Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Why Christian nationalists fear freedom

For years now a lot of us have been trying to understand why white evangelical voters remain so loyal to Donald Trump. I believe that the answer to that question is complex, but Fareed Zakaria recently added something very important to the discussion. 

Modern societies protect your life and liberty so that you may individually pursue happiness and fulfillment, defining it as you please so long as you do not impinge on anyone else’s ability to do the same.

But constructing one’s own meaning of life is not easy; it is much simpler to consult the Bible or the Quran.

Zakaria goes on to describe the current rise in populism, nationalism, and authoritarianism.

They offer people what the German American scholar Erich Fromm called an “escape from freedom.” A distinguished psychologist who studied the rise of fascism, Fromm argued that once human beings live through the chaos of freedom, they get scared. “The frightened individual seeks for somebody or something to tie his self to; he cannot bear to be his own individual self any longer, and he tries frantically to get rid of it and to feel security again by the elimination of this burden: the self,” he wrote.

As someone who laboriously worked their way out of white fundamentalist Christian authoritarianism, that rings very true. As I came face-to-face with my own individual self, I experienced a moment of pure unadulterated panic. That's because I could no longer lean on the rules handed to me via authoritarians, I had to depend on myself to figure things out. David Whyte captured that moment with his poem titled "Revelation Must Be Terrible." Here's how it starts:

Revelation must be
terrible with no time left
to say goodbye.

Imagine that moment
staring at the still waters
with only the brief tremor

of your body to say
you are leaving everything
and everyone you know behind.

Being far from home is hard, but you know,
at least we are exiled together.
When you open your eyes to the world

you are on your own for
the first time. No one is
even interested in saving you now
Sara Robinson wrote a powerful series of essays about people leaving authoritarian systems. She captured why that kind of revelation can be so terrifying.
We must never, ever underestimate what it costs these people to let go of the beliefs that have sustained them. Leaving the safety of the authoritarian belief system is a three-to-five year process. Externally, it always means the loss of your community; and often the loss of jobs, homes, marriages, and blood relatives as well. Internally, it requires sifting through every assumption you've ever made about how the world works, and your place within it; and demands that you finally take the very emotional and intellectual risks that the entire edifice was designed to protect you from. You have to learn, maybe for the first time, to face down fear and live with ambiguity.

Over the last couple of decades, as we have opened our arms to create a place of belonging for those who have been marginalized, the old systems based on racism/sexism/homophobia have been challenged. All of that posed a threat to the security of a culture/tradition based on those systems. Rather than engage in the difficult task of grappling with those changes, too many white evangelical Christians simply doubled down on authoritarianism because the freedom to chose for themselves was too terrifying. 

 Those fears have been manipulated by politicians like Sen. Josh Hawley, who once said the following:

For decades now our politics and culture have been dominated by a particular philosophy of freedom. It is a philosophy of liberation from family and tradition; of escape from God and community; a philosophy of self-creation and unrestricted, unfettered free choice. 

Just to be clear, for Hawley, that's a bad thing.

The idea that freedom is bad has been fully embraced by the right wingers who are referred to as National Conservatives, the new right, or post-liberals - guys like Hawley, Sen. J.D. Vance, Tucker Carlson, Sohrab Ahmari, and Peter Thiel.

The post-liberals say that freedom has become a destructive end-in-itself. Economic freedom has brought about a global system of trade and finance that has outsourced jobs, shifted resources to the metropolitan coasts, and obscured its self-seeking under the veneer of social justice. Personal freedom has ended up in the mainstreaming of pornography, alcohol, drug, and gambling addiction, abortion, single-parent families, and the repression of orthodox religious practice and conscience.

It is important to wrestle with what that means. For most of us, this democratic republic was founded on the idea of economic and personal freedom. But for these folks, the idea of freedom is terrifying. That's why Katherine Stewart nailed it when she wrote this:

This isn’t the religious right we thought we knew. The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core. They aren’t fighting a culture war. They’re making a direct attack on democracy itself.

Before closing this one out I'd like to say that, over the last couple of months, I've been immersing myself in music as a way to cope. On this topic of the freedom to find our self, this one by Jacob Collier spoke to me profoundly.  

Saturday, March 16, 2024

"I'd much rather be us than them"

According to the polling aggregate at The Economist, if the 2024 presidential election were held today, it would result in a tie.

There's been a lot of chatter lately about whether these polls are accurate, and we won't know for sure until November. But if we put all of that polling controversy aside (which I am inclined to do), Simon Rosenberg has captured what's really important right now when he says "I'd much rather be us than them." There are several reasons why that statement rings true.

Fundraising

Typically a politician's ability to raise money has been deemed almost as important as their standing in the polls. I'm not totally convinced that's true anymore. But the fact of the matter is that not only is Biden raising more money, a large portion of the funds raised by Trump and the RNC are going to pay the former guy's legal fees. To the extent that money makes a difference in a presidential campaign, the edge on this one goes to Biden.

A GOP in Disarray 

While the mainstream press doesn't write much about it, there are huge battles going on amongst Republicans. We see that in the complete inertia in the Republican-controlled House, where Speaker Johnson can't take a step without pissing off one faction or another. But it is even more pronounced in several swing states like Florida, Michigan, and Nevada. State party leaders are a crucial part of getting out the vote in November, both up and down the ballot. This kind of upheaval will not only hamper those efforts, it could very well spread to other states.

Another way that disarray is affecting the GOP is that there is a contingent of Republicans that is overtly rejecting Trump. As we saw in the early primary states, 1/3 to 1/2 of Haley voters said they would not vote for him in the general election. Here's what they sound like:
Many of the people who served in the Trump administration are saying the same thing.

Conventional wisdom has historically suggested that once a candidate becomes the nominee, they broaden their appeal to reach out to a larger audience for the general election. Given the split inside the GOP, you'd think there would be a massive outreach effort underway right now. But the RNC is doing the exact opposite. 

Issues 

Trump has made it clear that he is proud that the judges he appointed to the Supreme Court overruled Roe v Wade. He has also promised that he will not support any effort to halt gun violence and that he will end efforts to mitigate climate change. On day one he's promised to "drill baby drill."

I've already written that the policies Trump is actually proposing would be a disaster for both the United States and the globe.

As of a few months ago, it looked like the Republican message would be focused on what they defined as Biden's failures: the economy, crime, and the border. The first of those two have been fairly neutralized with slowing inflation and an historic drop in violent crime. But once it became clear that Trump had ordered his minions to kill the bipartisan border bill, that one was neutralized too. 

Of course, Trump and Republicans will continue to lie about those issues. But they've botched things so badly that refuting their claims is not difficult. For example, they are actually attempting to revive the Reagan question about whether or not you're better off than you were four years ago when a pandemic that killed one million Americans was sweeping the country and the economy was in the midst of collapse. 

Trumpism

This one could take a while to type out. So I'm simply going to let Seth Myers do the work.

Beyond all of that, mental health professionals are speaking up to point out that not only is Trump a malignant narcissist, it is becoming increasingly clear that he is showing "unmistakable signs strongly suggesting dementia, based on his public behavior and informant reports that show progressive deterioration in memory, thinking, ability to use language, behavior, and both gross and fine motor skills."

The issue is that, unlike narcissism, dementia is a progressive disease - meaning that it will get worse over time. To the extent that Trump's handlers are trying to cover it up, they're probably just making it worse. In other words, this could be a real powder keg.

A caveat to all of this would be that eight months is a long time. All kinds of things can happen between now and November. Some of them might be good and others catastrophic. That's why I'll never be in the position of predicting outcomes to an election. 

I also suspect that some people might respond to this list by saying that none of the above will affect MAGA voters - and I would agree. The point is to back up what Rosenberg is saying. Polls aren't everything. In the end, I'd much rather be us than them.  

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Right wing disinformation is fodder for fascism

You might recall that it was John Solomon - working at The Hill - who peddled Rudi Giulian's Russian disinformation claims about the Bidens (as well as lies about the Clinton Foundation in 2016). That's why this column by Solomon is likely to break any irony meter that is still functional.  

Americans are being confronted by a painful reality that a Democrat-fed, taxpayer-funded media spin machine is increasingly creating false realities, untrue narratives and outright lies that are putting the country on a whipsaw rollercoaster where truth surfaces long after deceptive narratives or mistruths have affected elections or official actions.

At one point, Solomon writes that "experts" warned that "the deceptions of Democratic Party actors and their allies in media and government will be an issue on the ballot this November" before quoting Newt Gingrich, Kash Patel, and Tom Finton.  

So what we have are several of the biggest purveyors of disinformation claiming that it is Democrats who are running a spin machine that creates false realities, untrue narratives, and outright lies.

To understand why they're doing this, let's take a look at one of the right wing publications that has apparently put Solomon on their payroll - even after he left The Hill in disgrace. That would be RealClearPolitics (RCP), an organization that bills itself as "the only prominent news platform aggregating all serious sides" (emphasis mine).

A quick look under the hood demonstrates that, too, is a lie. For example, RCP recently handed out their new Samizdat Prize to three journalists who "have shown First Amendment courage." Those three people are:

  1. Dr. Jay Bhattacharya - who peddled disinformation about COVID.
  2. Miranda Devine - who peddled disinformation about the Bidens. 
  3. Matt Taibbi - who peddled disinformation about the so-called "Twitter files."
In other words, RCP thinks that "first Amendment courage" is demonstrated by spreading right wing (usually Russian) disinformation. That's not very both sidsy of them, is it?

But that's just one example. For a look at the bigger picture, an organization called Global Disinformation Index analyzes the disinformation risk level in various countries. In December 2022, they published their report on the United States, identifying the news sites with the lowest and highest risk of disinformation. The results are profound.


We can first of all note that ALL of the sites at highest risk are right wing organizations - with RCP right in the middle of the list. You won't find a better example of what Ornstein and Mann described as "asymmetric polarization" than that. 

What's important to note about this analysis is that it is not based on fact-checking for disinformation. Instead, here's what they do:
The GDI methodology looks at over 80 different signals in combination to generate an overall assessment of disinformation risk for a news website as a whole. The resulting score does not determine whether a site or a specific piece of content is disinformation or not. The summation of all the data collected does, however, allow GDI to measure the risk that a given site may disinform its readers.

For example, when analyzing content, they look at whether certain groups are targeted, whether sources are credible and clearly identified, and whether headlines accurately describe the content. 

So of course the publisher of RCP, David DesRosiers, had to lie about GDI's findings.

GDI labeled RealClearPolitics as a high-risk news site for disinformation. All because we include voices they don’t like. That we pair such voices with those they agree with doesn’t seem to matter to them.
What we have is a right wing media complex that is built on disinformation and lies. When they're held accountable, they respond with more lies. 

But leave it to John Solomon to take it even further. The biggest purveyor of (mostly Russian) disinformation accuses Democrats of building a "media spin machine" that is "increasingly creating false realities, untrue narratives and outright lies." That's what those of us in the mental health field call "projection." As Steve Benen pointed out years ago, he seems to have learned this skill from Karl Rove.
More than anyone I’ve ever seen or heard of, Rove identifies some of his own ugliest, most malicious, most pernicious qualities, and then projects them onto those he hates most.

In other words, Solomon says to Rove: "Hold my beer."

The most pernicious effect of all of this is that it undermines the idea that there is any truth to be found (ie, Democrats say this, Republicans say that. Who are you going to believe?). Those who believe THAT lie are simply fodder for the fascists.

When it comes to the presidential race, are polls all that matter?

A little more than five months from the 2024 presidential election,  conventional wisdom  suggests that  Biden is losing . But according to ...