Tycoon politics: Trump versus Berlusconi

This week in North Philly Notes, John Agnew, co-author of Berlusconi’s Italydiscusses ​”tycoon politics,”​ comparing Donald Trump ​to Silvio Berlusconi.

The world over, electorally based political parties are in trouble. Whatever their ideological roots or political goals, they increasingly fail to mobilize or they actually put off potential voters. In a globalizing world, national governments find it increasingly difficult to match the ambitions they set themselves. Borders are too leaky. If you say you’ll tax it, capital moves. Shocks from elsewhere no longer stay over there. As populations judge the failure of promise to match outcome, election turnouts are trending downwards everywhere that elections are held. The success of Donald Trump in the Republican primaries this year must be put in this context. But why should an obvious business tycoon be the instrument for what looks like a realignment of American politics around an appeal to populist themes about “being ripped off” by foreigners?

Berlusconis_ItalyIn 2008 we published a book about the influence of another tycoon-politician, Silvio Berlusconi, on Italian politics (Berlusconi’s Italy). The Trump-Berlusconi comparison seems to bear some weight. Beyond their similarities in campaigning it also suggests how Trump would rule. Berlusconi too was and is a businessman-media entrepreneur who emerged into prominence as a major political actor in a time of political crisis. In his case it was in the early 1990s when the principal existing Italian political parties were collapsing under the weight of either their corruption (the Christian Democrats and Socialists) or the end of the Cold War (the Communists). Berlusconi created his own political party, Forza Italia, named after the supporters’ cry for the Italian national soccer team. In the Italian electoral system without the institutionalized dominance of two parties as in the United States he did not need to force a takeover of an existing party. Like Trump he began his career as a wealthy man by building apartment blocks in Milan. He used political connections (and donations) to accumulate control over all the main national private television channels in Italy. These channels then broadcast a steady diet of soap operas and reality TV shows that would do Trump proud.  A consumerism for the masses based on the American model was at the heart of the messages disseminated by Berlusconi’s channels. To round out the comparison, Berlusconi was and is a shameless self-promoter. His masculinist posturing alongside such presidents as Putin and Sarkozy, notwithstanding the lifts in his shoes to make him seem taller than he is, broadcast a message of potency and competitiveness that many Italians found appealing. His infamous gaffes about various world leaders (the “tan” of President Obama being one of the most notorious) were always turned into negative commentaries about those drawing attention to them. His anti-Communism, even though the party of that name had disappeared, recalled both old disputes about whose side he was on (and who had won out) and suggested how much he was in favor of the Church and mainstream morality (Communism = anti-clericalism) even as bad publicity about his private life allowed him to wink at conventional mores.  A self-confessed “family man,” his history of trophy wives and girlfriends suggested something else entirely. Above all, however, he presented himself as the quintessential anti-politician, the outsider taking a broom to the Augean stables of established Italian politics.

The property tycoon Donald Trump’s surge to the top of the list of candidates for the Republican nomination for the 2016 US presidential election in national polls as well as in early primaries and caucuses has been interpreted in a variety of ways. He is appealing to the interests and prejudices of all those, particularly older white poorly educated men, who feel that they have lost out to women and minorities in an increasingly “politically correct” America. He is a blunt talker whose views on immigration, globalization and guns are free of the caveats that mar the politicians and party hacks he freely insults on the campaign trail. He is a strong leader whose personal history as a property tycoon and reality TV star offers a welcome relief from the professional politicians who pivot hither and thither on this issue and that. He is the most effective communicator with an audience that views “nuance” as implying a lack of faith in basic premises about the nature of reality. What these all have in common is not much evidence of policy savvy or even focus on what he might actually do if he were elected president but overwhelming emphasis on a leader picking up followers irrespective of what he does or says.

Elections are always about drama. But they are not usually entirely theatrical. Political candidates are usually judged as much by the campaign performances they give as by the policies they propose. As Charles Guggenheim who worked for Robert Kennedy once said: “people expect drama, pathos, intrigue, conflict, and they expect it to hang together as a dramatic package.” With his background in so-called reality television, on NBC’s The Apprentice, where he got to say: “You’re fired” to dozens of putative protégées, Donald Trump is cast perfectly for the role of a lifetime. But the Trump phenomenon is more than the typical electoral dramaturgy. As a TV protagonist, Trump is the Boss. He forces the viewer to line up on one side or the other in judging him. He will not allow you to be neutral. Show ratings depend on being as outrageous as possible. Nobody tunes in to watch a “reasonable” presentation. Like professional wrestling, it’s the fights that get the audience, however fake everyone knows it to be.

Not surprisingly the emphasis on performativity by the Trump campaign, even the Pope can become an attractive target for opprobrium for at least one news cycle, has attracted comparison to other leaders past and present with a penchant for over-the-top hyperbole and self-dramatization. Mussolini, Hitler, Charlie Chaplin playing Hitler, and former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin have all put in appearances in the press and on the Internet. The most popular comparison has been to Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister. This makes sense. Their emphasis on electoral dramaturgy is eerily similar. It is their shamelessness in bullying their opponents and boasting about their success about everything from their wealth and sexual proclivities to their self-evident charm and capacity to dominate the news without paying for it that sets them apart.

How far should the comparison be pushed? It does show how important the purely dramatic can be in a post-party and even post-truth (“Did I say that?”) era. But interestingly the comparison also shows the limits to Trump’s political possibilities – towards office and beyond. The reality is that given his control over the media (including most of the public TV channels when in office) and the lack of institutional constraints on his power while in office, Berlusconi as the central figure in a parliamentary system had far greater scope to achieve any goal he set himself than a President Trump would ever have with a potentially hostile Congress and Supreme Court to rein him in. Overall, Berlusconi must be considered a political failure notwithstanding his occupancy of political office for fully nine of the years from 1994 to 2011 (May 1994-January 1995, June 2001-May 2006, May 2008-November 2011). He created a “courtier regime” of lackeys and yes-men (and – women). He spent enormous political capital using his political office to protect his business (and personal) interests. He opened the door to the massive expansion of vitriolic and demonizing rhetoric about political adversaries. He left Italy’s economy in a shambles and a country without much of any respect at home or abroad. All told, Berlusconi did not exactly Make Italy Great Again.

What Melissa Harris-Perry Has Taught Us About Black Women and Silence

This week, in honor of Women’s History month, we re-post this essay by Trimiko Melancon, author of Unbought and Unbossed, published in Ms. Magazine

Anyone who knows anything about the politics of black womanhood is familiar with how silence operates in relation to black women. And the past few weeks have provided us with an opportunity to consider black women and silence, or the lack thereof, thanks to TV show host Melissa Harris-Perry and her explosive fallout with MSNBC.Harris-Perry, the Maya Angelou Presidential Professor at Wake Forest University, hosted the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC until recently. She is hands-down a brilliant scholar, political scientist and intellectual—both on and off camera. I’ve had the distinct privilege of witnessing this firsthand while working with her when I was the inaugural fellow at the Anna Julia Cooper Project, of which she is the founding director, and when she wrote the dynamic foreword to my book, Black Female Sexualities. Her assessments and analyses—whether conventional, controversial or provocative—have been sharp and welcome on myriad topics. She has invariably provided visibility, voice and a platform for those who—and that which—would have otherwise been neglected.

Unbought_smSo when MSNBC preempted the MHP show and attempted to “disappear” her, as she says, Harris-Perry was not having it. She did not stand by silently or “go gentle into that good night,” as poet Dylan Thomas writes—and her reaction didn’t come as a surprise. Why might we expect otherwise? The truth is Harris-Perry has never, ever been silent: not about who or what matters or about issues that warrant attention. She has spoken boldly about Trayvon Martin, embraced Black Girl Magic and worn tampon earrings on her show to protest anti-abortion legislation. This is, in part, not only the signature beauty and essence of her work, but precisely why she has an incredible following. She has provided one of the few platforms for people to speak, be acknowledged and not be silent or silenced. Harris-Perry’s refusal to be silent as MSNBC preempted her show for election coverage, and her refusal to accept the network’s anti-disparagement clause, perfectly fit her pattern of pushing back.

What, then, are some black feminist lessons we might learn—during Women’s History Month and generally—from MHP and MSNBC regarding black women and silence?

1. “Our Silence Will Not Protect Us”

That’s right. As Audre Lorde noted so eloquently, it simply will not. So all the flimsy criticisms of Harris-Perry’s refusal to be silent have just got to go, as does loaded language about her as “a brilliant, intelligent but challenging and unpredictable personality,” as an MSNBC executive asserted. Such language insults Harris-Perry (and us all) and reduces her to someone who just “went off” (or does not know how to “act right”). And that’s not only simplistic—it’s downright unfair. What Harris-Perry demonstrated in speaking out against MSNBC is called complexity and being a full-fledged human being with the capacity for, and right to, free expression. And women, especially black women, generally aren’t allowed to embody those qualities without facing castigation and gendered stereotypes.

2. “I Am Not Wrong: Wrong Is Not My Name”

Let’s be clear: This situation calls attention to the ways black women must constantly prove their own inherent worth, brilliance, value and #BlackGirlGenius within a white system. There’s no single monolithic way for black women (or anyone, for that matter) to react in circumstances, inevitable or not. Harris-Perry was not wrong in her reaction—she simply has dimension, and so do other black women. Folks need to listen to black women without unwarranted questioning, incredulity or disbelief regarding the authenticity of our words or actions—or expect that we must consistently submit or be dignified in our responses. MHP has the right—and an actual freedom of speech—to not be silent when, how and if she chooses, as do we all. As we know by now, acting right will not save us our jobs or, for that matter, our lives.

3, “The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House”

Networks like MSNBC need to act right. Yes, of course they must meet ratings demands. But far too often these kinds of entities capitalize on the labor and talent of folks like Harris-Perry, then quickly dispose of them when their views no longer line up with the network’s. Ask Keith Olbermann, Martin Bashir, Al Sharpton, Alex Wagner, Karen Finney, Joy Reid or others. Kudos to Melissa Harris-Perry and respect to her for fighting the good fight, refusing to be silent and knowing not only her worth, but that “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.”

Trimiko Melancon, a professor of English, African American studies and women’s studies at Loyola University New Orleans, is the author of Unbought and Unbossed: Transgressive Black Women, Sexuality, and Representation and editor of Black Female Sexualities. Connect with her at trimikomelancon.com or on Twitter @trimikomelancon.

Brazilian Blues

This week in North Philly Notes, Philip Evanson, co-author of Living in the Crossfireblogs about the arrest of the former President of Brazil, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva.

On Friday, March 4 following a 6 a.m. raid on his home by federal police, former President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva was detained and taken to São Paulo’s Congonhas airport for questioning. The action was based on an order of compulsory conveyance (Mandado de condução coercitiva) issued by Judge Sergio Moro who has been overseeing the Petrobrás corruption cases. The order was treated by most legal experts here as an abuse of power by Moro. This mandado is used in instances when a person of interest refuses to appear before police to answer questions. But Lula always said he was a ready to appear. The former head of the Brazilian bar association (OAB) said the early morning arrest was equivalent to kidnapping Lula. Moro is said to have acted this way out of fear for Lula’s safety, also because he feared there was a coordinated effort underway to destroy evidence that might incriminate Lula and undermine undergoing investigations. Therefore, while enemies of Lula and the PT or Workers Party celebrated the former president’s arrest as more evidence of his guilt, jurists have tended to condemn it as an abuse of power. If there were a danger to his person, Lula should have been asked if he felt the need for “coerced” protection. For example, did he think a mob was gathering with the intention to harm him, and therefore required that police arrest and place him in protective custody?

The brunt of the interrogation of Lula apparently involved two properties—a spacious oceanfront apartment in São Paulo state, and a rural retreat or sitio in the interior of São Paulo—and donations to the Lula Institute. The federal police suspect that Lula is the owner of the two properties which have been spruced up, upgraded by construction companies condemned for paying bribes, and for overcharging in contracts signed with Petrobrás, the Brazilian national petroleum company. In other words, contractors guilty of illicit gains, meaning the stealing of public money and the money of private Petrobrás investors. Lula, therefore, would be the beneficiary of stolen money. Also, there were questions of large contributions to the Lula Institute by firms, or by individuals profiting from corrupt Petrobrás contracts. The police investigators and Judge Moro are trying to determine if these contributions are quid pro quo arrangements—payments to Lula because he had something to do with making possible and effectively executing the corrupt contracts. In addition, relatively large sums were paid by the Lula Institute to a firm acting as the agent for high priced Lula Institute lectures in which one of Lula’s sons is a partner.
In the scale of the Petrobrás corruption scandal which may involve billions of dollars, the questions to Lula involve relatively small sums as was demonstrated by police as they honed in on a couple of inexpensive amusement style pedal rafts found at the sitio’s pond. Presumably they were for use by members of Lula’s family, such as grandchildren, and other visitors. Were these pedal rafts gifts from individuals or firms convicted in the Petrobrás scandal? If not, who bought and paid for them. Lula’s interrogators apparently pestered him with questions about the inexpensive rafts, also about the equivalent of $1,000 that his wife Marisa had in a checking account. Lula had been asked about these and other matters in a previous round of questioning. There were also questions about the transportation and storage of documents, furniture and gifts from Lula’s presidency. Was this provided free of charge by firms involved in corrupt govt. contracts, hence another instance of Lula and his family benefiting from stolen public money?

The day’s drama only built after Lula was released. He went to the Lula Institute to meet and address supporters. There he took the microphone, and delivered a remarkable half hour improviso describing what had happened, condemning the selective release of information taken in plea bargains, also media bias, and winding up in defense of the social programs of the PT and achievements of his administrations. He was clearly speaking at a critical moment for himself, the PT and his successor President Dilma Rousseff in circumstances of great personal stress and when his supporters expected much. And they got it in riveting, spontaneous, improvised speech, a demonstration of Lula’s continuing power as a persuasive, masterful speaker in which he still has no equal in Brazil. Lula said he felt invigorated and was prepared to travel the length and breadth of Brazil taking the case of the PT to the people, and that while he had doubts, he might yet run again for president.

So what will happen? The Chamber of Deputies has the power to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, but has no moral standing to do this until it first removes Eduardo Cunha as president of the Chamber. Cunha is now formally charged by the Supreme Court with extortion and money laundering in the Petrobrás scandal. But Cunha apparently has too much political intelligence for members of the Chamber who do not know how to remove him. As president of the Chamber he has the power to stay or start the impeachment process. According to one commentator, as long as he stays the process, pro-government deputies will support him. Since he also can start it, he has the support of anti-government deputies who stand by and wait. Second, if not impeached, the election of Dilma Rousseff and VP Michel Temer in 2014 can be overturned by the High Electoral Court (Tribunal Superior Electoral) on grounds that the sources of campaign contributions were corrupt. In this case, a new election would be called. I suppose the most interesting feature of this political crisis for the historically minded is charges of corruption on a large scale such as are present today when aired in earlier periods as during the presidential terms of João Goulart (1961-1964), Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-1961) and Getulio Vargas (1951-1954), could bring into being relatively quickly civil-military conspiracies leading to coup d’etats as happened in 1954, and l964. Today’s charges of corruption are treated as accusations to be investigated and that must be proved in courts of law. This is hailed as evidence that Brazil’s democratic political institutions are strong. Claims by defenders of the government that a coup or golpe de estado is in the making do not get traction.

Meanwhile, Dilma is not able to “govern” as she is more or less completely absorbed in trying to save her mandate. This is happening at a time of unprecedented recession now approaching 3 years, whereas the historical record that officially begins in 1901 shows Brazilian recessions defined as negative GDP growth never last more than 1 year, except for 1930-1931. The recession exacerbates the political crisis. Though now experiencing unemployment caused by the lengthy recession, the Brazilian economy remains large by world standards. However, its status has been that of a full employment, low wage economy in which a majority of Brazilians are poor as they had always been. It was true in the colonial era of slavery when Brazil undoubtedly had the largest western hemisphere economy as demonstrated by the number of slaves that Brazil was able to pay for and bring from Africa even when the price of slaves might be high. Small wonder that Brazilian slave owners, and the Brazilian elite largely thought they were right in staying with a slave based economy and civilization, the construction of which they had overseen. Such an attitude continued after independence 1822, and helps explain why Brazil was the last western hemisphere country to abolish slavery in 1888. I do think the traditional Brazilian way of running their economy is coming to an end, and something quite different will emerge, a sharp departure from past practices due to the fact that the long term high growth Brazilian economy observed from the l870’s to the 1970’s and that made up for all sorts of shortfalls in other areas such as social development ended in the 1980’s and shows no sign of returning. Except for the period 2003 to 2011 which was a period of strong economic growth due to high prices for international commodities in which Brazil was highly competitive, the Brazilian economy has stagnated since the 1980s, especially the industrial economy. This is in contrast to other South American national economies, except that of chaotic post-Chavez Venezuela. The situation in which Brazil does less well in economic growth and development than neighbor nations is disconcerting for Brazilians, hard to swallow or explain. Meanwhile, the stage is being set for the mass demonstrations on Sunday, March 13 which will see groups of demonstrators protesting against President Dilma Rousseff and her government filling the main streets of large cities. The other side will have their day of demonstrations on FridayMarch 18.

Students’ views on Obama, Basketball, and Alexander Wolff’s book

This week in North Philly Notes,  six students from  Rebecca Alpert’s Honors Sports and Leisure in American Society class at Temple University write about meeting with The Audacity of Hoop author Alexander Wolff. 

Audacity of Hoop_sm

Marcus Forst, Physics major

President Obama has been in office for nearly half my life. Although I only see Obama as he is presented by the media, I feel that I know a little bit about the person that is Barack Obama. Basketball connects me with Barack Obama; I see him as a person instead of a figure because I identify with his interests.

The Audacity of Hoop, written by Alexander Wolff, is a window into Obama’s relationship with basketball—a close up look at the person that I had previously imagined. I had the opportunity to speak with Wolff about his experience writing the book as well as about the content itself. I asked if basketball would still have been an effective means for Obama to connect with common people—and distance himself from a purely intellectual image—had he been extremely good at basketball. My thinking was that Obama’s normalcy in basketball contributes to making him seem human and relatable. Mr. Wolff responded by saying that if Obama had been an incredible basketball player, he likely would not have been a politician. He stressed the crossroad in Obama’s life in which he decided to move away from dreams of basketball stardom and turned towards college and a future in politics, albeit while carrying with him “the love of the game.” Wolff added that Obama has used this story of a crossroads throughout his presidency in order to encourage young black males to strive for success in more traditional careers, while still bringing a love of basketball with them.

page58.jpg

Catherine Devlin, Biology major

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Alexander Wolff, the author of The Audacity of Hoop, before his promotional presentation about the book. He talked, of course, about the important role that basketball played throughout Obama’s campaign and presidency (the basis of his book). One of the most fascinating discussion points, for me, was his description of the campaign and the racial divide Americans experienced. The historic 2008 election of the first African American president will forever be remembered as a turning point in our history. The road to Obama’s election, though, was anything but easy.  According to Wolff, basketball was a deliberate and imperative part of the campaign that cannot be ignored. In 2008, Americans were looking for reassurances. The early questions into Obama’s citizenship, however, were not the main concern for the campaign. Surprisingly, the population of Americans who needed the most reassuring consisted largely of African Americans.

As Wolff put it, “How do you win African Americans just because you’re an African American?” We often have this intrinsic distrust of politicians that can end up either making or breaking a campaign. Images of Obama playing games of pickup basketball eventually gave the African American community the confidence to believe that Barack Obama was just a regular guy looking to make a difference. Wolff also discussed the intricate balance between portraying Obama as an “Average Joe” and avoiding playing into the stereotypes associated with being an African American male who plays basketball. The ingenious strategy was to introduce the candidate as a politician first and then slowly introduce his love of basketball in small groups of voters who had come to know him quite well. Obviously, the Obama campaign was able to find just the right middle ground.  Winning over enough Americans to be elected the leader of the nation is certainly not an easy feat. Being an African American candidate presented extra challenges for his campaign, but Barack Obama managed to make history.  The groundbreaking strategies on the road to the White House were, according to Wolff, only aided by Obama’s genuine love of America’s favorite game. It seems only fitting, then, to document as Alexander Wolff has done so beautifully, the unique and successful relationship between basketball and America’s first African American president.

4

Bridgette Devlin, Biology major

Recently, I interviewed Alexander Wolff, Sports Illustrated writer and author of The Audacity of Hoop: Basketball and the Age of Obama. In the book, Wolff tracks basketball’s involvement throughout Barack Obama’s campaign and Presidency so far. One section, specifically, focuses on “Baracketology” – Obama’s annual NCAA March Madness bracket. So, what makes these brackets so important? Alexander Wolff thinks it’s all about Obama’s political strategy, relatability, and legacy.

The author easily listed examples of how the President’s March Madness picks can seem politically charged. Obama received criticism over his brackets’ large proportion of swing states and frivolity. Despite pushback from across many spectrums, Wolff says the yearly bracket simply conveys Obama’ sincere love of the game. Wolff described the tradition of inviting the champions to the White House to meet with the Obamas. He easily bantered with the teams. He jokes with the players and the coaches, proving that he keeps up-to-date with both the game and the latest league news. Regardless of his motivations, Obama’s NCAA bracket has provided him an opportunity to connect with the American people, showing them he is an average, relatable, and trustworthy person. Wolff notes that Obama’s connection to basketball and the tournament comes across as incredibly genuine, not as though we are being “spun” by an expert politician/manipulator. Wolff even goes so far as to speculate basketball’s influence on Obama’s Presidential legacy: “Will Obama be remembered as the President who shared his brackets with us?” Perhaps “Baracketology” will become a tradition, carried on by the next Commander-in-Chief as a way to reach the American people. The once-criticized practice has now become commonplace political strategy.

The author conveys in his book as well as in his interviews that Obama is very much an agent of change. During his Presidency, he has created a coalition to bring a much-divided nation together, often using basketball as his starting point and common thread. The sport has even given the public a glimpse into Barack Obama’s personal life, providing the entry point into his youth, career, and marriage. Obama’s connection to basketball has become intertwined with his legacy in many senses. I would venture to say that the same is true for Alexander Wolff, whose own legacy will surely include not only basketball, but also the Age of Obama.

1.15_page9-p1adeh4ik7hfe1utd1jpn1v0ltq3

Austin Zwolenik, Biology major

Wolff’s writing, filled with comparisons and analysis is somewhat atypical in informative books, as they usually only lay out facts with no real opinion written by the author. The Audacity of Hoop caters to the people that subscribe to the acronym “tl:dr,” meaning: too long; didn’t read. Wolff even addressed this type of thinking in his talk as he referenced the style in which The Audacity of Hoop was written. It is a coffee table book filled with many pictures to tag along with the writing. This writing medium is excellent for the purpose of creating a dynamic where the pictures explain what words sometimes cannot.

1.17_page12-p1adei0gkjocq1s3svkf1bpm1709

Long Duc Nguyen, Management Information Systems major

I had a great chance to meet the author of The Audacity of Hoop, Alexander Wolff. The author gave us some insights on President Obama, his campaign, and how the President’s use of sports affects American society. When President Obama fills out the March Madness bracket, it shows that he is just another person with the love for sports and creates a sense of trust among the African-American community. The most interesting story that the author told us is how Barack Obama, through his qualities on the basketball court, won the heart of the demanding Michelle Robinson.

2.1_page16-p1adeibdjgfbns1l1dq911bokpf

Isabella Menzies, Early Childhood Education major

While interviewing Alexander Wolff, the author of The Audacity of Hoop, I asked what brought his attention to the fact that Barack Obama had used basketball as a campaign strategy. Wolff stated that the influence of basketball on Obama’s campaign first grabbed his attention in 2008. He noted that he had always been interested in politics and basketball, so the potential intersection of those two entities allowed him to investigate a story that brought together both of his interests. Wolff acknowledged that he initially questioned if he had just strained to make connections between basketball and Obama’s campaign. Nonetheless, evidence of the influence that the former had on the latter (and vice versa) grew, and Wolff ultimately concluded that Obama had used basketball to connect with voters. Such a conclusion enabled me to realize the intentional (rather than coincidental) nature of the relationship between politics and sports.

Knowledge Unlatched enables a further 78 books to be Open Access

This week, we highlight the Knowledge Unlatched (KU) program. Round 2 of this open access program “unlatched” three Temple University Press titles:  We Shall Not Be Moved/No Nos Moverán by David Spener,  The Muslim Question in Europe by Peter O’Brien, and The Struggling State, by Jennifer Riggan.  The KU program allows publishers to recover costs while making important current content available openly online.

These Temple University Press titles are among the 78 unlatched* books that have been made open access through the support of both individual libraries and library consortia from across the globe. This round brings the total to more than 100 titles now available as open access since 2014, when the KU Pilot Collection of 28 humanities and social science monographs from 13 publishers was unlatched by nearly 300 libraries worldwide.  Constructing Muslims in France, by Jennifer Fredette, was included in the Pilot Collection.

These 78 new books from 26 publishers (including the original 13 participants) have been successfully unlatched by libraries in 21 countries along with support from a number of library consortia, who together raised over $1 million. The books are being loaded onto the OAPEN and HathiTrust platforms, where they will be available for free as fully downloadable PDFs. The titles cover five humanities and social science subject areas (Anthropology, History, Literature, Media and Communications, and Politics): http://collections.knowledgeunlatched.org/packages/.

The second round of KU allowed libraries to choose from subject packages as well as publisher packages. It also introduced consortium participation into the program. Additional plans for KU expansion will be announced soon.

* ‘Unlatching’ is term for KU’s  collaborative and sustainable way of making content available using Creative Commons licences and fully downloadable by the end user.

Trump, Bullying, and Narcissism

This week in North Philly Notes, we re-post a two part essay by Laura Martocci, author of Bullying from Psychology Today entitled, “Trump, Bullying and Narcissism.”

Has Donald Trump turned bullying into a political art from? If so, how did he do it?
Having built a successful career as a preeminent narcissist, could his recent success be an instance of two negatives equaling a positive?

In order to explore these questions, the relationship between bullying and narcissism requires a bit of explaining.  While even Trump’s supporters would have difficulty dismissing claims that he is a narcissist, or a bully, it seems that it is the combination of narcissism and bullying that has galvanized the Republican electorate, raising the question  how (and why) a society that has fostered anti-bullying campaigns over the past decade is looking to elect a bully.

Both bullies and narcissists share a strong sense of conviction.  And surely, what attracts many to Trump is his certainty.  There is no political ‘double-talk,’ no sense of waffling or political correctness, let alone apology.  He is not Christopher Lasch’s narcissist, depending on others to validate his self-esteem.  While Trump may ultimately be unable to live without an admiring audience, he does, in fact, glory in his individuality.  He has placed himself  beyond shame (in the political arena, at least) and this is precisely what makes him so dangerous.  In this, he more fits the mold of a ‘rugged individualist’ who sees the world as a wilderness to be shaped to his own design—think robber-barons like Rockefeller and Carnegie—than the stereotype of, say, reality show “mactors” whose desperate need of  the spotlight suggests  insecurities beneath the surface.

In other words, Trump’s  bullying behavior (coupled with his financial independence) allows his vainglory to be writ large, crushing those who stand in the way of refracted grandiosity.  Social aggressions can be re-cast when the narrative is one of a mythic lone rebel taking justice into his own hands, or even as David taking on Goliath (America loves an underdog success story).

This suggests that—contrary to popular belief—a very secure sense of self-worth underlies all Trump’s actions (including his candidacy). And in fact, as Twenge and Campbell argue (in The Narcissism Epidemic) the notion that narcissists are insecure and have low self-esteem is a myth. On the contrary, many narcissists really do consider themselves awesome. Believing that they are wonderful, superior—the best, even—enables these individuals to dominate (aka ‘bully’) others with impunity.  An overblown sense of self is so all-pervasive as to preclude the perspectives of others—or have any concern for the harm one might be doing those who are clearly inferior.

Bullying_smFor what is a man, what has he got
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way
  (Sinatra, My Way).

“My way,” for Trump involves paving an ethnocentric glory-road by fear-mongering, on the one hand, and promising a return to ‘the good ole days’ on the other. Trump’s positions, no less than his style of asserting them (which has been compared to the bigoted scare-tactics  found in Hitler’s early speeches readily play into narcissistic cultural norms that produced—and continue to tacitly support—bullying.  These include 1) an ongoing preoccupation with/valorization of  self-esteem, and 2) the belief that self-expression—often paired with ‘authenticity’—is  a fundamental entitlement.

These Self-centered values are a double-edged sword, as they give rise to  heterogeneity—a tolerance for, if not valuation of, diversity—which quietly  whittled  away any clear-cut sense of cultural identity. Global heterogeneity challenges American exceptionalism; America’s own diversity challenges white Christian male supremacy. The unique (read esteemed, privileged) position from which denizens of a narcissistic culture tacitly appropriate the world has been repeatedly called into question. Trump’s political platform amounts to a rejection of that question / an attempt to restore  a gilded (cultural) mirror, repositioning Americans (you and me) at the center

The point at which the gilding on this mirror overlays its reflective qualities is precisely  the point at which Trump’s narcissism bleeds into bullying. His perspective (on anything from Megyn to Mexicans to the military) is objectified and touted as factual,  allowing his self, and his platform, to be truly synonymous.  Trump does not  bother with other points of view—or even with “disagreeable” facts—because he sincerely believes that his candidacy (which is coeval with both personal and political assessments)  transcends all other considerations.  He denigrates and dismisses detractors no less than the Constitution itself because, as a narcissistic bully, he  is convinced  that the ends—his ends—justify the means.  (And if the ends justify the means, any niggling laws or contradictions can be blustered around, as Trump well knows: “if you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”)

The mockery and abuse launched at detractors (anyone “un-American” enough to have alternate points of view) is undergirded by a sense of patriotism that meshes well with the psycho-social elements that conspired to produce the “me generation.”   As the baby-boomers became parents, their preoccupation with self-esteem was translated into child-centered parenting, which, in turn, produced a culture of entitlement.  (the  “me-me generation,” who express themselves/construct their identities on  social ME-dia platforms with their, iphones, ipods, iwatches, and imacs). Those who are invested in this  entitlementespecially the newly disenfranchised, who can no longer afford the American Dream —line up behind Trump in order to  push back against cultural de-differentiation and the de-centering of the “American way of life.”

In short, the public phenomenon that is “Trump” is scaffolded by cultural fears which are tethered to a narcissism writ large—a (privileged) belief in global dominance/respect that we, and our children, are entitled to.

Yet even if we can convince ourselves that this patriotism belies a cultural fact —that “we’re Number One”—we are all, nonetheless, only Trump’s Apprentices.

 

A Slumlord Bent on Displacing tenants and a DC Law that (Sort of) Stands in its Way

This week in North Philly Notes, Carolyn Gallaher, author of The Politics of Staying Put explains how the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) is operating in Washington, DC. 

Cities are fashionable again.  After decades of disinvestment, people are coming back.  Washington DC is a case in point.  Between 1950 and 2000 the city’s population shrunk by 29%; however, in the next decade it grew 10%, from 572,059 to 632,323. Although population growth slowed after 2012, the city still added another 23,000 residents in the next two years.  Most economists think the city would have grown even more if not for the rising costs associated with living in the city.

Given these trends, it’s fair to ask why big cities like Washington, DC still have slumlords.  In the era of urban decline (roughly between 1960 and 2000) slumlords typically let their properties deteriorate because they couldn’t make a return on investments in them.  Today, returns on investments in rental accommodations are very likely, if not guaranteed.  Enter the modern slumlord.  No longer an individual or a family, the modern slumlord is often a real estate investment group, and for them disinvestment is a strategy for ensuring a larger return.  Instead of repairing and refurbishing an old building and earning modest returns, you tear it down, replace it with luxury apartments, and charge rents to match.  The only things standing in your way are tenants.  So, you stop making repairs and hope they’ll move out.

The residents in Congress Heights, a complex in the Anacostia neighborhood, know all about this strategy.  They’ve lived it for several years.  Their landlord, Sanford Capital, doesn’t make repairs anymore.  The company’s tenants live with sporadic heat, faulty plumbing, a bedbug infestation, rodents, and a basement with raw sewage and standing water when it rains.  People often pack up and leave when things get this bad, but a number of the tenants in Congress Heights are holding on.  Some of the complex’s longtime residents are elderly and can’t imagine living anywhere else.  Others don’t want to leave their friends and neighbors because they all look out for one another.  And, everyone is poor and worried about finding someplace else as affordable as where they live now.  They are right to worry.  The Congress Heights neighborhood is near a metro (subway) station and is, in developer speak, “ripe for redevelopment.”  A recent study by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI) also suggests there aren’t many affordable apartments left in the city.  Since 2002 the city lost nearly half of its affordable apartment units (defined in the study as units renting for $800 or less).

The District of Columbia has a law, the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), which should have prevented things from getting so bad at Congress Heights.  The city council introduced TOPA in 1981 in response to a spate of condo conversions in fast-gentrifying neighborhoods near downtown.  The goal of the law was to help tenants stay in place when their landlords decided to sell or convert to condominium.  TOPA states that when a landlord sells a rental apartment building, tenants are allowed to refuse the sale and purchase the building instead for the same price. Tenants are also allowed to purchase their building if a landlord wants to demolish it for redevelopment.  Tenants usually work with a developer (for-profit or non-profit) to purchase their building.  They can then choose whether to convert their building to condo or co-op or keep it rental.

By law landlords are supposed to inform their tenants when they contract a sale or submit formal plans for demolition with the city.  In practice, however, landlords often subvert these guidelines, and at various points in recent history the city agency responsible for regulating the TOPA process has abetted them.

The landlord at Congress Heights, Sanford Capital, applied for and received permission to demolish the buildings in early 2015 and the tenants have still not received a formal TOPA notice.  In the meantime, the city’s Attorney General, Karl Racine, recently sued the landlords and will ask the court to put the building into temporary receivership so a different owner can make repairs.  The city is also considering forcing Sanford Capital to issue its tenants a TOPA notice. In short, the law that didn’t work to protect the people it was supposed to protect may still be their last hope for staying put.

Staying Put_061615.jpgIn my new book The Politics of Staying Put: Condo Conversion and Tenant Right-to-Buy in Washington DC, I assess TOPA’s success at helping tenants stay put.  As the Congress Heights case suggest, the law is imperfect.  Legislators need to specify fuzzy language, close some obvious loopholes, and demand city regulators actually provide oversight of the process.  But, I also found that many tenants have made TOPA work for them.  Most importantly, successful tenants associations have used TOPA to stay put—no mean feat in a fast gentrifying city.  Successful tenants associations have also participated in the benefits of reinvestment, whether as new owners building equity or as renters who can demand building wide improvements and continued low rents from their development partners.

The bigger battle, though, isn’t fixing TOPA. The law was never designed to be a stand-alone solution.  TOPA cannot, for example, ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing, police slumlords, or reign in the city’s pay-to-play approach with developers.  In fact, the city’s Zoning Commission approved Sanford’s plans for redeveloping the land where the Congress Heights apartment complex sits even after the city’s Department of Human Services and its Department of Housing and Community Development received hundreds of complaints about significant code violations in Sanford owned properties.  In these neoliberal times, cities don’t want to assume responsibilities for their low income residents (or increasingly, their middle income ones), but they will have to if they want to ensure their cities don’t become exclusive enclaves for the wealthy.  Otherwise, cities risk becoming a version of the 1980s era suburbs they long bemoaned.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 94 other followers

%d bloggers like this: