What was unacceptable can become acceptable

from: Marantz, Andrew. 2019. Anti-Social: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation. New York: Viking.

Marantz writes –

After Trump won, the late professor Richard Rorty enjoyed a posthumous moment of mini-virality. My [Marantz’s] Facebook feed was full of people posting an eerily prescient excerpt from Rorty’s Achieving Our Country, a collection of political lectures published in 1998. With the left wing of the Democratic Party in decline [during Clinton’s years, presumably], Rorty argued, the only politicians “channeling the mounting rage of the newly dispossessed” were right-wing populists. If this continued, he wrote, then, sooner or later,

“something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking for a strongman to vote for [both Trump and Sanders, although for Sanders primarily urban and suburban]…. One thing that is very likely to happen is that gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out [Trump only]. Jocular contempt for women will come back in fashion…. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back.”

What was unacceptable can become acceptable. Acceptability is just a norm, and norms can change for the better or for the worse.

Whenever this passage was posted on Facebook, commenters tended to treat Rorty’s words like a prophecy, a revelation of the fact that the American experience had always been doomed to fail. But Rorty put no stock in revelation. “We should face up to unpleasant truths about ourselves,” he continued, “but we should not take those truths to be the last word about our chances for happiness, or about our national character. Our national character is still in the making.” As the title of this book suggests, he did not believe that we are doomed or that we are saved. He did not believe that We Are Good or that We Are Bad. He believed something more liberating and also more terrifying: that history is contingent, that the arc bends the way people bend it. The American attitude toward fascism has long been an article of faith: it can’t happen here. But if history is contingent – if anything can happen – then our worst fears are not impossible but improbable, which is not at all the same thing. (59-60)

According to Rorty, the way a society talks to itself – through books, through popular films, through schools and universities, through mass media – determines that society’s beliefs, its politics, its very culture. (60)

Rorty argued that a transition from one moral vocabulary [a broad system of thought; how a society talks to itself] to another happens roughly the way a paradigm shift happens in science. (60)

“The world does not speak,” Rorty wrote. “Only we do.” To change how we talk is to change who we are. (61)

Acquittal: freed from charges

I found these notes after the previous post on the subject:

A not guilty verdict is not exoneration except in a colloquial sense.

U.S. President Donald Trump claims that the Senate will exonerate him. “I’ve done nothing wrong.” What he doesn’t know – or doesn’t want to admit – is that a not guilty vote doesn’t mean innocent.

An acquittal, which is to say a preponderance of not guilty votes in the Senate, would only free President Trump from the impeachment charges. No explanation is attached to the individual votes, though.

A Senator who votes not guilty may intend to say that the President is innocent of the charges. He simply did not do what he was accused of doing. Another Senator might intend that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict. The President may still be guilty – just not in the eyes of the law.

What is the difference here?

Those who believe that he is innocent will still associate themselves with him. Those who believe that the President probably did what he was accused of will distance themselves from him.

Similarly with voters, although it is more complicated. People have been known to hold their noses when they reach a ballot box.

‘Not guilty’ is not ‘innocent’

President Donald Trump will go on trial in the U.S. Senate, probably in January 2020.

Senators will choose how to vote: guilty or not guilty. They cannot vote innocent.

A not guilty vote is ambiguous. Is the defendant innocent of charges, “exonerated” in everyday speech? Or did the prosecutors fail to give evidence that rose to the standard of “no reasonable doubt”?

Anyone who will claim that the President was exonerated is speaking colloquially but not legally or morally.

This figure of speech, ‘exonerated’ was previously declared by the President and his supporters after Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller issued his report. This way of speaking is feel-good speech.

The Mueller report did not find sufficient evidence that the Trump election campaign coordinated or cooperated with Russian intelligence agents. That’s it. They did find smoke but failed to find a fire.

President Trump was not exonerated. The failure to find unambiguous evidence doesn’t mean that evidence doesn’t exist. Evidence may yet turn up. Then again maybe not.

The final jury of history has yet to convene.


Trump links gun violence to mental illness, social media, and violent videos

I’ve been dwelling on the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio (during the weekend of August 3 and 4, 2019). There’s a tendency in some circles to call mass murderers mentally ill. Such was the judgment of U.S. President Donald Trump:

“If you look at both of these cases, this is mental illness…. These are really people that are very, very seriously mentally ill.”
(Remarks delivered Monday morning, August 5, 2019.)

However, many or most terrorists and mass murderers aren’t mentally ill in the medical sense and probably not in the legal sense either. Besides this, mental illness does not predict violence of any sort.

These two mass murderers planned their attacks. The El Paso shooter drove across Texas. He published a screed to explain his actions. Both shooters already had their weapons at the ready. One probably modified his legally acquired gun. These actions are generally not what mentally ill people can do.

It does seem that the shooter in Dayton may have had psychiatric issues. He was allegedly taking illicit drugs before the shooting. In fact, taking drugs could have been evidence that he knew the difference between right and wrong and that he needed to numb himself before he could commit the shootings.

Regardless, the El Paso shooter showed no signs of mental illness. He made a moral decision.

Mr. Trump continued:

“We must recognize that the Internet has provided a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds and perform demented acts.”

The President continued to castigate the Internet and social media:

“The Internet likewise is used for human trafficking, illegal drug distribution, and so many other heinous crimes. The perils of the Internet and social media cannot be ignored and they will not be ignored.”

Trump’s speech then dwelt upon potential solutions, including dealing with mental illness, social media and violent video games. Supposedly, “troubled youth surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence.”

First, he called on the Department of Justice to act on early warning signs, to develop Internet tools to detect mass shooters before they strike. However, there’s no evidence that either shooter could have been detected. The El Paso shooter only published his screed shortly before his attack.

“Second, we must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace…. Each of us can choose to build a culture that celebrates the inherent worth and dignity of every human life.”

A worthy goal “to build a culture that celebrates the inherent worth and dignity of every human life.” But, I’m not aware that playing violent video games predicts acts of violence. It’s so easy to blame violent videos.

The President continued:

“Third, we must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get mental health treatment, even if necessary, involuntary confinement…. Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”

There’s a difference between being distressed and being mentally disturbed in the medical sense. Going through a psychological crisis is not mental illness. If there is a mental health crisis here, the sufferer is likely to be depressed and suicidal. Depression is deadly, and depression and guns don’t go together. Depression pulls the trigger. And often hatred pulls the trigger (so to speak), as hatred pulled on the shooters who pulled triggers to murder in Dayton and El Paso.

In later remarks on Wednesday, August 7, Mr. Trump said,

“These are sick people; these are really people who are mentally ill, who are disturbed. It’s a mental problem…. They’re mentally unstable.”

But, mental instability is not a diagnosis of mental illness. Again, the President has no evidence that mass shooters are sick in the colloquial sense of mentally ill. Furthermore, his new push for involuntary confinement is draconian. Confinement is not care. And people in straightforward distress don’t benefit from confinement.

If anything, the President is talking about confining me. When I was 25 years old, I was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. I’ve received effective treatment including medication, and, typical of other sufferers, I’ve never been violent.

Finally, the President suggested:

“Fourth, the Department of Justice sees to it that those who pose a great risk to public safety do not have access to guns.”

Laws to take guns away with due process are popularly called “red flag laws.” More properly, they are known as extreme risk protection orders.

So-called red-flag laws could allow family members to request that judges temporarily block individuals who are mentally ill or may pose a risk to themselves or others from having a firearm.

Hopefully, guns would be taken away from individuals who are suicidally depressed. Unfortunately, family members and friends don’t see suicidal intentions. So many suicides don’t usually cry out for help either.

And Mr. Trump added that, “mass murderers and hate crimes receive the death penalty.” (The awkward wording is his.) Never mind that they receive the death penalty in some states already. And never mind that there’s no evidence that the death penalty deters murder.

The President called for real bipartisan solutions to make America “safer and better for all.” But, he didn’t call for better background checks, though Not that these would help prevent guns from falling into the hands of mass shooters. The Dayton and El Paso shooters had never had serious brushes with the law.

The only part of the President’s remarks I agreed with is when he said,

“Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul.”

I firmly believe that hatred kills people, both the hater and the hated, but not mental illness or video games. Hatred has become an evil contagion.

Mass shootings are truly a “monstrous evil” – Mr. Trump’s words.


To view the President’s remarks after the mass murder go to his Twitter channel.
(Tweets may be archived: https://t.co/IURuMIrzxb)
Some of the President’s remarks are available in the press secretary’s Twitter feed.

Some healthcare talking points for presidential candidates

More Americans have health insurance than ever before, but we’ve got a long way to go.

We need to expand Medicaid to reach all needy Americans and to reach Americans who are above the official poverty line but are barely making it. These are the working poor. They’re doing everything right but are struggling to make it.

We need to fix healthcare in rural America. We can’t allow any more hospitals to close. We need a health corps — young professionals to rotate through rural areas to bring them America’s fantastic treatments.

And we need more drug rehab facilities. So let’s start sending young Americans to school to become social workers, for instance, and let’s pay their tuition.

Of course, it’s long been time to bring down the costs of medication. Americans shouldn’t be rationing prescription drugs because they can’t afford it.

America is the greatest country on Earth, and we can have the best healthcare in the world again.

Yes, they are concentration camps on the border

Migrants and refugees from Central America are being held in concentration camps along the U.S. border with Mexico. Please note that they are not death camps, but they bear the hallmarks of other concentration camps from the 20th century.

The conditions are inhumane. The inmates are a persecuted minority. The inmates are considered dirty, diseased, and dangerous. They are seen as what’s wrong with the country. The country would be better off without them, in fact, without all Latino immigrants.

It’s true that previous administrations in Washington should be ashamed of how they treated detainees, but that’s no excuse for the Trump administration. This administration is not bound by the policies of previous administrations. They are perfectly able to formulate their own, which they have done.

The administration’s policies are cruel. They have been designed to be cruel. I don’t know how the president’s advisors can sleep at night. They should know better.

A national emergency: an imperial president

U.S. President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border. However, his security advisors did not suggest that there is indeed a security threat at the border. These advisors recently delivered a report to Congress to delineate the real threats that the U.S. faces.

Based on his putative emergency, President Trump claims that he can and will divert funds from accounts outside the Department of Homeland Security to build a 250-mile border wall.

The real emergency is that the president is disregarding the U.S. Constitution:

All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives … (Article I, Section 7). No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law … (Article I, Section 9).

In 1976, Congress granted the president the expediency of quickly directing funds for recognized emergencies like hurricanes and wild fires. We see thereby that Congress still has the authority but has granted the president a small share of the “power of the purse.”

It’s now almost Shabbat and an opportunity to tune out the President’s noise.

And to drink a cup of hot tea with sugar.