Ordinary People

February 8, 2017

As “1984” pegs the top of the best seller list, and pronouncements from the top of the government sound more and more like dystopian fiction, I’m reminded of a story my father, a veteran, and an attorney, used to tell about the Nuremberg Trials.
When people like Adolph Eichmann were brought to the courtroom, the most disconcerting, indeed, terrifying common reaction, over and over – was that these people were not the snarling, drooling, monstrous lunatics that a propagandist might wish for, but rather, small, quiet, unassuming men.

Rather like the rest of us.

You might want to put the movies above, and below, on your watch list, after you’re done reviewing Orwell, Huxley, and Atwood.

Chris Edelson in the Baltimore Sun:

When we worry and wonder about authoritarian regimes that inflict cruelty on civilians, we often imagine tyrannical despots unilaterally advancing their sinister agendas. But no would-be autocrat can act alone. As a practical matter, he needs subordinates willing to carry out orders. Of course, neither Donald Trump nor Steve Bannon personally detained any of the more than 100 people held at airports over the weekend pursuant to the administration’s executive order on immigration, visitation and travel to the United States. They relied on assistance.

The men and women who reportedly handcuffed small children and the elderly, separated a child from his mother and held others without food for 20 hours, are undoubtedly “ordinary” people. What I mean by that, is that these are, in normal circumstances, people who likely treat their neighbors and co-workers with kindness and do not intentionally seek to harm others. That is chilling, as it is a reminder that authoritarians have no trouble finding the people they need to carry out their acts of cruelty. They do not need special monsters; they can issue orders to otherwise unexceptional people who will carry them out dutifully.

This should not be a surprise. The famous Milgram experiment and subsequent studies suggest that many people will obey instructions from an authority figure, even if it means harming another person. It is also perfectly understandable (which does not mean it is justifiable). How many of us would refuse to follow an instruction from a superior at work? It is natural to want to keep one’s job, even if at the price of inflicting cruelty on another human being, even perhaps a child.

The question we need to ask ourselves is: What will we do? This is not a hypothetical question.


It is far easier to do nothing, to trust that, somehow, America’s dangerous course will be set right. But this is a dangerous gamble, and in fact an abdication of our responsibility as Americans and indeed as human beings. If we do nothing, that is a choice. It means we accept a government that has demonstrated it is capable of inflicting cruelty on the innocent and defenseless.

What will we do?

New Zealand Herald:

Is what we’re witnessing in the US a slow-motion downhill slide into a coup? writes Sydney academic Charles Firth.

A fascinating and scary article has been doing the rounds in recent days, which suggests that Donald Trump’s ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries was an attempt to see how far he can push his power, as the first step to mounting an all-out coup.

A Google engineer named Yonatan Zunger has suggested that the way the White House has repeatedly gone around long standing conventions shows it is testing to see whether a coup is possible.

One man’s coup is another man’s “strong leadership”. But what Zunger is talking about is Mr Trump’s inner circle grabbing power in a similar way that Vladimir Putin has done in Russia, where he exercises power unchallenged by any other body.

Mr Trump’s tweets about his conversation with Prime Minister ‘Trumbull’ stomped on centuries of diplomatic protocol. And he uses Twitter every day to get his message out unchallenged by the questioning (and fact-checking) of the press. Don’t get me wrong – it’s spectacular to watch – but it shows in Mr Trump a desire to be unchallenged and unmediated by the normal processes of government – whether they’re diplomatic protocols or scrutiny by the media.

If it were just his tweets, that would be one thing, but he’s taking the same approach across the board.

Normally, when a President gets into power, he rushes to appoint the roughly 660 senior officials that need approval from Congress. That’s because he’s hoping to get the departments (which employ millions of people) working according to his agenda.

Indeed, for centuries, that’s been the main prize of winning the presidency. You get to set the agenda for how millions of Americans administer the government.

Instead, Mr Trump only named 29 appointees by the time he was inaugurated. Twenty nine out of 660.

In one light, you could argue that this shows that Mr Trump and his inner circle are just deeply incompetent. But you could also consider another possibility – that on the whole, Mr Trump doesn’t care that much about who runs the bureaucracy, because that’s not how he’s planning on projecting his power.

It’s now becoming clear that the supposed “mass resignations” of nearly all of the senior staff at the State Department was a purge ordered by the White House. Look at the chart that Emily Gorcenski tweeted around. That’s not an orderly transition. That’s a wipe-out.




21 Responses to “Ordinary People”

  1. vierotchka Says:

    My mother was one of the translators and interpreters at the Nuremberg Trials. She told us of some of her experiences which had horrified her. Among other things she told us was that in a large room adjacent to the court room there were mountains and mountains of Nazi documents. The Nazis kept meticulous records and details of everything they did to the Jews – names, dates of birth, sex, dates of when they were taken, which camps they were taken to, what was done to them, the properties taken from them (besides what was in their homes and businesses) such as glasses, gold teeth, shoes, hair, etc. Millions of records. All in a matter-of-fact manner, like the very organized and disciplined civil servants they were.

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    Got on the treadmill at the gym this AM—-the one with the TV that is permanently tuned to Fox News. I find that watching Fox while on the treadmill helps elevate my heart rate rapidly and keep it up there, so that is one thing Fox is good for—-providing aerobic benefits for anyone with a brain and soul who may watch it.

    I watched President Pussy Grabber give a live speech to the Sheriff’s Association—-using the typical grammar and vocabulary of a 10-year-old except for the few times he looked at a teleprompter—-then he sounded like a 14-year-old. As usual, it was appalling—-pandering and jingoistic—–but the worst was his invite for all policemen in the country to “pick up the phone and call Kelly”—-give Kelly the names of all these “bad ‘hombres” that are destroying the country with crime and drugs, and Kelly will see that they’re gone TOMORROW.

    I had the thought while watching The Pussy Grabber that his mindless rhetoric was rather Hitlerish, and having the hope that Kelly and the various law enforcement agencies would not be “good Germans doing their jobs” and eagerly do his bidding. The content of this post has got me worried about the “ordinary people” in this country.

    (And Cruz was on the air also—-I didn’t think he could get any more slimy and despicable, but he manages to rise to new depths of Repugnant lying BS every time he appears)

    PS Kiwiano or one of the others from down under mentioned the Zunger piece on another thread.—-I read it there and it’s scary stuff. I would suggest that you folks in NZ watch what you say, though—-piss off The Pussy Grabber and the bombers will flatten your country in their spare time while they’re also flattening AUS. Before the actual bombing begins, watch and see if he “squeezes” you with trade sanctions—-like signing an executive order that no American movie company can make films in your country—-that all movies must be “made in America” and by the ghost of Leni Riefenstahl (how come all these Nazi references keep popping up when we talk about Trump?).

    • Tom Bates Says:

      So you want the illegals to stay so you can keep your gardener at a cheap rate?

      • jpcowdrey Says:

        I would like to see working illegal immigrants given the opportunity to become legal green card holders, and thence eligible for all the labor protections the law extends, including the right to bargain collectively, in solidarity with native born workers, for better wages and work conditions.

        But then, I do my own gardening. It’s a spiritual thing.

  3. Tom Bates Says:

    Come on, what a lot of BS dressed up in blah and lies. You leftists simply foam at the mouth that your lying scum bag candidate lost.

    Obama had about the same number approved as Trump does at this time. There is zero in the record that shows presidents in the past had everybody in place in January, usually it drags out into march or even april.

    The people who resigned mostly retired, that is not a purge. The normal is the political types resign and the agency simply runs on with the non political type second in command running things until one has a political type in charge. Maybe we need less political types in charge. Did you ever consider that politics and most of the federal government are not complementary unless you want a third world thug government and a corruption rate 18th in the world. Oh I forgot,that is what we have now and had under Obama.

    • Lionel Smith Says:

      You leftists…

      Oh! Schucks poor soul, go give Bitch McConnell a kiss and grow up and realise this isn’t about leftists v righttwits, liberals v conservatives but freedom v slavery and repression, Trump inc. v the Constitution.

      The republicans are sure earning their moniker of repugnants by using every dirty trick in the book and inventing new ones.

      If this doesn’t tell you that you are supporting the efforts of fascists and feel shame from that then you are a part of the problem.

  4. dumboldguy Says:

    This post must have really hit a nerve with the Forces of Darkness, since they have unleashed Bates on us in all his glorious incoherence, stupidity, and inanity—-5 responses so far, 3 by Bates.

    PS “What has that to do with the USA and Trump?” is very near the top of the looooong list of “Dumbest Things Said By Tommy Poo”. LMAO!

  5. Lionel Smith Says:

    I have just found this warning from history, well worth a read.

  6. Should also read Gitta Sereny’s ‘Into that darkness’ as well as the more obvious 1984 if you want to really get into the banality of evil

  7. skeptictmac57 Says:

    I heard an interesting debate on Intelligence Squared yesterday framed as ‘Give Trump a Chance?’.

    Well worth a listen (podcast) or view (video) if you have the time


    • dumboldguy Says:

      The I2.us debate is interesting, but IMO an exercise in futility—-it was really over before it began. It’s true that we don’t know what the future will bring, but Trump has given so much evidence of his unsuitability for the office of president that “giving him a chance” may lead to the destruction of the country. He needs to be fought at every step, and ridiculed by every comedian in the country until his thin skin splits wide open and his resulting actions lead to the activation of the 25th. Amendment.

      Impeachment proceedings should have been begun by now anyway—-over his failure to disclose his tax returns, his unacceptable arrangements for isolating himself from the management of his businesses, and the many conflicts of interest that he has, both visible and hidden because of his lack of transparency. His attack on Nordstrom’s over Ivanka alone should start the ball rolling there

      • skeptictmac57 Says:

        I found it interesting (and frustratingly irritating) to see how differently people see Trump, when we can all see and hear exactly what he is doing and saying.
        People can argue about the speculative aspects of his, what appears to be, massive conflicts of interest, and what he is hiding in his taxes and his weird affinity for Putin, and I think like you that there is almost certainly stuff there that makes him a ‘bad hombre’, but even setting all that aside, the stuff that we can verify for sure, is as alarming and unprecedented as anything we have ever experienced from a president, and it totally confounds me why his supporters cannot see that.
        What may even be worse, is that they actually do see it, and either endorse it or are so hard headed and resistant to admitting their mistake, that they would rather see America fall rather than to admit it. That is truly scary.

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