Sunday, June 11, 2017

Our monthly Sunday Corner With Lee Liberman GET ME ROGER STONE--featuring the Prince of Darkness, agent provocateur & larger matters

 "I live a Machiavellian life" 

A new Netflix documentary bookends the rise of Donald Trump and his election as abetted by long time dirty trickster, Roger Stone, the decades-long maestro of Republican/Libertarian politics. Directed by Daniel DiMauro, Dylan Bank, and Morgan Pehme, the film shows us the grisly path to Trump but does not do much to help us think about extraction from our misery. That job is ahead.

Stone is the peacock of his breed of political action figure -- a body-building dandy. He describes himself as a jockey on the make for a champion horse who identified Trump in the late 1980's as prime horseflesh -- "one who has the size, the courage, and the balls" to achieve the presidency. Stone has prodded Trump to run for years. Although a consultant to many races, Trump horseflesh has been what Stone loved best. Reporters Jeffrey Toobin and Jane Mayer (she calls Stone the 'Joker in Batman') and conservatives Tucker Carlson and Paul Manafort help tell Stone's story. But Stone does his own showboating, grandstanding and preening in this film and his work. Trump didn't buy it for long; they have parted officially. (Trump says "fired", Stone says "resigned" -- you choose.)

Stone identified the 'Reagan Democrat' and created the superpac to circumvent individual contribution limits. He sabotaged the Reform Party, after a 3-way race (Bush, Perot, Clinton) elected Clinton. Reformers have not run an effective challenge to the major parties since Perot, thanks to Roger Stone. He also orchestrated the physical blocking of the FL recount vote in 2000 insuring GW Bush's win over Al Gore. He ruined Dan Rather's career in 2004 by forging documents that discredited Rather's investigation of Bush's military record. Eliot Spitzer's demise is another trophy. In fact Stone has engineered perhaps the most sustained regime of dirty tricks in recent history. He's a best-selling author of many books that are screeds against opponents. When Hillary Clinton speaks of the "vast right-wing conspiracy" for its long-lived attack on her husband and herself, Roger Stone has been agent provocateur.

Of course he is not alone, simply a current and perhaps the most effective chess player. Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy's sidekick, was a fixture in Stone and Trump's orbit before Cohn's death. Lee Atwater led George H W Bush's successful defeat of Michael Dukakis with a racist meme and Karl Rove, Roger Ailes, and Steve Bannon fit the bill. (Below, l-r, Manafort, Stone, Atwater [c Washington Post] in the early days of their collaboration.)

The 'trickster' is abnormally contrary, thriving on sticking pins in accepted norms, being oppositional for the attention it gets. Agent provocateur Milo Yiannopolis throws out red meat (e.g.,defending pedophilia) then curls his face into a smirk with anticipation of return fire. Ann Coulter savors incoming outrage with the same glee. Perhaps this breed of contrarian hit paydirt from childhood by being naughty. They are happiest confounding norms and provoking criticism. "I revel in your hatred because if I weren't effective, you wouldn't hate me," says Roger; "the only thing worse than being wrong is being boring." (Below, Mr. Yiannopolis stylizing.)

A second feature of these contrarians is their professionalizing the use of the lie. Lying is now an ordinary tool in the toolbox for producing a desired result. Stone describes his discovery of this in grade school. His learning: one man's dirty trick is another man's civic action. The Biblical commandment forbidding the bearing of false witness, or lying, a precept agreed to by community at-large, has no relevance in the practical life of Roger Stone -- truth-telling is for losers.

Evolution appears to produce lethal numbers of sociopaths and agent provocateurs. It isn't as though discrediting McCarthy yesterday or the future fall of Stone and Trump will have stopped evil-doings for good; it's only for now. (Why are these opponents always among us? Could it be we lose our edge, our survival instincts, without mountains to climb and opposition to thwart?)

Here I reference relevant research published by (full disclosure) a relative of mine, Peter Liberman, in his book Does Conquest Pay?, Princeton University Press, 1996. In it Liberman measures the ability of invaders to extract yield/gain from the exploitation of occupied countries; he uses economic measures of GDP in a number of modern world conflicts to prove his thesis that in the short term, ruthless conquerers extract gains that exceed cost. But the returns do not last.

Once good minds mobilize their resources, the jig is up, as in the Allies eventual defeat of the Nazis. Liberman's answer to Does Conquest Pay? is 'yes', in the short term, 'no' in the long. (The present-day rollback of the ISIS state in the works.) Large scale conflicts driven by dictatorial regimes started somewhere and we have a 'starter' situation now -- a paranoid liar in the White House propped up by agent provocateurs whom we must overcome.

Roger Stone thinks we are now living in the age of Stone and that his brand of politics is now mainstream. A reflection of the liar's bad judgment is that Stone's favorite horseflesh is least able to govern. But for now the Trumpers have the field until we get up a campaign to unseat him. And Stone has already been down as often as up, which speaks to the self-destructiveness of liars and agent provocateurs. (See 1996 scandal below.)

We are flailing at how to deal with this presidency. In this early phase we are responding with logic and ineffective outrage. Some Republicans have turned the genteel Grand Old Party into the party of dirty tricks, (Variety writer Owen Gleiberman calls the current GOP a 'slash and burn cult') while Democrats have been too disbelieving or too unwilling to develop effective opposition. How can we do this?

Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama won with effective knock-back of incoming fire. Obama's team lobbied news outlets not to run lies. It may be that Democrats can toughen up and use very direct advertising in fighting lies with truth. Take the 'RAPE' T-shirt below on Stone. How about using an image of Trump and putting 'LIAR' or 'LIES' under it?

John Kerry was unresponsive to the Swift-boat attacks on his exemplary military career and Hillary Clinton's campaign needed repetitive, memorable memes to counter lies. How about the use of single words/phrases on Trump posters: CROOKED, MALIGNANT NARCISSIST, FRAUD. Run them over and over until LIAR Trump, FRAUD Trump (etc.) seep into muscle memory. It takes something like 16 exposures for a piece of information to sink in. Trump famously drills down with verbal repetition to slur his opponents -- 'little Marco', 'crooked Hillary'. In addition to simple memes, information ads are needed to contrast the policy effects on ordinary Americans proposed by the Right and the Left. And that is just advertising (a Republican PAC is already running ads to discredit former FBI Director, James Comey); also, Howard Dean-style 50-state ground strategies including the countering of voter-suppression are needed.
Other suggestions? 

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