Why Trump Now? Dig Deeper

Let’s say this is about applied philosophy.
I keep seeing tweets about how sick Trump is. And it’s probably true.  But in watching the discussion, I’m struck by the difference in method between idealism and materialism.
At this particular moment of capitalism—as the system itself is shaking and shuddering and giving us permanent war, repression, a surveillance state, movements backward in democracy and freedom, white supremacy and even fascism becoming socially acceptable among some layers, reproductive rights threatened, the police turning into an army with terrorist tactics, any responsible journalist threatened with jail, and no foreseeable solution to climate change—right now is when there’s a president people are describing as “sick and in need of help.”
Why now? Why at this point in history is such a person the one the system finds to run it? And no, don’t tell me Trump is the cause of all of the above, because every one of those things I described started well before he even announced as a candidate. So…why now?
To the idealist, it begins and ends with, “A lot of people had bad ideas” which to me begs the question, because then the issue is, why are all of these “bad ideas” becoming so powerful at exactly this historical moment? and we’re right back where we started.
A materialist wants to dig deeper, to uncover the relation of social and economic forces that produces the conditions where ignorance and backwardness can flourish. Because if we do not understand those objective, material forces, all of our efforts to move forward, to improve things, amount to little more than shaking a rattle in hopes the gods will make it rain.


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45 thoughts on “Why Trump Now? Dig Deeper”

  1. The US is not unique in these trends, it seems to be world wide. I blame it on the oligarchs who’s agents have been working diligently to bring about the present situation: A world wide dance with fascism. This is because fascists will reliably give the wealthy even more money and try to control or eliminate those who might object.

    Why now? It is just what the oligarchs were working up to, and they have achieved sort of a critical mass of control. So now they want to complete the attack rather than risk that the populace might change direction and weaken their position.

  2. There are some problems with that, David. First, why are they doing it? Fascism, or any sort of totalitarianism, is a much more expensive way to run things than liberal democracy; why spend that money if they don’t have to? If they have to, that brings us to why do they have to, and we’re right back to the original question. Second, how is it that these oligarchs have so much power to do this? Have they always had it, and just chosen not to use it? It once more comes down: what has changed in the objective situation.

    Of course, I certainly agree with you that it is worldwide; that simply means that as we’re trying to understand what changes in conditions have led us to this, we have to look at it internationally.

    Yebor1: With all due respect, I don’t think that gets us anywhere. If conditions change, we can understand how that drives the changes in people’s thinking (although it requires us to then show in what way conditions have changed). If people’s thinking changes, we must ask ourselves what has caused this change. They seem parallel, but they are not. One provides an explanation, the other provides only questions.

  3. Republicans (as an overt tool of oligarchs) have been beating the drums of ignorance, racism and capitalist fetishism for a long time now. Having a Trump emerge to join in their drum circle is a fairly predictable result of that historical momentum.

    When you combine that with the Democrats acting as appeasers of capitalism/Wall Street, we get the unchecked acceleration of the disparity in wealth and income that we have now. (Count the number of the wealthy who went to prison after their misdeeds in the last recession and you can see that it is truly unchecked.)

    The question isn’t (I think) why Trump now, but rather now that we seem to be arriving at a fairly standard inflection point in human historical behavior, what can we do about it.

    Humans, in masse, are behaing like they have in many other similar historical situations. A big problem with this is that we now have multiple options for going extinct. A nuclear war or a slightly longer time for complete climate triggered catastrophe are are on the table.

  4. “Much more expensive” for who? The totalitarians make (or think they can make) their subjects bear all of the increased costs, while they (the only people who matter) come out ahead. (I don’t say that they are *correct* in this belief, bit I believe that they sincerely believe it.)

  5. skzb, it’s hard to think that I have an even more skeptical take on things than you do. ;>)

    Why go for fascism? It has nothing to do with efficiency or welfare of the country, and everything to do with ego and control. How can a rich person feel truly superior if the middle class can live comfortably and afford some luxuries? Or if some lower class person can openly criticize the ruling class? We obviously don’t know our place in the world.

    The top 1% will always get more money, no matter how badly the country is doing. Look at the trillion dollar tax cuts the wealthy got recently. The goal is to take the money from the social programs for the middle and lower classes. Just because the oligarchs want only themselves to do well.

    What has changed so now is the time? If you look at where the money is going, it has increasingly gone to the already wealthy and huge corporations. So now the vast majority of the money is going directly to the oligarchs, and workers are becoming more impoverished. We are heading toward a two class society. Why now? Because fascism and feudalism are within grasp. But a lot of people see what is going on, so that if the oligarchs wait longer, they may lose power, making the power grab more difficult in the future.

  6. Steve: You say “many other similar historical situations,” which is true, but missing the key point: Those other historical situations have come when a system was exhausted and ready to be swept away and replaced.

    Alexx: Much more expensive for the elite who institute it. We need to be clear: although the rich are not paying their “fair share,” they (however you define rich) pay the largest share of the cost of government. And jails, surveillance systems, secret police, censorship systems, militarized police, are *expensive.* They don’t resort to those things unless they think they’re needed. That’s why capitalism first introduced liberal democracies, and why, when capitalism was healthy, they were so broadly accepted.

    David: See above. As for your last paragraph, I pretty much agree. In my opinion, this is because of the inherent nature of capitalism, in which the greater the productive capacity, the greater the problem in distribution (plus the increasing absurdity of a system based on nation-states amid a global economy). However, whether we agree on those things or not, we agree on the main point I was getting at: that it is the conditions that produce the ideas. At least, it seems like we agree on that.

  7. At great risk of oversimplifying things.

    No, I don’t believe Trump is the president capitalism deserves. 3 million more Americans voted for either Hillary or Not Trump. In a true(r) democracy, Trump would not be the potus. Period.

    I don’t believe that for all of capitalism immense faults and negative influences on our democracy that America was better for all Americans in 1916 than it was in 2016 or is in 2019.

    But sure 2016, lifted the veil from my eyes and subsequent polls since then have devastated me in realizing how utterly gullible, angry or non-empathetic (or dare I say it, deplorable) a percentage of our population remains.

    I do that think because human beings are so inherently tribal (Easterners for the win. Dragaeran’s suck) elections ARE won by very small margins. Once the race comes down to two people, both candidates are going to automatically gain 40-45% of the vote from their bases. They then fight over the remaining 10-20% of potential voters. Elections are won by getting people out to vote. Or as Republicans seem to do so well, in repressing the vote (sorry, my own angry bias made me write that).

    But change 90,000 votes and Trump is not president.

    Because the electoral process and states election processes are so subject to intense local gerrymandering (cough voter suppression), I think elections are often won not by any one big thing, but by numerous low percentage influences that are hard to define.

    Now I would be glad to give my opinion on the influences I think pushed Trump to the top, but in my opinion it all still comes down to major flaws in an antiquated electoral process.

    Its one reason I am excited to learn of the push by several states for an interstate compact to give their electoral votes to the popular winner.

  8. Two things. It has been an average lifetime since a war that has taken place in the wealthy power nations, and so hardly anyone alive in those nations has experienced bombs dropping on their homes or actual invaders attacking. Of course, in America, war has not been brought home to people since the Civil War (I don’t count the bombing of an isolated naval base on a remote island territory as anything at all like the equivalent of Sherman’s march). I think the lack of such experience is also partly why the populations of many countries are so easily convinced to ask for a strong daddy to protect them when they occasionally get a tiny taste of what war is actually like in the form of a terrorist attack.

    Secondly, there has not really been the equivalent of international corporations in times before the 20th century, and few people, if anybody, really groks what that means in terms of power decisions. Having a legal separation between the owners of a company and the people who run it, with the people running it having a legal obligation to maximize profits with nobody being personally responsible for the consequences of decisions being made, is not a situation I can think of an equivalent for in previous centuries. It’s scary.

  9. Steve:Ahh!, lol, yes I missed your implication. That’s exactly correct.

    How to emerge at the other end of this process that is well underway without falling into failure modes is the problem, then.

  10. Ah, I can think of two almost equivalents to modern international corporations that pre-date the 20th century. The East India Company and the Hudson Bay company. Not exactly precedents that provide me with comfort.

  11. First off–the juxtaposition of your last sentence,”…shaking a rattle…” immediately followed by your author bio gave me a chuckle.

    As to the question of why Trump, and why now? I suspect that it’s not so much a matter of the system having selected him to run things so much as the unintended consequence of the increasing awareness among the populace of just how much the system is rigged.

    In other words, when you hammer it into the heads of the voters that their votes just don’t matter, yes, you’ll keep voter turnout low enough that you’ll have an easier time of controlling the actions of those who actually do pull the lever… but you also create the potential for a “Fuck it, why not?” option. When Door #1 and Door #2 are essentially the same, why not go for the mystery prize? It’s not like your choice really matters anyway… and besides–while you might get something lame like a jelly-of-the-month club membership, you might just win a NEW CAR!!!

    One of the many things that struck me about the last election was how everyone–Trump included(!)–was shocked by his victory. I strongly suspect that the system had nothing to do with it. If anything, the system seemed to have pre-selected Hillary as the victor. The friction with the Bernie camp brought a lot of that to the forefront, as well. It may be that the public perception of, “just settle down, it’s Hillary’s turn now,” added enough of a sprinkle of condescension that the Fuck It vote became reeeeeaaaal tempting.

    If anything, I think that the current state of things indicates that you can only push public apathy so far… lest it evolve into Burn it All Down.

  12. I have a simpler influence. Hubris. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush all thought they were the chosen one. If they had put down their egos and consolidated behind one of them, Trump would not have gotten the nomination. They split the votes of their constituency and that let the far right seize control. Dems also were all hubris about Hilary. It was a “given” she would win after the nomination. A bunch of people didn’t vote because they believed she would win easily. And then of course, Dems let the narrative about her skill and experience be dictated by the other side. Trump is reprehensible but his strategy is right. Keep people focused on you and your talking points and you win.

    Not saying your question is by any means not a worthy or unimportant one. Just, in practical terms, I believe this is an influence we can’t discount. Especially with 24 people running and splitting votes.

  13. “although the rich are not paying their “fair share,” they (however you define rich) pay the largest share of the cost of government. And jails, surveillance systems, secret police, censorship systems, militarized police, are *expensive.*”

    I was positing that at least some of the rich actually believe they can make everyone else pay for everything. “Mexico will pay for the wall.”

    “They don’t resort to those things unless they think they’re needed.”

    Among certain authoritarians, jails etc. are not so much *needed*, as *wanted*, as desirable features of a properly-run society. Many of these realize that such things are expensive, but are willing to pay that price on aesthetic, moral, or philosophical grounds.

  14. Yes, I understand, I just disagree. Once more, we’re back to the same thing–why now?: While there are always individuals like this floating around, no one listens to them unless large sections of the ruling class begin to believe it necessary. Study every fascist–indeed, every totalitarian state in history, from Bonaparte on, or, hell, go back to Cromwell, or to Charles I (I’m reading about that now, and it fits the pattern), or even earlier. Note how often (every time!) these states, whether overtly fascist or military dictatorship, or heavily militarized feudal states, institute these measures at time of deep crisis, of unrest; then look at the reverse, how even such fascist states as Franco’s Spain, or the Greek junta, will begin to relax the measures of repression (and reduce the cost) as they become more secure in their rule.

    It brings us back to the OP: idealism vs materialism. Looking at it in terms of, “there are people who think these thoughts” advances our knowledge not one iota. Why do they think that, and, above all, what conditions determine how seriously they’re taken, and by what social layers?

  15. Yes, I think materialism comes first. Those with wealth (capitalists or not) almost always want more wealth and more security. They fear the populous. Therefore they need to invent a philosophical position (a story) to justify their wealth and that can be sold to the masses even when it is against the masses’ best interest. This is for your “freedom” or to protect you from the “enemy.” What ever idealistic concept they can use. But the bottom line is that the wealthy want more wealth and control and the idealistic justification is just a con job.

    Why now? The republican party is in lock-step and under full control now. They are unlikely to get more under more control and the older politicians will die off soon, causing uncertainty. Everybody understands what the GOP is doing and the DNC is not now opposing them. So the window of opportunity is now or maybe never. The population is starting to understand the game, they might just start opposing the game for real.

    Trump was a wild card. The voters knew the game was rigged, so some of them voted for Trump, hoping to throw a wrench in the works. Which he seems to have done to some extent. I don’t think Trump knows what he is doing, but you can bet your bippy some people are getting wealthy off his actions.

  16. It is interesting how hard it is to keep a conversation from focusing on current individual personalities (Trump, Bernie) or the current “intentions” of vaguely defined groups of people (Oligarchs, Republicans). While individual decisions do matter, the ones that matter most now are ones made decades ago, and usually in the form of laws being passed. The most important ones are all of the corporate entity enabling ones passed at the end of the 19th century, followed by the vague attempts to put some limits on them during the depression in the US, and in Europe after WWII, and then the subsequent relaxing of those constraints starting with Reagan and Thatcher, more fully realized by Clinton, which have now become the rallying concepts for all the “center left” and “center right” parties that have taken over Europe. Among those relaxations was allowing media companies to take part in the natural tendency of capitalism to consolidate small companies into ever bigger conglomerates (and there is a parallel with the amazingly rapid rise and concentration of the “new media” of the internet into a small handful of mega-corporations, probably because it was unregulated towards corporate control despite having started as, essentially, a public utility). What is always the difference of the now relative to the past is technology, leading to an ever more rapid and invasive control of the individual by the largely mindless evil that are mega-corporations, whose very legal structure allows only those who submit body and soul to the rules of international capitalism to be major power players. It may seem like dot com billionaires did not do this, but the reality is that their billions came by transforming their little app into a mega-corporation, and their wealth is tied to the corporate structure. Some embrace, some try to alleviate their conscience by setting up foundations (Jeff Skoll anyone?), some make vague protests, but, really, what Apple has become has next to nothing to do with the dreams or wishes of Woz when he put together the first Apple 1. What is interesting/terrifying is that the only governments that really seem to be trying to limit corporation power creep are dictatorships.

  17. Technology probably has some part in it.

    After WWII there were a whole lot of war-surplus machine guns floating around, and we were still making a whole lot of ammo. Wars of national liberation were more practical than before. With automatic weapons, poorly-trained amateurs could lay down a great big field of fire, and so many unsuspecting veterans could die from it that it just wasn’t worth putting down those revolutionaries. All of a sudden it *mattered* what the people of subject nations thought.

    But now we have armor that can stop rifle fire. So we’re back to something more like knights versus peasants. It might be possible to run a military occupation in ways that were just not practical for a lifetime. The armor doesn’t prevent concussion, though. We’re getting a whole lot of brain-damaged soldiers who would have been dead in the old days.

    If boots-on-the-ground occupation isn’t so important, we have drones that can blow stuff up from a distance where you don’t notice they’re in the air. Much much cheaper than manned warplanes. I’m not at all clear how the new military technologies will work out.

    Surveillance is also much much cheaper. In the old days, if a suspect had access to a car and you wanted to know where he went, you needed at a minimum 3 people and a car to follow him around. Better to have at least 2 cars. They might lose him, and he was likely to notice he was being followed. Nowadays, in a city you just register that you’re following him and then the cameras at the intersections note the car wherever it goes. It isn’t completely accurate but it’s much much cheaper.

    Wiring a phone took an actual trip to the location, and then somebody had to be ready to listen to the phone calls. Now you can track who called who entirely automatically, and follow up on individual conversations at leisure, and there’s software that can do voice keyword recognition so if you pick the right keywords you can zero in on interesting conversations.

    All of it — militarized police, surveillance, censorship, jails — is *cheaper* than it used to be.

    So that probably contributes to the change.

  18. Getting back to “why now?”, my pet theory (and I use “theory” here to mean moderately but not deeply informed hypothesis) is that whenever it looks like the whole world is going to shit, people look for a savior who promises an easy and reassuring solution that relieves them of responsibility for taking difficult and probably painful action to solve the problems. That’s doubly the case when most of the problems (e.g., climate change*) are too complex to understand and decide how to respond to.

    * In principle, climate change is dead simple: we need to cut CO2 emissions drastically, starting 50 years ago, or we’re all going to die. In practice, so much fear, uncertainty, and doubt have been sown that the general public has no idea what to think or who to believe. It doesn’t help that scientists are such shit communicators when it comes to explaining things to the public.

    Why is the world seemingly ending now rather than at some other time? Fears of the “end of times” is probably a historical constant. But right now, the problem stems from a confluence of a large number of painful problems that should have and could have been solved with a little careful thought and small sacrifice years ago instead of being deferred until heroic sacrifices will be required. In no particular order: a climate catastrophe, near-complete loss of employment security (core jobs being exported overseas), loss of the American dream of freedom and prosperity, broadly and rapidly declining standards of living, an immigration crisis*, America being replaced by China as the world’s dominant power, resurgent and militant Russia, crazy and hostile nuclear-armed people in North Korea and Pakistan, Boston Robotic’s (soon to be weaponized) dog robots and other “terminators”, another looming financial crisis (according to the IMF**), nearly historically unprecedented gaps between the rich and the poor***, rising rates of cancer and other causes of unpleasant death like Alzheimers, and on and on and on. In short, it’s a time when the vast majority of people feel they’ve lost control over their future in an increasingly complex and mystifying and often terrifying world, and fear that the resulting future is very dark.

    * Not Trump’s Mexicans, per se, but rather exponentially growing numbers of climate and political refugees.

    ** https://blogs.imf.org/2019/04/10/weak-spots-in-global-financial-system-could-amplify-shocks/

    *** Scientific wild-ass guess, thus possibly exaggeration to make a point.

    Now I think I need a stiff shot of whisky, and it’s not even 9 AM.

  19. I’m not sure about my reasoning here, but people generally like to see things getting better.

    So if you’re somebody big and important, and you see your wealth increasing at 10% per year, or 20%, then there’s nothing wrong with the general public increasing at 5%.

    But we’re running out of oil. It costs more every year to suck it out of the ground. It costs a lot to intimidate foreigners to give it to us. Fracking is an expensive way to get more out of depleted wells and submarginal resources.

    When you see your wealth slowly burning away, you don’t want to share.

    Meanwhile, the public is more satisfied when things are slowly getting better, than when it’s all getting worse. They’ll settle for 3% growth, or 2%. But they want more than before.

    So yes, increased repression costs. But the alternative costs at minimum 2% of GDP. And when real GDP is decreasing, the share of GDP required to get people to feel like things are improving keeps getting bigger.

    Currently healthcare is 18% of GDP and rising. People don’t FEEL like better and more expensive cancer treatments means their world is getting better.

    FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) is 20% of GDP. People don’t FEEL like their world is getting better when there is more money in banking and insurance.

    Etc. When more money is spent on jails, GDP goes up but it doesn’t improve my life (except of course that fewer criminals are on the street who might hurt me. I ought to put a sarcastic grin here except it would look too cheerful).

    Why now? There’s less to go around so the struggle for the remaining scraps gets fiercer.

  20. It’s easy to over-estimate economic reasons for people’s behavior. Yes, we can see which wars benefit which war-mongers. But people pushing various policies are also motivated by macho power. They are willing to pay more if their relative advantage over the oppressed is bigger.

  21. Populism comes about when people are frustrated, not believing that the system will make things better for us and especially our future. Often times it manifests in supporting a perceived strong man who will solve all of our problems. (although it is interesting that both Trump & Sanders got populist support in the US). I would like to study more how it’s happening around the world, but in the U.S., we can’t get away that the Republican and the neo-liberal politicians are dependent upon Big Money with no sign of being willing to change that.

  22. Agree with the frustrated, but would add fear/distress that the system is too complex to understand. I think fear drives people more strongly than frustration, and find fear easier to empathize with. That empathy weakens my native misanthropy.

    I think it’s important to remember that “only” (ouch) about half of voters chose Trump, and he lost by a large margin based on the absolute number of votes, despite ruthless voter suppression by the Republicans and tampering by the Russians. Not to mention that all the electronic voting machines are hackable in minutes by a tweenage amateur (http://time.com/5366171/11-year-old-hacked-into-us-voting-system-10-minutes/). The margin would have been much greater with all legitimate votes counted, and Trump might even have lost. That means (very simplistically put) that at least half of the voting populace understood he was a poor choice.

    From the “glass half full” perspective, this means there’s a deeply divided populace, but that at least some people have a clue and are willing to grapple with complexity and vote with their head. From the “glass half empty” perspective, it means that roughly half the populace just wants to be told what to do and think. Reality is somewhere between those extremes, but the “half empty” group frankly scares me. They’re ripe for exploitation by another Trump.

  23. It isn’t that half the voters chose Trump.

    Close to 40% of voters did not vote. That’s more than voted for any party. A bit less than 30% voted for Trump, and a bit less than 30% voted for Clinton.

    A poll showed that about half the voters who favored Clinton primarily wanted Clinton, and about half of them were primarily voting against Trump. Similarly, about half the voters who favored Trump primarily wanted Trump, and the other half were primarily voting against Clinton.

    So the ones to worry about are the roughly 15% who actually wanted Trump, and the roughly 15% who actually wanted Clinton. The others were just doing the best they knew how to limit their losses.

  24. Thanks for the more exact figures. My post implicitly assumed that the proportions of voters for each candidate corresponded to the proportions for people who didn’t vote, which seems roughly correct based on your statistics. The 15% are clearly important, and that number is small enough to reduce my despair slightly. But it’s still 1 in 7 people, which is depressingly high.

  25. It’s 30%, which I find quite depressing. Half of them Democrats. But half of the voters would be worse.

    There are claims floating around that the percent that didn’t vote is around 43% to 44%. But the government claims it’s around 38% to 39%. And it hasn’t changed much over the years. I’m not at all sure who to believe. I have some tendency to believe the official government numbers because they *can* collect better data, but I don’t know whether they *do* release the most accurate numbers.


  26. According to the US Census, the US population in 2016 was 323,400,000.
    The total population 18 and over (https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/cps/tables/p20/580/table01.xlsx) was 245,502,000 and the Total citizen population 18 and over was 224,059,000.

    So, we start out with 77,898,000 being unable to vote because of age and another 21,443,000 unable to vote from citizenship status.

    The 61.4% voting from you table can be seen in row 8, column L of the above table. Note that this is people reporting voting and in Table 1a they give the margin of error as 0.3%. The number of people reporting having voted is then 137,537,000.

    If you base your not voting percent on the total 18 and over you get the 43 to 44% numbers. I am guessing those reports (that I haven’t seen) used total over 18 rather than total citizens over 18.

  27. Thank you, Steve. As usual, when we look at the details it turns murky and vague.

    The census bureau voting records come from a carefully randomized sample of about 60,000 people. They ask people whether they were registered to vote, and whether they voted. The censur bureau extrapolates the results to the whole population.

    People lie and misremember.

    They estimated around 3 million felons who could not register, and about 5 million citizens overseas that wouldn’t be in their survey. 70% said they were registered, 15% said they were not registered, and 15% didn’t say.

    61% said they voted, 24% said they didn’t vote, 15% didn’t say.

    This is basicly worthless. If you didn’t show up to vote in person and had them tell you whether you could vote or not, then you don’t know whether you were registered.

    Some of the people who didn’t say whether they voted might have voted. Assuming nobody lied or misremembered, the random samples could indicate anywhere from 61% to 76% voted. Assuming there’s no bias in the sampling.

    Here is another approach that looks superficially better. They get 136.7 million votes for president. They confirm your conclusions. Counting the whole voting-age population they get 55% voted for president. Removing felons etc they bring it up to 59%, and counting ballots that didn’t vote for president they get 60% voted.


  28. That’s a good link Jonah. So, we have about 28% of the eligible voters voting for Clinton and 27% voting for Trump and 40% didn’t vote at all. As Jonah said above, a good percentage of votes on either side were votes against the other candidate. This poll gives that number as 28% for each. That’s about 7.6% each so 15% total voted out of dislike.
    It seems quite likely that a very hefty percentage of the 40% not voting were a dislike for both candidates. This poll gives that number as 25%. Note that poll is on registered voters. The other large percentage would be voter suppression efforts.

    All of this shows that there is a pretty big pool of people who don’t like the choices they are being given. This ties back to the original post in indicating that there are currently a large percentage of people in the US who don’t like the candidate choices they are being given. Why they don’t like those choices would be another level of digging to do.

  29. In 2016 I watched an online poll that gave data about reasons people voted. Online polls are generally less respected, although they gave results which came closer to the real results in the last week or so. My reason for paying attention to that poll was that it released new results every few days, so it gave me something to make me think I knew more. Though the results were typically +-3%, as usual. I was interested in Green Party, and they usually polled 2-3%, which didn’t really mean anything. They went up to 4%, they went down to 2%, it was worthless.

    In that poll, half the voters said they wanted Trump to stop Clinton, and vice versa. However, I noticed that 90% of them said they were going to vote. We’ve never had voting that high. So something was clearly off about it. Still I watched it change, and I wrote about it as if it was real. I just noticed that I was still doing that. I think one of the reasons they ranked that reason to vote so high was that they provided fewer reasons to choose among. I think there were only 4 choices instead of many more.

    I think none of these polls are at all reliable. But they’ve the best we have to back up opinions about what was going on in people’s minds.

  30. Back to the original question.

    It isn’t *really* worse now. Just, now is when it’s important.

    Kennedy beat Nixon by claiming there was a “missile gap”. That the USSR was ahead on nuclear missiles, and we had to catch up. Nixon did not have a good response, he’d never heard of a missile gap. It turns out it didn’t exist. But we built ICBMs at an increased rate and so did the Russians. That came out of GDP — instead of using those resources to make consumer products people wanted or machinery to make better tools, we used it to make missiles that would kill everybody if they were ever used. But people felt kind of rich, things were getting better, and if they got better slower than they would have otherwise it was no big deal.

    Johnson wanted his Great Society and he also wanted to win the Vietnam War. He knew Congress wouldn’t approve doing both. So he fudged the numbers, and Congress didn’t know they were paying for both. The numbers that the administration and the Fed used to make decisions were systematically falsified, and the economy did some crazy things. It got so bad that Nixon put in price controls, and then Kissinger accidentally told the Shah it was OK for OPEC to raise prices. He was busy thinking about Vietnam and the Israel war. The economy suffered from our self-inflicted wounds, but it was strong enough that things weren’t all that bad.

    I could go on, but the bottom line is that the government has been doing stupid things all along, and while we were basicly running the First World, it didn’t matter that much.

    The media reported bad things about Nixon, things that they had kept quiet about previous presidents. He swore like a sailor. He was a crook. They tried to make Carter look bad — he was a Christian and out of stupid ethical concerns he let bad things happen — the Panama Canal treaty, Iran, etc. They let GHWB look kind of bad. They revealed all kinds of bad things about Clinton. He ate fast food and fucked women who weren’t his wife. It’s just gradually gotten to the point that the media makes politicians look worse and worse. The politicians aren’t that much worse than before, they just look worse because of the media. Trump is probably no worse than Harding. He gets worse press.

    And it’s more important that he ought to do the right thing, but like the others
    he doesn’t.

  31. Agreed, but with a minor quibble. According to James Dunnigan (“How to Make War”, 4th ed.), who seems a credible military historian, the “missile gap” was “sort of” real. The Russians have traditionally relied on a “quantity rather than quality” approach to weapon systems because their weapons were unreliable and inaccurate, in part due to the technology gap compared with the U.S. So they probably did have more missiles in absolute terms. But in terms of effectiveness, the U.S. probably had an overwhelming edge in the ability to actually hit and damage a target even before they began ramping up production. Semi-credible folk like Jerry Pournelle claim that one of the primary reasons for the buildup of ICBMs and subsequently Star Wars was to bankrupt the Soviet Union’s economy, not to actually provide a “missile shield”. Based on some of what Dunnigan wrote and some other things I’ve read here and there, this seems plausible, though I haven’t done the digging into primary sources to see whether it’s both plausible and correct.

  32. Humans seem to have a predilection for not dealing with known/predictable problems until it is (at best) just about too late. Then, when the predictable problem becomes (gasp) a problem, we tend to blame the last person who was in the vicinity of the problem.

    You can see this in sports all the time where one player commits an error and everyone focuses blame upon them as The Reason the team lost. Well, the team lost because they didn’t score more points than the other team. The single error only loomed large as the combination of all of the other failures of the team.

    So, too, do countries go. Every president has failings. Some have more, some less. There are, however, 300 million (or 7 billion) other people on the team at the moment depending on how one wants to count the Team. We all need to think together or we will sink together.

  33. Geoff, I also have a minor quibble, the missile gap was Kennedy, while the later buildup and Star Wars was Reagan.

    I don’t know what they were thinking. Probably the Russians could have done just fine without copying our giant military buildup. It’s possible that they in fact did not copy it but only pretended to, and still fell apart for other reasons.

    Any way I look at our strategy there it doesn’t make sense. Unless we supposed that we could tell the Russians “We can kill you and you can’t kill us, so you have to do what we say” and expect that to work.

    On the other hand, what they did looks a lot like surrender and restructuring on our terms. I dunno.

  34. Fair enough. I was thinking of it more as an overall process — kind of an evolutionary escalation — rather than trying to pin it down to specific eras or nations.

    There’s no question the world would be a much better place if Russia had ignored the U.S. and the escalation had never occurred. The money spent on defense during the cold war and today could have cured cancer, eliminated poverty, and established a permanent base on Mars. (Wild-ass guess, of course, based on the $700 billion U.S. defense budget for 2018, versus $21 billion for NASA and $172 billion for medical research. Priorities, huh?)

    Dunnigan’s statistics suggest, but do not prove, that the Russians actually copied the West, though it’s always hard to pin down who led and who followed. I suspect the Russians largely followed the west rather than driving the west. Conspiracy theorists would undoubtedly suggest the military-industrial complexes of Russia and the West did a handshake deal in 1945 to ensure continuing escalation and fat profits for the next half century. *evil grin*

  35. “Conspiracy theorists would undoubtedly suggest the military-industrial complexes of Russia and the West did a handshake deal in 1945 to ensure continuing escalation and fat profits for the next half century.”


    I’ve seen the claim that whenever one government threatened to cut military funding, the other military did something threatening and got that possibility off the table. It doesn’t take a formal agreement or even a conscious choice for that to happen.

    However, it might be hard to do statistics on that. It might just as easily turn out that whenever one military needed to keep their budget, they publicized something that was really business-as-usual to look like a giant threat.

    Israel used to do that with Hezbollah. When Israeli election times approached, they would take some normal event and publicize it as an attack that they had to strke Lebanon for. So they could get a flashy military action that would bring them votes. That went on until once they invaded Lebanon and took some casualties. Hezbollah did far worse of course, but the fact that Israel lost five tanks and over 100 dead caused a giant shock and they haven’t attacked Lebanon since except for airstrikes.

  36. With all due respect to the discussion in the comments thus far, I would like to respond instead to the op.

    Why Trump and why now? I posit that Trump is now a thing because Things Are Getting Worse.

    Wages are stagnant, the water is full of lead, healthcare, housing and food costs are soaring. Even though the mainstream media has been insisting for years that everything is going great, and the poor are only poor because of their own moral failings, more and more people in the U.S. are starting to wake up to the fact that neoliberal economic policy as practiced by both corporate political parties has well and truly fucked them. But you can listen to Marketplace every afternoon to see how the stocks held by the wealthy few are doing!

    So along comes a guy who admits the truth, something CNN and NPR and MSNBC would never do. So a lot of folks voted for him even though he has always been a transparent charlatan and a fraud. Because he said NAFTA was a bad deal and by the way let’s NOT go to war against Russia.

    The alternative was (Clinton) and is (Biden) the very embodiment of those same neoliberal policies. If the corporate Dems prevail and get Biden to be the nominee in 2020 as seems likely, I think Trump will win again for the same reasons he won in 2016.

  37. Kragar, I agree completely. But the working class woke up to this a decade ago. Obama seemed to sympathize with the problems, but in the end delivered only a little bit.

    Today, the DNC must be aware of the issues facing working class people. Trouble is, the DNC doesn’t care. Their loyalty (including Pelosi and Biden) is to big business and the moneyed class. For that reason, even though Biden is a high risk candidate (like Clinton was), the DNC wants Biden. Because anyone else would give the power to a progressive candidate. Something the money base does not want. Better to lose than give up power.

  38. I am reminded of a quote from Athyra. Savn: “Do you remember how you said those who explore the world see people as objects, and mystics act like people don’t really exist at all?” “Yes,” said Vlad. And, “Oh.”

    Many years ago, I was involved in a discussion about personal values. Seems most of us valued life, although we disagreed on the specifics. Generally speaking, I don’t find the system of “rights” to have much other than purely legal meaning, and of course law only ever has as much strength as society is willing to invest in it. (And do we ever think in terms of a corresponding list of personal obligations to our social structure, to match the rights we are given? Are we only to be takers and not also givers in our turn?) For whatever it is worth, my personal conception of any inherent value of life inherently also requires the ability to earn what is needed to preserve a reasonable quality of life. Especially, I do not think of the lives of others as being more abstract or disposable than my own.

    Out of sheer curiosity: how many of you honestly feel that you and your children are *likely* to be one of the victims (dead or seriously disabled) of the growing civil unrest, or for that matter even of COVID-19?

    Make no mistake: as things are heading now, the U.S. is seeing the opening salvos of a new civil war. A few of you (especially second-gen immigrants) just might suspect, from immediate family history, what that means. (I don’t think any of you knows it from personal experience.) In particular, the U.S. is a country which was built out of schism and war and which selects for these anew every single generation. As a result, there are very old, very deep fault lines running through the social fabric that makes up the U.S. Even if things seem to back from the brink this time, the tension won’t stop building up. On the soon side of eventually, it will release.

    A very few of you have mentioned how economics hits home, and the recognition that, even for the middle class, things are not as good as they were, although people on the street won’t agree upon the reason. A popular consensus here focuses on wealth, inequality, and a system based on property which needs to be swept away. Others say that the kids today just don’t have the get-up-and-go that was the “norm” when they grew up — *they* succeeded through hard work and gumption, so why can’t the kids? Still others insist that the immigrants (legal or otherwise) are taking all the jobs or driving down the wages. Never mind the incidental economic shifts caused by the sheer numbers of the baby boomers, the eroding value of wages post 1970s, the declining investment in all education (and especially everything not specifically job-focused), the higher educational requirements for even the most basic white-colour jobs, the increasing shift toward enabling dividend income at the expense of wage income …

    I focus on middle class: since all of you clearly have a computer (probably a smartphone as well), a (probably streaming-level) Internet connection, and a reasonable amount of leisure time. I doubt these discussions would be happening in the richest households. At the same time, most people who have not lived it cannot even conceive of what making do really means in the lowest quintile of the population today. When do we ever see them on television, except during some kind of disaster? When you call for revolution, do you realize that this lowest cadre of society is always going to be hurt the hardest?

    Yet by itself, even the widest of wide-screen awareness cannot suggest a broad-based change of direction against the existing inertia of the status quo. Nor should we think of the status quo as stable, any more than we should think of infrastructure, once installed, as forever. Entropy is our natural state. Without constant improvement, things will decay.

    It is human nature to try to find something / someone / some singular event to blame. When everything increasingly devolves to politics, the political parties come to personify all that is right or wrong about the “new” approach. Especially in a (false) political dichotomy, people who lean Democrat will tend to blame the Republicans for their previous governing and their obstruction, and people who lean Republican will tend to blame the Democrats for their previous governing and their obstruction. Since parties switch out roughly every decade, there are plenty of targets of opportunity.

    At the same time, government spending constantly mushrooms. Inevitably! Every single time when a new administration / governing party tries to initiate a new direction, it creates new subdepartments without ever completely eliminating the old ones. Every single time when a new administration / governing party tries to rein in a bloated department, it creates a new layer of watchdog governance. It is not the inherent nature of government to bloat. It is the nature of an *untrusted* government to bloat. When tax dollars evaporate this way, is there any wonder the pennies earned in everyday real life follow suit?

    So there have long been plenty of blame and targets and swamp available for a gifted demagogue to put to use … and not just in the U.S. either, although the specific callout of the U.S. cult of individualism tends not to export too well. (In some places, that may be changing.) Xenophobia does not have a U.S. copyright, nor blaming of the elite / deplorables. Earnings have been collapsing in many parts of the world well before COVID-19 kicked over the bucket. Turkey and the rest of Europe were dealing with Syrian civil war migrants before Trump’s call to arms against the illegal immigrant caravans. Germany has been struggling to try to hold the EU together, especially after the 2008 economic crisis, even while its own Cold War roots are once again showing familiar fault lines. Are any of the countries involved in the Arab spring truly better off today? Are most of their people?

    (Btw Trump should not be thought of as Republican or Democrat. He is out for himself. He simply happens to be a particularly gifted dog-whistler, a master of creating wrestling mini-plots to tap into an increasingly toxic partisan zeitgeist for fun and personal profit. As it turned out, a larger percentage of the GOP than the Democrats was willing to buy into the budding democracy-based kleptocracy which fed on Tea Party populism. Of course, neither Trump, nor the GOP, nor the Democrats for that matter, really get that they won’t be able to control the building whirlwind.)

    Not one of you has mentioned the Internet, or social media — and yet, even though I would bet it is a large and influential part of your daily lives, the omission is not really curious. After all, these comment threads tend to focus heavily on the control of information by increasingly few outlets. For the record, I do consider this to be a serious concern — mostly in the sense that reliance on those few outlets limits our knowledge and frames our data.

    Take a simple camera angle amid the protests. A photograph taken of a protest crowd on the near-level will give a sense of flaunting social distance while wearing masks; but a photo taken of the same crowd from above will often show that social distancing measures were taken in addition to masking. Current studies of those involved in the protests are indicating that those protests were not COVID-19 super-spreader events, but only one of those photographs will show you a significant part of the reason — and neither of those photographs will give any hint as to either why or what next.

    (It is worth remembering that the American Revolution began with riots which damaged businesses and personal property, even before the shooting began.)

    However, our choices in all types of media really only give us what the majority of us want. Our eyeballs are $$, so each time we watch, each time we listen, each time we surf: we vote with our eyeballs. Why would most people search for things they don’t want to hear?

    This stream has three major forks. The first is that life-in-mass-media is not usually proportionally representative of actual life. After all, do you post your ugliest moments to your Instagram account, or your happiest ones? Do you show the drab everyday, or your important moments? Do other people, seeing our pictures, assess our lives accurately? This one has particular resonance with triggering events such as the Arab Spring.

    The second fork is that we tend to look for media information which reinforces our beliefs about the world and about ourselves and our self image. Logically, first Google and then other search / social media sites made algorithms to help us find only those sites that we want to find — which reinforce what we already think. We all “know” the divisions between CNN and Fox, but we also only tune into the radio stations which play the kind of music we like and the kind of talk we like to hear. Heck, with satellite radio, we don’t even have to tune in to a local radio station while driving through a town anymore — so we learn that much less about that town. If we want to believe that the Taylor protests were COVID-19 super-spreader events, we will find both mass and social media (usually visual) evidence to support our views — and science be damned.

    (Brust (sorry, I don’t feel we know each other well enough for a casual “Steve”, and I won’t simply make the movie-star assumption that you ought to accept that familiarity from me, never mind how familiar I am with your work) mentioned in a different thread, in the context of melting icecaps, that worry changes nothing. This is true. However, apathy changes nothing either. For some people, worry may be a necessary intermediate step to recognizing that a problem even exists. The ideal, then, is that concern will translate to useful action, eg. mitigation of increasing flooding issues in flood-prone areas.)

    The third fork is simple entertainment. From sitcoms to Disneyland to home videogames to alcohol, the modern western middle class is a very heavily entertainment-focused culture. Extremely few people (proportionate to population) undertake the kind of reading which would allow them to quote classics, philosophy, practical science the way that Vlad Taltos does. How many people even comprehend the science-specific meanings of theory, data, and proof? How many times have you seen posts in a comment section where assumptions about a writer substituted for reading comprehension? Bluntly, the vast majority of us think of thinking — really thinking — as hard work. We already put in our hard work time at work. As the song says: “Everybody’s working for the weekend.”

    In fact, without active and ongoing analytic discussion about the subject of the show, watching television tends to induce a passive alpha state. Binge-watching may compact more show into a short time, but studies are showing that we remember less of it than watching separated episodes.

    Some of you have touched tangentially on the false dichotomy of thinking in terms of A or B: censorship vs no censorship. However, no one has mentioned that the flip side of no censorship perhaps ought to be ensuring the kind of education which teaches children — all children — how to think critically: which is very much not the same thing as modern skillset approaches to education. (In fact, having a high earning potential almost requires the exact opposite.) Today’s college and university education gives out bachelor degrees for a very, very wide assortment of skillsets, most of them tightly targeted toward specific jobs. Once the degree is acquired, why wouldn’t the newly alumned have complete faith that they are now completely educated? and qualified to offer opinions on anything under the sun? Has our society taught them to think any differently? Remember (the movie) “The Wizard of Oz”?

    “Back where I come from we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts — and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got! A diploma!”

    (A compounding factor in the highly individualistic U.S. Increasingly, studies are showing that a growing percentage of both parents and children think of themselves as above average. In some recent studies, as many as 87% of the subjects (from a diverse, average pool) assessed themselves to be above average. This is, of course, impossible — by definition — yet we see its effects everywhere: in effects as diverse as inflated grades, bloated military ribbons, and QAnon’s self-perceived ability to “uniquely” comprehend the “suppressed” truth of things. Throw in the Dunning-Kruger effect, and, well …)

    One of the best solutions to teach children how to comprehend, distill, and analyze information obtained through mass/social media is media literacy education — but very few curriculums include anything of the sort. The most common parental approach is variants on the V-chip — which, again, teaches children nothing about how to think about what they encounter, just that (just like alcohol) they get free run when they are old enough.

    I don’t often comment on blogs I run into, and I do realize that I am more than a year behind this conversation. In part this is because I don’t use the computer for casual social media. (The website link was my one attempt, two decades ago. A different company runs it now, with different software, but surprisingly it still lingers.) Had I belonged to a fan Twitter or Facebook feed, I suspect I would have learned about this blog long ago, since I have been following the various Brust novels for years. It so happened that, as I was re-reading Orca, I started noticing the Trump parallels (anyone remember the Trump Shuttle?), and then I remembered the savings and loan crisis. I did some focused searching — and here I am, with this offering in response to the OP question. Why Trump now? Because he is the living embodiment of our times: everything we like about them, everything we hate about them, everything we fear about them. In the U.S., the focus of the movement turned out to be wrestling-style mini-plots tailored for the failing middle class, run by a former WWE personality — and since all these things are initially elected democratically, many, many laws have been passed (and protections allowed to lapse) to minimize the vote and any possible challenges from other demographics. Elsewhere, the populist demagogues tend to be a bit more nakedly autocratic.

    One final thought. Here, as elsewhere, it seems to be the common consensus that we must choose between a capitalistic structure or a communistic structure. Property ownership vs property sharing. Wages or dividends. To me, however, these are the two sides of a single coin: they are both economics-dominated systems. We have had other vast dominating structures in the past, such as religion and nationalism. Maybe the time has come, not to sweep aside one economics-based structure in favour of another, but to sweep aside economics-based structures entirely? There are some who have been doing work to try to envision a post-economic world.

  39. Tenebris:In the sense that you are using the phrase “post-economic”, I would assert that the path of actual Socialism to Communism is just such an attempt to move to a post-economic world.
    Systems of human arrangement, from hunter-gatherer through feudalism, capitalism, socialism can be seen as a continuum with massive friction points at the boundary points as one system evolves into another.

  40. lots of nice points Tenebris, but your last one : the economy rules everthing, the different structures you mention were just a more contrived way of doing economics without seeming to.

  41. The riots this week were all about anger at the power elite without a coherent alternative, and thus quite exemplary of Trumpism in general.

  42. At the same time, many of the people involved were part of power structures. They flew in on 7 million dollar planes, or took a couple of days off from being state legislators, ceos and members of police forces.
    Not that they recognize any contradictions between what they say, what they do and who they are.
    Incoherent anger is a good description although some had planned ahead—they brought zip ties.

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