We are all Florida now

Over at the Miami Herald, there is an article about “Twenty life lessons to be learned from the Stormy Daniels/Donald Trump affair, as illuminated by the Wall Street Journal, Slate.com and, fittingly, InTouch Weekly magazine”. The author is…Carl Hiaasen. I read it, and it suddenly sunk in that this situation is exactly what would happen in a Hiaasen novel: bumbling, incompetent crooks, corruption at all levels of government, and now I expect a resolution that does not involve the wheels of justice grinding towards certainty, but chance and chaos terminating a series of coincidences.

I also think that maybe there is something to that “whole universe is a simulation” nonsense, if we’re willing to admit that it is coded as a tragic comic-opera spiced with absurdity.

Bad, not mad

I like this take from Allen Frances, a psychiatrist.

Confusing mad and bad is a very dangerous precedent. It’s not at all restricted just to Trump. The National Rifle Association happens to believe that whenever there’s a mass murder, the person must have been crazy. It’s not the guns that did it; it’s the crazy person. They actually work hard to get the mentally ill more armed. There are against laws that restrict arms for the mentally ill, but then the minute there’s a serial murder, any kind of homicide, it’s the crazy person who did it, not the gun. We are criminalizing mental illness. We have 350,000 people with mental illness in jail because they couldn’t get treatment. We’re medicalizing bad behavior.

When the Harvey Weinsteins and Tiger Woods and all the others get caught with their pants down, the first claim is sex addiction: “I’ll go off for a rehab program and I’ll be cured in a month.” We’re medicalizing immorality. We’re medicalizing people who rape and say they have mental disorders. Bad behavior is part of the variety of human nature. Only a small portion of bad behaviors are done by people who are mentally ill. Most bad people are not mentally ill; most mentally ill people aren’t bad. When we confuse the two, it’s a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill. It’s terrible for them to be lumped with Trump because most of them are well-meaning and well-behaved, and Trump is neither.

I mean, the other problem with this is it treats Trump as if he’s a one-off and he’s crazy. It takes away from the fact that we’re crazy for having elected him.

The Republican party is full up with cunningly sane people — they are not insane at all. From their perspective they’re being productive and accomplishing their goals in an effective way. It’s just that their goals happen to be driven by narcissism and greed, and are destructive to everyone around them.

That last line is important. I expect the Russians were tinkering with our elections, but all they did was play into the worst features of the American electorate. If we could wall off all foreign interference, we’d still have the problems of gerrymandering and voter suppression and ignorance and xenophobia working to elect Republicans.

The real grounds for immediate impeachment

You can read Stormy Daniels account of her affair with Donald Trump for the salacious details, but I don’t care about those. So, two people had sex? Like that’s news. But here’s the part that made my hair stand on end and a snarl curl my lips:

You could see the television from the little dining room table and he was watching Shark Week and he was watching a special about the U.S.S. something and it sank and it was like the worst shark attack in history. He is obsessed with sharks. Terrified of sharks. He was like, I donate to all these charities and I would never donate to any charity that helps sharks. I hope all the sharks die. He was like riveted. He was like obsessed. It’s so strange, I know.

Fuck you, Donald Trump. Fuck you until you die. And then I wish your body could be chopped into chum and fed to sharks, except you’re probably toxic and unhealthy for them to eat.

Y’all are reading the wrong book

I finished Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House a while back. It was an entertaining soap opera, dishing out the scorn for Trump, but ultimately, it was just kind of like familiar, comforting pop music, where everything is predictable, you already know all the words, and you’re later going to recollect it as an annoying earworm.

Last night I finished a much better book: David Neiwert’s Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump. It’s better written, and it has a more powerful focus. Instead of gossiping about that deplorable scamp in the White House, it’s all about the deplorable electorate that put him there: the right-wing militias that freely trample on the law, the fanatics who cover their cars with slogans, the thugs who are thrilled with Trump’s tacit endorsement of violence against brown people, the Nazis who were orgasming over his election. Wolff’s book makes our current situation seem like an aberration driven by a few horrible people; Neiwert’s tells us that no, there’s something rotten lurking in the heart of America that is making Republican criminality possible.

One book’s message implies that all we need to do is get rid of a few clowns at the top, and the True America will come shining through. The other tells you that the True America has a lot of human infrastructure that needs repair. It sure would be nice if all of our problems could be embodied in one gibbering orange hemorrhoid that could be neatly excised from the body politic, but you know deep down that that is not true. Maybe you should read a book that confronts the realities of our situation.

Steven Pinker and the New York Times are making us dumber

Because I exposed Steven Pinker’s atrociously bad arguments, I have now been accused of “smearing” and “distorting” Pinker’s words, and gotten all kinds of fun hate mail. Alas, nobody has been able to show where my arguments actually distort Pinker’s claims; he really does argue that “political correctness” is driving people to the alt-right, and that there are all these “facts” that Leftist Academics refuse to discuss on campus, which drives students further right when they discover that they’ve been lied to. It is a bullshit contrafactual, wrong and dishonest in every way, and the best people can do is say, “well, there’s some parts afterwards that are more nuanced, and you ignored those”. Nope, that’s irrelevant. When someone states outright lies, it doesn’t matter if later they say something else.

But that’s the fallback everyone is resorting to: it’s the logical equivalent of someone pointing out that Trump said something that was outright racist, while others refuse to acknowledge it and instead like to mention how he had a taco salad, so he’s not that bad. It’s not relevant. Quit dancing around the facts. I addressed Pinker’s lies, specifically. No one has refuted the fact that he did speak dishonestly.

If you want a perspective that’s less pissed-off than mine, I recommend Thomas Smith’s latest podcast. He thinks maybe I was a leetle too aggressively in-Pinker’s-face, to put it mildly, but then I think he’s a leetle too charitable, but then I also think maybe he’s new to Pinker’s history of making shitty arguments. Pinker is an advocate for evolutionary psychology, he criticized the March for Science as anti-science PC/identity politics/hard-left rhetoric (gosh, how many dog-whistles can you pack in a phrase?), he invoked the second law of thermodynamics to explain poverty, he endorsed the absurdities of Gamergate and Christina Hoff Sommers, and wrote the most arrogant piece on scientism ever. I say this not as a rabid anti-Pinker zealot — you can also find articles praising bits and pieces of Pinker’s work in my archives — but as someone who doesn’t just assume that Harvard confers infallibility with tenure, and who actually suspects that many aspects of Harvard reinforce an ugly sense of entitlement. He’s just really bad at thinking about way too many things.

Smith does point out something I could have been clearer about. If you look at the kinds of arguments Pinker often makes, they reduce to blaming the Left/Progressives/Liberals for things that the Right/Republicans/racists do. Somehow it’s always possible to make the worst things the alt-right does entirely the fault of those who oppose them, and also, he never bothers to say what we’re supposed to do instead. Encourage racists? Say kind things about them? Compromise on fundamental issues: suggest that maybe black people are only a little bit inferior rather than a lot inferior?

Even when they vaguely puzzle out this point, Pinker supporters don’t understand it. What does Jesse Singal say in the New York Times?

The clip was deeply misleading. If you watch the whole eight-minute video from which it was culled, it’s clear that Mr. Pinker’s entire point is that the alt-right’s beliefs are false and illogical — but that the left needs to do a better job fighting against them.

No. He clearly says that the alt-right’s beliefs are the fault of the “PC” Left, which says nothing about making better arguments to oppose them, and is a falsehood. His talk was about doling out the blame to the Left, not about fighting the alt-right. If you listen to the whole 8-minute video, what you hear is Pinker first saying that you can’t voice certain facts on campus, then stating those facts (self-refutation, anyone?), then explaining that his facts are more complex than he let on,
which is what the college professors he’s blaming already do.

But then this kind of disingenuous denial of reality, of focusing superficially on he said/she said note-taking, is exactly what the New York Times specializes in.

The Norwegians cover their eyes, embarrassed to be singled out

Our president is a racist and a shameful laughingstock, part MCXVIX.

President Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers Thursday in the Oval Office when they floated restoring protections for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to two people briefed on the meeting.

Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here? Trump said, according to these people, referring to African countries and Haiti. He then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries like Norway, whose prime minister he met yesterday.

Meanwhile, the more polite and diplomatic members of the rest of the world are all thinking about what a shithole the United States is becoming.

The right take

I’ve been reading Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House off and on. It’s tough. It’s terribly written, this kind of gossipy gibbering, and the only thing keeping me going at all is the occasional deliciously vicious insider story that pops up at you. I think, though, that Jeff Sharlet has the right perspective on it.

A number of my fellow journalists are saying privately and publicly that Michael Wolff’s book is no big deal — “nothing we didn’t know already.” This makes me think of people who see some piece of modern art, a Jackson Pollack or an Ellsworth Kelly, and say, “I could do that.” Yeah, but did you?

Exactly. I know it’s a bad book, but why didn’t any of the excellent journalists who are sneering at it now write a better book first? Wolff is a hack and a bit sleazy, but if he’s saying what everyone already knew, at least he had the guts to actually go against the cozy insider culture that infects government and the media right now.

Which would you prefer: An asshole who relishes his access to power as an ornament with which to improve his status with other elites, or an asshole who betrays it? Wolff, who by many accounts will betray just about anybody, was the writer for the job of bringing us inside the administration that wants to screw everybody.

When you put it that way…I want the asshole that’s willing to write about the bad crap going down at the cost of getting kicked out of the White House press room. I want a newspaper publisher who is willing to go to press with the story that will cost them easy access to the spin the administration wants to give to everyone, and instead has to work to get the story.