Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The Beatles: the Biography

by Bob Spitz

First published by author Bob Spitz in 2005, his book on the Beatles would be more appropriately subtitled “a biography.” I wasn’t properly introduced to the Beatles’ music until 1981, though I actually remember watching the Beatles cartoon show as a little kid in the late sixties. In the seventies I only heard their hits on the radio during the oldies program on my local Top 40 radio station, and I was intimately familiar with a few of their later songs like “Hey Jude,” because it was on a couple of jazz fusion albums I owned, and “Got to Get You Into My Life,” which was released as a single in 1976 to support the Rock and Roll Music greatest hits package and was given frequent radio airplay. But it wasn’t until I was out of high school and playing music professionally that the bass player in the band I was in loaned me all of his Capitol LPs because one of the songs we played in the band, “I’ll Cry Instead,” absolutely fascinated me. Well, that was all it took. The Beatles instantly became one of the few bands where I liked almost every single song they had recorded—Steely Dan and America are the only other two that come to mind. As far as I’m concerned, they are the most consequential and influentially important band of the 20th century. Further, I would go so far as to say they are the greatest pop/rock group in history.

A couple years later I began purchasing books on the band and devoured them. I read Philip Norman’s Shout!, which I enjoyed tremendously, but couldn’t really get into the Hunter Davies’ biography because it seemed like a PR piece, more fluff than substance. I was far more captivated by the inside stories, like Peter Brown’s The Love You Make, and especially George Martin’s All You Need is Ears. The later was absolutely fascinating because it focused so much on the music. And I even found Mark Lewisohn’s detailed Complete Beatles Recording Sessions an absolute page-turner, though there was no narrative thread at all, again because of the emphasis on the music. In subsequent decades I did very little reading on the group, however, and was instead content to listen to the music—especially after the Capitol LP box sets came out and I could hear the music as I first remembered listening to it. They are still my preferred mixes and track arrangements. So in 2005, when Spitz published his new biography of the group, I immediately bought the hardback and waited for the perfect opportunity to read it. My assumption was that the 856-page book would finally be the definitive biography of the group and I wanted to savor every page. Well, it took fifteen years, but I finally managed to make the time to read it, and all I can say is that it was decidedly not worth the wait.

One of the things I hadn’t been conscious of when I read Philip Norman’s book in 1985 was the particular bias that the biography had. But since it was really the only complete story up to that point—like my VHS copy of The Compleat Beatles prior to the Anthology—as a beggar, I wasn’t in any position to be a chooser. Author Erin Weber gives a nice rundown of the problems with most Beatles narratives in her book The Beatles and the Historians, which she divides into three categories: 1. The Fab Four narrative, which is where the Hunter Davies’ book firmly resides. 2. The Lennon Remembers narrative promoted by Rolling Stone, which is similar to the cult of Miles Davis and John Coltrane in jazz histories in that the story slants so heavily in their direction that there’s little room for anything else. And 3. the Shout! narrative, which I consider a subset of the second category because it makes Paul responsible for every negative thing that ever happened to the group. Well, Spitz’s book lands squarely in the Lennon Remembers category because of how heavily he emphasizes John Lennon to the detriment of the other three members of the band. It doesn’t take long for the reader to figure this out, even in the Liverpool section. If I were to roughly divide the entire book strictly in terms of content, Lennon gets about 50 percent, McCartney 35 percent, Harrison 10 percent, and Starr a paltry 5 percent.

There are long, lavishly detailed sections in the book about everything John does, about his school, his friends, his family, his drug use, and his relationships, first with Cynthia and then Yoko. Jane Asher, on the other hand, though she was Paul’s primary girlfriend during most of those years, barely gets a page. Pattie Harrison gets a single sentence saying that George was able to get her a bit part in A Hard Day’s Night, and Maureen Starky . . . nothing. The reader has absolutely no idea who she is or how she met Ringo. At first it’s a bit shocking, but by the halfway point in the book it’s so disappointing that it makes it difficult to plow through the rest of it. Similarly, the stages of the band’s history are equally uneven. The pre-fame Liverpool history nets an entire third of the book’s length. Then, as they become increasingly famous—and their story increasingly more interesting—Spitz spends less and less time on each subsequent year, until the end of the book rushes to a close, as if the author had been working on a deadline and had to summarize the final years of the group’s existence rather than write about it in any depth. The longer one reads, the more one has the sensation that a lot more was left out of this version of the story than what remains between the covers. Though it doesn’t seem possible, Spitz actually manages to make the story of the most fascinating music group of the rock era boring.

By far the most egregious flaw in the book, however, is the short shrift that Spitz gives to the music. He uses lots of flowery adjectives to describe the music that provide absolutely nothing to the reader in the way of insight or appreciation for either the writing of the songs or the recording of them. But in a way that particular flaw makes sense, as there are major gaffs throughout the book that expose the fact that Spitz has almost no understanding of music at all. Just a couple of examples will suffice. In one section early on, about John and Paul writing songs together, Spitz states that the two were especially conscious about attempting to write a clever “middle eight” for each of their tunes. Then, as a knowing aside, the author tells the reader that what the two songwriters actually meant by the middle eight of a song was the “chorus.” Wrong. Unbelievably wrong. The middle eight of a song is called the bridge, not the chorus. And there are other, less maddeningly stupid, but just as irritating musical errors, like when Spitz states that the solo instrument on “Fool on the Hill” is a flute, when it’s actually a recorder. This is so unfortunate, because the music is finally the point. It’s the reason for Beatlemania, not the other way around. The Beatles’ melodic and harmonic sophistication as a group was light years ahead of any other recording act in the sixties—and even the individual members in the decade that followed. And their execution of that material in the studio was also unmatched. But that wouldn’t be apparent from reading this book, as a ten times more space is devoted to Brian Epstein than to George Martin.

The Beatles: the Biography is simply not a very good book, no matter how one looks at it. Spitz has been commended for conducting a bunch of new interviews, which did have a lot of potential, but then used those sources in a very uninspired manner. And while quotes by the actual Beatles are sprinkled throughout—from extant sources—it only serves to make the paucity of more unique interview material by them all the more noticeable. Even when he does use Beatle quotes it’s to poor effect, as they almost never add anything substantive to the story and therefore feel unnecessary, as if he wasn’t really able to discern which Beatle quotes were important and which weren’t—then went ahead and chose the latter. It’s a shame, because Mark Lewisohn’s first volume of the absolutely definitive biography of the Beatles, Tune In, only reaches the year 1962, and on the author’s website he says that the second volume won’t be out until at least 2023. That biography, however, will be well worth the wait. In the meantime, Spitz is what Beatle fans are stuck with. Though honestly, for all its overt bias and fictionalized history, Philip Norman’s book is a much more entertaining read. My suggestion to Beatle fans is to acquire books by participants like Peter Brown, Derek Taylor, George Martin, Geoff Emerick and the like, and those specifically about the music like A Day In The Life and All The Songs, and forgo Spitz’s biography completely in favor of Mark Lewisohn’s infinitely more satisfying approach.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Big Lie

The fact that this country has endured—and successfully removed—a chief executive who lied to the people over 30,000 times during his four years in office, an average of over twenty lies per day, is reason to celebrate. But the stain on our democracy represented by the previous administration is only a symptom of a disease that will not be cured simply by changing our brand of executives. Unfortunately, the previous fascist presidency is not the worst that America has endured in this respect, and is still being forced to endure, even after the inauguration of President Joe Biden. While the Big Lie has resided in the Oval Office every four years for at least the last hundred and seventy years, and may to some extend reside there even now, the Big Lie’s home is really in the Congress. This should be clear to anyone who pays attention to what is going on the Capitol, because the insurrection there on January 6th was only the most obvious manifestation of a more subtle and insidious insurrection that has been going on ever since the end of the Civil War and continues to threaten our republic up to this very moment: the Big Lie.

The first thing to understand about the Big Lie is the way that it is perpetuated. An interview that Fox News did on inauguration day with Karl Rove is a perfect case in point. The goal of Fox News is to promote an alternate reality to its viewers, and after President Biden’s inauguration speech one of the anchors on the network expressed his disappointment at the way the president had accurately assessed the dire situation in our country. “Why do you think they’re talking everything down?” This is an absolutely ludicrous question to ask because things in this country are objectively bad; they are empirically bad; they are demonstrably bad. And the reason they are bad is due entirely to the abject failure of the previous president and his administration to do anything to stop it from becoming that way. The previous president did absolutely nothing to address the pandemic and the attendant economic collapse that resulted from his own inaction. The reason President Biden was “talking everything down,” was because it is down, and it was the failure of the previous president that made it that way. That’s why the citizens voted him out of office. Karl Rove’s response?

          Well, part of it is to lower expectations. The economy is really bad, Covid’s all screwed up, it’s all
          bungled, you know. It’s gonna be really hard to get these things fixed. And then as people get their
          vaccinations and the economy begins to rebound as a result of it being opened up, they can say,
          “Look at us. Didn’t we do a great job?”

Uh . . . yeah, they can. And yes, they will have deserved every bit of that recognition because of the economic and pestilential wasteland the previous president turned the country into. If President Biden can manage to reverse the disaster wrought by the most blatant criminal ever to occupy the White House, he will deserve all of that praise and much, much more.

What Rove seems to be doing here is trying to shift the blame to the Biden administration for the disaster that the previous administration created—the very same thing the right did after Obama took over during the cratered economy of the Great Recession that had been brought about by the Bush administration, one that Rove himself participated in—implying that Biden shouldn’t be able to take credit for his success because somehow he must have been responsible for it in the first place. But Rove doesn’t dwell on that talking point because, were anyone to even think about it for a second they would realize he actually has no point. His comment simply sounds negative, and conveys the connotation that something is not quite right with the new administration if they claim success for cleaning up the mess that the country is in, when in fact it was the previous administration that was responsible for setting the height of those “expectations” by kicking them to the ground. Though Rove’s clear implication here is that President Biden and his administration for some reason should not deserve that praise, he can’t dwell on the point because the idea is demonstrably false.

From there Rove moves over immediately to the Big Lie, the falsehood that has been undermining the success of this country for hundreds of years. And I’m not talking about the success of the rich. I’m talking about the promise of this country that has never been realized, ever, in its two hundred and forty four year history, and that is the commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for ALL of its citizens. This is Rove’s next comment:

          I thought it was a good speech. It wasn’t a great speech but it was a good speech, and it was the
          right speech for the moment. But there was a point in there where he said we’re divided as a country
          between the people in the country who believe in the American ideal, and [the people who believe in]
          racism, nativism, and fear. No, no, no. We’re divided as a country politically over questions of policy
          and direction and respect.

And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is the Big Lie. That is the lie that has kept ninety-nine percent of us in bondage to wage slavery for hundreds of years, and distracts us from understanding what is truly going on in our government because those who perpetuation the Big Lie don’t want us to know.

When Rove says that this country is divided politically, he is lying. What the citizens of this country have yet to figure out is that politics is not an end in itself. It is not a self-contained, closed system. Politics in a republic, especially a representative democracy, is all about constituency. It is about the people who are represented by politicians, not the politicians themselves. Politics as it is practiced in America has absolutely nothing to do with “policy and direction and respect.” It is about the needs of constituents, pure and simple, and how the politicians elected by those constituents can best deliver to their supporters the things they desire to meet their needs. In order to understand politics in the United States it is imperative that people look beyond the politicians to see who they actually represent.

The problem for most of us is that we can’t seem to do that. Just one example of this phenomenon can be seen in an interview with a pop music star from the mid nineteen sixties, well before he scared the skirt off of J. Edgar Hoover when he became radicalized in the seventies. John Lennon had begun to grasp the primary elements of the Big Lie when he spoke to journalist Ray Coleman way back in 1966.

          The trouble with government as it is that it doesn’t represent the people. It controls them. All they
          seem to want to do—the people who run the country—is keep themselves in power and stop us
          knowing what’s going on. The motto seems to be: “Keep the people happy with a few (cigarettes)
          and beer and they won't ask any questions.” . . . It would be good if more people started realizing
          the difference between political propaganda and the truth . . .

So far, so good. Lennon has identified that the government doesn’t represent the people but instead controls them. They do this through a coordinated campaign of distraction—cigarettes and beer in his day, entertainment and social media today. But then he hits an intellectual wall, as most people do when attempting to discern the real forces at work:

          We’re being conned into thinking everything’s okay, but all these bloody politicians seem the same
          to me. All they can talk about is the economy and that. What about people, and freedom? These
          things that matter more don’t seem to worry them.

That’s because the politicians aren’t the real problem. Lennon comes incredibly close to understanding the truth, but then mistakenly winds up blaming it on the politicians themselves. “From what you hear, none of the politicians has any intention of giving ordinary people complete freedom. Just keep them down—that’s all they really want.” And as a result, he’s forced to admit that, “I’m not suggesting I know what the answer is—I just know there’s something wrong with the present way of governing the country.” The reason he doesn’t know the answer is that he’s looking for it in the wrong place.

So, what is the answer to combating the Big Lie? The first step is to understand exactly who the constituents of our politicians really are. They are the wealthy elite, a corporate oligarchy that donates heavily to both Republican and Democratic political campaigns in order that those politicians will secure their interests in Congress. Then, to ensure compliance with their agenda, they hire lobbyists to make direct payments—as indirectly as possible to avoid overtly breaking the law—to these politicians in order to make sure they are working for the interests of the oligarchy. Those payments don’t have to be money, and they don’t have to be paid immediately. One of the most lucrative bribes that politicians frequently accept is the assurance of a job as a lobbyist themselves once they are out of office. This is precisely what happened to the Democrat that New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unseated in 2018, Joe Crowley, a 10-term congressman and the Democratic Caucus Chair. A year after his ignominious defeat he went right to work for the largest lobbying firm in Washington, and in doing so exchanged his paltry $174,000 salary as a politician for a salary that is potentially worth millions. The true enemies of the state are those who want to use the mechanism of the state to make themselves ever richer by denying opportunity and security to those on whose backs their wealth is created. The brutal truth of the way the government of the United States is run is that politicians are employees, and Americans are never going to get anywhere until they stop yelling at the employees and start asking to see the owner.

What makes this task so difficult is the massive—and quite effective—campaign of misdirection funded by the corporate oligarchy. Their primary tool in this regard is the media, right wing and left wing alike. Watch any corporate-owned media outlet when they attempt to report on the workings of the government and you will see that they focus almost exclusively on politics. For the right-wing organizations like Fox, this is all they report. Left-wing sources like MSNBC will sometimes report on the regularity of former Congressional politicians who take jobs as lobbyists, or the travesty of judicial rulings like Citizens United, or the influence of big money on politics. But the infrequency of that kind of reporting only serves to emphasize the importance of the relatively unimportant majority of the reporting that focuses on political struggles within the House and Senate, and between the Congress and the White House. The biggest obstruction in the Congress to democratic reform is not Mitch McConnell . . . it’s the Koch brothers. But watching mainstream media, that’s not readily apparent. McConnell—and Cruz, and Hawley, and Tuberville, and the rest of the fascist Gilligan’s Island castaways who attempted to block the counting of electoral votes even after the armed insurrection of the Capitol by Maga-ites (pronounced “maggots”)—is an employee of the corporate oligarchy and, like the soldiers of the SS, he’s just following orders.

Corporate controlled right wing propaganda has effectively neutralized a vast swath of the electorate who have been brainwashed into believing that government is bad, that taxes are bad, that programs from which they themselves benefit—like Medicare and Social Security—are bad, and that Democrats are evil socialists who want to destroy our capitalist way of life—even though only a small percentage of Republican voters even make enough money to benefit from austerity politics. But voters on the left are not immune to the lure of political struggle as entertainment that misdirects their attention away from the corporate oligarchy to meaningless political battles by combatants who are all essentially on the same side. One of the most idiotic statements made last summer in the midst of the peaceful protests in the wake of the George Floyd murder and others, came from Joe Rogan. When he learned that protesters in Seattle were demonstrating in front of the house—or one of them, at any rate—of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, he mused aloud as to why they would be doing that. What does Amazon have to do with anything? This is the problem for many on the left, a completely different kind of brainwashing. Systemic racism does not exist in a vacuum—hence the adjective “systemic.” That is why protests in Portland have continued even after the Biden inauguration, because politics is not the problem, the corporate oligarchy is.

The most recent example of this truth is the phony moratorium on political donations in the wake of the Capitol insurrection. After January 6th many corporations announced that they were going to temporarily postpone political donations, not just to the supporters of the insurrection like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, but to politicians in both parties. The reason for this nakedly disingenuous move is clear. By halting donations only to those actually responsible for aiding and abetting the insurrection, Senate and Congressional Republicans, it would necessitate that some action be taken to hold those politicians accountable for their reprehensible actions before the resumption of donations could begin again. But by halting donations to both parties, it allows those corporations to make a token expression of disapproval, and then at some later date resume donations to both parties without requiring any consequences be administered to those traitorous Republicans who continue to shamelessly remain in office. This should not be a surprise to anyone. It is those very politicians that have prompted this faux outrage on the part of corporations who are the employees of the corporate oligarchy, and who have enacted the very legislation that facilitated—as well as obstructing legislation that might hinder—their employer’s ability to increase their net wealth by $931 billion during the Covid-19 pandemic at the same time that more than ten million Americans have lost their jobs.

The right loves to parrot phrases from civics class to the effect that politicians work for the people, that they act at the behest of the citizens who voted for them, that they are only carrying out the will of their base of supporters. This is a lie. Federal politicians, both Democrat and Republican, work for their employers, the donor class that funds their campaigns, that lines their pockets, and that rewards their loyal service with golden parachutes once the actual citizens have finally had enough of their lies and shameless greed. That is what finally happened in the Georgia senatorial runoff, and while it is a hopeful sign of things to come it may only wind up being an isolated instance because of the inability of the electorate to stay focused on the real enemy. Again, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are merely employees, working at the behest of their corporate donors, but it only muddies the waters to focus on the fact that they are also wealthy. They, just as other rich politicians like Mitch McConnell and Mitt Romney, all benefit from the tax breaks and deregulations they sponsor, granted, but they are not doing this work for themselves alone. They work for other, much wealthier employers, their real constituents.

By distracting the electorate with politics, however, and stoking the flames of discontent by emphasizing the meaningless goals of “policy and direction and respect,” the corporate oligarchy keeps people from going after those who are truly responsible for the miserable state of this country for the vast majority of its citizens. Jeff Bezos and others like him are the modern day equivalent of slave planation owners and later industrialist robber barons. They are able to pay slave wages because if a person can’t, or won’t, work for the pittance they offer there are hundreds of other desperate people willing to take their place. And if wealthy elites can keep people zoned out on the “cigarettes and beer” of today, sports, entertainment, social media and politics, then those people cease to be a threat to their financial insurrection against the U.S. Those they can’t placate with mindless obsession they can misdirect by pitting them against each other, either literally through the perpetuation of racism, classism, sexism, and identity politics, or through their proxies in the federal government. Even independent left wing commentators like David Dole, Sam Seder and David Pakman continue to get bogged down in political conflict instead of emphasizing all along the way what the actual conflict is. Brilliant books have been written exposing the true nature of the struggle, like Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains and One Nation Under God by Kevin M. Kruse, and then nothing happens. Events like Occupy Wall Street during the Obama administration tend to remain isolated and are then marginalized and eventually forgotten as the oligarchy continue their own march to occupy the U.S. government and legislate the rest of us into an existence that is nearly all “pursuit” and no “happiness.”

The Big Lie is that politics has anything to do with this. In the coming months and years the Biden administration will do battle with the Republicans in the Senate. Little will actually be accomplished, though the vaccination rollout will no doubt continue to be administered by the desperately overburdened states. As a result, the Republicans may win back the Senate in 2022 and continue to aid the oligarchy in obstructing any legislation that could help working class voters in both parties. They may even win back the White House in 2024. And then the whole thing will start all over again as the political pendulum continues to swing back and forth. But none of this will have anything to do with who is pulling the strings, who is actually manipulating the way the issues are framed. Politics is a symptom, not the cause. This country is not divided of its own accord. It has been divided purposely, a rift manufactured by a wealthy elite intent on exploiting that artificial division as a way of keeping the citizens of this country fighting against each other rather than the real criminals in our midst. We have not simply become a country of haves and have nots, devolving into economic divide that we cannot control or understand, helpless victims of the hand of fate. No, we have been played—and are still being played—by those who have only increased their wealth during this most recent economic downturn, because they have actively created the very system that allows them to do so. And until we really begin to fully grasp the true nature of the problem we will continue to be duped by the Big Lie.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

We Don't Have To Win Today

When I was a public school teacher I was given one of the best pieces of advice in my entire career during my first year of teaching. I had already endured a frustrating couple of months in a mostly rural community school that was vastly different from the well-heeled urban high school I had done my student teaching in, when the staff was given a presentation by a local law enforcement officer. What he told us was essentially this. When you have a conflict with a student who is acting inappropriately or violating school policy, do what you can to mitigate the damage in the moment but don’t attempt to completely resolve the situation right then. Tempers may be raised, and confrontation may do more harm than good. While it may be difficult to leave things unresolved for the time being, the officer explained to us, especially if the student thinks they’ve triumphed or gotten away with something, the thing to always keep in mind is that you’ve already won. Simply by virtue of the fact that you are the teacher and the students are the violators, you have already won. The key to any confrontation in public school, he told us, is to always remember that you don’t have to win today. The advice was transformative. As a teacher the policies of the school, and even state law, were on my side. In any confrontation with a student violating those policies or laws, therefore, I had already won, and I could rest easy as I filled out a discipline referral or reported the student to the administration later because . . . I didn’t have to win today.

Something similar is going on in Washington D.C. at the moment, in the wake of the deadly and unprecedented armed insurrection of the Capitol Building on Wednesday. In the discussion about the relative effectiveness of proceeding with another impeachment of the president, many people are unaware of the full scope of this act and what it means for the country in the long term. While the justification for the immediate move to impeach the president a second time is obviously with an eye to removing a dangerously unhinged man from office, it’s also important to remember that we don’t have to win today. While removing the president from office as soon as possible is an absolute necessity, there is also the time consideration to deal with. He will be gone by law in less than two weeks, and so it may be difficult to achieve the desired results before then. As such, many people are rightly uncertain about the efficacy of proceeding with the impeachment if it may only result in removing him from office a few days early, or perhaps not at all before he is required to leave on January 20th. President Elect Biden appears to be thinking the same way. But there are other reasons to proceed immediately with articles of impeachment, no matter how long it takes, and even if the entire process cannot be completed before inauguration day.

The first important reason is that the impeachment will also be a referendum on Republican complicity in the most corrupt and undemocratic administration in the history of the United States. The vote in the House of Representatives to approve the articles of impeachment will force House Republicans to either vote for democracy and the American people, or to continue to side with a fascist tyrant who has wantonly incited an insurrection against his own country. The vote in the Senate to convict or acquit the president will do the same thing for Senate Republicans. This is a vote that should define their entire careers and provide ample evidence of their lack of fitness to hold public office in the future if they vote against democracy and against the very people they have been entrusted with representing. And while it's doubtful Mitch McConnell would ever bring it to the floor of the Senate, he won't be in control much longer either. The second reason for proceeding immediately with impeachment is actually not about removing the president from office, as important as that is. What many people in the media and throughout the country don’t seem to realize is that the other penalty for impeachment is to disqualify the president from ever holding public office again. This is the real and lasting benefit of impeaching him again because it will forever silence the specter of further attempts by him to overthrow democracy in America. What’s also important to understand is that the proceedings do not require that he still be in office. Even if he were to resign, the impeachment can continue and he can be prevented from ever holding office again. We have already won; the president has been voted out of office. But there also MUST be consequences for his treasonous, anti-democratic actions. The thing to keep in mind, however, is that we don’t have to win today.

This is also true when it comes to the president and his crime family operations. There has been so much talk in the media about the Department of Justice memo that suggests a sitting president should not be investigated or indicted for wrongdoing. And at the same time, there has been ongoing speculation about the possibility that the president will attempt to pardon himself. These two things taken together, and especially the way that they generally have been reported in the media, have been understandably frustrating to the majority of the electorate who sees this as a technicality that may allow a thoroughly corrupt president to avoid the punishment he has only brought upon himself and so richly deserves. But there are two aspects of this narrative that need to be articulated better—and hopefully emphasized much more by the media in the coming days. First, presidential pardons are only valid for federal crimes. Even were a presidential self-pardon to survive legal challenges, the president is still in violation of numerous state crimes. And for those, a presidential pardon would do him absolutely no good. The president’s most recent violation of election laws in Georgia and his ongoing illegal financial activities in New York are just the most high profile of his state crimes. It’s almost certain that many more charges will be filed in other states the moment he leaves office.

But while the president’s inability to avoid state prosecution has been reported by the media, what isn’t generally talked about is the complete context surrounding self-pardon. What reporters and commentators typically focus on is that there is nothing specifically in the Constitution to prohibit a president from pardoning him or herself, which means this president will absolutely attempt it. That said, however, what is almost never mentioned in these discussions is that very memo from the Department of Justice which states that the president should not be indicted while in office. Because further along in the memo it states quite unequivocally that while the DOJ should leave the president unmolested while in office, the trade off for doing so is that he is not allowed to pardon himself. So, while it is an absolute certainty that the president will pardon his crime family and himself before he leaves office, those pardons will not protect his family or himself from prosecution at the state level, and further, the president himself will certainly not be able to avoid eventual federal prosecution because his self-pardon will never be upheld legally in light of the DOJ memo.

What all of this means is that the forty-fifth President of the United States will almost certainly be convicted of numerous crimes at the state and federal level. It won’t happen immediately, but then it doesn’t have to. Time is on our side. This also explains the itinerary that the president had planed months ago that included a trip on Air Force Two to Scotland on January 19th. That’s right, the president had planned on heading to his resort in Scotland on the day before the inauguration, conveniently placing him on foreign soil when his term of office expired. Fortunately, Scottish authorities have denied his request to enter their country. While they cited Covid-19 restrictions as the reason, it also seems fairly clear that they have no intention of welcoming a fugitive from justice. But while the president has been blocked from going to Scotland, there are many other foreign countries that may be more amenable to harboring a wanted criminal. The president has already made it clear he will not be present at Joe Biden’s inauguration, but he hasn’t said where he will be on that day. With any luck he will flee the country and thereby tacitly admit his guilt once and for all to his followers. And with even more luck he will be extradited back to the U.S. to be held accountable for his numerous criminal acts against the United States and its citizens and spend his final days in prison. To accomplish this, the impeachment is a necessary first step. We just need to be patient.

Like Al Capone, or O.J. Simpson—who eventually did go to prison, just not for their actual crimes—it may not be as satisfying as seeing the Capitol Police walk into the Oval Office and haul the president out in handcuffs while the Secret Service looks at the warrant for his arrest and shrugs, but I believe that American justice will finally win out in the end. The weak willed vice president is never going to agree to invoke the 25 Amendment. Nor is the president’s amoral cabinet—who choose to avoid the West Wing these days rather than confront the catastrophe that they helped create—going to do anything to hasten his removal. Instead it is the people, through their chosen representatives in the United States Congress, who need to move forward and impeach the president with all deliberate speed. While he will certainly be impeached by the house, the impeachent may not make it to the Senate until well after Joe Biden tkes office, in order to guarantee his conviction and disqualify him from public office. And that's okay. While the president is a criminal who must be removed from office as soon as possible, that soon as possible may only turn out to be on January 20th. Thus it’s important to keep in mind that we’ve already won; it's just the punishment that will come later. He will, in fact, be gone in a few days, and will most likely end up in jail or as a fugitive, which means we’ve already won. We just need to remember that we don’t need to win today.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Grifter In Chief

Shortly after the election of Joe Biden to the highest office in the land, the lame-duck president set in motion the last great con of his administration: stealing as much money as he can from his own supporters before being forced to leave office. The idea was to claim that the election had been stolen from him, then inundate the courts with a barrage of baseless lawsuits designed to subvert the will of the people, and make the people pay for it. But almost as soon as the website went up and the emails were sent out demanding that his supporters foot the bill for these legal challenges, astute reporters read the fine print and saw that the money was actually going to two places, the president himself—not the legal fund—and the Republican National Committee. This was reported on by all of the major media outlets in the second week of November, with articles like this one on MSNBC: “For Trump, One Last Fundraising Scam Before Leaving Office.” Likewise, in the Washington Post an editorial headline read, “Trump’s Election Challenge Looks Like a Scam to Line His Pockets.” Politico as well, in an article by Maggie Severns entitled “Where Trump’s Recount Fundraising Dollars are Really Going,” made it clear exactly what the true nature of this scam actually is:

          Much of the money raised by . . . the Trump campaign won’t go towards challenging election results,
          however, but to help set the stage for the president’s next act. The Trump campaign has a recount
          fund, but the money won’t go to it unless someone gives more than $8,333. Rather, 60 percent of a
          donation up to that amount for Trump’s “Official Election Defense Fund” is routed to a new PAC started
          this week by the president that can pay for a wide range of activities . . . The remaining 40 percent
          goes to the Republican National Committee.

All of the mainstream newspapers and on-air personalities covered this story at the time, and it should have been the foundation for all of the reporting that has happened in the last month since. Instead, the media has moved on to a different narrative. The hosts of news shows now discuss the intricacies of the legal challenges—even though all of those legal suits have been entirely baseless and without a shred of evidence—and the wrangling between the president and the individual state legislatures, election offices, and governors, all illegal activities, it should be pointed out, but rarely is. There is also much pointless hand wringing about what this means for the country, when that is not the point of these activities at all. In speaking about the plethora of court cases being summarily dismissed or withdrawn, former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, on MSNBC, put the situation this way: “Trump and his allies aren’t filing these cases because they believe he won the election. They’re not trying to reverse the results in any meaningful way.” True, very true. But it’s then that Vance goes off the rails. “What they’re seeking to do is to undermine the integrity of our elections, to cast doubt in the minds of so many American people that the future of our elections is really in doubt.”

No, no, no, no, no!

That is absolutely NOT what is going on right now. The president does not have a plan and he does not have a grand strategy, for the simple fact that he does not have a brain in his head. He’s a functionally illiterate narcissist who can’t even get out of his own way long enough to succeed at his own criminal undertakings. Sure, he can say the words on a teleprompter, but don’t ask him what they actually mean because he doesn’t know. The only way he can make sense of the President’s Daily Brief is if it’s in comic book form—with the words redacted so they don’t confuse him. Attempting to ascribe some kind of Machiavellian scheme to his actions is tantamount to claiming Jaws had a personal vendetta against the Brody family. A shark is fish with a tiny brain that has no way of distinguishing between the kicking feet of individual humans in the water, much less the humans themselves. And the president’s brain is nowhere near that complex. The president has already scammed over 200 million dollars from his supporters through the election defense fund, and so there’s no way he’s going to give up that pipeline of free cash by conceding the election, ever. He is a common criminal—very common indeed—and the only thing that animates his every activity is how he can enrich himself. Period. There is no other motive. The president said as much in his recent rally in Georgia, which was ostensibly for getting out the vote in the state runoff for two crucial Senate seats, but as with everything else was really only about him: “You know, I don’t do these things for other people . . . I don’t like doing it for other people.”

Of course not. The president has absolutely no concern for anyone but himself. His sociopathic response to the Covid-19 pandemic is only the most obvious case in point. Not only did he ignore warnings about the deadly epidemic early this year, but purposely downplayed it with the public. Then, when he was proven wrong about the true virulence of the virus he doubled down and said people should not wear masks, and so as part of the 296,000 deaths so far—and still climbing—that he is directly responsible for, are the over seven hundred deaths of the supporters at his mask-less rallies in which he should rightly be charged with manslaughter. It would not in any way be out of line or unrealistic to suggest that the reason the president refused more doses of the vaccine from Pfizer last summer is because they weren’t willing to give him a big enough kickback. So he thought he’d try his luck with other pharmaceutical companies also working on a vaccine. None of what the president has done in the last four years—NONE of it, including what has transpired in the last month—is out of character for a man who has been such an abject failure in business that the only way he can actually make any money is to steal it from other people.

The two commentators who consistently seem to focus on the president’s criminal activities with any regularity are the independent Keith Olbermann and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who said the other day that despite all of the attempts to overturn the election results that people shouldn’t loose site of the “crimey things” the president is doing. What Maddow—and the rest of the news media, it seems—cannot seem to stay focused on is that IT'S ALL CRIMEY. That’s right. The only thing the president knows how to do is lie, cheat, swindle and steal, all day, every day. This latest escapade is nothing but the next chapter in the long con he is playing on the American people, the Republican Party, and his anti-intellectual followers. This president is the most repugnant human being ever to hold office in the U.S. government, and that’s saying something for a political party that also boasts the likes of Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio among its membership. But the mainstream media cannot seem to keep their focus on what really matters in these remaining few weeks, that the president is a criminal, and therefore everything he does is simply a part of his criminal operation.

No doubt the president will announce his intention to run for re-election at some inopportune moment, perhaps on January 20th, and perhaps timing the announcement to occur at the very moment when Joe Biden is being sworn in as a genuine president. When it happens, however, is less certain than the fact that it definitely will happen. Why? Again, for only one reason. This will allow him to continue to raise money from his clueless base after he is gone from the White House, from people who can ill afford to be sending their hard earned money to a grifter. His re-election organization will then allow him to keep on stealing a steady stream of cash from the electorate for his personal use for years. That’s right, every time he takes a trip somewhere his plane fare will be paid out of campaign funds. Every time he stays at a hotel it will be paid for with campaign dollars. He will argue that everything he does for the next four years and beyond is part of one endless presidential run and therefore he will be able to live off of the money he steals from the working class people he has duped into believe he cares for, despite the fact that he has no more concern for them than he does for the women he has sexually abused, the undocumented immigrant children he has caged, the non-violent protestors he has violently attacked, or the hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens that he has killed through his criminal negligence.

The current president of the United States is a sociopathic criminal and a con man, and the only hope of restoring the confidence of the people in the office of the president is if individual states’ attorney’s general and city district attorneys open numerous investigations next year into all of the illegal activities of the president’s crime family operations, then take the president and his family to court, and eventually put them all behind bars where they belong. Keith Olbermann, bless his heart, seems to be the only political commentator with his eyes on the prize, continually pointing out the president’s many crimes, as well as the crimes of his family and associates, and the specific laws they have broken. And in doing so he unambiguously advocates for the vigorous prosecution of these un-convicted felons. But for them to actually be convicted, the rest of the news media need to stay focused on what the president really is, and what his only goal is: a continued and concentrated effort to subvert the laws of this country for his own benefit. Nothing President Joe Biden does in the next four years will be able to bring this country together if a known criminal is able to roam free and continue his blatant illegal behavior without any consequences. The only thing that will wake up his brainwashed followers to the fact that he is not above the law is if he is finally put in jail. And for that to happen the media needs to fulfill its duty to the American public, not just by calling out the president for his many lies, but by pointing out the specific treasonous criminal activity he is engaged in every time they mention his name.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Next Jimmy Carter?

Like millions of other people who voted for the Democratic ticket in the general election in November, Joe Biden was decidedly not my guy. As a Democratic Socialist I believe that the kind of governmental reform that Bernie Sanders has been advocating for the past decade is not only desirable, but necessary for the long term viability of our democracy. I voted for Elizabeth Warren in the primary, but would have been quite happy to cast my vote in the general election for Sanders. And early in the primary campaign that appeared to be the consensus of the rest of the Democratic voters as Sanders took an early and commanding lead, while Biden didn’t appear to have a chance of becoming the nominee. After Super Tuesday, however, it was all over but the shouting. Covid-19 had been allowed to sweep through the country by the inept and criminally negligent occupant of the White House, and somehow Joe Biden had captured the momentum and the Democratic nomination, and went on to deliver a crushing loss to the man-child who had used the highest office in the land as the platform for his own criminal enterprise. Though Biden was definitely not my guy, like so many other millions of people in this country, I was ecstatic that the country would no longer have to suffer four more years under the worst president in the history of the United States.

But even with two weeks until the Electoral College ends the massive disinformation campaign being waged by the petulant child in the White House and his propaganda arms in the media—and another month beyond that before the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as president and vice-president of the United States, I’m actually concerned that this might have been the worst thing that could have happened. Not worse that four more years of fascist and anti-intellectual rule, don’t get me wrong; nothing could have been worse than that. But historical precedent has me worried. I was in elementary school when Watergate engulfed the nation and was only vaguely aware of the specific details about it at the time. And it was only a few weeks before I was to start junior high when my dad made me come into the family room to watch President Nixon resign. Gerald Ford then made things worse by pardoning the disgraced president, denying the country the ability to hold Nixon accountable for his comparatively minor crimes when viewed from our perspective today. As a result, the voters not only rid themselves of Republicans in the White House, but voted in a complete Washington outsider, Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, to be the new president in 1976.

But Carter was ill prepared for the job, in both experience and personality. Endlessly empathetic and a devoutly religious man, he also micro-managed his subordinates and seemed far more interested in foreign affairs than solving the multiple crises at home, which included massive inflation, rising oil prices, and a military-industrial complex looking for a new war and itching to use the nuclear weapons that had been denied to them during Vietnam. Ironically, for a guy who negotiated a truce between Israel and Egypt, and eventually won the Nobel Peace Prize, the worst foreign policy disaster ever to befall a presidency came on his watch during the Iran hostage crisis. The real nadir of his presidency, however, came during the “malaise speech” in which, like a disappointed father looking over a bad report card, Carter took to the airwaves and essentially told the citizens of the United States that it was all their fault because they had such a bad attitude. In the end, voters were so sick of Carter that they inadvertently ushered in twelve years of militarized, anti-regulatory, predatory capitalism under Regan and Bush. And it was only another outsider—way outside this time—in the form of billionaire Ross Perot, who siphoned off enough of Bush’s votes in 1992 to throw the election to Bill Clinton and save the country from even further middle-class devastation.

The parallels with today are too similar to ignore. The country didn’t vote for Carter because he was Carter, but because he wasn’t Nixon and Ford. Likewise, a large percentage of Biden voters this year did so not out of a desire to see him in the White House, but because they wanted the dumbest man to ever hold the office out of there. Similarly, Biden, like Carter, is an empathetic and devoutly religious family man. And like his Democratic predecessor, he seems just as ill equipped for the task at hand, this time to take on a rogue Republican Party bent on destroying democracy as we know it. The most troubling thing about Biden is his political history. This was something recounted in detail back in a March 2019 cover article in Harper’s called “No Joe! Biden’s Disastrous Legislative Legacy.” The article, written by Andrew Cockburn, is a cautionary tale published just ahead of Biden’s announcement of his presidential run, and should be read by every American to acquaint them with the new president’s political predilections. In it, Cockburn begins with Biden’s apparent willingness to compromise with the right on just about anything.

          “I believe that we have to end the divisive partisan politics that is ripping this country apart,” he
          declared in the Rose Garden in 2015, renouncing a much-anticipated White House run. “It’s mean-
          spirited. It’s petty. And it’s gone on for much too long. I don’t believe, like some do, that it’s naïve
          to talk to Republicans. I don’t think we should look on Republicans as our enemies.”

This does not bode well for the next four years because Biden believes that he’s a deal maker, someone who can work across the aisle and get things done. He may, but in the end they won’t wind up being the things this country really needs. For one thing, the landscape has changed, and dramatically so. Biden came of age during a time when Democratic stalwarts like Edward Kennedy and Tip O’Neill actually could get things done—to a certain degree—by compromising with the Republicans. But politics in the twenty-first century is so completely different that it no longer bears any resemblance to the political world that Biden inhabited before being tabbed as Obama’s VP. The public heard something similar in this campaign, when Biden proclaimed that he will govern for all Americans, not just Democrats. But as Cockburn stated, “By tapping into these popular tropes—‘The system is broken,’ ‘Why can’t Congress just get along?’—the practitioners of bipartisanship conveniently gloss over the more evident reality: that the system is under sustained assault by an ideology bent on destroying the remnants of the New Deal to the benefit of a greed-driven oligarchy.”

What makes this outdated attitude even worse in Biden’s case—or if looked at another way, actually explains it—is that as a senator from Delaware, he was in the pockets of big money from the very beginning.

          There are some causes that [Delawareans], or at least the dominant power brokers in the state,
          hold especially dear. Foremost among them is Delaware’s status as a freewheeling tax haven.
          State laws have made Delaware the domicile of choice for corporations, especially banks, and
          it competes for business with more notorious entrepôts such as the Cayman Islands. Over half
          of all US public companies are legally headquartered there . . . [as such] Biden was never going
          to stray too far from the industry’s priorities.

This is a situation that led Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren to state of her Democratic presidential rival: “His energetic work on behalf of the credit card companies has earned him the affection of the banking industry and protected him from any well-funded challengers for his Senate seat.” Given all of this, it’s also quite possible that his cozy relationship with the banking industry explains his inexplicable overtaking of Bernie Sanders in the primaries. Both Sanders and Warren have been outspoken advocates for banking and finance reform, and because of that earned the wrath of the moneyed interests and inspired completely fictional hyperbole on the right to the effect that either one of them as president would mean the complete destruction of the American economy.

Biden’s hand-in-glove relationship with Wall Street, however, is nothing new. John F. Kennedy was the last Democratic president—with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter—who wasn’t beholden to big business and the banking industry. And just look what happened to him. Lyndon Johnson was the absolute worst, rubber-stamping a war in Southeast Asia that killed tens of thousands of Americans, with the only result that it fattened the wallets of defense industry owners and executives. In fact, it was the utter failure of the eight year Obama administration to make any substantial reform of the financial industry during the Great Bush Recession, anything that might stem the tide of the shrinking of the middle class and the wage slavery that is the daily reality for most of the citizens of this country, that resulted in the devastating election of 2016. Slick Willy was even worse, which not only tainted Hillary by association, but in point of fact. She was unable to escape her own Wall Street ties, dubious ethics, and the devastating policies of her husband, especially in regard to black incarceration—something that Biden had his hands in as well. According to Cockburn’s article,

          By the 1980s, Biden had begun to see political gold in the harsh antidrug legislation that had been
          pioneered by drug warriors such as Nelson Rockefeller and Richard Nixon, and would ultimately
          lead to the age of mass incarceration for black Americans. One of his Senate staffers at the time
          recalls him remarking, “Whenever people hear the words ‘drugs’ and ‘crime,’ I want them to think
          ‘Joe Biden’” . . . Despite pleas from the NAACP and the ACLU, the 1990s brought no relief from
          Biden’s crime crusade. He vied with the first Bush Administration to introduce ever more draconian
          laws, including one proposing to expand the number of offenses for which the death penalty would
          be permitted to fifty-one. Bill Clinton quickly became a reliable ally upon his 1992 election, and Biden
          encouraged him to “maintain crime as a Democratic initiative” with suitably tough legislation. The
          ensuing 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, passed with enthusiastic administra-
          tion pressure, would consign millions of black Americans to a life behind bars.

One hopes that Biden has seen the error of his ways, and his selection of Kamala Harris as vice president may be the evidence for a genuine reversal of policy in the coming years. But Harris has no executive powers, and it remains to be seen how seriously Biden takes on nation wide systemic racism in law enforcement.

There’s no doubt that Biden will have his hands full with his response to the coronavirus, something his immediate predecessor ignored and which resulted in over a quarter of a million U.S. deaths—a total that is still rising. The attendant economic collapse of small businesses and growing numbers out of work employees is only slightly less urgent. Foreign affairs as well have been an unmitigated disaster under the current administration, and though Cockburn’s article demonstrates that Biden’s reputation in this area is also greatly exaggerated—“Biden’s claims of experience on the world stage cannot be denied. True, the experience has been routinely disastrous for those on the receiving end, but on the other hand, that is a common fate for those subjected, under any administration, to the operations of our foreign policy apparatus”—it will command much of the commander-in-chief’s time as well. But if Biden is going to avoid the ignominious fate of Jimmy Carter he’ll need to focus on three areas of domestic policy that compelled voters of all stripes to the polls to get rid of the current president: healthcare reform, economic reform, and law enforcement reform—including a wealth tax to pay for it all. Currently, however, the president elect has no plans to deal with healthcare at all, other than by attempting to expand the Affordable Healthcare Act, a half-hearted compromise in the first place and something Republicans have been trying to kill almost from the moment it was passed.

It’s criminal that this country is the only advanced nation in the world that doesn’t have universal healthcare. But again, the reason for that comes down to political support for the moneyed interests that control politics in the first place. To allow something as critical as the health of a nation to be held hostage by the profit motive is unconscionable. Privatization of health insurance in this country has been a travesty, especially since these companies stand to make even more money beyond their overpriced premiums by denying benefits to their customers. Meanwhile we have a system already in place, Medicare, that could be extended to all citizens and solve the problem almost at once, and yet the very people who benefit themselves from free government healthcare, Congressional Republicans, are the same people most actively trying to do away with that system for the rest of us. Unlike any president in the last fifty years Biden has a golden opportunity, in the midst of a worldwide medical crisis, to effect real healthcare reform, and yet it’s doubtful Biden will come anywhere close to solving the problem. That’s what happens when politicians seek only compromise rather than reform. And like appeasement with the Nazis in Munich, Biden may face the same consequences as Neville Chamberlin by doing likewise with Republicans.

As Andrew Cockburn’s Harper’s piece points out in detail, Biden looks to do no better with financial reform. Rather than sweeping regulatory limitations placed on big business and financial institutions—including paying their fair share of taxes—his only economic plan seems to be his “Build Back Better” program of expanding the clean energy industry. One can already see the growth of lending and subcontracting that will continue to support and grow wealth for the top end of society, while completely ignoring necessary reforms like a 15 dollar an hour minimum wage, strengthening manufacturing unions, addressing income inequality, closing loopholes for overseas production by U.S. businesses, and putting a stop to a host of other practices that continue to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Biden’s obligation to big money will likely prevent any meaningful change for the working class he panders to, a relationship that he carefully cultivated during the campaign. Finally, racial tensions, exemplified by the continuing spate of preemptive murders of blacks at the hands of white police officers must be dealt with in some kind of substantive way once and for all. Defunding the police—an unfortunate term, if an extremely accurate one—has real potential. By farming out many inappropriate police responsibilities to other agencies, especially those dealing with domestic abuse, homelessness, and drug abuse, those funds typically allocated to police departments could then be diverted to fund groups better equipped to deal with those issues than uniformed men carrying guns.

What’s so frustrating about Democratic centrist ideology is that it doesn’t work. Not only hasn’t it worked for the past fifty years, it has failed miserably. The tremendous irony is that, were Democrats able to embolden themselves to run roughshod over the corporate tools that the Republican Party has become, they would finally be able to institute much needed reforms that would help everyone, not just those with money. And once that happened all Americans, especially the working class, would be able to see the benefit to themselves and others, and finally be able to understand the disinformation that is being fed to them by the right for the lie that it is. Instead, centrist Democrats have been cowed by the very propaganda coming from the right that insists “socialism” is a dirty word, and that they can’t get elected by pursuing a progressive agenda. Well, the most recent election has put an end to that particular myth. All of the Democratic senators and congressmen and women who stayed in the center lost their races, while those on the left with progressive ideology won or held their seats. The new reality in politics is that the wealthy oligarchy fears the power of the majority as a threat to their tyranny in a way they never have before. That’s probably the reason that Joe Biden won the Democratic nomination in the first place, and from the looks of things he is busily assembling a third, do-nothing Obama administration, with cabinet picks like Neera Tanden promising to make things even worse.

Again, however, I do want to emphasize that the colossal difference between the last four years and the return to normalcy that Joe Biden’s election represents will possibly go down as one of the most important turning points in United States history. And the people were right to celebrate in the streets at the removal of the most corrupt, hate-filled, democratically corrosive administration in our history. I’m sure I’ll cry watching the inauguration, just as I did when I watched Obama’s first acceptance speech in 2008. But it’s the very idea of a return to normal that worries me, because there is a new normal today. And in this new, severely altered reality, “normal” is not going to succeed. This is something that Republicans figured out back in 2014 when they gained control of the Senate. They began then, and have never stopped, their all out assault on democracy through complete Congressional obstructionism, a far right Supreme Court judiciary, and the use of full-time propaganda arms in the form of right-wing news networks. And if working class voters elect another fascist that is even marginally more intelligent than the imbecile in the Oval Office now, the country is going to be in real trouble. Meanwhile, Democratic politicians still wring their hands and profess a desire to “reach across the aisle.” It’s a recipe for disaster if the left doesn’t push back against the anti-democratic policies of the right with equal force, because we may not get this chance again.

If Joe Biden continues with Democratic business as usual, or worse yet, makes poor decisions like choosing to ignore the current president’s crimes for the sake of healing and deny the country justice yet again, he runs the very real risk of handing the reins of government over to the Republicans for a long time to come—the very thing that happened in 1980 when the following 12 years of uninterrupted Republican control nearly destroyed the middle class. With any luck Biden will decline to run in 2024. He’s already the oldest president ever elected; four years from now he’ll be 82. That may be fine for Supreme Court justices, but an old man is still an old man, however sharp mentally, and if he’s saddled with a Republican controlled Senate, accomplishes nothing and still runs again, it seems impossible that he could win a second term. Kamala Harris is the one bright spot on the horizon. A Democrat with a progressive ideology and agenda, she could be the way forward for the party, but only if Biden does the right thing and steps aside when the time comes. Morning in America has mercifully come and gone, but now that it’s Midnight in America we still have a long way to go until the true dawn. Control of the Senate may help, but only if Joe Biden has the fortitude to do what is absolutely necessary for this country to survive. We need Joltin’ Joe rather than Grandpa Joe, and so let’s all hope that he steps up to the plate and delivers. If not, in a cruel twist of irony, the last four years may turn out to be the good old days.

Friday, October 2, 2020

An Open Letter to a Traitor

To the Current Occupant of the White House:

I have put up with this situation long enough and I just can’t do it anymore. I have tried to endure the last four years as best I can, but can hold my tongue no longer. And now I am compelled to tell you—for myself and on behalf of the people of the United States—that you’ve made me hate you. The phrase is not one I feel comfortable using, and yet nothing else even comes close to expressing my feelings about the job you have done over the last four years. I am a humanist, and I don’t like the word “hate.” I believe in the sanctity of human life, and that for life itself to be worth living human beings have an obligation to each other to do what we can to make everyone’s life as meaningful and happy as it can be. But you, sir, have betrayed the people of this country every single day that you have occupied the highest office in the land. You have disrespected me and my fellow citizens, talked down to we the people, and you have demonstrated by your very words and actions that you have nothing but contempt for all of the people you are supposed to be working for—including those people who voted for you. You betray our country every day by your mere presence in Washington. And because of that, you’ve made me hate you.

You are supposed to be the President of the United States, sworn to uphold the Constitution, and yet you have colluded with foreign enemies, asked them to illegally interfere in our election process, and turned a blind eye when they put bounties on our servicemen and women. And at the same time you run and hide in your secret bunker at the first sign of a threat. You don’t deserve the title of Commander in Chief. Instead you are a traitor to this country and all the people who live here. You are a joke to the international community. The leaders of other nations laugh at you behind your back. You are drawn to dictators in the rest of the world because, like them, you are unable to function in a democracy. You have no idea how to lead. You can only bully. You have committed treasonous acts that have put men and women’s lives at risk overseas, especially in our military, and you are putting our democracy at risk as well. But then you don’t care for democracy, and have made it clear to the American people that you would prefer to be a dictator. You have made a mockery of the office you hold and of the country you were sworn to protect and defend. You lied on your first day when you took the oath of office, and you have lied every day since. That is why you’ve made me hate you.

You lie, cheat and steal during your every waking moment, which was bad enough when you were a private citizen, but in the last four years you have carried on as if nothing has changed, as if you have absolutely no obligation to the people you are supposed to serve. Instead you have used your office as your own private base of criminal operations, hiring crooks like yourself to break our laws and deceive the people of the United States. You have purposely attempted to dismantle their liberties and remove the constitutional rights they have fought and died for over the last hundred years. You allow your criminal underlings to ignore the laws of this county, as you have done yourself countless times, and then pardon them so that they—and you—can get away with it. You care nothing for anyone but yourself. You have no humility, no compassion, no empathy. In point of fact, you are a sociopath. You are completely devoid of human emotion and concern for anyone else, including the members of your own family, and you blame the citizens for your own shortcomings, accusing them of wrongdoing when it is your own ineptitude that is responsible for all of the problems we now face in this once great nation. You belong in prison. I don’t want a criminal for a president, and that is why you’ve given me no other choice but to hate you.

You are lazy and refuse to do your job. Anyone else who had that kind of track record would be let go and find it difficult to get any kind of job in the future. You barely go to work at all, and when you do it is only to plan your next criminal action. The only effort you expend is to find ways to cheat the American people in order to line your pockets and those of the corporate interests that support you. You cheat on your taxes, you borrow money you can’t pay back—and then don’t pay it back. You pretend to collect money for charity and then spend it on yourself. You are an embezzler. You have failed at everything you have ever laid your hands on and now you continue to fail, except this is not a casino or a business deal that is falling through but the United States of America, the country I live in with the rest of my fellow citizens. As a young man you were given money that you didn’t have to earn, and then promptly proceeded to lose all of it. You are a failure as a businessman, you are a failure as a husband, you are a failure as a parent, you are a failure as a human being. It should come as no surprise to anyone, then, that you are the biggest failure as president that this country has ever seen. It’s bad enough that you’ve failed yourself, but now you’ve failed all of us and feel absolutely no remorse for it. That is why you’ve made me hate you.

You brag about how smart you are, but you have no plans, no ideas, not a single thought about how to make our country better. And because of that you have no idea how to talk to others, no conception of how to discuss differing points of view. Because you have no point of view. All you know how to do is attack people personally, like a child, with insulting nicknames like, say, #DumbDonald. You are, in reality, the stupidest person to ever hold the office of president. You are probably the stupidest person to ever hold any public office. To call you an anti-intellectual would be a misuse of the term, because that implies that you can formulate actual thoughts in your mind and then reject the intellect of others. But actually, a new definition of the word will have to be coined to apply to you, one that means a complete and utter lack of any kind of intellect at all. And even worse, you then take your stupidity and use it to foment hatred and dissention in this country, to disenfranchise voters and incite violence between Americans against each other, gutting Constitutional protections and their political representation. You have pitted the people of this country against each other and sown hatred wherever you go. You wear orange paint on your face when it would be much more appropriate for you to wear a pointy white hood. In a country that has had presidents who were actual slaveholders, it is unconscionable that you are the most racist president in the history of our nation. It seems you have purposely set out to destroy America, and that’s why you’ve made me hate you.

Finally, you have killed more Americans through inaction than have been killed in combat in all of the combined military conflicts since World War Two. You killed them, and that makes you the greatest mass murderer in the country’s history. U.S. citizens, whom you were sworn to protect and defend, you’ve let them die because you are incapable of leadership. You have no experience with the concept and don’t even know what it looks like, and so instead you let our citizens perish without lifting a finger. The only thing you care about is avoiding responsibility, and so you take none, leaving the people of the country to fend for themselves. You act as if you want them to die. And as if that weren’t enough, you also seem perfectly happy to let hundreds of thousands of people lose their jobs, lose their homes, lose the dignity of being a human that all of us should possess by right. But then you never cared for anyone’s rights. You only care about yourself. And now you want to deprive the people, in the middle of a pandemic, of the health insurance that will keep them alive. I don’t believe that people are evil, but your actions and inaction are a different story. Your abject failure to do anything to help your fellow citizens during this crisis is evil. There is, quite literally, no other way to describe it. And that is why you have forced me to hate you.

But as bad as all of that is, what’s even worse—as if such a thing were imaginable—is that you are nothing but a tool. You are the symptom of a disease, a figurehead for everything that has gone wrong in this country since the end of the Second World War. The real culprit behind your abject failure, the party truly responsible for everything that has happened in the last four years, from the subversion of American elections, to the murder of blacks in the streets by police, to killing nearly a quarter of a million people through your inaction to Covid 19, are Senate and Congressional Republicans who support you despite the fact that you have wantonly broken federal laws and misused the office to benefit yourself while completely ignoring the needs of the country you are purportedly here to serve. Senate Republicans in particular, had the opportunity to rid this country of the scourge that sits in our Oval Office. It was served up to them on a silver platter. All they had to do was the right thing, the moral thing, the only thing that would have allowed them to uphold their sworn oath to the Constitution. And yet they utterly failed, just like you, their so-called leader. Had Senate Republicans acted as duty demanded when you were impeached, had they responded appropriately to the will of the people when called upon by the country to remove both you and your complicit vice-president from office, someone else would be president now and the nation would not be in the miserable state it’s in, suffering not only from a global pandemic but from the economic chaos that followed in its wake.

But Republicans have stopped pretending to care about the people who elect them, block any beneficial legislation that will help ordinary people, and refuse to admit they are wrong when they are caught in their lies. They must keep up the façade of infallibility even at the expense of hundreds of thousands of American lives. At the same time you, their so-called leader are truly the emperor with no clothes. You are a nakedly racist, misogynist, homophobic narcissist who is incapable of opening your mouth without lying. You are a delusional adolescent bully who maintains his position through the criminal actions of his miscreant supporters in Congress who have allowed you to remain in office despite numerous treasonous actions against our country and the Constitution you were sworn to defend. I don’t want to hate you. I don’t want to feel hatred toward anyone. And yet you’ve made that impossible. You’ve forced my hand. But like so many other millions of Americans who also don’t want to feel animosity toward another fellow citizen, you’ve given us no other option. Despite all the odds, despite common sense, despite every method of prognostication, you have finally managed to bring the majority of this country together . . . against you. You have finally made us hate you.

E.B. Neslowe

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Critical Theory . . . It’s Complicated

Critical theory is being thrown under the bus . . . yet again, and so it has propelled me out from under my quarantine rock to defend it. Like most people, I would imagine, the pandemic and the necessity of self-isolation has led me to spend more time online than I would normally like. And recent events in the wake of even more murders of black men by police officers as well as the utter incompetence, inaction, and treasonous behavior of the stupidest man to ever hold the office of President, have given me plenty of content to consume. The specific content that has spurred me to action this time is a recent episode of the Joe Rogan Experience in which Rogan’s guest was author James Lindsay. Lindsay was on the program to promote his forthcoming book, Cynical Theories, which he co-authored with Helen Pluckrose and is due out in August. My typical pattern is to watch one or two of the clips from the show, and if I like the guest and the conversation I’ll go ahead and watch the whole podcast. The clip in question was intriguing, as in it Lindsay began by talking about how Wokeness will eventually destroy itself from within, ironically, when people “wake up” to the fact of what is really going on. That was good enough for me, and so I cued up Rogan’s show #1501 and began to watch

Lindsay, who I had never heard of before this, is someone for whom I would seem to have a natural affinity, a religious and cultural critic who also has a scientific background. As the show began, he and Rogan were discussing the negative aspects of keeping animals in zoos, and from there went on to point out the way some people today have the audacity to criticize things that others have done in their childhood as if it still represents them now, and then on to the Woke Movement in particular. Lindsay rightly says at this point, “The theory that is fueling this . . . is this idea that comes from French philosophy that words and ideas and thoughts and patterns have traces that don’t ever really go away. And so if something used to be associated with something bad and we still use the word, or even if you pretend that it was the case and you still use the word, then it carries this negative trace.” Rogan asks the obvious question at this point, if people are really aware of the ideological underpinnings of their outrage. For the average person, Lindsay says, it’s unlikely, and then he compares the whole thing to religious hierarchy with deconstructionist professors playing the part of priests and theologians. So far, so good. But then Rogan tries to sum it all up this way: “So, you’ve got the Woke academics, the serious Woke people, that are teaching it to kids, that really teach it as critical theory, like critical race theory.” And when Lindsay responds with “That’s right,” my heart sank.

In the end it’s a small thing, I realize, as what Lindsay was really agreeing with was the way that academics—college professors, mostly—preach their deconstructionist dogma as a way of making themselves feel as if they’re smarter than everyone else, and yet remain oblivious to the damage they are doing to society as a whole by inculcating college students into believing in an entirely fictitious narrative—which really is very similar to religion. What I object to, however, is the way that Lindsay’s assent blithely lumps German Critical Theory in with French Deconstructionist philosophy, when the two could not be more different. At this point he and Rogan go on to discuss the execrable book White Fragility, and compare that author’s seminars to something resembling cult indoctrination. One of Lindsay’s interesting arguments is the idea that there is also a moral component to this type of race shaming, which makes the religious comparisons even more obvious. Then he gets back to Critical Theory territory when he says that a person’s denial of racist beliefs is actually proof to the Woke crowd of implicit guilt because, “one of the symptoms of participation in systemic racism is an inability to see it if you’re white. It’s invisible to you.” Then Lindsay goes on to explain how all of this evolved.

          It is Marx who cooked up this idea called conflict theory. He actually took it from other German
          philosophers . . . He changed Hagel’s idea of what’s called—you can’t even say this anymore, the
          master-slave dialectic, because master and slave have traces. Even though that’s what it was called,
          you can’t talk about it . . . Hagel wrote that people have power, and then there are people who don’t
          have power. The person that’s being oppressed by the power understands the oppression, whereas
          the person who’s doing the oppression can’t. Simple enough. Marx cooked this up into this idea called
          conflict theory that says, oh, different groups in society—and he mostly meant rich people versus poor
          people—are completely separate from each other and there’s no idea that they help each other . . .
          So, what Marx’s idea was is that the oppressor class is always the enemy of the underclass. And this
          has actually traced down through history.

All of this makes sense, as Deconstructionism has much more to do with Marx’s theory than anything else: the unconscious behavior of the oppressor class is the culprit for the unhappiness in the world. But then Lindsay takes his history lesson a step too far. “This philosophical school started in Germany at first, moved to Columbia University during World War Two. It’s called the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory.” The problem here is that when Lindsay says “this” it sounds as if he’s talking about the ideas of Marx and Hegel and that this Frankfurt School decided to take the ideas of the master-slave dialectic and conflict theory and run with them. In point of fact, the Frankfurt School thought that Marx was wrong in one very significant way: it wasn’t the oppressor class that was unconscious about what was going on, it was the oppressed. What that means is that Critical Theory actually believed the opposite of what Marx had proposed, which Lindsay seems to understand, as he then adds, “They moved it into ideology and culture. So the dominant culture, whoever has the most status and power, the elites, which at the time was generally white, straight men for the most part, those people basically brainwash the underclass into not realizing that they should rise up against it.” This is clearly a significant difference from Marx, and yet the “it” makes it sound as if he’s still saying that it’s the ideas of Marx and Hegel that the Frankfurt School are promulgating. And then he makes the disappointing mistake of completely submerging Critical Theory back into Marxist theory when he says, “So you have this whole dynamic of conflict where the oppressor class doesn’t realize what it’s like to be oppressed, the oppressed class constantly can’t get away from it . . . and then the underclass always has to be at war to try to overturn the power above them . . . This stuff all has a very long history. It didn’t just pop up in 2014.”

This is an incredibly frustrating description, because while Lindsay apparently understands the distinction between Marx’s unconscious oppressor class and the Frankfurt School’s unconscious underclass, he not only fails to make that distinction clear to the listener, but instead he folds Critical Theory right back into Marxist theory as if they were one in the same. It would be nice to think that was an accident, but later on in the podcast he confirms his misunderstanding when he says, “Critical Theory was how you complain that things aren’t Marxist enough . . . People bomb me for saying that, but it is actually, generally true.” No, it’s not. It’s also a gross misrepresentation of Marx’s goal, which was to improve the lives of everyone in society rather than making the working class the economic slaves of the moneyed elite. As stated earlier, Critical Theory was a reaction against one of Marx’s main ideas. The problem wasn’t that the underclass was constantly at war with their oppressors, it was that they didn’t realize the oppressor class was constantly at war with them. Just one of the ways that the oppressor class wages their war on the unconscious underclass—and there are many—is by keeping them distracted and absorbed in meaningless pursuits, especially things like sports and celebrity. With men spending all their time glued to ESPN and fantasy sports leagues, in addition to the real thing, and women obsessed with the supposedly real housewives of this or that city, and poring over People magazine, the oppressors keep the oppressed so preoccupied with what amounts to nothing that the oppressed have no time or energy to devote to overturning the power of the elites, much less even realize that’s what’s going on in the first place.

But it wasn’t enough for the capitalist oligarchy in this country to make cultural and economic slaves of their fellow citizens. In order to make even more money, corporate elites decided that overseas markets were the way to go. This phenomenon was explained by writer and historian Joseph E. Green, in his book Dissenting Views. U.S. citizens can only spend so much time and money numbing their brains in meaningless pursuits, while subjecting the rest of the world to the same fate seemed like the new version of Manifest Destiny to corporate America, something Green labeled the American Idea.

          If we speak solely of the cinema, music, and television—the pop cultural milieu that forms one of
          the last remaining exports of the United States—we cannot help but notice the overwhelming
          juggernaut that is most obviously expressed in the worldwide interest in film and music stars. What
          Americans sell to other countries is the stuff that dreams are made on. For we are out of the manu-
          facturing business . . . but we remain experts in the various aspects of the mellifluous nothing we
          might call the American Idea.

Critical Theory, which began at the end of World War One in Germany, had been around for nearly forty years before French theorists used it as an inspiration to go off in a completely different direction in response to American cultural hegemony in the world, which itself was a direct result of the American capitalist desire to expand markets for overseas exports of American cultural products. Green explains the effect this had on some European intellectuals.

          Not everyone likes the American Idea. The French, we might say, are at the forefront of the resistance
          movement against this wave. Indeed, one could characterize the works of Michel Foucault and Jaques
          Derrida, for example, as little more than attempts to undermine or otherwise get around the American
          Idea, as it is instantiated in monopoly capitalism . . . [and] there are many [others] who have gone on
          the record as lamenting the fact that universal ties between human beings are [now being] formed
          along the lines of reality television stars rather than anything of consequence in the real world.

Green is right when he says that French deconstructionist philosophy was developed in some sense as a bulwark against the American cultural invasion of Europe. By breaking down any piece of literature, texts, films, what have you, and deconstructing it into its constituent parts, those parts quickly become meaningless when separated from their overall context. Thus, essentially having no meaning at that point, those individual parts can then be assigned any meaning the reader or viewer wants them to have. The real evil genius in the philosophy, however, is that once those parts with their new meaning attached are reassembled, this new meaning now informs the entire work, usually damning it as the product of corporate American designs to flood the rest of the world with “mellifluous nothing” in its mission to extract as much money from that world as possible without any thought to the consequences for the people themselves. Meanwhile, this idea was soon picked up by American university professors who had lost the ability to analyze literature and needed some way to justify their existence. Using these principles they were able to deconstruct literature and show how it actually meant whatever they wanted it to mean rather than what the text explicitly said. In this case, however, the underlying meaning they assigned was one that indicted whites over blacks, men over women, straights over gays, and any other cultural disparity that could be exploited in the name of publishing rather than perishing. In fact, James Lindsay himself, along with a couple of colleagues, wrote out meaningless academic papers a few years ago that they crammed full of deconstructionist ideas and jargon, and of the twenty they submitted to peer-reviewed journals, seven were actually accepted for publication. One was even given an award by the journal that accepted it.

So, what the hell does any of this have to do with Critical Theory? The short answer is, almost nothing. Critical Theory is about as responsible for Deconstructionism as classical music is responsible for smooth jazz. Sure, both Mozart and Kenny G use the twelve-tone scale of Western music, but there the similarity ends. And while Mozart represents a high point in Western culture and rewards repeated listening, the loss of Kenny G’s music might actually be a cultural gain for society. Similarly, while both Critical Theory and Deconstructionism share an emphasis on trying to understand the hidden forms of oppression in society, there the similarity also ends, and the loss of deconstructionist principles would also be a net gain for the American people. The confusion comes from the fact that American academics co-opted the name, probably because it sounds a lot better than Deconstructionism. Rather than the utter destruction and dismantling of the literature and culture that academics are pretending to analyze—which is all that deconstruction really accomplishes—the term Critical Theory instead turns these faux intellectuals into genius analysts who can see what others are oblivious to. I have no issue with the use of the word “theory,” as in race theory, feminist theory, or queer theory—though the philosophies themselves are overtly damaging to society—but once they tack on the word “critical” it winds up dragging the Frankfurt School into ideologies they have no business being associated with, let alone the responsibility for.

The only tenuous connection that Critical Theory has with Deconstructionism is in the idea that things are not really what they seem, and that oppression can be lurking in those unseen hidden depths. But where Deconstructionism sees oppression in other people, and makes them personally responsible for the systemic disenfranchisement of perceived victims that they couldn’t possibly be responsible for, Critical Theory tries to open the mind to the ways in which the system itself is responsible for the oppression of everyone, and that it’s the victims themselves who need to take personal responsibility for their own complicity in that oppression. Sports and celebrity, for instance, would seem to be an innocent pastime, a hobby to enjoy as a respite from work and other obligations, and for some people that may be the case. What the Frankfurt School was attempting to demonstrate, however, is that when seen within the totality of a person’s life, those things are nothing more than distractions to keep people from using their energies to actually make their lives better, and by extension improving the lives of everyone around them. The idea was to see things as they really are, not simply make up some meaning that justifies a person’s inchoate and incorrect ideas about their own perceived victimhood. For the Frankfurt School the most oppressive form of control was that of the workplace, but they quickly branched out into other areas as well, especially the numerous ways that the capitalist oligarchy—first in Europe but later in the U.S.—was controlling the masses through the manipulation of the media and entertainment as well as commerce.

The ultimate refinement of this goal, it has become pretty obvious, is the smart phone, whose very presence in people’s lives robs users of their own smarts by plugging them instead into a corporate matrix that delivers non-stop sports and entertainment, or anger-fueled social commentary and meaningless connection rather than real life experience. And it is in the toxic sphere of modern social media where both of the ideas of oppressor manipulation and deconstructionism come together. As Rogan says, “The format of Twitter itself, I think it’s detrimental to people’s mental health. Communicating through these small, little sentences, and little paragraphs of two hundred and eighty characters.” And then Lindsay naturally goes on to make the obvious connection. “I actually call Twitter a deconstruction machine.

          Deconstruction is the idea that we’re going to take a thing apart, make it look absurd, or show it in
          a particular light, pull it apart until you don’t really trust its validity anymore. And so anything you put
          on Twitter, once you get an account of a certain size at least, [there’s] a one hundred percent chance
          that some jackass is going to say something that just messes with your head. Somebody’s going to
          take it out of context, or they’re going to tell you what they thought you mean, and now that’s the
          thing you mean . . . So they take you apart, they deconstruct you, the real Joe Rogan, your real
          intentions and your real meaning, and then they put it out into the world and now there’s this new
          Joe Rogan that does terrible things, or there’s this new Joe Rogan that’s maybe a saint.

The idea behind Deconstructionism as it is used in this country today, first as a way of making literature mean whatever university professors want it to mean so that they don’t have to go through the arduous task of working out what an author is actually saying, is then passed on to their students, who are now stuck with these specious theories as a way to try and understand the world around them. Except they end up doing exactly the opposite. Instead of being able to undertake the difficult intellectual work of making sense of the world as it is, people now have permission to make up whatever kind of world they want, seeing people and institutions and politics not for what they really are, but as whatever the individual wants those things to be, increasingly either a comfort or an outrage and with almost no gray area in between. My issue with Lindsay’s history lesson is that he makes absolutely no distinction between Critical Theory and the Deconstructionist philosophy that emerged out of it much later, when the reality is they are really quite different. Critical Theory. It’s right in the name. The Frankfurt school was critical of Marxist theory as a way of accurately explaining what was going on in the world, and so they took a far more nuanced look at the forces at work in capitalist oligarchies to explain it. Instead it is Deconstructionist theory, not the Frankfurt School’s Critical Theory, that is the driving force behind the Political Correctness Movement and it’s current incarnation in Woke philosophy, which has resulted in the absolutely bizarre creation of right-wing fascism by left-wing zealots in our country.

What’s so ironic in all of this is that Lindsay has no trouble at all making distinctions when it comes to religion.

          I used to be kind of hard ass about religion, a tough, angry atheist, but I’ve thought about it more—
          which you’re not allowed to think about things and change your mind now, but I did—and what I
          realized is that some religions look up, they’re looking at God and they’re afraid of sin, but they’re
          paying attention to God, they’re thinking about renewal, they’re thinking about redemption, they’re
          thinking about forgiveness. And then some religions look down, and all they do is look at the sin,
          and they focus on the sin and that’s where the witch hunts came from . . . If you look up, then religion
          can be great, it can actually lead people to spiritual development and community and so on. But if
          you’re looking down, you’re going to start obsessing—and if you’re obsessing about sin you’re going
          to start obsessing about everybody else’s sin too.

When Lindsay talks about the difference between upward looking Christians and downward looking Christians this is exactly the same distinction he needs to be making with regard to Critical Theory and its monumental difference from Deconstructionism. Unfortunately, because of the informal nature of their discussion, which was primarily focused on the end results, that distinction is left unclear, and Critical Theory once again winds up being held responsible for the evils of modern social fascism and is unfairly maligned in the process.

Putting definitions and distinctions aside for a moment, it’s once again fascinating to see Lindsay make the connection between religion and Deconstructionism because the Bible is the ultimate deconstructionist text. For every passage that promotes peace and love and turning the other cheek—those the upward looking Christians focus on—there are just as many, if not more, passages promoting hatred toward others, enslaving them, raping them, killing them, all in the name of trying to be the people God likes best and justifying all manner of inhumanity to others as a result. As the saying goes, believers need only to pick their poison. For downward looking Christians it’s not enough to rid themselves of sin, they somehow feel mandated to remove everyone else’s imaginary sin as well—and through whatever means necessary. This translates quite easily into Woke philosophy as it is not enough for people to act in non-prejudicial ways, and instead it is the mandate of the Woke to root out prejudice where it is hiding in the minds of people, even if it’s not really there. This same phenomenon is one that Arthur Miller wrote about nearly seventy years ago in the contextual narrative portions of The Crucible, his play about the Salem Witch Trials.

          Our difficulty in believing the—for want of a better word—political inspiration of the Devil is due in
          great part to the fact that he is called up and damned not only by our social antagonists but by our
          own side, whatever it may be . . . In the countries of the Communist ideology, all resistance of any
          import is linked to the totally malign capitalist succubi, and in America any man who is not reactionary
          in his views is open to the charge of alliance with the Red hell. Political opposition, thereby, is given
          an inhumane overlay which then justifies the abrogation of all normally applied customs of civilized
          intercourse. A political policy is equated with moral right, and opposition to it with diabolical malevo-
          lence. Once such an equation is effectively made, society becomes a congerie of plots and counter-
          plots . . . The results of this process are no different now from what they ever were, except some-
          times in the degree of cruelty inflicted, and not always even in that department. Normally the actions
          and deeds of a man were all that society felt comfortable in judging. The secret intent of an action
          was left to the ministers, priests, and rabbis to deal with. When diabolism rises, however, actions
          are the least important manifests of the true nature of a man.

This is a lot to take in, and so it’s important to give Miller’s words the kind of analysis they need in order to be crystal clear about how they describe the societal fascism that’s coming from the left today. He begins by mentioning the “political inspiration of the Devil,” by which he means using the idea of evil, or sin, or criminality, as a way of controlling people. The use of the Devil as a means of control in organized religion is fairly obvious, especially for those downward looking Christians. But in addition to the diabolism imagined by religion, there is also a new secular diabolism that manifests itself in the form of racism, sexism, homophobia and a host of other perceived sins. Then Miller goes on to say that anyone who is not reactionary in their views against obvious evils—even if those evils are only obvious to a specific group—automatically aligns them with and makes them part of that evil. The same thing is true in Woke philosophy. Bill Maher talked about this earlier in the year on Rogan’s podcast #1413, and illuminates the fact that Miller’s observation from the middle of the previous century is even worse today. Rogan begins by stating, “The left has this dirty thing that if you disagree with them in any way you become an alt right person,” which Maher picks up on and further refines. “I am always reading a story, daily I read something, and what goes through my mind is, ‘This country now is completely binary.’ There’s only two camps. We’re totally tribal. You’re either red or blue, liberal or conservative, and everything that one side does, that anybody does that represents that side, has to be owned by that entire side.” Rogan then articulates the way this perverts important issues by creating false conflicts, when in reality the major problems faced by this country should be seen as major problems by everyone. “It should be something that everybody rejects; it should be something that angers everyone; it shouldn’t be tied to one party or another party.”

What comes next is rather chilling. As Miller states, once this type of dynamic is embraced, the “normally applied customs of civilized intercourse” are thrown out the window. Once the enemy has been labeled as such they become evil, and because of that its perfectly permissible to attack them in any manner deemed necessary, no matter how violent or cruelly inflicted. Even more disturbing, in a properly functioning society the secret intent behind a person’s actions is not something that other people can know or should at all be concerned with, but once secular diabolism is assumed to be present, then a person’s actions become irrelevant in the face of presumed bigotry. By using deconstructionist principles it actually becomes very easy to ignore people’s actions and simply assume that every person who finds themselves born into a privileged class is automatically guilty of oppressing others. What Lindsay sees in this kind of behavior, however, is merely a form of projection.

          That’s what I’m thinking is going on. I’ve thought this for a number of years, that a lot of this stuff
          where you get these Woke activists doing their blogs or these scholars writing this stuff down is
          that they’re looking at their own lives. So you have these people walking down the street, or what-
          ever, they walk into the hotel, they walk into the restaurant, and [they think], “I saw a black guy.”
          And then it’s, “I’m not supposed to notice that.” And they start having this thing in their head, and
          then they go write an angry blog about how terrible racism is because they’re wrestling with it
          themselves . . . And now “everybody’s a racist” is kind of the vibe of the new thing.

What’s so fascinating is that this is a perfect example of what Critical Theory predicts. Rather than fighting systemic racism and other kinds of oppression where it really lies, with people using their considerable energy to eliminate it by working together, politically correct deconstructionism turns people against themselves. And so instead of waging war where it will do the most good, people become distracted by attempting to police everyone else’s thoughts. The biggest problem with this kind of focus is that it turns out to be a completely meaningless exercise. In speaking about the book White Fragility, Lindsay had this to say about the type of seminars the author gives around the country, and the ludicrous extremes to which that type of thinking is taken when pushed to its illogical conclusion.

          This lady emailed me the other day, this Indian woman. So this lady says “I had to go through
          this Brown Fragility training at work.” What happened was, they explained to the whole group—
          it was done in a room in front of a bunch of people—and they explained Brown people in general
          have anti-black racism, too, and that upholds white supremacy. And it’s almost like cold reading.
          They wait for somebody to start looking like they’re getting the sweats or something happening,
          and then they say, “Now, what we need to do, now that we’ve introduced this idea of your brown
          fragility and your anti-blackness, is we need to interrogate the feelings that came up.” And so they
          go one by one through the room and made every single one of them confess their feelings. Who’s
          not going to participate? And here’s that double bind, because it gets to you, right? And so what
          do you say? You say, “Well, I don’t really know what you’re talking about.” They’ll say you’re
          ignoring it, and then if you confess to it, then you’re falling in.

The only thing this kind of inquisition demonstrates is that people have racist thoughts . . . all people, which doesn’t really seem to have a point. For the Woke crowd, however, that’s enough to condemn them outright. But those kinds of assumptions only expose the illegitimacy of that way of thinking. Because if having racist thoughts is enough to make a person a racist, then the Woke Movement needs to be just as vigilant about condemning blacks for the very same thoughts. That’s right. Racist thoughts don’t just come out of nowhere, they are inculcated into people by others who want to indoctrinate them into a specific way of thinking. And as far as Critical Theory is concerned, propaganda makes no concession to race. It is equally damaging to all citizens, including blacks. A perfect explanation of this comes in the film 13th. In her documentary about the propaganda campaign that led to the mass incarceration of blacks in this country, Ava DuVernay interviewed a number of people, but it’s black activist Malkia Cyril who makes this point the most eloquently. “So you have then educated a public deliberately, over years, over decades, to believe that black men in particular, and black people in general, are criminals. I want to be clear, because I’m not just saying that white people believe this, right? Black people also believe this and are terrified of our own selves.”

And once again, that fact in and of itself proves nothing about the person. A person’s thoughts are a person’s thoughts, and should in no way define them. Further, those who indulge in that sort of thinking are actually flying in the face of true morality. Matt Dillahunty, the current president of the Atheist Community of Austin and a regular host of that organization’s The Atheist Experience, has gone to great lengths to explode this particular myth. In one conversation with a caller to the show, Dillahunty had to explain to a morally outraged Christian why being a pedophile is not inherently immoral.

          It’s okay to have that desire, it’s not okay to act on it. In fact, the person who has that desire and
          never acts on it is engaging in a morally superior position, because they recognize the action is
          distinct and different and has consequences . . . Our actions have consequences, and it is the
          actions that matter. My desire, what goes on in my head, first of all is nobody’s business. Nobody
          can know unless I state it. Nobody can make an assessment of me. I could be sitting here every
          day on the show with really horrific desires that I never act on. I’m not, but you don’t have any
          way to know that; you don’t have any right to know it. What you’re doing is trying to make thoughts
          a crime. But thoughts aren’t a crime.

So even though it’s possible to separate thought from action, that still leaves the country with the problem of what to do with all of that previous indoctrination and the way it may inform unconscious actions today. In Miller’s day he was writing about America’s conflict with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and he went on to illuminate the real issue at the heart of the conflict in the way the Salem Witch Trials translates to modern times by pointing out that, “while there were no witches then, there are Communists and capitalists now.” A similar situation is complicating the search for answers in the twenty-first century. To recast Miller’s point in terms of racism: while not everyone the country is a racist, there is racism in the country. So even though it makes no sense on its face to assume that every non-black person in the U.S. is prejudiced against blacks, it is equally incorrect to then make the false assumption that there is no racism at all.

The pushback by many whites against the idea that there is systemic, institutionalized racism in this country is only an attempt to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction, and completely ignores the surfeit of evidence from just the past decade. One of the most embarrassing attempts to deny this reality was made by Sam Harris, who increasingly seems to be espousing views that are regressive and reactionary rather than intellectual. His podcast from June 12th of this year is profoundly disturbing in its implication that the murder of blacks by police officers, while tragic, are not really evidence of racism. “Do the dozen or so videos that have emerged in recent years,” he begins, “of black men being killed by cops, do they prove or even suggest that there is an epidemic of lethal police violence directed especially at black men, and that this violence is motivated by racism? If you take even five minutes,” he continues, “to look at the data on crime and police violence, the answer really appears to be no, in every case.” The justification he uses for this absurd assertion is that, today, “the police use more deadly force against white people, both in terms of absolute numbers, and in terms of their contribution to crime and violence in our society.” But in making this kind of argument, Harris falls victim to the most boneheaded intellectual blunder a person can make: the belief that statistics are the same thing as facts. They’re not. And this attempt—by someone who should really know better—to gaslight the country into believing that police crimes against blacks are not racially motivated is naïve at best, and insidiously divisive at worst.

There are hundreds of stories out there that make Harris’s statistics a moot point, but the one I came across in the last few days was an account of a stand up show by Dave Chappelle, and the way that his experience belies all of the statistics that Harris can dredge up. Chappelle was in New York shortly after the Eric Garner murder by police, and talked at the show about how incidents like that make him afraid for his children. Then a white woman in the audience decided to heckle him by shouting “Life’s hard. Sorry about it!” According to the description of the evening by fellow comedian Kenny DeForrest, “It takes the air completely out of the room. A collective gasp.” But as is his way, Chappelle didn’t get confrontational, and instead used the opportunity to educate the audience about the history of police violence in their interactions with black people. He went on to tell a story about being pulled over by a cop near his home, and reacting with extreme caution because of how conscious Chappelle was that he is black. The cop who pulled him over said to relax, that he knew Chappelle, and sent him off with just a warning. “The twist?” according to DeForrest, “The same cop would go on to murder John Crawford III,” a short time later. Chappelle finished by telling a story about a friend from South Africa, and what it was like right before apartheid ended, and his description was a heightened version of what happened after the George Floyd murder. “Critical mass,” Chappelle said. “That’s what we have to hit. Once enough of you care, there will be nothing they can do to stop that change.” And then he ended his set.

The real point of the story comes after the show, when the white woman from the audience asked to see Chappelle. She not only apologized for what she said, but thanked him for educating her, and said she would never talk like that again. Chappelle was gracious and thanked her in return, because now she was now part of the solution rather than the problem. She was part of the critical mass that it would take to make things better. This is in direct refutation of the deconstructionist thought-police and their indictment of those who don’t know any better simply because of the way that they were indoctrinated. “The point is,” DeForrest concludes, “It doesn’t matter what you thought before. You can always change.” But that’s not how Woke philosophy views it. To them, according to Lindsay, “It’s like everything’s a permanent stain on you. There’s no growth. You can’t become a better person over time.” This way of viewing the world essentially says, once a racist always a racist. What the Wokesters don’t realize, though, and Dave Chappelle obviously understands, is that the solution to the problem of systemic racism is education, not shame. Guilt doesn’t help anyone—which is something organized religion still hasn’t figured out. All it does is pit people who are supposed to be on the same side against each other. But this is exactly the kind of infighting that the ruling oligarchy wants to see happening because it distracts people from the real problems and the real culprits. Again, this is the precise scenario that Critical Theory warns about—in complete opposition to the Deconstructionism that creates it.

This is why Critical Theory is so frightening to the corporate-political elites on the right, because it attempts to expose the real truth for all to see. That’s why when articles and books appear on Critical Theory by those from the right, they are little more than diatribes and screeds accusing the Frankfurt School of being dedicated to the destruction of this society and the American way of life. But that argument assumes that American society and its way of life as it currently exists is actually working in a positive way for the American people, when clearly it’s not. One only has to look at what’s happened in Washington D.C. over the past year and it’s pretty clear to see that the right has become so brazenly dedicated to the acquisition of money and power, regardless of the consequences for the average citizen, that they will allow an utterly inept criminal to occupy the highest office in the land, kill hundreds of thousands of Americans through inaction, and put millions out of work just to keep the stock market humming along and be able maintain their own power. As to the desire for the destruction of that part of American society, the Frankfurt School would happily plead guilty. And it’s precisely that aspect of Marxism, to use Lindsay’s phrase, that “wasn’t Marxist enough” for them. But all revolutions are not equal, and it does a major disservice to Critical Theory to assume that the only form of revolution that results in meaningful change is a violent one. Even Lindsay confessed during the podcast that Herbert Marcuse, one of the founding members of the Frankfurt School, was unhappy with the anti-intellectual nature of the demonstrations in the late sixties. Rioting is always going to be ineffective if the people participating can’t articulate exactly why they are rebelling and exactly what they hope to gain—something the protests in the wake of the George Floyd murder have been very clear about.

To see just the kind of thing that Critical Theory hoped to destroy, it’s instructive to look at where ideas like White Fragility come from. The book’s most open critic has been Matt Taibbi, who pointed out on the news program The Hill, “the extraordinary irony of white America in the wake of this racial tragedy in Minneapolis elevating, of all things, a white corporate consultant to number one on the best seller list, because this is how they want to reinterpret racial issues . . . Corporate America views the race problem as an individual issue, where racism is sort of inexorably stuck in all of us and the only way that we can combat it is by relentlessly listening to corporate consultants tell us how to fight it.” But this is exactly what Critical Theory predicts corporations will do. By using deconstructionist principles to distract people from institutionalized racism and blaming it instead on the individual, it absolves the corporate world from their complicity in manufacturing the problem in the first place, while at the same time setting people at war with each other. All one has to do is watch the first half of Ava DuVernay’s 13th, to see that this is not the conspiracy theory that politicians, corporate executives, and misguided people like Sam Harris would have people believe. These were corporate created, politically instituted policies that were designed specifically to criminalize race and turn the rest of America against blacks. What Critical Theory wants is for people to open their eyes and see the systemic corruption right in front of them, something that has been easier than ever over the past six months.

A perfect example of this kind of revelation about what is really going on in the world, what the Frankfurt School was attempting to help regular people understand, was experienced by the novelist Stephen King when he was in college in the late sixties, and which he wrote about in Danse Macabre. During his junior year a group of Black Panthers visited the school, and calmly and rationally began to explain to the audience in attendance the way that the corporate oligarchy in America was manipulating the system to their advantage—and to the decided disadvantage of the average citizen. King wrote about the many ways he already believed that the government and corporations were responsible for a myriad of evils in the country. But the thing is, all of the things King listed were essentially scandals that had been uncovered and reported on in the big city newspapers of the time. According to the Panther speakers, however, this was just the tip of the iceberg. “These Panthers were suggesting a huge umbrella of conscious conspiracy that was laughable . . . except the audience wasn’t laughing. During the Q-and-A period, they were asking sober, concerned questions about just how the conspiracy was working, who was in charge, how they got their orders out, et cetera.” At this point King could not contain himself, and stood up to deliver a litany of ludicrous suggestions about what he called “an actual Board of Conspiracy in this country.” After he was finally shouted down by the crowd, “the Panther who spoke did not respond to my question (which, to be fair, wasn’t a question at all, really); he merely said softly, ‘You got a surprise, didn’t you, man?’ . . . I did get a surprise—and a pretty unpleasant one, at that.” Unfortunately, the surprise didn’t stick, and King allowed himself to be reeled back in by the political-industrial complex, which he clearly demonstrated when he went on to write a fantasy novel based on the preposterous notion that Lee Harvey Oswald had anything at all to do with the actual killing of President John F. Kennedy.

Who knows why King resisted believing what the Frankfurt School would have said was painfully obvious. Perhaps it’s because he’s made so much money that he realized he had more in common with the wealthy elite than with his fellow citizens, I don’t know. But in a tremendous irony that feels inescapably just, King recently found himself cowed before the Woke Movement. According to Lindsay, when talking to Rogan about trans-women, “Stephen King got dragged into this, with the whole trans thing.

          He’s long-time been a supporter of J.K. Rowling. J.K. Rowling has decided that she’s had enough
          of this trans rights thing, [and their] going after the women’s issues. And so at first Stephen King
          stood up for her, and she put out a Tweet saying, “You’re such a good friend, blah, blah, blah.” Then
          somebody came after him, and he [Tweets], “Trans women are women.” And it’s like, he just caved.
          He just immediately caved. It’s like: All Woke and no play makes Steve a dull boy. You get this sense
          that it’s like something out of one of the novels he would have [written]. All of a sudden it’s like Needful
          Things, the whole town going crazy because of demon possession.

But it’s not demon possession that the United States is struggling with today, its possession of the seats of government, the seats of industry, the seats of finance, all the seats of power that are held by a tiny fraction of the population. And then they use that power and control to manipulate everything to their advantage, property, education, taxes, the legal system, the financial system, the military, energy, and medicine, and leave nothing more than crumbs for everyone else. And for the coup de grâce, they get everyone else to fight among themselves for those crumbs without ever understanding that they could have so much more if they all worked together for the common good.

The thing is, it’s much too easy to blame the President for the current state of the nation, for what’s wrong with America. In reality, he is just a figurehead. The real culprit behind the failure who sits in the White House, the party truly responsible for everything that has happened in the last three and a half years, from the subversion of American elections, to the murder of blacks in the streets, to making Covid 19 even worse, are Senate and Congressional Republicans who support him despite the fact that this President has wantonly broken federal laws and misused his office to benefit himself while completely ignoring the needs of the country he is purportedly there to serve. Senate Republicans in particular, had the opportunity to rid this country of the scourge that sits in the Oval Office. It was served up to them on a silver platter. All they had to do was the right thing, the moral thing, the only thing that would have allowed them to uphold their sworn oath to the Constitution. And yet they utterly failed, just like their so-called leader. Had Senate Republicans acted as duty demanded when the President was impeached, had they responded appropriately to the will of the people when called upon by the country to remove both this man and his complicit vice-president from office, Nancy Pelosi would be the President now and the nation would not be in the miserable state it’s in, suffering not only from a global pandemic but from the economic chaos that followed in its wake.

But Republicans refuse to change, refuse to learn and grow, and refuse to admit they are wrong. They must keep up the façade of infallibility even at the expense of hundreds of thousands of American lives. At the same time, their so-called leader is truly the emperor with no clothes. He is a nakedly racist, misogynist, homophobic narcissist who is incapable of opening his mouth without lying. He is a delusional adolescent bully who maintains his position through the criminal actions of his miscreant supporters in Congress who have allowed him to remain in office despite numerous treasonous actions against our country and the Constitution he was sworn to defend. When looked at in this light, the modern Republican Party is really not that different from the Catholic Church. And just as the Vatican shielded pederast priests for decades—if not centuries—the right wing of this country is content to figuratively sodomize its own citizens in order to support a capitalist oligarchy that has become increasingly less covert in its actions. This is the very thing that the Frankfurt School and Critical Theory have been attempting to warn people about for the last hundred years. But because those on the right continue to denigrate Critical Theory, purposefully conflating it with Deconstructionism as a way of damning it in the public eye, and hopefully distracting people from the profound truths contained within, it’s vitally important, now more than ever, to remain vigilant about pointing out the distinction between the two theories and not fall prey to sloppy explication in the manner of James Lindsay. Critical Theory provides not only hope, but an answer to the debilitating conflicts that plague this country. And it’s not about being Woke. It’s about genuinely waking up to the real enemy, and realizing once and for all that it’s not each other.