Barry’s Blog # 184: Trump: Madness, Machines, Migrations and Mythology, Part Six

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes. Everybody knows.

                           – Leonard Cohen

“In a dark time, the eye begins to see,” wrote Theodore Roethke. Now we move from vote stripping (profoundly unethical, but legal) into the fetid slime of criminal, mass vote flipping. Hold your breath, or your nose, and roll in it with me.

For weeks Trump warned that the system is rigged. But the Great Con Man knew perfectly well whom to bet on. Two days before the election he changed the litany, just slightly: “Folks, it’s a rigged system. It’s a rigged system and we’re going to beat it. We’re going to beat it.” dieboldadstalin

A recent Harvard study ranked the U.S. electoral system as the worst in the developed world . But let’s not be too hasty to blame the Republicans. Palast, Fitrakis and Wasserman have convincingly shown that in the primaries the DNC was able to manipulate the vote, all to the detriment of the Sanders campaign.

In State after state, claims Jonathan Simon, author of Code Red: Computerized Election Theft and the New American Century, “The vote counts were more in favor of Clinton than the exit polls, which were more in favor of Bernie Sanders. We saw a very consistent pattern of that.” In Massachusetts, Sanders won all the precincts with hand-counted paper ballots but lost all the ones with electronic voting machines. As we will see, what was going around would come around.

But in this business the Democrats are mere amateurs. The real pros are the Republicans. That the DNC should have lowered itself to such corruption is evidence that they occasionally visit this realm. The Republicans, however, have lived there for decades. The DNC can do its dirty work in the primaries because they control both the process and most of the elected officials and “superdelegates.”

The Republicans, however, have been doing it in every national election since at least the year 2000. How? For decades, they’ve put their resources into “downballot” (state and local, all the way down to school board) elections. As a result, they’ve controlled the gerrymandering process, which has won them about two-thirds of governorships, state assemblies and, most critically, secretaries of state – the people who control the election process in almost every state. These are the people whose people actually count the votes.

Now we must speak about exit polls, which are the State Department’s own “gold standard” used to measure the honesty of – and in several cases – decertify elections in other countries, most recently in Nicaragua and Uganda. Our own Agency for International Development (a well-known front for the CIA) has stated:

Detecting fraud: Exit polls provide data that is generally indicative of how people voted. A discrepancy between the aggregated choices reported by voters and the official results may suggest, but not prove, that results have been tampered with.

I know…simply to contemplate this subject, we must set aside the colossal irony that the U.S., which has bombed nearly fifty sovereign nations since the end of World War Two and destabilized countless others precisely by corrupting their elections, should present itself as the arbiter on human rights and fair elections. And yes, it is a mark of our own innocence that so many well-meaning Americans never question this narrative. Eric Draitser explains why this issue is so important:

…the stealing of the election is relevant because the claim to democracy is, in essence, America’s claim to global leadership, to the righteousness of its own hegemony. To call the democratic façade into question is to undermine the very notion of “American Exceptionalism” which both Wall Street parties so ignominiously proselytize as gospel.

Palast continues:

Exit polling is, historically, deadly accurate. The bane of pre-election polling is that pollsters must adjust for the likelihood of a person voting.  Exit polls solve the problem…In 2000, exit polls gave Al Gore the win in Florida; in 2004, exit polls gave Kerry the win in Ohio…So how could these multi-million-dollar Ph.d-directed statisticians with decades of experience get exit polls so wrong? Answer: they didn’t. The polls in Florida in 2000 were accurate. That’s because exit pollsters can only ask, “How did you vote?” What they don’t ask, and can’t, is, “Was your vote counted?”

In the most egregious example, Ohio’s Secretary of State had complete control of the electronic voting machines and almost certainly flipped the vote in 2004, giving the election to Bush. Do you remember how exit polls showed John Kerry with a huge lead that mysteriously evaporated in the evening after the polls closed?  Do you remember how, at almost exactly the same moment, the U.S. refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Ukrainian election – because of the exit polls?

Do you remember all the controversy surrounding Diebald and its CEO Walden “Wally” O’Dell, who was

… feted as a guest at then-President George W. Bush’s Texas ranch…who pledged to raise more than $100,000 for the Bush reelection campaign. Most memorably, in 2003 O’Dell penned a letter pledging his commitment “to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President.”

Ah, Ohio, as you go so goes the nation. That Secretary of State, the ironically-named African-American Ken Blackwell – who was also Bush’s honorary campaign co-chair as he administered that crucial 2004 election – has been named leader of Trump’s transition team for domestic issues.

Wisconsin, a more liberal state saddled with a Republican governor, is another terrible example.

So let’s look at some of the most important 2016 results. Consider the eight swing states with at least ten electoral votes:

State      Winner       Votes         %     Governor

Ariz.       Trump          11        50-45      R

Fla.         Trump          29       49-48      R

Mich.      Trump          16       48-47      R

N.C.        Trump           15       51-47       R

Ohio       Trump           18       52-44      R

Penn.     Trump           20       49-48     D

Virg.       Clinton          13       50-45      D

Wisc.     Trump             10      48-47    R

Note several things:

1 – Six of the states have Republican governors and Secretaries of State.

2 – Trump won all six states.

3 – Clinton won one state, and its governor is a Democrat.

4 – Trump won one state with a Democratic Governor, Pennsylvania, by one percent.

5 – He won four of them – Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – by one percent. Granted, this is not even circumstantial evidence of anything. But we have to understand these figures in the context of vote flipping.

6 – Hundreds of thousands of voters (primarily Black) were purged in those states, perhaps 300,000 in Wisconsin alone.

7 – Finally, consider the exit polls.

We can never know how many people went into booths in those states, voted for Clinton on electronic machines, left the building and told a professional poll taker whom they’d voted for, but whose vote, unknown to them, was then flipped. This was precisely the case in Ohio in 2004, and I see absolutely no reason to assume that the Republicans didn’t do it again, everywhere they could.

Indeed, according to Jonathan Simon, Clinton’s Florida lead in exit polls was 1.3% but she lost by 1.3%, a 2.6% shift. In North Carolina her exit poll margin was 2.1%, but the final vote count showed Trump with a 3.8% lead. She had a 4.4% lead in Pennsylvania but she lost by 1.2%, a 5.6% shift. The North Carolina and Pennsylvania shifts – 5.6% – are way outside the margin of error and therefore very unlikely to occur by chance. Altogether, exit polls were conducted in 28 states. In 23 of them the discrepancies between the exit polls and the vote count favored Trump. In 13 of them those discrepancies exceeded the margin of error.

So why don’t we hear more about about this? Consider Edison Research, the company contracted by major media outlets to conduct exit polling on US elections. Joe Lenski, its executive vice president, candidly admits that Edison massages its exit poll data once official vote counts have been released to align the exit poll numbers with the electronic vote totals. Indeed, the whole argument about vote flipping is possible only because many researchers have been able to post those exit polls before Edison can change them.

If you’ve read this far and remain skeptical, you may be taking the conventional stance that flipping is impossible because the voting machines are not connected to the Internet. Well, this has nothing to do with the Internet – and therefore with “Russian hackers.” It has everything to do with who actually, physically, has possession of the machines, and in almost all those states it was Republican Secretaries of State.

Manipulation occurs at two levels, on-site and post-voting. One cybersecurity analyst explains:

 …in-person manipulation is possible. Some machines are vulnerable, due to accessible ports where a hacker could plug a laptop or smartphone to add fake votes. The Sequoia AVC Edge machines feature a yellow “Activate” button on the back that can allow user to enter multiple ballots at a time. Nevada has employed these systems statewide, while Louisiana did the same with early voting without backup paper records…“It’s the technical equivalent to stuffing a voter box,” Scott said. “You can tap that as many times, for as many votes as you want to give the person.”…To exploit the tactics, a perpetrator would need access to a voter machine for an extended period of time, which is possible given background checks for election officials and poll workers aren’t a national requirement.

Wisconsin, by the way, uses machines that have been banned in California precisely because they are easy to tamper with. Other machines come with special “ballot protection” software to prevent this sort of thing. But, says Palast, in Ohio, the Secretary of State gave specific instructions to disable that software.

Another professional admits:

 …after the votes are collected…The results go from that machine into a piece of electronics that takes it to the central counting place…That data is not encrypted and that’s vulnerable for manipulation…more than 40 states are using voting machines that are at least 10 years old…the more than 9,000 voting districts across the country all have different ways of running their elections — down to the type of machine they use…only 60 percent of states routinely conduct audits post-election by checking paper trails. But not all states even have paper records…

Then we have the issue of early voting. Bill Palmer points out that seventy percent of Florida’s nine million voters voted early, and that exit polls showed her with a lead so massive that it was “mathematically insurmountable,” except of course for the possibility of fraud.

Before we go on, it bears repeating that this is precisely what the Democratic power structure did to Bernie Sanders, and it may help explain why Clinton (see below) was so reluctant to join Jill Stein in pressing for recounts.

In any event: for all the reasons we’ve listed above why Clinton was such a terrible candidate and her Wall Street sponsors so responsible for so much human misery, she still actually won the election, not just the popular vote.

About those exit polls and the Myth of Innocence: almost everything that the various progressive writers and authorities whom I’ve been quoting throughout these essays comes from careful study of the exit polls. However, with the exception of Palast, Simon, Mark  Miller, Fitrakis and Wasserman, very few of them have commented on the absolutely crucial discrepancies between those polls and the official count. I can only imagine a few possibilities. Either they really didn’t notice, despite Palast’s constant presence on Pacifica Radio, or they don’t believe that the discrepancies are important – or cognitive dissonance has set in.

I have long argued that liberals are subject to the myth of innocence at least as much as conservatives, and this is a prime example. Despite over fifty years of evidence from our first military coup (the first Kennedy assassination) onward past several October Surprises, past the second (9-11), past all the “false flag”terror events, the vast majority of liberal and progressive pundits have cleaved to the childish notion that American elections are fair, or at least that cheating is a minor aspect.

Worse, they have become gatekeepers of the truth who have often joined with conservatives to marginalize those who question our dominant narrative: It can’t happen here – this is America! To begin to question any aspect of the story we tell ourselves about ourselves is to open the door to the possibility that the entire story – and our own identity – is built on un-solid ground.

Let’s go deeper.

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Barry’s Blog # 183: Trump: Madness, Machines, Migrations and Mythology, Part Five

“Stripping and Flipping” — Voter Suppression and Computer Fraud

The Democrats were defeated because of their own insolent incompetence, because of our antiquated electoral college system and because race is still the dominant factor in American life. That said, Clinton won more than the popular vote, and by over two million. She almost certainly won the Electoral College as well.

To go deeper, we have to get apocalyptic (to lift the veil from our eyes) and understand the dark side of our electoral system. Already in March of this year Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman warned of “Disturbing signs of the time-tested ‘Strip and Flip’ strategy for stealing elections”:

The core approach is to STRIP citizens of their voting rights, then FLIP the electronic vote count if that’s not enough to guarantee a win for the corporate 1%…Historically, “stripping” has been based on race. It’s rooted in the divide-and-conquer strategies of slavery and Jim Crow segregation. Today it centers on racist demands for photo ID and other scams designed to prevent blacks, Hispanics, the young and the poor from voting.

Why did industrial swing states (see below) won by Obama flip to Trump? Clearly, African-Americans and other progressives stayed home because Clinton couldn’t motivate them as he had, and some of his white supporters went to Trump.

Those innocents who naively believe the narrative of fair elections probably assume that this explains everything.

Damn the conventional wisdom. We may well find the answer in pursuing another question: Why, despite the polls favoring Clinton, did the vast majority of high-rolling, last-minute gamblers bet on Trump?

Yes, this was reported in the media, but no one seems to have paid it much attention, except for other gamblers. Before you cast the conspiracy theory hood over me (the conventional means of shutting down discussions), shouldn’t we ask what these pros knew? Did they think that the FBI revelations would sway large numbers of voters? Or did they know that millions of people would not be able to vote – or that their votes would not be counted? We might also ask, as Fitrakis and Wasserman do:

Those who dismiss such warnings as “conspiracy theory” might confront this simple question: “How will the electronic vote count in the 2016 election be verified?” The answer is simple: “It can’t be.”

In 2010, I wrote this in Chapter Ten of my book:

The U.S. is the only democracy that disenfranchises felons, over five million people, two million of whom are black. This simple fact has utterly determined the course of recent history. The more African-Americans a state contains, the more likely it is to ban felons. The average state disenfranchises 2.4 percent of its voting-age population but 8.4 percent of blacks. In fourteen states, the share of blacks stripped of the vote exceeds ten percent, and in five states it exceeds twenty percent. While seventy-five percent of whites register, only sixty percent of blacks can. Seven Republican senators owe their election to these laws. Had felons been allowed to vote in 2000, Al Gore’s popular vote margin would have doubled to a million. If Florida had allowed just ex-felons to vote, he would have carried the state by 30,000 votes and with it the presidency.

Since then, the number of disenfranchised voters has risen considerably. voterid-001-701x467 The vast majority of them are poor, working and incarcerated people, and had they been allowed to participate, they certainly would have propelled Democrats into landslide victories with progressive mandates. And this condition existed before the Supreme Court disemboweled the Voting Rights Act. This election was the first in fifty years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, and the numbers of the disenfranchised are certainly only the tip of the iceberg.

These numbers do not include Americans residing in Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands, all of whom are considered U.S. nationals, not citizens and can vote in primaries but not the general election. This is an aggregate population of nearly four million people – nearly all of them people of color.

They are part of a much larger group, those who for all reasons are ineligible to vote, including prisoners and college students on campuses not in their home districts. The adult population according to Wikipedia is 245 million, and 220 million are eligible to vote (about half of whom actually do). This results in a staggering number: some fifteen to twenty million American adults are not allowed to vote. votersuppression_infog-2_700 But many of them once could vote and have been stripped – quite deliberately, in Republican-controlled states – of their legitimate rights. Two articles by Greg Palast, here and here, show the grim details and the astonishing numbers of voter suppression in America.

Because of the Supreme Court ruling, fourteen states had restrictive new voting laws on the books this year: Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. map_0Almost all of them saw decreased turnout and went to Trump, with the exception of tiny New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Virginia. These last three states are the only ones of the fourteen with Democratic governors. More on this later. Much more.

The liberal post-election narrative wants to blame African-Americans for Clinton’s loss. Clearly, thousands of them could not stomach voting for her. But those who retained their eligibility this year found it much harder to vote even if they wanted to.

In one of many examples, the changes to the Voting Act allowed the worst offending states to reduce the number of polling places by nearly nine hundred. In several states this means that people of color (most assuredly not white suburban voters) had to drive long distances in order to stand in line for several hours. Such scenes were repeated in African-American precincts in most of the swing states.

And when they finally got inside, hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions, according to Palast – learned that they would not be allowed to vote. tried-to-vote

Shall we go even deeper?

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Barry’s Blog # 182: Trump: Madness, Machines, Migrations and Mythology, Part Four

It Can’t Happen Here

In pursuing what led to the Trump “victory” – yes, I’m putting that in quotes – we’re beginning to observe an ongoing conflict between two themes: Lesser of two evils vs Cognitive Dissonance. As for the first, it’s clear by now, with two astoundingly unpopular major candidates, that literally millions of people on both sides held their noses and chose the least unfavorable, the one whose promises overrode their perceived character. That’s a rational position, regardless of which side it comes from.

But the more irrational process of cognitive dissonance goes farther in explaining how we justify our opinions. George Lakoff, in one of the best articles on voting preferences that I’ve seen so far , writes:

If facts don’t fit the worldviews in our brains, the facts may not even be noticed, or they may be puzzling, ignored or rejected outright, or if threatening, attacked. All of these happen in politics…

This happened and is happening on all points of the spectrum. On the right, it takes the form of He doesn’t really mean those terrible things he says – or – He’s vulgar and ignorant of Scripture but deep down he’s really a Christian. It takes the form of Jews praising Steve Bannon. Since the election, the corporate media have fallen all over themselves “normalizing” this fascist.

On the left, despite the many insightful articles I’ve been referencing above, cognitive dissonance takes the form of refusal to accept the extraordinary corruption and criminality at the core of the Republican campaign. And 2016 was nothing new. As I write in Chapter Eight of my book:

A half-century before the “Neo-Cons,” reactionaries were willing to say absolutely anything to amplify fear. From this point on, we can follow the predatory imagination to its logical extreme – doing whatever is necessary. But the myth of Good Intentions is so pervasive that generations would pass before liberals, innocent believers in “fair play,” would begin to acknowledge that conservatives had never played by the rules.

By 1968, when Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger struck a last-minute deal with the Vietnamese government to prolong the war, doing whatever is necessary became standard Republican election strategy. The term “October Surprise” came into use four years later and into common usage in 1980, when the Reagan campaign struck their own last-minute deal with the Iranian government. Mass acceptance of the phrase came after the 2000 election, which ushered in the era of disenfranchisement and electronic voter fraud.

Then we have the question of Russians hacking the DNC’s emails, an idea which circulated so widely for so long – at least until the day after the election – that most people assumed first of all that it was true and secondly that it meant something. The consensus that it was true did have one effect – it served to deflect media attention from the content of the emails that had been revealed, or at least to the extent that no one seems to have polled anyone about whether the information actually caused them to change their vote. My conclusion: as Tony Soprano said, forgedaboudit.

Still, when FBI Director Comey revealed the new investigation of Clinton, I was amazed at how many times I heard conventional media spokespersons casually speak of an October Surprise, as if they expected that their viewers wouldn’t be surprised at such shenanigans. gettyimages-610924744 Despite my knowledge of long-term dirty tricks happening shortly before most presidential elections, I’ll admit to a bit of my own naiveté. I thought, “At this late date could it be possible that anyone in the country is still undecided, that anyone who will vote is still wondering: Hillary or Donald? This is non-news; it means nothing.” Apparently, I was wrong. Kevin Drum writes that

…the news of the investigation accelerated the shift of a largely hidden rural mass of voters toward Trump…People who decided on their vote during the last week—after Comey wrote his letter—broke strongly for Trump. People who decided on their vote during the last couple of days—after Comey cleared Clinton—broke about evenly.

When did you decide your vote?

Clinton           Trump

Last Week (6%)             38%                 50%

Last few days (8%)       44%                46%

Mike Davis agrees: “A crucial cohort of college-educated white Republican women appeared to have rallied to Trump in the last week of the campaign after having wavered in previous polling.”

On many levels we can perceive the election as expressing disputes between various groups within the “deep state.” While Clinton retained the loyalty of most of the national security apparatus, the domestic security community – the national police, if you prefer – was divided between the Justice Department, led by Obama appointees, and the FBI. There, sources told The Guardian that there was much antipathy toward her. “The FBI is Trumpland,” said one current agent.

So much goes on at these levels, under the table so to speak, that all we can do is speculate. But it seems likely that the notion of “Republicans vs Democrats” was the most superficial. And such speculation can only lead us toward guessing about why “they” wanted us to vote or not vote. However, everyone, informed or not, racist or not, made their own choices.

The first four sections of this essay have dealt with various approaches to the question of why people voted the way they did. Now we’ll have to move toward the question of whether they actually voted. And once we do, all we’ve said about Democratic incompetence (not the neoliberalism) will prove to be completely irrelevant.

We need to go deeper.

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Barry’s Blog # 181: Trump: Madness, Machines, Migrations and Mythology, Part Three

Race and Religion; Race and Social Class

Members of the clergy lay hands and pray over Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at the New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights

Meanwhile, four out of five white evangelicals, a quarter of the electorate, voted for Trump despite his palpable insincerity, his obnoxious vulgarity and his obvious ignorance of the Bible. Mike Davis    writes:

The key factor was Trump’s cynical covenant with religious conservatives…He gave them a free hand to draft the party platform at the Convention and then teamed with one of their popular heroes, Pence of Indiana…At stake for right-to-lifers, of course, was control of the Supreme Court and a final chance to reverse Roe vs Wade. This may explain why Clinton, who unlike Obama allowed herself to be identified with late-term abortions, underperformed him by 8 points among Latina/o Catholics.

I would suggest that many of the most famous televangelists are politicians first and religious leaders second. They knew as well as anyone else that he was conning them. In America, when we speak about religion, all we need to do is follow the money. Qui bono. One pastor was candid about this:

Every Bible school and college, are we still going to be allowed to maintain our biblical positions? Are we going to lose government subsidized college loans? Are we going to lose tax-exempt status for churches?

Twenty-six percent of Hispanic Catholics chose Trump, while 60 percent of white Catholics did. Mormons, previously touted as disgusted with Trump, chose him by 61%. Jews are traditional Democrats and 71% of them supported Clinton – except for the Orthodox and Hassidic communities in Brooklyn, where Trump got 69%. Let’s call a “spade” a spade. What, we might ask, is the one thing these sects have in common besides their extremism, their in-group consciousness and their severe tests for admission into the core standing of the elect of god? It’s their whiteness.

trump_supportes

Derek Beres writes:

It is surprising, from a doctrinal perspective, that political affiliation overrules spiritual belief. This forces us to confront a starker reality: religion is fluid and conforms to the tribe, which is opposite of how religion is usually advertised, as a pre-existing condition. If that were truly the case, Evangelicals, Protestants, Mormons, and Catholics would have never voted for the most uncharitable candidate in modern times. Voters might claim religious affiliation, but in an election like this the numbers paint an entirely opposite picture.

I’ll stand by the old standby: race. Evangelicals are concentrated in the same states that made up the Confederacy, the “solid South,” where de facto segregation, church bombings, police violence, defunded social programs, anti-gay laws and voter suppression exist side-by-side with, are indeed inseparable from Protestant religion.

Obvious but mostly superficial progress has transformed the social face of the South, but old beliefs and the myths that underlie them change very slowly. Please see my blog series “Hands up, Don’t Shoot: The Sacrifice of American Dionysus” for a longer discussion of this issue. For now, here are some thoughts from Chapter Ten of my book:

Since white supremacy was a religion, wrote theologian James Sellers, all threats to it took on mythic importance. “Segregation is a system of belief that would protect its devotees from…‘the powers of death and destruction’…It therefore becomes a holy path, complete with commandments, priests, theologians…” The question of actual guilt was often quite irrelevant. If the mob couldn’t apprehend the accused man, they’d randomly select one of his kinsmen for the sacrifice. Often, they ritually tortured him for hours before burning him at the stake. Then they distributed his remains like religious relics, for his death and dismemberment…had cleansed and unified them.

The myth of the Old South, writes Orlando Patterson, stated that the presence of the Other, not a slavery-based economy, had caused its shameful defeat. The ex-slave symbolized both violence and sin to an obsessed society. He was “obviously” enslaved to the flesh, and his skin invited a fusion of racial and religious symbolism. His “black” malignancy was to the body politic what Satan was to the soul. “The central ritual of this version of the Southern civil religion…was the human sacrifice of the lynch mob.”…Patterson writes, “…the burning cross distilled it all: sacrificed Negro joined by the torch with sacrificed Christ, burnt together and discarded…”

Such attitudes survive because black men represent the violence that whites can’t admit is a core part of the American soul. For over seventy years, lynching was the perfect symbolic tool to expiate it. “Today,” writes Patterson, “ we no longer lynch in public rituals supervised by local clergymen. Instead, the state hires the hangman to do it.”

Race is the primary determinant of the fact that the white working class began to abandon the Democrats exactly when that party began to support the Civil Rights movement. In 1948, 66% of manual laborers voted Democratic. In 1964 that number was down to 55% and by 1980, just as Ronald Reagan was framing his message of soft racism, it was 35%. By the 2012 election, Democrats possessed only a 2-point advantage among poor whites. Among whites making $30-75,000 per year, the GOP has taken a 17-point lead.

Tamara Draut writes:

Trump was as likely to win affluent voters…as Clinton. This wasn’t a working-class revolt. It was a white revolt…Only white people had the luxury and the safety to ignore Trump’s promises to restore law and order, to deport millions…His phony economic populism was the icing on the cake…It was not the driving motivation… Not all Trump voters are racist, but they were willing to vote for a racist. Not all Trump voters are sexist, but they were willing to vote for a sexist. That is the definition of privilege.

Historically, whites have been privileged to believe in the American Dream, to share the expectation of constant progress into a better future, often with an absurd naiveté encouraged by the media. As I pointed out in Chapter Nine of my book,

We are similarly ignorant about one of our most fundamental values: social mobility, or the opportunity to get ahead. The likelihood of advancing in social class has decreased significantly since the 1980s. But 56% of those blue-collar men who correctly perceived Bush’s 2003 tax cuts as favoring the rich still supported them. The myth of the self-made man is as deeply engrained as our wild, naïve optimism; in 2000, 19% believed they would “soon” be in the top one percent income bracket, and another 19% thought they already were. Two-thirds expect to have to pay the estate tax one day (only two percent will).

There is a deep and universal mythological theme around the archetypal image of The King, who symbolizes order, blessing and fertility, our deepest aspirations. Throughout most of history and literature, the King and other members of the nobility (a word whose etymology indicates self-knowledge) have often carried these hopes for the entire community. But in our demythologized America, with its emphasis on democracy, self-improvement and upward mobility, we have always lacked such figures. What we’ve had instead is the culture of celebrity.

Our American hero mythology provides us with a paucity of images. If we cannot be heroes, or in economic terms, winners – our only option is to identify as victims, or as Trump would say, losers. We’re kicked off the island, because we deserve it. And this is because our Puritan heritage teaches us that wealth is a sign of being among the Elect of God, while poverty indicates the opposite. As political activists we may despise the rich, but as Americans, we generally prefer to emulate them.

But it’s not the refined Ivy-educated, snooty, proper-English-speaking upper class that Americans want to join. For decades, Hollywood has made fun of such people. What we love are men who have made it on their own (or so we’re told) but remain loyal to their roots, guys who retain their working-class values and language and tweak the noses of the gentry. Think Reagan. Think George W. Bush (not his father). Think Trump. Draut argues that Trump’s victory

…didn’t happen because you like chardonnay and the white working class likes beer. Thinking that this vote comes down to where people shop, the television shows they watch or what kind of alcohol they like to drink after a long day of work is an elitist reduction of people to their consumer habits.

Perhaps, but I’d strongly recommend a little-known classic from 1992, Paul Fussell’s Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, a book which presents itself as humorous but is in fact deadly serious. Fussell argued that in America, where we pride ourselves on not having a traditional, European class system and where anyone (or so we’re told) can “make it,” we advertise our degrees of value not necessarily with our money but by our styles of living.

Class is not the same as wealth; it’s all about symbols. He gives as an example the size of the balls we play with indicates our actual social class, from basketballs to golf balls. Of course, he spends an entire book making his arguments, but he concluded, for another example, that Ronald Reagan (Reagan’s image, that is, or what we’d now call his brand) was “high-prole.” Or more importantly, he appealed to people in the upper working class who had aspirations to rise higher but not to change their styles and tastes.

This is why, according to Joan C. Williams, “the white working class…resents professionals but admires the rich”:

…Michèle Lamont, in The Dignity of Working Men, also found resentment of professionals — but not of the rich. “[I] can’t knock anyone for succeeding,” a laborer told her. “There’s a lot of people out there who are wealthy and I’m sure they worked darned hard for every cent they have,” chimed in a receiving clerk. Why the difference? For one thing, most blue-collar workers have little direct contact with the rich outside of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But professionals order them around every day. The dream is not to become upper-middle-class, with its different food, family, and friendship patterns; the dream is to live in your own class milieu, where you feel comfortable — just with more money…Hillary Clinton, by contrast, epitomizes the dorky arrogance and smugness of the professional elite. The dorkiness: the pantsuits. The arrogance: the email server. The smugness: the basket of deplorables. Worse, her mere presence rubs it in that even women from her class can treat working-class men with disrespect.

In 2016 they voted for a racist for all the reasons enumerated above. But they also voted for a New York billionaire with the most vulgar, misogynist and ostentatious lifestyle, a motor-mouth (or at least a brand) with no social graces or politically correct censor on his opinions, an “outsider” who insulted the people in tweeds, a man with unlimited money but no taste who gilded his toilet seats, just because he could. He was a man they could imagine having a beer with, unlike that black patrician in the White House. He’s a high-prole, and they could imagine becoming like him, if he’d only get the niggers out of the way.

Work hard, rise in social class. This was their historical, if wildly inaccurate, expectation. But by 2000 they had also been hearing for thirty years that the pie was shrinking, and that undeserving minorities were grabbing the crumbs away from them.

Trump offered them no economic plan, just the old Southern strategy: blame blacks and browns (and now a black president) for their problems, and frame government as favoring people of color. The genius of the Republicans was to sense their class anger, combine it with racial anxiety and turn it away from its appropriate targets and toward liberals by speaking the language of American myth. Draut is right, at least at this level: “…we’ve got to grapple with the reality that we lost this election largely due to white privilege.”

But we need to go deeper.

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Barry’s Blog # 180: Trump: Madness, Machines, Migrations and Mythology, Part Two

Groping is a healthy thing to do. When you’re heterosexual, you grope, okay? –   Female Trump supporter.

 Race and Gender

I predicted during the Democratic primaries that

…Clinton will almost certainly win the nomination because she swept these states – none of which the Democrats have the slightest hope of winning in November. So her Southern support will prove to be crucial to her nomination but useless in the general election, where Republicans will continue to sweep the South…This bears repeating: Hillary swept the Old South in the primaries, but she has no hope of getting any of their votes in the Electoral College. Partially because of voter suppression…and partially because of old-fashioned racism…these states will all go to Donald Trump.

Some writers have compared this period to the 1860s, and I have to agree. In Chapter Eight of my book I tried to understand what motivated soldiers who fought for the Confederacy:

…we wonder why several hundred thousand dirt-poor whites who couldn’t afford to own slaves defended this cause so savagely. We must conclude that they fought not to save slavery (which was against their own economic interests), but to perpetuate white privilege. It was all they had.

It really is a similar time. We are talking about the breakdown of the myth of American Innocence and the collapse of one of its core assumptions, the heroic, ruggedly individualistic, working-class white male worker/provider. As in previous times of economic and social instability, racism increases as a reaction to the perceived danger to white male identity.

David Masciotra argues that “…black progress is the trigger of white rage… As soon as people of color start setting terms for coexistence, the mask comes off and a beast comes out.” He lives in a small town in Indiana, where

…white Americans are not studying the numbers of NAFTA and contemplating the strengths and weaknesses of protectionism. Many are practicing a soft racism, though, invisible to the naked eye too easily distracted by the overt bigotry of white supremacists…

In this election, in addition, the gender gap expanded to the widest in history. However, while it was no surprise that white men were Trump’s base, we have to ask: despite his disgusting and vulgar misogyny, despite majority support for abortion rights,  despite Republican policies designed to hurt women, why did 53% of white women support him?

We know this from exit polls. Everything we are told about who voted and why comes from thousands of interviews conducted by professional poll takers as people exited the polling booths. More on this later. Much more.

Seen from a certain perspective, every election since 1964 has been about race, and this was no different, as the post-election spike in harassment and hate crimes confirms. Granted, Clinton was deeply unpopular, but Trump’s message, obvious to everyone but the most naïve, was “Make America white again.” Here is statistical support for this argument.

We must acknowledge that in American myth, white privilege and fear – specifically the fear of the racialized Other – still outweigh gender solidarity, not to mention rational self-interest. Chapter Seven of my book describes how, for over three hundred years, the elites and their gatekeepers have manipulated narratives of the sacred responsibility to protect the purity of “their” women and to ignore their privileges by identifying as victims of the truly oppressed.

And more white women than we might have thought are still willing to consume such stories. How about those with college degrees? The Trump support numbers go down only to 51%. Think about that number. We are not talking Audience member Robin Roy reacts as U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets her at a campaign rally in Lowellabout working class men who are anxious about their declining authority and lost jobs; we’re talking about women who in countless offices and bureaucratic situations are their bosses. We’re talking about women who have attained agency and self-determination, many of whom consider themselves feminists, but who are still terrified by the prospect of muggers and terrorists.

About that new narrative of rural voters: it turns out that average Trump voters are not uneducated, they don’t live in the country, and their income is over $70,000/year, much higher than both the national average and the incomes of Clinton and Sanders voters. And rural voters, who usually vote Republican anyway, made up only 17% of the electorate. Such people had not suffered under Obama; indeed they had thrived, writes Eric Sasson:

They’re not suffering or desperate, and have no concrete reason to hate the status quo or to feel like they are in decline. They understand that Trump is manifestly unprepared to be president, have heard his many lies and insults, yet voted for him anyway.

Trump’s support came from the same Republican base that supported Mitt Romney and all their predecessors who have manipulated the white vote and its racialized fears for generations (despite the Republican leaders who briefly repudiated him), plus some disaffected working-class people. And quite a few of them were the women that Clinton had expected would support her.

Is it possible to be financially comfortable, to believe in women’s equality (the vast majority of both genders do), and still hold racist beliefs, or at the very least, irrational fear of dark skin? Apparently so. L. V. Anderson writes:

…the biggest and saddest reason white women chose Trump over Clinton is simple: racism…They wanted to vote on the side of white men. White women decided that defending their position of power as white people was more important than defending their reproductive rights, their sexual autonomy, their access to health care, family leave, and child care…Most white women still identify more with white men than they do with black women, Latina women, Muslim women, transwomen…

Michael Moore argues that race was not the primary factor:

You have to accept that millions of people who voted for Barack Obama, some of them once, some of them twice, changed their minds this time. They’re not racist. They twice voted for a man whose middle name is Hussein. That’s the America you live in.

May it be so. Maybe such people would have been open to a progressive candidate. Maybe they would have voted for Sanders. But the fact remains that Clinton received far fewer votes than Obama. Perhaps the changed minds he refers to had more to do with staying home. Meanwhile, the Ku Klux Klan is having a victory parade.

Masciotra disagrees:

The soft racist gets along with his black and Latino coworkers, waves to the Arab neighbors, and gives a friendly greeting to the parents of color at his child’s school, but all the while he feels that America is his country. The virtue of his whiteness gives him ownership. Should a black president, or a Black Lives Matter protest, or a Latino presence in his neighborhood threaten his sense of entitlement, superiority and authority, he feels resentful, even hateful.

But we need to go deeper.

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Barry’s Blog # 179: Trump: Madness, Machines, Migrations and Mythology, Part One

The stunned question echoes among liberals: How could this have happened? How could this racist scumbag become president? Wasn’t it finally time for a woman?

I’m going to propose some other questions. Forget about How could he win? or How could she lose? – because she didn’t (see below). The real question should be: Why didn’t she beat this immensely unpopular bufoon by thirty points? Why was the election – even in Red states – so close?

We need to look deeper and deeper. Let’s begin by acknowledging a reality that led Mumia Abu-Jamal to say from prison: “If Trump is the price we have to pay to defeat Clintonian neoliberalism, so be it.”

 1 – The corruption and fatal incompetence of the Democrat Party leadership symbolized by Hillary Clinton, whose essential messages were “I’m more of Obama” and “I’m not Trump.”

Bernie Sanders said after the election:

You cannot be a party which on one hand says we’re in favor of working people, we’re in favor of the needs of young people but we don’t quite have the courage to take on Wall Street and the billionaire class…People do not believe that. You’ve got to decide which side you’re on.

Thomas Frank:

Clinton was an insider when the country was screaming for an outsider… If Trump is a fascist, as liberals often said, Democrats should have put in their strongest player to stop him, not a party hack they’d chosen because it was her turn.

Diana Johnstone:

Clinton was the candidate of the military industrial complex and international finance capital…enthusiastically and expensively supported by the one percent who profit from arms contracts and the trade deals they write themselves for their own interests…Many of them (Trump voters) would have voted for Bernie Sanders if they had the choice…

Clinton puts her arm around Kissinger after he presented her with a Distinguished Leadership Award from the Atlantic Council in Washington

With the war criminal Kissinger

Shaun King:

The Democratic Party has mastered lying to itself and its core constituencies. It claims a progressive identity, but is as moderate and lukewarm as it has ever been on so many issues that matter to everyday people…Its strongest voting blocs are people of color…but the party insisted on having an all white presidential ticket.

Robert Scheer:

Clinton’s arrogance was on full display with the revelation of her speeches cozying up to Goldman Sachs—the bank that caused this misery more than any other…It’s a repudiation of the arrogant elitism of the Democratic Party machine as represented by the Clintons, whose radical deregulation of Wall Street created this mess…Yes, we need a female president, but not in the mold of Margaret Thatcher.

Glenn Greenwald:

Democrats knowingly chose to nominate a deeply unpopular, extremely vulnerable, scandal-plagued candidate…Trump vowed to destroy the system that elites love (for good reason) and the masses hate (for equally good reason), while Clinton vowed to manage it more efficiently…the conniving choice the Democratic Party made decades ago: to abandon populism and become the party of technocratically proficient, mildly benevolent managers of elite power. Those are the cynical, self-interested seeds they planted, and now the crop has sprouted.

All these writers agree that for 25 years the Clintons have led the Democratic Party into imperial militarism, financial instability, increased inequality and betrayal of working people, and that the DNC did everything possible to marginalize Bernie Sanders while attempting to manipulate the millions of people who supported him.

Many have blamed African-Americans for not turning out in the same numbers as they had for Obama. But perhaps now we can ask: If Clinton promised nothing more than an extension of his policies, were those policies so popular except in contrast to the Republicans? And if so, if Obama weren’t a Black man, would you have supported him in 2008? And if he and his family weren’t so articulate and photogenic would you still be idolizing them now? Neoliberalism is neoliberalism, regardless whether its face is Black or female, and enough of the voters rejected it to make Trump seem a palatable alternative.

Michael Moore, now freed from the burden of having to publicly support these people, admits that if they had nominated Sanders, he would have won.

This article goes into further detail. And this one reminds us the Democrats knew very well that he was the stronger candidate, but their pundits “told you to ignore” the polls:

2 – Public apathy. Decades of negative campaigning have had their effect. When the only choice was the lesser of two evils, some one hundred million Americans apparently decided that the lesser of two evils is still evil and stayed home.

As I wrote in Chapter Eight of my book, this is nothing new; it is a long-term trend that began in the late 1960s (only briefly impacted by Obama), that the Republicans have consistently manipulated, and which the Democrats have consistently accepted as the price of selling their souls to Wall Street.

The Republican vote, roughly sixty million in 2008, remained about the same, while the Democratic vote declined from 53% to 48%, or ten million fewer people voting for Clinton than voted for Obama.

(Note: on 11/15, Chris Bowers posted that the final 2016 vote will be about the same as in 2012, that “It is possible that turnout was down among key demographics that lean toward Democrats, while up among demographics that are more favorable toward Republicans.”)

This was the choice that the election offered: a broken system, or a system that needs to be torn up. As larger and larger holes appear in the fabric of the Myth of American Innocence, all of society’s institutions reveal the corruption at their core, and each of them inspire the worst in us. In this context, I don’t think we can judge those who refuse to participate.

But we need to go deeper.

3 – The Electoral College

Once again a Democrat won the popular vote – this time by as much as two million votes – but lost in the antiquated Electoral College, which reflects 18th Century values and demographics that have always ensured that rural votes count more than urban votes. Please note that “urban” is now a euphemism for “African-American.”

And not simply rural vote but white votes. Christopher Petrella  writes that, with the infamous designation of a slave as 3/5th of a person, “…the Electoral College incentivized the institution of slavery.” It produced a system in which, by 1800, Pennsylvania had 10 percent more free persons than Virginia, but had 20 percent fewer electoral votes. It was responsible for the fact that four of the first five US presidents were white slaveholders from Virginia. According to legal historian Akhil Reed Amar,

Perversely, the more slaves Virginia (or any other slave state) bought or bred, the more electoral votes it would receive. Were a slave state to free any blacks who then moved North, the state could actually lose electoral votes.

 Even after the Civil War and ever since, rural conservatives in lightly-populated states have known the value of retaining the Electoral College and limiting direct elections.

The new narrative is that rural and working-class voters were behind the big upset. Without the Electoral College, however, the new narrative would be: Trump so unpopular that Clinton got millions of fewer votes than Obama did in 2012 and still won.

But we need to go deeper.

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Barry’s Blog # 178: Cultural Appropriation, Part Seven

Well, I thought I was done with this theme. But then I had an opportunity to attend the wonderful Bioneers conference, which has devoted much energy to the concerns and values of tribal people.

bioneers-header

There, I attended a “council” workshop on cultural appropriation  and heard many of the points of view that I’ve already articulated.

The idea of council comes from the indigenous world. The process encourages all participants to speak from the heart with respect and concern for communal values as the talking stick passes around the circle. And although each speaker’s voice is supposed to have equal value, the reality is that the leader(s) of the conversation do invoke the privilege of speaking both as authorities and as participants.

In this council, and under these circumstances, one of the leaders offered an opinion that I found rich and provocative: “Good intentions are not enough.” She was implying that potential appropriators must go to great lengths to avoid harming or insulting the indigenous carriers of tradition. She was right, of course. But her statement was more than an opinion: it was a prescription: This is how you must act. And assertions about how we must act can result in our not acting at all.

In response, I thought of something I heard once from a drumming teacher: Bad drumming insults the ancestors. But I’d also heard another statement from a different teacher: There are no drumming mistakes, only new rhythms. Together, they cover the whole cultural appropriation range, from the gatekeepers who hide esoteric forms from the public to those who actually ask Westerners to carry on traditions that are dying. The first drumming teacher may well have been accurate, but the second was kind and generous. I’ll go with the second.

And how about those good intentions? Linguist George Lakoff says that 95% of our motivations are unconscious. Most of the time we have no idea what our real motivations are or how many parts of ourselves are in conflict with our conscious ideals.

Recall this old saying – No good deed goes unpunished. Often our (personal and national) “good” deeds go punished (have unintended consequences) precisely because some or most of our unconscious motivations are in direct opposition to our conscious good intentions. It’s like driving with your parking brake engaged. Most of the time those conscious motivations are all we really know. We are – all of us – ambivalent (ambi-valent = “both strengths”) by nature. This is one of the most fundamental realizations of Greek Tragedy.

The tyranny of the ego assigns value only to those conscious motives. And that ego-tyrant is our internalized father-figure, who is himself the internalized authority of Jehovah/Allah, the mono-god of monotheism. But outside of our Judeo-Christian-Moslem tradition, almost all indigenous and tribal people practiced polytheistic ways that more accurately mirrored our complex psychology. Having a complicated pantheon of figures in one’s mythic imagination encourages one to ponder the equally broad range of internal voices, each of whom may well have their own agenda.

And that is one reason to take the leap into the unknown and engage in ritual. In my experience, ritual more than anything else can help us clarify those intentions, to learn the complex nature of who we are. We think: I need this. Ritual asks: Really? How much do you need this? Do you need it or do you want it? What’s the difference? What will you sacrifice in order to attain it?

Every deed – every single thing we do – has unintended consequences. Now what? Do nothing that might possibly be tainted with cultural appropriation for fear that we might trigger someone?

A Hassidic story (yes, I’m appropriating it) told by Elie Wiesel addresses this dilemma:

When the Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews, he would go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished. Later, when his disciple, the Magid of Mezritch, needed for the same reason to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: ‘‘Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer,’’ and again he would have success. Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Lieb of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: ‘‘I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.’’ It was sufficient. Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he addressed God: ‘‘I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is ask You to redeem us, and this must be sufficient.’’ And it was.

We will screw up. We will hurt someone’s feelings, period. But, as we really feel the terrifying reality of the political, environmental and spiritual conditions in this moment, I remember another old saying: The perfect is the enemy of the good.

We no longer have the privilege of hesitating because we might not be doing something perfectly. We must do what we are called to do (even as we clarify that sense of calling), knowing full well that our intentions can never be fully clear, that our actions – without exception – have consequences beyond our knowledge.

Right action means being willing to accept responsibility for those consequences. Only people (and nations) who are utterly invested in their own innocence act with no sense of consequences. Ultimately, this business of cultural appropriation is about waking up and clarifying the complex nature of who we are – our good intentions as well as our darker motives – accepting them and loving them. This willingness to acknowledge our fullness is a necessary precursor to self-forgiveness.

It All Comes Back To Me

Not willing to be vicious,

I lost my voice.

Not wanting to be foolish,

I lost my courage.

Averse to being led,

I lost my way.

Unwilling to be like them,

I forgot my name.

Remembering now

is blessing enough.

Waking up groggy

is still waking up.

– Victory Lee Schouten

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