Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, December 19, 2017
They Said It:
The basic theoretical proposition is that a psychological variable, relative deprivation, is the basic precondition for civil strife of any kind, and that the more widespread and intense deprivation is among members of a population, the greater is the magnitude of strife in one or another form. Relative deprivation is defined as actors’ perceptions of discrepancy between their value expectations (the goods and conditions of the life to which they believe they are justifiably entitled) and their value capabilities (the amounts of those goods and conditions that they think they are able to get and keep). The underlying causal mechanism is derived from psychological theory and evidence to the effect that one innate response to perceived deprivation is discontent or anger, and that anger is a motivating state for which aggression is an inherently satisfying response.
Ted Gurr, “A Causal Model of Civil Strife: A Comparative Analysis Using New Indices,” The American Political Science Review, December, 1968.
THE PERSISTENCE OF RACIAL DISHARMONY.
Last week in Alabama, Republican Roy Moore lost what should have been a cakewalk to fill the Senate seat vacated by now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In losing, Moore won not just white voters over all, but white voters in every category – men, women, college educated, etc., which is to say that minority voters turned out in droves to vote for Moore’s opponent, the very liberal (and thus not very “Alabama”) Doug Jones.
Also last week, Omarosa Manigault Newman resigned or was fired – no one really knows for sure – from her position as an assistant to the president, setting off a barrage of racial attacks against both her and her and President Trump. For those of you who may not know, Omarosa – best known only by her first name – was a contestant on Trump’s reality show “The Apprentice” and made a career for herself from the fame she generated as one of the most outspoken and bizarre participants in any reality show ever. As a black woman who went to work for Trump, she was reviled by various black leaders and others on the Left who considered her a “sellout” to her people. Now that she is gone, some of those leaders are unapologetically and gleefully dancing on her proverbial grave. Charles Blow, the ever-pretentious columnist for the New York Times, provides a sample of the genre, which, for good measure, reinforces the notion that Trump is a blatant and unrepentant racist:
Omarosa seems to be confessing that Trump himself is rife with subconscious, anti-minority biases. Another way to label that is to call it white supremacy. When asked whether she was concerned when Trump said of the protesters in Charlottesville that there were “very fine people” on both sides, Omarosa responded that she was concerned, and that “there is a level of sensitivity that needed to go to handling that situation that requires a learning curve.” That’s right. Omarosa is saying that 71-year-old Trump requires a learning curve to move away from racial hostility and toward racial sensitivity and tolerance.
This is fallacy and fantasy. Trump’s racial hostility isn’t about his difficulty with learning, but comfort with tribalism. Trump’s white supremacy can’t be pedagogically altered because it is pathologically rooted. And what does it say about Omarosa that she offered herself up at the soul auction for a ticket to “ride that train”?
She was just another snake in the pit, and now that they have turned on her she’s turning on them. There are no heroes here, only villains at war.
Here we sit, then, more than half-a-century removed from the Civil Rights Acts that were supposed to enforce the equality under the law promised in the Constitution and affirmed in the Civil War. And yet, according to roughly 40% of the people in this country and a much higher percentage of their spokespeople in the ruling class, the duly elected President of the United States is an inveterate racist, a “pathological” “white supremacist.” Moreover, anyone who voted for the man – almost 63 million Americans – either shares his racial defects or is, at the very least, an enabler of his racism. And all of this, we note, is applied uncritically to a man who has never been accused by friends, co-workers, employees, or anyone else of doing or saying anything racist. The basis for the determination that he is pathologically white supremacist in his beliefs and actions is the “feeling” that his appeal to American greatness is, by definition, as racist as is his expressed determination to help the working class, the forgotten men and women is contemporary American politics.
Going forward, there is little question that race will continue to be the critical issue in American politics. In 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama won the presidency on the strength of minority voter turnout. In 2016, Donald Trump won the same, by virtue of minority apathy for his opponent. The very voters who put Obama over the top in the two previous elections stayed home in 2016 and thereby enabled Trump’s victory. All of which is to say that any politician who aims for higher office on this country will, for the foreseeable future, be compelled to play either offense or defense on the issue of race, which, by all accounts appears to be determinative in American elections these days.
How is it, exactly, that we arrived at this point? How is it this nation, the only of its kind in human history, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, is beset by the eternal plague of race? How is it that even now, fifty-three years after the federal government determined to ensure uniformity and complicity in racial integration and equality, race remains the most powerful and most decisive of issues in American politics?
There is, of course, no shortage of answers for the above questions. On the Left, the general sentiment is that race persists as a major issue in American politics because racism continues to be prevalent among white people in this country. Literally for decades now, the Left has attributed virtually all of the Right’s political machinations to the “fear” extant among “old white men” who are scared of the future and relentlessly determined to keep their hold on power. For example, last spring, The Nation, a Left-wing magazine, presented its “findings” about the election, all of which confirmed what good and noble Leftists knew already, namely that white Americans are scared to death of minorities:
We find that opinions about how increasing racial diversity will affect American society had much more impact on support for Trump during the 2016 election compared to support for the Republican candidates in the two previous presidential elections. We also find that individuals with high levels of racial resentment were more likely to switch from Obama to Trump, but those with low racial resentment and more positive views about rising diversity voted for Romney but not Trump.
In short, our analysis indicates that Donald Trump successfully leveraged existing resentment towards African Americans in combination with emerging fears of increased racial diversity in America to reshape the presidential electorate, strongly attracting nativists towards Trump and pushing some more affluent and highly educated people with more cosmopolitan views to support Hillary Clinton. Racial identity and attitudes have further displaced class as the central battleground of American politics.
On the Right, the answers and explanations are a little different. They pin the blame on Left-wing provocateurs with a vested interest in identifying and exacerbating perceived racial disparities in pursuit of their own accumulation of power. Some on the Right blame the Democratic Party in general for fanning the flames of racial tension in order to win votes. Others assign culpability to a specific set of racial provocateurs, the leaders of minority communities who grow wealthy and famous by purporting to address problems that are somehow never solved. Twenty years ago, the black Republican Congressman J.C. Watts called these men and women “race-hustling poverty pimps.”
Still others on the right blame this nation’s Leftists intelligentsia, and particularly the men and women who have spent their entire careers trying to undermine the notions of truth and actuality, substituting in their stead, the idea that reality is a mere verbal construct, designed to advance or to inhibit the acquisition of power. In this intellectual milieu, where reality is moldable, words and actions are judged not by their actual meanings and intentions, but by the perceptions of those who see themselves as the arbiters of validity and the machinations of power. This is the same “intellectual” principle that produces articles such as the following (which deals not specifically with race, but with sexual orientation) produced last Christmas by Vulture.com, New York magazine’s “culture” site:
Thinking back on the children’s Christmas specials of yore with an adult frame of reference can be a little bit dizzying. There is the suffocating consumerist melancholy of A Charlie Brown Christmas, the existential dread of a magical friend’s impending death in Frosty the Snowman, and the political allegory of Heat Miser’s rise to power that is A Year Without a Santa Clause.
But nothing, absolutely nothing, is changed with a close, analytical reading of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the 1964 stop-motion special. I mean, just look at it: Rudolph is totally, absolutely, 100 percent, Neil-Patrick-Harris-French-kissing-Ricky-Martin gay. Anyone who even knows what Queer Theory is can tell you that the subtext of the narrative seems to be a pre-Stonewall contemplation of the power of coming out and embracing sexual minorities into society at large….
“For a year the Donner family did a good job hiding Rudolph’s — non-conformity,” the narrator tells us, pausing slightly before landing on the right euphemism. This is the closet of Rudolph’s parents devising, which he goes along with thanks to the internalized homophobia that he inherited from both his father and Santa, the superego of the North Pole, who is equally distressed by Rudolph’s difference. Santa even goes so far as to tell Donner that he should be ashamed of his son and try to change him. It’s almost as if Santa is a church elder trying to force Rudolph into conversion therapy.
Rudolph can’t take it anymore and heads off into the wilderness to live alone. There he runs into Hermey — the only elf with any hair, and it’s a flamboyant blond wave. He also has especially red lips, a feminine-shaped face, and eyelashes any doll in Santa’s workshop would be jealous of. He speaks with a Paul Lynde cadence, as if his ascot is tied on a little too tight. He’s also signaled as different by his professional aspirations: He wants to be a dentist rather than a toy maker. It’s not that dentistry is especially queer or even the sort of creative job one would expect an open homosexual to have during the Johnson administration, but it hammers home that something sets Hermey apart from his conformist class.
Unlike Rudolph, Hermey refuses to live in the closet, so he leaves Santa’s workshop and heads to the wilderness himself to open up his own dental practice. The woods the two explore could be equated to a traditional cruising ground, like the Rambles in Central Park or Hampstead Heath in London, both notorious for the availability of anonymous male-on-male sexual encounters. When Hermey and Rudolph run into each other, they reprise their song about being misfits, singing, “seems to us kind of silly that we don’t fit in.” Now that these two young gay men have met each other, they realize that the oppression of sexual conformity they’ve been living under their whole lives is a total sham.
That sham is once again underscored when Yukon Cornelius enters those same woods. When he meets Rudolph and Hermey, they are both literally facedown in the snow with their asses in the air. Cornelius is what we would now call a bear, an older, hirsute gay man who embraces an over-the-top masculinity, despite being gay. Cornelius is the original “lumbersexual,” so much so that it’s shocking he’s not wearing a buffalo plaid flannel shirt and a pair of excessively wide braces along with his traditionally macho workman’s wear.
We’re sorry, folks. If you thought Rudolph was just a story about how people should be accepting of others, no matter their differences or frailties, that just proves how ill-informed and intolerant you really are. You don’t understand or appreciate the subtext, which is to say what the writers and producers of the show really meant, even if they didn’t know it was what they really meant. By the same logic – if that’s the right word – when Ronald Reagan declared the federal government the enemy of the people and fought to reestablish constitutional federalism, he was, in truth, blowing a dog whistle to the racists, telling them that he’d be giving them back the power the feds took from them in 1865 and 1964. Likewise, when insisted that every man is equal under the law and should be judged accordingly, he was really giving license to rednecks to kill black men by dragging them behind their pick-up trucks. Heck, even pick-up trucks are a not-so-subtle symbol of racial oppression, at least to those Gnostics who know what they really mean.
For our part, we think that all of these explanations are, to some extent valid – even the Left-wing version. Some people are indeed still racist. Some people do indeed fear a majority-minority nation. Some Democrat leaders do exploit minorities’ poverty to expand their power. And, of course, the vast majority of liberal arts academics in this country are indeed pushing a worldview that serves as little more than a device for the denial of an objective reality that has proven their political preferences to be silly and best and more often deadly.
All of this said, NONE of the explanations given above, or any other explanations unmentioned here, describes the mechanism by which race remains an integral and incessant aspect of our political discourse. It’s one thing to say that racism exists, but since racism exists everywhere and is an immutable and universal human characteristic, it does not follow that it should dominate our politics in a unique and all-consuming way. Likewise, it’s one thing to say that the race-hustlers are inflaming tensions, but it also does not follow from that they would necessarily be effective enough to dictate the very course of our political discourse. Such a presumption stipulates either than they are expert manipulators, unequaled in Western civilization, or that the populations they seek to control are easily manipulated. And to the best of our knowledge, neither is even remotely accurate.
So why does race persist as THE dominant issue on our politics? The answer, we think, is basic, simple economics. It persists because our current system creates the incentives for it to do so.
In order to explain what we mean, we’re going to have to take a trip back to 1967, to the point at which our current system was first explained in any detail. Theodore Lowi, who would go on to become perhaps the most renowned political scientist in the country, postulated that our old, constitutional republic had been erased over the course of the three-plus previous decades, starting with the New Deal, and had been replaced by a system that he labeled “interest group liberalism.” And while that name sounds fairly anodyne, now, fifty years removed from Lowi’s usage, it is clear from his text that he did not mean for this to be the case:
Out of the developing crisis in public authority has developed an ersatz political formula that does, for all its problems, offer the public man some guidance and some justification in his efforts to shape, form and provide for the administration of positive laws in the positive state. There are several possible names for this contemporary replacement of liberalism-conservatism. A strong possibility would be corporatism, but its history as a concept gives it several unwanted connotations, such as conservative Catholicism or Italian fascism, that keep it from being quite suitable. Another is syndicalism, but among many objections is the connotation of anarchy too far removed from American experience or intentions. However, the new American public philosophy is a variant of those two alien philosophies.
Needless to say, part corporatist, part syndicalist is not a description that was meant to be especially flattering. Rather, as Lowi notes, it is meant to meant to explain a system in which government action in ALL circumstances is not just expected, but is agreed upon. The former regime, in which government action was debated and never considered a given has been replaced by a system in which the arguments between parties is exclusively on the details of government intervention, not the need for intervention itself. In such a system, government exists principally to foster the recognition and facilitation of the group desires that are expressed most passionately, most consistently, and most often. This is the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” model of governance, or as Lowi puts it:
The most clinically accurate term to describe the American variant is interest-group liberalism. It may be called liberalism because it expects to use government in a positive and expansive role, it is motivated by the highest sentiments, and it possesses strong faith that what is good for government is good for the society. It is “interest-group liberalism” because it sees as both necessary and good that the policy agenda and the public interest be defined in terms of the organized interests in society…. It assumes: (1) Organized interests are homogeneous and easy to define, sometimes monolithic. Any “duly elected” spokesman for any interest is taken as speaking in close approximation for each and every member. (2) Organized interests pretty much fill up and adequately represent most of the sectors of our lives, so that one organized group can be found effectively answering and checking some other organized group as it seeks to prosecute its claims against society. And (3) the role of government is one of ensuring access particularly to the most effectively organized, and of ratifying the agreements and adjustments worked out among the competing leaders and their claims. This last assumption is supposed to be a statement of how our democracy works and how it ought to work.
For years, when we have mentioned Lowi in these pages, we’ve done so mostly in passing, noting that his major contribution was to explain that interest-group liberalism has destroyed Americans’ understanding of and appreciation for our constitutional order. As we’ve put it, interest-group liberalism and the administrative state with which it symbiotically co-exists have perverted Americans’ expectations of their democracy.
For the most part, we’ve simply left this statement stand on its own, never trying to explain what precisely Lowi meant by that or how exactly the expectations were perverted. But that explanation is, we think, critical to understanding how all of this plays into and affects race.
According to Lowi, the expansion of the federal state to meet the needs of the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, and the Cold War, helped produce unprecedented prosperity. That prosperity, however, did not produce satisfaction, happiness, or contentment with the size and the role of government. Rather, it bred resentment and increasingly unrealistic expectations about the power of government to do good. The constitutional amendments of the Progressive Era helped to democratize the state. And this democratization – i.e. the removal of the Founders’ republican constraints on the masses and their government – created a political atmosphere in which the people expected the state to be capable of anything, if only it had the resources. But this was impossible, of course. And the people began to resent the government for its inability to meet their unattainable goals. All of this feeds into a vicious circle, in which government is constantly trying to do more and more, all the while fueling even more unrealistic expectations. Lowi put it this way:
We witness governmental effort of gigantic proportion to solve problems forthwith and directly. Yet we witness expressions of personal alienation and disorientation increasing, certainly not subsiding, in frequency and intensity; and we witness further weakening of informal controls in the family, neighborhood and groups. We witness a vast expansion of effort to bring the ordinary citizen into closer rapport with the democratic process, including unprecedented efforts to confer upon the poor and ineducable the power to make official decisions involving their own fate. Yet at the very same time we witness crisis after crisis in the very institutions in which the new methods of decision-making seemed most appropriate.
It is as though each new program or program expansion were admission of prior governmental inadequacy or failure without necessarily being a contribution to order and well-being. The War on Poverty programs have become as often as not instruments of social protest. The Watts riots, the movements for police review boards in many cities, the sit-ins and marches even where no specifically evil laws are being enforced against a special race or group, the strikes and protests by civil servants, nurses, doctors, teachers, transport and defense workers, and others in vital occupations — all these and many others are evidence of increasing impatience with established ways of resolving social conflict and dividing up society’s values. Verbal and organizational attacks on that vague being, the “power structure,” even in cities with histories of strong reform movements and imaginative social programs, reflect increasing rejection of pluralistic patterns in favor of more direct prosecution of claims against society….Many of these new patterns and problems may have been generated by racial issues, but it is clear that that was only a precipitant.
All of this took place against the backdrop of the late 1950s and the early 1960s, which is to say that it took place in a period in which racial issues came to the forefront of American society. Lowi argues that the distractions of the Depression and the wars hid the development of this new type of democratized governmental model. In turn, they also hid the breakdown between expectations and reality. And they did so until about 1957. That year, the “Little Rock debacle” (i.e. the refusal of the Arkansas state government to comply with Brown v The Board of Education) and Sputnik shifted the focus of the nation, on domestic and international policies, respectively. And when the focus moved away from the immediate tasks of defeating external enemies, then expectations for government grew, creating the aforementioned gap and precipitating a crisis of public authority.
This crisis of public authority was addressed by the regime – those whom Lowi called “public men” – by the aforementioned interest-group model, which, essentially, privatized public authority, placing its legitimacy in the hands of those interest groups that were the best organized and most dedicated to their groups’ goals. In so doing, these public men created a relationship of mutual and reciprocal support between the state and the leaders of the interest groups, whose interests may or may not have reflected those of the wider population represented by the group. And so while these men collaborated to legitimize their authority and to expand the reach of the state, they did so – and do so still – without their collaboration meeting the expectations of the democratic masses.
In terms of race – which as Lowi notes was the dominant issue of the period in which this new model was solidified – what we have is a system in place in which the politicians who think race matters most align themselves with community leaders who purport to speak for entire minority communities. The people in government, elected and bureaucratic, expand the interests and the power of the state in an attempt to meet the unmet needs of minority communities, those unmet needs having been elucidated for them by the organized leaders of minority interest groups. The public men and women expand their power and their profile on minority issues, while the leaders of the organized groups expand their authority and their legitimacy as representatives of the broader community. Meanwhile the expectations of said community remain unmet and, in fact, continue to expand in their own right, given the promise of omnipotent government, fueling frustration and anger, no matter the actual state of affairs in their community.
In a real world example, black community leaders have been agitating against the Trump administration and against its tax and spending plans, insisting that the Trump presidency has already hurt black Americans and will do so even more if the tax bill becomes law. They are egged on and assisted in this effort by the Democratic Party and its elected officials, who accuse Trump of overt racism and claim that he is a nasty, cruel man who intends purposefully to hurt minorities with his budget plans. In the black community, people are frustrated. The issues that pushed them to the streets during the Obama administration have not been addressed. The Trump team appears hostile to their plight. And voting against Trumpian interests appears to be the most effective means of expressing their displeasure. Meanwhile the unemployment rate among black adults was lower in September of this year than it had been in 45 years, and today remains lower than at any point during the Bush or Obama administrations.
All of this constitutes what Lowi calls the “spectacular paradox.”
The problems with this system, as described by Lowi should be fairly clear. It is both self-sustaining and self-defeating. It ensures that there is always a mechanism to expand the power and the scope of the state, to expand the (unearned) legitimacy of community leaders and, at the same time, to facilitate less and less realistic expectations, thereby exacerbating community frustration. It guarantees both the growth of government, and the perpetuation of problems, in this case racial tensions.
Unfortunately, that’s not the worst of it. Lowi also notes – partly as description, partly as warning – that public men can and do elevate different causes that they deem important, regardless of the consequences, with the same pattern playing out time and again:
The most important difference between liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats — however they define themselves — is to be found in the interest groups they identify with. Congressmen arc guided in their votes, Presidents in their programs, and administrators in their discretion, by whatever organized interests they have taken for themselves as the most legitimate; and that is the measure of the legitimacy of demands.
For decades, the interest group liberalism of the administrative state catered exclusively to minorities on matters of race. Over the past few years, however, certain segments of the white populace have decided that they too want in on the game and have identified and organized themselves as an interest group whose sole defining feature is its race. Moreover, for a variety of reasons, some of which are purely opportunistic, these organized groups have co-opted for themselves the interests of other, less organized populations, thereby blurring the lines between those interests and their own. For example, the racist white identity movement has attempted to align itself with the white working class, thereby giving their purely racialist interests the veneer of legitimacy.
In this environment, it sometimes becomes difficult for both political allies and opponents to distinguish the pure identitarians from more legitimate but less organized groups, for example the white working class. This is the type of confusion that caused President Trump to declare, as noted at the top of the piece, that there were “good people on both sides” of the protests-turned-riots last spring in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump legitimized the white identity groups unwittingly, thinking he was merely offering tepid support for the white working class who formed the backbone of his constituency.
At the same time this confusion permits the Left and its mouthpieces in the media to portray all Trump supporters as racists. The white identity movement is playing a very clever but very cynical and potentially destructive game here, seeking to legitimize itself and its goals by delegitimizing the white working class more broadly in the eyes of the political Left and its constituencies.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the Leviathan of the administrative state and its attendant interest group liberalism. If the beast could be killed or, at the very least, tamed, then the power of ANY interest group to affect the public discourse would be diminished. Unfortunately the steps for doing so include de-democratizing the government, which is to say reestablishing the Founders’ republic, while simultaneously cutting the ability of the state and its representatives from both parties to placate interest group leaders for its own purposes. And neither of these is likely anytime soon. Of course, no one can say where this will end, but, as we have noted previously, we suspect that one result will be the transfer of power from the federal government back to the states.
Copyright 2017. The Political Forum. 3350 Longview Ct., Lincoln NE 68506, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.