Liquid Ink

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

The American press is in a fix

The American press, and to a smaller extent the whole of the Western press, finds itself in what’s almost a double bind.

I have no doubt that Donald Trump is afflicted with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. If you don’t know what that is, you need to read this Medium post composed by N Ziehl. American journalists are not equipped to cover a narcissist. They’d struggle to cover a narcissistic manager of a Jiffy Lube, but a President of the United States afflicted with NPD ruins a journalist’s methods.

Like most professionals, individual journalists are not trained to deal with a narcissist’s constantly shifting truth, false reality and gaslighting. (Gaslighting is a really important concept. Everyone needs to learn what it is and how it works, because Trump keeps doing it.) They are trained to deal with liars and evasion tactics, but when it comes to uncovering truth or meaning, they try to connect dots logically, to search for rational motivations and a reasonable relationship between actions and thoughts. None of that is available in a narcissist’s behavior.

Like most organizations, media companies are not armed with the assumptions necessary to tell an accurate story about a narcissist president—newsrooms assume there is always more than one take on a story, more than one angle and interpretation. The highest forms of essay writing focus on nuance. With a narcissist, there is only one story, and it has neither a flip side nor an alternative take, no nuance at all. The story of the narcissist is that he lives in his own grandiose reality, motivated entirely by self-gain and others’ adulation, unable to feel empathy for anyone. Stories about narcissists can either point out the narcissism or they can enable it. There is no gray area, so forget about nuance.

Quite obviously, journalists have to quote the words the president utters, then attempt all sorts of interpretations when applicable, present the slant they’re after. The problem is that a narcissist’s words are meaningless; the reason they’re shocking is because they don’t represent reality. He wants our adoration, and if he can’t get it, he’ll distract us by threatening our safety or by actually putting us in harm’s way. If we find ourselves identifying his tricks, he’ll burn down the neighbor’s garage and force us all to rush over with buckets. Most of us care about our neighbors. He cares about himself.


Now, here’s the double bind.

In America, the problem around telling this story lies also in the way newspapers create revenue streams. Revenue has always been tied to circulation and the size of an audience; obviously, the bigger, the better. Unlike in decades past, when print companies depended at least partially on their brand and their mission to sell a whole paper with advertisements inside, now they depend much more often on individual stories or topics that get shared by readers. The biggest story right now is Trump’s insanity and the threat it poses civilization. It’s dopamine, and media companies know it because they’ve been riding it now for almost two years.

The American press has to change the way it covers the president. Unfortunately, doing so threatens their bottom line.

I still think news companies can generate revenue and get clicks by writing about Trump’s professional enablers…essentially the rest of the federal government. Attention, or the lack of it, is the most potent weapon we can employ against a narcissist. Because they need it, they’ll throw tantrums, insult people, contradict themselves, threaten us with prison, make deals with our enemies, etc. If they perceive it going elsewhere, they become crazed with jealousy and make irredeemable mistakes.

It’s accurate to report that the Republican Party is enabling and attempting to benefit from a narcissist, just as it’s accurate to report that Twitter is enabling a narcissist. This is the brutal truth of the matter. Those who benefit from the narcissist—specifically, those who figure out a way to increase their political power or their profits by blowing sunshine up Trump’s ass—need to be investigated and exposed by the press. It’ll drive him nuts to know someone else is getting more air time, and it should still provide the American public the dopamine it needs to keep on clicking.

It is also not inaccurate, and hardly a disservice, to teach the American reading public about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It used to be that the quiet kid in class was the only one who knew about it. Now we’re all in the same ship because we decided to put one in the Oval Office.


Picture of “Ugly Building” from Wikipedia.


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.



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

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Advice for Republicans

I wish I had beaten Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal to the ideas he expresses in this article. To those too lazy to read it, I’ll summarize: He’s asking conservatives to stop fretting over other people’s sex lives and their (bourgeois, ha!) demands for marriage rights. He suggests that the fuss over abortion has become extreme. He presents a good question: “What’s so awful about learning Spanish?” and points out that immigrants—specifically Spanish-speaking ones—show values most of us identify as American. That ringing you hear right now is the echo from my applause: he’d like future conservative presidential and congressional candidates to pass an exam of basic knowledge and take an IQ test. He defends himself, claiming it’s not flippant. I agree with him.

Here’s the question: Why can’t the intelligent, rational, pragmatic wing of the Republican Party become the party’s undisputed central voice? Why don’t those pragmatics take serious issue with the hysterics, the ones barely able to accept the president’s humanity? We are far away from the political environment necessary for a presidential candidate of either party to dismiss American Exceptionalism (although that day is inevitable, and should be welcome). But a Democrat does not need to pitch himself to quite the same group of fringe thinkers, to people who need reality distorted in order to feel “right”. If you’re among those claiming, “But the president is an extremist, a communist, an alien, a Muhammad, a Trotsky, a Stalin, a Hitler! He believes in holes in the sky!” realize that you’re part of the wing that’s causing the problem. Your voice has been exhausting from the start.

At the end of his piece, Stephens suggests Republicans had spent four years listening to echoes of themselves. He suggests they “change the channel for a while.” I have a more advanced suggestion. Isn’t it time to change the talking heads? Is it really a threat to the party to find some secular professor, a student of Smith, and put him on TV to host a show? Would Republicans refuse to coalese around a host who claimed, unabashedly, to be an intellectual or presented himself, at minimum, as a pragmatic thinker. Aren’t we past the point where we find loud-mouthed bullies either entertaining or quintessentially American?

If Republicans took Stephens’ advice and changed the channel (for a long time), they’d go away. But we must demand they be replaced by someone who isn’t going to distort reality, demonize anyone or blather on about rape. I hope this election has shown that each side of the political aisle and every layer in each coalition is sick of that stuff.