Monday, November 18, 2019

Hooterville 15 Years Later - Keeping On Keeping On

As I was looking back at some of my old blog posts, I realized that yesterday was my 15 year Blogiversary. It took me back to how I felt when I began writing this blog. After waking up the day after the 2004 election to find that Dubya was still in the White House, I was dazed and disoriented. I had never written anything before, but in reading other blogs, I wanted to try writing myself as a way to deal with the insanity that I felt all around me, and maybe experience a little catharsis in expressing how I felt, and to connect with other people who felt like I did.

It became one of the most rewarding things I've ever done, and along the journey I met so many amazing people who I never would have known in my regular life, but who inspired me greatly.  It became a way for me to get into positive action and activism, and motivate and be motivated by my fellow bloggers and readers. Up until then, I had not been especially political or informed, even though I have always been a Democrat. But I found that in talking about what was happening in our country, and reading what other people were writing about, that it moved me to become involved in my local politics and it showed me that every action you take in service of what you believe makes a difference, no matter how small.

The difference between a small action and a large action is nothing; the difference between action and inaction is everything.

Becoming a blogger helped me to clarify what I believed America was about, what democracy was about, and it showed me that I could be a part of something vitally important - active citizenship. The greatest danger to citizenship is apathy, and when you feel like your voice is not heard, that what you do or say doesn't matter, then it often follows that you don't bother trying anymore and withdraw. "Why should I bother voting? It won't make a difference either way."

When that happens, you've given your power away.

But if you take action, no matter how small or large, you gain power.

I want to stand up for my progressive values. I have learned that whether or not you obtain your objective doesn't matter. The ONLY thing that matters is that you fight for what you believe in. It's easy to fight if you have hope that you're going to get what you want. But what about when you don't have hope? Hope is all very well, but hope is just an emotion. All the important advances in our rights - the abolition of slavery, civil rights, women's rights, worker's rights, child labor - have been fought for and in many cases died for by people never saw the causes they fought for come to pass.

But they did come to pass because of the people who never saw the victory.

We need to do that too. It seems hopeless sometimes when the overwhelming forces of money and power are arrayed against us.

But it does not matter.

The only thing that matters is that we fight for what we know is right.

When we do, we lay the groundwork for those that will come after us, even if we don't prevail today.

So, don't give up because it seems there's no way to win. Reach out to others. Join in with those who are calling and writing and donating and knocking on doors and organizing and marching and running for office. Find a candidate you like and do whatever you can to support them. BE a candidate. It will always be a constant battle. But if we keep on working for justice, we have already won.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

I Know Why The Caged Republican Sings

Tweet, tweet!

Charge of the SCIF Brigade

Attorney General Bill Barr’s speech at Notre Dame chilled me to the bone, because it was as upfront and direct about how this particular religious sector of the right really feels about Democrats and the left in general as I’ve ever seen publicly stated.
Militant secularism, he said, is to blame for the country’s greatest ills, including drug use, mental illness and “an increase in senseless violence.” Given such crises, Barr urged his audience to fight back against “so-called ‘progressives’ ” and others who insist upon respecting America’s pesky, constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.
“This is not decay,” Barr said. “It is organized destruction. Secularists, and their allies among the ‘progressives,’ have marshalled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.”

It speaks to what seems to me to be the real core issue that drives the Republicans in power right now — that, to them, liberal values and the Democrats who hold them are fundamentally illegitimate and should have no place in American government.

The article I wrote last year (Legitimacy is at the Core of Republican Hypocrisy) touched on this. It’s the only explanation that makes sense of why Republicans are acting the crazy way they are acting. These people are not, as many progressives like to think, all stupid. Not all of them are exactly rocket scientists, of course, but many of them are Harvard grads, Rhodes scholars (like Louisiana senator John Kennedy) and first in their class at West Point (like Mike Pompeo). They truly believe that progressive values and policies are dangerous and destructive and, for the sake of American freedom, prosperity, morality and stability, must be eliminated from the public sphere. They see the left as a literal existential threat to the United States of America.

They really do believe this.

They really do.

That’s why the people who believe this feel morally justified in blatantly lying, cheating and saying batshit-crazy things all day every day with a straight face and a clear conscience.

If you are fighting an existential threat, there are no “bridges too far”. It is not hypocrisy, it is any tool available with which to defend yourself, your country and your way of life.

The idea of Democrats in power is beyond terrifying to them.

We need to be very, very aware of this.

I cannot overstate its importance.

This is a belief that has been held among many (but not all) Republicans for decades, but has been gradually gaining ascendancy and seizing power since Newt Gingrich (with the help of Frank Luntz) spelled it out in his “Contract with America” in 1994. He said out loud to the entire country what was usually said only among like-minded people. Liberals and liberalism was what was wrong with America and must be stomped out. Democrats were not the “loyal opposition”; they were a threat to be vanquished.

It’s a particular expression of authoritarianism, and it’s why many of them are pushing the “unitary executive” theory (provided, of course, it’s the right kind of executive.) As a generalization, conservatives are attracted to what Dr. George Lakoff calls the “Strict Father” frame, which emphasizes a hierarchical leadership structure with a leader at the top who must be obeyed by those below him. This must be a particular kind of leader — not any old leader will do (sorry, President Obama.) This must be a leader who leads by intimidation, who will brook no disobedience and rule with a firm hand. If this leader is obeyed, everyone obeying him shares in the benefits (and power) of this firm structure. They must support him unquestioningly in order to partake of his power. More moderate Republicans who did not ascribe to this mindset were slowly being pushed out of the Republican power circles. Many of them said, “I didn’t leave my party; my party left me.”

This belief structure has been here for a while. It did not start with Trump, but Trump weaponized it to an unprecedented degree.

The Trump phenomenon is multifaceted. There was an extant political space that went from Newt’s “conservative renewal” to the neocons of the Bush years, to the Tea Party of the Obama years, the ascendancy of unapologetic evangelical nutball Sarah Palin and the refusal of Republicans to acknowledge the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency, which evidenced itself with birtherism. This was where Trump inserted himself into the national political sphere.

He made his bones with his vile and racist birther attacks. Republicans of the authoritarian bent loved how he took on their hated “Obummer”.

He had other factors going for him at the same time. The popular reality show The Apprentice cast him as practically an emperor of business, where he sat on his gilded throne in his gilded palace and judged those below him who were desperately vying for his approval. Celebrity Apprentice was even more appalling, with actual celebrity-types groveling at his feet in pursuit of money for their pet charities (which Trump acted like he was magnanimously donating from his own pockets, but as is his way, took credit for it while the money came from the show), saying, “Yes, sir, Mr. Trump, sir! I respect you so much, Mr. Trump, sir!” (He loves him a good Sir Story.)

The fact that in real life he was anything but successful and self-made, with inherited wealth and real-estate connections which insulated him from the consequences of his shockingly poor judgment, numerous bankruptcies, fraudulent businesses and shady financial dealings made no difference in the way he was seen by the swath of America which was impressed by symbols of wealth and grandeur. But it was his imperious “You’re fired!” that spoke to the heart of these people who were entranced by the appearance of a strongman who said and did whatever he wanted without apololgy or consequences.

The appeal of the “prosperity gospel” — the idea that God rewards those in His favor with earthly riches — was what enables the megachurch pastors to flaunt incredibly gaudy and ostentatious lifestyles, with opulent mansions, fleets of private jets, and gold-plated everything. In fact, the more ostentatious and over-the-top their conspicuous consumption, the more their followers love them and support them with their donations from their own, more meager stores. It’s because there is a deep-seated, unconscious feeling that lives inside many people that says “wealth equals morality”. The idea that the more you have, the more righteous you are and the more that God approves of you is what makes pastors like Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, Ted Haggard, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen (to name a few) so very successful and looked up to by their flock.

The ostentation of Trump engenders similar feelings of respect and admiration among people of this persuasion. And to combine the gaudy ostentation with the aggression towards his enemies and willingness to call names, insult anyone and everyone who crosses him say whatever he thinks without regard for anyone else ratchets that admiration up into a fevered love and fierce, aggressive loyalty.

And since that kind of rabid adulation is what he has longed for all his life, he reflects that back to them in his rallies, which he needs like oxygen.

Don’t forget, also, for those of us who are not Fox watchers, that for years he was a regular guest on Fox. The Fox viewers knew him long ago — he was a familiar, highly entertaining and trusted figure who had the imprimatur of the Fox gods like Hannity and O’Reilly and the close-knit family of Fox and Friends. For Fox viewers he was a known and beloved friend years before he announced his intention to run for President.

When the circuit is complete between Trump and his base, a synergistic kind of power is engendered. A social dominator like Trump is just manna to authoritarian followers, and they are violently attracted to one another. Trump truly loves his base (as a group, not individual people) in a way that he has probably never loved anything or anyone else. He soaks up the roars and chants and I think it’s probably the only time he is really, genuinely happy. You certainly never see him happy anywhere else.

The three most basic traits of the authoritarian follower personality, as defined by Theodor Adorno in his groundbreaking study of authoritarianism after World War II and the Holocaust, are:

Conventionalism: the tendency to accept and obey social conventions; adherence to the traditional and accepted

Authoritarian Submission: submission to authorities and authority figures. This includes acceptance of inequality as something that is a natural consequence of wrong action.

and (most important to this discussion)
Authoritarian Aggression: an aggressive attitude towards individuals or groups disliked by authorities; particularly those who threaten traditional values.

This is a key point right here.

As I mentioned earlier, the Trump phenomenon has many components. It is a “perfect storm” of confluence. He has many spheres of dominance. One section wants and needs him because he is a vehicle to deliver a permanent Republican majority by way of the judiciary, which these Republican legislators such as Mitch McConnell know will be influential long after Trump is gone. These people are not his “followers” in that respect; most of them no doubt loathe him like poison but recognize that, being basically an empty vessel with no political agenda — or even political interest whatsoever — he is Grover Norquist’s “working digits”, his Sharpie at the ready, his policies directed by those in a place to influence him. A real politician with real personal policy ideas and ideals of their own cannot be managed so easily. And the theocratic right has embraced him as a “flawed vessel” who is delivering God’s will to America. These are the people like Bill Barr and Mike Pompeo who believe that government should be ruled by Christians and are working diligently to make that happen. Trump is coming through for them in a big way — more than any other Republican president. Not St. Ronnie, and not even the true evangelical Dubya.

Big Business, the check-writers and legislation-writers, know full well that Democrats do not believe that the interests of business should come first, that “what is good for GE is good for America.” They have spent fortunes over the decades to insure that money is speech and whoever has the most money has the loudest voice. The twin devils of taxation and regulation will strangle them if they are not in a position of control.

And Republicans also realize that, if they lose Trump, they all lose their power. Not only that, they will be unable to stop the existential threat of a Democratic administration and/or majority. The idea of that fills them with horror.

It is usually not expressed in the public sphere that way (Barr being a breathtaking exception) because it is so deeply un-small-d-democratic, so antithetical to our stated American values of freedom and equality and separation of church and state — in a word, un-American. But please believe that this is the underlying truth. This is what they feel.

They don’t believe that Democrats can be trusted to do what’s right for the country. They believe that power should rest in the hands of those qualified to wield it — themselves. Real small-d democracy doesn’t work. It’s much easier to control policy when you have an autocrat — which is basically what they mean by unitary executive.

These are the yummy carrots that keep the Republicans in Trump’s iron-fisted control, and willing to do and say anything to protect him.

But there is also a big, ugly stick that packs a real wallop — the aggression of his base.

As I mentioned above, these three main traits of authoritarianism are right in line with Trump’s base.

Trait #1: They long for a return to “traditional values” and a time that only exists in their imagination. This is MAGA. The present is horrific, the imagined past is golden, and he’s the guy to take them back there.

Trait #2: They long for a strongman to whom they can submit (as is outlined in much of fundamentalist Christianity). When everyone stays in their place, the world runs right. Children submit to their parents, wives submit to their husbands, their husbands submit to God — or God’s designated authority. The God of the fundamentalists is often a punishing, angry God when he doesn’t get his way, and a rewarding God if only you obey him unconditionally. Trump gives them all of that in spades. He loves to be kowtowed to, and rewards them with his love.

And Trait #3 is authoritarian aggression. This is where they attack whoever their authority dislikes. We have seen it on so many fronts — in his rallies and online, from hateful speech to physical aggression, anyone Trump targets (and he loves to target and aim his followers at his enemies like an AK-47) receives anything from vicious insults to death threats, and sometimes more than speech, such as the guy with the Trump-festooned van who sent bombs to the targets of Trump’s invective. They are empowered by Trump, who delights in their attacking of his enemies. That is the loyalty that he craves and demands but does not get from the people around him.

And if Trump targets a Republican who doesn’t toe his line for any reason, you had best believe there are serious consequences meted out by his base. A mean tweet from Trump can ruin someone’s life and all the Republicans know this. It sounds ridiculous on its face, but this is a reality that they are all too aware of. Ask anyone who’s been targeted online. Death threats are common, and you can’t discount the possibility of one of them being more than a threat.

So, there is every reason in the world to stay in Trump’s corner no matter what, no matter how insane you have to get — carrots and sticks.

The up side is that you share in the power and your long-term political goals of protecting America from the threat of the godless commie hell the Democrats are waiting to plunge you into are within reach. Or, if your concerns are more, shall we say, personal with regards to your financial interests, the guy whose number one priority is the almighty dollar is in your corner. The other guy or gal is ready to snatch your hard-earned goodies away to give to some lazy freeloader.

And, of course, the down side is being cast into the darkness of the Trump attack machine, from which none emerge unscathed.

Plus, there’s the “sunk costs”. From the first time Republicans excused Trump’s egregious and disgusting behavior on the campaign trail — mocking the disabled reporter, the Access Hollywood tape, the insulting of Megyn Kelly, Carly Fiorina’s appearance, Ted Cruz’s wife, Ted Cruz’s father, too much more to even list — from the moment they first excused his vile conduct in service of their own political interest, they took a step down a path they can no longer come back from. The have continued, step after step with no road back. How can they criticize anything he does now after allowing so much grotesque behavior to go unchecked and unremarked — even supported and justified?

They have sunk every bit of credibility they ever had down the black and gaping maw of Trump’s venality, narcissism and outright lawlessness.

I can honestly see why they are behaving as they are — answering every Trump lie with a lie of their own to serve and protect him, to aggressively go after his enemies in classic authoritarian follower fashion. As Trump careens headlong into chaos and endangers our national security and cedes our sovereignty to Vladimir Putin, Republicans are left with no option but to “go big or go home”, as Gordon Sondland told Marie Yovanovich. They literally have no other choice. They squandered their moral authority from the start in exchange for what they thought would be the long-term benefit, and they have nothing left. All of the off-ramps are closed to them now.

So, here is the point of all this:

If we — Dems, the left, progressives, whatever — do not recognize that the real issue here is not any of the stuff we’re arguing over, but the underlying premise that Democrats should be eliminated from the public sphere because their beliefs and policies are immoral and dangerous for America, then we will continue to tilt at ever-shifting windmills. Does every Republican believe this? No, but the ones currently in power do. The Republican goal at this juncture, with reasonable, bipartisan Republicans an endangered species, is a permanent Republican majority.

They haven’t achieved it yet, but it is still very much a goal.

Ask Bill Barr.