Here’s how conservatives see the country.
Minorities of color vote for Democrats b/c they give them free stuff – that’s the conservatives’ term for it: “free stuff”. As usual, conservatives get everything backwards; minorities vote for Democrats b/c Republicans consistently denigrate and disrespect people of color and use racial fears to attract ignorant White voters. Moreover, Democrats have consistently sponsored legislation and policies that benefit minorities of color. You can’t keep going back to Lincoln to claim the mantle of savior of the Negro, nor can you count Nixon’s affirmative action programs since you spend your time doing things like trying to delegitimize Pres. Obama by saying he got his degrees via affirmative action.
Watching the discussion between Jared Bernstein and Charles Murray revealed interesting divisions in world view. Jared Bernstein offered statistics that showed that social welfare programs aka entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare are working very well. He focuses on what is making the country work well. Murray, OTOH, talks about the lumpen proletariat (not his word, of course) as if we were all going to just sit around, lacking spontaneity and ambition. That derives from his understanding of social groups seen in The Bell Curve, IQ tests reveal people’s potential and those people can be grouped in ways that allow us to determine which groups will succeed and which groups need to be taken care of. I assume he sees himself in the former group. God, I hope someone in the audience asks him that question. Further details await.
But to go on.
I’d like to slip in here a long piece illustrating the vagaries of what we call conservatism. This is worth looking at before going on to specific issues.
The Upworthiest wrote this about the 20th anniversary of Ellen DeGeneres’ coming-out episode on TV:
“ABC began slapping an “adult content” warning at the beginning of each episode of “Ellen” that followed. Conservative groups rallied viewers to boycott the show. Ratings nosedived for the once successful series as backlash ensued. About a year after DeGeneres’ coming out, ABC pulled the show”
I would like to address the word ‘conservative’ here. Why conservative groups? Why not libertarian, liberal, neo-con, anarchist, communist, socialist, etc.? Because, quite simply, it is only conservatives who are so adamantly hostile to homosexuals. Why is this? Why can we so readily predict that a conservative will be hostile to homosexuals even if he himself is homosexual? It is easy to caricature conservatives as Martha the church lady and her belly-scratching husband who laments not only forward movement for gays but for every other marginalized group in the country. Now Martha herself is proclaiming that they are the new minority. Next they will label themselves the ‘new niggers’ like certain left-wing interests did in the 60s.
However, many gays are conservatives just as many Blacks are. How do we account for this? As we progress, we will find over and over the terms conservative and liberal assigned to forces and movements throughout time and the world which display consistent values associated with each. To me, that means we are onto a deep division in the human psyche and one’s choice of which label to identify with has as much to do with personality as it does intellect. I so often hear the use of labels decried and yet when an acquaintance of mine enunciate a conservative position, e.g. that American public schools are a wasteland, and follows that up with, “and I’m a liberal, but I’ve got to go with the conservatives on this one,” further interaction proves that conservative is a more accurate label for this person than not. Care must be taken since few people fit either label neatly, but a review of historical social processes shows unmistakable trends.
Why is labeling important? Because it’s a shopping guide. Yes. Here in the East Valley of the Phoenix Metropolitan area, where god simply turned a can of divine red paint over the place, you survey the parking lots and see where the Save The Whales, Trump for Prison, and very worn Get Clean for Gene bumper stickers cluster, and you’ll find Trader Joe’s, Wild Flower, 31 Flavors, and a great bookstore. Not really so facetious, but serious people may want a better reason and it is that as people clump according to their interests, e.g. showing up at a photography amateur outing with a camera, you want to know you are not wasting your time. So I can’t bring a attitude that some people just aren’t worth saving to a Bernie rally nor can I pick up volunteers to set up a vigil at an alien detention center at an Americans for Family Values book signing. We do clump.
Jennifer Rubin wrote, “As with the ethics scandals, any legitimate investigation of the Russia scandal is hampered by Republicans’ utter lack of seriousness and their determination to play defense for the White House. When meddling by a foreign government is at issue, you’d think that Republicans would take their oaths of office seriously.
Paul Waldman wrote: “That’s why the preposterous notion that Mexico would pay for the wall was so critical: not because we need Mexico’s money, but because forcing it to pay would be an act of dominance, making it kneel before us, open up its wallets, and pay us for its own abasement.
These quotes illustrate the two levels of conservatism21 (= conservatism as realized on the Right at the beginning of the 21st century = Tea Party, Alt. Right, Texas, Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, etc.):
Level One is made up of smart people who have no morals and have figured out a way to gain power by snookering a large number of citizens to vote for figure heads who will carry out their agenda. This group does not believe Jesus is coming back any time soon.
Level Two is made up of the low-education, low-income, low-information, low social status person who is desperate and will cling to anything, incl guns and bibles, to preserve some semblance of dignity and hope. In Trump, the Right finally found their demagogue. This group is splintered on everything except one: Trump. They need him.
So no, the Republicans in Congress, i.e. people able enough to gain a seat in Congress and run a business, are not about to do anything about climate change when they can use that issue to rile up the base. They assume that they are smart enough to have purchased dry land somewhere for the future, dry land protects from hordes of refugees fleeing climatic disaster. They know that poverty, illiteracy, addiction, criminal behavior, etc. can be blamed on race by the slight of hand that convinces people on Level Two that food stamp recipients are all minorities even as they, White people, themselves receive food stamps. It’s a matter of framing, ff. George Lakoff: White people are self-sufficient, non-Whites are wards of the state. Now, who receives food stamps? Wards of the state. Who are wards of the state? Minorities. All quite logical from within their frame of reference.
Waldman’s use of the terms dominance, force, kneel, abasement gives us the heart of the issue: an overwhelming rage at loss of status and identity. If the authoritarian personality label for conservatives21 fits, Lakoff’s strict father, then corporal dominance and punishment are bred into the conservatives21 and they relish tape of brown and black people being “rounded up”. “Get tough”, “round up”, “put a stop to”, etc. are all phrases of the dominant.
Let’s first review conservative/liberal stances from a bird’s eye view:
What Conservatives Think
- xxiii The Portable Conservative Reader, Russell Kirk ed. & author of introduction
John Stuart Mill called Conservatives the stupid party b/c they don’t think much about where their ideas come from and are satisfied just to sit and think….. or just sit. “Let me rest: I lie in possession” says Fafnir, the king’s son in Norse mythology. Russell Kirk himself says Conservatives are selfish and self-centered. I must agree with him at least on this point. But he characterizes radicals as envious. Maybe. I don’t know. I’m not a radical despite what the Social Studies Department in my school thought. Here is a devastating quote (if you don’t know who Russell Kirk is you should google him): “Most conservatives [I would spell it with a capital C] hold by their particular social convictions because of early prejudices and experiences; their minds are not susceptible to temperate argument, nor can they express with much lucidity the postulates from which they draw their professed opinions.” That bodes ill for bridging the gap in world views.
Ten principles of Conservatism (conservatives do not have principles, only reactions, as in, “I want my country back.”) as elucidated by Russell Kirk.
The first is a transcendent moral order Conservatives believe runs the world, e.g. Natural Law. This is required for there to be a sense of right and wrong and without that you will have a bad society no matter how many people vote. Along with this moral order goes moral authority. Guess who tells us what natural law tells us and who has the authority to do so….. those already in power. As Fukuyama says, the elites have a knack for turning anything beneficial to them into a universal principle.
Next is the elevation of custom, tradition, convention and continuity to the undergirding of order, justice and freedom, the result of centuries of trial and reflection and sacrifice. This is why the Civil Rights Movement had to be opposed: the Southern Way of Life undergirded the social order.
Third comes those rights which exist because of their antiquity. We stand on the shoulders of giants and so should not tinker. This is why Conservatives are constantly invoking Plato and Aristotle and conservatives Reagan. The individual is foolish but the species wise and we should abide by precedent and precept and even prejudice…. Don’t you just love the aroma of hanging moss and mint julep?
Fourth in line is prudence, care in making changes too fast, but at least desirable, well considered change is recognized as necessary. With all deliberate speed is a kind of synonym that turned into an antonym.
Fifth, Conservatives love variety, by which Kirk means ….. well, I can only quote for you to get a whiff of this: “They feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems. For the preservation of a healthy diversity in any civilization,, there must survive orders and classes, differences in material condition, and many sorts of inequality.” I will desist, for the stench of magnolia blossoms gags me – although Kirk was from Michigan. I just want to know who will volunteer to be in the “interesting” part of society. So much more in five.
Sixth: Humans are imperfect. “All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. By proper attention to prudent reform….” Then why did Conservatives oppose civil rights for Blacks? Were not Blacks justified in taking up arms since what they suffered was far more than the founding fathers suffered under the king? Evils weren’t lurking; people mailed postcards of lynched Blacks to their friends and relatives. The British never did that to us. “Lurk” reminds me of Reagan’s “a trace of bigotry”. “The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the 20th century world into a terrestrial hell.” But Conservatives also oppose agrarian reform, universal education and health care, equal rights for women, protection of children, all in the name of preserving the natural order. How is that any better than the excesses of Leftist? Oh, it is that Conservatives don’t suffer any losses if everything remains the same.
The seventh principle links property rights to freedom. I am not prepared to argue against that. I support the free enterprise system as long as the enterprises pay taxes to support the community/government that supports them.
Eighth is voluntary community. I think this is code for freedom of association, i.e that it is OK to pass ordinances prohibiting Blacks from using public bathrooms because Whites do not want to associate with them, even when the bathrooms are installed using taxes Blacks pay, too. What C/conservatives NEVER understand is that if they had simply given Blacks the same rights as Whites, the federal government would never have gotten involved. But the ONLY way to break the stranglehold of segregation was to use federal dollars and federal laws and thus was built up this jury-rigged system that C/conservatives hate so. Had they not been so hide-bound in keeping Blacks suppressed, we would not have to talk about states’ rights as code for keeping the Blacks in their place. Trent Lott would not have lost his leadership position for saying we should have supported Strom Thurmond for president; the country’s sensibilities have turned against racism even as its effects yet remain.
In Nine, Kirk writes: “A just government maintains a healthy tension between the claims of authority and the claims of liberty.” Here I will inject another new idea for me: liberty and freedom. Liberty is conferred, freedom is inherent.
And ten. calls for a balance between permanence and change. Isn’t that what is so difficult in all this?
“Tiny changes in a complex system may lead to highly unpredictable consequences. Researchers in disciplines from weather modeling to theoretical physics to population biology have turned from the regular orderly behavior of classical science to irregular, disorderly, unpredictable, erratic behavior….. Chaos seems more human.” (The Development of Language, David Lightfoot p. 254)
What liberals think – weaknesses
liberals rely on government and ignore to a large extent the underlying social order
liberals think above the level of the basic human nature, believing intellect overcomes it whereas Conservatives at least claim to respect that nature even as they craft laws, ordinances, and other means and support customs that curb that nature.
liberals believe in the power of the word, that talking about things solves problems. Talking works to process what needs to be done via communication but then something needs to be done
Liberals like to set up figures, ideologically pure figures as emblems of a cause. Thus they find themselves speaking approvingly of some rotten characters who may nevertheless have suffered an injustice. Michael Brown was not a innocent young teenager, he was a jerk, but we don’t kill people for being jerks in this country. Trayvon Martin, OTOH, seemed like an average kid. One super Liberal professor I knew never met a Black person who wasn’t “brilliant” or an African who wasn’t noble or a piece of folkloric art that wasn’t exquisite and so forth, all just to jab into The Man’s eye his opinion that the petty prejudices of the average White American were just that, petty.
Liberals don’t help themselves when they lump people together, as if all Hispanics were the same – I recall an episode of one of those very well done cop shows where the detective of Columbian origin is being feted and the dinner serves tacos. He explodes, lecturing his slack-jawed colleagues on the difference between Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Columbians, and so forth. Even lumping all poor people together as if they would all get along, having their poverty in common.
“Rand Paul: Income Inequality Comes From ‘Some People Working Harder’ Than Others”We all end up working for people who are more successful than us,” the presidential hopeful said. Is this a misquote, a misinterpretation? The harder you work the more you make? That the principal I worked for was more successful than me? I am not asking you to say whether or not you agree with Paul but just to admit people DO say these things. Jason Chaffetz opined that people could afford health insurance if they’d buy that instead of a new IPhone. Same thing said to me in the 60s when an insurance investigator questioned whether or not I was White and I asked why – well, you know Blacks, if it comes to a choice between a premium payment and a bottle of wine, you know which one he’ll choose (and I’d just told him that my wife was Black).
Ian Haney-Lopez in Dog Whistle Politics introduces the concept of “common sense racism”, by which he means the way people look at conditions certain groups find themselves in and say: “That’s just the way they are.” That almost fits my strict definition of racism but it is not the view Jim espouses. It is, however, the view of people who see the disproportionate number of Blacks in the penal system and decide, “That’s just the way they are.” No interest in investigating, in getting to know people in that situation, nothing like what Chua and Rubenfeld go into in establishing the markers for minorities who have achieved financial and structural success in the society and those who haven’t. If you wonder about this phenomenon, that book, The Triple Package, is excellent.
May 22 It is so advanced now, the deterioration of the government, that it demands a new color of ink. [this color is “vibrant purple”]
June 28 We are reaching the bottom of the whirlpool. I wonder what’s there? [this color is “earthy red”]
Sept, 10 Things are spinning out of control and Mueller keeps plodding along [this color is “earthy brown”]
Let’s list issues first, then show how conservatives construe them:
welfare aka entitlement programs and aid programs
war and/or military action
American social groups
entertainment & art
crime & punishment
geography and immigration
culture ~ multiculturalism
the Trump Effect
law & the Constitution
voting and the electoral process
At this point and from now on, the day after the election, I’ll write in red. [this color is called “vibrant red”]
At this point, 2 months into the Trump administration, I’ll write in blue. [this color is called “professional blue”]
At this point, almost 3 months into the administration (April 13 today), I’ll write in green. [this color is called “vibrant green”]
And now, May 22, I switch to this color. [this color is called “vibrant purple”]
July something I switched to this color – orange or shit brindle, as my dad used to say. It’s the square second from the end on the top row [this color is called “earthy red”]
Sept. 10 WOW! [this color is called “earthy brown”] I notice I haven’t been consistent in first giving the conservative position and then a COUNTER to it. I’ll try to do some of that, but from here, 9/11/17, I’ll go to From Under the Bus to make political comments.
The characterization of conservative views that I offer here derive from many conversations, a lot of reading, listening to self-described conservatives in the media, and growing up in a working-class, White environment in the 40s and 50s in Ohio and AZ, and marrying into the African-American community at a fairly young age when social segregation still dominated the interaction between Blacks and Whites. My tendency is to discuss these issues and institutions I have listed and then try to tie them together to make a larger point.. Let’s see how I do. Presently, we have been slapped in the face with a giant, dead, cold fish which is the Trump victory in the GOP. Pundits over the world are asking just what the hell happened. Perhaps my take on how conservatives see these issues can explain this phenomenon beyond the hollowing out of the middle class and the loss of manufacturing jobs. We are far beyond that and appealing to the Evangelicals’ religious principles – only the Mormons seem to have any integrity in that realm – is a lost cause since they have embraced the worst sort of womanizer, blasphemer, greed merchant and con artist. As Bob Jones said, ethnicity trumps religion. The word conservative encompasses a great variety of views, from George Will to Jerry Falwell, Jr., from Wall Street hedge fund managers (I don’t know what that is but it sounds good) to Iowa corn farmers, from Andrew Sullivan to Franklin Graham. I will do my best in the course of this to separate Pat Buchanan from the late Steve LaTourette, John Kasich from Ted Cruz. I will follow in most cases with a COUNTER that will point up the weak spots in conservative thinking.
Two months into the Trump administration and one day into his budget, I no longer can be nice. This list derives from a year long attempt to see the pov of my interlocutor who expressed his entitlement to the view that large numbers of people vote illegally, among many other odious beliefs, all in the name of World View. That is, he was of the opinion that my facts were different from his facts only b/c we have different world views. Now that that has been clarified by the Trump administration as “alternative facts”, I can move on. I am prepared for all the usual “can’t we just all get along” bullshit. These folks, including my interlocutor, are not my opponents, they are my enemies. My son and grandsons face the guns of rogue police officers who feel entitled to gun them down b/c, as psychologists have shown many times, Whites see Blacks as bigger, stronger, and more menacing and violent than they are. Anyone who endangers my family deserves nothing from me, no concessions, no moves in their direction, anymore than they would if they wanted to reinstate racial segregation – which is a clear goal of this administration despite their weak denials. Bannon and Sessions? ‘Nuff said. Your budget is a clear view into your values and anyone, absolutely anyone, associated with this administration, is off the grid – no quarter. And the whole Republican Party has been on the edge with me for many years now and its pusillanimous objections to Trump’s rudderless bumper car executive orders and wild statements are just about matched by the Democrats’ weak response to this clear and present danger to our country.
BTW, I am not going to make the effort in most cases to include urls to back up statements; if you don’t know what Chaffetz said about insurance premiums, then why are you reading this?
The conservatives I talk to as people are just as nice as anyone else. My son’s former landlords are good people. What they don’t know would fill the Caribbean Basin. They are in no way inimical to other people as individuals, but slap a label on them – illegals, Black thugs, sluts, terrorists – and they will OK whatever is done. Show them an individual and they will do whatever they can to help them: the mother about to be separated from her children, the doctor with an Arab name trying to get a flight home, a family trying to find housing, the man with a record looking for work, these they will help. But go ahead and pass laws allowing discrimination, knocking the legs out from under health care, permitting cops to manhandle people, letting banks engage in practices that put middle class people at a disadvantage, because that is cast in terms of broader issues conservatives don’t understand. So below I look at cases that have arisen in the categories listed and show how the way conservatives think gives a free hand to people who have an agenda.
May 1, 2017 – at (http://barrett.lang-learn.org/2017/04/12/what-to-do-with-the-trump-voters-make-nice-or-dump-them/) I’ve written this but I’ll put it here to make sure it’s seen: there are two competing views of conservatives. The one sees conservatives as normal people who have been misled by those seeking their votes. Those misleading them identify key indicators of a conservative bent and then feed those, so if Jackson P. Pillingham intends to get into Congress to enrich himself, he will speak fervently against abortion even though his own sister got an expensive but safe abortion before 1973. He is completely dishonest but knows his constituents are grasping for straws and will vote for anyone who will bring back the days of yore when everything seemed so much better. Which leads us to the other view of conservatives as cynical and power hungry b/c of their value system. Abortion may not be part of their value system but power is. This is a natural human trait but conservatives have woven it into their program of governance. Liberals, by contrast, put limits and controls on natural human avarice and corruption. (Francis Fukuyama posits patrimonialism and reciprocal altruism as the pillars of human political organization).
As of Sept. 10, we’ve seen Trump pivot to his new friends, Chuck and Nancy. At the same time we are literally inundated by major hurricanes (Irma made landfall in FL. this morning), Trump ends DACA, transgender military, puts the Democrats in control in December and the GOP in a box, watches his WH staff he belittled and berated go before the Independent Counsel, and on and on and on. Meanwhile, North Korea is pulling on our pants leg and Trump will no doubt declare Kim Jung Un his latest best buddy. You know, that just might work.
So, in no particular order:
welfare aka entitlement programs and aid programs – these are used as evidence that we have lost our spunk as a nation, that the old can-do American spirit is dead, killed by do-gooders, bleeding-hearts and sob sisters. People who should just be allowed to drift into oblivion in their own stink and filth b/c they are either lazy or evil or both are buoyed up and carried along on the backs of hard-working folks.
COUNTER: evidence from the Progressive Era, the New Deal, the Great Society, all the way to the ACA aka Obamacare shows the uplift given to the whole society by these programs. Conservatives attack them on the basis that they have not ended poverty, as when cold medicine leaves you with a cough but able to get to work…… why take the medicine? When I went to work in 1966 at the county welfare office, workers who’d been there a while told me they had just started giving welfare services to minorities. So who was getting welfare before? Like the man in Mississippi retorted when he was complaining about people on food stamps and he was reminded that he received food stamps, “Well, I deserve them.” The New Deal discriminated against Blacks and Whites liked it b/c it lifted them into the middle class; once there, though, they saw reforms as I mentioned in this paragraph got under their skin as they saw their tax money going to minorities. This was the complaint against Obama: he was giving tax money collected from Whites to Blacks who did not want to work.
Jason Chaffetz says the health insurance problem is that people are buying IPhones instead of paying premiums. That is a restatement of what my insurance agent told me in 1966 when he sent an investigator to my house who asked if I was White. Why ask that? Because, he replied, if it comes down to a choice between paying the premium and buying a bottle of wine, you know what choice Blacks make…… and I had just the previous sentence told him my wife is Black. If you don’t think Republicans see Blacks like that, you haven’t been listening.
Disaster aid suddenly becomes relevant to millions of conservatives as their property goes under water. If they had any sense of decency, they would decline federal aid. Ted Cruz is now caught in his denial of aid to Sandy victims as his state experiences one of the worst natural disasters on record in terms of loss of money and disruption of lives.
war and/or military action – the greatest amount of myth surrounds this topic, generated by movies and the failure to teach history in our schools. Smart people have known all along that the Soviet Union played a major role if not the major role in defeating Germany but Cold War sensibilities would not allow facts to interfere with the presentation of the U.S. having saved the world. A classic example of conservative cluelessness is the citation of “not as many X as we used to have” e.g. by Romney, only to be answered by Obama that we don’t have as many horses in the army either. The most dangerous part of this issue is that it can get you jailed or even killed for emboldening our enemies, in the immortal words of W. Bill Maher got fired for saying the 9/11 terrorists, no matter how diabolical they were, were certainly not cowards. The enemy is all evil, we are all good, anything less means you are not a patriot. Right now the contrast between Iran and Russia is magnifying this: the Iran nuclear deal means we are all going to die but cooperating with Putin in his power grab in Eastern Europe is the linchpin of Trump’s foreign policy.
COUNTER: many conservatives, esp Neocons, are up on their foreign policy while the mass of conservatives don’t know the difference between Iran and Iraq and like to call foreigners names like gook, towel head, Chink, Commie, etc. The Neocons and other foreign policy wonks on the conservative side are possessed of a world view which needs to be explored because it is not simple minded and honest disagreements on direction and thrust can be had. What is not up for discussion is the quaint notion that massive land armies are required and that air power alone can resolved militarized conflicts.
The massive increase in defense spending in tandem with decreases in spending on diplomacy shows Trump and his supporters think tanks can resolve any dispute with other countries. They don’t know that our present dispute is with terrorists who do not have a country b/c Trump supporters don’t know anything about other countries; they think that if you bomb some foreign country, that’ll stop terrorism. They believe that if the terrorists see news footage of lots of American planes, tanks, and ships, they will cower and give up jihad. This is the level they operate on, as does Trump.
Conservatives interpret military action as a sign of strength and authority. This is why they give a free hand to the police; they value authority over justice. Because conservatives know next to nothing about other countries, it is easy for politicians to paint with a broad brush and label whole countries, regions, religions, as the enemy. Invoking a “clash of civilizations” elevates the discourse while reinforcing the belief that Christianity is the salvation of mankind. Anyone outside that circle (conveniently redefined and retooled as necessary to the machinations of the politicians) of “us” vs “them” can readily be subjected to our authority, which is enacted through our military. Now we see Trump’s silly gestures in Syria and Afghanistan and empty rhetoric about North Korea and we must place our country in the hands of, ironically, the military (McMasters and Mattix) b/c they are the only sane and patriotic members of Trump’s team.
Tony Schwartz, who wrote the Art of the Deal for Trump by spending several hundred hours with him, wrote a piece recently which deftly describes Trump’s personality. There is nothing in there to prevent him from using the nukes. Most anything threatens him with obliteration, and before he would let that happen, he will strike.
The word is out that the Joint Chiefs have moved to position someone between Trump and the nuclear codes. No conservative should have access to weapons of mass destruction because they will use them and declare it their god’s vengeance upon ungodly people, just as Pat Robertson claims countries and cities sell their souls to the devil, bringing upon themselves natural disasters sent by their god. Houston? Florida? Oh, yeah. Sinners all. Conservatives call it projecting American strength, by which they mean making nations do what we want them to do. They parent the same way, using physical force to impose their will on their children.
foreign policy – the way we avoid militarized conflicts. Unfortunately, conservatives see negotiation and compromise as weakness and appeasement. They see force and sabotage as applied to other nations and entities as the only solution permitted a real man, a real American. This applied to both the mass of conservatives and the more sophisticated types. They see the U.S. as part of a civilization that transcends any sort of balance and any slight or maneuver against us requires retaliation. Stereotypes of certain nations rank high in conservative thinking, especially when dressed up in the Clash of Civilizations vision of the world, invoking 1930s movies with villains named Khan whose values and motives we straight-shootin’ Westerners will never comprehend. The Oriental Mind, Oriental Despotism and all that figure more prominently in thinking at the highest levels of diplomacy than we would wish. We balked at the Soviets putting missiles in Cuba but had our missiles on Iran’s border with Russia.
COUNTER: Since our diplomatic corps and foreign service people tend to be educated in elite universities we have to start there, making sure that cultural relativism and multiculturalism, under attack by conservatives, are allowed to play out their influence on thinking in academe and the foreign service and military. Then our business and financial corporate world needs to be brought under the forces of law to stop their depredations in other countries. There is a lot of cross-fertilization in the first three institutions but the business world does not share in this as far as I can tell; their bottom line rules and whatever it takes to make a profit is OK. We saw that in the 1800s as British merchants pushed the government into an imperial stance, giving businesses the purchase they wanted at the expense of good relations with other countries. As long as those countries were colonies of European powers, we limped along, but now that they are independent nations, we find ourselves on the short end of the stick.
As under war and/or military action above, there exists no understanding on the part of Trump or his supporters of the role diplomacy plays. They see diplomacy as weakness. Trump admires Putin b/c he sends in tanks. When Trump sends in tanks, and he’ll try, he will ignite blow-black we won’t be able to control b/c all our Sec’y of State wants is those Russian oil fields; if he gets those, he and Trump and Putin will have so much money and power, they will be able to silence their critics b/c of all the people willing to sell out their country for money. Tillerson is just one.
The Saudis gave Trump a shiny bauble and lots of pomp on this trip abroad (May 22). They’ve got his number. Given that his supporters know next to nothing about foreign countries or diplomacy, he is safe in doing anything without alienating them. He has now, on his return, not only blown apart our international relations going back to WW II – oh, no, Jared is linking up with our Russian allies – he is walking into a nightmare. Absolutely nothing will get done, which is a good thing.
The alienation of our allies is almost complete. Trump has even alienated the Russians by proving useless to them. What can bring back our influence? A massive shift in government over to the Democrats who will repair the damage as best they can. The GOP thought it could control Trump; Grover Norquist called for a president who would simply sign what a GOP Congress passed to him. They discover an uncontrollable force, Trump’s ego.
Sept. 14 The less educated person’s notion of foreign policy is diplomats attending fancy parties while the real work gets done on the battlefield. Strap on your six-guns, grab your Winchester – we don’t need no stinking diplomacy. This is exemplified in our local Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Reg Manning’s “Hats”, showing the top hats of diplomats hanging on a hat rack at the site of the peace talks during the Korean War and another frame showing a GI’s helmet hanging off the cross at his grave site. Excellent use of the theme and no one would argue that the peace talks should not have moved faster to save lives, but it also reflects impatience with the diplomatic process, whose pace is maddeningly slow.
the economy – just how much the economy can or should be guided is a very tough call, with brilliant people arguing all aspects of it. The one myth that dominates conservative thought is the idea of the free market. Adam Smith himself said that the capital markets need some regulation, but we have radicals in positions of influence now who want to kick over the traces. The damage done to the populace is immense but that old Social Darwinism, long discredited by academics, holds sway over that very populace. If we take an example of the free enterprise system, say, baby boomers as a market. I’m five years older than the baby boomers and as I see them reach first 65, then 70, I seem to see a lot of marketing to them. That makes sense b/c the larger the market the more activity you should see, whether it’s arthritis medicine or knee replacements. But where were these things years ago? They may have been available but were ore expensive b/c the market was smaller. So was that fair to the elderly who needed go-carts to get around in, mobility devices, but found them prohibitively expensvie? Was it fair to make them wait another decade or more for the price to come down as more people reached old age? It depends on the nature of the service or item: life-preserving items should be available; life-enhancing items and services, maybe not. That is to be decided by the voters as they elect more socially concerned politicians and support efforts to spend more on such services or those who would point out the cost of these services and how those needs might be met via vehicles other than government. Over and over, politicians validate the insane notion that the budget of a nation can be handled just like a family sitting around the kitchen table handles its budget.
COUNTER: Economic education of the bulk of people seems to be the only way we can convince the populace that zero regulation winds up hurting not only individuals but business itself as a few powerful entities come to dominate the market. That usually means dominating the government, too. Democratic ideas and Keynesian economics dominated for several decades; there is no reason we cannot have economic policies closer to free market ideas. It’s just a matter of Americans supporting such a shift. So the conservative viewpoint has a place at the table but the voters may reject their formulations of how the economy should work.
Now that total free marketers are in charge of our economy in the government sector and a free hand will be given to corporate pirates, we will be able to see relatively quickly, within Trump’s first term, how people like the results. Increased defense and infrastructure spending will provide jobs to some and there will a spill-over effect from those, but eventually the cutbacks in funding for education, health, the social safety net, and services in general will be felt. It is my opinion, which is not worth too much given my certainty Trump was going to be waxed, that by the mid-terms he’ll be toast. My wife said Chris Matthews played a clip from Tucker Carlson’s interview with Trump in which Trump admitted he knew his voters were getting screwed by his budget. When will these people realize they’re being played by a con man? Never. They have their pride, no teeth, but their pride.
Conservatives believe the national budget works just like a household budget, Ma and Pa sitting around the kitchen table with dad’s paycheck and toting up the bills. No new shoes for junior and a hand-me-down dress for sister. They condemn their siblings for putting new shoes for junior on a credit card = going into debt, so he can walk to school and play safely. These are judgment calls each family makes. But the nation is an entirely different matter. We’ve put off infrastructure and now we are facing the consequences and no conservative is going to try to justify more gummint spending to his constituents.
Child care – maybe a bit out of place between the economy and social groups but maybe not so much (I didn’t plan this order, as I stated. The fact that sex is toward the end of the list may speak more to my age). I read the book The Village Effect (I typed People instead of Effect, again showing my age) and am just finishing Our Kids and from both of them plus much other reading and personal experience I can say that what happens prenatally and in infancy and in the earliest years of education determines most of what happens to us. After HRC claimed that it takes a village to raise a child, bumper stickers came out declaring it takes a family the raise a child. I often wondered if that was as much in response to the accompanying tag to the say that it is an African proverb and these conservatives don’t want anything to do with Africa. At any rate, they raise specters of Communist mind control whenever the government is involved in any way with child care. They haven’t come with any solution to child care except that women should stay home and not work.
COUNTER:. Our Kids shows via vignettes as well as statistics and studies the vast and crucial determinant that child care is. The author and I both grew up in the same small town in the 40s and 50s and know first hand how children were cared for. Due to the growth in population and the diminishment of the social networks – the point of Our Kids – we now see huge swaths of the country where kids are not receiving good care, often not even minimal care over enough to keep them alive. They enter school with severe deficits and almost no support to defy and overcome such obstacles. One of my major theses over this past year has been the fundamental imprint on our society of the colonial slave society that dominated the country along with New England. The rise of the Midwest and the West have obscured the degree to which our country’s institutions were shaped by colonial social structure and most salient, slavery. The South figures prominently in every negative stat, and for a reason. Black children are more segregated now, in terms of absolute numbers, than they were during Jim Crow. The same is occurring among Hispanic youth. As our society is based more and more on cognitive abilities, we are brain poisoning a large segment of our population.
Three words explain it all: other people’s children.
education – which smoothly follows child care and loops right back to the economy. The best way to envision the concept of education that conservatives have is to watch a politician visit a classroom – and this can be a politician of any stripe. Look at the stupid grin on his face. He really thinks that teaching children is a matter of being matronly and sweet. The expertise that lies behind good teaching is entirely invisible to him. This is why the educational reform movement is so ill-informed. What teachers need to do an effective job is a good education themselves but we have to pay for well educated people. Then the teachers need the tools, including the plant, the staff, the support people, and so on. What they do not need is a lot of technology that is purchased b/c the tech company’s CEO is the brother of a school board member. The cronyism and nepotism is pretty bad. In communities of poverty it is esp bad b/c the school may be the only source of jobs in the neighborhood, making the principal and the school board little kings. The charter movement quickly turned into a profit-driven enterprise designed to suck money out of the bodies of our children in a variety of ways: state money granted to the schools with no oversight; buildings secured by the schools which were then turned over to the school’s “board” aka owners to sell or rent and otherwise make money off of; divesting the school of low-performing students so test scores stayed up while dumping those students onto the local public schools and then pointing to the public schools’ difficulties as a reason to charter more charter schools. As public schools go down in this morass, Black students become even more segregated, an echo of the earlier White academies in the South set up to avoid integration.
COUNTER: a nation-wide effort to up our game in the primary grades and pre-school along with added resources in poverty areas is required; local communities do not have the expertise or money to carry this out. They do need the support and guidance and funding; they do not need micromanagement.
The same as above: other people’s children. Upscale neighborhoods will continue to have good public schools and fly-by-night and religious charters will be available to the rest while the public schools throughout the vast middle of America will wither as fewer and fewer capable people will enter the teaching profession. This started well before Trump with the Reform movement, GERM, as Pasi Sahlberg calls it. It relies on conservative propaganda and relies on people’s belief that religion is what counts above all and that the high quality education in other countries is not godly enough. Getting through to such people is impossible b/c it is their faith. They don’t understand science or the humanities, so as I write this, Trump’s budget cuts funding for public media and the arts, all the things backward people think don’t count, don’t add anything essential to the society. Too bad for them b/c the educated will hold onto their books and music collections and put on their own shows.
American social groups – most ethnic groups lose their ethnic identity by the third generation, e.g. me – I’m 3rd generation Italian-American and have little to no identity as such, although some of that is clearly due to my lack of a relationship with the Italian side (paternal) of my family – they were extremely Italian, real old school. The one thing besides a mean spaghetti sauce that remains to me is my rage at seeing an Italians surnamed Republican. Tucker Carlson, among many many people, discusses Latinos as a static group; if they can turn Texas blue by the next presidential election then there is no need for us to have elections since Democrats will win every time. Two stereotypes are found here: that ethnic minorities vote Democratic (pretty accurate) and that Latinos will always remain in the Dems column (and that they will always remain a minority!!). Taking the example of Italian-Americans, Latinos have every reason to be Republicans, just like Blacks do. The only reason they aren’t is the implacable hatred a majority of Republicans feel toward them – OK, suspicion and hostility. This rivalry among groups is normal and eventually, in the U.S., groups assimilate, except for Blacks. The deliberate isolation of Blacks, still felt to be necessary by a lot Americans, derives from the history of the Peculiar Institution. The history of assimilation is nevertheless pretty good but not for non-White people. Many conservatives continue to see the U.S. as a White nation, as if the color or racial identity is essential. This derives from that history I mentioned.
COUNTER: Science discredits the concept of race. However, other social groups e.g. workers, women, surfers, sports fans, divorced people, single moms, and almost any configuration you can think of exists within a dynamic context; that’s why Carlson’s view of Hispanics as a static group is wrong, but conservatives tend to reify and solidify phenomena that are in fact malleable and permeable. That’s the nature of conservatism: their idea of order is to freeze everyone in place, as in once a pipe fitter always a pipe fitter. The drive for equality has integrated the society among many different social groups as the class divide has hardened and widened, even within ethnic groups. So we may wind up with divisions into social classes, though the classes may include people of color along with Whites, gays, disabled, and on and on, with Latin-American countries as a model: we don’t care what color you are, as long as you stay in your favelas and leave the wealthy alone.
Have we really gone beyond the point yet where the answer to the question, what is your experience with diversity can be, “I’ve seen West Side Story three times” will get you through the interview? How do we figure out how well a person will work in an environment made up of people unlike them? Just recently, we’ve seen a spate of stories about sexual and racial harassment, not the least of which involved Fox News and the termination of several major figures them, incl. the founder.
dictatorships – the reason Obama was seen as a tyrant is simple: the code of White men is that they should never be in a position under, inferior to or subject to a Black person. The movie Mississippi Burning captured this well when the agent described how his father had declared, ‘If you ain’t better than a nigger, son, who are you better than?’…The very idea of a Black person in authority over a White is anathema to these people and a Black in the White House meant the world had turned upside down. That’s why McConnell immediately stated that the Party’s first and only goal was to make Obama a one-termer, the closest he could come to saying lynch him; that’s why the Tea Party arose within five minutes of Obama’s inauguration with their signs of Africans with bones in their nose and Hitler symbolism. One guy at my job just shook his head the day after elections and muttered, “The country is going to hell in a handbasket.” I knew just what he meant. These are the Trump supporters. So they turned from a person they had falsely labeled a dictator to one who would actually be a dictator. I write this on election eve. I may add some more 🙂
:-)After the election, this whole matter of how conservatives view things has taken on a dark and ominous tone, esp this section. More than one person I’ve spoken to or whose material I’ve read has mentioned dictatorship. I have reasoning on that I put in my running political blog at the end, after the election. I see firewalls. I hope they hold. But I have mentioned Fukuyama many times on my blog and as I recall how he traced the trajectory of nations, I am keeping an open mind. After all, I thought Michael Moore was leaning toward the dramatic when he warned us a couple of weeks ago that Trump could win. I’ve ordered home delivery of the New York Times. I can’t stand to watch TV now. The url to reach that blog entry is http://barrett.lang-learn.org/2016/08/05/running-blog-on-politics-2016/
If only we could put a chip into the authoritarians in our midst, we could quarantine them, keep them from voting, and keep them out of sensitive jobs. Why? B/c authoritarianism is cheap and easy. You just depend on the big guy: do what he says and you’ll be OK, but disagree with him and, hey, buddy, you knew what you were doing. This is Trump’s world. The Tony Schwartz article on Trump I referred to under War & Military Action describes the way Trump deals with people. It is exactly what strong men do, the caudillo, the man on horseback.
the media – the salient feature of the media is news coverage and political punditry. The false equivalency of saying MSNBC is the Fox News of the Left. Bullshit. Here’s an example I saw the other day of how Fox handles with kid gloves the intelligence of their viewers: Megan Kelley was interviewing two conservative Republicans regarding Trump’s statement on NATO. One was pro-Trump and approved of what he had said; the other was anti-Trump and said Trump’s proposals were counterproductive. The first guy took that bellicose attitude that if you don’t go along with us we’ll slap you around. The second guy explained – for about half a minute – how NATO works and how suggesting we might not assist countries who don’t “pay their way” would upset careful power balances, esp in the face of Russian aggression. Kelley shut him down quickly with a grin, saying her head was about to explode. I am sure she understood exactly what the man was saying but knew her audience was just hearing blah blah blah, like in their high school government class…. blah blah blah, let’s just bomb ‘em.
At this point, the fourth estate has egg on its face, even Fox, for not having foreseen this outcome.
I had earlier, somewhere, stated that our civil service may wind up being the bulwark against Trump. That was before I realize how insane his administration would be. Although the civil service is providing such a bulwark in the form of resistance to Trump’s savage attacks on our institutions, it is the media that has stepped up to call out the administration and Trump in particular on his bone-headed moves like “paling around” with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister in giving them classified information directly. By keeping such matters front and center, they do not allow the fickle public to get distracted by more shiny objects like Ivanka’s jewelry line. (BTW, as of May 17, where are she and Jared? Perhaps looking for an apartment in Moscow.)
I didn’t call it quite right. I said the civil servants would put up a firewall against Trump and his followers but I did not count the media in. They are going after Trump tooth and nail. We confront the same problem described everywhere in this essay: the refusal of those bitten by the spider to concede their god has failed. No matter what disgusting and treasonous behavior is uncovered, they will still stand by their man. Boris Epshteyn was on Bill Maher last Friday and is a perfect example of this. To continue on June 8, Epshteyn is now part of the Russia probe.
Earlier in this segment I should have pointed out the the media, the Free Press, is enshrined in our Constitution. A free people must have information and the only way to get it is through the press. What conservatives want is what most countries have, a press subservient to the leaders. It’s not that the oppose a free press on ideological grounds, it’s that they don’t even know what the concept means; it never occurs to them to be objective about anything. It’s all about dominating and winning and the press is just part of that.
government – government’s only purpose should be to protect us against foreign enemies and insure domestic peace and order.
COUNTER: groundwork for employment regulations permits workers to take care of themselves. Cf. coal miners
Now that the Trumpian notion of government has been seen in operation for a couple of months, a few benighted Trump supporters have seen just what it is government does. As the song has it, you don’t miss your water till your well runs dry. The hilarity abounds in town halls in red districts where people are screaming bloody murder b/c they are going to lose their medical coverage if the GOP has its way. Eventually, they’ll see their water polluted, their kids poisoned by school lunches (you thought Reagan was egregious in claiming catsup is a vegetable, wait till Trump builds his own food pyramid – you’ll be able to tell b/c he will slap his name on it, right on top of the baloney)
Recently I sat down with my neighbor and we had a long talk, mainly about politics. He’s about my age, raised in pretty much the same area of North Phoenix, from a working-class family like me, and a high school drop-out, unlike me. He has roots in Kentucky and I in Ohio. So we have a lot in common but he’s conservative and I’m liberal. So he was very excited about me coming back over and talking more. So I got to thinking about how I would give a liberal’s eye view of our country’s political development in our life-times and fabricated a fantasy about that potential conversation. Here goes, at least in outline:
the great shift in governance in our country came with the New Deal, put in place just before we were born. The precedent for government intervention on a large scale was the Progressive Era when we set up agencies to inspect food and made some advances in safety for workers and consumers e.g. drugs. T.R. attacked the monopolies. This was serious stuff but it was curtailed by WW I and the Depression.
The New Deal was so determinative in our history b/c it enshrined the much larger role of government. Late in the 19th century, the government was reluctant even to protect settlers on the frontier against Indian attack, aka the Native American Resistance Movement. But the New Deal injected government into most spheres of public life. While the New Deal was popular with most Americans, a strong core opposed it and that opposition formed the core of the Republican Party up to today when Speaker Ryan will try to roll back the New Deal. That has been the GOP goal ever since FDR built the massive structure of federal government intervention.
But the deepest slice into the American soul, like a meat cleaver driving to the bone, occurred in 1954 when SCOTUS declared that the sacred and tradition separation of school children by race was unconstitutional. While unconstitutional merely meant that the Constitution does not support the setting to the side a set of citizens based on a spurious criterion, race, almost all Americans heard that as a moral condemnation of the South. We set aside convicts, why not Blacks? Blacks are citizens and convict has lost their civil rights. That argument did not fly and so the seeds of the current division in our society were sown.
That might not have had the profound effect it has had if not for the GOP seeing an opening to overcome the big advantage Democrats had had for 40 years, the Northern big city populations, immigrants, and unions, all missing from the Deep South. Reaching out to segregationists in the Southern Strategy, the GOP discovered another large but neglected group: Evangelicals. Most Republicans operatives did not know what evangelical religion was about b/c the party was still a mix of conservatives, liberals and moderate, with very few Republicans existing in the South. And the Evangelicals were hooked in when a decade later, SCOTUS struck again with Roe v. Wade. Now the Republican Party began making very, very large inroads into the Solid South. Carter and Clinton scooped up a lot of Southern voters on the basis of regional appeal, but during Clinton’s tenure, the 90s saw open warfare break out between liberals and conservatives as gerrymandered districts demanded more extremism in candidates to survive the primaries and key figures like Newt Gingrich set the tone of nasty vitriol. Liberals and moderates were purged from the party and by the time George W. Bush arrived on the scene, the 1950s battle lines of Who Lost China? and Why Do My Kids Have to Go to School With Colored Kids? had been inflated to reflect the sense that prayer in the school, abortion, gay rights, had joined anti-Communism and States’ Rights aka anti-integration as to limn an ideological base for the GOP that quickly fell apart under the assaults from Trump. GOP intellectuals and ethical Republicans could not associate themselves with a man who was antithetical to everything the GOP had stood for. Moral superiority had been a touchstone of the GOP and now it had put up as its leader a man with zero morals, zero principles, zero ideology: just cheat to make money and get women in compromised positions to take sexual advantage of them.
Conservatives misunderstand government’s role and confuse it with business: business makes profits, governments protect and empower its citizens (see under politics for these ideas from George Lakoff). The reason conservatives claim to hate government is that they are thinking about the things government does that they don’t like, like protect people they don’t like seeing protected such as atheists, religious and racial minorities, immigrants, artists, non-conformists, and so forth.
geography and immigration – a woman in Nevada was interviewed just before the election by NPR and she was for Trump and said she no longer felt secure in her own country, that she saw “suspicious people” she did not used to see. Here is a case where “bigot” is not an epithet but a simple label for someone who sees people unlike herself in some way as a threat. She projects her hostility onto them and feels threatened. If she feels threatened, there must be a reason for it and the reason is cannot be her b/c she is a nice person with no malice so it must be them. Easy peasy.
COUNTER: every influx of immigrants has been met with alarm. What is different this time is that a good many of the immigrants don’t look like the image of an American: White. It is so odd because the country was settled by immigrants and still relies on a steady stream of them to provide a workforce. Most have come as unskilled workers and despised for their appearance and cultural differences and then they assimilated.
nostalgia – From Jennifer Rubin, right wing columnist, on excuses the GOP will make: “’It’s the fault of white voters who didn’t turn out.’ This sort of magical thinking is what got the GOP into trouble in the first place. There is no electoral majority of right-wing, older white males who resent women in the workplace and immigrants in their country”. Well, we might want to rethink this one.
Conservatives their lost America, the one before babbling immigrants, angry Blacks and entitled youth. You know, when we all got along. They have a problem, though, me. I just turned 76 (this is Sept. 11, 2017) and I remember the halcyon days of the 40s and 50s. One time on flteach, a listserv for foreign language teachers, we got into a discussion about just this, how great it was to teach in the good old days when kids minded, showed respect, did their homework, and didn’t come to school from some sort of hellhole at home. So I recounted for them the things I experienced and witnessed as a child, just, so I thought, to remind them. One champion of the good old days told me I had had a Dickensian childhood! Quite the contrary, I had a good childhood but I was observant. My guess is that he viewed the world through the eyes of either his family narrative or a religious narrative in which everything is just fine. Either way, it’s not hard to figure out who has the truth of the matter: how would I want to make up all the stuff I saw going on around me? Or you can read Stephanie Coontz’ The Way We Never Were.
political correctness – “that the real Trump is the man we watched, many of us in horror, month after month” E.J. Dionne
Remember, we are talking about people for whom being offensive is a social skill. Whether it’s “fat chicks” or “greasers”, as long as it makes their friends laugh, and it does, it’s good.
Democrats are always trying to talk you out of your ideas.” Older woman talking in the context of a split between her, a Trump supporter, and her daughter, a Clinton supporter. Yes, trying to talk you out of your ideas is called education.
Here’s a great definition, operational. Robert Jones says that political correctness is what happens when you make a statement that a number of people in your company call you on, things like women don’t have the mind for engineering or Blacks don’t have the motivation to work or Autism is just an excuse for molly-coddling kids. When people remonstrate with you instead of sagely nodding their heads in agreement, when they ask you for evidence, when they offer contradictions, that is called being politically correct. It’s the “all I said was….” reaction when stupid comments are challenged. It is most likely to occur among older people, the ones who grew up at a time when everyone they knew was a Christian, spoke only English, did not read much, and questioned the right of foreigners to participate in the community. Think of the Catholic parishes made up of third generation descendants of immigrants who resent the influx of Mexican Catholics into their churches.
Political correctness has now morphed into alternative facts. Conservatives say it is extremely arrogant of you to counter their comments with facts, it’s rude and offensive. After all, they are entitled to their own facts, exactly the opposite of what Daniel Patrick Moynihan said: you are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts. In the middle of Hurricane Irma right now, we might wonder if that and Harvey might make the conservatives rethink their head-in-the-sand attitude toward Climate Change. Yes, I know the strength of these hurricanes may not be related to changes in the climate, but conservatives don’t know that, they are just scared. And that is the essence of conservatism: fear.
the Trump Effect – due to Trump’s lack of understanding of how our government works, he has no idea that, as was revealed tonight, 4/13/17, Poland, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK were tracking Trump’s campaign’s interactions with the Russians incidentally to the general intelligence sweeps. This information is now being turned over to our intelligence services and justice officers for investigation into wrongdoing by the campaign. As long as Manafort and Page and Flynn and all these people were just grubbing for themselves, the data did not rise to the level of concern necessary for these agencies to make a point of it to our intelligence services. But once these operatives became part of a presdidential administration affecting those countries, the data became pertinent and worthy of scrutiny. Once our services began asking, they began receiving. Trump’s bombing of Syria and Afghanistan is nothing more than a clumsy and obvious attempt to distract us and many pundits fell for it. But no one on Trump’s team, least of all Trump, knows how to get the intelligence services off his back. The journalist whose friend buried deep in the intel community said Trump will die in prison may have given us a window into the future.
How do we respond to this? George Lakoff (http://www.salon.com/2017/01/15/dont-think-of-a-rampaging-elephant-linguist-george-lakoff-explains-how-the-democrats-helped-elect-trump/)
explains how “our” = liberals framing of things falls on deaf ears with conservatives. If a conservative claims that illegal aliens are pouring over the border, our Cartesian response, born of the Enlightenment, is to count the number of border crossings; the conservative response will be to cite a Fox news program showing Mexican-looking people shackled together and guarded by beefy ICE or Border Patrol agents. See? They’ll say. And we’ll say, “See what?” And there it’ll end. You have to do something like agree how terrible it is that employers are breaking the law by enticing those people over the border and something ought to be done about (strict father).
At this point, June, we really need for Trump to stay in b/c if Pence takes over with this Republican Congress, the roll-back of the New Deal will begin.
At his point the GOP dominated WH and Congress are in disarray, with Trump frustrated with the Republicans and turning to “Chuck and Nancy”, the Democratic leaders, to get a bill passed, turning against major elements of his campaign promises (build the wall, send the Dreamers back, keep Muslims out, stop the carnage in Chicago, and on and on), and Mueller looms in the background, more and more the foreground. When he pounces, all is over. Jail time. Lock him up!
American Exceptionalism – this term has a history which I won’t go into here. The best summation, for me, of what this term conveys is that America is exceptional, Americans aren’t, meaning the foundation of our country and its trajectory in terms of social progress, wealth, influence, etc. makes it a standout nation, OTOH, individual Americans are heir to all the foibles of anyone else. As I write this, past Trump’s first 100 days, we may be seeing the best evidence of just how badly we can screw up. We can cite slavery and Indian removal and jingoistic wars and imperialistic overreach, but Trump has us really showing our asses.
There’s a new book out I’ll be ordering soon, Fantasyland, whose author, Kurt Anderson, says Americans, going back 500 years, have built a kind of fantasyland to live in. All cultures have myths about themselves but modern political leaders tend to be more realistic; not the conservatives. They believe the whole myth and if you are skeptical, that makes you unamerican. An antidote to this is the book American Nations by Colin Woodard. In it he shows how you can look at voting patterns county by county in the U.S. and at the settlement patterns as the country grew. Why is the South so different in its values, economics, and politics? It was settled by slave holders from Barbados in the 17th century. I found that quite unsettling. So you’ve got duels and mistresses and interracial sex. Among the Appalachians you have feuds and a love of fighting, a heritage from their Scotts and Scotts-Irish origins in the Border Wars. The Germans came with socialistic plans and the New Englanders wanted to create society in the image of the City on a Hill – California is a mix of New Englanders and Appalachians and that explains a lot.
Our leadership after WW II did set us up as exceptional in the sense that we ran the show. The tinkering with other nations had mixed effects but there were idealists who wanted to transform other societies in the belief that the American way is the best way. As that was going on, more feet-on-the-ground types saw opportunities for exploitation, another solid American value deriving from the motives of our earliest settlers.
History – by the way conservatives invoke historical figures and eras, you would think history was their hand-maiden. But if you look at the curriculum for schools conservatives endorse, it is clearly not just patriotism but a chauvinistic patriotism, the “patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels” type. Also jingoistic: victory in war reveals whose side god is on. Both the uncertainty of history, its lack of firm conclusions and “lessons” and its complexity confound the conservative’s purpose, which is to justify the social order he finds himself in.
The two themes running through history in terms of a dialectic is the role of socioeconomic forces vs the role of leadership. Very broadly, conservatives tend to favor the Great Man theory of history while liberals get into the weeds with charts and graphs of economic trends, etc. Few of our Presidents have been outstanding leaders, the sort of leader that turns a nation in a different direction. The two Roosevelts, Lincoln, Washington, all come to mind as leaders who altered the course of our nation. At the lowest common denominator, the Great Leader approach to governance is a way of simplifying governance: don’t get bogged down in committees and parties and commissions, just make a fiat and punish anyone who doesn’t fall in line. That fits with George Lakoff’s characterization of conservatives as having the “strict father” template of the family. Do as I say or else. Others have cited the 25% or so of the population who fall under the rubric of authoritarian personalities, i.e. people who want to dominate those below and be dominated by those above. It makes for a sense of security. So if you listen to Trump, he is saying, as your strict father might, believe me, I am the only one who can take care of you, people who criticize me are rebels who must be crushed for your safety, and you have my permission to use force against those who criticize or stand against me b/c we are in the moral right. Trump’s narcissistic personality disorder fits right in with this.
Politics – As of May 17, I just added ‘politics’ to my list. How could I forget that? What reminded me of it was reading The Wise Men on the decisions being made about what to do in Europe as WW II came to a close. When you get into the details, you see it is not a simple as Liberal Democrat good – Conservative Republican bad. The conservatives, who were Democrats in those days, had some real arguments with the liberals and it can be seen as the seed bed for a lot of Republican opposition to Liberalism that resulted in many Democrats turning Republican. Not to diminish in any way the role of changing demographics ala more Blacks and Mexicans, immigration, automation, alienation, etc., but it renders the arguments more subtle. When I think how Hillary Clinton understood every facet of governance, foreign and domestic, and knew and respected people at every level, from the 1%ers to the descendants of sharecroppers, and how she could have pulled on the levers of power to move this country through the deterioration of the economy, it makes we sick we lost her. I heard Cornell West go off on her on the Bill Maher show and I’d like to see a bill of particulars against her that could could be introduced in a court of law and have the charges tried. I heard someone who had worked on the White Water matter saying there was nothing to it. Yet all these years later, it’s White Water, Vince Foster, Benghazi, e-mails, and a lot of it coming from the Left. They’re crazy.
But in the final analysis, it is a sign of our democracy that the mob got a win. Let’s just hope we survive it.
George Lakoff says the the moral value underlying progressive thought is empathy. One must act strongly and responsibility. Government roles of protection and empowerment. Protection implies the social safety net, not just military defense with guns like conservatives think. Empowerment is what government does for corporations when they use the means of communication and transportation supplied by government through taxation. Education provides workers, regulations provide a stable financial system, food supply, medical practice, etc. Most conservatives pretend those things happen by themselves or via the invisible hand of the free market. (Again, my old refrain, why not resurrect the Confederacy and apply free market principles there?) (See under Government above for more). Lakoff says, if no moral mission is involved, privatization might be appropriate. Conservatives scoff at a term like moral mission; that’s why I suggest we let their children try the new candy store selling unregulated candy and then when a few kids die, the store will close down. The Free Market at work!! Just make sure it’s one of their kids that dies.
Lakoff gives examples of how corporations benefit from the empowerment of government more so than the average taxpayer: I own one car which I drive on the road, corporations own fleets; I get a bank loan to buy a house, corporations get loans to buy other corporations. So corporations pay and should pay at a higher tax rate than individuals b/c they use government services more.
I think at this point that a lot of Republicans are taking a second look at the value of lashing themselves to Trump, the Freedom Caucus, and the alt-right aka White supremecists. The downside of that is that decent Americans don’t like those figures on the right like Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and so on. They regard them as clowns, which they are, highly paid clowns. When I say decent Americans, you can get a graphic grasp on this by reading the comments to newspaper articles and columns: there are reasonable people on a broad political spectrum and then there are agitators, ideologues, what they now call trolls, and maybe even a few Russians. If you can’t separate out the decent Americans from that latter crew, you should not be reading this; it’s way over your head.
Values – May 29. One thing common to conservatives in terms of values is their inability to extend what are otherwise solid values such as mutual support and aid to people they do not know. Years ago the NYT ran a series on Race in America (how many times have we seen that title?) in which the integration of Evangelical churches in the South was featured. One stumbling block for the Black church members was sending aid to Blacks in Northern ghettos. That was something the Whites would not abide. The local Blacks they knew? Sure. But those Fox News Black thugs living off welfare and selling drugs? No way. Nothing so divides Liberals and Conservatives than the notion of the Constitution’s “general welfare”. Taxes for people I don’t know? No, firmly states the conservative mind set. Behind that is another Conservative value: it is better to ignore the needs of some rather than enable to sloth and immorality of another. Again, Jason Chaffetz’ “if they would pay their premiums instead of buying IPhones, they’d have health insurance” illustrates this mind set perfectly.
We saw conservative values operating when the damage from Hurricane Harvey became apparent: Ted Cruz had opposed straight out relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy but now insist their state aka voters need such relief. Total hypocrisy.
Personal Responsibility – cute little kids are so easy to love. As people say, then they grow up. IOW, they become their own person. The easy ones make good grades, are polite, stay out of trouble, and look good. It’s when they have blemishes that loving them is harder and is just when they need it most. The Tough Love crowd easily slides from firm boundaries to total rejection. Most people found Amy “Tiger Mom” Chua hard to swallow. The truth is, the very freedom and spontaneity we grant our kids puts them at risk for taking on behaviors we are not happy with. I’m a prime example. I never got in trouble, made decent grades, and By Golly, everyone like me. Then I found the woman I loved and she was Black. I got lots of advice on that one but the loving I received, while strained, was genuine, and we passed through that phase. The sterner sort would have recommended ostracism. Note I am not condemning the racism – a fact of life for most Americans, Black and White, at that time – but just describing a typical situation where an adult child steps off the path. It could be the wrong career or the wrong spouse or the wrong religion. But the child is taking personal responsibility.
When the child takes on pathological behaviors – BTW, the professionals, psychological and clerical, consulted by my parents all gave their blessings to the marriage – like drug use and other risky or destructive behaviors, the test gets really tough. So Tough Love is a good term, but the tough part refers not to the determination to stick to boundaries but to the terrible doubts accompanying those leaps of faith based in love. It can reach all the way to losing the loved one and accepting that. Some people just disappear, like my dad did. I don’t think he ever contacted his family after he left Ohio, but he remained close to his ex-wife of 60 years and to me. So whatever happened back there he wanted to leave there.
Recently another book has been added to the many telling us about childhoods of abuse and neglect, of emotional trauma. It is J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. Whatever your take on the people he described, it is safe to say the guy survived some real horrors. He was pulled out of it by a grandmother. The mother’s choice to fall into drug dependency is paid for by the distance her son keeps from her. Choice? Hmmmm. We don’t know HER story, do we?
So now we meet the nub of personal responsibility. Was it Vance’s personal responsibility that got him that grandma? Was it personal responsibility that gave him an addicted mom? Now, what he does with his life is definitely a matter of a final and decisive choice on his part. But to pretend we come to adulthood with a tabula rasa, ready to take on the world, is nonsense. Here we have the source of so much of the hatred the Right feels fro academics. Academics show us the misery so many of us grow up in and how it destroys so many lives. Conservatives want to hear the stories of the Vance’s, those who escaped (sort of. Megan Kelly and Vance’s sister made it clear they don’t think he’s escaped the demons). What don’t they want to acknowledge the undeserved destruction? Because they might have to do something about it, like keep Medicare intact.
One dynamic we might watch for now that hurricanes dominate the headlines is how personal responsibility is assigned to people building in flood-prone areas. We have to think hard about that one – if the city fathers decide to put in landfill and make a profit by selling that land to developers, and developers register the liability to flooding with their permit-to-build applications and put a clause in their sale of the land…… and the builders tell their buyers – OK, they put a clause in – about the proneness, everybody is now in the know and no excuses when you lose your home to flood waters. Oh, and the old Act-of-God clause suddenly pops up. So now where do we assign personal responsibility? To the city fathers, the city planners, the engineers, the commissioners, the real estate board, the developers, the buyers? All of them at once and deny federal aid to the area of impact?
November 29, 2017
It’s been some time since I worked on this but matters have been jumping. I note I haven’t broached all the t0pics mentioned to start with, so I’ll run through the rest of them quickly:
poverty (my underline went away; sorry for the inconsistency)
Conservatives define poverty as lack of money and liberals define it as lack of resources. It’s a simple as that, allowing conservatives to announce that they, too were poor but worked their way out of poverty. I don’t know what more to say about this other than that I have talked to bazillions of conservatives over the years and they are almost always uncomprehending concerning the conditions poverty-stricken people live in. They’re like the little kid who tells his parents, on hearing them say they have no money, “Write a check.” The conservative response to poverty is, “Get a job.” One kid in class, when I talked about poverty in Mexico and the unemployment rate, offered, “Why don’t they get a job?”
Tied up with popular culture. Movies have impressed upon almost all Americans that everyone walked around in olden days packing. I recently listened to the attorney who argued the Heller case before the Supreme Court, winning against a D.C. law prohibiting handguns, and another expert on the Second Amendment. What I got out of it was mainly that it’s complicated. I also learned that informed supporters of so-called gun rights recognize the legitimacy and constitutionality of some gun restrictions. That is not the popular version, which states that ANY attempt to govern gun rights is a totalitarian move to confiscate all guns as a preamble to a dictatorial takeover. Jade Helm 15 is a good example of the attitudes. One-third of registered Republicans thought this straight-forward military exercise was a takeover of Texas by the U.S. government and half of all Tea Party supporters thought it presaged an invasion of Texas. I don’t know how to respond to people who say that such ideas are fringe among conservatives; they are not, they are core.
Entertainment and the Arts –
Entertainment suffers from its early association with loose morals and shock techniques, ladies showing their bloomers, and so on. Most conservative men have attended stag parties or watched “dirty” movies or visited a prostitute or just gone to a titty bar. That’s for men, and underneath that is a presumption that women involved in entertainment are there to entertain men. Whole sections of cities are given over to a combination of entertainment and sex, so the two are linked in the minds of many Americans. While that attitude is fading, we have only to remind ourselves of the sordid affair of Rush Limbaugh labeling Sandra Fluke a slot and a prostitute as limned in Charlie Sykes “How the Right Lost Its Mind”. When this attitude is connected with women behaving erotically as in dance or acting, men’s reactions can often be volatile based on their unrealistic expectations of what these women will “do”.
The arts are seen by conservatives much the way we see propaganda, the arts should teach and uplift, especially in terms of piety and patriotism. Otherwise, we have to divide conservatives into high-brows and low-brows. Again, we have only to remind ourselves of Communist and Fascist art to see how conservatives conceive the purpose of art. Holy pictures, one might say.
Crime & punishment –
Fundamental to an understanding of the conservative response to crime is to know that conservatives see punishment as the primary motivator for behavior change, from sneaking a piece of pie to getting low grades. If you want to pie theft to stop or see grades go up, you punish. The Roman state is symbolized by the fasces (from which we get ‘fascist’) – a bundle of rods for punishment bound with an axe for capital punishment. This penchant for punishment tends toward corporal punishment and some of the opposition to government intervention in child care via CPS and other agencies rests on the assumption that corporal punishment and even psychological and non-pain inducing methods like sleep deprivation and frigid temperatures, loud sounds, frights, etc.
Crime is malleable in its definition as shown by the Right’s insistence that crossing an international border without proper documentation to find work is as much a crime as holding up a convenience mart at gunpoint. My own opinion is that the obsession with firearms comes not from our Revolution nor the Frontier but from Slavery and the fear of slave revolts. It is my opinion, and not one based on extensive knowledge of the period, that the real reason for militias was fear of Indian attack and slave rebellion. However, I am not the first person to note the connection between concern about the need for personal defense and the fear of Black crime, underneath which lies a simple fear of Blacks.
my favorite topic. Language serves as a social marker. In many societies, language varieties are recognized and given status, though it may be a status lower than the national language. In the U.S., there has never been a language policy. Dialects are recognized only by linguists, at least in any scientific way. The word dialect itself tends toward the pejorative. Mostly, people use the term accent.
One thing most everyone agrees on is that no one in America speaks what they call “proper English.” This proper English is a kind of ideal template in the sky, a mixture of high-toned grammar few people really understand and a pronunciation close to the BBC. Our own American speech is considered uncouth and a few models impossible to imitate are held up, such as William F. Buckley.
Our country has a history of immigration possibly unmatched in the history of the world. Many Americans have grandparents who speak or spoke with a foreign accent. This accent and the old country language itself were seen as marks of foreignness to be avoided. No one wanted to be taken as having just gotten off the boar, a green horn, a moustache Pete, etc. Amy Tan presented a touching picture of the young child of immigrants ashamed of her mother’s ratty sweater, non-matching dress, tennis shoes, and speech. The only foreign language thought possibly worth knowing is French, and that is only because it confers culture on the speaker. I’ve told elsewhere about the audience of African-Americans who applauded wildly when an African film maker gave his acceptance speech in French because he did not know English. They saw him as displaying a degree of culture that Black people were not supposed to have. Ah, French! It opens up to us haute couture, haute cuisine, haute culture, but, as John DeMado says, our kids ain’t so haute.
Dialects have diffused in the country and most young Americans speak a general English marked regionally only by pronunciation. Grammar differences exist for Black English and the wider Southern English, but all in all, colloquial English is fairly uniform. What that means is that many forms used colloquially by just about everyone do not fit into the “proper English” domain. After decades of trying to get Americans to write Standard English, we have little to show for it. Some get it, many don’t. Why is that?
It is because even the teachers speak colloquial English but they are teaching Standard Written English, with Written the operative word. Somewhere in the process the idea gets conveyed that the student is supposed to talk like a book. The few who try to get pummeled unmercifully by their peers because they sound like robots. In other countries, with dialects receiving recognition, students know they are going to be learning and using a different language system. How different depends on the country. Nowadays, most people speak a regional variation of the Standard based on the Buehne Sprache in Germany, Parisian in France, Tuscan in Italy, Madrid in Spain, London in England, and so on. I read an article on the original Beijing dialect now spoken by only a few people in Beijing; everyone speaks a regional version of Mandarin.
But in the U.S., we are held to this vague notion of proper English that everyone denies speaking. The attitude of the British aristocrat who chided someone for buying a book of proper English, saying, “Just listen to me” would be considered arrogant by an American. No decent American would claim to speak English properly. Fault-finding and nit-picking are the legacy of the way we teach English here. So students give up, just adjusting to papers covered in red marks, and say to themselves, “I’m just no good at speaking proper English.” (they say the same thing about foreign languages, too). So English teachers will slave on, teaching the difference between lie and lay while their students graduate with only the foggiest notion of what it means to know proper English.
An instinct not beyond personal and social control. However, it must be kept in mind that sex as an instinct will out, i.e. it will pop up somewhere, it cannot be eliminated. Society’s interest in governing sexual activity is clear, but it often conflicts with personal choice. For instance, I, a White male, wanted to marry a Black female in 1964 in Arizona. We started dating in 1962, the year the state legislature repeal its anti-miscegenation law (a superior court judge had struck it down as unconstitutional in 1959, the year the couple, an Asian man and Anglo female, were refused a license. When my wife and I applied, every door in the long hallway of the marriage license bureau opened with people taking a peek at us). Until recently, a person attracted to the same sex could not legitimize a union with another person due to similar laws. So now we can say either love has triumphed or the drive for social control of procreative unions (???) triumphed over homophobia. Figure out the question marks for yourself.
If everyone just thought hard about why we prohibit sex between adults and children and why some people think homosexual acts lead to bestiality, we could probably come up with a reasonable set of policies and laws regarding procreative unions. But one thing gets in the way: religion. But that’s another category. The real state interest in unions is the procreative part since procreation leads to property inheritance, which is the real interest of the state (from what I’ve read, the Catholic Church was very pro-women’s rights in the Middle Ages b/c they knew women were prone to donate to the Church and if they had the right to inherit property, the Church would eventually get it. Too cynical?
So even in the classic, childless homosexual union, property rights are still an issue.
But we have not discussed sex, i.e. doing the nasty, too much yet. So now let’s get to individual sexual behavior. Once we recognize it as an instinct, we then have to consider what’s OK and what’s not OK, i.e. what society needs to regulate and what it can ignore. A case in point was the homosexual bathhouses where AIDS was being contracted. While some argued they were not the matrix, the real issue was information. How do we know if bathhouses are the matrix? We have to investigate. Who pays for that? Ay, there’s the rub. So to start with, we are often hampered by ignorance.
What then? What if we have information and it turns out the bathhouses are not the matrix, then what? An element of the public will still waste time trying to close the bathhouses b/c they don’t like the idea of people having promiscuous homosex. Another rub.
If indeed the bathhouses are the matrix, we have the homosexual community, as recognized groups are now called, who may object on the grounds they are being targeted unfairly; can’t another way be found to stop the spread of AIDS? To me, as a typical liberal, education and public awareness is the answer: let the public know there is at least a suspicion that bathhouses serving homosexuals are the matrix of AIDS and in the meantime the public health services are considering and dealing with other possibilities, like providing free condoms. That will bring out further howls from those who think just say no works, or, better yet, punishment.
Voting and the Electoral Process –
The recent election added to the Gore/Bush debacle should wake people up to some glitches in a system that was designed for a different purpose. As I understand the E.C., the rise of political parties subverted its original intent and we are now presented with this anomaly of the popular vote undermined by the vote in the E.C. My interest in this is not reform but noting how the electorate seems oblivious to the circumstances under which they vote.
Even the process by which we cast our ballots is a mess, varying state by state with multiple opportunities for miscounts. Then you have the claims that millions of votes cast have been fraudulent even though there is no evidence to support the claim. On top of that, voter suppression has become the only way Republicans can win elections in many localities; they pick on young people, college students, minorities, immigrant communities, deliberately targeting them with senseless restrictions. For instance, in Texas, a hunting license will get you into the booth to vote but not a university/college ID. Would you want to belong to a party whose only path to victory was keeping citizens from voting?
Science & health –
Right now we are confronted with a crisis involving science & health, the sciences of psychology and psychiatry aka mental health. People who have known Trump many years say they see a mental deterioration and journalists and others have compared videos of an earlier Trump with those of the current Trump. The comparison reveals a deterioration in speech and thought process. Severe enough, they serve as grounds for removal, whether under the 29th Amendment or impeachment. Ezra Klein researched the rules for impeachment and they boil down to “high crimes and misdemeanors” meaning whatever the Senate says they mean and that includes inability to serve.
Here’s the stumbling block: a great many conservatives, esp religious conservatives, do not believe science is a firm basis for anything. It is clear they do not realize that science is the basis for just about everything physical and material in our world, from the composition of the materials we build our roads with to the design of the traffic controls that keep us safe. Conservatives believe these things are all “just there”. The doctor, using incredible technology, cures your illness just b/c he’s nice and is an old doctor with lots of experience. More educated conservatives realize the benefits of medical science but don’ t extend confidence to science generally.
In the long term, the effects of climate change cannot be ameliorated if the government is held in thrall to religious conservatives who reject geology and those whose views on contraception and abortion hinder efforts at population control. In the short term, all this may be moot if a deranged president plunges us into nuclear war.
Law & the Constitution –
In this area especially the conservatives provide a lot of true scholars. But recently I listened to two experts on the Second Amendment and while they seemed to separate into liberal and conservative positions, it did not seem to me that either one would provide the conservatives with ammunition to beat their political opponents over the head regarding gun control.
Here is the link as I see it between conservatives and religion regarding the Constitution: literal reading of text. Religious conservatives of the evangelical stripe (not Catholics) tell us that the words in the Bible are the words of a god, their God, and they are entirely clear, just plain English. That’s nonsense but highly educated Evangelicals tout it as a principle of their faith – actually, religion. So to argue to them that the Constitution’s words are as plain as the nose on your face and all you have to do is read it has an easy path. It is only when a Muslim like Khizr Khan quotes the Constitution that it becomes murky. After all, says the conservative, isn’t he promoting Sharia Law?
Conservatives of a higher intellect know the Constitution was, like the Bible, written in an earlier form of English (note: Evangelicals rely on the King James Version) and not only requires an inquiry into what the authors were saying but also an inquiry into the social and historical context. Here again I part with many historians and assert that a major concern of the Founding Fathers (hereafter FF, like BFF) was slave rebellion. But it takes little thought to realize that keeping muskets in the home made sense, esp if you thought slaves might get to a centralized arsenal. These higher intellect conservatives know all this but use the “common sense literal reading” approach to impose the understanding of the text to advance their view of society as hierarchical and authoritarian, something a large number of conservatives of less intellect would oppose if it were proposed to them baldly.
The morass of law that confronts a typical citizen, either criminal or civil, is daunting and always requires an attorney to navigate. The inability to pay attorney fees puts poor people and even middle class people at an incredible disadvantage and empowers the wealthy beyond challenge. I testified in court often and got training to do that and it broke my heart to see so many people go into court thinking that their common sense could win the day. I have no idea in the world how we can reform our laws. Do you?
Does this excuse the people who have no understanding of the Constitution and believe that Trump can walk into the White House and become instant dictator just as Obama did? Yes, they have been told over and over that Obama acted as a dictator. Checks and balances is a phrase they might remember as an answer to questions on their Civics test. But it goes much deeper, to how they conceive of power and its uses. Hint: it is no wonder that this lack of understanding pervades the South more than anywhere.
Here’s a partial quote from somewhere: “…. votes of extraordinary importance – like impeachment – required a bipartisan consensus. Such practices helped to avoid a descent into the kind of partisan fight to the death that destroyed many European democracies in the 1930s…..” Impeachment is for “high crimes and misdemeanors”, and guess what? The Senate decides in each case what those are. Impeachment is a political, not a legal process.