Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Bellwethers, Indicators, and Omens: The Rhetorical Impact of Special Elections and Micro-Movements

As I was pulling into the university parking lot today, I realized that my mind was instinctively looking not just for free parking spaces, but also behavioral patterns that might indicate to me whether the other spaces were empty. This made me think about how we, as humans, by nature or nurture think in this way, and how that endows some events or images with profound meaning, or at least meaning beyond the event itself.

Here is the parking situation I face every day:
- If you come to the university between 7 and 8 am, the world is your oister. You can pretty much pick and choose your preferred parking space. The lots closest to the entrances go first (we have just one large building on campus).
- If you come after 9 am you'll be lucky if you don't have to park across the street by the hotel or fitness center.
- If you come between 8 and 9 am you will find a spot, but the best (closest to the entrances) will most likely be taken, though you may get lucky.

This morning I had to drop my daughter off at school, so I arrived between 8 and 9 am. As I entered the parking area I immediately started looking for signs or indicators (as all of you probably do). We know some of the familiar ones:
- If a car enters a parking lot and then exits it, that parking lot is full.
- If the parking lots furthest from the entrance are jam packed, that means those closest to the entrance are all taken. The same goes if some pseudo-lots (could work, but not marked) are taken.

And then there is this peculiar one that I have found at my university:
- If the parking lot in the corner with the greatest chance of getting boxed in or getting a scratch while maneuvering is taken, then the lot is full.
- If that and another space is empty, then there is a good chance for more empty spaces too.

The space I am talking about is this one in the corner, where the black/grey car is parked
The space next to the two birch trees is an indicator for the parking lot capacity
It occurred to me that we use the same kind of thinking in a lot of ways to try to predict the future or make estimates beyond what we have knowledge of at the moment. They are used in politics (often to describe by-elections), economic forecasts, weather forecasts, statistical analyses, and (more anciently) to tell fortunes or predict the success of a battle or war. Hume would claim that all of these are superstitions, but they have proved their value in the past. In either case, whether or not we like it, it seems we as humans are hard-wired or trained to think in these terms.

We have different words for these signs, with some different meanings and implications:

A bellwether (originally meaning a male castrated sheep wearing a bell) has come to mean one that leads or takes initiative, or actively establishes a trend that is taken up by others (a little podcast about the word available here). The parking space in question cannot be a bellwether in this case, since the parking space is not an agent and therefore not able to actively establish a trend or take initiative. However, the first car that abandons the attempt of finding an empty spot in the lot can become a bellwether. If I and five others behind me saw that, we likely won't even try that parking lot. The problem with designating something a bellwether (and talking about signs of the future in general) is that you can only clearly establish the truth of the statement afterwards. It can be factually true that "this proved to be a bellwether of the market," or "this company has often been a bellwether," but "this company is a bellwether" can never be anything but an unsubstantiated claim about the future. I and the cars behind me might now follow the lead of that first car at all.

Everyone wants to be a leader, nobody wants to be a lone wolf or that one weird guy that walked off by himself, but the difference between a bellwether and a freak or anomaly is first determined after the first step has been taken. A leader has to walk alone in the beginning in order to lead, to establish a new direction. Leadership is lonely, at least at first. But if the flock doesn't follow, what then? Then it's suddenly not leadership but egotism or deviant/disobedient/anomalous behavior.

Look at the example of Republican Senator Jeff Flake and his recent powerful speech denouncing Trump and the current administration. The speech makes it clear that he wants to be a leader and he predicts that he will be a bellwether: 

"This spell will eventually break. That is my belief. We will return to ourselves once more, and I say the sooner the better. Because to have a healthy government we must have healthy and functioning parties. We must respect each other again in an atmosphere of shared facts and shared values, comity and good faith. We must argue our positions fervently, and never be afraid to compromise. We must assume the best of our fellow man, and always look for the good. Until that days comes, we must be unafraid to stand up and speak out as if our country depends on it. Because it does."

Without doubt, this is a call to the flock to follow his lead. It is a speech with the grandeur and visionary statements customary when leaders set out a new course, and it has appeals to emotions, patriotism, and the principles many of the other members of the Senate have mentioned themselves often. But will he prove to be a bellwether, or will he be a lone lost sheep from the Republican fold? It all depends on how many others are willing to follow his lead. As Evan McMullin and others argue here, the difference between the two can depend on very few people bringing it over the tipping point.

However, by calling something or someone a bellwether you may actually influence whether or not a person actually becomes a bellwether. In the clip above, the panelists compare Jeff Flake to those who spake out against Senator McCarthy and finally were able to bring about his downfall. Those people were bellwethers, but many other people who have spoken out against dominant trends ended up just being lone wolves howling to the moon. 

This is what Cicero and later Chaim Perelman called "the argument from definition." As Perelman writes, “Every time an idea can be defined in more than one way, ‘to define’ comes to mean to make a choice” (62). The White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is trying to define Senator Flake's words as the exit of a lone wolf ostracized by the flock. If other Republican leaders see the action in that light, then they will be more unlikely to want to follow. After all, who wants to follow a madman into the desert? If, on the other hand, Jeff Flake and other people can define the act as that of a bellwether, a leader, someone who actively establishes a trend which others then follow, then people are also more likely to join the effort, add their voices and influence to boost it, and actively develop the potential trend to make it dominant or at least significant.

The argument works because our mind constantly strives to be ahead of the future in order to safeguard our well-being and that of those around us, and so we are willing to accept unsubstantiated arguments about the future because these are often the best we have. In any case, it is a possible future which we may be able to help bring to pass.

An indicator is a word commonly used in science and technology, and it does not have the same requirement as a bellwether of active involvement. The car in the space by the two birches is an indicator that the parking lot is full. An indicator is something which indicates. To indicate is either to point out or show, or to suggest something as a desirable or necessary course of action. It originally comes from Latin "indicare," meaning to point out or show something with your finger. In chemistry, it means "a compound which changes colour at a specific pH value or in the presence of a particular substance." The compound points to or shows that a specific pH value has been reached or that a specific substance is present in the mixture.

A bellwether actually has to do something, but indicators can often simply be events or objects which point to or show us something else. A beating pulse is a key indicator of life, your breath turning to steam is an indication of minus degrees (Celsius) temperatures, and a surprising defeat in a by-election may indicate that popular sentiment is turning against your party. 

Of course, not all things called indicators have a necessary correlation with what they are intended or purported to show or point to. And one can also choose which indicators to focus on or view as significant. Is the popular vote or the electoral college the best way to indicate which candidate had the most support (or was least disliked)? What are the best indicators for popular sentiment or wealth distribution? At the fringes, indicators become any potential sign of future intentions or actions, and people search words for hidden meanings, weightings, or indications of what else is to come. Again, this may be done unconsciously or consciously in order to support your ideological narrative. 

The Left in America claim the future belongs to them, because students vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, but this has also been the case for many years and has not significantly changed the balance in American politics. Yet after every election lost by the Democrats one sees articles and posts about this same "ray of hope." I have read them ever since Al Gore's defeat in 2000, and they were repeated with Kerry's defeat in 2004. They were turned to exultations about the future when Obama won in 2008, and were offered again as solace when Clinton lost in 2016. There is a saying that "A man who has not been a socialist before 25 has no heart. If he remains one after 25 he has no head." Whether or not that is the case, it seems to be a prevalent trend that the radical youth vote turns into the considerably more conservative adult vote and most conservative senior vote. But what do these facts indicate? What do they point to or show? And can they give us any meaningful data or hunches about the future?

Well, some indicators are seen as more meaningful than others, so a lot of attention flocks to them. And that makes it important for certain groups to create indicators even when they don't occur naturally. This is where by-elections or special elections come in. These are elections held outside the normal campaign season, and are for that reason given disproportionate attention and endowed with disproportionate importance. Opinion polls are all well and good, but the only way to understand how people will actually vote is to actually have them make a vote that counts. Special elections are given lofty titles such as "a referendum on the President" and huge amounts of money are poured into a race that, in terms of actual political influence, has very little effect overall. In Georgia's sixth district special election, over 50 million dollars were spent to convince the roughly 250,000 voters, totaling about 250 dollars per vote.

Why did they do this? It was because both sides hoped this election could have a signal effect and become an indicator to their supporters as to which side was winning and would be winning in 2018 and 2020. For the next year, whenever the Democrats claimed they were winning the Republicans would be able to say "look at the Georgia sixth district election." Even though the huge amounts of money spent made the indicator really an unreliable and artificial one, both sides still saw enough value in securing it for their side to spend over 25 million dollars each. This huge symbol effect connected to a single event brings us close to the next point, the omen.

An omen can be any event or object that is believed to foretell the future, and often signifies the advent of change. It is a slippery slope argument to say that "the factory in town closed down, a recession must be coming" and yet we all at times feel gloom gathering or think "the writing is on the wall" for some momentous future event. "People in the ancient times believed that omens lie with a divine message from their gods." We may claim in the modern world to have put such feelings and notions behind us, but they pop up in all kinds of predictions about the future, from election forecasts to sport outcomes. Here is a star Norwegian coach who towards the end of two defining matches (one to avoid relegation and the other to become league champions) said he got the feeling "it's not meant to be." 

The inauguration refers to the old Roman role of the augurs, who were supposed to read the guts of animals in order to determine what the likely outcome of a policy would be. In that role, they were searching for omens of the favor or disfavor of the gods. Moments and images in politics and history have been seen as omens or ominous: the soldier jumping over the nearly completed Berlin wall,

for example, symbolizing a last escape from what was to become the Iron Curtain encompassing half of Europe. Another famous "omen" is the explosion of the first atomic bomb with the following quote going through Robert Oppenheimer's mind: "I am now become Death, the destroyer of worlds." 

Of course, from its very inception the omen and the augur were also tools of persuasion. Cicero often used the augur's office to delay the decrees of Marcus Antonius, and magazines and political campaigns like to stage "omens" to appeal to the potential people have to be convinced by these.

In America, financial or electoral success are often heralded as signs or omens of divine approval. After Donald Trump's election, Representative Michelle Bachmann stated “God raised up, I believe, Donald Trump,” and Rev. Franklin Graham said of the victory “God showed up.” The Economy (written that way on purpose) is also often seen nowadays as signs of divine approval or disapproval. Thus, the slow economic recovery for many years during the Obama presidency was God's rebuke.

How useful are bellwethers, indications, or omens when we reason about the future? Well, they are obviously faulty, some less so and others more, but any estimate of the future is bound to be uncertain. We have these frames of mind, I believe, because they have shown their usefulness and validity in the past, and because they really have nothing or very little to compete with when it comes to knowledge or purported knowledge of the future. In either case, we can hopefully sharpen our intuition and discerning ability by questioning to which extent we listen to those who would take advantage of our predisposition to be thus persuaded, and learn to question whether we are here dealing with hard indicators, bellwethers, or purported omens of the future. That may also form and inform the future we help to create.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Publication Update: Internal Logic, Indexing, and Consummation

Hi everyone!

I generally write the blog posts at a reading level that requires some effort, but if you are up for a challenge there's more in-depth research from me available for free. I will post them below with links and brief descriptions.

Internal Logic: Persuasive Form and Hierarchy in Kenneth Burke

This is from a conference presentation I gave at the Internation Society for the Study of Argumentation at the University of Amsterdam, 2014. It mainly concerns how a text establishes its own form of logic and teaches the reader to think in its terms and according to its own logic. This logic operates by literary form rather than formal logic, and by arousing and fulfilling expectations it can make the reader/listener feel that because it is true to its form the argument it advances is also objectively true. (I apologize in advance for the spelling mistakes)

Indexing: Kenneth Burke's Critical Method

Web project/multimedia argument that helps to explain, illustrate, and train you in one of my favorite research methods. Some fancy animations and presentations help to make the tutorial less boring, and there's a full literature review and scholarly background for those who want to go deeper. This method can be used for a lot of things. It was Kenneth Burke's favorite method for textual/rhetorical analysis and helps one to find the logical structure of the text and the "ideology" the text presents. This was published in the KB Journal, spring 2017.

Consummation: Kenneth Burke's Third Creative Motive

My most read publication. If it wasn't obvious before, I use Kenneth Burke in a LOT of my research, basically because I see him as someone who is intellectually honest and actually gets a lot of things right. Here I am teasing out a theory he has about the aesthetic motivations that direct the development in areas like the natural sciences, art, music, and is a potential factor in both individual and group motivations. It centers around an aesthetic desire for order, consistency, and completion. Edward Teller, Robert Oppenheimer, Michael Polanyi, Thomas Kuhn, Espinoza, and Saint Anselm all make appearances here. Also published in the KB Journal, spring 2017.

That's it for now. Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions or comments (or leave a comment below).

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Winning Hearts and Minds: How WWII Was Won By Words Before It Was Won By Bombs

In August 2016, lifelong Republican voter and former CIA spy Evan McMullin threw his hat into the ring as presidential candidate to oppose Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. When asked why he opposed Trump, he answered that Donald Trump posed a greater long-term risk to the US than ISIS because he would undermine the goodwill for the US around the world. And this goodwill was an essential asset the US could not do without.

So this seems like a rather strong claim. Is there a precedent for this? Yes, plenty of them, and none is more telling than WWII, where I would claim that the US won primarily because the right people wanted to go there, and because those same right people wanted to leave Germany.

In 1933, Adolf Hitler instituted a racial purge of the universities and other institutions of higher learning and research in Germany to "get out the Jews." As a result, there was a massive brain drain of some of the leading minds in physics, chemistry, and other areas of learning. Here is an incomplete list of physicists who left Germany and Italy because of Hitler and Mussolini:

- Leo Szilard (filed the first patent for an atomic bomb, instrumental in creating the first atomic reactor and in convincing president Roosevelt to start up the Manhattan Project).
- Edward Teller (father of the hydrogen bomb and radical anti-Communist)
- John von Neumann (father of the modern computer, essential contributor to the development of both the atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb).
- Rudolf Peierls and Otto R. Frisch (discovered the first workable cross-section for an atomic bomb and wrote the Frisch-Peierls memorandum which convinced the UK and US to develop the atomic bomb)
- Albert Einstein (developed the theory of relativity and convinced president Roosevelt to invest money into making the atomic bomb).
- Theodore von Karman (father of modern aviation physics and jet propulsion).
- Hans Bethe (Nobel laureate and instrumental member at Los Alamos)
- Erwin Schrödinger (Nobel laureate and father of quantum theory)
- Niels Bohr (father of quantum physics)
- Joseph Rotblat (founder of the Pugwash Conference and Nobel Peace Prize laureate)
- Emilio Segre (Nobel laureate)
- Enrico Fermi (Nobel laureate)
- Lise Meitner (discovered fission)
- Max Born (Nobel laureate)
- James Franck (Nobel laureate)
- Eugene Wigner (Nobel laureate)

In total, Germany and Italy lost more than 25% of its physicists, 11 Nobel Prize laureates, and a total of more than 2,500 scientists. Most of these chose to join the allies and made crucial contributions to the development of the atomic bomb, the hydrogen bomb, and other crucial inventions, such as the radar, which contributed to the Allies ultimately winning the war against the Axis powers, and also led to an American advantage in science, technology, and industry which the US has maintained ever since.

But why did all these physicists choose to join forces with the US, why did they choose to give their loyalty and all of their considerable knowledge and scientific effort to a foreign country? These numbers are the aggregate of thousands of individual decisions, a different algorithm of choices and consequences in these individuals' lives, and in most cases the US became the choice. Why?

The US in the 30s and 40s were not without a blemish in the eyes of these physicists. There were strong anti-Semitic forces in the US too, and the Roosevelt government was enforcing a strict quota on Jewish immigration which kept many refugees from Europe out of the country. Boats were turned back, and Jews were sent back to a continent in flames to meet their deaths in the camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau. Some Jewish scientists feared to go to the US because of this, but they were also attracted to Roosevelts rhetoric in defense of freedom and democracy. On the other hand, the Soviet Union was unattractive because of the many purges instigated by Stalin and the lack of freedom of expression. Some scientists still chose to join the Soviet Union, or to spy for them in the US, like Klaus Fuchs did, but for most the Soviet Union seemed neither safe nor attractive. Stalin was his own worst enemy, and he set the technological power of the USSR back many years because of his mass executions and deportations.

In Turing's Cathedral: The Origin of the Digital Universe, we get a glimpse into the decision-making process for one of the most important of all of these scientists who did more than perhaps any other to give the US an advantage in science and technology for the next 60 years: John von Neumann.

It says: "Von Neumann left Europe with an unforgiving hatred for the Nazis, a growing distrust of the Russians, and a determination never again to let the free world fall into a position of military weakness that would force the compromises that had been made with Hitler while the German war machine was gaining strength. He replaced the loss with a passion for America and everything its open frontiers came to represent" (181).

However, he nearly didn't make it to America. For himself, as a world famous scientist, it was easy enough to gain employment and an exception from the immigration quotas, but for his fiance and soon to be wife it was not so easy. Would he have stayed in Europe or even chosen the USSR out of desperation if his wife would not have been granted immigration to the US? What would the world have looked like then?

The world of minds, from Sergej Brin at Google to John von Neumann who invented the first computer, is distributed all over the world in every nation and language. The US will only be able to keep its edge in all fields if it is open to these people and if these people actually want to go there or support what the US and the West is trying to do around the world. This is why the actions of Donald Trump's presidency may in the long-term be more fatal to the US than ISIS. 

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Arguments to Establish a Structure of Reality: A Beginner's Guide to Perelman, Part IV

Of all the types of argument that have been explored so far, these are the only ones that do not rely on a previous structure of reality in order to work....or do they?

Quasi-logical arguments rely on essential patterns of thought that we use to reason about any issue, such as, "if there is a thing that is distinct from another thing then there must be a border that defines the extent of this first thing." Such as the first distinction a child learns between "me" and "not-me" or "mine" and "not-mine," or "momma" and "not-the-momma" (as illustrated by this cute dinosaur baby).

Arguments based on the structure of reality require habits of thought that give us some kind of expectation based on a pattern of thinking that we have accepted. Both these two types of argument have no guarantee of validity, only consistency. It is a quasi-logical argument of consistency that undergirds both types of argument. One type requires the arguer to be consistent with essential patterns of thought and logic, whereas another type requires the arguer to be consistent with learned patterns of thought. This distinction may be artificial (all patterns of thought may be learned), but they are still real in the sense that these two types have different status with the quasi-logical being seen as more logical and fundamental, and less culture-dependent. 

Arguments to establish a structure of reality is maybe best understood as a counterpart to arguments based on the structure of reality. Whereas the second uses general patterns of thought to prove or explain one specific case, the first type of arguments works from specific to general, a kind of induction. You use an accumulation of specific examples to prove or indicate a more general principle, pattern, or law in operation. This is the general preferred method of the empiricists and positivists, and they claim that induction is the method whereby one can prevent just spinning in logical circles and actually have scientific progress. A ball falls to the ground one time, and that is recorded. In the same way, it falls to the ground the second time, and that is recorded. One continues to do so until the mass of specific events and instances seems consistent enough to be indicative of a general law that "a ball with mass will always fall to the earth instead of falling upward into the sky." This proposition is problematic, but it has so far worked as the basis for the hegemony of science and its privileged status in the realm of academic fields. A repetition of events that is predictable creates a pattern that indicates that some greater law or principle can be found to determine these events. The same type of argument works in our everyday life and in politics. Here are some of the categories that belong to this type of argument:

1.       Example
In The Realm of Rhetoric. Perelman writes: “To argue by example is to presuppose the existence of certain regularities of which the examples provides a concretization” (106). Whether in science, politics, religion, or any other field, a concrete example is often the most vivid and memorable evidence for a more general rule or principle. The atomic bomb is the most vivid evidence of the neutron and its capabilities, the Churchill/Chamberlain experience has forever made "appeasement" a dirty word, and the atonement of Christ stands for Christians as the great example of Gods love for mankind. Of course, in civic debate, an example shares the weakness of empirical results as a basis for science: It can always be contested. A scientific theory is never proven. Not a single scientific theory or result is forever proven and accepted. If the ball falls up just one out of 700,000,000 times, it still invalidates the argument that the previous events were indicative of a general rule. Whereas, if an example is used to invalidate a case then, by itself, it can require the rejection of a rule to which it is opposed. Just a single counterexample can destroy the effectiveness and validity of the example.

2.       Illustration, unlike example, is not used to establish a new rule but rather to give it presence and make it more understandable and applicable. An illustration has a rule that has already been justified or agreed upon, and the illustration simply serves to make it more vivid or clear. Illustrations are commonly used for pedagogical reasons, but they are also used to emphasize points and give them greater emotional appeal. An illustration of this, is the illustrations that are used at memorials, festschrifts, and other festive occasions that celebrate someone's life. The people in the audience probably already agree that this person is great, and all the examples that show the person's greatness are not meant as points that cannot be rebutted, but rather as illustrations to make more vivid and present something that is already accepted by the audience.

3.       Model and Anti-Model are set up as examples of preference. More than just understanding, model and anti-model are meant to be followed or shunned. For example: physics is the most precise science and should be the model for sciences and all human knowledge (claim of the positivists). "Alchemy is the exact model of what chemistry and science should NOT be like." Jesus and the devil are models and anti-models. Einstein and Bohr are models for scientists.  The Athenian democracy, despite its faults, has been accepted generally as a model for modern democracies. The model seeks that which is the best representation of what a good scientists, philosopher, Christian, Republican, Democrat, Communist, Conservative, Progressive, man, woman, or child should be. The anti-model is the warning, the distortion, the thing to be shunned. The object used as a model obviously needs to be well established beforehand, but using the object as a model for what one should follow or be can be an inductive invention. 

4.       Analogy Similar to an equation in mathematics, except that it does not posit the equality of two relations but rather affirms a similitude. 

The basic structure of this argument is that “a is to b, as c is to d.” The role is to clarify the theme (meta) through the phoros or “explain an unknown relationship through another more familiar one.” One example is: "Old age is the evening of life." This is a metaphor. Perelman called a metaphor "a condensed analogy" that leaves some parts unsaid. The full structure (implied and explicit) is that "As the evening is to the day, so is old age to a whole life." One uses something that everyone experiences every day (an evening) to explain something that others (younger people) have not experienced. We do this all the time and have become so used to it that we can shorten the structure without confusing others. We can say "at the dying of the day" or "a new day is born" or "Abide with me, behold t'is eventide" and understand the relationship between life and a day. A new metaphor creates a new understanding and a new connection between ideas that were formerly understood only separately. In this sense, this kind of argument creates a new structure of reality.

All these arguments are "progressive" in the sense that they create or attempt to create new structures of thought and perceived reality. However, they by themselves require some larger implicit ideas in order to be valid. Empirical results require some kind of empiricist philosophy of science. Unless there is the concept of laws of nature, there is nothing which the ball falling to the earth can prove or be indicative of. And unless there is first a theory or hypothesis, no scientist would know where to look to find proof. These theories and concepts however are not essential structures of thought but rather learned or habitual structures of thought, and these give no guarantee for validity (as the vast false structures of learned and habitual thought have proven). However, seen from the perspective of argumentation we can still say that these arguments are "effective," and currently the arguments to establish structures of reality (inductive arguments) are the most effective of all. They have a higher standing. But is this just because we live in a progressive society that values progress and movement over stability?  

Friday, 22 April 2016

Why Trump is a Tyrant

One of the lessons the Classics teach us is that freedom is fragile. They show people an age where humanity flourished during systems of government that, for all their faults, guaranteed some basic rights and the chance for people to speak up against injustice and to dethrone tyrants. And then these free systems were destroyed from within. Frustrations with partisan bickering and selfishness led people to look for a "strongman" to set things right. For the Greek city states it was Philip of Macedon, and for the Romans it was Julius Caesar and thereafter Caeasar Augustus. For the Romans a nightmare of despots followed, with the likes of Nero and Caligula displaying some of the most depraved behavior ever shown by tyrants. Then, except for sporadic glimpses, there was no real widespread freedom over all the Western world for over 1700 years. The first democracies and republics were not killed: they committed suicide. This is what made John Adams warn: "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide." This was the lesson John Adams took from the Classics.

Yet these societies did not go ignorantly into the long dark night of tyranny; nor, to their credit, did they do so without a fight. Demosthenes warned the Athenians and other Greek city states about Philip, and his Philipics are treasured today as masterpieces of rhetoric. The Athenians listened, although first when it was already too late, and took a brave last stance against the onset of tyranny. Similarly Cicero, in Rome, argued in his thirteen Philipics (inspired by Demosthenes) against Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius. Although ultimately unsuccessful, his speeches survived and helped fuel the flame of liberty throughout generations until freedom could rise again with the American revolution. Cicero and Demosthenes were major influences for the American and French revolutionaries. I am not sure the concept of a democracy or a republic would have survived without them.

So what lesson can we learn from them now that we see tyranny and autocracy rearing its ugly head once more in Western democracies? Only this: "Beware of the tyrant!" Do not let your partisan bickering jeapordize the fragile freedoms you have. Do not let your short-sighted and selfish goals imperil the liberty of this and all future generations. Do not sell your vote and influence in order to let "our tyrant" win over "their tyrant." If there was one painful lesson the Romans had to learn, it was the "equality" of oppression and fear experienced by rich and poor under the terrible reign of the tyrants.

On this blog, I have sometimes lamented the erosion of both morality and liberties in Western societies, and yet the present moment makes me more indignant and troubled than I have ever been before about the state of particularly the constitutional republic of the United States of America. In Donald Trump, a large portion of their populace seem to outdo the Roman republic in selfishness and short-sightedness. Instead of settling for a Caesar Augustus after years of civil war they skip right to a Nero in times of peace!

The Roman emperors were not the high-culture snobs they are sometimes depicted as. A great many of them were base buffons, displaying and indulging in behavior that would shock even Hollywood, using their power to break every written and unwritten law, and take depravity to such absurd lengths that no honest man or woman could bear it. Nero was Donald Trump + power. If power can corrupt even good people, what will it do for someone who already brags about affairs with married women, runs strip-clubs, encourages violence, and promises he will commit war crimes and silence anyone who opposes him by changing the law? Tyranny, for the Greeks and Romans was not a form of government. Tyranny was a disease of the mind, a madness. The Roman historian Tacitus writes, "How truly the wisest of men used to assert that the souls of despots, if revealed, would show wounds and mutilations - weals left on the spirit, like lash-marks on a body, by cruelty, lust, and malevolence" (The Histories 202).

You may say I am exhaggerating and that Trump could never become Nero because he is bound by the Constitution and checked by the Supreme Court and Congress. Besides, there is the public that voted for him and public opinion to keep him in check. I ask you, "What bonds can control a man that cannot even control himself?" He is a slave to his whims and desires, do you think such a person will be bound by law, morality, or bonds of trust? He who bought the Plaza Hotel to move his wife into its penthouse just so he could free up the penthouse of his casino for his mistress? The only limits that can check him are the limits of possibility, and I fear that a Trump presidency will reveal for everyone just how much power the Executive Branch of government has amassed in the past hundred years. The constitutional limits on the presidency were made to limit the damage a "Trump" could do, but for the past fifty years at least those limits have been loosened to better fit a president with the character of a saint. For all their excesses, neither Bush nor Obama have aspired to become tyrants. Pushed by their constituents they have strained the constitutional limits of presidential power, but they have never sought to consolidate that power.

Here is a brief list of what Trump the Tyrant could and possibly would do as president:
- Replace any leader of the military and any government agencies with stooges that are blindly loyal to Trump and do not hesitate to break any law to do his will. The CIA, Department of Justice, Department of Defense, and other departments as they currently run are impervious to oversight by Congress. Trump will then have a 3 million person strong army to do his bidding and punish his critics and enemies. If you thought the Obama IRS overstepped its authority, just wait for the Trump IRS, CIA, and Department of Justice.
- Threaten Supreme Court Judges to rule in his favor whenever he is challenged on executive overreach. His campaign is already threatening to put out the names and room numbers of Republican delegates at Cleveland who could possibly oppose his nomination to his rabid supporters who are not afraid of using violence. What would a "hint" like that do against the Supreme Court Judges? "Gee, Justice Thomas sure has a nice house. Would be a shame if anything were to happen to it." Especially when anyone who committed a crime in doing so would have the protection of the White House. Trump already offered to cover the legal bills for anyone who committed assault against protesters at his rallies.
- Threaten to use the power of his NSA spies against senators or representatives who oppose his legislative agenda. He has already threatened Speaker Ryan that "we'll get along, otherwise he'll have a price to pay." Speaker Ryan should, according to the Constitution, be almost as powerful as the president. The current situation and status of the Speaker just shows how far the US has fallen from that ideal.
- Wage war (against ANYONE he wants!) for 90 days. 90 days!!! Any liberal who felt smug about Eric Holder's unconstitutional defense of Obama's Drone War should choke on that grin as he realizes what potential powers he has helped bestow on a President Trump. And any conservative who has not bowed down to the altar of Trumpism and wants to maintain any right to voice a protest about potential abuses by the president should feel the call to act now. These powers mean that once Trump hits the White House EVERY single man, woman, and child on this planet is a potential target. American citizens are not exempt, because Holder made that legal. Children are not exempt, for Trump specifically said he would force the military to torture and kill the children of his enemies. For someone who takes every ounce of opposition to his will as a personal insult, that category of "enemies" and "terrorists" could expand to just about anyone. (Ask Michelle Fields, whom he has accused of being a potential terrorist)

He is someone who sees every power and authority as his leverage to crush those who oppose him, His Dad's Army of lawyers have sheltered him from the law his entire life. Imagine what he will do with the Department of Justice at his disposal. If you elect him, you just gave him the world's ultimate leverage. Nothing will then be able to stop him from doing whatever he pleases with whomever he pleases.

So, with the world open to his desires, the question would become: "What are the desires of this man?" His supporters freely admit and even applaud the fact that he would and could do all these things, but they justify it with statements such as this one by Twitter user @larrysr19701: "Ive survived Obama's Tyranny, so far. Im sure Trump wont disappoint." I don't care how right-wing you are: If you believe Obama is the worst tyrant to have walked the Earth then you need to read a history book. Trump supporters seem to believe there is some kind of moral quality to this man that would somehow make up for the immorality he has bathed in throughout his almost 70 year long life. Let's look at some of the personality traits he has shown:

It is incredible how uncertain of himself this guy is. He has the confidence of a schoolyard bully who acts tough to hide the fact that he gets beaten at home. The protesters at his rallies, they are a personal danger to him, and encouraging his supporters to beat them up is just self-defense. He sees every opposition to him as evidence of a conspiracy; he sees every loss as evidence of fraud. Name one single state that Trump has graciously conceeded to an opponent. Iowa? "It must be fraud, that's why I didn't win." Utah? "Romney stabbed my back and Cruz cheated." Wisconsin? "The establishment and Cruz are in this together." Everyone is out to get Trump according to him. He is nasty to everyone and acts all surprised and innocent when there is any kind of response. But of course, as Trump is fond of saying, he's just a "counterpuncher." Someone else hits him, and he hits back twice as hard. Except, Cruz had no hand in the ad that caused Trump to attack Heidi Cruz and accuse Ted Cruz of adultery (without any evidence). Trump is likely to respond to a terrorist plot hatched in a Muslim suburb of Brussels with a nuclear strike against Belgium. And this guy takes ANY criticism as a veiled personal attack. Megyn Kelly asks a critical question, he goes after her personally. Michelle Fields asks for an apology from his campaign manager, and he labels her a liar and a terrorist. Any news outlet opposes his policies, and he labels them corrupt. This guy thinks he is so brilliant that any critic cannot be acting out of anything but bias and animosity. If in his young years his Dad's army of lawyers shielded him from accountability, now his army of devotees are shielding him from sanity. Imagine an army of intelligence agencies and soldiers shielding him from scrutiny, dedicated to take down his enemies.

From the beginning Trump never had any substance on policy or solutions. His main reason for running was an ego trip. To be able to have the bragging rights of "almost" becoming the most powerful man on Earth. His main argument for electing him continues to be his massive ego. Just read one of his tweets: "News tells of massive foreign criminal gangs in our largest cities. Only I can solve!" It doesn't matter what his policies or preferences are, as long as HE is in charge the decisions are bound to be good. He'll solve a 700 billion gap in Medicare and Social Security payments by clamping down on 3bn worth of "waste, fraud, and abuse." He'll make a gigantic wall along the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it. He'll solve the Israel-Palestine conflict by "making a good deal." Any problem in the world, just sprinkle som magic "Trump" dust on it and the problem will fix itself. If ever there was a man who claimed to be a god.... Oh, he can get these things done, no mistake. But his cures will be worse than the original problem. He can make up the 700bn by labelling, at random, half of all Medicare and Social Security payments as "waste, fraud, and abuse." He can make Mexico pay for the wall by threatening war and annexing Baja California until they pay the wall as a ransom. He can solve the Israel-Palestine conflict by killing off 1/4 of Gaza, including the entire leadership of Hamas, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority with all their families and extended families and "collateral damage." It really is amazing what you can get done if you don't let morals get in the way. Nazi Germany were particularly good at these kind of solutions. This is the kind of scorched-earth tactics Trump has lived by his entire business life. He has not studied up on any of the issues and gets his information from cable news (by his own admission). The fact that he can still consider himself fit for the hardest job on Earth tells volumes about the arrogance of this man.

Cruelty and savagery
Politics and real-estate business are blood sports, there is no doubt about it, but even in those venues Trump has earned a reputation for ruthlessness. As a business practice he breaks contracts and pays contractors just 90% of the sum agreed upon in the contract, hoping they will just take that sum and not sue, since that will cost them more. When anyone accuses him of fraud or abuse he responds by trying to destroy their lives. He even sued an author for 5 billion dollars for stating that Trump's fortune was worth 3 billion, instead of the 10 billion Trump claims it's worth. He is suing those who were defrauded by him in the Trump University scam for complaining. As a candidate, in the "job interview" stage of the process where people try to be their best, he has encouraged violence against protesters and Republican delegates, maligned non-rivals such as Megyn Kelly, Michelle Fields, Heidi Cruz, and a disabled reporter, and taken every cheap shot and ad hominem argument imaginable. In his personal life he cut vital medical care to a family member, a little boy with a dangerous neurological disease, because the boy's parents were in a dispute with him about his father's inheritance. The parents sued successfully, and the medical insurance was reinstated, but this clearly shows that no holds are barred against Trump's enemies. As a president he has already said he would torture and kill the wives and children of terrorists. He has applauded the tactics used by Putin to stifle dissent and the actions of the Chinese government during the Tianmen Square Massacre. If there is a low-road insult, a threat, or any use of force Trump can apply to impose his will and get away with it, he has demonstrated time and again that he can and will use it. Lord help us all if this man is ever given executive power and the sovereign immunity of a president.

Immorality and Avarice
One question I and a lot of people have been asking themselves: "Why in the world does Donald Trump want to be president?" He certainly has no desire for public service, as shown by the fact that he has never run for elected office even once. He clearly is uncomfortable discussing foreign policy or any kind of policy for that matter. As far as power and pleasure goes, is there no limit to his appetite for these things? Is there anything more a billionaire could wish for that his current sack of gold does not bestow upon him? If he ever achieves it, what will this guy do with ultimate power? My mind hesitates to go there, but it has to be clear to everyone what the consequences of electing him are likely to be. Bill Clinton was an adulterer, but he at least tried to keep a facade of decency. Contrast this with someone who brags about "sleeping with famous married women" and who runs strip clubs at his casinos. Imagine a mobster family taking over the White House and you would get the idea. He would turn the White House into a brothel. This would be the image portrayed to young men in America and throughout the world. This is the lesson: "Cheat, choose the low road, hit your opponent below the belt, use any advantage you have, and you too can become the leader of the free world some day." Make Chick Hicks the hero of Cars, make Gaston the hero of Beauty and the Beast, forget all that religion, philosophy, and civilization has taught man about morality and justice: "Might is right."

Immorality and avarice. These are the vices which a tyrant can exercise without restraint, and the very ability to do so constitute the lure and reward of tyranny. To have whatever one's eye lusts for, be it property, power, or people, this is the lure for the tyrant. The desire for absolute power would have little meaning for unscrupulous people if that power did not enable one to break all bonds which social position, morality, and laws would otherwise restrain. The Roman emperors would frequently display that power by taking the wives of men they had invited to the palace. Do not be surprised if Trump repeats as president the behavior he has bragged about as a billionaire. Remember the words of one of your Founding Fathers, John Adams:

"Those passions [vanity, pride, selfishness, ambition, and avarice] . . . when unchecked, produce the . . .  effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation." How much harder then for someone who has never resisted such temptations....

Turn around while there still is time! Do not elect "your tyrant" to beat "their tyrant" and recognize tyranny for what it is: madness. A tyrant is in your midst and wants to be at your head. Do not allow it!

The West has lived without tyrannies for so long that they cannot imagine anymore what it is like to live under one. Words like "tyrant" are thrown around and misused as soon as there is any new executive overreach. But tyranny, in its proper sense, has an entirely different scope. There is no private property in a tyranny, nor is anything sacred. There is nothing where anyone can say, "this is mine" or "this is private." What is there then to live or hope for?
As the Athenian Euripides writes:
"Why should one acquire wealth and livelihood
For his children, if the struggle is only to enrich the tyrant further?
Why keep his young daughters virtuously at home,
To be the sweet delight of tyrants?
I'd rather die than have my daughters wed by violence" (First Democracy, Woodruff 63).

 Cicero, who saw the death of the Roman Republic in his time sums it up like this in his The Republic: "As soon as a king takes the first step towards a more unjust regime, he at once becomes a tyrant. And that is the foulest and most repellent creature imaginable, and the most abhorrent to god and man alike. Although he has the outward appearance of a man, he outdoes the wildest beasts in the utter savagery of his behavior" (50).

I fear the American public will discover too late that their watered down public institutions and Constitution are woefully inadequate to meet the challenge of a tyrannical president.