Wednesday, July 18, 2018

With Clarifications Like This, Who Needs Confusion?


So, the president’s ‘clarification’ is that he meant to say the opposite of what he said? The opposite of what he has been saying and tweeting for months? That is a clarification? Here is how AP describes the situation:


“Blistered by bipartisan condemnation of his embrace of a longtime U.S. enemy, President Donald Trump strained Tuesday to “clarify” his public undermining of American intelligence agencies, saying he simply misspoke when he said he saw no reason to believe Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
Rebuked as never before by his own party, including a stern pushback from usually reserved Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the U.S. president sought to end 27 hours of recrimination by delivering a rare admission of error.”
I am not even sure this counts as admitting an error. He ‘clarifies’ that his weak deference to Putin and selling out our national security was actually not an error at all, just one missing word.
Yet another lie. We have been hearing his say and tweet for months that this is a witch hunt and that he believes Putin when he says he did not do it. So now we are supposed to believe it was just one missing word?
Or should we believe it was… “Blistered by bipartisan condemnation of his embrace of a longtime U.S. enemy… [and] Rebuked as never before by his own party,” he caved and lied again, believing no one will notice that this clarification is another lie?
AP finds it hard to swallow, noting that this ‘clarification’ does not “explain why Trump, who had tweeted a half-dozen times and sat for two television interviews since the Putin news conference, waited so long” to only ‘clarify’ with “scripted cleanup” comments “the least defensible of his comments.”
And, of course, even in his scripted ‘clarification’ he adds “it could be other people and there is no collusion.” It seems he cares more about protecting himself than our national defense.
The list of statements he made that still need to be ‘clarified’ remains long and this AP article provides an overview.
Russia is attacking America and this is his response?
Mitch McConnell has to reassure our allies that our president does not speak for us, reminding anyone who believes in gravity that “European countries are our friends, and the Russians are not.”
Remember: not democratic talking points. McConnell is one of the president’s most ardent supporters. These are comments from his own team.
Another leading member of the president’s team added this:
“Let’s be very clear, just so everybody knows: Russia did meddle with our elections,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, another steady Trump political ally.
With clarifications like this, who needs confusion?

Here is another clarification from conservative columnist Michael Gerson in today’s paper:
Trump’s approach to foreign policy “is the replacement of national pride with personal vanity. Any diplomatic outcome—not matter how useless or harmful—is claims by President Trump as a victory. Any complications are pinned on the ‘stupidity’ of previous presidents. Trump’s negotiating style is a panting desire for the appearance of accomplishment, making him the easiest mark of modern presidential history. This was on full display at the Helsinki summit.”

Sunday, July 8, 2018


Making America Unwilling to Love Our Neighbors
My faith is rarely something I share in public. Because so many who claim to share this faith leave me puzzled by their overwhelming support of the most indecent and unchristian president of my life time, this letter from 30 faith leaders seemed worth sharing.

They focus on six things they reject about politics today on the basis of six things they believe as a result of their shared faith.In general, I do not share their preference for using god-talk as a lens for thinking through public policy questions, perhaps because I lack their courage and moral clarity, but given the context today I appreciate their voices, helping me with my own struggles.

Here is a brief outline of their six affirmations, revised to feel just a bit more like my voice, but I encourage you to read the entire letter below.

WE BELIEVE we are all children of god.
THEREFORE, WE REJECT the resurgence of white nationalism and racism.
WE BELIEVE god is love and the kingdom of heaven is now. 
THEREFORE, WE REJECT misogyny and the oppression of any other child of God.
WE BELIEVE how we treat the stranger and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself.
THEREFORE, WE REJECT the growing attacks on immigrants and refugees.
WE BELIEVE that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives.
THEREFORE, WE REJECT the pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life.
WE BELIEVE that Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination.
THEREFORE, WE REJECT autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule.
WE BELIEVE we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.
THEREFORE, WE REJECT “America first” as a theological heresy for followers of Christ.

Here is the full letter (at the link and pasted below)

We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.
It is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else—nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography—our identity in Christ precedes every other identity. We pray that our nation will see Jesus’ words in us. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
When politics undermines our theology, we must examine that politics. The church’s role is to change the world through the life and love of Jesus Christ. The government’s role is to serve the common good by protecting justice and peace, rewarding good behavior while restraining bad behavior (Romans 13). When that role is undermined by political leadership, faith leaders must stand up and speak out. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”
It is often the duty of Christian leaders, especially elders, to speak the truth in love to our churches and to name and warn against temptations, racial and cultural captivities, false doctrines, and political idolatries—and even our complicity in them. We do so here with humility, prayer, and a deep dependency on the grace and Holy Spirit of God.
This letter comes from a retreat on Ash Wednesday, 2018. In this season of Lent, we feel deep lamentations for the state of our nation, and our own hearts are filled with confession for the sins we feel called to address. The true meaning of the word repentance is to turn around. It is time to lament, confess, repent, and turn. In times of crisis, the church has historically learned to return to Jesus Christ.
Jesus is Lord. That is our foundational confession. It was central for the early church and needs to again become central to us. If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar was not—nor any other political ruler since. If Jesus is Lord, no other authority is absolute. Jesus Christ, and the kingdom of God he announced, is the Christian’s first loyalty, above all others. We pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Our faith is personal but never private, meant not only for heaven but for this earth.
The question we face is this: Who is Jesus Christ for us today? What does our loyalty to Christ, as disciples, require at this moment in our history? We believe it is time to renew our theology of public discipleship and witness. Applying what “Jesus is Lord” means today is the message we commend as elders to our churches.
What we believe leads us to what we must reject. Our “Yes” is the foundation for our “No.” What we confess as our faith leads to what we confront. Therefore, we offer the following six affirmations of what we believe, and the resulting rejections of practices and policies by political leaders which dangerously corrode the soul of the nation and deeply threaten the public integrity of our faith. We pray that we, as followers of Jesus, will find the depth of faith to match the danger of our political crisis.
I. WE BELIEVE each human being is made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). That image and likeness confers a divinely decreed dignity, worth, and God-given equality to all of us as children of the one God who is the Creator of all things. Racial bigotry is a brutal denial of the image of God (the imago dei) in some of the children of God. Our participation in the global community of Christ absolutely prevents any toleration of racial bigotry. Racial justice and healing are biblical and theological issues for us, and are central to the mission of the body of Christ in the world. We give thanks for the prophetic role of the historic black churches in America when they have called for a more faithful gospel.
THEREFORE, WE REJECT the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership. We, as followers of Jesus, must clearly reject the use of racial bigotry for political gain that we have seen. In the face of such bigotry, silence is complicity. In particular, we reject white supremacy and commit ourselves to help dismantle the systems and structures that perpetuate white preference and advantage. Further, any doctrines or political strategies that use racist resentments, fears, or language must be named as public sin—one that goes back to the foundation of our nation and lingers on. Racial bigotry must be antithetical for those belonging to the body of Christ, because it denies the truth of the gospel we profess.
II. WE BELIEVE we are one body. In Christ, there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class (Galatians 3:28). The body of Christ, where those great human divisions are to be overcome, is meant to be an example for the rest of society. When we fail to overcome these oppressive obstacles, and even perpetuate them, we have failed in our vocation to the world—to proclaim and live the reconciling gospel of Christ.
THEREFORE, WE REJECT misogyny, the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women that has been further revealed in our culture and politics, including our churches, and the oppression of any other child of God. We lament when such practices seem publicly ignored, and thus privately condoned, by those in high positions of leadership. We stand for the respect, protection, and affirmation of women in our families, communities, workplaces, politics, and churches. We support the courageous truth-telling voices of women, who have helped the nation recognize these abuses. We confess sexism as a sin, requiring our repentance and resistance.
III. WE BELIEVE how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself. (Matthew 25: 31-46) “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” God calls us to protect and seek justice for those who are poor and vulnerable, and our treatment of people who are “oppressed,” “strangers,” “outsiders,” or otherwise considered “marginal” is a test of our relationship to God, who made us all equal in divine dignity and love. Our proclamation of the lordship of Jesus Christ is at stake in our solidarity with the most vulnerable. If our gospel is not “good news to the poor,” it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ (Luke 4:18).
THEREFORE, WE REJECT the language and policies of political leaders who would debase and abandon the most vulnerable children of God. We strongly deplore the growing attacks on immigrants and refugees, who are being made into cultural and political targets, and we need to remind our churches that God makes the treatment of the “strangers” among us a test of faith (Leviticus 19:33-34). We won’t accept the neglect of the well-being of low-income families and children, and we will resist repeated attempts to deny health care to those who most need it. We confess our growing national sin of putting the rich over the poor. We reject the immoral logic of cutting services and programs for the poor while cutting taxes for the rich. Budgets are moral documents. We commit ourselves to opposing and reversing those policies and finding solutions that reflect the wisdom of people from different political parties and philosophies to seek the common good. Protecting the poor is a central commitment of Christian discipleship, to which 2,000 verses in the Bible attest.
IV. WE BELIEVE that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives. Truth-telling is central to the prophetic biblical tradition, whose vocation includes speaking the Word of God into their societies and speaking the truth to power. A commitment to speaking truth, the ninth commandment of the Decalogue, “You shall not bear false witness” (Exodus 20:16), is foundational to shared trust in society. Falsehood can enslave us, but Jesus promises, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32). The search and respect for truth is crucial to anyone who follows Christ.
THEREFORE, WE REJECT the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life. Politicians, like the rest of us, are human, fallible, sinful, and mortal. But when public lying becomes so persistent that it deliberately tries to change facts for ideological, political, or personal gain, the public accountability to truth is undermined. The regular purveying of falsehoods and consistent lying by the nation’s highest leaders can change the moral expectations within a culture, the accountability for a civil society, and even the behavior of families and children. The normalization of lying presents a profound moral danger to the fabric of society. In the face of lies that bring darkness, Jesus is our truth and our light.
V. WE BELIEVE that Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination. Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles (the world) lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-26). We believe our elected officials are called to public service, not public tyranny, so we must protect the limits, checks, and balances of democracy and encourage humility and civility on the part of elected officials. We support democracy, not because we believe in human perfection, but because we do not. The authority of government is instituted by God to order an unredeemed society for the sake of justice and peace, but ultimate authority belongs only to God.
THEREFORE, WE REJECT any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule. We believe authoritarian political leadership is a theological danger that threatens democracy and the common good—and we will resist it. Disrespect for the rule of law, not recognizing the equal importance of our three branches of government, and replacing civility with dehumanizing hostility toward opponents are of great concern to us. Neglecting the ethic of public service and accountability, in favor of personal recognition and gain often characterized by offensive arrogance, are not just political issues for us. They raise deeper concerns about political idolatry, accompanied by false and unconstitutional notions of authority.
VI. WE BELIEVE Jesus when he tells us to go into all nations making disciples (Matthew 28:18). Our churches and our nations are part of an international community whose interests always surpass national boundaries. The most well-known verse in the New Testament starts with “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16). We, in turn, should love and serve the world and all its inhabitants, rather than seek first narrow, nationalistic prerogatives.
THEREFORE, WE REJECT “America first” as a theological heresy for followers of Christ. While we share a patriotic love for our country, we reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism that places one nation over others as a political goal. We reject domination rather than stewardship of the earth’s resources, toward genuine global development that brings human flourishing for all of God’s children. Serving our own communities is essential, but the global connections between us are undeniable. Global poverty, environmental damage, violent conflict, weapons of mass destruction, and deadly diseases in some places ultimately affect all places, and we need wise political leadership to deal with each of these.
WE ARE DEEPLY CONCERNED for the soul of our nation, but also for our churches and the integrity of our faith. The present crisis calls us to go deeper—deeper into our relationship to God; deeper into our relationships with each other, especially across racial, ethnic, and national lines; deeper into our relationships with the most vulnerable, who are at greatest risk.
The church is always subject to temptations to power, to cultural conformity, and to racial, class, and gender divides, as Galatians 3:28 teaches us. But our answer is to be “in Christ,” and to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable, and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)
The best response to our political, material, cultural, racial, or national idolatries is the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Jesus summarizes the Greatest Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, and your mind. This is the first commandment. And the second is like unto it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:38). As to loving our neighbors, we would add “no exceptions.”
We commend this letter to pastors, local churches, and young people who are watching and waiting to see what the churches will say and do at such a time as this.
Our urgent need, in a time of moral and political crisis, is to recover the power of confessing our faith. Lament, repent, and then repair. If Jesus is Lord, there is always space for grace. We believe it is time to speak and to act in faith and conscience, not because of politics, but because we are disciples of Jesus Christ—to whom be all authority, honor, and glory. It is time for a fresh confession of faith. Jesus is Lord. He is the light in our darkness. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

  • Bishop Carroll A. Baltimore, President and CEO, Global Alliance Interfaith Network
  • Rev. Dr. Peter Borgdorff, Executive Director Emeritus, Christian Reformed Church in North America
  • Dr. Amos Brown, Chair, Social Justice Commission, National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.
  • Rev. Dr. Walter Brueggemann, Professor Emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary
  • Dr. Tony Campolo, Co-Founder, Red Letter Christians
  • Dr. Iva Carruthers, General Secretary, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
  • The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church
  • Rev. Dr. James Forbes, President and Founder, Healing of the Nations Foundation and Preaching Professor at Union Theological Seminary
  • Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary Emeritus, Reformed Church in America
  • Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale, Senior Pastor, Ray of Hope Christian Church, Decatur, GA
  • Rev. Dr. Richard Hamm, former General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  • Rev. Dr. Joel C. Hunter, Faith Community Organizer and Chairman, Community Resource Network
  • Rev. Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent Emerita, The Wesleyan Church
  • Bishop Vashti McKenzie, 117th Elected and Consecrated Bishop, AME Church
  • Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., Co-Convener National African American Clergy Network
  • Dr. John Perkins, Chair Emeritus and Founding Member, Christian Community Development Association and President Emeritus, John & Vera Mae Perkins Foundation
  • Senior Bishop Lawrence Reddick, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Fr. Richard Rohr, Founder, Center for Action and Contemplation
  • Dr. Ron Sider, President Emeritus, Evangelicals for Social Action
  • Rev. Jim Wallis, President and Founder, Sojourners
  • Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, Director, NCC Truth and Racial Justice Initiative
  • Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Co-Convener, National African American Clergy Network; President, Skinner Leadership Institute
  • Bishop Will Willimon, Bishop, The United Methodist Church, retired, Professor of the Practice of Ministry, Duke Divinity School

Friday, July 6, 2018

Civility and Political Tactics
Let’s start by recognizing that this is not a simple question or a straightforward dichotomy. Choosing to see this as an either/or is accepting the sucker’s choice. It is accepting our role in their movie. Because one of the reasons this is a gnarly question is it is layered.
  1. On the surface we observe events and, particularly when we are outraged, we speak out.
  2. Beneath this is an argument over what we should be arguing about.
  3. Beneath that is a conflict over how we should engage in conflict, how to best identify and resolve our disagreements. 

When someone focuses on civility as politeness (alone) they are choosing to engage in the argument over how we should conduct our arguments. They think this is what we should be arguing about, likely for honest reasons.

When someone focuses on the importance of their favorite single-issue (whatever it is), they are choosing to engage in the middle level, likely for honest reasons.

When someone is so offended by a presidential tweet or policy change that they stand up and scream ‘enough is enough’ they are choosing to engage at the tip of the iceberg, likely for honest reasons.
This level one agent is, if he is not also consider levels 2 and 3, is likely being pushed and pulled by the results of elite struggles over agenda setting. His energy is positive, frustration real, but efforts usually reflect a weaker form of agency based on a failure to see the strategic dimension in politics. He is being mobilized to fight someone else’s battles as if they were his own.

A level two active agent, if not considering 1 and 3, is more cognizant of the landscape but has chosen rational ignorance (I will only learn about and care about one issue) as his lens and is thus similarly mobilizing a thin form of agency vulnerable to being hijacked easily.

A level three active agent, if not considering 1 and 2, is a preacher with a congregation openly assaulting each other in the pews. He is choosing to stand above the fray and, as a result, the fray is ignoring him.

MLK said the ‘power without love is reckless and abusive; love without power is sentimental and anemic.’ We need to be smarter than those who are comfortable with any one of these alone, because each alone is a recipe for feeling powerful while disempowering ourselves, feeling loving while enabling hatred.

See the strategic dimension. Do the work to try to understand the forces we are up against. Choose to take positions about the issues others make salient today that also communicates your own determination of what are the most important issues to focus on (and which are more distractions) and does this in a way that enacts how you believe we should engage in conflict.

Win in the short term in ways that create resources to continue to win over the medium and long term.

Win in a way that respects the game itself, because perhaps the central threat embedded in the current rise of hatred is the threat to democracy itself.

Just to be clear (since civility is currently under attack as a form a surrender): we have to be resolute and tough minded. We have to stand up. We have to avoid pointing fingers at each other and trying to police the resistance--let a hundred flowers bloom--because there are many ways to stand up for decency. And we need to try to be strategic, encourage out allies to try to think strategically, try to avoid being dragged into movie, playing a role he cast for us, and instead standing for all to see as the rational and kind, thoughtful and fair alternative to the current indecency and ignorance on parade.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Living Wage Jobs MIA
Robert Samuelson's commentary this week makes a strong case that the president's isolationism is already hurting American workers. And likely to hurt us more over time. And this is from a conservative commentator.

Meanwhile, where are the good jobs?



Real wages for average Americans have stagnated since 1979. While worker productivity has continued to climb, all the profit associated with this growth has been given to the top 1%. Everyone, even the top 1% should be horrified and angry about this.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Like Peeling Esher's Onion
Ever since Fox News and talk radio displaced the more moderate form of corporate mass media that preceded their control, we have been experiencing the distorting effects of an alternative information system. 


One such effect is the usual layering of conflicts (as we debate conflict A, we discover there is are deeper disagreements about conflicts B and C that we need to either disentangle or resolve before we can return to A) has transformed into something like peeling Esher's onion.

One such instance today is, in discussing any policy or political question (immigration, trade, court appointments, whatever) we inevitably circle back to a fundamental disagreement about the degree to which our current president lies.

Even this is layers. Sometimes the disagreement is about facts: some asserting he is not lying (or not more than others) and others he is (and a lot more often). Sometimes the disagreement is what this means: some asserting that he is generally right while often getting specific facts wrong and others that he is both generally misleading and specifically inaccurate.

This is part of the Fox News effect. 


It is partly a reflection of the fact that there is now a loose coalition of 'news' outlets whose stated mission is not to try to inform the public in some less partisan way, but their objective is to train many publics in their preferred sound bites, to propagandize for the hard right business community.

It is also partly a reflection of the fact that the conflicts that end up on our political agenda are gnarly. Were they not, they would have been resolved in civil society with no need to transform these into public conflicts. 

As such, the FN effect is both about a well-funded (decades old) far-right corporate campaign to manufacture consent and about an even older phenomena: we disagree about a lot of stuff, including the putative 'shared values' all sides claim to recognize (like freedom of expression, free and fair elections, well regulated free markets).

But, let's dismiss the factual version so we can return to the more gnarly one.
“In his first 10 months in office, he has told 103 separate untruths, many of them repeatedly. Obama told 18 over his entire eight-year tenure. That’s an average of about two a year for Obama and about 124 a year for Trump.” (New York Times analysis)
170 Political Scientists who study the presidency were polled recently. They ranked our current president at the bottom. 45 out of 45. Even if you count only those among the 170 who are Republican, his rank is still 40 out of 45. This same group ranked President Obama as #8. 
"The one area where Mr Trump did come out on top was in the “most polarising” section, in which the researchers asked the scientists to list the five presidents they found most divisive. Mr Trump was ranked most polarising by 90 of the 170 respondents, and second-most polarising by another 20."
Of course, one aspect of the FN effect is, with many of our fellow citizens we are never able to put the factual debate aside in this way. That is both frustrating and sad. And consequential for the survival of democracy, particularly in an era where we see a sustained assault on voting rights and union organizing and public education and common sense environmental regulation and women's bodies. While most do not want to admit it, we are only one small step from the Handmaid's Tale.

And we see this, and are rightfully concerned, only by examining the factual dimension of our political debates. It is possible that the factual dimension will turn out to only be important in terms of how effectively is divides and confuses and frustrates regular folks, ceding even more territory to elites already willing to frame everything as a zero sum contest over their 'strict father' understanding of the rule of law.

On top of all this, or beneath all of this, we do actually disagree on a lot of important stuff.

The promise of democracy is that, despite disagreements, we share a hope and an agreement about process and basic values that results in respect for the rules of the game, meaning we play the game of politics to win but not in a ruthless way, we want to win today and we also want to preserve the game so we can continue to play tomorrow.

Seeding deeply confusing and frustrating and divisive disagreements about facts with glitzy sound bites produced by highly paid and skilled PR experts saps that hope, challenges the importance of respecting the game, makes the nuclear option an everyday tactic on the road to more concentrated and less accountable power.

As frustrating as it is, regular folks need to keep peeling back Esher's onion. Keep reminding ourselves and those who disagree with us that without respect for the game even the ever-shifting onion disappears and our relief from Esher's onion is simplicity by design, familiar echo chambers erasing uncomfortable facts and disagreements at 451 degrees.

Sunday, June 24, 2018


Corporate Counterattack Continues
An Institute for New Economic Thinking article summarizing historian Nancy Maclean’s new book (Democracy in Chains) about Nobel Laureate economist James Buchanan gives us glimpse at one possible big picture framing for current events. 

It helps us see common threads loosely connecting the otherwise incoherent thinking and talking and acting on the far right, now sadly and increasingly including our current president (who formerly had no real ideology but now appears to have been seduced by the most craven wing of his plutocratic country club pals).

If it feels like everything we have been building since WWII is crumbling around us. This story suggests this is not far from the truth…and since this crumbling benefits some as it harms others…not by accident. Everything? Really? That is the plan.

“Buchanan focused on such affronts to capitalists as environmentalism and public health and welfare, expressing eagerness to dismantle Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare as well as kill public education because it tended to foster community values. Feminism had to go, too. Buchanan considered it a socialist project.”

Unlike ‘sunny’ libertarians like Ayn Rand, this strand, with generous Koch funding, is uninterested in making government efficient and only interested in “tearing it out at the root.” Thus, the communication strategy of identifying government as ‘the problem’ to undercut efforts to use government institutions to craft democratic solutions. The root to tear out is democratic decision making—powerful government (under the unconstrained control of the wealthy) will still be needed to, as political scientist Ira Katznelson once said, ‘manage the consequences of choosing to live in a capitalist society,’

In case this seems like we must be putting words into Buchanan’s mouth, here is him in his own words: “Despotism may be the only organizational alternative to the political structure that we observe,” the economist had written in The Limits of Liberty 

In The Republican Noise Machine, David Brock (a former journalist for the far-right) outlines the communication strategy: sow doubt, distrust and confusion to gradually reduce confidence in the institutions and processes and attitudes and behaviors of democratic governance (think civility crisis today, and its most triumphant practitioner—our president).

In Distorting the Law, we see a brilliant analysis of just one prong (the tort reform movement) in this loosely coordinated effort.

These two books make it clear that today’s most familiar talking heads, expert commentators, think tank scholars, ‘news’ networks (Fox, Washington Times) and interest group lobbyists did not get there by accident. Dominating the news media, the same forces created their own publishing houses and changed law (eliminated the Fairness Doctrine for instance) to make it possible for talk radio and cable news to explode. Combined with well-funded training for federal judges, academics, journalists…an alternative information system was created—from K-16, news and entertainment, scholarly and applied.

“The Koch-funded Virginia school coached scholars, lawyers, politicians, and business people to apply stark right-wing perspectives on everything from deficits to taxes to school privatization.”

In today’s news we read about Republican efforts to pass a constitutional amendment requiring government budgets to balance each year. While this sounds like an idea worth considering, it is a Trojan horse to make it impossible for democratic governance to work. Just like endless budget cutting of public schools has resulted in a loss of confidence in public schools and more calls to cut their budgets, this is an effort to impoverish the public sector so it cannot challenge, let alone constraint, wealthy plutocrats.

This is not new. But it is happening like a slow burn. In some ways this is always happening: rust never sleeps. Democracy is not the next step on a steady progression of human history. It has always been the product of a struggle. And there is no reason to imagine we are somehow immune from the outcomes of this struggle we observe elsewhere.

“MacLean illustrates that in South America, Buchanan was able to first truly set his ideas in motion by helping a bare-knuckles dictatorship ensure the permanence of much of the radical transformation it inflicted on a country that had been a beacon of social progress. The historian emphasizes that Buchanan’s role in the disastrous Pinochet government of Chile has been underestimated partly because unlike Milton Friedman, who advertised his activities, Buchanan had the shrewdness to keep his involvement quiet. With his guidance, the military junta deployed public choice economics in the creation of a new constitution, which required balanced budgets and thereby prevented the government from spending to meet public needs. Supermajorities would be required for any changes of substance, leaving the public little recourse to challenge programs like the privatization of social security.”

This is a sustained assault on shared values and community. A sustained assault on environmentalism and public health because the wealthy (falsely) believe they can insulate themselves from the dangers in private enclaves. An eagerness to dismantle Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and public education, however, does create public harms that private enclaves (with a strong government enforcement power) might provide protection against.

And as we privatize all of these, on the ‘reasonable’ argument that this is prudent fiscal policy, we also expand police powers, suppress voting turnout and voting rights, manufacture a crisis in public retirement plans, compel arbitration to deny due process, denying clean air and water, living wages and decent housing, allowing our public infrastructure to crumble, because there is a deeper conflict in play here. Taking these changes together we…

“radically alter power relations, weakening pro-public forces and enhancing the lobbying power and commitment of the corporations that take over public services and resources, thus advancing the plans to dismantle democracy and make way for a return to oligarchy. The majority will be held captive so that the wealthy can finally be free to do as they please, no matter how destructive.”
Buchanan and others like him provide the scholarly support for these policies. We should not take this lightly, simply because we are offended by what appears to be an unsustainable cold-heartedness.
MacLean interprets an essay by Buchanan to mean that people who “failed to foresee and save money for their future needs” are to be treated, as Buchanan put it, “as subordinate members of the species, akin to…animals who are dependent.’”

This is the type of sound bite that seems to make sense. It silences someone in an argument. But it really only makes sense in retrospect. After one has already stumbled into a comfortable place in the world, it becomes a lot easier to forget all the lucky breaks, to overlook how clueless we were most of the time, and in doing so make it possible to judge uncomfortable others as lazy failures who just needed to plan ahead.

This article was worth reading. Makes me want to read MacLean’s book.

Since I am always astonished at the crazy conspiracy theories that get traction, I wonder, is this my own private conspiracy theory? Am I failing to see this as a crazy notion because it makes sense to me and is that what is going on with others I see as just losing their minds or hateful? A question for another time.

Friday, June 15, 2018


Listen to Michelle Obama
I wish I had written this one. Brilliant. An answer key for how to win the midterms. And, honestly, winning the House at midterms is all that matters politically right now. Brilliant.


I love Samantha Bee. But the party and our candidates cannot “chosen cheap theatrics over the long game, catharsis over cunning.” We do need to mobilize our base, but when we confuse “raising our fist” with “raising a white flag” we feel better on the road to losing yet again.

Following this editorial, we need to be the party of ‘maturity, pragmatism and plain old smarts.’ Our default needs to be modelling being the adult in the room, enacting a calm but tough voice for families and jobs and decency. 

“When you answer name-calling with name-calling and tantrums with tantrums, you’re not resisting him. You’re mirroring him. You’re not diminishing him. You’re demeaning yourselves. Many voters don’t hear your arguments or the facts, which are on your side. They just wince at the din.”

Yes, our Facebook friends cheer, but our responsibility is to speak in ways that make sense to average families…not our own private choir. When we let mobilizing our base become all we do, we “permit them to see us as we see Trump: deranged. Why would any voter choose a different path if it goes to another ugly destination?”

We have already seen some success and I applaud the party (and Sam Bee for mobilizing our base) for focusing on winning.

Many Democrats voters get it, choosing House candidates whose appeals were tempered and whose profiles make them formidable general-election contenders. They’re the best bets for wooing less fiercely partisan voters and snatching seats currently in Republican hands.

These candidates strike fear in the hearts of Trump and his basket of enablers.
We cannot get “bogged down in impeachment talk, which can sound to many voters like a promise of ceaseless partisan rancor and never-ending Washington paralysis.” Stop frothing at the mouth about Trump and stop comparing Trump to Hitler, because that only works in our own private echo chamber.

“I’m not urging complacency. But when you invoke the darkest historical analogies, you lose many of the very Americans you’re trying to win over. What you’re saying isn’t what they’re seeing. It’s overreach in their eyes.

We need average Americans to step up, and I am confident they will. But we also need to help create conditions that make that easier, not harder.

“The more noise, the less discernment. The more fury, the less focus.”

As one of our most important leaders said… “When they go low, we go high,” said Michelle Obama. Let’s heed her call.