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To Trump Supporters (and Those Who Aren't)

To Trump Supporters (and Those Who Aren’t)

By Dennis Loo (10/18/17)

I address this to Trump supporters but I am under no illusion that most of them will read this. It is too long for their taste anyway. Others, however, who no longer support Trump, or never supported him, will read me and when they get into discussions, or try to, with Trump loyalists, it is to them that I am mainly speaking. Because sooner or later, these questions come up and it is worth discussing them here and better understanding where we are and what future – if he doesn’t get us into a nuclear war first – is possible.

A further note – there is a lot of very important and novel arguments made here. Take your time and savor this.

In talking to those who still support Trump, one of the things that stands out is their view of media's role. "Why," they say, "do most of the media wish for the president to fail? Why are they so critical of him?"

When Trump declared war on the media and called them very early on “an enemy of the American people” and “fake news,” that was sort of a clue.

In other words, the mainstream media have been in Trump’s sites to be targeted and blamed in the first place, so they never had a chance in his book unless they swallowed at face value everything Trump and his people threw their way, contradictory though they be. That is what Fox does.

Besides that, the problem with their perspective on media is two-fold.

First, this view reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of media's watchdog role. Media are supposed to be skeptical, to hold the government's declarations up to the light of day and to dig further than governmental officials would like. The media cannot do their jobs if they aren't doing investigative journalism, where unless unnamed sources are used and items are pieced together, working independently of government, we will only know what the government wants us to know.

Media then just become a government mouthpiece. The media did so in George Bush's rush to war on Iraq, for example, where The New York Times and others dutifully reported and elaborated on the government's lies. If, as some Trump supporters tell you, the politicians all lie and thus Trump is no different, then if you’re lied to AND you don’t care what’s true and what isn’t, then you should not offer an opinion about political matters whatsoever because you have declared that you don’t care what truth is.

It didn't get better when Obama was president.

Most people don't have the time or training to ferret out the truth, so bemoaning people not doing more research on their own (as some college students do), as if the public ought to know better than what the media tells them, is to no avail. Why should you do independent research when nearly all media are telling you the same story and you have never been told by anyone is your life that you should be skeptical?

What do most people get taught in school? Most are taught to trust authorities. Only a small number are ever taught otherwise. If you have never been taught to be skeptical, of course you're going to believe what you are told. There are strong psychological reasons to do so because the idea that authorities are lying to you systematically is hard to take (you have to now think you are in danger and that’s hard to accept) and confirmation bias is a lot to overcome. (If you don’t know what “confirmation bias” is, it’s when you only take in what confirms your pre-existing view, and dismiss the rest).

You’re not likely to find the truth all on your own, especially when reading books has become relatively unpopular.

Even if you don't buy what authorities tell you entirely, they must have some basis to say what they're saying, you tell yourself.  At least many think that, even many who have been taught to be somewhat skeptical.

Imagine a police detective who was investigating a murder who relied solely upon the main suspects’ self-serving statements. Evidence, smevidence. Who needs physical and other forms of evidence? How many crimes would then be solved, if s/he went on what the main suspects said exclusively, and dispensed with evidence's role? Not many, if any at all. How often does a criminal, who knows they’re a criminal, decide voluntarily to just confess? You’d have to dispense with the entire criminal justice system and get rid of at least one entire genre of fiction, the mystery sleuth, since physical evidence no longer matters. Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Nancy Drew, and so many others, would not exist!

That would, in fact, be like Trump asking Putin twice if Putin interfered with US elections and Putin denied it, then being satisfied, as Trump was, that he had heard the truth. In a USA Today article dated July 12, 2017, Trump said this:

President Trump said Wednesday that Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin told him – twice – that he was not involved in any plot to interfere in last year's U.S. election. 

"I said, 'did you do it?' And he said no, I did not. Absolutely not," Trump told Reuters. "I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not."

Trump told Reuters that he discussed the election meddling allegations with Putin for the first 20 to 25 minutes of their more than two-hour meeting last Friday on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.

After the meeting in Germany, Putin said Trump asked many questions on Russian hacking. "I think he was satisfied with my answers," Putin said Saturday. "And I think he noted it and he agreed with it. I think it’s better to ask him." 

Trump asked him and he denied it vigorously. So that settles it, right? 

And if you believe that, I have a bridge I want to sell you …

The second problem with Trump loyalists is that their standard of good journalism is whether your biases are being examined against the evidence or being reinforced. Some Trump supporters have no problem spending hours and hours lambasting the Democrats - Fox News’ favorite target – for Benghazi or Hillary’s private email or whatever, but have all kinds of problems when the shoe is on the other foot and GOP figures are held to account. This is not consistent and cannot stand as a principle.

Let me ask this, more to the point: why is the only choice whether one chooses the Republicans or the Democrats?

Let me give you an example, when Obama was POTUS, the media generally lauded his 2009 National Archives speech.

They all failed to notice something, however, as I pointed out in Globalization and the Demolition of Society and in an article that was published shortly after Obama’s earlier 2009 National Archives speech at Open Salon, which is no longer available:

In a May 21, 2009, speech at the National Archives, Obama said this about the “War on Terror”:

We’re going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who pose a danger to our country. But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who’ve received extensive explosives training at al-Qaida training camps, or commanded Taliban troops in battle, or expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States.

Let me repeat: I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people. Al-Qaida terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture—like other prisoners of war—must be prevented from attacking us again.

If the people he will not release cannot be released because the evidence against them is tainted—because they were tortured to obtain the “evidence”—then that is not the fault of the individual detainee; that is the result of criminal acts by the US government. This stands in direct contradiction to Obama’s campaign pledge that he would restore habeas corpus because holding innocents is “not what we do.” In his National Archives speech, Obama hastened to add that the decision to hold someone who has not been found guilty of any crimes should not be the action of the executive branch alone and that detention should not be open ended. “That’s why my administration has begun to reshape the standards that apply to ensure that they are in line with the rule of law. We must have clear, defensible, and lawful standards for those who fall into this category. We must have fair procedures so that we do not make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.” How does one square abridging habeas corpus with ensuring you are “in line with the rule of law?” How do you have “lawful standards” when you are breaking the law itself to do it? (GDS, pp. 156-157)

Obama’s continuing protestations that he wants to close Guantanamo because it is bad for the U.S.’s reputation in the world while falsely attributing his failure to release prisoners to Congress and while personally putting up roadblocks to prevent anyone being released and shutting the prison down is a concentrated example of what Obama really stands for. Obama says that he wants to do something and that he believes in doing something while actually doing the opposite.

The solution of this credulousness problem for the broader society is basically this - social movements have to battle for the majority, including some, but not all of those now under the right-wing's sway, and we have to delegitimize authorities' right-to-rule. They are, after all, taking us to past the brink.

This was not a unique instance. There are certain values that were inherent to this process that went undisclosed and unexamined. I will let the former CBS anchor Dan Rather say this in his own words:

Look, I’m an American. I never tried to kid anybody that I’m some internationalist or something. And when my country is at war, I want my country to win, whatever the definition of “win” may be. Now, I cannot and do not argue that that is coverage without a prejudice. About that I am prejudiced.

Here is another example of this attitude. This is from a May 8, 2013 article of mine:

In a May 2, 2013 article in The Guardian, you can find this gem:

Philip Zelikow, a member of the White House Intelligence Advisory Board, said the government was relying on two arguments to justify its drone policy under international law: that the US remained in a state of war with al-Qaida and its affiliates, or that those individuals targeted in countries such as Pakistan were planning imminent attacks against US interests.

When asked by the Guardian whether such arguments would apply in reverse in the unlikely event that al-Qaida deployed drone technology against military targets in the US, Zelikow accepted they would.

"Yes. But it would be an act of warand they would suffer the consequences," he said during the debate at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. "Countries under attack are the ones that get to decide whether they are at war or not," added Zelikow.

From their own mouths then: when the US does it, it’s justified and it’s not an act of war on countries that the US is raining drones down upon such as Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan. If anyone retaliates to those drone attacks (e.g., with suicide bombings), then they are terrorists and deserve what the US does to them. But if anyone were to use drones against the US, that would be an act of war. And they would suffer the consequences: "Countries under attack are the ones that get to decide whether they are at war or not."

Does Mr. Zelikow even realize how hypocritical his reasoning is? I would wager that he doesn't.

Because, however, Trump is so extreme and so obviously incompetent at his job, most media (except for Fox) have been forced to make a choice between reporting the truth and contrasting it to what Trump and his loyalists say. Furthermore, Trump labels the media purveyors of “fake news,” and in this light the mainstream media have been forced to be accurate, fact-based, in sharp contrast to someone who has utterly no regard for the truth. Trump demands obedience or else and has cut any middle-ground out himself.

But then what do you want? And how does one get there?

In the last few pages of Globalization and the Demolition of Society I briefly and in a concentrated way address the question of this article: How Can I Figure Out What’s True? What follows draws from and expands further upon those pages.

The truth that someone is physically stronger than someone else does not necessarily mean that the weaker person cannot beat the stronger person in a fight. It does mean, however, that the weaker person has to take the fact of the other person’s greater physical strength into account in order to have a chance to win. You cannot just plunge into such a fight heedless of what the conditions are. To have a chance you have to adopt a game plan and choose a battleground that neutralizes or even turns the other person’s greater physical strength into a weakness. This is what martial arts such as Aikido do—use their opponent’s strength against them.

In other words, first of all we need to know what is going on in order to have a chance to affect the course of present and future events. Having access to good information and good analysis is therefore indispensable. Otherwise you are operating blindly or under illusions. If you are preparing a meal to eat, then your ingredients matter a great deal. You cannot make a good dish if your raw materials are poor. Someone can be given the very best ingredients to make a meal in the world, but if they do not know how to cook, then what they make will, in all probability, not be all that good. They could even ruin it entirely. So the ingredients matter, but what you do with those ingredients also matters.

Good intentions are not enough to guarantee good results. Where, then, does one go to get good information, and how does one develop reliable analytical skills?

Any account that you read, view, or hear has been framed interpretively.

This is inevitable; choices must be made as to what to highlight and what to leave out. This is as true of news reporting and any nonfiction endeavor as it is of fiction and art. The question then comes down to what facts are relevant and what those facts add up to. It is not possible to provide a cookbook recipe on how to decide what is relevant and what their meaning is in any given process, but it is possible to lay down certain principles.

Third, different classes and different groups have different material interests, and those material interests are reflected in ideologies, values, beliefs, and their pursuit of their group’s interests. Recognizing the parameters of different ideologies and how they serve different classes and groupings within those classes is critical to developing an ability to see beneath the surface to the essence of any social issue and social struggle. Put in more common parlance, there are vested interests, and those interests are expressed or articulated by the leading spokespeople for those groups.

In other words, we are not first and foremost individuals. We are first and foremost members of groups, even though subjectively most of us most of the time think about ourselves first and foremost as individuals. Our individual outlook on the world is[, however,] mainly shaped by factors outside of our individuality.

The bottom line, the fundamental division in our society, is between, on the one hand, those whose interests rest upon dominance and the drive towards monopolizing the society and planet’s resources and, on the other hand, those whose interests lie in the husbanding of those resources for the good of the whole rather than the part.

Put another way, there are two kinds of people in the world. There are those for whom truth and justice are decided based on whether or not their own personal interests are involved. That is, if something is harming them directly, then they are concerned. If it is not something that is harming them directly but it is adversely affecting others (such as people of other countries), then they do not care about it and will do nothing about it. In one of the extreme versions of this, but not at all uncommon, is for people who are exposed to an inconvenient truth to dismiss it by saying, “it can’t be true.” In another variant of this view, people will sometimes say, “It’s not true for me.” To such people, “if it’s not affecting me, it’s not going on.”  

The other perspective is that of those who regard justice, fairness, and truth as things that are independent of whether or not they directly affect one’s self. If it’s wrong, whether it is affecting their own person and those who they care most about such as their family, then it’s still wrong. If someone is being treated unjustly, then it’s still unjust, whether or not it’s affecting you directly or even if you are actually being personally advantaged by it. Fair-skinned people, for example, are advantaged by cultural attitudes that favor them but not all fair-skinned people are accepting of racist ideas. Many (though there need to be many more) white people are anti-racists and some of them are staunchly opposed to racism towards minorities, even more vigorous in their opposition to racism than some minorities are.

If you are arguing about an issue … with someone of the opposite perspective you cannot reach a resolution to your differences because what you [each] value is so starkly different… This poses a question given this: what perspective should guide those who are in positions with the most influence and power to determine how media do their jobs in society?

Do you want the people with the most power to decide this to be those who see the world from the perspective of whatever benefits them privately and those they care most about? Or do you want those in charge to be those who see that truth and justice as universal principles?

… If the latter group were in charge, then they would make sure that all viewpoints were put before the people because the process of determining what is true and fair is something that cannot be and should not be decided by a small group but … can only be decided by opening it up as broadly as possible.

If your view is that the public interest should predominate, then you would also take the position that the public must be included in the discussion and debate over these questions in real, not superficial ways, and that in fact, opposing viewpoints, including from those whose motives are bad, need to be put on the table for all to sort through so that people can learn through the course of that contention and full airing, what is true and what is not.

People cannot come to understand what is true by being told what is true and expected to just accept it. You can only come to understand what is true through a process of being exposed to multiple perspectives and facts and engaging in the process of sorting through them. That is what a truly democratic consultation process would be. That is what a truly useful media and political sphere would look like.

We know that people have different perspectives. The best way to adjudicate those differences is not to choose whose personal views are right and let them decide but to carry out the process on the basis of a commitment to the value of fully airing all perspectives. If you are interested in the truth, then there is no other way for that to be accomplished and if you are interested in the truth then you fear no debates because whatever is wrong, even if you are yourself wrong, stands the best chance of being revealed through full consultation and open debate. If you are interested in the truth you are not afraid of learning that you are wrong on certain matters because then you can correct those errors rather than persisting in them. Only those who have something to hide and who have a secret agenda dodge an open discussion and full debate.

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