How We Got Here….

A recent article from a publication called Fusion (with which I am unfamiliar) has been making the rounds on social media; I think the reason for its popularity is that it offers a perspective that strikes many of us–especially former Republicans– as persuasive.

If you want to understand intra-GOP warfare, the decision-making process of our president, the implosion of the Republican healthcare plan, and the rest of the politics of the Trump era, you don’t need to know about Russian espionage tactics, the state of the white working class, or even the beliefs of the “alt-right.” You pretty much just need to be in semi-regular contact with a white, reasonably comfortable, male retiree. We are now ruled by men who think and act very much like that ordinary man you might know, and if you want to know why they believe so many strange and terrible things, you can basically blame the fact that a large and lucrative industry is dedicated to lying to them.

The basic premise of the article is that, over the past decades, we have seen the emergence of a parallel media dedicated to lying to a particular demographic. Little by little, that “project” has created an alternate reality, and Americans find ourselves at the mercy of those who reside in that reality.

 The inmates are running the asylum, if there is a kind of asylum that takes in many mostly sane people and then gradually, over many years, drives one subset of its inmates insane, and also this asylum has the largest military in the world.

These quotations from the article confirm what most of us know; where the author makes a point that hadn’t occurred to me, at least, was the intra-party nature of this media strategy. The talking points delivered via talk radio, Fox News and rightwing blogs were, in this telling, different from the “more grounded and reality-based” media consumed by conservative “elites.” The “rubes”

 were fed apocalyptic paranoia about threats to their liberty, racial hysteria about the generalized menace posed by various groups of brown people, and hysterical lies about the criminal misdeeds of various Democratic politicians. The people in charge, meanwhile, read The Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard, and they tended to have a better grasp of political reality, as when those sources deceived their readers, it was mostly unintentionally, with comforting fantasies about the efficacy of conservative policies.

The consumers of the conspiracy theories–those the author calls the “rubes”–became the ground troops that helped the GOP win elections. But the article’s second–and more important–insight is that sponsorship of this worldview is no longer simply political. 

But if this was a reasonably useful arrangement for Republicans, who won a couple close elections with the help of their army of riled-up kooks, it was a fantastic deal for the real engine of the right-wing propaganda machine: companies selling newly patented drugs designed to treat the various conditions of old age, authors of dubious investing newsletters, sellers of survival seeds, hawkers of poorly written conservative books, and a whole array of similar con artists and ethically compromised corporations and financial institutions. The original strategy behind demonizing the “mainstream media” may have purely political, to steer voters away from outlets that tended to present information damaging to the conservative cause, but the creation of the conservative media was also a revenue opportunity for shameless grifters…

Conservative media became a goldmine for those willing to con trusting retirees, who have, as the article puts it, “a bit of disposable income, and a natural inclination to hate modernity and change—an inclination that could be heightened, radicalized, and exploited.” It was especially easy to prey on those inclinations during the term of a black President.

From there, it’s been all downhill.

Republicans realized they’d radicalized their base to a point where nothing they did in power could satisfy their most fervent constituents. Then—in a much more consequential development—a large portion of the Republican Congressional caucus became people who themselves consume garbage conservative media, and nothing else.

There is much more, especially about Trump and “Trumpians,” and the entire article is well worth reading and pondering.

The only thing missing from the spot-on analysis is the reason for the election of that “large portion” of GOP representatives who are delusional: gerrymandering.( If you don’t believe me, click through to read how it works….)


  1. What? Baby Boomers despise and are afraid of the world they created??? Shocking…

  2. “I’ve got mine and I couldn’t care less about the rest of you”. This is what they are really saying.

  3. The article omitted the proliferation of for-profit “colleges,” such as Trump University in its list of con-artist- developments.

  4. I am a baby boomer that graduated from high school and college in the 1960s. It’s puzzling how I and some of my contemporaries seem to have avoided falling prey to the marketing blitz from talk radio and Fox TV, while others in our age group have swallowed the Limbaugh and Hannity bullshit without hesitation. These are people who are drawing Social Security and enjoying grandchildren, while complaining about entitlements, arming themselves for some imaginary purely American Armageddon and acting like people who hold different views are their sworn enemies. Some Republicans were pretty saavy in creating the campaign of lies that was able to attract and hold these otherwise educated and normal folks. I guess the Nazis were too.

  5. Interesting blog today which works into my delving into a fuller explanation of an organization I recently subscribed to, “American Humanist Association!” which was touted as primarily based in keeping religion out of government and public schools. I’m just beginning to read the literature and having some doubts; it may be locked into its own “like-minded thinkers” in opposition to the far right-wing position we are trying to understand and deal with to survive.

    Regarding “the inmates are running the asylum” which has been used before regarding this Trump “deconstruction” of American government as we have known it, I was reminded of that old movie “Snakepit”. The treatment of the inmates was based on the centuries old treatment of tossing mentally ill into actual pits of snakes on the premise that, something which would drive a sane person insane might drive an insane person into sanity. Too often the “parallel media” overshoots their target in an effort to take the center spotlight and prove their own “alternative facts”.

    Seeking like-minded thinkers, remaining boxed in to support their standard beliefs (usually religious upbringing), there is no need to think beyond their limitations. An excellent description of staunch Republicans. Those at the controls today are seeking only to destroy all civil and human rights it has taken decades to provide through American democracy no matter who or which party provided them.

    A word I learned years ago in another old movie fits here; “ratiocination” which simply means “a reasonable train of thought”. The Republican controlled Congress shows no inclination to follow a reasonable train of thought on any issue; instead they support Trump’s “alternative facts” and we are headed for a train wreck of international destruction. Bombs which accomplish nothing but increasing Trump’s already overblown ego will take us far beyond where we are now; understanding “How We Got Here…” is the beginning of seeking how the hell to get out of where we are now. Let’s push for some ratiocination to seek a way out.

  6. I think what this article has to say is spot on. And there is also a generational guilt among the males. The right wing B.S. machine just continued to provoke it with its never-ending cons. My father is the perfect example. He missed his chance to save the world, being married with children and saved from the draft during the Vietnam war, he lost his sense of generational purpose, meanwhile idolizing and idealizing his elders, who were, in his eyes, above all tough and stern and willing to do the hard work while taking the big risks. So he became the chicken hawk, not the one who fled responsibility, but the one who was denied though his generation’s relative affluence and privilege the opportunity to prove himself, someone who ended up suffering from something like survivor’s guilt. Simultaneously entitled and resentful, and forever projecting his own self-doubts on others, he became what I think of as the perfect Bobby Knight fan. We need a stern, tough Daddy who lays down the law and graduates those kids, right? We can forgive Daddy for being a jerk because he is the jerk who knows better, who ultimately has a heart of gold. This profoundly dysfunctional character is the conservative archetype of the leader. So if you want to know what is going to happen next, just ask yourself, WWBKD?

  7. We must not forget, among the plethora of analyses of why old white men think the way they allegedly do, an important part of the medium of “the sell”; the whores of Fox News. With the exception of Greta Susteren, the women of the network are distinguished be the shortness of skirt and the abundance of make-up. Pity the older white mail, captured by the message and seduced by the messenger. No need of porn, just watch Fox.

  8. George Lakoff, the cognitive brain scientist and author of The Political Mind (which I recommend that all of my fellow commentators read – and it’s short) lays out framing masterfully against his hypothesis of two idealized versions of the family that would correspond to two idealized verions of the nation. One is the strict father family model that leads to pure conservative politics and a nurturant parent family model that maps onto pure progressive politics, or as loosely defined, Republicans and Democrats, respectively.

    The strict father model as mapped into politics explains why conservatism is concerned with authority, with obedience, discipline, and with punishment. The nurturant family model has two parents with equal responsibilities and no gender constraints, and their task is to nurture their children and raise them to be nurturers of others, nurturance being defined as empathy, responsibility for oneself and others, and the strength to carry out those responsibilities.

    So what does this have to do with Shelia’s topic today, the not so subtle and long-term propagandizing of America in order to gain power, prestige and money? A lot. Guess which one of Lakoff’s strict father or nurturant groups is most likely to be taken in by the Bobby Knights and Donald Trumps and their surrogates who care nothing for anyone but themselves. Guess which group is devoid of empathy as expressed in their opposition to food and healthcare programs for their fellow citizens? In their “let’s have a war” before exhausting diplomatic remedies? It is the strict family denizens, of course, having been conditioned for such responses as Lakoff so masterfully points out. Followers of the strict father model such as Trump and Pence would if unimpeded fashion a strict father society that responds to their excesses as would Pavlov’s dog, but some of us (and I include myself) consider ourselves to be human beings not subject to social and political conditioned reflexes to serve our masters however bombarded with propaganda. Conclusion – we must resist the strict father model’s attempts to capture our politics this Good Friday and every day of our lives.

  9. Nancy, your comment seems spot on. It doesn’t describe how we got here, but it sure seems to describe where we are.

  10. This was the Koch brothers’ plan since the early 1970s, when they started having their annual meetings of the billionaires. They gather each year to determine what the message should be, who the targets are, the best methods to use, and how much each of them will give to advance their goals. With the billions they throw at each endeavor, it’s not hard to see how we got here.

  11. Brian @8:59,

    It looks like it’s time for all of us to understand how we got here. In order to do that we have to start at GROUND ZERO which is back in the mid 30’s.

  12. Marv – So far as we know, Jesus was not even a father, or if he was, those canonizers of scripture in 381 A.D. left it out since it is hard to imagine the Son of God in bed with Mary Magdelene or some other lady, but you are right; he was a revolutionary of his time against the strict father/temple model of his day and paid a price for his anti-establishment views. Coal miners in the little town where I was born and raised were pragmatists, because when polled they agreed that the three greatest men in history were (1) John L. Lewis, (2) FDR, and (3) Jesus Christ – and in that order. Speaking of order, I may be out of order to suggest this poll on a Good Friday, but the coal miners knew you had to eat before you could play philosopher and that it’s a real world, whatever you believe or don’t believe. Good point.

  13. I honestly found this article from Fusion to be totally simplistic. The idea that old white men all by themselves carried the day for the Trumpet and Republicans is ludicrous. If you look at his rallies there is an across the board age demographic, all white to be sure.

    The Establishment Democratic Party refuses to come to grips with their long term decline since Bill Clinton was in office. So it it easy to blame old white men, and Russians.

    The Trumpet is a Legend in His Own Mind, as such he is (in his own belief system) in capable of mistakes. Errors, problems and mistakes are thus some else’s fault. Anyone one but the Trumpet must shoulder the blame if some thing fails. If some fact inserts itself and would lead to the conclusion of a Trumpet error, than the fact must be fake news. If all else fails resort to bullying and bluster.

    Spicer may have one the most difficult jobs on earth, trying some how to wedge the square peg into a round hole, no wonder he blundered about the Germans not using gas in WW 2. It must become very confusing for Spicer.

  14. Marv – You are definitely not stupid – quite the contrary and no apologies necessary. Jesus may or may not have been a father; the record is deficient whether by design or not. The point is that if he was in fact a father, he would not have been a strict father in the Lakoffian political sense inasmuch as he himself was a revolutionary opposed to the strict father images or Caesar and Herod. I here note that one need not be a physical father to harbor a strict father political image since it is an environmental rather than a genetic matter.

  15. How We Got Here…

    Quote from Fusion:
    “If you want to understand intra-GOP warfare, the decision-making process of our president, the implosion of the Republican healthcare plan, and the rest of the politics of the Trump era, you don’t need to know about Russian espionage tactics, the state of the white working class, or even the beliefs of the “alt-right.”

    Below is a copied and pasted portion of a prologue in Rachel Maddow’s book, “Drift”:
    “In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended, its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds are added to those of subduing the force of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes and the opportunities of fraud growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could reserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
    James Madison, “Political Observations”, April 20, 1795

    “Here” we are today, April 14, 2017, on the verge of total war as sought for and promised by Donald Trump if elected president. James Madison’s statement, almost precisely 222 years later, Trump’s 85th day in office, has described the current administration and our inevitable route to another all out war…in the midst of this country’s “continual warfare”.

    In Rachel’s inimitable style, her dedication page reads; “To former vice president Dick Cheney. Oh, please let me interview you”

    The “intra-GOP warfare” is easily understood; “the decision-making process of our president” is not. The lack of his mental stability coupled with his unbridled power-grabbing, ego-tripping governing style has confounded all rational thought and brought us to an unstable level of government never before experienced in the United States. “The Winds of War” are blowing strong; headed to gale-force levels if rational thought does not return to the Republican party and the Democratic party does not regain its former strength and cohesion necessary to end the destruction of democracy.

    Contrary to the “Fusion” comment; the Trump/Putin/Russian many connections must be investigated and we need full disclosure of all involved and the millions of dollars which changed hands reported in full.

  16. Gerald,

    Last month, I found a book on Amazon, I had been trying to find for over twenty years. The title of the book is “Cultural and Artistic Upheavals in Modern Europe 1848 to 1945.” It’s a collection of presentations from a symposium put together by the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens here in Jacksonville back in 1996, which I had attended. Most of the presentations centered on the art and culture of the Nazi era.

    We don’t burn books here in the U.S. we just remove them from our libraries and make sure there are no copies floating around.

    The following is an excerpt from the presenation: “Decoration as Modernism’s Other: (Re) Reading the Texts of Early Modern Architecture and Design”by Lucinda J. Kaukas-Brown, Virginia Commonwealth University,Richmond:

    “From the works of Herbert Spencer in his “First Principles” to Max Nordau’s “Degeneration” a persistent theme is clear. There is a consistent trend to scientifically characterize women. Through “scientific evidence”she is continually to be mimetic, material, unintelligent, subservient, and submissive. She is recognized as stunted in her evolutionary growth. As Schopenhauer explained, she is always the child, “the savage.” Men on the other hand, particularly WHITE MEN OF PURE ETHNICITY, are scientifically identified as the furthest progression of evolution and as the only true creative, intellectual, rational life forms capable of transcendance.”

    “Ford Mattox Ford describes theories such as these as “spreading through the serious male society as if it had been an epidemic.” Supported by evolutionary theory [today thru fundamentalist religion], women’s desire to become more manlike through suffrage and independence was perceived as a reversion to earlier forms of humanity–a return to a more primitive state of civilization. At the same time any perceived “feminine” characteristics ascribed to men were deemed equally as degenerative.”

    “As women were called upon to relinquish their quest to become more manlike through suffrage and liberation, and to remain more womanly for the sake of the progress of civilizatiion, men were encouraged to assert their manly characteristics in order to achieve transcendence. Degeneration and de-evolution was perceived as the main threat to transcendence. Reversion and degeneration became the main fear of the 19th and 20th century male intellectual community, JUSTIFIED THROUGH MEANS OF SCIENTIFIC WRITING.”

    “It is important to note that degeneration was also defined in terms of EFFEMINACY. Effeminacy was ascribed not only to women but also to a mutiplicity of ethnic groups, particularly Jews. In his essay “Mass Culture as Women,” Andreas Huyssen identifies the feminization of degeneratiion assigned to the masses: “The fear of the masses in this AGE OF DECLINING LIBERALISM is always a fear of women, fear of nature out of control, a fear of the unconscious, of sexuality, of the loss of identity and stable ego boundaries in the Masses.”

    Just trying to point out the massive problem we are facing in the gender area, especially here in the U.S.

  17. Over it…I love the Bobby Knight analogy! So many great comments here today. (I can say that a lot of days actually.) The men mentioned in the article epitomize authoritarian regimes. My way is right, I got mine, you need to sit down and take the medicine I think you need. Fun times.

  18. LOL. “trusting retirees”. That is only one of the stereotypes dragged out in this opinion piece. Cracked me up. Where to start? The assumption that old, comfortable, white male retirees were the main trump followers? Analysis of the trump fans shows that there are a fair number of not so comfortable old people, more than a few young people, a surprising (to me) number of women, less educated people, as well as educated, in that group, which also included professionals, engineers, doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, rural, and lots of suburbs, among their numbers. This bombastic erratic unpredictable populist president could not have been elected by only one group of people. No one group is big enough. Sad to say, he crossed demographic lines, except, of course, not many Hispanics or Muslims supported him, for understandable reasons. I will agree that listening to propaganda, especially if it’s all you take in, can influence anyone. Location might have mattered. If everyone around you votes a certain way, it may be more comfortable to be in the regional mainstream, rather than an outlier.

    I am an old white female, long married to a “reasonably comfortable” old white male retiree, and we are both rigid in body, but not in mind, reliably socially leftist, and tend to be pragmatic, practical, economically center left. Even though we live in different states, we end up voting the same ticket as most of our multiracial and now multinational descendants, and we have great arguments and discussions, which change and enrich all of us. My newest granddaughter in law told me she had finally figured us out. She said we never stop learning. Nailed it. We are very interested in new tech, art, and science (Do read The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis, and if you have time, Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. Seriously consider the concept of reversion to the mean, and subconscious bias, in regards to this election, and the next.) Nearly everyone we know, anywhere near our age, also ranges from center left to far left, socially and politically, even though their economic levels and educational levels vary widely. There are an awful lot of people who don’t fit this article’s stereotypes. It doesn’t fit us. It doesn’t fit anyone we know – even the few right wingers, some of whom supported trump, and some of whom, did not. Stereotyping groups is sloppy thinking. It is as important to beware of it on the left, as it is to watch out for it on the right.

    I think it’s more important to ask ourselves, “What about trump’s message, and personality, as contrary and erratic as they are, spoke to so many people?” I think a lot of people voted on personality alone, and his dominant confidence spoke to them – nevermind that a lot of the content didn’t make sense. They wanted to believe he would fix everything they didn’t like, and they didn’t stop to note that they didn’t all agree on exactly what things needed fixing. Of the entire bunch of Republican contenders, who was the most obvious alpha male? On the left, I think a lot of people liked Bernie for the same reason. Some of them switched to the dominant personality left in the final race. They responded to a strong simple message, delivered with bombastic surety, more than to the content of the message. Those of us who prefer a more wonky, thoughtful analytical approach did not carry the day. We may like to pretend we are logical thinkers, but we are still biological primates, and there is a lot of thinking and deciding that goes on subconsciously, for good or ill, and it crosses demographic lines, and even rational thinking about self interest.

  19. I’m with Louis and Ms. Joslyn all the way on this one. I read the Fusion article AFTER I read Ms. Kennedy’s entry and the comments. If you replace the phrase “white, reasonably comfortable, male retiree”, with “the types of people who eat up this alarmist and fake right-wing crap” (or TOPWEUTAAFRWC) the article makes a lot more sense. However, in doing do it would completely fail at its mission to lay the blame for the rise of Trump and Trumpism with a specific generational and gender demographic. I feel that TOPWEUTAAFRWC is it’s own demographic….carefully carved out of all the others over many years by FAUX News, the local evangelical Christian minister and the company in the newspaper that promises to restore my manliness. By the way, Over It, I believe there is ONE group that can be safely described as being 100% contained within the TOPWEUTAAFRWC demographic: Bobby Knight fans.

  20. This extremely lucrative business is mass media entertainment and is based on the ability to make fantasy seem very plausible. That’s the issue that any successful novelist solves, making his imagination seem real.

    Of course there is entertainment that’s obviously made for people to enjoy the melding of their imaginations with the authors but pseudonews and pseudoscience uses exactly the same skills honed to the same perfection – making imagination indistinct from reality.

    We love it even if it is interspersed with a heaping helping of commercials which, surprise, surprise, use exactly the same technology to exactly the same end; blurring fiction into reality.

  21. It’s compelling to believe that the right wing folks in Congress are just putting on a show, and that they know the real scoop about what is really going on. After all, these folks presumably have access to immediate information and experts that we don’t necessarily have, right? Unfortunately, that is not the case. Many of these people actually believe the crazy stuff, primarily because they don’t rely on the best information, but (as Mr. Trump et. al) watch Fox News and read the right wing press for their news, just like your crazy Uncle Fred. They just have the power to act on their beliefs.

    All of this came into focus when I heard about Michelle Bachman’s health care dilemma. Apparently, her husband needed to buy a healthcare policy and had some pre-existing health care problems. This woman, a member of Congress, had a meltdown, believing that Obamacare would be responsible for her husband’s demise, and needed help finding a policy from a fellow congressman. She discovered that Obamacare was not the great source of evil she thought, but that gave me some important insight. We are really in a mess. The inmates are running the asylum.

  22. Stuart,

    “The inmates are running the asylum.” I agree. But even inmates in most cases can tell the difference when crossing the street between a green light and a red light. Following Donald Trump is crossing the street with a green light. His followers need to understand that’s the predicament they’re in. If not they’re taking a chance of serious injuries. Possibly even more than just emotional and financial loss.

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