The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

A busy day

Last weekend's tsunami continues to ripple:

Just another quiet week in 2020...

Observers see big stumble in American democracy

President Trump's ham-fisted photo-op in front of St John's Episcopal Church on Monday rattled friendly intelligence officers and emboldened our adversaries. Former CIA officer Gail Helt saw a familiar pattern emerging:

“This is what autocrats do. This is what happens in countries before a collapse. It really does unnerve me.”

Helt, now a professor at King University in Tennessee, said the images of unrest in U.S. cities, combined with President Trump’s incendiary statements, echo clashes she covered over a dozen years at the CIA tracking developments in China, Malaysia and elsewhere.

The impression Trump created was only reinforced by others in the administration. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper urged governors to “dominate the battlespace” surrounding protesters, as if describing U.S. cities as a foreign war zone. Later, as military helicopters hovered menacingly over protesters, Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, toured the streets of the nation’s capital in his battle fatigue uniform.

Former intelligence officials said the unrest and the administration’s militaristic response are among many measures of decay they would flag if writing assessments about the United States for another country’s intelligence service.

Josh Marshall noted that the military, at least, rapidly distanced themselves from the event, which he views with some optimism:

Because, as I noted last night, it seems clear this was so crude and transparent and overplayed that they now appear to be in what we might call the political equivalent of an exposed salient. And most of those how had a hand in it are now claiming they were out of the loop.

We also need to keep in mind that the administration's attempts to justify a military presence in American cities relies on fabricated claims about civil unrest. Cities have experienced two kinds of violence over the past week: looting by criminals not connected with the peaceful protests that took place, and police using exactly the excessive force that people were protesting against. Federalizing the response to the protests would be a political, authoritarian act, not a public-safety measure. And people all across the political spectrum seem to understand that.

Re-reading the ur-text

Italian author Umberto Eco lived through the last half of Mussolini's reign, and through the fall of Communism in Europe. In 1995 he wrote an essay in the New York Review of Books entitled "Ur-Fascism," which seems like a timely read as cities around the country (but not Chicago, I'm pleased to report) looked a lot like police states this past weekend. It's worth a re-read:

I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition.

This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, "the combination of different forms of belief or practice"; such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a silver of wisdom, and whenever they seem to say different or incompatible things it is only because all are alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth.

As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.

2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism. ... In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action's sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism...

4. No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.

He lists a total of 14 characteristics. In the Trump-dominated Republican Party I count...hmm...14. Well, that's comforting.

Some other points he makes:

[B]y a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.

...

Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show.

...

We must keep alert, so that the sense of these words will not be forgotten again. Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, "I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares." Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world.

In this vein, Matt Ford says American police forces "have become the standing armies that the Founders feared."

Predicting the future based on history

This morning, the Labor Department reported 2.1 million new unemployment claims, bringing the total to almost 41 million since the pandemic hit the US. As horrifying as that number is, I actually wanted to highlight two articles that appeared today.

The first, by Trump biographer Tony Schwartz in Medium, warns us that having a psychopathic president makes November's election "a true Armageddon:"

The trait that most distinguishes psychopaths is the utter absence of conscience — the capacity to lie, cheat, steal and inflict pain to achieve his ends without a scintilla of guilt or shame, as Trump so demonstrably does. What Trump’s words and behavior make clear is that he feels no more guilt about hurting others than a lion does about killing a giraffe.

What makes Trump’s behavior challenging to fathom is that our minds are not wired to understand human beings who live far outside the norms, rules, laws and values that the vast majority of us take for granted. Conscience, empathy and concern for the welfare of others are all essential to the social contract. Conscience itself reflects an inner sense of obligation to behave with honesty, fairness, and care for others, along with a willingness to express contrition if we fall short of those ideals, and especially when we harm others.

So what does all this tell us about how we can expect Trump to behave going forward? The simple answer is worse. His obsession with domination and power have prompted Trump to tell lies more promiscuously than ever since he became president, and to engage in ever more unfounded and aggressive responses aimed at anyone he perceives stands in his way.

In the end, Trump does what he does because he is who he is, immutably.

Trump revels in attention, domination and cruelty. “The sociopath wants to manipulate and control you,” explains Martha Stout, “and so you are rewarding and encouraging him each and every time you allow him to see your anger, confusion or your hurt.” Even so, in order to protect our democracy and our shared humanity, it’s critical to push back, calmly and persistently, against every single lie Trump tells, and every legal and moral boundary he violates. We must resist what Hanna Arendt has called “the banality of evil” — the numbness and normalizing that so easily sets in when unconscionable acts become commonplace. “Under conditions of terror, most people will comply,” Arendt has written, “but some people will not.”

Understanding what we’re truly up against — the reign of terror that Trump will almost surely wage the moment he believes he can completely prevail — makes the upcoming presidential election a true Armageddon.

The second, from Jeremy Peters at the New York Times, reviews a 1991 book by William Strauss and Neil Howe that predicted the "Crisis of 2020:"

Their conclusions about the way each generation develops its own characteristics and leadership qualities influenced a wide range of political leaders, from liberals like Bill Clinton and Al Gore to pro-Trump conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Stephen K. Bannon.

Seems as if they were on to something. So now what?

More insightful than the date itself was the assertion that historical patterns pointed toward the arrival of a generation-defining crisis that would force millennials into the fire early in their adulthood. (Mr. Strauss and Mr. Howe were the first to apply that term to those born in the early 1980s because they would come of age around the year 2000.)

More than just a novelty, their theory helps explain why some of the most prominent voices calling for political reform from left, center and right have been young — Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 30; Pete Buttigieg, 38; Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, 40.

And as baby boomers continue to age out of public service, the theory says, fixing the problems created by the pandemic will fall to this younger, civically oriented generation. Mr. Howe, who at 68 is a member of the cohort he is critical of, said in an interview that it was no coincidence that the boomer president and many people in his generation — especially the more conservative ones — have generally taken a more lax attitude toward the coronavirus than younger people.

But now, I have to debug an Azure function app...

Saturday morning news clearance

I rode the El yesterday for the first time since March 15th, because I had to take my car in for service. (It's 100% fine.) This divided up my day so I had to scramble in the afternoon to finish a work task, while all these news stories piled up:

Finally, author and Ohio resident John Scalzi sums up why he won't rush back to restaurants when they reopen in his state next week:

My plan is to stay home for most of June and let other people run around and see how that works out for them. The best-case scenario is that I’m being overly paranoid for an extra month, in which case we can all laugh about it afterward. The worst case scenario, of course, is death and pain and a lot of people with confused about why ventilator tubes are stuck down their throats, or the throats of their loved ones, when they were assured this was all a liberal hoax, and then all of us back in our houses until September. Once again, I would be delighted to be proved overly paranoid.

I have sympathy for the people who are all, the hell with this, I’ll risk getting sick, just let me out of my fucking apartment. I get where you’re coming from. You probably don’t actually know what you’re asking for. I hope that you never have to learn.

Note to Mr Scalzi: I hope to start The Last Emperox this week. I really do.

He wants us to fire him

Author Franklin Schneider, who wrote a book about getting fired from 13 jobs in 10 years, thinks the president is begging someone to fire him:

We didn’t need insider exposés about “executive time” spent shouting at the TV to know that Trump hates being president. It’s there in every seething tweet, every prickly exchange with reporters, every shrug of a coronavirus briefing. He despises everything about Washington — the modesty, the expertise, the functionaries around him who have the temerity to do their jobs and expect him to do his. At night, he must dream of telling them (us) to take this job and shove it, so he can return to his natural calling of selling subpar steaks and repeatedly filing for bankruptcy.

He wants out, but we all know he'd never step down. I get it. I do! It’s the reverse of the Groucho Marx saying about how he’d never want to be in a club who’d have him as a member: I’d never voluntarily leave an office where I wasn’t wanted. They had to drag me out each time, the HR lady snatching the key card out of my hand, then signaling for security to escort me to the elevator. Why did I resist leaving so many places I hated, and why does he? It’s a matter of spite: At some point, making your enemies unhappy becomes more important than making yourself happy. And if that was true for me, it has to be true for Trump, too: Spite animates his personality as much as his politics.

Take heart from this: No matter how horrifying a second Trump term sounds to you, it probably sounds even worse to Trump. And there’s still the outside chance that he could find the guts to seize his destiny and just quit. Donny, if you’re reading this, trust me: It feels wonderful when you finally escape. Resign, go home, block all your former co-workers on social media, and have a good cry. Someone else will take care of the whole coronavirus thing. It’s not like you were really trying, anyway.

Along the same lines, HHS Secretary Alex Azar says we should open up right away, no matter who it kills, and Josh Marshall points to the other billionaires demanding the same thing as evidence of an even worse divide in American life than we thought.

Lunchtime roundup

You have to see these photos of the dark Sears Tower against the Chicago skyline—a metaphor for 2020 bar none. Also:

And oh! My long-running unit test (1575.9 seconds) has finished. I can get up now.

Did someone call "lunch?"

I think today is Tuesday, the first day of my 10th week working from home. That would make today...March 80th? April 49th? Who knows.

It is, however, just past lunchtime, and today I had shawarma and mixed news:

Earlier, I mentioned that the state's unemployment office accidentally revealed thousands of records in an own goal. Turns out, Deloitte Consulting did the work, so I am no longer surprised. Note to anyone who needs software written: don't hire a big consulting firm. They don't attract the best developers because they use manager-driven development patterns that irritate the hell out of anyone with talent.

Evening round-up

Long day, with meetings until 8:45pm and the current sprint ending tomorrow at work, so I'll read most of these after the spring review:

Finally, Sheffield, U.K., wildlife photographer Simon Dell built a Hobbiton for the local field mice. It's as adorable as it sounds.

Domestic terrorism in Michigan

Charlie Pierce, noting that "[p]eople with firearms forced the civil government of the state of Michigan to shut itself down," wants to know in what sense this isn't terrorism. In other fun weekend stories:

And it's pouring, and will continue to do so for several more hours.