The psychology of becoming president

Earlier today, I became aware of a nearly three-month old article on Scientific American that psychoanalyzes Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.   There’s no question that this article captures pretty much everything that we’ve seen from The Donald since he announced his intention to seek the presidency.   

And when I read it, I couldn’t help but think of WikiLeaks.   

Not the internal emails to and from Hillary Clinton’s advisor John Podesta.  I mean some of the information they got from Chelsea Manning while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State.  

One of the big scandals in that data dump, was that we maintained psychological profiles of foreign leaders, complete with guidance on the best tactics to use when dealing with them.   

I remember thinking at the time that this was interesting information and not exceptionally surprising even if some of the information might be less-than-flattering to both our allies and enemies.  Surely other lead diplomats in other countries maintain similar profiles; one wonders, for example, what the Russian foreign ministry thinks about President Obama, psychologically.   Conceptually, I wouldn’t be surprised if the only thing that’s truly changed about these profiles in the past, say, 500 years is the technology behind the way these profiles are maintained and the formalization of the language used.  

And I have little doubt that Hillary has had someone on her staff at least since Donald Trump became the GOP nominee, documenting him the same way foreign leaders were documented for her in the State Department.   Just look at her performance in all three debates.  And the people who spoke at the convention.  

She knew exactly how to push Trump’s buttons and baited him each time.  Whether it’s Khizr Khan at the convention, or Alicia Machado, or his tax returns, or the tape where he bragged of grabbing women by the pussy, or even last night the claim that the Emmys were rigged, he fell for pretty much everything she threw at him.  And she gave him just enough rope to hang himself.  This was most evident in both the second and third debates where Trump started out reasonably calm but after about a half hour he was becoming more visibly agitated.   

(Note: since I haven’t spoken about pussygate, I’ll just say that the scandal isn’t the use of the word “pussy”.  That’s arguably the single most common slang term for vagina and to be outraged at the use of the word is at best naive to the point of stupidity.   The outrage is in the act of bragging about the grabbing without regard to whether the person being grabbed, wanted to be grabbed…)

There’s no doubt in my mind that Hillary Clinton learned a great deal as our country’s chief diplomat, some of which we only know due to WikiLeaks.   And the simple truth is that she used it to her advantage to do to Donald Trump what sixteen republicans couldn’t do in the primaries.  

What next?

My relationship with the death penalty is a complex one, as I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions on this blog in the past. (Most recently I was talking about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving brother from the bombing of the Boston Marathon a couple of years ago.)

It would thus make sense, then, that a figure such as Timothy McVeigh should so readily personify this complexity on the topic.   I simultaneously agree with the fact that he was executed, and wonder what we might have lost by the fact that he’s no longer alive.  I wonder what my children and their children will learn about, with regard to him, when future history books are written and taught.   

Some facts are beyond dispute: following the standoff with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians in Waco, TX, Timothy McVeigh (already a part of a militia) perceived the greater incident as something he had been fearing for some time: the government really is coming to take away everyone’s guns.   

So he decided to strike back; it’s not a coincidence that he waited until exactly two years later to execute his retaliatory plan.  His hope, as he stated in more than one interview before his execution, was that he would inspire more people to join militias and prevent government intrusion on our liberties, most notably the second amendment.  

I remember reading more than one news article as the date of his execution grew closer, how he had failed in that goal and that militia membership was down, at least partially due to his own actions.  

That was in 2001, a mere three months (to the date) before 9/11, and a full seven years before the election of a black president.  

I haven’t researched enough to know if this is a true cause-effect relationship but militia membership has certainly grown since the 2008 election of Barack Obama.  Indeed, just over six months after he took the oath of office, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a report on the rise of right-wing, anti-government militias.   

Whatever else is true, Donald Trump has tapped into the anger that fuels these militias.  He’s not the first and won’t be the last to do so.   The anger was already there, though.   And you can go back at least to the election of Woodrow Wilson in 1912 to find propaganda that argues that putting a politician like him (read: liberal) means that the government is coming for your guns next.   

(Side note: Wilson himself is a bizarre case; overtly racist but otherwise progressive. He’s one of our harder presidents to crack in terms of his greater legacy.)

Someone needs to remind the consumers of that propaganda, that it hasn’t happened and likely won’t.   All Timothy McVeigh saw in Waco was the government trying to stop a law abiding citizen and missed all of his criminal activity.   He apparently even missed the most embarrassing fact in the original action that led to the standoff: federal agents were outgunned.   

I am a huge proponent of all of the rights and freedoms afforded to us by the constitution, especially those enumerated by the Bill of Rights, and that does include the right to keep and bear arms, even though I personally have no interest in owning a gun.   

I am far more worried about the erosion of other rights, such as due process, unreasonable search and seizure, and the right to a speedy trial.   The first, fourth, and sixth amendments are certainly more in jeopardy than the second.  It is just downright false in this day and age to argue that we need to preserve the second amendment in order to safeguard the others.   

But Trump has been expressing the anger that feeds to the misconception that the second amendment provides the most important right guaranteed by the constitution.  What will happen to his followers when he loses the election in a couple of weeks?  They’ll keep arguing that the government is coming for your guns, just like they have been for more than a hundred years.   Cliven Bundy and his son Ammon will see to that.   They’re the next generation Timothy McVeighs.  

The final skirmishes of the culture wars

A couple of years ago, after the death of Hiroo Onoda, we were reminded about how, for some people, World War II didn’t actually end in August, 1945, after the United States unleashed the only recorded deployments of weapons of mass destruction in world history. Between relatively slow-traveling news and a simple refusal to admit that you might have been wrong, it’s not uncommon for those who have lost a war, to be reluctant in admitting defeat.   

And, to some degree, they can be forgiven.  Wars are innately political machinations: you don’t need an outright declaration of hostilities to fight against someone with whom you disagree and neither a cease-fire nor a formal peace treaty will magically negate the anger, resentment, and similar sentiments that led to the war in the first place.  

And that’s not even getting into the relationship with what economists call “sunk costs” and the all-too-human tendency of continuing on a losing path simply because of the amount of resources spent already so stopping now would just be an admission of having wasted those resources.  

I mention this because there was an interesting article yesterday in the Christian Science Monitor about evangelicals sticking with Donald Trump in this election.  

For as long as the loosely-bound groups of Christians collectively known as the “religious right” have been politically active, there have been two central themes of their politics: racism and sexism.   The racism part is straightforward: whether we’re talking about support for Bob Jones University or opposition to the civil rights movement in the 1960’s, you could hear evangelical Christians arguing against anything that might level the political or economic playing field for those of us who, by accident of birth, have darker skin.  

The sexism part is a bit more pernicious.   It teaches that women are little more than temptresses and baby incubators.   It’s the catholic teaching that women are either virgins or whores with little else.   And it manifests itself in opposition to just about anything that teaches that human sexuality isn’t dirty.   Of course, the Roe vs Wade decision in 1973 was a catalyst and they refer to themselves as “pro-life”.  

If there was ever a more misleading term to describe a political position, it’s “pro-life”.  When my (now ex-) wife was pregnant with our first child, I went with her to several ob-gym appointments.   At one such appointment, the doctor referred to the clump of cells growing in her uterus as a parasite.  That’s exactly what he was at the time.  Sure, it was human DNA in the cells of that parasite, but he was no more human than my toenail clippings.   

If you oppose a medical procedure that has been demonstrated to be safe, and which can effectively rid your body of an unwelcome parasite, you’re not pro-life.   Sure, there are times when it’s not absolutely necessary to have the procedure, but there are times when it is.   The rest of the time, there’s a spectrum that ranges from “don’t do it” through various shades of gray to “yeah, it’s a good idea to do it.”  Your own mileage may vary.  But instead of “pro-life” perhaps a better description is “unable to trust women to make their own decisions.”

That doesn’t quite fit on a bumper sticker, I’ll grant you.  

In recent years, the religious right has branched out and opposes gay rights too.   Of course they would.   Letting gays and lesbians participate in society means tacitly acknowledging that people out there have sex for reasons other than baby-making.  And since it’s such a dirty, sinful act, why would they unless they were possessed by the devil?

But time after time after time, their efforts to control human sexuality have been rebuffed: by the people, by the courts, by the medical community, by humanity.  The culture wars are over and, to put it bluntly, they lost.  

The last few holdouts have thrown their support to Donald Trump because he has given a voice to their racist and sexist anger.  He has said exactly what they want to hear on topics that matter to them.  So what if he brags of sexual assault?  It — like all matters related to rape culture — fits into their narrative of the male dominating the female, sexually.  Even if he can say or do things that they might otherwise find abhorrent, he’s still pro-life.   

They’re really showing exactly what cards they have in their hands when they do this.  

I have long maintained that the Republican Party needs to excise itself of the demons of the religious right.  It’s my hope that that will actually happen after this coming election.  

A challenge I set myself about a week ago

I have long maintained that Donald Trump doesn’t deserve to be elected president of the United States, and it is indeed a part of Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy.   He’s a bully, thin-skinned and underprepared for the demands of what, in the aftermath of the Second World War, is the single most challenging job in the world.   A job that not only requires a great ego (which he undoubtedly has) but also a level head (which he undoubtedly does not have).   One need look no further than his performance at the first of three presidential debates this past week.   

So I set myself a challenge.   If there is such a thing as a “normal” presidential election, it usually comes down to two (maybe more, depending upon historical events) candidates who are capable of doing the job and the winner is the one who convinces the majority of the electorate that they can lead the country better than their opponent(s).   When you go to cast your individual ballot, you usually side with the candidate who more closely hews to your own beliefs and opinions.  And, for the most part, you can recognize that the other candidate is up for the job, win or lose.  

By those standards, this is not a “normal” election.  There’s no question that Hillary Clinton is up for the job and for that reason alone, she deserves my vote.  Donald Trump, however, is not.   And the current disunity within his party illustrates this point.   So I asked myself if there has ever been an election in which a major candidate was less deserving of the job, than Mr. Trump is today.   

It’s easy to argue, for example, about the legacy of any given president during and after their tenure as presidents.  The general consensus among historians is that James Buchanan was our worst president but he still had the resume and temperament to be president.  But that’s not this question.  Have there been any candidates — win or lose — who deserved to lose not on the basis of the issues but rather on the basis of the core of their being?  

The first candidate that I thought of was William Jennings Bryan.  Thanks to his infamous cross of gold speech, he seemed to want to be pastor-in-chief more than being commander-in-chief.    But by all contemporary accounts, he seemed suited to the presidency anyway.  So my distaste for him is actually based upon policy and not personality.   

It’s times like this that general information could be helpful so I turned to Wikipedia for a summary of each election and the candidates involved.   Strom Thurmond in 1948 and George Wallace in 1968 both got a frighteningly high number of electoral votes for campaigning on platforms that were overtly racist.   I guess you could make the argument that they, too, were unsuited to the presidency.   And while I don’t want to completely discount third-parties I don’t think enough people took their candidacies seriously enough to think they could actually win.   

Ross Perot in 1992 had a few “wtf” moments, like when he thought someone in the government was going to sabotage his daughter’s wedding.   See above for third party candidates and add in the fact that he got zero electoral votes.  

So at least among the losing candidates, I couldn’t find anyone.  But what about the victors?   I’ve already mentioned that Buchanan was at least suited to the office, despite his numerous missteps and general ineffectiveness.   I’m not trying to come off as sounding as if all presidents are of a common temperament (just compare Andrew Jackson to Calvin Coolidge in that realm to know how ridiculous that idea is) when I say this, but I can’t come up with a single president who didn’t take the job seriously.   Each president to date has put his own stamp on the position (and they have all been men so far, so “his” is the appropriate modifier at least for now) and it has changed dramatically since George Washington first took on the role.  But even the most bad-ass among our presidents (Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt being top among them) were up for the job all the same.   

So there you have it: in my opinion, in all of American history, Donald Trump is the least deserving of all candidates who had a legitimate shot at the presidency.  Is this what the greater democratization of the process by which each party chooses its candidates has wrought?

“Political Correctness” and Why I Hate the Phrase More than the Concept

At the beginning of the movie American Psycho, Christian Bale, in the title role, goes through his inventory of personal grooming products and explains his daily regimen involving said products.  When he tells the audience that there’s one word they’re probably thinking, the one word that came to mind for me when I saw it was “faggot.”

Last week, the popular Comedy Central @midnight had as its daily “Hashtag War” the handle of “HipHopCharities”.  One of the items that I added to Twitter that day, was United Niggaz College Fund.

At most amusement parks, there is at least one roller coaster where the track runs above the heads of the riders.  The safety restraints generally involve putting your arms through a vest-like structure that you bring in front of your chest, snap together, and then pull a belt up between your legs to connect to the vest-like structure.   If there is a diagram in the line to illustrate this, it generally has three arrows pointed at the human figures (two at the chest and one at the crotch).  You can easily give the pictures the caption of “if you’re unsure of the gender of another rider, look here.”

There are very few pictures of me out there in which I don’t have facial hair.  They do exist but they’re the rarity.  Although I have shaved it off a few times, I have had a mustache for the better part of the last 25 years.  My reason is simple: I use it to cover the scar above my lip from when I was two months old and had reconstructive surgery to repair the harelip I was born with.  

You don’t need to lecture me on the fact that each of the above paragraphs can be considered offensive to groups of people.  I know that and, quite frankly, if I were to write out a list of the slang words in the English language that I don’t use in non-academic/linguistic studies settings, the offensive language of the first two paragraphs are probably at or near the top of the list.   (Bitch and slut also would rank pretty high.  I also have a problem with the word “cunt” to refer to the whole person even if I don’t have the same problem with using the word to refer to the person’s hole….)

Harelip is a bit different.  I know that the politically correct term is “cleft lip” but that never really sounded right to me.  Maybe it’s because I’m a part of the group to which it refers.   In that regard, maybe I’m just subconsciously reclaiming the word for myself, much as the African-American community has done with the word nigger, the gay community is doing with faggot, and women do with bitch.  

I think it’s wrong to deny the existence of words designed to offend.  They exist and the ways in which we use them (or choose not to use them) speaks volumes to the content of our character.   And there’s a huge difference between language intended to elicit a laugh (as I hoped to do with my examples at the start of this entry), and language intended to demean or denigrate a person or group of people.  

The term “political correctness” has come to signify a cleansing of language so as not to offend other people.  Or, more accurately, language offensive to people who are already marginalized to some degree.  We know this because Donald Trump, who often brags about being politically incorrect, takes offense when someone attacks a group to which he belongs (remember when Ted Cruz complained about Trump’s “New York values”?)

It’s easy to offend people.   Maybe too easy.   Sometimes with our actions and sometimes with our words.  Sometimes with a carelessly thought-out statement and sometimes with language that’s designed to offend.   A simple byproduct of freedom of speech is that no one has the right not to be offended by something.   

I do think it’s interesting that people who complain about political correctness are also the ones who get offended when a football player refuses to stand for the national anthem, or when someone burns a flag in protest, or makes a statement supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement.   

Can political correctness go too far?  Sure.  But I don’t see any harm in recognizing privilege where it exists and self-regulation towards not marginalizing those who don’t share the privilege.   It’s why I’ve started calling myself a cismale, rather than just a male.  

Any more, though, it seems that people are accusing others of political correctness in an attempt to stifle some honest and, quite frankly, much needed discussion.  Those same people who complain about Colin Kaepernick or who think the Black Lives Matter movement is a terrorist organization when all they really want to see is cops who don’t kill people because of a broken tail light.  As though the statement “stop being so PC” helps anything.  

I’d rather they called me a harelip and told me to fuck myself.  At least they’d be honest about their intent and the fact that they can’t be reasoned with.  Then I could point out, accurately, that the white supremacist movement seems determined to provide counterexamples to their own arguments and be done with it.  

The Myth of Unity

In recent weeks, a lot of surrogates for the Donald Trump campaign have been making arguments in his favor that effectively say that he is the only candidate who can unify the country.

This is kind of statement is, to use a phrase steeped in a long history of political science, complete and total bullshit. (Although, in Trump’s case, he has unified a fairly large percentage of the country against him…)

That’s not to say that Hillary Clinton will unify the country either. But she’s not talking about it. She has probably learned something from watching both her husband and Barack Obama get stymied by the Republican Party on just about every major initiative they proposed. In both 1992 and 2008 the republican leadership in congress stated that they had a single goal: to make the democratic president a one-term president.

While they failed in that goal, they did a great job of sowing disunity despite the more than conciliatory tones of the presidents themselves. (Indeed, President Obama can be criticized for his somewhat idealistic attempts to appeal to and appease the opposition more than his supporters.)

In a true democracy, unity among the electorate on just about any topic, is an impossible goal. It’s why 55% of the vote for a given candidate is considered a landslide. To put that in perspective, in American football, a team that wins 55% of its games (in a 16 game season, winning 9 games is 56%) will probably end up watching the playoffs from their living room. Hockey and baseball teams with a 55% winning percentage have a slightly better shot at being in the playoffs. Basketball teams with that winning percentage might make the playoffs but will certainly go down in flames early on.

Disunity is a natural consequence of having different priorities. Donald Trump’s message does not resonate with me at all. This is at least partially because I don’t see immigration — legal or otherwise — as a pressing concern to our country. I happen to work with a large number of non-US citizens (both immigrants and people living in other countries) and they contribute quite a bit to a healthy and vibrant workplace.

I’m much more concerned about the environment, women’s rights, and healthcare. With regard to one sub-point within this list (and it overlaps all three items here), I am decidedly pro-choice on abortion. Other than drawing a line in the human gestational period after which the procedure shouldn’t be performed unless there were a danger to the mother’s life (and I’m certainly open to discussion of where that line ought to be; I should presume it might be around about a point where the fetus is viable on its own outside of the womb) I see no reason for any restrictions on the procedure. I might even come close to arguing that we need to perform more abortions every year.

That last part might come a bit too close to eugenics for my own comfort so I’m not quite going to make that kind of an argument, but overpopulation is a serious problem. So let’s just ask the question of how many more abortions would be performed every year if we were to lift all unnecessary restrictions.

The very fact that I take this position means that, if I were to seek elective office, there would be no shortage of people who wouldn’t vote for me. Depending upon the overall political leanings of the region I would represent, it might even doom my candidacy. (As might my atheism but that’s the stuff of another blog entry…)

One of my oldest blog entries on this site was about how the phrase “under god” in the pledge of allegiance undermines the word that immediately follows it: indivisible. Indeed, the very mention of a deity sows a great deal of disunity.

A shrewd political candidate should not be seeking unity. He or she should seek tolerance and respect, even for positions with which they disagree.

And we can start by having two functional political parties in this country. Right now there’s one functioning party and one that is constantly doing nothing other than wasting time investigating minor missteps by people in the other party.

Feeding the Persecution Complex

It has come to my attention that tonight, in an exclusive one-night engagement in select movie theatres, a movie called The Insanity of God will be screened for all paid ticket holders.   

I confess that I like the title.  When I looked into the movie, I quickly lost the initial hope that it might point out some of the more ridiculous claims of the bible (and maybe other religious texts, too).   You know, a reasonable and maybe entertaining follow-up to movies like   The God Who Wasn’t There or Religulous.   Boy, was I wrong.   

The movie is apparently based upon a book of the same title, referred to with the adjective of “best-selling”.   A quick check on Amazon reveals two unique incidents of the book through its various selling partners, one of which has five reviews and one with over 1000. (1,118 as of this writing).   By comparison, How To Avoid Huge Ships has more reviews, despite the sarcasm in most of them.   

Somehow I doubt that this book sells or has sold all that well, especially outside of the circles to which it has been marketed.  Maybe even within those circles.  

It’s weird.   I do agree that persecutions of members of minority faiths and the faithless around the world, is a serious problem.  In recent years, there has been an uptick in machete attacks on secularists in Bangladesh.  ISIL is committing genocide against Christians.   The Donald Trump presidential campaign is feeding distrust and hatred towards Muslims and Sikhs.   

But let me make it clear that Christian missionaries are not heroes and are not to be looked up to.   It’s one thing to practice your faith, but it’s something completely different to try to impose your beliefs where they’re not wanted, welcome, or even appreciated.   

It’s one thing to travel to a place that’s been ravaged by war, famine, or natural disaster and offer food, water, shelter, clothing, medicines, and other basic necessities.   That’s a good idea and should be encouraged.   But to attach a religious worldview — a message that basically says “believe in my god or suffer more” — to those gifts is rude, presumptuous, and makes people question your intentions.   

How about doing a good deed because it’s a good thing to do?   I know from personal experience that helping the needy, offering as little as a hand to a complete stranger, makes you feel sufficiently good and is truly its own reward.   For an easy (and quite simple) example, I keep a set of jumper cables in my car at all times.   Although I don’t know the exact number of times I’ve used them, I have overwhelmingly used them more often to get other people’s cars going than I have for my own car.  

When I hear stories of missionaries getting kidnapped, injured, or even killed while on a mission to some place in Africa or Asia, my heart goes out to their families and friends.   But their fate was somewhat predictable.  They were asking for trouble.   Kind of like wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt to a Donald Trump campaign rally in Mississippi.   (Or even an Obama hope shirt).  

The insanity of god?   No.  More like the insanity and stupidity of some of his followers.