How the War Begins

As the approaching war becomes more obvious to more and more people [1], we should stop lamenting about the “unthinkable” (which, ironically, is always a “do-able”), and start asking concrete questions of how the war will start.

Right now there are four major conflicts involving the U.S. bearing the potential of leading into full-fledged military confrontation:

  1. the face-off between China and the U.S. over China’s expansion in the South China Sea and the Pacific
  2. the smoldering conflict between Russia and Nato in Europe
  3. the danger of accidental armed conflict between Russia and the U.S. over Syria
  4. the face-off between North Korea and the U.S. over North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ICBM launch capabilities

A full-fledged thermonuclear war is not likely (although errors and mistake may occur, and the Russia-Nato-conflict in Euope might turn into a full-fledged conventional confrontation). What is likely, though, is the preemptive nuclear attack to effect a large scale EMP (“electro-magnetic pulse”) in the upper atmosphere, to fry all electronics, grids, computer chips, software of an adversary.

As neither Russia, nor China, the U.S. or North Korea possess a defense shield against incoming ICBMs, it suffices to detonate one (!) nuclear warhead in 20 kilometres height to cover a circular area of about 5,200 kilometres in diameter. That is roughly the distance between the Ural-mountains in Russia in the east and Gibraltar (between Spain and Marocco) in the west, with an explosion in 20 kilometres height above Frankfurt (Germany) or Warsaw (Poland).

The North Korean Taepodong-2 ICBM can carry a payload of 700-1,000 kilogram. [2] Fully operational, it will be able to reach the east coast (!) of the U.S. [3]

(Image © The Korea Times)

Right now the U.S. does not have a reliable missile defense system against such ICBMs. Given North Korea’s economy, it makes no sense for her to develop a huge arsenal for a conventional thermonuclear war. But it suffices to place just one nuclear warhead in 20 km height above the U.S. (east or west) for a decisive EMP.

In fact, wageing an EMP-attack right now would be a reasonable endeavour for North Korea, as a reliable U.S. defense system will be in place only in a couple of years. The results of an EMP would be, on the one hand, the breakdown of infrastructure, the grid, the facilities, the banking system, the internet. You are free to imagine a two day, three day scenario of urban riots when water, banking, shopping, traffic, etc. are no longer available. But the more pressing problem is the consequence of an EMP on the nuclear power plants in the U.S. True, its approx. 100 nuclear power plants are mainly placed in the east of the U.S. , with only a few on the west coast. [4] But given an EMP, inspite of emergency power supply by diesel generators, cooling will be a huge problem (esp. when the outtake streches over a longer period of time). Core meltdown (like in Fukushima) is likely to occur. (Imagine just two, three or even more Fukushimas at the same time. How do you think will emergency response forces deal with such a multilayered crisis?) The meltdown of the cores of nuclear power plants poses the biggest threat to environment, people, infrastructure after and due to an EMP-attack.

Given the ease with which huge damage to the infrastructure can be achieved with pretty few means, a military EMP-attack seems the most likely course in a military confrontation — not just between North Korea and the U.S., but, by parity of reasoning, between other players as well. As more small nations acquire the means for such attacks, the likelihood of such an attack will increase.

Assuming that there will be no major conventional armed struggles between Russia and Nato on the one hand and the U.S. and China on the other, the conflict between the U.S. and North Korea, with North Korea attempting to launch an ICBM for an EMP-attack on the U.S. or the U.S. preemptively attacking suspected North Korean launching sites, is the most likely scenario. How China then will respond remains difficult to assess.

 

[1] Harry Leslie Smith, “In 1939, I didn’t hear war coming. Now its thundering approach can’t be ignored“, The Guardian, Monday 14, August 2017, 13.00 BST; and my “Weather Fronts“, Dec 30, 2016.
[2] Michael Arthur, “Taepodong-2“, Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, n.d.
[3]  Yi Whan-woo, “NK rocket test is to hit any city in US mainland“, The Korea Times, February 3, 2016.
[4]  Map of US Nuclear Plants, Nuclear Energy Institute, 2017.

 

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The Surrender Machine

Since the web became ubiquitous in the early 2000s, the centre of our focus and attention shifted to the screen. Although, that is not entirely true. Television had been ubiquitous too, and the hours the average adult watches TV over the years may have only slightly decreased whilst the use of privately owned web-capable machines rose over the years. People may have switched the underlying machine, but the habit of being glued to a screen has been pretty much constant since, I guess, the early 1970s.[1]

People do different things at the screen. Formerly called programmers, software developers sit in front of their screens typing codeline after codeline. Authors and writers have long abandoned the typewriter and use the computer as text processing machine. People may watch less cable TV but simply switched the provider to watch the movies online instead. Streaming services became the norm while cinemas and movie theatres keep closing shop. Music, once purchased via vinyl, then CD, now stream as well; purchases became micro by the advent of single song purchases online.

For many years activism for social change, environmental preservation, working rights, political resistance used different venues. Now much of it occurs on the screen as well. Social media and formerly relevant publishing tools like blogs made audience-building and pressure coordination a more screen-oriented, detached activitiy. Protests stills happen in the streets and the courts, communities still spring up at the parks and in the neighbourhood quarters, but the coordination, the organization, the talk, the chatter now happen via the screen-machine.

With handhelds and web-capable telecommunications machines, the screen, not the specific underlying hardware, became the most important aspect of today’s instant access. Access and screen, be it touch, press, or click, merged into one, the underlying machine rather a question of convenience and consumer choice than of task- and end-oriented hardware choice. Today, the most important device that connects people with the web is the screen. It may, in some future, transform into a brain-transplant, but right now the screen is what makes people act and react.

We don’t even need to point to the ubiquitous stare of people at their handheld devices, be it smartphones, tablets, or e-readers. What we do have is the omnipresent connection of the human eye, the human mind, and the screen a few centimetres away from it.

One change since the early 1970 is the replacement of the old cathode ray display by the liquid crystal display, which made the individuation of screen-machines possible. The devices became portable. But what did not change since the dawn (and spread) of televison is that when looking onto the screen, we look into a source that directly emits light. Before screens became ubiquitous, the way we looked at the world, at movie screens, at newspapers, magazines, books, was looking onto surfacees that reflected light stemming from a another light source. That is, we used to look into the world by relying on indirect lightning. The (rather) rare exceptions when we would look into direct lighting were the lights of the streets, the cities, the work places and the nightlife. Apart from that, the sun would be the main direct source of light emission. Into which we would rarely stare.

I don’t know how things changed evolutionarily, or if they changed at all, when we began to substitute confronting ourselves with indirect lightning by confronting ourselves with direct lightning. Perhaps the stare into the direct light source does indeed put us more into a dream-like state, circumventing rational and verbatim thinking, directly entering our subconsciousness. Or perhaps the stare into the direct light source fuses a dream state with verbatim and rational elements. But being glued to the screen makes us look away from a world of indirect lighting. Instead we are locked to a source of direct lighting, in which things don’t stay fixed and calm, but rush to change and replace the other. So what might be said, on this broad, over-generalized level, is that for most people the web and the machines to access it are little more than interactive television. It’s television in which we participate on a myriad of levels and aspects. But it still is a shiny screen. And we keep being glued to it.

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Attention is linked to appreciation and that to committment, even love. We not only care for what we love, we also love what we care of and care about, as Shery Turkle once wisely observed.[2] That is: Whatever we invest our attention and appreciation in, we sooner or later begin to love, that is, to be concerned about. That doesn’t mean that we learnt to love our gadgets and the screens that go with them – although that, in a sense, isn’t false either – but that we learnt to love what we interact with, or create, or belong to. People started using the computer as a «tool» to solve problems, getting tasks done, and ended up devising more and more tasks the solution of which demanded even more time to spend with the computer – or more precisely: with the screen. This is not to say that we are facing a worldwide pandemic of addiction to screen-mediated flicker – although one could argue for that as well – but that we came to convince ourselves that the amount of attention we can spend a day is somehow best spent with a screen. And if you look into one direction, you look away from others. Watching the screen means looking away from what happens aside of or outside the screen. Which we then try to accomodate by looking at things via the medium of the screen.

But when things become relevant insofar as we can watch them on a screen, by looking into a lightsource directly emiting light, they no longer stay relevant in the world of indirect lighting, of bodies and concrete. That is: The screen changes the things of the world into information and images. They thus become toy blocks – which can be a good thing – in danger of their own meaning getting lost – which mostly is a bad thing. When we stop listening to what the things want to tell us, we begin substituting their voices with ours.

A few years back the term «Anthropocene» made its entry in the boundless talks and thoughts attached to screens. And recently, some people started to say that we indeed now have entered the geo-historical era of the «Anthropocene», in the sense that there are no further corners of the world untouched and unchanged by human intervention, meaning that everything we now can discover and experience already has a man-made touch or is of man-made nature. Wilderness, not in the Romanticists’ sense but in the sense of «untouched by man» has become a lost «category». All we can encounter in this world, on this planet, is already a mirror of who is encountering it.

There is a sadness, even desparation, that comes with the loss of wilderness and the ubiquity of human intervention, the loss of something that is part of the world but still not made by humans. The staleness of a world in which everything we find is from man-made industriousness, discourages us from caring for this world. A man-made world, it seems, is ex hypothesi a world not worth saving. When everything is just what a ridiculous plan has devised and incompetently realized, then all we find out there is a shadow image of ourselves, and even a lesser one. Then why keep looking into that mirror, when all it shows is the Gollum, and not the Elf?

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What I was trying to make plausible is that the talk of the «Anthropocene» has a very important inherent flaw. It sees the world as solely remaining of the man-made and man-influenced items. That, what is not man, the wilderness, is no longer part of what once has been called a world (in a slightly different sense). A world that encompasses man-made and man-independent things (or «aspects») is different from a world that solely encompasses or consists of things made or touched or influenced by man. The former leaves the hope that things may still change unexpectedly, into a direction we couldn’t have dreamt about, even fathomed, in advance. It makes the world a place to discover, to play with, to marvel about but also to fear. The other world, the one containing solely the things (purportedly) being made, touched or influenced by man, is the stale world of multi-storey car parks, skyscrapers, and theme parks. The world of everlasting amusement, challenges, research, work, sustainable design options, self-realization, etc. It is also, like in Antiquity, an encapsulated world, beyond which nothing exists but chaos.[3]

The need to live in a world not made by ourselves seems deeply ingrained in our psychê. The wilderness «out there» seems to be needed as a handrail for walking through the wilderness «here inside». Lose the former and what happens to the latter? It seems, just seems, to vanish as well, leaving stale rational constraints and obligations as the parameters of reality. But that might not be the case. Perhaps the «wilderness inside» just re-appears outside, inside, throughout, as disfunctionality of societies, of economic systems of quantitative exchanges, of paranoia, dispair. The wild, that is, will not disappear, it will just come back in different guises, as «problems» that entice us to «solve» them by rational means and technical expertise. And thus make them worse.
So what the talk of the «Anthropocene» gets right is that there is the conceptual option of a world containing solely man-inspired items, with all the staleness that goes with it. But it goes wrong in two ways. The one is to think that wilderness simply disappears. It in fact re-appears as disfunctionality. But to think disfunctionality is tantamount to practical design problems asking for a solution will not only not solve or enhance anything, it will reinforce the urge to purge the world from wilderness at all.

But even more important is the second way this talk goes wrong. It forgets that the «Anthropocene» is not something we discovered «out there», in some world of mud and stone, but in the intermediate realm of the screen, of us glued to the screen. In which things already appear not as themselves but as hearsays, as information, as toy blocks, which we inflate and shrink at will, according to the attention we give them. And which haunt us inasmuch as we care for them.

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In order to keep the right balance in a world made of screen, we try to resort to the science that already proved so successful in establishing the laws of a world that wasn’t us: mathematics. And so we keep using statistics, polls, measurements, extrapolations, bell-cuves, algorithms, data structures, toplogies, in order to re-visualize the world we once knew to be not of our making. And we keep pushing the Myth of «algorithm neutrality»,[4] thereby falling below even the crudest form of 19th century Empiricism that, in itself, has always been a strangely concocted theory about the world and our making sense of it.[5] In doing so, mathematics and its related structural sciences only enhance the fanciful character of what we take to be items outside the screen. In a sense, this can be seen as a variant of Donald Davidsons «Third Dogma of Empiricism»,[6] this time the Myth of a distinction between a pure topic «out there», and a medium of «access» (i.e., representation) – screen, pure eyes, experiment – somehow «right here». In this Myth, the means of our visualization are independent and don’t constitute or impact the nature of the things we’re talking, marvel and worry about.

But mathematics and her related structural sciences will not tell us what formulas to apply and what theorems to prove. That is, following the argument (or: following the deduction) is only as good as the premisses and axioms we still are forced to choose. In particular in the sphere of the screen, where things reappear as data, topologies, structures, or images and films and movies and texts, what comes about is almost entiriely determinded by the choices we have made in the beginning. What to put onto the screen, in what way, in what mode of representation. Mathematics and her siblings thus become subsequent justifications for choices already made without them. We may still «follow the argument» in the hope of a reductio ad absurdum to occur, but that by no means is guaranteed to be an endeavour to be reached effectively and in finite steps. Not really a way to ascertain the «reality» of the things we began with.

*

Of course, the talk of the «Anthropocene» was only meant to serve as an example. This is not about the «Anthropocene» but about the impact of being in a world that more or less happens via the perception through screens. It makes things appear of being of our own making. In thus appearing as of our own making, the things, the world, tend to become stale, hopeless, as all we find is the stuff we put inside them, not what they might tell us of their own. In that, we give up hope of a world not, or not entirely, of our own making but still relevant to us and our fellow beings. When things become all equal, what matters is not what they tell us but what we find important. That is not dangerous or limiting in itself, rather a call to our conscience and awareness. But right now, via the screens and the modes of our perceiving them, things turn out to tell us what we already know. They cannot tell us of their own. In that, the world becomes a boring place, a desperate place, a place without a livable and worthy future. We give up. Even, or perhaps: especially, as the problems magnify and the dangers grow. The screen becomes the machine of our surrender, surrender not to something higher than ourselves but to the fatigue that permeates all what we know.

For more than 50 years we have lived with the screen. It became ubiquitous in the way we understand what world is. That all the liberating fantasies of this technology (be it, first with television, then the computer, then the web) turned out false is one aspect; that it enforced our hopelessness and despair quite another. That we still turn to the screen for solace and encouragement, is the third and perhaps most vicious aspect of it. As we love what we care for, we keep being glued to the screen, even and specifically because of our best intentions. And this is the most terrifying feature of the screen: Not only does it need our attention and care, not only does it induces in us love and admiration, in keeping us hooked to something with which we cannot act nor understand nor go away, it became the most intrusive surrender machine of the last 550 years.

The screen will not go away. We will not switch it off. We will never know how the world is outside the screen – to the detriment of us and the beings that experience our screen-mediated activities. Wilderness has been reduced to malfunction, and in this lies the most terrifying aspect of our surrender. It’ll make us unable to face the wilderness that is about to come.

 

[1] Cf. Jacqueline Howard, «Americans devote more than 10 hours a day to screen time, and growing», CNN Health, July 29,2016, 20:22 GMT.
[2] Akiko Busch, «Q+A: Sherry Turkle (February 2008)», I.D. The International Design Magazine, Vol. 55, No. 2, March / April 2008.
[3] To be more precise:  The ancient Greek word «oikos» that was tanatamount to «world» is usually translated as household. It is the proximity that is familiar. Accordingly, what lies beyond it is the un-familiar, which in ancient Greece took the form of the chaos, the disorder, the void. This distinction changed in the Roman-Christian-West in which the world (lat. «mundus») is what is part of the divine salvation whereas that outside it, the «un-familiar», is the sphere of what is not part of the divine salvation, thus is the «sphere» of the un-redeemed. It’s worth highlighting that these old conceptions are still (or again) underlying the current usage of terms like «Anthropocene». It thus shows a relapse into terminologies and practices that are quite inconsistent with a purported modern, secular use.
[4] I first became acquainted with the term «algorithm neutrality» and its associated problems through Evgeny Morozov’s article «Don’t Be Evil» (The New Republic, July 13, 2011, 9:30 PM). Another link to it is here.
[5] Cf. the discussion of the Three Dogmas of Empiricism by Willard Van Orman Quine and Donald Davidson.
[6] See note 5 above and his seminal article: Donald Davidson, “On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme”, Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, Vol. 47, (1973 – 1974), pp. 5-20.

 

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How to resist Trump

To resist, you need to be aware of a few things:

1.   Trumpism is a rare blend of fascism and incompetence.

2.   The “alternative facts” of Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer, the executive orders of Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller? They are not so much malice but the embarrassing display of brazenness and incompetence.

3.   The Trump team yearns for nothing more than respect and deference. They want to be taken seriously. Problem is: they are amateurs.

4.   They confound the public with one idiocy after another. But that is just the amateur’s way of trying to stay atop.

5.   If you panic, they feel like being in charge, ahead of you. Don’t allow them this advantage.

(6.  The dark version of # 1 – 5 : People can only bear a certain amount of distress and panic. Then they capitulate. Not because the external forces are so strong, but because they cannot stand their own emotional turmoil any longer. That’s why the Trump team tries to keep people scared.)

Trumpism is a dangerous ideology and a dangerous program. It will undoubtedly harm a lot of people. But resistance can only become successful if and when we break the spell of their brazenness, that is, if and when we stop respecting them by offering them our fear.  Look through it. They are amateurs, they are insecure and yearn for our respect while at the same time they try to push through a major program. Break the spell. Laugh about it. Laugh about them. Then fight them in the courts.

 

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Weather Fronts

Somehow all the books came too late. The ability to read that I had lost for I don’t know how long finally returned and I started to read books again. Not many, often interrupted by days, sometimes weeks, but steadily, and I could turn the pages, soak in stories that told the stories of old weather fronts in the skies of men. Weather fronts in the skies. Which I had followed, at least the more recent ones, reading news articles on the web. So I was acquainted with the winds, or rather, the heavenly currents that underlie this meandering that clouds are often only the visible foam of. The currents were visible, if only by watching the weather fronts, those dark greyish blue heavy agglomerations that filled the skies beyond the eyes’ capacities to grasp. It was all there. We all could see. Still, most drew the wrong conclusions.

When times come to an end, when epochs close, turmoil and conflicts arise. That’s how most people see it. But it is different. When things tend to become clear-cut, conclusive, one-dimensional, that’s when conflicts, turmoil, even violence arise. Conflicts, turmoil, violence don’t bring about the end of a time but are the result of a time that is becoming a certain way. And it is this way, not the time that births them. In that sense, most dystopian science fiction gets things wrong. They not so much exhibit some form of end times, although they may convey the character and the flair of a dystopian a-temporality. They rather describe processes of dwindling options, receding alternatives, vanishing perspectives, and with that: the loss of hope that things could be different. Only after things seem settled, realities fixed, the shape of the long everlasting Now decided, is it that the cataclysms occur. As long as there are still factions or factors competing, the catastrophes are still in the offing.

So when I finally recovered and became able to read again, the books already came too late. The loss of alternatives and political options had already hardened into a brutish insistence on practical constraints. Things needed to be thus-and-so, and it was pretty irrelevant if that meant the political, the economic, or the personal sphere. It was the time when it became clear that the war was only months away. Things had dwindled in their manifoldness, facts had become single-minded ways that shunned rivals. The lust and the need for power recommended itself not as politicians’ whim, but as a practical constraint for survival in times that appeared to have miraculously turned harder and harder. The war that was about to come was not to begin because other means of engagement had been exhausted; it was to come because those means of engagement had been so efficient and successful, had been applied by everybody, had first created the same flair, then contributed to the same reality of uniformity. The end of history, like some had called a somewhat related phenomenon of years earlier, had been declared short-sightedly and wrongly, not because it took the a-temporal long Now of missing options and alternatives at face value, as a sign for an everlasting epoch of political and economic “being thusly”. What the talk of the end of history had missed was that by becoming uniform, “thusly”, things themselves turned into the source of violent upheaval. The end was not a “thus” but a beginning, the beginning of a new war that was meant to tear apart the one-sidedness of the long Now, to return the world to a state of renewed options, perspectives, even paths. The weather fronts that could be seen in the skies were the signs not of a history past but of things to change. As simple foam they were the faces of people; as the current’s foam they were the tide just before breaking to the trough.

When I sat there at the close of the year 2016, I was awaiting the war to start some time in the year 2017. And at some point it didn’t even seem to matter whether I could detect the signs via the books I was again able to read, or whether I could corroborate my feelings with words of those telling from other weather fronts of former times. It made no real difference anymore, now, at last, in the short moment of a deep sad breath, as the first drops began dripping from the skies, then turned into the heavy rain that was meant to last for a long time. Like most, I had missed the opportunity to build an ark for the things to survive into the new times.

 

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Why the Republicans Won Big in November 2016, Part 4

Perhaps I should delete the word “big”. But still, Donald Trump and the GOP are poised not only to win the presidency but to keep the majorities in both House and Senate.

This sounds ridiculous, esp. with only 11 days left until November 8th. But it is not that improbable that this will happen. After the third presidential debate and at the high time of the Access Hollywood video scandal in which Donald Trump pretty much confirmed all the misogynistic qualities he had been suspected of, the polls started swinging pretty much in favour of Hillary Clinton. In early voting, women in particular cast their ballot; at times, Donald Trump even began losing support of working class white males who are said to constitute his main base.

And the polls narrowed again. In battle states, Hillary Clinton’s lead of at times 50% to 37% shrank back to a near toss, and nationally her lead of 10% and more after Donald Trump’s video scandal is now back again at 5%, even less. Not much a change, compared to prior the third debate.

The publication of the video came at a bad time. It came too late to replace Donald Trump with Mike Pence on the Republican ticket, and it came too early to convince enough young and female voters to rally around Hillary Clinton. As I wrote earlier, the younger voters are eager to vote in favour of something, not against something. Even as the Clinton campaign and both Obamas tried to urge young voters to rally against something all agree needs to be rallied against – misogynist and objectifying treatment of women – it is not an issue people like to be concerned with for a prolonged period of time. Had the tape come out on November 1st, things might have turned out pretty different, but now it is just fading. Heck, didn’t we know all along that Trump is a fuck?

So the Access Hollywood tape may have pushed some fence sitting women, otherwise not too enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton, to vote for her in the early elections that have already started. But that is already receding. So what is next?

It depends on whether Democrats can find another scandal to drown Donald Trump in. After his debacle with the Khan family (which he could not have won), I thought there would be no more similar traps for him to fall into. I was wrong inasmuch as I underestimated how a scandal of sexual assault could come up and hurt him. As with the Khan family dispute, Donald Trump found himself in a confrontation he could not possibly win. Not just because of the undeniability of his attitudes and the claims of the witnesses who came forward, but because fighting back against the witnesses, i.e., fighting against women’s allegations of sexual harassment and assault, is a position Donald Trump cannot win. Because either he is guilty of the allegations, then he appears morally disgraced; or his harsh fight against women makes him look mean and unchivalrous, and he looks morally disgraced again.

So he could not win this either. And he lost terribly, in the polls, in public opinion, in support, presumably even in the ballots already cast. But he is still polling nearly as high as Hillary Clinton. Again. What is this?

If you watch the rallies of both, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, what is conspicuous is the differences of the audiences. At Clinton’s rallies you see a lot of younger, well-dressed middle class people, waving their smartphones. At Trump’s rallies you see a lot of older, shabbier dressed people. Worn sweaters and baseball caps against neckties, waistcoats and costumes. This is middle class against working class, and the different realities both candidates’ constituents live in.

In several speeches First Lady Michelle Obama took to the different “visions” both candidates seemingly stand for. Donald Trump’s “vision” is said to be a dystopian reality of crime, inner city warfare, racial antagonism, “us against them”, job loss, rising costs, the influx of all bad and evil, and the necessity to rage against living amidst the downfall of a world already having ended decades ago. Clinton’s “vision”, on the other hand, is said to be about the “we are stronger together”, of opportunities, jobs, education, better health care, fight against climate change, women’s rights etc. Hers is about the prospects, the things to be if people work hard and do not expect too much.

Only that these are not “visions” at all. These are perceptions of different populations, and different realities clashing.

Of course, many surrogates of Hillary Clinton keep reminding the audiences that she is the daughter of a working class mother who herself had been an orphan. Many suggest that, pointing to the Obamas as examples, origin and economic hardship do not mean to prevent anybody from “fulfilling his or her dream”, his or her “God given potential”. Anybody can become president of the United States, right? Well, no. In Logic this is called the fallacy of generalization. That is, although some people, perhaps even through hard work, may indeed rise from poverty to the highest office, it does not mean everybody can do so. Regardless how much they try. One cannot compete to become the president of the United States when one cannot even compete to land a job at Walmart when the latter has shut down the last outlet in the vicinity of 200 miles.

And it does not help either to identify the candidates’ respective constituents by identifying those who have and those who have no college degrees. Not with a given age discrimination of 40 years in the IT sector in Silicon Valley; not with unpaid internships; not with high volatility in social strata due to economic hardships and delayed recovery. This just is not about education. As the unemployment in certain rural areas is not about education. It is about poverty and what poverty does to people. So although there are a few exceptions to the rule that who is poor stays poor; these are exceptions, not the rule. The Obamas, the Clintons, they are exceptions, not the rule. And regardless how much they insist on being a living proof that the “American Dream” is alive and kicking, this is not true for the majority of people. Most poor people stay poor, no matter what. Hope is for the rich, not the poor; change is for the affluent, not the destitute.

So the poor do not have a chance. And they will not get another. The jobs they had was the best that has happened to them; and when these jobs leave, nothing follows, except despair and destitution. You cannot raise kids on despair; you cannot tell them life is worth living when your own life shows to everybody that there is nothing you may hope for. So the cycle continues.

Most evil does not happen because of bad intent or malice but because of exhaustion, hopelessness, despair, even bad luck. And when the affluent tell the poor that it is their own fault because if they just got their act together, they too could become president of the United States, then bitterness leads to “anger”. So, in a sense, it is not talk radio or Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity who fan the anger and muddy the brokens’ mind; it is the ubiquitous propaganda of “due effort due success” that installs the sense of eternal failure, adding insult to injury, disparagement to job loss. And this Calvinist propaganda is shared not just by rude conservatives but by arrogant liberals alike. And so even First Lady Michelle Obama is unable to see how insulting her reminiscing about her own upbringing is to all those who did not succeed, regardless whether they tried or not.

The propaganda of “due effort due success” has maddening consequences. It justifies the actions of so-called Washington elites as well as Wall Street crooks. It can even be used to justify Mafia operations. And that is what makes the hurt and broken going mad: Not just that one cannot succeed when one “plays by the rules”; but that one cannot have it both ways, stay true to oneself, to one’s values and conscience, and still make it out there, somehow. Add the lecturing of those who managed to succeed (and became slick in the process), and exhaustion, hopelessness, and bitterness turn to what these successful call “anger”. This sense of unfairness. That the rules are broken. That the system is rigged.

That is what a fascist bully like Donald Trump reacts to but not creates. And that is what many of his supporters are no longer willing to bear. If one cannot live in decency and dignity, then what is it all worth anyway? Then we may equally shut it all down. That is why his supporters rally behind Donald Trump. And that is why all scandals will not hurt his standing. Because this is not about Donald Trump nor policies and arguments from which a “sovereign” might choose – as there are no choices left. Not only do Democrats not understand this; their posing just confirms what the broken already know: that with insult comes injury, that those who have will be given, that unfairness is the way life is. Rather die then live in that hell.

We do not know if Donald Trump supporters are numerous enough to decide the election on their own. Perhaps he is rightly trying to discourage some voting blocks of the Democrats from showing up on election day by keeping the race nasty. But as this nastiness is not due to Donald Trump’s character, but due to the Calvinist propaganda of “due effort due success”, it resonates with his voters regardless how much Democrats attack his character or talk about progress being made and futures being bright. This howling people react to in this campaign is the howling of the wind that rattles at empty store windows and empty promises. In a sense, Donald Trump’s campaign is far more realistic than that of Hillary Clinton, even if it bears less future. But listening to, even venting, the howl is what drives this election. And so Donald Trump and the GOP will prevail. And then turn on their voters whom they so utterly despise.

 

More?   Part 1   Part 2   Part 3

 

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When the Gods Left Our Dwellings

This is an old text, slightly reworked and rephrased.

 

We in the West are a strange people. We think we are individual, separate persons, living our lives on our own, connected only, if at all, to our immediate family. We have no gods, no spirits, we are not part of something. We are not connected with life and our fellow beings. We think meaning is something of our own making.

There are reasons for this. They go way back in the history of our culture. But our concept of what it means to be a person is so pervasive that it distorts our views on our own history. We read history with our modern eyes, thereby validating our current ways of being and dismissing others. At the same time, we long for those other ways, but as we don’t understand them we consume them in a sentimental fashion.

People are wider than the boundaries of their skins. They are embedded. Their relations reach to the communities of people, animals, plants, spirits, gods. But here in the West, these things have turned out differently. Here the way our egos are related to other people mirrors the way they are related to the gods, afar and unfathomable.

 

1     Systems of reciprocal obligations

We live in a world whose being made of objects is not all there is. The world comprises more than stuff, e.g., emotions, dreams, sufferings, conscience, moral, numbers, minds occupied with chatter internal and external. To a world a whole sphere of invisible and intangible things belongs.

Religion is, or in some respect: was, part of this world. Humans had relationships with their deities, the spirits, the fairies, for ages. Even here in the West, devotion, the relation to the deity, was something that was of concern primarily to a clan, a neighbourhood, a hamlet, a parish. It was something a community did and experienced as a community. [1]

The individual was thus dependent on and embedded in communality in at least two ways –with his fellows as with his deities – that restricted the concept of autonomy which was to become a major feature of the occidental self.

The importance of community as well as of communality not only shows in the need for physical or psychological survival of the individual person. Not only is the individual dependent on others in the production of food or the sharing of values and cultural ingredients that convey sense and meaning. Likewise, the individual takes part and contributes to them. And a main feature of any society is that between being dependent and being contributing there must be a balance. Otherwise, individual as community are threatened.

The balance of receiving and contributing amounts to a gift-economic style of social interaction that is necessary for any society to be of stability. (The individual must be able to contribute in order for it and the society to be a community at all.) This isn’t refuted by reference to ages of injustices. On the contrary, exploitation, violence, crude dependence have always been deemed unjust, and people looked for means to end them. The goal was to rebalance a communal body. Even the bondsman in the Middle Ages, as he has an economic and cultural function, is someone who takes part in maintaining a specific oikos, a distinct world. And even as his sovereign rules over the people in his vicinity, the feudal system likewise places him into a bondsmanship to God that imposes on him the duty to safeguard the well-being of his subjects – be it the distribution of food or the guarantee of a legal order. Accordingly, his subjects will accept their share in the duties only when they see that they receive such securities in exchange, when they see that the sovereign fulfills his obligations as well. If this does not happen, peace is endangered. Even hierarchical societies are thus systems of reciprocal obligations in which the breach of duty from one side is regarded as an injustice by the other.

Societies (or “systems”) of reciprocal obligations ensure that activities we usually see as economic possess a cultural value as well. They not only are a part of a culture, they create and prolong a culture. It is one-sided to think that the early barters came to an end when something like money was invented to cover the degree of (mutual) obligation. Rather, those “barters” were first and foremost singled out, and standardized with the help of a metric, if they involved material objects that could be handed to-and-fro. This kind of barter was the most basic reciprocal obligation that could be grasped quantitatively. But barter as a whole – the give and take – comprises much more and that becomes clearer when seen as reciprocal obligations. To see a society, a culture as a specific “system” of mutual dependencies and reciprocal obligations leads to the consequence that a distinct oikos, a specific world, results, whose values, meanings, and faiths are shared by the members of this culture and which are perpetuated in the process of give and take. Accordingly, the occupations and activities of the individual – be it craftsman, farmer, trader, etc. – is nothing solely economical. On the contrary, the economic sense of an activity becomes clear only when the activity is seen as something that gains cultural meaning through the whole as it simultaneously lends meaning to the whole by being practised throughout time. It’s systems of reciprocal obligations that explain why one party can come to feel being treated unjustly at all through the activities of some other. Deviation from a norm presupposes the prior understanding when the norm is followed. Somehow it must be ingrained in all members.

In this sense legal, economic, political regulations are specific embodiments of particular systems of reciprocal obligations. These systems are “natural” in the sense that they even include the understanding, the experience, the opinion and knowledge of what exists and what not, what is true and what not, what is due, opportune, mandatory, and optional. Those systems are in a sense beyond alteration as even what is optional isn’t seen as being made optional by human endeavour. Such systems are the entirety of what there is.

 

2     Forcing the Gods to Be Explanations

Part of our being human is that there are “things” much larger than us that still pertain to us – things like birth, dying, life, death, sickness, happiness, love, etc. There are the experiences that every person is part of a community of persons and that there are individual and collective stories that place the individual into a succession of ancestors and descendants. There are border experiences, experiences that somehow deviate from the ordinary and daily ones. There are fundamental experiences of rhythms like day and night, change of seasons, change of wake and sleep. There are dreams, forecasts, and forebodings. There are experiences of kinship with other people, with animals, and there is strangeness. There are the feelings of normality and abnormality, of the static and the irruption. There are experiences of mastery, of unity, and of loss of control, of failure, and of being exposed. There are the experiences of madness, of healing, of horror, of panic and dismay, of bliss, joy, ecstasy. There are the experiences of work and play, of tension and relaxation. There are jokes and humour. There is suffering. There is the question of meaning and of destiny. And there is the experience that all other people feel the same.

In the systems of reciprocal obligations it is the task or role of the gods to create such fundamental experiences. They are the “reasons” for them, and come to light inasmuch as they cause such experiences. It is important to see that in the West this role of the gods appears in a very specific and restricted manner: the contact and reference to a deity is a means of explanation as long as there is no theory – a proposal made by humans (!) – of why those things happen at all. The Christian creation myth (Genesis 1) only stepped aside when there was a cosmological theory (like the Big Bang) presupposing centuries of physical research in a variety of topics like gravitation, symmetries, elementary particles, strong and weak forces, etc. Such hypotheses are well supported, but not proven true, and as no hypothesis can be verified, the Christian creation myth became a myth in the moment it could be superseded by some other, now more plausible one (that, being plausible, doesn’t show its being a myth). A myth was superseded by another myth – if both have been myths at all. The important thing is that the possibility of an influence and effect by a god became implausible in the moment when the same circumstances could be explained by a theory that was human made. [2]

Such experiences are continuously made. And when at the end of the 19th century a scientific theory occurred that started to explain such fundamental experiences as something inherent of the individual person – e.g., deriving from her experiences in childhood –, those experiences began to lose their character of present that made them individual to the person and changed to become repetitions of childhood experiences. Psychology and Psychoanalysis (at least at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century) not only presupposed a specific concept of person, individuality, and self, that, in their dependence on the Enlightenment, embody the ideals of autonomy and separation. More important, those theories, as being scientific, presupposed the concept of causation that was to be found in the natural sciences. The biography of a person became a causal chain of events, and stopped being a story, a tale, a song. Accordingly, fundamental experiences that include loss of control, borderline situations, and the loss of the everyday routine, became diseases, disturbances of the daily, normal, controlled, and autonomous self. Borderline experiences and with that a huge part of fundamental existential experiences became pathology.

It is not important to determine whether psychology and psychoanalysis are right or wrong. Rather, it is important to see what effects their appearance have had. As with all scientific theories the recourse to the divine – this time in the field of the human and fateful – became irrelevant, unnecessary, old-fashioned, even false, and became substituted by a scientific theory. The divine disappeared (or became forgotten) when there was a possibility to describe the same “topic” with the help of a man-made theory.

The remarkable thing in both cases, physics as psychology, is that when a proposal for explanation becomes possible, the old and now replaced conception becomes termed a myth, a superstition, a sign of primitiveness. This is not really done on purpose. But advocates of the theory will nonetheless insist that there couldn’t have been a Creator God in the beginning as he was simply shaped after the model of the human fabrication of products. Now, as the former world views no longer have the status of an explanatory tool, they will say that God in fact was a Creator God shaped in the light of the human face. Man has used his own activities as a model and by extrapolating it onto the boundless transferred it onto the world. Now they will say that Man always has been destined for freedom, autonomy, responsibility (it was just not seen until recently). Now they will state that borderline experiences in (and by) which at former times the Divine “visited” Man are “in reality” pathological conditions which the individual person can only bear and explain by “projecting” experiences of powerlessness from childhood into the world. Accordingly, every borderline experience becomes a pathological condition in which not the Divine visits Man but in which the ailing Self personalizes its fears or the irruptions and places them as persons outside, projects them and bans them. This mechanism, they will say, may be described in a metaphorical or even religious language, but in reality this parlance is simply wrong (and the parlance of psychology is right). What in former times had been a factual manner of speaking now not only receives the status of metaphorical speaking – it is now seen as always have been a metaphorical parlance.

This attitude has two consequences.

First, what is valid now only for specific fundamental and borderline experiences, is, even tentatively, extended to all fundamental experiences. Dreams are no longer sent by the gods, and people are no longer visited by them, but they are now attempts to cope with conflicts of one’s daily life. Earthquakes are no longer (the expression of) the wrath of the gods but simply tectonic displacements of plates. Insofar they are no longer of any concern to us as they don’t address us – and as geophysical appearances they cannot mean us. The recourse to the Divine to explain some phenomena seems not only unnecessary in an individual case – as there is a “better”, “more plausible” or “equally strong” theory (that is created by human understanding) – this approach is extended to all areas in which there seems (or seemed) to be an encounter of Man with the Divine.

The result of this is that those fundamental experiences increasingly lose a characteristic feature that was constitutive of them in former times: Those experiences once showed that there is something bigger than Man that addresses him – as an individual or as an collective. In that way fundamental experiences lose their present character of being an encounter. They are now only signs of a dependence of Man from Nature (if at all). The fundamental experiences thus lose what was once intrinsic to them.

Second, given the development so far every belief that points to the possibility of an encounter becomes a sign and symptom of a primitive creed, as such beliefs now only enlarge human qualities (as they are now still known) and project them outside. The consequence of this is, that questions that ask why some deity sent this plague, this message, this demand (which had to be scrutinized and understood collectively) now become meaningless. Questions like how to accommodate the Divine, how to reconcile with it become incomprehensible questions because there is nothing there with which one should (and could) have to reconcile with. The upshot of this is that the world begins to consist solely of human things. When there is no Other at all, then the question simply does not or no longer arise what it might want from those people to which it occurs or how one might interact or co-work with it. The world becomes a world of humans, void of the Invisibles as of any divine.

 

3     The Exodus of the Gods

Two consequences or aspects arise from a specific way of dealing with fundamental experiences. In former times specific fundamental experiences in which the person experienced something bigger than herself (to which she was exposed) could be understood as an encounter between Man and Divine. If this other is a deity, a “higher” being, an angel, a guardian, etc., then it is this being that “visits” the respective person. It is this being that communicates with the person (rituals show the case for the attempt in the opposite direction). If there is now a scientific theory that explains this phenomenon (its occurrence, its meaning, etc.), then this larger being that shows itself in an encounter disappears, as it is no longer necessary to be part of a causal explanation in the form of a Why?-question. From this arises as second consequence a specific kind of dealing with all such former experiences that amount to a negation of the possibility of such experiences at all. The denial or negation of such experiences has some specific and very welcomed consequences on behalf of the scientific theory itself. Now it becomes clear to those who favour such a theory, that

  1. former existential experiences only seemingly had been experiences; instead they are results of phantasy, myths, pathologies;
  2. such an encounter never has happened at all;
  3. the occurrence of such seeming experiences are a confirmation to continue with the current way of research to detect more errors “of this kind” (thus validating one’s research practices and world view);
  4. such experiences that purportedly show the dependence of the self from something “larger” or “other” are not possible because such “experiences“ will always show themselves to be appearances (thus, other people are essentially like me, only with a different biography at a different place);
  5. every experience that today might show the possibility of some such encounter – trance, vision, ecstasy – are no refutation of the current research procedures but an obligation to continue the research.

Those consequences all result without recourse to a psychological theory. [3] But when we claim that gods, higher beings, angels, guardians, etc., are moulded after Man and his activities, it is important to keep in mind that the (western) way of explanation with the help of analogous models is taken from the sciences. The claim that “the Other” that visits Man comes in the guise of a person is thus an explanation why the phenomenon chooses this form rather than some other, but not why there are such phenomena at all. The latter comes into focus only when something like a scientific theory of personhood, personality, and its troubles and diseases comes into being – like psychology, psychiatry, psychoanalysis. Only now do we have a way to explain how deities come to their characteristics and how they may interact with the human sphere.

Psychology and Psychoanalysis work with an elaborate set of concepts, tools, theoretical entities, and doctrines. They comprise e.g. introjection, projection, countertransference, idealization, personification, trauma, resistance, the distinction of the conscious and the unconscious within the individual itself, the conviction that present conflicts have their causes in childhood or that in dreams the individual processes conflicts of its daily life. But if you have a theory that distinguishes the conscious and the unconscious inside the individual, that declares present day conflicts as rooted in the past, that declares dreams to be the place of coping with the threats and conflicts, then you end up with the result that all psychic phenomena are located inside the individual, that the individual is locked against the broader environment. Accordingly, psychology is now prone to explain borderline experiences as a pathological state of the individual’s psychê and the divine as something moulded after the analogous model of human craftsmanship and character traits, enlarged into something oversized and projected outside. That means: Only when a theory of human personality is established that is crafted according to the ideals and standards of western culture can we come to view deities, holy beings, guardians, angels, fairies, etc., as a kind of oversized personalities in our sense, can we come to identify them in other cultures as well as in our own past and declare them to be “projections” or ways of acting out or “processing” of human tribulations and conflicts.

But what gets lost is that people everywhere carried out and still carry out rituals, ceremonies, specific activities in order to invoke the gods, to get in contact with them, to do something for them. This is simply missed or declared part of the “processing”, “coping”, or “acting out” (like it is fashionable in ethno-medicine). Other cultures (now, as our history in the past) become a variation of the western civilization, and they are used to confirm one’s own conceptions.

Seen that way, something important of such encounters gets lost – the character of present those encounters still have today. Those encounters that are alive and still sought after are encounters that reach into both directions. Ancestors, deities, holy beings, guardians, etc., not only visit humans constantly, humans as well constantly evoke, call, and consult such beings. If those events are not simply declared as repetitions of earlier experiences, the only way left is to explain such encounters in the way the ethno-medicine does as healing ceremonies or theatrical happenings in the course of medical treatments. And indeed, such encounters often are part of a medical treatment. Shamanic healing ceremonies, e.g., often do have the goal to treat diseases, psychic strains or other “forms” of imbalances. But here too such treatments of hardships and the experiences that come with them have an impact on the culture in which they take place, as they are part of that culture. The ceremonies are therefore not simply about revoking some individual imbalance inside the individual, but to recognize and treat it as some disorder in the relation of individual and deity as well as to find a way to rebalance this relation. As the occurrence of this imbalance takes place in a community, it will be recognized as being an information about the current relation of the community and the deity as well. The existence of this imbalance has meaning – individual as well as collective. Seen that way someone who dreams doesn’t need to be the “addressee” of the “content” of the dream. He may “receive” it, but he may receive it substitutionally for others or the whole community.

Such views aren’t much common in the western world. (We know it in somewhat secular form in the image of the artist – not the artisan! – and his inspiration.) Here the personal or individual imbalance – be it sickness, be it suffering – isn’t something that asks for mediation and levelling with something other. It is a private affair. Only the individual has it and only he is “addressed” by it. One has to keep this in mind to fully appreciate the fact that in all shamanic healing ceremonies the shaman is someone whose task is to mediate in a disturbed relation between deity and individual, as the disturbed relation comes to light in form of a disease the deity sends to the individual. The shaman has to mediate between two parties, he acts more like a conflict counselor than a (western) medic. The relation between deity and individual is disturbed, somehow the individual has “angered” or “upset” the deity. When the relation is re-balanced the tribulation vanishes. In order to find out the nature of the “dispute” and the means required to end it, the shaman will betake himself on a shamanic journey. It is important to see that the shaman always has supporting spirits or escorts, to which belong his totem animal and his deceased teacher. Before the shaman can begin the healing ceremony he must ask for the approval of his guardian spirits (at times he even has to beg for it). And the shaman will refuse to perform the ceremony if only one of these companions refuses to lend support. A shaman doesn’t act with the confidence in his own abilities, ego, and goals (like our own physicians), but only when he knows that he is allowed to perform the treatment.

We find such “dependencies” everywhere. In some tribal nations it is still common that the adolescent engage in a vision quest. They are sent into the wild where they remain a few days fastening. In these days visions occur that show the young person his totem animal and something about his destiny in life. Coming back home he is awaited by some elders that explain to him the sense of those visions. The sight of the totem animal introduces the adolescent into his genealogy – to which ancestors, to which branch of clan he belongs (as the biological lineage is most often of minor importance).

When such experiences of initiation, of healing, of “dependence” from something “larger” and “different” are made repeatedly by a community, it has an effect on the understanding of oneself and the world that differs sharply from the one of the West. Primarily what is perceived is mutual and reciprocal dependence, obligation, and kinship. And that means: There are conceptions or rather perceptions of the (own) self that recognizes itself as a self but not as something independent or separate. There is a form of the soul or the self that doesn’t come to mind by activities of separation or the mood of autonomy. There is a way to be oneself that doesn’t imply isolation, dominance, and resistance against others. It lies in the recognition of what we have in common. In this the gods are like older brothers, with intentions and peculiarities, not like forces to be manipulated for one’s private profit. But the West has lost its gods, as they chose not to be insulted by being seen as stuff and matter. The gods are gone, and only sometimes they return, disguised as pathology, a mania, a daimon. But as long as we think they belong to us and are to our service, we’ll miss them. As the world vanishes in oblivion behind the flitter and dust.

 

[1] Individual devotion – not necessarily private devotion – seems to be a development of the 14th century. Take as example the Christian devotional images (Andachtsbilder) that arise not until the 14th and 15th century in northern Europe, picturing the suffering of Christ (from the Garden of Gethsemane to His Crucifixion) or those of the saints. Their wounds were depicted extremely intensely in order to give the individual spectator a means to contemplate (and memorize). Individual contemplation with the help of Andachtsbilder was uncommon in the centuries before.
[2] For sake of brevity I ignore not only that prediction is a major criterion for the value of an explanation along the lines of scientific explanations, but also that such explanation-schemes subsume instances under generalized formulas (“laws”) whereas deities are not generalized entities but individual (or: individualized) “causes” or “principles” (aitiai).
[3] The early 19th century declared other culture’s beliefs and conceptions simply to be superstition and didn’t ask for psychological explanations.

 

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Why the Republicans Won Big in November 2016, Part 3

Although it looks right now as if Donald Trump and the GOP cannot avoid a disastrous outcome at the ballot box in November, this is by no means a sign of a weak state of the Trump campaign, nor a sign of a coming wipe-out victory by the Democrats.

  • Yes, more and more Republicans leave ship and publicly announce not to vote for Donald Trump in November;
  • Yes, Donald Trump’s hapless attempt to counter the public disparagement by Mr. Khan at the DNC in July went south;
  • Yes, 50 Republican foreign policy and national security experts strongly advised against voting for Donald Trump;
  • Yes, after a slight bounce in the polls after the Republican National Convention (RNC) Donald Trump now trails Hillary Clinton by up to 13% nationwide;
  • Yes, his economic and foreign policy proposals, in so far as they make sense at all, are pretty much unworkable, or come with a cost of adding trillion of dollars to the U.S. national deficit, will harm international relations, and will contribute to make the world a less secure place.

Granted all this, it is still far from clear how those are indeed signs of Donald Trump’s demise. One should be careful not to read those signs in favor of Hillary Clinton either. As signs, they are treacherous and chimerical.

Right now it looks that way, and this impression is primarily the result after several days in which Donald Trump reacted publicly against swipes by Mr. Khan at the Democratic National Convention (DNC). In fact, this was not a brilliant move by the Clinton campaign to beat Donald Trump on his own turf, with his own methods. Rather, this was the first time in about 16 month of the whole presidential campaign that Donald Trump found himself publicly in a dilemma he couldn’t win. And couldn’t have won. And precisely because of that, it will be the exception, not a new method of how to counter the nominee of the GOP.[1] Thus, due to the very specific circumstances of this dispute, a repetition seems unlikely.

Likewise, the public declaration by some Republicans and those working for them (like national security experts) of not-voting for Donald Trump will not pose too much a problem for him – he can always declare that those who jump the ship now are exactly those who created the mess he is trying to fix in the first place.[2]

Be it true or not, this line of spin fits in his general approach in targeting white workers and Tea Party adherents: The “establishment” is at worst the culprit, and at best a “don’t care”.

In fact, the strength of the Trump campaign shows elsewhere. Until the fallout of the Khan dispute after the DNC, the Trump campaign had been more or less on a par with the Clinton campaign, despite not paying any money for campaign ads and despite the differences in how much both campaigns spend on staff, ads, data analytics, and field organization.[3]

It is remarkable that despite all the efforts the Clinton campaign couldn’t break out and gain a significant lead over Trump; conversely, that the Trump campaign could more or less keep up with the Clinton campaign by only spending a fraction of what the Clinton campaign did. One begins to wonders why Trump has been able to keep up with Clinton at all, and why Clinton, in spite of all her efforts, couldn’t break out.

But perhaps these are the wrong questions. The question is perhaps not, why Clinton couldn’t break out and pace ahead. Nor why Trump managed to stay so close at Clinton’s feet. The question seems rather: Why is it that the Trump campaign is so strong that despite a desolate Republican convention and despite the latest developments after the Democratic convention it only now lost some percentage points in the public polls? And given that a public dispute like that between Mr. Trump and the Khan family is a rare exception, not something to become the rule, it looks very likely that the Donald Trump will regain his poll numbers in a matter of weeks, and that he is still out to win.

All depends on the events of the coming weeks and months, of course. But there is one major area in which events will play directly into Trump’s hands, delivering him a huge opportunity to win the White House.

In the last two posts on the election in the U.S. (here and here) I gave five reasons why Donald Trump is on the verge of winning the presidency.[4]

Summarized roughly, these are:

  • The supporters of Bernie Sanders will not vote for Hillary Clinton;
  • Blue collar Democrats and white working class people will vote for Donald Trump;
  • Despite the recent defections that came with much media attention, the majority of Republicans and Conservatives will still vote for Trump;
  • Donald Trump created a space in which the acting out of a long shunned dismissive virility is now not only permissible but taken as a means of liberation and rebellion (“Against political correctness”);
  • Hillary Clinton’s feminism is the feminism of the mothers and grandmothers of today’s women in their twenties and thirties. Those younger women form a strong voting bloc but are not impressed by this feminism. Thus it is not a source of energy to counter Donald Trump’s archaic form of male superiority.

To this needs to be added a sixth reason why Trump, and with him the Republicans, are in a strong position to win the presidency, the House and the Senate.

For a short while, prior to the Democratic National Convention, the wave of people being killed by police officers and the reactions by predominantly black activists – from #BlackLifesMatter to revenge sniper attacks on police officers to even some kind of resurgence of the Black Panthers – contributed to a mood of racial tension that escalated towards explosion, comparable perhaps only to the events in 1968 and 1992. It was during those months of tensions that Donald Trumps continually bashed immigrants from the south of the U.S., refugees from overseas, and «Islamic extremism» supposedly threatening the homeland. What Trump in the past nine to twelve month thus actually achieved was the blending of several distinct topics – racial tensions, discrimination of parts of the population by the police, refugees, (illegal) immigration, Jihadic violence, and domestic terrorism – into one diffuse conflict situation. (To be clear, I don’t say that #BlackLifesMatter is a form of domestic terrorism, nor that every sniper attack or Black Panther resurgence falls into that category. But it’s the atmosphere of danger and threat that is important here, into which those occurrences have been mixed by Donald Trump and others.) With a counter-movement like #BlueLifesMatters  in which police officers have been declared victims of disproportionate violence  and cities on the verge of racially motivated street violence, there only needs to be one major terrorist attack or major assault on police officers, to make the cries for «Law and Order» unmistakable. Trump, intentionally or not, has thus managed to place the concerns and demands of #BlackLifesMatter in the same corner as sniper attacks on police officers and Islamic motivated terrorism at home; every occurrence of violence against police officers will from now on count as similar to or identical with a major terrorist attack. Counter-attacks by white residents or supremacist militias will then be likely. As they will be condoned by Donald Trump, who will not only praise those reactions as attempt to «reinstate» «law and order», but will also take the whole confrontation as a sign of the need to «reinstate» «law and order» on a grand scale, Erdoğan-style. That it was him who has fanned the flames in the first place and who is now suggesting himself as the solution, will go as unnoticed as the problematic stance that the Khan family has taken in how they treated the death of their son.

The upshot is simple: The Trump campaign has proven resilient against a far better organized, far better staffed, far better financed Clinton campaign. It has proven resilient throughout all the media coverage, even in the worst of times. It will take only a small incident to turn the people’s and the media’s attention to something entirely «new» – the re-occurrence of domestic terrorism, for example. It will be enough to make the Trump campaign catch up with the Clinton campaign again. And that is all that is needed in the next three months. At the ballot in November, voter turnout will be something entirely different – and thus: independent of all the turmoil of the preceding months. Trump’s campaign is thus not only in good shape, it is ready to jump into full gear should such an event occur. The Clinton campaign will then be flabbergasted to recognize that no «policy discussion» is of any relevance in this election year. «Law and order» will be the topic, and an uproar of Trump supporters eager to «take our country back». To the shock and dismay of everybody else.

 

[1] The problem for Donald Trump with Mr. Khan’s remarks has been this: The Khan family, in grief about the death of their son in 2004, went on the stage of a major political party and gave a speech of which they must have known its main goal was to criticize the candidate of the other major party, to attack him, and to explain why it would be not a good choice to elect Donald Trump. At the same time, as a grieving Gold Star family, they were above any public critique, e.g., that they used the death of their son in order to achieve a political goal. So when Donald Trump replied to the Khan family’s accusations, he was seen as not showing respect for a grieving Gold Star family, and thus be of despicable character. If, on the other hand, he would have let it go, then Mr. Khan’s and the Democrat’s slander that Mr Trump is of despicable character would have gone unanswered, which would have shown that he is weak. The only way Donald Trump might have escaped this dilemma would have been to not engage in the accusations and only describe how the Khan family, by using the death of their son for political reasons, in fact might have dishonored him.
[2] That’s how Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, put it. Cf. David Smith, «Is it over? Abandonment of Donald Trump spreads across Republican party», theguardian.com, August 09, 2016, 19.59 BST. On August 08, 2016, the Trump campaign published a press release stating: «The names on this letter are the ones the American people should look to for answers on why the world is a mess, and we thank them for coming forward so everyone in the country knows who deserves the blame for making the world such a dangerous place. They are nothing more than the failed Washington elite looking to hold onto their power, and it’s time they are held accountable for their actions. These insiders – along with Hillary Clinton – are the owners of the disastrous decisions to invade Iraq, allow Americans to die in Benghazi, and they are the ones who allowed the rise of ISIS. Yet despite these failures, they think they are entitled to use their favor trading to land taxpayer-funded government contracts and speaking fees. It’s time we put our foot down and declare that their gravy train is over: no longer will Crooked Hillary Clinton and the other disasters in Washington get rich at our expense.» Cf. also Mark Hensch, «Trump slams GOP officials’ national security letter», thehill.com, August 08, 2016, 06:42 pm.
[3] Since the primary season ended, the Trump Campaign has spent no money on campaign ads, the Clinton campain approximately $52 million (Mark Murray, «Clinton Campaign Now Outspending Trump on Ads — $52 Million to 0», nbcnews.com, August 09, 2016, 9:42 am ET). In July 2016, the Trump campaign managed to take in approximately $80 million in campaign donations compared to $90 million the Clinton campaign achieved (NN, «Donald Trump raises $80 million in July, has $37 million war chest», fiance.yahoo.com, August 3, 2016). Also, the Clinton campaign didn’t acquire the sum that Obama’s campaign had reached at the same stage of the campaign at the end of July 2012 (Gabriel Debenedetti, «Trump fundraising sets off Clinton camp alarms», politico.com,  August 08, 2016, 05:47 AM EDT). A detailed breakdown of intake and spending of both campaigns throughout June 2016 can be found here: Bill Allison, Mira Rojanasakul and Brittany Harris, «Tracking the 2016 Presidential Money Race», bloomberg.com, July 21, 2016.
[4] Interestingly, Michael Moore recently made five similar points, with somewhat different emphasis and angle: Michael Moore, «5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win».

 

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