The MAGA Hoax

When the history of the Trump era is finally written, those who will have lost the most will not be immigrants, or the “enemy-of-the-state” media, or liberal elites, or Democrats, or objectified women, or even the Republican Party, it will be those who were his most fervent supporters: the MAGA hatters.  These are the folks who lose the most when the Affordable Care Act is gutted, opioids are distributed like M&Ms, school funding is eviscerated and teachers migrate to urban areas, fracking and industrial waste ruins water supplies, middle-class take-home pay falls to subsidize tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals, infrastructure projects (especially broadband) never advance beyond rhetoric, and plentiful guns become the weapon-of-choice to settle family feuds and end the hopelessness of the forlorn—the so-called deaths of despair.  In this age of deceit, Trump’s swindle of white, mostly rural, Christian, MAGAs will amount to one of the greatest cons ever perpetrated on a group of citizens in American history.

His trick?  Making sure MAGAs remain fearful of, and enraged at, all the wrong things: collectively Trump’s stalking horses.  Mexican “rapists,” all people of color, immigrant families, working women, all non-FOX media, Democrats, sanctuary cities, and virtually everyone and everything beyond the borders of the Unites States—especially Muslims.  Trump’s next ghost-written book should be titled, The Art of the Con.  Deflection, distraction, dishonesty, and his ultimate goal: disorientation, are easily achieved in the stew of fear and anger that he and FOX news work tirelessly to foment among MAGAs.    His relentless campaign that utilizes Twitter, FOX, and revivalist-styled stadium rallies have one target: MAGAs.  Fear begets anger, which begets more fear and anger such that the spiral of disorientation is assured.  The result: a disorientation so extreme that its victims can no longer discern truth from lies and, ultimately, right from wrong; they become so disoriented as to approach the clinical definition of mental illness.  More specifically, MAGAs suffer from Trump-induced psychosis: a severe mental disorientation in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality, which is exactly what Trump must maintain to keep his fascist fantasies alive and, moreover, Trumplican congressmen and senators in line.

Emerging studies now show the reality of Trump’s stewardship of white rural America.   Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland, by, Jonathan Metzl (Basic Books, 2019), reveals the extraordinary costs inflicted on white America by Trump and the Trumplican Party.  Metzl studies public health and the “intersecting histories of race and health in Southern and midwestern states.”  He observed an array of conservative political movements like “starving government funding, dismantling social programs, and allowing the free flow of most types of firearms” that originated with the Tea Party, funded by the Koch brothers, legislated by the Freedom Caucus and given voice (particularly to the alt-right) by online outlets like Breitbart.  The effects on “state agendas, national GOP platforms, and, ultimately, policies of the Trump administration” resulted in what he calls “backlash governance.”

Metzl further found that the principal appeal to garner support from the folks who now proudly wear MAGA hats was simple, but intoxicatingly powerful: white racial resentment.  White backlash politics gave MAGAs “the sensation of winning, particularly by upending the gains of minorities and liberals; yet the victories came at a steep cost.”  Specifically, rapidly increasing rates of white death.  The numbers are disturbing.  For example, in Missouri as gun laws were liberalized at the insistence of the NRA, gun deaths spiked among white people and, incidentally, not among African Americans.  He concludes that “lax gun laws ultimately cost the state roughly $273 million in lost work between 2008 and 2015 and … the loss of over 10,506 years of productive white male life.”  In Tennessee their refusal to expand Medicaid “cost every single white resident of the state 14.1 days of life.”  In Kansas, the Tea Party economic experiment of slashing state education budgets resulted in a sudden rise in high school dropout rates that correlates with an average reduction in life expectancy of 9 years.  In all, in Kansas, in just four years: “6,195.51 lost white life years.”  MAGAs are, quite literally, dying for Trump and the Trumplicans at rates much higher than other demographic groups, including African Americans and Hispanics.  Trump claims he is the only one who can save them and yet, his policies are actually killing them.  Some savior.

It is difficult to predict if saving MAGAs from Trump and the Trumplicans is even possible.  When one observes the rage in their eyes, directed at all the wrong targets, changing their minds about Trump may be impossible.  Like trying to convince an addict they will feel better once they take the needle out of their arm, white racial resentment feels too damn good in the moment to be convinced that the rush, however transient, is supporting politicians and policies that are actually killing them.  For MAGAs, such data, such intelligence, likely emanates from the deep state boogeyman they have been taught to fear by Trump and FOX News.  To them, the underlying fear of being displaced from their historical position in social, political, and economic order by persons of color, women, and those who praise a god (or no god) unlike their own, is terrifying and, apparently, worth dying for.  We can only hope that other voices—maybe even a Democratic candidate for president—will be able to reach enough of them with arguments and policies that might provide them a better path to a better life before they die from Trumpism.  If you believe in prayer, send a special one to a MAGA in your life; that they may see the proverbial light before they are buried, MAGA hat in-hand.

By |2019-08-06T19:33:38+00:00May 1st, 2019|Donald Trump, General|0 Comments

Is the Doctrine of Common Interest Dead?

The concepts of general welfare and collective action are core elements in the Constitution of the United States, which I collectively refer to here as common interest.  Although common interest has been with us since the birth of our nation, and has been a fundamental component of social order since the days of hunter-gatherers, it appears to be in peril today.  The phrase itself draws ire from all political corners: some deride the invocation of common interest as a dangerous slide toward socialism, while others argue it marks the deceitful rhetoric of plutocrats who wish to extract wealth from the middle class.  Yet, our history suggests when our common interest is served—when we work together toward mutually beneficial ends—America is at its best; we are all better off.  President Kennedy’s ambitious objective of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth” launched one of the most successful programs of political initiative and private enterprise in the history of the United States.[1]  Among other gains, the miniaturization of computing power necessary to accomplish this feat is why we have laptop computers today.  There are many other examples of the benefits of common interest, but the point is this: the security and prosperity of America has never been won by the few, it has been assured by the many with the support of both private and public entities.  So why is common interest being attacked from all sides?  What follows here are some possible contributing factors.

  1. The Ascent of Me-ism.  While doing my doctoral research on the rise of religion in the political sphere by the mid-1970s I came across a monograph on the 1960s by Mark Hamilton Lytle wherein he argued (much to this baby boomer’s chagrin) that “many people in the sixties passed off self-indulgence and arrogance as moral and political commitment.”  In other words, while we traveled in the clothing of righteous liberation, we were actually just enjoying the hell out of ourselves.  Lytle continues, “by listening to Dylan, smoking dope, marching for civil rights, wearing long hair, and protesting the war in Vietnam, anyone could claim to have joined, though what they belonged to was far from clear.”[2]  More recently, Kurt Andersen at The New York Times joined Lytle in boomer bashing when he suggested that the late 1960s marked the beginning of individualism run amok.  Andersen argues, “‘do your own thing’ is not so different than ‘every man for himself.’”[3]  He further finds that the “Me” decade of the 1960s expanded to encompass the entire last half of the century giving rise to a super-selfish culture that has lost its capacity for considering the interests of others.  Recently, this selfish hyper-individualism has been cloaked in a veil of self-deterministic rhetoric most often conveyed by those who identify with the Tea Party.  These are the folks who live in the fantasy of self-sufficiency, while often disproportionately relying on government support programs like Medicare, agricultural subsidies, mortgage interest deductions, federal mortgage guarantees, and Social Security.  They suffer from what philosopher Firmin DeBrabander calls the “delusional autonomy of Freud’s poor ego.”[4]  For Tea Partiers (unless they are the beneficiaries) all government programs are evidence of toxic socialism.  The questions are, how has this selfish impulse been generalized in American society, and how is it sustained?  Part of the answer lies in three largely exogenous variables: affluence, technology, and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
  2. Affluence, Technology, and Hubris.  Three structural events have occurred since the 1960s to fuel our selfishness and contempt for common interest: we’re rich, we suffer the illusion of ‘connection’ with others, and a force equal to ours no longer threatens us.  Let’s start with affluence.  Don’t get me wrong, I love wealth, but it can produce nefarious effects.  Since Saigon fell and we retreated “with honor” as President Nixon often claimed, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has increased sixteenfold.  By most any measure there is no wealthier nation than the United States, and money (and the debt capacity it supports) has been a significant sustaining force of our selfishness.  If we wanted something, we were a swipe of a credit card, or another issuance of US Treasury bills away from getting it.  Even though the US is fast approaching technical insolvency, the rules of financial prudence do not apply to us since the dollar is (for now) the world’s reserve currency of choice.  Next up: technology.  Again, I love it, but I also recognize it has produced its own deleterious effects.  Humans need to be connected to form a sense of empathy, which is the foundation of many things including our subscriptions to human rights and common interest.  Technology has tricked us into thinking we are connected and that we are bonded by common interest.  We are not. We suffer the illusion of connection and common interest.  Just because someone ‘friended’ you or ‘follows’ you does not mean they know you, or care about you. Just try reaching out to your so-called friends and followers when you are in need.  Absent an established sense of empathy, those cheerful beeps, ringtones, and vibrations that signal friendship quickly fade to silence.  Finally, there has been no other state since the collapse of the Soviet Union to keep the US from imperial overreach; the natural boundaries of power collapsed as well. The result: we, like empires before us, risk decline at our own hand.  Hubris is deadly to both people and states and we Americans have been quite full of ourselves in the last twenty years, as we have sought to remake the world in our own (selfish) image.  Other contributors to the threat to common interest include what I describe here next as the twin delusions.
  3. The Twin Delusions: Free Markets and Big Government.  Both sides of the great political debate of this presidential season—those who hold fast to their belief in free markets and those who believe with equal certitude that more government is better government—are wrong.  Neither thesis alone has any chance of solving the problems we face, yet to even suggest a middle ground that includes elements of both ideological extremes is met with hatred and hostility.  The Affordable Healthcare Act (aka Obamacare) has been one lightening rod of these twin delusions. Healthcare is not a right, nor is it a privilege (as it is most often debated by adversaries); rather, it is a classic example of a public good.  When we are healthy individually, we are also collectively better off.  I often ask: do we really want those who teach our children in school, or prepare our meals in restaurants, to be without healthcare?  Public goods like security, financial stability, and clean air and water are only created out of a subscription to common interest.  As Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel argued persuasively in his new book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, markets alone are an ineffective tool in the production and sustainability of public goods.  He cites our slide from a “market economy to being a market society” as a dangerous illustration of the moral limits of markets.[5]  Public goods, like landing a man on the moon, or healthcare, or addressing the onset of climate change, are accomplished with a blend of market flexibility and centralized governance. All public goods rely on competitive and innovative markets as well as centralized command and control.  Healthcare should be addressed in the same manner.  The good news is there is more than enough money in the system today to make it work for more people at a level of service unmatched in the world.  However, common interest must be established once again or issues like this will continue to be hijacked by small thinkers and powerful interest groups, which endangers the future of America.  (In the case of climate change there may not be enough interest or resources to address it, but that is another story.[6])  The next factors that threaten common interest include those related to cognitive degeneration.
  4. The Demise of Critical and Integrative Thinking.  The now notorious decline of the American education system—particularly in math and science in our secondary schools—means that other nations will soon (if not already) exceed the United States in developing the critical thinkers who will produce tomorrow’s innovations to address our most urgent needs.  Through a combination of neglect, unintended policy consequences, and disengaged parenting, the education our children receive today is inferior to the education we boomers received that was achieved with fewer resources and analog technologies.  This condition has been further exacerbated by xenophobic attitudes toward immigrants who are educated in our superior universities, but who are then forced to return home when they would prefer to become the next generation of American innovators.  I am not sure whom we believe we are protecting with this backwater thinking, but it is most certainly not the future of America.  The other cognitive victim to the bipolar, zero-sum, us vs. them mind-set that has developed in the United States over the last few decades is integrative thinking.  Complexity, which is the nature of the globalized world we live in, requires multiple disciplines that each provide a piece of a solution that must be combined, or integrated, into an option that had never been thought of before.  This skill, or predilection, is what Roger Martin calls “the opposable mind.”  Martin suggests that, “integrative thinking shows us a way past the binary limits of either-or.  It shows us that there is a way to integrate the advantages of one solution without cancelling out the advantages of an alternative solution.  Integrative thinking affords us, in the words of poet Wallace Stevens, ‘the choice not between, but of.’”[7]  Integrative thinking has, however, fallen victim in part to the hubris mentioned above, and also from the application of cognitive constructs that have their roots in absolutist and universalistic thinking, which emanates from different places; preeminent among them today is religious-based certitude.  In short, the religious righteousness that has ascended unabated since the early 1970s has closed our minds to options that reside in the relativism and complexity of the real world.  Moral certitude has placed absolutism right where we need it least: in addressing complexity.
  5. The Rise of Religious Certitude.  For the last four years I have studied the impact of religious beliefs and convictions on presidential decision making in foreign policy.  I am often asked if religion is a good or bad thing when it comes to policymaking.  For me, the question is moot; it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that religious beliefs and convictions are a factor that we need to understand much better than we do.  Depending on the individual, religious beliefs contribute with varying emphasis on decision-making and, of course, the beliefs themselves differ both inter- and intra- faith.  When I construct the cognetic profile of a president each is as individualized as a fingerprint: no two are the same.  What applies more broadly here however, is that the level of religiosity in any given era matters, and in the contemporary era religion matters a great deal.  Since the mid-1970s, religion has been fully ensconced in the private, public, and political spheres in the US.  Throughout history this condition is not unprecedented, but the crescendo that has occurred over the last four decades matches if not exceeds other periods of high religiosity in US history.  During these periods—for better or worse—faith-based religious cognitive constructs find higher expression in all decision making.  While all religions purport a number of common values including tolerance, inclusion and, moreover, an expectation that we would all like to be treated well by our neighbors, the monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam)—the dominant religions of the Middle East and the West—produce a dangerous irony: they demand of their followers a strict adherence to their particular traditions that (by their monotheistic subscription) does not allow room to consider other religious traditions as theologically valid or worthy.  This sets up a cognitive construct of absolutism and universalism (black and white thinking applied to everyone and everywhere) which compromises the values of tolerance and inclusion that are necessary to form the empathy that is the foundation of common interest.  Absolutism and universalism may arguably be appropriate in establishing moral foundations, but they are ill-suited to deal with the complexity of those issues that effect all people—where common interest must be established and where integrative thinking is required to succeed. In effect, these cognitive constructs get too much playing time in periods of high religiosity that has a chilling effect on common interest.

While James Madison warned us of the danger of factions in his Federalist Papers, and Thomas Jefferson worried about the role of the church in the affairs of state, Tocqueville also observed the curious synthesis of individualism and community that he surmised was fundamental to the success of Americans.  These concerns and observations all point to the importance of common interest and to its preservation at all costs.  Today’s political discourse too often threatens the doctrine of common interest espoused by our Founding Fathers and memorialized in the Constitution.  Selfish hyper-individualism, affluence, technology, the absence of a formidable foe, the twin delusions of free markets and big government, cognitive degeneration, and absolutist thinking that emanates from religious certitude, all contribute to the peril facing the doctrine of common interest today.  It is time for our leaders to find the center again and to set aside notions of absolutism and exclusion in favor of compromise and integrative thinking.  We must once again embrace the concept of ‘the many’ over the idiocentric beliefs and needs of ‘the few’.

[1] John F. Kennedy, “Special Message to Congress on the Nation’s Urgent Needs,” May 25, 1961, www.jfklibrary.org.
[2] Mark Hamilton Lytle, America’s Uncivil Wars: The Sixties Era from Elvis to the Fall of Richard Nixon (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. xiii.
[3] Kurt Andersen, “The Downside of Liberty,” The New York Times, July 3, 2012, www.nytimes.com. See also, Letters to the Editor, “Sunday Dialogue: Are Americans Selfish?” The New York Times, July 14, 2012, www.nytimes.com; and Frank Bruni, “Individualism in Overdrive,” The New York Times, July 16, 2012, www.nytimes.com.
[4] Firmin DeBrabander, “Deluded Individualism,” The New York Times, August 18, 2012, www.nytimes.com.
[5] See Michael Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), p. 10.
[6] For a (reasoned) skeptic’s view on the climate change debate, see Bjorn Lomborg, “Environmental Alarmism, The and Now,” Foreign Affairs (July/August 2012), pp. 24-40.  For a decidedly unsettling account of climate change, see Bill McKibben, “The Reckoning,” Rolling Stone (August 2, 2012), pp. 52-60.
[7] Roger L. Martin, The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2007), p. 9.

 

By |2017-05-27T17:44:52+00:00September 3rd, 2012|General|0 Comments

Two Cups of Tea

With just a couple of days remaining before the midterm elections many people, including me, are bemoaning what appears to be a new low in political discourse that suggests a complete abandonment of America’s position as the standard-bearer of liberal democracy. If the evidence of yelling, screaming, head stomping, and complete disregard for the truth is any indication, on Wednesday, November 3, we could be facing a new Congress that is likely to turn the rotunda of the Capitol into a cage-fighting ring to settle petty political scores. And to be fair, neither party is innocent here. There are nasty people on all sides. It bears remembering, however, that American democracy has always been a messy and chaotic business and extremism is nothing new. Furthermore, extremism, like that which marks much of today’s Tea Party rhetoric, has a way of becoming diluted over time while offering new leaders a springboard to interpret underlying principles in more attractive ways.

Princeton historian, Sean Wilentz provides evidence of this phenomenon in his recent article “Confounding Fathers” (The New Yorker, October 18, 2010). He details an historical review of the John Birch Society and its tight parallels with today’s Tea Party. Wilentz argues that the extreme rhetoric of Beck, Palin, Limbaugh, and their many followers/imitators, is simply an update of the 1960s incendiary fodder produced by Robert Welch (founder of the John Birch Society) and Willard Cleon Skousen (founder of the All-American Society and philosophical mentor of Glenn Beck). In essence, today’s tea is Birch Tea. As the 60s moved forward, the Birchers experienced a straightening and redirecting of their principles by cooler and more astute minds like that of William F. Buckley, Jr. As Wilentz points out, Buckley’s biographer John J. Judis, observed, “Buckley was beginning to worry that with the John Birch Society growing so rapidly, the right-wing upsurge in the country would take an ugly, even Fascist turn rather than leading toward the kind of conservatism [his] National Review had promoted.”

Buckley and other more practical conservatives asserted the principles of right-wing extremism sans the bombastic bravado. I can still hear Buckley intoning his arguments on Public Television with sharp wit and rhythmic cadence without bludgeoning his political adversaries. He had a sense of decorum absent in the practices of Beck, et al. In time, he also had a candidate for president in the governor of California, Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s brilliance resided in his profound interpersonal intelligence. Historians have roundly criticized him for his lack of analytical skills and interests, but one thing he knew was how to connect with people. He used soaring rhetoric to be sure, but it was always a shade or two less hot than the Birchers. He also knew the difference between rhetoric and policy. He invited the support of social conservatives by embracing their passion against abortion and for school prayer, but knew better than to use his power as president to assert government control over what he viewed as personal liberties. He was a rhetorical conservative and a pragmatic libertarian.

In a recent interview I completed with Reagan’s son, Ron, he suggested his father would be a poor fit in the Republican party of 2010. Ron believes his father would be barely conservative enough on today’s scale to make “center-right.”   What is also clear, however, given this reading of history, is that our concerns of the day shall pass. Brighter and more reasonable minds will prevail. The rough and garish will realize that enduring power, like that which Reagan enjoyed, is won not just through coercion and fear, but also optimism and yes, hope. Reagan believed in American exceptionalism more than any politician in contemporary history. While it did not always serve him well, it did allow him to favor inclusion over division, and optimism over fear. He was a compassionate exceptionalist, able to condemn communism as an “evil empire” while befriending its leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. Together, they set the stage for the end of the Cold War and an unprecedented period of economic prosperity.

Birch Tea won’t last, but it will provide elements to cull from its leftover leaves, which, when combined with more mild herbs, will offer a less bitter cup of tea. Perhaps it will be called Reagan Tea.

By |2017-05-25T18:32:05+00:00October 31st, 2010|American Identity, General|0 Comments

Waging Legitimate Dissent: the Rise of the LDs.

At the center of freedom lies dissent: the capacity to reject the opinion of the majority and/or contemporary orthodoxy. Dissidents who founded the United States also passed a Bill of Rights to protect those who wish to express dissent.  Among other things, dissent is what made America what she is.  Great American dissidents include people like Frederick Douglas, Susan B. Anthony, and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  By definition, those who dissent take unpopular positions and risk both their social and political membership and, at times, their lives.  Dissidents often say what others are thinking but who are silenced by fear.  Dissidents who prevail in their dissent—whose opinion or position succeeds in overcoming the status quo—are the engines of social and political innovation.  They allow society to lurch forward toward a better future. Today, we suffer from those who masquerade as dissidents as well as those who chant “Yes We Can!” or “No We Can’t!”  It is time to replace this noisy charade with affirmative and legitimate dissent.

Tea Partiers (TPs), or, if you prefer, True Patriots (TPs) are those who rail against our government for spending too much money and infringing on our liberties.  Several rallied in August in Washington DC with the self-ordained Reverend Beck, and last weekend with Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks bunch.  Most TPs want all spending cut or eliminated as long as it doesn’t affect their own benefits, entitlements, or patriotic impulses.  Medicare, Social Security, and Defense spending are sacred—so much for cutting spending.  And, forget about raising taxes, that’s unpatriotic too.  As for liberties, those who know God in the same way they do will enjoy their liberties; those who don’t, won’t.  For TPs, liberty has prerequisites.  In essence, TPs are not dissidents they are conformists.  They are the self(ish)-righteous.

The Blanks are the folks who chant “Yes We Can _____!”  The blank is where the who, what, where, how, and why go.  But, they leave it blank.  (Psssst! President Obama, this is your constituency!  It’s time to fill in the blank!)  Their proposals amount to little more than feel-good platitudes of liberal institutionalism that lack any semblance of specificity.  They’re like the dog that finally caught the bumper of the car it’s been chasing down the street for years, and are suddenly faced with the grim reality of answering “Now what?”  Moreover, they can’t understand why the driver doesn’t stop to congratulate them, and why their fellow canine packmembers aren’t cheering.  While they may have great ideas that might prove helpful, they have yet to realize that dissent is hard and painful work that requires courage, fortitude, and the sacrifice of fame.

The Dolts are the “No We Can’t” crowd—the negative dissenters—who mockingly sit on their un-callused hands at the local Men’s Social Club and practice harrumphing in between declaring “No!”  Picture Senator Mitch McConnell here.  They wear expensive suits to cover a well-earned paunch and haven’t had an original idea since they introduced Everclear into the punchbowl at a Nixon/Agnew campaign party.  The last time they embraced progress was when Viagra hit the market.  Before that it was Velcro.  To Dolts, smartphones are for people without staff.  Reform is an inherently socialist concept that will forever justify the concept of filibuster.  America is great and will remain so as long as we practice regression.  The hope-y change-y bunch is little more than a seasonal nuisance, like having to put one’s seersucker away after Labor Day. Dogmatism is just an appetizer before an entrée of certitude.  Dolts are happy to have the old John McCain back.  That maverick stuff annoyed them.

So, where does that leave us?  Fortunately, the TPs, Blanks, and Dolts leave plenty of room for legitimate dissenters (LDs)—for those who dare to face reality and offer substantive solutions.  An LD’s campaign speech may sound something like this:

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you tonight.  I can assure you that once I’m done speaking you will have heard several things you don’t like.  Once I’m done speaking you will have many reasons to vote for my opponent.  When you go to vote, you may even circle my name on the ballot and write in the margin “Anyone but that guy.”

I’m not here to tell you “yes we can, or no we can’t.”  I’m not here to argue with you about the Constitution, or the Bible, or the Quran.  What I am here to share with you are five things we must do to secure the future of our children and grandchildren – to preserve their opportunity to pursue their own life, liberty, and happiness.

  1. We must terminate Medicare.  Only then will those entrenched interests who benefit the most from this unsustainable system be brought to submit to true reform.  Only then will we be able to provide access to healthcare for every citizen at a reasonable cost.  Let me begin by pledging that I will not accept government provided healthcare if you elect me as your Congressman.
  2. We must terminate Social Security.  Only then can we have a new conversation about how to deal with our aging population and redress the role of family and community in America.  Let me begin by rescinding my own entitlement to Social Security payments in the future.
  3. For the foreseeable future, everyone’s taxes must go up.  Even if we terminate Medicare and Social Security and replace them with sustainable programs, we must reduce our current liabilities to a much lower percentage of our GDP.  I will share that burden with you.
  4. We must withdraw all troops, regardless of their designation—‘combat’, ‘security’, ‘training’, etc.—from both Iraq and Afghanistan, immediately. Iraq and Afghanistan are ventures which have failed and for which there is no reasonable alternative to withdrawal.  Furthermore, we must abolish the myth of America as the global policeman, and forever suspend our imperialist impulse to recast the world in our own image.  This too is unsustainable.
  5. We must immediately launch a Manhattan-project styled program to produce alternative fuels and new distribution systems to eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels.  Not reduce our reliance, eliminate it.  We must completely reinvent our orientation toward energy.

There are many other things we must do to make America strong in education, immigration, infrastructure projects, etc.  But unless we get control of our expenses, our foreign exposure, and our energy needs, we will never be able to address anything else in a reasonable, let alone sustainable manner.

If you want to ‘stay-the-course’ vote for my opponent.  There are those who insist if the captain of the Titanic had just rammed the iceberg head-on, rather than turning to take a glancing blow, the Titanic would have stayed afloat.  To those who continue to embrace false-choices like that I respectfully, and dare I say, legitimately dissent.  I affirm that the iceberg is on the horizon, but I prefer that we chart a new course before it’s too late.  If you agree, please vote for me.

Thank you for listening.

We have witnessed many times throughout history that conformity is dangerous; that there is no such thing as the wisdom of crowds.  (Remember the tulip bulbs.)  As author David Rieff recently wrote in The New Republic, the current political crowds “are studies in the lowest-common-denominator subordination of the individual to the collective and of the thought to the slogan: in short, complexity to simplicity.”[1]  Or, as Albert Einstein said, “He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt.  He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice.”

Each of us has a duty to think for ourselves and to reject the comfort of conformance.  We must summon the courage to chart a new course and accept the consequences of our prior foolish choices.  We must reject the sloganeering and invective of popular noisemakers and wage legitimate dissent.  If we do, we will preserve the promise of America.

[1] David Rieff, “The Unwisdom of Crowds,” The New Republic, September 6, 2010, www.tnr.com.
By |2017-05-27T18:33:27+00:00September 14th, 2010|General, Leadership|0 Comments

Out of Crisis, a New US

Every seventy-five years or so America endures a period of crisis that lasts from twelve to seventeen years.  They include both profound economic and security effects that put the country at leviathan levels of risk.  The founding of our country was itself a period of crisis; later was the Civil War and Reconstruction, and in the twentieth century the Great Depression and World War II.  The current period of crisis in now three years old—marked by the date our capital markets began to realize they were standing in the quicksand of credit default swaps secured by vapor and hubris.  I would argue we are far from seeing the depth of the current crisis, nor are we even near a midpoint.  It would be ahistorical to predict otherwise.  We have yet to even seen the axe of conflict fall.  No, 9/11, Iraq, and Afghanistan don’t count – at least not yet, although they probably provide the framework for much wider conflict—a wider War on Terror— with many more actors involved.  I remain convinced that our capacity to start and perpetuate war far exceeds our ability to end it.  The preposterous realization that we are unable to even define what a win is, is all the evidence anyone needs to defend that claim.  Be that as it may, my intent here is not to debate the dilemmas that face policymakers and provide fuel for Gadarene punditry today; rather to explore what historians will later observe with the crisis behind them, as they write the inevitable story of how American identity was changed forever (or at least until the next crisis in around 2095).  If we are smart, we will write a different future than historians might expect.  But we better wise-up soon.

As we stumble our way by fit and spasm toward the future, we have choices about how we reckon with a world that, in the words of columnist Thomas L. Friedman is “really unusually uncertain.”[1]  Those choices are largely formed based on our cognetic disposition: a combination of intellectual capital and cognitive traits, which allow us to simplify the world and make decisions.  Our cognetic dispositions are formed through the processes of education, experience, socialization, and indoctrination.  We also forge relationships with those similarly disposed—of similar cognetic disposition—and wage confrontation with those who differ.  In America today, four major groups have formed that dominate socio-political discourse. They are: the Angry Patriots, the Faithful Followers, the Elite Globalists, and the Transcendent Epistemists.[2]  Each group competes with and between the others in elections, boardrooms, classrooms, media, and the streets.  Besides wrestling over resources, rights, power, and wealth, the larger and more important long-term battle will be over American identity.  This battle will determine the answer to “What does it mean to be an American?”

The Angry Patriots (APs) are perhaps the most familiar, given to the volume with which they assert themselves in the media.  They are a boisterous bunch – Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, et al.  The process of experience, as opposed to education, socialization, or indoctrination, dominate development of their cognetic disposition.  They claim they are a product of the school of hard knocks.  They are the torchbearers of American exceptionalism.  Fear is their currency of persuasion.  Mostly Republicans and Tea Partiers, they are publicly pious, although theologically shallow.  God is on their side by entitlement, but while they claim humble abidance to religious proscriptions and secular law, they often behave as if their pockets are filled with dispensations.  Their principal aim is to return America to the “good ol’ days” when they were on top of the socio-political pecking order in a world that (to them) is inherently hierarchical.  Knowledge is nice as long as it is rooted in common sense, but loyalty is more important.  Reason is often subjugated to muscularity; bigger bombs and bigger walls are more dependable than intelligence.  Signs or documents written in any language other than English are an attack on their sense of patriotic purity; language is symbolic – not about communication or understanding.  When challenged or threatened they favor isolation from the world.  Free trade or other theories of economic specialization can only cost Americans jobs.  Diplomacy is for sissies. For APs, the first clause of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State” has no bearing on the second clause, “ the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”  Mosques are monuments to terrorism even while Christian churches are not so to the murderous Crusades, nor are Catholic churches to pedophilia.  APs employ a fair amount of libertarian rhetoric, as long as their entitlements remain—especially Medicare and Social Security.  Their mantras are “America first!” … “Not on my watch!”…  and “Not from my pockets!”

Faithful Followers (FFs) see the world through the lens of religion.  They find grace, solace, and power in their faith.  America is great, but God is supreme.  The Bible is the inerrant word of God, whose greatest witness was Jesus Christ.  Their cognetic disposition was predominantly formed through the process of indoctrination.  The Reverends Pat Robertson, Joel Osteen, and John Hagee are FFs’ speakers of truth.  Evangelism is not only good, it is a biblical duty.  A day of reckoning is coming; God is on your side as long as you remain fearful of his wrath.  Faith trumps reason in a world that is scary and dangerous.  Sin is everywhere and can only be ameliorated by sacrifice to affect redemption and salvation.  And, while FFs are certain of their faith, their own self-esteem requires the frequent condemnation of others.  Certitude and rectitude are their dominant modality—unknowns are obviated by faith. Proselytizing, judgment, and damnation are paradoxically both liberating and oppressive.  Zionists are their theological and political allies.  They share a common belief in Eretz Israel, occupied only by Jews, at least until Christ returns and then the Jews had better see the light—fast.  FFs have come and gone from the political sphere throughout history, but today they are firmly entrenched.  They believe America is a Christian nation and advocate a revisionist history that casts the Founding Fathers as devoted and pious Christians.  If they had their choice, there would be one political party: the Christian Nationalist Party, but they most often settle for Republican candidates who pledge allegiance to their family-values dictates.  “Thou shalt not kill” is a situational commandment, which does not apply to murdering homosexuals or doctors who perform legal abortions.  Nor does it apply to Muslims.  FFs don’t see the relevancy of the question “Should we bomb Iran?”  They wonder why we haven’t.  Men are the dominant gender among FFs; they run the world, while women are caretakers of the home.  Like the APs, fear is the prevailing currency of manipulation for FFs.  If they had a crossover candidate to share with the APs, it would be Sarah Palin.  Social order is non-hierarchical.  It is (mostly) flat. There is God, and then there is man.  While race, ethnicity, and heritage matters to many APs, religion is all that matters to FFs.  If one has (a Christian) God, they have everything.  They have one mantra: “Praise God!”

Elite Globalists (EGs) are the too-cool bunch—the rising technocrats.  Socialization is the primary process for the development of their cognetic disposition.  The world is their oyster.  Borders and convention are irrelevant and technology can solve virtually anything.  EGs are actually quite engaging people if you can get them to put down their smartphone and quit talking about themselves.  Thomas Friedman (cited above), who drives his Toyota Prius to and from DC from his energy-gluttonous, 11,400 square foot mansion just up the road from the Bethesda Country Club (where he is a member), is an EG patriarch.[3]  Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow are spokespersons.  If not for grooming issues, Michael Moore would be too.  Hip is important, pretty is essential.  Celebrities are the diplomatic ambassadors of EGs; knowledge and intelligence are defined by camera angle, not IQ.  While APs might call EGs lawless liberals, EGs see themselves as caretakers of liberty and the font of social invention.  FFs see EGs as interlopers who will be vanquished in the Rapture.  EGs look down on APs as pre-Mad Men-era carnivores, and see FFs as homespun curiosities who provide fodder for film festival documentaries.  Neither APs nor FFs will make an EG’s Facebook ‘friends’ list, unless accepted as a matter of charitable impulse.  No ideas are too big, or too grand to EGs.  America is limited only by its ability to re-imagine itself.  If it can be designed, it can be realized.  The United Nations, and both non-governmental and governmental institutions are good, and corporations are bad—unless an EG happens to own or run one, in which case it is assuredly green.  The institution of marriage is also important to EGs, if only for their homosexual friends.  Balancing a checkbook has never been a priority for EGs.  Public debt is a nebulous, transient, and essential component of economic development.  Religion is an inherited and quaint historical artifact that provides seasonal shopping opportunities, but is otherwise an archaic, albeit powerful source of conflict and oppression in an African nation they’ve never been to.  EGs who claim a relationship with a higher being describe it as spiritual, rather than religious.  God is love, not power.  While EGs eschew ideology and orthodoxy they are ardent subscribers to their own; and, they love their obscure, narrow special interests, which define who they are.  EGs want to be left to their own devices—and they have lots of them.  Social order is amoebic in the form of multi-dimensional integrated networks.  In other words, there is no social order.  EGs can be a powerful political block, and demonstrated as such when bound by hope and technology by team Obama, but by design they lack cohesion beyond their common fantasy to one day be on the cover of Vanity Fair.  They are confident, bright, quirky, self-indulgent, and bi-coastal.  They do not set their feet farther than 25 miles from either coast unless they are skiing in the Rockies.  If they’ve been to Kansas City, it was because their flight was diverted, and they will claim they never deplaned.  Their mantras are elongated monosyllabic exclamations like “Cooool!” and “Niiiiice!” and “Reeealy?!”

Transcendent Epistemists (TEs) are the (usually) quiet intellectuals whose cognetic dispositions are formed by education, which is a lifelong commitment.  APs like microphones, FFs like the pulpit, EGs the spotlight, and TEs just like books.  The eldest among them are described as wise and comprise the portion of the “Greatest Generation” who have not been co-opted by the purveyors of fear among the APs or FFs.  TEs live by the lyric of Lyle Lovett, “I live in my own mind / Ain’t nothin’ but a good time.”  They abhor certitude and cope by transcending the rabble of humanity where they can contemplate that which is not yet known.  Conversations about who, what, and how bore them.  They want to talk about why.  They view faith as the crutch of the common man.  TEs are areligious—mostly agnostics who have yet to hear a compelling argument by either theists or atheists.  Like Christopher Hitchens, they will not allow themselves to be saved on their deathbed when that day comes.  They indulge APs, FFs, and EGs regrettably, although they are at times both humored and terrified by each.  Their least favorite days of the year are holidays, when their focus on epistemology is interrupted and they are forced to endure the banality of socialization.  They don’t do Facebook.  They are inelegant, or worse.  Lousy guests, and lousier hosts.  Like EGs, they see the world as a borderless seamless system, and though they embrace the ideals of Immanuel Kant, they find the world is often better explained by the lessons of Thomas Hobbes and Niccolo Machiavelli.  They read the columns of fellow TEs like David Brooks and Fareed Zakaria, but know that knowledge seldom wins in the development of public policy.  They understand that to move the masses Dante’s sins must be teased and tweaked—titillation is essential.  But, they won’t descend into the muck to do it.  TEs are fiscally conservative and socially liberal, so neither today’s Republicans nor Democrats should waste their time with them.  TEs have few if any contemporary heroes in government; they simply view America’s liberal democracy as an experiment that has been hijacked by venal charlatans.  TEs believe entropy is inevitable, and even healthy.  They are, however, ironically optimistic.  They believe every question will be answered someday, and that today’s problems are absolutely solvable, if everyone would stop screaming and start listening.  They arguably get it better than APs, FFs, and EGs, but have no audience who’ll listen because of their unwillingness to subscribe to popular myths and contemporary orthodoxy.  Their silence is both contemptible and potentially tragic for America.  Their mantras are, “Question the givens” and “Leave me alone.”

These groups will shape the narrative that emerges from the current crisis—that defines a ‘new’ America.  On first take, simply as a function of exposure, the battle appears to have already been won by the APs.  They are also likely to bring a large portion of FFs with them in their quest to save America.  But their message—denominated principally in fear—may not prove durable in the long run.  Fear seldom is.  And, they do not appear to have a prospective leader that can attract a majority of Americans to the polls.  Palin already didn’t.  Another question is will whomever occupies the White House matter anyway?  My guess is they still will, if not for policymaking, for the symbolism that plays its own significant role in identity.  EGs are probably too self-interested to come together again soon as they did behind Obama, unless of course Obama regains his voice.  Which leaves the TEs.  They may find their own voice when and if the fear-mongers fade, or the depth of crisis forces them from the sidelines and people become desperate enough to shut up and listen.  Knowledge is a far superior basis for decision making than fear or celebrity.  Meanwhile, we do indeed stumble forward toward a new America, whether we like it or not.  Individually, all we can do is be careful who we listen to and exercise the best judgment possible in our own decisions. And, every once in awhile, tug on the sleeve of the quiet ones and ask them what they think.

[1] Thomas Friedman, “Really Unusually Uncertain,” The New York Times, August 17, 2010.
[2] This is far from an exhaustive taxonomy.  There are many smaller groups, and most people don’t fit neatly into just one.  But, these are the big ones who will form allegiances of convenience or necessity to assert power during the current crisis.
[3] See Garrett M. Graff’s feature on Friedman, “Thomas Friedman is On Top of the World,” Washingtonian, July 1, 2006.

 

By |2017-05-27T18:34:32+00:00August 22nd, 2010|American Identity, General|0 Comments

The Caffeine Debate

Irish playwright and socialist George Bernard Shaw warned, “Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”  Accepting his thesis requires an assessment of our individual and collective effort to deserve better; or, at least better than we currently endure.  Historian and editor of Newsweek, Jon Meacham, echoed these sentiments recently when he argued the “broad indictment of the capital and its culture too often fails to include government’s co-conspirators: We the People.”  Two responses to this challenge have formed over the last year, both populist but otherwise diametric opposites: the Tea Party (teapartypatriots.org, teaparty.org) and the Coffee Party (coffeepartyusa.com).

Most of us have heard about the Tea Party, although a little research suggests we have to be careful to ask, which tea party?  Teaparty.org requires strict compliance with their “non-negotiable core beliefs” that include to “honor God” while condemning illegal aliens, belief in a strong military and the sanctity of gun ownership, together with strict fiscal limits on a government that “must be downsized.”  Tea Party ‘Patriots’ appear to be a bit more benign—frankly less threatening and more populist.  Their mission is “to attract, educate, organize, and mobilize our fellow citizens to secure public policy consistent with our three core values of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets.”  While differences certainly exist in those who adopt the Tea Party flag, their ideology and cultural profile are not. They are right, white, Christian, and armed.  They believe in American exceptionalism-cum-triumphalism and prefer walls to bridges where free markets are where only American products are available for sale.  They are angry and ready to fight anyone who differs in either appearance or ideology.

More recently, another movement has formed, equally populist and committed to saving America, but their approach is collaborative rather than combative.  The Coffee Party was formed by Anabelle Park, a Korean immigrant and documentary filmmaker from Washington D.C. Their mission is:

To give voice to Americans who want to see cooperation in government. We recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans. As voters and grassroots volunteers, we will support leaders who work toward positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them.

They don’t want to throw all the rascals out, just bring them to heel.  Unlike their tea party counterparts, they include all ethnicities, religions, and age groups, and most probably don’t even know how to load a gun. They are the ‘brains over brawn’ bunch.  And, curiously, they smile in their photographs. No growling here.

Both parties seem to acknowledge Shaw’s warning; they just have very different ideas about getting the government they deserve.  Both are emblematic of American’s growing disdain for all-things-Washington. One conservative, interested in re-establishing the mythic of a muscular Norman Rockwell America, while the other aims to reinvent America in the image of an Obama election night party.  It is unclear which will have the largest, if any, impact.  Tea has the early lead and loudest presence, but Coffee might attract more with a more inclusive and less angry platform. Coffee appears to have a greater grasp of organic networks and the nuance of political progress.  Whichever group proves more effective, one thing is for sure: Americans are no longer willing to sit back and take it.  Hooray for caffeine.

By |2017-05-25T22:19:34+00:00March 1st, 2010|General|0 Comments

The Anger Party: Bring on Devolution !?

Last week, while I was watching a YouTube video of the September 12 “Tea Party” march on Washington—between my amusement and disgust—I was struck by more than the ignorance, racism, and piety, I was most impressed by the anger.[1]  The marchers were not minorities, young radicals, or those who have marched for the rights of gays or the unborn—not like we’re used to seeing. They were Boomers and Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation.”  They were against anything with President Obama’s name attached to it and took extreme liberties in modifying his name on their placards and posters. But it was not at all clear what they wanted—what they were for.  When interviewed they mostly stumbled to take a position or articulate a point of view on any issue.  They were just plain mad.  They were white and over fifty. They were like me. Well, sort of.

Introducing: The Anger Party, committed to devolution!?  Notwithstanding a few bigots, racists, and evangelical misfits, these are mostly good people—patriots chanting “U-S-A” who are concerned about the future of America and, moreover, their position in it.  They represent the angry margin that was once the center of American culture.  The country they knew, or thought they knew, has changed.  And they are scared.  They blanche at the term “revolution,” although they embrace the historical notion of a tea party. What they want is devolution; they want power taken away from our federal government and things put back the way they were.  Most claimed the Republican Party, but many more claimed no party. They are the newly disenfranchised. They are the Anger Party.

Our Founding Fathers worried about this and struggled to produce an organic Constitution to allow for self-correction.  They strived to protect us from our “errant selves” and warned us of the danger of “factions.”[2]  More recently, Fareed Zakaria illustrated our slide toward an illiberal democracy in The Future of Freedom and argued for a rebalancing of liberty and democracy before restoration becomes impossible.[3]  It was clear to him, as it is to more of us now, that our form of collective action—our government—serves the few at the expense of many.  The Anger Party just wants to be put back on the list of the few.

While it is unlikely The Anger Party will prevail—especially without any sense of mission—the sentiment they represent (when you strip out the ugliness) is real.  It’s legitimate.  And, it’s a harbinger of things to come.  More people will become angrier more often as those who help themselves continue to ignore that they were elected to help others too.

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUPMjC9mq5Y&feature=player_embedded#t=11
[2] See The Federalist Papers – particularly the writings of James Madison.
[3] Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2003).
By |2017-05-27T16:46:18+00:00September 21st, 2009|American Identity, General|0 Comments