We’re Number One!

As Americans head for the polls to decide whether rampant Trumpism will at least be somewhat contained, we should probably acknowledge the real significance of the votes Americans will cast tomorrow.

We love to proclaim that America “is number one!” We love to believe that we have a democratic system–that whether you label it a republic or a democracy, it is an exercise in self-government. If we are honest, however, and at all informed, we have to admit that such an assertion has become dangerously close to a lie.

A recent article from Salon began with a survey of our social ills.

The United States, by many measures, appears to be a sick society. It has one of the highest rates of wealth and income inequality in the world. Despite being one of the richest countries on the planet it has some of the highest rates of infant mortality. Poverty among the elderly is also increasing. As a whole, the country’s health care system is inadequate; life expectancy is declining. The United States has the highest rate of mass murder by gun in the world and the highest rate of incarceration.

American infrastructure is failing. There is a deep crisis of faith in the country’s political and social institutions. The environment is being despoiled by large corporations who increasingly act with impunity. Loneliness and suicide are at epidemic levels. Consumerism has supplanted democracy and meaningful engaged citizenship. White hate groups and other right-wing domestic terrorist organizations have killed and injured hundreds of people during the last few decades. America’s elites are wholly out of touch with the people and largely indifferent to their demands.

It is impossible for any intellectually honest person to deny the accuracy of that analysis. Let’s also concede that Donald Trump is the beneficiary–not the cause–of democratic dysfunction.

That said, if the America we thought we lived in is to be saved, it is absolutely critical that we contain–and ultimately defeat–Trump and the authoritarian bigots to whom he appeals.

In a column for the New York Times, a psychiatrist recently explained how the President’s rhetoric triggers and facilitates violence and hatred. I encourage you to click through and read the column in its entirety, but here are some of his important insights:

You don’t need to be a psychiatrist to understand that the kind of hate and fear-mongering that is the stock-in-trade of Mr. Trump and his enablers can goad deranged people to action. But psychology and neuroscience can give us some important insights into the power of powerful people’s words.

We know that repeated exposure to hate speech can increase prejudice, as a series of Polish studies confirmed last year. It can also desensitize individuals to verbal aggression, in part because it normalizes what is usually socially condemned behavior….politicians like Mr. Trump who stoke anger and fear in their supporters provoke a surge of stress hormones, like cortisol and norepinephrine, and engage the amygdala, the brain center for threat. One study, for example, that focused on “the processing of danger” showed that threatening language can directly activate the amygdala. This makes it hard for people to dial down their emotions and think before they act….

Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton, and colleagues have shown that distrust of a out-group is linked to anger and impulses toward violence. This is particularly true when a society faces economic hardship and people are led to see outsiders as competitors for their jobs….

There is something else that Mr. Trump does to facilitate violence against those he dislikes: He dehumanizes them. “These aren’t people,” he once said about undocumented immigrants suspected of gang ties. “These are animals.”

Research by Dr. Cikara and others shows that when one group feels threatened, it makes it much easier to think about people in another group as less than human and to have little empathy for them — two psychological conditions that are conducive to violence….

Using brain M.R.I., researchers showed that images of members of dehumanized groups failed to activate brain regions implicated in normal social cognition and instead activated the subjects’ insula, a region implicated in feelings of disgust.

As Dr. Fiske has written, “Both science and history suggest that people will nurture and act on their prejudices in the worst ways when these people are put under stress, pressured by peers, or receive approval from authority figures to do so.” (my emphasis.)


  1. Immediately following 911, President Bush went live nation-wide making the case for calm with key messages directed at extremist militia groups. He acted on intelligence obtained by listening carefully and thoughtfully to key security advisors. While many Americans may have found some of the messages strange, those of us trained in responding to counter terrorism and insurgency, knew that the President was responding to expert advice from security and military advisors. Today, it is reported that heavily armed volunteer vigilante militia groups have boldly publicly announced they have issued orders to their members to prepare for mobilization to our nation’s southern border. They claim they are responding to the call from the President. Landowners in South Texas have announced they are not welcome while brandishing their own high powered weapons. Military commanders have been warned. In contrast to past Republican Commanders-in-Chief, our current incumbent has been noticeably silent in addressing this dangerous scenario on the eve of mid term elections. You and I are not the resistance. We are the true patriots of democracy and civil stability. Vote against the true insurgents compromising democracy and freedom tomorrow. This is a clear referendum to stand against Trumpism.

  2. Thank you Prof. Well said. From Newt to the Tea Party to Trump – it has been an ugly ride.

  3. This disease will go down in history as the worst pandemic ever. The bodies may not be piling up but the minds are so infected by Trump that millions around the universe will be unable to recover. It’s spreading and rotting our DNA rendering it permanent.
    Donald, you and your Beezlebub have undone two millennia of Jesus Christ. Now rest on your ill-gotten laurels, you fool, you moron, you unrepentant ignoramus.

  4. You’re hedging on your honesty. Albert Einstein’s honest assessment in the late 40’s was the USA is a Plutocracy. It’s only gotten worse.

    While Vernon keeps apologizing for the Democratic Party, I’ll continue condemning it as a co-conspirator in allowing a Plutocracy to rise and control the party meant to represent the people.

    The excitement in voting tomorrow, especially the huge turnout by young people, is all about progressive causes and candidates–NOT the platform espoused by the corporate owned DNC.

    Be careful, if you don’t see this as a wave of progressivism sweeping the country, you’ll get delusional narcissists like Hillary Clinton to step forward and declare another presidential run in 2020.

    You have to look at Texas and Florida, red states abandoned by the DNC who have risen to challenge the likes of Ted Cruz and De Santis with individual donations. Their victories are the people’s victories–NOT a corporate owned political party.

    If you don’t delineate now between the two you will once again watch the Democratic Party co-opt the people’s movement and quash the momentum. That is their ultimate responsibility…prevent the people from taking over the party and implementing policies that help the people–NOT Wall Street.

    If you think CEO’s and shareholders have the same interests as the people, you are part of the problem which has kept the facade alive that this country even resembles a democratic beacon for the world. It isn’t and hasn’t for quite some time.

    And, once you reach that logical conclusion, your next observation should be looking closely at our $1 trillion Pentagon budget. What are the Plutarchs doing with our military and surveillance state?

    Be careful when you peek behind the curtains… 😉

  5. “In a column for the New York Times, a psychiatrist recently explained how the President’s rhetoric triggers and facilitates violence and hatred.”

    The above sentence took me back to the “early days” of this Trumpism epidemic, now nearing pandemic levels, and the book, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump”. The American Psychiatric Association decreed all members are to adhere to the “Goldwater Rule”; that no public figure is to be publicly diagnosed without face-to-face examination. Sounds logical and fair and in the past WAS logical and fair to public figures; but was never fair to the American public, especially today regarding our current president. The psychiatrist who wrote the column in the New York Times has, however, diagnosed the American public acting on Trump’s endless rhetoric and has identified the virus displayed in the escalating violent and hateful actions since January 20, 2017. There is no successful treatment for viral infections; antibiotics (or logic, common sense and facts) do not work on the spreading Trumpism so the death rate increases. We could compare this to medical scientists at long last discovering the cause of the disease but are stopped from seeking a cure.

    “By 2016, America had already suffered significant erosion of democratic norms. We had already become more corporatist than capitalist, more plutocratic than democratic. A failure to turn back now–a failure to rise to the challenge and begin the difficult task of reclaiming our founding ideals–is very likely to seal our fate.”

    The prognosis at this point appears to be terminal; we do not yet know who those millions of early voters are or who they are voting for and the election tomorrow is still in our future. I am not heartened by the high turnout because in this country racism, bigotry and hatred too often Trump (no pun intended) democracy and Rule of Law…it is ahead so far in this administration.

    On a separate but connected issue; those who are calling for elections being national holidays do not appear to have considered WHO has the day off to do nothing with our current national holidays. All government offices, city services, court systems, USPS and most banks close on those days; all but banks are our political system shutting down for political or Christian religious celebrations. Those many early voting locations seem to be working just fine…we won’t know till Wednesday who they worked for.


  6. Todd, your diatribe today has some mistakes: it attributes to Democrats the crimes of the Republicans. You are obviously a good analyst but focused on the wrong villains.
    It’ll be a long haul to develop more FDR progressives. Why not use your evident skills to help with that objective? Wrecking balls are fun to watch razing buildings but, hey! we’ve had enough destruction and more to come.

  7. Elections have been understood as our stopgap against violent revolution- every two years we have the opportunity to dissipate our anger at the polls. That works as long as elections retain their integrity. Unfortunately, election integrity has been eroded over the past few years, by unchecked outside interference from hostile foreign states, the corruption of massive sums of dark money, and one party’s persistent attempts to dismantle voting rights. We’re past the point of resolving our differences with rational discourse. The right has devolved into nothing but a collection of brainwashed cultists and Vichy Republicans. We don’t have a lot of opportunity remaining to solve the Trumpism problem at the polls, and if we fail to do so over the next couple of election cycles, the problem likely will have to be solved in the streets.

  8. This attempt the rein in Trump’s populism and nationalism during this election has been disorganized at best. There has been plenty of emotion for sure, but it still lacks heart. And while it may be enough to throw technical road blocks in front of Trump’s march to Crazytown, it is NOT enough to change our country for the better.

  9. If only this surge to the right was limited to the United States. It is not. And the retrenchment of the right in totalitarian countries goes on and on. I am at a loss as to how this has happened, but I believe I know the why… at least part of the why.
    There are three causes IMO. 1. Overpopulation and the loss of natural resources. 2. The worldwide spread of unbridled capitalism. 3. Global warming and the destructive effects of climate change.
    Locked into an economic system of competition we are unable to cooperate to the extent necessary to solve our man-made problems. Where once that competition drove the advancement of man’s knowledge and creativity, it now beats back efforts to save us.
    We are a sorry lot we humans as we march forward into self extinction.

  10. Todd’s negatives are not to be dismissed, but we have had other times in history when all appears to have been lost. Reconstruction days, for instance, and during the depths of the Depression (which I experienced) when brigades of swastika and hammer and sickle-bearing marchers were on display in New York City. We can survive this mess but the issue is > will we? Yes, if we are determined to make democracy work by not only getting off our posteriors tomorrow and voting but staying off our posteriors every day after that. Democracy is not God-given manna that falls from heaven; it is an idea, one that needs nourishment 24-7, and we are the nourishers.
    Tomorrow we may well decide much more than who is going to call the political shots; we may be deciding whether we prefer some form of authoritarian control over the rights, privileges and immunities provided by constitutional government, i.e., our democracy. I have already voted for the latter, having borne witness to the failures of authoritarian rule in modern history, and on a more positive note, having borne witness to what adoption of truly democratic values can do for America and Americans with the advent of the New Deal. I see tomorrow not as the end but rather as a hoped-for new day in American politics, but the promise of a new day will materialize only if we do our duty tomorrow – and the days and weeks and months and years after that, because with the rights, privileges and immunities we enjoy comes the responsibility to keep the system that provides them intact. We thus vote for democracy every day when we eschew authoritarianism, defend its premises and agitate to expand its best ever form of government to others. So, tomorrow – and then all the tomorrows following.

  11. Donald Trump lacks the capacity to know the technical aspects of his vomitous speeches. He only says what gets people to cheer for him. He’s an idiot savant in the hate department.

    No, Todd, I don’t apologize for the Democrats. If you’d have read everything I’ve written, you’d know that. But, as OMG says, using a wrecking ball right now is like using a dehumidifier in a desert. We have to keep our eye on the ball. Write down your rage for your next book. It worked for me.

  12. “….reclaiming our founding ideals” will not be near enough. For the times, it will only be a start.

  13. To both Bill Bailey and Shiela …. well said. Bill … in a few short words …. you said it all. Thank you.

  14. I will be genuinely curious to see the voter turnout this time around. Midterms tend towards lower numbers, but this time seems a little different. However, young voters (18-35) tend to be no-shows regardless. It’s why their priorities don’t get considered, where as baby boomers tend to have significantly more influence because they will actually vote.

    I think if a more liberal, younger generation ever showed up at the polls things would be improved significantly. But, like I said, they don’t show. Complaining on Twitter is much easier than doing something like driving a few minutes and filling out a form. I hope Todd’s right and there is a young voter wave coming this time, but I tend to doubt it.

  15. Trump is truly despicable, but Sheila’s comments (quoted below) describe the real nexus of the problem:

    “Let’s also concede that Donald Trump is the beneficiary–not the cause–of democratic dysfunction.”

    “By 2016, America had already suffered significant erosion of democratic norms. We had already become more corporatist than capitalist, more plutocratic than democratic. A failure to turn back now–a failure to rise to the challenge and begin the difficult task of reclaiming our founding ideals–is very likely to seal our fate.”

    And as JoAnne Green elaborated:

    “The prognosis at this point appears to be terminal; we do not yet know who those millions of early voters are or who they are voting for and the election tomorrow is still in our future. I am not heartened by the high turnout because in this country racism, bigotry and hatred too often Trump (no pun intended) democracy and Rule of Law…it is ahead so far in this administration.”

    At least as long ago as 25-30 years Andrew Shapiro’s book, “We’re Number One” described in detail the sinking of our country’s standing in social, economic and health areas in the world. If it were updated today we would see even a greater decline. Although there were earlier signs, it was Shapiro’s book that focused (for me) the crisis we were (and are) in.

    Today there is another short, but important book: “How Fascism Works: the Politics of Us and Them,” by Jason Stanley. While it is not the epitome of scholasticism it clearly describes what is happening in this country today; hence JoAnn’s concern.

    I wish I could be more optimistic–and I would love to be dead wrong–but I suspect that the coming “blue wave” may be counterbalanced by a rise in right wing hate that is revealed on election day.

    Given Trump’s obvious deficiency as a leader and human being I thought it impossible that he could be elected president. After all, I thought at the time, the voters of this country cannot possibly be that stupid or deluded. They were then. I fear they still are.

  16. A very good friend of mine who I now see more on Facebook than in the flesh posted one of those pseudo questionnaire pieces regarding a scary movies that you have seen. A lot of times I do not answer these questionnaires since I have no idea what their origin is but in this case I did answer. My answer was “Blade Runner” and that answer was based not so much on the plot of the film but what the backdrop to it and trade on screen showed a potential future reality. It was terrifying to me so much so that I refrained from watching the film for quite some time until I broke down and actually got a DVD copy of it. When I watched it again after many years it still jarred me for the same reasons.

    When people talk about capitalism run amok, oligarchies, and the dark money and what it manipulates today I think of this film and see it depicting what the outcome of all this will ultimately be. The impression of it that I gained from first watching the film when it debuted so long ago up fits as a visual interpretation of where we are currently headed unless we find a way out of this downward spiral. As bad as what is depicted is it is only a depiction of what this country will be like leaving me to think God only knows how bad it would be elsewhere.

    Like it or not, this country even with all its flawed, very flawed, thinking about its place in the world and its influence on events throughout the world, has striven in a Wilsonian sort of way be a firebreak standing in the way of global catastrophe. Where we’re at right now is on the precipice of losing that grip and all that influence where we will no longer have our hand in regarding the course of events as they could play out without that influence being available. You can like it or hate it but it has been an integral part of keeping this world from blowing itself up since the end of the Second World War. We have made many, many huge mistakes that we did so while trying to stave off disaster when no one else was willing to step up for the greater good or could physically do so given just how damaging that Second World War was to both the economies, the political systems and the social cohesion of a huge number of countries that were directly or indirectly grievously affected by that war.

    Today, we have the Russian Confederation and the People’s Republic of China vying for that role as they see us self-destructing in full view of the rest of the world with much of that destruction stemming from longstanding and concerted efforts by both of those nations to bring that to pass. We, out of our own stupidity and shortsightedness have enhanced what they’re trying to do since they would be the great arbiters as to how this world functions and what the global order of things will be if we go belly-up. So when we think of the chaos that we are currently experiencing both socioeconomically and politically in this country we also have to think of its impact on the rest of the world and in turn what that major sea change will in turn do to us in, very likely, the biggest and most destructive feedback loop in history.

    So, when we think about who we’re going to vote for and what we think about the future of the country we have to do something that has been traditionally very difficult for Americans to do and that’s taking a very long look and a deeply probing one to understand, perhaps, the true ramifications of that political gyrations we’re going through right now and what they might mean to not only the rest of the world but our security, our physical security, right here at home. After all, that was always a one of the major underpinnings of what we were trying to do when we essentially created the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Organization of American States and influencing the many other regional organizations to, of course make the world safe for trade are typically American trade, but as a byproduct, some semblance of normalcy and predictability regarding the interactions of the nations of the world. Of course that was a dream in reality and a poorly executed one at times but as it turned out it was the only rational game in town.

    We cannot afford for a variety of reasons to let this all go by the wayside. The stakes are very much that high and what we all collectively do at the ballot box tomorrow might be the most pivotal event in deciding what course of action we ultimately take and whether or not the grim and frightful future depicted in “Blade Runner” will be mankind’s future and ours right along with it. My apologies for being perhaps a little over the top but from where I sit things look just that stark.

  17. Todd, could not agree more.

    Any honest reading of our history from the creation of the Constitution by the elitist class of the colonies to Teddy’s clash with the Robber Barons to Lewis F. Powell Junior’s infamous “call to arms” memo to corporate America (see https://billmoyers.com/content/the-powell-memo-a-call-to-arms-for-corporations/) to Clinton’s NAFTA, Welfare “Reform,” etc to Obama’s sellout to Big Pharma/Health Insurance in the ACA and saving Wall Street with 900 Billion of tax payer money PROVES, without a doubt, the ongoing struggle between, as Lincoln stated, Capital and Labour (with Labour, of course, being the most important fro Abe).

    In my opinion, Powell’s “call to arms” by the corporate class in 1970 is finished. Or as Warren Buffet said some years ago (I paraphrase), “Class warfare? There is none. We (the rich) have already won!” In other words, “move along (working peasant), nothing to see here…”

    It doesn’t matter how economist or psychologist want to analyze our present government: Plutocracy, Oligarchy, Authoritarianism, Fascism, etc. The fact is this: The global wealthy class own and run our so-called “democracy” lock, stock and barrel.

    So what can history teach us about the “remedy” to our present state? At this point, I think it is clear we are way beyond “reforming” or “tweaking” or any other adjective one wants to use in “fixing” our failed democracy/economy.

    About all I can hope for is that the young progressives who turned out for Bernie Sanders two years ago are still engaged in the process and will, hopefully, pull this shattered democratic experiment the Boomers have put together and find a way to create a totally new Social Democracy doing forward. I am a cynic at heart (after all, we are dealing with human beings after all) and would not place any bet on this happening. Short of a good old fashion pitch fork rushing of the Capital Building, I really don’t see any other REALISTIC avenue.

    In the words of Edward R. Murrow watching the blitz over London: “Good Night and Good Luck.”

  18. I believe most of those who post here regularly are problem solvers. We see chains of causes and effects and the potential futures they portend and we dedicate ourselves to breaking them before they lead to what they point to now. We are focused on tomorrows battle as a completely necessary step in recreating what we miss from our pasts.

    Todd on the other hand is an ideologue who focuses on the entire human race and the philosophical basis for the current nightmare. He states correctly that tomorrows battle will not be the end of the war.

    There are many, many pictures that attempt to portray the idealogical spectrum of political creatures like us. The one that I like has two orthogonal axis: one goes from “conservative” to “progressive” to capture the range of possibilities for our attitudes about change while the other goes from “liberal” to “authoritarian” to capture our individual attitudes about societal organization. It’s clear that the US electorate used to occupy the entire space and now we are grouped in two tightly wound postitions, progressive/liberal and conservative/authoritarian. Todd is perhaps at a more progressive and less liberal position in the group.

    Wars are won by the side with the most effective combination of tactics and strategy. In the end the outcome is clear when one side is forced to accept defending and the other side can enjoy offense. Our long term goal has to be that our short term prevails and sets up the long term.

    In about 30 hours we’ll have essential intelligence about many of the next steps; where we go from here and how we’ll get there.

    In the meantime one simple objective: get as many as possible to vote as blue as possible to energize our offense.

  19. It’s obvious Todd is an agent of Russia!!! We must ALWAYS follow the orders of our leadership within the DNC!


  20. Wray McCalester: The 2016 voters may have been deluded but not deluded enough to take the election away from Hillary Clinton. Rather, voters on both sides had come to repudiate the delusion of our current leaders, or anyone associated.

    Americans were largely through with government that was trying to govern on eggshells, i.e., trying to govern without breaking anything. Our vote repudiated the idea that we must have solutions that are perfect or have no solutions at all. I personally wanted government to get on with solutions and then fix the side-effects as they arose or fell.

    Unfortunately, the democrats seemed most fixated on doing no harm even if doing nothing permitted great harm to have its way. Worse, democrats seem fixated still on that Hippocratic approach to governing.

    The fundamental underlying motivation for the Trump vote was what I have just described; not racism, not propping up white preference and not fear of others. If we think the Trump movement is grounded on those last three and base our campaigns on that conclusion, then we have lost again.

    Democrats must propose solutions that solve problems even as those solutions leave some scratches, dings and dents in their wake, and we must propose ways to fix those dings and dents as soon as they appear.

    The republicans have it half-right. They propose to solve problems no matter the harm their solutions cause, but they do not offer to fix the trauma they cause. In fact, republicans seem to relish the harm their “solutions” cause.

    If I could advise the democrat campaigns, I would coach them to frame them in that way: create a platform that means to clean up its mess after it cooks up nourishing solutions versus a party of perverts that wallow in the wounds its “solutions” deliver.

  21. Larry:

    Whatever the motive for your vote a great deal of others voted for the reasons I described. Your most meaningful statement is:

    “The republicans have it half-right. They propose to solve problems no matter the harm their solutions cause, but they do not offer to fix the trauma they cause. In fact, republicans seem to relish the harm their “solutions” cause.”

    Republican solutions are wantonly destructive, and as a result, all wrong.

  22. I find these academic exchanges interesting but the rubber meets the road tomorrow and I think this is not a time to prognosticate but to rather use such energy in getting out the vote tomorrow. I am on my third blog today in furtherance of such goal and will join these conversations Wednesday. In my view tomorrow is D-Day for democracy and nothing is more important than its preservation and expansion, not even exercises in academia, which run a close second. See you later, and hopefully with a Democratic House.

  23. I wonder how many current Democrats, like myself, were Independent voters who, like Barack Obama, had the “Audacity Of Hope” that both parties could once again sit at the bargaining table and work together to resolve our problems? I also wonder how many, like Sheila, are former Republicans who cannot believe the party has strayed so far into the Twilight Zone of White Nationalism? Could we possibly be the ones today who urge others to vote for such as Joe Donnelly because he is a member of the Democratic party? Could those who still doubt casting their vote for him possibly be hard line Democrats who expect full allegiance to that party?

    As Wray said; “I wish I could be more optimistic–and I would love to be dead wrong–but I suspect that the coming “blue wave” may be counterbalanced by a rise in right wing hate that is revealed on election day.”

    Maybe that is why, now with the election is only hours away, I am suddenly afraid to know the outcome. A short while ago I suddenly had this mental vision of the Blue Wave being a reality and the resulting hatred spewed from Trump; he is not above ordering his General Population Army to take to our streets well armed with support by the 2nd Amendment.

    Still I implore you to VOTE BLUE!

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