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Revelatur Newsletter - February 6, 2021
Hello dear readers! Like most Americans we are taking a deep breath after the inauguration, and taking stock of where we hypothesize things stand in our Democracy. This newsletter captures one main multi-element systems hypothesis from three different perspectives.
Our hypothesis is this: democracy dodged a bullet with the 2020 elections and we remain a hair’s breath and two years away from an irrevocable slide into an authoritarian state termed a “managed democracy;” Republicans continue to pursue power at all costs and without principle, and while their previous momentum was dealt a blow last November, their ability to negatively impact American society remains intact; elected Democrats and the Democratic party have yet to respond with strategy, tactics, counter-measures and resolution appropriate to the crisis; American citizens and institutions are exhibiting a failure of sprit, appeasing the Right, and acquiescing to the slow death of the last best hope of earth.
Evangelical and White Nationalist Penetration of U.S. Military Poses Massive Threat
When I was in the U.S. Army one of my bosses once showed me his performance report. Notwithstanding that these are not supposed to be shared, I’ll never forget the first line from his Senior Rater (his boss’ boss): “This officer is a fine Christian gentleman.” I guess it didn’t hurt that they went to bible study together.
In fact, that bible study class, which notably included the Brigade Commander, essentially formed the “in crowd” on our military post in Germany. I remember being not just shocked but chilled by the event. Not so much because it meant that I wasn’t going to break into the top tier of performers despite my actual results. No, I was more worried that the institution to which I’d committed, in which in turn was supposedly committed to protecting the Constitution, to diversity, to fairness beyond reproach -- was itself fundamentally flawed by Evangelicals breaking the church/state barrier.
Why was I shocked? Because it contrasted so highly with an earlier high-impact Army experience of mine. That event occurred during what is usually the terrifically boring and mandatory ROTC military history class. This is where you’re first learning how to be an Officer -- where you can work out potential mistakes in the relative safety of the classroom instead of on real soldiers.
So one day in class one of my fellow ROTC cadets was having a problem understanding the concept of a lawful order -- particularly what were to be his responsibilities and flexibilities when given one. He kept asking: what if this and what if that? Finally, the ROTC instructor, an Army Captain, eyes bulging, says: “let me put it this way. Suppose you’re in combat on the battlefield and I’m your superior officer and I give you a direct order to advance.” So far, so good. “Then Jesus Christ himself descends from the heavens and countermands my order. In this case, you ignore Jesus Christ, and execute my order, or be court-martialed. Did you understand now?”
Clearly, in theory, here was the principle of separation of church and state, as well as the military concept of “good order and discipline,” wrapped up into one scenario. You can bet I internalized it -- that is the point -- and precisely how military training “works” to mold the minds of its new recruits.
Admittedly, I’ve been out of the Army a long time. But I’ve been associated with the DoD most of my adult life through work and social relationships with current and former soldiers. I’ve no reason to believe these dangerous trends -- growing Evangelical power and propensity to hypocrisy -- haven’t actually worsened, and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that such us the case. I am further concerned that the Evangelical problem goes largely unacknowledged. I’ve never seen an internal DoD report about it, and I’ve seen only one open press article (detailing undue Evangelical influence at the Air Force Academy) -- addressing this issue and its potential implications.
What are those implications? Well, first and easiest to validate is the white nationalism problem. All of us are by now well aware of the connecting tissue within Trumpism as a movement and American society in general between American evangelicals and white nationalists. Hell, the participation rosters at the January 6 events make that abundantly clear. While membership in the two groups do not totally overlap, they are fellow travelers whose alignment provides them increased power and mutual impunity.
Second, and admittedly with a connection not quite as immediately apparent, is the sexual harassment and assault issue. It stands to reason that an institution that is both riddled (yes, I chose that word specifically) with Evangelicals and does not acknowledge their influence would find it difficult to energetically fight the same misogynistic tendencies that characterize its theology and culture. Privileged groups are, as a rule, blind both to their advantages and others’ struggles, and there is consistent evidence that Evangelicals in the aggregate lack empathy for others, as counterintuitive as that sounds.
Many will argue that these problems are exacerbated by the difficulties in recruiting. I am certain that this is a contributing -- but not mitigating -- factor. In fact, military recruiters indeed have the deck stacked against them -- only 29% of Americans aged 17-24 pass the other standards required for enlistment -- and this number has been declining steadily for 50 years (The Heritage Foundation, February 13, 2018: “The Looming National Security Crisis: Young Americans Unable to Serve in the Military”).
Additionally, based on cultural and socioeconomic factors, white recruits have been increasingly drawn from poor families in the U.S. South and Southwest. By contrast, there are entire counties in the Northeast that have not had one enlistment in years! Like it or not, poor Southern recruits are more likely than the general population to be both Evangelical and white nationalist.
At any rate, this is a complex systems problem in which the increasing power of Evangelicals within the military, recruiting challenges, and recruit demographics collectively create a culture of acceptance and acquiescence to white nationalism and sexual assault, in turn generating a space of impunity in which bad people and movements operate with little consequence. This challenge is exacerbated by the military’s closed information loop and America’s fawning deference to Veterans. The military’s desire to keep the problems from bubbling out to a more general awareness and to power centers where counter actions could be applied is understandable, but reinforces the problem.
Without public awareness and external pressure there is no reason for the military to upset the apple cart, thereby choking off a vital source of recruits with no apparent payoff. The sad truth is that it would be easier to recruit from a more diverse pool to the degree that Evangelical influence -- and thus white nationalism, misogyny and sexual assault -- were reduced. Based on their thought patterns and cultural tendencies, it is likely that many military leaders don’t even desire a more diverse recruiting base and military force! Thus we have a self-perpetuating problem, or in systems terminology, a vicious cycle.
But the biggest implication is for our democracy, and the tests to which it will be continually put in the coming years by the right. Imagine if you will how things might have gone down on January 6 if the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had both been Evangelicals? We may not have seen the military insert itself directly in support of President Trump, although that could have been the outcome. More likely, you would not have seen the preemptive shots over the bow General Milley directed at Trump post-election -- which in code made it explicitly clear that if Trump were bound to execute a coup, he did not have the support of the nation’s military. That action is an underappreciated factor in the failure of Trump’s eventual coup attempt. Really all a President would need to execute a successful coup with regard to the military is to neutralize them -- in essence to ensure only that they would not weigh in directly on behalf of his opponents/opposition.
Don’t you think that a future Republican administration will have learned that lesson and ensure the “right” DoD senior leadership alignment the next time? Have we put anything in place that prevents this from happening?
In terms of fairness, the Army did well by me, and it may be the best large-scale American institution. Whether or not that is accurate, it is critical to democracy at the highest level, and to the men and women who serve in it the DoD, that we fix these problems.
And there are potentially even further implications. What plagues the Army is a type of soft corruption characterized by steady erosion in norms. If the Army is at least one of our best institutions -- and I think it’s clear that it is -- then what soft corruptions likely plague the others? What is the combined impact on our society of even the slowest erosion in norms across our institutions and enterprises? Answering my own question, I believe we are experiencing a broad lessening of institutional accountability across the board. Each erosion benefits its specific stakeholders immensely and negative impacts others minutely, so is hard to beat back. But each is also enabled by our collective acquiescence.
What will it take to turn this ship around? First, illumination and acknowledgement of the problems and their impact on the part of citizens and the press. Then from us citizens, unceasing pressure for reform, and a more jaundiced eye towards the military. From Congress, real oversight. From the DoD leadership, real reform. The Army in particular has reformed itself multiple times in the past, most particularly after the Vietnam War, so there is an institutional pathway. We require what is known as a “whole of society” solution -- and this is one more problem progressives and Democrats must put in the prioritization and sequencing hopper for address.
I suggest the Evangelical influence within the military is a bigger problem that we know, and that its resolution will have inordinate impact on society and a positive ripple effect on related societal issues.
We Told You So – With Context
There’s not a lot of joy in saying we told you so when the subject of your vindication is socioeconomic collapse and the increasingly aggressive push towards authoritarianism by a major political party. We, the royal we, the editorial we, did tell you so.
The insurrection, the Muslim Ban, white supremacist embrace, the bombings, the COVID response -- these catastrophes were all foreseeable, and in fact, foreseen, if not in detail, in substance and wide angle.
It takes a special blend of hubris, privilege, and analytical shortsightedness to wipe the spittle of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s latest mass shootings are false flags YouTube rant from your face and write another 1200 word both-sides saturated think piece while the conspirators behind January 6th have not yet all been rounded up, but here we are.
Four years ago, from the moment Trump announced his candidacy, there were people predicting exactly how this would all end up, based on readily identifiable warning signs.
Human rights groups, students, racial justice advocates, people of all walks of life in possession of a modicum of awareness -- organized scattered protests before Trump even took office, protesting the inevitability of racism and authoritarianism. And then millions took to the streets across the country for the Women’s March on Jan 21, 2017 -- the day after Trump took office.
They (editorial in the literal sense, they) scoffed at the effort. Consistently, it was voices from those most likely to be directly impacted by the Trump Administration who sounded the warning most forcefully and with clarion foresight about what was to come. Consistently, it was those most insulated from the rapidly proliferating danger that downplayed.
While activists and people in marginalized communities shouted about the timber and fuel obviously stacking up, most powerful Democrats and media outlets ignored or obfuscated the threat of the fire starter in chief and the right wing ecosystem that enabled and accelerated the threats.
Van Jones is rightly infamous for declaring, in the wake of a jumbled, hateful, jingoistic speech to a joint session: “He became President of the United States in that moment, period.”
Mr. Jones has plenty of company in the ‘new tone’ cadre of the media corps. Dana Bash, the AP, USA Today - virtually every media outlet in the country featured a rotating crew of commentatorsfalling all over themselves to declare Trump “presidential “any time he managed to make it through three sentences without referencing a demon sperm doctor or bleach guzzling. (To be clear, seven days after Trump touted the claims of a doctor who chatted up demon sperm and alien DNA, media outlets spoke of a ‘change in tone.’)
International media, like Germany’s Der Spiegel, were not so hesitant to call em like they saw ‘em. In August of 2017 the magazine’s cover featured Trump in a Ku Klux Klan hood. Not afraid to be outdone by their fellow Germans, Der Stern put Trump on the cover making a Nazi salute. Their reporting was similarly straightforward in assessing the then-President’s policies and rhetoric.
Domestic media outlets in the United States suffered mainly from the following failings, here described using extended metaphors.
Both Sides/False Equivalence: so your house is on fire.
The people who started the fire are running around inside spraying gasoline. You are spraying from a fire extinguisher. Certainly, one could frame this as two groups of people in disagreement about the proper role of fires in home ownership, but that’s not a particularly accurate read on the dynamics.
Horse-Race Mentality/ Neutrality: so you’re taking candy from a baby.
Of course if you’re an adult overpowering a child is a sure-fire way to increase your candy intake from a strategic standpoint, but it’s clearly missing the story to report on taking candy from a baby purely from that angle.
Are voter suppression efforts good for Republicans? Will rigging the census hurt Democrats in 2022? Is ripping children from their parents hurting the GOP in the polls? The list of crimes is endless, as is the coverage painting clear GOP criminality as just a smart way to get ahead.
The media wasn’t the only group to get it wrong. Democrats did their part, too, with a few notable exceptions.
As far as elected officials go, Reps Brad Sherman, Al Green, and Steve Cohen brought articles of impeachment to the House 264 days into the Trump Administration, saying that Trump had undermined the integrity of the office. Schumer and Pelosi “weren’t ready yet.”
Rashida Tlaib introduced her own resolution for impeachment. AOC voiced her support in wake of the Mueller Report’s release. Schumer and Pelosi weren’t ready yet.
It was three years into the Trump Administration before Democratic leadership got around to doing something, and by then it was a narrow impeachment effort, focused on just one of literally hundreds of crimes committed by the administrations. By the time the Democratic leadership was ready to act, it was already too late.
For four years the people who explicitly called out the racism, xenophobia, fascism, and danger of the Trump Administration and the far right impunity network were called alarmist, while the most powerful, those with the greatest ability to do something, for the most part, looked the other way.
And then, on January 6th, the refusal to squarely address the far right ascendance exploded; live for the world to see. Spurred on the President and his lying fellow travelers in Congress, an angry mob of thousands descended on The Capitol in violent insurrection, no less tragic for its near inevitability.
In light of the whole mistakes of the past, doomed to repeat them thing, we need to think carefully about the actions we take as a country in the months and years to come. Because let’s be clear – repeating those mistakes won’t just result in the same bad outcomes: it will be far worse, and the damage irrevocable.
The GOP is not a legitimate political partner or an equal partner in a democratic government. They are a criminal conspiracy wearing the clothing of one. Fascism is on the march. Inequality is, and unless we make deep, structural, revolutionary change, the events of January 6 won’t be the terminus of a movement but a training exercise.
Going forward, please consider acknowledging that just because people are alarmed it doesn’t mean they’re alarmists. Just because someone is saying the GOP is full of Nazis...well, maybe check to make sure the GOP isn’t full of actual Nazis before dismissing the claim. (It is. The GOP is full of totalitarians and authoritarians, and some are indeed and avowedly that most loathsome type -- Nazis.)
Notwithstanding the sociopathic commitment to the “both sides” bit from outlets like Politico, there are some early indications that the media is belatedly doing better. They’re not taking the bait as often when the GOP cynically calls for unity.
And elected Democrats may be in even better territory. From Biden to Schumer to Pelosi to AOC and all points between, America’s leading non extremist party has shown a heretofore unknown commitment to doing what it takes to get the American people what they need and go after the sedition caucus to boot. The early move to strip Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments is a good start. Only a couple hundred more seditionists to go.
Let’s not forget, the ‘we’ in ‘we told you so’ was a broad, diverse group, including the Muslim Students’ Association, Black Lives Matter, MoveOn, people from Occupy, Moral Mondays, Camille Paglia, Sarah Kendzior, Indivisible, Swing Left, HRC -- and many millions more. Let’s make sure we don’t have to say it again.
PS. Plug time! Here at Revelatur, we’re going to continue to be out in front with our analysis and forecasts in the coming year. Be on the lookout for our analytical predictions about what the right will do, how it will respond to Biden/Democrats, and our prescriptions for the best way to get out ahead of it all and be more effective.
What’s Really Wrong With “U.S.”?
Trumpists are “enraged,” or perhaps more accurately, “in rage.” Progressives are “outraged.” Guess which one is more effective? As a recent convert to progressivism, I’m enraged that my tribe is only outraged. I will do my level best to bring my tribe to the level of controlled fury and steely-eyed determination required to win the existential fight we’re in -- because business as usual isn’t going to cut it. I will, however, use the rational argumentation my fellow progressives so revere in my effort to change hearts and minds.
Every time Trumpists exhibit mass rage -- like the Capitol attack, progressives’ first instinct is to try to understand, and our second is to dissemble. People were saying we shouldn’t impeach Trump “because it will do more harm than good.” To whom? We know from criminal justice research that swift justice is the surest preventive and deterrent -- in fact it’s more effective than length or severity of punishment. To fail to act proportionally and appropriately is itself an injustice -- to those good Americans who abide by the law, channel their outrage into legitimate efforts to improve the world, and forego opportunities to take advantage of and denigrate others just because they can. The so-called “rage” of Trumpists is the quintessence of both their transgressions and our acquiescence.
We witness and endure daily acts of rage, hatred, intimidation, threats, disrespect, intolerance, prejudice, indignity, and anti-Democratic activities.
But this is only the evident tip of the iceberg. Our most recent intelligence analysis, combined with a subjective factor analysis*, revealed the individual Trumpist behavioral characteristics that, when vectored by authority, drives transgressions. The following are the behaviors we identified as common to Trumpists:
Lack of Self-Discipline
Lack of Self-Restraint
Love of, and lust for, Power, Control and Hierarchy
Poor life-coping skills
Rejection of the rule of law and societal behavioral norms
Anti-intellectualism and Non-existent critical thinking skills
*In the simplified version, we analyze the right’s communications and actions, and then match canonical psychological and sociological “behaviors” to them. The list presented here is the result. We also validated our results against the most recent psychology and sociology practitioner findings.
Quite a list, huh? When I grew up we called these things ‘character deficiencies,’ or when charitable, ‘character flaws.’ Now not every Trumpist possesses all of these flaws, but most have the majority of the list going for them. When I grew up we considered these flaws disqualifiers for positions of responsibility and authority; for Trumpists -- they are the qualifications!
This is how far we’ve fallen as a nation in one lifetime. This problem manifests in the political sphere, and is certainly systemically connected to politics. But it’s fundamentally a function of a lack of national vision, adherence to values and principles, of the greathearted spirit that once permeated the national space. We rose to greatness because we focused on abundance and possibility and optimism, and we’re circling the drain now by focusing primarily on scarcity, selfishness and pessimism – “As of January 13, 2021, 79% of Americans believe the country if falling apart,” Ipsos-Axios Poll. Politicians have only led us here because we allowed them to, and the reasons we offer are just excuses for our individual and collective failures to rise to the challenge.
Who says they get to have rage? That their rage is more legitimate than that of others? That it is appropriate to the situation?
I have anger that 40% of the population has chosen to have the character flaws noted above, and the sheer audacity to denigrate those of us who’ve worked hard, sacrificed opportunity, and risked our lives in service of our nation and its once great ideals. Yet I choose not to rage blindly in response, because that is not the answer. Rather, like the majority of Americans, I choose to channel righteous anger into legitimate action.
Trumpism allows Trumpists to venture forth into the world with a false sense of bravado that allows them cover for their shortcomings and competitive disadvantages, but the rest of us are enabling it by failure to response appropriately and proportionally.
Other democratic nations have developed cultures of restraint -- Japan perhaps being the most notable large nation -- to ensure that they don’t develop Trumpists in the first place. We’ve long looked down our noses on such cultural mechanisms -- believing them to be anti-individual and unnecessary in the United States. We need to rethink this, rapidly -- or we will not survive as a democracy another generation. Education is one ultimate answer to this problem -- but we’re three generations and 75 years away from critical mass on that vector even after we’ve decided what needs changing -- and this effort has zero traction right now.
Participative democracy is another important avenue to enable more citizens to feel and be empowered -- but we have limited history with this concept and it too has no momentum currently.
We cannot allow Trumpists to continue to break the law and societal norms with impunity. They are daily more emboldened as our appeasement continues. We have in previous writings pointed out the requirement for a massive justice effort beginning January 2021 to hold all transgressors to account, but we need more than that. We need counter-measures and societal sanctions for bad behavior that does not rise to the level of law breaking. For instance, elected representatives challenging election results must face bigger sanctions than liberal outrage and temporary reductions in fund-raising from the entire citizenry right now -- not in some distant future in which we’ve somehow managed to change the laws. Waiting is a loser tactic, waiting is for chumps, and it looks to me that a fair percentage of Democrats is falling into this trip once again with the calls to “move on,” with the claims that seeking justice “is not worth it,” with the claims that “we have more important wrongs to right.”
Trumpism as an ideology and movement provides sociological cover for individual members to express themselves inappropriately, and in return draws power from the members in terms of sociological and political legitimacy. It aims to turn individual member psychological shortcomings into individual and collective pathology. It’s doing a great job at that.
The Republican Party benefits from Trumpism and its members because they provide the party a “cutout” function they can hide behind. As we’ve pointed out before, all these elements come together in an ecosystem that functions like organized crime but purports to be a legitimate American political enterprise. The Republican Party is in effect “laundering” social pathology and rendering it as “politics.” Trumpists’ actions up to a point may indeed be accurately classified as political and therefore “acceptable,” but our point is that some of what has been heretofore considered acceptable can no longer be so, because the effects are pernicious and in some cases irreversible.
The right’s pathological ecosystem must be attacked at all levels -- individual, party, ideology, granted, but as of this point insufficient thought and energy is going into the address of the individual pathology fueling the enterprise. This is the well-spring of our American version of authoritarianism and we need an American response. Others have faced down this challenge before and we can learn from their victories. We must, and do so quickly.
A couple ideas:
Encourage employers to fire their right-wing assholes before they break the law -- and hold them accountable when they don’t -- legally and with boycotts. We’ve got all kinds of energy and resources going into fact checking and disinformation-countering -- it would be much more effectively expended going after individual and effective pocketbooks.
Adopt and enforce an “incitement to hatred” law. Republicans should have no trouble getting behind this one -- after all they love the ‘broken windows’ law enforcement theory and ‘stop and frisk policy’ when used on people of color -- this is simply the national equivalent designed for all transgressors.
So, what’s wrong with U.S.? We’ve got a powerful minority behaving badly, and the majority acquiescing -- and thus tacitly endorsing, such behavior. Progressives can only fix one side of that equation -- we only “control” our own behavior. Outrage is, as they say, a necessary but insufficient condition for societal change. Passionate yet controlled fury is one missing ingredient; the other is the compelling ideas that channel the fury.