2020-06-06

Democrat Mayors and Liberal Looting Thugs, Anarchists and Terrorists – 1209 Style

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by Neil Godfrey

I turned away from all of this news about Trump and his supporters condemning certain cities for their Democrat governors and mayors, and the poison of liberalism infecting those cities and their populations, and how the populations there, we are further assured, are terrorists, thugs, looters, . . . . to escape for a moment in medieval history and here is what I read:

Date: July, 1209

https://www.ville-beziers.fr/

Place: Béziers (south France)

Author: Peter of les Vaux-de-Cernay, a monk and media apologist for the “State” powers

Topic: the troublesome inhabitants in southern France who opposed the natural and beneficial order of the Catholic Church

Extract from his tract. We begin with a wonderful city, a great city, but one “infected with a poison”:

Béziers was a most notable city, but entirely infected with the poison of heresy. Its citizens were not only heretics, they were robbers, lawbreakers, adulterers and thieves of the worst sort, brimful of every kind of sin. I hope it will not weary the reader if I give some examples of the evil ways of these people.

Of course. They are heretics; it is never enough to leave the account there. Heretics are by definition opposed to all that is good so anecdotal and true media bytes are routinely sought out to drive home the point:

[85] An example of brutality. One night just at daybreak a priest of the city was going to his church to celebrate the divine mysteries, carrying a chalice. Some of the citizens laid an ambush, seized him and beat him violently, breaking his arm and seriously wounding him. They took the chalice, disrobed him and urinated on him to show contempt for the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

[86] Another example. On another occasion, in the church of St Mary Magdalene in the city, the citizens in an act of dreadful treason killed their lord Raymond Trencavel Viscount of Béziers, and broke the teeth of their Bishop when he tried to defend the Viscount from their attack.

Isn’t that always how these things work? Nonconformists, outsiders, . . . it’s never enough to leave it at that, for powers that feel threatened by their existence. Character defects, pernicious motives, are assumed. Instances of wrong become the defining characterization of all.

And the mayor or equivalent of the city was a “do-nothing” heretic at that. He just let the heretics do as they wished, without restraint. He even went so far as to show solidarity with his citizens . . .

[88] To return to our main theme; before the crusaders arrived at Béziers, the Viscount of Béziers, Roger (of noble birth and a nephew of the Count of Toulouse, who was following his uncle’s evil example and was doing nothing to restrain the heretics), had promised the citizens of Béziers that he would not under any circumstances desert them, but would stand firmly by them to the death and would stay in the city to await the coming of Christ’s soldiers. . . . 

The authorities gave fair warning to the people but they refused to comply. A show of force was necessary. Domination was necessary, a new type of army from the outside was brought in, and though it was a renegade group within that army who initiated hostilities, law and order was restored:

[90] Seeing this the servants of the army (who in the common tongue are called ribands) became extremely angry. They approached the city walls, and – without the knowledge of the chiefs of the army and quite without consulting them – mounted an attack. Astonishingly, they captured the city inside an hour. What more? They entered it immediately, killed almost all the inhabitants from the youngest to the oldest, and set fire to the city.


Peter. 1998. The History of the Albigensian Crusade: Peter of Les Vaux-De-Cernay’s Historia Albigensis. Translated by W. A Sibly and M. D Sibly. Woodbridge: Boydell.



2020-05-16

The Weaponization of Language (Part 2a): Censorship update

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by Neil Godfrey

From The Guardian the day after I posted The Weaponization of Language (Part 2): Censorship

Faced with an appalling US coronavirus death toll, the right denies the figures

Fox News is foremost in promoting the idea that official figures are inflated, whereas experts believe more people have died

.

As Donald Trump agitates for the US to reopen, the American right appears to have found a novel way to deal with the rising coronavirus death toll: deny it altogether.

Top Trump officials, huddled in the White House, itself the subject of a coronavirus outbreak, have according to reports begun questioning the number of deaths – and the president is among the skeptics.

It’s a handy thought process for an administration desperate to send Americans back to work even as deaths from the virus rise each day, with marked surges in some traditionally Republican states.

. . . . 

Worryingly, the disinformation push seems to be working. An Axios-Ipsos poll found that the death toll has become a political issue, 40% of Republicans believing fewer Americans are dying from coronavirus than the official toll says.

A separate study, published at the end of April, revealed the stark consequences of prominent figures underplaying the impact of Covid-19. A group of researchers tracked the spread of coronavirus among viewers of Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, after Hannity spent weeks downplaying the threat.

“Greater exposure to Hannity,” the researchers wrote, “leads to a greater number of Covid-19 cases and deaths.”

.

 


2020-05-11

“Why I Became a MAGA Conservative”

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by Neil Godfrey

This is my second post on Charlie Kirk’s “manifesto” of the “Trump movement”, The MAGA Doctrine. My first post was a broad overview of the prism through which Kirk sees the world. Towards the end of his book Kirk reflects on how it all started, on what set him on “the road toward conservatism”:

Who is Charlie Kirk?

From “About the Author” in The MAGA Doctrine:

CHARLIE KIRK is the founder and president of Turning Point USA, the largest and fastest-growing conservative youth activist organization in the country with over 250,000 student members, over 150 full-time staff, and a presence on over 1,500 high school and college campuses nationwide. Charlie is also the chairman of Students for Trump, which aims to activate one million new college voters on campuses in battleground states in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election. His social media reaches over 100 million people per month, and according to Axios, his is one of the top 10 most engaged Twitter handles in the world. He is also the host of The Charlie Kirk Show, which regularly ranks among the top news shows on Apple podcast charts.

As I look forward to a MAGA future, I also remember how I first started on the road toward conservatism.

I have a sixth-grade social studies teacher to thank—though not in the way one usually thanks teachers and other mentors. Deviating from the usual civics lessons around the time of the Iraq War’s start, this teacher railed against then-president George W. Bush. I would come eventually to see the war in Iraq as a mistake myself and to see the Trump-era Republican Party as an improvement over the Republican Party of the Bushes.

But of course the teacher couldn’t stop there. He went on to denounce the United States in general. He made the whole country’s history sound like a litany of evil, from genocide to slavery to oppression of women, capped by imperialism and mistreatment of immigrants. That’s a lot to foist on sixth-graders, though that’s normal in schools these days.

You may have had similar experiences in childhood yourself. It was one of those moments in which you know the authority figure probably has most of his basic facts right, but you still have a nagging feeling that he’s missing something, something you can’t immediately identify. You also know that even though you’ve only been alive and part of this country for a few years, you feel attacked. This place that you love and trust is being trashed.

It’s not that you believe the United States can do no wrong. You don’t dismiss the evils of slavery or think other terrible things from the history books are make-believe. You have a strong suspicion, though, that for all our mistakes, things worked out pretty well—not just for a few but for the population as a whole—eventually. There’s something fundamentally good about the United States, at least as compared to so many troubled and brutal places throughout the world, throughout history.

Not just good about the United States—great.

The teacher wasn’t suggesting everything about the United States was hopeless, either, but he made clear he thought that conservatives were leading the country down the wrong road. They were fools, he seemed to suggest, who thought in their arrogance that the country could do no wrong. The best hope for us all, then, was liberalism, and not just classical liberalism but the left. A good dose of self-doubt and shame might rein in this country gone awry, and voting for the Democrats was probably step one, at least if we took seriously the implied civics lesson underlying everything else we were hearing in social studies class.

That’s an interesting and revealing “confession” or “testimonial”. It reminds me of the conversion experiences of the religious and moments that led others down the path towards extremist radicalization (see side box for some discussions about this process). Here are my thoughts as I read the above:

Commentary

I have a sixth-grade social studies teacher to thank

There’s a warning there. One would hope there would be time and opportunity to learn far more about the many parts that make this world work before letting one’s views solidify.

Deviating from the usual civics lessons around the time of the Iraq War’s start, this teacher railed against then-president George W. Bush. I would come eventually to see the war in Iraq as a mistake myself and to see the Trump-era Republican Party as an improvement over the Republican Party of the Bushes.

Continue reading ““Why I Became a MAGA Conservative””


2020-04-25

Liberals, the new “Jews” (with a sidestep into religious debates)

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by Neil Godfrey

I wanted to understand the mind of the Trump supporter a little better so I read The  MAGA  Doctrine by  Charlie  Kirk (Donald Trump highly recommended it in a Tweet). In the Preface Kirk tells us that the book is a kind of manifesto of what Trump supporters think he is all about:

I’ve seen President Trump speak in front of high school students, my fellow young conservative activists eager to hear him — and afterward, I often hear students ask me, is there a key book or manifesto I can study to really understand the philosophy behind this burgeoning movement? . . . . Now there is. I would not presume to speak for the president, but I will try as best I can to explain the old ideas underlying the fresh thinking he brings to a country that desperately needs it.

Before I finished it an eerie recollection of another book kept intruding into my mind, one that I read many years ago as a historical document behind another disruptive right-wing movement. That was Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler. No, of course neither Kirk nor Trump are Nazis or advocating the extermination of Jews and war to find living space for Germans. As someone else has pointed out, Trump is something of the polar opposite of a Nazi in that he enables the Business world to rule government (Nazis controlled every aspect of life including Business). So what was it that brought Mein Kampf to my mind?

Mein Kampf blamed Germany’s woes on the betrayal of evil-minded or simply immoral Jews (that’s my recollection, at least). MAGA Doctrine had a parallel theme. All USA’s woes (and some of them imaginary) can be blamed on a betrayal of traitorous, immoral “liberals”.

Just as Mein Kampf, as I recall it, failed to understand clearly the way German society worked by replacing clear-headed analysis with imagined conspiracies and betrayals and selfish anti-German motives of Jews and those who let Jews have their way, so Kirk shows no evidence of a clear-headed, informed awareness of either US or world history. Everything, all history and current affairs, are seen through the perspective of a “betrayal of liberals”.

Simply replace Jews with “liberals” and we have a book with a very similar theme.

Liberals appear by definition to be unpatriotic, hypocritical, stupid, sinister. And they lie with their “corrupt media”. It is impossible to reconcile the way Kirk portrays their policies with reality as anyone who has seriously studied them and their philosophy would know.

Ignorance pervades the book. Karl Marx — and by extension, all “socialists”, and by extension, many “liberals” — is even said to be opposed to any form of fair exchange of goods.

There can be no honest debate or discussion with a mind that is convinced from the outset that the opponent is a hostile subversive who wants to undermine all that you believe is good.

There can only by mud-slinging and misrepresentation from the MAGA side.

. . .

Then I noticed something else on the web, this time by someone accusing others with alternative views of Jesus of being hell-bent on attacking and destroying Christianity. I guess it’s the same with some biblical scholars, too. Some of them find it necessary to personally attack those (especially outsiders) who explore different perspectives on Christian origins so that the mainstream assumptions are called into question. The idea that others with radically different perspectives (and questions) might be seeking to be as intellectually honest as they can is something they seem not to be able to accept. (Yes, I’m thinking primarily of those who suggest it is legitimate to at least question the historicity fo Jesus just as some scholars have questioned the historicity of “biblical Israel”.) Such critics are assumed from the outset to be sinister, motivated by destructive and harmful wishes against the most precious beliefs humanity possesses.

And so the world turns.


2020-01-30

Dangerous Charisma, 2: How the Leader (Cult, Trump . . .) Unlocks the Followers

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by Neil Godfrey

What follows is not an attempt to explain every person who supports Trump. But if the shoe fits, wear it, as the saying goes. What is uppermost in my mind as I read Post and Doucette’s analysis of the dynamic between a certain kind of charismatic leader and his/her followers is my own experience of strong attachment to a cult leader. Does it fit? Does it seem to apply in non-religious settings? I have posted much about the process of radicalization (especially why people join terrorist groups) and found strong similarities in the psychology involved there and the process of conversion to cults. Let’s see what Post and Doucette say about “the charismatic leader-follower relationship”. This post is a survey of their chapter 7. Bolding and formatting are my own in all quotations. Page references are from the electronic version.

Our authors do not believe much can be gained by either a study of the psychology of Trump or the psychology of his followers, but what is of interest is a study of how the two feed off each other, the dynamic between the two.

The relationship between Trump and his hard-line followers represents a charismatic leader-follower relationship, whereby aspects of the leader’s psychology unlock, like a key, aspects of his followers’ psychology.

Remember the Jonestown massacre. Post and Doucette cite work by Abse and Ulman who studied the psychological dynamic between Jim Jones and his followers.

[I]n times of crisis, individuals regress to a state of delegated omnipotence and demand a leader who will rescue them, take care of them.

(p. 110)

I have skipped past Post and Doucette’s analysis of Trump himself so permit me to simply state things will have to be justified in a future post. The idea expressed is that Trump “feeds off the adoration of his followers”. What has led to this type of personality is an “injured self” that finds remedy in the confirmation and admiration of others. Where does an “injured self” come from? Two roads lead to it:

  • the individual who has been deprived of mirroring adoration from rejecting parents,
  • and a more subtle variant, the individual who has been raised to be special, contingent upon his success.

In the second pathway, a very heavy burden can be placed on a child. Expectation of success can generate troubled insecurity. That’s the kind of person who “feels compelled to display himself to evoke the attention of others.” The attention seeker who is never satisfied, who is constantly seeking new audiences for ongoing recognition.

People who are constantly craving attention and admiration do best when they have the ability “to convey a sense of grandeur, omnipotence, and strength.

And here’s the hard part for many of us:

Leaders such as Trump, who convey this sense of grandiose omnipotence, are attractive to individuals seeking idealized sources of strength; they convey a sense of conviction and certainty to those who are consumed by doubt and uncertainty.

(p. 111)

I recall the many stories of fellow members of the cult of how “God called” each of us through some crisis in our lives. We were ready for the taking, experiencing doubts and uncertainty.

Now obviously not everyone who goes through a time of “doubt and uncertainty” is going to join a cult or vote for Trump. But it is a factor for many and it is at those times that most of us are vulnerable:

This was evident in Trump’s support from rural areas and the working class, where Trump’s motto “Make American Great Again” (MAGA) had a strong resonance. Despite his lack of any concrete policy, his tweets concerning “JOBS, JOBS, JOBS” had resonated with many of his followers, especially those who are struggling and feel abandoned by the last administration.

(p. 111)

We all see how Trump loves large rallies; even after the election was over he has continued with them. In the cult I don’t think we were disloyal enough to commit the thought-crime that our grandiose leader, “God’s Apostle”, “God’s End-Time Apostle”, was basking in the admiration of his followers even when the stood to applaud whenever he entered and left an auditorium on a speaking tour.

The leader thrives off the admiration of the crowd; his insecurity and self-doubt are buried in it. But the crowds need the leader as much as he needs them.

There is a quality of mutual intoxication for both sides, whereby Trump reassures his followers who in turn reassure him of his self-worth. Even before current rallies, his followers will line up hours early, waiting to fill even sports stadiums that can seat 10,000, continuing to chant “Lock her up!” During the rallies, Trump continues to use his externalizing rhetoric attacking any opponents or focusing on the immigrant crisis, despite calls from fellow Republicans to focus on issues like the economy. But it is this rhetoric that draws in his followers, who chant, “Build the wall! Build the wall!” One can compare it to a hypnotist mesmerizing his audience. But the power of the hypnotist ultimately depends upon the eagerness of their subjects to yield their authority, to cede control of their autonomy, to surrender their will to the hypnotist’s authority.

(p. 112)

Continue reading “Dangerous Charisma, 2: How the Leader (Cult, Trump . . .) Unlocks the Followers”


2020-01-24

Dangerous Charisma, Cults and Trump

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by Neil Godfrey

Hypotheses:

“in times of crisis, individuals regress to a state of delegated omnipotence and demand a leader (who will rescue them, take care of them)”

and that

“individuals susceptible to (the hypnotic attraction of) charismatic leadership have themselves fragmented or weak ego structures.”

Jerrold Post believes the above hypotheses find support in clinical studies of persons who join charismatic religious groups, those with narcissistic personality disorders, and “psychodynamic observations of group phenomena”. Post and Doucette in Dangerous Charisma

describe the consequences of the wounded self on adult personality development and emphasize how narcissistically wounded individuals are attracted to charismatic leader-follower relationships, both as leaders and as followers.

As I read Dangerous Charisma I was regularly reminded of the time I joined a religious cult years ago and the stories that were regularly shared among members of “how God called us into his church”: certainly most, if not all, of the personal narratives involved tales of some kind of crisis each of us experienced and how “God rescued us” through leading us to encounter his “end-time Apostle”. After I left the cult I attended several other churches for a time and found the same sorts of experiences being “witnessed” even among less extreme fundamentalists or evangelical type Christians. Another perception that hit me, disturbingly, after having left the cult was seeing many of the same vulnerabilities, errors in thinking and willingness to rationalize the irrational and unprovable in society generally. Indeed, Post and Doucette make the point that the model they describe can work for good as well as evil: in times of crisis many turned to the charismatic Churchill, but that after the crisis was over the need for that sort of leader also passed and he was voted out. Other positive instances of such relationships involved Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi. But we all know there are weeds in the garden as well as fruit.

Two types of personality are described:

The mirror-hungry personality

This is the cult leader, whether religious (Herbert W. Armstrong) or political (Donald J. Trump)

The first personality pattern resulting from “the injured self” is the mirror-hungry personality. These individuals, whose basic psychological constellation is the grandiose self, hunger for confirming and admiring responses to counteract their inner sense of worthlessness and lack of self-esteem. To nourish their famished self, they are compelled to display themselves in order to evoke the attention of others. No matter how positive the response, they cannot be satisfied, but continue seeking new audiences from whom to elicit the attention and recognition they crave.

The ideal-hungry personality

This is the follower who is nourished by the above leader and who in turn nourishes that same leader:

The second personality type resulting from “the wounded self” is the ideal-hungry personality. These individuals can experience themselves as worthwhile only so long as they can relate to individuals whom they can admire for their prestige, power, beauty, intelligence, or moral stature. They forever search for such idealized figures. Again, the inner void cannot be filled. Inevitably, the ideal-hungry individual finds that their god is merely human, that their hero has feet of clay. Disappointed by discovery of defects in their previously idealized object, they cast him aside and searches for a new hero, to whom they attach themself in the hope that they will not be disappointed again.

The wounded self can arise from social, economic, personality crises. Job and economic and health insecurities, fears of one’s neighbours and newcomers and of conspiracies of powerful forces in government.

Post and Doucette emphasize that this model does not tell the whole story of Trump or political movements arising from the dynamics of the two types feeding off each other, but it does offer some insight into “charismatic leader-follower relationships.”

The charismatic leader as the mirror-hungry personality

The mirror-hungry leader requires a continuing flow of admiration from his audience in order to nourish his famished self. Central to his ability to elicit that admiration is his ability to convey a sense of grandeur, omnipotence, and strength. These individuals who have had feelings of grandiose omnipotence awakened within them are particularly attractive to individuals seeking idealized sources of strength. They convey a sense of conviction and certainty to those who are consumed by doubt and uncertainty. This mask of certainty is no mere pose. In truth, so profound is the inner doubt that a wall of dogmatic certainty is necessary to ward it off. For them, preserving grandiose feelings of strength and omniscience does not allow acknowledgment of weakness and doubt.

The leaders love the adulation of the crowds and can often speak for hours basking in their admiration; and the crowds love to be there, feeding and feeding off them.

The Language of Splitting is the Rhetoric of Absolutism

Central to the rhetoric is the “us-them”, the “me-not me”, the “good versus evil”, “strength versus weakness”, you are “with us or against us”. There’s nothing new here:

Maximilien Robespierre: “There are but two kinds of men, the kind that is corrupt and the kind that is virtuous.”

Hitler dwelt on the themes of strength and weakness, purity and impurity, the chosen (Germans) and the not chosen (Jews). The world is divided and one must conquer the other or be conquered.

We see this mindset in leaders who are convinced, and whose followers are also convinced, they are called on a religious mission. Followers often see the power of God behind them and the entire world of Satan is their opposition. Continue reading “Dangerous Charisma, Cults and Trump”


2020-01-22

Identity Fusion, Cults and Trump

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by Neil Godfrey

“Why do we do destructive things—to others, and to ourselves? Why do we so often act against our own interests?”

I’ve been catching up on a number of research articles exploring the psychology of Trump followers and am surprised how closely some of the ideas cohere with what I have experienced and learned about the reasons people get mixed up in religious cults. One book I have started and that has me totally in its thrall at the moment is Dangerous Charisma: The Political Psychology of Donald Trump and His Followers by Post and Doucette. I will be sure to write more about that work before too long. But for now, I am keeping it simple and will address just one idea that in part has an overlap with what I have read so far in Dangerous Charisma. What follows is from an article in a September 2019 issue of The Atlantic, “The Most Dangerous Way to Lose Yourself: ‘Identity fusion’ might explain why people act against their own interests.”

The main idea is

that people are always striving to create a world in which their ideas of themselves make sense. We are motivated, sometimes above any sense of morality or personal gain, simply to hold our views of ourselves constant. This allows us to maintain a coherent sense of order, even if it means doing things the rest of the world would see as counterproductive.

William Swann

It has been developed by Professor William Swann and claims that

we tend to prefer to be seen by others as we see ourselves, even in areas where we see ourselves negatively. As opposed to cognitive dissonance — the psychological unease that drives people to alter their interpretation of the world to create a sense of consistency — self-verification says that we try to bring reality into harmony with our long-standing beliefs about ourselves.

Think of those who tend to sabotage their relationships and withdraw from others who genuinely appreciate them. Their view of themselves is negative and they find it unbearable that others should not agree. That sounds crazy (maybe because it is) but Swann suggests that such behaviour

might actually be part of a fundamental “desire to be known and understood by others.”

That makes sense to me. Maybe it’s not so crazy.

We naturally form bonds with others, whether with family or a religion. Others in this context can be extremely important to us but we don’t generally “identify” with them to the extent that we lose our own separate identity.

Sometimes (and that’s the word that will need to be understood) people do lose their identities to the group, though. Swann posits that the 9/11 terrorists totally lost their personal identities to a group identity that enabled them to die and kill on a horrendous scale. The concept Swann talks about is identity fusion.

The phenomenon is sometimes described as a visceral feeling of oneness with a group or person, and sometimes as an expansion of the self.

“When people are fused, your personal identity is now subsumed under something larger,” says Jack Dovidio, a psychology professor at Yale. One way researchers test for fusion is to ask people to draw a circle that represents themselves, and a circle that represents another person (or group). Usually people draw overlapping circles, Dovidio explains. In fusion, people draw themselves entirely inside the other circle.

“This isn’t the normal way most people think about identity,” says Jonas Kunst, a psychology researcher at the University of Oslo.

Rational discussion that challenges the views of someone whose identity is so fused with a collective or another is impossible. Most people (surely) are open to accepting and debating challenges to their groups’ identities but someone whose personal identity is so fused and lost wholly within the group will see such questions as threats to their identity, a personal threat to themselves.

Arguments about climate change, for example, might not actually be about climate change, and instead about people protecting their basic sense of order and consistency.

Identity fusion is not merely blind obedience to group expectations or submission out of fear, but something much more dangerous:

Fusion is not a bunch of individuals contorting their way of thinking, but a bunch of individuals suspending their way of thinking. “It makes us more likely to do extreme things that aren’t consistent with our normal identity,” Kunst says. “It allows you to do things you couldn’t conceive of doing.”

Oh yes. I bitterly recall some cruel and hurtful things I did, even life-threatening things, when I was totally one {fused) with a religious cult years ago. I think of the pain I hurt my parents, and how I almost allowed a child to die from refusing medical treatment.

Does identity fusion help explain Trump supporters? A set of studies that used an “identity fusion scale” found that

Americans who fused with Trump — as opposed to simply agreeing with or supporting him — were more willing to engage in various extreme behaviors, such as personally .ghting to protect the U.S. border from an “immigrant caravan,” persecuting Muslims, or violently challenging election results.

Why do people who stridently oppose “big government” suddenly find themselves cheering on acts of “extreme authoritarianism”? No problem, according to identity fusion theory:

Value systems are only contradictory if they’re both activated, and “once you step into the fusion mind-set, there is no contradiction.”

Enter the charismatic leader

Continue reading “Identity Fusion, Cults and Trump”


2019-10-22

Right-wing news is everywhere

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by Neil Godfrey

Some interesting comparisons of the “left’s” and “right’s” use of social media. Again, citing Ferguson et al, with additional detail from Albright:

In the absence of data transparency, we are reserved about all claims by Facebook, Twitter, Google, or anyone else about what ads they did or did not sell or the uses of the sites; we have trouble understanding why several Congressional committees were so slow to require full public disclosure of exact information, especially once the companies admitted that the ads already ran in public. For the same reason, we are cautious about assertions by Trump campaign workers that they did not find Twitter very useful, though that assertion is potentially very telling, since so many more bots are keyed to Twitter, rather than Facebook (LoBianco, 2017).

We take much more seriously the findings of empirical studies of overall election communication patterns by independent researchers who gathered their own data. Jonathan Albright has attempted to map the “ecology” of both left and right networks in several recent studies. His work emphasizes the unusually dense, ramified character of the right wing messaging networks that developed over the last few years:

“to put it bluntly, ‘right-wing’ news is everywhere: Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, small issuebased websites, large news websites, WordPress blogs, Google Plus (?), Pinterest pages, Reddit threads, etc.” (Albright, 2016).

A Harvard study of the internet in the 2016 presidential election makes a similar point:

“Our clearest and most significant observation is that the American political system has seen not a symmetrical polarization of the two sides of the political map, but rather the emergence of a discrete and relatively insular right-wing media ecosystem whose shape and communications practices differ sharply from the rest of the media ecosystem, ranging from the center-right to the left. Right-wing media were centered on Breitbart and Fox News, and they presented partisan-disciplined messaging, which was not the case for the traditional professional media that were the center of attention across the rest of the media sphere” (Faris et al., 2017).

What’s going on here? Where are the Russians?

26 Note that Breitbart is strongly pro-Israel, as the site explained repeatedly in the wake of Charlottesville. Steve Bannon’s own movies are also quite sympathetic to African-American problems. But these facts hardly exhaust Breitbart or Bannon’s relationships to the substantial segment of the far right that is openly anti-Semitic and white supremacist. See BERNSTEIN, J. 2017. Alt-White: How the Breitbart Machine Laundered Racist Hate. BuzzFeed, October 5, 2017. Cf. also the discussion in GREEN, J. 2017. Devil’s Bargain — Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, New York, Penguin.

By 2016, the Republican right had developed internet outreach and political advertising into a fine art and on a massive scale quite on its own (Faris et al., 2017) (Albright, 2016). Large numbers of conservative websites, including many that that tolerated or actively encouraged white supremacy and contempt for immigrants, African-Americans, Hispanics, Jews, or the aspirations of women had been hard at work for years stoking up “tensions between groups already wary of one another.”26 Breitbart and other organizations were in fact going global, opening offices abroad and establishing contacts with like-minded groups elsewhere. Whatever the Russians were up to, they could hardly hope to add much value to the vast Made in America bombardment already underway. Nobody sows chaos like Breitbart or the Drudge Report, as the New York Times documented in one Idaho town (Dickerson, 2017).

See the original article onsite for the full detail of the above map: https://medium.com/@d1gi/left-right-the-combined-post-election2016-news-ecosystem-42fc358fbc96

Albright’s comments:

With a few exceptions, the unique “left-wing” sites are basically nowhere to be found on the right-wing side of the network. The graph confirms that, at least as far as connections (hyperlinks) go online, much of the major “left-wing” media appear to be isolated from the most active parts of the news ecosystem.

. . .

Seriously, the “right-wing” sites have Wikipedia, Facebook, Google, Reddit, and YouTube in their own network “corner.” Need I say more?

. . .

To put it bluntly, “right-wing” news is everywhere: Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, small issue-based websites, large news websites, WordPress blogs, Google Plus (?), Pinterest pages, Reddit threads, etc.

. . .

Bottom line is, the right-wing sites appear to be linking heavily into most of the left-wing news media, the major news players, and also to each other. However, the “left-wing” media are not linking into most of the “right-wing” sites. To make matters worse, due to the relative lack of diversity in the left media ecosystem (see my last “macro-propaganda” post), there’s right-wing sites in more places across the network. This must have something to do with the “left-wing” news media/journalism “bubble.”

. . .

To make matters worse for the “left-wing” media, the right also appears to be much more active around the “center” of this combined news ecosystem. And what’s the site at the exact center of this L+R network? It’s Senate.gov. NOAA.gov appears to run a close second, though.


Albright, Jonathan. 2016. “Left + Right: The Combined Post-#Election2016 News ‘Ecosystem.’” Medium. December 11, 2016. https://medium.com/@d1gi/left-right-the-combined-post-election2016-news-ecosystem-42fc358fbc96.

Ferguson, Thomas, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen. 2018. “Industrial Structure and Party Competition in an Age of Hunger Games: Donald Trump and the 2016 Presidential Election / How Money Won Trump the White House.” Institute for New Economic Thinking, Working Paper No. 66, January. https://www.ineteconomics.org/research/research-papers/industrial-structure-and-party-competition-in-an-age-of-hunger-games.


 


2019-10-02

The Mind of the Trump Supporter

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by Neil Godfrey

This post is about propaganda and how it works, and how it is working today in an unhealthy way in the United States — as perceived by me, an Australian.

When I was struggling in my last days in a religious cult I picked up The Mind of the Bible-Believer by Edmund Cohen and I hated so much of what I read. My copy of the book is riddled with pencilled notes that do sometimes tick and underline stong agreement but at other times asterisk outraged disagreement. It was early days for me. Take the fourth chapter, The Evangelical Mind-Control System. Its first subsection is headed Device 1: The Benign, Attractive Persona of the Bible. I have a pencilled note against that heading:

No — Bible is an open book. In fact many without in depth study of the Bible say it is very unattractive.

I see now in hindsight that I was missing the point of the argument. But let’s get to the point. This post is a follow up to Characteristics of Trump Supporters. I once posted The Benign, Attractive Persona of the Bible. Let’s compare the mind-control methods that trap the bible-believer with the propaganda of Trump.

 

Device 1: The Benign, Attractive Persona of Trump

He’s a winner. He promises his supporter’s they’ll get sick of winning. And he’s an underdog, a mere outsider, and boasts that the outsider can change the system. And Fox cable TV is sexy.

 

Cohen began his discussion of the Bible thus,

The best things in the Bible are superficial. Another way of understanding the kindly, philanthropic, and surprisingly tolerant old-time religion we described earlier is to note that its proponents took the lovely surface impressions of Jesus in the Gospels and built a whole new religion out of them alone.

. . . .

What I mean by the persona of the Bible, then, is an apparent relevancy of teaching and promise of benefit that finally turn out to have totally different meanings from what the new inductee was led to think. We will encounter it many times, as our analysis unfolds. Little by little, newcomers are brought along to understand the teachings to mean something altogether different from what appeared on the surface—

(pp. 170, 171. My bolded highlighting)

What comes to mind here are points such as “draining the swamp“. That phrase once meant shutting down the ability of rich and powerful elites from using their wealth and power to catapult them to even more wealth and power. We have seen in the last few days how a President who has used his office to benefit his own companies and those of his family (Trump enterprises and those of his daughter and wife) while attacking political opponents (e.g. Joe and Hunter Biden) who appear to have been doing much the same.

 

Device 2: Discrediting “The World”

Edmund Cohen writes, p. 172:

We earlier covered representative biblical teachings requiring the believer to distrust and to disparage reliance on his own mind for knowledge.

Trump continually pounds the message that nothing said by his critics has any credibility. They are all making up “fake news”. The Democrats are motivated by an inability to accept that they lost the 2016 election and that’s why they continually look for ways to attack “your favourite president”. They even “make up fake sources” for their stories. Continue reading “The Mind of the Trump Supporter”


2019-09-30

Characteristics of Trump Supporters

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by Neil Godfrey

If it fits. . . .

I live in Australia but some things I have seen of ardent Trump supporters seem . . . not entirely desirable. Am I mistaken for thinking that there is a certain clamorousness, a certain closed-mindedness against the views of “the other”? Back in 2007 I posted 10 characteristics of religious fundamentalism and earlier today I ran through the points and wondered. . . .

1. They (fundamentalists) are counter-modernist. It (fundamentalism) manifests itself as an attempt by “besieged believers” to find their refuge in arming themselves with an identity that is rooted in a past golden age. And this identity is acted out in an attempt to restore that “golden past”.

My impression: They (Trump supporters) are opposed to “liberals” and what we might see as progressive liberal values, yes? They like the idea of tossing aside all that PC speak, for example, and just going back to the common-sense world of the old days, — Americans, tell me if I’m right. Also, to get America back where it was when it “was great” — with car manufacturing jobs etc abounding again. And what’s with all the rules trying to stop people driving SUVs and dumping waste into rivers? It even extends to envisioning some sort of biblical Israel restored at their behest.

-o-

2. They (fundamentalists) are “generally assertive, clamorous, and often violent”.

Oh yes. I don’t think there is much doubt there, is there?

-o-

3. They are “the Chosen”, “the Elect”, “the Saved”. And as such, they are “privileged” or “burdened” with a special mission on behalf of their deity and for the benefit of the world. . . . “To be chosen is to be marked for a superior fate; one is marked by virtue of being superior“. 

Those are religious terms. Is it fair to think there is an analogy, though? They certainly seem to me to look down upon those who are still somehow lost in the “extreme left”, “liberal values”, “Democrats…”, so much so that they don’t need to listen to them seriously. And we do have “white supremacists” among the Trump supporters. America should be for Americans, yes, so a wall is needed to keep out those not part of “the elect”.

-o-

4. Public marks of distinction are needed to maintain their sense of superiority and distinctive identity. Not only for the purpose of maintaining that distinctive identity, but also as “part of the narcissistic struggle to be considered unique and special.” (p.30)

Do MAGA caps count?

-o-

5. There is only one true religion and one correct way of life; and these must be defended against inroads from other religions and secularism.

And that true way of life sure as hell doesn’t include “PC nonsense”. And it has to be defended against criminals and other subversives from over the southern border; and from “socialists” and “greenies”, and “the deep state”, and the “fake media”.

-o-

6. There is an inerrant holy book, prophet or charismatic leader to whom literal obedience is mandatory.

No holy book or Mein Kampf can come from a semi-literate. And can the leader do any serious or real wrong? It seems not. Accusations to the contrary are entirely fake, we are told. And the only view worth listening to, it appears, is the leader’s. All others are “fake”. Simply ignore them. Deny them. Mock them.

-o-

7. Law and authority come from God.

Evangelical supporters of Trump think Trump is God’s agent. Other secular supporters appear to think that they subscribe to a “higher law” that has the right to thumb its nose at the way things have always been done, at the Constitution and legal procedures, the latter being redefined according to the will of Trump. There is clearly an authoritarian streak.

-o-

8. Female sexuality must be controlled and clear impassable boundaries must be established between men and women.

Abortion is now deemed to be a crime.

-o-

9. Sexual behaviour is a major concern of all fundamentalists — Christian, Jewish, Islamic — without exception. Especially the fear of and opposition to homosexuality.

I don’t know if there is anything of note here apart from the Fundamentalist church groups who support Trump. Trump has known how to align with this demographic. Is homosexuality an issue beyond the Christian supporters?

-o-

10. Fundamentalism and nationalism converge. The moral life according to the will of God can only be fully lived in a society of fellow-practitioners of the belief. This can only be achieved through God’s rule — through the national executive and legislature itself. Hence the importance of bringing about a government that will prioritize the right morals and right culture for the nation — relegating other (economic) functions to a secondary place.

Oh yes. Definitely.


2019-06-20

Understanding Trump’s Rise, Presidency — and a Positive Resolution to the Crisis

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by Neil Godfrey

This is the final post in the series covering Nancy Fraser’s article, “From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump—and Beyond” that was published in the American Affairs Journal in 2017. Previous posts so far:

We concluded post #4 on the depressing note that the most logical solution to address the failures of both Obama and Trump is for the mainstream working and middle classes to unite against their real enemy, the powers that are responsible for their current plights of home losses, job losses, insecure and low paid work, ballooning debts of all kinds, . . . , to unite: but currently they are divided between the populists on the Bernie Sanders side of the fence and the populists backing Trump and the two sides hate each other.

So, what does Nancy Fraser suggest?

Her most critical message is for the progressives. Stop being so damn moralizing and condescending to the Trump-ists. Acknowledge that the problems are systemic. Once you start from the position that racist attitudes are genetic and that the only proper response is to condemn the attitudes of “the deplorables” then you start from a losing position.

The message, rather, is to keep one’s eyes on the real enemy, on those who are primarily responsible for the current plight of us all who subsist and struggle beneath the corporate elites.

If that doesn’t satisfy your moral instincts then try to understand that the racist issues are bound up with the class issues and a bit of clarity as to causes and background will help heal wounds or at least lower barriers sufficiently to form some type of alliance against the real cause of what we (globalization means the problem extends beyond the U.S.) are facing.

The first thing that needs to be done is to recognize what the ruling progressive neoliberal economic elite forces have done. Recall Gramsci (see posts 1 and 4). They have used the rhetoric of feminism, anti-racism, green-causes, to win recognition for themselves as the saviours of all that is good. What is needed, Nancy Fraser says, is a “strategy of separation”. Acknowledge the seduction of the corporate powers and make a clean break.

First, less-privileged women, immigrants, and people of color have to be wooed away from the lean-in feminists, the meritocratic anti-racists and anti-homophobes, and the corporate diversity and green-capitalism shills who hijacked their concerns, inflecting them in terms consistent with neoliberalism. This is the aim of a recent feminist initiative, which seeks to replace “lean in” with a “feminism for the 99 percent.” Other emancipatory movements should copy that strategy.

That’s the first. There’s a second. Certainly there are down-to-the-core ethnonationalists and racists. But does that core really represent all in that orbit? Or at least, at least, are not many of those Trump-ists still open to joining forces with those in the camp from which many of them defected in 2015 — disillusioned Sanders’ supporters?

Second, Rust Belt, southern, and rural working-class communities have to be persuaded to desert their current crypto-neoliberal allies. The trick is to convince them that the forces promoting militarism, xenophobia, and ethnonationalism cannot and will not provide them with the essential material prerequisites for good lives, whereas a progressive-populist bloc just might. In that way, one might separate those Trump voters who could and should be responsive to such an appeal from the card-carrying racists and alt-right ethnonationalists who are not. To say that the former outnumber the latter by a wide margin is not to deny that reactionary populist movements draw heavily on loaded rhetoric and have emboldened formerly fringe groups of real white supremacists. But it does refute the hasty conclusion that the overwhelming majority of reactionary-populist voters are forever closed to appeals on behalf of an expanded working class of the sort evoked by Bernie Sanders. That view is not only empirically wrong but counterproductive, likely to be self-fulfilling.

Moral condemnation is counter-productive

Recall that it is “progressive neoliberalism” that the Trump supporters have opposed. That

Moral condemnation of racists, homophobes, climate change deniers, the anti-abortionists and Christian fundamentalists, of those on the “regressive populist” side, is bound up with the recognition values of the corporate elites of the progressive neoliberals. Recall the Gramscian analysis in posts one and four. By pitting one group against the other they effectively deflect attention from their own role in the real problems inflicted on both sides.

[I]t is counterproductive to address [concerns about racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and transphobia] through moralizing condescension, in the mode of progressive neoliberalism. That approach assumes a shallow and inadequate view of these injustices, grossly exaggerating the extent to which the trouble is inside people’s heads and missing the depth of the structural-institutional forces that undergird them.

Fraser addresses race in a little detail to illustrate the point. Yes, hating blacks is bad, of course. But notice, think, recall . . .

In this period, black and brown Americans who had long been denied credit, confined to inferior segregated housing, and paid too little to accumulate savings, were systematically targeted by purveyors of subprime loans and consequently experienced the highest rates of home foreclosures in the country.

In this period, too, minority towns and neighborhoods that had long been systematically starved of public resources were clobbered by plant closings in declining manufacturing centers; their losses were reckoned not only in jobs but also in tax revenues, which deprived them of funds for schools, hospitals, and basic infrastructure maintenance, leading eventually to debacles like Flint — and, in a different context, the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

Finally, black men long subject to differential sentencing and harsh imprisonment, coerced labor and socially tolerated violence, including at the hands of police, were in this period massively conscripted into a “prison-industrial complex,” kept full to capacity by a “war on drugs” that targeted possession of crack cocaine and by disproportionately high rates of minority unemployment, all courtesy of bipartisan legislative “achievements,” orchestrated largely by Bill Clinton.

We get the picture. The race problem is an institutional problem. We need to target the real causes. Don’t fall back on the losing strategy of moralizing our would-be allies.

Renouncing the progressive neoliberal stress on personal attitudes, a progressive populist bloc must focus its efforts on the structural-institutional bases of contemporary society.

The focus, the slogans, the memes etc,

must highlight the shared roots of class and status injustices in financialized capitalism.

It’s a conceptual change that’s needed:

Conceiving of that system as a single, integrated social totality, it must link the harms suffered by women, immigrants, people of color, and LGBTQ persons to those experienced by working-class strata now drawn to rightwing populism. In that way, it can lay the foundation for a powerful new coalition among all whom Trump and his counterparts elsewhere are now betraying — not just the immigrants, feminists, and people of color who already oppose his hyper-reactionary neoliberalism, but also the white working-class strata who have so far supported it. 

The entire working class must be brought together as a counter to the forces currently exploiting and bleeding them. Fraser sees the initiative for such a shift coming from the progressive populists, those who are currently alienating their potential allies by subjective moralizing instead of targeting the objective causes of their shared problems.

The capitalist system is like a tiger eating its own tail, Fraser suggests. It is destroying the environment on which it depends, it is withering the working and middle class base on which it also depends, . . . it cannot continue. But before it ruins us all a new counter-weight, a new hegemonic bloc needs to challenge it — for the sake of all.

Nancy Fraser’s article can be read in full at https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2017/11/progressive-neoliberalism-trump-beyond/

I have tried to make some of its key points clear, hopefully without sacrificing too much of the original.


Fraser, Nancy. 2017. “From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump—and Beyond.” American Affairs Journal 1 (4): 46–64. https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2017/11/progressive-neoliberalism-trump-beyond/


 


2019-06-18

“Deplorables” Losing Hope in Trump

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by Neil Godfrey

An article by a Trump supporting “deplorable” caught my attention today because it made the same point as Nancy Fraser made about Trump’s betrayal of his populist base by giving in to the “Neocons” — and it was written over two years ago.

Yesterday I posted Nancy Fraser’s analysis of Trump’s betrayal of his populist base by siding with the neoliberal forces responsible for the globalization, financialization, rising debt, manufacturing decline, and on and on, instead of taking them on as he had promised in his election campaign. Well, today while cleaning out some files I had saved over two years ago by “The Saker”. He says he had real hopes (not expectations, he insists, just hopes) that Trump would do as he promised and break those who are bleeding and punishing the working classes suffering the pain of the “rigged economy”.

The moment of realization for him was not the range of crony-capitalist and self-dealing betrayals Trump quickly ensconced himself in soon after his election, but it was Trump’s caving into the Neocons by accepting the setting aside of Flynn as National Security Advisor. That was in February 2017.

Flynn, The Saker points out, was Trump’s hope to carry out his election promises in international affairs: cooperation with Russia, getting out of “endless wars”, even not being so toady to Israel, but also focusing on the real enemy, the Wahabi extremists of Saudi Arabia. With Flynn gone — under pressure from FBI, CIA and NSA — those itching to push back on Russia, to further Israel’s interests in the Occupied Territories, to wage war on Iran, these would be the ones who would control Trump. (And that monstrous war on Iran appears to be drawing ominously close, now.)

Flynn was hardly a saint or a perfect wise man who would single handedly saved the world. That he was not. However, what Flynn was is the cornerstone of Trump’s national security policy. For one thing, Flynn dared the unthinkable: he dared to declare that the bloated US intelligence community had to be reformed. Flynn also tried to subordinate the CIA and the Joint Chiefs to the President via the National Security Council. Put differently, Flynn tried to wrestle the ultimate power and authority from the CIA and the Pentagon and subordinate them back to the White House. Flynn also wanted to work with Russia. Not because he was a Russia lover, the notion of a Director of the DIA as a Putin-fan is ridiculous, but Flynn was rational, he understood that Russia was no threat to the USA or to Europe and that Russia had the West had common interests. That is another absolutely unforgivable crimethink in Washington DC.

The Neocon run ‘deep state’ has now forced Flynn to resign under the idiotic pretext that he had a telephone conversation, on an open, insecure and clearly monitored, line with the Russian ambassador.

And Trump accepted this resignation.

The title of The Saker’s article claims It’s Over, Folks! The Neocons have “neutered the Trump presidency“.

That’s what Nancy Fraser was saying in addressing the domestic front. For others, it was Trump’s weakness in giving in over America’s role in the world that caused the scales to fall from their eyes.

It’s not looking good, at all. On so many fronts, both in the next few years and the long term, globally.

For the most recent post on Nancy Fraser’s analysis see Understanding Trump’s Rise, Presidency – and Beyond (4)

 


2019-06-17

Understanding Trump’s Rise, Presidency – and Beyond (4)

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by Neil Godfrey

The old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear. — Gramsci

We now come to Nancy Fraser’s analysis (Gramchi) of Trump as President, hence the title adjustment. Previous posts in the series:

Gramsci’s theory of hegemony

Nancy Fraser’s perspective builds on the concept of hegemony as developed by Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist who died in a Mussolini prison. Put simply, hopefully not too simply, the idea of hegemony is that a ruling class needs to make its worldview and values the worldview and values of the groups it dominates. Simply owning the wealth and all the businesses and factories etc is not enough to maintain control. The subordinate classes must accept the belief systems of their rulers for the system to work smoothly. The ruled must accept that their world and their place in it is only natural and commonsensical.

Fraser identifies two types of common sense values that the upper classes expect those they dominate to accept:

  1. they must share a common belief in what is right and fair regarding wages, wealth and ability to get ahead, job status and opportunities, or in other words, a common belief in what is fair and right concerning the distribution of the wealth accumulated within the society;
  2. they must share a common belief in what is right and fair regarding respect and status, personal recognition and esteem, and who has a right to be a part of recognized elites.

That Election

The progressive populist movement led by Bernie Sanders was desperately knocked out of the race by the establishment elites in the Democratic Party. Rules changes, finding ways to ensure the populist leader’s superior popular support did not win the day, enabled the party machine to position a comparatively unpopular leader who represented the prevailing neoliberal establishment to take on Trump.

As we saw in the previous post significant segments of Sander’s supporters felt the other populist leader was preferable to Hillary Clinton. The reactionary populist victory surprised many though not all observers.

Bait and Switch

Just as Obama had disappointed his voters by failing to capitalize on his Occupy Wall Street popularity and begin to turn the nation’s back on neoliberalism as we covered in the previous post, Trump also did what so many politicians do: he turned his back on his promises to take on the big business powers who were hurting the ordinary person and to undertake programs to restore employment and job security. In Gramsci’s terms, he abandoned the populist distributive policies (wealth distribution) he had promised. He added insult to injury open displays of “crony capitalism and self-dealing”.

Granted, he canceled the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But he has temporized on NAFTA and failed to lift a finger to rein in Wall Street.

Nor has Trump taken a single serious step to implement large-scale, job-creating public infrastructure projects; his efforts to encourage manufacturing were confined instead to symbolic displays of jawboning and regulatory relief for coal, whose gains have proved largely fictitious.

And far from proposing a tax code reform whose principal beneficiaries would be working-class and middle-class families, he signed on to the boilerplate Republican version, designed to funnel more wealth to the one percent (including the Trump family).

As this last point attests, the president’s actions on the distributive front have included a heavy dose of crony capitalism and self-dealing. But if Trump himself has fallen short of Hayekian ideals of economic reason, the appointment of yet another Goldman Sachs alumnus to the Treasury ensures that neoliberalism will continue where it counts.

(my formatting and bolding in all quotations of Nancy Fraser)

But why didn’t his backers rise up in protest over such a blatant betrayal? It is as if they didn’t even notice what he’d done. But as we shall see some are beginning to notice and realize that their conditions are not improving.

That’s where the second half of Gramsci’s analysis, the rhetoric of recognition values, enters.

Having abandoned the populist politics of distribution, Trump proceeded to double down on the reactionary politics of recognition, hugely intensified and ever more vicious.
On sincerity, we know Trump is aware of the reality of climate change because he is building a wall around his golf course in Ireland to protect it from rising sea levels.

I’m reminded of the tired old countless “classic” cases throughout history and the world today of political leaders raging and foaming bile against outsiders or minorities within to deflect attention from their own failings or ineptitude. No doubt they are sincere. They have to believe their own rhetoric, at least at the time they are saying it, to impress their audience with their “sincerity”.

Having abandoned the populist politics of distribution, Trump proceeded to double down on the reactionary politics of recognition, hugely intensified and ever more vicious. The list of his provocations and actions in support of invidious hierarchies of status is long and chilling:

  • the travel ban in its various versions, all targeting Muslim-majority countries, ill disguised by the cynical late addition of Venezuela;
  • the gutting of civil rights at Justice (which has abandoned the use of consent decrees) and at Labor (which has stopped policing discrimination by federal contractors);
  • the refusal to defend court cases on LGBTQ rights;
  • the rollback of mandated insurance coverage of contraception;
  • the retrenchment of Title IX protections for women and girls through cuts in enforcement staff;
  • public pronouncements in support of rougher police handling of suspects, of “Sheriff Joe’s” contempt for the rule of law, and of the “very fine people” among the white-supremacists who ran amok at Charlottesville.

The result is no mere garden-variety Republican conservatism, but a hyper-reactionary politics of recognition.

Examples, as we know, have multiplied since Fraser’s article was sent to the publisher.

Altogether, the policies of President Trump have diverged from the campaign promises of candidate Trump. Not only has his economic populism vanished, but his scapegoating has grown ever more vicious. What his supporters voted for, in short, is not what they got. The upshot is not reactionary populism, but hyper-reactionary neoliberalism.

New evidence that Trump is losing support even among his base: Trump Fires His Pollster After Polls Show Him Losing In Every Critical State

Since Nancy Fraser’s article was published we have seen further tensions between Trump and his supporters, both business and some of the working class, over his tariff war with China. Tariffs, of course, hurt both businesses and consumers, contrary to Trump’s rhetoric.

Trump is now “ruling” (an appropriate word, I think, given his defiance of Congress — and Congress’s failing to seriously challenge him — in recent weeks) without a coherent or stable hegemonic bloc. His hyper-reactionary neoliberalism does not allow for that. His personal manner does not allow him to work with a trusting and professionally minded team. He relies upon the Republican Party but the Republican Party is far from outspokenly unanimous in their support for him. It appears that many Republicans would like to take back control but are a loss to know how. What we have seen from the White House are chaos, contradictory comings and goings, statements and counter-statements.

Nancy Fraser admits that we have no way of knowing where all of this is going to lead and wonders if there will be a split in the Republican Party. The U.S. is now in a position of another hegemonic vacuum, or at least bereft of a secure one. Recall that it was the hegemonic vacuum — no-one in power to address the problems of declining incomes, joblessness, rise of debts — that led to Trump to begin with.

But there is also a deeper problem. By shutting down the economic-populist face of his campaign, Trump’s hyper-reactionary neoliberalism effectively seeks to reinstate the hegemonic gap he helped to explode in 2016. Except that it cannot now suture that gap. Now that the populist cat is out of the bag, it is doubtful that the working-class portion of Trump’s base will be satisfied to dine for long on (mis)recognition alone.

Back to the gap, the condition that led to Trump in the first place. Infrastructure spending and job creation, serious tax reform and healthcare . . .  the policies that were meant to seriously address the breakdown in living standards for his base and all the working and middle class are nowhere in sight. (Though he did say he would work on healthcare more in his next term, right?) Meanwhile, the rhetoric distracts from the wealth distribution failure.

Since the appearance of Fraser’s article the US economy has not significantly improved at all. His supporters have not benefited materially despite his boasts of “the greatest economy ever.” See Why Trump Gets a ‘C’ on the Economy: Forget His Boasts; Growth Is Just Average and Well Behind Reagan, Clinton, Even Carter on David Cay Johnston’s DCReport.

Preparing for More Dangerous Trumps

The potential opposition to Trump is divided. “Diehard Clintonites” remain as opposed to the progressive populist bloc marshalled in support of Sanders. And,

complicating the landscape is a raft of upstart groups whose militant postures have attracted big donors despite (or because of) the vagueness of their programmatic conceptions.

(Americans and others will be more aware of the groups Fraser refers to here than I am.)

Another serious rupture Fraser identifies is division among the Democrats over whether to dedicate themselves to policies framed around

  • class — that is, to concentrate on winning back the white working class vote that deserted to Trump after Sanders was set aside by Clinton

or

  • race — to fiercely oppose white supremacy and win the votes of blacks and Latinos.

The division is serious and agonizing insofar as the two problems really need to be addressed together, not either/or, as Fraser comments.

Fraser’s concern is that if the Democrats do focus on winning back the erstwhile working class Sanders’ supporters the real victor will be the traditional status quo, the same old distributive values of the neoliberals who have established the “regressive economy” in favour of the 1%. It will be a return in some form to the same old progressive liberalism: maintain the economic system and embrace the rhetoric of militant anti-racism.

In other words, the surely inevitable result of such a development would be to turn potential Democrat supporters to Trump instead.

Another dire consequence would be that the Democrats led by Clintonite neoliberals would

effectively join forces with [Trump] in suppressing alternatives to neoliberalism—and thus in reinstating the hegemonic gap.

As noted above, we then come circle back to the very conditions that created Trump. The “hegemonic gap”, with no-one in the political system addressing the “regressive economy”, with both sides entrenching the very problems that have led to both the progressive and regressive populist movements.

To reinstate progressive neoliberalism, on any basis, is to recreate—indeed, to exacerbate—the very conditions that created Trump. And that means preparing the ground for future Trumps—ever more vicious and dangerous. 

The Solution

working-class supporters of Trump and of Sanders would have to come to understand themselves as allies—differently situated victims of a single “rigged economy,” which they could jointly seek to transform

The solution is to organize a wide-based popular bloc that will oppose the neoliberal powers (global finance, responsible for the problems of financialization, deindustrialization and corporate globalization) that both the Clintonites and Trump serve. Currently, neither bloc of progressive or regressive populists

is currently in a position to shape a new common sense. Neither is able to offer an authoritative picture of social reality, a narrative in which a broad spectrum of social actors can find themselves. Equally important, neither variant of neoliberalism can successfully resolve the objective system blockages that underlie our hegemonic crisis.

So the crises of debts, climate change, stresses on community life continue.

A broad bloc cannot come from Trump’s reactionary populism. Its values of recognition exclude large sectors of the population. That movement is not going to attract those working and middle class families who rely upon service work, agriculture, domestic labour and the public sector. Those sectors employing large numbers of women, immigrants and people of colour are the ones Trump is targeting.

The recognition values of the progressive Sanders bloc are at least seek to be inclusive. Is it possible for them to win over Trump supporters in an anti-neoliberal alliance that targets the institutions responsible for their crises.

But They Hate Each Other

We know the obstacle to such an alliance:

the deepening divisions, even hatreds, long simmering but recently raised to a fever pitch by Trump, who, as David Brooks perceptively put it, has a “nose for every wound in the body politic” and no qualms about “stick[ing] a red-hot poker in [them] and rip[ping them] open.”

The result is a toxic environment that appears to validate the view, held by some progressives, that all Trump voters are “deplorables”—irredeemable racists, misogynists, and homophobes. Also reinforced is the converse view, held by many reactionary populists, that all progressives are incorrigible moralizers and smug elitists who look down on them while sipping lattes and raking in the bucks.

Continuing . . . .


Fraser, Nancy. 2017. “From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump—and Beyond.” American Affairs Journal 1 (4): 46–64. https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2017/11/progressive-neoliberalism-trump-beyond/



2019-06-15

Understanding the Rise of Trump (3)

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing the series based on the article by Nancy Fraser. Previous posts:

–o–

There was no force in politics to oppose the eroding of working and middle class standards of living. Anti-liberal voices were excluded from respectable public debate. Hence what Fraser terms “the hegemonic gap and the struggle to fill it”.


Only a matter of time

Given that neither of the two major blocs spoke for them, there was a gap in the American political universe: an empty, unoccupied zone, where anti-neoliberal, pro-working-family politics might have taken root. Given the accelerating pace of deindustrialization, the proliferation of precarious, low-wage McJobs, the rise of predatory debt, and the consequent decline in living standards for the bottom two-thirds of Americans, it was only a matter of time before someone would proceed to occupy that empty space and fill the gap.

Hope for change 1: Obama

2007: U.S. facing one of its worst ever foreign policy disasters (Iraq War); and worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, “and a near meltdown of the economy” — An African American speaking of hope and change, vowing to “transform not just policy but the entire ‘mindset’ of American politics became president.

But rather than mobilize his mass support to turn away from neoliberalism he entrusted economic recovery to the same Wall Street forces that had almost wrecked it. He gave cash bailouts to the banks but nothing comparable for the tens of millions of the banks’ victims who lost their homes.

The single genuine benefit he gave the working class was an expansion of Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act. But that was the exception.

All told, the overwhelming thrust of his presidency was to maintain the progressive neoliberal status quo despite its growing unpopularity.

Hope for change 2: Occupy Wall Street

2011: I got a frisson of excitement when these protests broke out. “Please let them spread!” Having given up hope that the political system was going to respond to the economic crisis without some prodding small groups throughout the U.S. seized control of public spaces “in the name of the 99%”. They were protesting against a system that “pillaged the vast majority in order to enrich the top one percent”. Some polls estimated that up to 60% of the American public came to sympathize with these protesters.

So what happened? Obama picked up on the rhetoric of the Occupy Wall Street movement, promising great change for his second term. But after winning the election of 2011 . . . .

Having won himself four more years, however, the president’s newfound class consciousness swiftly evaporated. Confining the pursuit of “change” to the issuing of executive orders, he neither prosecuted the malefactors of wealth nor used the bully pulpit to rally the American people against Wall Street. Assuming the storm had passed, the U.S. political classes barely missed a beat. Continuing to uphold the neoliberal consensus, they failed to see in Occupy the first rumblings of an earthquake to come.

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