In defense of (some) Trump supporters

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump yell at reporters as they arrive for a campaign rally, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in Cincinnati, Ohio. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

You may think me nuts, but there are a few things we need to know in order to better understand the cultural complaints of the people who put Donald Trump into office in 2016. Democrats especially need to consider these five points, for the stakes in November couldn’t be higher. I know there’s a lot of craziness within Trump’s coalition (I wrote a book about part of it), but I’m talking about a group of people who had fair reason to want a change and for their voice to be heard. These people cannot simply be dismissed as ignorant, racist, xenophobic, extremist, or just plain wrong. It’s useful to think of their vote as a reaction to culture and not one driven by a grand manipulator, for each of these things really does have reasonable, fair, and debatable opposition.

  1. Instead of getting caught up in argumentative discourse about America being a Christian nation, why not instead examine the matter of a unilateral shift from BC/AD to BCE/CE? This is a serious matter, for heartland people – most of them Christian – weren’t consulted when academia decided that we’d be better served as a people by removing the inconvenient history of Christianity’s influence on the basic reference to historical eras. To these honest, well-intentioned, and hard-working people, it’s an attempt to remove their influence in the matters of the day by altering history books.
  2. To white people in middle America, the “Urban” culture – with its music, entertainment, and use of foul language – triggers their fear of the unknown. So foreign is so-called “Gangsta Rap,” for example, that it assaults their sensibilities, and the Top-40 is increasingly unrecognizable to them. This is a concern, because music and the arts are gateway drugs to the teenage mind, and when popularity dictates emulation, parents react. “Motherfucker,” George Carlin taught us, is a word of aggression, and white parents raised on modesty and gentleness aren’t likely to be amused. This is not per se racism – at least I don’t think it is – although it may feel that way to the creators of the media, who, if they were honest, would likely admit they aren’t really targeting this particular audience in the first place.
  3. To the slower-paced, solid foundation, self-sufficient people of the heartland, the world of political correctness is illogical and unnecessarily disruptive. The idea that the speaker is responsible for offending the listener and therefore must control her language or provide “trigger warnings” is foolish, because it seems to run in only one direction. Everyone else can be offended, it seems, except them, and this smacks of outside manipulation. Moreover, they’re not especially fond of paying a fortune to send their children away to institutions of higher learning where the schools cow-tow to the demands of students wanting “safe” spaces.
  4. A core value of heartland folks is that one must play the game of life with the hand we are dealt, like all of nature must. This is what mystifies so many when it comes to sexual relations, sexual preferences, and especially decisions by others to change their sexual assignment. Again, they look to their history and to nature and feel their wisdom in such matters is ridiculed without justification and that the culture is moving away from them without their consent. They don’t so much mind this for others, but they fear its presence may one day find its way into their own homes. Frankly, it’s okay for them to feel terrified.
  5. Finally, in all cultural matters, heartlanders feel they are automatically and pejoratively labeled intolerant unless they give their tacit approval to the constant and rapid changes coming from the progressive community. This is used as a hammer to bludgeon them into acceptance. It’s one thing, they feel, to argue over such extreme views but another entirely to simply initiate change unilaterally. To them, this leaves the bitter taste of conspiracy, and as long as this is the method used by people wanting change, they will withhold their blessing until given the chance of legitimate participation in the discussion.

We are all often fooled by the assumptions we make, and there’s a real opportunity here to accept our differences and talk about compromises. It’s always been and always will be a two-way street, although Trump’s top negotiation method, we’re learning, is to strip his opponents of their resources in order to get exactly what he wants and only what he wants. Just ask the Palestinians.

While I identify more with the progressive side of culture, I think it’s a great sickness to view life as either/or, black and white, all or nothing, right or wrong, etc. This is the problem with labels and pigeon holes, and it’s something “we the people” must resist as we embrace postmodern living. It’s beyond foolish; it’s just plain stupid to look at only extremes when assessing relationships. It’s lazy, sloppy thinking, and it puts us on a playing field where defense is the only weapon.

We can do better than that. We simply must, because what other choice do we have? Really?

The CBN formula that didn’t work

In the wake of Roy Moore’s defeat in the Alabama Senate race, I’ve been thinking a lot about one of the foundational documents we used at CBN in developing and fine-tuning processes and systems in the creation of the daily 700 Club program. It’s referenced in my book, The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP -a research project by George Gallup – one of Pat Robertson’s dear friends – into the perceptions of Evangelical Christians by the America public. This would have been around 1980. I wasn’t there for the actual research, but I inherited the results as an outline of what needed to be incorporated into the program. One of our unspoken missions was to change this perspective, and we gave it our best shot.

The research painted a dismal picture of American attitudes and perceptions about Christians. If we were to recruit new followers of Christ through television, we were going to have to shift these attitudes away from the pejorative and to the desirable. It wasn’t easy, but we felt it was doable with a razor sharp focus on attention to detail when it came to those perceptions. People thought Christians were overweight, so we presented mostly fit and attractive people. They thought Christians were old, so we presented young. Same with Bible-thumping, ignorant, rural, and polyester-wearing. We chose questions & answers, educated, urban, and well-dressed. Christian women were submissive and dowdy. We focused on empowered and fashionable. We deliberately and constantly emphasized people who didn’t fit the stereotypes felt by the average American. Whenever we pursued a testimony story for the program, for example, the first order of business was a photograph of the person giving the testimony. This focus became second nature, and our internal membership data strongly suggested we were on the right path.

Then came the televangelist scandals of the 1980s, which slammed a door on what had been perceived as a revival in the church. Oral Roberts told his viewers that God was going to “take him home,” if he didn’t raise $9 million by Friday. Jim Bakker got caught with his pants down with a staffer, and Jimmy Swaggart got caught in sleazy motel rooms with sleazy prostitutes. We had no scandal, but our coffers were profoundly impacted by all this mischief. And who do you think were the ones who gave up on us the most? That’s right, those intelligent, educated, well-dressed, curious, and slim newbies.

Fast forward to today, and the irony is that we now have Donald Trump as President, with 80 percent of Evangelicals giving him their votes. One of the most puzzling questions about the election is how anybody with serious thinking chops could have been persuaded to vote for a guy who represents everything they hate. A salesman. A man who bends the truth to his own liking. A rich flimflam man. Could it be there’s more to these stereotypes than we’d like to think? In the rejection of Roy Moore last month, the voters of Alabama took a stand against those stereotypes we fought against so long ago. The public animosity towards what are viewed as hypocritical bigots with Bibles and bellies is back in full force, and I have to admit that I’m kind of happy about that. I’d love to see George Gallup repeat that study today, for I suspect the results would be even stronger than ever.

Perhaps this will be enough to get us out of this awful pit into which we’ve fallen.

Anatomy of a Fake News Story

At the height of yesterday’s scramble for information about the horrific breaking news scene in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a Neo-Nazi’s tweet was used by a Santa Monica news outlet to identify the shooter as a convert to Islam. Follow me here, because while it isn’t physics, the story is a bit confusing.

It begins for me with scrolling Facebook and finding a post from a friend – an outspoken Christian woman in Australia – with a link to the Santa Monica Observer and a headline: “Islamic Convert is Shooter in Church Shooting in Sutherland. He Left Online Manifesto.” I’ve been fighting Islamophobia for a great many years, and so this peaked my interest. I’d seen this nowhere else and had suspicions about its truthfulness.

The Santa Monica Observer has a questionable reputation. In fact, Santa Monica itself seems to have a lot of experience with fake news and fake news sites. It would be a great study for someone interested in the role of journalistic dishonesty in a single community. I’ve no wish to prove or disprove that this free newspaper is a source of fake news, only that it participated in this particular event.

Below is a screen grab of the same link today. Note two things. The company is partially backing away from the story, although the sub-headline still contains a reference to the Islamic connection. Most importantly, however, note the link displayed in the browser, as it contains the original headline. This happens often with content management software when a headline is changed in the copy, because the link is established based on the original headline.

The article sources the claim as follows:

Mustachio Tweeted: “#texaschurchshooting shooter is 29 year old US Airman turned Muslim convert, Samir Al-Hajeed. His manifesto is making its rounds on the web.”

The Arab name provided – Samir Al-Hajeed – has been used in other fake news stories about mass shootings, including Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock.

“Mustachio” is Millennial Matt™ Groyper, and the account has been active for a month. Ol’ Millennial Matt™ has a profile picture identifying himself as a Kekistani, a Reddit White Supremacist group that satirically worships a god with a frog head and Donald Trump’s hair. The group’s flag is a take-off on the Nazi flag and is often seen at Neo-Nazi, Alt-Right, and White Supremacy rallies. How and why the Santa Monica Observer would come across this tweet isn’t known, but the most obvious explanation is that the paper follows the account. Either that, or they were tipped and failed to follow through on the obvious conflict-of-interest.

The point is that the Santa Monica Observer article’s premise is utterly false.

Finally, to the woman who posted this link on Facebook (you know who you are), you are responsible for this and will be held accountable in the end for bearing a false witness, which I seem to recall is anathema to the God you say you serve. Christianity Today yesterday published an article about how gullible evangelicals are to this sort of thing based on activities by the Russians during the 2016 Presidential campaign.

“Army of Jesus” was among 470 Facebook pages created by the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg…
…the fake Christian account had over 217,000 likes. (For comparison, that’s more Facebook likes than some established, politically conservative evangelical media outlets, such as World or Charisma magazines.)

Let’s face it: Many Evangelical Christians are easily manipulated and believe many things that are false to be true, simply because they resonate with deeply-held beliefs. My friend in Australia is apparently one of them.

When “great economic news” isn’t

(AP Photo/LM Otero)

I’m not sure why I feel so compelled to make this post other than to document to my own satisfaction the outrageousness of Donald Trump’s complaint that the mass media is ignoring “the great economic news” since he took office. This ridiculous campaign to ping the minds of his supporters follows the pattern that I and many of my friends have expressed as honest concern for America. It’s the responsibility of every citizen to keep themselves informed, and I guess that’s what I’m trying to do here.

So, with apologies for burying the lede, let’s begin with the president’s assertions and his evidence.

The Dow and the Nasdaq are up since January. Well, yes, but they’ve been trending up for many years (since the collapse in 2008 corrected by Trump nemesis, Barack Obama).

According to Mother Jones, employment for the “drilling and energy sectors” has been flat since Trump took over, and “the S&P 500 Energy Sector has been dropping all year and is well below its Election Day level.”

600,000 new jobs? This is highly misleading, but who cares, right? Newsweek did some necessary research: “So far in 2017, the U.S. economy has added an average of 178,000 jobs per month—slightly lower than the 2016 average of 187,000 under the Obama administration. And Trump is currently some way short of his promise to create 25 million jobs in the next decade, or 208,333 per month.”

Unemployment has been on a downward path for many years, including when that awful Barack Obama was in office.

There are no real studies on “enthusiasm,” so even if we give that to the president, the whole glowing Twitter report is badly inflated.

What Donald Trump has accomplished with these tweets, however, is to make yet another assault on the press as “fake news” and provide talking points for followers who will gobble them up like candy. This is beyond dangerous for a free society that must rely on accurate economic forecasts to help the rest of us cope. Here’s what I mean.

The 1,000 Carrier jobs that Trump “saved” during the election were not saved at all. All will be gone by Christmas. The new coal mine that was opened in Pennsylvania was approved long before the president was even elected. According to CNN Money, “Get ready for more ‘closing sale’ signs in the windows of your local retailers.” It’s really quite dismal for retail. Malls closing. Department stores closing. Even mom & pop stores are closing. And then there’s this from CNN Tech:

Robots have already cost millions of factory jobs across the nation.

Next up could be jobs at your local stores.

 Between 6 million to 7.5 million existing jobs are at risk of being replaced over the course of the next 10 years by some form of automation, according to a new study this week from by financial services firm Cornerstone Capital Group.

That represents at least 38% of the current retail work force, which consists of 16 million workers. Retail could actually lose a greater proportion of jobs to automation than manufacturing has, according to the study.

There’s absolutely nothing about any of this that’s coming from the White House, least of all a plan on how the have-nots (you and me) will deal with this stuff. Maybe that’s what makes me so sick about the prancing Donald Trump, who is really only in this for himself and his silk stocking buddies.

War Propaganda as “Weaponized Narrative”

Weaponized Narrative Is the New Battlespace is a fascinating and highly perceptive take on the use of manipulating narrative to impact culture. The idea is that individuals, institutions, and nations are using disinformation campaigns to manipulate others to their bidding through the creation of easy-to-understand stories that support the interests of the storyteller. Technology is the bad guy.

Weaponized narrative seeks to undermine an opponent’s civilization, identity, and will by generating complexity, confusion, and political and social schisms. It can be used tactically, as part of explicit military or geopolitical conflict; or strategically, as a way to reduce, neutralize, and defeat a civilization, state, or organization. Done well, it limits or even eliminates the need for armed force to achieve political and military aims.

The efforts to muscle into the affairs of the American presidency, Brexit, the Ukraine, the Baltics, and NATO reflect a shift to a “post-factual” political and cultural environment that is vulnerable to weaponized narrative.

The writers, however, Brad Allenby and Joel Garreau, oo-directors of The Weaponized Narrative Initiative of the Center on the Future of War, a partnership of Arizona State University and the Washington think tank New America, make four critical errors in their own narrative.

  1. The most glaring is that the entire concept is framed within a modernist world view where top-down, one-to-many-communications is the operating mechanism for communicating deceit. This embraces the worship of order, the vision of a psychopath (benevolent or otherwise) seated at a command and control desk pushing levers this way and that with a sinister smile enveloping a cigarette that appears to have been there for at least a week. Elevating this to an act of war is old wine in new wineskins, because reality isn’t nearly as Orwellian as the fear-mongers would have us believe.
  2. The second error works with the first. It’s a blindness to the disruption created by the bottom of today’s communications pyramid being able to talk with each other and back “up” to the top. This ability turns mass marketing on its head, although you’d be hard-pressed to find any institution that will embrace it. Some political types are tapping the space, but it is always with the assumption that it can be used to get others to pass their narrative around. This is just more modernist thinking, and the future will include educating the bottom in such a way that fooling them will get more and more difficult. I realize some will call this utopian, because it’s too chaotic and we still live in a time where a disruption to order can only be dystopian. I reject this assumption. At best, therefore, this “weaponized narrative” is temporary and not systemic, as the writers believe.
  3. Thirdly, while presented as something new, it really isn’t. Controlling narrative has been around for centuries. It was practiced by the Roman Church until the printing press allowed the laity to access that which had been reserved for the priesthood, and everything changed. It was called “propaganda” by the father of public relations Edward Bernays, a social engineer who used a form of weaponized narrative on behalf of his clients, including the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Bernays was a member of the Creel Committee, organized by Woodrow Wilson to help America justify getting into World War I. If this isn’t “weaponized narrative,” I don’t know what it is.
  4. Finally, how does one pen an article about weaponized narrative without mentioning the real experts at the practice, Israel? The fear of being tagged antisemite blocks all reason when it comes to investigating this phenomenon, for not only is Israel writing the book on how to weaponize narrative, they are doing it in full view of everybody. Within the public information office of the State of Israel are special departments who work with companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to quash anything they view as “incitement” against the crimes they commit daily in the Middle East. This is a frightening reality, for Israel can turn any event into self-defense, regardless of the heinousness of crime. It truly boggles the mind that two highly intelligent people can publish an introductory article on a concept so important without even a mention of the successful efforts of hasbara.

The article also presents America as behind other players in the world in this skill, but the jury is still out on that one. It’s self-serving in the spirit of the Shirky Principle, for the effort the writers are leading attempts to understand weaponized narrative and present solutions. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here, for the article really does present some brilliant thinking and prose:

Narrative is as old as tribes. Humans are pattern-seeking storytelling animals. We cannot endure an absence of meaning. Rather than look up at the distribution of lights in the night sky and deal with randomness, we will eagerly connect those dots and adorn them with the most elaborate – even poetic – tales of heroes and princesses and bears and dippers. We have a hard-wired need for myth. Narrative is basic to what it means to be human.

It’s easy to critical, but this is not nitpicking. The solution to any form of totalitarianism is along the bottom of the new communications pyramid, and I don’t think these manipulative storytellers can count on ignorance forever.

BONUS LINK:  U.S. To Build A “Weaponized Narrative” Into The Future Of War

The Mining of Christian Discontent

It’s never enough, never, never enough. Why is all that we have simply never enough?” Olivia Newton-John

To watch the news these days, you’d think that President Trump’s army of dissatisfied white Christian people is happily moving its agenda forward, but you’d be mistaken. Hundreds of the ear tickling promises made by Trump-the-candidate are off the table or have been brushed aside entirely by Trump-the-President, and people are having doubts about their man. This is most readily expressed in the social media discussions among friends. How long those people will cling to the guy can’t be known, but one important thing is being overlooked by the professional observers: the anger for a revolution against the status quo that Donald Trump originally tapped remains unsatisfied. This is only going to get worse. Victims of a film-flam man aren’t likely to buy in again, but that anger is still festering.

My father was a factory worker in the furniture industry in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He operated a router, cutting the same piece of wood for the same furniture over and over again as part of an assembly line. He was a working man and a Democrat of the Adlai Stevenson brand. My father simply could not vote for Republicans, because they represented the wealthy, including the boss, the owners, the managers, all those who got rich on the backs of others, especially labor.

At the annual company picnic, the children of employees were each given a silver dollar, and it was a big deal for all of us. They were heavy and big, and they made our eyes pop. However, those shiny coins were also emblematic of the reality that the people carrying the bags full of them were the overseers, and we, as recipients of their largess, were not. When you hold a big silver dollar in your little hand, the mind wanders to what it might be like to hold two. Or three. Or more.

“Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor.” Ecclesiastes 4:4 ESV

My father even disliked Gerald Ford, the local boy who became President in the wake of Watergate. Ford came from East Grand Rapids, considered the other side of the tracks from our modest means. The idea that the haves should govern the have-nots is straight out of the colonialist playbook, the outcome of which is only good for the conquerers. I think my father knew that, and it’s one of the things that drives me in my old age. I believe that the people can rule themselves and that the net makes this possible.

But amazingly, disgust with the rich is now gone from our culture. It’s been replaced by envy and the dangled carrot that liberals have robbed you of your chance at the good life through the tyranny of the minority. All you have to do, the carrot reminds, to get your share is vote against the troublemakers. This forms a fascinating paradox for the people who elected Donald Trump, because there simply aren’t enough bodies in the one percent to elect a candidate anywhere. You must have working class people included, and that remains the biggest mystery of the Trump phenomenon. How do you get people like my father to vote WITH those above you in every status measurement?

Television reality shows pay their stars well, so even “realities” like the Jersey Shore, a Louisiana swamp, or a small town in rural Georgia are skewed because everybody seems to have money. Then there are the Kardashians and other famous families, the Housewives of wherever, the Sharks, the Bachelors and Bachelorettes, and the bargain hunters who always seem to hit it big. Endorsement deals featuring reality show “celebrities” create a wannabe sub-culture that mimics the wealthy in ways that contribute to the envy of our neighbors. How much of the debt in our culture comes from young people trying to emulate those they see on TV or online? Johnny has that car, so why not me? This is the self-centered cultural core that we explored at The 700 Club to raise money and channel this discontent to the Republican Party. It’s all in my book, The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP.

Envy unsatisfied easily becomes stored anger.

And the problem with anger is that it can redirect energy away from truth. Resentments always color one’s existence, because the narrative can only present a skewed reality. Resentment also burns the insides. The revenge we seek by remembering, which we intend for the source of the resentment, has nowhere to go except inward. We end up beating ourselves with the two-by-four intended for someone else. We paint ourselves as victims who deserve better, but the best a victim can do is survive. Those willing to let go and embrace life, however, are free to win.

The paradox of prosperity is that discontent increases with opportunities for acting on it.

Despite the election of Donald Trump, that anger is still throbbing in the hearts of the working class, white Christian mid-Americans that supported him as an agent of change. What he’s changed mostly so far is to switch the welfare of the poor to the welfare of the rich, making rules that benefit the rich, so that they can be richer. The jobs won’t show up. The promises he made to that disgruntled heart of America won’t be fulfilled, and the real revolt lies just around the corner.

My hope is that somebody will come along someday with a message that points to the Bible’s categorization of the rich as “oppressors” and opens the minds of middle America to the possibility that perhaps God isn’t a Republican. The reason I’m not optimistic about this is that these people aren’t driven by reason; they’re driven by faith.

Any person who will dance and kick with arms raised in church, speak in tongues, fall to the floor “in the spirit,” lay hands on the sick for healing, and generally give themselves over to a public display of emotional worship can easily be convinced to step outside reason on matters of conscience. The mind is a fertile field when opened by extreme forms of worship, which is why it most often comes before the message in church. Sixties rock superstar Jimi Hendrix said in Life Magazine’s October 3, 1969 edition: “I can explain everything better through music. You hypnotize people to where they go right back to their natural state which is pure positive—like in childhood when you got natural highs. And when you get people at their weakest point, you can preach into the subconscious what we want to say.

The point is that the “personal relationship with Jesus” preached by the public face of Christianity has come to represent the gathering to one’s self for personal gain along with a Bible that’s used as a self-help manual from God Almighty. These Americans are not satisfied — nor will they ever be satisfied — as long as they are convinced that they deserve more due to their loyalty to Jesus. As George Carlin would say, they’re “out where the busses don’t run,” a place where reason is a mile wide and an inch deep. Donald Trump tapped their inner disillusion with promises he would never be able to keep, and that is only going to turn up the heat on their anger.

The press would be smart to understand that this battle has only just begun.