Simple Dominance

Americans are eagerly anticipating the sporting event of the year, the ultimate display of sheer alpha-male dominance, and the forced humiliation and feminization of the pretender to dominance – that would be the Super Bowl of course. Denver has the wily old quarterback who has lost most of his skills, other than superb ability to read defenses and immediately find the one weak spot, over and over – Peyton Manning can humiliate the those big hulks and speeders on the other side – and Denver’s defense is the best in the league this year. They could shut down the immensely talented Charlotte offence led by their absurdly talented young quarterback, Cam Newton – full of life and fun and sheer happiness, and as entertaining as the young Muhammad Ali ever was in his deeply ironic brash boasting – and a nice guy too. He’s deeply cool and it’s not boasting if you can do it – so in a few weeks there will be two hours of giant grown men smashing into each other. Someone is going to be humiliated. The actual score won’t matter all the much. All of America will be watching to see who utterly dominates, to see who the ultimate alpha male really is – the wily old coot or the young guy winging it and having the time of his life – which is of course deeply symbolic. Damn, it’s the highly talented and articulate and intelligent and pleasant young black man versus the wily old white guy from another age, fading away – it’s Obama versus McCain – but the event is really about sheer dominance. That’s what people want to see, in its simplest form, played out on the largest stage possible.

Americans love that sort of thing. What the rest of the world calls football we call soccer – effete and boring and maybe a little girly. What we call football is brutal and basic – dominate or be humiliated. That’s about it – the game has little nuance. It’s the most American of all sports, but of course life isn’t like that. Maybe it should be like that, but simple dominance has its limits. Sometimes you end up just looking stupid:

As law enforcement officials surrounded the remaining protesters at an Oregon wildlife refuge Wednesday, an armed occupier urged supporters to join them and to kill any officer who tried to prevent their entry, according to a live stream that has been broadcast online from the site.

“There are no laws in this United States now! This is a free-for-all Armageddon!” a heavyset man holding a rifle yelled into a camera that was broadcast from the refuge Wednesday morning, adding that if “they stop you from getting here, kill them!”

A second man cooed to the camera in a singsong voice, “What you gonna do, what you gonna do when the militia comes after you, FBI?”

But on Wednesday afternoon, one of the group’s leaders arrested the day before, Ammon Bundy, urged the remaining occupiers to “stand down,” leave the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and “go home and hug your families.”

“This fight is ours for now – in the courts,” Bundy said in a statement read by his attorney outside the federal courthouse in Portland, where Bundy and several other defendants made their initial court appearances Wednesday afternoon. “Please go home.”

Their own leader told them to forget the free-for-all Armageddon heroic alpha-male stuff. This is a matter for the courts – perhaps they’ll rule that government land really in question really does belong to the people, not the government, because the government isn’t the people – except here, the people elect the government, so we have a government of the people and by the people and for the people and all that, so this federal land was “the people’s land” in the first place. This was a curious and arcane dispute from the start, but from the start it seemed more a display of male dominance that anything else, with guns – the Super Bowl for these guys.

The government refused to frame it that way, as Amanda Marcotte notes:

It’s clear that the militiamen expected the feds to rush the compound, causing a firefight in which they could be martyrs for the right wing cause… but that didn’t happen. Instead, the federal government seemingly didn’t do anything for many weeks, letting these guys get comfortable at the refuge and even go back and forth from it for grocery-shopping, media events, and whatever else their hearts desired. Only one occupier was arrested, for using a stolen vehicle to drive to the store.

There was no championship football game here, and Marcotte saw the disappointment:

This lack of interest in having a big ol’ shootout right away on government property didn’t just disappoint the militiamen. A number of liberal commentators were miffed that the feds seemed to be twiddling their thumbs, often arguing that if the occupiers were people of color, the shootout would have happened already. The criticism had some merit, of course, but the solution for such a double standard isn’t to have more shootouts, so much as it’s an argument against the quick-to-violence reactions law enforcement regrettably has when dealing with non-white suspects.

The occupation was expensive and disruptive, of course, leading the Democratic governor of Oregon to ask for the feds to step in. This only reinforced liberal suspicions that the feds were blowing this off and were not going to hold these yahoos accountable for their actions.

Ah, but there were other ways to do that, even if emotionally unsatisfying:

Those fears were proven most dramatically wrong Tuesday afternoon, when law enforcement confronted the militiamen on the open highway. A shootout did ensue, which was expected since these folks all have ridiculous martyr fantasies, and one person was killed. So far, there have been eight arrests, and the leaders of this fiasco are in custody. Now the feds have closed in on the refuge, closing roads and access. Without leadership or access to the outside, it won’t be surprising if the rest of the people inside just give up soon enough.

The worrywarts were getting all worked up over nothing. Despite all the hand-wringing over whether the feds were taking this seriously enough, in the end, it turns out that the feds were right and the worrywarts were wrong. Waiting this out a bit, while unfortunately disruptive to the area, ended up being a far more sensible way of dealing with this than trying to raid the wildlife refuge.

Sometimes it’s okay to be girly about such things:

Raiding the refuge was always a bad idea. For one thing it would give these wannabe martyrs exactly what they want, an opportunity to get hurt or die at government hands and become fuel for radical right wing propaganda. They even brought children onto the property to raise the stakes. In the past, federal raids under similar circumstances involving children – most notably in Waco – not only resulted in innocent lives being lost, but in providing right wing radicals even more justification to demonize federal authorities.

And while the occupation was disruptive and expensive, it would have been far more costly to give the militia the shootout at the refuge they wanted. These guys bragged about how they anticipated violence. They openly threatened that this would become another Waco. Rushing them at the compound would have caused extensive damage to the building, and possibly a fire if the militiamen made good on these threats. Repairing that would have cost a fortune and kept the refuge employees on leave even longer.

Instead, the feds let the militia get complacent and bored.

They did, and this is over. There was a lot of chest-thumping and walking around with big guns. The appropriate response turned out to be a shrug. They’d do something stupid. They did.

Not everyone thinks that way, which amazes an old hand at dealing with this sort of thing:

Robert Gates, a Republican stalwart and former US defense secretary who served under eight presidents, has derided the party’s election candidates for a grasp of national security issues that “would embarrass a middle schooler”.

An ex-CIA director who first joined the White House under Richard Nixon, Gates joked that if frontrunner Donald Trump wins the presidency, he would emigrate to Canada. He condemned the media for failing to challenge candidates from both parties on promises he believes are unaffordable, illegal or unconstitutional.

“The level of dialogue on national security issues would embarrass a middle schooler,” Gates said of the Republican contenders at a Politico Playbook event in Washington on Monday. “People are out there making threats and promises that are totally unrealistic, totally unattainable. Either they really believe what they’re saying or they’re cynical and opportunistic and, in a way, you hope it’s the latter, because God forbid they actually believe some of the things that they’re saying.”

But he did make a clarification:

The 72-year-old declined to comment on specific candidates but was pressed by interviewer Mike Allen on the prospect of Trump reaching the White House. After a pause, he replied: “Well, I live about 50 miles from Canada.”

As the audience erupted in laughter, Gates continued philosophically: “I’ve been around a long time. There are a lot of people who have run for president where people have said, ‘Oh my God, if he’s elected, it’s the end of the world!’ And the truth of the matter is, it wasn’t, and so I’m not prepared to be overly dramatic and believe me, the comment I just made was very sarcastic and humorous, not meant seriously. Somebody out there will write a story that I’m going to Canada. It’s totally not true; I intend to remain within the United States.”

But he’s still amazed:

“In some cases, the things they’re saying they’re going to do are unconstitutional or merely against the law and others are, from a budgetary standpoint, inconceivable, and so it seems to be that the press has not hammered hard enough and been relentless in saying, ‘How the hell are you going to do that?'”

And here’s a bit more detail from Christopher Dickey:

“I think that these guys, men and women, are making these broad pronouncements, and it’s clear they don’t know what they’re talking about,” Gates said, citing some of the more outrageous remarks about making “the sand glow,” “carpet bombing,” and “bombing the shit out of them,” which he attributed to “the leading candidate,” meaning Donald Trump.

“This is not a particularly sophisticated analysis of the challenge that we face,” Gates told the think tank’s audience, amid considerable laughter.

Dickey confirms that:

The view, it should be said, is not unique to Gates. As a longtime colleague of his at the CIA observed in private a couple of weeks ago, it may be wise to keep one’s adversaries off balance and guessing just how crazy you might be.

One remembers President Nixon’s famous and infamous “Madman Theory,” trying to convince the North Vietnamese in 1968 that he “might do anything to stop the war” that was raging in Southeast Asia.

In the 1980s the Russians really were unsure how far President Reagan would push them on land, at sea, in the air and, most important, in outer space.

President George W. Bush, one might argue, took the madman theory far too far, launching a war in Iraq that proved insanely destructive to U.S. interests.

Obama, on the other hand, is a “mature, measured, responsible individual,” as the veteran spook put it. “And Vladimir Putin, and Xi Jinping, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – they don’t give a shit about mature, measured, and responsible.”

The guys heroically occupying the small birding station in the middle of the Oregon-nowhere didn’t give a shit about mature, measured, and responsible either, and look what happened to them, but Dickey gets Gates on the phone and gets Gates to talk about how things once were done:

Gates likes to cite the example of President Eisenhower, who was the commander of allied forces in Europe in World War II, then president of the United States from 1953 to 1961 in the potentially apocalyptic early days of the Cold War.

Gates rattled off his accomplishments: “Eisenhower, came in, faced a Russia that had just developed a thermonuclear weapon; China had just developed their own nuclear weapon for the first time. He faced a French war in Indochina where the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously asked him to use nuclear weapons to help the French. He faced repeated crises with China over Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait. He faced a Middle East war involving our closest allies, and he got them to stop. He faced revolutions in East Germany, Poland, and Hungary, a revolution in Cuba. And yet between the time that he became president and signed the North Korean armistice in the middle of 1953 until he left office, not one American soldier was killed in combat.”

“I don’t think Dwight Eisenhower was a wimp,” said Gates, “and the funny thing was he did it all kind of effortlessly. Everybody thought all he did was go out and play golf on the White House lawn. And, you know, there wasn’t a lot of bluster or anything, he just got it done.”

That sounds like Obama, and there’s this:

So, getting back to the current campaign to choose the next president of the United States who does Gates favor?

He says there might be two or three among the candidates, “but only two or three,” who bring the skills needed, and he’s not naming them. One might surmise that Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush could, theoretically, be on the Gates short list. But it’s clear that Donald Trump is not.

And he mentions his new book:

“If you read the chapter on personal characteristics I require for successful leadership, you would find that he probably does not fill the bill on a number of those counts,” said Gates. “It’s just pure speculation, but the kind of people he would likely surround himself with: Are they going to be independent-minded? And is he going to welcome contrary points of view and consider those carefully, and try and build a team, and allow others to take credit?”

Does that mean you can’t be a bully and also a good leader?

“I don’t think so,” said Gates.

Well, maybe you can win football games instead, but David Axelrod, the former senior strategist for Barack Obama, says we should have seen this coming:

As the 2008 campaign began, many Americans and most Democrats saw Mr. Bush as rash, bellicose, divisive – oblivious to the demands and opportunities of a rapidly changing world. His presidency had come to be defined by the momentous decision to invade Iraq, which became a quagmire.

Senator Obama had publicly opposed the war from the start, which separated him from most of the Democratic field. But more than that, his profile, temperament and approach offered the sharpest departure from those of the embattled, retiring president he would ultimately replace. For those who found President Bush wanting, Senator Obama was the most obvious remedy.

And now he’s not:

The Republican base is infuriated by Mr. Obama’s activist view of government and progressive initiatives, from health care reform to immigration, gay rights to climate change.

Beyond specific issues, however, many Republicans view dimly the very qualities that played so well for Mr. Obama in 2008. Deliberation is seen as hesitancy; patience as weakness. His call for tolerance and passionate embrace of America’s growing diversity inflame many in the Republican base, who view with suspicion and anger the rapidly changing demographics of America. The president’s emphasis on diplomacy is viewed as appeasement.

That made Trump inevitable:

His bombast allows no room for nuance or complexity. He proudly extols his intolerance as an assault against “political correctness,” and he vows to bring the world to heel, from Mexico to China to Syria and Iraq.

Mr. Trump has found an audience with Americans disgruntled by the rapid, disorderly change they associate with national decline and their own uncertain prospects. Policies be damned, who better to set things right than the defiant strong man who promises by sheer force of will to make America great again?

In short, it’s all about dominance again. Imagine Donald Trump at that birding station in remote Oregon, strutting around with an AR-15 threatening to shoot any federal dude who drops by, to make America Great Again. Imagine Donald Trump as the giant linebacker who busts through to sack the far too talented and far too well-liked and far too happy young uppity black quarterback, and then taunts him with some choice trash talk, to make America Great Again. Gates and Axelrod suspect Trump would only make America grate again. Someone should put that on a bumper sticker.

And imagine Donald Trump destroying modern conservatism, because, as Heather Parton notes, that is what he did:

If there’s one thing that Donald Trump has done for the leaders of the conservative movement, the Christian Right and the Republican Party it’s that he’s teaching them a necessary lesson in reality: It turns out that a large number of their supporters don’t really care about ideology, morality or even their supposedly mutual loathing of the hippie Democrats on the other side. Their concerns run to something much more primitive.

Sure they all called themselves Republicans and/or conservatives. For decades they played on the same team. But all that stuff about “family values” and “drowning the government in the bathtub” and “constitutional conservativism” were just slogans they chanted for their team. They meant no more to them than “rah, rah, sis boom bah.”

National Review slowly came around to the knowledge that something terrible had happened to their movement and last week put out their ineffectual “Against Trump” issue. They realized too late that all the movement propaganda meant nothing to a whole lot of right wing voters. In fact it looks as though the constitution itself means nothing. And the conservative movement of activists, writers and grassroots organizations has suddenly awakened to the fact that a good many of those they considered true believers are completely oblivious to conservative ideology.

They simply want to dominate:

The Republican establishment is under a tremendous amount of stress right now. Donald Trump has the party functionaries running around like his personal factotums and the elected officials are all figuring out the angles to ensure they come out on the Donald’s good side. It’s possible it may not survive in the form we’ve come to know it.

But the conservative movement is equally under pressure. They thought their years of carefully growing and indoctrinating the right wing of the Republican Party had resulted in a common belief in a certain conservative ideology, strategic vision and commitment to a specific agenda. It turns out that a good number of the people they thought had signed on to their program just wanted someone to stick it to ethnic and racial minorities and make sure America is the biggest bad ass on the planet – authoritarian, white nationalism. If you’ve got a man who will deliver that you don’t need ideology.

And so all of life becomes like the Super Bowl – brutal and basic – dominate or be humiliated. Things were better when baseball was the national pastime, as George Carlin once explained:

Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.

Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle. …

Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.

Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.

In football you wear a helmet.

In baseball you wear a cap. …

In football you receive a penalty.

In baseball you make an error.

In football the specialist comes in to kick.

In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve somebody.

Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late-hitting and unnecessary roughness.

Baseball has the sacrifice.

Carlin also notes that the objectives of the two games are completely different:

In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.

In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe!

Oh well.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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