Category Archives: Politics

Trump and His True Believers


I’ve sent you the below quotes from Eric Hoffer’s book The True Believer before. I read them again today in light of having experienced 6 months of Trump in power. If Hoffer is right — and FWIW I for one think he is, given his experiences with Nazism and similar movements — then Trump is a classic instance of a mass-movement leader. But I think Trump fails in one key aspect and therein lies reason for hope. Read on.

“It is futile to judge the viability of a new movement by the truth of its doctrine and the feasibility of its promises. What has to be judged is its corporate organization for quick and total absorption of the frustrated. … The man just out of the army is an ideal potential convert, and we find him among the early adherents of all contemporary mass movements. He feels alone and lost in the free-for-all of civilian life.”

“… deprecation of the present, a facility for make-believe, a proneness to hate, a readiness to imitate, credulity, a readiness to attempt the impossible, and many others which crowd the minds of the intensely frustrated are, as we shall see, unifying agents and prompters of recklessness.”

“The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ.”

“Strength of faith, as Bergson pointed out, manifests itself not in moving mountains but in not seeing mountains to move.”

“There is an illiterate air about the most literate true believer.”

“The fanatic cannot be weaned away from his cause by an appeal to his reason or moral sense.”

[Characteristics of the mass-movement leader] “Exceptional intelligence, noble character and originality seem neither indispensable nor perhaps desirable. The main requirements seem to be: audacity and a joy in defiance; an iron will; a fanatical conviction that he is in possession of the one and only truth; faith in his destiny and luck; a capacity for passionate hatred; contempt for the present; a cunning estimate of human nature; a delight in symbols (spectacles and ceremonials); unbounded brazenness which finds expression in a disregard of consistency and fairness; a recognition that the innermost craving of a following is for communion and that there can never be too much of it…”

[The characteristic that I don’t see in Trump] “… a capacity for winning and holding the utmost loyalty of a group of able lieutenants. This last faculty is one of the most essential and elusive.”

“The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world. Charlatanism of some degree is indispensable to effective leadership. There can be no mass movement without some deliberate misrepresentation of facts.”

About the reason for hope, Trump’s advisers and lieutenants seem loyal but not capable. Think of the chaotic rollout of the first attempted ban on Muslims. It’s easy to undo and break things, difficult to design and build useful new things. What useful new thing has this group invented or created or accomplished in its first 6 months, or even begun in earnest on? Nothing I know of.

The talking heads on liberal television, for example Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, harp endlessly on the twisting of facts and gross unfairness of statements and opinions and so forth coming from Trump and his supporters. But I think the commentators miss the point and end up only reinforcing Trump by talking incessantly about the man. You’ve said it several times: shut up, go heads down, flood the polls in 2018, and throw out the bums. Unfortunately we can’t throw out Gorsuch. He will poison our lives from here on.


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Donald Trump, Andrew Jackson, the Civil War, and counterfactual speculation


A few days ago, Donald Trump whipped up a storm with remarks about Andrew Jackson and the Civil War:

In an interview with the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito, Trump compared himself to President Andrew Jackson and said Jackson, if he was born later, could have helped avoid the Civil War.

And then, in comments that whipped Washington into frenzy Monday morning, Trump said he didn’t understand why the Civil War had to be fought.

“I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War,” he said. “He was a very tough person but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw with regard to the Civil War, he said ‘There’s no reason for this.'”

“People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

This link is to the full Examiner report of the interview.

Later, Trump tweeted:

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Bret Stephens’s NY Times Op-Ed on Climate Change: Wrong, Wrong, Wrong


This April 28 Bret Stephens op-ed debut is way off the mark every inch of the way.

First, what Old Jew Of Galicia? Milocz wrote that epigraph and hundreds or thousands have cited it as if it’s ancient and real wisdom that transcends the folly of whomever you want to lambaste. But what Old Jew of central or western Europe would use precise figures like 55% as opposed to 60% to describe degrees of being sure that one is right? And right about what? Everything? It seems to me that’s the only possibility of the quote, given no other information than the “quote” itself. It seems to be about totalitarian regimes that rewrite truth and history to their liking and allow no dissent. But that’s a whole different world! Climate scientists are not claiming they’re 100% right about everything, only 97% right about something very important that they’ve looked at from dozens or hundreds of different angles and almost always come up with the same conclusion, which is that warming will with high likelihood accelerate and all of humanity with high likelihood will be in a peck of trouble therefrom.

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Hillbilly Elegy and Section 8


On page 140 of Hillbilly Elegy J. D. Vance describes the section 8 resident of the rented house next door to his Mamaw’s house.

Those Section 8 recipients looked a lot like us. The matriarch of the first family to move in next door was born in Kentucky but moved north at a young age as her parents sought a better life. She’d gotten involved with a couple of men, each of whom had left her with a child but no support. She was nice, and so were her kids. But the drugs and the late-night fighting revealed troubles that too many hillbilly transplants knew too well. Confronted with such a realization of her own family’s struggle, Mamaw grew frustrated and angry.

From that anger sprang Bonnie Vance the social policy expert: “She’s a lazy whore, but she wouldn’t be if she was forced to get a job”; “I hate those fuckers for giving these people the money to move into our neighborhood.” She’d rant against the people we’d see at the grocery store: “I can’t understand why people who’ve worked all their lives scrape by while these deadbeats buy liquor and cell phone coverage with our tax money.”

Mamaw, Bonnie Vance, refers to J. D. Vance’s maternal grandmother. “[T]hose fuckers” refers to the civil servants at the county housing agency that implement Ohio’s version of the federally paid for housing program. The last sentence of the quotation reprises to material earlier in the book in which Vance describes people using food stamps subvert the government’s purposes by reselling goods to get cash and talking on their cell phones while paying for goods with food stamps. That description will provide material for another blog post. In this one, I’m writing about section 8 and its beneficiaries.

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A Remark on Hillbilly Elegy

To my young and independent correspondent,

You and Wayne recommended that I read Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance to understand Trump voters.

Another item from Vance’s book that I didn’t refer to in my earlier post was his strong denunciation of those conservatives and working class whites who persist in believing the racist lie that Obama is neither American nor Christian. Trump is merely the most influential of these racists

In Dreams From My Father, Obama, then about 30 years old and with no reason to believe he might be President in 20 years tells the story of joining a Christian church. Of course, he tells of his birth in Hawaii too.

His mother, an anthropologist and not religious, possibly an atheist (I don’t remember), believed that spirituality was an important aspect of human life, and she sought to educate her children in the range of spiritual thought. She did not advocate one school of religious thought over another to her children. As you know, her second husband was a Muslim Indonesian man, and she and her children lived in Indonesia for a time. This is where Obama attended a Muslim school. Those who darkly call this a madrassa, and remind us that Obama’s middle name is Hussein, neglect to say that he also attended a Catholic school in Indonesia.

Obama, not formally religious and not associated with any church or church tradition, took his first job after graduating from Colombia as a community organizer working in Chicago. The people he worked with, the local politically and socially active, mostly black, people were often church-going, and often worked in these social endeavors as part of their ideas of Christian service. That is, Obama saw in Chicago’s black Christian community people working to help and support one another, just as Vance urges for his hillbillies. Reflecting upon this experience, and under the influence of his respect and admiration for Michelle, a church-going woman, he and she visited various Chicago churches and choose one in which to worship.

When Obama was in office, and various political commenters and politicians were asserting that Obama was a Muslim and un-American, my darling Christian wife and I read some of his short speeches at religious events at the White House. These were gatherings such as a Passover Seder, an Easter prayer breakfast, or a dinner ending the fast of Ramadan. Of course, virtually everything a normal president says in public is prepared by a speechwriter under the president’s direction. Obama’s remarks at Christian events, however, sounded to our ears to be personal and not just reading prepared remarks. His remarks were sincere and genuine, as it seemed to us, and knowledgeable about Christian religious ideas and the Bible. My wife recognized the forms of Christian expression, such as bearing witness. Obama’s remarks at events of non-Christian religions, while appropriate, seemed to us to be more formulaic.

As in Vance’s memoir, I liked the way in which 30-year-old Obama recounts his earlier foolish ideas, and how those Chicago locals who he was supposed to be organizing taught him, and not the other way around.

By the way, Barack is the anglicized version of a word in Arabic that is the same as the Hebrew word Boruch, blessed. It’s the beginning of many Jewish prayers, as in Blessed art Thou, King of the Universe, who has given us the fruit of the vine. Indeed, that is the Hebrew word for my name, which in English is:


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Hillbilly Elegy

Wayne and my young, thoughtful correspondent,

I have read Hillbilly Elegy, by J. D. Vance, as both of you recommended it. Here are some of my thoughts.

This link is to a friendly NYT review. This one is to a NYT podcast interview with J. D. Vance that attempts to understand the Trump voter. Here’s a David Brooks column in which he recommends Hillbilly Elegy and draws lessons for our politics. This is a NYT review of three memoirs, including Hillbilly Elegy, that arise from the same social group as Vance’s family:

I enjoyed Vance’s memoir, which I think is a useful and reflective account of him life and his milieu. He criticizes some government programs that try to assist his hillbillies because those programs cannot solve their problems. He proposes a few tweaks to these programs, but none of those programs’ advocates believe that they can solve all the problems of the people they help. That is, I felt his criticism of those programs was a strawman argument, but his suggestions are fine.

He gives credit to two major tax-payer funded government programs for helping him: Ohio State University and the U. S. Marines.

He says that the deep solution to the troubles of his hillbillies must come from within themselves. They must find social support from their extended families, just as his Mamaw and Papaw (maternal grandparents) helped him to deal with his troubled and unstable mother. I agree with him, and I suspect that most thoughtful and humane people agree too. Indeed, his proposals reminded me of another person’s book that urged similar ideas upon us: It Takes a Village.

I found it hard to see why the reviewers and commenters found in this book an explanation for why a few tens of thousands of people in a few mid-Western states threw the Electoral College to Donald Trump. Perhaps Vance means to say that these hillbillies are in despair, the result of a history of bad life choices, and voting for Trump was just one more bad decision. I’d agree with that. Of course, I know that’s not why he thinks they voted for Trump.

To thank you both for recommending this memoir, I have a memoir recommendation for you: Dreams from My Father: A story of race and inheritance.
As for Obama’s book, I’m reminded of a witty exchange between Sarah Palin and internet wags during the 2008 election campaign. Palin said that Obama wasn’t qualified or experienced for the job, as the only real job he’d had was as a community organizer, while she was an actual governor. Someone pointed out that Jesus was a community organizer, and Pontius Pilate was a governor.


Here are two more items related to Hillbilly Elegy, from a year ago. This one is a NYT op-ed essay by David Leonhardt. The second is an op-ed in NYT  by J D Vance.

What struck me about the first essay was that the Republican health care plans will make dealing with the opioid epidemic harder. This opioid epidemic is among the key crises afflicting J. D. Vance’s hillbilly community, and it brought down his mother. The Republicans have long been clear about their intentions for health care, which are to cut the cost to the government for Americans’ health care and to shift that cost onto sick people.

As for Vance’s essay, I was struck by the similarity with his thoughts in its penultimate paragraph and those of Hillary Clinton from her book, It Takes a Village. Many readers say that his book helps us to understand why working class white men voted for Trump. I’d like to know who Vance voted for considering that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats advocate pretty much the same policies as he recommends, while it is certain that Trump and the Republicans will be working hard to dismantle any programs that accord with Vance’s ideas.

One policy advocated by Hillary Clinton and the Democrats and opposed by Republicans that Vance doesn’t mention is to increase the minimum wage. I wonder why he doesn’t mention it.


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The Wrong Way to Stop Terrorist Attacks in the United States


Donald Trump’s policies and actions will not stop terrorist attacks in the United States. I doubt that they will reduce them. They will increase attacks against civilian and military Americans in other countries, and they will increase terror attacks against unfortunate Muslims in the United States and abroad.

My conclusions arise from my view of Donald Trump and from my thoughts about the origins and nature of international jihadist terrorism and of terrorist attacks in the United States, which are not associated with Islam for the most part.

Trump is a racist, bigot, xenophobe, a flaming narcissist, and astonishingly ignorant. His narcissism and failure of empathy borders on sociopathy or psychopathy. His ignorance is more than lack of knowledge, but involves negative knowledge, as I can’t think of a better description. Much of what he confidently knows is false. Perhaps delusional is the word for it.

Trump’s anti-Muslim ban, advertised as a step to make us safe from terror attacks from immigrants and refugees, arises from his bigotry and his ignorance. It will be counter-productive and make us, and our allies, including Muslims, less safe.

Neither Trump nor his administration pay attention to the distinction between refugees and immigrants, but fruitful thought requires it. Trump believes that radical Islamic terrorism is a concatenation of synonyms. Indeed, here’s a Reuters report that the administration intends to rename the Countering Violent Extremism program the Countering Islamic Extremism program or the Countering Radical Islamic Extremism program. Snopes labeled this report Unproven saying that the change hadn’t been made and that the US government had other important programs that included other sources of terrorism in their missions. The idea, however, is consistent with what we know of Trump’s beliefs about Islam, Muslims, and terrorism.

Particularly telling, in my opinion, was Trump’s response to a question from the audience of the town hall style presidential debate. Considering the existing prejudice against American Muslims, a woman asked, what did the candidates intend to do to deal with Islamophobia? In his answer, Trump rejected the premise of the question. We have a problem, he said, because radical Islamic terrorists are attacking us. He knows, he admitted, that some Muslims are decent people, but they aren’t helping us against the many dangerous Muslims. As a matter of fact, American Muslims do co-operate with law enforcement to protect themselves and other Americans. Indeed, Muslims around the world are co-operating with the United States and other nations in the fight against radical jihadist killers in their midst.

Trump misunderstands the problem. As he is a narcissist, he thinks about this problem in so far as it relates to him. He believes that the violent Muslims fighters are out to take over the United States. Of course, many others believe this too. Hence, the many ignorant efforts to ban Sharia law in the United States. After the 9/11 attacks, President Bush explained that the killers attacked us because “they hate our freedom.” This is false. After an early misstep, President Bush learned not to describe our War on Terror, or our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as a crusade.

President Bush, President Obama, and all responsible leaders of our counter-terrorism efforts rarely or never describe the terrorists as Islamic terrorists or even radical Islamic terrorists, but Trump considers these words a magic charm. Readers will remember that he attacked Hillary Clinton on this repeatedly during the debates. The reason why all responsible US leaders don’t openly associate Islam and terrorism is that they recognize the truth that we cannot defeat these terrorists without the help of Muslim nations and their people. Trump, however, believes that all Muslims are suspect by being Muslims. A tendency to brutal murderous violence is characteristic to them.

I don’t claim to be an expert in foreign policy, counter-terrorism, or in Islam. I consider myself an amateur student of history and of current events. From my reading and thought on the matter, I’d describe the sources of attacks against the US by some Muslims as collateral damage from a brutal, bloody, and immense struggle within the Islamic world. That world includes nearly a billion and a half people and extends from Indonesia to Morocco, and beyond. The people of this great culture remember centuries past when Islamic nations and people were the most advanced and dynamic civilization. They also remember that Christian Western nations and their people erupted from Europe and swarmed across the globe during the ages of exploration, of imperialism, and colonialism. Today, the West, including the United States, is the world’s dominant civilization, although imperialism and colonialism are gone. People from many non-Western nations wonder how this could have happened. Among Muslims, some have concluded that Muslims were insufficiently pious, had forgotten the teachings of Mohamed, and had emulated the evil ways of the West.

Intensely reading the Koran, where the solution must be found, some Muslims have concluded that a return to past glory requires a return to an imagined pious past, when Allah brought military and cultural victory, and wealth, to believers. These believers find in the Koran instructions for war against Islam’s enemies and against apostates from within. Jihad. These men have begun a now decades long struggle for power in Islamic nations. Hence the fact that this tiny minority among Muslims are mostly killing Muslims. They have killed or maimed untold thousands of Muslims, asserting that they are apostates or traitors.

The great majority of the world’s Muslims read the same words in the same Koran and find instructions to lead peaceful and charitable lives. Jihad for them refers to the internal spiritual struggle to live according to Allah’s will. These Muslims face life’s struggles while living in widely distinct cultural and national circumstances. Some live under dictators or authoritarian rule, as in Saudi Arabia or Syria, others in parliamentary democracies or constitutional monarchies, as in Turkey, Indonesia, or Morocco. Some live in Muslim majority nations, such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, others are minorities, as in India. Some of these nations are impoverished, other developing, some resource rich, some not. These people are the victims of the violent jihadis. The terrorists blow them up, shoot them, strangle and behead them. Sometimes these terrorists murder and kill innocents as part of their war on governments, and sometimes out of beliefs that their victims are not innocent, but apostates or false Muslims.

The peaceful Muslims look to their governments to protect them, which they do with varying degrees of success. Some of those governments are our friends and allies, others just ones with whom we have normal, peaceful relations. American and European nations have trade and commercial interests world-wide. As we are likely to support governments who are our friends and allies, the jihadists see us as meddling in local affairs and against them. They, for the most part are not interested in us or our society except to the extent that, as they see it, we are helping their enemies. This is the reason they attack us, when they can get their hands on us. Of course, in some of these nations, we are not just supporting the locals, but we are engaged in combat against the jihadists, as we are in Iraq and Syria against ISIS. When we do this, they seek ways to strike against us.

It is difficult for them to do this. The United States is far from the fight. It is hard for them to get at us. That’s why the attacks against us and our European allies have not been by fighters from war zones invading the West, but from tiny numbers of lone actors, inspired or encouraged from the war zones.

Even attacks such as 9/11 are more along the lines of threats intended to induce us to leave countries with civil struggles. Al Queda didn’t fly planes into our buildings to induce us to adopt Sharia law, or to conquer the United States.

In Syria, but not only there, the society has fallen into a bloody multi-sided civil war, and outside nations support some of the warring parties. This ferocious war has driven hundreds of thousands of Syrians into internal or external flight. These refugees, as defined by international law, deserve the world’s support. Most of them wish only to return to their homes when the fighting ends. They are fleeing the violent jihadists and the violent Syrian government and its allies.

Trump’s ban on accepting Syrian refugees is both cruel and uncivilized. Any terrorist group intending to attack US targets would be stupid to plan to use the world’s refugee programs to get their fighters into the US. The process takes about two years, and the outcome is uncertain. Refugees, who are 2/3rds women and children, are thoroughly scrutinized by the United Nations and by US officials. A terrorist who could elude detection during this scrutiny could certainly elude detection and enter the US with a tourist or student visa.

Trump has the odd idea that people who hate the United States are trying to come here. He wants to make sure that immigrants and refugees support American values. For two centuries and more, the United States, and the colonies before it, were havens to people suffering political and religious persecution and people who sought economic opportunity in our welcoming society. That is, people come here precisely because they support and admire our values and social and economic system. History shows that immigrants learn English, adopt American ways, work hard, fight in our army and navy, rear their children, eat at McDonalds and shop at WalMart. The immigrant generation, of course, remembers their original home, sometimes with fondness and regret and sometimes with relief to have escaped, the second generation is thoroughly American. Indeed, it is Trump who is trying to change America. Instead of openness and welcome to newcomers, he wants to pull up the welcome mat, shut the gates, and build a wall.

Just yesterday, Iran’s supreme leader thanked Trump for showing America’s true face with his anti-Muslim policies. We can be confident that the jihadists are over-joyed that Trump agrees with them that the West is at war with the world’s Muslims.


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