Quora question: Is Trump racist or just appealing to racist sentiment?

January 18, 2018

My response:

Donald Trump’s presidency does seem to have brought the racists out of the woodwork. But I do not think that racism alone defines Trump. In recent memory, this country has seen similar, singular movements: the Tea Party and Alabama Governor George Wallace’s following in the 1960s and early ‘70s.

There have always been pronouncements of fear of authoritarian regimes like China and Russia, with presidents describing the world as a very dangerous place. But Trump is the first to echo these fears while paradoxically fawning over the leaders themselves, becoming the authoritarian figure himself. This has inevitably led to a right-wing ideology, circling the wagons in an us-vs-them scenario of nuclear brinkmanship.

In a Trumpist world, obedience to authorities is stressed over self-reliance and introspection, even going so far as to encourage the use of force when arresting people, simply to demonstrate authority.[1] This has echoes in right-wing regimes of the past—from Nazi brown shirts to the Chilean secret police to Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge period.

Trump describes his enemies as “losers” and “complete disasters”; childish rhetoric indeed, but its point is not lost. For people who presume privilege, emphasizing social hierarchy can be comforting. He reinforces this notion by denigrating the poor and by ascribing more value to things, simply because he—and others like him—are in a position to own them.

There really is nothing unique in Trump’s prejudice; it isn’t just anti-immigrants but truly anti-Black. The stance is a familiar one. In the 2008 presidential campaign, some Republicans betrayed their baser sensibility. One Republican club issued false ten dollar bills with Obama’s picture accompanied by stereotyped African-American food—a watermelon, ribs and a bucket of fried chicken.[2]

Many Republicans followed Trump’s lead and opposed all that America’s first Black President, Barack Obama, proposed. Trump broke the unwritten rule of political civility by questioning Obama’s place of birth, then carried this message to a base of predominantly White Americans who feared their loss of privilege.

Less subtle than his GOP counterparts, Trump has repeatedly revealed his biases, calling Muslims “dangerous” and Mexicans “rapists.” His base loves it; breaking with decades of political correctness, he blared openly what they had been saying privately.

Trump’s appeal to authoritarianism, White privilege and nativism carried him through the election and now finds footing within mainstream GOP members. They have long tolerated these views but, until Trump’s presidency, did not have a sociopolitical climate where they could comfortably express them.

Another appeal that galvanized Trump’s base was the loss of jobs to Mexican and Chinese workers. This, however, ignored the fact that the primary reason for this was the acceleration of automation and the decreasing power of labor unions in this country. Yet Trump’s blue-collar supporters tend to work in occupations that are largely shielded from Chinese and Mexican competition—transportation, repair, and construction.[3]

Again, an emphasis of race over fact, and another chalk mark against the invasion of outsiders.

One cannot appeal to racist views and not hold them as dearly as one’s base. In the case of Donald Trump and his supporters, authoritarianism has been coupled with racism. This allows for a convenient out for Republicans wishing to have it both ways; that is, to pander to far-right racism while remaining mute on the subject so as not to be branded as such.

[1] Cops push back at Trump law-and-order speech 
[2] When groups meet: The dynamics of intergroup contact, Pettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R., Psychology Press, New York, NY, 2011.
[3] Explaining nationalist political views: The case of Donald Trump, Rothwell, J., & Diego-Rosell, P.; unpublished Gallup Working paper, last revised November 2, 2016.


Quora question: As a liberal American, do I have a civic responsibility to pay attention to Donald Trump? Is it wrong to avoid reading news/tweets about him?

January 17, 2018

My response:

Donald Trump was not elected to represent only 34% of the American public. There is no minority government promoting a “no confidence” motion. And despite the sense that Republicans and Democrats represent niche groups constantly at war with each other, the United States is not governed by a despotic ruler wary of a government-in-exile seeking to depose him.

Trump is the president, and as such his words and actions carry weight, whether a malformed 280-character missive on social media or a formal, televised broadcast.

While Trump may pander to some, disparage many, embolden those on the fringe of a just society and inflame his detractors, his moral turpitude is reflected in the policies of his administration. It is these policies that, when enacted, affect every American.

To refuse to listen to Trump’s words is to suffer in ignorance. You are no longer someone who drinks from his well or believes it to be poison. You are now the uninformed; that segment of the population whose opinions are baseless—not because they represent the Left or the Right but because you have chosen self-internment.

To honestly criticize someone, you have to be thoroughly familiarly with the pros and cons of their position in order to fairly present your own. To take one side and ignore the other is a fatalist approach. You presume there is no hope so you stop listening. And the world continues to turn without you, which is the hope of those whom you oppose.

Cool Gray Dawn

January 16, 2018

I just posted Season Two, Episode #1 of Cool Gray Dawn, “Fly By Night,” on my blog. Enjoy.

Quora question: Is gentrification a good or bad thing? Why?

January 13, 2018

My response:

Years ago, I wrote and reported on gentrification in Boston for a CBS program, “For Our Time.”[1] My intent was to focus on the larger theme of sociocultural displacement by focusing on a specific neighborhood in a major city.

The notion of “saving” neighborhoods from destruction was a euphemism for a White suburban population reclaiming the cities. These baby-boomers had seen their children leave for schools, lucrative jobs and camaraderie in the city. Sprawling suburbia and its attendant space—the American Dream—were now annoyances of upkeep.

Homes that were long-neglected by owners who were victims of redlining were now for sale at a fraction of their previous worth. The result was the destruction of the fabric of these neighborhoods.

The tenuous familial and economic threads that had formed the basis of self-reliance and dependence were co-opted by the prospect of fast cash from the sale of their homes. What was not considered then was that the only new homes the people could now afford were in distant exurbs or smaller cities and towns in the throes of their own financial crises.

I asked the titular question, “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” Arthur Unger of the Christian Science Monitor took that further and asked, ”Who is left out of this picture?” Indeed.

[1] ‘Gentrifying’ Boston’s South End

Quora question: Would the general public feel safer or more vulnerable if they knew everything the FBI, CIA, and other agencies have prevented (terrorist attacks, disease outbreaks, etc.)?

January 13, 2018

My response:

No. Publishing this information would compromise sources and methods. It would expose sensitive relationships and jeopardize extant operations. It would punish those who chose to work with us in clandestine operations, leading to their deaths and those of family members.

More importantly, it would dissuade people from cooperating with us on future endeavors, thus exposing the United States to even greater threats.

Quora question: Does President Donald Trump really believe that he has good relations with Kim Jong-un? He does realize that the relationship between the US and North Korea isn’t going to be fixed overnight, right?

January 13, 2018

My response:

Americans are not cowed by sophism, notwithstanding Trump’s manic flip-flopping over his purported relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, or the exaggerated machismo, political infantilism and cultish jingoism proffered by the alt-right.

Trump’s notion that his repeated disparaging of Kim Jong-un is part of a larger strategy, one that has worked for him in the past, is far more indicative of the themes that define Trump himself: “worthlessness, stupidity, depravity and peculiarity.”[1]

In Trump’s skewed vision of human interaction, this andragogy informs adults on who heads the food chain and who grasps for its crumbs. But he is not dealing with contractors now. This is not a dispute destined for settlement in the courts.

Kim Jong-un is a hair trigger who perceives slights as an indictment of his legitimacy and that of the Korean people. Trump’s cabinet understands this.

In recent weeks, Trump has lowered the volume toward Kim Jong-un. I believe his latest conciliatory tone comes on the advice of strategists who have followed a plan similar to one I recommended and posted here months ago in response to a question on North Korea.[2]

[1 ]The psychology of insults
[2] Tony Garcia’s answer to Using diplomacy and sanctions, how do you bring Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula when previous world leaders have tried for over a decade without success?

Quora question: What would happen if Kim Jong-Un was assassinated by the U.S.military?

January 12, 2018

My response:  Why fulfill North Korea’s worst fears about the United States and risk making a martyr of Kim Jong-un? Indeed, such a miscalculated effort would drive a permanent wedge between the U.S. and the Pacific Rim, and raise the status of the People’s Republic of China as the hegemonic class among superpowers.

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