The Pardu

The Pardu
Watchful eyes and ears feed the brain, thus nourishing the brain cells.
Showing posts with label Bill Moyers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bill Moyers. Show all posts

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Quick Hit: Bill Moyers And The MInd Of The Conservative (VIDEO)

Must watch 1:54 minutes.....

Yes there is a mental difference in conservatives and liberals. We all know there is a difference, but it is worthwhile to see a learned social scientest speak from a position of knowledge and experience.


Monday, July 3, 2017

NRA Appeal To White Supremacists

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NRA Issues Call for White Supremacy and Armed Insurrection

The gun lobby's new "recruitment ad" is really a call for white supremacy and armed insurrection, deliberately crafted to stir anger and fear.

Take a look at the ad below and ask whether the National Rifle Association can go any lower. Ponder this flagrant call for violence, this insidious advocacy of hate delivered with a sneer, this threat of civil war, this despicable use of propaganda to arouse rebellion against the rule of law and the ideals of democracy.

On the surface this is a recruitment video for the National Rifle Association. But what you are really about to see is a call for white supremacy and armed insurrection, each word and image deliberately chosen to stir the feral instincts of troubled souls who lash out in anger and fear:

Disgusting. Dishonorable. Dangerous. But also deliberate. Everything deplored by the NRA in the ad is committed by “they” — a classic manipulation turning anyone who disagrees with your point of view into “The Other” — something alien, evil, foreign. 

“They use their media to assassinate real news,” “They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler,” “They use theirmovie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again.”

“And then they use their ex-president to endorse the resistance.”

Well, we all know who “they” are, don’t we? This is the vitriol that has been spewed like garbage since the days of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, blasted from lynch mobs and demagogues and fascistic factions of political parties that turn racial and religious minorities into grotesque caricatures, the better to demean and diminish and dominate.

It is the nature of such malevolent human beings to hate those whom they have injured, and the NRA has enabled more injury to more marginalized and vulnerable people than can be imagined. Note how the words “guns” or “firearms” are never mentioned once in the ad and yet we know that the NRA is death on steroids. And behind it are the arms merchants — the gun makers and gun sellers — who profit from selling automatic rifles to deranged people who shoot down politicians playing intramural baseball, or slaughter children in their classrooms in schools named Sandy Hook, or who massacre black folks at Bible study in a Charleston church, or murderously infiltrate a gay nightclub in Orlando.

Watching this expertly produced ad, we thought of how the Nazis produced slick propaganda like this to demonize the Jews, round up gypsies and homosexuals, foment mobs, burn books, crush critics, justify torture and incite support for state violence.

It’s the crack in the Liberty Bell, this ad: the dropped stitch in the American flag, the dregs at the bottom of the cup of freedom. It’s a Trump-sized lie invoked to bolster his base, discredit critics, end dissent. Joseph McCarthy must be smiling in hell at such a powerful incarnation on earth of his wretched, twisted soul.

With this savage ad, every Democrat, every liberal, every person of color, every immigrant or anyone who carries a protest sign or raises a voice in disagreement becomes a target in the diseased mind of some tormented viewer. Heavily armed Americans are encouraged to lock and load and be ready for the ballistic solution to any who oppose the systematic looting of Washington by an authoritarian regime led by a deeply disturbed barracuda of a man who tweets personal insults, throws tantrums and degrades everything he touches.

Look again at the ad. Ask yourself: What kind of fools are they at the NRA to turn America into a killing ground for sport? To be choked with hate is a terrible fate, and it is worst for those on whom it is visited.

Take one more look, and ask: Why do they get away with it? What is happening to us? How long do we have before the fire this time?

This piece originally published on Bill Moyers & Company dot com.  reposting or reprinting of this piece must be accompanied via a permission visit to the original website.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Quick Hit: Trump's Fake Time Magazine Cover.

No need for a comment!

I will leave this from Bill Moyers and the Moyers and Company Staff.

" Staff."


All of Donald Trump’s Lies

This weekend, The New York Times printed every lie Donald Trump has told since taking office. The effort deserves the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Screenshot of the New York Times op-ed piece entitled "Trump's Lies" that lists all of the lies President Donald Trump has told while in office.
This weekend, The New York Times performed a noble public service by publishing nearly every lie Donald Trump has told since taking the oath of office (just four months and a few days ago, but it seems like an eternity, no?). The op-ed chart of tiny but readable font fills the entire page, until at one point, in the mind’s eye, they appear to morph into termites burrowing deep into the foundation of democracy, leaving sawdust in their wake.

One subtitle reads: “Trump Told Public Lies or Falsehoods Every Day for His First 40 Days.” Another reminds us: “Trump’s Lies Repeat — and Shift With Repetition.” David Leonhardt and Stuart A. Thompson, the journalists in charge of the project, wrote:
“We are using the word ‘lie’ deliberately. Not every falsehood is deliberate on Trump’s part. But it would be the height of naivete to imagine he is merely making honest mistakes. He is lying.”
Their effort deserves the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. We also hope that once they finished the task, they rushed right home to a long and cleansing shower.

Meanwhile, you may want to remind yourselves of the Big Lie that Donald Trump rode to power — the Birther Lie. It was never true when the right wing media — talk radio, internet trolls and Fox News — began to spread the story that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and was therefore an illegitimate president.
Yet Trump shamelessly championed the lie and made it central to his campaign. “I’m starting to think that he was not born here,” he told gullible television hosts as early as 20ll. A year later he tweeted that “an extremely credible source” had called his office to inform him that Obama’s birth certificate was “a fraud.” Then he urged hackers to “please hack Obama’s college records (destroyed?) and check ‘place of birth.’”
The Big Lie worked for Trump because it had been sown in the fertile soil of slavery and segregation, and he knew that after eight years of a black president, white supremacy was ripe for harvesting. I talked about the Birther Lie with four noted historians in this video, which we posted on Jan. 20 — the day Trump was inaugurated as Barack Obama’s successor.

Watch ‘The Big Lie’


Friday, June 23, 2017

Bill Moyers: Trump Credibility (The Lack Thereof)

It is Friday, it is early and you may be a work. You may not have time to read a fairly lengthy piece from Bill Moyers, but you may have a few minutes throughout the day to check out Moyers on Trump's integrity.

First, an intriguing analogy from MSNBC's Ari Melber. 
Bill Moyers (Bill Moyers & Company) Lest We Forget The Birther Lie

Trump is giving the nation what we expected. His supporters love his lack of honesty and shadiness, they love his reality TV aura and demeanor, and they love his obviously flawed character. On the other end of the spectrum, many of us do not find him imbued with any level of character and we abhor his lack of honesty and cronyism.

Love Trump or despise Trump, there is no credible counter-argument he is a danger to the nation from many perspectives.  The problem with Trump is the nation can not just Trump the channel away from a bad reality show.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

100 Days Of Deconstruction (Bill Moyers dot Com)

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100 Days of Deconstruction

April 17, 2017 by
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Editor's Note
Donald Trump may be a racist, misogynist, sexual predator, liar and bully, but he is still president of the United States, and we underestimate him at the nation’s peril. Viewed in isolation, his policies seem idiosyncratic and incoherent. Viewed in context, they reveal a strategy to plunder the government of what is profitable to Trump’s family and minions and leave what remains smoldering in the ruins. This series — “100 Days of Deconsruction” — seeks to provide that context.

If Trump succeeds, little of what makes America great survives. But knowledge is power, so read these essays and keep fighting in this decisive battle for our country’s heart and soul. Their author, Steven J. Harper, produced our recent Trump/Russia Timeline. He is a former litigation partner at Kirkland & Ellis, adjunct professor at Northwestern University and the author of several books, including The Lawyer Bubble — A Profession in Crisis.
                                                                                                                    –Bill Moyers

100 Days of Deconstruction — Part One
By Steven Harper

At its best, government saves the environment from polluters, prevents companies from exploiting consumers, safeguards individuals against invidious discrimination and other forms of injustice, and lends a helping hand to those in need. None of those principles guides the Trump/Bannon government.

Two months into Trump’s presidency, historian Douglas Brinkley said it would be “the most failed 100 days of any president.” David Gergen, a seasoned adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, agreed. But they’re using a traditional scorecard. With the help of Trump Party senators and loyalists, Steve Bannon and his boss are remaking America. Future generations won’t judge kindly those who let it happen. Then again, if Trump’s trajectory continues, maybe there won’t be many more future generations anyway.

After losing his seat on the National Security Council, Bannon’s influence over US foreign policy may have waned. But regardless of his future, he has already had an indelible impact on the country. At CPAC, he declared that key members of Trump’s Cabinet were “selected for a reason.” In the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency, that reason has become clear. They have demonstrated a collective determination to deconstruct not only the administrative state, but also the essence of America itself. They hold views that are anathema to the missions of the federal agencies they now lead. They blend kleptocracy — government by leaders who seek chiefly status and personal gain at the expense of the governed — and kakistocracy — government by the worst people.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt

Anyone who lived through the 1960s — or observes China and India today — knows what happens when polluters get a pass. Bill Moyers’ Jan. 31, 2017 video essay previewed how Scott Pruitt was poised to return the nation to the darkest chapter in its environmental history: contaminated water unfit for drinking or swimming; smog-filled air unfit for breathing; a deteriorating planet careening toward a time when it will be unfit for human habitation. In 1970, President Richard Nixon created the EPA for a reason. Now it’s the victim of a hostile takeover.

After the election, Trump asked one of his billionaire friends, Carl Icahn, to screen candidates for the job of EPA administrator. As an unpaid adviser, Icahn wasn’t subject to the stringent ethics and conflict of interest reviews facing Cabinet appointees. During his interview of Pruitt, Icahn asked specifically about an ethanol rule that was costing one of Icahn’s oil refineries more than $200 million a year. Pruitt said he opposed the rule; Icahn then supported Pruitt for the EPA job.

Along with Icahn’s blessing, Pruitt had other uniquely Trump qualifications for the position. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, he sued the EPA 14 times; 13 of the lawsuits included co-parties that had contributed to Pruitt or Pruitt-affiliated campaign committees. He sided consistently with his state’s poultry farms, energy producers and other polluters. Explaining why for the first time in its 50-year history the Environmental Defense Fund opposed Pruitt’s nomination to head the EPA, the EDF’s president said, “[A]t some point when the nominee has spent his entire career attempting to dismantle environmental protections, it becomes unacceptable.”

On Feb. 16, 2017, an Oklahoma state court judge gave Pruitt five calendar days to release his email exchanges with the fossil fuels industry. But before another 24 hours passed, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and fellow Trump Party senators gave America the bum’s rush and confirmed Pruitt’s nomination to lead the EPA. A few days later, the release of 6,000 pages of Pruitt emails provided more proof of his cozy relationship with the industries he now regulates.

Once in office, Pruitt wasted no time. On March 9, 2017, he dismissed the impact of human activity on climate change: “I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” That put him at odds with the EPA’s findings and contrary to international scientific consensus. But he’s in line with Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax.”

Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, labeled climate science expenditures a “waste of money… I think the president was fairly straightforward: We’re not spending money on that anymore.” And they aren’t. Trump’s proposed budget would slash EPA funding by more than 30 percent — to its lowest level in more than 40 years. It would reduce by half the EPA’s Office of Research and Development. It would cut civil and criminal enforcement personnel by 60 percent. It would eliminate regional water cleanup programs from the Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Mexico, from San Francisco Bay to the Great Lakes and from Long Island Sound to South Florida. Superfund money for cleaning up contaminated sites would decline by 30 percent. Appropriations for vehicle emissions and certifications would all but disappear.

While endangering the planet, Trump and his minions stage photo ops to support an ongoing disinformation campaign about illusory benefits from their unprecedented environmental destruction. At the EPA on March 28, Pruitt, Vice President Pence and a group of coal miners surrounded Trump as he signed a sweeping executive order aimed at reversing President Obama’s signature initiatives. His actions, which included rolling back emissions standards and lifting the moratorium on mining federal lands, won’t bring back coal jobs that were lost to technology, cheaper sources of cleaner energy and competitive market forces. But the Trump/Pruitt agenda will provide short-term profit incentives that encourage American companies to cede leadership in the development of innovative solutions to China, which has been doubling down on clean energy research for the long-term.

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry

Rick Perry’s appointment to head the Department of Energy is a perfect complement to Scott Pruitt’s selection for the EPA. During a 2011 Republican presidential debate, Perry had such disdain for the EPA he couldn’t even remember that it was the third of three Cabinet-level agencies he vowed to eliminate as president. But now he heads one of the other two that he’d hoped to destroy. In April, he replaced Steve Bannon on the National Security Council.

In Secretary Perry’s first address to his department, he said Trump had told him to “do with American energy what you did for Texas.” But an approach that might work for one state competing with others doesn’t work for the zero-sum game that is the country as a whole. Even worse, there was a dark side to Gov. Perry’s lower taxes, less regulation approach. Texas public schools are among the worst in the nation; rates of teen moms and uninsured kids are among the highest, as is its rate of uninsured citizens: 27 percent. Residents of the state’s two largest cities, Dallas and Houston, are the least health-insured of any major metropolitan area in the country.

Perry’s agenda is consistent with his oil industry connections. Until Dec. 31, 2016, Perry served as a board member of Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners, which jointly developed the Dakota Access Pipeline that the Army Corps of Engineers had stopped before Trump took office. Four days after the inauguration, Trump blew past protesters carrying “No DAPL” signs and issued an executive order approving it. After the temporary employment of construction labor to build the controversial pipeline ends, it will create approximately 40 permanent operating jobs.

Two months later, Perry stood nearby as Trump announced his approval of the Keystone Pipeline that President Obama had stopped in 2015. Obama had said approving the project “would have undercut” America’s global leadership on fighting climate change. Reversing Obama’s order, Trump called it “the first of many infrastructure projects” and “a great day for jobs.” The pipeline will produce 35 permanent jobs.

The next installment in this series looks at what the secretary of education, the secretary of health and human services and the Attorney General have done during Trump’s first 100 days.


Steven Harper blogs at The Belly of the Beast, is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, and contributes regularly to The American Lawyer. He is the author of several books, including The Lawyer Bubble — A Profession in Crisis and Crossing Hoffa — A Teamster’s Story (a Chicago Tribune “Best Book of the Year”). Follow him on Twitter: @StevenJHarper1.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bill Moyers & Company And The Death Of Smart Politics

Bill Moyers is probably the most credible progressive in US Media. In fact, Moyers left US media around the time when or media future became that of ratings groveling entertainment and political tools.  

The following pieces is rather lengthy and includes an audio segment from Moyers and Company.

Yes, we are now much more inclined to vote with other than a fully deployed brain.

Bill Moyers: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics

April 15, 2016
This post first appeared on
Bill Moyers, photo by Dale Robbins

The historian Rick Shenkman is editor and publisher of the indispensable website History News Network. I’m a fan and recently had the pleasure of reading his latest book, Political Animals: How Our Stone-age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics.

Shenkman himself possesses quite a highly evolved brain, but he nonetheless admits he has his own share of stone-age brain cells. However, there is no club in his hand at the moment, just this book, which frankly, packs all the wallop he needs. If you want to know why this is the year of Trump, you’ve got to read it. If you want to know why millions of Republicans still believe Barack Obama is a Muslim, you’ve got to read it. Even if you want to hold on and remain an optimist, you’ve got to read it.

This week, I sat down with Rick Shenkman to talk about the brain of the American voter, and what is firing its synapses during this extraordinary primary season. 

Listen to our conversation by clicking on our stream below. You can also download it and take it with you, or scroll down to read the full transcript.


Bill Moyers: Greetings. This is Bill Moyers. And I’m here to see if we can step out of our stone-age brain for a few minutes while we talk about politics. What’s that? You’re insulted? You don’t have a stone-age brain? That’s what you think. As you’re about to hear, part of us is perpetually Pleistocene. Our roots wind back two and a half million years to hairy-faced ancestors with thick hands and short stubby fingers wrapped around big clubs that will carry them from the cave as they head out for another day of hunting and gathering. It’s true, there’s a little bit of the primitive in all of us; and more than a little bit in many of us. And that’s why Rick Shenkman is sitting across from me at this very minute. That’s right, Rick Shenkman, the historian, editor and publisher of the indispensable website History News Network. That’s where I often begin my day, after of course checking in with History News Network is rich in the perspectives of the past that help us see more clearly the politics of the present.
Rick Shenkman is a scholar of the American voter. In 2008 he published a book titled Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter. And now, as another presidential campaign unfolds like a runaway circus parade, his new book couldn’t be more timely. Jot down the title: Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics.

Rick Shenkman, welcome to our show.

Shenkman: Thank you, glad to be here.
Moyers: Were you surprised, have you been surprised, that Donald Trump has been so able to play on the fears of the American voter?

Shenkman: No. You know, I was really shocked by the popularity of Bernie Sanders. But when Donald Trump came along down that escalator back in June at Trump Tower and he started talking about the outsider, basically these Mexican immigrants who were coming across the border without proper papers, I thought, this guy has got a chance. I didn’t think he would go all the way. I’m surprised by that. But I was not shocked that he found an audience for his message.

Moyers: True story: Speaking of an audience, I walked into the grocery store yesterday near my apartment. The stock manager sidled up to me in the bread section and said, “What a circus, what a circus,” referring obviously to the New York primary. I had hardly got the words—seriously, I had hardly got the words ‘Donald Trump’ out of my mouth before he interrupted me. “That Trump is something,” he said. “He tells it like it is. And he’s right, you know, both political parties have stacked the deck against guys like me.”  Then he paused and he said, “But nobody pays any attention if I say it.”  I mean, is that his stone-age brain speaking?

Shenkman: That is his stone-age brain speaking. So the stone-age brain is the brain that developed during the Pleistocene. The Pleistocene is the long ice age, it lasted two and a half million years, and that’s when the human brain was mainly evolving. We’re still evolving as human beings. We haven’t stopped evolving, we’re continuing to evolve. But it was during that period that we mainly evolved. And we evolved to address the problems of hunter-gatherers who lived during that period.

I give a talk on this. I just was up at Sarah Lawrence and talking to a bunch of students and I show them a video clip of a Trump voter who CNN put on the air and she points with both hands to her brain and she says, “Donald Trump is in my brain, he knows what I’m thinking.”
Susan DeLemus, Trump Supporter: I watch the television and my president comes on the TV and he lies to me! I know he’s lying, he lies all the time. I don’t believe any one of them. Not one. I believe Donald. I’m telling you. He says what I’m thinking!

He actually doesn’t know what you’re thinking, he knows what you’re feeling, and that’s what an awful lot of politics is. When a politician talks anger and they talk fear, they are mainlining, just like a heroin addict, going straight for the most sensitive parts of the brain because fear and anger are those emotions that we really relate to. And when a politician engages and indulges people’s fears and their angers, they seem really authentic. That’s why Donald Trump seems so authentic to so many millions of people because these emotions are so strong and powerful.

Moyers: Why are anger and fear so paramount in the stone-age brain?

Shenkman: For people who were very sensitive to anger and fear, apparently, our evolution proves it, that was a habit of thinking that contributed to their survival, to their fitness.

Moyers: They’ll take more precautions than somebody who doesn’t hear the alarm go off, right?

Shenkman: Exactly. There is something called the false alarm bias. What happens is our brains are like good detectors in your home that are looking for gas or for something else, some sign of fire—

Moyers: Carbon monoxide.

Shenkman: Exactly.

Moyers: Burglars.

Shenkman: Exactly, burglars. They’re on a hair-trigger alert. They just detect a little bit and all of a sudden they start blaring. Well, our brain comes with a similar mechanism and that is to help protect us from danger. So the people who are going to be more likely to survive a dangerous attack were those who would be able to be sensitive to when a dangerous attack was coming.
When Donald Trump is attacking Mexican immigrants or Muslims just trying to come visit the United States, he is activating this deep-seated cognitive bias that we have, which is the false alarm bias. We want to make sure that we respond to a fire alarm. And if it’s a false alarm, that’s okay, because the fire alarm goes off, everybody gets excited, they go out on the sidewalk and then they come back in five minutes later. So, meh, it’s okay. But if you miss a fire alarm, oh my gosh, you’re really, really in trouble. We’ve got this bias that basically says we’re going to react to the fire alarm, even if we’re going to err on the side of better be safe than sorry.
And when Donald Trump and these other politicians activate that bias, what happens is it swamps critical thinking. We have higher order cognitive functions and we are able to evaluate the world as it is and not give in and surrender to these automatic responses. But when a politician activates that response, it’s very, very, difficult in the moment to think clearly. And that’s what these politicians are doing.

Moyers: Sometimes the alarm is for real.

Shenkman: Yes.

Moyers: Sometimes there really is a burglar in the house or the carbon monoxide is seeping under the door. And there are times when Donald Trump is telling the truth, right? I mean this guy in the grocery store was right, the two major parties have stacked the deck against guys like him. So that truth has gotten through the fog of deception. Is that because it’s a truth that they have experienced, that they are right now experiencing a system that has screwed them, and so therefore they believe Trump?

Shenkman: Yes. Exactly. So there’s something that the social scientists refer to as perceptual salience, and basically what that means is that we respond to the signals in the environment that we’re familiar with. So anytime we hear some evidence of something in our own experience, or we’re seeing it on the news constantly, that becomes part of our social reality. And we live in that soup of all these mixed signals out there. And what Donald Trump is doing when he’s saying the political parties are corrupt, as soon as he says it, it’s politically salient because we’ve all heard evidence of the corruption of the two major parties and how they managed to get themselves elected; or to elect their people; and how rich people contribute money to the campaigns; and the corruption, and all that. That’s salient because we hear all about it. So all a politician has to do is touch that button and one of his supporters will say, “Oh, yes.”  So it rings true.

Moyers: It’s also true, isn’t it, that we don’t like cognitive dissonance—that when we get these storms in our head, we get stressful and perturbed, and we want to run from them? So cognitive dissonance is something that we want to get rid of as soon as we experience it and, if we feel it, we turn away.

Shenkman: Sure and this helps explain why millions of people still believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya. It’s incredible to any thinking person that anybody could believe that, but these people aren’t thinking, they are reacting.

Moyers: Reacting to?

Shenkman: Well, in their small circle, they’re hearing from people suspicions about Barack Obama: Is he really an American? Isn’t he really a Muslim underneath it all and wasn’t he born in Kenya? And they hear that and that plays into a narrative, a metanarrative, a metacognition that resonates with them. And they piece together all of these little bits of evidence that contribute to their feeling that he’s not really entitled to be president of the United States, whether it’s because he’s black or because he’s too liberal or whatever it is. So they create this metanarrative in their head and everything that is consistent with that metanarrative, they wind up believing. And everything that is inconsistent with it—that would give them cognitive dissonance if they were to try to hold that thought in mind in addition to the other thoughts—they get rid of. They get rid of it.

Moyers: I understand that, I would understand that better if you were talking about a thimble-full of voters. But as you point out in Political Animals, 43 percent of Republicans believe that about Barack Obama; that he is a Muslim not born in America.

Shenkman: Yeah.

Moyers: That’s a lot of people.

Shenkman: That’s a lot of people. It’s millions and millions of people. So eight years ago I wrote a book called Just How Stupid Are We? as you mentioned. I was appalled by the statistics coming out during the Bush years that so many millions of people thought that we were invading Iraq out of revenge because Saddam Hussein had something important to do with 9/11. Now there was no truth to that, but if we can’t get the most basic facts right about the most important event of our time, 9/11, that says our democracy is in trouble. I went around the country trying to scream, “Hey, we have a 10-alarm fire, we have a 10-alarm fire!”  But I really did not get the attention of the media. Then Donald Trump came along and now everybody’s saying, “Well, we have a 10-alarm fire.”  OK, great, I no longer am Cassandra shouting to the winds. People are paying attention to this problem. It’s a very serious problem.

Moyers: Is it true that the warning we were talking about doesn’t work if the person speaking believes his or her own lies?

Shenkman: This is the key. When a politician, just like a used car salesman, believes their own lies — and most of the time they believe what they’re saying — then our natural defense mechanism, our natural McAfee for the brain, as I call it, goes into somnolence. It goes to sleep.

Moyers: To sleep.

Shenkman: Right. We need to feel that somebody is lying to us for our cheater detection system to work. We’ve got to, on some level, conscious and unconscious, sense that they’re twitching; their voice is going higher; they’re being a little bit nervous in what they’re saying. If they’re not giving off those signals, we believe what they’re saying. Unless we have access to contrary information that will help us say, “Oh, wait a minute. What he’s saying is different. It’s adverse to what I know to be true.”  Then that creates some dissonance, and then we have to deal with that.

Moyers: How do we know if the liar believes he’s telling the truth?

Shenkman: Well, it goes back to this perceptual salience. So everything we know about a person, we bring all that information to bear when we’re making an assessment about who they are. And if what they’re telling us about who they are is adverse to what all that other information says, well then there’s a conflict and now you’re forcing the voter to have to make a choice between what they know and what you’re telling them. And you know what? They are going to go with what they know. We privilege information that we already believe to be true. And when we hear contrary information to that, boy, that’s a high hurdle for it to make before we’ll change our opinion.

Moyers: This partisan brain you talk about— I say, ‘Ouch,’ when you say that, because none of us likes to think we have a partisan brain, particularly journalists. We like to think we have a nonpartisan, or at least a bipartisan brain. But Trump’s voters, have they not been ridiculed for their willingness to overlook his inconsistencies? And isn’t that what all voters do once they’ve become committed to a particular candidate?

Shenkman: Exactly. When I was a college student at Vassar, I was a conservative back then, and I was a true blue conservative supporter of Richard Nixon. So I was there during the years of Watergate. And I stuck by him almost until the end, only two months before he finally resigned, I was one of those dumb 23 percent who still believed that guy’s lies right up until almost near the end. And why was that? I was paying attention. I was reading the paper. I was watching the Watergate hearings. The next day I would read in the newspaper the transcripts. I was studying this stuff, and still I stuck by Richard Nixon. It makes no sense in retrospect. I thought I was being a thinking voter, but I was actually not. I was using what Daniel Kahneman calls “system one thinking.” I was just reacting. I wasn’t using higher order cognitive thinking, which is “system two thinking,” where I sit back and I question my own assumptions. That’s what voters need to do — second-guess our automatic reactions. That’s the main theme of the book. Don’t trust your instincts.

Moyers: You were not alone, because after Watergate, after the scandal broke, after all the exposés, after millions of people knew that Richard Nixon was a crook — he was reelected. What’s at work there?

Shenkman: Once we commit to a candidate, we become engaged with that candidate, and we’re no longer defending the candidate. We’re defending our vote for that candidate. So once we make a commitment to a politician, it is very difficult for us to change our minds about the politician, because it’s no longer about the politician. At that point, it’s about us. Politics in the end is always about the voters. It’s not about the politicians. The media, I think, make a mistake in constantly talking about the politicians as if that’s what matters in an election. That’s not what matters. What matters is the voters’ response.

Moyers: My friend Mike Lofgren spent over 30 years as a top congressional staff member — a Republican, by the way, a career civil servant in Congress. He made the point recently that while the Washington establishment dismisses Donald Trump as a buffoon who doesn’t understand the intricacies of national security policies, some of what Trump says underscores how foolish those policies are. He’s been calling out the Democratic and Republican strategy in foreign policy and national security for the last many years and the elites can’t stand that this buffoon is exposing the folly of their strategies. Any truth to that?

Shenkman: Absolutely there’s truth. Trump, in the middle of one of these incredible circus GOP debates, said that George W. Bush didn’t keep us safe. And, oh my gosh, the reaction of the crowd was just hostile. Well, that’s true, right? He didn’t keep us safe. 9/11 happened while -- it was on his watch. So that was Donald Trump saying something that no Republican wanted to hear and that Barak Obama never even said as president or as a candidate. He didn’t want to go there. Here was Donald Trump actually telling the truth about something and it was a taboo. The elite didn’t want to go there. They didn’t want to break this mystique. Obama for his own reasons, he wanted to be the president who brought us together and if he brought us together, he couldn’t do it after roasting the previous incumbent administration for 9/11. Nobody wanted to talk the truth. So we can thank Donald Trump for a few truths.

Moyers: Where you do you see the stone-age brain at work in the candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders?

Shenkman: Well, I think that their voters, while they’re primarily not the low-information voters that Donald Trump is drawing, they’re also making assumptions about these candidates that are favorable to the opinion that they previously had arrived at about these candidates. So the Bernie Sanders people aren’t bothered, for instances, about the interview that he gave with the Daily News editorial board, where he seemed a little spotty in his answers to questions that are fundamental to his campaign. The same with Hillary Clinton supporters, they seem like they’re not paying too much attention to this whole email mess. They have a million excuses for why it’s not really a big deal and maybe it will turn out to not be a big deal. But we all have the capacity as voters to try to rationalize for our candidates what they have done. But we all have the capacity as voters to try to rationalize for our candidates what they have done. And it’s because, in the end, it’s not about them; it’s about the choices that we previously made. Once you as a voter make a choice for a candidate, you will then act as their spinner. You are spinning and spinning just like you were on the campaign staff.

Moyers: What’s the best hand to hold in this game? A fistful of cards that offer hope, or a fistful of cards that produce anger? Which is the greater motivator — fear or hope?

Shenkman: Fear and anger connect with people much more viscerally than hope does. Now if all the stars aligned, a guy with a hopeful message, like Barack Obama eight years ago, is able to triumph. But we’re living in a period right now where a lot of the problems from ’08 haven’t been solved and people feel like the crooks never faced their comeuppance. We see constantly on television evidence before our eyes of Muslim extremists blowing stuff up. It’s very disconcerting. In this period of high vulnerability, we are much more likely to be susceptible to an unthinking, automatic favorable response to a fear or anger message.
Now here’s the problem, where it gets complicated. When Martin Luther King was organizing marches in the 1950s, he had to count on people getting angry about Bull Conner unleashing those mad dogs on protesters down in the South. But he was leading a minority movement. A minority movement—whether it was the Civil Rights Movement in the ‘50s and ‘60s, or Act Up for gay people protesting the negligence towards AIDS victims in the 1980s — for those people, they need anger to create energy and social cohesion for their group, as they’re facing incredible odds. But, when a majority of the voters are angry, we can’t think straight. It’s not good.
Democracy doesn’t work if everybody’s angry at everybody, because anger literally stops us from wanting to compromise. Anger emanates primarily from the insula in the brain. And when the insula is activated, we don’t compromise. When we are anxious, which is the amygdala part of the brain, that’s okay. We can be anxious about stuff and we’ll still be willing to compromise. But when we go toward this dark anger, and a majority do, everything stops and that’s really my diagnosis of why the country is in so much trouble right now.

Moyers: Can a democracy die of too many lies?

Shenkman: Well, this is an experiment in which we are guinea pigs. Through most of American history, Americans trusted their leaders and their primary institutions. And then, beginning in the 1960s, between Vietnam and then Watergate, and Iran-Contra and the inflation of the 1970s, all of that together really assaulted our sense of trust. In the early 1960s, before all that happened, trust was at a level of somewhere like 70 percent. If you asked the average American, “Do you trust that that the president, most of the time, is going to do what’s right for the country,” 70 percent of Americans said yes. Now it’s like 20, 25 percent. You see these low trust figures for both Trump and for Hillary. It’s just appalling. Can a democracy work if people don’t trust the major players and the major institutions? Who knows? We’re going to find out. Mass democracy is not but a couple hundred years old. It’s an experiment we’re on.

Moyers: You probably don’t believe that history repeats itself, but I know it keeps knocking on the same door from time to time. And as you talk I’m thinking we’re up on the 50th year of Lyndon Johnson’s departure from the presidency in 1968, humiliated, disgraced, disillusioned. I think some of the audience, as you know, know that I worked the first and middle years of that administration and then left in ’67. I was not around in ’68 when he played with the idea of running again.

Lyndon Johnson was a president whose credibility kept sinking. He kept saying the war could be won, the war will be won, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. And facts on the ground proved him wrong. So that by the early part of ’68, the perception of LBJ was of a chronic liar, a man who was deceiving the country. Now in retrospect, and at the time, I think he believed the war could be won. I really do. I really think he thought the war would be won. And he kept pressing on until it was too late to realize he was wrong. Are there other presidents in our history who have been brought down by the perception of lying just as Lyndon Johnson was?

Shenkman: It’s interesting, some presidents are brought down by it and some totally escape it. So just as a point of contrast, let’s talk about Grover Cleveland. Grover Cleveland in the 19th century was a Democrat who got elected in the shortest timeline of any president in our history. He went from being the sheriff of Erie County, to the governor of New York, to president of the United States, in three years. That’s a remarkable -- people think that Barack Obama came from out of nowhere; Grover Cleveland came from out of nowhere. Why? Well, because it was the Gilded Age. Politics was so corrupt, the American people were willing to try the presidency on anybody as long as they seemed to be honest. So his nickname was Honest Grover.
He gets into office and what happens? He’s a fairly middle-of-the-road president, kind of a conservative Democrat. He winds up winning the popular vote for reelection but losing the Electoral College. He goes away for four years. He then comes back for the next term. Right after he’s taking office in his next term, all of a sudden, he discovers cancer — cancer of the jaw. He has to undergo an emergency operation and he creates this elaborate lie saying that he’s going on summer vacation and he’s going to be out of touch with the media, and with everybody, for a couple of months. And he goes off to Cape Cod to recover. He has this operation actually out on a yacht in the ocean, where nobody else can see it, or hear about it. And he puts his people out to lie — to absolutely lie.
After he comes back to the presidency, reporters were kind of suspicious. They didn’t buy this argument that he had just disappeared for a couple of months and everything was fine. They were suspicious. Some of them even said, “Does he have cancer?” Even back then, the big C word. But he put his people out; they told the lie, and the lie held. It held even after a Philadelphia paper published the truth on the front page. The public had ingrained in their head that Grover was “Honest Grover Cleveland.”  And because not enough evidence came out that he was guilty of lying about this, and this, and this, and this, and this, he was able to get away with his lies. And to this day, most people don’t know this story. I’m fascinated by it. He got away with it.
So why didn’t Lyndon Johnson get away with his lies but Grover Cleveland got away with his? Well, because one of the ways that we track people — and this is part of our cheater detection system — is that we can pay attention to people’s reputation. Cleveland basically had a reputation that he was honest and LBJ had a reputation, following him all the way from his Senate days, that maybe he’s not totally trustworthy. And that’s what led to his undoing.

Moyers: Landslide Lyndon.

Shenkman: Landslide Lyndon from ’48.

Moyers: Do you recall how Lyndon Johnson was reviled for being crude and vulgar when he showed the scar of his gall bladder operation to the public? Pulled it back on the grounds of Bethesda Hospital?
Shenkman: It was an incredible moment.
Moyers: It was incredible. You know why he did that? He did that because we knew that people were circulating that he had cancer; that he was in more trouble than we had said he was. And then he just said, “By God, I will show them.”  So he pulled back his gown and there was the scar, which ultimately became the map of Vietnam in the hands of the cartoonists. But that was because, long after Grover Cleveland, he wanted people to know he was telling the truth, he really wasn’t suffering from cancer.

Shenkman: Well, here’s what’s interesting to me as a historian. I wrote a book called Presidential Ambition, and one of the things I was doing was tracking presidents lying. Almost all of them lied, except for George Washington, because he was handed power on a platter. He won the Electoral College unanimously, OK? None of his successors have. All of them have been under such pressure cooker pressure that they wound up lying, fudging the truth, compromising their principles, selling out friends, sacrificing people who were supporters, all of this horrible stuff.
But here’s the interesting thing. With these presidents, we find that they are telling the truth as they see it convenient for them. And there’s one issue though that they will lie about the most. It’s their health, to bring it back to LBJ and his scar. It’s their health. That’s what they lie about the most, because it’s personal. I think it’s really helpful to think about politicians as primates. No alpha primate wants to ever let the primates below him, with lower status, know that he is ill. That’s what our presidents do.
The fact that Lyndon Johnson was worried about a president being called on the carpet for telling a lie about his health, well, of course his immediate predecessor, Jack Kennedy, had lied tremendously about his own health. He had Addison’s disease. It was a terribly crippling illness. He probably couldn’t have survived a full two terms, if he had lived and hadn’t been assassinated, because of this illness. He was being shot full of drugs every day just to be able to get up out of bed. But he wasn’t going to allow that for two reasons: One, if you’re the dominant politician, you want to be able to say, “I’m healthy.” That contributes to this aura of dominance. But, two, you want to be able to control the national conversation. And if you’re sick, all of a sudden, all anybody’s going to want to talk about is that you’re sick.

Moyers: When I was the press secretary at the White House, I once asked the great reporter in Vietnam, David Halberstam, who’s telling the truth out there? And David thought a moment and replied, “Everybody.” Everybody sees what is happening through the lens of their own experience. Do we ever get to the truth if we do that?

Shenkman: I’m a historian, right? People who aren’t historians think that you go look up the truth in a history book and that’s it. But if you ask any professional historian, they will tell you that every generation rewrites the history books, because history is, as Richard Curran said, an argument without end. That’s what history is all about. There is no way to consult the gods on Mount Olympus and say, you know, “Give us the truth of what really happened.”
We think the voters want the truth. The voters don’t want the truth any more than you and I want the truth. You and I don’t want to be told some truth that makes us uncomfortable about ourselves. The voters don’t want to be told some truth that makes them uncomfortable about their choices. And that’s why myths are so powerful. These are metanarratives that help explain who we are and what values we cherish. And they are mostly what elections wind up being about. We’re not really trying to decide the truth in elections. We’re trying to decide which candidate’s myth we prefer. And that’s easy, that’s much easier than trying to decide what the facts are.

Moyers: Do you believe facts matter anymore?

Shenkman: I love facts. But I am not so self-deluded as to believe that the myths in the end don’t trump the facts. The myths, just like beliefs, trump the facts. For instance: The myth that Ronald Reagan won the Cold War. That’s been dissected 20 times over from every angle, on the left and the right, and the thoughtful people say, “Okay, he did not singlehandedly win the Cold War. Maybe the Pope played a role. Maybe—”

Moyers: —Gorbachev played a role.

Shenkman: “—Gorbachev played a role. Maybe the price of oil declining and bankrupting the country of the Soviet Union, that played a role.” All kinds of people played a role. Truman played a role in setting up the Cold War national security apparatus that we put to use for 40 years in battling the Soviet Union during the Cold War, so lots of factors. And as a historian, I love complexity. I don’t like these single answer solutions. But for the American people, Ronald Reagan won the Cold War. That’s a myth. That helps them understand the world. That’s what these myths do. The world is a very complicated place. We want something that’s simple.

Moyers: Al Gore learned that when he tried to confront the American people with the inconvenient truth of global warming, of climate change. And what he discovered is that billions of people simply dismissed it, and were so affronted by it, that they became ardent opponents of the whole idea of global warming and climate change.
Shenkman: Yes. Historians like to play the “What if?” game. My “What if?” game is—if only Al Gore had been president in 2000, instead of George Bush winning the presidency, what a different world we would be living in.

Moyers: Speaking of the year 2000, when George W. Bush beat Al Gore, you claim that George W. Bush won in part, particularly in Florida, because of a severe drought. Right? Talk about that.

Shenkman: I open the book with the research by Larry Bartels and Chris Achen. They are two of the most preeminent social scientists in America, and they did research showing that droughts and flood have affected the outcome of up to a dozen presidential elections in the last hundred years. They went back from 1896 all the way to 2000. And they found that the weather actually affects the outcome; it can move the needle by one or two percent. Well, in a lot of these close elections, that can be enough.
And in Florida they were having a severe drought that was affecting the election. They do these regression analyses that show by historic measures Gore should have won by X number of votes. And in fact, he wasn’t winning and where was he not winning? He was not winning in the counties he should have won in by historical projections where the drought was most severe. That was northern Florida. What does that tell you? That tells you that voting is in part an irrational act and we delude ourselves in thinking that we’re rational creatures. We’re emotional creatures, we respond to things. When bad things happen to us that have nothing to do with politics, like bad weather, a drought or a flood, we want to take it out on the incumbent. And this is true of people all over the world. It’s something that’s embedded in human nature.

Moyers: That we blame the incumbent for the act of God.

Shenkman: Yes.

Moyers: There’s something else going on that intrigues me, and I wanted to ask you about. One of your historian colleagues, Heather Cox at Boston College, recently wrote an article about how wealthy, white elites protect themselves. And I thought about this in reference to my friend at the grocery store who was saying, “Trump is right, the two parties have collaborated and they’ve ganged up on me, and people like me.” Donald Trump, who’s not known for being a polite competitor. He’s known for being ruthless, for the art the deal, for firing people in prime time. And yet this fellow thinks that Donald Trump, this ruffian billionaire, he’s going to protect his financial interests. And he sounded like he’s going to vote for Trump on that basis. Is that the stone-age brain speaking to us?

Shenkman: I believe that is the stone-age brain speaking to us. A voter, his feeling, his nervous system — that’s what we’re talking about, his nervous system—is getting angst. He’s having anxious moments over what seems to be happening. In the soup of information that he is living in, he’s getting negative signals. Trump is connecting with that negative signal and he’s saying, “I’ve got a solution.” He doesn’t spell out exactly how his solutions, building a wall, excluding Muslims, is going to help this guy and his family do better in the world, but somehow because Trump is rich and powerful and he’s been a known quantity for years — he’s familiar — all of a sudden, the guy says, “I want to defer to him. I think he’ll know how to get us out of this situation.” Because, at least, Trump is dealing with something real in that guy’s world. Whereas a lot of the other politicians, Hillary Clinton, she’s really got this problem:  It is not clear when somebody votes for Hillary Clinton what emotion they’re supposed to be feeling. We know what a Donald Trump voter is feeling. We know what a Bernie Sanders voter is feeling. It’s not clear what a Hillary Clinton voter is supposed to be feeling. And the election, in the end, is always about the voter. She’s made the campaign about herself. She has not made it about her voters. Until she figures that out, she’s going to struggle.

Moyers: Is it conceivable to you that if Trump were not misogynist, if he were not racist, if he were not speaking crudities the way he does, if he were not so seemingly perpetually a liar — otherwise — he’d be a hell of a candidate right now, in this time, when there’s so much disillusion with elites, with the establishment, with the economy, with what’s happening to everyday people?

Shenkman: If Donald Trump had more self-discipline, I’d say he’d be well on his way to being the next President of the United States. That’s all it would’ve taken was self-discipline. He still could have made his appeals to people’s anger, but he wasn’t self-disciplined enough. And Teddy White gives us the reason for that.

Moyers: The late reporter who wrote several volumes on American presidential candidates.

Shenkman: Exactly. In one of those books, he said that presidents get into office and they think, “Wow, I’m president of the United States. I must have gotten here because of who I am and how I operate.”  They read into their success a lesson, and the lesson is, “I should continue to operate the same way I have been operating, because it got me to the most powerful job in the world.” Donald Trump got to where he was by saying misogynistic things and xenophobic things and all this other stuff, and telling lies. He got to where he is in the GOP primary campaign by saying these things. He’s now learning — he’s only been in politics for a little while — but he’s learning the lesson that, “Oh, this worked, this worked, this worked.” And even though he’s being told now he’s got to change, he’s got to pivot, and good presidents know that they have to pivot, he is instinctively saying, “But I got to where I am by being me.”

Moyers: And there certainly is a backlash. Lies are like boomerangs. They can come back and decapitate the person who throws them out there. There was a story in The New York Times recently, “A barrage of attack ads threatens to undermine Donald Trump.” And the reporters go on to say there’s evidence that the negative ads still work and that they are beginning to take a toll on Trump because, according to one Republican strategist, “The best way to go after Trump is to use the bombastic billionaire’s own words against him.”  And they’re doing that now. If you look at these ads running right now in the New York markets, because of the primary coming up next Tuesday, they’re all relentlessly negative about Trump but they’re throwing back at him, like boomerangs, his own language, his own words.

Shenkman: That’s, heaven help us, one of the things that might save us from a Trump presidency. I wrote the book not thinking that I would have a hopeful message at the end, and then the more I read the scientific literature, the more I became convinced there are real strong grounds for optimism. And here’s the primary reason: because every human being comes equipped with a mechanism that creates anxiety when the real world comes into strong conflict with their beliefs. When we, over time, become convinced that something in the outside world is at variance with what we believe about the world, then we become anxious and that opens our mind to change. We are not just partisan voters. We don’t just have a partisan brain that makes us stuck forever with a bad candidate or a bad system or bad politics. We can change when we become anxious. When we start getting that little niggling feeling that, “Oh something seems wrong here, I need to investigate it.”

Moyers: The book is Political Animals: How Our Stone-age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics. Rick Shenkman, thank you very much for being with me.
Shenkman: Thank you Bill.