Author: Arthur Goldwag

Arthur Goldwag is the author of THE BELIEFNET GUIDE TO KABBALAH (Doubleday, 2005), ISMS & OLOGIES (Vintage, 2007), CULTS, CONSPIRACIES AND SECRET SOCIETIES (Vintage, 2009), and THE NEW HATE: A HISTORY OF FEAR AND LOATHING ON THE POPULIST RIGHT (Pantheon, 2012).

Trump is the Devil

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Jelani Cobb had a great post on The New Yorker’s website about Michael Cohen.

What I love about it is this: “The hallmark of a great team leader is an ability to make his teammates play better; Trump has an uncanny ability to bring out the worst in those around him.”

It’s not just uncanny, it’s unarguably true, even if you are a Trump cultist. I mean, if Cohen is such a pathological liar, then why else did Trump keep him around for so long except to lie about him? Frankly, it’s why Trump has restored my faith in religion–because I’m so sure he is the Devil. If this was the Twilight Zone, the camera would pull back to reveal the audience, and we would realize that we are all minor (and some of us major) characters in a morality play. If this was Dallas, James Madison would wake up from a nightmare and realize that he needed to rewrite Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution to better-specify “treason” and “high crimes.”

An impeachment bid will undoubtedly fail in the Senate and probably provoke a fatal political backlash. I can easily imagine Biden winning the nomination by arguing that left wing Democrats have gone too far, effectively handing 2020 to Trump. But how can Congress not impeach him? A day doesn’t go by in which he doesn’t commit three or four impeachable acts. Honestly, I don’t think they have any choice. Which is also why I think he’s the Devil.

Sledgehammered

My mother, who lived to be a little older than Nancy Pelosi is today, and who was tiny and ethnic and stubborn and opinionated all her life, would have been so tickled to see that the first politician to humble Trump is cut out of the same cloth that she was.

“You have to be respectful of the office that he holds,” Pelosi says dryly. “Perhaps even more respectful of the office he holds than he is.” And, “You always start with a feather, until you get to the sledgehammer.”

If you just look at the words Trump read off the teleprompter yesterday (before he got to the duct tape stuff), you’d think the federal workers had gone on strike to support him and that with their help, he had brought Congress to its knees. But if you looked at his face, you could see that he was broken.

It was a good look.

Things May be Tipping

I get nervous when I am feeling optimistic, because I understand that Trump and Trumpism are symptoms of a much deeper and systemic rot, but it seems to me that things are tipping pretty dramatically right now.

Michael Cohen’s testimony on February 7 is going to be a huge event, and Mueller’s report is likely to follow pretty quickly. If the report is suppressed, that will be almost more devastating than if it is released and it is certain to leak. And I can’t imagine that Trump will even deliver a State of the Union address if the government is still closed.

Yes, a Pence presidency will be worse in many ways than a Trump presidency, because Pence really does have an agenda and the Trump courts and McConnell’s Senate will back him up to the hilt and Lindsay Graham will become his favorite golf partner. And yes, it’s likely that the Democrats are going to make a mess of things during the primary season. But it really does feel like the fever is starting to break.

The Big Plot Twist

…is that we are all characters in a bad work of fiction. It was a staple of the Twilight Zone and at least one science fiction story I can think of. I read it when I was a kid. The protagonist was this pathetic schmo whose whole life has been one ridiculous pratfall after another. At the end, he finds out that he is the comic relief in a Truman-show like TV production. Somehow he finds the producer, pitches a plot twist in which he becomes the hero, and turns his fortunes around. It was a silly premise but memorable enough that I never forgot it.

It doesn’t seem possible, but this is apparently true. It even features the “I alone can save you, believe me” riff. Could it be that the writers of the story that we are all supernumeraries in are so lazy that they are plagiarizing a ‘50s TV show? Click the video; you’ll be relieved to see that it ends with Trump’s arrest.

Accelerating the Climate of Hate

From the pay-walled History of Economics Review, which means I’ve only read the below quote and have no idea of the context, in re Volume IX of the Collaborative Biography of F.A. Hayek, which is way too expensive for me to afford:

“The pick of this volume is Arthur Goldwag’s brief, balanced and incisive analysis of the Austrian School of Economics, “Hayek and ‘The New Hate’” (Chapter 4), which focuses on his rather ambiguous relationship with hate-mongers on the American far right.”

Would love to see the book and the review some day!

Get me out of here!

This is an amazing moment from the G20–Trump abandoning the president of Argentina on stage, saying “Get me out of here.” Yes, he really is a dotard.

People who live on a diet of fiction expect life to follow its arc too–complications building to a climax and a resolution in which things tip one way or the other, to a sad or a happy conclusion. People who live on a diet of history and biography know that the arcs of lives and civilizations all tend to follow roughly the same trajectories–youthful struggles, brief maturities, followed by either an early death or a long decline.

I submit that we’ve been looking at the Trump presidency through the first instead of the second lens. And we need to recognize that we and not Trump are the protagonists of this narrative. Trump is a symptom of our civilizational decline. He is America’s having to get up and pee three and four times in the course of a night, forgetting the names of people we really should know, telling the same story over and over again, and waking up every morning with a back ache.

Mind you, I say that not as a pessimist, but as someone who believes that we can and will do better than we are, even if we’ve damn near killed the planet getting this far. I just don’t expect to live long enough to see a happy ending, never mind have it happen in the next week or month or year.

The Medium is the Message

I didn’t know what “pride goeth before a fall” meant until I got proud and fell. I didn’t know what “the medium is the message” means, until I started getting so much of my news from social media.

This morning on Twitter, I saw shaky phone-video of a drunken Irish lawyer berating Indian flight attendants while claiming to “run” BDS. “See?” Tweeter after tweeter said. “BDS is a racist movement, and its ‘leader’ is not just a hypocrite but a slattern.” I can and will get this kind of anecdotal garbage from the real social world too, but Twitter amplifies it and scales it and repeats it as relentlessly as a North Korean re-education officer.

If you want to know what’s wrong with Facebook, just look at how it leverages its own worst tendencies to its advantage, enlisting the ADL to deflect criticisms of Zuckerberg and Sanders as antisemitic, while retaining the Republican oppo-research firm Definers to attack George Soros as the presiding spirit behind attacks on Facebook.

Academic theory about the soul-sapping power of cults and the virality of paranoid conspiracy theory turn on their ability to create epistemic bubbles. Cult leaders do it through isolation, rape, starvation, and brainwashing. Conspiracy theorists do it by redefining reality. That’s what Facebook and Twitter do too, by allowing their members to customize their news streams, but mostly by using big data analytics to feed them an experience that will keep them clicking (and thus target-able for advertising).