Collective narcissism is a bad solution to modern anxiety

I’ve been reading Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom and it’s synthesizing a few things together for me in new ways — prime among them the realization that collective narcissism is the shared root ideology of both Christian nationalism and Nazism. First off, I’d recommend it:

Next, I’d like to thank it for reminding me about the insidious dangers of Calvinism and the Protestant Work Ethic, as described in sociologist Max Weber‘s most cited work in the history of the field. Beyond the problematic authoritarianism of John Calvin as a person himself, the ideology of predestination coupled with a paradoxical obsessive compulsion with working yourself ragged is a noxious brew that fed the Protestant extrusion of American capitalism as well as the murderous violence of its Manifest Destiny.

Reformation Ideologies

Calvin — like Luther before him — was reacting to the social and economic upheavals of his day which, during the Reformation, were all about the middle class emerging from the security and certainty of feudalism into a far more dynamic world of competition, isolation, and aloneness. It held promise but also peril — hope along with, inescapably, fear.

During the Middle Ages, humankind had retreated from the aspirational virtuousness of the Greek and Roman civilizations and descended into almost 1000 years of darkness, as compared to the dazzling intellectual brilliance of the millennium before it. Those who would prefer cultish cowering in self-righteous ignorance over the humility of fallible science and critical thinking managed to topple a glittering civilization and scatter it to the wolves. It was a return to cruel and arbitrary happenstance, a horrifying Hobbesian world of pestilence and pathology.

And yet, it held a certain Stockholm Syndrome quality for the serfs and apprentices and artisans who did not have to struggle to find gainful employment or a ready-made place in the social milieu. If nothing else, a complete inability to ever fundamentally alter one’s station in life provided a kind of grim certainty, of a hum-drum life there for the taking if one only wished to fall into it — perhaps pockmarked by the occasional inexplicable trauma.

When Luther nailed those 95 Theses to the doors of Wittenberg churches in 1517, no one understood at the time that he would change the world. He merely leveraged the power of the printing press to propagate his idea of antipathy to the Catholic practice of selling indulgences, and in so doing managed to revolutionize both information and religion as well as society and politics.

Luther had advanced the concept of predestination first advocated by St. Augustine, and soon John Calvin would push it further still: “All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death” he wrote in 1564. Calvin’s image of a callously inscrutable God torturing His creation by forcing them to run a meaningless gauntlet of life that bore no relation to the status of their salvation snuffed out the idea of a compassionate, loving creator altogether. As Max Weber would later say, Calvin had eliminated magic from the world.

Collective narcissism as soothing salve

After destroying any possibility of good vibes for humanity as Luther had before him, Calvin needed a way to quell the resulting anxiety and sense of depression at the thought of man’s utter hopelessness. If his theology were true, then all of life feels like a cruel joke played upon the powerless by a sadistic master. If Calvin is right, then nothing you can ever think, say, or do will ever matter to your salvation. So what’s the point?!

To solve the fundamental despair of the uncertainty of never being able to know if you will be saved, Calvin and his followers simply decided to cultivate conviction in themselves as having been Chosen. For no particular reason and without any offered evidence, the Calvinists just decided they deserved to be Chosen and would behave accordingly, to reflect their belief in their highest status. This initial act of collective narcissism sparked centuries of other ego-based groups both in and outside of religious circles.

Feeling better than everyone else is a kind of lying to oneself to take the edge off — a soothing psychological bedtime story that helps you sleep at night, but festers as doubt and hostility compressed into anger, lying just under the surface until it reacts with a catalyst. The ideology of “we’re the best and everyone else is worthless” cannot be sustained in a civil society, particularly a Constitutional republic that requires compromise and forbearance. It is an ideology with conflict and self-loathing at its core — a belief system that is self-evidently suspicious for the lack of peaceful bearing exhibited by its adherents.

Mindlessness is next to Godliness

Calvin differentiated himself from Luther with a stronger emphasis on a required behavioral trait for his followers: mindless unceasing activity. He taught that although human effort cannot change the outcome of one’s salvation, being able to demonstrate that one is capable of making this effort is a sign that one must belong to the elite group of Chosen. If it sounds like this prescription is merely a cheap distraction ploy, then you are in good company with Fromm, who called Calvin’s ideology of workaholism a “desperate escape from anxiety.”

This endlessly frantic activity was required to “outrun” the doubts that would naturally creep in from this spiritual strategy of self-deception and overinflation of one’s worth through the magic of magical thinking. It was clever in a diabolical Machiavellian way and, of course, would be powerful enough to resonate strongly all the way through to the American politics of today, in which we are still grappling with arguments over the basic fundament of society: shall we treat all men equally, or not?

It certainly resonated with Max Weber, widely known as the Prometheus of sociology, whose idea of the Protestant work ethic analyzed how Calvin’s deeply influential theology sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and extruded itself into American capitalism over the next ~500 years. The idea of the rat race comes from a Weberian root — it is the quintessence of that feeling of being in the capricious gauntlet whose terminus is unknowable to you and thus inspirational of much internal turmoil. It’s that nagging, creeping sense that the harder you struggle, the faster you’re getting fixed in the ointment.

Humanity needs hope

Calvin’s worldview of humankind as weak, wicked, and utterly unsalvageable except for the random grace of a sociopathic all-powerful being is a pessimistic one, to say the least. His ideology seems truly to turn the miracle of Jesus’ birth on its head, wiping away the compassionate messages of love, brotherhood, and peace. Calvinism seems to fixate on the very worst of the human spirit, thus deepening the emerging modern angst felt during the Reformation and replacing it with a sort of mindless scurrying around by which to forget about the sinking depression gnawing at your core.

These ideas have held sway for so long. They have helped animate the creation of what we think of as “Western civilization,” and certainly of American capitalism, which is largely global capitalism. I believe the pessimistic, dehumanizing ideology of predestined inequality and Christian nationalist supremacy is a poisonous doctrine which must be dethroned. It is long past time to overthrow dogma of all stripes in general — and the Calvinist form of collective narcissism is prime among them. So too the other well-known dehumanizing mythologies, including Nazism, Putinism, Christian nationalism, Evangelicism, white supremacy, misogyny, racism, and all other -isms and forms of bigotry: they are personae non gratae here. They do not belong.

Motivated Reasoning

Motivated reasoning is a common daily phenomenon for all of us, assuming we’re human and/or interact with other humans. It’s a cognitive science term that refers to a type of emotional bias in which we have a tendency to prefer decisions or justifications based on their personal desirability vs. an unbiased examination of the facts.

Thinking and feeling aren’t anywhere near as “separate” in the brain as is commonly believed — they are very intertwined, and it’s also incredibly difficult for us to understand or detect from moment to moment which parts of our stream of consciousness are “thinking” and which are “feeling.”

What’s worse, we have other biases that exacerbate the motivated reasoning bias — like the “Lake Wobegon Effect” wherein we tend to overestimate our own abilities vs. others. So, we’re overconfident — at the same that we are less rational than we think we are. That can be a volatile combination — especially when found in individuals who hold a lot of power, and make decisions that affect people’s lives.

For we know not what we do

It can be infuriating to deal with people who are using motivated reasoning to make decisions instead of critical thinking: they tend to work backwards from the conclusion they wish to reach, and ignore evidence that contradicts their pre-existing beliefs. The way they deal with the cognitive dissonance of conflicting information is simply to toss the new information out, instead of evaluating it. Generally, though, they are unaware that their brain is in the habit of making that easier choice, and tend to get angry when this is pointed out.

Examples of motivated reasoning:

  • Bigotry and prejudice
  • Belief that you can “reduce covid cases” by not testing
  • Belief that you can get Republicans elected by refusing to count Democratic votes either outright or via procedural means

Related concepts:

  • Emperor’s New Clothes
  • Potemkin Village
  • tautology
  • foregone conclusion
  • Catch-22
  • ouroborous
  • self-fulfilling prophecy
  • revealed wisdom
  • divine right of rule
  • teleological thinking
  • self-interest bias

January 6 Attack: A “dagger at the throat of America”

President Biden and Vice President Harris commemorated the 1 year anniversary of the January 6 attack on our democracy with morning speeches and a day of remembrance inside the Capitol rotunda with Representatives and Senators giving a number of moving speeches in their respective chambers. The tone on TV news and blue check Twitter was somber and reflective. The President referred to the violent events of Jan 6, 2021 as a terrorist attack on our democracy, and said that the threat was not yet over — that the perpetrators of that event still hold a “dagger at the throat of America.”

Only two Republicans were present in chambers when the moment of silence was held for the nation’s traumatic experience one year ago — Representative Liz Cheney and her father, Dick Cheney, the former VP and evil villain of the George W. Bush years. That this man — a cartoonish devil from my formative years as a young activist — was, along with his steel-spined force of nature daughter, one half of the lone pair that remained of the pathetic tatters of the once great party of Lincoln.

What do you do if you’re in a 2-party system and one of the parties is just sitting on the sidelines, heckling (and worse!?)? How do you restore confidence in a system that so many people love to hate, to the point of obsession? Will we be able to re-establish a sense of fair play, as Biden called on us to do today in his speech?

The Big Lie is about rewriting history

We don’t need to spend a ton of time peering deeply into discerning motive with seditionists — we can instead understand that for all of them, serving the Big Lie serves a function for them in their lives. It binds them to their tribe, it signals a piece of their “identity,” and it signals loyalty within a tight hierarchy that rewards it — all while managing to serve their highest goal of all: to annoy and intimidate liberals. Like all bullies, their primary animating drive is a self-righteous conviction that “I am RIGHT!” at all times and about all things, and that disagreement is largely punishable by death or, in lieu of that, dark twisted fantasies of death passed off lamely and pathetically as “just joking, coworker!”

For both the populist right-wing base and the plutocratic political class, the Big Lie functions as a “narrative reversal” device. It rewrites the actual story of what happened into its opposite: recasting Trump as the innocent victim of leftist Antifa operatives who wanted to… stop the guy they voted for from being certified the winner?! It makes no sense in the rewrite but it doesn’t matter, because the whole thing is just a prop — a kind of rhetorical Trojan Horse that lets them skate by on a thin veneer of plausible deniability for their nefarious intentions, while continuing to pursue “revenge” for invented crimes that they “make real” through a propaganda engine on a scale that would make Joseph Goebbels weep.

Propaganda is just gaslighting, scaled up — and you can manufacture it cheaply and amplify it cheaply these days on Facebook. It also gains potency through recycling — the oldest conspiracy theories like the antisemitic Blood Libel and the white supremacist Lost Cause mythology have a kind of built-in resonance because they’ve endured for decades and centuries already. They’re deep in the blood and bones of collective memory of certain groups, almost waiting to be activated. It’s like having built-in marketing juice, or pre-existing search engine ranking — it’s easier to piggyback on them because the “recalcitrant” conservative pockets of society still cling fervently to them as simple, soothing stories about the world that sound like a cross between a fairy tale and a Greek myth.

The truth shall make us free

Lies can be so powerful, because they embody our deepest darkest desires — the ones that we daresn’t name except in encrypted chatrooms. Powerful people have a way of weaving lies into myths, by blowing enough hot air into them that they seem to take flight of their own accord. But ultimately the Big Lie is a gossamer dirigible that cannot withstand the flames of Congressional investigation forever. And there is still a chance that the national sentiment could keep shifting in favor of the reality-based rendition of historical events — perhaps rapidly so given the gravity of even the tiniest dangles offered so far by the Jan 6 Committee, which seem to indicate to myself as well as to a number of professional natsec-type folks that Liz Cheney & co. have the proverbial goods on Trump and his merry band of Confederates.

The “dagger at the throat of America” is not hyperbole or exaggeration — Biden is referring to the ongoing effort to cling to the former president’s lies and throw the nation out with the bathwater of butthurt. He’s talking about the continued and amplified efforts at the state level to put laws in place that would allow Republican simple majority legislatures to override the will of the voters and install partisan candidates of their choice, up and down the ballot. The President is talking about the coup continuing in plain sight by an unscrupulous array of bad actors from elected officials at all levels to local power brokers, lobbyists, cynical political operatives, and leeches to power of all kinds. He names a continued threat and his commitment to looking it squarely in the eyes, as leaders should do. As we should do too.

Another resonant historical voice spoke to the power of narrative on Rachel Maddow tonight: Doris Kearns Goodwin, who has both studied and lived history over the past half century and counting, described how the repetition of the authentic story has an inherent power to counter the false narratives currently filling the void of public knowledge. There is so much we yet don’t know about the stories behind the January 6 attack (front of House) and the coup plotting over the course of 2 months (back of House) that was undertaken instead of participating in a peaceful transition — a devastating blow to national security far greater than the breach that had occurred following the Bush v. Gore contest, in which the delay to begin the transition was later named as a key structural weakness in the chain of events leading up to the September 11 attacks in 2001.

It was only 8 months in to the Lesser But Longer Bush’s rein at the beginning of the new millennium, and even though the “lights were blinking red,” everyone at first failed to act and then later dramatically overreacted, in part to try and cover up the earlier hubris of nazel-gazing dereliction. They dragged us hastily into a series of Middle East swagger war quagmires we would not be able to extract ourselves from for another 20 years — until Joe Biden came to town and had no more fucks to give.

We citizens have an important part to play in this narrative war we find ourselves unwittingly cast in: to bear witness. To pay attention, to care about our democracy, understand its fragility, and work diligently and at times urgently to preserve it, recast it, and renew it for each new turn of the wheel. We’re at an inflection point in history, as Biden noted earlier today, and we can ask not what our country can do for us by faithfully telling its story — the true story; the “God’s truth about January 6th, 2021.” He inked a fair bit of this fair history into the historical record via his remarks this day — they carry the most weight of any single individual in this nation or indeed this world. We shouldn’t deify our leaders, but we should hold in some awe, a reverence for the mighty powers they wield. Those powers are only legitimate when they represent the will of the people — no taxation without representation, as the Tea Partyers used to say (having fallen strangely quiet of late).

Let we the people exercise our collective will, and let it be known our intentions and patriotism and adherence to the rule of law. Let us learn to handle our careworn democracy like a treasure that is more than a mere Treasury; as a collection not of mere stories but a rich integrated history; as an unbroken chain of ideals instead of a schizophrenic tennis match between aristocracy and democracy.

Let us tell the truth honestly of our past, and speak directly about where we want to go in the future, as a collective nation. We must agree on a set of rules for playing the game that disallow trying to move the goalposts after the match is over. We must change the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation, or it’s all for nought — and this ~250-year experiment in self-governance will come to a bitter end.

Change the filibuster to save democracy

Majority Leader Schumer is right to come around to the idea that the filibuster must be changed in order to pass voting rights and save our democratic republic from the forces of authoritarianism.

The filibuster is an archaic rule that was at first only there by accident, then whittled into a sharp blade of minority rule by Southern plantation owner John C. Calhoun — a man credited with laying the groundwork for the Civil War.

The South Carolina plutocrat strategized on behalf of wealthy aristocratic ambitions in the 1820s and 30s. Dubbed the “Marx of the master class” by historian Richard Hofstadter, Calhoun consumed himself with an obsession over how to establish permanent rule by his 1% brethren. He was an early proponent of property over people — the original “just business” kind of cold calculating supremacist that would come to typify the darker southern shadow culture of America.

Calhoun came to the conclusion that the Founders had made a grave mistake when creating the nation, and had put in too much democracy and too little property protection. He had a conviction that collective governance ought to be rolled back, because it “exploited” the wealthy planter class such as himself. During his time in the Senate he engineered a number of clever devices for the minority to rule over the collective will of the public — dubbed a “set of constitutional gadgets” for restricting the operations of a democratic government by a top political scientist at the time.

Public choice theory and Charles Koch

Slaveholding Senator John C. Calhoun inspired a series of men in the future to take up the torch of minority rule and its apparatus. James McGill Buchanan combined ideas from F. A. Hayek with fascist strains of Calhoun’s ministrations in the Senate to pack a conservative economic punch with public choice theory.

A young Charles Koch was exposed to Buchanan’s re-interpretation of Calhoun’s re-intepretation of the founders’ intentions, and embarked on a lifelong mission to indoctrinate the world in the religion of hyper-libertarian Ayn Randian fiscal austerity.

New lie, same as the old lie. The old lie is that America was never intended to be a democracy — which is doublespeak nonsense. But “conservatives” have been fighting fervently for this original Big Lie since time immemorial.

So: Charles Koch is the new John C. Calhoun. He and his vast navel-gazing empire of “think tanks” and other organs of self-regurgitation have managed to brainwash enough people and operate enough bots to make it almost a coin toss whether the average citizen believes the nation was founded as a democratic republic or an authoritarian theocracy.

The filibuster is one of the strongest minority rule tools in their toolbox.

We must bust the filibuster.

Corruption Books

Corruption erodes trust, fairness, and ultimately, the rule of law. A fair playing field is necessary for a thriving democracy. Justice must come for the rich just as she comes for the poor.

Christian Nationalists

The term Christian nationalists brings together a number of radical religious sects seeking to overthrow the democratic republic of the United States and installing a strict theocracy, from dominionists to orthodox Catholics to Evangelicals and many more.

Here are some of the people and groups involved in the modern day movement to establish a Christian theocratic government in America:

  • 700 Club
  • Howard Ahmanson Jr.
  • Awake 88
  • Alexander Acosta
  • Alex Azar
  • Alliance Defending Freedom
  • American College of Pediatricians
  • American Enterprise Institute
  • American Family Association
  • American Family Radio Network
  • American Heritage Girls
  • American Legislative Exchange Council
  • Americans of Faith
  • America Wake Up
  • Robert Arnakis
  • Arlington Group
  • Edward Atsinger III
  • Marcus Bachmann
  • Michele Bachmann
  • Jim Bakker
  • Steven Bannon
  • Baptist Press
  • George Barna
  • David Barton
  • Gary Bauer
  • Glenn Beck
  • David Benham
  • Jason Benham
  • Philip “Flip” Benham
  • Robert J. Billings
  • Dr. Henry Blackaby
  • Sen Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)
  • Morton Blackwell
  • Bob Jones University
  • Bolthouse Foundation
  • Dick Bott
  • Bott Radio Network
  • Lt. Gen. William Boykin (ret.)
  • Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
  • Bob Branch
  • Lincoln Brewster
  • Jim Bridenstine
  • Harold O. J. Brown
  • Brown v. Board of Education
  • Pat Buchanan
  • Building a Nation
  • Jonathan Cain
  • Capitol Ministries
  • Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation
  • Ben Carson
  • CBN University
  • A Choice Not an Echo
  • Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN)
  • Christian Coalition
  • Christian homeschooling movement
  • Christian Satellite Network
  • J. C. Church
  • Church United
  • Church Voter Lookup
  • Tom Coburn
  • Mary Colbert
  • Concerned Women for America
  • Conscience and Religious Freedom Division
  • Conservative Caucus
  • Kellyanne Conway
  • Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation
  • Council for National Policy
  • Culture Impact Teams (CITs)
  • Jan Crouch
  • Paul Crouch
  • Ted Cruz
  • Dr. Kenyn M. Cureton
  • Robert Lewis Dabney
  • The Daily Signal
  • Marjorie Dannenfelser
  • Jeff Denham
  • Betsy DeVos
  • Richard DeVos
  • Richard DeVos, Sr.
  • James Dobson
  • Mark Drever
  • Karen Rudolph Drollinger
  • Ralph Drollinger
  • Dinesh D’Souza
  • Alan P. Dye
  • Eagle Forum
  • Stuart Epperson
  • Equal Rights Amendment
  • Frank Erb
  • Tony Evans
  • Jerry Falwell
  • Faith & Freedom Coalition
  • The Family
  • Family Christian Academy (FCA)
  • Family Life Radio
  • Family Policy Alliance
  • Family Policy Councils
  • Family Research Council (FRC)
  • Family Worship Center
  • Fellowship Foundation
  • Reverend Wilber Fisk
  • Tami Fitzgerald
  • Florida Family Action
  • Florida Family Action PAC
  • Florida Family Policy Council
  • Focus on the Family
  • Foster Friess
  • Free Congress Foundation
  • Lynn Friess
  • Jim Garlow
  • Rosemary Schindler Garlow
  • W. Barry Garrett
  • Godspeak Calvary Chapel
  • Barry Goldwater
  • Peggy Goldwater
  • Grace Community Church, Sun Valley
  • Billy Graham
  • The Green family
  • Ken Ham
  • Abraham Hamilton III — host of American Family Radio’s “Hamilton Corner” who described the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas as “Satan’s work” that was “immune to legislation.” He went on to claim that the Democrats were “exploiting” the victims by calling for hearings on gun control
  • Mark Harris
  • Kristan Hawkins
  • Carl F. H. Henry
  • Heritage Academy
  • Heritage Action
  • Heritage Foundation
  • Eric Heubeck
  • Rob Hilarides
  • The Hillsdale Collegian
  • Kay Hiramine
  • A. A. Hodge
  • John Henry Hopkins
  • Humanitarian International Services Group (HISG)
  • Nelson Bunker Hunt
  • Institute on Religion and Democracy
  • Larry Jackson
  • David Jeremiah
  • Bob Jones Sr.
  • Bob Jones Univeristy
  • Kingdom Warriors
  • KMMJ
  • C. Everett Koop
  • Ku Klux Klan
  • Beverly LaHaye
  • Tim LaHaye
  • Wayne LaPierre
  • Leonard Leo
  • Liberty University
  • LifeWay Research
  • Elias Loera
  • Nathan Lord
  • Dave Louden
  • Barry Loudermilk
  • John MacArthur
  • Rachel MacNair
  • Danielle Madison
  • March for Life
  • Ed McAteer
  • The Moral Majority
  • Jeanne Mancini
  • Manhattan Declaration
  • Rob McCoy
  • Janet Mefferd
  • Roy Moore
  • Museum of the Bible
  • The Naked Communist
  • Penny Young Nance
  • National Center for Constitutional Studies
  • National Christian Foundation
  • National Conservative Student Conference
  • National Federation of Republican Women
  • National Right to Life Committee
  • Richard John Neuhaus
  • New Christian Right
  • Gary North
  • North Carolina Family Policy Council
  • Michael Novak
  • Old Time Gospel Hour
  • John M. Olin
  • Organicgirl
  • Joel Osteen
  • Sarah Palin
  • “Pastors Briefings”
  • Mike Pence
  • Pentecostals
  • Sonny Perdue
  • Tony Perkins
  • Rick Perry
  • Howard Phillips
  • Buddy Pilgrim
  • Mike Pompeo
  • Art Pope
  • Reverend J. C. Postell
  • POTUS Shield
  • The Power of the Positive Woman
  • Praise Network
  • Tom Price
  • Erik Prince
  • Scott Pruitt
  • Quiverfull movement
  • Oleg Rachkovski
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Ralph Reed
  • Carolyn Richards
  • Road to Majority Conference
  • Pat Robertson
  • Jim Robison
  • Roe v. Wade
  • Rousas Rushdoony
  • Karl Rove
  • John Rustin
  • SAGE Cons
  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders
  • Salem Radio
  • Richard Scaife
  • Jeff Sessions
  • Francis Schaeffer
  • Phyllis Schlafly
  • Alan Sears
  • Jay Sekulow
  • Ben Shapiro
  • W. Cleon Skousen
  • SonLife Broadcasting Network (SBN)
  • SonLife Radio Network
  • Springs Community Church
  • Horatio Robinson Storer
  • R.J. Rushdoony
  • Southern Presbyterian Church
  • Southern Strategy
  • Darla St. Martin
  • Stop ERA
  • Students for Life of America
  • Susan B. Anthony List
  • Donnie Swaggart
  • Gabriel Swaggart
  • Jimmy Swaggart
  • Jimmy Swaggart Bible College (JSBC)
  • Jimmy Swaggart Telecast
  • Bruce Taylor
  • Jeff Taylor
  • Steve Taylor
  • Taylor Farms
  • Thomas Road Baptist Church
  • James Henley Thornwell
  • Robert Tilton
  • “Values Bus”
  • Values Voters Summit
  • Richard Viguerie
  • Young America’s Foundation
  • C. Peter Wagner
  • Chester Ward
  • Washington Watch
  • The Watchmen
  • Doug Wead
  • Well Versed
  • Paul Weyrich
  • Paula White
  • Donald Wildmon
  • Farris Wilks
  • Dan Wilks
  • World Ag Expo
  • World Congress of Families

See also: Christian nationalism terms

Who really increases the national debt?

Mythology has it that “reckless Democratic spending” is to blame for the ballooning of the national debt — though the historical record shows otherwise.

In fact, the conservatives‘ beloved demi-god Ronald Reagan was the first President to skyrocket the debt, thanks to some bunk ideas from an old cocktail napkin that linger to this day — the Republican monetary theory in a nutshell is (I shit you not) that we should take all our pooled tax money and give it to… billionaires. Because, you know, they’re clearly the most qualified people to make decisions affecting the 99% poor people. Supposedly they’re the smartest folks to entrust with our money.

Trickle down, debt up

Except it’s not true, as year after year and study after study shows. Nor for all their finger-waggling at Democrats over the national debt has the GOP turned in a balanced budget since Nixon. Republicans are the most gigantic hypocrites on economics writ large, but particularly so for the national debt — with Reagan, Bush I, Bush II, and Trump all turning in record debt increases, primarily through tax cuts for the wealthy and the Gulf and Afghanistan wars.

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton balanced the budget, created a surplus, and reduced the debt during his 8 years in office, and Obama inherited the deepest recession since the 1929 Great Depression.

The financial crisis of 2008-09, itself caused by the reckless Republican zeal for deregulation — this time of financial derivatives — was a wholly GOP-owned debacle that the next president paid for politically. Nevertheless, President Obama had the debt again on a reduction path as a percentage of GDP — but then Donald “I bankrupted a series of casinos!” Trump oozed his way into the highest office in the land.

It’s weird how “reckless Democratic spending” always happens under Republican administrations!

During the Trump administration, Republicans patted themselves on the back for giving a $2.7 trillion tax cut to billionaires for no reason, while the economy was relatively hot already (after being rescued by Obama). Not only was no progress made on diminishing the debt, but the national debt actually increased (both nominally and as a percentage of GDP) under Trump’s first term even before the sudden arrival of a novel coronavirus caused it to leap into the stratosphere like a 21st century American tech oligarch.

Only when President Biden arrived on the scene and took the helm of fiscal and monetary policy did the national debt begin cooling off once again — all while dramatically and quickly scaling up covid-19 vaccine production and distribution and passing over $3 trillion in Keynesian legislation meant to get the dregs of the middle class reoriented to a place on the map vis-a-vis the 1% once again.

Republican national debt bullshit

I am hereby calling bullshit on Republicans’ crocodile tears over the national debt, which they suddenly remember only when a Democrat is in town and summarily ignore while their guy is in the hot seat burning through cash like it’s going out of style.

We need to have a better collective narrative for Democratic success on the economy. The Republicans are no longer the kings of the economic world — if they ever were. It feels more like smoke and mirrors each passing day, with climate change denial, the Inflationary Boogeyman, and other GOP Greatest Hits playing ad nauseum on the AM social media waves.

Here are at least a few things to remember about the national debt, that Republicans generally get wrong:

  • wars are very expensive
  • booms in social services are expensive too; but not as expensive as wars
  • there is not any perceivable truth in the old GOP party line that Democrats always overspend and Republicans are always thrifty
    • Reagan and both Bushes presided over two of the biggest spikes in public debt in recorded history, outside of FDR who had both the Great Depression and WWII to contend with
    • Clinton, Carter, Johnson, Kennedy, and Truman all decreased the debt
  • be wary of graphs that don’t “normalize” to GNP — it’s an attempt to “lie with statistics” by obfuscating the roles of inflation and the growth of the economy itself
  • there is more than one way to look at and evaluate the level of public debt

McCarthy’s speech stunt gives gift of Democratic midterm slogans

Bootlicker Kevin McCarthy showboated his way through an evening of scorn and ridicule for his audience of one: Herr Trump. His sad evening comedy routine for the “just joking!” crowd was an act of political theater given no votes in his caucus were ever in danger of voting for the bill, thus no need to persuade them. McCarthy’s speech sparked jeers and heckles from the chamber itself as well as the wider outside world, as tweets poured forth from inside and out of the Capitol.

Fortunately, the GOP Leader failed to stop Biden’s Build Back Better plan while gifting the Democrats with a healthy dose of both comedy gold and some irresistable mid-term slogans:

Kevin’s nuts roasting on an open fire

The Twitter Blue Check crowd was scathing all night — just raking McCarthy deservedly over the coals for the stench of rank hypocrisy from the chamber this evening:

Democratic green room was lit

Even Congressional Democrats got in on the act, while in the act:

Inside the 4th Wall

House Democrats heckled back from the floor as McCarthy droned on:

What is Mr McCarthy going to say to his constituents in Bakersfield and Lancaster now? Is he going to have the gall to still claim credit for the money flowing in to his district? The hills this man wants to die on are paid parental leave, free pre-K, $35/mo insulin, teacher recruitment and training, Medicare out-of-pocket caps, replacing lead pipes, updating VA facilities, elder care, and expanded vaccine production among much else. It is going to be easy to skewer him and the House Republicans in general in 2022, given his imprimatur on a cross between a toddler’s tantrum and an Oscar-winning performance by the Minority Leader tonight.

Property vs. People, all the way down

Or capital vs. labor, oligarchs vs. plebes, plutocrats vs. proles, rich vs. poor — however you want to narrate it, the property vs. people struggle continues on in new and old ways, each and ere day.

Here in America, the plutocrats have devised many clever methods of hiding the class struggle behind a race war smokescreen, that is both real and manufactured — instigated, exacerbated, agitated by the likes of schlubby wife abusers like Sloppy Steve Bannon, wrinkly old Palpatines like Rupert Murdoch, and shady kleptocrats like Trump and Putin.

The United States has nursed an underground Confederacy slow burning for centuries, for sociopathic demagogues to tap into and rekindle for cheap and dangerous political power. Like The Terminator, racist and supremacist troglodytes seem always to reconstitute themselves into strange and twisted new forms, from slavery to the Black Codes to sharecropping to convict leasing to Jim Crow to Jim Crow 2.0 — the psychopaths want their homeland.

The political left loves people, and our extremists for the most part destroy capital or property that insurance companies will pay to make shiny and new again — unlike the right wing extremists who bomb federal buildings, killing hundreds of people and costing taxpayers’ money to replace.

Meanwhile, the right wing claims to be the righteous party for its extreme fixation on life before birth, yet its regulation-allergic capitalists destroy people and the natural world more broadly, from factory farming to deforestation, the destruction of habitats, strip-mining and other toxic extraction practices, and on into climate change itself. Being in fact the chief architects of manmade atmospheric devastation, they have managed to make themselves invisible from the deed by simply (wink wink!) denying it exists.

WWJD?!

Certainly, not anything the Republican Party is up to. Jesus would be sad.

What’s in the bipartisan infrastructure bill?

Another big legislative win crossed the line for Biden’s agenda late this Friday night: the $1.2T bipartisan infrastructure bill passed the House with 6 Democrats dissenting and a whopping 13 Republicans joining to finally bring Infrastructure Week to the American people. Still to come is the other partner to the twin bills circulating in Congress, the Build Back Better reconciliation bill that would add another $2T to the most Keynesian U.S. budget in decades.

Nevertheless, the bill is largely paid for via various means including adding significantly to economic growth and GDP over the next 10 years. The Biden infrastructure bill will not raise taxes on any families making less than $400,000, a campaign promise the president consistently made and has now delivered upon.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill is the second significant piece of legislation passed under Biden’s tenure in the White House, following the $1.9T American Rescue Plan back in March to successfully tame the covid-19 pandemic.

Infrastructure Bill 2021: Breakdown

What’s in the bill? A slate of sorely needed national funds to modernize our transportation, energy, and broadband systems, including provisions for increasing renewables and lowering emissions on a large scale to combat climate change. Here’s a list of what’s included in the largest single infrastructure investment in American history:

  • $110B for roads, bridges, & other infra
  • $11B for transportation safety
  • $39B to modernize public transit, including replacing 1000s of vehicles with zero-emission models
  • $66B to modernize passenger and freight rail
  • $12B for high-speed rail
  • largest federal investment in public transit in history
  • $65B in broadband
  • $42B in airports and ports, including emissions reduction and low-carbon technologies
  • $7.5B for 0- and low-emissions buses (including school buses) and ferries
  • $7.5B for national network of EV chargers
  • $65B to rebuild the electric grid
  • $55B to upgrade water infrastructure
  • $50B to critical infrastructure cybersecurity
  • $21B to clean up toxic waste

sunk cost

Colloquially known as “throwing good money after bad,” sunk cost is a concept from behavioral economics that reflects our tendency to keep going with an investment long after it turns south, because we are psychologically unable to let go of a once good thing.

Sunk cost is considered a fallacy, because it represents an example of behavior that is technically irrational while being culturally ubiquitous.

Global financial crisis 2008

A national banking crisis in America that eventually spread to threaten economies around the globe, the economic crisis of 2007-8 was precipitated by the financial industry getting deeper and deeper into highly leveraged risk with a specific type of financial product called a subprime mortgage.

The loans were not of very high quality, due to the effects of predatory lending and of companies “pushing their luck” in a deregulated market by knowingly offering mortgage credit to Americans who couldn’t really afford to buy the homes they were encouraged to purchase. Mortgage underwriters were often incentivized with large bonuses for subprime signups, and even relatively well-off home buyers were often shepherded into subprime loans with worse terms than the traditional 30-year mortgages they would have qualified for.

Financial “hot potato”

The mortgages were securitized as complicated new types of assets, re-packaged into large bundles of derivatives to better obscure the sources, and rated far more favorably than warranted by the nation’s credit rating agencies. Sold swiftly around the world and especially here in the U.S. to institutional investors (who manage, among other securities, the pensions and retirement funds of the country), the game of financial “hot potato” ensured that almost no one in the complex chain of exchange had any incentive to take responsibility for the actual solvency of the underlying loans.

Eventually, the bubble popped and the house of cards came tumbling down. The downturn is widely regarded as the worst economic disaster in American history since the Great Depression of the 1930s, brought on by the stock market crash of 1929.

Moral hazard: Does commercial and investment banking under one roof create the wrong incentive?

In post-recovery, much scrutiny remains over the question of whether one specific law — the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 which separated commercial banking from investment banking in response to the Great Depression — should be reinstated. Following its passage, the U.S. was able to stop the previous historical cycle of banking crises with regularity about every ~15 years:

…Until “stagflation” (high inflation coupled with stagnant growth) plagued the American economy in the 1970s, and the political establishment began to adopt policies heavily influenced by Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of economic thought, which borrowed heavily from an earlier wave of economic philosophy in the 1930s loosely congealed under the term “neoliberalism.” Widespread financial deregulation ensued, leading to the full repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999. Many economists now point to the deregulation spree as the ultimate cause of the 2007-8 financial crash.


For a great resource on this, check out Matt Taibbi (of Rolling Stone fame)’s book Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History

estate tax

The estate tax only kicks in at $5.4m in wealth — so it’s not about the “American worker”!

Repealing it would give away $270 billion to rich elites.

The concept of “double taxation” is a red herring, because most estates contain real estate assets whose capital gains have never been realized and taxed. 

Inequality

Inequality is the difference in measures of economic well-being between individuals in a group, among groups in a population, or among countries. Also known as economic inequality; inclusive of both income inequality and wealth inequality.

In the United States, the data broadly shows shared economic growth and prosperity in the post-WWII period until the 1970s, when things begin to take a turn: economic growth slowed and income inequality began to increase. For the past 40-50 years, income growth for lower and middle class Americans has stagnated while income growth at the top of the distribution remained growing strongly. Meanwhile as wages have stagnated, costs have risen dramatically, especially in key universal areas like housing, utilities, health care, and education.

Inequality illustrated

Wealth is even more greatly concentrated than income. A recent Oxfam report found that the world’s richest 62 people control as much wealth as the bottom half of the entire population of the planet. In the U.S., the richest 20% of families owned about 89% of the country’s wealth as of 2013 figures.

Those at the top of the wealth distribution who benefit financially from the growing inequality find numerous ways to justify the architecture of the system, and retain much of the power and control over its design. Yet an overwhelming majority of the available historical and present-day data indicates that stark income inequality has wide-ranging negative effects on societies as a whole, from exacerbating social ills to deleterious effects on basic human needs.

Related effects

Further resources