Photograph by James Marabello / Alamy
By Jill Lepore
The Impeachment Hearings and the Coming Storm
The madness of the moment lies in looking at how this came to pass, at how many people had to give up on the idea of democracy for things to come to this.
The madness lies in looking, honestly, at how this came to pass, at how many people had to give up on the idea of democracy for things to come to this. The sadness lies in the recognizing of the unlikelihood of anything getting much better anytime soon, what with the slush and the sleet and the coming storm. A farmer walks across a field, bracing against the wind. Hardness is what’s required to get through a political winter: determination, forbearance, sacrifice, not bitterness but a certain sternness.
“Cassius was right. ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.'”
Edward R. Murrow
March 9th, 1954, CBS
The media has been dancing around this issue, for obvious reasons, far too long.
Actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen delivered a blistering speech against social media and internet companies on Thursday evening and accused of them spreading “hate, conspiracies and lies.” Speaking at the Anti-Defamation League’s Never is Now summit in New York, Cohen specifically pointed the finger at Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube and accused the companies of pushing “absurdities to billions of people.” He called for a “fundamental rethink of social media.”
During his speech, Cohen rebutted points made by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg when the CEO spoke about free speech to Georgetown University in October. “First, Zuckerberg tried to portray this whole issue as ‘choices around free expression’. That is ludicrous. This is not about limiting anyone’s free speech. This is about giving people, including some of the most reprehensible people on earth, the biggest platform in history to reach a third of the planet.
Here is the full transcript, from his prepared remarks:
In a speech last night at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen attacked Facebook and other social media platforms for enabling the proliferation of hate speech and misinformation.
The speech was striking in its sincerity – Baron Cohen appeared as himself, rather than “in character” as one of his satirical personas – and its blistering tone.
Describing Facebook as “the greatest propaganda machine in history”, Baron Cohen argued that the company, which does not vet political ads for truthfulness, would have allowed Hitler to run propaganda on its platform.
Here is the full transcript, from his prepared remarks:
Conflict is attention. Attention is influence.
The Dark Psychology of Social Networks
Why it feels like everything is going haywire
By Jonathan Haidt & Tobias Rose-Stockwell
For example, in “Federalist No. 10,” James Madison wrote about his fear of the power of “faction,” by which he meant strong partisanship or group interest that “inflamed [men] with mutual animosity” and made them forget about the common good. He thought that the vastness of the United States might offer some protection from the ravages of factionalism, because it would be hard for anyone to spread outrage over such a large distance. Madison presumed that factious or divisive leaders “may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States.” The Constitution included mechanisms to slow things down, let passions cool, and encourage reflection and deliberation.
Madison’s design has proved durable. But what would happen to American democracy if, one day in the early 21st century, a technology appeared that—over the course of a decade—changed several fundamental parameters of social and political life? What if this technology greatly increased the amount of “mutual animosity” and the speed at which outrage spread? Might we witness the political equivalent of buildings collapsing, birds falling from the sky, and the Earth moving closer to the sun?
Facebook’s early mission was “to make the world more open and connected”—and in the first days of social media, many people assumed that a huge global increase in connectivity would be good for democracy. As social media has aged, however, optimism has faded and the list of known or suspected harms has grown: Online political discussions (often among anonymous strangers) are experienced as angrier and less civil than those in real life; networks of partisans co-create worldviews that can become more and more extreme; disinformation campaigns flourish; violent ideologies lure recruits.
Social media turns many of our most politically engaged citizens into Madison’s nightmare: arsonists who compete to create the most inflammatory posts and images, which they can distribute across the country in an instant while their public sociometer displays how far their creations have traveled.
From the December 2019 issue.
'Morality, if it is to remain or become morality, must be perpetually examined, cracked, changed, made new...not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.' -James Baldwin
Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation
By Andrew Marantz
Forget the decline of gatekeepers. Imagine a world bereft of gates and uncrossable lines, with no discernible rules.
All this is what Marantz calls “American Berserk,” and the damage has been severe on a worldwide scale. Marantz is right to worry. As I have written in my Opinion columns for this newspaper, I have seen firsthand how social media sites amplify villainous voices and weaponize them, too — and it’s not clear they can be controlled. The optimism of social media’s creators has been overshadowed by the cynicism of the vicious propaganda spewed on their platforms.
In a recent column for The Times, titled “Free Speech Is Killing Us,” Marantz sounded the alarm. “Having spent the past few years embedding as a reporter with the trolls and bigots and propagandists who are experts at converting fanatical memes into national policy, I no longer have any doubt that the brutality that germinates on the internet can leap into the world of flesh and blood,” he wrote. “The question is where this leaves us. Noxious speech is causing tangible harm. Yet this fact implies a question so uncomfortable that many of us go to great lengths to avoid asking it. Namely, what should we — the government, private companies or individual citizens — be doing about it?”
Unfortunately, he has no real answers, except that all things eventually fall apart. Perhaps the jig is up, as the big platforms and the regulators who worry about what they have wrought begin to crack down on the system they’ve established. “The ranking algorithms on social media laid out clear incentives: provoke as many activating emotions as possible; lie, spin, dog-whistle; drop red pill after red pill; step up to the line repeatedly, in creative new ways.”
Democracy is supposed to be a system of ruling ‘by the people, for the people’, but representative democracy (democracy as it is practised in most of the west) actively and repeatedly keeps ‘the people’ out of the decision-making process.
Journalist Patrick Chalmers, an expert on political structures, looks to Athens – the birthplace of this modern, failing system – to find a better solution in citizens’ assemblies.
An Athenian remedy: the rise, fall and possible rebirth of democracy
Aside from clashes between police and protestors, Athenians that summer held people’s assemblies, mass gatherings of strangers talking together in public spaces. These assemblies were what first brought Sagris to Syntagma Square with her mother Tatiana Skanatovits, an actress and assembly organiser. Daily meetings in front of parliament saw people tell their stories of crisis, debate alternatives, and decide on assembly actions.
The economic crisis triggered a well-documented political crisis, the irony of which is not lost on those from the country that gave the world democracy
“If we are talking about democracy, I believe that right now I’m not living in a democratic regime, so I don’t see why I should participate in a process like this,” he said the day before the ballot. “It hurts me deep in the soul to say that, but after 30 years I will not vote.”
For Aristotle, whether states were oligarchic or democratic was deeply ingrained in their ways of working – the politics of structure itself. He believed that cities that chose their office holders, jurors and judges by lottery were democratic and that those using elections were oligarchic – that’s Greek for government of, by, and for the few.
Citizens’ assemblies are happening everywhere from Australia to Canada, Bolivia to France.
The need to build trust and broad interest are also key. After decades of political apathy and the erosion of trust in elected representatives, citizens need faith in their own capacity to shape policy. And that of their peers. Knowing what examples of self-governance have worked, and how, certainly helps.
You have been told . . . what is good
And what the Lord requires of you:
Only to do the right and to love goodness,
And to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
“It has always been much easier (because it has always seemed much safer) to give a name to the evil without than to locate the terror within.”
“We ought to try, by the example of our own lives, to prove that life is love and wonder and that that nation is doomed which penalizes those of its citizens who recognize and rejoice in this fact.”
Timeliness from Baldwin, born on this day in 1924.
“I can conceive of no better service,” Walt Whitman wrote, “than boldly exposing the weakness, liabilities and infinite corruptions of democracy.” Nearly a century later, James Baldwin (August 2, 1924–December 1, 1987) — another poet laureate of the human spirit — embodied this ethos in one of his shortest, most searing, and timeliest essays.
“We are living through the most crucial moment of our history, the moment which will result in a new life for us, or a new death… a new vision of America, a vision which will allow us to face, and begin to change, the facts of American life… This seems a grim view to take of our situation, but it is scarcely grimmer than the facts. Our honesty and our courage in facing these facts is all that can save us from disaster. And one of these facts is that there has always been a segment of American life, and a powerful segment, too, which equated virtue with mindlessness… It always reminds me of a vast and totally untrustworthy bomb shelter in which groups of frightened people endlessly convince one another of its impregnability, while the real world outside — by which, again, I mean the facts of our private and public lives — calmly and inexorably prepares their destruction.”
“We must dare to take another view of majority rule… taking it upon ourselves to become the majority by changing the moral climate. For it is upon this majority that the life of any nation really depends.”
The humanitarian crisis is in the White House.
DT’s Second Term
So far, much of the concern about the long-term effects of DT’s presidency has centered on his antidemocratic tendencies. But even if we take those off the table—even if we assume that Trump continues to be hemmed in by other parts of the government and by outside institutions, and that he governs no more effectively than he has until now—the impact of a second term would be more lasting than that of the first.
Three areas—climate change, the risk of a renewed global arms race, and control of the Supreme Court—illustrate the historic significance of the 2020 election. The first two problems will become much harder to address as time goes on. The third one stands to remake our constitutional democracy and undermine the capacity for future change.
In short, the biggest difference between electing Trump in 2016 and reelecting DT in 2020 would be irreversibility.
Democracy is always a gamble, but ordinarily the stakes involve short-term wins and losses. Much more hangs in the balance next year.
The choice Americans face in 2020 is one we will not get to make again. What remains to be seen is whether voters will grasp the stakes before them. In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s emails absorbed more media and public attention than any other issue. In 2018, DT tried to focus attention on a ragtag caravan of a few thousand Central Americans approaching the southern border. That effort failed, but the master of distraction will be back at it next year. If we cannot focus on what matters, we may sleepwalk into a truly perilous future.
“Humanity has come to a fork in the road. There is a way marked Love and there is a way marked Fear, each path leading tumor of the same…in our finest hours, America has stood for what humanity at our best aspires to be. We have sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed, but today, in our time, it is ours to decide our path as we move forward. lady Liberty’s torch is in our hands, but only we can determine whether it burns within our hearts.”
-Marianne Williamson, A Politics of Love
Marianne spoke in Las Vegas last night. I recommend beginning at 50:15 for her introduction video. Forward to 1:20:00 for her Q&A to hear the depth of her issues, wisdom, compassion, and her connection with “We the People.” (1:24:00 is beautiful.)
“A truth teller, a seeker, a mother, and a learned woman in this scary and strange new world, her voice is at once strong medicine for our roundedness, warmth, insistence, good humor, and a little light to see by.”
-Author Anne Lamott
Author. Lecturer. Activist. Democratic Presidential Candidate.
‘My campaign for the presidency is dedicated to this search, for wisdom of the heart is too often absent from the political sphere.
Together we can reclaim both our democratic principles and the angels of our better selves, expressed not just in our personal lives but on acts of citizenship as well.
Politics should not be a pursuit disconnected from the heart; it should be, as everything should be, an expression of the heart. Where fear has been harnessed for political purposes, let’s now harness the power of love.
It is time to let go of an old and tired political conversation, and forge a new, whole-person, heart-centered political dynamic.’
From Marianne on Saturday, April 27th: “We’re under 8,000 left to go! So we’re totally getting there. Please do everything you can to get even the smallest donations to get us onto the DNC debate stage.”
[Only$1-$5 donations needed for a singular/unique donation.]
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
only through the active energy of the intelligent few can the public at large become aware of and act upon new ideas.
propaganda bears the same relation to education as to business or political. It may be abused. It may be used to over-advertise an institution and to create in the public mind artificial values. There can be no absolute guarantee against its misuse.
a presidential candidate may be ‘drafted in response to ‘overwhelming popular demand,’ but it is well known that his name may be decided upon by half a dozen men sitting around a table in a hotel room.
governments, whether they are monarchical, constitutional, democratic or communist, depend upon acquiescent public opinion for the success of their effort and, in fact, government is government only by virtue of public acquiescence.
a civilization has become more complex, and as the need for invisible government has been increasingly demonstrated, the technical means have been invented and developed by which opinion may be regimented.
nowadays the successors of the rulers, those whose position or ability gives them power, can no longer do what they want without the approval of the masses, they find in propaganda a tool which is increasingly powerful in gaining that approval.
democracy is administered by the intelligent minority who know how to regiment and guide the masses.
an entire part, a platform, an international policy is sold to the public, or is not sold, on the basis of the intangible element of personality.
“Edward Bernay’s honest and practical manual provides much insight into some of the most powerful and influential institutions of contemporary industrial-state capitalist democracies.” -Noam Chomsky
We must. Democracy, we’ve learned, is fragile. Together we rise to protect it.
Cover to cover The Atlantic’s October issue is essential reading from some of the most varied minds in our country today. They were invited to explore the premise of democracy’s demise. Topics include autocracy, tribalism, James Madison’s ‘Madisonian mob factions’, tyranny, and America’s courts by writers Anne Applebaum, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Jeff Rosen, David Frum, Amy Chua, and others. The links are pinned below.
A note from The Atlantic:
Though these ills can be seen most plainly in the style and behavior of a growing number of political leaders worldwide, their sources run deeper than that. The aim of this package is to diagnose their serenity and root causes.
Some of these causes are universal; some are unique to the United States. The essays are grouped to reflect this distinction, and then to consider solutions.
Sprinkled throughout are brief warnings about risks to democracy from The Atlantic’s archives–some prescient, some misplaced, and many all too relevant today.
These are some of the headlines, stories, and links.
Losing the Democratic Habit
Americans once learned self-governance by practicing it constantly–in lodge halls, neighborhood associations, and labor unions. As participation in these institutions had dwindled, so had public faith in democracy. To restore it, we must return democratic practices to everyday life.
The Threat of Tribalism
Amy Chua & Red Rubenfeld
The constitution once united a diverse country under a banner of ideas. But partisanship has turned Americans against one another–and against the principles enshrined in our founding document.
Madison vs. The Mob
The founders designed a government that would be insulted from the heat of popular sentiment, but they didn’t anticipate the unbridled passions of the digital age. Here’s how the constitutional order can survive.
America’s Courts Can’t Ignore the World
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer
The U.S. Constitution is an American document. And American law should look exclusively to American precedents. Right? Not so, a supreme Court Justice says. That approach sounds good in theory, but the laws of other countries have a bearing on our own–and the highest court in the land needs to take heed.
Building an Autocracy
Will American democracy survive DT? And will the midterms matter?
Link to The Atlantic October issue:
“Keep encouraging friends and co-workers to register and vote. We need to remind the world, the politicians and ourselves that this democracy is supported by its citizens. Big turnout please. Both parties! Massive Turnout”
Plutotic oligarchy organized as a republic…only democratic in theory if the people vote…and they typically don’t. In 2016? Turnout was the lowest in two decades…55.7% voted…48% (Hillary) To 46% (DT). The Electoral College, 538 members, elected the 45th president, a majority of 270 votes, in December of 2016.
DT received 304 electoral votes, Clinton, 227, while Colin Powell won 3 and John Kasich, Ron Paul, Bernie Sanders, and Faith Spotted Eagle each received 1.
So, in essence 304 people elected our current president.
“When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.” -Thomas Jefferson
The Moral Basics of Democracy, by Eleanor Roosevelt
With the threat of the Third Reich looming, Eleanor Roosevelt employs the history of human rights to establish the idea that at the core of democracy is a spiritual responsibility to other citizens. Roosevelt then calls on all Americans, especially the youth, to prioritize the well-being of others and have faith that their fellow citizens will protect them in return. She defines this trust between people as a trait of true democracy.
Roosevelt advances an optimistic model for the democracy of the future, and although we’ve taken some steps in the direction of her vision, it’s still a long way from reality. The issues first addressed in this 1940 essay—namely financial inequality and racial discrimination—are sadly still relevant today, as bigotry continues to undermine our national unity.
Her first publication as first lady, The Moral Basis of Democracy is an honest and heartfelt call for all Americans to choose love and faith over hatred and fear. Roosevelt takes an inspiring stance in defense of democracy, progress, and morality; the wisdom imparted here is timeless, and a must-read for every American.
“Dear God, Please bless our country at this difficult time. Protect and bless our democracy, Deliver us to a better place, And guide us to the Light That will lead us through this storm.”
“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
“Democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.”
-President Barack Obama
Civic Participation Begins in Schools
Stanford Social Innovation Review
Fostering a robust democracy in America requires that we create a truly democratic school culture.
‘Generations of young people growing up in the United States have witnessed a sustained institutional disregard for equal rights, freedom of speech, voting rights, and access to decent housing. Young people in this era are particularly disillusioned about a democracy in which Twitter wars at the federal level become an acceptable substitute for dialogue and debate about substantive matters.
Many schools have failed to prepare our youngest citizens to become stewards of democracy, possessing the knowledge and skills required for active and engaged citizenship. Statistics demonstrating this failure are plentiful: Only one-third of Americans can name all branches of government, and one-third cannot name any at all. 37 percent of Americans cannot name any of the rights guaranteed in the first amendment. And perhaps the most worrisome statistic: Only 33 percent of Americans born after 1980 consider democracy essential, while 24 percent of young people consider democracy a bad way to govern a country.
Today’s nationwide toxic environment provides an impetus for articulating a more inspiring and citizen-centric vision for our public schools. This new vision includes re-imagining schools as laboratories of democracy, enlisting young people as co-collaborators with educators and local community members as partners in constructing the democracy our country both needs and deserves. Rather than exhorting young people to understand a staid conceptualization of democracy that reduces their own agency in the ever-changing American narrative, there is an opportunity for schools to engage our youth as legitimate political actors who can help us re-envision the very practice and values associated with democracy.
We can transform schools into beacons of democracy by ensuring that schools focus on centering education in the communities in which they are located, by constructing classes that are relevant to students’ lives, and by creating a democratic culture within school walls.
The process begins with a greater respect for the community in which school are situated. Students need to understand that the community is a place where citizens make their wants and needs known, and work together to solve communal challenges. Community members need to see the success of young people as relevant to the success of the community. Elected officials can learn to recognize students as purveyors of important local civic knowledge, capable of informing the most complex policy debates. Young people have a place in the community’s discourse and action, and it is important for them to experience the messiness and the satisfaction alike of the democratic process.
Our democracy may indeed be at risk, but an appreciation for our unprecedented times opens up unprecedented possibilities. A foundational reorientation of the purpose of public education can enable our youngest generation to not only understand democracy but also participate in creating a better version of it. We may have not yet created a democracy stable enough for future generations. But young people can help to create a better one.‘
Sylvia Rousseau & Scott Warren
“The Americans are very impressionable people; they see what they want to see. I have a lot of respect for them. I am not upset at all that I ended up on this list. If they want to see the devil, let them see him.”
Russian Oligarch Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, one of 13 Russians indicted by a federal grand jury on Friday, February 16th, 2018, for interfering in the American election.
“Facebook, Twitter and Google have all identified the Internet Research Agency as a prime source of provocative posts on divisive American issues, including race, religion, gun laws and gay rights, particularly during the 2016 presidential election. Facebook found, for example, that the agency had posted 80,000 pieces of content that reached more than 126 million Americans.” [NYTimes]
Imagine a world where democracy lives up to its lofty promise… where problems are solved by debate and compromise rather than vitriol and internet trolls. A nice thought isn’t it?” asks Brian Klaas. As a scholar of democracy and authoritarianism, he’s seen fear-and-division politics rising across the world, but says we’re more powerful than we think in reversing this trend. Beyond the uncomfortable stats of our civic shortcomings; he shares moments with those he’s met risking their freedom and their lives for a democratic choice; and offers five concrete ways we can start changing what we don’t like.
Thoughts from Brian Klaas:
Democracies around the world are dying. Remember: Being a citizen is a full time job.
People who say, “my vote doesn’t matter”? Wrong.
Politicians pander to those who vote. (Who votes in majority? Older white males.)
Democracies are dying. One man in Russia who was being followed by the secret police told Klaas, “You don’t know how lucky you are.”
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
-David Foster Wallace
We need to remember how powerful we are.
Of the people.
By the people.
For the people.
Ongoing paradox: People are unhappy with the system, but not many do much to understand it…or do anything.
In the midterm election in 2014, 36% of registered voters voted. 64/100 didn’t bother.
In the 2016 presidential election? 60% voted. And the current president was voted in by 30% of the US population. Apathy voted a candidate into the Oval Office.
80,000 people tipped the election…enough to fit into a football stadium.
We get the candidates we deserve.
P A R T I C I P A T I O N
Our collective power to save democracy:
Vote in every election…local and national, because the local candidates become national candidates.
Before the election talk to 10 people before voting.
Be the boss to your politicians; they work for us. Whether they agree with you or not, tell them how you feel.
Reach out to someone who believes completely differently from what you believe. And listen.
Run for office or organize a new political group.
Actions become ripples and those ripples become tsunamis.
Think about it. If women waited for an invitation, we still wouldn’t have the right to vote.
2018 is ours. And the youth? They are activating.
︶⁀°• •° ⁀︶
Go see it. It will give you hope. (Stay until the very final credit rolls.) ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
When Nazi planes dropped bombs on London, Edward R. Murrow climbed to the rooftops. Despite personal risk & the fear his signal would lead bombers straight to him, he brought the horrors of Hitler’s war to the ears of listeners around the world.
[Stand Up Ideas: Founded by Evan McMullin, & Mindy Finn to strengthen Americans’ commitment to democratic ideals & norms through civic education & leadership development.]
Is our democracy in danger? Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have spent more than twenty years studying the breakdown of democracies in Europe and Latin America, and they believe the answer is yes. Democracy no longer ends with a bang—in a revolution or military coup—but with a whimper: the slow, steady weakening of critical institutions, such as the judiciary and the press, and the gradual erosion of long-standing political norms. The good news is that there are several exit ramps on the road to authoritarianism. The bad news is that, by electing Trump, we have already passed the first one.
Drawing on decades of research and a wide range of historical and global examples, from 1930s Europe to contemporary Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela, to the American South during Jim Crow, Levitsky and Ziblatt show how democracies die—and how ours can be saved.
In January 1898, the famous author Emile Zola wrote a stinging indictment of French leadership and its embrace of anti-Semitism for political ends. The scourge was, he wrote, a moral outrage, with powerful men embracing a deeply harmful, and potentially violent, ideology for short-term political gain.
Titled “J’accuse,” Zola’s public letter to the president of the republic – the immediate cause of which was to protest the military leadership’s anti-Semitic attacks on an officer named Dreyfus – still stands, more than a century later, as the gold standard for public intellectuals seeking to hold morally bankrupt political figures to account.
“What a cesspool of folly and foolishness, what preposterous fantasies, what corrupt police tactics, what inquisitorial, tyrannical practices!” Zola opined. “What petty whims of a few higher-ups trampling the nation under their boots, ramming back down their throats the people’s cries for truth and justice, with the travesty of state security as a pretext.”
I ACCUSE YOU, DONALD TRUMP, OF USING FEAR TO DIVIDE NEIGHBOR FROM NEIGHBOR. I ACCUSE YOU OF PLAYING RUSSIAN ROULETTE WITH AMERICA’S PRESENT STANDING AND ITS FUTURE POSITION IN THE WORLD. I ACCUSE YOU OF USING YOUR OCCUPANCY OF THE WHITE HOUSE NOT TO IN ANY CONCEIVABLE WAY IMPROVE THE GENERAL WELL BEING, BUT TO FURTHER YOUR NARCISSISTIC, VAIN, AND CRUEL FANTASIES.
During the election campaign, I attempted my own “j’accuse,” for the progressive web site Truthout, detailing the numerous ways in which candidate Trump was committing a form of moral treason – stoking up fears and hatreds that would be impossible to contain once unleashed. During that election season, Trump accused Mexican migrants of being drug peddlers and rapists, talked of banning all Muslims from entering the country, fueled rage against journalists and used crude racist and sexist rhetoric whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Since the election, Trump’s behavior has only gotten more appalling. We now have the grotesque, almost pornographic, spectacle of the most powerful man on earth using his platform to urge police forces to beat up suspects. Using his platform to denigrate immigrants as “animals” who like to torture young women. Using his platform to marshal the forces of the federal government against refugees.
Using his platform to personally attack private citizens. Using his platform to promote his nepotistic, almost Mafia-like web of family and business and political interests. Using his platform to attack programs that encourage racial and economic diversity in colleges.
Using his platform to hold Nuremberg-styled rallies using barely adolescent Boy Scouts as a background prop – a spectacle as creepy, and as redolent of insecurity, as that of a grown man boasting of his sexual exploits to gain street cred with a gaggle of awkward middle school kids.
Using his platform to urge states to make it ever harder for poor, especially nonwhite, Americans to access the ballot box. And most recently, allowing the North Korean leadership to draw him into a potentially apocalyptic, public game of nuclear bluff.
I could, of course, go on. But it is for unsavory lists like this that the convenient phrase “etc.” was invented.
Trump, in his full-fledged bullying, scaremongering, blustering cretinitude, is not just “un-presidential,” whatever that somewhat nebulous phrase means. He is actively and aggressively unhumane.
He scorns empathy and humility as weakness, curiosity about other cultures as effeteness, and actively embraces a might-is-right rhetoric (witness his snarling speeches in September 2016 and again a week after his inauguration in which he argued that America should have seized Iraqi oil, telling his audience “to the victors belong the spoils”) last employed in “the western world” that he claims to be saving from barbarian hordes by the expansionist Nazi regime from 1933-1945.
He has surrounded himself, domestically, by sycophants and propagandists who can serve as props to his fragile narcissism – witness the extraordinary spectacle of his first full cabinet meeting, much of which was taken up in outlandish expressions of praise for the president; and, internationally, by dictatorial buddies such as Erdogan, El-Sisi and Duterte, who are as far from embodying liberal, enlightenment values as are any modern-day leaders on earth.
Were Trump just a temporary distraction, one could perhaps choose to ignore him, or to minimize his importance by presenting him simply as a bizarre, reality-TV, outlier. A plastic president for a plastic age.
But there’s nothing temporary about Trump’s project. His vision, as laid out in his sickening “American carnage” inauguration speech, is to fundamentally reshape America as a nasty, brutish, ethno-nationalist citadel. I doubt that in the long run he will succeed in achieving this, not least because in addition to being a monstrous narcissist he is also chronically, dementedly, cartoonishly inept. Trump, the uncouth and uncultured businessman-president is, quite simply, a fiasco of a manager.
But what this Joker-like figure is far more likely to accomplish is the permanent wrecking of America’s unique status as the “indispensable nation” serving as glue for a liberal, pluralist, open international order. What he is far more likely to preside over is a permanent reduction in America’s global standing, as populations the world over look at his behavior and his actions and his values, look at the chaos he has unleashed, and the politics of fear that he has ridden to power in the United States, and turn their backs in contempt and shock.
And that is why I say, again, “j’accuse.” I accuse you, Donald Trump, of using fear to divide neighbor from neighbor. I accuse you of playing Russian roulette with America’s present standing and its future position in the world.
I accuse you of using your occupancy of the White House not to in any conceivable way improve the general well being, but to further your narcissistic, vain, and cruel fantasies. You are a morally puny man, Donald Trump, a bloated fellow who feels big only by making others feel small.
You puff up your chest and urge the police to beat up suspects, and urge the military to show no mercy on the enemy, and urge intelligence agents to torture those thought to be terrorists, not because any of this this will really make America safer but because in your twisted understanding of the world strength is shown only through violence.
And I say “j’accuse,” too, to the GOP leaders in Congress and in statehouses around the country who know exactly how toxic and unstable Trump is, yet continue to tolerate his banalities and his politics of fear in order to get their way on tax cuts, deregulation and judicial appointments.
Shame on the whole sorry lot of you. In tolerating a madman in office, you are permanently diminishing the country, you are scarifying its vital democratic edifice, you are coarsening the culture and playing havoc with the lives of millions of vulnerable people. The history books are never kind to men and women of such craven attitude. You are collaborators in Trump’s vile passion play.
SASHA ABRAMSKY’S 2013 BOOK,“THE AMERICAN WAY OF POVERTY,’ WAS LISTED BY THE NEW YORK TIMES AS ONE OF THE 100 NOTABLE BOOKS OF THE YEAR. HIS NEW BOOK,”JUMPING AT SHADOWS: THE TRIUMPH OF FEAR AND THE END OF THE AMERICAN DREAM,” WILL BE PUBLISHED BY NATION BOOKS IN SEPTEMBER. HE CAN BE REACHED AT SABRAMSKY@SBCGLOBAL.NET.
‘But if not for ourselves, at least for our children, we should unite to respond to these attacks on our lives, liberties and the environment. In his poem “Let America be America Again,” Langston Hughes says,’
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
‘It is indeed possible that after this period of turmoil we may reach that beautiful stage when democracy and justice will come back to America. As Leonard Cohen says in his song “Democracy,”’
I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene.
And I’m neither left or right
I’m just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I’m junk but I’m still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the USA.
By:Cesar Chelala| MAY 31, 2017 Bill Moyers & Co
To bridge to the chasms of ‘siloed’ ideologies and the echo chambers of polarized media, if we open our hearts to listen, deeply listen, and connect empathy, I believe we will bridge the chasms when we discover shared foundational common values for people and democracy. We the people.
“In this time of dire need for “a revelation in the heart,” when the values of democracy are continually misconstrued and misused, Cohen’s immortal words come to life in a beautiful short film — part tribute to Cohen, part fundraiser for Pen America, part public service to lift the human spirit, narrated by Neil Gaiman, with music by Amanda Palmer and gorgeous watercolor art by David Mack and Olga Nunes.
“In this compelling hybrid of memoir and sociological analysis, Vance digs deep into his upbringing in the hills of Jackson, Ky., and the suburban enclave of Middletown, Ohio. He chronicles with affectionâand raw candorâthe foibles, shortcomings, and virtues of his family and their own attempts to live their lives as working-class people in a middle-class world. […] Vance observes that hillbillies like himself are helped not by government policy but by community that empowers them and extended family who encourages them to take control of their own destinies. Vance’s dynamic memoir takes a serious look at class.”
In the many year Stacy Krantiz has been documenting life in Appalachia—as seen in her ongoing project As it was Give(n) to Me—she has deftly navigated the minefield that comes with photographing in this often misrepresented part of the county. At least since Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the 1941 book by writer James Agee and photographer Walker Evans* that chronicled the lives of poverty-stricken sharecroppers in the South, residents have rightfully complained about how outsiders have portrayed them in photographs—nothing short of a kind of visual openmouthed gawking and pointing. By living with her subjects, Krantiz challenges and plays with common stereotypes of the beautiful hill region of southern Ohio, West Virginia, and eastern Kentucky. Kranitz’s photos show her living it up with the subjects of her photos, deeply embedded, fully embraced, sometimes even appearing in the images herself. She photographs as a member of the family, showing the good and the beautiful, along with the bad and the ugly. Nothing to hide.
For additional perspective, watch Rory Kennedy’s poignant documentary, “American Hollow”. It is the story of one Appalachian family living in a hallow of Kentucky for seven generations. Kennedy chronicles their lives for one year. 
In the Assyrian tale of Gilgamesh, over seven thousand years old, the lost and empty king doesn’t listen to the pain in his heart and so mistakenly declares war on Nature, projecting his pain as something to be conquered in the world.
How many times do we project our pain onto the world, rather than face the emptiness in our heart? How many times have we all been given a sign of what might help us find our way only to smash the sign, out of grief, impatience, or anger?
Projecting our pain, grief, impatience, and anger on others, abdicating our gifts to please a loved one, rejecting new learning because it challenges what is familiar, exiling others because they threaten our position or identity, and denying difficulty in hopes that it will go away – – these are all form of not listening that can undermine our aliveness in any given moment.
All would be well, he said, so long as the people made sure always to elect political leaders who were “wise and good.”
By the time we reach ancient Greece, philosophers like Plato start to offer formal definitions of the tyrannical soul, and the picture is one of the person who defrauds freely, takes violently, lies consistently, robs and kills. Think of ’45’ saying last year about terrorism suspects, “You have to take out their families.” Think of his remark, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”
For many years, I’ve taught Plato’s “Gorgias” and “Republic,” where the tyrannical soul is described. Never did I think we would have a walking, talking example from American politics in front of us 24-7. But here we are. I don’t invoke ’45’ when we discuss passages about the tyrant in those texts. But the comparisons are so obvious that after class my students tend to make small, quiet remarks to me about it.
While the institutions of constitutional democracy were invented to make it easier to rein people in, those who did the work of drafting the Constitution never thought that institutions alone could solve the job. On the cusp of the Constitution’s ratification, founder James Wilson paused to ponder what it would take for the reorganized representative democracy to succeed. All would be well, he said, so long as the people made sure always to elect political leaders who were “wise and good.” The president and other elected officials, he pointed out, would populate the bureaucracies of the new nation. If they themselves were wise and good, they would also populate all the offices of the country with the wise and good. If they were not, then corruption would spread through the entire system.
This election has moved past questions of ideology and partisan position to fundamental elements of the human condition, elements so fundamental that we can find them recorded in the earliest human texts. From the beginning of human history, when tyrannical souls have acquired power, the people have found themselves groaning and crying out with laments under the burden of it.
Character matters because it is how we restrain the inner would-be tyrant in each one of us. It matters because it is how we limit the placement of great power in the hands of those with tyrannical instincts and appetites. If we’ve given up a commitment to character, we’ve already given up the game or, to speak more precisely, the work of protecting freedom, equality and human flourishing.
-Danielle Allen/Political Theorist at Harvard University
︶⁀°• •° ⁀︶
Democracy is the most fragile thing on earth, for what does it rest upon? You and me, and the fact that we agree to maintain it. The moment either of us says we will not, that’s the end of it. It doesn’t rest on anything but us; it doesn’t rest on armed force, the moment it does it isn’t democracy. It isn’t something to kick around or experiment with.
-Allen Drury, Stanford University