Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Articulating a view of the modern right

I just needed a place to collect my observations about the modern right. This started with two key points: 

  • The modern right is not a conservative movement.
  • The modern right is anti-democratic.
While I think these points are obvious, I recognize that many on the modern right would disagree, and I would like to be able to explain why I hold these two beliefs. 

So, here goes.

The modern right is not a conservative movement. 

Conservativism seeks to avoid or slow social changes through the preservation and maintenance of established institutions. And yet, the modern right has been working to undermine the legitimacy of, among others, public schools, universities, national intelligence agencies, active military leadership, non-partisan think-tanks, the National Institutes of Health, the Center for Disease Control, the US Commission on Presidential Debates, career public servants, the national media, and lifelong conservative politicians. 

Conservativism favors free enterprise and the rights of private individuals over the government. And yet, the modern right favors political leaders willing to pick winners and losers in the private sector, seeks to punish business leaders who challenge the right’s political power, and supports policies that encourage criminal charges and/or civil litigation over personal/private choices. 

A note acknowledging that the modern left is also not conservative because, for some reason in today's discourse, we have to anticipate false equivalencies at every turn

It is true that the modern left supports some of the positions described above, but much of that is because the left is not conservative. The left supports social change, seeks to reform established institutions, and favors the collective good over the rights of powerful individuals. While there is plenty of hypocrisy on the left, to be sure, not only is that a different subject, but it’s also absurd and unproductive to derail a critique with what-about-isms. 

The modern right is anti-democratic

The modern right portrays certain people as less-than-legitimate Americans, especially if those people support liberal ideals, progressive policy, or social justice reforms. There is this idea on the right that their opponents do not represent America’s interests, but instead the interests of immigrants, the global elite, criminals, China, and/or some other outside force (a force often described implicitly or explicitly as “evil”). In the modern right’s worldview, those who oppose the right are working to ruin America.

The modern right dismisses support for their opponents as anti-American. Those who express such views are either a) ignorant people, b) people who want to steal from America, or c) people who are already actively stealing from America. 

Viewing the country through that lens is how the modern right can hold the belief that some Americans should not have a voice in America.

This is what justifies continued support for the claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. The modern right does not believe Trump received more votes, but rather that many of the votes for Biden were cast by people who should not have a voice in America. 

It’s how the modern right can support what are clearly restrictive voting laws. They do not see voting as a right to be protected, but as a privilege to be earned.  

They don’t hear, “People should follow the rules my political party supports if they want to vote.” 

Instead, they hear, “People who won’t follow the rules my political party supports are cheats and liars.” 

This anti-democratic turn is why the modern right portrays the protests and activism of opponents as criminal - while applauding protests and activism from their supporters. 

It is why they have embraced book banning as a legitimate political goal. 

It is why they have instituted tests of party loyalty and begun practicing vengeance-based politics. 

It is at the root of the modern right’s turn toward authoritarianism. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Erasure of an X

Whenever one of The Usual Suspects forgets that my generation exists, All I Wanna Do is tell them, "Hold On, we're not The Outsiders!" But I Don't Speak. I Remember the Time when I was just another one of The Kids in The Hall, and it reminds me This Is How We Do It:

It is The Never Ending Story we Common People of Generation X must endure. Time After Time, it can make me feel like saying "I am over-educated, under-skilled. Maybe it's the other way around, I forget. But I'm obsolete."

That's how their Take On Me can feel. But Different Strokes for different folks, right?

We look at this Scenario and think those born after 1979 are taking this Sure Shot at us. And that Reality Bites, but we have to take the Longview. You Oughta Know, we can’t be Undone by this – or mistake it for some kind of Poison. Where It’s At feels Closer than where it actually is.

It’s the kind of Erasure we should embrace because, sure, "that's the way it goes, but don't forget, it goes the other way too." 

Remember, we were the generation encouraged to “Eat your cereal with a fork and do your homework in the dark.” For us, not having an act is our act. While it may seem "easier to stay alone," it would be better to Bust a Move, look 'em in the eye, and remind them, "You're not Rid of Me." 

We have more influence on young people than other generations because what we really really want is not so different. The Kids of America don't recognize that - maybe due to some kind of Unfinished Sympathy, but Hey, those are The Facts of Life.

That’s The Thing, isn’t it? "That's the way that it goes and it's what nobody knows." It's Unbelievable; even if they accept our generation, "They'll call you names, but not as much to your face." 

So, yeah, if we want to Do the Right Thing, we have to Push It! When they suggest "You don't seem like you're from around here," ask them "Where do I seem like I'm from?"

Because after all, Who's the Boss? If we're going to be The Transformers we set out to be, we have to Speak & Spell it out for them.

"Maybe I'm just too demanding," but to these younger generations, I say, "I know that you're gonna have it your way or nothing at all, but I think you're moving too fast," "and if you don't know, now you know."  

From Russell Davies

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Being Wrong, Irony, and Corruption

So, I was catching up on an older episode of Fresh Air, because that's what all the radical leftists seeking to topple the system are doing these days, amiright?

Terry Gross was interviewing a scholar and advocate for free speech in writing named Jeffrey Sachs

He's been looking into conservative efforts to create legislation regulating what can and cannot be discussed in schools. 

As an educator, I was very interested. 

A little more than twenty minutes into the episode, they get to North Dakota's Critical Race Theory (CRT) law that was signed by the Governor last November. The law forbids the delivery of instruction that includes the "theory that racism is not merely the product of learned individual bias or prejudice, but that racism is systemically embedded in American society and the American legal system to facilitate racial inequality.

While this is a horrible law, it is also a learning opportunity. 

First lesson: I am Wrong Sometimes

On principle, I have to admit when I am wrong.
And here the conservative legislators in North Dakota showed me how wrong I was.

I have often leveled the criticism that conservatives railing against CRT do not actually know what CRT is. 

But the definition of CRT in the North Dakota law is a solid definition of the theory: "Racism is not merely the product of learned individual bias or prejudice, but [...] racism is systemically embedded in American society and the American legal system to facilitate racial inequality." 

That is what critical race theory describes. Good work, lawmakers! You concisely stated what liberal advocates for the theory have been overexplaining for at least a year now. 

Second lesson: Irony

North Dakota passed a law making it illegal to teach about how "racism is systemically embedded in [...] the American legal system." 

I can't imagine people not seeing the irony there.

They passed a race-related law making it illegal to teach about race-related flaws in the legal system.

I'm reminded of the Bable Fish argument by Douglas Adams:

The argument goes something like this: "I refuse to prove that I exist,'" says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."

"But," says Man, "The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."

"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

"Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

Third lesson: Individualist Philosophy has Been Corrupted 

The idea that racism can only exist in the mind of an individual is not an opinion. It is a rejection of reality. 

  • American slavery was a racist institution 
  • Separate but equal was a racist legal doctrine
  • The segregation of schools was a racist education policy 
  • Redlining was a racist federal policy enforced by the FHA
  • We could keep going...
Were racist individuals involved in these institutions? Sure.
But if people understand what those institutions are, it becomes impossible for them to argue in good faith that racism is not embedded in social and legal systems. 

Something at the core of the American identity has been corrupted and used to undermine people's ability to accept certain realities. That something is the Individualist philosophy.

There is nothing wrong with the idea that the human individual is of primary importance. That is a cornerstone of the movement away from many of history's most oppressive hierarchies. I'm a fan.

But in a wrongheaded bastardization of this philosophy, extremists have begun to argue that the individual is the only thing of importance. This view rejects the influence of institutions and social constructs. In this view, the individual is the only one who can be racist, just, free, oppressed, guilty, or innocent. This view strips us of the ability to critique or improve institutions.  

It is a dangerous corruption of Individualist philosophy, and this North Dakota law is clear evidence of that corruption.  

Friday, February 04, 2022

Legitimate Political Discourse

Today the Republican National Convention's Resolutions Committee censured two party members for their participation in the House investigation of January 6th. 

Included in the resolution was the following: 
WHEREAS, Representatives Cheney and Kinzinger are participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse...
"Legitimate political discourse."

That's what they called the riot.

The RNC just voted on and approved a resolution stating that the people participating in the January 6th riot were engaged in "legitimate political discourse."

They are saying that violence and threats of violence are legitimate political discourse.

I'm not being alarmist here. I'm not exaggerating. A copy of the resolution can be found below with the "whereas" in question highlighted. 

The RNC views the demonstrably violent actions of the rioters on January 6th as legitimate political discourse. 

One of the two major political parties in America views violence as a political tool. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Leftover Evidence

So, this is what it is like living in the Misinformation Age.

I've long struggled to understand what moves people to reject evidence in favor of conspiracy. And science fiction has, once again, helped me understand the roots behind this social issue. That's kinda a thing for me. It's why I read and watch science fiction.

This time it was the television adaptation of The Leftovers that provided insight. It's a beautiful but heartrending show about a future in which 2% of the population disappears in an unexplained event. In the aftermath, people are left to get on with their lives. But understandably, many many people cannot do that. They cannot live in a world where something so powerful and horrible happened yet cannot be explained. 

Cults, conspiracies, and pseudoscience play an important role in the stories that unfold on the show. 

The embrace of misinformation does not make characters bad people. Those characters are simply not able to accept that their world works in ways so far beyond their capacity to understand. So instead, they invent theories or believe the theories of others - theories that make the complex simple, that explain the unexplainable.  

So yeah, the show's relevance has more than endured.

Tom PerrottaDamon Lindelof, and the show's team of writers demonstrate an understanding of human behavior that many dismiss as irrational. And maybe it is. I don't know, but the important thing is that this behavior is surprisingly common: 
When faced with a world that is too complex to understand, many people will invent a world they can understand. They will reject any evidence that contradicts the world they've accepted, and what's more, they will see people who try to present such evidence as pawns of a conspiracy to cover up "their truth." 

Last week, we marked the anniversary of a group's violent attempt to stop the certification of a presidential election because they believed, despite all the evidence to the contrary, powerful people corrupted the race for president in multiple states. And in the year since many have spun new theories that the violence itself was a government-led attack... or not an attack. That all depends on who you ask and what time of day it is.

But that's not all. Angry activists are telling school boards that history lessons on race and policy are indoctrination efforts by leftist radicals who have taken over the education system.

Large segments of the public dismiss scientific accounts of the human contributions to climate change.

Others remain convinced that the entire global medical community is lying about the severity and spread of COVID-19.

A growing population has accepted the Great Replacement Theory's assertion that diversity in affluent nations is a plot by a secretive group to replace white people. 

These are just a handful of places in our public discourse where people dismiss clear evidence that the challenges we face as a society are complex and dynamic. People dismiss that evidence in favor of conspiracy theories rife with misinformation.

The right-wing retelling of events from January 6th, 2021 pushed me to better understand this phenomenon. When presented with the clear reality that Trump supporters had gathered in D.C. and carried out a violent and catastrophic attack, other Trump supporters have worked very hard to find an alternative to that reality. 

  • It wasn't violent
  • It wasn't Trump supporters
  • FBI agents were planted in the crowd and incited the violence
  • No one broke into the Capitol
  • The prosecution of the participants is a witch hunt
These are just some of the ways Trump supporters have tried to explain away a reality that is at odds with how they understand the world. In their view, no one who agrees with them could do the things we all saw. So, they tell themselves stories - stories of a world where the FBI worked together with leftist radicals in disguise, or maybe stories of how the video footage was faked, or stories in which they themselves have never seen the footage - footage they've actually watched, but no they haven't because it doesn't exist. 

The people who support Trump believe that everyone who shares their opinion on that issue is on the correct side of every issue. They see themselves as "the good guys," and people who disagree are the bad guys - bad guys with powerful secret players backing their position. 

It's a simple story of good versus bad that washes away anything difficult to understand, but believing the story means dismissing anything that disrupts the narrative.   

If, as another example, you tell yourself the story that man-made climate change is a hoax, what do you do when the scientific community presents evidence that man-made climate change is a crisis we need to act on immediately? 

Well, just invent a chapter in which scientists are "in it for the money" and part of a global conspiracy to rob nations of their energy independence. Never mind that scientists don't earn the kind of money that would justify this. Ignore the fact that there are a lot of incentives for a scientist to come forward with evidence of such a conspiracy. Forget that the concept of "energy independence" is a euphemism for "which corporations get to sell oil to Americans." Ignore the complexity and stick to the story.

The story makes people feel certain. It sidesteps complexity and leaves gray areas behind, allowing for a more black and white explanation.

People want to know they are right, that the decisions they make are the good ones. This is why presenting evidence that demands the acceptance of uncertainty often lands on deaf ears. 

I won't pretend to have an easy solution, but I do find comfort in developing an understanding of what is clearly a complex problem. 

Friday, January 07, 2022

Shaking Faith

 I was 10-years-old in 1986.

Since then, corporate profits in the US have grown 1,428.41%

The S&P 500 stock market index has grown 1,918.10%

The median household income has grown 19.60%.

Monday, January 03, 2022

Revisiting a Violent Transition of Power

--Older Post Revised on 1/2/2022--

As we prepare for the one-year anniversary of the first time America failed to have a peaceful transition of power, supporters of the former president need to remember the following:

It’s not enough to hear you disavow those who violently stormed the Capitol. 

We need you to acknowledge that the former president's embrace of far-right antidemocratic extremists did immeasurable harm to the nation.  

Here’s why we need such an explicit rejection: When we told you this was coming, you dismissed us as dupes or pawns. 

For years, at family reunions, during backyard bull sessions, in comment threads, you've been telling us our worst fears were a figment of the mainstream media's imagination – a propaganda campaign led by the political class – a plot conceived to get your guy out of office by any means necessary. 

You've yelled at us, called us hateful, and said we were foolish to suggest that the Former President was abusing his power or undermining democratic norms. 

When we presented proof, you told us the proof was a lie. You told us we were suckers to fall for the lie.

And now it's settled. He is the monster we were warning you about. 

  • He gathered a crowd of extremists on the day Congress was set to certify the election results.
  • He assembled the crowd near the Capitol.
  • He told them they had been robbed.
    • "All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical-left Democrats, which is what they're doing." 
  • He told them they had to fight.
    • "And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."
  • He told his followers their country was being destroyed.
    • "We're going to have somebody in there that should not be in there and our country will be destroyed and we're not going to stand for that."
  • He said they had to stop that from happening.
    • "We must stop the steal."
  • He told them they could never win if they showed weakness.
    • "Because you'll never take back our country with weakness."
  • And then he sent them marching to the Capitol as the legislators and his vice president were in the middle of the certification process.

The crowd beat a cop as they sang the National Anthem. They waved flags emblazoned with their leader’s name. They broke windows to gain entry to the Capitol. They chanted calls for a public execution. They stopped a session of Congress. And they did it because the Former President told them to do it. 

He used his power as our nation's leader to make that happen.

Allow me to repeat this: You don’t get to act surprised. We told you it was going to happen. You just wouldn’t listen.

And as a follow-up: You don't get to deny what happened. The guilty pleas are flowing now. This was perpetrated by proud Trump supporters who thought violence was an appropriate way to seat a president. 

You've tried to deny what happened. You've tried to downplay the severity. You said we were wrong. You told us we had been lied to by the media and the “faux-experts.” You said you were wiser, smarter, better Americans than us. 

But you weren’t. We were right. We were the ones defending democracy. And now you're angry because we are going to require you to acknowledge that. 

Everything we've been saying about the former president was proven true last year. He cultivated a basket of deplorables: Followers willing to spread lies, publicly espouse hateful views, call for violence, and yes, willing to assault law enforcement officers to hold onto political power. 

If you try to justify, diminish, or dismiss the disgraceful actions of the former president and his followers, we will reject your anti-democratic ideas. We will shame you and label you unamerican. If you attempt to use force to back your views, we will fight back and we will win. The law and decency are on our side. 

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Rittenhouse and Recklessness

I am in regular contact with a person who holds very different views from me on the Rittenhouse case. 

I don't wanna get too deep into a debate with them on the topic, but I've been engaging the topic over the last month because it is something I think about a lot. 

I'm raising two boys, and Rittenhouse made the choices he did when he was just a kid (he's still a kid in my eyes). Even when a child is practicing self-defense, however, taking the lives of other people is bound to shake that child to their very core. It is not a situation I would ever want my boys to be in. 

That's my personal stake in the case. There are other reasons I care about the issues raised by the case, but youth violence and recklessness hit close to home.

Beyond that, I got a very well-balanced analysis of the case just before the jury started deliberating. After hearing it, I was expecting a not-guilty verdict. The analysis came from the New York Times podcast The Daily. The TV media reported something vastly different than what I learned from that podcast. Julie Bosman, the reporter, made it clear that Rittenhouse stayed overnight in Kenosha regularly - was staying with his best friend that night. She explained that the gun never crossed state lines. She explained why the gun charge got thrown out. Bosman also walked through the events of the entire day leading up to the deaths. The charges brought against Rittenhouse were never going to stick. 

But two people died, another was wounded, and Rittenhouse has to live with the knowledge that he has killed people. 

There is nothing to celebrate or honor. There are no heroes that emerged from these events. And I am troubled to see narratives that suggest otherwise.

Anyone who portrays Rittenhouse as a hero or as brave is promoting a message to my boys. It is a message I firmly reject and I will teach my boys to reject it as well. The message is that the threat of deadly violence is a legitimate response to property damage or political unrest. 

I know there are people who think it is appropriate to protect property with lethal force. I think those people are wrong. Even if the action is legal, it is morally wrong. I think people who disagree are greedy cowards. 

The only time I believe it is acceptable to kill someone is if you are protecting your life or the life of another. And admittedly, by that logic, Rittenhouse was justified in pulling the trigger. He was protecting his life.

But he should not have brought an assault rifle to a protest. He should not have waited until the protest ended and mostly provocateurs remained. It's legal what he did, sure, but it was reckless. It was foolish. 

It was the kind of recklessness I see in a lot of teenagers (drunk driving, vandalizing, drag racing, throwing rocks off a highway overpass, trying drugs, etc.). But teenagers normally don't have access to assault rifles. They shouldn't, legal or not. Someone in Rittenhouse's life needed to tell him, "You should not bring a gun to the protest. If things get out of hand, you don't have the training or the maturity to make good decisions. Leave the gun at home." 

But no one told him that. There were actually some adults who encouraged him, and that upsets me. They enabled Rittenhouse's recklessness. 

Imagine Rebel Without a Cause if Jim's dad had encouraged Jim to defend his honor and win the chickie run. The audience certainly would have seen Jim's dad as partially responsible for Buzz's death, because Jim's dad is an adult. We don't hold Jim fully responsible because he was a child. But adults encouraging reckless behavior are a very real danger to the kids who look up to them. 

Now, the people who confronted Rittenhouse were reckless as well. I'm not giving them a pass, but they were adults, and two of them are dead now. It feels wrong to do anything beyond acknowledging their recklessness.

I am trying to thread a needle here. I recognize the events from that night in Kenosha would have very different results if Rittenhouse had been there protecting the safety of the protesters or if his skin was a different color. I recognize that the anger of the protesters was legitimate and they were standing up for the safety of members of their community. Those issues are important. A lot of ink has been spilled addressing them, and we should not be done deliberating those issues. 

As we are able to gain perspective on these events, however, we should be able to have the conversation about youth violence and recklessness on its own. It is not more important than other issues the Rittenhouse case highlights, but it is not unimportant.