AS SEEN BY OTHERS: Are we all Catalans now?


Part 1—Trump and Kelly meet Blow:
American president Donald J. Trump is deeply committed to his favorite practice, name-calling.

The name-calling in which he engages is pro-wrestling-level cartoonish. Last year, he endlessly name-called "Crooked Hillary." Recently, he started name-calling "Liddle Bob Corker," employing a clever variation on the familiar word, "little."

Despite his clever use of words, the president's name-calling is extremely low-IQ. It serves to dumb our nation down within an inch of our lives.

Then too, consider Charles Blow. This morning, he starts his New York Times column like this:
BLOW (10/23/17): Donald Trump has a particular taste for the degradation of racial, ethnic and religious minorities and women...

This has manifested itself most recently in a despicable episode in which Trump became embroiled in a controversy—mostly of his own making!—over an unacceptable call he made to a pregnant widow of one of four soldiers killed in a still-murky attack in Niger.

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, a black woman, knew the fallen soldier and his widow and was in the car when the president called to offer condolences. Wilson seems to have correctly reported what Trump said.

This set Trump off and he issued a stream of lies to defame Wilson. The White House even sent its chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly, out to defend the president. He, too, lied about Wilson.

When asked about Kelly’s lies, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it was “highly inappropriate” to question a four-star general.
The president's conduct in this episode has been typical Trump. He's now name-calling a new target, "Wacky Congresswoman Wilson."

In our view, General Kelly also showed extremely poor judgment in his belittling attacks on Rep. Wilson last Thursday. In her turn, Sanders' statement was simply ridiculous.

That said, what about Blow? While we're at it, consider this:

How might that passage from Blow's column look to The Others—to the many extremely bad, deplorable people who can be found Over There?

Presumably, different bad people might react to that passage in different ways. For us, it called to mind a question we've been asking of late:

Are we all Catalans now?

More on that question below. Our own reactions to Blow's passage went something like this:

Charles Blow doesn't think much of Donald J. Trump. That said, we were struck by the extent to which Blow may have moved out over his skis as he started this morning's column.

He says that Trump made an "unacceptable [phone] call" to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, who recently lost his life in Niger. But he doesn't explain what made the call "unacceptable."

Blow has heard no audiotape of the telephone call, nor has he seen a transcript. That said, he starts with thunder—and a strong judgment—concerning the now-famous call.

We can guess how that stance might seem to one of Those People, The Others. If they thought Blow was out over his skis a bit, we couldn't quite say they were wrong!

Rep. Wilson did hear the telephone call. According to Blow, after she criticized Trump's demeanor and statements, Trump "issued a stream of lies to defame Wilson."

We'll be honest. While Trump's name-calling has been typically egregious, we aren't fully sure what "stream of lies" he's alleged to have told about Wilson. Meanwhile, did General Kelly "lie about Wilson" too?

There's no question that Kelly made some factual errors in what he said about a speech Wilson gave in 2015. But how does Blow know that those misstatements were lies?

With that, let's return to our question:

How might The Others view that portion of Blow's column? Presumably, different Others may have different thoughts and reactions. But for us, it made us think of the familiar battle taking shape in Catalonia, a well-known region of Spain.

Catalonia is currently embroiled in a secession movement. Just for the record, Catalonia's population is 7.1 million. Spain's total population is 46.5 million.

As the New York Times keeps reporting, "Separatism has century-old roots in Catalonia, a region that has its own culture and language." Down through the annals of time, our human wars have routinely stemmed from such differences, all across the breadth of the globe.

Is Catalonia so different from central Spain that separation is needed? These are always matters of judgment. But here's one thing that always happens when cultural differences turn into tribal wars:

Inevitably, we humans start seeing the world as Us and Them. And when this familiar process takes place, Those People will tend to get otherized.

Over Here in our own tribal tents, We'll be inclined to make the most extreme possible claims about Them. And when We start to act that way, The Others can see what We're doing!

Just a guess! Many of the very bad people Over There would see the same things we thought we saw in today's passage from Blow. In the eyes of these very bad people, it would seem that Blow was speaking with great deal of certainty about a conversation he hadn't actually heard.

It might also seem that he was using the emotional term "lies" to refer to misstatements which may simply have been misstatements. Those People may even be able to see that Kelly's misstatements didn't go to the heart of his claim about Rep. Wilson's now-famous speech!

Uh-oh! In our view, The Others wouldn't exactly be "wrong" if they saw these matters that way. Imaginably, some of Them might even think that General Kelly went over the top—and that columnist Blow then did so too, as is perhaps his wont.

That said, how does this look to you? And by the way, are we all Catalans now?

In this morning's New York Times,
Raphael Minder describes the way Spain is moving toward the highly emotional world of Us against Them—toward the world of tribal war.

Sometimes, disputes of that type can't, or shouldn't, be avoided. Lincoln said that "American slavery" was one of those offenses which could no longer be ignored.

Sometimes, though, disputes of that type are brought on unwisely, perhaps because people within both warring tribes act like General Kelly's now-famous "empty barrels."

We thought Kelly behaved a bit like a barrel in trashing Rep. Wilson last week. Then again, it seems to us that many of our own team's players give off that attitude too.

Uh-oh! The Others are actually able to see us when we behave that way Over Here! All this week, we'll offer examples which may fit that description.

We hate to be the ones to say it, but The Others aren't always wrong in the various things they think they see about Us, the good decent folk Over Here.

Decent people may strive to understand this important fact. Or do We, like so many humans before Us, secretly enjoy the smell of napalm in the morning? Do we secretly enjoy the thrill and glory of tribal war?

Tomorrow: What Kelly says he saw


  1. "Recently, he started name-calling "Liddle Bob Corker," employing a clever variation on the familiar word, "little."

    Somerby omits the apostrophe following the word liddle. It appeared as liddle'.

    Some on the internet speculate that Trump intended li'l when he added that apostrophe.

    This isn't clever. It is illiterate.

    But the larger question is why Somerby is pretending this is clever -- why he is calling it clever when it clearly isn't.

    Why is Somerby paying Trump an unearned compliment? Is Somerby trying to curry favor with Trump supporters? Does Somerby truly think this is clever? What is wrong with Somerby these days?

    1. What is wrong with commenters who sometimes jump to, and arrive at erroneous conclusions?

    2. Here's a hint, Anonymous at 11:50 - Bob didn't really think that Trump was being clever.

    3. "What is wrong with commenters who sometimes jump to, and arrive at erroneous conclusions?" Somerby lately has destroyed a lot of the goodwill that many of his readers used to feel towards him.

    4. Somerby should say what he means.

  2. Somerby thinks that if we call Republicans, especially Trump, on his bullshit that we will become a separatist movement are restart the civil war. What an ass Somerby has become.

    Somerby claims yet again that we are not allowed to use the word "lie" to describe the falsehoods spoken by the right.

    We know that Trump lied about his condolence call because that is what Trump always does. We know that Kelly lied because he was caught in his lie. We know that Sanders lied because that is what she is paid to do.

    There once may have been a remote possibility that Trump or Kelly or Sanders might have said something mistaken out of genuine memory failure or confusion. That boat sailed a long time ago. Trump tells lies -- deliberate, calculated lies. He tells them to aggrandize himself, to get out of trouble, because he can't be bothered finding out the truth, because it amuses him to manipulate others, because he has always told lies and that is what he does. Kelly lied to protect Trump and to safeguard his position and to promote his political goals. Sanders lied because she is paid to say whatever the administration wants her to say.

    But lets not fool ourselves. These are blatant, cold-blooded, deliberate lies. Somerby knows this too. So why is Somerby saying that we must give Trump and Kelly and Sanders the benefit of doubt yet again? Why is he talking about those skiis yet again?

    Why is Somerby carrying water for the Republicans? When did he become a brain-dead idiot and why is he now using his blog to promote forbearance that will only undermine our ability to resist creeping authoritarianism? Why is he telling us not to look at the man behind the curtain? What is wrong with Somerby?

    My personal theory is that he couldn't keep posting full time without some external income and no one was donating to his blog any more. So he accepted funding from that nice Russian man who is so prompt with payment in that brown envelope on the park bench next to the statue of the man on the horse.

    1. You can certainly have a different view on tactics, and if you want to go making slanderous claims without any evidence I guess you're welcome to do that. But your e-mail isn't how I read Bob's arguments (even the ones that I think are wrong).

      I take him to mean that in a democracy it's critical that voters make decisions based on evidence. When voters are instead making decisions based on emotions, lies, or misunderstandings, that's a bad thing.

      His reluctance to use the word "lie" isn't to "curry favor" with Trump voters. It's because, as he's explained many times, when you make that accusation you're changing the playing field from one that should favor you (if you are right on the facts) to one that no longer favors you (because it's difficult to prove the state of mind necessary to justify a lie). He hasn't explained his arguments regarding the use of "racist" as a description of various people, but my guess is that his reasoning would be the same.

      So, he's not saying (as I read him) that anyone should give Trump et al. the benefit of the doubt. Rather, he's trying to figure out the best way to change people's viewpoints while avoiding any real violence because of divergent viewpoints.

      If you think that it's helpful to name-call and mis-represent facts (just like many conservatives), I can't say that you're wrong. For some reason it's really seemed to pay off for conservatives. That's not Bob's view, however - I think that he thinks that the country and the world will be better off if we figure out a way to actually persuade people to change their minds. That's a difficult thing to do, as we're all learning, but I think that it's worth it, and it might be the most important issue in our country right now.

    2. Jay Rosen noted this on twitter yesterday.

      Olivia Nuzzi, Washington Correspondent, New York Magazine commented on CNN Reliable Sources yesterday:

      "When the president lies, the press asks about the lies. The White House then often lies in response to us asking about the lie. Then when we ask the White House about their lie, the White House says, 'Well that's inappropriate and you shouldn't even be asking the question.' As though the fact that we need to ask the question is our fault, and not the White House's fault. This is a pattern that's happened again and again for nine months."

      This is where we are, they have not earned the benefit of the doubt anymore, Bob.

      TDH writes, "There's no question that Kelly made some factual errors in what he said about a speech Wilson gave in 2015. But how does Blow know that those misstatements were lies?"

      I don't care anymore Bob. We know with metaphysical certainty that what Kelly stated was false. Kelly has yet to acknowledge that fact or offer any type of apology to Wilson.

    3. Trying to persuade Republican voters to even listen to a discussion about liberal policies is a fool's errand. We're not a polity arranged by policy preference, we're a polity organized around identity. Trump's ability to remain competitive in the primary and general elections proves that point. Add in classic voter suppression tactics in the swing states, and voila, President Trump. The deplorables don't read the NYT, they don't watch MSNBC. It's not 1998 anymore.
      Media consumption is splintered across numerous channels. Facebook and Twitter were more consequential during the last election than all of the journalists riding the campaign press planes.

    4. "Trying to persuade Republican voters to even listen to a discussion about liberal policies is a fool's errand." I agree with much of what you say. I think Somerby's view of the current media landscape IS antiquated. And more than that, it's lopsided. His approach, of only analyzing and reforming ONE tribe (the liberal side), will never produce his desired outcome of harmonious public discourse. However, I'm not sure how liberals can win without at least TRYING to have a discussion with conservatives on policy.

    5. I'll tell you a brief anecdote. I have a family member who was very pro-Trump. In my view she's a very good person, with some blind spots obviously, but it got to the point where I just avoided discussing current events and politics with her because it was too unpleasant.

      Just this weekend, however, she told me that she's now ashamed to call herself a Republican because of all the craziness, led of course by Trump.

      So, people do change their minds. Maybe not a majority of them, and maybe not on our timetable, but they do change, and if enough of them change then we can stop this craziness before it does more damage.

    6. Jonny, it isn't misrepresenting facts to call a lie a lie when it is clearly a lie. It is necessary to do that to protect the truth and to maintain sanity. When people lose their grip on reality or prefer a comforting unreality, we are in trouble because reality doesn't change itself to conform to anyone's belief and the more incongruence between a person's belief sand the real world, the less effective their decisions and the worse their lives will be. It can even be dangerous, as when the world goes blithely along believing that God will fix the world while global warming changes our planets ecosystems in major ways.

    7. JS-1/2:

      It's clear that your mind is pretty set about being unable to prove a lie without establishing the declarant's subjective intent. So we're left with various hyper-cautious metaphors to avoid hurting the fee-fees of the liars' sheeple. On any given daily issue of the NY Times or Wapo, one can spot at least a dozen of these.

      However, it's frequently proven in criminal prosecutions (especially when the declarant-defendant doesn't testify or provide an admission of a subjective intent to lie) by use of circumstantial evidence, inferences, and presumptions.

      More to the point,neither you nor the blogger provide a reasonable explanation why a stringent legal standard of carrying the burden of proof of subjective intent beyond a reasonable doubt (as in a criminal prosecution) is required or even desirable in the court of public opinion.

      Like any characterization, there has to be reasonable justification for calling out liars, but let's get real here. Given the circumstances and frequency of the stream of lies in less than a friggin'year(!), common sense alone provides reasonable justification for concluding that,Trump, his ilk, and much of the current crop of "The Other" lie with arrogant abandon.

      It's ludicrous to maintain otherwise and it is ultimately destructive societally as the continually-lowering bar of veracity is sacrificed at the altar of appeasement to the point of Doublespeak, where as far as truth and facts are concerned, every day is a new day.

      My congratulations to your family member for coming to her senses, but don't delude yourself into believing she did so because you avoided the "L" word. In part, she probably came around because she figured out Trump and his GOP mafioso are liars.

  3. I don't think Catalonia is seeking to separate itself from Spain because it once called the Spanish president a liar.

  4. "Despite his clever use of words, the president's name-calling is extremely low-IQ. It serves to dumb our nation down within an inch of our lives."

    Perhaps, but Donald's light trolling is not nearly as harmful as typical liberal/neocon goebbelsian drivel.

    1. I see the Kremlin has cut a new paycheck for 'Mao'.

    2. He likes the word "goebbelsian", steeped as he is in the disinformation tactics of Goebbels himself.

    3. Donald's light trolling ....


    4. Hey Mischa, it looks like your paymaster is stepping up his re-election campaign:

      I'll bet you have no problemm with Pootie's "light trolling."

  5. I would prefer for now if we focus on Them. As you say, no one is perfect and yes, we do have our faults and our embarrassing moments but they are far outweighed by Theirs! This is an issue of rationality and quantification. Mathematically, they tell more lies and are quite clearly more egregious in their actions. It's not even close. Therefore, as rational beings, we must balance the mathematics so to speak with the laser beam focus on Them until the time they are less wrong, less mendacious, less outrageous and somewhere close to the level on which we are ourselves are and it is at that time we can begin to address Us and Them but for now, for God's sake, for the sake of universal harmony, please, focus only on Them.

    Amend the theology and tone of this blog.

    Focus on them.

    Them only.


  6. Somerby says: " he was using the emotional term "lies" to refer to misstatements which may simply have been misstatements"
    "Lie" isn't by definition an emotional term. It can refer to an intentionally deceitful statement, or simply an inaccurate or false statement. When someone accuses you of a crime that you didn't commit, you usually say "that's a lie", not "that's an inaccurate statement, but you may believe it's true, so I am not justified in calling it a lie."
    Lying under oath is a crime, and can be proven with legal satisfaction despite the liar's protestations of "well, your honor, I BELIEVED it was true."
    I don't know what Gen. Kelly's normal relationship with the truth is, but his emotional reaction to Rep. Wilson led him into "misstatements", something by virtue of his powerful position and his reputation he ought to have avoided. He also used his "misstatements" to bash the congresswoman, which completely undermined his plea for civility. One could be forgiven for NOT giving Kelly the benefit of the doubt, given the daily mountain of (cough cough) "misstatements" emanating from the White House. Kelly's boss Trump has trumpeted his deliberate use of lies throughout his career. I think Trump should be believed in this.
    One final question to Somerby: Trump said he contacted all or most of the military families who lost loved ones during his tenure, which was untrue when he said it. Can he really have believed that? Is it really just a harmless misstatement?

  7. I agree with Bob about Trump's childish name-calling. It's disgusting for any adult and particularly disgusting for the President of the US.

    Bob asks how might that passage from Blow's column look to The Others? Speaking as an "Other", I gave up on paying attention to Charles Blow. At one time, his specialty was numerical analysis of data. But he seems to have abandoned that in favor of just presenting Democratic talking points and attacking Republicans.

    I don't know whether to blame Blow for his weak columns. Perhaps the Times demands that their op-ed writers pretty much parrot Democratic talking points.

    1. Characterizing the calling out of Kelly's lies as a "Democratic talking point" is a Republican talking point.

    2. David, I'll take my elbow to your face. How do you feel about that?

    3. 1:17 - Cute. Concluding that Wilson was telling the truth about the phone call and Trump was lying is a Democratic talking point.

      2:01 -- I have a sense that there's some bit of cleverness in your comment, but I don't seem able to decipher it. Do you care to expand?

    4. "Concluding that Wilson was telling the truth about the phone call and Trump was lying is a Democratic talking point."
      Umm, Johnson's widow has corroborated what Rep. Wilson said. So now the truth is a "talking point?"

    5. Speaking as an "Other", I gave up on paying attention to Charles Blow."

      Then you missed a dead-on point about people like you that Blow made in the same article Somerby criticizes:

      "None of this is out of step with what his base wants. Trump is advancing an agenda of white male identity politics and for those in his camp and in his corner [as your recent deplorable comments clearly place you], this is the dawn of a blissful new day.

      Trump isn’t simply doing this on a personal level; he’s also doing it on the broader policy level."

    6. @2:17 -- not only has Myeshia Johnson corroborated what Wilson reported that Trump said, but so has Sanders and Kelly and Trump's daughter in law (who said she saw a transcript).

    7. Anons -- my point is, regardless of whether Trump is Wilson is right, we're no longer seeing original thoughts from Charles Blow.

    8. Since to don't pay attention to Charles Blow, you have no way of knowing what his thoughts are. You only troll, and you're not very good at it.

  8. Tribalism can't be done away with, so it won't. It's an antifragile adaptation that we evolved; many smaller failures tend to prevent a single, extinction type failure. Fukuyama was full of shirt, and human predictions are fragile af in general.

  9. I remember it seems like ages ago when a certain VP running for President bragged a little bit about the work he did in Congress in getting the internet funded. He "took the initiative", I believe were his words.

    The republicans twisted his words and mocked him mercilessly for two years until he lost the election a jackass guy from Texas who thought with his gut.

    A certain blogger documented that travesty like no other. Today we learn about a black Congresswoman speaking at a dedication of a new FBI building in FL, when she bragged a little bit about how she "took the initiative" in getting the building named to honor 2 FBI agents killed in the line of duty. She is being slandered now, lied about what she said and mocked mercilessly by the crazytown right wing.

    Now that same blogger apparently sees things a little differently. Now that same blogger says, we can see why someone might have felt that she was perhaps a bit over her skis in her remarks that day.

    Boy, I don't know.

  10. mm - actually Bob used the skis metaphor for Blow, not Wilson. Bob wrote, "the extent to which Blow may have moved out over his skis as he started this morning's column." and Bob also wrote, "If they thought Blow was out over his skis a bit, we couldn't quite say they were wrong!"

    1. David, he used the term in both places.

  11. Here's someone who does a better job than I did of making a point I tried to make a few days ago:

    From "Half Empty" by David Rakoff (who was facing the cancer treatment of amputation of his left arm and shoulder):
    A friend asks if I’ve “picked out” my prosthetic yet, as though I’d have my choice of titanium-plated cyborgiana at my disposal, like some amputee Second Life World of Warcraft character. Another friend, upon hearing my news, utters an unedited, “Oh my God, that’s so depressing!” Over supper, I am asked by another, “So if it goes to the lungs, is it all over?”...

    But here’s the point I want to make about the stuff people say. Unless someone looks you in the eye and hisses, “You fucking asshole, I can’t wait until you die of this,” people are really trying their best. Just like being happy and sad, you will find yourself on both sides of the equation many times over your lifetime, either saying or hearing the wrong thing. Let’s all give each other a pass, shall we?

    To be clear, I am defending Trump's original condolence call. I do not mean to justify Trump's reaction to Wilson's criticism. That was inappropriate and ugly.

    1. You cannot defend Trump's original condolence call because (1) he didn't make any until the press asked about it, (2) he first blamed Obama and other presidents by saying they didn't make them either when they did, (3) his staff had to scramble to get info to make the calls he stated he had made but hadn't, (4) he mistreated Myeshia Johnson in other ways besides that call, including not explaining what had happened to her husband and not letting her view the body, as has been stated is the choice of the family, not the military.

      The condolence call itself is only a part of the screw up. The main problem is that Trump is incompetent and unfit to be president. He doesn't know how to do the job.

    2. Let’s all give each other a pass, shall we?

      Bwahahaha!!! What a touching sentiment, Comrade, coming from someone who voted for the candidate whose entire campaign was a non-stop chant of "lock her up". You voted for a guy who mocked a disabled reporter, cursed the media at every one of his hideous rallies, and suggested his opponent might be assassinated - on multiple occasions.

      Right now, Rep Wilson and Myeshia Johnson are receiving death threats from your basket of deplorables. Please take you phony sentiment and stick it up your ass.

    3. See, here's the thing Comrade. You and your basket of deplorables decided it would be perfectly fine to make a monster president. Part of that job you hired him to do is actually trying to act human which he is simply incapable of doing. So when he fucks up so catastrophically and ends up in pissing contest with a pregnant gold star widow, it is our job to let him know how bad a fuck up he is, how totally unqualified he is for this office he is infesting with his corrupt family and his white nationalist boosters.

      It is not our job to praise this repugnant naked emperor. It's not our job to give him a pass on matters like these. You wouldn't want it any other way. After all, that would be kind of like affirmative action for incompetent blustering asshole president. We can't lower our standards. I'm sure you understand.

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