Cornel West talking: there will never, ever be peace without justice. There will never be calmness without accountability. There will never be order without fairness. So when I hear the authorities call for peace and… More
There is a lot being written and spoken about Trump by intelligent and articulate commentators whose insights I respect. But as a longtime researcher in cognitive science and linguistics, I bring a perspective from these sciences to an understanding of the Trump phenomenon. This perspective is hardly unknown. More than half a million people have read my books, and Google Scholar reports that scholars writing in scholarly journals have cited my works well over 100,000 times.
Yet you will probably not read what I have to say in the NY Times, nor hear it from your favorite political commentators. You will also not hear it from Democratic candidates or party strategists. There are reasons, and we will discuss them later I this piece. I am writing it because I think it is right and it is needed, even though it comes from the cognitive and brain sciences, not from the normal political sources. I think it is imperative to bring these considerations into public political discourse. But it cannot be done in a 650-word op-ed. My apologies. It is untweetable.
I will begin with an updated version of an earlier piece on who is supporting Trump and why — and why policy details are irrelevant to them. I then move to a section on how Trump uses your brain against you. I finish up discussing how Democratic campaigns could do better, and why they need to do better if we are to avert a Trump presidency.
Who Supports Trump and Why
Donald J. Trump has managed to become the Republican nominee for president, Why? How? There are various theories: People are angry and he speaks to their anger. People don’t think much of Congress and want a non-politician. Both may be true. But why? What are the details? And Why Trump?
He seems to have come out of nowhere. His positions on issues don’t fit a common mold.
He has said nice things about LGBTQ folks, which is not standard Republican talk. Republicans hate eminent domain (the taking of private property by the government) and support corporate outsourcing for the sake of profit, but he has the opposite views on both. He is not religious and scorns religious practices, yet the Evangelicals (that is, the white Evangelicals) love him. He thinks health insurance and pharmaceutical companies, as well as military contractors, are making too much profit and wants to change that. He insults major voting groups, e.g., Latinos, when most Republicans are trying to court them. He wants to deport 11 million immigrants without papers and thinks he can. He wants to stop Muslims from entering the country. What is going on?
The answer requires a bit of background.
In the 1900’s, as part of my research in the cognitive and brain sciences, I undertook to answer a question in my field: How do the various policy positions of conservatives and progressives hang together? Take conservatism: What does being against abortion have to do with being for owning guns? What does owning guns have to do with denying the reality of global warming? How does being anti-government fit with wanting a stronger military? How can you be pro-life and for the death penalty? Progressives have the opposite views. How do their views hang together?
The answer came from a realization that we tend to understand the nation metaphorically in family terms: We have founding fathers. We send our sons and daughters to war. We have homeland security. The conservative and progressive worldviews dividing our country can most readily be understood in terms of moral worldviews that are encapsulated in two very different common forms of family life: The Nurturant Parent family (progressive) and the Strict Father family (conservative).
What do social issues and the politics have to do with the family? We are first governed in our families, and so we grow up understanding governing institutions in terms of the governing systems of families.
In the strict father family, father knows best. He knows right from wrong and has the ultimate authority to make sure his children and his spouse do what he says, which is taken to be what is right. Many conservative spouses accept this worldview, uphold the father’s authority, and are strict in those realms of family life that they are in charge of. When his children disobey, it is his moral duty to punish them painfully enough so that, to avoid punishment, they will obey him (do what is right) and not just do what feels good. Through physical discipline they are supposed to become disciplined, internally strong, and able to prosper in the external world. What if they don’t prosper? That means they are not disciplined, and therefore cannot be moral, and so deserve their poverty. This reasoning shows up in conservative politics in which the poor are seen as lazy and undeserving, and the rich as deserving their wealth. Responsibility is thus taken to be personal responsibility not social responsibility. What you become is only up to you; society has nothing to do with it. You are responsible for yourself, not for others — who are responsible for themselves.
Winning and Insulting
As the legendary Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi, said,
“Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” In a world governed by personal responsibility and discipline, those who win deserve to win. Why does Donald Trump publicly insult other candidates and political leaders mercilessly? Quite simply, because he knows he can win an onstage TV insult game. In strict conservative eyes, that makes him a formidable winning candidate who deserves to be a winning candidate. Electoral competition is seen as a battle. Insults that stick are seen as victories — deserved victories.
Consider Trump’s statement that John McCain is not a war hero. The reasoning: McCain got shot down. Heroes are winners. They defeat big bad guys. They don’t get shot down. People who get shot down, beaten up, and stuck in a cage are losers, not winners.
The Moral Hierarchy
The strict father logic extends further. The basic idea is that authority is justified by morality (the strict father version), and that, in a well-ordered world, there should be (and traditionally has been) a moral hierarchy in which those who have traditionally dominated should dominate. The hierarchy is: God above Man, Man above Nature, The Disciplined (Strong) above the Undisciplined (Weak), The Rich above the Poor, Employers above Employees, Adults above Children, Western culture above other cultures, Am,erica above other countries. The hierarchy extends to: Men above women, Whites above Nonwhites, Christians above nonChristians, Straights above Gays.
We see these tendencies in most of the Republican presidential candidates, as well as in Trump, and on the whole, conservative policies flow from the strict father worldview and this hierarchy
Family-based moral worldviews run deep. Since people want to see themselves as doing right not wrong, moral worldviews tend to be part of self-definition — who you most deeply are. And thus your moral worldview defines for you what the world should be like. When it isn’t that way, one can become frustrated and angry.
There is a certain amount of wiggle room in the strict father worldview and there are important variations. A major split is among (1) white Evangelical Christians, (2) laissez-fair free market conservatives, and (3) pragmatic conservatives who are not bound by evangelical beliefs.
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.
Such a version of religion is natural for those with strict father morality. Evangelical Christians join the church because they are conservative; they are not conservative because they happen to be in an evangelical church, though they may grow up with both together.
Evangelical Christianity is centered around family life. Hence, there are organizations like Focus on the Family and constant reference to “family values,” which are to take to be evangelical strict father values. In strict father morality, it is the father who controls sexuality and reproduction. Where the church has political control, there are laws that require parental and spousal notification in the case of proposed abortions.
Evangelicals are highly organized politically and exert control over a great many local political races. Thus Republican candidates mostly have to go along with the evangelicals if they want to be nominated and win local elections.
Pragmatic conservatives, on the other hand, may not have a religious orientation at all. Instead, they may care primarily about their own personal authority, not the authority of the church or Christ, or God. They want to be strict fathers in their own domains, with authority primarily over their own lives. Thus, a young, unmarried conservative — male or female —may want to have sex without worrying about marriage. They may need access to contraception, advice about sexually transmitted diseases, information about cervical cancer, and so on. And if a girl or woman becomes pregnant and there is no possibility or desire for marriage, abortion may be necessary.
Trump is a pragmatic conservative, par excellence. And he knows that there are a lot of Republican voters who are like him in their pragmatism. There is a reason that he likes Planned Parenthood. There are plenty of young, unmarried (or even married) pragmatic conservatives, who may need what Planned Parenthood has to offer — cheaply and confidentially by way of contraception, cervical cancer prevention, and sex ed.
Similarly, young or middle-aged pragmatic conservatives want to maximize their own wealth. They don’t want to be saddled with the financial burden of caring for their parents. Social Security and Medicare relieve them of most of those responsibilities. That is why Trump wants to keep Social Security and Medicare.
Laissez-faire Free Marketeers
Establishment conservative policies have not only been shaped by the political power of white evangelical churches, but also by the political power of those who seek maximally laissez-faire free markets, where wealthy people and corporations set market rules in their favor with minimal government regulation and enforcement. They see taxation not as investment in publicly provided resources for all citizens, but as government taking their earnings (their private property) and giving the money through government programs to those who don’t deserve it. This is the source of establishment Republicans’ anti-tax and shrinking government views. This version of conservatism is quite happy with outsourcing to increase profits by sending manufacturing and many services abroad where labor is cheap, with the consequence that well-paying jobs leave America and wages are driven down here. Since they depend on cheap imports, they would not be in favor of imposing high tariffs.
But Donald Trump is not in a business that makes products abroad to import here and mark up at a profit. As a developer, he builds hotels, casinos, office buildings, golf courses. He may build them abroad with cheap labor but he doesn’t import them. Moreover, he recognizes that most small business owners in America are more like him — American businesses like dry cleaners, pizzerias, diners, plumbers, hardware stores, gardeners, contractors, car washers, and professionals like architects, lawyers, doctors, and nurses. High tariffs don’t look like a problem.
Many business people are pragmatic conservatives. They like government power when it works for them. Take eminent domain. Establishment Republicans see it as an abuse by government — government taking of private property. But conservative real estate developers like Trump depend on eminent domain so that homes and small businesses in areas they want to develop can be taken by eminent domain for the sake of their development plans. All they have to do is get local government officials to go along, with campaign contributions and the promise of an increase in local tax dollars helping to acquire eminent domain rights. Trump points to Atlantic City, where he built his casino using eminent domain to get the property.
If businesses have to pay for their employees’ health care benefits, Trump would want them to have to pay as little as possible to maximize profits for businesses in general. He would therefore want health insurance and pharmaceutical companies to charge as little as possible. To increase competition, he would want insurance companies to offer plans nationally, avoiding the state-run exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. The exchanges are there to maximize citizen health coverage, and help low-income people get coverage, rather than to increase business profits. Trump does however want to keep the mandatory feature of ACA, which establishment conservatives hate since they see it as government overreach, forcing people to buy a product. For Trump, however, the mandatory feature for individuals increases the insurance pool and brings down costs for businesses.
Direct vs. Systemic Causation
Direct causation is dealing with a problem via direct action. Systemic causation recognizes that many problems arise from the system they are in and must be dealt with via systemic causation. Systemic causation has four versions: A chain of direct causes. Interacting direct causes (or chains of direct causes). Feedback loops. And probabilistic causes. Systemic causation in global warming explains why global warming over the Pacific can produce huge snowstorms in Washington DC: masses of highly energized water molecules evaporate over the Pacific, blow to the Northeast and over the North Pole and come down in winter over the East coast and parts of the Midwest as masses of snow. Systemic causation has chains of direct causes, interacting causes, feedback loops, and probabilistic causes — often combined.
Direct causation is easy to understand, and appears to be represented in the grammars of all languages around the world. Systemic causation is more complex and is not represented in the grammar of any language. It just has to be learned.
Empirical research has shown that conservatives tend to reason with direct causation and that progressives have a much easier time reasoning with systemic causation. The reason is thought to be that, in the strict father model, the father expects the child or spouse to respond directly to an order and that refusal should be punished as swiftly and directly as possible.
Many of Trump’s policy proposals are framed in terms of direct causation.
Immigrants are flooding in from Mexico — build a wall to stop them. For all the immigrants who have entered illegally, just deport them — even if there are 11 million of them working throughout the economy and living throughout the country. The cure for gun violence is to have a gun ready to directly shoot the shooter. To stop jobs from going to Asia where labor costs are lower and cheaper goods flood the market here, the solution is direct: put a huge tariff on those goods so they are more expensive than goods made here. To save money on pharmaceuticals, have the largest consumer — the government — take bids for the lowest prices. If Isis is making money on Iraqi oil, send US troops to Iraq to take control of the oil. Threaten Isis leaders by assassinating their family members (even if this is a war crime). To get information from terrorist suspects, use water-boarding, or even worse torture methods. If a few terrorists might be coming with Muslim refugees, just stop allowing all Muslims into the country. All this makes sense to direct causation thinkers, but not those who see the immense difficulties and dire consequences of such actions due to the complexities of systemic causation.
There are at least tens of millions of conservatives in America who share strict father morality and its moral hierarchy. Many of them are poor or middle class and many are white men who see themselves as superior to immigrants, nonwhites, women, nonChristians, gays — and people who rely on public assistance. In other words, they are what liberals would call “bigots.” For many years, such bigotry has not been publicly acceptable, especially as more immigrants have arrived, as the country has become less white, as more women have become educated and moved into the workplace, and as gays have become more visible and gay marriage acceptable. As liberal anti-bigotry organizations have loudly pointed out and made a public issue of the unAmerican nature of such bigotry, those conservatives have felt more and more oppressed by what they call “political correctness” — public pressure against their views and against what they see as “free speech.” This has become exaggerated since 911, when anti-Muslim feelings became strong. The election of President Barack Hussein Obama created outrage among those conservatives, and they refused to see him as a legitimate American (as in the birther movement), much less as a legitimate authority, especially as his liberal views contradicted almost everything else they believe as conservatives.
Donald Trump expresses out loud everything they feel — with force, aggression, anger, and no shame. All they have to do is support and vote for Trump and they don’t even have to express their ‘politically incorrect’ views, since he does it for them and his victories make those views respectable. He is their champion. He gives them a sense of self-respect, authority, and the possibility of power.
Whenever you hear the words “political correctness” remember this.
There is no middle in American politics. There are moderates, but there is no ideology of the moderate, no single ideology that all moderates agree on. A moderate conservative has some progressive positions on issues, though they vary from person to person. Similarly, a moderate progressive has some conservative positions on issues, again varying from person to person. In short, moderates have both political moral worldviews, but mostly use one of them. Those two moral worldviews in general contradict each other. How can they reside in the same brain at the same time?
Both are characterized in the brain by neural circuitry. They are linked by a commonplace circuit: mutual inhibition. When one is turned on the other is turned off; when one is strengthened, the other is weakened. What turns them on or off? Language that fits that worldview activates that worldview, strengthening it, while turning off the other worldview and weakening it. The more Trump’s views are discussed in the media, the more they are activated and the stronger they get, both in the minds of hardcore conservatives and in the minds of moderate progressives.
This is true even if you are attacking Trump’s views. The reason is that negating a frame activates that frame, as I pointed out in the book Don’t Think of an Elephant! It doesn’t matter if you are promoting Trump or attacking Trump, you are helping Trump.
A good example of Trump winning with progressive biconceptuals includes certain unionized workers. Many union members are strict fathers at home or in their private life. They believe in “traditional family values” — a conservative code word — and they may identify with winners.
Why Has Trump won the Republican nomination? Look at all the conservative groups he appeals to!
Why His Lack of Policy Detail Doesn’t Matter
I recently heard a brilliant and articulate Clinton surrogate argue against a group of Trump supporters that Trump has presented no policy plans for increasing jobs, increasing economics growth, improving education, gaining international respect, etc. This is the basic Clinton campaign argument. Hillary has the experience, the policy know-how, she can get things done, it’s all on her website. Trump has none of this. What Hillary’s campaign says is true. And it is irrelevant.
Trump supporters and other radical Republican extremists could not care less, and for a good reason. Their job is to impose their view of strict father morality in all areas of life. If they have the Congress, and the Presidency and the Supreme Court, they could achieve this. They don’t need to name policies, because the Republicans already of hundreds of policies ready to go. They just need to be in complete power.
How Trump Uses Your Brain to His Advantage
Any unscrupulous, effective salesman knows how to use you brain against you, to get you to buy what he is selling. How can someone “use your brain against you?” What does it mean?
All thought uses neural circuitry. Every idea is constituted by neural circuitry. But we have no conscious access to that circuitry. As a result, most of thought — an estimated 98 percent of thought is unconscious. Conscious thought is the tip of the iceberg.
Unconscious thought works by certain basic mechanisms. Trump uses them instinctively to turn people’s brains toward what he wants: Absolute authority, money, power, celebrity.
The mechanisms are:
1. Repetition. Words are neurally linked to the circuits the determine their meaning. The more a word is heard, the more the circuit is activated and the stronger it gets, and so the easier it is to fire again. Trump repeats. Win. Win, Win. We’re gonna win so much you’ll get tired of winning.
2. Framing: Crooked Hillary. Framing Hillary as purposely and knowingly committing crimes for her own benefit, which is what a crook does. Repeating makes many people unconsciously think of her that way, even though she has been found to have been honest and legal by thorough studies by the right-wing Bengazi committee (which found nothing) and the FBI (which found nothing to charge her with, except missing the mark ‘(C)’ in the body of 3 out of 110,000 emails). Yet the framing is working.
There is a common metaphor that Immorality Is Illegality, and that acting against Strict Father Morality (the only kind off morality recognized) is being immoral. Since virtually everything Hillary Clinton has ever done has violated Strict Father Morality, that makes her immoral. The metaphor thus makes her actions immoral, and hence she is a crook. The chant “Lock her up!” activates this whole line of reasoning.
3. Well-known examples: When a well-publicized disaster happens, the coverage activates the framing of it over and over, strengthening it, and increasing the probability that the framing will occur easily with high probability. Repeating examples of shootings by Muslims, African-Americans, and Latinos raises fears that it could happen to you and your community — despite the miniscule actual probability. Trump uses this to create fear. Fear tends to activate desire for a strong strict father — namely, Trump.
4. Grammar: Radical Islamic terrorists: “Radical” puts Muslims on a linear scale and “terrorists” imposes a frame on the scale, suggesting that terrorism is built into the religion itself. The grammar suggests that there is something about Islam that has terrorism inherent in it. Imagine calling the Charleston gunman a “radical Republican terrorist.”
Trump is aware of this to at least some extent. As he said to Tony Schwartz, the ghost-writer who wrote The Art of the Deal for him, “I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and it’s a very effective form of promotion.”
5. Conventional metaphorical thought is inherent in our largely unconscious thought. Such normal modes of metaphorical thinking that are not noticed as such.
Consider Brexit, which used the metaphor of “entering” and “leaving” the EU. There is a universal metaphor that states are locations in space: you can enter a state, be deep in some state, and come out that state. If you enter a café and then leave the café , you will be in the same location as before you entered. But that need not be true of states of being. But that was the metaphor used with Brexit; Britons believed that after leaving the EU, things would be as before when the entered the EU. They were wrong. Things changed radically while they were in the EU. That same metaphor is being used by Trump: Make America Great Again. Make America Safe Again. And so on. As if there was some past ideal state that we can go back to just by electing Trump.
6. There is also a metaphor that A Country Is a Person and a metonymy of the President Standing For the Country. Thus, Obama, via both metaphor and metonymy, can stand conceptually for America. Therefore, by saying that Obama is weak and not respected, it is communicated that America, with Obama as president, is weak and disrespected. The inference is that it is because of Obama.
7. The country as person metaphor and the metaphor that war or conflict between countries is a fistfight between people, leads to the inference that just having a strong president will guarantee that America will win conflicts and wars. Trump will just throw knockout punches. In his acceptance speech at the convention, Trump repeatedly said that he would accomplish things that can only be done by the people acting with their government. After one such statement, there was a chant from the floor, “He will do it.”
8. The metaphor that The nation Is a Family was used throughout the GOP convention. We heard that strong military sons are produced by strong military fathers and that “defense of country is a family affair.” From Trump’s love of family and commitment to their success, we are to conclude that, as president he will love America’s citizens and be committed to the success of all.
9. There is a common metaphor that Identifying with your family’s national heritage makes you a member of that nationality. Suppose your grandparents came from Italy and you identify with your Italian ancestors, you may proudly state that you are Italian. The metaphor is natural. Literally, you have been American for two generations. Trump made use of this commonplace metaphor in attacking US District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is American, born and raised in the United States. Trump said he was a Mexican, and therefore would hate him and tend to rule against him in a case brought against Trump University for fraud.
10. Then there is the metaphor system used in the phrase “to call someone out.” First the word “out.” There is a general metaphor that Knowing Is Seeing as in “I see what you mean.” Things that are hidden inside something cannot be seen and hence not known, while things are not hidden but out in public can be seen and hence known. To “out” someone is to made their private knowledge public. To “call someone out” is to publicly name someone’s hidden misdeeds, thus allowing for public knowledge and appropriate consequences.
This is the basis for the Trumpian metaphor that Naming is Identifying. Thus naming your enemies will allow you to identify correctly who they are, get to them, and so allow you to defeat them. Hence, just saying “radical Islamic terrorists” allows you to pick them out, get at them, and annihilate them. And conversely, if you don’t say it, you won’t be able to pick them out and annihilate them. Thus a failure to use those words means that you are protecting those enemies — in this case Muslims, that is, potential terrorists because of their religion.
I’ll stop here, though I could go on. Here are ten uses of people’s unconscious normal brain mechanisms that are manipulated by Trump and his followers for his overriding purpose: to be elected president, to be given absolute authority with a Congress and Supreme Court, and so to have his version of Strict Father Morality govern America into the indefinite future.
These ten forms of using people’s everyday brain mechanisms for his own purposes have gotten Trump the Republican nomination. But millions more people have seen and heard Trump and company on tv and heard them on the radio. The media pundits have not described those ten mechanisms, or other brain mechanisms, that surreptitiously work on the unconscious minds of the public, even though the result is that Big Lies repeated over and over are being believed by a growing number of people.
Even if he loses the election, Trump will have changed the brains of millions of Americans, with future consequences. It is vitally important people know the mechanisms used to transmit Big Lies and to stick them into people’s brains without their awareness. It is a form of mind control.
People in the media have a duty to report it when the see it. But there are constraints on the media.
Certain things have not been allowed in public political discourse in the media. Reporters and commentators are supposed to stick to what is conscious and with literal meaning. But most real political discourse makes use of unconscious thought, which shapes conscious thought via unconscious framing and commonplace conceptual metaphors. It is crucial, for the history of the country and the world, as well as the planet, that all of this be made public.
And it is not just the media. Such responsibility rests with ordinary citizens who become aware of unconscious brain mechanisms like the ten we have just discussed. This responsibility also rests with the Democratic Party and their campaigns at all levels.
Is the use of the public’s brain mechanisms for communication necessarily immoral? Understanding how people really think can be used to communicate truths, not Big Lies or ads for products.
This knowledge is not just known to cognitive linguists. It is taught in Marketing courses in business schools, and the mechanisms are used in advertising, to get you to buy what advertisers are selling. We have learned to recognize ads; they are set off by themselves. Even manipulative corporate advertising with political intent (like ads for fracking) is not as dangerous as Big Lies leading to authoritarian government determining the future of our country.
How Can Democrats Do Better?
First, don’t think of an elephant. Remember not to repeat false conservative claims and then rebut them with the facts. Instead, go positive. Give a positive truthful framing to undermine claims to the contrary. Use the facts to support positively-framed truth. Use repetition.
Second, start with values, not policies and facts and numbers. Say what you believe, but haven’t been saying. For example, progressive thought is built on empathy, on citizens caring about other citizens and working through our government to provide public resources for all, both businesses and individuals. Use history. That’s how America started. The public resources used by businesses were not only roads and bridges, but public education, a national bank, a patent office, courts for business cases, interstate commerce support, and of course the criminal justice system. From the beginning, the Private Depended on Public Resources, both private lives and private enterprise.
Over time those resources have included sewers, water and electricity, research universities and research support: computer science (via the NSF), the internet (ARPA), pharmaceuticals and modern medicine (the NIH), satellite communication (NASA and NOA), and GPS systems and cell phones (the Defense Department). Private enterprise and private life utterly depend on public resources. Have you ever said this? Elizabeth Warren has. Almost no other public figures. And stop defending “the government.” Talk about the public, the people, Americans, the American people, public servants, and good government. And take back freedom. Public resources provide for freedom in private enterprise and private life.
The conservatives are committed to privatizing just about everything and to eliminating funding for most public resources. The contribution of public resources to our freedoms cannot be overstated. Start saying it.
And don’t forget the police. Effective respectful policing is a public resource. Chief David O. Brown of the Dallas Police got it right. Training, community policing, knowing the people you protect. And don’t ask too much of the police: citizens have a responsibility to provide funding so that police don’t have to do jobs that should be done by others.
Unions need to go on the offensive. Unions are instruments of freedom — freedom from corporate servitude. Employers call themselves job creators. Working people are profit creators for the employers, and as such they deserve a fair share of the profits and respect and acknowledgement. Say it. Can the public create jobs. Of course. Fixing infrastructure will create jobs by providing more public resources that private lives and businesses depend on. Public resources to create more public resources. Freedom creates opportunity that creates more freedom.
Third, keep out of nasty exchanges and attacks. Keep out of shouting matches. One can speak powerfully without shouting. Obama sets the pace: Civility, values, positivity, good humor, and real empathy are powerful. Calmness and empathy in the face of fury are powerful. Bill Clinton won because he oozed empathy, with his voice, his eye contact, and his body. It wasn’t his superb ability as a policy wonk, but the empathy he projected and inspired.
Values come first, facts and policies follow in the service of values. They matter, but they always support values.
Give up identity politics. No more women’s issues, black issues, Latino issues. Their issues are all real, and need public discussion. But they all fall under freedom issues, human issues. And address poor whites! Appalachian and rust belt whites deserve your attention as much as anyone else. Don’t surrender their fate to Trump, who will just increase their suffering.
And remember JFK’s immortal, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Empathy, devotion, love, pride in our country’s values, public resources to create freedoms. And adulthood.
Be prepared. You have to understand Trump to stand calmly up to him and those running with him all over the country.
George Lakoff is Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics Emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley, and Director of the Berkeley Center for Brain, Mind, and Society. His most recent book is The ALL NEW Don’t Think of an Elephant! His previous books on politics and social issues are Moral Politics (1996, 2002), Don’t Think of an Elephant! (2004), Whose Freedom? (2008), The Political Mind (2008), and The Little Blue Book, with Elisabeth Wehling (2012). The third edition of Moral Politics will be published in September in time for the 2016 election.
— source georgelakoff.com
A billionaire who owns casinos, facing a pending lawsuit, and has a reputation for launching attacks on journalists. No, we’re not talking about Donald Trump. We’re talking about Dan Gilbert, owner of Quicken Loans. Now, this week’s Republican National Convention has taken place in what’s called the Q. That’s short for the Quicken Loans Arena. As award-winning journalist Matt Taibbi explains, Quicken Loans is one of the country’s largest mortgage companies, was a “symbol” of the subprime mortgage crisis that decimated cities like Cleveland.
Peter Pattakos talking:
he’s obviously a self-made billionaire, who came up in the mortgage bubble. He rode the mortgage bubble, and now he is one of the largest landowners and most powerful citizens, not just in Cleveland, but also in Detroit. So he has a—he has a loop in these two large Great Lakes cities. And even if you gave him the benefit of the doubt on the predatory lending, on Quicken Loans and the allegations of predatory lending and the mortgage fallout, assuming that those were forces beyond anyone’s control and he just happened to be in the right place at the right time, so to speak, there are still plenty of issues beyond that, beyond the predatory lending, that are very concerning about Dan Gilbert.
And the first one, in my mind, is the lack of accountability that he has around town, especially—I can speak for Cleveland, but also in Detroit, the way that there are just so few people, so few politicians that will stand up to him. He seems to get everything he wants, and nobody seems to be able to say anything to him to the contrary, including some very questionable things like a huge $300 million subsidy on cigarettes and alcohol that went right into his and his fellow pro sports—Cleveland pro sports owners’ pockets. And he did that without ever opening his books and explaining just how much profit he took out of this public trust. And no local politician ever even asked him to. So we ended up having to have a citizen-led campaign against that. And it was a ballot issue. And there was not a single prominent politician, not a single councilman, no elected official in Ohio above a few local mayors in the inner ring working-class suburbs.
He changed the Ohio Constitution. There’s another one. There’s another one. And he did it after Ohio voters had rejected it twice before, by narrow margins. But it’s very hard not to think that while the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team that he owns, is successful, he’s bombarding the airwaves with “vote yes on Issue 3.” And as LeBron James played well, people felt good about Dan Gilbert, and they passed the casino referendum by a narrow margin. And it’s very interesting how the good feelings about Dan Gilbert get conflated with or even probably replace an analysis of the words that he actually says.
Dan Gilbert will be making more money than anyone off of this convention. Just from the rental of the arena and his, I understand—someone said the bulk of the profits would be going to Quicken Loans.
These stories have been reported time and time again. When anyone in a local paper writes something critical of Dan Gilbert, he will place an angry phone call, at least one angry phone call. And it has certainly had a chilling effect, in my opinion. And I always go back to the example of the sports subsidy. They bombed the airwaves with $3 million worth of advertising. And their tagline was “Keep Cleveland strong.” And this was at a time when the consensus was that Cleveland schools were the worst in the nation. Our infant mortality rate was the worst in the nation. Inequality is as bad here as it is anywhere. And we’re also one of the most economically segregated cities. And he’s saying, at this same time, that we should keep Cleveland strong by giving him $300—him and his fellow owners $300 million, when they don’t tell us why they need it. It’s quite stunning. And it reminds me of “Make America great again,” in a way. How do we expect him really to do that? And what is he saying about how he’s going to do that? It just makes no sense.
Ohio attorney and publisher of the sports website Cleveland Frowns.
— source democracynow.org
WARSAW, Poland—Dreary, Soviet-style concrete apartments rise up where 68 Nowolipki St. was during World War II. It was at this spot, although there is no marker to record the event, that some of the milk cans and metal boxes crammed full of essays, reports, official communiqués, wall posters, pictures, drawings and diaries that recorded life in the Warsaw ghetto were unearthed from the rubble shortly after the war.
The cache of material, known as the Oyneg Shabes Archive, was buried by writers, led by the historian Emanuel Ringelblum, as German occupation forces were liquidating the ghetto. They meticulously documented all aspects of life in the ghetto and the annihilation of the Jews by the Nazis.
Writing was an act of resistance and faith. It affirmed the belief that one day, a day the writers knew they would probably never see, these words would evoke pity, understanding and outrage and provide wisdom. They struggled to make sense of the stark contrasts of good, evil and indifference. They explored what it meant to live a life of meaning in the face of death. They did not know if their writing would survive. Some of the archive was never found. They did not know who, if anyone, would read their work. But they wrote with a messianic fury. Their words were the last link to the living.
Dawid Graber hastily buried some of the archives in August 1942 as deportations in the ghetto were being accelerated—between July 22 and Sept. 12 some 300,000 Jews were driven out of the ghetto to the gas chambers at Treblinka. He wrote: “What we were unable to cry and shriek out to the world we buried in the ground. I would love to see the moment in which the great treasure will be dug up and scream the truth at the world. So the world may know all.” He ends with the words: “We may now die in peace. We fulfilled our mission. May history attest for us.”
Ringelblum formed his small army of writers clandestinely. Nazi discovery of any writer’s involvement meant his or her immediate execution or deportation to a death camp.
Ringelblum did not want a hagiography of the Jews. He demanded “the whole truth … however bitter.” He admonished his writers to eschew preconceptions, even about the Nazis. He called for them to describe the horror around them with an “epic calm … the calm of the graveyard.” He told them to capture “what the common man experienced, thought, and suffered.” The job of the writer, he said, was to document every aspect of reality, including the degeneration and immorality that beset many of the Jews trapped in the ghetto. Writers should collect enough fragments of life, with enough dispassion, to allow readers to sense the ghetto’s totality.
Ringelblum’s ruthless commitment to the truth gives to the archive, only parts of which have been translated into English, an immediacy and profound moral force. He and his writing collective, which he called a “free society of slaves,” left behind insights into human nature, tyranny and resistance.
The stories and reports were often about people who would otherwise have been forgotten. Rachel Auerbach wrote in the archive about the soup kitchen she managed in the ghetto. She described her voluble cook, Gutchke, who exuberantly sang Yiddish ballads in the kitchen, gave her pots nicknames and had a casual approach to hygiene that saw her routinely dip her fingers in the soup. Gutchke, who had recently married an elderly widower and scholar, was barely literate, and she took great pride in her husband’s erudition. Auerbach, at one point, caught her trying to sneak food home to him. “Why did I shame her and depress her?” Auerbach wrote. “Why didn’t I understand that through this little transgression she wanted to gladden and strengthen her elderly helpless husband who had become like a child? How blind, how stupid we were then—on the brink of extermination.”
Leyb Goldin, a journalist and translator of European literature, left behind a short story called “Chronicle of a Single Day.” The main character in his story, an intellectual and former revolutionary named Arke, is wasting away. His legs are nearly useless sticks. He has nothing left to sell. A soup kitchen is his only source of food. He staggers slowly through the streets, past the emaciated corpses, usually stripped of their clothes, and the gaunt army of beggars. He wonders when death will take him. The Nazi blockage of food intended for the ghetto has led to 100,000 people dying of starvation. There is an internal war between Arke and his stomach. “If you’re hungry, you cease to be human, you become a beast,” he says.
“… It’s your stomach and you,” he says. “It’s 90 percent your stomach and a little bit you. A small remnant, an insignificant remnant of the Arke who once was. The one who thought, read, taught, dreamed. …
“… The war has been going on for a full two years, and you’ve eaten nothing but soup for some four months—no, longer than your whole life until now. From yesterday’s soup to today’s is an eternity, and I can’t imagine that I’ll be able to survive another twenty-four hours of this overpowering hunger. But these four months are no more than a dark, empty nightmare. Try to salvage something from them, remember something in particular—it’s impossible. One black, dark mass.”
Arke gets a second bowl of soup when the soup-kitchen waitress forgets to collect his ticket, and he is plagued by guilt.
He peers late in the afternoon into the window of a hospital where doctors are operating on a child.
But why, why? Why save? Why, to whom, to what is the child being brought back?
And suddenly you remember that dead Jew, whom you nearly tripped over today. What’s more, you now see him more clearly than before, when you were actually looking at him. Somewhere, years ago, there was a mother who fed him and, while cleaning his head, knew that her son was the cleverest, the most talented, the most beautiful. Told her aunt, her neighbors his funny sayings. Sought and delighted in every feature in which he resembled his father, his father. And the word Berishl was not just a name to her, but an idea, the content of a life, a philosophy. And now the brightest and most beautiful child in the world lies in a strange street, and his name isn’t even known; and there’s a stink, and instead of his mother, a brick kisses his head and a drizzling rain soaks the well-known newspaper around his face. And over there, they’re operating on a child, just as if this hadn’t happened, and they save it; and below, in front of the gate stands the mother, who knows that her Berishl is the cleverest and the most beautiful and the most talented—Why? For whom? For whom? …
… Each day the profiles of our children, of our wives, acquire the mournful look of foxes, dingoes, kangaroos. Our howls are like the cry of jackals. … But we are not animals. We operate on our infants. It may be pointless or even criminal. But animals do not operate on their young!
“Maybe you are destined now, of all times, in your last days, to understand the meaning of this meaninglessness that is called life, the meaning of your hideous, meaninglessly hungry days,” Arke says after seeing the hospital scene. “An eternal, eternal law. An eternal, eternal process. And a kind of clarity pours over your neck, your heart. And your two propellers no longer spin round in one spot—they walk, they walk! Your legs carry you, just as in the past! Just as in the past!”
Ringelblum, like Goldin and Auerbach, was acutely aware that the soup kitchen and other charities he helped organized “did not solve the problem [of hunger], it only saves people for a short time, and then they will die anyway. The [soup kitchens] prolong the suffering but cannot bring salvation. It is an absolute fact that the clients of the soup kitchens will all die if all they have to eat is the soup they get there and the bread they get on their ration cards.”
The hellish existence of the Warsaw ghetto—where within 100 square blocks a half million Jews were deliberately starved to death, exterminated through beatings and executions or seized for transport to the gas chambers over three years, brought out the worst and the best, including the majestic moment when Dr. Janusz Korczak sacrificed himself by volunteering to accompany the nearly 200 orphans he cared for to the loading platform and eventually the gas chambers at Treblinka. Korczak dressed his orphans, some only 2 or 3 years old, in their best clothes for their final journey, gave them small blue knapsacks and let them carry a favorite toy and book.
Rabbi Shimon Huberband, who too was murdered at Treblinka, explained how the occupation provided a demented and uninhibited playground for sadists. He writes of being seized with other Jews and held for a week in a forced-labor site called Dynasty where cars of the SS were repaired. A German named Schultz beat the rabbi, spat in his mouth, forced him to lick his boots and then, after a savage assault that saw Huberband briefly lose consciousness, ordered him to drink the contents of a spittoon. The Germans made kidnapped Jews at the repair yard get on all fours and play what was called the “dog game.” Pieces of brick and plaster were hurled at the men. They had to catch the objects in their mouths. Those who did not catch the objects were beaten again. Schultz periodically left the repair yard “hunting for individual Jews.” He targeted “only fat, rich, and elegantly dressed Jews.” He forced them to pay him huge bribes to avoid the degradation. Those who could not pay became his toys. Sadism was often a prelude to murder.
Evil was not limited to the oppressor. Ringelblum, who in 1944 was executed by the Nazis along with his wife and 12-year-old son, described the Jewish police, most of whom were lawyers before the war, as “gangsters.” [Click here to see a .PDF copy of Ringelblum’s journal, “Notes From the Warsaw Ghetto.”] They did dirty work for the Nazis, rounding up people, including children, to fulfill deportation quotas. The Jewish police demanded bribes of money, diamonds or gold to remove fellow Jews from the transport lists. It was usually the destitute and the poor who died first. Ringelblum often went to the Umschlagplatz, the square in the ghetto where Jews were collected before being marched to the trains bound for Treblinka, to plead with the Jewish police to release some victims, especially writers, intellectuals, teachers, musicians and artists. Jewish police often responded by beating him with their truncheons.
“Where did Jews get such murderous violence?” he asked about the Jewish police. “When in our history did we ever before raise so many hundreds of killers, capable of snatching children off the street, throwing them on the wagons, dragging them to the Umschlag? It was literally the rule for the scoundrels to fling women on to the Kohn-Heller streetcars, or on to ordinary trucks, by grabbing them by the arms and legs and heaving. Merciless and violent, they beat those who tried to resist. They weren’t content simply to overcome the resistance, but with the utmost severity punished the ‘criminals’ who refused to go to their death voluntarily.”
He had a bitter contempt for the wealthy elites in the ghetto.
“Turbulent times at least have one good result,” he wrote. “Like a strong searchlight, they expose things that have hitherto remained hidden. The beastly face of Jewish bourgeoisie, its cannibalistic character has recently surfaced during these hungry times. The whole activity of the Judenrat [the Jewish administrators of the ghetto] is one of heartrending injustice against the poor. If there were a God, he would destroy this nest of wickedness, hypocrisy, and exploitation.”
Ringelblum called the Judenrat, the rich and most of the shopkeepers “leeches who exploit the predicament of the poor who lack money even for a piece of bread.” When an appeal was made to wealthy members of the ghetto to levy a tax on themselves for the benefit of the refugees being herded into the ghetto from other parts of Poland, there was, Ringelblum wrote, a standard reply: “That won’t help. The paupers will die out anyway.” He documented the widespread trafficking in ration cards of the dead and the missing, calling it “a very lucrative business for certain elements in the Ghetto, particularly officials. They are hyenas of the worst sort.”
The archives detailed the depths to which people sank in the desperate struggle to survive, including the unearthing of corpses to extract gold teeth and steal burial shrouds. This dark descent is characteristic of all societies in disintegration. Those who rise above the mad scramble for survival, who assist the weak and the vulnerable, jeopardize their own existence. Few who live in stable societies see what lurks beneath the surface. The blindness of the comfortable makes the archives an important contribution to the understanding of the human condition.
Cultural and political life, religious rituals, smuggling and even the black humor that helped people cope made it into the buried boxes and milk cans. Ghetto residents told a joke about the Hasidic rabbi of Ger. Winston Churchill asked the rabbi how to defeat the Germans. The rabbi told the British prime minister: “There are two possible ways, one involving natural means, the other supernatural. The natural means would be if a million angels with flaming swords were to descend on Germany and destroy it. The supernatural would be if a million Englishmen parachuted down on Germany and destroyed it.”
When the Nazis shot and killed Ringelblum’s close collaborator and friend Yitzhak Giterman, who had organized cultural events in the ghetto, Ringelblum knew his own chances for survival were diminishing.
“Now to this list, which includes entries in his handwriting, I have to add the name of Yitzhak Giterman,” he wrote. “My hand shakes as I wrote these words; who knows if a future historian, reviewing this list, will not add my name, Emanuel Ringelblum? But so what, we have become so used to death that it can no longer scare us. If we somehow survive the war, we’ll wander around the world like people from another planet, as if we stayed alive through a miracle or through a mistake.”
As the ghetto was emptied in the fall of 1942 Ringelblum longed for armed resistance, a resistance that eventually came with the heroic yet doomed uprising that began April 19, 1943. The Germans burned and razed the ghetto after the uprising, as they did nearly all of Warsaw when it carried out an armed revolt in 1944. Only a few fragments of the brick wall that surrounded the ghetto and a handful of old buildings from the ghetto remain.
“We are seeing the corroboration of the well-known psychological law that slaves who are totally beaten down cannot revolt,” Ringelblum wrote not long before the uprising in the ghetto. “Now it seems that the Jews are recovering a bit from the heavy blows; they have sobered up as a result of their sufferings and have concluded that [passively] going to the slaughter did not make the number of victims smaller but, on the contrary, it made the number larger. No matter whom you talk to now, you hear the same thing: we should not have allowed the Great Deportation to have taken place. We should have gone into the streets, we should have burned down everything, blasted the walls and run to the other side. The Germans would have taken their revenge. It would have cost tens of thousands of casualties, but not three hundred thousand. Now we are covered in shame and ignominy, both in our own eyes and in the eyes of the entire world, since our passivity gave us nothing. This should not happen again. Children and adults must defend themselves against the enemy.”
Ringelblum, as Samuel D. Kassow wrote in “Who Will Write Our History?: Rediscovering a Hidden Archive From the Warsaw Ghetto,” “was absolutely convinced that the story of Jewish suffering, no matter how terrible, was a universal story and not just a Jewish one. And evil, no matter how great, could not be placed outside of history.”
We all have the capacity for evil. The line between the executioner and the victim is razor-thin. Ringelblum and his writers warned us of how easy it is to surrender our better selves in the name of survival. They cautioned us against the danger of political ideologies, careerism, opportunism, the lust for violence and the loss of empathy. They excoriated those who survived at the expense of another. Ringelblum and his writers buried their records shortly before most of them were killed. In their final moments they cried out for us to be faithful to the good. They could not save themselves. But they could, they hoped, save us.
— source truthdig.com By Chris Hedges
At a United Nations development summit, world leaders, the International Monetary Fund and development organizations recommend the elimination of a type of hedge fund that preys on countries in financial crisis. So called “vulture funds” are featured in a global agreement to be signed this week at the Financing for Development Conference.
“These predatory funds undermine development and can destabilize a country’s economy,” said Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of the religious development organization Jubilee USA Network. “From Zambia to Peru, they target, litigate and collect aid monies that should be building schools and hospitals.”
When countries face economic hardship, “vulture funds” buy a country’s debt cheaply and then sue for full repayment. After Zambia received international debt relief in 2006, a hedge fund called Donegal International sued Zambia to collect $55 million on a $15 million debt the fund purchased for $3.3 million on the secondary market. NML Capital sued Argentina over debt holdings and refused to participate in Argentina’s debt restructuring. The Argentina case put a broader spotlight on this type of litigation.
“World leaders are saying enough is enough,” stated LeCompte who is attending the summit and participated in agreement negotiations. “The final agreement recommends changing contracts to prevent the behavior or legislating the funds out of existence.”
On July 1st, Belgium was the latest country to pass a law restricting this behavior. Three of the ten paragraphs in the United Nations agreement that focus on debt, state concern or recommend ways to stop these hedge funds. Two additional paragraphs promote aspects of global bankruptcy and responsible lending and borrowing which further deter this behavior.
“It’s inspiring to see the global community unified against this behavior,” noted LeCompte.
— source jubileeusa.org
NFL 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his teammate Eric Reid knelt during the national anthem during the first game of the season against the Los Angeles Rams Monday night. Kaepernick has been refusing to stand for the anthem during preseason games, saying: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” More pro football players have joined the growing protest—as many as 18 players, according to New York Daily News journalist Shaun King. On Sunday, four members of the Miami Dolphins took a knee during the anthem. That same day, players with the New England Patriots, the Tennessee Titans and the Kansas City Chiefs raised their fists in the air as the anthem played, in a protest that recalled the Black Power salutes made by John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
— source democracynow.org
Empire Files 031
NYT’s James Risen on Fighting Censorship & War
Ten Indian trade unions staged one of the largest strikes in human history on Friday, with tens of millions of public sector workers participating in a shutdown of parts of the Indian economy to protest Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic plans.
But if you’re an American relying on cable news, it would be hard to know it ever happened.
Not a single American cable news network ran a segment focused on India’s massive strike, even on Labor Day, the U.S.’s annual holiday dedicated to workers.
The strike came after Modi began a push for increased foreign investment and privatization of some state-run industries. Unions fear these policies will undermine both wages and employment.
The size of the strike alone forced the government to offer concessions prior to Friday in an attempt to avert it, offering a boost in the minimum wage for some non-skilled workers and the unfreezing of some public employee bonuses.
The unions were not persuaded by this offer. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his fight is with poverty, but it seems his fight is with the poor in this country,” Indian National Trade Union Congress Vice President Ashok Singh said prior to the strike.
The unions petitioned the government with a list of demands, including a call to increase the minimum wage to 18,000 rupees a month (around $271 USD). India-based The Hindu published a short video report on the strike with English subtitles. Watch it here:
The only mention of the strike on U.S.-based cable news was during a segment on CNN International where the CEO of the human resources consulting firm ManpowerGroup cited the Indian strike as part of global concerns about technology suppressing wages.
— source theintercept.com By Zaid Jilani