Cultural Conservatism and the Politics of Rage

 

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During a recent episode of FiveThirtyEight’s “Elections” podcast, Harry Enten mentioned a phrase I haven’t thought of for a while that I thought warranted a second look. Enten’s been a vocal critic of not only Trump, but the wave of “cultural conservatism” behind his campaign’s success. He suggested that the core fissure within the Republican Party of 2016 exists between “Trumpian” cultural conservatives and social conservatives like Ted Cruz—which led me to wonder What is cultural conservatism and are we in its moment?

 

Social Conservatism

It’s probably best to start with an idea most politically engaged people are familiar with: social conservatism. This ideology within the American conservative impulse bases its worldview and governing philosophy upon traditional religious morality, especially in regards to gender relations, reproductive rights, sexual behavior, and marriage. While they use the rhetoric of “small government,” social conservatives also tend to support policies that enforce and protect their moral beliefs while prohibiting activities seen as immoral. Their candidates will usually emphasize their religious affiliation and run in support of “family values.”

It’s important to remember that social conservatives are not always economic conservatives—in fact, it is often an economically ambivalent ideology. Nor are they always Christians or white—they are often Muslim, Catholic, or Jewish, and they are present within every ethnic or racial community in the United States. One reason I believe Bernie Sanders failed so miserably during the Democratic primary campaign in the South is because he did not grasp the power of social conservatism within the African-American communities of the region.

Which leads to a final point: social conservatives aren’t necessarily Republicans. It’s probably more effective to understand social conservatism as moral code rather than a political ideology. As such, it reflects the vast diversity of “traditional” moral thinking within the United States, and those who seek to bring about social change succeed when they account for this heterogeneity. LGBT rights and same-sex marriage made significant advances when they appealed to the immorality of oppressing their community and emphasized their desire to enter into the institution of marriage. Simply put, social conservatism is a moral code with inclusionary aspirations. It seeks to not only protect, but expand its moral code. It is an ideology that believes in change, despite its fear of revolutionary action.

 

Cultural Conservatism

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“Minorities Welcome! Only ‘good ones’ need apply!”

Cultural conservatism, on the other hand, is an inherently exclusionary ideology that believes in the supremacy of value systems and political practices based upon nationalist identity. While cultural conservatives don’t necessarily need to be religious, its Trumpian form is founded upon a belief that the United States has traditionally and should always be governed by Euro-American Christian nationalism. Even among supporters who don’t regularly attend church, their worldview is widely influenced by a racial and religious sense of nationalism. American cultural conservatives aren’t necessarily social or economic conservatives—they believe in nation about all else. Citizens are free to ascribe to any ethical or religious code, as long as it doesn’t threaten the integrity and security of the nation. They also believe that cultural outsiders can be brought into the nation, but only if they assimilate fully into the dominant culture—as opposed to diluting it through multiculturalism.

It’s also tempting to paint all cultural conservatives and Trump supporters as racists; however, it is more accurate to understand them as xenophobic above all else. American cultural conservatives view alien “others” as threats to themselves, their interests, and their county. Threatened as they imagine they are, cultural conservatives seek to bring order to chaos through social order, national integrity, law and order, and economic protectionism. Their ideal world is one divided by clear borders, with nations free to protect their physical and economic interests. In their minds, liberalism and globalism has destroyed order and left poor and middle people vulnerable to exploitation. Finally, American cultural conservatives also support social welfare programs, but only for “members” and “good outsiders” (members receiving clear priority).

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Is this a Cultural Conservative Moment?

Of course it is. Whereas political conflict in since the 1960s has been between liberals and conservatives, I believe that we are entering a period of pluralism versus cultural conservatism. This should come as no surprise. While Republican leaders have, from time to time, continue to roll back the policies of a bygone battle—repealing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicade, or defunding higher education—its non-elite rank-and-file have been motivated by cultural and nationalistic concerns for at least twenty years. In the past, many of these populists put their faith in party, church, and class affiliations, but today they feel as if these institutions have failed or even betrayed them. The “imagined community” of nationalism is all that remains, and they’ve put all their hopes in the dream that is a strong American nation led by the most talented spinner of nationalistic fantasy—Donald Trump.

The prevalence of cultural conservatism within the currently Republican Party manifests itself not only in its nationalistic rhetoric, but in its firm rejection of traditional social conservatism. The RNC’s vocal rejection of Ted Cruz, paragon of the Old Order, was striking. So was its response to Donald Trump’s pro-“LGBT . . . Q” line. As striking as these were, we should be careful not to believe that the Republican Party is moving into a new era of social progressivism and cultural pluralism. For all the talk about sexual justice, legal justice, economic prosperity, equal pay, and maternity leave, Trump and his surrogates were plucking a dangerous and reactionary chord.

The cultural conservatives currently run the Republican Party. They value nothing more than Euro-American Christian nationalism. They offer acceptance, economic support, sexual liberation, and justice to only those who support their definition of the American nation. Anyone who does not conform is perceived as a dangerous outsider who should be excluded from membership in the national community. Trump didn’t create this moment, nor will it end in November. The history of the United States is a history of justice versus oppression. Our history is also one of alternating nationalistic, pluralistic, liberal, and illiberal impulses. In 2016, the Republican Party has embraced the cultural conservatism and all of its white supremacist and nationalistic baggage.

Come November 8th, the people of the United States will elect one of two candidates, and neither will be named Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. Anyone who votes for Trump or aids him in his potential victory will be abetting the same cultural conservative impulse that gave us Jim Crow, mass lynchings, Chinese massacres, and Know-Nothingism. That’s the kind of moment we’re in.

Conversations with the Ghost of America’s Future Past

America's Future Past

Lost in the madness of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week is that Agreeing Loudly snuck two reporters, Carson Starkey and Troy Olson, through the picket line to give our readers this inside scoop on what things are like on the floor. Here is a snapshot of their interactions throughout the week. 

Carson

It’s a good thing our veteraniness got us through security. All we had to do was show them our DOD credentials, I’m wearing this beard, and like that we’re in. Good call on getting the haircut just prior though. Our fake Heritage Foundation cards also came in handy. Props to our interns for those.

Troy

Right. You’ll have to send my regards to Bruce Wayne for loaning me this hair gel. Combined with this suit I’m sporting and my premature 45 year old-ness, we got through no problem.

Carson

Lost in all this madness is that the election will be relatively close still.

Troy

Agreed. Will there be coattails? A backlash against Trump? A wave seems unlikely.

Carson

It does. Ted Cruz didn’t exactly change the game last night. In a society where nobody is persuadable, Hillary will still have to campaign mistake-free. I predict no coattails. Not if Debbie Wasserman-Schultz has anything to say about it.

Troy

And what can we say about Sen. Tom Cotton from earlier in the week? Early 2020 names for him: do you prefer Senator Horseface or Cotton Gin?

Carson

Cotton Gin. Too perfect and appropriate.

Troy

Agreed. Senator Horseface is too mean. It’s merely a gift his last name is actually Cotton. It could have been the nickname anyway….God knows Eli Whitney’s invention condemned black people in this country to decades more of slavery.

Carson

True.

Troy

I won’t lay that at Whitney’s feet though, white people could have used that invention to create factory precession in plants and taken the path of the other great American labor tradition (the northern one), where technology replaces blue collar manual labor jobs.

Carson

The American pursuit of Free Labor goes ever on. Different problems, same outcome.

Troy

Our ability to sleuth at this convention reminds me… has anyone ever assumed you were a Republican?

Carson

Absolutely. All across the South. In a great many conversations. Those were hilarious moments.

Troy

I can see that. I had the opposite experience recently. The two or three liberals in Mississippi somehow found me and engaged me in conversation. (the music overhead stops) Uh oh… looks like they’re running out of Ted Nugent songs to play at this convention.

Carson

No other popular music options. It’s either Nugent or Toby Keith.

Troy

That’s a short list.

Carson

Well Pat Boone is too old to perform live these days.

Troy

That’s too bad, his Kayne West cover would have been great to see, although it likely wouldn’t have worked too well. It’s not 1953 anymore.

Carson

Yeah, the public might not tolerate that as well as they did in the early days of rock n’ roll. Demographics have changed, or so I thought prior to being here.

Troy

It could be 1953 if you redressed this stage and arena. I wouldn’t know.

Carson

Neither would the attendees. They still aren’t aware. (Carson shows Troy a Ron Burgundy meme of “We are laughing” and they both have a self satisfied, smug liberal chuckle).

Troy

So apparently the Back to the Future screenwriter admitted what we knew already, Biff Tannen is based off of Donald Trump.

Carson

Obviously.

Troy

You can especially tell with the second movie, the alternate 1985 timeline.

Carson

And the outcomes wouldn’t be all that off-base.

Troy

Which brings me to our Super Tuesday coverage where we used the Doc Brown “screwed into this tangent” / alternate 2016 Presidential Election bit. Can we just take a minute her and pat ourselves…or rather our pointy heads in peak self satisfaction for calling this entire election cycle?

Carson

I know right? At a time when the standard outcome playbook is in tatters too. We did exercise some solid foresight.

Troy

It’s especially amazing because surrounded by us being right are “professionally wrong” buffoon writing articles about how crazy and unpredictable this election has been.

Carson

We just keep building a trail of evidence for deserving that ad revenue investment. Or switching teams and working for Heritage. I’m not sure.

Troy

The ruthless pursuit of the truth goes on.

Carson

It’s like early Woodward and Bernstein.

Troy

Which is what we build toward when all hell breaks loose in 2018 to 2020. Starkey and Olson breaking the story. Our source–Sore Throat, we refuse to give up.

Carson

I like it. Good throwback/homage reference.

Troy

Of course Sore Throat will be the thousands of Fox News viewers shrieking hysterical rage at Benghazi.

Carson

That’s why their voices are sore. It’s understandable. They can’t NOT watch cable news. They might miss vital updates.

Troy

Still…I feel like we owe it to ourselves to go check out the Heritage Foundation table to see if they have any openings.

Carson

Agreed. It’s not like we’re missing anything.

***Carson and Troy walk off into a corner of the crowded Cleveland, OH arena, will they ever be seen or heard from again? Find out next time on another Conservations from the Ghost of America’s Future Past***

What you just read may scare you, I know it scares me.

However, there is still something we can collectively do about it.

We can change the future…. if we try.

AP Mass Shooting Template Accidentally Published

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Above is the template picture to be replaced by the site of the shooting picture according to the accidentally published template —  this template picture is proof that most AP journalists are godless communists, that are planning to take your guns with their Star Trek quotes and hippie lifestyle.

Washington D.C. — At approximately noon today, an Associated Press journalist accidentally published the mass shooting in the United States template he had been working from for the past six years of his employment. Below is the text of that template.

**********

In what has seemingly become a daily occurrence in the United States, the latest mass shooting took place at [insert: city or town name here] and while we are still waiting for information to come in, authorities report that the alleged shooter is [insert first-middle-last name of shooter here] and has been [insert: apprehended or shot and killed or in critical condition here]. It is unclear at this time whether he [keep male pronoun throughout, a damn good time-saving assumption Jason!!] acted alone or whether there were accomplices, but we will be staying on top of this as more reports come out.

[First-middle-last name] is a [insert: ethnic or racial background here] and had a history of [insert: “choose your own adventure”story hereif White, disturbed or had history of mental health issues, if Black or Hispanic, potential gang-related activities, if Muslim, obvious references or potential ties and speculation to current terrorist group threatening the new key Middle Eastern region, and if Asian, see white person societal excuse for mass killing and perhaps add stress-related family pressures].

Prominent [insert: Democratic politician here] said that (his or her) “heart goes out to the victims and their families, it is inconceivable that this senseless, tragic, and avoidable violence must continue in our country. I call on my colleagues of both parties to act on sensible and publicly supported gun violence legislation.”

Prominent [insert: Republican politician here] said that (his or younger his) “thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. I call upon my colleagues to not jump to hasty conclusions unless it ties into the wider ‘War on Terror’ rubric, and I also call on my colleagues of all faiths and denominations to pray in the House and Senate tomorrow.”

It is expected that the current round of conversations that we’ll hold nationally and publicly will result in a [insert: exact lay out of non-action and explanation of absolutely nothing changing] and this will be a hot-button issue on the campaign trail this fall, although [insert: statistic about how few people actually care about this when they vote to reaffirm the prevailing notion that nothing will change here.]

 

Conversations with the Ghost of America’s Future Past

by Carson Starkey and Troy M. Olson

America's Future Past

On a quiet park bench on Central Park West, merely hours after a 2018 GOP strategy conference on how to win back the White House got over, which Carson Starkey and Troy Olson, had just got done attending under the guise of being correspondents. The mood is somber. Not unlike this scene:

Carson

That was profoundly awkward, watching the Republican Party elites trying to win back white working class conservative and populist voters, after thoroughly sabotaging and trashing them during the 2016 “respectable conservative” plot to cheat.

Troy

We really missed the boat when we failed to cash-in on that verbiage via a book deal. “Exposed! The Respectable Conservative Plot to Cheat” by Carson Starkey, J.D.

Carson

Senate Majority Leader Tom Cotton (Gin) is going to relish his future role as Vice Presidential candidate. Julian Castro and Cory Booker are going to have tough sells on the Atlantic coast. Virginia and North Carolina might not remember that they voted for an unlikely candidate only a decade ago. Different times…

Troy

You speak of course of the upcoming ’24 and ’28 elections, they will not be pretty. It’s of course a foregone conclusion that 2020 will be both a blood path that was avoidable and a missed opportunity during a redistricting election. As the person who penned the “Case for Losing” back in early 2016, to the incredible enragement of many on the left, I take no pleasure in having been right. This was avoidable. It always has been. Nice things could be possible and would create nicer people.

Carson

I’ll be sad to see Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, SNPA, and the EPA disappear. But such are the misfortunate that follow a $12 trillion tax cut. Sure, the Iran War will be awful, but privatizing the VA will only add insults to actual injuries. I hope that Treasury Secretary Willard Romney has a plan to deal with the resulting 15 percent unemployment. The human misery will be severe.

Troy

Right. This would all be easier to swallow on our end if so-called “enlightened establishment” did not consistently tell Millennials we are all still too young to be Congressional candidates.

Carson

Now, now…the leadership will pick the right people. They know how to build majorities that last two to four years. So we’ll just accomplish everything that we want during any window where we have the majority.

Troy

Then blame losses on the only relatively popular member of the party (former President Obama).

Carson

Because pragmatism…or something. I’m not really sure about the specific strategy, you’ll have to ask Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin.

Troy

A strategy of protecting economic gains made fifty to sixty years ago is not exactly inspiring.

Carson

That’s just your unrealistic opinion in their eyes, they won’t return your phone calls because they’re fundraising with Jamie Dimon. So I suppose we can talk about what…. a minimum wage hike? Or is that already on the agenda? At the very least… let’s talk privatizing public schools. That has to be a popular idea with our voting base, at least that’s what they will presume.

Troy

This is too depressing. Let’s end by talking C-PAC and how profoundly awkward the atmosphere was in there. Did every working class Joe and Jane just conveniently forget about the fact that the GOP establishment called them a bunch of “slack jawed yokels” two years ago during the Trump fiasco?

Carson

Now to be fair… Jane and Joe have bigger problems than crushing poverty, stagnant wages, and drug (presumably meth) addiction. You’re not giving fair consideration to gay people getting married or the existence of the “hippity hop” music. Ask Ben Carson, he’ll tell you why both are causes for concern.

Troy

Sigh… By the way, we switched the metaphor to Joe because John died working the job because social security retirement is now 68 years old.

Carson

Well obviously. And thank God that his company replaced him with a teenager from Vietnam who’s working for 70 cents a day. The power of the free market.

Troy

But pay day loan company executives who enthusiastically supported Hillary in ’16 said people are living longer now… or something. Yeah, tell that to John’s kids.

Carson

At least you can get a slice of pizza for a dollar.

***Carson and Troy walk in to one of New York City’s fine pizza establishments***  

Troy

God bless New York City.

Carson

Amen.

What you just read may scare you, I know it scares me.

However, there is still something we can collectively do about it.

We can change the future…. if we try.

Donald Trump and Right-Wing Drag

by Allan Branstiter

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The Trump campaign’s drag qualities aren’t simply painted on The Donald’s orange face. It can also be found in the cartoonish enthusiasm and beliefs of his supporters.

About a week ago I joined others who were drawing connections between Donald Trump’s campaign performances and the spectacle of professional wrestling. While I still think that notion of kayfabe—the ability of a wrestler to portray staged events as real—and wrestling’s ability to appeal directly to the audiences emotions explains quite a lot about Trump’s popularity, I think another form of “low-brow” popular spectacle can help us understand the Donald. Simply put, Donald Trump is the queen of right-wing drag.

This idea crossed my mind as I was reading Jonathan Chait’s recent post about the current schism within the Republican Party. Chait argues that the Trump vs. #NeverTrump divide does not follow the long-standing traditional ideological differences between the GOP’s ideological center and fringe—nor is a geographic division between northeastern Rockefeller Republicans and the Solid South. “Instead,” Chait writes, “the divide runs high-low, splitting conservatism as an idea from conservatism as an instinct.” So what does this have to do with drag?

Continue reading

What Wrestling Can Tell Us About Donald Trump

by Allan Branstiter

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I spent most of last week writing my dissertation prospectus, so I wasn’t able to get to an idea I’ve been mulling for a few weeks. So as I was working on constructing an argument about viewing the Civil War and Reconstruction era from the lens of American settler colonialism, Vann R. Newkirk at The Atlantic beat me to the punch and wrote a very good article about what professional wrestling can tell us about Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. You should definitely read it. And this. And this. While Newkirk argues that Trump’s success is based on his ability to play the heel (the overtly bad guy in a storyline), I argue that The Donald fits a more recent archetype: the “anti-face” (i.e. Stone Cold Steve Austin, C.M. Punk, and Kevin Owens).

Professional wrestling, in many ways, can tell us more about democracy, demagoguery, and the political power of public spectacle than polling and political science. In 1957, philosopher and literary theorist Roland Barthes wrote an article describing the complex relationship between wrestling as a spectacle and its audience. To Barthes, wrestling was a spectacle that broke through the fourth wall, thereby transcending the traditional limits competative sport and high art. He observed that in wrestling the audience becomes part of the performance. No wrestling storyline can succeed if the audience refuses to suspending their disbelief and accept the narrative laid out before them.

Barthes suggests that power of wrestling as a spectacle is the reciprocal relationship enjoyed by the performer and the audience. In ideal circumstances, time, motives, and consequences do not matter in a wrestling storyline. A wrestler can act in unbelievable, contradictory, or irrational ways in the rign, but the storyline remains intact as long as they maintain an emotional reciprocity with their audience. As a result, a good wrestler can turn against their closest allies without so much as a second thought from the crowd. It is through the effective manipulation of this actor-spectator relationship that wrestling can transcend the line between fiction and reality. In the best cases the audience is allowed to suspend their critical disbelief and abolish questions of motives and consequences. The best wrestling performances offers audiences not only an escape from reality, but a plausible alternative—a world where good always triumphs over evil, and where stereotypes offer a simultaneoulsy fantastic and real sense of predictability and stability.

“Thus function of the wrestler is not to win,” Barthes explains, “it is to go exactly through the motions which are expected of him.” In the case of Donald Trump, he is an anti-face within the spectacle of conservative politics, the hero with a mean streak. Unlike the heroic “baby-face” or ignoble “heel,” the anti-face’s motivations are not immediately clear to the audience. They walk the line between hero and villain, motivated by a desire to accomplish good through often immoral means. Anti-face’s are powerful characters because they capture the audience’s feelings of anger, powerlessness, alienation, and indignation and turn them against structures of authority. While “faces” like Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart appealed to the audience’s desire to see good always triumph over evil, the anti-faces like Rowdy Roddy Piper and Steve Austin titillated the fans’ deeper desire to inflict pain upon their enemies and oppressors. The anti-face resonates not because he or she always wins, but because they provide the audience with a vessel for their darker emotions.

For example, consider Stone Cold Steve Austin. His character’s narrative can tell you a lot about the psychology of working-class white Americans during the 1990s. Alienated by poltical correctness and elite notions of respectability, proud of their hard work and fortitude, threatened by unflinchingly terrible bosses who threatened their livelihood as millions of good-paying jobs were shipped oversees, Steve Austin resonated with his audience because he was one of them. He drank beer, he cursed, he kicked a lot of ass, and the stood firmly upon a sense of masculine working-class morality he shared with his fans. He even captured their ambivalent attitudes towards sanctimonious Christianity.In an age when rednecks were Jeff Foxworthy jokes and the ambitions of poor white working class men and women were continually betrayed by the political elite, Stone Cold was King of the Ring. (Happy Austin 3:16 Day, btw!)

During typical presidential campaigns, American voters are (Barthe again) “overwhelmed with the obviousness of the roles.” Normally the field is divided into establishment candidates, fringe candidates, liberal candidates, and conservative candidates. Political commentators draw a sense of expertise from their ability to recognize and analyze these categories and even break them down into subgroups: prairie populists, Chamber of Commerce Republicans, blue-dog Democrats, etc. Like older forms of professional wrestling, campaigns were relatively predictable. Establishment candidates always moved towards their base in order to defeat fringe primary opponents before moving to the center during general elections. And since the late 1970s, working-class whites largely voted for Republicans because they were “our guys.” In the spectacle of American politics, their baby-faces were conservative Republican “every-men” and their heels were liberal urban coastal elites.

The wrestling world’s notion of “kayfabe” also applies to American political spectacle. According to Tecoa T. Washington, kayfabe “refers to the portrayal of events within the industry as real, that is, the portrayal of professional wrestling as unstaged.” In wrestling and politics, the public is encouraged to suspend disbelief. The electoral audience is encouraged to take the words and performances of their candidates at face value. In wrestling, those who are able to identify the borders between reality and theatrics are called “smarks,” while those who cannot distinguish staged events from reality are called “marks.” Performers and marks tend to dislike smarks because they disrupt their ability to create an effective spectacle—a performance where the audience and performer connect and nothing exists beyond the confines of the arena. In the political world, think of partisans and ideologues as marks, while pundits and journalists as smarks. Much of Trump’s disdain for the media is based on the fact that it resonates with his supporters, but it also has to do with the fact that the press is constantly threatening his ability to create an effective and manipulative spectacle.

Since the internet has made it increasingly difficult for wrestlers to separate their private and public lives, they’ve have had to find new ways to protect their spectacle and keep the smarks at bay (an excellent example of this is Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit with Gawker Media). Kayfabe has become an art in itself, and wrestler often play with the line between reality and performance, letting the audience feel like they know what is behind the curtain while maintaining control over the illusion. The best performers will regularly appear to break the fourth wall, leaving the audience confused about what is real and what is staged. When done well, the spectators are left with no other choice than to surrender their disbelief. All performances (especially wrestling and politics) seek to manipulate, but only the best can do so without alerting their audiences.

The world of politics is no different. Candidates routinely separate their private lives from their public personas. In the past, journalists helped erect this distinction by only reporting the public side of a politician’s personality. This changed when the Watergate scandal led many Americans to question whether a public figure’s private life should be considered in order to measure their suitability for office. The first to fall was Gary Hart, whose marital problems and sexual liaisons were exposed to intense public scrutiny in 1988. Since then, candidates have struggled to find new ways to let the public into their private lives while maintaining a sense of control over their public image. Some have been good, other have been awkward and creepy.

Donald Trump’s campaign is a revolution in the kayfabe of American politics. Unlike many candidates, he offer no glimpses beyond his public persona, nor does he offer much in the way of concrete policy plans. Instead, he invites his audience to pour their anger, disappointments, and indignation into the vessel of “The Donald.” Political scientists and pundits try to dissect the rationale behind his support to no avail because, just as in wrestling, what matters is not what a Trump support thinks but what a Trump supporter sees.

What does a Trump supporter see in “The Donald?” They see an outlandish and powerful man who is unafraid to stand up for his values. They see an ineffective speaker running circles around the powers that be. Where rational minds see a demagogue manipulating the crowd, Trump supporters see an iconoclast manipulating the system. And as strange and unlikely as it sounds, they see themselves in this bombastic millionaire. They see their struggles embodied in a man roundly reviled by strangers, elites, and an increasingly alien society. They see the establishment trying to crush the only candidate to speak to their concerns in years. While they might disagree with his style, his supporters believe in his goals. They see Trump as misunderstood. They see themselves as misunderstood. They also see a character who legitimizes their right to inflict physical and verbal violence upon racial minorities, uppity women, and foreigners.

What makes Trump’s support so difficult to undermine is that he does not need to win—he simply needs to “go exactly through the motions which are expected of him.” Trump exists as his supporter’s emotional vessel, and he accomplishes this by simply existing. The fact that he is the leading candidate in the Republican primary only adds to his appeal. In fact, winning might be the only thing that can defeat Trump. If we look at wrestling as a model, anti-faces often win the title, but they face the prospect of alienating their fans once this is achieved. The worst thing that can happen to a successful anti-face is appearing like they are being “pushed” or promoted by the establishment.

Underdogs and antiheroes resonate because they and their audiences are losers. Trump supporters love “The Donald” because he has a “proven” track record of success in business; however, they also love him because he remains unproven in politics. Like “The Donald,” his supporters view themselves as millionaires in their own minds who have been marginalized by the media and political elite. If Trump wins and gains the support of the establishment, he could possibly alienate his disenfranchised supporters. But none of this matters right now, because Trump has created a spectacle where reality and facts outside of the arena do not matter. Disbelief has been suspended. Anything—anything—is possible.

To Kill A Mockingbird: 2016 Edition

by Troy M. Olson (with deep regrets)

2016-02-20 00.26.21

Atticus Finch is an over-worked and underpaid public defender with 175 thousand in student loan debt due to the escalating costs of undergraduate and legal education.

The other main characters, Jem and Scout, are the names of his cats, because he cannot afford to start a family. When Tom Robinson is unfairly and unjustly arrested for jaywalking, being shot once in the shoulder during the arrest, chaos breaks out in the sleepy area of Maycomb County, Alabama.

Infuriated by this injustice, activists around the country organize from Maycomb to Mist County in Minnesota, exercising their First Amendment rights to peacefully assemble with the stated goal of getting the attention of policy-makers.

In response to this lawful assembly, local white people have been complaining that they were slightly inconvenienced while shopping and buying things they did not need, because protesters were getting in the way of things and stuff…. In response, a counter-protest movement of those claiming to be dedicated to constitutional principles and the values for which this country was founded upon springs up. 

While slowly making his way home late at night to feed his starving, but beloved cats, Jem and Scout, Atticus watches the television and inter-web reports of his local Congressman standing alongside the leader of the counter-protest movement. 

Once Tom Robinson is unfairly charged for jaywalking, public defender Atticus Finch, under pressure from the DA’s office, his superiors at the PD’s office, and the local political machine, considers whether to take the plea bargain rather than pursue a full trial and vindication for Tom, who he knows is innocent of the trumped up charges of a minor crime. 

Fearful of the political and professional fall out and the crowded caseload and court docket in front of him, Atticus rules against his better judgment, seeing few realistic alternatives, and a plea deal is reached.

The End.

Rest in peace, Harper Lee (1926-2016)

May your timeless masterpiece, and its central character, Atticus Finch, continue to inspire us all to work together for a better world. 

Comparing Cars and Guns (Using Facts), Part 1 of 2

 by Troy M. Olson

For life saving technology with your help - Ralph Nader
For life saving technology with your help – Ralph Nader

The following was originally written in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and President Obama’s subsequent modest proposals to curb mass killings and violence in America in late 2012 (Note: the gun is the chief weapon of choice for violent crime in America period, and we’ll get to that. I don’t care about guns, but I’ve likely carried a gun for more hours in my life than most people reading this due to my time in the service. This article is about violence and unnecessary death and what we can do to stop it. What we can do to stop Americans from killing other Americans).

When we launched this website I considered making this one of the first posts, but decided to wait. The reason I waited is because there was no doubt in my mind, given the regularity of these violent, mass killings going on in our country, that the purpose for which it was written would have the opportunity to be timely again. I admit this freely, and with much regret, because that is itself an admission of defeat. Another sign of our collective failure to have a national conversation about public issues. 

This article, published in two parts operates under the premise that car accidents used to cause many, many deaths in this country.  And while they still do, regulation of their usage over the years despite more individuals driving cars has led to far fewer deaths while operating motor vehicles. Currently, we are facing record mass killings and violence in an era where overall crime and violent crime has been going down for decades. I thought the comparison was valid. Hopefully with sensible public policy, someday we can save some lives just like we did with the seat belt. 

CAR OWNERSHIP IN AMERICA:

As of 2010, the United States has the largest fleet of motor vehicles in the world, totaling 239.8 million.

The U.S. Department of Energy reports an ownership rate of 828 vehicles per 1,000.

In other words, we have a vehicle to person ratio of 1:1.3. For every one car in this country, we have a person and a third of a person. There is far more car ownership than gun ownership, as this analysis will later show.

DEATHS FROM CAR ACCIDENTS:

Since the 1960s, consumer advocates like Ralph Nader (“Unsafe At Any Speed”) have led the movement to make cars safer and traveling in cars safer. Since then, the US Federal and State Governments have regulated automobiles far more heavily than they had before.

Deaths from car accidents peaked at over 50,000 decades ago. In 2011, they were down to 32,367.

Year                                                Car Deaths

2011                                                32,367

2010                                                32,885

2009                                                33,808

2008                                                37,261

2007                                                41,059

Considering that the ownership of just one car compared to one gun and the number of instances of usage it would appear as if firearms are far more dangerous than cars, which are much more heavily regulated, and the deaths associated with them, whether intentional, negligent, or accidental, are more frequent.

GUN OWNERSHIP IN AMERICA:

As of 2009, the United States has a population of 307 million people. Based on production data from firearm manufacturers, there are roughly 300 million firearms owned by civilians in the United States as of 2010. Of these, about 100 million are handguns.

The American Journal of Epidemiology reported that having a gun in your home makes you three times more likely to be the victim of a homicide and five times more likely to kill yourself. This study conclusively shows that gun owners are in far more danger than non-gun owners. A 300 percent increase in the risk of death by homicide illustrates the likelihood that someone in the house will “snap” and kill you. Whether it be a father, a mother, or a child; if you own a gun you are more likely to be the victim of a homicide within the confines of your own home.

The following are estimates of private firearm ownership in the U.S. as of 2010.

                                    Households with a Gun            Adults Owning a Gun           

Percentage                        40-45%                                    30-34%

Raw Number                    47-53 million                       70-80 million

A 2005 nationwide Gallup poll of 1,012 adults found the following levels of firearm ownership:

Category                        Percentage Owning a Firearm

Households                       42%

Individuals                        30%

Female                                13%

Male                                    47%

White                                  33%

Nonwhite                           18%

Republican                        41%

Independent                      27%

Democrat                           23%

In the same poll, gun owners stated they own firearms for the following reasons:

Protection Against Crime                        67%

Target Shooting                                         66%

Hunting                                                       41%

GUN DEATHS:

All homicides

Number of Deaths: 16,259

Deaths per 100,000 population: 5.3

Firearm homicides

Number of Deaths: 11,078

Deaths per 100,000 population: 3.6

In the United States, annual deaths resulting from firearms total (whether intentional homicide, negligent homicide, or accidental deaths):

2011: 32,163

2010: 31,672

2009: 31,347

Rate of ALL Gun Deaths per 100,000 People

2011: 10.3

2010: 10.26

2009: 10.22

– END OF PART ONE –