News & Articles
Browse all content by date.
Every weekend I find myself having to choose a pertinent topic for my next Duty to Warn column. The political turmoil surrounding the last election cycle and the resultant backlashes make it a difficult choice.
There are so many things worthy of analysis, especially with Trump’s habit of poking hornet’s nests every day and insulting my friends and allies. The late night comedians are having a ball with all the absurdities, but even they can’t keep up with all the juicy targets. They, and I, are being overwhelmed – probably by design.
On Mondays (Tuesday is deadline day at the Duluth Reader) I try to finish my rough draft. But occasionally I read a powerful essay by some other commentator or turn on DemocracyNow! and realize that there is a more urgent topic that needs to be addressed; and I find sometimes find myself shelving the first column to be finished and perhaps published later.
This week, I decided to shelve my first column and use extended excerpts from a powerful piece that author Neal Gabler wrote a month ago. It is one of those pieces that I wish I could have written myself.
What has been happening ever since Citizen’s United in 2010 I am convinced has been a rolling corporate coup d’Etat that was fleshed out so well Monday morning (Jan 23, 2017) by Naomi Klein and Lee Fang (of the Intercept) on the interview with Amy Goodman. It should be listened to at (https://www.democracynow.org/2017/1/20/naomi_klein_on_trump_election_this). The corporate coup seems to be rapidly reaching its culmination with the election of Donald Trump,and Gabler writes about very well.
(Also see the DemocraacyNow! interview with Jeremy Scahill that is titled: “Trump Team: A Cabal of Religious Extremists, Privatization Advocates & Racists” at: (https://www.democracynow.org/2017/1/24/jeremy_scahill_on_trump_team_a)
One caveat; It should be understood that the Democratic Party under Clinton and then under Obama, have paved the way for the coup by being co-opted and duped by the same corporate usurpers that have so seamlessly taken over both parties. One only has to examine the results of the conspiracies to dominate both parties and the US government by cunning billionaires and Deep State operatives inside Big Finance, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Media, Big Weapons, Big Agribusiness, Big Chemical, Big Mining, etc, etc. (Note: Images, underlining and phrases in italics and/or parentheses are mine.)
Gabler titled his piece:
It’s Ayn Rand’s America Now:
Republicans Have Stripped the Country of Its Last Shred of Morality
By Neal Gabler – 12-9-2016
“As far right conservatives took over the Republican Party — the very same conservatives who just a few years earlier were considered crazies — the media dared not question Republican opposition to anything that assisted the disempowered and dispossessed, which is how a value-neutral media wound up serving the cause of conservatism and Republicanism and how the moral consensus was allowed to be turned upside down.” – Neal Gabler
“The GOP has been the party of cruelty for decades. In Trump, it’s found its champion.” – Neal Gabler
If you have any doubts that the phenomenon of Donald Trump was a long time a’coming, you have only to read a piece that Gore Vidal wrote for Esquire magazine in July 1961, when the conservative movement was just beginning and even Barry Goldwater was hardly a glint in Republicans’ eyes.
Vidal’s target was Paul Ryan’s idol (Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan is a right-wing “christian” and second in line to the presidency – behind Christian dominionist Mike Pence - if or when Trump leaves office under extraordinary circumstances) and the idol of so many modern conservatives: the trash novelist and crackpot (Russian Jewish atheist) philosopher Ayn Rand, whom Vidal quotes thusly:
“It was the morality of altruism that undercut America and is now destroying her.”
“Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society. Today, the conflict has reached its ultimate climax; the choice is clear-cut: either a new morality of rational self-interest, with its consequence of freedom… or the primordial morality of altruism with its consequences of slavery, etc.”
“To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you, and your passkey to trade your effort for the effort of the best among men.”
“The creed of sacrifice is a morality for the immoral…”
In most quarters, in 1961, this stuff would have been regarded as nearly sociopathic nonsense, but, as Vidal noted, Rand was already gaining adherents: “She has a great attraction for simple people who are puzzled by organized society, who object to paying taxes, who hate the ‘welfare state,’ who feel guilt at the thought of the suffering of others but who would like to harden their hearts.”
Because he was writing at a time when there was still such a thing as right-wing guilt, Vidal couldn’t possibly have foreseen what would happen: Ayn Rand became the guiding spirit of the governing party of the United States. Her values are the values of that party. Vidal couldn’t have foreseen it because he still saw Christianity as a kind of ineluctable force in America, particularly among small-town conservatives, and because Rand’s “philosophy” couldn’t have been more anti-Christian. But, then, Vidal couldn’t have thought so many Christians would abandon Jesus’ teachings so quickly for Rand’s.
The transformation and corruption of America’s moral values didn’t happen in the shadows. It happened in plain sight. The Republican Party has been the party of selfishness and the party of punishment for decades now, trashing the basic precepts not only of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but also of humanity generally.
Vidal again: “That it is right to help someone less fortunate is an idea that has figured in most systems of conduct since the beginning of the race.” It is, one could argue, what makes us human. The opposing idea, Rand’s idea, that the less fortunate should be left to suffer, is what endangers our humanity now. I have previously written in this space how conservatism dismantled the concept of truth so it could fill the void with untruth. I called it an epistemological revolution. But conservatism also has dismantled traditional morality so it could fill that void. I call that a moral revolution.
To identify what’s wrong with conservatism and Republicanism — and now with so much of America as we are about to enter the Trump era — you don’t need high-blown theories or deep sociological analysis or surveys. The answer is as simple as it is sad: There is no kindness in them.
Why Should we be Surprised that the Corporate-controlled Media Allowed the Corporate Coup to Develop?
That the draining of kindness from huge swaths of the country occurred with so little resistance is, in large measure, the fault of the media. The media have long prided themselves on being value neutral. It was Dragnet Dragnet journalism: “Just the facts, ma’am.” Or: “We report, you decide” — a slogan coopted by the right-wing (and rabidly pro-corporate) Fox News, ironically to underscore that they weren’t biased, at least not liberally biased.
Of course, not even the most scrupulous journalists were ever really value neutral. Underneath their ostensible objectivity there was a value default — an unstated moral consensus, which is the one Vidal cited and the one to which most Americans subscribed throughout most of our history. But it took a lot to activate those values in the press. The mainstream white media moved ever so slowly to report on the evils of segregation. Yet when they finally did, they didn’t behave as if African-Americans marching for their rights and Sheriff Bull Connor siccing dogs on them were moral equals. Value neutrality had its limits. The reporting of the movement was one of journalism’s proudest moments, and you can read about it in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Race Beat” by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff. It is a story worth telling and remembering in these frightening days — a story that shows how the press can serve us.
However long it took for them to grow a conscience, those journalists who covered the civil rights movement didn’t think they were violating their professional code of objectivity by exposing the heinous conduct of the Southern authorities, because they knew what they were upholding wasn’t subject to debate. The morality was stark. (I have a suspicion from the way the Black Lives Matter movement is covered that it wouldn’t be so stark today.)
Taking sides against the KKK and redneck sheriffs, however, was one thing, as was taking sides against lunatic fringe right-wingers like the John Birch Society who hated government. But what happens when those extremists who advocate a bizarre morality that elevates selfishness and deplores altruism commandeer one of our two major political parties? What do you do then?
We know the answer. You do nothing.
The media sat by idly while American values were transmogrified. Even the so-called “good” conservatives — David Brooks, David Frum, Michael Gerson, Jennifer Rubin, et al. — refused to speak the language of kindness, preferring the language of free markets. As far right conservatives took over the Republican Party — the very same conservatives who just a few years earlier were considered crazies — the media dared not question Republican opposition to anything that assisted the disempowered and dispossessed, which is how a value-neutral media wound up serving the cause of conservatism and Republicanism and how the moral consensus was allowed to be turned upside down.
Read those Ayn Rand quotes to your children as moral instruction, and you will see how far we have fallen. This is Republican morality. This is Trump morality. And the media, loath to defend traditional American values in an increasingly hostile conservative environment, let it happen. That is what value neutrality will get you…
It is true that we don’t all share the exact same values, though in the past I think our fundamental values were pretty close to one another’s. But even if values differ, all values are not created equal. Some are better than others. Most of us do know what is right. Most of us do know that we have moral obligations to others. Most of us understand kindness. It is just that we have been encouraged to forget it. That was Ayn Rand’s mission. Trump is proof of how well she and her acolytes, like Paul Ryan, succeeded. There is no kindness in him…Trump made shamelessness acceptable. We are reaping that whirlwind every day.
I don’t know whether a great society can survive without kindness. Unfortunately, we shall have a chance to see. In the meantime, those of us who believe in traditional morality must mount what I would call a “kindness offensive.” We must redouble our kindness in our daily lives, fight for it, promote it and eventually build a political movement around it.
…Appealing to our worst selves is usually a winning strategy (in politics), as it was for Trump. The media must remind us of what it means to be our best selves. This should be their new mission: a media in opposition. It should be unrelenting, regardless of the right-wing blowback.
America is in moral crisis. Many Americans seem far more interested in making sure that those they consider undeserving — basically, the poor — get nothing than in making sure that they themselves get something.
Neal Gabler is an author of five books and the recipient of two LA Times Book Prizes, Time magazine’s non-fiction book of the year, USA Today’s biography of the year and other awards. He is also a senior fellow at The Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, and is currently writing a biography of Sen. Edward Kennedy.