Bob Schwartz

Tag: politics

A Face in the Crowd: A Media Star Demagogue Takes Himself Down

“Those morons out there? Shucks, I could take chicken fertilizer and sell it to them as caviar. I could make them eat dog food and think it was steak.”

“This whole country’s just like my flock of sheep! They’re mine! I own ’em! They think like I do. Only they’re even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for ’em.”

“Good night you stupid idiots. Good night, you miserable slobs. They’re a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they’ll flap their flippers.”

A Face in the Crowd (1957) is a movie about an unlikely backwoods media star, a drifter named Lonesome Rhodes, who becomes a national populist icon. He believes he can sell his followers on anything, including who the next president should be.

The demagogic scheme falls apart when his real beliefs are broadcast on an open microphone.

***

ACTOR ON RHODES’ SHOW: You really sell that stiff [Senator Fuller] as a man among men?

LONESOME RHODES: Those morons out there? Shucks, I could take chicken fertilizer and sell it to them as caviar. I could make them eat dog food and think it was steak. Sure, I got ’em like this… You know what the public’s like? A cage of guinea pigs. Good night you stupid idiots. Good night, you miserable slobs. They’re a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they’ll flap their flippers.

***

LONESOME RHODES: This whole country’s just like my flock of sheep!

MARCIA JEFFRIES: Sheep?

LONESOME RHODES: Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers – everybody that’s got to jump when somebody else blows the whistle. They don’t know it yet, but they’re all gonna be ‘Fighters for Fuller’. They’re mine! I own ’em! They think like I do. Only they’re even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for ’em.

***

Critical times are tough tests for lawyers. Some pass, some fail.

Lawyers are sworn officers of the courts of their respective states and federal jurisdictions. They take a solemn oath. They take that oath because as citizens we give them substantial power as officers of the court. As Spiderman (not a lawyer) reminds us, with great power comes great responsibility.

In normal times it is hard enough for lawyers to balance all the interests surrounding them—professional, personal, political. In abnormal and critical times—like these—lawyers may be pushed to pick a lane. The onerous professional demands, as embodied in the oath, may be in conflict with other interests, including ambition, success and ideology.

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned a few examples of times in which lawyers chose poorly. One is the case of attorneys involved in Watergate, almost two dozen of whom ended up being punished and sanctioned.  Another is Hans Frank, a brilliant attorney known as Hitler’s Lawyer.  There are many other infamous examples.

The number of lawyers involved in current events, as principals or as advocates, is growing exponentially. It will only expand as dark matters surrounding the president get deeper and more serious. Please keep this in mind as this drama unfolds.

Here is an example of an oath, one taken by attorneys in the State of Washington:

 

OATH OF ATTORNEY

I do solemnly declare:

I am fully subject to the laws of the State of Washington and the laws of the United States and will abide by the same.

I will support the constitution of the State of Washington and the constitution of the United States.

I will abide by the Rules of Professional Conduct approved by the Supreme Court of the State of Washington.

I will maintain the respect due to the courts of justice and judicial officers.

I will not counsel, or maintain any suit, or proceeding, which shall appear to me to be unjust, or any defense except as I believe to be honestly debatable under the law, unless it is in defense of a person charged with a public offense. I will employ for the purpose of maintaining the causes confided to me only those means consistent with truth and honor. I will never seek to mislead the judge or jury by any artifice or false statement.

I will maintain the confidence and preserve inviolate the secrets of my client, and will accept no compensation in connection with the business of my client unless this compensation is from or with the knowledge and approval of the client or with the approval of the court.

I will abstain from all offensive personalities, and advance no fact prejudicial to the honor or reputation of a party or witness unless required by the justice of the cause with which I am charged.

I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed, or delay unjustly the cause of any person.

 

“Shaman walking across Russia to ‘exorcise Putin’ arrested on ‘terrorism’ charges”

“He, Putin, is not human. He’s a beast, a demon.”

For those living under undemocratic regimes—in Russia, the United States, or elsewhere—this may be the most important and interesting story this week that has been missed.

The Independent:

Shaman walking across Russia to ‘exorcise Putin’ arrested on ‘terrorism’ charges

Alexander Gabyshev was attempting to walk 5,000 miles from Siberia to banish ‘demon’ president.

Six months ago, Siberian shaman Alexander Gabyshev experienced a mystical revelation.

He had been chosen to exorcise dark spirits from Russia – as he told anyone willing to listen – dark spirits that were being directed by a demon called Vladimir Putin.

To this end, the shaman set off on foot from far eastern Siberia. He aimed to meet his presidential nemesis in Moscow sometime in 2021. But in the early hours of Thursday, over 1,800 miles into his journey, Mr Gabyshev was stopped, arrested, and reportedly charged with extremism offences.

Authorities were taking no chances, with an elaborate dawn raid to detain the ageing shaman.

According to witnesses, police first cut off the highway on the border between Buryatiya and Irkutsk, the impoverished regions lying on the sides of Lake Baikal. They cut off mobile networks. Then officers surrounded the shaman’s campsite, before pinning him to the ground, leading him to a waiting van, and whisking him away.

For a long time, the idea of a 50-year-old shaman tugging a small trailer towards Moscow was the butt of jokes. Only a fragmented biography about the man was available. It seemed to speak of personal tragedy: a history graduate, Mr Gabyshev turned to mystical religion after the death of his wife in the 2000s.

There seemed little prospect of the one-man protest managing to complete the 5,000-mile journey to the capital.

Yet every day that Mr Gabyshev inched along the federal highway towards his goal, 10 miles at a time, his following grew. A handful even joined him on his crusade.

For some, his unusual protest spoke to a wider general disaffection with Moscow. Locals staged demonstrations in support. And that was when things started to get embarrassing for the Kremlin.

In an interview with the local outlet Znak published before his arrest, Mr Gabyshev said he aimed to create an “army” by the time he reached Moscow.

“God told me to go and banish the demon,” he said. “He, Putin, is not human. He’s a beast, a demon.”

Mr Gabyshev encountered plenty of resistance along the way. Earlier this month, a group of shamans more loyal to the Kremlin tried to impede his entry into Buryatiya. Nearer the regional capital, police also began to take a close interest, arresting two of Mr Gabyshev’s followers.

Ironically, the propaganda video below publicizing this mission is from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is funded in whole or in part by the American government. There seems to be no recognition that if Putin is viewed as a demon requiring exorcism, there may well be others who view Trump as a demon requiring exorcism. So far, no shamans. A walk from Washington to Palm Beach perhaps?

Fight or flee?

Somewhere in the nightmare of failure that gripped America between 1965 and 1970, the old Berkeley-born notion of beating The System by fighting it gave way to a sort of numb conviction that it made more sense in the long run to Flee, or even to simply hide, than to fight the bastards on anything even vaguely resembling their own terms.

Hunter S. Thompson
Freak Power in the Rockies
Rolling Stone #67, October 1, 1970

For more about Hunter S. Thompson see If Hunter S. Thompson Was Here and Hunter S. Thompson and Political Journalism.

OBEY T-Shirt

OBEY is the extension of artist Shepard Fairey, “Manufacturing Quality Dissent Since 1989”. He is a remarkably productive and effective artist-activist, most famous for his Obama “Hope” poster:

Now OBEY is selling a special OBEY T-Shirt:

It was not offered specifically to coincide with the tragic events of the past few weeks, but is more appropriate than ever. OBEY explains:

We’re overwhelmed by the support and dialogue around our “This Is An OBEY T-Shirt” T-shirt. The timing of the release of the shirt was not intentional to fall in the aftermath of the recent sufferings in our country such as the shootings in El Paso and Dayton or the ICE raids in Mississippi. This shirt was designed months ago and was part of the Fall 2019 collection that is being introduced to the market now. This shirt touches on so many topics that deserve attention in the US and around the world, and we would like to take the opportunity to do some positive while we have everyone’s attention.

OBEY Clothing will be donating its profits from the sale of these items. For those of you familiar with the brand you know about our OBEY Awareness program founded in 2007, designed to do just this sort of thing. All profits for the project will be donated to several 501c3 designated non-profit organizations, helping in the aid of the families of shooting victims as well as defending the rights of those that can’t defend themselves.

 

What if Hillary had to face these contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2016?

This is a thought experiment.

Back in 2008, Hillary Clinton presumed that she would be the front runner for the Democratic nomination and would be the eventual winner. Then along came the phenomenon of Barack Obama, who wrestled the nomination from her because…well, because Hillary is no Obama.

In 2016, it was planned that Hillary Clinton would have little opposition for the Democratic presidential nomination. Maybe a token opponent to make it look competitive and democratic, but little more than that. Somehow, the most un-Obamaish candidate imaginable came along to almost spoil the party for her again. Bernie Sanders didn’t make it, Hillary became the nominee. Being less than the perfect candidate, Hillary was unable to close the deal in the general election, even against the most reprehensible Republican candidate—one who went on to be the most reprehensible president.

What if we retroject all the current Democratic candidates for the nomination back to 2016—including Joe Biden (who didn’t run against her) and Bernie Sanders (who did)? Do you think she would have still won the nomination?

There are reasons to think she might not. One thought is that her unique status as the only woman candidate would be immediately gone; six women are currently running, two of them high in the polls. Another thought is that while Hillary was severely tested by Obama in 2008, she faced less testing in 2016 before she faced Trump as the candidate. Would she have withstood the attacks that are natural from such a huge field? Would the Democratic Party establishment have been able to “protect” her and still seem fair-minded and even-handed?

Rhetoric and reality: Ideal America has always depended on us

It may come as news to the less historically minded, but democracy, the kind we embrace in America, is a relatively new and novel way of government. We are still in the process of learning how it works, how it lives and how it dies.

Rhetoric has always been the way of government, long before modern democracy. Leaders say stuff, citizens repeat that stuff or say different stuff, citizens believe some stuff and don’t believe other stuff, and leaders respond to what citizens say and do.

In its relatively brief democratic life, America has typically embraced rhetoric. Much of it, in simplest terms, concerns just how exceptional and durable—eternal—American democracy really is.

As usual with compelling rhetoric in any sector—government, business, religion, whatever—rhetoric can make us lazy and careless. We come to believe that rhetoric is reality, almost a form of magical thinking. What we say and believe becomes the way things are.

And so, looking at just one aspect, Americans don’t vote in nearly great enough numbers, and those who do vote don’t always study and think hard about the issues and personalities, both of which are complicated. Things will just naturally be alright, we think, because this is a democracy and this is America. Both will last uninterruptedly forever.

But in reality, talk is not just cheap, it can be useless and tragic. All of this, all this glorious American democracy, has always and solely depended on us.

“Trump blames White House air conditioning on Obama.”

Associated Press, July 26, 2019:

WASHINGTON (AP) — In President Donald Trump’s view, even the inadequate air conditioning at the White House is Barack Obama’s fault.

Trump offered the new gripe about his predecessor as he explained in the Oval Office Friday why he’ll be spending some time at his New Jersey resort in August.

The president says “it’s never a vacation” when he goes to Bedminster, New Jersey, and that he would rather be at the White House.

He says that some of his time away from the White House gives crews time to do maintenance work.

He says, for example, “The Obama administration worked out a brand new air conditioning system for the West Wing. It was so good before they did the system. Now that they did this system, it’s freezing or hot.”

In the movie The Caine Mutiny, officers of the USS Caine determined that the conduct of their captain is so erratic that they must attempt to take over command of the ship. In one incident, Captain Queeg becomes obsessed with a missing container of strawberries. At the court martial of an officer charged with mutiny, Queeg testifies—and famously reveals just how psychologically disturbed he is:

Decent Americans Are Suffering from Learned Helplessness

American Psychological Association:

Learned helplessness is a phenomenon in which repeated exposure to uncontrollable stressors results in individuals failing to use any control options that may later become available. Essentially, individuals are said to learn that they lack behavioral control over environmental events, which, in turn, undermines the motivation to make changes or attempt to alter situations….In the 1970s, Martin E. P. Seligman extended the concept from nonhuman animal research to clinical depression in humans and proposed a learned helplessness theory to explain the development of or vulnerability to depression. According to this theory, people repeatedly exposed to stressful situations beyond their control develop an inability to make decisions or engage effectively in purposeful behavior. Subsequent researchers have noted a robust fit between the concept and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Every day, I see those in the news and those in personal life expressing serial frustration at the latest outrage from national leadership. After repeating the sordid details of cruelty and immorality, they then ask, increasingly rhetorically, why those who could do something don’t stop it. Yes some try to fight, yes some succeed or at least delay the worst, but mostly the answer seems to be to wait until the possible, though not certain, election of a new president.

Learned helplessness is, for example, at the heart of abusive situations, such as being married to a narcissistic monster. We didn’t need research psychologists to clinically identify the phenomenon of people being beaten down to the point of powerlessness and just giving up. We know it happens.

And yet…

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dylan Thomas

Marianne Williamson may not belong in the field of Democratic candidates, but she has a message and a point (Sowing the Seeds of Love edition)

Of the two dozen people running for the Democratic presidential nomination, a number have no prospect of being on the ticket, as president or vice-president. They are presumably running to advance their careers, to influence the direction of the party and/or to send a message.

Marianne Williamson is one who has no prospect, but does have a few messages. She voiced those messages in the debate—messages that were variously mocked or treated kindly, sometimes both.

In her closing statement, she said this:

This man [Trump] has reached into the psyche of the American people and he has harnessed fear for political purposes. So, Mr. President — if you’re listening — I want you to hear me please: You have harnessed fear for political purposes and only love can cast that out. So I, sir, I have a feeling you know what you’re doing. I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field, and sir, love will win.

She is absolutely right, at least about the lack of and need for love in our politics. It may sound wholly New Age and non-pragmatic, but America is indeed suffering from spiritual dis-ease. How we contracted it is an interesting question for a later time, but right now it is clear that unless and until we start treating it, versions of the last two years are going to keep repeating themselves.

I presume that when Marianne Williamson talks about love, it is an umbrella expression for all the beneficent qualities featured in all of our religious traditions—compassion, empathy, selflessness, courage, care, etc. All the things that we now discover are missing from some high-level public leaders and from some members of the body politic.

So we owe Marianne Williamson a bit of thanks. And a song: