Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Fellow Travelers

Just like covert fascists prefer to refer to themselves as the "alt-right,” clandestine libertarians identify themselves “centrists.” This is because they are very well aware that libertarians are seen as callous assholes and annoying Ayn Randroids,(1) so obviously they do not want to claim or carry that unattractive baggage.  Alas, the luggage tags have their names clearly marked.

There’s really no denying it. When they say "I’m a fiscal conservative, but a social liberal,” they are basically admitting they are libertarians, because that shorthand is their shared notion of sensible, superior thinking. Thus, these self-anointed "grown ups” are often adherents of the most painfully adolescent economic philosophy ever conceived.

Both libertarians and centrists are toxic byproducts of the 1990s. Yes, they existed before then, but the 90s was when they really arrived. That’s when these fringe philosophies infected the zeitgeist in earnest and dominated political thought. My point is that such dumb, utterly debunked conventional wisdom is conspicuously 1990s. And it not just dated: It was never a good look to begin with.

Remember the 1990s? Few centrists do. Certainly Clintonistas are too beclouded by nostalgia to acknowledge that the Clintons had enthusiastically joined Newt Gingrich in dismantling the achievements the New Deal and the Great Society. They ignore or rationalize Bill Clinton’s record just as they do his sexual assaults. (Remember when we called them peccadilloes?) They spin a litany of his travesties: The racist dog whistles, Welfare Reform, DOMA, DADT, NAFTA, the Crime Bill, you name it. In every instance, they insist Clinton’s hand was forced to by Gingrich or "the times.” But how can you possibly be nostalgic about those times if they forced such a good man do so many terrible things? JFK’s Camelot was never so compromised.

Never mind Bill’s record as Governor of Arkansas where he coddled corporations and betrayed teachers unions. Never mind he ran for president as a "New Democrat” and what that meant – an explicit repudiation of the party’s legacy. A 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign spot opened by crowing, "There's a new generation of Democrats - Bill Clinton and Al Gore. And they don't think the way the old Democratic Party did." (In other words, like liberals.) The ad next gave a list of of conservative positions they endorsed from welfare reform to the death penalty to slashing the budget. Washington did not break Bill Clinton's liberal spirit or force errors: He went to Washington promising to do these things. What followed was a bipartisan orgy of privatization with Bill and Newt trying to outdo one other. In politics, it's called stealing your opponent's thunder.

Not how you recall it? Well, consider this tidbit in the centrist Washington Monthly back in 1995: "I've never seen anything like this," marvel[ed] Bob Poole, chairman of the libertarian Reason Foundation. "It's a contest to see who can privatize better and faster."(2) That was not a leftist criticizing Bill Clinton, but a prominent libertarian celebrating the situation.

That was the Nineties in a nutshell: That was centrist consensus. Apologists call it "the times,” as if it were just something in the water. But it was a well-financed ideology pushed by the worst people inside the Democratic Party since the 1970s. Some well-intentioned centrists may have absorbed this pro-corporate libertarianism by osmosis, but it is in their bloodstream now. Everyone mocking Bernie Sanders’ policy proposals as "ponies” has drunk the Kool Aid one way or another because such "ponies" were mainstream Democratic polices in the 1960s.

Sure, libertarians and centrists mock each another, but this is little more than petty sibling rivalry. It’s superficial rather than substantive. It has the taint of people who instantly dislike one another because they are too much alike and loathe to admit it. To each, the other is an unflattering photograph. The passport photos of these fellow travelers are strikingly similar.

Their charade is similar to the Conservative Citizens Council’s. The CCC is the genteel KKK. They are often called the “uptown Klan” who “wear suits instead of sheets.” But, in this instance, centrists are genteel libertarians trying to skirt the stigma: They are anti-government without the vulgar trappings and excesses of survivalist gun culture. Many of them may be pro-gun control, but their unthinking lust to slash taxes and privatize every government function knows no bounds. On the goal of “devolving” federal power to the states, they are of one mind. Hence, Welfare Reform which turned food stamps into block grants to the states to dispense as miserly as they liked.

See also the corporate press’ longstanding fawning over Ayn Rand fan Paul Ryan. They have repeatedly painted him as a serious, courageous expert on the budget. This portrayal was routine in allegedly liberal newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post. That example encapsulates the establishment quite nicely. It’s a water sample of our polluted political river systems. And, like fish, we can’t seem to see what we are swimming in.

Today, most Democrats see Paul Ryan for the Scrooge that he is; but that’s no thanks to “serious” establishment opinion. Progressives had his number from the start. It’s one of many things we were ahead of the curve on. The War on Terror was another. Perhaps we should stop listening to the Very Serious People who are always wrong. But I digress. My point here is the centrist establishment shamelessly promoted a transparently callous libertarian fuckwit.

Centrists may see themselves as compassionate “bleeding heart liberals,” but their hearts bleed like stones if any social problem costs money to fix or any social program inconveniences business interests in any way. To them, raising taxes is always the greatest evil. But talk is cheap, so giving lectures always appeals to their penny wise but pound foolish sense of fiscal responsibility.

When centrists say we can’t have nice things because of conservatives, they are actually blaming conservatives for their reluctance to fight conservatives. They are basically saying, “We cannot fight our opponents because they will oppose us.” Of course, they oppose us even when we don’t fight them. Strange. It’s almost as if we run against each other in elections every few years. Who knew?

The upshot of this defeatist thinking is obvious. Progressive programs are dismissed as non-starters and manifestly reactionary scams like privatization and charter schools are accepted as inevitable – if not hailed as exciting and innovative.

Other obscene upshots are also predictable. Since centrists are enthusiastic about lecturing others but reluctant to fight or even contradict conservatives; their joining conservatives in scolding the poor about personal responsibility should come as no surprise. As I mentioned before, Nicolas Kristof loves to do that. And the Clintons rolled out Welfare Reform with lots of tough love rhetoric.

Another thing I mentioned before was my suspicion that the Dunning-Kruger effect applies to compassion as well as competence: The least kind and caring people tend to think they are the most kind and caring – hence obvious oxymorons like “compassionate conservative” that get bandied about by those who feel they have already done plenty.(3) By contrast, those who actually do the most often feel like slackers and are tortured by the thought that they could do more. Therefore, the former feel complacency and the later feel inadequacy. Could this smug, callous self-delusion also apply to conservative-coddling centrists? The answer may shock you.

When push comes to shove, there is not much daylight between the white suburban matron in the pants suit and the white suburban spoiled boy in the twilby. Both are sheltered and too easily seduced by the word “entrepreneur.” Both have turned the work ethic into a work fetish – or at least weaponized it for rhetorical purposes against the working class who know far more about hard work.

The pants suit and twilby inhabitants may mock each another with regularity but they both enjoy hippie-punching and they reliably rally under their shared monarchist-white banner emblazoned with the motto “ME & MINE!” in gilded stitches.

They are the best of frenemies.

1) The term “Randroids” has been shamelessly stolen from Robert Anton Wilson’s Natural Law: Or Don’t Put a Rubber on Your Willie (Port Townsend, WA: Loompanics Unlimited, 1987), 56.

2) I should point out that the Washington Monthly is pretty decent for a centrist publication. As I wrote before, they supported single payer back in the 1990s, so I give them props for that. 

But the privatization article I linked to was not anti-privatization per se. It simply was pointing out the risks. Likewise, during the same period, the Washington Monthly had a cover story called "Downsizing: Is it Aimed at the Right Targets? The Promise and Peril of the Hottest Trend in American Business and Government." The cover showed a man with a big archery target on his chest. The thrust of such articles is not to decry these practices as callous or immoral but to say that there is a smart way and a dumb way to execute them.

3) I devoted a whole chapter of my book, 
Conservatism is Un-American & Other Self-Evident Truths, to the argument that compassion is essentially patriotism and vital to healthy civic activity. In that chapter, “Liberty, Equality, and Empathy,” I kept returning to Arthur C. Brooks’ outrageously dishonest book, Who Really Cares? The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism, which uses doctored data to argue that conservatives are more charitable than liberals.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Ineffective Interference

Let's alienate almost everybody on both sides of the Democratic Party divide.

So, this interesting meme reappeared on my radar and got me thinking. Tangents ensued, as they usually do. And after mulling over the past three years' electoral shenanigans, i
t occurred to me that the Russian government’s interference with the general election is a lot like the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) interference with the party's primary. In both cases, evidence of outside intrigue had mounted from possible to probable to proven. But in both cases, I also question these efforts’ effectiveness. It’s highly unlikely they swung the results in either the primaries or the general election. Other factors probably had more impact.

Yet, at the same time, such interference should be prosecuted lest it set a bad precedent. The incompetent burglar you find tangled in your garden hose below your kitchen window should still get arrested even though the other burglar got away with your stuff. Both should be arrested.

The Cliff Notes version is this:

While the DNC definitely had its thumb on the scale for Clinton, I think the corporate media's ignoring Sanders for the first half of the primary was far more decisive. Sanders' biggest problem was exposure and the only thing the DNC could do about that was limit the number of debates.

And while the Russians definitely spread disinformation, their influence was likely slight in comparison with Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, etc. Fake News is nothing new, and exaggerating the impact of Russian and other foreign trolls diminishes the impact of American trolls, not to mention that you can find more English-fluent shit-heads in Virginia than in Macedonia.

We have serious systemic
 problems in this country - especially in the media. We must face them.

So, that's the short version. The detailed, linked, and footnoted one follows under the cut.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Forever Forgiving Villains

Happy Halloween! 

George W. Bush's political rehabilitation is already in full swing, but I think it's a bit premature. I mean, shit and grits! You are not even waiting until he is dead. That's when we traditionally forgive turds.

Sure, Trump is terrible. I agree and understand that you are upset. But let's have some perspective here. Trump hasn't racked up W.'s body count just yet. Although, according to the corporate press, ordering air strikes are what make such obvious buffoons "presidential."

Seriously, even Trump has benefited from this jingoistic media tradition when he bombed Syria. The most macho adolescent power fantasy associated with the office of the presidency confers instant gravitas and maturity in pundit opinion.  You can be the most tantrum-y geriatric baby-man and the press will present the decision as a coming-of-age story of how you grew into the role to truly become president. The exact same thing happened with George W. Bush, remember? Have you already forgotten?

This centrist revisionism prizes bipartisanship over human lives. It's a prefect storm of treacle, desperation, and gnat-like attentions spans. Despite their fetish for pragmatism, centrists decide things emotionally with no eye on the horizon or concept of consequences, whether logical or ethical.(1)

Recently, "Dubyuh" - or as Molly Ivins often called him "Shrub" - delivered an obviously ghost-written speech and somehow managed not to garble it. Since it was filled with indirect, subtle criticisms of Trump, hosannas for Shrub's humanity and wisdom echoed across the commentariat. WaPo provided a largely laudatory and uncritical(2) annotated transcript of his speech - which was helpful to anyone who has woken from a coma recently. Still, I appreciate the transcript itself since it is infinitely heckle-worthy:

"Yet for years, challenges have been gathering to the principles we hold dear."
Like not using torture? 

"[Y]et seem to be losing confidence in their own calling and competence."
"Heckuva job, Brownie!" 

"We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism"
That's what nationalism is, idiot. 

"Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone"
Did "Turd Blossom" write that line for you?(3)

"The Prague Charter, signed by champions of liberty ..."

I am certainly not the first to express outrage. And others have done a far better job than I ever could. Corey Robin predicted we would reach this point with Trump and recently claimed we already have

Corey Robin is correct in saying that tomorrow's Trump will become today's Bush. Tom Tomorrow has acknowledged this possibility as well. This is not denying things are getting worse but the total opposite. The point is they are getting worse precisely because our rose-colored nostalgia normalizes past monsters, giving future monsters more latitude, culturally as well as legally. Think how Obama's failure to prosecute Bush's torturers strengthens Trump's hand today.

This mercurial and unprincipled conservative-coddling has got to stop. Yes, we live in tumultuous times where previous certainties are routinely shattered. But this predilection is not a reflection of the times but of a longstanding centrist tradition(4) if not moronic motor memory.

Remember how quickly James Comney flipped from villain to hero by defying Donald Trump? Here's how Harvey Weinsten rehabilitates his image: 1) Become a Republican politician or pundit (perhaps like former Clinton pollster Dick Morris), 2) Thumb your nose at Trump on the way out the door, and 3) Bathe in instant forgiveness from the centrist chattering class.

Why not? It worked for everyone from Megyn Kelly to Jeff Flake. 

I can understand the premise of rewarding rare good behavior to reform an ogre, but this reflexive sympathy is hardly strategy. After all, the beneficiaries are either retiring or already-retired. From a cost-benefit analysis, this does not seem especially fruitful. For one thing, there’s the laughable fantasy that these reactionaries are actually reflecting and defecting. They are not. For another, there is the doomed hope that if the figure’s conservative credentials are sterling, this will encourage other conservatives to follow suit. It won’t. Either they will disbelieve the event or shun the traitor for breaking rank.(5) And how courageous is it to blast Trump while retiring? Indeed, Jeff Flake's departure quite likely helps the GOP hold onto his Senate seat. What the hell are we celebrating?

In short, free forgiveness doesn't accomplish anything beyond feeling sanctimonious and magnanimous. It's just a feel-good ritual that re-advertises that we are saps.(6) 

Worse, it's a systemic sickness that normalizes monsters, corrupts our judgment, and further diminishes our already dismal international standing. And, if you think that’s hyperbole, remember this: Just last year, Hillary Clinton praised Henry Kissinger in the Democratic Party primary debates(!) Note that I italicized two surprises. If Josef Mengele were a registered Republican, centrists would find something nice to say about him. Kissinger is a war criminal who cannot travel abroad for fear of being extradited to stand trial. Of course, George W. Bush had to cancel a trip to Switzerland for similar concerns

What does this ingrained tendency tell the world about our moral authority? Nothing they don't already know. Nothing that praising George W. Bush recently has not reconfirmed once again.

Richard Nixon's blood-soaked Secretary of State should be shunned by both parties, not hailed as a respected exemplar of statecraft. Similarly, Shrub doesn't deserve all the hugs and petting he is getting.

It's something to contemplate on this next Day of the Dead.

EDIT 03/05/18:

Anthony Bourdain said something about Henry Kissinger which aptly sums up our vacuous callousness. It may sound like an adolescent cri de coeur, but it it grounded on acknowledging horrific historical facts that self-anointed "grown ups" studiously ignore - thereby abdicating any claim to be adults:
Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands. You will never again be able to open a newspaper and read about that treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag sitting down for a nice chat with Charlie Rose or attending some black-tie affair for a new glossy magazine without choking. Witness what Henry did in Cambodia – the fruits of his genius for statesmanship – and you will never understand why he’s not sitting in the dock at The Hague next to Milošević. 
Bourdain righteously stands by his comment. All America's rhetoric about human rights and being a nation of laws is hollow posturing as long as Kissinger walks free. I expect such unconscionable humbug from conservatives, but it is exponentially more outrageous coming from supposed "liberals." An actual adult would not accept such corrupt outcomes and ask what can be done to avoid more of them. Instead, centrists celebrate them and their architects as serious thinkers.


1) For example, they yearn to impeach Trump without considering the dangers of  a President Pence. That tantalizing prospect eclipses all other considerations. And how wise was it for Hillary Clinton to petulantly flip off progressives by picking Tim Kaine as VP? As I blogged at the time, not only would tapping Sanders or Warren have improved party unity and generated much needed enthusiasm, it would have been pretty decent impeachment insurance. Because you know that if the GOP held Congress, they would impeach Clinton on day one, with or without cause - UNLESS a genuine progressive was waiting in the wings.

2) They could not help making one superficial barb, but politely ignored more important points. It opened noting, "George W. Bush delivered an unexpected and rather eloquent speech." Yes, eloquence is indeed unexpected from the president who spoke of putting "food on your family."

3) This is, after all, a man who as Governor of Texas mocked a woman he was about to execute. But, you know, maybe he grew by becoming president. The presidency isn't therapy, people. If it is, it's the most expensive therapy in existence and we cannot afford it. But I love how bipartisanship-fetishists are oblivious to their own logic. If power mellows awful people, it doesn't matter who we elect because they will get help and grow in the role. In the words of Voltaire's Candide, "It's all for the best."

4) According to popular lore, Robert Frost once quipped, "A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel." Of course, such people stopped calling themselves liberals around 1988 after Michael Dukakis was tarred as an "ACLU card-carrying liberal." (Forget Dukakis' manifestly centrist economics.) Frost's alleged caricature was of someone too neutral to defend himself, but the current incarnation is quite different. This political specimen is not neutral at all. He is quick to defend conservatives and is always hot to assault his own side - so much so that it is not unreasonable to ask what side he is really on. Indeed, his unreasoning zeal seems downright ... partisan. Either the type Frost once described has devolved or a crop of conservative doppelgangers have emerged to exploit this unique weakness. It’s probably a combination of both, but the upshot is the promotion and proliferation of the professional anti-liberal “liberal” who sabotages Democrats and dominates opinion pages today.

5) Why? Because “principled conservatives” are tiny minority. This is in part because the phrase is an oxymoron, but also because it is very generous to call tribal authoritarianism an ideology. It’s not. It’s just a crude animus. All the rank-and-file conservative wants is a pecking order and an enemy and they are happy. Trump gives them what they want without any boring, abstract egg-headed complexity. If forced to choose, they will assume the conservative ideologue is untrustworthy because any intellectuality is suspect, whether it's artificial or actual. William Kristol (a.k.a. "Dan Quayle's Brain") praising Sarah Palin only goes so far. In the end, "Never Trump" Republicans proved politically impotent.

6) Of course, this is childish nonsense to self-proclaimed "realists" who also insist campaign donations do not impact policy making and fret that saying any different is civically poisonous "cynicism." I may be biased, but I think those labels are mis-pinned on the opposite parties.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Skin and the Game

Okay, so it's no real secret that I am a big David Simon fan. I cite both "The Wire" and "Treme" in my book's chapter "Liberty, Equality, and Empathy: How Compassion Holds the Tripod Together." And I have quoted him quite admiringly in this very blog. Full disclosure: I did get into it with him a little bit recently, but it had not dimmed my respect any.

But I was stunned when I read this article on David Simon's and George Pelecanos' next TV series, "The Duce," which is about the birth of the porn film industry in the 1970s. Their unexpectedly facile analysis of pornography and misogyny almost sounds like Andrea Dworkin or Catharine A. MacKinnon. 

I'm pretty sure the lion's share of blame for misogyny goes to countless centuries of patriarchy and not four decades of adult cinema. And I think the tragedy is not that things are getting worse but that they are not getting better fast enough - that, in 2017, we are still dealing with a host of stubborn old problems. But the nostalgic notion that things have been deteriorating for nearly fifty years is totally Borkian.

Let me put my largely generational biases on the table before I go on any further.

First, as a student of history, I am acutely skeptical of any "good old days" claims. There are exceptions, of course: For example, we were indisputably better off under Keynesian economics when unions were stronger. And America was more secular in the revolutionary era than in most subsequent periods. (The Enlightenment was fairly feminist as well.) Backlashes happen and they are frustrating, but they are rarely entirely successful at turning back the clock. And if we are talking about social issues in the modern era, we have more wins than losses. We elected a black president twice and gay marriage is the law of the land.

Second, I'm an artist and thus visually-oriented. Granted, my career path of drinking wine and drawing naked ladies fell through, for now. (I will retry the 
Peter Falk retirement plan again later.) But, as a Gen-Xer, I remember the searing stupidity of the 1980s porn wars and the idea that looking is inherently violent and exploitative. That curious crusade almost crippled feminism by making it actually ally with Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.(1) This helped reactionaries reinvent themselves as rebels, and conservatives have been pretending to be edgy libertarians ever since. Another result was it became harder to call yourself a feminist. You needed defensive qualifications, so it became easier for most people to just drop the label.(2) Second Wavers took feminism down the rabbit hole in the 1980s, requiring sex-positive Third Wavers to rescue it in the late 1990s. It proved, once again, that there is no cause so righteous or any grievance so legitimate that Baby Boomers cannot easily derail it.

Third, Simon's and Pelecanos' poor phrasing smacks of Boomers' hypocritically scolding every subsequent generation while white-washing their lurid youth. In the 1980s, the aptly-named Me Generation fused Ayn Rand with Christian fundamentalism and borgarted "sex, drugs, and rock and roll" by declaring the party over. There were other contributing factors to be sure: The HIV-AIDS retrovirus had a chilling effect. But the backlash did not limit itself to sex. Every urban legend and half-baked crusade got a respectful hearing. Did heavy metal music cause Satanism? Did playing Dungeons and Dragons cause teen suicide? That last lunacy got indulgent coverage by CBS's venerable "60 Minutes." Yes, let's blame rap music for all those nonexistent super-predators.(3) In sum, no excuse for yet another anti-youth crackdown was considered too absurd to promote. Vilifying kids was in and witch hunts made excellent television.

Long story short, I remember my parents and their peers and I am not particularly impressed with their moral authority or their memory.(4) So, I may be overreacting; but I am pretty sure I have heard numerous covers of this familiar tune about today's brutal youth and coarsening mores.

Now that that seductive aside has been dispatched, let's get back to the less sexy topic of pornography.

The reactionary myth that women were treated better fifty years ago is perennial favorite, but the historical record shows the opposite. In old movies, it was common to see women getting "some sense slapped into them" and it was something the audience was supposed to applaud or laugh at. And the abuse came from the heroes as well as the villains. Think of Steve McQueen or Sean Connery, both on-screen and off. In the television show "The Honeymooners," Ralph threatening to sock Alice "to the moon" was a running gag turned into a song. This behavior was not just condoned but encouraged. We clearly have a long ways to go, but I cannot imagine a network sitcom getting away with this shit today.

Is there misogyny in some porn? Of course! There is misogyny in everything because we live in a patriarchy. Why is misogyny invisible unless nipples are visible? Don't blame the nipples. Yes, you can point to horrific content out there; but it looks like what's in the preceding paragraph only with nudity added.(5) Nudity is not the problem, but it is absurdly easy to claim that it is and still be taken seriously.

I know the show's creators primarily blame capitalism, but their rhetoric sounds a lot like that used by cultural conservatives against "permissive liberalism." Pelecanos' pre-porn industry nostalgia sounds particularly odd. Read this excerpt. It practically screams selective memory:
Pelecanos, 60, thinks about the two sons he raised and the conversations he overheard when their friends came to the family home. “The way they talk about girls and women is a little horrifying. It’s different from when I was coming up. It’s one thing what was described as locker-room talk, like, ‘Man, look at her legs. I’d love to…’ – that kind of thing. But when you get into this other thing, calling girls tricks and talking about doing violence to them and all that stuff, I’d never heard that growing up, man. I just didn’t.

I recall hearing rape jokes as a kid in the 1970s. I think Pelecanos is remembering not being shocked and forgetting why. People often recall the past in terms of how they felt more vividly than they remember what actually happened and then they poorly reason backwards accordingly. This is why being an oral historian is maddening. Today, we are are rightly shocked by things we used to accept, so we notice it more. That's a side effect of getting things fixed: We no longer have the luxury of ignoring our ugliness.

Speaking of which, another obvious factor heightening misogyny's visibility is how unfiltered social media has eclipsed old media. Nothing happens under-the-radar anymore. Today's comments sections on articles are nothing like the letters to the editor in days of yore - at least not in terms of what the public eventually sees. Letters to the editor are, well, edited. Editors were gatekeepers to the public square back then. Today, the walls are largely gone and the gateway doesn't get much traffic: It's more like a symbolic arch now. I would expect a former reporter like Simon would instantly realize this. How do you blame tits and not Twitter? Again, things have definitely gotten better; but we are still pretty terrible and now nothing is hidden anymore. In the footnote to another post, I wrote:
We have not become a more racist nation. The two elections of President Barack Obama by landslides disprove that. But Facebook - or, as I like to call it, "Racist Litmus" - gave all your friends and relatives a platform for parading their previously-concealed bigotries. It's just like that episode of "Gilligan's Island" where everyone temporarily got telepathy. And Trump is certainly the perfect Internet age candidate because he personifies all the narcissism, bullying, and kooky conspiracy theories the Internet offers. Indeed, it has already become a widely-circulated/stolen cliché that he is a walking comments section. Like the Internet, Trump just makes this ignorant demographic impossible to ignore anymore.(6)
Likewise, the visibility of police brutality rose with the accessibility of smart phones, but we are not witnessing a spike in lawlessness by the law: We are witnessing what generations of African Americans have always experienced, but what white society has heretofore refused to believe or even hear.

I know Simon and Pelecanos are not actually saying "Let's turn the clock back to when everyone respected women," because another cable show, "Mad Men," dashes that fancy. But that's what such nostalgic arguments sound like. Again, I know they know better; but if that's how they come across, they obviously have not thought-through their argument or are incautious about how it may be heard. I don't think they hate youth and, given their previous shows, they sure don't eschew nudity. Best guess says they are not out to romanticize the 1970s and will depict pre-existing sexism as well. But the Guardian article's implication is that the characters will be slightly less tainted than people today because they were not raised with the culture they are creating. That is a likely takeaway for readers unfamiliar with their work.

I am admittedly pretty skittish about reliving the 80s. As I have blogged before, Donald Trump echoes Ronald Reagan in a variety of ways. Last year on the campaign trail, Trump had promised another crackdown on porn. It's probably another empty promise, and at the time I had joked about another Meese Commission Report - only being presented in a casino with lady justice's aluminum mammaries getting gold-plated for the occasion. But in retrospect, it is yet another way Trump could poison our social climate from the bully pulpit. If he decides he needs to shore up his base, he might resume pandering to the religious right, emboldening them as he has white supremacists. Whether intended or not, a spike in anti-abortion violence seems like a probable outcome - particularly given his penchant for egging people on.

There's no denying that we are living in the midst of an ongoing backlash against feminism - and that progress is still getting made despite it. But the fantasy that pornography is the source is like blaming rock or hip hop for any other social ill. It's ridiculously simplistic. Yes, the culture we consume has an influence on us and there is a feedback loop between culture and society as a whole. But in a patriarchy, misogyny permeates all mediums and genres, so always isolating the same one as the central cause of it is odd and lets all the others off the hook. It's a will-o'-the-wisp, that too many liberals too easily follow. 

The relative anonymity of the Internet allows us to be our worst selves largely without consequences. And people are creatures of habit who often forget to shift gears when moving from one context or environment to another. That this might have rippling effects coarsening society seems pretty likely.

Of course, every anti-Millennial screed has a technological component and Boomers (the first generation raised with television) are quick to cite tech when calling youth callow, 
shallow, narcissistic or brutish. But just as humans are creatures of habit, we are spectacularly adaptable as well. Boomers weren't raised with the Internet, but they still took to it like a duck to water. Maybe it was James Bond movies or the debut of Sharper Image catalogs in the 1980s, but they love their gadgets. I will forever remember the later's green naked lady hologram, which made me green with envy. As I like to say, if smart phones existed in their youth there would not be enough room on The Cloud for all their naked selfies at Woodstock and their revenge porn would no longer be limited to Polaroids. Yes, revenge porn is terrible; but let's not pretend the Age of Aquarius would have behaved any differently if they had the technology at their fingertips then.

Donald Trump's all-hours tweeting illustrates his generation's gadget addiction is no less intense than any other age cohort's. Most of those racist comments on online news sites come from Fox News-watching retirees with ample time on their hands - which also freed them up to attend Tea Party protests. Moral scolds are quick to blame the young, but the bulk of the ugliness comes from the old. Whether electronic or pharmaceutical, they embraced every new toy that enabled their bad behavior. Rush Limbaugh visiting sex tourist destinations with a suitcase of Viagra sums up his demographic quite nicely. So do the rape cocktails of Bill Cosby, speaking of moral scolds. Hey Bill, pull your pants up! The Baby Boomers are obviously going to lose in any comparison of relative ethical sexual behavior. The recent death of Hugh Hefner has revealed ample additional examples of our elders' misbehavior.

But, whatever generation is the champion of this dismal limbo contest, technology has indisputably turned a hot spotlight on it.(7) This - not seeing skin - is the most plausible explanation for misogyny's vastly augmented visibility. We still live in a capitalist patriarchy. Yes, social progress has been made, but technological progress has moved far faster and we now have brighter spotlights.

All that said, I still want to see the show when I get a chance and I remain great fans of the creators. And I still encourage everyone to seek out their lesser known shows like "Treme" and "Show Me a Hero." They are scandalously ignored gems and not watching them is a sort of dereliction of civic duty.

As self-appointed patriotism ombudsman, I can say this with great "surety."

EDIT 10/14/17:

So, I finally saw the pilot last night and I must admit I feel like a bit of a dick for this post. It is a pretty unflinching picture of the ugliness. Again, I strongly doubted Simon and Pelecanos were making a "good old days" claim, but I'm always very wary how things can get misinterpreted. (Witness early libertarian enthusiasm for "The Wire.") Of course, the ugliness won't prevent conservatives from tacking their own interpretations. Were Rudy Giuliani to ever run for anything again, I imagine he might point to this current series and resume bragging about how he had cleaned up Times Square.


1) It is disputed whether either MacKinnon or Dworkin ever claimed there is no such thing as consensual intercourse. Snopes says nope but the Kaminer Atlantic article says different. Most theorists (in any field) are terrible writers. Clarity is often not a strong suit which leaves them open to both honest and dishonest misinterpretation. However, MacKinnon and Dworkin did claim than porn causes rape. Pretty similar thinking is coming back in vogue and it is disappointing to hear it coming from Simon and Pelecanos.

2) I was a kid in the 1970s, but I recall calling yourself a feminist had less stigma. Alan Alda said he was a feminist and he played the cool guy on "M*A*S*H." As a kid, I alternately wanted to be Alan Alda and Allen Arkin - or an amalgamation of the two.

3) In subsequent decades, Boomers continued to project every social ill they had augmented onto their progeny. As Mike Males has documented, the bogeyman of teen "superpredators" was as hypocritical as it was mythological. Spikes in violent crime tracked Boomers as they aged: Youth crime was high when they were young and middle aged crime climbed as they entered middle age. The same pattern defined every panic from teenage promiscuity to binge-drinking: A historically reckless, violent, and entitled generation insisted that objectively improving youth behavior was actually worsening. It's their eternal shtick.

4) They tend to do things like reinvent Nancy Reagan as an HIV-AIDS activist, re-landscape contexts, or forget those who have helped them. That last one is a chronic problem.

5) Admittedly, one of my blind spots may be that I prefer still images to videos which have awful dialog, so I am probably spared a lot. Supposedly, many women are now turning to gifs on Tumbler because, while mechanically repetitious, they isolate moments they like from the parts they find objectionable - which understandably is most of it. But I don't think their consumption of pictures and gifs will corrupt them.

6) This explains a great deal. In 1980, people could plausibly wonder aloud, "How did Reagan win? Nobody I know voted for him." Today, people wonder the same about Trump, but you know damn well aunt Janet did from her monstrous Facebook posts. From the likes she got, you can tell her husband and uncle Bud did too. Before, you had only the vaguest awareness that their politics were not yours and diplomatically avoided the topic. Anyway, between weddings and funerals, you hardly ever saw them. Today, you daily discover exactly what they think in excruciating detail. Ditto for your high school peers.

7) Those who can afford this fancy technology, anyway. My recent iPhone 4S acquisition was a gift from a friend - a hand-me-down. Otherwise, I would not own a smart phone of any sort.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Centrist Quislings

I love how centrist predictions and prescriptions routinely fly in the face of actual results. Their one-size-fits-all "pox on both houses" moralizing is a poor substitute for actual analysis and thus rarely fits any situation. Just fetishize bipartisanship, insist "the truth is somewhere in-between," and fault both sides in equal measure sight unseen. It's like they are playing darts and don't get that the numbers on the board mean anything. They just say the center is the bull's eye and throw accordingly, so they don't win many games.(1)

Remember when the Gray Lady ran a concern-trolling "analysis" piece anecdotally claiming that criticizing Trump was actually helping him? I do. Trump entered office with historically low numbers which continued to plummet. Yet somehow, the author wondered if protest was helping Trump. 

Just take this precious gem: "[F]or many Trump voters, even peaceful protests are unsettling." Yes, hearing disagreement can be very unsettling. This was dutifully followed by quotes from some "moderate"(!) Trump voters saying we are in a civil war. That is catnip to centrists because concern trolling is literally who they are.

NEWSFLASH: Registered Independents who "lean Republican" are not necessarily "right of center." Many are hardcore conservatives.  Many of them think the GOP is "too liberal." They may identify as Independents but belong to other third parties - including right-wing. And the "libertarian"-to-reactionary pipeline is well-established. Centrists assume that Independents are like them when in fact they are very diverse. The term "moderate" is often misunderstood when not deliberately abused. Donald Trump himself is a "textbook definition of an ideological moderate" because he defies party orthodoxy. He is just an obnoxious version of the non-ideological voter centrists ordinarily celebrate and associate with policy sobriety. Thus, the textbook example of their un-ideological ideology totally torpedoes their whole worldview.

So, I'm skeptical when the chronically wrong who reflexively default to false equivalencies say that antifas are actually helping Nazis. Particularly when it comes on the heels of Donald Trump's claim that there is violence on "both sides." When you say "What about the alt-left?" you are siding with Trump.(2) Centrists, please revisit your whole worldview. You have painted yourself into a dark corner. Indeed, it seems to be the corner of an Escher drawing. ____________ 1) EDIT 9/13/17: Oh shit, this is simply beautiful. 2) Pointing out that centrist James Wolcott originally coined the term "alt-left" first is hardly exculpatory. It still shows how centrists and conservatives think alike. Centrists are closet conservatives. Indeed, as I wrote previously, long before "alt-left" or "alt-right" appeared in our lexicon, loons like Glenn Beck and Jonah Goldberg were channeling Horseshoe Theory to claim that progressives are Nazis. I wrote a whole chapter about the right's ass-backwards Nazi analogies in my 2014 book. It's the twisted logic that National Review writer Kevin Williamson used to call Bernie Sanders a "national socialist" in 2015. (Not that Clintonistas are immune to similar tin-eared comments about the Jewish senator.) Centrists and conservatives reflexively make the same manifest false equivalency. It has become rhetorical motor memory by this point.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

On Bonzo and Nazis

Again, I say we're having an Eighties flashback.

Remember when President Ronald Reagan sought racist votes, got enthusiastically endorsed by the Klan, and weaselly defended Apartheid in South Africa? 

Indeed, speaking of weaselly defenses, cuddly Ronnie defended his infamous Bitburg Cemetery visit by saying that the Nazi SS officers buried there “were victims, just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps."  Trump’s recent false equivalency falls in the exact same category. 

I'm not saying Trump isn't worse, just that there is a Reagan administration precedent. It's the same Southern Strategy with less finesse. Apparently, Lee Atwater was more adroit than Stephen Bannon. He was definitely more subtle.* In hindsight, I'm kind of surprised that "The Donald" did not launch his presidential bid in Philadelphia, Mississippi, as "The Gipper" did.

I am not trying to muffle outrage or disgust, but this shit goes back to the 1964 Goldwater campaign. It's GOP SOP. Let's not pretend those Willie Horton ads that elected George Bush Sr. never aired.

Trump's just a symptom - not the cause - of a longstanding problem. Dumping him won't end it. It will help some, of course; but it will not be a silver bullet.

A lot of history has to be acknowledged and confronted.


* EDIT: And speaking of Steve Bannon (now out), how different is Donald Trump hiring him from Ronald Reagan having fascist enthusiast Pat Buchanan as his White House Communications Director?

I'm certainly not the first to compare Donald and Ronald. The similarities are legion - so much so that you can find several on the topic of racism alone. But that's largely because conservatism is prone to it and thus there is a history of the right capitalizing on it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Gangrene Analogy

Sigh. Centrists are still blaming Trump's election on third parties.

Since no amount of data will ever convince them, I have decided to appeal to their unreasoning prejudice with an ugly analogy they might like. Of course, this won't work. But this might at least help them grasp what I am talking about. Let's start with some uncontroversial facts that I have mentioned before:

1) Third parties exist, have always existed, and always will exist. Period. 

2) They take away from both major parties, both collectively and individually.

3) But they are never a serious factor unless one major party really fucks up. 

For example, there were third parties when Barack Obama ran in 2008 and 2012. They did not cease to exist during that time. But he didn't need to worry about them for some reason. Why?

Because he had charisma and inspired. Also, he didn't lose the Rust Belt because a) he saved Detroit with the auto bailout and b) he actually seriously campaigned in the region instead of blowing those voters off as Hillary Clinton did on top of defending NAFTA. Most Clintonista arguments hinge on forgetting that President Barack Obama ever existed, but I'll explore that in another post.

The point here is: If your excuse for losing is "We would have won too, if it weren't for you meddling kids," then maybe you should factor for the existence of third parties. Because a strategy that doesn't is, by definition, a spectacularly stupid strategy. Hinging voter turnout solely on guilt trips is also obviously ill-advised. Obama did not do that. He was more than just "not John McCain" or "not Mitt Romney."

So, what's my analogy? Germs. Third parties are like germs.

I expect centrists will love this analogy because germs are tiny and dangerous. And of course because the analogy is sufficiently insulting to third parties. I'm honestly surprised they haven't made it themselves.

Yeah, germs are tiny; but they are also always there. Germs get in everything. They are literally in the air we breathe everyday and wishing them away will not work. Nor will guilt trips. So, when you cut yourself, clean the wound, apply disinfectant, and a bandage. Do this immediately. Do NOT let it fester.

Politically, this means do not betray labor or patronize progressives if you are a Democrat. If you or your predecessors have in the past, make credible amends and tend to those wounds. Obama did that and thus won. He got that these constituencies are the foot soldiers in the ground game of any campaign. As I wrote before, they do the shit work of making cold calls and licking envelopes. Who shows up for Democratic Party phone banks? Mostly hard hats and hippies. Sapping their enthusiasm is self-sabotage.

Evangelicals perform the same function for Republicans. Any GOP candidate who didn't attend to their issues would be seriously weakened - to say nothing of the consequences openly mocking them. There is a reason why "shooting yourself in the foot" is a durable idiom. Don't bash your party's activists. Don't shoot your foot soldiers in their feet. They can't canvas neighborhoods as well after that.

Well, the Democrats' foot wounds have been festering for decades - ever since yuppie fuckwit Gary Hart declared the New Deal coalition dead in 1974. Centrists have been using salt instead of disinfectant.

So, if you do neglect to disinfect your wounds or bandage them up and find yourself getting your leg amputated because of gangrene, do not blame the fucking germs. Blame yourself.

Because third parties only have the power you give them.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Jackson (Ass) Hole

FINALLY! I get to blog about history again!

Donald Trump said something profoundly dumb once again. I admit that does not quite constitute news; but it touches on topics that really need repeating and they are mercifully irrelevant to the last presidential election so I am going to go to town.

In a recent interview, Trump trumpeted his Andrew Jackson enthusiasm once more. He loves Old Hickory about as much as Glenn Beck hates Woodrow Wilson. This time, Trump did so by claiming that Jackson could have stopped the U.S. Civil War. Trump had visited Jackson’s "Hermitage” plantation in Tennessee, you see, so he thought he knew all about it.

The incident was reminiscent of when Sarah Palin visited Paul Revere’s house and spectacularly garbled the story. This spurred historians to clarify things, lest anyone wonder, "What the fuck are they teaching visitors at that hackneyed tourist trap?” Kristin Peszka, Director of Interpretation and Visitor's Services at the Paul Revere House, stressed that Palin made her comments prior to her visit.

Trump’s take was similarly ludicrously dubious, but not quite as dumb as it seems at first blush. Close, but not quite. WARNING: This post uses the word "quite” quite a bit.

For one thing, Trump does indeed seem to realize that Jackson was not around for the Civil War. Trump said "had Jackson been a little later" and the next day he tweeted, "President Andrew Jackson, who died 16 years before the Civil War started, saw it coming and was angry. Would never have let it happen!" So all those anachronistic jokes some folks are making are off the mark. They are fun, but a tad unfair.

Second, Andrew Jackson did face-down a potential Southern insurrection as president - the Nullification Crisis. South Carolina declared federal tariffs null and void in their state and mobilized to resist federal enforcement. Jackson's Vice President, John C. Calhoun, resigned so he could oppose Jackson as a Senator. According to dubious lore, Jackson said he wanted to hang Calhoun. It was the Cuban Missile Crisis of the day – that is, if the "mad bomber” Richard Nixon had won the 1960 election instead of John F. Kennedy.

In this light, Trump’s comment almost sounds informed – or at least, not quite as bad as Caribou Barbie’s.

The problem with Trump’s take is that Jackson was a slave-owner and therefore highly unlikely to end slavery. The word "plantation,” above, might have alerted you to that complication in advance. 

This is significant. For the sake of argument, let’s say Jackson could make the South back down twice. This would not prevent the Civil War insomuch as postpone it. Slavery was the ultimate cause of the Civil War, as every honest historian acknowledges.

For one thing, the South proudly said so in their Articles of Secession. Just as Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence to justify America’s break with England, the Confederate states individually wrote their own proclamations to explain themselves as well. Where Jefferson catalogued the colonists’ varied grievances against old King George III, the southern states railed against Yankee interference with the institution of slavery. As I wrote before, their meaning was as clear as a terrorist martyr video. Each was a defiant, unambiguous, signed confession. Such rhetorical turds cannot possibly be polished now.

For another thing, we had averted civil war over slavery several times before. Everyone always knew slavery was likely to tear the country apart. It was an ever-present threat that the founders fretted about constantly in papers both public and private. Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that slavery would be the "knell of the Union" and that "We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go." So Jackson gets no credit for the prediction Trump attributes to him (incongruously, without mentioning slavery). Thus, every subsequent legislative compromise was celebrated as a dodged bullet. There was the Compromise of 1820, also known as the Missouri Compromise, followed by the Compromise of 1850. Each self-congratulatory act kicked the can further down the road. Therefore, the U.S. Civil War could not possibly be prevented – only postponed.  And the number of times that hat-trick could successfully be pulled off was rapidly evaporating.

Trump’ characterization of Jackson as tough but with a "big heart" is odd because it better describes Lincoln who actually was president in 1860. The famously homicidal Jackson was not the "with malice toward none” guy. But on the flip side of Trump’s interesting description, Lincoln was no coward either. Abe tried to avoid war, but he did not shy away from force after the South fired on Fort Sumpter.

Trump is, unsurprisingly, grasping at every facile, desperate, half-assed rationalization to stop thinking about a complicated thing and his fans are doing likewise.

Well, most are. As I explained in my book, today's Republicans are paradoxically trying to be both pro-Confederate and anti-slavery. But as I wrote, you cannot be the "Party of Lincoln” after embracing Jefferson Davis, and I imagine some Southerners feel betrayed. Trump’s strange take simultaneously whitewashes Dixie and threatens it. On the one hand, slavery is taken out of the equation entirely. Trump just doesn’t mention it. On the other, he is essentially celebrating hanging so-called Southern heroes.

Yeah, try not to think about it too hard. Certainly most conservatives don’t.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Centrist Concern Trolls

Lately, I have noticed that many centrists are not only closer to conservatives ideologically, they are similar rhetorically. Arguing with some Democrats is like arguing with Republicans.

For example, in their efforts to conflate left and right, they endorse Horseshoe Theory,(1) which is akin to Glenn Beck’s ass-backwards Nazi analogies. Both confuse progressives with fascists. Centrists often unconsciously copy conservatives because similar thinking yields similar habits.

And then there are centrists' zero-sum games - except instead of pitting liberty against equality or the economy against the ecology as conservatives routinely do, they pit economic equality against all other forms of equality as if intersectionality is not a thing and minorities don’t mind being poor.

But one favorite conservative debate tactic sums up centrism perfectly: concern trolling.

Indeed, concern trolling is the essence of centrism because its aim is to move the listener to the right by raising the specter of alienating moderates and insisting this is an inherently conservative country(2) so all ambitious progressive proposals are nonstarters. They say, "Hey, I’m sympathetic and a potential ally. But I fear your radical stuff may drive away people like me.” Self-interested advice ensues. Effective methods are called ineffective. And anything the least bit disruptive or inconvenient is called counterproductive - even if it is nonviolent. Whether it is conscious or not, that is the inexorable rhetorical reflex.

It’s an old story. In his famous Letter from a Birmingham JailDr. Martin Luther King expressed his profound disappointment in white moderates who said "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action" and urged waiting for a "more convenient season," i.e. never. 

One recent article that exemplifies this is this piece in Vox by Zack Beauchamp. It argues that the economic populism of the left cannot possibly beat the racism on the right and that helping working people actually enables their racism. According to Beauchamp, achieving progressive goals backfire. Indeed, he argues that even proposing them does. Beauchamp is either adorably misinformed or concern trolling because his article is populated with obvious problems.

First and foremost, Trump voters are not monolithic; but Beauchamp writes like they are. 

Many voted out of economic desperation, which centrists tenaciously refuse to accept exists. Economic inequality has been metastasizing for decades. But centrists insist nobody really cares about any of that stuff: Nobody votes their pocketbook or worries that we are hemorrhaging jobs. The centrist narrative says bigotry was the only factor in Donald Trump’s election. 

Yes, other Trump voters are indeed flat-out bigots. No question. But most of those people have already been voting GOP for decades. As I wrote before, Trump is just the Southern Strategy without subtlety. He energized those who were tired of talking in code - those who felt using racist dog whistles was polite spin and tiptoeing, if not oppressive “political correctness.” To them, Lee Atwater was probably a cowardly cuck who shrunk from “telling it like it is” as Trump does now.

Donald Trump’s blunt bigotry energized the GOP base. But it didn’t lure many Democrats away - certainly few who voted for Barack Obama four years before. Or are we supposed to imagine such Democrats took eight years to realize that Obama was black? Bigotry did not lure those voters - talk of jobs and trade did. It was the policy centerpiece of Trump's campaign because it was what he spoke about most.

The point is not all Trump voters are bigots. Hillary Clinton herself emphasized that only half of them are a basket of deplorables - not all. "You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables." And then she spoke of the other half:
[B]ut that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they're just desperate for change. It doesn't really even matter where it comes from. They don't buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won't wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they're in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.
Many centrists have not been terribly empathetic. But more importantly, Clinton’s essential distinction escapes them and that could give Trump a second term.

Centrists love to claim that the poor routinely vote against their own economic interests. There’s an apt expression to describe that patronizing assessment: Half-truth is whole lie. An uncomfortable chunk of them certainly do vote against their material well-being and always have, but the rest do not. Donald Trump won almost half of union households. That's absolutely astounding. But a very slim majority - 51% - still did not defect and voted for Hillary Clinton. 

To put that figure in perspective, 51% was also the proportion of white, college-educated women who supported Clinton. Should we vilify and jettison them as well? Imagine if the Internet were awash with articles claiming white women are getting what they deserve and crying "Good riddance! We don't need you! Go away!" Not only would that be monstrously unconscionable, tactically it would be suicidally stupid. Well, it is no less so on economics. 

And while we are on the topic, 
I've noticed that a lot of the same folks mocking poor Trump voters are all sympathy when some racist blond woman is fired from Fox News or The Blaze. It has happened twice now and neither is a "superb journalist" as Hillary Clinton had ludicrously praised Megyn Kelly.

Should we make no attempt to woo back those who voted for Trump out of desperation and make the Republican majority in government permanent? To ask the question is to answer it: Unfortunately, many centrists cannot even face it, let alone grapple with it.

I say “patronizing” because wealthy people vote against their own economic interests too. And, no, I’m not talking about rich liberals supporting anti-poverty programs. The American Medical Association (AMA) opposed Medicare and Medicaid in 1961. Doctors should be grateful they lost that battle because those programs became gravy trains for them.  Yet many still bite the hand that feeds them. As I noted in my book, roughly half of Senator Rand Paul's (R-KY) medical practice income came from Medicaid payments, a program that he blasts as “intergenerational welfare.”(3)

Poor conservatives are foolish, but no more so than rich ones. And Paul’s problem is quite common: Business benefits from Keynesian economics, yet the wealthy continue to sabotage their own fortunes. It's a familiar longstanding paradox,(4) so check your paternalistic contempt and vicious schadenfreude.

But I digress. We were talking about Zack Beauchamp shoddy article.

Beauchamp’s whole article is a train wreck of ridiculous self-contradictions. Each derailed car is mashed into the next. For example, he argues that racism is worse in Europe because the welfare state has freed working class people up to focus on bigot issues. Seriously? But then he argues that things are worse in America - despite the miserliness of our threadbare safety net. He writes, "The US faces even sharper pressures, as much of the public sees social spending in highly racialized terms - a phenomenon without parallel in the rest of the Western world." Well, where is it worse? Here or there?(5) Make up your mind.

This is a consistent contradiction. Later, he writes, "Inglehart, an eminent political scientist at the University of Michigan, argues that the combination of rapid economic growth and a robust welfare state have provided voters [in Europe] with enough economic security that they could start prioritizing issues beyond the distribution of wealth - issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and, most crucially, immigration."(6) Assuming Beauchamp is not cherry-picking or torturing the source material, his take is still self-contradictory because we don’t have a robust welfare state here. We never did. It was pretty modest to begin with and has been decimated since, so his comparison with Europe is a poor one.

And this is part of a pattern: It's sort of a rhetorical shell game. He points to Jeremy Corbyn's current poor poll numbers to argue that democratic socialism is unpopular, but Bernie Sanders is currently the most popular politician in America. I'd say those polls are more relevant to American politics.

[EDIT: Corbyn's election upset showed the rumors of his unpopularity were greatly exaggerated. Labor gained seats in Parliament when they were predicted to lose.  Even when centrist pundits acknowledge this, they still struggle to understand it.]

This is not just a question of personal charisma: Sanders' signature issues are very popular with voters. From single payer health care, to free college, to breaking up big banks, to defending Social Security, Sanders is popular precisely because he passionately fights for things frustrated voters actually want.

I’m not saying transatlantic comparisons can't be made - just not Beauchamp's comparisons. Europe’s social programs have been under prolonged assault too. Beauchamp is describing a pre-Thatcher Europe that has not been experimenting with austerity for almost four decades. His take roughly translates as “The peasants have gotten too comfortable and must suffer some. It’s character-building. Idle hands are the devil’s playground.” The problem with this perspective, besides its Victorian overtones, is we have been disciplining labor for two generations on both sides of the Atlantic and racism has only gotten worse during that time. They grew in tandem, so more of the same does not sound promising – particularly not when it is being offered as a daring, innovative new idea. At this point, neoliberals are essentially ringing doorbells and asking people if they have heard about Jesus. Yes we have. Go away.

Beauchamp says social democracy has failed to stop the far right. But in this time, socialist parties have become much less socialist and increasingly business-friendly. For example, in the United Kingdom, the Labor Party stopped representing labor under Tony Blair, Britain’s Bill Clinton. In short, social democracy did not fail to stop racism: That was neoliberalism’s failure.

Nearly everything in Zack Beauchamp’s piece is shockingly wrong.(7) Jeremy Corbyn caused Brexit? Seriously? Beauchamp describes the European right as "pioneering" racist dog whistles in 1984. Um, I think that actually started here in the U.S. with the Southern Strategy two decades before in 1964. The whole article has this twisted Laffy Taffy sense of chronology and cause-and-effect.

Incidentally, it's interesting that he briefly mentions Sweden, if only by way of name dropping. He talks about Denmark’s “tough” immigration policy but ignores Sweden’s famous openness. Talk about cherry-picking. Sweden is about as democratic socialist as you can get and yet they have welcomed more Syrian refugees than any country in Europe - and that has helped Sweden flourish economically.(8)

Again, almost every paragraph in Zack Beauchamp’s piece has something heckle-worthy. When he says something correct it is either irrelevant to his point or actively undermines it.

For example, he goes on an on about how socialist programs won’t woo hardcore bigots. No shit. Nobody claimed they would. That’s a strawman argument along with the one that progressives don’t care about sexism, racism, or homophobia. No progressive I know claims that economic populism alone is a “silver bullet” that will win elections or entice racists. But we can definitely win back the neglected and devastated Rust Belt which we only narrowly lost last year.

In order to advance his argument, Beauchamp points out that most Trump voters are already fairly well off. Again, no shit. So is the average Tea Party member. As I wrote before, they are largely the same people - conservative Christian suburbanites who attend high-tech megachurches who
are responsible for the bulk of the bigotry. So why is Beaucahmp talking about a supposedly spoiled working class

Shit and grits! Even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had admitted that their neoliberal policies have exacerbated economic inequality in developed countries. You think that might be contributing to xenophobia and discord? Interestingly, the IMF has proposed more social spending as a corrective.

Another example: Beauchamp points out that racist voters are more likely to oppose social programs. Again, no shit. That is why progressives are incentived to be actively anti-racist. Indeed, the dishonest and absurd centrist accusation that progressives are deaf to other justice movements is obviously projecting.  As one wit brilliantly tweeted during the Democratic primary, "Hillary saying 'intersectional' & 'systemic racism' is like when the Terminator tricks its victims by mimicking the voices of their family."

In fact, relatively speaking, leftists have always been better on race than liberals have been. Reds were supporting the civil rights movement in the 1930s when most liberals weren't. Yes, I am generalizing, but back then, if you supported a federal anti-lynching bill you were probably black, red, or both. Yes, communists prioritized class over race seeing racism as a mere side effect of capitalism; but now the left recognizes them as equally important - although intimately intertwined - in American history. But regardless of the emphasis, the left has always acknowledged the connection that many centrists deny now.

All politics is about coalitions - holding your own together and peeling votes away from your opponents'. Centrist thinking says “forget the Rust Belt” even though that is obviously what cost us the election. But as I wrote before, the coasts alone do not have enough electoral votes. We righteously lost the South over civil rights, but we cannot afford to lose the Midwest on top of that. It’s just math. We can only bleed so much.

Donald Trump was able to peel away some desperate, disgruntled blue collar voters and add them to his white collar GOP base. Hillary Clinton wrongly thought the affluent conservatives who make up that base were gettable and aggressively courted them, neglecting working class voters with whom she was already on thin ice thanks to her defending NAFTA. In short, he succeeded in peeling away some her voters while she failed to peel away many of his. I’m not talking about trying to sway all Trump voters and neither is any progressive that I know of. Many, if not most, Trump voters are unreachable - and, yes, deplorable - people that I would prefer to have nothing to do with. They are called Republicans. But others are not and they are enough to tip the scales. And, yes, economic populism is how you win them back, dumb ass.

This is basic shit that anyone who writes about politics should already be familiar with. This political history is literally old news. In a memo for the 1984 Reagan campaign, Lee Atwater made this strategy explicit: "Populists have always been liberal on economics. So long as the crucial issues were generally confined to economics - as during the New Deal - the liberal candidate would expect to get most of the populist vote. But populists are conservatives on most social issues." Atwater was explaining the rationale for the Culture Wars. It was how the GOP lured away "Reagan Democrats." But Atwater emphasized that the political terrain changes with voters' priorities. "When social and cultural issues died down, the populists were left with no compelling reason to vote Republican."

The self-evident flipside of Atwater’s assessment is that, without liberal economics, populists have no compelling reason to vote Democratic. By abandoning liberal economics, we have helped Republicans because now populists have zero reason to support us. There is no longer any conflicting feelings that might break our way if, say, the economy might sour as it is doing now. The same establishment Democrats who advocated dumping labor in favor of business also believed the stock market would climb forever. It was dubious soothsaying as well as callous strategy. Centrists want to make this fatal mistake permanent.

At this point, we should probably ask, “What happened to those ‘Reagan Democrats’ that Atwater had lured away?” Did they remain Republicans in subsequent elections or did they come home to the Democratic Party? It could be that Bill Clinton lured them back, at least temporarily. If so, how?

Was it his charisma? Oops, sorry, I forgot. That’s sexist to even mention.

Maybe it was Bill Clinton's racist dog whistles, like his “Sister Souljah moment” or his conspicuously executing a mentally retarded black man as Governor of Arkansas. Talk about a blood sacrifice! I imagine the Aztecs would be impressed. And you can file Welfare Reform and the Crime Bill under dog whistles as well. Let's be blunt: Bill Clinton made certain he could not possibly be Willie Horton-ed in any way.

Or was it because the economy had soured and Reaganomics left George Bush Sr. - who had once called it “Voodoo Economics” - holding the bag? If it was the economy, it definitely illustrates that priorities change with shifting circumstances. That's worth remembering.

But, whatever happened to those Reagan Democrats, Barack Obama first ran as a progressive (however he subsequently governed) and won decisively. Twice. The second time, in 2012, he was the president who saved Detroit while his opponent, Mitt Romney, said we should let the auto industry go bankrupt. I imagine that was a factor. By contrast, in 2016, Donald Trump co-opted a populist stance that previous Republicans both opposed and mocked while Hillary Clinton touted her husband's pro-business economic polices. She promised more of the same in a debate with Trump and that was probably the moment she lost the Rust Belt and thus the election. That and the fact that she barely campaigned there.

The upshot is obvious. Democratic socialism is a political winner and insisting the opposite is dishonest.

If this post sounds hyperbolic,  just read this sentence from Beauchamp’s article and ask yourself what the author is suggesting: "A more populist Democratic platform might rally more voters to Trump, as many whites will see it as a giveaway to undeserving minorities." That is totally concern trolling. 

What is the likely effect of accepting the author's argument that generosity backfires? There are two that I can think of right-off-the-bat: First, generosity in general goes the way of the dodo as a matter of policy, which will disproportionately harm minorities. Second, so does addressing any problem that concerns race, directly or indirectly. If reviving FDR's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society is too politically radioactive because of race, then affirmative action will absolutely be abandoned as well. And the right can racialize anything. After all, Glenn Beck said Obamacare was really about reparations for slavery. 

And anyone who thinks social programs are freebies for minorities is probably already a Republican and may have been since 1964. Their vote is not gettable so Beauchamp's concern trolling is nonsensical.

Saying passing social programs benefits bigots is like saying that electing Barack Obama subsequently elected Donald Trump. Should we never run another black candidate then? That’s like saying we must appease racists to fight racism. It’s a “We had to destroy the village in order to save it” mindset. 

This is why I say centrism is essentially concern trolling. This is why we can’t have nice things.

And I am beginning to suspect this tragic dynamic is by design.

Next Day Edit:

Beauchamp caught the brunt of my ire, but he is hardly unique. A recent New York Times "analysis" piece wonders whether anti-Trump protests are actually helping him. Um, not according to Trump's still plummeting poll numbers or the surprising spine-stiffening we are seeing in Congress. Maybe they won't roll-over and rubber stamp any obviously dubious wars this time around. No promises.

And one popular blogger says liberals need to learn how to compromise - as if compromising has not been establishment Democrat motor memory for several decades. 

How many times had Obama reached across the aisle only to have his hand slapped back? It's a good thing too, because Obama's "grand bargain" on Social Security would have hurt seniors. During the healthcare fight, single payer was preemptively taken off the table as an olive branch to conservatives. Did that or the fact that the final plan was basically warmed-over Romneycare sway any Republicans? Of course not.

Indeed, Bill Clinton's telecommunications deregulation has helped conservatives immensely: No more "burdensome" anti-monopoly regs to keep Clear Channel from buying up every radio station in town.

Extra Edit:

To further stress just how utterly absurd discounting the impact economics is, let's go Godwin. Normally, I avoid Nazi analogies, but we are talking about Trump supporters, after all.

There is absolutely no questioning that Hitler and the Nazis were racist and stoked racism. But no serious historian ignores the importance of economics in explaining Hitler's rise to power. The reparations for WWI, hyper inflation, and the Great Depression after all that helped make the German electorate desperate. When it takes wheelbarrows of money to shop, demagogues are obviously going to prosper politically.  And if they succeed in turning things around - as Hitler's "economic miracle" did - the electorate becomes even more likely to overlook, excuse, or rationalize away bigotry.

Denying this dynamic is like denying gravity. Any analysis that does simply isn't serious.


1) Horseshoe Theory, or as I call it "Horseshit Theory" (Toilet Seat Theory works too), is not even a theory. It is a poorly thought-out visual metaphor that logically eats itself if you think about it at all. For openers, to get to the right by traveling left, you have to move toward the central axis. After all, that's what an inward curving arc does. Moreover, the ends of the horseshoe never meet. If they do, it's not a horseshoe anymore: It's an oval. In order for someone on the left to get to the right, they have to move toward the center and keep on going. Geometry: It's a thing.

2) Full Disclosure: I am the author of a book called Conservatism is Un-American & Other Self-Evident Truths, so I predictably take issue with the pernicious assumption that we are a conservative country. It frames every issue in conservatives' favor and is a form of self-sabotage.

I should also point out that I am certainly not the first to accuse centrists of concern trolling. For example, in a piece for The American Prospect,  Scott Lemieux called-out centrist concern trolling on the issue of abortion. Bloggers have noticed the phenomenon for even longer. I am tardy to this party.

3) Bruce Schreiner, “Rand Paul: Medicaid has turned into welfare,” Associated Press, Oct 4, 2010.

As I wrote in my book, “More important than Rand Paul’s personal hypocrisy is the fact that his ideology makes him militantly ignore the evidence of his own experience. After all, Dr. Paul is the Paul that Peter is being ‘robbed’ to pay. Upton Sinclair once said, ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.’ But Sen. Rand Paul has the opposite problem. His salary should make things a great deal easier to understand and yet he still does not get it. Either he is deeply indoctrinated or playing a longer con.”

I'm obviously awfully fond of that Upton Sinclair quote. I've used it in my blog twice now.

4) Franklin Delano Roosevelt once noted this stubborn ingratitude in an amusing medical analogy. Referring to businessmen as sick patients in a speech, he quipped, "But I know how sick they were. I have their fever charts. I know how the knees of all our rugged individualists were trembling four years ago and how their hearts fluttered. They came to Washington in great numbers. Washington did not look like a dangerous bureaucracy to them. Oh no! It looked like an emergency hospital. All of the distinguished patients wanted two things-a quick hypodermic to end the pain and a course of treatment to cure the disease. They wanted them in a hurry; we gave them both. And now most of the patients seem to be doing very nicely. Some of them are even well enough to throw their crutches at the doctor."

5) Is racism worse in the U.S. or Europe? It’s hard to gauge because we have a two-party system and they have multiparty systems which mean that individual parties are more defined with specific constituencies. Some are single-issue parties. A side effect of this is they have overtly racist political parties whereas stateside the GOP has to do a balancing act of appealing to racists without appearing too racist. Some have argued that this arrangement keeps the racists in line and under wraps. The election of Donald Trump shows that this is not the case. It is also worth noting that the election of Trump has emboldened racists in other countries. Observers have noticed a troubling “Trump Effect” in CanadaEurope, and even in India, so there seems to be a feedback loop. Let’s not equivocate. America has a terrible record of confronting racism and building a multicultural society. But with the legacy of slavery and our history of immigration (attention Ben Carson, they are not the same), we have been doing it for a lot longer and therefore have made more progress despite ourselves. On the other hand, other countries can benefit from our experience and avoid our mistakes. So, again, it is hard to gauge.

6) “But wait,” you may say. “In the first quote he is talking about the racialized cast of social spending in America rather than racist politics as a whole.” Yes, but they use the very same “Charity starts at home” rhetoric in Europe. Beauchamp argues that the European right’s attitude varies between that and antagonism toward all social spending, but the notion that outsiders should have nothing is consistent across the right. The rhetoric is identical.

For example, when Ronald Reagan attacked welfare, he spoke of “young bucks” (black men) buying steaks with food stamps. He was not explicitly calling for making welfare white-only but for cutting the program as a whole, but the issue was racialized either way. The dog whistles were certainly there - ditto with his talk of “welfare cheats” and restricting the program to the “truly needy.” Despite the fact that the majority of welfare recipients were white - as were the majority of the few people who abused the system, the media routinely reinforced the stereotype of recipients in general and cheats in particular as being black or Latino. To Reagan’s base, the deserving and undeserving were already color-coded.

7) Nearly. In the article, Beauchamp at least acknowledges that European fascists are not always economic populists. He mentions Jörg Haider’s economic conservatism, for example. Alas, other writers are not so honest. Take Roger Cohen incongruous efforts to turn Haider politics on its ear.  Thomas Frank's take-down in One Market Under God is brilliant. It is worth reading for the catchy phrase "Alpine Thatcherist," if nothing else.

8) Have there been some bad incidents in Sweden? Yes, but overall the response to immigration has been positive, Donald Trump's imaginary terror attack notwithstanding. The few violent incidents have been by native racists, not immigrants contrary to the favorite right-wing narrative that Europe is awash with violent Arabs. Europe in general - and Sweden in particular - are held up as cautionary examples by right-wing anti-immigration writers in the U.S. Needless to say, their horror stories are often false, such as the mass sexual assault in Frankfurt, Germany which didn’t happen.

And I am happy to report that the anti-immigrant party was soundly defeated in the Netherlands’ recent elections. It was as if it was timed to refute Beauchamp’s article.