Sometimes it’s the little things that are hard to spin

by John Holbo on January 5, 2018

How can it be Obama’s fault that Trump claims credit for the fact that no commercial planes fell from the skies in 2017? Ah, I’ve got it!

Of course this isn’t narcissism on the President’s part. Of course it’s not an indication of his almost comical obsession with being praised and respected. Of course it’s not a reflection on the state of our national character that we have elected in successive terms men who take credit for stopping the rise of the oceans and for keeping planes in the sky.

Here it is. Caught on video.

Actually, it’s worse, though it pains conservatives to admit it. I’m old enough to remember when Reagan claimed to be responsible for single-handedly placating the Aztec sun god, Tonatiuh. “It’s morning in America.” The clear, counter-factual implication of this famous 1984 ad was that, had America unwisely re-elected Jimmy Carter, Tonatiuh would have brought an end to the current cosmic era. (Tonatiuh must be placated with ritual human sacrifice, although these days we call them ‘welfare cuts’.)

These days conservatives prefer not to remember their embarrassing mass flirtation with Aztec apocalypse. It was the 80’s, and a lot of things that seemed totally plausible then look a bit silly now.



e julius drivingstorm 01.06.18 at 1:01 am

Obviously, Trump forced a lot of flight cancellations by ordering up all those major storms; just adhering to the Ben Franklin adage as he understands it: a pound of prevention is worth an ounce of cure.

Michael Moriarty was great in Q.


John Holbo 01.06.18 at 1:49 am

Yes, it’s tragic the way Trump’s many bizarre and often bizarrely minor untruths are not regarded as sweeping rhetorical affirmations of American can-do spirit. And Michael Moriarty was, indeed, great in Q.


Lee A. Arnold 01.06.18 at 12:22 pm

Somebody should ask Trump whether he’s responsible for the doubling of U.S. coal mining deaths in 2017 by discarding regulations. (That is, i he ever appears in earshot of reporters again, after the portrait painted in the Michael Wolff book.)

Yet the question may not serve for his moral enlightenment, since the Wolff book suggests that the psychopathy is quite progressed, and on some days, Trump may not be able to logically link subjects to predicates.

The framers of the Constitution must have understood that those damaged individuals who occasionally arose in monarchies and aristocracies throughout history — and wreaked bloody havoc by the power of their positions — would continue to be born, and could gain power, in the era of liberty. Formulating a democracy that might be able to defuse these individuals and their supporters (“factions”) by checks and balances is a remarkable achievement.

But still there is a problem that the Founders may not have seen, or that constitutions cannot check. The 1930’s and now the 2010’s demonstrate Polanyi’s thesis that fascism (and its concomitant, racism) is a emotional “move” that will arise and increase spontaneously with general distress in the economic system. Conversely, the impetus toward it dissipates, when economic conditions improve.

It seems to me that the left pays too much attention to the intellectual critique of the economic system, and tends to laugh off these emotional extremities. Or to suppose that because a Hitler was once elected, no one could make that mistake again. Or to argue that since these sentiments are traceable in everyday mundanities (such as in the recent decades of Fox News & Republican rhetoric), there is nothing new here, let’s move on to something academically more interesting or important.

Okay, let’s ask a simple question. If “Trumpism” is stopped this time, will it be because constitutional checks and balances work, or because the reappearance of jobs and economic growth defuses its fascism?

Or should we not bother to think about this?

I would like to know if anyone can cite social thinkers who have grappled with this problem. I think a more complete understanding should be developed before the next financial crash, before the fire next time.


Anarcissie 01.06.18 at 3:38 pm

If you’ré in the leader racket, you have to constantly advertise. Trump is more blatant than most of his predecessors but I think his base eat it up and his opposition, by continually having fits about his act, ensure that attention will always be focused on him as a personality. Otherwise it might be noticed that he’s just another Republican, greasing the rich and grinding the faces of the poor. Yes, Reagan was in show biz too. We all made fun of him while he got himself elected twice and changed the country.


LFC 01.06.18 at 7:55 pm

Until clicking on the last link in this post, I was blissfully unaware of Q: The Winged Serpent. (And I’m older than J Holbo.)

But given his taste for horror movies, comic books, Old Masters, and in general the commingling of (what used to be called) low and high culture, no link in a Holbo post surprises me, even if it’s bits of blood dropping from a sunny sky.


Warren Terra 01.07.18 at 10:14 am

I realize it’s probably pointless to point this out, because everyone here already knows it, but I am so fncking sick of this dishonest slander:

we have elected in successive terms men who take credit for stopping the rise of the oceans

This lie has been repeated so. many. times. on right-wing media they probably believe it by now, but for the record, this is a transcript of the speech they were referring to, and an excerpt:

The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge — I face this challenge with profound humility and knowledge of my own limitations, but I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people.

Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that, generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless…

… this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal…

… this was the moment when we ended a war, and secured our nation, and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.

Was he over-promising, or at least overly optimistic? Yes, certainly. But – and this is critical – he was praising a movement, he was talking about his party and the country coming together to work on those goals. He wasn’t saying a damned thing about doing it himself, through the power of his own wonderfulness and knowing more than any general and being a very stable genius. He was describing a legislative and administrative set of priorities. Some of it he even made progress on.


bob mcmanus 01.07.18 at 2:04 pm

I would like to know if anyone can cite social thinkers who have grappled with this problem. (fascism (racism, authoritarianism) and economics)

Too many to count, and easy enough to uncover if you don’t waste your time on the scandal du jour. For just one school that I am visiting, Frankfurt, forgive if I get details or timing wrong from memory: 1) Erich Fromm in Germany did surveys of factory workers in the late twenties on attitudes to fascism, 2) Adorno worked with a survey on anti-semitism in California (and NYC?) around WWII, 3) Franz L Neumann wrote a book entitled Behemoth:The Structure and Practice of National Socialism; 4) Marcuse wrote an early book on Authority, and moved from the class struggle as explanator to more mass psychology and repression.

But it probably was a rhetorical question. Anybody really interested in fascism rather than Democratic partisanship and Trump-fear mongering has their own lists of sources different than mine.


Lee A. Arnold 01.07.18 at 8:36 pm

Bob McManus #7: “Too many to count, and easy enough to uncover”

I haven’t found anything that discusses the question I am asking. To put is a different way, I wonder whether a constitution based on principles of individual liberty can be counted upon to defuse fascism in the face of general economic distress. It could be that this cannot be known. Neumann’s characterization of the Weimar constitution is that it was not based on principles of individual liberty and tended towards guaranteeing a pluralism of the existing social institutions (which in retrospect were themselves in the process of breaking down).


derrida derider 01.07.18 at 11:04 pm

“It was the 80’s, and a lot of things that seemed totally plausible then look a bit silly now.”
But not as silly as so many things that seem plausible in the 20 teens ….


Ray Vinmad 01.08.18 at 7:10 am

@6 My strong suspicion is that you are right–but you should admit it’s a little bit ambiguous. If he’s only praising a movement, then why is this the moment? The use of ‘we’ makes it clear it is a call to action of some kind–not really a brag about his personal capacity to stay the oceans.


Jerry Vinokurov 01.08.18 at 8:35 pm

Well, at least we’re not at the stage where we’re trying to placate Xipe Totec… yet.


bob mcmanus 01.09.18 at 10:08 am

To put is a different way, I wonder whether a constitution based on principles of individual liberty can be counted upon to defuse fascism in the face of general economic distress.

Okay, how about this, just last paragraph read, doing synecdoche, start:

Jameson:”A Marxian materialism, then, tends under its own momentum towards
an anti-aesthetic anti-culturalism in which it oddly meets the ressentiment
of its fascist opponents:

“Emphasis on the material element, as against the spirit as a lie, gives rise
to a kind of dubious affinity with that political economy which is subjected
to an immanent criticism, comparable with the complicity between police
and underworld. (MM 49/ 44)” …Adorno, quoted by Jameson

“Principles of individual liberty” (liberalism, universalism) is “the spirit as a lie.” But economic reformism, say union activity seeking better wages, isn’t the direct answer or adequate resistance either (although an expression of resistance.)

The resistance to fascism (a transcendent collectivism) is in a material and concrete collectivism, an immediate expression of individualism in a collective as opposition to universalisms and abstractions (nation, race, representations). Solidarity as praxis, immediate felt, embodied and practiced social relations in opposition to other real abstractions.

Soviets, BLM, #MeToo.

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