The Strange Story of the Survival and Resurgence of Conservative Politics Since WWII

It’s 1945, and right wing politics – globally, and here in the US – is on suicide watch.

And for good reason. The Great Depression destroyed faith in the capitalism system; the Western world is saved by various brands of Keynesian-style socialism. Here in the US, we know this as FDR’s New Deal.  Fascism exploded onto the scene following the Depression, but between the horrors of the Holocaust and WWII, was completely discredited. Traditional conservative causes like royalism, religion and that general notion of “we need to get back to the good old days” was intellectual bankrupt and in total abeyance.

Trump’s election in 2016 is the culmination of the survival and complete return of right wing politics in a global sense. Placing Trump as the cap stone amongst figures like Theresa May, Nigel Farage, Erdogan (president of Turkey), Szydio in Poland, Orban in Hungary, and Duterte in the Philippines,  we are living at a rather startling resurgence of right wing politics. Putin pre-dates this crop of right-wingers, but as a classic authoritarian kleptocrat, he necessarily finds himself at home with Trump, whose political essence, ideology and rhetoric aside, is fundamentally the same.

Why? How?

The crucial movement, the key time period were conservatism is resurrected from the trash heap of history is the stretch in American history that starts with the Red Scare and McCarthyism and closes with Nixon’s election. I’m calling this “the Cold War” and by Cold War I am not referring to the military and political containment of Soviet Russia, I am referring to the Cold War as a cultural phenomenon on the US.

To be blunt: our government, in collusion with big businesses and the military-industrial complex – what Eisenhower warned us all about – makes the conscious decision to promote conservative and religious groups both in the US and across the globe to fight communism.

To be clear, conservative ideas are intrinsically linked to a) power/money/privilege and b)certain psychological and emotion orientations. This means that conservatism was always going “to come back” from 1945. But this is quite separate from how it was consciously saved and promoted by the US government and how small groups of wealthy conservatives consciously set out to make the US a Christian, white, capitalist country. In 1945 the US is a ‘revolutionary’ country, distrustful of the old European imperialism; by Nixon, we are the imperialist power; and this goes beyond a simple consequence of being by far the most powerful country at the time.

Put another way, the best thing to happen to capitalism and conservatism ever – literally ever – is communism. Even today, vague and uninformed references to communism/Stalinism/Soviets is enough to chill conversation and debate over our economic system. It’s still a real bogeyman, and that is not a coincidence at all.

The hegemony of Keynesianism, socialism and communism in the post-war world allowed conservatism and laissez-faire capitalism to rebrand itself. FDR’s New Deal and the public spending of WWI created a truely middle country – economic equality had never been higher, but the spectre of the welfare state at home and totalitarian communism abroad allowed people like Frederick von Hayek – his fundamental insight being that a centrally planned economy simply could not keep up with the complexity of human society – and other outsiders like Ayn Rand to lassez-faire capitalism as a fundamental component to human freedom; a freedom under threat from the welfare state. The American Libertarian Party today is a direct result of their ideas. Corporate power was able to increasingly pose as an agent of choice and of liberty.

Shifting to domestic American politics, the Republican Party in the early 40’s was the party of monied interests, lost in the wilderness from the Great Depression – the legacy of “do-nothingism” dies hard. FDR had left the US the most powerful and respected nation in the world after a decade in power, the stark reality is that the Republicans would have to defeat the new Democratic president Truman or fade away from the national scene. It’s the Cold War that saves them. McCarthyism marks the point where the Republicans cease to be a party of loyal opposition and because a truely right-wing party.

This basic shift leads to America’s first right-wing president: Nixon. Sometimes this is referred to as the “Southern Strategy” – pandering to Souther racism and insecurity to back up the monied and military interests of the rest of the party. The larger point here is that in order to justify the sustained level of military spending to fight the Cold War, our government green-light a widespread culture of fear-mongering and conformity. It’s no coincidence that Reagan got his political start as the face of General Electric’s propaganda show. The ’60’s counterculture is as much a reaction against the Cold War conformity – the great moulding of America into either lily-white cowboys or evangelical businessmen  – as against anything else.

So we have the conscious decision of the US government to quite literally save conservative circles – be it military cabals, business consortiums, ex-nazis, etc – by providing surprising amounts of financial and ideological support. This succour went on for decades. This also cut they other way. For example: figures like Ho Chi Min (his declaration of independence for Vietnam was basically copied word for word from our own) were forced into the hands of the Communist block.

I think it’s important to examine why conservative, authoritarian politics has returned. Since neoliberalism gained real power in the ’80s with Reagan and Thatcher, economic inequality has exploded. Privatisation, austerity, trickle-down economics, free-trade all boil down to a sustained attack on the idea of the public good by corporate combines with resources and concerns which exceed the confines of individuals and nations.

The generic name for all this is “capitalism,” but this would be inaccurate; the reality is an increasingly globalised system of private corporate power which has utilised a rhetoric of “free trade” to leverage votes, promising prosperity (a prosperity strangled by regulation and laziness). The stark reality is that these companies are profitable because they escape the tax burden and are the beneficiaries of governmental policy. The US’ effective policy is for Americans to drive cars; oil companies receive massive tax breaks. Or Wal-mart effectively taking advantage of welfare policy to under pay its employees. The result is impoverishment of the society at large. If you need more proof look at Russia: the largest privatisation and corporate giveaway of all time.

The basic pattern here is that the system which we all roughly refer to as “capitalism” siphons off wealth away from the larger society, obviously leading to a period of crisis. During the last cycle (the ’30s), government enacted the welfare state and taxed the ultra wealthy and corporations. These protections have been worn away with the obvious result that we have today.

 

Dear Tom Perez….

Congratulations on being elected to the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee.

It’s very exciting to know that the mindset of myopia, hypocrisy, backroom dealings and ineptitude that lost the 2016 election to a reality TV star and snake-oil salesman named Donald Trump is still solidly in control of the Democratic Party. It’s a real honour to lead the most corrupt political party in American history: the party of machine politics and smoked-filled backrooms, Mayor Daley and Herbert Humphrey, and now the party of Hilary Clinton, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and yourself. A smug insider elected by smug insiders that vividly, excruciatingly have no reason to be smug: that’s your situation right now.

Oh, I know that Hilary won the popular vote, but you have clearly not learned a lesson from the election. Nor have you and your backers any conception of what is happening to this country right now. The Democratic Brand embodied by the Clintons: neoliberalism, identity politics, wealthy behind the scenes donors, technocratic centrism loaded with platitudes about Hope and Change has actually just been torpedoed. You are captain of a sinking ship that just voted to tell it’s progressive base – and not for the first time in very recent memory – to go f*** itself. There is no other way to say it.

Thank you, Mr. Perez, for confirming to progressive voters that they are not at fault for Trump’s election. Thank you for confirming our suspicion that he Democrats are a corporate party, designed more to foil progressive politics then to represent them. Every time I start to feel any sort of loyalty or start to identify with the Democrats, somewhere behind the closed doors of the DNC, some sort of wedge issue emerges to reconfirm that the DNC is the Abbott to the GOP’s Costello. A few months ago, I thought between demographic changes and the fielding of Trump that the Democrats where going to be the party in power for the foreseeable future and the GOP was going to split into a sort of regional party and a libertarian party. Now I don’t even think we will see any real democracy ever again.

Thank you for freeing me from any sense of loyalty to Democrats. If this election has done anything good, it has revealed a lot of true stripes. For all the fake news and indefinably rigged primaries and elections, there is a decent chance that Americans will get to see exactly where things stand now. With this catastrophic loss to Trump, I thought that the Democrats would embrace progressive politics and lay the foundation for the millennial generation to really come to identify with  a major US political party. Well, that dream is done; perhaps  I was foolish and naive to think that was possible. Instead of fighting for democracy and choosing to represent and fight for an energised progressive base, you have opted to stay fiercely loyal to the very things that where rejected in this last election. Millennials – the largest and most highly educated generation – are seeking political representation and you have failed them again and again. Brilliant. The galling thing is that both your tactical moves and your strategic moves are not working…

Of course, that’s not your perspective. I know that your calculation is that progressives and millennials have no choice but to vote Democrat in 2018 and 2020, but if the results of the election suggest anything, they suggest that the American voter isn’t buying the (never very successful) Democratic model that Bill Clinton started. It’s all about money after all, isn’t it?  The progressive voter cannot be counted on to show up on voting day.

As a progressive voter, I’ve heard it all before. Sarah Silverman’s “You’re being ridiculous!” has come to define the party you now lead. I wish the Democrats were as effective as opposing Republicans as they where at foiling their own progressive wing of their party.

It’s not too late though Mr. Perez. We’re looking for leaders. Right now we have Bernie, but there is a hunger for leaders that voters can trust. Trump won because a big block of Americans felt they could trust him; they felt they represented their interests. I think they are stupid and dead wrong, but that is beside the point.

The majority of Americans want what ‘Merica wants. True representation.

You might try it sometime.

 

 

this is what fascism looks like

It has been one month since Trump became president. We have all been asking ourselves: “what is Donald Trump?” A populist? A fascist? Just what we need to shake things up? We as a society have not settled on what he is, what he really represents. And this might be his greatest strength; that potential of ‘normalisation’ already well under way.

Let’s cut to the chase: this is what fascism looks like. All the “fascism” alarms bells, klaxons, sirens, calendar event reminders and tocsins are going off right now. All of them. Every damn single last one.

Let’s be clear on what fascism is and what it is not. Because a part of the problem is that we have used the word “fascism” for so long as a catchall word meaning “very bad, angry/strict.”

Fascism is revolution in favour of authoritarianism. The strange marriage of angry populism and cynical conservative powers, this is a revolt against the idea of the public good, public reason and messy secular humanism. Fascism always makes use of the emotional appeal of a misunderstood, mythical past, even as it is itself something new and has nothing to do with the actual history of the nation. Fascism simultaneously captures the language of revolt and of change; it thus has a way of outflanking traditional political parties on both the right and the left.

This logically incoherent, internally contradictory appeal is the keynote sign of facscism. It “works” because, remember, fascism is revolt against civil society: it is an explosion of greed and selfishness, the triumph of the id, so to speak. As the saying going: “there is no contradiction in self interest.” Fascism is what happens when corporate greed hollows out a society, its individuals and institutions in the name of profit, and when things come to a breaking point where the path of the political body either points towards a move towards public good at the expense of corporate profit, or the destruction of civil society for the benefit of corporate profit. The resulting destruction of civil society and government based on public reason creates the appearance – in the case of Nazisim at least – of explosive growth and expansion. Because the resources of society are no longer being directed to the well-being of its individuals, it’s being completely directed into military expansion, corporate profit, and the gain of the handful of sychophants at the top. Fascism in this sense is extreme corporate cronyism with an expansive ideological cover.

All of these signs are present in Trump’s nascent regime. It all fits. Let me repeat that: it all fits the pattern. “Populism,” the tortured ideological term conservatives would prefer you to use for Trump, is drafted every time a demagogue sweeps onto the scene to take advantage of people’s anger. Don’t call it mob rule. At it’s best, populism expresses an almost marxist sense of lower class identity. Explain to me how Trump’s cabinet of billionaires is “populist” again?

Fascism is not true populism. Nor is it pure autocracy. It obviously contains huge doses of these things, but fascism is not about common people overthrowing some sort of oppressive regime, nor is fascism particularly strong at the top. It is not so much characterised by extreme centralised authority as competing factions of cronies and sycophants, who compete for the attention of the Leader. Fascism isn’t so much centralised and autocratic as a handful of powerful interests – in Nazi Germany’s case, the army, the bureaucracy, the SS and the major corporations – vying to expand their own power. The German government had ceased to exist in a de facto sense. Remember, Hitler wasn’t brilliant and his cronies and henchmen were even worse. They where crackpots, ranters, fanatics and madmen that political elites thought they could control and mould. Fascism is a wrecking; that turns a vibrant society into a barracks.

Recently, I have been reading the traditional Republican/conservative pushback on Donald Trump being as fascist: here are the best two articles. Barton Swaim’s “Trump’s populism isn’t fascism. So what is it?” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-populism-isnt-fascism-so-what-is-it/2017/02/16/d871df78-f20f-11e6-8d72-263470bf0401_story.html?utm_term=.5db0621deea1&wpisrc=nl_popns&wpmm=1 Swaim suggests that America exceptionalism – that our character as a nation renders us immune to fascism – and that if we where going to have gone fascist, it would have been in the ’30s and ’40s. Embracing the idea of American Exceptionalism, Swaim smugly announces that our society intrinsically resists the “centralisation of authority” that would happen under fascism. Further, fascism is “for elites, not mavericks or crackpots” and German society, including their version of liberal professors fell into line behind Hitler because German thought of itself as monolithic and was OK with being ruled by an aristocracy from Berlin. Again curious when your election is made possible by billionaires, the oil and coal industry, and FBI Director Comey. Fascism is when the “elites” and crackpots join forces.

Any complains liberals might have – like Bannon saying that the media should shut up – say more about delicate liberal sensitivities than about Trump’s ideology. Swains suggests that because he is able to disagree with Trump on anything (he airs slight disapproval of the Muslim Ban here) that means Trump is not a fascist. Swain then gets to his main course: Trump is a populist. A return to roots and basics. He’s the Salt of the Earth of American Democracy. Again, Trump lost the popular vote and “did not vote” was the winner of the election. After providing no evidence or explanation, merely a vague quote from Irving Kristol that echoes the Jefferson quote about the Tree of Liberty needing the blood of patriots except in this case populists, Swaim closes by saying the real problem is the conformism and complacency of America’s liberal elites.

Adopting the arm-chair-general superciliousness I’ve come to strongly associate with conservatives delivering an oversimplified, strangely convenient/cherry-picked version of history, Swaim claims that American ‘frontier spirit’ and general resistance to conformity means that authoritarianism of any stripe would be instantly halted before it even began. The funny thing about Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, Swaim says, is that it fascism never took place in ’30s America. I cannot tell if Swaim makes his arguments out of cynicism and hypocrisy or naive ignorance, but he clearly has not read It Can’t Happen Here. The entire point of the book is to illustrate how easily it could “happen here” i.e., how easily “American exceptionalism” could be turned into a fascist program. If I was Swaim, I wouldn’t have even mentioned the book at all.

Further, Swaim seems blind that he is on the side of the forces of racial/religious conformism. America was explicitly founded on the idea of public reason and the separation of church and state: the Founding Fathers refused to choose. Swaim implicitly thinks that American means “white and christian.” What this means in the modern age is fascism. Nor does he have any conception of how the ‘frontier spirit’ might work. When does it “kick in?” Swaim is also ignoring the realty of what the decades of the Cold War have done to our democratic society (talk about centralisation of power and conformity); his statement that “Americans have never gone for socialism” seems strange given FDR’s New Deal programs and the fact that American politics is currently heading off a cliff into right wing extremism. It implies Americans are immune to extremist politics just when that is exactly what is happening.

Ultimately for Swaim, nothing Donald Trump could ever do would count as fascist. And that is the real weakness in what he’s saying. Swaim’s rationale here indicates that that, hypothetically, Mike Pence’s “Patriotic Bible Camp for American Greatness” cannot be a  concentration camp because, well, it reflects our frontier spirit, and it chastises bleeding heart liberals (who are also secret totalitarians) and if it was fascist – which it definitely isn’t – Americans wouldn’t have it. “Frontier spirit” is great, but does Swaim realise that there is no frontier anymore?

Swaim’s basic argument rests on myths and  misconceptions about the American past and the actual nut-and-bolts of how are society functions today. Worse, he has no idea what fascism actually is. For him, the sum of the liberal argument is that Trump is a fascist because he is a bully, and Benito Mussolini was also a blustering bully. Swaim dismisses the comparison as facile. Fine. But he misses how Trump’s bullying fits a pattern that is repeating itself  here and now.

The second pattern of response is quite a lot more subtle and complicated. A great example is John McNeill’s “How fascist is Donald Trump? There’s a formula for that.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/10/21/how-fascist-is-donald-trump-theres-actually-a-formula-for-that/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.e23796649cd4.

McNeill, a historian, grades Trump on his similarities with historical fascism in eleven categories, each category getting a possible four “benitos.” This is an interesting and charming read (on the category of ‘fetishisation of masculinity,’ four benitos are awarded) that dismisses Trump as a crude semi-fascist, a baby fascist (Trump scores a total of 22 benitos out of a possible 44). Fine. McNeill is clearly no friend of Trump, but his perspective tends to play down or even dismiss concerns about what is taking place now. Instead of indicating that we are serious danger of history repeating itself, and that our society and democracy are in dire peril, McNeill more or less leaves the impression that, like Swaim, Trump is like commercials during a movie: you don’t like them, but you sit through it anyway. McNeill contributes, in a small way, to the normalisation of Trump.

But what does it mean that a third of Americans slobber a semi-fascist and many more tolerate him? It strikes me that even a baby fascist should still trigger the “frontier spirit.” And even then, I would argue that the basic mechanics of fascism – populist rage allied with corporate and military interests destroying the basic tenets of the public good/civil society – clearly do not require a “high benito scoring” fascist dictator to be fascism. Remember we are talking about destruction here; you don’t have to be competent. 

Obviously Trump isn’t Hitler. Trump obviously isn’t Mussolini. But he does not have to be, and  American fascism – Trumpism – was never going to resemble the historical fascists. Really – just think about it. This is root-and-branch the essential reasoning behind the conservative mind-block on what’s happening to this country. Trump can’t be a fascist – the reasoning goes – because of the dazzling array of superficial differences between Trumpism and Nazism, Germany/Italy and America. For example, McNeill awards zero benitos in the categories of ‘fetishisation of youth’ and ‘hierarchical party structure/purging the disloyal,’ making much of the fact that his followers are not dressed up in ersatz military outfits and some Republicans dislike Trump and are not afraid to say so in public. So Republicans aren’t goose stepping around Washington DC in Davy Crockett outfits. Great. McNeill is blind to how militarised are society has become; requiring that fascism march in the street with matching outfits is laughable. Also, what about those little red hats?

NcNeill’s categories have nothing to do with what fascism actually is and how it actually operates. McNeill is implicitly assuming that Trumpism must fit snuggly into a mould that it simply doesn’t need in order to be fascist. McNeill is like the generals who “prepare for the last war” instead of looking to fight the next one. Again, neither McNeill nor Swaim look below the surface and look at what has happened to this country since WWII and the underlying economics, not to mention the state of our democracy (effectively gone). They are afraid to check underneath the hood: Trump doesn’t represent “frontier spirit” nor does Trumpism need to fit a blueprint of 1930’s European fascism for Trumpism to be fascism.

How long will these ostensibly reasonable, hard headed Republicans – fond of Winston Churchill and Edmund Burke – keep up their sham debate? How bad will it have to get? Look at their words and actions. Bannon’s statements about the media culminate to a calculated attempt to subvert democracy; Trump is moving full bore destroy any sort of function public system.

What exactly do you need to be more clear?

 

 

President Orange, Part III

I am aware – oh so aware – of Godwin’s Law. You know: the longer an argument takes place on the internet, the greater the likelihood that something or somebody will be compared to Hitler. Hitler is our Great Cliche, Nazis our Great Bad Guy. WWII is our lodestone; our orientation place. It was bound to come up.

But you know the old favourite of McCarthyites: “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…”

Look, Trump bares little resemblance to Hitler. The GOP alt-right Twitter squad will never swear a personal loyalty oath to der Furher, like the Nazis and the Brown Shirts. Trump’s gewgaw world of gold-paint chandeliers, Reality TV production, and scuzzy casinos is a world apart from an alienated struggling artist in 1920s Bavaria. I can make any number of statements about ostensible differences.

But Trump has everything to do with fascism. I’m not making a ‘Duck Test’ Argument here, I’m making a direct parallel between Trump’s America in 2017 and Hitler’s Germany in 1933: the alignment of social forces are identical. Fascism is the alliance of Big Business with, well, exactly the sort of people who voted for Trump: the lower middle classes (white working class) and that curious group of angry blowhards (Jeremy Clarkson’s type) who’s fragile egos and brittle intelligences are threatened by a messy, changing, complicated world.

Let there be no mistake: Trump was never going to resemble Hitler and the Nazis. All too often we assume fascism means “Swastika armband, hating Jews, silly little moustache.” The Nazis really are only the best example of what fascism is: the alliance of the angry and ignorant with the supremely greedy and powerful. That is simply the alignment of social forces: the psychological essence of facsism  is best seen in contemporary politics of Pizzagate. People believe in Pizzagate – that Hilary Clinton is running a child sex ring out of a Washington DC Pizzerias’ basement (even though it doesn’t even have a basement) – because they intuitively understand that that is what their “side” is supposed to believe. People believe in Pizziagate the same way that they have faith that Trump is actually a brilliant businessman, or the way children come to believe in Santa Claus.

Fascism, then, is a social alignment of the lower class and the corporate interest, but also a complex psychological phenomenon. This explains why so many people are drawn to it: it’s appeal is emotional.

American Fascism was always going to come wrapped differently: it was always going to be the Cowboy Hats or some sort of showbiz billionaire (as in our case!) Our fascism was always going have more glitz and glam. We will have a family-values, gimcrack-disco-ball deregulated and pro-small government totalitarian future of ecological destruction and societal collapse.

It doesn’t matter that Donald Trump does not want to be fascist. It does not matter that Trump genuinely wants to bring jobs back to the Midwest or get better trade deals for the US. His very outlook – that thuggish authoritarianism – combined with powerful corporate interest (Rex Tillerson to name merely the most prominent example) combined with a ignorant and angry political base, and all the contradictions contained within conservative ideology is fascism.

This is how things are going to play out. The corporate interest wants tax breaks and profits; it wants regulations to go away: it wants profit and only profit. The angry political base not only wants contradictory things, like libertarianism that restricts women’s rights or wants to kick protester’s teeth in, or fiscal conservatism that will expand the military (already comically, criminally bloated) and rebuild America’s infrastructure and build The Great Wall of Trump, but what they really vote for is a psychological, emotional satisfaction.

The only thing they will agree on is destroying the things they both hate (for differing reasons). You know: Planned Parenthood, the welfare state, national parks, NPR, the environment, protesters, the education system, etc. In a world what is most likely to come under attack is civil society and our notion of the public good. This cannot be too strongly emphasised. Hitler’s economic miracle for Germany came most directly at the cost of destroying civil society, followed eventually by the total destruction of Germany.

Keep in mind that Hitler, like Trump, are idiots, who genuinely have no idea what they are doing. They have certain talents that they know how to use; they are demagogues, and they have the benefit of having an audience who is psychologically vulnerable (they are idiots alongside the leader). Remember, the easiest person to fool is yourself.

The grim, gritty reality in both cases is that the system of profit-for-profit’s sake, weather it is called monopoly capitalism (as in Hitler’s time) or neoliberalism (our version) had eaten away at people lives; at society at large. Faced with a situation where profits would either be sacrificed for the good of society or vice versa, these powerful entities have sided with twisted social forces beyond the pale. Greed leads the very destruction of society, which consumes itself in ignorance, anger and violence.

The fact that Trump badly lost the popular vote and is already the most corrupt, disliked man to ever take office and he actually hasn’t quite gotten their yet, combined with the long-term demographic weaknesses of the conservative movement and the GOP, means that the kakistocracy in power will be pulling out all of the authoritarian stops to “Make America Great Again.” Let me put it this way: there is a great conservative bubble, that due to how well funded it is, has been wildly successful. But now that the wing-nut’s have their fantasy Cabinet – and they will actually have to govern in this messy, complicated world – their only real option will be the radical and truely fascist leap into locking down our advanced technological society into the Great White Christian State (with a pussy-grabbing casino-capitalist twist).

Our constitution was built on the humanistic idea of the republic: an institution of civil society and the concept of the greater, public good. This idea is radically under attck both from corporate greed from one side and from a conservative subset of Americans who see this country in religious terms.

If you believe in democracy, and if you believe that this Great Republic is truely the last best great hope of mankind, then now is the time to make your voice heard. Now is the time to act.

 

 

 

 

 

A Dirge for Libertarians

There is a longstanding, positive conception of what it means to be American. It has gone under many names – Jefferson’s yeoman farmers, rugged individualism – and you see it pour through pop culture in the figure of the cowboy and the pioneer. This is the notion that part of being American is a tough, practical self-suffieciency: being a burden to others is shameful. It’s a vision of Americanness as scrappy, hard and entrepreneurial: not stoic, but seasoned. Clear-sighted and bright-eyed with calloused hands. It is under attack.

I am going to call it “Crockettism” – as in Davy – and it must be distinguished quite vigorously from “capitalism,” “neoliberalism,” “libertarianism,” and the dubious intellectual project of Ayn Rand. Each of these terms come with their own intellectual history and set of ideas. None of them are “notions” about what it means to be American; they are technical terms which date to the 20th century, and therefore are distinctly separate from what it means to be American. Rather, it is the notion of Crockettism that has played into the widespread acceptance of “capitalism,” “neoliberalism” and”libertarianism.”

Crockettism is a “wedge issue” in that our attachment to it has been used for political gain  on the economic front; its equivalent on the social front, for example, is abortion. Huge numbers of Americans vote Republican every year in the name of Crockettism. It’s clearest political, contemporary articulation is libertarianism, which essentially occupies the position of “socially liberal and economically conservative.” This is a gross characterisation, but I feel like it has to be made in order for our own clear thinking on this topic. Anytime somebody says “I don’t want the government telling me what to do” that is libertarianism. Capitalism in a technical sense, simply refers to private ownership of capital and its use as the basic engine of economic activity. Straightaway, we can tell that no American political party is against “capitalism.” I include the Green Party and Bernie Sanders, and progressives in general, in this statement. Again, a distinction must be made between capitalism (Adam Smith) and neoliberalism, a very different beast.

Neoliberalism is the set of economic ideas and policies that originate with the writings of Frederick von Hayek, an Austrian who traumatically encountered the ideas of Milton Keynes in the ’30s. This has been the ruling ideology of the United States since Reagan’s Administration; it includes Clinton’s and Obama’s terms. Also known as “Austerity,” and “trickle-down economics” it is in fact an extreme pro-corporate, pro-elite set of ideas which is the true target of progressive figures like Bernie Sanders. It’s privatisation for privatisation’s sake, deregulation for the sake of deregulation and hero-worship of robber-barons for the sake of robber barons, er, I mean Captains of Industry. It sees government as a strangulation of enterprise; it has a telling connection to the adolescent ideas of Ayn Rand. Anytime somebody uses the parable of a rich guy buying and maintaing a yacht and how this employs people, or a crude allusion to “if we shouldn’t feed the wildlife because it makes them dependant, then the same applies to people,” that is neoliberalism.

As you can see, it has little to do with our cherished notion of Crockettism. Since Reagan, who instituted tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, deregulation and privatisation, we have seen a decline in the American middle class. Meanwhile, CEO pay has exploded along with corporate profits. The American work force has become more efficient and productive, yet works ever-increasing numbers of hours. We live in the most inquisitions society of all time; a handful of individuals and corporate control the vast majority of the wealth in this country. Thus, when somebody is against the redistribution of wealth, or resents welfare recipients for “getting something for nothing,” they are implicitly ignoring the current redistribution of wealth that is taking place in this country. That is, a transfer of wealth upward from the middle class. It gets even more ironic because even as conservatives and libertarians fret over taxation, it is the reality that the wealthiest Americans and businesses have escaped the tax burden. A vote for the Republican party directly supports a taxation system which puts billionaire paying as much in taxes as their secretaries. This, combined with a corporate system that pursues profit-maximazation above all else explains the decline of the American middle class.

Crockettism is under attack from profit-maximaization and the subversion of democracy by corporations which find buying government support through lobbying an excellent bargain. Adam Smith and Davy Crockett would not approve of Rupert Murdoch and the sinister manipulation of minimum wage laws by Wal-Mart. Americans for Prosperity and Citizens United have little to do with our own self-reliance. It comes down to what sort of society you want to live in given the current realities of our society. I think we can agree that Jefferson’s yeoman farmers is not a realistic option. Think of it like this: do you want a country of strip malls and Wal-Marts? Or do you want a country of hipster downtowns? It’s a simplification, but it’s the essence of your choice. Society is mutual cooperation, not about “the war of all against all” which conservatives seem to relish so much.

A counter-point might be government over-reach; the libertarian anxiety about “tax-and-spend” policies. First of all government is dedicated to the well-fare of its citizens, not profit. No matter how clunky or corrupt, government remains accountable to us, even if only in the abstract, the citizenry. A corporation must mindlessly pursue short-term profits, no matter the cost to human individuals, our democracy and society, and our fragile environment. Put another way, the unwieldy intuition of government is our only recourse against corporate oligarchy. If you want a society of strong, independent individuals the first step is restoring a certain economic/income equality which did actually exist during during the post-WWII years in this country. The Republican legacy is just as much “big-government” as the Democrats; the truth is that our government is in the hands of corporate influence, and both political parties are beholden to a handful of wealthy donors. How the Republicans managed become the party of Crockettism in the minds of Americans is beyond me. Is it because Reagan often appeared in a cowboy hat? Looking at the facts, the Republicans are more reliable the party of fossil fuels, gross military expenditure and creeping theocracy, not plucky individualism. Look at their record on surveillance, torture and the environment.

It’s a complex, painful issue. It asks you to see “beyond the horizon” if you will, of our everyday, concrete world, where the poor person is poor because they are lazy (and that is emotionally satisfying, like big cigar). The failure of identity politics, the clumsy, flawed functioning of the welfare state has many critics – and I agree with these critics. I just cannot fathom support for the Republican Party based on these ideas. It’s inexplicable to vote for a (born rich) billionaire who has gamed the system over and over again in the name of personal responsibility and hard work. Watch as the Republicans pull the levers of Big Government in the name of Small Government and Freedom. Watch as our rights are stripped away in the name of patriotism. Already, the bedrock foundations of democracy, be it First Amendment rights, or voter suppresion, or fake news is destroying what little is left of our democratic heritage. Clearly, Trump only values people based on their support for Trump. The Libertarian support for Trump will do serious damage to the concept of small, efficient government to everybody’s detriment.

By allowing our sentiments of Crockettism to vote for Trump, we may have ended the last vestiges of Crockettism itself.

 

President Orange, Part II

I’m sure that most Americans – even those who voted for Trump – and even Trump himself are not fascist.

But that doesn’t matter. Trump has now occupied a facist nexus in American politics. The alignment of forces and motives, the decay of civil society, all point to truely alarming parallels to Germany in the 1930s. I make this statement not out of hyperbole or sophistry, but with a full understanding of what happened to Germany in the ’30s. I wrote my masters dissertation on this period, understanding exactly what happened and why.

When the Media like The Washington Post pen articles like “Who is the Real Donald Trump (and what does he stand for),” they totally miss the point. Trump has no plan; no program; there is no core set of principals. His strength is this very formlessness. He’s a  Rorschach Inkblot Test for America. This is exactly part of the appeal of for right politics; most individuals and institutional forces can either perceive an advantage, or find some sort of rational for supporting the proto-fascist. Hitler attracted the support of the German military and big industrial businesses (who reckoned that they could both control Hitler and use him against their enemies, the Socialist and Communist parties arguing for a more equitable distribution of wealth); the lower middle class fell for Hitler because his emotional argument fit their predicament. German traditionalists and nostalgics (longing for the return of the Kaiser) found Hitler and acceptable stand  in.

Hitler, like Trump, appeals to strange and broad coalition of social elements (note that the far-right tends to borrow and mimic some of the ideas of the Left; ‘Nazi’ means National Socialist. Both are demagogues; both lack a grasp of reality; both are extremely cunning in a tactical sense (like who do I need to placate right now, who can I intimidate into silence right now, who can I destroy right now?). It’s a strange mix of fervour and emotion on one hand a devastating cynical calculation of “ironic distance” (i.e., I know that Trump is a buffoon, but because I am white and rich, I know that I will be okay) on the other.

What we call fascism actually occurs when the ‘fantasy’ meets reality, and in the desperate need to maintain the fantasy, civil society is totally destroyed. This is what happened in Germany and could easily happen to us. The ‘fantasy’ is that Trump is a successful businessman who will run the government like a business; that the insecurity and poverty of White America will go away, that the minorities and messy reality will fade into the background, that Obama and Hilary and the Democrats actively worked against America and that government regulation is a sinister plot; that America has always been a White, Christian Nation, and that Trump will wash away plot against this White, Christian Nation.

This is truely fantasy; we where never a White, Christian Nation (however many of us thought or felt that it was). The Founding Fathers chose not to choose; the unifying metaphor in our Constitution is an Enlightenment conception of a classical, civil republic along the lines of ancient Athens or Rome. Living in a “liberal democracy” means we choose not to choose. And this is the essence of what Trump, and the sad morons who voted for him, utterly threatens.

Trump will have to satisfy the populists (the alt-right, the plumbers and car mechanics who voted for him) and the powerful moneyed and corporate interests who perceive Trump to be an unusual Queen on the chess board of profit-maximisation. These forces are tenuously aligned; and when the whiney, meme-driven Republican fantasy actually has to govern and meets the full force of reality (i.e. repealing NAFTA won’t bring the steel mills back or the coal mines back, stripping away environmental regulation won’t benefit America’s vulnerable middle class, etc), Trump’s only real option to main power will be to go full fascism: the only way to benefit the populists and the corporations will be to destroy our civil society, our liberties. Massive government spending on the military will cover for the stripping away of the last of our liberties. This will be the only way to maintain the Fantasy.

So what do we do now?

The main thing will be to not let Trump get normalised. The election season cannot end. Everything word and action of his Administration must be problematised and subverted. Any respect given to Trump – even lines like “show respect for the office” must be mocked, must be sabotaged. Those who voted for Trump must be barraged by a constant stream of truth, mockery and sarcasm. Like a dog that’s peed on a rug, we have to rub their noses in it. They are insecure, ignorant people; we must make their shameful mistake public and constant. There is nothing ‘normal’ or ‘ok’ about Trump. Nothing at all. We must strengthen our civil society so that Trump withers away before he is forced into a sort of “Reichstag Fire” moment.

Already the “give Trump a chance, he might just be another Republican president line” has picked up steam, especially amongst the corporate/centrist democrat crowd (Tom Hanks for one). It’s clear from the general tenor of the GOP and Trump himself, and the cabinet choices that his well not be “just another Republican presidency.” This has to be stopped. We can’t let that be the narrative that the Democrats adopt.

I’m trying to look on the bright side. A lot of conservative poison will be drawn out by this election; a lot of stupid Republican ideas that have been around forever (like running the government like a business) will get aired. Hell, people might even learn something. The idea here is that at least the Republican fantasy playbook well be carried out by a cheeto-colored buffoon instead of someone more competent: better a Hermann Goring than a Reinhard Heydrich.

The silver lining is that the Clinton machine is done; it is possible that the Democrats can be become a truely progressive party that responds to the needs of American voters.

In reflecting on what has just happened in America on the 8th, three things standout First, the “center” in American politics has collapsed. Second, historical parallels to the 1968 presidential election and the 18th Amendment – Prohibition – seem freshly relevant, as well as, I hate to say it, 1930’s Germany. Last, the idea that a larger, techy, urban – and largely apolitical society is increasingly the reality of America today: call it “cosmopolis.”

Identity politics has been a disaster; it needs to be abandoned. It’s not just a poor indicator of how people vote (like when we say “white males voted Trump” what really mean is like 65% of them did; that leaves an awful lot of white males who didn’t vote Trump). Political Correctness, while based on noble motives (you have to treat people with respect and would it kill you to have some empathy?), has likewise been a disaster. The problem with “Black Lives Matters” isn’t that it is wrong or incorrect, it simply doesn’t work, like calling for “socialism now” or burning an American flag in protest. People can’t think in the abstract enough to understand those actions and symbols; we are too easy to manipulate. Racism is not about Black people, it’s about White Insecurity (in a fundamental sense).

Already, the tendency to talk about the ‘white working class’ or the ‘aggrieved white male’ as the driving for behind Trump already misses the point; it’s already wrong. What is the real problem is neoliberalism (capitalism for capitalism’s sake; which is stripping away our culture and values and even the basis of democracy in the name of ever-more-profit). I am not denying the racism, I am saying that identity politics is the wrong way forward and needs to be abandoned. We need less “labels” and more policies; new language and programs which totally shift the paradigm of American politics as far away as possible from the canned bickering of Baby-boomer politics.

 

My last point here is that the real danger is the lurking, boring and technical aspects of Trump and authoritarianism. While our Buffoon-In-Chief districts with Twitter, and outrageous racist comments, the CIA and FBI will gain unlimited surveillance powers. The military will grow larger and more bloated; corporate profit will explode at the cost of the environment and our society. Republicans will intrench themselves ever more deeply into our judicial system, and institute a new, ever-more-subtle Jim Crow.

We cannot let this “campaign” end.

President-Elect Orange

There was a moment watching the election results when all those upper midwestern states shifted red and I knew that our country was about take a very dark, very different future. I felt sick. In the words of a shell-shocked CNN pundit – I think it was Van Jones – “this is a tectonic shift.”

Yes, the racism – Van Jones’ ‘Whitelash’ – and sexism of America were on full display but that neither scared me nor surprised me. I don’t think it was the racists that swung it for Trump. What did scare me was that a crucial number of people (maybe the “Shy Trump voter”) that actually think Trump is going to…to what? Save them? Save them from what? Make America Great Again? What does that mean?

It’s not the anger, frustration and resentment; I share those emotions. It’s the fact that so many think that Trump will fix things for them. And that is what scares me. Really scares me. Because the level of “magical thinking”  – otherwise known as stupidity – to think that President Pussy-Graber will bring back the steel mills and restore America’s place in the world and make all the inconvenient facts  and reality in general go away has the distinct whiff of true fascism.

There is the narrative of the voter who, while not liking Trump, really wants change and just wants to upset the apple cart for the sake of upsetting the apple-cart. Again, I can appreciate that; it does have a certain satisfying appeal. But this rationale must again fail because Trump isn’t an outsider. Trump won’t actually damage the neoliberal economic order – yes, he might withdraw from NAFTA – but that is small potatoes.  Watch closely as his corrupt Administration slashes taxes on massive corporations and his fellow billionaires, and corporate America finds itself perfectly comfortable with Trump.

The only applecart that has been upset is America as a liberal democracy. These voters clearly didn’t consider the environmental damage that will be inflicted. Trump and the Republicans have no interest in being America’s president: they are going to rule viciously in favour of Duck Commander and Corporate America.

The entire right-wing populist edifice is built on the Fox News echo chamber, where a few crucial assumptions have been made: 1) Obama specifically and Democrats/Liberals in general are out to destroy America, 2) Obama has been a disaster as president, 3) taxation and regulation are the reason for economic decline and the death of the middle class. The entire Republican tone and mindset has been one of “aggrieved, angry, forgotten white male”. It’s secretly been this since Nixon, but with Trump, it is now out in the open in a way that I wish were only an episode of Black Mirror.

But what happens when this victim mindset has to actually govern? What happens when the assumptions I listed above have to be put into action? Trump and the Republicans will have no excuse when the steel mills don’t return, when rural America doesn’t return to prosperity, when gays continue to be seen on the streets and things go from bad to worse. Because clearly their entire mindset is based on a system of lies and falsehoods; it is out and out delusional.

How far will Trump and the Republicans go to maintain their illusions? Is is where the possibility of American Fascism and Apartheid become very, very real. When Trump’s pathetic, truck-stop-dive-bar level understanding of government (like for every new regulation, two must be eliminated, a frieze on the hiring of new federal employees) fails to make any meaningful change and actually makes things worse what are they going to do? The temptation will be a Reichstag Fire moment; the full leap into endless militarism. The temptation to dismantle the last vestiges of democracy might be too tempting and too easy. The Republicans – unable to win things like the popular vote – must stay in power by tactics like gerrymandering, voter suppression, and controlling judges. Democracy won’t function if people are over-worked, ignorant and fearful.

There is the long Republican tradition where a charismatic figure is elected, but the actual administration is left largely to a core of Republican insiders. Think of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governor of California, Reagan, Bush and Cheney. There is a possibility, supported by Trump’s actions in picking a VP earlier in the campaign that what we are actually going to get is a Pence Administration, with Trump as demagogue and  distractor in chief. While this is not necessarily the case – all bets are off you haven’t noticed – there is a decent chance that the next few years will be a typically disastrous Republican administration, but no worse.

The second scenario is that Trump and his gaggle of deplorables, alt-right bizzaros and strange sycophants runs rough shod over everybody and everything. The full Trump. I don’t know what will happen in this scenario; either Trump will be quickly abandoned and possibly impeached after two or four years, or it will be literally the end of democracy and America  in any recognisable form.

Since Bill Clinton’s Administration, the Democrats have been a corporate centrist neoliberal party. Hillary fully embraced the mantle of The Establishment; full catered to insider Republicans instead of progressives.  Her staff, and the inner core of the DNC where clearly locked in a baby-boomer centric, outdated model for American elections where the only way to win is to occupy the center and make no gaffes.

So it is no surprise that millennials and blacks didn’t turn out to vote for her. Hillary offered relative sanity, but nothing else. She really is the Herbert Humphrey of our time: the insider’s pick that nobody actually wanted. The Democrats, true to form, played to lose and where generally more interested in pleasing their corporate sponsors then acting like party that represented the interests of genuine Americans. This is not about lazy millennials too lazy and spoiled to show up to vote: this is about a DNC that had nothing to offer. Hillary was always the candidate we where meant to pick. They have nobody to blame but themselves.

So forcing myself to be hopeful here: this election does open a door for truely progressive politics a la Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to emerge. To quote Naomi Klein’s excellent article in The Guardian, (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/09/rise-of-the-davos-class-sealed-americas-fate?CMP=fb_us): “The Democratic party needs to be either decisively wrested from pro-corporate neoliberals, or it needs to be abandoned.” This is the real opening of the election. It’s the only way that the Democrats can hope to win elections, but more importantly, it is the only way for our country to recover and move forward.

 

 

The debate was just as bizarre and pointless as you probably expected it to be

The vast majority of the debate seemed to circle around the ‘character’ of the candidates. Clinton’s strategy was to make Trump angry and it worked. Little of substance was said. I was struck by a tremendous sense of the impossibility of reason and coherent, factual statements. In many ways, it was a total let down. Trump was Trump: blustering buffonish-ness. Clinton was Clinton: canned, full of platitudes and pleasing pointless generalities, she won the debate through tactics aimed at Trump, not by delivering a superior argument.

The opening phase – the economic portion – was the most substantive because it came closest to being an actual debate about what is going on in this country and how to fix it. Clinton was hobbled by her “Establishment-ness”. She espoused a left-of-center economic vision which was unpersuasive and seemed to me to be insufficient. Her relationship with Wall Street, and her basic stance and background indicate to me that her economic policy would actually be a continuation of the policies of Obama and the Democratic centrist (neoliberalism lite) that we have had for the past eight years.

Trump’s economic agenda is mix of neoliberal trickle-down platitudes that go down well with the libertarian crowd, corporations, and the 1% , and protectionist, isolationist rhetoric that goes down with the lower-middle class and blue collar voters. Trump is strong here because its what he seems to be most passionate about; he is the most detailed here. Also, as a “businessman”, his election would fulfil the old Republican fantasy of a businessman in charge as opposed to a politician.

Nobody noticed, but both parties where actually offering pretty much what they always offer. Either way, you get a twist of neoliberalism – the de facto ruling ideology of our country, which came in with Reagan and reinforced by Bill Clinton’s administration. One could say that that the Republican party has been forced to the right because the Democrats have moved into a center center/right position on the ideological spectrum.

I think that Trump’s position here will get him the most votes; his rhetoric here fits with his own image among Americans as “a rich successful businessman” as well as traditional conservative economic ideas that where peddled during the Cold War. The Baby-Boomers have been exposed to the rhetoric of neoliberalism for so long, they can’t seem to understand how badly it has failed bot for this country and for the world. Protectionism is largely incompatible and inconsistant with neoliberal/trickle down economics, but goes down well among certain demographics.

The rest of the debate seemed regress to the level of a youtube comment section debate: pure bickering without any hope of factual verification. What was on display last night was the ignorance of the American voter, seemingly unable to think critically, much less focus on what is being said or remember what has come before. Apparently, most Americans have already forgotten Iraq and Afghanistan and who took us there; or what action or inaction our government takes, regardless. The lies and distortions live on despite the evidence and facts being out there and easily accessable. It’s a shambles.

Usually in a typical American presidential election cycle, the cry goes up at about this time: “Who is still undecided in this election? Just who exactly is an undecided voter anyway?” I have mixed feelings about the traditional Undecided voter; I always imagined someone who could not form a basis of an opinion (i.e. both candidates talk pretty; and some people can’t sort through critically what is being said), or they are torn between conflicting chains of logic (I imagine here a young woman, with no college degree, with an Ammo-sexual boyfriend who should be liberal/progressive). But in this election, I find myself – oddly enough – a undecided voter myself. When Trump says stuff like “The problem is Establishment politicians like Hilary” (or something to that effect), it’s hard for me to disagree. Trump’s right-wing populism would be as disaster, but it does have the appeal of throwing a wrench in the tone-deaf political establishment.

I’m not saying that I might vote for Trump. No, never. But – like a good Millennial – I am planning on voting independent for Jill Stein (libertarians are people who are still buying into the shameless falsehood that taxes and government regulation are the problem in our society). I am dying to send a message to ‘The Establishment’ (I hate the term, but am forced to use it) that I am sick of business as usual – we cannot have another decade of neoliberalism lite. Another decade of inexplicable inaction on climate change, militarism, extreme money in politics, and economic inequality reaching the point where our democracy is pretty much over. I am disgusted that Clinton – very much the candidate of ‘the Establishment’ – can only win because of underhanded stacking-of-the-deck in the primary and because she is running against a troglodyte-baboon of a Republican candidate – the worst they’ve ever had (and that is saying something). The ‘lesser of two-evils’ logic is killing us.

We seem to forget that Trump isn’t an outsider. He’s a total insider. He’s just as much “Establishment” as we perceive Hilary to be. When Trump rails against how politicians are to blame for how things are, we forget that it was these rich oligarchs chasing after ever more money that brought about such a corruption in our system. We forget that it is special interests – weather corporate, individual, or non-profit organisation – that derail our democracy, not the professional politician or government official. We mistake his sincere stupidity for being sincere. Hilary’s perceived dishonesty is made worse because of her gender and the fact that we all read her as smart.

I will admit that I will never quite be able to forgive the Democrats for doing their upmost to stop Bernie Sanders. It wasn’t just stupid of them to alienate Millennials; it was corrupt. It was a cynical political calculation on their part, and it’s hurting them now because Millennials will either not show up at the polls, or vote third party.

I watched the debate last night as an undecided voter. Not between Trump and Clinton, but between Clinton and Jill Stein. Clinton did not win my vote.

If anything was learned form last night, it was that the third-party candidates  -Johnson and Stein – need to be included in these presidential debates. We need to insist on this.

 

 

How to Argue with a Right-Winger

It’s a sad and ominous fact that America has separated itself into two political worlds, Right World and Left World. It’s no longer akin to a slide-rule, where everyone basically had the same general idea but then differed on how to get there. No. We live in two separate bubbles – and the area of overlap shrinks more everyday. A big part of actually being successful when arguing with a Right Winger is sticking as much as possible to that shared space in the Venn Diagram of social reality (like we both enjoy microbreweries or some such thing). I know from my own personal political journey that Left Wing arguments fall flat – they just don’t mesh – with Right Wingers, and Right Wing arguments seem either ignorant or oddly disjointed to those of us on the Left.

The striking thing is that the underlying anxiety of the Right Wing is basically the same as on the Left; the difference is that the Left blames a rapacious economic system, while the Right Wing blames the Left Wing, confusing a whole host of issues and ideas in a terrible morass. And that’s really what you should seek to do when “arguing with a Right Winger”.

How have we gotten here? Well the notion that the Left is the problem dates back to Truman and the GOP’s endless struggle to remain relevant. It really dates back to economic arguments German academics where having in the 1930’s, but I don’t think we need to go there right now. Frankly the driving engine behind this divisive political landscape is GOP politicians seeking office and the tendencies of corporations to pursue profit quite literally at any cost, as long as it’s not too painful financially. Corporate friendly policies have attracted very little actual voter support; it has to be stocked by pandering to Right Wingers.

There are many different types of right-wingers, ranging from the Libertarian Gunsexual to the Mormon Housewife to the rare and exotic Kissinger-esque Neoconservative. There are so many more: the Conspiracy Theorist, the Christian Moral, and the Busy Busy Businessman. It’s important to keep in mind that Right Wingers, as a rule, are really responding to what’s going on in their own heads. The argument pathway you would take with a Mormon Housewife is very different from the what you might say to the Kissinger Conservative. Remember, conservatism is about fear and anger and suspicion, in a word, emotion. That’s its appeal, and if its not that it’s greed and selfishness. Your job is to get your opponent thinking.

Right-wingers are not “dumb”. In fact, I would say that in a certain sense, they are more clever then the rest of us. They are very sensitive and, practically speaking, well trained by the Fox News/Conservative Internet Bubble. They will have punchy facts that you will not have heard. They will have folksy arguments and metaphors which might even be charming. And they will have, in their heads, a script with which to argue with you.

Here’s the weakness. Abstract argument is weak; so weak in fact that you will have a job talking them through it (I almost feel that this is the root of the problem in itself; how to get a conservative to listen to your entire rationale). Point out logical inconsistencies, like if you are worried about Big Government, why do you support the same people who support the Patriot Act?

Don’t categorise them, nor allow them to categorise yourself. Avoid labels and proper nouns at all costs. Wiggle away from labels – violently if you have to; once you are labeled you are destroyed. Treat them as Reasonable People, and demand the same. Don’t let it get to a situation like “you guys are American Flag Burners” and “You guys are all Westboro Baptist Church”.

History is your friend. Facts are your friend. Point out the overwhelming statistical evidence; the global warming facts, the number of black people in jail, the staggering amount we spend on Defence every year. You need to point out how crazy conservative this country has become objectively – even while they have become more scared and angry as ever.

Remember, people have neither the time, inclination or even the capacity to evaluate in a rational way, for example, whether “they are safer because of the War on Terror”. All they want is to feel safer. Torture makes them feel safer. You have to explode that feeling; you have to explain why the CIA’s torture program makes us less safe, not to mention the disgrace to our civic heritage and morality.

The Right Wing mindset is very black and white. It’s a tendency, almost a need to the world in terms of Good Guys and Bad Guys. Force them to acknowledge that the world is a complicated, messy place and the idea of Good Guys is a fantasy created (in its modern form) by Disney. Force them to acknowledge there is a problem; then squeeze a real answer out of them. Point out how many of the things the Left is doing is actually more moral than what the Right is doing.

Aside from the regular, push button issues, the basic confusion is over underlying issues; what exactly is going wrong with the country? Systemic, legally mandated Profit Maximisation policies in the hands of the biggest corporations and handful of individuals is the issue. This might be hard to make them see this. Avoid broad and hopelessly outdated terms like “capitalism”, “socialism”, and the like. If they can push you into an argument in such terms, you’ve already lost. Point out how we have never had a pure capitalist system; Adam Smith would have been horrified of the world we have today. Point out how the system is enriching corporations and only a very few individuals; the overwhelming amount of other people are getting poorer. If they try to push back with complaints about stifling economic regulation and Big Government, point out where regulation is necessary. Point out how they support Big Government via the military and implicit support of the Police State. Point out how are government implicitly subsidises the auto industry, the airline industry and the oil industry. It’s socialism for Big Business.

From my own personal experience, I remember how I would have an objection to the Leftist argument, and that would allow me to get hung up and disengage from what the Leftist was saying; I vividly remember this from watching Jon Stewart in college. There was always something that he would leave out; of something that I felt was subtly unfair. I and would be able to continue with my beliefs as before. This is a tricky one because what we have stumbled into here is the problem of cognitive dissonance. Another way of saying this is: Right Wingers have little capacity to evaluate the relative strength of opposing arguments. They will struggle to understand why their little objection based on a personal anecdote is meaningless in the face of well established, nation-wide statistics. This is point where you will have to be patient and really explain your entire thought process. It’s the only way.

Sometimes I think that the core difference between a Left Winger and a Right Winger is some confusion over Means and Ends. And End is like that far and lofty goal that we find ourselves thinking about. It’s your Utopia, whatever that maybe. Do you believe in a a Star Trek style future fuelled by technological progress? A steady-state economic world of farming communes and artisanal towns featured in Ecotopia? Or do you fantasise about about a retrograde 1950’s-esque America where everyone knows their place? This is your “end”. I think its fair to say that conservatives and Right Wingers are dominated by their End; they implicitly believe that the Ends Justify the Means. Let’s examine the flip side: the Means. This is what you are actually doing now. Means can ‘mean’ both method and tactics, but really refer to current reality. Focusing on an End allows us to ignore the Means, forgetting that, really all that matters is the Means (in the vast majority of cases; especially in big picture situations).

So that’s another good tactic to take. Talk Means. Let the Ends take care of themselves.

I’m reading an interesting article in the New York Times, called Who Blames the Victim? http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/opinion/sunday/who-blames-the-victim.html?action=click&contentCollection=opinion&module=NextInCollection&region=Footer&pgtype=article&version=column&rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fgray-matter. Its suggests that people who value traditional moral planks like “purity” essentially have little sympathy for victims. What does work is shifting the focus from the “victim” to the perpetrator. And I think there is a lot in this. Shift the focus from, say, immigrants as victims to why are the immigrants here? Who’s behind it? Who’s behind solution? Who’s behind Big Government expenses? Talk about the perpetrators.

I have used a very big brush here, and I am sure there are many more things to add; I might do a “list of punchy, un-ignorable statistics”  for arguments sake in the future.

 

 

 

 

Those Who Are Bound…

There’s a pattern here – a historical cycle if you will – that is in the course of repeating itself. It’s both very ancient and unsettlingly modern. We have seen it most recently in the “Brexit” debacle. You can see it in the Rise of Trump, and the resurgence of right-wing populism around the globe.

I’m not even sure what to call it, or if it even has a name. I’m reminded of Max Weber’s term of disenchantment, referring to how the rise of the modern world of rules eleminates our sense of wonder with the world. It’s more then just that and what I am referring to is economic, social, and political. It’s both an unconscious process and a conscious series of choices. The closest familiar term would be “globalisation”, but I feel that this word simple refers a specific time period and certain economic policies and corporate decisions.

So here it is. Corporations – vehicles of profit maximisation and essentially unaccountable – are literally and figuratively eating our planet and our societies. In modern, industrial and post-industrial societies, this is leading to a viscous political cycle one which is only getting worse. Here’s the basic cycle. Corporate elites gain serious power and money because they are able to escape some of the burdens of living in a society (like the lack of direct personal responsibility, for example). Their profit is dependant on cheap labor and cheap natural resources. Their success tends to impoverish the rest of society, or at least large swaths of it.

Because modern societies are so complex and because of our rich civic and democratic heritage, these wealthy few must seek popular support against people pointing out the dangers of their activities. They essentially choose to pander too and manipulate what is usually called right wing populism.

Eventually there is a breaking point because the Corporate impulse is impoverishes the people in the society; these corporate leaders can choose to moderate their excesses and submit to more of the rules of living in a society, or – and this is what has historically happened- they burn down the house. The populism they have fed explodes in frustration, fear, and anger. The Corporate elites, far from throwing their weight behind urban, moderate social forces tend to prefer to ride the tiger of right-wing populism, always too terrible results.

These powerful elites believe their own propaganda to a certain extent; in a very different sense then the “base” does, but none-the-less, they do believe it. The greed, selfishness, and vicious ignorance which makes the profit possible is excused by lies they themselves have chosen to believe. They lie to themselves as well as all of us.

Really it’s just the modern, capitalist version of divide and conquer. Two conceptions of society tend to emerge; an urban, social one and a backward-looking, often rural conservative one.

And really, the results, historically speaking, have been fascism. Because the story I’ve just told is what happened to Germany. And it is what is happening here in the US, right now. Fascism is what happens when the right-wing populists come to power, and the Corporate elite thrown their money and influence behind them (usually thinking they can control the situation).

The Right Wingers have their own thing going on, however and have little actual interest in Corporate power dynamics – it’s not something they understand. Right Wingers are living in a fantasy world; they seek to turn back the clock to reassure themselves in their anger and insecurity.  When they come to power, the set out to make their fantasy a reality. And this is fascism.

In some ways this pattern is an old continuation of the emotionally complex relationship between the Ruler and the Ruled which has bourn many different names over the ages. Weather its a the King and the peasants, or Nixon and the White Lower Middle Classes, it’s  a pattern that has long been established. The Ruler needs tangible support; allegiance. This requires a reason; a ruling ideology. “Obey me because I am the True King anointed by God,” says the King to the Peasants. “Vote for me because I will restore this country to its (totally imaginary) former greatness,” says the contemporary politician (Trump is not the only one making this basic play).

The Ruled need to be entertained -they need to live vicariously through celebrity (what the ancients would have called a hero) – while they labor and slave. Their sacrifices emotional, physical and mental for work or war must be acknowledged and made to feel like there is a point to the whole thing. I can’t help but picture a the relationship between Celebrity and the Fans; they need each other and do things for each other even though they seem to live totally in their own, separate, worlds. They need “the word of God” to make their brutalisation worth it; they need a True King almost as much as the King wants you to think he is.

What has changed is the rise of the urban office worker and the corporate enterprise. Where once there was King and Peasant, there is now, call it the “artisans” who have escaped from the celebrity-audience cycle. This is a problem not just for the King, but really for the Peasants as well. I admit this is a cruel metaphor, and the whole thing is far more complicated, but I think it’s an okay way to introduce what I am getting at.

What happened to Germany nearly a hundred years ago now could easily happen here (my nod here to It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis). The powerful military and corporate interests in Germany, unable to convince the greater public to vote for them as is, threw in with the Rightists. The result was the horror of WWII; its the greed and power of the corporate profit motive which is killing our democracy, our society and our planet.