“Remember all those supermajority poll results? Think where the polls on all these things would be if the press did its job, instead of aligning with the corporations and the political establishment to stonewall and deny. The polls would be shifting a lot further. Those things the public wants and is told it can’t have would be even more popular. One area where polls would shift is where the public would now be positioned on the subject of Democratic Socialism which the public, especially young people are increasingly in favor of.”
The past few weeks we’ve been researching how a false public perception of a conservative majority was created in hiding the reality of a leftist majority. For a long time, we’ve known the polling data on public opinion, from Fox News to PRRI. It was perplexing that not only a majority but a supermajority could exist without most Americans knowing and apparently with most political elites not knowing it. A little over a decade ago when we discovered that a leftist majority existed, we were maybe too cynical at that point to be surprised, but it did catch us off guard. Decades of MSM viewing never indicated even slightly how far left most Americans were.
It was yet another example of how we had been lied to or misled our entire lives. Our minds kept coming back to this over the years, as we looked at more and more data. There was one point that drove this home from some years back. Pew’s Beyond Red vs. Blue showed that 9%, almost 1 in 10, of Solid Liberals (strongly liberal on every issue) identified as ‘conservative’, but the opposite pattern was barely seen on the other side, maybe like 1-2%. This is the result of decades of the Wirthlin effect where symbolic ideology has replaced pragmatic ideology, in forming highly manipulated social identities.
The strangeness of this phenomenon kept nagging at us. We had picked up a few explanations like the Wirthlin effect, but it still felt dissatisfying. How can a leftist majority be made to not know the fact of its own existence for over at least 40 years? That is pretty much the entire adult life for anyone who is GenX or younger, which is most of the population. The Wirthlin effect alone couldn’t accomplish this if there wasn’t a complicit corporate media apparatus that was acting as the propaganda arm of the ruling elite. Most Americans presently get at least 90% of their infotainment from a few big biz media oligopolies.
This was a central point made by Michael D. D. White in his piece Everybody’s Realizing It Now. In describing what most Americans want, he points out how politicians ignore public demand and dismiss the consent of the governed. “The political establishment only gets away with denying the public these things that the public could have,” he writes, “if it is aided and abetted by a complicit press. We have a press owned by corporate conglomerates that exaggerate the costs and underestimate the benefits of such public goods.” Then he goes on to say that,
“For example, when a Koch funded study reached a conclusion (a conclusion the Koch’s certainly didn’t want the study group they funded to reach) that Medicare For All would save the American public $2.1 trillion (in actuality, probably more would be saved), the corporate press went into overdrive to misrepresent and ignore the math and report something quite the opposite. See the reporting of this press misbehavior by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting which was included in Counterspin, a program they broadcast on WBAI: Reporting on Medicare for All Makes Media Forget How Math Works, Justin Anderson, July 31, 2018.”
So, that is what has been on our minds. We’ve wanted to know how this happened and how Americans so often seemed to not notice it was happening or were too apathetic to protest. But it’s hard to be too harshly critical of the public that has been fed a constant diet of lies and propaganda. Another clue was the religious Paul Weyrich admitting they weren’t a majority at the launching of the 1980 Moral Majority organization, in concert with the presidential election of Ronald Reagan, and then also admitting they wouldn’t win elections without voter suppression. That demonstrated how fully aware they were when they decided to implement perception hacking on the American public.
In our research, we used that as a starting point. Richard Wirthlin seemed mostly a dead end, as he was simply a standard politico in the Reagan administration, but looking into Weyrich was much more fruitful. As we dug into it, the connections that came up were fascinating. It suddenly became clear how much of a major operation this was, as it required at least hundreds of millions of dollars a year to build the present shadow network, which meant a minimal of many billions has been invested into this long-term propaganda campaign.
The 1980s was the same period when media deregulation began. Weyrich and others also started to invest immensely in media companies and pushing them strongly on both the old media and new media platforms. To put it in perspective, our now elderly conservative parents were still in their 30s when the Moral Majority organization was founded. By the late 1980s, conservative media was already becoming a national political and cultural force. That was when our family moved to the South Carolina where our parents remained for 20 years, up through the entire Bush jr. administration.
During that time, Fox News was started and right-wing talk radio took hold, along with the rise of reactionary paranoia with the likes of Alex Jones and Art Bell (even if the latter was personally more liberalish/libertarian). You could imagine what this was like in the Deep South. Our parents became trapped in a far right media and cultural bubble. So, as the country continued to go left, our parents went right. But they had no context to realize how far right they had gone because, by Deep South standards within their upper middle class social circle, they were moderates. One of our father’s friends even jokingly accused him of being a “secret liberal”.
It’s true that our parents had gone through a liberal phase when we were younger. One of our mother’s best friends in the late 1970s to early 1980s was a pot-smoking hippy. Our father has told us that, in their early marriage, our mother was pro-choice; but now she calls abortion “baby-killing”. Along with our brothers, we became liberals, largely because our parents raised us in liberal New Agey churches, many years having been spent in a liberal college town. But now our parents in their mid-70s have forgotten how liberal they used to be, although always Republican. When Reagan was president, the GOP still had a left wing of the party, including a significant number of blacks (with the living memory at the time of Democrats having previously been the party of Southern white racists).
Since retirement, our parents moved back to this same Iowa liberal college town where we also now live and where our family previously lived back in the mid-to-late 1980s. It’s been a culture shock for them. What goes for a moderate conservative in the Midwest would be perceived as a liberal in the South. And what is considered conservative in a Midwestern liberal college town is pretty far left. Our parents suddenly find themselves on the far right, although that might have already been true, but the stark contrast of the local population has made it undeniably true, uncomfortably and inconveniently true.
What our parents have struggled to come to terms with is that it isn’t merely a small demographic of liberal elites. The majority view in this liberal college town in moderate Iowa are about the same as the majority views across most of the country. Yet they’d been so trapped within an ideological reality tunnel that, until recently, they didn’t have to acknowledge the existence of the majority of other Americans. We suspect this has been true of many other conservatives as well, particularly those who are older and otherwise isolated by geography, lifestyle, retirement, and echo chambers.
Our mother has maybe more easily accepted her newly perceived minority status. She grew up working class and so always knew she was not part of the upper class that determines social norms and public perception. And as a public school teacher, she probably has been exposed to more liberals over her career. But my father has always been in positions of authority and specifically conservative-minded authority (army officer, factory manager, & business management professor). In fact, he grew up as the son of a small town minister and so had authority status thrust upon him from a young age, from having been expected to give public prayers to adult groups to havng been expected to become class president.
So, even when told the polling data, our father dismisses it because it simply doesn’t fit his sense of the personal reality he knows within upper middle class authority where he is used to the majority of others being deferent to him and his opinion, as opposed to speaking honestly to him. As most Americans are more leftist, they probably realize they should hide their leftist views from authority figures, such as their bosses, who are disproportionately on the political right. Plus, as research shows, people on the higher end of the economic scale lose or never learn the full capacity for carefully listening to others and accurrately reading the emotions, motivations, and intentions of others. Indeed, our mother is more psychologically and socially aware than our father.
Because of the sense of conflict and feeling out of place, our parents are thinking of leaving their church here because it is too social justicey for them, not that it is to the left of the American public. To find a church that does fit their right-wing politics, such as my father’s newfound faith in the cultural Marxism conspiracy theory, they’ll probably have to join a Baptist or other fundamentalist church. But that doesn’t fit our father’s identity as he has always thought of himself as ‘mainstream’, as definitive of the ‘majority’ and the ‘normal’. The reality, though, is his views maybe never were majority, not even decades ago. It’s just that he never had to face this reality until recently since leaving his Deep South social world.
In general, maybe even in the Deep South, it’s getting harder to ignore how far left the country has gone. It’s not merely that there have been Black Lives Matter protests everywhere but the fact that now a supermajority agrees with the message of BLM leaders, the view that racism is systemic and the police should be reformed. Yet, to our father, BLM leaders are all Marxists (probably cultural Marxists, the worst kind) and, his having been bottlefed on Cold War propaganda, that means they are pure evil trying to destroy everything that is good about America. That the supermajority sides with BLM is simply incomprehensible to him. It irritaes our mother as well, if with more fatalistic resignation.
Because of older conservatives like our father, there is a powerful backlash going on at the moment, but it’s temporary, During the rise of the Tea Party in the Obama administration, we thought of it as an injured and cornered dog acting all the more vicious because it knows it’s weak and dying, and indeed such a desperate creature can be dangerous (as the MAGA insurrection demonstrated). Our parents, assuming they live long enough, might eventually come to accept this state of affairs and hopefully become less reactionary from the Fox News effect. This morning, our mother had on CSPAN’s Washington Journal. The guest was Cenk Uygur and, interestingly, he was making the exact point of how most of ‘radical’ AOC’s positions are the same as most views held by the American public. She wasn’t necessarily paying attention to what was being said, but it was at least further exposure that might slowly seep down into her psyche.
This is how change happens. As last wave GenXers, we’re barely old enough to remember the old Moral Majority rhetoric and the dwindling of Cold War propaganda. Many Americans our age still carry that ideological indoctrination. But the oldest Millennials, a few years younger than us, have far less sense of any of that. The younger generations know they are a leftist majority. The now old New Right propaganda operation was able to gin up reactionaries during this era of New Media in order to win elections (because of the Electoral College makes progressive and democratic supermajorities impotent), but they ultimately couldn’t tightly control the messaging like they did in the past prior to the internet and social media.
This next decade will be key. The Silent generation has almost entirely been eliminated from power. And the quickly aging Boomers have been losing influence, retiring, and dying. Biden will surely be the last of those older generations to be president. For the first time in our lifetime and maybe in all of American history, there will finally be an ideologically self-aware leftist supermajority that knows it is a leftist supermajority. Already, leftist labels and rhetoric have become normalized and attractive to the younger generations. Yet even then the leftist supermajority might in a way remain unaware or unidentified as such because, as supermajority public opinion becomes a social fact and social norm, the Overton window will move left and the whole political spectrum will realign.
What was called left in the past could simply be the new perceived center, by which all else is defned and compared. Then again, maybe it always was the center. During the Populist and Progressive eras, prior to McCarthyism, Hollywood blacklisting, Cold War propaganda and FBI COINTELPRO, Americans used to be even more economically leftist in support of high taxation on the rich and massive social programs, even significant support of socialism and communism, particularly among the working class and even in the Deep South. We have yet to return to the large and powerful left-wing movement that once existed. But a publicly acknowledged leftist supermajority will begin to move us back in that direction.
* * *
The real point of this post was the below National Notice piece from 2019 by Michael D. D. White. The author is one of the many people who are bringing together the data to show the reality of the majority. Indeed, we picked up from him that we shouldn’t only be speaking of this actual majority for, in fact, it’s a large supermajority — on average, about two-thirds of Americans and sometimes much higher with certain issues. But what we really liked about White’s analysis is his explanation of how this came about, specifically the important role of media.
The disappointing experience we had with New York City elected officials respecting libraries may be why when Citizens Defending Libraries participated in producing a forum about Voter Disenfranchisement (how voting is being suppressed, neutralized and the will of the electorate thwarted) it zeroed in and posted the following as grist for discussion:
The re-enfranchisement of all U.S. citizens voting should also be fought on multiple other fronts. Evidence that electeds don’t follow the popular will is ample, with the majority of Americans wanting but not getting: • medicare for all; • protection of women’s reproductive rights; • stricter gun control laws; • stricter regulations on and breaking up of the big banks; • more environmental regulation; • equal pay for women; • easier, less restrictive immigration; • less surveillance of American citizens; • less military spending and a pull back from the U.S.’s endless and ceaseless military interventions (wars); • net neutrality; • continued support for traditional public schools, and free college; • more restrictions on money in politics.
Full disclosure: I am a co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries and I worked to set up that forum.
Professor Wu offered his analysis of why that is. While he acknowledged that we are supposed to have checks and balances to get thoughtful government rather than mob rule, he noted:
. . . In our era, it is primarily Congress that prevents popular laws from being passed or getting serious consideration. (Holding an occasional hearing does not count as “doing something.”) Entire categories of public policy options are effectively off-limits because of the combined influence of industry groups and donor interests. There is no principled defense of this state of affairs — and indeed, no one attempts to offer such a justification. Instead, legislative stagnation is cynically defended by those who benefit from it with an unconvincing invocation of the rigors of our system of checks and balances.
Tim Wu with his list is following also in the footsteps of film maker and political critic Michael Moore (also a library defender) who included a segment in his film “Fahrenheit 11/9” released last fall (pre-election) intended to bring home the realization of how much more to the left the American public is than what the political establishment is providing.
To quote what is included about this 38 minutes into the film:
There seems to be a misunderstanding about who the real America is. Let me share with you a fact that has never been stated in the press or reported on the nightly news, or even spoken amongst ourselves. The United States of America is a leftist country. That’s right. We are one rocking, shit-kicking, gay-loving, gun-rejecting, race-mixing, pot-smoking, tree-hugging, hip-hopping, anywhere breast-feeding, quince-cooking, left-leaning liberal nation. Here are the facts.
The vast majority of Americans are pro-choice. [Slide: 71% pro-choice (NBC News/Wall Street Journal, 2018)] They want equal pay for women, [Slide: 82% Equal pay for women (YouGov, 2013)] stronger environmental laws, [Slide: 74% stronger environmental laws (Gallup, 2018)] legalized marijuana, [Slide: 61% legalized marijuana (Pew, 2018)] a raise in the minimum wage, [Slide: 61% raise the minimum wage (National Restaurant Association Poll, 2018)] Medicare for all, [Slide: 70% medicare for all (Reuters, 2018)] tuition-free college, [Slide: 60% tuition-free public college (Reuters, 2018)] free child care, [Slide: 59% free child care (Gallup, 2016)] support for labor unions, [Slide: 62% Approve of labor unions (Gallup, 2018)] a cut in the military budget, [Slide: 61% a cut in the military budget (University of Maryland, 2016)] break up the big banks. [Slide: 58% Break up the big banks (Progressive Change Institute, 2015)] Most Americans don’t even own a gun. [Slide: 78% Don’t own a gun (Harvard University, 2016)] And 75% believe that immigration is good for the U. S. [Slide: 75% Immigration is good for the U.S. (Gallup, 2018)] And on and on and on.
. . . . Those crazy motherfuckers have won. . . If America is us and we’re the majority, why is it that we do not hold a single seat of power? Not the White House, not the Senate, not the House, not the Supreme Court.To go one better that Moore in terms of showing how power and money supersedes what people want,most gun owners and even a majority of the members of the National Rifle Association (plus those who live in households with guns) want more sensible and restrictive gun laws than we have, laws which those leading the NRA seek to fend off.
Moore makes the point in his film that the Democrats are missing the boat by not representing the people. Even more harshly critical of the Democrats as a corporately captured party masquerading as “opposition” is comedian and media watchdog Jimmy Dore who points out that those in charge of the Democratic party like Nancy Pelosi are actually making it their job to tell the public along with all registered Democrats that they can’t have what the majority of Americans want, an effort to marginalize the most important issues. . . And they tell those wanting to work through the Democratic party that they shouldn’t even be working for those things!
Dore recently provided his own list of things that “people want and that we know we can have. . What everybody else gets to have in other countries” (and we are, he comments, the “richest country in the world?”)
• 70% of Americans are for medicare for all • 63% are for a $15 minimum wage • 66% are for tuition free college • 81% support a Green New Deal • 59% (almost 6 out of ten Americans support a 70% top marginal tax rate. • 72% of American support expanding social security • 62% of American want to legalize marijuana • 65% want to reform our incarceration system • 63% want same sex marriage freedom • 69% seven out of ten, want to keep Roe vs. Wade • 75% think that immigration is good. • 83% want net neutrality • 61% want to stop climate change • 77% want campaign finance reform (which is not what the Democrats want, just repeal Citizens United) • Almost six out of ten American want to break up the big banks • 64% want a guaranteed jobs program • 76% Want to tax the rich • 67% want to tax big corporations more • Eight, almost nine out of ten Americans want to use the military only as a last resort
Listen to Jimmy Dore Show, April 18, 2019 (“Warmongers Exposed” starting at 27 minutes in.) You can also catch the Jimmy Dore Radio Show on WBAI radio.
Dore points out that the only place these things like Medicare For All are “not mainstream” is inside the beltway and “cable news green rooms.” This goes to show, says Dore, that we live in an oligarchy where democracy has already been stolen from the public– hacked by Wall Street, Big Oil and Big Pharma. And we blame the Russians? asks Dore.
It’s not just democracy that’s being stolen from us: Our ability to communicate sensibly with each other has been sabotaged. Wanting to make his points in his film Michael Moore proclaims that we are a “leftist country. . . a left-leaning liberal nation.”But does that language of Moore’s ceding “the center” to others who are further right truly make sense? Consider this tweet from Ralph Nader:
They call Bernie Sanders, Senator from conservative Vermont, a leftist. All his major proposals to improve our economy’s fairness and productivity have healthy majority support. Doesn’t that make him a centrist? -R
[…] That gets us to our second major topic for consideration here: The political establishment only gets away with denying the public these things that the public could have if it is aided and abetted by a complicit press. We have a press owned by corporate conglomerates that exaggerate the costs and underestimate the benefits of such public goods.
For example, when a Koch funded study reached a conclusion (a conclusion the Koch’s certainly didn’t want the study group they funded to reach) that Medicare For All would save the American public $2.1 trillion (in actuality, probably more would be saved), the corporate press went into overdrive to misrepresent and ignore the math and report something quite the opposite. See the reporting of this press misbehavior by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting which was included in Counterspin, a program they broadcast on WBAI: Reporting on Medicare for All Makes Media Forget How Math Works, Justin Anderson, July 31, 2018.
Similarly, in New York City, we got reporting telling us that New Yorkers had to suffer the huge loss of selling public libraries for less than they were worth because otherwise New Yorkers couldn’t be expected to be able to afford libraries at all. How very little we were spending on libraries in the overall scheme of things, especially given their benefit, went more or less unreported. The New York Times ran a front page article about how great it was to be selling off libraries and schools ignoring information Citizens Defending Libraries gave them to the contrary.
Think back for a moment– Remember all those supermajority poll results? Think where the polls on all these things would be if the press did its job, instead of aligning with the corporations and the political establishment to stonewall and deny. The polls would be shifting a lot further. Those things the public wants and is told it can’t have would be even more popular. One area where polls would shift is where the public would now be positioned on the subject of Democratic Socialism which the public, especially young people are increasingly in favor of. See: Libraries As A Threat To The “Perspective” That Virtually Everything Should Be Dictated And Run By The Forces of Market Capitalism, August 31, 2018.
There’s still another reason to keep those all supermajority poll results in mind (including where the polls could shift to with a little help from less biased news coverage): When you find people selling you the idea that ours is an extremely divided nation (that’s a common meme for the press now harps on these days), you can scoff and reject the notion that such divisions explain almost everything as a lot of tripe. As a nation we have much more in common than we are being told. That’s true no matter how much our differences are being stoked, and it’s true no matter how much the extreme right and its hateful passions, in particular, are being stoked these days. (Listening to “On Contact” on WBAI, you may have just heard Matt Taibbi explain to host Chris Hedges how American journalism is now engaged in purposefully stoking hate between citizens.)
The buttressing by the press of the political establishment’s unwillingness to represent the public on issue after issue of major importance leaves these huge supermajorities of our populace unspoken for and lacking information vital to the conduct of our democracy. Plus, let’s once again reiterate: The supermajorities these polls record would certainly swell mightily if there was a decent flow of information out to these audiences.
[…] ADDENDUM (added 6/11/2019): One more list! After this article was written and posted, Chris Hedges interviewed Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins on his “On Contact” radio show (on WBAI and earlier episodes of the show were mentioned in the article as first written). In the course of that interview Hedges presented another list of things that Americans want, could have, but are not being allowed to have by those dominating politics and government in the United States.
Hedges observes that his sampling from his list below is an example of how the positions that are taken by the Green Party are, in fact, in almost all cases, majoritarian positions.
• 82% of the Americans think wealthy people have too much power and influence. • 69% think large businesses have too much power and influence in Washington. • 78% of likely voters support stronger rules and enforcement and regulation of the financial industry. • 48% think economic inequality is very big while another 34% think economic inequality is moderately big. (48%+34%= 82%) • 59% of registered voters and 51% of registered Republicans favor raising the minimum that low wage worker can make and still be eligible for earned income tax credit from $14,820 to $18,000. • 96% of American, including 96% of Republicans believe that money in politics is responsible for the dysfunction of the American system. • 76% believe wealthy American should pay higher taxes. • 59% favor raising the federal minimum wage to at least $12 an hour. • 61%, including 42% of Republicans approve of labor unions. • 60% of Americans believe it is the federal government’s responsibility to make sure all Americans have health care. • 60% of registered voters favor expanding medicare to provide health insurance to every single citizen. • 59% favor free early childhood education. • 76% are concerned about climate disruption. • 84% support requiring background checks for all gun owners. • 58% of American believe that abortions should be legal.
“And yet,” notes Hedges, “from both of the parties (except maybe abortion*), none of these majoritarian issues are being addressed.”
“And that’s the problem of American politics,” says Hawkins, “political preferences don’t translate into public policy, because the political system responds to the donors, not the voters.”
* * *
*Note: The majority Americans are pro-choice in most or all cases, although many also support moderate restrictions on abortion in certain cases, such as late-term pregnancies barring threat to the mother’s life. The point remains that a supermajority is in favor of protecting the Roe v. Wade decision, as opposed to the minority that wants to overturn the decision and remove the federal protection of pro-choice access to abortions. This support has grown stronger over the decades.
In another blogging piece in the works, it is noted that the present culture wars are very much an invented phenomenon. The new religious right didn’t form in response to abortion but, as religious right leader Paul Weyrich admitted, to a Supreme Court Case banning racial segregation in Bible Colleges. In fact, most earlier Americans, including most conservative evangelicals, supported women’s pro-choce rights in ensuring safe abortions were available to all women. In the early-to-mid 1900s, the divide was not between liberal secularists and conservative fundamentalists but between two paired groups. Catholics (or rather the Vatican) and First Wave feminists were anti-choice while Protestants and Second Wave feminists were pro-choice.
When the Roe v. Wade decision was made, many well known religious right figures came out in support of it. So did many Republican leaders, including Dwight Eisenhower who made the liberal argument that it wasn’t helpful to ban abortions because, then, women would feel forced to get illegal and unsafe abortions. Eisenhower’s wife, by the way, helped found Planned Parenthood in Texas. It was only years later, when the anti-segregationist case happened, that the religious right leaders decided to start using abortion as a symbolic dog whistle to oppose social liberalism because they knew they couldn’t gain support by organizing around racism.
During the first half of the 20th century, Christianity had become quite liberal, as had the population in general. This is seen in the data reported by John Sides, as taken from Ideology in America by Christopher Ellis and James Stimson: “On average, liberal responses were more common than conservative responses. This has been true in nearly every year since 1956, even as the relative liberalism of the public has trended up and down. For decades now there has been a consistent discrepancy between what Ellis and Stimson call symbolic ideology (how we label ourselves) and operational ideology (what we really think about the size of government)” (Why most conservatives are secretly liberals).
For some specific numbers, consider that, “almost 30 percent of Americans are “consistent liberals” — people who call themselves liberals and have liberal politics. Only 15 percent are “consistent conservatives” — people who call themselves conservative and have conservative politics. Nearly 30 percent are people who identify as conservative but actually express liberal views. The United States appears to be a center-right nation in name only.” So, though only a third of Americans are politically liberal and liberal-identifying, the supermajority of Americans hold liberal views, including about abortion. Think about the fact that there is only 15% of hardcore conservatives.
From Tablet Magazine, Zach Goldberg writes about white liberals, what he calls America’s White Saviors. This is an example of how corporate media slants their reporting on public opinion. In this case, the author focuses on one narrow demograpic of race and ideology, so as to isolate it and make it seem far left, while ignoring that the majority of Americans agree with white liberals on most major issues. I’ll break it down and respond to it piece by piece.
“In one especially telling example of the broader trend, white liberals recently became the only demographic group in America to display a pro-outgroup bias—meaning that among all the different groups surveyed white liberals were the only one that expressed a preference for other racial and ethnic communities above their own.”
This isn’t surprising. Going back many years, I’ve seen data like this. In social science research from earlier last century, it was well known that liberals had stronger pro-outgroup bias. From some years back, one survey showed liberals had greater empathy for foreign noncombatants killed by US soldiers than for US soldiers.
There has always been a subset of people with a strong pro-outgroup bias, although Goldberg is correct to point out that this is growing. But in a way that is the whole history of the United States. Thomas Paine, in arguing for Independence from the British Empire, made an outgroup argument that a large part of American colonists weren’t English, including the majority in his adopted home of Pennsylvania.
“In the past five years, white liberals have moved so far to the left on questions of race and racism that they are now, on these issues, to the left of even the typical black voter.”
That is not entirely meaningful. Why compare an ideological demographic with a purely racial demographic? The fact of the matter is black liberals would, generally speaking, be further to the left of white liberals on most issues and particularly on issues of race and racism. This framing feels manipulative, an exercise in sophistry.
“They are also tied to a significant decrease in support for Israel and—perhaps more surprisingly—a rise in the number of white liberals who express negative attitudes about the perceived political power of American Jews.”
I doubt most white liberals have any issue with “perceived political power of American Jews” in and of itself. Rather, it’s probably an opposition to the colonial Apartheid of Zionism. As far as that goes, Jewish liberals tend to oppose Zionism as well and probably are even more critical than white liberals. Once again, why isolate white liberals in the way others isolate rural whites to scapegoat them?
Later in the artcle, the author points out that white liberals retain a strong favorability toward Jews. In fact, their favorability is stronger than that of white moderates and white conservatives toward Jews. As for ranking of advantage and disadvantage, all whites (liberal, moderate, and conservative) put Jews about smack dab in the middle. And the white liberal ranking of Jews relative to other demographic groups is about the same as white moderates, the two combined being the view of most whites in general.
“As white liberals have come to place far greater emphasis on racial injustice, they have also endorsed reparative race-related social policies in greater numbers.”
That is about right. As a white liberal, I’ve personally followed this trend. I was raised by white conservatives in the racist Deep South. I didn’t understand racism when I was younger and probably expressed unconscious racism all the time. But I educated myself and expanded my social experience. Any informed person is forced to admit that there will never be justice until there is some form of compensation for the harm done and continuing to be done, whatever that might mean. That doesn’t particularly radical to me, just common sense, as Thomas Paine thought the theft of the Commons should be compensated with a land tax.
“The woke elite act like white saviors who must lead the rest of the country, including the racial minorities whose interests they claim to represent, to a vision of justice the less enlightened groups would not choose for themselves.”
That comes across as bullshit. The author points out that minorities, even minority Democrats and liberals, are not as strongly supportive of certain issues about immigration. Sure, there is variation depending on the particular issue, but that ignores the general agreement. On immigration, the majority of every racial demographic of Democrats and liberals supports the same positions on immigration, if some support it stronger than others. Also, the vast majority of Democrats and liberals of all races agree that diversity makes the US a better place to live.
One area of divergence was on whether one sympathizes more with Israelis or Palestinians. Minorities in general seem to sympathize more with Israelis. But this sympathy has been dropping for minorities as well. And by 2018, most minority Democrats and liberals had no opinion at all in sympathizing with either side. Another issue of even less disagreement is abortion. The majority of white and Hispanic Democrats think women should be able to get an abortion under any condition, but only about half of black Democrats think so. Then again, most Americans in general, including most blacks, do support abortion in all or most cases. So, why show the most extreme scenario to portray a false division?
As for freedom to choose gender identity, the majority of Hispanic and Asian Democrats are in line wiith the majority of white Democrats in being all in favor. Even generally conservative black Democrats support this at 42% and probably quickly rising, maybe already being a majority position among young blacks. On a related issue, across all racial groups, Democrats and liberals are in agreement that there needs to be more attention given sexual harassment in the workplace.
“White liberals make up 20-24% of the general population but, for a multitude of reasons, exert an outsize political and cultural influence. […] The danger is that “woke” white activists acting on behalf of voiceless minorities have had their perceptions distorted by social media-tinted caricatures that obscure more objective measures of reality and end up silencing or ignoring what the voiceless groups, themselves, have to say about what policies are in their best interest.”
I’m not sure this is a problem, considering the vast majority of Americans support liberal views, causes, and policies. The self-identified liberal demographic might be smaller but those who are liberal without identifying as such is now the moral majority. The main problem is that, in using ‘liberal’ as a slur, most liberal-minded Americans are still afraid to identify as liberal. Demonstrating this problem, the author of that article is creating more confusion in portraying liberalism as extremism, and I’m sure that is intentional
“In fact, multiple recent studies find no racial disparities in police use of deadly force. The odds of an unarmed black person being shot by police appear to approximate his/her chance of being struck by lightning. The probability of being killed by a right-wing extremist is equally low, if not lower.”
That is such a fundamentally dishonest portrayal of the racial issue. I’m not sure about those specific claims of data, but why cherry pick what confirms the author’s beliefs. A ton of other data does show racial biases in policing and the criminal system. And, sure, rigth-wing extremism is low in a general sense, but to be honest we have to admit that most terrorism is right-wing. So, right-wingers only occasionally blow up buildings and kill lots of people. Well, occasionally is too often. Left-wingers in recent history don’t generally commit that kind of violence at all. Consider that in the past quarter of a century, no anti-fascist has ever assassinated anyone or committed terrorism.
“Due at least in part to digital media, white liberal attitudes that more or less endured for decades have been drastically overturned in the space of months or single years. In contrast, the attitudes of white conservatives—and conservatives in general—have moved at a more glacial pace, if at all. For liberals, the lack of awareness of how fast and far their attitudes have shifted fosters an illusion of conservative extremism. In reality, the conservatives of today are not all that different from the conservatives of years past.”
That deceptive argument is morally indefensible. Most Americans in general, not only white liberals, have grown increasingly leftist over the decades. Conservatives may not be any more political evil than in the past, may not be any more racist and misogynist, bigoted and xenophobic, theocratic and fascist. But pointing out that they are as extremist as they ever were is hardly a defense that they aren’t extremists and that such extremism is not problematic in being outside the moral norm of most Americans at this point.
“Resentment of those seen as standing in the way of necessary social and cultural change may inspire a commitment to what political scientist Eric Kaufman calls “multicultural millenarianism”: the belief that the demise of a white majority will pave the way for a more racially progressive and just society. Perhaps this is why white support for increasing immigration coincides with more negative feelings toward whites.”
Demise? WTF! Only a reactionary conservative would fearfully portray growing diversity as a demise. The difference for white liberals is that there simply is not a fear of the other. It’s largely irrelevant, anyway. All that is likely to happen won’t conform to the paranoid fantasy of the decline of the white race but simply a shift in how whiteness is culturally defined and so who identifies as white. Increased immigration will simply hasten this process, such that a large number of Hispanic-Americans and Asian-Americans will adapt to white identity, as did Jews and Italians in the past. It is the expansion of whiteness, not the disappearance, that is so fearful to white conservatives. As for white liberals, I doubt they care, one way or another about the future prospects of white identity politics. I doubt most other Americans care either.
“The modern Republican Party is about using the power of the government to enforce the beliefs of a radical minority on the majority of Americans.” ~Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American
“I would add that my friend George Lakey, a scholar of non-violent social change, is a great believer in both polarization and crisis as when you sort things out and make progress. And I feel in some ways something’s coming to the head or the situation in the U.S. is coming to a head as a rising majority faces a minority that refuses to give up domination power-control, including over truth and fact.
“I feel like — well you know the the rainbow coalition I mentioned — the majority will win in the end, but not necessarily in the short term. And for human rights, for the climate crisis, for a lot of things, what happens immediately matters. But we will be a non-white majority country in a little over 20 years and the Republican Party has tooled itself to be the party of white grievance. Part of why they need voter suppression is because they’re losing the ability to win elections outside of the really red states and and regions.
“So it feels like the crisis and the sense of things coming to a head is upon us, and figuring out how to win and as soon as possible. You know I’m not a strategist, but I am — as a writer and a historian — a great believer in the importance of describing something accurately is the beginning and to treat a disease first you have to diagnose it.” ~Rebecca Solnit, The “Crisis of Truth” in Democratic Societies
“As Michelle Alexander reminded us recently: “The whole of American history can be described as a struggle between those who truly embraced the revolutionary idea of freedom, equality and justice for all, and those who resisted.” She argues that we are not the resistance; we are the river that they are trying to dam; they are the resistance, the minority, the people trying to stop the flow of history.” ~Rebecca Solnit, The American civil war didn’t end. And Trump is a Confederate president (quoting We Are Not the Resistance)
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 (by the way, PRRI is self-described as “an American nonprofit, nonpartisan research and education organization” that Media Bias Fact Check rates as “Least Biased and High for factual reporting” and FiveThirtyEight grades as A/B). 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’ (John Gramlich, Q&A: How Pew Research Center evaluated Americans’ trust in 30 news sources); but left of what, left of Fox News? 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 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 socially liberal United Federation of Planets. 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 of social democracy and democratic socialism, which included being allowed to do business within Federation territory.
Similarly, the American demographic minority that we shall now 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 political ‘left’ if they are the majority public opinion that defines the ‘center’ of American 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, fascist corporatocracy, and theocratic aspirations. This is the Ferengi vs the Federation, neither equals nor enemies but awkwardly situated together.
This Ferengi demographic is a variety 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 defined by a favorite disguise of the Faceless Men. Speaking of a ‘conservative’ movement is too vague and misleading. Certainly, not all conservatives are Ferengi and maybe, as one might argue, not all Ferengi are conservatives; depending on what one means by such vague and amorphous labels, though much more clearly defined in social science research. 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 (i.e., symbolic ideology) may or may not vote Republican, but it is highly unlikely that most of them are Ferengi in being white evangelicals who regularly watch and trust Fox News. That is an important distinction to keep in mind while reading further on.
Before moving along, let’s clarify what kind of understanding is implied by 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 continuing 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 (along with proto-socialism, proto-Marxism, etc) had already begun to take hold with the English Civil War, which had immense impact in shaping early American culture and politics. Heck, proto-leftist rhetoric of egalitarianism and class war was already being heard during the 14th century peasants revolts. 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 conservatives as reactionaries sought to replace. The reactionary mind is the shadow of a liberal society and, as the light of liberalism has increased, the reactionary has intensified in its darkness. 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 (as based on the terrain theory of ideological immunity). We all contain the potential of becoming Faceless Men, in the way one is turned by the bite of a zombie, vampire, or werewolf. 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 of Ferengi in American society are used as a foil to highlight the qualities of liberalism, in terms of both its ideals and failures, its strengths and Achille’s heel. The Ferengi 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 to handle. And, maybe in line with Arnold Mindell’s thought, they fill an essential social role that must be represented and fulfilled, if not necessarily in such a distorted manner. 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, a minority even among ‘conservatives’. 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 broad disenfranchised majority and one specific privileged 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 summarize these initial comments with a reassuring thought. Shadow or not, the reactionary mind is not normal and we need to recognize this 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 picture of America as seen by Americans, the differences within public opinion 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 the shared political religion that dominated during the Cold War, although 64% of Republicans are holding strong to their sense of divine entitlement as the Elect 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, though not Trump-idolizing in most cases. But the majority of mainline Protestants, Catholics, etc don’t see it that way. As in the past, the divide continues to be primarily within Christianity, not between the religious and non-religious. For all of American history, Christians have been on both sides of public debates, from slavery and secularism to abortion and gay marriage.
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 leftist anarcho-socialists who originated in the 19th century European workers movement, didn’t begin as reactionary right-wingers either). Like the majority of mid-20th century Protestants, some earlier famous leaders of the religious right and political right, supported a pro-choice position for abortion access in the post-war era. In how conservative religion has been co-opted by right-wing reactionaries since then, evangelicalism has been taken on as one of the many deceptive 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 patriotism and nationalistic idolatry. 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, even if assuming it ever was great. So, it’s hard to know what God’s favor could mean anyhow, as there have always been much more religiously devout countries out there. Indeed, church attendance in the US has been dropping, particularly in the so-called Bible Belt. 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 and 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 Christian ethno-nationalism wrapped in an American flag hasn’t inspired a populist flood of moral religiosity to buoy up the erectile dysfunction of flaccid public confidence and impotent 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. The average Christian doesn’t appear to be swayed by such superficial displays and ritualistic performances. It’s easy to forget that most Christians, like most Americans, hold many leftist views. A large majority of Democrats, liberals, and progressives are and always have been Christian; and this majority might grow as Christians, including evangelicals, are turning left; despite formal religious adherence being on the decline.
As opposed to social dominators using faux religiosity as a symbolic conflation to dress up reactionary authoritarianism, some argue there is evidence that genuine religiosity might actually somewhat lessen the extremes of social conservatism: “religious participation may moderate conservatives’ attitudes on other important culture war issues, particularly matters of race, immigration, and identity. […] Taking these results together leaves us with a surprising finding: conservative, Republican, churchgoing Trump voters take more moderate positions on many culture war issues than their self-identified moderate, independent, nonchurchgoing counterparts” (Emily Ekins, Religious Trump Voters: How Faith Moderates Attitudes about Immigration, Race, and Identity). That is as long as the religious in question are not white evangelicals, the driving force of the present religious right, who diverge not only from most Americans but often also many Christians. Church attendance, of course, will simply exacerbate the tendencies within one’s faith tradition. For white evangelicals, that pulls them further into the orbit of Ferengi identity politics.
Yet others argue this remains true for white Christians in general, as Ferengi sympathizers and fellow travelers. “The results point to a stark conclusion: While most white Christians think of themselves as people who hold warm feelings toward African Americans, holding racist views is nonetheless positively and independently associated with white Christian identity. Again, this troubling relationship holds not just for white evangelical Protestants, but also for white mainline Protestants and white Catholics. Moreover, these statistical models refute the assertion that attending church makes white Christians less racist. Among white evangelicals, in fact, the opposite is true: The relationship between holding racist views and white Christian identity is actually stronger among more frequent church attenders than among less frequent church attenders” (Robert P. Jones, Racism among white Christians is higher than among the nonreligious. That’s no coincidence.). The cold shadow of a dark past won’t be so easily thrown off. Even as conscious attitudes change, racism as a mind virus can burrow deep.
Nonetheless, the symbolic power of rhetoric aside, Christian nationalism itself, as a proxy for white supremacism or otherwise, does not hold much significance at this point. 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 among the religious and non-religious alike. Maybe the culture wars and political spectacle of infotainment media (both corporate media and social 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 the 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 (respectively 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 between the two camps. Actually, they are leaning 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 extreme. 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, though on the same side of the minority-majority divide as Democrats. So, in some cases, where Democrats have a strong majority view, that of the general public is a mere moderate majority; but, in both cases, in opposition to Ferengi and most other Republicans.
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. As such, there is a general focus and set of priorities that keeps religious Americans on the same page.
Also, Hispanic Protestants and the Unaffiliated put the coronavirus pandemic in their top three picks, but not fairness of presidential elections. White evangelical Protestants, interestingly, did agree about fairness of presidential elections, if by that they meant their minority position should eternally rule, while being alone in stating great concern for terrorism 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 (poverty, class war, air pollution, lead toxicity, lack of healthcare, racial oppression, war, CIA covert operations, economic sanctions, etc), and of course they love the widespread violence of law-and-order, militarized police, war on drugs, mass incarceration, and the death sentence in order to enforce and maintain 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.
In general, most Americans want healthcare reform, and specifically universal healthcare with ever growing support and demand. It’s interesting to note how this is so popular with White Catholics who, by using divisive culture war rhetoric, were brought into line with the Republican Party in high rates of voting for Trump, partly as swayed by the Catholic Kellyanne Conway and the Catholic Steven Bannon. By the way, Conway once worked for Richard Wirthlin, the religious right pollster and advisor to right-wing politicians, including Ronald Reagan. This is how voters can be manipulated into betraying their own self-interests through symbolic ideology and what is called the Wirthlin effect, how social identity politics as superficial groupthink of ‘values’ rhetoric can undermine the moral force of an actual moral majority.
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. Despite the well-funded right-wing culture wars and class war, the left is slowly and belatedly winning the war of rhetoric. That is largely because some politicians on the left have openly embraced leftist labels; such as Bernie Sanders and socialism, regardless of the fact he wasn’t actually a socialist.
Also, 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 corporatocratic capitalism and plutocratic social Darwinism.
At the very least, socialism is already part of socially acceptable public debate, albeit still contentious for the moment, at least as portrayed in corporate media and corporate-owned politics. 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 racism has to be hidden behind lies, if open and obvious 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 far 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 when there was a real threat of harm to leftists (McCarthyist witch hunts, corporate blacklisting and blackballing, etc). 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 mass propaganda and bigoted xenophobia. Most Americans, instead, are focused on collective problems that are immediate and concrete: economic troubles, COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare reform, 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 and liberal 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 oppression, violence and suffering.
But it is good to be reminded that they are a polling minority in their callous disregard toward racial minorities, whereas white Democrats have fallen almost exactly in line with blacks, such that we could look to radicalized white liberals as the canary in the coal mine. 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 reactionary alignment weakening as white mainline Protestants have dropped down to 57% racist and white Catholics at 58% (Tara Isabella Burton, Study: when it comes to detecting racial inequality, white Christians have a blind spot). For the time being, as summarized by PRRI’s CEO Robert Jones, it remains a conflict of worldviews between “white Christian groups — and everybody else.” That demonstrates that it’s far from only being about the hardcore religious right of evangelicals and fundamentalists, but it also clarifies the toxic brew of religiosity and white grievance.
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” or if, instead, we should continue to disenfranchise and oppress racial minorities as is the pervasive, systemic, and institutionalized status quo of American tradition.
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; in that not being ignorant helps. Gender, though, 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, while Kellyanne Conway’s professional expertise has always been in helping misogynistic GOP candidates gain the white woman vote (in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton as a white woman lost the demographic of white women), similar to the role played by the ilk like Sarah Palin. So, 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 white women (for example, in watching Fox News, our mother has become a more rabid conservative and GOP partisan than our father).
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, and increasing number actually takes religion as problematic for a free and democratic society. 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, much less the content of their character, but just their bodies and 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, although other data shows many of these people don’t actually attend church (e.g., lower religiosity rates in the so-called Bible Belt). This says a lot about religion in America, at least as a symbolic ideology. 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 oppression and injustice, as seen with the civil rights movement that included support of particular mostly white religious groups (e.g., Quakers).
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 to our egalitarian sensibilities in having been raised in a liberal church that was majority white. 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 with Republicans at 27%, but that isn’t too bad with nearly three-quarters not in support. 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. On Fox News these days, they now have more non-white hosts and they often make sure to have token minorities on their panels and focus groups.
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? social stress from rising inequality?). 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 American majority. This is one of the many anti-Ferengi alliances, if typically unacknowledged in ‘mainstream’ media and politics. So, America is not only a leftist majority but also a diverse and diversity-embracing majority.
Gender roles and social norms were another area the PRRI survey looked into. In a mirror image of opposing views, most Americans disagree (60%), contrary to most Republicans that agree (60%), that society punishes men just for acting like men. About an equal number of 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. All combined, it’s a minority issue that has been held up as a banner of culture war by a single sector of the reactionary ruling elite.
These kinds of social issues related to egalitarianism vs authoritarianism unsurprisingly 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 their residence or 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 of self-governance?
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%).” Fewer and fewer Americans, across most demographics, want to continue the scapegoating of minorities as the portrayed enemies of a sought-after white supremacy, ethno-nationalism, and Christian patriotism. Following the pattern of declining bigotry and xenophobia, this includes majorities, in this case large majorities, of Independents and Democrats; as opposed by the Ferengi, of course (Emma Green, Most American Christians Believe They’re Victims of Discrimination; Samuel L. Perry, Andrew L. Whitehead, & Joshua T. Davis, God’s Country in Black and Blue: How Christian Nationalism Shapes Americans’ Views about Police (Mis)treatment of Blacks).
A large number of 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 in broad terms, but those in the snowflake demographic of white evangelical Protestants (66%) do self-identify as the most victimized Americans. The Ferengi once again stand out as unique and atypical; and, in this case, even being distinct from other religious whites.
Continuing open support of bigotry and prejudice, for certain, can’t be blamed 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 anywhere close to 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 either part of the Ferengi or in alignment with the Ferengi. It’s a significant minority, but still relatively small for how loud their voice is amplified by the power structure of media and politics.
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 maintaining 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 attended church too often.
By the way, the tipping point for public acknowledgment of systemic racism was clearly seen years ago, as shown in previous PRRI polling. “The most striking thing about the numbers is their uniformity. Between August 2013 and August 2014, Americans of all stripes — Democrats and Republicans, young people and old, Hispanics and whites — showed an increase in the belief that minorities are unfairly targeted. And while a majority of seniors and Republicans [i.e., old conservatives ~BDS] still think the two groups (whites and minorities) are treated equally, each category showed a significant uptick in the number who see racial bias as a systemic feature of the U.S. justice system” (Sophie Kleeman, How Ferguson Changed America for Good, in One Striking Chart). In general, the leftward trend appears to have been going on for centuries, if we only have polling data to show the specific demographic details across recent decades and generations.
In the US, this kind of thing is mostly a non-issue at this point. Besides the standard ultra-right demographics, the average white individual doesn’t feel threatened by racial/ethnic minorities and diversity. It’s a minority of white Americans (40%), if a sizable minority, 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 overall (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 so 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 of fundies 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 but highly effective, following the defanging of the once powerful political left by union busting, McCarthyism, Hollywood blacklisting, and FBI’s COINTELPRO; not to mention the propaganda and perception management campaign of the right-wing Shadow Network; along with the help of Richard Wirthlin. The conservative rule he established 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 economically 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 and would instead praise it. It was a consensus among the majority in both parties that liberalism was how governments should be run, as Ike once argued. 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. So, it had to be deceptively packaged with empty and vague rhetoric of ‘values’.
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 usurped 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 virulent through an old racist, elitist, and supremacist narrative of ethno-nationalism and xenophobia, politicized class anxiety and racialized class war.
This rhetoric of reactionary backlash and right-wing populism, combined with anti-democratic tactics (voter role purges, precinct closures, gerrymandering, ex-con disenfranchhisement, etc), simultaneously inspired and empowered a specific minority, the Ferengi, while demoralizing and disenfranchising 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 majoritarian oppression, they’re only referring to one specific minority, the Ferengi 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; although also including some former white liberals and progressives that were indoctrinated later in life by the right-wing media machine (Jen Senko, The Brainwashing Of My Dad; documentary and book). All other minorities, the Ferengi believe, should continue to be oppressed as they were in the past. Make America Great Again!
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, from sundown towns to redlining, 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 racial caste of a permanent underclass? 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) believe blacks are whiny and lazy losers who need to get over it, a culturally and/or genetically inferior sub-group that should passively submit to their deserved subjugation. 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 when they demand 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 fault line, 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, likely involving increased violence. We will probably go through a period of right-wing hate crimes, terrorism, vigilantism, mob actions, insurrection, coups, etc before it settles back down into a new perceived social norm and established social order.
Where is the American public heading?
Most Americans are going left on most issues while a small minority on the right is often going further right, the latter particularly involving the symbolic ideology of reactionary identity politics. A polarization is happening but it’s between a growing majority on the left that is just now finding its voice 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 news media bubble, social media echo chamber, and the political outrage machine. About continuing racial biases and disparities, it’s also polarization within religion such that non-white Christians, non-Christians, and the religiously unaffiliated (both non-white and white) are in opposition to a large sector of 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 expected in the mainstream narrative, 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 those disadvantaged and disenfranchised by transgenerational oppression 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 could become more probable or at least increased egalitarianism in general, 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 about most immigrants being good people who contribute to their adoptive communities and potentially are a net gain for American society.
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; and those are fair and reasonable concerns that can’t necessarily be reduced to mere bigotry. 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 so many Republicans who distrust Fox News probably have left the party at this point. It’s as much a media divide as anything else, between right-wing media viewers and everyone else. But the divide on this topic 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, mostly groups like Cubans, having voted for Donald Trump (Natalie Jackson, Religion Divides Hispanic Opinion in the U.S., PRRI report). These intra-demographic divergent voters might have been larger in the second election. And, if so, this might have been partly motivated by his tough-on-immigration stance. To put it in historical context, even though the legal framing of immigration is a more recent invention by the political right, it must be admitted that public opinion on the topic goes in generational cycles following the pattern of increasing and decreasing immigration. With that in mind, one could note that immigration numbers these past couple of decades have been at a historical low point, which is probably why right-wing hysteria of moral panic hasn’t gained purchase in the public mind, beyond a few select demographics.
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 excluding 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%). It’s mostly a non-issue, despite all the noise among a desperate elite attempting to ramp up the lingering support of the shrinking Ferengi fringe. Despite Fox News pushing a near-continuous anti-immigrant narrative, it just has no hold on the American mind; with probably even most casual Fox News viewers being largely indifferent.
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, 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, with the only exception being the Fox News faithful, demonstrating the power of corporate media as propaganda. The dividing line is not conservatives vs liberals, not right vs left, but those trusting Fox News vs all others. Fox News, possibly being replaced by Newsmax, has been the dark beating heart of the most extreme element within the reactionary Ferengi.
What is wrong and what is 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. Lately, public trust in the military is likewise in decline, which is a real shocker in it having stood for so long as the last pillar of public trust.
Mistrust is not cynicism, fatalism, and apathy. The thing is Americans 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 unfortunate that, in this banana republic, the political and media elite are so effective in suppressing this majority.
Certainly, 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 ever present contrarian thorn in the side of the American public, that of Ferengi subset of Republicans under the sway of Fox News propaganda who always take the opposing position. It’s not that the Ferengi are more opposed to government but, rather, opposed to democratic governance that serves all Americans. Along with being reactionaries, they are hardcore right-wing authoritarians and social dominators.
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 genuine 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 still other issues, Americans show fairly strong and broad support. This is seen with once supposedly divisive culture war issue like the pro-choice position on 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. Interestingly, previous PRRI data shows that immigration plays a role in shifting public opinion to the right, which is ironic in how native-born conservatives oppose the very immigrant groups that could bolster their numbers as a conservative movement. They might want to rethink that opposition considering that, though still a majority among Republicans, white Christians are in the minority for the first time in US history (Rachel Zoll, White Christians are now a minority of US population). Many Hispanics are also embracing the white identity, which could help maintain the ideological perception of white Christianity, although as Hispanics assimilate they become more liberal — so, a double-edged sword; maybe the Ferengi can’t win for losing. Here are the specifics from a 2018 PRRI poll:
“The largest divide is by place of birth. A majority (57%) of Hispanics born in the U.S. believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases, compared to 36% who say it should be illegal in most or all cases. Among Hispanics born in Puerto Rico, 41% support abortion legality, compared to 53% who say it should be illegal in most or all cases. By contrast, only 33% of Hispanics born outside of the U.S. say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while nearly six in ten (59%) say it should be illegal in most or all cases. Place of birth also stratifies age groups. More than six in ten (63%) young Hispanics ages 18-29 born in the United States support abortion, compared to just 38% of young Hispanics born outside of the United States. Among seniors ages 65 and over, 44% of U.S.-born Hispanics favor abortion legality, compared to just under one in three (31%) foreign-born Hispanic seniors” (The State of Abortion and Contraception Attitudes in All 50 States).
The same goes for LGBTQ rights, as seen in the PRRI data. 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 DNC leaders (Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, etc) came out publicly in support, demonstrating it isn’t a liberal and intellectual elite leading the way or manipulating the masses with cultural Marxism or whatever other conspiracy fear-mongering that Machiavellian demagogues and social dominators obsess about in their rhetorical deceptions and manipulations.
Anyway, here is the demographic breakdown within the broad 70% support on the first of those issues: “Politically, the majority of Democrats (80%) and 50% of Republicans support same-sex marriage. Majorities of every major religious group support marriage equality, PRRI says. That includes support from 79% of white mainline Protestants, 78% of Hispanic Catholics, 72% of members of non-Christian religious groups, 68% of Hispanic Protestants, 67% of white Catholics, 57% of Black Protestants, and 56% of members of other Christian religious groups. The strongest opposition of same-sex marriage within religious communities comes from white evangelical Protestants, the study finds, with 63% opposing allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry” (Russell Falcon, American support for same-sex marriage is higher than ever, study finds). Once again, it’s within the Ferengi that minority opposition is found, and in this case even there it’s rather weak. The polarized divide is not within the general public nor between partisans but cleaving Republicans neatly in half. Give it a few years and the majority of Republicans will also be on board. It’s probably only Fox News and other heavily-funded right-wing media that is maintaining a countervailing force of resistance, without which the social liberal majority might already be absolute across all demographics.
Here is an important point. These issues are largely moot in the American mind, whatever may have been the case earlier 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, specifically with a lean toward more direct democracy and social democracy. Hence, culture war issues are now non-issues. Yet somehow these ideological corpses 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, to respond to the naysayers and malcontented, just shut the fuck up about it. Do what the American people want or get out of the way, quit being authoritarian assholes, and let’s move onto what really matters. The age of tolerating intolerance is over, let us hope.
And what might we conclude?
Here is the main 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 leftist majority of the democratic demos 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 representative democracy and self-governance, probably for the very reason we undeniably know it is lacking and experience it’s lack in our everyday lives. 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 media elite are equally clueless or devious, as the case may be (Eric Alterman, America is much less conservative than mainstream media believe). Sadly, this has has led to much mind-fuckery where Americans become disconnected from their own values, a gaslighting of the American soul — as Eric Alterman has written about:
“A significant part of the problem appears to lie with the inaccurate use of labels. Without a doubt, self-professed conservatives consistently outnumber liberals in polls when Americans are questioned about their respective ideological orientations. Politicians, pundits, and reporters tend to believe that this extends to their views on the issues. It doesn’t. In fact it represents little more than the extensive investments conservatives have made in demonizing the liberal label and associating it with one unflattering characteristic after another. I delved deeply into this phenomenon while researching my 2008 book titled Why We’re Liberals. In the book, I noted that as a result of a four-decade-long campaign of conservative calumny, together with some significant errors on liberals’ own part, the word “liberal,” as political scientist Drew Westen observed, implied to most Americans terms such as “elite, tax and spend, out of touch,” and “Massachusetts.” No wonder barely one in five Americans wished to associate himself or herself with the label, then as now. Yet at the very same time, detailed polling by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press demonstrated a decided trend toward increasingly “liberal” positions by almost any definition.”
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 and Trumpian Republicans who are trusting of and indoctrinated by Fox News propaganda as aligned with an unprincipled religious right of white evangelicals that use politicized religion and symbolic religiosity (Trumpism After Trump? How Fox News Structures Republican Attitudes, PRRI report), as expressed through pseudo-populist demagoguery, social conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism, and the Dark Tetrad (sociopathy, narcissism, sadism, & Machiavellianism); not to mention gun culture, militias, hate groups, hate crimes, and terrorism (e.g., decades of anti-choice violence). This isn’t a normal voting bloc but a militant movement seeking totalitarian power or rather manipulated by such ruthless and anti-democratic power-mongers, as seen with an aspiring strongmen like Donald Trump (and his Machiavellian sidekick Steven Bannon) who led an insurrectionist attack on the seat of government while president.
These Ferengi are opposite of Democrats, for sure, along with living on a different planet than most Americans. And they aren’t even like other Republicans, specifically not the disappearing moderate conservatives and civil libertarians, anti-fundamentalist Goldwater Republicans and anti-Bircher William F. Buckley Jr. Republicans, liberal-minded Eisenhower Republicans and laissez-faire Log Cabin Republicans; et cetera. But, maybe more importantly, they don’t slightly resemble the audiences of other corporate media; such as how those on the political left, as the data shows, tend to seek out a wider variety and more balanced selection of media sources (including right-wing media like Fox News and the Wall Street Journal). The rise of Fox News and right-wing talk radio, along with the alt-right media funded by dark money, as a nationwide echo chamber and ideological reality tunnel, was an entirely new phenomenon in history. In implementing the propaganda model of news media, it is an outrage machine that is highly effective in manufacturing consent by altering opinion, perception, and identity.
Fox News has increasingly become the propaganda wing of the Republican Party, particularly since Donald Trump’s takeover but going back several decades. “According to the poll, 55% of Republicans who say Fox News is their primary source of news say there is nothing Trump could do to lose their approval. This contrasts with only 29% Republicans who do not cite Fox News as their primary source of news who say the same.” (Rosie Perper, Fox News is part of the reason many Republicans don’t support impeaching Trump, a new poll reveals). Heck, even lacking college education doesn’t make one as dogmatically partisan as being brainwashed by right-wing media, in how mindless groupthink of the lesser educated still remains below majority level: “45% of Republicans who do not have a college degree say there is virtually nothing Trump could do to lose their support, compared to 35% of college-educated Republicans who say the same” (Fractured Nation: Widening Partisan Polarization and Key Issues in 2020 Presidential Elections). Watching Fox News is apparently the ideological equivalent to being reborn in the blood of Christ: “Virtually all Republican white evangelical Protestants (99%) and Republicans who say Fox News is their primary source of news (98%) oppose Trump being impeached and removed from office.” White evangelicalism, as the most extremist strain of white Christianity, does seem to be key.
“While the PRRI poll found that 77% of white evangelical Protestants approve of the job Mr. Trump is doing in office, only 54% of white mainline Protestants and 48% of white Catholics approve of his job performance. There are also divides along racial lines: 72% of Hispanic Catholics and 86% of black Protestants disapprove of Mr. Trump’s job performance. There is also widespread disagreement over whether Mr. Trump has encouraged white supremacist violence while in office. Seventy percent of white evangelical Protestants, 51% of white mainline Protestants, and 46% of white Catholics say that Mr. Trump has not had an impact on white supremacist groups, according to the PRRI poll. However, 78% of black Protestants say that Mr. Trump’s decisions and behavior have encouraged white supremacist groups” (Grace Segers, 99% of Republican white evangelical Protestants oppose impeaching and removing Trump, new poll finds). Racism, unsurprisingly, remains a schism in American Christianity and, as has always been true in American history, it largely falls along racial lines. Yet this schism is shrinking in the population overall, as even non-evangelical whites slowly but steadily turn away from America’s racist past.
This points to a central problem for the GOP and their Ferengi base. ““While White evangelical Protestants have declined as a proportion of the population over the last decade, from 21 percent in 2008 to 15 percent in 2019, they have maintained an outsize presence at the ballot box, somewhere between one-fifth and one-quarter of voters,” [Robert P. Jones, head of PRRI] said. He described this as a “time machine,” whereby the White evangelical Christians’ outsize vote “has the effect of turning back the demographic clock by nearly a decade. In other words, we’re living in the demographic realities of 2020, but our elections are being conducted, demographically speaking, in 2012 America.” […] White evangelical Protestants are the backbone of the GOP, but their geographic concentration and population decline mean Republicans are living on borrowed time” (Jennifer Rubin, Opinion: What the election tells us about religion in America). About Trump’s “underlying political bet he is imposing on the GOP,” it has been noted that, “Comparing the election results in 2018 with those in 2016, [political scientist Brian Schaffner’s] research found that House Republican candidates lost more ground among voters who agree that racism and sexism remain problems than they gained among those who do not” (Ronald Brownstein, The partisan chasm over ‘systemic racism’ is on full display).
That isn’t promising as a winning strategy heading into the demographically uncertain future. As the old pillars of conservatism can no longer be depended upon because of societal shifts, the right-wing elite will be forced to ever more turn to right-wing media machines to manufacture consent and rile support or otherwise demoralize the majority, disenfranchise voters, and undermine democracy. Public opinion and public policy might now be drastically further to the left, if not for the authoritarian influence of weaponized media and concentrated wealth, not to mention the destabilizing and anxiety-inducing high inequality. Yet no matter how large is the 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 minority have such an outsized influence in being treated as equal to the vast majority on the opposite side of public opinion? 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, even most genuine centrists, moderate conservatives, and principled libertarians?
However we answer that line of questioning, 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 or at least much smaller scale and diverse. 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 moral majority was not 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? Maybe we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. The revolution has already happened in the public mind. Now all that remains is to follow through to where it leads.
According to a Fox News poll, the majority of Americans have become radicalized extremists, Marxist commies, and fellow travelers! They might also be postmodern moral relativists or even eco-terrorists, but at the very least they are woke snowflakes pushing political correctness and reverse racism. They probably hate God and liberty too. Worse still, one might suspect more than a few of them are antifa, probably lacking an appreciation that a fascist police state is what made America great and will make it great again.
Fox News Voter Analysis – 2020 Presidential Election In partnership with Associated Press Based on surveys by NORC at the University of Chicago 29,000 people, all fifty states, October 26 and November 3
60% believe government should do more
72% concerned about “climate change”
70% favor increased government spending on green and renewable energy
78% see racism as serious issue in U.S. society
73% see racism as serious issue in policing
77% think criminal system needs reform: complete overhaul (22%), major changes (46%), or minor changes (29%)
72% agree “illegal immigrants” should have pathway to citizenship
60% believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases
71% support the pro-choice Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade
3% said abortion most important issue facing country
51% want to leave as is or expand Affordable Care Act / Obamacare
72% want “government-run healthcare plan” as Medicare for all
55% think gun laws need to be more strict
Going by this and other data, we are forced to conclude that the average American is far to the ‘left’ of not only the GOP elite but also the DNC elite. The DNC elite is more concerned with punching ‘left’ and punching down in order to keep democratic activists, community organizers, and populist leaders out of power than to win elections and give Americans what they want. Most Americans, for example, stated support for same sex marriage years before it was backed by Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama, the supposed leaders of ‘liberalism’. The DNC elite will only follow behind long after issues have become safe and even then maybe not.
We the People will have to lead ourselves in the march toward political reform, legal justice, civil rights, economic freedom, democratic self-governance, and social progress. But, first, the American public will need to have a populist awakening to the harsh reality that they are the silenced majority and that the corrupt one-party state has become radicalized toward the opposite extreme of corporatocracy, soft fascism (increasingly not-so-soft), and inverted totalitarianism. With polls like this, the suppression and silencing of the American public hopefully won’t last much longer, if and when a populist identity emerges.
The culture wars, in particular, are in decline. It’s not only same sex marriage. Abortion is non-issue for most Americans based on broad support for women’s right. Even for white Evangelicals, abortion is no longer a top issue. And young Evangelicals are increasingly identifying with the ‘progressive’ label, cutting across ideological and partisan divides. “Generally speaking, however, evangelicals ranked traditionally progressive or Democratic causes as more important than traditionally conservative or Republican ones. […] Almost 60-percent said they favored a more progressive evangelical agenda focused more on protecting the environment, tackling HIV/AIDs, and alleviating poverty and less on abortion and homosexuality” (Beliefnet Poll: Evangelicals Still Conservative, But Defy Issue Stereotypes; also see Who Are the American Religious?).
The narrative of civil rights, freedom of choice, and compassionate concern has defeated the narrative of patriarchal paternalism, theocratic control, and moralizing superiority. Few Americans perceive abortion as ‘killing babies’. The culture wars were a carryover from the Cold War era where social issues were used as a blunt instrument of punishment and oppression, such as the McCarthyist fear-mongering of the Lavender Scare where openly gay people had their careers ended and lives destroyed.
But now more than half the population has no memory of the Cold War ideological wars and weren’t bottle-fed on Cold War propaganda. The rhetoric has lost its potency, even for many older Americans, as we move further along in this new century with shifting priorities, concerns, and fears; along with the return of economic populism and old school progressivism. Commie paranoia holds little purchase for the ordinary person when facing concrete threats to life and livelihood such as climate change with droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, and historic windstorms, combined with a pandemic. The once powerful redbaiting may still get airtime on right-wing media, but fewer and fewer Americans are swayed by it, as instead large and growing numbers of demographics embrace the ‘socialist’ label. When you keep calling widely and wildly popular policies ‘socialist’, all that is accomplished is getting more Americans to identify accordingly.
Give citizens no other choice than between failed ‘capitalist’ healthcare ruled by a corporatist oligopoly and popular ‘socialist’ healthcare run by the government, most will take socialism gladly and with open arms (In fact, “Every single swing-seat House Democrat who endorsed #MedicareForAll won re-election or is on track to win re-election. Every. Single. One,” tweeted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; also see: Kenny Stancil, As Centrist House Democrats Attack Medicare for All, Fox News Poll Shows 72% of Voters Want ‘Government-Run Healthcare Plan’). It’s the same basic reason that, when given a narrowly constrained option of either abortion bans or freedom of choice, Americans generally find the latter far more attractive. These forced choices of black-and-white frames were effective in the past as a divide-and-conquer tactic, but over time the rhetoric loses its manipulative force. Americans stop reacting in the way intended, especially as public trust is lost toward the elite pushing this rhetoric. If an ever worsening corrupt plutocracy doesn’t want us — we the People — to have a functioning social democracy and free society, that is all the more reason it becomes attractive.
This is exacerbated as economic issues come to the fore. It’s one thing to give up freedom and self-governance as the price paid for economic comfort and security, as was the deal the plutocrats offered during World War II and heading into the Cold War when public good and shared sacrifice was held up as a societal ideal with a common enemy that was perceived as threatening the “American Way of Life”. But political oppression combined with economic oppression is all take without any gain for us commoners. All boats have not been floating and that harsh reality is getting harder to ignore. The American Dream may require people to be asleep, and the American people may have been fine with remaining asleep during economic good times, but now it’s become a nightmare. This has unsurprisingly led to populist outrage.
Social conservatism used as a political football only works when people are economically comfortable in a society with a middle class that is large, growing, and stable as based on a prosperous society where most of the population gets cheap housing, subsidized higher education, declining inequality, high employment, lifetime job security, affordable healthcare, great employment benefits, and generous pensions. For older Americans, that was the world they grew up in. Even inner city minorites, prior to deindustrialization in the 1960s, were lifted up by decades of good factory jobs that created a minority middle class in communities with low-crime and, because of progressive taxation that heavily taxed the rich, reasonably well-funded public schools.
Look at the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. He didn’t campaign on culture war or even redbaiting. He promised to bring back jobs, protect the American economy, stop undocumented immigration (that is used by by big biz to drive down wages, bust unions, and weaken the bargaining power of workers), and spend millions to rebuild the national infrastructure. This was not merely economic populism. Following Steve Bannon’s wise/conniving advice, Trump invoked the old school progressivism of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. As the Democrats abandoned and betrayed the working class, Republicans like Ronald Reagan and Trump found it easy to pick off the very voters in communities that once were labor union strongholds.
The American public didn’t go ‘right’ in being drawn toward populism. No, it was the Democratic Party that embraced class war, if hidden behind identity politics (in turning toward plutocratic elitism, big biz socialism, and soft fascism with corporate deregulation, banking deregulation, media deregulation, racist crime bill, mass incarceration, privatized prisons, etc). On economic issues in particular, Hilary Clinton and Joe Biden are more blatantly and effectively corporatocratic than Donald Trump. Consider Social Security. Trump reassured his supporters that he would never touch it, would never cut it or try to privatize it. Biden, on the other hand, has threatened for decades that he wants to defund Social Security. Some voters have stated that they chose Trump specifically because they feared Biden would take away their Social Security. It gets hard to distinguish between supposedly progressive fiscal liberals and reactionary fiscal conservatives.
Also, a surprising number of minorities voted for Trump; in fact, a larger number this election than last. Even with Trump’s ugly racism, these minorities saw Trump as a viable option in challenging the corporatist oligarchy that has become identified with the Clinton Democrats as the defenders of the status quo. That is a hard-hitting rebuke. Biden barely won an election against the least popular incumbent in U.S. history during a combined economic and pandemic crisis. The DNC elite has zero public mandate. If the corporate stranglehold didn’t keep third parties silenced in the ‘mainstream’ media and shut out of the political debates, a third party candidate might have easily won this election or the last. But that won’t be allowed to happen. We the People, we the liberal and progressive public, we the true moral majority will have to force change from the bottom up.
Gilens and Page, for instance, locate real influence over public policy within the ranks of the most affluent 10 percent, but suggest that opinions in this top tenth most probably reflect attitudes within the ranks of the top 1 or 2 percent.
McGuire and Delahunt go further. Their research moves our focus from what our richest have on their minds to what they’re doing with what they have in their wallets. They see “the transfer of large amounts of money to policy makers from the wealthiest sources focused intensely on particular policies” as the “lodestar variable” for understanding how our policy makers make policy.
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Videos and articles about this Fox News Voter Analysis:
In other news from recent voting results… This election wasn’t exactly a strong win for the Democratic Party, as they won’t have control outside of the presidency. So, they certainly didn’t gain a crushing victory they could have portrayed as representing a public mandate. But the political left more generally made progress, particularly at the local level.
“A new group of Black progressives has officially been elected to Congress. […] Even before the general election on November 3, four progressives in Democratic districts were all but assured spots in the US House of Representatives: Cori Bush from Missouri along with Jones, Jamaal Bowman, and Ritchie Torres — all who will represent districts in New York City. Rev. Raphael Warnock of Georgia is also advancing to a January runoff for one of the state’s US Senate seats.” (Ella Nilsen, A new generation of Black progressives has been elected to Congress)
“Fourteen of the 35 gay, bisexual and transgender candidates who ran for office in Texas during the midterms claimed victory Tuesday night — a 40 percent success rate in deep-red Texas — and national and state activists say they’re confident this election cycle carved a path for a future “rainbow wave” in Texas. The historic number of Texas candidates who ran for offices from governordown to city council positions joined a record-shattering rank of more than 400 LGBTQ individuals on national midterm ballots this year.” (Hannah Wiley, In Texas, the “rainbow wave” outpaces the blue one)
“There will be a record number of women in the next U.S. Congress when it convenes on Jan. 3, 2021. That’s a tabulation from the Center for American Women and Politics. At least 131 women will serve in 117th Congress, with another 25 races featuring women still too close to call as of early Friday morning. CAWP says 100 of the women elected so far are Democrats and 31 are Republicans. In the House, at least 106 women will serve (83 Democrat and 23 Republican), beating the previous record of 102 in 2019. That includes 43 women of color, all but one of whom are Democrat. On the Senate side, at least 24 women will be part of the next Congress. It could be 25 if Sen. Kelly Loeffler wins her Jan. 5 runoff election in Georgia. […] Republicans will have 13 freshman House members who are women, a record for that party, with nine races yet to call. Fourteen undecided House races are featuring Democratic women. Eight have already been elected to next year’s freshman class.” (Travis Pittman, Record number of women elected to Congress)
Americans Contemplating The Possibility Of Functioning Democracy:
“Alaska and Massachusetts both have major voting reforms on the ballot this year, including whether to use ranked-choice voting in future elections. […] Missouri voters have a chance to make changes to their state’s elections as well, with Amendment 3, which would limit campaign contributions to state Senate candidates and prohibit state lawmakers and their staff from accepting gifts from lobbyists.” (Live results: Ballot initiatives on democracy reform)
Social Democracy And Democratic Socialism Is On The Rise:
“But democratic socialism, popularized by near-presidential nominee Bernie Sanders (I‑Vt.), had a much better night. The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), an organization that boasts nearly 80,000 members nationwide, endorsed 29 candidates and 11 ballot initiatives, winning 20 and 8 respectively. There are now democratic socialist caucuses in 15 statehouses, including Montana. […]
“Plenty of progressive candidates also lost, but most candidates nationally endorsed by DSA sailed through. And while it’s true that many of them had tough primary battles and less difficult elections on Tuesday, they still won as DSA members. All four members of “The Squad” — a progressive bloc in Congress that includes Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) — were reelected to the House. (Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez are DSA members and endorsed by the organization.) Progressives also added two more DSA-endorsed members to their squad: Democratic Rep.-elect Jamaal Bowman in New York, and Democratic Rep.-elect Cori Bush, the first ever Black Congresswoman in Missouri.
“Now, thanks to DSA members across the country, there is a socialist in Austin City Council and in both the Rhode Island and Montana State Houses. In Pennsylvania, there are three socialists who are almost certainly headed to the legislature in Harrisburg. Socialists in Boulder, Colorado worked alongside the ACLU to win a ballot measure that guarantees no eviction without representation, and DSA members partnered with the labor unions AFSCME and SEIU to pass Preschool for All in Multnomah County, Oregon. And in both Florida and Portland, Maine, ballot initiatives for a $15 minimum wage passed.
“While it’s clear that most DSA victories have been in big cities or more liberal states thus far, it’s important that we don’t discount the incredible organizing happening in the South and in rural areas. (Marquita Bradshaw ran a DSA-backed campaign for Senate in Tennessee but lost; Kim Roney, endorsed by her DSA chapter, won a seat on the Asheville City Council.)
“Mississippians have voted in favor of the ballot initiative Measure 3 and will replace their controversial state flag with a new one, according to the New York Times and the Associated Press. The new flag, named the “In God We Trust” flag, will put to rest a decades-long debate over the flag that the state used for 126 years, which features a Confederate emblem. The new design was commissioned and approved by the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag, set up by the state legislature after the body voted to do away with the old flag. It prominently features a magnolia flower — the state flower — encircled by 20 white stars, a nod to Mississippi’s status as the 20th state to join the US. A larger yellow star sits directly above the flower to represent the Choctaw origins of the state, and all the icons sit on a dark blue and red striped background.” (Fabiola Cineas, Mississippi says goodbye to Confederate emblem and adopts a new state flag)
Police Reform – Downsizing Police, Defunding Police And Funding Alternatives:
“Los Angeles voters have approved Measure J, also known as “Reimagine LA County,” which requires that 10 percent of the city’s unrestricted general funds — estimated between $360 million and $900 million per year — be invested in social services and alternatives to incarceration, not prisons and policing.” (Roger Karma, Los Angeles voters just delivered a huge win for the defund the police movement)
“Highlighting an interesting—and to many, instructive—electoral trend that others have spotted in the days since 2020 voting ended earlier this week, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Saturday—just as jubilation spread nationwide among Democrats and progressives upon news that Joe Biden will be the next U.S. President—pointed out that every single congressional member this year who ran for reelection while supporting Medicare for All won (or was on their way to winning) their respective race.” (Jon Queally, ‘Every. Single. One.’: Ocasio-Cortez Notes Every Democrat Who Backed Medicare for All Won Reelection in 2020)
Abortion Restriction Voted Down:
“Colorado voters just rejected a measure that would have banned abortion in the state after 22 weeks’ gestation, according to the New York Times and the Associated Press. […] Abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy are rare, with nearly 99 percent of abortions happening before 22 weeks’ gestation. But a small percentage of patients seek abortion later in pregnancy, sometimes because of severe fetal abnormalities that can only be diagnosed at that time. Proposition 115 did not have an exception for such abnormalities, or for rape, incest, or the health of the pregnant person, allowing abortion only if it was “immediately required to save the life of a pregnant woman.” That could mean providers would have to wait until a patient was actually dying to terminate a pregnancy” (Anna North, Colorado voters reject 22-week ban on abortion)
First State In The South Passes $15 Minimum Wage:
“In the 2020 election, Florida voted 60-40 in favor of Amendment 2, a ballot measure to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 by September 30, 2026, even as it also voted to keep President Donald Trump in office. […] “Across the board, it is not necessarily a left or right issue. Voters across the aisle actually know that it is impossible in Florida and around the country [to] actually survive on $8.56 and what the current minimum wage is,” Allynn Umel, national organizing director of the Fight for $15, a group that advocates for a $15 minimum wage and a union, said on a call with reporters Wednesday.” (Emily Stewart, The lesson Democrats should take from Florida’s $15 minimum wage vote)
How is the American population controlled? The main way is by controlling how the public perceives others in their society and hence how they experience their place in relation to others. It doesn’t matter what people think in their own minds, what beliefs they hold privately, as long as it is kept out of what is allowed to seen and heard in the public sphere. In fact, the more there is a sense of disconnect the more isolated and powerless the individual feels, and this is makes the public all the more easy to manipulate and manage.
The corporate media and political elite, instead of causing Donald Trump’s election could have prevented it, assuming they were genuinely worried about it, but that would be a false assumption. Even a crazy plutocrat gaining power within the plutocratic establishment is not a great concern to the plutocratic-owned-and-operated press and bipartisan political machine. Trump was one of their own, a product of wealth and a creature of corporate media. By the way, the main reason Trump won or rather Hilary Clinton lost is because, among those two options, he spoke with stronger progressive rhetoric (Old School Progressivism) — from Lane Kenworthy’s first piece: “Donald Trump’s success in the Republican primary race in 2016 owed partly to the fact that he was, as he tweeted in May 2015, “the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid.” When President Trump abandoned this pledge and joined congressional Republicans in trying to pare back Medicaid coverage, it was the least popular major legislative proposal since 1990.” Have the Democrats finally learned from this harsh lesson that publicly shamed them on the world stage? Do they even care or have a capacity to be shamed into better behavior? Maybe. Time will tell. We are seeing major push back in the Democratic Party and even the DNC preferred picks (Biden, Warren, and Bloomberg) are embracing more progressive rhetoric, even if its empty words and false promises.
The push back will continue until there is eventually reform within the system or, failing that, riots and revolt that forces change. Until then, the shift will keep going further left and the pressure will keep on building. Already at this point on many major issues, the average American is surprisingly far to the left. Within corporate news reporting that has pushed the Overton window into the reactionary right, majority public opinion is too radically far left to be part of allowable ‘mainstream’ debate. Most Americans are well to the left of the DNC elite not only on economic issues but also ahead of the curve on cultural issues like same-sex marriage. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama didn’t support same-sex marriage until many years after it had already become majority opinion. I bet the same thing is seen in comparing the average news reader and the media elite. Many, maybe most, WaPo readers surely already knew on some level that this was true without a WaPo article telling them it was so. Corporate media has primarily served the purpose of not only protecting corporate interests but also representing the ruling elite of the two-party system. Now will the WaPo write a series of articles showing how the actual substance of campaign promises of the likes of Warren, Biden, and Bloomberg are to the right of the American voter?
To put it in historical perspective, the two Roosevelts, Kennedy, Eisenhower, and even Nixon were in many ways far to the left (economically, at least) of the present DNC elite, which leaves the GOP on the distant right-wing fringe about ready to tip over the ledge into outright fascism. Neoliberal and war-friendly politicians like the Clintons and Obama are essentially Reagan Democrats. The entire political elite, in both parties, shifted hard right. It’s not that Democrats (or rather the DNC elite) were dragged right. They went in that direction of their own free will. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were Blue Dogs in opposing leftist reform and more direct democracy, labor unions and fiscal liberalism, a strong safety net and social democracy, etc. As presidents, that was their political ideology and identity. Look at how Bill Clinton used racist dog whistle politics, such as creating a photo op while standing in front of chained black prisoners with the most infamous KKK memorial in the background when introducing his racist crime bill to the public. And Carter, of course, was president before Reagan. His financial adviser instituted much of what later would be called the “Reagan Revolution”. Reagan inherited this adviser and so it’s somewhat a misnomer to call it Reaganomics, although Reagan did add his own special twist to it (Starve the Beast and Two Santa Claus Theory; National Debt, Starve the Beast, & Wealth Disparity).
All of this is brilliant in its Machiavellian evil genius. You have to give them credit. It is highly effective for propaganda campaigns, perception management, social engineering, and social control. The majority of Americans, the real moral majority, have been kept in the dark about the fact that they are the majority. Instead, we Americans have been made to feel isolated and powerless in not realizing most other Americans agree with us. But we the majority aren’t without influence. The DNC party platforms have been slowly and reluctantly drifting leftward in following the lead of Democratic voters, although the DNC elite is still trailing behind in this trend. Even conservatives haven’t gone further right and, in some cases, have also gone left, including on social programs — again from Lane Kenworthy’s first piece: “As political scientist Matt Grossman has documented, most conservative states in recent decades have either offered slow increases or no change, rather than reductions. In a few instances, such as universal preschool for 4-year-olds in Oklahoma and Georgia and free community college in Tennessee, these states have led in expanding social policy.” Of course, party elites remain right-wing corporatists, but pressure from below is forcing them to moderate their authoritarian tendencies or at least to hide them better. They are talking the talk, if not yet exactly walking the walk (e.g., Obamacare’s corporate-friendly insurance ‘reform’). But they are coming around on certain issues, such as how Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama finally came out in support of same sex marriage years after it had developed into a majority position. On economic issues, the shift has been slower, though one can feel the ground moving beneath one’s feet.
A right-wing reactionary like Trump having used progressive rhetoric to steal enough votes from the political left and cobble together a narrow victory was a game-changer. Now every candidate has to use progressive rhetoric. This is populism and progressivism returning to its non-partisan roots, as seen in the movements from earlier last century. These kinds of social movements that seize the entire population are never constrained by party politics or else, when they do take partisan forms, it is most often in the shape of third parties, independents, and local politics. That is until it becomes an undeniable force that reshapes even the main parties, maybe as we are seeing now. It is a groundswell of change that sweeps up from below, a seismic shift that reorients all of society. That is what we are in the middle of, but it didn’t come out of nowhere. Anyone with their eyes open these past decades saw this coming.
I might add this shift would have happened much more quickly and dramatically if the public hadn’t intentionally been kept ignorant by the media and education system. Polling has shown that the American public has zero tolerance for high inequality. So, why do we have such high inequality without any populist revolt to threaten the plutocracy? It’s because the American public has been lied to with corporatocratic propaganda. Most of the citizenry simply does not know how bad it has gotten, just as most don’t know they are part of a majority. Everything that the public is told is carefully framed and all debate is tightly controlled. The specific lie in this case is the claim that inequality is small when it is actually large (Christopher Ingraham, Wealth concentration returning to ‘levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties,’ according to new research; ). In fact, it is immensely larger than public polling shows most Americans think should be allowed (Dan Ariely, Americans Want to Live in a Much More Equal Country (They Just Don’t Realize It); & Chuck Collins interviewed, U.S. Public Opinion Favors Bold Action to Address Rising Economic Inequality). Why is it that the elites of both parties and all of the corporate media conveniently forget to tell the public this inconvenient truth? That is another rhetorical question.
Despite being trapped in this black iron prison of managed perception, many see through the spectacle and illusion while still others sense, if unclearly, that something is wrong, that there must be something else than what is being shown. Even in not fully grasping how bad it is, the vast majority nonetheless support more regulations on corporations and more taxes on the rich. Americans are strongly in favor of better social programs and a stronger social safety net. There is split opinion about how to pay for it, but that brings us to the next part of how social control is maintained. Our demiurgic overlords in their paternalistic concern explain so kindly that we can’t afford it, as if chastising a child asking for cake for breakfast. Money doesn’t grow on trees. All that wealth belongs to others and it would be wrong to take it. Naughty children! The intellectual elite over at Reason Magazine, the propaganda rag for the Koch Robber Barons with numerous corporate front groups as the funding sources (SourceWatch, Reason Foundation), want to help us understand the error of our ways: “Tens of trillions of dollars in new taxes are likely to prove a bit of a hurdle for Americans who want lots of new goodies from the government only if they’re entirely free” (J. D. Tuccille, More Americans Want Bigger Government—If It’s Free).
Trillions? Such a big scary number. Really, asshole? I think I’ve seen where the trillions go. We can’t afford ‘socialism’, you say. Well, I suspect most Americans would agree with me in thinking that we can’t afford kleptocracy, socialism for the rich (Americans Can’t Afford Kleptocracy). Just look at one small part of one industry over a single year, and it still would be an underestimation because most of the wealth, resources, and other benefits given away goes uncounted: “fossil fuels enjoy $5 trillion in direct and indirect subsidies” (Brian Kahn, Building All the Fossil Fuel Projects Already in the Pipeline Would Wreck the Climate). Multiply that by the other areas of big energy such as nuclear and coal. Then multiply that by the numerous other industries that suck at the government teat: big tech, big ag, etc. And finally multiply that over the many decades that have bled the American public dry. Just over the past decade alone, we could be talking about the equivalent of hundreds of trillions of dollars of public wealth being stolen and stuffed into the pockets of the already rich. Now think about the incomprehensible amount of wealth that has disappeared into the private sector over our lifetimes, most of it probably having been diverted into foreign investments and secret bank accounts or wasted in financial gambling and conspicuous consumption.
All that money stolen and wasted, not to mention externalized costs on top of that. According to a study sponsored by the United Nations, “The report found that when you took the externalized costs into effect, essentially NONE of the industries was actually making a profit. The huge profit margins being made by the world’s most profitable industries (oil, meat, tobacco, mining, electronics) is being paid for against the future: we are trading long term sustainability for the benefit of shareholders. Sometimes the environmental costs vastly outweighed revenue, meaning that these industries would be constantly losing money had they actually been paying for the ecological damage and strain they were causing” (Michael Thomas, New UN report finds almost no industry profitable if environmental costs were included; also see An Invisible Debt Made Visible). So, not only are industries like that of big energy taking trillions of dollars of corporate welfare as part of plutocratic socialism for they are simultaneously, on the other side of the equation, offloading trillions of dollars of costs onto the public. And we have no way to measure the further costs externalized through pollution and ecological destruction. It is an incomprehensibly large net loss for all of society, in the United States and across the world.
We are told that we can’t afford a few trillion to ensure most Americans don’t suffer and die from preventable and treatable health concerns, some of it caused by the very costs of pollution externalized on the public, especially the poor who are more likely to live in industrial toxic zones. That is psychopathic to a degree that is truly evil, not lesser evil, just plain evil. If the public ever figures this out, it will be game over for the plutocracy. And the plutocracy knows it. This is why they spend so much of their wealth in keeping the American public ignorant, confused, and divided. It is an investment in maintaining plutocracy itself. Yet, for all this effort of manipulation and deception, the entire population continually and steadily heads further left, in an instinctive reaction to such grotesque corruption as the public runs away from the stench. Americans, in being kept in the dark for so long, don’t know where they are heading in embracing a progressive sensibility, but they understand that there is no other moral choice than to seek something different by leaning forward into new possibilities. That is the first step toward radical imagination and political will, wherever it might end up.
The self-appointed ruling class will either get out of the way and follow the public’s lead or they will be find themselves trampled under foot. As we face global crises of a scale never before seen, old school authoritarianism won’t work in the way it did in the past. Such authoritarianism could only make things worse, for poor and rich alike. I don’t know that, if given a chance, progressivism will succeed, but nothing is going to stop the masses from trying. With climate crisis and global catastrophe on its way, the sense of urgency will only increase and with it public demand for justice and fairness. Either we will find a way to create a better society or we will go crashing into mass conflict, quite possibly not just world war but total war. We would be lucky if such mass conflict merely ended in revolution.
This isn’t about one ideology defeating some other ideology. What is at stake is the survival of civilization as we know it. This is why most people, not only in the United States but in many other countries as well, are looking toward egalitarianism. Amidst the threats of disaster, we humans somehow hold onto a sense of hope, that maybe, just maybe we will pull out of this tailspin at the last moment before smashing into the ground. Is that sense of hope realistic? If nothing else, it is far more realistic than what the kleptocratic kakocracy is offering with more of the same and worse in wringing every last drop of wealth out of society. Instead of cynicism, maybe its time to try something else. Let’s choose hope and see where it takes us. But if so, that would mean choosing egalitarianism as the first step before anything else would be possible.
A highly unequal society is inherently unstable and conflict-ridden. And as Walter Scheidel argues in The Great Leveler, there has been no society in human existence, from hunter-gatherers to empires, where wide disparities of wealth did not end in violence — if not revolution or war, then catastrophe and collapse. Put that in the context that the inequality in the present United States is higher than anywhere in the world and higher than any other society in all of history and prehistory, and it’s getting worse (Immobility Of Economic Mobility; Or Running To Stay In Place; Inequality Divides, Privilege Disconnects; Inequality in the Anthropocene; On Conflict and Stupidity; Class Anxiety of Privilege Denied; The Coming Collapse; & “Not with a bang but with a whimper.”). So, willingly or unwillingly, this age of concentrated wealth and desperate poverty will end. How it ends is our only freedom of choice. Knowing that this oppressive and unjust social order is doomed, we could choose to soften the crash landing by overhauling society as quickly as possible with mass reforms. Peaceful resolution is always a possibility, if we so choose, but that would require us to envision it as a real and desirable possibility. I’m not sure we have the wisdom and foresight to take this course of action, as history shows that humans and especially Americans tend to react to vast problems only after it’s too late to correct them. Have we learned from such mistakes and will we avoid repeating them?
I could end there, but let me shift gears. This kind of discussion can feel abstract, in speaking about a ‘majority’ and ‘inequality’. Looking at data, whether polling data or economic figures, can create a psychological distance from lived human experience. The reality on the ground is that ordinary people are involved, people who are suffering and struggling as individuals, families, and entire communities. An increasing number of Americans are trapped and isolated in poverty and this has stark consequences (Keith Payne, The Broken Ladder; Kate Pickett & Richard G. Wilkinson, The Spirit Level).
In speaking of the upper, upper (self-identified) ‘middle class’, what is in fact the top 9.9% that is only below the 0.1% ruling elite, Matthew Stewart offers the kind of class critique that is almost shocking to find published in the corporate media (The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy). This 9.9% is the right hand of the powerful, whereas it is the 0.1% that owns the media, buys elections, controls society, and such, the puppet masters behind the scenes (we wouldn’t know about the puppet masters at all if not for investigative journalism that has dug up their covert actions, dark money, and webs of influence: Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, the Buzzfeed expose, a WaPo investigation, etc). The new aristocracy of inherited wealth and privilege are the henchmen who carry out the orders of the ruling elite or else act as a buffer between the ruling elite and the dirty masses — they are the upper class professionals: politicians, lawyers, lobbyists, CEOs, corporate board members, think tank operatives, talk show hosts, movie producers, etc. Together, the top 10% maintain the rigid hierarchy of inequality and the social control that protects and enforces it.
Matthew Stewart writes that, “The sociological data are not remotely ambiguous on any aspect of this growing divide. We 9.9 percenters live in safer neighborhoods, go to better schools, have shorter commutes, receive higher-quality health care, and, when circumstances require, serve time in better prisons. We also have more friends—the kind of friends who will introduce us to new clients or line up great internships for our kids. These special forms of wealth offer the further advantages that they are both harder to emulate and safer to brag about than high income alone. Our class walks around in the jeans and T‑shirts inherited from our supposedly humble beginnings. We prefer to signal our status by talking about our organically nourished bodies, the awe-inspiring feats of our offspring, and the ecological correctness of our neighborhoods. We have figured out how to launder our money through higher virtues.” This is how the immense gulf between wealth and poverty has been hidden. It’s not only hidden from the poor and the dirty masses, including those directly below them, the genuine middle class. More importantly, the reality of their privilege is hidden from their own awareness, a total dissociation. They are playing make-believe because the reality of inequality would cause them to feel uncomfortable and one of the most cherished advantages to higher class status is the ability to maintain a sense of comfortable numbness to the suffering of others, but this requires also maintaining the inequality that keeps the rest of humanity separate for if the 9.9% ever saw how most others lived their illusion would be shattered.
Pretending to be middle class is necessary for plausible deniability about class war. Rather than flaunting their status, the upper classes have flown under the radar. The 9.9% present themselves as ordinary Americans, as “middle class.” And the 0.1%, for the most part, don’t present themselves at all. Consider how disheveled and unimpressive Steve Bannon appears, and I have to wonder if that is an intentional disguise. In reality, he is one of those 9.9% working on behalf of the ruling elite. Bannon had a successful career in Wall Street banking and Hollywood movies, but he wasn’t part of the highest echelon of the capitalist class. He was one of those henchmen who, even if he aspired to be part of the ruling elite, was used and funded by those far more powerful than he is (the Mercer, Koch, and Trump families). He was used and, when no longer useful, he was discarded. Yet he remains influential within his lesser sphere and will be comfortable for the rest of his life. He will go on playing his games of power and privilege, and he will go on trying to scramble further up the socioeconomic ladder while kicking down at those behind him.
This is the world we find ourselves in and one of the results is disparity of not only wealth but also of health. To be rich means to live well and to live long while poverty is a sentence of life-long suffering and dying young. Socioeconomic status is built into our lives and bodies. This is to be comfortable in a visceral and concrete way, to experience full physical development and expression, to ensure optimal health — as explained by Stewart: “This divergence of families by class is just one part of a process that is creating two distinct forms of life in our society. Stop in at your local yoga studio or SoulCycle class, and you’ll notice that the same process is now inscribing itself in our own bodies. In 19th-century England, the rich really were different. They didn’t just have more money; they were taller—a lot taller. According to a study colorfully titled “On English Pygmies and Giants,” 16-year-old boys from the upper classes towered a remarkable 8.6 inches, on average, over their undernourished, lower-class countrymen. We are reproducing the same kind of division via a different set of dimensions. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and liver disease are all two to three times more common in individuals who have a family income of less than $35,000 than in those who have a family income greater than $100,000. Among low-educated, middle-aged whites, the death rate in the United States—alone in the developed world—increased in the first decade and a half of the 21st century. Driving the trend is the rapid growth in what the Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton call “deaths of despair”—suicides and alcohol- and drug-related deaths.”
We are seeing a decline in the health of Americans (Health From Generation To Generation; Dietary Health Across Generations; A Century of Dietary and Nutritional Trends; & Malnourished Americans), but it isn’t not affecting everyone equally. The wealthy, of course, are doing well. And the older generations, having grown up at a time of greater wealth in the general population, are also doing better than the younger generations with increasing poverty. Many of the 9.9% (or their parents or grandparents) were able to enter the new aristocracy at a time when there was much greater and easier upward mobility that created a once growing middle class that, for many, served as a step ladder into the upper classes. If you look at wealth, it is also disproportionately tilted toward the older generations. On average, those in the Boomer and Silent generations were never as poor when younger and started off with many advantages; cheap education and housing, unionized jobs with large pensions, a booming economy that grew their stock market investments, etc. The class divide is magnified and further hidden within a generational divide, not unlike how class gets obscured by race. Instead of talking about class, we use demographic and social proxies that are tied into economic realities.
Health is another one of those proxies. Since data began to be kept, American longevity has been continually increasing, that is until the past three years. It’s not for a lack of healthcare funding, as the money going into the healthcare industry is increasing, but we are getting less bang for our buck, in spite of spending way more than other developed countries that get better health results, including longevity rates that continue to rise. It is hitting the young the hardest — Joel Achenbach writes that, “By age group, the highest relative jump in death rates from 2010 to 2017 — 29 percent — has been among people age 25 to 34” (‘There’s something terribly wrong’: Americans are dying young at alarming rates). That is not a positive sign, considering the young represent the future. It is already fueling social and political unrest: “About a third of the estimated 33,000 “excess deaths” that the study says occurred since 2010 were in just four states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Indiana — the first two of which are critical swing states in presidential elections. The state with the biggest percentage rise in death rates among working-age people in this decade — 23.3 percent — is New Hampshire, the first primary state.” And it is cutting across racial demographics: “Increasing midlife mortality began among whites in 2010, Hispanics in 2011 and African Americans in 2014, the study states.” So, we’re not only talking about the resentment politics of poor whites. The anger and anxiety did help Trump in his victory, but keep in mind that Trump also gained strong support from older Hispanics in the rural Southwest, Haitians and Cubans in Florida, etc. The sense of social fracture doesn’t always follow simplistic media narratives and political rhetoric.
Much of the health problems, by the way, are tied into metabolic syndrome which is primarily caused by diet — Achenbach continues: “Obesity is a significant part of the story. The average woman in the United States today weighs as much as the average man half a century ago, and men now weigh about 30 pounds more. Most people in the United States are overweight — an estimated 71.6 percent of the population age 20 and older, according to the CDC. That figure includes the 39.8 percent who are obese, defined as having a body mass index of 30 or higher in adults (18.5 to 25 is the normal range). Obesity is also rising in children; nearly 19 percent of the population age 2 to 19 is obese. “These kids are acquiring obesity in their early teen years, sometimes under the age of 10,” said S. Jay Olshansky, a professor of public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “When they get up into their 20s, 30s and 40s, they’re carrying the risk factors of obesity that were acquired when they were children. We didn’t see that in previous generations.” “This isn’t a one-time phenomenon,” he added. “It’s going to echo through time.”” The quotes directly above come from one of the articles linked by Chuck Pezeshki in his recent post with a long descriptive title, More Societal Implications of the Obesity Epidemic — Insulin Resistance, Epigenetic Preloading and Obesity Showing Up in Mortality Stats.
Pezeshki takes a systems approach to understanding humanity and often focuses on health with a rare understanding of diet as part of a food system, specifically the problems of a high-carb diet in being the main contributing factor to metabolic syndrome. He has had a prediction, one that I agree with: “That prediction is that our awful diet that excludes saturated fats, and gives a pass to sugar and refined carbs, is combining with epigenetic preloading of insulin resistance and driving obesity in our young people. This earlier expression of insulin resistance, leads to earlier onset of Type II diabetes, and the incumbent Western diseases that flow from that. And that will lead to an increase in All-Cause mortality at younger and younger ages, leading to an enormous public health crisis.” But it’s coming quicker than he predicted: “I thought that it would take until the 2030s to really see some effect. As the data shows, I was wrong. The bell is tolling now.” And it may result in “a compounding civilization-altering event.” Also shared, he has an even better “piece, linking diet and a growth in authoritarianism“ (which was used as a jumping-off point for one of my own writings, Diets and Systems). Like some others, he points out that, “The states most affected are swing states looking for reversals of their fortunes, because their people are suffering.”
Similar to my own perspective, he links a high-carb diet to a particular mentality and way of being in the world, from addiction to authoritarianism. But more fundamentally is the most immediate and undeniable impact on the body: “What’s really wild is the documentation, through photos, of the obesity and incumbent diabetes crisis. Though obesity is not even discussed, almost all the photos included in the article show people who are morbidly obese. The kicker is the one healthy person in the story resisted his doctor’s advice and put himself on a de facto ketogenic diet.” A ketogenic diet, in case you didn’t know, is one that is extremely restrictive of starches and sugar; and a diet, I’d add, that probably was the norm of human society and evolution prior to modern agriculture. The shift to a high-carb diet was dramatic and traumatic and, since then, has become systemic with immense consequences in altering how the body functions.
“Even the basic concept of diet as a metabolic destabilizer — the real phenomenon going on here — is not understood. It’s not surprising. We still count food in terms of meaningless calories, instead of the most powerful medicine we ingest regularly into our systems. The problem with the whole issue of metabolic destabilization is that it drives diseases that are well-recognized, like cancer, with their own pathologies and entire industries set up to treat. Few scientists or physicians are talking about how to prevent cancer in the first place. It’s not that these people are evil — with rare exception (like cigarette smoking) the causal thought just doesn’t occur to them. Like the AIDS virus that destabilized its victims’ immune systems, leading to contracting all sorts of diseases one normally has resistance to, metabolic destabilization runs under the surface of the epidemic. Out of sight, out of mind. And that, dear readers, is a function of the social structure that is investigating the problem. Medical and dietary research organizations are just not set up to investigate root cause.”
This goes back to inequality, not a topic Pezeshki talks much about. Structures and institutions calcify as hierarchies form and become entrenched. This is why systems lose the capacity to cause change from within. And when reform fails, the only option is revolution or some violently disruptive equivalent, whether from internal factors (e.g., economic collapse) or external factors (e.g., plague), as Walter Scheidel describes in his history of inequality. Demagogues, sociopaths, and social dominators like Ancel Keys become increasingly common as the system rigidifies, since it becomes prone to authoritarian control. All Keys needed was to co-opt the American Heart Association and draw in some political allies, and from there he was able to command a total transformation of the US nutrition studies, food system, government recommendations, and medical practice that enforced a dietary pattern onto the entire population. That society-wide change is still with us more than a half century later. It is unsurprising that, during that same period, inequality kept growing greater and greater. Going back many centuries, it was understood that dietary ideology was important for social control, based on an explicit understanding that food alters not only health but thought, mood, and behavior (Diets and Systems), and I argue that the high-carb diet not only has to do with addiction and authoritarianism but also the fracturing and isolation of a hyper-individualistic worldview.
Let me use the example of doctors to make an important point. To return to the topic of the 9.9%, Matthew Stewart asks a key question and offers an explanation: “Why do America’sdoctors make twice as much as those of other wealthy countries? Given that the United States has placed dead last five times running in the Commonwealth Fund’s ranking of health-care systems in high-income countries, it’s hard to argue that they are twice as gifted at saving lives. Dean Baker, a senior economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has a more plausible suggestion: “When economists like me look at medicine in America—whether we lean left or right politically—we see something that looks an awful lot like a cartel.” Through their influence on the number of slots at medical schools, the availability of residencies, the licensing of foreign-trained doctors, and the role of nurse practitioners, physicians’ organizations can effectively limit the competition their own members face—and that is exactly what they do.” Yes, a cartel. That is another way to say a hierarchical and authoritarian system, which is to say an expression of the mentality of control.
As part of the 9.9%, doctors play a pivotal role in moderating the harm and decline of our society. It fits a high inequality society that medical practice has come to primarily focus on treating symptoms rather than preventing, reversing, and curing disease. The authority of doctors helps shift the blame of societal problems onto individuals and so scapegoat the patient who is supposedly suffering the wages of their own sin because of gluttony (eating too many calories, fat, etc) and sloth (not exercising enough). But the reality is that most doctors are as ignorant as the rest of us since, in never having been educated on the topic, they know little about the science of diet and nutrition (Most Mainstream Doctors Would Fail Nutrition; & “Simply, we were dumb.”). The problem is, as authority figures, few of them will admit their ignorance. And the fact of the matter, most doctors at this point have become simply one more cog in the machine. Most doctors today are employees of large hospitals and clinics, not independent practitioners, and so they aren’t free to do what they want. If they don’t toe the line, they can have their license removed. Doctors, in being key to the system of social control, are also under the thumb of those above them. That is the plight of the 9.9%. Even among the wealthiest Americans, there is an underlying sense of being trapped within the dominant paradigm, though rarely acknowledged, and ideological realism makes it seem inescapable. So, most people just go along to get along.
What this does, though, is make all the problems worse in the long run. It doesn’t only shut down the ability to change but also shuts down the awareness of the need for change, in the way that the 9.9% refuse to acknowledge that they are on the top of a vast hierarchy that leaves most people impoverished, powerless, and disenfranchised. They might be the 9.9% in the United States, but still they are among the tiny fraction of a percentage in terms of global inequality. These are among the richest people in the world, but all they see is the super-rich far above them. It’s hard for this new aristocracy to realize what they are and the role they play. The drugs they overprescribe and the diet they tell their patients to follow, these are integral parts to a system of corporate profit. To challenge that oppressive and harmful system would mean, instead of being a beneficiary of power, making oneself a target of that power (as happened to Tim Noakes, Gary Fettke, Shawn Baker, etc). If only unconsciously, the 9.9% know they are disposable and replaceable.
At least a third of the population and growing is now a permanent underclass, in that they inherit poverty as the upper classes inherit their wealth (the data shows that most wealth in the US is inherited, not earned), that is to say we’ve become a caste system. Most of the lower classes, of course, are without higher education (70+% of the population) and, unlike other developed countries, little is being offered in way of job retraining or any other form of useful assistance to better their lives. They are simply being left behind, abandoned by the economy and government — surely, that is how it feels to these people and the injustice of it burns, but more than anything they’ve given up trying or hoping for anything else. This is why we are seeing the return of multi-generational households, for purposes of survival.
Along with the wealth gap, we are falling into another kind of inequality, that of work. There are those who have little, if any, employment and, on the other side, there are those working multiple jobs and long hours. Those doctors, for example, in order to keep their jobs have to be willing to work 16 hour days and 60-80 hour work weeks. That is why there is much drug abuse. It’s just that doctors and other white collar professionals use prescription uppers, instead of meth, but it’s the same difference. The safer and more reliable sources of drugs along with better access to healthcare and drug rehabilitation programs, though, for these wealthier folk means they are less likely to die, as happens in poor communities, from drug overdose and poisoning. A large part of the rising death toll among in certain demographics is partly due to untreated drug use. Poor people are forced to turn to the unregulated black market for their drugs and that is not conducive to health and long life. Whether uppers to help work long hours and hard work or downers to deaden the despair of poverty and hopelessness, the entire American population is turning to ever greater drug use.
Both conditions create stress and failing health, the drug use merely being one of many symptoms of an ailing society (Stress and Shittiness; & The World Around Us). On top of that, quality healthcare is increasingly out of reach for most Americans, that is when they can afford healthcare insurance at all, and without healthcare insurance people simply don’t go to the doctor. Even when it’s a life or death situation, many people won’t call an ambulance because they know that ambulance ride alone will put them into permanent debt that they might never escape: “Not long ago a young boy came into the emergency room at Pemiscot Memorial with a severe asthma attack. His mother didn’t know how to use the inhaler properly. She hesitated before seeking help, and she drove him to the hospital herself rather than pay for an ambulance. The boy died. “To have a kid die of asthma,” Dr. Arshad says, “who’d have thought that could happen in 2017?”” (Sarah Brown & Karin Fischer, A Dying Town). They can’t afford to go on living, and in some cases dying can be more cost than families are able to pay. So, people die at home from preventable health conditions, often dying alone, to save on costs.
Beyond lack of healthcare, the poorest communities also lack clean air and water, with heavy metal toxins in their water pipes, not to mention the paint chipping away in their aging houses and schools, and on top of that it is in these communities that old industrial zones and toxic dumps are located. In areas of the South, the living conditions are equivalent to what used to be called “third world” with open sewage that causes high parasite load, which like lead toxicity contributes to developmental and neurocognitive issues (Lead Toxicity is a Hyperobject). That contributes to even more need for the very healthcare they don’t have. To deal with the worst problems, local and federal government is being forced to pick up the costs in treating the most basic of preventable diseases. In the US, we spend more on healthcare and get less for it, as compared to other Western countries. It’s not only the costs of healthcare but also the costs of increased number of people taking sick days, on disability, and spending their time taking care of sick family members. Furthermore, such things as lead toxicity stunts impulse control and increases aggressive behavior, which translates as higher rates of abuse, bullying, violence, crime, policing, and incarceration (Connecting the Dots of Violence). The diseases of civilization keep on rising and soon will be so costly as to bankrupt our society. Add that to the costs of an entire planet become sick from destroyed ecosystems, housing burned down from wildfires, storms devastating entire coastal areas, people starving and dislocated from droughts and plagues, political unrest, wars over limited resources, and wave after wave of refugees.
The world seems out of control. Sadly, it is the modern ideological system of control that has created the very problem of being out of control and then offers to solve the problem it caused. It just so happens that the rich get richer in selling us their solutions or in being funded by the government to do so. The whole paradigm of control is the problem itself, not the solution. But the system of control keeps us from seeing outside to any other possibility, as it keeps us from seeing how bad inequality, public health, etc has become. We are trapped in Fantasyland mediated by corporate media. We are a well managed population, but disease and climate change doesn’t give a fuck about human ideologies of control. Our ignorance and obliviousness of our situation is not helping us, and in the big scheme of things it isn’t even helping the rich and powerful. But we are addicted to control because the two are inseparable, such that control serves no purpose other than furthering the desire for control or, as William S. Burroughs put it, control is controlled by its need for control. Basically, a system of control is a self-contained reality tunnel. As it gets worse, the imposing of authoritarian control becomes greater. And the more control is asserted, it gets worse still as we spiral out of control.
The data does tell us much: shifting public opinion, rising inequality, declining public health, worsening climate change, and on and on. It offers a dark view of where we are and where we are heading. But all the data in the world can’t really explain anything, can’t offer any deeper insight nor any meaningful response. We didn’t get to this point out of no where, as the cultural underpinnings were put into place over centuries and maybe even millennia. I look at something like the EAT-Lancet report and what stands out is the narrative being told, the framing of perceived reality (Dietary Dictocrats of EAT-Lancet). This is part of what I’ve called corporate veganism. The argument goes that human health, moral order, the environment, etc are out of control and so need to be put back under control. According to the EAT-Lancet report, the ruling elite need to enforce a different diet and food system onto the global population by way of food regulations, taxes, and bans. The public itself needs to be controlled because they are acting badly in eating too much meat that, as claimed, is harming humanity and destroying the world.
This is a particular way of seeing the world. There is a reason why diet has long been understood to be central to culture and social control, since food influences thought and behavior, and so public health has played a key role in moral panic and culture wars, public policy and political action (The Agricultural Mind; “Yes, tea banished the fairies.”; Autism and the Upper Crust; To Be Fat And Have Bread; Diets and Systems; Moral Panic and Physical Degeneration; The Crisis of Identity; The Disease of Nostalgia; & Old Debates Forgotten). Maybe this relates as well to the inequality we see in who gets access to quality healthcare, food, and nutrition. There historically has been a caste or class separation in what people eat and are allowed to eat. Slaves, serfs, and indentured servants typically subsisted on a high-carb diet of cheap grains and root vegetables. Based on Belinda Fettke’s research, I’ve noted that modern “plant-based” rhetoric originates in the Seventh Day Adventist’s agenda to control the sinful nature of humanity, such as advocating high-fiber grains (e.g., cereal) to suppress libido and so lessen the attraction to moral wrongdoing and sexual deviancy such as masturbation that endangers the mortal soul. So, eat your veggies! The Seventh Day Adventists seem to have inherited this dietary ideology from the older cultural strain of thought of Galenic theory of humors that was revived, popularized, and Christianized during the Middle Ages. Social control was essential to maintaining the feudal order and, as red meat was considered invigorating, it was often banned, although fish allowed (maybe explaining the cultural bias of why vegetarians and vegans will sometimes make exception for inclusion of fish in their diets).
Why has Western society been so obsessed with control? This goes back quite far and so is obviously significant. Control is definitely more important as inequality goes up and the social order destabilizes. As a contrast, consider the Mongols contemporaneous with European feudalism. Mongols had low inequality, lacked rigid hierarchy, and apparently required no oppressive social control. Even in organizing a large military, they operated in an organic manner that allowed them to be extremely adaptable to changing conditions on the battlefield without requirement of a strict chain-of-command to tell them what to do in every moment. Europeans, in their rigid minds and rigid social order, couldn’t respond quickly enough and were overwhelmed.
That is an old conflict, farmers vs herders, Cain vs Abel; and this was made part of the American mythos with the Wild West narrative where clod-hoppers and businessmen clashed with open-range ranchers and cowboys. This same basic contest of ideological and cultural worldviews echoes in the present public debate over a plant-based diets and animal-based diets where one side must win and dominate, but interestingly it is primarily the plant-based advocates who are interested in this public debate and so it’s a bit one-sided. Meat-eaters don’t tend to be opposed to plant foods in the way that vegetarians and vegans hold such strong opinions about meat. And so the meat-eaters are less interested in enforcing dietary control on the other side. Maybe there is something about the two diets that feeds into different mentalities and attitudes about control. Related to this, maybe this explains the coinciding rise of inequality and the high-carb, plant-based diet based on the big ag and big food. Industrial agriculture and the modern food system is all about enforcing control on nature to ensure high yields in order to make cheap, shelf-stable, and highly profitable food products. This has brought inequality into farming itself where the small family farm and small farming community has almost entirely disappeared.
Yet it is this modern economy of industrialization and neoliberalism, plutocracy and inequality that has caused so many of the problems. We wouldn’t need to control nature, from big ag to climate change measures, if we hadn’t done so much damage to the environment in the first place, if we hadn’t gotten so far out of balance in creating an unsustainable society. Everything feels precarious because we’ve collectively taken actions that create instability, something that in the past was openly and proudly embraced as creative destruction. But now everything feels out of control with creative destruction threatening to become plain destruction. Climate change causes catastrophes and that sends waves of refugees around the world. Those refugees are dangerous and so must be controlled. Whether it’s building a wall to keep people out or enforcing a vegan diet to keep people in line, it’s the same desperate demand for control. And the demand for control comes from up high with the dirty masses, foreign and domestic, as the target of control. But the only way the ruling elite can control society is by controlling the public mind. And likewise any revolution of society would mean revolution of the mind, the ultimate threat to a system of control. That is what some of the American founders understood. The revolution of the mind came first and prepared the way. I’d add that it came from the bottom up. Decades of social unrest, populist riots, and organized revolts preceded the American Revolution. To go further back, there had been uprisings since the early colonial period in the British colonies.
Here is the issue. We know changes were happening in the colonies. But why were they happening? And despite Thomas Paine’s attempts to inspire his fellow Englishmen, why did revolution fail to take hold back in England? Maybe that is where diet and food systems come in. What changed before both society and mind was a change in diet. In the colonies, some of the most common foods were fish, meat, lard, and butter (Nina Teicholz points this out, as quoted in Malnourished Americans); whereas back in England, the poor, when they weren’t starving, were eating an impoverished and urbanized version of a peasant’s diet with few nutrient-dense animal foods. It’s a rather simple dynamic. Unlike the English poor, the colonists were healthy, tall, and strong. Also, their food system was independent as they were surrounded by an abundance of wild game. From a Galenic viewpoint, it’s maybe relevant that the colonists were eating a lot of red meat, the very thing the old order of the ancien regime feared. Red meat was sometimes specifically banned before Carnival for fear that riots might develop into revolts. They genuinely thought red meat had this power over collective behavior and maybe they were right. As long as we modern Americans remain under the control of a high-carb, plant-based diet, we might never be able to achieve a revolution of mind and so no any other kind of revolution could follow from it. If we are hoping for radical change toward a free society, we’ll first have to have a dietary revolution and regain autonomy of our own food sources. As with the American Revolution, this will be a fight against the imperialism that has colonized our minds and lives and the transnational corporations that seek to dominate our society.
The American Revolutionaries had to create a new identity as a public. We’ll have to do something similar in coming to realize we the public are a moral majority, a progressive majority. That means changing the most basic structures of our lives that shape and influence who we are. Political change will be an effect of that, not a cause. There are many possible leverages, but maybe we’ve been overlooking one of the most powerful, that of diet and food systems. A nutrient-dense(and bioavailable), animal-based, and largely ketogenic diet sourced in local regenerative farming could be revolutionary with repercussions we cannot as yet imagine. Once there has been a shift in neurocognition and consciousness, then and only then can we begin to open up some space for radical imagination. Following that, we can do the hard work of working out the details, the same challenge the American colonists were faced with once their own mentality had started to shift in a new direction. But first things first. Changing diet is a far easier thing to accomplish and will make all the rest easier as well. Until we regain our birthright of physical and mental health, we will go on struggling as a society and find ourselves without the strength to fight back with determination. To have a revolution of the mind, we will have to nourish our brains and bodies. In the coming era of crises, we are going to need all of our human potential out on the table.
About a decade ago, I wrote a long piece analyzing all the polling data I could find across decades. It was obvious that the vast majority of Americans not only were quite far left but had been so for a long time and were going even further left over time. It wasn’t a new phenomenon. The leftward trend can be followed back into last century.
This shouldn’t be surprising when one looks at the politics of the early to mid-20th century. The politics were even more radical in my grandparents’ early life and it remained that way into my parents’ childhood. There was massive labor organizing with pitched battles. Communists were found everywhere, especially among the working class and minorities, including in the Deep South. The top tax rate was as high as it has ever been and the taxing the rich paid for numerous social programs, job programs, infrastructure rebuilding, etc. Everything from college education to housing was heavily subsidized.
Why don’t we know this? Because it has been written out of the history books used in both public and private schools — with the textbook industry being big business. Because the corporate media is the propaganda wing of plutocracy. And because the ruling elite in both parties have gone to immense effort to constantly push the Overton window to the right. It is only in our enforced ignorance through indoctrination from a young age that the American public is made to feel divided and impotent. The majority of Americans are told the public policies they support are too left-wing, too radical, too fringe. It is one of the most effective propaganda campaigns in world history.
Even now, the forces of corruption are pushing for lesser evilism one more time. Yet each time it pushes politics further right into ever greater evil. The corporate control of the government grows. And the main welfare system in our country is the socialism for the rich. We Americans haven’t yet fought back because we’ve been told we were part of a minority, that we don’t matter. But what if we Americans decided to fight for democracy once again? Then who would stop us? If they tried, it would be revolution. There is no time for democracy like the present. We should not accept anything less.
This is our country. This is our government. It’s time we take it back. That would make America great again, like it was in the radical era generations ago and in the revolutionary era upon which our country was founded. That is as American as it gets, the common people fighting against corrupt power. It’s an American tradition. Let’s honor that tradition. [Fill in your favorite quote from Thomas Jefferson writing about watering the tree of liberty, Abraham Lincoln speaking about justice and equality, Martin Luther King Jr. preaching about the arc of the moral universe, or whatever other great American figure you prefer.]
The Green New Deal is extremely popular and has massive bipartisan support. A recent survey from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University found that a whopping 81 percent of voters said they either “strongly support” (40 percent) or “somewhat support” (41 percent) the Green New Deal, including 64 percent of Republicans (and even 57 percent of conservative Republicans).
How about health care? The vast majority (70 percent) of voters, including a majority (52 percent) of Republicans, support a single-payer universal health care system, or Medicare for All. Six in 10 say it is “the responsibility of the federal government” to ensure that all Americans have access to health care coverage.
Debt-free and tuition-free college? A clear majority (60 percent) of the public, including a significant minority (41 percent) of Republicans, support free college “for those who meet income levels.”
A higher minimum wage? According to Pew, almost 6 in 10 (58 percent) Americans support increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to (the Sanders-recommended) $15 an hour.
Gun control? About six out of 10 (61 percent) Americans back stricter laws on gun control, according to Gallup, “the highest percentage to favor tougher firearms laws in two or more decades.” Almost all Americans (94 percent) back universal background checks on all gun sales — including almost three-quarters of National Rifle Association members.
Abortion? Support for a legal right to abortion, according to a June 2018 poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, is at an “all-time high.” Seven out of 10 Americans said they believed Roe v. Wade “should not be overturned,” including a majority (52 percent) of Republicans.
Legalizing marijuana? Two out of three Americans think marijuana should be made legal. According to a Gallup survey from October 2018, this marks “another new high in Gallup’s trend over nearly half a century.” And here’s the kicker: A majority (53 percent) of Republicans support legal marijuana too!
Mass incarceration? About nine out of 10 (91 percent) Americans say that the criminal justice system “has problems that need fixing.” About seven out of 10 (71 percent) say it is important “to reduce the prison population in America,” including a majority (52 percent) of Trump voters.
Immigration? “A record-high 75 percent of Americans,” including 65 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, told Gallup in 2018 that immigration is a “good thing for the U.S.” Six in 10 Americansoppose the construction of a wall on the southern border, while a massive 8 in 10 (81 percent) support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
Both Medicare for All and single-payer health care enjoy majority support in recent polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Data for Progress (DFP), a progressive think tank, used demographic information from Kaiser’s poll to estimate the level of support for Medicare for All in individual states. Its model suggests that, in a 2014 turnout environment — which is to say, one that assumes higher turnout for Republican constituencies — a majority of voters in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania would all support a socialist takeover of the health-insurance industry (so long as you didn’t put the idea to them in those terms).
Now, it is true that support for Medicare for All is malleable when pollsters introduce counterarguments. But even if we stipulate that support for the policy is somewhat weaker than it appears, there is little doubt that any Democrat running on Medicare for All in a purple district will have a more mainstream position on health-care policy than the national Republican Party. Polls consistently find that an overwhelming majority of the American public — one that includes most Republican voters — supports higher federal spending on health care, and opposes cuts to Medicaid (just 12 percent of the public supports cutting that program). Every major GOP health-care plan introduced in the past decade runs counter to those preferences; the ones introduced in the last year would have slashed Medicaid spending by nearly $1 trillion.
The most radical economic policy on Ocasio-Cortez’s platform — a federal job guarantee — meanwhile, actually polls quite well in “flyover country.” In a survey commissioned by the Center for American Progress, a supermajority of voters agreed that “for anyone who is unemployed or underemployed, the government should guarantee them a job with a decent wage doing work that local communities need, such as rebuilding roads, bridges, and schools or working as teachers, home health-care aides, or child-care providers.”
Critically, support for this premise was almost exactly as strong among rural-dwelling demographic groups as it was among urban ones: According to DFP’s modeling, CAP’s proposal boasts roughly 69 percent support in urban zip codes, and 67 percent in rural ones.
There are a lot of reasonable, technocratic objections to the job guarantee as a policy. But polling suggests that there is majoritarian support for a massive public-jobs program of some kind — and that framing said program as “guaranteed jobs” might be politically effective.
“Housing as a human right” might sound radical, but in substance, it’s anything but: The Department of Housing and Urban Development believesit could end homelessness with an additional $20 billion a year in funding; other experts put that price tag even lower. I don’t think the question, “Should the government raise taxes for the rich by $20 billion, if doing so would end all homelessness in the U.S.?” has been polled, but I would be surprised if it didn’t poll well, even in the Midwest.
Similarly, on the question of immigration enforcement, Ocasio-Cortez’s position is likely more palatable when rendered in concrete terms than in abstract ones. Many white Midwesterners might recoil at phrases like “abolish ICE” or “open borders.” But if one asks the question, “Should the government concentrate its immigration-enforcement resources on combating violent criminals and gang activity, instead of going after law-abiding day laborers?” I suspect you’d find more support for the democratic socialist point of view.
The palatability of Ocasio-Cortez’s policy platform reflects two important realities: Actually existing “democratic socialism” — which is to say, the brand championed by its most prominent proponents in elected office — is almost indistinguishable from left-liberalism; and left-liberal policies are already quite popular in the United States.
If all Americans voted for the party whose positions on economic policy best matched their own stated preferences, then the Republican Party would not be competitive in national elections. The GOP’s strength derives entirely from the considerable appeal of white identity politics with constituencies that happen to wield disproportionate power over our political system.
There is a recent incident of the EU putting out corporate propaganda. An EU report directly plagiarized a paper written by big ag, in ensuring the public that glyphosate (Roundup) is a healthy additive to your family’s diet and so there is no need to strictly regulate it.
“The BfR [Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment commissioned by the EU] had thus copied Monsanto’s explanation of Monsanto’s approach in evaluating the published literature, yet had presented it as the approach of the authority. This is a striking example of deception regarding true authorship.”
(Joseph Mercola, EU Infiltrated by Pesticide Industry Plagiarizes Safety Study)
Don’t worry about it. Monsanto’s products are safe and good. How do we know? Because Monsanto told us so. It’s amazing they get away this kind of thing. And they do it all the time.
Corporate lobbyists regularly have direct influence over politicians. They even sometimes write the bills that get passed into laws. And that is on top of regulatory capture, revolving doors, legalized bribery, etc. I don’t know why we tolerate this. It’s so often done brazenly, as if they are rubbing our faces in it, daring us to try to stop them, as if to demonstrate to us that we are powerless and so we should just cynically accept our subordinate position.
I’m so often reminded of the actions of the East India Company prior to the American Revolution. They thought they were above all morality and laws, beholden to no one. They began taking on the powers of a government, as they piggybacked on British imperialism. That was the first era when corporatism took hold in the Anglo-American world.
It shouldn’t surprise any of us by now. Think about it.
Western governments on behalf of corporations have regularly harmed and killed millions of innocents through trade agreements, sanctions, wars of aggression, coups, training paramilitary groups, etc in order to ensure for corporations access to trade routes, natural resources, and cheap labor (e.g., Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State intervened in Haiti to drive down wages so as to maintain cheap labor for US corporations, which is why so many Haitian-Americans voted for Trump and helped him to win Florida). A governing body like the EU putting out corporate propaganda is a small act in the big scheme.
Our governments, especially in the US, don’t represent the citizenry. Generations of attempts at reform from within the system have mostly failed, although a few successes here and there. The US government is more corporatist now than at any prior point in history. Yet every election cycle candidates in both parties promise all kinds of things. That doesn’t stop the system from continuing on as before in serving big biz, as scientific studies have shown. If more of the same keeps resulting in more of the same, maybe it’s time we did something different.
The majority of the American public has been steadily moving left in their policy positions for decades. At this point, the average American is to the left of both parties on many major issues. When some political, media, or think tank elite speaks of ‘centrism’ and ‘moderation’, ask yourself what is the defining frame? Well, obviously they mean moderating toward the center of power, not moderating toward the center of majority support. The problem is the majority doesn’t know it is a majority because the propaganda campaign has been so highly effective with near total control of the party system and corporate media.
Most Americans support Medicare for All, higher taxes on the rich, a Green New Deal, and other major items on the progressive agenda—so why has Congress failed to enact them?
The reason, Columbia University Law School professor Tim Wu argued in an op-ed for the New York Times on Tuesday, is that the influence of corporations and the donor class on the American political system has drowned out the policy desires of the public.
“In our era, it is primarily Congress that prevents popular laws from being passed or getting serious consideration. (Holding an occasional hearing does not count as ‘doing something’),” Wu wrote. “Entire categories of public policy options are effectively off-limits because of the combined influence of industry groups and donor interests.”
To bolster his argument, Wu rattled off a number of policies that—despite polling extremely well among large, bipartisan swaths of the American public—have not garnered enough support among lawmakers to pass Congress.
What's amazing about about this argument is how rarely it's made. Normally it's "Americans are so divided." Or "the left is fighting itself." But @superwuster is right: Americans agree on many big things. Basic democracy demands radical political change. https://t.co/9eOP6kbm5t
“The defining political fact of our time is not polarization. It’s the inability of even large bipartisan majorities to get what they want on issues like these,” argued Wu. “Call it the oppression of the supermajority. Ignoring what most of the country wants—as much as demagogy and political divisiveness—is what is making the public so angry.”
Wu’s contention that the “combined influence” of the donor class and big business is significantly responsible for Congress’ refusal to enact popular policies matches the conclusion of a 2014 study (pdf) by political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, who found that in the United States, “the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.”
“When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose,” Gilens and Page wrote. “Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”
“How well are things going in the country today: very well, fairly well, pretty badly or very badly?”
That is from a CNN poll. I enjoy looking at polling data. But I must admit a question like this perplexes me. What does this question even mean? What is it specifically asking about? What is being referred to by ‘things’? What was the context in which it was asked? Were there questions that preceded it and framed it?
Here is the breakdown of responses:
Very well 13%
Fairly well 45%
Pretty badly 28%
Very badly 12%
This question has been asked by CNN going back to 2005. When the options of “very well” and “fairly well” are combined, that is a majority of Americans who generally consider ‘things’ to be doing ‘well’. That percentage is higher than it has been in all those years of polling. Even before the 2008 Great Recession, it wasn’t quite that high.
Obviously, most people asked this question weren’t thinking of the president, congress, etc which get low favorable ratings in public opinion. These ratings are at historical lows. Other polling doesn’t make clear that it is about the economy either. The U.S. population is about evenly split over the economy being better now than a year ago. But even that is hard to interpret considering about half the population is unemployed or underemployed. A large part of the population is in poverty or close to it. This is probably how most people think about the economy, as personal experience and not abstract data.
Inequality continues to rise, housing and healthcare and education costs are higher than ever, wages continue to stagnate, few Americans have any retirement savings or even enough money to pay for a major emergency, job security is an endangered species, and good benefits are no longer included as part of the American Dream. Plus, personal and national debt keeps on growing, big banks that were too big to fail that they were bailed out to avoid financial collapse are now even bigger, new kinds of monopoly-like corporations are forming within multiple markets, and related to high inequality a number of serious thinkers including President Jimmy Carter have stated that the United States is now a banana republic.
It probably shouldn’t be interpreted as high praise that the economy is doing slightly less worse or maintaining expected levels of crappiness. In this context, doing well might simply mean that the situation is tolerable enough to not yet incite mass revolt and possibly revolution.
Furthermore, even though supported by many, most Americans don’t think Trump’s tax cut will personally benefit them. As for the future, the population is split three ways about the economy getting better, remaining the same, or getting worse (causing one to wonder, since some of those who support the tax cut apparently don’t believe it will improve the economy for either themselves or other people). The conclusion of things doing well is far from being a straightforward appraisal of confident hope or satisfied contentment.
To consider other areas, I can’t imagine that the majority of the polled believe that U.S. foreign policy is doing well. The war on terror drags on with growing conflict or worsening relations with Russia, Iran, Syria, and other countries. Nuclear threats abound and have received much media attention. And the specter of nuclear war and possibly world war looms in the background. The U.S. military is stuck in permanent occupation of numerous parts of the world. Worse still, the U.S. has never been this hated and mistrusted on the world stage in living memory. Many Americans are feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and defensive about their country’s standing in world opinion.
On a more direct level for Americans, it is clear to everyone that the country is more divided than ever, especially along class and generational lines. For multiple reasons, there are high levels of stress in our society that have been erupting in acts of mass violence and, more generally, has caused a spike in such things as mental illness. Also, there is an opioid epidemic and mortality rates are worsening for multiple demographics: the middle aged, rural whites, rural women, etc. Inequality is growing and everyone knows it, and it is slowly sinking in that inequality is and always was about far more than merely the economy. Big biz, especially big banks, gets about as low of ratings as seen in public polling as does big gov. The favorable ratings of capitalism are quickly dropping while the favorable ratings of socialism are on the rise.
Americans don’t seem particularly optimistic at the moment. Maybe public opinion has to be interpreted as a relative perception in any given moment. Asking people how well things are is asking them how well is it compared to how badly things have been. And maybe the only thing implied in the polling is that many Americans don’t believe or don’t want to believe that it is going to get even worse. It could be that it feels like we are finally bottoming out as a nation and that this is as bad as it can get. If nothing else, Donald Trump as president demonstrates that a complete idiot can be the leader without all of it entirely collapsing, at least not immediately.
I guess some people find it reassuring that the teetering ramshackle of a system somehow miraculously manages to hold together. Maybe, just maybe we will make it. Then again, most of those who state things are doing well could be older Americans who assume that the consequences and costs will be delayed long enough that they will never have to deal with them. It’s not their problem, even as they helped to cause it. Let the young clean up the mess.
Or it could more simply be standard denial without much if any clear thought about where it is all heading. As long as the social order more or less remains intact for the moment, the general mood is that we are doing as well as can be expected under present dire circumstances. Most Americans unlikely want to think beyond that. Whatever it takes to avoid paralyzing despair, that seems to be the prevailing mindset. It’s as good of an interpretation as any other.
* * *
Giving it one more thought, I realized the explanation could be even simpler than any of those above speculations. It could be so simple as to be boring. Let me share the most down-to-earth possibility.
It might come down to timing. The responses are snapshot at a particular moment. It might not even represent public opinion from earlier in the year or public opinion a short while later. All responses came between the second and fifth of this month, a three day period. Whatever happened to be in the news cycle at that moment might have influenced the answer chosen. So, what was going on at the beginning of this month? One of the biggest events widely reported in the news during the prior week and into the polling period was the peace declared between North Korea and South Korea. President Trump, of course, took all credit for it. And, only a few days before CNN did their polling, a crowd of his fans chanted ‘Nobel’ indicating that they thought he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.
It was a somewhat random event in terms of when it happened. But, as I argued elsewhere, Trump did deserve some credit. He has been so unpredictably crazy that South Koreans, in their own public polling last year, admitted they feared the United States more than they feared North Korea. Whether or not most other Americans wanted to give Trump credit, it would be taken as a positive result to many Americans. For more than a half century, the corporate media as the propaganda wing of the U.S. government has never tired of fear-mongering about North Korea. Any lessening of that fear, even if only momentary, would feel like a relief to many Americans.
That is the one thing that comes to mind in what has been in the news lately. It does coincide perfectly when the question was asked. The only other big thing going on was the investigation into the Russians and the Trump administration. But that has been going on so long that most Americans are now ignoring it as so much hype and noise. Disregarding the investigation and instead considering the Korean peace talk, that would explain a lot. If the question had been asked weeks or months earlier or the Korean peace talk had happened later, it’s possible the poll results would have been skewed the other direction.
The only way such a poll question could be meaningful is if it was asked multiple times throughout the year and maybe averaged out across the entire year or across a president’s entire time in office. But I doubt CNN is all that interested in meaningful results. Such polls aren’t intended to be analyzed in depth. They are just interesting tidbits of data for a news company to throw out. Public polling, after all, offers corporate media a semblance of legitimacy while being a thousand times cheaper to do than investigative journalism. And poll results are easier to put into a short piece with a catchy title, such as in this case: “CNN Poll: Trump approval steady amid rising outlook for the country“. Anything that will attract viewers and advertising dollars.
Many people are understandably disappointed, frustrated, or angry when they lose. It’s just not fun to lose, especially in a competitive society. But there are advantages to losing. And losses are as much determined by perspective. Certainly, in more cooperative societies, what may be seen as a loss by outsiders could be taken quite differently by an insider. Western researchers discovered that difference when using games as part of social science studies. Some non-Western people refused win-lose scenarios, at least among members of the community. The individual didn’t lose for everyone gained. I point this out to help shift our thinking.
Recently, the political left in the United States has experienced losses. Bernie Sanders lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton who in turn lost the presidency to Donald Trump. But is this an entirely surprising result and bad outcome? Losses can lead to soul-searching and motivation for change. The Republicans we know now have dominated the political narrative in recent decades, which forced the Democrats to shift far to the right with third way ‘triangulation’. That wasn’t always the case. Republicans went through a period of major losses before being able to reinvent themselves with the southern strategy, Reagan revolution, trickle down voodo economics, the two Santa Claus theory, culture wars, etc.
The Clinton New Democrats were only able to win at all in recent history by sacrificing the political left and, in the process, becoming the new conservative party. So, even when Democrats have been able to win it has been a loss. Consider Obama who turned out to be one of the most neoliberal and neocon presidents in modern history, betraying his every promise: maintaining militarism, refusing to shut down GITMO, passing pro-biz insurance reform, etc. Liberals and leftists would have been better off to have been entirely out of power these past decades, allowing a genuine political left movement to form and so allowing democracy to begin to reassert itself from below. Instead, Democrats have managed to win just enough elections to keep the political left suppressed by co-opting their rhetoric. Democrats have won by forcing the American public to lose.
In the Democratic leadership failing so gloriously, they have been publicly shamed to the point of no redemption. The party is now less popular than the opposition, an amazing feat considering how unpopular is Trump and the GOP at the moment. Yet amidst all of this, Bernie Sanders is more popular than ever, more popular among women than men and more popular among minorities than whites. I never thought Sanders was likely to win and so I wasn’t disappointed. What his campaign did accomplish, as I expected, was to reshape the political narrative and shift the Overton window back toward the political left again. This period of loss will be remembered as a turning point in the future. It was a necessary loss, a reckoning and re-envisioning.
Think about famous lost causes. One that came to mind is that of Jesus and the early Christians. They were a tiny unknown cult in a vast empire filled with hundreds of thousands of similar cults. They were nothing special, of no significance or consequence, such that no one bothered to even take note of them, not even Jewish writers at the time. Then Jesus was killed as a common criminal among other criminals and even that didn’t draw any attention. There is no evidence that the Romans considered Jesus even mildly interesting. After his death, Christianity remained small and splintered into a few communities. It took generations for this cult to grow much at all and finally attract much outside attention.
Early Christians weren’t even important enough to be feared. The persecution stories seem to have been mostly invented by later Christians to make themselves feel more important, as there is no records of any systematic and pervasive persecution. Romans killing a few cultists here and there happened all the time and Christians didn’t stand out as being targeted more than any others. In fact, early Christians were lacking in uniqueness that they were often confused with other groups such as Stoics. By the way, it was the Stoics who were famous at the time for seeking out persecution and so gaining street cred respectability, maybe causing envy among Christians. Even Christian theology was largely borrowed from others, such as natural law also having been taken from the Stoics — related to the idea that a slave can be free in their mind and being, their heart and soul because natural law transcends human law.
Still, this early status of Christians as losers created a powerful narrative that has not only survived but proliferated. Some of that narrative, such as their persecution, was invented. But that is far from unusual — the mythos that develops around lost causes tends to be more invented than not. Still, at the core, the Christians were genuinely pathetic for a couple of centuries. They weren’t a respectable religion in the Roman Empire, until long after Jesus’ death when an emperor decided to use them to shore up his own power. In the waning era of Roman imperialism, I suppose a lost cause theology felt compelling and comforting. It was also a good way to convert other defeated people, as they could be promised victory in heaven. Lost Causes tend to lead to romanticizing of a distant redemption that one day would come. And in the case of Christianity, this would mean that the ultimate sacrificial loser, Jesus himself, would return victorious! Amen! Praise the Lord! Like a Taoist philosopher, Jesus taught that to find oneself was to lose oneself but to lose oneself was to find oneself. This is a loser’s mentality and relates to why some have considered Christianity to be a slaver religion. The lowly are uplifted, at least in words and ideals. But I’d argue there is more to it than seeking comfort by rationalizing suffering, oppression, and defeat.
Winning isn’t always a good thing, at least in the short term. I sometimes wonder if America would be a better place if the American Revolution had been lost. When I compare the United States to Canada, I don’t see any great advantage to American colonists having won. Canada is a much more stable and well-functioning social democracy. And the British Empire ended up enacting sweeping reforms, including abolishing slavery through law long before the US managed to end slavery through bloody conflict. In many ways, Americans were worse off after the revolution than before it. A reactionary backlash took hold as oligarchs co-opted the revolution and turned it into counter-revolution. Through the coup of a Constitutional Convention, the ruling elite seized power of the new government. It was in seeming to win that the average American ended up losing. An overt loss potentially could have been a greater long term victory. In particular for women and blacks, being on the side of the revolutionaries didn’t turn out to be such a great deal. Woman who had gained the vote had it taken away from them again and blacks hoping for freedom were returned to slavery. The emerging radical movement of democratic reform was strangled in the crib.
Later on, the Confederates learned of the power of a lost cause. To such an extent that they have become the poster boys of The Lost Cause, all of American society having been transformed by it. Victory of the United States government, once again, turned out to be far from a clear victory for the oppressed. If Confederates had won or otherwise been allowed to secede, the Confederate government would have been forced to come to terms with the majority black population that existed in the South and they wouldn’t have had the large Northern population to help keep blacks down. It’s possible that some of the worst results could have been avoided: re-enslavement through chain gangs and mass incarceration, Jim Crow laws and Klan terrorism, sundown towns and redlining, etc — all the ways that racism became further entrenched. After the Civil War, blacks became scattered and would then become a minority. Having lost their position as the Southern majority, they lost most of the leverage they might have had. Instead of weak reforms leading to new forms of oppression, blacks might have been able to have forced a societal transformation within a Confederate government or else to have had a mass exodus in order to secede and create their own separate nation-state. There were many possibilities that became impossible because of Union victory.
Now consider the civil rights movement. The leaders, Martin Luther King in particular, understood the power of a lost cause. They intentionally staged events of getting attacked by police and white mobs, always making sure there were cameras nearby to make it into a national event. It was in losing these confrontations to the greater power of white oppression that they managed to win public support. As a largely Christian movement, the civil rights activists surely had learned from the story of Jesus as a sacrificial loser and his followers as persecuted losers. The real failure of civil rights only came later on when it gained mainstream victories and a corrupt black leadership aligned with white power, such as pushing the racist 1994 Crime Bill which was part of the Democrats becoming the new conservative party. The civil rights movement might have been better able to transform society and change public opinion by having remained a lost cause for a few more generations.
A victory forced can be a victory lost. Gain requires sacrifice, not to be bought cheaply. Success requires risk of failure, putting everything on the line. The greatest losses can come from seeking victory too soon and too easily. Transformative change can only be won by losing what came before. Winning delayed sometimes is progress ensured, slow but steady change. The foundation has to be laid before something can emerge from the ground up. Being brought low is the beginning point, like planting a seed in the soil.
“It reminds me of my habit of always looking down as I walk. My father, on the other hand, never looks down and has a habit of stepping on things. It is only by looking down that we can see what is underneath our feet, what we stand on or are stepping toward. Foundation and fundament are always below eye level. Even in my thinking, I’m forever looking down, to what is beneath everyday awareness and oft-repeated words. Just to look down, such a simple and yet radical act.
“Looking down is also a sign of shame or else humility, the distinction maybe being less relevant to those who avoid looking down. To humble means to bring low, to the level of the ground, the soil, humus. To be further down the ladder of respectability, to be low caste or low class, is to have a unique vantage point. One can see more clearly and more widely when one has grown accustomed to looking down, for then one can see the origins of things, the roots of the world, where experience meets the ground of being.”
Another anthropologist, the anarchist David Graeber, having been involved in protest networks for decades, remains even more certain that participation in moments of direct action and horizontal decision-making bring to life a new and enduring conception of politics, while providing shared hope and meaning in life, even if their critics see in the outcomes of these movements only defeat:
What they don’t understand is that once people’s political horizons have been broadened, the change is permanent. Hundreds of thousands of Americans (and not only Americans, but Greeks, Spaniards and Tunisians) now have direct experience of self-organization, collective action and human solidarity. This makes it almost impossible to go back to one’s previous life and see things the same way. While the world’s financial and political elite skate blindly towards the next 2008-scale crisis, we’re continuing to carry out occupations of buildings, farms, foreclosed homes and workplaces, organizing rent strikes, seminars and debtor’s assemblies, and in doing so laying the groundwork for a genuinely democratic culture … With it has come a revival of the revolutionary imagination that conventional wisdom has long since declared dead.
Discussing what he calls ‘The Democracy Project’, Graeber celebrates forms of political resistance that in his view move well beyond calls for policy reforms, creating instead permanent spaces of opposition to all existing frameworks. For Graeber, one fundamental ground for optimism is that the future is unknowable, and one can live dissident politics in the present, or try to. This is both despite, and also because of, the insistent neo-liberal boast that there can be no alternative to its own historical trajectory: which has become a linear project of endless growth and the amassing of wealth by the few, toil and the struggle for precarious survival for so many.
Furthermore, Graeber points out that historically, although few revolutionaries actually succeeded in taking power themselves, the effects of their actions were often experienced far outside their immediate geographical location. In a similar reflection on unintended consequences, Terry Eagleton suggests that even with the gloomiest of estimates in mind, many aspects of utopic thinking may be not only possible but well- nigh inevitable:
Perhaps it is only when we run out of oil altogether, or when the world system crashes for other reasons, or when ecological catastrophe finally overtakes us, that we will be forced into some kind of co-operative commonwealth of the kind William Morris might have admired.
Even catastrophism, one might say, has its potentials. […]
It should come as no surprise that most of the goals we dream of will usually elude us, at least partially. However, to confront rather than accept the evils of the present, some utopian spirit is always necessary to embrace the complexity of working, against all odds, to create better futures. A wilful optimism is needed, despite and because of our inevitable blind-spots and inadequacies, both personal and collective.
For many of us, it means trying to live differently in the here and now, knowing that the future will never be a complete break with the present or the past, but hopefully something that may develop out of our most supportive engagements with others. To think otherwise inhibits resistance and confirms the dominant conceit that there is no alternative to the present. Thus, I want to close this chapter repeating the words of the late Latin American writer, Eduardo Galeano, which seem to have been translated into almost every language on earth, though I cannot track down their source:
Utopia is on the horizon. I move two steps closer; it moves two steps further away. I walk another ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps further away. As much as I may walk, I’ll never reach it. So what’s the point of utopia? The point is this: to keep moving forward.
Our political dreams can end in disappointment, but are likely, nevertheless, to make us feel more alive, and hence happier, along the way, at least when they help to connect us to and express concern for those around us. Happiness demands nothing less.
❖ Issue polls show that the majority of Americans are progressive. They want single-payer health care, money out of politics, free public college, and much more.
❖ The majority of Americans want a major new party: 57% to 37%. In the 2016 general election, 55% of Americans wanted a major third party option on the ballot.
❖ Affiliation with the Democratic and Republican parties has been declining for a decade and is near historic lows. Democrats account for 28% of the country, Republicans for 29%, and independents for 40%. Gallup projects that 50% of Americans will be independents by 2020.
❖ Gallup figures reveal an alarming trend: since the 2016 general election, affiliation with the Democratic Party is declining while the Republican Party is holding steady, even growing slightly. The Democratic Party is losing supporters at the time when it should be growing most. Despite Trump’s attacks on working people and Bernie’s monumental efforts to bring people into the Democratic Party, more and more Democrats are becoming independents. […]
❖ The political revolution has already been won in the hearts and minds of the next generation. Millennials almost universally reject the status quo and the parties that enforce it. 91% of people under 29 wanted a major third party option on the ballot in 2016. People under 29 have a much more favorable view of socialism than capitalism.
❖ The electorate is rapidly becoming even more progressive. As of 2016, Millennials are the largest age-group voting bloc. Four years of highly-progressive Millennials will replace four years of Silent Generation conservatives in the electorate by 2020.
The Democratic Party Remains Firmly in Neoliberal Control […]
❖ Americans have a less favorable view of the Democratic Party than they have of Trump and the Republican Party. Two-thirds of Americans say that the Democratic Party is out of touch with the concerns of most people. More Americans believe that Trump and the Republican Party are in touch with their concerns.
❖ In a poll of swing voters who supported Obama and then supported Trump, twice as many people said that the Democratic Party favors the wealthy versus the Republican Party. The Democratic Party’s brand is destroyed. Working people have no confidence in it. […]
Sanders can Create a Party for the Progressive Majority
❖ Bernie is the most popular politician in the country and has an 80% favorability rating among Democrats and 57% favorability among independents. His appeal with conservatives would attract many anti-establishment Republicans to the new party as well.
❖ A new party that attracts just half of the Democrats and half of the independents would be the largest party in America by far.
❖ If Bernie starts a new party, we would begin with at least half of the Democratic Party. Then we would add independents, young voters, anti-establishment voters, the white working class, people of color, third party voters, people who have given up on voting, and many conservatives who have a favorable impression of Bernie. This would make the party significantly larger than what remains of the Democratic Party.
❖ The spoiler effect leads voters to consolidate around two major parties, one on the left and one on the right. Our new party will be the largest party on the left, leading whatever remains of the Democratic Party to consolidate around us. The spoiler effect will accelerate rather than hinder the new party’s growth, as the progressive majority and everyone opposed to Trump gathers around the largest opposition party. […]
Only a New Party Can Defeat Trump and his Agenda
❖ This past November, we witnessed a spectacular failure of an attempt to defeat Trump and authoritarianism from a neoliberal party. Since November, the Democratic Party has only exacerbated the conditions that depressed turnout and led Americans to support Trump in the first place.
❖ Republicans are decimating Democrats because the country is growing more progressive on the issues. As Americans grow more progressive, they realize that the Democratic Party doesn’t represent them and are not inspired to turn out. The more progressive the country gets, the less motivated voters are to support a corporate party.
❖ The people who need to vote in Democratic Primaries for progressives to win are leaving the party and becoming independents, or not voting at all. The party’s declining affiliation and favorability numbers are reiterating what we learned in 2016: opposing Trump without offering a populist alternative is the path to failure. The Democrats are poised to continue losing and our progressive country will continue moving to the right. An arrangement that suits the corporations and billionaires who fund both establishment parties. […]
The Numbers Americans are Progressive
Issue polls show that a large majority of Americans are progressive. They would overwhelmingly support the new party’s platform. All figures are percentages.
Equal pay for men and women 93%
Overhaul campaign finance system 85%
Money has too much influence on campaigns 84%
Paid family and medical leave 82%
Some corporations don’t pay their fair share 82%
Some wealthy people don’t pay their fair share 79%
Allow government to negotiate drug prices 79%
Increase financial regulation 79%
Expand Social Security benefits by taxing the wealthy 72%
Infrastructure jobs program 71%
Close offshore corporate tax loopholes 70%
Raise the minimum wage to $15 63%
The current distribution of wealth is unfair 63%
Free public college 62%
Require special prosecutor for police killings 61%
Ensure net neutrality 61%
Ban the revolving door for corporate executives in government 59%
Replace the ACA with single payer health care 58%
Break up the big banks 58%
Government should do more to solve problems 57%
Public banking at post offices 56%
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