Barry’s Blog # 345: A Mythologist Looks at the 2020 Election, Part Six

In a dark time, the eye begins to see. – Theodore Roethke.

 Boy Psychology

I mentioned the Jungian psychologist Robert Moore in an earlier section. His books King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine and The Archetype of Initiation are essential reading for the understanding of masculine psychology in the late stages of our demythologized world.

The devastating fact is that most men are fixated at an immature level of development. These early developmental levels are governed by the inner blueprints appropriate to boyhood. When they are allowed to rule what should be adulthood, when the archetypes of boyhood are not built upon and transcended by the Ego’s appropriate accessing of the archetypes of mature masculinity, they cause us to act out of our hidden (to us, but seldom to others) boyishness…Boy psychology is everywhere around us, and its marks are easy to see. Among them are abusive and violent acting-out behaviors against others, both men and women; passivity and weakness, the inability to act effectively and creatively in one’s own life and to engender life and creativity in others (both men and women); and, often, an oscillation between the two– abuse/weakness, abuse/weakness.

He was writing and teaching about the base line of normality shared by almost all men in our culture. And he conceived these ideas in the 1980s, decades before the economic meltdowns of 2008 or 2020 that put much greater pressure on the fragile sense of American masculinity. I spent much time in Moore’s presence, and I can tell you that he certainly would have agreed with one of the basic premises of my book: that as the myth of American innocence collapses, the conditions of social reaction are making it even more likely that uninitiated and profoundly immature men will rise to the top of cultural, economic and political influence.

To summarize and to mythologize. Our American Innocence has conjured up these two men: one who embodies the very worst of our possibilities but who is, literally, us; and the other who models for us all the futile attempt to hide the truth from ourselves. We are also dealing with two old men who are so invested in their personae and so unwilling to consider introspection that they can barely censor themselves.

My image for Trumpus is the smirking, entitled but uninitiated boy-king who is so desperate to know himself, for others to know his pain (and perhaps finally be loved for who he is) that he will unconsciously invite his own — and our — destruction by provoking the wrath of Dionysus. What is he really saying? Stop me before I drive this red sports car into my wall!

The image for Biden (when he comes out of hidin’) is of driving that same sports car, but with his foot on the emergency brake, wondering why he isn’t going anywhere. I hope he isn’t senile, and he may not be a psychopath, but he certainly exhibits classic passive aggression by sabotaging his goals. What is he really saying? I really don’t think that I deserve to be President! I don’t even want to be President! Don’t vote for me!

Granted, one is crazier than the other. And we really need to remove him before he ups the ante any further. But we no longer have the luxury of hiding behind our own ignorance and pretending that the other is not a servant of the same oligarchs whose boundless greed will take us all down. Yes, for the Supreme Court. Yes, for abortion rights. Yes, for union rights. Yes (maybe) for mitigating Climate change. Yes, for a more rational Covid policy. Yes, for mild increases on taxes on the mega-wealthy. Yes, for the possibility of making the streets a little safer for immigrants and people of color.

But know that to a Venezuelan farmer, or a Palestinian child, or a Sudanese peasant, or almost anyone in dozens of Third-World dc557d1d3d23f7104c9f11e41c6b2d49countries under the thumb of the American empire, or to a black single mother in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward who used to work cleaning houses, or to her autistic son – or to the military/industrial/financial/petrochemical/health insurance/carceral/high technology complex – it will make absolutely no difference who wins this election.

As for that last group, it’s getting harder to miss the many subtle hints in the media that the Pentagon and the “intelligence community” are throwing their support behind Biden:

Retired Marine General Latest to Admonish Trump 

Former Army secretary backs Biden, citing ‘moral leadership’

Head of Aerospace Industries Association endorses Biden

Pentagon disarms the Guard in D.C.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper says he had no idea he would be in Trump’s infamous photo-op and no idea troops would beat back protesters

George Will reveals he is voting for Joe Biden

As Trump Implodes, Democrats Roll Out the Red Carpet for Bush Era Republicans

George W. Freaking Bush? He of the famous smirk? SmirkAlertConfusedW Are these people decent, honest conservatives who have woken up and just cannot support Trumpus because they love their country and don’t want it to deteriorate further? Please…let me remind you that almost every one of them has supported 95% of his agenda for their entire political careers (including the past four years), and further, that “principled conservatives” no longer exist within the Republican Party, that decades ago they were ousted by the current group of racist reactionaries. So their support for Biden is exactly what it looks like: going with the odds and betting on the guy who is currently favored to win.

Still, you have reasons, and I support many of them. Beyond the wish to end the horrors of Trumpus, a “woke” nation should support Hiden’ Biden in the hopes that a Democratic administration may allow the opening of some democratic space for progressives to influence policy. But watch what he does, not what he says. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said of Nicaragua’s murderous dictator Anastasio Somoza, “He’s an SOB, but he’s our SOB.”

In 2009 I concluded Chapter Eight of my book by assessing the state of America’s leaders in mythological terms. And here we are again, except that the ante has been upped considerably:

…only a mythic perspective can make any sense of this. America’s rulers are not ignorant; they are fully aware of our human and environmental tragedies. The fathers no longer send only the young to be sacrificed; now they offer everything to the sky-gods. Whether or not we take their religious rhetoric literally, they are deliberately (if unconsciously) provoking both personal and global apocalypse.

Recall Pentheus, emerging from his collapsed palace, even more determined to confront (or to merge with) Dionysus. Thebes/America is a city of uninitiated men, fanatically devoted to the systematic destruction of their own children. A boy-king, who secretly longed for the symbolic death that might effect his transition to manhood, was leading this city. The entire world could almost feel it as a desperate, visceral prayer when, in June 2003, Bush, the self-appointed embodiment of American heroism, challenged the Iraqi resistance to “bring it on!”

Apocalypse, however, actually means “to lift the veil.” It is, more than anything, a challenge to wake up. Will enough of us accept it?

After heaven and earth have passed away, my word will remain. What was your word, Jesus? Love? Forgiveness? Affection? All your words were one word: Wakeup.  – Antonio Machado

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Barry’s Blog # 344: A Mythologist Looks at the 2020 Election, Part Five

Hidin’ Biden

We cannot let this, we’ve never allowed any crisis from the Civil War straight through to the pandemic of 17, all the way around, 16, we have never, never let our democracy sakes second fiddle, way they, we can both have a democracy and…correct the public health. – Joe Biden, April 2020

In 1966 Joe Biden told his first wife that he aimed to become a senator by the age of 30 and then president. He did become a senator at age 30, 6th youngest in history. Perhaps he felt charmed – and entitled – by his early successes. He’s been running for president for nearly half his adult life. Yet from early on, he has continually subverted his goals with foolish and entirely preventable errors. He was forced to withdraw from the 1988 (yes, that was 32 years ago) presidential race when reporters accused him of plagiarizing speeches and lying about his background.

Later, he was the definition of clueless (“…two kinds of lies: the ones he tells others to scam them, and those he tells himself.”) In 2006 he bragged about his support among Indian Americans: “I’ve had a great relationship. In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian Americans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.”

In 2007 he undermined his next presidential campaign on the very first day by describing Barack Obama: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy—I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”

He was developing a reputation, and the media took the cues and ran with them. In 2008 the NYT wrote that Biden’s “weak filters make him capable of blurting out pretty much anything.” Later, it was reported that as vice president his remarks caused Obama to complain, “How many times is Biden gonna say something stupid?”, and that campaign staffers referred to his blunders as “Joe bombs.” In 2012 he told a mixed-race audience that Republican proposals to relax Wall Street regulations would “put y’all back in chains.” That same year, Time Magazine wrote, “…Biden’s brain is wired for more than the usual amount of goofiness.” w5zvzh9yklt41

And, I would add, unnecessary risk. Trumpus’ attempt to link Biden’s son Hunter to corruption in the Ukraine seems to have gone nowhere. But Hunter did serve on the board of Burisma from 2014 to April 2019, receiving compensation of up to $50,000 per month. Hunter is a banker who may or may not know anything about oil drilling, but his father was the American vice president for most of that period. All this, of course, was conventional nepotism and influence peddling. Everyone does it. But from the perspective of someone who was certainly planning to run for president again and couldn’t afford to be perceived as corrupt, this was, at best, asking for trouble.

I only mention Hunter because I’m building a case that Joe trumps-460x307regularly sabotages his intentions, and that it seems to be a family pattern (the Trumps aren’t the only ones to pass their pathologies on to their children).

In May 2013, Hunter was sworn in as a direct commission officer in the Navy (we can only wonder why a 42-year-old banker with a prior drug arrest, son and brother to well-known politicians, would want to join up). A month later, he tested positive for cocaine and was subsequently but quietly discharged. Two months later, he joined Burisma.

In recent years Joe Biden can’t seem to keep himself from making egregious bloopers or spontaneous racial insults, or from inappropriately touching females on camera. No wonder his advisers have counseled him to stay out of sight while Trumpus makes his own case daily for not being re-elected. But this strategy has also earned him the nickname “Hiden’ Biden.

As I wrote above, old guys are likely to make verbal gaffes on camera. No big deal. What interests me, however, is the unconscious psychological strategies that their gaffes reveal. What does Joe Biden really want?

To know that, we need to know that some of his gaffes really seem to be Freudian slippage on a monumental scale:

Biden accidentally tells crowd he’s a candidate for United States Senate

Vote for Biden Or Don’t

Biden tells voters ‘don’t vote for me’ if they’re concerned about his age

Biden: If You Don’t Vote for Me, ‘You Ain’t Black’

I saved the worst (and my sarcasm) for last:

Biden Vows He’s ‘Going to Beat Joe Biden’ 

Oh yeah, here’s a guy who’s clear about his intentions. Yes, if he is our only option to get the Trump organized crime family out of the White House, then we support Biden, and may it be so.

However, as I wrote about Trumpus, the same American myth is manifested in our idealizations of Biden. If in your mind he is either a handsome white knight (what a set of teeth on him!) in shining armor riding forth to slay that dragon, or a humble, “average joe” you could see yourself having a beer with, please remember that your Joe Biden is an image created by media specialists to elicit exactly those responses in you. Support the guy, vote for the guy, but check your innocence at the door.

Read Part Six here.


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Barry’s Blog # 343: A Mythologist Looks at the 2020 Election, Part Four

Two Senile, Old White Guys Who Want to be President – Or Do They?

I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters. – Trumpus

This essay is not really about politics, except to the extent that politics reflects mythology. Our first responsibility as mythological thinkers is to cultivate discrimination, to take a step back and attempt to perceive the narratives that are being played out in our culture, how they circulate within our psyches, before we can begin to offer new ones. We must understand how we participate in those stories through our own unconscious acceptance of their primary themes. We must acknowledge how they have constrained our view of the world within narrow parameters of the possible.

And before we can engage effectively in the cutthroat world of politics, we must actively grieve how they have diminished our lives, because our constrained view of the world also means a restricted view of ourselves. It means that at some level we believe that we deserve no more than what these old men have to offer. It means that we have traded a moral, visceral, natural response to the world for a fragile sense of innocence. It means that we give our consent to perpetuating a world in which the father gods offer their children for sacrifice.

Within this world, Biden would be smart to refuse to debate Trumpus. If debates happen, consider that

Idealization says more about our own psychological projections than it does about the candidates. When, after one of these debates, you hear yourself say (about either candidate), “He seems like a nice enough guy; I just don’t agree with his positions,” know that the ritual has been successful. The “nice guy” has proven that he can play the role if called upon; he has passed the audition.

Who are these guys? What really drives them? Please, please don’t tell me that either of them is motivated at any level of consciousness by a sense of duty to the nation, by a desire to serve the people. To do so is to reveal your own insistence on American innocence. It is to reveal your addiction to the culture of celebrity, your willingness to project your own inner nobility onto an image of a person, not the person himself.

We absolutely will never know what either of these men actually thinks, except (see below) when they speak spontaneously. Otherwise, as I wrote above, anything spoken for the public by anyone at that level of power has been composed for them by professional speechwriters, carefully vetted in front of multiple focus groups, and edited precisely to fit the perceived needs of a very specific audience so as to manipulate its views.

That’s our baseline here. But we are also talking about two old men. Not too long ago, we would have called them very old, and today we have legitimate concerns about senility (the word is related to senator), just as we had, or should have had, with Ronald Reagan. Reagan, at least, even in his decline, could still read a script.

For four years liberals have been laughing (perhaps to keep from crying) at Trumpus’ gaffes and verbal mistakes. But for the past year, they’ve been cringing as Biden’s gaffes pile up, Fox News insists on his “cognitive decline,” and even Trumpus challenges Biden to take the cognition test that he himself had “aced.” Only in America. If you really need to be reminded, you can see Biden’s gaffes here, here or here.

Actually, it is the state of public discourse that has entered cognitive decline when the two major parties are each selling their candidate as the one who is less demented than the other guy. But I’m not that concerned; if I or you were on camera as often as they are, someone could easily compile similar (highly edited) comic videos about us. And Biden (sigh) is our guy. What interests me is the unconscious psychological strategies that their gaffes reveal.

Trumpus  Trump-smirking-and-smiling-610x360            

Of course Trumpus is mad as a hatter, as countless psychiatrists argue. He is a malignant narcissist (see here and here and here); a sociopath; a psychopath who is a son of a sociopath and/or a sexual sadist who is utterly incapable of human concern and empathy.

So what?

After four, or six, or thirty years of watching this guy on TV, do these diagnoses still surprise you? Do you still react to his latest threat, lie, brag, insult or cruel decision by posting it to Facebook and sharing it – your surprise – with your friends. Well, of course we all do this; but consider that the subject of the sentence, “I can’t believe he said this new thing!” is myself and my own wounded innocence. The shock below the shock is really that Trumpus = Trump / us.

Of course, writes Alex Morris, merely having a mental illness wouldn’t necessarily disqualify Trumpus for the presidency. It doesn’t even make him that unusual:

A 2006 study published in the Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease found that 18 of the first 37 presidents met criteria for having a psychiatric disorder, from depression (24 percent) and anxiety (eight percent) to alcoholism (eight percent) and bipolar disorder (eight percent). Ten of them exhibited symptoms while in office, and one of those 10 was arguably our best president, Abraham Lincoln, who suffered from deep depression…

But despite our wounded innocence, we know that we are dealing with a special case. We know that he schemes constantly to feed his narcissism. We know that he gets deep pleasure by deliberately manipulating, insulting, cheating and stealing from and even hurting anyone and everyone he can get into his clutches. And we know that he’s been doing these things his entire life. And the lies: The WAPO claims that he made 19,127 false or misleading claims in 1,226 days. Clearly, he gets pleasure not from money but from what the money represents – cheating, conning, frightening and manipulating people. Psychologist John Gartner writes:

He enjoys ripping people off and humiliating people. He does this manically and gleefully… Trump is also a sexual sadist, who on some basic level enjoys and is aroused by watching people be afraid of him. In his mind, Trump is creating chaos and instability so that he can feel powerful…Professor of psychiatry and psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg called that phenomenon “omnipotent destructiveness.”…Trump is a master at getting negative attention, and the more people he can shock and upset, the better.

Psychoanalyzing public figures usually tells us more about ourselves than it does about them, but this time we need to go there. We may lie for perverse pleasure – or for some deeper reason. Psychoanalyst Lance Dodes suggests that Trumpus tells “two kinds of lies: the ones he tells others to scam them, and those he tells himself.”

That’s an interesting statement that may carry us to Trumpus’ core, and possibly to the core of American myth. I think this is critical: many insiders have leaked accounts of how he gets bored and constantly seeks to increase the level of risk. With each new tweet, press conference, dismissing of a regulatory bureaucrat, betrayal of a supporter or revelation of the latest scandal, he seems to be constantly upping the ante to see how much he can get away with, before – what? I won’t begin a list because it would take too long, and we’ve all been watching this, daily, for years now. We turn to our spouse and say: I can’t believe it! Just when we think we’ve seen it all, when he couldn’t possibly do or say anything worse – there he goes again.

I propose two bookmarks that define his MOA. The first is the infamous boast at the beginning of his campaign on January 23rd, 2016:

They say I have the most loyal people — did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.

He got away with that because, as Selena Zito wrote, “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”

The second occurred 3½ years later. On July 24th, 2019 Robert Mueller told Congress that the Justice Department has long argued that a sitting president can’t be indicted, and therefore he was declining to indict Trumpus for either obstruction of justice or campaign finance violations. James Risen writes:

…Most people who survive that kind of legal threat would lie low, at least for a while, and try to get back to some level of normalcy. But Trump is a habitual criminal, and his reaction to escaping Mueller’s investigation was to go on yet another crime spree…

From that frying pan, Trumpus leaped into the fire, calling the president of Ukraine, asking him to work with Rudy Giuliani and William Barr to help them manufacture lies about Joe Biden and his son Hunter (more on Hunter later), and clearly offering financial incentives. When the news came out, Adam Schiff, a broken clock who is right twice a day, tweeted, “The transcript of the call reads like a classic mob shakedown.”

No surprises here. The only reason I mention this particular outrage is that it occurred the very next day after Mueller’s testimony.

Trumpus knew perfectly well that intelligence spooks listen in to all his calls. I suggest that – at some level – he knew that this conversation would soon be made public, he was quite deliberately pushing the envelope of provocation and self-incrimination. I imagine his internal logic like this: Well, they refused to catch me last time; maybe this will get their attention. He was – and is – asking to get caught, and he still has the re-election campaign (Goddess protect us) to up the ante further.

What is he really doing? Yes, he’s America’s premier con man.  But look inside every huckster or shyster and you’ll find a low-level trickster, a rebellious adolescent provoking his parents, older brother or teachers by repeatedly transgressing some rule or agreement of social decorum, just, so he thinks, to get a rise out of them.

Or consider a slightly older male “leaving rubber” in his flashy, red sports car, daring the cops. You know the color – I call it “bust me red.” 78749081-man-behaving-badly-could-be-dementia Isn’t he hoping to get caught and have clear limits set on his behavior? Here are some more troubling examples, two from life, one from art and one from mythology:

In 1946 at the scene of one of his crimes, the serial killer William Heirens scrawled these words on a mirror: For heaven’s sake catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself. 

In 1993 a young girl named Polly Klaas was kidnapped and murdered in a case that would lead to California’s “Three Strikes” law. The culprit was a multiple offender named Richard Allen Davis.  th I mention him because a study of his life reveals a pattern. Each time he was released from prison he quickly went on to commit worse behavior, until he enacted the ultimate crime of child murder. It was almost as if each of his actions had been a cry for attention: For heaven’s sake catch me. Until you pay attention, I will continue to up the ante.

saturn_devouring_his_children Francisco Goya’s great painting Saturn Devouring his Son depicts the primordial murder of the children which I have argued is the mythic narrative at the core of western civilization (for background, I write about it here). Jay Scott Morgan describes it:

The image is ineffaceable: the cannibal god on bended knees, engulfed in darkness; the mad haunted eyes and black-blooded mouth; the rending fingers, threaded with blood, and the ravaged figure in their grasp…Cover the right side of the face, and we see a Titan caught in the act, defying anyone to stop him, the bulging left eye staring wildly at some unseen witness to his savagery, his piratical coarseness heightened by the sharp vertical lines of the eyebrow, crossed like the stitches of a scar. Cover his left eye, and we are confronted by a being in pain, the dark pupil gazing down in horror at his own uncontrolled murderousness, the eyebrow curved upwards like an inverted question mark, as if he were asking, “Why am I compelled to do this?”

Who is this Saturn (Chronos, in Greek myth) addressing? Why us, of course. Why won’t we intervene? Why do we collude and normalize the crime? / Morgan continues:

…the painting still evokes in me an interior terror, a sense of isolation, loneliness, grief–this god on his knees, tearing apart his own child, enshrouded in a blackness that is like a psychic tar, clinging to me, clinging me to him, to a drama of primal murderousness, so that now I seem to be participant as well as viewer. I look upon him, and I am implicated in the crime.

A final example comes from Euripides’ play The Bacchae. The boy-king Pentheus reveals (to us, not to himself) his unconscious motivation when he orders his henchmen to find Dionysus and arrest him:

Go, someone, this instant,
to the place where this prophet prophesies.

Pry it up with crowbars, heave it over, upside down;

demolish everything you see…

That will provoke him more than anything.

As I write in Chapter Five of my book,

“Provoke” (from vocare, to call) is marvelously appropriate. At some level Pentheus can choose. He can invoke or evoke his own Dionysian nature, or he can innocently project it outwards, provoking its expression somewhere else.

Yes, on one level Trumpus certainly gets temporary satisfaction from cheating, stealing, hurting and antagonizing his social and intellectual betters. It’s temporary because, like all addictive strategies, it gives no nourishment for the soul and must be repeated continuously. I have no doubt that consciously he says and does these things for these amoral reasons.

But on another level (a moral level), with all the upping of the ante, isn’t he actually proclaiming, I can’t stand myself! Someone please catch me, stop me, punish me before I do something really awful! I don’t want to do this any longer! Get me out of here!

Perhaps, as Alex Henderson remarks of Trumpus’ deluge of ‘incredibly self-damaging actions’ “People are starting to question if he’s ‘actively trying to win anymore.”

Is it possible that – for his entire life – he’s just been asking for help? Conventional psychology might see his behavior patterns as indicating self-hatred. But, as depth psychologist Robert Moore argued, if we look closely at grandiosity, we often discover that just below it lies depression, and that the path toward healing involves puncturing the grandiosity so as to allow the deeper wounds to emerge into the light and be cleansed. From this perspective, everything he does is actually part of an unconscious teleological drive toward self-knowledge. Like Pentheus, he is asking, with increasing desperation (in ritual terms) for initiation. In that sense, he really does speak for all of us.

Read Part Five here.

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Barry’s Blog # 342: A Mythologist Looks at the 2020 Election, Part Three

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

We can disagree in the margins, but the truth of the matter is it’s all within our wheelhouse and nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change. – Joe Biden

The Democratic Primaries

This is not going to be pretty. The election is more than a case of politics making strange bedfellows; it’s two branches of the ruling class in a food-fight. It’s Republican shills for the mega-rich driving white rage down the same old roads of fear and white supremacism they’ve been riding since the 1670s. And it’s octogenarian Democrat dinosaurs using the Russiagate narrative – and now the “Bountygate” narrative – to distract you from the fact that their corporate, neoliberal policies serve the same financial interests as do those of the Republicans.

And the same militarism. Even as I write this, both the full Senate (including 16 Democrats)  and the House Armed Services Committee (with a Democratic majority) have just voted to make it much more difficult to withdraw U.S. troops from the “forever war” in Afghanistan.

Yes, yes, support Biden, for all the appropriate reasons. This time the lesser of two evils is less evil enough for it to matter. But don’t be naïve, and don’t kid yourself about the inappropriate reasons. Biden’s campaign has stressed a fantasy of a “return to normalcy” after an “abnormal” president. However, as Caitlin Johnstone writes, this is a silly idea for two reasons:

Firstly, wanting America to go back to how it was before Trump is wanting the conditions which gave rise to Trump…the same status quo austerity, exploitation, oppression and warmongering …Secondly, this fabled “return to normality” that Biden is supposedly offering is literally impossible, since normality never actually left. Normality never left, because Donald Trump is a very normal US president.

…the media just yell about this president a lot more than usual because he puts an ugly face on the horrific normal that was already there. Sure he makes rude tweets and says dumb things and has made a mess of the pandemic response, but by and large when you strip away the narrative overlay Trump has been a reliable establishment lapdog advancing more or less all the same status quo imperialist and oligarchic agendas as the presidents who came before him. There are just a lot of establishment loyalists with a vested interest in spinning the ugliness his oafishness is exposing as caused by and unique to him.

Again: as mythologists, our first responsibility is to strip away the narratives that keep us from acknowledging reality. The only meaningful way to oppose Trumpus is from the position of a new story that reveals how the myth of innocence – even, perhaps especially in its liberal varieties – has led us all up Shit Creek.

It means giving the one hundred million adult Americans who don’t vote something to get excited about, as Bernie Sanders would have done, rather than fighting over the scraps of the tiny numbers of undecided “swing” voters. We can’t ignore the fact that instead of articulating a progressive (and extremely popular) critique of the military machine, almost all the leading Democrats continue to attack Trumpus’ foreign policies, but from the right.

To get past our denial and really understand what the DNC does, we have to take an unblinkered view of the cesspool known as the Democratic primaries. It will be enlightening if not encouraging. Mysteries abound. In the best conventional analysis I’ve seen so far, Jacobin’s Branko Marcetic (I’m quoting him because he’s a legitimate leftist) lists some of them:

Sanders’s leftward stances on issues like immigration supposedly lost him rural counties, but he had the best standing with rural voters, out of all Democrats. He supposedly alienated rank-and-file Democrats with his rhetoric, yet held sky-high favorability ratings among them throughout 2020…(he) won nearly every demographic in Nevada, even moderates and conservatives, and led nationally among black voters on the eve of South Carolina…He annihilated his rivals in donor numbers from Obama-to-Trump counties, had historic electoral strength in such areas, and had the largest lead among independents in head-to-head polling with Trump among all his rivals.

In searching for answers for Biden’s triumph, Marcetic does acknowledge the role of the media:

…these themes were relentlessly advanced by the network(s): beating Trump was all that mattered, Biden was the safest bet to do so, and running Sanders — when the network deigned to mention him at all — would be a risk…these developments prompted a barrage of attacks and apocalyptic warnings from Democratic officials and pundits about Sanders’s threat to Democrats’ chances in November. A group of party centrists spent millions blanketing South Carolina with ads making these charges. Party leaders and rival candidates openly vowed to deprive him of the nomination if he won the most votes…CNN covered Sanders three times as negatively after his blowout Nevada win as they did Biden after his romp through South Carolina, assailing Sanders’s electability above all…

We should also note Elizabeth Warren’s egregious, opportunistic, unforgivable betrayal of Sanders.

But ultimately, Marcetic falls back on the conventional – that is naively innocent – perspective: “…voters saw Biden as the candidate by far most likely to win against Trump.” He simply refuses to consider the observable facts on the ground, and in doing so he reveals his trust in the system. Worse, the implication is that he (like all the mainstream media he would criticize) wants you to trust it.

Here is the fundamental reality of politics in America: both Republicans and Democrats tamper with election results whenever they can get away with it, but they do so at differing points in the election cycle. That this happens this way is no mystery. Why it happens is the mystery. Corrupt-Voting-Machine

Greg Palast, Harvey Wasserman  and others have demonstrated that in the 2016 primaries the DNC was able to manipulate the vote, in every case 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 liberal Massachusetts, Sanders beat Clinton in all the precincts with hand-counted paper ballots but lost every single precinct that used electronic voting machines.

Palast tells us that exit polls are the State Department’s own “gold standard” used to measure the honesty of – and in several cases – decertify elections in other countries such as 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.

The discrepancies between the exit polls’ projections of each candidate’s vote share and the vote shares derived from unobservable computer counts have a considerable impact on the apportionment of delegates to each candidate, which is, after all, the main reason for these state primaries. 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?” electronic-voting

So why don’t we hear more about this? Mainstream media outlets contract with a company called Edison Research to conduct exit polling. Joe Lenski, its executive vice president, has candidly admitted 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 researchers have been able to post those exit polls before Edison can change them.

This may be old news from February 2017, but it bears mentioning: Tom Perez, soon to be named Chair of the DNC, bragged that they had rigged the primaries in favor of Clinton. His remark appeared online before he could retract it.

What does this mendacity accomplish? As I predicted in my analysis of the 2016 election, the Clinton forces ensured her nomination by sweeping the primaries in the Southern states. This effectively eliminated Sanders, but these were all states that were certain to go to Trumpus in the general election, and the DNC was perfectly aware of this.

So, that was 2016. What about the 2020 Democratic primaries (compiled by TDMS Research) Surely, the power brokers have learned that they can’t afford to alienate the young, the black, the brown and the progressive – in other words, the base of the party. Right? Hold your nose.

New Hampshire (2/17):

The New Hampshire Democratic Party Primary computerized vote count results differ significantly from the results projected by the exit poll conducted by Edison Research and published by CNN at poll’s closing. The disparities exceed the exit poll’s margin of error.Buttigieg’s vote count exhibited the largest disparity from his exit poll projection. His unverified computer-generated vote totals represented a 12% increase of his projected exit poll share.

South Carolina (2/29): This was the state where Biden began his (alleged) big comeback, where the media unanimously trumpeted the narrative of his “electability.”

Election results from the computerized vote counts differed significantly from the results projected by the exit poll. The disparities exceed the exit poll’s margin of error. Biden’s vote count exhibited the largest disparity from his exit poll projection. His unverified computer-generated vote totals represented an 8.3% increase of his projected exit poll share. Given the 528,776 voters in this election, he gained approximately 19,700 more votes than projected by the exit poll.

Massachusetts (3/3):

As in the 2016 Massachusetts primary between candidates Sanders and Clinton, disparities greatly exceed the exit poll’s margin of error. Sanders won Massachusetts in the exit poll and lost it in the computer count. The discrepancies between the exit poll and the vote count for Sanders and Biden totaled 8.4%— double the 4.0% margin of error…Warren’s and Biden’s discrepancies also totaled 8.4%, again double the margin of error. Noteworthy is the fact that the 2016 Massachusetts Republican Party exit poll taken at the same time and at the same precincts as the Democratic Party primary, and also with a crowded field of five candidates, was matched almost perfectly by the computer count—varying by less than one percent for each candidate.

Vermont (3/3):

In Sanders’ home state, the combined disparities between the exit poll and the vote count for candidates Sanders and Biden at 10.8% exhibited the largest disparity of the 14 primary states that voted to date…Biden with an exit poll share of 17% and in danger of receiving 0 delegates (if his vote count fell below 15%) outperformed his exit poll share by 4.5% in the vote counts—a 26.1% increase of his exit poll share.

Texas (3/7):

Sanders was tied with Biden in the exit polls but lost in the unobservable computer counts by 4.5%. 

California (3/9):

According to the exit poll Sanders won by 15%. Computer counts cut his lead by half (once again more than double the margin of error). To date, California computers totaled 250,600 fewer votes for Sanders and Warren than projected by the exit polls and 236,700 more votes for Biden and Bloomberg. The current (3/9/2020) apportionment of California delegates  stands at 185 for Sanders and 143 for Biden. The estimate derived from the exit polls calculates to 207 delegates for Sanders and 122 for Biden.

In Texas, computer counts resulted in 90 delegates for Sanders and 102 for Biden. Substituting California and Texas exit polls’ estimated delegate count for the computer derived counts results in Sanders leading the current delegate count by 543 to 501 for Biden.

Michigan (3/14):

The large discrepancies greatly exceeded the margin of error …Sanders underperformed his exit poll projected proportions by 15.4% (and) received 105,000 less votes than projected while others (mainly Biden and Bloomberg) received 111,000 more than projected by the exit poll. Of concern is Michigan’s destruction of the ballot images, that could have been used to greatly facilitate a recount, that were created by their scanners for their counts. This destruction appears to violate both federal and state laws.

Missouri (3/25):

As in 11 of the 17 state primaries elections prior to March 17, the discrepancies between exit polls projections and the results of the unobservable computer vote counts in Missouri is large and beyond the margin of error associated with the exit poll…all but one of these large discrepancies favors Biden and disfavors Sanders.

Here are some other commentaries on the primaries:

We Believe This “Dark Money” Group Illegally Spent Nearly $5 Million to Destroy Sanders 2020 Campaign 

Is The Election Being Rigged Against Bernie Sanders? Why Are The Exit Polls So Far Off?

Bernie Is Being Cheated Again. Will He Fight? 

Is the DNC cheating? Again? 

Elite Media Dismiss Voter Suppression on Grounds That It’s “Complicated”

So let’s not kid ourselves. Part of waking up from the myth of American innocence is realizing that politics is not and never has been about morality; it’s about power, how to wield it, but primarily about how to get some of it. It’s the real world. Once we understand that, we can theoretically accept the premises of the centrist-liberal willingness to achieve small bits of incremental progress through compromise and limited demands. That describes the eight years of the Obama administration, which gave the bankers, the generals and the Israelis absolutely everything they wanted in exchange for some limited progress in health care.

This helps us understand another premise of the centrist-liberals: the marginalizing of dissident voices such as Bernie Sanders. From the perspective of the center (and coincidentally those already in power), it’s necessary to create false equivalencies between “populists” of both left and right.

The real threat of course is from the left. So in this world of real politics, Democratic centrists can and must do everything possible to eliminate any threat from the left so as to avoid scaring off “middle of the road” voters. If you prefer to imagine the DNC’s and Joe Biden’s motives as essentially moral and idealistic, here is a logical road to back up that kind of thinking. You have to play hardball to get anything worthwhile done, they would shrug and say. And it might even help you justify their manipulation of the primary votes.

The demonstrable fact, by the way, that this strategy has almost never worked seems to be irrelevant to those who consume this version of the myth. But you may ask, “What about Bill Clinton? Didn’t he do exactly that in 1992?” Well, quite apart from what he actually did in office (bombing Serbia and Iraq; eviscerating welfare), if Ross Perot had not siphoned off 19% of the vote, it’s possible that George H.W. Bush would have been re-elected.

The only context in which the DNC’s obsession with middle-of-the-road voters makes any practical sense is the above-mentioned Republican control of the voting process in half the states. If we assume – and we should – that they will continue the swindle in those states, then Democratic focus on the swing states matters.

But it makes no sense at all when we return to these facts: the U.S. has the lowest voter turnout in the industrialized world; half of eligible voters simply don’t bother; the vast majority of them are poor and have no health insurance (or jobs); and they won’t vote this time, even to get rid of Trumpus, unless the Democrats give them reasons to. Ultimately, we have to acknowledge that not giving a hundred million people reason to think that their votes might matter represents a profound contempt for democracy.

There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos. – Jim Hightower

Read Part Four here.

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Barry’s Blog # 341: A Mythologist Looks at the 2020 Election, Part Two

For a long time now, only half of American adults have considered it worth their time to vote. They are not stupid. Stop calling them stupid. We make up the lowest turnout rate in the world because so few of us see any significant differences between the two major parties. And the twin curses of massive voter suppression and computer fraud have ensured that millions of votes that are cast are not counted. That is reality. But the mystery is why the Democrats have done so little about it through the last five election cycles.

Here’s another mystery. What does it say about the public’s appreciation of the Democratic Party that, with the most profoundly unpopular and deeply reviled president in U.S. history, it took a pandemic with 140,000 dead and an economic depression with forty million unemployed to finally push Biden’s poll numbers past those of Trumpus? Here’s another one: Michael Bloomberg spent nearly a billion dollars convincing you that Bernie Sanders was unelectable. Can you imagine the good that money would have done had he spent it fighting voter suppression? Have you heard a word about him since he dropped out?

Here’s another one: Do the Democrats really think they can win with a candidate who has no constituency, no charisma and few platform positions that would attract more voters other than not being Trumpus? Do they really care about winning?  Does Joe Biden really care about being President (see below)?

I hope I’m wrong. May the future bring us something better than this. We deserve better, or so we’d like to think. But here I want to present some mythological and psychological speculations.

What exactly are these two old white guys contending for? Liberals lament that the system is dysfunctional or broken, while radicals will argue that it has been doing quite well in terms of its actual functions of maintaining the military empire abroad and redistributing wealth upwards at home. As a mythologist, I see both points of view, and I suggest that the myth of American innocence holds it all together.

One aspect of what Joseph Campbell called our demythologized world, especially in America, is that the distinctions between religion, politics and entertainment have collapsed (this week Trumpus sat at the Oval Office desk and endorsed a brand of beans. You can’t make this stuff up). trump-beans This is perhaps because all three of these areas of public life are the realm of the con man’s main interests: making money and aggrandizing the self. For more on this American archetype, read my essay The Con-Man.

Please understand that anything spoken (well, nearly anything; see below) for the public by anyone at that level of power has been carefully vetted in front of multiple focus groups and edited precisely to fit the perceived needs of a very specific audience so as to manipulate its views of the politician. If in the Age of Trumpus (or for the past several election cycles) you haven’t noticed this, you haven’t been paying attention. But it began long before this particular con man entered the White House. I have written much more on these issues in these essays:

Let’s Talk About Me

Obama and the Myth of Innocence

Obama’s Tears

The Ritual of the Presidential Debates 

Stories We Tell Ourselves About Barack Obama 

The Presidential Dilemma

Trumpus and Biden (and everyone around them, including the entire press corps) know very well that every American president since Harry Truman, and arguably for much longer, has been  essentially a spokesperson for interests far more powerful than he; a “master of ceremonies” in the lesser sense; a salesman for the myth and the empire. He certainly is not its ruler, not even the primary “decider,” as G.W. Bush described himself.

I also want to suggest that all contenders for the Presidency in the United States, far more than in any other country, are well aware of a particularly complex role they will be called upon to play,  which they have been practicing for their entire adult lives (quite literally, in the case of Joe Biden). They will face a unique political dilemma created by two conditions.

The first is the capitalist domination of politics, which require a spokesperson to direct the national narratives toward the grand aims of the military-industrial-petrochemical-pharmaceutical-carceral complex. The second is his symbolic role. As head of state, he must embody the mythic figure of the King for his people. And these two conditions require that he play two opposite aspects of the myth of innocence against each other.

As spokesman for the Empire, he must continue at all times to amplify the national mood of paranoia and fear of “the Other” so as to justify a continuing national military state and repression of people of color at home. In other words, he must manipulate the traditional white American sense of being the innocent victim, or at least the potential victim, of some dark (and dark-skinned), irrational, violent, predatory outsider.

This of course would be nothing new to him, since anyone even aspiring to his office, not to mention those actually vetted, would be perfectly aware of it. And to be sufficiently convincing, he must, in a sense, play the victim himself, so that his followers can identify with him.

As King-figure, however, his job is to absorb the idealistic projections of millions of people. I write “absorb” because in myth this is a two-way process. The Sacred King takes in our projections and hopes and then radiates them back out as fertility, as abundance, as blessing. (Not to do that is simply to suck those dreams in like a black hole of narcissism and give nothing back. This has been Trumpus’ game for decades, and perhaps the consequences are finally catching up to him.)

Any person who assumes the presidency automatically takes on this public projection. At the level of image, metaphor and deep narrative, these men are the nation because they embody it, and the nation must endure. Why must the nation endure? In this demythologized world authentic myth and ritual have disappeared, and they have been replaced by consumerism, fundamentalism, substance abuse – and nationalism, in which the individual identifies completely with the state, and is willing to sacrifice its young to its aims.

Here we have to take a detour through what I consider to be one of the most important books ever written, Blood Sacrifice and the Nation, by Carolyn Marvin and David W. Ingle.  It is summarized in a short article here. And I wrote of it here:

…“nationalism”…for the past 150 years has supplanted mass religion in most advanced countries. But it retains much religious symbolism. The familiar Christian God has long been replaced by the group, which is symbolized in the totem fetish – the flag. A fundamental aspect of America’s civil religion is our unique cult of the flag. Curiously, we display it in our churches as well as in many places of business, as if to reinforce the notion that in America there is little difference between them. We worship it by pledging allegiance, and occasionally by kneeling and kissing it. And we are horrified at the thought of its desecration, because, they write, it is “the ritual instrument of group cohesion…the god of nationalism.” Such rituals nearly equate God with America, writes Robert Bellah. Often “…the most jingoistic identity of nation and church has come not from our political leaders but from the churches themselves.” And the flag is embodied in the totem leader, the President.

In this view, the purpose of ritual at the level of the large, national state is to sustain the group by repeating, at various levels of intensity, the act of group creation. Participants in such rituals – especially in our culture of radical individualism – achieve a kind of communion and learn that their God demands human sacrifice. Not the sacrifice of the defeated, which implies the preparedness to kill for one’s country, but willing sacrifice, the willingness to die for it. Or at the very least, the willingness to send one’s children – the best of the best – to die for it.

Body sacrifice lies at the core of nationalism. Warfare is the most powerful enactment of the ritual of blood sacrifice…The creation of sentiments strong enough to hold the group together periodically requires the death of a significant portion of its members. In short, society depends upon the death of sacrificial victims at the hands of the group.

We, dear readers, are the group. Well, not really, since our children won’t be among the sacrificed, those who will die for capitalism. But in the broader sense, who could argue that our generation has not condemned them all to a collapsing ecosystem and polluted bodies?

In a twisted sense, there is some good news here. The fact that so few of us are willing to soil ourselves by voting actually indicates that very large numbers of us (not including conventional liberals) can see through the ritual charade. The bad news, well…not voting gave us Trumpus.

Back to the presidential dilemma. Another consequence of the loss of myth is that we have conflated two archetypes, the King and the Warrior, who is in service to the King. In doing so, we minimize the creative potential of each of them. This Warrior-King must continually re-affirm the fantasy that his intentions (and ours) are noble, protective and altruistic, that America is truly exceptional, that America has a divine mission to save the world and will always prevail.

And to do that, he must play the exact opposite of the victim, the Hero (the immature form of what Jungian writer Robert Moore called the Warrior archetype)  He must reassure us of his – and our – ability to meet all threat and defeat them, while simultaneously bringing the Good Word of our Christian compassion to those evil ones who would – for no apparent reason – harm us. As Bush endlessly repeated after 9/11/2001, it is absolutely certain that America will prevail against the external Other (formerly the Native Americans, then Mexicans, then Communism, now Islamic terrorism, which is shifting before our eyes into “the Russians” and “the Chinese”), because the nation, which he embodies, is charged with the divine mission of defeating evil and spreading freedom and opportunity. Not to do so would be to call our most basic national and personal identities into question.

He must simultaneously and repeatedly tell us, be afraid, be very afraid – and – we are absolutely unconquerable! He must prove to be a professional storyteller of the double-bind, conflicting messages that some psychologists consider to be the genesis of schizophrenia. And after many generations of hearing and ingesting these crazy-making narratives, it really is a sad commentary on all of us that we have come to expect nothing better from our leaders.

The media gatekeepers face an even more complicated dilemma. As fascism threatens to descend upon us, liberal America has been attempting to walk a fine line: alternately normalizing and de-legitimizing the Trumpus regime, especially since this spring, while carefully refusing to examine any of the bedrock assumptions of our myth of innocence.

For the sense of “nation,” with all its white privilege, economic disparities and permanent warfare to endure, the media must continually try to shore up each new crack in the veneer of American innocence. So controlling the narratives and manipulating our perception of really terrible people is one of the primary functions of our media gatekeepers. The classic analysis of the media’s gatekeeping role is Noam Chomsky’s article, “A Propaganda Model.” 

Bush_Michelle_Obama_BlissOne of the ways they do this is by re-habilitating the reputations of previous presidents, such as Bush and his father.  In this context, it really shouldn’t be surprising that Bill Clinton eulogized Richard Nixon, that Barack Obama lavishly praised Ronald Reagan, RT_hillary_clinton_and_henry_kissinger_3a_ml_160518_4x3_992 that Hillary Clinton is a close friend of the war criminal Henry Kissinger, or that even Trumpus should be granted an insane sort of normalization. 

War criminals. I don’t want to belabor this point, but it is critical to understand what the people we vote for – all of them – are willing to do in order to prove their loyalty to the power brokers. As Chomsky has said, “If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.” hqdefault

It is equally important to understand how those same oligarchs require the same proof of loyalty from the media gatekeepers, who have responded by creating a mainstream consensus that the madness of normal life is normal. This is the “normal” to which Biden promises he will return us.

So it is useless and counter-productive to criticize Trumpus as merely a negative, even terrible exception to the story of American exceptionalism, or even as someone who has corrupted this story. There is nothing to be gained by arguing, for instance, that he is dangerous, incapable, racist, misogynist, stupid or unpatriotic because he won’t listen to the “intelligence community” — as if progressive-minded people have any business aligning themselves with the murderers and regime-changers of the CIA. 

Here is another aspect of our diminished American reality: if the CIA “leaks” any “alleged” information about “events” anywhere in the world, they are doing so because they want you to consume a narrative of their own construction, to serve the long-term aims of the American empire. In 2020, from Russia to China to Syria to Israel / Palestine to Afghanistan to Venezuela, and sometimes even Iran and North Korea, most leading Democratic politicians have been criticizing Trumpus from the right. And this bizarre truth takes us a long way into the mystery of how they shamelessly stole the nomination from Bernie Sanders, as we’ll see in Part Three.

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Barry’s Blog # 340: A Mythologist Looks at the 2020 Election, Part One

The war is not meant to be won; it is meant to be continuous. – George Orwell

Watch what we do, not what we say. – John Mitchell, Attorney General under Richard Nixon

Let me be perfectly clear (Nixon said that). I want Biden to win in a landslide, win back the Senate, pick the next few Supreme Court Justices and send Trumpus (Trump = us) out beyond the safety of presidential immunity, where he can get prosecuted for at least some of his crimes. However, for me (in California) and most of you who live in reliably red or blue states, our votes are meaningless. If your passion remains strong, then work for him in the small number of states other than your own that will actually be in play, or work for local progressive candidates.

First, the good news. In many ways this is a time of profound hope. As mythologists, we believe nothing, but we entertain possibilities. White people are reading about privilege and fragility and waking up. Some cities are reducing their police budgets and firing some of their worst racist police officers. Confederate statues are coming down. Sports teams are dropping their racist names. The legal system is recognizing Native American rights and ordering oil pipelines on native land to shut down. The entire oil industry may be collapsing. The next vice president might even be a woman of color! This didn’t happen overnight. As Rebecca Solnit writes, it takes “Decades of Activism That Leads to Historic Change.”

Indeed, when we view these times from a mythological perspective, we see, despite the suffering, much to be excited about.  The combination of the pandemic, the reaction to George Floyd’s murder and cumulative, national disgust with Trumpus have thrown the collective consciousness into such a (welcome) frenzy that, for the first time since late 2001, and perhaps for the first time since the 1960’s, major cracks have begun to appear in the façade of the myth of American innocence.

And the optimism, however, brings its own version of that innocence, as if everything had been fine before Trumpus, as if his removal is assured, as if simply replacing him with Joe Biden would be the answer to all of our problems.

The liberal news media tell us daily how he is falling behind in the battleground states. It’s all good.  One writer goes so far as to predict “a Democratic tsunami.” Another tells us that “Trump is accelerating a political realignment that would have otherwise taken decades.”

Now the bad news: none of them are addressing the elephant in the living room. elephant-living-room1

That’s a phrase that is commonly used in addiction recovery, and it seems particularly relevant to use it when reminding ourselves of our national addictions. Of course, from any rational, political-science perspective, the idea that Trumpus seems to be making the wrong decisions on a daily basis, that he’s doing everything possible to alienate voters seems obvious. He almost seems to want to lose (see below) – unless, like four years ago, his people know something we don’t.

Refusal to address this particular elephant is a mythological issue, because all this optimism, all this denial, all this obsession with blaming Trumpus for all of our ills, all this unwillingness to confront deeper issues is happening within the broader context of the myth of American innocence, just as it did then. Indeed, on Election Day 2016, the Cook Political Report (“Democratic tsunami”) predicted the same thing, as did all the major polls. As I wrote in my analysis of the election,

Damn the conventional wisdom. We may well find the answer in pursuing this 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 mainstream media (MSM), 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?

This election may not go any differently from the 2016 election, and for most of the same reasons that I wrote about in that essay. It’s very likely that Biden will win a large majority of the popular vote, and probably by even greater numbers than Clinton did.

But this is reality: massive purges of voters (a federal judge recently backed Georgia’s purge of more than 100,000 voters); gerrymandering; challenges to the right to vote; voter ID requirements (36 states now have voter ID laws); early/absentee voting restrictions, including cutting hours or days of voting; restrictions on voting registration drives by third-party organizations (such as those enacted in Tennessee that impose civil penalties on canvassers that submit incomplete or inaccurate registration forms); Covid-related fear of in-person voting and budget cuts; likely restrictions on voting by mail; the hesitancy of most states to use ranked-choice voting; a tsunami of polling site closures; and possible defunding of the Postal Service itself (more on that here). image3-2-700x470

Any combination of these factors could very well give the Republicans another Electoral College victory. For a summary of all this fraud, legal or otherwise, and to read the one person who is most in touch with its reality, follow Greg Palast.

Yes, Biden has a big lead in mid-July. But some polls had Clinton ahead by double digits as late as October 23rd, 2016.  This is not to call polls into question; those polls were probably quite accurate – in that they measured how people expected to vote, and quite likely how they did vote. They did not measure whether those votes were counted accurately. And the fact that the mainstream media has had almost nothing to say about this massive crime can mean only a few things:

1 – In their staunch innocence, they simply don’t believe that American politicians can be so corrupt.

2 – They uniformly chose and continue to choose not to inform the public.

And there’s plenty of speculation about how Trumpus, even if he loses, might try to remain in office.

I don’t have much regard for the Democrats, but there is no doubt whatsoever that the Republican Party is comprised entirely of career criminals, con men and outright sociopaths.

Republican governors and secretaries of state ruthlessly, absolutely control the entire election process, including registration and access to voting, in 26 of the 50 states. These are the people whose operatives actually “count” the votes, and we can assume that they will do everything possible, legal or illegal, to influence the results, exactly as they did four years ago. At least since the 2000 election, the baseline of American democracy has been massive computer fraud. Here is reality, as I wrote (and absolutely nothing has changed):

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…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% exit poll 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.  

For those who were willing to peek beyond the veil of denial, almost all of these tactics were on full display during this June’s primaries, which Palast has called “Trump’s Vote-Heist Dress Rehearsal.”

…what the press calls the “meltdown” in Georgia (and in the Wisconsin and Kentucky primaries) was very much a dress rehearsal for the plan for minority voting hell in November, not only in Georgia but in a slew of other GOP-controlled swing states…According to an MIT study, a breathtaking 22% of all mail-in ballots are never counted…some states are simply refusing absentee ballots to hundreds of thousands of registrants—or, not sending cards that allow the voter to ask for the mail-in ballot…Georgia is one of the GOP’s ballot-refusing champs. The state refused to send mail-in ballot requests to over a quarter million voters on their so-called “inactive” voter list…In 2018, Georgia purged, that is, erased the registrations of, over half a million citizens on the grounds they’d left Georgia or moved from their home county…(but) 340,134 Georgia “movers” who lost their vote had, in fact, never moved from their registration address.

Trumpus himself has acknowledged that if the system were to be reformed,

The things they had in there were crazy. They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.

But before you get on your “blame the GOP for everything” horse, remember to thank the Obama administration for expanding the national security state. We are on a razor’s edge. Russell Dobular writes:

Right now there are still too many functioning vestiges of divided government for Trump to make full use of the terrifying powers we’ve imparted to the state since 9/11, but one major terrorist attack on US soil, or the outbreak of a serious war, and it’s only a short step to indefinite detention for activists and opponents of the regime, many of whom will be the same liberals who cheered the arrest of Julian Assange and want to see Edward Snowden put on trial. And thanks to the Patriot Act, which Congress quietly renewed last week,  as long as the government labels the detainees “terrorists,” it will all be perfectly legal.

So let’s not be naïve. Naiveté, along with overconfidence and deep fear, are the fundamental positions of American myth, and we simply no longer have the luxury of indulging in them.

This culture has vomited Trumpus up to be our symbolic King. But he did not cause any of our problems. He simply embodies them and mirrors them back for all of us. Trumpus is us, and as long as we do not collectively admit that our refusal to confront our racist and violent national character, we deserve him.

Read Part Two here.

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Barry’s Blog # 339: American Exceptionalism, Part Six of Six

America is not exceptional because it has long attempted to be a force for good in the world, it tries to be a force for good because it is exceptional. – Peggy Noonan

It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. – Vladimir Putin

…one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain. – James Baldwin

Ernest Becker asked,

What are we to make of a creation in which the routine activity is for organisms to be tearing others apart…bones between molars, pushing the pulp greedily down the gullet with delight, incorporating its essence…and then excreting with foul stench and gasses the residue. Everyone reaching out to incorporate others who are edible to him.

The indigenous world imagined the Great Mother as both sustainer and destroyer. But modern people can only respond to Becker’s questions in dualistic terms. Either we feel the terror and are immobilized, or we construct myths of religion, romance and domination to transcend our fear of mortality. He argued that all human behavior is motivated by the unconscious need to deny this most fundamental anxiety.

Becker regretted that “we must shrink from being fully alive,” because seeing the world “as it really is, is devastating and terrifying,” and results in madness. Mystics, however, describe this insight as devastating to the individual ego, and a necessary, initiatory prelude to the unitive vision that transcends duality. Ancient devotees of Dionysus, as well as modern practitioners of Eastern and African-based religions, actually strive to attain this state. But for those who lack the containers of community and ritual, the unconscious fear of death is a primary motivator.

To the uninitiated modern person, the death of the ego and the death of the physical body are one and the same. And in America, the loss of identity (white, patriarchal, masculine, Christian, productive, growing, gainfully-employed, segregated into racially conformist neighborhoods, or simply privileged) seems to be equivalent to death of the ego. Yet the prospect of ecstatic escape from the confines of that ego continually beckons to us, and we respond in all manner of unconscious ways.  Let’s try to understand yet another essential American myth, the denial of death.

Despite seeing great progress since the writings of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and Jessica Mitford, American culture continues to deny and avoid the reality of death more than any other society. This is particularly curious, given our high degree of (perhaps superficial) religiosity. The myth of innocence represents the attitude of the adolescent who expects to live forever. It provides no space for acknowledging that death is a part of life, rather than its opposite. Some call death the most repressed theme of the twentieth century, comparable to the sex taboo of the 19th century. We still view it as morbid, and commonly exclude children from discussion of it. Many adults have never seen a corpse other than in the stage-managed context of the funeral parlor.

Kubler-Ross argued that since few really believe suffering will be rewarded in Heaven, “then suffering becomes purposeless in itself,” and doctors typically sedate the dying to lessen their pain. They are rushed to hospitals, frequently unconscious and against their will, and most die there or in nursing homes. Then the corpse disappears, not to be seen again until it has been “primped up to appear…asleep.” Euphemisms complete the ritual of denial. The “deceased” has “passed on” or “gone to his maker.” “How peaceful he looks.”

The purpose of the ritual is to repress the anxieties that arise when tending to a terminally ill patient. Relatives collude with medical personnel in an elaborate series of lies, maintaining the fiction of probable recovery until the dying person reaches the point of death. Typically, a doctor, rather than a minister, presides over the deathbed, keeping displays of emotion to a minimum. Adults deprive both children and the dying persons themselves of the opportunity to confront death.

Ironically, write Anthropologists Richard Huntington and Peter Metcalf, “In America, the archetypal land of enterprise, self-made men are reduced to puppets.” Then the body is embalmed, restored, dressed and transformed from a rotting cadaver into “a beautiful memory picture.” Neither law nor religion nor sanitation requires this process, and nowhere else but in North America is it widely done. In the last view the deceased seems asleep in a casket (often made of metal).

The ritual achieves two results. First, it insulates mourners from the process of decomposition, the finality of death and their own fears. Second, it minimizes cathartic expressions of grief. The funeral director, writes Mitford, “has put on a well-oiled performance in which the concept of death has played no part…” Wakes are generally pleasant social events, and mourners soon return to work. The mystery of death invites mourners to enter an initiatory space, but it closes too abruptly and too soon for any authentic transition or resolution. A veil that had been briefly lifted drops again.

We claim to believe that Christianity represents a victory over death, yet estrangement from nature is its central theme. Thus, to Americans, death must be either part of God’s plan or a punishment. Arnold Toynbee joked that death was “un-American,” an infringement on the right to the pursuit of happiness. By contrast, Native American tribal religions almost universally produced people unafraid of death, wrote Vine Deloria: “…the integrity of communal life did not create an artificial sense of personal identity that had to be protected and preserved at all costs.”

West African shaman Malidoma Some´ observes our characteristic refusal to give in to grief: “A non-Westerner arriving in this country for the first time is struck by how…(Americans) pride themselves for not showing how they feel about anything.” To him, we typically carry great loads of unexpressed grief. And this leads to a corresponding inability to experience joy: “People who do not know how to weep together are people who cannot laugh together.” This is a succinct, tribal definition of alienation – exile from the worlds of nature, community and spirit.

If we cannot grieve or tolerate the vision of the dark goddess and her bloody, dismembered son, then we cannot experience ecstasy either. We learn to tolerate pale substitutes: romance novels, horror movies (in which characters often refuse to die), the spectacles of popular music and sports, New Age spirituality, Sunday church and happy endings. We learn early to emphasize the light (including “lite”) to the eventual exclusion of the dark.

So our characteristic American expectation of positive emotions and emotional growth makes feelings of sadness and despair more pathological in this culture than elsewhere. Christina Kotchemidova writes, “Since ‘cheerfulness’ and ‘depression’ are bound by opposition, the more one is normalized, the more negative the other will appear.”

Ronald Laing argued that the modern family functions “… to repress Eros, to induce a false consciousness of security…to promote a respect for ‘respectability.’” To be respectable is to produce, and to look cheerful. American obsession with feeling good (“pursuing happiness”) is enshrined as a fundamental principle of the consumer society. As Kotchemidova explains,

Our personal feelings are constantly encouraged or discouraged by the culture of emotions we have internalized, and any significant deviance from the societal emotional norms is perceived as emotional disorder that necessitates treatment.

The average American feels real pressure to present him/herself as cheerful in order to get a job. Once he/she is employed, putting on a ready- made smile is simply not enough. “Corporations expect their staff to actually feel good about the work they do in order to appear convincing to clients.”

She argues that twentieth century America took on cheerfulness as an identifying characteristic. The new consumer economy of the 1920s called for cheerful salespeople and an American etiquette that obliged “niceness” and excluded strong emotionality. Among the dozens of self-help cheerfulness manuals, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936) sold more than fifteen million copies. In the 1950s, the media industry invented numerous ways, including the TV “laugh track,” to induce cheerfulness. In the 1980s, politicians discovered cheerfulness; all Presidents since Reagan smile in their official photos (none had done so before). The “smiley face” button sold over 50 million units at its peak in 1971 but remains one of our most recognizable icons.

It follows that depression has reached epidemic proportions in America – and that violence is so fundamental to our experience. Kubler-Ross wrote that our denial of death “has only increased our anxiety and contributed to our…aggressiveness – to kill in order to avoid the reality and facing of our own death.” Phillip Slater wrote of “our technologically strangled environment” in which impersonal forces impact us from remote, Apollonic distances and provoke us to “find a remote victim on which to wreck our vengeance.” This is one reason why Americans rarely protest the military’s mass killing of distant Third World people. Another reason, of course, is their ignorance of the news.

But America was characterized from the start by extreme violence. It was present in the “idea” of America – not the abstract ideals of the founding fathers, but the projection of darkness, instinct and lust onto the Other in the already demythologized world of the seventeenth century. By the Industrial Revolution of the 1840’s, Americans had been slaughtering Indians and enslaving Africans for over two centuries. Herman Melville took note of this and wrote that Indian hating had become a “metaphysic.” Technology certainly contributed to alienation, loneliness and the breakdown of extended families and father-son relationships. But as a seed of depression and long-distance violence, it fell on fertile soil that had been well prepared.

And history conspired. No one alive can recall the carnage of the Civil War; since then we have fought our wars across great oceanic expanses. With the ready availability of handguns, we slaughter each other in small-scale violence like no other people in history. Except for urban race riots, however, there had been no warfare on American territory for well over a century until the terrorist acts of 2001.

These factors all help to perpetuate the myths of innocence and exceptionalism. The final ingredient is the state of the media, in which news reporting, political spin and entertainment are now almost indistinguishable, when half of us get our news from social media or TV comedy “news” shows.

On the one hand, media colludes with our need to remain sheltered from the world and our impact upon it. “We are so desperate for this,” writes Michael Ventura, that we are willing to accept ignorance as a substitute for innocence.” On the other hand, even as violent programming perpetuates fear of crime and terrorism, television has desensitized three generations of Americans to the actual effects of violence.

We all know the statistics. We can theoretically take two populations of children and predict that, as young adults fifteen years later, those who watch more TV will be more violent than the group that watched less. Thus, there is a direct connection between the national denial of death in the abstract and America’s ferocious expression of literal violence. James Hillman concluded that death is “the ultimate repressed,” who returns “through the body’s shattered disarray,” an incursion “into awareness as ultimate truth.” american-exceptionalism2

We innocently observe, we are shocked, and we quickly forget. In book talks I’ve often posed a trick question – When did you lose your innocence? – followed by another one – When did you lose it again? When an exceptional sense of personal and national innocence is so ingrained as ours is, every time it is punctured by circumstances it feels like the first time. In Chapter Eight of my book, I wrote of this experience after the attacks on the World Trade Towers:

The next day, a second wave of commentators offered more nuanced interpretations. Rabbi Marc Gelman, asked if America would be changed by this event, responded, “Yes, we have lost our innocence. We now know there is radical evil in the world.” It was out there, and Americans, mysteriously, had never heard about it. Psychologist Robert Butterworth’s son had asked him, “Daddy, why do they hate us so?” Staring mutely and miserably at the camera, he really didn’t know. His non-response assumed that viewers didn’t either. Such laments could have followed the Oklahoma City bombing, 1993’s WTC bombing, the TWA airliner bombing, the bombings of the destroyer Cole and Lebanon barracks, or any of the recent college or high school shootings. America, we were told, had lost her innocence.

From the perspective of outsiders, or of older cultures, or of the Other, losing our innocence is an absolutely necessary step for white Americans to step out of our adolescence and join the human community. But from within the myth of exceptionalism, losing our innocence is simply a temporary stage that precedes falling back asleep.

Never having confronted death directly, we must find a way to see it, by condoning violence or personally inflicting it upon others. Preferring vengeance to mourning, we are still the only nation to use atomic weapons. Americans invented napalm, cluster bombs and “anti-personnel” mines. We are stunningly unmoved by news of torture at Guantanamo, rape of prisoners in Iraq or police murders of unarmed African Americans, because innocence always trumps awareness. The nation that watches and exports thousands of hours of electronic mayhem and has more handguns than citizens is shocked – shocked! – every time a teenager massacres his schoolmates or a cop drives his car into a crowd of peaceful protestors.

Octavio Paz contrasted his own Mexican culture, which has an intimate relationship to the dark side of existence, with ours: “A culture that begins by denying death will end by denying life.” Such a nation desperately needs someone to save it – distract it – from the black hole of death, and to vanquish, rather than to accommodate those forces of darkness. Such a nation needs heroes. And it will get the heroes that it deserves. On the other hand, writes Caitlin Johnstone,

The principles of individual healing apply to collective healing as well. I have learned that an individual can experience a sudden, drastic shift in consciousness. I see no reason the collective can’t also. Of course humanity is capable of a transformative leap into health and maturity…The only people who doubt this are those who haven’t yet made such a leap in their own lives.


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Barry’s Blog # 338: American Exceptionalism, Part Five of Six

Christian nation mythologists pump themselves up with narratives of American exceptionalism and Christian domination. But sooner or later even their most devoted followers should begin to see that also depicting it as vulnerable to non-existent threats undermines the myth itself. – Sarah Posner

Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart; for his purity, by definition, is unassailable. – James Baldwin

Our compliant workforce is another aspect of American exceptionalism. Why, alone among developed nations, do we have no established political party that agitates for the rights of working and poor people?


Why have so many unionized, blue-collar, white men supported such obvious criminals, fakes and warmongers as Nixon, Reagan, both Bushes and Trumpus?

Over three centuries after Bacon’s Rebellion, when blacks and whites briefly united and nearly toppled the government of colonial Virginia,  scholars still wonder – innocently – why a strong socialist movement never developed in America, as it did, at least for a while, almost everywhere else.

Karl Marx believed that every society would eventually evolve out of old-world hierarchy into capitalism, and inevitably capitalism would yield to socialism. The more advanced a nation becomes in capitalism, the closer it must be to embracing socialism. But socialists were baffled by how the United States defied this rule. No nation was more capitalist, yet no nation showed less interest in becoming socialist.

Werner Sombart focused on material abundance: socialism, he complained, had foundered in America “on the shoals of roast beef and apple pie.” Leon Samson saw that the real enemy of socialism was exceptionalism itself, because Americans give “a solemn assent to a handful of final notions—democracy, liberty, opportunity, to all of which the American adheres rationalistically much as a socialist adheres to his socialism.” In other words, radical individualism had become an ideology that overwhelmed our natural inclination to cooperate with each other.

Actually, Marx and Sombart were wrong, writes Allen Guelzo:

There had been an American socialism; they were reluctant to recognize it as such because it came not in the form of a workers’ rebellion against capital but in the emergence of a plantation oligarchy in the slaveholding South. This “feudal socialism,” based on race, called into question all the premises of American exceptionalism, starting with the Declaration of Independence. Nor were slavery’s apologists shy about linking this oligarchy to European socialism, since, as George Fitzhugh asserted in 1854, “Slavery produces association of labor, and is one of the ends all Communists and Socialists desire.”

The institution of slavery became the model for a broader economic / financial system in which corporate welfare, or “socialism for the wealthy” would exist only because of taxes on the middle class and massive budget deficits.

Academics, however, rarely consider the overwhelming presence of the Black Other, the elephant in the living room of their theories about exceptionalism. It is a simple fact that no other nation combined irresistible myths of opportunity with rigid legal systems deliberately intended to divide natural allies.

Whiteness implies both purity (which demands removal of impurities) and privilege. No matter how impoverished a white, male American feels, he hears hundreds of subtle messages every day of his life that invite him to separate himself from the impure.

Without racial privilege the concept of whiteness is meaningless. From the Civil War, when tens of thousands of dirt-poor whites died for a system that offered them nothing economically, to the Tea Partiers supporting politicians who blatantly promise to destroy their social benefits, white Americans have often had nothing to call their own except their relative position in the American caste hierarchy. We can only conclude that for them, and only in America, privilege trumps the potential of class unity.

Throughout both the developed world and their colonial outposts, the elite classes and their servants perceived left-wing organizing as rational, even logical antagonism to their rule, and they responded accordingly. Only Americans, however, saw communists as so polluting of our essential innocence, so un-American, so absolutely, irrevocably evil that they would create a Committee on Un-American Activities. has such fear, born in the Indian wars, the Salem Witch trials and the slave patrols, produced a surprisingly widespread consensus that any violations of human rights whatsoever are justified in suppressing the Other. Only in America have people proclaimed that they would rather be “better dead than red.” 

Thirty years ago, the memory of our eighty-year crusade against Communism was fading quickly from memory – except among those who recognized its mythic and political benefits. But that residue of fear and hatred never disappeared, and – under a Democratic President – it soon reappeared as a series of narratives that blame every national problem on “the Russians.”

How ironic: nineteenth-century thinkers occasionally referred to American exceptionalism; but the first national leader to use it (in 1929) was Joseph Stalin, as a critique of American communists who argued that their political climate was unique, making it an “exception” to certain elements of Marxist theory.

The systematic manufacture of consent – based on terror of pollution by outsiders – is the ultimate meaning of American exceptionalism. The U.S. is unique among empires in convincing its own poor and working-class victims that they share in its bounty – and to pay for its expenses. “How skillful,” wrote Howard Zinn, “to tax the middle class to pay for the relief of the poor, building resentment on top of humiliation!” Noam Chomsky writes, “The empire is like every other part of social policy: it’s a way for the poor to pay off the rich in their own society.”

Chomsky adds, “… any state has a primary enemy: its own population.” But in the U.S., an efficient system of control, a “brainwashing under freedom,” has flourished like nowhere else. It combines free speech and press with patriotic indoctrination and marginalization of alternative voices, leaving the impression that society is really open. The system distributes just enough wealth and influence to limit dissent, while it isolates people from each other and turns them toward symbols that create loyalty. The real function of the media is “to keep people from understanding the world.”

By limiting debate to those who never challenge the assumptions of innocence and benevolence, it maintains the illusion that all share a common interest. When the boundaries of acceptable thought are clear, debate is not suppressed but permitted. But in this context, the loyal opposition legitimizes these unspoken limits by their very presence. The system exists precisely because of our traditional freedom of expression. Chomsky quotes a public relations manual from the 1920’s, (aptly titled Propaganda): “The conscious…manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is a central feature of a democratic system.”

We can criticize the national state from this anarchist perspective not necessarily out of a particular ideology – Caroline Casey suggests “believes nothing but entertain possibilities” – but because it is closest to a tribal perspective. Mass society as we know it is barely four centuries old. For most of human history we have lived in small communities in which individuals knew everyone else and experienced fulfilling relationships within a mythic and ritual framework. Human nature has never had time to adjust to the strife and alienation of modern and post-modern society. And it is precisely this disconnect that advertising and political propaganda take advantage of.

Compared to Americans, many Third World peasants are free in one respect: they have no myth of innocence. Their consent may be coerced, but the media cannot manufacture it for them. They, far more than our educated classes, can see. Where their history has not been completely destroyed, they can see that there has been essentially no difference in American foreign policy for over 150 years. It is perfectly obvious to them that the U.S. controls their resources and manipulates their markets, while protecting American companies from “market discipline.” They know more than we could ever know that talk of “free markets” is just talk.

They know that the only significant changes in First and Third World relationships have been in the resources themselves (first agricultural, then mineral, then human), and in the nature of the overseers (first European, then American, then local tyrants who serve the corporations.) To them, “globalization” is merely the latest top-down phrase that rationalizes such practices.

Ultimately, what makes us exceptional is this mix of overt propaganda, subtle repression of free thought and a deep strain of purposeful ignorance. We want to believe the story. Only in America has a historical collusion existed between national mythology and the facts of domination, between the greed of the elite and the naivety of the people, between fathers who kill their children instead of initiating them and youth who willingly give themselves up to the factories and the killing fields.

Our exceptionalism lies in the denial of our racist and imperial foundations and our continuing white privilege. Cornel West writes, “No other democratic nation revels so blatantly in such self-deceptive innocence, such self-paralyzing reluctance to confront the night-side of its own history.” And because our storytellers regularly remind us of how generous, idealistic, moral, divinely inspired and innocent of all sin we are, we can deny the realities of race, environment, empire – and death.

Read Part Six Here.

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Barry’s Blog # 337: American Exceptionalism, Part Four of Six

Like generations before us, we have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom. This is the everlasting dream of America. – George W. Bush

I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. – Barack Obama

In fact, American exceptionalism is that we are exceptionally backward in about fifteen different categories, from education to infrastructure. – James Hillman

And yet, despite such emotionally laden issues, both civic participation and civic awareness continue to decline. Americans vote in lower percentages than in any other democracy. One hundred million eligible voters stayed home in November of 2016. Of those ineligible to vote, 4.7 million – a third of them Black men – are disenfranchised by felony convictions.

America has slipped from first to 17th in the world in high school graduation rates and 49th in literacy. Surveys regularly indicate just how “dumbed-down” we are: 60%, for example, know that Superman came from the planet Krypton, while 37% know that Mercury is the planet closest to our sun. Similarly, 74% know all three Stooges, while 42% can name the three branches of the U.S. government.

Millions of citizens completely misunderstand common political labels. Nearly 50% believe or are not sure that conservatives support gun control and affirmative action, and 19% think that conservatives oppose cutting taxes. Seventy percent cannot name their senators or their congressman. In 2000, twelve million Americans thought that George W. Bush was a liberal.

Studies indicate that social mobility – the opportunity to move up into a higher social class – has decreased significantly. But in a 2003 poll on the Bush tax plan, 56% of the blue-collar men who correctly perceived it as favoring the rich still supported it. The myth of the self-made man is so deeply engrained that our ignorance of the facts is equaled only by our optimism: in 2000 19% of respondents believed that they would “soon” be in the top one percent income bracket, and another 19% thought that they already were. Similarly, 50% think that most families have to pay the estate tax (only two percent do), and two-thirds think that they will one day have to pay it. Twenty years later, those numbers have certainly come down. But in America disillusionment can just as easily turn someone’s politics to right as to the left, as the 2016 election showed.

Our ignorance is both the cause and the result of our unique voting system. The Founding Fathers devised both our two-tiered legislature and the Electoral College fearing (pick one) “mob rule” or “genuine democracy.” The Electoral College prevents millions from having their voice heard in national elections. Three times, a presidential candidate has won 500,000 more votes than his opponent, only to lose the election. Senators from the 26 smallest states (representing 18% of the population) hold a majority in the Senate. Still, though most citizens are ignorant of these statistics, they are not stupid: majorities regularly favor dismantling the Electoral College.

But the system, designed to limit democratic participation, has succeeded. As fewer people believe that their votes matter, they lose interest in keeping track of events, and ignorance becomes reality. The contradiction becomes monumental when we periodically bond together to “bring democracy” elsewhere.

A vicious cycle develops: low turnout by the poor results in government that is far more conservative than the population; and politicians reaffirm their apathy by courting the middle class. Indeed, in countless subtle ways the process of voting in America is designed to restrict participation: voting on one work-day instead of weekends; massive voter suppression; computer fraud; and hostile right-wing operatives.

“Americanism” is a mix of contradictory images: competitive individualism balanced by paranoid conformism; an ideology of equality with a subtext of racial exclusion; and official church-state separation negated by the legislation of morality. These features come together in one truly exceptional symbol: the cult of the flag, which we literally worship. We have Flag Day, Flag etiquette and a unique national anthem dedicated to it that we sing, curiously, at sporting events. Twenty-seven states require school children to salute it daily.

But worship? Consider the Flag Code: “The flag represents a living country and is considered a living thing.” Indeed, religious minorities have refused to salute it specifically because they consider such action to be blasphemous. But dread of the Other and re-invigorated, manipulated support for the military creates religious fervor – and fearful politicians. All fifty state legislatures have urged Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to make defacing the flag a crime.

The myths of freedom and opportunity – two-thirds of us believe that success is within our control – meet the myth of the Puritan to form another exceptional characteristic. Since Puritans still perceive both morality and worldly success as evidence of their elect status, we are a nation in which the poor have no one to blame (and often to turn to) but themselves. By more than six to one, we believe that people who fail in life do so because of their own shortcomings, not because of social conditions.

We are exceptional among industrialized countries in failing to provide for pregnant and newly parenting workers; only two other countries do not mandate maternity leave. Reforms such as unemployment insurance came into effect in the U.S. thirty to fifty years after most European countries had introduced them. They remain highly popular there; but as low-income constituencies shrink, both Republicans and Democrats have felt free to erode them.

(Let me point out, by the way, that I compiled most of these statistics for my book prior to the economic meltdown of 2008 and long before the Depression of 2020.)

The results: Nearly four million children live with parents who had no jobs in the previous year. The U.S. is 22nd in child poverty, 24th in life expectancy, 24th in income inequality, 26th in infant mortality, 37th in overall health performance and 54th in fairness of health care. Even so, America’s health care system is the costliest in the world. We spend over $5,200 per person on health care, more than double what 29 other industrialized nations spent. This equals 15% of our GDP, compared to Britain’s 7.7%. We account for 50% of the world’s drug budget, and we were 28th in environmental performance, long before Trumpus (Trump = Us) trashed most of the nation’s regulatory agencies.

Americans naively consider themselves to be quite generous in helping poor nations. In fact, our Puritan judgment encompasses the whole world. We are 22nd in proportion of GDP devoted to foreign aid, and over half of it goes to client states in the Middle East. Indeed, nearly 80 % of USAID contracts and grants go directly to American companies. Nearly 70% of Europeans want their governments to give more aid to poor nations, while nearly half of Americans claim that rich nations are already giving too much.

By choice (the Puritan’s addiction of workaholism) or by necessity (the “McJobbing” of the economy), we work unceasingly. In 2003, Americans worked 200 to 350 hours – five to nine weeks – longer per year than Europeans. Indeed, this was four weeks longer than they themselves had in 1969. Vacations average two weeks; in Europe they average five to six weeks. We spend 40% less time with our children than we did in 1965. Europeans, who consistently choose more leisure over bigger paychecks, claim that they work to live, while Americans seem to live to work.

Even if we factor out economic issues, the Puritan residue remains. Just below the skin of consumer culture we judge ourselves by how hard we work, and we relax only when we have acquired the symbols of redemption. Even then, we keep working.

One reason we work so hard is to afford the national status symbol, the car. We own far more than other countries, both in total and per capita. The average household now has more cars than drivers. Consequently, America leads the world in greenhouse emissions, both absolutely – a quarter of the world’s total – and per capita. We spend ten hours per week driving. We park those cars next to houses that average more than twice the size of European homes.

But the shadow of radical individualism reveals itself in epidemics of loneliness and alienation. According to Jill Lepore, neuroscientists identify loneliness as “a state of hypervigilance” embedded in our nervous system, inherited from our prehistoric ancestors. In the past seventy years the percentage of American households consisting of only one person has risen from 9% to 25%. She concludes:

Living alone works best in nations with strong social supports. It works worst in places like the United States. It is best to have not only an Internet but a social safety net.

Loneliness makes us sick, and alienation – combined with unrealistic expectations of success –makes us exceptionally willing to shoot up a schoolyard or other public space. th For an excellent Depth Psychological perspective on the mass shootings of the past twenty years, read Glen Slater’s article A Mythology of Bullets. 

Despite the talk show rhetoric, Americans have always been taxed at far lower rates than the rest of the developed world. Even before the Reagan years, taxes amounted to 31% of GDP, while most European countries were well over 40%. There are at least two primary results of these disparities. We provide far fewer social services, and economic inequality is far higher than in any other developed nation.

By 2000 one percent of us owned forty percent of the wealth. By 2020, the top one percent owned nearly as much as the entire middle class. We have entered a “new Gilded Age” of unregulated capitalism and conspicuous consumption, as I write in We Like to Watch: Being There With Trump. In the first three months of the Coronavirus pandemic, American billionaires saw their wealth increase by half a trillion dollars.

And that wealth is age-based. Excluding tiny enclaves like Switzerland, white American adults over age forty are the richest in the world. Even so, America has the highest rate of children living in families with incomes below poverty guidelines; this is the result of fewer public resources spent on children than in any industrialized nation.

Youths are by far our poorest age group. Mortality rates among children are also the highest, approaching Third World conditions. Yet even the wealth figures for the elderly reveal surprises. Most – some 35 million – are very well off. But twelve percent of them – again, the highest in the industrialized world – remain in poverty even after Social Security and Medicare.

With a shrinking economy, miniscule taxes on corporations, Puritan condemnation of poverty and the maintenance of empire, it is little wonder that so few resources remain for the poor. The U.S. spends more money on armaments than the rest of the world combined.

Even so, confidence in American institutions – government, religion and education – had been dropping every year since the early 1970’s – at least until 9/11/01. Here we return to mythic questions. A large and occasionally threatening population of Others is absolutely crucial to the perpetuation of the myth of American innocence. As long as the internal Black Other threatens to take one’s job (or one’s daughter), as long as one believes in the necessity of constantly striving in unsatisfying work to attain the symbols that serve as substitutes for a genuine erotic life, one will work unceasingly. In June of 2020, we can legitimately ask, Do Black Lives Really Matter? 

Read Part Five Here.

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Barry’s Blog # 336: American Exceptionalism, Part Three of Six

America remains the indispensable nation…there are times when America, and only America, can make a difference between war and peace, between freedom and repression. – Bill Clinton

I laughed to myself…”Here we go. I’m starting a war under false pretenses.” – Admiral James Stockdale, on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident

These innocent people are trapped in a history they do not understand, and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. – James Baldwin

It is another colossal mystery, if not an outright contradiction. For the American economic and military empire to justify a constant state of war, with military bases in 160 countries, it has to do two things. It must rely on certain subsets of the exceptionalism myth.

Michael Ignatieff calls them “exemptionalism” (supporting treaties as long as U.S. citizens are exempt from them); “double standards” (criticizing “others for not heeding the findings of international human rights bodies, but ignoring what these organizations say of the United States”); and “legal isolationism” (the tendency of U.S. judges to ignore other jurisdictions). But such policies – absolutely the same under Democratic or Republican Presidents – rely, in turn, on both the belligerence and the ignorance of the public.

And it must rely on keeping its citizens – us – in a perpetual state of anxiety. If we were honest, we’d have to admit that our neurotic susceptibility to fear-mongering is a primary characteristic of American exceptionalism. Here are some others:

America is simultaneously the world’s most religious, patriotic – and materialistic – society. If we add that it is also the most racist, violent, punitive and aggressive of nations, we have the ingredients that require a myth of exceptional innocence. I offer the following statistics and comparisons not out of gratuitous America-bashing, but to put the yawning gap between myth and reality into a helpful perspective. These are a small sample of statistics I collected in 2008 for Chapter Nine of my book Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence. Some point toward our profound, media-nourished ignorance; others reflect the fundamental themes that really do distinguish America from other societies.

Seymour Lipset’s innocent fascination with the bright side allows him to avoid the fact that America (with the sole exception, for a few years, of Nazi Germany) is the most violent society in history. Most of the realities that actually make America unique stem from the foundational facts of conquest and racism.

Our frontier mythology, individualism and inflated fear of the Other have prevented the gun-control measures common in almost all countries. Americans own 250 million legal and 25 million illegal firearms, approximately 1.7 guns per adult. Forty percent own guns. Our adult murder rate is seven times higher and our teen murder rate twelve times higher than in Britain, France, Italy, Australia, Canada and Germany. These nations together have 20 million teenagers; in 1990 a total of 300 were murdered. That same year, of America’s 17 million teens, 3,000 were murdered, while thirty of Japan’s ten million teens were murdered, a rate one-fiftieth of ours.

Annually, 15,000 Americans are murdered, 18,000 commit suicide and 1,500 die accidentally by guns. Twenty-four percent of us believe that it is acceptable to use violence to get what we want. Forty-two percent strongly agree that “under some conditions, war is necessary to obtain justice,” compared with just 11% of Europeans. In 2020 I hope that I don’t need to provide any statistics on the prevalence of police violence toward people of color, or of mass murders. But I will remind the reader that the vast majority of them are perpetrated by white men. white_killers

Our disdain for authority and love of guns contributes to the highest crime rate in the developed world. How we calculate the numbers, of course, reveals our prejudices toward “blue-collar” crime and the lack of political will to control “white-collar” crime, which is certainly far more influential. And there is a mythical component as well. Our fascination with TV and movie Mafioso indicates that many of us perceive organized crime to be an alternative mode of accessing the American Dream. Sociologist Daniel Bell writes that we see this kind of crime as a “natural by-product of American culture…one of the queer ladders of social mobility…”

But the fear of crime and the need for scapegoats results in over two million Americans in jail, more than in any other country except China, with five times the population. With 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has 22% of the world’s prisoners. And the fact that few of our prisoners and ex-prisoners are allowed to vote is a major factor in the legalized voter suppression that keeps reactionaries in power in over two dozen states. For more on this, see my essay on the election of 2016, Trump: Madness, Machines, Migrations and Mythology. 

Traditionally, the fear of crime has also been bound up with the fear of miscegenation, or the mixing of the tainted blood of Black people and other undesirables with that of the pure, Anglo-Saxon blood of Whites, who first began calling themselves “native Americans” as early as the 1830s. Well before that point, the nation that was truly exceptional in the sense of being composed primarily of immigrants and their descendants had already been struggling with both legal and de facto definitions of just who would be accepted as full citizens. And this has never ended. The topic is too vast for this essay, but you can read much more here:

The Myth of Immigration

Who is an American? 

The United States has over a million lawyers, far more both in sheer numbers and per capita (twice as many as Britain, in second place) than the rest of the world. This in part reflects the fact that we have far higher rates of divorce and single parent families. But our teen pregnancy rate – twice that of any European nation – leads to questions of religion. American teenagers’ expressive individualism leads them to have early intercourse. But often their greater religiosity – and restricted access to sex education – undermines any attempts at a rational approach to birth control.

Despite the creed of separation of church and state, the Republican base continues to insist on the old, strict legislation of morality. While abortion and gay rights are non-issues in almost all European countries, puritan prejudices continue to infect our attitudes toward the body. Although we engage in more premarital sex than the British, we are far more likely to condemn promiscuity. One out of every four American men condemn premarital sex as “always wrong” – more than three times that of the British.

Between 45% and 60% tell pollsters that they believe in the literal, seven-day creation story, and 25% want it required teaching in public schools. Forty percent believe the world will end with the battle of Armageddon. Sixty-eight percent (including fifty-five percent of those with post-graduate degrees) believe in the literal existence of the Devil.

Read Part Four Here.

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