Drawing the line

It is fatuous to pretend we haven’t been brainwashed. Years of reading the same stuff and listening to the same people leads to indoctrination and does little to engender hesitation about the truth as we already know or believe it. We may occasionally stumble upon an event which momentarily at least precipitates an epiphany but it isn’t long before we lapse into conformity. The narrowness of our thinking is predicted by the routine of our experience. As necessity is the mother of invention, there is no more need to change unless we must. By contrast living in a state of perpetual doubt and analysis is not the norm. It is so much easier not to have to adjust to new or different external indicia. Seeing the world clothed in the same fabric, colour and spirituality is by far more convenient.

The so-called “Alt-right” which has lately come to the fore during the ascendancy of Donald Trump as president of the United States of America has caused a lot of people to stop in their tracks.

The alt-right, or alternative right, is a loose group of people with far-right ideologies who reject mainstream conservatism in the United States. White nationalist Richard Spencer coined the term in 2010 to define a movement centered on white nationalism, and has been accused of doing so to whitewash overt racism, white supremacism, and neo-Nazism. Spencer has repeatedly quoted from Nazi propaganda and spoken critically of the Jewish people, although he has denied being a neo-Nazi; alt-right beliefs have been described as white supremacist, frequently overlapping with antisemitism and Neo-Nazism, nativism and Islamophobia, antifeminism and homophobia, white nationalist, right-wing populism,and the neoreactionary movement. The concept has further been associated with multiple groups from American nationalists, neo-monarchists, men’s rights advocates, and the 2016 campaign of Donald Trump.

Howsoever the “Alt-right” is characterized it is a swipe by an angry and frightened lot at long-standing annoyances. Seldom have I seen any substance to the reasoning behind their creed other than to exclude what are perceived to be challenging or objectionable classes of people.  The “white nationalism” for example attempts to make its case by suggesting that it was white Europeans who built America and for whom it should exist exclusively.

Mr. Trump is clearly pandering to this sometimes spooky demographic.

Gene Huber’s Twitter profile photo shows him standing with a life-size cardboard cutout of Trump. On CNN after the rally, Huber said, “I’ve been with Mr. President Trump for over two years…” He said that Trump saw him on TV, and Huber said he “loved” Trump “with all his heart.” He said of the cardboard cutout: “I salute that every single day.”

What Hilary Clinton called the “Deplorables” are a source of adulation for Mr. Trump and obviously a vital part of his personal agenda. They seemingly eat up what may in the broadest terms be called Mr. Trump’s isolationism – or what he prefers to call his agenda to “Make America Great Again” but which is really little more than a promise pointedly as yet unfulfilled though still abundant with hope to turn back the clock to the 1950s when white America was in charge and everyone enjoyed Pepsodent and Norman Rockwell. There are some who are so enthusiastic about the broad international circumscription that they have at times come dangerously close to a re-enactment of a dreadful part of world history:

The term (alt-right) drew considerable media attention and controversy during the 2016 presidential election, particularly after Trump appointed Breitbart News chair Steven Bannon CEO of the Trump campaign in August. Steve Bannon referred to Breitbart News as “the platform for the alt-right.” Media attention grew after the election, particularly during a post-election celebratory meeting near the White House hosted by alt-right advocate Richard Spencer. Spencer used several Nazi propaganda terms during a meeting, and closed with “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory”. In response, supporters of Spencer gave the Nazi salute and chanted in a similar fashion to the Sieg Heil chant used at the Nuremberg rallies.

My personal opinion based upon what I have read and the Americans whom I have met is that even though there are indeed some whacky and shamefully shallow elements involved in this so-called “movement” (a blatant theft of the term from Bernie Sanders’ campaign), the Trump supporters are for the most part genuinely persuaded by the bona fides of Trump’s promises, fuelled by despondency about their personal circumstances and in some cases revolted by an embedded dislike (which frankly I have never understood) of Hilary Clinton or perhaps the Democratic Party generally.

The Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman found that when confronting too much complex numerical information, people use mental shortcuts to process it — so-called “fast” rather than “slow” thinking. Yet people also rely on “fast thinking” to process not only numbers, as he describes, but social and political problems and information as well. We draw on prior beliefs, biases, and scripts — familiar stories. These shortcuts generally involve narratives of blame — helping us decide who or what caused the problem, and thus how we should solve it. People seek to fault others for problems because to hold ourselves accountable is too painful.

Taken at face value it is not difficult to understand the persuasiveness of Trump’s propaganda: strengthen the borders to keep illegals out; throw out miscreants like drug dealers, murderers and rapists; stop rich industrialists from manufacturing their products off-shore; infrastructure improvement; annihilate terrorist ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria); tough on crime; voter fraud restrictions; protection of veterans and law enforcement officers; and that reassuring catch-all “Make America Great Again”. Where however the program runs into difficulty is its violation of the constitutional controls which effectively separate the executive (President), legislative (Congress – House of Representatives and the Senate) and judicial (Supreme Court) branches of government (what Mr. Trump and his supporters are only too inclined to label the White House morass and swamp). While many past presidents have objected to the actions and decisions of both the legislative and judicial branches of government, Mr. Trump is not only voicing his opinion but making a mockery of those institutions, for example disparaging high court judges as “so-called” judges, arguing for the failure of judicial interpretation of the Constitution and clamouring for speedier passage of legislation without due process. This broadside is buoyed by a surprisingly popular and general condemnation of the legitimacy of the press (an outright attack upon the freedom of the press) and an insinuated slur upon liberalism or “politically correct” behaviour (a basket of denunciations which threaten “Black Lives Matter”, LGBTQ and environmental issues among others). Inherent in Mr. Trump’s on-going campaign (he never stops seeking the adulation of his base) is his advancement of the Bible-thumping ethic (famously and aptly described as the “opiate of the masses”). When First Lady Melania Trump began her introduction of the President at a recent Florida rally with a reading of Psalm 23, she set the stage for further borders upon the appeal of Mr. Trump. There is no doubt that the recitation was reactionary and offensive to millions but any objection to it would only be greeted by the usual railing against “politically correct” conduct.  It nonetheless succeeds as a tactic further to refine the insular nature of the United States of America and indirectly to support the “Pro Life” movement and objections based upon the blasphemy of sexual orientation.

First lady Melania Trump kicked off President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Melbourne, Florida on Saturday by reciting the Lord’s prayer and telling the crowd she will “always stay true to myself, and be truthful to you.”

“I didn’t know Melania would be reading the Lord’s prayer,” Trump said following the first lady’s remarks.

The crowd at Orlando-Melbourne Airport greeted Mrs. Trump with a loud ovation. “It is a great honor and great pleasure to stand here before you as the first lady of the United States,” the former model said.

The inescapable corollary to these cumulative effronteries is the unspoken condemnation of those who have the cheek to object (basically the same treatment as the mainstream media has received).  The behaviour of Mr. Trump and his cronies (who regularly fly in the face of fact and political propriety) is however attracting some much unwanted attention. The “bully” tactics of Trump and his minions are in threat of galvanizing the proverbial “silent majority” (especially relevant in view of the fact that Trump lost the popular vote when elected, one of the few “facts” he never questions). My suspicion is that there is a groundswell of  people who have hit a wall with his outlandish performance and that they fear the deterioration of the very fabric of American society, an erosion of its hard-fought principles. Until this boil on the body politic breaks, many Americans are living in stark fear and disgust. It is not likely that the objectors will do as they did in the Vietnam War – just get up and go. Too many people are frightened by the possibility that, in spite of their well-founded hopes, Mr. Trump is proving to be a demagogue and that he will if unrestrained corral the masses into unforgivable conduct.

“All the so-called experts have been wrong consistently,” Lacy said, adding that Trump had changed the way presidents are viewed along with the usual codes of behavior in the White House and Washington. “Traditionally, a President couldn’t do that and get away with it. With this president, that remains to be seen.”

For the time being an exceedingly cautious optimism lingers that Trump will in fact do what is good for the American people and that he should be “allowed” to try (a proposition amusingly supported by President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who is accused of human rights abuses and election rigging). If the adage about putting your money where your mouth is means anything – and I think the maxim goes a long way with Americans –  then there may continue to be a muted resistance to Trump’s “chaotic” maneuvers. When it comes to placing bets, no one is certain how to call it.  Over and over again Trump has proven that his expected failures have not materialized.  Whether the comforting economic state of the stock market is anything more than a subterfuge for the rich has yet to be assessed.

Headlines claim the White House is in “chaos” after an extremely turbulent week. But there’s one big thing going right for Trump right now: The U.S. economy.

A slew of economic data came out this week. Almost all of it was positive. Americans are still going to stores and spending big (retail sales came in better than expected for January). They’re also buying houses. And cars. And using their credit cards.

On top of that, small and medium-sized business owners are giddy. The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index is at its highest level since 2004.

Heck, even manufacturing has made a pretty big turnaround and looks almost healthy again. The Philly Fed Index, a survey on how well manufacturers are doing, just hit its highest level since 1984. And anyone with money in the market likely noticed the U.S. stock market set even more records this week. In fact, American stocks are on their best winning streak in 25 years.
There’s still a belief on Wall Street — and many parts of Main Street that CNNMoney has recently visited — that Trump is going to get the economy surging again. Yes, there are some red flags — household debt is back at 2008 levels and prices are rising. But overall, things look good.
“The economy is better than you think,” says Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank in New York. “President Trump inherited the best economy since President Bush, so let’s hope things continue to run smoothly.”