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

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The appeal of Donald Trump and ISIS

The news is filled with accounts of mass murders, enslaving, rapes, beheadings, almost any atrocity one can think of by ISIS.  And the group publicly brags about them.  There are detailed accounts of the  capture, enslaving, and repeated rape of young women like Kayla Mueller.   Still, the group manages to induce very bright young people to defect from their countries and to join ISIS in Syria.  Experts claim that ISIS offers young people an ordered life free from the frustrations of western culture and a chance to help oppressed people.  They do not venture into much analysis about why young people allegedly in quest of doing good seem to be duped or supportive of an organization that does so much obscenely bad things to other humans.   Or that ISIS is contrary to every other cultural and religious premise, and operates a constant, vicious holocaust.   

Most of the young people who join ISIS, or attempt to, have Muslim connections.  While it is a serious error--and problem--to suggest that the mad-dog Islamic jihadists represent the principles of the Muslim religion,  the experts on radicalization point out that the appeal of ISIS is based on Muslim expectations and the promise that ISIS provides a way to fulfill the demands of Allah.  To those who practice religions that preach a benign and accepting attitude toward fellow humans,  the vicious malevolence of Islamic jihadists is incomprehensible.  How do bright young people reconcile the rabid dementia openly proclaimed by ISIS with an alleged quest for helping the oppressed?  How can they respond to western decadence by joining an organization that practices the most heinous outrages against humankind as a liturgy to the divine?  

When 9/11 happened, people had  and still have a hard time grasping the idea that young men will volunteer for suicide missions to kill thousands of people who never displayed any animus or threat to them.  The conclusion is that these people, while showing some intelligence, have grave intellectual and moral defects which make them a danger to the world.  They are like rabid dogs which are incapable of responding to any benign suasion.  

The presence of Islamic jihadists and their destructive acts against humanity have not resulted in a submission to them that their acts of terror are supposedly committed to inspire.  Rather, they have caused thinking people to make critical appraisals of the ignorant, destructive, and hate-inducing elements in all religions.  Young people in the western world who have been raised in churches show a skepticism and aloofness from the dicta of their religions.  They are more struck by the fallibility and perversity of some of the notions they were taught under the guise of religious morality.  The perverse destructionism of the jihadists has called all religious belief into skeptical and critical question.  Those who are attracted to ISIS are those who are not intellectually equipped or strong enough to realize that their defects of mentality make them vulnerable to men of perverse purpose.  And so, young teenagers fall prey to ISIS recruitment.

Another aspect of human deterioration is the social media.  The sight of students streaming  out of high school with their eyes locked on the cell phones in their hands is portentous.   The social media is the major recruiting tool of the jihadists.
It comprises the environment in which many people spend their time and focus their attention.  They live virtual lives, artificially contrived for them.  They have few reference points in the natural world.  Youths have alwaysl formed cultures that often resent but challenge the cultures their elders handed down to them.  At some point the adolescent revolt is confronted with reality.  In some of those confrontations, such as during the civil rights movement and the Veit Nam War, those confrontations involve contending viewpoints within the general culture, and the qualities of liberty and justice are improved and expanded.  But when people are absorbed by and into the social media, they are isolated from the intellectual and social currents that swirl around them.  The social media can be both liberating and confining, and, as George Orwell warned, can be used to reduce humans to automatons under the control of minds who create holocausts.  Our education systems and our media have not learned how to put the social media in a critical context so that we can distinguish between the media and the messages they carry and perceive them through critical ilntelligence.

Donald Trump is a prime example of the grave intellectual failures of the electronic media.  The news media's major concern is to gain audiences so that they can attract advertisers.  Twenty-four hour cable news and its online components have long relinquished real news analysis to broadcasting spectacles that attract attention.  Rather than focus on the actual news, the media fixes on controversies, because controversies and the spats they produce attract more attention than news reports.  Then it assembles panels of "experts" to endlessly jaw about the controversies.  

Donald Trump is media-savvy enough to know that he can say outrageous things that get attention and that the media will fix on the outrage and controversy he generates, not on the facts of what he says.  He also knows that there are people of a mindset out there that resent the intellectual activity of trying to discern what is true and what is not, and they find that Trump's performances compatible with their attitudes.  A factor in  Trump's performances is that people are tired of gridlock in Washington and the constant rain of petty obstruction and accusation poured down on the nation.  Trump presents himself as a man who  gets things done, and there is a strong appeal in that posture.  The trouble is that the media is not examining just what Trump has done.  It fixes instead upon his words and his quarrels with the media and other candidates, and Trump knows that the quarrels are what the media will broadcast, not the actual facts.

An example is Trump's take on jobs.  He contends that China has stolen America's jobs and that he will return them to this country.  The falsity of that  contention is that China did not steal the jobs.  When China offered to do the jobs cheaply,  American corporations rushed to send the jobs to China, where they did not have to deal with employees, union contracts, or fringe benefits.  The rush toward cheaper jobs resulted in almost every manufactured product sold in the U.S. being manufactured in China.  Trump is the head of a large corporation which is part of that corporate culture that eliminated the manufacturing jobs in this country.  Mitt Romney was identified as a part of that corporate culture when his company was directly responsible for firing American  workers and sending their jobs off to China.  The question raised by Trump is how would he get other corporations to bring back the jobs they sent to China.  And what corporation will reject cheap labor?  It is not something that can be done by presidential decree.  

Another claim that Trump makes is that Mexico deliberately selects criminals and the poor to send into the U.S. so that Mexico does not have to deal with them.  Mexico is not the only source of undocumented workers, and American companies hire them because they work cheap.  The media does not fact check Trump, because it is too busy broadcasting his claims and endlessly reporting on the controversy those claims generate.  

Trump also gets by with constant denigrations of his opponents and other people with insults and accusations that are totally expressions of his attitude, not statements reasoned from facts.  He blurts that Jeb Bush is unelectable and of low energy.  Bush does not have the blustering personality of Trump, if that's what low energy means, but that is a difference in personaiity, not a requisite quality for a president.  He makes personal dismissals of other people, often labeling somebody as horrible.  

Trump is the quintessential schoolyard bully.  He marshals support by scapegoating and attracting the support of that segment of the population that needs targets for blame and hatred. Just as Hitler blamed the Jews for the misfortunes of Germany and the  jihadists blames western culture for all the ills they see in the world, Trump focuses on Mexicans and other groups, hurls insult and abuse at them and excites hatred in the mindless dupes who will make up his base.  Like all schoolyard bullies, he is a shameless demagogue.  He gives the personal desires and prejudices of the sulking and resentful a voice and a chance at power.  

Those attracted to Trump are like those teenagers and other insentient souls who are isolated by lonely ignorance in their quest for someone who will lead them into a life.  Those young people attracted to ISIS are incapable of perceiving that the evil ISIS does to its scapegoats is the same evil it might do to them.  The people attracted to Trump are incapable of seeing that the vileness with which he treats his opponents and others he scapegoats might at some time be directed toward them.  

The culture of America has regressed.  The simmering and seething racism, for example, that was capped and kept hidden after the civil rights movement has bubbled back to the surface of American life.  The motives of those who have vowed to defeat and suppress Obama have emerged into open racism.  The shootings of so many unarmed black people and the disproportionate incarceration of minority people have revealed a race war.

In an article in the Washington Post, a Muslim examines how an old classmate of his interprets his religion in a way that causes him to join the Islamic State. The author explains:
Mainstream theologians who cater to the majority of lay Muslims, both Sunni and Shiite, are unable to address such critical moral and theological challenges as evolution, gender and sexuality, or the role and meaning of sharia in a modern nation. That’s because theological education is steeped in ancient texts with little attention to reinterpretation. 
Groups like the Islamic State propound antiquated teachings still held to be true by many orthodox authorities. These include enslaving prisoners of war and taking female prisoners as concubines.
The people who follow Trump and other demagogues in the current campaign similarly are fixed on disproven interpretations of the Bible,  misinformed notions of the Constitution, and are locked in the bonds of bigotry.  They see the advances made in equality and justice as threats to the world they prefer to live in.  They, indeed, take refuge in their Bibles, their guns, and in the hatreds that form the boundaries of their universe.  

The significance of the 2016 election will be to determine if America will continue the struggles and advances that serve all its people or whether it will slip back into the mire of old racial and sectarian hatreds.  Some states such as Wisconsin have made that choice by scapegoating teachers and government workers as "union thugs," by imposing strictures on one of the nation's premier higher education systems, and by turning the state over to a corporate oligarchy.  The nation could go that way.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States