11 10 2015

First of all, we have to accept that mainstream American politics has long been about which party’s lies resonate better with the voters.  For most of the last 35 years, the Republicans have had the more popular fantasy, to the point where the Democrats have had to borrow parts of it just to be able to get a hand in the cookie jar from time to time (I’m lookin’ at you, Obama, Bill, and Hillary!).  A delusional belief system accompanied by compulsive lying would be easy to spot and treat if it were the province of only a few isolated individuals, but, since similar delusions and manias have a grip on the minds of millions of people, it becomes tempting to simply accept them as consensus reality and go along with the madness, forgetting that it’s what we once vowed to cure. “Of course American politics is built on ego, selfishness, greed, delusions of grandeur, and overwhelming paranoia.  Of course you’re always going to have to choose the lesser of two evils. Get used to it!”

Lately, however, the Republican side of the duopoly has reached a pitch of madness. There have even been signs that it might be turning into a healing crisis, rather than a fatal spinout.  There are some signs that this same healing crisis has spread into the Democrats, as well.  Part of the Democrats’ delusion has long been that they, as the more populist wing of the corporate duopoly party, offer a real alternative to the Republicans.  “Hey, we’re for abortion and gay marriage!  Vote for us, ‘cos we’re cool!” Get ’em by the short hairs, and their hearts and minds will follow, eh?

I think we can trace the beginning of this particular delusional/manic episode to the 2000 election, when the Republicans turned Al Gore’s wonky, intelligent, detail-oriented personality into a major campaign issue, as if the qualities that might make him a good President were drawbacks, reasons to vote for his opponent, who seemed to embody the very opposite of those qualities. The Republicans, I believe, compounded this by conspiring to steal the election from Gore, a crime which the Democrats chose to ignore, instead blaming Ralph Nader and the Green Party. In psychological terms, that is known as displacement.

That illustrates the fundamental dynamic that has played out between Republicans and Democrats in all the instances I am going to relate:  an unfair contest between the cruel and the clueless, in which the clueless remain clueless about why they keep losing, or even why they keep playing the kind of games they lose. Where I grew up, I was taught that, if somebody says something that seems to be dripping with weird implications, you don’t just play along like nothing is happening, you say what those implications seem to be, letting the chips fall, and the poop fly, where they may. That is what I am going to do here.

We’ll skip over the near certainty that 9-11 was a flimflam and the  absolute certainty that Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” was a con, and check into 2004, when the Republicans again turned what should have been a strong “selling point” for Democratic candidate John Kerry–his war record–into a new political verb–they “Swift boated” him, emphasizing

John Kerry redeems himself/why they hate him

John Kerry redeems himself/why they hate him

a version of what happened to Kerry in Vietnam that painted a much more negative picture of him–they said he turned and ran.  His own crew members deny that.  But here’s the thing:  the comrades-in-arms who attempted to discredit him also shared a dislike for his later change of heart–he joined Vietnam Veterans for Peace, and became a major spokesperson for the group. I think that’s where he redeemed himself, but it really burned some of his old war buddies’ bacon.  They did not care for the notion that they had fought on the side of injustice. Sorry, guys. US intervention in Vietnam was wrong, and Ho Chi Minh was right, even if the repressive Vietnam of today is far from the U.S. Constitution-inspired workers’ and peasants’ paradise that Ho envisioned.  I also think that the Democrats’ use of Kerry’s “war heroism” as a selling point shows that, whatever their disagreements, Republicans and Democrats agree on the importance of American imperialism.

As I so often do, I am digressing.  The point is that people who bore Kerry a grudge for his realization that the Vietnam conflict was unjust spread a false narrative that cast doubt on him.  Just to make sure, and just as in 2000, the 2004 election was also stolen, this time in Ohio. The Democrats couldn’t blame it on the Greens this time, but they declined to contest the veracity of the results.  As I said, it’s the cruel versus the clueless. (Just for the record, the Green and Libertarian parties did dispute the results of the Ohio election, raising $100,000 to finance a recount that inspired a Congressional investigation which found “a veritable arsenal of smoking guns.” This led to some low-level prosecutions, but no real reform of our supremely riggable and de-facto partisan computerized voting system.)

So…why didn’t the Repubs steal the 2008 election, as well?  They certainly did their best to float delusional narratives about Barack Obama–Kenyan, Muslim, Socialist.  Those memes were so attractive to some that there are plenty of people who still fervently believe all three of them. As for the election, it was, in my opinion, unstealable, because there were no states the Democrats won where the vote was even close.  As I understand the theory of rigging elections, it works best when you only have to shift a few votes, or, as happened in Ohio in 2004, can make it too inconvenient for large numbers of citizens to vote.

It’s worth noting that the Republicans were able to use slanderous false narratives to torpedo some of Obama’s more liberal appointments, such as Van Jones, who was alleged to be a “communist” for questioning the official 9-11 story and saying things like

we’re…at the end of an era of American capitalism, where we thought we could run the economy based on consumption rather than production, credit rather than creativity, borrowing rather than building, and also, most importantly, environmental destruction rather than environmental restoration.

I mean, that’s just blood-curdlingly subversive, isn’t it? It’s noteworthy that so many Democrats were so horrified by his doubts about the Twin Towers attack that he ended up publicly recanting his signature on a 9-11 petition, claiming that he didn’t read the whole thing before he signed it.

Another victim was  Debo Adegbile, who was blocked from becoming head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division because he actually defended the civil rights of radical black death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, who, in all probability, was falsely charged with murder for being an uppity ni–I mean, uppity journalist. The Republicans came up with a good fantasy, or maybe more like a projection, of who they wanted people to believe these guys were, and, instead of laughing them out of the room, the Democrats and the mainstream media took the sturm-und-drang at face value. The media, as they so often do, reported repeated empty allegations as if they were substantial indictments, and the Democrats simply caved in.  Some even agreed with the Republican fantasy.

music:  The Kinks, “A Little Bit of Abuse

The next stop on our tour is the great ACORN mashing of 2010. Republicans targeted ACORN as part of their strategy of reducing the number of low-income, likely Democratic, voters.  What had “The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now” done, over its forty-year history, to attract such attention? Let me count the ways.

1)ACORN worked to suppress the predatory “payday lending” business.

2)ACORN advocated for more affordable housing, and for government assistance to help fund affordable housing.

3)ACORN campaigned for a “living wage,” since our current “minimum wage” is not, when you come right down to it, enough for a person to support themselves on, let alone a family. When Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans,

4)ACORN organized a hands-on effort to help people rebuild–and

5) bussed displaced low-income New Orleans voters back to town to participate in municipal elections.

6)ACORN advocated for gun control.

7)ACORN organized non-violent resistance to mortgage-bubble related evictions.

8)ACORN also conducted voter registration drives, and were hired by Barack Obama to help his campaign in some primary elections in 2008, although this arrangement did not carry on to the general election.

9)ACORN-empowered inner city residents were active participants in Democratic Party politics, including serving as convention delegates, from the time the organization was founded.  I guess they just didn’t feel at home among the Republicans for some reason. So, that’s nine reasons those squirrelly Republicans wanted ACORN buried.

From this record, the Republicans concocted the narrative that ACORN’s voter registration drives had resulted in massive voter fraud and the fraudulent election of Barack Obama as President in 2008. Apparently, they couldn’t handle the idea that Cheney’s policies (Let’s be honest and call 2000-2008 “the Cheney presidency,” folks–we know who was really calling the shots!) had made him, and the Republicans, massively unpopular, and resulted in a fair-and-square Republican loss.  So, seeking to blame someone else for their own failings, they went after ACORN, just as the Democrats had vented their frustration on The Green Party. I believe that this, too, is what a psychologist would call “displacement.”

ACORN, alas, proved to be an easy target.  The sprawling, somewhat informal, decentralized organization had “jest growed” since its humble beginnings in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the early 70’s.  It had put its financial trust in people who had proved to be untrustworthy, and had not vetted or trained its employees as well as it might have.  In ACORN’S defence, I would say that, when you’re seeking to help disadvantaged people, it seems more compassionate to make one’s errors be on the side of being loose with them, rather than being tight, but ACORN’s assailants, unhindered by a need to be honest, were able to leverage several cracks.  One was ACORN’s practice of paying employees by the registrant when they did voter registration drives, which resulted in some unscrupulous employees making up registrations.  Most of these were discovered by ACORN, and the rest were rejected by voter registration officials, so no actual “voter fraud” occurred–nobody showed up at the polls to vote, claiming to be, for example, “Mickey Mouse.” In the annals of American elections, there have been very, very few cases of this kind of voter fraud, and it has certainly never been done on such a scale as to throw a national election. Well, OK, some of those post-Civil War elections maybe, but…. Even notoriously “machine-run” big cities like New York, Chicago, and Memphis largely succeeded by taking good care of the voters while they took very good care of themselves. There have been no proven instances of literal ballot-box stuffing in recent decades.  There are simpler, but more sophisticated ways to throw elections these days.

This seems to me to be an example of the psychological phenomenon known as “projection.”  The Republicans were the ones who had, in fact, committed widespread electoral fraud, by removing people from the voter rolls without good reason, by making it difficult for people who would likely vote Democratic to vote, and, in all probability, by hacking the voting machines, which contain proprietary software and are manufactured by companies that are major Republican donors. Nevertheless, Republicans insist it’s the other side that’s being underhanded. The Democrats go along with this by not making the trustworthiness of the voting machines an issue.  They just lose some close ones unexpectedly, y’know? “Who knew you couldn’t trust exit polls!?” That’s the psychological state known as “denial.”

OK, back to ACORN…in 2009, Republican activist James O’Keefe publicized a video that seemed to show ACORN staffers in several cities having a conversation with a characteristically dressed pimp and prostitute about how to establish a prostitution business using underage, undocumented immigrant girls.  The charge that ACORN was willing to be complicit in such activity was taken seriously enough in both New York and California to be investigated by law enforcement.  The first step in their investigation was to view the unedited tapes.  When two different, widely separated District Attorneys viewed the raw footage, they realized how manipulated the released footage was, and declared that neither ACORN nor its employees (most of whom thought the questions were humorous, not serious) had done anything actionable. No charges were filed. How heavily edited was this video? According to California Attorney General Edmund Brown,

At the beginning and end of the Internet videos, O’Keefe was dressed as a 1970s Superfly pimp, but in his actual taped sessions with ACORN workers, he was dressed in a shirt and tie, presented himself as a law student, and said he planned to use the prostitution proceeds to run for Congress. He never claimed he was a pimp.

“Planned to use the prostitution proceeds to run for Congress”?  That, in itself, is such a bizarre claim that it might make anyone who heard it decide that the person who said it was putting him on.  That’s what most ACORN employees who received this pitch said they thought it was.  Other ACORN employees called the police. Republicans and Democrats, however, paid scant attention to the reality of the situation.  Republicans responded with full-scale outrage, as if O’Keefe’s fantasy had been reality, and Democrats retreated from their support of ACORN, just as if the fantasy was a reality. The psychological term for what the Democrats did is, “enabling.” In the year after the video, the 40-year old national organization, despite its track record of successfully advocating for underprivileged, low-income Americans, crumbled and disappeared. Some of its state chapters live on, under other names, but the reactionaries’ bid to further dis-empower the disempowered prevailed.

music break:  Frank Zappa, “A Lie So Big

And that brings us to Planned Parenthood, which the reactionaries excoriate, they say, because it provides abortions, although that is, by most measures, a fairly small fraction of the services Planned Parenthood provides. The organization’s opponents, again, have not let the facts stand in their way, manipulating statistics to claim that 94% of what Planned Parenthood does is abortion-related, and demonizing the “sale” of fetal tissue from these abortions, which is thoroughly legal, heavily regulated, and essential for many lines of life-saving research, and which, yes, costs money to preserve and transport. Our medical system is awash in money, so why shouldn’t Planned Parenthood receive some of it?

In addition to floating a deceptively edited video, the Republican assault on Planned Parenthood has followed the same script as the ACORN takedown, starting with hearings about how evil Planned Parenthood is, without Planned Parenthood reps present to counter the allegations. Then there was a hearing that burdened Planned Parenthood with subpoenas of massive amounts of documents and the appearance before a Congressional Committee of CEO Cecile Richards, who was criticized for her salary and asked rude, pointless questions. (Her salary, by the way, at a three hundred and fifty thousand a year, is about a fifth of what the average CEO of a for-profit billion-dollar corporation, the same size as Planned Parenthood, would earn.)  Her answers were largely ignored or distorted by her interrogators. Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R, UT)  displayed a graph he said his staff had prepared that purported to show that the number of abortions the group performs has risen sharply, while its cancer screenings have sharply decreased.  When Ms. Richards pointed out that the so-called graph, was incorrectly drawn,that it had printed on it that it had been created by the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life, not the Congressman’s staff, and that Planned Parenthood performs many more cancer screenings than abortions, the Congressman sputtered and then acted as if he had not just been caught lying.

truth, Republican style

truth, Republican style……and reality

What Planned Parenthood mostly does is provide sexually transmitted disease screening and treatment, contraception, and reproductive cancer screenings. If Planned Parenthood is shut down, the lower-income Americans who depend on Planned Parenthood’s lower-cost provision of these services will have more STDs, more unwanted babies, and more deaths from cancer. They would not bear these problems in isolation. Hospital emergency rooms and social services will be called upon to take up the slack, but these institutions’ funding is also being cut in the name of “austerity.” And yes, it would probably cut down the frequency of “recreational” sex among the poor, and I think that’s a motivation, too.

As I was writing this, there have been some simply stunning, possibly unprecedented twists in this tale of seemingly willful deception. It first sprouted when the House Intelligence Committee concluded, after a long and acrimonious process, filled with that familiar phenomenon of accusations being treated like indictments, that, in fact, there was no intelligence failure involved in the death of four Americans in Benghazi.  That seed poked out of the ground and sprouted leaves just recently when Kevin McCarthy, a leading House Republican, considered likely to be John Boehner’s successor, as much as admitted that the purpose of the Benghazi investigation had been to make Hillary Clinton look bad. That admission seems to have combined with a sense from some Republicans that McCarthy was “not conservative enough” to cause McCarthy to withdraw his name from consideration for Speaker, throwing the Republicans into chaos, and saying of the Republican Party’s organization in the House

“It’s run with chaos, it’s seat of the pants, there’s no long-term plans and there’s no principles,”

If an individual displayed these symptoms, that person would be  diagnosed with “borderline personality disorder.”

But wait, there’s more. Congressman Jason Chaffetz, he of the phony graph, rude questions, and dissembling, admitted to the  press that his investigation of Planned Parenthood had turned up no wrongdoing–so far.  The Congressman, a convert to Mormonism,  a religion fundamentally opposed to abortion and non-marital sex, vowed to keep looking, but his unexpected honesty probably ended his long-shot bid for House Speaker. I regard his honest admission as a hopeful sign, especially coupled with Congressman McCarthy’s unexpected honesty. Overall, the Republican attempt to use their ACORN strategy on Planned Parenthood seems to have stalled.

In a different quarter but a similar vein, the new head of the English Labour Party, Jeremy Corbin, upset many of his fellow Labourites when he said that he would not use nuclear weapons, even in retaliation for a nuclear strike on England, and that he was opposed to American nuclear-weapons-carrying Trident submarines being based in England, even though his own party had endorsed the renewal of the agreement.

So perhaps there is a much-needed outbreak of sanity and honesty taking place among Republicans. Meanwhile, two competing delusions are plaguing the Democrats.  One is that the election of Bernie Sanders, all by itself, would be the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.  The other is that the election of Hillary Clinton would be a great victory for feminism.  Here’s how the reality looks to me:  electing Sanders without electing a landslide of Sanders supporters to replace the conservative/mainstream Democrats who make up the bulk of the party will be an exercise in frustration.  Ms. Clinton, who has spent her adult life being an obedient corporate servant, has more in common with Margaret Thatcher than with bel hooks. She will promise anything she has to promise, to get elected.  Should she be elected, she will continue the same policies that her husband, Bush the elder, Cheney, and Obama pushed on behalf of those same corporate masters.  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.  There will be a moment of truth for the Democrats, but its time has not yet come.

As I eye the madcap action among Democrats and Republicans, I am grateful for the relative sanity of the Green view.

Overall, what’s going on here?

Let’s take a long step back.

About three thousand years ago, in the Late Bronze Age, before humans had developed the technologies for serious deforestation or any other way to exploit the planet’s “bank account” of stored solar energy, the human population was in equilibrium with solar input and the natural world in which we are still embedded, and the planet supported about 70 million humans. That’s one percent of our current population. Human population growth and material “progress” since that time have largely depended on exploiting stored solar energy, from trees to coal to oil.  There are many indications, however, that we are close to the point of exhausting that solar savings account.  We have also seriously fouled our nest, creating conditions ripe for planetary eco-collapse that might make it difficult for even 70 million humans to survive on this rock.  Seventy million cockroaches, rats, and jellyfish, no problem.  That’s the most pessimistic outlook. Paul Ehrlich, whom few people would accuse of being an optimist, is, in fact, more optimistic, and thinks that, knowing what we now know and using what we now have, we could support one and a half billion people on the planet. That’s about how many humans there were in 1880.

Whether we’re talking about an out-of-control fall back to seventy million humans–or none at all, or making a strategic, orderly retreat to a billion and a half, we’re bumping up against the fact that a whole lot of human genetic material is not going to get a chance to replicate itself. For the many humans who are unreflectingly controlled by their instincts, the most important question then becomes, “how can I make sure my genes are passed on?” The corollary to this question is, “Never mind who else gets hurt, as long as my genetic material survives.” A second corollary is, “I need to make sure I have all the stuff I need for me and my family to survive.”As I see it, throughout human history, this has been an unquestioned program.

Our more recent, mental, evolution as a species has brought some of us to the point of having enough of a perspective on these genetic commands so that we are not simply pre-programmed robots for our DNA.  We have learned to question our motives and impulses. We have begun to operate from a basis of compassion for others, human and non-human, because we have realized that we are not separate from the rest of the world, and anything that harms it, harms us. This involves being willing to share, and something some crazy Middle-eastern radical said about two thousand years ago to the effect that “Greater love hath no man than that he die for his friends.” Millions of people have been inspired by that, while millions of others have done very selfish, often terrible things in the name of the guy who said it–but that’s another story.

All this is way too touchy-feely for the preachers of unenlightened self-interest.  As the gap between the shifting realities of this planet and the reactionaries’ conception of it widens, they, like any psychopath, cling to their delusions and become ever more violently defensive, even when they are clearly out of touch with reality. Such people are easy to manipulate by those who actually understand what’s happening, but have decided that the best strategy for survival is to act, in public, as if climate change and culture crash are not a danger, while they privately do everything they can to ensure their own survival and cut support for others, dooming those “others” to genetic failure. Is it totally coincidental that the human population of the Earth was last in balance with the planet when our numbers were about one percent of what they are today, and that many of us now feel that our welfare is imperilled by the greed of “the one percent”?

Greed. Fear. Ignorance. Capitalism.

Greed. Fear. Ignorance. Capitalism.

So, that’s what I think is behind the massive assault not just ACORN and Planned Parenthood, but on all the institutions in our society that care for those who are in genuine difficulty. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, along with a horde of zombies, are charging our way. Some of us think that the way to avoid that collision is to change the human paradigm  from good versus evil to intelligence transforming ignorance, and to live much more simply and cooperatively, while others have decided that the best thing to do is to throw the rest of us overboard so they can make their getaway.  Meanwhile, a third group doesn’t seem to understand that there is even such a thing as a transformative moment, while others don’t seem to understand the importance of changing our view from good vs. evil to intelligence transforming ignorance.  “Destroying evil” is like trying to kill a zombie.  The zombie will be back, more voracious than ever.  Ignorance transformed becomes wisdom, and stays that way.

And what we may be just starting to see–what I fervently hope we are starting to see–is that madness can lead to healing, transformation, and wisdom. As the truth starts popping up in stranger and stranger places, maybe that’s not just a light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe it’s enlightenment.

music: Grateful Dead, “Eyes of the World




2 responses

26 10 2015

I like “a much-needed outbreak of sanity and honesty.” Have you thought of compiling your political insights into a book form?

26 10 2015

Thanks for your confidence in me! I’ve got several books somewhere in process, but, considering the huge number of books expressing political opinions, and the small size of my reputation, I’m going to wait until popular demand begs me to issue a book. These days, any fool can write and self-publish. Question is, who cares?

books “in process: a couple of science-fiction novels, a book on The Farm, my autobiography, and a “best of” from my ten years writing this blog

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