Christianity’s Big Branding Problem

Editor’s Note: This was first published five years ago in the Huffington Post.

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Courtesy David Hayward, The Naked Pastor

Dear Christians,

I’m writing to you today to discuss a very serious matter. Your brand — and especially the realm of Evangelicalism — has been hi-jacked by extremists who are using it to advance political theories that have nothing to do with your beliefs. You may not have had anything to do with it personally, but this thievery has taken place right in front of you. It has been sinister and systematic, and we’ve arrived at a confused place today where the brand is now interchangeable with the extreme political right. I played a role in this maneuvering during the 1980s as the executive producer of Pat Robertson’s flagship TV program The 700 Club. Please bear with me as I attempt to explain.

The 1980s was the era that launched Christianity as a Republican political force. It has grown over the subsequent years and eventually energized the election of Donald Trump. Noted theologian Roger Olsen recalled for a blog commenter the very moment he realized what was happening.

For me the “tipping point” (almost driving me insane) was when television talk show hosts began inviting Jerry Falwell and his ilk onto their programs to speak for all evangelicals. Donahue, King, et al. Why didn’t they have moderate-to-progressive evangelicals on their shows to speak for evangelicalism? Because moderate-to-progressive evangelicals didn’t interest them. We speak with too many syllables and too much ambiguity. They wanted demagoguery, bluster, extremism. The fundamentalists calling themselves evangelicals provided it. Many evangelicals fell into line with this trend as did many fundamentalists. I am one of the few “hold outs” from the older, truer evangelicalism that refused and still refuses to go along with that narrative.

So the initial hijacking of the brand was the work of a powerful few, but it was aided in great part by a news media in search of cultural “sides” to explain conflicts between the right and the left. And this, of course, had to be done in a manner that would produce ratings or enhance readership. Hence, Dr. Olsen’s “tipping point.” Denominational Christianity was shoved aside by those who taught their flocks that political participation was a major tenet of living the Christian life. It didn’t matter that the GOP was the party of the wealthy, their “traditional values” synced so well with the faith that it was easy to convince Christian voters to support them — in fact, “become” them — and in so doing move conservatism even farther to the right through fundamentalist extremes.

They preach what I call the Gospel of Self, a self-betterment, self-improvement theology that can’t help but produce behavior contrary to the faith. Let’s face it: self is the very thing that must be overcome in the Christian tradition, not the building up of ourselves up so that we can run the world around us. That is called “idolatry,” and we all know the warnings about that. The voice reminds me of the voice who said, “tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” We need to restore the brand to its rightful place, or Christian evangelism will become nothing more than a useless attempt to protect our own asses from a future of hellfire and damnation. We will continue to push people away and lose those from our flocks that are weary of what they see as hypocrisy. We need to let God be God, and put a stop to this damnable crusade for power and influence within the culture. I believe there are a great many who see this as contrary to the Great Commission but don’t know what to do about it.

Chris Hedges is a longtime critic of this behavior speaks to it once again in a piece called “Trump and the Christian Fascists:”

“These believers … detest the reality-based world. They condemn it as contaminated, decayed and immoral. This world took their jobs. It destroyed their future. It ruined their communities. It doomed their children. It flooded their lives with alcohol, opioids, pornography, sexual abuse, jail sentences, domestic violence, deprivation and despair. And then, from the depths of suicidal despair, they suddenly discovered that God has a plan for them. God will save them. God will intervene in their lives to promote and protect them. God has called them to carry out his holy mission in the world and to be rich, powerful and happy.”

It is the Gospel of Self. How to create satisfaction for yourself and your family in this life while fighting the battles of God in the political arena. This is the antithesis of what Jesus taught in the gospels.

“The just shall live by faith” is the very foundation of protestantism. God is not mocked, and all who call themselves “Christian” know in their hearts that faith doesn’t include what’s in front of us in our culture. God judges these things and acts upon him as the natural has always done the unnatural, and we need faith in order to let that happen without trying to move things along under our own power. Life’s usual method of dealing with our dissatisfaction is to keep pouring it on until we learn to truly trust Him, not our ability to do battle ourselves in hopes of “winning” a more comfortable living in this life. Don’t think that’s the way it works? Start praying for patience and watch what happens. We simply aren’t promised a peaceful neighborhood, a sinless, well-managed, and questionless society, or any other utopian fantasy that is trouble free for those of us supposedly in the know. What happened to our understanding that the corrupt nature of humankind is a trap for those who believe we have control over anything. We were promised that the poor would always be with us, and it’s by our reaction to and our treatment of those who live under poverty’s harsh taskmaster that we are judged. We cannot earn ourselves a rose garden no matter how badly we want one. That kind of justification would not be of faith anyway, so why do we try so hard to make ourselves feel so very special. Moreover, why do we attempt to force others to embrace that specialness?

“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch,” the Bible tells us. There is no reference to denomination, doctrine, or dogma, because the term referred to the way those pioneers lived and taught others to live, their overriding behavior being the piety they displayed. They loved one another. Noah Webster, of the dictionary fame, was certainly a Christian and defined the term thusly in his 1828 dictionary, the one we all use when trying to understand terms used in documents of that era:

CHRISTIAN, noun 1. A believer in the religion of Christ. 2. A professor of his belief in the religion of Christ. 3. A real disciple of Christ; one who believes in the truth of the christian religion, and studies to follow the example, and obey the precepts, of Christ; a believer in Christ who is characterized by real piety. 4. In a general sense, the word Christians includes all who are born in a christian country or of christian parents.

So Noah Webster didn’t even come close to defining the brand by its position within the culture other than to identify piety with the term. And just so we understand number three, let’s also ask Mr. Webster to define “piety:”

PI’ETY, noun [Latin pietas, from pius, or its root, probably a contracted word.] Piety in principle, is a compound of veneration or reverence of the Supreme Being and love of his character, or veneration accompanied with love; and piety in practice, is the exercise of these affections in obedience to his will and devotion to his service.

In all things as Christians, Jesus is our model, our example, our Lord, and the author of grace. If we have questions about any issue or behavior, we can look to Him for ourselves and not be dependent on what the preacher says or any so-called expert. This was the great cultural disruption in the West brought about by Gutenberg’s printing of the Bible with the first printing press. That invention — along with common English translations of the book — decimated the unquestioned power of Rome and spread that power across the land. So began the enlightenment, protestantism, and ultimately colonialism and a modern world governed by logic and reason.

Christians are still a great throng in the world, one represented as a tapestry of different practices and branches with no one granted the authority to proclaim themselves or anyone else the “real” Christians. Various creeds have been written to help better define our specific beliefs, although we cannot escape the truth that these were written by men. Some will insist that these men were guided by the Holy Spirit and therefore sanctified in God’s eyes, but fallen man is fallen man, and if we really believe that, it’s hard to blindly trust any such reasoning. I would argue, in fact, that we’ve used those creeds and such to create neat boxes within which we can place people who disagree with us, and that is not piety, not even close.

The natural inclination of children to love others is relentlessly “cleansed” by “Christian” parents eager to bring them into their separatist, nationalist folds, and the harm done in so doing is incalculable. Even within families, members who refuse to walk according to the beliefs of the patriarch or matriarch are privately and even publicly ostracized. Children grow up and become adults, and in many denominations, that means they leave, and, according to Pew, the “unchurched” population is growing at a pace unexperienced in times past. These young people are deeply turned off, and yet their antagonizers continue to loudly profess the very moral hypocrisy they see as they’re growing up. Lectures and disapproval are often tied to sexual activities and thoughts, thought to be immoral in the profession of many churches.

However, morality doesn’t begin and end with sex. It just doesn’t, yet these extremists argue morality entirely around the sex act. Abortion isn’t about killing babies; it’s about sex. If it were not, then why don’t these vocal Christians support birth control? The churches don’t talk about the statistics. Did you know that the abortion rate in the U.S. is back to where it was before Roe v Wade? It’s not a legal issue, and it never was. It’s about sex and the extremist view that the act is evil unless somehow made clean by the church’s sanctification through marriage. Gay marriage. Homosexuality. Transgenderism. They’re all about sex. We think it makes God angry, and we don’t want to get caught up in that anger, so we rail against any sexual practice outside marriage between a man and a woman. We claim God is judging the world for this, and yet the Bible points out that Sodom wasn’t destroyed for its sexual sins but rather for its failure to take care of the poor and the afflicted. One is free, therefore, to ask that if God is indeed judging today, who exactly is He judging? Perhaps the very church attendees who plead the morality message at every turn.

That’s a very dangerous practice, because morality is a much, much broader matter. It includes, among other things, obscene CEO salaries, oppression of workers through poor wages and conditions, opposition to welfare, insider trading, tax loopholes, flouting avarice, and removing government programs that protect the poor and the afflicted. How Christian people can side with such immorality is the great mystery of the Twenty-First Century, but it begins with those who have seized the brand and run with it.

I use the words “Christian brand,” because it’s a marketing problem. We need to see it as such, if there’s to be any hope of correcting the extreme shifting of Christianity far to the political right. And if this is to be, then we need to create faith-based arguments about it and spread those far and wide. Political debates today are required to be entertaining, and that means extremes going at each other. Let’s take that debate into the church, for debating in the public square is quite useless. Let’s not be afraid to confront questions of mixing theology and politics from the pulpit, in our Bible studies, and in our homes.

The only thing wrong with error, after all, is the contempt it breeds for those who would disagree, usually without investigation. We’re better than that, aren’t we?

Dear Parents and Grandparents

The Scroggins Family of St. Louis

I want to speak to you here as a person with a peculiar study focus. I don’t know why or how, but I’m able to see what appears obvious to me, the birth and growth of the Postmodern Era in human history. Modernity with its logical systems focus has painted itself into a corner and must give way to the new. As modernity was birthed in the printing press, postmodernity was conceived and delivered from the womb of the web. I do not speak of philosophical postmodernism, but rather the changing of the eras in history. The mantra of modernity is “I think and reason, therefore I understand” but it has changed to “I participate, therefore I understand.”

Are you with me?

We must be able to see what’s coming in terms of the big things as this era develops further. We may not be around for the payoff that our children and grandchildren will experience, but there are ways we can equip ourselves to help them today, beginning with an acknowledgement that life is definitely changing. It’s super important for them to participate, even though we’re making this up as we go along.

We are all connected now. That means I can connect directly and sideways with everybody else or just a select few. This is something completely new, and we can’t even image how much life on earth is being and will be changed as a result.

First, a warning. You either do this for them, or somebody else — with less concern for their individuality — will do it for them, and this is not a best practice for tomorrow.

Even to the young man, let’s say, who’s only interested in working in the trades, either for somebody or as an independent contractor, even he will sink or swim on his ability to use the network effectively. It’s the way of future competition, and nobody will be exempt.

Our digital identities will actually be more important than what we know under the sun, and this is where we can help our progeny.

  • Equip them before they are even able to help themselves. Buy domains. Secure usernames. Sit with them and help them develop their online IDs. If they don’t control their own brands, someone else will do it for them.
  • Show them the dangers, but don’t dwell on it, for it’s their creativity that needs tapping more than their security needs protecting.
  • Teach them about links and how everything is linked together. Links are the currency of the web, and you need to teach them why. These links teach a practical lesson in deconstructionism, something that is of enormous value in helping our children shape their lives. It must be taught early and often.
  • Do not discourage their involvement in video games, because they teach mental and manual dexterity and mind-to-finger channeling, skills they will likely need downstream.
  • Teach them to avoid being herded into traps by the lust of their own eyes.
  • Buy a generator for your home, so you can teach the value of being prepared for anything.
  • Show them that their attention is the only real scarcity in the commerce that’s being brought into existence, and as Kevin Kelly says, “We should be paid for it.” This means that postmodern advertising will seek out customers and pay them to watch their ads. The logic of this is solid, but feathers will be ruffled in the process of its development.
  • Teach them to back-up their work before they go to bed at night. Use a form of a server in your home that can serve as storage and back-up for everything.
  • Put searchable books in your digital library, including everything they’ll need for school and the interests that they display.
  • Get them private lessons in Google/YouTube, coding, Photoshop, WordPress, and social media. There are people in your community who will do this on any level you wish.
  • Teach them to think of school as a place where they can practice their branding, to not be swayed by eyes that are being exposed to cultural fads and stereotypes. Just keep them pressing forwards.
  • Show them that the more dependent we become on electricity, the more vulnerable are EMP weapons. Personal protection against such will be a thriving business downstream. Think “shielding” or similar responses.
  • Teach them all you can about human nature, and how it doesn’t change in the digital world. Teach them to study the whys of human nature, which will open the door to better understanding motive. A certain degree of cynicism is healthy, because they will certainly be exposed to propaganda in their search for truth. Teach them discernment.
  • Personal branding belongs to each and every person on the block, and it’s perhaps the most important subject to learn while growing up.
  • Do not forsake teaching them grammar and good English, for technology is still learning nuance.
  • Teach them the true nature of God, for God is most certainly One who participates with us in our everyday lives and provides an internal governor for our behavior.

No matter how much modernist people insist that IRL is better than URL, we’re learning in the 21st-Century that the efficiencies of URL render much of life to be wasteful. Take the current kerfuffle over the Post Office and mail-in ballots. Do you honestly think we can’t eventually create a secure voting system online? The web may lose some of its anonymity, but would that really be all that bad?

I see the day when the opportunities of the web vastly outweigh concerns from our old ways of doing things. We will listen to the naysayers and thank them for their concern, but we must never put them in charge.

Modernity is done; long live the Age of Participation.

The Ongoing Hoax of Fox News

Senator Doug Jones
Will the Alabama press paint Doug Jones as a liberal?

Let’s try this again.

Observers of the press in 2020 can be excused for their misrepresentation of Fox News, because it flows from their predictable understanding of the news business: that stories in the press rightly contain the many voices representing the issue being examined. That the mainstream even regards Fox as part of today’s news ecosystem is a significant error, for Fox News doesn’t fit the news paradigm, because its behavior represents itself as a mouthpiece for the political right. Despite its “Fair and Balanced” slogan, Fox News has no need to represent other views, because the “balance” it allegedly supplies is juxtapositioned against the purported bias of the mainstream press as a whole.

Everybody got that?

This is exactly what we did in the 1980s at The 700 Club. We positioned ourselves and our bias as on the same level as everybody else in the press, but with one huge exception. We, like Fox, felt we were providing the “balance” that the mainstream refused to provide, because they were biased in favor of liberalism. The latter, of course, was routinely proven false, but propaganda has no need of or respect for the truth.

Read these next words VERY carefully. The news business is based on what’s new, which includes both ideas and practices within our generally progressive/evolving culture. It’s not rocket science to understand that the word “news” involves that which is new. Those who only wish to protect the status quo certainly have voices within the framework of reporting something “new,” but those voices don’t have the authority to present people simply doing their jobs as representing their political opponents. This is very useful for the extremists, who need to present the press as an outside agitator or key facilitator of the evil they boast about defeating.

This forces the mainstream press into a box convenient for the political right, because the press can do nothing but play defense. It’s especially the case when the right drags out the “fake” news paintbrush. Logical fallacies abound, but there’s nothing the press can do about it, so long as they wish to be called the press.

And, here’s where the thought line gets murky, because professional journalism has its own deception to deal with, one that clouds everything regarding the press in 2020.

We used to think those many voices could be presented within individual stories. Balance, we called it. Fairness. All “sides” included in stories relevant to these varying voices. It was known as “objectivity,” the gift of Walter Lippmann’s “professional” journalism of the early 20th Century. That’s right; it’s only 100 years old.

However, as historian Christopher Lasch so brilliantly noted in his 1990 essay “The Lost Art of Political Argument,” thus began the detachment of the people from the political process. As this professional press grew, involvement in the political process by Americans declined, and not only that, but another consequence was we lost our ability to form arguments. The press did it for us, and this was viewed as progress.

Read further into Lasch’s essay, however, and you come across the real intent of all this, which was to create a sterile environment for the sale of advertising. That’s right. Commerce giants didn’t want their brands soiled by acquaintance with dirty politics, so Lippmann’s views became mainstream. Moreover — and this is the important point — it empowered the tactics of public relations, as envisioned by Lippmann’s Creel Committee cohort, Edward Bernays.

Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, had sneaky and psychologically-based ideas about how a small group of men (this was 100 years ago) could manipulate public opinion through what he called “propaganda.”

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

Propaganda, by Edward Bernays

The ideas of propaganda have been with humankind for several centuries, but it was the space created by the professional press that boosted it to prominence. After all, the essence of mass media is that a single entity can reach great throngs of people, and the 20th Century — with its industrial revolution — was a great test tube for experimenters like Edward Bernays. His access to significant resources (such as money from the tobacco industry, one of Bernays’ initial clients) allowed him to manipulate mass numbers of people.

So the effort to position right-wing propaganda against the mainstream press was really just clever public relations, because these deliberately biased organizations don’t really belong within the body of what we know of as “the press.” This is likely fine with the perpetrators of this false witness, because it served the special interests — a.k.a. the aristocracy, a.k.a. the silk stockings, a.k.a. corporate masters — in their wishes to escape government regulators or cultural responsibilities to the communities they serve. “Noblesse oblige” has gone the way of the Dodo bird, for today’s aristocracy is only interested in themselves.

I will quote John Milton at every turn: “License they mean when they cry ‘liberty’.”

As Pat Robertson taught me, “If I’m playing the position of fullback, and the announcer calls me a halfback, that’s not MY fault; it’s the ignorance of the announcer.” This kind of thinking, we believed, gave us license to call ourselves whatever WE thought was proper. So, the heck with those pesky announcers (cultural observers).

It’s also easy to understand that the press is exasperated with this turn of events, because it’s gone beyond a case of simple political positioning; the radical right is exceptionally skilled at propaganda and no longer wishes to be just a “side” in some observer’s reporting. No, their clear “want” is to always be the player with the most marbles and to keep others (meaning those who are different) out of their inner ring. Call it racism, xenophobia, classism, or whatever you wish, but an economy that serves only the top 1% simply isn’t sustainable absent a bayonet at everybody else’s back. And that, my friends, isn’t liberty; it’s totalitarianism. No wonder Donald Trump envies Valdimir Putin.

Here in Alabama, the demonizing of Conservative Democratic Senator Doug Jones has begun, and his race for the Senate against newly-minted candidate Tommy Tuberville (a former football coach at Auburn, of all things) has all the earmarks of a unilateral attack on the character of a real servant of the people. What qualifies Tuberville? He supports Donald Trump and was a way for him to get revenge on Jeff Sessions for what Trump believes was a betrayal. They’re trying to present Jones as a liberal, which is hilarious to those who pay attention, and it’ll be very interesting to view how the Alabama press responds. I think we already know what Fox “News” will present, as well as the many lesser known Fox wannabes that exist here.

That’s how it goes with propagandists, those bearers of false witness demanding license for the 1%.

I’ll keep you posted.

BONUS LINK: The Underlying Fallacy of Fox News

Can/will the Virus Open Eyes?

The deception that is Fox News grows more dangerous to our republic as time passes and more and more people are bathed in the lie that it is a news organization. It is warping our sense of unity and pitting American versus American at a scale that wasn’t even present during the Civil War. Add to this the omnipresence of so-called “conservative” commentators who mix news events with their propaganda, and we have a monster storm against “peace and good will” on this Easter weekend.

Well, Terry, but they’re no different than those on the other side of the aisle.

And this, my friends, is the essence of the lie. It’s perhaps too late to fix it, but let me explain.

The news doesn’t care about political affiliation. It is neutral in that sense, because it’s always based upon that which is “new.” If “new” drives the news agenda, “old” drives the conservative point-of-view. This was evident in Donald Trump’s Make America Great AGAIN slogan. We can’t go back as a culture, and everybody should know this, for to run with a perspective that pushes only the good from yesteryear without considering the alternate pressures that were also in play is foolishness gone-to-seed.

Political coverage is certainly a part of any “news” agenda, but only to the extent that news organizations can speak to new events or trends in informing their audiences. It’s very easy to accuse, but when the accusation is required to justify one’s own existence, it ceases to be relevant to the very concept of news. Simply stated, it’s just propaganda. Contemporary marketing is very often a form of propaganda, foisted upon us in the name of commerce. The same is true with conservative “olds”, and that’s the point.

If news organizations spent as much time trying to shape those thoughts as they are accused of doing, we would have left-wing propaganda groups sharing their views in the form of news. We don’t, and ANY attempt to shape a narrative that says otherwise is pure and self-serving folly. It’s simply absurd, so the argument that “both sides do it” is specious, at best. Survey any group of citizens, however, and this is exactly what they’ve been taught to believe, namely that the news industry’s players are either left or right. Nonsense, and I know, because I was there when we created the concept of “conservative news” in the early 1980s at the Christian Broadcasting Network. We wrote the playbook that Fox copied.

A key part of this effort was to position ourselves alongside existing news organizations and claim that a liberal bias was the same thing as liberal propaganda. Hence, we saw no problem with presenting our conservative propaganda as a participant on the same level as CBS, ABC, and NBC. We spent our money on technology and especially graphics to make ourselves look no different than the rest. We were selling this to an audience ripe for the taking by stating our abhorrence with what we felt was a satanic effort to destroy America.

Conservatism is not at all associated with the news except to provide a “side” to developing stories. News organizations have an ethical governor that demands presentation of all sides in any issue relating to political points of view. The organization itself has no political point-of-view, except perhaps from their editorial boards. As anybody who has worked in the news business knows, there is a vast separation between a news organization’s newsroom and its editorial side. But ownership is ownership, and there are plenty of stories of owner pet projects that find their way into the content presented.

The point is that the bias of news is towards that which is new, and if that is seen as political, the only response can be propaganda. It cannot be expressed as “news”, because that would require a bias towards something else. It also requires looking the other way when events — take, for example, the gender identification movement or political correctness — weaken or destroy its propaganda. Again, this is why we cannot use the term “news” in describing something that isn’t “news”.

I was ridiculed and mocked during a talk about this subject with a group of Colorado right-wingers. When it got too uncomfortable for them, they retreated to the gospel to end the discussion. Open minds, these were not. I knew that going in, but the overwhelming and defensive response revealed that the matter is far more important to their worldview than most observers really imagine. Why else use the Bible to talk back to me, the former Executive Producer of the TV program that created the thing in the first place?

This is why I often reference religion in my writing. White evangelical Christians are completely convinced of their righteousness in this or any other argument.

Methinks they doth protest too much.

The Re-Rise of the Newsletter

The professional news industry is being forced to return to its roots by a world it doesn’t — and probably never will — fully understand. It began with the industry’s initial response to the digital disruption, which was to reproduce its entire finished product for the web. The web, however, wasn’t built by newspapers; it was built by highly creative and rebellious geeks who changed the world without the status quo telling them it needed changing.

The web was a brand new communications invention, not a new distribution channel for old ways of doing things, and in missing this truth, the industry was completely lost. The newspaper people wanted to present their finished product online, but the geeks knew from the start that this was inefficient and a cheap substitute for what was possible.

Blog software, with its reverse chronological flow, came first, quickly followed by ways to distribute content apart from its host. Social media is, at core, the news “audience” talking amongst themselves, which was contrary to the top-down relationship that the press had with its readers. The shift to mobile brought new challenges, the biggest being a playing field built around scrolling and video in portrait mode. News drifted away from the finished product variety and into the world of continuous news.

Of course, the biggest disruptor by far was how advertising was changing to adapt to the new, and a realization that smart marketers could provide ads at the browser level and based on the behaviors of that browser. This offered a much greater likelihood of advertiser return-on-investment. History books will cite this as causing the death of newspapers, but it’s really more a case of ignorance, for newspapers still lack the technology and the networks to provide this to local advertisers. The industry has ceded defeat to Google without even firing a shot.

And, now comes the newest era of the email newsletter, a technology that’s been around since the dawn of email but generally only used to provide links to the industry’s “real” content online. The shift today, however, includes those who give the energy it takes to produce actual content for newsletters, and it’s a godsend to overwhelmed news consumers. This trend is going to continue until a company’s online newsletter will become the primary method that news organizations use to disseminate news and information.

People can pass them around, which often results in new subscribers.

The first trader newsletters during the Middle Ages — actual letters from observers in far away places — were the precursor to the newspaper industry. Wikipedia notes that “Trader’s newsletters covered various topics such as the availability and pricing of goods, political news, and other events that would influence trade.” This is the essence of today’s developing process, and it suits not only the web’s unique abilities but also that most precious of earthly commodities: time.

I’ll be 74 this summer, and I spend most of my days online in an endless search for knowledge. Even with all that time, I still feel uninformed, because studying modern times is like trying to take a sip from a firehose. It’s the primary reason I’ve turned to newsletters. They’re out there; you just have to find them. Here are five newsletters that hit my inbox overnight or every morning:

The New York Times: While this is primarily a tool to “drive traffic” back to its newspaper site, the content is growing to include small story summaries throughout. It’s a way to follow the Times without subscribing to its main product.

Mondoweiss: I have family of Palestinians that lived in Amman, Jordan for a great many years, so my window on the Middle East is a little different than most. I don’t trust the Israeli’s, and I need an outlet that understands this. Mondoweiss is a terrific example of a point-of-view news organization that represents an extreme minority in the West. I need that to stay informed.

Dave Winer: Dave is one of the real gems in providing important technology news in a highly conversational format. I also really like Dave as a person, and his takes on life in general also give me food for thought. Dave’s is a constant voice on Twitter, and he uses his newsletter to summarize those thoughts. Moreover, and this is important, Dave is always a yard ahead of everybody else, and if he’s taking the trouble to produce a newsletter, it’s something that requires my attention.

Mathew Ingram: Mathew provides summaries and links to the stories he finds important. I trust Mathew and lean on his understanding to help my own.

Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy: CNN’s Reliable Sources is (by a mile) the most useful contemporary newsletter in the market today. It is the model for others to copy, for it’s loaded with content written for readers of the newsletter. What a concept! Oh, it contains marketing and links, but it is written to be read, and the summaries are specifically aimed at people such as myself and all of those who just don’t have the time to invest in reading complete stories.

There are many others out there, and I’ll probably be extending my subscription list as I find those suited to my tastes. The point is that I get to decide what I wish to influence my thinking, not the forced and irritating offerings of the artificial and manipulative hegemony known as objectivity. That old standard disappeared with the advent of continuous streams of news. Journalism has always spoken with the authority of overseers, which is the luxury afforded to those who could afford a printing press. Today, every single person on the net is a media company and able to distribute their content just like the big boys.

To those who would drag out the ol’ echo chamber meme to accuse me of circular logic, let me state once again that my experience in helping to create right wing news means that I know that it’s just political propaganda disguised as news. Give me a little credit for that tidbit, because I’ve already turned the page on it.

If you don’t subscribe to newsletters, my advice is to begin today. Click on the links I’ve provided, if you’re interested in those. If you find yourself being fed content that you find bitter or tasteless, unsubscribing is just a click away.

To those in the news industry, if you don’t produce a newsletter, what are you waiting for? The only rules are that it can’t be a vehicle that merely “drives traffic” back to its point of origin, and ads should be presented as content, perhaps even written by the newsletter’s author(s).

The right plays offense; the left always plays defense.

Image result for sitting on a fence

In the world of politics, the idea of a comfortable fence between the right and the left is an illusion, as is the insistence that there’s a sizable “middle”. That’s because when it comes to campaigning’s end, voters have to pick one or the other, even while splitting tickets. This is the only way in which the right and the left are the same.

The right plays offense while the defensive unit for the left is always on the field.

In the realm of convictions, expectations, and faith, the right and the left are polar opposites. The right is all about business and wealth, and their justification comes from a misinterpretation of Biblical promises regarding prosperity. Thusly, the right argues against taxes for the rich — those who allegedly create jobs for everybody else — and regulations for businesses. Its litmus test is presented as favorable to white evangelicals, but it’s actually always the degree to which candidates for government are business-friendly.

The left is a consortium of special interests fighting discrimination, gender equality, poverty, global warming, and a check on the extremes of business without regulation. The “both the same” tag, however, is meant to dismiss deplorable behavior in matters such as corporate benefactors, fundraising, and electioneering. After all, if they’re all the same, then sleaze is just a normal part of the political process in the U.S., and it doesn’t matter which party you pick. The fact that one party says it far more often than the other, however, speaks loudly about the behavior that party is trying to blur.

Thusly, the suggestion that all politicians and political parties are identical entities and that they “all do the same things” benefits the right far more than it does the left. For one thing, it originates with the right, because it obliterates viable resistance to corporations who would rather have a perfectly stable environment within which to do commerce (e.g. Make America Great Again) than one that is constantly changing. The right is very vocal about this and is in a regular game of offense while stating it. When this offense steps out-of-bounds, there is no penalty flag, so the process is repeated ad infinitum. This effort is organized, focused, and coördinated, which is often not the case for the Democrats.

The left sees this relentless posturing as an attack, so their defensive unit is always on the field. It is into this stadium that the flag of “all the same” flies, because it so easily hides the truth that they are not.

It’s a specious statement, because at core the two groups function so differently that the narrative has to fall apart. To get where we are today, the right forced the comparison with the Clintons and then Barack Obama, and the left allowed them to get away with it. As long as the left lets others define them, then the right will always win. This is the great weakness of the Democratic Party. Each element of the left is its own individual institution or social movement, all of whom must work together to produce a force large enough to win elections. While it could be said that these disparate groups have much in common, each’s bottom line is different, so fitting everybody into one, tightly-focused message is much more difficult.

The right has always been comprised of the wealthy and especially those in business, especially the defense industry. The 1% is a very small, hierarchical group, so consensus is fairly easy to establish. Whatever is best for them is what drives Republicans. Of course, because they represent so few, the party must offer bones to a few groups with numbers, but the NRA, white evangelical Christians, Wall Street players, and the fearful don’t call the shots. These groups are only needed for the voters they bring, and if any ever decided to walk away, it would create quite a crisis for the right. This is why business interests will often be cloaked as “for the people” through the use of propaganda, euphemism, oxymorons, such as “clean coal”, and especially outright lies.

With Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and other white guys calling the shots, it’s pretty easy to see that the “right” has its marching orders from a white, hierarchical “top.” The RNC is focused, and the Republican Party platform we’ll get this summer will be one that caters to the extreme wealthy and is hard on the have-nots. Oh, it’ll have the right words to support Trump’s fanatical Christian base, but the point is the Republican Party is governed from the top in a way that is not at all similar to the Democrats.

In this sense, Democratic issues are too small to compete with the grand narratives shouted by the right. One illustration is the term “political correctness,” with which the right can tag the whole party when it’s actually only important to those dealing with gender identity, minority communities, and some women’s issues. Political correctness is not a plank of the Democratic Party platform, but the tag sticks, because nobody will come out and say it doesn’t. The right suggests they are the party of real men, those who hunt and fish, dominate their family units, and are generally considered the smarter of the two genders. I assure you there are “real” men in the Democratic Party, but again, if nobody challenges the assumption, then it will default to the position of truth. To the right, women are here for their real men. Their women are touted as more beautiful than those on the left, and they’re certainly sexier and more playful. The obsession that Fox News has for blondes is simply a reflection of the whole party. Blondes in red dresses are hot, but women on the left wear only pants or dull outfits. Again, this is all carefully orchestrated so as to provide both direct and subliminal evidence that they are somehow better than those ugly, nasty, and whiny bitches from the left. Do not underestimate this, for the images shared with the media of glamorous Republican women — yes, even those who qualify as trophy wives — are calculated and purposeful, for what girl wouldn’t aspire to be just like them (wink, wink)?

We practiced this same form of manipulation when I was producer of The 700 Club. The idea was to recruit beautiful people through the presentation that beautiful people followed Jesus Christ. This was a response to ground-breaking research that revealed America’s true thoughts about white evangelical Christians. Our job was to present the opposite in the hope that we could break through the negative images that people held about Christians.

As of this writing, the GOP’s 2020 tactics include tagging every Democrat as a socialist. This accomplishes several things. It redefines progressive by making it seem extreme. There is no useful comeback for the label. It paints every Democratic Party plank as anti-business. Socialism is defined as an inch from communism, which is a defeated concept. But mostly, it chafes at the idea of non-white progress, because, after all, what self-respecting white family wants their children being forced to attend classes with these aliens? Socialists want to take money from the rich to help the poor, even though the wealthy believe that they can offer greater relief by themselves. What’s most irritating to members of the right is that THEIR money is being taken from them and being used for programs and systems they don’t support.

But mostly, the socialist tag forces the left to play more defense, which means the right is again playing offense.

The left must play offense with a crystal clear focus on the reality that Trump represents a Republican Party that has completely gone off the rails in its disgust with the poor and the afflicted. This path, however, is fraught with danger, for Trump was elected primarily because he was not a part of the status quo in government and that he would do things differently. A part of Trump’s charm with his constituency is the proud proclamations that he is not a part of anything “normal” and therefore able to govern differently, which we must all admit has proven to be the case. While the left complains that Trump doesn’t play by the rules, his supporters are quick to point out that these rules are the biggest part of the problem in Washington and that they voted for Trump to do things differently.

If the Democrats ever want to put an end to this, they must be prepared to hire a new offensive coördinator to craft a new strategy, because a defensive posture that is governed by logic and reason doesn’t stand a chance against propaganda that asserts the opposite.

It begins with recognition that while defense wins championships, it’s the offense that gets all the glory, the fame, and the money.