Bannon’s Deviant ‘Badge of Honor’

By Jason Stanley, New York Times, March 13, 2018

The tactic of subverting language to turn vice into virtue has a very dark past.

In a speech last weekend in France, Stephen Bannon, the former top adviser to President Trump, urged an audience of far-right National Front Party members to “let them call you racists, let them call you xenophobes.” He went on: “Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor.”

On the face of it, Bannon’s advice is strange. After all, by any normative understanding, “racist,” “xenophobe” and “nativist” are negative words from both a moral and rational point of view. Their definitions, taken from any standard dictionary, will bear this out. Racism, xenophobia and nativism embody, in their very meanings, both irrationality and unfairness. Irrationality is considered to be a negative quality (except perhaps by Dadaists); so is unfairness.

For those of us to wish to understand the way Bannon is manipulating language here, and to what end, it is important to note what he is not doing. It is typical for far-right politicians who want to attract racist, xenophobic or nativist voters to attempt to provide at least the pretense of reasons, invariably shoddy ones, for animus against racial minorities, immigrants, or foreigners.

In the United States, President Trump regularly connects individual crimes or criminal gangs with immigration in an effort to more broadly establish a link between immigrants with crime in the public consciousness. Though studies have shown that immigrants, both legal and illegal, are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, Trump continues to make such claims (his statement that immigrants bring “tremendous amounts of crime” received a score of “four Pinocchios” from fact-checkers).

 

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Similarly bizarre false claims are made by non-American far-right politicians, who also regularly engage in anti-Semitic innuendo. There is a natural next step to using innuendo and the manufacturing of reasons to justify racism and xenophobia — namely to drop the facade altogether. Bannon is urging the adoption of an irrational bias against racial minorities, immigrants and foreigners, one that does not require reasons, even bad ones, to support it. And he recommends presenting such irrationality as virtuous.

Accepting Bannon’s advice requires rejecting empathy for already embattled groups. Some might view that as acceptable, preferring to weigh only statistical arguments in deciding what to do about, for example, immigration policy. But taking Bannon’s advice also requires rejecting any recognizable practice of giving plausible reasons for holding a view or position. To proudly identify as a xenophobe is to identify as someone who is not interested in argument. It is to be irrationally fearful of foreigners, and proudly so. It means not masking one’s irrationality even from oneself.

Bannon’s rhetorical move of transforming vices based on irrational prejudice into virtues is not without historical precedent. Hitler devotes the second chapter of “Mein Kampf” to explaining how his time in Vienna as a young man transformed him into a “fanatical anti-Semite.” To be fanatical is, by definition, to be irrational. To be an anti-Semite is to have irrational prejudice against Jews. Hitler presents his transformation into a fanatical anti-Semite positively. It is, in Hitler’s rhetoric, not only a good thing to harbor irrational hatred of Jewish people. One should do so fanatically. Such fanatical irrationality is, in Hitler’s rhetoric, virtuous.

Of course, comparing rhetoric and policies are two different things. No recent far-right movement in Europe or the United States has enacted the sort of genocidal policies that the Nazis did, and no such comparison is intended. But history has shown that the sort of subversion of language that Bannon has engaged in is often deeply intertwined with what a government will do, and what its people will allow. Bannon’s own cheer to the National Front members — “The tide of history is with us and it will compel us to victory after victory after victory” — shows clearly enough that he does not mean his efforts to end in mere speech.

 

 

In the 20th-century scholar Victor Klemperer’s “Language of the Third Reich” there is a chapter titled “Fanatical.” In it, Klemperer reports that the Nazis regularly inverted the meanings of ordinary words, in just the way that Bannon recommends: by turning vices or negative ideals into virtues. (This point is well-known enough to have been the basis of a famous comedy sketch, “Are we the baddies?”) To be sure, it was not only the Nazis who chose to invert the valence of words that were negative because of their connection with unthinking irrationality; some American slavery abolitionists called their own beliefs in the moral wrongness of slavery fanatical. But it was the Nazis who most thoroughly and efficiently turned the ungrounded hatred and fear of minority groups into an explicit virtue.

 

Performing such inversions is an attempt to change the ideologies and behaviors of large groups of people. It is done to legitimate extreme, inhumane treatment of minority populations (or perhaps, to render such treatment no longer in need of legitimation). In this country, we are familiar with it from the criminal justice system’s treatment of black Americans, in some of the “get tough on crime” rhetoric that fed racialized mass incarceration in Northern cities, or the open racism sometimes connected to Southern white identity or “heritage.” Its aim is to create a population seeking leaders who are utterly ruthless and cruel, intolerant, irrational and unyielding in the face of challenges to the cultural and political dominance of the majority racial or religious group. It normalizes fascism.

At the end of his chapter, Klemperer assures us that even when the practice of treating negative ideals as if they were virtues becomes routine, people nevertheless retain a clear understanding that this is indeed an inversion. He notes that as soon as World War II ended, ordinary Germans returned to using the word “fanatical” as a negative. This observation is crucial. It means that we can remind even those inclined to take Bannon’s advice that while language can be manipulated, the attempt to change its meaning, and the shape of reality with it, is ultimately temporary.

How political parties influence our beliefs, and what we can do about it

Science Daily/Cell Press, February 20, 2018

Summary: Fake news is everywhere, but why we believe it is still unclear. Psychologists suggest that valuing our identity more than our accuracy is what leads us to accept incorrect information that aligns with our political party’s beliefs. This value discrepancy can explain why high-quality news sources are no longer enough–and understanding it can help us find strategies to bridge the political divide.

Full text

How political parties influence our beliefs, and what we can do about it

Cell Press, February 20, 2018

Summary:

Fake news is everywhere, but why we believe it is still unclear. Psychologists suggest that valuing our identity more than our accuracy is what leads us to accept incorrect information that aligns with our political party’s beliefs. This value discrepancy can explain why high-quality news sources are no longer enough–and understanding it can help us find strategies to bridge the political divide.

We can also work to reduce the effects of identity. One way is by creating a superordinate identity: getting people to think of themselves as citizens of a nation or the world rather than as members of a political party. But we also have to pay attention to how we engage with people of different political persuasions. “It turns out that if you insult them and publicly criticize them, their identity needs increase, and they become threatened and less concerned about accuracy. You actually need to affirm their identity before you present information that might be contradictory to what they believe,” Van Bavel says.

Currently, Van Bavel is working on empirical studies that will reaffirm the generalization of these neuroeconomics principles to our beliefs. In the meantime, though, and especially in today’s political climate, he believes the message is simple: “Our partisan identities lead us to believe things that are untrue. So, we need to step back and critically evaluate what we believe and why.”

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation and a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Fake news is everywhere, but why we believe it is still unclear. Drawing on neuroeconomics research in an Opinion published February 20th in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, psychologists suggest that valuing our identity more than our accuracy is what leads us to accept incorrect information that aligns with our political party’s beliefs. This value discrepancy, they say, can explain why high-quality news sources are no longer enough — and understanding it can help us find better strategies to bridge the political divide.

“Neuroeconomics has started to converge on this understanding of how we calculate value. We’re choosing what matters to us and how to engage with the world, whether that’s which newspaper we pick up in the morning or what we have for breakfast,” says senior author Jay Van Bavel, a psychologist at New York University. “And so we started to think, it’s when our goals to fit in with certain groups are stronger than the goal we have to be accurate that we are more likely to be led astray.”

This is what he calls his identity-based model of belief. The idea is that we assign values to different ideas based on what matters to us most at the moment and then compare those values to decide which idea we believe is true. Because our political parties can provide us with a sense of belonging and help us define ourselves, agreeing with them can bolster our sense of self. And that can sometimes matter more to us than accuracy about an issue, even if accuracy is something we normally do care about. When that happens, we’ll likely believe the ideas that align with our party’s views, no matter how plausible.

This can mean that the sources of information we normally rely on to shape our views have less of an impact. “Having a really high-quality news source doesn’t matter that much if we think the people producing it belong to a different group than us,” Van Bavel says. “They might have the best writers, the best investigative journalists, the best editorial standards, all the stuff that we would normally care about.” But we stop valuing those things, which would normally lead to a high likelihood of accuracy, and instead focus on the group we think the news is aligned with.

Still, Van Bavel does believe that his model offers strategies that can help bridge the political divide. “Our model really doesn’t pick a side,” he says. “What it argues for is increasing the value of truth or else finding ways to reduce the effects of identity, whether on the left or the right.”

Being put into a role that requires someone to be accurate, like being summoned for jury duty, can give people criteria with which to evaluate information and help them be better at thinking critically. Even more simply, Van Bavel says we can increase the value of accurate beliefs by asking people to put their money where their mouth is. “When you are in a disagreement, ask your opponent, ‘You wanna bet?’ And then their accuracy motives are increased, and you can see right away whether they were engaging in motivated reasoning. Suddenly $20 is on the line, and they don’t want to be proven wrong,” he says.

We can also work to reduce the effects of identity. One way is by creating a superordinate identity: getting people to think of themselves as citizens of a nation or the world rather than as members of a political party. But we also have to pay attention to how we engage with people of different political persuasions. “It turns out that if you insult them and publicly criticize them, their identity needs increase, and they become threatened and less concerned about accuracy. You actually need to affirm their identity before you present information that might be contradictory to what they believe,” Van Bavel says.

Currently, Van Bavel is working on empirical studies that will reaffirm the generalization of these neuroeconomics principles to our beliefs. In the meantime, though, and especially in today’s political climate, he believes the message is simple: “Our partisan identities lead us to believe things that are untrue. So, we need to step back and critically evaluate what we believe and why.”

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation and a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship.


Story Source:

Materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Jay J. Van Bavel, Andrea Pereira. The Partisan Brain: An Identity-Based Model of Political Belief. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2018.01.004

Cell Press. “How political parties influence our beliefs, and what we can do about it.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 February 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180220123127.htm>.

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The “Conservative” Label is a Misnomer

by Jeffrey P. Kimball, historynewsnetwork.org, 2/18/18 http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/168094

EXCERPT – Conservative: holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics and religion…. the origins of contemporary American conservatism can be traced to the 1920s, only to fade during the New Deal. Its subsequent resuscitation is probably best dated to 1950s and 1960s. Some key historical signposts then and after include the following: The founding of the National Review magazine in 1955, and the publication of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in 1957. White Southern reaction to the Civil Rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960sThe revived political activism of conservative Evangelicals… opposition to legalized abortion. The Republican Party’s nomination of “Mr. Conservative,” Barry Goldwater, as its presidential standard-bearer in 1964…Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy.” The creation and articulation of the Vietnam War…legend…which blamed America’s miring and ultimate defeat in Vietnam on liberals, Democrats, the antiwar movement, and the press. The ascension of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980. The launching of Rush Limbaugh’s national radio talk show in the 1988 and of Fox News TV Network in 1996. The ascension of Newt Gingrich to the US House of Representatives speakership (1995-1999). The emergence of the Tea Party in 2008. The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010. The forming of the so-called House Freedom Caucus in 2015, and the surfacing of Donald Trump’s 30-something percent “base” of supporters in 2016….These definitions are unhelpful and misleading. Self-proclaimed political and social conservatives are not necessarily inclined to support or maintain the “traditional” social order – that is, long-standing majority views, conditions, institutions, or legislation. …Nor do many self-proclaimed conservatives embrace the 242 year-old, traditional proposition in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” …as Americans later discovered through war, political activism, and moral evolution. Moreover, so-called conservative Constitutional “originalists,” such as the late Justice Antony Scalia, were and are ever ready to reinterpret the US Constitution to serve their prejudices or benefactors….Although many conservatives express opposition to “big government,” their anti-statist stances have varied widely, depending on the issue at hand. When it serves their interests, they do not hesitate to use the apparatus of the Federal government to achieve their ends – just as Senators and Representatives from Southern slave states did when enacting and enforcing the Federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

Full text

The “Conservative” Label is a Misnomer by Jeffrey P. Kimball, historynewsnetwork.org, 2/18/18 http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/168094

Jeffrey P. Kimball, Miami University professor emeritus, has written articles and books on several topics, including ideology. His latest book, co-authored with William Burr, is Nixon’s Nuclear Specter: The Secret Alert of 1969, Madman Diplomacy, and the Vietnam War (2015).

Conservative: holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics and religion.

Modern Western conservatism came into being in response to the American and French Revolutions. Like liberalism, it has waxed and waned as a political movement during the decades since. According to some historians, the origins of contemporary American conservatism can be traced to the 1920s, only to fade during the New Deal. Its subsequent resuscitation is probably best dated to 1950s and 1960s.

Some key historical signposts then and after include the following: The founding of the National Review magazine in 1955, and the publication of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in 1957. White Southern reaction to the Civil Rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, which ultimately led to majority-white affiliation with the Republican Party. The revived political activism of conservative Evangelicals during that same period, which would include – along with the Catholic Church – opposition to legalized abortion. The Republican Party’s nomination of “Mr. Conservative,” Barry Goldwater, as its presidential standard-bearer in 1964, followed four years later by Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy.” The creation and articulation of the Vietnam War stab-in-the back legend by President Nixon and pro-war hawks, which blamed America’s miring and ultimate defeat in Vietnam on liberals, Democrats, the antiwar movement, and the press. The ascension of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980. The launching of Rush Limbaugh’s national radio talk show in the 1988 and of Fox News TV Network in 1996. The ascension of Newt Gingrich to the US House of Representatives speakership (1995-1999). The emergence of the Tea Party in 2008. The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010. The forming of the so-called House Freedom Caucus in 2015, and the surfacing of Donald Trump’s 30-something percent “base” of supporters in 2016.

But what is political “conservatism”? And are self-styled conservatives really conservative? Merriam-Webster defines conservative” as “tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions.” Similarly, the Oxford English Dictionary defines a conservative as “a person who conserves or preserves something; an adherent of traditional values, ideas, and institutions; an opponent of social and political change.” Wicktionary pithily defines the conservative as “a person who favors maintenance of the status quo.”

These definitions are unhelpful and misleading. Self-proclaimed political and social conservatives are not necessarily inclined to support or maintain the “traditional” social order – that is, long-standing majority views, conditions, institutions, or legislation. These include government regulation of corporations, banks, and Wall Street, progressive income taxes, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education, civil rights, voting rights, environmental regulations, and public-lands conservation. Self-identified conservatives also oppose other traditional institutions, practices, and measures, such as the United Nations, international standards for the treatment of prisoners of war, labor unions, collective bargaining, fair labor standards, and, for some, public fluoridation of water. The measures conservatives oppose were legislated, created, or practiced 50 to 100 or more years ago.

Nor do many self-proclaimed conservatives embrace the 242 year-old, traditional proposition in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” – i.e., “men” as in “all humans,” including people of color and women – as Americans later discovered through war, political activism, and moral evolution. Moreover, so-called conservative Constitutional “originalists,” such as the late Justice Antony Scalia, were and are ever ready to reinterpret the US Constitution to serve their prejudices or benefactors. This was the case, for example, in the 5-4 conservative majority decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) decision, which, along with other decisions, applied a loose interpretation of the Second Amendment by asserting the individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, while also limiting the state’s power to regulate arms.

Although many conservatives express opposition to “big government,” their anti-statist stances have varied widely, depending on the issue at hand. When it serves their interests, they do not hesitate to use the apparatus of the Federal government to achieve their ends – just as Senators and Representatives from Southern slave states did when enacting and enforcing the Federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

Nor are self-proclaimed conservatives always opponents of social and political change if overturning current social and political norms serves their own beliefs and interests. Abraham Lincoln made this point in February 1860 in his address at Cooper Institute, when he asked: “What is conservatism?” In answer, he pointed out that self-styled Southern conservatives “spit upon” the old policy toward slavery in order to “insist on substituting something new.” The present-day conservative Dinesh D’Souza defended such conservative behavior, arguing that “if the existing society is hostile to conservative beliefs . . . , it is foolish for a conservative to attempt to conserve that culture . . . . The conservative must . . . . be philosophically conservative but temperamentally radical.”

To be sure, there are factions of conservatives: the far Right (e.g., American Nazis, fascists, and Breitbart owners, writers, and readers), paleocons, neocons, the religious right, libertarians, Tea Party populists, the Freedom Caucus, “moderate” Republicans, certain corporate elites, NRA executives and many NRA members – along with other factions. Their views and goals vary on specific issues. Nonetheless, somewhere in their minds, they share a common conservative core of ideas, notions, and emotions. In his book, The Reactionary Mind, political scientist Corey Robin argues that there is a fundamental “reactionary thrust” in conservatismnamely, the conviction that “some are fit to rule others.” Quoting George Nash, he adds: conservatism is “resistance to certain forces perceived to be leftist, revolutionary, and profoundly subversive of what conservatives at the time deemed worth cherishing, defending and perhaps dying for” – and which challenges their perceived self-interest. Conservatism in all its forms is oppositional and reactionary at its core. As Karl Mannheim argued, they oppose “other ways of life and thought that appears on the scene.”

It would be better for all if self-styled conservatives heeded the advice of the early nineteenth-century English churchman and academic, Arthur Stanley, who observed that “conservatism . . . destroys what it loves because it will not mend it.”

 

The Collapse of American Identity

By ROBERT P. JONES, New York Times, MAY 2, 2017

We’re losing a shared consensus of who we are to diverging political narratives.

EXCERPT – After the British writer G. K. Chesterton visited the United States for the first time, he remarked that America was “a nation with the soul of a church.” Mr. Chesterton wasn’t referring to the nation’s religiosity but to its formation around a set of core political beliefs enshrined in founding “sacred texts,” like the Declaration of Independence…The profoundness of the American experiment, he argued, was that it aspired to create “a home out of vagabonds and a nation out of exiles” united by voluntary assent to commonly held political beliefs. But recent survey data provides troubling evidence that a shared sense of national identity is unraveling, with two mutually exclusive narratives emerging along party lines. Taken as a whole, these partisan portraits highlight contrasting responses to the country’s changing demographics and culture, especially over the past decade as the country has ceased to be a majority white Christian nationfrom 54 percent in 2008 to 43 percent today. Democrats — only 29 percent of whom are white and Christian — are embracing these changes as central to their vision of an evolving American identity that is strengthened and renewed by diversity. By contrast, Republicans — nearly three-quarters of whom identify as white and Christian — see these changes eroding a core white Christian American identity and perceive themselves to be under siege as the country changes around them.…The two political parties may not share much, but each is increasingly aware that the other has embraced a radically different vision of America’s identity and future….There have been other times in our history when the fabric of American identity was stretched in similar ways — the Civil War, heightened levels of immigration at the turn of the 20th century and the cultural upheavals of the 1960s….The temptation for the Republican Party, especially with Donald Trump in the White House, is to double down on a form of white Christian nationalism, which treats racial and religious identity as tribal markers and defends a shrinking demographic with increasingly autocratic assertions of power. For its part, the Democratic Party is contending with the difficulties of organizing its more diverse coalition while facing its own tribal temptations to embrace an identity politics that has room to celebrate every group except whites who strongly identify as Christian…This end is not inevitable, but if we are to continue to make one out of many, leaders of both parties will have to step back from the reactivity of the present and take up the more arduous task of weaving a new national narrative in which all Americans can see themselves.

Robert P. Jones, the chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute, is the author of “The End of White Christian America.”

Full text

After the British writer G. K. Chesterton visited the United States for the first time, he remarked that America was “a nation with the soul of a church.”

Mr. Chesterton wasn’t referring to the nation’s religiosity but to its formation around a set of core political beliefs enshrined in founding “sacred texts,” like the Declaration of Independence. He noted that the United States, unlike European countries, did not rely on ethnic kinship, cultural character or a “national type” for a shared identity.

The profoundness of the American experiment, he argued, was that it aspired to create “a home out of vagabonds and a nation out of exiles” united by voluntary assent to commonly held political beliefs.

But recent survey data provides troubling evidence that a shared sense of national identity is unraveling, with two mutually exclusive narratives emerging along party lines. At the heart of this divide are opposing reactions to changing demographics and culture. The shock waves from these transformations — harnessed effectively by Donald Trump’s campaign — are reorienting the political parties from the more familiar liberal-versus-conservative alignment to new poles of cultural pluralism and monism.

An Associated Press-NORC poll found nearly mirror-opposite partisan reactions to the question of what kind of culture is important for American identity. Sixty-six percent of Democrats, compared with only 35 percent of Republicans, said the mixing of cultures and values from around the world was extremely or very important to American identity. Similarly, 64 percent of Republicans, compared with 32 percent of Democrats, saw a culture grounded in Christian religious beliefs as extremely or very important.

These divergent orientations can also be seen in a recent poll by P.R.R.I. that explored partisan perceptions of which groups are facing discrimination in the country. Like Americans overall, large majorities of Democrats believe minority groups such as African-Americans, immigrants, Muslims and gay and transgender people face a lot of discrimination in the country. Only about one in five Democrats say that majority groups such as Christians or whites face a lot of discrimination.

Republicans, on the other hand, are much less likely than Democrats to believe any minority group faces a lot of discrimination, and they believe Christians and whites face roughly as much discrimination as immigrants, Muslims and gay and transgender people. Moreover, only 27 percent of Republicans say blacks experience a lot of discrimination, while 43 percent say whites do and 48 percent say the same of Christians.

Taken as a whole, these partisan portraits highlight contrasting responses to the country’s changing demographics and culture, especially over the past decade as the country has ceased to be a majority white Christian nation — from 54 percent in 2008 to 43 percent today. Democrats — only 29 percent of whom are white and Christian — are embracing these changes as central to their vision of an evolving American identity that is strengthened and renewed by diversity. By contrast, Republicans — nearly three-quarters of whom identify as white and Christian — see these changes eroding a core white Christian American identity and perceive themselves to be under siege as the country changes around them.

Americans of both political parties sense the unraveling of a broadly shared consensus of American identity, although they cite different reasons for feeling that way. About seven in 10 Republicans and Democrats fear that the United States is losing its national identity, the A.P.-NORC survey found. The two political parties may not share much, but each is increasingly aware that the other has embraced a radically different vision of America’s identity and future.

These responses are shifting the political magnetic field that defines the parties. Republican leaders are finding strong support among their base for the Trump administration’s executive order barring travel to the United States from particular Muslim-majority countries. But their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was dramatically derailed by factions within their own party.

Democrats, on the other hand, are enjoying energetic backing from their base for pro-immigration and pro-L.G.B.T. stances, but they are experiencing increasing opposition to their support for free trade.

There have been other times in our history when the fabric of American identity was stretched in similar ways — the Civil War, heightened levels of immigration at the turn of the 20th century and the cultural upheavals of the 1960s.

But during these eras, white Christians were still secure as a demographic and cultural majority in the nation. The question at stake was whether they were going to make room for new groups at a table they still owned. Typically, a group would gain its seat in exchange for assimilation to the majority culture. But as white Christians have slipped from the majority over the past decade, this familiar strategy is no longer viable.

White Christians are today struggling to face a new reality: the inevitable surrender of table ownership in exchange for an equal seat. And it’s this new higher-stakes challenge that is fueling the great partisan reorientation we are witnessing today.

The temptation for the Republican Party, especially with Donald Trump in the White House, is to double down on a form of white Christian nationalism, which treats racial and religious identity as tribal markers and defends a shrinking demographic with increasingly autocratic assertions of power.

For its part, the Democratic Party is contending with the difficulties of organizing its more diverse coalition while facing its own tribal temptations to embrace an identity politics that has room to celebrate every group except whites who strongly identify as Christian. If this realignment continues, left out of this opposition will be a significant number of whites who are both wary of white Christian nationalism and weary of feeling discounted in the context of identity politics.

This end is not inevitable, but if we are to continue to make one out of many, leaders of both parties will have to step back from the reactivity of the present and take up the more arduous task of weaving a new national narrative in which all Americans can see themselves.

Robert P. Jones, the chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute, is the author of “The End of White Christian America.”

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Overview – America’s Story

Real events do happen in the real world, but people can’t help trying to fit them into larger stories.  We love to connect the dots.  Storytelling isn’t some atavistic remnant of our pre-scientific past; it’s how our brains are hardwired…There’s no question facts will play a part in how we rate the deal, but there’s too much input bombarding us to process as data.  What will win the day isn’t the power of facts, but the power of one story or another to feel right – yes, an emotion; we will retroactively find the facts we need to make our path to that feeling seem rational. The public sphere is where competing storylines slug their way out, it’s where politicians, journalists, experts and yakkers connect the dots, find patterns and fashion narratives …When no one knows what comes next, the political advantage goes to the most powerful narrators.  When no one knows how things will end up, the same events can be construed as signposts toward tragedy or triumph…But as we lay odds on those outcomes, it’s useful to recall that the lessons of history are more art than science, and the art is the skill of the storyteller. It’s Important to Know How the Stories We Tell Ourselves — True, or Not– Shape our World… for Better or Worse By Marty Kaplan, AlterNet, November 26, 2013

How the Media and the Elites, Not the Voters, Move the Country to the Right

The Constitution is inherently progressive 

Why Are Americans So Easy to Manipulate and Control? 

Right wing message machine

.…Part of the answer to the enduring quality of such a destructive politics can be found in the lethal combination of money, power and education that the right wing has had a stranglehold on since the early 1970’s and how it has used its influence to develop an institutional infrastructure and ideological apparatus to produce its own intellectuals, disseminate ideas, and eventually control most of the com­manding heights and institutions in which knowledge is produced, circulated and legitimated… one starting point for understand­ing this problem is what has been called the Powell Memo, released on August 23, 1971…The Powell Memo and the Teaching Machines of Right-Wing Extremists by Henry A. Giroux

With the mainstream media in the hands of the mostly conservative wealthy, it’s difficult for average Americans to learn the truth about critical issues. The following five conservative claims are examples of mythical beliefs that fall apart in the presence of inconvenient facts:
1. Entitlements are the Problem
2. Charter Schools are the Answer
3. Corporate Taxes Are Too High
4. Jim Crow is Dead
5. Poverty Is Declining Everywhere
6 and 7. Evolution and global warming don’t exist.
These are just too preposterous for words.  Five Preposterous, Persistent Conservative Myths by Paul Buchheit, Common Dreams, April 2, 2012

How Propaganda Can Slowly Repair the Image of an Utterly Disgraced Public Figure Like George W. Bush By Matthew Wolfson, Los Angeles Review of Books, posted on AlterNet.org, January 2, 2014

How Ayn Rand’s Bizarre Philosophy Made the New Right so Toxic By George Monbiot, The Guardian, posted on Alternet.org, March 7, 2012

Conservatives’ Reality Problem 

The Fascinating Story of How Shameless Right-Wing Lies Came to Rule Our Politics

Tentacles of rage: the Republican propaganda mill, a brief history

Message wars

…the Right fights harder for its fantasyland than the rest of America does for the real world…. rank-and-file right-wingers were manipulated by an endless series of false narratives. The Republican political pros manipulated the racial resentments of neo-Confederates, the religious zeal of fundamentalist Christians, and the free-market hero worship of Ayn Rand acolytesThat these techniques succeeded in a political system that guaranteed freedom of speech and the press was not only a testament to the skills of Republican operatives like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. It was an indictment of America’s timid Center and the nation’s ineffectual LeftYet, if rational and pragmatic solutions are ever going to be applied to these problems…The country is going to need its conscious inhabitants of the real world to stand up with at least the same determination as the deluded denizens of the made-up world. Of course, this fight will be nasty and unpleasant. It will require resources, patience and toughness. But there is no other answer. Reality must be recovered and protected – if the planet and the children are to be saved. America’s War for Reality by Robert Parry

Even Right-Wingers Become Liberals When They Turn Off Fox News

 

 

Vocabulary for the progressive narrative

 

1 Percent

99 Percent

American Dream

American Left

American Legislative Exchange Council

Anarchy

Angst

Antigovernment

Anti-Government Extremists

Anti-Urban

Apocalypse

Atheists

Austerity

Ayn Rand

Backlash Politics

Biblical Economics/Prosperity Gospel

Brainwash

branding/rebranding

Budget

Capitalism

Census Bureau

Center – Right – Left

Christian Nation

Christianity

Church-State Wall

Citizens United

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The false god of ‘narrative’

By E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, May 15, 2013

“What if the government starts enforcing the espionage statute whenever there’s a leak?” Steve Roberts, a former New York Times journalist who teaches at George Washington University, observed to the Baltimore Sun. “It’s going to have a tremendously chilling effect on this interplay between sources and reporters.”

But Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) insisted that stopping leaks should be a very high priority. “When national security secrets leak and become public knowledge,” he wrote in a letter to the president, “our people and our national interests are jeopardized. And when our enemies know our secrets, American lives are threatened.”

As it happens, these two quotations are separated by seven years. Roberts was speaking in 2005 about the furor over Dana Priest’s important story in The Post revealing that the CIA was maintaining a series of “black sites” abroad where terrorism detainees were interrogated. For this, Priest came under searing attack from allies of the George W. Bush administration.

Smith’s letter was sent to President Obama in 2012. It complained about national security leaks that set off the very investigation which this week prompted fury over the Justice Department’s seizure of two months’ worth of telephone records from a group of Associated Press reporters.

Isn’t it odd that many Republicans who demanded a thorough investigation a year ago are now condemning the Justice Department for doing what they asked for? Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus even called on Attorney General Eric Holder to resign, saying he had “trampled on the First Amendment.”

It’s a funny thing about media leaks: They are either courageous or outrageous, depending on whether they help or hurt your political party.

Forgive me for feeling cynical and depressed about our nation’s political conversation. Scandalmania is distorting our discussion of three different issues, sweeping them into one big narrative — everything is a “narrative” these days — about the beleaguered second-term presidency of Barack Obama.

What’s being buried under a story line?

On leaks, I don’t believe that the media have unlimited immunity. But I am very pro-leak because such disclosures are often the only way citizens in a free society can find out things they need to know. The Justice Department’s actions in the AP case seem to go way beyond what is justified or necessary. There was no need to ignore guidelines suggesting that news organizations should usually have the chance to negotiate or challenge subpoenas.

Holder recused himself from the case, and the White House, which is, in effect, a subject of the investigation, can plausibly claim it was unaware of the decision.

Nonetheless, liberals have reason to contest the Obama administration on civil liberties questions. What’s entertaining is to watch so many Republicans (let’s exempt the consistent libertarians) reverse a decade of hard-line positions on national security matters and speak now as if they were card-carrying members of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Then there is the IRS’s targeting tea party groups for special scrutiny in applications for 501(c)(4) status. Of course this was wrong — and stupid. Liberals were incensed when the IRS questioned the tax status of several progressive groups during the Bush administration. The IRS needs to be ultra-scrupulous about political neutrality, period. That’s why Obama came out late Wednesday to announce a shake-up at the agency.

But the other scandal — as The Post’s Ezra Klein and Ruth Marcus and MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell have all suggested — is that any groups involved in partisan electioneering are being granted standing as “social welfare” organizations, allowing them to hide the identity of their donors. A bad mistake could compound the IRS’s timidity on the 501(c)(4) issue.

And finally, Benghazi, the “scandal” that seems to be all smoke and no gun. The House could have spent its energy trying to figure out what led to this tragedy, why diplomats were in such a dangerous place and how to protect brave Foreign Service officers in the future. Congress could even have asked itself whether it’s providing enough money for the task. But focusing on the narrow concern of who did what to a set of talking points (and bloviating about this episode as a new “Watergate”) takes what could be a legitimate inquiry and turns it into a political carnival.

I know, I know: This “confluence” of “scandals” spells “trouble” for the Obama administration. Well, sure, this has been hell week for the president. But what spells trouble for our country is our apparent eagerness to avoid debate about discrete problems by sacrificing the particulars and the facts to the idol of political narrative. It’s a false god.

Read more from E.J. Dionne’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

Read more: Greg Sargent: An insider account of the creation of the Benghazi talking points Dana Milbank: President Passerby Richard Cohen: Republicans’ Benghazi syndrome George Will: In IRS scandal, echoes of Watergate

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ej-dionne-the-false-god-of-narrative/2013/05/15/2837314a-bd92-11e2-97d4-a479289a31f9_story.html

How Storytelling Is at the Heart of Making Social Change

By Bill Moyers, Marshall Ganz, From BillMoyers.com, May 13, 2013 

BILL MOYERS:  How do you handle the grim news of inequality, corruption, poverty, dysfunction and buffoonery that washes over us every day? Well, you can tune out and ignore it; pretend it will go away until it’s too late or you can look around, find kindred spirits and throw your energies into the fight for justice. … [Marshall Ganz] is an American maestro of organizing who … has never given in to despair or given over to fear. At Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Marshall Ganz teaches the next generation of organizers, students from all over the world. He tells them: when in doubt, just remember the story in the Bible of little David and his slingshot…

Smiting Goliath might as well be Marshall Ganz’s job description. It began in Mississippi’s Freedom Summer of 1964 when his fury against injustice pulled him out of Harvard and into the struggle for civil rights. From there, he signed on with the legendary Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers and for 16 years, struggled to unionize the men and women in the fields of California who toiled endless hours and mounting days, picking crops for next to nothing.

Three decades after Marshall Ganz had dropped out of Harvard, he went back to finish his degree and earn a doctorate. A few years later, he was asked to become the architect behind the Obama campaign’s skillful organizing of students and volunteers.

Today, Marshall Ganz is a founder of the Leading Change Network, a global community of organizers, educators and researchers mobilizing for democracy. You’ll find more of his experience and philosophy in this book: Why David Sometimes Wins.

… Stories have been a powerful part of your life. Where did that come from? Why stories?

MARSHALL GANZ:First of all, I grew up in stories. My fathers a rabbi. And I grew up with the Exodus story as a child. And I was always puzzled by the fact that, you know, they said that at a certain point you were slaves in Egypt. I’d never been a slave or been to Egypt, they’d say to the children. And, but then I came to realize that what it meant was the story really wasn’t the property of one people, time, or place.

And then out to the farm workers. And we’re in the religious narrative. I mean, one of my first assignments in the farmworkers was to organize a march from Delano to Sacramento. But it wasn’t a march. It was a peregrinación. It was a pilgrimage. It was at Lent. It reached Sacramento on Easter Sunday.

It was like an enactment of the redemptive narrative of Easter. But it was built into the movement that we were building. So in my experience in organizing, it was also all within narrative. And so we kind of knew that narrative stories mattered. And they mattered to the heart. And they weren’t the whole story. The whole story, so to speak. The strategy mattered, structure mattered, but narrative mattered, the motivation, the courage.

BILL MOYERS: Until I read your book about Chavez and the strikers, I didn’t know how much of their own efforts revolved around stories. But then when I read your book, I realized how the stories that they told, the stories that they inherited, added up to a story that they wanted to leave for their children.

MARSHALL GANZ:Sure. But I mean, that’s one of the things that distinguishes movements from, like, interest groups. Movements have narratives. They tell stories, because they are, they are not just about rearranging economics and politics. They also rearrange meaning. And they’re not just about redistributing the goods. They’re about figuring out what is good.

So they have this cultural piece of work that movements are doing, along with the economic and the political. Not in lieu of it. And I think it’s particularly important, because doing that kind of work that movements do requires risk-taking, uncertainty, going up against the odds. And that takes a lot of hope. And so where do you go for hopefulness? Where do you go for courage? Where do you go? You go to those moral resources that are found within narratives and within identity work and within all faith traditions, cultural traditions.

BILL MOYERS: You know, Campbell told me that that was the great appeal to him of Carl Jung. That Jung wrapped his psychology into the stories of what had actually happened in his life and, and in the lives of the people sitting in front of him. And if he could get somebody into a story, he knew that person would discover who he was more likely than if he dealt with just abstract ideas.

MARSHALL GANZ: Boy, it is so true. It’s the particular. See, we often think, we associate understanding with abstraction. It’s just the opposite.

BILL MOYERS:That’s right.

MARSHALL GANZ:The particular then becomes the portal on the transcendent, because it’s through the particular experience that I’m able then to communicate the emotional content of the value that is moving me.

You know, my father was a chaplain in the American Army. And we lived in Germany after the war for three years. You know, my fifth birthday party was what, he worked a lot with what were called DPs.

BILL MOYERS: Displaced Persons.

MARSHALL GANZ: Well, my fifth birthday party was in a camp of, a DP camp of all children. And my mother thought that I should give presents rather than get them. Well, I didn’t quite get that. And I actually thought it was kind of cool that there were no parents, until later I realized why there were no parents. And so it was, it was sort of a moment and then a deeper understanding of that moment later that sort of was a kind of sobering experience and helped me understand the emotional work that’s there that stories do.

BILL MOYERS:How so?

MARSHALL GANZ:It helped me understand that dealing with, dealing with fear is probably the central moral question we have to deal with. By moral, I mean, if you think, if you think of moral questions as not being about principles, but more what Jung called “moral sentiment.”

In other words, how do I live with empathy as opposed to alienation? How do I live with a sense of my own value as opposed to a feeling of deficiency? How do I live in a spirit of hope instead of fear?

BILL MOYERS: How to be in the world, right?

MARSHALL GANZ:How to be in the world and capable of moral engagement with other human beings is sort of how I think of it.

Maimonides, the 12th century Jewish philosopher defined hope as, said, “Belief in the plausibility of the possible as opposed to the necessity of the probable.” Now let me say that again. That to be a realist is to recognize that the world is not a domain in which the probable always happens. I mean, Goliath is more likely to win. But, you know what, sometimes David does, you know?

BILL MOYERS:Was there a time you had to do that, when you had to suspend disbelief and see that the inevitable was not a necessity, that it was a probability?

MARSHALL GANZ: Boy, I you know, well, first of all thinking I can get into Harvard in the first place from Bakersfield, leaving Harvard to go work in Mississippi is…

BILL MOYERS: You left before you finished your studies?

MARSHALL GANZ: Yeah, I had a year to go. But see, when I left, it was to just go for the summer project. But I found a calling there.

INTERVIEWER:Marshall, what are your motives for going down to Mississippi this summer?

MARSHALL GANZ, 1964:Reading the papers last year, talking with people, and hearing about what was happening in Mississippi and the South, shooting of Medgar Evans and other events like that generates such a feeling of outrage and injustice that you feel you must act.

MARSHALL GANZ: I found this thing called organizing, which I had never really understood or heard of. And it wasn’t about charity. It wasn’t about, you know, helping. It was about it was about justice. It was about working with other people in a way that respected and enhanced their agency and my own at the same time.

BILL MOYERS:How did you learn that?

MARSHALL GANZ:Through being part of it.

MARSHALL GANZ:Our initial project, so we were trying to claim voting rights because African Americans of course, didn’t have the right to vote in, any practical right to vote in Mississippi, Alabama, much of Georgia, and so forth, in those states, at that time.

The work was to build a parallel organization called the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that was because the regular Democratic Party excluded Blacks.

So our idea was we were going to build a parallel one, choose a delegation, go to the Atlantic City Democratic Convention, 1964, challenge the racist Democrats, and replace them with our Democrats. And that was going to be a blow for the civil rights movement.

So the work was going to people’s houses, Black people, talking with them, registering the Freedom Democratic Party, have a house meeting, come to a caucus, get elected.

Working with people to find courage, to find solidarity, to find a sense of hopefulness, to stand up to pretty scary stuff. I mean, you know, three of our group were killed before we even left Oxford, Ohio. That was Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner. And so it was, I’ve often thought about that book by Paul Tillich, Love, Power, and Justice.

BILL MOYERS: Love, Power, and Justice.

MARSHALL GANZ:And where he argues that power without love can never be just, but similarly love that doesn’t take power seriously can never achieve justice. And that was, I think, what I learned.

BILL MOYERS: You’ve said that when you tell a story, the story becomes three stories.

MARSHALL GANZ: Yes. Well, when we do public, so public narrative, is like a leadership skill of moving people to public action. So there’s a story of self, which is using narrative to communicate why I’ve been called. So I tell stories that can communicate the values that move me. A story of us is using narrative to create a sense of the values we share as a community. And then the story of now is do they experience the challenge to those values that requires action now? So sort of three pieces.

BILL MOYERS: So that’s what Martin Luther King meant when he talked about the urgency of now at Riverside Church?

MARSHALL GANZ: That’s exactly right. And you’ll see in that talk his calling and then he reminds us of what we’re called to as African Americans, as White Americans, and as Americans.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR: “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, that is such a thing as being too late… And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when “justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

MARSHALL GANZ: It’s so amazing the way he’s able to speak the, the Christian language, but in a way that’s inclusive and not exclusive. It’s really extraordinary. It’s extraordinary. And then and then because we share those values, guess what, folks, we face the fierce urgency of a now that requires action. That’s what public narrative is.

BILL MOYERS:Is it true that the slogan for Cesar Chavez and his farm workers was “si se puede”?

MARSHALL GANZ:Si se puede, yeah.

BILL MOYERS:Which translated literally into Obama’s…

MARSHALL GANZ:“Yes, we can.” Oh, you betcha.

BILL MOYERS: Is that right?

MARSHALL GANZ:Well, “si se puede” came in Arizona, 1972 Arizona had a governor Jack Williams that passed a law that denied farm workers the right to organize, boycott. I mean, it was a terrible law. And so we had to figure out were we going to challenge it or not?

So we all went to Arizona to challenge it. We got there. And went out talking to people. And Dolores Huerta actually came back. We were meeting in a hotel/motel room. She said, “I’ve been talking to all these everywhere. And everywhere I go, people say, ‘no se puede,’ ‘no se puede.’” She goes, “Ah, you can’t do it. You can’t do it, you know? It’s just too, you know? And we got to, we got to answer that. We got to say, ‘si se puede.’” And so that became the slogan in that campaign was “si se puede.” Yes, it can be done. And that then became a farm worker movement slogan. “Si se puede.” So in New Hampshire, when Obama lost that night, and there was a lot of that talk going on around.

BARACK OBAMA:Generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums of the spirit of a people.

MARSHALL GANZ:Then comes out, “Yes, we can.” Well, that’s “si se puede.”

BARACK OBAMA:Yes we can. Yes we can.

MARSHALL GANZ: That was a great moment. That was what sort of raised such hopes about his presidency.

BILL MOYERS:Did people count too much on his charisma and didn’t assess his inexperience sufficiently.

MARSHALL GANZ:Oh, in retrospect, you know, probably so, you know? But I don’t know, I think there’s plenty of responsibility to go around. I mean, I think there was too much readiness to just leave it up to Obama. And I think that those of us who wanted to do more about economic justice and immigration and climate change needed to do more.

We had to be contentious. That’s how it works. It’s like this idea that contentiousness is somehow alien to democracy and that consensus is somehow what democracy is about and that polarization is bad, paralysis is bad. But, you know, it’s like Saul Alinsky says… Organizers have to be well-integrated schizoids, because you have to polarize to mobilize and depolarize to settle. But without polarizing you’re never going to mobilize anything. And yeah, then there’s a time to negotiate. And I think we’re really screwed up on that right now…

BILL MOYERS: It’s always been struggle and conflict and winners and losers that move us forward or backwards.

MARSHALL GANZ:That’s the heart of democracy, democracy is a system of contention. I mean, of constructive contention when it works.

MARSHALL GANZ in class: What did the farmworkers want? You remember in the farmworker story? Those that read that one? You remember in this context, in this moment what they wanted?

MALE STUDENT in class:Is it recognition for UFW?

MARSHALL GANZ in class:Yeah, it was recognition and it wound up being recognition from a particular employer, Schenley Industries, a big liquor company in Vallejo. And union recognition means a contract signed between the workers and the unions specifying wages, hours, working conditions and all the rest. Very, very concrete objective. Right? But that was, like, the focus of their efforts so that they could then move toward the bigger goals of broader justice and all the rest of it.

And so the whole point about outcomes is specifying them clearly enough that you can actually focus in and commit to making it happen or not. And, and I think a lot of project are struggling with that right now. It’s how to specify the place between, you know, justice out there, goodness in the world and, like, my next meeting.

BILL MOYERS: Suppose one of those students said to you, “Professor Ganz, I know that the farm workers were out-financed and outmanned. And I know they were opposed by business owners and other labor leaders spurned them. Yet, you say that they worked out a successful, grassroots strategy to organize illiterate grape pickers. Is there any lesson in that?

MARSHALL GANZ:The lesson would be to look at how it was they figured out how to do it. See, it’s sort of like you don’t copy that. But you sort of look at the depth of motivation they brought to it, the creativity. How did they figure out their strategy? How did they understand power? What did they understand about it? How did they continue to renew their spirit that they were able to keep moving forward.

BILL MOYERS: How did they?

MARSHALL GANZ:Well, there was a lot of this heart work, a lot of the narrative, the storytelling, a lot of the celebratory, a lot of the nurturing of the heart. I mean, you know, it took us five years to run a grape boycott. And we had to reinvent that thing every year. And every year, you’re going back in and saying, “Okay, we got to start again.” But you find in each other, in the solidarity, in the myths if you wish that– that feed you the capacity to keep going.

BILL MOYERS:I remember what you wrote once that you had learned in Mississippi during the summer of 1964. You said all the inequalities between Blacks and Whites were driven by a deeper inequality, the inequality of power. That seems to me, the fundamental reality of American life today.

MARSHALL GANZ:Yeah, I think the political inequality and the economic inequality and a kind of cultural inequality that sort of all reinforce one another is an enormous problem, obviously. I mean, that’s sort of what we’re trying to deal with. And so the question and in some ways, you could sort of think that liberal democracy is based on a deal that inequality and economic resources can be balanced by equality in political resources. In other words, that equal voice can somehow balance unequal wealth. Well we’re sort of way beyond that. And…

BILL MOYERS: One man, one vote, one person, one vote has been, has been overwhelmed by $100,000 and a million dollars.

MARSHALL GANZ: And it’s not even just the money. If you live in a swing state, your vote counts so much more than if you live in New York or Illinois or California, when it comes to electing a president. If you live in a swing district, when it comes to electing a member of Congress, your vote counts. If you live in a district that’s been gerrymandered so it’s all Democrats or all Republicans, your vote does not count. So when you really look at whose votes count, it’s a very, very small proportion.

So we have some deep structural flaws that go all the way back to the beginning that aren’t, they don’t, it’s not about us as a people or our culture, our beliefs. We’re operating within in a set of political institutions that distort and actually warp our capacity to express our beliefs. Maybe what we really need is an equal voice amendment to guarantee that each vote actually had equal weight. That’d be pretty radical. And if we actually designed a system that did that, now, you know, would we get something like that tomorrow? No, probably not. But, but I guess my point is that, that there are a lot of sources of energy and change in a country, not to mention the world. A lot of it is generationally driven. It’s in places that may be unexpected.

BILL MOYERS: Let me come closer to where you and I are today, Occupy Wall Street did pull economic inequality out of the closet and put it at the breakfast table, the lunch table, the dinner table, and the political roundtables on Sunday. But it didn’t hang around to fight for it. What happened?

MARSHALL GANZ:Well, I think, I think Occupy made a great contribution in that it did what you just said. It, it took economic inequality, economic justice and made it legitimate. But they got stuck. I mean, they got stuck on a tactic, without a strategy that went beyond a tactic.

And, you know, one tactic doesn’t build a movement. It takes, it takes venues in which people can strategize about how to move the ball forward. You know, I mentioned at the beginning sort of these three elements of story, strategy, and structure that you sort of need to build a movement, an organization.

You got to have your, the narrative is the “why” we’re doing it. And then the strategy is how we’re doing it, not just one tactic, but how, what’s our theory of change. What’s our theory of how we’re going to use our resources to influence those sources of power. And then how are we, what’s our structure through which we’re figuring all this stuff out and working at it? And so they had problems there. You know, people confuse structure with oppression. And Jo Freeman wrote a great piece, this…

BILL MOYERS:The feminist?

MARSHALL GANZ: The feminist sociologist, called “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” and I have all my students read it, where she argues, you think structurelessness, you’re kidding yourself. Any time a group of people get together, they’re going to create a structure. The difference is whether it’s visible or invisible, whether it’s accountable or not, and whether it’s open and above board and, or whether it’s all factionalized and personalistic. And so you choose what you want.And I think it’s really honest. And so the rejection of structure is a sort of rejection of taking responsibility for self-governance.

BILL MOYERS:So you talk about the power of story and for the last 40 years, the story of the free market has been the triumphant story in American culture.

MARSHALL GANZ:It really is, you know? And it’s powerful, because it has a moral dimension and it has a political dimension and it has an economic dimension. It’s sort of like that the market means we’re all free to make our own choices, so isn’t that great, because we want to be free. And it’s all about choices.

And politically, well it’s all based on people making their choices. And so that’s democratic. And economically, well, we all know it’s efficient, right, because that’s how markets work. It’s, and the problem is every one of those claims is fundamentally flawed and fundamentally an act of faith. I mean, Harvey Cox wrote this thing about the market is God. And…but the big question is where’s the missing alternative counter to that? And I think that is an enormous intellectual challenge for our time right now. Where’s that alternative?

BILL MOYERS: We need a new story?

MARSHALL GANZ: We need a new story. But it’s also a new way of describing our economic challenges and our political challenges that emphasizes not this idea of what each individual competes with, each other individual as the answer, but the ways in which we cooperate and collaborate with one another as the answer.

You know, Albert Hirschman, the development economist wrote this book a number of years ago, I’m sure you know about it, “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.” And sort of the idea was, okay, so you got an institution. And it’s screwing up. And so one way to fix it is to exercise voice. The other way is you can exit. The market solutions are all exit solutions.

BILL MOYERS:Explain that to me.

MARSHALL GANZ:Well, so you don’t like the way the schools work, exit, make your own over here. And that way you exercise choice. You don’t like the way public health works, exit, over here, make your own. Now the only problem is you can only exit and make your own if you got the money to do it. And so the result is that you create these parallel systems of elite systems that are, you know, that fragment the whole.

The public gets poorer and poorer and poorer, and you create all these little isolated golden ghettos all around of privilege. And the focus is on how do we find market solutions, market solutions, market… when we should but saying, how do we find more effective ways to exercise voice? How can we have more, more effective public deliberation? How can we bring more people into the process? How can we create the venues where people can actually learn and deliberate with one another?

BILL MOYERS: Can you take this one step further or beyond government over to the leadership of other institutions, business leaders, educational leaders? I mean, how do we write a narrative that includes them in this new story of collaboration, cooperation?

MARSHALL GANZ:You know Karl Polanyi’s book, “The Great Transformation,” written in 1941, sort of nailed it when he said, if you have a good that can, where price captures value, you can marketize it. And where price does not capture value you cannot marketize it.

And he was talking about labor and land when he was writing in 1941. And he was trying to explain the, the problem of the open market system after World War I that had wiped out all sorts of social structures that cleared the way for the rise of fascism in Europe. I mean, this is the context he was writing in. He was saying, “So the open market system was allowed to be a solvent that ground everything down.”

Because it doesn’t respect values other than price values. Now how do you put a price on education, really? How do you put a price on health, really? How do you put a price on art, really? Now when we price these things, we undermine their value. And so that’s why we need churches. That’s why we need schools whose value isn’t based on pricing, it’s based on a different set of understanding and the resources that it generate doesn’t depend on pricing. So I don’t know. There’s potentials out there. But I think somehow we need to get this into the, we need to get into this debate. We need to get into this argument and have it be about something really substantive. And not get drawn into these, “Oh, we’re too polarized” or something. We need to be more polarized, but polarized around the right things.

BILL MOYERS: Is there any kind of organizing like that going on?

MARSHALL GANZ:There’s a lot of organizing going. I’m privileged to get to see it, because I work with young people. Within the immigrant world, the dreamers have done some great stuff. I mean, they do the organizing, the house meetings, the one on ones, all that good old organizing stuff. You know, the crew of young organizers came out of the Dean campaign in 2003 in…

BILL MOYERS:Howard Dean?

MARSHALL GANZ:Yeah, 2003-04, and that crowd that have, you know, percolated through Obama and all that in a variety of different ways. But they’ve brought sound organizing techniques into electoral politics in a way that had disappeared. It had all been marketing. It was all marketing. And not that marketing’s not there now in a big way.

But the confusion between marketing and movement building is really a big one. And I think that’s one of the things the environmental groups really, really missed the boat on. I think they thought that they could market their way to legislation. What I mean is that through polling and advertising, they could make what, the changes they wanted palatable to enough of the people that they could, in that way, create enough of a ground that they would get the legislation.

That’s a marketing proposition. Movement building is you know that you don’t have a majority. What you got to do is build enough of a constituency that you can develop the power you need in order to achieve what you want. And so what you’re doing is engaging people, who engage other people, who engage other people. And you build a movement that way.

BILL MOYERS: Looking back on your life, is there a core to it? Is there a common denominator?

MARSHALL GANZ:There were three questions posed by a 1st century Jerusalem scholar Rabbi Hillel, when asked “How do we, how do we understand what we are to do in the world?” And he responded with three questions. The first one’s to ask yourself, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” It’s not a selfish question, but it is a self-regarding question. Sort of saying, “Ask yourself what you’re about, what you value, what you have to contribute, what…” But then the second question is, “If I am for myself alone, what am I?” But it, which is, it’s to even be a who and not a what is to recognize that we are in the world in relationship with others and that our capacity to realize our own objectives is inextricably wrapped up with the capacity of others to realize theirs.

And finally, “If not now, when?” The time for action is always now, because it’s often only through action that we can learn what we need to learn in order to be able to act effectively in the ways that we intend. And the fact that they’re questions is also really important to me, because it suggests that this work, this work of organizing, leadership is not about knowing, it’s about learning.

And it’s about asking and it’s about understanding that it is about dealing with the uncertain. It is about probing the unknown. It’s not about control. It’s about, it’s about learning through purposeful experience. And so that’s kind of, I think, what I’ve tried to, as I look back, what I’ve tried to learn, to teach, to do, to practice is how to be that kind of a learner and teacher.

BILL MOYERS: Marshall Ganz, I look forward to the next chapter of the story. Thank you for sharing your time and ideas with me.

MARSHALL GANZ:Thank you, Bill. Thank you very much.

http://www.alternet.org/activism/moyers-how-storytelling-heart-making-social-change?akid=10429.125622.gvF5cJ&rd=1&src=newsletter839684&t=5

Progressive Building Blocks

American Values Project

A concise, coherent and compelling progressive vision for America rests on three, fundamental building blocks, which are explored in detail in Progressive Thinking. They are:

  • Our Values
  • Our Beliefs
  • Our Issues

Our values, beliefs and issues build on and support our vision for America, with values occupying the bottom and most important tier, philosophical beliefs the middle tier and issues the top tier. The pyramid points, ultimately, to our vision of the society we are trying to create – steadily improving living standards and opportunities for everyone; safe, clean and healthy communities; a government that works for all people; and economic growth with widely shared prosperity. The entire pyramid then becomes an outline of our central progressive message: “Everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does his or her fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.”

Some progressives tend to be overly analytical in their communications, favoring discussions of issues and policy rather than venturing into the sometimes murky territory of morals, values and core beliefs. But if we want more people to connect with a progressive view of the world, we need to reach their hearts and their heads. As the architecture of this pyramid highlights, core progressive values form the most important level of our communications, with political beliefs and issue positions building on this values foundation. Implied is the need to articulate our values and beliefs as much, if not more than, we discuss our positions on the issues – as a way to highlight our broad, common ground.

http://americanvaluesproject.com/progressive-building-blocks/

Progressive Thinking: A Synthesis of Progressive Values, Beliefs, and Positions

American Values Project, representing a cross section of leaders from think tanks, philanthropic organizations, and environmental, labor, youth, civil rights, and other progressive groups, to try to distill progressive beliefs and values into clear language in one digestible resource.

Progressive Thinking: A Synthesis of Progressive Values, Beliefs, and Positions.

Progressive Thinking is a comprehensive and practical synthesis of the current and best understanding of progressivism, encompassing its history, traditions, worldview, values and positions on major issues. Progressive Thinking is designed to serve as a foundation for greater coherence in communications and unity in the expression of progressive ideals and aspirations. This document – and our use of the terms “Progressive Thinking” and “synthesis” – are informed by our communications with more than 300 progressives and extensive correspondence and conversations with many of our nation’s leading progressive thinkers.

Progressive Thinking outlines what we believe as progressives and how we view the world. It is designed to help our nation’s diverse progressive community better understand and articulate a common philosophical and values framework to the wider public. We also believe a majority of Americans will find themselves and their views represented in these pages because progressive thought is deeply rooted in the values and philosophies on which our country was founded and upon which we have built nearly two and a half centuries of American achievement.

We sincerely hope Progressive Thinking and its central, common-sense theme – “everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does his or her fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules” – will help focus the views and, indeed, the hopes of a growing majority of Americans committed to progressive principles and policies.

To download a PDF of Progressive Thinking, please click here. You will need Adobe Acrobat or Preview to view this document.

http://americanvaluesproject.com/progressive-thinking/

Progressive Building Blocks

Progressive Thinking: A Synthesis of Progressive Values, Beliefs, and Positions

What It Means To Be A Progressive: A Manifesto