Psychiatrist Bandy Lee: “We have an obligation to speak about Donald Trump’s mental health issues. . . . Our survival as a species may be at stake”

“Malignant reality is taking hold” in American politics

Psychiatrist Bandy Lee: "We have an obligation to speak about Donald Trump's mental health issues. . . . Our survival as a species may be at stake"
Bandy Lee; Donald Trump (Credit: Yale/Getty/Mark Wilson)

President Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the United States and the world.

He has reckless disregard for democracy and its foundational principles. Trump is also an authoritarian plutocrat who appears to be using the presidency as a means to enrich himself and closest allies as well as family members. Trump’s proposed 2018 federal budget is a shockingly cruel document that threatens to destroy America’s already threadbare social safety net in order to give the rich and powerful (even more) hefty tax cuts. His policies have undermined the international order and America’s place as the dominant global power. It would appear that he and his administration have been manipulated and perhaps (in the case of Michael Flynn) even infiltrated by Vladimir Putin’s spies and other agents. The world has become less safe as a result of Trump’s failures of leadership and cavalier disregard for existing alliances and treaties.

Donald Trump’s failures as president have been compounded by his unstable personality and behavior. It has been reported by staffers inside the Trump White House that he is prone to extreme mood swings, is cantankerous and unpredictable, flies into blind rages when he does not get his way, is highly suggestible and readily manipulated, becomes bored easily and fails to complete tasks, is confused by basic policy matters and is unhappy and lonely. And despite bragging about his “strength” and “vitality” during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump appears to tire easily and easily succumbs to “exhaustion.” Trump is apparently all id and possesses little if any impulse control. He is a chronic liar who ignores basic facts and empirical reality in favor of his own fantasies.

Between the scandals and the emotionally erratic behavior, Donald Trump would appear to be a 21st-century version of Richard Nixon, to date the only American president forced to resign under threat of forcible removal. In all, this leads to a serious and worrisome question: Is Donald Trump mentally ill? Moreover, what does Trump’s election reveal about the moods and values of his voters? How are questions of societal emotions and collective mental health connected to the rise of fascism and authoritarianism in America? Do psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals have a moral obligation to warn the public about the problems they see with Donald Trump’s behavior?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Dr. Bandy Lee, a psychiatrist at Yale University who specializes in public health and violence prevention. She recently convened a conference that explored issues related to Donald Trump’s emotional health and how mental health professionals should respond to this crisis. The proceedings from this conference will be featured in a forthcoming book expected later this year.

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity. A longer version can be heard on my podcast, available on Salon’s Featured Audio page.

How did a person like Donald Trump become president?

My being a psychiatrist, I will inevitably see things from that lens. I also tend to think about the social context that gives rise to the current conditions. For me the big shift in our society has been the increasing inequality, and with that a certain segment of the population will end up suffering from an undue amount of poverty — a relative poverty actually, deprivation, a lack of education, a lack of health care and mental health care. All those things will contribute to worsening of collective mental health.

As a clinician, when you watch Trump’s behavior day after day — his lying and obfuscation, his apparent confusion and anger management issues — what are you thinking?

I’ve been thinking from the very beginning that he exhibits many signs of mental impairment. I recently organized a conference on this at Yale. Afterwards, there has been almost an army of people who have shared with me how they have been wanting to speak about this issue. I did not expect to get such a massive response.

What are your peers’ specific concerns and what are they afraid of?

This situation has come to such a critical level. In fact, a state of emergency exists and we could no longer hold back. We have an obligation to speak about Donald Trump’s mental health issues because many lives and our survival as a species may be at stake.

What are two or three things you could cite about Donald Trump’s behavior that causes you the greatest concern, worry or alarm?

There are certainly the symptoms that he displays. He has a great need for adulation. He is angry if reality does not meet his needs. People have been expecting him to settle into his role and become normal or more “presidential,” but that does not ordinarily happen among those with such personality traits. In fact, what we’re seeing is a creation of his own reality, a reality that will meet Trump’s own emotional needs and the need to impose that reality on others. It is his imperviousness to facts and reality that could place us all at great risk.

On one hand, he can just be cantankerous, moody, angry and a spoiled child. I’ve described him as a man-child or a clown king. But how do we separate that from saying, “OK, there is something going on clinically”?

One does not make the other mutually exclusive. In fact, one can both be immature and a jerk, dangerous and ill-intentioned. In other words, bad as well as mad. It’s really the combination that makes it so toxic and unpredictable that we felt that there was a need to speak out.

How should the “Goldwater rule,” the ethical requirement not to diagnose a person you have not examined, be balanced with mental health professionals’ responsibilities as American citizens and members of the global community?  

In  an ordinary situation where matters were not so intense, we could balance out our political activism and separate that from our professional goals and actions. But when there is such a grave mental disability that is affecting the public sphere, the political sphere, such as in the current position of power, then those lines get blurred. Given that all human health exists in an ecological system, there is no rule that politics will never enter the sphere of health or the mental health profession. Right now we’re seeing that it does.

When we have a president who asks, What is the point of having nuclear weapons if we cannot use them?, who urges our government to use torture or worse against prisoners, who urges his followers at political rallies to beat protesters up so badly that they’ll be taken out in stretchers, and suggests that his followers could always assassinate Hillary Clinton if she were to be elected president, there is something very wrong. All this attraction to violence, threats of violence, boasts of his own violence and sexual assaults, and incitements to violence — all these have an effect.

As a clinician, how do you figure out the causal arrows? Is Trump causing an increase in violence or is his presidency a reflection of deeper cultural problems in America?  

Certainly it’s not a one-way path. It happens both ways in that we have elected a president who was somehow very attractive to his voters. But then he stokes and amplifies certain elements in the population that in turn create more conditions for violence and danger.

Why do you think more of your peers have not spoken about these concerns? Are they afraid of professional consequences? Personal threats of violence?

One of my colleagues said this was not the way she wished to spend her life — in other words, to spend the rest of her life paying for an expression of her opinion by fighting lawsuits, by fighting for her license. There was a fear of having her license taken away. Yes, the fear was present then and it is present still now, such that when I was editing this book, I had two co-editors who initially signed on, but the more they heard about the possibility that their license could be in danger, that they could somehow be targeted for this, they pulled out.

How did you overcome that fear and anxiety? It’s easier to be a bystander to history. It’s easier to say, “I’ll let somebody else do it.” Instead you actually chose to do something.

In my case, it became a grave enough emergency that my conscience would not let me rest in peace if I did not do something about it.

As a psychologist, as a human being, as a citizen, why do you think some people choose to be bystanders and others decide to act?

Bystanders do make a lot of difference. Human rights abuses could not happen if bystanders spoke up or did not approve.

On a practical level, how do you think a president should be psychologically evaluated before taking office? What do you think the actual remedies could be for dealing with Donald Trump now? Can we invoke the 25th Amendment, so that if enough people diagnose this man and there is enough of an outcry he will be removed?

I think by sounding the alarm about his mental instability and position of power that some kind of consensus as to a process would be developed. As for the 25th Amendment, I don’t think that’s really a psychiatrist’s domain. But that is certainly one avenue that has been proposed and it’s the only one that would be possible in terms of a case of mental impairment. I think what needs to happen next is a collaborative discussion among people of different fields. We could speak to the president’s mental impairment, the effects of that impairment and the dangerous situation we’re in. Other people could speak to the best political and procedural way to do something about that finding. Those would be lawmakers and politicians.

What do you think the United States is going to look like after Donald Trump leaves office?  

He has exacerbated the pathological patterns of our culture. What would happen if the presidency continues? I think more damage will be done. In fact, the latter part of the book consists of some of the effects of his policies, including repealing the Affordable Care Act, his immigration policies, his tax laws and his military policies. All these things could have ramifications and reverberations throughout —his environmental policies, his educational policies. In fact, Dr. Robert Jay Lifton said at the conference that Trump’s style of governing could be described as “anti-governing.” I believe we’re at a crossroads.

We can either amplify and encourage Trump and his followers’ pathology, or we can stop it and look for ways that are more life enhancing, healing, corrective. When you see a person falling into illness, the deeper the illness grows, the less aware they will be of their illness. The more insistent they will be on destructive ways rather than ways that are healing and constructive. At a later point, doctors and hospitals will be the thing that they will avoid at all costs. That is why sometimes physicians have to hospitalize against the person’s will or put them on a stretcher. The reason why the law allows that, that society allows that is because they feel better and then they thank you for it.

That is why simply respecting the choices of the electorate when the electorate is not entirely well can spiral into situations like fascism. Remember fascism is not necessarily an ideology. It could be on the right or the left. It is also an emotional experience to a certain political structure, and people will cling to it regardless of how destructive it is to their lives, regardless of what path it takes them toward. The pull is emotional, not ideological or even rational. It’s a situation that needs intervention, healing and treatment. The way to do that is to improve societal conditions.

Why do Trump’s voters continue to support him even when his and the Republican Party’s policies will hurt them economically and in other ways as well?

Because it’s an emotional compulsion. It’s an emotional reaction. It’s not anything rational. Trying to reason with them will not help. It’s really the conditions that have to change. Malignant reality is taking hold. It’s a kind of pathology cohesion that normalizes corruption, violence and harm, and there will come a the point where we’re no longer disturbed by it. At that point, all kinds of human rights violations, wars and loss of life become possible. Mental health professionals have to become witnessing professionals who continually point out this dynamic and call it out for what it is, so that it does not become normalized.

The Trump administration, and I might argue to a large extent the Republican Party, has been leading up to a need to impose a distorted reality and a kind of imperviousness to facts onto others. Facts and evidence almost do not matter. What matters is the emotional commitment to either an ideology or what they believe will make America great again, restore their position, or give them the kind of pride or self-esteem that they feel they have lost.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

Facebook and Twitter ‘harm young people’s mental health’

Poll of 14- to 24-year-olds shows Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter increased feelings of inadequacy and anxiety

girls on their phones
Young people scored Instagram the worst social medium for sleep, body image and fear of missing out. Photograph: Mark Mawson/Getty Images

Four of the five most popular forms of social media harm young people’s mental health, with Instagram the most damaging, according to research by two health organisations.

Instagram has the most negative impact on young people’s mental wellbeing, a survey of almost 1,500 14- to 24-year-olds found, and the health groups accused it of deepening young people’s feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.

The survey, published on Friday, concluded that Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter are also harmful. Among the five only YouTube was judged to have a positive impact.

The four platforms have a negative effect because they can exacerbate children’s and young people’s body image worries, and worsen bullying, sleep problems and feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness, the participants said.

The findings follow growing concern among politicians, health bodies, doctors, charities and parents about young people suffering harm as a result of sexting, cyberbullying and social media reinforcing feelings of self-loathing and even the risk of them committing suicide.

“It’s interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing. Both platforms are very image-focused and it appears that they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people,” said Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, which undertook the survey with the Young Health Movement.

She demanded tough measures “to make social media less of a wild west when it comes to young people’s mental health and wellbeing”. Social media firms should bring in a pop-up image to warn young people that they have been using it a lot, while Instagram and similar platforms should alert users when photographs of people have been digitally manipulated, Cramer said.

The 1,479 young people surveyed were asked to rate the impact of the five forms of social media on 14 different criteria of health and wellbeing, including their effect on sleep, anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-identity, bullying, body image and the fear of missing out.

Instagram emerged with the most negative score. It rated badly for seven of the 14 measures, particularly its impact on sleep, body image and fear of missing out – and also for bullying and feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness. However, young people cited its upsides too, including self-expression, self-identity and emotional support.

YouTube scored very badly for its impact on sleep but positively in nine of the 14 categories, notably awareness and understanding of other people’s health experience, self-expression, loneliness, depression and emotional support.

However, the leader of the UK’s psychiatrists said the findings were too simplistic and unfairly blamed social media for the complex reasons why the mental health of so many young people is suffering.

Prof Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “I am sure that social media plays a role in unhappiness, but it has as many benefits as it does negatives.. We need to teach children how to cope with all aspects of social media – good and bad – to prepare them for an increasingly digitised world. There is real danger in blaming the medium for the message.”

Young Minds, the charity which Theresa May visited last week on a campaign stop, backed the call for Instagram and other platforms to take further steps to protect young users.

Tom Madders, its director of campaigns and communications, said: “Prompting young people about heavy usage and signposting to support they may need, on a platform that they identify with, could help many young people.”

However, he also urged caution in how content accessed by young people on social media is perceived. “It’s also important to recognise that simply ‘protecting’ young people from particular content types can never be the whole solution. We need to support young people so they understand the risks of how they behave online, and are empowered to make sense of and know how to respond to harmful content that slips through filters.”

Parents and mental health experts fear that platforms such as Instagram can make young users feel worried and inadequate by facilitating hostile comments about their appearance or reminding them that they have not been invited to, for example, a party many of their peers are attending.

May, who has made children’s mental health one of her priorities, highlighted social media’s damaging effects in her “shared society” speech in January, saying: “We know that the use of social media brings additional concerns and challenges. In 2014, just over one in 10 young people said that they had experienced cyberbullying by phone or over the internet.”

In February, Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, warned social media and technology firms that they could face sanctions, including through legislation, unless they did more to tackle sexting, cyberbullying and the trolling of young users.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/19/popular-social-media-sites-harm-young-peoples-mental-health

Chelsea Manning released amid growing attacks on democratic rights in the US

18 May 2017

Chelsea Manning walked out of the US military’s maximum security prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in the early morning hours Wednesday after serving a sentence of more than seven years, marked by brutality and ill-treatment tantamount to torture.

Manning’s supposed “crime” was that of exposing to the people of the United States and the entire planet the criminal atrocities carried out by the US government in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Washington’s conspiracies around the world.

It is ironic that the release of the US Army private imprisoned for leaking classified documents received minimal coverage from the corporate media, even as it churned out endless stories covering President Donald Trump’s alleged exposure to Russian officials of classified secrets.

The political crisis in Washington is the product of a bitter internecine struggle between rival factions within the ruling political establishment and the US state apparatus, which are equally hostile to the democratic principles and antiwar sentiments for which Chelsea Manning sacrificed her freedom and nearly lost her life.

Days after her sentencing in August 2013, Manning came out as a transgender woman, but the military held her in an all-male prison, subjecting her to sexual humiliation and denying her treatment for her well-documented gender dysphoria. Much of her imprisonment was spent in punitively imposed solitary confinement. The predictable result was extreme mental anguish, depression and attempted suicide.

Manning’s seven years of imprisonment and torment at the hands of the US military represented the most draconian punishment ever imposed for leaking classified documents in the United States. She was originally sentenced to 35 years in prison in a drumhead military court martial, in which the prosecution pressed for a “treason” conviction, a charge that carries the death penalty.

Whom did Manning “betray”? Certainly not the American people, to whom she helped expose crimes being carried out behind their backs. Rather, her actions cut across the interests of the American capitalist ruling class, which is waging endless predatory wars and building up a police-state apparatus to suppress social unrest and popular resistance at home.

Working as a 22-year-old military intelligence analyst in Iraq, Manning became increasingly opposed to the US war and occupation in that country. In early 2010, she provided WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of classified documents exposing Washington’s crimes.

Among the first pieces of this classified material to catch the attention of a wide public was the chilling “Collateral Murder” video. Viewed by millions, the video, recorded through the gun sight of a US Apache helicopter, provides a gut-wrenching exposure, not only of a deliberate massacre of over a dozen unarmed civilians, including two Iraqi reporters working for the Reuters news agency, but of the criminal character of the US war as a whole.

Other documents provided by Manning made it clear that the US was vastly underreporting the number of civilians being killed and wounded in Afghanistan. Manning also gave WikiLeaks some 250,000 diplomatic cables from American embassies around the world, which exposed official US lying, efforts to subvert governments, and dossiers on the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, showing most of them had no significant role in terrorist operations.

The exposure of these crimes provoked a vindictive reaction from the Obama White House and the State Department, then headed by Hillary Clinton. The persecution of Manning was part of a broader crackdown on whistleblowers—the Obama administration prosecuted more individuals under the Espionage Act of 1917 than all previous administrations combined. This crackdown went hand-in-hand with the buildup of a state repressive apparatus that extended from the massive spying on the US and world population to the president’s invoking of the power to order the drone missile assassination of anyone, anywhere in the world.

If Obama commuted Manning’s sentence on his final day in office (adding 120 days onto her time served), it was not out of any last-minute sympathy for the imprisoned soldier’s suffering, or any newfound democratic convictions. It was a calculated political act, aimed at sanitizing the filthy record of his administration and currying favor for the Democratic Party. The conviction and the draconian sentence remain on the books, a brutal warning to anyone thinking of following in the persecuted private’s footsteps.

During the seven years that Manning spent enclosed behind cement and iron bars, the government’s witch-hunt and persecution against those daring to expose its crimes has only intensified.

Julian Assange has been trapped in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012, threatened by a US federal grand jury. US Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated last month that Assange’s arrest was a “priority,” adding that the US government was “stepping up our efforts on all leaks … whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.” This was accompanied by an extraordinary speech by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who branded WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” He declared that Assange “has no First Amendment freedoms” and that anyone who reveals the secrets of the US government is an “enemy” guilty of “treason.”

Edward Snowden, who exposed the NSA’s illegal wholesale spying operations, has been turned into a man without a country, living in forced exile in Moscow. Both Trump and Pompeo have publicly called for his execution.

If Manning, Assange and Snowden are compelled to face the threat of imprisonment and even death for lifting the lid on Washington’s dirty secrets, it is in large measure because the corporate media in the United States is fully complicit in these crimes, functioning more and more openly as a propaganda arm of the US government.

In a revealingly hostile response to Manning’s pending release, the New York Times buried an article deep inside its printed addition Wednesday under the headline “Manning Is Set to Be Freed 28 Years Ahead of Schedule.” Presumably the newspaper of record would have preferred she serve her full term.

The Times’s former executive editor, Bill Keller, expressed his attitude toward the WikiLeaks revelations in 2010, while Manning was being brutalized in a Marine Corps lockup in Quantico, Virginia. He described himself as “uncomfortable” with the notion that the Times “can decide to release information that the government wants to keep secret,” a practice that in an earlier period was regarded as the most essential function of the so-called Fourth Estate. He made the Orwellian declaration that “transparency is not an absolute good” and that “Freedom of the press includes freedom not to publish, and that is a freedom we exercise with some regularity.”

Today, the Times’s editorial pages are under the direction of James Bennet, a figure with the closest ties to the state apparatus and the top echelons of the Democratic Party. (His father is a former head of USAID, a front for the CIA, and his brother is the senior senator from Colorado.) The Times churns out war propaganda, while news coverage is, by the paper’s own admission, vetted by the US intelligence agencies. These practices set the tone for the corporate media as a whole.

The suppression of freedom of the press and free speech in the US—epitomized by the relentless persecution of Manning, Assange and Snowden—is driven by the needs of America’s ruling oligarchy, as it seeks to extricate itself from deepening economic and political crises by means of ever more dangerous acts of military aggression abroad, while confronting rising hostility and anger from masses of working people in the US and around the world.

The defense of these rights and the fight against state repression can be waged only as part of the struggle for the independent political mobilization of the working class against the capitalist system.

Bill Van Auken

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/05/18/pers-m18.html

Is this the Death of Neoliberalism?

Invasion of the Putin-Nazis

So, here we are, a little over one hundred days into “The Age of Darkness” and the “racially Orwellian” Trumpian Reich, and, all right, while it’s certainly no party, it appears that those reports we heard of the Death of Neoliberalism were greatly exaggerated. Not only has the entire edifice of Western democracy not been toppled, but the global capitalist ruling classes seem to be going about their business in more or less the usual manner. The Goldman Sachs vampires are back in the White House (as they have been for over one hundred years). The post-Cold War destabilization and restructuring of the Middle East is moving forward right on schedule. The Russians, Iranians, North Koreans, and other non-globalist-ball-playing parties remain surrounded by the most ruthlessly murderous military machine in the annals of history. Greece is being debt-enslaved and looted. And so on. Life is back to normal.

Or … OK, not completely normal. Because, despite the fact that editorialists at “respectable” papers like The New York Times (and I’m explicitly referring to Charles M. Blow and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman) have recently dropped the completely ridiculous “Trump is a Putinist agent” propaganda they’d been relentlessly spewing since he won the election, a significant number of deluded persons, having swallowed their official vomitus (i.e., the vomitus of Blow and Krugman, and other neoliberal establishment hacks) like the hungry Adélie penguin chicks in those nature shows narrated by David Attenborough, are convinced (these deluded persons are) that the Russians are waging a global campaign not only to maliciously hack, or interfere with, or marginally influence, free and fair elections throughout the Western world, but to control the minds of Westerners themselves, in some Orwellian, or possibly Wachowskian fashion. Worse yet, these deluded persons are certain, the Russians are now secretly running the White House, and are just using Trump, and the Goldman Sachs gang, and capitalist centurions like General McMaster, as a front for their subversive activities, like denying Americans universal healthcare and privatizing the hell out of everything.

If you think I’m being hyperbolic, check out #MarchforTruth on Twitter, or its anonymous Crowdpac fundraising page, which at first glance I took for an elaborate prank, but which seems to be in deadly earnest about “restoring faith in American government,” uncovering Trump’s “collusion” with Russia, and reversing his “subversion of the will of the people.” The plan is, on June 3, 2017, thousands of otherwise rational Americans are going to pour into the streets “demanding answers” from … well, I’m not sure whom, some independent prosecutor, or congressional committee, or intelligence agency, or whomever is responsible for ferreting out the Putin-Nazi infiltrators that “respected” pundits like Blow and Krugman (and stark raving loonies like Louise Mensch) have convinced them are now controlling the government. Weirdly, these same “respected” journalists, the ones who have been assuring the world that The President of the United States is a covert agent working for Russia, have failed to even mention this March for Truth, and are acting like they had nothing to do with whipping these folks up into a frenzy of apoplectic paranoia.

Incidentally, one of my colleagues contacted Mr. Blow directly and inquired as to whether he’d be vociferously supporting or possibly leading the March for Truth, and was chastised by Blow and his Twitter followers. I found this reaction extremely troubling, and asked my colleague to contact Mensch and suggest she check with her handlers at The Times to make sure the Russians haven’t gotten to him. However, just as he was sitting down to do that, the “Comey-firing” brouhaha broke, which seems to have brought Blow back to the fold, albeit in a less hysterical manner than his Rooskie-hunting readers have grown accustomed to. We can only hope that both he and Krugman return to form in the weeks to come as Russiagate builds to its dramatic climax.

Oh, yeah, and if Russiagate isn’t paranoid enough, apparently, the corporate media is now prepared to deploy the “Putin-Nazi Election Hackers” propaganda in any and every election going forward (as they did in the recent French election, and as they tried to do in the Dutch elections, and presumably will in the German elections, and as The Guardian appears to be retroactively doing in regard to the Brexit referendum). Any day now, we should be hearing of the “Putin-Nazi-Corbyn Axis,” and the “Putin-Nazi-Podemos Pact,” and video footage of Martin Schultz and a bevy of former-East German hookers engaging in Odinist sex magick rituals in an FSB-owned bordello in Moscow. Soon, it won’t just be elections … no, we’ll be hearing reports of Russian shipments of rocks, bottles, and pointy sticks to the “Putin-Nazi Palestinian Terrorists,” and … well, who knows how far they’re willing to take this?

All joking aside, as I’ve written about previously, what we’re dealing with here is more than just a lame attempt by the Democratic Party to blame its humiliating loss on Putin (although of course it certainly is that in part). The global neoliberal establishment is rolling out a new official narrative. It’s actually just a slight variation on the one it’s been selling us since 2001. I could come up with a sixteen-syllable, academic-sounding name for this narrative, but I’m trying to keep things simple these days … so let’s call it The Normals versus The Extremists, (the Normals being the neoliberals and the Extremists being everyone else). The goal of this narrative is to stigmatize and otherwise marginalize opposition to Neoliberalism, regardless of the nature of that opposition (i.e., whether it comes from the left, right, or from religious, environmentalist, or any other quarters).

Now, as any professional storyteller will tell you, one of the most important aspects of the narrative you’re trying to suck people into is to make your protagonist a likeable underdog, and then pit him or her against a much more powerful and ideally incorrigibly evil enemy. During the Cold War, this was easy to do — the story was Democracy versus the Commies, traditional “good versus evil”-type stuff. Once the U.S.S.R. collapsed, the concept needed major rewrites, as a new evil adversary had to be found. This (i.e., the 1990s) was a rather awkward and frustrating period. The global capitalist ruling classes, giddy with joy after having become the first ever global ideological hegemon in the history of aspiring global hegemons, got all avant-garde for a while, and thought they could do without an “enemy.” This approach, as you’ll recall, did not sell well. No one quite got why we were bombing Yugoslavia, and Bush and Baker had to break out the Hitler schtick to gin up support for rescuing the Kuwaitis from their old friend Saddam. Fortunately, in September 2001, the show runners got the break they were looking for, and the official narrative was instantly switched to Democracy versus The Islamic Terrorists. This re-brand got extremely good ratings, and would have been extended indefinitely if not for what began to unfold in the latter half of 2016. (One could go back and locate the week when the mainstream media officially switched from the “Summer of Terror” narrative they were flogging to the new “Invasion of the Putin-Nazis” narrative … my guess is, it was early to mid-September.) It started with the Brexit referendum, continued with the rise of Trump, and … well, I don’t have to recount it, do I? You remember last year as clearly as I do, how, suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, the Putin-Nazi menace materialized, and took the place of the “self-radicalized terrorist” as the primary target for people’s hatred and fear. OK, sure, at first, there were no Putin-Nazis. It was just that the Brexit folks were fascists, and Trump was Hitler, and Bernie Sanders was some sort of racist hacky sack Communist. But then the Putinists poisoned Clinton, and unleashed their legions of Russian propagandists on the gullible, Oxycodone-addicted denizens of “flyover country,” and, as they say, the rest is history.

In any event, here we are now … stuck inside this simulation of “reality” where Putin-Nazi hackers are coming out of the woodwork, a partyless neoliberal banker has been elected the President of France, Donald Trump is an evil mastermind or a Russian operative, depending on what day it is (as opposed to just a completely incompetent, narcissistic billionaire idiot), and neoliberal propaganda outfits like The New York TimesThe Washington Post, MSNBC, CNN, The Guardian, NPR, et al., are perceived as “respectable” sources of journalism, as if their role in generating and occasionally revising the official narrative weren’t so insultingly obvious. Personally, I am looking forward to the upcoming German elections this Autumn, wherein Neoliberal Party “A” is challenging Neoliberal Party “B” for the right to continue privatizing Greece (and any other formerly sovereign nations the banks can get their hands on) in a demonstration of European unity, and fiscal austerity … and, you know, whatever.

If this is the Death of Neoliberalism, just imagine what awaits us at the Resurrection.

Counterpunch

US children’s suicide-related hospital admissions double in last decade

By George Gallanis
11 May 2017

New research indicates a devastating development amongst the most vulnerable section of society. The number of children and teens ages 5 to 17 hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or self-harm in the United States has doubled since 2008.

The finding are based on a study abstract titled, “Trends in Suicidality and Serious Self-Harm for Children 5-17 Years at 32 U.S. Children’s Hospitals, 2008-2015” prepared for presentation at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in San Francisco May 7.

Researchers sifted through administrative data from 32 children’s hospitals from around the country. All discharge diagnoses for suicidality or serious self-harm from emergency department and inpatient intakes were indexed between the years 2008 and 2015 for children between ages 5 and 17.

The results are staggering. Researchers tallied a total of 118,363 diagnoses for suicidality or self-harm from the 32 hospitals. They concluded that a doubling of such diagnoses took place over the study period, an increase from 0.67 percent in 2008 of all intakes to 1.79 percent in 2015.

Over half of those tallied, 59,631 patients, were 15- to 17-year-olds, with 43,682 patients, or 36.9 percent, comprising 12- to 14-year-olds. Moreover, 15,050 patients, amounting to 12.7 percent of the total, were children between ages 5 and 11.

The study also noted that the time of year could also affect when children felt suicidal or inflicted self-harm. The lowest occurrences for both diagnoses occurred during the summer months of June through August, with the highest happening during the spring, March through May, and the fall, September through November.

Dr. Gregory Plemmons, a leading researcher of the study and an associate professor of pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, in Nashville, Tennessee, told CNN: “We noticed over the last two, three years that an increasing number of our hospital beds are not being used for kids with pneumonia or diabetes; they were being used for kids awaiting placement because they were suicidal. And it confirmed what we were feeling: that the rates have doubled over the last decade.”

As to why children commit or think about suicide, Plemmons said it was the “million-dollar question,” adding, “Family history of depression or suicide, family violence, child abuse, gay and lesbian youth, history of bullying—those are all risk factors that have been reported. We didn’t look at any of those specific factors in our study.”

While such factors undoubtedly play a significant role in the development of mental illness among America’s youth, they are further exacerbated by the capitalist system, which exploits the working class and savagely tears society apart into the haves and haves-nots.

For today’s youth, having been born in the past two decades means being raised in a world in which war has been waged on a daily basis. The study shows that young people are among the most vulnerable to this social crisis—facing an uncertain educational future and bleak job prospects—and are increasingly expressing their despair through suicidal thoughts and actions.

A CDC report published last fall found that US children ages 10 to 14 are now more likely to die from suicide than from auto accidents.

The desperation felt by youth is pervasive throughout American society. Recent research reveals swaths of the US population are plagued by mental illness and psychological distress. One report from the Psychiatrics Journal found that 3.4 percent of American adults, a total of 8.3 million people, suffer from “severe psychological distress” (SPD).

Another report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that 52,404 people in the US died from drug overdoses in 2015, stemming in part from psychological distress.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/05/11/suic-m11.html

Political Polarization’s Geographic Roots Run Deep

The divide between urban and rural voters is growing everywhere: from New York City to farm towns.
A barn is painted with an image of the Statue of Liberty and a U.S. flag in Mt. Vernon, Iowa
The political divide between rural and urban voters is wide and getting wider. | Reuters/Jim Young

Red state, blue state. Conservative, progressive. Small government, big government. Among all the familiar fault lines in American politics, says Jonathan Rodden, Stanford professor of political science, the one with the deepest implications is the stark, growing divide between rural and urban voters.

“We’re at a moment of extreme geographic sectionalism,” Rodden told a group of students as part of the Moving Forward After Political Confrontation series at Stanford Graduate School of Business, spearheaded by Saumitra Jha, a professor of political economy. “The question about political polarization in the United States, the question about where we are, what’s happening in the United States after this last election, is all about geography.”

Rodden says his research on geographic polarization shows a striking correlation between population density and voting behavior that grows stronger with each passing election. In short, he says, Democrats are becoming an exclusively urban party.

“Whether it has to do with income, or whether it has to do with race, or whether it has to do with economic decline, it is the case that there is a very pronounced spatial organization of the electorate of the United States,” Rodden says.

“As you go from the center of cities out through the suburbs and into rural areas, you traverse in a linear fashion from Democratic to Republican places.”

He also says that this correlation between population density and Democratic voting persists no matter the size of the municipality. “It’s true of the states, it’s true of the counties, and, most important, it’s true at the level of precincts,” Rodden says.

The correlation between population density and Democratic voting persists no matter the size of the municipality.

It’s not just that a densely populated state like New York tends to vote Democratic, or that densely populated counties do. Even small towns are far more Democratic than their surrounding rural areas. And tightly packed suburbs vote more Democratic than suburbs with more widely spaced homes do. And the trend has accelerated across the country in recent years.

Rodden says that this battle pitting a set of urban interests against a set of rural interests didn’t happen overnight and isn’t unique to American politics. However, the severity of the problem is. This, he argues, largely stems from the fact that American politics is dominated by only two parties and features a geographic system of representation. As long as this geographic polarization continues and Democrats remain an urban party, he says, they will continue to be dramatically underrepresented in legislative bodies.

Creatively drawn districts that benefit Republican majorities aren’t the main culprits, Rodden says. Rather, the simple fact that districts are drawn at all disadvantages Democrats.

“When you draw winner-take-all districts, it ends up overrepresenting Republicans,” Rodden says. “This is something that we often blame on gerrymandering, but it’s only strengthened and furthered by gerrymandering. We end up with a lot of bias against Democrats purely because of this spatial arrangement of politics.”

Rodden says the election of Donald Trump as president is just one manifestation of the divide between urban and rural voters. “This is going to be a new fault line in politics in lots of places,’’ he says. “European politics is increasingly going to be a battle between urban, young intellectuals, greens, people who support the European Union — and a rural coalition that wants to pull out of the European Union.” The question becomes what can be done about it?

In the United States, it would be possible to draw more competitive districts. But that would require a redistricting process that prioritized parity, Rodden says. “We certainly don’t have anything like that.”

Beyond that, the polarization of urban and rural interests could be diminished in a system with more parties, or one that doesn’t rely on geographic representation. “Proportional representation can have the impact of reducing this geographic cleavage that emerges so naturally in a place like the United States,” Rodden says.

“There is nothing about population density that automatically generates this kind of cleavage. There are lots of places that have cities and suburbs and rural areas — and suburbanization is not just an American phenomenon,” he says. “But single-member-district, majoritarian systems that produce two parties that hate each other — that’s the worst of all worlds.”

https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/political-polarizations-geographic-roots-run-deep

The Republican Party is sociopathic: If you didn’t know that already, the health care bill should make it clear

Republicans have long since left normal politics behind and veered into irresponsible, sadistic misbehavior

The Republican Party is sociopathic: If you didn't know that already, the health care bill should make it clear
Paul Ryan; Donald Trump; Kevin McCarthy (Credit: AP/Getty/Salon)

On Thursday, Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act in order to give the richest Americans and corporations billions of dollars. To accomplish this, Republicans will deny tens of millions of Americans who have chronic and preexisting health problems access to affordable medical care. The Republican Party’s plan to punish the sick and to kill the “useless eaters” has expanded its targets to include women who have been victims of sexual assault or domestic violence or suffered from post-partum depression. The Republican plan will also hurt disabled people, senior citizens, new mothers, pregnant women, children in special education programs and babies. It is estimated that at least 43,000 Americans a year will die if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

This is quite literally the politics of life and death. Republicans in Congress have chosen to place their fingers on the scale in favor of the latter.

After finding “courage” prior to their vote from watching the movie “Rocky” and supposedly drawing inspiration from Gen. George Patton, these Republicans — a group largely comprised of rich, old white men — basked in the glow of their “success” while they drank beer and took photos with President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden. In all, it was a macabre and perverse bacchanal of plutocratic greed and civic irresponsibility.

The Republican Party is sociopathic: If you didn’t know that already, the health care bill should make it clear

The vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act was also a reminder of two very frightening and disturbing truths that most of the mainstream corporate news media will ignore.

Conservatives lack empathy for their fellow human beings. The Republican Party’s hostility to the poor, the working class, the elderly, immigrants, Muslims, refugees, the homeless, the vulnerable, gays and lesbians, children, people of color — and yes, the sick — is not an aberration or deviation from their voters’ basic desires. For those not of the right-wing tribe, a decision to strip away health care from millions of people does not make rational political sense. But for those inside the right-wing echo chamber, such a decision speaks to basic psychological and social impulses: It reinforces the demarcations separating “us” and “them,” the deserving and the undeserving, the righteous and the sinful.

In 2010, Ravi Iyer examined data that demonstrated the divergent role of empathy for conservatives and liberals. He observed:

The more interested in politics a conservative is, the lower his (or her) level of empathy. Liberals move in the opposite direction: the more interested in politics they are, the more empathetic. … In the 2010 election, 42 percent of voters identified themselves as conservative; 38 percent said they were moderate; and 20 percent said they were liberal. If that division obtains in 2012 and beyond, the proportion of conservative to liberal voters in the electorate should give liberals pause, especially insofar as they expect elected officials to propose and pass legislation the underlying purpose of which is to help those most in need.

Iyer’s observations would prove prophetic. In the 2016 presidential election, the empathy divide motivated millions of white conservatives and right-leaning independents to support Donald Trump: The opportunity to punish the Other paid a psychological wage, even if Trump’s actual policies would economically hurt the “white working class” voters who installed him in the White House — with the help of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Republican Party is sociopathic. As detailed by the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, exhibiting three or more of the following traits is sufficient for the diagnosis of sociopathy:

  • Callous unconcern for the feelings of others
  • Gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms and obligations
  • Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, though having no difficulty in establishing them
  • Very low tolerance to frustration, a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence
  • Incapacity to experience guilt or to profit from experience, particularly punishment
  • Markedly prone to blame others or to offer plausible rationalization for the behavior that has brought the person into conflict with society

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders adds these two qualifiers:

  • Deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure
  • Impulsiveness or failure to plan ahead

The Republican Party’s policies on health care, the economy, the social safety net, law enforcement and racial issues, and its attitudes toward women, gays and lesbians, and other vulnerable and marginalized groups fit many of these criteria. In their reactionary, revanchist and destructive approach to political community and the commons, modern American conservatives in general also exhibit many sociopathic traits.

Organizations and communities elevate to positions of power those individuals who best embody their values. So it is no coincidence that the Republican Party’s current leader, Donald Trump, exemplifies many of the traits common to sociopaths.

A lack of empathy and an embrace of sociopathy has helped to make the Republican Party in its current form largely exempt from the rules governing “normal politics.” The Republican Party now represents a form of right-wing politics that has more in common with extreme religious fundamentalism than it does with post-Enlightenment rationality. In combination with a compliant American news media, gerrymandering, voter suppression, a highly effective propaganda machine, manipulation of the rules governing procedures in the House and the Senate, and a large conservative base that has been conditioned toward compliance, lies and authoritarianism, the Republican Party will likely maintain control of the United States on a local and state level for the foreseeable future.

The pundit and chattering classes want to believe that the “adults” in the U.S. Senate will stop Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s latest effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act. They also think that Trump’s voters will turn on him once his policies begin to negatively impact them in material and tangible ways.

These so-called experts have little to no credibility: They are the same people who believed that Trump would never be elected president. These supposedly astute observers of the American scene misunderstand this cultural moment because they presume reason and human decency where there is only madness, greed, bigotry, rage, racism, sexism and nihilism. To acknowledge these matters is not to surrender to them. It is necessary, if good and decent human beings who believe in the best of America are to equip themselves to fight back and win.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.