The Clare Spark Blog

August 14, 2015

The Trump Phenomenon: a triumph or a disaster?

Trump on the stump in Iowa

Trump on the stump in Iowa

[Update 1/9/18: I now view Trump as a moderate who, in some respects, appeals to conservatives, but definitely not a full-blown fascist, despite the efforts of many (authoritarian) liberals to pin that label on him; their “psychiatric” efforts to make him “unstable” and hence unfit for office, echo postwar diagnoses of Hitler-the-madman.]

[Update 3-16-16: Read this carefully. Trump’s position on Israel has been distorted by his rivals. He has said that he would like to see peace in the Middle East but that it would be the “toughest negotiation” ever. No signs of anti-Semitism in my view, but rather unrealistic views of “Palestinian” objectives.]

[Update 3-10-16: I didn’t compare Trump to Hitler here, but as a populist and nationalist, his campaign did resonate in some respects with the Strasser brothers. I want to distance myself from liberals and even conservatives who are calling him a Nazi. I  have thought of taking this down owing to inevitable mis-readings; I am now supporting him because I believe that the system is terminally corrupt, and that he will be an improvement over Hillary. A reminder: I am an Independent and a scholar, not an ideologue.]

[Update 12-12-15: I agree with David Horowitz that if Trump’s ban on all Muslims entering the US  (temporarily) is unconstitutional, the GOP should find a Constitutional proposal to prevent more terror. (I hope I got that right.]

[Update 10-15-15: I would be very unhappy if this blog was used by anarchists or lefties for anti-Trump propaganda. After seeing the Democrat debate 10-13, it is that party that more closely resembles fascism (for the S. A. was always populistic, hence anti-Semitic). Trump has since been less vague about his policy objectives, and, in my view, is clearly superior to any Democrat, especially Hillary Clinton, the most likely to win the Donkey nomination.]

[Update 9-19-15]: Since writing this, several arguments might be added to my  argument that Trump’s followers resemble the populist members of the S.A. under Hitler. 1. The appeal to national greatness was deployed by Hitler after the defeat in WW1. His followers, many of them humble and feeling crowded out by other rising groups, may long for vicarious “greatness”; 2. Hitler was a Pan-Germanist, calling for an all German-speaking unity. Trump’s nativism echoes such grandiloquent notions; 3. Hitler lifted Germany out of the Depression by remilitarizing, defying the terms of the Versailles settlement. Similarly, Trump calls for a massive military expenditure, which can only raise the fantasy of more jobs for the unemployed and semi-employed; and 4. Trump lies a lot. His mob followers are as cynical as he is. (End update)].

Even Fox News Channel can’t make up its collective mind over Donald Trump’s candidacy. Hannity loves him and O’Reilly subtly pushes him, while Charles Krauthammer, their most respected pundit, doesn’t take him all that seriously (though that may change).

I do.

For most of my adult life I have studied the influence of fascism in Europe and America, in all its manifestations. While others castigate Trump as a bully, a fraud, a celebrity tied to mass culture, a narcissistic businessman allied with dubious companies (such as ACN, see page one story in WSJ (8-14-15), I agree with my son-in-law who nailed him as a street fighter and a primitive. I go even further, for he reminds me of a parody of masculinity, but more, the S.A., Hitler’s populist Brownshirts, led by the Strasser brothers, who made trouble throughout the 1920s and early 30s until they were [partially] purged in The Night of the Long Knives, June 30, 1934, an event that led William E. Dodd, the US Ambassador to Hitler’s Germany, resign his post. (https://clarespark.com/2011/08/14/review-in-the-garden-of-beasts-by-erik-larson/.)

Although propagandists and even historians emphasize “the Nazi seizure of power” the better scholars emphasize Hitler’s coalition with monarchists and conservatives opposed to the social democratic Weimar Republic. Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg in order to destroy communism (a communism that today’s Right frequently associates with the Democratic Party), and the 1933 elections were no Nazi landslide, but garnered only 43.91% of the vote (almost the same plurality that elected Bill Clinton). For my blog on how the Democratic Party has absorbed ideas originally associated with Marxist practice, see https://clarespark.com/2012/07/19/communist-ideas-go-mainstream/.

Sturmabteilung poster

Sturmabteilung poster

As for big lying to the public, Trump has already delivered some whoppers. For instance, he takes credit for introducing the subject of illegal immigration, when anyone following the records of other Republican candidates is familiar with how and when the views of Bush and Rubio have been modified regarding amnesty. Similarly, in an interview with Sean Hannity, Trump mentioned “health savings accounts” as if he had just dreamed it up. (Both Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan have supported such accounts, but see the idea’s origins here: http://www.afcm.org/hsahistory.html.)

I have my own suspicions of why so many voters are wowed by The Donald. Noting the popularity of The Godfather, The Sopranos, and lately, the wealthy can-do, know-it-all killer played by James Spader on NBC’s The Blacklist, it is not surprising that another larger-than-life character would suddenly capture the imaginations of many populist voters.

So we now have a choice: creeping fascist/populism on the Left with Hillary Clinton/Sanders/Warren/, or creepy populism on the Right with Donald Trump, our latest Knight in Shining, Glitzy, Armor.

[Update: I now believe that our biggest threat of fascism comes from (welfare statist) social democrats. I still don’t like glitz, but understand its appeal to the child in all of us.]

Trump Tower Atrium, NYC

Trump Tower Atrium, NYC

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December 24, 2014

“blood on their hands”?

Anti-Iraq war image depicting Tony Blair

Anti-Iraq war image depicting Tony Blair

What is incitement or “fighting words” and who does it? Some statutes state that it is illegal to incite others to commit crimes. Voices from both sides of the increasingly polarized political spectrum are accusing personalities or groups of having “blood on their hands”—yet the punditry continues to classify “peaceful protest” promoting hate as an exercise of free speech. I was stunned to discover that there are actual laws in the UK, Canada, and the US warning that such acts as spouting “fighting words” are tantamount to encouraging crime (though less so in the US). (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incitement (on British law), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fighting_words, comparing Canada and the US, with case law examples.)

Tell that to Hollywood writers, journalists, or to academics of any political stripe. It is not widely known that wealthy liberals, through their foundations, had resorted to better communication as the favored strategy in solving “the Negro problem” as it was called in Gunnar Myrdal’s famous book, An American Dilemma (1944), a study said to be a landmark in “race relations.” One of Myrdal’s less publicized warnings to readers was a direct threat to hidebound Southern conservatives. Myrdal was neither a revolutionary socialist nor, pace one biographer, an optimistic moralist appealing to Christian consciences. Rather, in one rarely quoted passage, the Swedish social democrat and economist was explicitly cautioning “Southern conservative(s)” who had better heed the lessons of history and to

“…begin allowing the higher strata of the Negro population to participate in the political process as soon as possible, and to push the movement down to the lowest groups gradually…also to speed up the civic education of these masses who are bound to have votes in the future.…political conservatives, who have been successful for any length of time, have always foreseen impending changes and have put through the needed reforms themselves in time. By following this tactic they have been able to guard fundamental conservative interests even in the framing of the reforms. They have thereby also succeeded in slowing them up; changes have not overwhelmed them as avalanches. They have kept the control and preserved a basis for the retention of their political power. Southern conservatives should further learn from history that, over a period of time, the conservative forces in society cannot afford to abstain from the tremendous strategic advantage of forming the party of “law and order.” This is such an immense interest for conservatism that if–for constitutional and other reasons–the law does not come to the conservatives even when they are in power, the conservatives had better come to the law.

“But the great majority of Southern conservative white people do not see the handwriting on the wall. They do not study the impending changes; they live again in the pathetic illusion that the matter is settled. They do not care to have any constructive policies to meet the trends. They think no new adjustments are called for. The chances that the future development will be planned and led intelligently–and that, consequently, it will take the form of cautious, foresighted reforms instead of unexpected, tumultuous, haphazard breaks, with mounting discords and anxieties in its wake–are indeed small. But we want to keep this last question open. Man is a free agent, and there are no inevitabilities. All will depend upon the thinking done and the action taken in the region during the next decade or so. History can be made. It is not necessary to receive it as mere destiny.” [End, Myrdal quote, his emphasis]

Myrdal, like his patrons, the Carnegie Corporation, wanted to forestall incitement by red agitators who, preying upon real grievances, would incite race riots and other forms of disruptive protest.

But these words were written in the early 1940s (probably by Myrdal, not Bunche, his chief assistant, then a radical), and we face a more subtle brand of incitement today. Its form is the cynical belief, shared by academics, movie and television writers, hip journalists, and perhaps many politicians (all catering to minorities and women, certainly not the white working class), that not only is everybody corrupt, motivated solely by the will to power, but that the American future is hopeless, for we are led by criminals masquerading as businessmen and the politicians who protect them. It is they, these bold [populist] speakers of truth to power, who give each other cushy professorships and other trophies indicating excellence in the arts, while inciting hatred of the American past and present, with no analysis of effective or ineffective social policies.

As published in Rolling Stone

As published in Rolling Stone

Recall the worshipful popularity of The Sopranos, or that James Spader (“Red Reddington”) in the popular series The Blacklist, informs the female FBI agent he is protecting that the world is run by criminals. I have just seen American Hustle which ends with the lines “The art of survival is a story that never ends.” I assume that the writers view themselves as surviving in a specifically American business environment that rewards con artists like themselves. The same could be said of the hit Netflix drama House of Cards that weaves an intricate tale of secret deals between power-seekers who have zero interest in social policy, except for the obligatory nod to feminism through a failed effort to get anti-sexual assault in the military through Congress. In the fashionable bleak mood even Democrats are phonies. Holden Caulfield has won hearts and minds.

While stopping for a moment to eat lunch, I heard Neil Cavuto on Fox lamenting the cynicism of the young, who have lost faith and trust in [earthly] “leaders.” I am suggesting something different: that cynicism is a form of incitement. Rightists correctly blame POTUS, Eric Holder, Al Sharpton, and Bill de Blasio of playing the race card while (at times) calling for national unity. But there is nothing peaceful in the protests of black supremacists and their self-righteous, indoctrinated young white allies, masked as crusaders for social justice.

girlwithradiomind

More than “faith” or “trust” in “leaders” we need to teach the young to distinguish between cynicism and healthy skepticism. Cynicism may produce well-made, clever and lucrative “art” and entertainment, but it is rational skepticism that leads to healthy, rational citizen participation in democratic processes.

March 16, 2012

Index to blogs on popular tv shows

Dick Wolf and Judith Light

I haven’t commented on all the crime shows. It is enough to say that we are to believe that good cops will eventually triumph over bad cops, and that most criminals are tracked down and punished. I.e., the State is looking out for you and me, with all the tools that modern science (including profiling) can muster. Law and Order: Criminal Intent (not analyzed here) adds a flourish: the Vincent D’Onofrio character is often dissatisfied with normal procedures, co-opts Freud, and seemingly obeys a higher (more compassionate) law.

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/15/the-christianization-of-ziva-david-ncis/

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/02/roman-polanski-and-his-critics/

https://clarespark.com/2010/05/20/criminal-minds-and-the-pathology-of-rural-america/

https://clarespark.com/2010/10/24/mad-men-and-the-jewish-problem/

https://clarespark.com/2010/12/12/hbo%e2%80%99s-in-treatment-and-boardwalk-empire/

https://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/

https://clarespark.com/2011/05/20/the-mentalist-melville-blake-and-israel/

https://clarespark.com/2011/07/07/network-and-its-offspring/

https://clarespark.com/2012/02/04/blue-bloods-freud-trauma-911/

https://clarespark.com/2012/02/09/glee-goes-la-raza/

https://clarespark.com/2012/05/18/smash-season-finales-and-the-demonic/

https://clarespark.com/2012/06/26/aaron-sorkins-scottish-blood/

https://clarespark.com/2012/07/03/andy-griffiths-greatest-performance/

https://clarespark.com/2012/07/09/hbo-does-gellhorn-in-red/

https://clarespark.com/2012/09/23/homeland-and-the-idea-of-the-fifth-column/

https://clarespark.com/2012/07/29/girls-or-the-new-lost-generation/

https://clarespark.com/2013/02/14/is-there-a-culture-of-violence/

https://clarespark.com/2013/01/26/decoding-call-me-ishmael-and-the-following/ (Read this first)

https://clarespark.com/2013/02/25/potus-michelle-and-the-end-of-the-democratic-republic/

https://clarespark.com/2013/04/26/the-television-season-goes-dark/

https://clarespark.com/2013/05/27/smash-the-perfect-liberal-backstage-musical/

https://clarespark.com/2013/06/20/james-gandolfini-as-tony-soprano/

https://clarespark.com/2013/09/22/the-newsroom-season-two/

https://clarespark.com/2014/03/24/the-good-wife-and-bad-timing/

https://clarespark.com/2014/06/25/penny-dreadfuls-sinister-significance/

October 24, 2010

Mad Men and the Jewish Problem

[Update: see the blog written after the series finale: https://clarespark.com/2015/05/18/matthew-weiners-mad-men-and-the-double-audience/%5D

I have been reworking this blog, and will probably do more to make it less fragmented and more focused on a single theme. What I originally wanted to say was that television writers are not so different from the Mad Men satirized in the series; that they too are selling a point of view, a product that competes with other products in the marketplace. Hence their uneasiness about the morality of their characters, which is really about themselves as progressive friends of the people/viewers. The choice of the early 60s as the location of the series is not as important as their roles today as moral beings.

First you should know that I have seen every episode of the first four seasons, some of them twice. Why, if I find it so disappointing? For one thing, Jews, it is said, are the upstart spinmeisters who control advertising. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/08/19/noam-chomskys-misrepresentation-of-walter-lippmanns-chief-ideas-on-manufacturing-consent/.)  But more: Perhaps because I was (almost)  fully conscious during those years, had started my twelve-year marriage in 1959, and am by birth at least, a New Yorker educated in the East. I know this class of people, and I also know something about the critical response to this picture-perfect realization of the times, as well as the adulation heaped upon its art direction and attention to details, the greatest of which is the revelation of horrendous gender relations. What makes this soap opera for grown ups interesting and relevant to the concerns of YDS is the very fact of the art direction. Because the paintings, clothes, lamps, ash trays, and furniture are supposed to be so late 1950s-early 1960s, the young viewer may suppose that the characters and situations fall into the 19th century literary tradition of naturalism/realism, and hence everything about the series is trustworthy: i.e., Matthew Weiner, though born in 1965, has a preternatural relationship to the period when his parents were probably married.

I tried to find out about his parents  and came across this Rolling Stone interview (http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/17389/198434), which tells you something about Weiner’s unapologetic projection of himself into the characters. For the question that keeps popping up in the endless fascination of the left-liberal hipster press with the series is “Who Is Don Draper?” But the question ought to be, who are the real writers for television and film today, and are they faithful in any sense to the world that they present? Or are some uneasily working out their own identities as chroniclers of our times? Some might argue that their work is close enough to modern life, given the escapist and ideological tendencies of the media, especially the need for heroes–a need that complicates the characterization of Don Draper, about whom the writers seem ambivalent. After all, are they too not living by their wits, trying to capture an audience–a task similar to that of the Mad Men, and  for which they are well rewarded when successful? Or to look at the problem from a more Freudian perspective, perhaps writers like Weiner are primarily faithful to the adolescent defiance that mottles every attempt at historical reconstruction: teen agers make the frightful discovery that their parents are not the ideal creatures they took them to be, but are flawed human beings and in many ways, unreliable, even menacing. Could these oscillating characterizations explain the broad appeal of the series?

Remember these lines from act one of The Pirates of Penzance? Young Frederic, a captive of pirates since infancy,  has never seen a woman other than the female servant who raised him, and took her assertion that she was young and beautiful at face value.

Frederic. Oh, false one, you have deceived me! Ruth. I have deceived you? Frederic. Yes, deceived me! (Denouncing her.)

DUET.

Ruth (Bertha Lewis) pleads with
Frederic (Charles Goulding)
1926

Frederic. You told me you were fair as gold!

Ruth. (wildly) And, master, am I not so?

Frederic. And now I see you’re plain and old.

Ruth. I’m sure I’m not a jot so.

Frederic. Upon my innocence you play.

Ruth. I’m not the one to plot so.

Frederic. Your face is lined, your hair is grey.

Ruth. It’s gradually got so.

Although I have quoted from a 19th C. comedy, and this next claim will seem like a  stretch, I have found (as shown elsewhere on this website) that behind the masked Jew, scheming to control the world, is the hapless, scheming Jewish mother who won’t let go of her sons, even after she is found out. Or, leaping ahead to Mad Men, and just as problematically, Mother may have overpraised her boy, leaving him in doubt as to whether he can ever measure up to her expectations. Given the focus on the murky identity of “Don Draper,” that may be the relevant family history in the case of Matthew Weiner, who does have a Jewish mother.

Although Mad Men has been praised for its defense of women, the female characters are as treacherous as Ruth, though more subtly.  Betty Draper, Don’s ex-wife, the Bryn Mawr graduate (no way!), is a cold mother who never got past her bond with daddy. She also can’t tolerate the news that her prying eyes discovered: Don, whose real mother was a prostitute, and who was raised by dirt-poor Midwestern farmers,  took the identity of his officer when they were in Korea, which sets him up as a social climber [realism? no one noticed?].The other women are also dubious parents or mates: Peggy, the up and coming Catholic copywriter from Brooklyn, doesn’t seem all that flustered when she gives away her baby, conceived through a quick roll on the sofa with Pete Campbell, one of her bosses. [A note on realism: this happened during season one, and Elizabeth Moss looked a bit heavy, but not pregnant.] The very “Jewish” Bobby Barrett, one of Don’s favorite sex partners in an earlier season, betrayed her husband, as does voluptuous Joanie, everyone’s favorite female character. Will she tell her husband, serving in Vietnam, that she is carrying Roger’s child? And though she has insisted that the secretaries behave themselves as subordinate to the guys who run the agency, she has been having a wild affair with Roger Sterling, who much prefers her to his first two wives. All the women are bizarre: Faye, the Ph.D. expert in motivational psychology, can’t relate to children at all, and is discarded at the end of season four, while Meghan, Don’s new secretary, seems to have telepathic ease with Don’s three children, and they are now engaged, Don’s having known her for about three episodes. Perhaps the most likable female character is Don’s daughter Sally, a precocious child of uncertain age, who runs away from her hated new home (an environment as badly furnished as the one decorated by the tasteless Bryn Mawr grad), but is easily bought off and pacified, perhaps like many television writers themselves.

Finally, we get to the most fatal flaw of all in Weiner’s conception of the series. If Don Draper is supposed to be a genius, then the writer has to put dialogue in his mouth that suggests both the psychological and artistic qualities of his trade, practiced at peak effectiveness. There was only one moment that I remember when Don shows any particular brilliance. It was in the dazzling finale to season one, during the famous “Carousel” sequence, but even here, the pathos comes from the contrast between the family pictures that Don demonstrates in his pitch to the Kodak executives and his real rapidly deteriorating family relationships, as he comes home to an empty house on Thanksgiving.What does this have to do with pre-election week in 2010? Mad Men is supposedly interrogating and exposing the bogus “mad” culture created by persons not at all like Weiner, but rather the kind of person who would later vote for Nixon (a character Weiner has worked on)  and would be unmoved by the civil rights and feminist movements. Example, in the last episode of season four, Betty fires her black nanny and maid, Carla, for a trivial incident of insubordination. Don weakly protests: will he do anything about it?  True, several minor characters sleep with black women. Is this a comment on 60s bohemianism? Does it have anything to do with the MLK Jr. branch of the movement?

Weiner does not know this period from either life experience or from historical research. Rather, Weiner has hinted that Mad Men is a “parable” like The Sopranos. In which case one may infer the moral lesson in both these lauded television dramas: in Weiner’s view, this country is now run by thugs and boozing, sex-crazed degenerates, clumsy displacers of those with gentler birth (like his ideal self?), hence greater social vision and finesse. How does he know? Read the Rolling Stone interview: Weiner says that he gets his Weltanschauung from Paul Newman’s characterization of a corporation lawyer in The Young Philadelphians, from Catcher in the Rye, and from the bleakest of short story writers, John Cheever (author of “The Swimmer”).  Holden Caulfield should not be the mentor for an artist laying claim (implicitly) to the socio-literary tradition of Balzac, Stendhal, Flaubert, Proust, and Zola.

[Added, 10-27-10; updated 9-26-11: A scholar sent me this piece by feminist journalist Stephanie Coontz, which asserts that Mad Men is a true depiction of the period. See http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10290/1095486-109.stm. The piece was originally written for the Washington Post. Coontz was born in 1944, and has made a remarkable career out of writing on marriage and the family, in this review, hinting that she is a historian, with the authority that profession usually conveys to readers. She did not, however, complete her doctorate.  See also http://imprint.printmag.com/design-thinking/why-george-lois-is-wrong-about-mad-men-a-conversation-with-mel-abert/].

November 26, 2007

THINKING IN A DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC. LOVE CONQUERS ALL, OR DOES IT?

These are my notes for a radio program I did for the Houston Pacifica radio station, KPFT. It is archived on Michael Woodson’s LivingArt show. I doubt that I got to all the points outlined here. As soon as I find the date of the actual program, I will post it here.

I can’t say enough about the work of Frank E. Manuel. Read his Scenes From The End, a poetic montage of his experiences in Germany ca. 1944-45 while he was an interrogator for the U.S. Army. Writers will love it as they should all his work. I am not enamored of most academics, but this one stands out as a great man and a great historian.

1. Review Jonathan Israel, Enlightenment Contested. Diderot: Pull out merging of self-love with social welfare and criticize from p.o.v. of Frank Manuel, two conflicting needs that may not be harmonized: self-development versus need for community. (Melville understood this conflict and confronted it throughout life.) Coerced harmony as a strategy of social democrats, presumably brought about by redistribution, better communication and diplomatic skills. My view: conflict is normal, harmony a dream that is realized in the arts that exemplify organic unity and the union of opposites, (paradox, ambiguity, irony). Many prior utopias were ascetic: luxury bred corruption and unwillingness to defend the social unit. In actually existing socialism, inability to produce consumer goods was turned into assault on “consumerism” in the corrupt capitalist democracies.

2. SHINE (supposedly the story of pianist David Helfgott). Do Jews control the movie industry? No: in general they have adapted to liberal Catholicism. Hollywood has elevated love and forgiveness as the cure-all for social problems that may be structural in nature. This film contrasts the Jewish father, vengeful, stern, pushy, and authoritarian with the various Christians who support the schizophrenic Helfgott through love and understanding, bringing him back into the beloved community. This is a sub-text that critics do not recognize, and is based on a misunderstanding of Judaism and the Hebraic forms of Protestantism. Jews and the religions that are grounded in the Old Testament, demand that the wrongs we do to others be recognized, then repented and reparations made. Apologies are not enough: we must change our behavior, repairing ourselves above all. Repairing the world was an adaptation of Reform Judaism to social justice Protestantism.

3. The exploitation of the demonic and the paranoid style. The [Jewish] mad scientist as dominating our lives and the future. What is the appeal of horror movies or those that elevate gangsters such as The Sopranos? David Chase and his remark that “this country is run by gangsters.” In the process of socialization, we attempt to subdue our aggressive impulses or sublimate them through the arts or sports, but they are not extinguished. Hence the religion-based arts that exploit this sense that the anti-social, self-aggrandizing instincts are controlling us and are a constant threat. Such a feeling of pervasive invisible threats can lead us to immobility and the inability to act in our own self-interest. We trust no one (especially ourselves), and appropriate skepticism can devolve to cynicism and careerism. And worse, the real menaces in the outside world are not recognized, but are dismissed as the delusive products of capitalist and imperialist propaganda. We become putty in the hands of demagogues, including many in the classroom and in public media.

AUTHORS TO RECOMMEND: FRANK E. MANUEL (UTOPIAN THOUGHT IN THE WESTERN WORLD, REQUIEM FOR KARL MARX); SAUL FRIEDLANDER VOLUMES ONE AND TWO ON NAZIS AND JEWS (VOL.2 The years of persecution); anything by Walter Laqueur; Doug Macdonald on recent scholarship on Viet Nam that could change your mind: write to me and I will forward his essay on H-Diplo.

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