A postmodern view of today’s political chaos

We come to know our own minds only by explaining ourselves to others.
Christopher Lasch

JFK-250My Nashville blogger friend Rex Hammock reminded me this week of a wonderful quote from President John F. Kennedy in 1963. My goodness, how those of us alive at the time loved that man and his vision.

“No country can possibly move ahead, no free society can possibly be sustained, unless it has an educated citizenry whose qualities of mind and heart permit it to take part in the complicated and increasingly sophisticated decisions that pour not only upon the President and upon the Congress, but upon all the citizens who exercise the ultimate power.”

We need to think about this today as we gaze upon the sheer madness of the landscape that is America in 2016. And that’s exactly what it is – madness. I know a couple of very sweet Christian ladies who are passing along the most hateful political venom on social media as though it was the most natural thing in the world. I’m talking really vile, hateful stuff. The heartland response to the leftish drift of the culture surpassed anger long ago and now seethes as a horrific rage that threatens peace at every corner.

In the name of God, of course.

I’ve written a book about the role I played in bringing this about, but from my chair today as an observer and chronicler of postmodernity, I view all of it now as an inevitable and necessary portal through which we must pass for humankind to reach its full potential. Hierarchies always corrupt – it’s in their nature – and humankind has had centuries to realize the fruit of powerful institutions with self at the core. Today, however, the very structure of hyperconnectivity judges hierarchies to be inefficient and irrelevant as it routes around them to bring us together. This is the cultural disaster we face through this remarkable cultural shift, and make no mistake, it will be ugly. Of course, there are many of us who don’t view it as a disaster but admit it will have disastrous results.

One of the major shortcomings of humankind is ignorance fed by hierarchies with self-centered motives, especially the elites who write the book of laws. We have a staggering amount of knowledge in the combined library of humanity, but much of it is hidden by those who glean a good living from its protected shelves. Medicine, the law, religion, and higher education, just to name a few, will be judged tomorrow over how well they pass that knowledge along to everybody instead of keeping it from them. This will not go well for modernity’s gasping body, but its inevitability is sure, so long as the network remains free and intact. There’s nothing inherently sinister about it; it’s simply the chaotic, natural evolution of humanity’s desire for self-governance. Those who advance this will be successful downstream; those who don’t will become increasingly irrelevant.

Michael Rosenblum

Michael Rosenblum

A great example of this is my friend Michael Rosenblum, who runs TheVJ.com and has led the way in teaching anybody how to shoot and edit video like a professional, including employees of Fortune 500 companies. I’ve no doubt Michael will always be successful in business, for he understands the need to equip people laterally for the video revolution that’s coming and in many ways is already here. The disruption of media is among the most visible in the world today, but it’s only going to get worse, depending on your point-of-view.

So while forces wishing to maintain the status quo fight for their lives, the people are sparring with each other over elemental differences based on what they know – or think they know. This, thankfully, is leading us back to the cleansing power of argument, which is never a bad thing. Historian Chris Lasch wrote about this in 1990:

Our search for reliable information is itself guided by the questions that arise during arguments about a given course of action. It is only by subjecting our preferences and projects to the test of debate that we come to understand what we know and what we still need to learn. Until we have to defend our opinions in public, they remain opinions in (Walter) Lippmann’s pejorative sense – half-formed convictions based on random impressions and unexamined assumptions. It is the act of articulating and defending our views that lifts them out of the category of ‘opinions,’ gives them shape and definition, and makes it possible for others to recognize them as a description of their own experience as well. In short, we come to know our own minds only by explaining ourselves to others.

“We come to know our own minds only by explaining ourselves to others.” This is profound and the most pressing need for the cultural advancement of postmodernism. It’s a natural part of the evolution of global humanity, and a necessary step if we are to learn to live with each other instead of killing each other.

We simply can’t trust ANY hierarchical institution to educate us. We must do that for ourselves – with postmodernism’s deconstruction as our authority and the practice of exploring associative links on the World Wide Web as our tool – and this, I believe, is in the spirit of President Kennedy meant those many years ago.

Nobody else is going to do it for us.

Of course evangelicals can vote for Trump; they just shouldn’t

Donald TrumpEvangelical Christians face a quite a quandary this election season, because they’ve painted themselves into a narrow corner when it comes to politics. It’s the right-wing conservative way or no way, and that forces them into the camp of Donald Trump, a slick, self-promoter with questionable business and personal ethics. Mr. Trump also comes off as pretentious, racist, bigoted, and uninformed, and watching Evangelicals rationalize their support is frustrating, confusing, and sad. Were it not, it might actually be humorous.

Believe it or not, the biggest issue for these Christians is who will appoint perhaps as many as four Supreme Court justices over the next four years. That’s it. That’s issue number one for Evangelicals. This is what Christians are willing to roll the dice over in electing a man who admits he will stretch the truth to get what he wants. Read his book. He’s a salesman for whom it’s all about closing the deal, not about how you get there, and that disqualifies him for anything other than being one of the globalist corporate menaces that he accuses others of being. Anyone who believes anything that comes out of his mouth is dangerously misled, and that includes my Christian friends.

jackgrahamLast week, Mr. Trump met with certain hand-picked Evangelical Christian leaders (who were publicly referred to as “Christian Leaders,” a bad joke) where he selected a board of advisors and spoke to them about why he’s the only candidate on their side. In the wake of that meeting, evangelical pastor Jack Graham of the mega Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas published an article titled “Of course, Evangelicals can vote for Trump.” He gave three reasons why “I could easily vote for Mr. Trump this November without endorsing him, his behavior, his language or his “temperament,” adding, “I would vote for Donald Trump because he has convinced me he will fight for the issues that matter most to conservatives.”

He then lists these three issues: the Supreme Court, abortion, and religious liberty. Pastor Jack notes that Mr. Trump’s opponent “promises” she won’t support any of those, and so he’s willing to roll the dice on everything else required of the President of the United States, just because he’s got us covered on the Supreme Court.

If this is at all representative of other Evangelicals (it is), then the faith has gone completely mad. I got into a discussion about this with Christians yesterday on Facebook, and here’s a portion of it:

LL: And to me, SCOTUS is the ball game when you will have as many as 3-4 justices appointed that could affect and dictate policy for the next 50 years — and on much more than just abortion. I’ll pass on Hillary, whose intentions are clear, and go w Trump, whose stated intentions I can agree with…

Me: L, it would be more honest if you were to say “go w Trump, whose stated intentions I can agree with, no matter what.” I appreciate your candid position otherwise.

LL: Not sure I understand your first point, but thanks for the rest…

Me: That you’re fully prepared and content with whatever might happen with him as long as you get your Supreme Court justices.

LL: Let’s say I am willing to take my chances with Trump, and consider it a calculated risk. I am also about derailing globalism, and feel he is our best chance for that as well.

‘Lest you think I was speaking with a fool, this person is very intelligent and has done her homework. However, she believes Mr. Trump is a fine family man and would give her the Supreme Court justices she requires. Where did she do her research? I don’t know. Most of the conservative talking points come from the many loud fearmongers who filter everything through a sky-is-falling lens that distorts the reality of liberalism. But I digress.

Donald Trump’s very own life has proven him to be a tickler of the ears, and he admits as much in his book. Remember, he’s trying to sell us on the idea of himself as U.S. President:

The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.

I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.

He is utterly untrustworthy, my dear Christian friends, and even if he’ll give you conservative justices, there’s no assurance they’ll be approved. Even if he’s pro-life, there’s no assurance that will mean anything in real life. And even if he is stating how much he supports Christianity (not religious freedom), there’s zero assurance he’ll ever be able to act upon it. Of course, I don’t believe he ever would anyway.

He just wants to close the deal, and we can’t let him.

Donald Trump and unresolved conflict

trumptapperThe press gave a great deal of attention this past week to an interview Donald Trump gave to CNN political reporter Jake Tapper. The story wasn’t about what Mr. Trump said; it was about how a hero reporter persistently asked the same question until he finally got his answer. What a guy! The professional journalism community was excited, likely because it revealed one of their own demonstrating higher morality than that shown by the GOP candidate. One assumes from all the headlines, that journalists writing about this thought their readers and viewers would feel the same gotcha moment. It’s dangerously naive to think so, however, and this case provides further evidence that the press continues to assume its own relevance, especially when it drifts into matters of candidate character.

The CNN video of Jake Tapper “challenging” Mr. Trump is hilarious, not because it reveals the persistence of a heroic journalist pressing Mr. Trump, but in how much free media it has produced for Mr. Trump, who could care less that the presentation is designed to show him as a racist, a liar, and a distorter. Here’s a Washington Post headline on the matter: Jake Tapper asked Donald Trump if his judge attack was racist — then followed up 23 times. What is the purpose of this if not to tout the persistence of Jake Tapper, and, frankly, who cares?

The press cares, because it gives them more evidence of the “Donald Trump is unqualified and dangerous” theme that governs its horse race coverage of the 2016 campaign for president. It does absolutely nothing, however, in helping Americans be informed about the candidate and his appeal, because his followers determined long ago – before Mr. Trump ever announced – that the press operates with a liberal bias and therefore cannot be trusted. As I’ve been pointing out for nearly twenty years, the press has done this to itself.

Back to the CNN interview. While Mr. Tapper steadfastly stuck to his journalistic duty to get a response to his (most important) question, Mr. Trump simply used the airtime to pour forth his position on those matters of interest to his supporters. It was a free, five-minute commercial for Donald Trump in a very presidential setting. Good job, Jake. Here are a few campaign statements that went unchallenged, because Mr. Tapper was busy making journalists proud:

  • Hillary should be in jail for her email scandal.
  • I’m building a wall between here and Mexico.
  • I’ll do well with Hispanics, because I’m going to create jobs.
  • Hillary Clinton is a stiff.
  • I’m being treated unfairly.
  • Thousands and thousands have given Trump University great reviews.
  • This case should have been dismissed years ago.
  • The plaintiffs just want to get their money back.
  • The law firm suing me has committed huge amounts of money to Hillary’s campaign.

These are some of the things that Donald Trump was able to clearly communicate while Jake Tapper was busy being a hero to journalists. Again, who cares?

Donald Trump is winning, because he speaks of issues the press assumes have already been resolved, and that includes the matter of race. To Trump supporters, race is very much an unresolved issue, for political correctness is a liberal concept that’s been forced on conservatives. As Mr. Trump has noted many times, “We have to stop being so politically correct in this country,” so one assumes that a part of making America great again is the rolling back of political correctness, something the press wrongly believes is poppycock.

Which helps us understand why Donald Trump is such a surprise to them but not to a great many others. Here are five things I’ve heard about the candidate that resonate beautifully with his followers and lay the foundation for viability among a great many Americans. The reader can be the judge of the significance of each:

  1. The view that terrorism is Islamic; that the “real” danger from terrorism is the religion it represents. This is actually a defense of certain forms of Christianity, for both religions are evangelical and therefore at enmity with each other. By referencing the terrorism problem this way, therefore, his words fit a deeply held belief of many, that the problem is with the religion, not the violence, for in many ways, they are deemed one and the same.
  2. When he addresses the dying middle class as an aftereffect of foreign trade and manufacturing, he again states a deeply held (thought of as common sense) belief of many Americans. When Donald Trump discusses the disappearance of good jobs in this way, he speaks to the pain of those people and communities who’ve suffered loss, “proving” to his followers that he understands them. They also reason that a very successful businessman who speaks in this manner does so from a position of knowledge, because he simply must have information unavailable to the masses. After all, he’s a billionaire!
  3. To Mr. Trump’s followers, this billionaire business is all the proof they need that he’s smart. This is the lone qualification in their minds, for who’s to argue with his financial success? Attempts by the press or opponents to dismiss this – for whatever reason – fall away in light of Trump’s visible display of business-gained wealth. This is why so many of his followers honestly believe he is among the smartest people in the world. This cannot be overlooked.
  4. Donald Trump’s views on political correctness, in the agreeing minds of his followers, proves to them that he can’t be easily fooled by liberal language. This is a far greater social matter than anyone cares to admit, because the press crossed its bridge long ago, and to them, it’s a dead issue. The mere thought of offending our neighbors has become such a dark blight that speaking the “right” words has become a matter of duty in order to qualify for good citizenship. George Carlin called this “fascism pretending to be manners,” and the final verdict is a long way from having been written. The heart of Mr. Trump’s support comes from white males, who’ve been painted as the bad guys in the rise of PC practices, and nobody ever consulted them about the accusations. This is one of the most divisive matters before the electorate today – touching everything from race to religion to gender and beyond – and it won’t go away automatically, because anybody simply says so.
  5. His willingness to boldly take on the press proves to supporters that he knows journalists are all biased, even Fox. Every time the press reports on Mr. Trump’s shortcomings – rightly or wrongly – nobody really pays attention, because it’s just more of the same. This bias belief has produced record low numbers in terms of trust in the press in the U.S. and yet the press continues under the belief that it operates with the public trust. We wrote the book on this thirty years ago at CBN, and it continues as a major concern for our democracy.

So celebrate Jake Tapper’s “victory” if you wish, but if you’re not a fan of Donald Trump’s, you might want to rethink the rejoicing. A little humility might help you realize that you don’t know the people you’re covering quite as well as you think.

You are, unknowingly, a factor in his success.

The 2016 Revenge Vote

fupolitics“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

Those were the words of Howard Beale, the longtime fictional anchor of the equally fictional Union Broadcasting System’s UBS Evening News. You’ll recognize Beale and the statement from the 1976 film Network, starring Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, and Robert Duvall. Dunaway’s UBS was suffering from poor ratings and Finch’s Howard Beale was the answer. Here’s what Wikipedia says about the plot:

…Beale…learns from the news division president, Max Schumacher (Holden), that he has just two more weeks on the air because of declining ratings. The two old friends get roaring drunk and lament the state of their industry. The following night, Beale announces on live television that he will commit suicide on next Tuesday’s broadcast. UBS fires him after this incident, but Schumacher intervenes so that Beale can have a dignified farewell. Beale promises he will apologize for his outburst, but once on the air, he launches back into a rant claiming that life is “bullshit”. Beale’s outburst causes the newscast’s ratings to spike, and much to Schumacher’s dismay, the upper echelons of UBS decide to exploit Beale’s antics rather than pull him off the air. In one impassioned diatribe, Beale galvanizes the nation, persuading his viewers to shout out of their windows “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Here’s a small portion of that wonderful rant via YouTube:

This award-winning and culturally significant film exploits the ease with which television can influence the lives of people who don’t like how “things” have turned out for them regarding economics, morality, crime, or anything else. Howard Beale’s suggestion that raging out the window is necessary to let “them” know how real people feel may seem cathartic, but psychologists say such behavior usually results in the opposite. Unresolved anger, whether personal or collective, demands attention, or it will literally destroy the one who carries it. In AA, for example, we call this “whacking ourselves with the two-by-four we intend for others.”

The most destructive of these actions is revenge, and while it may seem self-satisfying — and Hollywood continually tells us that it is — it’s actually quite self-destructive.

“Rather than providing closure,” says Kevin Carlsmith, PhD, a social psychologist at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y. who published a study on the subject in 2008, “it does the opposite: It keeps the wound open and fresh.” Evolution, Carlsmith adds, may play a role. “Punishing others in this context—what they call ‘altruistic punishment’—is a way to keep societies working smoothly,” he says. “You’re willing to sacrifice your well-being in order to punish someone who misbehaved.” And to get people to punish altruistically, Carlsmith says, they have to be fooled into it. Hence, evolution might have wired our minds to think that revenge will make us feel good.

It doesn’t.

I’m convinced that altruistic punishment is at the core of much of the support for both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential campaign. Both shout from beyond the status quo that we ought to be mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore, and so — with little regard for the consequences except the notion that revenge will make them feel better — people are voting for both in the primary season. The voters simply don’t care about the actual positions of both of these candidates; they simply “know” that neither is a part of a status quo that has wronged them so badly. Supporters hear their own words spoken back to them, so there’s really no reason to probe beyond those words. It’s the film Network being played out in real life.

This is probably much truer as regards Mr. Trump than it is regarding Mr. Sanders, but I think both have tapped the deep wellspring of anger and rage at what seems to them to be a system spinning out of control in this country. The people supporting the presumptive Republican nominee are tired of the tyranny of the minority, including immigrants of all stripes and those with differing views of sex and nature. They feel they’ve lost what they used to have — and to forces that don’t care what they think and that are ramrodding laws that flaunt recklessness in their faces. They want back the control they seem to have lost, and they think Mr. Trump is the candidate who speaks for them, regardless of what he can actually do about it. Mr. Sanders, on the other hand, draws those who feel the government hasn’t gone far enough in speaking to their anger over what they view as the failings of capitalism, especially as it relates to the poor and the afflicted, which includes many of them. They think the government is listening to too much that comes from the right, including those Trump followers who believe the opposite. Both groups want revenge to right wrongs they feel were foisted upon them by powerful outside interests.

It would be encouraging to think that these groups cancel each other out, but that would be naive. It may seem that this unresolved anger will benefit Ms. Clinton in the election, but there’s plenty of anger at her, too, although I tend to agree with those who think this is manufactured and has been ongoing since she first entered the national political scene with her husband in 1992. She’s part of a powerful political family in Arkansas that has had its share of enemies for a great many years. I can’t support her, because her position on Israel is steadfast and intolerant in its support of Zionism.

So whose lever will I pull in November? I don’t know. I’m going to watch and see what happens, and then perhaps write in the name of Mark Cuban. Remember, Cuban was President in Sharknado 3, so he’s certainly qualified.

It’s not Donald Trump; it’s his followers!

GOD-REPUBLICANOne of the main themes of my new book, How Jesus Joined the GOP, is that the biggest threat in the current political debate is not those who lead but the angry mob that follows. Here’s an excerpt from chapter two, The Gospel of Self:

Of the many reasons given for the distrust and dislike for fundamentalism in religion, nothing makes a more compelling argument than the intolerance that such narrow thinking breeds. Ignorance and prejudice bred in the comforting broth of selfishness produce a form of narrow-minded bigotry so pure that it baffles observers outside its pot while self-validating the swirling vortex of falsity within. The trapped souls inside express a perplexing form of contentment that, despite evidence to the contrary, frames a contemptuous “knowing” reserved only for those who share their “inside” knowledge. Their defense against conflicting intellectual arguments is usually based on the self-righteous position of real or imagined persecution, which allows them to ignore reality in the name of faith…

…The obvious conclusion about these intolerant people to most observers is that leaders with selfish interests easily manipulate them, which results in attacks on those leaders by non-believers. Such a position, however, only strengthens the beliefs of the followers, for they are driven by their faith, each other, the personal and direct connection they share with the God of their understanding, an absolute conviction that they are Heaven-bound after death, and their own sense of manifest destiny in this life. Moreover, their support of leaders isn’t top-down, as most contemporary observers would contend; it is, rather, bottom-up, and this means that leadership is interchangeable. Let me repeat that intolerance comes not from the leaders of the movement but rather from those followers whose lack of perspective, study, knowledge, opportunities for study or knowledge, or intelligence produces remarkable and dangerous consequences. The leaders, especially early leaders, certainly share culpability for this mess, but an open-minded argument with such often reveals differences in the messages given and those received. The followers believe they “get it” and enter into conversations with family, friends, co-workers, church members, and others. This will not and can not be overcome by any top-down means. Intolerance, therefore, is the floor covering of the ground level – those who seek validation for their views and resonance with leaders who speak their language…

…As the twenty-first century moves along, this bottom-up conservative leadership paradigm has at its disposal a weapon so powerful that the hierarchical status quo is having great difficulty being heard above all the noise.

It’s the Internet, with its remarkable efficiency in allowing person-to-person communications, and a convenient conduit for the furtherance of the Gospel of Self. Human nature is on display for all in the world of the network.

It’s my belief that in the current circumstances involving the candidacy of Donald Trump, it accomplishes zero to wax on regarding his character, his history, or even his behavior, for the ears of the angry mob are closed to such. They support him, because they hear themselves in his candidacy and nothing else. Like sheep, they hear the voice of their master, but unlike sheep, that voice comes from within the flock. Max Lucado and other notable Christians have come out this week essentially labeling Mr. Trump “unChristian,” but it won’t make a difference, for, again, the ears of the angry mob can’t hear such reasoning.

Whether it’s the press or Evangelical leaders, modernist logic (and history) won’t work against what is essentially a postmodern problem. How does one manipulate those of the Great Horizontal in such a way as to GET them to see the danger of Donald Trump? One doesn’t, and that’s the real problem here. It’s too late, and besides, it must be accomplished horizontally, and that is not in the skill set of political players today and certainly not the press. The best these groups could do is ignore him, but that’s not going to happen. The louder they holler, the better they fit the beliefs that the mob has about them in the first place.

A great many people are in a panic mode, including some of my friends. “It’s the end of the Republican Party,” I’ve read. Well, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing right now. Maybe it’s so run off the rails that it needs reinvention. Let the right wing have their own party, so that we can differentiate. Who really knows? That’s what I’m trying to say. We just seem hell bent on keeping things as they are despite the proof before our eyes that the public is sick of it.

So here’s my advice for all the people who are squawking about Donald Trump. Create yourself some memorable memes that reflect understanding of “their” issues and seed them throughout social media. Let somebody besides Mr. Trump speak in their language about what’s troubling them. Take them seriously.

You cannot change the bottom from the top anymore. Best to wake up to that truth today instead of tomorrow with President Trump.

Donald Trump and the angry mob

Notice the beautiful perfection of this image, the pretty people, the colors, the businesslike tone. Nothing is left to chance except what comes out of Trump's mouth, and I'm not even sure that isn't calculated, too. (Click to read the Washington Post article "The moment of truth: We must stop Trump.")

Notice the beautiful perfection of this image, the pretty people, the colors, the businesslike tone. Nothing is left to chance except what comes out of Trump’s mouth, and I’m not even sure that isn’t calculated, too. (Click to read the Washington Post article “The moment of truth: We must stop Trump.”)

One of the principle conclusions of my forthcoming book, How Jesus Joined The GOP, is that those of us at the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) created the vocal and angry mob that represents the right wing of the Republican Party today. I’m sure there were other factors, but don’t underestimate what we did or how we did it.

My firm belief is that this mob is vastly more significant than the people who currently lead it or even exploit it, for this group a) doesn’t need or want anybody to lead them and b) wants and needs somebody to lead everybody else to their promised land. That makes THEM the dangerous problem and not anyone seeking their support.

Here’s the truth. Everything about The 700 Club was researched and strategically deliberate. We were armed with research by Pat Robertson’s buddy George Gallup that gave us a thorough quantitative understanding of how Christians were viewed by the public. This included such pejorative thinking as “ignorant, aging, overweight, stupid and moronic, and Bible-thumping rednecks.” So we used our program to deliver the opposite by appealing to younger, good looking, smarter, and more intelligent people through the betterment of one’s standing in life. We transformed the stereotypes into a much more attractive substitute by cleverly appealing to their reasonable questions about life and God.

However, the televangelist scandals and Pat’s unsuccessful bid for President in 1988 blew away a significant portion of our support, and guess which people? Those same younger, good looking, smarter, and more intelligent folks who were the target of our appeal in the first place. Sadly, that left only the stereotype, people who were convinced – without study whatsoever – of the rightness of our “Christian Right” message. This is the core of that angry mob today.

One of the real jewels of Alabama is Paul Finebaum, the sports journalist and commentator. What makes his program so appealing is the crazy listeners who call in regularly and the way Finebaum brilliantly and respectfully handles them. I was listening the other day when a caller who clearly fit the Alabama redneck mold tried to convince Finebaum that Donald Trump was the greatest political candidate ever. “I mean, come on, Paul,” he insisted in the excited dialect of the rural South, “this is one of the smartest people ever to come along. He is so smart, Paul. Have you heard about this guy? You just have to listen to him, Paul. He’s just so smart, and you need to get onboard the train to help him.” He was enamored with his candidate’s perceived smarts, yet he couldn’t articulate any evidence of that smartness.

All I could do was sigh and utter to myself, “Yup. That’s what we’re up against.”