Saturday, November 25, 2017

In 2017, the topic of many conversations among reasonable people often includes wanting to know why.
Why Trump, why mass shootings, why massive student debt, why deny science, why any of this nonsense? And why does Republican Party policy enable and encourage the worst of humanity's traits and facilitate today’s catastrophes?
While there are no Oracles nor prophets to consult, we must discern for ourselves the shape of the society we inhabit.

Here are a few observations I've made.
Political analysts, you may recall, described Sarah Palin support as a deviation from the Republican Party’s attitudes rather than an accurate reflection of them. Traditional conservatives they claimed, valued small government, a balanced budget, and restrained conduct in public.
Yet Palin was impulsive, incoherent, and completely reactionary.
I disagree with that, I would say that Palin was no aberration at all. But a typical bellowing bloviator within the history of conservative beliefs. Palin, brought to the national spotlight opened the door for a Trump presidency though.
Conservative thought through history principally reacts against egalitarian demands; it is committed entirely to conserving a social order marked out by hierarchy. History shows that for instance, conservatives opposed the labor movement, the women's rights movement, the civil rights movement, and rights for LGBT citizens. Why? because each has threatened existing hierarchy—and conservatives’ grasp on the power to control society.
Palin and Trump's appeal demands some sort of unifying theory. How can it be that the party of Senator Ben Sasse—who enjoys a (mostly-unearned) reputation as a moderate—is also the party of Trump? The answer is less difficult to discern than it was back in 2011.
We reasonable people seem befuddled by Trump, unable to describe his actions as anything beyond “this is not normal.”
I suggest Trump makes sense as a truly quintessential conservative figure (as did Palin). His peculiarities do not place him outside the movement that propelled each of them to prominence. His populism is as about as substantive as his business acumen; his rhetoric is empty as intergalactic space. . He is an elitist, and he understands what it means to thoroughly embrace "the free market". Despite being a chronic liar, in many respects, he’s the most honest conservative in power, with no pretensions of concern for anyone or anything but himself.
Consider Burke’s conviction that the market, and the “monied men” who control it, should determine value. Burke scorned both the Levellers and the French Revolution, mostly for the same reason: They wanted to overthrow an order that he wanted to preserve. His theories of value were central to defining and defending that order. Burke argued both that value is “subjective,” and that there is an objective “hierarchy of value that divides and distinguishes rich from poor, capital from labor.”
Similarly, Nietzsche later feared that the demands of workers presented serious threats to his sense of order, writing that they would tear “down the walls of culture.” In this aspect, he articulates the ideals of the Austrian school in economics and contemporary conservatives, who frequently speak of the dignity of work and the glories of free enterprise as if both comprise an intrinsic cultural facet of American national identity. You hear them praise “liberty,” and laud America’s role in defending it. But what do they mean?

Conservatives may praise the worker when it is time to win Wisconsin’s electoral votes, but when they are in power we see who they really admire, and that is the CEO. If workers were able to determine their own value, they would not choose to occupy a low position. They would not choose to be subjugated nor have their wages compete in a race to the bottom.
At the core of the conservative tradition is the defense of the stratification of society into upper and lower classes. Conservatives do not all justify this stratification in the same way, or communicate it in the same terms. Some, like Palin, or the so called Christian Right conceive of it as a religious order. Others, like Paul Ryan prefer the purity of Ayn Randian narcissism. But they share a belief in hierarchy, the rights of a few to dominate the many... and an opposition to equality & egalitarianism.
This right to be a vested interest, this opposition to altruism, this vindictive justification of greed ironically is what they are calling liberty, and a few probably believe that they are telling the truth. Beneath this, "populism" is a marketing gimmick. It’s meant to lull you, to sell you something that in reality you don't need nor want.
And so we have Trump, the salesman-in-chief, a carnival barker, and a con man. He has “revised” the conservative script, but his most virulent qualities do not subvert it at all.
In his book, "The Reactionary Mind"; Political Science professor Corey Robin says:
“The racism of the Trumpist right is nastier than its most recent predecessors, but the weaponization of racism and nativism under Trump is an intensification of a well-established tradition on the right, as studies of American conservatism from the 1920s through the Tea Party have shown.”
Strom Thurmond and Lee Atwater might be dead, but their party certainly hasn’t turned away from white supremacy. The war on drugs, hardline immigration policies, the privatization of public schools, the weakening of organized labor...Republican policies continue to disproportionately target people of color and reinforce the injustices previously bestowed on them by slavery, Jim Crow, and violent, organized groups.
Trump’s racism is only a more open expression of older beliefs. As is the oafish manner in which he politicizes his own wealth.

Trump is not versed in the history of conservative ideas. His ascent shows that one need not be conversant with the conservative tradition in order to take an important place in it. His grotesque celebration of greed and wealth are not out of step with conservative norms.
Perhaps a bit more banal and gaudy...but greed has always been the guiding force behind conservatism.
As we witness some of the right's spokesmen & rhetors complaining about Trump, we observe it is because he puts forward competing visions of the market. In Trump's book "The Art of the Deal", he mounts a persistent question of the value of capitalism insisting “A lot of attention alone creates value.” Trump celebrates the market, and the position he has created for himself within it. It is a world, and he is its strongman Fuhrer.
This is a telling admission in the book... “The market is a moment of truth — and an eternity of lies. It reveals; it hides. It is everything; it is nothing. It shall be all; it is naught.”
Trump believes in the market. He believes in himself as an economic “warrior prince.”
He grasps the utter futility of it all. According to Trump, there is no truth. "It’s a show about nothing.” Trump takes literally the conservative slogan that government should be run like a business...his business.
Trump’s literalism may serve as a useful indicator of the conservative movement’s general health. For Republicans. Trump’s agenda, which is a Republican agenda, has stalled. His popularity is plummeting; recent polls suggest that most American voters currently want the Democratic party to recapture Congress. Trump hasn’t been able to channel resentment into governance, and his failures leave the conservative movement vulnerable.

So what do we need to do?
How do we counter religious fervor, and the mythology of the market’s liberatory potential? How do we counter Trump’s grotesque materialism without a competing, egalitarian economic vision?
If equality and fairness is to have a turn in the seat of power, We must take on the economic forces that keep it out of reach!
While Democrats have done a reasonable job of taking on racism, sexism, and homophobia. What is needed now is a competing economic plan that benefits all, instead of the few already doing well. Yes, seems like a no brainer...but where is this plan? It needs to be developed and must be capable of being explained in a sentence or two.
(This is where we fail to connect with "average voters" by and large...we have had good policies but have been unsuccessful in selling them largely because nuanced policy isn't easy to package into a short marketing slogan. I am not the guy for this obviously...I salute you for your attention span if you've read this far!
But folks like you and I, who maintain interest this long, are not the norm anymore. The left fails to understand the huge role marketing techniques play. We debunk some nonsense once and move on thinking the issue was resolved while conservative rhetors simply keep pounding away with their debunked assertion.
And the technique sadly works.

Economic Fairness.
In this effort, we will find no allies in the conservative movement. Moderate conservatives may be useful as a vote against the worst of Trump’s legislative agenda. But thinking if we moderate our agenda to court them is a pathological view.
It will condemn any and all resistance efforts to failure.
Conservatives will never work for you, not unless you are already truly filthy rich, pious in designated fashions, unduly Caucasian, old...(but not old enough for social security, which you don't care about, because it's chump change for you), and excessively male.
The problem is not particularly egregious conservative politicians like Trump or Palin, but conservative politics itself. Ours must be better. We can only respond to a show about nothing with something; with substance, and with political force.
This my friends is the reality.