Congress and the President: 2021 Explained

Want to know why…

  • The covid relief payment went from $2,000 immediately to $1,400 taking forever?
  • Plus it’s also going to be income limited?
  • Along with lowered unemployment benefits?

And why…

  • Raising the minimum wage never had a prayer?
  • Neither does free universal health care?
  • Same for student loan “forgiveness.” (Forgive? Did we do something wrong, taking out student loans, that we need to be forgiven?)

Or why…

  • Two Democratic Senators have decided to strut their stuff by joining the TNDP (Trump Nationalist Fascist Party — formerly the Republicans) in stonewalling the Biden Administration?
  • Bombs got dropped on Syria in what has to be the most pointless, blatant act of militaristic bullying ever?

Or why…

  • The Biden Administration is otherwise making a great start on a note-perfect cover of the demoralizing fall from hope and change to politics as usual in the Obama years?

Have I left anything out? If so, add it now. Don’t be shy — we’re on a roll here — the explanation will cover them, too. Okay, how about why…

  • Reparations for slavery and racism will never, ever, ever see the light of day?
  • Same with reparations for the genocide of American’s indigenous inhabitants?
  • And same with the U.S. policy of incarcerating people who dare try to move to the “Land of the Free,” along with locking up their kids?

Why all those things?

Because the job of the United States government is not to do nice things for its people.

What fools we were to think otherwise. We’ve known better since we first learned to pledge allegiance to the flag in grade school. But we forgot, so now we have to learn all over again.

Why would a $15 minimum wage be a good idea? Because the people working for minimum wage would make more money.

Why would universal health care be a good idea? Because it would be good for people’s health.

We could go on, but let’s not bother. That’s not what government is for. At least not ours, not here in the USA.

So that’s the why re: all those things listed above. Why not is also important: 

Because it would be bad for us if the government did nice things for us.

A government can’t go around willy-nilly doing things that make its citizens happier and make their lives better. It would be bad for our moral character. Civilization would end. Progress would stop marching.

Says who? Says the people we elect to run the government. Something else we learned in grade school is that we the people are too dumb to know what’s good for us, so we need to elect people who are smarter and know better to run the country for us — people like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and the rest of the TNFP and their two honorary Democrat members, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. (I almost called them “Democratic” members, but you can’t use that word because it’s too much like “Democracy,” which is a bad word in the TNFP. Words like “president for life” are much nicer.) But let’s not be too hard on them, because bipartisan compromise is the American way, and never mind that “bipartisan” has become “bipolar” and that “compromise” means the Democrats caving in — this time, courtesy of two Senators with a case of TNFP envy.

All those smarter, better than the rest of us people know, for example, that capitalism is for capitalists, and if you’re not part of the tippy top that controls all the world’s wealth then you’d better suck it up and get a job. And if that job includes being one of the people working for minimum wage who’ve been keeping the country going for the past year, then you ought to be happy you’ve at least got a job, And don’t get to uppity about the unemployed people, because we’re going to stick it to them, too — we give all those suckers more money, we’re sunk as a country. Before you know it, we’ll be taxing the rich who get richer while the poor get poorer. And then we’ll be cutting our defense budget in half, and never mind that we would still spend more on better ways to bomb Syria than any other country in the world.

All those smarter than us people also know that if you want to get the college education that’s required to hold one of those minimum wage jobs it sure as hell better not be a freebie, because if they make it too easy on you then by God that’s socialism, which is this absolute worse thing that could ever happen. Bettter to take out massive loans from the government itself (the government obviously has a sweet deal) that you’ll never be able to pay off.

They also know that it’s good to be role models for the rest of us morally corrupt dummies as to how we, too, can be controlled by the most moronic conspiracy theories ever devised (which is saying a lot, lot, lot) and believing in the kind of Christian Nationalism that explains why America gets to trample on human rights and commit war crimes as its leads the civilized free world in the march of progress to the Heavenly City.

This is the 21st Century, isn’t it?

Just checking.

All those smarter than the rest of us people also know that it’s good to incessantly rev up all the not as smart as they are people they pretend to love until the only outlet they’ll have for all that frustration and rage will be to storm the capitol and brag about how much they love Jesus. Let ’em have their moment, then we’ll throw ’em in jail.

No, the minimum wage thing is not a matter of what’s good economic policy and what’s not. Go ahead, do the research: whether raising or lowering the minimum wage is good or bad for the economy is inconclusive. Hurt of harm? Depends who you ask — what they’ll tell you depends on who’s side they’re on. Then what’s the minimum wage thing about? C’mon class, we just went over this: it’s about how people in Washington are smarter than the rest of us about how much poor people should get paid. And we sure as hell aren’t going to pay them more just to help them out. Just think how bad things could get.

Why would canceling student debt  be a good idea? Um, because it would be good to relieve aspiring people who want to learn things and make a contribution and get ahead in life from the despair and financial impossibility of a punishing debt load? Just an idea….

And why would it be good not to bomb people in Syria just to let them know that the USA is the baddest war-mongering ass around?

Do you really need to ask?

As for why we probably won’t whine too much about having our post-election euphoria dashed on the rocks of four years of Obama-style disenchantment — well, at least it’s not four more years of the other guy. “Blue no matter who” might be lame, but it’s way better than the alternative.

So let’s review: Improving the lives of the country’s citizens — that’s not what government is for. It would be bad for our moral character, an affront to freedom, and would generally undermine all those smarter-than-the-rest-of-us people we keep electing.

And thank their Imperialist God that we do, because can you imagine what else we might want to do in the name of making our lives better if we were left to our own devices?

“I’m afraid to ask for it.”

I did an art giveaway for the holidays – 33 paintings and drawings out the door. Nice. Someone had commented about one of them – “I don’t even like orange, but I like this!” I thought she would ask for it – when she didn’t I sent her a message. “I’d really like to have it,” she replied, “but I’m afraid to ask for it.” So I sent it to her.

“I’m afraid to ask for it.”

What if you weren’t?

 “Oh, I couldn’t.”

What if you could?

Where do we get that from? What would be so bad about asking for it? What if we could?

I hear the Republicans rail against anything that might… you know, be something that would be um, nice to have…. I watch them smack the label “socialism” on things with a triumphant smirk, like, “There! That settles it! Look at me — I just won! I’m so good! None of that Commie bullshit around here! No lazy handout welfare queen get a job food stamps crap on my carpet!”

What’s with that? Would it really be all that bad to have stuff? I mean stuff like…

Free universal healthcare. Wow. What if the first thing that comes to mind when you think maybe you should get that checked out isn’t, “What’s that going to cost? Will insurance will cover it? Have I met my deductible yet?” What if you could just, you know, just kind of go get it checked out? How bad could that be?

Free education. Omigod the sky is falling! No, but seriously… what if you could get the best education in the world and didn’t have to be in debt forever and never be able to make the monthly payments on it for the rest of your life? What if you could get the degree for the job you want, and if you change your mind or something else redirects your life at some point you could go back to school and do something different? You know, make higher education free and lifetime education. And how about we cancel all existing student debt while we’re at it?

Would any of that really be all that bad?

What’s with us, in this country? We want everything to be up to us. Every individual better be rugged. Everything weget better be something we by God earned.Like it’s not good enough to just be a citizen of These United States.You gottta be able to stand on your own. Government is evil, remember?

Okay, so you’re too proud for a handout – could you live with maybe just some economic equality? A playing field that’s actually level? A return of the notion of upward mobility? The possibility of a better life?

What would be so wrong with that?

Minimum wage of $15. Fifteen dollars!!! That means somebody working full time could actually make enough to about get up to the national poverty standard. Whoop-dee-doo!  The people having problems with fifteen stinking bucks an hour have expense accounts that shell out more than that much to buy a lobbyist a drink.

And since we’re talking about wages, how about the ability to make enough so that you’re not always just barely getting by, living paycheck to paycheck, and you could actually make enough to put something in savings now and then or even – gasp!! – take a vacation more than once in a lifetime?

And speaking of vacations, what’s with the national must-have of a week off after you’ve been there a year? And then you won’t take it anyway, because we’re all too busy realizing our manifest destiny.

Don’t tell me we can’t afford it. I learned to add and subtract in grade school. So did you. It’s not that hard.

I mean, does the USA really need to spend more on defense than China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, the U.K., and Japan…  combined?[1] We spend three times more than China and ten times more than our other closest “competitor.” How safe do we need to be? And are we, actually? What about some of that money to, let’s say hire back the medical personnel who lost their jobs during a pandemic? Or to pay teachers a living wage?

And really, how much of a multi-billionaire does anyone really need to be? And what about those mega-corporations who have more invested in a square inch of world headquarters than you and I and all our friends and families will ever see in our combined lifetimes? And what if we don’t hero-worship microwave high-tech entrepreneurs, and sponsor corporate stock buy-backs that make the rich richer?

Do you suppose it might be okay to ask some of those folks to contribute?

Is there any chance hyper-competitive, privatize-everything, monetize-your-life, gig-economy-side-hustle, zero-sum capitalism could survive the stress?

Just asking….

And now that we’re getting warmed up our afraid to ask list, how about

  • Affordable housing?
  • Streets, roads, bridges, and ports that don’t look like a lot of that war glorification money got spent on target practice?
  • A really cool public transportations system that’s safe, clean, and ridiculously on time. What if we even had trains – like those crazy fast ones that run on air or magnets or whatever?
  • And how about really nice and well-maintained public toilets?

Okay, okay… we probably reached the stage of total delusion. But since we’re there, how about:

  • An end of extreme nationalism
  • The USA’s embrace of international law and accountability
  • A worldwide climate change strategy
  • Clean oceans
  • A renewed commitment to parks, public lands, and open spaces
  • Free universal internet
  • Reparations for slavery
  • Reparations to native Americans
  • And end to misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia
  • Gender identity acceptance and kindness
  • Immigrants and refugees welcomed and embraced

Let’s just go for the whole stack…

  • A return of public discourse based on intelligence, reason, science, truthfulness, ethics…
  • And how about an end to reality TV and instead we have something like style and taste and decency and…

Okay dreamer boy, sit down before you hurt yourself.

Sigh.

What if all these things were part of what it means to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”?[2]

What country is this country, anyway?

What if the “public good” wasn’t a bad word? (Okay, two words….)

What if everything that would be nice to have wasn’t unAmerican and a sign of bad moral character and general wimpyness?

What if everything that would be nice to have wasn’t… wait for it… socialism?

What if we weren’t afraid to ask for it?

What if we could?


[1] Axios

[2] Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America

The Case For Covid Accountability (Or Not)

I read an article yesterday asking why America doesn’t prosecute Trump for his handling (nonhandling) of the pandemic. We all know what he did and didn’t do, and that that the USA is the world Covid leader, with deaths stalking the half million mark.[1] We also know that Americans move on. It’s what we do — it’s the American way. But that’s not why we wouldn’t try to hold Trump accountable. The truth is, even it we wanted to, we can’t – our law prevents it.

If we were talking about you or me, what are the options for holding us accountable? You read people saying Trump meant for all those people to die, to cull vulnerable populations. If you or I did that, our intent to do that would make it murder or manslaughter.

But he didn’t have to mean it, he could have just been incompetent, like being unqualified for the job. Or he could have actually believed his own fake truth don’t worry this will take its course and be over before you know it, hey look at me I had it and it wasn’t so bad, and besides it’s all China’s fault. Or gee, I was busy golfing that day and my mind was somewhere else. In other words, he could have just been negligent instead of intentional. And again, if that were you or me, we’d be in deep doo-doo.

Here’s a sample of how the law defines criminal negligence, which is the worst kind of negligence there is and therefore is the hardest to prove:

“To be guilty of criminally negligent homicide, the defendant must fail to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a certain result will occur, and the risk must be of such a nature that the defendant’s failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from a reasonable person’s standard of care.”[2]

What do you think of those key phrases?

  • “The defendant must fail to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a certain result will occur.”
  • “And the risk must be of such a nature that the defendant’s failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from a reasonable person’s standard of care.”

Do you think a “reasonable person” have noticed that death was “a substantial and unjustifiable risk” of ignoring a pandemic? Would a reasonable person’s “standard of care” suggest that it might have been a good idea to try to prevent disaster if you were in a position to do so? Seems reasonable. (And BTW, “reasonable” in this context doesn’t refer to what reasonableness-impaired nutcases think is reasonable. Instead it means what a… well, um, let’s say a more um, normal person – like one who’s capable of empathy — might think.)

The standard of care that applies when people throw around the word “negligence” is for lawyers to argue about, but at the very least, does a gut-level response suggest that there might be something unreasonable and uncaring about ignoring a plague?

Sure, yeah, okay, well maybe. But “gross” negligence means something special under the law. Gross negligence is not just your everyday plain vanilla run-of-the-mill inattentiveness – not just oh-gosh-I-guess-I-wasn’t-paying-attention-I’m-so-forgetful-sometimes negligence. Gross negligence is really trying to be incompetent negligence – it’s talk to the hand, can’t you see I’m busy here negligence.

Gross negligence, normal negligence… really trying to be blind when anybody who’s breathing would have noticed things weren’t going to go well if you just ignored the whole thing and hoped it would go away… none of those kinds of negligence make any difference. Turns out that Presidents get to be as negligent as they want.

Yes, that is gross. But it’s also the law.

And something else that doesn’t  matter is whether what Trump did or didn’t do actually caused those deaths. Like standard of care, causation is something else for lawyers to argue about – that’s what law school is for, to teach lawyers how to do that. Okay fine. But for Presidents, ignoring a plague to the point where hundreds of thousands of citizens in a country you’re supposed to be in charge of die unnecessarily, well that’s just fine. And the rest of us can just go ahead and assume all the very worst things possible and Trump still gets a get out of jail free card.

Why?

Because under U.S. federal and state law, a President can do no wrong.

Let’s take a moment for that to sink in.

Now one more time with felling: Under U.S. federal and state law, a President can do no wrong.

And it’s not just the President, it’s everybody else who’s a — what’s that phrase? oh yeah, “public servant” – none of them can do wrong either. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Lauren Boebert… all of those public servants…  none of them can do wrong.

Seriously. That’s what our law says.

I still remember the moment when I was sitting in a law school class learning about this. “Government needs to be free to govern,” my law professor explained. Okay, got it. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. We hold people accountable, nobody’s going to want to do it. Better give them unlimited Mulligans than not have them in Washington working hard on our behalf.

The legal doctrine is “sovereign immunity.” It’s part of American law because when we started our country we brought English common law with us, because it was easier to do that than start from scratch. And English common law said “the king can do no wrong.”

“Sovereign immunity, or crown immunity, is a legal doctrine whereby a sovereign or state cannot commit a legal wrong and is immune to civil suit or criminal prosecution.”[3]

“Sovereign immunity finds its origins in English common law and the king’s position at the ‘apex of the feudal pyramid.’ In that pyramid, lords could not be sued in their own courts, ‘not because of any formal conception or obsolete theory, but on the logical and practical ground that there can be no legal right as against the authority that makes the law on which the right depends.’ Thus, lords could only be sued in the courts of their superiors, but, for the king, ‘there was no higher court in which he could be sued.’” [4]

“The theory of the divine right of kings lent support to the proposition that the king was above the law-that he was in fact the law-giver appointed by God, and therefore could not be subjected to the indignity of suit by his subjects…. [Sir William Blackstone, author of the famous Blackstone Law Dictionary, said that] ‘Besides the attribute of sovereignty, the law also ascribes to the king in his political capacity absolute perfection… The king… is not only incapable of doing wrong, but even of thinking wrong: he can never mean to do an improper thing: in him is no folly or weakness.’”[5]

Nice to know that our legal system is doing its part to keep the feudal pyramid intact.

Nice to know that the king in his political capacity is absolutely perfect.

Nice to know the President is, too.

And can we talk for a  moment about “divine right”? The Divine Right of Kings was a favorite doctrine of the first King James of England –King James as in the King James version of the Bible.[6] It makes sense that somebody who has a Bible translation named after him would know about Divine Right. Export Divine Right to this side of the Pond, and now you’ve got Presidents and members of Congress and the whole scurvy bunch getting to act like they’re the King of England:  incapable of doing wrong, incapable of even thinking wrong or meaning to do something improper, because in them is no folly or weakness.

Hmmm, sounds just like Trump and his cronies.

And can we also talk about the Bible that says God has made “him [that, is mankind] a little lower than the angels” and “crowned him with glory and honor” and “has given him dominion over the works of your hands,” and “put all things under his feet.”  Psalm 8: 4-6 (There’s a reason why Biblical language is male-biased:  God Himself is a him – “a man of war” to be exact. Exodus 15:3) That’s the Bible that says, God has made him “A little lower than angels.” All disrespect intended, that’s a lie. The way it works is that God is way up there, the rest of use are way down here, and the ones a little lower than the angels are the people in government. Angels, when they’re not dancing on the heads of pins, get to be Death Angels and destroy people and things. The President and his enablers get to do likewise. The rest of us? Only in your dreams, pal – as the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol are learning.

No wonder people want to be rich and powerful:  you get the adult version of a permanent hall pass. Turn a virus loose? No problem. Wage endless wars? You got it. Sic SS troops on Black Lives Matter protestors? Rock on, baby. You can get away with stuff now. Don’t like the service? Buy the place and fire the manager. No more nagging internal voice that says be careful what you say and do. God bless the child’s that’s got his own”[7] – that’s you, my friend, now get out there and sing “I did it my way”[8] all the way to the bank.

If we were honest, when the adults ask us what we want to be when we grow up, we’d all answer “I want to be God.” The more timid might wonder if they can be God without having the whole world in their hand, but they don’t need to worry, the best part of being God is nobody can put you on their naughty and nice list. You can theoretically have the whole world in your hands, but what you do or don’t do with it is all up to you.

And don’t tell me that the Man at the top of the cosmic pecking order has an internal moral compass that makes Him be nice and just and truthful, that sure He has His moments (like ordering genocide and authorizing rights of rape for his troops) but his love really is everlasting and his mercy really does endure forever.

Sorry, but I’ve read that book many times, and I know better.

True, the government can waive its own sovereign immunity,[9] and believe it or not that has actually happened before:  “The federal government did this when it passed the Federal Tort Claims Act, which waived federal immunity for numerous types of torts claims.”[10]

What do you suppose are the odds it could happen again, this time around?

Yeah, me neither.

So the reason why Americans aren’t suing Trump over Covid is not because we’re acting like Americans and letting bygones be bygones and calling for unity so we don’t slow down the march of progress that is our manifest destiny, it’s because we can’t. And we can’t because the Bible tells us so.

So the real culprit isn’t the Bible’s God, it’s the Bible, and in particular it’s the Bible’s worldview that thousands of years later still dominates our thinking about how life works, still undergirds our country, still explains why “Amazing Grace” gets sung at Inaugural festivities as a patriotic hymn like of course it belongs there, it’s part of what it means to be American.

Hey, hierarchies with God at the top are nice sometimes. They make the cosmos seem orderly, they give life meaning and purpose. They clean up the mess, make it so we don’t have to deal with being so damn… human… all the time.

I mean, screaming into the void does get old.

And just think what it would be like to actually have to think through a way to make sense of the messiness of human government in a way that would hold accountable people like former (praise be to the Autocratic God at the top of the pyramid!) President Trump – not to mention what that would mean for Republicans and the Christian Right and everyone else who might in the absence of King James Law be considered morally, ethically, and legally accountable for half a million deaths.

Yeah, that would be tough, all of that out-of-the-Bible-box creative thinking it would take to come up with something like that.  

Just like it would be tough to figure out whether a reasonable person might take a deadly plague seriously.


[1] Coronavirus Update (Live): 98,049,817 Cases and 2,098,153 Deaths from COVID-19 Virus Pandemic – Worldometer (worldometers.info). Some people think the U.S. performance isn’t so bad if you measure it per capita:  Mortality Analyses – Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center (jhu.edu). Great. Explain that to somebody’s friends and family.

[2] CO 18-3-305. Criminally negligent homicide – Law of Self Defense

[3] Wikipedia on Sovereign Immunity. See also Wikipedia on Sovereign Immunity in the United States.

[4] McCann, Miles, “State Sovereign Immunity,” National Association of Attorneys General, NAGTRI Journal Volume 2, Number 4. Although the article is technically about state – vs. federal — sovereign immunity, the quoted text applies to both.  See also the following quote from this monograph from the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, a New York based firm with a reputation for its commitment to diversity”  “At its core, the doctrine of sovereign immunity stands for the proposition that the government cannot be sued without its consent – that is, ‘the King can do no wrong.’ Sovereign immunity is simple in concept but nuanced in application.”.

[5] Pugh, George W., “Historical Approach to the Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity.” Louisiana Law Review Volume 13, Number 3 (March 1953).. Citations omitted.

[6] Owlcation

[7] Billie Holiday – YouTube.

[8] Frank Sinatra – YouTube.

[9] McCann, Miles, “State Sovereign Immunity” and Wikipedia on Sovereign Immunity in the United States

[10] Cornell Law School, Legal Information Institute.

Blueprint for Fascism – Part 2

In this series, we’re looking at fascism’s Biblical roots. Last time, Part 1 distinguished worldview from ideology and began a list of fascism’s defining features. Let’s continue with the list.

Us vs. Them — Racism

Fascism thrives on identifying Us vs. Them. They look, talk, and act differently, follow different customs, traditions, and holidays, listen to different music and express themselves in different art forms. They are usually foreigners, immigrants, women, the LGBTQ[1] crowd, artists, intellectuals, and anybody else who’s not with you and is therefore against you. People of a different race are particularly easy to pick out of the not welcome crowd.

“American fascism… is a clear derivative of centuries of supremacy, slavery, and segregation. That old America never went anywhere, it seems — it was just hibernating. And now it’s back with a vengeance, seeking to reinstate something very much like the America it used to be. So where Islamic fascism is theofascism, American fascism is something subtly different: I’d call it proto-fascism.

“That means something like: ‘fascism before fascism’ or ‘the original fascism.’ I say that because the Nazis in fact both admired and studied America’s supremacist institutions — from Jim Crow to slavery to the elimination of personhood — and modeled their own new society after America’s lost one. So if America is reverting back to an older form of social organization, where whites lived above everyone else, where once they literally owned everyone else — who were the first fascists of all, the Nazis…or the Founding Fathers?

“I know that Americans won’t like to hear that. So go ahead and pick holes in it if you can. I have thought about it intently, and I have to concede, as much as I admire America, this logic appears to be immovable to me. Hence, I think what’s emerging in America is proto-fascism — the original variant, when settlers arrived on the shores of a Promised Land — and decided that it belonged only to them as masters and lords, hence everyone else already there was a subhuman, hence they needed slaves to till their fields.” [2]

Economics

Fascism thrives on economic inequality.

“America became the first rich country to collapse to the new wave of fascism. Why? Because it was the most capitalist country in the world. Capitalism implodes into fascism — inevitably. Why? Because capitalism concentrates capital among those who already own it, which starves labour of gains. That causes the middle class to crater, and inequality to spike. In their desperation and fear, the imploded middle begins to punch down, taking from the even more powerless what was promised to them — security, riches, stability, belonging, status. That sequence describes America perfectly, in hard empirical terms: the rich became ultra rich, but because they took more than 100% of the economy’s gains for decades, the middle class imploded. That fresh poverty produced a turn to a demagogue, who blamed everyone weaker for it — immigrants, refugees, foreigners, etcetera. The Trump voter isn’t the poor black — he’s the declining white.

“So the second half of America’s grim, weird collapse I’d describe as implosive fascism. Implosion of the middle, driven by economic stagnation, is a necessary feature of every fascist collapse — but it’s especially true in America.”[3]

Somebody’s got to pay for it, and rich supporters get richer through fascist cronyism. Meanwhile, the economically disadvantaged flock to fascism and support government policies that widen the inequality gap at their own expense. They do so for a lot of bizarre reasons,[4] but from a religious point of view, lifestyles of the rich and famous is their heavenly destiny — Heaven is where they’ve got a mansion waiting.[5]

Fascism’s Dismal Checklist

If we assemble the above together with the identifiers we saw in Part 1, we have guidelines for recognizing fascism.

Fascists prescribe simple fixes for complex problems.

  • It’s not an ideology, it’s a method, a system for thinking and doing.
  • Fascism feeds on grievances, identifies the enemies responsible, and sets the populace against them.
  • They take on the role of national saviors.
  • They expand their self-concept to the size of the state itself.
  • They subvert, discredit and eliminate societal and governmental institutions that defy or impair them.
  • They ascend to power through the ballot box and then undermine democracy from within.
  • They systematically eliminate opposition one small step at a time.
  • They attack the judiciary and the media.
  • They tell lies as the new truth, repeating them incessantly until they become the new truth, the new reality.
  • They denigrate science and academia.
  • They threaten political competitors and dissenters.
  • They foment bigotry and racism;
  • ,,,male dominance and misogyny;
  • …persecution of the LGBTQ community;
  • …stonewalls against immigrants and foreigners;
  • They praise autocrats and encourage worldwide drift to authoritarianism.
  • Fascism ascends in times of accelerated social and cultural upheaval.
  • …in the aftermath of demoralization and defeat;
  • …after great recessions and other forms of drastic economic displacement;
  • …during times of extreme economic inequality;
  • …in the waning stages of an economic miracle,
  • …when new artistic and creative forms are displacing the old standbys;
  • …when scientific developments offer shocking new perspective on the fabric of life and reality;
  • …when democratic institutions are unstable and the notion of “freedom” takes on new meaning;
  • …when there is widespread disorder;
  • …when a visceral, nostalgic appeal to tradition emerges.
  • Fascism promotes the heavy hand of authoritarianism, and a return to law and order.
  • Fascists promote extreme militaristic nationalism.
  • They use military marches and staged spectacles and rallies to stir up support.
  • They lionize the military and police.
  • They bully, abuse, threaten, intimidate, promote hostility, and encourage their followers to do likewise.
  • They belittle traditional heroes and societal role models of leadership.
  • They glamorize national history in ways that support their cause, and ignore national embarrassments, failures, weaknesses.
  • They adopt religious narratives and forge religious allegiances.
  • They equate national identity with divine purpose and chosen status.
  • They express contempt for electoral democracy and political and cultural liberalism.
  • They endorse a natural social hierarchy that prizes social and economic elites.
  • They purport to support the vanishing and lost middle class, but only to the extent the middle class is willing to subordinate self-interest to the good of the nation.

But of course fascism doesn’t run off a checklist. (“Let’s see, how are we doing on bigotry today?”) The list entries are embedded in fascist culture. They are socially normative. They serve as measures of allegiance and duty. They create a narrative of how life works, is and ought to be, and maintain practices that support individual and collective compliance with that narrative.

Fascism’s Religious Narrative

Fascism’s narrative is as follows:

  • A utopian past when life was better and people were better off;
  • A fall from grace – a turning away instigated by the evil Them;
  • An awakened nostalgic and righteous yearning to restore lost utopia;
  • The need for a beneficent intervention – salvation – to get back to the good life;
  • The arrival on the scene of a savior, whose charisma commands a following;
  • The emergence of the congregation of the faithful – a chosen population of aggrieved victims transformed into the superior Us;
  • War and final judgment meted out on Them.[6]
  • The Golden Age of the victorious.

The Biblical narrative is everywhere in Western culture – from Hollywood to Silicon Valley to Yankee Stadium to the Capitol Building. And it explains fascism’s religious ties and obsession with holy war.

“Old fascism didn’t abhor ‘religion’ as much as we imagine. It was a deeply mystical exercise, steeped in its own mythology of sacred blood and divine…. A homeland of the pure, strong, and faithful. Cleansed of the weak and impure — who are dirty, filthy subhumans.

“A militant message broadcast by armies of demagogues…. Jihadis who took up the call. And destabilized society after society. By bombing and shooting up places where civilized and decent values were being enacted: hospitals, schools, festivals. Minorities targeted, jailed, imprisoned, hunted, eliminated. New institutions built — justice systems, law enforcement agencies, whole new kinds of morality police. Society finally reshaped in the image of the perfect and the pure and the strong.”

“Islamic fascism we might say is something like theo-fascism. It is explicitly ‘religious’ — and faith trumps nationhood. It isn’t mere ‘nationalism’ — its goal is something like a new caliphate, in the extreme, or at least a federation of united Islamic states, proudly clean and faithful.[7]

Mussolini – Fascism Christened

Mussolini gave “fascism” its name, which he took from an ancient Roman symbol.

“Fascism [is a] political ideology and mass movement that dominated many parts of central, southern, and eastern Europe between 1919 and 1945 and that also had adherents in western Europe, the United States, South Africa, Japan, Latin America, and the Middle East.

“Europe’s first fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, took the name of his party from the Latin word fasces, which referred to a bundle of elm or birch rods (usually containing an ax) used as a symbol of penal authority in ancient Rome.

“Although fascist parties and movements differed significantly from one another, they had many characteristics in common, including extreme militaristic nationalism, contempt for electoral democracy and political and cultural liberalism, a belief in natural social hierarchy and the rule of elites, and the desire to create a Volksgemeinschaft (German: ‘people’s community’), in which individual interests would be subordinated to the good of the nation.”[8]

Mussolini’s “Clerical Fascism” and Trump’s Christian Right Fascism

Fascism seizes power by degrading legitimate government and spurring the electorate to rally in patriotic mob scenes, celebrating their own political disempowerment. And then get God on your side. Mussolini rose to power 100 years ago on the strength of “clerical fascism.”[9] “Clerical” referred to Roman Catholic clergy whose interests were propounded by the Italian People’s Party[10], which later split over whether the church should overtly support fascism. Fascist Italy recognized Catholicism as its state religion. Mussolini’s defining rally was his March on Rome.[11] A hundred years after Mussolini, Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and the Christian Right have followed the same historical blueprint.

Violence and “the Unthinkable”

What happens when fascism makes its move? As we saw last time, worldview resides with the most basic human impulses – where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”[12] Fascism therefore asserts itself with crassness and brutality.

“What tends to happen is violence. Of a spectacular kind. War, atrocity, barbarity. Genocide. The unthinkable…. [T]here is only room for one master race, one Promised Land, one fatherland, one people who are the strongest and purest.”[13]

Violence? Check. Think of the Proud Boys. Think of Trump’s SS troops attaching citizens on city streets.

The unthinkable? Check. Thinks of Trump and the Republicans blatant all-out assault on the defining right of democracy – the citizens’ right to vote — everything from calling votes (only those against Trump) fraudulent to appeals for suspending the Constitution and imposing martial law.

And it all begins with a Biblical worldview.

The Fascist Bible

When I say “Bible,” I mean the Christian Bible. The first part is the “Old Testament” — God’s original deal with ancient Israel. The second part is the “New Testament” — God’s new deal that includes the “Gentiles” – the non-Jews. The second part is Jesus and post-Jesus, but since he was a Jew and it was mostly written by Jews, there’s a lot of carryover. Muslims and Jews buy into the parts of the Old Testament that include Abraham, so they and Christianity are called the “Abrahamic” religions. Therefore “Abrahamic worldview” could be substituted for “Biblical worldview.” It’s the same God in all three.

Extreme Nationalism

Extreme nationalism lies at the heart of fascism. It is also the essence of Abrahamic religion. God choses a nation to be His. That nation becomes Us, which makeseverybodyelse Them. God provides detailed laws through his representatives — prophets, priests, and kings — for how We are supposed to behave.[14] Conformity is the lowest compliance standard; loyalty and zealotry are preferred. Nonconformity, disloyalty, disrespect, doubt, dissent are crushed. One of the worst things God’s favored nationcan do is act like Them – take up foreign customs, marry internationally, etc. The Old Testament is therefore several hundred pages of rewind and repeat re:  how it goes for both Us and Them, and often it’s hard to tell who’s got the worst deal.

The Totalitarian God

Abrahamic religion imposes a hierarchical structure with God at the top. God enjoys absolute sovereignty and is not accountable to anyone for anything. God’s word is Truth, His will supreme, His power absolute. Totalitarianism is authority without accountability, therefore God is a totalitarian ruler.[15] Plus, because God is… well, God… He is in charge of not just his own nation, but all nations. All national sovereignty derives from Him. On this point, the New Testament section of the Christian Bible restates and summarizes Old Testament political worldview:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.  Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.” Romans 13:1-5[16]

National sovereignty that derives from God is similarly unaccountable. Accordingly, “the divine right of kings” protected English monarchs with its declaration that “the king can do no wrong,” and the concept was imported into the Colonies as “sovereign immunity,” which protects federal and state officials.[17] The divine right of kings and sovereign immunity, like God’s rule, are therefore ultimately totalitarian. Which means that a fascist in power is God’s man and can do no wrong unless God intervenes.

Biblically-based national sovereignty answers the question I began Part 1 of this series with:  how is it that the Christian Right can support Trump? The answer is that Trump is God’s man in the same way that Mussolini was God’s man. They are because the Bible says they are. They carry on the succession of divinely-appointed national leaders all the way back to the Old Testament kings.

Farfetched? Fantastical? We need only listen to the rationale given by one of Trump’s Men –former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in his defense of the Trump Administration’s family separation policy, to learn that the Christian Right doesn’t find this farfetched or fantastical in the slightest. Instead, it is a validation of legitimacy.

“If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. If you smuggle an illegal alien across the border, then we’ll prosecute you,,,, If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent, fair application of law is in itself a good and moral thing and that protects the weak, it protects the lawful. Our policies that can result in short-term separation of families are not unusual or unjustified.”[18]

Sessions invoked the Bible to substantiate the United States’ God-derived national sovereignty. The authority of God and the Bible is totalitarian, beyond accountability. Since the United States derives its national sovereignty from God and the Bible, it enjoys the same totalitarian authority, above any law other than its own. Its laws are good and moral by definition, and its government and government officials are free from fault because its laws say they are.

  • “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul.”
  • “God has ordained the government for his purposes.”
  • “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves.”
  • “Consistent, fair application of law is in itself a good and moral thing and that protects the weak, it protects the lawful.”
  • “It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”

Sessions’ case justifies national xenophobic indifference to the plight of the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse. the homeless, and tempest-tossed.[19] Instead, the United States government is free to terrorize them at the border. The same concept applies to America’s national history of legal slavery and normative racism, as well as its institutionalized homophobia and misogyny.

Next Time

In sum, the Bible narrative – the story of God’s relationship with his people — illustrates the dynamics of fascist government. And the Bible’s God is a prototype of a fascist leader.

We’ll look further into these things next time.


[1] For an updated treatment of the acronym, see LGBTQIAPK: Let’s Unpack the Acronym, Harlot (Mar. 19, 2018),

[2] Hague, Umair, The (New) Fascism of the 21st Century, Medium (Aug. 7, 2019)..

[3] Ibid.

[4] Thomas, K R, Why DO the poor keep voting for the rich? Medium (Dec. 26, 2019)

[5] “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2 NKJV

[6] Wikipedia – Fascism

[7] Hague, Umair, op cit.

[8] Fascism | Definition, Meaning, Characteristics, Examples, & History | Britannica

[9] Clerical fascism – Wikipedia

[10] Italian People’s Party (1919) – Wikipedia

[11] March on Rome | Definition, Events, & Facts | Britannica. March on Rome – Wikipedia

[12] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)

[13] Hague, Umair, op cit.

[14] See the “blessings and curses” of Deuteronomy 26-28.

[15] For a breakdown on how the CIA categorizes dictatorial forms of government, see Totalitarianism, Authoritarianism, and Fascism — What Is the Difference? ThoughtCo. (June 5, 2020).

[16] See also Daniel 2:20-21, Daniel 4:17, Jeremiah 27:5, Proverbs 21:1.

[17] Wikipedia – Sovereign Immunity. See also Wikipedia – Sovereign Immunity in the United States. McCann, Miles, State Sovereign Immunity,” National Association of Attorneys General, NAGTRI Journal Volume 2, Number 4. Although the article is technically about state – vs. federal — sovereign immunity, the quoted text applies to both.  See also the following quote from this monograph from the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, a New York based firm with a reputation for its commitment to diversity”  “At its core, the doctrine of sovereign immunity stands for the proposition that the government cannot be sued without its consent – that is, ‘the King can do no wrong.’ Sovereign immunity is simple in concept but nuanced in application.”. Pugh, George W., “Historical Approach to the Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity,” Louisiana Law Review Volume 13, Number 3 (March 1953).. Citations omitted.

[18] YouTube. See Wikipedia — Trump administration family separation policy.

[19] The Story Behind the Poem on the Statue of Liberty, The Atlantic (Jan. 15, 2018)

Blueprint for Fascism – Part 1

I used to wonder how the Christian Right could support Trump. “They must be just like him,” I thought once, but that wasn’t strong or deep enough — it was too individualistic, made it too much a matter of personal choice. Same problem with shared ideology — libertarianism plus capitalism. Ideology gets way too much credit as a way to explain why we do what we do. We aren’t the free thinkers we believe we are. We don’t act from reasoned choice, we do what we’re predisposed to do on a subconscious level, then rationalize after the fact.

The ”Fascist” Label

Then Madeline Albright’s book pasted Trump with the “fascist” label. The past couple years of his all-out assault on democracy, discourse, decency, decorum… have left little doubt. The Democrats have sprinted to the intellectual and ideological high ground, gibbered among themselves, stirred themselves up, got indignant, and generally have been oh so reasonable and insightful. Their criticism and analysis have also been entirely ineffective against post-truth reality. Meanwhile, the Christians and Republicans have been unfazed – haven’t even bothered to respond to the fascist allegations with “it takes one to know one!”

Why not? “Fascist” explodes in the brain. Someone calls you that, you come up swinging. But that’s not what happened. The Christians and Republicans mostly yawned and nodded, only jumped up on cue now and then to make some noise.

Explain that.

A couple weeks ago I had a dream that did.

No kidding. The dream’s explanation was so outrageous, I probably needed it to come through my subconscious mind, break through my defenses like a thief in the night, like the Bible says.[1] Which is appropriate, because it’s about the Bible and the Bible’s God.

Here it is:  what sustains Trump’s support from Christians and Republicans is their shared Biblical worldview, and that worldview is essentially fascist in nature. The Bible is the ultimate fascist blueprint, and the Bible’s God is the ultimate fascist. If you want to know how to do fascism, just give me some of that old time religion.[2]

Like I said, outrageous. Let’s break itdown.

Worldview

Ideology is surface-level rationalization. What’s buried deeper down?

Worldview.

Worldview satisfies our need to survive and our urge to thrive. There are giants in the Earth:  to survive, we need to identify and avoid them; to thrive, we need to defeat them. Ideology gives us a plan for doing that – it’s worldview’s to do list, our executive function in action. Ideology is worldview’s conscious spokesperson making it sound like we knew all along what we were doing – we were mission- and value-driven, we were living purpose-driven lives.

Worldview is meta-knowledge, meta-consciousness, meta-awareness. It is the Reality Distortion Factor in real time – the perspective, bias, and prejudice lens that warps and sorts input — the knowing before knowing that skews, bends, and conforms.

Worldview comes from a long way back. It’s epic in scope –a long story arc spanning the globe. millennia in the making, a cast of thousands, played out on uncountable stages by an encyclopedic cast list of actors and an infinity of extras.

Worldview is pervasive, assumed, incorporated, inculcated. It’s not a topic for media coverage, it’s the fabric and essence of our lives — our personal and communal institutions, languages, customs, ways of navigating through life. Worldview is cosmic comfort food — it fuels everything we know about how life works, guides how we navigate.

Ideological logjam gives pundits something to be right about, media something to report, think tanks something to advocate, and fund-raisers something to sell. Okay for them, that’s their job. Meanwhile, worldview keeps the fire burning.

The Fascist Worldview

Worldview is why the Christians and Republicans didn’t budge when their critics threw the “fascist” label at them. Nobody’s Biblical worldview came unhinged. Not all Republicans and Christians are Christian Right, but all of them share the same Biblical worldview, and that worldview stayed intact while the “fascist” accusations treated the issue as an ideology. But fascism isn’t rooted in ideology. It draws its life from worldview. It touches worldview-level pain and vulnerability and offers worldview-level comfort.

Fascism thrives on identifying who They are – the giants in the earth, the beasts on the prowl. When fascist worldview holds sway, there is no moral or legal recrimination associated with being Us, only great pride and relief at being on the good side of eternal terror. And once you’re in, you get to bang the drums and chant the slogans as you set about exterminating Them – which is both your duty to the cause and your best service to yourself and your comrades, since fascism must destroy the infidels before the righteous can be edified.

Meanwhile, They mistake fascism for ideology, and trot out the intellectual, historical, and legal case against it — trying to move a mountain with a rock and a pry bar, not realizing that fascism’s Us isn’t out to win an argument, it’s out to destroy. Whenworldview is at stake, it’s not Debate Club anymore, it’s Fight Club. No wonder there’s all that rage. No wonder fascism wanders in the guise of populism. No wonder conspiracy theories abound.

Biblical Worldview and Fascism

What then is the worldview that creates and sustains fascism?

Trump himself told us – on Monday, June 1, 2020. That was the day he led a procession of sycophants and servants, devotees and disciples – among them Attorney General William P. Barr, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, daughter Ivanka, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley (in camouflage), Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper – in a procession to nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church, the way cleared by the teargas and rubber bullets of his personal SS forces.

And then he held up a Bible.

That was it – a complete message delivered on the same level from which it came – from worldview – and delivered in the most appropriate way — in symbolic, pre-language form. Symbolic messages sneak past our defenses –like a thief in the night.

The media “lefties” called the stunt “vulgar.” Church leaders and religion academicians said no, this is not what Christianity is about. Reporters snarked about whether it was his Bible, if he ever read it, knew what it said. Lots of decent, thinking, believing people chafed and protested. They were earnest and brave. They interpreted Trump’s procession to the church for what it obviously was – racist backlash against the George Floyd protests.

And everybody missed the point. “It’s a Bible,” Trump said. He spoke, as he always does, with total transparency about his beliefs and intentions. The whole point was that he went to a church and held up a Bible. That’s it. Nothing more. But that “nothing more” had a whole lot more to say.

There was such a storm that his visit the following day to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine was barely noticed – a visit that delivered the same message in the same symbolic language and got the same disgusted response from the critics.[3]

In both visits, what Trump did and said was out of reach of consciousness, reporting, analysis, commentary. He spoke and acted from worldview, with maximum impact. Tyrants have an uncanny knack for knowing how to do that – how to tap worldview with profound symbolic gestures. The icons of ideology – metaphors, myths, symbols – land with far greater impact than words.

“As he took up his post before the church, which was partially boarded up after a minor fire that broke out during a recent protest, Mr. Trump set his face in a stony scowl and held up a black Bible, tightly closed.… There Mr. Trump was, holding aloft this mute book — neither opened, cited, nor read from — in the shadow of a vandalized church, claiming the mantle of righteousness.

“After all, that was what he had come to do. A ruler maintaining order strictly by brute force has a problem. Such regimes are volatile and fragile, subject to eruptive dissolution. Mr. Trump may lack the experience or interest to even pantomime genuine Christian practice, but he has acute instincts when it comes to the symbolism of leadership. He seemed to know, as he positioned himself as the defender of the Christian faith, that he needed to imbue his presidency with some renewed moral purpose; Christianity was simply a convenient vein to tap.

“‘I think that’s a standard trope in American political frames of reference,’ Luke Bretherton told me on a Monday night phone call. Mr. Bretherton, who is a professor of moral and political theology at Duke University’s Divinity School, cited Cold War efforts to demonize socialism as viciously atheistic and amoral. It was work undertaken with anxious eagerness precisely because socialist criticisms of American life were substantial and compelling.

“‘It’s significant that Trump did this alone,’ Mr. Bretherton observed. Unlike prior presidents who sometimes appeared on grave occasions with priests or pastors, Mr. Trump ‘doesn’t need a Billy Graham figure to give divine sanction. He doesn’t need a priestly figure. He himself can be the mediator.’” [4]

Fascism is salvation, nationalism style, and fascist leaders are saviors. We the people have forsaken our lost glory, grown lax, allowed an enemy to break in and steal our divine destiny. But God’s Anointed One can restore us. Trump has proclaimed all along that he is the only one who can restore the greatness of America’s lost Eden and lead us to the Promised Land, MAGA style. His detractors call politicking and ideology, but his devotees know, and rejoice. Biblical worldview applied to extreme nationalism saves them from the deranged liberals at our gates and counters the wickedness of globalism. The Bible puts Truth with a capital “T” on our side. Suddenly the Founders who took great pains to be sure there could be no national religion were founding America as a Christian country. Suddenly eternal and unchanging Truth is on our side. Truth stops the world so America can get off. No need to adapt, grow, change. No need for the wretchedness of globalism. No need to deal with the shithole countries or the refugees wo come from then, scrounging for our shelter. We can circle around, hunker down, banish the foreigners from our midst and send the miscreants begging. To him who has will more be given. We’re the ones who have more, and God bless the child that’s got his own.[5]

This is worldview-based fascism grown from the most ancient of roots of Western civilization.

Now let’s break that down.

The Elements of Fascism

First we need a definition of fascism so we’ll know it when we see it. According to Madeline Albright, that’s not easy to come by.

“I suggest to her that the book struggles to offer a satisfactory definition of fascism. ‘Defining fascism is difficult,’ she responds. ‘First of all, I don’t think fascism is an ideology. I think it is a method, it’s a system.’

“It is in his methods that Trump can be compared with, if not precisely likened to, the dictators of the 1930s. Fascists are typically masters of political theatre. They feed on and inflame grievances by setting ‘the people’ against their ‘enemies’. Fascists tell their supporters that there are simple fixes for complex problems. They present as national saviours and conflate themselves with the state. They seek to subvert, discredit and eliminate liberal institutions. She reminds us that they have often ascended to power through the ballot box and then undermined democracy from within. She is especially fond of a Mussolini quote about ‘plucking a chicken feather by feather’ so that people will not notice the loss of their freedoms until it is too late.

“In her book, [she labels Trump] the first anti-democratic president in modern US history’. Those Trumpians who know their history might retort that previous American presidents have been accused of being enemies of democracy, including some who have become the most revered holders of the office. Abraham Lincoln was charged with tyranny by his opponents during the civil war. So was Franklin D Roosevelt when he was implementing the New Deal.

“Trump is different, she insists. Look at his attacks on the institutions of liberal society as he Twitter-lashes the judiciary and the media. ‘Outrageous,’ says Albright. ‘It was Stalin who talked about the press being the enemy of the people…. I also think Trump does act as though he’s above the law.’ He lies without shame, she says. He threatens to jail political competitors. He foments bigotry. He lavishes admiration on autocrats like Putin and by doing so encourages the worldwide drift to authoritarianism.”[6]

Runway Change

Social and cultural upheaval breed fascism. “Progress” is too fast and innovation too disruptive, social norms are uprooted and culture comes unglued. Strong-armed “leadership” steps in to restore order, to bring us back to the standard of Truth.

“Sometimes social development is just too fast, too chaotic, too disorderly, and ultimately doomed to fail. In the aftermath of defeat; in the dislocations of great recessions; at the tail end of an economic miracle, traditions can melt away, making everything seem possible. But it is at just such moments that higher development all too often fractures and fails.

“The artistic and intellectual innovations of the early twentieth century can make those of the early twenty-first appear unimaginative and conventional… [for example], the social and artistic innovations of the ‘roaring twenties,’ which saw literary forms dissolved in Joyce’s Ulysses and sexual norms exploded in Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa. It saw the emergence of Art Deco and Bauhaus in architecture; the popularization of jazz; and the rise of cinema…. [The] erosion of forms accompanying these developments left all too many people feeling unsettled and shaky, as if walking along a slippery slope at too high an altitude.

“Yet innovation by itself is not enough to sustain freedom. True freedom takes work to sustain, and is everywhere reliant upon settled institutions, like freedom of speech and assembly, the rule of law, and the right to vote. These were unstable in Italy and Germany following the First World War, as they were in Russia at the turn of the millennium, and are in Central Europe today. Where democratic institutions are unstable, freedom tends to be suspect; where accompanied by widespread disorder, a visceral appeal to tradition often emerges to shut it all down. With the past exploded and social progress unsustainable, those inclined to fascism have nowhere to turn but a re-imagined past, decked out with all the paraphernalia of the future from which they run for their lives.

“Fascism… meets the premature dissolution of social norms with the heavy hand of authoritarianism; the sudden fracturing of settled forms with the illusion of law and order. It meets surrealism with classicism; atonal composition with military marches; and the liberation of women with a return to the kitchen. But while fascism may romanticize the past, what it actually presents is a brutal alternative to rapid social development.” [7]

Patriarchy and Misogyny

Strong-armed “leadership” always has a patriarchal face and a misogynist underbelly.

“The US may now be on the cusp of similar developments. Women are continuing the slow decades-long rise in the workplace. A younger generation of women is increasingly assertive and confident of its ability to succeed. The movement to end sexual harassment is overturning workplace norms. Gays and lesbians are coming out of the closet; gay marriage has been institutionalized; the transgender rights movement is bringing the scrutiny of gender itself—long an academic and feminist preoccupation—into mainstream debate. Conservatives have reacted with a backlash, reviving a virulent form of patriarchy, which sanctions unrestrained masculine impulses and the denigration of women by powerful men.

“Whether the reason lies in biology or cultural conditioning, men tend to locate themselves in hierarchies of other men. Conditioned to find their place, they typically maneuver through such hierarchies with alacrity, thus faring better than women in more hierarchical societies. Most try to hold their own in the pecking order, but “alphas” aim for the top, and fascists attempt to overturn traditional hierarchies altogether, setting up their own alternative orders, behind which their followers might line up. These newer orders tend to be punishingly vertical, as in the case of the Republican Party, where stepping out of line now ends careers—for their principal organizing mechanism is the ability to bully others.

“Patriarchies are generally understood as hierarchical orders dominated by men. Pre-modern societies are typically patriarchal, with males dominating politics and the family. Gender roles are circumscribed and human freedom is limited.

“Stable democracies are rarely patriarchal, but the regression to patriarchy is typical in failed or failing democracies….

“Fascists do not try to prettify their actions, but rather use them to hammer liberals and minorities into submission, for domination is essential to cowing the opposition and assimilating the weak. Women are vulnerable to this kind of intimidation, for they are seldom as well-schooled in the arts of oppression as men, and are typically more vulnerable to physical attack.

“American Republicans chose their most abusive bully and lined up behind him as he broke all social and political norms to tear down perhaps the most powerful woman in the world for a reason. They chanted “Lock her up!” not simply because they viewed her as a criminal, but because they were reasserting their patriarchal right to power.

“The early twentieth-century social psychologist Wilhelm Reich believed fascists relied on this kind of sexual and emotional repression to foster a masculine aggression that could be directed against outsiders.

“Fascism cannot be properly understood without some consideration of this reversion to patriarchy. Eugen Weber has written that fascism always emerges in response to the rising power of women. The Nazis entered office after a long decade of democracy in which women gained the vote and children won legal protection. The patriarchal family broke down in Weimar Germany, amid an open gay scene in Berlin, and a flourishing of the experimental arts, to which the Nazis responded with a dominant father-of-the-nation, who sought to re-establish patriarchy.

“American Republicans have long sought to re-establish a traditional order that puts women back in the kitchen, but Trumpist fascism represents a more visceral form of domination. Studies have shown that, while support for previous Republican presidential candidates such as Mitt Romney and the late John McCain was loosely correlated with more chivalrous views of traditional gender roles, support for Trump is correlated with outright hostility toward women.”[8]

We’ll look more at fascism’s characteristics next time.


[1] “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” 1 Thessalonians 5:2; “But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.” Matthew 24:43; “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” Revelation 16:15; “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” 2 Peter 3:10. (All quotes English Standard Version.)

[2] The Johnny Cash Show – Give Me That Old Time Religion – YouTube.

[3] Catholic Archbishop of Washington Slams Trump’s Visit To John Paul II Shrine, The Washington Post (June 2, 2020).

[4] The Last Temptation of Trump, The New York Times (June 2, 2020).

[5] God Bless the Child (Billie Holiday song) – Wikipedia.

[6] Madeleine Albright: “The things that are happening are genuinely, seriously bad,” The Guardian (July 8, 2018). See also Madeline Albright Warms of a New Fascism, The New Yorker (Apr. 24, 2018).

[7] Fascism:  A Forced Regression to Patriarchy, AlJumhiriya (Oct. 16, 2020)

[8] Ibid.

Reparations [7]: Global Accountability – Part 2

Proposals for reparations for American slavery often focus on centuries-old circumstances, legal issues, and cultural attitudes, proposing compensation to the descendants of slaves for ancestral harm suffered. This view treats slavery as something that ended at the Civil War and ignores its de facto persistence for another century until the 1960’s Civil Rights movement and for yet another 60 years of normalized cultural racism since then. Further, it misses the opportunity that reparations offer:  a chance to cleanse the past and create an inspired future. The global community offers a framework for this kind of opportunity — international human rights law, but the USA has long resisted global accountability, asserting instead its “rugged individualism” version of national sovereignty.

Rugged Individualism Sovereignty

Herbert Hoover introduced the term “rugged individualism” into the American lexicon in a 1928 campaign speech. [1] He began by acknowledging the need for federal control of the WWI mobilization, but rejected it as a standard for going forward, demonizing it as “European” and advocating a return to the Republican Party’s decentralized agenda.

“[At the end of World War I], the most vital of issues both in our own country and around the world was whether government should continue their wartime ownership and operation of… production and distribution. We were challenged with a… choice between the American system of rugged individualism and a European philosophy of diametrically opposed doctrines ­ doctrines of paternalism and state socialism. The acceptance of these ideas would have meant the destruction of self-government through centralization… [and] the undermining of the individual initiative and enterprise through which our people have grown to unparalleled greatness.”[2]

Hoover’s perspective was untimely and off the mark. Rugged individualism didn’t pull the nation out of the 1930’s Great Depression. For that, the country needed another wave of massive federal investment in the New Deal, followed by another centralized war effort. After the second world war, federal guidance shepherded three decades of post-war recovery, but in time the nation returned to rugged individualism as politicians continued to demonize democratic socialism until it became synonymous with Soviet Communism — a characterization both intellectually and historically false.

Sovereignty Without Accountability

Rugged individualism applied to the issue of national sovereignty results in a lack of accountability which 20th Century political theorist Hannah Arendt identified as the identifying hallmark of totalitarianism, since it results in “the possession of all instruments of governmental power and violence in one country.”[3]

The historic roots of this outlook lie in a Biblical hierarchical worldview in which God reigns uncontested at the top, and national charters derive directly from the supreme divine source. God enjoys absolute sovereignty unaccountable to anyone for anything, and is therefore free to enforce divine will by any means, including holy war, genocide, temporal chastisement, and eternal torture. The derivative sovereignty of nations is similarly unrestrained. In this scheme, “the divine right of kings” protected the English monarchs with its declaration that “the king can do no wrong,” and the concept was imported into the Colonies as ”sovereign immunity,” which protects state and federal officials. The divine right of kings and sovereign immunity, like God’s rule, are therefore ultimately totalitarian.

“Many of us see the term [totalitarianism] primarily as polemical, used more to discredit governments than to offer meaningful analyses of them. Scholars often prefer the much broader term authoritarianism, which denotes any form of government that concentrates political power in the hands of an unaccountable elite.”[4]

International Accountability – The Nuremberg Trials

The Nazis in control of Germany operated under their own totalitarian version of national sovereignty, possessing “all instruments of governmental power and violence” which concentrated “political power in the hands of an unaccountable elite.” To hold them accountable after the end of the war, the victorious allies convened the Nuremberg Trials under the authority of a unilaterally-imposed instrument known as the London Charter.[5] The resulting trials defied traditional notions of national sovereignty, as described in a 1946 article in The Atlantic, written by a Federal judge.

“The Nuremberg War Trial has a strong claim to be considered the most significant as well as the most debatable event since the conclusion of hostilities. To those who support the trial it promises the first effective recognition of a world law for the punishment of malefactors who start wars or conduct them in bestial fashion. To the adverse critics the trial appears in many aspects a negation of principles which they regard as the heart of any system of justice under law.

“This sharp division of opinion has not been fully aired largely because it relates to an issue of foreign policy upon which this nation has already acted and on which debate may seem useless or, worse, merely to impair this country’s prestige and power abroad. Moreover, to the casual newspaper reader the long-range implications of the trial are not obvious. He sees most clearly that there are in the dock a score of widely known men who plainly deserve punishment. And he is pleased to note that four victorious nations, who have not been unanimous on all post-war questions, have, by a miracle of administrative skill, united in a proceeding that is overcoming the obstacles of varied languages, professional habits, and legal traditions. But the more profound observer is aware that the foundations of the Nuremberg trial may mark a watershed of modern law.”[6]

The Nuremberg Trials thus initiated an unprecedented accountability for transnational crimes:

“There were many legal and procedural difficulties to overcome in setting up the Nuremberg trials. First, there was no precedent for an international trial of war criminals. There were earlier instances of prosecution for war crimes, such as the execution of Confederate army officer Henry Wirz (1823-65) for his maltreatment of Union prisoners of war during the American Civil War (1861-65); and the courts-martial held by Turkey in 1919-20 to punish those responsible for the Armenian genocide of 1915-16. However, these were trials conducted according to the laws of a single nation rather than, as in the case of the Nuremberg trials, a group of four powers (France, Britain, the Soviet Union and the U.S.) with different legal traditions and practices.

“The Allies eventually established the laws and procedures for the Nuremberg trials with the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal (IMT), issued on August 8, 1945. Among other things, the charter defined three categories of crimes: crimes against peace (including planning, preparing, starting or waging wars of aggression or wars in violation of international agreements), war crimes (including violations of customs or laws of war, including improper treatment of civilians and prisoners of war) and crimes against humanity (including murder, enslavement or deportation of civilians or persecution on political, religious or racial grounds). It was determined that civilian officials as well as military officers could be accused of war crimes.”[7]

“I was only following orders.”

National policy is carried out by individuals, and the Nuremberg Trials eliminated the defense that the accused were merely following the orders of the state. This was an unprecedented evidentiary innovation that, like the London Charter, defied historical notions of state sovereignty, particularly with respect to the actions of military personnel.

“In connection with war crimes of this sort there is only one question of law worth discussing here: Is it a defense to a soldier or civilian defendant that he acted under the order of a superior?

“The defense of superior orders is, upon the authorities, an open question. Without going into details, it may be said that superior orders have never been recognized as a complete defense by German, Russian, or French law, and that they have not been so recognized by civilian courts in the United States or the British Commonwealth of Nations, but they tend to be taken as a complete excuse by Anglo-American military manuals. In this state of the authorities, if the International Military Tribunal in connection with a charge of a war crime refuses to recognize superior orders as a defense, it will not be making a retroactive determination or applying an ex post facto law. It will be merely settling an open question of law as every court frequently does.”[8]

“Slavery was legal at the time” and the International Statute of Limitations for crimes against humanity.

A corollary of the “only following orders” defense is the assertion that slavery was legal at the time. General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox[9] presented a question of lingering guilt to former Confederates that was quickly resolved by Presidential pardons.[10]

International human rights law presents a similar problem. The Rome Statute was created by treaty, to be enforced by the International Criminal Court, effective in 2002.[11] It established four core transnational crimes similar to those applied at the Nuremberg Trials: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. “Enslavement” is included in the Rome Statute’s list of crimes against humanity, [12] and there is no statute of limitations. Therefore it is no defense under international law that American slavery was the law of the times.

“Under international law, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide have no statute of limitations, according to the Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity and Article 29 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”[13]

“In the international arena, the non-applicability of statutory limitations pertains to crimes that are extremely difficult to prosecute immediately after they were committed. This is particularly true of war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide. Given the context in which such crimes tend to be carried out, it is often necessary to wait for a change in the situation—an end to the conflict or a change in regime—for it to become possible, in practice, to initiate judicial proceedings. The non-applicability of statutory limitations prevents the most serious crimes, and those most difficult to prosecute, from going unpunished.”[14]

As long as a nation refuses the jurisdiction of international law, and absent an extraordinary unilateral enforcement such as the London Charter, a nation can remain shielded by its own self-declared sovereignty. And since there is no international statute of limitations, the nation has every incentive to keep it that way. No surprise, then, that the United States quickly repudiated the International Criminal Court immediately after the effective date of the Rome Statute. The USA’s main concern:  to protect its military personnel from guilt associated with following orders.

“One month after the International Criminal Court (ICC) officially came into existence on July 1, 2002, the President signed the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act (ASPA), which limits US government support and assistance to the ICC; curtails certain military assistance to many countries that have ratified the Rome Statute establishing the ICC; regulates US participation in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions commenced after July 1, 2003; and, most controversially among European allies, authorizes the President to use ‘all means necessary and appropriate to bring about the release’ of certain US and allied persons who may be detained or tried by the ICC.”[15]

The same issue was behind the Trump Administration’s recent ICC sanctions:

“On Thursday, the president followed through on the longstanding threats by his foreign policy team, issuing new sanctions against the ICC over its provocative effort to investigate and prosecute American military, intelligence, and perhaps even former political officials for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.”[16]

Reparations for American Slavery Under International Law

A recent The Wall Street Journal editorial argued for slavery reparations under international law.

“The prohibition against slavery has now achieved jus cogens—a peremptory norm, from which no derogation is permitted. This is the highest legal status in international law, and it means retroactive responsibility may be imposed on those who violated that norm. This is how the Nazis were prosecuted at Nuremberg: retroactively—for the jus cogens of crimes against humanity. On that basis alone, the U.S. may be held legally responsible for the historical enslavement of Africans and the consequences for their descendants.”[17]

The editorial asserts without qualification that “the U.S. is bound by international law and must be guided by the precedent set by many other countries that have recognized reparations as a means to redress injustice.” But as we’ve seen, even if the USA is accountable for slavery and there is no statute of limitations under international law, the nation can continue to shield itself from global accountability by asserting its rugged individualism sovereignty.

Interference in “Internal Affairs.”

The USA routinely vilifies the world’s dictatorial strongmen for telling us (and the rest of the world) to stop meddling in their internal affairs, failing to notice that this attitude matches our own concept of national sovereignty.

A Google search of “interference with internal affairs” turns up a fascinating look at the futility of international diplomacy on this topic. Invariably, one nation’s “interference in internal affiars” is another’s “crime of aggression.” The U.N.’s Charter tried to find a way through this conflict, but the result raises more questions than answers. Here’s a sample:

“To what extent does the UN Charter permit legitimate violation of the sovereignty of another state, in the absence of international armed conflict or acts of national self defense? Should moral imperatives override legal authority? Even assuming the mandate was soundly based in law, was it breached by the coalition and NATO in the manner of its execution?  While the mandated authority to protect civilians was interpreted most liberally, some might say it was used as a smoke screen for an intent which was subsequently revealed, that of regime change, for which there is no lawful authority under the Charter.”[18]

The USA bypasses this legal sparring by resisting international interference. The Trump administration’s recent sanctions against the ICC replay this familiar theme, as evidenced by editorial commentary from his media supporters:

“In essence, the ICC is the plaything of the European left, post-sovereign technocrats, and progressive legal elites — one-worlders who won’t provide for their own security and dream up schemes to delegitimize actions that sovereign states, especially the United States, take in their national interests.”[19]

“This sanctions regime is fundamentally misguided. It will do little to stop the ICC’s investigation, erodes the U.S. longstanding commitment to human rights and the rule of law, and may undermine one of the most powerful tools in the U.S. foreign policy arsenal — economic sanctions.”[20]

The counterpoint to this commentary is the recognition of the USA’s historical preference for unilateralism.

“Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order imposing sanctions on several individuals associated with the International Criminal Court (ICC). The order is the latest salvo in an ongoing battle against the ICC, which the Trump administration has long sought to undermine in order to avoid accountability for itself and its allies. The move is also part of a broader disengagement with the multilateral system.”[21]

This political preference for “disengagement with the multilateral system” did not deter Trump’s recent call for the U.N. to impose global accountability against China with respect to the pandemic.[22] Chinese leader Xi Jinping responded by citing the USA’s historic unilateralism and isolationism:

“We will continue to narrow differences and resolve disputes with others through dialogue and negotiation. We will not seek to develop only ourselves or engage in zero sum game. Unilateralism is dead.”

“Burying one’s head in the sand like an ostrich in the face of economic globalization, or trying to fight it with Don Quixote’s lance, goes against the trend of history. Let this be clear: the world will never return to isolation.”[23]

Aside from a history of slavery and following orders in Afghanistan, the USA has further issues with human rights law, as evidenced by recent accusations from the last-surviving Nuremberg Trials prosecutor. We’ll look at that next time.

Also coming up, we’ll also look beyond the legal issues of global accountability to the non-legal case for reparations and the opportunity they offer for a national reset.


[1] World History Facts, American “Individualism” Is Shallow and Immoral, Medium Dialogues and Discourse (Sept. 15, 2020).

[2] Full text at Digital History.

[3] Arendt, Hannah, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)

[4] Huneke, Samuel Clowes, An End to Totalitarianism, Boston Review (April 16, 2020). Samuel Clowes Huneke  “is an assistant professor of modern German history at George Mason University. His research focuses on Germany after World War II….”

[5] Wikipedia – Nuremberg Charter.

[6] Wyzanski, Charles, Nuremberg: A Fair Trial? A Dangerous Precedent, The Atlantic (April 1946) 

[7] Nuremberg Trials, History.com (updated June 7, 2019, original Jan. 29, 2010)

[8] Wyzankski, op cit.

[9] History.com – Robert E. Lee Surrenders.

[10] Wikipedia – Pardons for Ex-Confederates.

[11] Dag Hammarskjöld Library, Jan 8, 2020. See also Wikipedia – Rome Statute International Criminal Court.

[12] The Rome Statute, Article 7.

[14] The Practical Guide to Humanitarian Law, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).

[15] US Policy Regarding the International Criminal Court (ICC), Congressional Research Service (July 9, 2002 – August 29, 2006).

[16] International Court V. Trump: A Case Of Politics, Not Justice, The Hill (June 15, 2020)

[17] International Law Demands Reparations for American Slavery, The Wall Street Journal (June 9, 2020).

[18] Paphita, Anthony, Intervention in the Internal Affairs of States, E-International Relations (Oct 25 2011).

[19] International Court V. Trump: A Case Of Politics, Not Justice, The Hill (June 15, 2020)

[20] The Danger Of Trump’s New Sanctions On The International Criminal Court And Human Rights Defenders, Brookings Institute (June 11 2020)

[21] Trump’s Chilling Blow To The ICC With International Criminal Court Sanctions, Foreign Policy (June 17, 2020)

[23] Trump Attacks China Over Covid ‘Plague’ As Xi Urges Collaboration In Virus Fight, The Guardian (Sept. 22, 2020).

Reparations [5]:  Moral Compulsion

Reparations for American slavery require a sense of moral compulsion. Moral compulsion requires humility. Are we capable of it?

There is no hope for reparations if the topic is left to business and politics as usual – to the customary manner in which decisions are made, national affairs are conducted, pundits and media outlets clamor for sensationalism, social media serves up clickbait, religion and social science and academia offer their apologetics to an unappreciative public, and the elected and electorate alike close their minds to any opinion other than the one they already hold.

Reparations have no place in a culture given over to polarization, rage, and post-truth subjectivity.

The case for reparations cannot be heard by a society deafened with the noise of the daily outrage and distracted with the madness du jour.

The case for reparations cannot reach a national identity hijacked by endless competing and ever-shapeshifting agendas, histrionic accusations, and the exigencies of life ever more difficult and dystopian.

Reparations have no place where populists fan the fires of rage, and the enraged populace persists in voting against its own self-interest.

Reparations have no chance to gain the support of people long-starved of commitment to their communal welfare, unaware that their own beliefs and truths have done this to them, have dumbed them down with despair and chained them to the incessant grinding of life with no cushion against their misfortunes or safety net to catch them when they fall.

Reparations cannot capture the imagination of a nation that denies its people leisure time for renewal and reflection, that accepts as logical, normal, and virtuous that they should be compelled to labor in a state of total work without respite or gain or opportunity for improvement.

Reparations will not find a way in a nominally democratic country where the practice of democracy languishes under polarized ideologies, where systemic inequalities and social Darwinism are not merely accepted but revered as true and right and just and godly proof of their nation’s superiority.

That, and more, is why reparations don’t have a chance in contemporary America. Is there any countervailing force strong enough to pave the way for them?

Yes there is:  it is moral compulsion.

Moral compulsion is an urgency to set things to right, an overweening determination to be cleansed of an enduring ugliness, to be freed from the burden of national shame, a commitment to individual, cultural, and national transformation, an uncompromising will to transcend the mistakes of the past and meet the unprecedented challenges of today.

Moral compulsion would provide an irrepressible energy to displace the inevitable failure of reparations with robust action to ensure their implementation.

But what place does moral compulsion have in American policy-making at this time? Moral compulsion does not make the agenda of an administration devoted to consolidating its power by fomenting division and perverting the rule of law into a “law and order presidency.” Moral compulsion is also missing from the agenda of an opposition party incapable of anything other than the pathetic hope that if they stay still they will not be seen, if they remain silent they will not be singled out. Reparations have no chance when moral compulsion is unknown on one side of the aisle and a terror on the other. No conversation and compromise will ever be reached when even the least of moral consensus – common decency – cannot find common ground.

America’s current moral vacuum was not always the case.

“In the past, America has played a critical role on the global stage as a model for developing democracies, a crusader for human rights and a bulwark against the spread of authoritarian regimes. Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright once called America “the indispensable nation” for its moral leadership. But unlike ever before, scholars say, America’s commitment to democracy is flagging…. The risk, [Stanford political scientist Larry Diamond] says, is a century defined by the rise of the autocrat.”[1]

That was then.

What is now?

If the 2016 election taught us anything, it was that America had grown tired of its role as the world’s “moral leader.

Moral leadership had become tiresome, our efforts not worth the return. The catastrophes of recent decades of international policy and a lost taste for globalization suggested we were not as suited to the job of worldwide betterment as we once thought. We could pick a fight anywhere in the world and win it, therefore our strategy for bringing freedom and democracy to the world had been to impose our moral will by military force, covertly supported with the covert support of right-wing strongmen through corruption, bribery, torture, and other forms of governmental criminality. Our moral duplicitously was exposed when a raft of domestic and international whistleblowers and secret-leakers disgorged our tactics into public awareness, turning our times and technologies into apocalyptic revelation. They pulled back the facades of our imperial pridefulness, revealed the behind and beneath, ushered in a Great Revealing of ourselves to ourselves. Our secret vaults were opened, our private and vulnerable selves made known, all motives revealed, alliances betrayed, files ransacked, classified access breeched, proprietary information violated, everything hacked and made Open Source, seals all broken, all safes cracked, all containers emptied and their contents strewn across a million conference tables and chronicled in the tabloids.

By 2016, we had lost the stomach for it. Moral leadership had become a “loser.”

There was a moral lesson in all this that we could have learned, and new national self-awareness we could have gained.

    • What we will see, and what we won’t. The lenses we wear. The silos we construct.
    • What we block, recoil from. The shadows in our souls. The things we fear. The parts of us that threaten our own being.
    • Our biases, assumptions, prejudices, projections and deceptions. The cases we build to advantage ourselves, and the lengths we’ll go to cling to them.
    • The order we have imposed on life and the people in it. Rank, pecking order, winners and losers. Who we’ll talk to, friend, like, follow, ally with, and who we won’t. And why.
    • What we consider reasonable, viable, proper, possible… and their opposites.
    • What we will say, and what we won’t.
    • What we will hear, and what we won’t.
    • The secrets we carry, that we are confident will never be known by anyone but ourselves.
    • The cultivated appearances we can no longer keep up.
    • Our selective memories, choices, regrets. And resentments. Alliances betrayed and relationships broken. Forgiveness neither extended nor received.

The new, unflattering self-awareness we might have gained from these revelations could have helped us regain a newly realigned perspective on who we had become. But we didn’t want to hear it, so we didn’t learn it. There were some rare feints at remorse:  press conference confessions saying we were sorry while the betrayed stood stoically by. No one was fooled:  we weren’t sorry we did it, we were sorry we got caught.

What have you gathered to report to your progenitors?
Are your excuses any better than your senator’s?
He held a conference and his wife was standing by his side
He did her dirty but no-one died

What are you waiting for, a kiss or an apology?
You think by now you’d have an A in toxicology
It’s hard to pack the car when all you do is shame us
It’s even harder when the dirtbag’s famous

          The Killers, Run For Cover

Mostly, we stormed and swore vengeance against the prophets of our moral recrimination. We labelled them as traitors and enemies, blew their legal cover, strong-armed foreign governments to give them up to our salivating justice. We were defensive because the truth hurt. American was not as blameless as we wanted to think.

It could have been a moral reckoning, but it wasn’t.

The disorienting truth could have reoriented us as a nation, could have shown us how we had shunned and discarded our ideals to make room for the twin pillars of our foreign policy:  capitalism and militarism, We could have become freshly aware of what we had built while no one was looking and we weren’t paying attention. We could have, but we didn’t. We couldn’t separate ourselves from our need to feel good about ourselves, from our national belief — that we breathe in from childhood and begin learning before preschool — that our nation is the apex of civilization — morally, spiritually, militarily, and economically. If we were appalled at all by what we had become, it was not because of what we might have learned about ourselves but because we were terrified to see our shadow selves dredged up from our  own hidden vaults, now walking the streets; haunting and pursuing , calling us out. We completed our denial and purposeful self-deception by concluding that surely some enemy had done this, had sown tares in our heartland wheat. They had done it. And now we were on to Them, newly justified in our judgment and pure in our hatred of Them.

We had been called to reckon, but we didn’t. We still haven’t. We denied and fled – away from Them and into ourselves. Globalization became a dirty word. Among its many faults was that it had made the world too small. We had too many neighbors too close, too unlike us. We needed our open spaces back, needed to feel again our rugged individualism, the spirit that tamed the Wild West.

“Globalization may be partly to blame [for America’s flagging commitment to democracy]: In an increasingly interconnected world, governing has gotten trickier. ‘If you have a constant flow of capital, people and trade goods, it’s harder to figure out what to do in your own country,’ says political science professor Anna Grzymala-Busse, who directs the Global Populisms Project at the Freeman Spogli Institute. The increasing interdependence of the world’s economies also limits the impact of any one nation’s policies. As mainstream politicians struggle to solve ‘national’ problems that are, in actuality, intertwined with the actions and economies of other countries, voters can start to view them as inept.

“Globalization has stoked nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment among citizens who fear not only the economic but also the cultural changes that can accompany such shifts. There again, Grzymala-Busse says, populists have stepped in, defining ‘the people’ of a country narrowly and subjugating minority interests. ‘Populist movements have this very corrosive impact on democracy,’ she says.”[2]

We abandoned the global village and rushed home to ourselves –the people we wanted to believe we had once been and still were. We put those people and their country first. We demonized and expelled outsiders, built walls against Them, withdrew trade, made capital calls, foreclosed on collateral, imposed tariffs. We imprisoned them, banned their travel, rejected them. It was our turn, our time, and we would make the best of it.

And none of that helped assuaged our national conscience, rooted as it was in the lies of lost utopia.

Lashed on by those who stood to gain the most from our disorientation, we stormed the gates of the lost Garden in hyped-up agitation, and the more we ranted, the more we became addicted, drugged with the madness of a mob that promised a return to the unjustified and unaccountable superiority we had granted to our idealized and delusional past. We reconstituted our fictional past into a delirious present, created in the image of every broken promise we had ever made.

We doubled down on a bluff, and when the other worldwide players laughed at our bravado, our national resentment turned spiteful and toxic. We turned our rage not only against Them but against ourselves. We banned the notion of the public welfare and communal good. We forfeited our rights to a living wage, to healthcare and education, to security in retirement, to home ownership, to security against our own human frailty and life cycles. We derided the notion of public welfare as weak and pitiful, and converted all of life and culture, law and economics, government and socio-economic policy over to hyper-competition. We traded moral and societal good for law and order, the triumph of power, and the ascension of socio-economic elitism. We drowned out doomsayers with chanted mythologies that placed humans, and particularly Caucasians, at the apex of Creation, crowned with the divine right to subdue it to our own ruin. We jettisoned science, objective truth, and reasonable discourse in favor of an unbridled right to mangle our own truth until it made us gods, force-feeding our starving souls with “reality” that wasn’t.

And now, into our failed and rejected moral leadership and policies of communal hatred comes the idea of reparations for slavery.

Which is why reparations don’t have a chance under America’s populist overlords and their domestic armies. The moral compulsion reparations require has been crushed in the void of our national implosion.

Reparations offer us a way out – a way to restore ourselves and our nation, to push back the night, to draw ourselves back from the brink of our final self-destruction. Paying the moral debt of slavery offers the salving of our collective conscience through restoring and recreating, repairing and remediating the stain of our beginnings and our stumbling path through our own history. It offers to fill the unfathomable moral trough excavated by the systematic brutalization of an entire class of fellow humans in ways that none, nobody, not one of the rest of us would ever. never, not ever accept for ourselves, not in a million years, but that our ancestors carried out in untroubled allegiance to what for them was normal, legal, and their divine right – an ideological tradition the nation has carried on ever since the ultimately empty “victory” of the Civil War, which officially abolished slavery but left untouched its de facto existence.

In our current moral vacuum, reparations for slavery are not just difficult and troublesome and unlikely, they are impossible – irrevocably not-on-my-watch, over-my-dead-body impossible. They have only one hope:

Reparations will be made only when
they are no longer reparations for slavery.

Not even if they are made for racism.

But when they are made for our lost humanity.

The essence of moral compulsion is humility.

America would need to do as Germany did after the Holocaust — publicly relinquish belief in the superiority of white European ancestry. Germans had to abandon the “Teutonic national myth.” Americans would need to abandon the myth of manifest destiny. Humbling ourselves in that way would be heroic.

If Germany’s example plays out in America, there would be violent opposition. And, as Germany’s example also teaches us, humility is a two-way street:  both those making reparations and those benefiting from them must humble themselves to each other and before the eyes of the watching world. Humility will not be easy on either side:

“Humility is the most difficult of all virtues to achieve;
 nothing dies harder than the desire to think well of self.”

T.S. Eliot

We will look more at Germany’s example next time, also at the international mechanism created after WWWII that could help us with the difficult task of humbling ourselves – a mechanism  that America’s government has rejected.

[1] Patton, Jill, An Existential Moment for Democracy? As American leadership falters, scholars say, autocrats are on the rise, Stanford Magazine (December 2019)

[2] Ibid.

Why Faith Endures

Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back
is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9: 62 NIV

I once told a leader of our campus Christian fellowship about doubts prompted by my religion major classes. “Get your Bible and read Luke 9: 62,” he said. I did, and can still see the hardness on his face when I looked up. Religions venerate those who long endure, honoring their moral steadfastness. My character and commitment were suspect. I declared a new major the following quarter.

Scarlet letterReligions punish doubt and dissidence through peer pressure, public censure, witch hunts, inquisitions, executions, jihads, war, genocide…. The year before, the dining halls had flown into an uproar the day the college newspaper reported that the fellowship had expelled a member for sleeping with her boyfriend.

Religions also have a curious way of tolerating their leaders’ nonconforming behavior — even as the leaders cry witch hunt.[1]

These things happen in all cultural institutions, not just religion. Neuroculture offers an explanation for all of them that emphasizes group dynamics over individual integrity. It goes like this:

  • When enough people believe something, a culture with a shared belief system emerges.
  • Individual doubt about the culture’s belief system introduces “cognitive dissonance” that makes individuals uneasy and threatens cultural cohesiveness.
  • Cohesiveness is essential to the group’s survival — doubt and nonconformity can’t be tolerated.
  • The culture therefore sanctifies belief and stifles doubt.
  • The culture sometimes bends its own rules to preserve its leadership power structure against larger threats.

This Article Won’t Change Your Mind,” The Atlantic (March 2017) illustrates this process:

“The theory of cognitive dissonance—the extreme discomfort of simultaneously holding two thoughts that are in conflict—was developed by the social psychologist Leon Festinger in the 1950s. In a famous study, Festinger and his colleagues embedded themselves with a doomsday prophet named Dorothy Martin and her cult of followers who believed that spacemen called the Guardians were coming to collect them in flying saucers, to save them from a coming flood. Needless to say, no spacemen (and no flood) ever came, but Martin just kept revising her predictions. Sure, the spacemen didn’t show up today, but they were sure to come tomorrow, and so on. The researchers watched with fascination as the believers kept on believing, despite all the evidence that they were wrong.

“‘A man with a conviction is a hard man to change,’ Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schacter wrote in When Prophecy Failstheir 1957 book about this study. ‘Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point … Suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before.’

“This doubling down in the face of conflicting evidence is a way of reducing the discomfort of dissonance, and is part of a set of behaviors known in the psychology literature as ‘motivated reasoning.’ Motivated reasoning is how people convince themselves or remain convinced of what they want to believe—they seek out agreeable information and learn it more easily; and they avoid, ignore, devalue, forget, or argue against information that contradicts their beliefs.

“Though false beliefs are held by individuals, they are in many ways a social phenomenon. Dorothy Martin’s followers held onto their belief that the spacemen were coming … because those beliefs were tethered to a group they belonged to, a group that was deeply important to their lives and their sense of self.

“[A disciple who ignored mounting evidence of sexual abuse by his guru] describes the motivated reasoning that happens in these groups: ‘You’re in a position of defending your choices no matter what information is presented,’ he says, ‘because if you don’t, it means that you lose your membership in this group that’s become so important to you.’ Though cults are an intense example, … people act the same way with regard to their families or other groups that are important to them.”

Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds,The New Yorker (Feb. 27, 2017) explains why the process seems so perfectly reasonable:

“Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coöperate. Coöperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain.

“Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.

“‘Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,’ [the authors of an seminal study] write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an ‘intellectualist’ point of view prove shrewd when seen from a social ‘interactionist’ perspective.”

What does it take for individual dissent or cultural change to prevail in the face of these powerful dynamics? We’ll look at that next time.

[1]  This “bigger bully” theory was remarkably evident when Tony Perkins, leader of the Family Research Council, said evangelicals “kind of gave [Donald Trump] a mulligan” over Stormy Daniels, saying that evangelicals “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that’s willing to punch the bully.”

How Cultural Icons Saved the Super Bowl From Colin Kaepernick

colin k

There were no players kneeling during the National Anthem at the Super Bowl this year. A super-sized iconic double team made sure of that. Here’s how.

First, you need to know that I like NFL football. It’s a standard in my household every fall. I got nothin’ against the game.

Just needed to say that….

As for the protests, they got squelched when a cultural icon was substituted for the issue under protest. The icon used was the American flag. Once the switch was made, the protests were over — to kneel was to desecrate one of the nation’s defining symbols — like the Hippies did in the 60’s.

flag burning

Football field-sized flags have been around awhile, especially since 9-11. By now their place in American culture is fully cemented — along with military honor guards, flyovers, and coaches wearing camo fatigues during the entire month of November, not just around Veteran’s Day.[1]

dallas-cowboys-american-flag

flyover

Remember that, for purposes of this blog, it’s ultimately not about football, flags, and flyovers. Here, we’re about cultural beliefs and institutions — how they’re created, and how they shape our perceptions and behavior. Here’s a quick summary of how that works[2]:

  • Culture is an inside job: it resides in neurological and biological wiring.
  • That wiring is shared from one individual to another by implicit agreements that yes, this is the way things are.
  • That shared wiring generates a shared belief system that promotes a common culture with its own characteristic view of reality and approach to life.
  • Through the principle of emergence, the culture takes on a life of its own — becomes a separate, dynamic entity, fully supported by its insitutions.
  • All of this satisfies the human need to get organized into groups for safety and identity, which in turn prevents life from being, as Thomas Hobbes said, ‘“solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
  • Conformity to the cultural belief system promotes individual peace of mind and communal harmony.
  • Nonconformity creates conflict — internally in the brain, and externally in society.

When nonconformists like Kaepernick challenge cultural belief systems, the culture’s icons rise to their defence:

“Conflict between two groups, including war, may be defined as a battle between belief systems.

“Symbols emerge strongly in such conflicts: they may be revered objects as stones, writings, buildings, flags or badges; whatever they may be, they may symbolize the central core of belief system.

“When people become symbols, the real person may become obscured behind the projected symbolic image or person.” [3]

Belief systems at their highest level of development dehumanize and objectify conformists and nonconformists alike. They do so by turning the focus from the internal life of individuals to the external life of the culture, as maintained by its beliefs and institutions. Along the way, people and things become cultural  icons, which then become the issue, replacing the actual point of conflict. Thus Kaepernick became an iconic nonconformist, pitted against an ultimate cultural icon, the U.S. flag.

Cultural leaders in particular carry out this practice, since they are responsible for maintaining the culture’s iconography. As a result, the ultimate conflict is over who has the power to control cultural beliefs and institutions in the first place:

“[P]eople fight not because of differences in religion and other beliefs; they fight to control the opportunity to create external structures that fit with their internal structures, and to prevent others from filling their environment with structures and stimulation that conflict with their internal structures.”[4]

Say all you like about how it’s patriotic to protest, but that’s not going to fly in the face of entrenched cultural-neurology. Protest challenges status quo, and the alarm bells go off. Culture relies on conformity for its peace of mind. When it turns on the game, it wants football, not polarizing socio-political issues. The actual issues that gave rise to the Colin Kaepernick protests can persist if they like, just not on game days.

Of course, Colin Kaepernick wasn’t thinking about any of that when he took a knee. He was exercising his own social conscience during a period of disturbing and seemingly epidemic shootings and brutality of blacks by police officers. That was a big enough problem to tackle. But bring that issue to the NFL, which is a cultural icon in its own right, not to mention a multi-billion dollar growth industry,[5] and then have to face the double-team of the NFL and the Stars and Stripes?

He never had a chance. He picked way too big a fight.

[1] Armistice Day commemorated the end of World War I on November 11, 1918. President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954.

[2] See the posts in this blog’s category “How Belief Creates Culture, and How Culture Creates Reality.”

[3] “What Are Belief Systems?” Usó-Doménech and J. Nescolarde-Selva, Department of Applied Mathematics. University of Alicante. Alicante. Spain.

[4] Yale Medical School professor of psychiatry Bruce E. Wexler, in his landmark book Brain and Culture:  Neurobiology, Ideology, and Social Change.

[5] According to this analysis, NFL annual revenues rose from $4.28 Billion in 2001 to $13.68 Billion in 2017.

Emergence

 

murmuration

One fine afternoon autumn day I watched transfixed as a gigantic flock of migratory birds swarmed over the woods across the street. I was watching a “complex, self-organizing system” in action — specifically, a “murmuration” of birds, which is created by “swarm behavior,” which in turn falls in the category of emergence.

Emergence explains how the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. The term is widely used — in systems theory, philosophy. psychology, chemistry, biology, neurobiology, machine learning — and for purposes of this blog, it also applies to cultural belief systems and the social institutions they generate.

Consider any culture you like — a team, club, company, profession, investor group, religious gathering, political party…. As we’ve seen previously in this series, the group’s cultural sense of reality is patterned in each individual member’s neural wiring and cellular makeup. But no one member can hold it all, and different members have varying affinity for different aspects of the culture. As a result, each member takes what the others bring “on faith”:  the group believes in its communal beliefs. This faith facilitates the emergence of a cohesive, dynamic cultural body that takes on a life of its own, expressed through its institutions. .

That’s emergence.

To get a further sense of how this works, see this TED Talk that uses complex systems theory to look at how the structure of the financial industry (a transnational cultural body) helped to bring about the Great Recession of 2007-2008. Systems theorist James B. Glattfelder[1] lays out a couple key features of self-organizing systems:

“It turns out that what looks like complex behavior from the outside is actually the result of a few simple rules of interaction. This means you can forget about the equations and just start to understand the system by looking at the interactions.

“And it gets even better, because most complex systems have this amazing property called emergence. This means that the system as a whole suddenly starts to show a behavior which cannot be understood or predicted by looking at the components. The whole is literally more than the sum of its parts.”

In the end, he says, there’s an innate simplicity to it all — “an emergent property which depends on the rules of interaction in the system. We could easily reproduce [it] with a few simple rules.”[2] He compares this outcome to the inevitable polarized logjams we get from clashing cultural ideologies:

 “I really hope that this complexity perspective allows for some common ground to be found. It would be really great if it has the power to help end the gridlock created by conflicting ideas, which appears to be paralyzing our globalized world.  Ideas relating to finance, economics, politics, society, are very often tainted by people’s personal ideologies.  Reality is so complex, we need to move away from dogma.”

Trouble is, we seem to be predisposed toward ideological gridlock and dogma. Even if we’ve never heard of emergence, we have a kind of backdoor awareness of it — that there are meta-influences affecting our lives — but we’re inclined to locate their source “out there,” instead of in our bodily selves. “Out there” is where the Big Ideas live, formulated by transcendent realities and personalities — God, gods, Fate, Destiny, Natural Law, etc. — that sometimes enter our lesser existence to reveal their take on how things work. Trouble is, they have super-intelligence while we have only a lesser version, so once we receive their revelations, we codify them into vast bodies of collected wisdom and knowledge, which we then turn over to our sacred and secular  cultural institutions to administer. We and our cultures aren’t perfect like they are, but we do our best to live up to their high standards.

We do all this because, as biocentrism champion Robert Lanza has said, most of us have trouble wrapping our heads around the notion that

“Everything we see and experience is a whirl of information occurring in our head. We are not just objects embedded in some external matrix ticking away ‘out there.’”[3]

In our defense, the kind of systems analysis that James Glattfelder uses in his TED talk requires a lot of machine super-intelligence and brute data-crunching power that the human brain lacks. We’re analog and organic, not digital, and we use our limited outlook to perpetuate more polarization, ideological gridlock. and dogma. Culture may be emergent, but when it emerges, it walks right into a never-ending committee meeting  debating whether it has a place on the agenda..

Next time, we’ll look at what happens when emergent cultures clash.

[1] James B. Glattfelder holds a Ph.D. in complex systems from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. He began as a physicist, became a researcher at a Swiss hedge fund. and now does quantitative research at Olsen Ltd in Zurich, a foreign exchange investment manager.

[2] Here’s a YouTube explanation of the three simple rules that explain the murmuration I watched that day.

[3] From this article in Aeon Magazine.