How Newt Gingrich Destroyed American Politics

by McKay Coppins, November 2018 Issue, The Atlantic

McKay Coppins is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of The Wilderness, a book about the battle over the of the Republican Party.

(Highlighting done by Phyllis Stenerson, website Editor)

Newt Gingrich is an important man, a man of refined tastes, accustomed to a certain lifestyle, and so when he visits the zoo, he does not merely stand with all the other patrons to look at the tortoises—he goes inside the tank.

On this particular afternoon in late March, the former speaker of the House can be found shuffling giddily around a damp, 90‑degree enclosure at the Philadelphia Zoo—a rumpled suit draped over his elephantine frame, plastic booties wrapped around his feet—as he tickles and strokes and paws at the giant shelled reptiles, declaring them “very cool.”

It’s a weird scene, and after a few minutes, onlookers begin to gather on the other side of the glass—craning their necks and snapping pictures with their phones and asking each other, Is that who I think it is? The attention would be enough to make a lesser man—say, a sweaty magazine writer who followed his subject into the tortoise tank for reasons that are now escaping him—grow self-conscious. But Gingrich, for whom all of this rather closely approximates a natural habitat, barely seems to notice.

A well-known animal fanatic, Gingrich was the one who suggested we meet at the Philadelphia Zoo. He used to come here as a kid, and has fond memories of family picnics on warm afternoons, gazing up at the giraffes and rhinos and dreaming of one day becoming a zookeeper. But we aren’t here just for the nostalgia.

“There is,” he explained soon after arriving, “a lot we can learn from the natural world.”

Since then, Gingrich has spent much of the day using zoo animals to teach me about politics and human affairs. In the reptile room, I learn that the evolutionary stability of the crocodile (“Ninety million years, and they haven’t changed much”) illustrates the folly of pursuing change for its own sake: “If you’re doing something right, keep doing it.”

Outside the lion pen, Gingrich treats me to a brief discourse on gender theory: “The male lion procreates, protects the pride, and sleeps. The females hunt, and as soon as they find something, the male knocks them over and takes the best portion. It’s the opposite of every American feminist vision of the world—but it’s a fact!”

But the most important lesson comes as we wander through Monkey Junction. Gingrich tells me about one of his favorite books, Chimpanzee Politics, in which the primatologist Frans de Waal documents the complex rivalries and coalitions that govern communities of chimps. De Waal’s thesis is that human politics, in all its brutality and ugliness, is “part of an evolutionary heritage we share with our close relatives”—and Gingrich clearly agrees.

For several minutes, he lectures me about the perils of failing to understand the animal kingdom. Disney, he says, has done us a disservice with whitewashed movies like The Lion King, in which friendly jungle cats get along with their zebra neighbors instead of attacking them and devouring their carcasses. And for all the famous feel-good photos of Jane Goodall interacting with chimps in the wild, he tells me, her later work showed that she was “horrified” to find her beloved creatures killing one another for sport, and feasting on baby chimps.

It is crucial, Gingrich says, that we humans see the animal kingdom from which we evolved for what it really is: “A very competitive, challenging world, at every level.”

As he pauses to catch his breath, I peer out over the sprawling primate reserve. Spider monkeys swing wildly from bar to bar on an elaborate jungle gym, while black-and-white lemurs leap and tumble over one another, and a hulking gorilla grunts in the distance.

At a loss for what to say, I start to mutter something about the viciousness of the animal world—but Gingrich cuts me off. “It’s not viciousness,” he corrects me, his voice suddenly stern. “It’s natural.”

There’s something about Newt Gingrich that seems to capture the spirit of America circa 2018. With his immense head and white mop of hair; his cold, boyish grin; and his high, raspy voice, he has the air of a late-empire Roman senator—a walking bundle of appetites and excesses and hubris and wit. In conversation, he toggles unnervingly between grandiose pronouncements about “Western civilization” and partisan cheap shots that seem tailored for cable news. It’s a combination of self-righteousness and smallness, of pomposity and pettiness, that personifies the decadence of this era.

In the clamorous story of Donald Trump’s Washington, it would be easy to mistake Gingrich for a minor character. A loyal Trump ally in 2016, Gingrich forwent a high-powered post in the administration and has instead spent the years since the election cashing in on his access—churning out books (three Trump hagiographies, one spy thriller), working the speaking circuit (where he commands as much as $75,000 per talk for his insights on the president), and popping up on Fox News as a paid contributor. He spends much of his time in Rome, where his wife, Callista, serves as Trump’s ambassador to the Vatican and where, he likes to boast, “We have yet to find a bad restaurant.”

But few figures in modern history have done more than Gingrich to lay the groundwork for Trump’s rise. During his two decades in Congress, he pioneered a style of partisan combat—replete with name-calling, conspiracy theories, and strategic obstructionism—that poisoned America’s political culture and plunged Washington into permanent dysfunction. Gingrich’s career can perhaps be best understood as a grand exercise in devolution—an effort to strip American politics of the civilizing traits it had developed over time and return it to its most primal essence.

When I ask him how he views his legacy, Gingrich takes me on a tour of a Western world gripped by crisis. In Washington, chaos reigns as institutional authority crumbles. Throughout America, right-wing Trumpites and left-wing resisters are treating midterm races like calamitous fronts in a civil war that must be won at all costs. And in Europe, populist revolts are wreaking havoc in capitals across the Continent.

Twenty-five years after engineering the Republican Revolution, Gingrich can draw a direct line from his work in Congress to the upheaval now taking place around the globe. But as he surveys the wreckage of the modern political landscape, he is not regretful. He’s gleeful.

“The old order is dying,” he tells me. “Almost everywhere you have freedom, you have a very deep discontent that the system isn’t working.”

And that’s a good thing? I ask.

“It’s essential,” he says, “if you want Western civilization to survive.”

On June 24, 1978, Gingrich stood to address a gathering of College Republicans at a Holiday Inn near the Atlanta airport. It was a natural audience for him. At 35, he was more youthful-looking than the average congressional candidate, with fashionably robust sideburns and a cool-professor charisma that had made him one of the more popular faculty members at West Georgia College.

But Gingrich had not come to deliver an academic lecture to the young activists before him—he had come to foment revolution.

“One of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty,” he told the group. “We encourage you to be neat, obedient, and loyal, and faithful, and all those Boy Scout words, which would be great around the campfire but are lousy in politics.”

For their party to succeed, Gingrich went on, the next generation of Republicans would have to learn to “raise hell,” to stop being so “nice,” to realize that politics was, above all, a cutthroat “war for power”—and to start acting like it.

The speech received little attention at the time. Gingrich was, after all, an obscure, untenured professor whose political experience consisted of two failed congressional bids. But when, a few months later, he was finally elected to the House of Representatives on his third try, he went to Washington a man obsessed with becoming the kind of leader he had described that day in Atlanta.

The GOP was then at its lowest point in modern history. Scores of Republican lawmakers had been wiped out in the aftermath of Watergate, and those who’d survived seemed, to Gingrich, sadly resigned to a “permanent minority” mind-set. “It was like death,” he recalls of the mood in the caucus. “They were morally and psychologically shattered.”

But Gingrich had a plan. The way he saw it, Republicans would never be able to take back the House as long as they kept compromising with the Democrats out of some high-minded civic desire to keep congressional business humming along. His strategy was to blow up the bipartisan coalitions that were essential to legislating, and then seize on the resulting dysfunction to wage a populist crusade against the institution of Congress itself. “His idea,” says Norm Ornstein, a political scientist who knew Gingrich at the time, “was to build toward a national election where people were so disgusted by Washington and the way it was operating that they would throw the ins out and bring the outs in.”

Gingrich recruited a cadre of young bomb throwers—a group of 12 congressmen he christened the Conservative Opportunity Society—and together they stalked the halls of Capitol Hill, searching for trouble and TV cameras. Their emergence was not, at first, greeted with enthusiasm by the more moderate Republican leadership. They were too noisy, too brash, too hostile to the old guard’s cherished sense of decorum. They even looked different—sporting blow-dried pompadours while their more camera-shy elders smeared Brylcreem on their comb-overs.

Gingrich and his cohort showed little interest in legislating, a task that had heretofore been seen as the primary responsibility of elected legislators. Bob Livingston, a Louisiana Republican who had been elected to Congress a year before Gingrich, marveled at the way the hard-charging Georgian rose to prominence by ignoring the traditional path taken by new lawmakers. “My idea was to work within the committee structure, take care of my district, and just pay attention to the legislative process,” Livingston told me. “But Newt came in as a revolutionary.”

For revolutionary purposes, the House of Representatives was less a governing body than an arena for conflict and drama. And Gingrich found ways to put on a show. He recognized an opportunity in the newly installed C-span cameras, and began delivering tirades against Democrats to an empty chamber, knowing that his remarks would be beamed to viewers across the country.

As his profile grew, Gingrich took aim at the moderates in his own party—calling Bob Dole the “tax collector for the welfare state”—and baited Democratic leaders with all manner of epithet and insult: pro-communist, un-American, tyrannical. In 1984, one of his floor speeches prompted a red-faced eruption from Speaker Tip O’Neill, who said of Gingrich’s attacks, “It’s the lowest thing that I’ve ever seen in my 32 years in Congress!” The episode landed them both on the nightly news, and Gingrich, knowing the score, declared victory. “I am now a famous person,” he gloated to The Washington Post.

It’s hard to overstate just how radical these actions were at the time. Although Congress had been a volatile place during periods of American history—with fistfights and canings and representatives bellowing violent threats at one another—by the middle of the 20th century, lawmakers had largely coalesced around a stabilizing set of norms and traditions. Entrenched committee chairs may have dabbled in petty corruption, and Democratic leaders may have pushed around the Republican minority when they were in a pinch, but as a rule, comity reigned. “Most members still believed in the idea that the Framers had in mind,” says Thomas Mann, a scholar who studies Congress. “They believed in genuine deliberation and compromise … and they had institutional loyalty.”

This ethos was perhaps best embodied by Republican Minority Leader Bob Michel, an amiable World War II veteran known around Washington for his aversion to swearing—doggone it and by Jiminy were fixtures of his vocabulary—as well as his penchant for carpooling and golfing with Democratic colleagues. Michel was no liberal, but he believed that the best way to serve conservatism, and his country, was by working honestly with Democratic leaders—pulling legislation inch by inch to the right when he could, and protecting the good faith that made aisle-crossing possible.

Gingrich was unimpressed by Michel’s conciliatory approach. “He represented a culture which had been defeated consistently,” he recalls. More important, Gingrich intuited that the old dynamics that had produced public servants like Michel were crumbling. Tectonic shifts in American politics—particularly around issues of race and civil rights—had triggered an ideological sorting between the two parties. Liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats (two groups that had been well represented in Congress) were beginning to vanish, and with them, the cross-party partnerships that had fostered cooperation.

This polarization didn’t originate with Gingrich, but he took advantage of it, as he set out to circumvent the old power structures and build his own. Rather than letting the party bosses in Washington decide which candidates deserved institutional support, he took control of a group called gopac and used it to recruit and train an army of mini-Newts to run for office.

Gingrich hustled to keep his cause—and himself—in the press. “If you’re not in The Washington Post every day, you might as well not exist,” he told one reporter. His secret to capturing headlines was simple, he explained to supporters: “The No. 1 fact about the news media is they love fights … When you give them confrontations, you get attention; when you get attention, you can educate.”

Effective as these tactics were in the short term, they had a corrosive effect on the way Congress operated. “Gradually, it went from legislating, to the weaponization of legislating, to the permanent campaign, to the permanent war,” Mann says. “It’s like he took a wrecking ball to the most powerful and influential legislature in the world.”

But Gingrich looks back with pride on the transformations he set in motion. “Noise became a proxy for status,” he tells me. And no one was noisier than Newt.

We are in the petting zoo, examining the goats, when Gingrich decides to tell me about the moment he first glimpsed his destiny as one of history’s great men.

It was 1958, and he was 15 years old. His family was visiting Verdun, a small city in northeastern France where 300,000 people had been killed during World War I. The battlefield was still scarred by cannon fire, and young Newt spent the day wandering around, taking in the details. He found a rusted helmet on the ground, saw the ossuary where the bones of dead soldiers were piled high. “I realized countries can die,” he says—and he decided it would be up to him to make sure that America didn’t.

This is an important scene in the Newt Gingrich creation myth, and he has turned to it repeatedly over the years to satisfy journalists and biographers searching for a “Rosebud” moment. But the rest of Gingrich’s childhood may be just as instructive. His mother struggled with manic depression, and spent much of her adult life in a fog of medication. His stepfather was a brooding, violent man who showed little affection for “Newtie,” the pudgy, flat-footed, bookish boy his wife had foisted upon him. Gingrich moved around a lot and had few friends his age; he spent more time alone in his room reading books about dinosaurs than he did playing with the neighborhood kids.

But this is not the stuff Gingrich likes to talk about. When asked, he describes his childhood as ordinary, even “idyllic,” allowing only glimpses of the full picture when you press him for details. Those family picnics at the zoo that he has been reminiscing about all day? They weren’t with his parents, it turns out, but his aunts, who were looking for ways to make their lonely nephew happy.

“People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz,” Gingrich once told a reporter.

It was in Verdun that Gingrich found an identity, a sense of purpose. “I decided then that I basically had three jobs,” he tells me. “Figure out what we had to do to survive”—the we here being proponents of Western civilization, the threats being vague and unspecified—“figure out how to explain it so that the American people would give us permission, and figure out how to implement it once they gave us permission. That’s what I’ve done since August of ’58.”

The next year, Gingrich turned in a 180-page term paper about the balance of global power, and announced to his teacher that his family was moving to Georgia, where he planned to start a Republican Party in the then–heavily Democratic state and get himself elected to Congress.

Gingrich immersed himself in war histories and dystopian fiction and books about techno-futurism—and as the years went on, he became fixated on the idea that he was a world-historic hero. He has described himself as a “transformational figure” and “the most serious, systematic revolutionary of modern times.” To one reporter, he declared, “I want to shift the entire planet. And I’m doing it.” To another, he said, “People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz.”

As Gingrich tells me about his epiphany in Verdun, a man in a baseball cap approaches us in full fanboy mode. “Newt Gingrich!” he exclaims. “Good to see you, man. I love you on Fox.”

“Thank you,” Gingrich replies. “Please keep watching.”

This has been happening all day—fans coming up to request selfies, or to shake his hand, or to thank him for his work in “draining the swamp.” It’s a reminder that to a certain swath of America, Gingrich is not some washed-up partisan hack; he’s a towering statesman, a visionary hero, the man he set out to be.

After the superfan leaves, I make a passing observation about how many admirers Gingrich has at the zoo.

“I think you’d be surprised,” he tells me, his voice dripping with condescension. “You get outside of Washington and New York and there are an amazing number of people like this who show up.”

By 1988, Gingrich’s plan to conquer Congress via sabotage was well under way. As his national profile had risen, so too had his influence within the Republican caucus—his original quorum of 12 disciples having expanded to dozens of sharp-elbowed House conservatives who looked to him for guidance.

Gingrich encouraged them to go after their enemies with catchy, alliterative nicknames—“Daffy Dukakis,” “the loony left”—and schooled them in the art of partisan blood sport. Through gopac, he sent out cassette tapes and memos to Republican candidates across the country who wanted to “speak like Newt,” providing them with carefully honed attack lines and creating, quite literally, a new vocabulary for a generation of conservatives. One memo, titled “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” included a list of recommended words to use in describing Democrats: sick, pathetic, lie, anti-flag, traitors, radical, corrupt.

“People started asking, ‘Who’s the meanest, nastiest son of a bitch we can get to fight back?’ And, of course, that was Newt Gingrich.”

The goal was to reframe the boring policy debates in Washington as a national battle between good and evil, white hats versus black—a fight for the very soul of America. Through this prism, any news story could be turned into a wedge. Woody Allen had an affair with his partner’s adoptive daughter? “It fits the Democratic Party platform perfectly,” Gingrich declared. A deranged South Carolina woman murdered her two children? A symptom of a “sick” society, Gingrich intoned—and “the only way you can get change is to vote Republican.”

Gingrich was not above mining the darkest reaches of the right-wing fever swamps for material. When Vince Foster, a staffer in the Clinton White House, committed suicide, Gingrich publicly flirted with fringe conspiracy theories that suggested he had been assassinated. “He took these things that were confined to the margins of the conservative movement and mainstreamed them,” says David Brock, who worked as a conservative journalist at the time, covering the various Clinton scandals, before later becoming a Democratic operative. “What I think he saw was the potential for using them to throw sand in the gears of Clinton’s ability to govern.”

Despite his growing grassroots following, Gingrich remained unpopular among a certain contingent of congressional Republicans, who were scandalized by his tactics. But that started to change when Democrats elected Texas Congressman Jim Wright as speaker. Whereas Tip O’Neill had been known for working across party lines, Wright came off as gruff and power-hungry—and his efforts to sideline the Republican minority enraged even many of the GOP’s mild-mannered moderates. “People started asking, ‘Who’s the meanest, nastiest son of a bitch we can get to fight back?’ ” recalls Mickey Edwards, a Republican who was then representing Oklahoma in the House. “And, of course, that was Newt Gingrich.”

Gingrich unleashed a smear campaign aimed at taking Wright down. He reportedly circulated unsupported rumors about a scandal involving a teenage congressional page, and tried to tie Wright to shady foreign-lobbying practices. Finally, one allegation gained traction—that Wright had used $60,000 in book royalties to evade limits on outside income. Watergate, this was not. But it was enough to force Wright’s resignation, and hand Gingrich the scalp he so craved.

The episode cemented Gingrich’s status as the de facto leader of the GOP in Washington. Heading into the 1994 midterms, he rallied Republicans around the idea of turning Election Day into a national referendum. On September 27, more than 300 candidates gathered outside the Capitol to sign the “Contract With America,” a document of Gingrich’s creation that outlined 10 bills Republicans promised to pass if they took control of the House.

“Today, on these steps, we offer this contract as a first step towards renewing American civilization,” Gingrich proclaimed.

While candidates fanned out across the country to campaign on the contract, Gingrich and his fellow Republican leaders in Congress held fast to their strategy of gridlock. As Election Day approached, they maneuvered to block every piece of legislation they could—even those that might ordinarily have received bipartisan support, like a lobbying-reform bill—on the theory that voters would blame Democrats for the paralysis.

Pundits, aghast at the brazenness of the strategy, predicted backlash from voters—but few seemed to notice. Even some Republicans were surprised by what they were getting away with. Bill Kristol, then a GOP strategist, marveled at the success of his party’s “principled obstructionism.” An up-and-coming senator named Mitch McConnell was quoted crowing that opposing the Democrats’ agenda “gives gridlock a good name.” When the 103rd Congress adjourned in October, The Washington Post declared it “perhaps the worst Congress” in 50 years.

Yet Gingrich’s plan worked. By the time voters went to the polls, exit surveys revealed widespread frustration with Congress and a deep appetite for change. Republicans achieved one of the most sweeping electoral victories in modern American history. They picked up 54 seats in the House and seized state legislatures and governorships across the country; for the first time in 40 years, the GOP took control of both houses of Congress.

On election night, Republicans packed into a ballroom in the Atlanta suburbs, waving placards that read liberals, your time is up! and sporting rush limbaugh for president T‑shirts. The band played “Happy Days Are Here Again” and Gingrich—the next speaker of the House, the new philosopher-king of the Republican Party—took the stage to raucous cheers.

With victory in hand, Gingrich did his best to play the statesman, saying he would “reach out to every Democrat who wants to work with us” and promising to be “speaker of the House, not speaker of the Republican Party.”

But the true spirit of the Republican Revolution was best captured by the event’s emcee, a local talk-radio host in Atlanta who had hitched his star to the Newt wagon early on. Grinning out at the audience, he announced that a package had just arrived at the White House with some Tylenol in it.

President Clinton, joked Sean Hannity, was about to “feel the pain.”

The freshman Republicans who entered Congress in January 1995 were lawmakers created in the image of Newt: young, confrontational, and determined to inflict radical change on Washington.

Gingrich encouraged this revolutionary zeal, quoting Thomas Paine—“We have it in our power to begin the world over again”—and working to instill a conviction among his followers that they were political gate-crashers, come to leave their dent on American history. What Gingrich didn’t tell them—or perhaps refused to believe himself—was that in Congress, history is seldom made without consensus-building and horse-trading. From the creation of interstate highways to the passage of civil-rights legislation, the most significant, lasting acts of Congress have been achieved by lawmakers who deftly maneuver through the legislative process and work with members of both parties.

On January 4, Speaker Gingrich gaveled Congress into session, and promptly got to work transforming America. Over the next 100 days, he and his fellow Republicans worked feverishly to pass bills with names that sounded like they’d come from Republican Mad Libs—the American Dream Restoration Act, the Taking Back Our Streets Act, the Fiscal Responsibility Act. But when the dust settled, America didn’t look all that different. Almost all of the House’s big-ticket bills got snuffed out in the Senate, or died by way of presidential veto.

Instead, the most enduring aspects of Gingrich’s speakership would be his tactical innovations. Determined to keep Republicans in power, Gingrich reoriented the congressional schedule around filling campaign war chests, shortening the official work week to three days so that members had time to dial for dollars. From 1994 to 1998, Republicans raised an unprecedented $1 billion, and ushered in a new era of money in politics.

Gingrich’s famous budget battles with Bill Clinton in 1995 gave way to another great partisan invention: the weaponized government shutdown. There had been federal funding lapses before, but they tended to be minor affairs that lasted only a day or two. Gingrich’s shutdown, by contrast, furloughed hundreds of thousands of government workers for several weeks at Christmastime, so Republicans could use their paychecks as a bartering chip in negotiations with the White House. The gambit was a bust—voters blamed the GOP for the crisis, and Gingrich was castigated in the press—but it ensured that the shutdown threat would loom over every congressional standoff from that point on.

There were real accomplishments during Gingrich’s speakership, too—a tax cut, a bipartisan health-care deal, even a balanced federal budget—and for a time, truly historic triumphs seemed within reach. Over the course of several secret meetings at the White House in the fall of 1997, Gingrich told me, he and Clinton sketched out plans for a center-right coalition that would undertake big, challenging projects such as a wholesale reform of Social Security.

But by then, the poisonous politics Gingrich had injected into Washington’s bloodstream had escaped his control. So when the stories started coming out in early 1998—the ones about the president and the intern, the cigar and the blue dress—and the party faithful were clamoring for Clinton’s head on a pike, and Gingrich’s acolytes in the House were stomping their feet and crying for blood … well, he knew what he had to do.

This is “the most systematic, deliberate obstruction-of-justice cover-up and effort to avoid the truth we have ever seen in American history!” Gingrich declared of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, pledging that he would keep banging the drum until Clinton was impeached. “I will never again, as long as I am speaker, make a speech without commenting on this topic.”

As speaker, Gingrich reoriented the congressional schedule around filling campaign war chests, shortening the official work week to three days so that members had time to dial for dollars. (Amy Lombard)

Never mind that Republicans had no real chance of getting the impeachment through the Senate. Removing the president wasn’t the point; this was an opportunity to humiliate the Democrats. Politics was a “war for power,” just as Gingrich had prophesied all those years ago—and he wasn’t about to give up the fight.

The rest is immortalized in the history books that line Gingrich’s library. The GOP’s impeachment crusade backfired with voters, Republicans lost seats in the House—and Gingrich was driven out of his job by the same bloodthirsty brigade he’d helped elect. “I’m willing to lead,” he sniffed on his way out the door, “but I’m not willing to preside over people who are cannibals.”

The great irony of Gingrich’s rise and reign is that, in the end, he did fundamentally transform America—just not in the ways he’d hoped. He thought he was enshrining a new era of conservative government. In fact, he was enshrining an attitude—angry, combative, tribal—that would infect politics for decades to come.

In the years since he left the House, Gingrich has only doubled down. When GOP leaders huddled at a Capitol Hill steak house on the night of President Barack Obama’s inauguration, Gingrich was there to advocate a strategy of complete obstruction. And when Senator Ted Cruz led a mob of Tea Party torchbearers in shutting down the government over Obamacare, Gingrich was there to argue that shutdowns are “a normal part of the constitutional process.”

Mickey Edwards, the Oklahoma Republican, who served in the House for 16 years, told me he believes Gingrich is responsible for turning Congress into a place where partisan allegiance is prized above all else. He noted that during Watergate, President Richard Nixon was forced to resign only because leaders of his own party broke ranks to hold him accountable—a dynamic Edwards views as impossible in the post-Gingrich era. “He created a situation where you now stand with your party at all costs and at all times, no matter what,” Edwards said. “Our whole system in America is based on the Madisonian idea of power checking power. Newt has been a big part of eroding that.”

But when I ask Gingrich what he thinks of the notion that he played a part in toxifying Washington, he bristles. “I took everything the Democrats had done brilliantly to dominate and taught Republicans how to do it,” he tells me. “Which made me a bad person because when Republicans dominate, it must be bad.” He adopts a singsong whine to imitate his critics in the political establishment: “ ‘Oh, the mean, nasty Republicans actually got to win, and we hate it, because we’re a Democratic city, our real estate’s based on big government, and the value of my house will go down if they balance the budget.’ That’s the heart of this.”

These days, Gingrich seems to be revising his legacy in real time—shifting the story away from the ideological sea change that his populist disruption was supposed to enable, and toward the act of populist disruption itself. He places his own rise to power and Trump’s in the same grand American narrative. There have been four great political “waves” in the past half century, he tells me: “Goldwater, Reagan, Gingrich, then Trump.” But when I press him to explain what connects those four “waves” philosophically, the best he can do is say they were all “anti-liberal.”

Political scientists who study our era of extreme polarization will tell you that the driving force behind American politics today is not actually partisanship, but negative partisanship—that is, hatred of the other team more than loyalty to one’s own. Gingrich’s speakership was both a symptom and an accelerant of that phenomenon.

On December 19, 1998, Gingrich cast his final vote as a congressman—a vote to impeach Bill Clinton for lying under oath about an affair. By the time it was revealed that the ex-speaker had been secretly carrying on an illicit relationship with a young congressional aide named Callista throughout his impeachment crusade, almost no one was surprised.* This was, after all, the same man who had famously been accused by his first wife (whom he’d met as a teenager, when she was his geometry teacher) of trying to discuss divorce terms when she was in the hospital recovering from tumor-removal surgery, the same man who had for a time reportedly restricted his extramarital dalliances to oral sex so that he could claim he’d never slept with another woman. (Gingrich declined to comment on these allegations.)

Detractors could call it hypocrisy if they wanted; Gingrich might not even argue. (“It doesn’t matter what I do,” he once rationalized, according to one of his ex-wives. “People need to hear what I have to say.”) But if he had taught America one lesson, it was that any sin could be absolved, any trespass forgiven, as long as you picked the right targets and swung at them hard enough.

When Gingrich’s personal life became an issue during his short-lived presidential campaign in 2012, he knew just who to swing at. Asked during a primary debate about an allegation that he’d requested an open marriage with his second wife, Gingrich took a deep breath, gathered all the righteous indignation he could muster, and let loose one of the most remarkable—and effective—non sequiturs in the history of campaign rhetoric: “I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office—and I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.”

The CNN moderator grew flustered, the audience erupted in a standing ovation, and a few days later, the voters of South Carolina delivered Gingrich a decisive victory in the Republican primary.

Gingrich says there have been four great political “waves” in the past half century: “Goldwater, Reagan, Gingrich, then Trump.” (Amy Lombard)

After a few hours at the zoo, Gingrich is ready for the next leg of our field trip, so we squeeze into the back of a black SUV and start driving across town toward the Academy of Natural Sciences, where there are some “really neat” dinosaur fossils he would like to show me.

One of the hard things about talking with Gingrich is that he weaves partisan attack lines into casual conversation so matter-of-factly—and so frequently—that after a while they begin to take on a white-noise quality. He will say something like “I mean, the party of socialism and anti-Semitism is probably not very desirable as a governing party,” and you won’t bother challenging him, or fact-checking him, or arching an eyebrow—in fact, you might not even notice. His smarter-than-thou persona seems so impenetrable, his mind so unchangeable, that after a while you just give up on anything approaching a regular human conversation.

But the zoo appears to have put Gingrich in high spirits, and for the first time all day, he seems relaxed, loose, even a little gossipy. Slurping from a McDonald’s cup as we ride through the streets of Philadelphia, he shares stray observations from the 2016 campaign trail—Trump really is a fast-food obsessive, Gingrich confides, but “I’m told they currently have him on a diet”—and tosses in a bit of Clinton concern-trolling for good measure.

“I’ve known Hillary since ’93. I think it would be extraordinarily hard to be married to Bill Clinton and lose twice,” he tells me. “It reinforces the whole sense that he was the real deal and she wasn’t.” Alas, he says, it’s been sad to see his old friend resort to bitter recriminations since her defeat. “The way she is handling it is self-destructive.”

It is difficult to identify any coherent set of ideas animating Gingrich’s support for the president.

When Trump first began thinking seriously about running for president, he turned to Gingrich for advice. The two men had known each other for years—the Gingriches were members of Trump’s golf club in Virginia—and one morning in January 2015 they found themselves in Des Moines, Iowa, for a conservative conference. Over breakfast at the downtown Marriott, Trump peppered Newt and Callista with questions about running for president—most pressingly, how much it would cost him to fund a campaign through the South Carolina primary. Gingrich estimated that it would take about $70 million or $80 million to be competitive.

As Gingrich tells it, Trump considered this and then replied, “Seventy to 80 million—that would be a yacht. This would be a lot more fun than a yacht!”

And so began the campaign that Gingrich would call “a watershed moment for America’s future.” Early on, Gingrich set himself apart from other prominent conservatives by talking up Trump’s candidacy on TV and defending him against attacks from the GOP establishment. “Newt watched the Trump phenomenon take hold and metastasize, and he saw the parallels” to his own rise, says Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to the president who worked with Gingrich in the 1990s. “He recognized the echoes of ‘You can’t do this, this is a joke, you’re unelectable, don’t even try, you should be bowing to the people who have credentials.’ Newt had heard that all before.” Trump’s response—to cast all his skeptics as part of the same corrupt class of insiders and crooks—borrowed from the strategy Gingrich had modeled, Conway told me: “Long before there was ‘Drain the swamp,’ there was Newt’s ‘Throw the bums out.’ ”

Once Trump clinched the nomination, he rewarded Gingrich by putting him on the vice-presidential short list. For a while it looked like it might really happen. Gingrich had the support of influential inner-circlers like Sean Hannity, who flew him out on a private jet to meet with Trump on the campaign trail. But alas, a Trump-Gingrich ticket was not to be. There were, it turned out, certain optical issues that would have proved difficult to spin. As Ed Rollins, who ran a pro-Trump super pac, put it at the time, “It’d be a ticket with six former wives, kind of like a Henry VIII thing.”

After Trump was elected, Gingrich’s name was floated for several high-profile administration posts. Eager to affirm his centrality in this hinge-of-history moment, he started publicly implying that he had turned down the job of secretary of state in favor of a sweeping, self-designed role with ambiguous responsibilities—“general planner,” he called it, or “senior planner,” or maybe “chief planner.”

In fact, according to a transition official, Gingrich had little interest in giving up his lucrative private-sector side hustles, and was never really in the running for a Cabinet position. Instead, he had two requests: that Trump’s team leak that he was being considered for high office, and that Callista, a lifelong Catholic, be named ambassador to the Holy See. (Gingrich disputes this account.)

The Vatican gig was widely coveted, and there was some concern that Callista’s public history of adultery would prompt the pope to reject her appointment. But the Gingriches were friendly with a number of American cardinals, and Callista’s nomination sailed through. In Washington, the appointment was seen as a testament to the self-parodic nature of the Trump era—but in Rome, the arrangement has worked surprisingly well. Robert Mickens, a longtime Vatican journalist, told me that Callista is generally viewed as the ceremonial face of the embassy, while Newt—who told me he talks to the White House 10 to 15 times a week—acts as the “shadow ambassador.”

“Donald Trump is the grizzly bear in The Revenant,” Gingrich once gushed. “If you get his attention, he will get awake … He will walk over, bite your face off, and sit on you.”

Meanwhile, back in the States, Gingrich got to work marketing himself as the premier public intellectual of the Trump era. Ever since he was a young congressman, he had labored to cultivate a cerebral image, often schlepping piles of books into meetings on Capitol Hill. As an exercise in self-branding, at least, the effort seems to have worked: When I sent an email asking Paul Ryan what he thought of Gingrich, he responded with a pro forma statement describing the former speaker as an “ideas guy” twice in the space of six sentences.

Yet wading through Gingrich’s various books, articles, and think-tank speeches about Trump, it is difficult to identify any coherent set of “ideas” animating his support for the president. He is not a natural booster for the economic nationalism espoused by people like Steve Bannon, nor does he seem particularly smitten with the isolationism Trump championed on the stump.

Instead, Gingrich seems drawn to Trump the larger-than-life leader—virile and masculine, dynamic and strong, brimming with “total energy” as he mows down every enemy in his path. “Donald Trump is the grizzly bear in The Revenant,” Gingrich gushed during a December 2016 speech on “The Principles of Trumpism” at the Heritage Foundation. “If you get his attention, he will get awake … He will walk over, bite your face off, and sit on you.”

In Trump, Gingrich has found the apotheosis of the primate politics he has been practicing his entire life—nasty, vicious, and unconcerned with those pesky “Boy Scout words” as he fights in the Darwinian struggle that is American life today. “Trump’s America and the post-American society that the anti-Trump coalition represents are incapable of coexisting,” Gingrich writes in his most recent book. “One will simply defeat the other. There is no room for compromise. Trump has understood this perfectly since day one.”

For much of 2018, Gingrich has been channeling his energies toward shaping the GOP’s midterm strategy—writing messaging memos and fielding phone calls from candidates across the country. (During one early-morning meeting a couple of months after our zoo trip, our conversation is repeatedly interrupted by Gingrich’s cellphone blaring the ’70s disco song “Dancing Queen,” his chosen ringtone.) Gingrich tells me he’s advising party leaders to “stick to really big themes” in their midterm messaging, and then offers the following as examples: “Tax cuts lead to economic growth”; “We need work rather than welfare”; “MS-13 is really bad.”

He predicts that if Democrats win back the House, they will try to impeach Trump—but he is bullish about the president’s chances of survival.

“The problem the Democrats are gonna have is really simple,” he tells me. “Everything they’re gonna charge Trump with will be irrelevant to most Americans.” He says that most of the “explosive revelations” that have come out of the Russia investigation are unintelligible to the average person. “You’re driving your kids to soccer, you’re worried about your mom in the nursing home, and you’re thinking about your job, and you’re going, This is Washington crap.”

I ask Gingrich whether he, as someone who follows Washington crap rather closely and does not have kids to drive to soccer, worries at all about the mounting evidence of coordination between Russians and the Trump campaign.

Gingrich guffaws. “The idea that you would worry about what [Michael] Cohen said, or what some porn star may or may not have done before she was arrested by the Cincinnati police”—he is revving up now, and his voice is getting higher—“I mean, this whole thing is a parody! I tell everybody: We live in the age of the Kardashians. This is all Kardashian politics. Noise followed by noise followed by hysteria followed by more noise, creating big enough celebrity status so you can sell the hats with your name on it and become a millionaire.”

This sounds like it’s intended as a criticism of our political culture, but given his loyalty to Trump—arguably the world’s most successful practitioner of “Kardashian politics”—I can’t quite tell. When I point out the apparent dissonance, Gingrich is ready with a counter.

“If you want to see genius, look at the hat,” he tells me. “What does the hat say?”

“Make America great again?” I respond.

Gingrich nods triumphantly, as though he’s just achieved checkmate. “It doesn’t say Donald Trump.”

A few hours after parting ways with Gingrich, I take my seat in a cavernous downtown-Philadelphia theater, where more than 2,000 people are waiting to hear him speak. The crowd of mostly white, mostly well-dressed attendees isn’t particularly partisan—the event is part of a lecture series that includes speakers like Gloria Steinem and Dave Barry—but at this moment of political upheaval, they seem eager to hear from a seasoned Washington insider.

Shortly after 8 o’clock, Gingrich takes the stage. “How many of you find what’s going on kind of confusing?” he asks. “Raise your hand.” Hundreds of hands go up, as laughter ripples across the theater. “Any of you who do not find this confusing,” he says, “are delusional.”

And yet, over the next 75 minutes, Gingrich doesn’t offer much clarity. Instead, he begins with a travelogue of his day at the zoo (“It was a wonderful break from that other zoo!”), and then lurches into a rambling story about the T. rex skull he used to display in his office when he was speaker. He reminisces about Time making him Man of the Year in 1995, and spends several minutes describing the technological advancements in private space travel, a favorite hobbyhorse of his. At one point, he pauses to lavish praise on the restaurant scene in Rome; at another, he simply starts listing impressive titles he has held over the course of his career.

From my seat in the balcony, I’m struck by how thoroughly Gingrich seems to be enjoying himself—not just onstage, but in the luxurious quasi-retirement he has carved out. He is dabbling in geopolitics, dining in fine Italian restaurants. When he feels like traveling, he crisscrosses the Atlantic in business class, opining on the issues of the day from bicontinental TV studios and giving speeches for $600 a minute. There is time for reading, and writing, and midday zoo trips—and even he will admit, “It’s a very fun life.” The world may be burning, but Newt Gingrich is enjoying the spoils.

As he nears the end of his remarks, Gingrich adopts a somber tone. “I will tell you,” he says, “I could never quite have imagined our political structure being as chaotic as it currently is … I could never quite have imagined the kind of political gridlock that we’ve gotten into.”

For a moment, it sounds almost as if Gingrich is on the brink of a confession—an acknowledgment of what he has wrought; an apology, perhaps, for setting us on this course. But it turns out he is just setting up an attack line aimed at congressional Democrats for opposing a Republican spending bill. I should have known.

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By the time Gingrich shuffles offstage, many in the audience seem to have lost patience with him. As we file out of the theater, I catch snippets of grumpy reviews: Waste of time … He didn’t even answer the questions … The last speaker was much better … One man grumbles, “I think that guy’s done more to fuck up our democracy than anyone.”

That may seem like an overly harsh assessment. But tomorrow morning, when these people turn on the news, they will see footage of a reckless president who ascended to the White House on the power of televised politics. In a few months, their airwaves will be polluted with nasty attack ads. They will read stories about partisan impeachment efforts, and looming government shutdowns, and lawmakers more adept at name-calling than passing legislation. And though he won’t be there to say it in person, Gingrich will be somewhere out in the world—at a trattoria along Via Veneto, or perched comfortably in a cable-news greenroom—thinking, You’re welcome.


This article appears in the November 2018 print edition with the headline “Newt Gingrich Says You’re Welcome.”

Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity By 2050 – Forbes

by Drew Hansen Contributor,  forbes.com, Feb 9, 2016, https://www.forbes.com/sites/drewhansen/2016/02/09/unless-it-changes-capitalism-will-starve-humanity-

Capitalism is unsustainable in its current form. …Even in the U.S., 15% of the population lives below the poverty line. For children under the age of 18, that number increases to 20% (see U.S. Census). The world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050 (see United Nations’ projections). How do we expect to feed that many people while we exhaust the resources that remain?…Human activities are behind the extinction crisis. Commercial agriculture, timber extraction, and infrastructure development are causing habitat loss and our reliance on

Capitalism has generated massive wealth for some, but it’s devastated the planet and has failed to improve human well-being at scale.

• Species are going extinct at a rate 1,000 times faster than that of the natural rate over the previous 65 million years (see Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School).

• Since 2000, 6 million hectares of prima• Since 2000, 6 million hectares of primary forest have been lost each year. That’s 14,826,322 acres, or just less than the entire state of West Virginia (see the 2010 assessment by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN).

• Even in the U.S., 15% of the population lives below the poverty line. For children under the age of 18, that number increases to 20% (see U.S. Census).

• The world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050 (see United Nations’ projections). How do we expect to feed that many people while we exhaust the resources that remain?

Human activities are behind the extinction crisis. Commercial agriculture, timber extraction, and infrastructure development are causing habitat loss and our reliance on fossil fuels is a major contributor to climate change.

Public corporations are responding to consumer demand and pressure from Wall Street. Professors Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg published Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations last fall, arguing that businesses are locked in a cycle of exploiting the world’s resources in ever more creative ways.

“Our book shows how large corporations are able to continue engaging in increasingly environmentally exploitative behaviour by obscuring the link between endless economic growth and worsening environmental destruction,” they wrote.

Yale sociologist Justin Farrell studied 20 years of corporate funding and found that “corporations have used their wealth to amplify contrarian views [of climate change] and create an impression of greater scientific uncertainty than actually exists.”

Corporate capitalism is committed to the relentless pursuit of growth, even if it ravages the planet and threatens human health.

We need to build a new system: one that will balance economic growth with sustainability and human flourishing…

The Increasing Importance Of Distributed Ownership And Governance…

Joint Ownership Will Lead To Collaborative Management

These are small steps toward a system that values the employee more than what the employee can produce. By giving employees a greater say in decision-making, corporations will make choices that ensure the future of the planet and its inhabitants.

 

Being LiberalUnless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity By 2050 by Drew Hansen Contributor,  forbes.com

Feb 9, 2016, https://www.forbes.com/sites/drewhansen/2016/02/09/unless-it-changes-capitalism-will-starve-humanity-by-2050/?fbclid=IwAR3Eo6HTzeZqCF2QJBMjbKwN_hp5i0X1vgMlBSJwWYF1D73lVR2rYoyDHqE#2f3a4baa7ccc

 

Capitalism is unsustainable in its current form. (Credit: ZINIYANGE AUNTONY/AFP/Getty Images)

Capitalism has generated massive wealth for some, but it’s devastated the planet and has failed to improve human well-being at scale.

• Species are going extinct at a rate 1,000 times faster than that of the natural rate over the previous 65 million years (see Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School).

• Since 2000, 6 million hectares of prima• Since 2000, 6 million hectares of primary forest have been lost each year. That’s 14,826,322 acres, or just less than the entire state of West Virginia (see the 2010 assessment by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN).

• Even in the U.S., 15% of the population lives below the poverty line. For children under the age of 18, that number increases to 20% (see U.S. Census).

• The world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050 (see United Nations’ projections).

How do we expect to feed that many people while we exhaust the resources that remain?

Human activities are behind the extinction crisis. Commercial agriculture, timber extraction, and infrastructure development are causing habitat loss and our reliance on fossil fuels is a major contributor to climate change.

Public corporations are responding to consumer demand and pressure from Wall Street. Professors Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg published Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations last fall, arguing that businesses are locked in a cycle of exploiting the world’s resources in ever more creative ways.

“Our book shows how large corporations are able to continue engaging in increasingly environmentally exploitative behaviour by obscuring the link between endless economic growth and worsening environmental destruction,” they wrote.

Yale sociologist Justin Farrell studied 20 years of corporate funding and found that “corporations have used their wealth to amplify contrarian views [of climate change] and create an impression of greater scientific uncertainty than actually exists.”

Corporate capitalism is committed to the relentless pursuit of growth, even if it ravages the planet and threatens human health.

We need to build a new system: one that will balance economic growth with sustainability and human flourishing.

A new generation of companies are showing the way forward. They’re infusing capitalism with fresh ideas, specifically in regards to employee ownership and agile management.

The Increasing Importance Of Distributed Ownership And Governance

Fund managers at global financial institutions own the majority (70%) of the public stock exchange. These absent owners have no stake in the communities in which the companies operate. Furthermore, management-controlled equity is concentrated in the hands of a select few: the CEO and other senior executives.

On the other hand, startups have been willing to distribute equity to employees. Sometimes such equity distribution is done to make up for less than competitive salaries, but more often it’s offered as a financial incentive to motivate employees toward building a successful company.

The central difference lies in ownership: whereas nobody is sure who owns public companies, startups go to great lengths to define who owns what. Early in a company’s life, the founders and first recruits own a majority stake—and they incentivise people with ownership stakes or performance-related rewards. That has always been true for startups, but today the rights and responsibilities are meticulously defined in contracts drawn up by lawyers. This aligns interests and creates a culture of hard work and camaraderie. Because they are private rather than public, they measure how they are doing using performance indicators (such as how many products they have produced) rather than elaborate accounting standards.

This trend hearkens back to cooperatives where employees collectively owned the enterprise and participated in management decisions through their voting rights. Mondragon is the oft-cited example of a successful, modern worker cooperative. Mondragon’s broad-based employee ownership is not the same as an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. With ownership comes a say – control – over the business. Their workers elect management, and management is responsible to the employees.

REI is a consumer cooperative that drew attention this past year when it opted out of Black Friday sales, encouraging its employees and customers to spend the day outside instead of shopping.

I suspect that the most successful companies under this emerging form of capitalism will have less concentrated, more egalitarian ownership structures. They will benefit not only financially but also communally.

Joint Ownership Will Lead To Collaborative Management

The hierarchical organization of modern corporations will give way to networks or communities that make collaboration paramount. Many options for more fluid, agile management structures could take hold.

For instance, newer companies are experimenting with alternative management models that seek to empower employees more than a traditional hierarchy typically does. Of these newer approaches, holacracy is the most widely known. It promises to bring structure and discipline to a peer-to-peer workplace.

Holacracy “is a new way of running an organization that removes power from a management hierarchy and distributes it across clear roles, which can then be executed autonomously, without a micromanaging boss.”

Companies like Zappos and Medium are in varying stages of implementing the management system.

Valve Software in Seattle goes even further, allowing employees to select which projects they want to work on. Employees then move their desks to the most conducive office area for collaborating with the project team.

These are small steps toward a system that values the employee more than what the employee can produce. By giving employees a greater say in decision-making, corporations will make choices that ensure the future of the planet and its inhabitants.

White Christian Nationalism — Not Secularism — Is Destroying America –

By Stephen Mattson, Sojourners,  2-04-2019

excerpt:

Tens of millions of Americans — and most of its elected leaders — claim to be Christian, and yet we’re a country that’s completely broken.

This is the state of our “Christian” nation: Our government isn’t working, and when it does it’s on behalf of behemoth corporations and influential lobbyists. Elected officials are openly racist, sexist, and xenophobic — without consequence. Police continue to kill people of color and jails have become a modernized form of slavery. The military is mired in endless violence throughout the world, participating in wars far beyond the interests of our citizenry, and defense contractors reap the profits. Teachers are underpaid, schools underfunded, and students underfed, but our president wants to spend billions on a wall he promised our country would never have to pay for…

American Christianity brought us to this point. It preached nationalism and sanctified American imperialism — promoting Manifest Destiny as ordained by God. The prosperity gospel baptized capitalistic greed, its preachers vilified the poor, and its theologians manipulated scripture to rationalize global colonialism... the gospel became a message of gaining social power and control rather than a call to follow Jesus’ life of selfless service and sacrifice... To protect and maintain this self-serving religion, populist propaganda related to abortion, gun control, patriotism, economic uncertainty, crime, and terrorism are used as dog-whistles to fearfully manipulate Christians away from Jesus’ message of love towards one of exclusion…This isn’t new. The origins of Christianity in American are stained with genocide and enslavement. White Christendom’s legacy is one of moral failure and intentional evil, consistently being on the wrong side of history. But by refusing to acknowledge its past or educate current parishioners, the white church has attempted to minimize its role. With few exceptions, its built up a self-immunity to guilt, awareness, and dialogue, and any such attempt to confront its past and present failings is dismissed as “radical liberalism,” “progressive partisan rhetoric,” or “cynical complaining.” The pain and trauma caused by all of this cannot be overstated, yet white American Christianity relies on apathy, avoidance, and outright denial in its efforts to preserve its self-righteousness.

When their privileged status quo was recently threatened by the election of a black president, the rise of new civil rights movements, and the empowerment of traditionally maligned segments of society, a massive culture war pitted weakening religious factions against populations they no longer “controlled.”

So when LGBTQ individuals, people of color, immigrants, refugees, “foreigners,” Muslims, and others faced societal injustices, the white church not only was largely absent from defending them, but it was complicit to their persecution. Instead, it was secular institutions and organizations that fought for equal rights and empowerment, doing unto others what the church didn’t.

To maintain their economic, political, and social majority of white Christian nationalism, moral arguments and “biblical truth” once used to bash previous political opponents no longer applied. Truth is now relative, and God is used as a religious construct to push partisan agendas—no matter how anti-Christian they are…

The crises we’re currently facing was directly created by —and for the benefit of — the white American church… this is a call to confront the broken system that is Colonial Christianity. Violent, abusive, racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, ignorant, corrupt, and legalistic, it looks nothing like Christ….Because this is what following Christ is: “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27), and to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:36-40).” So for the love of God and others, give up on Trump and start following Jesus — and abandon any form of Christianity that refuses to do so.

Stephen Mattson Stephen Mattson is the author of The Great Reckoning: Surviving a Christianity That Looks Nothing Like Christ. You can follow him on Twitter (@mikta) or on Facebook.

Commentary  - Full text

White Christian Nationalism — Not Secularism — Is Destroying America

By Stephen Mattson 2-04-2019  

Tens of millions of Americans — and most of its elected leaders — claim to be Christian, and yet we’re a country that’s completely broken.

This is the state of our “Christian” nation: Our government isn’t working, and when it does it’s on behalf of behemoth corporations and influential lobbyists. Elected officials are openly racist, sexist, and xenophobic — without consequence. Police continue to kill people of color and jails have become a modernized form of slavery. The military is mired in endless violence throughout the world, participating in wars far beyond the interests of our citizenry, and defense contractors reap the profits. Teachers are underpaid, schools underfunded, and students underfed, but our president wants to spend billions on a wall he promised our country would never have to pay for.

Despite mass shootings that have killed innocent lives, politicians have represented corporate interests at the expense of public safety, and though white American males are the predominant facilitators of these heinous crimes, partisan rhetoric — in spite of data, factual research, and truth itself — insists that immigrants, refugees, and “foreigners” are the real culprits.

American Christianity brought us to this point. It preached nationalism and sanctified American imperialism — promoting Manifest Destiny as ordained by God. The prosperity gospel baptized capitalistic greed, its preachers vilified the poor, and its theologians manipulated scripture to rationalize global colonialism. Salvation was no longer personified through Jesus, but was redesigned to be a political machine, fueled by its ability to control branches of government. This methodology was packaged as “Christianity,” and the gospel became a message of gaining social power and control rather than a call to follow Jesus’ life of selfless service and sacrifice.

The American church fell into the same failings as the Pharisees of old: obsessed with their holy scripture while completely ignoring the loving God it was intended to direct them to. Instead of focusing on Jesus, it propped itself up as its own deity — ruling, controlling, and judging according to loveless and legalistic doctrines. To protect and maintain this self-serving religion, populist propaganda related to abortion, gun control, patriotism, economic uncertainty, crime, and terrorism are used as dog-whistles to fearfully manipulate Christians away from Jesus’ message of love towards one of exclusion.

Flee from cross-laden buildings that excrete sexism, escape from cultish partisan rhetoric that spews racism and fosters xenophobia, and free yourself from bigoted communities that espouse hate.

This isn’t new. The origins of Christianity in American are stained with genocide and enslavement. White Christendom’s legacy is one of moral failure and intentional evil, consistently being on the wrong side of history. But by refusing to acknowledge its past or educate current parishioners, the white church has attempted to minimize its role. With few exceptions, its built up a self-immunity to guilt, awareness, and dialogue, and any such attempt to confront its past and present failings is dismissed as “radical liberalism,” “progressive partisan rhetoric,” or “cynical complaining.” The pain and trauma caused by all of this cannot be overstated, yet white American Christianity relies on apathy, avoidance, and outright denial in its efforts to preserve its self-righteousness.

When their privileged status quo was recently threatened by the election of a black president, the rise of new civil rights movements, and the empowerment of traditionally maligned segments of society, a massive culture war pitted weakening religious factions against populations they no longer “controlled.” Politically, many white Christians rallied around a man who personifies the American Idol of Nationalism, Populism, and Greed, and they enthusiastically preferred the rallying cry of “Make America Great Again” over the wisdom of “loving your neighbor as yourself.”

So when LGBTQ individuals, people of color, immigrants, refugees, “foreigners,” Muslims, and others faced societal injustices, the white church not only was largely absent from defending them, but it was complicit to their persecution. Instead, it was secular institutions and organizations that fought for equal rights and empowerment, doing unto others what the church didn’t.

To maintain their economic, political, and social majority of white Christian nationalism, moral arguments and “biblical truth” once used to bash previous political opponents no longer applied. Truth is now relative, and God is used as a religious construct to push partisan agendas—no matter how anti-Christian they are. To appear spiritually legitimate, a few church leaders and pastors would be required to support this charade, and to promote their own carnal desires and quell their worldly fears, to placate their parishioners and pander to their desires, this is exactly what many Christians did — and they continue to do so.

The crises we’re currently facing was directly created by —and for the benefit of — the white American church. It’s lost the right to pander moral clichés or offer spiritual platitudes to problems it produced, even though it will inevitably continue to do so.

This isn’t a plea to return to the church or give “Christianity” another chance, this is a call to confront the broken system that is Colonial Christianity. Violent, abusive, racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, ignorant, corrupt, and legalistic, it looks nothing like Christ.

In the face of such injustices, Jesus became furious and overturned tables. He drove out the moneychangers and condemned the spiritual leaders of his day. We must now do the same, and drive out the many forms of “Christianity” that are oppressive and loveless.

If you can’t fight these forms of destructive “Christianity,” run. Flee from cross-laden buildings that excrete sexism, escape from cultish partisan rhetoric that spews racism and fosters xenophobia, and free yourself from bigoted communities that espouse hate.

If Christianity would rather build a wall to exclude migrants and asylum seekers instead of lovingly accept them, ditch it and don’t look back. If Christian leaders would rather deport their neighbors rather than generously accept them, have nothing to do with them. Because this is what following Christ is: “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27), and to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:36-40).” So for the love of God and others, give up on Trump and start following Jesus — and abandon any form of Christianity that refuses to do so.

Stephen Mattson - Stephen Mattson is the author of The Great Reckoning: Surviving a Christianity That Looks Nothing Like Christ. You can follow him on Twitter (@mikta) or on Facebook.

 

 

 

The Powell Memo: A Call-to-Arms for Corporations

The Powell Memo: A Call-to-Arms for Corporations, Moyers & Company, September 14, 2012

(bolding of text to draw readers to highlights done by P. Stenerson, site curator)’

In this excerpt from Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, authors Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson explain the significance of the Powell Memorandum, a call-to-arms for American corporations written by Virginia lawyer (and future U.S. Supreme Court justice) Lewis Powell to a neighbor working with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In the fall of 1972, the venerable National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) made a surprising announcement: It planned to move its main offices from New York to Washington, D.C. As its chief, Burt Raynes, observed:

We have been in New York since before the turn of the century, because we regarded this city as the center of business and industry. But the thing that affects business most today is government. The interrelationship of business with business is no longer so important as the interrelationship of business with government. In the last several years, that has become very apparent to us.[1]

To be more precise, what had become very apparent to the business community was that it was getting its clock cleaned. Used to having broad sway, employers faced a series of surprising defeats in the 1960s and early 1970s. As we have seen, these defeats continued unabated when Richard Nixon won the White House. Despite electoral setbacks, the liberalism of the Great Society had surprising political momentum. “From 1969 to 1972,” as the political scientist David Vogel summarizes in one of the best books on the political role of business, “virtually the entire American business community experienced a series of political setbacks without parallel in the postwar period.” In particular, Washington undertook a vast expansion of its regulatory power, introducing tough and extensive restrictions and requirements on business in areas from the environment to occupational safety to consumer protection.[2]

In corporate circles, this pronounced and sustained shift was met with disbelief and then alarm. By 1971, future Supreme Court justice Lewis Powell felt compelled to assert, in a memo that was to help galvanize business circles, that the “American economic system is under broad attack.” This attack, Powell maintained, required mobilization for political combat: “Business must learn the lesson . . . that political power is necessary; that such power must be assiduously cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination—without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.” Moreover, Powell stressed, the critical ingredient for success would be organization: “Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.”[3]

Powell was just one of many who pushed to reinvigorate the political clout of employers. Before the policy winds shifted in the ’60s, business had seen little need to mobilize anything more than a network of trade associations. It relied mostly on personal contacts, and the main role of lobbyists in Washington was to troll for government contracts and tax breaks. The explosion of policy activism, and rise of public interest groups like those affiliated with Ralph Nader, created a fundamental challenge. And as the 1970s progressed, the problems seemed to be getting worse. Powell wrote in 1971, but even after Nixon swept to a landslide reelection the following year, the legislative tide continued to come in. With Watergate leading to Nixon’s humiliating resignation and a spectacular Democratic victory in 1974, the situation grew even more dire. “The danger had suddenly escalated,” Bryce Harlow, senior Washington representative for Procter & Gamble and one of the engineers of the corporate political revival was to say later. “We had to prevent business from being rolled up and put in the trash can by that Congress.”[4]

Powell, Harlow, and others sought to replace the old boys’ club with a more modern, sophisticated, and diversified apparatus — one capable of advancing employers’ interests even under the most difficult political circumstances. They recognized that business had hardly begun to tap its potential for wielding political power. Not only were the financial resources at the disposal of business leaders unrivaled. The hierarchical structures of corporations made it possible for a handful of decision-makers to deploy those resources and combine them with the massive but underutilized capacities of their far-flung organizations. These were the preconditions for an organizational revolution that was to remake Washington in less than a decade — and, in the process, lay the critical groundwork for winner-take-all politics.

Businessmen of the World, Unite!

The organizational counterattack of business in the 1970s was swift and sweeping — a domestic version of Shock and Awe. The number of corporations with public affairs offices in Washington grew from 100 in 1968 to over 500 in 1978. In 1971, only 175 firms had registered lobbyists in Washington, but by 1982, nearly 2,500 did. The number of corporate PACs increased from under 300 in 1976 to over 1,200 by the middle of 1980.[5] On every dimension of corporate political activity, the numbers reveal a dramatic, rapid mobilization of business resources in the mid-1970s.

What the numbers alone cannot show is something of potentially even greater significance: Employers learned how to work together to achieve shared political goals. As members of coalitions, firms could mobilize more proactively and on a much broader front. Corporate leaders became advocates not just for the narrow interests of their firms but also for the shared interests of business as a whole.

Ironically, this new capacity was in part an unexpected gift of Great Society liberalism. One of the distinctive features of the big expansion of government authority in the ’60s and early ’70s was that it created new forms of regulation that simultaneously affected many industries. Previously, the airlines might have lobbied the Civil Aeronautics Board, the steel companies might have focused on restricting foreign competitors, the energy producers might have gained special tax breaks from a favorite congressman. Now companies across a wide range of sectors faced a common threat: increasingly powerful regulatory agencies overseeing their treatment of the environment, workers, and consumers. Individual firms had little chance of fending off such broad initiatives on their own; to craft an appropriately broad political defense, they needed organization.

Business was galvanized by more than perceived government overreach. It was also responding to the growing economic challenges it faced. Organization-building began even before the economy soured in the early 1970s, but the tumultuous economy of that decade — battered by two major oil shocks, which pushed up inflation and dragged down growth — created panic in corporate sectors as well as growing dissatisfaction among voters. The 1970s was not the economic wasteland that retrospective accounts often suggest. The economy actually grew more quickly overall (after adjusting for inflation) during the 1970s than during the 1980s.[6] But against the backdrop of the roaring 1960s, the economic turbulence was a rude jolt that strengthened the case of business leaders that a new governing approach was needed.

When he penned his influential memo, Lewis Powell was chair of the Education Committee of the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber was one of a number of business groups that responded to the emerging threat by becoming much more organized. The Chamber doubled in membership between 1974 and 1980. Its budget tripled. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) doubled its membership between 1970 and 1979.[7]

Recognizing that lawmaking in Washington had become more open and dynamic, business groups remade themselves to fit the times.

The expansion of the Chamber and the NFIB signaled not only a rise in the collective capacity of business; it brought a harder-edged form of mobilization. Composed disproportionately of smaller firms, these organizations were especially livid about the rise of government regulation. Big companies had an easier time absorbing the administrative costs of complying with new rules, and more opportunities to pass the costs on to consumers. Moreover, business associations based on a multitude of small firms proved especially capable of mobilizing mass outrage, which would turn out to be a very effective political weapon.

Of course, big business fought back as well. In 1972, three business organizations merged to form the Business Roundtable, the first business association whose membership was restricted to top corporate CEOs. In part at the urging of Bryce Harlow, lobbyist for Procter & Gamble, this new organization combined two groups focused on relatively narrow business issues with an informal organization called the March Group. The March Group had grown out of a meeting with top Nixon administration officials and prominent executives and was designed to bring together many of the nation’s most powerful CEOs. Within five years the new mega-organization had enlisted 113 of the top Fortune 200 companies, accounting for nearly half of the economy.[8]

The Business Roundtable quickly developed into a formidable group, designed to mobilize high-level CEOs as a collective force to lobby for the advancement of shared interests. President Ford’s deputy treasury secretary Charls Walker, a leading corporate organizer about whom we’ll say more in a moment, later put it this way: “The Roundtable has made a lot of difference. They know how to get the CEOs into Washington and lobby; they maintain good relationships with the congressional staffs; they’ve just learned a lot about Washington they didn’t know before.”[9]

Keeping Up With the Naders

The role of the business community not only grew but expanded, shifting into new modes of organization that had previously been confined to its critics. Recognizing that lawmaking in Washington had become more open and dynamic, business groups remade themselves to fit the times. The expanding network of business groups would soon be capable of hoisting the public interest groups on their own petards. Using rapidly emerging tools of marketing and communications, they learned how to generate mass campaigns. Building networks of employees, shareholders, local companies, and firms with shared interests (for example, retailers and suppliers), they could soon flood Washington with letters and phone calls. Within a few years, these classically top-down organizations were to thrive at generating “bottom up”–style campaigns that not only matched the efforts of their rivals but surpassed them.

These emerging “outside” strategies were married to “inside” ones. Business organizations developed lists of prominent executives capable of making personal contacts with key legislative figures. In private meetings organized by the Conference Board, CEOs compared notes and discussed how to learn from and outmaneuver organized labor. In the words of one executive, “If you don’t know your senators on a first-name basis, you are not doing an adequate job for your stockholders.”[10]

Business also massively increased its political giving — at precisely the time when the cost of campaigns began to skyrocket (in part because of the ascendance of television). The insatiable need for cash gave politicians good reason to be attentive to those with deep pockets. Business had by far the deepest pockets, and was happy to make contributions to members of both parties. Clifton Garvin, chairman of both Exxon and the Business Roundtable in the early 1980s, summarized the attitude toward partisanship this way: “The Roundtable tries to work with whichever political party is in power. We may each individually have our own political alliances, but as a group the Roundtable works with every administration to the degree they let us.”[11]

The newly mobilized business groups understood that Democrats and Republicans could play distinct but complementary roles. As the party with a seemingly permanent lock on Congress, Democrats needed to be pried away from their traditional alliance with organized labor. Money was key here: From the late 1970s to the late 1980s, corporate PACs increased their expenditures in congressional races nearly fivefold. Labor PAC spending only rose about half as fast. In the early 1970s, business PACs contributed less to congressional races overall than labor PACs did. By the mid-1970s, the two were at rough parity, and by the end of the decade, business PACs were way ahead. By 1980, unions accounted for less than a quarter of all PAC contributions — down from half six years earlier. The shift was largest among Democrats, who were of course the most reliant on labor money: Nearly half of Senate incumbents’ campaign funds came from labor PACs in the mid-1970s. A decade later, the share was below one-fifth.[12]

By this time, however, business PACs were shifting away from their traditional focus on buttering up (mostly Democratic) incumbents toward a strategy that mixed donations to those in power with support for conservative political challengers. Such a pattern was evident in the critical election year of 1978. Through September of the election season, nearly half of corporate campaign contributions flowed into Democrats’ coffers. In the crucial weeks before the 1978 election, however, only 29 percent did. By the end of the 1978 campaign, more than 60 percent of corporate contributions had gone to Republicans, both GOP challengers and Republican incumbents fighting off liberal Democrats.[13] A new era of campaign finance was born: Not only were corporate contributions growing ever bigger, Democrats had to work harder for them. More and more, to receive business largesse, they had to do more than hold power; they had to wield it in ways that business liked.

Read the Powell Memo. (Download the PDF.)

Footnotes

  • 1. National Journal, 1974, 14.
  • 2. David Vogel, Fluctuating Fortunes: The Political Power of Business in America (New York: Basic Books, 1989), 59; R. Shep Melnick, “From Tax-and-Spend to Mandate-and-Sue: Liberalism After the Great Society,” in The Great Society and the High Tide of Liberalism, Sidney Milkis and Jerome Mileur, eds. (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005).
  • 3. Lewis Powell, “Confidential Memorandum: Attack on the Free Enterprise System,” August 23, 1971, quoted in Kim Phelps-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan (New York: Norton, 2009), 158, 160.
  • 4. Thomas Byrne Edsall, The New Politics of Inequality (New York: Norton, 1984), 114.
  • 5. Vogel, Fluctuating Fortunes, ch. 8.
  • 6. Calculated from http://www.bea.gov/national/xls/gdplev.xls.
  • 7. Ibid., 198.
  • 8. Vogel, Fluctuating Fortunes, 198; John Judis, The Paradox of American Democracy: Elites, Special Interests, and the Betrayal of Public Trust (Pantheon: New York, 2000), 121.
  • 9. Quoted in Sidney Blumenthal, The Rise of the Counter-Establishment: From Conservative Ideology to Political Power (New York: Times Books, 1986), 80.
  • 10. Quoted in Leonard Silk and David Vogel, Ethics and Profits: The Crisis of Confidence in American Business (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976), 65.
  • 11. Blumenthal, Rise of the Counter-Establishment, 78.
  • 12. Taylor E. Dark, The Unions and the Democrats: An Enduring Alliance (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 149.
  • 13. Vogel, Fluctuating Fortunes, ch. 8

Excerpt from Winner -Take-All Politics by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson
Copyright © 2010 by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc, NY. For more information please visit www.SimonandSchuster.com.

 

 

Feeling anxious? It’s not just you, it’s our philosophical era of neuroexistentialism

(bolding for emphasis done by Phyllis Stenerson, website editor)

Feeling anxious? It’s not just you, it’s our philosophical era of neuroexistentialism By Ephrat Livni, Quartz, January 25, 2019

 The philosophical crisis of the 21st century has its roots in the changes wrought by scientific discoveries, which, according to some professors, have dealt the final blow to notions of spirit, an immaterial soul, self, and agency.

It’s not easy being human. It never was, really, if William Shakespeare is to be believed. In the 16th century, the playwright noted that “life…is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Neuroscience is increasingly confirming this view. The more scientists learn about the human brain and how it operates, the more obvious it is that being human is no big deal. We’re just animals, complex biological systems operating according to the laws of nature—from physics to biology and chemistry. Many scientists, like the late Stephen Hawking, and philosophers like Duke University professor of philosophy and neurobiology Owen Flanagan and SUNY University professor of philosophy Gregg Caruso in a recent issue of The Philosopher’s Magazine argue that we have no soul, no fixed self, and no inherent purpose. We exist simply because we exist, tiny specks on a small planet in an infinite universe, and not because a god made the Earth for us. This conception, called “naturalism,” leaves many people feeling deeply uneasy—consciously or unconsciously—and casting about for meaning.

Collectively, whether we’re aware of the effects of scientific findings specifically or not, much of society is suffering a crisis of “neuroexistentialism,” according to Flanagan and Caruso. ”Today, there is a third-wave existentialism, neuroexistentialism, which expresses the anxiety that, even as science yields the truth about human nature, it also disenchants,” they write.

Waves of angst

Caruso and Flanagan define existentialism as the diminishment of the human self-image caused by profound social or political changes. These transformations provoke widespread malaise, ultimately prompting a rehabilitated and reconstructed view of what it means to be human.

The first such wave was expressed by 19th-century thinkers like Søren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrestled with the questions of morality in a world without a deity to dictate what is right and wrong. In the 20th century, following the Holocaust and World War II, writers like Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Simone De Beauvoir tussled with the meaning of existence after tens of millions of deaths and incalculable human suffering seemed to undermine notions that we value life or believe in a common good.

The philosophical crisis of the 21st century, however, is neither ecclesiastical or political. It has its roots in the changes wrought by scientific discoveries, which, according to Flanagan and Caruso, have dealt the final blow to notions of god, an immaterial soul, spirit, self, agency. They explain, “[N]euroexistentialism is caused by the rise of the scientific authority of the human sciences and a resultant clash between the scientific and humanistic image of persons.”

This contemporary angst arises from the growing body of knowledge that shows the existence we experience is a result of neural processes. The findings suggest that introspection, or self-knowledge, can’t really reveal the mind, and that death is the end for us all. If the brain’s processes give us our experience of life and there is no “immaterial spirit” or soul, then when the brain stops functioning, nothing follows life, and nothing “survives” us. Along with this understanding of ourselves as animals governed by natural laws and physical mechanisms comes another loss—the sense of agency or free will.

Not only is god dead, as Nietzsche declared, but if we’re operating thanks to physical processes that determine who we are, with brains making decisions rather than our spirits, it seems we can no longer forge lives using character as our aid. In other words, the übermensch that Nietzsche suggested could overcome the loss of god is also gone. And our very will to live—the determination expressed by existentialist playwright Samuel Beckett’s formulation, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on”—is now subjugated to a bunch of physical mechanisms.

Scientists conceive of us as organic, biological machines—a conception based on evidence—and this creates a new postmodern angst. “As the brain sciences progress and we better understand the mechanisms that undergird human behavior, the more it becomes obvious that we lack…’soul control,’” Flanagan and Caruso argue. “There is no longer any reason to believe in a nonphysical self which controls action and is liberated from the deterministic laws of nature.”

We don’t necessarily know why we feel adrift or blame science for this, but for many people who place their faith in knowledge and don’t believe in a god, it’s become more difficult to believe their lives matter. Scientific findings are undermining many traditional notions that previously gave people a sense of specialness, a feeling that who they are matters, and that the self is real. Increasingly, however, scientists are finding that the self is a kind of necessary illusion manufactured by the brain and often more fragile than we’d like to imagine.

Meanwhile, suicide, depression, and anxiety are on the rise. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year revealed that deaths by suicide rose by 25% since 1999 across most ethnic and age groups. While there are many factors that contribute to mental illness, behavioral scientist, author and science writer Clay Rutledge argues that this trend isn’t just a result of lack of adequate mental health services. Rather, he says, we’re facing a new, contemporary “crisis of meaningless.” In a 2018 article in the Dallas News, he explains, “In order to keep existential anxiety at bay, we must find and maintain perceptions of our lives as meaningful. We are a species that strives not just for survival, but also for significance. We want lives that matter. It is when people are not able to maintain meaning that they are most psychologically vulnerable.”

The quest for significance is a result of “neurological machinery that has helped us survive has also rendered us distinctively ruminative,” according to Routledge. He believes that human brains evolved to seek meaning, but that it’s harder than ever to feel our lives matter for a number of reasons including increased alienation, smaller families, and a declining belief in religion. “Americans these days, especially young adults, are less likely to identify with a religious faith, attend church or engage in other religious practices. But as my research has shown, the sense of meaningfulness provided by religion is not so easily replicated in nonreligious settings,” he contends.

Caruso and Flanagan contend that “folk psychological attitudes” persist because outside of the scientific community, we don’t yet have an understanding of what this means for us as individuals or a vocabulary to discuss the new self-as-illusion. The old ideas are difficult to abandon because they have been around for thousands of years. The new, alternate view of humanity makes some people feel real bad, leading them to conclude that a meaningful life is impossible.

It’s all good

But don’t despair. Embracing naturalism doesn’t necessarily mean there is no morality or that we are all totally stuck, prisoners to mysterious processes we can’t comprehend through introspection. Just as existentialists of yore found new ways to explore the question of being human and new answers to why we might try to be good and live purposefully, so do today’s scientists and philosophers.

Caruso and Flanagan are the editors of a book, entitled Neuroexistentialism: Meaning, Morals and Purpose in the Age of Neuroscience (pdf), which examines the “foundational anxiety” that arises when “the mind no longer stands apart from the world to serve as a foundation of meaning.” In it, thinkers from a range of fields explore the contemporary angst and offer approaches to integrating evidence-based science into society’s psychology without losing hope about being human.

For example, California Institute of Technology cosmologist and physicist Sean Carroll’s essay surveys classical mechanics, quantum physics, time, and the nature of emergent phenomena, concluding that there’s no essential meaning in the universe, as evidenced by both its vastness and randomness. Yet he still argues that life matters on a personal and human scale, even if “modern science has thoroughly undermined any hopes for a higher purpose or meaning inherent in the universe itself.”

Carroll contends that our lives and societies matter simply because we exist and coexist and appreciate meaning. So we can act purposefully even if we are not part of some grand cosmic plan. He distinguishes between the determined human project and the universe’s seeming lack thereof.

Similarly, psychologist and cognitive neuroscience luminary Michael Gazzaniga, head of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, argues that there’s no problem presented by the naturalist view of humanity. We’re responsible and moral because our brains have evolved capabilities that allow us to be.

We reason, remember, perceive, and judge as a result of cognitive mechanisms. And because we have these abilities, we’ve also developed social practices that demand that we think and be responsible for each other. The universe may be random, and cause and effect may not always be related on a mechanistic level, but within the human experience, we have certain obligations and the capability to meet these.

As Thomas  Clark, of Brandeis University’s Institute for Behavioral Health explains in his review of Neuroexistentialism (pdf), we don’t need god to be good. There are scientific bases for moral behavior. Clark writes, “For one thing, science can explain why we are moral animals, moral to such an extent that no amount of science will end up debunking our hard-wired intuitions about ethics.”

There’s evidence that altruism, cooperation, compassion and affection are “biologically installed,” so we don’t require a higher power to force us to consider others’ needs. “The very worry about moral foundations is testament to the reality of our moral natures, so learning they are modulated by such humble (or is it noble?) chemicals as oxytocin and vasopressin isn’t likely to render us morally incapacitated,” he argues.

The human project

Caruso and Flanagan, as well as other contributors to their book, have a fairly sunny outlook. Rather than being dismayed by scientific findings, they propose “a constructive project.” That project involves working on the rehabilitation of the human self-image as prior waves of existentialists did, thinking through the tough questions together though there are no easy answers.

In their essay, the philosophers argue that we should “make use of the knowledge and insights of the behavioral, cognitive, and neurosciences to satisfy our existential concerns and achieve some level of flourishing and fulfillment.” Ignoring evidence isn’t going to resuscitate dated notions of god or the soul or the self or human specialness, and it won’t make life meaningful. Instead, we have to transform our anxiety, individually and societally, because at this point, as they put it, “naturalism is the only game in town.”

Liberals, This Is War

(bold for emphasis done by Phyllis Stenerson, website editor)

Liberals, This Is War By Charles M. Blow, Opinion Columnist, New York Times, Oct. 7, 2018 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/07/opinion/brett-kavanaugh-supreme-court.html

Excerpt

Yes, Brett Kavanaugh is on the Supreme Court. … view the entirety of the battle in which you are engaged, and understand that Kavanaugh is just one part of a much larger plan by conservatives to fundamentally change the American political structure so that it enshrines and protects white male power even after America’s changing demographics and mores move away from that power.

This, for them, is not simply a game about political passion and political principles. This is a game of power, pure and simple, and it’s about whether the people who have long held that power will be able to retain it.

For them, Trump is just a useful idiot, a temporary anomaly.

They are thinking generationally, not in terms of the next election cycle but in terms of the next epoch.

Liberals can get so high-minded that they lose sight of the ground war….it is important to prove to the rest of Americans, and indeed the world, that Trump and the Republicans who promote and protect him are at odds with American values and with the American majority….

Liberals have to look beyond emotions, beyond reactionary electoral enthusiasm, beyond needing to fall in love with candidates in order to vote for them, beyond the coming election and toward the coming showdown…when I think of [Constitutional] originalism, I think this: Many of the founders owned slaves; in the Constitution they viewed black people as less than fully human; they didn’t want women or poor white men to vote. The founders, a bunch of rich, powerful white men, didn’t want true democracy in this country, and in fact were dreadfully afraid of it.

Now, a bunch of rich, powerful white men want to return us to this sensibility, wrapped in a populist “follow the Constitution” rallying cry and disguised as the ultimate form of patriotism….that is also what voter disenfranchisement and Citizens United are about….But probably the biggest, gutsiest move is the call for a constitutional convention… now gathering steam among Republicans… people pushing for a convention “have commitments from 28 state legislatures. They need 34 to trigger the Constitution’s provision for a ‘convention of the states….: “If the convention is called, the disunion that has become a faith in some conservative quarters will run amok. Economic oligarchy will be established in law, and any political check on the powers of business likely will be eviscerated.”’

Stop thinking you’re in a skirmish, when you’re at war … view the entirety of the battle in which you are engaged, and understand that Kavanaugh is just one part of a much larger plan by conservatives to fundamentally change the American political structure so that it enshrines and protects white male power even after America’s changing demographics and mores move away from that power.

This, for them, is not simply a game about political passion and political principles. This is a game of power, pure and simple, and it’s about whether the people who have long held that power will be able to retain it.

For them, Trump is just a useful idiot, a temporary anomaly.

They are thinking generationally, not in terms of the next election cycle but in terms of the next epoch.

Liberals can get so high-minded that they lose sight of the ground war. Yes, next month it is important to prove to the rest of Americans, and indeed the world, that Trump and the Republicans who promote and protect him are at odds with American values and with the American majority….

Liberals have to look beyond emotions, beyond reactionary electoral enthusiasm, beyond needing to fall in love with candidates in order to vote for them, beyond the coming election and toward the coming showdown…

But, when I think of originalism, I think this: Many of the founders owned slaves; in the Constitution they viewed black people as less than fully human; they didn’t want women or poor white men to vote. The founders, a bunch of rich, powerful white men, didn’t want true democracy in this country, and in fact were dreadfully afraid of it.

Now, a bunch of rich, powerful white men want to return us to this sensibility, wrapped in a populist “follow the Constitution” rallying cry and disguised as the ultimate form of patriotism….an effort to preserve America’s white majority, against the statistical eventuality, for as long as possible.

And that is also what voter disenfranchisement and Citizens United are aboutBut probably the biggest, gutsiest move is the call for a constitutional convention.

Full text

What’s at stake is much more than a single Supreme Court seat.

Yes, Brett Kavanaugh is on the Supreme Court. Rue the day. Rend your garments.

Then, step back, view the entirety of the battle in which you are engaged, and understand that Kavanaugh is just one part of a much larger plan by conservatives to fundamentally change the American political structure so that it enshrines and protects white male power even after America’s changing demographics and mores move away from that power.

This, for them, is not simply a game about political passion and political principles. This is a game of power, pure and simple, and it’s about whether the people who have long held that power will be able to retain it.

For them, Trump is just a useful idiot, a temporary anomaly.

They are thinking generationally, not in terms of the next election cycle but in terms of the next epoch.

Liberals can get so high-minded that they lose sight of the ground war. Yes, next month it is important to prove to the rest of Americans, and indeed the world, that Trump and the Republicans who promote and protect him are at odds with American values and with the American majority.

On one level this would provide relief and release for a pent-up demand by most Americans to be heard and to calm some of the chaos. But, catharsis is an emotional response and an emotional remedy.

Liberals have to look beyond emotions, beyond reactionary electoral enthusiasm, beyond needing to fall in love with candidates in order to vote for them, beyond the coming election and toward the coming showdown.

For instance, the constant pining about justices who will interpret the “original intent” of the Constitution feels far bigger than single issues like gun control.

In July, Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the “constitutional originalist Federalist Society,” as RealClearPolitics phrased it, told Fox News:

“Any Supreme Court confirmation is transformative. This is a court that is often equally divided. At the end of the day, I think what’s really important to remember is that there’s been a movement on the court toward being more originalist and textualist. In other words, the idea that law means something, it has determinate meaning. And that’s the trend that I think this president wants to continue.”

But, when I think of originalism, I think this: Many of the founders owned slaves; in the Constitution they viewed black people as less than fully human; they didn’t want women or poor white men to vote. The founders, a bunch of rich, powerful white men, didn’t want true democracy in this country, and in fact were dreadfully afraid of it.

Now, a bunch of rich, powerful white men want to return us to this sensibility, wrapped in a populist “follow the Constitution” rallying cry and disguised as the ultimate form of patriotism.

We have to learn to see everything around us, all that is happening on the political front, through that lens. This is what the extreme measures on illegal immigration and even the efforts to dramatically slash legal immigration are all about.

This is also what the demonizing of the visa lottery program is all about. As the Pew Research Center pointed out in August: “In fiscal 2017, which ended Sept. 30, the largest number of visas went to citizens of African countries” while applicants from European countries and from Asia received fewer visas than before.

The effort to demonize the lottery program is an effort to preserve America’s white majority, against the statistical eventuality, for as long as possible.

And that is also what voter disenfranchisement and Citizens United are about. That is why conservatives cheer the moves by young liberals to densely populated cities. The move weakens conservative votes in the places they move to and strengthens it in places they move from.

As The Washington Post pointed out in 2016, “In the Electoral College, each individual Wyoming vote weighs 3.6 times more than an individual Californian’s vote.” The Post continued, “That’s the most extreme example, but if you average the 10 most populous states and compare the power of their residents’ votes to those of the 10 least populous states, you get a ratio of 1 to 2.5.”

But probably the biggest, gutsiest move is the call for a constitutional convention.

There are two ways that amendments to the Constitution can be proposed: One is by a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate, and the other is by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the states. The second method has never been used, but is now gathering steam among Republicans.

As Charles Pierce wrote in January in Esquire, the people pushing for a convention “have commitments from 28 state legislatures. They need 34 to trigger the Constitution’s provision for a ‘convention of the states.’”

Pierce continued: “If the convention is called, the disunion that has become a faith in some conservative quarters will run amok. Economic oligarchy will be established in law, and any political check on the powers of business likely will be eviscerated.”

Folks, Kavanaugh is only one soldier, albeit an important one, in a larger battle. Stop thinking you’re in a skirmish, when you’re at war.

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

Charles Blow joined The Times in 1994 and became an Opinion columnist in 2008. He is also a television commentator and writes often about politics, social justice and vulnerable communities. @CharlesMBlowFacebook

Moral Politics – Suggested Reading

Forrest Church, God and other famous liberals – recapturing Bible, flag and family from the far right (NewYork: Simon and Schuster, 1991)

Parker Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy, the courage to create a politics worthy of the human spirit (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2011

Forrest Church, The American Creed, a spiritual and patriotic primer (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002)

Jacob Needleman, The American Soul, rediscovering the wisdom of the founders (New York: Penguin Group, 2002)

Justin Buckley Dyer, editor, American Soul, the contested legacy of the Declaration of Independence (Lanham, MD: Roman & Littlefield, 2012)

Duncan Howlett, The Critical Way in Religion, testing and questing (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1980)

Karen Armstrong, The Great Transformation, the beginning of our religious traditions (New York; Alfred A. Knopf)

Michael Dowd, Thank God for Evolution, how the marriage of science and religion will transform your life and our world (New York: Penguin Group, 2007)

Michael Lerner, The Left Hand of God, taking back our country from the religious right (New York: Harper & Collins, 2006) 6 ,8

“This political Right achieved power by forging an alliance with a Religious Right that is willing to provide a sanctimonious religious veneer to the selfishness and materialism of the political right in exchange for the political power it needs to impose parts of its religious agenda on America6…I will certainly do everything I can to prevent them from popularizing the notion that people have to be religious or believe in God to be moral and to challenge their particular understanding of what God wants from us.8

Updated 11/26/18

Reclaiming Patriotism for the Left

By JEFFERSON COWIE

Surrendering national pride to champions of a blood-and-soil vision abdicates the fight for the soul and meaning of the American project.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/21/opinion/nationalism-patriotism-liberals-.html?em_pos=small&emc=edit_ty_20180821&nl=opinion-today&nl_art=3&nlid=56693142emc%3Dedit_ty_20180821&ref=headline&te=1

The resurgence of blood-and-soil nationalism around the world seems to prove that appeals to nationhood are too racist, too tribal and too dangerous to be of value. Yet surrendering patriotism to champions of the ethno-state abdicates the fight for the soul and meaning of the American project.

The American left, from the center of the Democratic Party to its insurgent challengers, needs a dose of national vision. One of the core lessons of Trumpian politics is that Americans are starved for a meaningful politics of what it means to be American. Getting rid of the vainglorious Trump administration is only a partial solution. The causes of his rise remain.

Call what is needed a reinvigoration of “civic nationalism” or “civic republicanism” (a reference to the ancient political ideal, not the party). This is a revival of the “bond of common faith,” the “bond of common goal,” as Robert Kennedy once put it, which needs constructive outlets if what is left of American democracy is to survive.

In recent decades, progressive forces in the United States have split between two positions, both of which surrender a robust and hopeful sense of national citizenship. On one track can be found a cosmopolitan economic elite that embrace a multicultural world order shaped largely by the politics of corporate globalization. On the other track are radical critics of the racism and imperialism of the American state who often support local community and transnational solidarity but maintain a deep cynicism, even despair, about the American project. Both groups have abdicated the national story to their shared political enemies. What remains is a fervent hybrid of nationalism and anti-statism, an echo of the rebel yell.

The American past, according to the historian Gary Gerstle in his book “American Crucible,” can be understood as a struggle between “two powerful and contradictory ideals” — a civic and racialized national vision. Yet the dissolution of a progressive civic dimension has left us with an unchallenged ethno-racial nationalism.

Globalization has further complicated the problem. In a dizzying world of oppressive economic and political inequality, global trade, immigration and technological disruption, voters seek grounding not in technocratic detail but in place, in time, in tradition and, above all, in the shared fate, history and meaning of the nation.

The unhealed wounds of the 2008 financial crisis may have laid the way for Donald Trump, but the full mosaic of the American working class has long been looking desperately for routes to make America great again. As globalization expanded, it pounded foreign cars with sledge hammers, sponsored protective tariffs, promoted “Buy American” campaigns, tried to defeat Nafta, tried to organize unions and fought against undocumented migrant labor. But the plants closed anyway, domestic and foreign capital moved around, mass migrations happened, attacks on worker protections proceeded at a relentless pace, and the increasingly complicated world of national politics seemed more focused on Davos than Peoria.

Before the 1960s, dissenting and progressive movements regularly invoked nationalist and patriotic themes. The 19th-century Knights of Labor — one of the more inclusive labor organizations in American history — couldn’t get enough of the Fourth of July and the Declaration of Independence. Teddy Roosevelt advocated his “New Nationalism” as a counterbalance to the seemingly unchecked power of the robber barons. The socialist leader Eugene V. Debs drew on American traditions to frame his radical critiques of corporate power. The labor upheavals of the 1930s openly expressed faith in a “working-class Americanism.” Even the American Communist Party cloaked itself in “Americanism” and the words and visage of Abraham Lincoln. In Franklin Roosevelt’s efforts to reconfigure class power, he did not attempt to speak for workers or the poor but simply said that tax on the rich was “the American thing to do.

In the midst of the Cold War, when Paul Robeson was questioned by House Committee on Un-American Activities about his association with the African-American radical Ben Davis, he replied, “I say that he is as patriotic an American as there can be, and you gentlemen belong with the Alien and Sedition Acts, and you are the nonpatriots, and you are the un-Americans, and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”

Reviving this older stream of dissenting rests on the active interests and lost authority of its citizens and its fading democratic values. This would replace “my country right or wrong” with the centuries-long struggle, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “to be true to what you said on paper.” This is the position from which voting rights, civil rights, immigrant rights and economic rights can be fought: with a vision of what is acceptably American and what is not. Decent people will rise to the challenge.

The nation is the only “imagined community,” as Benedict Anderson put, where everything from mass transit to health care to wealth distribution to a green economy can find traction. A rejuvenated national vision would transcend the backward-looking — and often reactionary — search for an America in arrested decay that has too often informed politics since Ronald Reagan first promised to make America great again.

Civic patriotism must also be an aspirational story of struggle and inclusion. The narcissistic and racist politics of right-wing nationalism must be challenged with an expansive and inclusive civic vision about hope and potential. It’s what Barack Obama spoke of at the 50th anniversary of the Selma march. Standing before the Edmund Pettus Bridge, he asked, “What greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?”

To be sure, the rhetoric of nationalism can be dangerous in a place with a history of settler colonialism, slavery, anti-immigrant hysteria and territorial expansion. Any civic framing risks fomenting exclusion by drawing lines between those who are in and those who are out — an especially profound problem in an era of mass migration. Yet when the American left abandons any vision of social patriotism because of the racist ugliness it has come to symbolize, it concedes the American story to the voices of exclusion and avarice.

The pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty made many of these arguments 20 years ago in a book, “Achieving Our Country.” That book became famous after the 2016 election for having predicted the rise of a “strongman” to fill the void in national politics. He feared that indulging in cultural politics rather than emphasizing the material interests of American working people, and surrendering the struggle to shape the national vision where that can happen, would lead to such a catastrophe. While his nightmare of the nationalist demagogue has come to pass, few people are talking about the foundation of his predictions.

Patriotism may well be the last refuge of the scoundrel, but as a pragmatist like Mr. Rorty would tell you, it is too powerful and too important to leave to the scoundrels. Voters are in search of a place of vision for average Americans, a place of idealism in an age of cynicism, a place of unity in a time of fracture and a place where policy can be embedded in something greater than technocracy.

While commentators are getting worked up over the revival of “socialism,” an increasing number of insurgent blue-collar Democrats across the country are looking to recapture a sense of nation. The dark-horse candidate from Kansas, the Army veteran James Thompson, for instance, promises to “Fight for America.”

As we approach midterm elections, we urgently need to hear these messages in good faith and rise to their challenge.

Jefferson Cowie is a professor of history at Vanderbilt University and the author, most recently, of “The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics.”

We Can Imagine And Create A World Without Military Enemies And Wars

By Robert C. Koehler, Common Wonders, June 3, 2018

America does what it wants.

This is obvious, except it’s also monstrously unnerving. Let’s at least add some quote marks: “America” does what it wants — this secretly defined, self-obsessed, unelected entity that purports to be the United States of America, all 325 million of us, but is, in fact, a narrowly focused amalgam of generals, politicians and corporate elites who value only one thing: global dominance, from now to eternity.

Indeed, they’re capable of imagining nothing else, which is the truly scary part. Until this changes, “peace” is a feel-good delusion and “disarmament” (nuclear and otherwise) is the butt of a joke. The American empire may be collapsing, but the war games continue.

So I realized with a sudden start as I read Nick Turse’s analysis of a collection of U.S. military documents, which the TomDispatch website got hold of via the Freedom of Information Act. The documents contained a detailed description of the 33rd annual Joint Land, Air, and Sea Strategic Special Program, “an elaborate war game,” Turse explains, “carried out in 2016 by students and faculty from the U.S. military’s war colleges, the training grounds for its future generals and admirals.”

The war game was wrapped around a fantasy future of “dystopian dangers,” set in 2020, in which, “as the script for the war game put it, ‘lingering jealousy and distrust of American power and national interests have made it politically and culturally difficult for the United States to act unilaterally.’”

In other words, as Turse explains, quoting the war game’s summary, the threat to America’s near-future security is completely a matter of maintaining its global hegemony in the face of scientific and military advances “by both state and non-state actors” that “have increasingly constricted U.S. freedom of action.”

There’s nothing particularly surprising here, yet something jolted me into a new level of shock and awe, you might say, about the deep state apparatus that controls the national direction. There’s nothing in this controlling consciousness devoted to creating — or imagining — a world without nuclear weapons or a world free of war and poverty. That’s just not part of the future “America” has any interest in envisioning. The next war is utterly unquestioned. “Us vs. them” is utterly unquestioned. There will always be enemies. What would we do without them?

While the invisible state may fear losing its global dominance, it seems to be completely in control of its domestic dominance.

And peace is out of the picture, at least the evolving concept of that word: peace that transcends militarism and is not based on armed enforcement. As long as the generals and war profiteers have it their way, peace is merely the lull between wars or, even more cynically, that brief pause while the combatants reload.

In other words, we are moving into the future committed — financially, politically, ideologically — to continuing to do what has failed in the past: wage war, dominate, win.

And in countless ways, we are losing. The empire is collapsing. The consequences of armed dominance are eating us alive and destroying Planet Earth. But no matter. As long as we’re not aware that we’re causing our own destruction, we (I mean “we”) can continue to do so, in the process reaping not merely profit but a sense of purpose.

“Two years after the war game was conducted,” Turse writes, “in a time of almost metronomic domestic mass killings, President Trump continues to spotlight the supposedly singular danger posed by ‘inadequately vetted people’ in the U.S., although stovetops and ovens, hot air balloons, and burning pajamas are far more deadly to Americans.”

Apparently our national sense of identity would collapse without an enemy, and the enemy du jour is the terrorist (no longer the communist, no longer the “savage”). So we’re not only fighting endless wars across Africa and the Middle East, we’re intensifying our deportation of “illegals” and amping up “border security,” all in order to keep America safe.

One reason the nation’s leaders are able to keep waging wars that do not, in fact, keep America safe is because the harm they cause is almost totally borne by the other. And as long as the messy details are seldom in the news, Americans need not let their awareness of government policy stray beyond the clichés of patriotism.

Regarding Mexican border security, for instance, the Trump administration has implemented a policy of separating children from parents seeking asylum in order to send a Keep Out message to other would-be immigrants. The cruelty of such a policy has been magnified by a recent ACLU report, based on documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, showing widespread abuse of children in U.S. custody.

And in point of fact, the abuses are pre-Trump. The documents cover 2009-2014, during the Obama years. Dominance and racism may be more blatant under the current president than they’ve been for a while, but they have always been part of national policy.

According to the report: “The documents show numerous cases involving federal officials’ verbal, physical and sexual abuse of migrant children; the denial of clean drinking water and adequate food; failure to provide necessary medical care; detention in freezing, unsanitary facilities; and other violations of federal law and policy and international law. The documents provide evidence that U.S. officials were aware of these abuses as they occurred, but failed to properly investigate, much less to remedy, these abuses.”

Abuses listed in the report include children kicked in the ribs, punched in the head, shot with a stun gun (causing a boy “to fall to the ground, shaking, with his eyes rolling back in his head”) and run over with a patrol vehicle. A pregnant minor “was denied medical attention when she reported pain, which preceded a stillbirth.” A 16-year-old girl was subjected to a search in which they “forcefully spread her legs and touched her private parts so hard that she screamed.”

My God, it was like they placed these children in Gitmo!

These are the war games we play that aren’t games, but real-world actions. From cruelty at the border to nuclear testing, a philosophy of dominance over the enemy creates nothing but a poisoned planet and endless war. Paradoxically, a primary qualification for being a national leader is not knowing this.

https://popularresistance.org/we-can-imagine-and-create-a-world-without-military-enemies-and-wars/

‘We Are Climbing Rapidly Out of Humankind’s Safe Zone’: New Report Warns Dire Climate Warnings Not Dire Enough

By Jon Queally, staff writer, Common Dreams, August 20, 2018

“Climate change is now reaching the end-game, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences.”

But this doesn’t mean: “be scared.” This means: “Act. Demand action. With everything we got.”

“It is no longer possible to follow a gradual transition path to restore a safe climate,” write David Spratt and Ian Dunlop, authors the new report. “We have left it too late; emergency action, akin to a war footing, will eventually be accepted as inevitable. The longer that takes, the greater the damage inflicted upon humanity.” (Image: Breakthrough)

Offering a stark warning to the world, a new report out Monday argues that the reticence of the world’s scientific community—trapped in otherwise healthy habits of caution and due diligence—to downplay the potentially irreversible and cataclysmic impacts of climate change is itself a threat that should no longer be tolerated if humanity is to be motivated to make the rapid and far-reaching transition away from fossil fuels and other emissions-generating industries.

“It is no longer possible to follow a gradual transition path to restore a safe climate. We have left it too late; emergency action, akin to a war footing, will eventually be accepted as inevitable. The longer that takes, the greater the damage inflicted upon humanity.” —David Splatt & Ian Dunlop, report authors In the new report—titled What Lies Beneath: The Understatement of Existential Climate Risk (pdf)—authors David Splatt and Ian Dunlop, researchers with the National Centre for Climate Restoration (Breakthrough), an independent think tank based in Australia, argue that the existential threats posed by the climate crisis have still not penetrated the collective psyche of humanity and that world leaders, even those demanding aggressive action, have not shown the kind of urgency or imagination that the scale of the pending catastrophe presents.

While the report states that “a fast, emergency-scale transition to a post-fossil fuel world is absolutely necessary to address climate change,” it bemoans the fact that this solution continues to be excluded from the global policy debate because it is considered by the powerful as “too disruptive.” However, the paper argues, it is precisely this lack of imagination and political will that could doom humanity’s future.

As Splatt and Dunlop summarize at Renew Economy, their paper analyzes why:

  • Human-induced climate change is an existential risk to human civilisation: an adverse outcome that will either annihilate intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential, unless dramatic action is taken.
  • The bulk of climate research has tended to underplay these risks, and exhibited a preference for conservative projections and scholarly reticence.
  • IPCC reports tend toward reticence and caution, erring on the side of “least drama,” and downplaying the more extreme and more damaging outcomes, and are now becoming dangerously misleading with the acceleration of climate impacts globally.
  • Why this is a particular concern with potential climatic “tipping points,” the passing of critical thresholds which result in step changes in the climate system. Under-reporting on these issues is contributing to the “failure of imagination” in our understanding of, and response to, climate change.

“Climate change is now reaching the end-game,” reads the forward to the report by Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, head of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, “where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences.”

“It is no longer possible to follow a gradual transition path to restore a safe climate,” write Spratt and Dunlop in an op-ed published in the Guardian on Monday. “We have left it too late; emergency action, akin to a war footing, will eventually be accepted as inevitable. The longer that takes, the greater the damage inflicted upon humanity.”

At the center of their argument, the pair explain, is that while the global scientific community—including the vital work of the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—has been at the forefront of warning humanity about the processes and dangers of human-caused global warming, there has been simply too much “reticence and caution” that has led researchers to downplay the most “extreme and damaging outcomes” that lurk beneath their publicly stated findings and pronouncements. 

While this has been understandable historically, given the pressure exerted upon the IPCC by political and vested interests, it is now becoming dangerously misleading with the acceleration of climate impacts globally. What were lower probability, higher-impact events are now becoming more likely.

This is a particular concern with potential climatic tipping points – passing critical thresholds which result in step changes in the climate system – such as melting polar ice sheets (and hence increasing sea levels), permafrost and other carbon stores, where the impacts of global warming are nonlinear and difficult to model with current scientific knowledge.

The extreme risks which these tipping points represent justify strong precautionary risk management. Under-reporting on these issues is irresponsible, contributing to the failure of imagination that is occurring today in our understanding of, and response to, climate change.

“Either we act with unprecedented speed,” Spratt and Dunlop conclude, “or we face a bleak future.”

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/08/20/we-are-climbing-rapidly-out-humankinds-safe-zone-new-report-warns-dire-climate?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=socialnetwork