Hyper Partisanship: How to understand American politics today

Buckle up, we’re in for a wild ride. Many of the serious scholars of political history and authoritarian regimes are sounding the alarm bells that, although it is a very very good thing we are getting rid of the Trump crime family soon, it is still a very very bad thing for America to have so rapidly tilted towards authoritarianism. How did we get here?! How has hyper partisanship escalated to the point of an attempted coup by 126 sitting Republican House Representatives?

These are some of the resources that helped me grapple with that question, and with the rapidly shifting landscape of information warfare. How can we understand this era of polarization, this age of tribalism? This outline is a work in progress, and I’m planning to keep adding to this list as the tape keeps rolling.

Right-Wing Authoritarianism

  • Karen Stenner — Australian political psychologist Karen Stenner found that approximately 1/3 of populations are authoritarian, or have authoritarian tendencies.
  • Hannah Arendt — The Origins of Totalitarianism
  • Derrida — the logic of the unconscious; performativity in the act of lying
  • ketman — Ketman is the psychological concept of concealing one’s true aims, akin to doublethink in Orwell’s 1984, that served as a central theme to Polish dissident Czesล‚aw Miล‚osz‘s book The Captive Mind about intellectual life under totalitarianism during the Communist post-WWII occupation.
  • Erich Fromm — coined the term “malignant narcissism” to describe the psychological character of the Nazis
  • Fascism — elevation of the id as the source of truth; enthusiasm for political violence
  • Tyrants
  • John Dean — 3 types of authoritarian personality:
    • social dominators
    • authoritarian followers
    • double highs — social dominators who can “switch” to become followers in certain circumstances
  • Loyalty; hero worship
    • Freud = deeply distrustful of hero worship and worried that it indulged people’s needs for vertical authority. He found the archetype of the authoritarian primal father very troubling.
  • Ayn Rand — The Fountainhead
  • Richard Hofstadter — The Paranoid Style
  • Lakoff — moral framing; strict father morality
  • Neil Postman — Entertaining Ourselves to Death
  • Anti-Intellectualism
  • Can be disguised as hyper-rationalism (Communism)

Cognitive and psychological data

  • conservative minds don’t accept new information coming in
    • vs. Bayesian logic
    • vs. Thomas Kuhn scientific revolutions
  • Psychological biases
    • Status quo bias
  • The Asch Experiment — more than 60% of the time, people bow to social pressure
  • Stanley Milgram 1974 — we will submit to the demands of authority to a far greater extent than we might expect
    • it absolves us of responsibility
    • a “loophole” to quickly route around our conscience, making “normal” persons susceptible to the appeals of psychopaths
  • The Marshmallow Experiment — drive towards instant gratification
  • Edward Bernays — Propaganda
  • Narcissism and Sadism | The Dark Triad — difficult personalities
    • narcissism = seeing oneself “above”
    • Christopher Lasch — Culture of Narcissism (1979). Idea that narcissism is a defense mechanism against social change and instability in the modern world. It’s a method of psychological self-preservation in a hostile, threatening world; a cynical ethic.
    • Tom Wolfe — The Me Decade
    • Jerrold Post — authoritarian parenting
    • The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump
    • Mary Trump — Too Much and Not Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man
    • narcissistic injury
    • narcissistic rage
    • aggrieved entitlement — elevated expectations combined with resentment at society for not meeting them (Michael Kimmel, 2013)
    • dehumanization of the Others
    • splitting; black and white thinking
    • object permanence
    • magical thinking — relation to Norman Vincent Peale and prosperity gospel
    • Political ponerology — the nature of evil; interaction of difficult personalities with power and politics
      • pathocracy — Andrew ลobaczewski (2007)
      • sadopopulism — Tim Snyder
    • Narcissistic collusion — the interplay of the grandiose expectations of the tyrant and his followers. It gives him power as a meshing of mutually compatible needs.
    • Narcissism of small differences — Freud 1991
    • Scapegoating
    • Psychological decompensation
    • Psychopath World
      • The Upside Down — up is down, black is white
      • No conscience
      • No empathy
      • The ultimate narcissist
      • Obsession with power, dominance, and hierarchy
      • Primitive goals, relentlessly pursued
      • Rigidity; inflexibility
      • No access to higher human ideals
      • Performative; mask-wearing
      • See people as objects for their use
      • Control issues
      • Cruel and sadistic
      • Empty and thrill-seeking
      • Enjoy breaking rules
      • Inauthentic; insincere
      • Projectivity
      • Destructiveness; recklessness
      • Conspiracy-minded
      • Cold and inaccessible
      • Reptilian
    • Terminology: ASPD and the shifting umbrella of personality disorder and Cluster B
    • Malignant narcissism as a historical conception of this group of personality traits
  • Paranoia
  • Abuse culture
    • Bullies
    • Emotional abuse
    • psychological abuse
    • physical abuse
    • financial abuse
    • legal abuse
    • abuse of power
    • Alice Miller — Her work identified the psychological impact of childhood neglect and abuse, not just at the individual level but at the societal level — where it has a tendency to produce a hierarchical worldview characterized by the need to control the environment.
    • One-sided development — Dฤ…browski (1996)
  • Cults
  • “Big Cults” — rise to the level of nation-state and even beyond
  • Psychological warfare
    • Propaganda
      • Bernays –> Goebbels
      • Michiko Kakutani — The Death of Truth
    • Emotional abuse
    • Interrogation techniques
    • Disinformation
      • Conspiracy theories
      • Fake news
        • “Flood the channel” strategy
        • Overwhelm and drown out the truth
        • Deep fakes
      • Lying with statistics
    • Bot networks and cyborg botnets
      • agents
        • distraction
        • confusion
        • probing
        • persuasion
        • conversion
        • neutralization
      • flying monkeys
      • automated response
      • timed response
    • Extortion
    • Doxxing
  • Religious extremism
    • Evangelicals
    • Dominionism and extremist religious circles believing literally in the End Times and the rapture coming soon (Tim LaHaye et al), including at the highest levels of government (Pompeo, Pence, etc.)
    • Calvinism
    • Prosperity gospel
  • Living on Fantasy Island
    • Norman Vincent Peale — the power of positive thinking (1952)
    • Ernest Becker — The Denial of Death & the basis for fundamental self-deception
    • Buddhist / Shambhala conceptions of “The Cocoon” — a mental place of safety we construct for ourselves to remain shielded from Real Reality
    • Republican Denial Bubbles: climate change, trickle-down economics, “no one is racist,” birtherism, covid is a hoax, everything is hunky dory, you are getting very sleepy…
    • It Was All a Lie — Stuart Stevens, former GOP strategist and co-founding member of the Lincoln Project, spills the beans on the Republican capture of civic discourse with a set of false narratives all spinning out from the white supremacist backlash to the civil rights movement of the 60s.

HISTORY

  • Capitol Riots and Putsch — insurrectionists storm the Capitol
  • Raffensperger extortion call
  • Georgia runoffs
  • Biden elected + Big Lie begins (continues, really)
  • George Floyd murder and summer of protest
    • long struggle with police brutality and “driving while Black”
  • Votings Rights Act gutted
  • Citizens United
  • Growing nationalization of politics parallels the demise of local news

Hyper Partisanship in Congress: The Gingrich Years

  • Newt Gingrich and the Contract on America — Steve Kornacki, Julian Zelizer
  • Rise of Evangelicals and the deals with the devils (Paul Weyrich, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, prosperity gospel, etc)
    • ALEC
    • abortion as a 180-degree turn for use as a wedge issue
    • Brown v. Board of Education & the fight over segregated Christian private schools
  • White nationalism’s reputational laundering
    • David Duke popped back up in both the 90s and the 2010s
    • Some Vietnam vets nurtured their own “stabbed in the back” culture after the war
    • Rise of the militia movement
      • Many returning soldiers saw the fringe left Communist movement in the US as an “enemy at home”
      • Greensboro, NC massacre
      • The Order
      • KKK & KKKK
    • Paramilitary operations in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere in Latin America to “bring the war home”
    • After the fall of Communism, the movement needed a new enemy. During the immediate post-Vietnam era they claimed to be working on behalf of the state, but towards the end of the 80s they did a 180-degree turn to a hard anti-government stance
    • Survivalist fringe
      • Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing
      • Waco
      • Ruby Ridge
      • Unabomber / Ted Kaczynski
    • Intersection of militia movement with NRA
      • Intersection of NRA with Russian active measures
    • Lost Cause lineage
      • Confederate holdouts

Post-Soviet Capital Flight and the Rise of Russian Organized Crime

Rise of Dark Money

The explosion of Super PACs and other seemingly endless vehicles for anonymous money lending to political campaigns exploded after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010. The hyper partisanship tilted even further when the GOP quietly began accepting far more foreign contributions than many people realized.

  • Citizens United
  • Koch Brothers / Kochtopus
  • offshore tax havens
  • unregistered FARA agents (Flynn, Manafort, Elliott Broidy, etc)
  • Jane Mayer
  • Panama Papers — biggest offshore data leak in history
  • FinCEN files

Rise of Russian Hybrid Warfare

  • Gerasimov Doctrine
  • Vladislav Surkhov’s surrealistic war theater
    • Fifth World War: all against all
  • Cheka –> KGB –> FSB / GRU
  • Psychological warfare
  • Cyber warfare
    • energy grid
    • US Treasury
    • election infrastructure
    • nuclear weaponry
  • Information warfare
    • Disinformation
    • Cyborg bot networks
    • IRA & Robert Mueller indictments
    • Cambridge Analytica, data theft, and microtargeting
    • Astroturfing, fake activism, paid crisis actors
  • Financial warfare
    • Magnitsky Act
      • Bill Browder
      • Natalia Veselnitskaya
      • Trump Tower meeting June 9, 2016
    • Campaign funding
      • Marie Le Pen (France)
      • Viktor Orban (Hungary)
      • Brexit (UK)
      • Trump / GOP (US)
      • Law and Justice (Poland)
    • Corruption — organized crime, money laundering, bribery, human trafficking, drugs, arms, fraud, racketeering, etc.
  • Proxy warfare
    • Private security forces and arms’ length deniability
      • Yevgeny Prigozhin
      • Erik Prince
    • Ukraine
    • Belarus
    • Syria

Role of Facebook, Google, and Big Tech

Silicon Valley played its part in enabling — and profiteering from — hyper partisanship not just in the U.S., but around the world. Facebook in particular has a reputation for being callously cheap about moderating content from hate speech to live mass shooting video, including arguably playing a significant role in the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar.

  • Facebook as a rogue nation state with almost 3 billion non-voting citizen-serfs
    • Reluctant moderators require regulating
    • Questionable ethics
      • Moral hazard in political leanings
      • Paid propaganda machine for dictators and authoritarian regimes around the world
      • Allow disinformation to “skirt around” the rules too often, or fail to police bad actors at all
      • Fail to live up to their own moderating standards repeatedly
      • Refuse responsibility for arguably essential roles in geopolitical disasters including the Rohingya massacre in Myanmar and
      • A business model that fundamentally benefits from human conflict
      • Cambridge Analytica
      • Traumatic conditions of the Facebook moderation team, in the US and abroad
  • Google’s capture of the web
    • monopoly powers
    • surveillance powers
    • AI powers
    • collapse of online advertising market
    • collapse of local journalism
    • Youtube radicalization
  • Bozo Bezos & the Billionaire Space Race
  • Surveillance capitalism
  • Data as the new oil
  • Crypto & DeFi

Economic insecurity and staggering inequality

  • Piketty
  • Gilded Age
  • Progressive Era
  • Anti-Trust
  • Herbert Hoover –> FDR
  • Great Depression –> New Deal prosperity
  • Keynesian economics
  • Hillbilly elegy
    • Bowling Alone
    • The Big Sort
  • Globalization
  • Opioid crisis

Republican Myths

As further enabled by the rise of the PR-state

  • White supremacy and the myth of American innocence
  • Trickle down economics –> Reagan
  • Powell Memo –> Think Tanks
  • McCarthyism; John Birch Society
  • America as a Judeo-Christian nation
  • Immigration is bad
  • Climate change denialism
  • Smoking is good for you

Americana and Hyper Partisanship through the ages

  • 2020 election
  • 2016 election
  • Obama years
  • 2008-09 financial crash
  • 9/11, WMD delusions, Iraq War, Islamic terrorism
  • 2000 Bush v. Gore
  • Welfare queens
  • Clinton and the Crime Bill
  • Reagan years
  • Watergate
  • Spiro Agnew
  • Nixon’s war on drugs as a proxy for the war on 60s counterculture
  • White militia movement
  • Civil rights & Vietnam
  • Cold War
  • The Holocaust; Stalin’s Great Terror; Mao’s famine
  • WWII & fascism
  • New Deal
  • Great Depression
  • Warren G. Harding
  • Woodrow Wilson
  • WWI
  • Gilded Age
  • Snake oil
  • PT Barnum
  • Great Awakening preachers George Whitefield & Jonathan Edwards
    • they argued that church authorities should not own people’s direct relationship with God
  • KKK
  • Jim Crow
  • Reconstruction
  • Civil War & Confederacy — the ur-Hyper Partisanship.
  • States’ Rights
  • Anti-Intellectualism
  • Slavery
  • Racism, Misogyny
  • Federalism vs. Decentralization
  • The Constitution and the Rule of Law
  • Democracy overthrows monarchy
  • Spirit of the Laws — Montesquieu
  • Social contract; consent of the governed
  • Puritans
  • Religious freedom
  • Liberty vs. freedom
  • The Enlightenment
  • Magna Carta
  • The Bible