Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pillars of Republican Authoritarianism

My previous post discussed the Dark Ages roots of today's Republican party.  This post addresses the three legged stool that is modern Republican authoritarianism are: (1) Religiosity and social repression (2) Unregulated free market capitalism and (3) Xenophobia. Together they are undermining America.
1. Religiosity and Social Repression 
Modern Republicanism is engrained in part in the teachings of John Calvin (1509 -1564), who paradoxically incorporated many of the ideas of the Catholic Inquisition in his thinking and practices though he despised Papism and oversaw the killing of Catholics as heretics. 

 Calvin’s God was fearsome, unforgiving and punitive. “If you transgress the covenant of the LORD, your God, which he enjoined on you, serve other gods and worship them, the anger of the LORD will flare up against you and you will quickly perish from the good land which he has given you.” [JOSH 23:16]  But the LORD was angry with Uzzah; God struck him on that spot, and he died there before God.” [2SAM 6:7] … and so on.

Calvin advocated severely punishing those who failed to abide by God’s commandment. And, of course, he was the interpreter of those commandments. People who were poor were assumed to be lazy and slothful and responsible for their own lot in life and should suffer accordingly.  “Immorality,” as Calvin defined it, [which is very similar to the way many Tea Party Republicans seem to define it] was severely condemned. Blasphemy could be punished by death.  In Calvin’s view, Man, who is inherently “totally depraved,” is confronted by the all powerful and omnipresent God, who before the world began predestined some for eternal salvation (the Elect) while the others would suffer everlasting damnation (the Reprobates).  He advocated burning Reprobates alive and beheading some.  He placed a very strong emphasis on “them” and “us,” them being Catholics, Jews, variously “the others” and anyone who disagreed with his theocratic views.  Calvin famously rhetorically asked, “Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?” which sounds all too familiar in today’s Republican political world.

2. Unregulated Free Market Capitalism
The second pillar of modern Republican thinking is Adam Smith, the 18th century social and political philosopher who wrote, “Self-interested competition in the free market, he argued, would tend to benefit society as a whole by keeping prices low, while still building in an incentive for a wide variety of goods and services.”  He went on to argue, “The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce…, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention." An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776).  We hear exactly those outdated words from the mouths of Republicans who argue that sending jobs to China and eliminating regulation of coal, oil and gas companies, will keep American prices low and lead to prosperity.  They parrot Adam Smith’s idea that commerce should be unregulated.  Adam Smith was responsible for the idea that self-interested greed is inherently good and should be promoted.

Adam Smith, was a big fan of what he called “the invisible hand,” of the marketplace to resolve economic inefficiencies and ultimately inequities. Republican Presidential Candidates constantly refer to Smith’s supernatural notion.  Rick Perry and Mitt Romney would have allowed the American automobile industry to go bust with the spiraling economic and social consequences, as “the market worked it out.”  Republicans often practice a kind of animism or personification, speaking of “the market” as if it were a living being capable of rational and moral decisions and actions on its own, as in “let the market work it out.”  At other times they imply “the market” has a kind of a superior spiritual righteousness and all-encompassing understanding, greater than that of mere human beings, such as economists who devote their entire lives to studying how economies work. 
The modern Republican concept of “the market,” is a mysterious and ethereal idea akin to a religious belief.  “The market” is actually a bunch of greedy people in Wall Street and in investment offices throughout the World, who, together with their computer programs, a committed to making a fast buck. Asserting that “the market will work it out,” is like saying the people operating the roulette wheels at Vegas will work it out.  They have no concern whatsoever about what is good or bad for their country or anyone else. Their sole motivation is making money in the short term for themselves and their handful of investors. If a large portion of the entire country were flushed down the toilet next week as a consequence of their investment decisions, they would think that is just fine as long as they made a bundle. Remember, Adam Smith said greed is good.
It’s important to bear in mind that today’s market place is nothing like the economy and in Adam Smith’s 18th century world. The population of Scotland when he lived was 1.25 million (it’s 5.2 million today), and London's first stockbrokers in the 1690s were barred from the old commercial center known as the Royal Exchange, reportedly because of their rude manners. Instead, the new trade was conducted from coffee houses along Exchange Alley.  Applying Adam Smith’s ideas to today’s investment world is like trying to make Pre-Copernican astronomy the basis for space travel.  It is a leap of faith and theoretical hocus pocus, with lots of “invisible hand” stuff.  “Trust us, it’ll work itself out” and “the market knows best,” right, just like they did in 2008.  The machinations of today’s largely unregulated market is an ongoing, spiraling disaster.

3. Xenophobia on Steroids

The third pillar of modern Republicanism is self-serving xenophobia. Perhaps the largest and most pervasive governmentally enforced xenophobia known to humankind was the Nazi persecution and murder of 6 million Jewish people, and countless other minorities and people with disabilities, in Europe from 1939-45.   American xenophobia began with herding Native Americans into reservations and killing those who resisted.  The United States forcibly recruited African-American immigrants--in chains--to serve as unpaid laborers who were owned by white men in the South.  The popular view of Africans at that time was that they were violent, amoral savages who could be made useful only if forced to conform to Christian and European traditions. Post-slavery African immigrants have been subjected to many of the same prejudices, and today continue to face many of the same stereotypes that existed two centuries ago. The Ku Klux Klan was infamous for the lynching and murdering whole black families, community leaders and Black sympathizers. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 put an end to that, or at least so we thought.  The Voting Rights Act is now under assault throughout the country by Right Wing governors and legislators who are attempting to prevent African Americans from voting in the 2012 presidential, congressional and gubernatorial elections.  Remember, they said Obama wasn’t an American citizen. 

Republican Authoritarians are entirely comfortable with self-serving xenophobia, i.e. rejecting or marginalizing everyone that is different from themselves (i.e. white Christians and possibly some of the right kind of Jews) unless they are a source of money for them, like slaves or immigrants.  Recruiting poor illegal immigrants to do their work for very low wages and no benefits or rights is seen by them as copacetic, as long as they can ship them back again from whence they came, once they have squeezed the last ounce of work and sweat out of them.

Today’s xenophobia is directed mainly at illegal Mexican immigrants (13 million, give or take) who they haven’t yet found a way to “send back,” and Muslims, both American citizens and visitors.  Pitting various poor powerless groups against one another is standard fare in Right Wing politics.  During previous periods of immigration influx, newcomers were pitted against those who were already established in the US, vying for jobs that paid dirt-cheap wages. That competition made it possible to drive wages down even further and create impossible working conditions, because the workers felt they had no choice.  There is nothing new about this. White mobs drove Chinese workers out of small towns and workplaces territory-wide in the winter of 1885 and summer of 1886.  In 1887 a gang of white men robbed, murdered and mutilated 31 Chinese men on the Snake River in Orgeon.

Most of today’s Right Wing xenophobic venom is against Muslims, in large part because of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Flight 77 in Shanksville, and the ongoing threats by Al Queda clones.  In reality, nearly all Muslims living in the US are here for work and for a better life or educational opportunities. Some have been in the US for generations and harbor no ill feelings toward the US.  But the Authoritarian Right wing has fanned xenophobic flames opposing the right of Muslims Americans to exercise their religious practices like others.  Few of those who are promoting hostility toward Muslims know anything about Islam.  They fear them and want to see them gone from the US.

• Republicans Missed Out on The Renaissance

Many rank and file Republicans giggle with joy when Sarah Palin says she can see Russia from her porch and Herman Cain can’t remember where Libya is and Rick Perry says "Juarez is reported to be the most dangerous city in America," while it’s actually in Mexico. They view such ignorance and absurdity as a thumb in the eye of intellectualism on the Left rather than the source of shame that it is.  The Republican Party tries to appeal to white working class people with high school or less education, some of whom express disdain for “intellectuals,” usually meaning people with college education who are politically liberal.  Far too many
Many Republicans take pride in their ignorance, so it should be no surprise that they place less value on education. Needless to say they want their surgeon to be well educated, and the person who designs the airplane on which they travel, and the therapists who treat their children with autism who face a life of severe disability without their knowledgeable services; but they have little tolerance for any other kind of education, such as in the humanities, literature, history, political science or the arts. In all of those realms, Republicans seem to think, “The more ignorant our leaders and the public are, the better.”  People like Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum have even harkened back to the Dark Ages in opposing modern science, which has been accepted throughout the Western world since the 1800s. 

More Democrats have college education than Republicans (13% more men and 7% more women).  Almost one in five, 18% more Democrats have post-graduate education than their Republican counterparts.  Among college and university faculty, people who have dedicated their entire adult lives to education, scholarship and learning, 72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges hold liberal political views, by their own description, and 15 percent are conservative.  There is no field of study in colleges and universities in which there were more conservatives than liberals or more Republicans vote Democratic.  This is not a conspiracy of the Left, it is a by–product of education.  People who are well educated tend to be rational, literate, broadly knowledgeable, and value objective scientific information.  In other words, well-educated people are by a very large margin, Democrats.  The reason for this stark difference goes back to the unambiguous gap between ignorance and enlightenment, between superstition and science, and between authoritarianism and humanism, the Dark Ages and the Age of Enlightenment.
No one is claiming all Republicans are ignorant, superstitious or authoritarian, but it is very clear that by a large margin, these proclivities are rampant among many leaders of today’s Republican Party, and shockingly among those eight people on the stage at Republican Presidential advertising events erroneously called  “debates.”  William Buckley is rolling over in his grave.  Those very leaders have found that by exploiting these Dark aspects of the psychological makeup of a segment of the electorate, they are able to garner a core of support for their sorry cause.  
These Dark Ages Republicans’ disproportionate power stems from successfully gaining control over legislative judicial processes through largely unregulated campaign contributions and other financial chicanery. They are able to retain their positions of power only because they have successfully manipulated the levers of our democracy so our governmental processes are nearly entirely controlled by a very small percent of extraordinarily wealthy people in America who determine who is elected and who they allow to maintain seats in Congress and who will be appointed to sit on the Supreme Court.   They are today’s noblemen in their castles  (see Koch 18 room apartment in NYC below) with their private armies, the Super PACS, which are able to buy almost anything or anyone they want, Crossroads GPS (Rove), Freedom Works (Armey), KOCHPAC (Koch Brothers) and Club for Growth.

• Hopeful Signs of Change
It appears the time of reckoning may be coming. If sufficient seats change in the US House and Senate and Obama retains his office, dramatic changes will begin in America.  Democratic candidates that sit on their hands spouting vague platitudes throughout 2011 and 2012, rather than unambiguously committing to support the 99% movement’s cause, will find themselves facing an uphill battle come election time, including Barrack Obama.  If meaningful changes are not forthcoming in November 2012, the US faces a period of enormous political and social upheaval, far greater than anything we have witnessed in our lifetimes, including general strikes that could paralyze the nation’s economy. The electorate has few other alternative ways of expressing their repulsion and opposition to the travesty in Washington and in our state capitols. Let’s hope concrete steps are taken before then to begin to restore something more closely approximating democracy in America.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dark Age Republicans Through a Glass Darkly

The current political conflict in America is rooted in the same struggles that existed in the transition from the Dark Ages (Republicans) to the Renaissance (Democrats), ignorance and superstition versus enlightened humanism. This assertion may sound like hyperbole, but unfortunately it isn’t.  Today’s political conflict emerges from very deeply ingrained, fundamental beliefs of what it means to be human, the nature of human understanding, human responsibility and the rights of individuals in the United States of America. 
These beliefs emerged 1500 years ago in central Europe and distrubingly, many persist to this day. This conflict is manifested most starkly in the resurgence of widespread Authoritarianism among leaders of the Republican Party.  In this article I provide some background that will hopefully illuminate the reasons the conflict is so intractable and suggest next steps.

• Bear With Me: A Little Background
The Dark Ages was preceded by the fall of the Western Roman Empire beginning in 476 AD, in which very backward beliefs and practices, including widespread ignorance, illiteracy, superstition and lack of reason were the norm. It is called the Dark Ages for a reason.  Between the Dark Ages until the Renaissance, the Goths emerged in Eastern Europe as a source of power, including the Ostrogoths, who were headed by king Theodoric, a ruthless dictator. Feudalism spread throughout Europe.  

The physical and social infrastructure that had been created over centuries under the auspices of the Roman Empire fell into utter disrepair.  Europe descended into abject poverty except for the few very powerful men who presided over small feudal city-states, usually located around castles or cathedrals, which consisted of farmers, laborers and craftsmen. These communities provided service to the wealthy and powerful, and in return, were provided with protection by the local lord or nobleman, who had their own armies to defend against outside marauders.

In the Renaissance, the birth of the modern era, from the 14th to 17th centuries, science, reason, literature and the fine arts and music were in ascendency.  At its core, the movement was driven to by a commitment to "the genius of man ... the unique and extraordinary ability of the human mind.”  The Renaissance was marked by humanism, which sought to create a broadly educated citizenry able to speak and write with clarity and to reason independently. This was to be accomplished through the study of history, poetry and moral philosophy. Individualism and curiosity were vigorously cultivated. Though honest doubt began to replace unreasoning faith, most Renaissance humanists were Christians.  Intellectual leaders of Renaissance espoused an ideology based on reason, ethics and justice, while rejecting supernatural and religious dogma as the basis for morality and decision-making. Virtually all of the advances in sciences, literature, music and the arts that are considered essential elements of modern culture emanate from this period of enlightenment.  It was a period of optimism based on the notion that human beings throughout the citizenry were capable of incredible achievements if given the opportunity. 

Today’s Radical Right Wing Republican zealots have roots embedded deeply in the beliefs and values of the Dark Ages, most notably ignorance, superstition and deep distrust of objective evidence and reason.  In addition, they have adopted early 20th Century European authoritarianism and post Civil War racism of the American South.  Today’s authoritarianism grows from the same roots as McCarthyism in the 1950s.  Regrettably we seem to have forgotten those lessons of history.
• Authoritarianism
“Authoritarianism” is a word like “Nazi” that raises hackles. People assume anyone using the word “authoritarian” is hurling insults rather than accurately describing reality. Authoritarianism is prospering in the American Republican Party.  It is only name-calling if it is inaccurate, but it isn’t inaccurate. In this blog post I use the word to describe an actual very sorry state of affairs of the predominant component of the Republican Party in American politics. 

Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson and Sanford’s (1909–1995) book, The Authoritarian Personality (1950), has been nearly lost to history. Their book is the definitive source of understanding of modern Right Wing American politics, and the source of the polarity in Washington.  It is a conflict of regressive authoritarianism pitted against commitment to enlightenment and humanism. 
Adorno and colleagues found in their research, a cluster of common beliefs and behavior patterns that characterized the Authoritarian Personality. The book reported a program of research that began with the aim of explaining anti-Semitism, but culminated in far more ambitious conclusions concerning psychological bases of prejudice and ethnocentrism. They found that the characteristics of people who were supporters of the policies of Hitler, the anti-Semitic (Henry Ford, Charles Coughlin, Charles Lindbergh) and anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950s Macarthyism, and of racist politics of the American South (Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, George Wallace), were very similar.  Here are the main elements:
1.      1. Conventionalism [rigid adherence to conventional values and hostility toward science, intellectuals and the arts]
2.  Submission (submissive, uncritical attitudes toward authorities). [confusing the role of religion in government, constant talk of the “original framers intent” and “Strict constructionism” as though anyone really knows exactly what Jefferson, Jay and Madison were thinking)
3.  Aggression (the tendency to be on the lookout for, condemn, reject, and punish people who violate conventional values). [deport immigrants, punish gays, pregnant teenagers, poor people]
4.  Opposition to the subjective, imaginative, and tender-minded. [opposing green energy proposals, stopping global warming, opposing support for the arts]
5.  Superstition and stereotypy (belief in mystical determinants of the individual’s fate, and a disposition to think in rigid categories). [true Americans versus other not “real” Americans, such as Muslim Americans]
6. Power and toughness (preoccupation with the dominance-submission, strong-weak, leader-follower dimension; identification with power; exaggerated assertion of strength and toughness). [talk of attacking Iran]
7. Destructiveness and cynicism (generalized hostility, vilification of the human). [despicably disrespectful behavior of Republicans toward the President and other political leaders, hostility toward immigrants, and proving democratic institutions are unable to function)
8.  Paranoid projection on the external world (a disposition to believe that wild and dangerous things go on in the world; the projection outward of unconscious emotional impulses). [Islamic terrorism, and the idea that Obama isn’t American]
9.  Exaggerated concern with sexual “goings-on,” banning books containing sex, birth control and gay marriage.

• Teetering Toward Totalitarianism
In its extreme form, authoritarianism can take the form of “Totalitarianism” a political system in which the state strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible, like abortion, birth control, gay marriage, private communications, and free speech. Totalitarian regimes stay in political power through pervasive use of propaganda, usually disseminated through the state-controlled mass media.  In the US though we have no official state-controlled media, the Republican Party has the next best thing in Fox News and Right Wing talk radio.  Fox’s pseudo-news network is the unofficial propaganda arm of the Republican Party and functions like the indoctrination machine of a totalitarian state. Totalitarian governments are also marked by personality cultism, (e.g. Palin, Trump, Cain), and control over the, regulation and restriction of speech, mass surveillance and widespread use of forceful state oppression (as is occurring with the Occupy Wall Street protests).  

The longer the American electorate stands idly by wringing their hands in dismay as mayors and university officials order paramilitary police to assault, beat, mace, and pepper spray unarmed American citizens, including their own sons and daughters in colleges and universities who have been taught we live in a democracy with Freedom of Speech, the closer we get to a totalitarian state.  Public angst is fine, but action is a lot better.

Republicans fail to recognize the nascent totalitarian image in the mirror when they shave in the morning or put on their lipstick, but they need a new mirror, or perhaps new spectacles. In Corinthians 13:12, Paul tries to express the imperfection of mortal understanding, he compares our earthly vision to the dim and wavery view reflected by a typical Roman-era polished bronze mirror, “Through a glass darkly.”  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


There are many things for which I am thankful, but one in particular comes to mind.  On December 25, 1940 Anna Bianca Kohnke was born in Hilversum Holland, who later became my wife.  I am thankful, that against considerable odds, she survived the Nazi Holocaust in the Netherlands thanks to the self-sacrifice of her birth parents, Leni and Erich Kohnke (who died in Auschwitz), who turned Anneke over at 18 months of age to a Dutch Underground Resistance courier, Cora de Jong who delivered her to a Dutch family that hid Anneke from 1942-45.  Cora is pictured below at a ceremony in her honor in the Hague in August 2011. 

She was found in early 1946 by Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank, who had been a family friend.  When he found Anneke in a children’s home, he reported that she was standing on a table conducting the other children in singing a song, much like her distinguished musician father had done so many times in Chemnitz, Germany at the Theater Orchestra. 

Thanks to US State Department she was granted an emergency Visa, and due to the generosity of the National Council of Jewish women, her $63.50 fare was paid to sail aboard the USS Marine Flasher, from Le Havre, France to New York in July 6, 1946.  She was met at Pier 97 by her mother’s brother Erich Leyens and sister, Greta Leyens Herzfeld, who served as her parents in New York as she was growing up in Inwood, Washington Heights. 

Sixty five years ago Anneke enjoyed her first Thanksgiving in the US with her Aunt/Mummy Greta.  It must have been a very special Thanksgiving.  Having spent years near starvation at times, it must have seemed something of a miracle to her, surrounded by a feast and people who loved her. 

I am thankful for three daughters, Andrea, Jennifer and Rebecca and a son, Peter, and seven grandchildren and especially to the people who made Anneke's life possible.