‘Moderates’ are Extremists, ‘Centrists’ are Right-Wingers

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the… great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Klu Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

We are used to a certain kind of cynical rhetoric from reactionaries. And we typically associate the reactionary mind with the right-wing, specifically those who identify as far right, such as militias, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. Or else right-libertarians who pretend to exist outside of or above the mainstream political spectrum. As such, there are authoritarian libertarians like Friedrich Hayek and Peter Thiel who claim to be ‘liberals’ while decrying democracy as mobocracy, claiming that they must use authoritarianism to protect against authoritarianism. This is the self-appointed ruling elite, the self-perceived enlightened aristocracy, our aspiring paternalistic overlords.

Yet this reactionary phenomenon is not limited to those ascribing to obviously dogmatic ideologies, as some of them would assert to have no ideology at all or at least never to admit to it, never describe themselves by a particular ideological label. Instead, they might call themselves ‘centrists’ in assuming and proclaiming their views as the defining ‘center’ of society, of politics, and of opinion — that is to say, they see the world, and maybe reality itself, as revolving around themselves and their interests, values, and agendas; one could more simply describe this as narcissism, probably often malignant narcissism. They own and work in, control and influence the forums of public debate, political rhetoric, and media narrative. Many of them are the professional politicians, media stars, public intellectuals, thought leaders, and social influencers of the so-called ‘mainstream’.

Most important, they are of the respectable class and the last defense of respectability politics, the presumed lesser evil that will hold the line against authoritarians and reactionaries, ideologues and extremists seeking power at all costs. It turns out that supposed moderate centrists pushing fear of division and extremism are themselves among the most divisive extremists. The center cannot hold because self-identified moderates and centrists don’t want to hold to democracy and public opinion. That is because, self-identity aside, they aren’t actually moderate or centrist. Going by public polling, from PRRI to Fox News, the ruling elite (primarily neocons and neoliberals) who create a false narrative of a moderate centrism are often closer to the far right than they’d like to admit. But as some other data shows, in certain ways, they can be even more anti-democratic than right-wing exremists.

This confirms a point that recently came up with the MAGA riots when some of the media elite finally took notice that the rioters were largely middle class professionals: business owners, real estate agents, etc; even police officers and military officers or veterans. These are among the respectable as separate from those Hillary Clinton maligned as the “basket of deplorables.” Yet these people were spouting QAnon conspiracy theories, joining in with militant groups, attacking the Capitol police, and threatening the lives of democratically-elected leaders. They don’t fit the stereotype of ‘white trash’, gun-toting rednecks and cousin-marrying hillbillies, in that the main demographic of Donald Trump’s voters were assumed to have been poor whites and rural whites. Yet even before the 2016 election, all of the data showed the largest segment of Trump supporters was middle class. Sure, they were largely lower middle class, but nonetheless above average in education and income, many of them urbanites and with the strongest support in suburbia.

This shouldn’t surprise us, but the corporate media and political elites refused to acknowledge this for the longest time. This middle class, according to the ‘mainstream’ narrative, is supposed to be the middle of society — the great moderating force, what is considered the central pillar of a healthy and stable social order, in a social Darwinian economy where wealth and socioeconomic class is taken as a sign of moral character and social worth. Yet, when we look back at history, the middle class could be found behind many examples of authoritarian demagoguery or seizures of power, such as the Klan and the Nazis. The same pattern continues to be seen around the world, not only in the industrialized West. “Strongmen in the developing world have historically found support in the center,” writes David Adler. “From Brazil and Argentina to Singapore and Indonesia, middle-class moderates have encouraged authoritarian transitions to bring stability and deliver growth” (Centrists Are the Most Hostile to Democracy, Not Extremists).

Here is some advice. When you hear increasing numbers in the comortable classes defend a corrupt and failed political system, an undemocratic and oppressive status quo by declaring themselves ‘centrists’ and ‘moderates’ or, worse, non-ideological, run for the hills. We know where that leads and how it too often ends. Or rather, we know the beginning point from which it rarely departs. Such people aren’t in the center of anything other than maybe the center of the cyclone or the center of madness. According to the fish hook theory of politics, there are those defending egalitarianism and then there is everyone else, with the far right bending back toward the reactionary faux-center. There is no way to be moderate on egalitarianism and freedom, justice and fairness. One is either for democratic self-governance and the will of the people or against it. There is no third option.

* * *

When we say ‘moderate,’ what we really mean is ‘what corporations want.’

David Broockman

There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.

Jim Hightower

The rise of the anti-democratic ‘centrists’
by Phil Ebersole

If you call yourself a centrist, you mean that you’re reasonably satisfied with the status quo.

And the status quo is a government in which, according to the Princeton Study, legislators respond to the wishes of the economic elite and organized interest groups, but not at all to public opinion.

It is not surprising that so many self-described centrists feel threatened by the rise of populism and want to create gatekeepers to keep the voting public from getting out of hand.

Epilogue: In defense of disruptive democracy—A critique of anti-populism
by Robert Howse

“Populism” is usually and pejoratively defined by the anti-populist elites to imply nativism, anti-liberalism, and anti-pluralism. This has little to do with many of today’s powerful critiques of and challenges to elite liberal democratic politics. Defenders of elite or “centrist” liberal democratic politics present a false choice between restoration or renewal of elite politics and a populist slide into authoritarianism and xenophobia. There is an important agenda of democratic reform disrupting elite liberal democratic politics, and anti-populism is not an authentic response to it. Radical democrats and democratic reformers, such as US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are not apostles of mob rule, contrary to the frequent caricature proposed by centrist liberal democrats in their “anti-populist” pose. They see an appropriate role for institutions such as independent courts as well as for experts in a stronger democracy.

On campus censorship: it looks like we’ve been deceived
by Aleph Skoteinos

While we’re still here, I’ve also discovered some research conducted by a political scientist named Justin Murphy, specifically an article titled “Who Is Afraid of Free Speech in the United States?”, and it turns out that the far-left are nowhere near as averse to freedom of speech as you would be lead to believe nowadays. His research showed that “extreme liberals” (possibly referring to hard-leftists given America’s bastardized political lexicon) are actually the most supportive of freedom of speech within the broad political spectrum, and that the centre-left (or slightly left) and the far-right, not the far-left, are the groups most opposed to freedom of speech. In a way this finding kind of dovetails with a recent New York Times article which showed that centrists, rather than extremists, are statistically the least supportive towards democracy (which is ironic considering the New York Times is one of the archetypal liberal centrist outlets).

No one’s less moderate than moderates
by Ezra Klein

“When we say moderate what we really mean is what corporations want,” Broockman says. “Within both parties there is this tension between what the politicians who get more corporate money and tend to be part of the establishment want — that’s what we tend to call moderate — versus what the Tea Party and more liberal members want.”

That’s the problem with using a term that doesn’t describe either an identifiable group of voters or a clearly defined ideology to describe policies. “Moderate” is simultaneously one of the most powerful and least meaningful descriptions in politics — and it’s become little more than a tool the establishment uses to set limits on the range of acceptable debate. It’s time to get rid of it.

“Centrism” is an ideology, too
by Bill Knight

Writing about Schultz, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman said, “Despite his demonstrable policy ignorance, his delusions follow conventional centrist doctrine … furiously opposed to any proposal that would ease the lives of ordinary Americans. The most disruptive, dangerous extremists are on the Right. But there’s another faction whose obsessions and refusal to face reality have also done a great deal of harm: fanatical centrists. The hallmark of fanatical centrism is the determination to see America’s Left and Right as equally extreme, no matter what they actually propose.” […]

Locally, centrism may be found in hesitating to become a “sanctuary city,” a municipality where local resources aren’t spent to enforce controversial federal immigration laws. Statewide, centrism seeks to avoid “rocking the boat” over redistricting by the political party in control to favor that party or discourage opposition.

Nationally, centrists on domestic issues put their faith in the “free market,” Federal Reserve or corporations to stabilize an economy instead of recognizing economic classes and people’s needs. Internationally, centrists see other nations supporting terrorism or destabilizing regions; views U.S. military or diplomatic interference as justified; considers interventions in Iraq, Yemen, Venezuela and dozens of other countries as in the national interest; and labels some foreign leaders as allies or tyrants (or both, at different times), depending on their usefulness to multinationals’ financial interests.

Centrists may blast Russian oligarchs or Canadian health-care providers, but they’re reluctant to address the U.S. elite or to criticize the commercial approach to treating and healing Americans.

Again, being middle-of-the-road doesn’t mean civility or bipartisanship as much as protecting the way things are, claiming that “the system works” or seeing foreign affairs exclusively through red-white-and-blue glasses.

(For its part, the mainstream press so easily falls into the centrist line that they uncritically repeat government propaganda, almost like state-run media.)

One Big Thing the Dems Get Wrong About Warren
by John F. Harris

The most consequential history is usually not driven by the center.

As Bill Clinton began his second term, before the eruption of the sex scandal, he spoke frequently of his desire to be a national unifier, and, quoting Scripture, a “repairer of the breach.”

One skeptic was the great 20th century historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who knew and liked Clinton, but was deeply wary of middle-of-the-road politics. “Great presidents,” he told me, “are unifiers mostly in retrospect.”

In their own times, he noted, they divide the country over large questions—slavery, civil rights, the proper role of government versus the private sector—and only later “unite the country at a new level of understanding.”

How ‘Centrist Bias’ Hurts Sanders and Warren
by David Leonhardt
[with slight corrections added]

Centrist bias, as I see it, confuses the idea of centrism (which is very much an ideology) with objectivity and fairness. It’s an understandable confusion, because American politics is dominated by the two major parties, one on the left [center right] and one on the right [far right] [with no main party representing the American majority on the left]. And the overwhelming majority of journalists at so-called mainstream outlets — national magazines, newspapers, public radio, the non-Fox television networks — really are doing their best to treat both parties fairly.

In doing so, however, they often make an honest mistake [that conveniently and consistently operates as the propaganda mode of the news]: They equate balance with the midpoint between the two parties’ ideologies [in holding to the ‘center’ of the political right of the transpartisan ruling elite]. Over the years, many press critics have pointed out one weakness of this approach: false equivalence, the refusal to consider the possibility that one side of an argument is simply (or mostly) right.

But that’s not the only problem. There’s also the possibility that both political parties have been wrong about something and that the solution, rather than being roughly halfway between their answers, is different from what either has been proposing.

This seemingly radical possibility turns out to be quite common, as the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. — author of the classic book, “The Vital Center,” no less — pointed out. The abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, labor rights, the New Deal, civil rights for black Americans, Reagan’s laissez-faire revolution and same-sex marriage all started outside the boundaries of what either party favored [except that Reagan’s corporatism was simply an extension, if more extreme, of the prior corporatism in both parties; more of the same but worse]. “The most consequential history,” Harris wrote, “is usually not driven by the center.”

Political and economic journalism too often assumes otherwise and treats the center as inherently sensible. This year’s Democratic presidential campaign has been a good case study. The skeptical questions posed to the more moderate Democrats are frequently about style or tactics: Are you too old? Too young? Too rich? Too far behind in the polls? […]

Once you start thinking about centrist bias, you recognize a lot of it. It helps explain why the 2016 presidential debates focused more on the budget deficit, a topic of centrist zealotry, than climate change, almost certainly a bigger threat. (Well-funded deficit advocacy plays a role too.) Centrist bias also helps explain the credulousness of early coverage during the Iraq and Vietnam wars. Both Democrats and Republicans, after all, largely supported each war.

The world is more surprising and complicated than centrist bias imagines it to be.

People worry that ‘moderate’ Democrats like Joe Biden are the same as Republicans. Our study suggests they may be right
by Kevin Singer and Alyssa Rockenbach

Strikingly, in almost every case, the responses of moderate men are very similar to conservative men and women. Their level of agreement with the statements above is as much as 14 percent lower than moderate women, who are more likely than men to lean Democratic, or liberal men and women.

This IDEALS finding is on par with a recent Gallup study encompassing over 29,000 interviews with American adults, which revealed that moderates and conservatives remain closely aligned in their ideological preferences.

This raises important questions heading into the election: Is a moderate male candidate a bait-and-switch for Democratic voters? Are they actually casting their votes for a conservative?×

That moderate men most resemble Republicans has been confirmed, of all places, on dating apps. Brittany Wong of HuffPost writes, “It’s almost become a coastal cliche at this point: If someone lists their political views as ‘moderate’ on a dating app, the thinking goes, go ahead and assume the person is a conservative.” One interviewee noted, “It’s just in my experience, even ‘moderate’ guys tend to have extremely different views on topics that matter to me, like gun control, women’s reproductive rights and immigration.” Sometimes, moderate men who appear to bend liberal turn out to be “faux woke,” according to one interviewee who was initially attracted to someone whose profile featured photos at a women’s march. Eventually “he slowly started to drop his facade,” revealing behaviors inconsistent with his professed political beliefs.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has grown increasingly frustrated with moderate Democrats during her tenure, saying at a recent event, “The Democratic Party is not a left party. The Democratic Party is a center or a center-conservative party.” Her chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, recently deleted a tweet comparing two moderate Democrat coalitions — consisting mostly of men — to Southern Democrats who favored segregation and opposed civil rights. During this election cycle, a recurring criticism of Vice President Biden has been his record on school desegregation.

Centrists Are the Most Hostile to Democracy, Not Extremists
By Davd Adler

The warning signs are flashing red: Democracy is under threat. Across Europe and North America, candidates are more authoritarian, party systems are more volatile, and citizens are more hostile to the norms and institutions of liberal democracy.

These trends have prompted a major debate between those who view political discontent as economic, cultural or generational in origin. But all of these explanations share one basic assumption: The threat is coming from the political extremes.

On the right, ethno-nationalists and libertarians are accused of supporting fascist politics; on the left, campus radicals and the so-called antifa movement are accused of betraying liberal principles. Across the board, the assumption is that radical views go hand in hand with support for authoritarianism, while moderation suggests a more committed approach to the democratic process.

Is it true?

Maybe not. My research suggests that across Europe and North America, centrists are the least supportive of democracy, the least committed to its institutions and the most supportive of authoritarianism. […]

What Does It Mean?

Across Europe and North America, support for democracy is in decline. To explain this trend, conventional wisdom points to the political extremes. Both the far left and the far right are, according to this view, willing to ride roughshod over democratic institutions to achieve radical change. Moderates, by contrast, are assumed to defend liberal democracy, its principles and institutions.

The numbers indicate that this isn’t the case. As Western democracies descend into dysfunction, no group is immune to the allure of authoritarianism — least of all centrists, who seem to prefer strong and efficient government over messy democratic politics.

Strongmen in the developing world have historically found support in the center: From Brazil and Argentina to Singapore and Indonesia, middle-class moderates have encouraged authoritarian transitions to bring stability and deliver growth. Could the same thing happen in mature democracies like Britain, France and the United States?

Cultural Freedom, Legal Liberty

The following is more thoughts on the contrast between Germanic ‘freedom’ and Latin ‘liberty’ (see previous post: Libertarian Authoritarianism). The one is a non-legal construct of a more general culture, whereas the other is specifically a legal construct that was adapted to other ends, from philosophical ideal to spiritual otherworldliness as salvific emancipation. One important point is that liberty is specifically defined as not being a slave according to the law, but freedom is not directly or necessarily about slavery since freedom is more about what you are than what you are not. Though Germanic tribes had slaves, they weren’t fundamentally slave-based societies in the legal sense and economic structure of the Roman Empire.

Furthermore, the distinction is partly that ‘freedom’, as a word and a concept, developed in a pre-literate society of Germanic tribes, from which it was imported into England and carried to the American colonies. This freedom was expressed in informal practices of proto-democracy such as out-of-doors politics where people met on the commons to discuss important matters, a tradition that originated in northern Europe. Latin, on the other hand, was a language of literacy and the Roman Empire was one of the most literate societies in the ancient world. Our understanding of ‘liberty’ is strongly influenced by surviving ancient texts written by the literate elite, but the more common sense of ‘freedom’ was, in the past, mostly passed on by the custom of spoken language.

On a related note, Hanna Arendt was on the mind recently. She spent her early life in Germany, but, as a Jewish refugee from the Nazis, she had strong opinions about certain issues. By the time Arendt was growing up in 20th century Germany, I’m not sure how much of the premodern Germanic notion of freedom remained, but maybe the underlying culture persisted. It meant, as noted, belonging to a free people; and that was part of the problem, as the Jews were perceived as not belonging. The old cultural meaning of freedom was not part of formal laws of a large centralized nation-state with a court system. One was either free as being a member or not, as it was defined more by sociocultural relationships and identity.

What was lacking was the complex legalistic and political hierachy of the Roman Empire where there were all kinds of nuances, variations, and complexities involving one’s sociopolitical position. Being a Roman slave or a Roman citizen (or something in between), as a legal status, primarily was defined by one’s relationship to the state. Liberty was also an economic matter that signified one owned oneself, as opposed to being owned by another. The metaphor of ownership was not a defining feature of Germanic freedom.

The problem the Jewish people had with the Nazis was a legal issue. The civil rights they once possessed as German citizens suddenly were gone. The civil rights, Arendt argued, that the government gives could likewise be taken away by the government. Something else was required to guarantee and protect human value and dignity. Maybe that has to do with a culture of trust, what she felt was lacking or something related to it. The Nazis, though, were maybe all about a culture of trust, even if Jews were not in their circle of trust. Mere legalities such as civil rights were secondary as expressions of culture, rather than culture being shaped by a law system as part of legalistic traditions and mindset.

Arendt may never have considered the difference between liberty and freedom. It would’ve been interesting if she could have drawn upon the cultural history of the ancient Germanic tradition of freedom as community membership, which resonates with the older worldview of a commons. Liberty, as originating within a legalistic mindset, has no greater authority to proclaim outside of law, be it actual law (the state) or law as metaphor (natural law). Even invoking natural law, as Stoics did, can be of limited power; but it was used with greater force when wielded by radical-minded revolutionaries to challenge human law.

A deeper understanding of culture is what is missing, both the benefits and the harms. Maybe the Nazis were going by that culture of freedom and the Jews, as a perceived different culture, simply did not belong and so were deemed a threat. In a culture demanding a sense of belonging to a shared identity, difference could not be tolerated and diversity not allowed. Certain kinds of legalistic systems, on the other hand, can incorporate multiculturalism as seen with the Roman Empire and Napoleon’s French Empire, the military of the latter having consisted of soldiers that were primarily non-French. One can legally have citizenship and civil rights without having to share culture.

Also, it might be similar to how different ethnic groups can belong to the same larger Catholic Church, while Protestant traditions have more often been ethnic or nation specific. Catholicism, after all, developed directly out of Roman imperialism. It is true that Catholicism does have more of a legalistic structure to its hierarchy and practices. It was the legalistic view of buying indulgences as an economic contract with the Church as representative of a law-making God that was a major complaint in the Protestant Reformation. Protestants, concentrated in Northwestern Europe, preferred religion to have a more personal and communal expression that was concretely embodied in the congregation, not in a churchly institution of rules and rituals.

Like the Germans, the Scandinavians (and Japanese) have also emphasized the cultural approach. This common culture can allow for effective social democracies but also effective totalitarian regimes. Maybe that is why the American Midwest of Germanic and Scandinavian ancestry was the birthplace of the American Melting Pot, sometimes a cultural assimilation enforced by violent threat and punishment (English only laws, Second Klan, etc); and indeed some early Midwestern literature portrayed the homogenizing force of oppressive conformity. To the Midwestern mind, American identity too often became a hegemony (even making claims upon Standard American English), but at the same time anyone who assimilated (in being allowed to assimilate) was treated as equal. Some have noted that American-style assimilation has allowed immigration to be less of a problem than seen with the more common practice of housing segregation in Europe.

So, it might not be an accident that Southerners always were the most resistant to assimilate to mainstream American culture, while also being resistant to Northerner’s notions of equality. The hierarchical society of the South does to an extent allow populations to maintain their separate cultures and identities, but does so through a long history of enforced segregation and discrimination of racial laws. That is why there is still a separate black culture and Scots-Irish culture of the lower classes, as separate from the Cavalier culture of the ruling class — it’s separate and unequal; i.e. liberty. Assimilation is not an option, even if one wanted to, but the nature of the overall culture disinclines people from wanting it, as seen in how Southerners have continued to self-segregate themselves long after segregation laws ended.

The Southern emphasis on individual liberty is because it’s generally the individual who relates to the state and it’s laws. The communal aspect of life, in the South, is not found in governance so much as in kinship and church. That is the difference in how, particularly in the Midwest, the Northern attitude tends to more closely mix community and governance, as communal is more seen as cutting across all groups that are perceived as belonging (maybe why kinship and church is less central in the Midwest; and related to the emphasis on the nuclear family first promoted by the Quakers from the Scandinavian-settled English Midlands). Ethnic culture in the Midwest has disappeared more quickly than in the South. But this greater communal identity also defines individuality as more cultural than legal.

Legalistic individuality, in the modern world, is very capitalist in nature or otherwise expressed in material forms. Liberty-minded individualism is about self-ownership and the propertied self. To own oneself means to not be owned by another. That is why Thomas Jefferson saw individual freedom in terms of yeoman farming where an individual owned land, as property defined freedom. The more property one has, the more liberty one has as an individual; because one is independent by not being a dependent on others but rather to make others dependent. This relates to how, during the colonial era, the Southern governments gave more land based on their number of dependents (family, indentured servants, and slaves).

That is why a business owner and others in the propertied class have greater individuality in having the resources to act with less constraint, specifically in legal terms as money and power have always gone hand in hand, particularly in the South. A factory owner with hundreds of employees has more liberty-minded individuality, in the way did a plantation aristocrat with hundreds of slaves. Inequality before the legal system of power and privilege is what defines liberty. That explains how liberty has taken on such potent significance, as it has been tightly controlled as a rare commodity. Yet the state of dependence is more closely connected to liberty in general, as even aristocrats were trapped within societal expectations and obligations of social role. Liberty is primarily about one’s legal status and formal position, which can be a highly structured individuality — maybe why Stoics associated the ideal of liberty with the love of fate in denying free will.

As African-American culture was shaped in the South, this legalistic mentality might be why the black movement for freedom emphasized legal changes of civil rights, initially fighting for the negative freedom (i.e., liberty) of not being actively oppressed. They wanted equality before the law, not equality as assimilated cultural membership — besides, whites were more willing to assent to the former than the latter. This same legalistic mentality might go the heart of why Southerners are so offended by what they describe as illegal immigrants, whereas Northerners are more likely to speak of undocumented immigrants. This is typically described as being ideological, conservatism versus liberalism, but maybe it’s more having to do with the regional divide between the legalistic mind and the cultural mind where ideological identities have become shaped by regional cultures.

There is also a divide in the ideological perception of protest culture, a democratic phenomenon more common in the North than the South. To the Southern mind, there is an old fear about totalizing ideologies of the North, whereas their own way of life is thought of as a non-ideological tradition. Liberal rhetoric is more grounded in the culture of freedom as more all-encompassing ideological worldview than coherent ideological system as embodied in Southern legalism. This makes it more acceptable to challenge laws in the North because culture informs the legal system more than the other way around; that is to say, law is secondary (consider the living, as opposed to legalistic, interpretation of the Constitution that has it’s origins in Quaker constitutionalism; a constitution is a living agreement of a living generation, not the dead hand of law). That is maybe why there is the conservative pushback against a perceived cultural force that threatens their sense of liberty, as the culture of freedom is more vague and pervasive in its influence. The conspiracy theory of Cultural Marxism is maybe the conservative’s attempt to grasp this liberal-minded culture that feels alien to them.

Liberty and freedom is part of an old Anglo-American dialogue, a creative flux of ideas.To lop off one side would be to cripple American society, and yet the two remain uneasy and unresolved in their relationship. Sadly, it’s typically freedom (i.e., positive freedom and sociocultural freedom) that gets the short shrift in how both the left and right too often became caught up in political battles of legalistic conflicts over civil rights and court cases, even to the point that the democratic process becomes legalistic in design; with the culture of freedom and democracy being cast aside. Consider the power that has grown within the Supreme Court to decide not only political but also economic and social issues, cultural and moral issues (e.g., abortion). As democracy has weakened and legalism further taken hold, we’ve forgotten about how freedom and democracy always were first and foremost about culture with politics being the result, not the cause. The gut-level sense of freedom remains in the larger culture, but the liberty-minded legalism has come to rule the government, as well as the economy. That is why there can be such clashes between police and protesters, as each embodies a separate vision of America; and this is why property damage is always featured in the corporate media’s narrative about protests.

The ideal of freedom has such power over the mind. It harkens back to an earlier way of living, a simpler form of society. Freedom as culture is a shared experience of shared identity, maybe drawing upon faint memories of what Julian Jaynes called the bicameral mind. When the Bronze Age was coming to an end, a new kind of rule-based legalism emerged, including laws literally etched into stone as never before seen. But the mentality that preceded it didn’t entirely disappear. We know of it in ourselves from a sense of loss and nostalgia we have a hard time pinpointing. That is why freedom is such a vague concept, as opposed to liberty’s straightforward definition. We are haunted by the promise of freedom, but without quite knowing what it would mean to be free. Our heavy reliance on systems of liberty is, in a sense, a failure to protect and express some deep longing within us, the simple but undeniable need to belong.

MSM Spin On White Liberals

From Tablet Magazine, Zach Goldberg writes about white liberals, what he calls America’s White Saviors. This is an example of how corporate media slants their reporting on public opinion. In this case, the author focuses on one narrow demograpic of race and ideology, so as to isolate it and make it seem far left, while ignoring that the majority of Americans agree with white liberals on most major issues. I’ll break it down and respond to it piece by piece.

“In one especially telling example of the broader trend, white liberals recently became the only demographic group in America to display a pro-outgroup bias—meaning that among all the different groups surveyed white liberals were the only one that expressed a preference for other racial and ethnic communities above their own.”

This isn’t surprising. Going back many years, I’ve seen data like this. In social science research from earlier last century, it was well known that liberals had stronger pro-outgroup bias. From some years back, one survey showed liberals had greater empathy for foreign noncombatants killed by US soldiers than for US soldiers.

There has always been a subset of people with a strong pro-outgroup bias, although Goldberg is correct to point out that this is growing. But in a way that is the whole history of the United States. Thomas Paine, in arguing for Independence from the British Empire, made an outgroup argument that a large part of American colonists weren’t English, including the majority in his adopted home of Pennsylvania.

“In the past five years, white liberals have moved so far to the left on questions of race and racism that they are now, on these issues, to the left of even the typical black voter.”

That is not entirely meaningful. Why compare an ideological demographic with a purely racial demographic? The fact of the matter is black liberals would, generally speaking, be further to the left of white liberals on most issues and particularly on issues of race and racism. This framing feels manipulative, an exercise in sophistry.

“They are also tied to a significant decrease in support for Israel and—perhaps more surprisingly—a rise in the number of white liberals who express negative attitudes about the perceived political power of American Jews.”

I doubt most white liberals have any issue with “perceived political power of American Jews” in and of itself. Rather, it’s probably an opposition to the colonial Apartheid of Zionism. As far as that goes, Jewish liberals tend to oppose Zionism as well and probably are even more critical than white liberals. Once again, why isolate white liberals in the way others isolate rural whites to scapegoat them?

Later in the artcle, the author points out that white liberals retain a strong favorability toward Jews. In fact, their favorability is stronger than that of white moderates and white conservatives toward Jews. As for ranking of advantage and disadvantage, all whites (liberal, moderate, and conservative) put Jews about smack dab in the middle. And the white liberal ranking of Jews relative to other demographic groups is about the same as white moderates, the two combined being the view of most whites in general.

“As white liberals have come to place far greater emphasis on racial injustice, they have also endorsed reparative race-related social policies in greater numbers.”

That is about right. As a white liberal, I’ve personally followed this trend. I was raised by white conservatives in the racist Deep South. I didn’t understand racism when I was younger and probably expressed unconscious racism all the time. But I educated myself and expanded my social experience. Any informed person is forced to admit that there will never be justice until there is some form of compensation for the harm done and continuing to be done, whatever that might mean. That doesn’t particularly radical to me, just common sense, as Thomas Paine thought the theft of the Commons should be compensated with a land tax.

“The woke elite act like white saviors who must lead the rest of the country, including the racial minorities whose interests they claim to represent, to a vision of justice the less enlightened groups would not choose for themselves.”

That comes across as bullshit. The author points out that minorities, even minority Democrats and liberals, are not as strongly supportive of certain issues about immigration. Sure, there is variation depending on the particular issue, but that ignores the general agreement. On immigration, the majority of every racial demographic of Democrats and liberals supports the same positions on immigration, if some support it stronger than others. Also, the vast majority of Democrats and liberals of all races agree that diversity makes the US a better place to live.

One area of divergence was on whether one sympathizes more with Israelis or Palestinians. Minorities in general seem to sympathize more with Israelis. But this sympathy has been dropping for minorities as well. And by 2018, most minority Democrats and liberals had no opinion at all in sympathizing with either side. Another issue of even less disagreement is abortion. The majority of white and Hispanic Democrats think women should be able to get an abortion under any condition, but only about half of black Democrats think so. Then again, most Americans in general, including most blacks, do support abortion in all or most cases. So, why show the most extreme scenario to portray a false division?

As for freedom to choose gender identity, the majority of Hispanic and Asian Democrats are in line wiith the majority of white Democrats in being all in favor. Even generally conservative black Democrats support this at 42% and probably quickly rising, maybe already being a majority position among young blacks. On a related issue, across all racial groups, Democrats and liberals are in agreement that there needs to be more attention given sexual harassment in the workplace.

“White liberals make up 20-24% of the general population but, for a multitude of reasons, exert an outsize political and cultural influence. […] The danger is that “woke” white activists acting on behalf of voiceless minorities have had their perceptions distorted by social media-tinted caricatures that obscure more objective measures of reality and end up silencing or ignoring what the voiceless groups, themselves, have to say about what policies are in their best interest.”

I’m not sure this is a problem, considering the vast majority of Americans support liberal views, causes, and policies. The self-identified liberal demographic might be smaller but those who are liberal without identifying as such is now the moral majority. The main problem is that, in using ‘liberal’ as a slur, most liberal-minded Americans are still afraid to identify as liberal. Demonstrating this problem, the author of that article is creating more confusion in portraying liberalism as extremism, and I’m sure that is intentional

“In fact, multiple recent studies find no racial disparities in police use of deadly force. The odds of an unarmed black person being shot by police appear to approximate his/her chance of being struck by lightning. The probability of being killed by a right-wing extremist is equally low, if not lower.”

That is such a fundamentally dishonest portrayal of the racial issue. I’m not sure about those specific claims of data, but why cherry pick what confirms the author’s beliefs. A ton of other data does show racial biases in policing and the criminal system. And, sure, rigth-wing extremism is low in a general sense, but to be honest we have to admit that most terrorism is right-wing. So, right-wingers only occasionally blow up buildings and kill lots of people. Well, occasionally is too often. Left-wingers in recent history don’t generally commit that kind of violence at all. Consider that in the past quarter of a century, no anti-fascist has ever assassinated anyone or committed terrorism.

“Due at least in part to digital media, white liberal attitudes that more or less endured for decades have been drastically overturned in the space of months or single years. In contrast, the attitudes of white conservatives—and conservatives in general—have moved at a more glacial pace, if at all. For liberals, the lack of awareness of how fast and far their attitudes have shifted fosters an illusion of conservative extremism. In reality, the conservatives of today are not all that different from the conservatives of years past.”

That deceptive argument is morally indefensible. Most Americans in general, not only white liberals, have grown increasingly leftist over the decades. Conservatives may not be any more political evil than in the past, may not be any more racist and misogynist, bigoted and xenophobic, theocratic and fascist. But pointing out that they are as extremist as they ever were is hardly a defense that they aren’t extremists and that such extremism is not problematic in being outside the moral norm of most Americans at this point.

“Resentment of those seen as standing in the way of necessary social and cultural change may inspire a commitment to what political scientist Eric Kaufman calls “multicultural millenarianism”: the belief that the demise of a white majority will pave the way for a more racially progressive and just society. Perhaps this is why white support for increasing immigration coincides with more negative feelings toward whites.”

Demise? WTF! Only a reactionary conservative would fearfully portray growing diversity as a demise. The difference for white liberals is that there simply is not a fear of the other. It’s largely irrelevant, anyway. All that is likely to happen won’t conform to the paranoid fantasy of the decline of the white race but simply a shift in how whiteness is culturally defined and so who identifies as white. Increased immigration will simply hasten this process, such that a large number of Hispanic-Americans and Asian-Americans will adapt to white identity, as did Jews and Italians in the past. It is the expansion of whiteness, not the disappearance, that is so fearful to white conservatives. As for white liberals, I doubt they care, one way or another about the future prospects of white identity politics. I doubt most other Americans care either.

Libertarian Authoritarianism

Libertarianism is a strange creature. It originated as part of the European workers movement, alongside Marxism, communism, and anarchism. But in mainstream American thought, this history has been forgotten and, in the public mind, it’s become entirely associated with right-wing ideology. Most American libertarians, sadly, don’t know this history either.

Typically, this idealized socipolitical order, too often entwined within the neo-feudalism of social Darwinian pseudo-meritocracy and plutocratic capitalist realism, is portrayed as being the polar opposite of authoritarianism, such as shown on the popular political compass. And many right-libertarians like to portray progressive-minded liberals as among the worst and most dangerous of authoritarians, in the accusation of their being covert fellow-travelers of communists and Marxists, Stalinists and Maoists. This is the propaganda of the Cold War and the conspiracy theory of Cultural Marxism, with its origins in ant-leftist fascism.

In any meaningful sense, is that distinction true, the proclaimed opposition between libertarianism and authoritarianism, as either theory or practice? It depends on how one defines libertarianism, and also if it is libertarianism as means or end, the reason many leading libertarian thinkers and advocates can be accused of hypocrsy in sometimes appearing to be inconsistent between their principles and the application or rather enforcement of their principles. Some right-libertarians oppose democracy, sometimes even when it seems to mean betraying the moral standard of liberty itself. Yet, without democracy or some other egalitarian system akin to democracy, authoritarianism would be inevitable. It often comes down do libertarian rhetoric as another way of talking about power and privilege, that is rights for me but not for thee.

Some libertarians claim to be fine with this, as they see it as a necessary evil. For example, Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek supported Augusto Pinochet’s regime that killed thousands and tortured tens of thousands. Likewise, Ludwig von Mises praised Benito Mussolini as the savior of European civilization. Why? Because these self-identified libertarians argued that it was necessary to temporarily and violently force liberty in defense against oppressive majoritarian democracy and and public mandate, popular will and populist demand. The people must be saved from themselves — only a paternalistic ruling elite and enlightened aristocracy could step in to establish freedom, specifically the freedom of markets and capitalists, not necessarily anyone else’s freedom.

That demonstrates a key difference and division. Liberty can be forced. Freedom cannot. So, what kind of libertarianism is it that, temporarily or permanently, results in authoritarianism and other forms of oppression and unfreedom? And, if we are to give legitimacy to this ideological ideal of libertarianism, upon what basis is it portrayed as inherently, fundamentally, and absolutely opposite of and opposed to authoritarianism when, in the repeated actions of numerous self-avowed libertarians, this obviously is not always true? What is the relationship or distinction between freedom and liberty? How did our political tradition of ideological rhetoric develop?

In American thought, going back to the colonial era, freedom and liberty became mixed and sometimes conflated, allowing for a slippage of meaning. This is because the English language and Anglo-American politics was shaped by two separate linguistic cultures. Knowing the details of history and etymology would help. The word ‘liberty’ comes from Latin, whereas the world ‘freedom’ comes from German, with the same root as ‘friend’. The latter means to be a free member of a free society, but the former does not require this larger social context of meaning. In the Roman Empire built on slavery, to have liberty simply meant the legal status of not being a slave while others were enslaved. So, freedom is about the relationship between people (i.e., a free people) while liberty is about the relationship of the individual to the state (i.e., civil liberties).

The Romans upheld liberty but not freedom or democracy and so Roman Emperors could be described as libertarian dictators. Libertarianism simply requires the bare minimum potential or maybe just the theoretical possibility of not being a slave and of having full rights protected by the state, though not guaranteeing it. So, by that definition, many dictators like Pinochet could be called libertarian in this broad sense. There is no doubt that there have been many infamous examples of leading libertarians supporting or praising dictators. There are also some that make the case for libertarian monarchism, which would mean an anti-republican libertarianism, although a constitutional monarchy could be democratic like the United Kingdom.

All of this seeming strangeness can make sense within the conventional discourse of American right-libertarianism. There is the typical distinction between freedom and liberty, although the terms get conflated in American English. So, right-libertarians will often condemn the positive freedom (real world results of lived experience, civil rights, political power, and economic freedom) of progressive liberalism and the radical’s rebellion to gain it, while praising the supposed negative ‘freedom’ (theoretical opportunity as abstract ideal) of classical liberalism, as first articulated in Isaiah Berlin’s essay “Two Concepts of Liberty.”

Of course, there were early progressive and egalitarian liberals like Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine or even Adam Smith, all of whom criticized high inequality as being contradictory and destructive to a free society, all of whom opposed slavery (although by law, because Jefferson was in debt, he could not free his slaves even if he wanted to for any attempt to do so would have meant his slaves would have been immediately seized as payment to his debtors; maybe part of the reason Jefferson worked so hard to legally dismantle the binding and oppressive aristocratic order that he, along with the slaves he inherited, was born into). But that is not the kind of person right-wing libertarians are referring to. Instead, they mean those like John Locke who obsessed over property rights, to the point of defending the ownership of humans in formulating a justification for slavery in writing the Carolina constitution.

That brings us back to the origins of liberty in Roman slave society. There is a reason slaveholding aristocrats looked back to Rome for inspiration in declaring liberty. This sense of narrow and selective legalistic liberty was emphasized in contrast to the British Empire, in their fight against the American colonists, having promised freedom to slaves. The slaveholders were advocating negative freedom, the potential of freedom in that slaves theoretically could be released or buy their freedom, as was also true in the Roman Empire. The British Empire, on the other hand, was offering American slaves a guarantee of positive freedom in the living present, not merely a theoretical opportunity of a future possibility of freedom, although it would take a while for abolition to be enacted in British politics.

At the same time the British Empire threatened freedom for all in the colonies, while radicalism and revolution was in the air, the American slaveholders wrote beautiful words of liberty in defense of their way of life. But liberty had long been an inspiraton of high-minded rhetoric. In Rome, the Stoics reinterpreted libertas as a spiritual state, that one could be enslaved in body but that, in mind and soul, one could never be chained and oppressed, forced and commanded. The Christians inherited this understanding, which rationalized their acceptance of outward forms of enslavement because of spiritual promises.

This might relate to why Friedrich Nietzsche called Christianity a slave religion. Indeed, Christian tradition, theology, and text formed a strong wall buttressing the institution of slavery in early America. There was never a contradiction, in principle or in practice, between liberty and slavery — they were two sides of the same coin. In the rhetoric of Stoicism and Christianity, such spiritual liberty, disembodied as it was ungrounded and unworldly, is basically the same as the secularized abstract liberty modern libertarians have since proclaimed as negative freedom, a strange freedom that never has to prove itself by the evidence of results, never has to guarantee that all are actually free in practice.

Liberty always has been just another noble ideal, as pretense and fantasy, to be trotted out by the the comfortable classes of the privileged and respectable. There is a reason that libertarians are the wealthiest ideological demographic in the country. It’s a belief system of the monied elite and those who aspire to elitism, along with the temporarily embarassed millionaires, as true today as it was in the past. Libertarianism, like Stoicism, was never constructed for the poor and oppressed, the landless peasants and the slaves, the dirty masses and the working poor, the proletariat and the permanent underclass.

Unlike freedom that is a right of all, liberty is a privilege of the few for, otherwise, it would lose it’s value within the libertarian worldview, within the moral imagination of capitalist realism. Within the rigid hierarchy of power and privilege, liberty is a precious comodity because of its violently enforced scarcity, constrained and delimited by a faith-based ideological determinism. There is no such thing as a universal promise and guarantee, full enactment and implementation of liberty. Without slavery or other forms of unfreedom, liberty would not hold such value in the eyes of those who exclusively possess it in being able to deny it to others.

Consider the great Stoic Marcus Aurelius who wrote of “true liberty.” His words on life and society have inspired many libertarians and similar thinkers, not to mention having been a favorite philosopher of many an American slaveholder. As emperor, Aurelius had the power to end slavery but chose not to do so. He did protect the rights of slaves, for whatever that’s worth, but not the right to not to be a slave. To be fair, the Stoic Epictetus, having gained his own liberty from his former enslavement, did recommend against enslaving others and yet never argued for manumission of all slaves.

That is largely because, in the philosopy of Stoicism, liberty as a spiritual state was not a birthright but something individually earned or achieved, such that the Stoic’s liberty was assumed to be the result and expression of spiritual worthiness, not entirely unlike how outward good fortune proved and demonstrated one was of the Calvinist elect or enlightened aristocracy, not to be obtained by most because of their presumed low moral character and weakness of mind. That is to say, only good and wise men, a spiritual elite, could be spiritually free in holding to a harsh, narrow, and demanding vision of liberty that few could ever hope for. This rarified state was a prize to be won through hardship and struggle, not something to be freely given as civil right, much less birthright.

This was a view that would resonate with Christian original sin that justified submission to a divine-mandated social hierarchy of clergy and theocracy, even as it posed the blind faith in the otheworldly principle and delayed promise of equality before God in the afterlife. Later in the Middle Ages, following the Black Death and the beginning of the enclosure movement, some peasants and serfs began to question this theology for, if they were truly born equal in the sight of the Creator of the world, why was inequality of power and wealth enforced by a worldy ruling elite whose behavior contradicted any moral justification. This led to the English Peasants’ Revolt, what some consider the first modern political revolution and class war, although it would require later Enlightenment thought to bring this moral impulse to its fullest form.

The ancient Stoics, obviously, did not envision that a free and democratic society was possible; as their view on slavery was philosophical, not political. Choosing for or against slavery, even in Epictetus’ slightly more generous version of liberty that morally condemned the enslaver to be wrong and unjustified, was still left to the personal choice of the enslaver with the enslaved having no legal right or moral standing to an effective opinion and empowered action on behalf of himself or herself, beyond the confines of his or her own isolated mind. The slave-based order itself, as legal system and social institution, remained safely in place without any principled position and moral claim to challenge it. Natural law, as such, would remain impotent as a rhetorical and political force to threaten unjust power until being reinvisioned by post-Enlightenment radicals and revolutionaries who articulated an entirely new deistic natural law of secular self-governance that opposed and undermined the traditional theocratic divine law of the Church and state.

To the Stoics, liberty went hand in hand with fatalistic resignation and acceptance, not to fight for freedom or against oppression but to find peace of mind and contentment of soul by not resisting, like a possum playing dead in the hope that the predatory class and the powers that be would leave one alone. As opposed to invoking the archetype of the rebel and radical, Stoicism was the origin of the tradition of martyrdom as romanticized victimization and noble victimhood, a mythologized narrative of victory in defeat and liberty in oppression only later adopted and popularied by early Christians. The supposed freedom from oppression, as in negative freedom, is in reality a freedom within oppressive order in that, according to ancient Stoics and right-wing libertarians, one has no presumed freedom toward any actionable guarantee, socially supported and legally defended, of freedom’s result in lived experience of private rights and collective expression of public good as part of a free and democratic society as upheld by social norms and culture of trust, mutual respect and common vision.

The inner liberty that was articulated did not even include free will but instead a love of fate and so there was no point in hope of progress and betterment, much less personal freedom as member of a free people in a free society. The physical and legal, economic and political condition of slavery was taken as an irrefutable ideological realism of the social order, if not a natural state by natural law, such that liberty as a rare privilege meant acceptance of enslavement for the masses, although theoretically any individual might gain the wise libertas of the Stoic philosopher in the way the hope of ending bondage and servitude was dangled before the slave as a solace for their suffering, a salve for the chafing wounds of their chains. For all of its vaunted idealism and noble wisdom, the Stoic’s individualistic liberty has never inspired a slave revolt and universal suffrage, a civil rights movement or democratic reform.

There are those on the right that declare the United States is a republic, not a democracy. This is ideological trolling, of course, and can be dismissed on that level. On the other hand, there is a genuine point that can be made along these lines. Although many Americans have sought democracy since the American Revolution, it’s questionable if we actually have a democracy even now. Full suffrage only happened about a half century ago and yet voting rights remain constantly under attack. Combined with an anti-democratic ruling elite that controls the electoral process, it’s easy to conclude we now live in a banana republic.

Yet, going by the original meaning of liberty, this country could fairly be called libertarian. It may be true that some have more liberties than others based on wealth, but anyone might get rich and gain such privileges. That has long been the argument of meritocracy in its social Darwinian form. American right-wing libertarianism has never promised equal rights and freedom in practice and in results. This kind of liberty, as with wealth in capitalism, has to be earned. No one is born deserving it. That is what distinguishes libertarianism from democracy, and liberty from freedom. They are two very different worldviews that sit uncomfortably together within American thought.

The Fate of the GOP

“In no partisan spirit I contend that the Progressive movement began within the Republican Party. It rapidly advanced its control, shaping policies of state administrations, and stamping its impress upon national legislation as a distinctly Progressive Republican movement. And upon this fact in recent political history I appeal to Progressive Republicans everywhere to maintain their ogranization within the Republican party.”

Robert M. La Follette, La Follette’s Weekly Magazine, Volume 4 (1912)

Here are some thoughts on the historical origins, present state, and future potential of the Republican Party. Besides those like Cindy McCain and Mitt Romney, there have been waves of moderates, conservatives, and traditionalists (not to mention neoliberals and neocons) leaving the Republican Party or otherwise pulling away from partisanship (along with big biz taking its money elsewhere, at least for the time being). It most clearly began with Donald Trump’s nomination and first presidential campaign. The news media, at the time, reported on many Republican leaders who spoke out against Trump or even spoke in favor of the Democrats. Trump, as a demagogic opportunist, was able to takeover precisely because the GOP was the weakest it had been in more than a century; and Trump would only weaken it further.

It was a dissolution that, in Republicans gaining victory and wielding power, would worsen. The previous fractures in the party broke wide open and have become a gulf, such that a large number of former officials from the Bush administration are now disavowing their ties to the party: “Kristopher Purcell, who worked in the Bush White House’s communications office for six years, said roughly 60 to 70 former Bush officials have decided to leave the party or are cutting ties with it, from conversations he has been having. “The number is growing every day,” Purcell said” (Tim Reid, Exclusive: Dozens of former Bush officials leave Republican Party, calling it ‘Trump cult’). Others like Reagan Republican Joe Scarborough had left a couple of decades ago, presumably already having seen George W. Bush taking the party in an undesirable direction, maybe in having set the stage for the right-wing reactionary takeover of the party that was completed with Trump’s reign.

With the attack on the Capitol, QANON conspiracists in Congress, and GOP’s continued defense of Trump, yet more Republicans have been disgusted and demoralized, some finding appeal in Biden’s nostalgic call for the norms of established institutions and the normalcy of respectablty politics (no matter that this rhetoric seems hollow to many others). This is how the GOP might fully become Trump’s party, as the last of the anti-Trumpists leave and so cause further concentration of the extremists within an ideological homogeneity and insular echo chamber. And it’s not limited to GOP leadership abandoning ship. Recently, tens of thousands of voters have changed their Republican Party affiliaton — over 10,000 in some individual swing states like Arizona (Reid Wilson, Tens of thousands of voters drop Republican affiliation after Capitol riot), possibly causing them to swing toward the Blue for a long time to come.

Consider the Mormons who, according to a 2010 Gallup survey, “are both the most Republican and the most conservative of any of the major religious groups in the U.S. today” (Frank Newport, Mormons Most Conservative Major Religious Group in U.S.) — more Republican and conservative than white Evangelicals? Dang! Yet Mormon partisanship was already weakening by then: “Mormon support for the Republican ticket dropped from 80 percent in 2004 and 78 percent in 2012, to 61 percent in 2016, even as most other Christians moved further to the right, according to Pew” (Alex Thompson & Laura Barrón-López, Mormons rejected Trump as blasphemous. Now he likely can’t win without them.), although not entirely true as many Christian groups have moved left in recent years, the main exception being white Evangelicals — the latter being a key element of the ‘Ferengi’ minority demographic (Polarization Between the Majority and Minority). By the way, the Mormon vote has played a pivotal role in swing states like Arizona that lost more 10,000 Republicans, which might be why Joe Biden flipped that once stalwart Republican state.

So, the Republican base becomes smaller and narrower, louder and more threatening — the ‘Ferengi’ fringe. That is combined with the realignment that happened over the past half century, with the GOP now having taken the rightward path to its furthest endpoint, over a cliff. In living memory, there once was a large wing involving a combination of black Republicans and log cabin Republicans, progressive Republicans and liberal Republicans; even pro-choice Republicans. The last remnants of this held on into the ’80s, until they were squeezed out by the changes of media deregulation, ideological polarization, and rabid partisanship. Before that happened, the Republican Party of Eisenhower and Reagan used to include the likes of Hillary Clinton, Arriana Huffington, Thomas Frank, Cenk Uygur, etc — major names now in the Democratic Party or in leftist alternative media.

The religious right ‘moral majority’ always was a myth — even limiting it to the religious, such demographics have always been mixed and often holding views different from the religious minority of white Evangelcals. This is the reason for the necessity of the Wirthlin effect and symbolic conservatism, specifically the powerful wedge of the culture wars, as Americans are operationally liberal (i.e., actual positions and policies supported). Republicans couldn’t win elections without this rhetorical con game. The very people promoting the claim of a right-wing ‘moral majority’ knew they were lying. Rather than being a majority, it was explicitly anti-majoritarian. That was the whole point, to use empty rhetoric and political power to force a false narrative, to win by havng declared that they’d already won and then having convinced the media and political elites to repeat this spin — with some help from FBI’s COINELPRO that silenced opposition in the decimation of the political left, such as the assassination of Fred Hampton (combined with the string of other assassinations: MLK and Malcolm X, JFK and RFK).

Bill Moyers, in discussng how the Republicans took over through anti-democratic tactics like gerrymandering, gives a bit of historical background to the “founding of the Moral Majority” (as part of an interview of Davd Daley, Republicans Admit They Lose When Elections Are Fair and Free). “Thousands of religious conservatives gathered in Dallas, Texas, to launch what is now the most influential base of the Republican party. Ronald Reagan running for the Republican nomination, spoke to them. And one of the most influential Republicans of the past 60 years was there. Paul Weyrich was his name — right-wing Catholic, brilliant strategist, outspoken partisan [who] founded the Heritage Foundation, founded the Moral Majority, on and on and on. He really was an architect of the Republican domination today.”

Moyers then shared “a brief excerpt” of his speech and added that, “It brought cheers from those religious conservatives.” Weyrich, without shame or a sense of hypocrisy, stated: “Now many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome — good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” This was part of the Republican rhetorical attack on government in order to take over government, based on a demented ideology that democratic governance, public good, and the social compact were irrelevant or worse than irrelevant, a threat to their aspirations of unrepresentative power.

Trump’s personality cult, in gaining the zealous support of white Evangelicals, is the culmination of this dark faith; and it may seem to be going down in flames. Nonetheless, this might not mean the GOP is in terminal decline; but it guarantees that, if it survives, it will be radicially and permanently transformed — that brief period of a coherent conservative movement (or rather it’s rhetorical narrative as portrayed in corporate media) won’t be coming back anytime soon, if ever. Republican Senator Ben Sasse, under threat of censure by some Nebraskan Republicans, stated that, “The anger has always been simply about me not bendng the knee to one guy. Personality cults aren’t conservative. Conspiracy theories aren’t conservative. Lying that an electon has been stolen, it’s not conservative. Acting like politics is a religion, it isn’t conservative” (Former GOP Lawmaker Now Dedicated To Fighting Misinformation).

Others, in having left the GOP, have also had harsh words. “The Republican Party as I knew it no longer exists. I’d call it the cult of Trump,” said Jimmy Gurulé, one of those former Bush officials who could accept blatant lies, illegal wars of aggression, mass innocents deaths, and torture prisons but Trump’s Twitter tirades went too far (Tim Reid, Exclusive: Dozens of former Bush officials leave Republican Party, calling it ‘Trump cult’). “If it continues to be the party of Trump, many of us are not going back,” threatened Rosario Marin, yet another one of these respectable Bush cronies. “Unless the Senate convicts him, and rids themselves of the Trump cancer, many of us will not be going back to vote for Republican leaders.” These Republicans hold to a nostalgic image of respectability, real or false, that once was taken seriously in the mainstream but has now been entirely discredited. Was there ever a time when American conservatism was not at least a bit crazy and dangerous? That is questionable from a leftist perspective, but it’s understandable why many conservatives long for a return to what they perceive as pre-insanity Golden Age, a time when they weren’t mocked and ridiculed.

One could debate what is or is not conservative or what it should be, but this isn’t the first time that conservatism found itself in the dumps, as likewise happened in the early 20th century. Then, following World War II, conservatism became respectable again (or at least put on a good act) because of Russell Kirk and William F. Buckley Jr., and that was carefully achieved by ruthlessly banishing the right-wing fringe and conspiracy nuts, even if that simply meant pushing a cleaned up version of Bircherism, racism, and fascism. The point is conservatism was once solidly part of the mainstream, and it wasn’t that long ago. Some argue that an honorable conservatism is essential, whereas when dishonor sets in it becomes perilous to all of society.

“I don’t think conservatism can do its job in a free society in opposition to the institutions of that society,” said conservative Yuval Levin, “I think it can only function in defense of them. And a conservatism that becomes anti-institutional looks like a mob attacking the Capitol, which I don’t think is where anybody wants to end up” (interview by Ezra Klein, An Appalled Republican Considers the Future of the G.O.P.). It is never conservative to tear down institutions, not even liberal (or pseudo-liberal) institutions like universities, and especially not public institutions. [Actually, an argument could be made that conservatives have always attacked institutions, in that conservatism orginated as a modern ideology and reactionary backlash in opposition to the failing traditional institutions of the ancien regime that proved their unworthiness by having allowed liberalism and leftism to take hold; and so conservatives sought to eliminate and replace traditional institutions, an inherently destructive act and, in creating something entirely new, quite radical at that; but we’ll avoid that complication for our purposes here — for more on this view, see posts on the reactionary mind and reactionary conservatism.]

In the prelude to Klein’s talk with Levin, a book is briefly mentioned — Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy. It was written by a Harvard Political Scientist, Daniel Ziblatt, who “shows […] that democracies live or die based on how responsible their conservative parties are.” Klein says that, “In particular, the question is whether the center right quarantines the anti-democratic far right, in which case democracies tend to live and thrive, or it allies with them, in which case, the far right often takes over and democracies often fall. We are in that kind of moment right now.” If that is true, we are in trouble. Conservatism is inherently a reaction to liberalism — always has been — and so it acts as the shadow to liberal society. And so conservatives are closer to this darkness in either holding it in check or becoming possessed by it. The latter seems to be the case for the United States in this demagogic hour at the dawn of a new millennia. The burning flame of moral imagination as dark fantasy and ideological realism is powerful and, for that reason, potentially dangerous and destructive — as attested, again and again, by history (consider the Nazi conspiracy theory of Cultural Bolshevism and Jewish Bolshevism resurrected as the American conspiracy theory of Cultural Marxism).

If the GOP is no longer able to pretend to be a respectable conservative party and can no longer uphold a mainstream conservative movement, then what is it or where is it heading? It could become even more of a right-wing reactionary party, maybe devolving to a third party, where its platform would be entirely defined by conspiracy, xenophobia, ethnonationalism, etc; maybe things much worse like fascism and eugenics. Or it could reverse course toward the progressvism of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower (or even Richard Nixon); before the GOP became exclusively anti-liberal. This might be more of a conservative, capitalist-friendly, and paternalistic progressivism as seen previously, but one that made room for liberal tendencies and democratic proceduralism. Progressivism originally was understood as democratic reform from within the system to defend against leftists, partly by stealing the thunder of leftist demands and promises, which was TR’s strategy (Capitalists Learning From Socialists).

That was at a time when liberalism was clearly distinguished from leftism, as reactionary rhetoric hadn’t yet fully conflated the two as a singular slur. “Many of the men who call themselves Socialists to-day,” wrote Theodore Roosevelt in his autobiography, “are in reality merely radical social reformers, with whom on many points good citizens can and ought to work in hearty general agreement, and whom in many practical matters of government good citizens well afford to follow” (see other TR quotes in Capitalists Learning From Socialists). His brand of progressivism was as conservative as it came, quite nationalistic and imperialistic, but he drew inspiration from the political left. To put this in context, the progressive era saw many Klansmen, Evangelicals, and Mormons supporting child labor laws, universal public education, Social Security, and much else — social conservatives and Republicans having helped pave the way for Teddy’s fifth cousin, progressive Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to create the New Deal and, following it, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. One can’t help but be reminded that Donald Trump won election to the presidency through explicitly progressive rhetoric that was in certain ways to the left of Hillary Clinton’s platform (Old School Progressivism).

Also, don’t forget that it was the Republican Party that introduced progressive taxation and defended it for a long time, at a time of extremely high tax rates on the rich. Also, Eisenhower said that liberalism was the way to run government, although he believed conservatism was the way to run the private economy; while Nixon spoke positively about liberalism, passed the EPA, and pushed for a basic income. We are presently experiencing a right-wing populist backlash with weak leadership that has splintered the political right, but we might return to that prior era of early-to-mid 20th century when strong progressivism and moderate liberalism was considered the framework for both parties, the center of the politcal spectrum, and the moral majorty of public opinion. Conservatism existed back then as well, but it was chastened and moderate, forced into a secondary role in public debate and forced into making alliances. This allowed conservatives to do serious and frutiful soul-searching, the kind of soul-searching that many conservatives find themselves returning to as they’ve become homeless and out of power.

The Republicans will likely be out of power for a generation, assuming they ever regain power. That was the prediction of William Strauss and Neil Howe, in their generations theory about the Fourth Turning. Back in the 1990s, they foresaw a period of crisis, as they theorized typically happens every 80 years (in a cycle of 4 generations). Through destabilization or destruction, the crisis shows the weaknesses and failures of institutions. That was effectively demonstrated, symbolically and practically, in the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol building; an event that, if the overruning of the Capitol police had happened mere minutes earlier, numerous Congressional leaders could have been held hostage, injured, and killed (Vice President Mike Pence was being targeted as well); and it turns out that individuals within the institutions created to prevent such a dangerous situation may have been complicit in instigating, planning, and/or allowing the attack. That is a crisis that would’ve been hard to have imagined decades ago. What Strauss and Howe argued would follow the period of crisis would be a period of institutional rebuilding within society. That will be an opportunity for the political right to rebuild itself as well, maybe from the ground up.

* * *

Further Reading:

  • To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party
    by Heather Cox Richardson
  • When Republicans Were Progressive
    by David Durenberger & Lori Sturdevant
  • Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics
    by Michael Wolraich
  • Turning Right in the Sixties: The Conservative Capture of the GOP
    by Mary C. Brennan

Deep Thoughts On the Deep State

What is the deep state within, behind, or above the United States government? Let’s look at some real world examples of brief moments when we the public get to glimpse the dark underbelly of power, indicating what kind of beast it might be. Let’s begin wth a recent incident. Bloomberg News reported that Mitch McConnell threatened Trump. He told him that, if he pardoned Julian Assange, the Senate Republicans would ensure he was impeached even after he left office. Why was McConnell so concerned about ending the torture of an innocent man? And on whose behalf was he concerned? Was he acting alone or as an intermediary for others? Who exactly was worried about Assange going free? Why was he still deemed such a threat? Is Assange even still sane after all these years of solitary confinement? What harm could he do at this point?

Maybe it was simply punishment and setting an example to disuade others. Assange had revealed the illegal and unconstitutional actions of the deep state, and such forced democratic transparency and public scrutiny could not be forgiven. Still, threatening Trump is an audacious move, considering how much of a wild card he is. A threat might have backfired and sent Trump careening into unpredictable behavior. Besides, if the report on McConnell is true, that sounds like blackmail and should be prosecuted, but it’s reported in the corporate media as a normal news story — politics as usual, if a bit shady. [One is reminded of the FBI’s COINTELPRO-style attempt to blackmail Martin Luther King Jr. into suicide.] There has been little outrage in the media or among politicians, as few have pity for Trump. Most of the corporate media didn’t bother to say much about it. In web search results, a few articles from the alternative media showed up where the accusation of blackmail was suggested, although Tucker Carlson came close to calling it that on his show.

A worse case, from several years back, involved the Senate Intelligence Committee when they investigated and filed a report on “enhanced interrogation.” This investigaton was justfied by the fact that torture is illegal according to US and international law (e.g., the US government prosecuted WWII Japanese soldiers for waterboarding and sentenced them to death). That is why they located the torture prison in a foreign country that is outside of US legal jurisdiction. Trying to get around US law was an admission of guilt, althugh they would have preferred that the torture prison had remained a secret (one strongly suspects that many such secret prisons, torture or otherwise, are maintained by the deep state without ever being disclosed).

Anyway, the CIA criminally hacked the Senate’s computers, spied on the committee, intimidated Senate staffers, and attempted to block the release of the committee’s report about the CIA’s torture program. When caught, the CIA Director lied about it and then later refused to admit that it was wrong. Senator Dianne Feinstein, previously a supporter of spying on US citizens, suddenly became a critic when she found herself the target of spying. Yet, even then, nothing came of it. The CIA, having seriously broken the law and attacked democracy, was let off the hook with a mere apology, once again demonstrating that the rule of law only applies to the rest of us without power. Sadly, who ever revealed these crimes, if they had been caught, would’ve been treated like a criminal as happened to Assange or else they would’ve disappeared (by the way, who was the leaker and what happened to them?).

The deep state isn’t any single organization or group of people. It’s simply the collective actions that happen behind the scenes in determining what the government does — whether the ultimate source of power is high up in the government itself, in quasi-governmental organizations and networks, or in a cabal of puppet masters entirely outside anything that looks like government at all. In the above examples, these activities occasionally come to the surface, but most of what is done by the deep state never sees the light of day. When something does get ‘leaked’ or reported, it’s probably often because the deep state wanted it to be known, to serve as a warning or to manipulate media narratives and public perception. Our government is so tightly controlled, as is media reporting and public debate. Unplanned leaks, of course, are preferrably kept to a minimum.

As McConnell warned Trump, the CIA gave a warning to the Senate (similar to deposing Saddam Hussein and annihilating Iraq with an illegal war of aggression was a warning to other countries to not defy American interests or rather the deep state’s interests) — we live in a world of warnings. It is made clear, for those aware of the deep state, that everyone will do what the deep state demands or there will be harsh consequences. If the Senate Intelligence Committee hadn’t submitted to this power play and instead continued such investigations, and if they weren’t open to bribery or other soft coercion, the CIA would’ve found other ways of eliminating or silencing the Senators and staffers involved by means of blackmail, scandals, etc; maybe even accidental deaths.

Consider the death of Representative Sonny Bono when he was about to begin an official investigation that never happened because no one dared to follow up on it. Accident? Maybe or maybe not. He wasn’t the only politician to die skiing into a tree — less than a week before Bono’s death Michael Kennedy, son of assassinated Robert F. Kennedy, also had a similar tree-related ski accident (in that case, it seemed a more obvious accident). Or think of Paul Wellstone, someone on Karl Rove’s shit list, coming to an early death in a plane accident. And there is the case of Michael Connell, a witness in a case involving Karl Rove, who also met his end in a plane crash, after Rove supposedly threatened him. There is quite a list of politically-involved people dying in this manner, which makes one wonder what is the probability of dying in a plane for those in politics vs those not in politics.

Generally, there is a long history of investigators and witnesses suspiciously and conveniently dying of accidents and suicides when US officials and other powerful figures are investigated (Clint Curts, Ray Lemme, etc). Or people are suicided as well when they simply hold too much info that could hurt certain individuals and interests (e.g., Jeffrey Epstein supposedly killing himself in his prison cell precisely when the video camera failed and the guard was asleep). The corporate media has a habit of not doing investigative journalism into such coincidences, as everyone knows conspiracy theories are for loonies — a view promulgated by the deep state while inventing conspiracy theories of their own to muddy the water.

It’s probably why Sanders toes the line. He understands the power that could come down on him like a sledgehammer. Even Trump has enough sense of self-preservation to know when to back down and do what he’s told. Speaking of being at war with the deep state as political rhetoric is one thing, but actually challenging the deep state will really get one in trouble. It’s almost guaranteed that anyone who has been in DC government for decades (Bushes, Clintons, etc) is either in the deep state, an asset or agent of the deep state, controlled by the deep state, or otherwise subservient to and silent about the deep state. The problem with Trump is he turned out to be a loose cannon because of narcissism, mental illness, and senility; and so he was never going to be allowed into the deep state, despite spending decades as a political actor at the edge of it. He was a pawn of forces he didn’t understand.

This deep state doesn’t care about the United States, per se. All these malignant dominators care about is their own power that increasngly is international or transnational. I suspect that, if the US were to collapse, the CIA would continue to operate as an international power structure, although it likely would rebrand itself. The US serves the CIA or the deeper power behind it, not the other way around. The US is the present headquarters of the international deep state of inverted totalitarianism, but if a new global superpower took control this same global power elite would relocate their headquarters elsewhere. They go after whistleblowers and publishers of leaks for self-interested agendas, not patriotic defense of the nation-state.

On a more mundane level, this shift in political loyalty can be seen in the more open behavior of politicians. The US isn’t a normal country nor is it even a normal empire. Consider that a surpising number of US politicians have multiple citizenships. Technically, the US government doesn’t acknowledge the citizenships of other countries, but neither does it require loyalty to other countries be denounced. Not only can US politicans and other elites have multiple citizenships but also multiple houses, bank accounts, etc in other countries. If anything goes wrong in the US, they’d abandon ship in an instant and leave the rest of us to clean up the mess. They perceive themselves as a global ruling elite. Nationalism is so bourgeois.

That wouldn’t have been true of the older generations of political and economic elite. From the Federalists to the Roosevelts, there were plenty of upper crust Americans who were authoritarians and imperialists, but they were fairly open about it and softened it with patriotic nationalism and paternalistic noblesse oblige. Also, in the past, most business leaders accepted economic nationalism as the default position, identifying the nation’s interests as their own. None of these elites were neoliberals (with the pretense of) favoring unrestricted and unegulated global ‘free’ trade (enforced by neocon militarism) for they assumed that economics was a part of politics, and that both were defined by patriotic loyalty to one’s country. This would’ve meant an old boy’s club, just not a deep state as we know it and certainly not inverted totalitarianism.

That said, there was a reason the US government moved away from those old power structures. The Populist Movement, followed by the Progressive Era, was in response to immense corruption and elitist cronyism, along with machine politics and other kinds of local oppression such Jim Crow, company towns, etc. For all our complaints about our present system, the American ruling elite is less violent toward its own citizens than it was in the past, although now more violent to foreigners in having become the leading military empire. Certainly, the corruption didn’t go away but changed form in becoming more centralized and systematized. In an earlier era, local problems could be dealt with by democratic means or else direct action of protests, strikes, or riots — sometimes even gun battles between workers and corporate goons. Now the ruling elite, ever more distant, act as if they are untouchable.

Trump may have thought he was part of this untouchable class. And that seems to have been true for so many decades. Going by the evidence, he could’ve been prosecuted and imprisoned so many times in his lifetime. Yet, for some reason, he and his family seemed to get away with all kinds of things — possibly: tax evasion, money laundering, political bribery, sexual misconduct, etc. The legal system acted as if uninterested, such that some have wondered if he wasn’t working for the US government because of his ties to organized crime in New York City, Russia, and probably elsewhere. If he did have an agreement at one time, that agreement is apparently now null and void. As for the likes of Assange, it didn’t matter that he wasn’t a US citizen at all. The deep state doesn’t limit its claim of power and authority to the US itself. His only option of escape, like Edward Snowden, would have been to seek refuge within the territory of a competing global superpower with its own nefarious deep state.

* * *

Conspiracy: Experience and Reality
Conspiracy Theory And Fact
Skepticism and Conspiracy
Powerful Conspiracies & Open Secrets
A Culture of Propaganda

The Moral Axis of the Axial Age

Where is the world heading and upon what might it all be revolving? One would be unwise to speculate too much or offer strong predictions, but it must be noted that there has been a general trend that is well-established. Over time, Americans have been moving further and further to the political ‘left’. The majority of Americans are strongly liberal and progressive on nearly every major issue — political, social, economic, environmental, etc. But this is also happening on the political ‘right’, even among the religious. It’s interesting that as the elite have often pushed the Overton window to the ‘right’, the political ‘right’ has generally gone ‘left’ in following the rest of the American population. The whole spectrum shifts leftward.

Only a minority of right-wingers have become increasingly extreme in the other direction. The problem is this small demographic, what I call the ‘Ferengi‘ (overlap of Fox News viewers, white Evangelicals, and Republicans), has had an outsized voice in the corporate media and an outsized influence in corporatist politics. This ideological shift, to a large extent, is a generational divide or rather an age-related gradation. Each generation becomes steadily more liberal and progressive, sometimes outright left-wing on certain issues compared to how issues were perceived in the past.

This conflict of views has less relevance in the Democratic Party but is quite stark in the Republican Party. It’s also seen among Evangelicals. Old Evangelicals, at least among whites, are part of the Ferengi extremists. But young Evangelicals identify with the ‘progressive’ label and support such things as same sex marriage while no longer seeing abortion as an important issue, much less feeling drawn to polticized religiosity. The Ferengi are opposite of the majority of Americans, often opposite of a large number of moderate Republicans and conservatives, and definitely opposite of the young.

Yet the Ferengi are held up as an equivalent demographic to these much larger demographics in creating a false narrative of polariztion and division. The ideological gap, though, is in some sense real. The Ferengi fringe are disproportionately represented among those who are most politically active with high voter turnout, specifically as found among older conservatives with more money and influence. Even as they are a shrinking minority, they still strongly control or otherwise are overly represented by the Republican Party and right-wing media. The extremism of this minority emphasizes how far ‘left’ the rest of the population has gone.

This ongoing leftward pattern, what some might consider ‘progress’, isn’t exactly new. The shift hasn’t only happened over the decades and across the generations but, one might argue, goes back centuries or possibly even millennia. Being part of the political ‘left’ project has required saintly patience, prophetic vision, and heroic will. The impulse of egalitarianism and universalism initially were religious imperatives — born under the Axial Age, grew into childhood during the Middle Ages, and came to young adulthood in the Enligthenment Age, if still not yet having reached full maturity.

It was in the 1300s, when the moral vision of Jesus, as expressed in the orignal Christian creed, finally captured the populist imagination as something akin to class war and sociopolitical ideology. Some of those early proto-leftists sought to overthrow the hierarchy of fuedalism and church, to bring the equality of heaven down to earth. Their thinking on the matter was far from being rationally articulated as a coherent philosophy, but the demands they made were stated in no uncertain terms. They weren’t content with otherworldly ideals of rewards in the afterlife. Once imagined, those ideals inevitably became radical in their threat to worldly power.

Yet no one back then had any notion of a political ‘left’, per se. For most of the past two millennia, it remained a moral intuition bubbling up out of the collective psyche. Even so, it was a poweful moral intuition. Those peasants, in revolting, did rampage into the cities and killed more than a few of the elite. They nearly took the king hostage, although they weren’t quite sure what to do as the commoners had never previously gained the upper hand to that degree. It would require many more centuries for the dirty masses to figure out exactly what were their demands, what exactly did this moral intuition mean, but for damn sure it could not be denied and it would only grow stronger over time.

That ancient outrage of the commoners is what we have inherited. We’ve fancied it up with Englightenment thought and clothed it in modern respectability, while the political ‘right’ has sought to blame it on French Jacobins and postmodern neo-Marxists or whatever, but in essence it remains that crude beating heart of moral righteousness and divine judgment, the authority of God’s command brought down like a sledgehammer to level the towers of human pride, as with Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the temple. It’s not an intellectual argument and so, in response to it, rationality is impotent. But equally impotent are the churchly claims of fundies and the delicate sensibilities of social conservatives.

Every single advance of society began as a never-before-thought idea that was imagined into existence but at first denied and attacked as heretical, dangerous, crazy, or impossible. So much of what has become established and normalized, so much of what even conservatives now accept and defend began as terrifying radicalism, fevered dream, and ranting jeremiad. Before written about in revolutionary pamphlets, scholarly tomes and left-wing analyses, these obstinate demands and unrealistic ideals were originally brought forth by prophets from the desert and peasants from the countryside, the uncouth and illiterate rabble who spoke with the moral certainty of faith and of God’s intimacy.

These initially incohate inklings and urgings of the Anglo-American moral imagination took so many unknown generations of struggle to take shape as we know them now. But we act like the revolutionary zeal of the late 18th century burst forth like Athena from Zeus’ head, as if intellectuals with too much time on their hands thought it all up while getting a bit tipsy in colonial taverns. More than a few of those rabblerousers and pamphlet scribblers began as religious dissenters, a tradition they inherited from their forefathers who fled to the colonies during the religious uprising and populist unrest of the English Civil War.

Thomas Paine, a man hated for claiming God was not an evil authoritarian ruling over humanity, has been largely forgotten in his later writing of Agrarian Justice in 1797. In offering a plan for land and tax reform, he spelled out ideas on an old age pension and basic income. The former took almost a century and half to finally get enacted as Social Security and the latter we’re still working toward. These kinds of radical proposals take a while to gain purchase in political action, even when they’ve been part of the political imaginary for many generations or longer. Paine himself was merely responding to an ongoing public debate that preceded him in the centuries before.

Even his criticisms of organized religion were largely his having repeated what others had already said. Some of those heretical thoughts were already being recorded in the ancient world. Jesus, after all, was one of the greatest heretics of them all, a detail that didn’t go without notice by so many heretics who followed his example. Such religious heresy always went hand in hand with political heresy. The early Christians were disliked because they refused to participate in poltical religion. And some of the first Christian communities set themselves apart by living in egalitarian communes where positions were decided through drawing lots. Their radical beliefs led to radical actions and radical social order.

So, it’s unsurprising that primitive communism, proto-socialism, and Marxist-like critiques began among religious dissenters, as heard during the Peasants’ Revolt and English Civil War. They took inspiration from Jesus and the original Christians, as those in the first century were themselves drawing upon the words written down over the half millennia before that. When the full-fledged socialists came along with their crazy dreams as implemented in Milwaukee’s sewer socialism, they were doing so as part of the Judeo-Christian tradition and in carrying forward ancient ideals.

Yet here we are. The radical notion of sewer socialism where everyone equally deserves clean water was once considered a threat to Western civilization by the respectable elite but now is considered an essential component of that very same ruling order. Conservatives no longer openly argue that poor people deserve to fall into horrific sickness and die from sewage and filthy water. What used to be radically left-wing has simply become the new unquestioned norm, the moral ground below which we won’t descend. Some might call that progress.

It’s the same thing with constitutional republicanism, civil rights, free markets, universal education, women’s suffrage, abolition of slavery, and on and on. In centuries past, these were dangerous notions to conservatives and traditionalists. They were condemned and violently suppressed. But now the modern right-winger has so fully embraced and become identified with this radicalism as to have forgotten it was ever radical. And this trend continues. As clean water is accepted as a universal right, in the near future, same sex marriage and basic income might be likewise brought into the fold of what defines civilization.

There is no reason to assume that this seismic shift that began so long ago is going to stop anytime soon, as long as this civilizational project continues its development. The aftershocks of an ancient cataclysm will likely continue to redefine the world from one age to the next. In a sense, we are still living in the Axial Age (“The Empire never ended!” PKD) and no one knows when it will finally come to a close nor what will be the final result, what world will have come to fruition from the seed that was planted in that fertile soil. The Axial Age is the moral axis upon which the world we know rotates. A revolution is a turning and returning, an eternal recurrence — and in a state of disorientation with no end in sight, around and around we go.

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On the Cusp of Adulthood and Facing an Uncertain Future: What We Know About Gen Z So Far
by Kim Parker and Ruth Igielnik

Within the GOP, Gen Zers have sharp differences with their elders

Among Republicans and those who lean to the Republican Party, there are striking differences between Generation Z and older generations on social and political issues. In their views on race, Gen Z Republicans are more likely than older generations of Republicans to say blacks are treated less fairly than whites in the U.S. today. Fully 43% of Republican Gen Zers say this, compared with 30% of Millennial Republicans and roughly two-in-ten Gen X, Boomer and Silent Generation Republicans. Views are much more consistent across generations among Democrats and Democratic leaners.

Similarly, the youngest Republicans stand out in their views on the role of government and the causes of climate change. Gen Z Republicans are much more likely than older generations of Republicans to desire an increased government role in solving problems. About half (52%) of Republican Gen Zers say government should do more, compared with 38% of Millennials, 29% of Gen Xers and even smaller shares among older generations. And the youngest Republicans are less likely than their older counterparts to attribute the earth’s warming temperatures to natural patterns, as opposed to human activity (18% of Gen Z Republicans say this, compared with three-in-ten or more among older generations of Republicans).

Overall, members of Gen Z look similar to Millennials in their political preferences, particularly when it comes to the upcoming 2020 election. Among registered voters, a January Pew Research Center survey found that 61% of Gen Z voters (ages 18 to 23) said they were definitely or probably going to vote for the Democratic candidate for president in the 2020 election, while about a quarter (22%) said they were planning to vote for Trump. Millennial voters, similarly, were much more likely to say they plan to support a Democrat in November than Trump (58% vs. 25%). Larger shares of Gen X voters (37%), Boomers (44%) and Silents (53%) said they plan to support President Trump. […]

Generations differ in their familiarity and comfort with using gender-neutral pronouns

Ideas about gender identity are rapidly changing in the U.S., and Gen Z is at the front end of those changes. Gen Zers are much more likely than those in older generations to say they personally know someone who prefers to go by gender-neutral pronouns, with 35% saying so, compared with 25% of Millennials, 16% of Gen Xers, 12% of Boomers and just 7% of Silents. This generational pattern is evident among both Democrats and Republicans.

There are also stark generational differences in views of how gender options are presented on official documents. Gen Z is by far the most likely to say that when a form or online profile asks about a person’s gender it should include options other than “man” and “woman.” About six-in-ten Gen Zers (59%) say forms or online profiles should include additional gender options, compared with half of Millennials, about four-in-ten Gen Xers and Boomers (40% and 37%, respectively) and roughly a third of those in the Silent Generation (32%).

These views vary widely along partisan lines, and there are generational differences within each party coalition. But those differences are sharpest among Republicans: About four-in-ten Republican Gen Zers (41%) think forms should include additional gender options, compared with 27% of Republican Millennials, 17% of Gen Xers and Boomers and 16% of Silents. Among Democrats, half or more in all generations say this.

Gen Zers are similar to Millennials in their comfort with using gender-neutral pronouns. Both groups express somewhat higher levels of comfort than other generations, though generational differences on this question are fairly modest. Majorities of Gen Zers and Millennials say they would feel “very” or “somewhat” comfortable using a gender-neutral pronoun to refer to someone if asked to do so. By comparison, Gen Xers and Boomers are about evenly divided: About as many say they would feel at least somewhat comfortable (49% and 50%, respectively) as say they would be uncomfortable.

Members of Gen Z are also similar to Millennials in their views on society’s acceptance of those who do not identify as a man or a woman. Roughly half of Gen Zers (50%) and Millennials (47%) think that society is not accepting enough of these individuals. Smaller shares of Gen Xers (39%), Boomers (36%) and those in the Silent Generation (32%) say the same.

Here again there are large partisan gaps, and Gen Z Republicans stand apart from other generations of Republicans in their views. About three-in-ten Republican Gen Zers (28%) say that society is not accepting enough of people who don’t identify as a man or woman, compared with two-in-ten Millennials, 15% of Gen Xers, 13% of Boomers and 11% of Silents. Democrats’ views are nearly uniform across generations in saying that society is not accepting enough of people who don’t identify as a man or a woman.

Totalizing Corporate Media Bubble

How do media bubbles work? We often think of this phenomenon in simplistc ways. A media bubble is perceived as a person hearing certain sources of info while not hearing others. It’s an echo chamber where a particular slant and bias gets repeated, a self-imposed state of indoctrination. The clueless victim is so trapped that they never see anything else, don’t realize there is anything else to see.

But I’ve had the thought that this rarely operates through the overt censorship and silencing of total blackouts. It’s not only whether or not something gets reported but also how it is reported, how it is framed and narratized, how it is made to stand out or be obscured, how it is repeated ad nauseum or quickly disappears. Furthermore, it involves which details get included and ignored, who gets interviewed and not.

So often news reporting happens without any context, neither present context of larger events and societal shifts nor the extended context over years and decades of prior news reporting. Typically, so much gets reported in isolation and is only reported briefly, so as to be quickly forgotten again as intended, whereas other issues are blown out of proportion in being repeated constantly over time as an ongoing rhetorical narrative (e.g., culture wars).

An example of this was the federal agents used in the protests in Oregon and elsewhere. It was one of the biggest news stories of the year. The local government opposed their presence and many questioned the legality and constitutionality of the federal government cracking down on civil liberties so wantonly, from kidnapping protesters to harassing journalists. It isn’t the type of story that isn’t going to get reported and it drew plenty of attention in social media.

It was a major point of conflict at the time with Donald Trump defending his use of the imperial presidency. There wasn’t silence about these federal agents and their actions, not even in ‘conservative’ media. The Wall Street Journal and Fox News each had dozens of articles and videos about it. But one suspects they did not receive a prominent position in the reporting of such news outlets.

This reporting, instead, was probably placed in the back pages of the newspaper or website, assuming an article was printed in the physical newspaper at all. And the video pieces on it probably weren’t played on primetime and maybe only ever were made available online. This reporting was most likely used as filler and, even then, most of it would have downplayed its relevance while ignoring and dismissing critical views. After a brief moment, the news reporting disappeared entirely from casual view.

This occurred to me because of conversations with my father, a highly intelligent and informed citizen, someone whose opinion is respected by others and so carries great influence in positions of leadership he often holds. When asked about it, he said he had never heard about these federal agents dispatched to suppress legal protest. So, it wasn’t that he had a biased and misinformed view of the issue but simply did not know about it. He spends hours every day reading The Wall Street Journal, along with a local newspaper, and often will watch Fox News in the evening. He is in a media bubble like most others, and yet theoretically the media buble he is in has included a decent amount of reporting on this news story, however unfairly slanted it might’ve been.

So, how could he not know about it at all? Well, dozens of articles and videos may sound like a lot. But compare it to the total production of material that comes out. These major corporate news outlets pump out hundreds of articles and videos on a daily basis. The smaller stories get buried before they even get seen. It’s highly probable that my father never saw any of this reporting. Even reading and watching the news all day long will leave the individual at the mercy of the news sources being followed. Mostly, they repeat the same news stories, whereas other equally or more important news stories barely get any attention at all.

We are surrounded by more news reporting than ever before and have access to such a seeming diversity of news sources. Yet the average American still only hears those same few news stories repeated over and over again, spun to fit the dominant view or rationalized away with the same set of rhetorical frames and narratives. On the other hand, all of the alternative media combined that would better inform Americans barely has much of an audience at all. It’s not only what Amercan viewers have access to but who controls the main platforms of media that have access to the Amercan mind.

Even constantly channel surfing between every corproate news channel available will mostly give you variations on the same set of themes. Old school censorship is not required, as long as there is the illusion of free choice, like standing before a grocery store shelf full of hundreds of cereal brands that all are owned by a few corporations. That said, there are better sources of info and one can find truly great news reporting. Consider the investigative journalism that Buzzfeed puts out. The problem is one has to actively seek out these obscure alternative news sites. One won’t likely come across it by picking up the newspaper or clickng on the tv news.

There isn’t something so simple as a right-wing media bubble versus a left-wing media bubble. It’s much worse than that. The entire corporate news is part of the same media bubble. There is some variation within the options of this corporate news source or another, but the similarities are greater than the differences. No matter which side of a rhetorical frame is taken, the point is that the frame is basically the same across all corporate media. The failure of a free press is not in quantity of reporting but quality.

For most Americans, far from being limited to conservatives, the reporting on those federal agents will be lost to memory before long. As such, the slow erosion of what little democracy is left will continue apace with little notice. The next incident of civil rights abuse by authoritarian power or other govermental overreach will be reported without reference to the ongoing pattern of thousands of prior incidents across the decades of administrations, no matter which party was in control.

Now we are entering a new four-year news cyclce. Democratic Joe Biden is the next incoming president. The political theater surrounding the Trump administration has already erased what Biden did as vice president not that long ago (e.g., further militarizing the police), much less his decades-long political record. Now that the campaign season is over, the corporate media won’t be reminding you. Enforced amnesia will quickly set in. Whatever incidents of concern in the coming years will likely be reported in the corporate media as if having little or no relationship to anything that has happened before.

What goes without saying is that I’m part of this same system of mass ignorance enforced by a self-serving ruling elite. I have no special insight that extends beyond the muddied water of perception management as social control. I realize that I will remain ignorant as long as I don’t carefully and deeply research these issues for myself. But to be honest, I don’t feel motivated to do so, as I find the entire situation too depressing. The truth, even if discovered, seems impotent under these conditions.

So, who am I to judge anyone else? All I feel that is worth my time and effort is to make note of this collective failure that implicates me as with everyone else. As for a solution, I’m not sure there is a good answer. Maybe, instead of drowning oneself in endless sources, learn to be discerning with a focus on what is most important and trustworthy. Sometimes less is more — so, ignore the quantity and look for the quality. It can be found. Remember that most news is not of any genuine value. There are better and happier ways to spend your time.

Polarization Between the Majority and Minority

Where is the demos in democracy?

What do Americans think as a people and a public? That is the eternal question in a country that was made famous by being founded as the first modern democracy. Among serious thinkers, the conventional theory of representative government has been that public opinion generally determines public policy, on average if not in every detail. This is what supposedly gives a public mandate to the political elite to rule on our behalf, as an approximation of self-governance but without direct democracy. Well, that is the theory. Is it true? To question this political dogma, in the past, was considered unpatriotic and seen as an attack on the very ideal of democracy. But times have changed, as has faith in claims of democratic representation.

Let us explore where Americans stand on the issues. This year’s Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) values survey, Dueling Realities: Amid Multiple Crises, Trump and Biden Supporters See Different Priorities and Futures for the Nation (full data and visual summary), brings us some lovely info about the American population and conclusions can be offered. There is a decided shift showing a larger pattern across the board. It could be suggested that Donald Trump’s administration does not represent the direction the country is heading in, assuming there is any hope of actual democracy functioning in the slightest.

Neither is the Republican Party in alignment with the general public nor with Independents. And Republican Fox News viewers are shown to be living in a separate alternative reality — older, whiter, and more right-wing than the average American, although not as far right as the audiences of the Daily Caller, Breitbart News, and the Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh radio shows (John Gramlich, 5 facts about Fox News). With total lack of awareness, Pew describes the audiences of most media sources as ‘left-leaning’ while not acknowledging that most Americans are ‘left-leaning’; but left of what, left of of Fox News? (John Gramlich, Q&A: How Pew Research Center evaluated Americans’ trust in 30 news sources). Then among the religious, white evangelicals are extremists and, among Christians, a minority. Yet the media and political elite obsess over white evangelicals, as if they were the very definition of religiosity — it is not — and representative of the religious majority — they are not.

These three combined demographics (Fox News viewers, white Evangelicals, and Republicans) represent a minority — not exactly new information. Based on the acronym FER, they’ll henceforth be referred to as ‘Ferengi’. This demographic is situated within the American public and society somewhat in the way that the patriarchal and profit-obsessed Star Trek Ferengi (with their capitalistic religion) represented an alien presence and minority worldview within the Federation. Even though the Ferengi were not members of the Federation and held themselves apart from Federation society, they nevertheless were tolerated and accepted as part of the Federation’s open and diverse liberal culture and social democracy, which included being allowed to do business within Federation territory.

Similarly, the American demographic minority that we shall call ‘Ferengi’ are opposite of and in opposition to the American majority that is progressive, liberal, and leftist across every category of views and values, issues and policies (the metaphor of a political spectrum being a relative concept; how can the American people be on the poltical ‘left’ if they are the majority public opinion that defines the ‘center’ of Amerian society?). Yet these American Ferengi are given equal rights and freedoms that are protected by the very social liberalism and social democracy that contradicts their preferred ideology of patriarchal authoritarianism, caste-based social Darwinism, xenophobic identity politics, and semi-fascist corporatocracy. This is the Ferengi vs the Federation, neither equals nor enemies but awkwardly situated together.

This Ferengi demographic is a varety of what one could call Faceless Men, in honor of the masked assassins cult in Game of Thrones. The Faceless Men can change guise, in the way that reactionaries co-opt ideological rhetoric and adopt ideological identities. This makes the Faceless Men hard to pin down, but in the case of the Ferengi we at least have some demographic identifiers to clearly mark boundaries. That is the purpose of naming the Ferengi in creating a specific demographic category that has been used as a favorite disguise of the Faceless Men. Speaking of a ‘conservative’ movement is too vague and misleading. Not all conservatives are Ferengi and not all Ferengi are conservatives. Interestingly, a large part of the American population self-identifies as ‘conservative’ while holding views that are mostly or entirely on the political ‘left’ (an equally large but opposite pattern on the political left is not found in any data). These confused and inconsistent pseudo-conservatives may or may not vote Republican, but it is highly unlikely that they are white evangelicals who regularly watch and trust Fox News. That is an important distinction to keep in mind while reading further on.

Before moving on, let’s clarify what kind of understanding is implied in this insight and analysis. Yes, American society is and always has been broadly liberal, as a product of Enlightenment thought and revolution, not only the American Revolution but also several major populist revolts during the colonial era and cntinuing revolts over the centuries since — the Spirit of ’76 is the American Spirit, from the War of Regulation and Shays’ Rebellion to the Coal Wars and the Battle of Athens. The word for ‘democracy’ was not as familiar in early America, but the ideals and ideology of democracy (and socialism) had already begun to take hold with the English Civil War, which had immense impact in shaping early American culture and politics. What is often misunderstood is that conservatism is not traditionalism, as conservatism did not exist until after the revolutionary period. Rather, it’s a variant of and reaction to liberalism, both of which followed the failure and fall of traditionalism that they sought to replace. The reactionary mind is the shadow of a liberal society and, as liberalism has increased, the reactionary has intensified. We live in a reactionary age, as the stress and anxiety mounts, with collective insanity taking hold and collective trauma having become a scar — we are in need of healing.

With an immunocompromised psyche, we all are vulnerable to infection from this virulent mind virus. We all contain the potential of becoming Faceless Men. The Ferengi are simply an extreme example of the reactionary, among the first victims of the mind plague, and so our purpose here is not to scapegoat them but to explore what is central to defining American society, not unlike the way the Star Trek Ferengi as a contrast helped shape the Federation identity. As such, the demographic Ferengi in American society are used as a foil to highlight the qualities of liberalism. They serve a necessary role in the public imagination and the political narrative. Reactionaries become possessed by and identified with the shadow of society, what we have collectively denied and cast out but cannot make go away. They carry the burden of what we haven’t yet learned too handle. And, maybe in line with Arnold Mindell’s thought, they fill an essential social role that must be represented and fulfilled. The reactionary mind is the return of the repressed. It holds up a mirror to our society, if we dare look.

Despite being a miniscule minority, the Ferengi have an outsized influence in society and the psyche. But we should emphasize the most basic point for our purposes here. These overt reactionaries are a minority that are located at the radical fringe. Never forget that. The public opinion of the American public, suppressed and silenced, is something entirely else. The political polarization is not between two equally sized groups but between the majority and one particular minority. Still, one way or another, we will be forced to face what the reactionary represents. The reactionary is not only those others but something within us, but that is an issue to be saved for another day. Let us end with a reassuring thought. Shadow or not, the reactionary mind is not normal and we need to recognize that truth, to constantly remind ourselves of it. We are not defined, as individuals or as a society, by our worst impulses.

What kind of country is America?

In looking at the recent PRRI values survey, we are given a pictue of America as seen by Americans, the differences of view and the commonalities. So, what kind of country do we Americans believe we live in? Let’s go straight to the top, God. Most Americans no longer believe God has granted the United States a special role in history. Once having been an article of faith among the majority, only 40% of Americans still hold to this conviction in our political religion, although 64% of Republicans are holding strong to their sense of divine entitlement and presumably all of the divine privileges that go with it.

It isn’t solely a partisan divide and maybe as much about specific kinds of religiosity. White evangelical Protestants, unsurprisingly, are totally into American theocracy as seen with their strong support of Donald Trump hand-picked by God as the Chosen One to rule over the Chosen People, albeit this is a slight interpretation of the data on our part. Then again, if much more weakly, black Protestants are barely holding onto a sense of America’s divine status; and many of those black  Protestants would be evangelicals as well. But most mainline Protestants, Catholics, etc don’t see it that way.

Interestingly, back in the 19th century, it was evangelicals, as a minority religious group, who were among the strongest defenders of the separation of church and state — how things have changed. It was also evangelicals who were supporters of Populism, Progressivism, the Great Society, and the New Deal. Evangelicals weren’t always reactionaries (similar to how libertarians, as having originated in the workers movement on the political left, didn’t begin as reactionary right-wingers either). Evangelicalism, in this sense, has been taken on as one of the guises of the Faceless Men.

Besides those two groups of primarily evangelicals, all other measured demographics are probably more prone to believing America has fallen under a divine curse. As for Christians in general, they’re just not buying this divine nationalism. On the other hand, no demographic, not even white evangelicals, thinks that America is and always has been a Christian nation, not even after four years of the Chosen One, President Donald Trump, ruling the land. America has not been made great again, if it ever was great. So, it’s hard to know what God’s favor could mean anyhow, as there are much more religiously devout countries out there. Indeed, church attendance here has been dropping. God looks down on America and says, “No respect, no respect, I tell ya.”

After these rough past few years, the evidence is becoming less clear that we are the Chosen People. This calls into question our American Exceptionalism and hence our divine mandate to rule the world as the largest empire in history. But the survey didn’t ask which country now has gained God’s favor in replacing America’s divine status. We’ll have to wait to find out the results on that one, as God works in mysterious ways. For certain, God doesn’t hold the sway he once did here in the grand ol’ US of A, as only 39% agree that believing in Him is necessary for morality. About an equal number (38%) thinks that religion causes more problems than it solves. So, maybe God should look for a more hospitable place to call home.

America has stopped being the moral beacon for the world, according to Americans (74%), whatever might be God’s opinion on the matter. Huddled masses of immigrants take note. Most Republicans don’t see this nation as a good moral example with 55% taking this negative view, when only 33% agreed in 2018. Not even White evangelical Protestants can get on board with a belief in national moral superiority at this point. So, obviously, Trump’s brand of pseudo-Christian nationalism hasn’t inspired a flood of moral religiosity to buoy up public confidence and hyper-patriotism. It turns out that there is more to religion than waving a Bible in the air while posing in front of a camera or at least there used to be.

Americans have come to a consensus that America is no longer a Christian nation (74%) with a significant portion thinking it never was (22%). An increasing number think that this decline of Christian dominance is a good thing, at 39% which is up from five years ago when it was 29%. One can see a trend in falling religiosity and the weakening of theocratic impulses, as secular nationalism takes hold. Maybe the media has become our new shared religion, as we do devotedly worship it with the authorization it provides in shaping our sense of reality. People scroll their smart phones like rosary beads, bow their heads to their laptops as if before a shrine, and go into altered states as their eyes glaze over watching boob tube. Churches have steep competition these days.

What’s the matter with America?

Let’s now move onto more general views of what is seen as mattering, since God no longer holds this place of pride. The majority of Americans generally agree with the majority of Democrats in how they prioritize most issues: coronavirus pandemic (60%, 85%), fairness of presidential elections (57%, 68%), health care (56%, 73%), jobs and unemployment (52%, 58%), crime (46%, 48%), terrorism (45%, 43%), abortion (36%, 35%), appointment of Supreme Court Justices (40%, 44%), federal deficit (36%, 31%), immigration (33%, 36%), and trade agreements with other countries (23%, 19%).

On the last four issues, Republicans are close to being in agreement as well. But on the first seven, Republicans strongly disagree with both the general public and Democrats. And on three other highly polarized and partisan issues (racial inequality, climate change, and growing gap between rich and poor), the average American is about smack dab in the middle. Actually, they are toward the middle on some of the others as well, although they have a general alignment with Democrats while, in those cases, Republicans are found on the complete opposite side. Two examples of the latter are 39% of Republicans seeing the coronavirus pandemic as critical and 33% with that opinion about health care, in contrast to 60% and 56% for Americans in general which is about equally distant from Democrats, if on the same side of the minority-majority divide.

It gets interesting with a religious breakdown. When looking at the top three issues for each group, there is wide agreement about the coronavirus pandemic and fairness of presidential elections. There is a consensus on these two among most included religious demographics: white mainline Protestants, Black Protestants, White Catholics, Hispanic Catholics, Other Christians, and the non-Christian religious. That makes this the majority religious position about what is seen as central at this present moment.

Also, Hispanic Protestants and the Unaffiliated put the coronavirus pandemic in their top three picks, but not fairness of presidential elections. White evangelical Protestants did agree about fairness of presidential elections while being alone in stating great concern for terroism and abortion, indicating that they are highly motivated by thoughts of violence and death, if not the slow violence and mass death by other means (pollution, lead toxicity, lack of healthcare, racial oppression, war, etc), and of course they love violent law-and-order, militarized police, war on drugs, mass incarceration, and the death sentence as the ultimate social control. As another popular issue, healthcare was held up as important to four of these demographics: Hispanic Protestants, White Catholics, Other Christians, and Unaffiliated.

Are Americans racists or socialists?

Here is a funny one. Almost half of Americans perceive the Republican Party as having been taken over by racists and the Democratic Party by socialists. The people in each party disagrees with that view, but it is amusing because of the lopsided quality of the accusations. Most Democrats don’t identify as socialist even as they wouldn’t take it as a slur against their good character, whereas Republicans understandably freak out when they get called racists. No one wants to be thought of as a racist, not even most racists these days.

That is because a growing number of Americans identify with the socialist label while an ever shrinking minority still openly embraces racist ideology. As Sarah van Gelder, in looking at other polling, explained the former: “While capitalism is viewed more favorably among all Americans than socialism, the reverse is true among those under 29, African Americans and Hispanics, and those making less than $30,000 a year, according to a Pew poll. And more Americans have a favorable view of socialism than of the Tea Party.” As the older generations die off and the country becomes a majority of racial/ethnic minorities, along with inequality growing worse, net positive view of socialism could become common or even mainstream in the coming decades. Socialism might become the new majority position before too long, in response to the extremism, atrocities, and injustice of corporatist and plutocratic capitalism.

At the very least, socialism is already part of socially acceptable public debate, albeit still contentious for the moment. Yet when it comes to racism, even Donald Trump feels compelled to deny it even while he is throwing out blatantly racist rants. The fact that it has to be hidden behind lies, if open lies, demonstrates how shameful it is perceived. Everyone understands that racism is no longer acceptable (neither politically correct nor morally good), as public opinion has shifted left on social issues. At the same time, public opinion is likewise going left on fiscal issues. Attempting to slander Democrats as socialists and fellow travelers doesn’t quite have the sting it did during the Cold War. Instead, it has had the unintended effect of normalizing ‘socialism’, as a word to be bandied about, no matter the lack of any shared understanding of what it means.

These changes are seen all across the board, as a recent Fox News poll proved, not to mention the hundreds of other polls that have shown the same. To take another key example, from 2015 to 2020, the majority switched from agreeing to disagreeing with the statement that the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life, and for as long as this question has been asked by PRRI this is the first time this response was seen. As the Cold War is growing distant, so is the War on Terror. But once again, Republicans stand alone in clinging to these old fears and animosities of a prior age of propaganda. Most Americans, instead, are focused on more immediate collective problems: economic troubles, COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, etc.

There are some even more damning divides on racial issues. Once a minority position, an emerging majority (56%) has been persuaded that cops killing Blacks is part of a broader pattern, not mere isolated incidents. In 2015, 53% said the opposite was true. Yet, as always, Republicans (79%) and Fox News viewers (90%) cling to their worst hateful prejudices in presently siding with this institutionalized and systemic racist law-and-order, compared to 40% independents and 17% of Democrats. That is a vast gap in public opinion. This further demonstrates the persistent demographic pattern of the reactionary Ferengi as distinct from the progressive majority.

As the rest of America wakes up to this sad state of affairs, the political right has remained steady with their cold hearts unmoved by pleas of injustice and suffering. But it is good to be reminded that they are a polling minority in their callousness toward racial minorities, whereas white Democrats have fallen almost exactly in line with blacks. White Independents, now at 46%, have also edged down into seeing racist-driven killings as a problem; although White Americans in general are hovering right on the divide of public opinion with equal numbers going both directions. As for white Christian groups, most of them are still feeling a bit racist while steadily moving away from the hardcore racism of white evangelical Protestants (70%), their former alignment disappearing with white mainline Protestants now at 57% and white Catholics 58%.

What is the racial and racist divide?

To really get at racism, PRRI divided the polling sample into demographically equal sub-samples. They received questions about protests that were identical except in one way, by mentioning blacks or by not mentioning race at all. This was a brilliant way to get at people’s honest opinion and what is motivating it. Americans in general agree (61%) with the statement “When Americans speak up and protest unfair treatment by the government, it always makes our country better.” But Americans are almost divided (52%) whether such free speech and freedom to assemble also applies to “Black Americans.”

The only two measured demographics, as brought up in the PRRI report, that absolutely believe all Americans should have equal rights are blacks and Democrats, although many of the other demographics still mostly favored giving blacks such rights (the views of other races and ethnicities were not mentioned in the report but might be available in the raw data). The demographics of white conservatives all were strongly opposed to blacks not being violently oppressed and silenced, but to be fair they were less supportive and more divided on protesting in general. Even so, most Americans, no matter their race, are equal in their majority support of the citizen’s right to protest. Once again, conservatives are the minority even among whites.

But of course, America’s racist history rears its ugly head the moment the question is racialized. The variations in demographics, though, are not entirely as expected. As most Americans support protesting on principle, even if only a slim majority holding to the same for blacks, there is nonetheless many white demographics that would defend this right for blacks. There are the college-educated, as always. Gender is the opposite of how typically portrayed. White men (50%) are more supportive of black protests than white women (44%), which might relate to white men being one of the key demographics where Trump saw declining numbers among his voters this past election. White men can’t be blamed for everything. This also indicates that the Ferengi phenomenon is not merely an issue of The Man. The Ferengi do defend white patriarchy, but many of those defenders happen to be women.

Besides conservatives, it’s the white religious, including among mainline Protestants, who are among the most racist on this issue, as their majority support for protests drops to 35-38% when applied to blacks. This reminds one of why most Americans now assume that believing in God is not necessary for being moral. Obviously, the religious faith of these whites has not helped them to see all humans as the children of God with souls that are equal before God. When blacks are at issue, they don’t see souls at all but just the color of their skin.

A similar pattern is seen with White Christian groups being most likely to view Confederate flags and monuments as symbols of Southern pride, rather than racism. It’s strange that racism among whites tracks so closely with religiosity or at least religious identification. This says a lot about religion in America. Indeed, anyone familiar with American history knows that churches and religious leaders played an important role in defending and maintaining slavery, Jim Crow, sundown towns, etc. Yet religion was also central in blacks fighting back against slavery, as seen with the civil rights movement.

The divide over racism within American Christianity is itself racial. The vast majority of black Christians believe in a God who loves all people equally, but this view of God’s universal love is not nearly so strongly held by white Christians. For all of our cynicism, this is a bit shocking. It might not be expected that the racial division would be this stark along religious lines, although it is a tired truism well known in the South that Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week. And this is an area where the Ferengi hold immense sway in creating the sense of a divided and polarized country.

Is there unity in diversity?

Even so, white conservatives and white Christians aren’t completely lost in fear and bigotry. Among Republicans, only 17% claim (or admit?) to prefer the U.S. to be made up of people of western European heritage. That is barely above the national average of 10% in support. Similarly, a mere 18% are bothered by the idea of America where most people are not white. It’s a little bit higher wth Republicans at 27%, but that isn’t too bad. The numbers would have been starkly different not that long ago. The increase of immigrants and the growing number of minorities, not to mention the rise of interracial relationships, is having an impact on changing attitudes. It’s become normalized to show diversity in the media. It’s no longer perceived as strange and scary.

Still, the full and open embracing of diversity remains a divisive issue and the population is about evenly split. That is to say, even though white supremacy is not seen as the solution, Americans hold onto concerns about multiculturalism or whatever it is a symbolic proxy for (breakdown of communities? loss of culture of trust?). As expected, those who more fully embrace diversity are Blacks, other non-whites, the multiracial, and college-educated whites. It should be noted that these are growing demographics and, when combined, already represent the majority. This is one of the many anti-Ferengi alliances.

Gender roles and social norms were another area the PRRI survey looked into. Most Americans disagree (60%), contrary to most Republicans that agree (60%), that society seems to punish men just for acting like men. Republicans also think that society has become too soft and effeminate (63%). Both Democrats and Independents are in line with the majority in opposition to Republicans. The religious are evenly divided on this issue, as are men. That is quite intriguing, though, that half of men have no worries about these conservative or rather reactionary fears of a supposed decline of masculine and male-dominated society. Most women, of course, have little concern about this area of male identity politics.

These kinds of social issues related to egalitarianism tend to sync with political issues, specifically attitudes about democracy. A two-to-one majority says the popular vote, not the electoral college, should determine the presidency. Once again, Independents (68%) side with Democrats (86%), opposite of Republicans (39%), in demanding greater democracy and a more representative government such that all voters are treated as equal no matter where they live. There is some other demographic variance, but still the majority are in favor — whites and non-whites, men and women, young and old. Republicans, especially Fox News viewers, are the outlier in being absolutely opposed to equal rights and full self-governance for all other Americans, no matter where they live or their skin color. The Ferengi are fighting against the democracy that most Americans want, and this has been useful for the reactionary ruling elite in both parties by using the Ferengi to distract from the majority’s demands for fair representation — one of the ways lesser evilism guarantees continuously greater evil. In a society claiming to be a representative democracy, what greater political evil is there than a conspiracy to attack and destroy any possibility of a free society?

The fear of certain demographics being given a seat at the table has been largely motivated by racism and xenophobia. It’s similar to how the ruling elite manipulate many whites to oppose social programs that help whites out of fear that they will also help minorities. This has been slowly changing in mainstream society, a sign of hope. “Majorities of Americans,” reports PRRI, “say that there is a lot of discrimination against Black people (75%), Hispanic people (69%), and Asian people (55%). Far fewer say that there is a lot of discrimination against either Christians (37%) or white people (32%).” Following the pattern, this includes majorities, in this case large majorities, of Independents and Democrats; as opposed to the Ferengi, of course.

Many Republicans (52%) also feel compelled to admit that blacks face major discrimination, even as they hold to self-serving identity politics in believing that white people (57%) and Christians (62%) are the most oppressed people in the world. It’s worse with those Republicans (27-36%) who, in trusting Fox News, don’t think any minorities at all have anything to complain about, in contrast to whites (58%) and Christians (73%) who are experiencing genocide. On a positive note, there is no religious group that believes whites are more discriminated against than blacks, but white evangelical Protestants (66%) do identify as the most victimized Americans. The Ferengi once again stand out as unique and atypical.

It can’t be blamed, however, on whites in general: Not All Whites. Strong and overt white identity politics is largely limited to Republicans, Fox News viewers, and certain Christians, especially white evangelicals. But even combined, these people do not form a majority among whites. Most white Americans disagree with this strong racialized worldview. They may not see the prejudice as applying as much to Asians (47%), but most of them do very much think it is undeniable among Hispanics (61%) and blacks (67%), whereas it’s not so much for Christians (38%) and whites (39%). So, on this issue, maybe about one third of all white Americans are part of the Ferengi or in alignment with the Ferengi.

Victimhood politics holds little merit with the typical white. The same goes across the education spectrum, as both those with and without a college degree agree with other whites, if to varying degrees. As for the majority of minorities, they are maintaing solidarity in agreeing they all experience more prejudice as compared to whites and Christians. The last part stands out considering non-whites have higher religiosity rates than whites, and yet the prejudice they experience is not identified with their religion. That makes sense. No police officer ever killed a black guy because he was Christian and no ICE agent ever deported a Hispanic because they were too religious.

This kind of thing is mostly a non-issue at this point. Besides the standard ultra-right demographics, whites don’t feel threatened by minorities and diversity. It’s a minority of white Americans (40%), including white Americans without a four-year college degree (46%), that thinks that increasing diversity always comes at a cost to whites. As with a third of Americans (34%), only 35% of Independents and 17% of Democrats agree with this assessment of racial politics as a zero-sum game. If the Ferengi view of American society ever was the moral majority, which is highly questionable, it certainly no longer is and hasn’t been for a long time.

It should be noted that as early as the 1980s, during the Golden Age of the Reagan Republicans, it was known that the reactionary right-wing was not a majority, moral or otherwise. In fact, the very concept of a “moral majority” was openly advocated and promoted as a defense against majoritarian rule and against democracy in general. Bill Moyers, in an interview with David Daley (Republicans Admit They Lose When Elections Are Fair and Free), said that,

I agreed with the Republican strategist, Ben Ginsberg, who said that David Daley has exposed, “The strategy of shadowy, but thus far, legal hacking, splicing, and dicing of congressional districts to secure Republican domination, and in turn, subvert the will of the American voter.”

That’s a Republican saying that. Admitting that gerrymandering was crucial to the Republican party’s strategy of undermining democracy. Some people were shocked, David. But I wasn’t. And I wanna take a step back here, I mean, back to 1980.

I was reporting for a documentary on the founding of the Moral Majority. Thousands of religious conservatives gathered in Dallas, Texas, to launch what is now the most influential base of the Republican party. Ronald Reagan running for the Republican nomination, spoke to them.

And one of the most influential Republicans of the past 60 years was there. Paul Weyrich was his name — right-wing Catholic, brilliant strategist, outspoken partisan [who] founded the Heritage Foundation, founded the Moral Majority, on and on and on. He really was an architect of the Republican domination today. Here’s a brief excerpt of what he said. It brought cheers from  those religious conservatives.

Paul Weyrich: “Now many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome — good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

This wasn’t anything new, not even in the 1980s. Ronald Reagan helped make conservatism respectable again, but he didn’t do it by winning majority support for hard right issues. His victory was rhetorical, if highly effective following the defanging of the once powerful policitical left by corporate media and FBI’s COINTELPRO. The conservative rule he brought was an elitism in defiance of the American people. Republicans were able to take advantage of racist dog whistle politics and covert class war to divide the voting public, even though the American majority was in many ways even more progressive than it is now. Support for extremely high taxes was so strong that it was barely part of public debate prior to that shift.

Republican presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower to Richard Nixon, didn’t dare to speak a negative word about liberalism. It was consensus among the majority in both parties that liberalism was how governments should be run. Reagan switched this around by incorporating a progressive attitude and co-opting liberal rhetoric for the purpose of conservative ends. He couldn’t have won the election by having been honest with the American people, as they fundamentally didn’t want what he was selling.

The strategy was devious (Starve the Beast, Two Santa Claus theory, Wirthlin Effect, etc), in weaponizing symbolic ideology that was divorced from operational ideology (Poll Answers, Stated Beliefs, Ideological Labels) — that is to say rhetoric usurpsed reality and so narrative framing, not public policy, became the driving force of American politics. It no longer mattered what most Americans wanted, and that became even more true with the rise of dark money and oligopolistic corporate media. The winning narrative became a potent, if toxic, identity politics — specifically white grievance and victimhood made potent through an old racist, elitist, and supremacist narrative of ethnonationalism, xenophobia, and class anxiety.

This rhetoric of reactionary backlash and right-wing populism, combined with anti-democratic tactics (voter role purges, precinct closures, gerrymandering, racist legal system that eliminates voting rights, etc), simultaneously inspired and empowered a specific minority, the Ferenghi, while demoralizing and disenfranchizing not only all other minorities (Blacks, Latinxs, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Muslims, Buddhists, Catholics, social justice Christians, progressive Evangelicals, mainstream Protestants, democratic socialists, Marxists, anarchosyndicalists, etc) but also and, more importantly, the majority of potential voters. When the political right talks about protecting the minority against the mobocracy of majority oppression, they’re only referring to one specific minority, the demographic overlap of viewers who trust Fox News, white Evangelicals, and partisan Republican voters — basically, a specific segment of mostly older whites raised on white privilege and rabid Cold War propaganda that they internalized as the core of their identity.

How bad is inequality?

Where the real debate is happening is whether racial inequality is tightly linked to economic inequality. Is a historical legacy of institutionalized and systemic racism, specifically the transgenerational effects of slavery and discrimination, still contributing to a lack of economic opportunities for blacks? Is it holding many of them back from being able to work their way out of the lower class? Americans in the past slightly leaned to answering ‘no’, but are now almost evenly split. With the shift continuing, the full acknowledgement of ongoing racial prejudice and oppression will be the majority position in the near future.

As with other issues, Republicans, Fox News viewers, and white Christians (i.e., the Ferengi) think blacks are whiny snowflakes who need to get over it. These are the same people who think blacks shouldn’t be allowed to protest and so many of these concern trolls have started counter-protests to complain about blacks acting like they are equal to others in demanding to be treated as such. Independents did side more with Republicans in the past (62%, 2015), but have since (46%) moved toward Democrats (20%) with Democrats having likewise moved further left since five years ago (39%).

The same movement toward the ‘left’ has been happening with whites overall in following the example of Independents. So, most whites are forming a consensus with non-whites, which leaves the Ferengi ever more stranded in isolated extremism. Like the pressure building along a faultline, the realignment of public opinion will fully set into a new position with seismic tremors followed by a political earthquake. Even though building up slowly over generations and centuries, the final result will feel sudden and dramatic. The response by the Faceless Men will be ever more reactionary, maybe even violent. We will probably go through a period of terrorism and assassinations before it settles back down into a new perceived social norm.

Where is the American public heading?

Most Americans are going left on most issues like this while a small minority on the right is often going further right, particularly about identity politics. A polarization is happening but it’s between a growing majority on the left and a shrinking minority on the right that is ever more isolated and radicalized, much of it having to do with who is and who is not caught in the right-wing media bubble and the political outrage machine. About continuing racial biases and disparities, it’s also polarization within religion with non-white Christians, non-Christians, and the religiously unaffiliated being in opposition to white Christians, particularly white evangelicals.

Now for a really divisive set of issues look at affirmative action and reparations. Slim but growing majorities support efforts to remedy racial bias and historical legacies in education and employment. It splits up as most people would expect with partisans on the two extreme ends and Independents closer to the middle. Also, blacks and Hispanics strongly favor such policies and practices, whereas whites are still slightly holding back their support but making strides in that direction. Quite likely, in the next decade if trends continue, the demand to help the disadvantaged and disenfranchised will finally become a majority position for whites and a strong majority for the entire American public. That is to say a Scandinavian-style social democracy will become more probable, although far from a predetermined outcome.

That brings us to another oft racialized issue, that of immigration. Most people think of it as a polarized topic in how it is used as a political football by politicians and gets used in dog whistle politics, but the reality is there is almost unanimous agreement across all of society. Even among Republicans, a large majority views immigrants as hardworking (79%) and as having strong family values (76%), along with a significant number acknowledging that immigrants make an effort to learn English (38%). The positive attitude toward immigrants is stronger among other demographics. Only a tiny minority disagrees.

Generally speaking, Americans don’t see immigrants as a problem. They aren’t perceived as a cause of crime or disease in communities. Although divided in other areas involving immigration issues, there still isn’t an overwhelming majority who are drawn to scapegoat this population. Still, it is true that there is vociferous debate about whether or not immigrants burden local social services and compete for jobs, about which Americans are divided down the middle. As before, it’s only Republicans with a clearly negative view of immigrants. Among Democrats and Independents, it’s some combination of positive and neutral, depending on what is being asked about.

Other than the Ferengi demographic of Republicans (57%), specifically those who trust Fox News (67%), few Americans (31%), Independents (28%) or Democrats (15%), and few whites (36%), Hispanics (24%) or blacks (24%) would agree that “immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background.” Only 51% of largely non-Ferengi Republicans who don’t trust Fox News go along with those who do trust it, and that is considering most Republicans who distrust Fox News probably have left the party at this point. It’s as much a media divide as anything else, between Fox News viewers and everyone else. But the divide probably would also be seen between white evangelicals and all others.

[To be fair, there are also surprising divides emerging within demographics such as a significant minority of Hispanics having voted for Donald Trump (Natalie Jackson, Religion Divides Hispanic Opinion in the U.S., PRRI report). These intra-demographic divergent vote might have  been larger in the second election. And it might have been partly motivated  by his tough-on-immigration stance.]

It goes on and on. Most Americans, including majorities of Americans in every major demographic mentioned but excluding Republicans and Fox News viewers (and possibly excludng white evangelicals), oppose building a border wall between the United States and Mexico (57%), oppose passing a law to prevent refugees from entering the country (62%), support immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children (i.e., Dreamers) to gain legal resident status (66%), and support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (64%).

On the last issue of a pathway to citizenship, Republicans distrusting Fox News support it and all religious groups also support it, and among opponents of citizenship there are those who would still support permanent residency status (16%). Most Americans, even including most Republicans with the exception of Fox News viewers, along with every religious group, oppose an immigration border policy that separates children from their parents and charges parents as criminals (76%). This is an issue that is a bit more divided for the Ferengi with many Republicans and white evangelicals siding with the majority. The dividing line is not conservatives vs liberals, not right vs left, but Fox News viewers vs all others. Fox News, quickly being replaced by Newsmax, is the dark beating heart of the most extreme element within the reactionary Ferengi.

What is wrong and what irrelevant?

Let’s wrap this up. Most Americans across most demographics agree that something is amiss in American society and governance, some kind of failure or corruption or decline, but this has not made them entirely cynical and hopeless. The majority does want the government to do more, as a Fox News poll shows, in such a way that would actually benefit the public good and help everyday Americans. This faith in a government that could and should do right by the American people remains steady, despite the fact that polls show the majority no longer trusts big government, along with no longer trusting big biz and big media.

The thing is they want a government in which to place their trust with politicians who will honestly and fairly represent them. American idealism may be on life support, but it’s still hanging on with tenacity. This faith in good governance toward the public good includes guaranteeing all Americans access to affordable childcare (83%), guaranteeing all Americans a minimum income (70%), making college tuition-free at public institutions (63%), and a “Medicare for All” plan that would replace private health insurance with government-backed health insurance coverage for all Americans (62%). This is what Americans want and have wanted for a quite a while, much of this public support having developed during earlier administrations.

It’s far from limited to a supposed radical left-wing fringe. Along with Democrats and Independents, Republicans support guaranteeing all Americans access to affordable childcare (95%, 85%, and 71%, respectively) and guaranteeing all Americans a minimum income (88%, 69%, and 52%, respectively). But Republicans are mixed in what they support and what they oppose, and there is that everpresent contrarian thorn in the side of the American public, that of Ferengi Republicans under the sway of Fox News who always take the opposing position. It’s not that the Ferengi are more opposed to government but, rather, opposed to democratic governance. Along with being reactionaries, they are hardcore right-wing authoritarians.

Most Americans, other than Ferengis, have a common vision of the kind of society they want to live in and what they consider important. There is a strong sense that climate change poses a threat that people fear will cause personal harm to themselves, their families, and communities (58%). Other polls show that most Americans want government to do more with stronger environmental regulations and protections. This isn’t abstract culture war bullshit but concrete threats in the real world and Americans fully appreciate what this could mean as it gets worse. Democrats and Independents of all races are in agreement. Many Republicans, outside of the Ferengi fringe, likewise agree. The same presumably would be true among self-identified conservatives, as seen in other data.

For many other issues, Americans show fairly strong and broad support. This is seen with once supposedly divisive culture war issue like abortion (60%), which is seen as perfectly fine even among majorities of the religious, the fundies aside. Most Americans think it should be legal in all or most cases. Many polls show this, including from Fox News — an ironic piece of data considering Fox News so heavily pushes this issue onto their viewers. The same goes for LGBTQ rights. The majority, including among the religious, is on board with allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally (70%) and in enacting laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing (83%). In fact, the American majority were in favor of same sex marriage years before even the DNC elite came out publicly in support, demonstrating it isn’t a liberal elite leading the way or manipulating the masses with cultural Marxism or whatever other conspiracy fear-mongering that demagogues and social dominators obsess about in their rhetorical bullshit.

Here is an important point. These issues are largely moot in the American mind, whatever may have been the case last century. Few think there is anything meaningful left to be debated. Basic tolerance and equality, rights and protections are central to democracy and most Americans want democracy. Hence, culture war issues are now non-issues. Yet somehow they are resurrected from the dead by a corporate media and political elite that trot them out on a regular basis, presumably as a distraction from the issues Americans actually do worry about. As far as the average American is concerned, such issues don’t determine their vote nor much affect their life. So, just shut the fuck up about it. Do what the American people want, quit being authoritarian assholes, and let’s move onto what really matters.

And what might we conclude?

Here is a takeaway point, as shown with this and so many other polls/surveys. We Americans are not a divided people. We are not fundamentally polarized within the larger population or rather the only polarization involves the progressive majority on one side and the reactionary fringe manipulated by the authoritarian elite on the other. Most Americans agree about most things, but this is a silenced and suppressed moral majority. The American people want some combination of repesentative democracy and self-goverance, probably for the very reason that obviously it is lacking. Most of what politicians do is severely out of alignment with what most Americans support and value, and political elites seem conveniently oblivious to this self-serving corruption or else cynically antagonistic to it.

The ruling elite do not represent us. This has been proven beyond any doubt. See: Larry M. Bartels, Unequal Democracy; Martin Gilens, Affluence and Influence; Martin Gilens & Benjamin I. Page, Democracy in America?; Lawrence R. Jacobs & Benjamin I. Page, Who Influences U.S. Foreign Policy?; Jarron Bowman, Do the Affluent Override Average Americans?; Matt Grossmann & Zuhaib Mahmood, How the Rich Rule in American Foreign Policy; Shawn McGuire & Charles Delahunt, Predicting United States Policy Outcomes with Random Forests; Patrick Flavin, State Campaign Finance Laws and the Equality of Political Representation; etc. Yet the political theater of partisanship is trotted out each election for yet more lesser-evil voting.

How did it get this way? Consider the most important point. There is a single demographic, as repeatedly shown above, that is consistently far right on every issue and consistently in disagreement with the rest of the population. That demographic is partisan Republicans who are indoctrinated by Fox News as aligned with a rabid religious right of white evangelicals (Trumpism After Trump? How Fox News Structures Republican Attitudes, PRRI report). These Ferengi aren’t like the audiences of other corporate media. The rise of Fox News and right-wing talk radio was an entirely new phenomenon in history. It is an outrage machine that is highly effective in altering opinion, perception, and identity (see “The Brainwashing of My Dad”, 2015 documentary).

Yet no matter how large is this audience, Republican viewers of Fox News are a small percentage of the total population, as Fox News has proven with their own polling in showing how far left is the American majority. So, why does this miniscule minoriy have such an outsized influence in being treated as equal to the vast majority on the opposite side of public opinion? And why do the supposed ‘liberal’ Democrats and the supposed ‘liberal’ media figures accept this framing of false equivalency that silences not only most Americans in general but also most Democrats, Independents, and those portrayed on the political ‘left’? Why does all of the corporate media play along with this false narrative that is implemented as social control in disenfranchising the majority?

However we answer that question, just for a moment imagine what the United States would be like without reactionary media, without endless outrage and fear-mongering. Imagine if Fox News politics wasn’t the dominant model of propaganda for an oligarchic rule. Imagine if all of the corporate media was broken up to the extent that most media was once again locally owned and operated. Imagine if all big money was removed from politics, all legal bribery was made illegal, all corporate lobbyists were frozen out of public decision-making. Imagine if public opinion mattered, if the majority wasn’t silenced and suppressed, if government actually represented the American People. Otherwise, what is the point of all this public polling? If and when we the American public realize we are the majority and far to the left of the elite, then what? What are we waiting for?

* * *

Weekly Roundup: Hunter Biden Explained, Pope and Civil Unions, and the American Values Survey
by Bradley Onishi and Daniel Miller

America the exceptional: Why a majority of Americans no longer believe this is true
by Jennifer Graham

New Survey Shows The ‘Only Topic That Most Americans Agree On’
by Gina Ciliberto

Republicans Long for the 1950s, Democrats Crave Change
by Susan Milligan

The White Elephants In The Room
hosted by Gene Demby

Poll: White evangelicals are religious outliers on every issue of concern to voters
by Yonat Shimron

For many white evangelicals, the Supreme Court makeup solidifies their support for President Trump
by JP Keenan and Ivan Pereira

Trump’s election support from evangelicals shows we’re the biggest obstacle to racial justice
by Robert P. Jones

Trump’s racist appeals powered a White evangelical tsunami
by Dana Milibank

Questions raised about White evangelicals, Trump & racism
by Doug Thompson

What white Christian support for Trump reveals about systemic racism
by Robert P. Jones

We Need to Talk About White “Evangelicals”
by Crystal Holmes

Why so many Hispanics voted for Trump and other misunderstandings of America’s diversity
by Mark Wingfield

I’m a Transgender American. My Rights Are Not a Wedge Issue | Opinion
by Nicholas Talbott

Good News: Most Non-Evangelical Americans Support a Broad Slate of LGBTQ Rights
by Val Wilde

Gay marriage support rises to new high in poll — with half of Republicans now in favor
by Summer Lin

Support for gay marriage reaches all-time high, survey finds
by Dan Averie

70% of Americans support same-sex marriage — a new high — a new survey finds
by Scottie Andrew

Highest ever level of support for same-sex marriage recorded in new national poll
by Cameron Jenkins

Most Americans want protections for LGBTQ people. Biden could finally make that happen
by Marco della Cava

What to do about America’s great racial divide
by Jennifer Rubin

How Racist Are Republicans? Very.
by Harold Meyerson

Biden’s Conservatism

I wouldn’t necessarily argue about Joe Biden’s campaign promises or anyone else’s campaign promises, not even those of Donald Trump. But what does concern me is the actual political record of each individual. And in the case of Biden on Social Security, it’s a very mixed and not reassuring political history. That shouldn’t be dismissed lightly nor rationalized away with nice-sounding rhetoric. 

That said, what the Democratic Party does during the next administration is not limited to Biden, as there could be other political actors and the public putting pressure the DNC elite. Even if Biden at this point still wanted to cut Social Security, he would have a hard time accomplishing this end, even with bipartisan support, because of the extreme unpopularity of doing so. I’m sure someone would pull him to the side and explain to him that Social Security shouldn’t be touched, but in the past he took pride in ignoring that warning by grabbing hold of that third rail. He could get sneaky about cuts as he did in the past.

His decades of interest and willingness toward cutting Social Security remains a concern, not only Social Security but also Medicare, Medicaid, veterans benefits, etc — everything will be on the table, he said in the past to emphasize this point. Biden and other corporatist Democrats will have to be watched carefully in the coming years. Fiscal hawks like Biden might go slightly left, if we force them to do so, but that is far from guaranteed. We have almost no way to force him to do anything, other than by threatening with protests, riots, and revolts.

Behind the scenes, the corporatist Democrats will find ways to work with corporatists Republicans, and the corporate media probably won’t report on it or else will spin a narrative to hide the truth. This means we’ll need to watch the alternative media closely to stay informed. That is a depressing thought. I’d rather leaders who would do the right thing on their own without constant threat and scrutiny from the public, but the sad fact is Biden is not such a leader. 

Even so, I understand the hope of leftists that the Biden administration could be pulled left, however naive is this expectation. There is nothing in the recent history of the Democratic Party to cause one to think it’s likely. Let’s take it as an interesting experiment. And I’d love to be proven wrong. As one critc put it, if Biden suddenly becomes the next FDR, I’ll become a Biden Bro cheering him on. But if I’m proven right, will the loyal Democratic partisans ever admit to once again failing? Of course not. It will be lesser evilism again next election leading to ever greater evil each time. That is how we ended up here. 

Think about Biden’s kind of politics. Back in the 1980s, he was sometimes to the right of Ronald Reagan on fiscal issues, such as about cutting Social Security. Biden was one of the strongest supporters of GOP policy during that time, from cutting taxes on the rich to increasing military spending that created our present permanent national debt, not to mention his advocacy of the balanced budget amendment which was code for slashing everything that helped Americans. 

By the way, the permanent debt was created on purpose. It was part of the Starve the Beast Strategy, combined with the Two Santa Claus Theory. Reaganonomics was a continuation of Jimmy Carter’s austerity politics, but the Republicans realized how unpopular it was under the Carter admistration. So, they sought to force austerity and cuts to social programs in an indirect way. The idea was that by creating a massive national debt it would create a financial crisis, but this failed and the debt growing. And no matter how much they cut social programs and taxes on the rich, as also happened under Bill Clinton, there was somehow always more money for big biz subsidies and more war.

Obviously, there is nothing about cutting taxes while increasing spending that is fiscally responsible, but that wasn’t the purpose. They were hoping to dismantle the New Deal and Biden was all on board. As a Reagan conservative, it was Democrats like Biden who ensured Reagan had a conservative majority, even when he didn’t have a Republican majority. Biden remained friendly with Republicans and kept working with them. He supported the far right 1998 Republican budget, at a time when the GOP were well on their way toward ever greater extremism. 

This has continued into recent politics. The Obama/Biden administration for several years kept trying to cut Social Security by ensuring payments wouldn’t keep up with US inflation, but the Tea Partiers in power were too dogmatic to accept the lopsided deal in their favor. And it goes on and on. There are plenty of signs that Biden has not changed his stripes. A 40 year long political record speaks loudly, no matter what rhetoric he has thrown out to gain votes and win the electiion. Don’t be distracted by his words. Look to his actions.

One of Biden’s top campaign advisors is Bruce Reed who is a far right economic conservative. Reed is being made the Head of the Office of Management and Budget, a powerful position. Put this in context. Reed ran the commission that pushed for Social Security cuts, something he has been pushing since the 1990s. This isn’t the only fiscal hawk, along with other kinds of right-wingers (war hawks, corporate lobbyists, anti-environmentlists, etc), that is being brought into the Biden administration. There is Janet Yellen, Antony Blinken, Cedric Richmond, etc.

Putting fiscal hawks and opponents of Social Security into power is probably not what a president does if they genuinely are seeking to protect, strengthen, and expand Social Security. Biden does not appear to be signalling that he will allow himself or his administration to be pushed left — quite the opposite. Why expect someone like Biden to suddenly reverse the course of his political career, no matter what he claims to get votes?

Biden is the spirit of the Clinton Democrats or what used to be called New Democrats, what now is a moderate Republican (the reason he gained support from conservative Republicans like Bill Kristol). He was promoting Third Way politics and triangulation before there was a name for it, before the Clintons were in Washington. This has meant pushing right while punching left. He built his career on demanding fiscal responsibility by cutting benefits to the average person while ensuring big spending continues for wars, corporate subsidies, bank bailouts, etc.

We the public will have to go to heroic efforts in trying to even nudge Biden an inch to the left (at least on economic issues) or simply keep him from going further right, as he likes to do, by working with Republicans to get things done. That is what centrism meant to Biden in the past. He likes to get things done, particularly when the left doesn’t like what he gets done. He has stated in no uncertain terms that he hates the left and prides himself on beating the ‘socialists’, what used to be considered standard liberalism and progressivism.

To be fair, he might throw a few bones to the left on social issues.

* * *

Videos about Social Security (the first few are footage of Biden over the decades):

Joe Biden’s Decades of Trying to Cut Social Security and Medicare
Biden Calls for Cuts to Social SecurityJoe Biden Brags about Trying to Cut Medicare, Social Security, & More while Bernie Defends ThemBiden’s Record on Social Security
Biden Can’t Outrun His Social Security RecordBiden Can’t Stop Lying About His Social Security RecordBernie Relentlessly HAMMERS Biden’s Social Security LiesHuff Post Reporter: Biden’s documented history of trying to cut social securityEven Biden’s Staff DISTRUSTS His Ability To Discuss Social SecurityDavid Sirota: Biden’s Reported Budget Pick Tried To CUT Social SecurityBernie CALLS OUT Joe Biden’s Huge Lies On Social SecurityBiden Lies Lies Lies About His Social Security Record
Joe Biden Would Go After Social SecurityDear Joe Biden’s Older Supporters, He Wants to Cut YOUR Social Security!Did Biden Endorse Cutting Social Security and Medicare? ft. Brandon Sutton (TMBS 91)Joe Biden Keeps Trying to Cut Social SecurityJoe Biden’s Indefensible Record

Also, see these videos and articles about Biden picks for his administration, as an early sign of which direction he will go:

Saagar Enjeti: Biden’s Cabinet Is FULL Of Deficit Hawks, War Lovers and GlobalistsBiden’s Cabinet A Who’s Who Of Corrupt Corporate Lobbyists
Joe Biden Punches Bernie Sanders Square In The Balls With Cabinet Appointments.
Under a Biden Administration Bush-era Neoconservatives Own the Democratic Party. Not the “far left”

It seems Joe Biden wants Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in the Senate, not his Cabinet

Snubbing both Warren and Sanders for moderates won’t please the left-most wing of the party, especially when Biden’s transition team reportedly seems more interested in courting Republicans than progressives. During the NBC interview, Biden said he wasn’t opposed to nominating a Republican who voted for President Donald Trump to his administration, but that political watchers shouldn’t expect that kind of announcement.”

Joe Biden Is Freezing Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren Out of His Cabinet

“Though the summer months elicited a flurry of frenzied speculation about an ambitious liberal agenda on the near horizon, one only needed to take a cursory glance at Biden’s Wall Street donors, senior advisers, and public rhetoric to see what the character of his administration would almost certainly be. The appointment of figures from the likes of Uber, Lyft, Amazon, and JPMorgan to his transition team certainly does little to alter the general impression.

“Needless to say, the emerging character of the Democratic administration that will take office next year continues to give lie to the fable of a transformative, FDR-like agenda primary-fatigued liberals were so reassuringly offered throughout the late spring and summer. At this early stage, Biden could be using his transition to set the stage for a bullish one hundred days beginning in January. Instead, he’s surrounding himself with corporate operatives and freezing the Left out of his cabinet.”

Articles and quotes about Social Security cuts:

Social Security and Medicare Are Not Safe With Joe Biden

Did Biden Twice Vote To Tax Social Security While in the Senate?

“What’s True: While serving as a U.S. senator representing Delaware, Joe Biden voted for two pieces of legislation — once in 1983 and once in 1993 — that resulted in taxing some Social Security income of some recipients.

How Corporate Media ‘Factchecked’ Biden’s Calls for Social Security Cuts Into Oblivion

“Whatever clever dodges politicians propose for cutting Social Security, whether through “raising the retirement age,” “chained CPI” or “freezing” spending, it’s important for media outlets to cut through the jargon and inform citizens by accurately labeling what they want to impose on the US’s most successful anti-poverty program: cuts. Otherwise, these “guides” to Social Security debates should be understood by readers as apologies for austerity (Extra!, 5/99).”

Did Joe Biden Just Deny Calling for Social Security Cuts? There are videos of it.

Joe Biden, 1984 (Senate):

“So, when those of my friends in the Democratic and Republican Party say to me, ‘How do you expect me to vote for your proposal? Does it not freeze Social Security COLAs for one year? Are we not saying there will be no cost-of-living increases for one year?’ The answer to that is ‘Yes, that is what I am saying.'”

“Within the next 12 to 18 months this country will face an economic and political crisis of extraordinary proportions if Congress refuses to take decisive action on the deficits that we face.”

Joe Biden, 1995 (Senate):

“When I introduced the budget freeze years ago, the liberals in my party said, “It’s an awful thing you’re doing, Joe. You are… All the programs we care about, you’re freezing them. Money for the blind, the disabled, education…” And so on. And my argument then is the one I make now, which is the strongest, most compelling reason to be for this Bu…this amendment, or an amendment. And that is that, if we don’t do that, all the things I care most about are going to be gone.”

“I mean whatever happened to that old conservative discipline about paying for what you spend?”

“I’m up for re-election this year and I’m going to remind everybody what I did. At home, which is going to cost me politically. I… When I argued if we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security as well!I meant Medicare and Medicaid! I meant veterans’ benefits. I meant every single solitary thing in the government.And I not only tried it once, I tried it twice, I tried it a third time and I tried it a fourth time.

I introduced the Balanced Budget Amendment in 1984! It got nowhere. I’m one of those Democrats who voted for the Constitutional amendment to balance the budget. I introduced it on four occasions. Four occasions, entire plans to balance the budget, knowing I’m not president, and I’m not the leader. But for illustrative purposes. I tried with Senator Grassley back in the ’80s to freeze all government spending, including Social Security. Including everything.”

Joe Biden, 1988:

I introduced an amendment, notwithstanding my quote liberal credentials, of freezing the federal budget, absolute freeze. I did it for a simple reason: I sat on the Budget Committee for 11 years. And I’d find the same thing occur every time. We’d start off with grandiose ideas of how we’re going to cut the budget. We would never touch entitlements, we would never touch the defense budget, and we couldn’t touch the interest on the debt. Which meant that out of a trillion-dollar budget, that left us only $156 billion And what we would do each year is we would go out and cut out education, food stamps, Head Start, [welfare] payments, on down the line, everything that I cared about got cut, because at the very end, we’d say, ‘Well, we’ve gotta make some cuts.’ And that would be the path of least resistance.”

Joe Biden, 1995:

I am a Democrat that voted for the constitutional amendment to balance the budget. I have introduced on four occasions — four occasions — entire plans to balance a budget. I tried with Senator Grassley back in the 1980s to freeze all government spending, including Social Security, including everything.”

When I introduced my budget freeze proposal years ago, the liberals of my party said, ‘It’s an awful thing you are doing, Joe. All the programs we care about, you are freezing them — money for the blind, the disabled, education and so on. My argument then is one I make now, which is the strongest, most compelling reason to be for this amendment — or an amendment — that if we do not do that, all the things I care most about are going to be gone — gone.”

Joe Biden, 2007 (Meet the Press interview):

Tim Russert: “Senator, we have a deficit. We have Social Security and Medicare looming. The number of people on Social Security and Medicare is now 40 million people. It’s going to be 80 million in 15 years. Would you consider looking at those programs, age of eligibility, cost of living, put it all on the table?

Joe Biden: “The answer is absolutely. […] Social Security’s not the hard one to solve. Medicare, that is the gorilla in the room, and you’ve got to put all of it on the table.

Joe Biden, 2007 (Iowa’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner):

The American people know we have to fix Social Security. They know we can’t grow our way to a solution. They know we’re going to have to make some tough decisions. They’re ready to make those decisions. They’re ready to step up. We have to be ready to straightforwardly tell them what we’re about to do.”

Joe Biden, 2018:

“Paul Ryan was correct when he did the tax code. What’s the first thing he decided we had to go after? Social Security and Medicare. We need to do something about Social Security and Medicare. That’s the only way you can find room to pay for it.”

FACT CHECK: JOE BIDEN HAS ADVOCATED CUTTING SOCIAL SECURITY FOR 40 YEARS

BIDEN’S FIXATION on cutting Social Security dates back to the Reagan era. One of Ronald Reagan’s first major moves as president was to implement a mammoth tax cut, tilted toward the wealthy, and to increase defense spending. Biden, a Delaware senator at the time, supported both moves. The heightened spending and reduced revenue focused public attention on the debt and deficit, giving fuel to a push for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

In the midst of that debate, Biden teamed up with Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley to call for a freeze on federal spending, and insisted on including Social Security in that freeze, even as the Reagan administration fought to protect the program from cuts. It was part of the Democratic approach at the time not just to match Republicans, but to get to their right at times as well, as Biden also did on criminal justice policy. […]

“In 2014, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said at a conservative event that Biden had privately told him he was supporting of raising the retirement age and means-testing Social Security benefits. “I asked the vice president, don’t we have to raise the age? Wouldn’t means-testing and raising the age solve the problem?” Paul recounted, with Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee on stage, adding that Biden said, “Yes in private, but will not say it in public.” Paul hadn’t been paying close enough attention.”

PolitiFact Wrongly Lets Biden Off the Hook: The Truth About Social Security Cuts

In the speech, Biden says, “we need to do something about Social Security and Medicare” and that Social Security “needs adjustments.” Biden did not elaborate on what these “adjustments” were, but a look at his long history on Social Security is telling.
“In the 1980s, Biden sponsored a plan to freeze all federal spending, including Social Security. In the 1990s, Biden was a leading supporter of a balanced budget amendment, a policy that the Center for American Progress and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (two center-left think tanks who are hardly in the tank for Bernie Sanders) agree would be a catastrophe for Social Security.

“More recently, Biden led “grand bargain” negotiations with Republicans during his time as vice president. This “grand bargain” would have given Republicans structural, permanent cuts to Social Security in return for tax increases on the wealthy that would be rolled back as soon as a Republican president got elected to office.

“Time and time again, Biden kept coming back to the negotiating table, insisting that Republicans were dealing in good faith. Ultimately, the grand bargain fell through only because of hardline House Republicans refusing to make even an incredibly lopsided deal. Biden was fully prepared to make a deal that included Social Security cuts, including reducing future cost-of-living increases by implementing a chained CPI.

When Washington politicians talk about Social Security cuts, they almost always use coded language, saying that they want to “change,” “adjust,” or even “save” the program. That’s because cutting Social Security is incredibly unpopular with voters of all political stripes. When corporate-friendly politicians like Biden use those words, they are trying to signal to elite media and billionaire donors that they are “very serious people” who are open to cutting Social Security benefits, without giving away the game to voters.”

Biden’s Advocacy for Social Security Cuts Has Had Real Consequences

Going back to 1984, Biden has expressed interest in deals that would cut Social Security. He proposed freezing Social Security spending and periodically highlighted that desire; he voted for a balanced-budget amendment even after failing to shield Social Security from it; and he demanded that Social Security be “put on the table” during his last presidential run. He associates himself with a crowd known for foregrounding deficit concerns and fully willing to make “tough choices” on earned benefits like Social Security. Bruce Reed, Biden’s vice presidential chief of staff from 2011 to 2013 and a top campaign aide, was executive director of the Bowles-Simpson commission, which pursued deficit reduction and proposed increases in the retirement age.

“As a coup de grace, in 2012 and 2013 then-Vice President Biden helped lead a publicly advocated scheme to reduce future Social Security benefits as part of a “grand bargain” with Republicans. This cut did not reflect any of President Obama’s campaign promises, but it became part of a negotiation while in office—precisely the fear that liberals have with Biden, that he will revert back to dealmaking with Republicans that sells out core Democratic principles.

“Specifically, Obama-Biden sought to swap out the annual cost-of-living adjustment used to calculate benefits with the so-called “chained CPI,” which uses the concept of substitution. If the price of beef spikes, you could purchase lower-cost chicken instead to stay within your budget. This subsequently grows the inflation index more slowly than other government measures.

“Of course, no real substitute exists for the main drivers of elderly people’s budgets, namely housing, medical care, and prescription drugs, all of which typically rise faster than inflation. You can’t really substitute ham for arthritis medication. There’s a specific inflation calculation for the elderly, which takes this cohort’s higher costs into account, but for some reason it’s not used for Social Security benefits.

“The net effect of chained CPI would have been a Social Security benefit cut, which only makes sense if you think seniors get too sweet a deal with their $1,461 a month in average benefits. The average worker retiring at 65 would have seen a $650 reduction in benefits by age 75, and then $1,130 by age 85, according to economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Calling this a “more accurate” calculation of inflation masks the end goal of reducing future benefits (by about $230 billion over a decade, according to 2013 figures) and saving money within the system. […]

Chained CPI only dates back to 2002. It was an obscure concept mostly favored by deficit hawks and conservative ideologues until the Obama administration elevated itThe Obama-Biden proposal gave chained CPI the legitimacy needed for future administrations to implement it. It was not benign, not just a pose to show how extreme Republicans were. It was not just an ephemeral trial balloon in one negotiation in 2013. It has had long-lasting consequences for millions of Americans. And the vice president of the administration that set the trip wire causing chained CPI’s growth should be held accountable for his actions.