Please don’t think this has degenerated into a political blog. PLEASE!

dangers-cure-of-msg-sideeffects-001What We Talk About When We Talk About ‘Normalizing’

Each day since my last posting I have spent three or four (or more) hours writing.
___I have been writing more carefully and painstakingly than I usually do, crafting essays that are stylistically clean and conceptually logical. This instead of my usual throwing words and ideas onto the screen hoping they make sense. I know how to write “correctly.” I am something of an academic, after all, with a 367-page PhD dissertation and many other writings under my belt. “Something of.” I try not, as St. Paul admonished in his letter to the Romans, to “think of [my]self more highly than [I] ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.”
___I’ve been trying to write without “nominalization” (that is to say, I have been trying not to make words that should be verbs into nouns – e.g. I have been “correcting” my writing as I go rather than “making corrections”). In all kinds of writing I have two rules ― no passive verbs and no grammatical expletives ― so I do not need to watch out for those weakeners of prose. And here I give up those attempts to write effectively.
___I have a streak of Social Darwinism in my thinking. I’ve read a few articles about Social Darwinism, so I can (in the good American fashion) claim to be “something of” an authority on the subject. Well, no. I simply like the idea that we are pulling the best ideas out of our collective hat and putting them to use so mankind is improving generation after generation, if not day after day. I (almost desperately) want that to be true. I know it’s mushy, unfounded, and even dangerous thinking. I know.
___In case you had any doubt that this blog really is about “me” senescent, note that the 3 preceding paragraphs begin with “I.” I trust that is not an indication of thinking more highly of myself than I ought to think; rather, this is about my own personal growing-old reaction to the political situation in the United States at this time.
___When I was a child, I believed that it would be miraculous if I lived into the 21st century because I would then be 55 years old. Now I have bettered that by 17 years. Besides assuming that I would be decrepit and useless at that old age, I don’t remember much of what I thought I would experience if I reached the 21st century.
___As I wrote a few days ago, I began thinking that the “Great Society” would inspire us, and we all would go bumbling on together, making a little progress here and there as we got over racism and injustice and income inequality and all of those other things that prevent a society from moving “from perfection to perfection.”
___In the recesses of my mind from about 50 years ago when I had a momentary flirtation with seminary (what was I thinking?), I can half recall that phrase in the context of John Wesley’s theology (it was a Methodist seminary). I can also recall the great glee with which some of the seminary faculty debunked any theology that assumed mankind, in toto or individually, could possibly reach some sort of spiritual perfection. If I had paid closer attention to those professors, I might have saved myself the disillusionment of discovering on my own that “the world and they that dwell therein” (I have a Bible verse for every occasion) are not getting better and better day by any day.
___So here I am, older by at least 17 years than I thought as a child it was possible to be, and neither the world nor I have moved from perfection to perfection.
___This is not the time or place for me to make confession of the ways in which I have not been perfected in the last 50/60/70 years. Life-long lack of discipline, addictive thinking, ego bordering on narcissism, unkindness – the tip of the iceberg. Those unaltered states of my consciousness are enough in themselves to debunk any thought that I am moving from perfection to perfection.
___For the last 8 years I have beheld with dismay – no, with grief, thorough and almost debilitating grief – the unconscionable unfounded and vicious daily attacks on President Obama, the most libelous and sickening of them being the fabricated and scurrilous “birther” movement perpetuated by one Donald J. Trump.
___I have vehemently disagreed with and still have serious questions about some of President Obama’s policies – What does “too big to fail” mean? Why have U.S. “drone strikes” continued around the world? Why is Israel still the largest recipient in the world of American largess? Is the Trans-Pacific Partnership good for the United States or not?
___While I disagree with (or have questions about) many of President Obama’s policies, I do not hate him because his father was from Africa.
___I have grave fear – debilitating fear – at the moment that my opinion of the Trump administration is based on ideas or perceptions as unfounded as those of people who believe that President Obama is a secret Muslim because his middle name is Hussein (and that, if it were true, would make him the enemy of our state).
___I want to believe that, while neither you nor I nor all of us together have moved from perfection to perfection, at least we have made enough progress that we do not need to hate each other and base our political opinions on alternate truths, or on fake news – wherever it comes from.
___My fear, my greatest fear at this juncture, is that my narcissistic tendencies will allow me to believe that my sources of ideas and facts are “correct,” that they are not “fake news” or “alternative facts,” or even biased opinion.
___I don’t think they are. At the very least, none of the articles listed below is based on a bald-faced lie or a conspiracy theory or pure speculation.  And my use of them in formulating my opinions is not like my use of Google to prove to a friend the deleterious effects of MSG on the brain. I may not be moving from perfection to perfection, but in my old age, I hope I am at least moving away from the assumption that my intuition and prior knowledge are enough to lead me to sound judgment of ideas.

Now Trump and his minions are in the driver’s seat, attempting to pose as respectable participants in American politics, when their views come out of a playbook written in German. Now is the time for a much closer inspection of the tactics and strategy that brought off this spectacular distortion of American values.
___What I want to suggest is an actual comparison with Hitler that deserves thought. It’s what you might call the secret technique, a kind of rhetorical control that both Hitler and Trump used on their opponents, especially the media. And they’re not joking. If you’d received the threatening words and pictures I did during the campaign (one Tweet simply read “I gas Jews”), as did so many Jewish reporters and people of color, the sick bloodthirsty lust to terrify is unmistakably sincere. The playbook is Mein Kampf.

“Against Normalization: The Lesson of the ‘Munich Post’.”  Ron Rosenbaum. Los Angeles Review of Books.

“We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less.” Matthias Kolb. Süddeutsche Zeitung.
“The Dangerous Fantasy Behind Trump’s Normalization.”  Zoe Williams. CommonDreams.
“How to Build an Autocracy.” David Frum. The Atlantic.

the-beer-hall-putsch-in-munich-09111923-fd7n8p

The Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, 09.11.1923. Armed SA men during the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich.

Oh no, not politics!

thernudo

Professor Nuno Themudo Wins 2016 Best Book Award, for his book Nonprofits in Crisis: Economic Development, Risk and the Philanthropic Kuznets Curve (Photo: YouTube)

“. . . if he complies with the habitual expectations of a leader’s role, then he is not a charismatic leader . . .”

This is not really politics, but I apologize for turning from thoughts of eternity and the open prairie to the hyper-mundane. I can’t help myself this morning.

I’m in a dither today. I suppose my writing (and whatever passes as my thinking) has nothing to do with getting old(er). Well, yes it does. It has to do with my perception of the steady erosion of freedom in America over my lifetime ― and the terrifying acceleration it has taken in the last few months.
___I was trying to research something else entirely (that’s how researchers find the best stuff ― going where the train of evidence takes them, not where they meant to go) and I came across a study of corruption in the “developing” world, in nations where the World Bank has identified corruption as a social and political problem.   The article was listed as a footnote in another scholarly article I was reading. (Please note it was written in 2013 and is not directed at Trump per se.)

[Opening paragraph] How does civil society [the organizations and informal networks “located between the family, the state and the market in which people associate voluntarily to advance common interests”] impact corruption?  . . .  According to the World Bank, corruption is “the single greatest obstacle to economic and social development.” Corruption undermines public trust in government and other institutions, wastes public resources, and obstructs the responsive management of vital public goals, such as poverty alleviation, health care, and public safety . . .  corruption “constitutes a challenge to the very foundations of development cooperation. . . .
(Themudo, Nuno S. “Reassessing the Impact of Civil Society: Nonprofit Sector, Press Freedom, and Corruption.” Governance 26.1 (2013): 63-89.)

Yesterday, a friend on Facebook shared this article.

The debts of President-elect Donald Trump and his businesses are scattered across Wall Street banks, mutual funds and other financial institutions, broadening the tangle of interests that pose potential conflicts for the incoming president’s administration.
___Hundreds of millions of dollars of debt attached to Mr. Trump’s properties, some of them backed by Mr. Trump’s personal guarantee, were packaged into securities and sold to investors over the past five years, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of legal and property documents.
___Mr. Trump has previously disclosed that his businesses owe at least $315 million to 10 companies. According to the Journal’s analysis, Trump businesses’ debts are held by more than 150 institutions. They bought the debt after it was sliced up and repackaged into bonds—a process known as securitization, which has been used for more than $1 billion of debt connected to Mr. Trump’s companies.
___As a result, a broader array of financial institutions now are in a potentially powerful position over the incoming president. If the Trump businesses were to default on their debts, the giant financial institutions that serve as so-called special servicers of these loan pools would have the power to foreclose on some of Mr. Trump’s marquee properties or seek the tens of millions of dollars that Mr. Trump personally guaranteed on the loans.
[. . . .] Wells Fargo & Co., for example, runs at least five mutual funds that own portions of Trump businesses’ securitized debt, according to an analysis of mutual-fund data conducted by Morningstar Inc. for the Journal.
___The bank also is a trustee or administrator for pools of securitized loans that include $282 million of loans to Mr. Trump. And Wells acts as a special servicer for $950 million of loans to a property that one of Mr. Trump’s companies partly owns, according to securities and property filings.
___Wells Fargo is currently facing scrutiny from federal regulators surrounding its fraudulent sales practices and other issues. Once he takes office, Mr. Trump will appoint the heads of many of the regulators that police the bank.
(Eaglesham, Jean and Lisa Schwartz. “Trump’s Debts Are Widely Held on Wall Street, Creating New Potential Conflicts.” The Wall Street Journal. Wsj.com. Jan. 5, 2017.  Web.)

Shortly after I read that article, I happened upon another article footnoted in something else I was reading. (Please note it was written in 2006 and is not about Trump per se.)

Max Weber defines charisma as ‘an extraordinary quality of a person, because of which he is perceived as the leader’. Charisma is therefore based on a social relationship between a person possessing such a quality and those who believe in it. Weber’s perspective is not directed at an analysis of the charismatic leader’s personality, but at the structure of charismatic social relationships. This he defines through a number of properties.
___The first involves ‘very personal devotion’ and ‘duty’: the leader claims ultimate authority; the followers accept obedience as their duty. The leader must have the will to demand ultimate authority, and the follower must submit himself completely to the leader. This is not just a question of subjective will, but of the structural possibilities for charismatic behaviour. Both leader and followers must be in a situation, or create a situation, in which this is possible, for it is not only charisma that is an extraordinary quality: charismatic relationships are also extraordinary.
[. . . .] Charisma is thus not just another word for prestige, esteem, popularity, or personal excellence. A charismatic relationship fundamentally restructures a given social situation. Charisma is, according to Weber, a ‘revolutionary force’, that may result in ‘a radical alteration of the central attitudes and directions of actions with a completely new orientation of all attitudes toward all forms of life and to the world’. A charismatic leader is not only a person who gains trust, and towards whom great expectations are directed, or to whom special qualifications are attributed. Charismatic leaders create new positions of leadership for themselves, a new pattern of social relations, and a new cognitive definition of the situation in general. No matter how prestigious, talented or idolised he is, if he does not change the social system, or if he complies with the habitual expectations of a leader’s role, then he is not a charismatic leader.    
(Lepsius, M. Rainer. “The Model of Charismatic Leadership and Its Applicability to the Rule of Adolf Hitler.” Totalitarian Movements & Political Religions 7.2 (2006): 175-190.)

As I was reading the above, I recalled the few seconds of Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican Convention that I could bear to listen to. I had to find it because it was eerily reminiscent of Weber’s understanding of “charisma.”

In 2016, Donald J. Trump mounted the stage, and told America that the nation is in crisis. That attacks on police and terrorism threaten the American way of life. That the United States suffers from domestic disaster, and international humiliation. That it is full of shuttered factories and crushed communities. That it is beset by “poverty and violence at home” and “war and destruction abroad.”
___And he offered them a solution.
___I am your voice,” said Trump. “I ALONE CAN FIX IT. I will restore law and order.” He did not appeal to prayer, or to God. He did not ask Americans to measure him against their values, or to hold him responsible for living up to them. He did not ask for their help. He asked them to place their faith in him.
(Appelbaum, Yoni. “I Alone Can Fix It.” The Atlantic. Jul 21, 2016. theatlantic.com. Web. 9 Jan. 2017.  Source. 

So here’s my dither. Am I simply a worried old man of 72 years, beginning to be afraid of even his shadow? Or do all of these articles add up to something that I should, by rights, fear? I hope you, good reader, can tell an old man what to think.

weber

Max Weber (1864―1920), German sociologist and political economist (Photo: Encyclopedia Britannica Online)