Sunday, August 28, 2016

August 28, 2016
In an eloquent speech following the shooting of police officers in Dallas, President Obama said, "I’m here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem." Unfortunately, we are divided, broadly and deeply. There are any number of indications.
Starting with the context of Mr. Obama’s remarks, there is the deadly gulf between police and black citizens. This is not the only indicator of racial division; the attacks on the President often reflect bias. White nationalism, white pride, white whatever is based on fear and hatred of blacks and Latinos. Here is a typical white-nationalist claim: "Only those of pure White blood, whatever their creed, may be members of the nation. Non-citizens may live in America only as guests and must be subject to laws for aliens."[47]
Donald Trump is a demagogue and a rabble-rouser, who has encouraged or condoned violence at his rallies, and has used and magnified racial, cultural and religious divisions and resentments. The rebellious nature of his followers, and loose talk at rallies and at the GOP convention, has led to speculation that, when he is sent back to Trump Tower, his followers may not take it quietly, especially as he is claiming that, if he loses, it will be due to fraud. One article, referring to "the angry, unhinged mob formerly known as the Republican base," warned that "people who call for their opponents to be arrested or killed, while imbuing their own candidate with messianic powers, do not accept political defeat easily."[48]  A revolt isn’t likely, but concern about it is a sign of how bad things are.
Trump is supported by the loony but popular conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who seems to think that every violent event, such as 9-11, the Oklahoma City bombing and Sandy Hook, was really staged by the government.[49]  Trump returns the compliment: "Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down."[50]  Jones’ fear and hatred of government includes, not surprisingly, the question of gun possession: "I'm here to tell you, 1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms!"[51]
Gun nuts, of whom the NRA is the leader and mouthpiece, fit nicely into the speculation about a rebellion by Trump’s followers. The NRA has endorsed Trump, and has run an ad attacking Mrs. Clinton and urging a vote for Trump. Of course, it encourages everyone to be armed. The country is awash in guns and many have dangerous ideas about what they are for. As an article in The Atlantic[52] put it, "in recent years, the belief in widespread gun ownership as a defense against tyrannical government has become an alluring idea, gaining traction with members of Congress as well as fringe conspiracy theorists." As an example of the former, it quoted Senator Tom Coburn: "The Second Amendment wasn't written so you can go hunting, it was to create a force to balance a tyrannical force here." (Ted Cruz agrees [53]) As to fringe groups, it quoted something called Three Percenters: "all politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war." As to ordinary citizens, the article cited a 2013 poll reporting that sixty-five percent of Americans see gun rights as a protection against tyranny.
The Southern Poverty Law Center identified 998 anti-government groups active in 2015. It noted that the anti-government movement has experienced a resurgence since President Obama was elected. Immigration and economic worries help fuel the movement, as does racism. Of the 998 groups, 276 were militias.[54]
Many of the groups are made up of "sovereign citizens." Such people believe that government is illegitimate, and that they are not bound by its laws. They invent odd theories to justify their above-the-law status. According to one web site, "The first thing a Sovereign becomes is immune to law, I.E. statutory, civil and vehicle codes. You no longer are subject to those laws they just do not apply to you."[sic][55]  A sovereign, it tells us, can avoid paying state or federal income taxes, and can discharge debts by self-created "bonds."
Much of the activity of self-proclaimed sovereigns is confined to evading taxes or license fees and creating false paperwork, such as liens on property, but some have engaged in violence. "The FBI considers sovereign-citizen extremists as comprising a domestic terrorist movement . . . with well-known members, such as Terry Nichols, who helped plan the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, bombing."[56]
A frequent claim by such people is that the federal government was replaced by a corporation mysteriously created many years ago; the date varies from the 1860s to the 1930s. One version tells us that "a for-profit corporate entity known as the UNITED STATES Government. . . has been posing as the lawful government for nearly 150 years. . . ." Because of its fraud, abuse and theft, righteous lawful government must be restored. That, we are told, has been done; there is a new government: "The Republic for the United States of America [RUSA], has been the only lawful de jure government in America since 2010."[57]  It is a parallel, interim entity which will be fully substituted for the corporation when proper elections somehow are held, at a date to be determined. In the meantime, RUSA does not consent to the use by the false, corporate federal government of any federal property or resources. RUSA is an offshoot of The Guardians of the Free Republic, which issued letters to governors in 2010 directing them to resign within three days or be removed. All of this is delusional, but it’s none the less an example of the suspicion, resentment and withdrawal that seems to be rampant.
The web site of RUSA urges support for "Constitutional Sheriffs," and links to the web site of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), a group which claims membership — or support, or training, something — of 400 or more sheriffs. It claims that sheriffs are the highest elected officials in each county and have the right to prevent enforcement of laws by state or federal agencies. It would prevent the "[a]rrest of citizens or seizure of persons or property [by outside agencies] without first notifying and obtaining the express consent of the local sheriff."[58]  The CSPOA has, peculiarly for a law enforcement group, an obsession with gun-possession rights.

According to Right Wing Watch, the leader of CSPOA, Richard Mack, claims that "states and counties need to enforce their ‘sovereignty’ in areas like marriage equality and gun control, or else ‘we will lose liberty in America, and we will not get it back unless there’s bloodshed’." [59]  Mack is part of a group that is "seeking to stage a political takeover of [an Arizona] county as an experiment in creating a local government that will ignore and ‘nullify’ federal laws — such as federal lands restrictions and gun regulations — that its leaders believe to be unconstitutional."[60]
Similarly, The Tenth Amendment Center peddles the notion that states have the right to nullify federal laws, an invitation to chaos. I won’t add to my extensive comments[61] on that theory, but it is high on the worrisome list of symptoms of national fracturing, and the Center’s web site toys with secession. That is made more explicit by the League of the South, which advocates the secession of the Southern States and the formation of a Southern republic. [62]
Cliven Bundy became a hero to the sovereigns by running his cattle on federal land, refusing to pay grazing fees, ignoring court orders, and finally arranging an armed standoff with federal officers. He declared that "I don’t recognize [the] United States Government as even existing." His defiance encouraged others, including the CSPOA and, of course, led to the occupation led by his sons of a wildlife refuge in Oregon. The Republican national platform pandered to the resentment of federal land ownership in this proposal: "Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states."
Disdain for government and radical individualism aren’t limited to fringe groups. The preamble to the Libertarian Party’s 2016 platform declares: "As Libertarians, we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others." To be sure, the Libertarians disavow the aggressive use of force against other citizens. Therefore, we could regard this as a peaceful, political form of self-sovereignty, distinct from the kooky sovereign citizens.
However, the platform is directed primarily at freeing the individual from government, many of the activities of which are declared to be illegitimate, and asserts the right to use force to protect property. "This right inheres in the individual, who may agree to be aided by any other individual or group." That seems to encourage armed resistance, such as Bundy’s. To make clear that it has arms in mind, the platform declares: "We affirm the individual right recognized by the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms. . . . We oppose all laws at any level of government restricting, registering, or monitoring the ownership, manufacture, or transfer of firearms or ammunition."
In a final flourish, the platform states: "Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of individual liberty, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it . . . ." The present government, in the Libertarians’ view, meets that description.
Divisiveness has become the aim of one of our major parties. One could go on at length on this topic, but let these comments from The Party is Over suffice. "The Republican Party is no longer a party of governance, because it has no positive agenda. . . It has become the ‘anti’ party par excellence." The author, noting that he was "not alone in ascribing nihilistic and destructive motives to the former party of Lincoln," offered a 2011 quote by Bruce Bartlett, who served in the Reagan and Bush I administrations. Referring to failure of the government to make progress in combating the economic slump, Bartlett said the problem is that "we now have a crazy party in charge of one of the houses of our Congress, and they won’t allow anything to happen, because it’s in their vested interest to make things worse."[63]
Then we have the Tea Party, in effect the right wing of a right-wing party, which pretends to be dedicated to defending the Constitution. However, one study found that to be ironic. Despite their fondness for the Founding Fathers, Tea Party members espoused positions similar to those of the anti-federalists, the Founders’ opponents. Their toying with disunion doesn’t recall only the founding era: "The Tea Partiers we met did not show any awareness that they are echoing arguments made by the Nullifiers and Secessionists before and during the U.S. Civil War, or that their stress on ‘states' rights’ is eerily reminiscent of dead-ender white opposition to Civil Rights laws in the 196os."[64]
Economic inequality is at indefensible levels, and yet we have rich people who hide money overseas, agitate for the repeal of the estate tax — and even the income tax — and buy elections to accomplish those antisocial aims. Dark Money, a recent study of political spending, especially by the Koch brothers, described their program (and that of other members of the economic elite), starting with funding free-market think tanks, and moving on to political spending through front groups. "While amassing one of the most lucrative fortunes in the world, the Kochs had also created an ideological assembly line justifying it [and] a powerful political machine to protect it."[65]  A former Koch employee summarized the theory and reality: "They call themselves libertarians. For lack of a better word, what it means is that if you're big enough to get away with it, you can get away with it. No government."[66]
Finally, consider the influence of modern media. Right-wing radio and television, and much of the internet, not only have encouraged division, but have created an alternative, hostile reality. Donald Trump didn’t create division; the Trump phenomenon is the product, but also the abetter of this dangerous trend.


47. . See my note of 3/3/16.


49. See my note of 5/30/10.







57. . See my note of 8/13/13.


. See my notes of 10/29, 11/6, and 11/7/2013


63. Mike Lofgren, The Party Is Over, pp. 40-41. 
 The Bartlett quote also is at

64. Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, p. 50.

65. Jane Mayer, Dark Money, pp. 312-13.

66. Id. at p. 377

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

August 15, 2016
A few years ago, I bought a coffee mug in Ireland — where everyone is a philosopher — which reads: "Trust me. At my age I’m an expert on everything." I doubt that I can claim that, but age does carry with it longer memories, including those of better times, which leads one to imagine that he can advise the world as to its current failings. Hence these ramblings.
A retrospective view can be dangerous if it consists mainly in demanding conditions which would be better only in a self-centered sense, achieved by disadvantaging someone else. When the view of the past is false or imaginary, the results only can be worse. The Trump phenomenon illustrates aspects of this.
However, not all memories are false; consider real wages and living standards, present and past, for ordinary people. Average hourly wages, in inflation-adjusted dollars barely have moved since the mid-60s; the value of the federal minimum wage in present dollars has declined since then. Lagging wages and increasing inequality are reflected in charts prepared by the Economic Policy Institute,[46] such as the following: Wages have not kept pace with productivity; from 1973 to 2013, productivity rose 74.4%, hourly wages only 9.2% (EPI Figure 2). The minimum wage would be much higher if it had kept pace with productivity (Figure 8). Incomes for the top 10% rose 138%, but for the bottom 90% only 15% from 1979 to 2013 (Figure 3). The ratio of CEO compensation to that of average workers was 20 to 1 in the late 60s, 30 to 1 in the late 70s, and in 2013 296 to 1 (Figure 7).  
In recent years, Democrats have not done enough to persuade people of ordinary means that the Party is on their side, but are saddled, in part justly, with an reputation of elitism. The dominant Democratic/liberal position, or at least image, has been a peculiar mixture: socially a rerun of the 6os, economically of the 80s (more accurately, of the Clinton 90s, the Democratic version of the 80s). Fortunately for the Party the Sanders campaign has revived an earlier economic vision, and much of that is reflected in the national platform. It remains to be seen whether Hillary Clinton, as President, will drift back to the former position, but her economic plan was described as "disastrous" by the National Review and "insanity" by Larry Kudlow, a good sign.



Monday, August 1, 2016

August 1, 2016

"It is not often that careful students of American politics talk seriously about the possible demise of a major party." However, some felt "that the suicidal trend to the right has passed beyond the point where it can be reversed." Such predictions were prompted by the capture of the GOP by an uncompromising right wing. What happened at the Republican convention "convinced many Americans that those extremists everyone had been hearing about were really in control . . . ."
No, that doesn’t describe the 2016 campaign, although it certainly could. Those and the following comments were published in 1966 in From Disaster to Distinction, a small book published by the Ripon Society, a Republican organization, criticizing the condition of the Party leading up to and through the election of 1964, when Senator Barry Goldwater was the GOP candidate. Then, as now, the Republican campaign was founded on reactionary fantasy: "If Goldwater's words were heresy to those who had painfully come to terms with the unpleasantness of a changing world, they were prophecy to those who dared to think that such a reconciliation might yet be avoided, that their illusions might still be spared."
Goldwater led the Republicans to a crushing defeat. Like Trump, his strategy aimed at "a consensus of discontent." Whether Trump will lead the Party to a similar loss and crisis of conscience is, at this point, very much in doubt. Even if that were to happen, its not at all clear that the remedy adopted would be that which the authors suggested after the Goldwater debacle: "The GOP cannot regenerate and rebuild itself without making an unapologetic commitment to the center of American politics. But the Republican party can never win the center of American politics unless it assigns the major responsibilities for leadership to dynamic Republican moderates." The book described the Ripon Society as "a group of young, progressive Republicans." How often recently have the last two words of that description appeared together?

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