Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Subject-Object Confusion


Anderson Cooper asked the Democratic candidates to name the enemies they have made.

Hillary Clinton said 'the Republicans' among others.

Anderson Cooper did not ask the candidates whom they thought were enemies. The question was really about who considered them, the candidates, as enemies.

It is undeniable that the Republicans have treated Hillary Clinton as an enemy since 1993 when she stepped out of the role of First Lady to work on health care reform. Long before ObamaCare, there was HillaryCare. And the Republicans have treated her as the personification of everything they hate and fear ever since. They invoke her first name to scare themselves.

Conservatives have a persistent subject/object confusion. It's some kind of cognitive problem. They think that what they do to others are, actually, being done to them.

Kim Davis thinks that she is being oppressed by gays, lesbians, and liberals because they protest her refusal to serve them. They think that subject (the one doing the discrimination) is the object (the victim of discrimination).

They think that the Movement for Black Lives wants to kill police officers, because the Movement protests police who wantonly kill black people. Subject/object confusion again.

And of course, their economic policies presume that the poor have too much money and the rich have too little.

So, is it any wonder that the rightwing now whines that mean ol' Hillary is demonizing them, violating the norms of civility and comity that they have always upheld?

I made this observation over a year ago.
I can't tell you the number of comments that thought
 I was saying that conservatives were demons.



Saturday, October 17, 2015

He Kept Us Safe

When Donald Trump questions the statement that George W. Bush 'kept us safe' he threatens one of the last remaining Republican defenses against accountability for the war crimes of the Bush administration.

If GWB did not "keep us safe" then what was all that about: 5000 US combat deaths, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani deaths, the torture, the wiretapping, the trillions of dollars spent, even the long lines at the airport?

All of which bothered people at the time; they violated norms of behavior that most  had come to expect about our country. Norms like: The USA does not go to war except in defense. The USA does not invade countries at will. The USA does not torture people. The USA is not big brother. The USA is not so fiscally irresponsible as to pretend that making war doesn't cost money.

Many people already knew that such beliefs were illusions. But for many, they were still thought to be true. They were norms, or boundaries, people thought were in place.

The Bush administration violated all those norms and justified it in the name of the nation's safety. "He's keeping us safe" became the binding myth.

What's a binding myth? An explanation:

People should not punch other people. That's a norm of behavior most people adhere to. If I tell you that you should go up and punch another person, you would say that you won't. After all, it's a norm that people do not just punch other people. But suppose I persuade you that that person needs to be punched because he insulted your mother's honor, and you then do it.  I have bound you to me because I am able to make you do what you know you shouldn't. And I have bound you to me with the binding myth that I uphold your mother's honor.

Once bound, I can make you punch whomever I want by invoking the myth of your mother's honor. But what if you learn that I am not protecting your mother? The moment you realize that I am not about your mother's honor at all, you also realize that you have been punching people for no good reason. To avoid that self-knowledge, you will go to any length to preserve the myth that your mother's honor is both sacred and also under constant attack.

"Keeping us safe requires the abandonment of democratic and constitutional norms" is the myth by which the Bush administration bound the nation to it in the days after 9/11.  To preserve the power of that binding myth, more dangers must be found, and more norms must be necessarily violated.

That binding myth is so essential to self-justifications of the Republican party at this point that to even remember that George W. Bush had been in office for nine months on September 11th is to say that unthinkable. We can see the anxiety such truth provokes, that people immediately think Trump is blaming Bush for 9/11.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The DIfference between Denmark and The United States

Bernie Sanders said we ought to look at the Nordic countries, naming Denmark first, as models for what social democracy looks like. Hillary Clinton says that we are not like Denmark.

When you look at charts about the social conditions of Denmark, you have to ask why we shouldn't want to be like Denmark.


In Denmark, it appears that the lives of all their citizens matter; in the USA, not so much.  In the US, black lives have not mattered and do not matter now.

If Black Lives Mattered in the United States, we would not accept the rates of childhood poverty that we have. We would not want to punish single mothers. If Black Lives Mattered, we would not think that all proposed social welfare policies are plots and scams. We would not be obsessed with the distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor.

The difference between Denmark and the United States is not that we are an "entrepreneurial" nation and they are not. The difference is that the USA is paralyzed by institutional racism and all its rationalizations and ideological requirements.


Friday, October 02, 2015

The agony of imposed silence

Mass murder done with guns.

The anguish of grief.

The frustration with the seeming intractability of the problem.

The handwringing and despair.

The liberal church, in particular, seems to become a caricature of itself. Its religious leaders make anguished and angry statements, some of them starkly poetic, ending in very earnest, yet very vague calls for something to be done. Is it the kind of institution where you would risk your life, your freedom, your time, your money to make our common life better? Does the church seem like a body that is able to create people's power and change things? Or do all of its prayers, and pious thoughts, and candles, and poetry, and righteous anger testify to its powerlessness?

Mass murder with guns is a bigger problem than "sensible gun safety" legislation, but such laws are a necessary step in stopping the slaughter.

And we know what must happen to make such laws real. But, under the rules that have been imposed on the church, we cannot say what needs to be done, and we cannot directly organize people to get it done.

The obstacle is the Republican Party. We all know that. For even the most mild gun control legislation to be passed, the Republican Party must be voted out of power, or so threatened with the loss of power that it chooses to break its dependence on the NRA.

No objective observer of politics in this country would deny the truth of that analysis.

But religious leadership sees itself as forbidden to say it out loud.

No wonder we are anguished. Silence has been imposed on us.

Religious leaders cannot tell the truth that they know.

A gun manufacturing corporation, under the present understandings of the law, can contribute corporate funds to a PAC that supports political candidates that protect its corporate interests. (Yes, there is supposedly some non-coordination between the candidate and the PAC, but that is pure fiction. We all know that.)

A church or a religious organization, on the other hand, cannot endorse a candidate, or even use its facilities to enable a political campaign.

The CEO of a corporation can endorse a candidate for office in a letter to the employees, but a minister, or rabbi, or imam, cannot endorse one from the pulpit.

Supposedly, this is because of the tax break given to churches, but all the tax breaks corporations receive do not limit their political expression.  The corporation may even selling its products to the government itself; it still has virtually unlimited freedom of political expression.

No wonder corporate leaders are not anguished by their powerlessness, but merely peeved because they don't always get their way without question.

No wonder, religious leaders have to resort to poetry and lofty language and vague calls for unspecified but doomed  legislation  to express in words the desires that they are not able to act upon.

Of course, I have said all this before, and maybe better. But it is so on my mind today.




The Pope and The County Clerk

Here's why it's important:


A crucial part of the conservative cultural and political hegemony for the last forty plus years has been the alliance between the white Catholics and the White evangelical Protestants. That alliance depended on the Catholic hierarchy prioritizing all of the issues of sexuality and patriarchy above all other issues in its public theology. While the social teachings of the church have always had a pro-worker and anti-war content, the hierarchy was far more insistent that abortion and same-sex marriage were the issues that really count. Those were the issues that they mobilized voters about. No cardinal ever threatened to withhold communion from Catholic legislators who voted for war, or who supported the death penalty, or who voted tax cuts to the rich while cutting programs for the poor.

I have personally talked with lifelong Democratic voters who have been torn about voting for Democratic candidates for President, because they thought that the Church wanted them to cast their vote against abortion.

Pope Francis has not changed the any of the teachings of the church. But he argued for a different priority in the public political practice of the church: away from the 'culture wars' and towards immigration, climate justice and inequality.

Pope Francis' priorities drive a wedge into the conservative coalition in the United States.

If Roman Catholic voters were inclined to vote their faith's values, working class Catholics might be persuaded to come home to the party that stands with the poor, in all that implies in the current issue environment. (I know, I know: to say that the Democratic Party "stands with the poor" is a generous characterization to be sure.)

That is why the purpose and meaning of the Pope's meeting with Kim Davis is important.

Davis' and her legal representatives want it to be a signal that the Pope is still committed to the conservative Evangelical/Catholic alliance in the US. It is clear that they have exaggerated the meeting of the minds that they claimed occurred when they met.

The Vatican appears to be downplaying the meeting: first just not denying that the meeting took place, then confirming that it did, and now issuing a statement that it was not a statement of support for Davis.

The conservative era in the United States was built on the casting of spells, delusions and deceptions: an ideological fog. That fog is lifting. In the end, delusions are maintained by cheap tricks and sleights of hand. The "great summit" between Kim Davis and Pope Francis is such a trick, another conservative con, now being exposed.