Tag Archives: psychology

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Democrats Can Only Beat Trump By Out-Trumping Him

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At a water cooler or Starbucks near you, speculating about Donald Trump’s psychological state is America’s newest cultural obsession. Is the president crazy? Or crazy like a fox?

I don’t know. What I do know is that Trump’s Democratic opponents are doomed if they think they can beat him by acting reasonable. Haven’t they learned anything from Hillary’s disastrous “when they go low, we go high” shtick?

Point of order: what follows are musings about political strategy, not an impassioned “Trump is evil and here’s how to get rid of him” advisory column. If this makes you want to read no further, here’s the big reveal: Democrats are congenital wimps.

Still here? Awesome.

This Week In Trump (TWIT): the president accused ex-president/drone killer/kitesurfer/eight-figure author Barack Obama of having his phones tapped during last year’s election. Is he right?

I don’t know. What I do know is that corporate media is ridiculing Trump for “offering no evidence.” That phrase was in the New York Times’ headline. Nice qualifier; a similar expression of uncertainty would have saved hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives during the Bush-Judy Miller days. “Citing no evidence,” said the Los Angeles Times about Trump’s claim. Since when does that corrupt paper care about evidence? If you can see past its crazy tone and placement on Twitter, the substance of Trump’s charge is hardly outlandish.

True or false, Trump’s accusation is a blockbuster. Whether by design or coincidence, the resulting tsunami of coverage wiped the question of whether attorney general Jeff Sessions lied under oath about meeting with the Russian ambassador and whether he made any untoward promises during those rendezvous.

Political observers have noticed a pattern in Trump’s behavior. Whenever he’s under fire, Trump does something bigger and more outrageous.

Magically, Trump’s troubles go: poof!

“Grab them by the pussy,” Trump was caught saying on video just before his key second debate against Hillary Clinton. “You can do anything.” Seasoned politicos, including your humble narrator, thought his campaign was all over. So Trump invited three women who’d accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct to attend the debate. It was a gangster move. A WWE move. And no one could stop talking about it.

Goodbye PussyGate, hello White House!

Again, I’m not weighing in on Trump or his policies here. This is about politics and human psychology and how Trump understands them better than the Democrats.

It has been suggested to me by frustrated Democrats and progressives that Americans should be reminded that the Real Issue is Jeff Sessions’ lying about Russia. They say that the media ought to ignore Trump’s accusation against Obama.

Sorry, guys. That won’t work.

Asking the media to throw shade on PhoneTapGate is insane. Interest in our wild and crazy president is Making the Media Great Again! Newspaper circulation is up for the first time in decades! So are broadcast ratings — because TV cable news covers stuff like this.

There’s only one way to beat crazy: with more crazy.

As one of the few lefties to publicly humiliate the hectoring bully Sean Hannity, and one of the few lefties Ann Coulter is scared to debate, I’m beginning to think I’m the only person in American politics who understands what it would take to take on a loudmouth like President Trump.

Louder.

Meaner.

More over the top.

Love does not Trump hate. It certainly doesn’t Trump Trump.

Trump trumps Trump.

If I were running the DNC, I’d replace the party’s milquetoast rhetoric of watered-down feints with full-bore Trump-style attacks.

Bad: “I am going to be sending [Jeff Sessions] a letter to have him explain himself.” (Al Franken)

Lame: “This is a very real & serious threat to the national security of the United States.” (Elizabeth Warren)

Better But Not Good Enough: “He has proved that he is unqualified and unfit to serve in that position of trust.” (Nancy Pelosi)

To beat Trump, you have to out-Trump Trump with talking points the media can’t ignore and people can’t stop talking about. Here are some lines that might make Sessions the story again by washing away Trump’s TWIT distractions (the alleged Obama tap and Trump’s Muslim Ban 2.0).

Good: “Jeff Sessions is a traitor. He should be locked up in prison, now.”

Better: “Let’s say Sessions is telling the truth. Let’s assume Jeff Sessions can’t remember meeting with the Russians. Then he’s a goddamn idiot and too stupid to be attorney general. Why is Trump appointing morons to the cabinet?”

Best: “Of course Obama tapped Trump. Snowden told us. Obama tapped everyone! Which is how we know Sessions is a traitor!”

These sample talking points would be scurrilous. They would be unfair. They’d play fast and loose with the facts.

But they’re the only approach that would work.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Suicide Kills More Americans Than Gun Violence

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As I waited for the body of a man who jumped in front of my train to be cleared from the tracks — less than a week before another train I was riding struck a suicide victim — it occurred to me that (a) I should check whether suicide rates are increasing due to the bad economy (they are, especially among men in their 50s), and that (b) talking about suicide is long overdue.

With modernity comes depression; depression sometimes leads to suicide. And it’s a global phenomenon. “The World Health Organization reports that suicide rates have increased 60 percent over the past 50 years, most strikingly in the developing world, and that by 2020 depression will be the second most prevalent medical condition in the world,” T.M. Luhrmann wrote in The New York Times recently.

Why are so many people opting out?

Can we eliminate or reduce the number of our brothers and sisters who kill themselves?

Disclosure: my best friend committed suicide when we were 15. Bill’s death, and his inability/unwillingness to find a reason to keep living among his friends and family, left me angry and confused, unable to process an unsolvable equation. No day passes without me thinking about Bill hanging himself. His death makes me question my own daily decisions to go on living. I am not in touch with anyone else who knew him, but I imagine their trauma was not wildly dissimilar from mine.

So, yeah, it’s a personal issue for me. Given that 30,000 Americans commit suicide and 800,000 attempt it every year, it’s personal for 5,000,000 survivors of close friends and relatives too.

Nobody talks about it, but suicide is a national epidemic. Suicide by gun kills more Americans — a lot more Americans — than gun violence committed against others. (Though research shows that having a gun in your house greatly increases the chance that you’ll shoot yourself.) More American soldiers have killed themselves than have died in the war against Afghanistan.

Perhaps public discussion is inhibited by the cultural myth of the rugged individual, personal responsibility, etc. — hey, it’s your choice to live or die — but we’re all in this together. We need to save as many people as we can.

One way to reduce the suicide rate would be to get rid of capitalism. Though not a truly communist state, citizens of the Soviet Union were far less likely to kill themselves before the collapse of socialism in 1991.

There is a relentless tendency toward monopoly, consolidation of wealth and rising inequality under capitalism. Inequality — specifically, awareness of inequality — kills.

Studies show that relative poverty — how much poorer you are than your societal peers — is strongly correlated to mental illness, including depression. Of course, you can find a study to support just about anything; there’s even a theory that country music prompts people to kill themselves. Still, as Lurhmann says: “We know that social position affects both when you die and how sick you get: The higher your social position, the healthier you are. It turns out that your sense of relative social rank — literally, where you draw a line on an abstract ladder to show where you are with respect to others — predicts many health outcomes, including depression, sometimes even more powerfully than your objective socioeconomic status alone.”

Being poor doesn’t bum people out. Being poorer than other people — people whose relative wealth you personally witness — does. Mali, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are poor countries. Yet their rates of inequality are low, similar to those of Germany and the Scandinavian countries. And so are their suicide rates.

“Overall life expectancy also tracks with inequality, with a bigger wage gap meaning shorter lives and worse health — for both rich and poor, though the poor are hit much harder,” Maia Szalavitz wrote in a much-cited 2011 Time magazine article. “Researchers suspect that this gradient is linked to stress caused by our place in the social hierarchy: Stanford’s Robert Sapolsky, for example, has found that even in baboons, lower ranked animals have higher levels of stress hormones and worse health. But when status conflicts are reduced, producing a more egalitarian situation, these differences are also reduced.”

In a famous 2003 experiment with monkeys, the animals refused to accept small food allotments than those offered to neighboring monkeys. They became angry at the researchers, throwing objects at them — apparently because they blamed them for unequal distribution of the treats.

Those monkeys were on to something. Better to turn our rage against those responsible for inequality than against ourselves.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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Obama’s Cognitive Dissonance

In a new book, President Obama admits that he’s “really good at killing people” and “didn’t know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine.” We all have it in us – but we don’t have his remarkable ability to compartmentalize his humanity from his work.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: If We Learn Geography, the Terrorists Have Won

When You Ask “Why?,” Mean It.

Why?

Why would anybody want to kill innocent people?

That’s what Americans — led by the media reporters and pundits who set the agenda for discussion — ask after every terrorist attack, particularly those carried out by foreigners.

Our mystified national cluelessness begs the question. Why do people blow up our embassies, bomb our ships, fly planes into our buildings, (try to) blow up their shoes and their underwear? They do it (partly) because we can’t imagine why anyone would do such a thing.

Studies, particularly the ones the media trots out at times like these, point to a number of factors. Some of these may help trigger the kind of violent “self-radicalization” that initial reports indicate may have led Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Kyrgyzstani brothers of Chechen descent, to detonate a pair of bombs at the Boston Marathon last week.

Was it psychological alienation? “I don’t have a single American friend,” Tamerlan, 26, supposedly the instigator of the attack, said. A traumatic event, like a job loss or the break-up of a romantic relationship? Some studies find that some self-radicalized (as opposed to those who are recruited into an organization) terrorists are made after they suffer a disappointment that sets them off, causing a person with political rage to graduate to violent direct action. After the Fort Hood shooting, the Pentagon concluded that substance abuse, post-traumatic stress syndrome or brain injuries sustained in an IED blast could be triggers. Some even blame the involvement of Dzhokhar, 19 and suffering from multiple gunshot wounds, on reports that he was a pothead.

But hey, one could just as easily ask what drove state terrorist Barack Obama to murder thousands of innocent people with killer drones. Was the president sad after failing to win a second Nobel Prize? Did Michelle stop putting out? Did cocaine and/or marijuana scramble his right temporo-parietal junction, the part of the brain that controls the moral judgments of human beings? It’s pretty safe to say we’ll never be able to point to one, or two, or 17 discrete factors as the “causes” for the conscious choice to kill another person.

Like the drone war, the Boston Marathon bombings were a political act.

At this point, my best guess is that this was an attempt to strike back at the U.S. in its post-9/11 “great war of civilizations,” or Christian “crusade,” as George W. Bush called it. Authorities who questioned Dzhokhar in his hospital bed say that he and Tamerlan wanted to defend Islam from attack.

You can argue that the Tsarnaev brothers’ politics were wrong. That their tactics were counterproductive. That they were just “losers,” as their uncle called them. But we can’t understand why unless we dig into those politics.

Which is something that, 12 years after 9/11, the American media still refuses to do. Which increases the odds of future attacks.

Terrorism is not prima facie the act of a nut. Serial killers don’t detonate bombs. Terrorists don’t terrorize for fun.

“Terrorism [as opposed to state terrorism, like the drone wars] is the tool of the weak, used by disaffected groups or minorities to oppose the rule and (as they see it) the oppression of an established and militarily superior power,” Mark Nicholson wrote. “Because it is resistance on the cheap, terrorism often emerges out of civil society rather than state sponsorship, because oppressed civilian groups, lacking control over governmental machinery, can summon little or no regular military force able to confront their ‘oppressor’ in conventional military terms.”

We like terrorists. Some of them, anyway. During World War II German occupation forces characterized the leaders of the Warsaw ghetto uprising as “terrorists.” We view these doomed Jews, who fought to the death, as noble. The Afghan mujahedeen who struggled against the Soviets during the 1980s were terrorists to the USSR, “freedom fighters” to Ronald Reagan. The French Resistance assassinated public officials and robbed banks and bombed trains, and we love ’em for it. In movies like “Red Dawn,” we cheer the patriotic American “terrorists” who wage guerilla warfare against the invaders.

This, of course, is how radical Islamists see themselves: as heroic fighters in a resistance movement against a rapacious, cruel oppressor. (And if they prevail, that’s how history will read.) They’re not psychotic. They’re principled, willing to sacrifice everything for their cause.

Since 9/11 our leaders have repeatedly told us that “they” “hate our freedoms,” but of course this is nonsense. As Osama bin Laden remarked, if the Islamists resented liberal societies, if they wanted the world’s women all under burqas, Amsterdam would have been blown to bits. “We only killed Russians after they invaded Afghanistan and Chechnya, we only killed Europeans after they invaded Afghanistan and Iraq,” bin Laden wrote in 2004.

To ask why Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did what they did (if indeed they did it), to research their political motivations with an open mind, without dismissing them as random (friendless, stoned, loser) crazies, does not legitimize their tactics.

Self-styled Islamist resistance organizations like Al Qaeda haven’t garnered widespread support because terrorism against civilians is counterproductive. As Ché Guevara wrote, “terrorism [is] a measure that is generally ineffective and indiscriminate in its results, since it often makes victims of innocent people and destroys a large number of lives that would be valuable to the revolution.”

However, as Ché continued, terrorism directed against government or military officials can be legitimate: “Terrorism should be considered a valuable tactic when it is used to put to death some noted leader of the oppressing forces well known for his cruelty, his efficiency in repression, or other quality that makes his elimination useful.” After 9/11, for example, even some Americans viewed the Pentagon as a legitimate military target. Conversely, arguments that the World Trade Center, as a hub of a “technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire,” was an acceptable target, were rejected. The WTC victims enjoy an exalted sainthood in popular culture; grief over the Pentagon victims has always been relatively muted.

No would-be revolutionary who knows history would have targeted a civilian target like the Boston Marathon.

So, let’s agree that the brothers’ tactics sucked. That what they did was evil. But what of their political motivations?

One would have to be blind not to understand why Muslims are enraged at the U.S.: Gitmo, drones, propping up dictators, Palestine, Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, Iraq, the list goes on and on…and yes, Chechnya — where the Russians slaughtered thousands of innocents while their American allies silently cheered them on.

But few of us know about that. Because our media didn’t report it.

Which gets us back to:

Why’d the Boston bombers do it?

To get us to pay attention.

So we’ll force “our” government to stop what they’re doing in Muslim countries.

But that’ll never happen until we know “we’re” doing.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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Liberal Projection

In all the ways that matter to liberals, Barack Obama is the second coming of George W. Bush. But in the same way that Republicans project their values of small government and low taxes on a party that doesn’t adhere to them, liberal Democrats project values of being antiwar and pro-civil liberties that they don’t make the slightest pretense of following.

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