Saturday, February 18, 2017

Of Sympathy And Negotiations

This last week has been less than kind to the junta which now holds the reins of the U.S. presidency.  Things have been particularly hard on the figurehead and namesake of that junta, a certain Mr. Donald Trump.  After losing his bid to exclude travelers from seven Muslim countries, his administration was embarrassed by news reports that revealed that Michael Flynn, the National Security Advisor, had tried to cut a deal with Russia before the election to remove U.S. sanctions against Russia under a Trump administration - and that Trump knew about this weeks before he took office.  As a result, the Trump team ditched Flynn and Trump had to defend himself in a Thursday press conference in which Trump's answers and comments sank to the level of word salad.  That press conference also induced Mr. Trump's first pick for a replacement national security advisor to decline the job.

One interesting thing came out of that conference, however, namely an offer by Mr. Trump to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus.  This coincided with the release of issues of some of the glitzier gossip magazines sold at the checkout counters of supermarkets across America - magazines which sought to induce sympathy on behalf of Melania Trump (and by extension, on behalf of the Donald himself) in the hearts of many of us who buy groceries.

My problem is, I find that I keep having sympathy for the many people from Arab and Muslim countries who are in the U.S. legally and who were terrorized by Mr. Trump's abortive travel ban a couple of weeks ago.  I keep feeling sympathy for Elizabeth Warren.  I keep having sympathy for the many Hispanics who have been arrested by the ICE over the last several days, and who are now threatened with deportation.  I keep having sympathy for the members of the U.S. Congressional Hispanic Caucus who this week were ordered away from a meeting with the ICE chief by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.  My sympathies are also for everyone of Hispanic descent who lives in the U.S., for they are all potentially threatened by a proposal entertained by the Trump administration to use 100,000 National Guard troops in eleven states to round up supposed "illegals."  (Do not think for a moment that they would limit themselves solely to deporting those who could be proven by due process to be in the United States illegally.  Mass deportations have occurred at other times in U.S. history, and have targeted many legal citizens as well as illegal residents.) My sympathies are for the refugees and asylum seekers who can no longer find a place of refuge in the nation of Franklin Graham.  But for the Trump junta, I have no more sympathy than I would have for Scarlett O'Hara.  And that's quite a bit less sympathy than I would have for a pile of used toilet paper.  You feel me?!

Trump's offer to "reach out" to the Congressional Black Caucus may by an attempt to gain some positive PR from supposed "negotiations."  But as far as negotiations go, I think there is a need for extremely clear thinking on the part of all decent people, as political theorist Gene Sharp once wrote.  Indeed, in his book From Dictatorship to Democracy, he makes some very wise comments on the dangers of negotiating with dictators:
"Democrats should be wary of the traps that may be deliberately built into a negotiation process by the dictators. The call for negotiations when basic issues of political liberties are involved may be an effort by the dictators to induce the democrats to surrender peacefully while the violence of the dictatorship continues. In those types of conflicts the only proper role of negotiations may occur at the end of a decisive struggle in which the power of the dictators has been effectively destroyed and they seek personal safe passage to an international airport."
 And there's this:
"Resistance, not negotiations, is essential for change in conflicts where fundamental issues are at stake. [Emphasis added.]  In nearly all cases, resistance must continue to drive dictators out of power. Success is most often  determined not by negotiating a settlement but through the wise use of the most appropriate and powerful means of resistance available. It is our contention, to be explored later in more detail, that political defiance, or nonviolent struggle, is the most powerful means available to those struggling for freedom."
We have seen that the Trump team is capable of attempting appeasement when backed into a corner, although the attempts are artless and very badly done.  Yet even well-done attempts at appeasement used by abusive persons to pacify their prey should almost always be rejected.  I have written at length of the insights that can be gleaned from viewing dysfunctional national governments through the lens of family and intimate partner dysfunctional relationships in which at least one of the parties has a personality disorder.  While others have also written along these lines, this way of thinking of national and global politics has become well known only in the last few years.  Yet, just as one can predict the behavior of a non-periodic mathematical function by modeling it as a Fourier series, one can also predict the behavior of a dictatorship toward its subjects by modeling it as an interaction between a physically abusive man and his wife or girlfriend.  The interaction goes in cycles - first, the honeymoon, then the buildup of tension, then the abuse, then the apology and honeymoon, and so on.  The cycle stops only when the woman manages to put an effective barrier between herself and her abuser - a barrier that prevents any further contact.

In the same way, those of us who are the intended targets of the Trump regime should wage what Dr. Erica Chenoweth calls a maximalist campaign against the regime.  (This is only fitting when opposing someone who himself wants to cause maximal hurt to others.)  The campaign should use nonviolent means to shatter the regime's pillars of support in order to disintegrate the regime.  That means not only Trump himself, but Mike Pence, Steve Bannon, and all the others in the legion of demons who have now possessed the American government.

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