Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award


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An open plea to the Electoral College

Dear Electors:

You don’t need to be told this is a pivotal hour in world history.

In only days, you’ll meet and cast your votes to determine the fate of the world. Perhaps most of you, when you were selected to represent your states as Electors, looked at your role mostly as an honor, an expression of your patriotism, perhaps a noble way to participate in our nation’s process of government. The entire world, people from Taipei to Tallinn, know it is more than that now.

Your voting body was created for this moment. To quote Peter Beinart, from the Atlantic:

“It is ‘desirable,’ Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 68, ‘that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of’ president. But is “‘equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station.’ These ‘men’—the electors––would be ‘most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.’ And because of their discernment—because they possessed wisdom that the people as a whole might not—‘the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.’”

You probably didn’t expect it to be true when you became an elector. However, the moment for you to discern and investigate is here.

I’m pleading with those of you in position to do so, no matter where you identify on the political spectrum, to act in whatever way necessary to keep Donald Trump from becoming our next president.

I share the same concerns over the threat posed to our constitution, political system—and also to global stability—that has been expressed in recent months by so many statesmen, political scientists, journalists, columnists, educators, former and current intelligence officials, and many other professionals. If you do not share their views, if you do not believe that the president-elect is a threat to world peace, if you do not feel he is unfit to act as president on account of his conflicts of interest, his business practices, his misogyny, blatant racism, ignorance of the constitution, unpredictable behavior, narcissism and addiction to praise, assault on scientific consensus, assault on the Bill of Rights, assault on factual information, or his gaslighting claim that our intelligence community is a factory of conspiracy theories, perhaps you will finally be concerned by his potential exposure to blackmail by international adversaries and bribery by foreign governments.

Surely, this last bit must concern even those who loathe Hillary Clinton and the American establishment. We might prefer reruns of Happy Days to TED talks, the NFL to MLS, but we should all agree that a president even potentially exposed to manipulation by foreign governments threatens us all.

It’s true we’ll be in peril no matter what you decide. Our nation has been damaged by this election—it has allowed our most heinous demons to surface—and we’re going to struggle and suffer, some more than others, no matter what decision you make. You might feel that by keeping the demagogue from office you’d betray the people and system, triggering some kind of upheaval. I’m begging you to compare that possibility to another: that you might be protecting the people from harming themselves in a way they never expected, from losing to a narrative written on a rug about to be pulled from under their feet.

I’d like to think that 100% of us would stop a young man from running around a field of stumps with a screwdriver in his mouth, no matter how dramatically he protested against us. The fire department still shows up if our neighbor sets fire to her own house, and doctors will stitch up our self-inflicted wounds. We have laws and customs designed to mitigate self-harm. The Electoral College is an expression of this, as conceptualized by a man, Hamilton, virtually all Americans currently admire.

One way or another, you’ll get to tell the story to young people who will one day wonder why you acted as you did. At minimum, think about what you know of the man you stand to empower, and weigh that against what you’ll tell the kids living in his aftermath, whatever shape it takes.

“I exercised my duty to uphold the will of the people and the system.”

“I exercised my duty to keep the office of the president from falling to a man who was not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

I’d trust, given the circumstances, they’ll understand.

—Gint

“Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?” 

Alexander Hamilton, March 14, 1788

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Image of Alexander Hamilton from Wikipedia


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The tweet of a narcissist 

Donald Trump’s first tweet following his electoral victory reveals textbook narcissism and fascistic tendency:

“Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!”

This babble reveals a lot of what we should expect from him as president. It uses techniques familiar to anyone who has ever lived with, been ruled by or has otherwise ended up under the power of a narcissist.

The first technique is a slithery bastardization of terms. “Very open”. Forget for a moment if some portal or speech can be the opposite, very closed; think instead about what most people assume when they hear the word “open”. Few should think “openly bigoted,” and he probably doesn’t want us to. Yet that’s what his campaign and election put out in the open about the electorate: we are either bigots ourselves or don’t mind one as our leader. But don’t split that hair…follow this logic:

Openness = good. Trump = Open. Therefore, Trump = good.

The second technique is to deny the sincerity of an opponent’s feelings and views. These aren’t actual protesters; they’re professionals, which means they’re getting paid. It begs questions: by whom and how much? But you should not worry about that. Instead, realize the people who stand up against Trump don’t *really* harbor these contrary feelings and ideas but only *seem* to be expressing them. These planted mercenaries are in it for a few bucks.

Obviously, the only thing that drives a person to action is profit. That’s why Trump does what he does, it’s why you voted for Trump, and it’s why these people are pretending to protest.

The third technique is to deny the opponent’s capacity to think individually. If not for “the media”, these people would have stayed home knowing “open and good Trump” is their president. Any opposition to a narcissist is an idea born outside the opposer. If you could think for yourself, you’d see that the narcissist is open and good, but you cannot see that because you have been poisoned. You’re incapable and subordinate to Trump, your superior.

The fourth is a demand for pity. Pay attention to Trump’s mistreatments and slights and the people calling Trump names, accusing him of wrongs. Fairness would be an acceptance of him wholesale, just as he is.

The fifth technique available here is exaggeration. Trump’s favorite word is “very”. To say something’s open or unfair is not enough. Everything’s *very* something.

Obviously, we should expect the assault on the rights to assembly and a free press to continue. At this point, Trump’s definition of “the media” has been clear: members of “the media” are those who openly oppose Trump in any capacity. If they could be trusted, they would have predicted what he and his followers knew all along, which was that he would win. If they were wrong about Trump and his followers once, they will always be wrong, very wrong, while he will be right, very right.

So, be very right. Don’t be very wrong.

This is life with a narcissist. Their danger is not that they can’t solve problems or build things. The danger of a narcissist is that they have no empathy, and they see as part of the problem groups and individuals who oppose them. Threats abound at every turn, and much of their energy is spent neutralizing or eliminating those threats, often by isolating, disenfranchising or demonizing people. Skilled narcissists start conflicts among their opponents and watch them distract and neutralize each other.

The other danger is that a narcissist needs a posse to be able to pull off what stunt he has in mind. He needs enablers. When that groups wakes up to his disastrous and destructive methods and acts, complicit in the damage, they deny everything and might blame the victims.

The simplest example occurs in families that enable child abuse.

If the victim finds the courage to come out and say “I’ve been tortured”, most people in that abusive system will retreat, deny the child’s torture, even defend the abuser. That defense mechanism makes it possible to live with the realization that they aided the torture of a child. They’ll do perverted things, like invite the victim to sit at the same Thanksgiving table with his abuser. The victim’s presence sure would comfort them all, help them feel that everything’s okay now, everyone forgiven, despite no one admitting a thing.

The entire world now faces a geopolitical game of high stakes played by charlatans and manipulators Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

In terms of political strategy, Trump’s tweet reveals rhetorical techniques hardly different from Putin’s treatment of something like the Ukrainian protests that eventually became the Maidan and led first to the ousting of Yanukovich, then the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of East Ukraine (one Russia still denies is happening at all).

The parallels between Trump and Putin essentially add up to a pair of rails. Putin routinely tells Russians that Ukraine does not really exist, that it’s not really a country or a culture. Their protests are not actual protests but staged shows orchestrated by America, who’s just paying protesters (this despite the fact that the socio-political, cultural and economic conflicts between Russia and its neighbors have a history several centuries older than the United States). If Ukrainians wanted to be democratic, they would allow democratic and good Russia to do what it wanted to them. Instead, they want to join with the Europeans, and “everyone knows” Europeans are bad gay hedonists while Russians are the good true saviors of the world.

So, America, you might have been hoping for a steel mill to reappear or to punish Hillary. Maybe seeing people deported will make you feel empowered. The sooner we wake up to the institutional failures that led to the election of a narcissist, the more likely we are to get out of this with some horrible rhetoric and tweets that threaten the Bill of Rights as our only fouls.


The election numbers

Donald Trump (this is the first time I have ever written his name in a public forum, besides using it as a tag) performed in the following way:

He won 9/10 of Republican voters.

He won more than 4/5 of Evangelical Christians. (These are people who (claim to) believe that you should treat your neighbor as you would like to be treated, that selflessness is an expression of Godliness and that the meek shall inherit the earth.)

Donald also took 37% of “young voters”.

The one that has me deeply confused is not in the video linked below. It’s women voters:

Donald earned 42% of the women’s vote.  To quote from the CBS article I’m using for these data (emphasis mine): “Trump beat Clinton by 53 percent to 41 percent among men while Clinton won among women by 54 percent to 42 percent. Four years ago, President Obama won 45 percent of men’s votes and Mitt Romney won 44 percent of women’s votes.”

So…that 2% difference? It’s baffling but sobering.

http://www.cbsnews.com/common/video/cbsnews_video.swf


What if the most powerful person in the world is a woman?

Today, I walked past a stand whose last remaining newspaper showed a photo of our candidates for President on the debate stage. A phrase came to my mind and just floated there, seemingly out of place. The most powerful man in the world.

I’m a white American male who voted twice for Barack Obama. I will this November cast my vote for a woman to be president of the United States. At the same time, I’m a citizen of the EU with extensive experience abroad, enough to allow me to see America from the outside even when I’m Stateside.

If I’m unable to watch American culture and customs with the eyes of someone who has never lived or visited the US, I can certainly sense the confusion so many abroad feel when they see our spectacle (this “debate” between a blowhard bully and a constantly interrupted woman many times his superior in everything from her knowledge base, experience, empathy, intelligence and political savvy) and wonder “How is it possible that someone should want to vote for this fiend?”

I know plenty of the fiend’s supporters, as I grew up among them. Some of them will vote on an anti-immigrant platform despite themselves being immigrants, displaced persons or the children of refugees. Some continue to hang on to a whitewashed Nelson fantasy of an America that put everything…everyone…in the “right place”. They now look at America and see a country where next to nothing is being arranged as their fantasy would have it.

It’s this perception of disorder that I want to consider. The election of a black man as President of the United States sent many into a panicked fit. The world was supposed to be one way, but it turned out to be another. Everything was supposed to make a kind of sense they were used to, but now nothing made sense anymore.

What was to blame? It wasn’t their worldview. No. The problem was that the world had gone wrong; it had been taken from them, its rightful owners, by rogue elements. It needed, as quickly as possible, to go right.

Originally, quickly meant either less than or no more than four years. But in 2012, it meant yet another four. Now, in 2016, those people stand at a threshold that, in their view, presents a chance for everything to go right again, for the world to be returned to its rightful owners.

Of course, to their great fear, there’s a chance for it to head to even greater disarray.

How can these people possibly perceive even greater disorder? Think of how often we throw around the phrase the most powerful man in the world to describe the President of the United States.

The phrase is significant to our collective consciousness. Part of the problem is that  we think in hierarchies, but for the sake of my example, let’s take it at face value and agree that, indeed, the President of the United States is the most powerful. Think for a moment, then, of what it will mean when the planet’s most powerful individual is a woman.

Germany and The United Kingdom and Lithuania and Austria and San Marino and Liberia and Georgia and Argentina and Costa Rica and Brazil and Switzerland have selected women heads of state. But those elections of women did not require the key phrase to be revised. How would we revise it? The most powerful woman in the world, spoken today, has a ring only slightly different from the world’s greatest female athlete. Both phrases assume there is someone greater and more powerful, and that person is most definitely male. But if we say the most powerful person in the world and end up meaning she’s a woman, the panicked see their order of things fall further apart.

Americans love power and success perhaps more than anything else. One person might have a high level of skill in something, but they won’t matter to anyone until they have presented success. Success is always money, as money determines one’s ability to impose or influence. You might be benevolent or evil, but in America you are only real and worthy when you’ve got enough power.

We don’t hate cons. In fact, we’re almost forced to love them. I am among those Americans who work in a place that’s pretending to be one thing (a college) but is actually another (a business). Others of us sell a product nobody needs, a tool or gizmo we know harms much more than it aids. Selling something, from a drug to a “service” or “course” is its own justification. And the more of it we sell, no matter the method or outcome, the more successful we are. The best sentence is the one bought more often than any.

That explains, partially, the appeal of a wealthy yet blatantly sexist fiend and con. But his act is only part of the gig. Alongside it stands a test of our collective identity. Sure…some people are voting against Clinton because they have some set of immovable reasons that have less to do with the fiend and more to do with how they perceive her nature. I’m driving at a larger sociological point: People are fine, to a degree, with a powerful woman, but they’ve never been faced with the prospect of her being the most powerful person of all. Electing Hillary Clinton to America’s highest office—a woman, mind you, more prepared than any candidate running in my lifetime, far better prepared than Obama was the first time around—would require us to rewrite the descriptive phrase.

To what consequence? The revision would push us further towards thinking not of people as men but of women as people. Quite naturally, it would also require us to rethink our concept of power. Let’s not pretend huge numbers of Americans are not prepared for either shift. Like their candidate, they like to settle things without any admission of guilt.

 

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Photo: Mural, East Garfield Boulevard, Chicago, IL


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Open letter to Lithuanian-Americans who tend to vote Republican

Dear fellow Lithuanians:

Today I’m asking you to think about one of our mutual interests: the continued independence of Lithuania and the rest of the Baltic States.

No, I’m not a Republican and never have been. So if you’re Lithuanian-American and have heard of me, I get that you’re probably not a fan of my writing or public comments. If this is your first visit to my website, know I’m not posting today to get you to like me or buy my books.

Instead, I’m asking you to think about something I know you take seriously: the sovereignty of  Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. I’d like you to weigh what party loyalty you might feel against the possibility of that sovereignty’s breach.

I was among those Lithuanian-Americans who protested wildly for the United States to recognize the Lithuanian declaration of independence in 1990. Many of you were there in places like Daley Plaza in Chicago or before the Church of the Annunciation in Brooklyn.

I’m also aware that many of you, particularly those born prior to 1985, are old enough to have some idea of what Soviet occupation meant following WWII. Many of you know this meaning intimately.

I know not all of you vote along party lines. However, chatter on social media is compelling me to share my point of view. Perhaps some of you will conflate my post as a plea to approach an election based on a single issue. The independence of Lithuania and the Baltic States isn’t really that.

As we all know, the world is interconnected; we have, all of us, always been interdependent, but that is only more readily apparent now in a globalized economy where  commerce and communication are instant. The survival of NATO and the EU affects every global citizen, at least economically and politically. The possibility of an occupation of a country in northeast Europe should concern us morally, intellectually and even spiritually.

I find it paradoxical, at minimum, for those who were either blasted across the planet while fleeing Soviet aggression, or found themselves (like me) born to the displaced, to now enter a ballot box and vote for a candidate who looks at an alliance like NATO as a sacrificial pawn in a geopolitical board game.

It is also curious, for those who migrated during the 3rd wave, to find oneself living between countries, with friends and family in Lithuania, now to face the prospect of electing a candidate flippant to the possibility of a Baltic invasion, of leaving loved ones open to the increased possibility of foreign occupation.

You might find yourself voting for a set of personal reasons, perhaps to return jobs to mining or steel towns, or to punish the politically correct. If you’re that person, fathom waking up one morning to learn little green men are supporting a “separatist uprising” someplace in eastern Latvia. It soon grows and spreads past Daugavpils and into Lithuania, where “liberators” come to rid Zarasai of “fascists”. This is theoretical but hardly hyperbolic. A similar scenario has been taking place in Ukraine.

Our friends and family in Lithuania—indeed, in the rest of the EU and in the rest of the world—do not have a vote. But if they were faced with the choice, to the vast majority it requires not a nanosecond of thought.

Yes, there are plenty of things for Americans to be angry about. We haven’t been all that nice to each other, and it’s a fact that both the government and our bosses at work haven’t listened to the concerns of the middle class. Your gripe is legitimate. But what are you willing to risk in order to voice it? What alliances are you willing to tear down? No one has proposed anything we can prop up to replace the structures currently keeping the world from chaos.

The battle for Baltic independence cost lives. When I was a child, my elders believed it was something I’d never see in my lifetime. After so much progress, here we are, playing with fire as the world holds its breath.

And people who fled Stalinism—or the children and grandchildren of those who survived it—enter the ballot box prepared to vote for a demagogue on record as saying he may not honor American promises to protect the country which remains a cornerstone of our identity.

It begs so many questions, among them this one: if American promises have a price tag, what will the demagogue’s promises cost, and who will pay the price?

Please think about that.

Gint

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Photo: the Vilnius Television Tower, site of Soviet crackdown against Lithuanian independence on January 13, 1991.