Aiding and Abetting Trump as Tweeter-in-Chief

Yves here. I thought I’d use this Tom Engelhardt story on how the fixation on Trump’s tweets and other offenses du jour has resulted in the media ignoring or burying vastly more important stories.

Ironically, two women I saw over the weekend brought up the very same issue, each independent of the other. And if their thinking is at all widely shared among working people, it does not bode well for the Democrats in 2018.

I went to get my hair tended to over the weekend. I go to a pretty upscale salon. One of the women I see (French-Romanian, now middle aged daughter of a diplomat, college educated in France and worked in Paris for a while in some sort of white collar job, but decided she could make more money in the US) has two Congresswomen among her clients and regularly argues with them. The other has a heavy Long Island accent, now lives in New Jersey, in her late 40s but still able to carry off wearing skin-tight clothes, with two adult children. We’ll call the French-Romanian woman Helen and the younger woman Sara.

Both of them had made it clear they despised Hillary Clinton, thought the uproar about the Trump pussy-grabbing remarks was ludicrous (Sara said, “That’s how men talk”). I am sure Helen voted for Trump.

Sara said she was tired of the media fixation with Russia and said the effect was that if Trump was doing anything bad, the media was missing it. She said she thought Trump was doing good things by shaking up the Administration and getting rid of corruption (I am not making this up). She said he and the Republicans weren’t getting much done because they had assumed Hillary would win and they weren’t prepared (“I remember how shocked Trump looked”).

I brought up Obamacare reform. Sara is not a fan of Obamacare. She was not on board with Medicaid expansion:

Able bodied people who can work are getting it. It’s even easier now because the income limits are higher. I have no problem with people who can’t work getting it and I think it’s very important to help the elderly, I hope to live to be old one day too.

In one state, they required able-bodied Medicaid recipients to spend 20 hours a week working for the government or getting training. Their payments went down $1 billion.

I pay $800 a month for insurance and Medicaid is better than what I have.

She was not on board with single payer no matter how hard I tried to persuade her:

Someone who makes $50,000 in Canada pays $25,000 in taxes. Someone who make $12,000 pays $6,000. I don’t want that. And in Canada, it’s not like here where we have the best doctors [as if she can get to them under her plan]. I know someone who found out he had a brain tumor and he was told he’d have to wait six months to get treatment.

Even telling her higher-tax countries have state subsidized higher education and better social safety nets didn’t cut any ice with her. Needless to say, she used the word “liberals” disapprovingly.

And she clearly didn’t care who heard her saying positive things about Trump, including her non-Caucasian assistant, so this view apparently has at least a significant minority, if not majority, following among the staff at the salon.

I didn’t even bring up politics but Helen and I regularly discuss them, and she started by volunteering, “Trump is doing a great job.” She very much likes Tillerson and thought Trump’s tweets, despite often being embarrassing, are enabling him to run the media in circles: “He tweets something and that’s all they can talk about for the next 24 hours.”

Helen also said her clients regularly say how awful Trump is. She asks them to tell them what he’s done that’s bad (I brought up Gorsuch, but she approves of him). She said no one could bring up a single example.

Needless to say, the Democrats would assume that two middle-aged working women in a deep blue city earning decent but not professional-level incomes would be solid Democrat supporters, or at least Independents receptive to Democratic themes. While the plural of anecdote is not data, the views of these two women, if they are representative of other women who are not as vocal as they are, does not bode well for the party’s future. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing, mind you.

By Tom Engelhardt, a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World. Originally published at TomDispatch

I don’t tweet, but I do have a brief message for our president: Will you please get the hell out of the way for a few minutes? You and your antics are blocking our view of the damn world and it’s a world we should be focusing on!

Maybe it was the moment, more than a week ago, when I found myself reading Donald Trump’s double tweet aimed at MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski who, on Morning Joe, had suggested that the president might be “possibly unfit mentally.”

“I heard,” the president tweeted, “poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came… to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!”

In response to Trump’s eerie fascination with women’s blood, Brzezinski tweeted a shot of the back of a Cheerios box that had the phrase “Made for Little Hands” on it. And so it all began, days of it, including the anti-cyber-bullying First Lady’s rush (however indirectly) to her husband’s side via her communications director who said, “As the First Lady has stated publicly in the past, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder.”

But one tweet truly caught my attention, even if it was at the very beginning of a donnybrook that, with twists and turns, including claims of attempted White House blackmail over a National Enquirer article (and Trumpian rejoinders of every kind), would monopolize the headlines and fill the yak-o-sphere of cable TV for days.  That tweet came from conservative idol Bill Kristol, editor at large for the Weekly Standard.  It said: “Dear @realDonaldTrump, You are a pig. Sincerely, Bill Kristol.”

Blinded to Our Planet and Its Troubles

Strange but at that moment another moment — so distant it might as well have been from a different planet or, as indeed was the case, another century — came to my mind.  Donald Trump was still finishing his high school years at a military academy and I was a freshman at Yale.  It would have been a weekend in the late spring of 1963.  One of my roommates was a working-class kid from Detroit, more of a rarity at that elite all-male school than this New York Jew (in the years when Yale was just removing its Jewish quotas).  And here was another rarity: we had a double date with two young women from a local New Haven Catholic college.

That night, out of pure ignorance, we violated Yale’s parietal hours — a reality from another century that no one even knows about anymore.  Those young women stayed in our rooms beyond the time the school considered… well, in that world of WASPs, kosher might not be the perfect word, but you get what I mean.  Let me hasten to add that, in those forbidden minutes, I don’t believe I even exchanged a kiss with my date.   

Note to readers: Be patient. Think of this as my version of a shaggy dog (or perhaps an over-combed Donald) tale. But rest assured that I haven’t forgotten our Tweeter-in-Chief, not for a second.  How could I?

Anyway, the four of us left our room just as a campus cop was letting another student, who had locked himself out, back into his room opposite ours.  When he saw us, he promptly demanded our names and recorded them in his notebook for violating parietal hours (which meant we were in genuine trouble).  As he walked down the stairs, my roommate, probably a little drunk, leaned over the bannister and began shouting at him.  More than half a century later, I have no memory of what exactly he yelled — with the exception of a single word.  As Bill Kristol did the other day with our president, he called that cop a “pig.”

Now, I wasn’t a working-class kid.  In the worst of times for my parents, the “golden” 1950s when my father was in debt and often out of work, I was already being groomed to move up the American class ladder.  I was in spirit upper middle class in the fashion of that moment.  I was polite to a T.  I was a genuine good boy of that era.  And good boys didn’t imagine that, in real life, even with a couple of beers under your belt, anyone would ever call the campus version of a policeman, a “pig.”  I had never in my life heard such a thing.  It simply wasn’t the way you talked to the police then, or (until last week) the way you spoke to or of American presidents. Not even Donald Trump. 

In other words, when Kristol of all people did that, it shocked me.  Which means, to my everlasting shame, that I must still be a good boy, even if now of a distinctly antediluvian sort.  Mind you, within years of that incident, it had become a commonplace for activists of the left (though, I must admit, never me) to call the police — the ones out in the streets hassling antiwar protesters, black activists, and others — “pigs.”  Or rather “the pigs.” 

So here’s a question I’m now asking myself.  If Kristol can do it with impunity, then why not Tom Engelhardt, 54 years later?  Why not me all these years after American presidents green-lighted secret prisons and torture, invaded and occupied countries around the world; ordered death and mayhem without surcease; sent robotic assassins across the planet to execute, on their say-so alone, those they identified as terrorists or enemies (and anyone else in the vicinity, children included); helped uproot populations in numbers not seen since World War II; oversaw the creation of a global and domestic surveillance state the likes of which would have stunned the totalitarian rulers of the twentieth century; and pumped more money into the U.S. military budget than the next eight major states spent combined, which of course is just to start down a long list?

Under the circumstances, why not bring a barnyard animal to bear on the twenty-first-century presidency, the office that in its glory days decades ago used to be referred to as “the imperial presidency”?  After all, as I’ve written before, Donald Trump is no anomaly in the Oval Office, even when, as with Scarborough and Brzezinski, he tweets and rants in a startlingly anomalous fashion for a president. He is instead a bizarre symptom of American decline, of the very thing he staked his presidential run on: the fact that this country is no longer “great.”

Of course, tactically speaking, engaging in name-calling with Donald Trump is essentially aiding and abetting his presidency (something the media does daily, even hourly).  He and his advisers are of a schoolyard sticks-and-stones-will-break-my-bones-but-names-will-never-hurt-me mentality.  As the Washington Post reported recently, they consider such insult wars a form of “winning” and a way to eternally engage the “fake news media” on grounds they consider advantageous, in a way that will endlessly stoke the president’s still loyal base. 

To my mind, however, that’s hardly the most essential problem with such language.  I suspect that the tweets and insults — whether Trump’s, Scarborough’s, or Kristol’s — act as a kind of smoke screen. In readership and viewership terms, of course, they’re manna from heaven for the very “fake news media” Trump loves to hate.  They’re “wins” for them as well.  In the process, however, the blood, the pigs, and all the rest of the package of Washington’s insult wars help keep our eyes endlessly glued on the president and on next to nothing else in our world.  They blind us to our planet and its troubles.

Can there be any question that Donald Trump’s greatest talent is his eternal ability to suck the air out of the media room?  It was a skill he demonstrated in stunning fashion during the 2016 election campaign, accumulating an unprecedented $5 billion or so in free media coverage on his way to the White House.  It’s safe to say, I think, that never in history have so many cameras, so many reporters, and so many eyes been focused so never-endingly on one man.  He looms larger than life, larger than anything in our screen-rich world.  He essentially blocks the view, day and night.

In that sense — in the closest I’ve probably come to such an insult myself — I recently labeled him our own “little big man.”  He’s petty, small in so many ways, but he looms so large, tweet by bloody tweet, that it’s hard to see the burning forest for the one flaming tree.

The Overheated Present and an Overheating Future

Take North Korea. On Friday, June 30th, when the Scarborough-Brzezinski brouhaha was going full blast, Trump met with the new South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, and the two of them spoke to the media in the White House Rose Garden, taking no questions.  The president’s comments on the Korean situation were strikingly grim and blunt. “The era of strategic patience with the North Korean regime,” he said, “has failed. Frankly, that patience is over.”  He then added, “We have many options with respect to North Korea.” 

As it happens, we know (or at least could know) a little about the nature of those “options.”  Only the day before, Trump’s national security adviser, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, confirmed reports that a new set of options had indeed been prepared for the president. “What we have to do,” he told a Washington think tank, “is prepare all options because the president has made clear to us that he will not accept a nuclear power in North Korea and a threat that can target the United States and target the American population.”  As McMaster himself made clear, “all options” included new military ones, assumedly for hitting the North and its nuclear program hard.

Now keep in mind that, leaving its still modest but threatening nuclear arsenal aside, the conventional firepower the North Koreans have arrayed along their border with South Korea, aimed at that country’s capital, Seoul, a city of 25 million only 30 miles away, is believed to be potentially devastating.  Add to that the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in that country, most relatively close to the border, not to speak of 200,000 American civilians living there, and you undoubtedly have one of the most explosive spots on the planet.  If hostilities broke out and spiraled out of control, as they might, countless people could die, nuclear weapons could indeed be used for the first time since 1945, and parts of Asia could be ravaged (including possibly areas of Japan).  What a second Korean War might mean, in other words, is almost beyond imagining. 

At the Trump-Moon Rose Garden event, the president also announced sanctions against a Chinese bank linked to North Korea and a $1.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan, both clearly meant as slaps at the Chinese leadership.  In other words, when it came to getting China’s help on the Korean situation, Trump’s strategic patience, ignited in early April at his Mar-a-Lago meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, seems to have worn out, too, in mere months. 

In this context, if you thought that the Trump-Scarborough-Brzezinski feud was a tinderbox, think again.  But tell me, did you even notice the Korean news?  If not, I’m hardly surprised.  On that Saturday morning, my hometown paper, the New York Times — you know, the all-the-news-that’s-fit-to-print rag of record — made “The Battle of ‘Morning Joe’: A Presidential Feud” its front page focal piece (with a carryover full page of coverage inside, including a second piece on the subject and that day’s lead editorial, “Mr. Trump, Melting Under Criticism.”) 

As for the Korean story, it made the bottom of page eight (“Trump Adopts a More Aggressive Stance with U.S. Allies and Adversaries in Asia”) and didn’t even mention the president’s “strategic patience” comments until its 16th paragraph.  (There was also a page eight story on Trump’s Chinese bank sanctions and arms deal with Taiwan.) 

And the Times was anything but atypical.  Under the circumstances, you might be forgiven for thinking that the greatest story in our world (and its greatest danger) now lies in the Tweet-o-sphere.  It took the first North Korean test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, carefully scheduled for July 4th, to break that country into the news in a noticeable way and even then Trump’s tweets were at the center of the reportage. 

Similarly, if Trump and his antics didn’t take up so much room in our present American world, it might be easier to take in so many other potential dangers on a planet where matches seem in good supply and the kindling prepared for burning. You could look to the Middle East, for example, and the quickly morphing war against ISIS, which could soon become a Trump administration-lit fire involving Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and even Russia, among other states and groups.  Or you could look to the possible future passage of some version of a Republican health care bill and the more than 200,000 preventable deaths that are likely to result from it in the coming decade.

Or you could focus on a president who has turned his back on the Paris climate agreement and is now plugging not just North American “energy independence” but full-scale “American energy dominance” on a planet on which he promises a new fossil-fueled “golden age for America.” In such an age, with such a president — if you’ll excuse the word — hogging the limelight, who’s even thinking about the estimated 1.4 billion “climate-change refugees” who could be produced by 2060 as the world’s lowlands flood?  As a comparison, the 2016 figure on “forcibly displaced people” globally that set a post-World War II record, according to the U.N. refugee agency, is 65.6 million, a staggering number that would be but a drop in the bucket in our overheating future if those 2060 figures prove even close to accurate.

A World of a Tweeter-in-Chief and “Some Stirred-Up Moslems”

Donald Trump’s recent tweets do make one thing clear: we’ve been on quite an American journey over the last four decades, one that in some ways could be thought of as a voyage from Brzezinski (Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew, who just died) to Brzezinski (Mika, his daughter).

In a way, you might say that, back in 1979, Brzezinski, the father, first ushered us into a new global age of imperial conflict.  He was, after all, significantly responsible for ensuring that the U.S. would engage in a war in Afghanistan in order to give the Soviet Union its own Vietnam, or what Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev would later call its “bleeding wound.”  He launched what would become a giant CIA-organized, Saudi- and Pakistani-backed program for funding, training, and arming the most fundamental of Afghan fundamentalists, and other anti-Soviet jihadists, including a young Saudi by the name of Osama bin Laden.  (President Ronald Reagan would later term those Afghan Islamist rebels “the moral equal of our Founding Fathers.”)  In doing so, Brzezinski set in motion a process that would drive an Islamic wedge deep into the heart of the Soviet Union and, after Soviet intervention in Afghanistan resulted in a disastrous decade-long war, would send the Red Army limping home in defeat, all of which would, in turn, play a role in the implosion of the Soviet Union.

On this subject, he would be forever unrepentant.  As he said in 1998, “What is most important to the history of the world?  The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire?  Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?” And as for those millions of Afghans who would end up dead, wounded, or uprooted from their homes and lives, well, really, who cared? 

We are now, of course, fully in that world of “stirred-up Moslems” and, as it happens, the U.S. is still fighting a war in Afghanistan as the new administration gets ready to surge militarily there, perhaps for the fourth or fifth time since October 2001, and who’s even paying attention? Who could with the latest presidential tweets headlining the news and all hands on deck in Washington for the insult wars? 

If, in 1978, you had predicted that, between 1979 and 2017, the U.S. would twice find itself at war (for more than a quarter of a century so far) in, of all places, Afghanistan, and with no end to its Second Afghan War in sight, any American would have laughed you out of the room.  And if you had tried to explain that, almost 40 years in the future, a billionaire president, literally a casino capitalist, would be running the White House as an adjunct to his family business and sending out bizarre messages about the daughter of Zbigniew Brzezinski, which would functionally be the news of that moment, you would surely have been institutionalized as a raving madman.  A media obsessed with the travails of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s daughter Mika at the fervently tweeting hands of President Donald J. Trump? Who woulda thunk it?

Make America great again? You must be kidding. It’s time to stop insulting pigs and focus instead on the state of our planet.

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  1. Synoia

    Sigh, Will to the rescue, again:

    “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.”

    Julius Cesar, Act 3, Scene 2.

    The whole speech:

    Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.
    I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
    The evil that men do lives after them;
    The good is oft interrèd with their bones.
    So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
    Hath told you Caesar was ambitious.
    If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
    And grievously hath Caesar answered it.
    Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest—
    For Brutus is an honorable man;
    So are they all, all honorable men—
    Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
    He was my friend, faithful and just to me.
    But Brutus says he was ambitious,
    And Brutus is an honorable man.
    He hath brought many captives home to Rome
    Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill.

  2. Loblolly

    And all this indignation falls flat when the only thing the establishment has to offer is a war with Russia.

    Please, save us from the grinding poverty your policies have forced upon Americans with another helping of those policies.

    Choke on Trump you blind, self-righteous, murderous twits.

    1. Edward E

      Yeah, Bill Kristol’s condemnation of Trump does absolutely nothing to excuse what a warmongering shytshow he and Robert Kagan been for half a century.

      1. Edward E

        Bill Kristol and his band of wild war pigs are likely the ones who took control of media and legalized propaganda by getting the Fairness Doctrine repealed and Smith-Mundt Act nullified.

  3. Si

    Lets not pretend that real reporting has died on Trump’s watch.

    That boat sunk a long time ago, or was rechristened ‘infotainment’ (with the info bit being left out)

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The msm and others who are having the vapors over Trump’s tweets can’t even act in their self interest anymore. They exist in an echo chamber where they expect a Trump tweet to destroy Trump and restore the more orderly world of Jeb and Hillary.

      Yves’ anecdote is a good example because the group she is with is generally perceived as targets for Hillary’s campaign. The anti-Trump personality people can’t articulate why Trump is bad beyond problems that were well known (he’s a casino operator) prior to the election. As the anti-personality types expose their ignorance they create noise which drowns out other voices even on the street level.

      Even the msm and especially the Dems should be able to figure out the biggest hits to Trump came over Healthcare and his bumbling foreign policy as it undermines his base. While the media engages Trump expecting to destroy him and install President Hillary or Jeb somehow, the media silences positive messaging.

  4. Altandmain

    The quality of the mainstream media reporting has long been in decline I’m afraid.

    I haven’t forgotten how they mislead the world and served as a propaganda tool for the Bush administration’s claim that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction that he was about to use or that he was accused of helping out the 9-11-01 attack.

    This has been going on for years. It is just that it has worsened to the point where even a causal observer can no longer pretend otherwise.

  5. jackiebass

    I experience the same thing every day that Yves describes. The people I encounter don’t asses thing in an objective way based on real evidence. The seem to believe what they want not what actually are the facts. They use sources like FOX for their information. Instead of focusing on now they revert to bashing Obama and Clinton. Anything Trump does is good because he is going to make America great again. If you ask them how they have no answer. These are people in the low middle class. Many work as guards in corrections paid for by taxes , but constantly bitch about paying taxes and all of the deadbeats on welfare. There is no sense in arguing with them because their mind is closed to anything they don’t want to believe. They will quote some ridiculous thing Trump said. Instead of arguing , my response is if Trump said it then it must be true. They don’t realize I’m being sarcastic. They constantly bash progressives and liberals, even though much of what they have was acquired by efforts from liberals. These aren’t dumb people but see to be unable to do any critical thinking and arrive at a logical conclusion. They are good examples of people that constantly vote against their economic interest and don’t have a clue about the consequences of their action. Unfortunately the focus is all on Trump and misses something just as or more important. Congress and it’s leaders that are intent on destroying anything that benefits anyone other than the wealthy.

    1. Adam Eran

      The masterful job that the Kochs (and others) have done in revising American culture appears again and again. I used to hear “Hey, what about those Dodgers!” as a pastime conversation, but now it’s “Hey what about that stinkin’ government!” The checkout at the supermarket used to have Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report. Now: National Enquirer, People and other celebrity-following chewing gum for the mind. I’ve often heard government employees bitch about government and how it should be reduced. That’s how powerful the anti-government meme has become.

      The truth is that being concerned with reality is pretty distant from most of humanity. We generally settle on convenient narratives (conveniently supplied by the MSM and National Enquirer), and let it go at that. The idea of a country genuinely concerned with public policy is a pretty distant ideal, now.

      What was miraculous was Bernie’s rise despite all the flack…

  6. fajensen

    Most of “the mainstream media” available today are produced by robots. Whether it is the fleshy with work-flow systems or the silicon with code type does not really matter that much. It is all digitised.

    The optimal direction of the robots resources are driven by metrics and indicators that value the “good”-ness of the item based on almost real-time measurements of what is deemed interesting, which articles sell, especially what material sells advertising.

    This creates a problem, because, judging if a media item is of a high quality and of significant interest – as in “this will affect X-peoples lives and they can do something about it too” is a very hard problem to solve “digitally”. This an “I need a research team and 5 years”-problem (Or just hire a good editor problem, but, hey, we are sooo Digital and Web 2.0 and Hipster and Modern now).

    Since “we” can’t automate what actually is important we make use of what is available instead: Relevance is judged on digitally measurable metrics – click rates, social media shares, internet quoting and referencing. The kind of material that this process drives is the “Oh Did He Really Say That!?! instant emotional reactions, rage being the best emotion for driving reactions such as commenting and sharing.

    So media, especially online media, is degrading itself to a toxic sludge of rage-inducing garbage that one cannot do anything about (because if one could, someone would) just perpetually swirling the drain.

    Donald Trump understands exactly how these media mechanisms work, and how to work them within an inch of the breaking point. Much, much, better than “main stream media” itself does. Even if The Donald is approaching surrealist art, the pundits and their bots don’t get it at all – they run with everything, all over the full bandwidth of the internet. Morphing the story underway to fit the agit-prop-model and trigger-words they are tasked with delivering to maximise click rates and page-views.

    I no longer “consume” Toxic news, They are not useful, they do not give me any information that is relevant to my life. They are not even useful to the other robots watching newsfeeds – I Bet the main concern about “fake news” is driven by some fat-finger mistakes done by trade-bots on some of the fakery.

  7. craazyman

    One of my recent guilty pleasures was voting in a Drudge Report reader poll:

    Should President Trump keep up the Tweets:

    I didn’t take me long to vote “Yes” — since I hate what the Fake News Mainstream Media hacks have turned “news” into, and Trump’s tweets crack me up (most of them anyway).

    Then I clicked through “View Results” and it was like

    1,230,878 for Yes
    223,877 for No

    I thought “Ha! Well. We Americans aren’t always the sharpest tools in the shed — but we still have the capacity for honest common sense.” Too bad we don’t always use it. But we did here. haha.

    1. FluffytheObeseCat

      Oh,yeah. A poll at The Drudge Report. I’ll bet most of the other yes votes came from guys who chose it just like you did…… driven by a sort of joyful, cunning nihilism, laughing at themselves and their fellow man the whole way.


      1. craazyman

        Don’t quit your day job and try to become a psychoanalyst.

        You clearly don’t have any natural ability.

  8. DJG

    Interesting headnote and article: Yves Smith’s hair-styling anecdote is not exactly anecdotal if people are willing to allow this frame, too: What we are seeing is a major split among feminists, in which, as usual, the dominant “voice” (to use one cliché) is upper-middle-class feminists like Gloria Steinem who are seriously out of touch. I was reminded of this when that rather notorious article came out in the NY Times in January before the Women’s March about white women who were afraid to go to the march because they didn’t want to be criticized by black women. Gosh golly gee, why would black women have a different perspective on the great victories of upper-middle white women? So the hair stylists represent another class (and possibly ethnic) split among “white” feminists. Meanwhile, upper-middle-class feminists spend their time quoting Rebecca Solnit and ignoring the endless war in the Middle East, which is much of Tom Engelhardt’s brief. Many upper-middle-class white women think that Hillary Clinton is a foreign policy expert.

    Second, many, many Americans are like Sara: Flummoxed and limited by the propaganda bubble of the Anglo-Saxon elites. You know, it follows that people in countries with “socialized medicine” like that darn France are dying in the streets. I had a conversation that overlapped over the weekend when someone reported on living in Germany on an artist’s salary: Food is cheaper in grocery stores. Things like public transit work. The arts organization that she is connected to is subsidized. Everyone has six weeks of vacation. A couple of other Americans at the table didn’t recognize just how far the U.S. lags.

    I understand that Trump’s tweets are taking up “too much space”: Yet we just witnessed Obama’s farewell tour, which lasted at least as long as Cher’s. And during all of the Thank You Obama self-congratulations, were the newspapers pointing out that we are still mired in endless wars that have come home as chronically ill veterans, lawsuits about torture that end up being suppressed, and an economy suited only for making armaments? Because the upper-middle-class is little affected by the wars, little makes its way into the news.

    1. different clue

      The feminism described in the first paragraph has been referred to by some as “Goldman-Sachs Feminism”, and its supporters’ primary concern has sometimes been called the “Tiffany Glass Ceiling”.

      The third paragraph raises the interesting reply that the Trump Tweets only take up the space they are given by the MSM and others, and they only cast the shadow which the MSM and others want them to cast.

      The second paragraph points to a real problem. How to mention or describe how certain things are done better overseas without sounding like an anti-mainstream snob? Perhaps it can’t be done. Perhaps the pointer-outer simply has to bear that burden.

  9. Louis Fyne

    blame relaxed media ownership rules from the Telecommunications Act of 1996 + years of sycophantic DC corporate journalism.

    Thanks Ronald Reagan!

    1. Loblolly

      Excuse me, but I think you made a minor typo there, let me correct that for you:

      the Communications Act of 1934. The Act, signed by President Bill Clinton, represented a major change in American telecommunication law, since it was the first time that the Internet was included in broadcasting and spectrum allotment.[1] One of the most controversial titles was Title 3 (“Cable Services”), which allowed for media cross-ownership.[1]

  10. RUKidding

    Had a conversation this weekend with old college chums on vacay out here on the left coast. I said: why are you even bothering to pay attention to Trump’s tweets?? Really. When I told them that I had no tv and hadn’t had one in at least a decade, they were FLOORED. Literally. They couldn’t imagine it.


    They did agree that Trump’s tweet were being engineered by the M$M to suck all the oxygen out of the room, whilst “behind the scenes” the Trump Admin/Republicans are commencing one of the huger rapines, plunderings and pillagings that I’ve witnessed in my many years… and that’s after many years of plunderings. But hey: Let’s all INDLUGE ourselves in being so OFFENDED by Trump’s latest tweet! That’ll show him! or something.

    Most of the time I’m clueless about his d*mn tweets. Couldn’t care less, but where’s the d*mn “nooz” about the latest plunderings either by Trump, himself (IMO he’s still very very involved in his family’s businesses), his family AND the Trump Admin. What about all of the environmental regs being shredded? What about public lands up for grabs? Just to name two of many many others.

    But oh hey: let’s call Trump a “pig” and that’ll show him. And then we can commence to tut-tutting Melania’s “person” tweeting back something equally offensive.

    As we used text: OMG.

    In my next post, I’ll add something to Yves’ experiences with Helen and Sara at the hair dresser shop.

  11. Vatch

    Helen also said her clients regularly say how awful Trump is. She asks them to tell them what he’s done that’s bad (I brought up Gorsuch, but she approves of him). She said no one could bring up a single example.

    Wow, does she know about Gorsuch’s odious dissent in the case of the frozen trucker? Does she actually approve of Scott Pruitt and Betsy DeVos? Does she even know about all of the mortgage robosigning that occurred at OneWest Bank while Mnuchin was in charge? Then there’s Ajit Pai, the archenemy of net neutrality, whom Trump has renominated for another term on the FCC.

    Trump is simply horrible, and it’s quite scary that so many people don’t realize it.

    1. RUKidding

      Being endlessly distracted by tweets keeps citizens from realizing what’s actually going on behind the scenes. It doesn’t surprise me at all that Helen and Sara were pretty clueless about how awful these people are that Trump has assigned to his cabinet.

    2. jrs

      the clients might not have anything to criticize (but come on there are some real obvious things that did make widespread news like the Paris climate agreement ineffective as it was, not to mention the healthcare bill although that’s as much about congress as Trump, but it wouldn’t be a worry if a Republican wasn’t president).

      But also people don’t always “hear” substantive arguments from those they disagree with anyway, it can just go in one ear and out the other. And so it will be: “I have no idea what anyone really has against Trump ..” despite how many good arguments may have been made against Trump.

    3. different clue

      How well and in-detail were any of these things described in her news sources? And were they described over and over and over again so that the information would take hold?

      People can’t get upset about that of which they know nothing, having been told nothing. ( One-time-commenter Banger used to lecture us about how it was their own stupid fault for not taking time out of their overworked underpayed energy-sucking day to find it all out through hours of research in the side-stream media.)

  12. RUKidding

    Thanks, Yves, for your anecdotal conversations at the hair dressers. Informative.

    As someone else pointed out, Helen is the type of voter that Clinton so very desparately wanted to “win” to her side. What a fool’s errand. In my experience (not vast but solid enough) with rightwing women like Helen, the very LAST thing they would EVER do is vote Democratic. While it often makes no sense to me, these upper middle class Republican whtie women have spent the past 4 decades listening to Hate Radio, watching Fox nooz, and if they go to church, it’s of the Mega Church prosperity “Christiany” type.

    They are solidly inculcated into the Republican mythos that leads to making the same old, same old facile – and false – “statements” about nationalized health care. How they’ll never ever get the “good doctors,” which, as Yves points, out: good luck getting to them now. How they’ll have to pay half their wages to nationalized health care (the underlying theme there is: and then all of those lazy, low-life, mooching minorities will get a ton of FREE stuff, while I get screwed over somehow), how, if they have a life-threatening disease, they’ll have to wait months for care, blah blah blah. We’ve all heard and read these tropes and memes for decades, and it’s clear that conservatives plan to cling and grasp them until these memes are “pried from their cold dead hands.”

    While I thought it was dumb to overly focus on Trump’s pussy grabbing comment, it does still sometimes amaze me how Republican women don’t give a flying fig about such egregious male behavior. I can only assume it comes again from 40 years of indoctrination by the usual suspects on Hate Radio – where all of their rude disgusting bashings and insults are meant to be a “joke” – Fox, etc. Certainly the very few times that I was exposed to Rush Limbaugh proved to me what a horrid borish creep he was, but I certainly know many people who find him “funny.” ha ha… no joke for me.

    As someone else stated, Sara is probably not very well informed – well who is these days? – and probably also finds the tweets either funny or whatever, and she really doesn’t get what’s going on, how our heritage is being plundered, how job opportunities for the younger generation are simply gone, etc.

    Sad. Thanks for the update.

    Most of these types of voters are simply not reachable by the Democratic party. They never ever will be reachable. Which goes back to my main contention that Clinton – worthless CROOK that she is – ran one of the most sh*t-rotten campaigns that I’ve seen in my lifetime. Her sycophantic fans – and they’re out there in droves – who adamantly REFUSE to acknowledge this are every bit as hopelessly brainwashed as Helen and Sara.

    And so it goes…

    Good luck to us all.

    1. different clue

      Are we sure Clinton even wanted “this” sort of woman to even begin with? I had thought Clinton was pursuing a much more yuppie-upscale sort of woman, the Goldman-Sachs feminist and the aspirational Goldman-Sachs feminist hope-to-be. Am I wrong about that?

    2. different clue

      If Sanders were to give a speech or hold a rally in the area, might Sara and Helen come out to give him a respectful hearing? Perhaps the experiment deserves to be run. Versions of it have been run in other unyuppie downscale places.

  13. Vatch

    [Sara said] Someone who makes $50,000 in Canada pays $25,000 in taxes. Someone who make $12,000 pays $6,000.

    I wondered about that, so I checked this web site:

    Federal tax rates for 2017
    15% on the first $45,916 of taxable income, +

    20.5% on the next $45,915 of taxable income (on the portion of taxable income over $45,916 up to $91,831), +

    26% on the next $50,522 of taxable income (on the portion of taxable income over $91,831 up to $142,353), +

    29% on the next $60,447 of taxable income (on the portion of taxable income over $142,353 up to $202,800), +

    33% of taxable income over $202,800.

    A person earning $50,000 will pay $6,887.40 + $837.22 = $7,724.62 in tax, not $25,000. Even with an additional provincial tax (which varies among the provinces), which is usually less than 10% for an income of this level, the person is paying a lot less than $25,000.

    A person earning $12,000 will pay $1,800.00 in tax. Perhaps up to a total of $3,000.00 in the province with the highest tax rate, but up to only about $2,400.00 in some provinces. Sara is wrong.

    1. RUKidding

      Of course Sara is wrong, but she heard it somewhere and imbibed it as truth. These are the lies that the M$M and Hate Radio & dozens of rightwing think tanks pump out daily into the cesspool of the Internet and Facedump.

      So Sara hears/reads that and believes it fervently. I knew it was false, but sadly, even if you show Sara the factual evidence about Canadian tax levels, she’ll probably think that’s Fake News.

      And ’round and ’round and ’round we go…

      1. Clive

        Such a common phenomena — and it obviously internationalises as well. My mother-in-law is cut from the same cloth as Sara. Reading the Daily Mail regularly, it is now impossible to convince her, even if you show information from The Office For National Statistics that the tax take on income is very low by historical standards here in the UK, the amount spent on healthcare compared with the US is only just over half for not worse health outcomes and that private healthcare provision is hideously profiteering.

        I even did a mock-quote for her on as if she was retired and living in Florida. She would not believe not matter how many times I ran the quote that she would be paying $1,500+ a month with a $5,000 co-pay on a Platinum plan (equivalent to her NHS single payer plus the £110 a month she pays for private top up — basically you get a hospital room that’s like an upscale hotel rather than a motel standard room in an NHS hospital). She could not get her head around the fact that if she had to buy health insurance in the US her c. £2,500 a month retirement income would have a third gobbled up in healthcare costs and would reduce her to, if not penury, then genteel poverty.

        1. jrs

          well if under 65 yes, if over 65 Medicare, for which she still might have to pay for supplemental insurance but is a better deal than an older person gets before they turn 65 in the U.S..

          Tell her the real truth: it simply makes NO SENSE for the vast majority (for the rich it does but I mean those who aren’t multi-millionaires) of people to retire before 65 in the U.S. if they have employer health insurance.

          Now this doesn’t mean some people aren’t forced out of the labor market before then if they encounter age discrimination and ironically if they have health issues (and thus can’t work), it just means it’s NOT A CHOICE. So better remind her she would have far less choices in the U.S..

        2. hemeantwell

          it is now impossible to convince her, even if you show information from The Office For National Statistics that the tax take on income

          I’m curious as to what made it impossible. I realize there are limits to how much you can press your mother-in-law to reflect on her reasoning. But was she denying the validity of the stats? Or was she saying there’s somehow more to it, without being able to say what that is? Since there is “more to it,” a “more” that her side’s experts know about, then there’s no need to revise their position, which is really what’s at stake.

      2. Norb

        Spouting opinions dressed up as facts is the bane of our social discourse. It gives people a sense of understanding and grounding even though such an outlook will eventually destroy their life. People caught in this trap will not see the danger until it is too late.

        The problem centers around the search for truth in ones life and if one has the personal strength of character to face that truth. Overall, it is safe to say, that very few individuals have the personal strength of character to live a life based on such a path. It is very difficult. That is why a society forms culture. It is the base framework upon which the vast majority clings for survival. The culture takes hard truths learned in the past and makes them easily accessible to the masses. Without the cultural framework, the individual is lost.

        Humanities struggle is one to create a culture that is based in truth, for only then will a sustainable future be possible for humans on this planet.

        We are facing a time of cultural shift. It is a shift from a culture of violence to a culture of cooperation. Violence will always burn itself out. It is the opposite of life.

        What and whom will be left is what is sorting itself out.

      3. different clue

        That actually sounds like an interesting experiment, if it could be conducted in the right way. Perhaps thousands or even millions of Sanders volunteers could quietly circulate themselves among the rest of the citizenry, armed with smart computerphones which would permit looking stuff up. They could be passive activists engaging in these conversations IF somebody else wants to start them. Such a counter-disinformation warrior might look up those Canadian tax rates right during the conversation right their on herm’s smart computerphone . . . and do it in the spirit of both parties to the conversation discovering something together.

        With enough practice, counter-disinfo warriors might learn how to engage in these conversations when invited to do so, and ONLY when invited to do so . . . in such a way as to genuinely counter the disinfo.

    2. FluffytheObeseCat

      Sara is wrong, but you have undercalculated here. Canada has a national sales & services tax on top of provincial sales taxes that are on par with state/muni sales tax in the US. If you assume someone earning ~$50,000 is spending most of their take home on living, you need to add another ~8% on about half their gross. Also, the Revenue Canada website includes provincial income taxes on a separate page. Ontario provincial taxes vary from 5-10% of gross income on top of federal.

      Tax on incomes over $200k Canadian (equivalent to ~$160k USD) are close to 50%. For those making under ~$45k a year, it’s more like 25%. They can shelter out some money in RRSPs and the like, but there are not as many loopholes as in the US.

      Their streets are clean and well maintained, as are all their public places. They have free healthcare (sans dental) and low cost universities. Functional mass transit. They get more for their money than we do. A small business owner in New York City, like these ladies, is paying nearly as much (the city has a municipal incomes tax) without getting near as much back. And then there is property tax. So, yeah, Sara has been totally lied to.

      1. jrs

        that’s what I thought too, don’t they have a VAT? Now being a “low information voter” (haha) I did not know off the top of my head, but did a search, and yes they do. The brackets break down a little differently than the U.S.. As for provincial taxes, 5-10% gross is not different than state taxes can be in some states.

      2. Vatch

        You’re right that I missed the VAT, but I included the provincial taxes in my estimates in my final two paragraphs. Those are on the same web page, but one has to scroll down (except for Quebec, which is on a separate page). I also suspect that taxable income in Canada, like taxable income in the United States, is usually less than a person’s gross income.

    3. JEHR

      Thanks for the correction re Canadian taxes. Our system is not perfect but the taxation is not onerous and provincially pays for infrastructure. I do not mind paying taxes when I know where the money will be spent (provincially).

    4. jrs

      By my calculations just for federal taxes they will pay *LESS* than they do in the U.S. at 50k in income.

      10% $0 to $9,275 $0 to $13,250
      15% $9,276 to $37,650 $13,251 to $50,400
      25% $37,651 to $91,150 $50,401 to $130,150
      28% $91,151 to $190,150 $130,151 to $210,800

      People may bring up about a lot of tax breaks that these people are probably NOT GETTING anyway (how many middle class people are really deducting their mortgages in NYC?) With that cost of housing, I’m thinking not many … and certainly not on 50k.

  14. Adam Eran

    One more thing: There are three modes of conflict with such low-information voters: 1. Fights, 2. Arguments and 3. Partnership…in ascending order of how convincing they are. Fights and arguments invite opposition and the digging in of heels. I personally love to argue, so imagine how disappointed I was to find out how counterproductive it was (which shows you just how awake I was not to notice its counter-productive nature for all those years).

    Anyway, Motivational Interviewing is the study of how to persuade people who oppose you. This was assembled by psychologists to persuade alcoholics who didn’t want to stop drinking, heart patients who didn’t want to take their meds, etc. They’ve just now started applying it to things political. E.g. here, about climate change. This is the way to handle the opposition, not fighting or arguing.

    1. Vatch

      Interesting, thank you! I know I’m more likely to seriously consider changing my opinion if the person who disagrees with me treats me with respect.

    2. Norb

      Changing the economic system humans need for survival has to be the endpoint upon which all motivation is directed. Sustainability seems to be the winning rational, but that is something you DO and not something you PERSUADE.

      Without sounding to shrill, I am reminded of the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany before the second world war. The powers that be made it pretty clear as to the fate awaiting all Jews. Those that could, got the message and left the country. I’m sure many more tried to persuade as many as possible to a different course. That didn’t work out so well. Most were just trapped. Those in power set the course. Persuasion is only effective when trying to determine a course, not when one is well underway.

      The negative effects capitalism has on the environment, inequality, and overall survivability of life on this planet is causing a holocaust of its own. Its getting to the point where if someone has to be convinced there is a problem, they are better left behind.

      This is not to say that the techniques of Motivational Interviewing are not valuable, for indeed they are and the culture needs to adopt them more fully. The current cultural norm for persuasion, at least in the US, is to first brainwash citizens, then follow up with lies, then use physical violence. It is a tried and true formula with no signs of altering.

      Setting up sustainable human systems will happen outside the current power structures. Capitalism is a religion. Adherents to a particular religion are pretty imperious to contrary doctrine. The critics of Capitalism need to build a new religion around Sustainability. That seems the only productive hope for the future.

      1. different clue

        If they are going to make it look like a worthwhile religion, they are going to have to demonstrate it actually working in the field where other people can see them doing it and succeeding with it. That means doing their own high-visibility sustainability-lifestyling where it can be seen and not denied.

  15. ewmayer

    “As [Zbigniew Brzezinski] said in 1998, “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?” And as for those millions of Afghans who would end up dead, wounded, or uprooted from their homes and lives, well, really, who cared?” — So a few years after Zbig said that we had some of the very fanatics we helped train and equip in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets bringing their jihad to the U.S., leading us into our own 15-years-and-counting bleeding wound in Afghanistan and birthing the very metastatic surveillance state Engelhardt describes in his piece, and now Zbig’s foreign policy descendants are busily ginning up another cold war with Russia, apparently in hopes of it igniting into a hot war which they have deluded themselves into believing is ‘winnable’ in some sense of the word. Some win there, Zbig!

  16. Keith Newman

    I couldn’t help myself after reading the above. I live in the Province of Quebec, the province with the highest income tax rates in Canada. Using my tax software I calculated what a person earning $12,000 would pay in income tax.
    A single person with $12,000 of employment income living in the Province of Quebec in 2016 would have paid ZERO income tax. In fact that person would have RECEIVED a total of $2297.28 in payment from both levels of government for low wage workers. In addition the same person would receive about $250 as an offset to the 5% federal Goods and Services Tax charged on most things except food (alluded to in a comment above).
    As a citizen of Quebec that person would receive free health care (not dentistry), free prescription drugs, daycare at $7 per day per child, 50 weeks of paid maternity leave (about 60% of wages), 2 weeks of paid vacation yearly, university education at $ 3,000 per year (could be less, not sure; doesn’t cover books).
    Re healthcare wait times: I have indeed heard of wait times for certain kinds of non-emergency tests and surgery.
    However I know someone who required surgery for cancer twice and an appendicitis within the last three years. The cancer ops were performed within a couple of weeks of diagnosis and the appendicitis op was done within a day or two.
    Last week I had to go to a clinic after a bout of poison ivy exposure. I called my clinic in the morning and saw a doctor at 4pm the same day.
    All covered under public healthcare at no cost. Of course it is paid for by tax payers.
    Nonetheless I do understand the anti-government anti-tax bias of many US inhabitants. On the whole people don’t get much from their governments except schools of varying quality, policing, and some services and payments for low income people and the elderly. Most of the rest goes to the military.

  17. TheCatSaid

    I’m appalled by Trump’s choices for his cabinet.
    I’m equally appalled by the folks in the cabinets of previous presidents–and their actions speak for them.

    In all cases (Trump and precursors over many decades) I have no idea who/what is calling the shots behind the scenes.

    It’s hard to think of politicians who are willing to act in alignment with their values. The system is set up to promote those who can be controlled, and keep honest people out of contention. This means the public figureheads might not be likely to respond to public outcries of one kind or another.

    Is there any chance Trump or those in his circle might rise to the challenge? I wouldn’t rule anything out, nor would I have any naive hopes about this happening.

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