Northern Valley Beacon

News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Sunday, June 18, 2017

How "rhetoric" can get you shot

The shooting of Republicans at the ball diamond this past week had its predictable result.  Some folks engaged in and advocated a bipartisan bon homie.  For others it intensified the blame-placing and angry invective against the party they detest.

But  a small group, those who study and try to explain what we loosely call rhetoric, simply shrugged their shoulders and said malice thrives.  What is taught in colleges and some high schools as rhetoric is quite different than what is referred to as rhetoric in the media.  [See Please Don't Call It Rhetoric, Shirley.]  People who study and respect language know that words have consequences.  Words form the mental environments in which we all live and operate. They form our perceptions. They precede actions and motivate people to act.

Those who study the great atrocities of the world, such as the Holocaust, point out that the use of language is both the producer and the defining characteristic of those episodes.   They have predicted that the shooting at the Del Ray ball park in Alexandria, Va., was inevitable and more is to come.

Conservatives have taken delight in the fact that the now-dead shooter, James T. Hodgkinson,
espoused  "liberal" ideas.  He lends example to the conservative contention that all the ills of the world are spawned by liberalism.  As a group which until recently owned the threat of political violence,  conservatives now try to shift that onto liberals.  For years the NRA and its conservative supporters have blared the message that  "you can’t fist fight tyranny,” and that liberal forces were conspiring to take away their guns.  As a gun-owning Washington  Post columnist says, "It should be no surprise that someone would shoot democratically elected representatives when we’ve been told for decades that that’s the patriotic redress to political grievances."  Now the conservatives are trying to contend that liberals are the advocates of political violence.  That contention is not supportable with facts, but the conservative advocacy of firearm violence as a political force has abundant evidence.

Nevertheless, experts in the study of the verbal environment have warned that the both sides of the political divide are arming themselves for prospective battle with their political opponents.  This was evident a few years ago when the Colorado legislature passed laws restricting the sales of assault-type weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines.  The laws sparked a political backlash, but also a spectacular rise in gun sales.  Dealers were running out of inventories. When asked about who was buying all the guns,  one dealer  said it was half-and-half between those who were arming against government tyranny and those who were arming against them.  Liberals, too, were preparing for eventual combat.

The propaganda that Obama, who called for background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, was out to confiscate all guns was simply a dishonest statement meant to enrage those who are beyond the reach of facts.  Scholars of rhetoric explain that rhetoric is the process of persuading through the logical analysis of facts through critical thought and accurate language.  When people are mentally bound by their prejudices and hatred, they are invulnerable  to facts, reason, and accurate language.  Differences can be settled only by force.  The Nazi takeover of Europe proves that malicious force can win and that tyrannical brainwashing can banish and vanquish knowledge and reason in the minds of people.  Often a majority wants only to have their dark hatreds and intellectual and moral failures endorsed as the normal state of human affairs. 

The hatred of liberalism and the debased mentalities that accept it as a creed have decades of evangelistic preaching behind its development.  Rush Limbaugh is a loud, typical evangelist of liberal hatred.  He maligns, defames, and espouses preposterous lies under the guise of entertainment.   It is entertainment in the same vein as Romans executing Christians in arenas filled with hate-enraged throngs cheering for their agonizing death.  No words of fact or reason can have any effect on such throngs.  And so it is with conservatives and liberals in our current political climate.  Valid rhetoric and productive discourse is not a consideration because it is not a possibility.

Enmity has a long and carefully tended incubation as a political weapon in the  U.S.  Significant portions of the population do not regard the opposite party as merely holding different views, but that it has malicious intentions.  The nature of the propaganda that blankets the social atmosphere bears that perception out.  The sources of the words we see and hear disgorge angry defamations as a matter of course.  Attack inspires counter-attack.   In a battle where the dominant intention is to inflict harm,  facts and reason have no effect.

The propaganda has urged the populace to arm itself against a takeover.  And both conservatives and liberals have done just that.
James Hodgkinson may have fired the first shot in a civil war that the "rhetoric" of our time has prepared us for and incited.

You should not be surprised if you get shot for your political or social affiliation.  The nature of our political discourse has made it inevitable.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Pathological lying destroys human possibilities

During Donald Trump's first 100 days in office, he was credited by the Washington Post with making 492 statements to the public that were false or misleading.  Since he entered the political scene,  mental health professionals have warned that he has all the symptoms of severe mental dysfunction.  The latest warning was issued in an open letter by 35 mental health experts.  

The resistance to Trump is not a political matter.  It's a matter of him exhibiting behavior that violates all standards of intelligence, decency,  and honesty.  If Trump were not extremely wealthy with the ability to exercise the power that comes from money,  he would be regarded as just another village idiot whose obsessive rants and prattle would be ignored.  The culture of wealth worship that has burgeoned in Americans is the only thing that enables and sustains Trump.  

Trump is remarkably incoherent.  His words violate the basic rule of language.  They do not refer to anything factual that can be perceived by others.  They are noises that have no substance in the natural world or in recorded human experience.  He speaks in hyperbole that names only his mental reactions, not anything that exists outside of himself.  When he is displeased with people around him,  he labels them "horrible."  When they conform to his purpose of the moment, they are "fantastic" people.  In using these expressions of approval and disapproval, Trump shapes the attitudes of the sucks who curry his favor because he is rich and powerful.  His words do not supply an accurate description or appraisal of the world around him.  They signal his sycophants whom to like and dislike,  like the alpha mean girls shape the attitudes of their dupes.  Trump's words are not in themselves significant as they have no validity in reality.  Their only reality  is the people who accept them and what those people mean for the future of democracy.

The National Review compiled some typical Trump expressions that appeal to his followers.  They reflect a contempt for anything factual and the purpose of manipulating those of deficient cognitive skills who form his base.  

1. “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.”
2. “I’m really rich! I’ll show you that in a second. And by the way: I’m not even saying that in a brag.”
3. “I’m the most militaristic person ever.”
4. “I will build a great wall . . . and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me.”
5. “Hillary Clinton was the worst secretary of state in the history of the United States. Hillary was the worst. In the history of the United States there’s never been a secretary of state so bad as Hillary.”
6. “I would use the greatest minds. I know the best negotiators. I’m in New York – I know the good ones, the bad ones. I always say: ‘I know the ones people think are good.’ I know people you’ve never heard of that are better than all of them.” 
7. “If you really love this country you have a very, very hard time convincing people that what you’re doing is right and that you’re really smart. And, like, a lot of us are really smart. I’m really smart – I went to the Wharton School of Finance.” 
8. “I would hit [ISIS] so hard your head would spin.”
The constant use of hyperbole detached from reality is symptomatic of a more serious aspect of Trump:  his pathological lying.  A pathological liar is a sociopath who lies to get his way, no matter what the effect on others.  He is a compulsive liar, which means he lies about everything, even trivial matters for which lying has no point or objective.  If the compulsive liar has a motive, it is to make all matters of the universe subject to his will.  

Trump also lies as a way of inflicting vengeance.  He makes defamatory false representations of people and he makes false accusations, such as accusing President  Obama of wire-tapping Trump Towers.  He began his political run by accusing Obama of not being born in America.  Trump,  partly because he is a part of it, understood the racist hatred that runs through Americans who look for any pretext to defame Obama without using the n-word.  So, he launched his political career by appealing to the Jim Crow sector, which forms a large part of his base.  He uses this technique of defaming perceived opponents to damage their reputations.  This is a device common in corporate business life, a major tool in the CEO kit of gaining power.  It damages people by branding them with false accusations,  and it is  effective in marshaling the loyalty of their knowing accomplices and their subservient dupes. 

The most serious damage lying inflicts is on the language.  When words are used to deceive, they become untrustworthy.  An environment of lies makes the language useless in conducting any kind of human transactions.  And when people cannot trust words, they cannot trust anything or anybody.  The misuse and consequent mistrust of language spreads into documents and the laws that govern us.  People realize that laws are construed to oppress some people and exempt others from any kind of responsibility.  

I am among those scholars who believe that the depressed state of American Indians is caused in large part by fraudulent language.  Native Americans signed treaty after treaty which was never adhered to by the U.S., and furthermore were openly devised to swindle the tribes out of their lands with no intention of honoring the "deals."  One of the reasons that Native Americans are protective of their oral traditions is to keep a reservoir of language that they know honestly refers to something they can believe in.  The language of America is counterfeit,  used only to deceive and defraud.  

The American population at large is now experiencing the demoralization and destruction that false language inflicts.  When you can't believe anything said to you by a leader and his supporters,  you can't believe in anything.  Cynicism is the only sane reaction.  When words themselves become inherent lies,  the possibility for human good is destroyed.  Literate people can retreat into books and other forms in which language is used with integrity, skill, and a regard for truth.  An acknowledgment of the essential function of language may be preserved,  but it is not operative in the way of life.

Trump is a cancer on language.  Like cancer, his lies diminish the opportunities of life, leaving death as the inevitable prospect for our nation.  

Friday, June 9, 2017

Anne Frank's betrayers, your friends and neighbors

At some point the media and the people of America will have to face a fact--which is not a popular thing to do in today's political climate.  The fact is that there is a big segment of the American people who are anti-democratic.  Specifically, they are against American democracy with all its words about freedom, equality, and justice.  Oh, they want those things for themselves, but find it intolerable to extend them to other people.  

And that is the defining point of separation in what we call the political divide.  It is not a divide between Democrats and Republicans.  liberals and conservatives.  It is a divide between people who want to live in  a democracy and those who want some form of authoritarian rule in which they are aligned with the authority.  

As many observers have pointed out,  the United States is replaying the politics of Germany in the 1930s.  The same race-and-creed-based hatreds that drove the Nazi movement run like tidal currents through America.  Muslims are the major target in the American neo-Nazi movement, whereas Jews were the predominant hate-objects in Nazi Germany,  but they aren't being forgotten in America''s rage to hate.  The impulse to denigrate, oppress, and harm is the same process of creating a subjugated class no matter what ethnic, cultural, or political group is in disfavor.    The significance for humanity is not who is being hated but who is doing the hating.  In Germany after World War I, when the people needed to place blame for the humiliation they had suffered, they found a someone who would voice and affirm their attitudes and lead them in the exercise of malice.  Hitler provided that voice and that rule.  Trump has provided that voice and affirmation for disaffected Americans,  who have been in a peevish snit over the fact that their country actually elected an African America president.  The racism which had lain dormant since the civil rights era boiled to the surface when a black man presided over the country.  Trump vowed to insult and defame Obama and undo everything Obama did.  And that is his agenda.  He has a loyal following of people.

World culture has an anti-democratic tradition of restricting freedom, equality, and justice as a privilege for those allied with authority figures.  As the idea of democracy in which people govern themselves circulated throughout the feudal system,  it met with resistance.   The overlords of the time, of course, opposed any idea that would make the serfs over whom they ruled equal to them.  But, while many serfs were heartened by the prospect of leading their own lives,  many others were fearful at not having an overlord on whom to depend and be ordered about.   Dependency to them seemed to fit the chain of being which ranked people on a social order that designated them from slaves to royal rulers.  To preserve their ranking over the lower orders,  people were gladly subservient to those above them.  They accepted inequality, restrictions on freedom, and arbitrary justice as a condition of their lives.  They saw opportunity as the chance to grovel before their superiors.  The idea of being able to standup and act as one's own person was frightening and repugnant to them.  They detested those who thought in such terms and advocated democracy.  America, however, was invented and built by by such advocates.

But even in America,  there are people who eschew equality,  and think and speak in terms of superiors and inferiors,  winners and losers,  privileged white folks and disenfranchised minorities.  They found a voice and an authority figure in Donald Trump.  He is the anti-dote to the American ideal of freedom, equality, and justice.  He has an unprecedented record of provable lies,  not just for a president,  but for any human being living on this earth.  He sees power as the exercise of abuse, insult, and defamation,  not respect.  He is a person without a positive trait of character,  a quintessential CEO whose profits come from how many people he can screw over and how much of the planet he can plunder.  He expresses the ideals and values of many Americans.  They do not want a president;  they want a fuehrer.  They got what they wanted.

A  high school student from a minority wrote an essay to qualify for advanced placement in college that impressed its evaluators.  As an occasional such evaluator,  my colleagues shared it with me as an example of the high level of thought and expression being engaged in by our young people.

The essay was on the subject of a book read by many high school students,  The Diary of Ann Frank.  The writer examined one of the mysteries with which the book left us as to who betrayed Ann Frank and her family to the Nazis.  He made the point that it did not matter so much as to what person tipped off the Gestapo to her family's hiding place as to  recognizing all the people who supported the regime that engaged in the Holocaust,  and there are many such regimes.  Detestable as the Hitlers and Nazi leadership may be, the people who enable them and in whose behalf they act are the real culprits responsible for such atrocities.  

After outlining all the words and actions that Trump put on the record during his campaign, the young writer said that the people who voted for Donald Trump are in the same classification as the betrayers of Ann Frank.  And the people who are adversely affected by Trump's words and actions need to recognize  that their enemy is not in the White House but in the houses of the people who put Trump there.  The political divide between Trump supporters and anti-Trump people is a good thing because it identifies the enemies of democracy and gives people the chance to consider if they really want democracy.

Sometimes the young are exceptionally wise.  

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Bob Mercer charges press with dishonesty

Bob Mercer writes that after reviewing the national press's coverage of Donald Trump,  he finds that it has been dishonest.  He says,  "Trump was, and is, right, in the allegations, the accusations, that some news organizations were, and are, dishonest in their treatment of him."

His basis:  "He brought some of this upon himself, but I’ve carefully read and I’ve carefully listened to some of the news accounts: Some of those some clearly went against him. Opinion from national news outlets replaced news reporting."

And he lights into the process that decides what is to be covered:  "I have often thought we have little objectivity, or none, in news. We as reporters and editors make choices — what we cover, what we don’t cover — and that isn’t objectivity."

That matter of how editors decide what is to be covered is a difficult one.  There are criteria for evaluating what makes an event or person newsworthy.

  • Prominence
  • Proximity
  • Timeliness
  • Uniqueness
  • Consequence
  • Human interest
Editors make decisions on what relates to their particular audience in deciding coverage.  It is true, in many markets editors gear coverage to the desires of their advertisers and the predominant political attitudes of their readers.  But the overall process of deciding what is newsworthy is not all that arbitrary. Cable news sometimes demonstrates a desperation in trying to fill a 24-hour news cycle.  And some networks, such as Fox news,  operate from a particular political stance.  But for most of the major national media,  the coverage is based upon professional evaluations of the significance of what it is covering.

Bob Mercer takes particular issue with the use of the first 100-days of an administration as a gauge of how well it is doing in carrying out its political goals.  Mercer points out that Trump deprecated the hundred-day measure and pushed back against it.  But FactCheck.Org points out the facts behind the application of that 100-day measure to Trump:

As a candidate, Donald Trump issued a “100-day action plan to Make America Great Again.” It contained 28 promises, and Trump says he is “mostly there on most items.” But is he? Our review of his action plan found he has kept some promises, broken a few, and there are many that are still a work in progress. 
Once in office, Trump criticized “the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days.” He even questioned who within his campaign came up with a “100-day action plan.” He recently told the Associated Press “somebody put out the concept of a hundred-day plan,” even though Trump himself unveiled the 100-day plan at a campaign appearance on Oct. 22, 2016, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

We take no position on the significance or merits of the 100-day milestone, which dates to the days of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In a fireside chat on July 24, 1933, FDR spoke of “the crowding events” of the first 100 days of a special congressional session called to counter the effects of the Great Depression, as explained by Penn State political science professor Robert Speel.
The question of honesty is troublesome.  Trump constantly proclaimed what he would do his first day in office and during his first hundred days, making threats and accusations against his opponents.  What is dishonest about tracking how he is carrying out his expressed intentions.

But the matter of dishonesty is one that Trump has created for the press to handle.  In the history of the U.S., no person of national prominence has been as blatantly and consistently dishonest as Donald Trump.  The Washington Post Fact Checker has found that during his first 100 days in office,  Trump has issued false or misleading claims 492 times.  

A public interest group is raising funds to hire experienced journalists and analysts to compile a daily list of everything Trump has said and done during his campaign and his presidency.  Trump has changed the U.S., and many people think it needs a documented record of what happened to it so that future generations can understand how a democracy fails.   Why did it adopt malicious dishonesty as a routine aspect of governance?

Some news organizations have opposed Trump,  but they have documented the reasons why.  His record as a "businessman" and a political candidate is consistently one of deceit, incompetence, and abject dishonesty.  Terming the press dishonest for exposing dishonesty is difficult to get the mind around.

But it is a crucial symptom of what happened to America.  

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The biggest threat to higher education--and democracy-- is business

I have been hard on some fellow professors in the past.  Some of the most vile humans I have come across, in the magnitude of Donald Trump, have been professors.  As an officer in professional faculty organizations,  I have dealt with them.  Some professors have egos that are much larger then their intellects and find it difficult to refrain from stroking their nasty egos in public--acts which often show a meagerness of mind but an abundance of self absorption.  They are simply assholes but nevertheless are found competent in their chosen discipline.  The ones that I rage against the most are the ones who practice academic dishonesty:  plagiarism,  fabricating or misrepresenting data,  misrepresenting their accomplishments, and other acts of mendacity.  They harm the profession and do damage to their students, their colleagues, their institutions, and the country.  However, the profession has standards and measures to use for eliminating these people from the profession, and I fully support their implementation and use.   I have participated in such actions.

On the other hand,  most professors are people of competence, integrity, and industry. I have been proud of their professionalism. They work hard for their students and to meet the requirements of research, scholarship, and service required by institutions to hold the rank of professor.  And often, they work effectively despite attempts by administrators to manage them.  The idea of running colleges like businesses instead of organizations in which the members have shared responsibilities has created an overlay of practices that are more befitting of a sales force  for vacuum cleaners than of an intellectual enterprise.  Instead of setting standards of performance that individuals strive for,  many administrations pit professors against each other in competition for promotion and tenure.  Some professors fall into the trap.  Most, however, maintain the role they have chosen, to learn and teach and stay true to what it means "to profess" a discipline.  That desire to stay true to the academic tradition has saved institutions from abject fraud and made it possible for students to obtain real educations.

However, there are professors who fall into the corporate mindset and become the instruments of a subversive value system.  I made a mistake by placing trust in some who betrayed their profession and engaged in a campaign to oust a professor who had incurred the wrath of the corporate-driven segment that purports to run our universities.  The mistake I made was in not maintaining my skepticism about the integrity of higher education boards of directors and their administrative lackeys.

It began when Ward Churchill,  a well-known professor of Native American studies,  wrote an essay the day after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in which he referred to the people who occupied those buildings as "little Eichmans,"  a reference to a key facilitator of the Holocaust.  The point of his essay, titled "Some People Push Back," was that the attack on the Trade Center and the Pentagon was an act of war in response to the massacre of a half million children in Iraq by American forces and the corporate structure which supported them.  Using a phrase from Holocaust historian Hannah Arendt,  he called the corporate technocrats who were aiding and abetting the war on Iraq "little Eichmans," the term Arendt used to describe the good Germans who did the same for the Holocaust.  His contention was that 9/11 was American foreign policy "coming home to roost."  At the time,  the essay received little attention.  

About four years later, some academics brought the essay to the attention of media types such as Bill O'Reilly, who expressed raging offense at the "little Eichman" designation and began the call for Ward Churchill's firing from the University of Colorado.  They were in a fury because they thought that Churchill had insulted the memory of innocent victims of terrorism.  However,  CU officials recognized that Churchill could not be fired for using his protected rights of free speech,  so they looked for other pretexts to dismiss him.

An academic opponent of Churchill's had made complaints about his scholarship previously, but they were ignored.  They were then grasped as a means to go after him and he was charged with academic misconduct.   A committee of faculty was assembled to investigate the charges  against him, and it recommended his dismissal.  Churchhill was fired, but fought the case against him in the courts.  He won the case to get his job back, as the circuit court found that his comments on 9/11 were the actual reason for his firing.  However, he lost on appeal and the Supreme Court declined to hear his case.  

The mistake I made, as did many professors, was to think that if the committee composed of his professor peers found Churchill guilty of scholarly fraud,  it must be so.  We put  our trust in academic due process, believing that the thorough examination of the evidence and a critical discussion of it by experienced professors would arrive at the truth.  What we did not understand is that the Investigative Committee which issued the report was not comprised of people who were well qualified to examine the scholarship in Churchill's particular field of study.  Some had declared opposition to Churchill. The committee was stacked to create findings against him in retaliation for his exercise of free speech.

However,  Churchill's fellow professors in Colorado understood this.  The Colorado Conference of the American Association of University Professors undertook a critical examination of the report which supported Churchill's firing. It found that the committee and its findings were contrived and that it committed the very acts of "plagiarism, fabrication and falsification of evidence" that they accused him of committing. 

In the executive summary of its report,  the Colorado Conference observed:

  1. As this report will demonstrate, the allegations against Churchill for fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism are almost entirely false or misleading; the slivers that remain standing are trivial in the extreme, given the volume of Churchill’s work and the high regard in which it is held by other experts in the field. Few scholars’ work would survive under the microscope held to Churchill’s work. In our opinion, the members of the IC would be condemned as academic frauds if their report were subjected to the scrutiny that they applied to Churchill’s work—and if they had said “little Eichmanns.” 
    According to experts in the field of American Indian Studies, the IC report, upon which disciplinary recommendations against Churchill were based, is an extended series of falsifications and fabrications offered in the name of correcting the scholarly record. 
Colorado's universities are among the best and most productive in the world.  But that is because of the abilities and integrity of its faculty,  despite the actions of politicians and the lackeys they hire to run them.  The University of Colorado at Boulder has a reputation for being a party school, but at the same time is a prestigious leader in the arts and sciences,  as is its sister institutions.  It's administration has racked up some serious demerits, however.  The handling of the firing of Ward Churchill is one of them.  

CU also hired on  its faculty another leader in Native American studies,  Vine DeLoria, Jr.  He taught law and history there from 1990 to 2000, when he retired.    During the period  of time around 2001, a football scandal hit the campus.   The universities football coaches had recruiting parties which hired escort services from Denver and at which a number of coeds charged they were sexually molested and raped.  It had a woman place kicker on its football team who said that she had been raped by  teammates.  The coach responded by belittling her abilities as a player.  The University tried to make the business look like trivial incidents that occur occasionally.  However, when the University of Colorado wished to recognize Deloria's work  with an honorary degree and a special citation,  he rejected it.  He said, "It is no honor to be connected to these people."

The American university system is an asset that has driven the nation to its position of prominence.  Its advancements rest on the accomplishments of thinkers who were provided a venue for carrying on their work with the establishment of the land grant colleges.  However, the history of that system, as with the history of the University of Colorado,  is studded with attempts by commercial interests to subvert the universities into schemes of greed and wealth.  Recent history in South Dakota with the EB-5 and Gear Up scandals demonstrates further how business interests try to pervert universities to their own uses.  

As long as there are professors such as the Colorado Conference of the American Association of University Professors to confront and expose the nefarious at work in their system,  the universities will be good places to study and to work.   But when business and political interests have their way,  the universities become a danger.  Universities cannot be run like businesses.  When they do,  they become intellectual and moral failures that destroy democracy and the spirit to advance humanity.  During this time,  professors of integrity have a strenuous job to conserve the true meaning of higher education.  Let's hope they keep working.  The business mentality would prefer that they didn't.  


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Return of the witch trials

Remember what you have seen, because everything forgotten returns to the circling winds.  Navajo Wind Chant

When people need to understand the world around them,  they turn to literature.  It is the repository of the cultural memory.  Our lives find meaning and direction in the stories we tell.  The literature of Salem and the  witchcraft trials is particularly pertinent and informing today.  The hysteria in the colony of Massachusetts in 1692 and 1693 is recorded by participants and observers of the time and is part of the canon of American Literature.  Samuel Sewall, one of the judges at the witchcraft trial, kept a diary, which records how he came to recognize the  serious error he made in judging, but also the mental process he went through to come to that recognition.  Five years after the trials, he prepared a statement of repentance which his minister read before the congregation of his church while he stood before it:

Samuel Sewall, sensible of the reiterated strokes of God upon himself and family; and being sensible, that as to the Guilt contracted upon the opening of the late Commission of Oyer and Terminer at Salem (to which the order of this Day relates) he is, upon many accounts, more concerned than any that he knows of, Desires to take the Blame and shame of it, Asking pardon of men, And especially desiring prayers that God, who has an Unlimited Authority, would pardon that sin and all other his sins; personal and Relative...
Sewall had fourteen children, few of whom survived childhood,  a fact of the hardships of colonial times.  But he was particularly affected by the anguish of an adolescent daughter as she tried to deal with the puritan doctrine of predestination.  In his daughter's suffering, he saw the injustice inflicted upon those accused of witchcraft.  

That time of hysterical paranoia was taken up as a major literary concern of Nathaniel Hawthorne whose great grandfather was also a judge at the witch trials and was distinguished by being the only one who never repented his participation.  A modern examination of the lethal hysteria of that time is playwright Arthur Miller's "The Crucible,"  which has become a classic of American theater.  That hysteria,  when remembered through the stories about it, has ominous relevance for our time.

The ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency has moved many people to turn to literature to understand and deal with what he means and portends for the nation.   They turned to an obvious book,  George Orwell's 1984, and 68 years  after its first publication, they put it on the best seller list again.  The psychological derangement it describes is a combination of hatred and abject fear induced through political conditioning,  a form of brain washing, that is recognized as what Trump has brought to America.  And it might be said that the particular derangement is what brought Trump into prominence.  A huge segment of the American population lost or has rejected science and factual information,  endorses the malignant spread of lies and defamation, and scoffs at probity as a condition of democracy.  To understand why about half the population abandons the cognitive principles on which democracies and any advanced civilization are based, one must turn to the accounts of humankind's biggest failures.  The Salem trials show the causes and consequences of the mindless hysteria that gripped the people at the time,  later repudiated when heads cleared and facts and reason and moral conscience prevailed.

The most obvious and significant parallel of the Salem hysteria to our time is the vilification of Hillary Clinton for things she did not do.  In Salem, the accusations of witchery were directed primarily at females from as young as 9 to elderly woman.    Mysogyny is recognized as a contributing motive behind the witch trials combined with other mental and moral failures and derangements.  The women accused of being witches were blamed as the cause of every social and natural disorder.

There are many reasons one can find to politically oppose Hillary Clinton.  Those  given to prejudice based upon personality can also find cause in their minds,.   But the behavior of Trump and the GOP went far beyond political premises into malignant derangement.  The main pretexts for the Hillary derangement were her email server and Benghazi.  Multiple investigations have been made of those matters by political opponents  dedicated to bringing her down and by federal agencies,  and they all ended up finding no cause for legal or executive actions against her.

She admitted that the private email server was a mistake.  Mixing personal emails on the same server with State Department business was unwieldy.  She initiated her  own server after being advised by predecessors that emails often became serious impediments in carrying out diplomatic duties.  However, the issue that the Republicans tried to pursue was that documents with security classifications had been put on a server that was not protected with official government devices.  The paradox is that her server was never hacked although the servers of security agencies in the government have been.  She did turn over all the emails that were not personal for review,  although some Republicans claim that she withheld 30,000 emails.  The FBI director said the handling of secure messages was sloppy, but there was no breach of security for which Clinton could be held liable.  

Congressional committees have conducted 12 investigations into Banghazi.  None of them produced information that Hillary did or failed to do anything that led to the deaths of four men, the ambassador and his security staff.  The families of the victims except for one have absolved Clinton.  One bereft mother, Patricia Smith, was exploited at the Republican National Convention where she was a featured speaker and accused Hillary Clinton of being responsible for her son's death,  of lying to her about why it happened, and stating that Clinton should be in jail.  The mother of the dead ambassador, Chris Stevens,  asked the Republicans to stop using Benghazi and her son as political propaganda.   

What Patricia Smith claims Hillary lied about was the motive behind the Benghazi attack.  She takes up the GOP party line used to besmirch Clinton and Obama's security adviser Susan Rice.  The day that Benghazi was attacked, there were anti- U.S. protests in Egypt and Libya against a video that mocked Muhammed.  In initial reports of the attack on Benghazi that killed Ambassador Stevens and his three staff members, it was assumed that the attack was part of that protest.  In her early comments,  Susan Rice referred to that protest.  Secretary Clinton was condemned by Republicans of holding to that explanation,  but the record of her communications show at the outset that she said the attack was carried out by an organized group.  Patricia Smith claims Clinton lied to her and the families of the men killed by insisting that their deaths were the result of the protest.  Other families say they never heard her mention the video protests.

In order to support their claim that Clinton lied,  the GOP tries to insist that the protests and the Benghazi attack were totally separate incidents.  Intelligence analysts make the point that the group that attacked Benghazi used the state of unrest created by the video as an occasion to launch their attack.  The most recent testimony indicates there were attacks by both disorganized protestors and by an organized group with a detailed plan. The main perpetrator of the attack has said that part of his motive was in revenge for the video mocking his religion.

The attempts by the GOP to use differing perspectives on a complex event as the basis for branding Cinton and Rice as liars are perhaps the most significant facts to come out of the turmoil.  The Republicans don't care or wish to determine just what actually happened.  They wish merely to use the incident as a pretext for maligning Clinton and Rice.

After Patricia Rice made her accusations at the Republican National Convention,  the Republicans instituted, as right out of Orwell's 1984, the 15 minutes of hate in which crowds would rise to their feet at the mention of Hillary Clinton and chant "Lock her up" and other threats to her person.  It was the re-enactment of what Orwell describes:

A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one's will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.
This kind of malicious frenzy was experienced during the Salem witch trials, as neighbors turned on neighbors and accused them of evil.  Perhaps the latest example is in the accusation that Susan Rice in her role as security adviser asked for the names of people mentioned in intelligence reports about spies from other nations.  That is part of the  job, but Trump and the GOP try to make it a crime.  Susan Rice is a prime target for the reals motives of Trump and the GOP:  she's a woman and she's African-American.  Which adds another dimension of hatred to that "hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness."

Trump's accusations and threats against Hillary Clinton are wild, malicious hysteria not based on any facts.  The fact that so many people join in the frenzy indicates a reversion to an episode in America that is remarked in  literature as a matter of shame.  But that portion of people who join in the hate sessions are not that literature portion that reads and understands why episodes like the witch trials are recorded in literature as knowledge which warns of the dangers that lurk in the uninformed human mind.  

And once again humanity regresses to mindless rage.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Just another boil on Trump's nasty, festering ass

It is hard not to notice that since Trump became president, there are a lot of people who are not proud to be American.   He has reduced America to the status of a banana republic,  a contender with North Korea for being defined by leadership with a bad case of arrested development,  a petulant, deranged juvenile.  Kim Jong-un and Trump are temperamental cohorts.  They like to fire off missiles.  And threatening insults.  And  neither are equipped with the mental or moral restraints against carrying out their threats.

Trump has been useful to those who want to break America. Mitch McConnell is one of the most prominent and effective destroyers of democracy in America.  A native of the South,   McConnell was a fairly temperate politician,  but as he rose in power in the Republican Party,  he found political success in fulfilling the image of Jim Crow.   While his state of Kentucky  was not part of the Confederacy,  declaring itself neutral during the Civil War,  it was a slave state and the attitudes arising out of slavery are a tradition in the state.  McConnell's Jim Crow image came into focus with the election of a black man to President of the United States.  The intensity of McConnell's opposition went beyond policy disagreement to a malicious dedication to obstruct anything Obama proposed by any means possible.  His actions and demeanor went far beyond political disagreement into  unbridled racist fury.  He made clear that he was willing 
to break the nation to inflict his Jim Crow vengeance on  Obama.

Trump won McConnell's devotion by having launched his political efforts with the birther lie about Obama not being born an American.  He further endeared McConnell with his stream of denigrations and insults against Obama.  McConnell became a fanatical destructor of anything to do with Obama.

The act that set up Trump's only success in office so far was to refuse to acknowledge in any way Obama's candidate for the Supreme Court,  Merrick Garland.  At McConnell's order, the GOP-controlled Senate refused to even acknowledge the nomination with interviews,  let alone committee hearings and a vote by the Senate.  The insulting discourtesy and abuse of process was right out of the Jim Crow play book, and the Republicans carried it out with the viciousness and vengeance that characterizes racial hatred.  And so, Neil Gorsuch was whisked into the Supreme Court.  Republicans think it was a victory.  The majority who did not vote for Trump don't think it matters.  For them, America is over.  Its laws and rules are superfluous.  Good people do not abide by bad laws.  They do not obey bad leaders.  They snicker with derision at consequent court decisions.  Gorsuch may have qualifications, but they are meaningless because his appointment is the result of McConnell and Trump breaking America apart. He is merely a boil on a festering ass.

The nation's president is a pathological liar.  No one of intelligence believes a word he utters.  Those people long ago stopped listening to him.  We have a national congress whose majority thinks perfidy is clever politics.  Congress has been reduced to a mental institution.  The non-Trump and non-GOP supporters regard its antics with bemused distaste, as they lead lives apart from what happened to America.

There is much talk about resistance, but it has gone quiet.  That is part of the resistance. What person of intelligent values wants to contribute to the cacophony of a nation that has become an abomination?  Who wants to expose themselves to the festering asses?

Trump attacked America and its standing in the world when he campaigned with a barrage of disparaging lies.  But as president,  he made them come true.  A friend who is traveling in Europe writes:  "Experienced a new standard in arrogant, dismissive wait service tonight. The Muse  [his spouse] reminds me that we're Americans, not quite equal in humanity to Europeans now. The EU parliament just voted to require visas from American travelers. This would have made this impromptu excursion impossible. America First renders Americans second or third-class world citizens."

The idea of America will not die.  Its true adherents will, as their ancestors did,  will find a place where it can work.  Meanwhile on this continent,  it has become a subsidiary of the Trump Organization,  the United States of Jim Crow.

The face of Jim Crow

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States