Friday, May 12, 2017

The Psychology of Tyranny

Contemporary culture is doomed as long as it ignores the realities of the unconscious.  As outlined by Jung, the theory of the unconscious was a major advancement in human civilization, a potent tool for making true progress, and we've thrown it away.  It's as if a few years after its discovery, electricity was discarded.  All the mechanistic and reductionist substitutes from neuroscience, behavioral psychology and computer sciences won't cut it.   This arrogance is our undoing.

Deep in the unconscious is a social need for the group to nurture and protect and define the individual.  Also for the group to partially but powerfully define itself in contrast to other groups.  All that is virtuous becomes the property of your group, and all that is evil defines the other.

In the 1950s Jung applied this analysis to the Cold War.  There were differences and conflicts between the West and the Soviets that were real, with real consequences.  But each side exaggerated an evil cartoon portrait of the other in order to get the public support necessary to spend resources on arms and related activities of defense and aggression.  The power of the unconscious was engaged.

Now the spell of the Cold War is over.  The thermonuclear weapons still exist, and the missiles to deliver them, and the political conflicts still exist, though all at a somewhat smaller scale.  But it's the spell that has been broken, to such an extent that the real political threat, a potentially existential political threat, of Russia interfering in US election processes and perhaps burrowing within the White House, does not evoke the frenzied reaction it would have decades ago.  The opposite appears to be true.  It barely seems to register as a threat at all.

But back then, it was potent far beyond conscious control.  The US and the West demonized the Soviets, and anything that could be labeled communistic.  "It is the face of his own evil shadow that grins at Western man from the other side of the Iron Curtain," Jung wrote in "Approaching the Unconscious," his contribution to a book of essays meant for the general public that was published a few years after his death in 1964, titled Man and His Symbols.

That specific enmity is apparently over, but in the US it has largely been replaced by an internal one.  It goes by the name of "polarization" of political parties, but it is much deeper and more profound.  Especially reflected in the 2016 election, it has become a divide as psychologically, culturally and politically profound as the US v. the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

One potent example: neither side believes anything that the other side says.  And that extends to previously common media forms and outlets, as well as previous sources of authority such as academic experts and scientists. The standards that used to apply to judging accuracy and credibility are irrelevant, perhaps even more cartoonishly than in the Cold War.

In fact I can't get the image of living in a cartoon world out of my mind.  Perhaps we are that much less literate or that much more ignorant.  But the defining role of the unconscious seems like a very large component.

This all applies to the situation we and the whole USA find ourselves in this moment.  It's all evident in two pieces that appeared today.  One is a an opinion piece titled "GOP's choice: Love America or Back Trump."  The premise has to do with the kind of norms common to both parties in the past, and eventually operational in the Watergate crisis, derived from the Constitution, written and traditional law and standards.  All are at the very foundation of our Republic, our culture, our self-defined nation. That's what the author means by "love America." But it is not yet clear that these norms are accepted or seen the same way by leaders and members of both parties anymore, either institutionally or among voters.

The other piece delineates the consequences of this extreme polarization in the current Constitutional crisis.  Philip Bump in the Washington Post hauls out the statistics to show that while the current White House regime has historically low poll numbers overall, it is fully supported by 84% of Republicans.

According to this analysis, the White House incumbent's support and the overall R support for their own party are just about the same, and they are replicated in virtually every answer to questions on policy as well as overall approval.

The numbers suggest a potentially terrifying thought: that the already extreme R party has become a party that identifies with our apprentice dictator, especially as the media outlets that Rs believe are credible remain loyal to him.

He has taken the reigns of the unconscious, and with them he might yet become the complete dictator.  Bump writes that without a significant drop in R party loyalty to him, there is no political motivation for R officeholders to hold him accountable for high crimes and misdemeanors, or even to risk investigations.

Democratic voters do not possess all virtue, and must be careful to spot their own shadow in their portrayals of Republicans.  President Obama said as much the other day: "At such moments, we need courage to stand up to hate not just in others but in ourselves. At such moments, we need the courage to stand up to dogma not just in others but in ourselves."

This point, easily dismissed as cliched or wishy-washy, is actually a profound warning about the power of the unconscious.  But neither does this or anything else said here imply that the two sides are equally right and wrong.  It is clear that the unconscious in the form of anger, bitterness, envy, fear and hate is in the saddle and rides the Republican party.  If that cannot be overcome, the Republic is in real peril.

On "the Tapes"

First the coverup, now maybe the tapes.  Apparently the idea is to replicate Watergate except  get away with it.

Anyway, this tidbit from The Hill:

Comey hasn’t spoken publicly since his surprise firing Tuesday. But those who know him have told news outlets he’s confident any recording of the conversation would reflect well on him. “He hopes there are tapes,” one Comey confidant told NBC News. “That would be perfect.”

Goodnight Swamp

Notes at midnight...

When news and visible human drama explodes on a certain subject, with something even more dramatic than the last thing happens twenty minutes later, it feeds the addiction some of us remember from Watergate.  (The difference from Vietnam is: in Watergate, we were only the audience.)

So when the news stops or slows, or when your questions raised in highly dramatic fashion earlier aren't answered, aren't even remembered, it gets frustrating on many levels.

Thursday was packed with news or what appeared to be news.  But it was also very frustrating for what seemed like a day of not very good reporting, and officials--especially members of Congress--unable to clearly communicate much of anything.

The big news was the apparent admission by Homegrown Hitler himself that yeah he fired Comey over the Russia investigation.  Yeah, he mostly did suggest it, but to make an ironclad case for that really did involve some creative editing, and (involving the hapless White House press briefers) skipping over words that were meant to say something else.

And what happened to yesterday's big question about the acting FBI director Andrew McCabe?  Did he in fact volunteer to the White House chief of staff that a news story saying the FBI was investigating R campaign ties to Russia was "BS."
If true, this seems improper discussion of an ongoing investigation.

Did McCabe actually say this?  He appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, and made headlines for contradicting some White House assertions and insisting that the FBI was pursuing the Russia investigation very seriously.  But did anyone ask him about this purported interchange with the White House?  I looked in vain for any mention of it in any story.  Even Rachel Maddow, who made such an issue of it on Wednesday, had nothing to say about it Thursday.

Our apprentice dictator said in an interview on Thursday that former FBI director Comey told him in two phone calls and in person at dinner that he was not being investigated.  If that's true, these were also improper conversations about an ongoing investigation.  It's hard to believe it is true, but I wonder if anybody will bother asking Comey about it, if they ever get the chance.

Well, nothing to do now but try to sleep it off.

Thursday, May 11, 2017


Here's the thing everyone should take into consideration: with the current dictator apprentice in the White House and his regime, there are no rules.  There is no conventional wisdom that applies.  At least, not so far.

By conventional wisdom, this crew wouldn't have made it past the first Republican primaries.  By conventional wisdom, they didn't have a chance to seize the White House.  By conventional wisdom, they couldn't...they wouldn't...etc. etc.

Maybe the realities reflected in precedents will finally catch up with them.  But...

In this fast moving situation, which is no longer coalescing around matters of competence and judgment but of obstruction of justice, corruption and treason, a number of stories came out today about how investigations won't stop.  Prominent stories in the Washington Post and the New York Times in particular quoted angry FBI agents who swore they will keep investigating, and that the White House regime had made enemies of them.

No doubt the blood was up today, and no one can underestimate the effects of institutional resistance.  But all it may really take is for the Justice Department to direct the FBI to stop the investigations, and cut off the money to support them--with the help of an acting or interim or newly installed director like the interim one now who is a Homemade Hitler loyalist--and they will stop.  Only impeachment would change that, and only a change in the majority party in especially the House would make that a possibility.

Obstruction of justice is now obvious.  As stories made clear today, Comey was fired because he was investigating the Russian connections--political and financial--and secondarily because he wasn't concentrating on investigating leaks to reporters that cast the regime in a bad light.  (One of the first of these stories was here in Politico... With sources evidently inside the White House.)

Moreover, this wasn't the first time.  A Newsweek story quotes Senator Schumer:
Schumer noted “they fired Sally Yates,” whose “urgent” warnings to the White House about Flynn’s dealings with the Russians went unheeded for three weeks. “They fired Preet Bharara,” the federal prosecutor who was looking into Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s trading in medical and pharmaceutical stocks, Schumer said. “And now they’ve fired Director Comey, the very man leading the investigation” into Trump and his associates’ dealings with Russia. “This does not seem to be a coincidence,” the four-term New Yorker said.

But accountability rests with Congress and the voters.  In two excellent pieces in the New Yorker, Evan Osnos describes the precedents and the politics that operated in critical situations in the past.  The first was a longer piece on the alternatives for getting Homemade Hitler out of office, published before the Comey termination.  The second was more specifically about what happens as a result of the Comey termination.

Briefly, Osnos writes that the most important factor is public support.  With our apprentice dictator's poll numbers historically low and trending lower, congressional members of his own party have less reason to risk their own political futures by defending him.  When support is so low, the chances of the opposition party winning lots of seats in the non-presidential year elections have been very good, and in this case it would mean the Republicans losing their majority.

If the Democrats win a majority in either house, they would control the investigating committees with the power to subpoena.  If they took the House, they could initiate impeachment.  But even fearing this possibility could motivate Republicans to abandon their albatross, Osnos writes.

This may already have started, Osnos suggests.  At least one conservative R House member supports an independent commission, and only a few Rs in the Senate would be needed to join Ds in voting for something similar, within the Senate at least.

Update: However, there is a difference from the past that could prove fateful: polarization.  The rabid right has taken over the R party, and this regime has captured even more.  As the Washington Post points out, R voters are remaining loyal, supporting the regime by 84%.   

There are other possibilities for legal actions, in state courts for example and even perhaps in the courts of other nations, regarding the underlying activities that involve international financial malfeasance and the security of western allies.

But will these precedents actually operate?  They may have operated within the context of an America and a power structure that no longer exists.  It's best to be on guard for the unprecedented, at least so far in American history.  Other parts of the world have experienced the jolting takeover by a totalitarian despot.  In some such cases their conventional politicians and press and people didn't recognize--didn't believe--what was happening.  Until it had happened.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Dictator Rising

By firing the FBI director investigating the regime's Russian connection for a stated cause so absurd that it is boldly and transparently a lie, the apprentice dictator in the White House took a major step towards creating a totalitarian police state.

No regime has ever been so obvious in seizing political control of the federal justice system for its own corrupt ends.  That the Republic is so endangered at this moment is a shock, but not a surprise.

The details are all just details at this point, meant to divert attention from this central consequence.  This is a dictatorship in the making.  Resistance to be effective may need to be as swift, and certainly relentless.

Monday, May 08, 2017


The media headline from President Obama's speech accepting this year's Profiles of Courage award from the JFK Library inevitably was his defense of Obamacare, and his call for members of Congress to display courage in supporting its substance. The quotes were largely accurate and obviously President Obama knew what the headline was going to be, but these were only a few lines in the speech, and missing the context.

He didn't bring up the topic of the Affordable Care Act out of the blue.  First of all, its passage was, according to CNN, one of the reasons he was given the award: The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation said Obama received the award for "expanding health security for millions of Americans, restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba and leading a landmark international accord to combat climate change."

It is an award honoring President John F. Kennedy, whose birthday this month is 100.  As a senator, JFK authored the book Profiles in Courage, about eight US Senators throughout history who exhibited principled courage in difficult political situations.  As President, JFK proposed the healthcare program that became Medicare.  His younger brother Senator Ted Kennedy, championed an expansion to all US citizens to make healthcare a right.

 In his speech, President Obama told a story about how Ted Kennedy walked the halls of the hospital where his young son was fighting for his life and talked to people there worried that they couldn't afford the next cancer treatment for their children.  He made healthcare his cause, and shortly before his death, urged President Obama to make it his first legislative priority.
Welcoming President Obama to Boston on Sunday

So in talking about courage in Congress, it was completely in context for President Obama to remember those who voted for the ACA, knowing they might lose their next election because of it--and many in fact did.  After talking generally about John and Bobby Kennedy as inspiring him to enter politics, he said:

"Our politics remains filled with division and discord, and everywhere we see the risk of falling into the refuge of tribe and clan, and anger at those who don't look like us or have the same surnames or pray the way we do.

And at such moments, courage is necessary. At such moments, we need courage to stand up to hate not just in others but in ourselves. At such moments, we need the courage to stand up to dogma not just in others but in ourselves. At such moments, we need courage to believe that together we can tackle big challenges like inequality and climate change. At such moments, it's necessary for us to show courage in challenging the status quo and in fighting the good fight but also show the courage to listen to one another and seek common ground and embrace principled compromise."

He spoke about the beginning of his presidency and the courage it took to vote for the Recovery Act, to support the auto industry and regulate Wall Street, and especially, the complex and previously impossible task of what came to be called (by his opponents) Obamacare:

"And there was a reason why healthcare reform had not been accomplished before. It was hard. It involved a sixth of the economy and all manner of stakeholders and interests. It was easily subject to misinformation and fearmongering.

And so by the time the vote came up to pass the Affordable Care Act, these freshmen congressmen and women knew that they had to make a choice. That they had a chance to insure millions and prevent untold worry and suffering and bankruptcy, and even death, but that this same vote would likely cost them their new seats, perhaps end their political careers.

And these men and women did the right thing. They did the hard thing. Theirs was a profile in courage. Because of that vote, 20 million people got health insurance who didn't have it before."

Many lost their seats in the 2010 elections, his said. And this was the context for his comments on the future:

"It was a personal sacrifice. But I know, because I've spoken to many of them, that they thought and still think it was worth it.

As everyone here now knows, this great debate is not settled but continues. And it is my fervent hope and the hope of millions that regardless of party, such courage is still possible, that today's members of Congress, regardless of party, are willing to look at the facts and speak the truth even when it contradicts party positions.

I hope that current members of Congress recall that it actually doesn't take a lot of courage to aid those who are already powerful, already comfortable, already influential. But it does require some courage to champion the vulnerable and the sick and the infirm, those who often have no access to the corridors of power.

I hope they understand that courage means not simply doing what is politically expedient but doing what they believe deep in their hearts is right."

But then President Obama expanded his examples of profiles in courage to include ordinary people who sacrificed for their families, who did the right thing even when it was difficult.

He included political activists who worked nonviolently for change. And he powerfully restated his credo for involvement in creating political change, ending with a ringing call to keep the faith and keep working for the future:

"I know that the values and the progress that we cherish are not inevitable, that they are fragile, in need of constant renewal.

I've said before that I believe what
 Dr. King said, that "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice," but I've also said it does not bend on its own. It bends because we bend it, because we put our hand on that arch, and we move it in the direction of justice and freedom and equality and kindness and generosity. It doesn't happen on its own."

"And so we are constantly having to make a choice because progress is fragile. And it's precisely that fragility, that impermanence, that is a precondition of the quality of character that we celebrate tonight.

If the vitality of our democracy, if the gains of our long journey to freedom were assured, none of us would ever have to be courageous. None of us would have to risk anything to protect them. But it's in its very precariousness that courage becomes possible and absolutely necessary.

John F. Kennedy knew that our best hope and our most powerful answer to our doubts and to our fears lies inside each of us, in our willingness to joyfully embrace our responsibility as citizens, to stay true to our allegiance, to our highest and best ideals, to maintain our regard and concern for the poor and the aging and the marginalized, to put our personal or party interest aside when duty to our country calls or when conscience demands.

That's the spirit that has brought America so far and that's the spirit that will always carry us to better days."

Another video and full transcript of the speech is at TIME.