Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Why are the Republicans at war with reality?

"None of the major problems facing humanity in the 21st century can be solved by the principles that still dominate the developed countries of the west: unlimited economic growth and technical progress, the ideal of individual autonomy, freedom of choice, electoral democracy. As is evident in the case of the environmental crisis, facing these problems will require in practice regulation by institutions, in theory a revision of both the current political rhetoric and even the more reputable intellectual constructions of liberalism. The question is can this be done within the framework of the rationalist, secularist and civilised tradition of the Enlightenment. As for left vs right, it will plainly remain central in an era which is increasing the gap between haves and have-nots. However, today the danger is that this struggle is being subsumed in the irrationalist mobilisations of ethnic or religious or other group identity." Eric Hobsbawm, historian - Prospect Magazine - March, 2007 

"Reality has a well-known liberal bias"
Stephen Colbert

Before we really get started we should clarify our terms, things like "liberal" and "reality", because American English is so freighted with euphemisms and constantly changing circumlocutions that it is easy to get lost in the fog. For example, when I was a boy North Korea would have been described as a "red state"... now Texas is.

Let us begin with "liberal".

In American English "liberal", depending on who is saying it can mean anything from mildly progressive to the "Weather Underground"... However liberal's universal or classic, "proper English" meaning is to be favorable to free trade, "laissez faire", economics, low taxes, "right to work" laws and deregulation... that makes Maggie Thatcher a "liberal".

So since we are speaking murky "murkin", by liberal we mean the left. So Stephen Colbert is basically saying that reality has a notably left wing bias. This takes us to "reality".

The reality I will be talking about can be pretty well summed up in two popular and contemporary books: Thomas Picketty's, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" about inequality and Naomi Klein's, "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate", whose title speaks for itself.

To simplify brutally, "reality" as described by Piketty/Klein means that our planet earth is literally well on its way to being uninhabitable thanks to a tiny group (0.01%) of unimaginably wealthy individuals, who have grown wealthier and wealthier, even as the middle class has withered, an oligarchy who expect to live forever, and live forever very well indeed, probably in some gated community in what is now Antarctica.

"Perhaps it is worth remembering that Noah's Ark was not built to hold everyone, but just the lucky few."
Naomi Klein

The growing consciousness of this "reality" is causing many individuals who come from many very different social stratae, races, sexual orientations etc. to grow restless and dissatisfied with the present system and find themselves "at last compelled to face with sober senses (their) real conditions of life, and (their) relations with (their) kind".

In short, it is "us" versus "them".

This restless and dissatisfied state is often referred to, especially by those who deplore it, as "populism"

What does that mean?

Here is a favorable, Midwestern version of populism by Chicago's poet laureate, Carl Sandburg.


I AM the people--the mob--the crowd--the mass.
Do you know that all the great work of the world is
done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the
world's food and clothes.
I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons
come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And
then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.
I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand
for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me.
I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted.
I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and
makes me work and give up what I have. And I
Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red
drops for history to remember. Then--I forget.
When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the
People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer
forget who robbed me last year, who played me for
a fool--then there will be no speaker in all the world
say the name: "The People," with any fleck of a
sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.
The mob--the crowd--the mass--will arrive then.
So what I am getting at is that those few unimaginably wealthy, now-unregulated, individuals and corporations who finance American politicians, especially Republican/Tea-Party ones, are afraid (terrified, soiling themselves from fear) that "the mob--the crowd--the mass" might just be about to "arrive" and they are willing to do anything, including making the most powerful country on earth ungovernable, in order to avoid that.

I'm sure that you are all too familiar with how this plays, but these two snippets below give the flavor perfectly and the only surprising thing I find in them is their puzzled, "how can they be so silly?" tone.
It’s a scary thought, but here it is: If some red states were to openly defy the authority of President Obama in the exercise of his constitutional duties, would today’s Republican Congress side with him? Or would they honor the insurrection?(...) The word “insurrection” does come to mind. Yet the resistance out West to federal authority has been received in virtual silence on Capitol Hill. It’s almost as if the GOP Congress wanted an uprising against the president. This country has drifted far beyond the rough-and-tumble give-and-take that historically occurs between the parties. It’s one thing to oppose the president’s policies. It’s quite another to refuse to acknowledge presidential authority. Colbert King - Washington Post

It is a peculiar, but unmistakable, phenomenon: As Barack Obama’s presidency heads into its twilight, the rage of the Republican establishment toward him is growing louder, angrier and more destructive.(...) even by the dismal standards of political discourse today, the tone of the current attacks is disturbing. So is their evident intent — to undermine not just Mr. Obama’s policies, but his very legitimacy as president. It is a line of attack that echoes Republicans’ earlier questioning of Mr. Obama’s American citizenship. Those attacks were blatantly racist in their message — reminding people that Mr. Obama was black, suggesting he was African, and planting the equally false idea that he was secretly Muslim. The current offensive is slightly more subtle, but it is impossible to dismiss the notion that race plays a role in it. Editorial - New York Times
If Piketty/Klein are right, and I believe they are, the only logical solution that might save our planet's habitability and social peace would be very stiff and omnipresent regulations on the use of energy and very high taxes on top incomes to cushion the effects of a massive reconversion of the economy... You notice I use the word "logical"

To think "logically", people must think calmly and clearly, rationally, so obviously to keep that from happening emotions must be created to keep rational thinking out of the picture. Fear, racism, anger, selfishness, hatred and war all drive out cool, collected thinking, so obviously fear, racism, anger, selfishness, hatred and war have to be promoted at all cost... cost is no problem when the future of the 0.01 percent's fortunes and power are at stake.

For those few who still read history there is nothing new here. After the defeat of WWI, with the  German population impoverished and the recent Russian revolution fresh in their minds the great industrialists of Germany were very "concerned" about the rise of Marxism in their country and took measures to put a stop to it.
By 1919 Krupp was already giving financial aid to one of the reactionary political groups which sowed the seed of the present Nazi ideology. Hugo Stinnes was an early contributor to the Nazi Party (National Socialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei). By 1924 other prominent industrialists and financiers, among them Fritz Thyssen, Albert Voegler, Adolph [sic] Kirdorf, and Kurt von Schroder, were secretly giving substantial sums to the Nazis. In 1931 members of the coalowners' association which Kirdorf headed pledged themselves to pay 50 pfennigs for each ton of' coal sold, the money to go to the organization which Hitler was building. The U.S. Kilgore Committee - "Who Financed Adolf Hitler?"
This all finally led to 4,200,000 Germans being killed in WWII (we are leaving out the 6,000,000 Jews and the 20,000,000 Russians), and of course Germany was a smoking ruin, filled with widows and orphans, but these industrialists like the Krupps and the Thyssens  made money leading up to the war, during the war (using slave labor), and after the war and the Krupps and the Thyssens, for example, are still some of richest families in Germany today. Like Naomi says, the staterooms on Noah's Ark are limited.

Every nation has its own idiosyncrasies, for example Germans wear lederhosen and Americans wear cowboy hats, so I don't imagine we'll be seeing torchlit parades of roman saluting, brown shirts, goosestepping down the broad avenues of Washington, or African-Americans being loaded onto boxcars either, for that matter.

American fascism will, like everything else American, have its own inimitable style, but I would argue that the beginning and perhaps more than the beginning, is unfolding right before our very eyes. DS


stunted said...

A Hillary presidency would allow a seamless transition for continuing the attack on presidential authority, women being outsiders as well in the US psyche even without hysteria surrounding Hillary, which will only compound the blathering to come from those who want to Take Back America. She will only make an easier target now that she is draping herself, publicly at least, in populist threads for her campaign. I don't think which party is in power matters in the slightest concerning furthering fascism in the US but Hillary in the White House would make voting for whichever of the clowns in the GOP that the Andersons or Kochs anoint in 2020 or 2040, as figureheads of "irrationalist manifestations" Hobsbawn referred to, far easier for an electorate long trained to forgo logic and critical thinking.

On the rare occasions where the world and the US are even discussed in my working class milieu, conversation usually ends with someone stating that the US is still the best place in the world. It is taken as gospel. No need for further analysis. We love our gospel here--it absolves us from thinking. US populism in the 21st century will definitely have its own inimitable style. Cruz, Rubio, Perry, Walker, Ryan, Rand Paul are assuming the role of John the Baptist. The messiah who Koch, Anderson et al anoint to re-establish order will not be far behind.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave ... BeetleJuice here ... long time no see ... still in the eifel in Germany.

Perhaps you should consider republicans have assimilated with Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged) and have come to appreciate their inner most selfishness. Reality doesn't matter if you can get what you want at the expense of another. Live for today and let others worry about what happens once they're dead.

As for populism, in the past it was used to make the life of the average person better. Today, they're working overtime to take away everything from others, not themselves ... I deserve this, but you aren't worthy.

In other words, republicans want things done their way without having to give an inch and are willing to let all hell break loose thinking during the chaos, they might be able to steal control over the entire process and lock the opposition completely out forever.

Since I've been out of the US for 10 years now, I can sit back and watch to see if they succeed in sinking the ship not realizing they don't have any life preservers.