Victimization Culture and Lesser Evilism

“…it rises up before raining down.”
~ rauldukeblog

Let us consider once again the sad state of affairs we find ourselves in, not only politically but culturally. What does this say about our society, both nationally and locally? What kind of social and political order do we live in? And what kind of mindset, what kind of values does it represent? We’ll begin with the national level in how it dominates the public mind. As we move toward yet another uninspiring election, we are offered the same old lesser evilism that has ruled our society for so long. Yet one can’t doubt that there is a certain appeal to the lesser evil when faced with the possibility of President Donald Trump being reelected and so leaving the American public to deal with another four years of his mental illness, some combination of psycopathy, narcissism, and dementia. Claims of a lesser evil sounds more reasonable and persuasive than ever before.

Then again, Joe Biden is a corporate whore with his own bigoted and creepy tendencies and what appears to be a far worse case of brain deterioration (Biden’s Corruption and Dementia) — Govert Schuller stated it well: “Joe Biden is so cognitively challenged that he can’t answer a question about whether he’s cognitively challenged without sounding profoundly cognitively challenged” (comment in response to interview). Not only is it a choice between two evils but two pathetic and depressing evils (Pick Your Poison). The absurdity of it causes one to laugh and then to immediately follow that up with a long sigh. Both men are so old and senile that it’s unclear that either could maintain even modest mental balance and political competence for the next four years. This means the actual election is between the two candidates competing to be vice president. It’s the vice president who will likely become the next president, eventually.

Be it presidents or vice presidents, one does not sense much excitement in the air about this election. Both parties seem halfhearted at best in their support for their respective candidates. It’s not clear that either side really wants to win all that much because maybe even to win would be to lose, to an even worse degree than last time. Besides the inferior quality of these two senile senior citizens, consider the immense problems of a dangerously declining empire that the next president or rather next vice president will inherit. One might add that it’s SNAFU, situation normal all fucked up, that is to say we’ve been in this societal tailspin for a long time… and it doesn’t look like there is going to be a Captain Sully to land us safely.

It’s not as if President Trump can be blamed for most of it. It was a mess when he came into the office. Sure, he has made absolutely everything worse and made America the laughingstock of the world, but it was going to get worse no matter what. That is because the ruling elite won’t allow anyone into power who could and would do anything to fundamentally lessen the dysfunction, much less implement positive change. Everything is working perfectly according to design and intention of those in power. We are living in a neoliberal utopia, the supposed best of all possible worlds — to use another acronym, TINA: “There is no alternative,” as Margaret Thatcher infamously put it. The likes of Trump and Biden are products of this neoliberal dominance. They are creatures of the swamp and their brains have become rather swampy at this point.

Still, one has to admit that, of the two, Trump is a special kind of crazy stupid. His degree of cognitive functioning, social behavior, and moral development is what one would expect of a below average elementary school child. He was born into immense wealth and basically has had a personal staff of nannies and butlers, assistants and attendants to babysit him since childhood. They take care of all his needs, solve his problems, protect him, eliminate or silence those who threaten him, and probably even dress him and wipe his butt or even jerk him off. The guy is at the special needs level of incompetence. If he were poor, he most likely would be dead, homeless, imprisoned, or otherwise institutionalized. Being filthy rich is the only thing that saves him from a horrible fate. He can cheat business partners, refuse to pay workers, lose money, go bankrupt, and have endless business failures… and yet his handlers ensure he always more money to play with.

The last election, of course, was a bit different. Whatever one thinks about Hillary Clinton, at the very least it has to be admitted that she is not senile nor is she an old white man, although an old white woman of the plutocracy is not necessarily better. Besides, she is not the sharpest crayon in the box, but she is a standard professional politician who still has a functioning brain. So, you have to give her credit for that much, not that it’s exactly a great accomplishment. If elected, she would’ve been guaranteed to have gotten the job done as president in the fashion expected of any other Clinton Democrat, but on the downside the job she would have gotten done was to further corporatocratic hegemony. It’s not exactly certain that would be a net gain for the country. Trump’s incompetent failure is, in a sense, an advantage since the damage he can do is limited, particularly as he motivates his opposition to organize and protest.

Criticism of Clinton Democrats aside, one has to question the moral and intellectual quality of those who supported Trump, voted for him, helped get him into power, and then cheered him on — and probably will vote for him a second time. Such people must be almost as mentally deranged as Trump himself. Let us consider a specific example, which brings us to the local level. The nearby town of West Branch has become a bedroom community of Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, but it maintains many of the original families that have lived there for generations, including the so-called ‘Old Dinosaurs’ who ruled its government until quite recently. It’s the childhood hometown of President Herbert Hoover who was a decent man, if incompetent in his own way according to some. Though long past its heyday as a bustling railroad stop, West Branch still has the feeling of a pleasant rural community surrounded by bucolic farmland.

So, how do the residents vote? “Cedar County,” in which is located West Branch, “was once Republican turf, but the county voted for President Clinton in 1992 and 1996. Countywide nowadays, there is an equal mix of Republicans and Democrats holding office” (Jeff Zeleny, Iowa County Has Unique Result: A Tie). That was from 2000, but 12 years on Republicans regained their hold to a degree, at least locally. “Voters in Cedar County tend to be moderately conservative. The county generally votes for Republicans in local elections, but statewide races, and the presidential, are tossups” (Grace Wyler, These Eight Counties Will Decide The Presidential Election). It’s not a hardcore partisan population, but it appears to be slightly more conservative than Iowa in general. Although more often going to Democratic presidential candidates in recent years, Iowa was won by Trump with a decent margin of slightly less than a 10% lead. His margin of victory, however, was much larger in Cedar County at more than 18% (Politico, 2016 Iowa Presidential Election Results).

For most Iowans, the situation was probably more about Hillary Clinton having lost the election than Donald Trump having won, but in Cedar County it was a solid victory for Trump’s vision and rhetoric, Make America Great Again. What would cause this population to be so friendly to Trump’s bloviating and bad behavior? Iowans tend to favor more moderate politics, whereas Trump is the complete opposite of the stereotype of Iowa Nice. “The obvious explanation is that relative to the country, Iowa has a higher proportion of white residents without a college degree (Trump’s base). The same factors may explain why Iowa’s best bellwether county lost that status in 2016” (Bleeding Heartland blog, Iowa’s no bellwether anymore–and neither is Cedar County). This can be seen in the demographic details, as further described in that article:

“This year, Cedar County voters backed Trump over Clinton by 55.5 percent to 37.7 percent. That’s a larger victory for Trump than one would expect based on the latest voter registration numbers for the parties. On the other hand, non-Hispanic whites make up 96.0 percent of Cedar County’s population, compared to 86.7 percent of all Iowans, according to the latest Census Bureau estimates. Approximately 20.8 percent of Cedar County adults at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher. For Iowa, the corresponding figure is 26.4 percent. Clinton’s vote share was higher among college-educated voters.Cedar County also has a slightly larger proportion of residents over age 65 than Iowa does, which probably worked in Trump’s favor.”

Mentioned above was the Old Dinosaurs, as they are known in West Branch. They are the aging white guys from the established families that have been there, in many cases, since the 1800s. They are the ruling patriarchy and for decades became a force of reactionary politics, in fighting against any and all progress, improvement, and outside influence. For example, they refused federal funding to fix sidewalks because there was a stipulation that made it impossible to direct that money to local business owners. They preferred to have decaying infrastructure than to pay a non-local company to fix it. The federal funds were lost and the broken sidewalks remained a public hazard, though some of them have been fixed since.

As an insular community, cronyism was how these guys were used to doing business and ensuring this cronyism was more important than all else. Basic public good like infrastructure maintenance didn’t inspire them. Yet they always could find money to buy expensive fire trucks and to build a new fire station (Old Forms of Power), a point of pride in having a shiny new truck for parades. This is because the volunteer fireman association is filled with members from the old families and one of the Old Dinosaurs, Dick Stoolman, held the paid position of fire chief. As an illegal demand in seeking retirement, he stated in reference to his son that, “I wouldn’t give it up unless he got it” (Gregory R. Norfleet, 40-year chief Stoolman stepping down July 1). Indeed, as goes the incestuous politics of a small town, his son did inherit the job. The new fire station has been used as a country club for this multi-generational local ruling elite, where they go to socialize and clean their personal vehicles, a situation that became a minor scandal. These aren’t people who put much stock in functioning democracy, especially as outsiders grew in their midst with liberal Iowa City a short drive away.

This xenophobia toward perceived outsiders is apparently not a new phenomenon. As I wrote elsewhere, “A longtime friend of mine grew up there for much of her early life and she recalls the racism that was common there. Loewen briefly discusses Cedar County in his discussion of presidential hometowns (as Hoover lived in West Branch as a child). West Branch did and does have a large Quaker presence and the Quakers sought to help blacks after the Civil War. According to the census data, there were 37 black residents of Cedar County in 1890, but only 2 in 1930” (Liberty, Freedom, and Fairness). That disappearance of blacks is typical of sundown towns, although in this case it is unknown what happened. For whatever reasons, most of the black population suddenly decided it was best not to remain there, likely because of some violent action or threat, such as a mob or a burning cross.

The census data certainly fits the profile of a sundown town, according to similar examples across the Midwest. At a later date, I talked to that same friend about the case of the disappearing blacks. “I told her that Loewen had no evidence of West Branch being a sundown town, even though it used to have something like 5 black families. She told me that it probably wasn’t an accident that the blacks left. She had many negative experiences in that town. People weren’t accepting of those who were different. Back then, there was two minority families with children, one black and the other Asian. She says they were treated badly and both families left. That is one way to get rid of minorities. You don’t need a sundown sign, threatening cops, mob violence, arson, or anything so crude. You just have to make people’s lives difficult and unhappy, bully their children and ostracize them” (comment at Spirit of ’76).

This friend personally experienced the bullying and abuse, as her family was relatively new to West Branch. She did grow up there as a child, but her parents had not. Although she is white, she was considered an outsider and so worthy of being targeted. The other kids in town could be cruel, of course. The thing is that the kids were often following the lead of respected authority figures, one man in particular. She was living there in the early to mid-80s. It was in 1983 that James “Butch” Pedersen — born and raised in West Branch as a son of one of the old farm families — was hired as the replacement for the position of head football coach and he quickly gained a reputation for winning games. Some of his former players have gone on to play in college and professional football or else now work as coaches themselves. There is no doubt that he is a great coach. Obviously, he has inspired and continues to inspire many people.

He has become well known and widely respected far beyond that dinky town, such as having been “recognized for his lifetime commitment to coaching when he was named 2017 National Football Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association” (A Coaching Legend: Iowa’s Butch Pedersen). At the University of Iowa in nearby Iowa City, Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz offered praise: “Butch has done such a great job. Our state is, in my mind, really rich in coaches like that. They’re doing it because they really love kids and they love coaching. They’re not doing it because they’re trying to be whatever. But all those guys, in my mind, are legends, and Butch is certainly in that category. Those guys are rare people” (Dargan Southard, On cusp of 300 wins, West Branch’s ‘family atmosphere’ driving force behind Butch Pedersen’s success). Why would a Big 10 coach even know a high school coach from a small town? It turns out the influence is personal —- Ferentz explains that, “Butch was one of my grade school teachers, junior high track coach and HS football coach and one of the bigger influences on my life” (Hawkeye Nation, tweet).

For decades, he has made many residents proud of their town and so that has made him untouchable, above reproach. He began his West Branch career as a coach and teacher in 1975 when he was only 25 years old, and he was focused in this direction prior to that: “When he finished his degree, he already was a volunteer assistant coach at West Branch” (Ryan Suchomel, Butch Pedersen always wanted to be a football coach). As such, besides coaching football and along with helping coach basketball, he also worked as a teacher in the local schools and so came in contact with students who weren’t athletes. His career began in that town and has continued there ever since. That is a 45 year stretch spent entirely in his hometown. It was in this latter capacity as a teacher that my friend was exposed to what she experienced as a sadistic streak. She was in early elementary school at the time where she was placed in one of his classes.

Let’s consider some background, so as to give a sense of this individual’s character. Butch, as he is known in West Branch, is an old school manly man. “Football is a tough sport that is played by tough people,” he said in explaining his football philosophy (Bears Football, Butch Pedersen). “Not everyone is tough enough to play it.” In describing a former player of his went onto college football, he said that, even though he was forced to play in positions he didn’t prefer, “he never bawled about it” (Marc Morehouse, No crying in linebacking – Bo Bower’s return). That is because real men don’t cry. They just take it, suck it up, and do what they’re told. Being a hard-ass coach is part of his reputation and he has expected his players to meet his high standards. He does not like weakness and the other side of his reputation, according to some, is that he is known for attacking the weak — that is to say those who can’t fight back.

My friend remembers how Coach Butch would pick out the kids who had few friends, specifically those who weren’t members of one of the old families of intermarried solidarity. As a lifelong resident of West Branch, he knew who to victimize and who to leave alone. This often meant his going after poor kids or anyone else considered an outsider to the community. She was such a kid and so she often got the brunt of his abuse. He had a variety of methods, two of which stood out in her memory. One of the worst things he’d do was to mock and shame his favorite victims. He’d do so in front of the whole class and encourage the other students to join in on the bullying. For example, he would line up all the kids around the edge of the classroom and then make the victim run the gauntlet as the other kids threw stuff at them. She only experienced this on occasion, she recalled, whereas some even less fortunate classmates of hers were tormented in this manner on a weekly basis. Another aspect of this was that he’d make up cruel names for these particular kids and use the names in the classroom. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the kids would copy his behavior in using these demeaning nicknames.

In one incident, my friend had the entire lunchroom full of kids chanting the name of abuse he had given her. Coach Butch along with other adults stood by as it happened and they did nothing (although on a happy and inspiring note, as her childhood self passed by him, she sought to exact revenge by having punched him in the balls). That is the thing, his abusive behavior was known by the other school staff and people in town. Maybe it was expected. Coaches were supposed to be tough and toughening kids up was considered a good thing back then, especially in a conservative small town in farm country. His harsh ‘disciplinarian’ approach seems to have been an open secret, but I guess no one talked much about it, as it was normalized as part of the local culture. The art teacher who happened to be a lesbian tried to protect my friend, but this lady was also new to the town and may have found herself targeted as well, considering she didn’t last long before she was fired. * The school counselor also tried to offer protection and my friend had the sense that she may have tried to intervene at one point but, if she did, she was forced to back down. Coach Butch was golden and so he got a free pass. No one would be allowed to challenge his authority or smear his reputation, as he had friends in high places. He was part of the old boys network, what would later become known as the Old Dinosaurs.

This is relevant to Trump for obvious reasons, considering Trump is also a bully and an abuser. What does this say about our society? Here is another thing to consider. West Branch is a conservative town and yet there are Democrats who live there. My friends’ parents are Clinton Democrats and, in fact, her mother worked at the local school with Coach Butch. Her mother knew what was happening and she was friends with the art teacher who tried to help, but her mother never did anything to challenge the coach or stop the abuse. Her mother couldn’t find the moral courage to face the reality of her child being traumatized partly because she was married to an abusive man. She had learned to rationalize abuse by focusing on the positive, as my friend told it to me, based on a faith in humanity that placed hope in the potential for people changing for the better, apparently even when the bad actors in question showed no remorse. This is how even good liberals with good intentions can become complicit in authoritarian and patriarchal systems.

Many years later when my friend was an adult, her mother who was still working as a teacher at the time insisted that Coach Butch had changed and she’d create situations where my friend would have to interact with this guy who was her childhood tormentor. It could be interpreted as a form of gaslighting, in that my friend wanted to trust her mother and believe what she was told, that he really was a different person now. However, it seems that this was all bullshit, a rationalization her mother had invented to make herself feel better in knowing she had betrayed her daughter’s trust in allowing so much harm to have been done when she was younger. My friend still struggles with that childhood trauma. The sad part is that, going by such accounts, it sounds like she was just one among many kids who were hurt by Coach Butch and almost a half century later he is still coach in West Branch, he is still treated like a local hero.

I know another family with children presently living in West Branch. The daughter attends high school where Coach Butch is currently employed. This young girl was talking about him and I suddenly remembered my friend’s experience from the 1980s. I told this high schooler about my friend’s sad childhood in West Branch and she said nothing has changed. This guy still has a reputation as abusive and is still targeting weak loners who can’t fight back. Later on when I told my friend about this, it hit her hard because of her mother having lied to her. To think of how many generations of kids have been hurt by this one guy. She speculated that the psychiatric costs incurred from his sadism probably amounts at least to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then after some thought, she expressed surprise that none of his victims have yet committed suicide or become school shooters, although maybe some of them have had sad endings without anyone connecting it to the original cause of trauma. She made me promise to warn this other family about how dangerous is Coach Butch, in her opinion, as their youngest child fits the description of his preferred targets (she knows this family). And she said if a legal case ever comes up, she would gladly testify.

As another example of Coach Butch’s less than optimal behavior, the high schooler said that if one of his players quits the team he will emotionally cut them off and treat them like they no longer exist. A child’s value in his eyes, one might suspect, is largely about whether they can help him win another championship or otherwise boost his social identity as coach, or else maybe if that child is a member of one of the old families, part of his community as ‘us’ and so not an outsider. It is his hard-nosed approach that has won him not only so many victories but, more importantly, so much support and praise among those who share this identity of ‘us’. He apparently knows what he can get away with and so rarely steps across the line. A rare case happened last year, according to the aforementioned student, when he was kicked out of a game for shoving one of the high school players. That didn’t tarnish his reputation in the slightest and he is still beloved or so the local media reports — the question being about the news stories not published, the statements left unquoted, the allegations never allowed to be heard, the investigations that never saw the light of day.

It’s not that he has necessarily ever done anything illegal. Even his worse abusive behavior my friend describes from the 1980s may have been considered perfectly allowable by the standards of the time or even commendable by the other respected authority figures in town. The police might have known about it without any concern. That was simply the rough nature of a rural community, as many of the older generation like Butch grew up with a hard life on farms. It’s only been in recent years that most schools have concerned themselves with curtailing abuse and bullying, whether from children or adults. The kinds of behavior teachers and coaches used to get away with in many places is amazing by today’s standards (for a truly extreme example, watch the Netflix documentary The Keepers). That is to say Coach Butch wasn’t unusual, even if his ‘tough love’ was a bit more harsh than average.

It’s not to pick on this one guy as evil incarnate or even particularly horrific, in the big scheme of things. No bad intentions are required since bad actors can remain unconscious of the bad consequences of their actions. The most depressing part and the key point being made here is how normal this is in our society, specifically among the older generations — since as a typical product a post-war 1950s childhood in rural America, Butch embraced the identity of hyper-masculinity and patriarchy. The purpose of this post is not to bring him down low by shitting on the happy memories of many who have known this truly great coach, but it is to remind people that not everyone’s memories were happy. It’s not that the unhappy are more worthy of being heard than the happy, that we should only listen to the critics and naysayers. Still, maybe they should be given an opportunity to be heard, at the very least. What stands out is that the local media has completely shut out anyone who has a different opinion or else they’ve certainly not sought them out, as if they don’t exist and as if what they experienced never happened — the silence is deafening.

This exclusion is salt on the wound of trauma. According to these accounts, it has been those who are isolated who get targeted and, indeed, the feeling of being isolated is very much real. To have the other students mimic this bad behavior modeled by them, to have other authority figures condone it by default of ignoring it, and then on top of that to have the local media constantly praise this man who did so much harm to you and so much harm to others you’ve witnessed — all of that would make one feel all the more isolated. It would feel further traumatizing and, as mentioned before, it would have the effect of gaslighting in a collective denial of what you know is real in your experience. When insanity becomes the social norm that is enforced, those who fall outside the demands of conformity can come to the false belief that they are the crazy ones.

It could cause someone to doubt their own experience, their own sense of reality… and that is the most damaging result of all. Once you no longer trust yourself and the world around you, that can lead to blaming yourself for what happened and so to think you are at fault, that you are the problem, that there is something wrong with you. In a highly conformist society, this is how dysfunctional authoritarianism takes over, as everyone fears becoming one of the excluded and targeted. The targeted victims are not only scapegoats but are used to set an example. Others quickly learn to not be like those victims and so they all the more make sure to do what they are told and do what is expected. Fear is a motivating force and for good reason, but when part of a dysfunctional culture it becomes highly destructive to the human soul.

If we want to judge a society, look to the least among us. Look to the poor, the weak, the sick, the lonely. See how society treats those people and then you’ll know the moral quality of the culture, community, and leadership. Don’t attack the victims of oppression for speaking out, for protesting, and for defending themselves. In an oppressive society where the Dark Tetrad (narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism) holds sway, it takes amazing courage to challenge the powerful and their defenders who will close ranks. The reaction of power to the powerless can get brutal and it often doesn’t end well because few want to hear. But that is all the more reason we should also have the moral courage to listen to those voices that make us uncomfortable, that tell us things we’d rather not know. Look to the outsiders, the minorities, and the downtrodden — take seriously their suffering.

Let’s get straight to the point. What kind of values does Butch Pedersen represent? Someone doesn’t gain that much power, authority, and respect by not embodying something important within a community. In one article, he is described as “continually molding and shaping a family atmosphere full of people eager to help in any way possible” (Dargan Southard, On cusp of 300 wins, West Branch’s ‘family atmosphere’ driving force behind Butch Pedersen’s success). “No matter the role,” this journalist of a local newspaper concludes, “those who’ve been part of Pedersen’s run have a unified message: The dean of West Branch football has made their lives better.” Sounds great! Kevin Braddock, a former player now on Butch’s staff, is quoted as saying, “You’re talking hundreds of kids, thousands of kids that he’s impacted.” The question is what exactly has been the impact not only on certain individuals who found his favor as a coach but the greater impact on the atmosphere created in that community, the culture of silence and silencing as Derrick Jensen would describe it. Not everyone’s lives were made better and the consequences extend beyond a few victims as lone voices.

“Butch can be kind of scary, especially when you’re a freshman or sophomore,” adds John Hierseman, another former player and present staffer. His victims would likely agree with that assessment, if in a way not intended. The coach himself is not shy about admitting to his behavior, as he takes it as a point of pride. “Sometimes in today’s society, people are afraid of discipline and tough love. I’m not afraid to do that,” he said. “Some people think we’re too tough. I don’t think that all. I think a lot of other people are too soft. And I think that’s society in general.” Well, my friend would be among those who thinks he is “too tough” and that would be an understatement. “Football,” as Coach Butch said, “is a tough sport that is played by tough people.” But apparently this applies to life in general. Kids needed to be toughened up. If some of them can’t take it and are broken and scarred instead, he can’t be blamed for their inferiority and weakness, at least according to his own view apparently shared by others who support and defend him.

He goes on to say that, “You can’t always be the nice guy. Sometimes, you have to get a little tough with them. And in the long run, they’re going to come back and say thank you. I can’t tell you the number of kids who’ve gone on to the military and said basic training is really similar to some of our camps at the beginning of the year. You break them down mentally, but you always love them to death. Then you bring them back strong.” If a fraction of the observations and criticisms heard about him are true, one suspects that more than a few who have experienced his tough love have not always been made better by the experience. How many have been harmed? Will we ever know? Will they ever be heard?

Southard quotes the coach one last time — “It’s not me. It’s all of us together.” — and says, “That’s just how West Branch rolls.” Maybe so and that might not be such a good thing. He talks a lot about ‘we’ and ‘us’, and he obviously loves his community as his community loves him, though not all of his community. He comes across as the real deal, a true community leader as once was far more common. As he told it, “I wanted this to be a community tradition. I wanted to have as many people involved in the football program as possible. If you go to the homecoming ceremony, and they ask all the people involved in the football program to come down on the field, there’s no one left in the bleachers” (Ryan Suchomel, Butch Pedersen always wanted to be a football coach). Yet the “all of us together” might be far more exclusionary as is all too often found in small town life. The shadow side of ‘us’ is ‘them’, those who are othered.

That is how Donald Trump came to power. He has attacked the weak and targeted perceived outsiders as scapegoats, like he did in ridiculing a reporter with a disability at one of his rallies. And similar to Coach Butch, Trump has a talent for coming up with names to mock people, as he did with Biden in calling him ‘Sleepy Joe’. With all of this in mind, it is maybe expected that someone of Trump’s character would also be so popular in Cedar County (to be fair, a significant minority did not vote for him; it would be interesting and probably telling to find out if those who voted for Trump correlate to those who most strongly support Coach Butch). That patriarchal abusiveness may simply be part of the social fabric. The moral degradation of our society has been going on for a long time. Those like Coach Butch and President Trump don’t come out of nowhere. And there is a reason they are revered by many, a reason they are able to gain power and get away with behavior that one can easily argue is reprehensible and inexcusable. From small towns in the Heartland to Washington D.C., it’s part of the victimization culture that so darkens our society, that corrupts the American soul.

The deeper problem is this. Where are the numerous victims in our society going to turn to in the hope of fighting back against powerful and respected victimizers? As with the bullied and abused students in many American communities and minorities in the oppressive racial order, as with the perceived outsiders and members of the permanent underclass, those harmed rarely feel confident in turning to authority figures for help, as the system of authority defends and rationalizes away the problem. That is what has motivated recent years of moral outrage and civic unrest — from the Me Too movement to the Black Lives Matter protests. For certain, none of the ruling elite of either major political party is a friend to the oppressed and disenfranchised. Lesser evil voting ends up feeling light on the ‘lesser’ and heavy on the ‘evil’. Here is the rub. Why do so many tolerate people like Butch and Trump? What do they hope to gain?

It’s simple. These social dominators know how to play the game of success and their old white male status gives them immense privilege, albeit often oblivious and belligerent privilege. Such people grasp, consciously or not, the power of the role they inhabit and they wield that power to great effect. In return, they offer their supporters and co-conspirators the opportunity to be on the winning side, to be part of ‘us’ — and the rhetorical narrative can sometimes be quite inspiring, especially when the ‘us’ symbolizes your own community, your own people. If you are one of Coach Butch’s favorites or when President Trump directs his schmoozing toward you, I’m sure to be the recipient of such glowing paternalism can feel like being on top of the world. That is what Coach Butch gave West Branch, a town otherwise in decline from its former glory as a bustling economic center. He gave them a sense of being winners again, specifically during the Farm Crisis of the 1980s. President Trump has attempted to do the same thing on a grander scale, to take a declining America and promise to make it great again, a post-Reagan revival declaring that it’s Morning in America.

On the other side, the moral cost of this deal with the Devil is immense. But once the deal has been made, it’s near impossible to renegotiate and remedy. Hidden behind the sense of shared pride is an ever looming shadow of collective shame. It takes much effort and constant vigilance to keep such dark secrets forever a secret, even when they’re open secrets, to hide what is really going on and what it means for a community and for society. Complicity in a culture of victimization creates a culture of silence. We can point out President Trump’s buffoonery, but what is much harder is to admit that his behavior has long been normalized, if often in less obvious ways. This authoritarian streak in American culture goes back centuries. And it will continue until we face this moral failure. Until then, victimizers will continue to rise into power and the rest of us will go on enabling them.

– – – – –

* About ‘us’ vs ‘them’, one wonders about what happened to that lesbian art teacher who was fired. Small towns are known for being harsh, to say the least, toward those who are different, especially when it comes to sexuality and gender. To demonstrate this, the West Branch Times newspaper published an article by Gregory R. Norfleet, Soapbox Philosophy: A desire within, and a choice, to which one commenter responded: “I love how his column mixes worship of a high school football coach with a fear of homosexuals. It’s just so small-town Iowa” (from Another letter to the West Branch Times at the DailyDisgust blog).

What will we choose?

Donald Trump, in declaring anti-fascists are his enemy, is helping to remind and clarify to Americans what is fascism, who are the fascists, the great enemy an earlier generation of Americans fought and defeated. He has stated it in no uncertain terms.

If you’re opposed to anti-fascists, there is only one other choice. There is no third option. Are you for or against fascism? That is now the main dividing line in American society. It’s a stark contrast with centuries of unresolved conflict being forced to the surface.

If we allow it, the police will become increasingly violent and draconian. Lockdowns and curfews could become the norm. More and more innocent people will be attacked, killed and imprisoned. Eventually, if it continues, ghettos and camps will be created. Maybe we’ll even get to the point where people are simply disappeared.

Humanity is at this crossroads again. In a state of public crisis and moral panic, demagogues are offering the certainty of authoritarianism, the promise of law and order. But it’s also an opportunity to seek a just and fair society, to finally fulfill the dream of a free society, maybe a second American Revolution to complete what the first began.

What will we choose?

* * *

Donald Trump’s “Antifa” Hysteria Is Absurd. But It’s Also Very Dangerous.
by Chip Gibbons

Pick Your Poison

“‘We are the United States of Amnesia,’ said Gore Vidal in 2004. These days, it’s more the United States of Dementia. In 2020, the country seems determined to choose between two elderly men who, it is fair to say, are some distance from sanity.”
~Freddy Gray, Biden vs Trump: may the craziest man win!

“A top Democrat with a prior presidential campaign predicted last year to me that the general would pit “the nice old guy with Alzheimer’s against the mean old man with dementia.””
~Marc Caputo, Twitter

“Voters are going to see Joe Biden in what I think can only be called mental decline and they are going to wonder if he should be in charge of the nuclear arsenal. And the fact that Trump is also in clear mental decline, that’s not exactly reassuring.”
~Jeremy Scahill, We Need To Talk About Joe

“The two people most likely to control the U.S nuclear arsenal, and with it the capacity to blow up civilization, through January 2025 are both well into their 70s and facing pervasive public speculation that they are becoming senile.”
~John F. Harris, 2020 Becomes the Dementia Campaign

Here we are. The presidential election has come down to two main candidates, Donald Trump and Joe Biden. They are white guys, filthy rich and very old*. They’ve spent their lives as corrupt plutocrats and now, as rapidly aging senior citizens, they are not only holding onto power over society but grasping for even more power.

Even if they weren’t morally unfit, no one could honestly argue that they’re not mentally unfit. Each has clear signs of cognitive decline, possibly dementia. I’m not being mean-spirited or ageist. There are many old people who maintain their full cognitive abilities. Elizabeth Warren, for example, comes across as someone decades younger. And Bernie Sanders, even with other health problems, remains mentally sharp. I’ve listened to old interviews and speeches of Biden and Trump. Both of them used to be capable of speaking coherently and intelligently — yes, even Trump.

If that wasn’t bad enough, each has a history of racism, calls for authoritarian law and order, and accusations against them of sexual assault — to name their greatest sins. These older generations are becoming ever more reactionary and right-wing with every passing year, and these two old white guys were already pretty damn far right decades ago — consider their support of tough-on-crime laws (Political Super-Predators). This at a time when for decades the majority of Americans has turned hard left, leaving both parties far to the right of public opinion. How do we call this representative democracy? How do we not call this insanity?

“In this upcoming election, women are very likely going to find themselves with a choice of voting for either Joe Biden or Donald Trump. Both of those men have been accused of sexual assault.”
~Jennifer Wright, When Will We Get To Vote For A President Who Hasn’t Been Accused Of Sexual Assault?

“Three years after the #MeToo movement told survivors our experiences were speakable, we now have the right to choose between two men accused of sexual assault and harassment — and the rumored carrot for the Democrats’ guy is that he might choose an alleged workplace abuser … who is a woman!!!! Girl power!!! Forgive me if the roars of support I’m now obliged to affect get stuck in my throat.”
~Melissa Batchelor Warnkey, Opinion: I will vote for Joe Biden in November. And it will kill me

“It looks like the only non-, sort of heavy socialist, he is being taken care of pretty well by the socialists. They got to him. Our former vice president. I was going to call him — I don’t know him well. I was gonna say, ‘Welcome to the world, Joe. Are you having a good time, Joe? Are you having a good time?’”
~Donald Trump, speech at a National Republican Congressional Committee dinner

About politics as a horse race, which of these old nags will drag itself across the finishing line first? Earlier, we would’ve said that Trump had the advantage over someone like Biden, as the economy was doing well at the time. Like many others, we assumed it all rode on the economy, as Trump bet everything on that issue. But also like many others, we knew the economy was weak and unstable, ready to take a tumble at any moment.

Eventually, the economy would fall into a depression and there would be a reset. It could happen tomorrow or years from now. The plutocrats in both parties have been trying to delay the inevitable. Even Democrats don’t want to face the economic reality, even it meant a massive slump that would hand them the election. But at some point, it will be irrelevant what anyone wants.

That is where the Covid-19 pandemic comes in. It’s also something experts have been predicting for a long time, yet another inevitability. It is hitting at an interesting time, right at the height of campaign season in the year leading up to the election. A third of the economy has shut down with a likely result of massive number of small business bankruptcies and closures, even if another great depression doesn’t hit right away. Also, among the lower class and lower working class, more than half of that population is out of work.

Suddenly, the message of the political left has more traction than ever before. Going by the polls, most Americans have long wanted major political, economic, and healthcare reforms. But the ruling elite had managed to shut down public debate with both parties working together to attack the political left. The silencing is no longer effective and the demand for change is undeniable.

Yet we are stuck with two right-wing candidates in a one-party state. It’s a strange situation. Lesser evil voting becomes more meaningless with every election, as somehow the supposedly lesser evil keeps getting more evil. How are we supposed to be certain which evil is lesser? And how is any evil supposed to inspire victory and somehow magically lead to the greater good? Promoting evil, even lesser evil, muddies the water and simply further strengthens evil — imagine that!

This helped Trump win the last election. But now he is flailing with the public health crisis. As someone who knows how to manipulate situations to his advantage, he seems to have entirely lost the narrative. And he just went on a lunatic tirade declaring himself emperor of America (Stephen Collinson and Maeve Reston, Trump rages at criticism while governors craft their own plans to reopen the economy). For all of his impotent decrees, he has no way to get the economy back up and running again. So, his favorability rating was predictably dropping. It’s likely to get even worse for him over the coming months as the full consequences of the situation become clear.

On the other hand, he is running against the weakest Democratic candidate in recent history. For all of president Cheetoh’s severe mental health issues, Sleepy Joe’s senior moments are far more extreme. For this entire campaign season, Biden has been a political non-entity, an empty suit on stage. In the middle of a pandemic and retired from public office, he has no role to play nor any way to campaign in a normal fashion.

It’s unclear if Biden will be able to remain coherent in a one-on-one debate with Trump (Catherine Armecin, Donald Trump Will Beat Joe Biden, ‘Eat Him Alive,’ Joe Rogan Predicts). If nothing else, Trump is brilliant in going after someone’s weaknesses. He also has a talent for handling the media. As for Biden, his handlers have mostly been hiding him from the public and media, afraid of what words might come out of his mouth. Eventually, Biden will have to come out of hiding and it won’t end well. Given half a chance, Trump will eat Biden alive.

To make it even more interesting, Covid-19 will further spread into the political class. One or both of these candidates is likely to become infected over this next year. Neither is close to being at peak health. Even if Covid-19 didn’t kill one or both of them which it could, they might still suffer serious health deterioration and ongoing health concerns, as is common among patients who recover from severe bouts. If nothing else, it would exemplify the risk of putting up for office the oldest candidates in American history.

It’s a complete gamble of what could happen at this point. This election might as well be decided by a coin toss. Both Biden and Trump are politically out of touch with the American people and mentally disconnected from shared reality. No matter which candidate wins, it will be a loss for the American public and American society. And in our country having become a banana republic, the political system is so rigged that more capable leaders can’t rise to the top. The demand for progressivism, kissing cousin of populism, is coming from the bottom-up and this actually gives Trump the advantage.

Strangely, Trump is more likely to offer progressive reforms than Biden, even as he is also more likely to push authoritarian measures — the two historically haven’t always been opposite and I might add that the economic nationalism, a pillar of old school progressivism, has been a position held by Trump for decades as evidenced in videos of him from the 1980s and 1990s. Biden, on the other hand, will simply be a puppet for his fascist masters, as both a war hawk and a deficit hawk. This is what has made it easy for Trump to attack Biden from the political left, in criticizing Biden for his tough-on-crime policies and his repeated attempts to cuts Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans’ benefits. It was by running to Hillary Clinton’s left on key issues that he beat her.

We are stuck with a choice of bad and worse with it not being clear which is which. Pick your poison, if you feel you must, but do so with open eyes. In either case, America will continue to be poisoned. As previously argued, we will get progressivism, one way or another. But will it be a genuine progressivism of hope or faux progressivism of reaction? Democrats can block the strong demand for justice and fairness from the progressive left. What they can’t deny, though, is the surge for progressivism across the political spectrum. Attacking the political left, as they’ve done, will only further strengthen the far right.

“There is only one choice in this election. The consolidation of oligarchic power under Donald Trump or the consolidation of oligarchic power under Joe Biden. The oligarchs, with Trump or Biden, will win again. We will lose.”
~Chris Hedges, If It’s Biden vs. Trump, This Year’s One-Choice Election Will Be for Oligarchy

“If I go out today and advocate electing as U.S. president the neocon, corporatist, safety-net slashing, longtime racist, private health insurance promoting, war mongering, emoluments taking, opponent of public college education, enemy of major wealth taxes, champion of job-destroying corporate trade agreements, opponent of any serious green new deal, . . . the first question has to be: Yeah? Which one? Which of the two?”
~David Swanson, Why You Should Never Vote for Joe Biden

“To Democrats, it may be self-evident that Joe Biden is far better than Donald Trump, and so they assume that all the bad things he has done will not matter to anyone. Any Democrat in the White House is better than Trump, I hear a lot, and I agree with it. But if you are going to make a clear and powerful case against Trump, you need to be free of the kinds of dirt that are going to muddy your case. If we’re going to point out that the president has been accused by dozens of women of inappropriate touching, we don’t want that message to come from someone who themselves has been accused of inappropriate touching (and who said they are “not sorry” for it). If we’re going to accuse the president of being reckless and warlike, we don’t want the argument being made by a candidate who pushed the most reckless war in the last several decades. If we’re going to accuse Trump of being corrupt, we don’t want a candidate who has done the bidding of the credit card companies while his son took a cushy job with them. If we’re going to call Trump out for separating families, we don’t want a candidate who deported hundreds of thousands of people themselves, and if we’re going to call Trump a racist, we don’t want a candidate who was best friends with segregationists and helped build modern racist policing and imprisonment regime. As with Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden’s record is so bad that he’s unable to effectively attack Trump on the areas where Trump is most vulnerable. This is one reason Biden has to resort to simply attacking Trump’s “character” and his “malarkey”—but as I’ve pointed out, Biden himself is of poor character and half of what comes out his mouth is malarkey! He’s exactly the sort of corrupt, sleazy insider politician D.C. is full of, and who we need to get rid of if we’re going to advance the cause of justice.”
~Nathan J. Robinson, Democrats, You Really Do Not Want To Nominate Joe Biden

“So as of right now it’s Trump versus Biden. An incompetent plutocrat president selling himself as an anti-establishment people’s champion while simultaneously advancing garden variety Republican sociopathy, versus a warmongering authoritarian who is too demented to string a coherent sentence together and who is looking more and more credibly to be a rapist.
“Needless to say, this is absolute bullshit.
“How did we get here? How did we get to the point where the electoral contest to run the most powerful government on the planet is between a racist demented right-wing authoritarian warmongering rapist and another racist demented right-wing authoritarian warmongering rapist? How in the hell did this bullshit happen?”
~Caitlin Johnstone, This Absolute Bullshit Would Not Be Possible Without Propaganda

—–

* Some argue that there has never been a president from the Silent Generation. The generations before them had members elected to the presidency. Boomers have had presidents. And even GenXers arguably had Barack Obama, although it depends on where one begins GenX and, even then, barely as he was right on the edge.

We’re not sure we’d agree with this assessment. Trump was born in 1946 and the supposed last year of Silents was 1945. But those cut-off points are arbitrary. His life experience overlaps much with younger Silents. Our father is a Silent and our mother is so close to it that she identifies as a Silent. For those who spent most of their youth in the 1940s and 1950s, it doesn’t make sense to call them Boomers.

Biden is only a few years older than Trump and he is definitely a Silent. These two, Trump and Biden, were born and grew up in the same basic historical moment. It’s probably why they have so much in common, such as their law-and-order, tough-on-crime support of a military and police state. They also both exhibit the casual racism and obtuse white male privilege more typical of that generation.

In that case, the Silents did finally get themselves into the presidency. And it is Trump who represents them. But then again, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were also born in 1946. It’s interesting that all of these first wave Boomers, first year actually, have so much in common with late wave Silents like Biden. As with Trump’s similarities to Biden, Clinton and Dubyah also were white males with that old school assumed privilege and casual racism, not to mention the whole law-and-order schtick.

Despite being from different parties, all four of these rich old white guys have more in common than not. But whatever generation one wants to call them, they came from a drastically different world than the youngest Boomers who mostly grew up with GenXers in the same post-60s culture, violent crime wave, and high childhood lead toxicity rates. So, if we accept this breakdown, the Silent Generation already has had three presidents with one more now hoping to get his chance.

—–

Biden vs Trump: may the craziest man win!
by Freddy Gray

Joe Biden is Demented Racist Shark Food
by Paul Street

Biden’s Delusion About American History
by Miles Howard

Will Joe Biden’s political record come back to haunt him?
from BBC

Joe Biden’s history of austerity
by Ryan Cooper

Joe Biden’s Long Career as a Deficit Hawk Will Come Back to Bite Him
by Jordan Weissmann

WATCH: Joe Biden Once Boasted About Wanting to Cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans’ Benefits
by Walker Bragman

Why Joe Biden’s Social Security Record Matters
by Nancy Altman

Joe Biden falsely claims he never called for Social Security cuts
by Hunter Walker

Joe Biden Can’t Outrun His Record on Social Security
by Alex Lawson

Biden Says He Won’t Cut Social Security, but His Track Record Shows Otherwise
by Sean Williams

The burden of a 40-year career: Some of Joe Biden’s record doesn’t age well
by Janet Hook

Fact Check: Joe Biden Has Advocated Cutting Social Security For 40 Years
by Ryan Grim

Joe Biden Tried to Cut Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare for 40 Years
by Branko Marcetic

Biden Says He’s the Workers’ Candidate, But He Has Worked To Cut Medicare and Social Security
by Branko Marcetic

Biden’s record on social security and Medicare is a big liability
by Subir Grewal

Campaign season means ‘law and order.’ Can we break the habit?
by Mary C. Curtis

Before He Was America’s Wacky Uncle, Joe Biden Was a Tough-on-Crime Hardliner
by Patrick Caldwell

Biden Won’t Say If He Still Stands By His Crime Bill’s Ban on Pell Grants for Prisoners
by Madison Pauly

Would Joe Biden Put His Son In Prison For Doing Coke?
by Shane Bauer

On Criminal Justice, Biden Has No Moral Standing Over Trump
by Zak Cheney-Rice

Trump Attacks Biden on Drug Policy From the Left
by Jacob Sullum

Trump Was Tougher on Crime in His 2000 Book Than Biden Was in 1994
by John A. Tures

Will Black Voters Still Love Biden When They Remember Who He Was?
by Eric Levitz

Joe Biden’s Greatest Strength Is His Greatest Vulnerability
by Clare Malone

Joe Biden is losing his glow
by Roxanne Jones

Joe Biden Is Not Helping
by Jamil Smith

Where Is Joe?
by Nathan J. Robinson

Does Anyone Remember Joe Biden?
by Dan McLaughlin

Poll: Biden’s National Lead Over Trump Disappears
by Jazz Shaw

Political Super-Predators

Let’s travel back to the wondrous age of the early 1990s. The Cold War had ended and the culture wars replaced it. It was the End of History and this entailed a sense of anxiety, even moral panic. Change was in the air. One of the changes was seen in the 1970s and even more in the 1980s. A decade after that, it felt like a crisis. There had been a wave of violent crime. That led to a number of crime bills being proposed in the 1990s, although by that point the violence was on the decline, not that anyone was paying attention to such minor details.

We now know it was the result of a twenty-year lag of lead toxicity rates from the rise of post-war mass industrialization and car culture. Basically, lead fucks up brain development of the young. This results in stunted IQ combined with problems of impulse control and aggressive behavior. But the lag time comes from the results not being fully seen until the brain-damaged children reach adulthood. None of this was understood at the time, though. There was simply a sense that something had gone terribly wrong and something must be done about it.

Listen to the fear-mongering of Joe Biden from back in 1993 in his talking about criminal ‘predators’ and realize that Republicans sounded far worse at the time. It was an era of ruthless scapegoating. And reactionary authoritarianism had become bipartisan. Maybe the lead toxicity was impairing the brain functioning of old people too. Such cruel, ignorant words do sound a bit aggressive and lacking in impulse control. Here is Biden ranting:

“We have predators on our streets that society has in fact, in part because of its neglect, created…they are beyond the pale many of those people, beyond the pale. And it’s a sad commentary on society. We have no choice but to take them out of society….a cadre of young people, tens of thousands of them, born out of wedlock, without parents, without supervision, without any structure, without any conscience developing because they literally … because they literally have not been socialized, they literally have not had an opportunity….we should focus on them now….if we don’t, they will, or a portion of them, will become the predators 15 years from now.”

It was far from limited to Biden. Ignoring Republicans, other Democrats were talking this way. Bill Clinton gained power through racist dog whistles, such as his giving a public speech about the racist crime bill with black convicts chained up behind him and a Confederate/Klan memorial in the background. Even more famously, Hillary Clinton as first lady was just as dehumanizing and demonizing as Biden:

“But we also have to have an organized effort against gangs. Just as in a previous generation we had an organized effort against the mob. We need to take these people on. They are often connected to big drug cartels, they are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called superpredators — no conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first, we have to bring them to heel.”

So, who were they talking about? In early 1990s, I was in high school. That label of predators or superpredators was describing my peers, Generation X. Many people may have forgotten that time or else are too young to have any memory of it. Millennials and Zoomers might be shocked by the kind of language used about the youth back then.

They think they have it bad these days because old people make accusations that they are poor because of eating avocado toast and that smartphones have made them socially stunted. That’s nothing. Back in the day, old people thought my generation was the spawn of the Devil, ridden with soulless sociopaths. Watch some of the movies from that era. Children and youth were commonly portrayed as not only violent criminals but also as monsters, demonically possessed, and other dark fantasies.

Those old white people, Biden a Silent and Clinton a Boomer, were not only yelling at kids to get off of their lawn but to get out of their society and locked away in prisons. That is exactly what followed. It was mass incarceration that targeted the young. The United States prison population was already the largest in the world and it then grew larger still. The schools went into lockdown with security guards and metal detectors. No tolerance policies were put into place and the school-to-prison pipeline was established. Young people were enemy number one.

Here we are still ruled by these hateful neocons, cranky old white people who have become even older and crankier. They won’t just go away and die. Hillary was the last Democratic nominee for presidential candidate. And now it’s creepy Uncle Joe. Of course, Clinton lost to Donald Trump, yet another hateful neocon and cranky old white person, not to mention an old family friend of the Clintons. In that same era during a rape case, Trump pushed for the death penalty of the Central Park Five, the young minorities who turned out have been innocent.

In projecting their own sociopathy, these heartless assholes attacked others as being threatening social deviants. In the decades since that time, these narcissistic authoritarians have done far more damage to our society than all the incarcerated poor and minorities combined. If we wanted to improve the world, I have an opinion about which super-predators should be locked up. Instead, we are discussing which one of these corrupt plutocrats is the lesser evil to be put into the ultimate position of power, president of the United States. So many decades after history supposedly ended, that dark era of history still haunts us.

Generational Cycle of Crisis and Power

It’s an interesting situation right now with the Democrats and Republicans. I’m not talking about the impeachment trial and the earlier Mueller investigation or anything else along those lines. That is all spectacle to distract and rile up the masses. The elite in both parties have been playing a long game that isn’t obvious to most people. It has to do with the presidency, but not in the way one might think. It’s not about any given election. Let us begin by talking about Steve Bannon, the mastermind behind Donald Trump’s campaign.

Bannon wanted to frame Trump as the next Franklin Delano Roosevelt, someone who would rebuild America, quite literally (Old School Progressivism). To Bannon, “Make America Great Again” was not merely an empty campaign slogan. He thought that Trump would be a figurehead, a puppet he could control. It turns out he was wrong, although no more wrong than other Republicans who thought they could manage Trump. Still, as a Machiavellian, Bannon’s general strategy was brilliant, even as his timing was off. It turns out that he was too clever by half. This requires some explaining.

“Darkness is good,” explained Bannon with almost refreshing honesty. “Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power” Then speaking of the Democrats, he stated that, “It only helps us when they get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.” That is what he needed Trump for, as a demagogue who he described as “greatest orator since William Jennings Bryan” (Bryan was the most powerful leader during the Populist era). Follow that up with something else he said about what he hoped to achieve, a right-wing ultra-nationalism and pseudo-progressive economic populism:

“Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement. It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Shipyards, ironworks, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”

If one doesn’t recall the 1930s, it is primarily remembered as the era of the Great Depression. It was a tumultuous era of stark poverty, mass unemployment, labor revolt, class war, racial violence, and top-down government response. That decade saw the threat of the Business Plot, a planned fascist coup by American corporate leaders with the intent to forcefully overthrow the US government with military. On the other end of the spectrum, the federal government so feared a populist uprising that they violently attacked the bonus army of veterans which was non-violently protesting because they hadn’t received the money they were promised.

Bannon wanted to bring America back to that era of crisis, desperation, and moral panic. He thought, if he could gin up fear and anxiety, he could use it for his own dreams of a different kind of government takeover. As a businessman who had worked on Wall Street and in Hollywood, his dream essentially was a fascism for the 21st century. And he hoped to be part of the new ruling elite that would ruthlessly rebuild America in their own image. It hasn’t exactly been a success and Bannon lost grip of power, but the destruction is still in progress. He still might be victorious in bringing us back to the excitement of the 1930s. If one believes darkness is good, we might be heading toward very ‘good’ times.

That is only one half of the equation. These events were also orchestrated by the Democrats, specifically the Clinton dynasty. Last election, as with this election, Bernie Sanders is the most popular candidate in either party and has received more small donations than any candidate ever before. That is contrasted with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the two least popular candidates since data has been kept. The Clinton Democrats rightfully feared Sanders more than Trump. They purposely rigged the nomination to steal it from Sanders, even though they knew this would mean giving the election to Trump.

As I said, they were playing a long game, even if a different long game than Bannon, as all they had to was bide their time by keeping the progressives and left-wingers out of power, just to keep punching left as they keep pushing right. They had the luxury of being patient, a luxury Republicans did not have. The GOP was in a do or die situation — long term control required, so it seemed to the elite, that they take the presidency and use it for all its worth. Yet they also knew they needed to reposition themselves toward the young and minorities. Bannon tried to do that by saying that, if his plans worked, it would benefit all Americans. He didn’t factor in the explosive nature of Trump who, as a narcissistic attention whore, discovered that racist rhetoric got him lots of media reporting, social media buzz, and loud praise from a small but loyal following.

This is leading the GOP down a dead-end street. Old white people are not the future of the country. Sanders won not only young white males (what Clinton dismissed as “Bernie Bros”) but also young females and young  minorities, while likewise winning the working class. Trump didn’t win the working class, which is seen in how his strongest base in his campaign came from the middle class (Alienated Middle Class Whites). And Clinton couldn’t even win middle class white women, the exact demographic she was when she first reached voting age, instead doing best among the well-educated upper classes. Even so, the Clinton Democrats turned out to be better Machiavellian social dominators, in that they were essentially right that the only way for them to win (i.e., maintain power) was by losing, that is to say by giving away the election.

The same scenario is still playing out as we speak. This is another election that the Clinton Democrats would be wise to lose, from the perspective of manipulating over the long term. Once again, that requires keeping Sanders out of the nomination, as he still is the only candidate with strong chances against Trump. That is what few don’t understand. There is nothing for the Clinton Democrats to gain by winning this election. They have the Republicans exactly where they want them. This is where they out-smarted Bannon. Some background is necessary.

Bannon wasn’t simply being ambitious. He was basing his strategy on a long study of the generation theory of William Strauss and Neil Howe. Those two thinkers, in first having written back in the 1991, have been proven right in many of their predictions (e.g., increasing security in schools). But there was one specific prediction that Bannon honed in on. The basic idea is that, as a country, we have been heading into a crisis, what is called the Fourth Turning. This was something they were saying before Trump’s election, before the 2008 Great Recession, and before the 2001 terrorist attack. They based this conclusion on how the generational cycle had happened in the past, following an approximate 80 year period of four generations.

It wasn’t only that they predicted the crisis we’re now in for it was a particular detail that caught Bannon’s attention. Whichever political party was in power when the crisis hit would be out of power for a generation. And in a two-party system like in the United States, that means the only other viable party would rule with total dominance. That is how FDR was able to implement the New Deal and overhaul society. It is all about timing. Bannon assumed that 2008 was the point of crisis and that, since Obama was president following its beginning, the Democrats would get scapegoated. But with some fancy footwork, the Democrats moderated the crisis they inherited from the Bush administration and so delayed its effects. The problem is that they merely propped the economy up for a bit longer. The longer the crisis is delayed the worse it will be when it finally comes crashing down.

That is what Bannon didn’t plan on. Trump has further propped up the economy with tariffs and whatnot, but we are now coming to the point where no further jerry-rigging is going to matter. There is a high probability that an economic crash will happen in the near future, possibly the next four years. That will be the real crisis that fits the generational model. If the Clinton Democrats can keep Sanders out of the nomination and guarantee Trump wins again, they can create a melodrama that will send the Republicans into a burning conflagration. All they have to do, then, would be to cause continuous problems and bungle up the works, forcing the crisis to go out of control. After that, they could swoop in as self-styled saviors and thus fulfill Strauss and Howe’s prediction, stealing the glory from Bannon’s vision.

Of course, the Clinton Democrats have no meaningful solutions. As long as they keep out the progressives and left-wingers, they will continue to fuck it up and their great opportunity will go to waste. But that is to be worried about later. The point is that the Clinton Democrats would have found a way to stay in power, to maintain control, and remain relevant. Maybe Chelsea Clinton would be promoted into power. Or else various Clinton Cronies would carry on the legacy. One way or another, they would keep the status quo going for another generation. As for the Republicans, it appears they are doomed. In Trump winning last election, the old GOP elite was ousted from power. So, now this election is almost irrelevant, win or lose. Trump has so severely destroyed any respectability and coherency that the only thing loyal Republicans can hope for at this point is a right-wing fascist or theocratic takeover of the government, which I wouldn’t discount. It’s still a dangerous situation. Clinton Democrats, for all their success, will underestimate what they are facing and they won’t be up for the task of the coming crisis.

All in all, even as Bannon got the timing wrong about the predicted crisis, he was right that the crisis was coming and it would decide who was in power. But what few in power, other than military officials, are seeing clearly is that this crisis might boil over into world war and environmental catastrophe. It might be of an immensity never before seen. At the end of the destruction, it could be that neither party will still be in power or maybe even exist. The United States itself might lose its grip as a global superpower and the threat of civil war could threaten or else a balkanization as happened with the fall of the Soviet Union. This Game of Thrones is high stakes and we the public will bear the brunt of the elites’ corrupt machinations. No matter which party wins this election or which global superpower might win the future, average people in America and around the world are almost guaranteed to lose.

[I should give credit to the inspiration of this post. I had been following Bannon for many years now, going back to his career as a documentary producer long before the Trump campaign. But I was reminded again of Bannon with a post by a blogger I follow, Scott Preston at The Chrysalis blog. The post in question is Faustian Man and the Mephistophelean Spirit.]

Alienated Middle Class Whites

I’ve been reading Timothy Carney’s book Alienated America that came out this past year (and already posted about it). Like so many others, it’s about what brought us to a Trump presidency. But this particular piece of journalism stands out from the crowd, albeit not a difficult achievement. I’m giving the author extra credit points because he is somewhat balanced. For a conservative (paleo-libertarian?) henchman of the American Enterprise Institute living in Washington, D.C., he surprisingly brings up a number of points a left-winger could at least partly agree with.

Looking through the book, I kept expecting to be more critical. The political right bias was there, but Carney also drew upon the views of the political left, if not to the degree and depth I’d have preferred. He discusses the history of racism, gender bias, privilege, etc. Then he puts this in context of the problems of conservative nostalgia and revanchism. He takes some pointed jabs at the right, although he plays to the frame of ‘moderation’ in believing the truth is somewhere to be found in a hypothetical ‘centrism’, such as his critique of both individualism and collectivism or his critique of both big gov and big biz.

In giving the political left credit, he admits the importance of economic factors, such as rising inequality and he also brings up the problems of segregation and mistrust. But he is completely unaware that diversity only leads to loss of trust when combined with segregation (Eric Uslaner, Segregation and Mistrust). Nor does he appreciate how far reaching are the effects of inequality (Keith Payne, The Broken Ladder; Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, The Inner Level). His view is not superficial or lacking in nuance, even as he remains trapped in capitalist realism. But he is coming from a more or less conventional worldview, no matter how far he stretches the boundaries a bit, although admittedly he does bring some good points to the table (The Right’s Lena Dunham Fallacy).

Here is the basic limitation. He constantly associates one positive factor with another in the assumption that the link is causal and goes in the direction that fits his beliefs, but he rarely if ever goes beyond correlation and he doesn’t acknowledge all the immense data and examples that contradict his assumptions and conclusions. Consider Scandinavians who show better results on numerous measures: poverty, unemployment, inequality, small business ownership, patents per capita, education, health, etc. They do this with highly conformist and collectivist societies with centralized welfare states and without the kind of civic participation seen in the US; for example, schools are operated professionally by highly trained and heavily unionized teachers, and parents don’t belong to an equivalent of a PTA or typically volunteer at their children’s schools. Yet it can be argued they somehow have a stronger and healthier form of individualism (Anu Partanen, The Nordic Theory of Everything). Such examples show that Edmund Burke’s “small platoons” can be as large and centralized as a highly advanced modern nation-state. It is true they are smaller nation-states, but large enough to have ambassadors, international policy, maintain militaries, and be allies with global superpowers.

Carney barely discusses anything outside of the United States. As I recall, he mentions Scandinavia once or twice and even then only in passing. Scandinavia undermines every aspect of his conclusions. That is the problem. He covers a lot of material and, for a mainstream writer, it is reasonably comprehensive as non-academic popular writing. But he never quite brings it together and he offers no meaningful solutions. What could have been a more worthy book stopped short of challenging the paradigm itself and pushing to an entirely different perspective and level of insight. Instead, he offers an obsession with social conservatism, if slightly more interesting than the standard approach. He makes a decent argument for what it is, maybe one of the better mainstream conservative arguments I’ve come across. He actually engages with diverse info. If nothing else, it will serve the purpose of introducing conservatives and right-wingers to a wealth of info and ideas they otherwise would never see.

I’m not sure I can hold the limitations against the author. Even if it fails in the end, it doesn’t fail to a greater degree than is expected. The analysis is adequate and, within the chosen framework, it was inevitable that it couldn’t really go anywhere beyond known territory. Even so, I really did appreciate how much space he gave to a topic like inequality. An example of where it comes short is not even touching on the saddest of inequalities, that of environment and health. It’s not merely that the poor don’t have access to green spaces and nice schools. The poor are literally being poisoned by lead in old pipes and toxic dumps located in poor communities. The oppressed poor aren’t accidental victims for their communities were intentionally destroyed by design, in the kind of capitalism we have that makes profit by devouring ‘social capital’. Still, it’s amazing how much he is willing to speak of, considering who employs him and who is his likely audience, but it ends up feeling like a wad of loose threads. The edges of his argument are as frayed as the social fabric he details. There is no larger context to hold it together, which is to be expected as the author is part of the very same problematic mainstream social order he is attempting to understand… and doing so on the same level the problem was created.

Though going far beyond where most on the political right dare to tread, he never fully takes seriously the ideals of basic human rights and moral righteousness nor the democratic values of fairness and justice as being of penultimate importance. The entire history of corporatocratic and plutocratic capitalism is that of violence, oppression, and theft. The kind of analysis in Alienated America, no matter how fair-minded and reasonable in intention (if we give the author the benefit of the doubt), doesn’t confront the bloody corpse of the elephant in the room, the reality that capitalism only applies to the poor while the rich get socialism (Trillions Upon Trillions of Dollars). Neither church attendance nor marriage rates could come close to undoing the moral harm. Forget the social fabric. We need to worry about the moral foundation of modern civilization.

As someone harshly put it, “Just a rehash of the same old “Trickle Down Economics” and “Thousand Points of Light” BS. Shrink government down till you can drown it in the bathtub destroying the social safety net while cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations and miraculously private local organizations will jump in to take care of everything. At least try and come up with a more plausible explanation for the disaster to divert us from the truth that the gangster capitalism the Republican Party has been pushing on America since Reagan” (comment to Andy Smarick’s Where civic life crumbled, Donald Trump arose). I might be slightly more forgiving as I came to it with low expectations, but basically this comment is correct.

Carney’s argument is intellectually reasonable as far as mainstream arguments go, but it lacks a gut-level punch. He remains within the range of respectability, not getting too close to anything that might be mistaken as radical. Envisioning a slightly more friendly capitalism is not exactly a new proposition or overly inspiring. Nonetheless, his refusal to scapegoat individuals and his refusal to think of communities in isolation is refreshing. His focus on alienation is key, even as I personally find Joahann Hari (Chasing the Scream & Lost Connections) to be much more probing in getting to the heart of the matter, but that ultimately is just to complain that Carney isn’t a left-winger, not that Hari is extremely radical either.

Where his take offered clarity of light to see by was his dissection of Trump supporters and voters. He does a wonderful takedown of the mainstream narrative that it was the highly religious who were behind Trump’s election. Opposite of this narrative, the facts show that, as church attendance went up in a community, Trump’s voter count went down in that location. His ‘religious’ followers were mostly the unchurched and, interestingly, those lacking in an ethnic identity, as contrasted with traditioanlly religious and community-minded populations such as Dutch-American Calvinists (Terry Mattingly, Journalists don’t understand religious fault lines in ‘alienated’ America). Yet those unchurched Trump supporters claimed that religion was important to them, apparently as a symbolic issue among those who have otherwise lost meaning in their lives, which seems to be Carney’s takeaway. It reminds me of how school shooters are also concentrated in similar communities and, even when non-religious, the assailants often express religious-like concern for meaning (12 Rules for Potential School Shooters).

He busted another myth in pointing out that core support for Trump, although coming from economically struggling populations, did not specifically come from the poor but rather the wealthier in those communities (yet strangely he kept reinvoking the very myth he disproved and dismantled, in returning his focus to poor whites). This economic class of the relatively comfortable apparently have a troubled relationship with their impoverished ‘neighbors’, either in a fear of them or in a fear of becoming like them, which is to say class anxiety in one way or another. It’s understandable as the middle class has been shrinking and surely the middle class is shrinking the most in those economically distressed communities. And that would be hitting white males most of all in how, as many other demographics (women, minorities, and immigrants) have had improving economic outcomes over the past half century, white males are now making less than in the past.

On the other hand, the wealthier in wealthier communities are more protected from these problems and so felt no attraction to Trump’s demagoguery; their local economies are less stressed and divided. It indicates that, though Carney didn’t explain it this way, the real problem is inequality, where it was immediately felt and not. The more well off communities could either ignore inequality altogether as if it didn’t exist or else treat it as a problem of other people elsewhere. To the economically-segregated elites, inequality is an abstraction that isn’t viscerally real in their immediate experience and so, in the mind of the privileged, it is not personally relevant or morally compelling. But such dissociation can only last for so long as society crumbles all around their walled enclaves — as Keith Payne makes clear, even the rich are stressed, suffer, and become sick under conditions of high inequality. Ultimately, there is no escape from a society gone mad, especially when that society is the leading global superpower.

Where Carney really gets things right is about isolation and alienation. And it doesn’t happen in the way most would expect. Why is this particular middle class white demographic so anxiety-ridden and not other populations? In dealing with everyday needs and problems, Carney writes that, “Trump voters—as compared with Ted Cruz voters, or Bernie or Hillary supporters—answered, “I just rely on myself” the most.” That is quite telling. Sanders won the largest proportion of the poor and working class, far more than Trump. So, similar to how the wealthy in wealthy communities feel greater trust and connection toward their neighbors, so do many of the poor.

Stephen Steinberg writes that, “In her 1973 study All Our Kin, Carol Stack showed how poor single mothers develop a domestic network consisting of that indispensable grandmother, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, and a patchwork of neighbors and friends who provide mutual assistance with childrearing and the other exigencies of life. By comparison , the prototypical nuclear family, sequestered in a suburban house, surrounded by hedges and cut off from neighbors, removed from the pulsating vitality of poor urban neighborhoods, looks rather bleak. As a black friend once commented , “I didn’t know that blacks had weak families until I got to college.”” (Poor Reason; see Black Families: “Broken” and “Weak”).

So that is what Carney gets wrong. He goes from Trump’s core supporters from the middle class being isolated and alienated to shifting the frame back to the mainstream narrative of it somehow being about the declining white working class, in stating that, “In general, poorer people “tend to be socially isolated,” Putnam found, “even from their neighbors.” That probably is true to some extent, but the point is that it isn’t nearly true to the degree as found among the anxious middle class. The poorest of the poor, unlike the upwardly aspiring middle class, are those the least likely to move to seek a job and so are the most likely to remain living near lifelong connections of family, friends, and neighbors.

Yes, poverty has a way of isolating people such as being constantly busy with working multiple jobs while unable to afford childcare. Nonetheless, even when they don’t have the time to spend with those important social ties, they know that their social network is always there to fall back on in times of dire need. Sure, the rural poor are increasingly isolated quite literally in a geographic sense, as the rural areas empty out with the young moving to the cities. But in spite of the media loving to obsess over these loneliest of the desperate and aging poor, the reality is the vast majority of the poor, specifically poor whites, have lived in urban areas for over a century now. That isn’t to say it isn’t also shitty to be among the urban poor. But the basic point comes down to something odd going on here. The poorest Americans, contrary to expectation, are not the most anxious and are not those turning most to reactionary politics of nostalgia and strong man leadership. Instead, those on the bottom of society tend to be apolitial and disenfranchised, that is to say they usually don’t vote.

How different that is from Trump’s America. Trump was not speaking to those facing the worst economic hardship but those a few rungs above them. Something happened to the middle class to cause them to feel precarious, as if they had been cheated out of a more comfortable and secure lifestyle that they deserved. Maybe they had sacrificed extended family and community in climbing the economic ladder and pursuing their careers, and it turned out the rewards did not match the costs. So, they were left hanging somewhere in between. “Trump voters were significantly less socially connected,” Carney writes. “There’s plenty more data like this, charting the loneliness and social disconnection in Trump’s early core support.” For certain, something is making middle class whites go crazy and not merely those gripping the lowest edge of it (Fractures of a Society Coming Apart). Look at the breakdown of Trump voters, from my post Right-Wing Politics of the Middle Class, and notice it doesn’t fit the narrative spun in the corporate media:

“Trump voters seemed to include many average Americans, although Trump voters were slightly above the national average on wealth. With incomes below $50,000, 52% for Clinton and 41% for Trump. With incomes more than $50,000, 49% for Trump and 47% for Clinton. A large part of Trump’s votes came from the income range of +50 to -100 thousand range, i.e., the middle class. The only income level bracket that Trump lost to Clinton was those who make $49,999 and under. Trump’s victory came from the combined force of the middle-to-upper classes. Trump did get strong support from those without a college degree (i.e., some college or less), but then again the vast majority of Americans lack a college degree. It’s easy to forget that even many in the middle class lack college degrees. Factory jobs and construction jobs often pay more than certain professional careers such as teachers and tax accountants. I’m sure a fair number low level managers and office workers lack college degrees.

“Among white voters alone, though, Trump won more college-educated than did Clinton. The white middle class went to Trump, including white women with college degrees. Only 1 in 6 Trump voters were non-college-educated whites earning less than $50,000. Ignoring the racial breakdown, Trump overall won 52% of those with some college/associate degree, 45% of college graduates, and 37% with postgraduate study. That is a fairly broad swath. A basic point I’d make is that the majority of Trump voters without a college education work in white collar or middle skill jobs, representing the anxious and precarious lower middle class, but it has been argued that the sense of financial insecurity is more perceived than real. The working class, especially the poor, were far from being Trump’s strongest and most important support, despite their greater financial insecurity. Rather, the Trump voters who played the biggest role were those who fear downward economic mobility, whether or not one deems this fear rational (I tend to see it as being rational, considering a single accident or health condition could easily send into debt many in the lower middle class).”

Of course, Carney is making a more targeted point. He is speaking about Trump’s core support in specifying those who were supporting him from the very beginning of his campaign, prior to the GOP nomination. That core support wasn’t the comfortable upper middle class, but still they were solidly middle class above the common rabble. As he further emphasizes, “recall that Trump’s core supporters weren’t necessarily poorer than other voters. But they lived in places that were worse off, culturally and economically, than other places.” That cuts straight to one of Keith Payne’s main points, the way high inequality can feel like poverty even to those who aren’t poor. Economic stress comes in many forms, not limited to outright economic desperation. Inequality, when pushed to extremes, makes everyone feel shitty. And if the sense of conflict lasts long enough, people begin acting crazy, even crazy enough to vote for demagogues, social dominators, and authoritarians.

If we are to seek the cause of this problem, we should look elsewhere to those concentrations of segregated wealth. “Inequality in the United States is growing,” says Carney in pointing out the obvious. “Economic mobility is low. These facts alone suggest that our elites aren’t sharing the wealth.” That is an interesting conclusion coming from the political right, even to suggest they should share the wealth. Now if the right could only admit that most of that wealth was stolen and so needs to be returned, not merely shared, but such breathtaking honesty is far too much to ask for. We have to take what meager honesty we can get, even if it only gives us a glimpse: “This social inequality, as earlier chapters laid out, was far less in the 1960s (racial and gender inequality were far worse, of course). Between the upper class and the working class, there was a far smaller gap in marriage, in divorce, and in out-of-wedlock births. At the root of it all: In 1960, there was a narrower gap in social connectedness, including church attendance. Today, family life and strong community are increasingly a luxury good. And here we can blame the elites.”

If only social conservatives would take seriously what it means to have made the public good a luxury unaffordable to most of the public. But all we are left with is a diatribe of paternalistic moralizing. We don’t need to get rid of this modern aristocracy, so goes the lament, for the moral failure is that they’ve forgotten their noblesse oblige. They need to return to the founding ideal, as embodied by George Washington, of an enlightened aristocracy. Carney preaches that the economic elite need to once again embrace their role as ruling elite, to return plutocracy back to its aristocratic roots of theocratic patriarchy. The “more pernicious problem” is an “ideoogical commitment to egalitarianism among elites that prevents them from seeing themselves as elites.” Yeah, that is where we went wrong. The elites aren’t elitist enough and so they aren’t taking seriously their moral responsibility to compassionately rule over their local populations of neo-feudal serfs, instead locking themselves away in the modern equivalent of a castle keep. I’m glad we got that cleared up. That should set the world right again.

* * *

Alienated America
by Timothy P. Carney

A quick reminder, though, as we discuss election results and “Trump Country”: By the general election in 2016, a vast majority of Republicans had come around to Donald Trump. Many would choose anyone but Hillary. Others had grown fond of the man. By the end of Trump’s first couple of years in office, after two Supreme Court picks and a tax cut, many other right-leaning Americans embraced him.

This book isn’t about those later adopters, though. This book has mostly studied the results of the early primaries to sort out who was Trump’s early core support . When we have looked at general election results, we have been most interested in the voters or places that shifted from Democrat to Republican—the voters who would have stayed home or voted Democrat had Trump not been the nominee.

So on this question—who was Trump’s early core support ?—different studies found wildly differing results. You may recall those who said “economic anxiety” was the cause, and those who said they could prove that there was no economic anxiety, just racism at the heart of Trump’s earliest support.

What distinguished these two classes of studies? The studies that found no or little connection between economic woe and Trump support were polls of individuals. Those finding that economic woe predicted Trump support were studies of places.

As a Washington Post headline aptly put it: PLACES THAT BACKED TRUMP SKEWED POOR; VOTERS WHO BACKED TRUMP SKEWED WEALTHIER. 3

This is one reason we couldn’t tell the story of Trump without discussing community. The story of how we got Trump is the story of the collapse of community, which is also the story behind our opioid plague, our labor-force dropouts, our retreat from marriage, and our growing inequality.

The core Trump voters weren’t the people dying, obviously. They weren’t even necessarily the unhealthy ones. They weren’t necessarily the people drawing disability payments or dropping out of the workforce. Trump’s core voters were these people’s neighbors.

Trump’s win—specifically his wins in the early primaries and his outperformance of Mitt Romney—is best explained by his support in places where communities are in disarray. Many traits characterized Trump’s early core supporters. This chapter will explore them, and we will see how closely they are all tied to alienation.

How Trump Voters Are Giving the Right Qualms About Capitalism
by Park MacDougald

Yet if Carney offers a convincingly bleak view of social collapse in working-class America, his explanation for this collapse — and his suggestions for what to do about it — are somewhat less satisfying. Carney channels, to a limited degree, some of the new right-wing market skepticism: He offers a soft criticism of big business for stamping out local variation in the name of standardization and efficiency; he laments the rise of “Taylorism” and its dehumanization of work; he attacks the “gig economy” for not providing workers with stability; he disapproves of suburbanization and the isolation that stems from it; he even quotes Deneen to the effect that capitalism breeds an individualistic mind-set that makes relationships contingent and easily broken. But in explaining the troubles of working-class America, Carney tends to fall back on the collapse of church and community, which he largely attributes to traditional Republican bogeymen such as the welfare state, the sexual revolution, the rise of expressive individualism, and secularization. These explanations are not wrong per se, but they are so large and fuzzily cultural that they resist solutions beyond the local and individual. Carney offers a few policy fixes he thinks might help — reforming the mortgage interest deduction, decentralizing control over public schools — but he admits in his closing chapter that the “solution is mostly: You should go to church. Also, You should start a T-ball team.

Generally speaking, it probably is a good idea to start a T-ball team. And Carney’s willingness to critique aspects of American capitalism, mild as they may be, represents a marked shift from where the mainstream right was during the Obama years and where some of its leading lights still are. But at the same time, by delivering an account of a country facing full-blown social collapse and then retreating into calls for local, voluntary solutions, Carney ends up restating the basic premises of an old conservative consensus — it’s not the government’s job to fix your problems — that, as a political philosophy, has contributed to the alienation Carney so convincingly describes. It may be true, for instance, that the state is ill equipped to re-create devastated communities, but it is also true that state policy has enabled or even accelerated their devastation, and not merely in the sense that overregulation has hurt small businesses or that the welfare state has crowded out private charity.

Rising international economic competition, for instance, was always going to hurt the American working class. But as critics on both the left and the right have pointed out, globalization has been systematically tilted in favor of the mobile and highly educated. The critic Michael Lind, for instance, notes that the international harmonization of economic rules has focused on tariffs, financial liberalization, and intellectual property while avoiding areas that would benefit the Western working classes, such as wages, labor standards, and tax laws. Even some of the more diffuse cultural shifts lamented by conservatives have been midwifed by the state. As Harvard Law professors Jacob Gersen and Jeannie Suk Gersen have argued in their study of the evolution of Title IX, civil-rights laws designed to protect women’s equal access to education have created, through bureaucratic drift and activist institutional capture, a vast federal regulatory apparatus that treats socialization into “traditional” gender roles as a public-health risk and attempts, under the guise of fighting sexual assault, to inculcate among college students a progressive view of gender and sexuality.

The point here is not to chastise Carney for not adopting a more dirigiste political philosophy than the one he presumably holds. It is to say that, even on the right, intellectuals are concluding that the problems Carney identifies are so alarming that localist, laissez-faire solutions simply aren’t going to cut it. In a recent essay in American Affairs, Gladden Pappin issued a broadside against fusionist conservatives who, in his view, waste their energies calling for the resurrection of vanished civil-society traditions “that worked only as culturally embedded practices dependent on the traditions of aristocratic centuries.” Instead, Pappin demands conservatives ask themselves, “What can we do with the reins of power, that is, the state, to ensure the common good of our citizens?”

It remains to be seen whether anyone will take up Pappin’s call and, if they do, whether such a conservatism of the state would be effective or popular. But if Middle America’s condition really is as dire as people like Carney make it out to be, it’s hard to imagine that “go to church” will turn out to be a political winner. Carney ably describes the sort of malaise that led Republicans to flock to Trump, but if there’s one thing we learned from the 2016 election, it’s that desperate people want a leader who promises to try something different, however flawed his solutions might be.

God’s Bailout: A Review of Timothy P. Carney’s “Alienated America”
by Tyler Austin Harper

It is here that Alienated America is very insightful: Carney has a genuine knack for parsing the data, drawing out counterintuitive but rigorously defended observations, and resisting simple narratives about complex states of affairs. His central claim that the 2016 election was a referendum on whether the American dream is alive or dead is not novel, but it is both convincing and better supported than similar efforts. Additionally, although his defense of the salutary nature of cultural practices like religious observance, child-rearing, and marriage are unapologetically conservative in nature, his message remains comparatively broad in scope: unlike other conservative Catholic critics of Trump (most notably, Patrick Deneen), Carney predicates his argument on the form, rather than the content, of these practices. In the pages of Alienated America, you will find no diatribe on the superiority of heterosexual marriage or the Catholic faith — he notes repeatedly, for example, that observant Muslim Americans are among the groups most likely to report optimism about America and faith in the American dream, even after Donald Trump’s election and attempted Muslim ban. Rather, Carney’s message is practical and universalist in nature: people are better off among other people, when they have something, anything whatsoever, that they belong to and that unites them in a network of mutual responsibility.

It is this aspect of Carney’s argument that I find most appealing, and most useful for progressives like myself. Namely, the author eschews the common tendency — on the right and the left — to posit a linear relationship between wealth and well-being. More specifically, his work persuasively suggests that financial security and emotional security go hand in hand not because some kind of mechanical relationship exists between the two, but because, in contrast to the working class, the wealthy tend to have the resources to live in and contribute to places that provide opportunities for meaningful lives lived in common. As he succinctly puts it: “The erosion of community […] is unequally distributed, it is concentrated in the working class, and it is geographically discrete to the point that we can see it on a map.”

While those of us on the left are generally quick (and correct!) to highlight the importance of addressing widening income inequality and an increasingly precarious labor market, for example, it often seems that we are comparatively less likely to talk about questions of community, as though we assume that fixing the former will necessarily achieve the latter. Furthermore, when we do talk about community, we often use the term to refer to people who share common interests and experiences (for example, “communities of color”) but not necessarily geographical proximity or concrete spaces of interaction. If we are willing to take Carney’s assessment seriously, then, two questions seem obvious: What are the barriers to community, understood in the sense of mutual, meaningful networks of local support? And how might these barriers be removed?

Not surprisingly, it is here that Carney’s analysis breaks down, where his professed desire for strong communities is predictably thwarted by his inability to recognize unfettered capitalism, rather than government centralization and regulation, as the primary threat to the robust civic life he vaunts. Although Carney approvingly cites Orwell’s maxim “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs constant struggle,” he consistently fails to see that at the heart of every flyover town, closed plant, and shuttered church whose death he laments, there is a place where unregulated capital — not some big government boogeyman — has reared its ugly head.

Unlike his meticulously researched and tightly argued defense of the prosocial virtues of marriage and religious observance, for example, Carney’s tepid but persistent support of free-market capitalism and his assaults on liberal governance are fast and loose, often relying on anecdotal evidence, sparse data, and obscure cases of bureaucratic malfeasance to make his points. Oftentimes, his arguments are absurd — such as his claim that massive companies like Walmart, Amazon, or Starbucks crowd out small businesses because of too much, rather than too little, regulation. Other times, they’re comical — once in the 1980s, Mayor Bernie Sanders apparently professed not to believe in charities. This decades-old remark is spun by Carney into a sweeping indictment of the contemporary left’s widespread desire to have neighborly goodwill replaced by the Nanny State.

In fairness, Carney isn’t entirely oblivious to the problems caused by our neoliberal economic order — he frequently cites cases of Chinese manufacturing undermining manufacturing-centric US communities, for example. However, like many modern conservatives, he assuages his doubts by acknowledging that free-market capitalism has a few minor kinks, before swiftly pivoting to the supposedly graver dangers posed by governmental overreach, centralization, and regulation. As a direct consequence of this reaffirmation of the legitimacy of unfettered capital, Carney is thus forced to retreat into the untenable position that religion is the best and most readily available means to redress our present crisis of community. We can’t all be affluent, his argument goes, and thus we can’t all have access to the kind of secular communal life enjoyed by the wealthy. Yet, even the dirt poor can enjoy the social bonds provided by religious life.

To reiterate, I have no problem with Carney’s high estimation of organized religion. As with marriage, I know plenty of people for whom religion has been nightmarish, a source of trauma, insecurity, and even violence. I also know plenty of people, like Jim the bookish engineer, for whom religious affiliation has been a bulwark against the loneliness endemic to modern life. The problem is not religion itself, as one means among many for achieving the communal ties that foster well-being. The problem is Carney’s reliance on God to bail out capitalism. Unlike Robert Nisbet, the conservative sociologist whose classic work — The Quest for Community (1953) — he returns to frequently, Carney’s own work persistently downplays the connection between social alienation and the flow of unregulated capital that is the principal engine of that same alienation.

Although he signals kinship with an earlier tradition of postwar conservatives who were also preoccupied with the question of community — people like Nisbet, Russell Kirk, and Peter Viereck, who highlighted the corrosive and antisocial effects of the cult of free enterprise — Carney cannot ultimately bring himself to shed the laissez-faire, libertarian economics that dominate the Republican Party. The result is a book that puts its finger on the right problem, but whose author is too besotted by economic fatalism to imagine a variety of contentment that would be otherwise than religious, positioning secular forms of community as the unique provenance of the elite. While Carney’s insistence that we must reintegrate the classes, combating the geographical isolation of wealth and its resources, is laudable, his calls to privatize the safety net are as predictable as they are puerile.

Rather than buy into a zero-sum game that forces a choice between government as a tentacular monster and government as a minimalist “reinsurance” program (“a safety net for safety nets,” to use Carney’s term) is it not possible to imagine a government that supports community institutions by — and hear me out on this — actually funding and defending them? If you want a thriving book club scene, for example, why not fix the public schools? Try pumping money into education and paying teachers a salary that will make such work a feasible option for the best and the brightest. After all, lifelong learners, the kind who read for pleasure, do not grow on trees. Likewise, if you want heightened church attendance, mightn’t an increased minimum wage — allowing prospective attendees to forsake that second job, spending Sundays in the pews rather than driving for Uber — be a good start? If college graduates are far more likely to build robust communities, as Carney repeatedly claims, shouldn’t we work toward making a college education more affordable for the alienated, working poor whose cause he champions? These are the kind of questions that Carney dismisses out of hand as “centralizing” and “utopian,” preferring instead his own brand of theocratic utopianism in which a minimalist state would be kept afloat by little platoons of the charitable religious.

George F. Will on Trump and GOP

“…this party of slow-learning careerists might notice the hazards of tethering their careers to a downward-spiraling scofflaw.”

Ouch! These are scathing words from, among conservatives, a highly respected political commentator and public intellectual. Back in the glory days of the Reagan era, the Wall Street Journal described Will as “perhaps the most powerful journalist in America.” Strong praise to match the following strong criticism:

“In 13 months, all congressional Republicans who have not defended Congress by exercising “the constitutional rights of the place” should be defeated. If congressional Republicans continue their genuflections at Trump’s altar, the appropriate 2020 outcome will be a Republican thrashing so severe — losing the House, the Senate and the electoral votes of, say, Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina and even Texas — that even this party of slow-learning careerists might notice the hazards of tethering their careers to a downward-spiraling scofflaw.”

Interestingly, he had a book published a few months ago, The Conservative Sensibility, and he apparently didn’t discuss Donald Trump at all. When asked about this, he cleverly responded that neither did he mention Doris Day. The implication was that the two were comparable in deserving no inclusion in a book about conservatism.

I suspect Will is hoping, after a period in outer darkness, the GOP might return to its former greatness (and certainly not the greatness Trump speaks of). He comes across as a Madisonian neocon, the school of respectability politics and paternalistic elites, none of which describes Trump of course.

The spiraling president adds self-impeachment to his repertoire
by George F. Will

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

 

Moral Depravity of Social Conservatism

It feels good to see Bill Cosby taken down. There are few people more deserving of it. For years, he has been acting self-righteous in judging others. He was the great conservative icon and father figure who was supposed to represent all that is good about the American Dream, a black man who rose up out of poverty. As part of the supposed meritocracy, he took it as his right and obligation to condemn those he left behind in poverty.

His life and popular television show expressed the social conservative values of hard work and family values. He was America’s dad, as the media liked to proclaim. Now he has fallen from grace or rather his true face has been revealed. But this is nothing new, as it follows an old pattern: Catholic priests molesting children and gay-bashing fundy preachers being caught in gay sex, Rudy Giuliani’s philandering and Donald Trump’s everything. These people aren’t aberrations to the norm and exceptions to the rule, aren’t failures of social conservatism (also, keep in mind this conservatism was never limited to the GOP, as Barack Obama no different than Cosby — both Democrats, of course — loved to bash poor blacks because of their supposed laziness and general inferiority; and don’t forget the racist dog whistle politics of our first black president, by which I mean Bill Clinton). Their two-faced morality is the norm and rule. These great men of power and celebrity, these authoritative voices and leaders represent what it meant for conservatives to have won the culture wars, and for a long time conservatives felt high and mighty, though it turned out to have been a temporary and hollow victory.

The moral depravity we’ve seen again and again is what social conservatism has always been about, alpha male authority figures swinging their dicks around (something George Carlin liked to ridicule). Deep down, conservative family values equates to the reactionary authoritarianism of patriarchy. The family, as with the rest of society, is supposed to submit to the wise father figure who knows what’s best for us and no one should be allowed to challenge him or talk back. The morality of the patriarchy was justified by power and privilege, rather than power and privilege being justified by morality. It’s the reason anti-choice activism is motivated by social control, not saving innocent lives considering conservative policies worsen women’s health and the abortion rate. Real world results that hurt actual people are irrelevant. Rich male conservatives, supported by their dick-sucking followers, always knew they were right because they felt righteous — they were in a position to force their views on others and to silence their critics, as they silenced their victims. The blatant hypocrisy of it all rubs salt into the wound.

Donald Trump was elected for the very reason that he embodies everything that the Republican Party has become. His moral depravity isn’t a minor detail overlooked by social conservatives such as evangelicals. It is precisely why they love and worship him. The more he flaunts his immoral egotism, the more his fans go wild. He shows no shame and that is taken as an inspiring example of how pure power will put feminists and liberals back in their place. The difference with Bill Cosby is that he pretended to have been different, using his claim as a moral exemplar to justify his being a moral scold. But now it has been revealed there never was any difference. Cosby and Trump are the same patriarchal archetype, proving right everything feminists have said for generations. This is what it means to make America great again, the patriarchy coming back out of hiding and damn! is it ugly when seen in the glare of open scrutiny.

Many social conservatives have stopped pretending anymore and instead have embraced this moral depravity as a point of pride, in the hope of demonstrating how much influence they still have. Trump defies all social norms of moral behavior and appears untouchable. No one can tell him what to do, just like it was in the good ol’ days when every man was supposedly a king in his own castle. But that arrogance is changing, demonstrated by the taking down of Bill Cosby. In his attacking poor blacks as being morally inferior, it should be noted that it was the rich black guy who was drugging and raping women. It turns out that wealth, ambition, and success aren’t signs from God that you are one of the divine elect. Maybe the same morality that applies to the rest of us also applies to the rich and powerful. Maybe they aren’t above the law, after all. Maybe they aren’t untouchable.

Here is my simple prayer. May Bill Cosby rot in prison and die in shame. And may the likes of Donald Trump be next for the chopping block. As for women and all others who are also rich and powerful assholes in both political parties, whether serving the patriarchy or pretending not to, we will be coming for you soon. Be patient. The moral arc of history is bending back around.

* * *

My criticisms here aren’t a response to mere moral failure. Most of us to varying degrees fail our own stated moral standards. But there is a difference. Not all of us hold ourselves up as morally righteous and superior to our fellow humans. Moral failure is commonplace, although the levels of moral failure seen with the likes of Bill Cosby exist on an entirely different sphere of outright moral depravity. That is the difference that makes a difference. Cosby’s outward righteousness was precisely correlated to his hidden depravity.

Let me share a comparable example, even if only comparable in that it is another celebrity caught up in the #MeToo movement. On far lesser accusations, Louis C.K. was brought down low and deserved it to some extent. But here is what was very much unlike the Cosby case. First, his moral depravity was much less depraved. Second, he immediately admitted to his wrongdoing and then gave a heartfelt apology. And, last but not least, he never held himself up as better than others, if anything doing the opposite in making fun of himself as a pathetic loser.

Humility can go a long way in life. I can be a righteous asshole at times. Even so, I know I’m not morally superior to others. I regularly admit to my own personal failures. All of us are imperfect in varying ways as we are all fallible humans. There is nothing wrong with that. Keeping one’s ego tamped down with humility is probably the best way of avoiding the worst forms of moral depravity. The point isn’t about being morally perfect or necessarily even coming close. The simple truth is that, the higher are the moral standards we hold, the greater will be our falling short. But that is better than lowering one’s standards so far down that they are easy to meet without effort. Or worse still, you could go the route of Trump and have no standards at all by simply embracing depravity as a way of life.

Writing this was a cathartic experience. I really am not in a position to be morally righteous, even as I’m deeply moved by a moral outrage that implicates us all in our societal failure. No one should be following my example, other than maybe in my willingness to be a truth-teller. My few moral strengths are worthy, I suppose. I try my best, which admittedly is limited. Still, I don’t feel better in seeing others brought down low, although I do feel wonderful knowing that justice is occasionally served. Justice can seem so rare that it’s a breath of fresh air when it does happen. For all the problems with the #MeToo movement, it has forced much needed change. And it was the victims that forced that change, which is how it should be.

* * *

Whose Work Counts? Who Gets Counted?

The Secret Lives of Inner-City Black Males
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

How Bill Cosby, Obama and Mega-Preachers Sold Economic Snake Oil to Black America
by Yves Smith

Is Bill Cosby Right or Is the Black Middle Class Out of Touch?
NPR

The Injustice Bill Cosby Won’t See
by Michael E. Dyson

Is the Black Community Ashamed to See Poor African-Americans on TV?
by Nareissa Smith

The untold truth of Bill Cosby
by Phil Archbold

What Bill Cosby Has Taught Us About Sexual Assault and Power
by Emma M.

The long arm of justice reaches Bill Cosby
by Tony Norman

Bill Cosby’s moralizing comes back to haunt him
by Edward McAllister and Jill Serjeant

Cosby’s criticisms of poor blacks come back to haunt him
by dwilson1911

Unmasking Dr. Huxtable
by Debra A. Smith

Bill Cosby was once ‘America’s Dad.’ Now he’s a convicted pariah.
by Daniel Arkin

Bill Cosby: a dark cloud now hangs over ‘America’s Dad’
by Andrew Anthony

Philadelphia Laments Bill Cosby’s Now-Tarnished Image
by Trip Gabriel

Cosby verdict met with conflicting emotions by some blacks
by Errin Haines Whack

Bill Cosby Scandal: Fans Feel Sadness, Not Sympathy
by Brian Lowry

‘The Cosby Show’s’ legacy in South Africa
PRI