Wolf Country Gazette — Crime, narrow mindedness and short-sightedness.

November 5, the 101st Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. You know, Trump really wants to stand on top of that building on Red Square, watching hours and hours of Russian troops march by.

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Benevolent Trump. Carlo Allegari photo, Daily Beast, 08/12/17

When Sakharov wrote about totalitarian leaders, he accused them of a “combination of crime, narrow-mindedness and short-sightedness.” … Crime is a rejection of laws—the product of the political process. The refusal to think broadly or imagine the future is a rejection of politics itself. Blatant disregard for future generations is an attitudinal trait that unites Trump, Putin, and many of today’s other dictators… the willful rejection of thought and depth.Masha Gessen, “Fifty Years Later,”The New Yorker, July 25, 2018 

Every classification throws light on something — Isaiah Berlin

Masha Gessen has been getting a lot of attention since Trump’s ascendance, and deservedly so. On November 10, 2016 she published an article in the New York Review of Books entitled Autocracy:Rules for Survival. In addition to a recurring gig as Samantha Bee’s adviser in Bee’s Panic Room, this made her into something of an intellectual star of the resistance.This was not terribly different for her than what she’d become in Russia before deciding with her partner to take their adopted children and return to the United States.

This piece from the NYRB article on 11/10/2016 struck me then and thereafter as especially insightful. She wrote:

Trump is anything but a regular politician…only the fourth candidate in history and the second in more than a century to win the presidency after losing the popular vote…the first candidate in history to win the presidency despite having been shown repeatedly  to be a chronic liar, sexual predator, serial tax-avoider, and race-baiter… Most important, Trump is the first candidate in memory who ran not for president but for autocrat—and won. (Emphasis added)

Gessen is a Russian American of Jewish descent who opposed Putin, was forced into a second exile in the USA due to the hostility of the President-Dictator of All Russians toward advocates of free expressions, gay rights and lesbians who adopted children as opposed to letting them be nurtured in loving Russian orphanages.  Prior to returning to the US, She published a biography about Putin based in part on her own experience with the Russian Don Corleone as well as books about Pussy Riot and about the increasingly totalitarian nature of Putin’s Russia. Since moving to New York, she has published books, articles, letters and everything else except recipes and Powerpoint Presentations trying to explain what is happening to Russia in the Putin Kleptocratic Autocracy and why we should worry about it. And, so far, she’s pretty much been right.

There is one important person she thinks we’re omitting as we look at this phenomenon: Trump invites Putin to DC; Putin invites Trump to Moscow; Trump says “As soon as I get a formal invitation!” Perhaps perhaps they can make it work on the November 5, the 101st anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. You know, Trump really wants to stand on top of that building on Red Square, watching hours and hours of Russian troops march by in November in Moscow. Is she thinking about Trump’s hair stylist?

Nothing threatens freedom of the personality and the meaning of life like war, poverty, terror. But there are also indirect and only slightly more remote dangers. One of these is the stupefaction of man (the “gray mass,” to use the cynical term of bourgeois prognosticators) by mass culture with its intentional or commercially motivated lowering of intellectual level and content, with its stress on entertainment or utilitarianism, and with its carefully protective censorship. This is a threat to the independence and worth of the human personality, a threat to the meaning of human life. —Sakharov, Wikiquote


No, the important person Gessen warns us not to ignore  is Andrei Sakharov. I think she’s absolutely correct. Those of us who lived through the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union remember the man, but not so clearly as we should. I read Solzhenitsyn as did most folks who wanted a window into what was going on in our “competitor.”  But Sakharov was an exceptionally important Soviet physicist, key to a lot of the nuclear weapons development that made Russia what it is today by default, as John McCain puts it, a gas station with nukes.

Thousands of years ago tribes of human beings suffered great privations in the struggle to survive. In this struggle it was important not only to be able to handle a club, but also to possess the ability to think reasonably, to take care of the knowledge and experience garnered by the tribe, and to develop the links that would provide cooperation with other tribes. Today the entire human race is faced with a similar test. — Sakharov, Nobel Lecture, 1975

Andrei Sakharov with arms raised speaking before the Congress of People’s Deputies. Priroda Magazine and Nauka Publishers, courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Physics Today Collection (Note Gorbachev in rear)

Sakharov started thinking about the impacts of the use of the things he was helping to conceive, design and build. He didn’t like the results of that thought experiment, and began to ask more and more questions. He talked with people, and due to his reputation and importance, got to talk to people who actually mattered — Nikita Khrushchev among others. Until he published his criticism, he continued to live a privileged life until like Solzhenitsyn and others, he was punished, threatened and abused by the organs of state security, propaganda and general bureaucratic nastiness. Unlike Solzhenitsyn, he permanently lost a lot in the state persecution of him, his family, his friends and his ideas. And, unlike the great writer, he didn’t display paranoia, xenophobia and religious intolerance; nor was he exiled to the wilderness of the free world. He knew too much about Soviet Arms and Space programs; so he wasn’t even allowed to attend the Nobel Prize Award for his work for peace and justice. His wife,Elena Bonner Sakharova went in his stead, and delivered his address. Then she returned to  internal exile and the life of poverty and denial their integrity and intellect created for them.  

Sakharov’s comment on Soviet leadership being guilty of crime, short sightedness and narrow mindedness really cleared a lot of debris from my field of vision when thinking about what was going on in our society and national governments and the general human environment. That, combined with what we have happening in our daily exposure to the world, makes you wonder how to keep up. People who get paid to keep up — TV commentators, newspaper columnists and so on — complain about how hard it is to keep track of the activities in a week that seems like a month. It’s impossible to keep up because it’s impossible to keep up. When a society reaches that place, it’s hard to focus.

I never meant it very seriously. I meant it as a kind of enjoyable intellectual game, but it was taken seriously. Every classification throws light on something. –Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox

Isiah Berlin, The Twisted Lumber of Mankind, 1978. AZ Quotes

British philosopher Isaiah Berlin is best remembered for a article entitled The Hedgehog and the Fox. In it, he basically said that we have two possible orientations — the Fox, who knows many things but some only superficially and nothing to any great depth or the hedgehog, who knows only one thing, but knows that exceedingly well. Berlin’s analysis focused basically on an intellectual history of modern times, classifying various thinkers as either Hedgehog or Fox, before turning to Tolstoy, whom he initially found complicated. If you’ve read any Tolstoy, you may agree with that analysis. Berlin thinks you’d be wrong.

For Berlin, the Hedgehog-Fox dichotomy was not so much an alternative as a continuum. The Hedgehog sees everything through one prism, one unifying idea, such as Evangelical Christians who ignore most of the bible to focus on abortion and gay marriage. (Neither of which is discussed by Jesus.) The Fox acknowledges many unifying ideas, and is influenced by more than just one. As opposed to the Evangelical, think of the Unitarian or member of the Society of Friends who tries to see and understand things in their own sense rather than against an artificial scale of good-bad, right-wrong, normal-abnormal.

A functioning civil society needs both kinds of thinkers and actors. Lincoln had one unifying idea, the preservation of the Union. Everything he did was in some way connected to that idea. He believed that the country could not survive as part Slave and part Free; so, the end of slavery was a necessary means to the end. At the same time, he could listen to other arguments and points of view objectively and see where it took him. Lincoln might be seen as a hedgehog who could understand foxes.

Obama strikes me as more of a fox who can understand hedgehogs. The focus of his thought and his actions were based on a realistic approach to the problems of government, the realities of contemporary experience and strong belief in American principles — free expression and belief, free and fair elections, compromise, truthfulness, pragmatism and leadership. So, when he thought about a problem, he made his team work at figuring out what the problem really was and then create options that might work in the situation. He remained and from what I have observed of his post-Oval Office activities, willing to talk and to listen to everyone. But, he has an excellent bullshit detector, and doesn’t really do Kabuki theatre.

So, using these models to consider where the US is now, how do they illuminate our current situation? Sakharov’s description of the autocratic leader as combining crime, short sightedness and narrow mindedness and Berlin’s more poetic description of Hedgehogs and Foxes?

Andre Sakharov Freedom of Thought and Speech. Quotes Codex.com

We have a resurgence of authoritarian types in world leadership that seem to fit Sakharov’s model for the criminal, narrow-minded, and short-sighted fools who may succeed for a time but doom the future. Whether we’re looking at Russia, or North Korea, or the Philippines or Venezuela or the Trump slow motion coup against the Constitution, criminal activity seems to be part of the equation in all of their efforts. The government is seen by these leaders as a tool for their use, to enrich themselves, to deal with their enemies, reward their friends and followers and to cement themselves in authority.

So, using these models to consider where the US is now, how do they illuminate our current situation? Sakharov’s description of the autocratic leader as combining crime, short sightedness and narrow mindedness and Berlin’s more poetic description of Hedgehogs and Foxes?

Certainly, the description of criminal, narrow-minded and short sighted fits Donald Trump. His mentors were his father and Roy Cohn, who were both manipulative, bigoted and somewhat monomaniacal men. He violated laws in the casino industry and got away with it; his refusal to pay for goods and services, telling people to use his name in their promotional materials as opposed to suing him because if they sued him, he’d bury them, has an interesting ring of his branding genius combined with a talent for extortion. His activities during the Obama administration ring of lies and had Obama been a private party as opposed to a President, would have made him liable to charges of libel and defamation. His record of assaults against women — purely criminal behavior.

Trump is exceptionally narrow minded. He is unable to entertain an idea that doesn’t seem to originate in his own consciousness. He demonstrates both prejudice and the failure to pay attention when it’s important. Trump has an inability to plan beyond establishing outcomes; it’s not for him to worry about how something will turn out; rather, he assumes that if everybody does everything he tells them to do, or thinks he’s told them to do, then success is assured.

Using the Sakharov model, Trump is unable to imagine consequences except “Trump Wins!” His ability to ignore precedent, to listen to evidence, to examine things critically is somewhat incredible, to adhere to laws and regulations is pretty much legendary. Since he doesn’t listen and has no qualms about shutting up or down anyone who disagrees with him unless they already intimidate him, he is no where as successful as he claims; but, because he’s both shameless and a bully, he generally has avoided the disaster. But, consequences of his actions amaze him; and, he stubbornly holds on to the bad idea in the belief that in the long run, he’ll be proven right; or even better, he’ll be perceived as being right by sufficient people to “win” whatever the prize is.

According to a number of well-sourced reporters, Trump is very concerned that Donald Junior is going to be sucked into the Russian scandal. He assumes if he threatens, whines and obfuscates, it will go away; whether he had advance knowledge of the conspiracy to elect him or not, whether he’s compromised by Russian informat, he’s not only allowed Don Junior to be sucked into that whirlpool but through his obstruction and interference, he’s landed in mud up to his neck. Somehow, of course, as he splashes around getting more and more things covered in slime, he sees that as winning.

As for the Hedgehog versus Fox issue, Trump is neither; he knows nothing so well as the Hedgehog and is unfamiliar with things that he should be really knowledgeable about. He doesn’t know or understand the Constitution, or the Federal Code, or how a global supply chain works, and on and on. He has hired a bunch of absolute hacks to run his government, and since he has no clue what they are doing and how they are doing it, he judges them solely on how their presence reflects on him. He is nothing more than an empty suit with a really bad attitude toward anything or anyone who doesn’t roll over on their bellies and surrender.

One of the key factors that enabled the Soviet Union to last as long as it did was the bureaucratization of terror. Outrage seldom happened at something the government did; if the government did something wrong, well, the wrong was not in the government action but in the inability of those charged with implementing it to accomplish what the government demanded. A dictatorship needs to have a strong bureaucracy that will churn in the same direction — Trump’s leadership and management approach is the old Pharoah approach from the De Mille version of the 10 Commandments.

So let it Be Written, So let it be Done 

That didn’t work so well for the Pharaoh and in complex environments like National Defense or international trade or national disaster response can has resulted in various disasters; I suspect we have more ahead of us. Our loss of world prestige and trust is only one plague; the trade war and impact of his decisions on the tariffs are starting to bear that poisonous fruit. His failure to adequately staff, manage and control the government will have real impact in the near future. There were seven plagues — that’s only three. And, there’s over two years left in his first term. If you recall your bible, which he has no clue about, the Egyptians were subjected to seven plagues. Makes you wonder what’s next, ehh?

 

 

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Mike Farrell

Michael is a Retired Army First Sergeant, retired Corporate HR Executive, Occasional Adjunct Professor of Management, Organizational Effectiveness Free Range Consultant, Stoic Philosopher of sorts, Proud Heritage Irish Catholic Apostate...

He went from turning down fellowships to Graduate School after Holy Cross to Fort Jackson and a guy with few teeth from Georgia screaming at me to move his ass! And he enlisted after the draft ended. Twenty-three years active duty from 1974 to 1997 flipping between duty as REMF-Unit designated Grunt to Grunt Unit designated Smart Guy.

Last ten years either an Operations Sergeant Major (4 years) or First Sergeant (6 years). Made the CSM list a week after retirement papers went in.

He went into Human Resources because people said it was like being a First Sergeant.

Michael is retired these days, with time to think, write and occasionally enjoy life a bit. He reads five papers every day, lots of books on what interests me and pays attention. He has basic Socialist leanings. He is also a musician - fifty years plus with a guitar. Ex-marathon runner now lifting weights and grunting a lot to stay sort of in shape.

Michael is deadly serious about the issues but he likes to present with a lot of dry humor and satire. He discomforts the rich, offends the powerful and laughs at the pompous. So, stay awake and pay attention, or you'll miss the jokes.

He refers to himself as a Progressive with an anarchist tendency. Think Bobby Kennedy Democrat at home with Sinn Fein; either a saintly advocate of sweet reason and justice or an arrogant self-righteous SOB with a traditional First Sergeant's vulgar mouth and dislike of anyone's rules but his own. That's Michael Farrell