The Elite Know What Makes Democracy Work

“Nowhere has democracy ever worked well without a great measure of local self-government.” ~Friedrich A. Hayek

That might have been one of the truest statements ever made by Hayek. Yet he didn’t state this with the assumption that, therefore, we the public should seek nor that the ruling elite like him should allow for “a great measure of local self-government.” Instead, he supported authoritarian regimes such as that of Augusto Pinochet.

He believed that democracy should be sacrificed every single time, even if it required violent oppression and mass death, in order to ensure the dominance of capitalism, that is to say of plutocratic corporatism and cronyism. He understood the precise conditions under which democracy thrives and he feared it.

Freedom must be prevented at all costs, according to his vision, at least freedom of everyone other than the capitalist class in a highly unequal society where the few horde the concentrated wealth. Our present lack of democracy isn’t for a lack of understanding democracy. Those seeking to destroy democracy understand full well what they’re doing.

Think about the next time you hear a self-proclaimed expert, not limited to the political right (Democratic professional politicians are among the worst), warns against too much democratic populism, warns against the mob — advising instead for lesser evilism, paternalistic moderation, centrism of an Overton window shifted far right. They are not defending your freedom but their own power, privilege, and profit.

Those like Hayek hoped to prevent democracy. They envisioned an authoritariasm of totalitarian proportions, such that social control would be absolute. Anyone who questioned or challenged, anyone who dared to speak with an honest and moral voice would be eliminated as untold numbers did under Pinochet. But other elites like John Sherman understood another threat, as he said of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890:

“[P]eople are feeling the power and grasp of these combinations, and are demanding of every State Legislature and of Congress a remedy for this evil, only grown into huge proportions in recent times… You must heed their appeal, or be ready for the socialist, the communist and the nihilist.”

Theodore Roosevelt echoed this thought when he warned that the elite should take heed of the problems the left-wing points to because they are real problems. Otherwise, the masses would turn to those who would do what needed to be done. More than a century on, Nick Hanauer, yet another white male elite of the capitalist class, warned of the pitchforks coming for the plutocrats.

If the elite don’t allow for basic democracy, the left-wingers will gain power. Hayek simply personified why radicalism was necessary, made clear that this is a fight to the death. And the death that the authoritarian elites have in mind is your death and that of your loved ones, your neighbors. This is why we find ourselves with a police state with the largest mass incarceration in history. The Hayekian elite haven’t quite figured out how to implement a Pinochet-style regime, but they’re working on it.

Now if the general public only understood democracy as well as did Hayek. Then we would have a revolution.

(Source: REAL Democracy History Calendar: May 6 – 12)

Trump’s Corporatism Is Not New

Donald Trump as president is promoting corporatism, if not corporatocracy. It is the same old corporate welfare and corporate socialism, but even greater. He did promise to make America great again. His supporters forgot to ask about the details, though.

He is giving out subsidies and bailouts to particular companies and sectors, which means picking the winners and losers. It doesn’t even follow an ideological pattern, as he has simultaneously criticized wind energy while quietly subsidizing it. On top of that, he is using tariffs and trade war as economic protectionism, more akin to how the old empires used to operate — with about 12 percent of US imports during 2018 having fallen under Trump’s trade protectionism. Nor did Trump eliminate any of the subsidies and tariffs he inherited. He even had the audacity to present adding even more farm subsidies as if they were his own original idea, never before tried.

If a Democratic president did a fraction of this, Republicans would call it communism, although it would be more fair to call it fascism or well down that path. Instead, some supposed “fiscal conservatives” (a meaningless term even at the best of times) are proclaiming Trump’s policies as defending “free trade” (which in turn demonstrates how meaningless that is as well) — not unlike how constitutional conservatives will complain about Democrats for judicial activism and so use that complaint as a justification to vote for Republican politicians who promote their own preferred judicial activism. This psychotic disconnection from reality is impressive, to say the least.

I’m neither for nor against government regulation on principle, and so I’m not critical of Trump for being an economic interventionist — the entire system is the problem from my perspective. But I do like to label things correctly, in order to promote rational and fair debate (such intellectual ideals sound quaint these days). It is dishonest and plain depressing to call Trump’s policies anti-regulatory because he has helped further empower corporate rule within the political system and has attempted to use the US government to enforce US economic might throughout the world. If this is deregulation, I wonder what regulation looks like?

In the end, the rhetoric of neoliberalism always translates as the policies of neoconservatism. Something like NAFTA, for example, was always intended as economic interventionism and corporate protectionism — actual free trade would disallow corporate charters and international trade agreements militarily enforced by imperial-style governments, instead requiring each business to freely determine its own trade relations. It is why the rhetoric of “free trade” always goes hand in hand with trade sanctions, wars of aggression, CIA covert operations, etc — along with the numerous forms of corporate welfare (e.g., natural resources on public lands being sold at below market prices). That is to say it is about the wealthy and powerful maintaining and extending their wealth and power by any means necessary. This form of nationalism is what tends to get ramped up more overtly before major international conflicts, maybe at present indicating the early stages of World War III. I don’t doubt that Trump wants to be a war president with war powers.

Trump doesn’t care about economics, much less the American people. He is a narcissist. It’s a power game to him. He has threatened other countries to do what he wants and when they refused his ego was hurt and so he is retaliating. As president, he now sees the US government and economy as an extension of himself. And he has never experienced real consequences for any action he has taken in his entire life. It’s all a game, until it suddenly becomes real. After everything goes to hell, I wouldn’t mind seeing footage of Trump being pulled out of a hiding hole like Saddam Hussein.

It’s not really about Trump, though. He isn’t doing anything now that Republicans and right-wingers haven’t been supporting and inciting for decades. Trump is simply a version of Ronald Reagan in having began his presidency already in a state of dementia — one might call it late stage Reaganism. Even Trump’s bigotry is simply a more open expression of the dog whistle rhetoric that got so many Republicans elected over American history. Democrat’s have played their role as well with Jimmy Carter’s fiscal policies and anti-labor stance and later Bill Clinton’s corporatist ‘deregulation’ and racist crime bill (a speech about which Clinton gave in front of a KKK memorial with black prisoners chained behind him). Worse still, executive power has been increasing in every administration for decades with full support of Congress, and Barack Obama could have reversed this course but he didn’t and so opened the door for Trump.

This situation has been a long time coming. Trump is simply the fruit of bipartisan corruption and corporatism. This is the American Empire, what it always has been and becoming worse (inverted totalitarianism is what America will likely become, assuming we aren’t already there). The sad state of affairs only stands out for what it is because of the distorting lens of Trump’s personality, his unintentional way of speaking bluntly that almost approximates honesty on occasion. He has revealed what for so long remained hidden in the mainstream mind. But now that we have been forced to see what so many of us didn’t want to see and can’t unsee, what should we do as a society?

* * *

Protectionism was threatening global supply chains before Trump
by Chad Bown

Trump’s Protectionist Con Is Not New: Remembering The Bush Steel Tariff
by Bill Scher

Trump’s Allies Say He Really Wants Free Trade. Fat Chance.
by Ramesh Ponnuru

Trump Is a Protectionist — But Who Is He Protecting?
by Robert A. Blecker

Steel Profits Gain, but Steel Users Pay, under Trump’s Protectionism
by Gary Clyde Hufbauer (PIIE) and Euijin Jung

Trump’s corporate welfare problem
by Timothy P. Carney

Measuring Trump’s 2018 Trade Protection: Five Takeaways
by Chad P. Bown and Eva (Yiwen) Zhang

The High Price of High Tariffs
by Tori K. Whiting

Trump’s Tariffs Grow Government
by Jordan Bruneau

Trump Administration Issues 30% Solar Panel Import Tariff
by Julia Pyper

Trump’s $12 Billion Bailout Is No Remedy for Farmers Caught in Trade War
by Keith Johnson

 

The Great Narrative of Awokening

Over at Phil Ebersole’s blog, he posted about Matthew Yglesias’ article The Great Awokening. Ebersole wrote that, “In the present era, white liberals are more militant—at least in opinion—than the majority of black people.” And then he concluded that, “maybe at this point liberals are more militant than necessary.” I disagree with this view, although to be fair the disagreement is less than it seems. Both Ebersole and I share the view that the liberal class isn’t particularly militant in a meaningful or effective sense. But for my purpose here, I’ll take this conclusion at face value, since I don’t see liberals as being ‘militant’ in any sense.

The portrayal of militant liberals (or progressives or SJWs) is the narrative, I would argue, that is being spun by the corporate media in service of the corporatist Democrats. The argument is the party’s left-wing has become too radicalized and hence why we should, once again, accept the lesser evil. This is the false moderation and centrism I’ve long seen as political failure by design, which is to say it succeeds perfectly fine if the purpose is to defend the status quo. This narrative doesn’t match the data, not the full data when put in context. Most Americans on diverse major issues, including racial issues, are to the left of Democratic Party policies (I’ve written many posts on this, but here is the main one).

Furthermore, the obsession with the “white liberal” is similar to the obsession with the “white working class”. In both cases, it erases from public debate all acknowledgment of blacks and other minorities who are liberal and/or working class. It creates a narrative of divide and conquer by manipulating and managing public perception. A similar thing in the opposite direction is seen in how black Protestants are separated out in polling data but white Protestants usually aren’t. It creates confused comparisons because the categories aren’t demographically equivalent.

White liberals are on average younger than the overall black population. The exact same is true in comparing black liberals and the overall population, black or white. So, yes, most white liberals who on average are younger are to the left of most blacks who on average are older, just as with most black liberals in relation to most other blacks (and in relation to most whites as well; heck, as far as that goes, compared to most Americans in general). The important detail is that blacks, like whites, are becoming more liberal with every generation. The typical Black Lives Matter activist who is black is surely younger and more liberal than the average black, and the same was no doubt true for the typical Civil Rights activist a half century ago. Young people usually are more liberal, something that is common knowledge.

I’d take it further. I bet activists today are more liberal than activists in the past, no different than blacks are more liberal than in the past, as nearly every demographic (including conservatives) is more liberal than in the past. What was once considered radical is, in many cases, now considered mainstream and moderate, as normal and as the norm (e.g., slavery, Jim Crow, and eugenics are bad) — now only supported by a small minority on the fringe right. Obviously, this pattern isn’t limited to white liberals. Simply put, young people are more liberal than older people across all races and Americans in general are becoming more liberal with each generation. But accurately and straightforwardly reporting these basic facts wouldn’t fit the narrative that the corporate media wants to spin.

Ebersole has another post on the topic where he references Eric Kaufmann’s Americans Are Divided by Their Views on Race, Not Race Itself. In it, he focuses on the racial divide of opinion within the two main parties, as separated out according to race. He makes an interesting point there about white Democrats, in how they have a more favorable view of other races than of their own, although I would interpret that as ideological posturing (i.e., virtue signaling) for the purposes of group identity, that is to say simply individuals agreeing to what they think they are supposed to agree to. Anyway, this favoring of other races, even if only superficial, is not the case of black Democrats and certainly not the case of any Republicans, whatever may be the case for independents and third party voters.

Let me unpack exactly what Ebersole says. First off, he writes that, “Now you can’t say that white Clinton voters are self-hating, because they have a favorable opinion about their own race.  And you can’t say that black Clinton voters are “reverse racists” because they have a favorable opinion of non-black races.” That is an evenhanded appraisal. But this may not apply to all Democrats. Obama voters could have had entirely different views, especially considering some of them later voted for Trump. That makes for an odd dynamic. Also, black Democrats might have felt more positive and forgiving toward other races (i.e., whites) when it seemed like positive change was happening, such as the first black being elected president. Public opinion could be all over the map, depending on what Americans are reacting to in the moment, including the day-to-day influence of news reporting.

Ignoring those qualifications to the data, Ebersole makes a really great point. “Note also that none of the four categories of voters has a net unfavorable view of other races. That’s important, because I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t have been true 50 or 60 years ago.” So, pretty much all Americans are fine and dandy about other races, at least in the broad sense when not discussing specific policies or such. “But”, he adds, “it’s interesting that the white Clinton voters are the least favorable toward their own race and the most favorable toward other races, while black Clinton voters are the reverse.” Fair enough. From my own end, I’d throw in the fact that the difference for white Clinton voters isn’t vast, considering the margin of error. As for black Clinton voters, with the history of racism that continues to this day, I don’t find it surprising that they are less favorable of other races when most of the people in the “other races” category are whites.

Still, once again, this is comparing apples and oranges. White liberals are probably more likely to belong to the Democratic Party than black liberals, the latter probably more often found as independents or in third parties (and interestingly, liberalism as a label is growing in popularity among blacks, while socialism as a label is growing in popularity among Hispanics). The most liberal blacks were among the young generation, of course, and they preferred Bernie Sanders. In certain key cities and states, it seems many blacks stayed at home instead of having voted for Hillary Clinton. It wasn’t a typical election and Clinton lost voters all across the board. So, it’s more than probable that black liberals are simply excluded from this particular polling data. Eliminating independents and third party supporters is yet another strategy to prop up the mainstream narrative, at a time when the largest proportion of voters no longer identifies with either main party.

We have to learn to question not only the data we are given in corporate media but more importantly to question how that data is being framed and the data we aren’t being given (a similar problem to what Becky Pettit discusses in Invisible Men, as I’ve posted about here and here). Sometimes the framing happens in the reporting whereas the data itself might be good, assuming you can find an unbiased reporting of it. In many other cases, even the data is questionable because of how polling questions were framed or the data collected (such as was the polling group representative), along with how preceding questions psychologically prime the mind for later questions. In either case, we need to hone our intellectual defenses.

The battle of politics first begins as a battle of ideas, a battle over who controls the public mind. If we are to seek a revolution in our society, we need a revolution of the mind. We on the left need to take control of the narrative. We need to tell a better story, a more compelling story. Then we must repeat that story ad nauseum, until it finally sticks. Fortunately, we have the facts on our side, so it seems to me from my biased position — if we would only make use of those facts, if we would only remain focused and not get distracted by each new media manipulation campaign. This “Great Awokening” narrative is likely the elite trying out rhetoric for the upcoming campaign season. Don’t get suckered in by it.

Stay focused. The American public is on our side, far to the left of both parties. That is our narrative. That is the narrative that will win. It just so happens to also be true.

* * *

I decided to closely read Matthew Yglesias’s article. Maybe I was being unfair. It’s not a bad article. But it made me realize that my disagreement really is more with Ebersole or else my interpretation/misinterpretation of Ebersole’s words. What is clear is that Yglesias never refers to white liberals as militant nor suggests that maybe they should take a backseat to minorities. That puts me partly in the opposite position from him, but it also puts me in the odd position of being a white liberal defending the good name of white liberals against a criticism lodged by another white liberal. We white liberals like to eat our own and fight among ourselves. I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a position to be the defense attorney for white liberalism. I thought I had quit arguing on behalf of liberalism (white or otherwise) many years ago, but apparently not.

Anyway, to emphasize the difference of interpretations, I’ll share the results of my close reading of Yglesias’ article. Somewhat in line with my own views, Yglesias too comes to an almost optimistic vision: “Social upheavals simply do not abide by the dictates of partisan politics. The increased moral fervor unleashed by the Great Awakening of the 1840s and 1850s broke the Whig Party and temporarily entrenched the South’s hold on political power. But abolitionist sentiment carried the day in the end. And by the same token, while the Great Awokening might drive some Democrats into Trump’s arms now, the sustained phenomenon is forcing the Democratic Party to confront the legacy of America’s racial caste system squarely. The next Democratic president will have to do the same.” Accusations against militancy and for moderation are irrelevant when historical forces are at play and the forces of racism have been winding down the corridors of American history for centuries. Shifts in public opinion at such a superficial level are more likely symptoms than causes. A boat bobbing about on the waves does not bring on the tsunami, any more than the native’s sun dance gives birth to the sun each morning. Polls, at best, are indicators.

Let’s see to what extent I remain in line with Yglesias or not. It’s hard to say because I’m not able to discern an entirely consistent and coherent message. But let me throw out a definite point of disagreement: “There’s also a certain paradox to the Awokening. As white liberals became more vocal about racial inequality, more racially conservative Democrats left the party and helped power Donald Trump’s electoral victory. This backlash gives the impression that there’s a surging tide of white racism in America.” And elsewhere he states that, “Some of this is a compositional effect. As Obama pushed racially conservative whites out of the Democratic Party, the remaining Democrats are more racially liberal. But using Voter Study Group data, McElwee is able to show that people who consistently self-identified as Democrats changed their views between 2011 and 2016.”

I’m not buying it. As many shifted one direction, many others simply exchanged places — a game of musical chairs. Trump pushed the GOP so far right that a large number of moderates and old school conservatives left the party and not an insignificant portion ended up voting Democrat. Hillary Clinton particularly pulled the neoliberal vote and neocon vote, not to mention the sway of some major conservative figures flirting with the Clinton Democrats during the campaign. Trump’s voter numbers and demographic breakdown was about the same as for previous Republican candidates. He did not win by getting more votes from Democrats, since he lost as many if not more than he gained. It was the Electoral College that gave him the presidency, plain and simple, as has been the case for many Republican candidates before him.

There was an even greater parting of ways between Yglesias and I. “I don’t think it’s just a reaction to events,” he quotes Brian Schaffner, a Tufts University political scientist. Rather, “even prior to Ferguson, people take cues from elites.” Yglesias argues that, “Democratic elites were beginning to signal to the rank and file that they should take systemic racism concerns more seriously.” I’m not sure about rank and file, but this doesn’t apply to Americans in general, and I’ll limit myself to an example of a major social issue where Democrats are supposed to be leading the way, if on no other issues. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama only voiced support for same sex marriage years after the American majority had already gotten on board with this supposedly radical position. The DNC elite waited until it was popular and safe. For damn sure, the liberal and leftist black activists weren’t taking any cues from the DNC elite — if anything, it was the other way around. Black activists, along with black leaders and black public intellectuals, led the way on race issues. Then white liberals followed in their wake. And only after support was strong among white liberals, did DNC elites begin to carefully add the appropriate rhetoric into their speeches.

This is where Yglesias shows his confusion. “Opinion leaders,” he says making the same point later on, “often miss the scale and recency of these changes because progressive elites have espoused racial liberalism for a long time.” Yet immediately following that he references an analysis done by Sean MdElwee of General Social Survey data and comes to a mismatched conclusion in stating that it “shows that throughout the 1980s, ’90s, and 2000s, most white Democrats thought African Americans’ lack of individual initiative was the main source of racial inequality in America.” I’m confused by which opinion leaders supposedly mattered so much. Obviously, the white Democrats who dominated the party in those past decades weren’t showing racial leadership. And to be more specific, those white Democrats for much of that time were Clinton Democrats who after pushing racist tough-on-crime laws using racist rhetoric and imagery now want to pretend that they aren’t racists when it’s convenient. So who were the opinion leaders that moved white liberals to the left on racial issues? Yglesias answers that question without even realizing it. “Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2014 article making the case for reparations,” he points out, “was obviously enormously influential on the specifics of that question, but also more broadly in the larger Awokening”.

There ya go. It was black liberals and leftists who were the difference makers. He briefly recognizes the fact that the line of causation is not coming down from the pseudo-liberal DNC elite when he admits that, “The growing racial liberalism of rank-and-file white Democrats now has party leaders talking about “systemic racism” and sending strong signals to the party’s base about what kinds of attitudes are appropriate for Democrats to hold.” It was a bottom-up phenomenon that was set in motion by blacks. Still, he seems to dismiss blacks as having real agency to initiate change. “The leftward shifts on immigration, criminal justice, and reparations are often described as reflecting the electoral clout of nonwhite voters. But while that is surely part of the story, the underlying demographics simply haven’t changed rapidly enough to account for the pace of the change. The key difference is that white liberals have changed their minds very rapidly, thus altering the political space in which Democratic Party politicians operate.” Sure, black liberals and leftists are a minority, no different than with white liberals and leftists. Yet the obsession with white liberals and white Democrats remains, casting a spell over the mainstream mind that is irresistable.

Let me do a quick response to the polling statements and questions themselves that Yglesias reports on. The general argument is that, based on the observation of Zach Goldberg from Georgia State University, “on key measures of racial attitudes, white liberals’ opinion has moved to the left of where black and Latino opinions are. White liberals are now less likely than African Americans to say that black people should be able to get ahead without any special help.” What jumps out to me is that phrasing “special help” and it is even worse in the question itself, speaking of “special favors”: “Irish, Italians, Jewish, and many others minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up: blacks should do the same without special favors”. That question comes across as having been written by someone who had unconsciously internalized racist or racialist thought. I could understand why blacks would be against the portrayal of blacks as needing “special favors”. The fact that white liberals supported such a statement simply indicates a paternalistic racial bias. The polling statement is phrased in such a way that racists could just as easily disagree with it as agree with it. It can’t be used to determine racism of the responders, but it sure can tell us a lot about the people who wrote it and approved it for the poll.

The others I looked at don’t use such a racially-biased framing. For example, one of them asks, “On balance, do you think having an increasing number of people of many different races, ethnic groups, and nationalities in the US makes this country a better place to live, a worse place to live, or does it make no difference?” That one can’t be useful for discerning racism either. For blacks who are historically ever on the bottom of the racial order, a mass wave of new immigrants has always meant shoving them back down, as even Hispanics can often pass as white or simply identify as such. Everyone can assimilate but blacks. Still, even Hispanics have had a hard time assimilating, despite their not being quite as fully ‘other’ as blacks, and Hispanics inevitably get blamed for everything bad about immigration, not exactly putting them in a happy situation about immigration. Only whites as the majority of immigrants have had a net positive experience about immigration, since after a generation or three, every white family is allowed the privilege of being normal white Americans. As with the last question, there are potential racist motivations to answer the question in multiple ways.

The same goes for another one about diversity. It depends on the demographic, whether diversity has been used as social control to keep them down or has been used as privilege to give them a leg up. It also depends on class, region, etc. There is nothing inherently racially-oriented about it, even as there are racist reasons to be for or against diversity. The real issue is what kind of diversity, whose diversity, and to whose benefit. White liberals experience diversity as disproportionately wealthy and educated Asians moving into their communities, as is the case in the liberal college town I live in. Whereas many other whites and non-whites would know the experience of how the capitalist class uses races and ethnicities as divide and conquer.

From Kaufmann’s piece, the commenter Martin said, “Class overlaps with race because virtually everyone, white & black, rich & poor, inherits their economic status. Racial attitudes of the living have little or nothing to do with this. Poor black people are poor for the same reason that poor white people are poor: their parents and their communities are poor. I think our “race obsession” serves mostly to reassure rich people that the economic system is fair except for other people’s racism, and to keep the poor complaining about attitudes instead of about the stacked deck.” In such polling, are we really talking about race or is it symbolic of class war, social control, etc? For some white liberals, race might be a real issue. I’m probably a rare white liberal who is working class and spent a large part of my childhood in desegregated Southern schools that were an equal mix of black and white students. Not that makes me better, but it does make for an entirely different experience from many white liberals I know.

To return to ideological labels, those often are symbolic of much else as well. When we speak of white liberals, we aren’t really pointing to mere whiteness and liberalism. Immediately upon stating “white liberal”, a stereotype comes to mind. Other than political rhetoric, it is almost meaningless to speak of white liberals or the white working class. As self-identified liberals tend to be younger, they also tend to be wealthier, often middle class professionals. The difference between white liberals and the rest of the population is largely a class divide. This is why so many liberal-minded people don’t identify as liberal for the simple reason that ‘liberal’ has become mixed up with a particular socioeconomic status. This creates unclear results in polling.

According to 2005 Pew data, almost half of Americans holding liberal views don’t identify as liberal (with a surprising 9% of liberals identifying as ‘conservative’; very few in the opposite direction). For many decades, ‘liberal’ became a bad word. Even someone like Obama who is taken as a major figure in liberalism has, as far as I know, never identified as one. So it’s hard to know who represents liberalism. I’m not sure why we should assume white Democrats are the majority of the liberal-minded and liberal-leaning or that white liberals are a greater percentage of whites than black liberals are of blacks, much less that white liberals are more liberal than black liberals. There are many assumptions typically made that shouldn’t be.

In the end, I don’t know what to make of any of it. What I am certain of is that those claiming to know what it means don’t know either. There is a lot of projection of ideological narratives. News reporting too often ends up being an act of storytelling and to do so requires immense simplification of already overly simplified data. Many diverse stories can be spun from the same thread. The specific story told, though, speaks more to the person telling it. If one wants to find white liberals as militants or as saviors or as clueless, there is polling data out there to be cherry-picked. I have my own interpretations that I try to base on as much data as possible, which comes from looking at decades of data (in some posts I’ve written, I literally looked at hundreds of polls and surveys). I could be wrong, but I suspect I have a better chance of being right than someone trying to make sense of the entirety of the American population based on a single poll or even a few polls. In my own observations, meaningful patterns only emerge when looking at vast amounts of information, not an activity most people including most journalists are willing to do. That doesn’t stop me from reading mainstream articles about polls in the hope of finding useful insight.

That said, I feel like I should give Yglesias the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know that he is purposely promoting a narrative. It is maybe more likely he is just repeating what he has heard among his fellow journalists and their social circles. Having read his writing more carefully, I don’t get that it’s something he has given much thought. His views seem somewhat ad hoc, what is expected of a journalist kicking out another assignment simply because it’s his job. It’s not a deep think piece or anything, and there is no particular reason to hold it up to that standard. But either way, it serves the purposes of the capitalist class that owns and operates corporate media as part of  corporatist two-party stranglehold. That is to say, consciously knowledgeable of his complicity or not, Yglesias should know better of what agenda he is serving.

Vice President George H. W. Bush’s Deep State

Family of Secrets
by Russ Baker

“At the time, the CIA was in the process of creating plausible deniability as it began what would be a series of efforts to topple “unfriendly” regimes around the world, including those in Guatemala and Iran. Since the CIA’s charter severely constrained the domestic side of covert operations, agents created a host of entities to serve as middlemen to support rebels in countries targeted for regime change. During the early days of Dresser in Dallas — and of Zapata Petroleum — Dulles was just beginning to experiment with “off the books” operations. Eventually, by the seventies and eighties, when Poppy Bush ran the CIA and coordinated covert operations as vice president, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such entities had been created . . .

The ‘deep state’ in the Reagan administration
by Phil Ebersole

“Bush’s team sent out special Marine and Delta Force teams to kill drug lords, Soviet agents and terrorists, based names provided by the CIA from the files of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Justice Department and National Security Agency—just as the Joint Special Operations Command does today.

President Reagan knew nothing of this. Neither did CIA Director William Casey, who the team regarded as reckless, uninformed and overly read to talk to the press. The press itself never caught on. The only member of Congress who was told was Rep. Dick Cheney, R-Wyoming.

“One of the team’s efforts was an abortive plot to assassinate Libya’ Muammar Qaddafi. Another was support of the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, which was forbidden by Congress.

This is what is meant by a “deep state”—a decision-making center within government that is hidden from the public, not accountable to the public, but greatly affects the public welfare for good ill.

LRB · Seymour M. Hersh · The Vice President’s Men
by Seymour M. Hersh

“There was another view of Bush: the one held by the military men and civilian professionals who worked for him on national security issues. Unlike the president, he knew what was going on and how to get things done. For them, Reagan was ‘a dimwit’ who didn’t get it, or even try to get it. A former senior official of the Office of Management and Budget described the president to me as ‘lazy, just lazy’. Reagan, the official explained, insisted on being presented with a three-line summary of significant budget decisions, and the OMB concluded that the easiest way to cope was to present him with three figures – one very high, one very low and one in the middle, which Reagan invariably signed off on. I was later told that the process was known inside the White House as the ‘Goldilocks option’. He was also bored by complicated intelligence estimates. Forever courteous and gracious, he would doodle during national security briefings or simply not listen. It would have been natural to turn instead to the director of the CIA, but this was William Casey, a former businessman and Nixon aide who had been controversially appointed by Reagan as the reward for managing his 1980 election campaign. As the intelligence professionals working with the executive saw it, Casey was reckless, uninformed, and said far too much to the press.

Bush was different: he got it. At his direction, a team of military operatives was set up that bypassed the national security establishment – including the CIA – and wasn’t answerable to congressional oversight. It was led by Vice-Admiral Arthur Moreau, a brilliant navy officer who would be known to those on the inside as ‘M’. He had most recently been involved, as deputy chief of naval operations, in developing the US’s new maritime strategy, aimed at restricting Soviet freedom of movement. In May 1983 he was promoted to assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Vessey, and over the next couple of years he oversaw a secret team – operating in part out of the office of Daniel Murphy, Bush’s chief of staff – which quietly conducted at least 35 covert operations against drug trafficking, terrorism and, most important, perceived Soviet expansionism in more than twenty countries, including Peru, Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, Libya, Senegal, Chad, Algeria, Tunisia, the Congo, Kenya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia and Vietnam.

“Moreau’s small, off-the-record team, primarily made up of navy officers, was tasked with foreign operations deemed necessary by the vice president. The group’s link to Bush was indirect. There were two go-betweens, known for their closeness to the vice president and their ability to keep secrets: Murphy, a retired admiral who had served as Bush’s deputy director at the CIA; and, to a lesser extent, Donald Gregg, Bush’s national security adviser and another veteran of CIA covert operations. Moreau’s team mostly worked out of a room near the National Military Command Centre on the ground floor of the Pentagon. They could also unobtrusively man a desk or two, when necessary, in a corner of Murphy’s office, which was near Bush’s, in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House. […]

We came to realise that the American intelligence community needed the threat from Russia to get their money. Those of us who were running the operations were also amazed that the American press was so incompetent. You could do this kind of stuff all over the world and nobody would ask any questions.’

Congress, and the constitution, were at first no more of an obstacle to Bush and Moreau’s covert operations than the press. The one member of Congress who knew what was going on was Dick Cheney, a close friend and confidant of Bush’s from their days together in the Ford administration. In 1976, in the aftermath of the Church Committee’s inquiry into CIA abuses, standing intelligence committees had been set up in both the Senate and the House, charged with holding the CIA and other intelligence agencies to account. But it was understood by all those involved in the vice president’s secret team that these committees could be bypassed, even though the laws governing covert intelligence activities had been stiffened: there was now a legal requirement that all covert CIA and military intelligence operations had to be made known to the committees through a formal, written document known as a ‘finding’. But there was a big loophole in the legislation, in the view of the vice president’s men. ‘There was no requirement for a finding for merely asking questions,’ the officer said, ‘and so we’d make routine requests for intelligence assessments from the CIA through the Joint Chiefs and the National Security Council. Our basic philosophy was that we were running military’ – not intelligence – ‘operations and therefore did not have to brief Congress. So we could legally operate without a finding.’ He was describing an ingenious procedure for getting around the law: one that would be put into use again after 9/11, when Cheney, by then vice president, triggered the unending war on terror. ‘The issue for Moreau was how do we take advantage of what the CIA has to offer – its people, with their language skills and its networks and assets overseas,’ the officer said. ‘The disadvantage was if we used the CIA in an intelligence context, we had to get a finding. We decided to get around the law by using agency people in what we claimed was a “liaison capacity”.’ The next step was ‘to attach the CIA operators to military units as liaison who were working for Moreau. Casey knew his CIA was being cut out and so he became more active where he could – in Latin America.’ As a precaution, the team prepared written findings when CIA men or information were being made use of – but they were put ‘in a safe’, to be produced only if anyone in Congress found out what was going on.

“Moreau was contemptuous of Casey and ‘thought the CIA was a crazy organisation that had no concern about the consequences of its covert actions’, according to the officer. He remembered Moreau telling his subordinates on the secret staff: ‘I’m accountable to the vice president and you motherfuckers are accountable to me. The agency is not accountable to anybody – not the president, not Congress, not the American people. They will do whatever they want to support their mission, which is defined by them.’ Cutting out the CIA leadership – though using their resources where needed, partly through the good offices of Dan Murphy, who had many connections inside the agency – was key to Moreau’s operations. ‘From the beginning our philosophy was no publicity,’ the officer said. Enlisting the agency formally would involve findings, and relying on ‘the CIA’s knuckle-draggers’ – paramilitary units – ‘who were seen as too dumb and too incompetent. But by using only the military we inadvertently laid the groundwork for what we have now – a Joint Special Operations Command essentially out of civilian control.’

Corporate Control, from the EU to the US

There is a recent incident of the EU putting out corporate propaganda. An EU report directly plagiarized a paper written by big ag, in ensuring the public that glyphosate (Roundup) is a healthy additive to your family’s diet and so there is no need to strictly regulate it.

“The BfR [Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment commissioned by the EU] had thus copied Monsanto’s explanation of Monsanto’s approach in evaluating the published literature, yet had presented it as the approach of the authority. This is a striking example of deception regarding true authorship.”
(Joseph Mercola, EU Infiltrated by Pesticide Industry Plagiarizes Safety Study)

Don’t worry about it. Monsanto’s products are safe and good. How do we know? Because Monsanto told us so. It’s amazing they get away this kind of thing. And they do it all the time.

Corporate lobbyists regularly have direct influence over politicians. They even sometimes write the bills that get passed into laws. And that is on top of regulatory capture, revolving doors, legalized bribery, etc. I don’t know why we tolerate this. It’s so often done brazenly, as if they are rubbing our faces in it, daring us to try to stop them, as if to demonstrate to us that we are powerless and so we should just cynically accept our subordinate position.

I’m so often reminded of the actions of the East India Company prior to the American Revolution. They thought they were above all morality and laws, beholden to no one. They began taking on the powers of a government, as they piggybacked on British imperialism. That was the first era when corporatism took hold in the Anglo-American world.

It shouldn’t surprise any of us by now. Think about it.

Western governments on behalf of corporations have regularly harmed and killed millions of innocents through trade agreements, sanctions, wars of aggression, coups, training paramilitary groups, etc in order to ensure for corporations access to trade routes, natural resources, and cheap labor (e.g., Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State intervened in Haiti to drive down wages so as to maintain cheap labor for US corporations, which is why so many Haitian-Americans voted for Trump and helped him to win Florida). A governing body like the EU putting out corporate propaganda is a small act in the big scheme.

Our governments, especially in the US, don’t represent the citizenry. Generations of attempts at reform from within the system have mostly failed, although a few successes here and there. The US government is more corporatist now than at any prior point in history. Yet every election cycle candidates in both parties promise all kinds of things. That doesn’t stop the system from continuing on as before in serving big biz, as scientific studies have shown. If more of the same keeps resulting in more of the same, maybe it’s time we did something different.

The majority of the American public has been steadily moving left in their policy positions for decades. At this point, the average American is to the left of both parties on many major issues. When some political, media, or think tank elite speaks of ‘centrism’ and ‘moderation’, ask yourself what is the defining frame? Well, obviously they mean moderating toward the center of power, not moderating toward the center of majority support. The problem is the majority doesn’t know it is a majority because the propaganda campaign has been so highly effective with near total control of the party system and corporate media.

Cracks are beginning to show, though. In the past, the gatekeepers would have so tightly controlled these issues that the American public would rarely have heard about any of it. But the corporate media stranglehold is beginning to loosen. Or maybe some of the ruling elite are finally coming around to the sense of self-preservation that motivated a born plutocrat like Theodore Roosevelt to reign in corporate wealth and power.

* * *

‘Call It the Oppression of the Supermajority’: Americans Eager for Bold Change, So Why Can’t They Get It?
by Jake Johnson, Common Dreams

Most Americans support Medicare for All, higher taxes on the rich, a Green New Deal, and other major items on the progressive agenda—so why has Congress failed to enact them?

The reason, Columbia University Law School professor Tim Wu argued in an op-ed for the New York Times on Tuesday, is that the influence of corporations and the donor class on the American political system has drowned out the policy desires of the public.

“In our era, it is primarily Congress that prevents popular laws from being passed or getting serious consideration. (Holding an occasional hearing does not count as ‘doing something’),” Wu wrote. “Entire categories of public policy options are effectively off-limits because of the combined influence of industry groups and donor interests.”

To bolster his argument, Wu rattled off a number of policies that—despite polling extremely well among large, bipartisan swaths of the American public—have not garnered enough support among lawmakers to pass Congress.

“About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultra-wealthy. The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support,” Wu noted. “Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws. Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. The list goes on.”

Since the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, Congress has in many cases done the opposite of what most Americans want by slashing taxes on the richfailing to restore net neutrality rules, and attempting to strip healthcare from millions of Americans.

“The defining political fact of our time is not polarization. It’s the inability of even large bipartisan majorities to get what they want on issues like these,” argued Wu. “Call it the oppression of the supermajority. Ignoring what most of the country wants—as much as demagogy and political divisiveness—is what is making the public so angry.”

Wu’s contention that the “combined influence” of the donor class and big business is significantly responsible for Congress’ refusal to enact popular policies matches the conclusion of a 2014 study (pdf) by political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, who found that in the United States, “the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.”

“When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose,” Gilens and Page wrote. “Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

Right-Wing Political Correctness on Right-Wing Terrorism

During the administration of George W. Bush, the FBI put out numerous reports on terrorism. Although they conflated non-violent actions against property by left-wing groups with violent actions against people by right-wing groups, the FBI nonetheless made clear that it was right-wing groups that were the greatest and most dangerous emerging risk, going back to the 1990s. And they specifically warned of returning veterans potentially being recruited into terrorist groups or acting as lone actor terrorists. From a report on terrorism from 2002 to 2005:

“Right-wing extremism, however, primarily in the form of domestic militias and conservative special interest causes, began to overtake left-wing extremism as the most dangerous, if not the most prolific, domestic terrorist threat to the country during the 1990s. In contrast to the ALF and the ELF, which have pursued a philosophy that avoids physical violence in favor of acts of property damage that cause their victims economic harm, right-wing extremists pursued a qualitatively different method of operation by targeting people.”

Yet this largely went unnoticed. The media, especially the right-wing media, had little interest in focusing on domestic threats while the foreign “War on Terror” was going on. And it would have been hard for right-wing groups to argue for bias when right-wingers were in control of the federal government. This attitude changed, of course, when Barack Obama was elected. There was right-wing outrage when a DHS report came out in 2009 that highlighted right-wing terrorism, despite the fact that the research for the report began under the Bush administration. This forced a retraction, not because it wasn’t true but because it was politically incorrect.

Right-Wing Terrorism in the 21st Century
By Daniel Koehler
pp. 27-28

“It is noteworthy that while right-wing terrorism is widely seen as a phenomenon involving lone actors or small cells, this study indicates that a critical mass of group members might be necessary for the escalation into violence.

“Another aspect highly relevant for the present subject is the research on so-called ‘sovereign citizens’ and the political impact of these assessments. The sovereign citizen movement is a very diverse and loose network of individuals and groups with a shared rejection of United States laws, taxation, currency and the government’s legitimacy especially regarding firearms control (e.g., ADL 2010; FBI 2011; Fleishman 2004; Macnab 2016). The concept behind the movement is directly rooted in Christian Identity teachings and the right-wing terrorist Posse Comitatus group in the 1980s. Fluent overlapping with more militant and violent militias or white supremacists (e.g., Aganes 1996; Crothers 2003; Freilich 2003; Levitas 2002) have resulted in a number of violent attacks from individuals and groups as well clashes with law enforcement agencies. For example, the accomplice of Timothy McVeigh for his Oklahoma bombing in 1995 was a member of the movement; and a number of violent stand-offs between sovereign citizen groups with Federal law enforcement agencies (e.g., the ‘Bundy stand-offs’ in 2014 and 2016), and numerous individual acts of killings of police officers exemplify the movement’s danger.

“One critical effect of government (e.g., intelligence and police) assessments of threats posed by this sovereign citizen movement in the United States is the high risk of political backlash and strong opposition. In April 2009, for example, the Department of Homeland Security’s Extremism and Radicalization branch issued a report looking at the risk of violent radicalization within the right-wing extremist movement including sovereign citizens (DHS 2009). Shortly after the report was published, several quotes were used by mostly conservative politicians and public interest organizations to organize strong nationwide critique (Levin 2011; Thompson 2009). Especially relevant for the subsequent debate, were the report’s arguments regarding the increased risk of right-wing radicalization and recruitment through the first African-American presidency, the prospects of firearms restrictions and the potential of returning veterans becoming recruits for terrorist groups or working as lone actors. Although research for the report had already started under the Bush administration in 2008 (Levin 2011) and some of these claims were founded in much earlier assessments by the FBI, the political climate swiftly changed against the DHS, which retracted the report, cut personnel in the domestic terrorism branch, canceled briefings on the issue and held back about a dozen reports (Smith 2011). Eventually the intelligence unit responsible was dismantled in April 2010. Especially noteworthy is the fact that the FBI had already published a number of reports on the same issues and continued afterwards without a similar reaction (e.g., FBI 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011). In 2012, the main author responsible for the problematic DHS report, Daryl Johnson, published his own accounts about the sovereign citizen movement and the risk for potential terrorist incidents becoming rooted in this milieu, arguing that the public debate after the report had effectively created a security risk by furthering the already critical devaluation of domestic terrorism within the DHS’ list of priorities (Johnson 2012). In the eyes of Johnson, the resulting lack of specialized analysis capacity, both in regard to experienced personnel and resources, was majorly responsible for the inadequate threat assessments and counter-measures against terrorism from the Far-Right (Nixon 2016). This capacity seems to have become one field of activity for the FBI since 2011 (Sullivan 2012) and the department of Justice, which re-established the Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee in 2014. The committee had been created in the aftermath of the Oklahoma bombing in 1995 and disbanded after the 9/11 attacks (DoJ 2013). In addition to the DoJ and US attorney community, the committee comprises the FBI and National Security Division. As a consequence of increased lethal violence directed against the U government by sovereign citizens — for example, the killing of a half dozen police officers and three prevented major terrorist attacks involving movement members since 2010 — the FBI has labeled the network as domestic terrorism. A recent study about the sovereign citizens has also highlighted, the role of the movement’s specific subculture with approximately 300,000 followers in the United States, which has increasingly become part of the mainstream political culture (Macnab 2016).”

Iowa Senator Zach Wahls

“I’m a registered Democrat, but am not opposed to voting for intellectually honest Republicans. My biggest frustration with politicians is not about specific policies, usually, but about whether or not the politicians are being honest about what those policies will do, why they are presenting those policies, etc. Way too much of our policy making is about emotionally-charged and intellectually dishonest claims instead of real world problem solving. Any politician with the courage to put forward solutions–that actually solve problems, even if they’re unpopular–is worth consideration in my book.”
~Zach Wahls (from an interview by Michael Hulshof-Schmidt)

My fellow Iowa Citian Zach Wahls was elected to the Iowa Senate. I don’t know him personally, but I know of his family. The church he grew up in and remains a member of, the local Unitarian Universalist, I attended for a period of time back in the early Aughts. He was was a young kid at the time, having been born in 1991. I’m sure I saw him and his family around the place and around the community, as it is a fairly small town. He still is young for a politician, at 27 years old.

This particular upbringing surely shaped his worldview. He was raised by two mothers, that likely being a major reason his family went to the UU church, as it is well known as a bastion of liberalism. Unitarian Universalism, along with closely related deism, has its roots in Enlightenment thought and was originally popularized in the United States by a number of revolutionaries and founders. In 1822, Thomas Jefferson predicted that “there is not a young man now living in the US who will not die an Unitarian.” He was a bit off in his prediction. But as Zach Wahls election demonstrates, this religious tradition remains a force within American society.

Senator Wahls first became politically involved by writing for his high school newspaper and continued his journalistic interests later on through a local newspaper. On a large stage, he first came to political and public attention in 2011 through a speech he gave on the Iowa House Judiciary Committee. It was in defense of same sex marriage, and interestingly was an expression of a uniquely Iowan attitude that emphasizes community and citizenship, hard work and family values but not in the sense of the fundamentalist culture wars. That speech went viral and was widely reported in the mainstream media. He was interviewed on some popular shows. That opened doors for him. He gave another speech at the 2012 Democrat National Convention and he was a delegate for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

So, his being in the limelight began not that many years ago. His mother, Dr. Terry Wahls, initially was more well known than him. She wrote some books over the past decade about how she reversed the symptoms of multiple sclerosis in herself, in her patients and in the subjects of clinical studies; with her initial book having been published in 2010, a short while before her son’s first major speech. Although a mainstream medical doctor, she is popular in the field of alternative diet and health. She is among a growing number of doctors, researchers, and experts who have challenged the problems and failures of our present healthcare system. It is unsurprising that her son while campaigning for the Iowa Senate seat promised, among other things, to reform healthcare.

It remains to be seen what kind of politician he will be. As with Alexandria Oscasio-Cortez, he is fresh blood from a generation just now entering the political arena. But he grew up ensconced in a liberal class bubble and appears to fall prey to some of its biases. It doesn’t go without notice that he was such a major supporter of Hillary Clinton, rather than Bernie Sanders, not that I know he ever attacked or spoke badly of Sanders. Still, he comes across as a fairly mainstream Democrat with some mild progressive leanings. He might be ahead of the game, though.

Clinton and Obama didn’t support same sex marriage until recent years, long after they had built their political careers, and long after the majority of Americans were already in favor of same sex marriage. Those old Democrats are used to playing it safe by making sure to remain to the right of public opinion and inching left only when public demand forces them to. Zach Wahls, on the other hand, grew up with same sex marriage as the norm of his entire reality. He began defending it in articles published in his high school newspaper. The old school Blue Dog Democrats have roots in Southern conservatism, established by the Southern Evangelical Jimmy Carter and more fully entrenched by Bill Clinton who also was a born-and-bred Southerner. Senator Wahls, however, formed his worldview in the heart of liberal progressivism, situated in a Northern town alien to Southern culture and politics. He takes the political left for granted as the starting point and so, even as part of mainstream politics, he is pushing the Overton window further back to the left again.

Young and idealistic, Senator Wahls enters the political fray right at the moment when the American public is being radicalized and reform is in the air. This might elicit the better angels of his nature. It might be easier for reform to take hold now when the majority of Americans are behind it. More importantly, he is bringing with him genuine knowledge of the issues, knowledge built on personal experience and so with personal stakes. The civil rights angle is important, whether in terms of same sex marriage or other things. But to my mind, more important is healthcare reform, as it touches on the nerve of populism. His mother, if she hadn’t turned to alternative health to treat her multiple sclerosis, would now at best be wheelchair-bound and at worst already dead. She did this after conventional medicine was unable to help her. So, Senator Wahls understands the failure of the system in an intimate way and he understands the kinds of concrete changes that need to happen.

As an Iowan, I’ll be watching him closely. The more infamous Iowa politician, Steve King, appears to be on the decline in his position within the Washington establishment. The older generation is losing its grip on power and the younger generation is clamoring to replace them. Senator Wahls, in particular, seems like a new breed of Democrat. I wish him well.

Democratic Values in Balance or Opposition

At the New Yorker, Nathan Heller has an interesting piece about equality and freedom, The Philosopher Redefining Equality.

Mainstream American thought sees them as oppositional. But maybe the common ground between them is fairness. There can be neither equality nor freedom in an unfair society, although there can be liberty in an unfair society. That goes off on a tangent, but keep it in mind as background info. A society of freedom is not the same as a society of liberty, and a society of fairness might be a whole other thing as well. Yet it has been argued that English is the only language with exact words for all three concepts (see Liberty, Freedom, and Fairness) — for example, George Fletcher in Basic Concepts of Legal Thought writes,

“Remarkably, our concept of fairness does not readily translate into other languages. It is virtually impossible to find a suitable translation for fairness in European or Semitic languages. As a result, the term is transplanted directly in some languages such as German and Hebrew, and absent in others, such as French, which is resistant to adopting loan words that carry unique meanings.” (quoted by Manny Echevarria in Does Fairness Translate?)

The difference between the two cultural worldviews and ideological systems is what led to both the English Civil War and the American Civil War. This conflict has been internalized within American society, but it has never been resolved. Americans simply have pretended it went away when, in reality, the conflict has grown worse.

Heller writes about the experience and work of Elizabeth Anderson. She has been, “Working at the intersection of moral and political philosophy, social science, and economics, she has become a leading theorist of democracy and social justice.” And, as related to the above, “She has built a case, elaborated across decades, that equality is the basis for a free society.” Freedom isn’t only closely linked to equality but built upon and dependent upon it. That makes sense from an etymological perspective, as freedom originally meant living among equals in sharing freedom as a member of a free people, at least a member in good standing (ignoring the minor detail of the categories of people excluded: women, slaves, and strangers; but it might be noted that these categories weren’t always permanent statuses and unchangeable fates, since sometimes women could become warriors or divorce their husbands, slaves could end their bondage, and strangers could marry into the community). Hence, this is the reason the word ‘friend’ has the same origin — to be free is to be among friends, among those one trusts and relies upon as do they in return.

Fairness, by the way, is an odd word. It has an English meaning of fair, handsome, beautiful, and attractive (with some racist connotations); nice, clean, bright, clear, and pleasant; moderate as in not excessive in any direction (a fair balance or fair weather, neither hot nor cold) but also generous or plentiful as in considerable (a fair amount). And in various times and places, it has meant favorable, helpful, promising good fortune, and auspicious; morally or comparatively good, socially normative, average, suitable, agreeable, with propriety and justice, right conduct, etc; which overlaps with the modern sense of equitable, impartial, just, and free from bias (from fair and well to fair and square, from fair-dealing to fair play). But its other linguistic variants connect to setting, putting, placing, acting, doing, making, and becoming; make, compose, produce, construct, fashion, frame, build, erect, and appoint. There is an additional sense of sex and childbirth (i.e., fucking and birthing), the ultimate doing and making; and so seemingly akin to worldly goodness of fecundity, abundance, and creation. The latter maybe where the English meaning entered the picture. More than being fair as a noun, it is a verb of what one is doing in a real world sense.

Interestingly, some assert the closest etymological correlate to fairness in modern Swedish is ‘rättvis’. It breaks down to the roots ‘rätt’ and ‘vis’, the former signifying what is ‘correct’ or ‘just’ and the latter ‘wise’ (correct-wise or just-wise in the sense of clockwise or otherwise). This Swedish word is related to the English ‘righteous’. That feels right in the moral component of fairness that can be seen early on its development as a word. We think of what is righteous as having a more harsh and demanding tone than fairness. But I would note how easy it is to pair fairness with justice as if they belong together. John Rawls has a theory of justice as fairness. That makes sense, in accord with social science research that shows humans strongly find unjust that which is perceived as unfair. Then again, as freedom is not exactly the same as liberty, righteousness is not exactly the same as justice. There might be a reason that the Pledge of Allegiance states “with liberty and justice for all”, not liberty and righteousness, not freedom and justice. Pledging ourselves to liberty and justice might put us at odds with a social order of fairness, as paired with freedom, equality, or righteousness. Trying to translate these two worldviews into each other maybe is what created so much confusion in the first place.

All these notions of and related to fairness, one might argue indicate how lacking in fairness is our society, whatever one might think of liberty and justice. Humans tend to obsess over in articulating and declaring what is found most wanting. A more fair society would likely not bother to have a world for it as the sense of fairness would be taken for granted and would simply exist in the background as ideological realism and cultural worldview. From Integrity in Depth, John Beebe makes this argument about the word ‘integrity’ for modern society, whereas the integral/integrated lifestyle of many tribal people living in close relationship to their environment requires no such word. A people need what is not integrated that is seen as needing to be integrated in order to speak of what is or might be of integrity.

Consider the Piraha who are about as equal a society as can exist with fairness only becoming an issue in recent history because of trade with outsiders. The Piraha wanted Daniel Everett to teach them learn math because they couldn’t determine if they were being given a fair deal or were being cheated, a non-issue among Piraha themselves since they don’t have a currency or even terms for numerals. A word like fairness would be far too much of a generalized abstraction for the Piraha as traditionally most interactions were concrete and personal, as such more along the lines of Germanic ‘freedom’.

It might put some tribal people in an ‘unfair’ position if they don’t have the language to fully articulate unfairness, at least in economic terms. We Americans have greater capacity and talent in fighting for fairness because we get a lot of practice, as we can’t expect it as our cultural birthright. Unsurprisingly, we talk a lot about it and in great detail. Maybe to speak of fairness is always to imply both its lack and desirability. From the view of linguistic relativism, such a word invokes a particular wordview that shapes and influences thought, perception, and behavior.

This is observed in social science research when WEIRD populations are compared to others, as seen in Joe Henrich’s study of the prisoner’s dilemma: “It had been thought a matter of settled science that human beings insist on fairness in the division, or will punish the offering party by refusing to accept the offer. This was thought an interesting result, because economics would predict that accepting any offer is better than rejecting an offer of some money. But the Machiguenga acted in a more economically rational manner, accepting any offer, no matter how low. “They just didn’t understand why anyone would sacrifice money to punish someone who had the good luck of getting to play the other role in the game,” Henrich said” (John Watkins, The Strangeness of Being WEIRD). There is no impulse to punish an unfairness that, according to the culture, isn’t perceived as unfair. It appears that the very concept of fairness was irrelevant or maybe incomprehensible the Machiguenga, at least under these conditions. But if they are forced to deal more with outsiders who continually take advantage of them or who introduce perverse incentives into their communities, they surely would have to develop the principle of fairness and learn to punish unfairness. Language might be the first sign of such a change.

A similar point is made by James L. Kugel in The Great Shift about ancient texts written by temple priests declaring laws and prohibitions. This probably hints at a significant number of people at the time doing the complete opposite or else the priests wouldn’t have bothered to make it clear, often with punishments for those who didn’t fall in line. As Julian Jaynes explains, the earliest civilizations didn’t need written laws because the social norms were so embedded within not only the social fabric but the psyche. Laws were later written down because social norms were breaking down, specifically as societies grew in size, diversity, and complexity. We are now further down this road of the civilizational project and legalism is inseparable from our everyday experience, and so we need many words such as fairness, justice, righteousness, freedom, liberty, etc. We are obsessed with articulating these values as if by doing so we could re-enforce social norms that refuse to solidify and stabilize. So, we end up turning to centralized institutions such as big government to impose these values on individuals, markets, and corporations. And we need lawyers, judges, and politicians to help us navigate this legalistic world that we are anxious about falling apart at any moment.

This interpretation is supported by the evidence of the very society in which the word fairness was first used. “The tribal uses of fair and fairness were full of historical irony,” pointed out David Hackett Fischer in Fairness and Freedom (Kindle Locations 647-651). “These ideas flourished on the far fringes of northwestern Europe among groups of proud, strong, violent, and predatory people who lived in hard environments, fought to the death for the means of life, and sometimes preyed even on their own kin. Ideas of fairness and fair play developed as a way of keeping some of these habitual troublemakers from slaughtering each other even to the extinction of the tribe. All that might be understood as the first stage in the history of fairness.” This interpretation is based on a reading of the sagas as written down quite late in Scandinavian history. It was a period when great cultural shifts were happening such as radical and revolutionary introductions like that of writing itself. And I might add, this followed upon the millennium of ravage from the collapse of the bicameralism of Bronze Age Civilizations. The society was under great pressure, both from within and without, as the sagas describe those violent times. It was the sense of lack of fairness in societal chaos and conflict that made it necessary to invent fairness as a cultural ideal and social norm.

It’s impossible to argue we live in a fair society. The reason Adam Smith defended equality, for example, is because he thought it would be a nice ideal to aspire to and not that we had already attained it. On the other hand, there is an element of what has been lost. Feudal society had clearly spelled out rights and responsibilities that were agreed upon and followed as social norms, and so in that sense it was a fair society. The rise of capitalism with the enclosure and privatization of the commons was experienced as unfair, to which Thomas Paine was also responding with his defense of a citizen’s dividend to recompense what was taken, specifically as theft not only from living generations but also all generations following. When a sense of fairness was still palpable, as understood within the feudal social order, no argument for fairness as against unfairness was necessary. It likely is no coincidence that the first overt class war happened in the English Civil War when the enclosure movement was in high gear, the tragic results of which Paine would see in the following century, although the enclosure movement didn’t reach full completion until the 19th century with larger scale industrialization and farming.

As for how fairness accrued its modern meaning, I suspect that it is one of the many results of the Protestant Reformation as a precursor to the Enlightenment Age. The theological context became liberal. As Anna Wierzbicka put it: ” “Fair play” as a model of human interaction highlights the “procedural” character of the ethics of fairness. Arguably, the emergence of the concept of “fairness” reflects a shift away from absolute morality to “procedural (and contractual) morality,” and from the gradual shift from “just” to “fair” can be seen as parallel to the shifts from good to right and also from wise (and also true) to reasonable: in all cases, there is a shift from an absolute, substantive approach to a procedural one.” (from English: Meaning and Culture as quoted Mark Liberman in No word for fair?)

Nathan Heller’s article is about how the marriage of values appears like a new and “unorthodox notion”. But Elizabeth Anderson observes that, “through history, equality and freedom have arrived together as ideals.” This basic insight was a central tenet of Adam Smith’s economic philosophy. Smith said a free society wasn’t possible with high inequality. It simply wasn’t possible. Full stop. And his economic views are proclaimed as the basis of Western capitalism. So, how did this foundational understanding get lost along the way? I suppose because it was inconvenient to the powers that be who were looking for an excuse to further accumulate not only wealth but power.

It wasn’t only one part of the ruling elite that somehow ‘forgot’ this simple truth. From left to right, the establishment agreed in defense of the status quo: “If individuals exercise freedoms, conservatives like to say, some inequalities will naturally result. Those on the left basically agree—and thus allow constraints on personal freedom in order to reduce inequality. The philosopher Isaiah Berlin called the opposition between equality and freedom an “intrinsic, irremovable element in human life.” It is our fate as a society, he believed, to haggle toward a balance between them.” For whatever reason, there was a historical shift, a “Post-Enlightenment move” (Echevarria), both in the modern meaning of fairness and the modern deficiency in fairness.

That still doesn’t explain how the present ideological worldview became the dominant paradigm that went unquestioned by hundreds of millions of ordinary Americans and other Westerners. Direct everyday experience contradicts this neo-feudalist dogma of capitalist realism. There is nothing that Anderson observed in her own work experience that any worker couldn’t notice in almost any workplace. The truth has always been there right in front of us. Yet few had eyes to see. When lost in the darkness of a dominant paradigm, sometimes clear vision requires an imaginative leap into reality. I guess it’s a good thing we have a word to designate the ache we feel for a better world.

* * *

Fairness and Freedom
by David Hackett Fischer
Kindle Locations 596-675

Origins of the Words Fairness and Fair

Where did this language of fairness come from? What is the origin of the word itself? To search for the semantic roots of fair and fairness is to make a surprising discovery. Among widely spoken languages in the modern world, cognates for fairness and fair appear to have been unique to English, Danish, Norwegian, and Frisian until the mid-twentieth century. 40 They remained so until after World War II, when other languages began to import these words as anglicisms. 41

The ancestry of fair and fairness also sets them apart in another way. Unlike most value terms in the Western world, they do not derive from Greek or Latin roots. Their etymology is unlike that of justice and equity, which have cognates in many modern Western languages. Justice derives from the Latin ius, which meant a conformity to law or divine command, “without reference to one’s own inclinations.” Equity is from the Latin aequitas and its adjective aequus, which meant level, even, uniform, and reasonable. 42

Fairness and fair have a different origin. They derive from the Gothic fagrs, which meant “pleasing to behold,” and in turn from an Indo-European root that meant “to be content.” 43 At an early date, these words migrated from Asia to middle Europe. There they disappeared in a maelstrom of many languages, but not before they migrated yet again to remote peninsulas and islands of northern and western Europe, where they persisted to our time. 44 In Saxon English, for example, the old Gothic faeger survived in the prose of the Venerable Bede as late as the year 888. 45 By the tenth century, it had become faire in English speech. 46

In these early examples, fagr, faeger, fair, and fairness had multiple meanings. In one very old sense, fair meant blond or beautiful or both—fair skin, fair hair. As early as 870 a Viking king was called Harald Harfagri in Old Norse, or Harold Fairhair in English. In another usage, it meant favorable, helpful, and good—fair wind, fair weather, fair tide. In yet a third it meant spotless, unblemished, pleasing, and agreeable: fair words, fair speech, fair manner. All of these meanings were common in Old Norse, and Anglo-Saxon in the tenth and eleventh centuries. By 1450, it also meant right conduct in rivalries or competitions. Fair play, fair game, fair race, and fair chance appeared in English texts before 1490. 47

The more abstract noun fairness was also in common use. The great English lexicographer (and father of the Oxford English Dictionary) Sir James Murray turned up many examples, some so early that they were still in the old Gothic form—such as faegernyss in Saxon England circa 1000, before the Norman Conquest. It became fayreness and fairnesse as an ethical abstraction by the mid-fifteenth century, as “it is best that he trete him with farenes” in 1460. 48

As an ethical term, fairness described a process and a solution that could be accepted by most parties—fair price, fair judgment, fair footing, fair and square. Sometimes it also denoted a disposition to act fairly: fair-minded, fair-natured, fair-handed. All of these ethical meanings of fair and fairness were firmly established by the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Fair play appears in Shakespeare (1595); fair and square in Francis Bacon (1604); fair dealing in Lord Camden (before 1623). 49

To study these early English uses of fairness and fair is to find a consistent core of meaning. Like most vernacular words, they were intended not for study but for practical use. In ethical applications, they described a way of resolving an issue that is contested in its very nature: a bargain or sale, a race or rivalry, a combat or conflict. Fundamentally, fairness meant a way of settling contests and conflicts without bias or favor to any side, and also without deception or dishonesty. In that sense fairness was fundamentally about not taking undue advantage of other people. As early as the fifteenth century it variously described a process, or a result, or both together, but always in forms that fair-minded people would be willing to accept as legitimate.

Fairness functioned as a mediating idea. It was a way of linking individuals to groups, while recognizing their individuality at a surprisingly early date. Always, fairness was an abstract idea of right conduct that could be applied in different ways, depending on the situation. For example, in some specific circumstances, fairness was used to mean that people should be treated in the same way. But in other circumstances, fairness meant that people should be treated in different ways, or special ways that are warranted by particular facts and conditions, such as special merit, special need, special warrant, or special desire. 50

Fairness was a constraint on power and strength, but it did not seek to level those qualities in a Procrustean way. 51 Its object was to regulate ethical relationships between people who possess power and strength in different degrees—a fundamental fact of our condition. A call for fairness was often an appeal of the weak to the conscience of the strong. It was the eternal cry of an English-speaking child to parental authority: “It’s not fair!” As any parent knows, this is not always a cry for equality.

Modern Applications of Fairness: Their Consistent Core of Customary Meaning

Vernacular ideas of fairness and fair have changed through time, and in ways that are as unexpected as their origin. In early ethical usage, these words referred mostly to things that men did to one another—a fair fight, fair blow, fair race, fair deal, fair trade. They also tended to operate within tribes of Britons and Scandinavians, where they applied to freemen in good standing. Women, slaves, and strangers from other tribes were often excluded from fair treatment, and they bitterly resented it.

The tribal uses of fair and fairness were full of historical irony. These ideas flourished on the far fringes of northwestern Europe among groups of proud, strong, violent, and predatory people who lived in hard environments, fought to the death for the means of life, and sometimes preyed even on their own kin. Ideas of fairness and fair play developed as a way of keeping some of these habitual troublemakers from slaughtering each other even to the extinction of the tribe. All that might be understood as the first stage in the history of fairness. 52

Something fundamental changed in a second stage, when the folk cultures of Britain and Scandinavia began to grow into an ethic that embraced others beyond the tribe—and people of every rank and condition. This expansive tendency had its roots in universal values such as the Christian idea of the Golden Rule. 53 That broader conception of fairness expanded again when it met the humanist ideas of the Renaissance, the universal spirit of the Enlightenment, the ecumenical spirit of the Evangelical Movement, and democratic revolutions in America and Europe. When that happened, a tribal idea gradually became more nearly universal in its application. 54 Quantitative evidence suggests an inflection at the end of the eighteenth century. The frequency of fairness in English usage suddenly began to surge circa 1800. The same pattern appears in the use of the expression natural justice. 55

Then came a third stage in the history of fairness, when customary ideas began to operate within complex modern societies. In the twentieth century, fairness acquired many technical meanings with specific applications. One example regulated relations between government and modern media (“the fairness doctrine”). In another, fairness became a professional standard for people who were charged with the management of other people’s assets (“fiduciary fairness”). One of the most interesting modern instances appeared among lawyers as a test of “balance or impartiality” in legal proceedings, or a “subjective standard by which a court is deemed to have followed due process,” which began to be called “fundamental fairness” in law schools. Yet another example was “fair negotiation,” which one professional negotiator defined as a set of rules for “bargaining with the Devil without losing your soul.” One of the most complex applications is emerging today as an ethic of “fairness in electronic commerce.” These and other modern applications of fairness appear in legal treatises, professional codes, and complex bodies of regulatory law. 56

Even as modern uses of fair and fairness have changed in all of those ways, they also preserved a consistent core of vernacular meaning that had appeared in Old English, Norse, and Scandinavian examples and is still evident today. To summarize, fair and fairness have long been substantive and procedural ideas of right conduct, designed to regulate relations among people who are in conflict or rivalry or opposition in particular ways. Fairness means not taking undue advantage of others. It is also about finding ways to settle differences through a mutual acceptance of rules and processes that are thought to be impartial and honest—honesty is fundamental. And it is also about living with results that are obtained in this way. As the ancient Indo-European root of fagrs implied, a quest for fairness is the pursuit of practical solutions with which opposing parties could “be content.” These always were, and still are, the fundamental components of fairness. 57

Notes:

40. For an excellent and very helpful essay on fair and fairness by a distinguished cultural and historical linguist, see Anna Wierzbicka, “Being FAIR: Another Key Anglo Value and Its Cultural Underpinnings,” in English: Meaning and Culture (New York and Oxford, 2006), 141–70. See also Bart Wilson, “Fair’s Fair,” http://www.theatlantic.com/business/print/2009/01/fairs-fair/112; Bart J. Wilson, “Contra Private Fairness,” May 2008, http://www.chapman.edu/images/userimges/jcunning/Page_11731/ContraPrivateFairness05–2008.pdf; James Surowiecki, “Is the Idea of Fairness Universal?” Jan. 26, 2009, http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/jamessurowiecki/2009/01/is; and Mark Liberman, “No Word for Fair?” Jan. 28, 2009, http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1080.

41. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “fair” and “fairness.” Cognates for the English fairness include fagr in Icelandic and Old Norse, retferdighet in modern Norwegian, and retfaerighed in modern Danish. See Geír Tòmasson Zoëga, A Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic (Toronto, 2004), s.v. “fagr.” For Frisian, see Karl von Richthofen, Altfriesisches Wörterbuch (Gottingen, 1840); idem, Friesische Rechtsquellen (Berlin, 1840). On this point I agree and disagree with Anna Wierzbicka. She believes that fair and unfair “have no equivalents in other European languages (let alone non-European ones) and are thoroughly untranslatable” (“Being FAIR,” 141). This is broadly true, but with the exception of Danish, Norwegian, Frisian, and Icelandic. Also I’d suggest that the words can be translated into other languages, but without a single exactly equivalent word. I believe that people of all languages are capable of understanding the meaning of fair and fairness, even if they have no single word for it.

42. OED, s.v. “justice,” “equity.”

43. Webster’s New World Dictionary, 2nd College Edition, ed. David B. Guralnik (New York and Cleveland, 1970), s.v. “fair”; OED, s.v. “fair.”

44. Ancient cognates for fair included fagar in Old English and fagr in Old Norse.

45. W. J. Sedgefield, Selections from the Old English Bede, with Text and Vocabulary, on an Early West Saxon Basis, and a Skeleton Outline of Old English Accidence (Manchester, London, and Bombay, 1917), 77; and in the attached vocabulary list, s.v. the noun “faeger” and the adverbial form “faegere.” Also Joseph Bosworth and T. Northcote Tollen, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Based on Manuscript Collections (Oxford, 1882, 1898), s.v. “faeger,” ff.

46. Not to be confused with this word is another noun fair, for a show or market or carnival, from the Latin feria, feriae, feriarum, festival or holiday—an entirely different word, with another derivation and meaning.

47. Liberman, “No Word for Fair?”

48. OED, s.v. “fairness,” 1.a, b, c.

49. For fair and fairness in Shakespeare, see King John V.i.67. For fair and square in Francis Bacon in 1604 and Oliver Cromwell in 1649, see OED, s.v. “fair and square.”

50. Herein lies one of the most difficult issues about fairness. How can we distinguish between ordinary circumstances where fairness means that all people should be treated alike, and extraordinary circumstances where fairness means different treatment? This problem often recurs in cases over affirmative action in the United States. No court has been able to frame a satisfactory general rule, in part because of ideological differences on the bench.

51. Procrustes was a memorable character in Greek mythology, a son of Poseidon called Polypaemon or Damastes, and nicknamed Procrustes, “the Stretcher.” He was a bandit chief in rural Attica who invited unwary travelers to sleep in an iron bed. If they were longer than the bed, Procrustes cut off their heads or feet to make them fit; if too short he racked them instead. Procrustes himself was dealt with by his noble stepbrother Theseus, who racked him on his own bed and removed his head according to some accounts. In classical thought, and modern conservatism, the iron bed of Procrustes became a vivid image of rigid equality. The story was told by Diodorus Siculus, Historical Library 4.59; Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1.38.5; and Plutarch, Lives, Theseus 2.

52. Jesse Byock, Viking Age Iceland (London, 2001), 171–84; the best way to study the origin of fairness in a brutal world is in the Norse sagas themselves, especially Njal’s Saga, trans. and ed. Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Palsson (London, 1960, 1980), 21–22, 40, 108–11, 137–39, 144–45, 153, 163, 241, 248–55; Egil’s Saga, trans. and ed. Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards (London, 1976, 1980), 136–39; Hrafnkel’s Saga and Other Icelandic Stories, trans. and ed. Hermann Palsson (London, 1971, 1980), 42–60.

53. Matthew 25:40; John 4:19–21; Luke 10:27.

54. The vernacular history of humanity, expanding in the world, is a central theme in David Hackett Fischer, Champlain’s Dream (New York and Toronto, 2008); as the expansion of vernacular ideas of liberty and freedom is central to Albion’s Seed (New York and Oxford, 1989) and Liberty and Freedom (New York and Oxford, 2005); and the present inquiry is about the expansion of vernacular ideas of fairness in the world. One purpose of all these projects is to study the history of ideas in a new key. Another purpose is to move toward a reunion of history and moral philosophy, while history also becomes more empirical and more logical in its epistemic frame.

55. For data on frequency, see Google Labs, Books Ngram Viewer, http://ngrams.googlelabs.com, s.v. “fairness” and “natural justice.” Similar patterns and inflection-points appear for the corpus of “English,” “British English,” and “American English,” in the full span 1500–2000, smoothing of 3. Here again on the history of fairness, I agree and disagree with Wierzbicka (“Being FAIR,” 141–67). The ethical meanings of fairness first appeared earlier than she believes to be the case. But I agree on the very important point that ethical use of fairness greatly expanded circa 1800.

56. Fred W. Friendly, The Good Guys, the Bad Guys, and the First Amendment (New York, 1976) is the classic work on the fairness doctrine. Quotations in this paragraph are from Carrie Menkow-Meadow and Michael Wheeler, eds., What’s Fair: Ethics for Negotiators (Cambridge, 2004), 57; Philip J. Clements and Philip W. Wisler, The Standard and Poor’s Guide to Fairness Opinions: A User’s Guide for Fiduciaries (New York, 2005); Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law (Cleveland, 1996), s.v. “fundamental fairness”; Approaching a Formal Definition of Fairness in Electronic Commerce: Proceedings of the 18th IEEE Symposium on Reliable Distributed Systems (Washington, 1999), 354. Other technical uses of fairness can be found in projects directed by Arien Mack, editor of Social Research, director of the Social Research Conference series, and sponsor of many Fairness Conferences and also of a Web site called Fairness.com.

57. An excellent discussion of fairness, the best I have found in print, is George Klosko, The Principle of Fairness and Political Obligation (Savage, MD, 1992; rev. ed., 2004). It is similarto this formulation on many points, but different on others.

Reactionaries, Powell Memo and Judicial Activism

To explain why the Powell Memo is important, I’ll begin with a summary of the games played by reactionaries which explains the rhetorical power they wield. There are two main aspects of the reactionary mind (* see below). The most interesting is described by Corey Robin, the reason I’ve come to refer to reactionaries as the “Faceless Men”.

Reactionaries steal the thunder and mimic the tactics of the political left, and in doing so co-opt political movements and even revolutions, turning the latter into counterrevolutions. More interesting still is how reactionaries pose as what they are not by claiming labels that originated with their opponents — calling themselves classical liberals and whatever else catches their fancy. They pretend to be defenders of constitutional originalism while they radically transform the Constitution, such as pushing corporate personhood and citizenship, something that would have horrified the American revolutionaries and founders.

The other side of this is what reactionaries project onto others. They are the greatest purveyors of political correctness in attacking free speech, an area in which they show their brilliance in controlling narrative framing. They manage to portray their enemies as doing what they are most guilty of and through this tactic they silence and discredit others.

In this way, the reactionary element of the intellectual elite, Hollywood elite, and banking elite (as seen in the career of Steve Bannon) somehow manages to convince their followers that they are average Americans in a noble fight against the ruling elite. The target often ends up being students at state colleges who, according to the data and opposite of the reactionary portrayal, are mostly those working their way out of the working class — if meritocracy exists at all in the United States, this is the closest we get to it. But anyway, it’s highly doubtful that colleges are serving a genuinely democratic purpose at a time when corporate and other private funding is flooding into colleges, and so the accusation of their being bastions of the liberal faith is a sad joke. This state of confusion is intentionally created by reactionaries — up is down and those who are down are the enemy to be blamed for everything.

Or consider the accusation of a liberal media bias. It’s odd where I most often here this bizarre claim. It’s regularly repeated in the corporate media itself. Even the supposedly liberal media gives a platform to people to spout this bullshit. So, what kind of liberal bias is it that criticizes liberal bias by giving equal or greater time to right-wingers? That is no exaggeration, in that even NPR gives more airtime to corporatist and right-wing think tanks than to those on the anti-corporatist left. that is unsurprising since NPR gets most of its funding from private sources such as corporations, not from the government. Public radio?

This brings me to an example that has been on my mind for a while. I’ve been meaning to write about it. This seems as good of a time as ever. Let this be my first post of the new year, as clarifying where we stand as a society and how we got here.

The infamous Powell Memo (AKA Powell Manifesto) was only recently leaked, but it was written way back in 1971. Ever since that time, it has been the guiding vision of a cabal of right-wing oligarchs and plutocrats. It set out a strategy in how to take over the government and it was successful. Do you know how those on the political right are always alleging a left-wing conspiracy to pack the courts with activist judges? Well, that is an expression of a guilty conscience. It’s exactly what the right-wing ruling elite has been doing this past half century, culminating in the nomination of Judge Brett  Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Predictably, this so-called constitutionalist just so happens to be a big supporter of executive power, an agenda that more fully began being pushed under the administration of George W. Bush. There is absolutely nothing constitutionalist about this, as it undermines the very core pillar of separation and balance of powers. Instead of being a countervailing force, right-wingers are seeking to create a corporatocratic Supreme Court that serves at the behest of a right-wing presidency and political system.

That isn’t to entirely blame them, as the Democratic Party has shifted so far right on these issues that they are now to the right of Republicans from earlier last century. The reactionary mind has a way of infecting nearly everything and everyone. Our entire government has become a reactionary institution, but it’s important that we keep in mind who planned and led this coup. Then again, Lewis Powell who wrote the Powell Memo did so not only as a corporate lobbyist but also as a Democrat. And to show the bipartisan nature of this corporatocracy, it was Richard Nixon as a Republican president who that same year nominated him to the Supreme Court and the next year he was appointed. Still, it was the right-wing ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) that was most directly inspired by the Powell Memo, the organization that then helped enact this neoliberal and neo-fascist coup.

It’s not only the respectable good liberals of the ‘mainstream’ left that was in the dark about these machinations. Before the Powell Memo was leaked, anyone who pointed to the corporate takeover would have been called a conspiracy theorist, and so no more welcome in the Democratic Party than in the Republican Party. Americans in general couldn’t see what was happening because the decisions and exchange of money happened mostly behind closed doors. Besides, the corporate media had no interest in reporting on it, quite the opposite of course. There was no transparency, as planned, and so there was no accountability. Democracy dies in the dark.

Only now that Clown-Fuhrer Trumpf is in power do we suddenly get some push back showing up in the mainstream. The struggle for power within the ruling elite goes into high gear. And our dear leader has put Judge Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court. I’ve heard stalwart Republicans who despise and fear Trump, nonetheless, supporting him to the extent that he is pushing for a ‘conservative’ judiciary which supposedly opposes all those activist judges on the left. Yet Kavanaugh is as activist as they come. The main reason Trump picked him probably was because, when the time comes, the Supreme Court can be swung in defense of the administration.

After the Barack Obama followed the example of George W. Bush in further advancing executive power, now Democrats are thinking that their support for authoritarianism may have been a bad die after all. They assumed they were going to maintain power since it was obvious to them that Hillary Clinton couldn’t lose the presidential election and so that the unrestrained executive could’ve then been used for their more paternalistic variety of friendly fascism. Trump and gang, of course, make a convenient scapegoat for Democratic sins. But that is a useless game at this point.

The joke is on all of them. And the entire political system is the punchline.

* * *

* What is the distinguishing feature of the reactionary mind? Maybe it has to do with the Dark Triad, the strong correlation between narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. In particular, the last one might be key. Research has shown that those who are most fearful of Machiavellianism in fantasizing about conspiracies existing behind every door and lurking under the bed are themselves more prone to acting in Machiavellian ways. That very much sounds like the reactionary mind.

In political terms, the reactionary mind gets expressed by the social dominance orientation (SDO), which essentially is another way of speaking of Machiavellianism. This is where authoritarianism comes in, as SDO types are attracted to and have talent in manipulating authoritarian followers. As such, maybe authoritarians will only be reactionary to the degree that a society becomes reactionary and SDO types gain power, since authoritarians will conform to almost any social norm, good or bad.

It’s only under these conditions that we can speak of a distinct reactionary mind. The arising to dominance of the reactionary mind indicates that something is being reacted to. From other research, what seems to elicit this is rising inequality and segregation that foments mistrust, fear, and anxiety. This is what we see before every period of instability and, in reaction, there are those who seek to enforce order.

What makes reactionaries unique is their innovativeness in how they go about this. They aren’t traditionalists, although they also will co-opt from traditionalists as they co-opt from the political left. One of the purest forms of the reactionary mind is nostalgia which, unsurprisingly, rarely has anything to do with the historical past. It is co-opting the rhetoric and emotion of tradition with little respect or concern about actual traditions.

A key example of this anti-traditional pseudo-traditionalism is constitutional originalism. What the reactionary right is pushing is a complete contradiction and betrayal of what the American Revolution was fought for and what the United States was founded upon, specifically founded on the Declaration of Independence and the first constitution of the Articles of Confederation. These reactionaries will claim that liberalism is an attack on American political tradition, even as any informed person knows that liberalism (including in its progressive and radical forms) was core to American society from the beginning. Consider the view that a constitution is a living document as a pact of a specific community of people, an American tradition that came out of Quaker constitutionalism and (by way of Quaker-raised John Dickinson) informed the democratic sensibility of the Articles of Confederation.

Such history is inconvenient and so irrelevant to the reactionary mind. But because reactionaries took control so early with the Constitutional Convention, their counterrevolution permanently obscured the true history and that has left the American population with collective amnesia. As demonstrated by the extremes of Donald Trump, reactionaries love to invent ‘facts’ and then to repeat them until they become accepted or else until all sense of truth is lost. This is what makes the reactionary mind Machiavellian and, as such, finds itself at home in the Dark Triad.

* * *

Powell Memorandum:

CONFIDENTIAL MEMORANDUM
Attack on American Free Enterprise System

DATE: August 23, 1971
TO: Mr. Eugene B. Sydnor, Jr., Chairman, Education Committee, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
FROM: Lewis F. Powell, Jr.

Neglected Opportunity in the Courts

American business and the enterprise system have been affected as much by the courts as by the executive and legislative branches of government. Under our constitutional system, especially with an activist-minded Supreme Court, the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change.

Other organizations and groups, recognizing this, have been far more astute in exploiting judicial action than American business. Perhaps the most active exploiters of the judicial system have been groups ranging in political orientation from “liberal” to the far left.

The American Civil Liberties Union is one example. It initiates or intervenes in scores of cases each year, and it files briefs amicus curiae in the Supreme Court in a number of cases during each term of that court. Labor unions, civil rights groups and now the public interest law firms are extremely active in the judicial arena. Their success, often at business’ expense, has not been inconsequential.

This is a vast area of opportunity for the Chamber, if it is willing to undertake the role of spokesman for American business and if, in turn, business is willing to provide the funds.

As with respect to scholars and speakers, the Chamber would need a highly competent staff of lawyers. In special situations it should be authorized to engage, to appear as counsel amicus in the Supreme Court, lawyers of national standing and reputation. The greatest care should be exercised in selecting the cases in which to participate, or the suits to institute. But the opportunity merits the necessary effort.

* * *

Founding fathers worried about corporate clout
by Angela Carella

A Very American Coup
by David McLaren

The Shift From Democracy To Corporate Dictatorship And The Tragedy Of The Lack Of Push Back. Citizens United v. Federal
by Michael Monk

Powell Memo
by Jeremy Wilburn

How the Right Packed the Court
by William Yeomans

Extremists on the Bench: Five Years After Citizens United, Our Rogue Supreme Court
by Steve Justin

Citizens United, corporate personhood, and the way forward
by Mal Warwick

Is the Supreme Court Determined to Expand Corporate Power?
by Robert Monks and Peter Murray

The Powell Memo And The Birth Of The Washington Lobbying Empire
by Tina-Desiree Berg

Context of ‘August 23, 1971 and After: ’Powell Memo’ Leads to Massive Pro-Business Efforts to Influence Political, Social Discourse’
from History Commons

The Powell Memo
by .ren

* * *

If Confirmed, Brett Kavanaugh Fulfills the Powell Manifesto!
by Frank Puig

9 law experts on what Brett Kavanaugh means for the future of America
by Isolde Raftery and Sydney Brownstone

Kavanaugh would cement Supreme Court support for an oppressed minority — corporations
by Steven Strauss

With Kavanaugh, Trump Could Fashion The Most Business-Friendly Supreme Court Since The New Deal
by Michael Bobelian

How the Supreme Court Unleashed Business
by Justin Fox

Brett Kavanaugh’s Role in Schemes to Politicize the Judiciary Should Disqualify Him
by John Nichols

Brett Kavanaugh and the new judicial activism
by Matthew Yglesias

Judge Kavanaugh’s Activist Vision of Administrative Law
by Robert V. Percival

Brett Kavanaugh’s Dangerous Right-Wing Judicial Activism
by Elliot Mincberg

SCOTUS Nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s Record Depicts Dangerous Conservative Judicial Activism
by Devon Schmidt

Kavanaugh record hints at judicial activism in American election law
by Adav Noti and David Kolker

How Brett Kavanaugh Could Change the Supreme Court—and America
by Brian Bennett

His Entire Career Has Been In Service Of The Republican Agenda”: D.C. Lawyers Dish On Whether Brett Kavanaugh Will Give Trump A Pass On Russia
by Abigail Tracy

Brett Kavanaugh And The Fraud Of Originalism
by Rich Barlow

Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination is a victory for ‘originalists’
by Jill Abramson

Why the Supreme Court is now America’s most dangerous branch
by Mary Kay Linge

Brett Kavanaugh Was Involved in 3 Different Crises of Democracy
by Charles Pierce

The Senate Must Closely Examine These Documents From Kavanaugh’s Bush Years
by Peter M. Shane

How Brett Kavanaugh Worked to Weaponize the War on Terror
by Faiza Patel and Andrew Boyle

Could Brett Kavanaugh Protect Trump From Prosecution?
by Andy Kroll

Brett Kavanaugh and the Imperial Presidency (Supreme Court)
from Best of the Left

Brett Kavanaugh’s Radical View of Executive Power
by Corey Brettschneider

Judge Kavanaugh: An Originalist With a New—and Terrifying—Interpretation of Executive Power
by Patricia J. Williams

Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s radically expansive view of the power of the presidency: Analysis
by Terry Moran

For Brett Kavanaugh, the Separation of Powers Is a One-Way Street
by Dan Froomkin

7 legal experts on how Kavanaugh views executive power — and what it could mean for Mueller
by Jen Kirby

Courting Disaster: The Trouble with Brett Kavanaugh’s Views of Executive Power in the Age of Trump
by Michael Waldman

Where Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh Stands On Executive Power
from All Things Considered

Kavanaugh File: Executive Privilege
By Robert Farley

Brett Kavanaugh’s SCOTUS Nomination Is Bad News for Church/State Separation
by Hemant Mehta

Brett Kavanaugh and the Triumph of the Conservative Counterrevolution
by Bill Blum

Brett Kavanaugh Has Power To Strengthen Donald Trump, But Supreme Court Has Boosted Presidents For Decades
by Greg Price

If Brett Kavanaugh Wins, the Supreme Court Loses
by Jay Michaelson

Why Conservatives Could Regret Confirming Brett Kavanaugh
by Eric Levitz

A Plutocrat Criticizing Plutocrats in Defense of Plutocracy

On C-SPAN’s After Words, Koch lobbyist and Catholic conservative Matt Schlapp interviewed self-avowed elitist Tucker Carlson from Fox News. The purpose of the interview is Carlson’s new book, Ship of Fools. I don’t know much about him nor have I read his book. The only reason I watched it was because my dad cajoled me into doing so. Even though my dad strongly dislikes Carlson on his new show, he took this interview as important and to the point. I might agree.

Carlson regularly states that he isn’t that smart and he is right. His intellect is rather mundane, he offers no new insights, and he admits that he was wrong about so much of what he has believed and supported. But what makes the interview worthwhile is that, if one ignores the right-wing talking points, he expresses something resembling honesty. He poses as a humble Christian speaking the truth and, as easy as it would be to dismiss him, I’m feeling generous in taking him at face value for the moment.

Much of what he says has been said better by left-wingers for generations. Some of these criticisms are so typical of the far left that, in the Democratic Party, they are beyond the pale. The message is essentially the same as Nick Hanauer, another rich white guy, warning about the pitchforks coming for plutocrats (Hanauer once said of his fellow Democrat and former business associate, Jeff Bezos, that he’ll do the right thing when someone points a gun at his head). Carlson himself not that long ago, if he had heard someone say what he is saying now, would have called that person radical, unAmerican, and maybe evil. Instead, as a defender of capitalism, he literally called evil those CEOs who wreck their corporations and then take large bonuses.

This is drawing a line in the sand. It is the conviction that there is a moral order that trumps all else. He didn’t say that these money-mongers are psychopathic, narcissistic, or Machiavellian. Such terms have no moral punch to them. Carlson didn’t merely call something bad or wrong but evil. And he didn’t say he hated the sin but loved the sinner. No, these corrupt and selfish individuals were deemed evil, the ultimate moral judgment. When I pointed out this strong language to my dad, he said it was in line with his own Christian views.

For many conservatives and also for many establishment liberals, this is a rare moment when they might hear this message in the corporatist media, whether or not they listen. If they won’t pay attention to those who have been warning about this sad state of affairs for longer than I’ve been alive, let us hope they will finally take notice of those in positions of wealth, power, and authority when they say the exact same thing.

Tucker Carlson is basically telling the ruling elite that the game is up. The only reason he is warning his fellow plutocrats, as he states in no uncertain terms, is because he fears losing his comfortable lifestyle if the populists gain power. And his fear isn’t idle, considering that a while back protesters gathered outside of his house and chanted, “Tucker Carlson, we will fight! We know where you sleep at night!” The natives are restless. I guess he is hoping for a plutocrat like Theodore Roosevelt to ride into power and then reign in the worst aspects of capitalism in order to prop it up for another generation or two.

Good luck with that…