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Some Weekend Reading

Sunday, March 19, 2017 3:03
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(… as a distraction from the subdued performance by England in Dublin yesterday.)  This interesting essay from the LRB is broadly about the Trumpy thing, in wide-ranging aspects.  Some extracts:

“In Leviathan Hobbes said that what we call the ‘deliberation’ of the will is nothing but ‘the last appetite, or aversion, immediately adhering to’ an action. Whatever the general truth of the analysis, Trump’s process of thought works like that. If Obama often seemed an image of deliberation without appetite, Trump has always been the reverse. For him, there is no time to linger: from the first thought to the first motion is a matter of seconds; the last aversion or appetite triggers the jump to the deed. And if along the way he speaks false words? Well, words are of limited consequence. What people want is a spectacle; they will attend to what you do, not what you say; and to the extent that words themselves are a spectacle, they add to the show. The great thing about words, Trump believes, is that they are disposable…

“Post-election, the liberal argument veered away from Trump and turned to the important question of whom to blame. The initial target was the director of the FBI … A more popular and reliable target was Vladimir Putin … It is possible that Trump’s defiance of this multifarious establishment actually helped his popularity with non-political voters. Damage more telling than any emanation from the FBI or Russia probably came from Hillary Clinton’s remark that half of Trump’s supporters were ‘a basket of deplorables’ – an unforced error that was rightly read as an expression of contempt.

“The national security state that Obama inherited and broadened, and has now passed on to Trump, is so thoroughly protected by secrecy that on most occasions concealment will be an available alternative to lying. Components of the Obama legacy that Trump will draw on include the curtailment of the habeas corpus rights of prisoners in the War on Terror; the creation of a legal category of permanent detainees who are judged at once impossible to put on trial and too dangerous to release; the expanded use of the state secrets privilege to deny legal process to abused prisoners; the denial of legal standing to American citizens who contest warrantless searches and seizures; the allocation of billions of dollars by the Department of Homeland Security to supply state and local police with helicopters, heavy artillery, state-of-the-art surveillance equipment and armoured vehicles; precedent for the violent overthrow of a sovereign government without consultation and approval by Congress; precedent for the subsidy, training and provision of arms to foreign rebel forces to procure the overthrow of a sovereign government without consultation and approval by Congress; the prosecution of domestic whistleblowers as enemy agents under the Foreign Espionage Act of 1917; the use of executive authority to order the assassination of persons – including US citizens – who by secret process have been determined to pose an imminent threat to American interests at home or abroad; the executive approval given to a nuclear modernisation programme, at an estimated cost of $1 trillion, to streamline, adapt and miniaturise nuclear weapons for up to date practical use; the increased availability – when requested of the NSA by any of the other 16 US intelligence agencies – of private internet and phone data on foreign persons or US citizens under suspicion… Obama’s awareness of this frightening legacy accounts for the unpredictable urgency with which he campaigned for Hillary Clinton – an almost unseemly display of partisan energy by a sitting president.

“How did America pass so quickly from Obama to Trump?  The glib left-wing answer, that the country is deeply racist, is half-true but explains too much and too little. This racist country voted for Obama twice. A fairer explanation might go back to the financial collapse of 2008 when Americans had a general fear and were shocked by what the banks and financial firms had done to us. ‘In an atmosphere primed for a populist backlash’, as John Judis wrote, Obama ‘allowed the right to define the terms’. The revolt of 2008-9 was against the financial community and anyone in cahoots with them, but the new president declined to name a villain: when he invited 13 CEOs to the White House in April 2009, he began by saying he was the only thing standing between them and the pitchforks, and ended by reassuring them that they would all work together. No culprit would be named and no sacrifice called for. Trump emerged early as an impresario of the anger, a plutocrat leading the people’s revolt against plutocracy.



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