The Founders were agile

The Founders meant for the republic to be agile in philosophy — always changing to meet the new demands of the next generations. They meant for us to be self-governing, and empowered to create policy for problem-solving in new eras they themselves could not even conceive of. Thomas Jefferson wrote forewarningly of the Dead Hand of the Past and how critical it would be to not remain trapped by it. The Founders were agile not in the sense of software development (obviously!), but in the same spirit: they embraced responding to change over following a plan, and in continuously uncovering ways to develop a more perfect union.

Conservative ideology on the other hand — and in particular, Originalism — flouts the actual intentions of the Framers while cloaking itself in nationalist symbology. It tries to claim that our modern hands are tied by the dead ones of the past. The Originalist doctrine currently holding sway at The Supreme Court, The Federalist Society, and the majority of right-wing judiciary maintains that the best we can do is peer feebly into the distant past and try our best to squeeze ourselves into the minds of the men who inked our Constitution some 235 years ago.

The Founders wrote things. A lot of things.

Leaving aside for a moment the impracticality of that theory as an actual practice of interpreting the law, some consideration of materials on hand shows us that we needn’t go to all that trouble in the first place — why? Because the Founders left a lot of writings behind about exactly what they meant, and the principles they were thinking about, at the time of the nation’s founding and the drafting of our Constitution.

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Essential thinkers on authoritarian personality theory

Many people around the world were shocked in the aftermath of World War II. How could “polite” society break down so utterly, so swiftly, and so zealously? Why did the authoritarian personality come to dominate human affairs, seemingly out of nowhere? How thin is this veneer of civilization, really?

The authoritarian personality is characterized by excessive strictness and a propensity to exhibit oppressive behavior towards perceived subordinates. On the flip side, they treat authority figures with mindless obedience and unquestioning compliance. How did they get this way? Are people born with authoritarian personalities, or is the authoritarian “made” predominately by circumstance?

A braintrust of scholars, public servants, authors, psychologists, and others have been analyzing these questions ever since. Some of the most prominent thinkers on the subject of authoritarianism were either themselves affected by the Nazi regime, or lived through the war in some capacity. Other more recent contributions have built on those original foundations, refining and extending them as more new history continues to unfold with right-wing behavior to observe.

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Why do people believe conspiracy theories?

Conspiracy theories are not new. Covid-related conspiracies may be new, but conspiracy theories about pandemics and contagious diseases have been around for centuries. Anti-vaccination hysteria goes back decades. The specific group of theories known as QAnon may be new (or maybe not really?!), but conspiracy theories themselves are a tale(s) as old as time — or at least time as we know it, from the start of recorded history.

QAnon flag epitomizes modern-day conspiracy theories
Image credit: Anthony Crider

A large body of psychological research has shown that there are some deep cognitive reasons that conspiracy theories tend to resonate with us, and especially in particular types of people, or people in certain types of circumstances.

We are fundamentally wired to be storytellers. It’s intuitive why this ability might be hard-coded into our brains, as it so clearly relates to survival, self-preservation, and our ability to navigate and succeed in a complex world. We need to be able to understand cause and effect in an environment of many rapidly shifting variables, and storytelling is a framework for weaving coherent narratives that reduce our anxiety about the great uncertainties in the environment around us.

Conspiracy theories tap into psychological needs

Conspiratorial thinking is far more common than we think, and can ebb and flow in populations based on prevailing conditions. Our ability to see patterns in randomness and dissemble stories on the spot, along with numerous other cognitive and psychological biases, make us vulnerable to belief in conspiracy theories.

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End mass shootings now

Freedom is freedom from the fear of death.

Freedom is freedom from fearing you’ll be gunned down at school.

Freedom is freedom from fear your kids won’t come home from school.

Freedom is freedom from fear of going to the grocery store.

Freedom is freedom from senseless violence.

Freedom is freedom from murderous rampages replayed night after night.

Freedom is freedom from domestic warfare.

Freedom is freedom from weapons of warfare in our communities, in our churches, in our schools, in our stores, on our playing fields, on our streets.

Freedom is freedom from injustice.

Freedom is freedom from inaction.

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.

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GOP Big Lies

The Big Lie about the 2020 Election was hardly the first or even the Biggest of the Big Lies in American history — fomented in vast majority by the right wing. Call it a personality trait, an ideology, or perhaps a financial preference — but Republicans seem to lean towards the disingenuous end of the truth scale. The following table is a compendium of GOP Big Lies known so far; stay tuned for updates to this page as new falsehoods spill from the torrent of bullshit propaganda spouted by right-wing authoritarians.

MythDefinition
"Antifa did it"This is a pre-planned "reusable" false narrative for right-wing extremist actions. It's a ready-made "false false flag" conspiracy for repeated deployment as white supremacists and homegrown extremists ratchet up the level of political violence.
"government overreach"When Democrats pass a law that Republicans don't like
"Makers and takers"
"National security party"
"Quality" of votes
2nd Amendment"We can't do anything about guns because 2A" (and also because NRA) + "Democrats are coming to take our guns!"
Abu Ghraib
American DreamThey inverted it away from a sense of social justice and equal opportunity (self-governance) to simply embody the venal pursuit of money.
America FirstInvoked by right-wing propaganda campaigns over the past century, starting with Charles Lindbergh in 1939 through to Reagan (1980s), and again with lazy plagiarizing Donnie
American Exceptionalism
Anti-gay
Anti-immigrant
Anti-TaxWhat do you get for the billionaire who has everything? Tax policy.
Be Best
Black and white thinkingLabel anything slightly left of center as socialism or Communism
Blacks are commies
Cancel culture
Christian nationalism
Cities are bad
Climate change is a hoax
Coastal elites
Communists
Confederate statues
Conscience voters
Corporate liberalsAnti-Semitic throwback with a modern twist
Covid is a hoax; covid is overblown
Covid is no big deal
Crime
crisis actor
Critical Race Theory
Cry more, lib
Democrats are Satanic
Drain the SwampRather than rid Washington of its layers of corrupt supplicants as he had promised on the campaign trail, he invited all of his cronies in to benefit from the greatest expansion of corrupt graft under any President we know of thus far.
Economic superiority
Election integrityVoter suppression
elites should rule others
Elite resentment
Enemy of the people
Flawed savior
Free speech
Freedom of religion
George SorosHungarian billionaire whose liberal politics irritate Vladimir Putin.
Government is the enemyThe Reagan-flavored twist on drowning government in the bathtub
Government spendingBlack and white thinking: "all govt spending is bad" (except military)
Great Man theory
Guantanamo Bay
Heroic redeemerThis singular leader who saves the nation has a mystical connection with his people and takes the nation out of all time
HollywoodPart of an "excuse framework" to ignore or dismiss something, by smearing it with vague "Hollywoodness." A cue to tune out and discredit the source. Prominent in the Qanon ideology.
Identity politicsThe right are the ones who often insist on identity politics...
Insults
Jim Crow
Job creatorsRepublicans claim their system of trickle down economics produces jobs and growth, but it inhibits both as compared to a less extreme approach.
Kyle Rittenhouse deification
Law and order"White people should fear Black people, and support other white people who fear Black people (or brown, or women, or gays, or trans, or immigrants, whatever is the hatred du jour)"
Leftist apocalypse
LiberalsIt's like Russia recycled the Greatest Hits of Cold War Lingo and piped it in through every orifice starting (at least) during the 2016 election cycle.
Lost CauseAn American mythology manufactured after the Civil War by the Confederates, to soothe their wounds from the loss and whitewash the role of slavery in fomenting their sedition. In the Reconstruction era and beyond, the retcon held that "states' rights" had animated the southern states to secede from the union when in fact, the bitter contest had been inarguably about whether or not the peculiar institution was to continue in the new nation.
MAGA
Marxism
minority rule
Mueller Report
MuzzledSaying "I'm muzzled!" means "I can't talk openly about how much I hate certain types of people!"
National debtSuddenly out of nowhere (aka, when a Democrat comes to town), the national debt is a pressing problem.
Nostalgiathe role of nostalgia in fascist politics is to harness people's strong emotions to the central tenets of the ideology:* authoritarianism* hierarchy* purity* struggle
Personal responsibility
Poll taxes
Pro-life
QAnon
Racism"We're not racists and it's racist to call us racist, you racist."
Reaganomics
Refuse to recognize the legitimacy of one's opponentQuestion the use of legitimate authority for spurious or unsubstantiated allegations, to create the appearance of impropriety even if there is none.
Religious freedom
Run the country like a business
Sadism
silent majorityLoudly extremist minority
small government1) Grab resources 2) Privatize government functions 3) Cheat 4) Crime
Social Justice Warriors
SocialismAnything Democrats do or want to do is socialist and/or communist
States' rightsA dog whistle for first whitewashing the reasons for the Civil War, and later to rationalize defense of segregation
The Big Lie
The Civil War wasn't about slavery
The New Deal was bad for America
The Swamp...corruption?!
Trickle down economics
Trump "says it like it is"They mean that he agrees with them about saying the racist, sexist, or X-ist quiet parts out loud
Uberman
Venezuelaa dog whistle for socialism
Voting is a privilege, not a right
War on Christmas
Warmongers
Welfare queens
WMDs

Ukraine War and Russia resources πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦

Some of us have been boning up on this topic for about 6 years already, while others are just tuning in now based on the horrors of recent events. It can be overwhelming to come in cold, so here — don’t go it alone! Take this:

Putin’s war against the west

President Biden “declassified” an intelligence analysis many of us had arrived at some time ago: Russian president Vladimir Putin is a cruel revanchist leader who will stop at nothing to claw out a larger legacy before he dies. His goal is nothing less than reconstituting the former Soviet Union and restoring the “glory” of the Russian empire of yesteryear. And for some reason he thinks the world community is going to let him get away with his delusional fever dreams of conquest — as if fever dreams of Mongol domination are still de rigueur.

The attacks on the 2016 election and on the American Capitol in 2021 are related — both are Russian hybrid warfare operations. Russia also is the cold beating heart of the right-wing authoritarianism movement around the world, via financial, political, psychological, economic, and other means of government and regulatory capture.

Putin has hated democracy for a long time — since before the Berlin Wall fell where he was stationed in East Berlin as a young KGB agent, taking the news hard. Now, he has many fifth column confederates aiding and abetting him from within the United States — a number of them brazenly, and openly. It is getting harder and harder for those treasonous types to “hide out” in the folds of disinformation, misinformation, and plausible deniability. The play is being called — and everyone will need to decide if they’re for democracy or authoritarianism.

Further reading:

Media Resources

Twitter Lists

Legitimate political discourse? πŸ€”

The Republican National Committee, in perhaps the most stunningly stupid self-own in the history of modern politics certainly in my lifetime, finally said the quietest part out loud: that in their official pronouncement, the events at the Capitol on January 6 constituted “legitimate political discourse.” Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger were censured by the RNC in the statement as well, for their role on the January 6 Committee and their investigation into these “legitimate” events involving a murderous attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power.

Yale historian Joanne Freeman had this to say about the RNC statement:

Democracy vs. Authoritarianism is on the ballot in 2022

If there’s any upside to the dark situation we’re in, it’s these gifts Republicans keep on giving — further debasing themselves each time you think they can’t possibly stoop any morally lower — that we can use to our advantage to turn out our base in record numbers in these upcoming midterms. We did it in 2018, and there’s no reason to believe we can’t do it now. Trump’s support is waning, not growing — and the fractures within the GOP are widening, not tightening. Plus, we’ll have 8 million new 18-year-old eligible voters we can potentially reach — the vast majority of whom statistically speaking, are going to be progressive Democrats.

None of the other policy questions or culture wars will matter if we cannot solve the most fundamental question at the heart of our democracy: do we still believe in the ideals of the Constitution, the rule of law, and the vision of a self-governing people shared by the Founders? Or do we want to hand over the keys to the nation to the erstwhile billionaires, old money heirs, and trust fund playboys who want to drag us back to some perverted nostalgic fantasyland that’s part Leave It To Beaver, part wild west, and part Silence of the Lambs?

Do we want democracy, or authoritarianism?

Do we want to choose our leaders, as citizens — or do we want politicians to choose our leaders?

It’s the only question in 2022.

Cults and Mind Control Books

Mind control is a type of “psychological technology” used by con artists, cult leaders, and influence peddlers of all stripes to try and modify human behavior, to twist it to one’s own nefarious and usually opaque ends. Also referred to as undue influence, emotional abuse, or thought reform, mind control is a set of techniques designed to hack in to the brain’s cognitive quirks, biases, and numerous psychobiological “opportunities to circumvent rational and critical thought.”

Cults are a specific structure of social organization formed through the application of mind control. There are at least 2 “layers” and often many interstitial rings that draw members ever closer to a hidden agenda lurking at the center — the true purpose of the organization that most of the footsoldiers know nothing about, because they work for one of the many “friendly PR faces” tacked on to the outside of the group to disguise the malignancy within.

Here’s the cult leader playbook:

  1. Position himself (and the group β€” his extension) as the only safe haven to turn to when afraid: “I alone can fix it!”
  2. Isolate followers from other sources of information — i.e. keep them in the Fox/OANN/Newsmax ecosystem
  3. Arouse fear in the follower — invent invisible boogeymen everywhere! Huge caravans at the border that mysteriously disappear after elections! Evil liberals trying to do their jobs in schools and educate our youth about our history! INFLATION looms as a large spectre every time the left manages to eke out a few pennies from the cold unfeeling hands of the aristocrats!

Rinse; repeat. Stoking fear is “EZ Mode” — it means one of the parties in our two-party system can “de facto secede” from governance by just sitting on the sidelines and heckling all day, waiting for the problems and frustration to boil over so they can harness the abject anger of poor manipulated people into political weaponry, to break their lives on the wheels of history carelessly and for no higher purpose than personal greed and addiction to power, wealth, and status.

This set of books is a lead on how they fuel their political war machine:

Qualities of a Cult Leader

  • Narcissistic β€” highly self-absorbed, they demand excessive admiration and slavish devotion to their whims.
  • Charismatic β€” they have a way of grabbing attention, whether positive or negative.
  • Unpredictable β€” erratic behavior keeps enemies on their toes and fans β€œon edge” with desire to please Dear Leader.
  • Insatiable drive β€” it could be status, money, sex, power, or all of the above, but they feel they deserve it more than anyone else on the planet.
  • Lack of conscience β€” they have no shame and will demand things a decent human being would not.

…remind you of anyone in particular?!

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!”

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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.

Conspiracy Theory Books

In half a decade we’ve gone from Jeb Bush making a serious run for president to Marjorie Taylor Greene running unopposed and winning a House seat in Georgia. QAnon came seemingly out of nowhere, but taps into a much deeper and older series of conspiracy theories that have surfaced, resurfaced, and been remixed throughout time.

Why do people believe in conspiracy theories? In an increasingly complex world of information bombarding us as blinding speed and high volume, the cognitive appeal of easy answers and turnkey “community” may be much stronger than ever before.

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.