The Last Temptation

The Last Temptation by Michael Gerson, The Atlantic, May 2018    https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/04/the-last-temptation/554066/

How evangelicals, once culturally confident, became an anxious minority seeking political protection from the least traditionally religious president in living memory

One of the most extraordinary things about our current politics—really, one of the most extraordinary developments of recent political history—is the loyal adherence of religious conservatives to Donald Trump. The president won four-fifths of the votes of white evangelical Christians. This was a higher level of support than either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, an outspoken evangelical himself, ever received.

Trump’s background and beliefs could hardly be more incompatible with traditional Christian models of life and leadership. Trump’s past political stances (he once supported the right to partial-birth abortion), his character (he has bragged about sexually assaulting women), and even his language (he introduced the words pussy and shithole into presidential discourse) would more naturally lead religious conservatives toward exorcism than alliance. This is a man who has cruelly publicized his infidelities, made disturbing sexual comments about his elder daughter, and boasted about the size of his penis on the debate stage. His lawyer reportedly arranged a $130,000 payment to a porn star to dissuade her from disclosing an alleged affair. Yet religious conservatives who once blanched at PG-13 public standards now yawn at such NC-17 maneuvers. We are a long way from The Book of Virtues.

Trump supporters tend to dismiss moral scruples about his behavior as squeamishness over the president’s “style.” But the problem is the distinctly non-Christian substance of his values. Trump’s unapologetic materialism—his equation of financial and social success with human achievement and worth—is a negation of Christian teaching. His tribalism and hatred for “the other” stand in direct opposition to Jesus’s radical ethic of neighbor love. Trump’s strength-worship and contempt for “losers” smack more of Nietzsche than of Christ. Blessed are the proud. Blessed are the ruthless. Blessed are the shameless. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after fame.

According to Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelicals have “found their dream president,” which says something about the current quality of evangelical dreams.

And yet, a credible case can be made that evangelical votes were a decisive factor in Trump’s improbable victory. Trump himself certainly acts as if he believes they were. Many individuals, causes, and groups that Trump pledged to champion have been swiftly sidelined or sacrificed during Trump’s brief presidency. The administration’s outreach to white evangelicals, however, has been utterly consistent.

Trump-allied religious leaders have found an open door at the White House—what Richard Land, the president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, calls “unprecedented access.” In return, they have rallied behind the administration in its times of need. “Clearly, this Russian story is nonsense,” explains the mega-church pastor Paula White-Cain, who is not generally known as a legal or cybersecurity expert. Pastor David Jeremiah has compared Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to Joseph and Mary: “It’s just like God to use a young Jewish couple to help Christians.” According to Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelicals have “found their dream president,” which says something about

Loyalty to Trump has involved progressively more difficult, self-abasing demands. And there appears to be no limit to what some evangelical leaders will endure. Figures such as Falwell and Franklin Graham followed Trump’s lead in supporting Judge Roy Moore in the December Senate election in Alabama. These are religious leaders who have spent their entire adult lives bemoaning cultural and moral decay. Yet they publicly backed a candidate who was repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct, including with a 14-year-old girl.the current quality of evangelical dreams.

In January, following reports that Trump had referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries,” Pastor Robert Jeffress came quickly to his defense. “Apart from the vocabulary attributed to him,” Jeffress wrote, “President Trump is right on target in his sentiment.” After reports emerged that Trump’s lawyer paid hush money to the porn star Stormy Daniels to cover up their alleged sexual encounter, Graham vouched for Trump’s “concern for Christian values.” Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, argued that Trump should be given a “mulligan” for his past infidelity. One can only imagine the explosion of outrage if President Barack Obama had been credibly accused of similar offenses.

The moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption. Blinded by political tribalism and hatred for their political opponents, these leaders can’t see how they are undermining the causes to which they once dedicated their lives. Little remains of a distinctly Christian public witness.

As the prominent evangelical pastor Tim Keller—who is not a Trump loyalist—recently wrote in The New Yorker, “ ‘Evangelical’ used to denote people who claimed the high moral ground; now, in popular usage, the word is nearly synonymous with ‘hypocrite.’ ” So it is little wonder that last year the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship, an 87-year-old ministry, dropped the “E word” from its name, becoming the Princeton Christian Fellowship: Too many students had identified the term with conservative political ideology. Indeed, a number of serious evangelicals are distancing themselves from the word for similar reasons.

I find this desire understandable but not compelling. Some words, like strategic castles, are worth defending, and evangelical is among them. While the term is notoriously difficult to define, it certainly encompasses a “born-again” religious experience, a commitment to the authority of the Bible, and an emphasis on the redemptive power of Jesus Christ.

I was raised in an evangelical home, went to an evangelical church and high school, and began following Christ as a teen. After attending Georgetown University for a year, I transferred to Wheaton College in Illinois—sometimes called “the Harvard of evangelical Protestantism”—where I studied theology. I worked at an evangelical nonprofit, Prison Fellowship, before becoming a staffer for Senator Dan Coats of Indiana (a fellow Wheaton alum). On Capitol Hill, I found many evangelical partners in trying to define a “compassionate conservatism.” And as a policy adviser and the chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush, I saw how evangelical leaders such as Rick and Kay Warren could be principled, tireless advocates in the global fight against aids.

Those experiences make me hesitant to abandon the word evangelical. They also make seeing the defilement of that word all the more painful. The corruption of a political party is regrettable. The corruption of a religious tradition by politics is tragic, shaming those who participate in it.

How did something so important and admirable become so disgraced? For many people, including myself, this question involves both intellectual analysis and personal angst. The answer extends back some 150 years, and involves cultural and political shifts that long pre-date Donald Trump. It is the story of how an influential and culturally confident religious movement became a marginalized and anxious minority seeking political protection under the wing of a man such as Trump, the least traditionally Christian figure—in temperament, behavior, and evident belief—to assume the presidency in living memory.

Understanding that evolution requires understanding the values that once animated American evangelicalism. It is a movement that was damaged in the fall from a great height.

My alma mater, Wheaton College, was founded by abolitionist evangelicals in 1860 under the leadership of Jonathan Blanchard, an emblematic figure in mid-19th-century Northern evangelicalism. Blanchard was part of a generation of radical malcontents produced by the Second Great Awakening, a religious revival that had touched millions of American lives in the first half of the 19th century. He was a Presbyterian minister, a founder of several radical newspapers, and an antislavery agitator.

In the years before the Civil War, a connection between moralism and a concern for social justice was generally assumed among Northern evangelicals. They variously militated for temperance, humane treatment of the mentally disabled, and prison reform. But mainly they militated for the end of slavery. 
Indeed, Wheaton welcomed both African American and female students, and served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. In a history of the 39th Regiment of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry, the infantryman Ezra Cook recalled that “runaway slaves were perfectly safe in the College building, even when no attempt was made to conceal their presence.”

Blanchard had explained his beliefs in an 1839 commencement address given at Oberlin College, titled “A Perfect State of Society.” He preached that “every true minister of Christ is a universal reformer, whose business it is, so far as possible, to reform all the evils which press on human concerns.” Elsewhere he argued that “slave-holding is not a solitary, but a social sin.” He added: “I rest my opposition to slavery upon the one-bloodism of the New Testament. All men are equal, because they are of one equal blood.”

During this period, evangelicalism was largely identical to mainstream Protestantism. Evangelicals varied widely in their denominational beliefs, but they uniformly agreed about the need for a personal decision to accept God’s grace through faith in Christ. The evangelist Charles G. Finney, who was the president of Oberlin College from 1851 to 1866, described his conversion experience thusly: “I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love.”

Early evangelicals were an optimistic lot who thought that human effort could help hasten the arrival of the Second Coming.

In politics, evangelicals tended to identify New England, and then the whole country, with biblical Israel. Many a sermon described America as a place set apart for divine purposes. “Some nation,” the evangelical minister Lyman Beecher said, “itself free, was needed, to blow the trumpet and hold up the light.” (Beecher’s daughter Harriet Beecher Stowe was among the founders of this magazine.) The burden of this calling was a collective responsibility to remain virtuous, in matters from ending slavery to ending Sabbath-breaking.

This was not advocacy for theocracy, and evangelical leaders were not blind to the risks of too close a relationship with worldly power. “The injudicious association of religion with politics, in the time of Cromwell,” Beecher argued, “brought upon evangelical doctrine and piety, in England, an odium which has not ceased to this day.” Yet few evangelicals would have denied that God’s covenantal relationship with America required a higher standard of private and public morality, lest that divine blessing be forfeited.

Perhaps most important, prior to the Civil War, evangelicals were by and large postmillennialists—that is, they believed that the final millennium of human history would be a time of peace for the world and of expansion for the Christian Church, culminating in the Second Coming of Christ. As such, they were an optimistic lot who thought that human effort could help hasten the arrival of this promised era—a belief that encouraged both social activism and global missionary activity. “Evangelicals generally regarded almost any sort of progress as evidence of the advance of the kingdom,” the historian George Marsden observes in Fundamentalism and American Culture.

In the mid-19th century, evangelicalism was the predominant religious tradition in Americaa faith assured of its social position, confident in its divine calling, welcoming of progress, and hopeful about the future. Fifty years later, it was losing intellectual and social ground on every front. Twenty-five years beyond that, it had become a national joke.

The horrors of the Civil War took a severe toll on the social optimism at the heart of postmillennialism. It was harder to believe in the existence of a religious golden age that included Antietam. At the same time, industrialization and urbanization loosened traditional social bonds and created an impression of moral chaos. The mass immigration of Catholics and Jews changed the face and spiritual self-conception of the country. (In 1850, Catholics made up about 5 percent of the population. By 1906, they represented 17 percent.) Evangelicals struggled to envision a diverse, and some believed degenerate, America as the chosen, godly republic of their imagination.

But it was a series of momentous intellectual developments that most effectively drove a wedge between evangelicalism and elite culture. Higher criticism of the Bible—a scholarly movement out of Germany that picked apart the human sources and development of ancient texts—called into question the roots, accuracy, and historicity of the book that constituted the ultimate source of evangelical authority. At the same time, the theory of evolution advanced a new account of human origin. Advocates of evolution, as well as those who denied it most vigorously, took the theory as an alternative to religious accounts—and in many cases to Christian belief itself.

Religious progressives sought common ground between the Christian faith and the new science and higher criticism. Many combined their faith with the Social Gospel—a postmillennialism drained of the miraculous, with social reform taking the place of the Second Coming.

Religious conservatives, by contrast, rebelled against this strategy of accommodation in a series of firings and heresy trials designed to maintain control of seminaries. (Woodrow Wilson’s uncle James lost his job at Columbia Theological Seminary for accepting evolution as compatible with the Bible.) But these tactics generally backfired, and seminary after seminary, college after college, fell under the influence of modern scientific and cultural assumptions. To contest progressive ideas, the religiously orthodox published a series of books called The Fundamentals. Hence the term fundamentalism, conceived in a spirit of desperate reaction.

Fundamentalism embraced traditional religious views, but it did not propose a return to an older evangelicalism. Instead it responded to modernity in ways that cut it off from its own past. In reacting against higher criticism, it became simplistic and overliteral in its reading of scripture. In reacting against evolution, it became anti-scientific in its general orientation. In reacting against the Social Gospel, it came to regard the whole concept of social justice as a dangerous liberal idea. This last point constituted what some scholars have called the “Great Reversal,” which took place from about 1900 to 1930. “All progressive social concern,” Marsden writes, “whether political or private, became suspect among revivalist evangelicals and was relegated to a very minor role.”

This general pessimism about the direction of society was reflected in a shift away from postmillennialism and toward premillennialism. In this view, the current age is tending not toward progress, but rather toward decadence and chaos under the influence of Satan. A new and better age will not be inaugurated until the Second Coming of Christ, who is the only one capable of cleaning up the mess. No amount of human effort can hasten that day, or ultimately save a doomed world. For this reason, social activism was deemed irrelevant to the most essential task: the work of preparing oneself, and helping others prepare, for final judgment.

The banishment of fundamentalism from the cultural mainstream culminated dramatically in a Tennessee courthouse in 1925. William Jennings Bryan, the most prominent Christian politician of his time, was set against Clarence Darrow and the theory of evolution at the Scopes “monkey trial,” in which a Tennessee educator was tried for teaching the theory in high school. Bryan won the case but not the country. The journalist and critic H. L. Mencken provided the account accepted by history, dismissing Bryan as “a tin pot pope in the Coca-Cola belt and a brother to the forlorn pastors who belabor half-wits in galvanized iron tabernacles behind the railroad yards.” Fundamentalists became comic figures, subject to world-class condescension.

It has largely slipped the mind of history that Bryan was a peace activist as secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson and that his politics foreshadowed the New Deal. And Mencken was eventually revealed as a racist, an anti-Semite, and a eugenics advocate. In the fundamentalist–modernist controversy, there was only one winner. “In the course of roughly thirty-five years,” the sociologist James Davison Hunter observes in American Evangelicalism, “Protestantism had moved from a position of cultural dominance to a position of cognitive marginality and political impotence.” Activism and optimism were replaced by the festering resentment of status lost.

The fundamentalists were not passive in their exile. They created a web of institutions—radio stations, religious schools, outreach ministries—that eventually constituted a healthy subculture. The country, meanwhile, was becoming less secular and more welcoming of religious influence. (In 1920, church membership in the United States was 43 percent. By 1960, it was 63 percent.) A number of leaders, including the theologian Carl Henry and the evangelist Billy Graham (the father of Franklin Graham), bridled at fundamentalist irrelevance. Henry’s book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism was influential in urging greater cultural and intellectual engagement. This reemergence found its fullest expression in Graham, who left the fundamentalist ghetto, hobnobbed with presidents, and presented to the public a more appealing version of evangelicalism—a term that was deliberately employed as a contrast to the older, narrower fundamentalism.

Fox News and conservative talk radio are vastly greater influences on evangelicals’ political identity than formal statements by religious denominations.

Not everyone was impressed. When Graham planned mass evangelistic meetings in New York City in 1957, the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr editorialized against his “petty moralizing.” But Niebuhr’s attack on Graham provoked significant backlash, even in liberal theological circles. During a 16-week “crusade” that played to packed houses, Graham was joined one night at Madison Square Garden by none other than Martin Luther King Jr.

Over time, evangelicalism got a revenge of sorts in its historical rivalry with liberal Christianity. Adherents of the latter gradually found better things to do with their Sundays than attend progressive services. In 1972, nearly 28 percent of the population belonged to mainline-Protestant churches. That figure is now well below 15 percent. Over those four decades, however, evangelicals held steady at roughly 25 percent of the public (though this share has recently declined). As its old theological rival faded—or, more accurately, collapsed—evangelical endurance felt a lot like momentum.

With the return of this greater institutional self-confidence, evangelicals might have expected to play a larger role in determining cultural norms and standards. But their hopes ran smack into the sexual revolution, along with other rapid social changes. The Moral Majority appeared at about the same time that the actual majority was more and more comfortable with divorce and couples living together out of wedlock. Evangelicals experienced the power of growing numbers and healthy subcultural institutions even as elite institutions—from universities to courts to Hollywood—were decisively rejecting traditional ideals.

As a result, the primary evangelical political narrative is adversarial, an angry tale about the aggression of evangelicalism’s cultural rivals. In a remarkably free country, many evangelicals view their rights as fragile, their institutions as threatened, and their dignity as assailed. The single largest religious demographic in the United States—representing about half the Republican political coalition—sees itself as a besieged and disrespected minority. In this way, evangelicals have become simultaneously more engaged and more alienated.

The overall political disposition of evangelical politics has remained decidedly conservative, and also decidedly reactive. After shamefully sitting out (or even opposing) the civil-rights movement, white evangelicals became activated on a limited range of issues. They defended Christian schools against regulation during Jimmy Carter’s administration. They fought against Supreme Court decisions that put tight restrictions on school prayer and removed many state limits on abortion. The sociologist Nathan Glazer describes such efforts as a “defensive offensive”—a kind of morally indignant pushback against a modern world that, in evangelicals’ view, had grown hostile and oppressive.

This attitude was happily exploited by the modern GOP. Evangelicals who were alienated by the pro-choice secularism of Democratic presidential nominees were effectively courted to join the Reagan coalition. “I know that you can’t endorse me,” Reagan told an evangelical conference in 1980, “but I only brought that up because I want you to know that I endorse you.” In contrast, during his presidential run four years later, Walter Mondale warned of “radical preachers,” and his running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, denounced the “extremists who control the Republican Party.” By attacking evangelicals, the Democratic Party left them with a relatively easy partisan choice.

Billy Graham (right) left the fundamentalist ghetto, hobnobbed with presidents, and presented to the public a more appealing version of evangelicalism. (Bettmann / Getty)

The leaders who had emerged within evangelicalism varied significantly in tone and approach. Billy Graham was the uncritical priest to the powerful. (His inclination to please was memorialized on one of the Nixon tapes, in comments enabling the president’s anti-Semitism.) James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, was the prickly prophet, constantly threatening to bolt from the Republican coalition unless social-conservative purity was maintained. Jerry Falwell Sr. and Pat Robertson (the latter of whom ran for president himself in 1988) tried to be political kingmakers. And, following his dramatic conversion, Chuck Colson, of Watergate infamy, founded Prison Fellowship in an attempt to revive some of the old abolitionist spirit as an advocate of prison reform. Yet much of this variety was blurred in the public mind, with religious right used as a catchall epithet.

Where did this history leave evangelicals’ political involvement?

For a start, modern evangelicalism has an important intellectual piece missing. It lacks a model or ideal of political engagement—an organizing theory of social action. Over the same century from Blanchard to Falwell, Catholics developed a coherent, comprehensive tradition of social and political reflection. Catholic social thought includes a commitment to solidarity, whereby justice in a society is measured by the treatment of its weakest and most vulnerable members. And it incorporates the principle of subsidiarity—the idea that human needs are best met by small and local institutions (though higher-order institutions have a moral responsibility to intervene when local ones fail).

In practice, this acts as an “if, then” requirement for Catholics, splendidly complicating their politics: If you want to call yourself pro-life on abortion, then you have to oppose the dehumanization of migrants. If you criticize the devaluation of life by euthanasia, then you must criticize the devaluation of life by racism. If you want to be regarded as pro-family, then you have to support access to health care. And vice versa. The doctrinal whole requires a broad, consistent view of justice, which—when it is faithfully applied—cuts across the categories and clichés of American politics. Of course, American Catholics routinely ignore Catholic social thought. But at least they have it. Evangelicals lack a similar tradition of their own to disregard.

So where do evangelicals get their theory of social engagement? It is cheating to say (as most evangelicals probably would) “the Bible.” The Christian Bible, after all, can be a vexing document: At various points, it offers approving accounts of genocide and recommends the stoning of insubordinate children. Some interpretive theory must elevate the Golden Rule above Iron Age ethics and apply that higher ideal to the tragic compromises of public life. Lacking an equivalent to Catholic social thought, many evangelicals seem to find their theory merely by following the contours of the political movement that is currently defending, and exploiting, them. The voter guides of religious conservatives have often been suspiciously similar to the political priorities of movement conservatism. Fox News and talk radio are vastly greater influences on evangelicals’ political identity than formal statements by religious denominations or from the National Association of Evangelicals. In this Christian political movement, Christian theology is emphatically not the primary motivating factor.

The evangelical political agenda, moreover, has been narrowed by its supremely reactive nature. Rather than choosing their own agendas, evangelicals have been pulled into a series of social and political debates started by others. Why the asinine issue of spiritually barren prayer in public schools? Because of Justice Hugo Black’s 1962 opinion rendering it unconstitutional. Why such an effort-wasting emphasis on a constitutional amendment to end abortion, which will never pass? Because in 1973 Justice Harry Blackmun located the right to abortion in the constitutional penumbra. Why the current emphasis on religious liberty? Because the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing same-sex marriage has raised fears of coercion.

It is not that secularization, abortion, and religious liberty are trivial issues; they are extremely important. But the timing and emphasis of evangelical responses have contributed to a broad sense that evangelical political engagement is negative, censorious, and oppositional. This funneled focus has also created the damaging impression that Christians are obsessed with sex. Much of the secular public hears from Christians only on issues of sexuality—from contraceptive mandates to gay rights to transgender bathroom usage. And while religious people do believe that sexual ethics are important, the nature of contemporary religious engagement creates a misimpression about just how important they are relative to other crucial issues.

The upside potential of evangelical social engagement was illustrated by an important, but largely overlooked, initiative that I witnessed while working at the White House. The President’s Emergency Plan for aids Relief (pepfar)—the largest initiative by a nation in history to fight a single disease—emerged in part from a sense of moral obligation informed by George W. Bush’s evangelical faith. In explaining and defending the program, Bush made constant reference to Luke 12:48: “To whom much is given, much is required.” pepfar also owes its existence to a strange-bedfellows political alliance of liberal global-health advocates and evangelical leaders, who had particular standing and sway with Republican members of Congress. Rather than being a response to secular aggression, this form of evangelical social engagement was the reaction to a massive humanitarian need and displayed a this-worldly emphasis on social justice that helped save millions of lives.

This achievement is now given little attention by secular liberals or religious conservatives. In the Trump era, evangelical leaders have seldom brought this type of issue to the policy front burner—though some have tried with criminal-justice reform and the fight against modern slavery. Individual Christians and evangelical ministries fight preventable disease, resettle refugees, treat addiction, run homeless shelters, and care for foster children. But such concerns find limited collective political expression.

Part of the reason such matters are not higher on the evangelical agenda is surely the relative ethnic and racial insularity of many white evangelicals. Plenty of African Americans hold evangelical theological views, of course, along with a growing number of Latinos. Yet evangelical churches, like other churches and houses of worship, tend to be segregated on Sunday. Nearly all denominations with large numbers of evangelicals are less racially diverse than the country overall.

Compare this with the Catholic Church, which is more than one-third Hispanic. This has naturally stretched the priorities of Catholicism to include the needs and rights of recent immigrants. In many evangelical communities, those needs remain distant and theoretical (though successful evangelical churches in urban areas are now experiencing the same diversity and broadening of social concern). Or consider the contrasting voting behaviors of white and African American evangelicals in last year’s Senate race in Alabama. According to exit polls, 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Roy Moore, while 95 percent of black evangelicals supported his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones. The two groups inhabit two entirely different political worlds.

Evangelicals also have a consistent problem with their public voice, which can be off-puttingly apocalyptic. “We are on the verge of losing” America, proclaims the evangelical writer and radio host Eric Metaxas, “as we could have lost it in the Civil War.” Franklin Graham declares, a little too vividly, that the country “has taken a nosedive off of the moral diving board into the cesspool of humanity.” Such hyperbole may be only a rhetorical strategy, employing the apocalypse for emphasis. But the attribution of depravity and decline to America also reflects a consistent and (so far) disappointed belief that the Second Coming may be just around history’s corner.

The difficulty with this approach to public life—other than its insanely pessimistic depiction of our flawed but wonderful country—is that it trivializes and undercuts the entire political enterprise. Politics in a democracy is essentially anti-apocalyptic, premised on the idea that an active citizenry is capable of improving the nation. But if we’re already mere minutes from the midnight hour, then what is the point? The normal avenues of political reform are useless. No amount of negotiation or compromise is going to matter much compared with the Second Coming.

Moreover, in making their case on cultural decay and decline, evangelicals have, in some highly visible cases, chosen the wrong nightmares. Most notable, they made a crucial error in picking evolution as a main point of contention with modernity. “The contest between evolution and Christianity is a duel to the death,” William Jennings Bryan argued. “If evolution wins … Christianity goesnot suddenly, of course, but gradually, for the two cannot stand together.” Many people of his background believed this. But their resistance was futile, for one incontrovertible reason: Evolution is a fact. It is objectively true based on overwhelming evidence. By denying this, evangelicals made their entire view of reality suspect. They were insisting, in effect, that the Christian faith requires a flight from reason.

This was foolish and unnecessary. There is no meaningful theological difference between creation by divine intervention and creation by natural selection; both are consistent with belief in a purposeful universe, and with serious interpretation of biblical texts. Evangelicals have placed an entirely superfluous stumbling block before their neighbors and children, encouraging every young person who loves science to reject Christianity.

Evangelicals remain the most loyal element of the Trump coalition. They are broadly eager to act as his shield and sword. They are his army of enablers.

What if Bryan and others of his generation had chosen to object to eugenics rather than evolution, to social Darwinism rather than Darwinism? The textbook at issue in the Scopes case, after all, was titled A Civic Biology, and it urged sterilization for the mentally impaired. “Epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness,” the text read, “are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity.” What if this had been the focus of Bryan’s objection? Mencken doubtless would still have mocked. But the moral and theological priorities of evangelical Christianity would have turned out differently. And evangelical fears would have been eventually justified by America’s shameful history of eugenics, and by the more rigorous application of the practice abroad. Instead, Bryan chose evolution—and in the end, the cause of human dignity was not served by the obscuring of human origins.

The consequences, especially for younger generations, are considerable. According to a recent survey by Barna, a Christian research firm, more than half of churchgoing Christian teens believe that “the church seems to reject much of what science tells us about the world.” This may be one reason that, in America, the youngest age cohorts are the least religiously affiliated, which will change the nation’s baseline of religiosity over time. More than a third of Millennials say they are unaffiliated with any faith, up 10 points since 2007. Count this as an ironic achievement of religious conservatives: an overall decline in identification with religion itself.

By the turn of the millennium, many, including myself, were convinced that religious conservatism was fading as a political force. Its outsize leaders were aging and passing. Its institutions seemed to be declining in profile and influence. Bush’s 2000 campaign attempted to appeal to religious voters on a new basis. “Compassionate conservatism” was designed to be a policy application of Catholic social thought—an attempt to serve the poor, homeless, and addicted by catalyzing the work of private and religious nonprofits. The effort was sincere but eventually undermined by congressional-Republican resistance and eclipsed by global crisis. Still, I believed that the old evangelical model of social engagement was exhausted, and that something more positive and principled was in the offing.

I was wrong. In fact, evangelicals would prove highly vulnerable to a message of resentful, declinist populism. Donald Trump could almost have been echoing the apocalyptic warnings of Metaxas and Graham when he declared, “Our country’s going to hell.” Or: “We haven’t seen anything like this, the carnage all over the world.” Given Trump’s general level of religious knowledge, he likely had no idea that he was adapting premillennialism to populism. But when the candidate talked of an America in decline and headed toward destruction, which could be returned to greatness only by recovering the certainties of the past, he was strumming resonant chords of evangelical conviction.

Trump consistently depicts evangelicals as they depict themselves: a mistreated minority, in need of a defender who plays by worldly rules. Christianity is “under siege,” Trump told a Liberty University audience. “Relish the opportunity to be an outsider,” he added at a later date: “Embrace the label.” Protecting Christianity, Trump essentially argues, is a job for a bully.

It is true that insofar as Christian hospitals or colleges have their religious liberty threatened by hostile litigation or government agencies, they have every right to defend their institutional identities—to advocate for a principled pluralism. But this is different from evangelicals regarding themselves, hysterically and with self-pity, as an oppressed minority that requires a strongman to rescue it. This is how Trump has invited evangelicals to view themselves. He has treated evangelicalism as an interest group in need of protection and preferences.

A prominent company of evangelical leaders—including Dobson, Falwell, Graham, Jeffress, Metaxas, Perkins, and Ralph Reed—has embraced this self-conception. Their justification is often bluntly utilitarian: All of Trump’s flaws are worth his conservative judicial appointments and more-favorable treatment of Christians by the government. But they have gone much further than grudging, prudential calculation. They have basked in access to power and provided character references in the midst of scandal. Graham castigated the critics of Trump’s response to the violence during a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia (“Shame on the politicians who are trying to push blame on @POTUS”). Dobson has pronounced Trump a “baby Christian”—a political use of grace that borders on blasphemy. “Complaining about the temperament of the @POTUS or saying his behavior is not presidential is no longer relevant,” Falwell tweeted. “[Donald Trump] has single-handedly changed the definition of what behavior is ‘presidential’ from phony, failed & rehearsed to authentic, successful & down to earth.”

It is remarkable to hear religious leaders defend profanity, ridicule, and cruelty as hallmarks of authenticity and dismiss decency as a dead language. Whatever Trump’s policy legacy ends up being, his presidency has been a disaster in the realm of norms. It has coarsened our culture, given permission for bullying, complicated the moral formation of children, undermined standards of public integrity, and encouraged cynicism about the political enterprise. Falwell, Graham, and others are providing religious cover for moral squalor—winking at trashy behavior and encouraging the unraveling of social restraints. Instead of defending their convictions, they are providing preemptive absolution for their political favorites. And this, even by purely political standards, undermines the causes they embrace. Turning a blind eye to the exploitation of women certainly doesn’t help in making pro-life arguments. It materially undermines the movement, which must ultimately change not only the composition of the courts but the views of the public. Having given politics pride of place, these evangelical leaders have ceased to be moral leaders in any meaningful sense.

Every strong Trump supporter has decided that racism is not a moral disqualification in the president of the United States.

But setting matters of decency aside, evangelicals are risking their faith’s reputation on matters of race. Trump has, after all, attributed Kenyan citizenship to Obama, stereotyped Mexican migrants as murderers and rapists, claimed unfair treatment in federal court based on a judge’s Mexican heritage, attempted an unconstitutional Muslim ban, equivocated on the Charlottesville protests, claimed (according to The New York Times) that Nigerians would never “go back to their huts” after seeing America, and dismissed Haitian and African immigrants as undesirable compared with Norwegians.

For some of Trump’s political allies, racist language and arguments are part of his appeal. For evangelical leaders, they should be sources of anguish. Given America’s history of slavery and segregation, racial prejudice is a special category of moral wrong. Fighting racism galvanized the religious conscience of 19th-century evangelicals and 20th-century African American civil-rights activists. Perpetuating racism indicted many white Christians in the South and elsewhere as hypocrites. Americans who are wrong on this issue do not understand the nature of their country. Christians who are wrong on this issue do not understand the most-basic requirements of their faith.

Here is the uncomfortable reality: I do not believe that most evangelicals are racist. But every strong Trump supporter has decided that racism is not a moral disqualification in the president of the United States. And that is something more than a political compromise. It is a revelation of moral priorities.

If utilitarian calculations are to be applied, they need to be fully applied. For a package of political benefits, these evangelical leaders have associated the Christian faith with racism and nativism. They have associated the Christian faith with misogyny and the mocking of the disabled. They have associated the Christian faith with lawlessness, corruption, and routine deception. They have associated the Christian faith with moral confusion about the surpassing evils of white supremacy and neo-Nazism. The world is full of tragic choices and compromises. But for this man? For this cause?

Some evangelical leaders, it is worth affirming, are providing alternative models of social engagement. Consider Tim Keller, who is perhaps the most influential advocate of a more politically and demographically diverse evangelicalism. Or Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who demonstrates how moral conservatism can be both principled and inclusive. Or Gary Haugen, the founder of the International Justice Mission, who is one of the world’s leading activists against modern slavery. Or Bishop Claude Alexander of the Park Church in North Carolina, who has been a strong voice for reconciliation and mercy. Or Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, who shows the deep compatibility of authentic faith and authentic science. Or the influential Bible teacher Beth Moore, who has warned of the damage done “when we sell our souls to buy our wins.” Or the writer Peter Wehner, who has ceased to describe himself as an evangelical even as he exemplifies the very best of the word.

Evangelicalism is hardly a monolithic movement. All of the above leaders would attest that a significant generational shift is occurring: Younger evangelicals are less prone to political divisiveness and bitterness and more concerned with social justice. (In a poll last summer, nearly half of white evangelicals born since 1964 expressed support for gay marriage.) Evangelicals remain essential to political coalitions advocating prison reform and supporting American global-health initiatives, particularly on aids and malaria. They do good work in the world through relief organizations such as World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse (an admirable relief organization of which Franklin Graham is the president and CEO). They perform countless acts of love and compassion that make local communities more just and generous.

All of this is arguably a strong foundation for evangelical recovery. But it would be a mistake to regard the problem as limited to a few irresponsible leaders. Those leaders represent a clear majority of the movement, which remains the most loyal element of the Trump coalition. Evangelicals are broadly eager to act as Trump’s shield and sword. They are his army of enablers.

It is the strangest story: how so many evangelicals lost their interest in decency, and how a religious tradition called by grace became defined by resentment. This is bad for America, because religion, properly viewed and applied, is essential to the country’s public life. The old “one-bloodism” of Christian anthropology—the belief in the intrinsic and equal value of all human lives—has driven centuries of compassionate service and social reform. Religion can be the carrier of conscience. It can motivate sacrifice for the common good. It can reinforce the nobility of the political enterprise. It can combat dehumanization and elevate the goals and ideals of public life.

Democracy is not merely a set of procedures. It has a moral structure. The values we celebrate or stigmatize eventually influence the character of our people and polity. Democracy does not insist on perfect virtue from its leaders. But there is a set of values that lends authority to power: empathy, honesty, integrity, and self-restraint. And the legitimation of cruelty, prejudice, falsehood, and corruption is the kind of thing, one would think, that religious people were born to oppose, not bless. This disfigurement of evangelical faith squanders the reputation of something valuable: not just the vision of human dignity that captured Blanchard, but also Finney’s electric waves of grace. At its best, faith is the overflow of gratitude, the attempt to live as if we are loved, the fragile hope for something better on the other side of pain and death. And this feather of grace weighs more in the balance than any political gain.

It is difficult to see something you so deeply value discredited so comprehensively. Evangelical faith has shaped my life, as it has the lives of millions. Evangelical history has provided me with models of conscience. Evangelical institutions have given me gifts of learning and purpose. Evangelical friends have shared my joys and sorrows. And now the very word is brought into needless disrepute.

This is the result when Christians become one interest group among many, scrambling for benefits at the expense of others rather than seeking the welfare of the whole. Christianity is love of neighbor, or it has lost its way. And this sets an urgent task for evangelicals: to rescue their faith from its worst leaders.

It May Actually Be Worse Than You Think: Assessing the Integrated and Funded Machine We Are Up Against

by Cynthia Kaufman, Common Dreams, September 06, 2017

… learning about the vast right wing conspiracy and how it functions. I read Jane Mayer’s Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, and Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean. And now I am more deeply afraid for our future than I have ever been in the past.

Neither book overstates its claims or veers into speculative conspiracy theory. The two books are very well researched, incredibly clear, and factual. Dark Money focuses on the network of organizations that have been funded by Koch and Scaife money.  Democracy in Chains is a deep dive into the influence of James Buchannan, a Nobel Prize winning economist, who was one of the leading thinkers behind the Koch enterprise. The punch line of books is that we are up against an unprecedented level of organization and funding by a right wing that is more extreme than anything seen in the modern period.

We are not up against the old, pro-capitalist business elite, which uses the constitution to ground its actions in the rule of law, and which seeks more than anything, a stable environment in which business can operate. The goals of this new extreme right wing are an end to taxation, which they see as an infringement of liberty; and end to the social welfare state; and a shrinking of any aspect of government that has to do with taking care of the environment and social needs. The Kochs are oil people and maintaining reliance on fossil fuels is crucial to their plan.

Charles Koch, the brains, and main funder, behind the operation, is an incredibly successful and ruthless businessman. And he has brought those skills to the political arena. The network he dominates is horizontally and vertically integrated, deeply strategic in is approach, extremist in its goals, and almost infinitely well-funded. And we ignore it at our peril…. Everything good we have in the country has come as a result of the hard work of social movements

I think of US politics as generally working that way: popular forces mobilize and sometime they win concessions from a largely pro-capitalist political system…It relies for its electoral successes on giving the people civil rights, environmental protection, and a social safety net. The Republican Party, on the other hand has been even more beholden to pro-capitalist forces, and, ever since Nixon, has used coded racism to build popular support for policies which were in the interest of the wealthy.

What is new, in the present period is that the pro-capitalist, but stability seeking, Republican Party has now been taken over by a well-integrated machine. That machine has no interest in democracy, the constitution, or stable condition in which business can operate, or even stability of the climate upon which all life depends. And it doesn’t play by the old rules.

The Koch machine helped put Pinochet into power in Chile, and rewrite its constitution… They have invested millions of dollars in paying for positions at universities for professions would support their views. They have set up powerful and well-funded think tanks to propagate their views, even founding the  discipline of “law and economics” and establishing it as many law schools, to develop scholarship that looks at law through the lens of libertarian economics…

They gave a start to James Buchannan who got a Nobel Prize in economics for taking the view of human beings as fundamentally self -interested that dominates the discipline of economics, and applying it to an understanding of how government bureaucracies operate. This has helped propagate the view, now widespread, that government programs are a problem in people’s lives as opposed to a means for solving problems. They funded the work of Charles Murray, who made the case that welfare makes its recipients psychologically dependent, and funded its propagation.

And they are the forces behind the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent propagating climate change denial. Again, academic and think tanks they support have flooded the intellectual sphere enough to have a tremendous impact.

Between 2010 and 2012 their non-profit legislative arm, ALEC, had sponsored over 180 bills in forty-one states to restrict who could vote. The Koch’s have funded “think and do” tanks in all fifty states which are networked through the State Policy Network. The Michigan affiliate, the Mackinac Center, proposed the policies that led to the disaster of the poisoning of the water of Flint Michigan.

This network is in it for the long game…until the election of Obama, they had tried and failed at achieving general popular support for their views. The move that changed that was the Tea Party. Their think tanks developed the propaganda and talking points used by that movement. And they paid huge sums of money to right wing media outlets and personalities, such as Bill O’Reilly, to whip up enthusiasm for their anti-government point of view.

Their next move is to come after public employee unions, as union political power is one of the strongest counterforces to the money of the “kochtopus.” …The politics of right wing populism prey on the resentments that can be mobilized to divide working class people from each other.

This network did not at first support Donald Trump. They saw him as too liberal and unreliable. And yet,  his form of fact-free pseudo populism is exactly what the Koch people and their allies unleashed with their Tea Party movement. Trump is not who we should be focusing on. He is likely to be a passing symptom of a much larger and deeper disease.

If you have the stomach for more of this I suggest you watch the recent film, Get Me Roger Stone, and read The Anatomy of Fascism by Robert O. Paxton as well as Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, written by David Daly. Get Me Roger Stone focuses on one ruthless Republican operative who is the king of fake news, as the brains behind the birther lie, and the one responsible for the relentless hammering into the minds of the public of the idea of Hilary Clinton as criminal. The Anatomy of Fascism explains in detail how the Nazis were able to consolidate state power. Finally Ratf**ked, is a detailed examination of the gerrymandering the congressional seats in the recent past, which has led to it being very difficult for democrats to win a majority in the house of representative.

Of course the deep pessimism I feel today could all be washed away in the 2018 midterm elections. It may be that the Republicans have gone too far. There seems to be about one third of the electorate that is addicted to the drug of self-flattery, who are willing to let any lie go by as long as it makes them feel like they are righteous people who are being milked by the government in the interest of underserving others, may never sway from support of people like Trump.  

But even with gerrymandering, support from that one third can only get you so far if, enough other people vote. But of course that is the crux of what happened with the 2016 presidential election. It was not the case that more reactionary white people voted than in previous elections. What lost Clinton the election was that fewer low-frequency voters came out to vote for her.

And so the question for our electoral system is what would it take for the large number of progressive minded people who don’t vote to engage with the electoral system? But at this point it also looks as if the Democratic Party is not willing to give disenfranchised people enough of a reason to vote to get them engaged. And that scares me more than Trump does.

www.commondreams.org/views/2017/09/06/it-may-actually-be-worse-you-think-assessing-integrated-and-funded-machine-we-are

 

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.

 

Our Divided Political Heart – The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent

Reviews and excerptsNPR excerpt is directly from the book; all other excerpt selections and highlighting done by web curator, Phyllis Stenerson

1 – Our Divided Political Heart The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E.J. Dionne Jr., review by Jeff Greenfield, Washington Post, June 1, 2012

2 -  ‘Our Divided Political Heart’ by E. J. Dionne Jr., review By GEOFFREY KABASERVICE, New York Times, SEPT. 28, 2012

3 – Our Divided Political Heart The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E. J. Dionne Jr. , NPR.org – excerpt

4 – Our Divided Political Heart The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent By: E.J. Dionne Jr., Bloomsbury.com -  – About Our Divided Political Heart – Who are we as a nation? And what is it that’s tearing us apart?

5 – Our Divided Political Heart, The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E.J. Dionne, bookbrowse.com  May 2012 – book summary

*   *   *   *   *   *  

1 - Our Divided Political Heart The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E.J. Dionne Jr. By Jeff Greenfield, Washington Post, June 1, 2012

“a richly researched tour of history to restore the broken consensus about who we are and what America stands for.”

If you want a perfect embodiment of the political divide that E.J. Dionne Jr. describes and laments in his new book, “Our Divided Political Heart,” there’s no better place to look than the credentials of E.J. Dionne Jr.: columnist for The Washington Post; senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; professor at Georgetown University; regular guest on “Meet the Press,” MSNBC and NPR.

These credentials, the very model of a modern major commentator, are multiple red flags for the millions who see in academia, D.C.-based liberal think tanks and most of the media the very forces that helped dragoon America away from its authentic roots and traditions. They all but ensure that anything Dionne might say would be rejected out of hand. And they help explain why his ambitious and estimable mission — to remind skeptical Americans of the strong communitarian foundations of the republic — is probably doomed to failure. The very folks Dionne is most determined to convince are the ones most likely to dismiss the historical evidence that fills almost every page by replying, “Consider the source.”

“Building a new consensus,” he says at the outset, “will be impossible if the parties to our political struggles continue to insist that a single national trait explains our success as a nation and that a single idea drives and dominates our story.” Our country, he says, “has witnessed the rise of a radical form of individualism that simultaneously denigrates the role of government and the importance most Americans attach to the quest for community.” Dionne believes that figures as diverse as Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt would have been appalled by the understanding — or, rather, misunderstanding — of what “the American System” is all about. And over the next 200-plus pages, Dionne marshals an array of historians to reinforce this central point.

Where did this misunderstanding come from? For Dionne, its locus is the late 19th century, the Gilded Age, when social Darwinism was at its peak and when the Supreme Court was turning the 14th Amendment on its head, substituting corporate coddling for the goal of using federal power to protect citizens from abuse at the hands of the states. For most of our history, he argues, and especially over most of the 20th century, America has been guided by “the long consensus” — from the first Roosevelt through Ronald Reagan — that while it would be wrong “to deny the power of individualism in our history . . . it is just as misleading to ignore our yearnings for a strong common life and our republican quest for civic virtue.”

Yet, apart from that résumé that would make reciprocal respect unlikely, Dionne’s case for the rebuilding of the long consensus is exactly what the current version of American conservatism does not want. As Karl Marx once said of his fellow communists, the tea party disdains to conceal its aims. In his maiden speech last year, Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) was sharply critical of Henry Clay’s compromises, embracing instead the abolitionist stance of Henry’s cousin Cassius Clay. When Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared in his presidential announcement speech that he sought to “make Washington as inconsequential in your life as I can,” there was no one on the right who suggested that this might be at odds with American history.

When Richard Mourdock, who recently defeated Indiana’s Richard Lugar in his attempt to extend his 36-year Senate career, was asked about bipartisanship, he said, “I have a mind-set that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.”

If Dionne’s effort to find common ground is likely to fail, it does not lessen his achievement. His case is strong enough, serious enough and grounded enough to challenge those on the other side of the divide to offer a counterargument as rigorously argued as this one. 

2 Our Divided Political Heart’ by E. J. Dionne Jr. By GEOFFREY KABASERVICE, New York Times, SEPT. 28, 2012

The Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne Jr… examines current political concerns through the lens of history, religion and philosophy. But while readers will admire Dionne’s intellectual dexterity in diagnosing the historical origins of our present political problem of division and dysfunction, they may also wish he could make a more substantive case for how we might move beyond it….he situates our current divisions in the full sweep of American history, going back to the founders — since, as he observes, “Americans disagree about who we are because we can’t agree about who we’ve been.”

Dionne posits that American history has always been characterized by tension between the core values of individualism and community. Americans have cherished liberty, individual opportunity and self-expression while also upholding the importance of community obligation and civic virtue. The founders referred to these values as liberalism and republicanism, and the effort to balance and reconcile them has shaped the American character. Neither value is reducible to liberalism or conservatism as we now understand them, although communitarianism presumes a belief that government is at least potentially a constructive force. Dionne, a self-described “communitarian liberal,” acknowledges that he has much in common with conservative intellectuals like Robert Nisbet and the “compassionate conservatives” around George W. Bush. But Dionne argues that today’s Tea Party-influenced conservatives have broken with their communitarian traditions and become zealots for radical individualism. He pleads for a return to the balance between individual and community values that characterized most of American ­history.

Conservatives’ contentions that the founders believed in minimal government and maximal individualism, for example, are countered by the findings of scholars like Gordon Wood that the American revolutionaries sought to create a strong federal government and conceived of a highly communal and at times anticapitalistic version of liberty. Dionne points out that conservative justices like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas who claim to be able to discern the “original intent” of the Constitution are deluded, since the founders held conflicting views and some provisions of the Constitution “embody not timeless truths but sensitive compromises aimed at resolving (or getting around) pressing disagreements of the moment.”the laissez-faire doctrine of the Gilded Age was an aberration, and that “conservative individualists are thus trying to convert a 35-year interlude into the norm for 235 years of American history.”

… he hopes that Occupy Wall Street will find expression in traditional politics, just as the Progressives fulfilled many Populist goals by joining them with the aspirations of the middle class. The merger of Populism and Progressivism, in Dionne’s view, laid the groundwork for “the Long Consensus”: the active-government commitment to prosperity that expanded both individual opportunity and collective security in the century after Theodore Roosevelt succeeded to the presidency in 1901. It is this consensus, along with the balance and moderation it embodied, that is threatened by a Republican Party newly converted to the cause of radical ­individualism.

…. He shouldn’t be accused of political favoritism for diagnosing the current moment of “asymmetric polarization,” in which Republicans seek to overturn the Long Consensus while Democrats defend it. “If describing developments in American political life candidly is dismissed as a form of partisanship,” he warns, “then honest speech becomes impossible.”

… while he is justly critical of ideologically compromised right-wing history, he calls ideological left-wing revisionism “important,” “debunking” and thought-provoking.

Dionne declares that “the country confronts a time of decision,” one that demands more than “musty bromides” about moderation or mere procedural reforms…He hopes Republicans will recover their abandoned communitarian traditions The history Dionne tells can provide inspiration and guidance, but Americans will have to find new ways of thinking and acting if they are to restore the political balance that once enabled American greatness.

3 – Our Divided Political Heart The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E. J. Dionne Jr. – excerpt of this book  INTRODUCTION – Who We Are: Liberty, Community, and the American Character – NPR.ORG 

Fear of decline is one of the oldest American impulses. It speaks, oddly, to our confidence that we occupy a lofty position in history and among nations: we always assume we are in a place from which we can decline. It’s why there is a vast literature on “American exceptionalism” and why we think of ourselves as “a city on a hill,” “the first new nation,” “a beacon to the world,” and “a light among nations.”

When they arise, our declinist sentiments usually have specific sources in economic or foreign policy travails. These apprehensions quickly lead to bouts of soul-searching that go beyond concrete problems to abstract and even spiritual worries about the nation’s values and moral purposes. When we feel we are in decline, we sense that we have lost our balance. We argue about what history teaches us — and usually disagree about what history actually says. We conclude that behind every crisis related to economics and the global distribution of power lurks a crisis of the soul….

the words hope and believe were pointed responses to a spiritual crisis engendered by fears of lost supremacy. They help explain why the Obama campaign so often felt like a religious crusade…. The difficulty in producing a sustainable economic upturn (even if the hopes for a miraculous recovery were always unrealistic) only deepened the nation’s sense that something was badly wrong. Obama … failed, particularly in the first part of his term, to understand how the depth of the nation’s political polarization would inevitably foil his pledge to bring the country together across the lines of party and ideology…Whatever Obama was for, whatever he undertook, whatever he proposed — all of it was seen as undermining traditional American liberties and moving the country toward some ill-defined socialism. Whatever else they did, Republicans would make sure they prevented Obama from accomplishing anything more. Over and over, they vowed to make him a one-term president…This book is an effort to make sense of our current political unhappiness, to offer an explanation for why divisions in our politics run so deep, and to reflect on why we are arguing so much about our nation’s history and what it means.

Americans are right to sense that the country confronts a time of decisionWe are right to feel that traditional paths to upward mobility have been blocked, that inequalities have grown, and that the old social contract — written in the wake of World War II and based on shared prosperity — has been torn up. Musty bromides about centrism and moderation will do nothing to quell our anxieties and our fears.

… our current unease arises less from a shortage of specific plans or programs than from a sense that our political system is so obstructed and so polarized that even good ideas commanding broad support have little chance of prevailing. We don’t have constructive debate because we cannot agree on the facts or on any common ground defined by shared moral commitments.   

4 Our Divided Political Heart The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent By: E.J. Dionne Jr. – www.bloomsbury.com

About Our Divided Political Heart – Who are we as a nation? And what is it that’s tearing us apart? In Our Divided Political Heart, E. J. Dionne Jr., one of our most respected political commentators, argues that Americans can’t agree on who we are because we can’t agree on who we’ve been. The American tradition, Dionne says, points not to radical self-reliance and self-interest, but to a balance between our love of individual freedom and our devotion to community. With a deep understanding of our nation’s past, Dionne crafts an incisive analysis of how hyper-individualism is poisoning our current political atmosphere. He shares the Tea Party’s engagement with the American past, but takes on its distortions of our history while rooting the Occupy Wall Street movement in America’s civic and Populist traditions.

Dionne offers both a fascinating tour of American history-from the Founding Fathers to Clay and Lincoln, on to Populism, the Progressives, and the New Dealers-and an interpretation of our moment’s politics that shatters conventional wisdom. He reclaims the American idea of the federal government as an active and constructive partner with the rest of society in promoting prosperity, opportunity, and American greatness. And he challenges progressives to embrace their country’s story-to redefine progress and to put an end to our fears of decline.
Our Divided Political Heart is indispensable for all who seek a path out of America’s current impasse.

Reviews

“As he has so often, E.J. Dionne has written a brilliant new book, and it places our current division in political and cultural context” –  Paul Begala, Newsweek

“[A]n earnest effort to reach across the political divide….Dionne takes his readers on a richly researched tour of history to restore the broken consensus about who we are and what America stands for.His case is strong enough, serious enough and grounded enough to challenge those on the other side of the divide to offer a counterargument as rigorously argued as this one.” –  Washington Post

5 Our Divided Political Heart, The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E.J. Dionne, bookbrowse.com  May 2012 – book summary

Our Divided Political Heart will be the must-read book of the 2012 election campaign. Offering an incisive analysis of how hyper-individualism is poisoning the nation’s political atmosphere, E. J. Dionne Jr. argues that Americans can’t agree on who we are because we can’t agree on who we’ve been, or what it is, philosophically and spiritually, that makes us Americans. Dionne takes on the Tea Party’s distortions of American history and shows that the true American tradition points not to radical individualism, but to a balance between our love of individualism and our devotion to community.

Dionne offersan analysis of our current politics that shatters conventional wisdom. The true American idea, far from endorsing government inaction or indifference, has always viewed the federal government as an active and constructive partner with the rest of society in promoting prosperity, opportunity, and American greatness. ystem to self-correct is its greatest asset and Dionne challenges progressives to embrace the American story he renews our hope that cooler heads can prevail with a renewed balance of individual rights and the needs of the community.” – Kirkus Reviews

Our Divided Political Heart recalls us to an American past that speaks powerfully, and hopefully, to our present political travails. Every citizen concerned about the state of our politics should read this book.” – Michael J. Sandel, author of Justice

“This is a brilliant book about America’s current political divide. But more importantly, it’s an insightful exploration of our nation’s history and our ability to balance individualism with community. That sense of balance has been lost, and this book shows how we can restore a shared appreciation for our historic values.” – Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and Benjamin Franklin  

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a columnist for the Washington Post, and University Professor in the Foundations of Democracy and Culture at Georgetown University. He appears weekly on NPR and regularly on MSNBC and NBC’s Meet the Press. His twice-weekly op-ed column is now syndicated in 140 newspapers. His writing has been published in The Atlantic, The New Republic, The American Prospect, The Washington Post Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Commonweal, New Statesman, and elsewhere. He is the author, editor, or co-editor of numerous books, including the classic bestseller Why Americans Hate Politics, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was nominated for the National Book Award. His most recent book is Souled Out. Dionne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with wife, Mary Boyle, and their three children.

Is Radicalism Possible Today?

sEE A response to:Is Radicalism Possible Today? BY pHYLLIS sTENERSON, 6/15/17

by David Brooks, The Opinion Pages,  New York Times, JUNE 13, 2017

Are you feeling radical? Do you think that the status quo is fundamentally broken and we have to start thinking about radical change? If so, I’d like to go back a century so that we might learn how radicalism is done.

The years around 1917 were a great period of radical ferment. Folks at The New Republic magazine were championing progressivism, which would transform how the economy is regulated and how democracy works. At The Masses, left-wing activists were fomenting a global socialist revolution. Outside the White House radical suffragists were protesting for the right to vote and creating modern feminism.

People in those days had one thing we have in abundance: an urge to rebel against the current reality — in their case against the brutalities of industrialization, the rigidities of Victorianism, the stale formulas of academic thinking.

But they also had a whole series of mechanisms they thought they could use to implement change. If you were searching for a new consciousness, there was a neighborhood to go to: Greenwich Village. If you were searching for a dissident lifestyle, there was one — Bohemianism, with its artistic rejection of commercial life.

People had faith in small magazines as the best lever to change the culture and the world. People had faith in the state, in central planning as an effective tool to reorganize the economy and liberate the oppressed. Radicals had faith in the working class, to ally with the intellectuals and form a common movement against concentrated wealth.

There were many people then who had a genius for creating ideals, and for betting their whole lives on an effort to live out these ideals. I’ve just been reading Jeremy McCarter’s inspiring and entertaining new book “Young Radicals,” which is a group portrait of five of those radicals: Walter Lippmann, Randolph Bourne, Max Eastman, Alice Paul and John Reed.

All of them had a youthful and exuberant faith that transformational change was imminently possible. Reed was the romantic adventurer — the one who left Harvard and ventured to be at the center of wherever the action might be — union strikes, the Russian Revolution. Paul was the dogged one — the diminutive activist who gave up sleep, gave up leisure, braved rancid prisons to serve the suffragist movement.

But the two true geniuses were Lippmann and Bourne, who offer lessons on different styles of radicalism. With his magisterial, organized mind, Lippmann threw his lot in with social science, with rule by experts. He believed in centralizing and nationalizing, and letting the best minds weigh the evidence and run the country. He lived his creed, going from socialist journalism to the halls of Woodrow Wilson’s administration.

Bourne was more visionary and vulnerable. He’d grown up in a stiflingly dull WASP town. It was only when he met the cosmopolitan stew of different ethnicities in New York that he got the chance to “breathe a larger air.” At a time of surging immigration, and fierce debate over it, Bourne celebrated that “America is coming to be, not a nationality but a trans-nationality, a weaving back and forth, with the other lands, of many threads of all sizes and colors.”

Bourne believed in decentralized change — personal, spiritual, a revolution in consciousness. The “Beloved Community” he imagined was a bottom-up, Whitmanesque “spiritual welding,” a graceful coming together of unlike ethnicities.

The crucial decision point came as the United States approached entry into World War I. Lippmann supported the war, believing that it would demand more federal planning and therefore would accelerate social change. Bourne was appalled by such instrumentalist thinking, by the acceptance of war’s savagery. As McCarter puts it, “As Bourne has been arguing, no choice that supports a war will realize any ideal worth the name.”

The radicals split between pragmatists willing to work within the system and visionaries who raised larger possibilities from outside. Spreading their ideals, they pushed America forward. Living out their ideals, most were disillusioned. Reed lost faith in the Soviet Union. Lippmann lost faith in Wilson after Versailles. Bourne died marginalized and bitter during the flu epidemic of 1918.

Bourne was the least important radical a century ago, but with his fervent embrace of a decentralized, globalist, cosmopolitan world, he is the most relevant today. He is the best rebuttal to both Trumpian populism and the multicultural separatist movements on the left, who believe in separate graduation ceremonies by race, or that the normal exchange of ideas among people represents cultural appropriation.

Most of the 20th-century radicals were wrong to put their faith in a revolutionary vanguard, a small group who could see farther and know better. Bourne was right to understand that the best change is dialogical, the gradual, grinding conversation, pitting interest against interest, one group’s imperfections against another’s, but bound by common nationhood and humanity.

Are we really going to hand revolutionary power to the state, the intellectuals, the social scientists, the working class or any other class? No. This is not 1917. But can we recommit ourselves to the low but steady process of politics, bartering and exchanging, which is incremental about means but radical about ends? That’s a safer bet.

Farewell, America

By Neal Gabler, billmoyers.com, November 10, 2016

Excerpt

No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on Nov. 7, they will now look at us differently.

America died on Nov. 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country… It turned out to be the hate election because, and let’s not mince words, of the hatefulness of the electorate. In the years to come, we will brace for the violence, the anger, the racism, the misogyny, the xenophobia, the nativism, the white sense of grievance that will undoubtedly be unleashed now that we have destroyed the values that have bound us. We all knew these hatreds lurked under the thinnest veneer of civility. That civility finally is gone. In its absence, we may realize just how imperative that politesse was. It is the way we managed to coexist… Who knew that after years of seeming progress on race and gender, tens of millions of white Americans lived in seething resentment, waiting for a demagogue to arrive who would legitimize their worst selves and channel them into political power? …This country has survived a civil war, two world wars and a Great Depression. There are many who say we will survive this, too. Maybe we will, but we won’t survive unscathed. We know too much about each other to heal. No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things. Nor can we pretend that democracy works and that elections have more-or-less happy endings. Democracy only functions when its participants abide by certain conventions, certain codes of conduct and a respect for the process. No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things.

The virus that kills democracy is extremism because extremism disables those codes. Republicans have disrespected the process for decades…they haven’t believed in democracy for a long time, and the media never called them out on it.

Democracy can’t cope with extremism…because ever since the days of Ronald Reagan, rhetoric has obviated action, speechifying has superseded governing…

Just as Trump has shredded our values, our nation and our democracy, he has shredded the mediaJust as the sainted Ronald Reagan created an unbridgeable chasm between rich and poor that the Republicans would later exploit against Democrats, conservatives delegitimized mainstream journalism so they could fill the vacuum.

Like Goebbels before them, conservatives understood they had to create their own facts, their own truths, their own reality. They have done so, and in so doing effectively destroyed the very idea of objectivity. Trump can lie constantly only because white America has accepted an Orwellian sense of truth — the truth pulled inside out.

Among the many now-widening divides in the country, this is a big one, the divide between the media and working-class whites, because it creates a Wild West of information — a media ecology in which nothing can be believed except what you already believe.

With the mainstream media so delegitimized… not having had the courage to take on lies and expose false equivalencies — they have very little role to play going forward in our politics. I suspect most of them will surrender to Trumpism — if they were able to normalize Trump as a candidate, they will no doubt normalize him as presidentFor the press, this is likely to be the new normal in an America in which white supremacists, neo-Nazi militias, racists, sexists, homophobes and anti-Semites have been legitimized by a new president who “says what I’m thinking.” It will be open season… if anyone points the way forward, it may be New York Times columnist David Brooks. Brooks is no paragon. He always had seemed to willfully neglect modern Republicanism’s incipient fascism (now no longer incipient), and he was an apologist for conservative self-enrichment and bigotry. But this campaign season, Brooks pretty much dispensed with politics. He seemed to have arrived at the conclusion that no good could possibly come of any of this and retreated into spirituality. What Brooks promoted were values of mutual respect, a bolder sense of civic engagement, an emphasis on community and neighborhood, and overall a belief in trickle-up decency rather than trickle-down economics. He is not hopeful, but he hasn’t lost all hope.

For those of us now languishing in despair, this may be a prescription for rejuvenation. We have lost the country, but by refocusing, we may have gained our own little patch of the world and, more granularly, our own family. For journalists, Brooks may show how political reporting…might yield to a broader moral context in which one considers the effect that policy, strategy and governance have not only on our physical and economic well-being but also on our spiritual well-being. In a society that is likely to be fractious and odious, we need a national conversation on values. The media could help start it….We are not living for ourselves anymore in this country. Now we are living for history.

Full text

No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on Nov. 7, they will now look at us differently.

America died on Nov. 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.

Whatever place we now live in is not the same place it was on Nov. 7. No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on Nov. 7, they will now look at us differently. We are likely to be a pariah country. And we are lost for it. As I surveyed the ruin of that country this gray Wednesday morning, I found weary consolation in W.H. Auden’s poem, September 1, 1939, which concludes:

“Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.”
I hunt for that affirming flame.

This generally has been called the “hate election” because everyone professed to hate both candidates. It turned out to be the hate election because, and let’s not mince words, of the hatefulness of the electorate. In the years to come, we will brace for the violence, the anger, the racism, the misogyny, the xenophobia, the nativism, the white sense of grievance that will undoubtedly be unleashed now that we have destroyed the values that have bound us.

We all knew these hatreds lurked under the thinnest veneer of civility. That civility finally is gone. In its absence, we may realize just how imperative that politesse was. It is the way we managed to coexist.

If there is a single sentence that characterizes the election, it is this: “He says the things I’m thinking.” That may be what is so terrifying. Who knew that so many tens of millions of white Americans were thinking unconscionable things about their fellow Americans? Who knew that tens of millions of white men felt so emasculated by women and challenged by minorities? Who knew that after years of seeming progress on race and gender, tens of millions of white Americans lived in seething resentment, waiting for a demagogue to arrive who would legitimize their worst selves and channel them into political power? Perhaps we had been living in a fool’s paradise. Now we aren’t.

This country has survived a civil war, two world wars and a Great Depression. There are many who say we will survive this, too. Maybe we will, but we won’t survive unscathed. We know too much about each other to heal. No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things. Nor can we pretend that democracy works and that elections have more-or-less happy endings. Democracy only functions when its participants abide by certain conventions, certain codes of conduct and a respect for the process.

No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things.

The virus that kills democracy is extremism because extremism disables those codes. Republicans have disrespected the process for decades. They have regarded any Democratic president as illegitimate. They have proudly boasted of preventing popularly elected Democrats from effecting policy and have asserted that only Republicans have the right to determine the nation’s course. They have worked tirelessly to make sure that the government cannot govern and to redefine the purpose of government as prevention rather than effectuation. In short, they haven’t believed in democracy for a long time, and the media never called them out on it.

Democracy can’t cope with extremism. Only violence and time can defeat it. The first is unacceptable, the second takes too long. Though Trump is an extremist, I have a feeling that he will be a very popular president and one likely to be re-elected by a substantial margin, no matter what he does or fails to do. That’s because ever since the days of Ronald Reagan, rhetoric has obviated action, speechifying has superseded governing.

Trump was absolutely correct when he bragged that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and his supporters wouldn’t care. It was a dictator’s ugly vaunt, but one that recognized this election never was about policy or economics or the “right path/wrong path,” or even values. It was about venting. So long as Trump vented their grievances, his all-white supporters didn’t care about anything else. He is smart enough to know that won’t change in the presidency. In fact, it is only likely to intensify. White America, Trump’s America, just wants to hear its anger bellowed. This is one time when the Bully Pulpit will be literal.

The media can’t be let off the hook for enabling an authoritarian to get to the White House. Long before he considered a presidential run, he was a media creation — a regular in the gossip pages, a photo on magazine covers, the bankrupt (morally and otherwise) mogul who hired and fired on The Apprentice. When he ran, the media treated him not as a candidate, but as a celebrity, and so treated him differently from ordinary pols. The media gave him free publicity, trumpeted his shenanigans, blasted out his tweets, allowed him to phone in his interviews, fell into his traps and generally kowtowed until they suddenly discovered that this joke could actually become president.

Just as Trump has shredded our values, our nation and our democracy, he has shredded the media. In this, as in his politics, he is only the latest avatar of a process that began long before his candidacy. Just as the sainted Ronald Reagan created an unbridgeable chasm between rich and poor that the Republicans would later exploit against Democrats, conservatives delegitimized mainstream journalism so they could fill the vacuum.

With Trump’s election, I think that the ideal of an objective, truthful journalism is dead, never to be revived.

Retiring conservative talk show host Charlie Sykes complained that after years of bashing from the right wing, the mainstream media no longer could perform their function as reporters, observers, fact dispensers, and even truth tellers, and he said we needed them. Like Goebbels before them, conservatives understood they had to create their own facts, their own truths, their own reality. They have done so, and in so doing effectively destroyed the very idea of objectivity. Trump can lie constantly only because white America has accepted an Orwellian sense of truth — the truth pulled inside out.

With Trump’s election, I think that the ideal of an objective, truthful journalism is dead, never to be revived. Like Nixon and Sarah Palin before him, Trump ran against the media, boomeranging off the public’s contempt for the press. He ran against what he regarded as media elitism and bias, and he ran on the idea that the press disdained working-class white America. Among the many now-widening divides in the country, this is a big one, the divide between the media and working-class whites, because it creates a Wild West of information — a media ecology in which nothing can be believed except what you already believe.

With the mainstream media so delegitimized — a delegitimization for which they bear a good deal of blame, not having had the courage to take on lies and expose false equivalencies — they have very little role to play going forward in our politics. I suspect most of them will surrender to Trumpism — if they were able to normalize Trump as a candidate, they will no doubt normalize him as president. Cable news may even welcome him as a continuous entertainment and ratings booster. And in any case, like Reagan, he is bulletproof. The media cannot touch him, even if they wanted to. Presumably, there will be some courageous guerillas in the mainstream press, a kind of Resistance, who will try to fact-check him. But there will be few of them, and they will be whistling in the wind. Trump, like all dictators, is his own truth.

What’s more, Trump already has promised to take his war on the press into courtrooms and the halls of Congress. He wants to loosen libel protections, and he has threatened Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos of Amazon with an antitrust suit. Individual journalists have reason to fear him as well. He has already singled out NBC’s Katy Tur, perhaps the best of the television reporters, so that she needed the Secret Service to escort her from one of his rallies. Jewish journalists who have criticized Trump have been subjected to vicious anti-Semitism and intimidation from the white nationalist “alt-right.” For the press, this is likely to be the new normal in an America in which white supremacists, neo-Nazi militias, racists, sexists, homophobes and anti-Semites have been legitimized by a new president who “says what I’m thinking.” It will be open season.

This converts the media from reporters to targets, and they have little recourse. Still, if anyone points the way forward, it may be New York Times columnist David Brooks. Brooks is no paragon. He always had seemed to willfully neglect modern Republicanism’s incipient fascism (now no longer incipient), and he was an apologist for conservative self-enrichment and bigotry. But this campaign season, Brooks pretty much dispensed with politics. He seemed to have arrived at the conclusion that no good could possibly come of any of this and retreated into spirituality. What Brooks promoted were values of mutual respect, a bolder sense of civic engagement, an emphasis on community and neighborhood, and overall a belief in trickle-up decency rather than trickle-down economics. He is not hopeful, but he hasn’t lost all hope.

For those of us now languishing in despair, this may be a prescription for rejuvenation. We have lost the country, but by refocusing, we may have gained our own little patch of the world and, more granularly, our own family. For journalists, Brooks may show how political reporting, which, as I said, is likely to be irrelevant in the Trump age, might yield to a broader moral context in which one considers the effect that policy, strategy and governance have not only on our physical and economic well-being but also on our spiritual well-being. In a society that is likely to be fractious and odious, we need a national conversation on values. The media could help start it.

But the disempowered media may have one more role to fill: They must bear witness. Many years from now, future generations will need to know what happened to us and how it happened. They will need to know how disgruntled white Americans, full of self-righteous indignation, found a way to take back a country they felt they were entitled to and which they believed had been lost. They will need to know about the ugliness and evil that destroyed us as a nation after great men like Lincoln and Roosevelt guided us through previous crises and kept our values intact. They will need to know, and they will need a vigorous, engaged, moral media to tell them. They will also need us.

We are not living for ourselves anymore in this country. Now we are living for history.

Neal Gabler Neal Gabler is an author of five books and the recipient of two LA Times Book Prizes, Time magazine’s non-fiction book of the year, USA Today‘s biography of the year and other awards. He is also a senior fellow at The Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, and is currently writing a biography of Sen. Edward Kennedy.

http://billmoyers.com/story/farewell-america/#.WLWQK_Sbyos.facebook

Right wing ideas and actions 2016

There’s a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy Afoot, Fueled by Dark Money, By Eleanor J. Bader, Truthout | Book Review, April 3, 2016

Today’s GOP Might Be Most Dangerous Organization in Human History | by Noam Chomsky, by THE INTELLECTUALIST May 17, 2016

It’s so much worse than Trump: The history of the modern GOP is a history of racism, bigotry and dog whistles By Phillip Cryan, salon.com,  Apr 5, 2016 The party of Lincoln? Sure, in 1858. Today’s GOP wants to pretend Trump is an outlier. They should look in a mirror

 

 

Today’s GOP Is a Candidate for Most Dangerous Organization in Human History

Interview with Chomsky: By Amy Goodman / Democracy Now, May 23, 2016

“Both political parties have shifted to the right during the neoliberal period.”

In Part 2 of our wide-ranging conversation with the world-renowned dissident Noam Chomsky: “If we were honest, we would say something that sounds utterly shocking and no doubt will be taken out of context and lead to hysteria on the part of the usual suspects,” [Noam] Chomsky says, “but the fact of the matter is that today’s Republican Party qualify as candidates for the most dangerous organization in human history. Literally.” Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for more than half a century, his latest book titled Who Rules the World?

To watch Part 1 of the interview, click here.  TRANSCRIPT  This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NOAM CHOMSKY: … there’s a long history [re: Syria]. The basic—we don’t have a lot of time, but the basic story is that the United States, like Britain before it, has tended to support radical Islamism against secular nationalism. That’s been a consistent theme of imperial strategy for a long time. Saudi Arabia is the center of radical Islamic extremism… the spread of Saudi extremist Wahhabi doctrine over Sunni Islam, the Sunni world, is one of the real disasters of modern—of the modern era. It’s a source of not only funding for extremist radical Islam and the jihadi outgrowths of it, but also, doctrinally, mosques, clerics and so on, schools, you know, madrassas, where you study just Qur’an, is spreading all over the huge Sunni areas from Saudi influence. And it continues. Saudi Arabia itself has one of the most grotesque human rights records in the world… This is a very ugly story.

AMY GOODMAN: …the issue of the Republican Party and what you see happening there, the Republican establishment fiercely opposed to the presumptive nominee. I don’t know if we’ve ever seen anything like this, although that could be changing… What is happening?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, first of all, the phenomenon that we’ve just seen is an extreme version of something that’s been going on just for years in the Republican primaries. Take a look back at the preceding ones. Every time a candidate came up from the base—Bachmann, McCain, Santorum, Huckabee, one crazier than the other—every time one rose from the base, the Republican establishment sought to beat them down and get their own—get their own man—you know, Romney. And they succeeded, until this year. This year the same thing happened, and they didn’t succeed. The pressure from the base was too great for them to beat it back. Now, that’s the disaster that the Republican establishment sees. But the phenomenon goes way back. And it has roots. It’s kind of like jihadis: You have to ask about the roots.

What are the roots? The Republican—both political parties have shifted to the right during the neoliberal period—the period, you know, since Reagan, goes back to late Carter, escalated under Reagan—during this period, which has been a period of stagnation and decline for much of the population in many ways—wages, benefits, security and so on—along with enormous wealth concentrated in a tiny fraction of the population, mostly financial institutions, which are—have a dubious, if not harmful, role on the economy. This has been going on for a generation. And while this has been happening, there’s a kind of a vicious cycle. You have more concentration of wealth, concentration of political power, legislation to increase concentration of wealth and power, and so on, that while that’s been going on, much of the population has simply been cast aside. The white working class is bitter and angry, for lots of reasons, including these. The minority populations were hit very hard by the Clinton destruction of the welfare system and the incarceration rules. They still tend to support the Democrats, but tepidly, because the alternative is worse, and they’re taking a kind of pragmatic stand.

But while the parties have shifted to—but the parties have shifted so far to the right that the—today’s mainstream Democrats are pretty much what used to be called moderate Republicans. Now, the Republicans are just off the spectrum. They have been correctly described by leading conservative commentators, like Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, as just what they call a radical insurgency, which has abandoned parliamentary politics. And they don’t even try to conceal it. Like as soon as Obama was elected, Mitch McConnell said, pretty much straight out, “We have only one policy: make the country ungovernable, and then maybe we can somehow get power again.” That’s just off the spectrum.

Now, the actual policies of the Republicans, whether it’s Paul Ryan or Donald Trump, to the extent that he’s coherent, Ted Cruz, you pick him, or the establishment, is basically enrich and empower the very rich and the very powerful and the corporate sector. You cannot get votes that way. So therefore the Republicans have been compelled to turn to sectors of the population that can be mobilized and organized on other grounds, kind of trying to put to the side the actual policies, hoping, the establishment hopes, that the white working class will be mobilized to vote for their bitter class enemies, who want to shaft them in every way, by appealing to something else, like so-called social conservatism—you know, abortion rights, racism, nationalism and so on. And to some extent, that’s happened. That’s the kind of thing that Fritz Stern was referring to in the article that I mentioned about Germany’s collapse, this descent into barbarism. So what you have is a voting base consisting of evangelical Christians, ultranationalists, racists, disaffected, angry, white working-class sectors that have been hit very hard, that are—you know, not by Third World standards, but by First World standards, we even have the remarkable phenomenon of an increase in mortality among these sectors, that just doesn’t happen in developed societies. All of that is a voting base. It does produce candidates who terrify the corporate, wealthy, elite establishment. In the past, they’ve been able to beat them down. This time they aren’t doing it. And that’s what’s happening to the so-called Republican Party.

We should recognize—if we were honest, we would say something that sounds utterly shocking and no doubt will be taken out of context and lead to hysteria on the part of the usual suspects, but the fact of the matter is that today’s Republican Party qualify as candidates for the most dangerous organization in human history. Literally. Just take their position on the two major issues that face us: climate change, nuclear war. On climate change, it’s not even debatable… There’s been nothing this—literally, this dangerous, if you think about it, to the species, really, ever. We should face that.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Noam, you’ve just written this book, Who Rules the World? You’ve written more than a hundred other books. And, I mean, you have been a deep, profound thinker and activist on world issues… I’m wondering where you think we stand today, if you agree with—well, with Dr. Martin Luther King, that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice.

NOAM CHOMSKY:If you look over the past, say, the roughly 75 years of my, more or less, consciousness, it’s—in general, I think the arc of history has been bending towards justice. There have been many improvements, some of them pretty dramatic—women’s rights, for example, to an extent, civil rights. It should be remembered that there were literally lynchings in the South until the early 1950s. It’s not beautiful now, but that’s not happening. There have been steps forward. Opposition to aggression is much higher than it was in the past. There’s finally concern for environmental issues, which are really of desperate necessity. All of this is slow, halting, significant steps bending the arc of history in the right way.

There’s been regression, a lot of regression… there are opportunities—they’re not huge, but they’re real—to overcome the—and I stress again—to overcome problems that the human species has never faced in its roughly 200,000 years of existence, problems of, literally, survival. We’ve already answered these questions for a huge number of species: We’ve killed them off.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,200 stations in North America. She is the co-author of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times best-seller.

Full text

In Part 2 of our wide-ranging conversation with the world-renowned dissident Noam Chomsky, we talk about the conflict in Syria, the rise of ISIS, Saudi Arabia, the political crisis in Brazil, the passing of the pioneering lawyer Michael Ratner, the U.S. relationship with Cuba, Obama’s visit to Hiroshima and today’s Republican Party. “If we were honest, we would say something that sounds utterly shocking and no doubt will be taken out of context and lead to hysteria on the part of the usual suspects,” Chomsky says, “but the fact of the matter is that today’s Republican Party qualify as candidates for the most dangerous organization in human history. Literally.”

To watch Part 1 of the interview, click here.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Our guest for the hour is Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for more than half a century, his latest book titled Who Rules the World? Noam Chomsky, can you talk about what you think needs to happen in Syria right now?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Syria is spiraling into real disaster, a virtual suicide. And the only sensible approach, the only slim hope, for Syria is efforts to reduce the violence and destruction, to establish small regional ceasefire zones and to move toward some kind of diplomatic settlement. There are steps in that direction. Also, it’s necessary to cut off the flow of arms, as much as possible, to everyone. That means to the vicious and brutal Assad regime, primarily Russia and Iran, to the monstrous ISIS, which has been getting support tacitly through Turkey, through—to the al-Nusra Front, which is hardly different, has just the—the al-Qaeda affiliate, technically broke from it, but actually the al-Qaeda affiliate, which is now planning its own—some sort of emirate, getting arms from our allies, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Our own—the CIA is arming them. We don’t know at what level; it’s clandestine. As much as possible, cut back the flow of arms, the level of violence, try to save people from destruction. There should be far more support going simply for humanitarian aid. Those who are building some sort of a society in Syria—notably, the Kurds—should be supported in that effort.

These efforts should be made to cut off the flow of jihadis from the places where they’re coming from. And that means understanding why it’s happening. It’s not enough just to say, “OK, let’s bomb them to oblivion.” This is happening for reasons. Some of the reasons, unfortunately, are—we can’t reverse. The U.S. invasion of Iraq was a major reason in the development, a primary reason in the incitement of sectarian conflicts, which have now exploded into these monstrosities. That’s water under the bridge, unfortunately, though we can make sure not to do that—not to continue with that. But we may like it or not, but ISIS, the ISIL, whatever you want to call it, does have popular support even among people who hate it. The Sunni—much of the Sunni population of Iraq and Syria evidently regards it as better than the alternative, something which at least defends them from the alternative. From the Western countries, the flow of jihadis is primarily from young people who are—who live in conditions of humiliation, degradation, repression, and want something decent—want some dignity in their lives, want something idealistic. They’re picking the wrong horse, by a large margin, but you can understand what they’re aiming for. And there’s plenty of research and studies—Scott Atran and others have worked on this and have plenty of evidence about it. And those—alleviating and dealing with those real problems can be a way to reduce the level of violence and destruction.

It’s much more dramatic to say, “Let’s carpet bomb them,” or “Let’s bomb them to oblivion,” or “Let’s send in troops.” But that simply makes the situation far worse. Actually, we’ve seen it for 15 years. Just take a look at the so-called war on terror, which George W. Bush declared—actually, redeclared; Reagan had declared it—but redeclared in 2001. At that point, jihadi terrorism was located in a tiny tribal area near the Afghan-Pakistan border. Where is—and since then, we’ve been hitting one or another center of what we call terrorism with a sledgehammer. What’s happened? Each time, it spreads. By now, it’s all over the world. It’s all over Africa, Southeast Asia, South Asia, everywhere you look. Take the bombing of Libya, which Hillary Clinton was strongly in favor of, one of the leaders of, smashed up Libya, destroyed a functioning society. The bombing sharply escalated the level of atrocities by a large factor, devastated the country, left it in the hands of warring militias, opened the door for ISIS to establish a base, spread jihadis and heavy weapons all through Africa, in fact, into the Middle East. Last year, the—according to U.N. statistics, the worst terror in the world was in West Africa, Boko Haram and others, to a considerable extent an offshoot of the bombing of Libya. That’s what happens when you hit vulnerable systems with a sledgehammer, not knowing what you’re doing and not looking at the roots of where these movements are developing from. So you have to understand the—understand where it’s coming from, where the appeal lies, what the roots are—there are often quite genuine grievances—at the same time try to cut back the level of violence.

And, you know, we’ve had experience where things like this worked. Take, say, IRA terrorism. It was pretty severe. Now, they practically murdered the whole British Cabinet at one point. As long as Britain responded to IRA terrorism with more terror and violence, it simply escalated. As soon as Britain finally began—incidentally, with some helpful U.S. assistance at this point—in paying some attention to the actual grievances of Northern Irish Catholics, as soon as they started with that, violence subsided, reduced. People who had been called leading terrorists showed up on negotiating teams, even, finally, in the government. I happened to be in Belfast in 1993. It was a war zone, literally. I was there again a couple of years ago. It looks like any other city. You can see ethnic antagonisms, but nothing terribly out of the ordinary. That’s the way to deal with these issues.

Incidentally, what’s happening in Syria right now is horrendous, but we shouldn’t—useful to remember that it’s not the first time. If you go back a century, almost exactly a century, the end of the First World War, there were hundreds of thousands of people starving to death in Syria. Proportionally, proportional to the population, it’s likely that more Syrians died in the First World War than any other belligerent. Syria did revive, and it can revive again.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Saudi Arabia, both in the context of Syria, the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, and how much control Saudi Arabia has over this situation, not to mention what’s happening right now in Yemen, the U.S.-supported Saudi strikes in Yemen? But start with Syria.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, there’s a long history. The basic—we don’t have a lot of time, but the basic story is that the United States, like Britain before it, has tended to support radical Islamism against secular nationalism. That’s been a consistent theme of imperial strategy for a long time. Saudi Arabia is the center of radical Islamic extremism. Patrick Cockburn, one of the best commentators and most knowledgeable commentators, has correctly pointed out that what he calls the Wahhibisation of Sunni Islam, the spread of Saudi extremist Wahhabi doctrine over Sunni Islam, the Sunni world, is one of the real disasters of modern—of the modern era. It’s a source of not only funding for extremist radical Islam and the jihadi outgrowths of it, but also, doctrinally, mosques, clerics and so on, schools, you know, madrassas, where you study just Qur’an, is spreading all over the huge Sunni areas from Saudi influence. And it continues.

Saudi Arabia itself has one of the most grotesque human rights records in the world. The ISIS beheadings, which shock everyone—I think Saudi Arabia is the only country where you have regular beheadings. That’s the least of it. Women have no—can’t drive, so on and so forth. And it is strongly backed by the United States and its allies, Britain and France. Reason? It’s got a lot of oil. It’s got a lot of money. You can sell them a lot of arms, I think tens of billions of dollars of arms. And the actions that it’s carrying out, for example, in Yemen, which you mentioned, are causing an immense humanitarian catastrophe in a pretty poor country, also stimulating jihadi terrorism, naturally, with U.S. and also British arms. French are trying to get into it, as well. This is a very ugly story.

Saudi Arabia—Saudi Arabia itself, its economy—its economy is based not only on a wasting resource, but a resource which is destroying the world. There’s reports now that it’s trying to take some steps to—much belated steps; should have been 50 years ago—to try to diversify the economy. It does have resources that are not destructive, like sunlight, for example, which could be used, and is, to an extent, being used for solar power. But it’s way too late and probably can’t be done. But it’s a—it has been a serious source of major global problems—a horrible society in itself, in many ways—and the U.S. and its allies, and Britain before it, have stimulated these radical Islamist developments throughout the—throughout the Islamic world for a long time.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Obama has dealt with Saudi Arabia any differently than President Bush before him?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Not in any way that I can see, no. Maybe in nuances.

AMY GOODMAN: What about what’s happening right now in Brazil, where protests are continuing over the Legislature’s vote to suspend President Dilma Rousseff and put her on trial? Now El Salvador has refused to recognize the new Brazilian government. The Brazilian—the Salvadoran president, Cerén, said Rousseff’s ouster had, quote, “the appearance of a coup d’état.” What’s happening there? And what about the difference between—it looked like perhaps Bush saved Latin America simply by not focusing on it, totally wrapped up in Iraq and Afghanistan. It looks like the Obama administration is paying a bit more attention.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I don’t think it’s just a matter of not paying attention. Latin America has, to a significant extent, liberated itself from foreign—meaning mostly U.S.—domination in the past 10 or 15 years. That’s a dramatic development in world affairs. It’s the first time in 500 years. It’s a big change. So the so-called lack of attention is partly the fact that the U.S. is kind of being driven out of the hemisphere, less that it can do. It used to be able to overthrow governments, carry out coups at will and so on. It tries. There have been three—maybe it depends how you count them—coups, coup attempts this century. One in Venezuela in 2002 succeeded for a couple of days, backed by the U.S., overthrown by popular reaction. A second in Haiti, 2004, succeeded. The U.S. and France—Canada helped—kidnapped the president, sent him off to Central Africa, won’t permit his party to run in elections. That was a successful coup. Honduras, under Obama, there was a military coup, overthrew a reformist president. The United States was almost alone in pretty much legitimizing the coup, you know, claiming that the elections under the coup regime were legitimate. Honduras, always a very poor, repressed society, became a total horror chamber. Huge flow of refugees, we throw them back in the border, back to the violence, which we helped create. Paraguay, there was a kind of a semi-coup. What’s happening—also to get rid of a progressive priest who was running the country briefly.

What’s happening in Brazil now is extremely unfortunate in many ways. First of all, there has been a massive level of corruption. Regrettably, the Workers’ Party, Lula’s party, which had a real opportunity to achieve something extremely significant, and did make some considerable positive changes, nevertheless joined the rest—the traditional elite in just wholesale robbery. And that should—that should be punished. On the other hand, what’s happening now, what you quoted from El Salvador, I think, is pretty accurate. It’s a kind of a soft coup. The elite detested the Workers’ Party and is using this opportunity to get rid of the party that won the elections. They’re not waiting for the elections, which they’d probably lose, but they want to get rid of it, exploiting an economic recession, which is serious, and the massive corruption that’s been exposed. But as even The New York Times pointed out, Dilma Rousseff is maybe the one politician who hasn’t—leading politician who hasn’t stolen in order to benefit herself. She’s being charged with manipulations in the budget, which are pretty standard in many countries, taking from one pocket and putting it into another. Maybe it’s a misdeed of some kind, but certainly doesn’t justify impeachment. In fact, she’s—we have the one leading politician who hasn’t stolen to enrich herself, who’s being impeached by a gang of thieves, who have done so. That does count as a kind of soft coup. I think that’s correct.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to move back to the United States, to the issue of the Republican Party and what you see happening there, the Republican establishment fiercely opposed to the presumptive nominee. I don’t know if we’ve ever seen anything like this, although that could be changing. Can you talk about the significance—I mean, you have Sheldon Adelson, who is now saying he will pour, what, tens of millions of dollars into Donald Trump. You have the Koch brothers—I think it was Charles Koch saying he could possibly see supporting Hillary Clinton, if that were the choice, with Donald Trump. What is happening?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, first of all, the phenomenon that we’ve just seen is an extreme version of something that’s been going on just for years in the Republican primaries. Take a look back at the preceding ones. Every time a candidate came up from the base—Bachmann, McCain, Santorum, Huckabee, one crazier than the other—every time one rose from the base, the Republican establishment sought to beat them down and get their own—get their own man—you know, Romney. And they succeeded, until this year. This year the same thing happened, and they didn’t succeed. The pressure from the base was too great for them to beat it back. Now, that’s the disaster that the Republican establishment sees. But the phenomenon goes way back. And it has roots. It’s kind of like jihadis: You have to ask about the roots.

What are the roots? The Republican—both political parties have shifted to the right during the neoliberal period—the period, you know, since Reagan, goes back to late Carter, escalated under Reagan—during this period, which has been a period of stagnation and decline for much of the population in many ways—wages, benefits, security and so on—along with enormous wealth concentrated in a tiny fraction of the population, mostly financial institutions, which are—have a dubious, if not harmful, role on the economy. This has been going on for a generation. And while this has been happening, there’s a kind of a vicious cycle. You have more concentration of wealth, concentration of political power, legislation to increase concentration of wealth and power, and so on, that while that’s been going on, much of the population has simply been cast aside. The white working class is bitter and angry, for lots of reasons, including these. The minority populations were hit very hard by the Clinton destruction of the welfare system and the incarceration rules. They still tend to support the Democrats, but tepidly, because the alternative is worse, and they’re taking a kind of pragmatic stand.

But while the parties have shifted to—but the parties have shifted so far to the right that the—today’s mainstream Democrats are pretty much what used to be called moderate Republicans. Now, the Republicans are just off the spectrum. They have been correctly described by leading conservative commentators, like Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, as just what they call a radical insurgency, which has abandoned parliamentary politics. And they don’t even try to conceal it. Like as soon as Obama was elected, Mitch McConnell said, pretty much straight out, “We have only one policy: make the country ungovernable, and then maybe we can somehow get power again.” That’s just off the spectrum.

Now, the actual policies of the Republicans, whether it’s Paul Ryan or Donald Trump, to the extent that he’s coherent, Ted Cruz, you pick him, or the establishment, is basically enrich and empower the very rich and the very powerful and the corporate sector. You cannot get votes that way. So therefore the Republicans have been compelled to turn to sectors of the population that can be mobilized and organized on other grounds, kind of trying to put to the side the actual policies, hoping, the establishment hopes, that the white working class will be mobilized to vote for their bitter class enemies, who want to shaft them in every way, by appealing to something else, like so-called social conservatism—you know, abortion rights, racism, nationalism and so on. And to some extent, that’s happened. That’s the kind of thing that Fritz Stern was referring to in the article that I mentioned about Germany’s collapse, this descent into barbarism. So what you have is a voting base consisting of evangelical Christians, ultranationalists, racists, disaffected, angry, white working-class sectors that have been hit very hard, that are—you know, not by Third World standards, but by First World standards, we even have the remarkable phenomenon of an increase in mortality among these sectors, that just doesn’t happen in developed societies. All of that is a voting base. It does produce candidates who terrify the corporate, wealthy, elite establishment. In the past, they’ve been able to beat them down. This time they aren’t doing it. And that’s what’s happening to the so-called Republican Party.

We should recognize—if we were honest, we would say something that sounds utterly shocking and no doubt will be taken out of context and lead to hysteria on the part of the usual suspects, but the fact of the matter is that today’s Republican Party qualify as candidates for the most dangerous organization in human history. Literally. Just take their position on the two major issues that face us: climate change, nuclear war. On climate change, it’s not even debatable. They’re saying, “Let’s race to the precipice. Let’s make sure that our grandchildren have the worst possible life.” On nuclear war, they’re calling for increased militarization. It’s already way too high, more than half the discretionary budget. “Let’s shoot it up.” They cut back other resources by cutting back taxes on the rich, so there’s nothing left. There’s been nothing this—literally, this dangerous, if you think about it, to the species, really, ever. We should face that.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that President Obama has intensified this threat, I mean, now with the trillion-dollar plan to, quote, “modernize” the nuclear arsenal?

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s a very bad step. And it’s not just modernizing the arsenal, which ought to be reduced. Worth remembering we have even a legal obligation to cut back and, ultimately, eliminate nuclear weapons. But it’s also something you mentioned earlier: developing these small nuclear weapons. Sounds kind of nice. They’re small, not big. It’s the opposite. Small nuclear weapons provide a temptation to use them, figuring, “Well, it’s only a small weapon, so it won’t destroy, you know, a whole city.” But as soon as you use a small nuclear weapon, chances of retaliation escalate pretty sharply. And that means you could pretty soon be in a situation where you’re having a real nuclear exchange, pretty well known now that that would lead to a nuclear winter, which would make life essentially impossible.

AMY GOODMAN: As President Obama heads to Hiroshima, do you think he should be apologizing for the only nuclear bombs, atomic bombs, dropped in the world, the U.S. dropping them, launching the nuclear age, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in ’45?

NOAM CHOMSKY: I thought—I mean, I’m old enough to remember it. And that day was just the—maybe the grimmest day I can remember. Then came something even worse: the bombing of Nagasaki, mainly to try to test a new weapon design. These are real horror stories. The carpet—the bombing, firebombing of Japanese cities a couple months earlier was not that much better, Tokyo especially. We might even recall that there was what was called a grand finale in the Air Force history. After the two atom bombs, after Russia had entered the war, which ended any Japanese hope for any kind of—any hope that they had for any sort of negotiated settlement, after that—it was all over—after Japan had officially surrendered, though before it had been made public, after that, the U.S. organized a thousand-plane raid, which was a big logistic feat, to bomb Japanese cities to kind of show the “Japs” who was on top, and survivors, so like Makoto Oda, a well-known Japanese writer who recently died, reported that as a child in Osaka, he remembers bombs falling along with leaflets saying, “Japan has surrendered.” Now, that was not a lethal bombing, but it was a brutal one, a brutal sign of brutality. All of these events call for serious rethinking—yes, apology, but mainly serious rethinking of just what we’re up to in the world.

And remember that this goes on. Those were small bombs by today’s standard. If you look at the record since, since 1945, it’s an absolute miracle that we’ve survived. New examples are discovered all the time. Just a couple of months ago, it was revealed that in 1979, last Carter year, the U.S. automated detection systems sent a—determined that there was a major Russian missile attack against the United States. Protocol is, this goes to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they evaluate it, goes to the national security adviser—Zbigniew Brzezinski at the time—and he notifies the president. Brzezinski was actually on the phone, ready to call Carter to launch a nuclear attack, which means the Doomsday Clock goes to midnight, on the phone when they received information saying that it was a false alarm, another of the hundreds, if not thousands, of false alarms. On the Russian side, there are probably many more, because their equipment is much worse. These things happen constantly. And to play games with escalating the nuclear arsenal, when it should be reduced, sharply reduced—I mean, even people like Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and so on, are calling for elimination of nuclear weapons. To escalate and modernize at this point is just really criminal, in my opinion.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your overall assessment of the Obama administration?

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s about what I thought before he—before the 2008 primaries, when I wrote about him just based on the information in his web page. I didn’t expect anything. I expected mostly rhetoric and—you know, nice rhetoric, good speaker and so on, but nothing much in the way of action. I don’t usually agree with Sarah Palin, but when she was ridiculing this—what she called this “hopey-changey stuff,” she had a point. There were a few good things. You know, there were a few good things in the W. Bush administration. But opportunities that were available, especially in the first two years when he had Congress with him, just were not used. And some—it’s—by the standards of U.S. presidential politics, it’s kind of nothing special either way, nothing to rave about, certainly.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the passing of Michael Ratner, Michael Ratner, the former head of the—or the late head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the trailblazing human rights attorney, who died last week at the age of 72. I had interviewed Michael last year in Washington, D.C., at the reopening of the Cuban Embassy, after it was closed for more than five decades. And I asked Michael to talk about the significance of this historic day. This is an excerpt of what he said.

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, Amy, let’s just say, other than the birth of my children, this is perhaps one of the most exciting days of my life. I mean, I’ve been working on Cuba since the early ’70s, if not before. I worked on the Venceremos Brigade. I went on brigades. I did construction. And to see that this can actually happen in a country that decided early on that, unlike most countries in the world, it was going to level the playing field for everyone—no more rich, no more poor, everyone the same, education for everyone, schooling for everyone, housing if they could—and to see the relentless United States go against it, from the Bay of Pigs to utter subversion on and on, and to see Cuba emerge victorious—and when I say that, this is not a defeated country. This is a country—if you heard the foreign minister today, what he spoke of was the history of U.S. imperialism against Cuba, from the intervention in the Spanish-American War to the Platt Amendment, which made U.S. a permanent part of the Cuban government, to the taking of Guantánamo, to the failure to recognize it in 1959, to the cutting off of relations in 1961. This is a major, major victory for the Cuban people, and that should be understood. We are standing at a moment that I never expected to see in our history.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Michael Ratner. It was July [20th]. It was that historic day in Washington, D.C., when the Cuban Embassy was opened after almost half a century. If you could talk both about the significance of Michael Ratner, from his work around Guantánamo, ultimately challenging the habeas corpus rights of Guantánamo prisoners, that they should have their day in court, and winning this case in the Supreme Court, to all of his work, also talk about Cuba, Noam, something that you certainly take on in your new book, Who Rules the World?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, Michael Ratner has an absolutely fabulous record. His achievements have been enormous. A tremendous courage, intelligence, dedication. A lot of achievement against huge odds. The center, which he largely—it was a major—he ran and was a major actor in, has done wonderful work all over the place—Cuba and lots of other things. So I can’t be excessive in my praise for what he achieved in his life and the inspiration that it should leave us with.

With regard to Cuba-U.S. relations, I think what he just said is essentially accurate. In fact, it’s even worse than that. We tend to forget that after the Bay of Pigs, the Kennedy administration was practically in a state of hysteria and seeking to somehow avenge themselves against this upstart who was carrying out what the government called successful defiance of U.S. policies going back to the Monroe Doctrine. How can we tolerate that? Kennedy authorized a major terrorist war against Cuba. The goal was to bring “the terrors of the earth” to Cuba. That’s the phrase of his associate Arthur Schlesinger, historian Arthur Schlesinger, in his biography of Robert Kennedy. Robert Kennedy was given the responsibility to bring “the terrors of the earth” to Cuba. And it was—he in fact described it as one of the prime goals of government, is to ensure that we terrorize Cuba. And it was pretty serious. Thousands of people were killed, petrochemical plants, other industrial installations blown up. Russian ships in the Havana Harbor were attacked. You can imagine what would happen if American ships were attacked. It was probably connected with poisoning of crops and livestock, can’t be certain. It went on into the 1990s, though not at that—not at the extreme level of the Kennedy years, but pretty bad. The late ’70s, there was an upsurge, blowing up of a Cubana airliner, 73 people killed. The culprits are living happily in Miami. One of them died. The other, Luis Posada, major terrorist, is cheerfully living there.

The taking over of southeastern Cuba back—at the time of the Platt Amendment, the U.S. had absolutely no claim to this territory, none whatsoever. We’re holding onto it just in order—it’s a major U.S. military base—it was. But we’re holding onto it simply to impede the development of Cuba, a major port, and to have a dumping place where we can send—illegally send Haitian refugees, claiming that they’re economic refugees, when they’re fleeing from the terror of the Haitian junta that we supported—Clinton, incidentally, in this case—or just as a torture chamber. Now, there’s a lot of talk about human rights violations in Cuba. Yeah, there are human rights violations in Cuba. By far the worst of them, overwhelmingly, are in the part of Cuba that we illegally hold—you know, technically, legally. We took it at the force of a gun, so it’s—point of a gun, so it’s legal. I mean, in comparison with this, whatever you think of Putin’s annexation of Crimea is minor in comparison with this.

All of this is correct, but we have to ask: Why did the U.S. decide to normalize relations with Cuba? The way it’s presented here, it was a historic act of magnanimity by the Obama administration. As he, himself, put it, and commentators echoed, “We have tried for 50 years to bring democracy and freedom to Cuba. The methods we used didn’t work, so we’ll try another method.” Reality? No, we tried for 50 years to bring terror, violence and destruction to Cuba, not just the terrorist war, but the crushing embargo. When the Russians disappeared from the scene, instead of—you know, the pretense was, “Well, it’s because of the Russians.” When they disappeared from the scene, how did we react, under Clinton? By making the embargo harsher. Clinton outflanked George H.W. Bush from the right, in harsh—during the electoral campaign, in harshness against Cuba. It was Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat, who initiated the legislation. Later became worse with Helms-Burton. All of this has been—that’s how we tried to bring democracy and freedom to Cuba.

Why the change? Because the United States was being driven out of the hemisphere. You take a look at the hemispheric meetings, which are symbol of it. Latin America used to be just the backyard. They do what you tell them. If they don’t do it, we throw them out and put in someone else. No more. Not in the last 10, 20 years. There was a hemispheric meeting in Cartagena, in Colombia. I think it was—must have been 2012, when the U.S. was isolated. U.S. and Canada were completely isolated from the rest of the hemisphere on two issues. One was admission of Cuba into hemispheric systems. The second was the drug war, which Latin America are essentially the victims of the drug war. The demand is here. Actually, even the supply of weapons into Mexico is largely here. But they’re the ones who suffer from it. They want to change it. They want to move in various ways towards decriminalization, other measures. U.S. opposed. Canada opposed. It was pretty clear at that time that at the next hemispheric meeting, which was going to be in Panama, if the U.S. still maintained its position on these two issues, the hemisphere would just go along without the United States. Now, there already are hemispheric institutions, like CELAC, UNASUR for South America, which exclude the United States, and it would just move in that direction. So, Obama bowed to the pressure of reality and agreed to make—to accept the demand to—the overwhelming demand to move slowly towards normalization of relations with Cuba. Not a magnanimous gesture of courage to bring Cuba—to protect Cuba from its isolation, to save them from their isolation; quite the opposite, to save the United States from its isolation. Of course, with the rest of the world, there’s not even any question. Take a look at the annual votes on—the U.N. has annual votes on the U.S. embargo, and just overwhelming. I think the last one was something like 180 to two—United States and Israel. It’s been increasing like that for years. So, that’s the background.

As for Michael, Michael Ratner, his achievements are just really spectacular.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Noam, you’ve just written this book, Who Rules the World? You’ve written more than a hundred other books. And, I mean, you have been a deep, profound thinker and activist on world issues, for what? I mean, more than 70 years. You were writing when you were 14 years old, giving your analysis of what’s been happening. And I’m wondering where you think we stand today, if you agree with—well, with Dr. Martin Luther King, that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Actually, it was 10 years old, but not—nothing to rave about. If you look over the past, say, the roughly 75 years of my, more or less, consciousness, it’s—in general, I think the arc of history has been bending towards justice. There have been many improvements, some of them pretty dramatic—women’s rights, for example, to an extent, civil rights. It should be remembered that there were literally lynchings in the South until the early 1950s. It’s not beautiful now, but that’s not happening. There have been steps forward. Opposition to aggression is much higher than it was in the past. There’s finally concern for environmental issues, which are really of desperate necessity. All of this is slow, halting, significant steps bending the arc of history in the right way.

There’s been regression, a lot of regression. Things don’t move smoothly. But there have been bad periods before, and we’ve pulled out of them. I think there are opportunities—they’re not huge, but they’re real—to overcome the—and I stress again—to overcome problems that the human species has never faced in its roughly 200,000 years of existence, problems of, literally, survival. We’ve already answered these questions for a huge number of species: We’ve killed them off.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he’s taught for more than 50 years. His latest book is Who Rules the World? This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

 

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,200 stations in North America. She is the co-author of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times best-seller.

 

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/chomsky-gop?akid=14287.125622.Dmhf85&rd=1&src=newsletter1057028&t=12

Transformation

5 Powerful Shifts Transforming America Society into an Unrecognizable and Frightening Future By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, March 20, 2015…A new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. …let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell… based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name. And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so. Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: 1] political campaigns and elections; 2] the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; 3] the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; 4] the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; 5]and the demobilization of “we the people.” Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway…

A crisis this big changes everything By Oliver Tickell, The Ecologist, January 21, 2015  The world’s collective failure to tackle climate change comes down to one big problem, says Naomi Klein: the clash of climate necessities against corporate power and a triumphant neo-liberal world order. So after decades of government dithering… it’s time for civil society to unite and build a radical justice-based movement for climate action. Naomi Klein’s new book is This Changes Everything,

Welcome to the Tipping Point By Quincy Saul, April 2015, Truthout | Op-Ed  …we know we are capable of both dreadful and beautiful deeds. We need only to look at the world, and then look into the mirror, and decide if we will fulfill or betray the mission history has put before us; we who live at the tipping points; we who are the tipping points. A survey of the tipping points that define our precarious calendars and geographies may help – to understand our world, to understand ourselves and to guide both into better harbors.They each have their unique dynamics, but they are all converging. They have distinct and diverse causes and effects, but they all feed into each other. What they have in common is that they are all happening now, and that tomorrow may be too late…

26 charts and maps that show the world is getting much, much better by Dylan Matthews, VOX on March 20, 2015

A Radical Agenda for Hillary Clinton By William Greider, The Nation, April 10, 2015

Bigger Than Science, Bigger Than Religion By Richard Schiffman, YES! Magazine, Truth-out.org, March 1, 2015

5 Powerful Shifts Transforming America Society into an Unrecognizable and Frightening Future By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, March 20, 2015

Three secrets to revitalizing liberal America – New year, same old problems by Sean McElwee, Salon.com, Jan 4, 2015  2014 was not a good year for the left. Republicans now have a stranglehold on the House, where they control the most seats they’ve had since 1948. That lead will likely last for decades. Democrats didn’t just lose the Senate, they have significantly diminished their chance of regaining it in 2016. Republicans control 31 governorships, as well as 68 of 98 legislative chambers. And of, course, the Democratic party has shown itself to be only nominally liberal, with the current frontrunner for 2016 raising money from Wall Street financiers. The left then has two problems: how to get Democrats winning and how to get Democrats to avoid becoming a party permanently in the callous hands of capital. Currently, much of the hope for a more liberal Democratic party rests on the shoulders of Elizabeth Warren, who is being drafted to run against Hillary Clinton. While Warren is formidable, it was only six years ago that the left laid its hopes for victory on a single individual and found itself sorely disappointed. The left must remember that leaders do not make movements; rather, movements make leaders. Instead of vacillating from one hero to another, the left must create a formidable power base from which to both defeat Republicans and shift Democrats to the left. This will require a three-pronged approach: mass mobilization of the non-voting population, a stable of progressive leaders and a reduction in the influence of money in politics.

New Year’s Resolution for America by Dennis Kucinich, Huffington Post, January 01, 2015 When anyone of us resolves toward self-improvement, it can impact the lives of those we love. How much more impact can we have, if in the new year we work to recreate the future of this country we love, by resolving to take bold steps in a new direction in a new year?…I have seen miracles occur, outcomes change, new directions taken when people courageously strive to challenge a seemingly unshakeable status quo, on matters both personal and public…Today, our nation’s government has been taken over by special interest groups and ideologues, who have rapidly distributed our nation’s wealth upwards, built a national security state to protect its hold on power and wealth, involved America in destructive, unnecessary wars abroad, ignored the escalating violence at home, and broken the laws of our nation with impunity, while punishing those who expose their unlawfulness…1. Ensure a full employment economy by reclaiming control of our money system. 2. Reclaim our right to privacy. 3. Make America a more peaceful place. 4. Transform America’s role in the world; focus on the needs of people here at home. 5. Establish a US Commission on Truth and Reconciliation. 6. Restore our relationship with nature and restore our planet.

We Need to Advocate Radical Solutions to Systemic Problems by Robert McChesney – Interview By Mark Karlin, Truthout, January 4, 2015

Robert Reich’s 2014 Year in Review by BillMoyers.com StaffThis video first appeared at MoveOn.org. January 2, 2015 – As we head into 2015, it’s important to remember how quickly progressive change that seemed radical — if not a crazy pipe dream — at one time, becomes inevitable when enough people make a ruckus!

Fight for Our Progressive Vision By Bernie Sanders, Common Dreams, December 29, 2014

Imagine If America Had Adopted Martin Luther King’s Economic Dream By Bill Moyers, James Cone, Taylor BranchBillmoyers.com, April 6, 2013

Evolutionary Leaders: In Service to Conscious Evolution -  Don Beck, Michael Bernard Beckwith, Joan Borysenko, Gregg Braden, Patrick Brauckmann, Rinaldo Brutoco, Jack Canfield, Scott Carlin, Deepak Chopra, Andrew Cohen, Oran Cohen, Dale Colton, Wendy Craig-Purcell, Stephen Dinan, Michael Dowd, Gordon Dveirin, Duane Elgin, Barbara Fields, Ashok Gangadean, Kathleen Gardarian, Tom Gegax, David Gershon, Mark Gerzon, Charles Gibbs, Joshua Gorman, Craig Hamilton, Kathy Hearn, Jean Houston, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Ervin Laszlo, Bruce Lipton, Lynnaea Lumbard, Elza Maalouf, Howard Martin, Fred Matser, Rod McGrew, Steve McIntosh, Lynne McTaggart, Nipun Mehta, Nina Meyerhof, Deborah Moldow, James O’Dea, Terry Patten, Carter Phipps, Carolyn Rangel, Ocean Robbins, Peter Russell, Elisabet Sahtouris, Yuka Saionji, Gerard Senehi, Christian Sorensen, Emily Squires, Daniel Stone, Lynne Twist, Diane Williams, Katherine Woodward Thomas, Claire Zammit, Tom Zender www.evolutionaryleaders.net  On 11.1.11 (November 1, 2011) Evolutionary Leaders gathered in meditation to hold this intention: Our intention is to transcend superficial differences that divide us – race, religion, politics, beliefs, culture – to acknowledge, experience and honor the essential bond that unites us all as one interdependent organism. We also intend to evolve in both consciousness and action so that each of us learns to perceive the whole, relate to others in wholeness, widen our definition of ‘we’ to be all inclusive and become evolutionary leaders for a peaceful, holistic, sustainable world.

Envisioning Where We Want to Go: An Interview With Evolutionary Reconstructionist Gar Alperovitz By Leslie Thatcher, Truthout, August 22, 2014         a new website — Pluralist Commonwealth — about principles of democratic ownership and on building a sustainable and

What is missing I think from the equation in our struggle today is that we must unleash radical thought. … America has never been moved to perfect our desire for greater democracy without radical thinking and radical voices being at the helm of any such a quest.” Harry Belafonte

Spiral Dynamics is a powerful model and predictive theory of human development and cultural evolution…a powerful tool for understanding the complexity of human behavior. SD has been successfully employed around the globe for conceiving and implementing real-world integral solutions to social conflicts and for catalyzing individual evolutionary transformation….this evolutionary theory and model for human development can help you understand the complex world we live in and to navigate the challenges of life in the twenty-first century….how we think is so much more important than what we think!  Spiral Dynamics was introduced in the 1996 book Spiral Dynamics by Don Beck and Chris Cowan.… Spiral Dynamics suggests ways to move more quickly in the direction of deep dialogue and comprehensive, integral solutions…. As our world is now moving into the next stage of cultural pluralism and diversity programs, Spiral Dynamics offers a point of view that looks at the evolutionary dynamic of the deep underlying values systems….Spiral Dynamics connects everything to everything else…discover and reveal the mechanisms and stages that have characterized our long, evolutionary ascent from an animal-like existence.   http://www.enlightennext.org/magazine/spiral/  http://www.enlightennext.org/magazine/spiral/

Activists, take note: Peo­ple sup­port reform if they believe the changes will enhance the future char­ac­ter of society…people sup­port a future soci­ety that fos­ters the devel­op­ment of warm and moral individuals… If you can com­mu­ni­cate how a pol­icy will serve its pri­mary func­tion and help community-building, our research sug­gests you will gain broader pub­lic support. Scientists find visions of a benevolent future society motivate reform By Eric W. Dolan, Wash­ing­ton Post, March 21, 2013

We May Be Witnessing the First Large Global Conflict Where People Are Aligned by Con­sciousness and Not Nation State or Religion By Naomi Wolf, Posted on AlterNet.org, November 1, 2011  … for the first time, people around the world are not identifying and organising themselves along national or religious lines, but rather in terms of a global consciousness and demands for a peaceful life, a sustainable future, economic justice and basic democracy. Their enemy is a global “corporatocracy” that has purchased governments and legislatures, created its own armed enforcers, engaged in systemic economic fraud, and plundered treasuries and ecosystems…

The planet we have assaulted will con­vulse with fury. The sense­less greed of lim­it­less cap­i­tal­ist expan­sion will implode the global econ­omy. The dec­i­ma­tion of civil lib­er­ties, car­ried out in the name of fight­ing ter­ror, will shackle us to an inter­con­nected secu­rity and sur­veil­lance state that stretches from Moscow to Istan­bul to New York. To endure what lies ahead we will have to har­ness the human imagination…It is the imag­i­na­tion that makes pos­si­ble tran­scen­dence…“Ulti­mately, the artist and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary func­tion as they func­tion, and pay what­ever dues they must pay behind it because they are both pos­sessed by a vision, and they do not so much fol­low this vision as find them­selves dri­ven by it,” wrote James Bald­win. “Oth­er­wise, they could never endure, much less embrace, the lives they are com­pelled to lead.” A Time for ‘Sub­lime Mad­ness by Chris Hedges, Jan­u­ary 21, 2013 by TruthDig.com

what I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world…Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world…Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power…The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history…We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable…This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened before…Healing or Stealing? by Paul Hawken, Commencement Address, University of Portland 2009

…Sud­denly, the United States looks like the rest of the furi­ous, protest­ing, not-completely-free world. Indeed, most com­men­ta­tors have not fully grasped that a world war is occur­ring. But it is unlike any pre­vi­ous war in human his­tory: for the first time, peo­ple around the world are not iden­ti­fy­ing and organ­is­ing them­selves along national or reli­gious lines, but rather in terms of a global con­scious­ness and demands for a peace­ful life, a sus­tain­able future, eco­nomic jus­tice and basic democ­racy. Their enemy is a global “cor­po­ra­toc­racy” that has pur­chased gov­ern­ments and leg­is­la­tures, cre­ated its own armed enforcers, engaged in sys­temic eco­nomic fraud, and plun­dered trea­suries and ecosystems…We May Be Wit­ness­ing the First Large Global Con­flict Where Peo­ple Are Aligned by Con­scious­ness and Not Nation State or Reli­gion By Naomi Wolf, Al Jazeera Eng­lish, AlterNet.org, Novem­ber 1, 2011

What will the world look like in 2050? 2070? 2100?…Imag­ine if the major social move­ments of the world — sus­tain­abil­ity, global jus­tice, world fed­er­al­ism, cor­po­ra­tion reform, open col­lab­o­ra­tion, and social finance – were to con­geal into a new way of being.  There are trends that sug­gest this is already hap­pen­ing.  We can help amplify this con­ver­gence.  Or we can sup­press it…A Global Con­ver­gence of Social Move­mentsBy Joe Brewer, Chaotic Rip­ple, Cog­ni­tive Pol­icy Works In Col­lab­o­ra­tion, Eco­nomic Pat­terns, Social Change on May 24, 2011

Mil­lions of peo­ple around the world find them­selves search­ing for a more mean­ing­ful, rel­e­vant, and pro­found way to engage with life. Not only do they want to become more con­scious as indi­vid­u­als, they want to per­son­ally par­tic­i­pate in the cre­ation of a bet­ter world….The fourteen-billion-year project that is our evolv­ing uni­verse has reached a crit­i­cal junc­ture where it needs con­scious, cre­ative human beings to help build the next step, together.  Con­scious evo­lu­tion for think­ing peo­ple by Andrew Cohen, Enlighten­Next mag­a­zine

…we must under­stand the fun­da­men­tal and often widely dif­fer­ing ways in which both indi­vid­ual human beings and entire cul­tures think about things and pri­or­i­tize their val­ues. Only then can we address the root causes of social frag­men­ta­tion and con­flict and cre­ate a form of global gov­er­nance that will guide the emer­gence of a new soci­ety in the twenty-first century.…There are now six bil­lion of us, and while we are more cul­tur­ally frag­mented than ever before, we are also more inter­con­nected. Every­thing is both global and local—everywhere.…our prob­lems of exis­tence have become more com­plex than the solu­tions we have avail­able to deal with them. While on the sur­face it often appears that con­flicts are tribal or involve com­pet­ing empires, or ide­olo­gies, or even national inter­ests, the real issues are in the under­ly­ing worldviews—the deeper human dynam­ics that can dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer from one cul­ture to another. It is these under­ly­ing cul­tural dynam­ics that shape the actions and choices we make, that deter­mine how we live our lives, how cul­tures sub­se­quently form, and why they often collide. …what we’re try­ing to do is cre­ate bet­ter ways for six bil­lion earth­lings to sur­vive. That is the ulti­mate bot­tom line—the health of the whole, based upon an under­stand­ing of human com­plex­ity and emergence…I real­ize this endeavor has a grand scope, but such is the nature of major par­a­digm shifts in our culture. A New Con­scious­ness For a World In Cri­sis by Jes­sica Roemis­cher from Enlighten­Next mag­a­zine

…find­ing a path­way to a viable human future is the Great Work of our time…Our envi­ron­men­tal, social, and eco­nomic sys­tems are col­laps­ing around us….This is a defin­ing moment for the human species. We have a brief win­dow of oppor­tu­nity to nav­i­gate the pas­sage from a self-destructive Era of Empire, char­ac­ter­ized by 5,000 years of vio­lent dom­i­na­tion, to an Era of Earth Com­mu­nity char­ac­ter­ized by peace­ful part­ner­ship.…This is arguably the most excit­ing time to be alive in the whole of the human expe­ri­ence. Cre­ation is call­ing us to rein­vent our cul­tures, our insti­tu­tions and our­selves. It is in our hands. We have the power. We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for. The Great Turn­ing: The End of Empire and the Rise of Earth Com­mu­nity by David Kor­ten, Jan­u­ary 27, 2008

Spirituality is a universal phenomenon. It doesn’t matter where in the world you live or what “tribe” you are a part of; you can be assured that spirituality will be a part of the psychological and social fabric of your immediate world. Why? Humans have a strong will toward meaning…spirituality provides us with a sense of morality and ethics and allows us to find a sense of peace in the face of life’s trials and tribulations. In fact, spirituality is central to being and becoming a healthy and well-adjusted human being. Spirituality also plays a role in enabling the evolution of individual and collective consciousness…
A person’s way of thinking and being is influenced by their worldview – the unique combination of attitudes, perceptions, and assumptions that inform how they personally understand and make sense of their place in the world…
3) The belief in fostering wholeness and interconnectedness, which means a universal spiritual belief that all life is interconnected and that it is your bond to all humanity that provides a sense of wholeness… Toward a “Common Spirituality”: Scaffolding for Evolving Consciousness by Richard Harmer, PhD, Noetic, December 2010

… a steadily growing consciousness and behavior that refocuses personal lives and public policies towards promoting the common good.  By the “common good” I’m referring to a broad evolution beyond values and actions that serve narrow self-interest, and towards those guided by inclusiveness — supporting well-being, economic success, security, human rights and stewardship of resources for the benefit of all, rather than just for some.
It’s like a stealth operation, because it hasn’t become highly visible yet. But polls, surveys and research data reveal several strands of change that are coalescing in this overall direction….It’s an awareness of interconnection of all lives on this planet, and a pull towards acting upon that reality in a range of ways. They include rethinking personal relationships, the responsibility of business to society, and the role of government in an interdependent world. How the Common Good Is Transforming Our World by Douglas LaBier, HuffingtonPost.com, October 17, 2010

The Big Theories Underwriting Society Are Crashing All Around Us — Are You Ready for a New World? by Terrence McNally, AlterNet, January 27, 2010

Chris Hedges on the Role of Art in Rebellion, interview with Peter Z. Scheer, November 27, 2013, Truthdig.com,

 

Overview – Change/History

…the debacle of the last ten years didn’t just happen. And, yes, plenty of people did see it coming. Their warnings were ignored. What followed, then, didn’t “just happen,” but was the consequence of conscious choice…it is important to discuss and determine the causes of the various messes we find ourselves in The Uh-Ohs: A Decade of Conservative Failure by Terrance Heath

In or around 1978, America’s character changed…the institutions of American democracy, stronger than the excesses of individuals, were usually able to contain and channel them to more useful ends … In Washington, corporations organised themselves into a powerful lobby that spent millions of dollars to defeat the kind of labour and consumer bills they had once accepted as part of the social contract… what destroys morale below is the systematic corner-cutting, the rule-bending, the self-dealing…It is no wonder that more and more Americans believe the game is rigged…Once the social contract is shredded, once the deal is off, only suckers still play by the rules.   How American Society Unravelled After Greedy Elites Robbed the Country Blind By George Packer

The Long, Sordid History of the American Right and Racism

5 Christian Right Delusions and Lies About History By Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet, November 21, 2013