Where Did ‘We the People’ Go?

Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times,  JUNE 21, 2017

A few days ago I was at a conference in Montreal, and a Canadian gentleman, trying to grasp what’s happening to America, asked me a simple question: “What do you fear most these days?”

I paused for a second, like a spectator waiting to see what would come out of my own mouth. Two things came out: “I fear we’re seeing the end of ‘truth’ — that we simply can’t agree any more on basic facts. And I fear that we’re becoming Sunnis and Shiites — we call them ‘Democrats’ and ‘Republicans,’ but the sectarianism that has destroyed nation-states in the Middle East is now infecting us.”

It used to be that people didn’t want their kids to marry one of “them,” referring to someone of a different religion or race (bad enough). Now the “them” is someone of a different party.

When a liberal comedian poses with a mock severed head of Donald Trump, when the president’s own son, Eric Trump, says of his father’s Democratic opponents, “To me, they’re not even people,” you know that you are heading to a dark place.

So when I got home, I called my teacher and friend Dov Seidman, author of the book “How” and C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies and leaders build ethical cultures, and asked him what he thought was happening to us.

“What we’re experiencing is an assault on the very foundations of our society and democracy — the twin pillars of truth and trust,” Seidman responded. “What makes us Americans is that we signed up to have a relationship with ideals that are greater than us and with truths that we agreed were so self-evident they would be the foundation of our shared journey toward a more perfect union — and of respectful disagreement along the way. We also agreed that the source of legitimate authority to govern would come from ‘We the people.’”

But when there is no “we” anymore, because “we” no longer share basic truths, Seidman argued, “then there is no legitimate authority and no unifying basis for our continued association.”

We’ve had breakdowns in truth and trust before in our history, but this feels particularly dangerous because it is being exacerbated by technology and Trump.

Social networks and cyberhacking are helping extremists to spread vitriol and fake news at a speed and breadth we have never seen before. “Today, we’re not just deeply divided, as we’ve been before, we’re being actively divided — by cheap tools that make it so easy to broadcast one’s own ‘truths’ and to undermine real ones,” Seidman argued.

This anger industry is now “either sending us into comfortable echo chambers where we don’t see the other or arousing such moral outrage in us toward the other that we can no longer see their humanity, let alone embrace them as fellow Americans with whom we share values.”

Social networks and hacking also “have enabled us to see, in full color, into the innermost workings of every institution and into the attitudes of those who run them,” noted Seidman, “and that has eroded trust in virtually every institution, and the authority of many leaders, because people don’t like what they see.”

With shared truth debased and trust in leaders diminished, we now face a full-blown “crisis of authority itself,” argued Seidman, who distinguishes between “formal authority” and “moral authority.”

While our system can’t function without leaders with formal authority, what makes it really work, he added, is “when leaders occupying those formal positions — from business to politics to schools to sports — have moral authority. Leaders with moral authority understand what they can demand of others and what they must inspire in them. They also understand that formal authority can be won or seized, but moral authority has to be earned every day by how they lead. And we don’t have enough of these leaders.”

In fact, we have so few we’ve forgotten what they look like. Leaders with moral authority have several things in common, said Seidman: “They trust people with the truth — however bright or dark. They’re animated by values — especially humility — and principles of probity, so they do the right things, especially when they’re difficult or unpopular. And they enlist people in noble purposes and onto journeys worthy of their dedication.”

Think how far away Trump is from that definition. In Trump we not only have a president who can’t lead us out of this crisis — because he has formal authority but no moral authority — but a president who is every day through Twitter a one-man accelerator of the erosion of truth and trust eating away at our society.

We saw that play out between Trump and James Comey, the F.B.I. director.

There’s an adage, explained Seidman, that says: “Ask for my honesty and I’ll give you my loyalty. Ask for my loyalty and I’ll give you my honesty.” But Trump was not interested in Comey’s honesty. He only wanted Comey’s blind loyalty — delivered free because Trump thought he had the formal authority to demand it. “But true loyalty can’t be commanded; it can only be inspired,” said Seidman.

Alas, Trump is not going to get any better and the technology is not going to get any slower. It is imperative, in the short run, that some moral leaders emerge in the G.O.P. and actually restrain Trump. But that’s doubtful.

But the upside of today’s political-technology platform is that leaders can come out of anywhere — fast. Look at the new president of France. In the long run, the only thing that will save us is if more people — no matter what age, color, gender or faith — build moral authority in their respective realms and then use it to do big, meaningful things. Use it to run for office, start a company, operate a school, lead a movement or build a community organization. And in so doing you can help put the “We” back in “We the people.”

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

 

 

Trump and Gorsuch Have The Right Wing Thinking Big. REALLY Big

By Peter Montgomery, The Christian Left, rightwingwatch.org, June 29, 2017

Intro – Excerpt:

TCL: This is some really scary stuff. Look how much money The “Christian” Right has. Look at the size of their outreach…. Faith and Freedom’s founder, political operative Ralph Reed, was happy to reel off numbers that he said represented the group’s outreach: 1.2 million doors knocked, 10 million phone calls, 22 million pieces of mail, 30 million voter guides….The entire Trump presidency has been pretty much a non-stop horror show for progressive Americans, but the month of June made it clear that if you are worried about President Trump and the Republican Congress rolling back advances made during the Obama administration, you aren’t worried nearly enough. Right-wing strategists seeking to undo what they see as federal overreach are looking back as far as the New Deal, and some even further, to the Progressive era at the turn of the 20th Century. With Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court and hundreds of Gorsuch-like judicial nominations in the pipeline, they’re making big plans…. the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference brought Religious Right activists to Washington, D.C. The atmosphere was triumphalist… Religious Right leaders had hitched the movement’s wagon to the Trump train, and they had already begun reaping the rewards… He said he’d give them the Supreme Court of their dreams and he pledged to make them more politically powerful by doing away with restrictions on churches’ political activities. He won their trust by making one of their own, Mike Pence, his running mate. Religious Right leaders pulled out all the stops to help Trump rack up a massive margin of victory among white evangelicals.…So much for perennial predictions of the Religious Right’s political demise….Religious Right leaders have a half-century long grudge against the Supreme Court over rulings on church-state separation, the right to privacy, legal equality for LGBT Americans, and more. Religious Right leaders were thrilled when Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch. They rallied support for his nomination and celebrated when he was confirmed. They made it clear that they are counting on him to undermine the separation between church and state. National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown saw in him the first step toward overturning the Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling. Anti-abortion activists are dreaming of the day that Roe v. Wade will be overturned.But today’s conservative evangelicals are interested in far more than abolishing legal abortion and reversing civil rights gains for LGBTQ Americans. Much of the Religious Right is also fully committed to the Tea Party’s radically restrictive view of the proper role of the federal government. At Road to Majority, Trump adviser Steven Moore said the government should get out of education and health care. That stance draws on both a right-wing ideological view of the Constitution and a Christian Reconstructionist worldview that God did not grant government the authority to be involved in education or the alleviation of poverty, jobs that they believe He assigned to the church and family…. “We are in a war for the future of this Republic.” [Sen. David Perdue of Georgia] cited the New Deal and the Great Society as consequences of periods with Democratic political dominance. “The great progressive experiment of the last 100 years, with bigger and bigger government, has failed, period.”

A primary vehicle for reversing the “great progressive experiment” will be by packing the federal courts with judges committed to a far-right view of the Constitution and laws. Gorsuch was part of Trump’s list of potential justices pre-approved by the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, which has been working for decades to achieve right-wing ideological dominance in the federal judiciary….Suares, who said that McConnell has “a laser-like focus on judges,” echoed Teller, saying another Supreme Court nominee could “fundamentally change the country.” What kind of change? She cited government programs that Democrats had passed when they had wide congressional majorities, including the New Deal and Great Society. Said Suares, “we now have to undo so much.” Suares said that, along with lifting the economy, a major goal for Republicans is making sure that legislation is geared to “shifting the culture” toward a more limited role for government… Legislation has its ups and downs, she said, but “with these lifetime appointments, we can really change the country in a short period of time.”… there are 120 positions open on the courts “because of the, uh, deliberation of the Senate” during the Obama administration. … “we are, one piece at a time, incrementally, slowly but very surely, restoring freedom in America.” McConnell himself said that he was looking forward to Trump nominating Gorsuch-like judges for every judicial opening, giving him an impact “far beyond his time.”… Gorsuch ….signaling a willingness to further dismantle regulations on money in politics, undermine church-state separation, and reverse gains on LGBT equality. Right-wing activists celebrated Gorsuch’s end-of-term contributions as a harbinger of things to come…. They had given their supporters dozens of religious rationales for supporting Trump, declaring him anointed by God to save America by destroying political correctness and bulldozing the Washington establishment….McCarthy said of Trump’s election, “I think that was God’s hand.”… God had given Americans “an opportunity to have a re-founding of our nation” and return it to “those ideas of our founding fathers, those principles, those things that our founders were clear were biblical mandates.” … the real fight ahead against the enemy, which he defined as “an ideology that is destructive not only to our ideas but to mankind altogether.”…. Freedom Caucus is most closely identified with hostility to big government, demonstrated the extent to which the Tea Party and Religious Right have always been overlapping movements…Meadows also echoed Religious Right leaders’ claims about religious persecution in America, … urged attendees to pray for President Trump, who he said “is trying to do what he can do for the unborn and for marriage” and “Judeo-Christian values.” Meadows said “the option of failure is not possible” because “our God still reigns over the affairs of nations.”

Full text

Trump and Gorsuch Have The Right Wing Thinking Big. REALLY Big By Peter Montgomery, The Christian Left, rightwingwatch.org, June 29, 2017

The entire Trump presidency has been pretty much a non-stop horror show for progressive Americans, but the month of June made it clear that if you are worried about President Trump and the Republican Congress rolling back advances made during the Obama administration, you aren’t worried nearly enough. Right-wing strategists seeking to undo what they see as federal overreach are looking back as far as the New Deal, and some even further, to the Progressive era at the turn of the 20th Century. With Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court and hundreds of Gorsuch-like judicial nominations in the pipeline, they’re making big plans.

Earlier in the month, the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference brought Religious Right activists to Washington, D.C. The atmosphere was triumphalist, almost giddy, in sharp contrast to previous years’ complaints about Barack Obama and dire warnings about a potential Hillary Clinton presidency. Religious Right leaders had hitched the movement’s wagon to the Trump train, and they had already begun reaping the rewards.

Candidate Trump had overcome conservative Christians’ qualms about his character with a set of too-good-to-resist promises. He said he’d give them the Supreme Court of their dreams and he pledged to make them more politically powerful by doing away with restrictions on churches’ political activities. He won their trust by making one of their own, Mike Pence, his running mate. Religious Right leaders pulled out all the stops to help Trump rack up a massive margin of victory among white evangelicals.

Faith and Freedom’s founder, political operative Ralph Reed, was happy to reel off numbers that he said represented the group’s outreach: 1.2 million doors knocked, 10 million phone calls, 22 million pieces of mail, 30 million voter guides.

Republican leaders’ gratitude was evidenced by their extraordinary participation at Road to Majority. President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows all spoke at some point during the three-day event, along with other right-wing luminaries like Sen. Ted Cruz and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. So much for perennial predictions of the Religious Right’s political demise.

Trump spoke at the event’s opening luncheon, where Reed declared, “We love him because he is our friend.” Trump in turn told the conservative Christian activists, “You didn’t let me down and I will never, ever let you down, you know that.” And, offering a subtle olive branch toward activists who were disappointed that last month’s executive order on religious liberty did not include sweeping exemptions for anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of religion, Trump assured them, “Believe me, we’re not finished yet.”

A number of Trump actions won loud cheers, including his withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord and his sweeping ban on foreign aid funds going to groups that even support, much less provide, access to abortion. But by far the biggest prize for Trump’s right-wing supporters was the Supreme Court seat that McConnell kept vacant for a year by refusing to allow Senate consideration of Barack Obama’s nomination of the widely respected Merrick Garland. For that step alone, McConnell has entered the Religious Right’s pantheon of heroes.

Religious Right leaders have a half-century long grudge against the Supreme Court over rulings on church-state separation, the right to privacy, legal equality for LGBT Americans, and more. Religious Right leaders were thrilled when Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch. They rallied support for his nomination and celebrated when he was confirmed. They made it clear that they are counting on him to undermine the separation between church and state. National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown saw in him the first step toward overturning the Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling. Anti-abortion activists are dreaming of the day that Roe v. Wade will be overturned.

But today’s conservative evangelicals are interested in far more than abolishing legal abortion and reversing civil rights gains for LGBTQ Americans. Much of the Religious Right is also fully committed to the Tea Party’s radically restrictive view of the proper role of the federal government. At Road to Majority, Trump adviser Steven Moore said the government should get out of education and health care. That stance draws on both a right-wing ideological view of the Constitution and a Christian Reconstructionist worldview that God did not grant government the authority to be involved in education or the alleviation of poverty, jobs that they believe He assigned to the church and family.

When Cruz addressed the gathering, he drew cheers with a challenge to his fellow Republicans: “We have a Republican majority in the House. We have a Republican majority in the Senate. We have a Republican in the White House. How about we act like it?”

Sen. David Perdue of Georgia gave one hint about what Cruz might mean, declaring, “We are in a war for the future of this Republic.” Perdue cited the New Deal and the Great Society as consequences of periods with Democratic political dominance. “The great progressive experiment of the last 100 years, with bigger and bigger government, has failed, period.”

A primary vehicle for reversing the “great progressive experiment” will be by packing the federal courts with judges committed to a far-right view of the Constitution and laws. Gorsuch was part of Trump’s list of potential justices pre-approved by the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, which has been working for decades to achieve right-wing ideological dominance in the federal judiciary. In 2001, during the first 100 days of the George W. Bush administration, the Federalist Society held a forum on “Rolling Back the New Deal.” While the Obama administration interrupted that effort, a Trump administration and a Republican congressional majority could put it back on track.

This year’s Road to Majority featured a session with a group of GOP staffers from the White House and Congress:  Paul Teller, a special assistant to the president for legislative affairs and liaison to conservative members of Congress and movement groups; Erica Suares, a policy adviser to McConnell; and Will Dunham, policy director for McCarthy.

Teller has clearly adopted his boss’s hyperbolic style, describing Trump’s first few months as “fantastic,” with “great success” on healthcare and a “huge, huge, huge victory” with the Gorsuch confirmation. He said that getting Gorsuch on the Supreme Court is “something that is really going to change America.” Another Supreme Court nominee, he said, would let Trump create “epic, titanic shifts.”

Suares, who said that McConnell has “a laser-like focus on judges,” echoed Teller, saying another Supreme Court nominee could “fundamentally change the country.” What kind of change? She cited government programs that Democrats had passed when they had wide congressional majorities, including the New Deal and Great Society. Said Suares, “we now have to undo so much.”

Suares said that, along with lifting the economy, a major goal for Republicans is making sure that legislation is geared to “shifting the culture” toward a more limited role for government. Suares celebrated the “100-plus” vacancies on the federal courts, acknowledging “a lot of that is because of what we did last year and the year before” with “slow-walking” Obama nominees. Legislation has its ups and downs, she said, but “with these lifetime appointments, we can really change the country in a short period of time.”

Faith and Freedom Coalition Executive Director Tim Head picked up on that point, saying that there are 120 positions open on the courts “because of the, uh, deliberation of the Senate” during the Obama administration. He said that during an eight-year period, typically about 400 federal judges would be replaced; adding that number to the current vacancies could mean 525 new judges in a two-term Republican administration, something he called “extraordinary.”

Dunham, who formerly worked at the Heritage Foundation and the Republican Study Committee, agreed that for conservative activists there is “pent-up frustration” with eight years of Obama, “and even further back, all the way back to the New Deal.” Said Dunham, “we are, one piece at a time, incrementally, slowly but very surely, restoring freedom in America.”

McConnell himself said that he was looking forward to Trump nominating Gorsuch-like judges for every judicial opening, giving him an impact “far beyond his time.”

Not long after Road to Majority, Gorsuch gave Religious Right leaders evidence that he will indeed be the far-right justice they have longed for. He joins Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito at the far-right end of the bench, signaling a willingness to further dismantle regulations on money in politics, undermine church-state separation, and reverse gains on LGBT equality. Right-wing activists celebrated Gorsuch’s end-of-term contributions as a harbinger of things to come.

One other point worth noting: Religious Right leaders have been telling their supporters—and Trump himself—that he is on a divine mission. Religious Right leaders had warned that the election of Hillary Clinton would mean an end to religious freedom in America. They had given their supporters dozens of religious rationales for supporting Trump, declaring him anointed by God to save America by destroying political correctness and bulldozing the Washington establishment. During a Road to Majority session on Capitol Hill, McCarthy said of Trump’s election, “I think that was God’s hand.”

At Road to Majority, author Eric Metaxas was one of those portraying Trump’s election as a sign that God has given America one more chance to stave off His judgment, saying, “the governor of the universe has given us a reprieve in this election but we now need to stand and fight.” Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) told Road to Majority activists that he is “genuinely excited about what God is doing in America right now.” He said God had given Americans “an opportunity to have a re-founding of our nation” and return it to “those ideas of our founding fathers, those principles, those things that our founders were clear were biblical mandates.” Loudermilk said Election Day was like the landing at Normandy, with the real fight ahead against the enemy, which he defined as “an ideology that is destructive not only to our ideas but to mankind altogether.”

During a Road to Majority session on Capitol Hill, Meadows, whose Freedom Caucus is most closely identified with hostility to big government, demonstrated the extent to which the Tea Party and Religious Right have always been overlapping movements.  Meadows told Faith and Freedom participants that he was their “brother in the Lord” and that “we have work to do to take this city and return it to its rightful place to honor God and faith.”

Meadows also echoed Religious Right leaders’ claims about religious persecution in America, saying “there is an attack that is going on.” It’s OK, said Meadows, “to be of a faith as long as it’s not a Christian faith, in this city.” There is an effort, he said, “to silence the pulpits and the pews across this country.” Meadows urged attendees to pray for President Trump, who he said “is trying to do what he can do for the unborn and for marriage” and “Judeo-Christian values.” Meadows said “the option of failure is not possible” because “our God still reigns over the affairs of nations.”

 

 

Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

By Elizabeth Kolbert, newyorker.com, February 27, 2017 Issue

excerpt – “As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration.”

Full text

New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason. The vaunted human capacity for reason may have more to do with winning arguments than with thinking straight.

In 1975, researchers at Stanford invited a group of undergraduates to take part in a study about suicide. They were presented with pairs of suicide notes. In each pair, one note had been composed by a random individual, the other by a person who had subsequently taken his own life. The students were then asked to distinguish between the genuine notes and the fake ones.

Some students discovered that they had a genius for the task. Out of twenty-five pairs of notes, they correctly identified the real one twenty-four times. Others discovered that they were hopeless. They identified the real note in only ten instances.

As is often the case with psychological studies, the whole setup was a put-on. Though half the notes were indeed genuine—they’d been obtained from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office—the scores were fictitious. The students who’d been told they were almost always right were, on average, no more discerning than those who had been told they were mostly wrong.

In the second phase of the study, the deception was revealed. The students were told that the real point of the experiment was to gauge their responses to thinking they were right or wrong. (This, it turned out, was also a deception.) Finally, the students were asked to estimate how many suicide notes they had actually categorized correctly, and how many they thought an average student would get right. At this point, something curious happened. The students in the high-score group said that they thought they had, in fact, done quite well—significantly better than the average student—even though, as they’d just been told, they had zero grounds for believing this. Conversely, those who’d been assigned to the low-score group said that they thought they had done significantly worse than the average student—a conclusion that was equally unfounded.

“Once formed,” the researchers observed dryly, “impressions are remarkably perseverant.”

A few years later, a new set of Stanford students was recruited for a related study. The students were handed packets of information about a pair of firefighters, Frank K. and George H. Frank’s bio noted that, among other things, he had a baby daughter and he liked to scuba dive. George had a small son and played golf. The packets also included the men’s responses on what the researchers called the Risky-Conservative Choice Test. According to one version of the packet, Frank was a successful firefighter who, on the test, almost always went with the safest option. In the other version, Frank also chose the safest option, but he was a lousy firefighter who’d been put “on report” by his supervisors several times. Once again, midway through the study, the students were informed that they’d been misled, and that the information they’d received was entirely fictitious. The students were then asked to describe their own beliefs. What sort of attitude toward risk did they think a successful firefighter would have? The students who’d received the first packet thought that he would avoid it. The students in the second group thought he’d embrace it.

Even after the evidence “for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs,” the researchers noted. In this case, the failure was “particularly impressive,” since two data points would never have been enough information to generalize from.

The Stanford studies became famous. Coming from a group of academics in the nineteen-seventies, the contention that people can’t think straight was shocking. It isn’t any longer. Thousands of subsequent experiments have confirmed (and elaborated on) this finding. As everyone who’s followed the research—or even occasionally picked up a copy of Psychology Today—knows, any graduate student with a clipboard can demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant than it does right now. Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way?

In a new book, “The Enigma of Reason” (Harvard), the cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber take a stab at answering this question. Mercier, who works at a French research institute in Lyon, and Sperber, now based at the Central European University, in Budapest, point out that reason is an evolved trait, like bipedalism or three-color vision. It emerged on the savannas of Africa, and has to be understood in that context.

Stripped of a lot of what might be called cognitive-science-ese, Mercier and Sperber’s argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coöperate. Coöperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.

“Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,” Mercier and Sperber write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an “intellectualist” point of view prove shrewd when seen from a social “interactionist” perspective.

Consider what’s become known as “confirmation bias,” the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them. Of the many forms of faulty thinking that have been identified, confirmation bias is among the best catalogued; it’s the subject of entire textbooks’ worth of experiments. One of the most famous of these was conducted, again, at Stanford. For this experiment, researchers rounded up a group of students who had opposing opinions about capital punishment. Half the students were in favor of it and thought that it deterred crime; the other half were against it and thought that it had no effect on crime.

The students were asked to respond to two studies. One provided data in support of the deterrence argument, and the other provided data that called it into question. Both studies—you guessed it—were made up, and had been designed to present what were, objectively speaking, equally compelling statistics. The students who had originally supported capital punishment rated the pro-deterrence data highly credible and the anti-deterrence data unconvincing; the students who’d originally opposed capital punishment did the reverse. At the end of the experiment, the students were asked once again about their views. Those who’d started out pro-capital punishment were now even more in favor of it; those who’d opposed it were even more hostile.

If reason is designed to generate sound judgments, then it’s hard to conceive of a more serious design flaw than confirmation bias. Imagine, Mercier and Sperber suggest, a mouse that thinks the way we do. Such a mouse, “bent on confirming its belief that there are no cats around,” would soon be dinner. To the extent that confirmation bias leads people to dismiss evidence of new or underappreciated threats—the human equivalent of the cat around the corner—it’s a trait that should have been selected against. The fact that both we and it survive, Mercier and Sperber argue, proves that it must have some adaptive function, and that function, they maintain, is related to our “hypersociability.”

Mercier and Sperber prefer the term “myside bias.” Humans, they point out, aren’t randomly credulous. Presented with someone else’s argument, we’re quite adept at spotting the weaknesses. Almost invariably, the positions we’re blind about are our own.

A recent experiment performed by Mercier and some European colleagues neatly demonstrates this asymmetry. Participants were asked to answer a series of simple reasoning problems. They were then asked to explain their responses, and were given a chance to modify them if they identified mistakes. The majority were satisfied with their original choices; fewer than fifteen per cent changed their minds in step two.

In step three, participants were shown one of the same problems, along with their answer and the answer of another participant, who’d come to a different conclusion. Once again, they were given the chance to change their responses. But a trick had been played: the answers presented to them as someone else’s were actually their own, and vice versa. About half the participants realized what was going on. Among the other half, suddenly people became a lot more critical. Nearly sixty per cent now rejected the responses that they’d earlier been satisfied with.

This lopsidedness, according to Mercier and Sperber, reflects the task that reason evolved to perform, which is to prevent us from getting screwed by the other members of our group. Living in small bands of hunter-gatherers, our ancestors were primarily concerned with their social standing, and with making sure that they weren’t the ones risking their lives on the hunt while others loafed around in the cave. There was little advantage in reasoning clearly, while much was to be gained from winning arguments.

Among the many, many issues our forebears didn’t worry about were the deterrent effects of capital punishment and the ideal attributes of a firefighter. Nor did they have to contend with fabricated studies, or fake news, or Twitter. It’s no wonder, then, that today reason often seems to fail us. As Mercier and Sperber write, “This is one of many cases in which the environment changed too quickly for natural selection to catch up.”

Steven Sloman, a professor at Brown, and Philip Fernbach, a professor at the University of Colorado, are also cognitive scientists. They, too, believe sociability is the key to how the human mind functions or, perhaps more pertinently, malfunctions. They begin their book, “The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone” (Riverhead), with a look at toilets.

Virtually everyone in the United States, and indeed throughout the developed world, is familiar with toilets. A typical flush toilet has a ceramic bowl filled with water. When the handle is depressed, or the button pushed, the water—and everything that’s been deposited in it—gets sucked into a pipe and from there into the sewage system. But how does this actually happen?

In a study conducted at Yale, graduate students were asked to rate their understanding of everyday devices, including toilets, zippers, and cylinder locks. They were then asked to write detailed, step-by-step explanations of how the devices work, and to rate their understanding again. Apparently, the effort revealed to the students their own ignorance, because their self-assessments dropped. (Toilets, it turns out, are more complicated than they appear.)

Sloman and Fernbach see this effect, which they call the “illusion of explanatory depth,” just about everywhere. People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people. In the case of my toilet, someone else designed it so that I can operate it easily. This is something humans are very good at. We’ve been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history. So well do we collaborate, Sloman and Fernbach argue, that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins.

“One implication of the naturalness with which we divide cognitive labor,” they write, is that there’s “no sharp boundary between one person’s ideas and knowledge” and “those of other members” of the group.

This borderlessness, or, if you prefer, confusion, is also crucial to what we consider progress. As people invented new tools for new ways of living, they simultaneously created new realms of ignorance; if everyone had insisted on, say, mastering the principles of metalworking before picking up a knife, the Bronze Age wouldn’t have amounted to much. When it comes to new technologies, incomplete understanding is empowering.

Where it gets us into trouble, according to Sloman and Fernbach, is in the political domain. It’s one thing for me to flush a toilet without knowing how it operates, and another for me to favor (or oppose) an immigration ban without knowing what I’m talking about. Sloman and Fernbach cite a survey conducted in 2014, not long after Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. Respondents were asked how they thought the U.S. should react, and also whether they could identify Ukraine on a map. The farther off base they were about the geography, the more likely they were to favor military intervention. (Respondents were so unsure of Ukraine’s location that the median guess was wrong by eighteen hundred miles, roughly the distance from Kiev to Madrid.)

Surveys on many other issues have yielded similarly dismaying results. “As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration.

This is how a community of knowledge can become dangerous,” Sloman and Fernbach observe. The two have performed their own version of the toilet experiment, substituting public policy for household gadgets. In a study conducted in 2012, they asked people for their stance on questions like: Should there be a single-payer health-care system? Or merit-based pay for teachers? Participants were asked to rate their positions depending on how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the proposals. Next, they were instructed to explain, in as much detail as they could, the impacts of implementing each one. Most people at this point ran into trouble. Asked once again to rate their views, they ratcheted down the intensity, so that they either agreed or disagreed less vehemently.

Sloman and Fernbach see in this result a little candle for a dark world. If we—or our friends or the pundits on CNN—spent less time pontificating and more trying to work through the implications of policy proposals, we’d realize how clueless we are and moderate our views. This, they write, “may be the only form of thinking that will shatter the illusion of explanatory depth and change people’s attitudes.”

One way to look at science is as a system that corrects for people’s natural inclinations. In a well-run laboratory, there’s no room for myside bias; the results have to be reproducible in other laboratories, by researchers who have no motive to confirm them. And this, it could be argued, is why the system has proved so successful. At any given moment, a field may be dominated by squabbles, but, in the end, the methodology prevails. Science moves forward, even as we remain stuck in place.

In “Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us” (Oxford), Jack Gorman, a psychiatrist, and his daughter, Sara Gorman, a public-health specialist, probe the gap between what science tells us and what we tell ourselves. Their concern is with those persistent beliefs which are not just demonstrably false but also potentially deadly, like the conviction that vaccines are hazardous. Of course, what’s hazardous is not being vaccinated; that’s why vaccines were created in the first place. “Immunization is one of the triumphs of modern medicine,” the Gormans note. But no matter how many scientific studies conclude that vaccines are safe, and that there’s no link between immunizations and autism, anti-vaxxers remain unmoved. (They can now count on their side—sort of—Donald Trump, who has said that, although he and his wife had their son, Barron, vaccinated, they refused to do so on the timetable recommended by pediatricians.)

The Gormans, too, argue that ways of thinking that now seem self-destructive must at some point have been adaptive. And they, too, dedicate many pages to confirmation bias, which, they claim, has a physiological component. They cite research suggesting that people experience genuine pleasure—a rush of dopamine—when processing information that supports their beliefs. “It feels good to ‘stick to our guns’ even if we are wrong,” they observe.

The Gormans don’t just want to catalogue the ways we go wrong; they want to correct for them. There must be some way, they maintain, to convince people that vaccines are good for kids, and handguns are dangerous. (Another widespread but statistically insupportable belief they’d like to discredit is that owning a gun makes you safer.) But here they encounter the very problems they have enumerated. Providing people with accurate information doesn’t seem to help; they simply discount it. Appealing to their emotions may work better, but doing so is obviously antithetical to the goal of promoting sound science. “The challenge that remains,” they write toward the end of their book, “is to figure out how to address the tendencies that lead to false scientific belief.”

“The Enigma of Reason,” “The Knowledge Illusion,” and “Denying to the Grave” were all written before the November election. And yet they anticipate Kellyanne Conway and the rise of “alternative facts.” These days, it can feel as if the entire country has been given over to a vast psychological experiment being run either by no one or by Steve Bannon. Rational agents would be able to think their way to a solution. But, on this matter, the literature is not reassuring. ♦

This article appears in other versions of the February 27, 2017, issue, with the headline “That’s What You Think.”

Noam Chomsky: On Trump and the State of the Union

Excerpt - An interview with Noam Chomsky on  the role of philosophy in political life nowadays and the gravest concerns we face: nuclear and environmental destruction…. The Republicans appear driven to destroy our chances for decent survival, but there are ways to counter their malign project.

Opinion by George Yancy, New York Times, July 5, 2017

The Republicans appear driven to destroy our chances for decent survival, but there are ways to counter their malign project.

Over the past few months, as the disturbing prospect of a Trump administration became a disturbing reality, I decided to reach out to Noam Chomsky, the philosopher whose writing, speaking and activism has for more than 50 years provided unparalleled insight and challenges to the American and global political systems. Our conversation, as it appears here, took place as a series of email exchanges over the past two months. Although Professor Chomsky was extremely busy, because of our past intellectual exchange, he graciously provided time for this interview.

Professor Chomsky is the author of numerous best-selling political works, translated into scores of languages. Among his most recent books are “Hegemony or Survival,” “Failed States,” “Hopes and Prospects,” “Masters of Mankind” and “Who Rules the World?” He has been institute professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1976.

— George Yancy

George Yancy: Given our “post-truth” political moment and the growing authoritarianism we are witnessing under President Trump, what public role do you think professional philosophy might play in critically addressing this situation?

Noam Chomsky: We have to be a little cautious about not trying to kill a gnat with an atom bomb. The performances are so utterly absurd regarding the “post-truth” moment that the proper response might best be ridicule. For example, Stephen Colbert’s recent comment is apropos: When the Republican legislature of North Carolina responded to a scientific study predicting a threatening rise in sea level by barring state and local agencies from developing regulations or planning documents to address the problem, Colbert responded: “This is a brilliant solution. If your science gives you a result that you

Quite generally, that’s how the Trump administration deals with a truly existential threat to survival of organized human life: ban regulations and even research and discussion of environmental threats and race to the precipice as quickly as possible (in the interests of short-term profit and power).

G.Y.: In this regard, I find Trumpism to be a bit suicidal.

N.C.: Of course, ridicule is not enough. It’s necessary to address the concerns and beliefs of those who are taken in by the fraud, or who don’t recognize the nature and significance of the issues for other reasons. If by philosophy we mean reasoned and thoughtful analysis, then it can address the moment, though not by confronting the “alternative facts” but by analyzing and clarifying what is at stake, whatever the issue is. Beyond that, what is needed is action: urgent and dedicated, in the many ways that are open to us.

G.Y.: When I was an undergraduate philosophy student at the University of Pittsburgh, where I was trained in the analytic tradition, it wasn’t clear to me what philosophy meant beyond the clarification of concepts. Yet I have held onto the Marxian position that philosophy can change the world. Any thoughts on the capacity of philosophy to change the world?

The most important issues to address are the truly existential threats we face: climate change and nuclear war.

N.C.: I am not sure just what Marx had in mind when he wrote that “philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” Did he mean that philosophy could change the world, or that philosophers should turn to the higher priority of changing the world? If the former, then he presumably meant philosophy in a broad sense of the term, including analysis of the social order and ideas about why it should be changed, and how. In that broad sense, philosophy can play a role, indeed an essential role, in changing the world, and philosophers, including in the analytic tradition, have undertaken that effort, in their philosophical work as well as in their activist lives — Bertrand Russell, to mention a prominent example.

G.Y.: Yes. Russell was a philosopher and a public intellectual. In those terms, how do you describe yourself?

N.C.: I don’t really think about it, frankly. I engage in the kinds of work and activities that seem important and challenging to me. Some of it falls within these categories, as usually understood.

G.Y.: There are times when the sheer magnitude of human suffering feels unbearable. As someone who speaks to so much suffering in the world, how do you bear witness to this and yet maintain the strength to go on?

N.C.: Witnessing it is enough to provide the motivation to go on. And nothing is more inspiring to see how poor and suffering people, living under conditions incomparably worse than we endure, continue quietly and unpretentiously with courageous and committed struggle for justice and dignity.

G.Y.: If you had to list two or three forms of political action that are necessary under the Trump regime, what would they be? I ask because our moment feels so incredibly hopeless and repressive.

N.C.: I don’t think things are quite that bleak. Take the success of the Bernie Sanders campaign, the most remarkable feature of the 2016 election. It is, after all, not all that surprising that a billionaire showman with extensive media backing (including the liberal media, entranced by his antics and the advertising revenue it afforded) should win the nomination of the ultra-reactionary Republican Party.

The Sanders campaign, however, broke dramatically with over a century of U.S. political history. Extensive political science research, notably the work of Thomas Ferguson, has shown convincingly that elections are pretty much bought. For example, campaign spending alone is a remarkably good predictor of electoral success, and support of corporate power and private wealth is a virtual prerequisite even for participation in the political arena.

The Sanders campaign showed that a candidate with mildly progressive (basically New Deal) programs could win the nomination, maybe the election, even without the backing of the major funders or any media support. There’s good reason to suppose that Sanders would have won the nomination had it not been for shenanigans of the Obama-Clinton party managers. He is now the most popular political figure in the country by a large margin.

Activism spawned by the campaign is beginning to make inroads into electoral politics. Under Barack Obama, the Democratic Party pretty much collapsed at the crucial local and state levels, but it can be rebuilt and turned into a progressive force. That would mean reviving the New Deal legacy and moving well beyond, instead of abandoning, the working class and turning into Clintonite New Democrats, which more or less resemble what used to be called moderate Republicans, a category that has largely disappeared with the shift of both parties to the right during the neoliberal period.

Republican leadership,
in splendid isolation
from the world, is almost
unanimously dedicated
to destroying the chances
for decent survival.

Such prospects may not be out of reach, and efforts to attain them can be combined with direct activism right now, urgently needed, to counter the legislative and executive actions of the Republican administration, often concealed behind the bluster of the figure nominally in charge.

There are in fact many ways to combat the Trump project of creating a tiny America, isolated from the world, cowering in fear behind walls while pursuing the Paul Ryan-style domestic policies that represent the most savage wing of the Republican establishment.

G.Y.: What are the weightiest issues facing us?

N.C.: The most important issues to address are the truly existential threats we face: climate change and nuclear war. On the former, the Republican leadership, in splendid isolation from the world, is almost unanimously dedicated to destroying the chances for decent survival; strong words, but no exaggeration. There is a great deal that can be done at the local and state level to counter their malign project.

On nuclear war, actions in Syria and at the Russian border raise very serious threats of confrontation that might trigger war, an unthinkable prospect. Furthermore, Trump’s pursuit of Obama’s programs of modernization of the nuclear forces poses extraordinary dangers. As we have recently learned, the modernized U.S. nuclear force is seriously fraying the slender thread on which survival is suspended. The matter is discussed in detail in a critically important article in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in March, which should have been, and remained, front-page news. The authors, highly respected analysts, observe that the nuclear weapons modernization program has increased “the overall killing power of existing U.S. ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three — and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.”

The significance is clear. It means that in a moment of crisis, of which there are all too many, Russian military planners may conclude that lacking a deterrent, the only hope of survival is a first strike — which means the end for all of us.

G.Y.: Frightening to the born.

N.C.: In these cases, citizen action can reverse highly dangerous programs. It can also press Washington to explore diplomatic options — which are available — instead of the near reflexive resort to force and coercion in other areas, including North Korea and Iran.

G.Y.: But what is it, Noam, as you continue to engage critically a broad range of injustices, that motivates this sense of social justice for you? Are there any religious motivations that frame your social justice work? If not, why not?

N.C.: No religious motivations, and for sound reasons. One can contrive a religious motivation for virtually any choice of action, from commitment to the highest ideals to support for the most horrendous atrocities. In the sacred texts, we can find uplifting calls for peace, justice and mercy, along with the most genocidal passages in the literary canon. Conscience is our guide, whatever trappings we might choose to clothe it in.

G.Y.: Returning to the point about bearing witness to so much suffering, what do you recommend I share with many of my undergraduate students such that they develop the capacity to bear witness to forms of suffering that are worse than we endure? Many of my students are just concerned with graduating and often seem oblivious to world suffering.

N.C.: My suspicion is that those who seem oblivious to suffering, whether it is nearby or in remote corners, are for the most part unaware, perhaps blinded by doctrine and ideology. For them, the answer is to develop a critical attitude toward articles of faith, secular or religious; to encourage their capacity to question, to explore, to view the world from the standpoint of others. And direct exposure is never very far away, wherever we live — perhaps the homeless person huddling in the cold or asking for a few pennies for food, or all too many more.

G.Y.: I appreciate and second your point about exposure to the suffering of others not being far away. Returning to Trump, I take it that you view him as fundamentally unpredictable. I certainly do. Should we fear a nuclear exchange of any sort in our contemporary moment?

N.C.: I do, and I’m hardly the only person to have such fears. Perhaps the most prominent figure to express such concerns is William Perry, one of the leading contemporary nuclear strategists, with many years of experience at the highest level of war planning. He is reserved and cautious, not given to overstatement. He has come out of semiretirement to declare forcefully and repeatedly that he is terrified both at the extreme and mounting threats and by the failure to be concerned about them. In his words, “Today, the danger of some sort of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War, and most people are blissfully unaware of this danger.”

In 1947, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists established its famous Doomsday Clock, estimating how far we are from midnight: termination. In 1947, the analysts set the clock at seven minutes to midnight. In 1953, they moved the hand to two minutes to midnight after the U.S. and U.S.S.R. exploded hydrogen bombs. Since then it has oscillated, never again reaching this danger point. In January, shortly after Trump’s inauguration, the hand was moved to two and a half minutes to midnight, the closest to terminal disaster since 1953. By this time analysts were considering not only the rising threat of nuclear war but also the firm dedication of the Republican organization to accelerate the race to environmental catastrophe.

Perry is right to be terrified. And so should we all be, not least because of the person with his finger on the button and his surreal associates.

G.Y.: Yet despite his unpredictability, Trump has a strong base. What makes for this kind of servile deference?

N.C.: I’m not sure that “servile deference” is the right phrase, for a number of reasons. For example, who is the base? Most are relatively affluent. Three-quarters had incomes above the median. About one-third had incomes of over $100,000 a year, and thus were in the top 15 percent of personal income, in the top 6 percent of those with only a high school education. They are overwhelmingly white, mostly older, hence from historically more privileged sectors.

Is Russian hacking
really more significant
than what we have
discussed — for example,
the Republican campaign
to destroy the conditions
for organized social
existence, in defiance
of the entire world?

As Anthony DiMaggio reports in a careful study of the wealth of information now available, Trump voters tend to be typical Republicans, with “elitist, pro-corporate and reactionary social agendas,” and “an affluent, privileged segment of the country in terms of their income, but one that is relatively less privileged than it was in the past, before the 2008 economic collapse,” hence feeling some economic distress. Median income has dropped almost 10 percent since 2007. That’s apart from the large evangelical segment and putting aside the factors of white supremacy — deeply rooted in the United States — racism and sexism.

For the majority of the base, Trump and the more savage wing of the Republican establishment are not far from their standard attitudes, though when we turn to specific policy preferences, more complex questions arise.

A segment of the Trump base comes from the industrial sector that has been cast aside for decades by both parties, often from rural areas where industry and stable jobs have collapsed. Many voted for Obama, believing his message of hope and change, but were quickly disillusioned and have turned in desperation to their bitter class enemy, clinging to the hope that somehow its formal leader will come to their rescue.

Another consideration is the current information system, if one can even use the phrase. For much of the base, the sources of information are Fox News, talk radio and other practitioners of alternative facts. Exposures of Trump’s misdeeds and absurdities that arouse liberal opinion are easily interpreted as attacks by the corrupt elite on the defender of the little man, in fact his cynical enemy.

G.Y.: How does the lack of critical intelligence operate here, that is, the sort that philosopher John Dewey saw as essential for a democratic citizenry?

N.C.: We might ask other questions about critical intelligence. For liberal opinion, the political crime of the century, as it is sometimes called, is Russian interference in American elections. The effects of the crime are undetectable, unlike the massive effects of interference by corporate power and private wealth, not considered a crime but the normal workings of democracy. That’s even putting aside the record of U.S. “interference” in foreign elections, Russia included; the word “interference” in quotes because it is so laughably inadequate, as anyone with the slightest familiarity with recent history must be aware.

G.Y.: That certainly speaks to our nation’s contradictions.

N.C.: Is Russian hacking really more significant than what we have discussed — for example, the Republican campaign to destroy the conditions for organized social existence, in defiance of the entire world? Or to enhance the already dire threat of terminal nuclear war? Or even such real but lesser crimes such as the Republican initiative to deprive tens of millions of health care and to drive helpless people out of nursing homes in order to enrich their actual constituency of corporate power and wealth even further? Or to dismantle the limited regulatory system set up to mitigate the impact of the financial crisis that their favorites are likely to bring about once again? And on, and on.

It’s easy to condemn those we place on the other side of some divide, but more important, commonly, to explore what we take to be nearby.

Correction: July 5, 2017

An earlier version of this article misstated the name of an organization that monitors nuclear weapons and disarmament. It is Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, not The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

George Yancy, a professor of philosophy at Emory University, is the author of “Black Bodies, White Gazes” and “On Race: 34 Conversations in a Time of Crisis,” and a co-editor of “Pursuing Trayvon Martin” and “Our Black Sons Matter

 

A Quiet Deal in Dixie: The Right’s Stealth Plan for the US Goes Back Farther Than You Think

 

When and how were the seeds sown for the modern far-right’s takeover of American politics? Nancy MacLean reveals the deep and troubling roots of this secretive political establishment — and its decades-long plan to change the rules of democratic governance — in her new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. Get your copy by making a donation to Truthout now!

Many journalists have seen the “Powell Memorandum” of 1971 — written by then future Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. — as the blueprint for a well-oiled infrastructure on the right. However, in this excerpt from Democracy in Chains, Nancy MacLean argues that its roots began in the 1950s with a treatise from an obscure economics professor.

As 1956 drew to a close, Colgate Whitehead Darden Jr., the president of the University of Virginia, feared for the future of his beloved state. The previous year, the U.S. Supreme Court had issued its second Brown v. Board of Education ruling, calling for the dismantling of segregation in public schools with “all deliberate speed.” In Virginia, outraged state officials responded with legislation to force the closure of any school that planned to comply. Some extremists called for ending public education entirely. Darden, who earlier in his career had been the governor, could barely stand to contemplate the damage such a rash move would inflict. Even the name of this plan, “massive resistance,” made his gentlemanly Virginia sound like Mississippi.

On his desk was a proposal, written by the man he had recently appointed chair of the economics department at UVA. Thirty-seven-year-old James McGill Buchanan liked to call himself a Tennessee country boy. But Darden knew better. No less a figure than Milton Friedman had extolled Buchanan’s potential. As Darden reviewed the document, he might have wondered if the newly hired economist had read his mind. For without mentioning the crisis at hand, Buchanan’s proposal put in writing what Darden was thinking: Virginia needed to find a better way to deal with the incursion on states’ rights represented by Brown.

To most Americans living in the North, Brown was a ruling to end segregated schools — nothing more, nothing less. And Virginia’s response was about race. But to men like Darden and Buchanan, two well-educated sons of the South who were deeply committed to its model of political economy, Brown boded a sea change on much more.

At a minimum, the federal courts could no longer be counted on to defer reflexively to states’ rights arguments. More concerning was the likelihood that the high court would be more willing to intervene when presented with compelling evidence that a state action was in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection” under the law. States’ rights, in effect, were yielding in preeminence to individual rights. It was not difficult for either Darden or Buchanan to imagine how a court might now rule if presented with evidence of the state of Virginia’s archaic labor relations, its measures to suppress voting, or its efforts to buttress the power of reactionary rural whites by under-representing the moderate voters of the cities and suburbs of Northern Virginia. Federal meddling could rise to levels once unimaginable. James McGill Buchanan was not a member of the Virginia elite. Nor is there any explicit evidence to suggest that for a white southerner of his day, he was uniquely racist or insensitive to the concept of equal treatment. And yet, somehow, all he saw in the Brown decision was coercion. And not just in the abstract. What the court ruling represented to him was personal. Northern liberals — the very people who looked down upon southern whites like him, he was sure — were now going to tell his people how to run their society. And to add insult to injury, he and people like him with property were no doubt going to be taxed more to pay for all the improvements that were now deemed necessary and proper for the state to make. What about his rights? Where did the federal government get the authority to engineer society to its liking and then send him and those like him the bill? Who represented their interests in all of this? I can fight this, he concluded. I want to fight this.

While it is hard for most of us today to imagine how Buchanan or Darden or any other reasonable, rational human being saw the racially segregated Virginia of the 1950s as a society built on “the rights of the individual,” no matter how that term was defined, it is not hard to see why the Brown decision created a sense of grave risk among those who did. Buchanan fully understood the scale of the challenge he was undertaking and promised no immediate results. But he made clear that he would devote himself passionately to this cause.

Some may argue that while Darden fulfilled his part — he found the money to establish this center — he never got much in return. Buchanan’s team had no discernible success in decreasing the federal government’s pressure on the South all the way through the 1960s and ’70s. But take a longer view — follow the story forward to the second decade of the twenty-first century — and a different picture emerges, one that is both a testament to Buchanan’s intellectual powers and, at the same time, the utterly chilling story of the ideological origins of the single most powerful and least understood threat to democracy today: the attempt by the billionaire-backed radical right to undo democratic governance.

For what becomes clear as the story moves forward decade by decade is that a quest that began as a quiet attempt to prevent the state of Virginia from having to meet national democratic standards of fair treatment and equal protection under the law would, some sixty years later, become the veritable opposite of itself: a stealth bid to reverse-engineer all of America, at both the state and the national levels, back to the political economy and oligarchic governance of midcentury Virginia, minus the segregation. Alas, it wasn’t until the early 2010s that the rest of us began to sense that something extraordinarily troubling had somehow entered American politics.

All anyone was really sure of was that every so often, but with growing frequency and in far-flung locations, an action would be taken by governmental figures on the radical right that went well beyond typical party politics, beyond even the extreme partisanship that has marked the United States over the past few decades. These actions seemed intended in one way or another to reduce the authority and reach of government or to diminish the power and standing of those calling on government to protect their rights or to provide for them in one way or another.

Some pointed to what happened in Wisconsin in 2011. The newly elected governor, Scott Walker, put forth legislation to strip public employees of nearly all their collective bargaining rights, by way of a series of new rules aimed at decimating their membership. These rules were more devilishly lethal in their cumulative impact than anything the anti-union cause had theretofore produced. What also troubled many people was that these unions had already expressed a readiness to make concessions to help the state solve its financial troubles. Why respond with all-out war?

Truthout Progressive Pick

Revealing the architects of the right-wing movement to disempower the majority of Americans.

Click here now to get the book!

Copyright (2017) by Nancy MacLean.

Nancy MacLean

Nancy MacLean is the award-winning author of Behind the Mask of Chivalry (a New York Times “noteworthy” book of the year) and Freedom is Not Enough, which was called “contemporary history at its best” by the Chicago Tribune. The William Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University, she lives in Durham, North Carolina.

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/41176-a-quiet-deal-in-dixie-the-right-s-stealth-plan-for-the-us-goes-back-farther-than-you-think

Democracy in Chains – review from Duke University

By Nancy MacLean, Penguin Random House 2017, history.duke.edu

https://history.duke.edu/book/democracy-chains

Behind today’s headlines of billionaires taking over our government is a secretive political establishment with long, deep, and troubling roots. The capitalist radical right has been working not simply to change who rules, but to fundamentally alter the rules of democratic governance. But billionaires did not launch this movement; a white intellectual in the embattled Jim Crow South did. Democracy in Chains names its true architect—the Nobel Prize-winning political economist James McGill Buchanan—and dissects the operation he and his colleagues designed over six decades to alter every branch of government to disempower the majority.

In a brilliant and engrossing narrative, Nancy MacLean shows how Buchanan forged his ideas about government in a last gasp attempt to preserve the white elite’s power in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. In response to the widening of American democracy, he developed a brilliant, if diabolical, plan to undermine the ability of the majority to use its numbers to level the playing field between the rich and powerful and the rest of us.

Corporate donors and their right-wing foundations were only too eager to support Buchanan’s work in teaching others how to divide America into “makers” and “takers.” And when a multibillionaire on a messianic mission to rewrite the social contract of the modern world, Charles Koch, discovered Buchanan, he created a vast, relentless, and multi-armed machine to carry out Buchanan’s strategy.

Without Buchanan’s ideas and Koch’s money, the libertarian right would not have succeeded in its stealth takeover of the Republican Party as a delivery mechanism. Now, with Mike Pence as Vice President, the cause has a longtime loyalist in the White House, not to mention a phalanx of Republicans in the House, the Senate, a majority of state governments, and the courts, all carrying out the plan. That plan includes harsher laws to undermine unions, privatizing everything from schools to health care and Social Security, and keeping as many of us as possible from voting. Based on ten years of unique research, Democracy in Chains tells a chilling story of right-wing academics and big money run amok. This revelatory work of scholarship is also a call to arms to protect the achievements of twentieth-century American self-government.

The publisher’s website:http://www.penguinrando

 

 

 

Trump Can’t Reverse the Decline of White Christian America

By Robert P. Jones, The Atlantic, July 4, 2017

Two-thirds of those who voted for the president felt his election was the “last chance to stop America’s decline.” But his victory won’t arrest the cultural and demographic trends they opposed.

Down the home stretch of the 2016 presidential campaign, one of Donald Trump’s most consistent talking points was a claim that America’s changing demographics and culture had brought the country to a precipice. He repeatedly cast himself as the last chance for Republicans and conservative white Christians to step back from the cliff, to preserve their power and way of life. In an interview on Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) in early September, Trump put the choice starkly for the channel’s conservative Christian viewers: “If we don’t win this election, you’ll never see another Republican and you’ll have a whole different church structure.” Asked to elaborate, Trump continued, “I think this will be the last election that the Republicans have a chance of winning because you’re going to have people flowing across the border, you’re going to have illegal immigrants coming in and they’re going to be legalized and they’re going to be able to vote, and once that all happens you can forget it.”

Michele Bachmann, a member of Trump’s evangelical executive advisory board, echoed these same sentiments in a speech at the Values Voters Summit, an annual meeting attended largely by conservative white Christians. That same week, she declared in an interview with CBN: “If you look at the numbers of people who vote and who lives [sic] in the country and who Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want to bring in to the country, this is the last election when we even have a chance to vote for somebody who will stand up for godly moral principles. This is it.” Post-election polling from the Public Religion Research Institute, which I lead, and The Atlantic showed that this appeal found its mark among conservative voters. Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of Trump voters, compared to only 22 percent of Clinton voters, agreed that “the 2016 election represented the last chance to stop America’s decline.”

Does Trump’s victory, then, represent the resurrection of White Christian America? The consequences of the 2016 elections are indeed sweeping. Republicans entered 2017 with control of both houses of Congress and the White House. And because the Republican-controlled Senate refused to consider an Obama appointee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in early 2016, Trump was able to nominate a conservative Supreme Court justice right out of the gate. Trump’s cabinet and advisors consist largely of defenders of either Wall Street or White Christian America.

The evidence, however, suggests that Trump’s unlikely victory is better understood as the death rattle of White Christian America—the cultural and political edifice built primarily by white Protestant Christians—rather than as its resuscitation. Despite the election’s immediate and dramatic consequences, it’s important not to over-interpret Trump’s win, which was extraordinarily close. Out of more than 136 million votes cast, Trump’s victory in the Electoral College came down to a razor-thin edge of only 77,744 votes across three states: Pennsylvania (44,292 votes), Wisconsin (22,748 votes), and Michigan (10,704 votes). These votes represent a Trump margin of 0.7 percentage points in Pennsylvania, 0.7 percentage points in Wisconsin, and 0.2 percentage points in Michigan. If Clinton had won these states, she would now be president. And of course Clinton actually won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes, receiving 48.2 percent of all votes compared to Trump’s 46.1 percent. The real story of 2016 is that there was just enough movement in just the right places, just enough increased turnout from just the right groups, to get Trump the electoral votes he needed to win.

Trump’s intense appeal to 2016 as the “last chance” election seems to have spurred conservative white Christian voters to turn out to vote at particularly high rates. Two election cycles ago in 2008, white evangelicals represented 21 percent of the general population but, thanks to their higher turnout relative to other voters, comprised 26 percent of actual voters. In 2016, even as their proportion of the population fell to 17 percent, white evangelicals continued to represent 26 percent of voters. In other words, white evangelicals went from being overrepresented by five percentage points at the ballot box in 2008 to being overrepresented by nine percentage points in 2016. This is an impressive feat to be sure, but one less and less likely to be replicated as their decline in the general population continues.

Updating two trends with 2015-2016 data also confirms that the overall patterns of demographic and cultural change are continuing. The chart below plots two trend lines that capture key measures of change: the percentage of white, non-Hispanic Christians in the country and the percentage of Americans who support same-sex marriage. The percentage of white Christians in the country fell from 54 percent in 2008 to 47 percent in 2014. That percentage has fallen again in each subsequent year, to 45 percent in 2015 and to 43 percent in 2016. Similarly, the percentage of Americans who supported same-sex marriage rose from 40 percent in 2008 to 54 percent in 2014. That number stayed relatively stable (53 percent) in 2015—the year the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states—but jumped to 58 percent in 2016.

Despite the outcome of the 2016 elections, the key long-term trends indicate White Christian America’s decline is continuing unabated. Over the last eight years, the percentage of Americans who identify as white and Christian fell 11 percentage points, and support for same-sex marriage jumped 18 percentage points. In a New York Times op-ed shortly after the election, I summarized the results of the election this way: “The waning numbers of white Christians in the country today may not have time on their side, but as the sun is slowly setting on the cultural world of White Christian America, they’ve managed, at least in this election, to rage against the dying of the light.”

* * *

One of the most perplexing features of the 2016 election was the high level of support Donald Trump received from white evangelical Protestants. How did a group that once proudly identified itself as “values voters” come to support a candidate who had been married three times, cursed from the campaign stump, owned casinos, appeared on the cover of Playboy Magazine, and most remarkably, was caught on tape bragging in the most graphic terms about habitually grabbing women’s genitals without their permission? White evangelical voters’ attraction to Trump was even more mysterious because the early GOP presidential field offered candidates with strong evangelical credentials, such as Ted Cruz, a longtime Southern Baptist whose father was a Baptist minister, and Marco Rubio, a conservative Catholic who could talk with ease and familiarity about his own personal relationship with Jesus.

The shotgun wedding between Trump and white evangelicals was not without conflict and objections. It set off some high drama between Trump suitors, such as Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University and Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, and #NeverTrump evangelical leaders such as Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention. Just days ahead of the Iowa caucuses, Falwell invited him to speak at Liberty University, where he serves as president. In his introduction, Falwell told the gathered students, “In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment.” And a week later, he officially endorsed Trump for president. Robert Jeffress, the senior pastor of the influential First Baptist Church in Dallas and a frequent commentator on Fox News, also threw his support behind Trump early in the campaign but took a decidedly different approach. Jeffress explicitly argued that a president’s faith is “not the only consideration, and sometimes it’s not the most important consideration.” Citing grave threats to America, particularly from “radical Islamic terrorism,” Jeffress’ support of Trump for president was straightforward realpolitik: “I want the meanest, toughest, son-of-a-you-know-what I can find in that role, and I think that’s where many evangelicals are.” Moore, by contrast, remained a steadfast Trump opponent throughout the campaign. He was aghast at the high-level embrace of Trump by white evangelical leaders and strongly expressed his incredulity that they “have tossed aside everything that they previously said they believed in order to embrace and to support the Trump candidacy.”

The 2016 election, in fact, was peculiar because of just how little concrete policy issues mattered.

In the end, however, Falwell and Jeffress had a better feel for the people in the pews. Trump received unwavering support from white evangelicals from the beginning of the primaries through Election Day. As I noted at the beginning of the primary season, the first evidence that Trump was rewriting the Republican playbook was his victory in the South Carolina GOP primary, the first southern primary and one in which more than two-thirds of the voters were white evangelicals. The Cruz campaign had considered Super Tuesday’s South-heavy lineup to be its firewall against early Trump momentum. But when the returns came in, Cruz had won only his home state of Texas and neighboring Oklahoma, while Trump had swept the southern states, taking Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, and Arkansas. Trump ultimately secured the GOP nomination, not over white evangelical voters’ objections, but because of their support. And on Election Day, white evangelicals set a new high water mark in their support for a Republican presidential candidate, backing Trump at a slightly higher level than even President George W. Bush in 2004 (81 percent vs. 78 percent).

Trump’s campaign—with its sweeping promise to “make American great again”—triumphed by converting self-described “values voters” into what I’ve called “nostalgia voters.” Trump’s promise to restore a mythical past golden age—where factory jobs paid the bills and white Protestant churches were the dominant cultural hubs—powerfully tapped evangelical anxieties about an uncertain future.

The 2016 election, in fact, was peculiar because of just how little concrete policy issues mattered. The election, more than in any in recent memory, came down to two vividly contrasting views of America. Donald Trump’s campaign painted a bleak portrait of America’s present, set against a bright, if monochromatic, vision of 1950s America restored. Hillary Clinton’ campaign, by contrast, sought to replace the first African American president with the first female president and embraced the multicultural future of 2050, the year the Census Bureau originally projected the United States would become a majority nonwhite nation. “Make American Great Again” and “Stronger Together,” the two campaigns’ competing slogans, became proxies for an epic battle over the changing face of America.

The gravitational pull of nostalgia among white evangelicals was evident across a wide range of public opinion polling questions. Just a few weeks before the 2016 election, 66 percent of white evangelical Protestants said the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens traditional American customs and values. Nearly as many favored building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico (64 percent) and temporarily banning Muslims from other countries from entering the U.S. (62 percent). And 63 percent believed that today discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. White evangelicals also stood out on broad questions about cultural change. While Americans overall were nearly evenly divided on whether American culture and way of life have changed for worse (51 percent) or better (48 percent) since the 1950s, white evangelical Protestants were likelier than any other demographic group to say things have changed for the worse since the 1950s (74 percent).

It is perhaps an open question whether Trump’s candidacy represents a true change in evangelicals’ DNA or whether it simply revealed previously hidden traits, but the shift from values to nostalgia voter has undoubtedly transformed their political ethics. The clearest example of evangelical ethics bending to fit the Trump presidency is white evangelicals’ abandonment of their conviction that personal character matters for elected officials. In 2011 and again just ahead of the 2016 election, PRRI asked Americans whether a political leader who committed an immoral act in his or her private life could nonetheless behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public life. In 2011, consistent with the “values voter” brand and the traditional evangelical emphasis on the importance of personal character, only 30 percent of white evangelical Protestants agreed with this statement. But with Trump at the top of the Republican ticket in 2016, 72 percent of white evangelicals said they believed a candidate could build a kind of moral dike between his private and public life. In a head-spinning reversal, white evangelicals went from being the least likely to the most likely group to agree that a candidate’s personal immorality has no bearing on his performance in public office.

Fears about the present and a desire for a lost past, bound together with partisan attachments, ultimately overwhelmed values voters’ convictions. Rather than standing on principle and letting the chips fall where they may, white evangelicals fully embraced a consequentialist ethics that works backward from predetermined political ends, bending or even discarding core principles as needed to achieve a predetermined outcome. When it came to the 2016 election, the ends were deemed so necessary they justified the means. As he saw the polls trending for Trump in the last days before the election, in no small part because of the support of white evangelicals, Russell Moore was blunt, lamenting that Trump-supporting evangelicals had simply adopted “a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it.”

* * *

White evangelicals have entered a grand bargain with the self-described master dealmaker, with high hopes that this alliance will turn back the clock. And Donald Trump’s installation as the 45th president of the United States may in fact temporarily prop up, by pure exertions of political and legal power, what white Christian Americans perceive they have lost. But these short-term victories will come at an exorbitant price. Like Esau, who exchanged his inheritance for a pot of stew, white evangelicals have traded their distinctive values for fleeting political power. Twenty years from now, there is little chance that 2016 will be celebrated as the revival of White Christian America, no matter how many Christian right leaders are installed in positions of power over the next four years. Rather, this election will mostly likely be remembered as the one in which white evangelicals traded away their integrity and influence in a gambit to resurrect their past.

Meanwhile, the major trends transforming the country continue. If anything, evangelicals’ deal with Trump may accelerate the very changes it was designed to arrest, as a growing number of non-white and non-Christian Americans are repulsed by the increasingly nativist, tribal tenor of both conservative white Christianity and conservative white politics. At the end of the day, white evangelicals’ grand bargain with Trump will be unable to hold back the sheer weight of cultural change, and their descendants will be left with the only real move possible: acceptance.

This article has been excerpted from the new Afterword in the paperback version of Robert P. Jones’ book, The End of White Christian America.

Why can’t our economy promote equality and shared prosperity?

 By Jim Hightower,  Hightower Lowdown, July 4, 2017

Land of Opportunity? More like Land of Inequality. But we can fix it!

You don’t have to be in “Who’s Who” to know what’s what. For example, if a tiny group of Wall Street bankers, billionaires, and their political puppets are allowed to write the rules that govern our economy and elections, guess what? Only bankers, billionaires, and puppets will profit from those rules.

That’s exactly why our Land of Opportunity has become today’s Land of Inequality. Corporate elites have bought their way into the policy-making backrooms of Washington, where they’ve rigged the rules to let them feast freely on our jobs, devour our country’s wealth, and impoverish the middle class.

There’s good news, however! A growing grassroots coalition of churches, unions, civil rights groups, citizen activists, and many others is organizing and mobilizing us to crash through those closed doors, write our own rules and reverse America’s plunge into plutocracy. Called “Take On Wall Street,” the coalition’s structural reforms include:

  • Getting the corrupting cash of corporations and the superrich out of our politics by repealing Citizens United and providing a public system for financing America’s elections.
  • Stopping “too big to fail” banks from subsidizing their high-risk speculative gambling with the deposits of us ordinary customers, making them choose to be a consumer bank or a casino, but not both.
  • Instituting a tiny “Robin Hood Tax” on Wall Street speculators to discourage their computerized gaming of the system, while also generating hundreds of billions of tax dollars to invest in America’s real economy.
  • Restoring low-cost, convenient “postal banking” in our Post Offices to serve millions of Americans who’re now at the mercy of predatory payday lenders and check-cashing chains.

To learn more about this campaign and its reform agenda to democratize America’s financial system, go to www.TakeOnWallStreet.org.

Jefferson’s Lesson for Democrats

By David Leonhardt, New York Times,  JULY 5, 2017 Excerpt  (full text) — the historian Daniel Williams urged the party to confront its religion problem. That problem centers on “a generational and racial divide between a largely secular group of young, white party activists and an older electorate that is more religious and more socially conservative,” Williams wrote. “Put simply, outside of a few progressive districts, secular-minded young activists in the party are unable to win voters’ trust.” In yesterday’s Times, the historians Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onuf offered a surprising suggestion for where Democrats can find a solution to their religion problem: Thomas Jefferson.…; they’re talking instead about broader civic values. But I was struck by the connection between the Jeffersonian values they describe and the Democrats’ modern-day religion struggles. Jefferson infused his political philosophy with Christian values, even though he was not a deeply religious man in the traditional sense. “He adhered to the ‘philosophy’ of Jesus while rejecting ‘mystifications’ that offended his steadfast belief in science and were, in his view, the chief cause of religious strife,” Gordon-Reed and Onuf write. “He was confident that enlightened republicans and conscientious Christians could, and must, agree on the fundamental ethical precepts he gleaned from the Bible.”…His political opponents argued that he wasn’t really religious and spread rumors about his supposed atheism. But Jefferson still managed to be a pretty successful politician. I encourage you to read the piece.

Thomas Jefferson’s Bible Teaching By ANNETTE GORDON-REED and PETER S. ONUF, New York Times, JULY 4, 2017 – Excerpt  (full text)

It was an article of Thomas Jefferson’s faith that no government should interfere in anyone’s private religious beliefs. A passionate student of history, Jefferson knew that religious struggles through the ages had caused “rivers of blood” to flow all over the world…The blood is still flowing… One of Jefferson’s most fervent hopes was that Americans would be spared this carnage, and he did his best to set us on that path. It’s worth pausing, this Fourth of July, to ponder this facet of Jefferson’s deep wisdom, and how well we’ve lived up to it.

Jefferson believed the best way to ensure that both peace and religious liberty could flourish would be to educate citizens to avoid violent disagreements over trivial doctrinal distinctions through a constitutional regime that prevented government from favoring one set of religious beliefs over another…. By the mid-1790s, he had developed a reputation as a faithless philosopher, even an atheist, certainly not a Christian. This was a grave matter, for religious beliefs then, as now, are often conflated with character…. Their talking point was clear: Jefferson’s atheism disqualified him from the presidency. But Jefferson was no atheist. As a young man, he embraced the tenets of “natural religion,” or deism, rejecting conventional Christianity and any use of religious dogma as a tool to control people…

Through Bible study this self-professed “primitive Christian” sought to hear Jesus’ original, uncorrupted voice, imagining himself in his teacher’s presence. Jesus preached to the “family of man,” anticipating the humane and cosmopolitan precepts of the enlightened age that Jefferson was convinced would inevitably arrive. He adhered to the “philosophy” of Jesus while rejecting “mystifications” that offended his steadfast belief in science and were, in his view, the chief cause of religious strife. … he believed that religion, stripped of the supernatural, should always be an integral part of American society… In 1804, Jefferson took a razor to English, French, Latin and Greek versions of the New Testament to construct a clear account of Jesus’ original, uncorrupted teachings…“Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth” … he was confident that enlightened republicans and conscientious Christians could, and must, agree on the fundamental ethical precepts he gleaned from the Bible.

Far from being an atheist, Jefferson was a precocious advocate of what was later called “civil religion,” the moral foundation of a truly free and united people… In 1904, Congress had the Government Printing Office issue 9,000 copies of the “Jefferson Bible” for distribution among senators and congressmen…. religious faithful who opposed Jefferson would have been even more scandalized by his effort to “improve” the Bible — and his vision of a time when every “thinking” person would be a Unitarian…. Throughout history, we Americans have waged religious battles of our own, mainly through legislation that regulated citizens’ behavior on the basis of moral values that were religious ones in disguise. Although the Constitution prohibits religious tests for office, it is hard to imagine how a candidate who professed to have no religious beliefs could find favor. Jefferson’s hopes have not yet been realized…Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor of law and history at Harvard, and Peter S. Onuf, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Virginia, are the authors of “‘Most Blessed of the Patriarchs’: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination.”

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

A version of this op-ed appears in print on July 4, 2017, on Page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: Jefferson’s Bible Teaching. Today’s Paper|Subscribe

 

 

David Leonhardt

“He adhered to the ‘philosophy’ of Jesus while rejecting ‘mystifications’ that offended his steadfast belief in science and were, in his view, the chief cause of religious strife,” Gordon-Reed and Onuf write. “He was confident that enlightened republicans and conscientious Christians could, and must, agree on the fundamental ethical precepts he gleaned from the Bible.”

Oh, and something else: His political opponents argued that he wasn’t really religious and spread rumors about his supposed atheism. But Jefferson still managed to be a pretty successful politician.

I encourage you to read the piece.

By ANNETTE GORDON-REED and PETER S. ONUFJULY 4, 2017 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/04/opinion/thomas-jeffersons-bible-teaching.html

It was an article of Thomas Jefferson’s faith that no government should interfere in anyone’s private religious beliefs. A passionate student of history, Jefferson knew that religious struggles through the ages had caused “rivers of blood” to flow all over the world.

The blood is still flowing. News of sectarian violence reaches us daily from across the globe, bringing us unimaginably horrific and mind-numbing images. One of Jefferson’s most fervent hopes was that Americans would be spared this carnage, and he did his best to set us on that path. It’s worth pausing, this Fourth of July, to ponder this facet of Jefferson’s deep wisdom, and how well we’ve lived up to it.

Jefferson believed the best way to ensure that both peace and religious liberty could flourish would be to educate citizens to avoid violent disagreements over trivial doctrinal distinctions through a constitutional regime that prevented government from favoring one set of religious beliefs over another.

He discovered how hard it was to divorce religion from politics during his bid for the presidency in 1800. He had what today we’d call “a religion problem.” By the mid-1790s, he had developed a reputation as a faithless philosopher, even an atheist, certainly not a Christian. This was a grave matter, for religious beliefs then, as now, are often conflated with character. Nervous New Englanders and his enemies in the Federalist Party took this notion to heart; rumors spread that Jefferson planned to outlaw the Bible.

On his watch, they said, incest and adultery would run rampant. He betrayed his true sentiments, they claimed, by his ardent support of the French Revolution, which sought to eradicate religion in France. Their talking point was clear: Jefferson’s atheism disqualified him from the presidency.

But Jefferson was no atheist. As a young man, he embraced the tenets of “natural religion,” or deism, rejecting conventional Christianity and any use of religious dogma as a tool to control people. As he aged, however, Jefferson undertook a spiritual quest that focused his attention intensively on the New Testament.

Through Bible study this self-professed “primitive Christian” sought to hear Jesus’ original, uncorrupted voice, imagining himself in his teacher’s presence. Jesus preached to the “family of man,” anticipating the humane and cosmopolitan precepts of the enlightened age that Jefferson was convinced would inevitably arrive. He adhered to the “philosophy” of Jesus while rejecting “mystifications” that offended his steadfast belief in science and were, in his view, the chief cause of religious strife.

Still, Jefferson’s refusal to talk about his religious beliefs fueled suspicions. He insisted that his religious faith was nobody’s business but his own.

In fact, he knew that people were not ready to hear his unorthodox views. But he prepared for the day when they would be, for he believed that religion, stripped of the supernatural, should always be an integral part of American society. He even created a guidebook, of sorts.

In 1804, Jefferson took a razor to English, French, Latin and Greek versions of the New Testament to construct a clear account of Jesus’ original, uncorrupted teachings. Pressed by public business, he didn’t complete his painstakingly executed “Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth” until retirement. Even then, Jefferson did not want to publicize his project — or even share it with his family. But he was confident that enlightened republicans and conscientious Christians could, and must, agree on the fundamental ethical precepts he gleaned from the Bible.

Far from being an atheist, Jefferson was a precocious advocate of what was later called “civil religion,” the moral foundation of a truly free and united people. This is how American Christians understood him a century after he began editing the Bible. In 1904, Congress had the Government Printing Office issue 9,000 copies of the “Jefferson Bible” for distribution among senators and congressmen.

It’s a good bet that most devout Christians now would be appalled by Congress’s action, and that today’s Congress would never consider publishing it. The religious faithful who opposed Jefferson would have been even more scandalized by his effort to “improve” the Bible — and his vision of a time when every “thinking” person would be a Unitarian. They were right to suspect that the Sage of Monticello had designs on America’s religious future, but wrong about the elements of his designs.

Fulfilling Jefferson’s enlightened vision has not been easy. Throughout history, we Americans have waged religious battles of our own, mainly through legislation that regulated citizens’ behavior on the basis of moral values that were religious ones in disguise. Although the Constitution prohibits religious tests for office, it is hard to imagine how a candidate who professed to have no religious beliefs could find favor.

Jefferson’s hopes have not yet been realized. The dispiriting wave of religion-based violence abroad, and sometimes violent flare-ups here over issues like abortion and L.B.G.T.Q. rights, make Jefferson’s idealistic vision of American civil religion, the shared faith of a free people, all the more attractive.

Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor of law and history at Harvard, and Peter S. Onuf, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Virginia, are the authors of “‘Most Blessed of the Patriarchs’: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination.”

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

Stop Legitimizing ‘Conservatism’: It’s Not an Ideology – It’s a Goddamn Death Machine

by David Michael Green, commondreams.org, June 5, 2017

https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/06/05/stop-legitimizing-conservatism-its-not-ideology-its-goddamn-death-machine

Excerpt – There’s no end to the maladies that ail American politics these days.  It would, indeed, be far easier and quicker to identify what’s working than to itemize the travails that bedevil our pathetic polity in 2017… there is one thing that inflames my tortured mind more than any of these items – perhaps because it is the one thing that explains them all. I am sickened to live in a society that treats a malignant illness as just another legitimate point of view, when in fact it’s the very disease that is killing us…”That this movement is a threat to Western values is transparent.”… if we’re honest about it, that which goes by the name of conservatism today is not an ideology – it’s a death machine. Maybe there was once a responsible, legitimate (if misguided and merely moderately deceitful) ideology by the name of conservatism – I don’t know.  Regardless, we’re not talking about Dwight Eisenhower or Gerry Ford here…  And it’s been that way for a generation or two, but of course now the threat from this monstrosity is no longer just a moral disaster, it’s a full-blown existential crisis,This is a belief system which is bringing death to thousands-year-old traditions of Western values, to democracy, to the country, to people’s lives, to the truth, and to the planet.  Because of the threat this represents, we need to stop treating ‘conservatism’ as just another legitimate ideological choice.  It’s not.  It’s a murder weapon metastasized to global proportions. That this movement is a threat to Western values is transparent.  Today’s so-called ‘conservatives’ are the enemy of equality, human rights and liberty (despite their protestations to the exact contrary).  They instead embody elitism, bigotry and repression…  They worship power and its use to colonize others abroad while repressing dissent at home…

And no, it’s not just one buffoon we’re talking about here.  While a number of right-wing pundits have – to their partial credit – repudiated Trumpism, there are loads of problems with that alibi for their movement.  First, a whole lot of other folks have not disowned the walking crime scene that is the Trump White House.  Second, these are pundits – hardly a single Republican officeholder in Washington has found it ethically necessary to distance him or herself from the moral abyss DBA an orange-haired gorilla in a Brioni suit.  Most importantly, however, Trump is far less the historical aberration from the tendencies of the last four decades than he is the expression of its logical outcome.  The right has been trucking in racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, military aggression, environmental destruction and armed robbery of the 99 percent going back at least as far as William F. Buckley and Ronald (Jesus’ Kid Brother) Reagan…And this is precisely what ‘conservatives’ have not been conserving for forty years now, but rather instead destroying…I have nothing particularly nice to say about the feeble and ineffectual (on a good day) Democratic Party“By treating conservatism and conservatives as reasonable and acceptable we not only legitimize the unspeakable, we massively enhance its likelihood of successfully killing us.” Conservatism also means death to the truth….What’s somewhat astonishing and most definitely disturbing, however, is the reaction that his compulsive tendency to lie produces among the roughly forty percent of Americans who form his political baseWhat has gone so wrong in the lives of these ‘conservatives’ that they not only tolerate being lied to incessantly, but actually crave it?  This is not the place for an extended discussion of that question, but suffice it to say that conservatism’s appeal among the public – including many whom it harms the most – cannot be understood outside the realm of political psychology.  One might view these ‘comfortably numb-nuts’ as the rightful inheritors of America’s storied Know Nothing tradition…A good hundred million plus Americans have literally lost their minds in our time and, in order to soothe the resentments torturing their savage souls, they are taking down the country around their heads as they descend into an emotionally satisfying madness. Or, at least it used to be the country they are taking down.  Now it’s the world…, by treating conservatism and conservatives as reasonable and acceptable we not only legitimize the unspeakable, we massively enhance its likelihood of successfully killing us…

Full text

There’s no end to the maladies that ail American politics these days.  It would, indeed, be far easier and quicker to identify what’s working than to itemize the travails that bedevil our pathetic polity in 2017.  Altogether, if this country was a piece of art it would have to combine the orderliness of Pollock with the perceptual logic of Dali, all rooted in the joyful well-being of Hieronymous Bosch, in order to do justice to our times.

For those of you who for some reason always wanted to know what it looks like when an empire cracks apart, I’ve got some lovely news for you:  A certain North American specimen, not generally known for its generosity, is nevertheless happy to oblige you today.  Truly, the full catalog of America’s political woes could crash Amazon’s entire array of server farms, and most of us are struggling enough with chronic nausea these days such that revisiting all these horror stories again is way too depressing to contemplate.  So I won’t.  But there is one thing that inflames my tortured mind more than any of these items – perhaps because it is the one thing that explains them all.

Here it is:  I am sickened to live in a society that treats a malignant illness as just another legitimate point of view, when in fact it’s the very disease that is killing us.  We don’t treat a heroin epidemic as an innocuous choice that some may opt for and some may reject.  We don’t treat cholera as just another flavor of ice cream that some prefer while others go for strawberry.  And we don’t welcome Nazism as a legitimate belief system that deserves the same consideration as any other old model of race relations a society might adopt.  So why do we treat ‘conservatism’ like some harmless cup of tea that some choose over Earl Grey or Jasmine?

“That this movement is a threat to Western values is transparent.”

I’m dead serious.  And I mean like, literally, dead serious, because if we’re honest about it, that which goes by the name of conservatism today is not an ideology – it’s a death machine.

Maybe there was once a responsible, legitimate (if misguided and merely moderately deceitful) ideology by the name of conservatism – I don’t know.  Regardless, we’re not talking about Dwight Eisenhower or Gerry Ford here.  We’re talking about societal hemlock.  And it’s been that way for a generation or two, but of course now the threat from this monstrosity is no longer just a moral disaster, it’s a full-blown existential crisis, wrapped inside a suicide vest.

Death machine, huh?  Maybe you’re thinking, “Sure, those Trump idiots are completely bonkers, but calling them a willful agent of the apocalypse is little extreme.  I mean, artistic license is a good thing, but c’mon man…”  Sorry.  I’m not kidding.  I’m being quite literal.  This is a belief system which is bringing death to thousands-year-old traditions of Western values, to democracy, to the country, to people’s lives, to the truth, and to the planet.  Because of the threat this represents, we need to stop treating ‘conservatism’ as just another legitimate ideological choice.  It’s not.  It’s a murder weapon metastasized to global proportions.

That this movement is a threat to Western values is transparent.  Today’s so-called ‘conservatives’ are the enemy of equality, human rights and liberty (despite their protestations to the exact contrary).  They instead embody elitism, bigotry and repression.  They don’t stand for gay rights any more than they ever did for civil rights back in the day, or equal pay for equal work.  They worship power and its use to colonize others abroad while repressing dissent at home.  Five minutes at any given Trump rally last year would have made that clear enough.  But in case the message was somehow lost, one look at our fearless leader and his fawning relations with the likes of Putin, Erdogan and Duterte, combined with the shattering of the Western alliance with leaders like Angela Merkel and those of other (once-)allied democracies tells you all you need to know.

And no, it’s not just one buffoon we’re talking about here.  While a number of right-wing pundits have – to their partial credit – repudiated Trumpism, there are loads of problems with that alibi for their movement.  First, a whole lot of other folks have not disowned the walking crime scene that is the Trump White House.  Second, these are pundits – hardly a single Republican officeholder in Washington has found it ethically necessary to distance him or herself from the moral abyss DBA an orange-haired gorilla in a Brioni suit.  Most importantly, however, Trump is far less the historical aberration from the tendencies of the last four decades than he is the expression of its logical outcome.  The right has been trucking in racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, military aggression, environmental destruction and armed robbery of the 99 percent going back at least as far as William F. Buckley and Ronald (Jesus’ Kid Brother) Reagan.  Methinks the ladies of the conservative intelligentsia (pardon the oxymoron) doth protest too much when they seek to distance themselves from an administration whose only difference from its Republican predecessors is the grotesque overtness of its toxicity.  (Especially when it doesn’t take a Svengali to see that this administration is going to jail, and that its place in history will make Nixon look like Abraham Lincoln by comparison.  It ain’t too brave to want to make sure your name isn’t associated with that particular catastrophe.)

And this is precisely what ‘conservatives’ have not been conserving for forty years now, but rather instead destroying.  The necessity of preserving this crucial political culture is why impeaching a president for lying about a personal sexual relationship matters.  It is why five conservative members of the Supreme Court breaking all their own internal rules and supposed principles in order to install their guy in the White House matters.  It’s why using the country’s racial divide to win elections matters.  It’s why relentlessly employing the filibuster to block every item on the agenda of a president from the other party – even those items that you supported yourself only yesterday – matters.  And why it matters when you then alter filibuster rule when it’s used in the same way against you.  This is why radical gerrymandering matters.  This is why targeted voter suppression of the other party’s base in order to prevail in elections you couldn’t otherwise win matters.  This is why refusing to act on a Supreme Court nomination for a year in order to get the nominee you want instead matters.  And its why falsely claiming elections are rigged matters.

I have nothing particularly nice to say about the feeble and ineffectual (on a good day) Democratic Party, and especially its last two presidents.  But all of the above examples of the undermining of American democracy in our time come from the Republican Party and the supposedly conservative folks who inhabit itFor all the many failings of the Democrats, there is no equivalent to any one of these items on their side of the aisle, let alone an equivalent to all of them.  The upshot is that rather than conserving the Founders’ democratic system that conservatives are forever cynically clothing themselves in, they are in fact destroying it.  This is not death by a thousand cuts, but rather death by relentless saber slashes.

Conservatism is also death in a quite literal sense, as well.  Just ask the million or so Iraqis who perished because of the right’s war of choice justified by lies.  Er, oops, wait a second…  Turns out you can’t ask them, because they’re dead, killed by conservatives.  But you could ask the tens of thousands Americans who are alive today because of Obamacare – which conservatives have fought relentlessly – and who may be dead tomorrow if the GOP manages to kill what skimpy health care protections Americans now enjoy.  Or you can ask the workers who will be dying because the conservative movement is so determined to remove any sort of workplace safety regulations from providing them even modest protection.  Or those who whose lives will be sacrificed in order to destroy the (woefully) basic environmental standards that have been built up over the last half-century.  If you want to know what conservatism means for our environment and health, look no further than Flint, Michigan.  The story that nobody in the media bothers to tell about that insane catastrophe is why it happened.  The reason that ‘Flint’ has now become shorthand for environmental meltdown and lethal governmental buffoonery is that conservatives in Michigan’s government – who fervently ‘believe’ in local control, mind you – passed legislation allowing the state to simply take over control of municipalities whenever it saw fit, despite the electoral choices of voters in those communities.  That’s what the conservative Snyder administration then proceeded to do in Flint, and the rest is history.  By the way, their justification for doing so was that Flint was being mismanaged, so they – wait for it, now – had to come in and get it right.  You can’t make this shit up.  And if you did, you could never find anyone in Hollywood willing to make a movie out of it, on account of its absurdly ridiculous improbability.

“By treating conservatism and conservatives as reasonable and acceptable we not only legitimize the unspeakable, we massively enhance its likelihood of successfully killing us.”

But we’re not done yet.  Conservatism also means death to the truth.  Of course, when it comes to Herr Bloated Pumpkinhead and the current administration, the scale of dishonesty is absolutely epic.  It is literally no exaggeration to say that a consumer of any generic statement by this White House would be more likely to know the truth by simply assuming its opposite is the case, than he or she would by accepting any given tweet or Spicerism as fact.  No wonder Orwell is selling like hotcakes these days.  This is a true “2+2=5″ moment, Winston.

It’s hardly surprising that a career New York City real estate developer who has spent a lifetime doing little but shameless self-promotion and fabricating scams running the gamut from bottled water to bottled diplomas would be unable to speak truthfully about nearly anything.  And of course, when we say ‘anything’ here, we mean… anything.  What’s somewhat astonishing and most definitely disturbing, however, is the reaction that his compulsive tendency to lie produces among the roughly forty percent of Americans who form his political base.  What has gone so wrong in the lives of these ‘conservatives’ that they not only tolerate being lied to incessantly, but actually crave it?  This is not the place for an extended discussion of that question, but suffice it to say that conservatism’s appeal among the public – including many whom it harms the most – cannot be understood outside the realm of political psychology.  One might view these ‘comfortably numb-nuts’ as the rightful inheritors of America’s storied Know Nothing tradition, but in fact that’s too generous a label, since it turns out that it is actually possible in this world to know less than nothing if you’re willing to work hard enough at it.  When you believe that Iraq really had WMD, or that cutting taxes on billionaires will get you a sweet job, or that Donald Trump has your back, well then, graduating to the status of being a full-blown Know Nothing truly is something for which you are well-positioned to aspire.

This is where, alas, the Founders got it wrong, with their Enlightenment model of rationally calculating citizens.  A good hundred million plus Americans have literally lost their minds in our time and, in order to soothe the resentments torturing their savage souls, they are taking down the country around their heads as they descend into an emotionally satisfying madness.

Or, at least it used to be the country they are taking down.  Now it’s the world.  With the president’s destruction of the Paris climate change accord, American conservatism is now bringing it on a planetary scale.  Could this possibly be more jaw-dropping in its sheer stupidity?  We are talking here about a phenomenon that literally threatens life on this planet, and conservatives – who are otherwise so consumed with fear so much of the time – insist on rejecting slam-dunk scientific evidence and making sure that we perish instead.  Again, the pathological psychology of these folks is the only way to understand such a suicide mission, such an act of terrorism on a global scale.  The president’s speech was entirely laced with the rhetoric of bogus grievance – about how the United States is the laughing stock of the world because we’re being duped and cheated by smarter, tougher, more cynical countries, and blah, blah, freaking blah…  Apart from the sheer absurdity of this trope on the basis of any sort of actual logic or fact, there remains this outstanding question:  Even if it was all true, who the hell cares?  If the planet winds up being destroyed, does it really matter whether in the preceding years one country’s GDP grew a half-percent slower than that of some other countries?  What’s that old line about deck chairs…?  Could there be any other accurate term for a belief system that so jeopardizes an entire planet than ‘death machine’?

We need to stop fooling around with this shit.  Smallpox is not just another disease.  Totalitarianism is not just another political system.  Nuclear war is not just another form of conflict.  And what calls itself ‘conservatism’ today is not just another form of legitimate, maybe-they’re-right-maybe-they’re-wrong, ideology.

All of these are life-threatening pathologies of epic proportion.  It’s bad enough that we have to expend so much energy to keep them at bay.  But, by treating conservatism and conservatives as reasonable and acceptable we not only legitimize the unspeakable, we massively enhance its likelihood of successfully killing us.

Today’s ‘conservatism’ is not an ideology – it’s a goddam death machine.  And we should welcome it into our homes and communities every bit as much as we would the Black Plague.

o parties or many, you can have powerful states within a national government or not.  In all these profound ways the British system differs from the American one, but nobody would claim that the UK is therefore not a democracy.  What matters at the end of the day is the political culture of mutual respect and trust, the norms and the self-imposed restraints that form the fabric and foundation of a functioning democratic political culture.

And this is precisely what ‘conservatives’ have not been conserving for forty years now, but rather instead destroying.  The necessity of preserving this crucial political culture is why impeaching a president for lying about a personal sexual relationship matters.  It is why five conservative members of the Supreme Court breaking all their own internal rules and supposed principles in order to install their guy in the White House matters.  It’s why using the country’s racial divide to win elections matters.  It’s why relentlessly employing the filibuster to block every item on the agenda of a president from the other party – even those items that you supported yourself only yesterday – matters.  And why it matters when you then alter filibuster rule when it’s used in the same way against you.  This is why radical gerrymandering matters.  This is why targeted voter suppression of the other party’s base in order to prevail in elections you couldn’t otherwise win matters.  This is why refusing to act on a Supreme Court nomination for a year in order to get the nominee you want instead matters.  And its why falsely claiming elections are rigged matters.

I have nothing particularly nice to say about the feeble and ineffectual (on a good day) Democratic Party, and especially its last two presidents.  But all of the above examples of the undermining of American democracy in our time come from the Republican Party and the supposedly conservative folks who inhabit it.  For all the many failings of the Democrats, there is no equivalent to any one of these items on their side of the aisle, let alone an equivalent to all of them.  The upshot is that rather than conserving the Founders’ democratic system that conservatives are forever cynically clothing themselves in, they are in fact destroying it.  This is not death by a thousand cuts, but rather death by relentless saber slashes.

Conservatism is also death in a quite literal sense, as well.  Just ask the million or so Iraqis who perished because of the right’s war of choice justified by lies.  Er, oops, wait a second…  Turns out you can’t ask them, because they’re dead, killed by conservatives.  But you could ask the tens of thousands Americans who are alive today because of Obamacare – which conservatives have fought relentlessly – and who may be dead tomorrow if the GOP manages to kill what skimpy health care protections Americans now enjoy.  Or you can ask the workers who will be dying because the conservative movement is so determined to remove any sort of workplace safety regulations from providing them even modest protection.  Or those who whose lives will be sacrificed in order to destroy the (woefully) basic environmental standards that have been built up over the last half-century.  If you want to know what conservatism means for our environment and health, look no further than Flint, Michigan.  The story that nobody in the media bothers to tell about that insane catastrophe is why it happened.  The reason that ‘Flint’ has now become shorthand for environmental meltdown and lethal governmental buffoonery is that conservatives in Michigan’s government – who fervently ‘believe’ in local control, mind you – passed legislation allowing the state to simply take over control of municipalities whenever it saw fit, despite the electoral choices of voters in those communities.  That’s what the conservative Snyder administration then proceeded to do in Flint, and the rest is history.  By the way, their justification for doing so was that Flint was being mismanaged, so they – wait for it, now – had to come in and get it right.  You can’t make this shit up.  And if you did, you could never find anyone in Hollywood willing to make a movie out of it, on account of its absurdly ridiculous improbability.

“By treating conservatism and conservatives as reasonable and acceptable we not only legitimize the unspeakable, we massively enhance its likelihood of successfully killing us.”

But we’re not done yet.  Conservatism also means death to the truth.  Of course, when it comes to Herr Bloated Pumpkinhead and the current administration, the scale of dishonesty is absolutely epic.  It is literally no exaggeration to say that a consumer of any generic statement by this White House would be more likely to know the truth by simply assuming its opposite is the case, than he or she would by accepting any given tweet or Spicerism as fact.  No wonder Orwell is selling like hotcakes these days.  This is a true “2+2=5″ moment, Winston.

It’s hardly surprising that a career New York City real estate developer who has spent a lifetime doing little but shameless self-promotion and fabricating scams running the gamut from bottled water to bottled diplomas would be unable to speak truthfully about nearly anything.  And of course, when we say ‘anything’ here, we mean… anything.  What’s somewhat astonishing and most definitely disturbing, however, is the reaction that his compulsive tendency to lie produces among the roughly forty percent of Americans who form his political base.  What has gone so wrong in the lives of these ‘conservatives’ that they not only tolerate being lied to incessantly, but actually crave it?  This is not the place for an extended discussion of that question, but suffice it to say that conservatism’s appeal among the public – including many whom it harms the most – cannot be understood outside the realm of political psychology.  One might view these ‘comfortably numb-nuts’ as the rightful inheritors of America’s storied Know Nothing tradition, but in fact that’s too generous a label, since it turns out that it is actually possible in this world to know less than nothing if you’re willing to work hard enough at it.  When you believe that Iraq really had WMD, or that cutting taxes on billionaires will get you a sweet job, or that Donald Trump has your back, well then, graduating to the status of being a full-blown Know Nothing truly is something for which you are well-positioned to aspire.

This is where, alas, the Founders got it wrong, with their Enlightenment model of rationally calculating citizens.  A good hundred million plus Americans have literally lost their minds in our time and, in order to soothe the resentments torturing their savage souls, they are taking down the country around their heads as they descend into an emotionally satisfying madness.

Or, at least it used to be the country they are taking down.  Now it’s the world.  With the president’s destruction of the Paris climate change accord, American conservatism is now bringing it on a planetary scale.  Could this possibly be more jaw-dropping in its sheer stupidity?  We are talking here about a phenomenon that literally threatens life on this planet, and conservatives – who are otherwise so consumed with fear so much of the time – insist on rejecting slam-dunk scientific evidence and making sure that we perish instead.  Again, the pathological psychology of these folks is the only way to understand such a suicide mission, such an act of terrorism on a global scale.  The president’s speech was entirely laced with the rhetoric of bogus grievance – about how the United States is the laughing stock of the world because we’re being duped and cheated by smarter, tougher, more cynical countries, and blah, blah, freaking blah…  Apart from the sheer absurdity of this trope on the basis of any sort of actual logic or fact, there remains this outstanding question:  Even if it was all true, who the hell cares?  If the planet winds up being destroyed, does it really matter whether in the preceding years one country’s GDP grew a half-percent slower than that of some other countries?  What’s that old line about deck chairs…?  Could there be any other accurate term for a belief system that so jeopardizes an entire planet than ‘death machine’?

We need to stop fooling around with this shit.  Smallpox is not just another disease.  Totalitarianism is not just another political system.  Nuclear war is not just another form of conflict.  And what calls itself ‘conservatism’ today is not just another form of legitimate, maybe-they’re-right-maybe-they’re-wrong, ideology.

All of these are life-threatening pathologies of epic proportion.  It’s bad enough that we have to expend so much energy to keep them at bay.  But, by treating conservatism and conservatives as reasonable and acceptable we not only legitimize the unspeakable, we massively enhance its likelihood of successfully killing us.

Today’s ‘conservatism’ is not an ideology – it’s a goddam death machine.  And we should welcome it into our homes and communities every bit as much as we would the Black Plague.