2020-11-26

On Internet Censorship and Mainstream Propaganda, Substance and Image in Domestic and International Political Power

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by Neil Godfrey

I still recall those early days of the internet when it was said to be in some sort of “wild west” stage of development, when we could talk about it being a great democratizing medium . . . but now, in this interview with Glenn Greenwald, the focus is on the new reality of censorship and the forces behind that censorship.

Also of interest: the role of progressives like Bernie Sanders and AOC in the Democratic Party; looking beyond styles to a comparison of what was actually done by the Obama-Biden administration in contrast with Trump’s term; how the different styles have real significance for US power relationships in the world and the perpetuation of wars and harsh treatment of refugees; . . . .

 


2020-10-22

The End of the American Era (felled by a virus)

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by Neil Godfrey

Wade Davis

A few years ago I read the fascinating book Justinian’s Flea by William Rosen. Rosen showed how the bubonic plague spread by the flea could be seen as the single most decisive factor in bringing about the collapse of the sixth-century empire. More recently I listened to an interview with anthropologist Wade Davis s. The interview, Has COVID-19 signalled the end of the American era?, was another with Philip Adams on Radio National’s Late Night Live and was inspired by an article in RollingStone that “went viral”: The Unraveling of America: Anthropologist Wade Davis on how COVID-19 signals the end of the American era.

Read it. And/or listen to the interview.

Excerpts to whet the appetites of those who have not yet read it:

Never in our lives have we experienced such a global phenomenon. For the first time in the history of the world, all of humanity, informed by the unprecedented reach of digital technology, has come together, focused on the same existential threat, consumed by the same fears and uncertainties, eagerly anticipating the same, as yet unrealized, promises of medical science.

. . . .

Pandemics and plagues have a way of shifting the course of history, and not always in a manner immediately evident to the survivors. . . .

The COVID pandemic will be remembered as such a moment in history, a seminal event whose significance will unfold only in the wake of the crisis. It will mark this era much as the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the stock market crash of 1929, and the 1933 ascent of Adolf Hitler became fundamental benchmarks of the last century, all harbingers of greater and more consequential outcomes.

. . . .

. . . . But what surely does [stand out as a turning point in history] is the absolutely devastating impact that the pandemic has had on the reputation and international standing of the United States of America.

In a dark season of pestilence, COVID has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism. At the height of the crisis, with more than 2,000 dying each day, Americans found themselves members of a failed state, ruled by a dysfunctional and incompetent government largely responsible for death rates that added a tragic coda to America’s claim to supremacy in the world.

For the first time, the international community felt compelled to send disaster relief to Washington.

. . . .

More than any other country, the United States in the post-war era lionized the individual at the expense of community and family. It was the sociological equivalent of splitting the atom. What was gained in terms of mobility and personal freedom came at the expense of common purpose.

. . . .

Odious as he may be, Trump is less the cause of America’s decline than a product of its descent. As they stare into the mirror and perceive only the myth of their exceptionalism, Americans remain almost bizarrely incapable of seeing what has actually become of their country. . . .

. . . .

American politicians dismiss the Scandinavian model as creeping socialism, communism lite, something that would never work in the United States. In truth, social democracies are successful precisely because they foment dynamic capitalist economies that just happen to benefit every tier of society. That social democracy will never take hold in the United States may well be true, but, if so, it is a stunning indictment, and just what Oscar Wilde had in mind when he quipped that the United States was the only country to go from barbarism to decadence without passing through civilization.

. . . . But even should Trump be resoundingly defeated, it’s not at all clear that such a profoundly polarized nation will be able to find a way forward. For better or for worse, America has had its time.

The end of the American era and the passing of the torch to Asia is no occasion for celebration, no time to gloat. In a moment of international peril, when humanity might well have entered a dark age beyond all conceivable horrors, the industrial might of the United States, together with the blood of ordinary Russian soldiers, literally saved the world. American ideals, as celebrated by Madison and Monroe, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Kennedy, at one time inspired and gave hope to millions.

If America’s first president, George Washington, famously could not tell a lie, the current one can’t recognize the truth. Inverting the words and sentiments of Abraham Lincoln, this dark troll of a man celebrates malice for all, and charity for none.

2020-10-01

“I’m fearful of violence in a way that I was not in 2000”

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by Neil Godfrey

First, there was this call to Trump from Roger Stone:

Roger Stone (In November 2019 he was convicted of witness tampering and lying to investigators in order to shield Trump from the fallout of the Russia-hacked emails. On February 20, 2020, he was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison. After asking Trump for a pardon so he could help him be re-elected in 2020 Trump commuted his sentence July 10, 2020.) – Financial Times photo

During his September 10 appearance on The Alex Jones Show, [Roger] Stone declared that the only legitimate outcome to the 2020 election would be a Trump victory. He made this assertion on the basis of his entirely unfounded claim that early voting has been marred by widespread voter fraud.

Stone argued that “the ballots in Nevada on election night should be seized by federal marshalls and taken from the state” because “they are completely corrupted” and falsely said that “we can prove voter fraud in the absentees right now.” He specifically called for Trump to have absentee ballots seized in Clark County, Nevada, an area that leans Democratic. Stone went on to claim that “the votes from Nevada should not be counted; they are already flooded with illegals” and baselessly suggested that former Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) should be arrested and that Trump should consider nationalizing Nevada’s state police force.

Beyond Nevada, Stone recommended that Trump consider several actions to retain his power. Stone recommended that Trump appoint former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) as a special counsel “with the specific task of forming an Election Day operation using the FBI, federal marshals, and Republican state officials across the country to be prepared to file legal objections and if necessary to physically stand in the way of criminal activity.”

Stone also urged Trump to consider declaring “martial law” or invoking the Insurrection Act and then using his powers to arrest Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook, “the Clintons” and “anybody else who can be proven to be involved in illegal activity.

Johnson, Timothy. 2020. “Roger Stone Calls for Trump to Seize Total Power If He Loses the Election.” Media Matters for America. September 9, 2020.

Two days later Trump appeared to respond to Stone’s call:

Jeanine Pirro: (09:05)
What are you going to do … Let’s say there are threats, they say that they’re going to threaten riots if they lose on Election Night, assuming we get a winner on Election Night. What are you going to do?

Donald Trump: (09:17)
We’ll put them down very quickly if they do that.

Jeanine Pirro: (09:18)
How are you going to do that?

Donald Trump: (09:19)
We have the right to do that, we have the power to do that if we want. Look, it’s called insurrection. We just send them in and we do it very easy. I mean it’s very easy. I’d rather not do that because there’s no reason for it but if we had to we’d do that and put it down within minutes, within minutes. Minneapolis, they were having problems. We sent in the National Guard within a half an hour. That was the end of the problem. It all went away.

Donald Trump Judge Jeanine Pirro Interview Transcript September 12.” 2020. Rev (blog). September 12, 2020.

Stone, further, in his call to Trump on The Alex Jones Show:

[Stone] also said: “The ballots in Nevada on election night should be seized by federal marshals and taken from the state. They are completely corrupted. No votes should be counted from the state of Nevada if that turns out to be the provable case. Send federal marshals to the Clark county board of elections, Mr President!

Trump again responded:

Nevada has not gone to a Republican since 2004 but is shaping up to be a crucial contest this year. Biden leads there, but polls have tightened. On Saturday, after a planned rally in Reno was cancelled because of coronavirus restrictions, Trump staged an event which disregarded such strictures in Minden. His rhetoric was not far removed from that of the man [Roger Stone] he spared prison.

Attacking the Democratic Nevada governor, Steve Sisolak, Trump said: “This is the guy we are entrusting with millions of ballots, unsolicited ballots, and we’re supposed to win these states. Who the hell is going to trust him? The only way the Democrats can win the election is if they rig it.”

Stone said: “Governor Sisolak is a punk. He should not face down the president of the United States.”

On Sunday, on ABC’s This Week, senior Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller also attacked moves to facilitate voting by mail in Nevada. He also called Sisolak a “clubhouse governor … who, by the way, if you go against him politically … politically speaking, you’ll find yourself buried in the desert”.

Stone knows what Trump should do:

Trump and his campaign have also consistently claimed without evidence that “antifa”, or anti-fascist, activists represent a deadly threat to suburban voters that will be unleashed should Biden win. Commenting on a Daily Beast report about leftwing activist groups planning what to do “if the election ends without a clear outcome or with a Biden win that Trump refuses to recognise”, Stone told Jones the website should be shut down.

“If the Daily Beast is involved in provably seditious and illegal activities,” he said, “their entire staff can be taken into custody and their office can be shut down. They wanna play war, this is war.”

Stone also advocated “forming an election day operation using the FBI, federal marshals and Republican state officials across the country to be prepared to file legal objections [to results] and if necessary to physically stand in the way of criminal activity”.

Pengelly, Martin. 2020. “Roger Stone to Donald Trump: Bring in Martial Law If You Lose Election.” The Guardian. September 14, 2020.

Stone has done it before, “small scale” then…

Stone is no stranger to interfering in elections. He was reportedly an organizer of the so-called “Brooks Brothers riot” during the 2000 presidential election that led to vote counting being suspended in Miami-Dade County, Florida.

Johnson, Timothy. 2020. “Roger Stone Calls for Trump to Seize Total Power If He Loses the Election.” Media Matters for America. September 9, 2020.

The Brooks Brothers Riot

In late November 2000, hundreds of mostly middle-aged male protesters, dressed in off-the-peg suits and cautious ties, descended on the Miami-Dade polling headquarters in Florida. Shouting, jostling, and punching, they demanded that a recount of ballots for the presidential election be stopped.

The protesters, many of whom were paid Republican operatives, succeeded. A recount of ballots in Florida was abandoned. What became known as the Brooks Brothers riot went down in infamy, and George W Bush became president after a supreme court decision.

In 2020, fears are growing that the US could see an unwanted sequel to the Brooks Brothers debacle –but with more violent participants.

Protesters shout outside the Miami-Dade County election office Nov. 22, 2000. (Colin Braley/Reuters) — From ‘It’s insanity!’: How the ‘Brooks Brothers Riot’ killed the 2000 recount in Miami: Washington Post Nov 15, 2018. — “These were brownshirt tactics,” the Miami-Dade Democratic chairman, Joe Geller, told Time magazine in the days following the riot. — The Guardian 24 Sep 2020

After a year in which armed Donald Trump supporters have besieged state houses across the country and shot and killed Black Lives Matter protesters –and in which Trump has said he will only lose if the election is rigged –a 2020 reboot of the Brooks Brothers stunt could be dangerous.

Joseph Lowndes

Everything is far more amplified or exaggerated than it was 20 years ago,” said Joe Lowndes, professor of political science at the University of Oregon and co-author of Producers, Parasites, Patriots, a book about the changing role of race in rightwing politics.

“In terms of party polarizations, in terms of the Republican shift to the far right and in terms of the Republican party’s open relationship with and courting of far-right groups. This puts us on entirely different grounds.”

Trump supporters have been fed a “steady diet” of misinformation that the election is likely to be stolen by Democrats, Lowndes said. Trump has encouraged supporters to go to voting places to act as “poll watchers”, and on Sunday a group of Trump supporters intimidated early voters at a polling location in Fairfax, Virginia.

“You’ve got thousands of armed vigilantes on the streets this summer, first around these reopen demands protests clamoring for coronavirus lockdown restrictions to be lifted] at state capitols.”

Gabbatt, Adam. 2020. “Two Decades after the ‘Brooks Brothers Riot’, Experts Fear Graver Election Threats.” The Guardian, September 24, 2020.

Hope or Fear?

“As a political scientist, I am sounding the alarm that America’s political institutions are at their weakest point that I have ever seen or read about in my life,” he said.

“In the backdrop of not having the protections of the Voting Rights Act, it is highly conceivable that armed militias show up at polling stations in an effort to eliminate voting.”

Sylvia Abert

Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections at Common Cause, an elections watchdog group, said she believes disruption of the voting process is unlikely, but she shared the concerns of others that the counting process could be at risk.

“There are strong laws on voter intimidation,” said Albert. “Counting comes into regular laws around disturbing the police or being in a group; there’s nothing specific on that issue. That’s not to say laws don’t cover it, they do –various laws cover being a nuisance but how that’s interpreted in the situation is going to vary by location.”

Albert stressed that she did not believe it was probable there would be altercations at vote-counting sites, but she said: “I’m fearful of violence in a way that I was not in 2000.”

“We have seen that the rhetoric on the right, both from the president and Republican lawmakers, has encouraged people to take up arms. And whether directly or indirectly, encouraged violence. And that was not happening from George Bush.”

Gabbatt, Adam. 2020. “Two Decades after the ‘Brooks Brothers Riot’, Experts Fear Graver Election Threats.” The Guardian, September 24, 2020.


2020-09-24

Overthrowing the 2020 Election, US Safety and the World’s Future

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by Neil Godfrey

Over the past week I have been sifting through tweets, newsfeeds, video clips to collate the evidence that Trump has no intention of allowing the election of November 2020 to result in his removal from office. Yet in the last few days Trump has come out and publicly declared just that. There is no need to direct attention to the signposts that have marked the way over this past year since Trump has now made no secret that he will not accept anything other than his return to power. In his most recent statement he repeated his intention not to accept ballots — add to that his stacking of the courts and his demonstrated willingness to use the army to “dominate” U.S. cities.

The only question is, What is the legitimate and necessary response to his declared intention? It is not just a United States problem. The future of human civilization is threatened by the vanity of a single man and a party spellbound or intimidated by him. If one can blindly deny the world’s highest number of deaths from covid-19 in one’s own nation (or say those who are dying don’t matter because most of them are of little consequence to the national economy) then we are living in Fantasyland to expect a thought for future disasters within the US and beyond. From The Science Show:

Today we have evidence of three domino-like connections.

The first one is that rapidly melting sea ice in the Arctic is speeding up thawing of permafrost, which makes the jet stream meander, which in turn leads to more droughts and forest fires, which in turn causes even faster heating when the forests emit carbon dioxide.

The second domino is when melting of Greenland is slowing down the heat circulation in the North Atlantic, which in turn is reinforcing droughts in the Amazonian rainforest, drying out and resulting in fires and huge emissions of greenhouse gases when the forest irreversibly moves towards a savanna state.

The third domino risk is when ice sheets in the Arctic and Greenland show evidence of being connected via the oceans to Antarctica. When the Arctic melts, the exchange of heat in the ocean from the southern to the northern hemisphere will slow down, and this means that the ocean around Antarctica gets gradually warmer, which will result in huge glaciers being lubricated by hot surface waters and thereby gliding faster into the ocean with an ultimate risk of not just one- to two-metre sea level rise, but over ten metres.

. . . .

Thirty years ago, we could perhaps ignore the fact that the world’s major ecosystems, like the Amazon rainforest, like the temperate forests and the world’s peatlands, were global commons that we need to protect together. Earth was so biologically intact, and thereby resilient, and our carbon footprint was so limited that Earth could absorb national mismanagement without putting living conditions for all of us at risk. Not anymore.

Think about the following. We are at 1.1°C of global warming. We must not exceed 1.5°C and certainly not go above 2°C. We are on track to take us to 3° or 4°C of warming. If we are going to have any chance, global emissions must start to decline this year and then be cut by half by 2030, then cut by half again 2040, and then reach zero by 2050. This is what we call the carbon law; cut emissions by half every decade and you follow science.

But this will only work if the planet does not surprise us. That is, all ecosystems and all the ice sheets and all the storage of energy and conveyor belt heat in the oceans must remain intact. If we were to lose the Amazon rainforest, it could potentially add another 1°C of warming by itself. If we were to lose all of the Earth’s temperate peatlands, this could potentially lead to another 1°C warming. . . .

This is no time to be treating Trump as “just another candidate” or the election as “just another election” as has been happening throughout history. And it’s no time for other nations to be treating the United States as a “good global citizen”.

 


2020-09-12

Obama, the Tea Party, and Assaults on American Democracy

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by Neil Godfrey

Concluding an overview of Peter Kivisto’s discussion of “institutional openings to authoritarianism” in the USA. See Kivisto for the complete series. (Images, bolding, formatting, other sources are my additions.) The takeaway for me in Kivisto’s discussion is the pivotal role racism has played in enabling the presidency of Donald Trump. Little did I suspect that the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s would lead what we see today in the political landscape. For another relevant perspective on Obama’s terms in office see the posts on Nancy Fraser’s From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump – and Beyond. .

The 2008 historic election of Barack Obama set in motion a reaction that was intense, uncivil, and unrelenting. . . . .

. . . . Republican Representative Joe Wilson upended congressional decorum by shouting that Obama was a liar while the President was giving a speech to a joint session of Congress. . . . 

.. . . . The Republican leader in the Senate quickly promised that the one objective of Senate Republicans would be to insure that Obama would not be re-elected, and to that end rejected bipartisanship at every turn. The right-wing media savaged him relentlessly, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported disturbing increases in the size and activities of right-wing hate groups, and funds from right-wing plutocrats flowed freely to mobilize the grassroots. . . . 

.

Obama had been exceedingly careful — too careful for many of his supporters’ tastes — in addressing issues about race. Moreover, he had to simultaneously confront two crises, the first being the blowback caused by the disastrous Bush/Cheney invasion of Iraq and the second being the global financial crisis that began in 2007. Much of his agenda reflected both the need to respond carefully to these inherited problems, but beyond that he pressed what was essentially a pragmatic center-left set of proposals. His one major ambitious plan called for building on the New Deal and Great Society programs in addressing the fact that the United States was the only wealthy liberal democracy in the world that did not treat health care as a universal entitlement. He sought to expand health care coverage, reduce costs, and implement best practices that would make for a more efficient and effective health delivery system. And in so doing, rather than pressing for a single-payer system akin to Canada’s or expanding Medicare to cover all Americans, he hoped for a plan that would elicit bipartisan support. To that end, the plan he proposed bore a family resemblance to one developed by a conservative think tank in the 1990s and a plan that Mitt Romney created in Massachusetts during his tenure as governor. Obstructionism would make bipartisanship impossible, and thus the Affordable Care Act was passed without a single Republican vote in either chamber of Congress.

In this context, the Tea Party came to represent the crystallization of citizen opposition to Obama. The intensity of their vehement hostility to Obama can be understood by the fact that as right-wing populists, their enemies were twofold:

    • elites — governmental and academic, but not business
    • — and the congeries of “Others,” including blacks, immigrants, Muslims, and freeloaders. . . . 
. . . . Obama signified, was the very embodiment of, both enemies . . . .

. . . . He was the black usurper, his white mother in the end being irrelevant to this particular trope. He was the noncitizen, born in Kenya. He was the closet Muslim. At the same time, the Harvard Law graduate and part-time professor at the University of Chicago was a member of the elite liberal intelligentsia. Those who identified as strong Tea Party supporters, amounting to perhaps one-fifth of the electorate, were vocally unwilling to see Obama as a legitimate President.

Much discussion ensued about the precise character of the Tea Party. Was it a genuine grassroots movement or was it of the Astroturf variety, the product of the Koch brothers and other right-wing plutocrats? In The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism sociologists Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson see it as both, observing that “one of the most important consequences of the widespread Tea Party agitations unleashed from the start of Obama’s presidency was the populist boost given to professionally run and opulently funded right-wing advocacy organizations devoted to pushing ultra-free-market policies.” These include FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth, the Tea Party Express, and Americans for Prosperity. The last of these is the creation of the Koch brothers, a nonprofit political advocacy organization. Its funders have spent millions pushing to privatize Social Security, voucherize Medicare and Medicaid, slash taxes, roll back environmental laws, and crush labor unions. For example, the organization shaped Governor Scott Walker’s assault on public sector unions in Wisconsin and has been a central player in shaping Rep. Paul Ryan’s agenda to roll back the welfare state. As oversight organizations promoting transparency have repeatedly pointed out, these operations are prime examples of the impact of dark money from wealthy right-wing donors who are able to keep their identities anonymous while spending freely to influence public policy.

Continue reading “Obama, the Tea Party, and Assaults on American Democracy”


2020-09-07

The Historical Road Leading Fundamentalist Christians to Trump

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by Neil Godfrey

This post follows on from Historical Background to President Trump – the Republican Party’s Shift . . .

Enter the Christian Right

The Christian right . . .

. . . was the term widely used during the 1980s to describe a religious social movement, while today the operative term in both self-presentation and in most media coverage is evangelical. The former carries with it a more overtly political dimension and a specific historical context, while the latter is a fuzzier term. For that reason, I prefer the term fundamentalist in characterizing movement leaders and organizations. It can be a term of disparagement, but in fact has greater analytic rigor, thus making it a more serviceable tool for analyzing this segment of American Christianity. (Kivisto, 92)

Fundamentalism

Images from The Public “I”

By the term fundamentalist Kivisto is referring to movements that grew out of those who in the 1920s named themselves “fundamentalists” and who identified their ideas with The Fundamentals (biblical inerrancy, miracles, etc) essays published and funded by Southern Californian oil millionaire Lyman Stewart. The Fundamentals identified a good many enemies of “truth”:

  • socialism
  • feminism
  • Darwinism
  • Roman Catholicism
  • Mormonism
  • modern spiritualism
  • humanistic psychology
  • the Social Gospel
  • and theological liberalism

Very often fundamentalists felt obliged to enforce their views on society through political and legal action. Recall the Scopes “monkey trial” of 1925.

Martin Marty, who led a major American Academy of Arts and Sciences project on fundamentalism, offered a succinct account of what fundamentalism is and what it is not:

  • “it is not the same thing as conservatism, traditionalism, classicism, or orthodoxy, though fundamentalists associate themselves with such concepts.”
  • “most fundamentalists do not conceive of themselves as being antiscientific or antirational on their own terms. . . But most fundamentalist movements dedicate themselves to representing alternative and, in their eyes, ‘proper’ science and reason.”
  • “fundamentalists are seldom opposed to technology as such, or to many of its specific artifacts. Technology, one might say, helped make fundamentalism possible.”
  • fundamentalists are not always poor, uneducated people who rationalize their hopeless lower-class circumstances through a religious movement. “Deprivation theories” are among the more discredited explanation today in respect to Fundamentalism. Indeed, many such movements prospered in America as old religious conservative groups moved into the middle class, and it is among the university-educated and professionally mobile Jews, Mormons, Muslims, and others that fundamentalism grows.”
We never see the term fundamentalism applied to movements which are not absolutist. The enemies of fundamentalisms everywhere are relativism, pluralism, ambiguity. (Marty p. 21)

In identifying the core components of fundamentalism, Marty begins by stating that it “is always reactive, reactionary,” forever responding to “perceived challenges and threats” posed by a “force, tendency, or enemy” that is “eroding, corroding, or endangering one’s movement and what it holds dear.” As such, fundamentalism is about defining boundaries, and defining them in bright, not blurred, terms: the world is us against them, with them being a sometimes shifting target. This means, Marty continues, that fundamentalism “is always an exclusive or separatist movement” predicated on beliefs that are defined in absolutist, black-and-white terms. It is for that reason that fundamentalists are dismissive of interfaith or ecumenical understanding and dialogue, opting instead for an oppositional stance against anyone who does not share their worldview. Marty concludes that fundamentalists are inherently absolutist, and, “With absolutism comes authoritativeness or authoritarianism” (Marty, 1988, pp. 20—21). (Kivisto, 93f)

Sociologist Martin Riesebrodt points out that fundamentalists, in their rejection of the world, either elect to withdraw from it or to control it. The latter option often means they seek to impose their beliefs and practices on the world through political activity of various kinds.

The strain of world mastering fundamentalists engaging in American politics since the middle of the past century includes such now largely forgotten figures as Carl McIntyre, a dissident Presbyterian and fervent anti-communist crusader — engaged as he saw it in a civilization struggle between the Christian West and the atheistic core of Soviet communism. He was hostile to anyone seen as fellow travelers, which included groups such as the ecumenically oriented National Council of Churches, making his views known to a radio audience via his “The 20th Century Reformation Hour.” He and like-minded fundamentalists represent the precursors to the contemporary Christian right. (Kivisto, 94)

1970s Movement Mobilization and Christian Nationalism

If the Southern strategy pushed the Republican Party into the camp of white nationalists, the Christian right’s self-understanding is shaped by an ideology of Christian nationalism.

The two most well known leaders were Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Both evangelized extensively through mass media. Robertson created Regent University and the American Center for Law and Justice, “which aimed to shape legislative agendas and fight judicial battles”. Falwell founding Liberty University in 1971 and Moral Majority in 1979.

Certain issues have been constant ever since the 1970s:

  • attempts to overturn the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion
  • challenges to the separation of church and state by pressing for school prayer and abstinence-only sex education

Underpinning all of the particular issues preoccupying the Christian right is the conviction that the United States is a Christian nation and that, as the name of Falwell’s organization indicates, the movement represents the beliefs of a majority of the citizenry. At the same time, the Christian right sees itself as under assault from enemies who threaten the cultural integrity of the nation. If the Southern strategy pushed the Republican Party into the camp of white nationalists, the Christian right’s self-understanding is shaped by an ideology of Christian nationalism. (Kivisto, 95)

These “world mastering fundamentalists” set themselves against “liberals, Hollywood, the media, the American Civil Liberties Union, and often, academics”, those they deem to be “enemies” who, because they are “hostile to religion and . . . are antipopulist” are therefore “fundamentally un-American“. [Compare the post on Americanism as an ideology and the treason of “un-Americanism”.] With such an outlook they (the fundamentalists) “reveal their anti-pluralist and thus intrinsically anti-democratic view of politics” (Rhys Williams). Continue reading “The Historical Road Leading Fundamentalist Christians to Trump”


2020-09-06

Historical Background to President Trump – the Republican Party’s Shift

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by Neil Godfrey

Peter Kivisto

This post begins a bare-bones outline of a few key historical developments that have brought us to where we are now. Anyone with a deep knowledge of U.S. history will find my treatment very basic indeed. I am using as a convenient source a book that sets out a basic overview of selected background developments that led to Trump’s ascendancy, Peter Kivisto‘s The Trump Phenomenon: How the Politics of Populism Won in 2016. (You can read the book online at Scribd. A couple of reviews will give you some idea of what others have seen as its strengths and weaknesses.) I am only selecting a few areas of Kivisto’s discussion in these posts. Developments in the media and political propaganda are most significant but I want deeper preparation before posting on that side of things. A related blog series is Fraser: From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump; also, America’s Radical Right in Context (Lipset Revisited). I have added hyperlinks copiously for the benefit of anyone (like me) who uses these sorts of outlines as springboards for further reading.

. . .

From World War 2 to the 1960s the two major political parties were both centrist:

DEMOCRATIC PARTY : Center-Left
a coalition of . . .
REPUBLICAN PARTY : Center-Right
a coalition of . . .
labour unions big business and traditional main street conservatives
leftists who had moved toward the political center from the New Deal forward fiscal conservatives, libertarians, and social liberals
Southern conservatives — the Dixiecrats a core of right-wing radicals, during the 1950s associated in particular with the John Birch Society, a virulently anti-communist organization that operated with secret cells and abounding in conspiracy theories about communist penetration of the federal government and other institutions.

On the John Birch Society:

Fred Koch

One of the founding members of the Society was Fred Koch, the founder of Koch Industries and the father of Charles and David. Party leaders saw these extremists as a threat to conservatism and undertook campaigns to contain rather than encourage them. Efforts were made, for example by William F. Buckley, to keep the Society’s members in particular and the extremist right in general out of influential roles in the party. However, over the course of several decades, as the success of the brothers Koch attests, the radical right has succeeded in reshaping the party and moving it far from its nineteenth-century roots. The turning point in the party’s remake began in the wake of the tumultuous 1960s — an era in which the combined impact of

the civil rights movement,

growing opposition to the Vietnam War,

and the counterculture

set the stage for what has played out for over a half-century later.

As Jane Mayer has chronicled in Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires behind the Rise of the Radical Right on the funding sources of the radical right, the Koch brothers are an important component of a much larger group of donors, including prominent family names like Bradley, Olin, and Scaife. Their collective attempt to reshape American conservatism into something considerably more reactionary was immeasurably aided by Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision opening the floodgates for “dark money” campaign funding.

(Kivisto, 88)

From Johnson’s Great Society to White Nationalism

Both passed with bipartisan support. (Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the legislation was advanced by the Democrat President Lyndon Johnson.) But in each case the Republican Party marshalled a larger percentage of its members in support of each bill than the Democrats did.

Why was there less support for these bills among Democrats? Answer: the Dixiecrat faction in the Democratic Party.

Compare the reactions to the Social Security Amendments Act (1965):

    • Republicans opposed it because they saw it as “creeping socialism”
    • A minority of Democrats also opposed it even though they had supported the idea of social security legislation in the 1930s — then such legislation was deemed of benefit to “their white constituents”.

Despite Republican support for the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, Johnson saw the writing on the wall: the Democratic coalition was about to unravel as the South, a once solidly Democratic region, was about to exit the party. Bill Moyers, then an aide to Johnson, reported that the President told him, “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a very long time to come” (Moyers, 2004, p. 167).

The unravelling followed. Southern Democrats defected to the Republicans. Republican Richard Nixon implemented the “Southern strategy“:

For its part, the Republican Party opened its arms, with Richard Nixon implementing his “Southern strategy.” In researching a biography of Nixon, John A. Farrell discovered a document in which Nixon, during the 1968 presidential campaign, promised these new arrivals to the party that he “would retreat on civil rights and ‘lay off pro-Negro crap’ if elected” (2017, p. 9).

From Politico

The Republican Party of Lincoln was also sliding into another place:

At the same time, liberal and moderate Republicans elsewhere in the country were confronted with challenges from the right by opponents who were hostile to their centrism and their commitment to civil rights. Thus began what Purdum describes as “the long process by which the Party of Lincoln became the party of white backlash, especially |but not only] in the South” (2014b, p. 3).

Republican strategist Kevin Phillips foresaw the outcome clearly:

    • Blacks, given the right to vote by the Democratic Party, naturally supported the Democratic Party
    • Southern whites responded by flocking to the Republican Party

Also, the shift of the once Democratic South to a solid Republican base was secured . . .

    • As blacks continued to migrate to Northern states . . .
    • . . . Northern whites would migrate south, establishing a strong Republican base in the south.

Into the 1970s . . .

The 1970s set the stage for the final destruction of a center-right conservative party and the solidification of a reactionary one — a party in which people associated with the former were increasingly condemned by those in the latter camp as being Republicans in Name Only (Kabaservice, 2012).

Into the 1980s . . . 

The rise of Ronald Reagan to national prominence . . . in 1980 further signaled this rightward shift. Thus, Reagan launched his 1980 post-convention campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site of the brutal murder of three civil rights workers in 1964. Far from being there to memorialize their martyrdom, he was there to inform whites that he was on their side, using the coded language of states’ rights. The person who arranged this visit was Republican operative Paul Manafort, who would serve the Trump campaign until his Russian connections made it too problematic for him to continue in that role. His place in Republican politics from Reagan to Trump reflects a white nativism that has, arguably, defined the party ever since the implementation of the Southern strategy. It led to recurrently stoking racial fears and antagonisms, as with Lee Atwater’s Willie Horton (a convicted murderer who went on a crime spree while on furlough) television advertisements on behalf of his boss, George H. W. Bush. (Kivisto, 91f)

The bodies of slain civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner lie in an earthen dam June, 1964 just southwest of Philadelphia, Mississippi. — The Intercept

The next two historical waves are the emergence of the Christian Right and then the reaction to Barack Obama’s election. Those developments will be discussed next.


Kivisto, Peter. 2017. The Trump Phenomenon: How the Politics of Populism Won in 2016. Bingley, UK: Emerald.



2020-08-18

America’s Radical Right in Context (Lipset Revisited)

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by Neil Godfrey

S. M. Lipset

Trying to understand what is happening in the United States has led me to new areas of reading, including The Politics of Unreason: Right-Wing Extremism in America, 1790-1970 by Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab. The opening paragraph of the Preface to that book:

This particular analysis of right-wing extremism in America began to emerge in reaction to the McCarthyism of the early 1950’s. Lipset’s article attempting to place that phenomenon in a historical and sociological context was the first to apply the concept of the “radical right” to American social movements.1 That article briefly surveyed some of the earlier movements from the Know-Nothings to the Ku Klux Klan, and pointed to ways in which American values made for a greater degree of political intolerance here than in other relatively stable democratic countries. (p.xv)

1. S. M. Lipset, “The Radical Right,” British Journal of Sociology, I (June1955), pp. 176-209 . . . 

So back to the 1955 article I went as my starting point. The first part of the article posits several “sources of right-wing extremism in American society”.

Status and Class Politics

Class Politics: During periods of economic depression political movements or parties seeking economic reform, a redistribution of income, have gained the upper hand.

Status Politics: Periods of prosperity, full employment, with many able to improve their economic position, we have the rise of those seeking to preserve the status quo. As groups aspire to maintain or improve their social status conflicts ensue. Some groups feel frustrated at being excluded and others feel their status is threatened by new aspirants.

For a clear analysis of the 2016 neo-liberal context of the rise of Trump see the posts on Nancy Fraser’s article.

Enter Scapegoats

The discussion is about status politics. (Of course, in 2016 we had economic growth but at the same time many were being left behind. This was surely a significant difference from 1955.)

The political consequences of status frustrations differ considerably from those resulting from economic deprivation, in that there is no clear-cut political solution for the problem. There is little or nothing which a government can do to relieve these anxieties. It is not surprising, therefore, that the political movements which have successfully appealed to status resentments have been irrational in character, that they focus on attacking a scapegoat, which con- veniently symbolizes the threat perceived by their supporters.

Who are the scapegoats? They are ever the same . . .

Historically, in the United States, the most common scapegoats have been the minority ethnic or religious groups. Such groups have repeatedly been victims of political aggression in periods of prosperity for it is precisely in these times that status anxieties are most pressing.

Compare today, immigrants especially from the south, and Muslims.

Scapegoats: the historical pattern

Before the Civil War there was widespread anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant sentiment throughout the nation (e.g. the Know-Nothing or American Party)

Late 1880s, another period of prosperity, another anti-Catholic movement, the American Protective Association (A.P.A.).

Latter day Know-Nothingism (A.P.A.ism) in the west, was perhaps due as well to envy of the growing social and industrial strength of Catholic Americans.

In the second generation American Catholics began to attain higher industrial positions and better occupations. All through the west, they were taking their place in the professional and business world. They were among the doctors and the lawyers, the editors and the teachers of the community. Sometimes they were the leading merchants as well as the leading politicians of their locality.
(Humphrey J. Desmond, The A.P.A. Movement, 1912, pp. 9-10)

1920s saw the height of the Ku Klux Klan (the 1930s Depression saw its relative demise).

1900-12, another period of high prosperity, the Progressive Movement.

Richard Hofstadter has suggested that the movement was in large measure based on the reaction of the Protestant middle class against threats to its values and status. On one hand, the rise of the “robber barons”, the great millionaires and plutocrats of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, served to threaten the status of many old families, upper middle class Americans who had previously considered themselves the most important group in society. Their position was challenged by the appearance of the new millionaires who were able to outdo them in philanthropy and in their styles of life. On the other hand, this movement, like previous expressions of status politics, was opposed to immigration. It viewed the immigrant and the urban city machines based on immigrant support as a basic threat to American middle-class Protestant values. The Progressive movement had two scapegoats—the “plutocrat” millionaires, and the immigrants. (pp. 178f)

Lipset was able to write that protest movements arising out of economic depressions lack scapegoats. Scapegoats are attacked when people see a threat to “the American value system rather than its economy.”

And it is this concern with the protection of traditional American values that characterizes “status politics” as contrasted with the regard for jobs, cheap credit, or high farm prices, which have been the main emphasis of depression “class politics”. (179)

It is interesting to reflect on the above in the light of the more complex economic situation since 2016 and the dramatic change in economic hopes since the COVID-19 crisis in 2020.

The State of Tolerance in America

Depressingly, Lipset was able to write in 1955

The historical evidence, some of which has been cited above, indicates that, as compared to the citizens of a number of other countries, especially Great Britain and Scandinavia, Americans are not a tolerant people

Continue reading “America’s Radical Right in Context (Lipset Revisited)”


2020-06-21

245 Years of the U.S. Army

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by Neil Godfrey

I saw a tweet from the U.S. President honouring the 245th anniversary of the U.S. army. It made disturbing reading, at least for me.

“We” / “our country” = a fraction of the white population and none of the slaves or indigenous people. Ought not the birth of a nation be remembered as a collective celebration, a liberating memory for the bulk of the white population, slaves and First Nations?

.

“every milestone since”? What does it mean, exactly? I had understood that the primary reason for an army was for defence. What “milestones” in defence are we referring to here? Not long ago I wrote what an Australian history would look like if we refocused the war events so that they became paragraphs of mourning and tragedy.

Continue reading “245 Years of the U.S. Army”


2020-06-01

Feeling for the United States Right Now

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by Neil Godfrey

It doesn’t seem right to be posting about religion and politics right now. (Recent posts have been sitting in my drafts for a little while and were auto-scheduled to go live.) The news I’m seeing and hearing these past few days is giving me a feeling reminiscent to some extent of 9/11. Even though I saw 9/11 logically as a “to-be-expected” blowback from decades of U.S. policies in the Middle East that perspective did not override feelings of horror and despair for the suffering inflicted on Americans that day. The whole world for a moment was on your side.

Now you have the world’s worst pain from the coronavirus entirely as a result of failure of leadership (blaming China or WHO doesn’t cut it; other countries have not allowed the pandemic to run away anything like the way it has in the U.S.); you have 40 million unemployed; and you still have the same racist divide and nation-wide riots that I recall from the late 1960s. And just when you need a leadership to articulate the pain and frustration at the systemic racism and injustices in order to begin to unite the nation you get an ignorant bully (that’s far too mild a description – I have a hard time finding the most appropriate words) who glorifies strength and the violence of the state and frames all protesters as violent anarchists who deserve to have the dogs set on them.

To this outsider, it really looks like you are totally screwed, a failed state, even. I say that with some sense of horror and shock, not as an insult. I really hope your nation can find some way through the current polarizations and come together in a positive way.


2020-02-24

We may be paddling through a bend in the river of history

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by Neil Godfrey


2020-02-01

What I’ve Learned This Week about the U.S. and Impeachment

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by Neil Godfrey

As an Australian I am not as immersed in U.S. political news as some readers of this blog but I try to keep up with the main points that I think have some relevance for the rest of the world. A few days ago I naively posted Woops! thinking it was going to cause some sort of crisis for Trump. Naive was the word. At that time I had not fully appreciated (perhaps I had forgotten) the extent to which an impeachment process is not bound by formal judicial processes, but rather . . .

Professor and impeachment expert Michael Lawlor says that members of Congress don’t have to act anything like attorneys, judges or even jurors when investigating, authoring or considering articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

That’s because impeachment is inherently political–not legal, according to the University of New Haven associate professor of criminal justice. Lawlor explained how the law doesn’t strictly apply to impeachment via an op-ed in The News-Times on Monday.

“This is not a criminal trial,” he notes. “There need not be specific allegations at first. When articles of impeachment are considered, they need not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In fact, there is no evidentiary standard. Hearsay, conjecture, your own political instincts are all fair game. There is no appeal from your decision.”

As Law&Crime previously reported, impeachment is a quasi-legal process that only bears many striking similarities to bona fide legal inquiries largely because that’s what people, including members of Congress, think impeachment is supposed to look like–since that’s how such proceedings have often looked before. . . . 

“This is a political remedy to a political problem,” Lawlor continues. “It is a process that frustrates and confounds the best criminal defense attorneys. It is not court. You must not be distracted by legal arguments that assume trial-like procedures and standards.”

The op-ed also features a relevant quote from former president Gerald Ford–himself somewhat familiar with impeachment: “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

Kalmbacher, Colin. 2019. “Legal Expert on Impeachment: You Don’t Need ‘Specific Allegations at First,’ Hearsay Is ‘Fair Game.’” Law&Crime. October 3, 2019. https://lawandcrime.com/high-profile/legal-expert-on-impeachment-you-dont-need-specific-allegations-at-first-hearsay-is-fair-game/.

That Bolton revelation meant nothing to the realities of the process. Chomsky seems to have his head screwed on right and what he said before the Bolton news could just as well have been said afterwards:

“Don’t think it matters,” Chomsky told Law&Crime of Harvard Law Professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz’s latest bid for publicity by joining Trump’s legal team. “It’s all predictable.”

I think the impeachment process, which avoids Trump’s major crimes and keeps to the fact that he tried to harm a prominent Democrat (like Watergate), will end up being a gift to Trump and may send him back to office. A tragedy.

“The worst crimes by far are those that literally threaten human survival, not in the distant future: his policies on escalating global warming and the race to develop still more destructive weapons,” Chomsky told Law&Crime email. “But the Dems would never agree that these are ‘high crimes.’”

. . . . also said that Democratic Party leadership would never think to consider the Trump administration’s alleged human rights abuses along the U.S-Mexico border as impeachment-worthy crimes. Chomsky said that the situation was the “same” regarding Trump’s arguably unlawful use of military force against sovereign nations in the Middle East.

“How could the Dems regard it as ‘high crimes’ to carry out more deportations than any predecessor and a global assassination campaign of unprecedented scale?” Chomsky asked out loud—referencing the immigration and national security apparatuses and policies put into place by former president Barack Obama and taken to their logical extreme by Trump.

“Same as Watergate,” Chomsky explained. “There was an attempt, by Robert Drinan, to include [Richard] Nixon‘s real crimes, like the bombing of Cambodia, in the bill of impeachment, but that was cut out and the focus was on an attack on Democrats, much as today.”

Rev. Drinan was a prominent Jesuit priest, leftist, anti-war activist and Democratic Party representative from Massachusetts who drafted and introduced the original resolution calling for Nixon’s impeachment in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1973. Ultimately frustrated by liberal members of his own party, Drinan’s language regarding Nixon’s secret and unlawful bombing of Cambodia was swapped out for the Watergate charges.

“Can we be silent about this flagrant violation of the Constitution?” Father Drinan asked his liberal colleagues at the time. “Can we impeach a president for concealing a burglary but not for concealing a massive bombing?”

House Democrats answered that question in the affirmative—setting a behavioral precedent and squeamishness with criticizing war-making that has continued to the present day.

“The message appears to be the same: a real crime is attacking the powerful,” Chomsky continued. “It’s okay to murder [Black Panther leader] Fred Hampton (or any number of Cambodians, etc.), or to send children to concentration camps, and all the rest. But not to undermine those with power here.”

Chomsky’s impeachment-focused comments are in keeping with his prior public statements about the Democratic Party’s prior single-minded focus on the ultimately ineffectual Robert Mueller investigation.

“The Democrats invested everything in this issue,” Chomsky said at a forum with progressive radio host Amy Goodman in April of last year. “Well, turned out there was nothing much there. They gave Trump a huge gift. In fact, they may have handed him the next election…That’s a matter of being so unwilling to deal with fundamental issues, that they’re looking for something on the side that will somehow give political success.”

Kalmbacher, Colin. 2020. “Noam Chomsky Torches Democrats’ Narrow Trump Impeachment: ‘A Tragedy’ That ‘May Send Him Back to Office.’” Law&Crime. January 21, 2020. https://lawandcrime.com/high-profile/noam-chomsky-torches-democrats-narrow-trump-impeachment-a-tragedy-that-may-send-him-back-to-office/.

So predictable, as he said:

Barring a lightning strike or some other miracle, the impeachment process is all done but for the final, predictable votes.

It has been a cringe-worthy process that almost certainly has further deepened divisions. The Republican Senate majority has shown its willingness to follow party loyalty right out the window, throwing out a truckload of traditional values.

Do we believe in fairness, in truth, in fact?

The trial process put forth zany legal arguments seemingly spun of whole cloth to protect Donald Trump. So what about the radical reinterpretation of the Constitution’s division of governmental responsibilities? Who cares about the simple understanding that doing bad is something to be excised and punished?

Do we really accept that a president, particularly one who has made self-aggrandizement a hallmark, can do anything to get re-elected? Is it “in the public interest” as proclaimed by presidential defender Alan Dershowitz?

. . . . L’etat, c’est Trump.

Schwadron, Terry H. 2020. “Now We Know What Trump Really Thinks of Us.” DCReport.Org (blog). January 31, 2020. https://www.dcreport.org/2020/01/31/now-we-know-what-trump-really-thinks-of-us/.

And here was me thinking the Bolton news was going to at least bring about some pause towards the “predictable end”.

It’s a worry. I have been doing lots of reading lately related to ancient history so what I’m seeing happen now between Trump and the Senate carries a strange echo of another time when a Roman Senate cowered before Augustus Caesar, yielding all power to him through flattery and a pretence of a restoration of republican values. But those Senators had an excuse. They knew the consequences of disloyalty to the imperator could be lethal.


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/