Covering Trump Like Iran

Give up on hand-outs and worry less about official access. They were never all that valuable anyway. Our coverage of Iran has been outstanding, and we have virtually no official access. What we have are sources.

– Reuters memo, “Covering Trump the Reuters Way

This week’s featured posts are “The Ban: Ten Days of Drama” and “What to do with Neil Gorsuch?“.

During my week off from the Sift, I spoke in Billerica, Mass. on “The Hope of a Humanist” and my column “Let’s Get Started, Together” posted at UU World.

This week everybody was talking about immigration and the Supreme Court

The featured posts cover those topics: “The Ban: Ten Days of Drama” and “What to do with Neil Gorsuch?“.

and an alternative-fact massacre

The undisputed master of “alternative facts” is the woman who coined the term on Meet the Press two weeks ago: White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. She produced this week’s gem in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews:

I bet it’s brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. It didn’t get covered.

That’s because there was no Bowling Green massacre. Funny how things that don’t happen don’t get covered.

Conway later claimed that the words just came out wrong, that she meant to say “Bowling Green terrorists”, a reference to two guys arrested in Bowling Green for trying to aid Al Qaeda, but not for doing anything violent themselves. But that was another lie. She had used the same formulation days before in a different interview. “Bowling Green massacre” was a honed sound bite, not a slip of the tongue.

Like her alternative-facts gaffe, Conway’s fake massacre is generating lots of ridicule. Like, why shouldn’t the massacre get its own ballad. This is not exactly going high when they go low, but it’s going somewhere. I’m reminded of the saying, “Don’t get mad, get odd.”

New Yorkers held a fake vigil at the Bowling Green subway station. You can find a large collection of ridicule on Twitter under #NeverRemember.

Build your vocabulary: reverse cargo cult

Build Your Vocabulary was briefly a regular feature of the Sift, but it’s been dormant for a while.

One constant topic on liberal social media is the question: “When will Trump’s voters realize they’re being lied to?” A scary answer I ran across this week is that many of them already know and have known from the beginning. These core Trump supporters are what is known as a reverse cargo cult.

A cargo cult is when people ritualistically build things they associate with success, believing that success will be drawn to them in some magical way. The metaphor is based on an only partly true story about primitive Pacific islanders after World War II, who supposedly built imitation airstrips out of primitive materials in hopes of luring back the cargo planes of the war era. Richard Feynman extended the idea metaphorically to “cargo cult science”, referring to groups that establish institutes and publish journals in order to magically turn their unscientific beliefs into science. It now applies to all sorts of magical thinking.

In a reverse cargo cult, you build the trappings of some kind of success like a cargo cult would, but you don’t believe it will work and aren’t trying to fool anybody into thinking it will. The deception goes in the other direction.

[The builders] don’t lie to the rubes and tell them that an airstrip made of straw will bring them cargo. That’s an easy lie to dismantle. Instead, what they do is make it clear that the airstrip is made of straw, and doesn’t work, but then tell you that the other guy’s airstrip doesn’t work either. They tell you that no airstrips yield cargo. The whole idea of cargo is a lie, and those fools, with their fancy airstrip made out of wood, concrete, and metal is just as wasteful and silly as one made of straw.

The reverse cargo cult idea was invented as a way to explain the propaganda of the late Soviet Union, which didn’t fool anyone any more; everyone knew the government was lying. But now the purpose was to make the people disbelieve everything, including the reports they heard of prosperity and freedom in the West. Russian cynicism became a point of cultural pride: Russians knew they were being lied to, while those foolish Westerners believed what they saw on their TVs.

Something similar is happening among Trump supporters: So what if there was no Bowling Green massacre, no millions of illegal votes, no record-breaking crowd at Trump’s inauguration? Liberals tell their own lies about things like global warming and white male privilege. The difference this batch of Trump supporters sees is that they are in on the joke, while their liberal friends actually believe what they’re told. The in-the-know Trump folks are entertained by Breitbart and InfoWars, while naive liberals take seriously the things they read in The New York Times or The Washington Post.

The point of official lies and alternative facts and fake news isn’t that people should believe in them. It’s that they should come to disbelieve everything politicians say and regard all news as fake. There is no cargo.

and you might also be interested in

The Senate is one vote away from rejecting Betsy DeVos’ nomination. All Democrats oppose her, plus Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. If your state is represented by some other Republican, get on the phone. If you don’t know the number, the Senate web site says: “you may phone the United States Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. A switchboard operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request.”

So much has happened these last two weeks that I almost forgot those incredible Trump phone calls where he insulted the prime minister of Australia and threatened to invade Mexico. And then there’s his defense of Putin to Bill O’Reilly. After Trump says he respect Putin, O’Reilly says, “But he’s a killer.” And Trump replies: “You think our country’s so innocent?”

That was too much even for Marco Rubio:

When has a Democratic political activist been poisoned by the GOP, or vice versa? We are not the same as .

I don’t feel right reproducing the whole poem here, but if you haven’t already seen it circulating on social media, you should read Danny Bryck’s “If You Could Go Back“. It’s about how the moral crises of the past — the Holocaust, slavery, Jim Crow, etc. — all look so clear in retrospect, but at the time they probably looked just about the way things look now, and there were probably just as many reasons to look the other way and get on with your life. Here’s the moral I take from it: If you’re waiting for the kind of perfect clarity you imagine those historical times had, you’ll probably sit out the moral crisis of your era.

The Trump administration is the best thing that ever happened to Saturday Night Live.

A century ago, Peoria, Illinois was the archetypal Middle-American city. Vaudeville performers asked “Will it play in Peoria?“, meaning “Can you tour this act across the country?” Groucho Marx asked it in A Night at the Opera, and during the Nixon administration, top aide John Ehrlichman once reassured a reporter that a proposal hated by policy elites would “play in Peoria”, meaning that Middle America would like it.

Peoria is a factory town, and the factory is Caterpillar. CAT has 12,000 employees in Peoria, and used to have more. Tuesday, CAT announced that it was moving its headquarters to Chicago, which is about 2 1/2 hours away by car. Immediately, the move affects just 300 jobs. But that includes all the top executives, who are probably among Peoria’s best-paid people. So the city’s overall quality of life is bound to take a big hit. Those 300 will also be deciding what happens to the remaining 12,000 jobs in the coming years, so as they lose their identification with Peoria, I’m not optimistic about the city’s future.

CAT justified the move by claiming that it will be easier to recruit top executive talent to Chicago rather than Peoria. You have to wonder whether CAT’s main American rival (John Deere), which is headquartered in another middle-sized Illinois city (Moline), is thinking the same thing.

Trump won largely by exploiting the plight of America’s hollowing-out countryside. He focused on the manufacturing jobs going to Mexico and China. But executive jobs moving to the big cities is another piece of that problem, and I haven’t heard even a suggestion of what to do about it.

One of the things conservatives often got upset about during the Obama years was the cost of protecting his family when they left the White House. Well, keeping Michelle and the girls safe on vacation cost peanuts compared to what it will cost to protect Trump’s adult children as they criss-cross the world being international businessmen.

The Washington Post reports that just hotel expenses for the Secret Service and embassy staff on a recent Eric Trump trip to Uruguay cost nearly $100K.

Now, I’m not complaining about this expense, because I see the point of not letting a president’s family become hostages, and I don’t want them confined to easily protected areas for the duration of a president’s term. But a lot of people did complain about the expense during Obama’s term, and I wonder where they are now.

At the beginning of the Trump administration, I said I’d be watching for them to take credit for Obama’s accomplishments. Here’s an example: The January jobs report came out, showing that the economy added 227K jobs. Trump didn’t take office until January 20, but press secretary Sean Spicer attributed the jobs to the “confidence” the prospect of a Trump administration had given employers.

All told, about six million jobs were created during the Obama years, or 14 million since the bottom of the recession in January, 2010.

and let’s close with some escapism

Remember those halcyon days of the Bartlet administration?

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  • busterggi  On February 6, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    I saw an ad last night on tv for DeVos – never have seen an ad for a cabinet nominee before. Guess the next ad will be for Gorsuch.

  • Anonymous  On February 6, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    Trump is actually (gawd, I hate agreeing with this turd) right. We’re not so innocent. One doesn’t have to be a native American, Japanese, or Black to know this, but coming from Trump you know he doesn’t really care one way or the other. And Rubio can take his feigned outrage and stuff it.

    • weeklysift  On February 6, 2017 at 2:48 pm

      I can agree that the US is not innocent, but Rubio also has a point: When Obama was president, the Koch Brothers didn’t have to fear that the government would seize their wealth or have them assassinated. Steve Bannon could run Breitbart and not worry about somebody putting radioactive poison in his food. We just had a peaceful transfer of power without anybody going to jail or dying. That’s very different from Putin’s Russia.

      • Anonymous  On February 6, 2017 at 9:36 pm

        Putin’s Russia is also a place where journalists don’t just get insulted, or denied access to press briefings. They get killed. We’ve got serious problems, but, no this is not Russia.

    • Larry Benjamin  On February 8, 2017 at 2:44 pm

      It was surprising to hear Trump talk like one of my Marxist college professors. I almost expected him to pull out a copy of “The People’s History of the United States,” except the poor fellow can’t read.

  • gordonc  On February 6, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    Regarding the Caterpillar move, this looks like a very interesting case study of what could happen and how. It’s the story of what happened to Lancaster, Ohio, home of Anchor Hocking, as a result of unrestrained capitalism. (Glass House, by Brian Alexander, out Feb 17.)

    • MAHA  On February 6, 2017 at 5:46 pm

      Companies don’t even have to leave the country to downsize, or in the case of CAT, just cost people in middle America well-paid jobs. What’s Trump gonna do about that?

    • MAHA  On February 6, 2017 at 5:48 pm

      Companies don’t have to leave the country to downsize, or, in the case of CAT, to cost middle Americans a lot of well-paid jobs.

  • MAHA  On February 6, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    Doug covered a lot of ground in this summary, but one thing he didn’t cover is the raid in Yemen, which didn’t go too well. The Trump administration tried to say it had been Obama’s plan, but former members of the Obama administration said Nuh-uh, we did have a plan drawn up but we left it entirely up to the new administration whether, when and how they carried it out. Somehow I doubt it would have been so poorly executed if it had happened before Obama left office. But Trump just couldn’t wait to flex his new Commander In Chief muscles.

  • Everett Howe  On February 6, 2017 at 6:44 pm

    Danny Bryck’s poem is great; I shared it on Facebook, and within hours the post had dozens of shares. But your summary of it made me realize that it has something in common with James Russell Lowell’s 1845 poem “The Present Crisis”, from which the hymn “Once to Every Soul and Nation” was adapted. Lowell devotes a stanza to the same thought, that the times of great import are clear in retrospect but not always in the moment. Here is his (somewhat convoluted) 19th-century expression of that thought:

    “Backward look across the ages and the beacon-moments see,
    That, like peaks of some sunk continent, jut through Oblivion’s sea;
    Not an ear in court or market for the low, foreboding cry
    Of those Crises, God’s stern winnowers, from whose feet earth’s chaff must fly;
    Never shows the choice momentous till the judgment hath passed by.”

  • Justin Siemaszko  On February 10, 2017 at 10:26 am

    As a youngish executive track professional from a small town but now living in DC myself, I ‘d like to offer a bit of insight on what would make high end talent leave the cities:

    We need somewhere to go that is tolerant. That’s the biggy.

    We have close friends of all colors, religions, & sexual orientation. When my wife and I consider leaving the city, our first concerns, parallel with “Are the schools good?” are “Can our friends visit? Will we be forced into a bastion of racists & ignorant bigots? Can we live here with our non-white spouses? Will we be able to socialize with ANYONE?”

    The answer is universally “no.” Many/most of us have first-hand experience of just how under-educated, intolerant, and sometimes hostile middle america is. Many of us left because we spent 18 years getting the crap beat out of us in small towns. Most of us have made new friends as adults bonding over the abuses we suffered back home, whether that’s in Montana, New York, or Alabama.

    To contrast, in NYC, LA, SF, DC, Chicago, etc., we are not only accepted, but we thrive socially. We feel like welcome members of diverse communities of smart people from all over the world. No one cares what our religion is (unless we’re pushing it on others) or what color our skin is, or how much we like football. It doesn’t really matter how many good restaurants, schools, yoga places or bars Peoria has to offer if we can’t go to them with a gay friend. We aren’t guessing about this, either. It’s no straw man. Most of us have lived and seen just how bigoted the “other” parts of the country are, and we don’t really want to spend the rest of our adult lives surrounded by the people we moved away from in the first place. And those of us that thought that maybe things were getting better had our blinders pulled off by the last election. Personally, I was horrified at how openly racist and aggressive people from my highschool have become, via Facebook posts… and to begin with I had already screened out most the bullies, etc. These were the more average kids, they represent the norm.

    In short, the only thing that will draw us out there consistently is a massive cultural
    move toward tolerance and education. I doubt we’ll be there in 100 years, let alone within my generation’s lifetime… but that’s what Peoria needs to make us consider the move.

    • busterggi  On February 10, 2017 at 12:18 pm

      Isn’t it amazing that the ‘heartland’ is the area that is actually heartless?

      • Larry Benjamin  On February 11, 2017 at 9:12 am

        This is why I don’t like the term “American heartland.” It implies that there is a “real America” populated by “real Americans,” usually implying rural areas inhabited mostly by white people. I would submit that the real “heartland” is where America’s culture comes from – New York City with its domination of finance, publishing, and theater; Los Angeles and Hollywood; and the Bay Area with information technology. These places are the “American heartland” because they have been instrumental in shaping the view of America held by the rest of the world, in its most positive sense.

    • weeklysift  On February 11, 2017 at 6:53 am

      Justin: Thanks for that testimony. I think a lot of small-town white Christians would find it shocking that they are considered scary and their neighborhoods considered unsafe. Many have a one-way filter in which it makes perfect sense for them to be afraid of non-whites or Muslims when they are in the big city, but it just sounds crazy that anyone might be afraid of whites or Christians in small towns.

  • ccyager  On March 13, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    “The point of official lies and alternative facts and fake news isn’t that people should believe in them. It’s that they should come to disbelieve everything politicians say and regard all news as fake. There is no cargo.”

    Uh-oh. So what happens when there’s a true crisis? What happens if the Russians are truly trying to undermine American democracy? While skepticism can be a healthy thing, it seems to me that Trump supporters may be selling the country down the river for their own entertainment. If all that is true, that is….

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