The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Should I be sad, alarmed, or both?

The Annenberg Public Policy Center has released a poll of Americans showing widespread and extensive misunderstandings about our Constitution:

Nearly half of those surveyed (48 percent) say that freedom of speech is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. But, unprompted, 37 percent could not name any First Amendment rights. And far fewer people could name the other First Amendment rights: 15 percent of respondents say freedom of religion; 14 percent say freedom of the press; 10 percent say the right of assembly; and only 3 percent say the right to petition the government.

Contrary to the First Amendment, 39 percent of Americans support allowing Congress to stop the news media from reporting on any issue of national security without government approval. That was essentially unchanged from last year. But the survey, which followed a year of attacks on the news media, found less opposition to prior restraint (49 percent) than in 2016 (55 percent).

Only 26 percent of respondents can name the three branches of government (executive, judicial, and legislative), the same result as last year. In the presence of controls, people who identified themselves as conservatives were significantly more likely to name all three branches correctly than liberals and moderates. The 26 percent total was down significantly from APPC’s first survey on this question, in 2011, when 38 percent could name all three.

I'm sad, because this is basic stuff. I don't know how alarming this is because I don't know whether things are getting worse, and if so, how quickly. But it's clear that we're already experiencing the effects of ignorance on an unprecedented scale.

Strangest office building I've ever been in

Imagine the largest office building (in land area) you've ever been in, add a small shopping mall, four food courts, and the security that demonstrates exactly how silly and ineffectual airport security is, and that's the Pentagon.

I'm in a little island that's like an anti-SCIF (Secure Compartmented Information Facility). We're in the one unclassified office in the ring, complete with unclassified Internet service, and because of that, behind two steel doors and in a Faraday cage. And it's literally the only place we're allowed to take pictures, which is sad because every hallway in the building is a museum exhibit. It's weird.

That, and we can't go to the bathroom without an escort, makes this a very strange day indeed.

Also, it's like an ongoing pop quiz in uniform insignia recognition. And I'm still having problems with upper enlisted ranks.

Home tomorrow, after a visit to a military facility outside Baltimore.

Predicting the obvious

I was just going through some old entries and came across my reaction to the original DACA order five years ago. I also linked to TPM's Brian Beutler predicting a backlash from the GOP base. He was looking ahead to the short term, but reading between the lines I think he predicted the long term pretty well:

A hunch: prepare yourself for a deluge of condemnations of executive-branch overreach, paired with real reluctance to say anything meaningful about what the directive actually accomplishes.

Don't you hate being right about that kind of thing, Brian?

The funny part is, as someone with an actual degree in history, I don't find any of this particularly surprising. Every right-wing populist movement demonizes immigrants. And it has worked out so well every time, why be nervous?

Two on Trump's mindset

First, New Republic's Jeet Heer calls President Trump "truly the first TV president and a harbinger of the decline in intelligence" in American politics:

While earlier presidents, notably John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, benefited from being telegenic, they were still tied to an earlier, pre-television world in ways that Trump isn’t. (If Kennedy was the magazine-star president, Reagan was the film-star president.) He’s a pure product of the age of television, someone whose mental horizon is the screen. And television isn’t just a passive medium for Trump, his main source for understanding how Americans think. As the star of the long-running reality show The Apprentice, where he played the tough, no-nonsense boss who relishes firing people, Trump actively used TV to shape how millions of Americans think of him.

The key insight of the McLuhan school is that print culture is deliberative, while television is performative. Typographical fixity preserves, and gives a certain permanence to, written thought. It doesn’t just transmit information; it creates habits of thought, and encourages the cross-examination of ideas. On television, by contrast, everything is in a perpetual present, an endless flux. No wonder Trump, a master of television, has no permanence of thought. He shifts his positions depending on opportunistic ambitions or passing whim, sometimes motivated by nothing more than a desire to echo whom he is talking to. Indeed, sometimes his ideas are little more than echoes of what he sees on Fox.

In last year’s election, nearly 63 million Americans supported a presidential candidate who was proudly post-literate. This is a testimony to the rising right-wing anti-intellectualism in the U.S., where being well read and well educated is not to be admired—or even something to aspire to—but rather bestows the black mark of elitism. The question remains: Is this a passing trend, or just a sign of things to come? The dumbing-down of American life, as traced by McLuhan and his descendants, suggests the latter. Just as Bush seems downright scholarly compared to Trump, we may one day look back at Trump and admire his ability to follow a teleprompter.

Meanwhile, Josh Marshall sounds another alarm at Trump's increasing militarism and always-present authoritarianism:

What we’re seeing today from President Trump is a very specific danger with the militarization of civic culture: an anti-democratic leader can use military sacrifice as a totem to squelch dissent.

[A]s [a Twitter image of a disabled Marine in uniform] is used here, you can see the whole mindset, use of loss and blood as a cudgel in its most brutal form. The act of protest is enrolled as a specific disrespect of this man who has had his body ripped apart in military violence. Images like this, combined with these words, are meant to inspire rage at the targets of the attack.  Guilt, admiration and vicarious horror are transmuted not simply into opposition but rage at dissenters.

[T]he weaponization of betrayed military sacrifice is a common, almost universal feature of rightist political movements.

Yep. And it works, if enough of the polity believes it. I hope we can get through this ugly phase of our history intact. And I'm not even commenting on James Fallows' shock at Trump railing on about black NFL players.

On assholes and disagreements

Two articles crossed my laptop today. First, from New York, Stanford professor Robert Sutton makes an argument that "we are living in Peak Asshole:"

Sutton doesn’t want to be, you know, an asshole: “Most of politics is everybody calling everybody else assholes.” And assholism, after all, is contagious. “Nasty behavior spreads much faster than nice behavior, unfortunately,” Sutton says. As he points out in his book, research shows that even a “single exposure” to negative behavior, like receipt of an insulting email, can turn a person into a “carrier.” “Literally like a common cold,” he adds. Similarly, when the president calls his detractors “haters and losers” in a tweet, when the wallpaper of life is made up of faces that belong to certified assholes like Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, Don Jr., etc., etc., ad infinitum, it most likely has a trickle-down effect. “The more assholes you’re around, the more asshole-y you get.” But there are other factors that have led to this explosion of assholes, Sutton points out, everything from heat and crowding to imbalances in power and the wealth gap. “The research says that when we’re in those situations, there’s envy going up, and sort of disdain goes down.” Research also shows that technology has increased the “asshole problem,” as Sutton puts it, because people are much more likely to be mean if they don’t have to make eye contact. And because technology has created the expectation for things to happen faster, and at all hours of the day, hurriedness and sleep deprivation have become major factors.

Although the new book seems exceptionally well timed, Sutton finished writing before the election, and he notes in it that he doesn’t buy into the adage that assholes finish first. The presence of a major-league asshole in the Oval Office would seem to prove him wrong, but Sutton stands by this theory. “The evidence generally is that when you treat people badly, the only time it really seems to work is if you’re in a zero-sum game and it’s a shorter-term game,” he explains. “And my perspective is that even if you’re in the zero-sum game, where the assholes get ahead, there’s all this negative carnage. The people around them, their physical and mental health and personal relationships, they all suffer. And I don’t want to go to Trump too much, but God, look how many people he’s gone through.” In the long run, he concludes, “people who treat each other with some civility generally do better.”

Very much in the same vein, New York Times op-ed columnist Bret Stephens gave a lecture in Sydney, Australia, on Saturday about the dying art of disagreement:

To say the words, “I agree” — whether it’s agreeing to join an organization, or submit to a political authority, or subscribe to a religious faith — may be the basis of every community.

But to say, I disagree; I refuse; you’re wrong; etiam si omnes — ego non — these are the words that define our individuality, give us our freedom, enjoin our tolerance, enlarge our perspectives, seize our attention, energize our progress, make our democracies real, and give hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere. Galileo and Darwin; Mandela, Havel, and Liu Xiaobo; Rosa Parks and Natan Sharansky — such are the ranks of those who disagree.

And the problem, as I see it, is that we’re failing at the task.

There’s no one answer [about why this is happening]. What’s clear is that the mis-education begins early. I was raised on the old-fashioned view that sticks and stones could break my bones but words would never hurt me. But today there’s a belief that since words can cause stress, and stress can have physiological effects, stressful words are tantamount to a form of violence. This is the age of protected feelings purchased at the cost of permanent infantilization.

The mis-education continues in grade school. As the Brookings findings indicate, younger Americans seem to have no grasp of what our First Amendment says, much less of the kind of speech it protects. This is a testimony to the collapse of civics education in the United States, creating the conditions that make young people uniquely susceptible to demagogy of the left- or right-wing varieties.

Both articles are worth reading.

Lord Protector of the Realm

I did my undergraduate thesis on King Edward VI of England, and the coups (attempted and successful) against his two Lords Protector. A Lord Protector watches over a King basically by being acting King until the King reaches majority around age 18. Edward died at 15, so his Lords Protector were really the monarchy for the six years Edward sat on the throne.

Fast forward 450 years, and it looks like we're back to that arrangement:

[President Trump is] still unprincipled, ill-informed, lazy, and mercurial. Trump continues to act like a 13-year-old trapped in the body of a 71-year-old world leader, as if his prefrontal cortex never developed beyond adolescence. Trump is all libido, lacks impulse control, and is prone to poor decision-making.

By this account, Trump is so immature that he needs his media diet and social life heavily controlled; he can’t be trusted not to make a rash decision based on the incomplete or conflicting information he’s given.  In other words, he’s a man-child more than a world leader.

Giving this much power to Kelly is disturbing for a number of reasons. If [Chief of Staff John] Kelly did control Trump, that would make the presidency closer to a monarchy with a child ruler, with the real power residing in close advisers. Moreover, despite claims that Kelly is a non-ideological pragmatist who runs a tight ship, there’s little reason to trust him; he can be as extreme as Trump’s other advisers. According to The New York Times, in a discussion about the fate of the Dreamers, Kelly “likened Mexico, one of the United States’ most important trading and law enforcement partners, to Venezuela under the regime of Hugo Chávez, the former leader, suggesting it was on the verge of a collapse that would have repercussions in the United States.” This is a false and hysterical view of Mexico, one of the most stable democracies in Latin America.

In short, Kelly is trying to exert a level of power no White House official should have, and he’s not even succeeding.

Woe to thee, O Land, when thy King is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning.

Mispronouncing street names

Historian John Schmidt posted today about the 11 most-mispronounced street names in Chicago:

(1) Devon. Like those posts note—and like most Chicagoans I know—I pronounce it dee-VAHN.

(2) Leavitt. Forget the part that looks like “leave.” It’s LEV-itt.

(3) Paulina. Not pronounced like the girl’s name. The street is pull-EYE-nuh.

That last one is part of a joke: What are the three street names that rhyme with female anatomy? Paulina, Malvina, and Lunt.

It also reminds me of Yuri Rasovsky's infamous 1972 recording, "The Chicago Language Tape:"

Not many of those street names sound like that after 45 years. But it's still hilarious if you're familiar with the city.

The Mindset List, class of 2021

Today is my birthday, which makes this year's Beloit College Mindset List even harder to read:

Students heading into their first year of college this year are mostly 18 and were born in 1999.

2. They are the last class to be born in the 1900s, the last of the Millennials --  enter next year, on cue, Generation Z!

11. The Panama Canal has always belonged to Panama and Macau has been part of China.

12. It is doubtful that they have ever used or heard the high-pitched whine of a dial-up modem.

16. They are the first generation to grow up with Watson outperforming Sherlock.

25. By the time they entered school, laptops were outselling desktops.

38. They have only seen a Checker Cab in a museum.

47. The BBC has always had a network in the U.S. where they speak American.

59. Bill Clinton has always been Hillary Clinton’s aging husband.

Ouch.

Cornstalk Hotel

I'm taking a couple of days to shadow some friends in New Orleans. It's a nice end to summer: while Chicago already feels like early autumn, here it'll get up to 32°C in a couple of hours.

My hotel is historic, and really cute:

Updates as events warrant. Brunch first.