Wednesday, June 26, 2024 #58

In his Substack essay, June 24/24, entitled, “Why I’m scared sh’tless about Thursday,” (Thursday is the date of the televised debate between Biden and Trump) Robert Reich writes:

‘A few days ago I was talking with a young conservative who admitted that Trump was an ‘odious thug,’ in his words, but argued that America and the world had become such a mess that we need an odious thug as president. ‘Think of Putin, Xi, Kim, Ali Khamenei, Netanyahu—they’re all odious thugs,’ he said. ‘We need our own odious thug to stand up to them.’…He continued: ‘We need an odious thug to shake up Washington, stir up all the ossified bureaucracies now destroying America, do all the things no one has the balls to do….We need someone to take control!’

Here is the dogma of the reductionism of the ‘race to the bottom’ expressed in such desperate, yet compelling and frightening terms that, potentially, could return trump to the Oval Office. Imitating, and worse, emulating those ‘odious thugs’ by propping up another ‘odious thug’ is the height of the ultra-simplistic ‘silver bullet’ response to an otherwise highly complex, devious, intertwined, enmeshed and dangerously ensnarled world of geopolitics of the twenty-first century. The language of this ‘young conservative’ is reminiscent of the ‘shoot-out’ at the OK corral, from the western movie set. Dependence on ‘hard power’ has held a very high place in the value system of the American state. Just yesterday, the U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, declared gun violence a public health crisis.

Politico’s Erin Schumaker reports, June 25, 2024, in a piece entitled, ‘Gun violence is fueling national trauma, surgeon general warns’:

Gun violence has created a large-scale cycle of trauma and fear that’s damaging Americans’ mental health, making children fearful of going to school and adults of going to public places, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in announcing a public health crisis Tuesday….As Murthy’s report lays out, by many measures, gun violence in America is worse than ever, with more than 48,204 people dying from guns in 2022, down slightly after hitting a three-decade peak in 2021.

Mother Jones in a report entitled, US Surgeon General Declares Gun Violence a Public Health Crisis, (June 25, 2024) by Arianna Coghill, reports:

According to the (Surgeon General’s advisory), firearm-related homicides and suicides have both seen a steady increase over the past decade, with guns being the leading cause of death among children and adolescents since 2020.

Milton Mayer’s 1955 book, They Thought They Were Free, ‘recently republished…was one of the first accounts of ordinary life under Nazism….(Returning home after the War) ‘He learned that Nazism took over Germany not  ‘by subversion from within, but with a whoop and a holler.’ Many Germans wanted it; they got it; and they liked it…..Mayer’s most stunning conclusion is that with one partial exception (the teacher), none of his subjects (10 ordinary people) ‘saw Nazism as we—you and I—saw it in any respect.’ Where most of us understand Nazism as a form of tyranny, Mayer’s subjects ‘did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. They did not know between 1933 and 1945 that it was evil. And they do not know it now.’ Seven years after the war, they looked back on the period from 1933 to 1939 as the best time of their lives….Even in retrospect, Mayer’s subjects liked and admired Hitler. They saw him as someone who has ‘a feeling for masses of people’ and spoke directly in opposition to the Versailles Treaty, to unemployment-to all aspects of the existing order. They applauded Hitler for his rejection of ‘the whole pack--all the parliamentary politicians and all the parliamentary parties’—and for his cleanup up of moral degenerates.’ The bank clerk described Hitler as ‘spellbinder, a natural orator. I think he was carried away from truth, even from truth, by his passion. Even so, he always believed what he said.’ (From The New York Review of Books, in a piece entitled, It can Happen here by Cass. R. Sunstein)

Rationalizing approval of ‘odious thugs’ as a counter to the ‘odious thugs’ who seem to have captured the megaphones of propaganda, incited some of the most heinous military, cyber and disinformation campaigns in history, in an overt display of tyranny, oligarchy, narcissism, hard power (and alpha masculinity!) is s sure-fire path to chaos…and yet chaos seems to be preferred to the current unconscious malaise of anxiety, fear, insecurity, neurosis and potentially psychosis as a national debilitation.

And the notion of being ‘carried away from truth, even from truth, by his passion…as a spellbinder’….seems highly evocative of the perceptions of the MAGA cult of their de facto leader. Odious thugs do not hold much stock in truth; they hold stock in manipulation, twisting and contorting the facts to suit their agenda, their excessive motivation, manipulation of masses of people into a kind of political tornado, emblematic of mass hysteria, devoid of both any connection to the truth and a total absence of responsibility for that failure. And what is even more galling is the seeming complicity of what otherwise was considered to be a responsible media empire.

Countering propaganda, lies, manipulation and ‘spellbinding’ oratory is not something for which either the government nor the mass media has prepared, nor has either the skill or the temperament to counteract. The propriety, sense of balance, obeisance to a semblance of objectivity, has seemed to be lurking in the ethos of the editorial rooms of television and newspapers at the national level. Gentle, proper, even sophisticated arguments, based on both reason and facts, hourly dispensed and ‘consumed’ by thoughtful, reasonable, and highly motivated political observers and even activists, however, is simply not going to relieve the inordinate fears of people like Robert Reich. Fearing that the trump-cult will find a way to ‘prevail’ in an electorate deeply divided over not merely how the country is faring, but whether the identity of the nation is sustainable,  at a time when the world is careening over several cliffs simultaneously, and the ordinary people are squeamish, anxious, highly critical and suspicious of the current ‘establishment’ seems to bleed over into a geopolitical malaise.

Gaza-Israel, Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, The Kremlin, Taiwan, killer fires, droughts, floods, historic rainfalls, summer snows, terrorist threats and killings, piled onto a culture that experiences a mass-shooting several times every week….and there is a recipe for calamitous, reactive, angry, frightened and even euphoric mass hysteria.

And this mass hysteria, whose figure-head-tv personality huckster struts into and out of every room, and every criminal charge, and every court hearing and every mass rally he deems to enter, seems to gather emotional fuel and cash with each and every legal conviction of the orange-dyed coiffed hair. Call it perversion, call it the rise of the anti-hero, the outlaw archetype, the white supremacist, the “Christian nationalist, the iconoclast and insurrectionist, that cowers behind the public image of millions of Americans and seems, like Leviathan, to be rising from the detritus of a money-grubbing, star-worshipping, entertainment-addicted huckster culture.

This is no television entertainment show in which the public interest is auditioning for recognition, respect and honour, before a jury of pre-disposed selfish and greedy and testosterone-infested male losers. And yet the public interest is indeed under considerable pressure enduring highly publicized, daily, if not hourly, attacks from  one who seeks to become its “king”. Weaponizing the institutional, governmental, judicial, economic, social-service-network, educational system and performing all of that while holding and selling The American Bible makes Sir Gregor MacGregor* look like a rank amateur.

In a piece in by Glenn C. Altschuler, March 3, 2024, we read:

‘May I be honest; may I be decent; may I be unaffected by the technique of hucksters,’ John Steinbeck once wrote in a letter to a friend. ‘May I for a little while, see with the inflamed eyes of a God.’ With the possibility of a huckster returning to the White House and subordinating public service interests to personal interests, Steinbeck’s prayer seems urgently relevant.

Soo too does Robert Reich’s shitless fear, not only about the short-term results of the debate, but more importantly about the seduction of the American electorate in voting for him as a twice-impeached, 34-times-convicted felon, life-long-grifter….absolutely defiantly unapologetic and unrepentant, never  having done anything ‘wrong’…Indeed, his bravado evocative of the James Jesse Strang, a shape-shifting Mormon prophet who ‘conjured a visit from an angel and produced a letter anointing him (Joseph) Smith’s heir, after Smith was murdered in 1844. He also dug up some buried tablets which he translated. All of this seemed right in America in the 1840’s Visits from angels. Buried tablets. (From Review: Remembering One of America’s Greatest Conmen, a ‘Sanctimonious Rascal’ by Ann Fabian, reviewing Miles Harvey’s The King of Confidence, on The National Book Review.)

Fabian’s final words in the review strike a literary note attempting to lift American literature and life up:

Strang’s nasty story with its thievery, theatricality, and deceptions, lures us into those writers who tried so hard to wrestle with the contradictions of America’s past. Harvey shows us just how Melville, Hawthorne, Whitman, and Twain shared Strang’s imagined world. They turned confidence schemes into art. Maybe we should try to do that again.

We can only join Steinbeck, and Whitman et al, and hope to transform confidence schemes into art, lifting them out of the sewer of contemporary American politics.


*MacGregor sold a non-existent island country (Poyais) somewhere in the Caribbean by offering bonds to wealthy educated people. He advertised to non-existent island country to the British and French public, calling it the land that never was, wrote a book about it under the pen name, Thomas Strangeways. About 750 people loaded onto seven ships and set out to the non-existent island country where many suffered, few survived due to diseases, natural calamity and  among the settlers. 


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