Tag Archives: extremism

Populists vs. Elite

In 1966 I wasn’t paying much attention to world politics and none at all to Red China, but Mao was tipping over the socioeconomic apple cart much as the populists here in the USA seem to want to do. Mao felt that the pointy-headed elite intellectuals (no, he didn’t call them that) had become over-educated and were perpetuating an elitism that was introducing too much capitalism.

The fix was to tell the elites “we don’t need you” and banish them to the rural mountains and country side where they could be re-educated through hard work on the farm.

Chaos ensued for five years. The resulting hardships took even longer to overcome. In the US, there was little empathy. As commie-fearing devout capitalists, we were happy to see the Reds shoot themselves in the proverbial foot.

I can’t help thinking that today’s populists and their “Make America Great Again” revolution are the US version of China’s cultural revolution half a century ago: so much anti-intellectualism; so much blind faith in a man whose image and career is more smoke and mirrors than substance; so much arrogant ignorance and bravado.

When all our political elites and pointy-headed intellectuals have been dispatched to the hills and country, will we too face a decade of economic chaos while the Trumpists figure out that their leader doesn’t have any capacity to lead or to fulfill his sweeping pledges to make the mythical greatness of yesteryear return?

So far it looks like most Americans are smarter than Mao was, but in less than 90 days we will know for sure.

 

Guns and Freedom

“Freedom’s Safest Place” is how the NRA styles itself in its current series of self-promoting ads. The ads run on YouTube.com and tend to be linked as preludes to gun-related content.  They also show up if Google searches have associated your internet address with gun interest.

Freedom's Safest Place
NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION VIDEO SERIES

Everyone interested in the interplay of gun violence and politics should take time to watch a few of these. They stoke the fears of gun enthusiasts, promote guns as the solution to violent crime and terrorism, and in not so subtle ways reinforce a conservative political agenda.

On August 8th, 2016, Donald Trump was speaking about the prospect of Hillary Clinton nominating the next members of the Supreme Court of the US.  “Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment,” Trump said at a rally in Wilmington, N.C., on Tuesday. “By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

The facial expressions and body language of those present was alarming. Smiles, glances at companions that said, “Did he really say that out loud?” And, most shocking, nods of agreement.

Apologists immediately “clarified” Mr. Trump’s meaning saying he was only acknowledging the legendary political cohesiveness and clout of the NRA.  But here I will make the argument for a much more sinister meaning.

FREEDOM’S SAFEST PLACE

What does this tag line mean? If you follow NRA’s interpretation of the Second Amendment, it affirms the notion that Americans have not only a right but a patriotic duty to own and be proficient with arms. The idea is that freedom’s enemies, foreign and domestic, would never prevail against the populist will of an armed and ready citizenry. Should the government get out of hand, the people so armed can and will defend freedom; or so the myth goes. If you listen carefully to Wayne Lapierre’s “We Don’t Need You” rant, he’s articulating the anti-establishment, anti-elite anger of what’s come to be termed populism. “I am the NRA, and I’m Freedom’s Safest Place,” he says.

Yes it is a myth.  The stereotypical NRA life member is overweight, over 50, and no match for a squad of modern combat trained troops no matter what his gun collection holds. But more important, which political faction do these latter-day Minute Men represent?

In their fantasy, these defenders of liberty imagine a clearly defined enemy. Someone or some ideology that all good souls agree is Freedom’s enemy, and all are willing to die a hero’s death to repel. Alas, the real world is many shades of grey, full of nuance and complexity, and not something that all unite in recognizing as “the enemy.”

But, the myth has become reality in some dark recess of a few minds. And this is the context for Mr. Trump to refer to them as “the Second Amendment people.”

One observer of the Trump crowd said that there was a pause after Trump said, “By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. …”  His impression was that Trump heard something in the shouts of the crowd and responded, as he so often does. We can’t tell just what he heard in the crowd’s shouts, but for sure it was not a nuanced statement about the political cohesiveness and clout of the NRA’s Second Amendment defenders.

Thomas Friedman observes, “After all, an informal Trump adviser on veteran affairs, Al Baldasaro, a Republican state representative from New Hampshire, already declared that Clinton should be ‘shot for treason’ for her handling of the Benghazi terrorist attack.” In his column he compares the extreme hatred and anger of Trump’s followers to the climate that culminated in the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

Is it really hard to decode “…Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.” What would a  gun zealot, one of the Second Amendment people, one who hates and fears Hillary Clinton, be expected to think was meant?

God Save America, my beloved country.

Fear

For about 10 seconds our conversation was impossible. Two Navy jets on final approach to the US Naval Station just a couple of miles from where we are camped made a deafening roar that it was impossible to talk over. “The sound of freedom,” Mark declared after they passed.

That sentiment has provided me with a lot of food for thought over the last several days. It’s is emblematic of the widely held belief that our overwhelming military strength alone is capable of safeguarding our freedoms. Although I recognize our need for strength, I question the scale of our military and the focus. Russia and China together spend half what we do each year. I think a great deal more than military power is required to keep us free. In fact I’m coming to believe that the greatest enemies toward freedom lie within our own society. Continue reading Fear