Tag Archives: Trump

Gotcha!

 

If I had to name one of the saddest, most useless tactics in the toolbox of Democrats/liberals, it would be those “Gotcha!” moments- pointing out the hypocrisy of their right wing and far right wing opponents. Take a look on Twitter some time and see liberal responses to President Pumpkin-face’s dainty curtsy for the Saudi King to see what I mean:

For the readers that aren’t aware, during his first Middle Eastern trip in 2009, Barack Obama made a shallow respectful bow upon greeting the Saudi monarch. The conservative mediasphere when nuts. Naturally they aren’t doing that now in response to Trump and if you managed to corner any conservative and demand an explanation they’d probably give you a rambling response about how Donald was just making it easier for the King to put the medal over his head before changing the subject to something else entirely.

Knowing this, however, I’m pressed to imagine exactly what liberals think would happen by pointing this out. Are they expecting to see conservatives respond with something like: “You know you liberals have got a point there! We made such a big deal of Obama just trying to show some courtesy to an important ally and friend of the Bush family, and it was all over nothing! I hope you can forgive us for flying off the handle that time! We’ll try to be more consistent with our outrage in the future!”

The point here is that just as basic facts don’t sway opinions for most people, pointing out even the most glaring hypocrisy can be just as useless. Even when that non-scandal with Obama took place in 2009, I predicted that there would have been outrage either way. That is to say if Obama hadn’t made any bow and just greeted the Saudi King as Westerners greet one another, Fox News and the army of conservative pundits would have screamed themselves red in the face about how the President disrespected this “valuable ally” and important partner. I’m sure some of them would have certainly declared the slight so serious as to jeopardize the War on Terror and by extension, America’s security.

These people weren’t genuinely angry about Obama being seen as submissive to a foreign leader (because normal, informed people don’t see the gesture that way at all), the point is that it was Obama, leader of the opposing team, and thus everything he does or doesn’t do is terrible and with malicious intent. And in spite of all that vaunted formal education, liberals totally missed this point and seemingly built an industry of cataloging each and every single time conservatives contradicted themselves, as though any of these people even cared about being consistent. The pundits who produce this manufactured outrage on the right are well-paid to do so. They aren’t so much as representing a coherent ideology as they are serving their purpose, which is getting masses of people to vote for the GOP and, quite often, policies which actually go against their own self-interest. I’m not saying that none of those pundits and columnists have some genuine, sincerely-held beliefs, but rather that they aren’t terribly concerned with being morally or ideologically consistent.

Realistically speaking, most people don’t have any coherent political worldview. The severe limitations on political participation and the pressures of capitalism mean that even in the most developed liberal democracies, the majority of people just “aren’t into politics.” With so many people posting political memes and sharing political stories it might seem that they are, but if you really look at what’s being shared most of it is simply bullshit. It’s clickbait, typically designed to provoke outrage or to stroke the reader’s ego for being on the “right” side. In other words- this isn’t politics but entertainment, in some cases highly-addictive entertainment. As such, it sort of resembles another form of popular entertainment- professional sports.

If you watch professional sports, you’ll notice that even casual fans balk at referees when they call fouls or penalties against their team. Sometimes, after watching the replay, they’ll acknowledge that the call was justified, but more often than not the immediate reaction to a call against a fan’s team is “bullshit!” When you’re rooting for a team, what matters is that they win. I’ve never heard of a sports fan who worries that their team might push the rules or even break them without getting caught. For a more extreme example of this just look at last year’s doping scandal in Russia. There people flat-out broke rules in a big way, and yet a good portion of people just alleged that there was an anti-Russian conspiracy and that Western athletes were getting away with the same thing (they weren’t, actually).

Obviously the world of sports doesn’t translate over to the world of politics very well. Here it’s supposed to be about ideas, values, worldviews. If you’re trying to convince people that your side is morally right (as has been the case for a long time now), you ought to be consistent in regards to your values. Ought to be is the key phrase there. In reality we’ve long passed the point where consistency matters. And yet you still have liberals saying things like “How can you be so opposed to abortion and not want to help poor women who keep the babies as you demand? Sounds like someone’s a hypocrite!” Poor liberals. As a great baseball player once put it- they think it don’t be like it is, but it do.

I must confess that I’m guilty of playing the “Gotcha!” game with hypocrisy. Who isn’t? It’s one of the easiest games to play. It’s not entirely useless either. Part of the reason why it matters to me is that I actually care about having a morally consistent worldview, and that worldview has actually evolved radically over time as a result. Plus pointing out hypocrisy is useful for youth and people who are politically undecided. If you’re not really that involved, you might steer clear of a movement which demands ideological conformity yet openly betrays its own values. In this sense it is like fact-checking, which is still useful and important even if it doesn’t actually help persuade people on a large scale.

But that being said, pointing out hypocrisy can’t really be a winning or even effective strategy, and it certainly can’t be a replacement for having one’s own internally consistent set of values. American Democrats spent years relying on snark and the “Gotcha” approach, trusting that the glaring hypocrisy of the right would attract more people to their side. In the end, it was their own hypocrisy of claiming to care about the working class and the poor while constantly kowtowing to super-rich donors that was one of the most decisive factors in their pathetic defeat.

 

 

 

Didn’t I Warn You?

So today I woke up to find out that His Orangeness launched a series of cruise missile strikes against Assad’s military airfields in Syria.

I must say this was a bit unexpected, but look who we’re talking about here. But then again, I did predict something like this, as one Twitter follower reminded me:

That old tweet of mine was based on Trump’s assertion that he’d shoot down Russian planes for buzzing American ships in the Black Sea, something which, incidentally, isn’t really justifiable. So yes, I’m going to gloat about predicting this, because in general the situation developed more or less as I thought it would, if only a bit more quickly.

If you had been reading my blog during the run-up to the election, I wrote about how the idea of a grand bargain and partnership between Putin and Trump was highly unlikely. Trump might personally deal with Putin, if only because he loves people who flatter him, but contrary to the beliefs of Trump supporters, he is only a man with limited powers in a big, institutional system. Far more important is the fact that Trump’s whole campaign was based on this idea that America sucks, and he’s going to make it great again. When it came to foreign policy, the line was that America was weak, “always losing,” etc., and this was emboldening America’s enemies. One Trump ad even pegged Putin as one of those enemies.

Trump’s tough-guy routine and his tough-guy wannabe supporters pretty much guaranteed that he would clash with Putin over some issue at some point. It was inevitable. As I’ve written plenty of times before, there really is no foreign policy the United States can pursue that would appeal to Russia save for total isolationism, which looks like submission in the minds of Trump and Trumpkins. Since the latter are basically of a similar mindset, submission is anathema, and any military action is better than none at all.  It’s also interesting to note that the Trump State Department has had tough words for Putin over Ukraine, though I doubt the US will back those words with deeds apart from very incremental targeted sanctions. From the look of things, Putin still has a free hand to wreak havoc in the Donbas.

Still, this Syria operation is a major propaganda defeat for Putin. Remember, the Russian state media worked people into a euphoria over Trump in the weeks running up to the election. High profile personalities in Moscow’s circles of power cheered his victory, including the aforementioned Margarita Simonyan, head of RT. Pro-government astroturf activists actually threw a victory party for him in Moscow. And, although we cannot say that Russia swayed the election in favor of Trump, they certainly tried.

Now what have they got for all that ass-kissing? If we were to adopt the hilariously self-owning terminology of the alt-right, I’d say they got cucked. Hard. Truly this is the Great Cuckening. Up till now, Putin was winning in Syria propaganda-wise, and propaganda is everything to his regime. The United States and the rest of the West appeared impotent. They couldn’t establish a no-fly zone, they couldn’t save Aleppo, and Russia was dictating events on the ground in spite of some setbacks. This proved Russia was a great power capable of projecting military force and of course Putin is the wise chess player orchestrating it all. Then suddenly Cheeto Benito comes in from out of nowhere and bombs the shit out of Assad’s airfields. Those super-deadly S-300 SAM systems the Russians sent were useless. Supposedly the US warned Russia ahead of the strike but that’s even worse. The Americans tell the Great Leader Putin that they’re about to plaster his ally with Tomahawks and all he can do is maybe plead with them a bit before giving in and hanging his head in shame. That doesn’t go over well with the fanboys, be they vatniks in Russia or alt-righties in the West.

putincuck

Even worse for Putin is the fact that there’s not much he can do about this. I’m afraid at most he’ll try to ratchet up the violence in Ukraine, knowing that the US isn’t nearly as interested in Eastern Europe, but he’s already suffered a minor defeat there now that Ukraine got visa free travel to the EU. Chicken Littles are already screaming about how we’re on the eve of WWIII, but what they fail to realize is that Putin’s military, compared to the US and the rest of NATO, is a paper tiger. He could cause a fair bit of damage early on, but he wouldn’t be able to sustain such a war and his ruling class won’t allow it. And with Putin’s upcoming election and rising protest sentiments, the Kremlin media’s going to be scrambling to spin this and other inconvenient facts.

While I don’t trust Trump’s ability to solve the issue of Syria any more than I trust in his abilities to understand the basic duties of his office, this latest action shows how a moronic elephant bumbling around in a china shop can sometimes produce some positive results.

 

The Evidence is Piling Up

 

Last week it seemed like every morning I’d wake up to find that another member of the Trump administration or his campaign team has been linked to high-level officials in the Russian government. We’ve already had one resignation because of such connections. It’s hard to tell where the fire is, but there’s definitely smoke.

Readers will remember that when the topic of the so-called Trump-Putin “bromance” surfaced during the election, I urged caution. Talking about Trump and Putin is kind of like a spectrum where you don’t want to ignore the connections, but at the same time you don’t want to overstate them. On one hand, there are legitimate concerns about Russian meddling in the election (which nevertheless did not win it for Trump), but on the other if you go around connecting every possible “dot” you might end up going paranoid and inventing some kind of bizarre conspiracy where Trump became a Russian puppet long before the rise of Vladimir Putin. And that, of course, would be just plain nutty!

Oh. Uh…Okay then. Let’s move on.

As we tumble down Trump’s Russian rabbit hole it’s useful to listen to a voice of reason, which when it comes to Russia topics is typically Mark Galeotti. In a blog piece Mark points out the roots of this Russian influence:

“The steady drumbeat of Russian contacts with Trump’s team on one level should not surprise. The Russians – like most real and wannabe global powers – assiduously network, hoping to gather insights and make connections that can later be parlayed into access and impact. This is, however, a case study of the way that the dirty little vices of modern democracy, from the inter-connectivity of transnational and untransparent business interests to the use of money and flattery to buy a voice, all the ways in which democracy becomes distorted by money, serve as a force multiplier for predatory authoritarian kleptocracies.

In fact, my view is that for the West today, the greatest security threat is not Russian tanks or Russian disinformation, it is our own corruption – and the ways Russia seeks to use it.”

I for one am just thrilled to see Mark drawing ever nearer to the conclusion that we must overthrow the capitalist system, and welcome him as a comrade in the glorious struggle! Seriously though, Mark’s pointing out the thing a lot of these status-quo think tank liberals don’t want to admit. For them it would be lovely if this is all a sinister plot cooked up by former KGB officer Putin driven by his proto-fascist Ivan Ilyin-inspired ideology. Because if that were the case, there’d be no need to indict the “Free-market-uber-alles,” managed democratic capitalist system we live in for being so wonderfully accommodating to kleptocrats, dictators, and war criminals (or in Putin’s case, all three!). In that case, it would be only a matter of bad people with bad ideas, people who could theoretically by displaced by good capitalists and good liberals who play by the rules and maintain the status quo.

But if Trump’s Russia connections aren’t necessarily some sinister plot, and he’s not a puppet of Putin being held in check due to fear of blackmail (which I highly doubt- see previous post), does it make sense to keep digging deeper into the case? Will anything be found that warrants such scrutiny, will it be worth it? My answer is…Wait for it…Yes.

Yes, there are good reasons to get to the bottom of this case, and I will enumerate them below:

First, Trump has, perhaps mostly unwittingly, helped Putin advance his foreign policy goals with his refusal to seriously criticize Putin at almost every conceivable opportunity. He has helped Putin by being an incompetent moron, thus paralyzing the US government and public and keeping them too occupied cleaning up the domestic mess he has made to worry about what Putin is doing abroad. You know how the administration suddenly reverted to supporting the status quo on sanctions over Ukraine, and specifically the Crimea? I don’t think for second that this had anything to do with the administration finally recognizing the need to get tough on Putin. They simply reverted to the status quo because they’re too occupied with the grease fire they’ve started at home and that status quo was never that tough to begin with. Putin has engaged in several aggressive actions in the Donbas recently, no doubt feeling secure in the knowledge that Trump is unlikely to make any move against him for the foreseeable future.

Second, even if Trump never intended to make conciliatory deals with Russia, the way he talked no doubt told certain Russian officials that there would be a possibility of concessions. This would have emboldened them. Had Trump been as bellicose about Russia as he was about Mexico during the campaign, the Kremlin might have preferred a much more cautious approach.The fact that they haven’t been cautious at all suggests confidence.

Third, let us imagine for the moment that all of these connections we see, while unethical, never led to anything seriously illegal or compromising to national security. If that turns out to be the case, who’s to say the next administration doesn’t do the same thing with a foreign government, only that time they go further and cross the boundary from highly questionable to straight up illegal or even treasonous? If Trump’s Russia connections are nothing but smoke with no fire, the only way we’re going to know is after a thorough investigation. If that investigation never happens, it basically opens up such relations to both parties, and from there it’s only a matter of time before someone pushes the limit further. Coming down hard on the Trump administration is how we hopefully nip this kind of thing in the bud. We already have enough problems with our government carrying on friendly relations with unsavory regimes.

So yeah, this is definitely worth looking at. It is an investigation best left to professionals, both in and out of law enforcement. That means no journalists or “game theorists” connecting dots on Twitter, and yes, it rules out a serial shitposter such as myself.

You and I can do two things in this fight- push representatives, investigative journalists, etc. to keep digging, and then sit back with a big bowl of popcorn and watch the Trump administration go down in flames. If we’re really lucky, Trump’s clothes may one day match the color of his face. But if not, at least every American politician will be afraid to walk within ten meters of any Russian government official.*

 

*Except Dana Rohrabacher, because he’s an utter imbecile.

Hanlon’s Razor

So let’s see- we’ve already had a minor constitutional crisis, a resignation, the appointment of an utterly incompetent person as Secretary of Education, talk of impeachment, a fresh scandal about the president’s ties to the Kremlin…and we’re not even a month in. I’m sure I’ve even missed a few things as well. Who could have possibly predicted that electing a man with zero political experience or knowledge, a man with an obvious personality disorder of some sort, could turn out for the worst?

Since Flynn’s resignation the Russia connection has suddenly been pushed back to the fore once again. At this point it’s not clear whether there will be some sort of investigation, but since Russia’s in the news again, I think it’s important to recap a few points about what those connections mean. In other words…Let’s start with some game theory. 

Seriously though, if you’re reading #theResistance and tracing the red lines that supposedly reveal the complex web of connections between Trump, Putin, and Russian intelligence agencies, do yourself a favor- stop, now. There are some key points you need to understand and they don’t require any Glenn Beck-style charts or diagrams.

First there’s the issue of “kompromat” and potential blackmail against Trump. Supposedly the bombshell is that the Russians might have a video of Trump getting golden showers from prostitutes while at the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow. The Resistance (probably the most laughably pathetic resistance movements in the history of insurgency) believes that Trump was at some time made aware of this tape, and thus he’s beholden to Vladimir Putin to keep it a secret.

Now before I burst this particular bubble I just want to make something perfectly clear. Do I believe that Trump paid prostitutes to piss on him? Yes. That is totally plausible. Has he done it in his past? I’ve heard that he has. Will the presidency change him or will he continue to enjoy such activities in the future? For all I know, he could be getting a golden shower from a high-class DC escort as I write these words. Yes, I think it’s totally plausible that Trump is into piss, big time. Now do I believe he was recorded during such activities during that particular stay in Moscow in 2013? That I cannot say. Without better evidence we cannot know if that particular pissing incident actually happened, and thus we must default to the negative until we have something concrete. All we know at the moment is that the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, in all likelihood probably loves getting pissed on. If anything it would explain the color of his face.

Obviously I’m engaging in a little hyperbole there, but let’s deflate this myth of kompromat once and for all. First of all, yes, it’s quite safe to assume that Moscow’s luxury hotels are all wired for surveillance. However, the alleged incident took place in 2013, long before Trump announced his candidacy for the 2016 election. To Moscow, he would be nothing but a prominent American businessman, one who had thus far struggled to get any major projects off the ground in Russia. If the Russians wanted something out of such a man they could have just opened more doors to his business ventures in Moscow- no need for blackmail.

More importantly, there are several more fundamental problems with the kompromat theory, one of which is the question of whether such a video’s release could really embarrass Trump, a man who clearly has no shame. For some weeks now I’ve been able to imagine Trump’s potential explanation. One version has him saying something like:

“Look, folks- I tell it like it is. When you’re a successful businessman, you enjoy the finer things in life. You work hard you play hard, you know? So when I go to Moscow and I’m rubbing elbows with other successful businessmen and some of them tell me these lovely ladies want to meet me, what am I supposed to say? No? Listen, I make deals, it’s what I do. I’m not going to say no and insult them. And let me tell you, in my lifestyle there’s no way you could know that these women were prostitutes. I’ve got women throwing themselves at me all the time. You buy them some drinks, take them for a ride in your limo. It’s not like they say they’re prostitutes and then read you out some kind of price list. When you’re rich and successful they just do whatever you ask. I admit that some things in that video aren’t so politically correct, but when you’re a star you have a totally different life…”

Of course there’s another equally plausible variant Trump might go with- “It wasn’t me.”

 

More accurately, Trump will just call any US media coverage of the tape “fake news,” and his dimwitted followers will repeat it ad infinitum. I’m sure we’ll hear all about how George Soros paid the world’s best special effects experts to fabricate the offending video.

Let’s say you don’t buy my shameless Trump theory. Very well, let’s focus on Putin then. The idea is that Putin can have Trump wrapped around his finger by reminding the Donald about the tape. Can Putin actually make good on that threat? I believe that he can’t. Think about it- Putin releasing the tape proves to the world that the Russian intelligence services are engaging in not only blackmail, but also using blackmail as a means of interfering in the affairs of other sovereign nations. Naturally Russia will deny it, but all across the world even Kremlin-sympathetic politicians will be confronted with undeniable proof that Putin and his cronies are malicious. If anything, it is those politicians who have been most friendly to Putin who have the most to fear. Have they gone on press junkets or other visits to Moscow? Could their rooms have been bugged? What could their Russian “allies” have done to ensure their loyalty? If Putin reveals a tape- he only makes his enemies more resolute and his allies scared. All these politicians will begin to take actions against Russia not because they believe in human rights or even because they love their own countries, but simply to save their own asses. Whatever the motives, Putin loses. So much for the tape then.

Now in the wake of all this controversy, Trump has suddenly decided to talk tough on Russia. The final cucking of the Kremlin (or more accurately those who watch and believe their state-run media) came when the administration announced that sanctions against Russia would remain until Crimea is returned. What then, do we make of this?

Well first of all, I don’t trust Trump any further than I can throw him, and I’m a guy who’s trained in judo. I believe that Trump is saying this to deflect from all the Russia-related controversy he’s generated these past few weeks. He gets attacked so he points to the Obama administration and complains about them. He still hasn’t made any significant criticism of Putin or his actions. Everything is always something else’s fault when you’re in the party of personal responsibility.

That being said, for the time being Ukraine can at least stop worrying about a “grand bargain” that sells them out to Russia. This isn’t much relief, however, because Trump still enables Russia to get away with a lot, but for other reasons.

Hanlon’s Razor states: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” For the Kremlin, Trump’s value isn’t in that he is their agent or at least sympathetic toward Putin; it’s in his belligerence and incompetence.

Long ago I pointed out that if the Kremlin appeared to be supporting Trump, it was only in order to troll Hillary (who they believed would win the election), or because they saw Trump as a highly polarizing, incompetent figure who would tie the US down with so many domestic scandals that it wouldn’t be able to adequately respond to any of Russia’s actions. Indeed, while Russian state media praised Trump to the heavens, the attitudes of Russia’s leadership had always been more cautious, especially as the inauguration approached. The recent statements on sanctions probably confirmed what they already feared about Trump, that he’d maintain the status quo, but at the same time Trump has caused such an uproar over his executive orders and tweets that it’s unlikely a significant portion of the already battered American people will support a tougher line on Russia and strengthened ties to Europe.

Serious analysis says that the Kremlin would have preferred a weakened but predictable Hillary to an unpredictable Trump, but they still “win” because Trump’s scandals make Americans focus inwards. What is more, Trump’s policies will continue the neo-liberal rot that Russia has counted on for nearly two decades now. The free-market dogma destroys societies, spreads cynicism, and thus creates an audience for Russian state propaganda like RT and Sputnik. And at the very least, Trump’s antics allow Russia’s TV propagandists to tell viewers: “You think America is so great? Look how they’re run by a complete buffoon! That’s what their so-called democracy gets you!” Even if he’s impeached the Kremlin media will find a way to spin it so it fits their general narrative- “democracy is a sham!”

 

 

How Putin “Won”

So about eight days into his first term and Trump has already managed to spark nationwide protests, rebellion within the government, a constitutional crisis, and he may have already committed an impeachable offense (apart from being utterly incompetent and unfit to serve in any public office whatsoever).

And while this was happening, there was a seriously escalation in the fighting around the town of Avdiivka in Ukraine. As a result, the government has been talking about evacuating the town’s population after Russian shelling knocked out its power and heating. When I was in Avdiivka, I’d been told that the town had lost water and power for a significant amount of time in the past, but as far as I know full evacuation was not mentioned. The situation now is most likely more serious due to the low temperature and the scale of the damage to the vital infrastructure. If authorities do decide to completely evacuate the town, this means the transfer of between 16,000 to 20,000 people.

Naturally, with all the Trump/Putin conspiracy theories still fresh in everyone’s minds, there’s a lot of speculation that this has something to do with the two presidents’ telephone conversation a few days ago. My take? Yes and no. Trump, who claimed that Putin would respect the United States if he were elected president, could have warned Putin about any provocative moves in Ukraine. He could have made it clear that escalation means increased consequences. While we don’t know what was said, it’s fairly safe to assume Trump issued no such warning to Putin. That is on Trump. But some kind of grand bargain in Ukraine? That’s unlikely.

It’s important to keep in mind the context of the recent fighting. The Russian forces have suffered several embarrassing setbacks, one of which was recently in Avdiivka. Naturally, they are thirsting for revenge and no doubt want to take back at least some of the territory they’d lost. Since this process started quite some time before the phone conversation, we can’t quite attribute the most recent escalation to something Trump told Putin. Again, if anything it was what he didn’t say to the Russian president.

That being said, let’s get one thing straight- Putin is benefiting from Trump being in office, and it’s not because they’re ideological blood brothers or because Putin has “kompromat” (blackmail material) on Trump.

During the election, when the Trump/Putin “bromance” became a meme, I gave an opinion as to what the Kremlin sees in Trump, and I think the past week’s events have tentatively confirmed that hypothesis. In short, I wrote that the Kremlin most likely sees Trump as the incompetent buffoon that he is, but more importantly they see him as a highly polarizing and controversial figure who will create so much scandal and discord with his domestic policies so as to distract him and much of the American establishment from foreign policy. It’s not that the truly intelligent people in the Kremlin believed that Trump would give them what they want, but rather he wouldn’t be able to stop them, and he’d keep anyone who might be able occupied as they react to his bumbling idiocy.

And look what we’ve got here? The orange moron almost immediately plunges the whole country into confusion to the point where pretty much the entire American media has forgotten that there’s a war going on in Europe which has killed nearly 10,000 people. Sweet deal for Putin.

But that’s not all! Trump’s clowning serves the Russian state media’s narrative that democracy is nothing but a corrupt circus everywhere. In reality, the infighting we see in the US government at the moment is actually a positive thing- it’s what proves our institutions and laws still matter more than the will of one deranged man in the Oval Office. But Russian state TV will spin this as the dreaded “chaos,” and disorder- both the opposites of the precious and holy “stability” which only Putin provides. In other words, they’ll portray it as an even bigger version of a Ukrainian Rada fistfight and tell their viewers that America is falling apart.

And what I cannot stress enough is that none of this requires Trump to be a true lover of Putin, and ideological soulmate, or an agent carrying out the Kremlin’s orders because he thinks they have footage of him getting pissed on by prostitutes (as though the release of such a tape could faze Trump). Trump just being Trump is all it takes.

If you’re still not convinced, look at it this way- suppose there’s a parallel universe Trump who’s totally identical to our Trump except for one difference. Instead of the praise of Putin and promises to better relations, he takes a hardline anti-Putin, anti-Russia stance. Now since this Trump does everything else the same, do you see him pushing aside everything that’s going on at the moment in order to make a firm statement about what went on in Ukraine in the past couple days? Would interrupt everything he’s been doing to start drawing up new sanctions? Of course not. Roughly ten days ago the guy was whining about how big his inauguration was, and now he’s in even more hot water.

In a way, this is even worse than if Trump were a pro-Putin agent. Today it’s Avdiivka, but in a few weeks some other part of the globe might ignite and meanwhile the president’s too busy explaining how he “never said” something that he’d actually said dozens of times on camera.

What to do? Well obviously Americans can’t stop their resistance now just to focus on Ukraine, Syria, or any other country, but it’s worth bringing those issues into the larger conversation. This is a president who campaigned on being a tough guy who would make dictators respect America. Instead he’s making them laugh and letting them do as they please. That needs to be added to the long list of Trump’s offenses.

 

So You Live in a Dictatorship Part II- No Ideology

Click Here for Part I of this series.

Welcome to the second part of my series geared towards Americans about to experience the Trump regime. Drawing from my experience both living and traveling in 21st century authoritarian “soft” dictatorships, I’m doing my part by giving you a preview of what you have to look forward to.

In the previous installment, I talked about how the basic frames of discourse will change so that it’s no longer a matter of regime supporters seeing your dissenting views as misguided or wrong,  but rather the very idea that you sincerely hold any beliefs will be challenged. You’ll be called a shill or a “disinfo” agent. You actually know that those opinions you’re expressing are wrong or immoral, but you’re just online saying them because you are being paid to do so, because you just want to destroy America by any means possible, or at best- you’re “virtue signaling” in hopes of getting praise for beliefs you don’t even really hold.

Does that sound bad? It gets worse. Way worse.

Many thinking folks have noticed a number of glaring inconsistencies within what we might call conservative values (yes, we see many among “liberal” or “progressive” values as well, don’t get triggered, conservative readers). For example, many conservatives are die-hard opponents of abortion and call themselves pro-life. But once you’re out of the womb- piss off! “I don’t wanna spend muh tax dollars feedin’ yer kid! No affordable housing, no healthcare, no food stamps, no education! What’s that? A trillion dollar fighter plane that blows stuff up? Sure!”

I could go on but you get the idea. At least you should, because this isn’t going to be one of those “conservatives say they believe this, but they support that” articles. I’m sure you can find dozens of those on Alternet, Salon, or some equally insipid site where liberals pat themselves on the back for being so educated and enlightened. This series is about going deeper and looking at more subtle aspects. It’s not about pointing out how people often have inconsistent values, but rather how in the new type of authoritarian state like Russia, the very idea of trying to have a consistent worldview or ideology is discarded.

Let’s go back to the conservative analogy and compare George W. Bush to Donald Trump. Admit it, liberals, you’re starting to get nostalgic, aren’t you? But seriously, look at them. Both did very well with fundamentalist Christians. The difference is that Bush in many ways at least projected the image of the evangelical Christian ideal, whereas Trump is the opposite.

Both Trump and Bush are very rich men who benefited from daddy, but Bush lived in Texas on a ranch. He wore cowboy hats, dammit! He cultivated an image of a down-home cowboy that “you’d like to have a beer with.” He didn’t deny a hedonistic rich-kid lifestyle in his past- instead he embraced it as part of a “come to Jesus” moment. In fundamentalist Christian circles this is often referred to as a “testimony.” Let me tell you, those fundamentalist Christians love them some testimonies.

Even behind the scenes, Bush seemed sincere about his Christian beliefs. He did open cabinet meetings with a prayer and he held Bible study sessions in the White House. In spite of the reality of his policies, if you were a Christian voter who cherishes “family values,” Bush basically walked the walk. Voting for him would be logical and ideologically consistent.

Trump is another matter entirely. He’s a slick-talking east coast businessman with a solid record of leaning liberal, paling around with various liberal celebrities including the Clintons. He doesn’t talk about religion, he never admits even the slightest mistake, and rather than projecting an image of humility, he flaunts his own hedonism. He rails against the elite but he obviously is one of the elite. Trump is so anti-Christian that he almost resembles a character in some Christian movie. The arrogant, decadent businessman who worships money and fame, but then either has a near death experience that leads him to Jesus, or dies and finds out that money can’t buy his way out of eternal damnation in hell. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

And yet- fundamentalists voted for the man in droves, well, white ones, at least. If you dig a little deeper it gets a little more complicated, but we’re still talking about a large portion of Christians voting for a man whose behavior practically screams “I don’t give a damn about your beliefs.” To be fair, there were rumors circulating in the fundie community about Hillary being a literal witch even in the early 90’s (clearly spread by time-traveling RT operatives from our time; this explains their massive budget). Still, I doubt that can explain why so many white evangelicals would vote for a man who is practically a character from a Left Behind novel.

This isn’t just about Christians either. Take a look at the neo-Nazis backing Trump such as David Duke. Trump’s already made it clear that he’s going to be staunchly pro-Israel. Trump’s son-in-law is Jewish and is set to take an important position in the White House. A man like Trump, based on where he lives and the business he does there, has to have or had at least dozens of Jewish friends, partners, employees, and acquaintances. And yet the neo-Nazis, for the most part, still rally behind him. And if you think it’s because Trump doesn’t have enough Jewish contacts I can tell you right now you don’t know neo-Nazis. They can take any social phenomenon that upsets them, any event whatsoever, delve deep into it until they find one person involved whose wife is “1/16th Jewish,” and PRESTO! That whole thing is just another part of the massive global Jewish conspiracy and “ZOG” (Zionist Occupied Government).

And what about the alt-right? I think that movement’s way to nebulous and small to explain Trump’s victory, but I do see it as a potential model to give you an idea of what the future of American politics are going to look like- no coherent ideology, just trolling of perceived outsiders. Most alt-righters look like the type of people who would last maybe ten minutes in a group of real Nazi skinheads before getting heart-checked and stomped into the pavement. And I know evangelical Christians wouldn’t want to personally associate with people who spend a great deal of their time online requesting anime porn. Yet both of those groups found themselves in a coalition with those “deplorables” and nobody seemed to stop and ask “what the hell are we doing with these guys?” Ideology, just didn’t seem to matter. All that mattered was supporting Trump and opposing Hillary.

Back to Russia. Contrary to the speculation of many Western commentators, Putin’s regime doesn’t really have a concrete ideology- it is pragmatic and survival based. More importantly, even to this day it does not promote any ideology beyond a vague “patriotism,” which means supporting Putin or at not rocking the boat, and of course hating those who fail to do either for being “traitors” and puppets of the West. If the Putin regime had tried to enforce any one ideology, even if it wasn’t terribly consistent, they would paint themselves into a corner like the Soviet Union did. Instead, the system is far simpler. Believe what you want, just don’t rock the boat.

Of course there are certain key concepts the Kremlin wants to drill into people’s heads. Russia is surrounded by enemies that conspire against it. Russia is exceptional  and must make its own path. Russia needs a strong leader to be stable, etc. As long as you are publicly espousing such values, not opposing the state, and preferably advancing the state’s interests in some ways, you’re welcome to take on any ideology you want. You can call yourself a Communist and support alliances with ultra-right reactionaries if not espouse far right-wing beliefs yourself. You can be a monarchist and talk about how Stalin ruined Russia. What matters is only loyalty and usefulness to the state.

There’s a perfect example of this if you look at the way Russian propaganda associates Ukraine with Nazism.

Suppose you’re a radical leftist who supports progressive causes, opposes the far-right in Ukraine the same way you do anywhere in the world, openly denounces the cult of Stepan Bandera and its attempts to distort history, openly criticize genuine problems with the government in Kyiv, but you also support Ukrainian independence and territorial integrity without compromise and staunchly oppose Russian aggression there. Or in other words, suppose you’re like me.

Well I’ve got bad news for you- that last bit about supporting Ukraine makes you a Nazi or at least a Nazi sympathizer. It doesn’t matter than your political views are diametrically opposed to those of neo-Nazis or the far right. Unfair? Wait- it gets even better.

Imagine on the other hand you’re actually a literal neo-Nazi who hates Jews and other races. You literally believe in eugenics, deny or minimize the Holocaust, and think that the US was on the “wrong side” in WWII. But you admire Putin and support Russia because you stupidly think it “opposes world Jewry” or some such nonsense. Therefore you support Russian aggression in Ukraine and express that support on the internet.

If that’s you, there’s good news! You’re not a Nazi! I’ve encountered these characters dozens of times. In some cases they espouse beliefs that are literally identical to the actual German Nazis, and in the same incoherent rant they’ll refer to Ukrainian Nazis (whom they sometimes accuse of being “controlled by Jews”). Hell, one of RT’s “political analysts” who’s reported from Russian-occupied Ukraine on numerous occasions was actually the editor of a neo-Nazi magazine in Germany. I’ve been told he’s still cited as a political expert by other Russian state media. And he’s by no means the only far right reactionary who gets a platform at RT, let alone other Russian state media. So much for tirelessly struggling against fascism.

If all that seems confusing to you, it’s because you’ve misunderstood the term fascist or Nazi. See in the Kremlin parlance, fascism and Nazism have nothing to do with those actual ideologies. It’s rather a question of do you support or oppose Russia’s foreign policy in Ukraine. In Syria failure to support Russia and the Assad regime might make you a “terrorist apologist,” “ISIS supporter,” etc. It doesn’t matter if you abhor both of those groups and hope for a peaceful, secular Syria. Support the regime or terrorist.

At the same time look at what’s happening from the outside. While Russia has in some ways rehabilitated the Soviet Union and practically turned the Soviet victory in 1945 into a national cult, they make the most headway abroad among far-rightists, many of whom openly proclaim themselves to be die-hard anti-Communists and who refer to the “United Socialist States of America” or the “European Soviet Union.” Bring up these inconsistencies with either those right-wingers or their comrades in Russia and you won’t even faze them. The very concept that someone involved in politics should make an effort to have consistent ideological values or a coherent ideology is simply unknown to them (to be fair, I’ve encountered the same behavior with some far leftists).

The recent warming of conservative Republicans toward Russia is a perfect example of how even the bare minimum of a coherent ideology is starting to slip in America. Many conservatives still see Russia as “the Soviet Union,” the “commies.” And here its president is an ex-KGB employee (I’m sorry, I’m not going to dignify him anymore by calling him an agent) and yet they’re starting to praise and defend him because he says flattering things about Trump and he makes Obama and Hillary mad. It wasn’t like this under Bush. Under Bush, the Russian government was still espousing bullshit about safeguarding “traditional Western values” and partnering with the US in the “War on Terror,” yet Putin criticized the Iraq War (and benefited from it) so he was just another America-hater. Foreigners didn’t get to criticize anything America did. It’s also worth noting that the same people would later erupt in violent rage after Obama “apologized for America” in his Cairo speech.

So that’s the next thing to be on the lookout for- the disappearance of ideology in favor of a very rudimentary tribalism. Ideological coherency will be degraded, principles discarded. All that matters is being in the right coalition, the right side of the fence. Trump will never try to promote a particular set of values or ideology, partially because he is simply too stupid and disconnected from reality to even contemplate such a thing, but his PR people won’t either. When you start setting values, principles, ideology, etc., you’re bound to have splits and conflict. Furthermore, people with principles can organize, give and receive solidarity, and make a stand on those principles instead of being bought off- all very dangerous to power. Better for them to be atomized and have a simple us vs. them attitude. As long as they’re fearful, angry, and most importantly- at each other’s throats, power, and that includes the Democratic establishment as well, is quite safe.

What do I recommend? Start with yourself. Continually reexamine your own values and beliefs and try to explain them. Strive for consistency. Do not avoid debate with those who are willing to argue in good faith. Seriously challenge yourself. Weed out those beliefs or behaviors that smack of hypocrisy to the best of your ability. Even many of the most conservative Americans have far more respect for integrity and sincerity than they ever will for the ultra-edgy, hyper-alienated losers whose only joy in life consists of trying to make people “mad” on the internet and long sessions of masturbation to increasingly perverted fetish porn.

What’s at stake? American political life. Once the cynicism reaches a certain point, people stop caring out of sheer apathy or the daily struggle to survive. They start ticking the boxes. Politicians take note and start doing far less to appeal to the electorate since the electorate doesn’t care. Politics becomes reality TV, as it has been for quite some time in Russia.

 

 

 

So You Live in a Dictatorship: Part I – You Have No Beliefs

Since I’m sick of writing about Russian hackers, and for the past two weeks I’ve wanted to punch anyone who says “fake news” unironically, I’ve decided to try something a little different. A bit more serious, if you will.

Recently I’ve noticed fellow writers, some of which I know personally, trying to communicate to Americans the signs to look out for in an authoritarian country. Unlike theorists who study these matters in academia, they are sharing knowledge that comes from personal experience in countries like Russia and Turkey. As I happen to have both knowledge and experience in both of those countries myself, I figured I might as well pitch in and tell my fellow Americans what to expect. Since this is the first in a series, I want to make a few disclaimers.

First of all, the point of this series isn’t to say that something is being imported from Russia. The problems I’m discussing here have grown out of purely American soil. The point is these problems are growing to the point where they resemble the situation in Russia, and trust me, that’s not where you want to be as a society. But also note that as I am compare things with Russia for the sake of analogy and helping Americans understand, don’t think that I’m implying that these things are somehow exclusive to Russia. You can easily find analogous situations in many countries around the world, including those with more or less functioning democracies.

More importantly, I’m purposely trying to skip general trends in favor of more specific aspects that don’t get noticed as frequently. There are plenty of writers who have tackled the proliferation of conspiracy theories in American politics, including myself. This is too general. Conspiracy theories have been extremely popular in America since 9/11, if not earlier. It’s not particularly difficult to understand either- 9/11 forced millions of average Americans to suddenly notice a world they’d ignored for decades, and while they were too lazy to pick up a book on Middle Eastern affairs, they all insist on having an opinion about the topic and appearing savvy. Hence the popularity of conspiracy theories, which are often like potato chips- one is never enough.

I want to focus on trends that are more specific, more subtle, but which I believe are far more dangerous. I want to highlight those things which I believe are making society collectively dumber. I watched in horror as certain ideas and modes of thinking cowed the great Russian people into submission to a tiny circle of lying thieves, who declared themselves patriots and defenders of the nation they have robbed. If Americans start adopting such ideas en masse, the country is doomed. Maybe not in the near future, maybe not in fifty years, but one simply cannot go on succeeding while being totally disconnected from material reality. Reality always wins.

With all that out of the way, let’s move forward with today’s topic. As you see in the title, it’s about beliefs, specifically people’s political beliefs and opinions. In a normal, healthy society, people at least comprehend the idea that other people have their own political beliefs, values, and so on. If a person calls themselves a conservative, they are most likely conservative. If they are liberal they are liberal, and so forth. People who are anti-abortion tend not to get abortions (yes, I know many do), and people that are for same-sex marriage typically don’t hate gay people. When things are working the way they’re supposed to be, we assume good faith when someone expresses an opinion.

In an unhealthy, modern authoritarian society, nobody really holds beliefs that oppose the powers that be. They are either being paid to espouse such beliefs by hostile foreign governments, or in more extreme cases they’re said to be on drugs. The latter explanation might sound amusing, but its been voiced multiple times by Russian opponents of Euromaidan and it was once used by Muammar Gaddafi against protesters in Benghazi. In this kind of unhealthy, authoritarian society, it’s not just that the people are espousing beliefs or engaging in activities only for money, and it’s not even that they don’t sincerely hold those beliefs. No, the real unique concept I’m getting at here is the idea that someone can consciously know that their values are wrong or harmful to the country, yet still espouse them for a paltry sum of cash.

If you want to know why this idea is prevalent in Russia it’s not too mysterious. Widespread poverty, wealth inequality, and a combination of cynicism and apathy towards politics leads to a political space wherein both the state and opposition parties often spend money on “rent-a-crowds,” which typically consist of pensioners and young students. It certainly isn’t just a Russian thing either; it still happens in Ukraine, and I’m sure many other countries. If Russia stands out, it is only because of the government’s long history of suppressing or co-opting civil society groups and NGOs, plus the constant propaganda narrative that spreads the aforementioned cynicism and apathy.

The message of the state propaganda is consistent: “You can’t know what’s real and what’s not, so why protest? Why believe in anything? Those who say they’re trying to make the country better- who’s to say it’s not all a charade? Even if they’re not working for some foreign government, how do you know for sure? Nobody really believes in those so-called democratic values. It’s just a lie Western leaders and their lackeys use to cover up their own corruption. Deep down they’re no better than your own leaders. At least with them you have stability. Rock the boat and who knows what will happen?” I could go on but you get the idea.

The “lesson” for the audience is that if you see some figure like Alexei Navalny saying he wants to fight corruption in Russia and make the country more advanced and prosperous, it’s all lies. He really just wants to weaken and destroy Russia for his American paymasters, and he knows this. He “knows” that his activities are somehow hurting Russia, but he does it anyway and claims to be a patriot.

Now with the rise of Trump I have identified a similar current in America. Specifically, we’re starting to see people imply that their opponents actually consciously know their beliefs are wrong, but they keep espousing them anyway because they have some nefarious ulterior motives.  I don’t want to speak for those who were actually alive during the anti-war movement of the 60’s, but I do think I have enough experience to say that there’s definitely been a shift. During the Bush years, for example, we anti-war protesters were seen as weak or hopeless naive, but people didn’t typically question whether we really opposed the war on Iraq. In other words, it was “you oppose that war but you’re wrong because…” That’s a setup for a debate at least.

Nowadays the accusations have evolved. Now the “mainstream media” journalists know that they’re lying about Trump, but they’re doing it anyway. George Soros is a liberal with Jewish heritage who says he just wants to promote democracy and individual rights, but he’s supposedly funding neo-Nazis, “socialists, and Islamic fundamentalists around the world (I’d love someone to explain the endgame of that plan). Thousands of climate scientists around the world know that they’re lying about climate change, but they keep doing research on it and receiving funding just the same. It’s starting to be less “your opinion is wrong” and more “you don’t really believe that.”

If I had to trace where such ideas come from, I’d probably say it’s rooted in American religious conservatism, something I have a lot of experience in. There’s a more-or-less common belief among many American Christian fundamentalists that can help explain. For my foreign readers, know that a great many American churches, including some that are extremely wealthy and influential in politics, have an obsession with what some call “End Times prophesy.” This is typically associated with the book of Revelation in the Bible, and the end of the world and the second coming of Christ is the basis for the wildly popular Left Behind series of novels and films. There are actually many different interpretations of that “prophesy,” and if anyone wants to delve into the details of the particular version as told by Left Behind, I seriously recommend reading the work of Fred Clark on the subject. It is both informative and incredibly entertaining. But I digress.

A key feature of a lot of this prophesy is that it posits a near future which resembles our present, and in which miraculous events happen on an almost daily basis. Just to give you an example out of Left Behind, the story starts with Russia, Ethiopia, and several Muslim countries launching a massive, unprovoked attack on Israel with their entire air forces as well as ballistic missiles. God steps in and utterly destroys all the attackers and their missiles in one fell swoop. Next -and this is the most important part of the book- there is “the rapture,” where God miraculously gathers up his loyal true Christians and all innocent children born or unborn in an instant. This is followed by the rise of the Anti-Christ, who creates an unholy New World Order which persecutes Christians. The Anti-Christ is also endowed with miraculous powers, which he is supposed to display on at least one occasion (resurrection after death).

Throughout this story, which the Left Behind authors claim is based on a “literal” interpretation of the Bible (HINT: It’s not), millions of people engage in all manner of un-Christian behavior in spite of the fact that miracles foretold in the Bible are happening before their very eyes. Let that sink in for a second. The authors, and many other people like them, tell us that these are real things that will happen in the future, things that are foretold in the very same Bibles that are available in almost every hotel room in America. But just like in that Bible and just like countless preachers have been telling us for decades, millions of people simply disappear in a flash in front of our very eyes, while at the same time millions of other people will continue to doubt the veracity of Christianity and either cling to their old religions or join the new world religion of that really charismatic world leader who happens to look like the personification of Satan and can’t stop laughing maniacally at press conferences. If you’re struggling to get your head around that sentence don’t feel bad; it’s totally mindboggling.

It’s even worse news if your Jewish. See, something like a third  of the Jews are supposed to notice all these miracles that happen to line up with Biblical prophesy and do the most logical thing that anyone would do- embrace Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior. But the other two thirds are going to see all these miracles and still remain loyal to their ancient faith in spite of seeing concrete evidence that it and every other religion except the true Christianity of John Hagee Ministries is flat out false. In the books, in fact, tens of millions of people around the world rapidly embrace the new one-world religion of the Anti-Christ without any significant protest. Tens of millions of Hindus, Muslims, “wrong” Christians like Catholics and Orthodox- they just totally cast off their traditional beliefs and embrace a totally different religion because- Bible.

That, by the way, isn’t just limited to their prophesy. There’s a cringeworthy Christian film called God’s Not Dead, about a Christian college student debating the existence of God with his atheist philosophy professor. In the trailer, the caricature of an atheist played by Kevin Sorbo tells his class to write the phrase “God Is Dead” in their notebooks. Only our “true Christian” protagonist objects to this. There were no observant Jews in the class, no Muslims, not even a pretentious agnostic. Or perhaps there were Muslims or Jews present, but they didn’t take their faith seriously enough to stand up for it, unlike our Christian hero.

 

Now this might seem like we’ve drifted very far from the topic, but I hope the reader is starting to recognize a pattern. In this authoritarian, religious fundamentalist worldview, people don’t sincerely believe in other religions or doubt the existence of God. They actually know they’re wrong, but they just want to sin because they are wicked or manipulated by Satan.

Of course in that type of Christianity, those who continue being “wicked” deserve eternal torment in hell. In more secular political world, people who espouse the wrong views are worthy of extermination, violence, or at the very least their own words can be totally dismissed without debate. After all, if someone is willingly engaging in “evil” and refuses to admit it, why even try to debate them or understand what they’re saying? Those journalists “know” they are making up “lies” about Trump, and they just keep doing it. Their editors know the stories are full of lies and they keep running them. Why? Because they really want to destroy America, of course!

So here’s what you folks in the States can expect a lot of in the near future. Don’t expect people to actually engage with your opinion or try to debate you. Expect to be labeled a “shill.” You’ll be accused of working for George Soros, the Clinton Foundation, the CIA, or the Mossad. You don’t actually believe in those things you’re saying or writing online. Only your opponent has sincerely held beliefs, opinions, and values. You’re just saying those things for the paycheck, and one day you’ll get what’s coming to you, shill!

This is one reason why watching liberal centrists whine about what’s supposedly happening to “the discourse” is so pathetic. There is no discourse when one cannot actually hold any beliefs that are opposed to the regime or its supporters. American liberals aren’t going to somehow coax Trump’s rabid supporters back to the debate table with appeals to reason. One does not debate with conspiratorial New World Order agents who cover up the truth about a child sex-slavery ring operating in the basement of a pizza restaurant! Nor will they express any pity for the poor liberals when they inevitably become victims of violence and intimidation. They had it coming for trying to destroy America!

The the authoritarian society that might be in America’s near future, it won’t be a question of your beliefs conflicting with those of the powers that be. You won’t be allowed to even have your own beliefs.