Pneumonia-gate

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I didn’t vote for Clinton last spring and though I will vote for her in November, to my mind she is too hawkish by far, we had eight years of the Clintons already, etc., etc. I am one of millions of Bernie-ites who is voting against Trump rather than for Clinton. But come on. Her having pneumonia is not a scandal, not by a long shot.

I’m not saying that it was a good idea for her to keep all her commitments and stand out in the sun on Sunday, but I do know what I did when I got pneumonia. First, I didn’t go to the doctor for days, even though I was exhausted and miserable and had a sixth sense that something really serious was wrong with me. I wasn’t running for president but we had just moved, we were trying to organize our house and get our kids back on their routine, and I needed to finish The New Hate and deliver it to Pantheon on schedule. When I finally did go to the doctor, I waited for four hours and was too impatient to go to a different facility and wait again to get an x-ray (which turned out to be a big mistake as the pneumonia was more serious than the doctor realized).

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Haters and conspiracists are flooding the Internet with long-distance diagnoses (obviously the pneumonia was caused by her Parkinsons, deep-vein thrombosis, concussion, etc.). Obviously. Not just haters, but smart, sober-minded pundits are clucking that it isn’t the disease but the “coverup” that is the problem, a la Whitewater, e-mail-gate, and so on.

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So let’s do a thought experiment and imagine that she had announced that she was ill on Friday and canceled all her appearances as her doctor suggested. What would we have heard? That she is too old, too fragile, and too female to be president. That she is a drama queen, trying to upstage the 911 anniversary. That the “pneumonia” is a false flag, raised to divert attention from her “basket of deplorables” gaffe or perhaps to preemptively gain sympathy in advance of a terrible new revelation about Benghazi. That the pneumonia isn’t pneumonia at all and that she should bow out for Bernie or Biden. In other words, all the things that are being said anyway. And what would have happened if Trump had collapsed on Sunday? People would have admired his stoicism and marveled at his incredible energy and determination. Full stop.

The Deeper Roots of The Not-so-New Hate

Joseph Schmitz, a Pentagon Inspector General who left in 2004 under a cloud of accusations of anti-Semitism, is one of Donald Trump’s national security advisors. This has gotten me thinking about the nexus between political anti-Semitism and right wing (and fringe left-wing) politics.  Schmitz says that his 38-year marriage to an ethnically Jewish woman absolves him of any taint of anti-Semitism, but he has other family connections that suggest otherwise–he is the son of John Schmitz, the ultra-right wing Orange County Congressman whose holocaust denial got him booted from the John Birch Society (and who also gained notoriety for having a second family, and whose daughter–but I’ll let you Google that one).

How is it that a “debt king” who proposes to downgrade the US’s sovereign debt, who finances his business empire with Russian capital and staffs his campaign with Russian agents has become the leader of a party that was premised on fiscal austerity and anti-Communism? How has a thrice-married playboy who doesn’t know his Two Corinthians from the Koran become the candidate of choice of so many Evangelicals? And how has an avowedly pro-Israel candidate with an orthodox Jewish son-in-law, a converted daughter, and Jewish grandchildren become a beacon for a neo-Nazi like David Duke?  Believe it or not, I think it has more to do with mathematics—or more precisely, with some innumerate people’s fear of mathematics—than it does with economics.

If our partisan politics were as rational and money-driven as we like to think, the obvious coalitions would be between Wall Street, Main Street, and Silicon Valley on the right and the unionized– and especially the de-unionized–proletariat, service class, and students on the left. Instead they’re mostly driven by geography, with cities and inner-ring suburbs leaning leftish and exurbs and rural southern and mountain regions rightwards; by race, ethnicity and religion; by education; and even by gender and sexual preference. Jews are over-represented in the intellectual leadership of the neo-Conservative and neo-Liberal right, but as a voting bloc, they are reliably left-leaning (though numerically insignificant–Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus together make up about 6 percent of the US population).

Setting Trump aside, whose politics are incoherent and opportunistic, and taking a much broader, high-level view, the great fault lines in our politics are mostly cultural and of long-standing: the north versus the Old Dominion and the western frontier; farmers versus city folk; religious authoritarians versus secular materialists; Northern Europeans versus brown and black people and Jews, Muslims, and Asians. This is how the GOP became the home to both members of the investment class and the white nationalists that once made up such a big part of the Democratic party in the south. And this is why, as I wrote in my book The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right, xenophobia, racism, homophobia, and anti-intellectualism are such potent motivators for its base.

But in some ways the biggest fault line is between people for whom money is a simple means of exchange, a kind of proxy for barter, and people that use money as a means of making more money–and this one runs right down the center of the Republican party and bids fair to fracture its already fragile coalition of wealthy low-tax, anti-regulation contributors, morals crusading evangelicals, and know-nothing white nationalists. The hatred of usury, the fear of fiat money, the horror of fractional reserve banking is closely related to the timeless fear and loathing of sorcerers, witches, Satanists, and Jews, and it is what a gold bug like Ron Paul, a conspiracist like Alex Jones, and a programmatic anti-Semite like David Duke have in common. Farmers and manufacturers (Producers, in the language of the old Populists) are rooted in place; money people are cosmopolitan and globalist.

Protocols of the Elders of Zion anti-Semites didn’t hate the Rothschilds just because they were rich, or because their ancestors killed Jesus. They hated them because they used debt to make something out of nothing (interest)–and because they were presumed to use the leverage that gave them over the debtors to create action at a distance (which is both politics and a kind of magic).

A big part of our cultural divide is numeracy. Math is an esoteric language and tool. People who understand its principles and know how to wield it practically live in a different world than regular people do. When physicists look through its lens, they can see that the world is round, not flat, and that it moves around the sun rather than vice versa. When evolutionary biologists look at the mechanism of natural selection through a lens of mathematical probabilities and genetics, the development of complex organisms isn’t remotely as unlikely as, in the classic analogy of the so-called scientific creationist, a 747 being assembled by a tornado in a junkyard. When a regular person looks at money, he translates it into what he can buy immediately. When a financier looks at money, he sees it the way a quantum physicist sees the underlying constituents of the material world–as something in motion and flux, but that can be understood and predicted up to a point by probabilities.

Conspiracism, gold-buggery, programmatic anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, blood-and-soil nationalism and, yes, Trumpism itself are not just rebukes to science–they are an attempt to create an alternative science and economics that anyone can understand.

Why Trump?

My theory of Trump, Limbaugh, and the whole right wing hate circus in a nutshell (Hillary too).

As I see it, globalism and high technology have allowed first world capitalism to expand while dispensing with the need to give domestic workers a buy-in. It’s a temporary victory for the owner/entrepreneurial class but also a fatal contradiction for the system, because it’s politically unsustainable.

The Rush Limbaughs and Donald Trumps of the world are anger entrepreneurs. They rile up the workers that global capitalism has abandoned because they’re good at it and can make a lot of money and gain a lot of power by doing so. Trump’s rise should have given them pause, but they don’t think like Marxists so they don’t see that they are hastening their own demise.

In theory I believe that capitalism can survive this turn, provided it lets go of the idea of endless growth and accepts a vast expansion of the welfare state. But capitalism isn’t sentient and self-critical, it’s just a dumb force like gravity, so it can’t correct itself. For that, you need strong, visionary leaders and powerful communicators, and the Trumps and the Clintons and the Limbaughs have taken all those jobs.

Trump will be hoist by his own petards in November, but Hillary will only postpone the day of reckoning. If I were the kind of person who gets up on soap boxes, I would be shouting this to the rooftops, but isn’t that what Bernie Sanders spent the last year doing?

Trump and Second Amendment Solutions

 

I couldn’t believe the spectacle on TV last night, all those adult pundits “debating” whether Trump had meant what he said in the sense that he seemed to say it. Parsing, analyzing, weighing his word salad. As if there could be any question what he was insinuating. As if he was serious, in the way that he would be serious about choosing a fourth wife or a new tax shelter for Ivanka’s trust fund. He makes it up as he goes along. He seeks attention and adulation from wherever he can get it, and where he gets it the most these days is from the people who identify proudly as oppressed white Christian gun owners who are one insult away from shooting their “oppressors,” those oppressors being non-white, non-Christian, non-heterosexual urban-dwellers, and of course all those white race traitors with money and education who look down on them. Some of them (but not nearly so many as in days of yore) have a special animus for Jews.

This is America and we are not one country. Even if he’s reached his ceiling, Donald Trump’s rise is proof enough of that. The fact that 35 percent or so of whites are as alienated as they are is as damning as the fact that so many minorities are. Defeating Trump may postpone America’s day of reckoning, but it won’t begin to fix its problems.

Donald Trump Turns on Babies

I get it; he was having a bad day. But when you’re president, all days are bad days–people are constantly questioning your competence, your intelligence, your decency, your good will, your patriotism. You get a certain amount of deference (Marines saluting you, people calling you Mr. President), but nowhere near the deference that a billionaire or a TV star commands. Puny congressmen, small-town newspapermen, even nobody authors on Facebook, are not just allowed to push back but are expected to.

Trump is an “I alone” kind of guy, and for that he would need to destroy the institutions of the US government. As Masha Gessen put it in the New York Review last week (was it really just a week ago?), that’s not because they would prove an obstacle to any one thing that he wants to do (his attention span is short) “but because they are an obstacle to the way he wants to do them. A fascist leader needs mobilization. The slow and deliberative passage of even the most heinous legislation is unlikely to supply that. Wars do, and there will be wars. These wars will occur both abroad and at home.”

Trump yelling at Gold Star mothers and babies and kicking dogs (he hasn’t done that yet, but if things keep going this way he will) is comical. Trump pulling the levers of power–and empowering a whole army of Lewandowskis in appointive positions–is something else entirely.

It’s not that his ideas and attitudes are unprecedented–they have been simmering just below the surface of our politics since we have been a country. Neither his racism, his isolationism, his anti-intellectualism, his authoritarianism or his conspiracism are new. But Trump has made them his brand proposition, and he stands a good chance of putting all of them to the test. We are getting into Civil War territory, and he is no Lincoln.

The Choice

I’m immune to “America is great already” and “city on the hill” rhetoric (though Michelle Obama’s “I wake up in a house built by slaves” brought a tear to my eye). But I do love it when a speech maker holds up the founders’ great phrases as aspirations–or as promissory notes that it’s time, goddammit, to take to the bank and cash.

Talking Point Memo’s Josh Marshall noted that Obama less attacked Trump than made “him seem small and petty in comparison to the picture of America he’s painting.” Obama also (as Bloomberg and Biden did) zeroed in on the most appalling phrase in Trump’s speech last week, “I alone”–and the crowd’s pitiful chant of “yes you will” in response.

Obama’s speech was inspiring as hell, but I doubt it was very persuasive to those chanters. People that look up to people like Trump generally look down on people like Obama, never mind HRC. But here we are. Never mind that Trump is a bulllshit artist: he is galvanizing and mobilizing the most blatantly anti-American movement I’ve ever seen. As bumptious and ignorant as he may be, he puts all the American demagogues and race-baiters that came before him in the shade.

Someone in Philadelphia should tell that story about Benjamin Franklin and George Washington’s rising sun armchair. Here it is from Madison’s Journals: “Whilst the last members were signing [the Constitution], Doctor Franklin, looking towards the President’s chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art, a rising, from a setting, sun. I have, said he, often and often, in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now at length, I have the happiness to know, that it is a rising, and not a setting sun.”

Listening to Trump at the RNC last week it seemed to me that our national sun was sinking. For all that those Exceptionalist flourishes rubbed me the wrong way, for a few minutes last night I could almost believe that it was rising.

Trump is Out of His Mind

It’s the weirdest thing. When I was writing The New Hate, I got so caught up in the swamps of Glenn Beck, Alex Jones, Michelle Malkin, and Michael Savage, that I felt like it started to stick to me like the smells of a pig farm must stick to its workers when they come home. Friends and relatives rolled their eyes affectionately when I explained the connections that professional haters drew between the billionaires that they believed were drinking human blood at their Illluminati conclaves and the bloodsucking Jews who they believed were building the Davidic superstate. Strangers edged away from me or tried to change the subject; activists told me that I was wasting my time on a fringe of a fringe of a fringe.

The real issue for me wasn’t that crazy people believed crazy stuff–it was that smart, entrepreneurial writers and radio hosts, and worse still, mainstream politicians, borrowed those batshit crazy, destructive tropes. That was terrible. But you know what? It’s gotten worse. And I’m not even talking about the rise of Donald Trump, though it’s unfathomably horrible that such a shallow, bad, ignorant, mean-spirited person has such a good chance of becoming president. It’s that people are so inured to crazy now that they don’t even notice it anymore. Never mind that Trump spends his first day as the nominee plotting revenge on Cruz and Kasich; have you seen the viral ad he released that quantifies how much applause his speech got? I don’t want to sound able-ist, but he’s beyond certifiable.

Yet even so, there are millions, yes millions, of people out there who will defend his financial ties to Russian oligarchs and his open admiration for the biggest oligarch of all–many of them the same people who insist that Obama is a treasonous alien traitor or even the anti-Christ. There are millions of people who think nothing of the fact that Trump’s campaign director worked for a Russian puppet.

I never look at Glenn Beck or Michelle Malkin anymore–it’s all on the front page of The New York Times.