One Year Later: The Political Cancer Metastasizes

By Neal Gabler, billmoyers.com, Democracy & Government, November 10, 2017 http://billmoyers.com/story/one-year-later-political-cancer-metastasizes/

America was never what it had purported to be.

Excerpt…There will come a time, no doubt, when professional historians look back on these times and assess what happened to America, and I don’t think the assessment will be pretty. They will think of it as a period of national derangement, a time when America lost its bearings.

One year ago, Donald Trump, through the vicissitudes of our bizarre electoral system, beat Hillary Clinton… Trump’s victory broke with the idealism in America’s history, traditions and values. There was a feeling in some quarters that those of us who felt that way were being alarmist… You could hope that the Americans who supported Trump would come to their senses and that those who opposed him would create a countermovement. Happily, to some degree, that has indeed happened. …Many voters … enthused over Trump’s promise to destroy America as they had come to know it, which was the America of civility and tolerance and diversity, but also the America of elites and economic inequality and condescension.

That promise, however, was predicated on something else: that having blown up the country, Trump’s demolition would rediscover the old America underneath…About the only thing he is likely to accomplish is a massive tax redistribution from the middle class to the upper classes, under the guise of “tax cuts,”…

After last Nov. 8, this suddenly became a different country than it had been. Not only had the skeletons come out of the closet, they were leading the parade. No, America was never what it had purported to be. The idealism was always better in theory than in practice. We were always too self-congratulatory, too fixated on American exceptionalism, on ideas like The Greatest Generation, overlooking a fundamental fissure.

That fissure opened because the country was formed over conflicting concepts of freedom and equality. We like to think of ourselves as champions of equality: a tolerant, charitable, compassionate egalitarian people, showing one another respect and decency, and sometimes we are. This is, I believe, the very foundation of American liberalism. But we also like to think of ourselves as free from constraints, independent and self-sufficient, less concerned with compassion than with what we regard as personal justice. This, I believe, is the foundation of American conservatism.

Throughout our history, these two forces have continually vied with one another and at best tempered one another. The country operates in a kind of equilibrium between community and individualism, between sacrifice and self-interestedness. Trump has upset that equilibrium. By foreswearing equality entirely, he turned us from a community into, as many observers are now saying, a group of tribes, each focused only on its own prerogatives. Trump turned us against one another. He created a new, cold civil war between an expiring America where freedom was paramount and an ascending one where equality was paramount. He arrested history… His tweets are aimed squarely against immigrants and minorities who he believes have stolen the country away from the white Americans (white male Americans) who rightfully should control this country…. He has stressed might over morality. In short, his is the authoritarian playbook.

…. It is the single most radical political change, I believe, in the country’s history.

So the idea that Trump is just some bump in the road, or a contagion that will pass, is, I think, a fool’s dream. He now owns the Republican Party lock, stock and barrel…We cannot and should not ignore that nearly 40 percent of Americans — basically the entire Republican Party — will walk in lockstep with him wherever he leads. That should terrify us…. Trump, while no genius, certainly realizes how little he has to do to redeem himself just enough to keep his hate crusade afloat…That is also from the authoritarian playbook. Egomaniacs don’t care about other people’s lives.

I wrote here a year ago that there would be no coming back from this — that no matter what happened subsequently, we had crossed a threshold… the country is damaged, its values are damaged and repair will be a long time coming, if ever.

Trumpism now owns that dark and malignant strain in American life that has long sabotaged the ideals we prefer to celebrate ….White supremacists are not likely to forget that one of their hatemongers took the presidency…We can enjoy Tuesday’s triumphs as a rebuff to Trump, which they most certainly were. We can and must remain vigilant to contain the malignancy. Still, we cannot erase the fact that Trump’s rampage has left our country deeply wounded, perhaps fatally. He blew up America. A year later, there is no great old America underneath for the Trump-supporting nostalgists. There is instead rubble. And he is not done yet.

Full text

One Year Later: The Political Cancer Metastasizes By Neal Gabler, billmoyers.com, November 10, 2017

America was never what it had purported to be.

Exactly one day short of one year after the election of Donald Trump, the fog finally seemed to lift and the skies brightened. On Tuesday, voters rejected Trumpism in New Jersey and in Virginia, where establishment Republican Ed Gillespie embraced Trump’s racism and nativism, indicating how deeply the president’s poison has penetrated even the precincts of the party that should be vigorously in opposition to it.

In Maine, voters approved an expansion of Medicaid that their right-wing governor had rejected several times. In Washington state, Democrats won the upper house of the legislature. Meanwhile, GOP members of Congress are deserting the ship, one by one. As Steve Bannon marshals his “alt-right” forces to defeat mainstream Republicans, his primary candidates may be so far off the political spectrum next year that they could derail the Republicans’ Senate hopes. Across the board, Democratic prospects in 2018 look promising, if the Democrats don’t manage to screw things up, which is a very big if.

And yet, before anyone gets too sanguine, consider where we are. There will come a time, no doubt, when professional historians look back on these times and assess what happened to America, and I don’t think the assessment will be pretty. They will think of it as a period of national derangement, a time when America lost its bearings.

One year ago, Donald Trump, through the vicissitudes of our bizarre electoral system, beat Hillary Clinton, and one year ago I wrote a valedictory to the America I had known and loved, quoting lines from W.H. Auden’s September 1, 1939, in which he described the cataclysm of Hitler’s armies marching into Poland and launching World War II. America had flirted with disaster in the past, but we prided ourselves on not having succumbed to it, save with the Civil War. Somehow alleged good sense and solid institutions kept us from going over the precipice. Somehow.

And then, last Nov. 8, we did.

I wrote then of the peril the nation faced, of the way Trump’s victory broke with the idealism in America’s history, traditions and values. There was a feeling in some quarters that those of us who felt that way were being alarmist — that Trump would either normalize himself to fit the contours of our politics or that he would be normalized by the inhibitions of American democracy, where inertia exerts far more power than movement, especially since the great divide between the conservatives and liberals. You could hope that the disruption Trump represented would be mild, and it would be brief. You could hope that the Americans who supported Trump would come to their senses and that those who opposed him would create a countermovement.

Happily, to some degree, that has indeed happened. Even before Tuesday, recent polls showed a sense of buyer’s remorse. Many voters no doubt had felt glee at upending the applecart of modern America, and they enthused over Trump’s promise to destroy America as they had come to know it, which was the America of civility and tolerance and diversity, but also the America of elites and economic inequality and condescension.

After last Nov. 8, this suddenly became a different country than it had been. Not only had the skeletons come out of the closet, they were leading the parade.

That promise, however, was predicated on something else: that having blown up the country, Trump’s demolition would rediscover the old America underneath. Trump was supposed to be a political archeologist, digging down to another epoch. He was supposed to restore America to a halcyon past of white supremacy, on the one hand, and populism, on the other.

But Trump has betrayed that promise, even as he continues to give lip service to it. About the only thing he is likely to accomplish is a massive tax redistribution from the middle class to the upper classes, under the guise of “tax cuts,” which is something any old establishment Republican could have accomplished. In short, as a policymaker, Trump is less than nil, and that probably wouldn’t matter much to his supporters, who really don’t give a damn about policy, if it weren’t for the fact that Trump sold himself as a doer, and he is also nil there.

Still, that is just policy. Trump’s real accomplishment goes far deeper and is far more destructive than his attempts to repeal Obamacare or revoke environmental protections or banking regulations or any of the other dozens of things he has tried to do and sometimes did. After last Nov. 8, this suddenly became a different country than it had been. Not only had the skeletons come out of the closet, they were leading the parade. No, America was never what it had purported to be. The idealism was always better in theory than in practice. We were always too self-congratulatory, too fixated on American exceptionalism, on ideas like The Greatest Generation, overlooking a fundamental fissure.

That fissure opened because the country was formed over conflicting concepts of freedom and equality. We like to think of ourselves as champions of equality: a tolerant, charitable, compassionate egalitarian people, showing one another respect and decency, and sometimes we are. This is, I believe, the very foundation of American liberalism. But we also like to think of ourselves as free from constraints, independent and self-sufficient, less concerned with compassion than with what we regard as personal justice. This, I believe, is the foundation of American conservatism.

Throughout our history, these two forces have continually vied with one another and at best tempered one another. The country operates in a kind of equilibrium between community and individualism, between sacrifice and self-interestedness. Trump has upset that equilibrium. By foreswearing equality entirely, he turned us from a community into, as many observers are now saying, a group of tribes, each focused only on its own prerogatives. Trump turned us against one another. He created a new, cold civil war between an expiring America where freedom was paramount and an ascending one where equality was paramount. He arrested history.

When he is called the “divider-in-chief,” the label goes beyond his incendiary rhetoric to a zero-sum blame game. Whatever ails his supporters, he says, is the result of someone having taken something from them. His tweets are aimed squarely against immigrants and minorities who he believes have stolen the country away from the white Americans (white male Americans) who rightfully should control this country.

He nurses grievances, he advances conspiracy theories, he exacerbates angers, he scapegoats. He has opened wounds that had taken a century to begin to heal. And globally, he has given the middle finger to the rest of the world while lowering the nation’s standing and offending our allies while embracing our biggest enemy. He has stressed might over morality. In short, his is the authoritarian playbook.

The idea that Trump is just some bump in the road, or a contagion that will pass, is, I think, a fool’s dream. He now owns the Republican Party lock, stock and barrel.

A recent article in The Boston Globe looking at divisions in York, Pennsylvania, provides a powerful microcosm of how thoroughly Trump has splintered this country in only a year. He may not be the cause of this change, only its product. But no major candidate in any major party ever provided the opportunity he has to loose these divisions and ignite these hatreds.

I think of Trump’s America as a kind of Opposite Day — the game we played in grammar school where everything said was interpreted as the opposite. In a remarkably Orwellian fashion, Trump has taken whatever was good in this country and said and did the opposite. Nothing is what it used to be. Everything seems turned inside out. That is the country in which we now live. It is the single most radical political change, I believe, in the country’s history.

So the idea that Trump is just some bump in the road, or a contagion that will pass, is, I think, a fool’s dream. He now owns the Republican Party lock, stock and barrel. Those few who speak out against him, like Jeff Flake, only do so when they know they cannot win a primary against a Trump-backed candidate. Failure emboldens them. The others pretend to ignore him when it comes to legislation, but they know that while Trump is ignorant of and less than engaged with policy — all he wants are victories, regardless of policy — he is the electoral 800-pound gorilla in Republican primaries.

Rank-and-file Republicans still love him, not because of any ideological affinities but because of their emotional ones. We cannot and should not ignore that nearly 40 percent of Americans — basically the entire Republican Party — will walk in lockstep with him wherever he leads. That should terrify us.

Moreover, Trump, while no genius, certainly realizes how little he has to do to redeem himself just enough to keep his hate crusade afloat. We have already seen how the media practically canonized him for shooting some missiles at Syria, or how they gave him kudos for seeming to make a budget deal with Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. Trump dread is so deep in most of the country that even his refraining from tweeting for a few days would raise his stock and elicit praise that he was now “presidential.” Similarly, as I have written here, a war against North Korea would make him a short-term hero in many quarters and would certainly rally much of the country behind him. That is also from the authoritarian playbook. Egomaniacs don’t care about other people’s lives.

1 How Fake News Works: Tens of Millions of Americans Would Flunk Any …
2 GOP Tax Cuts Won’t Pass This Year — Or Maybe Even Next
3 Interactive Timeline: Everything We Know About Russia and President …
4 One Year Later: The Political Cancer Metastasizes
5 Moyers and McKibben: Time Is Running Out for the Planet
1 One Year Later: The Political Cancer Metastasizes
2 How Fake News Works: Tens of Millions of Americans Would Flunk Any …
3 Trump Nominee Kathleen Hartnett White Ignores Climate Change In Her …
4 Moyers and McKibben: Time Is Running Out for the Planet
5 Farewell, America

I wrote here a year ago that there would be no coming back from this — that no matter what happened subsequently, we had crossed a threshold. Once you know that those old institutions won’t inhibit a leader who hired Michael Flynn, a Russian acolyte, as his national security adviser (!), who threatens the press, who enriches himself in direct violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, who promotes white supremacism, who insults government professionals, including members of his own Cabinet, declaring, “I am the only one who matters,” or who… well, you know the litany. You also know that the country is damaged, its values are damaged and repair will be a long time coming, if ever.

Trumpism now owns that dark and malignant strain in American life that has long sabotaged the ideals we prefer to celebrate on the 4th of July, at Thanksgiving, and with stanzas of the national anthem and every salute of the flag. What we have learned this year is that Trumpism is now a permanent part of our polity. White supremacists are not likely to forget that one of their hatemongers took the presidency. This Trump cancer may be only a few aberrant cells, but it is a permanent feature of our body politic, threatening to metastasize, even if he is deposed.

We can enjoy Tuesday’s triumphs as a rebuff to Trump, which they most certainly were. We can and must remain vigilant to contain the malignancy. Still, we cannot erase the fact that Trump’s rampage has left our country deeply wounded, perhaps fatally. He blew up America. A year later, there is no great old America underneath for the Trump-supporting nostalgists. There is instead rubble. And he is not done yet.

Religious Freedom is a Progressive Value

By Frederick Clarkson, Winter 2017 edition of The Public Eye magazine. January 3, 2017 http://www.politicalresearch.org/2017/01/03/religious-freedom-is-a-progressive-value/#sthash.95zre6xo.dpbs

One’s beliefs or non-beliefs shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or effect their civic capabilities.             Thomas Jefferson

To read press coverage about it, one might think that religious freedom is a concern only for religious and political conservatives, and not one of the most liberatory ideas in history. One would also think religious freedom and civil rights are at odds with one another.1) Indeed, U.S. history is filled with examples of such competing claims, as resistance to everything from African American civil rights to marriage equality have been cast as matters of religious freedom. But stepping back from the heat of our political moment, there is a different, more fully accurate, story to be told, one I think that as progressives, we need to know and be able to tell.

Religious freedom is a powerful idea—the stuff from which revolutions are sometimes made. It includes the right of individual conscience—to believe or not believe as we choose, without undue influence from government or powerful religious institutions, and to practice our beliefs free from the same constraints. It’s no surprise that the first part of the First Amendment guarantees freedom of belief. The right to believe differently from the rich and powerful is a prerequisite for free speech and a free press.2) Grounding our politics, journalism, and scholarship in a clear understanding of what it means and where it came from could serve as both an inoculation and an answer to the distorted, self-serving claims of the Christian Right.

It was religious freedom that allowed for Quakers, evangelicals and Unitarians to lead the way in opposition to slavery in the 19th Century. Religious freedom also allowed Catholics and mainline Protestants to guide society in creating child labor laws early in the 20th Century, and later made it possible for religious groups and leaders to help forge wide and evolving coalitions to advance African American Civil Rights and women’s equality, to oppose the Vietnam War, and eventually fight for LGBTQ civil and religious rights.

Such coalitions aren’t always easy. When North Carolina Disciples of Christ minister Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, a leader in the progressive Moral Mondays movement, was asked about squaring religious freedom and marriage equality, he looked to the lessons of history and the wisdom of his own religious tradition. Working within a coalition that had long included LGBTQ advocates, Barber noted that the Christian Right was trying to “divide our ranks by casting doubt either among the LGBTQ community or among the African American community about whether our moral movement truly represented them.”

In the last century the NAACP had faced a similar challenge over the question of restrictions on interracial marriage. They ultimately opposed the bans, he wrote, as a matter of upholding “the moral and constitutional principle of equal protection under the law.” Faced with yet another fear-based tactic today, Barber wrote, “our movement’s position had to be the same.” He found his response in the First Amendment, which guarantees the right of churches, synagogues, and mosques to discern for themselves “what God says about marriage,” free from governmental attempts to enforce its preferred religious doctrines.3)

The Revolutionary War era Virginians who created our approach to religious freedom understood religious freedom to be synonymous with the idea of the right of individual conscience. James Madison wrote that when the Virginia Convention of 1776 issued the Virginia Declaration of Rights (three weeks before the Declaration of Independence), the delegates removed any language about religious “toleration” and declared instead “the freedom of conscience to be a natural and absolute right.”4) Madison was joined in supporting the rights of conscience by evangelical Presbyterians and Baptists who also insisted on a separation of church and state for fear that mixing would corrupt both.

Invoking the words of the Founders may seem hokey or sound archaic to some. But they knew that the freedom they were seeking to establish was fragile, and likely to be opposed in the future. Understanding the through line that connects the struggles for religious freedom at the founding of the country to today’s helps us fight to defend the principle from redefinition and cooptation.

Such an understanding helped the United States Commission on Civil Rights in 2016 when it issued a major report on issues involving religious exemptions from the law. “Religious liberty was never intended to give one religion dominion over other religions or a veto power over the civil rights and civil liberties of others,” said Commission Chair Martin R. Castro, who also further denounced the use of religious liberty as a “code word” for “Christian supremacy.”5)

The Commission found that overly broad religious exemptions from federal labor and civil rights laws undermine the purposes of these laws and urged that courts, legislatures, or executive agencies narrowly tailor any exemptions to address the need without diminishing the efficacy of the law.6)

Religious freedom advocates of the colonial era faced powerful entrenched interests who actively suppressed religious deviance and dissent that might upset their privileges. In the Virginia colony attendance was required at the Sunday services of the Church of England, and failure to attend was the most prosecuted crime in the colony for many years. Members of these Anglican church vestries were also empowered to report religious crimes like heresy and blasphemy to local grand juries. Unsurprisingly, the wealthy planters and business owners who comprised the Anglican vestries were able to limit access to this pipeline to political power. Dissenters from these theocratic dictates were dealt with harshly.7) In the years running up to the Revolution, Baptists and other religious dissidents in Virginia were victims of vigilante violence. “Men on horseback would often ride through crowds gathered to witness a baptism,” historian John Ragosta reports. “Preachers were horsewhipped and dunked in rivers and ponds in a rude parody of their baptism ritual… Black attendees at meetings––whether free or slave––were subject to particularly savage beatings.”

This was the context in which Jefferson drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1777, which took nearly a decade to become law. The statute effectively disestablished the Anglican Church as the state church of Virginia, curtailing its extraordinary powers and privileges. It also decreed that citizens are free to believe as they will and that this “shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” The statute was the first in history to self-impose complete religious freedom and equality, and historians as well as Supreme Court justices widely regard it as the root of how the framers of the Constitution (and later the First Amendment) approached matters of religion and government.9)

The principle of religious equality under the law was a profoundly progressive stance against the advantages enjoyed and enforced by the ruling political and economic elites of the 18th Century. Then, for example, as John Ragosta writes in Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed, “Marriages had to be consecrated by an Anglican minister, making children of dissenters who failed to marry within the Church of England (or pay the local Anglican priest for his cooperation) subject to claims of bastardy, with potentially serious legal consequences.”10)

Such abuses may seem like a relic of the past, but in recent years some Christians have tried to outlaw the religious marriages of others. In 2012 Christian Right advocates in North Carolina sought to build on existing laws limiting marriages to heterosexual couples by amending the state constitution, using language that would effectively criminalize the performance of marriage ceremonies without a license. This meant that clergy from varied religious traditions, from Judaism to Christianity to Buddhism, would be breaking the law if they solemnized religious marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. And the motive was explicitly religious. State Senator Wesley Meredith, for example, cited the Bible in explaining, “We need to regulate marriage because I believe that marriage is between a man and woman.”11)

This issue was part of the 2014 case General Synod of the United Church of Christ vs. Resinger, wherein a federal judge declared that laws that deny same-sex couples the right to marry in the state, prohibit recognition of legal same-sex marriages from elsewhere in the United States, “or threatens clergy or other officiants who solemnize the union of same-sex couples with civil or criminal penalties” were unconstitutional.12) It was an historic victory for a progressive version of religious liberty but one soundly rooted in the history of religious freedom. Clergy could now perform same-sex marriage ceremonies “without fear of prosecution,” said Heather Kimmel, an attorney for the UCC.13)

Jefferson and his contemporaries saw religious freedom as the key to disentangling ancient, mutually reinforcing relationships between the economic and political interests of aristocrats and the institutional imperatives of the church: what Jefferson called an unholy alliance of “kings, nobles, and priests”—meaning clergy of any religion—that divided people in order to rule them. He later wrote that his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was “intended to put down the aristocracy of the clergy and restored to the citizens the freedom of the mind.”14)

A quarter-millennium later, we are still struggling to defend religious freedom against erosion and assaults by powerful religious institutions and their agents inside and outside of government. Aspiring clerical aristocrats debase the idea of religious freedom when they use it as tool to seek exemptions from the generally applicable laws of the United States—particularly those that prohibit discrimination.

Religious freedom and civil rights are complementary values and legal principles necessary to sustain and advance equality for all. Like Rev. Barber, we must not fall for the ancient tactic of allowing the kings, nobles and priests of our time to divide and set us against one another.

We have come a long way since the revolutionaries who founded our country introduced one of the most powerfully democratic ideas in the history of the world. The struggle for religious freedom may never be complete, but it remains among our highest aspirations. And yet the kinds of forces that struggled both for and against religious freedom in the 18th Century are similar to those camps today. We are the rightful heirs of the constitutional legacy of religious freedom; the way is clear for us to find our voices and reclaim our role.

References   [ + ]

1. Joe Davidson, “Civil rights or religious liberty — what’s on top?,The Washington Post, September 9, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2016/09/09/commission-says-religious-liberty-should-not-top-civil-rights/.
2. Frederick Clarkson, When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right, Political Research Associates, January 2016, http://www.politicalresearch.org/when-exemption-is-the-rule-the-religious-freedom-strategy-of-the-christian-right/.
3. The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement, (Boston: Beacon Press, 2016), p. 91.
4. John Ragosta, Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed, (Charlottesville:University of Virginia Press, 2013), p. 61.
5. Martin R. Castro, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties, September 7, 2016, http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/Peaceful-Coexistence-09-07-16.PDF, p. 29.
6. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, “The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Releases Report: Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties,” PR NewsWire, September 7, 2016, http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-us-commission-on-civil-rights-releases-report-peaceful-coexistence-reconciling-nondiscrimination-principles-with-civil-liberties-300324252.html.
7. John Ragosta, Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed, (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013), p. 40-73.
8. John A. Ragosta, Wellspring of Liberty: How Virgin’s Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution & Secured Religious Liberty, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 5.
9. John Ragosta, Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed, (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013), p. 99.
10. John Ragosta, Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed, (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013), p. 46.
11. Kay Diane Ansley, Catherine “Cathy” McGaughey, Carol Ann Person, Thomas Roger Person, Kelley Penn, and Sonja Goodman v. Marion Warren, in his Official Capacity as Director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts. 2016, Case No.: 3:16-cv-114. The United States District Court For The Western District Of North Carolina Asheville Division, http://www.southernequality.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Ansley-v.-Warren-Complaint.pdf.
12. Max O. Cogburn, “Memorandum of Decision and Order,” General Synod of the United Church of Christ vs. Resinger, October 10, 2014.
13. Anthony Moujaes, “UCC victorious in lawsuit as judge strikes down N.C. gay marriage ban,” UCC News, October 9, 2014, http://www.ucc.org/north-carolina-marriageequality-10102014.
14. John Ragosta, Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed, (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013), p. 20.
Frederick Clarkson is a senior fellow at Political Research Associates. He co-founded the group blog Talk To Action and authored Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @FredClarkson.

 

 

 

 

 

Historian Nancy MacLean: We’re under attack “by a right-wing machine”

By Chauncey DeVega, salon.com 10.10.2017

Nancy MacLean on her hot book “Democracy in Chains” and the evil genius of the Koch brothers’ donor network https://www.salon.com/2017/10/10/historian-nancy-maclean-were-under-attack-by-a-right-wing-machine/

Excerpt

American democracy is in crisis. Across almost every issue, from the environment to the economy to gun control, the policies advocated by Donald Trump and the Republican Party are widely unpopular with the American people.

Yet Republicans now enjoy a near-monopoly on political power, with control of the White House, both houses of Congress and a large majority of state legislatures and governorships. How did this happen?

One part of the answer is that Republican voters are very obedient. Today’s version of conservatism functions almost as a religion, offering simple solutions to complex problems. There is a right-wing media machine that is without peer in its ability to distort reality by disseminating lies and disinformation. The Republican Party has used gerrymandering, voter suppression, and — now, apparently — aid from a hostile foreign country to manipulate the outcome of elections. By comparison, the Democratic Party in particular, and liberals and progressives more generally, possess no such competitive advantages.

There is another explanation as to why the Republican Party and movement conservatives have been able to sustain and expand their power. An extremely well-funded and highly organized network of right-wing interest groups, financiers, think tanks, lobbyists, media personalities, journalists, educators, activists, public relations firms and politicians has been working for decades to undermine American democracy.

What does this network look like? Who are the personalities and groups involved in this plan? In what ways has this extreme right-wing ideology influenced the Republican Party and Trump’s administration? What are the origins of this political and intellectual tradition? How have Charles and David Koch, and other leaders on the radical right, twisted the country’s laws and regulations to their advantage while hurting the American people? What can be done to stop this onslaught?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Nancy MacLean. She is the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University. Last year she published the explosive and controversial book “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America,” which is now a nominee for the National Book Award. It has come under sustained criticism from libertarian academics and intellectuals, many of them funded by the right-wing network MacLean discusses in the book.

A longer version of this conversation can be heard on my podcast, which is available on Salon’s Featured Audio page.

As a historian who has studied the philosophy and origins of the radical right in today’s America, how do you explain Donald Trump’s election?

There are many elements to his victory. One very important element is how Trump was the only Republican front-runner in the primaries who appeared to not be carrying the Koch brothers’ agenda. Every other front-runner had signed off on the Koch demands, in terms of radical changes to Social Security and Medicare. Trump, in contrast to the other Republican candidates, said that he would defend Social Security. He called the other front-runners puppets of the Kochs and said he didn’t need the money of these donors. Trump seemed like the only way for the Republican voters who would never vote for a Democrat. He was the only way they could vote for the Republican Party and not swallow the Koch agenda.

And of course, obviously the racism and so much of the ugliness that we’re seeing now were there before. It’s not like it came out of thin air. But Trump is channeling that behavior in ways that we have not seen before from a mainstream politician in recent history.

 You have also studied and written extensively about white supremacy in America. How does the color line factor into Trump’s election?

I would take it back to Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election. There’s no way that Barry Goldwater gets to be the candidate without the architects of that campaign making a conscious pivot to the white segregationist South to get voters who were enraged by the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. There were bitter fights between moderate and liberal Republicans on the Republican National Committee and these newcomers from the South who were really, really aggressively racist and pro-states’ rights. So the idea that Trump is bringing something fundamentally new to the Republican Party is, I think, at the very least an overstatement and really misleading in some other ways.

Who are some of the key figures in the story about how the Koch brothers and other elements of the radical right are working to undermine American democracy?

Some people that we know from earlier political history appear in a new light in my story, through their connection to this history.

For example, [former House Majority Leader] Dick Armey — of the so-called Republican revolution — is a crucial player in the Koch brothers’ assault on American democracy. Phil Gramm [a former Texas senator] as well. He is an economist from Texas who ended up in the Senate and first betrayed his Democratic colleagues by assisting Ronald Reagan, then changed parties and became a loyalist of the radical right’s effort to change the country. It is worth pointing out it was Gramm who helped push through financial deregulation, which would prove to be disastrous later on.

Grover Norquist would certainly be one of these individuals as well. Then there are people who are more connected to the academic and the intellectual wing of the extreme right-wing libertarian effort to subvert American democracy.

Tyler Cowen of George Mason University is one. Charles Koch has been directing an academic operation at George Mason called the Mercatus Center. And then there are all the people who come out of the Koch operations who are staffing up the Trump administration. The key senior figures include Mike Pence, Scott Pruitt, Mike Pompeo, Mick Mulvaney and Betsy DeVos. I would say it’s almost impossible to overstate how much the Kochs have gotten from this Trump administration and expect to get in the future.

What is the radical right’s vision for America?  

The Koch network and their allies claim they want “liberty.” They actually call themselves “the liberty movement” or sometimes “the freedom movement,” and speak in this very anodyne language about how they want to have limited government and freedom and lower taxes. For older white conservatives this language is very appealing. But what really bothered me in writing “Democracy in Chains” is that they’re not being honest. As libertarians they believe that there are only three functions for a legitimate government: To provide for the national defense, to ensure the rule of law and to maintain social order. Other than that, everything is illegitimate because other functions of government depend on taxing people — and particularly better-off people, in a system with progressive taxation. For this type of libertarian thinking, taxing people to provide for programs, services and resources with which they may not agree is illegitimate coercion and therefore must stop.

In this Koch-donor dream, we are all responsible for ourselves from the cradle to the grave, unless there is a charity that happens to take an interest in us. We do not have federal laws to outlaw pollution or to prevent discrimination. Instead we trust everything to the free market and private property. This cause has pitted itself against the whole American model of 20th-century government. Regulation of food and drugs, the New Deal’s federal support for workers to organize and hold corporations accountable, the civil rights movement, the women’s and the environmental movements, all of these things are illegitimate in the eyes of these people on the right.

In the present, this takes the form of the extreme gangster capitalism that the Republican Party advocates for and is literally embodied by Donald Trump.

One of the key thinkers in this type of extreme right-wing thought is the economist James Buchanan. I detail in my book how he preached, from the late 1960s forward, that it was time to stop focusing on who rules and start to focus laser-like on the rules. So he said, in a sense, that it doesn’t really matter who is elected, right? The question is, “What are the rules that are going to constrain their behavior?”

This is something that the Koch donor network is applying with a vengeance. They did not care who among those empty suits was going to be the Republican candidate in 2016, as long as they followed the Koch agenda.

They’re so much smarter than liberals and progressives in that way. The Koch brothers and their allies are thinking in really strategic ways about how to rig the game so it benefits capital and corporations and it restricts the rights and powers of labor unions, civil rights groups, environmentalists, women and retirees.

The radical right-wing movement has to operate in this stealth manner because they fully understand that they are a permanent minority who will never persuade a majority. I don’t think that these Koch-type libertarian thinkers could ever get above 10 percent of the American people to agree to their ideas, if the public actually knew what they were really advocating and working towards.

This also speaks to how many Americans confuse democracy with capitalism, as if they were one and the same thing. In reality, unregulated capitalism results in extreme wealth and income inequality, which in turn undermines democracy.

Actually, I think that more people are increasingly aware how America is an oligarchy where capitalism is swallowing up our democratic institutions. Bernie Sanders and his surprising success point to the fact that the American people no longer see a direct link between capitalism and democracy.

Conservatives, especially right-wing libertarians, have been enraged by your book. 

Well, I clearly have agitated some libertarians on the right, many of whom are affiliated with the organizations about which I’ve written in the book. They have made various charges against “Democracy in Chains,” most of which have been refuted by people who’ve actually read it.

These critics don’t read very closely. Most of them are either economists by training or legal scholars or just libertarian journalists. They do not seem to understand what historians actually do, which is close reading of documents and interpreting them in context with what we know about the author.

What is really impressive to me is the number of historians in particular who have taken on these allegations and refuted them brilliantly point by point. I do not know those people. But what’s been interesting to see is that those refutations make absolutely no difference to the people living the charges.

Ultimately, I think the attack on my work is also part of a larger effort to undermine the legitimacy of higher education more generally, and scholarly research in particular, that might disapprove or stand against the policies and ideas advocated for by the radical right wing. I do not think it’s coincidental that these critics are getting so frenzied at a time when the Koch donor network is expanding the number of implants it has around in schools around the country.

To them, it seems like you have violated the tenets of their political religion.

They’ve certainly never had an outsider research and write about their movement. So what I have done, in effect, is create a mirror to this cause and its history, and I believe these critics are looking at that mirror and they don’t like what they’re seeing. It’s deeply disturbing to them. Emotion is a huge part of what is driving the response.

The right wing’s effort to subvert democracy by rigging the system and working against the common good and the American people is so well-funded and expansive, as you have documented. I can imagine readers of “Democracy in Chains” feeling powerless when they finish it. What has the reaction by readers been like so far?

What you’re describing was part of my fear as I was writing the book because, frankly, I too was getting nauseated by what I discovered. As I started to put some of these pieces together and see how big and well-funded it was, yes, I did fear that reaction.

I am really gratified by the people who are writing to me about my book. It is amazing. What they’re feeling empowered by, and what they’re saying to me, is that they felt like they knew something was going really wrong in the country. That there were all these different ways in which things had gone haywire — the phrase they keep using is that my book is connecting the dots for them in a way, and in helping them to see, to understand. Almost like an X-ray.

What are some concrete things that the American people can do to resist the Koch brothers, as well as the radical right more generally?

Rebuild civil society. Protect our existing organizations such as labor unions, public teachers unions and other groups that defend American democracy. Stand up for civil rights groups. Fight voter suppression.

It is also important to get out of the silos that we’ve been in for a long time. For example, it is crucial for the AARP to understand that they need to care about what’s happening to African-Americans, whether it’s voter suppression or police brutality.

It’s crucial for environmentalists to understand that these attacks on Planned Parenthood are also an attack on the model of government on which environmentalists depend. We’re finally in a position where the connections between all these progressive causes are becoming clear — and they’re becoming clear because we’re all being attacked by a right-wing machine that wants to destroy everything.

Full text 

Historian Nancy MacLean: We’re under attack “by a right-wing machine” by Chauncey DeVega, .salon.com 10.10.2017 https://www.salon.com/2017/10/10/historian-nancy-maclean-were-under-attack-by-a-right-wing-machine/

Nancy MacLean on her hot book “Democracy in Chains” and the evil genius of the Koch brothers’ donor network – American democracy is in crisis. Across almost every issue, from the environment to the economy to gun control, the policies advocated by Donald Trump and the Republican Party are widely unpopular with the American people. Yet Republicans now enjoy a near-monopoly on political power, with control of the White House, both houses of Congress and a large majority of state legislatures and governorships. How did this happen? One part of the answer is that Republican voters are very obedient. Today’s version of conservatism functions almost as a religion, offering simple solutions to complex problems. There is a right-wing media machine that is without peer in its ability to distort reality by disseminating lies and disinformation. The Republican Party has used gerrymandering, voter suppression, and — now, apparently — aid from a hostile foreign country to manipulate the outcome of elections. By comparison, the Democratic Party in particular, and liberals and progressives more generally, possess no such competitive advantages. There is another explanation as to why the Republican Party and movement conservatives have been able to sustain and expand their power. An extremely well-funded and highly organized network of right-wing interest groups, financiers, think tanks, lobbyists, media personalities, journalists, educators, activists, public relations firms and politicians has been working for decades to undermine American democracy. What does this network look like? In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Nancy MacLean. She is the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University. Last year she published the explosive and controversial book “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America,” which is now a nominee for the National Book Award. It has come under sustained criticism from libertarian academics and intellectuals, many of them funded by the right-wing network MacLean discusses in the book. Q – As a historian who has studied the philosophy and origins of the radical right in today’s America, how do you explain Donald Trump’s election?Trump seemed like the only way for the Republican voters who would never vote for a Democrat. He was the only way they could vote for the Republican Party and not swallow the Koch agenda. A – And of course, obviously the racism and so much of the ugliness that we’re seeing now were there before. It’s not like it came out of thin air. But Trump is channeling that behavior in ways that we have not seen before from a mainstream politician in recent historyit’s almost impossible to overstate how much the Kochs have gotten from this Trump administration and expect to get in the future.  Q -What is the radical right’s vision for America?  A – The Koch network and their allies claim they want “liberty… and speak in this very anodyne language about how they want to have limited government and freedom and lower taxes. For older white conservatives this language is very appealing. But what really bothered me in writing “Democracy in Chains” is that they’re not being honest. As libertarians they believe that there are only three functions for a legitimate government: To provide for the national defense, to ensure the rule of law and to maintain social order. Other than that, everything is illegitimate because other functions of government depend on taxing people — and particularly better-off people, in a system with progressive taxation. For this type of libertarian thinking, taxing people to provide for programs, services and resources with which they may not agree is illegitimate coercion and therefore must stop.

In this Koch-donor dream, we are all responsible for ourselves from the cradle to the grave, unless there is a charity that happens to take an interest in us. We do not have federal laws to outlaw pollution or to prevent discrimination. Instead we trust everything to the free market and private property. This cause has pitted itself against the whole American model of 20th-century government. Regulation of food and drugs, the New Deal’s federal support for workers to organize and hold corporations accountable, the civil rights movement, the women’s and the environmental movements, all of these things are illegitimate in the eyes of these people on the right.

In the present, this takes the form of the extreme gangster capitalism that the Republican Party advocates for and is literally embodied by Donald Trump.

One of the key thinkers in this type of extreme right-wing thought is the economist James Buchanan. I detail in my book how he preached, from the late 1960s forward, that it was time to stop focusing on who rules and start to focus laser-like on the rules. So he said, in a sense, that it doesn’t really matter who is elected, right? The question is, “What are the rules that are going to constrain their behavior?”

This is something that the Koch donor network is applying with a vengeance. They did not care who among those empty suits was going to be the Republican candidate in 2016, as long as they followed the Koch agenda.

They’re so much smarter than liberals and progressives in that way. The Koch brothers and their allies are thinking in really strategic ways about how to rig the game so it benefits capital and corporations and it restricts the rights and powers of labor unions, civil rights groups, environmentalists, women and retirees.

The radical right-wing movement has to operate in this stealth manner because they fully understand that they are a permanent minority who will never persuade a majority. I don’t think that these Koch-type libertarian thinkers could ever get above 10 percent of the American people to agree to their ideas, if the public actually knew what they were really advocating and working towards.

This also speaks to how many Americans confuse democracy with capitalism, as if they were one and the same thing. In reality, unregulated capitalism results in extreme wealth and income inequality, which in turn undermines democracy.

Actually, I think that more people are increasingly aware how America is an oligarchy where capitalism is swallowing up our democratic institutions. Bernie Sanders and his surprising success point to the fact that the American people no longer see a direct link between capitalism and democracy.

Conservatives, especially right-wing libertarians, have been enraged by your book. 

Well, I clearly have agitated some libertarians on the right, many of whom are affiliated with the organizations about which I’ve written in the book. They have made various charges against “Democracy in Chains,” most of which have been refuted by people who’ve actually read it.

These critics don’t read very closely. Most of them are either economists by training or legal scholars or just libertarian journalists. They do not seem to understand what historians actually do, which is close reading of documents and interpreting them in context with what we know about the author.

What is really impressive to me is the number of historians in particular who have taken on these allegations and refuted them brilliantly point by point. I do not know those people. But what’s been interesting to see is that those refutations make absolutely no difference to the people living the charges.

Ultimately, I think the attack on my work is also part of a larger effort to undermine the legitimacy of higher education more generally, and scholarly research in particular, that might disapprove or stand against the policies and ideas advocated for by the radical right wing. I do not think it’s coincidental that these critics are getting so frenzied at a time when the Koch donor network is expanding the number of implants it has around in schools around the country.

To them, it seems like you have violated the tenets of their political religion.

They’ve certainly never had an outsider research and write about their movement. So what I have done, in effect, is create a mirror to this cause and its history, and I believe these critics are looking at that mirror and they don’t like what they’re seeing. It’s deeply disturbing to them. Emotion is a huge part of what is driving the response.

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The right wing’s effort to subvert democracy by rigging the system and working against the common good and the American people is so well-funded and expansive, as you have documented. I can imagine readers of “Democracy in Chains” feeling powerless when they finish it. What has the reaction by readers been like so far?

What you’re describing was part of my fear as I was writing the book because, frankly, I too was getting nauseated by what I discovered. As I started to put some of these pieces together and see how big and well-funded it was, yes, I did fear that reaction.

I am really gratified by the people who are writing to me about my book. It is amazing. What they’re feeling empowered by, and what they’re saying to me, is that they felt like they knew something was going really wrong in the country. That there were all these different ways in which things had gone haywire — the phrase they keep using is that my book is connecting the dots for them in a way, and in helping them to see, to understand. Almost like an X-ray.

What are some concrete things that the American people can do to resist the Koch brothers, as well as the radical right more generally?

Rebuild civil society. Protect our existing organizations such as labor unions, public teachers unions and other groups that defend American democracy. Stand up for civil rights groups. Fight voter suppression.

It is also important to get out of the silos that we’ve been in for a long time. For example, it is crucial for the AARP to understand that they need to care about what’s happening to African-Americans, whether it’s voter suppression or police brutality.

It’s crucial for environmentalists to understand that these attacks on Planned Parenthood are also an attack on the model of government on which environmentalists depend. We’re finally in a position where the connections between all these progressive causes are becoming clear — and they’re becoming clear because we’re all being attacked by a right-wing machine that wants to destroy everything.

 

American democracy is in crisis. Across almost every issue, from the environment to the economy to gun control, the policies advocated by Donald Trump and the Republican Party are widely unpopular with the American people.

Yet Republicans now enjoy a near-monopoly on political power, with control of the White House, both houses of Congress and a large majority of state legislatures and governorships. How did this happen?

One part of the answer is that Republican voters are very obedient. Today’s version of conservatism functions almost as a religion, offering simple solutions to complex problems. There is a right-wing media machine that is without peer in its ability to distort reality by disseminating lies and disinformation. The Republican Party has used gerrymandering, voter suppression, and — now, apparently — aid from a hostile foreign country to manipulate the outcome of elections. By comparison, the Democratic Party in particular, and liberals and progressives more generally, possess no such competitive advantages.

There is another explanation as to why the Republican Party and movement conservatives have been able to sustain and expand their power. An extremely well-funded and highly organized network of right-wing interest groups, financiers, think tanks, lobbyists, media personalities, journalists, educators, activists, public relations firms and politicians has been working for decades to undermine American democracy.

What does this network look like? Who are the personalities and groups involved in this plan? In what ways has this extreme right-wing ideology influenced the Republican Party and Trump’s administration? What are the origins of this political and intellectual tradition? How have Charles and David Koch, and other leaders on the radical right, twisted the country’s laws and regulations to their advantage while hurting the American people? What can be done to stop this onslaught?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Nancy MacLean. She is the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University. Last year she published the explosive and controversial book “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America,” which is now a nominee for the National Book Award. It has come under sustained criticism from libertarian academics and intellectuals, many of them funded by the right-wing network MacLean discusses in the book.

A longer version of this conversation can be heard on my podcast, which is available on Salon’s Featured Audio page.

As a historian who has studied the philosophy and origins of the radical right in today’s America, how do you explain Donald Trump’s election?

There are many elements to his victory. One very important element is how Trump was the only Republican front-runner in the primaries who appeared to not be carrying the Koch brothers’ agenda. Every other front-runner had signed off on the Koch demands, in terms of radical changes to Social Security and Medicare. Trump, in contrast to the other Republican candidates, said that he would defend Social Security. He called the other front-runners puppets of the Kochs and said he didn’t need the money of these donors. Trump seemed like the only way for the Republican voters who would never vote for a Democrat. He was the only way they could vote for the Republican Party and not swallow the Koch agenda.

And of course, obviously the racism and so much of the ugliness that we’re seeing now were there before. It’s not like it came out of thin air. But Trump is channeling that behavior in ways that we have not seen before from a mainstream politician in recent history.

 You have also studied and written extensively about white supremacy in America. How does the color line factor into Trump’s election?

I would take it back to Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election. There’s no way that Barry Goldwater gets to be the candidate without the architects of that campaign making a conscious pivot to the white segregationist South to get voters who were enraged by the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. There were bitter fights between moderate and liberal Republicans on the Republican National Committee and these newcomers from the South who were really, really aggressively racist and pro-states’ rights. So the idea that Trump is bringing something fundamentally new to the Republican Party is, I think, at the very least an overstatement and really misleading in some other ways.

Who are some of the key figures in the story about how the Koch brothers and other elements of the radical right are working to undermine American democracy?

Some people that we know from earlier political history appear in a new light in my story, through their connection to this history.

For example, [former House Majority Leader] Dick Armey — of the so-called Republican revolution — is a crucial player in the Koch brothers’ assault on American democracy. Phil Gramm [a former Texas senator] as well. He is an economist from Texas who ended up in the Senate and first betrayed his Democratic colleagues by assisting Ronald Reagan, then changed parties and became a loyalist of the radical right’s effort to change the country. It is worth pointing out it was Gramm who helped push through financial deregulation, which would prove to be disastrous later on.

Grover Norquist would certainly be one of these individuals as well. Then there are people who are more connected to the academic and the intellectual wing of the extreme right-wing libertarian effort to subvert American democracy.

Tyler Cowen of George Mason University is one. Charles Koch has been directing an academic operation at George Mason called the Mercatus Center. And then there are all the people who come out of the Koch operations who are staffing up the Trump administration. The key senior figures include Mike Pence, Scott Pruitt, Mike Pompeo, Mick Mulvaney and Betsy DeVos. I would say it’s almost impossible to overstate how much the Kochs have gotten from this Trump administration and expect to get in the future.

What is the radical right’s vision for America?  

The Koch network and their allies claim they want “liberty.” They actually call themselves “the liberty movement” or sometimes “the freedom movement,” and speak in this very anodyne language about how they want to have limited government and freedom and lower taxes. For older white conservatives this language is very appealing. But what really bothered me in writing “Democracy in Chains” is that they’re not being honest. As libertarians they believe that there are only three functions for a legitimate government: To provide for the national defense, to ensure the rule of law and to maintain social order. Other than that, everything is illegitimate because other functions of government depend on taxing people — and particularly better-off people, in a system with progressive taxation. For this type of libertarian thinking, taxing people to provide for programs, services and resources with which they may not agree is illegitimate coercion and therefore must stop.

In this Koch-donor dream, we are all responsible for ourselves from the cradle to the grave, unless there is a charity that happens to take an interest in us. We do not have federal laws to outlaw pollution or to prevent discrimination. Instead we trust everything to the free market and private property. This cause has pitted itself against the whole American model of 20th-century government. Regulation of food and drugs, the New Deal’s federal support for workers to organize and hold corporations accountable, the civil rights movement, the women’s and the environmental movements, all of these things are illegitimate in the eyes of these people on the right.

In the present, this takes the form of the extreme gangster capitalism that the Republican Party advocates for and is literally embodied by Donald Trump.

One of the key thinkers in this type of extreme right-wing thought is the economist James Buchanan. I detail in my book how he preached, from the late 1960s forward, that it was time to stop focusing on who rules and start to focus laser-like on the rules. So he said, in a sense, that it doesn’t really matter who is elected, right? The question is, “What are the rules that are going to constrain their behavior?”

This is something that the Koch donor network is applying with a vengeance. They did not care who among those empty suits was going to be the Republican candidate in 2016, as long as they followed the Koch agenda.

They’re so much smarter than liberals and progressives in that way. The Koch brothers and their allies are thinking in really strategic ways about how to rig the game so it benefits capital and corporations and it restricts the rights and powers of labor unions, civil rights groups, environmentalists, women and retirees.

The radical right-wing movement has to operate in this stealth manner because they fully understand that they are a permanent minority who will never persuade a majority. I don’t think that these Koch-type libertarian thinkers could ever get above 10 percent of the American people to agree to their ideas, if the public actually knew what they were really advocating and working towards.

This also speaks to how many Americans confuse democracy with capitalism, as if they were one and the same thing. In reality, unregulated capitalism results in extreme wealth and income inequality, which in turn undermines democracy.

Actually, I think that more people are increasingly aware how America is an oligarchy where capitalism is swallowing up our democratic institutions. Bernie Sanders and his surprising success point to the fact that the American people no longer see a direct link between capitalism and democracy.

Conservatives, especially right-wing libertarians, have been enraged by your book. 

Well, I clearly have agitated some libertarians on the right, many of whom are affiliated with the organizations about which I’ve written in the book. They have made various charges against “Democracy in Chains,” most of which have been refuted by people who’ve actually read it.

These critics don’t read very closely. Most of them are either economists by training or legal scholars or just libertarian journalists. They do not seem to understand what historians actually do, which is close reading of documents and interpreting them in context with what we know about the author.

What is really impressive to me is the number of historians in particular who have taken on these allegations and refuted them brilliantly point by point. I do not know those people. But what’s been interesting to see is that those refutations make absolutely no difference to the people living the charges.

Ultimately, I think the attack on my work is also part of a larger effort to undermine the legitimacy of higher education more generally, and scholarly research in particular, that might disapprove or stand against the policies and ideas advocated for by the radical right wing. I do not think it’s coincidental that these critics are getting so frenzied at a time when the Koch donor network is expanding the number of implants it has around in schools around the country.

To them, it seems like you have violated the tenets of their political religion.

They’ve certainly never had an outsider research and write about their movement. So what I have done, in effect, is create a mirror to this cause and its history, and I believe these critics are looking at that mirror and they don’t like what they’re seeing. It’s deeply disturbing to them. Emotion is a huge part of what is driving the response.

Report Ad

The right wing’s effort to subvert democracy by rigging the system and working against the common good and the American people is so well-funded and expansive, as you have documented. I can imagine readers of “Democracy in Chains” feeling powerless when they finish it. What has the reaction by readers been like so far?

What you’re describing was part of my fear as I was writing the book because, frankly, I too was getting nauseated by what I discovered. As I started to put some of these pieces together and see how big and well-funded it was, yes, I did fear that reaction.

I am really gratified by the people who are writing to me about my book. It is amazing. What they’re feeling empowered by, and what they’re saying to me, is that they felt like they knew something was going really wrong in the country. That there were all these different ways in which things had gone haywire — the phrase they keep using is that my book is connecting the dots for them in a way, and in helping them to see, to understand. Almost like an X-ray.

What are some concrete things that the American people can do to resist the Koch brothers, as well as the radical right more generally?

Rebuild civil society. Protect our existing organizations such as labor unions, public teachers unions and other groups that defend American democracy. Stand up for civil rights groups. Fight voter suppression.

It is also important to get out of the silos that we’ve been in for a long time. For example, it is crucial for the AARP to understand that they need to care about what’s happening to African-Americans, whether it’s voter suppression or police brutality.

It’s crucial for environmentalists to understand that these attacks on Planned Parenthood are also an attack on the model of government on which environmentalists depend. We’re finally in a position where the connections between all these progressive causes are becoming clear — and they’re becoming clear because we’re all being attacked by a right-wing machine that wants to destroy everything.

Richard Rorty’s prescient warnings for the American left

By Sean D. Illing, Vox.com, Sep 26, 2017

This liberal philosopher predicted Trump’s rise in 1998 – and he has another warning for the left

Excerpt  (full text – see below or source https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/2/9/14543938/richard-rorty-liberalism-vietnam-donald-trump-obamaor )

A prescient passage from a forgotten book has been making the rounds since Donald Trump’s election. It’s plucked from a 1998 book titled Achieving our Country. The author is Richard Rorty, a liberal philosopher who died in 2007. The book consists of a series of lectures Rorty gave in 1997 about the history of leftist thought in 20th-century America.

To read the viral passage is to recognize immediately why it has caught fire:

Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers – themselves desperately afraid of being downsized – are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking for a strongman to vote for – someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.

Today, Rorty’s words read like prophecy. Something has cracked. People have lost faith in the system...Recent history seems to support Rorty’s contention. Obama’s implacable optimism inspired the country. Bernie Sanders’s economic populism resonated with far more people than anyone supposed a year or two ago. This is a winning combination for the left. It’s also the formula that Rorty endorses in Achieving our Country.

Perhaps the left would do well to embrace it.

Full text

A prescient passage from a forgotten book has been making the rounds since Donald Trump’s election. It’s plucked from a 1998 book titled Achieving our Country. The author is Richard Rorty, a liberal philosopher who died in 2007. The book consists of a series of lectures Rorty gave in 1997 about the history of leftist thought in 20th-century America.

To read the viral passage is to recognize immediately why it has caught fire:

 Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers – themselves desperately afraid of being downsized – are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking for a strongman to vote for – someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.

Today, Rorty’s words read like prophecy. Something has cracked. People have lost faith in the system. A strongman is upon us. So what happened? Over the course of three lectures, Rorty proffers a theory. He traces the history of the modern American left to show where, in his view, it lost its way, and how that digression prepared the way for the populist right. The story he tells is compelling, detached, and often oddly romantic. But it’s supremely instructive, even when it sputters.

The best way to make sense of Rorty’s argument is to follow it chronologically. He sees the American left as split into two camps: the reformist left and the cultural left. The reformist left dominates from 1900 until it is supplanted by the cultural left in the mid-1960s. The division has more to do with tactics than it does principles, but those tactical differences, for Rorty at least, carried enormous consequences.

Here’s the case he made twenty years ago.

The reformist left

“I propose to use the term reformist Left,” Rorty wrote, “to cover all those Americans who, between 1900 and 1964, struggled within the framework of constitutional democracy to protect the weak from the strong.” The emphasis on constitutional democracy is paramount here. Reformists believed in the system, and wanted to improve it from within.

Before the 1960s, the American left was largely reformist in its orientation to politics. Think of the people who engineered the New Deal or the Ivy-educated technocrats that joined Kennedy in the White House. John Kenneth Galbraith, the liberal economist and public official who served in the administrations of FDR, Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson, is a favorite of Rorty’s. These were the liberals who weren’t socialist radicals but nevertheless worked to promote the same causes within and through the system. They were liberal reformers, not revolutionary leftists, and they got things done.

The reformist left was a big tent. It included people who thought of themselves as communists and socialist as well as moderate left-of-center Democrats. What united them was a devotion to pragmatic reform; there were no purity tests, no totalizing calls for revolution, as was common among Marxists at the time. But they were “feared and hated by the Right” because they gave us the fundaments of the modern welfare state.

The reformers had their flaws. FDR, a classic reformist liberal, delivered the New Deal and encouraged the growth of labor unions, but he also shamefully ignored the interests of African Americans and interned Japanese Americans during WWII. Lyndon Johnson did as much as any president to improve the lives of poor children, but he also doubled down on the unjust and illegal war in Vietnam. The Harvard technocrats in the Kennedy administration were complicit in countless horrors in Vietnam. But they also created lasting domestic policies that advanced the cause of social justice.

Rorty admired the reformist left both because they were effective and because they understood that the key dividing line between the left the right in this country was about whether the state has a responsibility to ensure a moral and socially desirable distribution of wealth. The right rejected this proposition, the left embraced it.

The reformist left “helped substitute a rhetoric of fraternity and national solidarity for a rhetoric of individual rights.” They proposed a counter-narrative to the libertarian right, which fetishized the individual and made a virtue of selfishness. The idea was to convince Americans that America was best — and closest to its moral identity — when it turned left, when it sacrificed, when citizens imagined themselves as participants in an intergenerational movement.

Such an orientation didn’t entail a blind spot for America’s sins. “America is not a morally pure country. No country ever has been or ever will be,” Rorty wrote, but “in democratic countries you get things done by compromising your principles in order to form alliances with groups about whom you have grave doubts.” The left made tremendous progress in this way.

It accepted, as Rorty put it, that the inequities of American society had to be “corrected by using the institutions of constitutional democracy.” And that meant acquiring power, taking control of institutions, and persuading people with whom you disagree. It was not enough to speak truth to power; elections had to be won and coalitions forged if you wanted to get things done.

This spirit of pragmatism held the American left together until the 1960s. The focus was on improving the material conditions of Americans by winning elections and appealing to national pride. Economic justice was considered a precursor to social justice. If the system could be made to work for everyone, if you could lift more people out of poverty, socio-cultural progress would naturally follow.

Or at least that was the idea.

The cultural left

The focus of leftist politics changed in the 1960s. For Rorty, the left ceased to be political and instead became a cultural movement. The prevailing view was that it was no longer possible to promote equality and social justice within the system.

The Vietnam War, more than anything else, set the left on its new trajectory. The war was seen as an indictment of the whole system, of America as such. Thus the broader anti-communist Cold War become a central fault line for left-wing activists. Led largely by students, the new left regarded anyone opposed to communism — including Democrats, union workers, and technocrats — as hostile.

America was viewed, increasingly, as a failed promise, a malevolent empire beyond redemption. Of what use is reformist politics in such a context? Rorty elaborates:

For if you turn out to be living in an evil empire (rather than, as you had been told, a democracy fighting an evil empire), then you have no responsibility to your country; you are accountable only to humanity. If what your government and your teachers are saying is all part of the same Orwellian monologue – if the differences between the Harvard faculty and the military-industrial complex, or between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater, are negligible – then you have a responsibility to make a revolution.

It’s not that these sentiments were wrong; America was, for much of the country, a failed promise. The racial divide was real and socially engineered. The war in Vietnam was an inhuman sham. There was something deeply troubling about the structure of American society. Rorty disputed none of this.

From his perspective, the problem was the total rejection of pragmatic reform. The belief that there was nothing in America that could be salvaged, no institutions that could be corrected, no laws worth passing, led to the complete abandonment of conventional politics. Persuasion was replaced by self-expression; policy reform by recrimination.

There was a shift away from economics towards a “politics of difference” or “identity” or “recognition.” If the intellectual locus of pre-’60s leftism was social science departments, it was now literature and philosophy departments. And the focus was no longer on advancing alternatives to a market economy or on the proper balance between political freedom and economic liberalism. Now the focus was on the cultural status of traditionally marginalized groups.

In many ways, this was a good thing. The economic determinism of the pre-’60s left was embarrassingly myopic. Most of the gains made by the left in the early and mid-20th century went to white males. “The situation of African-Americans was deplored,” as Rorty notes, “but not changed by this predominantly white Left.” The plight of minorities and gay Americans and other oppressed groups was an afterthought. This was a moral failure the cultural left sought to correct.

And it did this by “teaching Americans to recognize otherness,” as Rorty put it. Multiculturalism, as it’s now called, was about preserving otherness, preserving our differences; it doesn’t oblige us to cease to notice those differences. There’s nothing morally objectionable about that. As a political strategy, however, it’s problematic. It reinforces sectarian impulses and detracts from coalition-building.

The pivot away from politics toward culture spawned academic fields like women and gender studies, African-American studies, Hispanic-American studies, LGBTQ studies, and so on. These disciplines do serious academic work, but they don’t minister to concrete political ends. Their goal has been to make people aware of the humiliation and hate endured by these groups, and to alienate anyone invested in that hate.

Rorty doesn’t object to these aims; indeed, he (rightly) celebrated them. The cultural left succeeded in making America a better, more civilized country. The problem, though, is that that progress came at a price. “There is a dark side to the success story I have been telling about the post-sixties cultural Left,” Rorty writes. “During the same period in which socially accepted sadism diminished, economic inequality and economic insecurity have steadily increased. It’s as if the American Left could not handle more than one initiative at a time — as if it either had to ignore stigma in order to concentrate on money, or vice versa.”

The left’s focus on cultural issues created an opening for the populist right, for people like Pat Buchanan and Donald Trump, who galvanize support among the white working class by exploiting racial resentment and economic anxiety. Rorty explains:

While the Left’s back was turned, the bourgeoisification of the white proletariat which began in WWII and continued up through the Vietnam War has been halted, and the process has gone into reverse. America is now proletarianizing its bourgeoisie, and this process is likely to culminate in bottom-up revolt, of the sort [Pat] Buchanan hopes to foment.

Racial animus is baked into the founding of America; it exists regardless of what the left does. But Rorty’s point holds: By divorcing itself from class and labor issues, the left lost sight of its economic agenda and waged a culture war that empowers the right and has done little to improve the lives of the very people it seeks to defend. Rorty’s advice to the left was to pay attention to who benefits from such a strategy:

The super-rich will have to keep up the pretense that national politics might someday make a difference. Since economic decisions are their prerogative, they will encourage politicians of both the Left and the Right, to specialize in cultural issues. The aim will be to keep the minds of the proles elsewhere – to keep the bottom 75 percent of Americans and the bottom 95 percent of the world’s population busy with ethnic and religious hostilities, and with debates about sexual mores. If the proles can be distracted from their own despair by media-created pseudo-events…the super-rich will have little to fear.

Big business benefits most from the culture wars. If the left and the right are quarreling over religion or race or same-sex marriage, nothing much changes, or nothing that impacts wealth concentration changes. Rorty is particularly hard on Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, both of whom he accuses of retreating “from any mention of redistribution” and of “moving into a sterile vacuum called the center.” The Democratic Party, under this model, has grown terrified of redistributionist economics, believing such talk would drive away the suburbanite vote. The result, he concludes, is that “the choice between the major parties has come down to a choice between cynical lies and terrified silence.”

Rorty’s concern was not that the left cared too much about race relations or discrimination (it should care about these things); rather, he warned that it stopped doing the hard work of liberal democratic politics. He worried that it’s retreat into academia, into theory and away from the concrete, would prove politically disastrous.

Immediately after the now-famous passage about a future “strongman,” Rorty offered yet another disturbing prophecy:

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words ‘nigger’ and ‘kike’ will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

If this were to happen, Rorty added, it would be a calamity for the country and the world. People would wonder how it happened, and why the left was unable to stop it. They wouldn’t understand why the left couldn’t “channel the mounting rage of the newly dispossessed” and speak more directly to the “consequences of globalization.” They would conclude that the left had died, or that it existed but was “no longer able to engage in national politics.”

And they would be right in at least one sense: On a purely political level, the left would have failed.

 “Achieving our Country”

“Democracy is a great word, whose history, I suppose, remains unwritten, because that history has yet to be enacted.” -—Walt Whitman

There’s much to dispute in Rorty’s endogenous critique of the left. To begin with, his distinction between the reformist left and the cultural left is overly simplistic, as is his discussion of the compatibility of these projects. It’s also unclear how neatly the left, as it’s constructed today, fits into Rorty’s binary distinction. Much of his argument stands, but the political landscape has changed dramatically.

Rorty is also strangely sanguine about the race question. There’s a causal connection between the injustices of the past and the injustices of the present that makes history impossible to avoid. And one could argue that Rorty fails to appreciate just how entrenched racism is in this country.

At times, moreover, he seems to imply that the cultural strides made by the post-’60s left could have come about another way, and yet it’s never clear how. And if, as he admits, the gains of the pre-’60s left fell mostly to white males, was a revolt not justified?

There is, finally, Rorty’s praise of the reformist preference for working within the system. His point that this is how things get done in a constitutional democracy is well-taken, but the strategic value of such an approach has to be reexamined in light of the public’s weakened faith in that system. Confidence in the institutions of government has fallen precipitously in recent decades. Trump, after all, was elected precisely because he threatened to explode the system. As a matter of strategy, then, it’s not clear that Rorty’s argument holds. At the very least, it was more compelling in 1998 than it is today.

Nevertheless, Rorty’s vision of an “inspirational liberalism” is worth revisiting. He liked the idea of reform because it signaled a process. The first of his three lectures is devoted to John Dewey and Walt Whitman, both of whom, on his view, personified American liberalism at its best. These were pragmatists who understood the role of national pride in motivating political change. They understood that politics is a game of competing stories “about a nation’s self-identity, and between differing symbols of its greatness.”

The strength of Dewey and Whitman was that they could look at America’s past with clear eyes, at the slaughter of Native Americans and the importation of slaves, and go beyond the disgust it invoked, beyond the cultural pessimism. They articulated a civic religion that challenged the country to do better, to forge a future that lived up to the promise of America. In Rorty’s words, they recognized that “stories about what a nation has been and should try to be are not attempts at accurate representation, but rather attempts to forge a moral identity.”

Both the Right and the left have a story to tell, and the difference is enormous:

For the Right never thinks that anything much needs to be changed: it thinks the country is basically in good shape, and may well have been in better shape in the past. It sees the Left’s struggle for social justice as mere troublemaking, as utopian foolishness. The Left, by definition, is the party of hope. It insists that our nation remains unachieved.

In this dynamic, the right is “spectatorial and retrospective,” and the left seeks to mobilize Americans as agents of change. The right exalts and papers over America’s past, the left acknowledges that past but enjoins Americans to take pride in what the country might become.

A candidate like Trump upends this dynamic: He’s both a nostalgia candidate (“Make America Great Again”) and someone who describes America as a carnage-filled hellscape. But Trump is an outlier; his victory represents a negation of the entire system, not a fundamental shift in how the right talks about America. It’s possible that Trump’s rise does signal such a shift, but it’s too soon to make that determination.

In any case, Rorty’s pitch to liberals stands, and it starts with the symbolism of the phrase “Achieving our Country.” The words are borrowed from James Baldwin, the great novelist and activist, but Rorty read them through a distinctly Nietzschean prism. Much of Rorty’s scholarship was influenced by Nietzsche, and his political philosophy was no different.

Nietzsche conceived of life as literature. A human life is necessarily an act of self-creation, and if it’s a good life, it’s also one of constant self-improvement. This is how Dewey and Whitman imagined America. It was a story being written in real-time by citizen-activists. Here’s Rorty on Whitman one last time:

Whitman thought that we Americans have the most poetical nature because we are the first thoroughgoing experiment in national self-creation: the first nation-state with nobody but itself to please — not even God. We are the greatest poem because we put ourselves in the place of God: our essence is our existence, and our existence is in the future. Other nations thought of themselves as hymns to the glory of God. We redefine God as our future selves.

Rorty’s discussion of Dewey and Whitman verges on the quixotic. Politics is an ugly business, and the soaring rhetoric of Whitman only takes you so far. But the broader point about national pride and projecting a vision of the future that can build a consensus for specific reforms remains as relevant as ever.

Recent history seems to support Rorty’s contention. Obama’s implacable optimism inspired the country. Bernie Sanders’s economic populism resonated with far more people than anyone supposed a year or two ago. This is a winning combination for the left. It’s also the formula that Rorty endorses in Achieving our Country.

Perhaps the left would do well to embrace it.

 

Where Did ‘We the People’ Go?

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

Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

Full text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intro – Excerpt:

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

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

Full text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

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

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

Full text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noam Chomsky: On Trump and the State of the Union

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

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

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

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

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

— George Yancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G.Y.: Frightening to the born.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Correction: July 5, 2017

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truthout Progressive Pick

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

Click here now to get the book!

Copyright (2017) by Nancy MacLean.

Nancy MacLean

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

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

Democracy in Chains – review from Duke University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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