WHAT IS HAPPENING.

Hey Jordan -

So…one email exchange in and I’m already not sure I can keep going. lol.

Seriously, though. After we discussed the Muslim ban, I felt off. The more I sat with it, the more uncomfortable I became with the idea that I was somehow “normalizing” Trump just by trying to find common ground with you. While that is a problem (for me to deal with), and something I’m continuing to think on, I was also pretty jarred by the idea that you find all this…normal/ok.

Fundamentally, I think you’re saying (and often cite Scott Adam’s touting of this) that because everyone is already so wound up about Trump, that they end up picking and choosing everything possible to confirm their worldview, in order to minimize cognitive dissonance. I suppose that’s possible, but upon reflection, it doesn’t hold up as the primary factor. I think I am deeply disturbed by what I see because it’s unprecedentedly weird. My turn with the lists:

1) Rhetoric.

I think Trump’s rhetoric, dating back to the campaign, is so reckless, incendiary, and imprecise as to reasonably cause concern.

- labeling Mexican immigrants as rapists/criminals (and generously adding that “some of them are good people, i assume)

- calling for a shutdown of Muslims coming into the country and also a database of all Muslims living in the US

- after David Duke’s repeated support of him, he said he wasn’t familiar with him, and other things, before saying he didn’t want the support.

These things all have caused unrest. While it’s possible that they could all be misunderstandings (or intentional misconstruals), I don’t think so. I think that’s an unrealistic coincidence. I think inflaming feelings of threat and otherness helped energize a certain kind of Trump supporter who might otherwise not have voted. I think that was intentional, and given the danger of what underlies it (stoking prejudice, discrimination, and hate) — it makes me on edge.

2) People.

- Bannon, Miller, and Flynn seem very questionable. Bannon, especially, seems to have a number of ties to some very sketchy fascist type groups. That bums me out.

- Then you have people like DeVos who seems blatantly unqualified. While I do think our education system needs some real reforms and changes, this lady seems clueless and like an ideologue. Do we really have to choose between the stereotype of “know nothing academics/technocrats” and “clueless ideologues”?

- Then after enduring a year of insane theories about Benghazi and email servers, we have Flynn talking to Russia about sanctions on unsecured lines. Also, talking to Russia about sanctions, while not an official. WTF, is wrong with these people?

All that to say, these are not people that produce confidence. Tillerson has Russian connections from his time at Exxon, but I actually like the pick. That is, assuming the Russia stuff w/the whole administration doesn’t get weirder. He’s been a really successful and seemingly pretty decent guy. Munchin is a little bit more of a cypher given his recent bank dealings, but I kind of like having someone with deep financial markets experience — IF they’ll use it to ensure that sector can’t screw taxpayers anymore, and not, you know, find ways to make that easier. Time will tell on that. Anyway, I think overall the people he’s appointed haven’t made me feel good. Some of them strike me as racists. Others as incompetent. Others, I’m hopeful on. Bannon scares the shit out of me. Full stop.

Conflicts.

- Refused to disclose his tax records. Did a rope-a-dope till now. Lucy w/the football. What’s in there? Who does he owe money to. What governments?

- He hasn’t divested. He owns his company, which he now has his kids run, but also, his kids constantly around the White House. The conflicts, and the opportunities to enrich himself, at our expense are massive. It’s gross. It’s unprecedented.

- Trump has been a relentless self-promoter and always looked out for his own self-interest and bottom line. This means not paying contractors and screwing over his financiers. All this, with the above conflicts and lack of transparency, makes me worried he’s creating his own Russia. Putin has an incredible kleptocracy in Russia, and I wonder if Trump looks at that admiringly?

Finally, just all of these things make look at Trump with utter distrust. Also, because: he lies, repeatedly.

He keeps bringing up massive voter fraud. What evidence (also, HE WON?! WTF)

He kept bringing up crowd size even after photos, ticket sales, hotels, all showed a significant drop from the past. Yet his alternative facts (not the legal term, but for a rejection of basic truths) were constantly trotted out.

He lies about random things off the cuff. During the campaign he talked about how “thousands and thousands of people in NJ were cheering” as the twin towers fell on 9/11. It’s just too much. It’s disgusting.

All of this together creates a toxic, hysterical environment. I know you’ve said that you think the protesters, the media are to blame. That’s garbage to me. You have a guy who’s said clearly inflammatory, slanderous stuff about ethnic groups; Who has appointed people with ties to extreme hate-groups; Who has deep, unprecedented financial conflicts with no transparency, and a history of unapologetically enriching himself over others. In my mind, for sure, that allows me to look at what’s unfolding as a tragedy.

People are saying he’s a narcissistic, ill-tempered, short-attention span bully who is in way over his head. I think we need to look into that, and slow everything down, until we can find out what’s going on.

I guess my question to you, is if we reduced the Trump outrage to these main buckets: his rhetoric, the type and quality of the people he’s appointed, his conflicts, with an underpinning of a very tenuous relationship to facts/truth — how do you rebut that? How do you dismiss this and see an “alpha male leader” who should get the benefit of the doubt and see his proposals as reasonable?

surya


Surya,

Finding all of this to be OK doesn’t mean that I find it to be normal. It is definitely not normal. Donald Trump is not normal. The Democrats reaction to Donald Trump is not normal. The hysteria of the opposition is not normal. The media’s reaction to the surprise election of Donald Trump is not normal.

I have two thoughts that will help you understand what is happening. I’m glad you brought up Scott Adams because his “two movies” lens will be very useful in this conversation. But first: Has it occurred to you that this is what real change looks like?

I know it’s hard because President Obama sold us on being a change agent and then ended up being just like every other politician once he gets into office. I am by no means an Obama-hater, but there is no way you can say he was a force for change in DC. He did the job of president just like every other politician does the job. The only discernible change was a move left of center after we had moved right of center. But when it came to war, education, immigration and so on — business as usual.

President Trump is a true change agent. Now, as we Obama skeptics liked to say back in ’08, things can also change for the worse. That’s also a possibility here. But you can’t deny things are actual changing this time. And you also can’t deny that real change is going to cause a lot of people to freak the hell out. That is one way to understand what is happening.

The other way is the “two movies” lens, which is will briefly summarize here. In a nutshell, you and I are watching two different movies. Yours is called The Fourth Reich. Mine is called The Last American Hero. The crazy thing is that we are sitting next to each other in the same theater, watching the same things happening on the big screen. When President Trump says, “make America great again,” you hear it in a German accent and recall Hitler. I hear it in a booming baritone and imagine Reagan. (Neither of these statements is accurate; I am exaggerating for effect.) For more on this, I strongly recommend you and everyone reading this take a break and read this recent post on Adams’ blog. Getting this point is really the key to the whole thing.

I look at your list and see a lot of cognitive bias (e.g. confirmation bias) and alleged facts (my new favorite term) that are really just partisan attacks in disguise. I also see a few real points of concern. This is why I like this idea of an exchange. I think so many people out there are like you. They only know their point of view, and they don’t ever get the “alternative facts” (used intentionally, it’s a real phrase) that would help balance their thinking. And that’s ultimately bad for your cause because any real concerns about President Trump are going to be lost in the ‘outrage overload.’ No one has any credibility any more. No one is listening to anything the other side is saying.

I’m disappointed to see you falling into this trap. I would have thought my excellent counter-points to the “Muslim ban” hysteria would have given you pause. That said, I also get where you are coming from. I have this “what is happening?!” emotional reaction a lot, too. Some days I can’t take how ridiculously biased the mainstream media is anymore. As I page through one biased, agenda-driven article after another, I want to scream. Watching CNN can be almost physically painful for me. It’s so clear to me that the Democrats, the activists and the media are all working together to tear down American democracy because things didn’t go their way. But that’s just the plot of my movie …

This is already quite long, so I won’t go point by point on your “rhetoric,” “people” and “conflicts” sections. Instead, I’ll show you my movie for the “rhetoric” section and then cherry pick a few points from the other sections.

Point 1: Trump “labeling Mexican immigrants as rapists/criminals.”

In my movie, Trump did no such thing. Let’s first look at his actual quote:

The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems … When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we’re getting. And it only makes common sense. It only makes common sense. They’re sending us not the right people.
It’s coming from more than Mexico. It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably — probably — from the Middle East. But we don’t know. Because we have no protection and we have no competence, we don’t know what’s happening. And it’s got to stop and it’s got to stop fast.

So in my movie, Trump was clearly referring to illegal aliens coming over the U.S.-Mexico border and engaging in drug running, human trafficking (which involves rape) and other crimes. In other words: He was referring to “bad hombres,” not all Mexican immigrants and especially not legal immigrants of Mexican descent. He was making a point about our porous southern border and who is sneaking in. Is that a fair characterization of illegal Mexican immigrants as a whole? I don’t think so. I think most come here to work and send money back home because our economy is awesome and life in Mexico sucks. But is it important to stop the minority who are coming here to commit criminal acts? Yes. How do you get action on an important issue that is nuanced and has proved intractable? If you’re a master of persuasion, you clarify the issue with strong language and by narrowing people’s focus.

Consider: We changed our entire approach to national security after one major terrorist attack, despite the very low odds of it ever happening again. Lacking one big, horrible event that galvanizes the nation on illegal immigration at last, Trump tries to create similar motivation with strong words. FYI, the opposition uses the same narrowing tactic all the time. Your TV screen is full of images of adorable refugees and weeping families these days, right? They never follow that with ISIS recruiting videos or what IS leaders say about their intention to subjugate or murder all of us. Wanting to make Americans sympathetic to immigrants, they narrow the focus to the good people and ignore the bad ones.

Point 2: Trump “calling for a shutdown of Muslims coming into the country and also a database of all Muslims living in the US.”

We’ve already covered some of this ground, so rather than rehash, I’d like to blow your mind and introduce you to a new fact: Liberals also believe “Muslim” is synonymous with “terrorist.” For example, check out this video of Bill Maher and Sam Harris sending Ben Affleck into fits by insisting Islam is “the mother-load of bad ideas” and that significant majorities of Muslims believe horrible things that are incompatible with American values.

Here’s another example in the form of a trivia question: Which party opposed the building of a religious harmony center a few blocks from where the Twin Towers once stood because the initiative was created by an imam — even though he had the support of local rabbis and pastors?

Answer: It’s a trick question. Both parties opposed it. If you recall, everyone called it a “mosque at Ground Zero” even though it wasn’t a mosque and it wasn’t at Ground Zero. The opposition involved a lot of conflating Islam with terrorism. We were told it would be offensive to the victims of 9/11, for example, because Muslims would be allowed to pray there.

So President Trump has tended to agree with Bill Maher and many NY Democrats. They believe Muslims can’t be trusted. For obvious reasons, both personal and rational, I do not agree with this sentiment. I think it is based in ignorance, and I wish Americans of all political stripes would get to know real Muslims and see how like us they are. I am also a fan of the “mosque at Ground Zero” imam, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who presided over the Islamic part of my marriage to my Muslim wife despite the fact I am a practicing Christian of Jewish descent. I have also been influenced by his book, What’s Right with Islam Is What’s Right with America, in which he explains how the tenets of Islam are fully compatible and synergistic with our American values.

I also happen to think it is past time we had an honest conversation about the issue. We shouldn’t assume Muslims agree with terrorism or believe in the more radical interpretations of Islamic law. But we also shouldn’t pretend that Muslims coming here from backwater, Third-World countries where radical interpretations of Islamic law are the norm are going to instantly transform into liberal American patriots when they land here. And we should also remember that all of the terrorists killing people all over the world right now share one thing in common: They believe they are good Muslims.

My point is this: President Trump is not a special case of religious bigotry in America today. In fact, I think he represents how the majority of Americans think about Islam based on what I have seen and heard. (He may even represent how you think about Islam, to a degree.) Thankfully, though, we have laws that prevent religious discrimination, and President Trump is abiding by those laws as a good president should. With guidance, he has also abandoned his broad-sweeping, discriminatory language and begun to draw a proper distinction between Islam and terrorism. I am optimistic he will continue to do so.

Point 3: Trump failing to disavow “David Duke’s repeated support of him”

This is one of those “alleged facts” to which I alluded earlier that is really just a partisan attack in disguise. No matter how much you contort things, there is no way any rational person could ever conclude that President Trump is a white supremacist — unless there are some new rules I missed where you can have blacks and Jews in your cabinet, as your friends and even in your family and still be considered a good Klansman.

Oh yeah, and there’s also the fact that Trump unequivocally denounced Duke.

Cherry-Picked Point 4: Trump picking “people like DeVos who seems blatantly unqualified”

You imply DeVos is a “clueless ideologue.” I challenge you to support that claim without posting partisan slams that are not rooted in facts. In my movie, DeVos is exactly the sort of person we need to fix our broken education system, which is controlled by unions that favor teachers in the extreme over students. Indeed, I think only a billionaire with a heterodox opinion of educational excellence has any chance to survive DC brainwashing. The teachers’ unions are so powerful, it would be all but impossible to avoid cooptation otherwise.

Incidentally, this pick also contradicts the ‘Trump is a racist’ narrative because school choice is a top issue in the black community, and President Trump has clearly stated that fixing the problem for underprivileged blacks is a key part of his educational goals. Ready for another trivia question? Who said the following: “Under the current system … too many of our children are trapped in failing schools, especially in the African American community.” [Hint: It wasn’t our first black president.]

Answer: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. The quote actually reads, “Under the current system, the president [i.e. Trump] believes too many of our children are trapped in failing schools, especially in the African American community.”

Cherry-Picked Point 5: Trump not divesting, creating “conflicts and the opportunities to enrich himself at our expense” which is “unprecedented.”

This is one of the hysterical, hypothetical scenarios the opposition loves to talk about. Michael Flynn could be vulnerable to espionage. Steve Bannon could have ties to some “sketchy fascist types.” Trump could use his power to enrich himself. OK, I see your hypotheticals and raise you three of my own. General Michael Flynn could have been the best guy for the job ever. Steve Bannon could hate fascism and love the Jewish people.* Trump could really only care about making America great again and go so far as to decline a presidential salary to show he isn’t in this for the money.

By the way, I agree that Trump’s refusal to divest from his business interests is unprecedented. So is his presidency. We have never had a billionaire with dozens of business interests all over the world become president. Acting like it’s as easy or routine for someone like Trump to divest is sloppy, partisan thinking.

“[T]here’s nothing simple about it,” according to Politico. “[U]nloading a real estate empire as large as Trump’s is a lengthy, complicated process fraught with ethical pitfalls, one that could end up costing a fortune.” The full article explains how besides taking more than a year and costing Trump millions, the process would create all kinds of other ethical problems that, I have no doubt, the opposition would turn into new hysterical, hypothetical scenarios for you to get upset about.

So … How are you enjoying my movie so far?

* If you follow this link, you’ll notice something really crazy: An article with that headline and that argument is from the alleged online publication of white supremacy!

�8 �C_


Hi Jordan,

I put my responses line by line in the margin of your note above. You (and anyone reading this!) should go take a look and then come back :)

So where does that leave us? Fundamentally, I agree that we could always give someone the benefit of the doubt. I think that’s what you ask with almost all of your interpretations. I see that as unreasonable for someone like Trump, it’s too many things for me to feel comfortable seeing them all in the best light and chalking them up as a coincidence. Instead, I see the more sinister. Today’s furor is over Flynn. Would it cause this much tumult without the hacking, the Trump fawning over Putin, the question about Trump loans to Russia, etc? I’m saying no. It’s the confluence of all these things that create this dark cloud of anxiety and worry. That creates the hysteria and neurotic reaction so many, like me, feel.

I dunno, man.

surya

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