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.

The strange mystery of the Southern GOP

I’ve been thinking a lot about the political “right” these days, and that’s caused me to remember some things from way back. My dad was a Stevenson Democrat and had little use for Dwight Eisenhower. He didn’t do a lot of talking about politics, but he would get riled up sometimes during the televised conventions. He was a labor guy and regarded the GOP as representing rich people, the “silk stockings.” He absolutely hated Richard Nixon, but then, who didn’t in 1960?

Kennedy in Grand Rapids

John Kennedy in Grand Rapids, October 14, 1960.

On October 14th of 1960, John Kennedy was running for President and came to Grand Rapids to campaign and support a Democrat running for governor. The car route went through the far reaches of our neighborhood, so we all walked a mile or so down Silver Street to Burton Street to watch the motorcade as it made its way downtown. Kennedy was mesmerizing, and all of America was in love with him. We weren’t any different, and I’ll never forget that experience. He was perched atop the back seat of a 4-door convertible, and we all had a good view.

It’s occurred to me how far things have swung since those days, when there was a clear political line dividing the haves from the have-nots. The awful deaths of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy in 1968 led to riots everywhere, and Nixon came in as the law-and-order guy. Gerald Ford was definitely of the silk stocking group, and he didn’t last, but events were stirring in the South that would change everything.

First, Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer from Georgia, was elected President. What a disaster.

Then, the rise of the televangelists in the late 70s and early 80s led to a remarkable shift. There was suddenly no such thing as a “Conservative Democrat” anymore, and moral issues such as abortion and prayer in schools were cleverly exploited by the GOP to build a new allegiance in the South. I played a part in this as Senior Producer of The 700 Club. Turns out the televangelists were also courting the wealthy side of the GOP, further cementing the relationship. You pat my back and I’ll pat yours. That’s not to suggest anything disingenuous on the part of the religious right; it was just very convenient.

Today, I’m afraid that many of my neighbors here in Alabama and in other places I’ve worked since I first set foot south of the Mason-Dixon line in 1979 are still conservative, as they were all those years ago. However, they’ve switched parties now, and I keep wondering when they’ll figure out that “their” party still represents corporate America, the wealthy, and the silk stockings of old. Evangelical Christianity is second nature down here, and one of the most common expressions is “God bless you.” Any politician worth his salt would never challenge the faithful, and that means those awful “liberal democrats” are the enemy. It seems impossible to crack that ignorance, and my dad would be amazed. “Poor people in the GOP? What are they thinking?” It seems to me they are being used by smart people who know what buttons to push publicly while quietly voting to keep the rural poor just as poor as they’ve always been and then blaming the Democrats’ spending.

Let me tell you, friends. There’s such a profound set of lies floating around down here that I just don’t see how it can last.

Election night’s message on hierarchies

Top DownNews today that big money Republican “donors” squandered most of their money is another sign of the weakening of hierarchies in a world that is increasingly horizontal. The GOP apparently can’t see this, which is one of the most telling lessons from election day 2012. Mike Flynn at Breitbart writes Rarely has so much been spent to so little effect:

Outside SuperPACs lost virtually every race they targeted, despite outspending the Democrats by wide margins in some cases. This election was an epic failure of DC’s consultant class.

“DC’s consultant class” is a product of our hierarchies. The election was an epic failure all right, an epic failure of the idea that you can influence culture from the top down, if only you have enough money.

NBC’s Open Channel documents the dollars and the billionaires who lost them in an excellent accounting by The Center for Public Integrity.

Money can’t buy happiness, nor can it buy an election, apparently.

The top donors to super PACs in 2012 did not fare well — casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the No. 1 super PAC contributor with more than $53 million in giving, backed eight losers at this writing.

Adelson was top backer of the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future super PAC, with $20 million in donations. Romney lost to President Barack Obama. In addition, Adelson’s contributions to super PACs backing U.S. Senate candidates in Florida, Virginia and New Jersey were also for naught.

He was not the only conservative billionaire who had a bad night.

The shift to the horizontal in the West is something that will impact everyone sooner or later. Media companies count on the premise of buying influence; it’s the core of its value proposition, the purpose of the stage. Those who believe this will always be the way are blind to the disruptive nature of the horizontal, which, at least in part, explains events like Karl Rove’s on air, election night insistence that the numbers had to be wrong.

Or Mitt Romney being “shellshocked” by his loss.

Top-down isn’t going away completely, but it’s also not going to ever again be the reliable friend of the haves — especially not of those who have a lot.

It’s not surprising that President Obama used Twitter to notify his followers of his victory.

The GOP’s currency of envy

Heinz 57 variety political guyI’m such a Heinz 57 variety political guy that it’s really hard to fit myself into anybody’s pigeonhole. I like it that way, and my suspicion is that I’m not alone. We are silent, or so it seems, because no one truly speaks for us. We are offered choices that really don’t matter at the dawn of a new era (postmodern) in which the best we can do is hope for something different. Just like life itself, we can either live it or hope to live it, the former coming with great risk while the latter offering the same old, tired-but-comfortable options.

Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative and many other political groupings are all designed by our top-down culture to suit, well, our top-down culture, but if we believe that “top-down” doesn’t cut it anymore, then we need to start thinking differently when it comes to how “we, the people,” govern ourselves and, by extension, our country. Anybody wishing to start something new must fit himself into the old political portal mindset, which is by nature designed to prevent such intrusion without incredible cost.

I was the executive producer of The 700 Club in the early 80s, a wonderful adventure to which I gave my all but ended up broken. I was an outsider, of sorts, and even though I often led worship services at the ministry, I’d like to think I still managed to nourish and maintain my observer roots. In board room meetings on a host of issues, for example, Pat Robertson would often look at me for reaction to what he was proposing-cum-ordering, because he knew my head could and would move in both directions. I’m proud of that (book forthcoming some day, I promise), and while I’m sure many thought I was conflicted internally, the truth is I rather enjoyed being in that place at that time. Never try to judge what somebody’s thinking on the inside by his or her outside performance or circumstances.

Nobody ever asked me about my politics at CBN; it was simply assumed, and I count the many wonderful discussions – and even debates – with remarkable thinkers while there as one of the greatest joys of my life. You’ve probably never heard the name, but Herb Titus has one of the most remarkable minds of the late 20th Century. We often had super intellectual thinkers on the program, and I had the chance to learn from each of them. Dr. Benjamin Mays, for example, on what’s wrong with youth today:

“Because we are so extraordinarily afraid to let them experience the same hard times that helped shape our own character.”

American Thinker Logo image

“American Thinker”

That’s a long path to introduce you to a publication you’ve probably never encountered but that I often enjoy, American Thinker. It’s a conservative “think” publication, and since the reason for much of my writing is the challenging of assumptions, it’s a great place to do just that. Can my/your arguments that are counter to contemporary conservative positions stand up to genuine and passionate intellectual scrutiny? I find this a good place to bounce things around in my mind. I was doing this recently, when I came upon a fascinating argument about the currency of envy in a piece called, “Obama and the Infernal Serpent, by Jeffrey Folks, a prolific writer and conservative thinker from Knoxville, TN.

Mr. Folks charges President Obama and all Democrats with “wealth envy,” something he decries as evil and contrary to both the ancients and Christian literature. His opening statement reveals the flaw in this logic. “Envy of the rich,” he writes, “is actually one of the seven ‘deadly sins,’ according to Christian belief.” I’m sorry, but the phrase “of the rich” isn’t something I can find in my studies of those seven deadly sins. But he goes on:

The ancients understood envy better than we do today. Envy was always associated with snakes because it is a destructive emotion that creeps into one’s heart. It is sluggish, gradually overturning one’s nobler feelings and replacing them with venomous hatred. Like our current occupant of the White House, whose speeches have become harsher as the campaign draws on, envy is ruthless and unsmiling.

Once unleashed, envy knows no bounds. It slithers into men’s hearts, poisoning their relationship to others, destroying families, ruining friendships, and making the governance of society impossible. That is what has now been unleashed in America. Employing the tactics of Saul Alinsky, Obama approaches every political problem with the intent of isolating his target and exploiting the destructive emotions of envy and distrust.

All of Obama’s talk about “fairness” is nothing but an attempt to gin up a sense of grievance and exploit it for his own purposes. The rich should be taxed more, he says, not because it would bring in more revenue or because they are not taxed enough already, but because they need to be punished. We hate them because they have succeeded and we have not. Even 2,800 years ago, that kind of populist demagoguery was understood to be dangerous.

I love words like “envy,” concepts that human beings have struggled with since the beginning. We seldom talk about these kinds of things, preferring instead to leave that to the clergy, “where it belongs.” That’s a shame, because concepts such as this undergird many other things that we do talk about, and the dangerous assumption in those conversations is that we all agree on the properties, practices and consequences of such big ideas. When was the last time you thought about the role that envy plays in your life, or in anybody else’s life?

This is the kind of 30,000 foot, big thought process that often drives conservative thinking. I find it fascinating, because while I find his conclusion erroneous, Mr. Folks isn’t stupid, illiterate, or full of crap. He’s followed the thing back to word root origins, and has put his honest and sincere beliefs out there for anybody to read. If you want into the collective mind of conservative intelligentsia, you must occasionally drift into this kind of reasoning, because a logical path that produces illogical results has to begin at a twisted point. Challenging arguments on this level will help your results in debating all contemporary issues, because these underlie and provide motivation for arguments that many miss, because they simply don’t see it. But here we have it, spelled out for us by a very smart fellow.

I wish no disrespect to Mr. Folks or any of the people at American Thinker, but his argument avoids one very important piece of ancient literature in order to arrive at its conclusion. Finally – and forgive me – I have reached the point of this treatise. To accuse Mr. Obama of “wealth envy” disregards the role of envy in the amassed fortunes of those wealthy people that Democrats are alleged to envy and even hate. As much as Mr. Folks believes the President’s words to be “populist demagoguery,” he is himself engaging in a non-populist form of demagoguery, one that appeals to those who are rich, the ones the Democrats are supposed to envy.

The book of Ecclesiastes is clear on this matter.

4:4 – “And I saw that all labor and all achievement springs from man’s envy of his neighbor.”

So here, the author, presumed to be King Solomon himself, notes that in his observations of life, he’s discovered that human achievement (skill at work) has its roots in envy, which puts a different spin on the use of the word to disrespect only one swath of the political spectrum. The rich exploit envy and are filled with it themselves, for the competition to have the biggest this or that or more of this or that is, in fact, an expression of envy. Moreover, envy flows through every pore of those inside the velvet rope, those who wield power and influence and work to keep others outside its lure of being in control or even “in the know.” How hypocritical is it, then, to argue that one’s envy is the evil “infernal serpent” while another’s is simply dismissed as irrelevant, pointless or worse, not a part of the argument whatsoever?

Wealth envy, it seems, is the flip side of the coin of position envy and very much the same thing. The carrot and the stick is a good thing to those in power, because they are the ones holding the stick. This is not only envy; it’s a form of every one of those seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth. Those chasing the illusive carrot are rarely allowed to get it, and when some do, they are held up as examples of now envy works for the good of all.

Mr. Folks goes on:

All of Obama’s talk about “fairness” is nothing but an attempt to gin up a sense of grievance and exploit it for his own purposes. The rich should be taxed more, he says, not because it would bring in more revenue or because they are not taxed enough already, but because they need to be punished. We hate them because they have succeeded and we have not.

This is the logical conclusion of thinking that begins in the wrong place, and it’s rampant among today’s popular conservative intelligentsia. It’s not that the rich believe themselves better than others; it’s that they believe they can be different than others (e.g. above others), because they’ve earned the right to be so. This is the existential battle between conservatives and liberals, and arguments justifying either position aren’t helped by logic that begins in the wrong zipcode.

By being classified as one of the seven deadly sins, envy is, therefore, a part of human nature and present in us all, not just one group. At the very root of colonialism, for example, is the envy of resources, and justification for seizing such resources in the name of God is a sham disguised as nobility. All colonialist institutions are corrupt in this way, and the protection of one’s place within the hierarchy is likewise self-centered. The French saying noblesse oblige (nobility obligates) undergirds the community chest, but is it really not today simply a tax exemption?

I don’t claim to understand rich people. I grew up in the home of a World War II veteran who settled back home in Michigan as a worker in the furniture factories. We were Adlai Stevenson supporters in the 50s, which carried with it a natural disdain for the “silk stockings” of the old GOP. “Fringe” in the GOP these days points to religious zealotry, but in my youth, it was more about the party of management, corporations, and the wealthy. Today, the religious right is a clever straw man thrown at the opposition and a recruiting tool for the “real” GOP – the fat cats of my dad’s era.

I’m in that 30% tax bracket, and I can’t help but cringe upon hearing that a guy like Mitt Romney doesn’t pay more that 13%. The “deadly sin” that I’m feeling, therefore, is anger, not envy, and there’s a big difference. I don’t want his 13%, because I honestly feel that paying my fair share is just that, fair. Would I like to pay less? Sure, but not at the expense of others, because I really do think we’re all in this together. And what I find illogical is that anything that justifies such a discrepancy is, on its face, contrary to the best interests of the whole.

Jeffrey Folks represents a part of our culture that judges the motives of others based on its own character defects. It’s human to envy others, especially those who have the whirling, sparkly things the have-nots don’t. But it’s foolish (and sloppy thinking) to assume that this has anything to do with the real motives of those who exist beyond the iron gates that separate one from the other. Out here, it’s about survival, not the easy life.

Remember, the Morlocks didn’t envy the Eloi; they ate them.