America’s Exceptionalism — Its DIVERSITY — Will Save Us From The GOP’s Authoritarian Power Grab

In his indispensable book “On Tyranny”, Timothy Snyder lays out the fairly predictable tick tock that democracies experience while succumbing to authoritarianism. It’s impossible not to see us well into that experience. Someone claiming to tweet for German film maker Werner Herzog put it this way (Herzog doesn’t do social media: the tweet itself is spot on in its thinking regardless of who really tweeted it):

The lack of literal accuracy aside (a third v a third v a third), that is how authoritarianism ultimately works. A minority of the population declares war on another minority of the population and uses the rest of the population to achieve that goal. In a place like Germany, that was easy to accomplish since the authoritarian minority — Hitler and his acolytes — were going after a genuine minority (and an isolated minority at that) — the Jews. The rest of Germany had zero investment or interest in protecting Jews from the authoritarian minority since, in the eyes of those Germans, the Jews were outsiders anyway. Screw em! Hitler’s brown shirts also were aided in their rise by the general nature of the German character. That “character” was forged over the course of a thousand or so years by the various Germanic tribes — the same ones that brought down Rome — slowly melting together (with a few localized idiosyncrasies) into the nationality we recognize as “German”. The same thing happened across the border in France. Since the end of WWII, Italy has had 66 governments (that’s one every 1.14 years); that’s because Italy is still less a country than a contrived federation of city-states — the same city-states they’ve been for 1500 years; only fascism could hold the federation together). Back in Germany, that thousand years of fusing together produced a “German tribe” with certain distinct and distinctive attributes — like a willingness to go along with the group because it’s the group.

America hasn’t been around anywhere near long enough for that complex process to happen — for a coming together of disparate local tribes to form a true national character. Never mind judging America for what it was or is — that’s like judging a little kid’s future based on what that little kid (precocious as it is) has accomplished so far. It’s premature actually. My suspicion is America is still the diamond before the pressure of the surrounding rocks turns a bunch of carbon into valuable crystals. We’re still a great idea poorly executed. What else can one call “All men are created equal” when “all men” only includes white, Christian, land-owning MEN. Oh, right — we call it “originalism”.

The crisis we’re in flows directly from white panic and rage. Having built the entire southern economy on the back of slave labor, the whites getting rich off that economy were not going to surrender their claim to power just because Lee surrendered their army at Appomattox. The Confederate Army may have shuffled off into history, Confederate ardor, as we know, did not. And Confederate ardor is pure, unadulterated racism. This has always been the wellspring from which undemocratic and anti-democratic ideas flowed — the desire to keep America white (like it “used to be”).

The Right Wing’s money — the Kochs, the Mercers and the rest of their ilk — turns up its nose at such overt racism. They’d never sport a Confederate flag. But they sure do love the Confederacy’s ideals. And the Confederacy’s whiteness. Our founders were racists who sacrificed their higher ideals because they thought one could negotiate with racists and racism. You can’t. Racism automatically won because racism NEVER compromises — especially when it’s riding a cash cow. As the Reagan era — that “shining, racist g city on a hill” — ended with a whimper, the right wing money saw demographic doom ahead. The GOP had finally evolved from the Party Of Lincoln into the exclusively white, Southern-Strategy-Dixiecrat Party. That party, per the recent census, is shrinking. That is, it’s membership pool is shrinking.

What’s a white’s only political party to do in a country that’s diversifying as rapidly as America was and is? If you’re white guys, you do what white guys have historically done back in the white homeland, Europe: you turn fascist. You circle the white wagons around your whiteness and you count on everyone else’s whiteness to pull most of the white population together defensively. It always works.

But, the white guys in America have a problem the white guys in Europe never had: a majority population who ISN’T them. That doesn’t have their collective history. That has zero interest in white guys behaving like bullies, monsters and fascists. In other words, the very “third” the authoritarian Republican third is counting on to do their dirty work simply doesn’t exist in America. Instead of a a sea of compliant white people dully staring back at them, America’s authoritarians see diversity. They see the thing that really and truly makes America EXCEPTIONAL. The thing that never happened in any country in the world before in human history: a gathering of tribes to form a single nation: E Pluribus Unum.

Out of many, one.

E Pluribus Unum was the ingredient missing from all previous authoritarian power grabs. It made the power grab not only possible but likely to succeed. Add that ingredient to the GOP’s power grab and their likelihood of success plunges because there’ll be no minority to stand by silently while the GOP bullies all those other minorities. And all those minorities the Republicans are counting on quietly bullying into submission? They’ve banded together — into a majority! Because that is how democracy works.

If the Republicans do somehow bludgeon their way back into power, they’ll have a massive insurrection of their own to fend off — a democratic insurrection dedicated to wiping out their authoritarian (wet) dream state. And the authoritarians, armed to the teeth, can’t take a whole lot of comfort in being armed to the teeth. This is America. Everyone is armed to the teeth right along with them. And the Right Wing better not count on having America’s professional soldier class in their corner.

These are terrifying times — no argument. But we can project ahead based both on history and how it is on the ground right here in reality. It’s already too late for white male hegemony to succeed long term in America. It was too late at the country’s founding. The majority’s wokeness cannot be un-woked. Every other group now grasps what the radical whites are up to and we will never, ever go along with it.

As I said, America’s diversity is its exceptionalism. It’s also our saving grace, too.

If There Was An Olympics For Mediocrity, America’s News Media Would Always Win Gold

If the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency proved anything (beyond the GOP’s jaw dropping criminality), it’s our news media’s inability to tell the most remarkable story any of them will ever get to report. To this day, they themselves remain in Trump’s thrall — and they remain oblivious of the fact. Even as the evidence of Trump’s criminality overflows the news environment like the warming oceans overtaking low-lying land, our news media keeps seeing Trump’s actions — and the GOP’s — in entirely political terms as if their manic compulsion to end America’s democracy was just their “opinion”, their “politics” — and not the intended end product of an overtly criminal enterprise. To this day — despite the consistency of their own reporting that shouts “Republicans are all lying, corrupt, treasonous scumbags!”, our news media insists that every one of those lying, corrupt, treasonous scumbags is an honest actor spewing a genuinely held political point of view based entirely on sound, logical, moral reasoning. Oh, FFS… . To be fair, if you take any profession, any endeavor that human beings pursue, while a small percentage of people will be truly exceptional at it, the overwhelming majority of people doing anything are going to be average at best — or, more accurately, mediocre at it.

That’s not a knock. It’s just a fact. And those people who ARE good at whatever they put their energies and skills toward are truly grateful that most everyone else isn’t as good. It makes being better than most people a hell of a lot easier. Even really talented people need to coast here and there.

There have always been journalists who stood head and shoulders above their colleagues. The reason Edward R. Murrow got to be Edward R. Murrow is because most of the other journalists working then simply weren’t as good as Edward R. Murrow. Great journalists — like great storytellers (since that’s what they are — storytellers relating the story of real events in real time) — need to have deep insight into how human beings work. That is so much harder than it sounds. For starters, you have to see every person in their own personal context against the larger Big Picture context in which that person lives. You cannot tell the story of a Donald Trump supporter without talking about their whiteness because their whiteness is deeply connected to what they’re doing as an individual and as a member of a larger group. The fact that “journalists” continue to ask racists if they’re racist betrays just how ignorant journalists are about racism itself. Like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder.

When (if) we ever get to the end of this war for America’s soul, we owe it to ourselves to figure out where the hell “both sides do it” came from. The “both sides do it” brand of journalism confused skepticism (what every journalist should have in their arsenal) with cynicism. Skepticism is vital to a free press. It’s the press demanding that a subject of their focus back up their words with evidence. Yeah, yeah — we know you have feelings — but what are the stone cold facts that justify those feelings? It’s true that both sides have feelings — intense feelings. But, both sides don’t rely entirely on their feelings. One side consistently backs up their feelings with facts (real ones). That’s because the two sides in this conversation are not the same and do not think the same way.

Let’s set “pre-history” aside for a moment. Let’s forget that the GOP is “the party of Lincoln”. As historian Heather Cox Richardson’s excellent “To Make Men Free: A History Of The Republican Party” points out, the Democratic and Republican parties are not at all what they were when Lincoln was POTUS. Over time, the two parties have exchanged philosophical outlooks and even constituencies. Nixon’s “southern strategy” simply recognized that the Southern Democrats (the Dixiecrats) were still very much the opposition party to Lincoln. Hell, the Dixiecrats would be an opposition party to the contemporary Democratic Party. That’s because they started and remained a party dedicated to racism and white hegemony. Nixon simply incorporated them into the Republican Party. In a way, everyone suddenly got honest.

But, our news media only read each others’ books. Their idea of “history” begins with them and their times. Some are even worse. They’re like those giant goldfish that supposedly have no memory beyond right here and right now (that, apparently is a myth — those fish do have memories — but the idea’s still good). Some are even worse than that! Take NBC News’ Kelly O’Donnell.

Now, I’m absolutely certain that Kelly — out of her makeup, her hair let-down — is a lovely person, kind, genuine, open-hearted. But, when she picks up a microphone, she becomes a kind of zombie. Like many of her peers, she kicks into a “I’m a journalist and I don’t take sides” mantra. This is where “both sides do it” immediately goes off the rails. Kelly assumes that when she quotes Donald Trump, that Donald Trump is speaking truthfully. When Trump was POTUS, Kelly never qualified until AFTER the quote (if she did at all) that Trump might not be entirely trustworthy. Kelly didn’t want to judge him. That would be okay, perhaps, the very first time Trump said something then was caught lying. Kelly giving a president of the United States the benefit of the doubt would make sense. But, not after the third time or the fourth or the fifth or the five thousandth. Then Kelly wasn’t quoting a POTUS for her audience’s benefit, she was quoting a liar — but refusing to identify the lie as a lie. Or, when she did she softened the blow — using kinder, gentler, more understanding words to describe outright lies.

Sorry, Kelly, but that is you taking sides. With bullshit and against the Truth.

The moment a reporter like Kelly gives credibility to bullshit, bullshit becomes a player. Now, in order to report the story, we have to repeat the bullshit — and allow (because a president or someone on his team said it) that it “could” be true. Well, fact is bullshit is never true. Because it’s bullshit.

Another thing reporters like Kelly do — after they’ve quoted the bullshit — is to analyze the bullshit. It doesn’t get bullshittier than a mediocrity like Kelly applying how SHE sees the world to Donald Trump’s behavior. A pathological liar like Trump does not see the world or act in any way like Kelly O’Donnell. His reasons are not Kelly’s. So, when Kelly applies HER reasoning to what Trump or his allies do, she’s completely off base. She’s framing it all wrong.

If Kelly were the only reporter screwing this pooch, we’d be okay. But, alas, Kelly’s not alone. She’s got a ton of company — most of her fellow journalists. As an MSNBC regular, most of my ire is focused on their talent roster. Among the most mediocre — Hallie Jackson, Alex Witt, Andrea Mitchell, Craig Melvin and Garrett Haake. Hallie is a little girl struggling to do a grown woman’s job. Alex walks onto the set completely unprepared; no one asks less informed questions than she does. Except Craig Melvin and Andrea Mitchell. Andrea’s so deeply embedded inside the DC bubble, she can’t see reality anymore from her house. Her personal relationships with so many of the players blind her to what those players are doing and why. Garrett Haake isn’t an untalented journalist, he’s just incapable of connecting dots beyond his immediate environment. And even then, his lack of perspective prevents him from connecting some of the most essential dots. Don’t dare suggest Garrett has this problem: also like most of his fellow journalists, Garrett has zero capacity for self-analysis.

Especially awful: Chuck Todd. Chuck is the Clown Prince of Both Sides Do It. He’s neither a good journalist nor a good TV performer (seriously — watch Chuck — he’s got more tics than a Tourette’s ward). That Chuck is NBC News’ “political director” should be a constant source of embarrassment to them.

As we stand here today, the majority of America’s journalists see Joe Biden’s Afghanistan pull out as a travesty. Is it hard to watch? Yeah. Is it hard to stomach? Damn right. But if you watch it without the context of twenty years, of the trillions spent, of the lives lost, of the corruption that flowed like water, of the fact that the Taliban are NOT interlopers (like us), they’re Pashtun — an Afghani tribe (48% of Afghanis at that) — you’re going to report the story entirely from your heart and not from your head. If you either don’t know or don’t understand that the Taliban (the word means “student” in Pashto) do not naturally back terrorists, that they really did want to turn Osama bin Laden over to us — but not without proof (because to turn him over otherwise would betray their Islamic culture — then you do not know who the Taliban really is and why they do what they do. The Taliban are indeed brutal and Medieval in their outlook — but you cannot defeat a nemesis you don’t understand.

Witness the fall of Afghanistan. What the Taliban understood but our news media still doesn’t is that after we defeated the Taliban twenty years ago, they didn’t go away, THEY WENT HOME. To their part of Afghanistan. If you don’t understand that we’ve interceded in a civil war — with religious overtones — you’re reporting some other story taking place in some other country. It’s exactly like Kelly O’Donnell reporting on Donald Trump like he was some “other” president — a “normal” one other than the corrupt, racist, misogynistic, bigoted traitor he was.

One of mediocrity’s hallmarks is its capacity to normalize things that should NEVER be normalized. But that is exactly what our news media did at the very start of Trump’s candidacy. Yes, they were outraged by “Mexicans are rapists” same as everyone not a Trumpanista. But then they allowed Trump to move on. Yes, it was to a fresh outrage — “pussy-grabbing” — but because they stopped questioning Trump about “Mexicans are rapists”, Trump was allowed to think “Mexicans are rapists” was okay. Okay enough NOT to end his presidential bid. The same went for pussy-grabbing because, to our news media, “But her emails!” played bigger.

For that high jump alone — “But her emails” — our news media should win perpetual gold. Well, what they deserve is to have the shame hung around their necks forever.

They were 100% wrong about it. Like they are right now about Afghanistan. Our mediocre news media want Joe Biden to “admit he was wrong!” That’s in the context of twenty years of being in country with twenty years of waste, corruption and bullshit that the news media itself has reported. The one real gain America’s presence bestowed upon Afghanistan was equal treatment for Afghani women. Also, we engaged thousands of Afghanis to help us in our “mission”. After we took over the country, chased bin Laden and then killed him, our mission — the one we had in our heads when we invaded (throwing an Afghani tribe out of power) — ended. But, we stayed. And invented a new mission for ourselves — turning Afghanistan into America.

This was always folly. Arrogant folly. Cruel folly.

We set Afghanistan, its women and everyone who helped us up for failure. We did. It’s a fact. The notion that we could have stayed on forever — with a contingent of 2500 or so soldiers — denies the reality of the “country” we’re talking about, the Taliban’s motivation and the fact that the Taliban are Afghanis. They would win in the end regardless because they have time on their side. The Afghanis understood this; that’s why they all pre-negotiated their surrenders. The Taliban ARE Afghanis. Their culture is a more cruel version of the general culture they live in.

For comparison’s sake, let’s suppose some other country — its heart in the right place — took up the cause of all fundamentalist LDS women (even the Church of Latter Day Saints — the Mormons’ — have issues with their fundamentalist co-religionists). There are about 10,000 FDLS members spread across remote parts of Utah, Colorado and Arizona. What if that “do-gooder” country went at us relentlessly for not protecting those women and girls. What if they got so incensed that they sent in a team to snatch them all (knowing they’re not going to invade us). There’s nothing far-fetched here. Countries have actually done things like this — here in America. Ever hear of the Russian mafia?

We’d lose our minds, of course. People don’t impose their cultures on us, we impose ours on them.

Make no mistake: what the Taliban wants to do again to Afghanistan’s women is horrible in the extreme. I could call it unacceptable but, as we stand here today, there is nothing I (or anyone) can do to stop it. Unless we want to invade Afghanistan all over again. If America had chosen to keep 2500 boots on the ground in Afghanistan to protect its women, not only would this war have continued, it would soon have escalated. Whenever the Taliban finally decided they’d had enough, they would have escalated their violence. Under current circumstances, the Taliban have good friends in Russia.

And we cannot remove Trump from the equation because he buried himself in it. We will yet learn (take it to the bank) that what is happening now in Afghanistan was set in motion while Trump’s fat ass still stank up the Oval.

Ah, but to see all that, you’d have to have perspective. You’d have to acknowledge that both sides don’t do the same things — and what they do do? They do for entirely different reasons. You’d have to see people for who they are versus who you’ve projected them to be. You’d have to expunge “both sides do it” from your brain.

You’d have to aspire to rise above your own mediocrity.

False Narratives, The GOP And The News Media: How Bullsh*t Goes Nuclear

How in the hell did America’s news media get it into their heads that “both sides do it”? Nothing has been more destructive both to journalism and journalists than this idiotic, deeply cynical, perspective-free point of view. Do both sides do it because they’re the same? Or is it just a freak of nature that “both sides do it” despite being nothing like each other? What’s the “it” both sides are “doing” anyway? For starters, no — both sides aren’t the same. If Democrats were “like” Republicans they’d BE Republicans. But Democrats (that’s modern Democrats, not the Democrats of the Democratic Party that opposed Lincoln and ultimately became the Dixiecrats which ultimately became the Southern Strategy oriented “modern” Republican Party) are utterly incapable of marching in lock step like Republicans. Republicans are capable of all believing one thing right down to the chorus and response. Democrats, on the other hand, suck at marching in lock step. They can’t even agree on what “lock step” actually is.

The modern Democratic Party is still every bit the group about which Will Roger famously said, “I’m not a member of any organized political party, I’m a Democrat”. When you’re the party of diversity and inclusion, you don’t exclude anyone. You simply don’t think that way. Put ten Democrats in a room, you’re likely to get ten different opinions. The trick, as always, is negotiating a compromise that everyone can live with while quietly hating. Democrats are idealist but pragmatic. That’s the nature of progressivism: it lives in the real world of data points while never surrendering its aspirations. How do we get ‘there’ from ‘here’? That’s the question.

Also worth noting, the Democrats, being diverse, are not the doggedly dogmatic “Christian” party Republicans are. That’s why Republicans so good at goose-stepping together: they can all agree on the same dogma.

Democrats do not do things for the same reasons Republicans do. Democrats, by their nature, favor people over profits. Republicans, by their nature, do the exact opposite. They always favor profits over people. Modern Republicans are very much the Democrats who opposed Lincoln. They haven’t changed a bit; down deep, plenty of people who proudly stick that “R” next to their names would probably vote to bring back slavery if they could only find a way to get it onto a ballot. The only difference is, this time, they’d make a point of enslaving more of us.

As we stand here today, the Republican Party has declared open war on our democracy. Can’t blame them, really… what good is democracy to you if no one will vote for you? But then, who except for white, Christian men see the 1850’s as a “Golden Age”? The RW money grasped in the post Reagan years that the Republican Party faced demographic extinction. It was never a question of adaptation to changing circumstances. Change is anathema to conservatism. Instead of changing themselves, they set out to change the rules. That is not the same thing as “governing”.

But, “Both Sides Do It” refuses to “judge” anyone. It divorces itself from taking sides in any way — even when taking sides is necessary. “Both Sides Do It” assumes that everyone has a point of view. Fair enough — in fact, I agree. Everyone does have a “point of view”. But not everyone point of view has “a point”. I have a point of view about being molested twice by the religious director at the temple my family attended when I was a kid. So does the guy who molested me. If you sat us both down and asked us: “What happened?”, we could both tell you a different side of the story. BUT — just because my molester has a point of view here, that does not mean he has a point. That’s a completely different thing.

Not every point of view is justified. In other words, not every point of view has a “point”.

Hey, remember how our NEWS MEDIA used to entertain discussions about “the climate debate”? Remember when it WAS a “debate”? It shouldn’t have been, of course. Still, because of “both sides do it” and the compulsion to invent false narratives, our news media would put a climate scientist on one side of the screen and a science denier on the other — presented visually as a total “50-50”. Regardless of the information flowing, VISUALLY, the image says both sides have the same validity. Who’s telling the truth? Don’t know — it’s a 50-50.

That happened because our news media refused to “take sides” and call obvious bullshit what it was: BULLSHIT. Instead, our news media regularly gave bullshit credence.

When you automatically give every argument, sight unseen, the benefit of the doubt, you are setting yourself up for failure. Inevitably, some of those arguments benefitting from your largesse are total bullshit. When you ask the question — as too many American journalists do (in their own way) “Yeah, but what IF bullshit was true…?”, you automatically give bullshit credence it does not deserve. It didn’t give itself legitimacy, the journalist supposing it “could” have legitimacy did that.

Once you spray bullshit with the patina of legitimacy, it never goes away. That bit of bullshit might supersede reality. Next thing you know, bullshit rules everything. And everything is bullshit. Every time a journalist sticks a mic in a Republican’s face, they treat that Republican as an honest actor; it’s what they’re supposed to do. But when you stick your mic in a liar’s face — and they lie to you as expected — it doesn’t serve anyone to act as if the lie is true. Now, either the reporters giving Republican arguments credence know they’re being lied to — and allowing their Republican interview subjects to get away with it — or they’re ignorant that they’re being lied to in which case, they’re too ignorant to be working as journalists.

There is good news on the horizon. Slowly, more and more members of America’s Fifth Estate are opening their eyes not only to the actual story they’ve been mis-reporting now for five years but to the fact THAT they’ve been mis-reporting it because they repeatedly treated Republicans as honest actors when, clearly, they’ve been nothing of the sort.

“The sun sets in the west,” Lester Holt said while delivering the keynote address at the 45th Murrow Symposium while achieving the Murrow Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism, “Any contrary view does not deserve our time or attention”. Abso-tutely, Lester! Your duty “is to be fair to the truth” first not every dumbass argument spewed by dumbasses.

Donald Trump is what happens when bullshit becomes not only pervasive but president. Our news media is what happens when bullshit becomes mistaken for journalism.

Republicans & The Culture Of Ignorance

Republicans didn’t always used to be champions of ignorance. Funny irony? When the Republican Party was founded back in 1854 (Abraham Lincoln was among its founders), their anti-slavery mission statement spoke of their dedication to classical liberalism and real economic opportunity for all Americans not just the moneyed class.

As Heather Cox Richardson points out in her excellent To Make Men Free: A History Of The Republican Party, after 1912, the GOP shifted away from those ideals — and started to metastasize into the hard core racist party driven by white Southern rage that it is today.

These “new-fangled” Republicans pointed squarely at their religious faith as the justification for both their racism and their backwardness — a backwardness they felt compelled to shove down everyone else’s throat. It’s not surprising. Ignorance detests knowledge because knowledge is ignorance’s kryptonite.

By the same token, ignorant people detest information because information destroys their ignorance — and they need their ignorance to justify their politics and their whole belief system. Republicans are all about Magical Thinking. That’s great when you’re a kid and regardless of whether or not Santa Claus is real, the gifts show up under the tree on Christmas morning.

Republicans like Jesse Helms happily took up the name “Know-Nothings”. Originally, the “Know-Nothings” were a group of bigoted anti-Catholic politicians whose strategy — when questioned on the subject — was to insist they “knew nothing”. That’s willful ignorance with a racist, bigoted purpose.

It’s not a coincidence that Republicans describe themselves by and large as more religious than the majority of Americans. That’s “religious” as opposed to “spiritual”. Most Republicans don’t seem to have “spiritual” in their psychological makeup. They like religion for its rules and regulations. And its exclusivity. If you don’t believe what I believe…

And, of course, what they believe is based on Magical Thinking and storytelling. Funny thing? One can be a fan of Jesus — and do unto others every day — without being a member of any church. Why, even a humble atheist can do unto others without contradicting themselves. Doing Unto Others in fact demands that you put DOWN your ignorance.

It’s simple. Republicans are conservative. Conservatives — as their name implies — want to CONSERVE. But conserve what? It ain’t the future — there’s nothing to conserve since it doesn’t exist.

The present? Sure — but only the parts of the present that still hold firmly to the past. That’s what conservatives want to conserve and what Republicans want America to be — what we WERE. For some, it’s a white man’s vision of the 1950’s that only existed in their minds. For the rest, it’s a vision of the 1850’s that’s quite real. That’s what they want to conserve.

To get there, you have to stop taking in any new information. You have to assume that whatever we knew then is still good enough for now. It’s not a coincidence that Republicans by-and-large poo-poo the need for higher education. Hell, a lot of Republicans would be down with letting kids quit school and go to work. They might as well accept their servitude early.

If not for gerrymandering, voter suppression and direct Russian interference, Donald Trump would not be POTUS. The Republicans would not have won all three branches of our govt. Russia had a lot to do with that, too.

The current Republican obstructive tactics are just more of them trying to make ignorance the norm. As the desperation in their arguments makes clear — they know that the more WE know about what they’ve been doing — the worse it will be for them.

Our ignorance is a matter of their survival.