President Trump knows the country will not reopen on May 1 or anytime like it. But instead of apologizing to the public for raising their hopes about packing church pews on Easter Sunday, he now laments on TV about the hard decision he has to make, the hardest in his life, and how he is evaluating the pros and cons, and praying to God for assistance and guidance.
To me, this is nothing new. I have watched him milk his “decisions” to see what he could get for himself by procrastinating. He would make both sides think he was on their side. He might even tell each of the parties being affected that he would come down in their favor, but they had to wait, he had to do this right.
Meanwhile, Trump would get favors and concessions from parties awaiting his decision. Then, in the end, when he absolutely had to, he would ceremoniously and very gravely say what he decided to do. It was always what he had already decided.
But Trump’s procrastination was not always so calculated.
I racked my brain trying to think of truly difficult decisions Trump has had to make and, believe it or not, I could not think of many. I remember having to decide whether or not to throw an electrical contractor off Trump Tower, costing millions. The alternative was to let this contractor stop us in our tracks by not properly manning the job.
We consulted the professionals but, in the end, the path had to be determined by Trump. Trump didn’t decide; I did, in response to him saying, “what do you want me to do?”
This made sense to me because the real decision was being made by Trump and it was the right one — to leave it up to me. I gave him cover.
But that was just money. Another time, we had a bomb threat. Someone called the main office and said there was a bomb in the Atrium at Trump Tower.
Trump got me and I called the police. I got ahold of some of the building people, too. The police asked a lot of questions then we took them through the Atrium, where they conducted a thorough search.
From their demeanor, it was clear they were not concerned. They said they were not recommending evacuation and that it was most likely a hoax, but that the decision to evacuate was up to Trump.
I reported everything back to Donald. We talked about evacuating and the risks in that and the strong police suspicion that it was a fake. I knew all along Trump was not going to empty the building.
I asked again and instead of giving me an answer, he said, “you decide.”
How dare he put me in this position? I didn’t want that responsibility. I told him what he wanted to hear: Keep it open. If I had thought for one second that there was any risk to life, I would have insisted on evacuating.
For many years, I grappled with the question of whether he would have emptied the building if that’s what I had recommended. Did he really abdicate his responsibility and put the lives of the people in the building in my hands? No, It was his decision. I was a scapegoat. I played that role many times.
This time, it’s not about whether to keep a property open when lives might be at risk. It’s about whether to reopen a nation, and how many people could be killed in the process. He has his experts. He will hide behind them and at the same time contradict himself by saying he made the decision on his own.
And he will find a scapegoat. Trump will always get to have it both ways as long as the American public is willing to withstand his trickery and his lies.
Res is former executive vice president of the Trump Organization.
WASHINGTON — Once upon a time … in America, it looked as if white men were at long last losing their tenacious grip on power.
A black man had made it into the White House. A woman in hot pink claimed the gavel in the House. A Latina congresswoman with a Bronx swagger emerged as the biggest media star in the capital. Six Democratic women — five pols and one mystic — earned their spots on the stage in the first presidential debates.
Male candidates who might have jumped to the head of the presidential pack in earlier eras are finding it impossible to rise anywhere near double digits in polls.
When I asked a friend who once worked for Barack Obama why a smart and appealing Obama protégé, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, was having a hard time breaking through, she replied: “The bar is much, much higher for white guys these days. You just have to be especially special.”
White male privilege is out of fashion these days. Yet we are awash in nostalgia for it.
Donald Trump has built a political ideology on nostalgia. And Quentin Tarantino has built a movie ideology on nostalgia.
In The Los Angeles Times, Mary McNamara observed that the moral of Tarantino’s new fairy tale, “Once Upon A Time In … Hollywood,” is, “Who doesn’t miss the good old days when cars had fins and white men were the heroes of everything?”
Dubbing the cowboys-versus-hippies movie starring Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio “nostalgia porn,” McNamara notes: “Watching two middle-aged white guys grapple with a world that does not value them as much as they believe it should, it was tough not to wonder if that something was the same narrow, reductive and mythologized view of history that has made red MAGA hats the couture of conservative fashion.”
In The New Yorker, Richard Brody called the movie, Tarantino’s biggest opening ever, “obscenely regressive,” a phrase that could easily be applied to the man in the Oval.
Both the Tarantino creation and the Trump creation feature scripted tough-guy dialogue, rough treatment of women and slurs against Mexicans. (“Don’t cry in front of the Mexicans,” Pitt warns an emotional DiCaprio in a tinsel town parking lot.)
But — except for the usual burst of violence that the director justifies the usual way, by leveling it at the most evil people ever, in this case the Manson Family — Tarantino’s time machine is a gentler ride. (This may mark the first time “Tarantino” and “gentler” have appeared in the same sentence.)
Bathed in a golden glow, Brad Pitt plays a world-weary stunt man and handyman to Leo’s Western star, Rick Dalton. Pitt’s character is a former war hero in the great midcentury tradition of American cinema. He reflects many of the values that America once proudly stood for:
- toughness without belligerence,
- charm without smarminess,
- loyalty without question. He is
- masculine yet chivalrous.
The iconic performance evokes other movie exemplars of the American male: Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca,” Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke,” Steve McQueen in “Bullet,” Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry.” (Pitt’s significant other is a pit bull named Brandy — another contrast with Trump, who avoids dogs.)
Trump’s time machine is a vicious and vertiginous journey, all about punching down, pulpy fictions, making brown and black people scapegoats and casting women back into a crimped era of fewer reproductive rights.
Trump has inverted all the old American ideals, soiling the image of our country in the world and reshaping it around his grievances and inadequacies.
He is a faux tough guy who lets other people do the fighting for him, a needy brat who never accepts responsibility for his actions, an oaf with no trace of courage, class or chivalry.
Tarantino fashioned his nostalgic world out of love, while Trump fashions his out of hate.
His entitled and grabby ways illustrate why we need to leave that world behind. America is struggling to find a new identity with a more colorful mosaic, moving beyond our monochromatic past. More new heroines and heroes need to emerge, both onscreen and in life.
But first we need the credits to roll on Trump.
In this essay, I provide an analysis of the much-discussed authoritarian aspects of Donald Trump’s campaign and early administration. Drawing from both philosophical analyses of authoritarianism and recent work in social science, I focus on three elements of authoritarianism in particular: the authoritarian predispositions of Trump supporters, the scapegoating of racial minorities as a means of redirecting economic anxiety, and the administration’s strategic use of misinformation. While I offer no ultimate prediction as to whether a Trump administration will collapse into authoritarianism, I do identify key developments that would represent moves in that direction.
.. The unorthodox campaign and unexpected election of Donald Trump has ignited intense speculation about the possibility of an authoritarian turn in American politics. In some ways, this is not surprising. The divisive political climate in the United States is fertile soil for the demonization of political opponents. George W. Bush was regularly characterized as an authoritarian by his left opposition, as was Barack Obama by his own detractors. Yet in Trump’s case, echoes of earlier forms of authoritarianism, from his xenophobic brand of nationalism and reliance on a near mythological revisionist history, to his vilification of the press and seemingly strategic use of falsehoods, appear too numerous to ignore. In this essay, I attempt to provide a sober evaluation of the authoritarian prospects of a Trump administration.
.. I focus on three elements of authoritarianism in particular:
- the authoritarian predispositions of Trump supporters,
- the scapegoating of racial minorities as a means of redirecting economic anxiety, and
- the administration’s strategic use of misinformation.
.. the strategic use of misinformation plays a role in “activating” authoritarian predispositions.
.. my view is that identifying the most statistically significant predictor of supporting authoritarian regimes, or their single most salient causal factor, is less important than attaining a wide-ranging view of their central attributes, thus developing the outlines of a standard by which to judge the Trump and other administrations. Accordingly, while I offer no ultimate prediction as to whether a Trump administration will collapse into authoritarianism, I do identify key developments that would represent moves in that direction.
.. AUTHORITARIANISM AMONG TRUMP SUPPORTERS
If Trump is an authoritarian, then his is a populist authoritarianism, a form of rule in which “a strong, charismatic, manipulative leader rules through a coalition involving key lower-class groups” (Gasiorowski 2006, 111). Thus any study of Trump’s alleged authoritarianism cannot neglect the nature of his appeal to his core supporters, nor the fact that he was propelled to power by a groundswell of support that was largely unanticipated by the Republican establishment that ultimately – though with great initial reservation – nominated him as their party’s presidential candidate.
.. Fortunately, scholarship on authoritarianism has historically emphasized the importance of understanding its psychological appeal, and thereby focused on not just authoritarian rulers and governments themselves, but on their core supporters.
.. Adorno et al.’s study on The Authoritarian Personality (1950) provided the model for this sort of approach, and offers a more general definition of authoritarianism. Adorno et al. identified a number of personality traits that were correlated to
- anti-Semitism, and
- “anti-democratic” attitudes.
.. Grounded in Freudian psychology, these researchers ultimately located support for authoritarian regimes and policies in childhood pathologies that resulted in rigid adherence to simplified worldviews, strict obedience to authority figures, and fear and distrust of those who do not share this same orientation to the world.
.. while this particular study has been criticized both for its reliance on empirically questionable Freudian presuppositions and for methodological errors (Stenner 2005; Hetherington and Weiler 2009; Christie and Jahoda 1954), the core idea of an authoritarian personality type remains influential, and continues to be developed and refined by social scientists.
.. Matthew MacWilliams has recently utilized such a revised authoritarian personality measure to study Trump supporters, and claims as a result of his study that a predisposition to authoritarianism is the single most statistically significant predictor of support for Trump, more significant than
- level of education, or
- other commonly cited correlates (2016).
.. MacWillams used a serious of questions about childrearing that have been shown to capture not only active authoritarian views, but the predisposition to having such views “activated” by threat
.. MacWilliams’ results have been challenged by Wendy Rahn and Eric Oliver (2016), whose own research showed greater predispositions to authoritarianism among supporters of Ted Cruz than among Trump supporters.
.. claim that anti-elitist populism, manifested in distrust of experts and political elites is the more significant factor that distinguished Trump supporters from supporters of other Republican contenders. But even if Cruz was the preferred candidate of those predisposed to authoritarianism, their study still revealed high levels of authoritarianism in Trump supporters as well.
.. One might expect authoritarians to submit to the authority of political and other elites, but this misses the fact that authoritarians do not view all forms of authority equally. As MacWilliams puts it:
authoritarians’ sense of order is not necessarily or solely defined by worldly powers. To authoritarians, there are higher powers that delineate right from wrong and good from evil. There are transcendent ways of behaving and being that are enduring, everlasting, and the root of balance and order. These authorities are “morally and ontologically superior” to state or institutional authority and must be obeyed. (2016, 14)
.. If the actions of social and political elites are viewed as being inconsistent with these higher sources of authority, if they are viewed as unconventional outsiders aiming to upend traditional values, and so on, there is no inconsistency in authoritarians resisting them or their claims to authority. This is precisely the reason that “populist authoritarianism” is not a contradiction in terms
.. the study of authoritarianism has historically been plagued by difficulties in disentangling it from conservative political ideologies.
.. one of the advantages of approaches that focus on child-rearing is that they are supposed to get behind ideological commitments and political beliefs.
.. “authoritarianism is a predisposition that arises causally prior to the political attitudes and behavior that it affects”
.. in order to understand the distinctiveness of a Trump presidency, we must look at the actions and ideologies of Trump himself, and of his campaign and administration, in addition to the psychological predispositions of his supporters.
.. With this in mind, I now turn to one such tendency of Trump’s governing strategy: the tendency toward racial scapegoating.
.. While MacWilliams presents authoritarianism as an alternative to explanations that focus specifically on race and the alleged racial resentment of many Trump supporters, it is clear that the two factors are not mutually exclusive. In fact, one of the key features of authoritarianism is its fear and suspicion of those who are different
.. helps especially to clarify how exactly populist authoritarian leaders manipulate “key lower class groups.” Trump’s campaign certainly employed this strategy, effectively playing upon the anxieties of the white working class regarding their perceived cultural marginalization in the face of the increasing racial diversity of the United States.
.. Yet analyses of Trump’s rise that focus specifically on racial resentment often neglect the economic dimension of Trump’s support among the white working classes.
.. geographical locations where Trump found the most support are areas where traditional sources of employment have been rendered obsolete or moved overseas, where free trade agreements like NAFTA are viewed with suspicion, and where the social effects of economic marginalization manifested in things like drug addiction have wreaked havoc
.. The economic marginalization of a subset of the white working class provides fertile ground for racial scapegoating
.. In Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno aimed to show that German anti-Semitism was intentionally cultivated as a means of redirecting discontent arising from economic exploitation. In their words, German anti-Semitism served a specific purpose: “to conceal domination in production”
.. While European Jews had historically been excluded from ownership of major industries, they had, according to Horkheimer, Adorno, and other social theorists of the time including Hannah Arendt (1976), achieved some success integrating the “circulation sphere,” including what we would now call the financial sector, as well as small business ownership. This social position made the Jew an easy scapegoat for the most basic injustice of capitalism, the extraction of surplus value, i.e. profit, from the wage-laborer.
.. The exploitation that they attribute to the Jew is really a projection of their own exploitative nature, and in unleashing violence against these substitute exploiters, the masses feel a false sense of emancipation, while remaining within the established “reality principle” of capitalist exploitation.
.. Horkheimer and Adorno’s theory also describes the way that this form of scapegoating relied on what contemporary race theorists call “racialization” – the transformation of a social group into a racial group
.. Prior to the early twentieth century, and even in the earlier writings of critical theorists (Horkheimer 1989), the “Jewish question” was primarily considered to be a matter of cultural and religious difference.
.. German fascism understood Jewishness first and foremost in racial terms, thus distancing itself from the “liberal thesis” which held that “the Jews, free of national or racial features, form a group through religious belief and tradition and nothing else”
.. The Nuremburg Laws, for example, like the so-called “one drop rule” in the United States, included precise specifications of who was to count as a Jew, in order to eliminate any element of voluntary self-identification (or, perhaps more to the point, dis-identification). In this way, the group targeted for scapegoating is identified and fixed in a more or less stable form.
.. The key idea is simply that scapegoating occurs as a response to a real economic crisis, which results in political dissent of a sort that threatens the vested interests of those who hold economic power, which is then redirected toward vulnerable minority groups.
.. Scapegoating of this sort has certainly played some role in Trump’s rise to power. White working class communities that have experienced
- the loss of low-skill manufacturing jobs,
- decreasing tax revenue,
- crumbling infrastructure, and
- general social anomie have proven incredibly
responsive to explanations that link these phenomena to the (perceived) influx of immigrants from the south.
.. Growing white anxiety about misleading reports that whites will soon become a minority in the United States due to increased immigration from non-European nations compounds these economic fears
.. This shows that it is not immigration per se that worries Trump supporters, but a racialized immigration that challenges white control over power and resources.
.. Authoritarian predispositions are “activated” by threat, and scapegoating represents targeted groups as both economic and existential threats. Mexicans not only threaten “our” jobs, but are also represented as murderers, rapists and all around “bad hombres,” responsible for (fictional) increases in crime and disorder.
.. Their perceived threat to law and order is surpassed only by those from the Arab world, who are equated with terrorism and “radical Islam.” Such threats must be rooted out by any means necessary, and so racial profiling and increasingly invasive police practices are tolerated within our borders, and broadly restrictive immigration measures, physical barriers, and other imprecise responses are promoted as a means of fortifying them.
.. While it is true that these forms of scapegoating target minority identities that are not technically racial (at least not by the United States’ own official system of racial classification), there is a gap between “official” and popular understandings of race when it comes to Arabic Muslims and “Hispanic” groups. For example, the myriad reports of impending white minority almost always focus on non-Hispanic whites as the relevant demographic for measuring
.. And even if Trump supporters’ aversions to Arabs or Muslims appear to be primarily cultural or religious aversions, the rarity of distinguishing between culture, region, and religion in the discourses surrounding immigration from the Middle East demonstrate the increasing racialization of this group
.. that Hispanics and Arabs are commonly thought of as being racially distinct from non-Hispanic, non-Arab whites.
.. As tools like the Census are integral to defining and categorizing populations as “racial,” it will be interesting to see how a Trump administration approaches the 2020 Census, and in particular whether some effort is made to distinguish Arabs and Middle-Eastern populations from “whites.”
.. Finally, new research suggests that it is not just economic marginalization, but economic inequality in general that contributes to authoritarian attitudes, which in turn make their possessors amenable to racial scapegoating. The “relative power” theory of Frederick Solt holds that economic inequality leads to inequality in power and thereby produces hierarchy. This hierarchy in turn “mak[es] experiences that reinforce vertical notions of authority more common and so authoritarianism more widespread”
.. if the economic structure of a society requires or rewards submission to the authority of employers, benefactors, and those with more economic power, this sort of subservience is likely to be seen as normal, and thereby transferred to the sphere of political (or familial) authority, where it can be exploited to support xenophobic policies that purport to address complex social and economic issues.
.. societies with a high degree of economic inequality will produce heightened levels of authoritarian predispositions, and that these heightened authoritarian predispositions are more easily activated in times of economic or political crisis
.. Given that capitalism is prone to both extreme inequality and frequent crisis, it is fair to say that it will reliably produce such authoritarian attitudes, especially in those that become economically marginalized. Scapegoating will thus appear as an easy solution to any legitimation crisis that might arise.
.. A final, much discussed feature of Trump’s alleged authoritarianism is his seeming indifference to truth.
.. Trump is by no means the first politician to employ a strategy of deceit and falsehood. But generally, politicians lie through omission, or in ways that can be easily retracted or reinterpreted.
.. Trump’s cavalier and easily repudiated use of falsehoods regarding matters large and small has struck many observers as unique.
.. Arendt claims that authoritarian regimes are marked by their “extreme contempt for facts
.. “the chief qualification of a mass leader has become unending infallibility; he can never admit an error”
.. Yet the authoritarian orientation to the truth is misunderstood, she claims, if it is viewed as an attempt at factual accuracy. Rather, the “propaganda effect” of such pronunciations consists in their “habit of announcing their political intentions in the form of prophesy”
.. Once authoritarian rulers attain power, “all debate about the truth or falsity of a … prediction is as weird as arguing with a potential murderer about whether his future victim is dead or alive”
.. The baseless claim that three-to-five million undocumented immigrants voted illegally in the general election, for example, was taken by some as “telegraphing his administration’s intent to provide cover for longstanding efforts by Republicans to suppress minority voters by purging voting rolls, imposing onerous identification requirements and curtailing early voting”
.. Trump also claimed that the U.S. murder rate was at a 47 year high when it was actually at a 45 year low, and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions repeated similarly false claims about increasing crime rates
.. these claims serve both to shore up obedience in general and to signal an intent to “get tough” on crime, continuing the legacy of criminalization that undergirds the repression of minority groups
.. But perhaps most troubling, and less discussed, are the claims that look more like “prophesy” than assertion. For example, when a federal judge issued a stay on his Executive Order temporarily banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, Trump tweeted “just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!” (Trump 2017). While the claim that people were “pouring in” could be disputed on factual grounds, the more important aspect of this message is found in its prophetic character, and the precedent it sets for blaming the judiciary for any future attack that might occur. Given the high likelihood of some act of terrorism occurring at some point in Trump’s presidency, this message sets the groundwork for consolidating power in a truly authoritarian fashion.
.. public approval ratings of Congress remain at historic lows. This demonstrates a lack of faith in the effectiveness of the legislative branch of government. If faith in the judiciary were similarly undermined, the stage would be set for reigning in its powers, and undermining the system of checks and balances designed to prevent autocracy.
.. One might identify as key features of authoritarianism (as a political system, as opposed to a psychological predisposition)
- the consolidation of executive power,
- the elimination of effective checks on that power from legislatures,
- judiciaries, and
- the press,
- repression of opposition parties, and
- repression of political opposition more broadly.
.. Trump’s early administration does not seem to have consolidated power or repressed dissent in this way. To the contrary, his actions appear to have produced levels of dissent, protest, and pushback, from citizens, from the media, from opposing political parties, and in some cases even from the Republican Party itself, not seen in the United States in some time. Perhaps this indicates that worries about Trump ushering in an era of authoritarian repression and control are exaggerated.
.. It does seem unlikely that a Trump administration will succeed in outlawing the Democratic Party, disbanding Congress, or replacing independent journalism with state-sponsored channels of propaganda. For this reason, it seems premature to declare the Trump administration definitively authoritarian. However, it is equally unwise to ignore Trump’s clear pretensions to authoritarianism: his disdain for judges and legislators alike, his attempts to delegitimize protest and resistance with conspiratorial fantasies of shadowy puppet masters, paid operatives, and terrorist infiltrators, and his attempts to exclude certain news media from White House press briefings, to bypass journalistic channels entirely, communicating with the public through Twitter, and to create his own news organization. If some of Trump’s intentions and preferred methods of rule are indeed authoritarian, this is reason enough to pay close attention to changes in the political environment that might create possibilities to introduce such methods.
.. For example, Trump has already flirted with the dangerous possibility of simply disregarding judicial review of his policies. When the first federal judges issued a temporary stay on Trump’s January 27th travel ban, the Department of Homeland Security originally announced its intention to continue to enforce the provisions of the order in spite of the early rulings. Thankfully, the administration changed course as public outrage grew and additional decisions reinforced and expanded the initial rulings.
.. But it is easy to imagine that if public opinion turned against the judiciary (perhaps as a result of acts of terrorism as prophesied by Trump’s tweet), such a strategy of disregard might appear more feasible to Trump’s administration.
.. A major terrorist attack on the United States would also provide a convenient premise for expanding executive power and restricting the constitutional rights of citizens, following precedents set in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
.. Authoritarian regimes appeal to the authoritarian inclinations of their supporters, and such inclinations do appear to be present at significant levels among Trump’s supporters. These inclinations make Trump supporters amenable to policies and explanations that scapegoat vulnerable racial minorities (as well as contribute to the “racialization” of groups that were previously not thought to be racially distinct), and that redirect attention away from the structural economic causes of their increasing marginalization.
.. And finally, Trump’s strategic use of falsehoods points to their “prophetic” character as predictions rather than truth claims, intended to construct ideological grounds for rationalizing future actions, as Arendt describes. Citizens and political analysts alike should continue to monitor these elements of the Trump administration, and to guard against their expanded use and exploitation.
President Trump, do yourself a favor. Stop attacking the Federal Reserve and its chairman, Jerome H. Powell (yes, the same Powell you nominated). The result would be better for you, better for Powell and — most important — better for the country.
Unfortunately, Trump can’t seem to restrain himself.
“I will tell you, at this moment in time I am not at all happy with the Fed. . . . They’re making a mistake because . . . my gut tells me more sometimes than anyone else’s brain can ever tell me. . . . I’m not even a little bit happy with my selection of Jay. Not even a little bit.”
.. Until recently, there seemed to be a crude consensus among economists that the Fed should continue its gradual increases in interest rates to preempt higher inflation. The economy seems strong enough to tolerate tighter credit.
But the consensus may be fraying. There are signs of weakness.
- The stock market has fallen;
- housing sales and prices have softened;
- the trade war between the United States and China remains unresolved
.. On Nov. 26, the paper ran an op-ed by
- Harvard economist Martin Feldstein, a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Ronald Reagan, urging the Fed to raise rates. The next day, the Journal ran an op-ed by
- Harvard economist Jason Furman, chairman of the CEA under President Barack Obama, counseling delay.
.. One danger for Trump is that the Fed, seeking to prove its “independence,” will deliberately oppose what the president prefers.
.. One danger for Trump is that the Fed, seeking to prove its “independence,” will deliberately oppose what the president prefers.
.. “President Trump has gone completely off the rails with his criticism of Fed Chair Powell,” says economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics. He “is using the Fed as a scapegoat for anything that goes wrong in the stock market and the economy.”
In Trump’s defense, he is not the first president to try to control the Fed and corrupt its independence.
- Lyndon B. Johnson lambasted then-Fed Chairman William McChesney Martin in the mid-1960s for raising interest rates against his wishes.
- Richard M. Nixon pressured Arthur F. Burns, Martin’s successor, to keep rates low. Likewise, President
- Harry S. Truman pushed the Fed to maintain easy money and credit.
.. But these and other cases occurred mainly behind closed doors. Trump’s brash innovation has been to take his complaints public; the apparent aim is to intimidate the Fed into doing his bidding. If the Fed resists, Trump might propose legislation curbing its powers. That would signal a real state of war between Trump and the Fed, with what consequences for financial markets and the economy, it’s hard to know.
.. It’s also true that attacking the Fed has long been standard operating procedure for members of Congress of both parties.
“Congress depends on the Fed both to steer the economy and absorb public blame when the economy falters,” write Binder and Spindel. A lot of this criticism is political theater, designed to impress voters but not to do much else. What’s not familiar is for the president to be leading the charge.
John Oliver discusses the growing number of authoritarian leaders around the world, their common characteristics, and whether or not one of them is currently our president.
- Projecting Strength
- Demonizing Enemies
- Dismantling Institutions: The Press, Courts
Trump’s doghouse has a revolving door.
.. And what that means is that Trump has fired a whole series of former chiefs of staff and campaign managers – people like Corey Lewandowski, his first, Paul Manafort, his second, Reince Priebus, his chief of staff – but then continued to call them and take advice from them once they were on the outside. You know, and often these people kind of cycle back into his life.
So, you know, nobody has been quite as publicly, you know, excoriated and curb-stomped as Steve Bannon (laughter) has been by Donald Trump in that statement – not only in that statement but in getting him fired from Breitbart News and from SiriusXM Radio and essentially robbing him of his platform and his financial benefactor. Now, but having said all that, I could certainly envision a scenario where, you know, flash forward to November, and Republicans get slaughtered in the midterm elections, which is what polls seem to suggest is going to happen.
Well, Trump himself isn’t going to take the blame for a defeat. That’s not in his character. And he’ll look around for someone to blame. And pretty clearly the people he’s going to blame are the Republican establishment, people like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, you know, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who he has cozied up with over the last couple months because they’ve been able to deliver for him the historic corporate tax cut, you know, and other things. And I think Bannon thinks that if he just waits and bides his time, that Trump will eventually turn on the people close to him now as he tends to do.
In modern Russia, the administration is comfortable using lies to muddle their people. If you push out several completely contradictory stories, the truth becomes buried, or at least discredited along with the other clearly untrue stories. If you make an effort to shed doubt on the news outlets, NGOs, and individuals who use facts to show when a statement is demonstrably untrue then it becomes harder for people to settle on one single statement as being true, in amongst a series of statements that are not. People are naturally inclined to trust authority, so when the government makes an official statement it carries weight against an individual or single news outlet.
This approach was perfected under Communism, especially Stalinism. At various points, whilst millions were starving, industry and the economy were collapsing, even up to the denial and then underplaying of the Chernobyl disaster, the government would state that reality was one way, when it was really the complete opposite. Audacious lies are harder to deal with than small ones.
.. Currently, when the Russian government denies something that is demonstrably true, or makes a statement that can be proven not to be true, there can be a number of reasons why they do this.
1. Telling a lie because you believe it
Putin is notoriously cut off from the world. He does not use the Internet, and receives very short briefings from a close circle of people around him. Those people are unlikely to want to upset him, or contradict him. Being surrounded by people who depend on your favour to remain in position, or even remain alive, means you increasingly get less and less real information. It becomes an extreme version of the echo chambers we’re all becoming trapped in by Social Media algorithms.
.. under Stalin the KGB was brilliant at collecting intelligence, but useless at analysing it. When people reported intelligence that was counter to the world view of Stalin, they generally ended up dead. So increasingly the intelligence was edited, or mis-interpreted to support the existing set of beliefs of the leader.
So it is possible, and some pundits suggest this, that Putin actually believes the world view the Russian government expresses through its propaganda, much as Stalin’s Russia really believed the country was riddled with foreign spies, and was at constant threat of invasion — assumptions that history have shown us were completely wrong.
With Trump we have to consider some assumptions. He has been rich and powerful for a long time. Therefore, he is likely to have been surrounded by yes-men who only enforce his world view and opinions rather than challenging them. He does not brush shoulders with reality on a daily basis, living the life of a billionaire. He also does not read, and watches a very narrow spectrum of media. Now he is President he is even more cut off from the world, and instead of taking advantage of a state machinery that could leave him amongst the best informed people in the world, he has eschewed Intelligence briefings, and other input from independent sources.
.. It would be fair to say that Trump is not highly educated, well read, or particularly well informed. This applies to most of his Cabinet, which is noticeably unqualified and poorly educated.
.. On top of this many of them are religious fundamentalists, which clouds their interpretation of facts with an ideology that is not open to challenges. The same applied to Stalinist Russia, when the Communist ideology came before facts and could over-rule them.
2. Telling a lie aimed only at your core constituency
Another way to interpret Trump’s lies are to conclude that he knows they are not true, and he knows we know they are not true, but that they are not aimed at us.
When the Russian government claims, for example, that it is clear a Ukrainian fighter jet shot down the MH17 passenger plane over Ukraine, it’s possible they know that we know this is not true. But the lie was told to foreign media like the BBC so that it can be played back to their own people in Russia and used to undermine reports of evidence that it was a Russian army missile that brought the plane down. They don’t care that we know it isn’t true, because the message is not for us. It is for their own people, and for those confused enough to have their belief in the official investigation findings undermined by a bare faced lie.
In effect, the messages are broadcast to everyone, but only one specific audience matters.
.. So with Trump, when he says the New York Times is failing, he may not care that we all know that is a blatant lie — factually not true. He could just be speaking to his core voters, whom he knows will not see any counter argument and may believe him. It is important to him that they don’t trust any media that will criticise him.
.. The same applies to his claim that Obama tapped his phones. He may know that most people will realise this is nonsense. But that core of people who only get news from Breitbart, and believe the conspiracies, will also believe this one about Obama. That in turn helps him undermine any findings in the future from investigations into his links with Russia.
If he can undermine the media that will broadcast this, and sew seeds of a conspiracy against him, he can blur any negative news about his links with Russia.
.. If this means his Tweeting is just aimed at securing that base of core voters, his Twitter feed seems slightly less insane.
.. he is able to take advantage of the echo chamber of the Trump constituency.
.. They are not trying to convince anyone new to get behind their narrative, they are just securing the narrative amongst those who already follow them.
3. Telling lies to undermine Truth
Kasaparov summed it up well in this Tweet:
“The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”
Once truth is an undermined currency, as the Soviet Union proved, people give up caring altogether. People knew things were not true, but knowing that made no difference, and saying so was dangerous, so they stopped engaging with truth or facts.
The liberal media and Democrat politicians are talking about reaching the point where Trump’s core voters, the white working class, realise he has conned them. It is assumed that once they lose their healthcare, do not gain jobs, and see the Swamp ever more swamp-like, they will rebel and vote against him.
.. But if Trump can ensure they do not believe facts shared by the media, and do believe lies propagated by him and his supporters, then they may never realise they were conned, and may not that see things are not as good as promised. Or they will believe it is outside forces, not Trump. Blaming Obama for everything is laying the ground for that
.. In Russia, the government blames America, the EU, NATO, Russian liberals, or any other outside force for the demise of their economy, the loss of civil liberties, and indeed anything bad. Putin and the Administration are never to blame.
.. Trump will say that unemployment is up, even when data shows it is down. He will claim any success as his, and will blame China, Obama, the Democrats, or others for any failures. If that does not work, he will just rubbish any news that undermines him.
.. a natural skill of his, or whether it is a clever strategy of his advisors
.. the people around him are already skilled in manipulation of the truth. Paul Manafort advised former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych
.. Manafort will have become very well versed in Russian style manipulation of Truth through this work and will have taught Trump these lessons when he was his advisor. Then
Bannon ran Breitbart, which makes a business of manipulating the truth, and outright lying.
.. If within a few years a large swathe of the country either believes the Trump messaging, or does not trust the mainstream media, or thinks the Democrats are evil and corrupt, or just does not know what is true or not anymore, then Trump stands a chance of a second term regardless of how his first term goes.
.. To survive: read Russian novels like Master and Margherita
.. When you hear Trump lie, pause to ask yourself which type of lie it might be.