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Revelatur Newsletter - February 20, 2021
Unmasking the Right One Piece at a Time.....
Welcome back readers and friends! We have three pieces for you in this Newsletter:
In the first: Neoliberalism -- the Right’s “Meta Ideology?” we explore the corrosive but largely unacknowledged impact of the dominant western socio-economic organizing paradigm, using Adam Kostko’s Liberalism’s Demons as our guide.
The second, Republicans Unmasked, posits that the Republican Party has accelerated its long-term timeline to render the U.S. into a “managed Democracy,” and no longer feels it necessary to obscure its authoritarian objectives or moderate its tactics to mollify or paralyze its opponents.
In the final piece, Another Republican Strategy Puzzle Piece in Place, we detail the specific role that the apparently random GOP advocacy for the concepts of liberty, states’ rights, antipathy for the Federal Government, emphasis on the notion of the U.S. as a Republic and concomitant de-emphasis of it as a Democracy, and the Constitutional Sheriff movement, play in the party’s long-term strategy.
Neoliberalism -- the Right’s “Meta Ideology?”
Ideologies have historically served as “cover” for power, control and hierarchy-loving individuals and groups seeking dominion over other people and resources. They provide justification for a set of shared values, principles and objectives in distinct opposition to alternatives. We typically cast ideologies in a political light, but there is a fine line between that aspect and the religious and/or philosophical as means of interpreting the current state of the world and establishing claims to ideal future states and the pathways to them. Islamic Fundamentalism, for instance, is a power and control seeking ideology masquerading as a religion and manifesting as a political “movement.” With differences more nuanced and less meaningful than most want to admit, so is modern American Evangelicalism.
The specific “uber” value of hiding behind the cloak of religion is the appearance of being above the fray -- unassailable if you will -- from a values standpoint. The additional value of course of doing so within a fundamentalist community or society is the threat of apostasy and ex-communication.
The primary difference between an ideology and a philosophy is that the latter is all about helping one think more critically -- enabling principled action by clearly establishing logical links between ways, means and ends, whereas with the former the objective is to enable one to avoid burdensome thinking entirely and to thereby pursue one’s objectives unburdened by principle -- justified tautologically solely by the ideology itself. Of course as many have said, it is a short path then from ideology to solipsism, narcissism and unaccountability for one’s actions.
I will here avoid the debate over whether or not this is: the natural condition and proclivity of man that must be “bounded” by countervailing forces such as religion or philosophy; an unending battle of good and evil initiated by the creator to enable free will; a dying remnant of our primate heritage; and/or a framing or categorization error.
As dangerous as are the ideologies that animate our adversaries, far worse are the ones to which we all collectively subscribe but do not perceive because of their ubiquity. Like fish that do not perceive alternatives to, and thus cannot categorize, water, so is humanity conditioned to unreservedly adopt worldviews that constrain possibility but are not apparent.
We hypothesize that such is currently the case with neoliberalism, an unfortunate name because it is actually neither new nor “liberal” in any previously accepted definition of the term. Neoliberalism is not itself a conspiracy -- although it spawns them by the dozens. It is a global human worldview like that elaborated in the movie “The Matrix” in the sense that we don’t perceive it under normal conditions. But unlike the movie, there is no one directing it. Unfortunately, it’s worse than that. While it doesn‘t have central direction, its existence and specific nature allows for exploitation under a type of “Ur-ideology” that, like religion, is supposed to be sacrosanct, and thus its opponents apostates. In this fashion neoliberalism is specifically enabling a modern, insidious version of totalitarianism to stalk the earth, resting on an amorphous ideological basis that is both not perceived yet acts “upon us” like some sort of “social gravity.”
But it’s worse than even, because while we accommodate ourselves to the neutral actor that is gravity, and have even found ways to overcome it in service of our wants and needs, we all deliberately aid and abet and thereby reinforce the pernicious and deleterious effects of neoliberalism. It is indeed a meta-meme that has captured us to do its bidding and thus wins my vote for worst ideology of all time!
Luckily, you do not have to accept my point of view as gospel. We are fortunate to have Dr. (Professor) Adam Kostko’s terrific recent book “Neoliberalism’s Demons”(2018, Stanford University Press, soft cover version) to draw upon. The remainder of this article is a synthesis of this work along with an elaboration of the points found in the introduction.
To the last point in the intro, here’s our first quote from the book: “neoliberalism makes demons of us all, confronting us with forced choices that serve to redirect the blame for social problems onto the ostensible poor decision making of individuals. This strategy attempts to delegitimize protest – and ultimately even political debate as such – in advance by claiming that the current state of things is what we have all collectively chosen” (pp. 2-3).
At Revelatur we have posited something similar when we noted that the myths of American capitalism – pull yourselves up by the bootstraps, people born in log cabins can become President, etc., assign blame for personal failure to succeed spectacularly in the land of plenty on the personal characteristics of individuals vice being the inevitable statically-predictable outcomes of late capitalism. The point being that the negative effects of neoliberal ideology are compounded in the U.S. by peculiarly American historical circumstances, creating a “double bind” that inhibits not only collective protest, but in most cases even the notion that perhaps there are larger forces at play than one’s own thoughts and actions. Thus some answer to the question we’ve been asking ourselves for quite some time, namely, why do the French protest vehemently over what Americans consider trifles, yet Americans do not even turn out to counter sedition, treason and monstrous human injustices?
The book’s subtitle is: “On the Political Theology of Late Capital.” Towards establishing definitions and context for the assertions in the book, the author states: “neoliberalism is more than simply a formula for economic policy. It aspires to be a complete way of life and a holistic worldview, in a way that previous models of capitalism did not. It is this combination of policy agenda and moral ethos the leads me to designate neoliberalism as a form of political theology” (p. 6). In this passage Kotsko is using “political theology” in the meaning to which I ascribed “ideology” in the introduction, and he obviously considers it (neoliberalism in particular but also ideology in general) just as perfidious as evidenced not just in this brief capture but also in similar passages throughout the book.
Re neoliberalism’s “strategy,” which I would argue is more akin to that of a meme desiring maximum replication than a deliberate and integrated explication of the ways, means and ends directing an organization to victory over competitors and/or opponents, the author has this to say: “this is the core strategy of neoliberalism: founding the legitimacy of the political order on the guarantee of economic freedom. And this move is plausible because of an account of human nature wherein freedom is best expressed through economic exchange and competition and is continually menaced by extra economic forces such as the state.”
Thus, “the political theology of neoliberalism is grounded in freedom as its ultimate concern. On the theological or metaphysical side, it sets up participation in economic competition as the highest expression of human personhood, which leads directly to its account of what is permissible in the political realm” (p. 16). We concur wholeheartedly, with the minor exception that in the U.S. the right uses the term “liberty” to mean what the author means by “freedom.”
We also hypothesize that it is this very point that Islamic extremists -- and in fact many current and past opponents of capitalism as societal organizing principle -- have been making about “the west,” which interestingly enough to them is a term synonymous with neoliberalism. In other words, when the non-westernized countries look at the U.S. they see the face and embodiment of neoliberalism as a hegemonic and deleterious worldview, while we think that we’re projecting the ideals of the enlightenment and the French and American Revolutions. We want the world to see us as exemplars of Democracy, freedom, equality and unlimited opportunity, but they see us for what we are -- not how we market ourselves.
It is of course critically important that we continue to strive for these ideals -- Revelatur exists specifically to enable this pursuit -- but doing so requires being brutally honest about where we are against those ideals, how others perceive us, and how we communicate that status internally and externally. We suggest in this piece and many others that a huge failing in the U.S. is the unwillingness to be self-critical and honest.
On perhaps the biggest danger neoliberalism presents: “neoliberalism threatens to undo our sense that human beings are creatures who can collectively rule themselves, and more assiduously still, to make us forget that we ever could have wanted to do something so improbable” (p. 43). Here then we can begin to illuminate some (all?) of the reasons that neoliberalism’s biggest dupes – Trumpists, manifest otherwise inexplicable -- dare I say “un-American” -- tendencies such as anomie, nihilism, violence, and solipsism.
Now that you are hopefully drawn in, let me dare to insert a challenging passage from the book that elaborates and integrates several already presented. Here Kotsko is himself quoting from Joshua Ramey’s “Politics of Divination: ”neoliberal market fundamentalism – the view that markets alone can resolve the problem of how to construct social life in the face of unforeseeable contingencies – is a perverse and disavowed colonization of archaic divination rites, the rituals through which human cultures, on the basis of chance, have perennially sought for more-than-human knowledge.
Although he does not propose a full-blown theory of religion, Ramey identifies “tacit or explicit evaluations of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans that the unknown and unforeseeable represent – “as calling forth different forms of piety in different historical periods. The problem is not that neoliberalism is a form of divination or piety toward the contingent – Ramey is not a secularist deploying “primitive religion” polemically to delegitimize neoliberalism – but that it does not recognize itself as such, meaning that it “has managed to render its own policies of divination incontestable” (p. 63). This is my concept of the “double bind” from earlier elaborated and contextualized academically in a manner I only wish I could do!
Addressing inequality, which the author avers and we wholeheartedly agree is perhaps the most pernicious outcome of neoliberalism: “the shadow side of the neoliberal concept of free choice grows naturally out of the fact that neoliberalism emphasizes not market exchange (which presupposes equality) but market competition (which necessarily entails inequality, since there must be winners and losers” (p. 89). Thus inequality is “baked into” the neoliberal program and is not, as some economists would characterize it -- a “market externality” to be accounted for through government intervention and adjustment, but a fundamental, desirable and indeed, necessary feature of the neoliberalism system.
OK hang with me we’re near the end. In conclusion, the author states: “neoliberalism is, in sum, a totalizing world order, an integral self-reinforcing system of political theology, and it has progressively transformed our world into a living hell. This is felt most acutely by those who have been fully demonized by an economically rapacious and brutally violent prison system. From a political theological perspective, we can see that this infernal system is far from being some merely particular “issue” or “cause” – it is the most extreme expression of the logic of the neoliberal order. The rest of those of us excluded from the elect 1% are not so thoroughly demonized, but our lives are increasingly hemmed in by logic of entrapment and victim blaming. The psychic life of neoliberalism as so memorably characterized by Mark Fisher in “Capitalist Realism,” is shot through with anxiety and shame. We have to be in a constant state of high alert, always “hustling” for opportunities and connections, always planning for every contingency. This dynamic of “responsibilization,” as Wendy Brown calls it, requires us to fritter away our life with worry and paperwork and supplication, “pitching” ourselves over and over again, building our “personal brand” – all for ever-lowering wages or a smattering of piece-work, which barely covers increasingly exorbitant rent, much less student loan payments.” (p. 95)
Exactly so! In Neoliberalism’s Demons the author painted, for me anyway, such a powerful picture of how I feel living in the modern world in a word picture that I felt validated in a way I have not in some years. It surely didn’t hurt that we had anticipated many of his arguments in the hypotheses we’ve expounded in these pages previously, and that every one of his dozens of assertions aligns with them.
But it is far from our primary duty to our readers to seek -- or expect them to find and be satisfied with -- solace and validation through our work. To paraphrase, ‘it is rather for us, the living, to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us that, for our honored American forebears and those certain to come after us, we take increased devotion to that cause for which they fought, many giving the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that the dead shall not have died nor the valiant have struggled in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’ (Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address)
Key steps in this direction are for liberals, Democrats and progressives to get up to speed on the concepts of neoliberalism, late capitalism, and political theology; to self-examine and determine how much of our worldviews, actions and policies are guided by our un-examined acceptance of neoliberalism as an all-encompassing worldview; and determine how we might deliberately posit and proactively establish a more just replacement.
That’s how many Senate Republicans completely, thoroughly, without any reservation, abdicated their duty.
43 out of 50.
That’s how many Senate Republicans did worse than nothing after watching videos of a frenzied mob erecting a noose to hang Mike Pence on the steps of The Capitol. How many looked at the wreckage of Trump’s mob, the too-terrible-to-contemplate cost borne on broken bodies, the bashed-in skulls, the gouged eyes, the suicides, the death and devastation and barely escaped by an inch assault on democratic governance in the halls of the seat of the nation’s government slick with blood, and shrugged.
I’m not being hyperbolic. I’m being literal.
The President of the United States financed, planned, and incited an armed attack to overthrow the results of an election, and Republicans were fine with it. Enthusiastic, really, mildly annoyed at having to go through the motions of pretending to care. For the most part, the commentariat is drawing the wrong conclusions from the GOP’s failure to impeach and hold accountable Donald Trump:
The GOP is making explicit their core strategy for gaining and holding power -- lawlessness and violence. They aren’t bothering to hide it anymore. That little corner of the mask, that tiny postage stamp sized sliver? It’s gone. It’s never coming back. And we should all calibrate our responses accordingly.
How do we know that the Republican Party is embracing terrorism as a key strategy? Well, for one thing, a fair number of GOP elected officials took part in the insurrection on January 6th, some live streaming their sedition for all the world to see. So far, 57 state and local GOP officials have been identified who stormed the Capitol.
These people took over a building during a joint session of Congress to overturn an election, and their colleagues aren’t calling them out. They’re not throwing them out. They’re not demanding resignations. Hell, they aren’t even doing slaps on the wrist and nonbinding resolutions and whatnot.
Nope, Republicans across the country are falling all over themselves to excoriate the embarrassingly few members of their party who did the bare minimum required by their oaths of office. Perhaps no one summarized the state of the elephant death cult’s giant gaping hole where a moral compass should be than Dave Ball, Chair of Washington County Pennsylvania GOP Party, who voted to censure Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey:
“We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not end him there to ‘do the right thing or whatever’.”
Other state and local GOP entities angry at the slim picking of Republicans who tried to do the right thing or whatever include North Carolina Republicans, who are censuring Bill Burr, Louisiana Republicans going after Sen. Bill Cassidy.
They’re going after, Liz Cheney, Tim Rice, Sasse, Romney, too.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger shared a letter written to him by his relatives, a salient sentiment being:
“We are thoroughly disgusted with you!”
We are thoroughly disgusted, too, just in the other direction.
Republicans are out of step with the majority here. Fully sixty percent of Americans think Trump should have been convicted. All of this is to underscore that the impeachment vote only makes sense if taken as a declaration of intent -- to root out every last vestige of normalcy and moderation from the party – and by intimidation and violence if necessary.
The GOP is incapable of governance, incapable of marshalling a majority, the wreckage of their failures stacking up daily. Some pundits have taken the escalation in extremism as cause for electoral divination and celebration:
They’re losing voters, they say. They’ll never take back Georgia this way.
Here’s the thing: Republicans don’t care about votes. They don’t plan on winning pluralities of them. They plan on preventing you from voting. From sea to shining sea, the party looked at the results from 2020 and said ‘hey not so fast.’
They plan to curtail absentee voting, limit drop boxes, enhance voter ID laws, stop you -- everything short of returning to explicit Jim Crow era racial blockades. They’re up to 100 voter restriction efforts and counting, and they’re moving fast.
All of this should put to bed forever the idea that the Republicans are legitimate partners who can be worked with, negotiated with. I’m paraphrasing Sarah Kendzior a bit, who could not have been more accurate when she described the Republican Party as a transnational crime syndicate masquerading as a political party.
So maybe now’s the time to get rid of the Filibuster, for starters.
The window for addressing the crisis of GOP extremism and authoritarianism is vanishing by the minute. Small steps aren’t going to do it. We need to think systemically.
That means not just passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, but Supreme Court reform, statehood for DC and if they want it, Puerto Rico, and taking on the electoral college to boot.
This is the most immediate danger that must be first taken care of so that we can deal with the existential threat of climate chaos, racial injustice, income inequality. If the white nationalist extremist death cult controls the levers of government, there is no resetting the clock for another play -- it’s game over.
Republicans want violence. They want authoritarianism. They’re shouting it through a megaphone.
It’s time to listen.
Another Republican Strategy Puzzle Piece In Place!
As you recall, Revelatur posits the existence and critical importance of an integrated, long-term Republican strategy, with its various lines of action being executed by different yet often overlapping ecosystem actors. We have further posited that the objectives of this strategy, and the tactics used to execute it, are antithetical to the intent of the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, and long held American principles.
As we continue to conduct research and analysis, as we attempt to validate or invalidate our hypotheses, and as we strive to make sense of apparently illogical and/or mutually contradictory GOP political pursuits, we often uncover other aspects of the strategy that were not previously visible or interpretable.
Such is the case with the connection between the apparently random GOP ecosystem support for the concepts of liberty, states’ rights, antipathy for the Federal Government, emphasis on the notion of the U.S. as a Republic and concomitant de-emphasis of it as a Democracy, and the “Constitutional Sheriff”* movement. Recent intelligence and systems analysis has revealed that these elements are not random, but critically connected and relevant to previous Revelatur hypotheses about the GOP strategy.
*“The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association is a political organization of local police officials in the United States who believe that federal and state government authorities are subordinate to local government authority,” Wikipedia.
Our emergent hypothesis is that one key plank of the GOP’s long term strategy is to minimize Federal -- and maximize state and local -- power, because they have identified those aspects of the U.S. governance system as the weak spots in the system. The GOP has chosen these as the very places where the aggregate demographic advantages enjoyed by liberals and Democrats is most easily countered and neutralized at minimal effort. We assess this to be a brilliant -- if totally Machiavellian -- strategy plank, because it rides almost effortlessly on the back of demographic sorting trends favorable to the GOP that are themselves exacerbating weak spots in Constitutional and U.S. governance system design. This strategy plank thus exploits and accelerates a vicious systems cycle already in play.
And of course this strategy plank links into the other un-democratic but less opaque GOP activities at the state and local such as gerrymandering, voter suppression, selective law enforcement and civil rights infringement. One might look at the aspects we identified above as the ideological backbone and emotional triggering that enables support for, and undermines potential resistance to, the clearly un-American policies whose advocacy absent that backbone could be more easily countered by Democrats and the press. We have known since the mid 20th Century that authoritarians rely on and deploy such backbones to gradually legitimize their program and undermine their opposition simultaneously. It is counter-intuitive and deeply troubling that the tremendous work done to decode fascism and other forms of totalitarianism was not put to use to strengthen democracies but has instead been perverted into a type of “best practices” playbook for modern authoritarians armed with more powerful technologies. Note: for deeper reading in this area from both the historical and current perspectives check out Hannah Arendt, “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” and Shoshana Zuboff, “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” respectively.
Going back to the Nation’s founding, and especially pertinent during the Civil War period, “states’ rights” has been a subterfuge for un-American practices. Having technically lost that war, conservatives have been fighting an insurgency ever since in an attempt to both carve out a space within the U.S. where their values are preeminent, and yet harvest the economic advantages generated by the larger polity of which it is a part. To eat your cake and have it too. It is interesting sociologically in this regard that conservatives, the GOP and their supporters then actually “are” the very economic “free riders” they continually accuse liberal constituents of being!
For this reason it cannot have been the GOP’s long-term macro strategy objective to turn the U.S into an authoritarian state at the national level -- as many suppose -- because to do so would be to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, and to turn the nation into a banana republic that could not adequately support neoliberalism, late capitalism and multiple oligarchs. We gently hypothesize that is was Trump’s attempt to seize power and establish an authoritarian state -- to unilaterally change the GOP’s long term objective to render the U.S. into a “managed Democracy,” that finally caused elected GOP officials to ultimately certify the 2020 election results. More to follow on this very early hypothesis.
For a healthy Democracy of substantial size, a strong federal system is essential -- lack of one not only guarantees discrimination and injustice, but undermines its own security. If the U.S. is to survive as a Democracy it must be more “federal” by far than it is now -- including, as have recently pointed out, in terms of consensus on core values and national objectives.
Absent such consensus, the GOP will continue to exploit our “soft” federal concept, as well as our uncritical acceptance of neoliberal and late capitalist principles, to constrain liberal, democratic and progressive solution sets without even putting up a fight. Again as we have pointed out, the GOP has long-term objectives that its leadership pursues relentlessly and, lacking the same, Democrats are fighting an asymmetric war that they won’t even acknowledge as one.
The specific type of distributed (Federal) representative (vice participative and/or direct) democracy enshrined in the Constitution was a good fit for the historical circumstances that existed when it was designed, but it passed through being sub-optimal on the way to being nearly fatally flawed in the mid 19th Century. We’ve spent 160 years denying this fact and limping increasingly into dysfunction -- it’s time to acknowledge this and move forward.
In retrospect, the period between the New Deal, the Second World War and the Civil Rights successes of the mid 1960s now appears less like the beginnings of an inevitable triumphal march towards progressivism supported by national consensus -- at least I perceived it this way -- and more like the high water mark of liberalism. Likely historians will capture this period as only an interregnum in a continuing American civil war over values and principles. As long as this aspect of the experiment remains unresolved, all the other discussions over rights, mechanisms, and governance will remain premature, frustrating and most critically -- zero sum and thus combative.
What does moving forward look like? First, recognition of reality. Second, immediate counter-measures through integrated strategic messaging and Executive Action. Third, long-term strategy. Fourth, as a component of that strategy, a concerted long-term effort to establish national values and objectives consensus. Fifth, to deliberately “Federalize” around that consensus by drastically reducing the power of state and local governments, and Congress itself, and up-powering citizens through participative democracy mechanisms. We cannot be more afraid of the unknown demons these actions might release than we are of the very real GOP demons at the door.
Analytical Process Note: In case you’re interested, we arrived at this hypothesis through intelligence and systems analysis, and the precursor to such were the Key Intelligence Questions that form the key focusing capability for our inbound information stream. Specifically here, those questions were: What purpose do these concepts serve within Republican strategy; why would the right advocate such seemingly random arguments; what long-term objective is potentially served by such advocacy?