Tuesday, April 7, 2020

#67 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Unscrupulous MALE 'plutoligarchs')

In physics, there are ‘laws’ that describe predictable functions. Gravity posits a drop of an object from one level to a lower level, for example. Warm air rises, another example. In magnetism, opposite poles attract, while common poles repel.
In human relations, while we are not privy to specific laws, we do have both anecdotal and empirical research that points to some tendencies, if not predictables.

In our previous piece, we noted the impunity which usually attaches to decisions made by individuals high up, or even on top, of what are called ‘chains of command’. There will be those who argue that CEOs’ decisions, however, are always open to examination and even challenge by a board of directors. And while there is truth to that observation, the expenditures and investment values involved in many corporate searches, as well as the frequent loyalties that attach board members to specific executive choices make the dismissal of a CEO much less likely than the dismissal of an underling, from the bottom of the organization chart even up to the top tier of middle and upper management. There is a much higher political price, for any organization to pay, if, for example, they should have to fire a CEO. Their investors would begin to question the stability and security of their investments; their various publics would likely begin to question their confidence in the corporation’s value, integrity, stability and predictability.

And predictability, the ability to seem confident in the stability of the foreseeable future of this “watch” (to borrow a naval term) is considered the sine qua non of corporate trustworthiness. So, both investments in time and resources, as well as corporate stability, and public perceptions of trustworthiness bear heavily on the decisions of corporate boards of directors in their critical review of the decisions of their chief executives.

On the other hand, when a Captain Crozier, for example, or Michael Atkinson, Inspector General of the intelligence community, is fired, (as the latter was late Friday night last week), both of them by a cabinet acting secretary and a president respectively, there is only partisan political fallout. The decisions of the acting secretary of the Navy and the President will not be subject to any review other than that of the electorate in November providing elections are even held then (given the current speculations by the president about their validity). Just this morning, Modly is casting aspersions on Crozier as ‘stupid’ or ‘na├»ve’ in an attempt to ridicule the career naval officer, now stricken with COVID-19. ‘Disgraceful’ is one of the epithets used by trump to describe Atkinson, whose reading of the original whistleblower complaint led to the Impeachment trial.

The last twenty or so years have witnessed two opposite and equally dangerous political/corporate/business developments. Given the increased even anal focus on budgets as one of the principal arbiters of a leader’s worth, and the public’s appetite for both balanced budgets and enhanced profits, in the private sector, leaders, not being either the sharpest knives in the drawer, nor “uncognizant” of the role of public opinion in their longevity, have done two things, seemingly simultaneously: they have invoked enhanced political/supervisory/executive powers, and they have also shoved many of the previously national or provincial costs down onto the lower levels of government.
Street repairs, for example, once a shared cost between provincial and municipal governments, now increasingly depend on municipalities, and potholes abound. Any political fallout resulting from such off-loading, attaches to municipal politicians, leaving the provincial leaders Teflon-free of that baggage. The magnetizing of political power in the offices of the political/corporate leaders’ offices, at the same time as the rights of workers generally have eroded, partly by the hidden influence of the corporate/political twinning of motivation and agenda, has seen a significant growth in executive/corporate/political power in the hands of fewer and fewer people.
While these two dynamics were proceeding apace, the demise of the local press, through both fiscal failure, corporate merger, and advertising revenue shift from analog to digital information organs, left national and provincial politicians, as well as municipal politicians free of the more intense scrutiny of the investigative reporters whose presence was much more visible in the 1980’s.

Mostly men, in positions of leadership, interested in power, the exercise of power for its own sake, for the sake of their own personal ego needs, much more than for the common good, have not only participated in these development; they have inspired, and coached, nurtured and even implemented many of them. A single and obvious example, in Canada, is the growth of political power and influence in the office of the Prime Minister. However provincial premiers have also “benefited” from these changes, as have world leaders given increasingly to the process of amassing political power in a single office.

Plutocrats and oligarchs, feeding on each other, depending on the reservoir of cash and the political levers to generate laws favourable to the plutocrats who bankroll the oligarchs, have been given far more ‘star’ coverage, as if they had become the new Hollywood stars, the NBA, or NFL stars. Big money, after all, like iron filings, rushes to the magnets of the plutocracy/oligarchy, who themselves, relish basking in the glow of the kleg lights that come with the presence of the stars. And big money, no matter whether in the political or the corporate sphere, offers a gilded neon beacon of hope to a younger generation whose careers are still resting like morning mist over the nearest river or lake.

The affinity of money and power for their “like” magnets, regardless of the source, has so depleted the influence of the ordinary voter, the ordinary hourly worker, once unionized, and once respected as the most important resource in any organization, that the divide between the have’s and the have-not’s seems unbridgeable.

And it is not merely a question of the kind of house, car, health or investment plan, nor the access to healthy food, quality education, quality health care, that matter. It is also a question of the  way in which ordinary people, with extraordinary common sense, vision, creativity and courage are perceived, envisioned, and valued by the “plutoligarchy” that is in the ascendency in too many places.

Ordinary people, if they have the time and inclination to look, see the demotion of Crozier, and the firing of Atkinson, similar to the firing of Sally Yates, James Comey, and literally dozens of others, as proof positive of the absolute control trump has over the American political landscape, at least in his own mind. And, many argue that the trump phenomenon is a mere symptom of a much deeper malaise.

We saw an earlier iteration of this “power-grab” in premiers Mike Harris (Ontario) and Alberta’s Ralph Klein back in the 90’s. Today, the rise of right-wing populism has taken root in Europe, and threatens to metastasize around the world, under the ‘cover’ of the latest pandemic, COVID-19.

Naturally, the flow of information, the heart-beat of any government’s political survivability, is one of the first targets of any incipient or entrenched oligarch. And in the pattern of ‘high society’ where only the insiders are permitted, and only their version of events, the world and the future hold sway, decisions, both strategic and tactical, are incubated, oligarchs depend on a degree of loyalty so stringent that nothing resembling responsible counter-vailing facts and opinions to that of the ‘great leader’ is or will be tolerated. Atkinson and Crozier, like Comey, and Yates, will find their place in the footnotes of the doctoral theses that are written about this trump-fiasco. Their collective value, however, under future presidents, will depend to a large degree on the historical curiosity and scholarship of future Oval Office occupants.
Nevertheless, it is the decisions, exemplified by Modly and trump (many times!) that pave the way for despots everywhere to take power, just as Putin and his oligarchs have in Russia.

Viktor Orban, too, in Hungary, is posing a threat, as well as foreshadowing a future whose political health is as potentially dangerous as this pandemic is to humans everywhere.

Writing in the Globe and Mail, Bessma Momani, professor at the University of Waterloo and Senior Fellow at both the  Centre for International Governance Innovation and the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, writes these words, in an essay entitled, Hungary’s Viktor Orban is using the coronovirus to push his populist-nationalist agenda, April 2, 2020:

“Undoubtedly the coronavirus will bring transformational change to all aspects o four lives, but the impact on global politics will be dire. This week we got a glimpse into how populist-nationalist governments, which continue to be on the rise, will respond to the pandemic. The policy responses from leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban are on script and foretell a dark future. More prescient perhaps, is the coming clash of ideologies in many liberal democracies.

Populist-nationalists have a disdain for representative politics, courts, media, international bureaucracies and scientific experts that all make up “the elite.” According to their narrative, these elites have slowly tried to move hard-working people away from traditional conservative values, industrial self-sufficiency and loyalty to a unified ethnocultural state. “Elites”, according to  populist-0nationalists, promote divisive cultural and identity ware, dependency on cheap offshore production under international  pressure to free trade and porous borders that undermine national unity.

This global pandemic has been perceived by populist-nationalists as a validation of their views and as justification for their latest draconian policies. The coronavirus, an outside force that is propelled by open borders, hyper0-globalization, and carried by “others” such as immigrants or cosmopolitan world-travelling urban elites, is vindication to populist-nationalist calls for sturdier borders to prevent people from bringing the virus into their country. It also validates their notions that national production of goods and services should not be dependent on global supply chains and that liberal media give too much credit to international scientific experts and global officials.

No wonder then, that Mr. Orban has responded to the global pandemic by introducing an indefinite state of emergency, which effectively suspended parliament, put future elections on hold, and gave the Prime Minister wide national powers. Not only is Hungary closing its borders, blaming refugees and students from the Middle East fort bringing the virus to Hungary, it is using the virus to implement wide surveillance of individuals’ mobile phones to track their movements and jail terms of up to three years for those who defy lockdown orders.”

Names like Modi (India) Erdogan (Turkey) and Orban are linked in the minds  of many scholarly observers with trump, another populist-nationalist. Xi of China already has life-long tenure in his country. Putin has already proposed a vote on the legislation that would see him hold onto power indefinitely. The public vote could be held on April 22, the birthday of Vladimir Lenin, and would give the president vast powers and reset the clock on his term limits. It has already been signed into law and approved by the Constitutional Court. Ekaterina Schulmann, a political scientist, quoted in The Economist, March 21, 2020, says, “rarely has the spirit of slavery and intellectual cowardice revealed itself so fully in a written text.”

As we watch the vacuous, self-aggrandizing press briefings each day from the White House, and the disparagement of legitimate reporters’ questions, not to mention the dismissal of the gravitas and integrity of Dr. Fauci, and the self-cleansing of all responsibility by the president, who cannot be prompted to wonder out loud, if this pandemic is just the second act of a Greek tragedy, the first act of which has been developing for at least three decades, in too many quarters and capitols. The third act is the one for which our children will be responsible, and their grandparents are praying that their sycophancy, and their idolatry of the “plutoligarchy” will pale in comparison with the sycophancy of the American electorate, and the evisceration of the public voice in places like Hungary, Turkey and India.

And, at the front of this malignant political, cultural, and spiritual cancer, for all to see are men, the most venal examples of masculinity to appear on the world stage since the end of WWII. And not only the leaders, but also the sycophant acolytes whose souls went on auction in the gun shows of the NRA.

P.S. Anyone who thinks that the reported 25+% rise in domestic violence in the United States, during this pandemic is not connected, if not directly but certainly indirectly, to this "macho-male explosion of cowardice," is still living in the cave of his own mind!

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