Monday, February 27, 2017

Truth and Logic in a Divided America

After much resistance, a few years ago, I finally got my Facebook page. Now everyday it beckons me to add my photo to my profile, but I ignore the prompt hoping to hold on to an inkling of anonymity in an all too pervasive cyberspace. I am not an avid user of Facebook and rarely "like", "poke",  "tag" "share" or "post" anything. But since the rise of Donald Trump I have found myself engaging more than usual. Facebook is the ultimate echo chamber which in many ways played a pivotal role in this election. And so all I see are things that are aligned with my world view. But every now and then, on someone elses "wall", I do encounter Donald Trump supporters vigorously cheering him on and ecstatic that he is in charge. I have gently tried to lock horns with some, trying to bring reason and logic to bear in an attempt to understand motivations other than mine. After a few rounds of back and forth, I often find a door slam on my Face-book or a quiet disengagement as the perceived gulf is wide or the will to see contradiction is lacking. One recent supporter responded with this diatribe which is telling

"There is WAY more hypocrisy on the left. if Hillary Clinton had won that would be the true low point. the same old liberal pc bullshit of being 'progressive' on easy issues like LGBT and abortion rights, while being in bed with wall street, doing nothing for working class, accepting money from Saudi Arabia for Clinton foundation, antagonizing Russia with no fly zones in Syria, and sending weapons to Ukraine. and this is all covered up with a happy progressive PC face. At least republicans are upfront about it. and with trump the corrupt elite are finally exposed. and you won't get Washington consensus and American exceptionalism being shoved down the throat of every other country".

Its been a month now since Donald Trump ascended to the throne of the American government. Since his inauguration, his continuing antics have dominated the news cycle to a point of mind numbing despair. You could not escape his daily deluge as he began to undo what his predecessors had put into motion by signing executive orders, which were mostly about optics rather than substance. His actions were met with protests mostly in cities with large populations of his detractors.

As he began to violate all established norms it left more and more people aghast. But his supporters found his bombastic methods refreshing as they felt he had not changed. The weight of the office had barely scathed him. And they saw in him a businessman taking decisions and not your conventional politician dragging his feet. He was delivering on all his promises he had bellowed about in his outlandish rallies. And there was only more to come.

When he declared the media the "enemy of the people" and the "opposition party" he received applause from his supporters. Bashing the media was a common occurrence at his rallies that brought cheer to his rowdy mob. Donald Trump it seemed had not stopped campaigning to the delight of many. But as president what he failed to recognize in the process, he struck a blow to one of the four  pillars of American democracy, which could one day become his own undoing.

Children in schools are taught that the American system of government created by the "founding fathers" in their wisdom, consists of the Legislative, Executive and the Judicial branch. Each put in place to keep a check on the other, as an antidote to autocracy. But what they are not taught with equal emphasis is that the freedom of the press enshrined in the first amendment to the constitution, is the fourth and most important pillar of American democracy that holds all three branches accountable. Without a free and respected press, there is no democracy. Donald Trump and his henchmen took the first step in steering the nation in the direction of autocracy by brazenly repeatedly attacking the press.

In the past, many administrations have had an antagonistic relationship with the press. The 37th president of the United States, Richard Nixon, was brought down by the Washington Post, for abuse of power and criminal behavior. Many think the legacy of Richard Nixon has come to haunt America again. Especially in relation to the murky relationship Donald Trump and his associates seem to have had and have with Russia. But this is uncharted territory and only time will tell how far the Executive branch is willing to go to keep cover.

There is no question, much like the government the media has faltered. It fell to its lowest stature during this past election and partly caused this catastrophe which is the present administration. But the corruption of American media started decades ago when large corporations began to acquire media organizations as commercial assets, steering them from public service to profit making entities. When the television landscape exploded with cable news, and the infinite broadcast space had to be filled with entertainment and information, 24/7 news channels were born. What CNN put into motion as a network was followed suit by others. Then the partisanship and opinion making began to dominate the news. Straight analytical reporting was just not enough for ratings. It had to be packaged for the demographic that tuned in. News anchors became news celebrities demanding millions of dollars for their face, book launches and magazine cover poses. They sacrificed their credibility for monetary gain and fame. With the advent of the internet and social media, the lid was blown wide open. The fragmentation that ensued created a frenetic space which became almost impossible to navigate for authenticity. This in no certain terms meant that good journalism was dead. It was just harder to find in the chaos and there was less of it. The noise birthed the phenomenon of "fake news" which spoke to people with predisposed ideas and belief in conspiracy theories more than reality. Donald Trump and his team tapped into this space and saw the broken system for what it was and emerged victorious. And now they are turning the tables on that very mainstream media that underestimated them by calling all those who don't applaud their agenda "fake".

During one of his campaign rallies Donald Trump boasted "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters". Any candidate in any other era would have imploded after uttering those words. But in this age of sex tapes and reality shows, sensationalism sells and only makes those engaged in it more popular. Notoriety is no longer a handicap it is an asset. And Donald Trump proved this fact by climbing all the way to the top.

Watching the first weeks of his administration unravel, it seems like he believes his mission is to govern only for those who voted for him and not pay attention to those who did not. For a man who is obsessed with good ratings, for some reason he has decided not to bother with it for governance. By organizing more rallies for himself where he can feel loved and adored, he has convinced himself that he is wildly popular. Hence his reluctance to acknowledge his loss in the popular vote and his  inauguration having a lack luster attendance.

Or there is another theory that is becoming more and more believable. Advisors who surround Donald Trump are calling the shots and he is playing the mascot. His inner circle headed by Steve Bannon, is laying the groundwork for all the new policies and shredding the old ones with a vengeance. From immigration, the environment, the arts, defense and healthcare, there is a decisive agenda at the core, to fundamentally change course. To steer the nation towards what Steve Bannon calls "economic nationalism". "America First" is the slogan that is used to mask what lies beneath. What Steve Bannon is charting for the country from the pinnacle of power, is antithetical to the conservative values of the Republican Party. The Republicans believe in an unfettered market space, smaller government and all round less regulation and taxes. What Steve Bannon is calling for is an anti-global economy that taxes companies and puts tariffs on nations that do not put what he thinks are America's interests first. Whether such an approach could stimulate growth and create jobs only time will tell. But if growth is created at the behest of higher cost of living, lower wages, increased disparity and a social agenda that is draconian, this experiment could take the nation back decades at the cost of great social upheaval.

It is clear from his speeches, documentaries and interviews, Steve Bannon is an ideologue. His tenure at the ideologically driven conspiracy theory ridden Brietbart News and his association with the alt-right only frames him to be more dogmatic than pragmatic. The problem with ideologues, is that they feel they have the answer to everything and are single minded in their push to see an agenda through. Towards that goal they feel it is justified to violate rules that govern the system within which they operate. As they are convinced they are the anointed agents of change and are working for the betterment of all people, it is just that they don't know it yet. This single mindedness can lead to autocratic behavior which we have seen shades of, in the disparaging of the press and in the implementation of an oppressive immigration policy that is wreaking havoc inside underprivileged communities across the nation. In the guise of evicting illegal immigrants Donald Trump's regime is pushing a whole segment of society into the shadows. The idea that "to live in America is a privilege not a right" is being peddled as the pretext for deportations. But the sentiment here is not all genuine as those who are profiled for deportation are determined by class, race and ethnicity.

If there is one thing that has been sacrificed at the alter of power lately, it is the "truth". In a deeply divided America such as the present one, truth continues to be suspect, and therefore logic has no meaning. All you have are opinions formed on perceived facts. And when those in power float ideas such as "alternate facts" and "fake news" one wonders what one should base ones opinions on? For those who find Donald Trump a mumbling bumbling fool hell bent on self destructing, what is to come may seem enticing and hopeful, but it can only be devastating and dire. For those who see a great future in him, the fall could be too steep to survive. It seems like America today is in a logjam and down stream are rapids and then a steep fall. It is what it is.