The Mahablog

Politics. Society. Group Therapy.

The Mahablog

Guns, January 6, and the Big Picture

Yesterday’s mass shooting was in Chattanooga. Saturday’s was in Philadelphia. We seem to be in an epidemic. I’ve read several times over the past few days that one highly publicized mass shooting seems to trigger several more. And here we are.

The January 6 televised hearings begin this week, on Thursday. A question I’ve heard recently is whether the January 6 insurrection still has political importance.

Nearly everything going on in politics right now is tethered to right-wing extremism, so yeah. January 6 didn’t happen in a vaccuum. Our mass shooting epidemic isn’t happening in a vaccuum, either. It’s all of a piece. But seeing this may be a heavy lift for a lot of people.

 Greg Sargent wrote last week,

The Bulwark’s William Kristol and New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait each posit that a fundamental shift is taking place within the Republican Party and conservative establishments. This shift means new reigning orthodoxies are taking hold at the highest levels, and dictating that the insurrection attempt simply did not amount to a serious offense against the country.

This shift also means new institutions are developing in the GOP and on the right that are expressly organized to promote a more militant refusal to accept election losses in the future. As Chait notes, we’re witnessing the “institutionalization of an insurrectionary movement.”

All this may sound very dramatic. But it can’t be dismissed, given that a large swath of the party will respond to the Jan. 6 hearings with a full-fledged propaganda effort to bury a serious political crime against the country — and to substitute a new story in which the true victims related to Jan. 6 are Trump and his supporters.

The gun craziness is feeding into this same institutionalism of insurrection, especially the fervently held false belief that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to be eternally prepared to overthrow the government. And not excepting election results one doesn’t like sounds like a good excuse.

Today Greg Sargent pointed to surging AR-15 sales in Georgia. The good ol’ boys are lining up around the blocks to buy one.

Folks were waiting at the door to purchase AR-15s,” a store manager says in the report, which was first flagged by Ron Filipkowski, a lawyer who closely tracks the right.

The manager also says customers should consider AR-15s precisely because they are semiautomatic. “If you deal with a mob of people possibly trying to take over your home,” he says, “to protect your family, you’ll want as much firepower as you can get.”

We are not, in fact, experiencing a great surge in mobs attacking private homes that I’ve noticed. But the firearm industry wants you to be prepared.

Our current moment is in part the result of the gun industry’s radicalization. It has marketed guns in a way designed to target younger demographics and to encourage the militarization of our culture, the increasing introduction of military-style weaponry into civil society.

But another component of the industry’s radicalization, as former gun company executive Ryan Busse argues, is its push toward ever-increasing firepower, toward a kind of fully armed society and the deliberate exploitation of social antagonisms to jet-fuel this trend.

You hear echoes of this in the customer’s suggestion that the AR-15 has become “America’s rifle,” and in the gun store manager urging the purchase of ever more firepower, on the idea that “mobs,” as opposed to lone intruders, will soon invade your home. You see, the threat can always be inflated further.

And, of course, talk of restricting gun sales even a little bit has ’em out stocking up. Sargent quotes one gun owner as saying “The way this president is driving this country, everybody needs to be carrying at this point.”

The perpetual stoking of fear of big, scary mobs — of whom? Criminals? Black Lives Matter? Antifa? Unitarians? — and the fear that government is going to take something away from white male people somehow keeps them buying those guns.

Whatever is presented in the January 6 hearings, we can bet that the hard-core MAGA heads and right-wing true believers will not believe it, not understand why it’s a problem, and possibly never even hear it because they won’t watch. So we’re not likely to have the kind of bipartisan “ha-HAH” moment some of us may remember from the Watergate hearings of long ago. But maybe the hearings will wake up some people. We’ll see.

Red State Culture and Cornered Animals

Following up the last post on what might reduce gun violence, and what won’t.

There have been several mass shootings since I started this series, including one in a Tulsa hospital a couple of days ago. What we’ve heard so far about that one is that the gunman had recently had back surgery and had been discharged. He had been calling his surgeon asking for help with continued back pain and was not getting a satisfactory response. So he purchased an “AR-15-style weapon” at a gun shop and went to the hospital. He shot and killed his surgeon and another doctor, plus a patient and a receptionist, and then killed himself.  So I guess he’s over the back pain now.

A big chunk of our problem appears to be cultural, and I’m not sure how to address that. But culture is somehow driving growing differences between red and blue states. See Paul Krugman, America’s Red State Death Trip, from December 2019.

Democratic-leaning areas used to look similar to Republican-leaning areas in terms of productivity, income and education. But they have been rapidly diverging, with blue areas getting more productive, richer and better educated. In the close presidential election of 2000, counties that supported Al Gore over George W. Bush accounted for only a little over half the nation’s economic output. In the close election of 2016, counties that supported Hillary Clinton accounted for 64 percent of output, almost twice the share of Trump country.

The thing is, the red-blue divide isn’t just about money. It’s also, increasingly, a matter of life and death….

…The death gap has, however, widened considerably in recent years as a result of increased mortality among working-age Americans. This rise in mortality has, in turn, been largely a result of rising “deaths of despair”: drug overdoses, suicides and alcohol. And the rise in these deaths has led to declining overall life expectancy for the past few years.

What I haven’t seen emphasized is the divergence in life expectancy within the United States and its close correlation with political orientation. True, a recent Times article on the phenomenon noted that life expectancy in coastal metropolitan areas is still rising about as fast as life expectancy in other advanced countries. But the regional divide goes deeper than that.

This was before covid, mind you. Covid hit the cities first, of course. But within a few months we were seeing the same red state-blue state death gap, with rates of hospitalizations and deaths from covid far higher in counties that voted for Trump in 2016 than in counties that voted for Clinton. And this trend continues. See For red and blue America, a glaring divide in COVID-19 death rates persists 2 years later by Arielle Mitropoulos, ABC News, March 28, 2022. Experts traced this to political beliefs. Blue state folks wore masks and got vaccinated at higher rates than red state folks, and so there is a death gap.

(I live in one of those red counties. Last week I decided it was time to get a second covid booster, and got it the same day, easy peasy, at no cost at a local Walgreens. Currently the vaccination rate in St. Francois County is only 44 percent, and the current positivity rate is 14 percent.)

Regarding suicide, a few days ago I wrote a post about the Southern Baptist scandal and ended up writing about the rot in the patriarchy. I quoted this:

The data also contains a sociological mystery even the experts are unsure how to explainfully: Of the 45,979 people who died by suicide in the United States in 2020, about 70 percent were White men, who are just 30 percent of the country’s overall population. That makes White men the highest-risk group for suicide in the country, especially in middle age, even as they are overrepresented in positions of powerand stature in the United States. The rate that has steadily climbed over the past 20 years.

Some clinical researchers and suicidologists are now asking whether there is something particular about White American masculinity worth interrogating further.The implications are significant: On average, there are more than twice as many deaths by suicide than by homicide each year in the United States.

Men have tended to have higher rates of suicide than women for a long time, probably since anybody started keeping track of rates of suicide. This suggests to me that in spite of our famous raging hormones, women on the whole tend to be more emotionally stable than men. But it seems to me that the gap between male and female suicides is a lot bigger than it used to be. And, as Krugman says, suicide rates are higher in red states than blue ones. It looks here like the more rural the state, the higher the suicide rate.

Krugman’s column referred to another 2019 column by Thomas Edsall, Red and Blue Voters Live in Different Economies. Much of this column discussed the 2016 election and the argument many of us had at the time about whether support for Trump was driven more by economic anxiety or by racial and cultural animus. Racial and cultural animus was a more obvious reason, but I don’t think you can separate the two. As Krugman pointed out, since 2000 the wealth gap between red and blue voting districts has been growing along with the death gap. Individual Trump voters may be doing perfectly well, but the communities they live in mostly aren’t.

And there is a connection between the economic deterioration and the rise of authoritarianism, along with racism and cultural animus generally. The two things are very much connected. I argued this in 2019 also. “If you want people to not become klansmen and nazis, think about how the economy is working for working-class folks,” I wrote at the time.

Red state voters are angry and think the rest of the country is cheating them or out to get them, somehow. They don’t trust the government except for the Republican side. They watch Fox News and get told everything going wrong is Joe Biden’s fault, or the Squad’s, or Hunter Biden’s laptop, or racial minorities’, or the fault of liberals in general. And the angrier they get the more guns they buy.

Because their states are run by Republicans the kinds of public investments that could attract new high-end business — such as in education and infrastructure — aren’t being made; instead, it’s all about cutting taxes and then cutting education and government services to pay for the tax cuts. So businesses that offer better payings jobs, businesses that require an educated workforce, communities employees want to live in, and good infrastructure, don’t come. It’s a downward spiral. (See How to Kill a State from 2016.)

No wonder “great replacement theory” makes sense to them. From their perspective, there’s not much of a future for them. All the good stuff seems to be diverted elsewhere.

And then there’s good ol’ toxic masulinity. IMO a lot of the male suicide issue stems from a lack of relatable role models for 21st century American men. The old John Wayne / “Dirty Harry” / “Rambo” model of years past really has no function in the modern world. Nobody really needs men who don’t communicate, are emotionally stifled, and solve problems mostly by shooting them. I don’t know that anybody ever needed that sort of man, actually.

I’ve read enough history, and enough Civil War letters, to know that 19th century men weren’t nearly as emotionally frozen as men came to be later. Something happened to American men in the 20th century that wasn’t healthy. Maybe it was the two world wars. I don’t know.

Men, white men especially, are assumed to be the lords of the universe, but most of them aren’t. Most of them are just pawns in the mighty U.S. economy. Their lives are being shaped by forces way beyond their control that they don’t understand. They want to have some control, and they imagine they’ve been cheated of some control or power they should have had. It shouldn’t be a surprise that they seized Donald Trump as a hero, because like any good huckster he knows how to say what people want to hear. Trump articulated their frustration, and they project onto him strength and power and knowledge he doesn’t actually have. But he’s just using them, and they haven’t figured that out yet.

Let’s think about the young folks. We learned that the Uvalde shooter had been the victim of bullying. We also learned he liked to threaten teen girls online.

He could be cryptic, demeaning and scary, sending angry messages and photos of guns. If they didn’t respond how he wanted, he sometimes threatened to rape or kidnap them — then laughed it off as some big joke.

But the girls and young women who talked with Salvador Ramos online in the months before he killed 19 children in an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., rarely reported him. His threats seemed too vague, several said in interviews with The Washington Post. One teen who reported Ramos on the social app Yubo said nothing happened as a result.

Some also suspected this was just how teen boys talked on the Internet these days — a blend of rage and misogyny so predictable they could barely tell each one apart. One girl, discussing moments when he had been creepy and threatening, said that was just “how online is.”

That’s just how it is. Almost sixty years after Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique. I assume a lot of these boys don’t behave that badly around girls in real-world situations — I could be wrong — but all that rage and misogyny doesn’t go away. It’s part of the dysfunctionality of current male role models.

(Right on schedule — Rep. Billy Long, U.S. congressman from Missouri and Trump-endorsed Senate candidate, has declared that all these mass shootings are happening because women have abortion rights.)

All these angry, alienated young men are growing up in angry, alienated cultures, and their parents probably are too wrapped up in their own problems to be much help. They have no useful role models of masculinity to follow, and often the world doesn’t seem to have a place for them. There was a time in their own communities that a young man could graduate high school and pretty much be guaranteed a job at the local factory or mill or mine or quarry, if he couldn’t think of anything else he wanted to do. Often those were Union jobs, so he could expect to sail into adulthood with good wages and benefits that would support a family. Now, more often, there’s nothing but food service and other minimum wage, dead end jobs for this kid, unless he’s willing to move or maybe get some additional training somewhere. The adult world of marriage,  maintaining a household and raising a family must seem impossibly far away. That may be why so many seem stuck in adolescence well into their 20s and 30s.

See also Young men, guns and the prefrontal cortex at the Washington Post. This is worth reading all the way through, so I took down the firewall for this one. Basically, it says that the young men are going through adolescence feeling isolated and alienated from everything around them, and our culture doesn’t give them any guidance for handling these feelings except to be macho and aggressive. And, of course, social media acts as a reinforcement for alienation and aggression. Many of them drift into a violent fantasy world in which taking “revenge” on black church goers or Asian women may seem like a fine idea. Further, “for every mass shooter who fits a certain profile, there are millions more like him who never act violently.”

So what can these drifting young men do to feel like men? The firearm industry has an answer. In recent years they’ve increasingly turned to marketing firearms as “objects of masculinity.” And you don’t need a Ph.D. in Freud to see the firearm-phallus connection.

In brief, we’ve got a perfect storm of conditions that cause firearm violence, and there are no quick fixes. Gun control will be only part of it. But making any meaningful change is nearly impossible because of red state culture and the way our Constitutional system allows red states to have veto power over progressive form. Joan Walsh wrote recently of what red state culture has become.

It’s a world where marriage is between a man and a woman, the man is king, LGBTQ people have no rights, and women few. Where abortion is criminalized and the social safety net shredded—so that the women forced to bear children must lean on men, or live in desperate poverty. Where guns are everywhere (parents and teachers should be armed to protect kids!), schools are private, medical care returns to private charities, and only the right (mainly white) kind of people vote. It’s an atomized world, where we rely on male-headed nuclear families, churches, the occasional self-interested generosity of oligarchs, and maybe local, homogenous mutual-aid societies—if we so choose.

It’s the dystopian opposite of the world most Americans want: a world where women, LGBTQ people, and non-white Americans enjoy full citizenship, the right to privacy, autonomy, and the pursuit of happiness. Here, the Second Amendment is respected, but the right to carry lethal weapons is restricted in myriad sensible ways. Everyone who’s eligible can vote here, and everyone over 18 is eligible. And yes, there are churches, synagogues, mosques, and vibrant community-based organizations, but the most effective mutual aid resides in democratically elected governments, local, state, and federal, that guarantee health, safety, education, and economic security for everyone.

Red state culture is something like the last desperate aggressions of a wounded or cornered animal. It’s white supremacy and the patriarchy lashing out at cultural change that leaves no place for them. I’d like to think that in a couple more generations we will all have moved past this nonsense, but I’m not sure the U.S. will survive as a first-world democracy for a couple more generations. We’re living in terrifying times.

Josh Hawley’s “Virtuous Men” Should Grow Up

A recent headline at Buzzfeed News tells us that Murder Is A Leading Cause Of Death In Pregnancy In The US. It turns out this isn’t new. I found a WebMD article from bleeping 2001 that said the same thing:

Given all the risks associated with pregnancy, it’s easy to imagine that expectant mothers are vulnerable to illnesses and even to death. But shocking new information shows that these women actually are more likely to be murdered than to die from any complications of pregnancy — or from any other cause for that matter.

“We found that homicide was the leading cause of death among women who were pregnant … and accounted for 20% of deaths among that group, compared with 6% of deaths among nonpregnant women of reproductive age,” says author Isabelle Horon, DrPH, from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who conducted a study that looked at pregnancy-associated deaths from 1993 to 1998.

Fast forward to the Buzzfeed article of four days ago:

A woman in Houston who showed an ultrasound to her boyfriend, a mother of five who was carrying a sixth child, and a pregnant woman coming home from a baby shower were all recent victims of homicide, a top cause of death for pregnant people in the US.

Pregnant people are more than twice as likely to be murdered during pregnancy and immediately after giving birth than to die from any other cause, according to a nationwide death certificate study. Homicide far exceeds obstetric causes of death during pregnancy, such as hemorrhage, hypertension, or infection.

Pregnant women “face a risk of being murdered 16% higher than women the same age who are not pregnant, the recently released Obstetrics & Gynecology journal study concludes.” The article goes on to say that most of these deaths result from domestic violence.

With that in mind, let us skip over to New York magazine, where Sarah Jones writes about Josh Hawley and the New Anti-Feminism.

The conservative movement believes men are in trouble, and they know who to blame. “The left want to define traditional masculinity as toxic. They want to define the traditional masculine virtues — things like courage and independence and assertiveness — as a danger to society,” the Republican senator Josh Hawley said during a recent speech. Thus besieged, men are retreating into pornography and video games, abandoning their traditional responsibilities, he added. …

… Hawley’s anti-feminism isn’t novel, but he is responding to a new moment in modern American politics. Conservatives have always argued that by muddying gender roles, feminism harms men and women alike. Yet in recent years, this rhetoric has acquired an even sharper edge, pitting men and women against each other as if greater freedom for women comes directly at the expense of men. For Republican politicians and their supporters, Trump’s unapologetic misogyny further expanded the borders of the possible.

Trump has a long history of associating with men accused of abusing women. More recently, he has endorsed candidates like Sean Parnell and Herschel Walker, also accused. See also Domestic violence, sexual abuse: A number of Senate GOP candidates have to answer for ugly allegations by Amber Phillips in the Washington Post.

That an ugly backstory is no longer immediately disqualifying in Republican politics is arguably a sign of how much Trump has reshaped the GOP in his likeness. Trump won the presidency in 2016 despite being accused by more than a dozen women of sexual harassment and weeks after it was revealed he bragged about grabbing women’s genitalia.

“Politics has changed,” said one Republican operative, speaking on the condition of anonymity to be candid. “What’s seen as acceptable has changed.”

Josh Hawley complains that manly virtues like courage and independence and assertiveness are no longer valued by lefties. I think lefties would argue that courage, independence, and assertiveness are just dandy, but we want men to stop engaging in domestic violence. And if y’all could put a sock in the mass shooter thing, that would be swell.

Seriously, righties, what’s with all the tribes of violent, threatening, politically extreme men these days? Some of these groups appear to be explicitly male — Oath Keepers, Proud Bois. WTF?

Virtuous but underappreciated men? Or thugs? You decide.

Women do take part in some of their activities, but in an auxiliary role. It’s traditional. But then there are also more openly misogynist tribes, such as the Gamers and Incels and men’s rights activists. These are tribes of men who blame women for why their lives suck.

During the Trump years a number of social psychology studies documented that men who support Trump tend to suffer from “fragile masculinity” or “precarious manhood.” See, for example, “Precarious Manhood” and Voting for Trump from Psychology Today, November 2020.

Precarious manhood refers to the fragile nature of traditional masculinity.

Traditional masculinity, as a form of social status, is “hard-won and easily lost.” A real man cannot simply be: He must repeatedly prove his masculinity.

In the U.S., Knowles and DiMuccio note, masculinity is associated by many with behaviors like “avoiding the appearance of femininity and homosexuality, seeking status and achievement, evincing independence and confidence, taking risks, and being aggressive.”

And threats to (or doubts about) masculinity often motivate hypermasculine behaviors, such as risk-taking and aggression.

The Psychology Today article also notes that these same men score high on the right-wing authoritarian scale. See also How Donald Trump appeals to men secretly insecure about their manhood.

Several decades ago, Joseph Campbell warned that American men were not being properly taught to be men. He was writing about the Greatest Generation, mind you. Boys didn’t get enough time with their fathers and older men as they were growing up, he said. They were getting their ideas about masculinity from movies, not real life.

I’ve read that this problem is something that’s been growing since the industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism. Before the 19th century, the theory goes, most men were either farmers or independent artisans of some sort, and boys grew up working alongside their fathers on the farm or tanning hides or shoeing horses or whatever. Changing economic models took men out of their homes and made them employees who were gone most of the time. Succeeding generations of fathers became less and less involved in the lives of their children, and this has been especially hard on boys.

Since then, things haven’t gotten better. I’m not seeing Josh Hawley’s Three Masculine Virtues — courage, independence, and assertiveness — in the guys who abuse women, join private militias, need an assault weapon to go out for a sandwich, and throw temper tantrums when asked to wear a mask or get a vaccine. I see bluster, tribalism, and aggression, not to mention authoritarianism. Most of all, I see immaturity. Too many men seem stuck permanently at the emotional age of fourteen and permanent adolescent rebellion mode. They’ve got Mommy issues, and Daddy issues, and they blame everybody but themselves for whatever they don’t like.

I’m not saying this applies to all men. Most men I know personally don’t fit this description at all. But then, most men I know personally don’t own assault weapons or wear “Hillary for Prison” T-shirts.

Daddy issues, you say? They want Trump to be their daddy, because in their eyes he’s a real man.

There’s something so sadly pathetic about putting Trump’s head on Rambo’s body. Trump must be the least masculine man to ever sit in the Oval Office. He’s a spoiled, pampered punk who never held a job or faced a real physical challenge in his life. But some men are so desperate for a daddy they’ve turned him into one, projecting all their twisted notions about manliness onto his flabby frame.

And Scrawny Josh Hawley is a private prep school brat who never met a principle he wouldn’t betray to further his ambitions. Masculine virtues, Senator? What would you possibly know about masculine virtues? Or any other kind of virtues, for that matter?

I started this post with something I’d just learned about homicides of pregnant women. Women don’t exactly rule the world yet. The pandemic has hurt women economically a lot more than men. There’s still a pay gap. Even before the pandemic women, but not men, found a lack of affordable child care a barrier to employment, and it’s worse now. We’re still underrepresented in government and business. But Hawley’s “virtuous men” resent us anyway. That’s just pathetic.

Real men grow up.

Irresponsible States Are Threatening All of Us

Yesterday it was announced that 40 percent of new coronavirus cases were coming from just three states: Texas, Florida, and Missouri. Woo-HOO. Considering that Florida and Texas have much bigger populations than Missouri, this makes Missouri’s inclusion on the list of infamy all the more impressive.

If you look at new cases per 100,000 population over the past seven days, the picture is a little more complex. Josh Marshall writes that “Through this prism the crisis is overwhelmingly concentrated in three contiguous states along the Mississippi River: Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana. Plus Florida.” Those four states are in a category of their own, he writes. Low vaccination rates are a big factor in these spikes but not the only factor.

The case rates track broadly with levels of vaccination. The Deep South has some of the lowest rates of vaccination and they’re getting hit the hardest. Meanwhile rates in the Northeast are about 1/10th what they are in Florida and those three Mississippi River states. But this shouldn’t prompt either a sense of superiority or relative safety. California is only a bit behind New York on vaccinations but their case rates are much higher. Florida’s rate of vaccination isn’t as low as you might think, certainly not so low as to explain the high case load on its own. Clearly there’s an interplay of vaccination density, mitigation and regionality.

I can’t speak to the situation in Florida or elsewhere, but I have no doubt that a combination of low vaccination rates and the complete abandonment of any other mitigation factors — masks, social distancing — are the sources of the problem in Missouri.

Here in St. Francois County, as soon as it was announced by the CDC that people who’d been vaccinated could stop wearing masks, every mask disappeared from public view in spite of the vaccination rate being only around 30 percent. Maybe only us vaccinated people were wearing masks before the announcement. There was never any statewide mask mandate, and Gov. Mike Parson has written orders limiting the ability of county health departments to independently enact any sort of emergency pandemic restrictions.

And as I wrote a few days ago, I strongly suspect the Missouri spike was being generated in the popular vacation spots Branson and Lake of the Ozarks, where people get together and party like it’s 2019. But Delta is spreading far beyond those spots now.

(Lake of the Ozarks is a man-made late created as part of a hydroelectric project, completed in 1931, which has its own weird history.)

It doesn’t help that our utterly ineffectual governor has responded to this mess by blaming George Soros and the news media. (The link goes to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial that I cannot access online, but maybe you’ll have better luck. I’m reading the print version.) These news agencies engage in “propaganda,” he said, pretty much ignoring that none have reported data that wasn’t generated by state agencies. The Soros claim was aimed at a news organization called The Missouri Independent, which has no connection to George Soros except in the minds of Missouri fever swamp creatures.

A few days ago the hospitals in Springfield begged the state to open off-site hospital space to take the overflow of cases. Gov. Parson responded, eventually, that the state would “probably” do it. But no action has been taken, as far as I can tell. I swear, the state would be better off if we’d elected a can of soup.

Speaking of the Missouri Independent, here is an interesting article on it today:

Amid the current surge in COVID-19 cases in Missouri, a recent Facebook conversation between two Republican state lawmakers is telling.

Around Independence Day, State Rep. Bill Kidd, from the Kansas City suburbs, revealed that he has been infected by the coronavirus.

“And no, we didn’t get the vaccine,” he wrote in a post that has since been deleted. “We’re Republicans ?”

State Rep. Brian Seitz, a Republican from Taney County, home to the tourist destination of Branson, commented on the post by falsely claiming that the virus had been developed by top government scientist Anthony Fauci and billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates. They “knew what was coming,” Seitz wrote.

“The jury is still out on the ‘vaccine’ (who knows what’s in that),” he wrote.

Not getting a vaccine is proof of partisan loyalty. There’s no hope.

And from here let’s go to David Frum, former Republican, who is pretty much disgusted with all this.

Reading about the fates of people who refused the vaccine is sorrowful. But as summer camp and travel plans are disrupted—as local authorities reimpose mask mandates that could have been laid aside forever—many in the vaccinated majority must be thinking: Yes, I’m very sorry that so many of the unvaccinated are suffering the consequences of their bad decisions. I’m also very sorry that the responsible rest of us are suffering the consequences of their bad decisions.

As cases uptick again, as people who have done the right thing face the consequences of other people doing the wrong thing, the question occurs: Does Biden’s America have a breaking point? Biden’s America produces 70 percent of the country’s wealth—and then sees that wealth transferred to support Trump’s America. Which is fine; that’s what citizens of one nation do for one another. Something else they do for one another: take rational health-care precautions during a pandemic. That reciprocal part of the bargain is not being upheld…

… Can governments lawfully require more public-health cooperation from their populations? They regularly do, for other causes. More than a dozen conservative states have legislated drug testing for people who seek cash welfare. It is bizarre that Florida and other states would put such an onus on the poorest people in society—while allowing other people to impose a much more intimate and immediate harm on everybody else. …

… But there’s no getting around the truth that some considerable number of the unvaccinated are also behaving willfully and spitefully. Yes, they have been deceived and manipulated by garbage TV, toxic Facebook content, and craven or crazy politicians. But these are the same people who keep talking about “personal responsibility.” In the end, the unvaccinated person himself or herself has decided to inflict a preventable and unjustifiable harm upon family, friends, neighbors, community, country, and planet.

Will Blue America ever decide it’s had enough of being put medically at risk by people and places whose bills it pays? Check yourself: Have you?

I’ve been fed up for a long time. In my ideal universe there would be a new version of Reconstruction, in which the states with low vaccination and mitigation rates and which are trying to limit voting access revert to the status of territories. Then they can only be readmitted to the Union when they get their act together and commit to behaving responsibily. Well, I can dream.

In other news: Yesterday the Missouri Supreme Court decided the state government could not ignore the referendum passed by a majority of voters in 2020 to expand Medicaid per the Affordable Care Act. I’m surprised, considering this is the same court that decided innocence is no good reason to let someone out of jail. I’m betting the state government will still try to screw the voters, but we’ll see.

Clawing Our Way Back to Reality

I’ve been thinking about cults lately. Cults of various sorts seem to be eating civilization, and not just QAnon, which is bad enough. It’s getting hard to tell where QAnon ends and the Republican Party begins. And people appear to have formed cults, of sorts, around many peripheral issues — anti-vaxx cults, gun cults, political cults.

What’s alarming to me is that people are getting sucked into cults — or fantatical, cult-like movements — through the Web. The social psychologists need to up their game and study this. I cruised around looking for psychological research into cults, and most of what I found seemed to apply only to the cults of the 1960s to the 1990s, in which people were sucked into cults through personal contacts. Now one can be indoctrinated without leaving home. All you need is decent wi-fi.

I found one article that seemed to take in more recent cultish movements, but I know nothing about the author.  Anyway, her definition is:

A cult can be either a sharply bounded social group or a diffusely bounded social movement held together through a shared commitment to a charismatic leader. It upholds a transcendent ideology (often but not always religious in nature) and requires a high level of commitment from its members in words and deeds.

Cults also operate on continuums of influence and control, she says, They don’t always require members to go live in an ashram or devote their entire lives to the cult.

The Denver Post has a fascinating look at Amy Carlson, a cult leader (not the actress of the same name) recently found several days deceased and stuffed into a sleeping bag wrapped in Christmas lights. Carlson appears to have fallen down her own psychological rabbit hole to become as much a victim as a perpetrator of the religious fantasy she built.

But the article also describes a man, unnamed, who left his wife and two children in Mississippi to join Carlson’s cult in Colorado. This was a military vet who had a six-figure income and a $500,000 house, and whose biggest concern was what fertilizer to use on his lawn, his wife says. But he’d already been drawn in to QAnon when his job evaporated during the pandemic. And then he found Carlson’s website and videos.

His behavior at home became more unsettling. He slept less, and he started following a schedule aligned with the seven colors of the chakra, so on certain days he only ate foods and wore clothes that matched that day’s color, as ordered by the cult.

“He was just staring into the sun because they were telling him to do that to get light codes,” Whitten [his wife] said.

In May 2020 he left Mississippi for Colorado. Some time later he was found “wandering in the wilderness alone, naked, dehydrated and with cactus needles in his feet.” He believed he had transcended into another dimension. His family took him home and now say he can’t fathom why he behaved as he did. Assuming that this guy wan’t predisposed to psychosis somehow, it’s disturbing evidence of how easily people can be sucked into crazy through the Internet.

“Transcendence” is an operative word here. “The term transcendence denotes an ego-dissolving encounter – a breakdown of self-boundaries – with something greater than the self,” it says here. The “transcended” person is drawn into an “all-encompassing reality” that differs from mundane reality. As a Zen student I can’t very well knock transcendence, because a breakdown of self-boundaries is part of the practice. But I think what we’re looking at with cults is less about ego-dissolving but a fusing of one’s individual ego with that of a group or leader, which isn’t exactly the effect one is going for in Zen. I wrote a couple of years ago about the Trump cult of personality,

At the same time, many of our great social observers and philosophers — Erich Fromm, Eric Hoffer, Hannah Arendt — have long noted that alienated and insecure people easily surrender their own ego-identities and autonomy to mass movements and authoritarian strongmen. People march blindly into mass movements because the group provides something the individual feels is lacking in himself. Trump, to his fans, is a larger-than-life being of great power and certitude. By surrendering their autonomy to him, they feel that they absorb that power. Through Trump, they find connection, strength and a sense of belonging. The baffling, ambiguous world becomes a place of absolute clarity, with bright lines between good and bad, right and wrong, truth and lies, all as defined for them by Trump.

What a cult can offer is personal validation — your failures are not your fault — and a sense of belonging and connection to something greater than oneself, which can be exhilarating until you’re naked and dehydrated in a desert somewhere.

And there’s also one of my favorite quotes from Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer:

Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance.

And what else is Trumpism but a complex of fantatical grievances, on steroids?

It’s one thing to be personally suspicious of vaccines. It’s something else to threaten and bully the county health officer out of her job because she tried to institute a mask mandate during a bleeping pandemic. See also Death threats, shoves, and throwing blood: Anti-vaxxers’ bullying of public health officials endangers our country.

I suppose one can be all-in for private gun ownership without being a fanatic about it. But Sandy Hook Truthers are a cult who harass the parents of slain children and anyone whose name got into newspapers in connection with the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Of the January 6 insurrectionists, some of them may have just been caught up in the moment, but some of them clearly had been living in fantasy land for some time and were serious about “taking” the Capital and stopping the certification of the election.

Pro-Trump protesters storm into the U.S. Capitol during clashes with police, during a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by the U.S. Congress, in Washington, U.S, January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton – RC2P2L9YHHVX

And then there’s the Arizona “audit.”

This audit, as ridiculous as it is, has inspired Trump culties around the country to attempt the same thing. If they could just get their hands on the real ballots, surely they will reveal that Trump won. And if they don’t, the ballots can be manipulated somehow until they do, because Trump must have won. They are certain no other result is possible, because “Trump loses” is not part of their new reality.

Paul Waldman asks, What would it take to drag the GOP back to reality? “For those who have fallen down the rabbit hole, 2020 was just one manifestation of the larger problem, which is that elections are pretty much all rigged and no result in which your party loses can ever be legitimate,” he writes.

What’s especially troubling is that political leaders who, one assumes, know this is nuts are indulging the craziness because it’s politically useful to them. Which means it’s not going to end any time soon.

I sincerely believed that once Trump was out of Washington, the old GOP establishment would, perhaps gradually, reassert itself and take charge of the party. But that didn’t happen, and now it’s clear that the clowns are running the circus. Either go along with the act or, like Liz Cheney, be cast out. And I don’t see that the Republican Party has left itself a graceful way out of this.

See also GOP: A Cult Looking for a Personality from 2012.

Capitalism Is Commiting Suicide

David Leonhardt writes about Peter Georgescu, a “chairman emeritus” of Young & Rubicam.

Peter Georgescu — a refugee-turned-C.E.O. who recently celebrated his 80th birthday — feels deeply grateful to his adopted country. He also feels afraid for its future. He is afraid, he says, because the American economy no longer functions well for most citizens. “For the past four decades,” Georgescu has written, “capitalism has been slowly committing suicide.”

This is hardly news; a lot of people have noticed that capitalism as currently practiced is not sustainable. I certainly don’t think capitalism in its current form is sustainable. My only question is whether it will take the rest of us and the planet with it when it goes. See, for example, “Capitalism Is Devouring Itself” and “Destroying Capitalism to Save It” from The Mahablog archives. This is in the New York Times because a big-shot capitalist admits it’s true.

Georgescu’s life story is about how a Romanian boy who grew up with Nazi and then Soviet occupation escaped from behind the Iron Curtain and made good in America. He succeeded because he got a lot of help from people who were inspired by his story and opened doors for him.

“The hero of my story,” Georgescu said to me “is America.” Over and over, he said, people who didn’t have any obvious reason to care about him helped him: the congresswoman who didn’t represent his parents’ district; the headmaster who’d never met him; the ad executives who mentored him.

All of them, he believes, were influenced by a post-World War II culture that (while deeply flawed in some ways) fostered a sense of community over individuality. Corporate executives didn’t pay themselves outlandish salaries. Workers enjoyed consistently risingwages.

Things began to change after the 1970s. Stakeholder capitalism — which, Georgescu says, optimized the well-being of customers, employees, shareholders and the nation — gave way to short-term shareholder-only capitalism. Profits have soared at the expense of worker pay. The wealth of the median family today is lower than two decades ago. Life expectancy has actually fallen in the last few years. Not since 2004 has a majority of Americans said they were satisfied with the country’s direction.

Peter Georgescu also is the author of a few books, including Capitalists, Arise! End Economic Inequality, Grow the Middle Class, Heal the Nation. In 2015 he wrote an op ed for the NY Times titled Capitalists Arise: We Need to Deal With Income Inequality. So, up to a point, he gets it. Leonhardt continues,

He talks about the signs of frustration, in both the United States and Europe. He has seen societies fall apart, and he thinks many people are underestimating the risks it could happen again. “We’re not that far off,” he told me.

I agree; I think if current trends are not reversed pretty damn soon we face a national implosion, potentially followed by a planetary implosion. But Georgescu thinks that business leaders can fix this problem; I think he is hopelessly naive.

Georgescu may believe that the capitalism of the post World War II period was some kind of norm, but it wasn’t. Capitalism wasn’t a major factor in the U.S. economy until the mid-19th century, but from that time and until the Great Depression it was marked by its careless exploitation of workers and resources. It didn’t change into the generous and kindly capitallism Georgescu remembers until taken into hand by FDR’s New Deal. Paul Krugman wrote on his old New York Times blog,

The Long Gilded Age: Historians generally say that the Gilded Age gave way to the Progressive Era around 1900. In many important ways, though, the Gilded Age continued right through to the New Deal. As far as we can tell, income remained about as unequally distributed as it had been the late 19th century – or as it is today. Public policy did little to limit extremes of wealth and poverty, mainly because the political dominance of the elite remained intact; the politics of the era, in which working Americans were divided by racial, religious, and cultural issues, have recognizable parallels with modern politics.

The Great Compression: The middle-class society I grew up in didn’t evolve gradually or automatically. It was created, in a remarkably short period of time, by FDR and the New Deal. As the chart shows, income inequality declined drastically from the late 1930s to the mid 1940s, with the rich losing ground while working Americans saw unprecedented gains. Economic historians call what happened the Great Compression, and it’s a seminal episode in American history.

Middle class America: That’s the country I grew up in. It was a society without extremes of wealth or poverty, a society of broadly shared prosperity, partly because strong unions, a high minimum wage, and a progressive tax system helped limit inequality. It was also a society in which political bipartisanship meant something: in spite of all the turmoil of Vietnam and the civil rights movement, in spite of the sinister machinations of Nixon and his henchmen, it was an era in which Democrats and Republicans agreed on basic values and could cooperate across party lines.

The great divergence: Since the late 1970s the America I knew has unraveled. We’re no longer a middle-class society, in which the benefits of economic growth are widely shared: between 1979 and 2005 the real income of the median household rose only 13 percent, but the income of the richest 0.1% of Americans rose 296 percent.

And, of course, the late 1970s were all about the rise of “movement conservatism” and Reaganomics. And, in a lot of ways, we’re back to the Gilded Age. And it has to be acknowledged that this is what capitalism is without a whole lot of government interention to keep it honest.

Matt Taibbi wrote in 2009,

The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class. But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron – a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers.

Yep. And that’s pretty much what happened.

The young folks think “capitalism” is a dirty word, and I don’t blame them. I hope that the future can be saved for them.

Business leaders cannot be trusted to fix the mess they are making, even though a few of them see that it’s a mess and that it cannot continue indefinitely. Business never has fixed it in the past, and even now too many of them are happy to leave a dead planet to their grandchildren as long as they can make more money now. This cannot go on. If Republicans aren’t pried out of government in 2020 I despair that we will run out of time to prevent disaster.

What the Sign Says

It’s been a while since I’ve read a Frank Rich column, but this is a pretty good  one — “In 2008, America Stopped Believing in the American Dream.”

That loose civic concept known as the American Dream — initially popularized during the Great Depression by the historian James Truslow Adams in his Epic of America — has been shattered. No longer is lip service paid to the credo, however sentimental, that a vast country, for all its racial and sectarian divides, might somewhere in its DNA have a shared core of values that could pull it out of any mess. Dead and buried as well is the companion assumption that over the long term a rising economic tide would lift all Americans in equal measure. When that tide pulled back in 2008 to reveal the ruins underneath, the country got an indelible picture of just how much inequality had been banked by the top one percent over decades, how many false promises to the other 99 percent had been broken, and how many central American institutions, whether governmental, financial, or corporate, had betrayed the trust the public had placed in them. And when we went down, we took much of the West with us. The American Kool-Aid we’d exported since the Marshall Plan, that limitless faith in progress and profits, had been exposed as a cruel illusion.

Unlike 9/11, which prompted an orgy of recriminations and investigations, the Great Recession never yielded a reckoning that might have helped restore that faith. The Wall Street bandits escaped punishment, as did most of the banking houses where they thrived. Everyone else was stuck with the bill. Millennials, crippled by debt and bereft of Horatio Alger paths out of it, mock the traditional American tenet that each generation will be better off than the one before. At the other end of the actuarial spectrum, boomers have little confidence that they can scrape together the wherewithal needed to negotiate old age. The American workers in the middle have seen their wages remain stagnant as necessities like health care become unaffordable.

It wasn’t just the financial crisis, and a lot of people had seen through the sham a long time before 2008. It’s also the case that a lot of people still haven’t seen it, but I’ll come back to that.

Trump’s genius has been to exploit and weaponize the discontent that has been brewing over decades of globalization and technological upheaval. He did so in part by discarding the bedrock axiom of post–World War II American politics that anyone running for president must sparkle with the FDR-patented, chin-jutting optimism that helped propel John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan to the White House. Trump ran instead on the idea that America was, as his lingo would have it, a shithole country in desperate need of being made great again. “Sadly, the American Dream is dead,” he declared, glowering, on that fateful day in 2015 when he came down the Trump Tower escalator to announce his candidacy. He saw a market in merchandising pessimism as patriotism and cornered it. His diagnosis that the system was “rigged” was not wrong, but his ruse of “fixing” it has been to enrich himself, his family, and his coterie of grifters with the full collaboration of his party’s cynical and avaricious Establishment.

By contrast, Hillary Clinton’s message was that everything was basically just fine and only needed a little tweaking, which didn’t exactly resonate with voters in 2016. But I’ll come back to that, too.

At the New York Times, Michael Tomasky has some advice for people alarmed at all the talk from the young folks about socialism.

You want fewer socialists? Easy. Stop creating them. …  As I noted recently in The Daily Beast, the kind of capitalism that has been practiced in this country over the last few decades has made socialism look far more appealing, especially to young people. Ask yourself: If you’re 28 like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York congressional candidate who describes herself as a democratic socialist, what have you seen during your sentient life?

Tomasky listed several things, such as growing inequality and the 2008 meltdown, profit hoarding and job losses. As we move toward a “gig economy” the kind of secure permanent job with benefits that used to be the foundation of a middle-class life has become more and more elusive for the young folks. Between insecure employment and student loans, a lot of people just feel exploited.

I could go on like this for 20 paragraphs. Many more, in fact. But you get the idea. Back in the days when our economy just grew and grew, we had a government and a capitalist class that invested in our people and their future — in the Interstate highways, the community colleges, the scientific research, the generous federal grants for transportation and regional development.

And, funny thing, during all this time, socialism didn’t have much appeal.

But those days are gone, and people who are young adults today don’t remember them. What they see is that the system isn’t working for them and ultimately isn’t sustainable for anybody.

And although this is a widespread problem, inequality is worse in the U.S. than in Europe.

Things aren’t necessarily working out for older folks, either.

For a rapidly growing share of older Americans, traditional ideas about life in retirement are being upended by a dismal reality: bankruptcy.

The signs of potential trouble — vanishing pensions, soaring medical expenses, inadequate savings — have been building for years. Now, new research sheds light on the scope of the problem: The rate of people 65 and older filing for bankruptcy is three times what it was in 1991, the study found, and the same group accounts for a far greater share of all filers.

Driving the surge, the study suggests, is a three-decade shift of financial risk from government and employers to individuals, who are bearing an ever-greater responsibility for their own financial well-being as the social safety net shrinks.

The transfer has come in the form of, among other things, longer waits for full Social Security benefits, the replacement of employer-provided pensions with 401(k) savings plans and more out-of-pocket spending on health care. Declining incomes, whether in retirement or leading up to it, compound the challenge.

Every bleeping idea the Powers That Be ever come up with ends up being great for the rich and bad for everybody else. Ever notice that?

Oh, my goodness, this just in:

Senator Marco Rubio unveiled a family leave plan Thursday that would require new parents to pay for time spent with their infant children by borrowing from their Social Security retirement benefits early.

The Economic Security for New Parents Act would allow parents to use their retirement benefits for up to 12 weeks, and would be paid back by delaying retirement for three to six months per child. In two-parent households, benefits are transferable among spouses.

What kind of asshole even thinks of something like that?

Back to Frank Rich:

It was during the Great Recession that it also became clear how oblivious — or complicit — both major parties’ Establishments were when it came to heists by those at the top. To take just one example of this culture at work: In 2011, with much fanfare, President Obama convened a new jobs council, which, in a bipartisan gesture, he put in the charge of a prominent Republican CEO, Jeffrey Immelt of GE. No one in the Obama White House seemed to know or care, as the New York Times would soon report, that GE had laid off a fifth of its American workers since 2002 and, in 2010, had paid almost no federal taxes on $14.2 billion of profit. Immelt remained in place at the jobs council nonetheless. Unlike such frauds as Enron and its current copycat, Theranos, or the robber-baron enterprises of the more distant past, GE was one of the most widely admired American corporations, if not the most widely admired, for decades. Founded by Thomas Edison, it was one of the original dozen components of the Dow Jones industrial average at its inception in 1896. In the 1950s and early ’60s, GE’s image and Reagan’s were burnished in tandem when the future president hosted General Electric Theater on CBS. In the 1980s and ’90s, Immelt’s immediate predecessor, Jack Welch, was lionized as America’s wisest economic guru. Today, GE’s shareholders have been financially shafted along with its workers, and in June it was booted off the Dow. The record Immelt left behind as Obama’s job czar, it should be noted, is no more impressive than that as GE’s CEO: He accomplished nothing, at one point going for a full year without convening the council at all. But there has been no accountability for his failures in either the private or public spheres, let alone reparations.

We have created a new entrenched aristocracy, a class of people who are too big to fail. And while I still like Barack Obama, and consider him to be a decent and intelligent man, a lot about his administration just plain fell short of its potential. And this is a good example.

I wrote a post in August 2016 about the fact that the Democrats were maddeningly oblivious to the national mood. That post linked to an Andrew O’Hehir column that said Democrats were whistling past the graveyard if they thought that Clinton’s presumed election would set the world back to normal. O’Hehir said,

But what kind of “normal” are you so happy about? The paralysis and dysfunction of the entire last decade? To pretend that such an outcome — the candidate who is widely disliked and mistrusted defeating the candidate who is widely feared and despised — does anything at all to address the structural and ideological crisis that is eating away at both parties and the bipartisan system represents an epic level of denial.

“Epic level of denial” pretty much describes Democratic Party centrists and the leadership that insisted Hillary Clinton had to be the nominee. And there’s a lot of denial out there still. O’Hehir wrote recently,

Essentially, Democrats of the Bill Clinton era cut a deal with finance capital and the national-security state: On one hand, an economic policy based on free trade, deregulation and open markets, interlocked with an expansionist, interventionist foreign policy, both ceded to the control of technocratic experts. On the other, a widening agenda of civil rights protection and modest social reform programs at home, coupled with continued funding of the welfare state, albeit in reduced and partially privatized form.

As I wrote last week, that combination seemed to work well for a while, or at least it helped elect two Democratic presidents to two terms apiece. It also hollowed out the party from within and led to a devastating series of defeats in midterm elections and state legislatures, leaving Democrats in their worst nationwide position since Herbert Hoover’s administration, despite the undeniable fact that their policy positions are far more popular than those of the Republicans. With the sudden shift in the political wind of 2016, the true nature of the grand bargain suddenly seemed unmentionable.

But Nancy Pelosi is out there even now soliciting donations with calls to “protect President Obama’s legacy,” and even those of us who are fond of Barack Obama don’t want to just go back to his legacy. We’ve got to do a lot better. See also another recent O’Hehir column, Democratic moderates fear the “socialist left” will wreck the party: They want to keep that gig.

The crazy thing is that I strongly suspect that white working-class voters might not be as averse to the progressive agenda as the centrists assume. Sitting here in Trump Country and watching campaign ads — the Missouri primaries are tomorrow — I see a lot of negative ads that basically make Democrats out to be something like cockroaches with especially loose morals. But that tends to work because the bleeping Democrats don’t seem to stand for anything. They’re like a blank slate waiting to be written on.

I Remember Mama

This is my mama,  Berniece Mae Thomas (née Gillihan), when she graduated from nursing school at the University of Missouri. This would have been about 1942 or 1943.

As I understand it, she and my dad had just been married, but they had done so secretly because she was afraid to tell her father about it. He hadn’t wanted her to go to college; it was a waste of money, you know, because she’d just get married. Of course, it was perfectly fine for her three brothers to go to college, but not a girl. And just before she graduated, she got married. Two other nursing students were her only witnesses.

She’d been able to go to college because she worked in a shop for a little while to save money, and also because her mother, born Verla Gertrude Greer, saved money for her so she could go, and so she went.

Grandma was a sweet lady who liked to read. When she was a girl she would climb trees with an armload of books so that she could read where no one could find her and make her stop reading to do chores.

Like a lot of country girls in her day she married when she was 16 — Grandpa was 18 — and she had no formal education after that. This is their wedding picture:

But she kept reading, and she always had a lot of books around. And she made sure her daughter got to go to college.

Anyway, Mama was a very good nurse and eventually became a teacher of nursing. Most of her career she worked as an obstetrics nurse in the same hospital in which I was born.

One of her favorite stories was about the time she had a mother in labor and couldn’t get the obstetrician to get off the golf course to deliver the baby. She made several phone calls to the golf club, and he wouldn’t come until he finished his game. Eventually she “caught” the baby herself. When the doctor finally showed up, he told the father that he would have been there but the dumb nurse hadn’t bothered to try to reach him. However, the husband had heard my mother making phone calls, and he told the doctor off.

Mama would want you to hear that story.

At her funeral in 2003, some silver-haired ladies came up to me to tell me she had been with them when they had their babies. One lady grabbed my hand and said that mama had noticed her baby had a malformation in his mouth that was keeping him from sucking properly; the doctors had missed it. Your mother saved my baby’s life, the woman said.

My mother had her quirks; for example, she ironed pajamas. She was leader of my Girl Scout troop and bravely took us on camping trips in spite of her terror of snakes, of which there are a lot in the Ozarks. I grew up listening to her records of Pearl Bailey and the Ink Spots. She was crazy about her grandchildren. She made the best pies. She drilled my brother and me on the multiplication tables — to no avail, in my case.

That’s what I’m remembering now.

Obey the Disobedience!

MIT is now accepting nominations for the first-ever MIT Media Lab Disobedience Award, which carries a $250,000 cash prize, no strings attached. The award will go to somebody engaged in an “extraordinary example of disobedience for the benefit of society.” So who better to nominate than Our Doug? I nominated him already, in fact, but maybe more nominations would help.

Here’s the MIT Media Lab Disobedience Award page. And here is Doug’s Wikipedia page if you need to refresh your memory.

Doug, let us know in the comments what contact information for you people might use.

Update: Here is the nomination form.


What to Do Now

Well, I’m back. My PC forgot how to do wifi — the problem is not with the wifi, since all the other wifi thingies in the house are all fine. So naturally the quick fix is to connect the laptop to the router with an ethernet cable. But the laptop has no ethernet port, and it took me awhile to get my hands on a USB ethernet adapter. So I’m back online, but some day I’m going to have to try to get the wifi function fixed.

Anyway — the question at hand is, what should we do now? I started out to write about what the Democrats should do, and I still wrote a lot about that. But there’s also the individual dimension — what should each of us do?

I do urge that people engage with the Democratic Party. There are a lot of (naive, inexperienced, mostly young) people out there who question why we need parties at all. Maybe I’ll write about that some time. The short answer is republican government doesn’t function without them. Without the organizing function of party, government becomes every politician for himself. So they always form. And because of the way we run elections in the U.S., we are pretty much stuck with two dominant national parties, like it or not. However, explaining why that’s true will need to be the point of another post.

There’s a battle royale going on for the DNC chair; the main contenders are Rep. Keith Ellison and Labor Secretary Tom Perez. Perez and his supporters have made it a nasty fight. It got so bad that members of the California DNC issued a statement denouncing the mud slinging. “Now more than ever, the Democratic Party needs to have a principled debate about its future that is based on issues and organizing strategy,” they said.

Well, yes. So the first thing the Democrats need to do is stop with the internal character assassination. I have no reason to dislike Perez, and he might be good in the job, but the dirty in-fighting thing makes me want him to lose.

Along those lines, this was spotted on Facebook, to the question of “What the Democrats should do now”: “Clean house. Be done with the Clintons. Get some new blood. Don’t cry so much. Put forward new ideas not just slam the other side. No more name calling. Appeal more broadly. Listen to middle America. Stop starting/continuing war abroad.”

Matt Taibbi wrote last June,

The maddening thing about the Democrats is that they refuse to see how easy they could have it. If the party threw its weight behind a truly populist platform, if it stood behind unions and prosecuted Wall Street criminals and stopped taking giant gobs of cash from every crooked transnational bank and job-exporting manufacturer in the world, they would win every election season in a landslide.

Again, more good advice. But from what I’ve seen so far, the old leadership that got it so wrong is putting him a massive fight to stay in control. And if they do, we’re sunk.

If the Democrats are a brand, what does that brand stand for? A big part of the problem is that I don’t think it stands for anything any more. It is the party that is somewhat less awful than the other party. It is the party that generally doesn’t stand in the way of cultural progress, but you can’t trust it with economic progress. It is the party that pays lip service to being for working people, but usually isn’t.

Duncan Black wrote an awesome post a short time back that I recommend. Here is just a bit:

We’re sort of reaching the breaking point of the decades long battle between the party that promises to kick those other people, and the party that promises not to kick them quite so hard. I think there have been some signs of Dems recognizing it, but they’re still largely locked into that way of thinking. ACA, for all its benefits, just couldn’t be implemented without making it fucking hard for people. That the subsidies aren’t generous enough makes it too expensive for people, and that’s a problem, but it’s one thing to be forced to buy a car you can’t really afford, another to buy a car that you can’t afford that you have to take in for repairs every other week. The government can’t just provide the nice things it once provided because reasons. Hell, once upon a time they built community pools and golf courses. Now your HOA might have a pool.

We’re the richest damn country in the history of the world (close enough, anyway). Life shouldn’t be so hard. Not against The Data, but the data doesn’t really capture what’s going on for “the middle class.” It isn’t that wages are stagnant or shrinking – though that’s an issue too! – It’s that doing the right thing and having a tiny bit of luck is no longer enough to achieve economic security anymore. Life’s a crap shoot from 18-67 (soon to be longer, if Republicans get their way). We’re all one medium sized economic hit (including medical) away from the downward spiral. And thanks to that glorious bankruptcy bill, once you get into a hole you’re probably trapped there. Bipartisany goodness to make David Broder swoon. 74-25 in the Senate, 302-126 in the House. But the Dems are the good guys! Yah, well, not enough of them and not consistently enough. Vote for Dems and the share of them voting for horrible things will shrink slightly!

And it isn’t complicated. Thinking that it is complicated is the problem. There are better and worse ways to achieve things, and the wonks can fight it out, but the point is to achieve them. And, really, given how small the nice things budget is who cares?

“There are better and worse ways to achieve things, and the wonks can fight it out, but the point is to achieve them.” To, you know, actually do stuff. And if you manage to do stuff that will be good for working folks, be sure to follow through and let working folks know about it. IMO part of the opposition to Obamacare comes from the fact that lots of folks have yet to figure out what it is and how it works. That makes it easy to lie about.

For years, Democrats have made promises that they will Fight For You! if you send them to Washington. So we send them to Washington, and with the rare exception of the problematic ACA, nothing much changes. So along with stopping the nasty infighting, we need leadership that has a clue. No more wishy-washy centrism. No more “interest group brokerage party that seeks to mediate between the claims and concerns of left-wing activists groups and those of important members of the business community,” to quote Matt Yglesias.

No more selling us out, Democrats. No more assuming that we have to vote for you because we’ve got no other choice. Be for something, stick to it, do it. Deliver.

The rift between the coastal liberal college-educated Democrats and working class people will have to be mended, and that won’t be easy.  I’ll have more thoughts on that in coming posts.

Of course, this assumes that our representative democracy survives as such for a few more election cycles. We are in danger of slipping into totalitarianism. The next couple of years could be critical.

How to resist? What is the best course? First, I suggest that further ridiculing the dumb hillbillies who voted for Trump is counterproductive. They are not the enemy.

I’m going to copy and paste something I found on Facebook.  The author is Yale historian and Holocaust expert Timothy Snyder.

Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps “The Power of the Powerless” by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by CzesÅ‚aw Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

–Timothy Snyder, Housum Professor of History, Yale University,
15 November 2016.

And with that — Merry Christmas.