Donald Andrew Henson II

Posts Tagged ‘Sam Harris’

Degraded American Fascism

In American Society, The Trump Administration on April 7, 2017 at 7:24 pm

I stated unequivocally in my last post that President Trump is not a Nazi, certainly not another Adolph Hitler. I think attempts on the left to paint him as such are misguided and hyperbolic, and hyperbole never helps to move the conversation further. In addition, whenever someone cries ‘Nazi’ for lesser crimes than the Nazis actually committed, it does a disservice to those who truly suffered under that ugly regime.

However, that doesn’t mean I think he’s a good person, nor certainly does it mean he’s a good fit for the presidency. He is, in fact, uniquely unsuited for the job. He is someone who’s been granted every advantage in life who yet cannot pass on any opportunity to bully those who haven’t. Perhaps one could excuse an uneducated day-laborer for resentfully decrying that the Mexicans had ruined his economic opportunities, but where does the Wharton grad’s resentment come from? Daddy should’ve left him a few million more?

He’s not even a particularly good businessman. His multiple bankruptcies – and the fact that he refuses to release his tax returns – speak volumes. Much was made a few weeks ago about the fact that, if he had just put his inheritance into an index fund, he would be worth substantially more than he is today. Repubs like Trump are always saying the government should be run more like a business – I’m sorry, but I don’t think bankrupting the country three or four times to finally make it ‘profitable’ is the direction most of us want to go in.

The fact that the Right can still even make assertions like these just leaves me gobsmacked. I’m reminded of the parade of big shots asking the government to save their banks from their own incompetence, Hank Paulson on his knees begging George W to specifically NOT let the banks fail, as pure capitalism would’ve required. The very un-business-like business of bailing out Wall Street criminals less than a decade ago should have discredited this kind of talk for a generation.

But so should have Trump’s failures as a person and a businessman disqualified him as a viable candidate for president, even by the very low bar for behavior set by corporate America. As ever, Sam Harris puts it in the right perspective:

There isn’t a single Fortune 500 company, or a reputable university, or any other respectable institution in this country, which has a board of directors, which, three years ago, would have said the following, ‘You know what we need to take our organization to the next level? We need a truly brilliant leader. We need someone with vision and integrity, someone who is ethical and deeply knowledgeable. We need the wisest person we can find, to take us forward at this point. You know who we need? We need Donald Trump.’ I am confident that had those words been uttered in any boardroom in America, the result would have been derisive laughter. And there are good reasons for that.

Conservatives worry that a more progressive government might allow some ne’er-do-well to receive a few thousand bucks more than he or she deserves, thereby upsetting the survival-of-the-fittest, Ayn Rand ethos so necessary to a capitalist system; elevating a few thousand souls out of poverty might keep a ‘job creator’ from being a billionaire. But doesn’t the existence of a guy like Donald Trump indicate that our current system does not necessarily move the cream to the top? (Not to mention pretty much every other reality TV star).

So why is he President? Thomas Dumm, writing over a year ago for the blog Contemporary Condition, credits then-candidate Trump’s popularity to what he calls a degraded, 21st-century, American Fascism:

I would suggest that the European fascism of the first part of the twentieth century has its degraded counterpart in the form of an American fascism suited to the twenty-first. Trumpism is the current incarnation of this degraded fascism, in which the newsreel in the movie theatre is replaced by the resonating power of Fox News….and the impotent admiration of the MSNBC resonance machine.

Fascism requires propaganda to thrive, and Fox and other conservative outlets have been creating fertile ground for the extreme right and the alt-right to grow for nearly two decades now. Peddling half-truths and innuendo for years has conditioned their audience for a guy like Trump, who deals in ‘alternative facts’ – no truth at all. It’s telling that in his defense of tweets accusing the Obama administration of wire-tapping him, he said last week that they are becoming true. You make assertions, twist the facts, browbeat the press, and your assertions become truths.

Trumpites

But these new ‘newsreels’ created by Fox, Breitbart, and Trump’s tweets are only effective because they allow a particular group to hear a story they want to hear. Dumm explains, “This is fascism; it is a new means for giving expression to the masses, while ensuring that the underlying economic arrangements remain intact.” (italics mine)

This was so prescient – Trump, who ran as the champion of the working man, has made little pretense of doing anything for his voters at all, besides his attempted Muslim bans. He’s cobbled together the wealthiest, most inexperienced Cabinet in our history, with neither the ability nor the inclination to do anything for the angry white middle class. He promised to drain the swamp, but instead its brimming over with the financial and ethical conflicts brought in by his staff. He tried to push through Paul Ryan’s healthcare plan – knowing it was worse for the middle class than even an outright repeal would be. Even some in the GOP remarked that his budget proposal appeared to purposely punish the very people who voted for him.

And here’s the thing – his supporters knew he wouldn’t deliver – that it was all just symbolism. From coal jobs coming back to better healthcare to locking Hillary up – it was all about “giving expression to the masses” never about really fixing anything. It was all about the right to say and do all the politically incorrect things they wanted to say and do, to poke a finger in the eye of those uppity liberals. And of course to proclaim a kind of cultural mythology in the face of a diversifying and changing country. But no real plan to actually fix the holes in our economic system that technology has torn.

Dumm continues:

But I want to suggest something more — that this is nihilism as well. Why? Fascism, as a totalitarian political force, insists upon an intense organization of its masses. That is a part of its aesthetic. Trumpism — for lack of a better term – is not nearly so organized….His policy pronouncements are closer to being automatic writing than coherent attempts to demonstrate solutions to problems, sketches on the back of envelopes that are then farmed out to hack consultants to puff up in to white papers.

There does seem to be an ominous message – not sure if it’s from Breitbart or where – but the idea that if we can’t somehow drag things back to the 1950s or some other ‘past of former greatness’, then it would just be better to blow the whole system to bits. There’s an entire  sub-culture on the right actually preparing for this as an eventuality

This ties in with my series of posts about unemployment (which I promise to finish) – my real fear is that these new fascist sentiments, degraded or otherwise, will make it impossible to honestly tackle the problems we’ll face when the future position of the working class becomes even more tenuous. If real structural changes can’t be made – in other words, if the progressive agenda America needs to implement is instead viewed as truly socialist (and not just rhetorically so) by an increasingly nihilist right – then we are facing a very ugly future indeed.

Pure Religion

In American Society, Blogging the New Testament, Religion and Society on March 17, 2014 at 6:17 pm

Read James 1:27.

I have received a few emails from readers who don’t understand why I’m writing. On the one side are those who think I’m wasting my time looking at the Bible and trying to reason with believers about its inconsistencies. Like Sam Harris, this group feels that the best thing to do with religion is to eradicate it. On the other side are believers who think that I unfairly paint all Christians with the same brush, or that I waffle between saying the Bible isn’t true and chastising them for not following its teachings more closely.

To the first group, I would say that, while I am a big fan of Mr. Harris, the elimination of religion is neither constitutional nor within the realm of possibility. I am unequivocally against any form of what I would call ‘thought police’, whether it be for or against religion. I am free to question the claims made by Christianity and other religions – others should be free to accept them. What people do in the public sphere is another matter; if Christians want to push American scientific understanding back into the dark ages, for example, that hurts all of us – and therefore non-believers need to push back.

To the latter group, my reasoning goes something like this: There is a very vocal group of conservative Christians in our country that feel the Bible is a guidebook of sorts on how America should operate. These folks are convinced that their interpretation of ‘the word’ and how it applies to government is in line with God’s plan. Anyone who disagrees with them is either motivated by Satan or Socialism. I am told there are many moderate Christians who do not feel the same way – if this is true, they are certainly very quiet. In the US at least, I don’t see much resistance against the politicization of Christianity and the hard right ideological direction it continues to go in. If you pass along Sarah Palin quotes on your Facebook account without criticism, I’m going to assume you agree.

Of these folks, I would ask two things. First, try to really understand the nature of the document on which you base your worldview. If necessary, ask your church to offer a Bible history class so that you really understand where the New Testament came from and how it was put together. If you’re going to say you have the road map, you should learn how to read it. Second, if you decide that you still want to read the New Testament as the literal, inerrant word of God, then pay attention to ALL of it, not just a few pet passages. I mean, really, it isn’t that long of a book – would it kill you to read it in a couple of different translations, maybe think about how it fits (or doesn’t) into the scheme of a democratic form of government?

Once the believer has done these things, it is my hope – not that he will lose his faith – but that he will realize that his religious claims are no more or less valid than those of any believer of any other creed. Perhaps he will at least realize that many of the claims he makes really do not have that much basis in the actual writings of the New Testament, but more in our American interpretations of those writings. That, in my opinion, is the kind of secularism that would be an important step in getting our democracy back on track.

liberty-religion

A case in point would be a reading of the last verse of James chapter one. Here he says real religion, accepted as pure and faultless by God, involves basically two things – taking care of widows and orphans, and keeping oneself from moral pollution.

Let’s look at the latter part of this verse first. No matter how ‘moral pollution’ is defined, it doesn’t seem like church folk are doing a very good job on this front. Numerous studies show that those who call themselves believers differ very little in their daily habits from those who do not. There are a few minor variations – Christians smoke a few more cigarettes than non-Christians do. They drink a bit less, but pay for a little more pornography. Young people who take ‘chastity pledges’ remain virgins on average about six months longer than other teenagers. But by and large, there is little difference between believers and non-believers when it comes to infidelity, child abuse, theft, fraud, drug use, murder, prostitution, alcoholism, and a host of other activities that could be described as immoral.

Notice that the writer does not demand that Christians rid society of immorality – he admonishes them to purge themselves of impurity. James is not pleading with Christians to become more politically involved. He is asking them to to raise their lives to a higher level of morality than those around them. Ted Haggard should have spent less time preaching about how homosexuality was ruining America and more time worrying about his own activities – even if you don’t classify homosexuality as immoral, certainly extra-marital, paid-for sex, crystal meth use, and jerking off in front of one’s parishioners would qualify.

I know, I know – for every Haggard, there are hundreds of Christians living wholesome lives, winning some battles with sin, losing some, but mostly managing to do right by most everyone, raise families, and stay out of jail. But the same could be said for Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists as well. In fact, atheists, by almost every measure, are more ethical than the religious.

One of my greatest frustrations as a believer was that there was little evidence of the power of the gospel in the life of most believers, including my own. If being a Christian makes one no more able to live a ‘good’ life than anyone else – then Christianity loses one of its major claims to relevancy. If my life as a Christian differs from that of the non-believer in only what I say, not what I do, then I have succeeded in becoming nothing but a hypocrite. If my religion makes me feel guilty about my actions while offering no real means to improve myself, then it’s no good. Most people want to live a life in harmony with society – in a melting pot like America, religion is not conducive to that goal.

James does not say that the purpose of faith is to cleanse society of immorality – he only says that it can effectively cleanse the believer. I would say that statistics generally do not support that claim, and that Christians who want to legislate morality understand neither the thrust of the gospels nor the foundations of democratic government.

But go ahead and believe if you want, if you feel it makes you a better person. Just don’t claim that others are infringing upon your religious liberties when they disagree with you.

As for the first part of James 1:27, taking care of widows and orphans – well, that’s another post.

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