Thursday Reads: Obedience to Authority and Impeachment

Good Morning!!

I haven’t been able to watch much of the impeachment debate last night and today. I just can’t stand to listen to the Republicans shouting nonsense over and over again. Why have these people willingly submitted to an ignorant, dementia-riddled, narcissistic authoritarian “president?” Are we really going to allow our country to become a dictatorship because these cowards refuse to stand up to a pathetic man like Trump? Are there really no Republicans with the courage to defend the Constitution? What is wrong with these people?

Yesterday, I came across an article in Scientific American Mind that is highly relevant to these questions. I’m sure you remember the famous experiment by social psychologist Stanley Milgrim that demonstrated that most people will obey an authority figure even if it requires them to physically hurt other human beings. Here’s a brief video explaining the experiment:


Rethinking the Infamous Milgram Experiment in Authoritarian Times, by Jacob M. Appel

In brief, Milgram, at the time a 26-year-old assistant professor at Yale University, recruited subjects to participate “in a study of memory and learning,” which entailed administering an associative learning task to another subject (actually an accomplice in the study) and then administering painful shocks of substantially higher voltage for each incorrect answer. The purported goal was to study human obedience in the wake of the atrocities of Nazi Germany when, as Milgram described it, “millions of innocent persons were systematically slaughtered on command.” The results proved “surprising” in “the sheer strength of obedient tendencies”; in this first reported experiment, 26 of 40 American subjects shocked the victims at the highest level. Twenty variations with more than 600 additional subjects yielded similar outcomes…..

But what should the takeaway be from Milgram’s research? For more than a half century, investigators—most prominently Thomas Blass—have sought to explain why Milgram’s subjects proved so obedient. Although correlates have been found with personality, internal versus external locus of control, underlying belief systems and situational factors, no answer has proven entirely satisfactory.

Instead, the public is generally left with Milgram’s own impression as explained in his book Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (1974): “Tyrannies are perpetuated by diffident men who do not possess the courage to act out their beliefs.” Or, even more broadly, in the subtitle of his Harper’s article from the previous year: “A social psychologist’s experiments show that most people will hurt their fellows rather than disobey an authority.”

But some participants in Milgram’s study did refuse to obey.

Blass has noted that there must be “individual differences in obedience … because in most obedience studies, given the same stimulus situation, one finds both obedience and disobedience taking place.” In other words, some people do disobey. Some of Milgram’s subjects did defy the experimenter. Like Jan Rensaleer, a Dutch immigrant who responded to the experiment’s warning that he had no other choice to continue at 255 volts with the following memorable declaration:

“I do have a choice. Why don’t I have a choice? I came here on my own free will. I thought I could help in a research project. But if I have to hurt somebody to do that, or if I was in his place, too, I wouldn’t stay there. I can’t continue. I’m very sorry. I think I’ve gone too far already, probably.”

In some cases, the subject stood up during the experiment and walked away.

So maybe it is a mistake to view Milgram’s work as an “obedience experiment”—although he clearly did. Maybe what he actually conducted was a disobedience experiment, showing that some people will not follow orders no matter how strong the social pressure.

They are out there, waiting the moment when history calls upon them to disobey. We should not lose sight of them in the weeds of social psychology. They are Stanley Milgram’s unheralded legacy—and we may even stand among them.

Will any Republicans find the will to disobey Trump and McConnell? What will we do when the time comes for us fight back against the growing authoritarianism in our government and its institutions?

Here’s the latest on impeachment:

CNN: McConnell will move to acquit Trump if he’s impeached, not merely dismiss charges, 2 Republican senators say.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to hold a final vote to acquit President Donald Trump, should he be impeached, when a majority of senators believe his trial has run its course instead of holding a vote on dismissing the articles of impeachment, two Republican senators told CNN on Wednesday.

Republicans want to have a vote on acquittal — to clear the President of the charges against him — not simply rely on a 51-vote threshold procedural motion to dismiss the hotly disputed case.

The Constitution mandates 67 votes are required to convict the President and remove him from office, a barrier widely considered too high to be reached in this case.

One vote McConnell can’t rely on is that of Vice President Mike Pence, who has “no role in impeachment,” according to a GOP leadership aide, despite being president of the Senate with the mandate to break ties….

McConnell hinted at this strategy when he spoke to reporters on Tuesday and said the Senate would have two choices after hearing opening arguments from the House impeachment managers and the President’s defense counsel.

“It could go down the path of calling witnesses and basically having another trial or it could decide — and again, 51 members could make that decision — that they’ve heard enough and believe they know what would happen and could move to vote on the two articles of impeachment,” he said. “Those are the options. No decisions have been made yet.”

The Washington Post: Senate Republicans look to hold short impeachment trial despite Trump’s desire for an aggressive defense.

Senate Republicans are coalescing around a strategy of holding a short impeachment trial early next year that would include no witnesses, a plan that could clash with President Trump’s desire to stage a public defense of his actions toward Ukraine that would include testimony the White House believes would damage its political rivals.

Several GOP senators on Wednesday said it would be better to limit the trial and quickly vote to acquit Trump, rather than engage in what could become a political circus.

“I would say I don’t think the appetite is real high for turning this into a prolonged spectacle,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune (S.D.), the chamber’s ­second-ranking Republican, told The Washington Post on Wednesday when asked whether Trump will get the witnesses he wants in an impeachment trial. “Members want to deal with the arguments, hear the case and hopefully reach a conclusion.”

The emerging Senate GOP plan would provide sufficient time, possibly two weeks, for both the House impeachment managers and Trump’s attorneys to make their arguments before a vote on the president’s fate, according to 13 senators and aides familiar with the discussions, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private talks.

Most notably, a quick, clean trial is broadly perceived to be the preference of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who wants to minimize political distractions in an election year during which Republicans will be working to protect their slim majority in the chamber.

The tension now is over whether to allow witnesses who could turn the trial into an even more contentious affair.

But a lot can happen in two weeks. How will the public react to a sham trial? How horrible will Trump’s behavior become? McConnell has a problem:

McConnell is not sure Republicans have enough votes to only call Trump’s preferred list, the person said. Any agreement to call a witness would require 51 votes, and if Democratic votes were needed to end an impasse among Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) would demand his own list of witnesses as part of any compromise.

Under McConnell’s thinking, this could possibly mean calling Vice President Pence and top White House aides, such as acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, to testify.

“Witnesses would be a double-edged sword,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said.

So McConnell will probably try to avoid calling witnesses? Will there be public outrage? I don’t know. I guess we are going to find out.

More reads, links only:

Kurt Bardella at NBC News: House Republicans’ Trump impeachment strategy was simple: Distract, deceive and yell.

EJ Dionne at The Washington Post: Our country is accepting the unacceptable.

Jonathan Bernstein at Bloomberg: Abuse of Power? Republicans Seem OK With It.

CNN: FBI agents warn of ‘chilling effect’ from Trump and Barr attacks.

The Washington Post: Eric Holder: William Barr is unfit to be attorney general.

Bloomberg: Giuliani Ally Parnas Got $1 Million From Russia, U.S. Says.

Emma Green at The Atlantic: American Jews Are Terrified.

The Daily Beast: Ukrainians: Trump Just Sent Us ‘a Terrible Signal’

Anne Applebaum at The Atlantic: The False Romance of Russia. American conservatives who find themselves identifying with Putin’s regime refuse to see the country for what it actually is.

John F. Harris at Politico: What if Trump weren’t nuts?

27 Comments on “Thursday Reads: Obedience to Authority and Impeachment”

  1. Pat Johnson says:

    This is a very dangerous and frightening time in our nation. Simply because we cannot predict the outcome of what is happening before us.

    Trump has broken laws. He has corrupted the system. He has made clear his contempt toward congress by withholding witnesses and documents hostage. And he has managed to surround himself with enough toadies in the right positions who will go to any length to cover for him.

    And yet the GOP has, and is failing to carry out the oaths that swore to on taking office. The rule of law means nothing. The US Constitution means nothing. Truth itself means nothing. Without these underpinnings the US itself, its democracy and foundation, means nothing.

    I fear what is about to take place. The nation itself has been handed over to this ignorant man who is in the driver’s seat and is taking us to the edge of the precipice by his insanity.

    We cannot even trust that the majority of voters see enough of this travesty will bother to vote. We are so divided that I have lost faith in appealing to the commonsense and integrity of those who cannot bear the thought of 4 more years to actually get off the couch and follow through when the time comes to vote. So few of us seem to care.

    I hear it over and over. “Everybody does it. What’s the big deal?” Maddening. When truth no longer matters, when apathy continues to grow, when our nation continues to crumble under the weight of corruption, what is the answer?

    I don’t know and it scares me.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I’m worried too.

      • NW Luna says:

        I keep thinking this is all so 1984 that’s it’s nearly unbelievable. I’m very pessimistic about our democracy’s future.

        BB, I liked your writing on that famous Milgram experiment. Always thought there should be some who refused to continue. I haven’t encountered anything so obvious, but in similar but far milder conditions I’ve refused to participate.

        Anyone else remember been given a hypothetical problem in ethics class, where there are several people in a boat in a storm or some such situation, and only some but not all of them get the life jackets? As a student you’re supposed to pick who gets to survive amongst them depending on their different roles: the mother, the teenager, the businessman, etc. I refused to even enter into the problem. I wouldn’t choose. I thought it was unethical to decide based on someone’s “worth” to society. The teacher was dumbfounded and irritated that I wouldn’t answer, and marked me down. Some years later I read that in the Buddhist tradition my “answer” was the appropriate one.

        • bostonboomer says:

          In the study 80 percent of the participants administered the shocks up till they would have been lethal. The rest either refused or stopped after administering some shocks. The confederate in the booth reacted as if he were in terrible pain and most people just kept pushing the button anyway.

  2. dakinikat says:

    I’m assuming that all that lying by Congress Critters from the Republican side isn’t punishable? I just heard one of them say that the Obama administration had Austrailia and the UK and I think Italy interfere in the election doing oppo research.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    • bostonboomer says:

      His facial expression does look like he’s in pain.

      • NW Luna says:

        I can’t stand to look at his face! I watched his movement pattern. He’s got myoclonus, most obviously L shoulder and arm. It can be idiopathic, but at his age more likely indicative of brain or possibly cord damage. Most likely etiology would be stroke, brain tumor, Parkinson’s or Alzheimers.

        • quixote says:


          Plus he’s got that weird stance, like he’s being held up by some brace that nobody could be bothered to fit properly. Given his legions of personnel, that has to mean whatever the issue is, it’s far gone enough to make it impossible to compensate completely.

          I can’t stand to look at his revolting grimaces either, so any clues there, I’ve missed.

          • bostonboomer says:

            He clearly wears a brace. You can see it when he stands in profile. When he’s in the oval office, he’s always sitting down while the rest of the people stand. He obviously has trouble with balance and walking. I’ve seen those arms jerks in many videos. He also leans on the podium much more than he used to.

  4. NW Luna says:

    Hakeem Jeffries!

    “We do not take this step to divide. Though some will cynically argue the impeachment of this president will further divide an already fractured union. But there is a difference between division and clarification. Slavery once divided the nation. But emancipators rose up to clarify that all men are created equally. Suffrage once divided the nation, but women rose up to clarify that all voices must be heard in our democracy. Jim Crow once divided the nation, but civil rights champions rose up to clarify that all are entitled to equal protection under the law. We do not take this step to divide. And at this moment, this committee can rise up to clarify that under the Constitution, here in America, no one is above the law.”

    • quixote says:

      (I know. He means well. But steam, ears, etc. Here. he. is. talking. about. equality. Did he really have to put it like this? “But emancipators rose up to clarify that all men are created equally.” There were plenty of female slaves, y’know. I could do without the erasing, thank you.

      And as for the next sentence, women aren’t just voices. Try people, humans, just like you. “Rose up to clarify that all people must be heard.” What was hard about that? What’s it going to take for men to start standing up for half the human race? Especially when they’re talking about *oppression*.

      Grumble. grumblegrumblegrumble.)

      (Plus, while I’m being cross, it’s “created equal.” “Equally” in that context just means they started out that way. doesn’t say anything about what’s right as they go on.)

      • NW Luna says:

        Good points. I missed most of that. Women are still not treated equally much less and being created equal.

  5. Enheduanna says:

    I thought this was interesting:

    Elon Musk gets off scott free after calling a British cave explorer “pedo guy” and being sued for civil defamation. The article is an opinion piece on our two-tiered society and she’s not wrong IMO.

  6. dakinikat says:

    This is surreal! Even for the Huckabuckster

    • NW Luna says:

      WTAF? So their 2024 campaign slogan must be be “Screw the Law.”

      Trump will have to be wearing an exoskeletal and speak by pre-recorded remote control if he’s still around in 2024.

  7. dakinikat says:

    My Congress Critter!!!

  8. dakinikat says:

  9. dakinikat says: