America needs a shrink

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A new book by mental health experts examines the deteriorated psyche of the American president.

Last week a group of psychiatrists released a book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. It caused a controversy not only because of its claims about the president, but also because the psychiatrists appeared to break with their profession’s ethical tradition and diagnose a public figure from a distance. They aren’t alone. Some 60,000 mental health professionals have signed a petition stating, “Donald Trump manifests a serious mental illness that renders him psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of President of the United States.”

Plenty of Trump observers might think that obvious, but it’s a stunning development. Never before have so many mental health professionals warned us about a public figure. And members of Trump’s own party have come to similar conclusions. Senator Bob Corker recently called the White House an “adult day care center” and charged Trump with recklessly setting the nation “on the path to World War III.” The mental instability of the man in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal is well worth taking seriously.

An even more nebulous and controversial subject is the idea of a national psychology – some set of thought processes, reactions, and attitudes shared by the citizens of a nation. Inasmuch as a nation of 350 million diverse human beings can have one psychology, America’s is seriously ill. We see it flare up in a number of ways. The mass shooting in Las Vegas is a prominent, recent example. The election of a boisterously ignorant game show host to the nation’s highest office is another.

The attack in Las Vegas instigated another round of a tired conversation on whether mental health or easy access to deadly weapons is more to blame for mass American carnage. One reason we keep hearing the same refrains is that there is no infrastructure in place to discuss anything complex. Mainstream media isn’t inclined toward substantive, in-depth examinations; social media is too partisan for thoughtful engagement; public education doesn’t emphasize critical analysis; and in much of America, discussing politics is considered impolite.

The reality is that mental health and easy access to guns both play a role. America suffers from a dearth of mental health options, and machinery built for slaughtering swaths of human beings is entirely too easy to obtain. Without the guns, a psychotic couldn’t so easily kill 58 people; without a mental breakdown, he probably wouldn’t think to. But there’s a third, much more abstract factor that is arguably even more important: our deeply embedded culture of violence.

We are awash with bloodshed, and the gratuitous gore of mainstream entertainment is the least of it. Unarmed Americans are gunned down in the street by state-sanctioned law enforcement with chilling regularity and virtually no consequences. Since World War II, the US has invaded and committed war crimes in multiple nations, with Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq being only the most notable. The nation itself was built on two of history’s most colossal crimes, Indian genocide and African slavery.

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Weapons and shells that killed nearly 60 Americans lay around the room of the Las Vegas gunman.

As a nation, we are far too keen to downplay those crimes as regrettable history or a minor blight on an otherwise magnanimous record. We embrace violence in video games and movies, but numb ourselves to its reality. Transpose the Vegas shooter to a town square in Fallujah and he might be glorified by the finest filmmakers in Hollywood. Whether we realize it or not, this casual relationship with almost incomprehensible violence scars our collective psyche.

Nowhere is our national psychosis more boldly amplified than the Twitter feed of the US president. There, Trump brazenly lies, excoriates his political opponents, and antagonizes other world leaders, particularly North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Exactly why Trump is so eager for a species-imperiling conflict with a nuclear power is unclear perhaps even to himself, but one reason might be a desire to bring up his miserable approval rating. In the media and among the public, war presidents are popular presidents.

Trump has claimed, repeatedly, that negotiations with North Korea have not worked and that violence is the only answer. In reality, decades-long US antagonism of North Korea “hasn’t worked” – assuming that “worked” means North Korea surrendering its nuclear arsenal. Negotiations, on the rare occasions they’ve been taken seriously, actually have helped, and potentially could again, so long as the US holds up a respectable bargain. Instead, mainstream commentators openly argue for North Korean genocide.

Across commercial media, the critical context and subtle nuances of our long-fraught relationship with North Korea is omitted in favor of naked jingoism. It should come as little surprise, then, when opposition to war is dismissed as capitulation – or even treasonous to America, as it often was in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. When nuclear weapons are raining hellfire on the globe, FOX News will still be calling liberals wimps.

Misinformation in the mainstream media is bad enough, but Americans are subjected to a shock-and-awe deluge of bullshit. Raving conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, just the tip of the iceberg, enjoys an audience of millions, including the president himself. American detachment from reality manifests in a variety of widely held beliefs: vaccines cause autism, President Obama is a Kenyan Muslim, America is the highest-taxed nation on earth, and global warming is a hoax, to name just a few.

Because they aren’t based on facts in the first place, there is no way to convince people who hold these beliefs otherwise. Anyone who’s attempted to sway someone with facts knows the frustration of communicating with a stubborn, hard-headed, brainwashed American. Trump is the epitome of this caricature, a brash ignoramus who embodies the inverse of the Socratic proposition, “All I know is that I know nothing.” All Trump knows is that he knows everything, and better than the generals, economists, scientists, diplomats and journalists do.

If America was a tiny, isolated nation, it might be fine to hold our superstitious, counterfactual beliefs. But we are the most consequential nation in history. Our daily exposure to propaganda and violence threatens both ourselves and the entire globe. We produce madmen and arm them with military-grade rifles, and we elected a half-literate president straight from the vortex of deepest American insanity. Something is very, very wrong with us, and we should welcome the diagnosis of mental health professionals to help identify and fix it.

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Carnage in Las Vegas makes the need for stricter gun control clearer than ever

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People scramble for cover as a gunman opens fire on a crowded concert from his hotel room window.

Mass shootings are so commonplace in America that news outlets can practically recycle old stories verbatim, changing only the names of the suspects, the locations, and the number of dead. When pundits are summoned to give their opinion, those responses, too, are predictably rote. Whether it’s said once or it’s said a thousand times, though, there is only one solution to America’s epidemic of gun violence: stricter regulation of the weapons in question. Continue reading

Breitbart comments reveal disconnect of Trump supporters with reality

BB commentThis is a screen shot of the top comment, and the top replies to it, on a Breitbart article covering President Trump’s bizarre “Calm before the storm” statement. Late Thursday night, Trump made the remark at a gathering of military personnel and, when asked to elaborate, only said, “You’ll find out.” This is clearly a man built by the media – only now, the cliffhanger isn’t whether or not he’ll fire Meatloaf, but whether or not he’ll plunge the globe into a catastrophic nuclear war.

Looking at Breitbart for five minutes every now and then can occasionally be an eye-opening experience. There is usually little to learn in the body of a story, but a quick look at the headlines and comments can reveal some uncomfortable truths about how a broad segment of the “white working class” thinks and how their worldview is sculpted. Continue reading

Trump hijacks NFL protests, misdirects America

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Players for the Baltimore Ravens take a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality, stand in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, and spite President Trump.

George Carlin once said, “I don’t get all choked up about yellow ribbons and American flags. I consider them to be symbols, and I leave symbols to the symbol-minded.” But to many Americans they mean an awful lot, and President Donald Trump is using that to create even more divisiveness. In a tirade at a rally last weekend, Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired.’”

Since then, social media and the American people have been deeply engaged in a conversation about the flag, the National Anthem, and the proper way to respect both. NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick admirably forced the pervasive issue of police brutality during America’s national pastime last year, but that’s been completely replaced by Celebrity-in-Chief Trump’s voluminous ego and desire to distract the American people. Continue reading

Donald Trump accelerates likelihood of disaster with North Korea

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In an off-the-cuff remark in August, President Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury,” widely interpreted as a euphemism for nuclear war.

Long before he was elected president, the danger of America’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of a short-tempered, ignorant vulgarian like Donald Trump was clear. With his finger on the button, the globe might be one childish slight away from nuclear war. Only eight months into his presidency, escalation between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, the two most unstable nuclear-powered leaders on earth, is threatening to realize the worst of those fears. Continue reading

The socialist claim to liberty

fistBy Kyle Schmidlin and Eldon Katz

Everyone has friends or family members who define themselves as “socially liberal; but fiscally conservative.” The conservative libertarian views their ideology as a mature, pragmatic, and disciplined compromise, the best way to get as many people what they want and maximize everybody’s liberty and opportunity.

But this vision of liberty is perverted and one-sided in favor of the powerful. It grants people the freedom to exploit, but not freedom from exploitation, effectively treating the liberty of the powerful as absolute but anyone else’s liberty as flexible. As Bertrand Russell put it, “The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate.” Continue reading

Bannon’s White House ouster may not be as dramatic as it seems

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Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart who salvaged Donald Trump’s flailing presidential campaign, is out of his White House post.

Steve Bannon is out at the White House. For weeks, politicians and pundits have called on Trump to fire the man who made him president, and today it was confirmed Bannon is moving out. While this could hardly be seen as bad news – and after this week, anyone who feels like taking a moment to celebrate probably should – it’s not quite the earth-shattering event that the headlines it’s generated make it seem.

Continue reading

America’s new battle with Nazism is only beginning

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Self-described “identitarian” Peter Cvjetanovic denies being a racist. His face went viral as he marched alongside torch-bearing neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, the alt-right – call them what you will, this group of angry, white men had a busy weekend. Hundreds of them descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, for a Unite the Right rally. Demonstrators began a torchlit march on Friday night and by Saturday had turned the city into a warzone, culminating in an act of right-wing terror that caused one death and injured 19 others. In response, President Trump couldn’t bring himself to denounce one side more than any other. Continue reading

Trump’s stock market enthusiasm shows how out of touch he is

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Trump’s unpredictability initially caused the market to worry, but since his election stock prices have soared.

President Trump held a pep rally for himself on Twitter earlier this week, touting his base as “bigger and stronger than ever before” despite all the “fake news” – into which category he put virtually every media source except his dedicated propaganda networks, Breitbart and FOX. Trump then listed some of his successes so far, including economic enthusiasm, the stock market, jobs, and deregulation. As usual with Trump, he is wrong in more ways than are easily counted. Continue reading

The simple reason Republicans can’t reform healthcare

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Disabled protesters outside Senator Mitch McConnell’s office are removed from their wheelchairs and kicked off the premises for voicing their opposition to Trumpcare.

Millions of Americans celebrated last week when Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act seemingly hit a brick wall. After weeks of backroom deal-making, renegotiations, and demonstrations by committed healthcare activists, three Republican senators defected from their party and pushed the latest vote to 51-49 against repeal. President Trump is already working with some senators to revive the effort, but there is a simple reason Republican healthcare reform hasn’t gone well: it has nothing to do with healthcare. Continue reading