Friday, October 22, 2021

040 The Erickson Report, Page 2: A Longer Look at Where We are

040 The Erickson Report, Page 2: A Longer Look at Where We are

For the rest of the show we are going to take A Longer Look at where, at least to me, it seems we are now.
I expect we all know that we are facing threats to our very survival as a republic - threats marked by restrictions on voting plus gerrymandering, together creating the real potential for permanent, entrenched minority rule on behalf of an economic and social elite, and less well noticed but equally threatening restrictions on the right to public protest, even as we are aswarm with useful idiots ignoring the real threats and being distracted into wallowing in paranoia and conspiracy theories demonstrated most recently by mob rule at school board meetings.

The degree of threat to our continuing functioning as a free republic is serious; indeed it appears to be greater than it has been in generations if not longer - but it is not new. Every free society is at constant risk of having those freedoms lost through some combination of usurpation by the few and indifference among the many and what we face now we have in various ways and to various degrees faced before. 
Nearly 60 years ago - November 1964 - noted American historian Richard Hofstadter described what he called "the paranoid style in American politics," citing examples from the 1790s up through McCarthyism and the right-wing seizure of the Republican Party and the 1964 candidacy of Barry Goldwater it produced.

Without going into the history of the various movements and upheavals he mentioned, what's of particular note here is the common threads he found running through all of them: Adherents either believed they were holding off threats to what they held dear - what Hofstadter called the "causes and personal types" that were the "established way of life" - or that they had to reclaim, to claw back, those "causes and types," an "established way of life" that was already lost. And always, always, there were conspiracies among powerful hidden forces to undermine, to destroy, that way of life.

Think of that description and you'd think that Hofstadter was writing in 2021, not 57 years earlier. What we're seeing now has been a consistent thread in American history - although I will add as an aside that as Hofstadter noted, it's not only American history, it's human history; in fact as support he cited some examples from other nations.

Be that as it may, the point remains that even with the caveat that its not just us it still does appear that the degree of internal risk to our future is greater than at any time since the Civil War.

What I want to talk about, though, is that part of our problem, something that adds to that risk, is that significant parts of the liberal and progressive left have failed to understand or at least address the underlying nature, by which I mean the roots, of that risk, arguing instead that its just the the GOPpers are irredeemable racists and, displaying a remarkable lack of historical perspective, that it all started with the election of Barack Obama breaking open the damns of racism or the rise of Tweetie-pie or, more sophisticatedly, that Tweetie-pie released, enabled, the already-existing racism.

But while that, particularly the last part, is true, in fact the roots of our current crisis date back well before 2016, well before 2008. In fact, we should look back about 45 years to the mid 1970s.

To see why, jump back a bit further to the political and social climate surrounding the social changes of 1960s.

The Indochina - nee Vietnam - War was every bit as divisive as what we are seeing now, the social conflict was to be blunt every bit as great; it literally shattered not just friendships but families.

Beyond that, a time of dramatic social upheaval. A not-exhaustive list:

The civil rights movement that started in the '50s continued throughout the '60s.

The Port Huron statement came in 1962 and if you don't know what that is, look it up. You  may even want to read it; it's rather long but there is still-relevant material in there.
The Feminine Mystique was published in 1963 and the first modern women's liberation groups were founded in 1966 and 1967.

The Stonewall Uprising came in 1969.

The first Earth Day, long before it devolved into a corporate- and government-sponsored paean to picking up litter was in 1970.

And all this amid talk of violent revolution, riots - events such as those Detroit and Newark in 1967 make the so-called "riots" around BLM protests look like tea parties - the counterculture, three assassinations, and demands that all dissent be violently repressed.

But we got through that, not only in spite of but to a significant degree because of the protests and upheavals and a decade later, polls reported that a majority of Americans said we as a people were better for the changes that came as a result.

I'm not here to praise the '60s - the record is enough to need no puffing from me - but rather to ask, what is different this time? Even through all the upheaval of that earlier time, I don't recall ever a pervading sense that our society was disintegrating, unlike today there was no sense that even if we were not on the verge of actual civil war it certainly wasn't over the horizon. It's just not the same this time. So does it seem so now? Why do the stresses now seem so much bigger, the threat so much larger?

Where is where the left's failures to understand come in, failures I will show with three graphs and one headline. First the graphs.

This is from a study based on Census Bureau reports, showing real - that is, after allowing for inflation, so becoming a measure of how much stuff you can actually buy - household income at various levels over a 45 year period 1967-2012. Of course, the higher lines on the graph describe richer levels but what I want you to notice is the third line from the bottom, the gold-colored one. That marks the 50th percentile, that is, the median income, the point at which there are the same number of households below that level as there are above it. Note that it is essentially unchanged over those 45 years. While the rich got richer, pulling away and the richer you were the more away you pulled, half of American households gained almost nothing.

Zoom in a bit and come a little closer in time with the second one. It's from Pew Research, covering 1964 to 2018. While average hourly wages for American workers are nine times what they were in 1964, purchasing power has gone up only a bit over 10% and in fact if you look a bit closer you'll note that purchasing power is actually below where it was in the 1970s. Fifty years of work and the average wage-earner is worse off than they were.

Finally one from the Federal Reserve showing how much of total wealth is held by the top 1% and by the middle class, defined as the middle 60% of Americans by income - that is, ignoring the poorest 20% and the richest 20%. As recently as 1989, the middle class held double the wealth the 1% did, 36.4% to 17.2% - but this year, for the first time, that changed and the rich hold 27% of the nation's wealth o the middle class's 26.6%. 
Another way to look at it is to note that over the past 30 years, 10 percentage points of American wealth has shifted to the top 20% of earners, who now hold 70% of the total, according to the Federal Reserve.

This is one real difference between now and the '60s: Then, even as events and changes - whether welcomed or disturbing - swirled around you, you mostly had a sense of security, economic security, in your own personal life. The economic status of the middle class had been growing and looked like it would continue to do so and people felt they could look forward to a secure retirement and the prospect that - in what I maintain is the true American dream - their children would be better off than they were. It provided a foundation, a stability that made coping with the social changes much easier.

Yes, of course that was less true of blacks and other minorities and of the poor in general, but it was true of that broad middle class and to the extent that middle class was mostly populated by whites, to that same extent it was the genesis of another root of our current crisis, which I'll get too soon.

The point here - I seem to be saying that a lot - the point here is that that sense of economic stability no longer exists. It's something that has been developing for decades as real median family income in the US has gone nowhere since despite the growth of two-income families, which went from 25% of households in 1960 to 60% in 2012.

And while people likely didn't know the facts and figures of that trend, they knew the feel of it, the sense of it, the sense that things were just "not right," that things were not turning out the way they had come to expect not only for themselves but more importantly for their children.

In 1995, that loss of economic security had created what was then called the “angry white male” who I looked at with some sympathy. He is, I wrote, "not without legitimate grievances: His hopes are shrinking, his dreams for his family and his children are fading, he keeps working harder and getting less for it. The result is that he feels pressured, frustrated, haunted by the suspicion that he’s failed his family, that his efforts are unappreciated, which combine to make him bitter and defensive; ready, even eager, to have someone to blame to relieve his own guilt and creeping despair, making him an easy mark for, as Bill Clinton put it, a hot 30-second ad saying 'You didn’t do anything wrong, they did it to you.'"

In 2010 it was the Tea Party, and again, I took what I called "a not altogether unsympathetic look at the teabaggers," saying "they are not without real grievances and not without genuine frustrations," but again, just like before, they were aiming their anger at the wrong target.
These people have been misguided. Misled. Lied to. Manipulated. They are directing their frustrations at the weak, not the strong; at the victims, not the victimizers; at the servants of the powerful (in and out of government), not the powerful themselves (mostly not in government). For all of the noise, all of the shouting, all of the energy, all of the speeches signs slogans, the fact is they for the most part really have no idea what’s going on, what the real causes of their stresses are. They just know they want things to be the way they used to be.
Because when people are under stress they become in the social and psychological sense of the term, rather than the political one, conservative. Cautious, less willing to risk, less able to deal with change, more concerned with holding on to what they still have.

Recall when Barack Obama was attacked for referring to people in western Pennsylvania as “clinging to their guns and their religion.” The point was clumsily expressed and deserved a clearer explanation, but entirely valid: The people in the area were suffering real economic dislocations. Jobs were disappearing and more importantly the sort of stable communities on which those people had depended for generations were disappearing along with them. So of course they clung to their guns and their religion. When you are under pressure, constantly stressed, when the things you have counted on seem to be slipping away, you are going to cling ever more tightly to those things you have left, those parts of your world that still make sense, that you still can control. It is a natural, normal, entirely human reaction.

Some years ago, someone, unfortunately I don't recall who, noted how times of social change can be difficult for those living them, but, he said (and I'm sure it was a he), "people adjust, they move on, and a generation or two later people don't understand what all the fuss was about." But when there is a constant undercurrent of emotional, of psychological, stress rooted in a lack of stability, a lack of economic security, it is that much harder to deal with other issues and that difficulty can be and has been exploited by the very people most responsible for that constricted future, that sense of loss - that is, the corporate elite, the rich, the powerful, those who’ve selfishly gained from the economic trends, those who benefit the most from the old oppressions and divisions, the people who are doing their damnedest to get fingers pointed at anyone except them.

The bottom line, the thing that too much of the liberal and progressive left either fails to understand or at least fails to address is that we can't address the social dangers we face to our future as a free people without addressing the economy, not in a vacuum but as an integral part of achieving the ends we seek, an economy for the 99%, to recall the Occupy Movement 10 years down the road, which means including addressing the legitimate economic concerns, appreciating the economic stresses, of that white middle class which we too often dismiss as unworthy of our attention.

Now. Before I move to the other way the left has failed to grasp the nature of the threat to our future, I want to mention briefly - briefly because it has been discussed by others - that another part of why that threat is greater now than at earlier times is the facility with which the lies can be spread, the opportunities for manipulation that exist. Not only the technological changes such as the founding of outlets like Faux News and Facebook algorithms pushing users to ever-more paranoid content but the simple fact that the right-wing has over time become more adept at exploiting the stresses, at directing where the fingers get pointed. Recall during the time of the "angry white male," it was, as Clinton put it, "a hot 30-second ad during a political campaign." By the time of the Tea Party, is was staged chaos at public meetings of members of Congress. Now it has graduated to staged chaos at school board meetings. Give the devil his due: The puppet-masters of the right have upped their game.

Okay. The other thing that the left has failed to appreciate can be summed up in this headline from AP: "US is diversifying, white population shrinking."

The Census Bureau predicts that the US will become a majority-minority nation, that is, one where no ethnic or racial group makes up a majority of the population, within 25 years. In fact, that is already true from those under 18.

Now yes, this has often been mentioned in lefty discussions, but it is usually in an "In your face, right wing!" style under the notion that this heralds an increasingly liberal/progressive people and electorate. Which may prove to be true; US minorities have voted more liberal than whites. Other lefties, such as me, are less convinced that this will usher in a new, dramatic progressive era but who will look at that headline and react to it as an interesting demographic fact that promises a multiethnic, miultiracial, and therefore more interesting America.

Conservative and even moderate whites look at that same headline and find it threatening.

It’s been demonstrated often enough by both psychological testing and historical analysis that the one common factor that unites those who call themselves politically “conservative,” crossing all lines of age, sex, race, nationality, income level, and gender, is fear of change. Conservatism, bluntly, is based on fear - and I don’t mean fear-mongering as a political tactic here, I mean an internal fear, a personal fear, that the world around you is no longer comprehensible. And the more change there is and the more rapid the change, the more that conservatism grows.

If the world, if society, around you is changing in ways you can’t seem to understand, that don’t fit your personal worldview, you can become disoriented and frightened - and that fear, that fear of the changes, will make you more conservative. And that sort of disorientation is exactly what a significant percentage of white Americans are experiencing.

One of the things that struck me about the Tea Partiers and strikes me again now is that there's an overwhelming, an extreme, sense of what can only be called entitlement in the entire undertaking. Tea Party proponents would say over and over “it’s our country” and they were going to “take it back.” They insist that government failure to do what they wanted was “ignoring the will of the people.” Their progeny today echo all that with their delusions about election fraud and their loud shouts about their "freedom" when it comes to matters of public health.

That notion of entitlement was demonstrated in the results of a NYT/CBSNews survey from April 2010, which included the question “Do the views of the people involved in the Tea Party movement generally reflect the views of most Americans?” Some 25% of all respondents said yes - while 84% of people who identified themselves as Tea Party supporters did. Overwhelmingly, they were convinced that they did represent “the people," that they were "the people," despite the fact that the same survey showed the views of the Tea Partiers to be clearly, sometimes dramatically, sometimes stunningly, to the right of the general public.

With that in mind, consider the teabagger demographics revealed in that survey, demographics I would happily wager are much the same with the current crop: On the whole, white, male, older, somewhat richer, and somewhat more educated than the general populace. Which means that until fairly recently, these people were “the people.” That is, their views, their take on life and society and politics did define what it meant to be American. They did define the standard to which others were expected to hew, the default from which others who diverged were anything from odd to abnormal to aberrant. When someone pictured "an American," they tended to picture a somewhat older, upper-middle-class white male. And it's entirely reasonable to think that those who are now screaming about mask mandates, ivermectin cures, and "stop the steal" came to maturity, just like their forebearers, thinking of themselves in just that way: that they defined "American."

But that has been changing for several decades now. The world in which they grew up, the world in which they formed their worldview, is disappearing, splintering, crumbling. This is not to say that racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism, and the rest no longer exist, but it is to say the world has changed, it is changing and will continue to even against resistance.
To a significant number of white people, those changes are threats to Hofstadter's "causes and types," an existential threat to that "established way of life" they were raised in and which formed the core of their worldview, their way of making sense of the world around them.

So when people already subjected to social and economic stresses inflicted by forces beyond their control and usually their understanding are faced with the prospect of things becoming in their view even more unhinged, such as the prospect of the US becoming a majority-minority nation, well that just can’t be right and that plus any bigoted leanings provide the seeds for conspiracy theories that serve, ultimately, to deny this really could be happening legitimately.

What all this means, ultimately, is that while we often describe, we dismiss, the protesters, the shouters, the mask-ranters, the "stop the steal" screechers as some dangerous combination of nutso and racist, the fact, the fact we have failed to recognize or address, is that a good many of them are genuinely scared and they don't even truly understand why or even about or of what, they just know it feels wrong. Which is why logical argument seems and often is so unavailing in dealing with them - because emotions are, by definition, not rational. So instead of spending as much time as we do in self-satisfying mockery of their foolishness, what we should do is consider ways we can address that psychic, you could almost call it socially primal, fear.

On that front I admit to have no specifics to offer beyond what could be offered in private conversations if you have any with people across the divide such as reminding them of how many social changes we have seen over the past say 50 or 100 years and how, y'know, we have managed to get through them all and we're still here so we can deal with those to come or, more daringly, if they raise the "great replacement" notion, note that this past June, an article in The Atlantic argued that considering among other things the rising number of multiracial and multiethnic households in the US, those lines are already becoming blurred to the point where by the time this "majority-minority" point is reached, it just won't be that big a deal.

Let's be clear: Bigotry is still bigotry, even if driven by economic stress and manipulated fears. Looking for ways to address those stresses and fears does not mean you give them a pass on the bigotry. It doesn't mean you tolerate their behavior, it doesn't mean you condone it or ignore it. It doesn't mean you refrain from calling it out. It means, rather, that you try to be able to say, in the immortal words of Mr. Spock, "I do not approve. I understand."

And the truth is, ultimately I feel sorry for those sorts of folks. First because some of the changes that are so frightening to them will not be stopped. They can adapt or they can live the rest of their lives in fear because they will not turn the clock back. They are no longer the definition of American and never will be again. Second because they are almost a sort of Greek tragedy with the doomed hero: They have, again, been manipulated and mislead into blaming their troubles on the wrong forces and the wrong people. To the very extent that their effort succeeds, to that very same extent they will lose and find themselves even deeper in the pit they themselves dug on behalf of their real masters who they failed to recognize.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

040 The Erickson Report, Page 1: Good News

040 The Erickson Report, Page 1: Good News

Okay, let's open with two bits of Good News.
First, the end of last month, YouTube responded to the waves of misinformation and outright lies about COVID-19 and the vaccines and in doing so went beyond what would have been expected of a corporate giant with its eyes on the bottom line. Specifically, on September 29 the company issued a statement saying 
content that falsely alleges that approved vaccines are dangerous and cause chronic health effects, claims that vaccines do not reduce transmission or contraction of disease, or contains misinformation on the substances contained in vaccines will be removed.
In other words, not only will the COVID b.s. be removed but all the anti-vax b.s. will be removed.

There are of course exceptions and loopholes, so it's going to depend on how serious the platform is on enforcing the rules, but still credit where it's due for going beyond where I at least had any expectation.


I suppose this is here just because it made me feel good.

On October 1, Texas District Court Judge Maya Guerra Gamble issued default judgments against conspiracy wacko and all-around dumbo Alex Jones, citing his long track record of bad faith in dealing with lawsuits by parents of two children killed in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Jones had claimed the shooting was a hoax and a "false flag" operation and that the parents were lying about mourning their children.

What this ruling means that it's no longer a question of if he will be held responsible for the defamation and emotional distress he inflicted on them with his lies, but only one of, in the words of Bill Ogden, a lawyer for the parents, "how big a check is it going to be."

The ruling is subject to appeal and one will doubtless come, but Jones is running out of dodges. He is being run to ground and I can't deny that is a feel-good story.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

040 The Erickson Report for October 21 to November 4


The Erickson Report for October 21 to November 4, 2021

This episode:

Good News - YouTube dumps anti-vax b.s.

Good News - default judgment against Alex Jones

A Longer Look - the left has missed addressing the roots of the right-wing threats to our republic

// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}} document.write('');