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How toxic masculinity became a threat to public health

As if the first two waves of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States weren't enough to inspire serious political changes to stop the coronavirus, health experts have sounded the alarm that a third wave is underway. Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are rising across the nation, specifically in the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Montana, as the seasons change and the election nears.

It's certainly taken a lot of resilience and strength to persevere through this pandemic — particularly given the backdrop of political chaos, uncertainty and immense change in our daily lives. Yet perhaps it is this attitude of "staying strong," and acting stoically — which is rooted in a culture that favors and thrives off toxic masculinity — that has hurt and continues to hurt us the most.

Toxic masculinity, which has become a household phrase over the last few years, is when the archetypal image of masculinity, like displaying strength, becomes harmful to oneself. In 2005, in a study of men in prison, psychiatrist Terry Kupers defined toxic masculinity as "the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence." The phrase is used to describe the issues men face or sometimes, wrongfully, justify them. Certainly, in a patriarchal society, toxic masculinity not only defines people but politics — as its mores trickle into our entertainment, discourse and politics.

Notably, the pandemic response is being led by the most psychologically compromised, toxic men in America. As I wrote last weekend, President Donald Trump's insistence on depicting himself as so strong as to be able to "work through" his COVID-19 illness is deeply harmful, and apt to put Americans' lives at risk who mimic his behavior — either by working while sick or hiding symptoms.

Meanwhile, Trump's re-election campaign has tried to frame Trump as a "warrior" — masculine, strong and void of emotion. The administration's individualistic, pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps rhetoric personifies toxic masculinity, and trickles down to Trump's underlings, too. In June, Vice President Mike Pence wrote an op-ed essay in The Wall Street Journal claiming there was no second wave of COVID-19, despite all the evidence to the contrary. "We are winning the fight against the invisible enemy," Pence wrote then, adding "our greatest strength is the resilience of the American people."

Yet as psychologists will warn, there is a dark side to resilience.

"There is no doubt that resilience is a useful and highly adaptive trait, especially in the face of traumatic events," psychologists Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Derek Lusk wrote in Harvard Business Review. "However, when taken too far, it may focus individuals on impossible goals and make them unnecessarily tolerant of unpleasant or counterproductive circumstances." In other words, self-sufficiency is not always a show of strength; humans, as social creatures, rely on others for society to function and to remain healthy. Denying that means hurting ourselves, either by delaying care or eschewing guidance that may help us or save others.

I've often wondered how much my so-called "resilience" in all of this is just making me numb and tolerant, in an unhealthy way. When looking at which countries have the pandemic somewhat under control, we look and judge their leaders. It's interesting to do this through a gendered lens. For example, New Zealand has some of the lowest coronavirus numbers in the world under Prime Minister Jacinda Adern's leadership. That's partly because she never advertised grandiose ideas about being above or stronger than the coronavirus. As I've previously written, the strengths—such as empathy and compassion— Ardern has brought throughout her tenure are the very same traits that have been used against women seeking leadership positions in the workplace and in the public sector. When male leaders display traditionally feminine qualities, they can also be maligned as weak — former House Speaker John Boehner, for example, used to shed tears in public; Politico's response was to ask, "Why Does John Boehner Cry So Much?"

It's obvious the Trump administration is terrified of appearing "weak" during the pandemic. But where has that gotten us? Prioritizing the economy over our health. Over 8 million infections, and 218,000 Americans dead. And the politicizing of wearing masks, as though wearing them were a sign of weakness — something Trump mocked his opponent Joe Biden for at their first and so far only debate.

As much as toxic masculinity's social repercussion are harmful to our physical health, it is also taking a toll on our mental health. A study published in JAMA Network Open in September showed that three times as many Americans met criteria for a depression diagnosis during the pandemic compared to before it. According to an analysis of Google Trends, symptoms of anxiety increased too.

Why? In part, it could be a result of having to power through these extraordinarily abnormal times without seeking help — that "bootstraps" mentality innate to toxic masculinity. One's attempts to hold it together can devolve into emotional suppression, which in return can cause more emotional distress. In July 2018, Penn State researchers found that women tried to suppress their fears about the Zika virus reported higher levels of fear later. "It turns out that not only is suppression ineffective at handling fear, but it's counter-productive," one researcher said. "It creates a cycle of fear — and it's a vicious cycle."

As a society, many of us — particularly men — haven't been authorized to express sadness publicly, and these studies reflect that. With over 200,000 Americans dead of coronavirus, their loved ones are grieving. Seven months later, we've yet to have a moment of national reflection to mourn.

As it is with the death of a loved one, grief isn't lessened by ignoring one's uncomfortable emotions. Instead, it requires collective vulnerability, compassion and patience. As author David Kessler told HBR:

Emotions need motion. It's important we acknowledge what we go through. [...] We tell ourselves things like, I feel sad, but I shouldn't feel that; other people have it worse. We can — we should — stop at the first feeling. I feel sad. Let me go for five minutes to feel sad. Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn't help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they'll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Then we're not victims.

As we try to stay strong through this pandemic, the strength we seek to feel will come from falling apart and allowing ourselves to feel the loss and the chaos—physically and emotionally. By persevering through that, still standing in so much unknown, we can experience real strength. In other words, the non-toxic kind.

More penises are appearing on TV and in film – but why are nearly all of them prosthetic?

‘Euphoria’ is one of many premium cable TV shows to feature an abundance of prosthetic penises.HBOPeter Lehman, Arizona State UniversityIf you’ve noticed an uptick of male frontal nudity in TV and in movies in recent years, you’re onto something.In 1993, I studied patterns of male nudity in my book “Running Scared: Masculinity and the Representation of the Male Body.” After the old Motion Picture Production Code was replaced by a new ratings system in 1968, frontal male nudity in Hollywood movies in certain contexts was permitted. “Drive, He Said,” directed by Jack Nicholson in 1971, was an ea...

How the hit music podcast 'Song Exploder' became a Netflix series

Among the first instruments you hear in "Losing My Religion," the 1991 smash hit by R.E.M., is a mandolin. Played by guitarist Peter Buck, the minimalist melody moves through the song virtually unimpeded. Take it away and the song collapses. Opt instead for a piano, saxophone or a distorted electric guitar and it's a different thing altogether.But why? And how did that mandolin riff, combined with bassist Mike Mills' fluid undercurrent, Bill Berry's disco-informed drumming and singer Michael Stipe's disorienting confession - "Oh no I've said too much / I haven't said enough" - come to propel a...

How 'Social Distance' filmed an entire show in quarantine: 'Like making a student film'

There were just seven months between the day Hilary Weisman Graham came up with the idea for “Social Distance” and the Netflix series’ premiere Thursday.Normally, the process to make a TV show takes years and includes inception, pitching, casting, shooting and editing.“We wanted to get it out before the pandemic is over,” the “Orange is the New Black” writer told the Daily News of the coronavirus era-set show.Turns out, the pandemic isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but “Social Distance” lives entirely in shutdowns, filmed on FaceTime and Zoom and Nest.Real-life couples and family members wer...

‘Crusade for America’: James Carville hopes Trump’s ‘catastrophic defeat’ will end the country's darkest hour

James Carville is not known for his contributions to right-wing websites. But politics make strange bedfellows, and the veteran Democratic strategist finds some common ground with Never Trump Republicans in an October 15 article for the conservative website The Bulwark — arguing, in essence, that conservatives, liberals and centrists all have a mutual interest in removing President Donald Trump from office on Tuesday, November 3.

"Donald Trump's authoritarian presence behind the Resolute Desk is amongst the gravest threats America has ever faced from within," the 75-year-old Carville stresses. "And Americans have risen to meet this threat."

Earlier this year — before former Vice President Joe Biden won the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination — Carville sounded pessimistic during his appearances on MSNBC. Carville feared that Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, if nominated, would be defeated by Trump in the general election. But now, he is optimistic that Biden is headed for a landslide win. And as Carville sees it, the United States' "darkest hour" will end when Americans across the political spectrum reject Trump's authoritarianism on November 3.

"We are constantly told that America is too divided, too hopelessly stricken by tribalism to come together anymore," Carville explains. "Well, I'm here to proclaim that this received 'wisdom' is just plain wrong. If you were to run a cable wire through the heart of America right now, you would see an image of an exceedingly diverse coalition of people who challenge that assumption at its core. You'd see (a) suburban woman from a once-Republican stronghold in Maricopa County, Arizona standing alongside a retired grandfather in Florida, a college student in Brooklyn, a Latina mom in Raleigh, a Black computer programmer in Houston — and yes, standing alongside even a former Trump voter in Wisconsin who has now changed his mind. This coalition is exactly why an incumbent president is on the precipice of a catastrophic defeat."

According to Carville, "This is more than a campaign. This is a crusade for America."

Biden's campaign is enjoying a wide range of support. Everyone from staunch progressives like Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City to Never Trump conservatives such as Washington Post columnist George Will, former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. John McCain's widow, Cindy McCain, has been rooting for a Biden victory. And Carville, in his Bulwark article, stresses that the importance of 2020's presidential election goes way beyond the policy differences of Democrats and Republicans. Americans all over the political spectrum, according to Carville, are determined to bring Trump's presidency to an end.

"In less than two weeks," Carville writes, "I will be 76 years old…. I can say with certainty that in all my years, joining in this crusade to take America back from the brink of destruction is the greatest thing I have ever been a part of in my life. This crusade is something noble."

Schadenfreude over Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis was more about cosmic justice than joy in another’s pain

Lee M. Pierce, State University of New York, College at Geneseo

After President Donald Trump announced his COVID-19 diagnosis, Merriam-Webster Dictionary reported a 30,000% increase in searches for the word “schadenfreude."

The German word, which is often translated as “harm joy," or “joy in someone else's pain," instantly became a subject of debate.

GQ and Newsweek, along with Stephen Colbert of “The Late Show," wondered whether schadenfreude was a morally defensible response to the president's diagnosis.

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said absolutely not. Harvard professor Laurence Tribe went further, writing that this was no time for “cruelty, schadenfreude, or any other form of small-mindedness."

I agree that cruelty is small-minded and indefensible. But as a scholar of rhetoric, I have a difficult time looping schadenfreude in with small-minded cruelty.

One of the issues is that the common English translation of schadenfreude – “harm joy" – fails to adequately capture the nuances of the term, and misses what's most poignant about it.

The realization of divine symmetry

Perhaps the confusion comes from the social sciences. Recent studies of schadenfreude have oversimplified it as the “darker side" of human emotion.

But at its best, schadenfreude is actually a recognition of ironic justice.

Irony is frequently misused in American political discourse as simply not meaning what you said. However, irony is a very specific rhetorical device by which something returns as its opposite. “A returns as not A" is the classic formulation.

In the case of Trump, he downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19 and ended up being diagnosed with a serious case of the virus himself. A returned as not A.

That is classic irony. Then there's the justice element.

Trump didn't simply downplay it in a vacuum. He was in charge of the federal government's response to a pandemic that has devastated thousands of families across the country. To them, COVID-19 has been deadly serious. So in this case, the irony doubles as a form of justice.

By justice, I don't mean rule of law or a system of punishment. I mean justice in its older sense of divine symmetry. The roots of the word “justice" have several potential origins, including the Latin ūstitia, loosely translated as “equity," and the pre-Latin word “jowos," loosely translated as “sacred formula."

Schadenfreude is about appreciating that sacred formula at work in a secular world. Maybe you observe with satisfaction as the person who mocked your weight in high school asks for diet advice on Facebook. Or maybe you look on contentedly as your grandchild gives your child the same grief over broccoli that your child gave you.

Is that small-minded cruelty? Or are you appreciating the cosmic irony by which a perceived wrong has been righted?

An emotional middle ground

Appreciation is not simply another word for happiness or glee. Those are emotions that feel good, the way cuddles with loved ones and delicious desserts feel good.

A sense of appreciation or satisfaction after witnessing poetic justice at work is different, and schadenfreude is a milder experience that involves satisfaction.

To Sigmund Freud, satisfaction was best explained by the word “befriedigung," which means “ceasing displeasure."

Ceasing displeasure is not the same thing as experiencing pleasure. It's about bringing things back into balance. “Befriedigung" occupies an emotional middle ground that can be difficult to grasp in a culture that prefers extreme, binary emotions.

The president's tendency toward hyperbolic and grandiose language is symptomatic of the country's cultural preference for the huge emotions, such as anger, guilt, happiness and pleasure. Schadenfreude is an emotional chisel in an internet and media landscape that prefers blunt rhetorical instruments.

When schadenfreude veers into hopelessness

That said, schadenfreude can certainly go too far.

Just a few decades before Freud, another influential German thinker, Friedrich Nietzsche, argued that schadenfreude, pushed to its limits, becomes another word: “ressentiment." In “On the Genealogy of Morality," Nietzsche defined ressentiment as “slave morality," a feeling of superiority derived from one's own suffering.

Think of it like a sliding scale. On the far end is simple justice: Someone in power does the right thing, like your boss approving your vacation request after you've worked six months with no time off. But let's suppose your boss says no to the request. And then no again two months later. And then no again two months after that. At that point, you might appreciate learning that your boss was denied a vacation request by headquarters. That's schadenfreude. You might even point out this cosmic irony to your boss, hoping it will make a difference.

But when it doesn't – and your boss continues treating you poorly – you might start reveling in your own victimhood. You take every chance you can to tell your co-workers that your boss is out to get you. That's ressentiment.

Ressentiment takes hold once the possibility for justice is no longer on the horizon. Under those conditions, even the most poignant appreciations of irony cannot speak truth to power. In turn, an oppressed people would understandably take refuge in an extreme form of schadenfreude.

But in between justice and ressentiment is a rich, gray area where schadenfreude can serve a valuable political purpose. If those in power won't take responsibility for the injustices they have perpetuated – either knowingly or not – then it's certainly OK for people to appreciate those moments when the chickens come home to roost.The Conversation

Lee M. Pierce, Assistant Professor Rhetoric and Communication, State University of New York, College at Geneseo

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Authoritarian white masculinity is Trump and Pence’s political debate strategy: communications expert

Karrin Vasby Anderson, Colorado State University

After the debate between Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence, commentators contrasted Pence's reserved demeanor with the belligerence President Donald Trump exhibited in his debate with former Vice President Joe Biden the previous week.

NPR Congress editor Deirdre Walsh asserted that Pence's debate style was an “almost polar opposite of the president's." New York Times conservative columnist Christopher Buskirk called Pence “calm, professional, competent and focused," claiming that he was “in some sense the answer to every criticism leveled at Trump after the last debate." The BBC's Anthony Zurcher contended that Pence's “typically calm and methodical style served as a steady counterpoint to Trump's earlier aggression."

These seemingly disparate styles, however, are two sides of the same coin – manifestations of a particular version of authoritarian white masculinity that has taken over the GOP since it became the party of Trump.

Not only do these styles perpetuate sexist assumptions about leadership, they also are fundamentally undemocratic because they try to silence dissent, foreclose debate and curtail the participation of anyone with whom they disagree in our democracy.

An inequitable system

Authoritarian white masculinity is a version of patriarchal authority that has asserted itself in U.S. politics in conjunction with the rise of Donald Trump. It assumes that heterosexual white men are best suited to leadership and casts political leadership by women and people of color as inauthentic – for example, the “birther movement" – or threatening – for example, “lock her up."

The Trump presidency is, in part, a backlash to the election of the nation's first Black president and to Hillary Clinton's nomination in 2016 as the first woman to top a major-party presidential ticket. This reassertion of white patriarchal authority is presented as necessary for the nation's stability and progress. It's one way Trump delivers on his promise to “make America great again."

Authoritarian white masculinity has made a resurgence because it doesn't only appeal to men. People of all genders can be socialized into patriarchal systems, and white women, in particular, sometimes benefit from their proximity to, and participation in, authoritarian white masculinity.

Where progressive political power aims to expand citizenship, voting and participation, conservative authoritarianism aims to curtail it. As a result, progressive women and candidates of color face a complex set of stereotypes and constraints when challenging the white patriarchy on which the U.S. political system is built.

As a political communication scholar who has studied gender and the U.S. presidency for 25 years, I have observed how talented and driven women have been held back from reaching the nation's highest office by a culture that rewards authoritarian masculinity.

But I also study the rhetorical ingenuity of candidates like Harris, whose ability to navigate an inequitable political system makes them formidable.

Authoritarian white masculinity as debate strategy

Trump's approach to the debate on Sept. 29 was to establish himself as someone who leads through dominance.

CNN reported that he “dominated the discussion, talked over his rival, [and] steamrolled the moderator — often without any interruption." Trump characterized Biden as someone who could easily be “dominated" by what he called “socialists" in the Democratic party.

Trump was unconstrained by either expectations of civility or the rules of the debate. The more disruptive, the better. Drawn in by Trump's provocations, Biden urged Trump to “shut up, man" and called him a “clown." Debate observers likened the event to a schoolyard brawl or a bar fight.

Although some commentators cheered Pence's ostensible civility during the vice presidential debate, Pence persistently ignored the rules to which his campaign had assented, speaking past his time limit, refusing to answer many of moderator Susan Page's questions, and supplanting the moderator's authority so that he could pose his own questions to Harris.

Pence's authoritarian masculinity is the genteel version favored in the patriarchal religious and regional communities that compose Trump's most loyal base: Southern conservatives and white evangelical Christians. During the debate, Pence said it was a “privilege to be on the stage" with Harris and repeatedly thanked the moderator while ignoring her authority.

When Page moved to a new topic, Pence said, “Well, thank you, but I would like to go back to the previous topic." When she informed him his time was up, he kept speaking as though no one had said anything. When he wanted to interrupt Harris, he placidly insisted, “I have to weigh in."

Harris: 'I'm speaking'

Harris' response to the vice president's interruptions were popular with women who have experienced similar rudeness.

Harris refused to be steamrolled. Her gender insulated her from being drawn into a competitive masculinity display, as Biden was in his debate with Trump. But that doesn't mean her task was easy.

As noted by Politico, Harris had to “navigate stereotypes that pigeonhole Black women as angry and aggressive, and less qualified that white men."

Harris' strategy was to meet Pence's authoritarian masculinity with an authoritative assertion of her own: “I'm speaking."

Without appealing to the moderator to intervene on her behalf, she did what men routinely do: she took up space. She claimed time. She articulated her qualifications. But she was careful to do it all with a smile.

Twitter lit up as women saw Harris weaving around familiar roadblocks that they routinely encounter in their own lives.

Dominance or democracy?

The “dominance" strategy did not work well for Trump or Pence, other than garnering the expected partisan praise. But neither is likely to abandon it. More than a campaign tactic, authoritarian masculinity appears to be baked into their worldviews.

As Trump's electoral prospects dwindle, his belief in his inherent entitlement to authority appears to be fostering a host of anti-democratic practices: contesting election procedures to reduce voter participation; declining to commit to accepting the results of the election if he loses; sabotaging or boycotting debates.

When Trump told Maria Bartiromo on Fox News that he planned to stage a rally instead of debating Biden in a COVID-19-safe virtual format, it was revealing. Debates are rituals of democracy, dating back to the classical Greek agora, flourishing in the Continental Congress that birthed the United States, and held up as the ideal form of campaign communication after those made famous by Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas.

Rallies, on the other hand, are authoritarian political theater popularized by demagogues and dictators.

And the attraction of authoritarian masculinity seems to be shared by other Republican politicians. On the night of the vice presidential debate, Sen. Mike Lee posted a tweet that implied that something other than democratic governance might be required in order for “the human condition to flourish."

Presidential campaign cycles present voters with the opportunity to think about the expectations they have of political leaders, who those standards benefit and constrain, and how they promote or impede democratic engagement. As such, campaign communication and presidential debates are about much more than political strategy. They build – or break – American democracy.The Conversation

Karrin Vasby Anderson, Professor of Communication Studies, Colorado State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cornel West explains the rhetorical trick 'fascist' Trump uses to beat his audience into submission

Eleven days ago, Donald Trump was hospitalized after testing positive for the coronavirus. His administration continues to hide the truth about Trump's health status.

Contrary to official word from Trump's mouthpieces, Olivia Nuzzi of New York Magazine reports that Trump was at one point severely ill and at substantial risk of not surviving:

Donald Trump was on the phone, and he was talking about dying. It was Saturday, October 3, and while his doctor had told the outside world that the president's symptoms were nothing to worry about, Trump, cocooned in his suite at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, was telling those close to him something very different.

"I could be one of the diers," he said. ...

Nine months into the pandemic and one month away from Election Day, the president considered for the first time that the disease killing him in the polls, threatening his political future, might just kill him, too. On the phone he remarked sarcastically, "This change of scenery has been great."… Then he admitted something scary. That how he felt might not mean much in the end.

"This thing could go either way. It's tricky. They told me it's tricky," the president said. "You can tell it can go either way."

More incredibly, the New York Times reports that Donald Trump planned to dress as Superman on his release from the hospital, reveling in his pretend-Übermensch status to thrill his supporters:

In several phone calls last weekend from the presidential suite at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Mr. Trump shared an idea he was considering: When he left the hospital, he wanted to appear frail at first when people saw him, according to people with knowledge of the conversations. But underneath his button-down dress shirt, he would wear a Superman T-shirt, which he would reveal as a symbol of strength when he ripped open the top layer. He ultimately did not go ahead with the stunt.

Trump is an expert political performance artist, a professional wrestling heel who is also the (illegitimate) president of the United States. Contrary to the hopes of too many members of the chattering class, Trump's brush with death has not humbled him or caused some type of personal revelation that would cause him to become less cruel, vile and tasteless.

While in the hospital and during his supposed convalescence, Donald Trump has continued his fascist authoritarian behavior, demanding that leading Democrats like Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton be charged with treason for their supposed "coup" attempt. During a phone interview with Fox News last Thursday, Trump continued his attacks on Sen. Kamala Harris, the first black woman to be nominated on a major-party presidential ticket, calling her a "monster" and a "communist," among other slurs.

As befits a malignant, narcissistic cult leader, Trump is again holding rallies where his followers can display their love and devotion to him, even though he is likely still contagious with the coronavirus and few attendees at his rallies wear masks. As the leader of a literal death cult, Donald Trump has been fully transformed into a human bioweapon. He is now an example for his followers, who are willing to do his bidding whatever that entails.

Several of Donald Trump's followers were recently arrested by the FBI for plotting to kidnap Michigan's Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, and perhaps kill her. These right-wing terrorists also planned to attack police and other law enforcement agents if need be. The Trump regime has never explicitly disavowed the right-wing militias and other terrorist groups who serve as the president's foot soldiers and hooligans.

Given Donald Trump's manifest evil, a not-insignificant number of Americans were happy that he was sickened by COVID-19. For them, Trump's illness was a form of karmic justice, in which a man who has hurt so many through his negligent or criminal response to the pandemic (and other willfully cruel policies) was finally receiving his comeuppance. There was also the hope that Trump's illness might end the national nightmare of his presidency.

What do such emotions and reactions — including the obligatory demands that Trump must be sent positive wishes and prayers — reveal about America's culture at present? Is there a "right" or "wrong" way for the American people to react to Trump's illness? Given their professed values, should liberals and progressives be held to a higher standard in their reactions to Donald Trump's encounter with a life-threatening disease?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Dr. Cornel West. He is a philosopher, public intellectual, activist, scholar and author of several bestselling books, including "Democracy Matters," "Race Matters" and "Black Prophetic Fire."

West is professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard and a professor emeritus at Princeton. In this wide-ranging conversation he also shares his thoughts on democracy and the recent presidential and vice-presidential debates, as well as how the American people should best focus their emotions and energies once Trump is no longer president.

You can also listen to my conversation with Dr. Cornel West on my podcast "The Truth Report" or through the player embedded below.

You are a philosopher. How should people manage their feelings about Donald Trump having been sickened by the coronavirus? Is it wrong to be happy at the possibility of Donald Trump receiving his comeuppance and karmic punishment from COVID? He has done so much evil.

What you are feeling is Janus-faced. Your feelings have two sides to them. Any kind of love and justice has to have serious accountability. In that way, Donald Trump has been unaccountable. As such, death would be a certain kind of accountability. There is nothing wrong with that conception of accountability. But the other side is a certain kind of contempt and revenge in the form of "You did it to us. Now we're going to do it to you. You've been doing us in. Now somebody — God, providence, fate, fortune — is going to do you in."

Democratic accountability is not same thing as revenge or divine retribution or the like. It is of a different register. Democracy is about human justice. Democracy is for we mortals. It's for we finite folk. And we finite folk, we've got to have some control over our propensity toward contempt and revenge, or it just adds more to the contempt and revenge in the world. But if we lean into love and justice and there's some accountability — with Trump getting sick, it may have been a certain kind of accountability, in terms of the virus coming back to haunt him — there is a different kind of spirit at work, one that you want to preserve.

Are liberals and progressives allowed to enjoy schadenfreude, those feelings of joy at another person's just and deserved misfortune? Or is that sentiment outside of what it should mean to be a progressive?

The best of what it means to be a progressive is that one never succumbs to any kind of bitterness, revenge, hoping somebody collapses or even laughing at somebody's misfortune or downfall. You are using that person, such as Trump, as a point of reference for your own sense of who you are and what you're doing. Don't surrender those values.

That's the reason why Jesus said, "Love your enemies." If you are really concerned about poor people and the wretched of the earth, then when you love your enemy, you're not loving the part of them that are gangsters. You're not loving their hatred. You're not loving their domination. You are just recognizing that they too are made in the image of God. Therefore you are using the point of reference for who you are, in the best of your own tradition as a barometer and guidepost. There is nothing sadomasochistic about loving one's enemies. Do not ever let them set the terms upon which you define yourself and your reality. If you do such a thing, you will be reacting to their hatred your whole life.

What of this expectation that the American people should send Donald Trump goodwill because he was hospitalized and apparently in perilous condition? As some have pointed out, such an expectation is emotionally abusive, in which where the victim is somehow supposed to empathize with and care for the person who is hurting them.

You must ensure that you are living a high-quality life in your own mind, heart and soul. When you are wishing Donald Trump goodwill, all you are saying is, "I refuse to be the gangster you are because you have been giving us ill will." I do believe that the golden rule is still worthwhile. And if a higher power takes Donald Trump away, then he's gone.

How does one resolve an expectation that they should wish goodwill on an evil person such as Trump?

There is an element of a person's humanity that is never fully reducible to one's gangster and thuggish activity. That's why the golden rule still has some applicability. Donald Trump still has loved ones. He still has folks who care for him. That means he is still a human being. Once you completely remove someone from the human family, you end up doing the same things that have been done to Black people with racism and white supremacy. If you let yourself be seduced by such forces and put people outside the human family, than you end up in the gutter along with the people who committed that first wrong. I refuse to go there.

The type of conversation we are engaging in is very rare in America's public discourse. The Age of Trump and this season of death has created a moral test for the United States and its people.

We saw that during the vice-presidential debate. The spiritual decay is so deep. Donald Trump has contributed to such a debased public culture and political culture that you have someone like Mike Pence, who can rationalize American fascism with a smile and be calm doing it. The moderator, Susan Page, made no attempt to keep Pence accountable whatsoever. Kamala Harris was doing the best she could to preserve her dignity. She knew Pence would be lying nonstop. She knows the disrespect is coming at her and the arrogance is flowing from Pence right at her. The condescension is flowing. The haughtiness is flowing against her too. Pence was trying to seize control of the debate and no one was trying to impose accountability on him. Kamala Harris tried several times. She did the best she could.

Pence's behavior during the debate was just the culture of neofascism in real time, done with a smile. We should not be overwhelmed and surprised by such an assault. We must be honest and candid about the depths of the decay and decrepitude that we as a nation are dealing with, in the form of Trump and Pence and their allies and movement.

When I see Mike Pence I think of Indiana, which was a fortress for the Ku Klux Klan during the early 20th century. In another era, Pence would be the type who could go from the Klavern to the boardroom of a bank. I worry that too many people believe that evil does not wear a business suit.

I believe that Mike Pence has been Trumpified. He has been shaped even more in the image of Donald Trump since becoming vice president. Pence loves the power. He loves the visibility. He loves the position of being vice president. In that way we can see the deepening corruption of Mike Pence's soul. That is why Pence was overflowing with toxic masculinity during the debate. Pence acted like he does not have to listen to anyone. Somebody asks Pence a question and he responds like they are nonentities. Pence just decides to ignore them and say what he wants to say. When Kamala Harris would try to interject and have her time, Pence looked at her like, "Do you really expect me to respect you? I'm Mike Pence. I'm part of the neofascist culture. We don't respect people like you." In doing that, Pence was also disrespecting the American people as the audience for what should have been a very important dialogue.

Any discussion of Mike Pence should also include "Christian fascist" in how he is described.

Eighty-one percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump. He got 65% of white men and over 50% of white women. That is another sign of the cultural decay in this country. White supremacy is the public face of American neofascism. From the Ku Klux Klan to the White Citizens Councils, white Christians have always played a fundamental role in promoting white supremacist attitudes and practices.

In terms of deliberative democracy or communicative democracy, what did you see when you watched these first two debates?

Public life in America has become so emptied out and vacuous that the very notion of there being a public conversation, let alone a high-quality public conversation, is gone. The debates are an empty theatrical spectacle of talking points, at their best, and at their worst just bully-driven attacks and assaults on each other. I mean, Harris is much more intellectually talented than [Pence] is. In that way Joe Biden did not have any chance at all in his debate with Donald Trump.

Trump's debate with Biden was an exercise in fascism and authoritarianism. Trump won that debate, by those criteria. Unfortunately, too many people in the mainstream media and the general public keep applying old, comfortable standards, and in doing so frame their understanding of Trump's strategy, and this political moment more generally, around polls and focus groups. Trump's goal was to mock the premise of even having a debate. It was all the worst sort of demagogic, authoritarian political theater for him.

I would go even farther. I would say that Trump was not only was mocking, but fascist. One of the rhetorical strategies of a fascist is to beat your audience down, make the people feel as though there is no hope. The people must be made to feel that there is no other possibility. They may hate you, the authoritarian fascist and demagogue, but they hate the whole political process too. The people then become downtrodden in spirit: Their spirits are so crushed they cannot be moved to vote for anybody.

When Trump left the debate, he and his people likely said, "You not only won, you achieved your objective. You beat Biden down. You beat the moderator down. You beat the audience down. You beat the American people down."

We are in a world-historical moment. As Election Day approaches, and whatever may happen next in this country it feels exhilarating, scary and exhausting all at the same time. As human beings we do not see a moment of such consequence very often, if ever, in our lifetimes. Please help me navigate those feelings – feelings which I am sure many other people in this country and around the world are also experiencing. It is like rollercoaster of sorts.

It is like living in the 1960s in Africa, Asia, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and the apartheid American South. Between 1955 to 1970 was to live in the most world-historical transforming moment in a very long time. At present, we are living in a similar moment, with the Age of Trump and this upcoming election. But in this moment as compared to the previous one, there is ecological catastrophe, economic catastrophe, social catastrophe and spiritual catastrophe. There is a lack of ability for too many to imagine a world and reality that is worth fighting for, sacrificing for and even dying for.

Let us assume that there is some type of justice in the universe and Donald Trump is voted out on Election Day or otherwise removed from office. When that happens, there are going to be parties and celebrations in the streets. A joyous wave will sweep over the United States. What should good Americans do with that energy going forward?

If the leader of a neofascist movement dies, that is the easy victory. Now we have to deal with the source of the fascist movement itself. To do that here and now, American society must reshape a whole discourse and public conversation to make sure that poor people and other vulnerable people are at the center of the conversation and the agenda for change. If we maintain our core values and commitments, then if we are killed in the struggle we can say, "Here's the gift. Something bigger than me, because my life itself was a gift that came from something bigger than me." That sacrifice helps to sustain and create the positive change.

'Submissive, fearful and longing for a mighty leader': Experts explain what's wrong with Trump supporters

President Donald Trump has tapped into a wellspring of authoritarianism running beneath the American electorate, according to a new book, and those voters aren't going away if he loses.

Psychology professor Bob Altemeyer and former Nixon White House lawyer John Dean explore that anti-democratic dynamic in their new book, "Authoritarian Nightmare," and found that many Republican voters prefer strong authoritarian leadership, reported the Washington Post.

"[Many Trump supporters] are submissive, fearful, and longing for a mighty leader who will protect them from life's threats," the authors write. "They divide the world into friend and foe, with the latter greatly outnumbering the former."

The authors measure authoritarianism using the right-wing authoritarian (RWA) scale Altemeyer developed in the early 1980s, which identifies authoritarian tendencies on a sliding scale, and surveyed 990 American voters in fall 2019 with help from the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

"They found a striking linear relationship between support for Trump and an authoritarian mind-set," the Post reported. "The stronger a person supported Trump, the higher he or she scored on the RWA scale. People saying they strongly disapproved of Trump, for instance, had an average RWA score of 54. Those indicating complete support of the president, on the other hand, had an average score of 119, more than twice as authoritarian as Trump opponents."

Many experts from a variety of fields agree that Trump displays authoritarian tendencies and poses a threat to U.S. democracy, but he needs his supporters to impose his will on American institutions and traditions.

"Even if Donald Trump disappeared tomorrow," Altemeyer and Dean write, "the millions of people who made him president would be ready to make someone else similar president instead."

John Lennon’s brilliant 'Gimme Some Truth' is an urgent plea for 2020, too

It may be the latest in a long line of compilation packages devoted to the former Beatle, but John Lennon's "Gimme Some Truth" picks up where 2018's impressive "Imagine" box set left off in terms of high-quality mixes and supplemental materials.

In the multi-disc album's title track, Lennon's searing indictment of self-serving politicians and all around anti-humanists couldn't be any more timely as 2020 slouches towards a (hopefully) merciful end. "I'm sick and tired of hearing things," John sings in "Gimme Some Truth," "from uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocritics / All I want is the truth / Just give me some truth." On its face, Lennon's plea for honesty seems ineluctably simple. But as decade after decade pile up in the years since his senseless murder, Lennon's dictum seems even more prescient.

As the "Gimme Some Truth" collection demonstrates so emphatically, Lennon's rage for authenticity typified much of his solo output, ranging from 1970's "Plastic Ono Band" through "Double Fantasy" (1980) and the posthumous "Milk and Honey" (1984). Curated by Yoko and Sean Lennon, "Gimme Some Truth" offers a wide array of the legendary songwriter's standout tracks — hits and non-hits alike. As with recent installments in the Beatles and solo Beatles remixes, "Gimme Some Truth" benefits from contemporary technology's capacity for creating greater separation among the original recordings.

Take "Nobody Told Me," for instance. Listeners will marvel at the quality of instrumental definition afforded by the edition's remix. The same can be said for the quasi-rock spiritual "God," which screeches and pops like never before as Lennon excoriates his Beatles past. From early entries like "Instant Karma" and "Love" through selections from "Double Fantasy," "Gimme Some Truth" provides a top-flight audio experience, particularly in the age of earbuds and all their attendant ubiquity.

"Gimme Some Truth" deserves special marks for its top-drawer commemorative book and liner notes, which place the 36 tracks in a valuable historical context. Again, as with the "Imagine" deluxe edition, the present compilation takes great pains to elevate Lennon's life and work—not as staid museum pieces, but rather, as vital cultural artifacts that continue to resonate even decades later as powerfully and refreshingly as they did all those years ago.

An Illinois university got major pushback for cutting religion, French and anthropology. But other colleges are dropping the humanities too

CHICAGO — Scott Sheridan didn’t expect his 23 years of teaching at Illinois Wesleyan University to end like this.Though fewer students are pursuing degrees in his areas of study these days, many still participate. This semester, more than 50 students at the campus in Bloomington are taking advanced classes in French cinema and Italian cultural history. The spots filled up so quickly that more were added, Sheridan said.But programs in French and Italian won’t continue beyond this school year. And neither will those in religion, anthropology, American cultural studies and three other academic de...