Dangerous Combination

The lull in presidential activity over the Thanksgiving break has given me opportunity to develop more thoughts on why I began this blog. One of the reasons I started it is my concern about the personality characteristics of the president-elect.

Obviously, I am not the only one to conclude this man is a narcissist, authoritarian, sexist, racist, paranoid individual, and for years he has been a celebrity in our pop culture. Usually when a commentator talks about him as an authoritarian, for example, that is the unique focus. Or for another, the unique focus is on his being a narcissist. So far, I have not seen anyone warning about what the combination of these characteristics might mean for our society and government.

Celebrity in our society is a big deal. People wittingly or not pay attention to celebrities to a far greater extent than is warranted. Free publicity is a valuable commodity in our contemporary world and celebrities (aided by their publicists) are masters at getting it regularly. Witness the election of a totally incompetent man to the highest office in the country, at least in part because his celebrity status kept the media and the population in general from holding him accountable for his comments and actions.

I think adding the fact that he is a celebrity in our pop culture to his most prominent personality traits could be an explosive, or at the very least, dangerous combination, and that requires awareness and wariness on the part of every citizen.

Recently, Patricia Smith Melton published a blog post explaining what narcissists are like and articulating the dangers of what we are faced with as a result of the election. Although there are others with more expertise we can turn to for understanding of this disorder (such as psychologists, psychiatrists, and scholars of narcissism), I found Melton’s post particularly helpful.

After re-reading her post in preparation for writing this, I am wondering if a narcissist can be anything else but that. If I understand her take on narcissist personality disorder correctly, a narcissist is incapable of having any consistent ideology. That would mean all ideological statements a narcissist makes are only temporarily believed because it is expedient at the moment. Nothing is permanent. So, all the racist, sexist, authoritarian, etc. statements over the past year during this past election cycle were a means to an end – promoting himself. Each day will bring new circumstances that may well negate or support any one of those ideologies, but again temporarily. One could take some solace in that volatility, as it would mean our worst fears would be less likely to be realized. However, I am not persuaded the danger is not real. I think there is enough public evidence that he believes misogyny and autocratic behavior works for him consistently. As long as that is the case, he has no reason to change. I believe abuse of the legitimate authority of the president to issue executive orders is the most likely means to his autocratic ends, so I intend to monitor such actions closely.

Evidence of his ideals are fairly obvious in his first selections for members of his staff and cabinet. Many appear to be committed, long-term authoritarians. They also are able to inflict damage to our culture and society through autocratic actions in their roles in the executive branch. They will be buoyed by the vocal support from some, now labeled the alt-right, and that gives these authoritarians confidence in their cause. I don’t believe the alt-right contingent of the right-wing is a high percentage of conservatives or certainly the general population, but they are brazenly asserting themselves, speaking up, acting out in unacceptable ways, and attracting enough attention to be a serious concern.

Authoritarian followers make it possible for autocrats to gain and keep power.

Nearly a decade ago, I more or less by accident ran across the book by John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience. The basis of what he was saying in that book came from scholarly research done by Bob Altemeyer, a Canadian scholar at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. Altemeyer subsequently published a book on his findings – available free online here. Ever since reading this years ago, I have been noticing the prominence of authoritarians, both leaders and followers, in our popular culture as well as in politics.

In the same vein, I recently ran across the following. When it comes to understanding how to live under autocracy, Masha Gessen has a unique background.  She has posted a helpful guide for us based on her experiences.

What does all of this mean for responsible citizens?

We cannot rely on the possibility that the president-elect’s narcissism will make him suddenly shift perspectives. The sycophants around him have enough power to play to his desperate need to be liked/adored that they can and will continue to keep him marching us toward autocracy.

We who see this clearly must speak out forcefully, calling our political representatives to resist any challenges intended to disrupt the system enough to allow for an autocratic takeover. Events in other parts of the world in recent years, as well as in the more distant past, should be enough of a warning that it could happen here.

We all also need to hold our news media accountable for their role in our society. They failed to do their job adequately in this election cycle – totally miscalculating how their providing free publicity gave him the platform to spew the vitriol he sensed a neglected segment of our nation wanted to hear. The media business model – controversy/sensationalism sells – is a perfect fit for a populist demagogue. Shortly after the election, the media rushed to normalize him by reporting how “moderate” his post-election statements were (some Tweets not withstanding). Most recently his Tweets make it clear he has not changed; he is as paranoid as ever.  The media have lowered the bar so much, they have already in effect excused themselves from delving deeper into the substantive issues the “moderate” comments mask.

Using his celebrity status to gain publicity anytime he wants (needs?) it has been a feature of this man’s behavior for decades. Unfortunately, he is correct in asserting he does not need the mainstream media. He can get his “message” out via Tweets, or more slickly by professionally produced media with just the spin he wants us to believe.

Equally, if not more profoundly, unfortunately, the media falls into the trap every time treating his utterances and publicity releases as real news when most often they are just rants of an unhinged mind. In this age of diminished resources for investigative journalism, it is difficult to have confidence now that they will become the watch dogs they are theoretically supposed to be, according to the first amendment of our constitution.

Therefore, we must educate ourselves and guard against the dangers of autocracy that are now imminent with the coming administration of an autocratic, narcissist, misogynist, paranoid, celebrity president. Vigilance and public action are required now; bemoaning our fate and moving on to other non-political endeavors to avoid the pain are far from adequate as a response.

 

Thanksgiving Day 2016

Today the president issued the annual proclamation designating November 24, 2016 as a “Day of National Thanksgiving”. I don’t recall if I have ever read any of these declarations previously, and I was tempted today to skip the reading and just note this routine proclamation here and move on to other things.  I’m glad I read this one, because I was particularly struck by part of it. The entire document contains only six paragraphs, mostly routine language, but here is the third paragraph:

“On this holiday, we count our blessings and renew our commitment to giving back. We give thanks for our troops and our veterans — and their families — who give of themselves to protect the values we cherish; for the first responders, teachers, and engaged Americans who serve their communities; and for the chance to live in a country founded on the belief that all of us are created equal. But on this day of gratitude, we are also reminded that securing these freedoms and opportunities for all our people is an unfinished task. We must reflect on all we have been afforded while continuing the work of ensuring no one is left out or left behind because of who they are or where they come from.”

Well stated.

Community Solutions Council Established

Executive Order – Establishing a Community Solutions Council

Issued: November 16, 2016

The purpose appears to be a continuation of coordination work that has been done by a Community Solutions Task Force since 2015. In addition, two previous executive orders (Executive Orders 13560 and 13602) are revoked.

This is a fairly lengthy, detailed order that creates a structure for the Council and consolidates efforts from previous ventures. It requires a long list of departments to work together to encourage community involvement in solving problems with the help of the federal departments and agencies.

Following is an extended quote of the principles behind the action:

“Sec. 2. Principles. Our effort to modernize the Federal Government’s work with communities is rooted in the following principles:

(a) A community-driven, locally led vision and long-term plan for clear outcomes should guide individual projects.

(b) The Federal Government should coordinate its efforts at the Federal, regional, State, local, tribal, and community level, and with cross-sector partners, to offer a more seamless process for communities to access needed support and ensure equitable investments.

(c) The Federal Government should help communities identify, develop, and share local solutions, rely on data to determine what does and does not work, and harness technology and modern collaboration and engagement methods to help share these solutions and help communities meet their local goals.”

I endorse this kind of cooperation.

National Child’s Day and National Family Week

I now know the dates the proclamations are signed do not necessarily coincide with the date they are posted on the White House web site.  I see today that proclamations for National Child’s Day (November 20, 2106) and National Family Week (November 20-26) were issued on November 18, 2016. They were not on that web site when I began with my first post a few days ago. That is not a problem, I will just need to be sure to check all dates carefully before I post my reviews.

In general, I will not comment on or summarize any proclamations and today will be no exception. The titles will almost always be self explanatory.

Multinational Force and Observers

In the very brief memorandum to the Secretary of State dated November 16, 2016, Eligibility of the Multinational Force and Observers to Receive Defense Articles and Defense Services Under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the Arms Export Control Act, the President effectively authorized the use of defense articles (whatever that means) and defense services by multinational forces and observers.

There is no explanation as to what this means, but presumably it allows for our armed forces and the State Department to cooperate fully with the multinational forces and observers in various parts of the world. The date of the original congressional action (1961) implies this is a fairly routine act by the President.

Adequate Oil Supply

Behind all the legalese of the November 14, 2016 memorandum entitled Presidential Determination Pursuant to Section 1245(d)(4)(B) and (C) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, the basic decision being announced is the determination that “there is a sufficient supply of petroleum and petroleum products from countries other than Iran to permit a significant reduction in the volume of petroleum and petroleum products purchased from Iran by or through foreign financial institutions. However, consistent with U.S. commitments specified in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the United States is no longer pursuing efforts to reduce Iran’s sales of crude oil. The United States action to fulfill these commitments became effective upon reaching Implementation Day under the JCPOA, which occurred once the International Atomic Energy Agency verified that Iran had implemented key nuclear-related steps specified in the JCPOA to ensure that its nuclear program is and will remain exclusively peaceful.”

Not knowing any more than what this statement says, it appears to be a routine determination and the report (this memorandum) is placed in the Federal Register.

Fair Practices in Education for Service Members and Veterans

The official title of the memorandum issued November 11, 2016 is “Presidential Memorandum: Advancing Fair Practices by Education and Training Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Eligible Spouses, and Other Family Members”. (I suspect the date chosen for this memorandum was not just coincidence.)

This is a lengthy memorandum addressed to the heads of executive departments and agencies. The gist of it is to establish a working group to improve implementation of Executive Order 13607 (Establishing Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses, and Other Family Members), signed on April 27, 2012.

Here is part of the justification for this action:

“Although thousands of institutions have committed to the Principles of Excellence, more work remains to strengthen oversight, enforcement, and accountability within these benefits programs so that these critical investments are protected and can continue to serve our service members, veterans, their eligible spouses, and other family members. To accomplish these goals, we must continue to improve the coordination of Federal tools and resources, provide new mechanisms to increase collaboration across Federal agencies, identify best practices that can support and inform initiatives to enhance educational and career readiness and success, implement better data-sharing strategies, and develop more streamlined protocols to improve enforcement and information sharing. ”

I endorse this effort whole-heartedly. What I find alarming is the need for the original executive order. Having devoted a significant portion of my professional career to service in higher education, I would have hoped for better, but apparently there were enough institutions failing to provide good services and accurate information – some even to the point of fraud – that this kind of executive action was necessary.