Conservatives, Liberals, Deviants and Rebels

What’s up with all this controversy over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her diverse freshmen Democrat colleagues in the House of Representatives? What is so different about their public pronouncements? Why are even centrist Democrats attacking them? Something is happening here and their elders don’t know what it is, do they, Mister Jones?

Most of us believe that we act reasonably and hold our beliefs because they are true. Yet, we disagree so much and so often. How can that be?

Imagery and emotion often control how we view facts and how we apply reason to evidence in everyday life, and especially in politics. We all started out with “questioning minds.” That is why children drive parents to distraction by incessantly asking “Why?” As often as not, the answer elicits another “Why?” In our maturity, we question only those who fail to conform to what we have come to believe.

Conservatives Conform

As they grow up, most folks stop questioning everything and accept the conventional explanations of how the world works. We conform to the worldview of those around us because it seems to make sense, and, after all, those most respected around us hold these views.

Most people want to “fit in.” They gradually shape their understandings of the world in the context and with the perspective of the social group to which they belong. That works well for most people in most situations, especially when things are stable. However, in the late stages of the modern world, as we have known it, things no longer seem all that stable.

Liberals Accept Deviance

Some do not simply conform to the norm, they deviate from what others consider normal. They take on the identity of rabble-rousers if they are outspoken in their challenges to the conventional wisdom. If they break with convention, adopting peculiar lifestyles or dress, sociologists label them deviants.

Some deviants just go about their lives just wanting to be left alone to their different lifestyle. They simply deviate from the norms of the social group, community, or society they belong to because they have taken on a different perspective. These deviants get in trouble to the extent that conservatives demand that they conform, sometimes invoking laws against deviant behavior. Liberals generally defend the right of deviants to deviate, as long as nobody gets hurt.

Almost Nobody Likes a Rebel

The social deviant is considerably different from the rebel who intellectually and openly challenges the status quo and the conventional wisdom about life and some core societal arrangements. At some point, the moral dimension enters the picture. Some rebel against particular norms, conventional practices, or unfair elements of the social structure itself. That is where moral indignation becomes political protest.

The “establishment” in any society resists all forms of protest or demands for change, particularly in the structure of power itself. Elites, who sit comfortably atop the establishment, frame such demands as threats to the social order, and as challenges to the core values of the nation. The propagandists and marketing directors they pay, know this well and exploit it fully.

Values become quite malleable, especially when propagandists reinterpret or distort them to exploit emotions like fear. We sometimes hold tightly to the comfort of sacred words, not realizing that powerful forces have changed their underlying meanings. Dominant institutions, advertisers and politicians often manipulate the imagery and emotions attached to our key cultural concepts.

Moral Protest

The corporate, financial, and political elites who for decades have concentrated more and more power among themselves, fear and despise moral protest. It points directly at their ethical failings. We see their fear today in their responses to the challenges of the

Alexandria.Octavio-Cortez..twitter

@AOC

New Progressive Democrats in Congress, the @AOCs and the Sunrise Movement. These new progressive members and their allies are self-aware rebels who have penetrated the core of the political center of power. They are not afraid to speak their minds and ask “Why?” which shocks and offends their elders. However, they know that “well-behaved women rarely make history.”

These political rebels consciously (or should I say, conscientiously?) fail to conform to the “traditional” norms that require new members of Congress to sit down and shut up until they have secured the privileges of seniority and rank among their older (mostly white male) peers. The new progressive female congresspersons of color will have none of it. They have arrived to speak truth to power, so naturally, they offend those old white men who have hidden behind their privileged status for decades.

George Lakoff explains in his book, Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, how corporatist “conservatives” often win politically by “framing the debate” with emotions and imagery that influence voters far more than the fact-filled policy-wonk talk of conventional “liberals.”

All they are trying to conserve is their own power and that of their corporate sponsors, not any core American values, such as those expressed in the traditional American progressive ideas of a “Green New Deal.”

In that, they are bucking the tide of growing public sentiment against their privileges, against excessive wealth and power, and for saving people and planet from their sanctimonious greed.

Fake Everything

With the proliferation of digital sources of “information” and technologies of communication, it seems more and more difficult to determine the difference between fact and fakery. Social media allow just about anyone to post outlandish claims and arguments without a shred of evidence. Fake evidence and false logic proliferate. If it is sensational enough or hits a sore spot for many people, a falsehood or an otherwise meaningless meme may “go viral.”

Fakery is not new, but its access to everyone has exploded with the advent of social media. Critical thinking and the weight of evidence are lost in the process. Powerful elites deny any verified fact that conflicts with their economic or political interests. Fossil-fuel industry campaigns of disinformation about carbon emissions, global warming and the extreme weather events they cause follow the model the tobacco industry used in its public relations campaigns to deny the scientific facts lung cancer caused by smoking cigarettes.

Fake News

Almost any news report today is subject to the accusation that it is “fake news.” The term’s recent growth in popularity may have originated when ‘liberals’ accused Fox News of prevarication when its stories were so biased that they did little if any justice to facts. Of course, the prevalence of propaganda has a long history. Fake news is not new, but it grew rapidly as the institutions of traditional journalism were folded into the entertainment divisions of the major networks and print newspaper sales declined.

The blatant false characterizations of “liberals” by Fox New anchors, and extreme right-wing radio “personalities” while their regular misrepresentations of facts drew mockery and ridicule from “liberal Democrats.” The fake news anchors denied the legitimacy of the “Black President,” with the lies that with the help of “The Donald” became known as “the birther movement.” At the same time, corporate interests exploit the resentments and fears of the declining white working and middle classes by funding the extreme politics and racism of the Tea Party movement, which the Republican Party embraced and began calling its “base.”

Fake President

Unsubstantiated claims, rhetorical tricks, exploitation of fears, and outright lies permeate the speech of the Fake President. Cheating and fakery characterized the entire

Fake President_image, Northern Sun

Image: Northern Sun

business career of the Dangerous Donald. Big lie or small, the Fake President simply repeats falsehoods in the face of publicly verified contrary facts. “Fake President”? Yes. What began as another attempt to gain more notoriety as a “celebrity,” unfortunately resonated with the anger and fears of many Americans. His open pandering to racism, misogyny, and hate brought the neo-Nazis and white nationalists out into the open.

“The system” had destroyed the aspirations of middle and working class white folks through job outsourcing, cultural marginalization, and political indifference. Corporate Democrats and Republicans both contributed to forming the corporate state against the interests of citizens. Each blamed the other for the plight of ordinary people; both were guilty of betraying the people while pandering to wealthy corporate donors. Trumpery arose by effectively exploiting the political chaos of fake democracy.

Fake Congress

Everyone knows that the Congress operates to serve the interests of the biggest corporations and wealthiest individuals, not the people. Senators and Representatives feign concern for the people while taking huge bribes in the form of “campaign contributions.” The Supreme Court abetted their corruption by the fakery of defining corporations as “persons” and allowing unlimited corporate money to influence

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Senator Inhofe faking climate denial, with the chance of a snowball in Congress. Washington Post photo.

elections. The Republican Party effectively used unfettered funding to influence elections by various forms of voter suppression and propaganda. They ruthlessly gerrymandered minority voting groups out of electoral influence. Russian bots and trolls abetted the chaos of fakery.

The Democratic Party elite, dependent on large corporate and Wall Street funding, stuck with Hillary, the corporatist candidate, suppressing the booming popularity of Bernie, the independent bearer of the old FDR-liberal policies. The desire of many democrats for a female candidate – the logical follow-up to the Black President – conflicted with the resistance to the corporatist party elite. Resentment resulted in many not voting and some even voting for the Fake Outsider, Trump, the master of demagoguery and economic exploitation.

Fake Experience

However, politics is not everything. It is merely a core driver of the fakery of modern life itself. Fake experience proliferates, from fake adventure (theme parks, staged ‘adventure’ vacations, and video games), from fake meaning in consumerism to fake

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Virtual Woman. Image: The Guardian

reality itself (so-called “reality shows” on TV and diverse digital “experiences” that mimic non-existent realities).

The fakery of suburban life, for those who can still afford it, reflects a trained incapacity to live beyond the illusions of the fake domination of nature that characterizes the consumer culture. The real world consists of the complex of ecosystems upon which all of humanity depends, but few recognize for its survival importance. Most remain insulated from real experience.

Revenge of Reality

It is all coming to a head. Reality has a way of eventually forcing itself upon us. We have lost our fake control of our environment, as the laws of physics, chemistry, and bio-systems continue to rule the material world from which we have alienated ourselves.

Growing numbers of people have become aware of their dissociation from reality. They realize at a gut level that the fake realities that digital technology generates are no substitute for the feeling of a warm breeze on a spring day. Reality impinges on illusion.

Growing numbers of IT geeks now carry physical notebooks to write in. Music lovers return to the analog sounds of vinyl records and live music. Children are discovering actual toys again. Who needs a “driverless car”? Smartphones, texting (while not driving), and Facebook are far from disappearing. Nevertheless, reality will continue to insert itself into our abstracted lives and disrupt our digital and social illusions. That is when the denial of reality will dissipate and a democracy grounded in ecological reality will return.

 

Why Obama Failed: Or did He?

A liberal lament among many Democrats these days is that President Obama has failed to implement—or has been prevented from implementing—the liberal agenda for America that he so eloquently outlined and continues to reference in his speeches. Of course, they continue to call for greater support for the president and his programs. The Republican politicians certainly play out their role as the usual suspects by kowtowing so mindlessly to their small but vocal Tea-Party primary-election base. That gives liberals plenty to crow about in excusing Obama’s failure to achieve the changes they could believe in. As if that weren’t enough, the Republicans in congress have flown so close to overt racism in demonstrating at every turn that they do not recognize him as a Legitimate President that their right-wings are beginning to melt.

Republicans have exercised their strategy of “no” from the very start when Mitch McConnell first blatantly proclaimed it. The Republicans thereby supply liberal democrats plenty of evidence of the gross obstructionism that allows liberals to cut the president some slack and continue supporting him in the midst of their disappointment with his refusal to entertain proposals for a single payer health insurance system, his escalated continuation of the neo-con military crusades, his assassination programs for citizens and foreigners alike, his pursuit of financial policies dictated by the banking and corporate elites that paid for his election—while he feigned support for underwater mortgagees, his relentless and unprecedented prosecution/persecution of whistleblowers who object to both blatant and secret violations of the constitution by his administration and agencies, and, well, of course, the list goes on. The so-called liberals who go along to get along with Obama’s administration would never tolerate such gross violation of liberal ideals if the president were a Republican. Rachael Maddow and Ed Schulz just keep looking for ways to support Obama—their cognitive dissonance scores must be astronomical.

For any reasonable assessment of presidential success or failure, we must look to the president’s actual behavior and the goals that such behavior implies. No, I didn’t say his speech, I said his behavior. As a card-carrying hopeful realist—itself a sometimes dissonant perspective—I had early on found the content and tone of Obama’s speeches a source of potential hope for a more progressive future for America if he were to be elected. Besides, I was committed to the idea that the election of a Black President would be a symbolic leap forward for American society. As it turned out, the leap forward came in the form of an uncomfortable exposure of the re-coded racism that permeates the ideology of a “color-blind America.” While consistently denied, re-coded racism is as widespread in the country itself as are the institutionalized racist practices that constitute the “New Jim Crow” era so effectively exposed by Michelle Alexander.

Unfortunately, it is even much worse than that. Charming though Obama is—bolstered by the charm and intelligence of Michelle and their daughters—the man is nevertheless a politician in the worst sense of the term. His actions belie his rhetoric, but they conform very closely to the financial-political-economic interests from which his big money flows.

Like so many, I had been charmed by Obama’s apparently passionate concern for the American people and their growing plight. But having looked at some early data on where the candidates’ contributions were coming from in the primary contests leading up to his first presidential campaign, my hope was tempered by a more realistic assessment of the candidate in terms of who he owed how much—political contributions are, after all, a form of debt, a loan secured by future favors. The financial and corporate elites were bankrolling him big time. The big boys were on a shopping binge and Barrack was their target. A Black President would make such a nice liberally enshrined instrument for achieving their political-economic plans for tightening their control over the American political economy.

The now well known Wall Street financing of the Obama presidential campaign had turned my early hope into a less hopeful skepticism about his likely performance. While I so strongly felt that America needed a Black President, largely for reasons of political culture, I now began to feel that from the governance perspective he would probably follow the standard political practice of the Democratic Party of pitching liberal rhetoric—and oh so well—while operating in the interests of the institutional forces I have come to think of as the “disinfotainment” (a term borrowed from Paul Krasner who published the infamous The Realist in the late sixties and seventies) media-framed ‘petro-mil-corp-bankster’ complex. “Deep Throat” remains an astute analyst of political behavior at the highest levels. “Follow the money” indeed! Follow it right from the pockets of ordinary Americans—and from the Fed’s vast purchases of bad debt—labeled “financial assets”—from the Bankster-gamblers, thereby flooding the Big Banks with “real” money by neutralizing the bad debt on their books—and right onto the balance sheets of the of the perpetrators of the greatest heist in history. This shell game, of course, runs up the “national debt” to the detriment of all Americans, but to the obscene profit of the perpetrators. But what was Obama’s role in all this?

The first principle of the Obama latent political-economic policy is to protect the rich and powerful who allowed him to be President, both from any risk that results from their sociopathic behavior and from any consequences for their crimes. At the same time, the people are tossed relatively small crumbs of social justice—the Lilly Ledbetter bill, Justice Department’s current efforts against voter suppression (which is the interests of the Democratic Party, of course), a not so strong effort seeking a real minimum wage, etc. When Larry Summers and his crowd were appointed to key economic positions I was shocked by the audacity, though I saw its consistency with the political money flow; now I am merely outraged by the reality of the Great Liberal Hoax that is Barrack Obama, coupled with a deep sadness that he turned out that way.
But at this stage in American history, we should expect some version of the same story accompanying the plundering of the American Commonwealth. With Mitt Romney there would have been less pretence (okay, he does lie a lot) but at least equal plunder; after all, Romney has achieved master huckster status among the plunder-capitalist class. He plundered real companies; the Wall Street operators plunder the nation’s economy as a whole. Obama is a mere political operator for more or less the same crowd—no serious effort has been made by his administration to reign in either variant of the plundering class. Of course not! The Obama administration is riddled with agents of the plundering class, with the full knowledge and consent of the Black President himself.

And where are the liberals in all this? Denial and projection explain a lot of it, if accompanied by a recognition that the Democratic Party has been bought off by the same forces that drive the Republicans’ politics. They just deny culpability while projecting their failures of conscience and practice onto their Republican colleagues. Chris Hedges was right after all, the “liberal class” really is dead—it just doesn’t know it yet because it still confuses rhetoric with action. Once the entire economy has been hijacked—we’re very close now—it won’t matter because as Bernie Sanders said recently, the government doesn’t regulate Wall Street, Wall Street regulates the government. We are well past the mid-point in the transition from pseudo-democracy—still pretending to be democratic, ‘cause we have elections, while government is latently, but near blatantly, controlled by the petro-mil-corp-bankster complex—to a fully formal corporate security/surveillance state without pretense.

The only remaining option for those who would like to live in a compassionate democratically governed society—rather than a ruthless corporate-run surveillance state—is to simply do it ourselves. Not easy, of course, but potentially realistic. Occupy Wall Street was a symbolic move in that direction—and continues in various scaled down ways in many places. If anything, OWS demonstrated the power of numbers focused on democratic change. The many small community actions for local mutual aid and local economic self-sufficiency, the new interest in publicly owned banks such as the long successful North Dakota state bank—are moves in the right direction. Public banking can support local self-reliance. Anyone who still keeps their accounts with Wells Fargo, chase-Manhattan, et al, is complicit, regardless of how small. Transfer your money to a local credit union or locally owned bank; support the growing public banking movement. Many other community actions are emerging. There are no guarantees, but at this point community action seems the only realistic hope for change. I would also support a third political party movement, but the chances seem so slim and time is so short.

Given the coming consequences of accelerating climate disruption—even the necessary massive de-fossilization of the economy cannot stop much of the impacts already in the climate pipeline and that have already begun to happen—local community actions will be absolutely necessary for survival, let alone to build humane democratic institutions. With climate rhetoric with minimalist action, President Obama’s success in aiding the institutional enemies of the American people’s future will provide a rather strange legacy for the first democratically elected Black President in American history.