Tagpolitics

on narcissism

Allen Frances writes:

Fevered media speculation about Donald Trump’s psychological motivations and psychiatric diagnosis has recently encouraged mental health professionals to disregard the usual ethical constraints against diagnosing public figures at a distance. They have sponsored several petitions and a Feb. 14 letter to The New York Times suggesting that Mr. Trump is incapable, on psychiatric grounds, of serving as president.

Most amateur diagnosticians have mislabeled President Trump with the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. I wrote the criteria that define this disorder, and Mr. Trump doesn’t meet them. He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.

Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither).

This is surely a good cautionary word, but I have some questions, and the primary one is: How does Dr. Frances, who has not examined Trump and has probably never met him, know that Trump “does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder”? What empirical knowledge does he have about Trump’s distress or lack thereof? Frances claims that “Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it,” but surely it is possible for a person to cause and experience distress? It seems to me that if you can violate the Goldwater Rule by claiming that someone you have not examined definitely has a disorder, you can also violate it by claiming that someone you have not examined definitely does not have that disorder. Dr. Frances seems just as overconfident as the people whose letter he’s responding to.

What We’re Fighting For

If we choose to believe in a morally diminished America, an America that pursues its narrow selfish interests and no more, we can take that course and see how far it gets us. But if we choose to believe that America is not just a set of borders, but a set of principles, we need to act accordingly. That is the only way we ensure that our founding document, and the principles embedded within, are alive enough, and honorable enough, to be worth fighting for.

Phil Klay

dealing with lies

Here is what we are supposed to do: rebut every single lie. Insist moreover that each lie is retracted — and journalists in press conferences should back up their colleagues with repeated follow-ups if Spicer tries to duck the plain truth. Do not allow them to move on to another question. Interviews with the president himself should not leave a lie alone; the interviewer should press and press and press until the lie is conceded. The press must not be afraid of even calling the president a liar to his face if he persists. This requires no particular courage. I think, in contrast, of those dissidents whose critical insistence on simple truth in plain language kept reality alive in the Kafkaesque world of totalitarianism. As the Polish dissident Adam Michnik once said: “In the life of every honorable man comes a difficult moment … when the simple statement that this is black and that is white requires paying a high price.” The price Michnik paid was years in prison. American journalists cannot risk a little access or a nasty tweet for the same essential civic duty?

— Andrew Sullivan: The Madness of King Donald. If this admirable and wholly proper strategy were to be widely followed, I predict that President Trump and his advisors and advocates will simply stop speaking to the press. Which would make somewhat more urgent the suggestion I moot in this little thought experiment.

judging judges

It has long been frustrating to me that the only criterion by which Americans — almost without exception — evaluate judges is: Did he or she make decisions that produce results I’d like to see? Virtually no one asks whether the judge has rightly interpreted existing law, which is of course what the judge is formally required to do. Americans — again, almost without exception — want judges to be politicians and advocates. The idea that a judge should strive to interpret existing law regardless of whether it does or doesn’t promote politically desirable ends never crosses anyone’s mind, and if by some strange chance it did, the person whose mind was so crossed would reject the proposal indignantly. Americans in this respect resemble toddlers and their own President: they evaluate everything in terms of whether it helps or hinders them in getting what they want.

This devaluation of interpretation amounts to a dismissal of the task of understanding: everything that matters is already understood, so the person who would strive to understand is not only useless, but an impediment to the realization of my political vision. To the partisan, the absence of partisanship is always a sin, and perhaps the gravest of sins.

Donald Trump wants to build a wall here

The Rio Grande at Big Bend National Park

a dialogue on punching

Frankly, I’m glad Richard Spencer got punched in the face, and I hope that happens to people like him every. single. day.

Seriously? You’re okay with Americans using violence against their political opponents?

Absolutely not! But Spencer isn’t just a “political opponent,” he’s a guy spreading a message of hatred and exclusion.

But don’t you believe that freedom of speech should be allowed even for people who hold repulsive opinions?

The Constitution doesn’t protect hate speech!

Actually, it does.

Okay, fine. But even if such speech is Constitutionally protected, that doesn’t mean that we have to accept it. If we have to practice civil disobedience, as protestors did during the Civil Rights era, then we’ll do that and pay the legal price.

Well, the protestors who followed Dr. King practiced passive resistance. It was the followers of Malcolm X who pursued the “by any means necessary” strategy.

We need to think pretty seriously about what Malcolm had to say.

You realize, I hope, that many people, especially on the alt-right, will see acts like the punching of Spencer as justification for their taking the same kind of actions against people you like?

I don’t care what those freaks do.

Maybe you ought to care.

They would be totally unjustified in using violence against those of us who are just standing up for the rights of the marginalized. That ought to be obvious.

Okay. On a different topic, what do you think about Trump’s trade war? His push for protectionist laws and policies, like tariffs on foreign imports?

It’s absurd! Doesn’t he realize that if he does that those other nations will retaliate against us?

Exactly.

fighting

Kruse: Michael, in your book, and other places, too, he has talked about how much he enjoys fighting. And he certainly fought a lot of people throughout the campaign, and he hasn’t stopped fighting. From Meryl Streep to the intelligence community, he’s still picking fights. Do you think he is going to pick fights with leaders of other countries? In other words, is there any indication that he would be able to separate the interests of the country now from his own personal pique?

Blair: Zero.

O’Brien: Absolutely not. There will be no divide there.

— From an interview with Trump biographers in Politico. This seems incontestably true to me, and the most worrisome of the hundred or so worrisome things about Trump. As with toddlers — and Trump is emotionally a toddler — it’s difficult to know in advance what will trigger his rage. And as Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote recently, this temperament in Trump comes accompanied by a fascination with nuclear weapons.

Of all the American Presidents so far, Donald Trump is, beyond question, the least qualified to hold the office. Indeed, he possesses not one single qualifying trait. But it is his inability to control his temper when personally affronted that most clearly marks his utter unfitness.

Most of the people I hear from who are as hostile to the Trump presidency as I am want to make frontal attacks on him, and want their political representatives and other leaders to do so as well. I think that’s a bit like poking a sleeping skunk with a stick. (A skunk with access to nuclear codes.) I am hoping that Trump’s more powerful enemies and critics will show more emotional discipline than he does, and will realize the futility of playing his game by his rules. I am hoping for the creation of fences and funnels, relatively soft nudges of the new President away from danger and temptation.

But I don’t know who’s going to create those fences and funnels. My sense is that the GOP leaders like being in power so much that they’re more likely to imitate Trump than resist him — witness Rance Priebus not-so-subtly threatening a government ethics official for doing his job. That’s a page right out of the Donald’s book. Meanwhile, the left is continuing with its old traditions of preferring symbolic gestures and ideological purity tests to meaningful action. Together the left and right are doing their best to ensure that we’ll have eight years of Trump rather than four.

So where can I place my hope? I actually think there’s a good chance that Trump won’t want more than four years of the straitjacket of the Presidency. I can see — I am even tempted to predict — that three years into his term Trump will declare that he has set America firmly on the path to renewed greatness and is ready to turn the reins over to his trusty sidekick Mike Pence.

what Twitter does to journalism

Earlier today I tweeted: “Gap that needs to be filled: the journalism that journalists ignore while spending all day every day insulting each other on Twitter.”

I’m serious about this. I only follow one account on public Twitter (a truly vital one), but I had for some time a Twitter list called “Politics” that contained the accounts of some of the reporters I have the most respect for. I just deleted that list because all these people do is snark at each other and at commenters. They call each other names, they trade insults with random people who criticize them, they RT most such insults — basically, America’s political reporters think and act like sixth-graders. And they’re on Twitter all the time. You can’t learn a damned thing by following any of them — or any of the ones I know of, anyway.

Journalists are always saying that they have to be on Twitter because that’s where the information is. I think that’s bullshit. Twitter is where the childish bickering is, and that’s what seems to make journalists happy. I’m now going to begin my search for journalists who aren’t on Twitter, or are rarely there: those are the ones who are more likely to be doing some actual research and reporting.

fences and funnels

I haven’t said anything about American politics since the election, largely because I don’t think there’s much to say. I am simply waiting to see what a Trump administration will actually do, and how Congress and the judiciary will respond. Now that our President is a narcissistic ignoramus whose leadership team is comprised largely of people who share his belligerence and ignorance, plus a leaven of the most reflexively hawkish leftovers of the Bush era, I am hoping for fences and funnels: that is, the exercise by other branches of the government of their legal powers in ways that will limit Trump’s extravagances, and the gentle and subtle guidance of his administration towards constructive action. The creation and maintenance of such fences and funnels will require intelligence and subtlety on the part of the Republican Congressional leadership, which is why I am not hopeful.

Essentially, I am praying that people in our government who hold some power power and possess at least a little intelligence will impede Trump, will place enough obstacles in his way that he will be able to do minimal damage to the body politic, the national economy, and the international order during his time in office. Impede, delay, fence, funnel — these are the imperatives. And, please God, may this situation last no more than four years.

But I can’t imagine a situation in which political commentary could be less useful or relevant.

Brother Bill and those who scorned him

Annie Karni in Politico:

But in general, Bill Clinton’s viewpoint of fighting for the working class white voters was often dismissed with a hand wave by senior members of the team as a personal vendetta to win back the voters who elected him, from a talented but aging politician who simply refused to accept the new Democratic map. At a meeting ahead of the convention at which aides presented to both Clintons the “Stronger Together” framework for the general election, senior strategist Joel Benenson told the former president bluntly that the voters from West Virginia were never coming back to his party.

There are many things, good and bad, one might say about Bill Clinton, but the first thing should always be this: He is the smartest politician of our era — the most gifted one of my lifetime, so far, and the race isn’t even close. And the people running Hillary’s campaign thought they were so much smarter than him that they could dismiss his arguments “with a hand wave.”

It’s always hubris, isn’t it? The story of disasters like the Hillary Clinton campaign is always hubris. And the people at the heart of the story never know. That’s why the title of the article is “Clinton aides blame loss on everything but themselves.” Well of course they do.

the bigger killer: Joseph Stalin or George W. Bush?

the invisible regime

Ross Douthat is trying this morning to bring some perspective to American liberals:

But the “open society” isn’t merely “experienced as” a regime; nor is it genuinely open. It is open to some ideas and some people that its predecessors were closed to, but newly closed to others. (In precisely the same way, people who talk about the value of “inclusion” are always including some formerly excluded groups while simultaneously excluding some formerly included groups. When you move the Overton window, the left and right sides of the frame shift together.)

Stanley Fish explained this long ago, in an essay I recommend to liberals willing to dispense with some of their illusions. The essay focuses on public education but is equally relevant to all public institutions. Read and heed:

The idea, then, is that the right kind of education, faithful to the First Amendment, gives you practice in making up your own mind about values and agendas, while the wrong kind of education captures your mind and binds it to values and agendas that go unexamined. The problem with this idea is that it is itself an agenda informed by values that are themselves unexamined and insulated from challenge. The name of the agenda is “free and open inquiry”; and despite that honorific self-description, it is neither free nor open because it is closed to any line of thinking that would shut inquiry down or route it in a particular direction. It is closed, for example, to most forms of religious thought (which it will stigmatize as dogmatic) or to any form of thought that rules some point of view — for instance, that the Holocaust did not occur — beyond the pale and out of court. To put it in a way that may seem paradoxical: openness is an ideology, in that, like any other ideology, it is slanted in some directions and blind (if not downright hostile) to others.

Now, to say that openness is an ideology is not necessarily to criticize it, much less reject it, but merely to deprive it of one of its claims. Openness (or free inquiry) may still be the ideology we choose, but if my analysis is right, we cannot choose it as an alternative to ideology. What, after all, is the difference between a sectarian school which disallows challenges to the divinity of Christ and a so-called nonideological school which disallows serious discussion of that same question? In both contexts something goes without saying and something else cannot be said (Christ is not God or he is). There is of course a difference, not however between a closed environment and an open one but between environments that are differently closed.

Trump and incommensurability

Dismayed by the recently announced list of “scholars and writers” supporting Trump for President, I sat down this morning to write a brief post explaining why I think supporting Trump is a very bad decision. But where to begin?

And then I thought: You all know who Trump is. You know that he’s a preening, vaunting, compulsively dishonest ignoramus with a mean streak a mile wide, whose only criterion for evaluating other human beings is: Do they like me? You are intelligent and well-informed. You can be under no illusions in these matters. And yet you not only will vote for Trump, you are warmly encouraging others to do the same.

Long ago Thomas Kuhn introduced into the history of science the concept of incommensurability: theories whose premises are so radically divergent that adherents of one theory simply cannot speak coherently and usefully with adherents of another. Alasdair MacIntyre would later, in After Virtue, apply this concept to debates in moral philosophy: “Every one of the arguments is logically valid or can be easily expanded so as to be made so; the conclusions do indeed follow from the premises. But the rival premises are such that we possess no rational way of weighing the claims of one as against another…. It is precisely because there is in our society no established way of deciding between these claims that moral argument appears to be necessarily interminable.”

If an intelligent and well-informed person is not only voting for Trump but also advocating for him as someone who can “restore the promise of America,” then it is clear that our premises about politics — about what politics does, what politics is for — are so radically different as to be incommensurable. (Ditto our notions  of what “the promise of America” is.) It was MacIntyre’s hope in After Virtue and the books that succeeded it to find a way around or through the impasse of incommensurability in moral philosophy. Until someone can do the same for the politics of this current election, there is no possibility of my even having a meaningful conversation with the people who signed that document. And as another philosopher has sagely counseled, What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.

The right to vote should be restricted to those with knowledge – Jason Brennan | Aeon Ideas

The right to vote should be restricted to those with knowledge – Jason Brennan | Aeon Ideas

Scholars & Writers for Trump – American Greatness

Scholars & Writers for Trump – American Greatness

I would have things as they were in all the days of my life, as in the days of my longfathers before me: to be the Lord of this City in peace, and leave my chair to a son after me, who would be his own master and no wizard’s pupil. But if doom denies this to me, then I will have naught: neither life diminished, nor love halved, nor honour abated.

Denethor, Steward of Gondor, the voice of esoteric Trumpism.

patriotism true and false

On all sides we hear to-day of the love of our country, and yet anyone who has literally such a love must be bewildered at the talk, like a man hearing all men say that the moon shines by day and the sun by night. The conviction must come to him at last that these men do not realize what the word ‘love’ means, that they mean by the love of country, not what a mystic might mean by the love of God, but something of what a child might mean by the love of jam. To one who loves his fatherland, for instance, our boasted indifference to the ethics of a national war is mere mysterious gibberism. It is like telling a man that a boy has committed murder, but that he need not mind because it is only his son. Here clearly the word ‘love’ is used unmeaningly. It is the essence of love to be sensitive, it is a part of its doom; and anyone who objects to the one must certainly get rid of the other. This sensitiveness, rising sometimes to an almost morbid sensitiveness, was the mark of all great lovers like Dante and all great patriots like Chatham. ‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’ No doubt if a decent man’s mother took to drink he would share her troubles to the last; but to talk as if he would be in a state of gay indifference as to whether his mother took to drink or not is certainly not the language of men who know the great mystery.

My own kind of incrementalism draws on a different attitude than a lot of what you hear on the right and the left for the past few years. I am not of the view that we are at an abyss and that if we don’t take drastic action immediately everything will fall apart. I’m of the view that we’re failing to thrive and that we’re allowing too many people to live lives that don’t enable them to flourish. That’s different. That means we could be doing a lot better. To me, the great tragedy is that we just allow this to happen. There are a lot of people on both sides of our politics who think in much more drastic, cataclysmic ways about this situation. They’ll say, ‘This election, if this doesn’t go our way, there’s no turning back.’ It seems to me that what it means to be a Burkean conservative is just not to believe that.

The Flight 93 Election

The Flight 93 Election

Those whites who have a strict father personal worldview and who are religious tend toward Evangelical Christianity, since God, in Evangelical Christianity, is the Ultimate Strict Father: You follow His commandments and you go to heaven; you defy His commandments and you burn in hell for all eternity. If you are a sinner and want to go to heaven, you can be ‘born again” by declaring your fealty by choosing His son, Jesus Christ, as your personal Savior.

Understanding Trump « George Lakoff. One of the most frustrating things about being an evangelical Christian is the frequency with which you have to hear yourself described by people who don’t have the first idea what they are talking about.

Lakoff’s post is noteworthy because it’s wrong about evangelicals at their best and equally wrong about evangelicals at their worst. As everyone with even the slightest understanding of the history of Christianity knows, evangelicalism has never in any of its forms taught that if you follow God’s commandments you go to heaven. It has traditionally held that no one follows God’s commandments, that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” that “by grace are you saved through faith, not works, lest any man should boast.” These are among the most famous verses in the Bible, but clearly Lakoff is completely ignorant both of them and of the role they played in forming and perpetuating evangelicalism.

But do those verses characterize the foundational beliefs of most American evangelicals today? By no means. As Christian Smith and his colleagues have so exhaustively documented in multiple books — see especially Souls in Transition: The Religious & Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults, Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, and Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers —Americans who describe themselves as evangelicals increasingly practice a religion that Smith calls Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. And while the researchers’ focus is on younger people, “emerging adults,” MTD is not a position they have arrived at in spite of what they learned in church, it is the very model of how human beings relate to God that their churches taught them (whether explicitly or implicitly). The God of MTD and its twin, the Prosperity Gospel, isn’t interested in commandments and doesn’t send people to Hell, except maybe Hitler and a few others. He wants us to be happy and prosperous, according to our own definitions of happiness and prosperity.

In short, Lakoff’s imaginary Strict Father Religion, concocted in blithe indifference to the demonstrated facts on the ground — I think of C. S. Lewis’s old tutor Kirk: “You can have enlightenment for ninepence, but you prefer ignorance” — is characteristic of evangelicalism neither in its strongest (most historically and biblically grounded) forms nor in its desiccated Prosperity Deist forms. And, given that Lakoff wants to explain the popularity of Trump among evangelicals … well, the Donald isn’t exactly a Strict Father, is he? More like a sugar daddy, promising to use his unmatched personal charisma to make all the good white people safe and rich — the perfect Mortal God (to borrow a phrase from Hobbes) for Prosperity Deists.

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