Today, we’re going to ask the big question. The whole Taco Bell salad bowl value menu. It’s what America wants to know and has from the beginning of this tragic comedy.
Let’s just go ahead and get it over with…
Does Donald Trump represent an existential threat?
Now, I don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Thing is, the way the wind blows changes. Speed, direction, temperature, all of it. Where are you standing?
So none of us can say exactly how all of this is going to shake out in the end, until the credits roll. I don’t know. None of us knows. But we can make some good guesses, folks.
Until the end does come, we’re going to ask the tough questions here, and we’re looking for answers. Clues. C’mon, gang!
For instance, what the hell does “existential” mean? That’s our word of the day. Existential.
How people answer our question of the day, about whether Trump is an existential threat, depends on how they perceive the question to start with. Let’s start there.
The first five letters of “existential” are “e-x-i-s-t.”
Not “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” That’s a different song.
The way I perceive this question is simple:
“Is Donald Trump going to get us all killed? You, know, we won’t exist any more if he does. That could be a problem. That’s exist-ential.”
So I literally google “Donald Trump is an existential threat” to see what will happen. Living dangerous, folks. Nacho cheese. Flamethrower sauce. Refried beans or Alpo?
Who can say? Ask the dog.
Here’s what comes up at the top:
by Charles Blow of the New York Times.
No, were aren’t making jokes about Mr. Blow’s name.
Focus. Check the weathervane. Which way does the wind blow?
It surprised the hell out of me to find, when I read Mr. Blow’s article, he doesn’t talk about existential – will Donald Trump get us all killed? – matters at all.
Why is that? Turns out “existential threat” was a media cliché before Trump took office.
For by the sacred radiance of the sun,
The mysteries of Hecate and the night,
By all the operation of the orbs
From whom we do exist and cease to be—
~ King Lear, Act 1, Scene 1
Well, since Mr. Blow’s job is writing for the NYTimes, we would expect an establishment take on the question. That’s what people say. The Establishment. What does “the Establishment” mean anyway?
“By the Establishment, I do not only mean the centers of official power—though they are certainly part of it—but rather the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised. The exercise of power cannot be understood unless it is recognized that it is exercised socially.”
~ Henry Fairlie, The Spectator (1955).
The power. Makes sense.
This is Jeff Bezos eating Smaug from the Hobbit.
Bezos was quoted as saying, “We must have the precioussss…”
Now to do a fancy bit of logic. We presume the premises A and B are true…
A. Jeff Bezos is the wealthiest man in the world.
B. Bezos got his piles of wealth because the world is the way it is.
Here’s the fancy part…
A + B –> C. Our conclusion (C) is Bezos loves the way the world is; therefore, in the future, Bezos will act to maintain the status quo.
What the hell is status quo? Dictionary says: “the existing state of affairs, especially regarding social or political issues.” There’s that exist-ing word again.
Therefore, ipso facto, hocus pocus, and abracadabra, we can guesstimate writers for the NYT will act in such a way as to protect the status quo, including Mr. Blow. After all, the Ochs-Sulzberger family has owned the NYT since 1896. We’re hinking they don’t want to see this change any time soon. Maybe this will explain what is meant by “existential” in the article…
The article was written a week before the 2016 US presidential election, and is intended to persuade readers not to vote for Donald Trump. Indeed, Trump is not the Establishment candidate, as all the newspapers (WaPo and NYT included) endorsed Hillary Clinton shows us. Why?
Hillary Clinton represented a continuation of the status quo. She was Clinton 2.0 and she was Obama 2.0 as well. Same neoliberal economics, same neoconservative interventionist foreign policy. Just as identity politics helped put Obama over the top because he was black, so being female was supposed to put Hillary Clinton over Trump. Hillary Clinton is the very personification of the Establishment and its politically-correct values. The powers that be, the ones that exist, backed her overwhelmingly.
What is it Mr. Blow jangles on about in his paper? The existential threat?
“How can sound minds even consider Trump for president of this country and leader of the free world? The logic simply escapes me.”
I agree with this. Trump is a WWF wrassler and celebrity reality TV gameshow host. Surely this sort of work disqualifies him from being taken seriously on the world stage: Donald Trump’s WWF Greatest Moments on Film
Perhaps we should do our logic thing again then, yes? To catch it…
Say… Donald Trump’s big catchy marketing phrase, “Make America Great Again (MAGA).” What does it mean?
Well, let’s consider its logical structure. It is an enthymeme, which means part of the argument is intentionally left out by the speaker. It is up to listener to “fill-in-the-blanks” so to speak. This is not a flaw; it’s the magic of how a propaganda slogan works!
Here’s a classic enthymeme:
”America is great because she is good.”
What has been left out of ^this^ logical argument is a premise or two;
A. All good nations are great nations.
B. America is a good nation.
A + B –> C. Our conclusion (C) is America is a great nation.
If you feel this way – remember we said Jeff Bezos and mainstream media will feel this way – then you should maintain the status quo. America is great.
“American exceptionalism means America differs qualitatively from other developed nations because of its national credo, ethnic diversity, and revolution-sprung history. It is often expressed as a superiority: The United States is the biggest, most powerful, smartest, richest, and most-deserving country on Earth.”
But Trump voters don’t feel that way, according to their MAGA slogan. It may sound corny, but don’t discount the power of slogans on voters.
“I’ve spoken to many people who are still for Trump despite all of his lies and misdeeds. They don’t pay much attention to politics. When they do, they reveal themselves as Slogan Voters. They are content with Trump’s rhetoric and rarely look beneath the surface at the details. That is, they are not bothered by being fact-deprived in political matters.
Here is what they tell me: They hate Hillary. They like Trump. They repeat the three slogans: Make America Great Again, Drain the Swamp, and Lock Her Up! Over and over again.”
Why do Trump voters not feel the greatness of the status quo?
“Obama hopes to reframe the election for the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. Voters are demanding radical change, but the former secretary of state is the emblem of status quo and Trump is living disruption.
She represents a political system most Americans don’t trust; that failed to protect their livelihoods in the shift from industrialism to globalism; that made promises it didn’t keep; that puts more value in the results of the next election than the needs of the next generation. She could lose that fight. Obama puts it thus:
Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this, right now, is the greatest country on earth.
America is already great. America is already strong. And I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump.
In fact, it doesn’t depend on any one person. And that, in the end, may be the biggest difference in this election—the meaning of our democracy. Ronald Reagan called America ‘a shining city on a hill.’
Donald Trump calls it ‘a divided crime scene; I alone can fix it.’”
Wait a minute… did he say “Ronald Reagan?”
So… if Trump wants to MAGA… when was that? Exactly. The time America was great.
During the ’80s when Reagan used the same slogan? When did Reagan mean America was great? He was going to MAGA too. Did Reagan succeed? This is confusing…
Except it isn’t. Remember our enthymeme logical structure. Leave the date out of the MAGA argument on purpose and it works even better, because the listener can insert any time he wants into it in his own head.
Why does this work so well Trump and Reagan won with the same argument?
Because “Conservatives” are “Reactionaries.” What the hell is a reactionary?
“A reactionary is a person who holds political views that favor a return to the status quo ante (a previous social/ political state of society), which they believe possessed characteristics (discipline, respect for authority, etc.) negatively absent from the contemporary status quo of a society.”
So a “reactionary” is a reverse revolutionary. A reactionary believes in radical change envisioning a utopia (just as the revolutionary does), except this utopia is to be found in the past. Listen to Rush Limbaugh some time. This is his whole entire sales gimmick in a nutshell: “The world would be a utopia if only everyone was conservative. Therefore, liberals are the enemy and we must get rid of them, for their own good.”
When is this time America was great?
Well, to Donald Trump, it is Reagan’s ’80s with its trickle-down economics.
To many Trump voters, it is prior to Barack Obama being the first black president. Maybe the ’50s before the Civil Rights movement. Maybe Jim Crow or antebellum.
To Trump’s campaign strategist, Steve Bannon, it is Andrew Jackson’s “white man’s democracy.”
Make no mistake, an African-American such as Obama and Mr. Blow are aware of this. So back to his NYT article, what’s the bottom line?
“On Election Day, America faces a choice, and it’s not a tough one, but a stark one. It is the difference between tolerance and intolerance. It is the difference between respect and disrespect. It is the difference between a politician with some flaws and a flaw threatening our politics.
Donald Trump is America’s existential threat. On Tuesday, America has an opportunity to defend itself.“
Reading between the lines here, Mr. Blow’s column says he feels Donald Trump is an “existential threat” not because he’s going to get us all killed. Moreover, Mr. Blow does not mention nuclear war or global warming, events which certainly are existential threats to the entire human race.
No, what Mr. Blow seems concerned about is the Establishment and identity politics.
“What I mean by trickle-down identity politics is the idea that high-end representation alone — having more women and people of color represented in positions of power, recognized in culture and political office and in corporate boardrooms — will lead to this trickle-down equality.
And I’m not saying that symbolic victories and that kind of diversity is not important. It was tremendously important, for instance, for a generation of young people to see a black man as the US president and have that role model. I think the same is true in Hollywood, in culture, and having those cultural role models.
What’s dangerous is the idea that this alone is going to erase, say, racial and gender injustice. That these images alone are going to fix people’s reality. We need policies that are designed to close inequalities and inequalities are actually widening in this period. And changing the images is cheaper and easier.
Changing the reality requires massive investments in education and services, and the symbolic victories, even though they are important, tend to not cost as much. Gay marriage is cheaper than major investments in the public sphere, which are going to tangibly improve people’s lives.
This is not to say it’s unimportant — of course it’s not — it’s just to say it’s insufficient.”
And we see much of the mainstream media (NYT, WaPo) is indeed, advocating against Trump and for the status quo, while the rest (Fox News, etc) advocates for the status quo ante.
So what we have here, is one party goes backwards and the other stands still. No wonder Americans are pissed off…
Here’s a different view on this question by Ted Rall, who answers:
This past week more than 300 American newspapers colluded — if the word fits… — to simultaneously publish editorials declaring themselves, contra Trump, not “the enemy of the people.” Shortly thereafter the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution declaring that it too did not consider the press to be, in a phrase that evokes the rhetoric of the former Soviet Union, state enemies.
The Boston Globe organized this journalistic flash mob.
“The greatness of America is dependent on the role of a free press to speak the truth to the powerful,” the Globe’s editorial board wrote. “To label the press ‘the enemy of the people’ is as un-American as it is dangerous to the civic compact we have shared for more than two centuries.” President Trump has repeatedly derided the media as “the enemy of the people” and purveyors of “fake news” on Twitter and at campaign rallies.
The First Amendment guarantee of press freedom, the Globe wrote, “has protected journalists at home and served as a model for free nations abroad. Today it is under serious threat.”
Is it really?
The surprise election of Donald Trump has elicited more the-sky-is-falling handwringing than any other political event in my lifetime (I will turn 55 next week). Very Serious People have warned in Big Important Newspapers that the rise of Trump harkens the transformation of the U.S., and other Western democracies, into fascist states. Even before he took office, the ACLU called Trump “a one-man constitutional crisis.”
No doubt, Trump’s rhetoric evokes the president’s authoritarian instincts: deriding his foes as anti-American, calling for and ordering mass deportations, supporting torture, and yes, press-bashing showcase the mindset of a man who doesn’t support democratic values and probably doesn’t even know much about the history or philosophy behind them.
But let’s separate Trump’s crude rally remarks and crass online rants from his Administration’s policies. What is he actually doing? How does his day-to-day governance represent a radical departure from the norms established by presidential precedents?
When you set aside Trump’s talk in order to focus instead on his walk, it is hard to conclude that he is an outlier by American standards. A better analogy, a friend observes, is Kaposi sarcoma, a cancer commonly associated with AIDS. It can kill you. But it’s not the main reason you’re having problems.
In other words, Trump isn’t — despite what 300-plus newspaper editorial boards would have us think — a root cause of American crisis. He is a symptom of preexisting conditions. This is important. Because if we delude ourselves into thinking that getting rid of Trump will fix what ails us, things will only get worse.
Running down the list of what offends people about Trump, there is nothing here we haven’t seen before — and ignored when other presidents did them.
Trump stands accused of colluding with Russia to steal the 2016 election. There is still zero evidence that this happened. It’s still just vague insinuations leaked to newspapers with histories of cozying up to the CIA-FBI-NSA by anonymous CIA-FBI-NSA spooks.
There is, on the other hand, ample evidence that Ronald Reagan colluded with Iran to delay the release of the 52 American embassy hostages held in Tehran in order to destroy Jimmy Carter’s reelection chances.
Richard Nixon colluded with a shadowy Taiwanese business executive with ties to South Vietnam in order to scuttle the Johnson Administration’s last-ditch attempt to negotiate peace between South and North Vietnam just before the 1968 election. Nixon squeaked by the Democratic nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, by 0.7%. LBJ said Nixon was guilty of “treason,” but nothing happened.
Trump has been criticized for mass deportations of illegal immigrants, including separation of children from their parents, and rightly so.
But there is nothing new about Trump’s actions on immigration. Bill Clinton deported 12 million people, George W. Bush deported 10 million and Obama deported 5 million. Obama’s numbers were lower but more robust because he ordered ICE to charge illegal immigrants as criminals. They faced prison if they returned. Previous presidents merely sent them home on buses and planes.
As the National Immigration Law Center points out, “President Trump is exploiting the tools and infrastructure set in place by previous administrations to (1) expand the definition of who should be banned and deported and (2) militarize federal agencies and build up the deportation machine.”
Separating children from their parents at the border began under Obama, albeit in smaller numbers.
Trump has legitimized the “alt-right,” i.e. the psychotic right-wingers we used to call Nazis, Klansmen and fascists. Even after a fascist murdered a woman and injured others at an alt-right riot in Charlottesville, the president wallowed in false equivalence: “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” Coddling racists is disgusting. But it’s not new to American politics.
During the 1990s then-First Lady Hillary Clinton called some African-American youth “superpredators.”
Reagan relied on racist dog-whistles during his 1980 campaign, which he launched in the small Mississippi town where the Klan murdered four Freedom Riders during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. “I believe in states’ rights,” Reagan said. States right was political code for supporting racial segregation.
Reagan also referred to Cadillac-driving “welfare queens” and “strapping young bucks” buying T-bone steaks with food stamps on the campaign trail.
On substance, legislation and regulation, Donald Trump is virtually indistinguishable from his predecessors, many of whom are responsible for far more serious attacks on democracy.
George W. Bush alone is guilty of far more heinous crimes. He introduced the dangerous explosion of “signing statements” in which the president signs a bill into law and then crosses his fingers behind his back, secretly ordering that the law not be enforced. And he invaded Iraq preemptively, an extreme violation of international law, which states that nations may only go to war in self-defense or when faced with a grave and imminent military threat.
Where Trump differs from previous presidents is in tone. He is obnoxious and obscene. He lies — loudly. At least in public — they all swear in private — Americans like their leaders calm, deliberative and low-key.
It isn’t surprising that Trump’s trash-talking is freaking people out. But we shouldn’t conflate rudeness with an existential threat to democracy. Democracy, decency and civility were never real American values in the first place. That, not Trump, is the real problem.
Yes, there is something different about Trump. His world view amounts to solipsism. He’s crazy, mean, and stupid. He lies so often, everything he says could be considered bullshitting, trolling, and downright fuckery.
The thing is, Rall’s “No” answer above still doesn’t address the sort of existential threat which understandably keeps people up at night. So much WINNING!!!
We’re talking Masters of War existential threat.
The whole taco salad.
The taco salad. Looking at the above Facebook post, it really sounds like a commercial.
Can lunch really be more important than this?
“Naomi Klein: What I mean there is that the reason there is such widespread denial of the reality of climate change with power brokers in the Republican Party, and certainly within very right-wing, free market think tanks, is that they understand that if the science is true, then the political or economic projects they hope to advance, which is a radically deregulated market, must come to a screeching halt.
Climate change is true, and so it does mean we need to intervene very seriously in the market. It does mean we need to regulate corporations in a way that governments have been unwilling to do for the last 40 years. We have to place severe limits on further expansion of the fossil fuel frontier if we’re serious about this. It means we can’t develop new fossil fuel reserves and we have to manage a transition away from fossil fuels with existing production. This requires managing the economy, it requires planning, it requires major investments in energy, public investments, major investments in public transit. These things go against all of the economic trends of the past 40 years where we’ve been defunding the public sphere on so many fronts.
I think the right understands this, and therefore chooses to deny reality. Whereas one of the things we see on the liberal side is, instead of denying the science, they deny the implications of the science. I would put the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in this category, where he’s written so many columns about how easy it is to deal with climate change. We can do it and we’ll barely notice. I think people should understand that it is a more fundamental challenge than that.
For decades, there was a huge emphasis on these just small consumer changes that you can make. It created a kind of dissonance where you present people with information about an existential threat and then say, “Well, change your light bulb,” or, “Drive a hybrid.” You don’t talk at all about public policy. And if you do, it’s a very tiny carbon tax and that’s going to do it.
Then I think there are some liberals who do understand the implications of climate change and the depth of change it requires from us. But because they believe humans are incapable of that kind of change, or at this stage in human evolution, I suppose, they think we’re basically doomed. I think contemporary centrist liberalism does not have the tools to deal with a crisis of this magnitude that requires this level of market intervention. And I worry that can lead to a kind of a nihilism around climate change.
And finally, here is a take from Noam Chomsky in the NYT, in which he addresses these actual existential threats, ones the mendacity and cupidity of Trump certainly exacerbate. The ones the sane man fears. The ones we don’t get to come back from:
“We have to be a little cautious about not trying to kill a gnat with an atom bomb. The performances are so utterly absurd regarding the “post-truth” moment that the proper response might best be ridicule. For example, Stephen Colbert’s recent comment is apropos: When the Republican legislature of North Carolina responded to a scientific study predicting a threatening rise in sea level by barring state and local agencies from developing regulations or planning documents to address the problem, Colbert responded: “This is a brilliant solution. If your science gives you a result that you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved.”
Quite generally, that’s how the Trump administration deals with a truly existential threat to survival of organized human life: ban regulations and even research and discussion of environmental threats and race to the precipice as quickly as possible (in the interests of short-term profit and power).
In this regard, I find Trumpism to be a bit suicidal.
Of course, ridicule is not enough. It’s necessary to address the concerns and beliefs of those who are taken in by the fraud, or who don’t recognize the nature and significance of the issues for other reasons. If by philosophy we mean reasoned and thoughtful analysis, then it can address the moment, though not by confronting the “alternative facts” but by analyzing and clarifying what is at stake, whatever the issue is. Beyond that, what is needed is action: urgent and dedicated, in the many ways that are open to us.
I don’t think things are quite that bleak. Take the success of the Bernie Sanders campaign, the most remarkable feature of the 2016 election. It is, after all, not all that surprising that a billionaire showman with extensive media backing (including the liberal media, entranced by his antics and the advertising revenue it afforded) should win the nomination of the ultra-reactionary Republican Party.
The Sanders campaign, however, broke dramatically with over a century of U.S. political history. Extensive political science research, notably the work of Thomas Ferguson, has shown convincingly that elections are pretty much bought. For example, campaign spending alone is a remarkably good predictor of electoral success, and support of corporate power and private wealth is a virtual prerequisite even for participation in the political arena.
The Sanders campaign showed that a candidate with mildly progressive (basically New Deal) programs could win the nomination, maybe the election, even without the backing of the major funders or any media support. There’s good reason to suppose that Sanders would have won the nomination had it not been for shenanigans of the Obama-Clinton party managers. He is now the most popular political figure in the country by a large margin.
Activism spawned by the campaign is beginning to make inroads into electoral politics. Under Barack Obama, the Democratic Party pretty much collapsed at the crucial local and state levels, but it can be rebuilt and turned into a progressive force. That would mean reviving the New Deal legacy and moving well beyond, instead of abandoning, the working class and turning into Clintonite New Democrats, which more or less resemble what used to be called moderate Republicans, a category that has largely disappeared with the shift of both parties to the right during the neoliberal period.
Such prospects may not be out of reach, and efforts to attain them can be combined with direct activism right now, urgently needed, to counter the legislative and executive actions of the Republican administration, often concealed behind the bluster of the figure nominally in charge.
There are in fact many ways to combat the Trump project of creating a tiny America, isolated from the world, cowering in fear behind walls while pursuing the Paul Ryan-style domestic policies that represent the most savage wing of the Republican establishment.
Republican leadership, in splendid isolation from the world, is almost unanimously dedicated to destroying the chances for decent survival.
The most important issues to address are the truly existential threats we face: climate change and nuclear war. On the former, the Republican leadership, in splendid isolation from the world, is almost unanimously dedicated to destroying the chances for decent survival; strong words, but no exaggeration. There is a great deal that can be done at the local and state level to counter their malign project.
On nuclear war, actions in Syria and at the Russian border raise very serious threats of confrontation that might trigger war, an unthinkable prospect. Furthermore, Trump’s pursuit of Obama’s programs of modernization of the nuclear forces poses extraordinary dangers. As we have recently learned, the modernized U.S. nuclear force is seriously fraying the slender thread on which survival is suspended.
The matter is discussed in detail in a critically important article in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in March, which should have been, and remained, front-page news. The authors, highly respected analysts, observe that the nuclear weapons modernization program has increased “the overall killing power of existing U.S. ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three — and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.”
The significance is clear. It means that in a moment of crisis, of which there are all too many, Russian military planners may conclude that lacking a deterrent, the only hope of survival is a first strike — which means the end for all of us.
I view Trump as fundamentally unpredictable. We fear a nuclear exchange of any sort in our contemporary moment.I’m hardly the only person to have such fears.
Perhaps the most prominent figure to express such concerns is William Perry, one of the leading contemporary nuclear strategists, with many years of experience at the highest level of war planning. He is reserved and cautious, not given to overstatement. He has come out of semiretirement to declare forcefully and repeatedly that he is terrified both at the extreme and mounting threats and by the failure to be concerned about them. In his words, “Today, the danger of some sort of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War, and most people are blissfully unaware of this danger.”
In 1947, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists established its famous Doomsday Clock, estimating how far we are from midnight: termination. In 1947, the analysts set the clock at seven minutes to midnight. In 1953, they moved the hand to two minutes to midnight after the U.S. and U.S.S.R. exploded hydrogen bombs. Since then it has oscillated, never again reaching this danger point.
In January, shortly after Trump’s inauguration, the hand was moved to two and a half minutes to midnight, the closest to terminal disaster since 1953. By this time analysts were considering not only the rising threat of nuclear war but also the firm dedication of the Republican organization to accelerate the race to environmental catastrophe.
Perry is right to be terrified. And so should we all be, not least because of the person with his finger on the button and his surreal associates.
Is Russian hacking really more significant than what we have discussed — for example, the Republican campaign to destroy the conditions for organized social existence, in defiance of the entire world? Or to enhance the already dire threat of terminal nuclear war? Or even such real but lesser crimes such as the Republican initiative to deprive tens of millions of health care and to drive helpless people out of nursing homes in order to enrich their actual constituency of corporate power and wealth even further? Or to dismantle the limited regulatory system set up to mitigate the impact of the financial crisis that their favorites are likely to bring about once again? And on, and on.
It’s easy to condemn those we place on the other side of some divide, but more important, commonly, to explore what we take to be nearby.”