Where is the demos in democracy?
What do Americans think as a people and a public? That is the eternal question in a country that was made famous by being founded as the first modern democracy. Among serious thinkers, the conventional theory of representative government has been that public opinion generally determines public policy, on average if not in every detail. This is what supposedly gives a public mandate to the political elite to rule on our behalf, as an approximation of self-governance but without direct democracy. Well, that is the theory. Is it true? To question this political dogma, in the past, was considered unpatriotic and seen as an attack on the very ideal of democracy. But times have changed, as has faith in claims of democratic representation.
Let us explore where Americans stand on the issues. This year’s Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) values survey, Dueling Realities: Amid Multiple Crises, Trump and Biden Supporters See Different Priorities and Futures for the Nation (full data and visual summary), brings us some lovely info about the American population and conclusions can be offered. There is a decided shift showing a larger pattern across the board. It could be suggested that Donald Trump’s administration does not represent the direction the country is heading in, assuming there is any hope of actual democracy functioning in the slightest.
Neither is the Republican Party in alignment with the general public nor with Independents. And Republican Fox News viewers are shown to be living in a separate alternative reality — older, whiter, and more right-wing than the average American, although not as far right as the audiences of the Daily Caller, Breitbart News, and the Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh radio shows (John Gramlich, 5 facts about Fox News). With total lack of awareness, Pew describes the audiences of most media sources as ‘left-leaning’ while not acknowledging that most Americans are ‘left-leaning’; but left of what, left of of Fox News? (John Gramlich, Q&A: How Pew Research Center evaluated Americans’ trust in 30 news sources). Then among the religious, white evangelicals are extremists and, among Christians, a minority. Yet the media and political elite obsess over white evangelicals, as if they were the very definition of religiosity — it is not — and representative of the religious majority — they are not.
These three combined demographics (Fox News viewers, white Evangelicals, and Republicans) represent a minority — not exactly new information. Based on the acronym FER, they’ll henceforth be referred to as ‘Ferengi’. This demographic is situated within the American public and society somewhat in the way that the patriarchal and profit-obsessed Star Trek Ferengi (with their capitalistic religion) represented an alien presence and minority worldview within the Federation. Even though the Ferengi were not members of the Federation and held themselves apart from Federation society, they nevertheless were tolerated and accepted as part of the Federation’s open and diverse liberal culture and social democracy, which included being allowed to do business within Federation territory.
Similarly, the American demographic minority that we shall call ‘Ferengi’ are opposite of and in opposition to the American majority that is progressive, liberal, and leftist across every category of views and values, issues and policies (the metaphor of a political spectrum being a relative concept; how can the American people be on the poltical ‘left’ if they are the majority public opinion that defines the ‘center’ of Amerian society?). Yet these American Ferengi are given equal rights and freedoms that are protected by the very social liberalism and social democracy that contradicts their preferred ideology of patriarchal authoritarianism, caste-based social Darwinism, xenophobic identity politics, and semi-fascist corporatocracy. This is the Ferengi vs the Federation, neither equals nor enemies but awkwardly situated together.
This Ferengi demographic is a varety of what one could call Faceless Men, in honor of the masked assassins cult in Game of Thrones. The Faceless Men can change guise, in the way that reactionaries co-opt ideological rhetoric and adopt ideological identities. This makes the Faceless Men hard to pin down, but in the case of the Ferengi we at least have some demographic identifiers to clearly mark boundaries. That is the purpose of naming the Ferengi in creating a specific demographic category that has been used as a favorite disguise of the Faceless Men. Speaking of a ‘conservative’ movement is too vague and misleading. Not all conservatives are Ferengi and not all Ferengi are conservatives. Interestingly, a large part of the American population self-identifies as ‘conservative’ while holding views that are mostly or entirely on the political ‘left’ (an equally large but opposite pattern on the political left is not found in any data). These confused and inconsistent pseudo-conservatives may or may not vote Republican, but it is highly unlikely that they are white evangelicals who regularly watch and trust Fox News. That is an important distinction to keep in mind while reading further on.
Before moving on, let’s clarify what kind of understanding is implied in this insight and analysis. Yes, American society is and always has been broadly liberal, as a product of Enlightenment thought and revolution, not only the American Revolution but also several major populist revolts during the colonial era and cntinuing revolts over the centuries since — the Spirit of ’76 is the American Spirit, from the War of Regulation and Shays’ Rebellion to the Coal Wars and the Battle of Athens. The word for ‘democracy’ was not as familiar in early America, but the ideals and ideology of democracy (and socialism) had already begun to take hold with the English Civil War, which had immense impact in shaping early American culture and politics. What is often misunderstood is that conservatism is not traditionalism, as conservatism did not exist until after the revolutionary period. Rather, it’s a variant of and reaction to liberalism, both of which followed the failure and fall of traditionalism that they sought to replace. The reactionary mind is the shadow of a liberal society and, as liberalism has increased, the reactionary has intensified. We live in a reactionary age, as the stress and anxiety mounts, with collective insanity taking hold and collective trauma having become a scar — we are in need of healing.
With an immunocompromised psyche, we all are vulnerable to infection from this virulent mind virus. We all contain the potential of becoming Faceless Men. The Ferengi are simply an extreme example of the reactionary, among the first victims of the mind plague, and so our purpose here is not to scapegoat them but to explore what is central to defining American society, not unlike the way the Star Trek Ferengi as a contrast helped shape the Federation identity. As such, the demographic Ferengi in American society are used as a foil to highlight the qualities of liberalism. They serve a necessary role in the public imagination and the political narrative. Reactionaries become possessed by and identified with the shadow of society, what we have collectively denied and cast out but cannot make go away. They carry the burden of what we haven’t yet learned too handle. And, maybe in line with Arnold Mindell’s thought, they fill an essential social role that must be represented and fulfilled. The reactionary mind is the return of the repressed. It holds up a mirror to our society, if we dare look.
Despite being a miniscule minority, the Ferengi have an outsized influence in society and the psyche. But we should emphasize the most basic point for our purposes here. These overt reactionaries are a minority that are located at the radical fringe. Never forget that. The public opinion of the American public, suppressed and silenced, is something entirely else. The political polarization is not between two equally sized groups but between the majority and one particular minority. Still, one way or another, we will be forced to face what the reactionary represents. The reactionary is not only those others but something within us, but that is an issue to be saved for another day. Let us end with a reassuring thought. Shadow or not, the reactionary mind is not normal and we need to recognize that truth, to constantly remind ourselves of it. We are not defined, as individuals or as a society, by our worst impulses.
What kind of country is America?
In looking at the recent PRRI values survey, we are given a pictue of America as seen by Americans, the differences of view and the commonalities. So, what kind of country do we Americans believe we live in? Let’s go straight to the top, God. Most Americans no longer believe God has granted the United States a special role in history. Once having been an article of faith among the majority, only 40% of Americans still hold to this conviction in our political religion, although 64% of Republicans are holding strong to their sense of divine entitlement and presumably all of the divine privileges that go with it.
It isn’t solely a partisan divide and maybe as much about specific kinds of religiosity. White evangelical Protestants, unsurprisingly, are totally into American theocracy as seen with their strong support of Donald Trump hand-picked by God as the Chosen One to rule over the Chosen People, albeit this is a slight interpretation of the data on our part. Then again, if much more weakly, black Protestants are barely holding onto a sense of America’s divine status; and many of those black Protestants would be evangelicals as well. But most mainline Protestants, Catholics, etc don’t see it that way.
Interestingly, back in the 19th century, it was evangelicals, as a minority religious group, who were among the strongest defenders of the separation of church and state — how things have changed. It was also evangelicals who were supporters of Populism, Progressivism, the Great Society, and the New Deal. Evangelicals weren’t always reactionaries (similar to how libertarians, as having originated in the workers movement on the political left, didn’t begin as reactionary right-wingers either). Evangelicalism, in this sense, has been taken on as one of the guises of the Faceless Men.
Besides those two groups of primarily evangelicals, all other measured demographics are probably more prone to believing America has fallen under a divine curse. As for Christians in general, they’re just not buying this divine nationalism. On the other hand, no demographic, not even white evangelicals, thinks that America is and always has been a Christian nation, not even after four years of the Chosen One, President Donald Trump, ruling the land. America has not been made great again, if it ever was great. So, it’s hard to know what God’s favor could mean anyhow, as there are much more religiously devout countries out there. Indeed, church attendance here has been dropping. God looks down on America and says, “No respect, no respect, I tell ya.”
After these rough past few years, the evidence is becoming less clear that we are the Chosen People. This calls into question our American Exceptionalism and hence our divine mandate to rule the world as the largest empire in history. But the survey didn’t ask which country now has gained God’s favor in replacing America’s divine status. We’ll have to wait to find out the results on that one, as God works in mysterious ways. For certain, God doesn’t hold the sway he once did here in the grand ol’ US of A, as only 39% agree that believing in Him is necessary for morality. About an equal number (38%) thinks that religion causes more problems than it solves. So, maybe God should look for a more hospitable place to call home.
America has stopped being the moral beacon for the world, according to Americans (74%), whatever might be God’s opinion on the matter. Huddled masses of immigrants take note. Most Republicans don’t see this nation as a good moral example with 55% taking this negative view, when only 33% agreed in 2018. Not even White evangelical Protestants can get on board with a belief in national moral superiority at this point. So, obviously, Trump’s brand of pseudo-Christian nationalism hasn’t inspired a flood of moral religiosity to buoy up public confidence and hyper-patriotism. It turns out that there is more to religion than waving a Bible in the air while posing in front of a camera or at least there used to be.
Americans have come to a consensus that America is no longer a Christian nation (74%) with a significant portion thinking it never was (22%). An increasing number think that this decline of Christian dominance is a good thing, at 39% which is up from five years ago when it was 29%. One can see a trend in falling religiosity and the weakening of theocratic impulses, as secular nationalism takes hold. Maybe the media has become our new shared religion, as we do devotedly worship it with the authorization it provides in shaping our sense of reality. People scroll their smart phones like rosary beads, bow their heads to their laptops as if before a shrine, and go into altered states as their eyes glaze over watching boob tube. Churches have steep competition these days.
What’s the matter with America?
Let’s now move onto more general views of what is seen as mattering, since God no longer holds this place of pride. The majority of Americans generally agree with the majority of Democrats in how they prioritize most issues: coronavirus pandemic (60%, 85%), fairness of presidential elections (57%, 68%), health care (56%, 73%), jobs and unemployment (52%, 58%), crime (46%, 48%), terrorism (45%, 43%), abortion (36%, 35%), appointment of Supreme Court Justices (40%, 44%), federal deficit (36%, 31%), immigration (33%, 36%), and trade agreements with other countries (23%, 19%).
On the last four issues, Republicans are close to being in agreement as well. But on the first seven, Republicans strongly disagree with both the general public and Democrats. And on three other highly polarized and partisan issues (racial inequality, climate change, and growing gap between rich and poor), the average American is about smack dab in the middle. Actually, they are toward the middle on some of the others as well, although they have a general alignment with Democrats while, in those cases, Republicans are found on the complete opposite side. Two examples of the latter are 39% of Republicans seeing the coronavirus pandemic as critical and 33% with that opinion about health care, in contrast to 60% and 56% for Americans in general which is about equally distant from Democrats, if on the same side of the minority-majority divide.
It gets interesting with a religious breakdown. When looking at the top three issues for each group, there is wide agreement about the coronavirus pandemic and fairness of presidential elections. There is a consensus on these two among most included religious demographics: white mainline Protestants, Black Protestants, White Catholics, Hispanic Catholics, Other Christians, and the non-Christian religious. That makes this the majority religious position about what is seen as central at this present moment.
Also, Hispanic Protestants and the Unaffiliated put the coronavirus pandemic in their top three picks, but not fairness of presidential elections. White evangelical Protestants did agree about fairness of presidential elections while being alone in stating great concern for terroism and abortion, indicating that they are highly motivated by thoughts of violence and death, if not the slow violence and mass death by other means (pollution, lead toxicity, lack of healthcare, racial oppression, war, etc), and of course they love violent law-and-order, militarized police, war on drugs, mass incarceration, and the death sentence as the ultimate social control. As another popular issue, healthcare was held up as important to four of these demographics: Hispanic Protestants, White Catholics, Other Christians, and Unaffiliated.
Are Americans racists or socialists?
Here is a funny one. Almost half of Americans perceive the Republican Party as having been taken over by racists and the Democratic Party by socialists. The people in each party disagrees with that view, but it is amusing because of the lopsided quality of the accusations. Most Democrats don’t identify as socialist even as they wouldn’t take it as a slur against their good character, whereas Republicans understandably freak out when they get called racists. No one wants to be thought of as a racist, not even most racists these days.
That is because a growing number of Americans identify with the socialist label while an ever shrinking minority still openly embraces racist ideology. As Sarah van Gelder, in looking at other polling, explained the former: “While capitalism is viewed more favorably among all Americans than socialism, the reverse is true among those under 29, African Americans and Hispanics, and those making less than $30,000 a year, according to a Pew poll. And more Americans have a favorable view of socialism than of the Tea Party.” As the older generations die off and the country becomes a majority of racial/ethnic minorities, along with inequality growing worse, net positive view of socialism could become common or even mainstream in the coming decades. Socialism might become the new majority position before too long, in response to the extremism, atrocities, and injustice of corporatist and plutocratic capitalism.
At the very least, socialism is already part of socially acceptable public debate, albeit still contentious for the moment. Yet when it comes to racism, even Donald Trump feels compelled to deny it even while he is throwing out blatantly racist rants. The fact that it has to be hidden behind lies, if open lies, demonstrates how shameful it is perceived. Everyone understands that racism is no longer acceptable (neither politically correct nor morally good), as public opinion has shifted left on social issues. At the same time, public opinion is likewise going left on fiscal issues. Attempting to slander Democrats as socialists and fellow travelers doesn’t quite have the sting it did during the Cold War. Instead, it has had the unintended effect of normalizing ‘socialism’, as a word to be bandied about, no matter the lack of any shared understanding of what it means.
These changes are seen all across the board, as a recent Fox News poll proved, not to mention the hundreds of other polls that have shown the same. To take another key example, from 2015 to 2020, the majority switched from agreeing to disagreeing with the statement that the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life, and for as long as this question has been asked by PRRI this is the first time this response was seen. As the Cold War is growing distant, so is the War on Terror. But once again, Republicans stand alone in clinging to these old fears and animosities of a prior age of propaganda. Most Americans, instead, are focused on more immediate collective problems: economic troubles, COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, etc.
There are some even more damning divides on racial issues. Once a minority position, an emerging majority (56%) has been persuaded that cops killing Blacks is part of a broader pattern, not mere isolated incidents. In 2015, 53% said the opposite was true. Yet, as always, Republicans (79%) and Fox News viewers (90%) cling to their worst hateful prejudices in presently siding with this institutionalized and systemic racist law-and-order, compared to 40% independents and 17% of Democrats. That is a vast gap in public opinion. This further demonstrates the persistent demographic pattern of the reactionary Ferengi as distinct from the progressive majority.
As the rest of America wakes up to this sad state of affairs, the political right has remained steady with their cold hearts unmoved by pleas of injustice and suffering. But it is good to be reminded that they are a polling minority in their callousness toward racial minorities, whereas white Democrats have fallen almost exactly in line with blacks. White Independents, now at 46%, have also edged down into seeing racist-driven killings as a problem; although White Americans in general are hovering right on the divide of public opinion with equal numbers going both directions. As for white Christian groups, most of them are still feeling a bit racist while steadily moving away from the hardcore racism of white evangelical Protestants (70%), their former alignment disappearing with white mainline Protestants now at 57% and white Catholics 58%.
What is the racial and racist divide?
To really get at racism, PRRI divided the polling sample into demographically equal sub-samples. They received questions about protests that were identical except in one way, by mentioning blacks or by not mentioning race at all. This was a brilliant way to get at people’s honest opinion and what is motivating it. Americans in general agree (61%) with the statement “When Americans speak up and protest unfair treatment by the government, it always makes our country better.” But Americans are almost divided (52%) whether such free speech and freedom to assemble also applies to “Black Americans.”
The only two measured demographics, as brought up in the PRRI report, that absolutely believe all Americans should have equal rights are blacks and Democrats, although many of the other demographics still mostly favored giving blacks such rights (the views of other races and ethnicities were not mentioned in the report but might be available in the raw data). The demographics of white conservatives all were strongly opposed to blacks not being violently oppressed and silenced, but to be fair they were less supportive and more divided on protesting in general. Even so, most Americans, no matter their race, are equal in their majority support of the citizen’s right to protest. Once again, conservatives are the minority even among whites.
But of course, America’s racist history rears its ugly head the moment the question is racialized. The variations in demographics, though, are not entirely as expected. As most Americans support protesting on principle, even if only a slim majority holding to the same for blacks, there is nonetheless many white demographics that would defend this right for blacks. There are the college-educated, as always. Gender is the opposite of how typically portrayed. White men (50%) are more supportive of black protests than white women (44%), which might relate to white men being one of the key demographics where Trump saw declining numbers among his voters this past election. White men can’t be blamed for everything. This also indicates that the Ferengi phenomenon is not merely an issue of The Man. The Ferengi do defend white patriarchy, but many of those defenders happen to be women.
Besides conservatives, it’s the white religious, including among mainline Protestants, who are among the most racist on this issue, as their majority support for protests drops to 35-38% when applied to blacks. This reminds one of why most Americans now assume that believing in God is not necessary for being moral. Obviously, the religious faith of these whites has not helped them to see all humans as the children of God with souls that are equal before God. When blacks are at issue, they don’t see souls at all but just the color of their skin.
A similar pattern is seen with White Christian groups being most likely to view Confederate flags and monuments as symbols of Southern pride, rather than racism. It’s strange that racism among whites tracks so closely with religiosity or at least religious identification. This says a lot about religion in America. Indeed, anyone familiar with American history knows that churches and religious leaders played an important role in defending and maintaining slavery, Jim Crow, sundown towns, etc. Yet religion was also central in blacks fighting back against slavery, as seen with the civil rights movement.
The divide over racism within American Christianity is itself racial. The vast majority of black Christians believe in a God who loves all people equally, but this view of God’s universal love is not nearly so strongly held by white Christians. For all of our cynicism, this is a bit shocking. It might not be expected that the racial division would be this stark along religious lines, although it is a tired truism well known in the South that Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week. And this is an area where the Ferengi hold immense sway in creating the sense of a divided and polarized country.
Is there unity in diversity?
Even so, white conservatives and white Christians aren’t completely lost in fear and bigotry. Among Republicans, only 17% claim (or admit?) to prefer the U.S. to be made up of people of western European heritage. That is barely above the national average of 10% in support. Similarly, a mere 18% are bothered by the idea of America where most people are not white. It’s a little bit higher wth Republicans at 27%, but that isn’t too bad. The numbers would have been starkly different not that long ago. The increase of immigrants and the growing number of minorities, not to mention the rise of interracial relationships, is having an impact on changing attitudes. It’s become normalized to show diversity in the media. It’s no longer perceived as strange and scary.
Still, the full and open embracing of diversity remains a divisive issue and the population is about evenly split. That is to say, even though white supremacy is not seen as the solution, Americans hold onto concerns about multiculturalism or whatever it is a symbolic proxy for (breakdown of communities? loss of culture of trust?). As expected, those who more fully embrace diversity are Blacks, other non-whites, the multiracial, and college-educated whites. It should be noted that these are growing demographics and, when combined, already represent the majority. This is one of the many anti-Ferengi alliances.
Gender roles and social norms were another area the PRRI survey looked into. Most Americans disagree (60%), contrary to most Republicans that agree (60%), that society seems to punish men just for acting like men. Republicans also think that society has become too soft and effeminate (63%). Both Democrats and Independents are in line with the majority in opposition to Republicans. The religious are evenly divided on this issue, as are men. That is quite intriguing, though, that half of men have no worries about these conservative or rather reactionary fears of a supposed decline of masculine and male-dominated society. Most women, of course, have little concern about this area of male identity politics.
These kinds of social issues related to egalitarianism tend to sync with political issues, specifically attitudes about democracy. A two-to-one majority says the popular vote, not the electoral college, should determine the presidency. Once again, Independents (68%) side with Democrats (86%), opposite of Republicans (39%), in demanding greater democracy and a more representative government such that all voters are treated as equal no matter where they live. There is some other demographic variance, but still the majority are in favor — whites and non-whites, men and women, young and old. Republicans, especially Fox News viewers, are the outlier in being absolutely opposed to equal rights and full self-governance for all other Americans, no matter where they live or their skin color. The Ferengi are fighting against the democracy that most Americans want, and this has been useful for the reactionary ruling elite in both parties by using the Ferengi to distract from the majority’s demands for fair representation — one of the ways lesser evilism guarantees continuously greater evil. In a society claiming to be a representative democracy, what greater political evil is there than a conspiracy to attack and destroy any possibility of a free society?
The fear of certain demographics being given a seat at the table has been largely motivated by racism and xenophobia. It’s similar to how the ruling elite manipulate many whites to oppose social programs that help whites out of fear that they will also help minorities. This has been slowly changing in mainstream society, a sign of hope. “Majorities of Americans,” reports PRRI, “say that there is a lot of discrimination against Black people (75%), Hispanic people (69%), and Asian people (55%). Far fewer say that there is a lot of discrimination against either Christians (37%) or white people (32%).” Following the pattern, this includes majorities, in this case large majorities, of Independents and Democrats; as opposed to the Ferengi, of course.
Many Republicans (52%) also feel compelled to admit that blacks face major discrimination, even as they hold to self-serving identity politics in believing that white people (57%) and Christians (62%) are the most oppressed people in the world. It’s worse with those Republicans (27-36%) who, in trusting Fox News, don’t think any minorities at all have anything to complain about, in contrast to whites (58%) and Christians (73%) who are experiencing genocide. On a positive note, there is no religious group that believes whites are more discriminated against than blacks, but white evangelical Protestants (66%) do identify as the most victimized Americans. The Ferengi once again stand out as unique and atypical.
It can’t be blamed, however, on whites in general: Not All Whites. Strong and overt white identity politics is largely limited to Republicans, Fox News viewers, and certain Christians, especially white evangelicals. But even combined, these people do not form a majority among whites. Most white Americans disagree with this strong racialized worldview. They may not see the prejudice as applying as much to Asians (47%), but most of them do very much think it is undeniable among Hispanics (61%) and blacks (67%), whereas it’s not so much for Christians (38%) and whites (39%). So, on this issue, maybe about one third of all white Americans are part of the Ferengi or in alignment with the Ferengi.
Victimhood politics holds little merit with the typical white. The same goes across the education spectrum, as both those with and without a college degree agree with other whites, if to varying degrees. As for the majority of minorities, they are maintaing solidarity in agreeing they all experience more prejudice as compared to whites and Christians. The last part stands out considering non-whites have higher religiosity rates than whites, and yet the prejudice they experience is not identified with their religion. That makes sense. No police officer ever killed a black guy because he was Christian and no ICE agent ever deported a Hispanic because they were too religious.
This kind of thing is mostly a non-issue at this point. Besides the standard ultra-right demographics, whites don’t feel threatened by minorities and diversity. It’s a minority of white Americans (40%), including white Americans without a four-year college degree (46%), that thinks that increasing diversity always comes at a cost to whites. As with a third of Americans (34%), only 35% of Independents and 17% of Democrats agree with this assessment of racial politics as a zero-sum game. If the Ferengi view of American society ever was the moral majority, which is highly questionable, it certainly no longer is and hasn’t been for a long time.
It should be noted that as early as the 1980s, during the Golden Age of the Reagan Republicans, it was known that the reactionary right-wing was not a majority, moral or otherwise. In fact, the very concept of a “moral majority” was openly advocated and promoted as a defense against majoritarian rule and against democracy in general. Bill Moyers, in an interview with David Daley (Republicans Admit They Lose When Elections Are Fair and Free), said that,
I agreed with the Republican strategist, Ben Ginsberg, who said that David Daley has exposed, “The strategy of shadowy, but thus far, legal hacking, splicing, and dicing of congressional districts to secure Republican domination, and in turn, subvert the will of the American voter.”
That’s a Republican saying that. Admitting that gerrymandering was crucial to the Republican party’s strategy of undermining democracy. Some people were shocked, David. But I wasn’t. And I wanna take a step back here, I mean, back to 1980.
I was reporting for a documentary on the founding of the Moral Majority. Thousands of religious conservatives gathered in Dallas, Texas, to launch what is now the most influential base of the Republican party. Ronald Reagan running for the Republican nomination, spoke to them.
And one of the most influential Republicans of the past 60 years was there. Paul Weyrich was his name — right-wing Catholic, brilliant strategist, outspoken partisan [who] founded the Heritage Foundation, founded the Moral Majority, on and on and on. He really was an architect of the Republican domination today. Here’s a brief excerpt of what he said. It brought cheers from those religious conservatives.
Paul Weyrich: “Now many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome — good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
This wasn’t anything new, not even in the 1980s. Ronald Reagan helped make conservatism respectable again, but he didn’t do it by winning majority support for hard right issues. His victory was rhetorical, if highly effective following the defanging of the once powerful policitical left by corporate media and FBI’s COINTELPRO. The conservative rule he brought was an elitism in defiance of the American people. Republicans were able to take advantage of racist dog whistle politics and covert class war to divide the voting public, even though the American majority was in many ways even more progressive than it is now. Support for extremely high taxes was so strong that it was barely part of public debate prior to that shift.
Republican presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower to Richard Nixon, didn’t dare to speak a negative word about liberalism. It was consensus among the majority in both parties that liberalism was how governments should be run. Reagan switched this around by incorporating a progressive attitude and co-opting liberal rhetoric for the purpose of conservative ends. He couldn’t have won the election by having been honest with the American people, as they fundamentally didn’t want what he was selling.
The strategy was devious (Starve the Beast, Two Santa Claus theory, Wirthlin Effect, etc), in weaponizing symbolic ideology that was divorced from operational ideology (Poll Answers, Stated Beliefs, Ideological Labels) — that is to say rhetoric usurpsed reality and so narrative framing, not public policy, became the driving force of American politics. It no longer mattered what most Americans wanted, and that became even more true with the rise of dark money and oligopolistic corporate media. The winning narrative became a potent, if toxic, identity politics — specifically white grievance and victimhood made potent through an old racist, elitist, and supremacist narrative of ethnonationalism, xenophobia, and class anxiety.
This rhetoric of reactionary backlash and right-wing populism, combined with anti-democratic tactics (voter role purges, precinct closures, gerrymandering, racist legal system that eliminates voting rights, etc), simultaneously inspired and empowered a specific minority, the Ferenghi, while demoralizing and disenfranchizing not only all other minorities (Blacks, Latinxs, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Muslims, Buddhists, Catholics, social justice Christians, progressive Evangelicals, mainstream Protestants, democratic socialists, Marxists, anarchosyndicalists, etc) but also and, more importantly, the majority of potential voters. When the political right talks about protecting the minority against the mobocracy of majority oppression, they’re only referring to one specific minority, the demographic overlap of viewers who trust Fox News, white Evangelicals, and partisan Republican voters — basically, a specific segment of mostly older whites raised on white privilege and rabid Cold War propaganda that they internalized as the core of their identity.
How bad is inequality?
Where the real debate is happening is whether racial inequality is tightly linked to economic inequality. Is a historical legacy of institutionalized and systemic racism, specifically the transgenerational effects of slavery and discrimination, still contributing to a lack of economic opportunities for blacks? Is it holding many of them back from being able to work their way out of the lower class? Americans in the past slightly leaned to answering ‘no’, but are now almost evenly split. With the shift continuing, the full acknowledgement of ongoing racial prejudice and oppression will be the majority position in the near future.
As with other issues, Republicans, Fox News viewers, and white Christians (i.e., the Ferengi) think blacks are whiny snowflakes who need to get over it. These are the same people who think blacks shouldn’t be allowed to protest and so many of these concern trolls have started counter-protests to complain about blacks acting like they are equal to others in demanding to be treated as such. Independents did side more with Republicans in the past (62%, 2015), but have since (46%) moved toward Democrats (20%) with Democrats having likewise moved further left since five years ago (39%).
The same movement toward the ‘left’ has been happening with whites overall in following the example of Independents. So, most whites are forming a consensus with non-whites, which leaves the Ferengi ever more stranded in isolated extremism. Like the pressure building along a faultline, the realignment of public opinion will fully set into a new position with seismic tremors followed by a political earthquake. Even though building up slowly over generations and centuries, the final result will feel sudden and dramatic. The response by the Faceless Men will be ever more reactionary, maybe even violent. We will probably go through a period of terrorism and assassinations before it settles back down into a new perceived social norm.
Where is the American public heading?
Most Americans are going left on most issues like this while a small minority on the right is often going further right, particularly about identity politics. A polarization is happening but it’s between a growing majority on the left and a shrinking minority on the right that is ever more isolated and radicalized, much of it having to do with who is and who is not caught in the right-wing media bubble and the political outrage machine. About continuing racial biases and disparities, it’s also polarization within religion with non-white Christians, non-Christians, and the religiously unaffiliated being in opposition to white Christians, particularly white evangelicals.
Now for a really divisive set of issues look at affirmative action and reparations. Slim but growing majorities support efforts to remedy racial bias and historical legacies in education and employment. It splits up as most people would expect with partisans on the two extreme ends and Independents closer to the middle. Also, blacks and Hispanics strongly favor such policies and practices, whereas whites are still slightly holding back their support but making strides in that direction. Quite likely, in the next decade if trends continue, the demand to help the disadvantaged and disenfranchised will finally become a majority position for whites and a strong majority for the entire American public. That is to say a Scandinavian-style social democracy will become more probable, although far from a predetermined outcome.
That brings us to another oft racialized issue, that of immigration. Most people think of it as a polarized topic in how it is used as a political football by politicians and gets used in dog whistle politics, but the reality is there is almost unanimous agreement across all of society. Even among Republicans, a large majority views immigrants as hardworking (79%) and as having strong family values (76%), along with a significant number acknowledging that immigrants make an effort to learn English (38%). The positive attitude toward immigrants is stronger among other demographics. Only a tiny minority disagrees.
Generally speaking, Americans don’t see immigrants as a problem. They aren’t perceived as a cause of crime or disease in communities. Although divided in other areas involving immigration issues, there still isn’t an overwhelming majority who are drawn to scapegoat this population. Still, it is true that there is vociferous debate about whether or not immigrants burden local social services and compete for jobs, about which Americans are divided down the middle. As before, it’s only Republicans with a clearly negative view of immigrants. Among Democrats and Independents, it’s some combination of positive and neutral, depending on what is being asked about.
Other than the Ferengi demographic of Republicans (57%), specifically those who trust Fox News (67%), few Americans (31%), Independents (28%) or Democrats (15%), and few whites (36%), Hispanics (24%) or blacks (24%) would agree that “immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background.” Only 51% of largely non-Ferengi Republicans who don’t trust Fox News go along with those who do trust it, and that is considering most Republicans who distrust Fox News probably have left the party at this point. It’s as much a media divide as anything else, between Fox News viewers and everyone else. But the divide probably would also be seen between white evangelicals and all others.
[To be fair, there are also surprising divides emerging within demographics such as a significant minority of Hispanics having voted for Donald Trump (Natalie Jackson, Religion Divides Hispanic Opinion in the U.S., PRRI report). These intra-demographic divergent vote might have been larger in the second election. And it might have been partly motivated by his tough-on-immigration stance.]
It goes on and on. Most Americans, including majorities of Americans in every major demographic mentioned but excluding Republicans and Fox News viewers (and possibly excludng white evangelicals), oppose building a border wall between the United States and Mexico (57%), oppose passing a law to prevent refugees from entering the country (62%), support immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children (i.e., Dreamers) to gain legal resident status (66%), and support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (64%).
On the last issue of a pathway to citizenship, Republicans distrusting Fox News support it and all religious groups also support it, and among opponents of citizenship there are those who would still support permanent residency status (16%). Most Americans, even including most Republicans with the exception of Fox News viewers, along with every religious group, oppose an immigration border policy that separates children from their parents and charges parents as criminals (76%). This is an issue that is a bit more divided for the Ferengi with many Republicans and white evangelicals siding with the majority. The dividing line is not conservatives vs liberals, not right vs left, but Fox News viewers vs all others. Fox News, quickly being replaced by Newsmax, is the dark beating heart of the most extreme element within the reactionary Ferengi.
What is wrong and what irrelevant?
Let’s wrap this up. Most Americans across most demographics agree that something is amiss in American society and governance, some kind of failure or corruption or decline, but this has not made them entirely cynical and hopeless. The majority does want the government to do more, as a Fox News poll shows, in such a way that would actually benefit the public good and help everyday Americans. This faith in a government that could and should do right by the American people remains steady, despite the fact that polls show the majority no longer trusts big government, along with no longer trusting big biz and big media.
The thing is they want a government in which to place their trust with politicians who will honestly and fairly represent them. American idealism may be on life support, but it’s still hanging on with tenacity. This faith in good governance toward the public good includes guaranteeing all Americans access to affordable childcare (83%), guaranteeing all Americans a minimum income (70%), making college tuition-free at public institutions (63%), and a “Medicare for All” plan that would replace private health insurance with government-backed health insurance coverage for all Americans (62%). This is what Americans want and have wanted for a quite a while, much of this public support having developed during earlier administrations.
It’s far from limited to a supposed radical left-wing fringe. Along with Democrats and Independents, Republicans support guaranteeing all Americans access to affordable childcare (95%, 85%, and 71%, respectively) and guaranteeing all Americans a minimum income (88%, 69%, and 52%, respectively). But Republicans are mixed in what they support and what they oppose, and there is that everpresent contrarian thorn in the side of the American public, that of Ferengi Republicans under the sway of Fox News who always take the opposing position. It’s not that the Ferengi are more opposed to government but, rather, opposed to democratic governance. Along with being reactionaries, they are hardcore right-wing authoritarians.
Most Americans, other than Ferengis, have a common vision of the kind of society they want to live in and what they consider important. There is a strong sense that climate change poses a threat that people fear will cause personal harm to themselves, their families, and communities (58%). Other polls show that most Americans want government to do more with stronger environmental regulations and protections. This isn’t abstract culture war bullshit but concrete threats in the real world and Americans fully appreciate what this could mean as it gets worse. Democrats and Independents of all races are in agreement. Many Republicans, outside of the Ferengi fringe, likewise agree. The same presumably would be true among self-identified conservatives, as seen in other data.
For many other issues, Americans show fairly strong and broad support. This is seen with once supposedly divisive culture war issue like abortion (60%), which is seen as perfectly fine even among majorities of the religious, the fundies aside. Most Americans think it should be legal in all or most cases. Many polls show this, including from Fox News — an ironic piece of data considering Fox News so heavily pushes this issue onto their viewers. The same goes for LGBTQ rights. The majority, including among the religious, is on board with allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally (70%) and in enacting laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing (83%). In fact, the American majority were in favor of same sex marriage years before even the DNC elite came out publicly in support, demonstrating it isn’t a liberal elite leading the way or manipulating the masses with cultural Marxism or whatever other conspiracy fear-mongering that demagogues and social dominators obsess about in their rhetorical bullshit.
Here is an important point. These issues are largely moot in the American mind, whatever may have been the case last century. Few think there is anything meaningful left to be debated. Basic tolerance and equality, rights and protections are central to democracy and most Americans want democracy. Hence, culture war issues are now non-issues. Yet somehow they are resurrected from the dead by a corporate media and political elite that trot them out on a regular basis, presumably as a distraction from the issues Americans actually do worry about. As far as the average American is concerned, such issues don’t determine their vote nor much affect their life. So, just shut the fuck up about it. Do what the American people want, quit being authoritarian assholes, and let’s move onto what really matters.
And what might we conclude?
Here is a takeaway point, as shown with this and so many other polls/surveys. We Americans are not a divided people. We are not fundamentally polarized within the larger population or rather the only polarization involves the progressive majority on one side and the reactionary fringe manipulated by the authoritarian elite on the other. Most Americans agree about most things, but this is a silenced and suppressed moral majority. The American people want some combination of repesentative democracy and self-goverance, probably for the very reason that obviously it is lacking. Most of what politicians do is severely out of alignment with what most Americans support and value, and political elites seem conveniently oblivious to this self-serving corruption or else cynically antagonistic to it.
The ruling elite do not represent us. This has been proven beyond any doubt. See: Larry M. Bartels, Unequal Democracy; Martin Gilens, Affluence and Influence; Martin Gilens & Benjamin I. Page, Democracy in America?; Lawrence R. Jacobs & Benjamin I. Page, Who Influences U.S. Foreign Policy?; Jarron Bowman, Do the Affluent Override Average Americans?; Matt Grossmann & Zuhaib Mahmood, How the Rich Rule in American Foreign Policy; Shawn McGuire & Charles Delahunt, Predicting United States Policy Outcomes with Random Forests; Patrick Flavin, State Campaign Finance Laws and the Equality of Political Representation; etc. Yet the political theater of partisanship is trotted out each election for yet more lesser-evil voting.
How did it get this way? Consider the most important point. There is a single demographic, as repeatedly shown above, that is consistently far right on every issue and consistently in disagreement with the rest of the population. That demographic is partisan Republicans who are indoctrinated by Fox News as aligned with a rabid religious right of white evangelicals (Trumpism After Trump? How Fox News Structures Republican Attitudes, PRRI report). These Ferengi aren’t like the audiences of other corporate media. The rise of Fox News and right-wing talk radio was an entirely new phenomenon in history. It is an outrage machine that is highly effective in altering opinion, perception, and identity (see “The Brainwashing of My Dad”, 2015 documentary).
Yet no matter how large is this audience, Republican viewers of Fox News are a small percentage of the total population, as Fox News has proven with their own polling in showing how far left is the American majority. So, why does this miniscule minoriy have such an outsized influence in being treated as equal to the vast majority on the opposite side of public opinion? And why do the supposed ‘liberal’ Democrats and the supposed ‘liberal’ media figures accept this framing of false equivalency that silences not only most Americans in general but also most Democrats, Independents, and those portrayed on the political ‘left’? Why does all of the corporate media play along with this false narrative that is implemented as social control in disenfranchising the majority?
However we answer that question, just for a moment imagine what the United States would be like without reactionary media, without endless outrage and fear-mongering. Imagine if Fox News politics wasn’t the dominant model of propaganda for an oligarchic rule. Imagine if all of the corporate media was broken up to the extent that most media was once again locally owned and operated. Imagine if all big money was removed from politics, all legal bribery was made illegal, all corporate lobbyists were frozen out of public decision-making. Imagine if public opinion mattered, if the majority wasn’t silenced and suppressed, if government actually represented the American People. Otherwise, what is the point of all this public polling? If and when we the American public realize we are the majority and far to the left of the elite, then what? What are we waiting for?
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