Category Archives: Decline of the west

Strongman Government

 

Recently, I watched the Rachel Maddow show on television. She is an unrelenting liberal so I don’t watch the show very often, figuring I get enough of that already. After watching the show, I might change my mind. I just watched a small part of the show and it was very interesting.

First, she showed brief interviews with Trumpsters who had each been asked one simple question:  “If you had a choice of 4 more years of Joe Biden or 4 more years of Donald Trump as a dictator what would you choose?”

The answers were shocking. Each one chose Trump!  One said, “This country needs a dictator. I hate to say it, but it’s true.” He looked sheepish but he said it.  Another said, “Sometimes in life we need a good paddling from the principal to set our life on the right path. And this country needs a little of that.”  A young woman said, “I’d pick Trump all the way.” She also had a sheepish grin, but again, said it.  A number of them said “Trump” with enthusiasm.  They seemed to want a dictator.

Is it really true that Americans want a dictator? Dictatorship seems to have a lot of appeal in the US. Why is that?  Rachel Maddow said, many Americans want a strong man government and think that is what Trump will give them.

When Hatred and Violence Goes Mainstream

I have been living in the United States for 2 months now with more to come. I am learning, as if I did not know already, that this is a very dangerous place.

PBS News Hour interviewed an expert on domestic terrorism by the name of Cynthia Miller-Idriss, of American University. She is the director of American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab.

She said she wished she lived in a world where the FBI had enough resources at its disposal to complete its investigation into the crimes committed at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Don’t we all wish that?

Miller-Idriss made one of the most surprising statements I have ever heard. She said this on PBS News Hour:

“We don’t have the capacity in any law enforcement agency to handle a surge of political violence or hate-fueled violence when that — when it’s driven by misinformation that is believed by millions and millions of people.”

 

She is an expert on domestic terrorism in the US and she says that America can’t deal with a surge of political violence! And frankly that makes perfect sense in a country like the US where it is apparent that millions of Americans believe the misinformation that is fueling the hatred there. The problem is that the hatred and violence in the US has gone mainstream! As a result, she says, everyone who works in her field is very worried. And that worries me. Particularly when I live here for 3 months.

 Of course, it is difficult for police forces to deal with domestic terrorism when it has not just implicit, but explicit support from the political leaders.  For example, this is what Republican Congressman  Matt Gaetz said immediately after the violence on Capitol Hill after President Trump fired up his supporters that they must “fight like hell” for their country or risk losing it:

“Some of the people who breached the Capitol today were not Trump supporters. They were masquerading as Trump supporters and, in fact, were members of the violent terrorist group Antifa.

 

Even more shocking were the statements by the new speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson who earlier had been one of the leaders of the project of the Trump team to file lawsuits seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential election. He said he wanted to make public a video of the events that occurred on January 6, 2021 but would blur the faces so the rioters could not be identified:

“We have to blur some of the faces of persons who participated in the events of that day because we don’t want them to be retaliated against and to be charged by the DOJ.”

 

Think about that.  the leader of the House of Representatives said openly he wanted to help rioters who threatened to hang Mike Pence and wreck the Capitol to avoid criminal prosecution

In addition, Trump and many of the current GOP presidential primary candidates have promised to pardon Jan 6 rioters.  They are giving their blessing to what many judges and juries have already determined in many cases of the criminal trials of the leaders of the riot was sedition! That to me is astounding! And frightening.

 

When Law Makers and Law Enforcement  Support the Violence

 

One of the things that shocked me when I watched the violence and rioting unfold at the Capitol in Washington on January 6th 2021 was the presence, in a supportive role, of what appeared to be cops or military in the midst of the rioters. They believed in the cause of violent insurrection in the support of a lawless President.

As Ryan Reilly author of a book called “Sedition Hunters: How January 6th Broke the Justice System,” said about the rioters:

“We do have a lot of people within the FBI who are not so enthusiastic about bringing these cases against people who attacked the Capitol on January 6…There are, and I say that because some of these individuals who were at the FBI have come out and said that publicly. They have resigned from the FBI because of these cases.”

 

 

He said he would work against the FBI charging rioters. Reilly also pointed out that not only did current and former law enforcement officials push conspiracy theories, so did members of Congress who outright opposed the investigation into the crimes committed at the Capitol on January 6th. The current speaker of the House, Republican Mike Johnson, was one of those obvious supporters.  Added to that, he said many of them “contributed to misinformation about what happened that day.”

Think about that: Law makers and law enforcement supporting domestic terrorism. I  repeat what I have beeen saying: how can anyone deny that America is a country in serious decline?

Sedition Hunters

 

The investigation by the FBI into what happened at the US Capitol on January 6th is the largest criminal investigation in the history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI is so overwhelmed it is relies on tips from amateurs doing their civic duty, as they see it, to pursue leads about the rioters so they can help the FBI to identify insurgents. One of those citizens, talked to PBS’s Judy Woodruff and told her that she had joined a massive citizen organization, including Trump supporters, to identify the people who participated in the riot at the Capitol by attacking police and the Capitol security.

As a result, that woman now has to hide her own identity because American right-wing extremists are threatening her personally to such an extent that she fears retaliation. One of the ones she called “insidious” was sending her videos of himself racking his gun. Imagine if you received such a video. 

The group of citizens is now referred to as “sedition hunters,” because as Judy Woodruff said on PBS News Hour,

“Over time, they developed their own methodologies, guidelines, even a software application to keep track of every individual rioter, giving each one a pseudonym and compiling dossiers of evidence that they then turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with the rioters’ real identity.”

As Ryan Reilly NBC Justice Reporter said, “The FBI was overwhelmed with the number of tips that they were receiving. They had received hundreds of thousands of tips.” Reilly, the author as well of the book “Sedition Hunters: How January 6th Broke the Justice System,” described how the FBI has struggled to investigate the thousands of claims about people who stormed the Capitol.

Of course, according to FBI data,  the number of domestic terrorism cases in the US have increased by about 490% between 2016 when Trump was elected and 2021 when he lost the election and Biden was inaugurated.

Frankly, it is astonishing to me that the richest country in the world is unable to properly investigate the crimes committed at what the Americans refer to as a sacred place for its democracy. Many of those cases will expire because the statute of limitations is approaching and after that the perpetrators can’t be prosecuted. The FBI does not have the capacity to investigate all cases in time to meet the deadline!

 How can the US deny that it is a country in decline?

 

Surging Domestic Terrorism

 

The American criminal investigation by the FBI into what happened on Capitol Hill in Washington on January 6 2021 is the largest investigation it has ever undertaken. More than 1,200 people have already been charged with more than 900 of those convicted by courts of law. Republicans and many other Americans don’t seem to grasp this. These are 900 people who have already either admitted their guilt or been found guilty by a court of law.  And it is expected that hundreds of more charges will be laid. Yet many of them believe this is not true. Because that is what Fox News and their spiritual leader tell them.

There are so many investigations that the FBI basically acknowledges that it will not be able to complete all of the investigations before the Statute of Limitations expires!  That means many people who should be charged won’t be charged because it will be too late. Many domestic terrorists will be released or not even charged because the FBI is overwhelmed.

This is not fake news. This is fact. In fact, it is a brutal fact. These are Americans who were incited to appear at the Capitol on that day because Donald Trump said, “it’s going to be crazy.”  And “It will be wild.” And for once Trump was exactly right. It was crazy and it was wild.

I watched it unfold on television for hours that day, and to me it was completely unbelievable. Yet there it was right before my eyes. I saw much of it. And it was a riot. It was not a bunch of overly enthusiastic tourists as many Republicans alleged. Those were not crisis actors. This was a riot and for hours the president of the United States did nothing to stop it. Instead, he poured gasoline on the flames. Trump told his followers that day, “We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

 One of the interesting things about this riot is the varied reactions from Americans. Many on the American right have pooh-poohed it. American House Republican Representative Matt Gaetz said the rioters who breached the Capitol that day were not Trump supporters but were members of the violent left-wing terrorist group known as Antifa, masquerading as Trump supporters.  In effect, he said, it may look like a duck, walk like duck and quack like a duck, but still not be a duck.  And of course, all of this he claimed without any evidence whatsoever.

Many of the rioters violently tried to throttle the police and Capitol security forces. Many of those officers feared for their lives.  Many of the rioters were chanting “Hang Mike Pence” over and over again, because they were disappointed that he did not support Trump’s attempt to steal the election by subverting the electoral count  in the House of Representatives that day. Some of them even carried gallows to the event ready for use when needed!  Many of them were hunting for Senator Barbara Pelosi, likely for a similar purpose.

It was indeed crazy!

 

The scam at the heart of society

 

Scammers and rogues are everywhere.

Naomi Fry a commentator on the podcast Critics at Large, caught on to the essence of the lure of the scam when she asked,

“Isn’t this the promise of the American Dream where you are able to scale these new heights…It’s like to take a bite of American pie you have to spill some of the milk? To climb to the next level in this country, which we all want, you have to be a bit of a rogue. And the rogue and the scammer aren’t so far apart.”

This doesn’t apply only to George Santos. No one has demonstrated this more effectively than the former president Donald Trump. Of course, in his case perhaps we should drop the phrase “a bit of a” before the word “rogue.”

And we see ourselves in both scammers and suckers. And we see this characteristic in the scammers, because we see it in ourselves.

We saw a classic example of this in the film, The Postman Always Rings Twice, where the beautiful woman persuades her boyfriend to kill her husband so they can live happily ever after together. In films there was of course a Code which required that the film makers could not let the criminal “get away with it.”  So instead of giving people the thrill of seeing the scammer escape, it would give us the thrill of watching the rogue get caught and punished. That was also thrilling to us. We love to moralize and wag our fingers at miscreants.

Somehow, “we root for the protagonist” as Alexandra Schwarz says.  We cheer for them even as we know they won’t get away. We love living in FantasyLand, which is the point Kurt Anderson made in his book by that name.

Then in 2008 came an abrupt disruption of the model. That was the financial crisis, where according to Schwarz “we came to realize that the entire culture was built on a scam.” The poor got screwed while the rich, who caused the financial collapse in the first place were protected against their losses by payments made by the government. The poor paid the rich for their sins. How did that happen? It happened by a scam of course. Schwarz called it “the scam at the heart of society.”

As Schwarz also showed us, the scam shows us that  “the ground beneath our feet is not stable.” As many of us have learned, there is no security anymore! 

There is no security in FantasyLand. Except perhaps for the rich.

The Scammer as Celebrity

 

 

The George Santos cases like so many other modern scams reveal a new trend—making the scammer into a celebrity. This requires that the scammer go public. One would think that would kill the scam, but amazingly it doesn’t. This often does the scammer’s work for them. No one should be surprised that Santos did not tell the truth. That is what made him famous. So why was that fact not enough to stop the grift?

This made New Yorker writer Alexandra Schwarz ask, “Who do we empathize with? The scammer or the scammed? Why do we love the scam stories? Vinson Cunningham, also of the New Yorker suggested part of the answer was that we wanted someone to succeed spectacularly. We love to see a glorious success. We want to believe that the big win is really possible in the land of opportunity. If it can’t be us, at least let it be someone else. And someone on some level close to us.  And if it requires some chicanery, we hope we will have enough guts to pull it off when we get the opportunity. The scammer shows us that if only we had fewer scruples we would become winners.

Once again, the classic scammer is New York real estate baron Donald Trump. The trial by New York against Trump shows that banks were eager to deal with Trump. They considered him one of the rare “whales”.  In fact that was Trump’s entire defence in his recent law suit which he spectacularly lost. Trump might be right. Even bankers love the scammer. Scammers are in some way attractive that keeps the rest of us watching.

I think too this is part of Trump’s political attraction.  People know he is a scammer. After all his lies are so outrageous how could they be true?  Yet a lot of people love him. 68% of Republicans love Trump, sometimes with astonishing devotion.  Others, like me, ask how is that possible? How can so many voluntarily put their love and support behind an outrageous liar or scammer? Truth be damned; they just want Trump!

No wonder truth is dying.

Technological Boost for Scams


 

Alexandra Schwarz the third New Yorker writer on the Critics at Large podcast about George Santos made an important point about technology. Scams are given a golden opportunity by new technology like the rise of televangelists in the 1980s. The latest example is Crypto Currency where space for scams has skyrocketed and as P.T. Barnum said, suckers are born every minute. The Internet itself is a giant example. So is Go Fund Me. And of course, as a result scams abound

 

Closely related is the arrival of new immigrants to a new country. Mae West starred in the 1937 film Every Day’s a Holiday, written by and starring Mae West as Peaches O’Dea who sold the Brooklyn Bridge for $200 to greenhorns arriving straight off the boat to the land of opportunity. She assured buyers that if the bridge got run down she would send them another one. In the land of opportunity buyers were eager to buy because they were in the land of opportunity, not knowing that no one had a better opportunity than scam artists.

 

As Alexandra Schwarz said, “We are again in a golden age of scamming stories.” There is an IT fest of scams  happening in books and movies. Another example was Elizabeth Holmes who in January 2022, was found guilty on four charges of defrauding investors in the Theranos scandal where a young woman claimed to be doing complex chemical engineering with a mere high school degree. She claimed to be making health care accessible to everyone in the country by her revolutionary inventions related to blood analysis.

 

Scam as Nihilism

 

When I started listening to the podcast about George Santos I did so because I thought it would be funny with amusing stories of Santos’ scams.  Many of them were funny. In many cases the victim of the scam deserved to be duped. But there is also a dark side to the scamming. It is not all fun.

Naomi Fry made the point that the scams could be used to critique not just the scammer but even society. Yet, at the same time, “It also means that there is so little to enjoy in contemporary society that it’s almost as if we as audiences fully aware of being scammed are also begging please make this fun for us.

We love scams of course. We laugh at how George Santos gets away with outrageous scams. They are fun. But there is a dark side too. This is profoundly true. For example, one of Santos scams involved a dog who was owned by a poor homeless man. The dog was sick and Santos was to help him set up sort of a Go Fund Me plan to raise the money for the proper care of the dog. But according to Vinson Cunningham one of the panelists of the podcast he pocketed the money, did nothing for the dog, and left. The tumor kept growing and, in the end the dog died! That’s not fun.

Cunningham wanted to critique the scammer, but what was important was not the individual, “but the system in which they flourish.” The people are really mad at the system not just George Santos. According to Cunningham there is not a person bad enough to eclipse the context.” In fact, in a way Cunningham appreciates Santos, for “at least he has a figured out a way to expose the deeper nefariousness of the swamp from which emerges.”

Of course, once you are in this heart of darkness you will have people ask, as Cunningham suggests, “how different is George Santos from Marjorie Taylor Greene?” Or Donald Trump? The answer of course, is not at all. If scams are everywhere as many suggest, then all is permitted. Even if God is still alive, all is permitted. Dostoevsky got it wrong. As Naomi Fry added, “I think the obviousness is a relief too. The lies are so flagrant and the performance is so outrageous, and the shamelessness is so galling that there is a release and a relief that is associated with the relief.”

A scam such as the bailout of those who caused the financial crisis in 2008 while ordinary working people got screwed, “shows us,” the New Yorker’s Vinson Cunningham said, “the structure of the con.  Once you realized how powerless we are against the forces that create such scams, all you can do is watch it burn.” At that point you are in the heart of darkness which is the scam. And you can’t escape.

Call Time: As real as Chucky Cheese

 

It is noteworthy that George Santos with his scummy videos on Cameo is actually doing exactly what Congressmen in the United States do. I have been told that American Congressmen spend half their working time phoning people for money. An aide hands them a quick note about the person they are calling and the politician talks to the person, be it a potential voter or potential donor, and tells them what they want to hear. For a couple of minutes, the politician is real chummy with the listener based on information on the cheat sheet. The listener thinks he has a real friend in Washington. But that friend is as real as Chucky Cheese. That is the deal: listen to the politician for a few minutes and perhaps consider a donation. Then the listener can go to his buddies and brag about how he got a call from the Congressman.

 

Vinson Cunningham, a New Yorker writer and member of the podcast panel  on Critics at Large, said the politicians he worked with referred to this as “Call time.” Politicians did it nearly every day. Cameo is exactly that. As Naomi Fry said about George Santos: “Politics has prepared him perfectly for this.” I would say, life in America or Canada has prepared him pretty good for this too. Living in FantasyLand is the perfect training for Call Time. Begging people you don’t know for money. Sort of like those people who stand on street meridians by traffic lights with their hands out usually with a sign briefly describing their plight.

That is exactly what American Congressmen do every day during Call Time.  It is no more dignified. It is no more real.