When Philosophy Lost Its Way

By ROBERT FRODEMAN and ADAM BRIGGLE, Opinionator, New York Times, Jan 11, 2016

Excerpt

Philosophy, understood as the love of wisdom, was seen as a vocation, like the priesthood. It required significant moral virtues (foremost among these were integrity and selflessness), and the pursuit of wisdom in turn further inculcated those virtues. The study of philosophy elevated those who pursued it. Knowing and being good were intimately linked. It was widely understood that the point of philosophy was to become good rather than simply to collect or produce knowledge.

Full text

Once upon a time, acquiring wisdom and being a good person were intimately linked. The modern university changed all that.

The history of Western philosophy can be presented in a number of ways. It can be told in terms of periods — ancient, medieval and modern. We can divide it into rival traditions (empiricism versus rationalism, analytic versus Continental), or into various core areas (metaphysics, epistemology, ethics). It can also, of course, be viewed through the critical lens of gender or racial exclusion, as a discipline almost entirely fashioned for and by white European men.

The philosopher’s hands were never clean and were never meant to be.

Yet despite the richness and variety of these accounts, all of them pass over a momentous turning point: the locating of philosophy within a modern institution (the research university) in the late 19th century. This institutionalization of philosophy made it into a discipline that could be seriously pursued only in an academic setting. This fact represents one of the enduring failures of contemporary philosophy.

Take this simple detail: Before its migration to the university, philosophy had never had a central home. Philosophers could be found anywhere — serving as diplomats, living off pensions, grinding lenses, as well as within a university. Afterward, if they were “serious” thinkers, the expectation was that philosophers would inhabit the research university. Against the inclinations of Socrates, philosophers became experts like other disciplinary specialists. This occurred even as they taught their students the virtues of Socratic wisdom, which highlights the role of the philosopher as the non-expert, the questioner, the gadfly.

Philosophy, then, as the French thinker Bruno Latour would have it, was “purified” — separated from society in the process of modernization. This purification occurred in response to at least two events. The first was the development of the natural sciences, as a field of study clearly distinct from philosophy, circa 1870, and the appearance of the social sciences in the decade thereafter. Before then, scientists were comfortable thinking of themselves as “natural philosophers” — philosophers who studied nature; and the predecessors of social scientists had thought of themselves as “moral philosophers.”

The second event was the placing of philosophy as one more discipline alongside these sciences within the modern research university. A result was that philosophy, previously the queen of the disciplines, was displaced, as the natural and social sciences divided the world between them.

This is not to claim that philosophy had reigned unchallenged before the 19th century. The role of philosophy had shifted across the centuries and in different countries. But philosophy in the sense of a concern about who we are and how we should live had formed the core of the university since the church schools of the 11th century. Before the development of a scientific research culture, conflicts among philosophy, medicine, theology and law consisted of internecine battles rather than clashes across yawning cultural divides. Indeed, these older fields were widely believed to hang together in a grand unity of knowledge — a unity directed toward the goal of the good life. But this unity shattered under the weight of increasing specialization by the turn of the 20th century.

Early 20th-century philosophers thus faced an existential quandary: With the natural and social sciences mapping out the entirety of both theoretical as well as institutional space, what role was there for philosophy? A number of possibilities were available: Philosophers could serve as 1) synthesizers of academic knowledge production; 2) formalists who provided the logical undergirding for research across the academy; 3) translators who brought the insights of the academy to the world at large; 4) disciplinary specialists who focused on distinctively philosophical problems in ethics, epistemology, aesthetics and the like; or 5) as some combination of some or all of these.

If philosophy was going to have a secure place in the academy, it needed its own discrete domain, its own arcane language, its own standards of success and its own specialized concerns.

There might have been room for all of these roles. But in terms of institutional realities, there seems to have been no real choice. Philosophers needed to embrace the structure of the modern research university, which consists of various specialties demarcated from one another. That was the only way to secure the survival of their newly demarcated, newly purified discipline. “Real” or “serious” philosophers had to be identified, trained and credentialed. Disciplinary philosophy became the reigning standard for what would count as proper philosophy.

This was the act of purification that gave birth to the concept of philosophy most of us know today. As a result, and to a degree rarely acknowledged, the institutional imperative of the university has come to drive the theoretical agenda. If philosophy was going to have a secure place in the academy, it needed its own discrete domain, its own arcane language, its own standards of success and its own specialized concerns.

Having adopted the same structural form as the sciences, it’s no wonder philosophy fell prey to physics envy and feelings of inadequacy. Philosophy adopted the scientific modus operandi of knowledge production, but failed to match the sciences in terms of making progress in describing the world. Much has been made of this inability of philosophy to match the cognitive success of the sciences. But what has passed unnoticed is philosophy’s all-too-successful aping of the institutional form of the sciences. We, too, produce research articles. We, too, are judged by the same coin of the realm: peer-reviewed products. We, too, develop sub-specializations far from the comprehension of the person on the street. In all of these ways we are so very “scientific.”

Our claim, then, can be put simply: Philosophy should never have been purified. Rather than being seen as a problem, “dirty hands” should have been understood as the native condition of philosophic thought — present everywhere, often interstitial, essentially interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary in nature. Philosophy is a mangle. The philosopher’s hands were never clean and were never meant to be.

There is another layer to this story. The act of purification accompanying the creation of the modern research university was not just about differentiating realms of knowledge. It was also about divorcing knowledge from virtue. Though it seems foreign to us now, before purification the philosopher (and natural philosopher) was assumed to be morally superior to other sorts of people. The 18th-century thinker Joseph Priestley wrote “a Philosopher ought to be something greater and better than another man.” Philosophy, understood as the love of wisdom, was seen as a vocation, like the priesthood. It required significant moral virtues (foremost among these were integrity and selflessness), and the pursuit of wisdom in turn further inculcated those virtues. The study of philosophy elevated those who pursued it. Knowing and being good were intimately linked. It was widely understood that the point of philosophy was to become good rather than simply to collect or produce knowledge.

NOW IN PRINT
The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments

An anthology of essays from The Times’s philosophy series, published by Liveright.

As the historian Steven Shapin has noted, the rise of disciplines in the 19th century changed all this. The implicit democracy of the disciplines ushered in an age of “the moral equivalence of the scientist” to everyone else. The scientist’s privileged role was to provide the morally neutral knowledge needed to achieve our goals, whether good or evil. This put an end to any notion that there was something uplifting about knowledge. The purification made it no longer sensible to speak of nature, including human nature, in terms of purposes and functions. By the late 19th century, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche had proved the failure of philosophy to establish any shared standard for choosing one way of life over another. This is how Alasdair MacIntyre explained philosophy’s contemporary position of insignificance in society and marginality in the academy. There was a brief window when philosophy could have replaced religion as the glue of society; but the moment passed. People stopped listening as philosophers focused on debates among themselves.

Once knowledge and goodness were divorced, scientists could be regarded as experts, but there are no morals or lessons to be drawn from their work. Science derives its authority from impersonal structures and methods, not the superior character of the scientist. The individual scientist is no different from the average Joe; he or she has, as Shapin has written, “no special authority to pronounce on what ought to be done.” For many, science became a paycheck, and the scientist became a “de-moralized” tool enlisted in the service of power, bureaucracy and commerce.

Here, too, philosophy has aped the sciences by fostering a culture that might be called “the genius contest.” Philosophic activity devolved into a contest to prove just how clever one can be in creating or destroying arguments. Today, a hyperactive productivist churn of scholarship keeps philosophers chained to their computers. Like the sciences, philosophy has largely become a technical enterprise, the only difference being that we manipulate words rather than genes or chemicals. Lost is the once common-sense notion that philosophers are seeking the good life — that we ought to be (in spite of our failings) model citizens and human beings. Having become specialists, we have lost sight of the whole. The point of philosophy now is to be smart, not good. It has been the heart of our undoing.


Robert Frodeman and Adam Briggle teach in the department of philosophy and religion and the University of North Texas. They are co-authors of the forthcoming “Socrates Tenured: The Institutions of 21st-Century Philosophy.”

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and on Twitter, and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/11/when-philosophy-lost-its-way/?emc=edit_ty_20160111&nl=opinion&nlid=56693142&_r=0

The Stone features the writing of contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless. The series moderator is Simon Critchley. He teaches philosophy at The New School for Social Research in New York. To contact the editors of The Stone, send an e-mail to opinionator@nytimes.com. Please include “The Stone” in the subject field.

You Can’t Bend Science to Suit Religious or Cultural Mores

By Neil deGrasse Tyson / Huffington Post, November 22, 2015

What is science? How does it work?

Excerpt

If you cherry-pick scientific truths to serve cultural, economic, religious or political objectives, you undermine the foundations of an informed democracy. Science distinguishes itself from all other branches of human pursuit by its power to probe and understand the behavior of nature on a level that allows us to predict with accuracy, if not control, the outcomes of events in the natural world. Science especially enhances our health, wealth and security, which is greater today for more people on Earth than at any other time in human history.The scientific method, which underpins these achievements, can be summarized in one sentence, which is all about objectivity: Do whatever it takes to avoid fooling yourself into thinking something is true that is not, or that something is not true that is. This approach to knowing did not take root until early in the 17th century, shortly after the inventions of both the microscope and the telescope. The astronomer Galileo and philosopher Sir Francis Bacon agreed: conduct experiments to test your hypothesis and allocate your confidence in proportion to the strength of your evidence. Since then, we would further learn not to claim knowledge of a newly discovered truth until multiple researchers, and ultimately the majority of researchers, obtain results consistent with one another.This code of conduct carries remarkable consequences. There’s no law against publishing wrong or biased results. But the cost to you for doing so is high. If your research is re-checked by colleagues, and nobody can duplicate your findings, the integrity of your future research will be held suspect. If you commit outright fraud, such as knowingly faking data, and subsequent researchers on the subject uncover this, the revelation will end your career. It’s that simple. This internal, self-regulating system within science may be unique among professions, and it does not require the public or the press or politicians to make it work. But watching the machinery operate may nonetheless fascinate you. Just observe the flow of research papers that grace the pages of peer reviewed scientific journals. This breeding ground of discovery is also, on occasion, a battlefield where scientific controversy is laid bare. Science discovers objective truths. These are not established by any seated authority, nor by any single research paper. The press, in an effort to break a story, may mislead the public’s awareness of how science works by headlining a just-published scientific paper as “the truth,” perhaps also touting the academic pedigree of the authors. In fact, when drawn from the moving frontier, the truth has not yet been established, so research can land all over the place until experiments converge in one direction or another — or in no direction, itself usually indicating no phenomenon at all. Once an objective truth is established by these methods, it is not later found to be false…Objective truths exist outside of your perception of reality… These statements can be verified by anybody, at any time, and at any place. And they are true, whether or not you believe in them. Meanwhile, personal truths are what you may hold dear, but have no real way of convincing others who disagree, except by heated argument, coercion or by force. These are the foundations of most people’s opinions….Differences in opinion define the cultural diversity of a nation, and should be cherished in any free society….Political attempts to require that others share your personal truths are, in their limit, dictatorships. Note further that in science, conformity is anathema to success. The persistent accusations that we are all trying to agree with one another is laughable to scientists attempting to advance their careers. The best way to get famous in your own lifetime is to pose an idea that is counter to prevailing research and which ultimately earns a consistency of observations and experiment. This ensures healthy disagreement at all times while working on the bleeding edge of discovery. In 1863… Abraham Lincoln — the first Republican president — signed into existence the National Academy of Sciences, based on an Act of Congress. This august body would provide independent, objective advice to the nation on matters relating to science and technology.Today, other government agencies with scientific missions serve similar purpose, including NASA, which explores space and aeronautics; NIST, which explores standards of scientific measurement, on which all other measurements are based; DOE, which explores energy in all usable forms; and NOAA, which explores Earth’s weather and climate. These centers of research, as well as other trusted sources of published science, can empower politicians in ways that lead to enlightened and informed governance. But this won’t happen until the people in charge, and the people who vote for them, come to understand how and why science works. http://www.alternet.org/culture/neil-degrasse-tyson-you-cant-bend-science-suit-religious-or-cultural-mores

Full text

If you cherry-pick scientific truths to serve cultural, economic, religious or political objectives, you undermine the foundations of an informed democracy.

Science distinguishes itself from all other branches of human pursuit by its power to probe and understand the behavior of nature on a level that allows us to predict with accuracy, if not control, the outcomes of events in the natural world. Science especially enhances our health, wealth and security, which is greater today for more people on Earth than at any other time in human history.The scientific method, which underpins these achievements, can be summarized in one sentence, which is all about objectivity:

Do whatever it takes to avoid fooling yourself into thinking something is true that is not, or that something is not true that is.

This approach to knowing did not take root until early in the 17th century, shortly after the inventions of both the microscope and the telescope. The astronomer Galileo and philosopher Sir Francis Bacon agreed: conduct experiments to test your hypothesis and allocate your confidence in proportion to the strength of your evidence. Since then, we would further learn not to claim knowledge of a newly discovered truth until multiple researchers, and ultimately the majority of researchers, obtain results consistent with one another.

This code of conduct carries remarkable consequences. There’s no law against publishing wrong or biased results. But the cost to you for doing so is high. If your research is re-checked by colleagues, and nobody can duplicate your findings, the integrity of your future research will be held suspect. If you commit outright fraud, such as knowingly faking data, and subsequent researchers on the subject uncover this, the revelation will end your career.

It’s that simple.

This internal, self-regulating system within science may be unique among professions, and it does not require the public or the press or politicians to make it work. But watching the machinery operate may nonetheless fascinate you. Just observe the flow of research papers that grace the pages of peer reviewed scientific journals. This breeding ground of discovery is also, on occasion, a battlefield where scientific controversy is laid bare.

Science discovers objective truths. These are not established by any seated authority, nor by any single research paper. The press, in an effort to break a story, may mislead the public’s awareness of how science works by headlining a just-published scientific paper as “the truth,” perhaps also touting the academic pedigree of the authors. In fact, when drawn from the moving frontier, the truth has not yet been established, so research can land all over the place until experiments converge in one direction or another — or in no direction, itself usually indicating no phenomenon at all.

Once an objective truth is established by these methods, it is not later found to be false. We will not be revisiting the question of whether Earth is round; whether the sun is hot; whether humans and chimps share more than 98 percent identical DNA; or whether the air we breathe is 78 percent nitrogen.

The era of “modern physics,” born with the quantum revolution of the early 20th century and the relativity revolution of around the same time, did not discard Newton’s laws of motion and gravity. What it did was describe deeper realities of nature, made visible by ever-greater methods and tools of inquiry. Modern physics enclosed classical physics as a special case of these larger truths. So the only times science cannot assure objective truths is on the pre-consensus frontier of research, and the only time it couldn’t was before the 17th century, when our senses — inadequate and biased — were the only tools at our disposal to inform us of what was and was not true in our world.

Objective truths exist outside of your perception of reality, such as the value of pi; E= m c 2; Earth’s rate of rotation; and that carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gases. These statements can be verified by anybody, at any time, and at any place. And they are true, whether or not you believe in them.

Meanwhile, personal truths are what you may hold dear, but have no real way of convincing others who disagree, except by heated argument, coercion or by force. These are the foundations of most people’s opinions. Is Jesus your savior? Is Mohammad God’s last prophet on Earth? Should the government support poor people? Is Beyoncé a cultural queen? Kirk or Picard? Differences in opinion define the cultural diversity of a nation, and should be cherished in any free society. You don’t have to like gay marriage. Nobody will ever force you to gay-marry. But to create a law preventing fellow citizens from doing so is to force your personal truths on others. Political attempts to require that others share your personal truths are, in their limit, dictatorships.

Note further that in science, conformity is anathema to success. The persistent accusations that we are all trying to agree with one another is laughable to scientists attempting to advance their careers. The best way to get famous in your own lifetime is to pose an idea that is counter to prevailing research and which ultimately earns a consistency of observations and experiment. This ensures healthy disagreement at all times while working on the bleeding edge of discovery. 

In 1863, a year when he clearly had more pressing matters to attend to, Abraham Lincoln — the first Republican president — signed into existence the National Academy of Sciences, based on an Act of Congress. This august body would provide independent, objective advice to the nation on matters relating to science and technology.

Today, other government agencies with scientific missions serve similar purpose, including NASA, which explores space and aeronautics; NIST, which explores standards of scientific measurement, on which all other measurements are based; DOE, which explores energy in all usable forms; and NOAA, which explores Earth’s weather and climate.

These centers of research, as well as other trusted sources of published science, can empower politicians in ways that lead to enlightened and informed governance. But this won’t happen until the people in charge, and the people who vote for them, come to understand how and why science works.

http://www.alternet.org/culture/neil-degrasse-tyson-you-cant-bend-science-suit-religious-or-cultural-mores

Scientists Are Beginning to Figure Out Why Conservatives Are… Conservative

Bill Moyers: Ten years ago, it was wildly controversial to talk about psychological differences between liberals and conservatives. Today, it’s becoming hard not to. 

by Chris Mooney, billmoyers.com, July 17, 2014 This post originally appeared at Mother Jones.

You could be forgiven for not having browsed through the latest issue of the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences. If you care about politics, though, you’ll find a punchline therein that is pretty extraordinary.

Behavioral and Brain Sciences employs a rather unique practice called “Open Peer Commentary”: An article of major significance is published, a large number of fellow scholars comment on it and then the original author responds to all of them. The approach has many virtues, one of which being that it lets you see where a community of scholars and thinkers stand with respect to a controversial or provocative scientific idea. And in the latest issue of the journal, this process reveals the following conclusion: A large body of political scientists and political psychologists now concur that liberals and conservatives disagree about politics in part because they are different people at the level of personality, psychology and even traits like physiology and genetics.

That’s a big deal. It challenges everything that we thought we knew about politics — upending the idea that we get our beliefs solely from our upbringing, from our friends and families, from our personal economic interests, and calling into question the notion that in politics, we can really change (most of us, anyway).

It is a “virtually inescapable conclusion” that the “cognitive-motivational styles of leftists and rightists are quite different.”

The occasion of this revelation is a paper by John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska and his colleagues, arguing that political conservatives have a “negativity bias,” meaning that they are physiologically more attuned to negative (threatening, disgusting) stimuli in their environments. (The paper can be read for free here.) In the process, Hibbing et al. marshal a large body of evidence, including their own experiments using eye trackers and other devices to measure the involuntary responses of political partisans to different types of images. One finding? That conservatives respond much more rapidly to threatening and aversive stimuli (for instance, images of “a very large spider on the face of a frightened person, a dazed individual with a bloody face, and an open wound with maggots in it,” as one of their papers put it).

In other words, the conservative ideology, and especially one of its major facets — centered on a strong military, tough law enforcement, resistance to immigration, widespread availability of guns — would seem well tailored for an underlying, threat-oriented biology.

The authors go on to speculate that this ultimately reflects an evolutionary imperative. “One possibility,” they write, “is that a strong negativity bias was extremely useful in the Pleistocene,” when it would have been super-helpful in preventing you from getting killed. (The Pleistocene epoch lasted from roughly 2.5 million years ago until 12,000 years ago.) We had John Hibbing on the Inquiring Minds podcast earlier this year, and he discussed these ideas in depth; you can listen here:

Hibbing and his colleagues make an intriguing argument in their latest paper, but what’s truly fascinating is what happened next. Twenty-six different scholars or groups of scholars then got an opportunity to tee off on the paper, firing off a variety of responses. But as Hibbing and colleagues note in their final reply, out of those responses, “22 or 23 accept the general idea” of a conservative negativity bias, and simply add commentary to aid in the process of “modifying it, expanding on it, specifying where it does and does not work,” and so on. Only about three scholars or groups of scholars seem to reject the idea entirely.

That’s pretty extraordinary, when you think about it. After all, one of the teams of commenters includes New York University social psychologist John Jost, who drew considerable political ire in 2003 when he and his colleagues published a synthesis of existing psychological studies on ideology, suggesting that conservatives are characterized by traits such as a need for certainty and an intolerance of ambiguity. Now, writing in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in response to Hibbing roughly a decade later, Jost and fellow scholars note that…

There is by now evidence from a variety of laboratories around the world using a variety of methodological techniques leading to the virtually inescapable conclusion that the cognitive-motivational styles of leftists and rightists are quite different. This research consistently finds that conservatism is positively associated with heightened epistemic concerns for order, structure, closure, certainty, consistency, simplicity, and familiarity, as well as existential concerns such as perceptions of danger, sensitivity to threat, and death anxiety. [Italics added]

Back in 2003, Jost and his team were blasted by Ann CoulterGeorge Will and National Review for saying this; congressional Republicans began probing into their research grants and they got lots of hate mail. But what’s clear is that today, they’ve more or less triumphed. They won a field of converts to their view and sparked a wave of new research, including the work of Hibbing and his team.

“One possibility,” note the authors, “is that a strong negativity bias was extremely useful in the Pleistocene,” when it would have been super-helpful in preventing you from getting killed.

Granted, there are still many issues yet to be worked out in the science of ideology. Most of the commentaries on the new Hibbing paper are focused on important but not-paradigm-shifting side issues, such as the question of how conservatives can have a higher negativity bias, and yet not have neurotic personalities. (Actually, if anything, the research suggests that liberals may be the more neurotic bunch.) Indeed, conservatives tend to have a high degree of happiness and life satisfaction. But Hibbing and colleagues find no contradiction here. Instead, they paraphrase two other scholarly commentators (Matt Motyl of the University of Virginia and Ravi Iyer of the University of Southern California), who note that “successfully monitoring and attending negative features of the environment, as conservatives tend to do, may be just the sort of tractable task…that is more likely to lead to a fulfilling and happy life than is a constant search for new experience after new experience.”

All of this matters, of course, because we still operate in politics and in media as if minds can be changed by the best honed arguments, the most compelling facts. And yet if our political opponents are simply perceiving the world differently, that idea starts to crumble. Out of the rubble just might arise a better way of acting in politics that leads to less dysfunction and less gridlock…thanks to science.

Chris Mooney is a science and political journalist, podcaster and the host of Climate Desk Live. He is the author of four books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science.

http://billmoyers.com/2014/07/17/scientists-are-beginning-to-figure-out-why-conservatives-are%E2%80%A6-conservative/

Is a New Political System Emerging in This Country?

by Tom Engelhardt, billmoyers.com, March 25, 2015 This post first appeared at TomDispatch.

Excerpt

Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that and let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell: based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name. And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so….it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray.

1. One Percent Elections

2. The Privatization of the State (or the US as a Prospective Third-World Nation)

3. The De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency

4. The Rise of the National Security State as the Fourth Branch of Government

5. The Demobilization of the American People

6. The Birth of a New System

…this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual.  Put together our one percent elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the US military and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism) and you have something like a new ballgame…Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.

The views expressed in this post are the author’s alone, and presented here to offer a variety of perspectives to our readers.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books), has just been published.

http://billmoyers.com/2015/03/25/new-american-order/

Full text

Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that and let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell: based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.

And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so.

Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: political campaigns and elections; the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and the demobilization of “we the people.”

Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray.

1. One Percent Elections

Check out the news about the 2016 presidential election and you’ll quickly feel a sense of been-there, done-that. As a start, the two names most associated with it, Bush and Clinton, couldn’t be more familiar, highlighting as they do the curiously dynastic quality of recent presidential contests. (If a Bush or Clinton should win in 2016 and again in 2020, a member of one of those families will have controlled the presidency for 28 of the last 36 years.)

The 2012 presidential campaign was the first $2 billion election; campaign 2016 is expected to hit the $5 billion mark without breaking a sweat.

Take, for instance, “Why 2016 Is Likely to Become a Close Race,” a recent piece Nate Cohn wrote for my hometown paper. A noted election statistician, Cohn points out that, despite Hillary Clinton’s historically staggering lead in Democratic primary polls (and lack of serious challengers), she could lose the general election. He bases this on what we know about her polling popularity from the Monica Lewinsky moment of the 1990s to the present. Cohn assures readers that Hillary will not “be a Democratic Eisenhower, a popular, senior statesperson who cruises to an easy victory.” It’s the sort of comparison that offers a certain implicit reassurance about the near future. (No, Virginia, we haven’t left the world of politics in which former General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower can still be a touchstone.)

Cohn may be right when it comes to Hillary’s electability, but this is not Dwight D. Eisenhower’s or even Al Gore’s America. If you want a measure of that, consider this year’s primaries. I mean, of course, the 2015 ones. Once upon a time, the campaign season started with candidates flocking to Iowa and New Hampshire early in the election year to establish their bona fides among party voters. These days, however, those are already late primaries.

The early primaries, the ones that count, take place among a small group of millionaires and billionaires, a new caste flush with cash who will personally, or through complex networks of funders, pour multi-millions of dollars into the campaigns of candidates of their choice. So the early primaries — this year mainly a Republican affair — are taking place in resort spots like Las Vegas, Rancho Mirage, California, and Sea Island, Georgia, as has been widely reported. These “contests” involve groveling politicians appearing at the beck and call of the rich and powerful and so reflect our new one percent electoral system. (The main pro-Hillary super PAC, for instance, is aiming for a kitty of $500 million heading into 2016, while the Koch brothers network has already promised to drop almost $1 billion into the coming campaign season, doubling their efforts in the last presidential election year.)

Ever since the Supreme Court opened up the ultimate floodgates with its 2010 Citizens United decision, each subsequent election has seen record-breaking amounts of money donated and spent. The 2012 presidential campaign was the first $2 billion election; campaign 2016 is expected to hit the $5 billion mark without breaking a sweat. By comparison, according to Burton Abrams and Russell Settle in their study, “The Effect of Broadcasting on Political Campaign Spending,” Republicans and Democrats spent just under $13 million combined in 1956 when Eisenhower won his second term.

In the meantime, it’s still true that the 2016 primaries will involve actual voters, as will the election that follows. The previous election season, the midterms of 2014, cost almost $4 billion, a record despite the number of small donors continuing to drop. It also represented the lowest midterm voter turnout since World War II. (See: demobilization of the public, below — and add in the demobilization of the Democrats as a real party, the breaking of organized labor, the fragmenting of the Republican Party, and the return of voter suppression laws visibly meant to limit the franchise.) It hardly matters just what the flood of new money does in such elections, when you can feel the weight of inequality bearing down on the whole process in a way that is pushing us somewhere new.

2. The Privatization of the State (or the US as a Prospective Third-World Nation)

In the recent coverage of the Hillary Clinton email flap, you can find endless references to the Clintons of yore in wink-wink, you-know-how-they-are-style reporting; and yes, she did delete a lot of emails; and yes, it’s an election year coming and, as everyone points out, the Republicans are going to do their best to keep the email issue alive until hell freezes over, etc., etc. Again, the coverage, while eyeball gluing, is in a you’ve-seen-it-all-before, you’ll-see-it-all-again-mode.

However, you haven’t seen it all before. The most striking aspect of this little brouhaha lies in what’s most obvious but least highlighted. An American secretary of state chose to set up her own private, safeguarded email system for doing government work; that is, she chose to privatize her communications. If this were Cairo, it might not warrant a second thought. But it didn’t happen in some third-world state. It was the act of a key official of the planet’s reigning (or thrashing) superpower, which — even if it wasn’t the first time such a thing had ever occurred — should be taken as a tiny symptom of something that couldn’t be larger or, in the long stretch of history, newer: the ongoing privatization of the American state, or at least the national security part of it.

Though the marriage of the state and the corporation has a pre-history, the full-scale arrival of the warrior corporation only occurred after 9/11. Someday, that will undoubtedly be seen as a seminal moment in the formation of whatever may be coming in this country. Only 13 years later, there is no part of the war state that has not experienced major forms of privatization. The US military could no longer go to war without its crony corporations doing KP and guard duty, delivering the mail, building the bases and being involved in just about all of its activities, including training the militaries of foreign allies and even fighting. Such warrior corporations are now involved in every aspect of the national security state, including torture, drone strikes and — to the tune of hundreds of thousands of contract employees like Edward Snowden — intelligence gathering and spying. You name it and, in these years, it’s been at least partly privatized.

All you have to do is read reporter James Risen’s recent book, Pay Any Price, on how the global war on terror was fought in Washington, and you know that privatization has brought something else with it: corruption, scams and the gaming of the system for profits of a sort that might normally be associated with a typical third-world kleptocracy. And all of this, a new world being born, was reflected in a tiny way in Hillary Clinton’s very personal decision about her emails.

Though it’s a subject I know so much less about, this kind of privatization (and the corruption that goes with it) is undoubtedly underway in the non-war-making, non-security-projecting part of the American state as well.

3. The De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency

On a third front, American “confidence” in the three classic check-and-balance branches of government, as measured by polling outfits, continues to fall. In 2014, Americans expressing a “great deal of confidence” in the Supreme Court hit a new low of 23 percent; in the presidency, it was 11 percent and in Congress a bottom-scraping five percent. (The military, on the other hand, registers at 50 percent.) The figures for “hardly any confidence at all” are respectively 20 percent, 44 percent and more than 50 percent. All are in or near record-breaking territory for the last four decades.

It seems fair to say that in recent years Congress has been engaged in a process of delegitimizing itself. Where that body once had the genuine power to declare war, for example, it is now “debating” in a desultory fashion an “authorization” for a war against the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq and possibly elsewhere that has already been underway for eight months and whose course, it seems, will be essentially unaltered, whether Congress authorizes it or not.

A president who came into office rejecting torture and promoting sunshine and transparency in government has, in the course of six-plus years, come to identify himself almost totally with the US military, the CIA, the NSA and the like.

What would President Harry Truman, who once famously ran a presidential campaign against a “do-nothing” Congress, have to say about a body that truly can do just about nothing? Or rather, to give the Republican war hawks in that new Congress their due, not quite nothing. They are proving capable of acting effectively to delegitimize the presidency as well. House Majority Leader John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to undercut the president’s Iranian nuclear negotiations and the letter signed by 47 Republican senators and directed to the Iranian ayatollahs are striking examples of this. They are visibly meant to tear down an “imperial presidency” that Republicans gloried in not so long ago.

The radical nature of that letter, not as an act of state but of its de-legitimization, was noted even in Iran, where fundamentalist Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed it “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.” Here, however, the letter is either being covered as a singularly extreme one-off act (“treason!”) or, as Jon Stewart did on The Daily Show, as part of a repetitive tit-for-tat between Democrats and Republicans over who controls foreign policy. It is, in fact, neither. It represents part of a growing pattern in which Congress becomes an ever less effective body, except in its willingness to take on and potentially take out the presidency.

In the 21st century, all that “small government” Republicans and “big government” Democrats can agree on is offering essentially unconditional support to the military and the national security state. The Republican Party — its various factions increasingly at each other’s throats almost as often as at those of the Democrats — seems reasonably united solely on issues of war-making and security. As for the Democrats, an unpopular administration, facing constant attack by those who loath President Obama, has kept its footing in part by allying with and fusing with the national security state. A president who came into office rejecting torture and promoting sunshine and transparency in government has, in the course of six-plus years, come to identify himself almost totally with the US military, the CIA, the NSA and the like. While it has launched an unprecedented campaign against whistleblowers and leakers (as well as sunshine and transparency), the Obama White House has proved a powerful enabler of, but also remarkably dependent upon, that state-within-a-state, a strange fate for “the imperial presidency.”

4. The Rise of the National Security State as the Fourth Branch of Government

One “branch” of government is, however, visibly on the rise and rapidly gaining independence from just about any kind of oversight. Its ability to enact its wishes with almost no opposition in Washington is a striking feature of our moment. But while the symptoms of this process are regularly reported, the overall phenomenon — the creation of a de facto fourth branch of government — gets remarkably little attention. In the war on terror era, the national security state has come into its own. Its growth has been phenomenal. Though it’s seldom pointed out, it should be considered remarkable that in this period we gained a second full-scale “defense department,” the Department of Homeland Security and that it and the Pentagon have become even more entrenched, each surrounded by its own growing “complex” of private corporations, lobbyists and allied politicians. The militarization of the country has, in these years, proceeded apace.

Meanwhile, the duplication to be found in the US Intelligence Community with its 17 major agencies and outfits is staggering. Its growing ability to surveil and spy on a global scale, including on its own citizens, puts the totalitarian states of the 20th century to shame. That the various parts of the national security state can act in just about any fashion without fear of accountability in a court of law is by now too obvious to belabor. As wealth has traveled upwards in American society in ways not seen since the first Gilded Age, so taxpayer dollars have migrated into the national security state in an almost plutocratic fashion.

New reports regularly surface about the further activities of parts of that state. In recent weeks, for instance, we learned from Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley of the Intercept that the CIA has spent years trying to break the encryption on Apple iPhones and iPads; it has, that is, been aggressively seeking to attack an all-American corporation (even if significant parts of its production process are actually in China). Meanwhile, Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA, an agency barred from domestic spying operations of any sort, has been helping the US Marshals Service (part of the Justice Department) create an airborne digital dragnet on American cell phones. Planes flying out of five US cities carry a form of technology that “mimics a cellphone tower.” This technology, developed and tested in distant American war zones and now brought to “the homeland,” is just part of the ongoing militarization of the country from its borders to its police forces. And there’s hardly been a week since Edward Snowden first released crucial NSA documents in June 2013 when such “advances” haven’t been in the news.

News also regularly bubbles up about the further expansion, reorganization and upgrading of parts of the intelligence world, the sorts of reports that have become the barely noticed background hum of our lives. Recently, for instance, Director John Brennan announced a major reorganization of the CIA meant to break down the classic separation between spies and analysts at the Agency, while creating a new Directorate of Digital Innovation responsible for, among other things, cyberwarfare and cyberespionage. At about the same time, according to the New York Times, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, an obscure State Department agency, was given a new and expansive role in coordinating “all the existing attempts at countermessaging [against online propaganda by terror outfits like the Islamic State] by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.”

This sort of thing is par for the course in an era in which the national security state has only grown stronger, endlessly elaborating, duplicating and overlapping the various parts of its increasingly labyrinthine structure. And keep in mind that, in a structure that has fought hard to keep what it’s doing cloaked in secrecy, there is so much more that we don’t know. Still, we should know enough to realize that this ongoing process reflects something new in our American world (even if no one cares to notice).

5. The Demobilization of the American People

The New Robber Barons

In The Age of Acquiescence, a new book about America’s two Gilded Ages, Steve Fraser asks why it was that, in the 19th century, another period of plutocratic excesses, concentration of wealth and inequality, buying of politicians and attempts to demobilize the public, Americans took to the streets with such determination and in remarkable numbers over long periods of time to protest their treatment and stayed there even when the brute power of the state was called out against them. In our own moment, Fraser wonders, why has the silence of the public in the face of similar developments been so striking?

After all, a grim new American system is arising before our eyes. Everything we once learned in the civics textbooks of our childhoods about how our government works now seems askew, while the growth of poverty, the flatlining of wages, the rise of the .01 percent, the collapse of labor and the militarization of society are all evident.

The process of demobilizing the public certainly began with the military. It was initially a response to the disruptive and rebellious draftees of the Vietnam-era. In 1973, at the stroke of a presidential pen, the citizen’s army was declared no more, the raising of new recruits was turned over to advertising agencies (a preview of the privatization of the state to come) and the public was sent home, never again to meddle in military affairs. Since 2001, that form of demobilization has been etched in stone and transformed into a way of life in the name of the “safety” and “security” of the public.

Since then, “we the people” have made ourselves felt in only three disparate ways: from the left in the Occupy movement, which, with its slogans about the one percent and the 99 percent, put the issue of growing economic inequality on the map of American consciousness; from the right, in the tea party movement, a complex expression of discontent backed and at least partially funded by right-wing operatives and billionaires and aimed at the de-legitimization of the “nanny state;” and the recent round of post-Ferguson protests spurred at least in part by the militarization of the police in black and brown communities around the country.

6. The Birth of a New System

Otherwise, a moment of increasing extremity has also been a moment of — to use Fraser’s word — “acquiescence.” Someday, we’ll assumedly understand far better how this all came to be. In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual.  Put together our one percent elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the US military and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism) and you have something like a new ballgame.

While significant planning has been involved in all of this, there may be no ruling pattern or design. Much of it may be happening in a purely seat-of-the-pants fashion. In response, there has been no urge to officially declare that something new is afoot, let alone convene a new constitutional convention. Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon and the officials of the national security state.

Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.

The views expressed in this post are the author’s alone, and presented here to offer a variety of perspectives to our readers.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books), has just been published.

http://billmoyers.com/2015/03/25/new-american-order/

The GOP and the Rise of Anti-Knowledge

by Mike Lofgren, billmoyers.com, October 29, 2015 This post was first published at Consortium News.

Excerpt

Anti-knowledge is a subset of anti-intellectualism, and as Richard Hofstadter has pointed out, anti-intellectualism has been a recurrent feature in American life, generally rising and receding in synchronism with fundamentalist revivalism…fundamentalism has merged its personnel, its policies, its tactics and its fate with a major American political party, the Republicans…the anti-knowledge crowd has created an immense ecosystem of political disinformation…Thanks to these overlapping and mutually reinforcing segments of the right-wing media-entertainment-“educational” complex, it is now possible for the true believer to sail on an ocean of political, historical, and scientific disinformation without ever sighting the dry land of empirical fact. This effect is fortified by the substantial overlap between conservative Republicans and fundamentalist Christians.

Full text

In the realm of physics, the opposite of matter is not nothingness, but antimatter. In the realm of practical epistemology, the opposite of knowledge is not ignorance but anti-knowledge. This seldom recognized fact is one of the prime forces behind the decay of political and civic culture in America.

Some common-sense philosophers have observed this point over the years. “Genuine ignorance is . . . profitable because it is likely to be accompanied by humility, curiosity, and open mindedness; whereas ability to repeat catch-phrases, cant terms, familiar propositions, gives the conceit of learning and coats the mind with varnish waterproof to new ideas,” observed psychologist John Dewey.

Or, as humorist Josh Billings put it, “The trouble with people is not that they don’t know, but that they know so much that ain’t so.”

Ben Carson, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination who doesn’t believe in evolution and says it is “scientifically politically correct” and a theory “encouraged by the adversary [Satan].”

[Ben Carson] is anti-knowledge incarnated, a walking compendium of every imbecility ever uttered during the last three decades.

Fifty years ago, if a person did not know who the prime minister of Great Britain was, what the conflict in Vietnam was about, or the barest rudiments of how a nuclear reaction worked, he would shrug his shoulders and move on. And if he didn’t bother to know those things, he was in all likelihood politically apathetic and confined his passionate arguing to topics like sports or the attributes of the opposite sex.

There were exceptions, like the Birchers’ theory that fluoridation was a monstrous communist conspiracy, but they were mostly confined to the fringes. Certainly, political candidates with national aspirations steered clear of such balderdash.

At present, however, a person can be blissfully ignorant of how to locate Kenya on a map, but know to a metaphysical certitude that Barack Obama was born there, because he learned it from Fox News. Likewise, he can be unable to differentiate a species from a phylum but be confident from viewing the 700 Club that evolution is “politically correct” hooey and that the earth is 6,000 years old.

And he may never have read the Constitution and have no clue about the Commerce Clause, but believe with an angry righteousness that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.

This brings us inevitably to celebrity presidential candidate Ben Carson. The man is anti-knowledge incarnated, a walking compendium of every imbecility ever uttered during the last three decades. Obamacare is worse than chattel slavery. Women who have abortions are like slave owners. If Jews had firearms they could have stopped the Holocaust (author’s note: they obtained at least some weapons during the Warsaw Ghetto rising, and no, it didn’t). Victims of a mass shooting in Oregon enabled their own deaths by their behavior. And so on, ad nauseam.

It is highly revealing that, according to a Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll of likely Republican caucus attendees, the stolid Iowa burghers liked Carson all the more for such moronic utterances. And sure enough, the New York Times tells us that Carson has pulled ahead of Donald Trump in a national poll of Republican voters. Apparently, Trump was just not crazy enough for their tastes.

Why the Ignorance?

Anti-knowledge is a subset of anti-intellectualism, and as Richard Hofstadter has pointed out, anti-intellectualism has been a recurrent feature in American life, generally rising and receding in synchronism with fundamentalist revivalism.

Journalist Michael Tomasky has attempted to answer the question as to what Ben Carson’s popularity tells us about the American people after making a detour into asking a question about the man himself: why is an accomplished neurosurgeon such a nincompoop in another field? “Because usually, if a man (or woman) is a good and knowledgeable and sure-footed doctor, or lawyer or department chair or any other position that could have been attained only through repeated displays of excellence and probity, then that person will also be a pretty solid human being across the board.”

Well, not necessarily. English unfortunately doesn’t have a precise word for the German “Fachidiot,” a narrowly specialized person accomplished in his own field but a blithering idiot outside it. In any case, a surgeon is basically a skilled auto mechanic who is not bothered by the sight of blood and palpitating organs (and an owner of a high-dollar ride like a Porsche knows that a specialized mechanic commands labor rates roughly comparable to a doctor).

We need the surgeon’s skills on pain of agonizing death, and reward him commensurately, but that does not make him a Voltaire. Still, it makes one wonder: if Carson the surgeon believes evolution is a hoax, where does he think the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that plague hospitals come from?

Tomasky expresses astonishment that Carson’s jaw-dropping comments make him more popular among Republican voters, but he concludes without fully answering the question he posed. It is an important question: what has happened to the American people, or at least a significant portion of them?

The current wave, which now threatens to swamp our political culture, began in a similar fashion with the rise to prominence in the 1970s of fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. But to a far greater degree than previous outbreaks, fundamentalism has merged its personnel, its policies, its tactics and its fate with a major American political party, the Republicans.

An Infrastructure of Know-Nothing-ism

Thanks to these overlapping and mutually reinforcing segments of the right-wing media-entertainment-“educational” complex, it is now possible for the true believer to sail on an ocean of political, historical, and scientific disinformation without ever sighting the dry land of empirical fact.

Buttressing this merger is a vast support structure of media, foundations, pressure groups and even a thriving cottage industry of fake historians and phony scientists. From Fox News to the Discovery Institute (which exists solely to “disprove” evolution), and from the Heritage Foundation (which propagandizes that tax cuts increase revenue despite massive empirical evidence to the contrary) to bogus “historians” like David Barton (who confected a fraudulent biography of a piously devout Thomas Jefferson that had to be withdrawn by the publisher), the anti-knowledge crowd has created an immense ecosystem of political disinformation.

Thanks to publishing houses like Regnery and the conservative boutique imprints of more respectable houses like Simon & Schuster (a division of CBS), America has been flooded with cut-and-paste rants by Michelle Malkin and Mark Levin, Parson Weems-style ghosted biographies allegedly by Bill O’Reilly, and the inimitable stream of consciousness hallucinating of Glenn Beck.

Whether retail customers actually buy all these screeds, or whether foundations and rich conservative donors buy them in bulk and give them out as door prizes at right-wing clambakes, anti-knowledge infects the political bloodstream in the United States.

Thanks to these overlapping and mutually reinforcing segments of the right-wing media-entertainment-“educational” complex, it is now possible for the true believer to sail on an ocean of political, historical, and scientific disinformation without ever sighting the dry land of empirical fact. This effect is fortified by the substantial overlap between conservative Republicans and fundamentalist Christians.

The latter group begins with the core belief that truth is revealed in a subjective process involving the will to believe (“faith”) rather than discovered by objectively corroberable means. Likewise, there is a baseline opposition to the prevailing secular culture, and adherents are frequently warned by church authority figures against succumbing to the snares and temptations of “the world.” Consequently, they retreat into the echo chamber of their own counterculture: if they didn’t hear it on Fox News or from a televangelist, it never happened.

For these culture warriors, belief in demonstrably false propositions is no longer a stigma of ignorance, but a defiantly worn badge of political resistance.

We saw this mindset on display during the Republican debate in Boulder, Colorado, on Wednesday night. Even though it was moderated by Wall Street-friendly CNBC, which exists solely to talk up the stock market, the candidates were uniformly upset that the moderators would presume to ask difficult questions of people aspiring to be president. They were clearly outside their comfort zone of the Fox News studio.

The candidates drew cheers from the hard-core believers in the audience, however, by attacking the media, as if moderators Lawrence Kudlow and Rick Santelli, both notorious shills for Wall Street, were I.F. Stone and Noam Chomsky. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus nearly had an aneurism over the candidates’ alleged harsh treatment.

State-Sponsored Stupidity

It is when these forces of anti-knowledge seize the power of government that the real damage gets done.

It is when these forces of anti-knowledge seize the power of government that the real damage gets done. Under Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Virginia government harassed with subpoenas a University of Virginia professor whose academic views contradicted Cuccinelli’s political agenda.

Numerous states like Louisiana now mandate that public schools teach the wholly imaginary “controversy” about evolution. A school textbook in Texas, whose state school board has long been infested with reactionary kooks, referred to chattel slaves as “workers”  (the implication was obvious: neo-Confederate elements in the South have been trying to minimize slavery for a century and a half, to the point of insinuating it had nothing to do with the Civil War).

This brings us back to Ben Carson. He now suggests that, rather than abolishing the Department of Education, a perennial Republican goal, the department should be used to investigate professors who say something he doesn’t agree with. The mechanism to bring these heretics to the government’s attention should be denunciations from students, a technique once in vogue in the old Soviet Union.

It is not surprising that Carson, himself a Seventh Day Adventist, should receive his core support from Republicans who identify as fundamentalists. Among the rest of the GOP pack, it is noteworthy that it is precisely those seeking the fundamentalist vote, like Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, who are also notorious for making inflammatory and unhinged comments that sound like little more than deliberate trolling to those who haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid (Donald Trump is sui generis).

In all probability, Carson will flame out like Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and all the other former panjandrums of a theological movement conservatism that revels in anti-knowledge. But he will have left his mark, as they did, on a Republican Party that inexorably moves further to the right, and the eventual nominee will have to tailor his campaign to a base that gets ever more intransigent as each new messiah of the month promises to lead them into a New Jerusalem unmoored to a stubborn and profane thing called facts.

Mike Lofgren is a former congressional staff member who served on both the House and Senate budget committees. His book about Congress, The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted, was published in paperback in 2013. His new book, The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, will be published in January 2016.

http://billmoyers.com/2015/10/29/the-gop-and-the-rise-of-anti-knowledge/

The Price of Civilization by Jeffrey Sachs – review by Robert Skidelsky

The Guardian, Oct 6, 2011

Excerpt

Jeffrey Sachs’s latest book is a diagnosis of current social and financial ills …; in this book he turns …to the hubristic and wasteful habits of America. The details of the Fall – if by that he means the collapse of the American banking system in 2008 – do not concern him; it is what the Fall tells us about contemporary American capitalism…. I had hoped, though, for something more arresting than a millennium manifesto for the Democratic party.

It is also a very American book. This is not just because it is exclusively about the United States – with the existence of a few European countries acknowledged occasionally as reference points; it is suffused with classic American optimism. The “American people” are good, but policy has been captured by the “interests”. Dethrone the interests and the goodness of the people will assert itself. American conservatives and radicals both sing to this hymn sheet, differing only about the source of the evil: for the Tea Party it is “big government”, for Democrats such as Sachs it is big business. Both find difficulty in explaining why the good people are so often duped by one or the other. Sachs’s list of American diseases is familiar: no jobs or bad jobs for those with poor education; decaying infrastructure; collapse of saving; lagging educational standards; increasing inequality; soaring healthcare costs; rampant corporate dishonesty. The diagnostician traces the source of these evils to the “free market fallacy” leading to “Washington’s retreat from public purpose”; to the “new globalisation” which cost jobs, lowered wages, and skewed rewards to the very rich; to social and ethnic fragmentation; and to the domination of politics by “corporate lobbies” and “spin masters of the media”, who have distracted the American people with the “relentless drumbeat of consumerism” Chapter eight, on the techniques of mass persuasion, is full of fascinating details. Did you know…that the average American “consumes” information for 11 hours, 48 minutes a day?…… his prescriptions… to replace the “distracted” society with the “mindful” society. “Mindfulness”, we learn, comes in eight dimensions, and is conveyed along three paths: cognitive, meditative, and practical…Implementation of these ambitious reforms calls for “seven habits of highly effective government“….Extrication of American politics from the clutches of the “corporatocracy” will require the provision of public money for campaign financing, free media time, a ban on campaign contributions from lobbying firms, and a stop to the “revolving door” between lobbying firms and federal employment. However, Sachs doubts whether effective government can be achieved without the rise of a “credible third party” to break the corrupted Republican-Democratic duopoly…There are at least two omissions from the doctor’s diagnosis. The first is that he ignores the role of inadequate demand in causing the current high level of unemployment and unwanted part-time employment, treating it purely as a supply-side problem… Second, Sachs’s diagnosis of America’s ills understates the deleterious effect of globalization… Sachs, in my view, has an inadequate grasp of social health or “wellbeing”. He identifies the good society with the happy society…and faults Americans only for their deluded belief that happiness can be achieved by ever “higher take-home pay and consumption of goods”. But there are two problems with making happiness the ultimate goal of economic activity. First of all, we don’t actually know enough about what makes people happy. Perhaps everyone living to 90 will increase the sum of “life satisfaction”, perhaps not. Second, happiness is not the same as “wellbeing”, still less is it the same as “goodness”. The ancient Greek concept of eudaimonia, loosely translated as “happiness”, is an admirable and desirable state of being, not a subjective state of mind. So “clinical economics” cannot tell you either how to be happy, or why being happy is good. For the latter one needs a philosophy of the good life, which the good doctor lacks. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/oct/06/price-civilization-jeffrey-sachs-review

Full text

Jeffrey Sachs’s latest book is a diagnosis of current social and financial ills This is the latest in a spate of books provoked by the world economic crisis and one of the best. Jeffrey Sachs calls himself a “clinical economist”. In The End of Poverty he applied his clinician’s skills to the distempers of Africa; in this book he turns them to the hubristic and wasteful habits of America. The details of the Fall – if by that he means the collapse of the American banking system in 2008 – do not concern him; it is what the Fall tells us about contemporary American capitalism.

In structure, the book is a bit like a medical treatise: the symptoms are identified, their causes diagnosed, the cures prescribed. However, the science is a bit of a veneer. Sachs is a very political doctor. This does not mean he has written a bad book. He is a fine economist and statistician, and if you want to stockpile facts and arguments for radical advocacy, this is the book for you. I had hoped, though, for something more arresting than a millennium manifesto for the Democratic party.

It is also a very American book. This is not just because it is exclusively about the United States – with the existence of a few European countries acknowledged occasionally as reference points; it is suffused with classic American optimism. The “American people” are good, but policy has been captured by the “interests”. Dethrone the interests and the goodness of the people will assert itself. American conservatives and radicals both sing to this hymn sheet, differing only about the source of the evil: for the Tea Party it is “big government”, for Democrats such as Sachs it is big business. Both find difficulty in explaining why the good people are so often duped by one or the other.

Sachs’s list of American diseases is familiar: no jobs or bad jobs for those with poor education; decaying infrastructure; collapse of saving; lagging educational standards; increasing inequality; soaring healthcare costs; rampant corporate dishonesty. The diagnostician traces the source of these evils to the “free market fallacy” leading to “Washington’s retreat from public purpose”; to the “new globalisation” which cost jobs, lowered wages, and skewed rewards to the very rich; to social and ethnic fragmentation; and to the domination of politics by “corporate lobbies” and “spin masters of the media”, who have distracted the American people with the “relentless drumbeat of consumerism”.

Chapter eight, on the techniques of mass persuasion, is full of fascinating details. Did you know that Edward Bernays, the pioneer of public relations and techniques of hidden persuasion, was Freud’s nephew? Or that the average American “consumes” information for 11 hours, 48 minutes a day? Or that the internet rewires our neural networks, making us less able to concentrate, and monitors our tastes, giving advertisers unrivalled opportunities to target their messages to its users? All of which should, as they say, give grounds for concern.

Having diagnosed the diseases, our clinical economist writes out his prescriptions. These aim to replace the “distracted” society with the “mindful” society. “Mindfulness”, we learn, comes in eight dimensions, and is conveyed along three paths: cognitive, meditative, and practical. These paths lead to eight economic goals for the next 10 years – to “raise employment and quality of work life”, “improve the quality of and access to education”, “reduce poverty”, “avoid environmental catastrophe”, “balance the federal budget”, “improve governance”, “national security”, and “raise America’s happiness and life satisfaction”. The social reform goals can be reconciled with the balanced budget requirement only through a heavy increase in taxes on the rich. Sachs calls for an end to the Bush tax cuts for those with incomes over $250,000, and an increase in the top rate of income tax to 40%, a wealth tax, closing of tax loopholes, tightening tax compliance, and increased taxes on oil and fossil fuels, as well as substantial cuts in defence spending.

Implementation of these ambitious reforms calls for “seven habits of highly effective government“. (I can just imagine Sachs and his multi-disciplinary, multi-tasked team jogging down Riverside Drive in New York.) Government must set clear goals and benchmarks, mobilise expertise, make multi-year plans, pay attention to the far future, emasculate the power of the business lobbies, rebuild public management of public projects, and decentralise operational control of programmes to the states, while retaining central tax collection. An idea worth extracting from this mind-numbing regimen is that presidential state of the union speeches should always contain a section describing the implications of actions today for an average American 40 years hence.

Extrication of American politics from the clutches of the “corporatocracy” will require the provision of public money for campaign financing, free media time, a ban on campaign contributions from lobbying firms, and a stop to the “revolving door” between lobbying firms and federal employment. However, Sachs doubts whether effective government can be achieved without the rise of a “credible third party” to break the corrupted Republican-Democratic duopoly. He cites John Anderson in 1980, Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996, and Ralph Nader in 2000 and 2004 as precedents, but prudently omits George Wallace, the racist governor of Alabama, who, in 1968, was the last independent presidential candidate to achieve any votes in the electoral college. Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 would have served his purpose better.

There are at least two omissions from the doctor’s diagnosis. The first is that he ignores the role of inadequate demand in causing the current high level of unemployment and unwanted part-time employment, treating it purely as a supply-side problem. Thus, while aiming to reduce unemployment from 9.4% to 5% by 2015, he rejects “macroeconomic measures to boost aggregate demand, including more fiscal stimulus and quantitative easing by the Fed”. Instead he offers various supply-side reforms, such as putting “millions of young people currently unemployed” back in school or college, increased job sharing, and job retraining schemes. But current unemployment is both a supply-side and a demand-side problem. Sachs’s dislike of Bush-era budget deficits, which combined huge increases in military spending with tax cuts for the rich, is understandable, but to suppose that supply-side measures alone will halve unemployment in four years’ time is pie in the sky.

Second, Sachs’s diagnosis of America’s ills understates the deleterious effect of globalisation. He doesn’t question the economics or morality of offshoring American production abroad, regardless of its consequences for American jobs or real wages, simply saying that the winners should compensate the losers. Not only has this not happened, but it is increasingly unlikely to happen, because globalisation has greatly increased the political clout of the winners. Since the 1980s owners of capital have enjoyed not just a big rise in pre-tax earnings, but a substantial cut in tax rates, taking inequality back to levels last seen before the first world war. This has made the task of social democrats like himself that much more difficult. The United States of the 1950s and 60s, which Sachs looks back to as a golden age, did not transfer production abroad, protected itself against imports, and had stringent immigration controls. The wealthy were less rich and less powerful, and there was strong “countervailing” power in the trade unions. All this was swept away by globalisation. But Sachs fails to draw the pretty obvious lesson that globalisation actually destroyed the basis of the plural American society he admires, leaving the “American people” impotent to affect political outcomes.

Finally, Sachs, in my view, has an inadequate grasp of social health or “wellbeing”. He identifies the good society with the happy society, praises the King of Bhutan for making “Gross Domestic Happiness” his goal, and faults Americans only for their deluded belief that happiness can be achieved by ever “higher take-home pay and consumption of goods”. But there are two problems with making happiness the ultimate goal of economic activity. First of all, we don’t actually know enough about what makes people happy. Perhaps everyone living to 90 will increase the sum of “life satisfaction”, perhaps not. Second, happiness is not the same as “wellbeing”, still less is it the same as “goodness”. The ancient Greek concept of eudaimonia, loosely translated as “happiness”, is an admirable and desirable state of being, not a subjective state of mind. So “clinical economics” cannot tell you either how to be happy, or why being happy is good. For the latter one needs a philosophy of the good life, which the good doctor lacks.

Robert Skidelsky is professor of political economy at Warwick University.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/oct/06/price-civilization-jeffrey-sachs-review

Meet The Man Who Told The GOP How To Destroy America’s Middle Class

Author: The Liberal December 26, 2013

How did the GOP get away with destroying our middle class and slashing our social safety net? The ‘Powell Memo’ gave them the blueprint.

This may sound like a hyper-partisan article. It is not. It is based on actions by Republicans of all stripes that are verifiable and quantifiable. All Americans are being played irrespective of party affiliation. Republican leadership and political sidekicks are the masters of the game, the citizenry the pawns, and all the brainchild of one Lewis F. Powell, Jr.

Republicans have never been known as a party fighting for the poor or the middle class. They have never been known as a party that believed in a social safety net. The problem for Republicans is that 90+% of Americans fall into that category.

The level of intolerance by the GOP is incomprehensible until the strategy is understood. It is easy to dismiss comments by a few. However when it becomes a chorus line that is perfectly synchronized, it becomes a strategy.

Republicans balk when one speaks about the Republican war on women, war on the poor, war on the environment, war on gays, war on minorities, and many other select micro wars. They don’t want these wars called out. And the reality is these should not be called wars at all. It is much too simplistic.

It is a war on democracy. How do you win a war on democracy when there are many more subjects than you? You fight many battles. So the battle against the poor, the battle against women, the battle against gays, the battle against minorities, the battle against education, and any other micro battle to keep the subjects occupied is the modus operandi. It does not matter if in the process a few of the battles are lost. After all their eyes are on the ball, the destruction of a functional democracy.

It was all in the Powell Memo.

This week I interviewed Jeff Clements, co-founder of Free Speech for People, and author of Corporations Are Not People about corporate personhood and the Citizens United ruling. In that interview he brought up the Powell Memo. (Read the memo in its entirety. It gives the necessary perspective.)

Written by Lewis F. Powell, Jr in 1971, , the Powell Memo illustrates the fear that the corporate lawyer and member of the boards of varies corporations had for the masses. Powell was subsequently confirmed as a Supreme Court justice.

Powell lays out the game plan. The Powell Memo is a plan that was forward looking. It is a plan that so far has been well implemented. How did they do it?

The Powell Memo was the blueprint for the GOP’s successful strategy.

The Powell Memo came up with the plan, the blueprint. Based on the ideas presented in the Powell Memo, the Republican party created think tanks responsible for dispersing misleading information with a false cloak of authenticity. The Heritage Foundation is a classic example of this. They took control of the airwaves to disperse misleading information (e.g., talk radio, Fox News, CNBC, etc.). A relenting Chamber of Commerce uses corporate monies to bully policy and politicians that squeeze the masses (e.g., support for free trade agreements, outsourcing etc.).

They infiltrated college campuses with directed research for planned outcomes as detailed in the Powell Memo. The GOP infiltrated the elementary and secondary schools’ textbook evaluation process to attempt Right Wing indoctrination. The Powell Memo suggested the use of graduate business schools to indoctrinate students on an irresponsible form of capitalism. They flooded the country with books and paid advertising promoting their message. The Powell Memo came down against the unions.

The implementation has been successful thus far. The problem is that in Powell’s days there was no Internet. There was no way to form disjointed communities in mass that could rise up when knowledge was not controlled in a top down manner. A new tactic had to be added. This new tactic is not new. It is the war to divide and conquer.

The current strategy is simply a modification of the Powell Memo to achieve the same result.

If one keeps a community, a city, a country in a constant state of disarray or chaos, it is easy for the subjects to take their eyes off real problems. That is the same tactics use in countries where a functioning Plutocracy reigns like Panama and many ‘third world’ countries around the world. Underlying human behavior is the same throughout the world. The world then becomes the testing ground for successful suppressive tactics. The successful ones are effectively being used against Americans now. All of this is based on what is found in the Powell Memo.

All the little battles described above occurring at the same time are nothing more than death by a thousand cuts. Americans are so busy trying to survive, fighting these culture battles and sub-class battles that they are unable to fight what really ails. What ails is the Plutocracy Powell’s memo aimed to preserve. The Republican assault on the fabric of America is but the implementation of the Powell Memo.

http://www.addictinginfo.org/2013/12/26/powell-memo-gop-blueprint/

Broken social contract needs to be put back together

 By Chuck Denny, Business Forum, October 25, 2015

In the U.S., we have chosen democracy and free market capitalism as our political and economic systems, a conjunction we call democratic capitalism. In this union, government is the dominant partner, using, orchestrating and regulating the economic sector to achieve the public good.

Democratic capitalism has propelled our nation to a pre-eminent world role and to unparalleled levels of national prosperity. The success of democratic capitalism is based on a balance of entrepreneurial drive and its rewards with a democratic sharing of the fruits of our collective efforts; that is, a sharing of the immense wealth created by our economic system. The public’s perception of the fairness of the distribution acts upon the social cohesion vital to the workings of democratic capitalism.

I fear that this social contract is broken. Consider the following:

• Income of the top 1 percent of Americans is twice that of the bottom 50 percent.

• The wealth of the top 160,000 families is greater than that of the poorest 145 million families.

• The average income of the top 1 percent in 2012 was $717,000.

• The income in 2014 of the average American was $51,939.

• The average wealth in 2012 of the top 1 percent was $8.4 million.

• The wealth of the median American family in 2012 was $121,000.

• The wealth of one family, the Waltons of Wal-Mart fame, is equal to that of the bottom 40 percent of Americans.

• Between 1979 and 2007, the income of the top 1 percent has grown five times that of the average American.

• The average income in 2012 of the Fortune 500 Companies’ CEOs was $10.5 million.

It is futile, in my opinion, to expect that Wall Street, the hedge fund managers, the top paid professionals in medicine and law and the nation’s CEOs will restrict their excessive compensation. As the private sector cannot redress the inequities in income and wealth, the government must act to redistribute the nation’s bounty through the tax code; that is, through taxes on income and on the transfer of wealth from one generation to another….

According to a survey by the Economist of the livability of nations, the U.S. ranks 16th. As the most powerful and wealthy of all nations, we should aim to do better. We need fewer gated communities and more public housing. No American should be without access to first-rate health care. All Americans should have access to the highest level of education of which they are capable. And no American child should ever go hungry.

We have the collective wealth to do all the above, but only if we more fairly distribute our nation’s income and its assets.

There is enough for all.

About the author Chuck Denny is the retired chairman and CEO of ADC Telecommunications and has been active in many community groups.

 

 

 

About the author Chuck Denny is the retired chairman and CEO of ADC Telecommunications and has been active in many community groups.

In the U.S., we have chosen democracy and free market capitalism as our political and economic systems, a conjunction we call democratic capitalism. In this union, government is the dominant partner, using, orchestrating and regulating the economic sector to achieve the public good.

Democratic capitalism has propelled our nation to a pre-eminent world role and to unparalleled levels of national prosperity. The success of democratic capitalism is based on a balance of entrepreneurial drive and its rewards with a democratic sharing of the fruits of our collective efforts; that is, a sharing of the immense wealth created by our economic system. The public’s perception of the fairness of the distribution acts upon the social cohesion vital to the workings of democratic capitalism.

I fear that this social contract is broken. Consider the following:

• Income of the top 1 percent of Americans is twice that of the bottom 50 percent.

• The wealth of the top 160,000 families is greater than that of the poorest 145 million families.

• The average income of the top 1 percent in 2012 was $717,000.

• The income in 2014 of the average American was $51,939.

• The average wealth in 2012 of the top 1 percent was $8.4 million.

• The wealth of the median American family in 2012 was $121,000.

• The wealth of one family, the Waltons of Wal-Mart fame, is equal to that of the bottom 40 percent of Americans.

• Between 1979 and 2007, the income of the top 1 percent has grown five times that of the average American.

• The average income in 2012 of the Fortune 500 Companies’ CEOs was $10.5 million.

It is futile, in my opinion, to expect that Wall Street, the hedge fund managers, the top paid professionals in medicine and law and the nation’s CEOs will restrict their excessive compensation. As the private sector cannot redress the inequities in income and wealth, the government must act to redistribute the nation’s bounty through the tax code; that is, through taxes on income and on the transfer of wealth from one generation to another.

Tax reform proposals are now being brought forth by candidates of both parties that are worthy of consideration. The attraction of radical figures on both the left and the right reflect, in my opinion, a rising discontent, even anger, that our vaunted system isn’t working for all.

According to a survey by the Economist of the livability of nations, the U.S. ranks 16th. As the most powerful and wealthy of all nations, we should aim to do better. We need fewer gated communities and more public housing. No American should be without access to first-rate health care. All Americans should have access to the highest level of education of which they are capable. And no American child should ever go hungry.

We have the collective wealth to do all the above, but only if we more fairly distribute our nation’s income and its assets.

There is enough for all.

 

The Eight Causes of Trumpism

by Norm Ornstein, The Atlantic, Jan 4, 2016

Excerpt

However the Republican presidential primary turns out, the conditions that fostered the mogul’s rise have left their mark on the party—and America….In some ways, the most interesting political story of 2015 was not Donald Trump but the widespread pundit reaction to Trump… …But who is responsible for the rise of Trumpism? What caused the crippling migraine headaches now afflicting the toughly pragmatic conservative-establishment wing of the GOP? Here are the people and institutions who played a role—however deliberate, unwitting, or inadvertent—in laying the groundwork for Trumpism to flourish in America:… The willful suspension of disbelief by so many political professionals and analysts had multiple roots… Those roots remain resilient in the punditocracy and political community. They were and are wrong. Both Trump and a broader phenomenon—call it Trumpism—are stronger and deeper than most veteran political analysts realized or were willing to acknowledge. They are neither immediate nor transitory phenomena. The disdain for the status quo, for authority figures of both parties and other institutions, and the anger at inexorable changes in society, are real, enduring, and especially deep on the Republican side. Ideology forms a significant part of that anger, but it transcends much of the predictable divide between liberals conservatives….

Full text

However the Republican presidential primary turns out, the conditions that fostered the mogul’s rise have left their mark on the party—and America.

In some ways, the most interesting political story of 2015 was not Donald Trump but the widespread pundit reaction to Trump. Throughout the year, until a different conclusion became unavoidable, the expert consensus was that Trump was a single day or one inflammatory statement away from self-destruction, that his ceiling of support was 25 percent of Republicans at most, and even that was transitory. Another theme was that once Republican primary and caucus voters saw that Trump was anything but a true conservative—given his past support for a single-payer health-care system, his insistence on taxing the rich, and his contributions to Democrats, including Hillary Clinton—he would collapse.

The willful suspension of disbelief by so many political professionals and analysts had multiple roots. One part was a deep belief that history rules—since rogue and inexperienced candidates had always faltered before, it followed that it would happen again. Another was that nothing has changed in a meaningful way in American politics—there has not been real polarization, only natural “sorting,” and the establishment will rule, as it always does. A third was that there are certain characteristics expected of a president—prudence, civility, expertise—that would eventually cause Trump and the other outsiders like Carson, Cruz, and Fiorina to fall by the wayside.

Those roots remain resilient in the punditocracy and political community. They were and are wrong. Both Trump and a broader phenomenon—call it Trumpism—are stronger and deeper than most veteran political analysts realized or were willing to acknowledge. They are neither immediate nor transitory phenomena. The disdain for the status quo, for authority figures of both parties and other institutions, and the anger at inexorable changes in society, are real, enduring, and especially deep on the Republican side. Ideology forms a significant part of that anger, but it transcends much of the predictable divide between liberals conservatives. And even if neither Trump nor Cruz—who also channels much of the Trumpist message and approach—win a presidential nomination, it will persist, and contend for primacy in the GOP, well beyond 2016.

For the past several months, every poll has shown outsider candidates, either those vigorously attacking their own leaders and other societal elites or those having no experience at all in politics or governance, garnering over 60 percent support from Republican voters. The main insider, establishment figures hover at around 20 percent support. And of course, the most outsider, populist, and bombastic among them, Donald Trump, has led the field in the vast majority of national polls—and in most state polls, as well.

At the same time, Freedom Caucus members, the most conservative in Congress, were attacked from the right for supporting Paul Ryan as speaker—a man who is by far the most conservative speaker of the House in history. And probably the second most conservative speaker, John Boehner, was hounded from office for not being radical and tough enough.

But who is responsible for the rise of Trumpism? What caused the crippling migraine headaches now afflicting the toughly pragmatic conservative-establishment wing of the GOP? Here are the people and institutions who played a role—however deliberate, unwitting, or inadvertent—in laying the groundwork for Trumpism to flourish in America:

Newt Gingrich

From the day he arrived in Washington following his election to the House in 1978, Newt Gingrich had a strategy to create a Republican majority in the House—something that had not happened since 1954. His strategy eventually worked. Unfortunately, it also wrought immense collateral damage. Newt worked to nationalize congressional elections to reduce the advantage enjoyed by individual incumbents—and to create a climate in which Americans would be so disgusted with Congress that they would say, collectively, “Anything would be better than this.” He wanted them to throw the In Party out and bring the Out Party in.

That meant a long campaign to delegitimize Congress, politics, and politicians, and to provoke the Democratic majority to overreact, thereby alienating even moderate Republicans in Congress and uniting them against the evil Democrats. A series of scandals, real and not-so-real, including the House Bank and post office, helped. His campaign included using ethics charges as a political weapon, resulting in the resignation of Speaker Jim Wright, reinforcing the image of a scandal-ridden, insular and out-of-touch majority.

It took 16 years for Gingrich to succeed. A Democratic president provided his key. For Bill Clinton’s first two years, Gingrich and his allies worked to demonize and delegitimize Clinton, and at the same time helped House Republicans coalesce into a unified opposition from the beginning to the Clinton agenda. That made Clinton’s policy efforts a huge strain, eventually killing his signature health-reform plan. The bitter messiness—government as a scandal-plagued partisan mud battle—set up Republicans for a huge midterm election in 1994. Newt won and became speaker, although Democrats almost brought him down with a set of ethics charges that evoked those he had used against Jim Wright. Along the way, his strategy also brought with it a deeply damaged image of Congress and alienation from government, sharply enhanced partisan enmity and rancor, and tribalized politics. Gingrich assumed that when he became speaker, he could co-opt the radical outsiders he brought with him to Washington. It never happened. Their disdain for Washington, government, and Congress continued, even during their majority status. And, as Sean Theriault writes in The Gingrich Senators, many of them migrated to the Senate, making its culture more partisan and combative.

There was another Gingrich effect. One of Newt’s first acts as speaker was to get rid of the highly professional, nonpartisan Office of Technology Assessment, Congress’s scientists who could use their expertise to inform lawmakers and adjudicate differences based on scientific fact and data. The elimination of OTA was the death knell for nonpartisan respect for science in the political arena, both changing the debate and discourse on issues like climate change, and also helping show in the contemporary era of “truthiness,” in which repeated assertion trumps facts.

Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Jim Wright, William Rehnquist, and Newt Gingrich (Again)

Newt’s effort got a big boost in 1988 and 1989. Outgoing President Ronald Reagan, incoming President George H.W. Bush, every congressional leader (including Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich), and the leaders of the judiciary, including Chief Justice William Rehnquist, supported a sizable pay raise for lawmakers, top executive officials, and judges. The raise was recommended by a blue-ribbon panel to make up for a long period with no pay increase, but it came at a time of economic stagnation and enraged the public.

Nearly every Trump rally is covered in real time; every outrageous Trump statement or action gets blanket attention.

The pay raise brought a populist uprising, from Ralph Nader on the left to Pat Buchanan on the right, covered amply by press outlets like Newsweek, which portrayed Congress as a collection of pampered and rich elites more like Marie Antoinette than working Americans, with chandeliered dining rooms providing posh free meals, a first-class spa, and other services, all available to lawmakers at taxpayers’ expense.

Rush Limbaugh had been a minor talk radio host in Sacramento, just moved to New York before the pay raise brouhaha and ready to establish a bigger career thanks to the demise, a short while beforehand, of the FCC’s fairness doctrine. No doubt, Limbaugh, an immensely talented entertainer, would have been a success regardless. But the pay raise gave him a huge boost. He jumped on it, and it became the vehicle for his national rise and celebrity—and the blossoming of conservative talk radio as a major political phenomenon. Limbaugh, of course, has been joined by Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, and a host of others who have built huge audiences by attacking not just evil Democrats but their own establishment leaders. Among them is Alex Jones, whose wild conspiracy theories, including that the U.S. government was involved in both the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks, and that the president, the military, and others are conspiring to take people’s guns and property and create a dictatorship, have helped generate an atmosphere of distrust that plays right into the hands of Trump. Trump, of course, went on Jones’s show and praised his “amazing reputation,” while Jones said his listeners agreed with 90 percent of what Trump stands for.

Roger Ailes

Talk radio is its own phenomenon. Cable news is another, reinforcing the impact in a different media. For years following its creation in 1980, CNN dominated cable news. Sixteen years later, Rupert Murdoch created Fox News Channel and named Roger Ailes as its head. It started with a tiny fraction of households, with no outlets in New York or Los Angeles. But Ailes transformed it into the overwhelming leader in the cable news world and the most profitable element of the vast Murdoch empire. Along the way, Ailes changed the worlds of news and politics. He did so by creating a new business model, using fast pacing and graphics, and charismatic and talented hosts. But mostly it was a model based on luring an audience of staunch conservatives who felt neglected by other television news outlets, treated with contempt for their views by a liberal mainstream media. Ailes used the slogan “Fair and Balanced” to appeal to this audience, but of course the content was neither; Fox adopted a sharp partisan and ideological viewpoint, and attracted a consistently robust audience of more than 2 million viewers of the right demographic for advertisers at any given time, which made it a highly profitable operation.

But Fox’s impact went way beyond its core audience. It became an opinion leader and agenda setter for conservatives and Republicans. It is a core source of news for Republicans. Much of the anger at Barack Obama, at Obamacare, at attempts to deal with climate change and the scientists supporting them, and even at immigration, has been fueled by Fox shows and Fox hosts. It is not omnipotent; when Trump went after host Megyn Kelly in misogynistic terms, it did not hurt his standing at all—indeed, Fox’s very success meant that many of Trump’s supporters saw it as another part of the establishment attacking their anti-establishment hero, who responded by punching back, hard. But it has had much to do with the way many other outlets, including radio, bloggers, magazines, and internet news aggregators, have organized their business models, catering to apocalyptic forces, fueling fear and anger, contributing mightily to the partisan tribalization that helps Trumpism flourish.

CNN and MSNBC

Fox’s dominance of cable news has left its main rivals, CNN and MSNBC, floundering for business models and audiences. MSNBC has tried to emulate Fox on the left, but has adjusted to doing so only in prime time hours, trying straight news during the day. CNN has tried, without notable success, to hold to a middle ground. But both have seized on Trumpmania as a way of luring viewers. Nearly every Trump rally is covered in real time; every outrageous Trump statement or action gets blanket attention. Meanwhile, equally outrageous statements by other candidates—Ben Carson saying a Muslim shouldn’t be president, Mike Huckabee saying God’s law trumps the Constitution, Chris Christie threatening to go to Defcon 1 against Russia—barely get mentioned. Trump thrives on attention, good or bad.

To be sure, there are many co-conspirators here. Network Sunday news shows like Meet the Press apply different rules to Trump, allowing him to be interviewed by telephone, something they would not do for other candidates. Eyeballs count, on TV and on websites, and since Trump provides eyeballs, the rules of journalism go out the window.

Trump can say anything, and fact-check organizations showing that his statements are false are ridiculed and attacked by those who support him.

CNN has had another, broader impact on discourse. Its longstanding attempt to be straightforward has meant that its shows either follow the Crossfire model—someone from the left edge of the spectrum yelling at someone from the right edge, or a spinner from the Democratic side facing off against a GOP spinner—or insist on bringing in “experts” from both sides to discuss or debate issues. By creating a sense that discourse is all one extreme against the other or one cynic against another, CNN has added to the corrosive cynicism that permeates politics, fertile ground for a Trump. And by having every discussion of climate change include one scientist who says it is real and manmade against another who denies it, CNN has contributed to an atmosphere where “facts” are not real—you can find an expert anywhere to deny them.

Tim Berners-Lee

What could an Englishman with no connection whatsoever to American politics have to do with Trumpism? The answer, of course, is that Tim Berners-Lee is widely credited with inventing the Internet. It has brought wondrous changes to the world—I can now sit at my desk and have immediate access to more information than the entire U.S. government, with all its resources and supercomputers, could have had in the pre-Internet days. I can watch events in the world unfold in real time. And thanks to the social media that followed, I can connect and interact instantly with multiple communities, of friends, kin, and interests.

But these remarkable advances have also brought unintended consequences, including a dramatic deterioration of civil discourse and social standards. A world with a massive cacophony of voices and sources engenders efforts to grab attention, which means shouting and shocking. On cable television, talk radio, blogs, video games, Internet comment pages and chat rooms, nothing is too coarse or off limits anymore—whether it is calling the president a “half-breed mongrel” or a monkey, or saying Mexicans are rapists and thousands of American Muslims cheered the 9/11 attacks. It is not just politics. Violence and graphic sex are everywhere, further deadening reaction to violations of societal standards. The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan had an incisive term: “Defining Deviancy Down.” It surely applies here.

Conspiracy theories, demagoguery, and anti-elitism are rooted in American culture, as the historian Richard Hofstadter ably documented in The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. But when Hofstadter wrote, in the 1950s and 1960s, the collection of individuals deeply receptive to those appeals were fragmented and had limited opportunities to communicate together, form communities of interest, or engage in collective action, except via face-to-face meetings in localities. The web and social media have changed all that.

The web and its adjuncts have also changed the way people get and process information. Americans are less likely to share a common body of facts received passively via a small, collective set of sources like three television networks and one or two daily metropolitan newspapers. Now they can all actively seek out the information sources they want—and actively avoid those that provide dissonant information. And that has created a set of closed information loops for large numbers of people, supplying them with “facts” that may or may not be true. And often those “facts” are shared more widely via email and social media like Facebook and Twitter. Thus, 23 percent of Americans in 2014 did not believe that Barack Obama was born in the U.S., and an additional 17 percent were not sure. When “mainstream” media sources point out that “facts” are fiction, those who believe simply discount the mainstream sources. So Donald Trump can say anything, and fact-check organizations showing that his statements are false are ridiculed and attacked by those who support him and believe him no matter what.

Hank Paulson, Tim Geithner, and Larry Summers

There is no doubt that without direct and swift government intervention, the financial crisis in the fall of 2008 would very likely have led to a global credit freeze, and a resulting depression that would have eclipsed the 1930s. To their great credit, George W. Bush, Hank Paulson, congressional leaders of both parties, and the two presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, endorsed that swift action. But in a major warning sign, their package created a populist backlash among House Republicans, who at first rejected the package, before a precipitous drop in the Dow brought enough around to get it passed.

The effect of the bailout package was huge and still reverberates today—even more because of the actions and inactions of the Obama administration’s economic team in the still-shaky economic turmoil that followed Obama’s inauguration in January 2009. Both Paulson and his successor, Tim Geithner, focused on saving major agents in the financial system, but refused to countenance any actions to punish, or at least bring to the dock, any of the miscreants who had caused the collapse. What Americans saw was elites conspiring to protect their fellow elites—who got off scot-free, along with bonuses, while the rest of the country suffered, losing homes or seeing their home values drop precipitously, losing jobs and nest eggs. No one went to jail. In the meantime, the Obama administration put forth a tepid plan to protect homeowners from foreclosure, which was not fully implemented, and put no significant pressure on banks to free up the huge amount of capital they held in reserve to help out middle-class homeowners.

No surprise: It produced a huge populist surge. The Tea Party movement blossomed on the right, and Occupy Wall Street exploded on the left. Bernie Sanders’s strength in the Democratic presidential nomination battle is one reflection of that anger. But the Tea Party has been much stronger and more organized. Its immense support from talk radio hosts like Limbaugh, Ingraham, and Levin and from bloggers like Erickson, has helped it to defeat powerful House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary, push Speaker John Boehner out of office, and block his designated successor, Kevin McCarthy. It has also fueled the anti-establishment mood that has enabled Donald Trump to flourish.

The Young Guns: Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan

Speaking of Cantor and McCarthy, they, along with Paul Ryan, leapt to the forefront after the election of Barack Obama in 2008. The three wrote a book called “Young Guns,” heralding a new strategy, starting on or before Obama’s Inauguration, to regain Republican majorities in Congress and sweep him out of office after one term. One part of that strategy was to get Republicans to unite in opposition to anything and everything Barack Obama wanted, just as Gingrich had done to such great effect against Bill Clinton. Drawing another page from the Gingrich playbook, the Young Guns also fanned out across the country recruiting Tea Party populists to run for Congress in the midterm elections.

As with Gingrich, the Young Guns assumed they could co-opt the new radicals. As with Gingrich, it did not work.

Their playbook started with the debt ceiling—the Young Guns instructed their recruits to use it in their campaigns, an easy vehicle to show commitment to keeping the debt in check by vowing never to support an increase in the debt limit. Along with that was a promise to use the debt ceiling as a hostage, to force Obama to his knees by making him give up his key policy goals and accomplishments to prevent economic catastrophe via a breach in the debt ceiling. Thus, a new Republican majority could force repeal of Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, and make the president support dramatic cutbacks in domestic government and spending.

The Young Guns told their recruits that they would act even before the debt ceiling was reached, promising a good-faith down payment on the conservative revolution to eliminate most government by immediately cutting spending by $100 billion after the new Republican majority was sworn in.

The tactics worked at the polls; Republicans won historic victories in the midterms, and achieved a robust majority in the House. But right after they arrived, the budget-cutting icon Paul Ryan was dispatched to give them bad news. They actually could not cut spending immediately by $100 billion. Ryan used “budgetspeak” to explain that the fiscal year had started well before the election, and they had to pro-rate the amount, and take into account the timetable of the budget process, so they could only achieve about a third of what they had promised. The Republican leaders staved off a revolt, but set in motion a distrust that encompassed traditional and older leaders like John Boehner but also the Young Guns themselves. As with Gingrich, the Young Guns assumed they could co-opt the new radicals. As with Gingrich, it did not work.

In the end, of course, the Republican majority in the House achieved none of its big promised goals—not the repeal of Obamacare or Dodd-Frank, not the elimination of Obama after one term, not the end of a single government agency. They were, however, able to bring to a halt any major new advances in Obama’s third and fourth years, and through the sequester cuts across-the-board in government, to sharply retard the growth of domestic programs. But those achievements meant little to a group of lawmakers and their activist supporters who had been promised the moon and were given a single slice of cheese instead.

At the same time, the promises to use debt ceiling and budget brinksmanship to bring Obama to heel resulted inevitably in Republican leaders backing down; the one time the government was actually shut down, briefly, in 2013 got them nothing in return. Added to the sense of promises unkept was a perception by conservatives of spinelessness on the part of Republican leaders—and a desire for someone who would not cave, who would respond to every slight or pushback not by reasoning or bargaining but by punching the other guys in the nose.

The deepening sense that Republican establishment leaders, inside Congress and out, were more concerned with winning and holding office than achieving policy goals, rankled and then enraged the conservative ideologues in the House. They grew unsatisfied enough even with the long-time right-wing caucus called the Republican Study Committee that they created their own rump Freedom Caucus. When most of the members of the even-more-right-wing-than-the right-wing caucus supported Paul Ryan for speaker, they were attacked—from the right. And Ryan’s masterful ability to strike a spending and tax deal with congressional Democrats and Obama itself was hit by many conservatives. Indeed, The Hill reported, “Conservative pundit Ann Coulter says Ryan, just seven weeks on the job, is ripe for a primary challenge. ‘Paul Ryan Betrays America,’ blared a headline on the conservative site Breibart.com. And Twitter is littered with references to the Wisconsin Republican’s new ‘Muslim beard.’”

But the disgruntlement went well beyond conservative ideologues, as David Frum described so well for The Atlantic. The resolve of Republican congressional leaders to strike deals with Obama to preserve tax breaks for the ultra-rich was not well-received by working-class white voters otherwise attracted to a Republican, anti-Obama message. It prepared the ground for an outsider populist alternative like Trump.

Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Mitch McConnell

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was a huge victory for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, an ardent opponent of all campaign-finance regulation who had been thwarted in 2002 when the Court upheld the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act known popularly as McCain-Feingold. Abandoning his pledge during his confirmation hearing to respect stare decisis and decide cases as narrowly as possible, Chief Justice John Roberts moved early in his tenure to take a narrow case and blow it open to a major one that challenged many decades of established law and Supreme Court decisions. Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion and provided the decisive fifth vote.

Citizens United alone did not eviscerate the campaign-finance regimen. But it, along with succeeding cases like Speech Now and McCutcheon, and the resolve of McConnell’s hand-picked members of the Federal Election Commission to block all regulations and enforcement of campaign laws and Court-endorsed disclosure requirements, turned the campaign-money system into an enhanced version of the Gilded Age, one in which limits were almost meaningless and a small number of oligarchs could dominate politics and politicians.

Interestingly, populists on the left and the right rebelled against this new order. The Freedom Caucus, for example, blocked McConnell’s attempt to remove even more limits on parties’ fundraising. So when Donald Trump condemned the role of big money, confessing that he had actively participated in buying and selling politicians but thought it was bad, attacking all his rivals for their Super PACs and billionaire sugar daddies, it drew to him even more populist support.

Barack Obama

There is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Republicans do not like Barack Obama, to put it mildly. The partisan gap on presidential approval is the largest ever, and the Republican narrative on the Obama presidency is relentlessly negative. He is at once imperial and overbearing, using executive authority to run roughshod over the Constitution and trample his opponents, and weak and feckless when it comes to facing ISIS, al Qaeda, Putin, and America’s enemies. And of course, the failure of Republican establishment leaders to punch back and bring him to heel is a core part of the anger fueling Trumpism.

Obama as an illegitimate president was a theme pursued from the moment of his inauguration by ruthlessly pragmatic Republican leaders, much as they had done against Bill Clinton, as a tactical maneuver. But reinforced by tribal and social media, from Fox to Glenn Beck and Alex Jones, by “birthers” in Congress and around the country—including, famously, Donald Trump—the campaign to delegitimize Obama as a Kenyan-born socialist was more relentless and widespread. Campaigns that suggested Obama was going to seize Americans’ guns, reinforced on social media and talk radio, or plotting to advance a military coup to remain as president, advanced by Alex Jones and others as the Jade Helm conspiracy, and not repudiated by Texas Governor Greg Abbott or Senator Ted Cruz, added to the fire.

As social mores changed rapidly, the sense of frustration over a world where the social order was turning upside down became ripe for exploitation.

Race was not all of it, but it was undeniably a part, including comments like Ted Nugent’s that Obama is a “half-breed mongrel,” and Ann Coulter’s, on Fox News’s Sean Hannity Show, that the president was a “monkey” for Vladimir Putin.

Obama’s race, in many respects, became a symbol for a range of changes occurring in American society. Large numbers of working-class white Americans felt deeply unsettled as they struggled through a sluggish economy and the continuing aftereffects of the 2008 collapse—even as the 1 percent thrived more than ever. As social mores changed rapidly, including acceptance of same-sex marriage and the protests against police killings of unarmed civilians, and as social movements like Black Lives Matter emerged, the sense of frustration over a world where the social order was turning upside down became ripe for exploitation by Trump, Cruz, Huckabee, and others.

The immigration issue has been a symbol of all this change. Trump exploded as a factor on the scene when he adopted a position on immigration more extreme than other candidates—and in sharp contrast to the efforts by the Republican establishment, from Reince Priebus on down, to try to find a way to soften the rhetoric on the issue, and find a legislative solution that would give their party traction with Hispanic voters. The sharp tangle between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio over the issue—Rubio trying to “taint” Cruz by suggesting he has supported a path to legalization, Cruz emphasizing Rubio’s key role in brokering a comprehensive plan for immigration reform in the Senate—is a measure of the issue’s importance as a dividing line between insiders and outsiders, at a time when outsider status is more valuable.

Consider a world where partisan tribalism—the sense that the other party is a threat to the country, the enemy, not just an adversary—is conjoined with race, one party becoming overwhelmingly white, the other largely non-white. The challenge for national unity will be much sharper than it has been in over a century.

To be sure, many elements of this saga—raging populism; coarsened culture; bitter, invective-laced politics; demagoguery and nativism inside and outside the political world; partisan media; and an intertwining of race and politics—are not new at all in American history. The news is more about the amplified impact of these factors in a corrosive witches brew, in a modern world of new technology. The stakes are high. Comparable challenges and crises, say in the early days of the new republic, in the hyper-populism of the 1820s, in the Civil War era, and in the 1890s into the first decade-plus of the 20th century, took a decade or more to work through and return to some semblance of normalcy and national unity. It is not clear we have any more the luxury of time. When I wrote an essay for Foreign Policy a few years ago that the editors titled, “Worst. Congress. Ever.” I got a lot of feedback saying, “Come on, is it worse than the period leading up to the Civil War?” I responded, “You’re right. Isn’t it comforting to be compared to the period right before the Civil War?”

Of course, the first real contest for the nomination is still weeks away, and it might well be that Trump, Cruz, and Trumpism will falter, leaving a path open for a more traditional establishment nominee. But the factors that created this dynamic will not fade even if Trump and Cruz do. The face of American politics, and especially of the Republican Party, will be different from what most pundits have experienced or expected, for a long time to come. And the dysfunction of American politics won’t disappear or abate with a single election, or two, or three.

Norm Ornstein is a contributing writer for The Atlantic, a contributing editor and columnist for National Journal, and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/01/the-eight-causes-of-trumpism/422427/