Thursday Reads: Obedience to Authority and ImpeachmentPosted: December 12, 2019 | |
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.”
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?
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.”
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.
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.
The Washington Post: Eric Holder: William Barr is unfit to be attorney general.
Emma Green at The Atlantic: American Jews Are Terrified.
The Daily Beast: Ukrainians: Trump Just Sent Us ‘a Terrible Signal’
John F. Harris at Politico: What if Trump weren’t nuts?