote.

But but, . . . read more »

Dangerous Charisma, Cults and Trump

Hypotheses:

“in times of crisis, individuals regress to a state of delegated omnipotence and demand a leader (who will rescue them, take care of them)”

and that

“individuals susceptible to (the hypnotic attraction of) charismatic leadership have themselves fragmented or weak ego structures.”

Jerrold Post believes the above hypotheses find support in clinical studies of persons who join charismatic religious groups, those with narcissistic personality disorders, and “psychodynamic observations of group phenomena”. Post and Doucette in Dangerous Charisma

describe the consequences of the wounded self on adult personality development and emphasize how narcissistically wounded individuals are attracted to charismatic leader-follower relationships, both as leaders and as followers.

As I read Dangerous Charisma I was regularly reminded of the time I joined a religious cult years ago and the stories that were regularly shared among members of “how God called us into his church”: certainly most, if not all, of the personal narratives involved tales of some kind of crisis each of us experienced and how “God rescued us” through leading us to encounter his “end-time Apostle”. After I left the cult I attended several other churches for a time and found the same sorts of experiences being “witnessed” even among less extreme fundamentalists or evangelical type Christians. Another perception that hit me, disturbingly, after having left the cult was seeing many of the same vulnerabilities, errors in thinking and willingness to rationalize the irrational and unprovable in society generally. Indeed, Post and Doucette make the point that the model they describe can work for good as well as evil: in times of crisis many turned to the charismatic Churchill, but that after the crisis was over the need for that sort of leader also passed and he was voted out. Other positive instances of such relationships involved Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi. But we all know there are weeds in the garden as well as fruit.

Two types of personality are described:

The mirror-hungry personality

This is the cult leader, whether religious (Herbert W. Armstrong) or political (Donald J. Trump)

The first personality pattern resulting from “the injured self” is the mirror-hungry personality. These individuals, whose basic psychological constellation is the grandiose self, hunger for confirming and admiring responses to counteract their inner sense of worthlessness and lack of self-esteem. To nourish their famished self, they are compelled to display themselves in order to evoke the attention of others. No matter how positive the response, they cannot be satisfied, but continue seeking new audiences from whom to elicit the attention and recognition they crave.

The ideal-hungry personality

This is the follower who is nourished by the above leader and who in turn nourishes that same leader:

The second personality type resulting from “the wounded self” is the ideal-hungry personality. These individuals can experience themselves as worthwhile only so long as they can relate to individuals whom they can admire for their prestige, power, beauty, intelligence, or moral stature. They forever search for such idealized figures. Again, the inner void cannot be filled. Inevitably, the ideal-hungry individual finds that their god is merely human, that their hero has feet of clay. Disappointed by discovery of defects in their previously idealized object, they cast him aside and searches for a new hero, to whom they attach themself in the hope that they will not be disappointed again.

The wounded self can arise from social, economic, personality crises. Job and economic and health insecurities, fears of one’s neighbours and newcomers and of conspiracies of powerful forces in government.

Post and Doucette emphasize that this model does not tell the whole story of Trump or political movements arising from the dynamics of the two types feeding off each other, but it does offer some insight into “charismatic leader-follower relationships.”

The charismatic leader as the mirror-hungry personality

The mirror-hungry leader requires a continuing flow of admiration from his audience in order to nourish his famished self. Central to his ability to elicit that admiration is his ability to convey a sense of grandeur, omnipotence, and strength. These individuals who have had feelings of grandiose omnipotence awakened within them are particularly attractive to individuals seeking idealized sources of strength. They convey a sense of conviction and certainty to those who are consumed by doubt and uncertainty. This mask of certainty is no mere pose. In truth, so profound is the inner doubt that a wall of dogmatic certainty is necessary to ward it off. For them, preserving grandiose feelings of strength and omniscience does not allow acknowledgment of weakness and doubt.

The leaders love the adulation of the crowds and can often speak for hours basking in their admiration; and the crowds love to be there, feeding and feeding off them.

The Language of Splitting is the Rhetoric of Absolutism

Central to the rhetoric is the “us-them”, the “me-not me”, the “good versus evil”, “strength versus weakness”, you are “with us or against us”. There’s nothing new here:

Maximilien Robespierre: “There are but two kinds of men, the kind that is corrupt and the kind that is virtuous.”

Hitler dwelt on the themes of strength and weakness, purity and impurity, the chosen (Germans) and the not chosen (Jews). The world is divided and one must conquer the other or be conquered.

We see this mindset in leaders who are convinced, and whose followers are also convinced, they are called on a religious mission. Followers often see the power of God behind them and the entire world of Satan is their opposition. read more »

Identity Fusion, Cults and Trump

“Why do we do destructive things—to others, and to ourselves? Why do we so often act against our own interests?”

I’ve been catching up on a number of research articles exploring the psychology of Trump followers and am surprised how closely some of the ideas cohere with what I have experienced and learned about the reasons people get mixed up in religious cults. One book I have started and that has me totally in its thrall at the moment is Dangerous Charisma: The Political Psychology of Donald Trump and His Followers by Post and Doucette. I will be sure to write more about that work before too long. But for now, I am keeping it simple and will address just one idea that in part has an overlap with what I have read so far in Dangerous Charisma. What follows is from an article in a September 2019 issue of The Atlantic, “The Most Dangerous Way to Lose Yourself: ‘Identity fusion’ might explain why people act against their own interests.”

The main idea is

that people are always striving to create a world in which their ideas of themselves make sense. We are motivated, sometimes above any sense of morality or personal gain, simply to hold our views of ourselves constant. This allows us to maintain a coherent sense of order, even if it means doing things the rest of the world would see as counterproductive.

William Swann

It has been developed by Professor William Swann and claims that

we tend to prefer to be seen by others as we see ourselves, even in areas where we see ourselves negatively. As opposed to cognitive dissonance — the psychological unease that drives people to alter their interpretation of the world to create a sense of consistency — self-verification says that we try to bring reality into harmony with our long-standing beliefs about ourselves.

Think of those who tend to sabotage their relationships and withdraw from others who genuinely appreciate them. Their view of themselves is negative and they find it unbearable that others should not agree. That sounds crazy (maybe because it is) but Swann suggests that such behaviour

might actually be part of a fundamental “desire to be known and understood by others.”

That makes sense to me. Maybe it’s not so crazy.

We naturally form bonds with others, whether with family or a religion. Others in this context can be extremely important to us but we don’t generally “identify” with them to the extent that we lose our own separate identity.

Sometimes (and that’s the word that will need to be understood) people do lose their identities to the group, though. Swann posits that the 9/11 terrorists totally lost their personal identities to a group identity that enabled them to die and kill on a horrendous scale. The concept Swann talks about is identity fusion.

The phenomenon is sometimes described as a visceral feeling of oneness with a group or person, and sometimes as an expansion of the self.

“When people are fused, your personal identity is now subsumed under something larger,” says Jack Dovidio, a psychology professor at Yale. One way researchers test for fusion is to ask people to draw a circle that represents themselves, and a circle that represents another person (or group). Usually people draw overlapping circles, Dovidio explains. In fusion, people draw themselves entirely inside the other circle.

“This isn’t the normal way most people think about identity,” says Jonas Kunst, a psychology researcher at the University of Oslo.

Rational discussion that challenges the views of someone whose identity is so fused with a collective or another is impossible. Most people (surely) are open to accepting and debating challenges to their groups’ identities but someone whose personal identity is so fused and lost wholly within the group will see such questions as threats to their identity, a personal threat to themselves.

Arguments about climate change, for example, might not actually be about climate change, and instead about people protecting their basic sense of order and consistency.

Identity fusion is not merely blind obedience to group expectations or submission out of fear, but something much more dangerous:

Fusion is not a bunch of individuals contorting their way of thinking, but a bunch of individuals suspending their way of thinking. “It makes us more likely to do extreme things that aren’t consistent with our normal identity,” Kunst says. “It allows you to do things you couldn’t conceive of doing.”

Oh yes. I bitterly recall some cruel and hurtful things I did, even life-threatening things, when I was totally one {fused) with a religious cult years ago. I think of the pain I hurt my parents, and how I almost allowed a child to die from refusing medical treatment.

Does identity fusion help explain Trump supporters? A set of studies that used an “identity fusion scale” found that

Americans who fused with Trump — as opposed to simply agreeing with or supporting him — were more willing to engage in various extreme behaviors, such as personally .ghting to protect the U.S. border from an “immigrant caravan,” persecuting Muslims, or violently challenging election results.

Why do people who stridently oppose “big government” suddenly find themselves cheering on acts of “extreme authoritarianism”? No problem, according to identity fusion theory:

Value systems are only contradictory if they’re both activated, and “once you step into the fusion mind-set, there is no contradiction.”

Enter the charismatic leader

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