Category Archives: Essays

Essays

Americans Are Being Played

GOP political strategists are good at what they do and they have been at it for at least four decades culminating with our forty-fifth president.

Lee Atwater is credited with coining the phrase “Perception is reality” back when Michael Dukakis fell to the Willie Horton weak on crime meme.  Atwater worked with Karl Rove, Paul Manifort, and Roger Stone who devised a set of strategies that have given the GOP a lock on winning elections across America. This is not a conspiracy theory, it’s crafty application of combative propaganda techniques in a political culture where winning is the only option and nobody who counts cares how it’s accomplished.

Here’s how perception is manipulated to play the media and the American people, to game our democratic systems, and to get a lock on the levers of power.

Lies to Truth in Ten Steps

Here is Robert Reich breaking down the steps:

It is a progression that muddles people’s ability to distinguish truth by creating an illusion that many people accept and believe what started as an easily disproven lie.  Lie … disputed fact … partisan divide … alternative fact.  When people rely on what they think others find credible perception shifts. Truth becomes a perception and not a rational assessment made by weighing the evidence.

Gaming The Media

Manipulating the media has become a profession in our age of ratings and for-profit news coverage. Keeping the numbers up is a survival issue for print, radio, and TV.  Fox News has demonstrated that news as entertainment captures and holds audiences. Outrage and drama fuel good ratings. Authenticity, fact, and nuance – not so much. Here is Reich again to illustrate how deception can prevail even with the best efforts of our free and independent press.

By creating the perception that the media is unfair and biased, all criticism becomes suspect allowing bold lies to persist.

It is no accident that public funds for non-commercial radio and television have been cut by GOP legislation. It’s also intentional that Sinclair Broadcasting has been allowed to acquire rural radio stations across the nation. Control of the media is control of perception.

Fostering Corrosive Doubts and Fears

Doubt and fear fog the intellect and cause humans to fall back on more primitive coping mechanisms.  This opportunity is exploited by human predators to get over on others.  Sociopaths and domestic abusers commonly “Gaslight” victims using the tactics Robert Reich attributes to Authoritarianism in this clip:

The Impact on Individual Perception

The effect of all of these tactics is very personal. By messing with our perceptions, by playing us, our mood and our general outlook is altered.  In this last clip Reich characterizes four syndromes…

Robert Reich is a gifted teacher and an experienced political insider who is very self-aware and who now has a large following of youthful progressives. He is doing great work to show what’s behind the curtain in the political theater we are bombarded with daily. He’s worth following on social media.

Liberal Agenda vs. Conservative Agenda

Cultural identity — or,  more accurately, an existential fear that white privilege and culture may cease to exist in an increasingly multicultural society, is the gut issue driving radical conservative politics. The “Liberal Agenda“, any way you choose to define it, does not allay that fear – in fact, it stokes it.

Frank Bruni, the NY Times columnist, interviewed Ann Coulter, a Fox News commentator and outspoken Trump advocate. She expresses disillusion with Trump’s failure to move his border wall forward. The wall is one huge symbol of preserving the sort of national purity that Coulter desires.

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Read the full interview here – (click)

The willingness of evangelicals to forsake the most basic of Christian values is also rooted in white cultural identity fears.  The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary says:

The “value proposition” displayed by white evangelicals in the 2016 election, and the definition of what constitutes “moral values” and what doesn’t, is inextricably related to the nation’s upcoming demographic shift—the fact that, by the year 2044, the United States is expected to become majority nonwhite. This has significant implications for the wider faith community regarding issues of race. Much more may be at stake than the leader of the Christian foundation was able or willing to recognize.

Here Douglas refers to the leader of a Christian foundation who explained his support of Trump by saying:

… he told me to consider the “moral values”—such as pro-life concerns—that he said prompted, if not demanded, white evangelical support of Donald Trump’s candidacy.

Douglas argues that the evangelicals are heirs to Puritan beliefs:

… the Puritans and Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic with a vision to build a nation that was politically and culturally—if not demographically—true to their “exceptional” Anglo-Saxon heritage.They saw this as a divine vision.

They traced their Anglo-Saxon heritage through the ancient woods of Germany back to the Bible. They considered themselves the “new Israelites,” carrying forth a godly mission. Central to this mission was building not simply an Anglo-Saxon nation but a religious nation—one that reflected the morals and virtues of God, which in their minds were synonymous with the unsullied ways of their freedom-loving Anglo-Saxon ancestors. “The Lord will make [America] a city upon a hill,” Puritan leader John Winthrop preached in 1630, “[with] the eyes of all people upon us.” [Read the full Douglas article here – (click).]

President Ronald Regan spoke of America’s Capitalist Democracy in similar terms, though I hesitate to suggest that he or his speechwriter made the connection.  But the notion that America is set apart and above those outside its boundaries is clear.

Dave Shelman, in a letter to the editor of Sojourner Magazine, cautiously observed striking similarities between the Christian support of Hitler and of Trump:

… particularly the ease with which evangelical Christians, in America today and in Germany then, accepted populist movements and their nationalistic programs. In both cases, the populist forces were able to exploit societal anxieties and make a sentimental appeal to a cultural form of Christianity that served its purposes.

The slogan of the Nazified German Christians was “Germany our goal, Christ our power!” Based on a distorted interpretation of Lutheran theology, a group of theologians at the time issued a document, known as the Ansbacher Ratschlag, opposing the Barmen Declaration. It was addressed to the National Socialist Evangelical Union of Pastors and included this statement: “… we as believing Christians thank the Lord God that in this hour of need he has given our people the Fuhrer as a ‘good and faithful sovereign,’ and that in the Nationalistic Socialist state he is endeavoring to provide us with disciplined and honorable ‘good government.’” This distant mirror of attitudes—and even words—that are with us today should give Christians great concern. The vulnerability of the American church did not come about in the presidential election of November 2016. The present political quagmire has only exposed it.

Understanding and taking seriously cultural identity fear is key to understanding why radical conservatives are refractory to reasoned arguments and willing to subordinate their basic morality values for a powerful champion who says he’s with them.  It’s about the survival of their personal identity myth.

There are human needs that take on an importance greater than life itself as Paul Chappell asserts when he enumerates the needs that Maslow overlooked.  A person’s life and identity are inseparable from the quest to meet these needs. When frustrated, bad behavior happens.

We bond and identify with others to fulfill these needs, and once we bond our values are profoundly intertwined with our social affiliation.  Certain conditions foster bonds.

When I consider these factors it’s easier to understand how a group that is bonded by a shared extreme belief becomes refractory to any contrary evidence.  When all of those you count as friends are bonded by a shared orthodoxy,  it takes super-human self-assurance and courage to break away no matter how implausibly warped the shared perception is. Reality doesn’t change the belief that bonds.

Denial, selective listening, strategic lying, and many other self-destructive (soul-destructive?) behaviors are understandable when seen in this frame.


Post Script

Here is a TED talk where an ex-skinhead reveals what got him into the movement, and what got him out of it.  I think it confirms what I’ve said above. Perhaps it also points to the resolution of our differences.

 

 

Gun Humor … HUMOR??

The wonderful and inspiring activism of the Parkland HS students has engendered an ongoing dialog in social media between gun enthusiasts and those who want guns regulated or banned.  Netflix did a special featuring comedian Jim Jefferies.

Watch it here …

And the second part …

 

Jeffries confronts the faulty logic and lapsed common sense of many pro-gun arguments.  Perhaps humor is the best way to do this.

 

It’s “Freedom’s Safest Place.”  [NRA video theme]

Maybe they are afraid.

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Useful Scoundrels?

Does the end justify the means?  Can a scoundrel serve a good purpose? Many great dramas have been written and filmed around these great questions. Some politicians’ actions say that their personal answer to both questions is “yes.”
Here’s an analysis of that phenomenon: The Scoundrel Theory.
Here are some more perceptive articles.
Rolling Stone Magazine: “Trump’s Republican Party has taken on the attributes of a cult” – Sean Wilentz
Time Magazine: “Unifying values, around speech and civility, freedom and fairness are shredded by rising tribal furies and passions. We have a president for whom division is not just a strategy, it’s a skill.” — Nancy Gibbs [Former Editor and Chief].
NY Times: “The Republican Party is doing harm to every cause it purports to serve.” – David Brooks.
We are in a time when our fundamental ethics and mores are being called into question.  What exactly is the “American Way” these days?

The Blacksmith Metaphor

Iron and steel can be shaped and hardened into durable implements with fire and repeated blows. Maybe the “heat” generated in our turbulent society will allow us to shape it for the better. It’s up to those who love peace to stay engaged lest others forge only weapons, chains, and shackles.

The durable metal [mettle?] of American Individualism and independence needs tempering with compassion and stewardship for the common good. It’s about having integrity as an inclusive and beloved community. Can that vision be forged from the base metal of predatory self-interest? How much heat and how many blows are necessary?

[photo: Shutterstock]

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 Thanks to George Lakey for the metaphor of heat softening the metal so that it can be worked and shaped. The song “If I had a hammer” comes to mind.

Beware The Ides of March

There is a Twitter protest (#idesofmarch, #idesoftrump) which suggests that angry citizens deluge the White House with postcards on March 15th.  Julius Caesar was assassinated on that day in 44BC as we remember from Shakespeare’s play in which a soothsayer warns the emperor, “Beware the ides of March.”

 

This is a really bad idea for several reasons. No good purpose would be served by such an action. We already know that the 45th president has a very thin skin, and would react badly with the attendant storm of press commentary.  He uses the drama of such moments to cover actions that he doesn’t want headlined, and the press obliges in the interest of keeping ratings and circulation up.   

 

The act itself is purely rage – an act of hate and cruelty toward someone who evidently can’t help himself and may be mentally ill. “Darkness can not drive out darkness, only light can,” as Martin Luther King famously said. We may be furious with 45’s actions and words, but we must respond with clarity and with words and deeds that promote resolution. Our outrage must be channeled to influence our government representatives positively. They are beginning to see that the game has changed, and that the Trumpists (19% of people eligible to vote) will not suffice to reelect them if the other 80% is mad as hell and organized.

 

President Trump prides himself on counter punching. His instinct, when attacked, is to attack back. I know of no instance where he has paused and looked inward when confronted. In fact he wants the world to see him that way. Much to the dismay of his would-be political handlers, he strikes out on twitter and in public discourse.

 

He does understand leverage and power.  The real leverage he respects is the 2018 election, and a congress that

Rep Contact Info
LWV page to find contact information for elected representatives.

balks because so many of their constituents oppose his policies.

Many of my friends are engaged in issue specific calls, visits, and letters to their elected representatives. This is how and where to strike back. Get the contact information for all of your elected representatives at this League of Women Voters site:

http://hq-salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/5950/getLocal.jsp

Check out the Indivisible Guide written by congressional staffers about how to influence your elected officials:

https://www.indivisibleguide.com

Sending nasty postcards to the White House will squander your time plus half a dollar’s worth of postage and postcard. Worse, in doing it we become that evil we hate. It is essentially a personal attack, a publicity stunt, … exactly the behavior we deplore in our 45th President.

The “Welfare” Mentality?

Some people see an injustice in our tax system because they see it as stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. They resent “Confiscatory” taxes — those they pay for the benefit of others that they don’t think they should be forced to subsidize.  They resent public spending on welfare of all kinds: unemployment benefits, public education, parks and recreation, … it’s a long list.

Libertarians are often the most outspoken critics. And the GOP, enabled by the Trump administration, is likely to savagely gut existing programs.  The American Dream is predicated on a healthy work ethic.  Hard work, thrift, and personal sacrifice in the early lean years are rewarded by abundance and leisure later on. Continue reading The “Welfare” Mentality?

The “Angry Man” Has Spoken

You’ve gotten viral email like this.  The vertical bars in the left margin signify that it has been copied and forwarded at least eight times. It resonated with many people who wanted to share it with their friends because it says something they wish everyone got and understood.  I’m posting it because it reveals a lot about how Donald Trump won the hearts and minds of so many who venerate the “Angry Man” in America. (Don’t trouble to read the tiny print of the image, I’ve quoted it all below.) Continue reading The “Angry Man” Has Spoken